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New: UC Berkeley Won't Let Students Dump Bill Maher

Scott Morris (BCN)
Wednesday October 29, 2014 - 09:45:00 AM

The student group that selected comedian Bill Maher to be the commencement speaker at the University of California at Berkeley has attempted to rescind the invitation after student backlash over some of Maher's statements, but the university won't allow it, school officials said today. 

Students gathered more than 4,000 signatures on a change.org petition as of this afternoon, complaining that Maher is racist against Muslims and characterizes Islam as a violent religion. 

The student group called the Californians, which organizes school events, initially invited Maher to speak at the Dec. 20 commencement but the school has the final say over the speaker.  

According to the university, the Californians attempted to take back the invitation in response to the petition. 

"The UC Berkeley administration cannot and will not accept this decision, which appears to have been based solely on Mr. Maher's opinions and beliefs, which he conveyed through constitutionally protected speech," university officials said. 

University Chancellor Nicholas Dirks "looks forward to welcoming Mr. Maher to the Berkeley campus," the statement said. 

Graduating senior Taliah Mirmalek, 20, who has been participating in organizing against Maher's appearance said today that she does not think students should be forced to listen to Maher speak if they think he is prejudiced against their religion.  

The commencement address is different than a lecture, she said, where students have the option to leave without abandoning a milestone in their lives.  

"Suddenly you have to think about whether Bill Maher will make a statement like 'Arab men or dogs' or 'Muslims are inherently violent'," she said. 

The change.org petition lists numerous quotes that the students objected to including, "Islam is the only religion that acts like the mafia that will f------ kill you if you say the wrong thing," which Maher said in a recent heated exchange with actor Ben Affleck on his show. 

The petition also quotes Maher as saying, "Talk to women who've ever dated an Arab man. The results are not good," and, "The Muslim world has too much in common with ISIS." 

Maher said on Twitter today that he would address the controversy on Friday's edition of "Real Time With Bill Maher." 

Mirmalek, a Muslim studying political science who is a member of the university's Muslim Student Association, said that she doesn't object to criticism of Islam but thinks that Maher's statements about Islam feed into a national narrative that Muslims are inherently violent. 

"It's not criticism or questioning anything that's a problem," she said. "The problem is Bill Maher's statements about Islam are huge generalizations and suggesting things about the innate nature of Muslims." 

"It's a form of cultural racism where you're making a statement that every person who identifies with this faith is violent," she said. 

The administration's statement said that while it did not endorse Maher's statements, it supported his right to say them. 

"The administration's position on Mr. Maher's opinions and perspectives is irrelevant in this context, since we fully respect and support his right to express them," university officials said.  

"More broadly, this university has not in the past and will not in the future shy away from hosting speakers who some deem provocative," it said. 

The university will be making changes to the procedures in securing commencement speakers in response to the controversy, officials said.

New: Post Office to Berkeley: Drop Dead!

Thursday October 30, 2014 - 12:00:00 AM

Editor's Note: This letter, addressed to Berkeley City Attorney Zach Cowan, was forwarded to the Planet by an interested citizen who had received a copy by email:

This letter is in response to your letter of October 27, 2014 and is intended to address what seem to be the City’s main issues.

First, you express concerns about the fact that the United States Postal Service (“Postal Service”) will not discuss with the City of Berkeley the details regarding the status of properties being offered for sale by the Postal Service, including the Berkeley Main Post Office, beyond what is already publicly available at http://uspspropertiesforsale.com/. The Postal Service needs to continue to keep confidential that information, which under good business practice, would not be disclosed. 

Second, your request for immediate disclosure of information from me, for which you have already submitted a FOIA request, is not acceptable. As you know, the Postal Service, like other entities of the Federal government, follows the requirements of, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The Postal Service will follow those requirements in response to your previous FOIA request for documents.  

Third, the Postal Service will provide you with a copy of our response to the October 24, 2014 letter from the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP). The Postal Service will do so in accordance with the requirements of the regulations implementing Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). Although the NHPA does not specify a mode of transmission of such information to consulting parties such as the City of Berkeley, we will send it to you by email.  

Fourth, with respect to your request that the Postal Service provide the City with 30 days’ prior notice before taking actions with respect to the Berkeley Main Post Office, we cannot agree to do so, as that would be contrary to good business practice. 

The Postal Service has engaged with the City of Berkeley in the Section 106 process with the desire to reach a satisfactory agreement. It is unfortunate that we have been unable to reach such an agreement in large part due to the City’s insistence that the Postal Service include in any preservation covenant a requirement that the Postal Service lease space in the Berkeley Main Post Office for the operation of a postal facility with specifically detailed services listed in the covenant, such as bulk mail pick up, for a period of fifty years. This appears to the Postal Service to be an attempt to use the consultative process under Section 106 of the NHPA to coerce or force the Postal Service to change how it operates its business, which is not the intent of the Section 106 process. This is not acceptable.  

Very truly yours, 

Sharon K. Freiman
Chief Counsel, Property Law
United States Postal Service

New: The City of Berkeley Illegally Paid $140k for Redistricting Lawsuit Against Itself and Residents (Public Comment)

Anthony Sanchez
Wednesday October 29, 2014 - 11:58:00 AM

When the City Council voted to sue its own City Clerk and residents earlier this year in its redistricting battle, the City illegally paid high-powered law firm REMCHO, JOHANSEN & PURCELL LLP $140,000 without Council’s approval.

Though City law allows the City Manager to execute contracts under $50,000 without Council authorization, any contract that exceeds that threshold must be publicly confirmed by a majority vote of City Council. So when City Manager Christine Daniel hired Remcho to sue the City before any public mention of a lawsuit, let alone a vote, she entered into the contract at $30,000. However, on April 30th, the contract was amended to $140,000 without any approval or disclosure.

Attached are the initial contract with Remcho, the final amended contract, the transcript from last evening’s Council Meeting where Christine Daniel confirms that contracts over $50,000 must be authorized by a vote of the Council, and an item adopted by Council that specifies the thresholds for contract authorizations.

The contract was only recently found by accident when Stefan Elgstrand, one of the residents sued, searched for the original contract and found that it was amended. 


This latest round of redistricting has been more contentious than previous rounds. 

In response to Council's decision to move ahead with a flawed map, an alternative was proposed that would have re-united many of the neighborhoods and balanced fraternities with other campus-area communities, while better accomplishing the publicly stated goals of Council. Instead, Council purposely ran out the clock to last possible meeting in December in order to ensure that its preferred gerrymander would be in place for the 2014 elections and to discourage any referendum -over 5,500 signatures would need to be gathered over the winter holidays when most residents and students are out of town (see Agenda here). 

In order to compel Council to reconsider and resolve redistricting in a fair manner in time for the 2014 elections, a referendum was initiated by a coalition of neighbors, students and community leaders. Despite Council's deliberate timing, however, 7,867 signatures were successfully gathered and submitted for verification on January 21, 2014 and later certified by the County on February 3. 

Under the City Charter, Council had the “duty” upon receipt of sufficient certified signatures to either rescind its redistricting map and adopt a compromise, or submit the disputed map to the voters at the next occurring election, which would have been June 2014. The map, until validated by the voters, would be stayed by law. 

But Council had different plans. 

During the referendum, the Mayor reportedly told a referendum proponent that “they are wasting their time. We'll just go to court and overrule you,” which is why Council had already began to secretly hire expensive, outside lawyers with taxpayer money on January 30 before any opportunity to even resolve redistricting -the referendum had not been verified yet (see pages 16 and 18 of the Remcho, Johansen & Purcell LLP contract).  

When the referendum came before Council on February 25, Council deliberately held it over to its next meeting on March 11, missing the deadline for the June ballot in violation of the Charter and enabling the lawsuit it had planned all along (see Olson, Hagel & Fishburn LLP letter). 

In addition to the Charter violation that enabled its lawsuit, Council also violated the Brown Act, an important open government law that requires that the public is adequately notified to ensure public participation in City business. By not informing the public on its agenda that it intended to delay redistricting to the November ballot and initiate a lawsuit, Council pulled the rug from under an unsuspecting public that was urging Council to adopt a compromise and bring a final end to redistricting (see First Amendment Coalition letter). 

Unfortunately, Council showed no interest in compromise and resolving redistricting -as had happened in 2001- but instead chose to prolong redistricting; Council took the unprecedented action of absurdly suing itself and residents who had supported the referendum in order to impose its disputed map this election through the Court -all due to the “crisis” Council purposely created itself. 

Worse, the lawsuit had a chilling effect: the secretly hired law firm sent threatening letters to citizens involved in the referendum that misleadingly described them as “Defendants” and insinuated liability simply for exercising their constitutional rights -many named proponents backed out and expressed hesitance towards getting involved again if it meant the City would sue them. While City Council had top-notch legal representation with taxpayer dollars, named residents had to fend for themselves -a student who was sued now has a $25,000 legal bill courtesy of City Council simply because he advocated for boundaries that respected Co-ops and united neighborhoods

Ultimately, the Court agreed that, though the City had questionably delayed its action, it had no choice but to implement its disputed map, despite the constitutional right to a stay of law and the array of alternative maps available, because of one reason: the City Charter was amended to specify that an affirmative vote by Council is an indispensable criteria for a valid redistricting map (see ruling). Measure R of 2012 had come full circle. 

In the end, the City illegally paid its high-priced lawyers Remcho $140,000 in taxpayer dollars in excess of its initial $30,000 contract. 


For the full background, complete with documentation, please visit: http://stopthegerrymander.nationbuilder.com/background 

Fatal Shooting Last Night Near Berkeley Marina

Dan McMenamin (BCN)
Wednesday October 29, 2014 - 11:18:00 AM

East Bay Regional Park District police are investigating a fatal shooting on Tuesday night near the Berkeley Marina. 

Berkeley police initially responded around 8 p.m. Tuesday to a disturbance in the area of the Sea Breeze Market and Deli at 598 University Ave. near the entrance of the McLaughlin Eastshore State Park. 

EBRPD police officers also responded and found a male victim on the ground suffering from a gunshot wound. He was pronounced dead at the scene, park police said. 

Witnesses in the area reported hearing multiple gunshots, seeing two suspects running north along the frontage road and then seeing a vehicle fleeing in the opposite direction, according to police. 

Authorities searched the area by ground and air but did not find any suspects. Numerous spent shell casings and a handgun were found at the scene, police said. 

EBRPD police are handling the investigation into the fatal shooting and are working with the Alameda County coroner's bureau to identify the victim. 

Anyone with information about the case is asked to call the department's investigations unit at (510) 690-6549 or police dispatch at (510) 881-1833.

Updated: Vote-by-Mail Ballots Must Be Received by Tuesday

Erin Baldassari (BCN)and Planet
Tuesday October 28, 2014 - 01:37:00 PM

Elections officials must receive vote-by-mail ballots by 8 p.m. on Nov. 4. Postmarks will not be counted, so voters who wish to vote by mail are encouraged to mail their ballots in early to allow for postal transit times, elections officials said.

For more information from the Alameda County registrar, see this website: http://www.acgov.org/rov/votebymail.htm

Press Release: Can Berkeley Stop the Sale of its Downtown Post Office?
USPS admits it’s signed a sales contract.
Rally on Saturday at 10:30

From Mike Lonergan
Tuesday October 28, 2014 - 11:20:00 AM

The U.S. Postal Service has walked away from negotiations with the City of Berkeley and the National Trust on an agreement to preserve Berkeley’s Main Post Office. The USPS refuses to respond to questions from the City of Berkeley or from Congresswoman Barbara Lee regarding the imminent sale. We still do not know who the buyer is. The USPS has listed the building for sale since July, 2013, with CBRE, the realty firm headed by Richard Blum, Senator Diane Feinstein's spouse. Attempts to obtain further information from the U.S. Postal Service were stonewalled.  

Berkeley residents are actively opposed to the sale of this historic structure. They will rally this Saturday, November 1st at 10:30 AM-12:30 p.m. on the steps of Berkeley's Main Post Office at 2000 Allston Way . Music is by Hali Hammer, Redd Welsh and Occupella.  

Speakers include Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, Jacquelyn McCormick from the National Post Office Collaborate, Gray Brechin, Living New Deal, Harvey Smith of The National New Deal Preservation Association, Peter Byrne, author of Going Postal, and Alan Menjivar, American Postal Workers’ Union. Senator Loni Hancock, Mayor Tom Bates, Council Member Linda Maio, all loyal supporters of keeping the Berkeley P.O. public are invited. Congresswoman Barbara Lee is scheduled to speak at 11 AM. 

Berkeley's downtown Post Office was built in 1914 with funds from the federal government obtained by Republican Senator William Knowland at the request of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce. It is a copy of a famous Renaissance orphanage in Florence, Italy. Our Post Office was declared an historic landmark by the U.S. Department of Interior, the State of California and the City of Berkeley. It was paid for with tax money. Save the Berkeley Post Office is opposed to its privatization.  

The Federal Advisory Commission on Historic Preservation stated that the sale would have an adverse effect on the historic post office because the USPS refuses to agree to protect the building through enforceable covenants. The USPS and city cannot agree on how a protective covenant would be administered, as the city argues that the USPS should not be trusted to honor it. 

"It is the ACHP's opinion that the proposed covenant does not sufficiently ensure the long-term preservation of the property since the USPS, as covenant holder, has the unfettered authority to approve adverse effects to the property (including demolition) while having neither the demonstrated experience in holding preservation covenants nor an apparent interest in the long-term preservation of the property," said the ACHP response, signed by Reid J. Nelson, director of the Office of Federal Agency Programs. A better, more qualified covenant holder would be the State Historic Preservation Office, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, or the City of Berkeley. 

The City of Berkeley and the National Trust were in negotiations with USPS for a preservation covenant to preserve the historic features of the building. Abruptly USPS ended these discussions and has entered into a contract to sell the building. The USPS refuses to identify the prospective buyer. 

According to Attorney Tony Rossmann, Berkeley wants to avoid unnecessary legal action. But that if the USPS won’t answer information requests, the City will go to court to prevent the USPS from quickly disposing of the historic post office as has happened in other parts of the country.

New: Redwood Gardens Community Pressured by Management

Lydia Gans
Monday October 27, 2014 - 04:13:00 PM

Redwood Gardens at 2951 Derby Street in Berkeley has been in the news lately and will continue to be. Many of us are familiar with the place from cultural, political, or social events we attended in their community room. It is part of a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) subsidized complex of buildings with 169 apartments, gardens and community facilities for seniors and people with disabilities. The project was established as a co-op some 28 years ago by Cooperative Services Inc. (CSI). Currently it is managed by CSI Support and Development which operates number of co-ops in California. Redwood Gardens is the only development that now is not a co-op. (There is some history behind the change which is not necessary to go into here.)

The CSI Support and Development website outlines the principles of cooperatives. “Living in a co-op means living in a building that is controlled by the resident members. The resident members vote on all major operating decisions, including writing the annual budget. … Becoming part of a CSI co-op allows you to enjoy the benefits of apartment living while retaining control of your environment.”

Although this ideal existed in Redwood Gardens in the past, it is far from the way things are now. The residents have no control over management decisions and even opportunities for expressing their concerns and being heard are being increasingly denied. And there are some very serious concerns. They are afraid that much of what management has been doing and plan to do will have negative impact on the quality of their lives.

In the words of resident Gary Hicks, “There is increasing enmity between the residents and management.” The popular community room is no longer available, it has been taken over by management for offices. A bridge that is a primary entrance to the east side of the building is hazardous and restoration is taking unduly long. (Architect Avram Gur Arye has provided extensive photographs of this.) Changes are being made in the gardens and community areas with no input from the residents. 

Now management wants to move the laundry into what has long been a pleasant sun room on the third floor. This has aroused vehement objections from the residents. Besides the issue of noise at all hours, possible flooding, dust and air pollution immediately next to occupied apartments there are people with extreme chemical sensitivities who would be severely affected anywhere in the vicinity. The people are protesting. They are determined to prevent this from happening. They plan to occupy the sun room to prevent any work taking place – even at the cost of going to jail. 

And there is an even bigger threat looming over resident's community. With a big zero-interest loan from HUD the management company has made plans for major renovations. But the residents had little opportunity to express their opinions and no chance to affect the decisions. Some are saying they are feeling bullied. 

The process will be extremely stressful. Management explained that they will renovate one apartment at a time spending just one day in each unit. They expect to make major changes in cabinets, appliances, floors, etc. – completing it all in one working day! And the residents must move their belongings out and store them temporarily, it's not clear where, for the day. There are further conditions, all quite unreasonable, particularly for this population. 

There was no discussion. A resident described how it all went down. “Each person had a 15 minute interview. During that they gave each of us a piece of green paper with all the details on it about what's going to happen. One of the things that is particularly disturbing that we have to provide for our own help to pack. We either have to pay $100 for labor that they would identify or we have to have friends to help.” 

The process is expected to begin in November. Taking into account weekends and holidays, completing the work on 169 units will take a very long time. Doing the math – it works out to almost 8 months. For two thirds of the year the residents will be living with the stress of not knowing exactly when their turn will come and having to cope with the state of confusion all around them. 

All this is not to say they are not under stress already. The threat of eviction and becoming homeless for incurring the disapproval of management always hangs over their heads. Being seniors or disabled individuals with limited incomes, alternative housing options are extremely scarce.

League of Women Voters Denies Involvement on Behalf of Berkeley's Ballot Measure S, as Claimed in Pro-S Ballot Arguments Submitted by City Officials

Thursday October 23, 2014 - 08:10:00 PM

Editor's Note: The Berkeley/Albany/Emeryville League of Women Voters yesterday sent the following letter to Berkeley's mayor and City Council, refuting claims in the Measure S ballot arguments placed there by city officials that the League participated or agreed to have its name used in support of the measure: nhh

October 23, 2014

Dear Mayor Bates and Council Members,

On behalf of the League of Women Voters of Berkeley, Albany, and Emeryville, we wish to bring to your attention that the arguments for measure S and again in the rebuttal against the arguments against Measure S, the Redistricting Measure, incorrectly state that the League of Women Voters was a participant in the creation of the Council’s Redistricting Ordinance and plan and imply that the League was a major participant.

We were not asked nor did we approve the inclusion of our name in the argument and rebuttal. In fact, the LWVBAE is neutral on Measure S. The proponents of the measure and/or the City Clerk should have asked us to sign to give permission for the use of our name. 

Our participation in the adoption of the redistricting plan was brief and superficial. Our past president, Sherry Smith, at the request of the City, officiated as moderator at two or three meetings. The League had no role in arranging the meetings nor in the Council’s decision to adopt its plan. 

The proponents of the measure were not correct in stating “The City Council and the League of Women Voters held seventeen (17) forums, community meetings, and public hearings on redistricting. ” This statement is highly misleading. We were not involved in 17 meetings. We did not hold any community meetings devoted to just this issue. We merely officiated at a very few meetings that we did not plan. 

We hope and expect that our name will not appear on any literature, door hangers, or other material implying that we support Measure S. 

Yours truly, 

Nancy Bickel, President 

Carol Stone, Action Coordinator 

Berkeley Man Gets 12 Years for Fatally Stabbing Cal Student in 2008

Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Friday October 24, 2014 - 01:13:00 PM

A former Berkeley City College student was sentenced today to 12 years in state prison for fatally stabbing University of California at Berkeley student Christopher Wootton near campus six years ago. 

The sentencing ends a long legal saga for 27-year-old Andrew Hoeft-Edenfield, who was found guilty of second-degree murder on May 13, 2010, in connection with the death of 21-year-old Christopher Wootton in the early morning hours of May 3, 2008. 

Hoeft-Edenfield was sentenced to a term of 16 years to life in state prison, but last year the California Supreme Court, which had originally upheld his conviction, issued an order to show cause why he shouldn't be entitled to relief based on his allegation that his trial lawyer, Yolanda Huang, failed to provide effective legal assistance. 

The matter was sent back to Alameda County Superior Court and on April 29 Judge Larry Goodman, after holding a lengthy hearing, dismissed Hoeft-Edenfield's conviction, ruling that Huang failed to warn him that he could face a life sentence if he didn't accept a manslaughter plea bargain and went to trial and was convicted of murder. 

The Alameda County District Attorney's Office had fought hard to convict Hoeft-Edenfield of second-degree murder in his four-month-long trial in 2010. 

But on Sept. 9 prosecutors decided not to undergo another lengthy trial and allowed Hoeft-Edenfield to plead no contest to the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter. 

Wootton, who was from Bellflower in Southern California, was only two weeks away from graduating with honors in nuclear engineering when he was stabbed during a confrontation in the parking lot of a sorority house in the 2400 block of Warring Street at about 2:45 a.m. on May 3, 2008. 

According to the evidence in Hoeft-Edenfield's trial, the stabbing occurred at the end of a drunken shouting match that developed when Hoeft-Edenfield, who worked at Jamba Juice in Berkeley, and a group of his friends encountered Wootton, who was a member of the nearby Sigma Pi fraternity house, and his friends on a street near campus. 

Huang, Hoeft-Edenfield's trial attorney, admitted that he stabbed Wootton but said he acted in self-defense after he was outnumbered, surrounded, kicked and stomped by Wootton and a large group of Wootton's friends. 

But Judge Jeffrey Horner, who presided over Hoeft-Edenfield's trial, said that on the night of the incident Hoeft-Edenfield never called police and never claimed self-defense. 

Instead, Horner said, Hoeft-Edenfield pulled out a knife, asked Wootton and his friends, "Who wants to die?" and fatally stabbed Wootton. 

Hoeft-Edenfield's new attorney, Christopher Dalton, said today that he doesn't think Hoeft-Edenfield committed murder because there were "self-defense elements to the case." 

Dalton said Hoeft-Edenfield "spent the last six years thinking he would never get out of prison" but will now be released in about six years after serving the rest of his term for his manslaughter conviction. 

Wootton's family members attended all of Hoeft-Edenfield's trial and most of the other hearings in the case but didn't come to court for his sentencing today. 

Prosecutor Stacie Pettigrew declined to comment on the case, saying she was busy with another trial, although that trial isn't in session today.

Solving for XX

Jonathan David Farley, D.Phil. (University of Oxford)
Thursday October 23, 2014 - 08:21:00 PM
Mathematician Zeinab Bandpey
Mathematician Zeinab Bandpey

Last year, an assistant director for Elementary contacted me. The plot of an episode of the crime drama starring Lucy Liu (Kill Bill, Charlie’s Angels), entitled, “Solve for x,” centered around a mathematician vying for the top prize in the number-wizarding world. I encouraged CBS to make a big deal of the fact that the mathematician was a woman─women at the highest levels of math are so thin on the ground, girl calculators need to find contemporary role models wherever they can, even in works of fiction. 

This has now changed radically. 

This fall, Maryam Mirzakhani, an Iranian woman working at Stanford University, won mathematics’ “Nobel Prize,” the Fields Medal. 

It has not always been easy for women in mathematics. 

I have been interested in female mathematicians since at least 2005, when Larry Summers, then president of Harvard University, gave a memorable speech arguing that the reason few women seem to excel in mathematics may be genetic, citing as evidence the indisputable fact that girls play with dolls and not chemistry sets. Mattel did, after all, make a Barbie doll that said, “Math class is tough,” and Forever 21 made a blouse that said, “Allergic to Algebra.” 

In reality, two studies published in 1990 and 1995 found “a slight female advantage in computation in elementary and middle school,” and, according to the 2009 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, “girls have now reached parity with boys in mathematics performance in the U.S.” 

So with all due respect to Larry Summers─that is, none─the problem is something else. There is some other reason only 31% of U.S. doctorates in mathematics went to women in 2007, some other reason women were only 12% of the math and statistics professors at the top 50 universities. 

After attending a seminar on the female orgasm at Stanford University's Institute for Research on Women and Gender, I decided to do something about it. (The math gap, that is.) I conceived of a symposium on women and math called, “Proof and Prejudice,” co-organizing it with what is now the Clayman Institute. We brought in luminaries such as Dancing with the StarsDanica McKellar (The Wonder Years, The West Wing), who graduated summa cum laudefrom the University of California at Los Angeles with a degree in math, even co-authoring a research paper as an undergraduate, which is highly unusual. 

She later asked me to provide a quote for the back cover of her first math textbook. Three of her textbooks went on to become New York Times best sellers. These books represented the beginning of a solution to math’s parity problem: Danica wrote math books aimed at girls

You see, the solution may be as simple as showing girls that you can be a girl and do math. As science presenter Cara Santa Maria once said, she would like to see a shirt that reads, “I’m pretty, and I rule at math.” 

Danica told me for this essay, “The problem isn’t that girls don’t do math as well as boys. The problem is that, in spite of good test scores, girls don’t see themselves as capable of doing math as well as boys. So as soon as they hit a stumbling block, instead of seeing it as a temporary obstacle that can be overcome, they more often see it as evidence of what they’ve ‘known’ all along─that they don’t belong in math. That it’s not really ‘for them.’ It’s a perception issue, it’s a societal issue, and the only way around it is to do what we can to break stereotypes, and to bombard girls with the opposite of the limiting female characters they get from most media: positive role models to show them, ‘You have every potential within you. Develop your brain. You belong!’ I do this in my books, and we all have the ability to do it in our every day lives. I’m encouraged by Mirzakhani’s success and I hope that its effects ripple outwards to our girls. And how can we help this? By talking about it. Let’s tell girls so they know in their hearts: ‘This can be you.’” 

Danica’s solution to the equation xy-x2=0 is elegant, even if the top of Harvard’s food chain couldn’t see it: Make math appealing to girls by linking it with what they already find appealing. And start in elementary school with the photo on the left, and the message 

This is what a mathematician looks like. 


Dr. Jonathan David Farley has been a Visiting Professor of Mathematics at Caltech, a Visiting Associate Professor of Applied Mathematics at MIT, and a Visiting Scholar of the Department of Mathematics at Harvard University. Versions of parts of this essay appeared in the Berkeley Daily Planet, Harvard Crimson and Huffington Post. 


Exclusive to The Planet: Edward Snowden's Message to Berkeley On the 50th Anniversary of the Free Speech Movement

Reported by Gar Smith
Friday October 24, 2014 - 11:46:00 AM

On October 1, Free Speech day in California, former National Security Agency subcontractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden sent the following message to veterans of Berkeley's Free Speech Movement. It was read aloud on the Savio Steps by FSM vet Jack Radey during a rally marking the 50th anniversary of the day students surrounded a police car to prevent the arrest of a political activist who had been tabling for the Congress of Racial Equality.  

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today, as we recognize the 50th Anniversary of the Free Speech Movement. 

Berkeley's unparalleled traditions of student activism and community engagement have been both a challenge and in inspiration to human rights movements worldwide. They compel us to imagine the world that we want to live in and to stand up for it—and they show us that with vision and persistence, we can change the world. I am honored to join with you today to celebrate that tradition. 

The threats to free expression in the United States and around the world today are vast and complex. In order to better understand and combat these new threats, we must look back on the great victories of the Free Speech Movement and its part in the people's movements that created checks on government power at that time. 

Many of these checks, unfortunately, have now been almost completely eroded. The extraordinary mass surveillance and censorship capabilities and unprecedented government secrecy require us, once again, to take urgent action to preserve our free societies. 

This is the challenge of our generation. 

While new technologies have introduced extraordinary opportunities for free expression and communication around the globe, governments have, in secret, worked against these forces to reengineer these new capabilities as tools of mass surveillance and oppression. 

Surveillance, without regard to the rule of law or our basic human dignity, creates societies that fear free expression and dissent, the very values that have made America strong. When we know we're being watched, we impose restraints on our behavior—even clearly innocent activities—just as surely as if we were ordered to do so. 

On this campus in 1964, Mario Savio said, "There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part." Over the past fifteen months, people around the world have spoken out and continue to stand up against the forces of censorship and surveillance. Together, we will restore the public's seat at the table of government. 



Ronald William Loewinsohn
December 15, 1937 – October 14, 2014

Saturday October 25, 2014 - 10:55:00 AM
Ronald William Loewinsohn: December 15, 1937 – October 14, 2014
Ronald William Loewinsohn: December 15, 1937 – October 14, 2014

Even the words, the point
of the pen itself as it dances
across the—
swirling against the page—No,
jiggling & scraping against
it, reaching for a grace & stumbling, re-
tracing and scratching out—

—From “THE HOUSE,” by Ron Loewinsohn, Goat Dances, Black Sparrow Press, 1976

Ron Loewinsohn, well-known Bay Area writer and teacher, died in Berkeley on October 14 after a prolonged illness. Ron was a significant figure in the younger generation of San Francisco Renaissance poets, a group that included David Meltzer, Richard Brautigan, Joanne Kyger and others.

Ron published several volumes of poetry, two novels, articles and reviews over a career that spanned more than fifty years. He also distinguished himself as an academic, serving as a Professor of English at the University of California at Berkeley from 1970 to 2005. 

Ron was born in Iloilo, Philippines in 1937, under the Japanese occupation during World War II. His family moved to the United States in 1945, settling in San Francisco some years later. 

After graduating from Abraham Lincoln High School in 1955, he gravitated to North Beach where he met the literary circle affiliated with Jack Spicer and other writers who were to influence his own work. 

Ron published his first collection of poetry, Watermelons, with an introduction by Allen Ginsberg and a prefatory letter by William Carlos WiIliams in 1959. Richard Brautigan and Ron co-edited and published the magazine Change in 1963, cementing a life-long friendship between the two writers. 

In 1960, Don Allen’s anthology, The New American Poetry, brought Ron’s poetry to the attention of a wide reading audience and helped lead the way to his several following volumes of verse, including Meat/Air: Poems 1957-69 (Harcourt, Brace and World, 1970), a selection from his previous work. He was awarded a Poets’ Foundation Award in 1963; the Ina Coolbrith Memorial Award for undergraduate poetry and the Irving Stone Award from the Academy of Poets in 1966; and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1984-85. 

Ron’s career was notable for its unusual trajectory. He spent 12 years working as a printer, frequenting the North Beach art and literary scene, but did not go to college until he was 27. He received his B.A. from Berkeley in 1967 and his Ph.D. from Harvard (on a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship) in 1971, where he wrote his dissertation on William Carlos Williams. He was hired as a full professor of English at Berkeley in 1970, where he taught both literature and creative writing. 

He introduced a course on the Beat Poets that focused on several writers he had known personally, including Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer, Philip Whalen, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure and Denise Levertov. Ron was happy to teach about his old friends. His passion for teaching, as well as his witty asides and personal anecdotes, made him a popular, charismatic instructor. 

While teaching, he tried his hand at fiction, along with other writing projects. His novel Magnetic Field(s), published in 1983, which won the Bay Area Book Reviewers Award for fiction, was one of five finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. His book reviews appeared in both The New York Times Book Review and the San Francisco Chronicle Book Review

After retiring from Berkeley in 2005, Ron continued writing and teaching. He wrote a screenplay for Magnetic Field(s) and began writing a memoir. In 2013, he adapted his course on the Beat poets, offering it to adults enrolled in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Berkeley. 

Ron is survived by his wife, Siv Sandler; three sons by previous marriages, Joseph, William and Stephen; and grandchildren Nicolas, Ryan, Chad and Jane, as well as Siv’s children Nicholas and Jennifer and several great-grandchildren. 

Ron and Siv married in 2004 and lived in Kensington for 11 years, where they enjoyed the company of their combined family of children and grandchildren. 

In 2003, a poem Ron wrote for Siv was included in the Addison Street Poetry Walk Project (curated by Robert Haas), imprinted on a cast-iron plate and imbedded in Berkeley’s “Arts District,” surrounded by 127 other poems by Berkeley poets, including many of Ron’s early North Beach friends. 

and the moment are one thing, contained, the way the shoulder
or that cliff is just slipping back into the mist, the way
the various blues, all of them moving, are marching off
toward the horizon.
—(From “Siv, with Ocean (Pacific)”
Ron’s intelligence, humor and infectious laughter will be missed by family, friends and colleagues alike. The family is planning a private memorial to be followed by a public celebration of his life to be announced at a later date. 







Why Berkeley Voters Should Say "No" to Measure S

Becky O'Malley
Friday October 24, 2014 - 10:02:00 AM

Today I’m back on the same topic I ranted on briefly last Sunday. That would be Berkeley ballot Measure S, the one that asks you if you support the outrageous gerrymander that Mayor Bates and his docile council majority foisted on the city at the last possible moment to fulfill their decennial obligation to create new boundaries for the council districts. The answer, of course, is No, No, a thousand times NO.

If you hadn’t figured that out already the bad behavior of the scheme’s supporters should be enough to make up your mind. On Sunday I pointed out that in flagrant violation of the applicable law they’d paid some idiot to staple a whole bunch of “Yes” signs on every telephone pole for many blocks along Ashby/Tunnel. They’re probably elsewhere as well.

Two points:

(1) It’s illegal to nail signs to wooden telephone poles.

(2) Even if it were legal, it would be annoying. We had six (6) plasticized signs in front of our house alone, four on one pole and two on the other. Ugly.

This is no way to make friends. I strongly suspect that some flunky was hired to post X number of signs, and no one bothered to tell him where he should put them. (Prejudice admission: I generally use the male pronoun when clueless errors are involved.) I’ve seen not a single pro-S sign posted in anyone’s home yard.

And now the Yes-on-S gang has been caught in another egregious mistake: claiming participation from the League of Women Voters in their ballot arguments. Wrong. Didn't happen. 

You just never mess with the LWV unless you want your hat handed to you. They don’t fool around.  

We haven’t even gotten to what’s wrong with the measure itself. It’s in the form of a referendum, which means it takes an ordinance passed by the council and asks if voters think it should become law. This is a confusing process, so if you’re confused yourself it’s no surprise. In order to get this question on the ballot, citizens had to get thousands of signatures of registered voters.  

It is generally conceded that the motivation for the lines as drawn was Mayor Bates’s blatant dislike of District 7 Councilmember Kriss Worthington. The smokescreen for this maneuver was the assertively supported theory that a district should be created where students would have a majority, not just the 80+% that they already commanded, but 90% and more.  

There are a couple of problems with this logic. In the first place, District 7 already had a strong student majority, and the students there have consistently supported Worthington, who has appointed many students to city boards and commissions. And also, conveniently enough, the new district boundaries excise the left-leaning student co-ops and dorms, leaving the rowdily conservative fraternities as the dominant student residences in the new configuration. 

City officials (using your tax money for an outside lawyer, thank you very much) took the case to court after the requisite number of signatures had been filed. Councilmembers could have withdrawn the disputed ordinance, but instead they ignored compromise overtures from referendum backers and filed a suit against the process. They got a preliminary trial court ruling that the new district lines could be used at least through the November election, so even if the redistricting ordinance is eventually overturned at the polls, Worthington has been forced to run in the new district. Referendum proponents didn’t have the money for the appeal which they probably would have won.  

But guess what? After all the Sturm-und-Drang about the pressing need for a 90+% student district, no student bothered to run against Worthington in the revised District 7. It’s likely that one reason no student filed in this race is because the areas where most student activists actually live were gerrymandered out of the district.  

The best candidate the Mayor’s faction could come up with was a guy who had been a student once upon a time (but weren’t we all?). Now he’s the PR spokesman for the Blue Shield health insurance corporation, not a popular institution with anyone who’s tangled with them. 

If Measure S is defeated, the Council gets a do-over, a chance to adopt a fairer plan. It’s just possible they will reach a more sensible conclusion when District 8 Councilmember Gordon Wozniak has retired, as he plans to do after this term.  

The only two major contributors to the Yes-on-S campaign war chest reported on the Berkeley City Clerk’s website as of October 18 were Wozniak at $1000 and Kristin Hunziker, his niece and longtime aide, a major architect of the council-passed redistricting, at $1600. She now lists her own occupation as “student” on the campaign finance report—could that be a hint about some future plans to run for office in a revamped District 7?  

Will November voters (many of whom have already started voting by mail though it’s only October) have the sense to vote down the unfair district lines proposed in Measure S? It’s a city-wide vote, not limited to affected District 7 residents. Can city voters remember that if you don’t like what’s offered in the ballot measure you should vote “no”? 

The juvenile mnemonic I came up with last week should help, though I’m a bit embarrassed to repeat it: S stands for “Stupid”—vote “No” on “Stupidity”, No on S. Cheesy, maybe, but at least I can remember it myself. 

The Editor's Back Fence

Spreading the Word As If It Were Manure

Becky O'Malley
Wednesday October 29, 2014 - 02:26:00 PM

Nothing, nothing is more depressing this week than looking at the pile of (excuse me, grandma) crap that arrives in the mailbox every day as the election season comes to a close. Well, maybe it’s the boiler room phone calls for the candidates. 

Yesterday, for example: the “Official Pro-Choice Election Endorsements” from the National Women’s Political Caucus, a group of which I was a founding member way back when they used to be honest feminists. They’ve collected a group of women most of whom are of no particular distinction, and they obviously intend to leave the unwary reader with the totally false impression that the opponents of these women are not pro-choice. Lies, lies, bald-faced lies. 

And to complement these, a phone call from someone who sounded like he was a young man, with obvious boiler room noise in the background: “This is the National Woman’s Political Caucus. Will you be voting for Elizabeth Echols?” I asked him where he was located and what company he worked for, and he hung up.  

Then today another guy, slightly different voice but obviously on the same team, who wanted to tell me all of Ms. Echols’ great endorsements. The last one was the “Serena Club”. Say again? “Serena Club”. Where are you located, young man? “I can’t tell you.” Are you in California? “No.” Do you support this candidate? "I'm not allowed to say." 

Both of these yound men sounded like they were African-Americans, perhaps hired in an attempt to influence Tony Thurmond's potential supporters. It didn't work with me, but it might work with some voters. 

Well, the NWPC and the “Serena” Club should be on notice that from now on, though I’ve contributed both time and money to both organizations in the past, they can take me off their lists. (And that goes for the “Sierra” Club too.)

Updated: The Planet's Election Endorsements

Becky O'Malley
Friday October 24, 2014 - 11:28:00 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. This week we want first to remedy one oversight: We strongly support the unopposed slate of candidates for Berkeley's Rent Board. Their campaign is being pitched as an opportunity for Berkeley voters to reaffirm their support for our long-standing rent control and stabilization law, so don't forget to check those candidates' boxes on your ballot.

In other areas (click on the links for fuller discussion) :

Berkeley Measure S (district gerrymander): NO

Berkeley Measure R (green downtown regulations):Yes

Measure D (tax on sugar in soda pop) : no endorsement

Alameda County Measure BB: Yes

Judges: Here's a recommendation from an active young lawyer who comes from a family of distinguished attorneys but wishes to remain anonymous: " Liu, Cuellar, Werdegar,Humes, Kline, and Stewart are yes. Ruvolo is the only definite no." She voted yes for everyone but ruvolo.

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



More to come on the ballot measures and propositions.

Public Comment

New: “Big Oil” in the 15th Assembly District race: Take Two.

Joanna Graham
Monday October 27, 2014 - 03:50:00 PM

Quoting Mal Warwick’s op-ed in Berkeleyside once again, “There’s no way to know why these groups [such as Big Oil] are spending so much money here. We can only assume that something about Thurmond, or his opponent, Elizabeth Echols, has moved them to support one and oppose the other.”

Reiterating that we do not and cannot know who is actually behind those Alliance for California’s Tomorrow mailers, I return to the question as to which candidate is being supported, which opposed. In my last op-ed [below], I pointed out that there is no known reason why “Big Oil” would be supporting Tony Thurmond, since on the Richmond city council he voted against Chevron’s plan to refine heavy crude—a plan that is still in limbo.

And in fact, the Echols campaign has—to my knowledge—stopped short of claiming that “Big Oil” is actually trying to put Thurmond in Sacramento. Rather, they are making the more indirect argument that “Big Oil” is so terrified of Echols’s strong environmentalism that they are supporting Thurmond in order to keep her out (“oppose the other”). 

(From a recent mailer, for example: “Elizabeth is a champion for combating climate change, enforcing air quality standards, and cleaning up our coastlines. She’s a strong advocate of a ban on fracking. As a result, Big Oil interests are spending tens of thousands of dollars in support of her opponent.”) 

So of what does this fabulous environmental record—so terrifying to the oil industry—consist? What makes Elizabeth Echols “a champion”? I turn first to the best possible source: the explanation provided by the San Francisco Bay chapter of the Sierra Club for its Echols endorsement. Here it is (you can also find it word for word on Echols’s own website): 

“When it comes to clean energy and green technology, Elizabeth Echols has the experience we need to make California a leader in environmental protection and expand our green economy. 

“As the director of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Northern California Chapter, Echols worked with state legislators, labor, industry and environmental groups all over California. She has also fought for more opportunities for undeserved [sic] communities in the clean tech industry. A champion for combating climate change, enforcing air quality standards, cleaning up our coastlines, and reducing carbon emissions, Echols has also been endorsed by the California League of Conservation Voters. 

“In the state assembly, Elizabeth will stand up for a moratorium on fracking, combat climate change by promoting energy efficiency and clean technology, preserve the Bay and expand parks and open space, improve air quality by holding polluters accountable and investing in affordable public transportation, and strengthen California’s leadership in innovation and clean technology.” 

A lot of this of course is boilerplate. I mean, is there any candidate who would pledge to make our coastline dirtier or decrease parks and open space? So that leaves us to do some close textual reading and the first thing that strikes the eye is that “environmental groups” are mentioned only once—last on a list on which they are preceded by “legislators,” “labor” and “industry”—while “green technology” and related words (“clean energy,” “green economy,” etc.) get eight iterations. 

Which means that Echols’s environmentalism, according to her own stated program, consists of modest incremental steps towards “environmental protection” by means of technical solutions provided by business and industry. 

What about her actual record? After helping Google expand their overseas sales, she served as CEO of Op-Net Community Ventures, a short-lived, now-defunct nonprofit described by its founder as “an innovative dot com era program that prepared low-income people for the digital economy,” then moved to the Northern California chapter of the Green Building Council, the founder and CEO of which was Dan Geiger—the same guy who started Op-Net—who states on his LinkedIn page, “I believe that what’s good for the planet is good for business.” 

Shades of GM exec Charlie Wilson who is so famously remembered for saying: “What’s good for the country is good for General Motors and vice versa.” In Private Empire, his excellent book on ExxonMobil, Steve Coll reveals that after the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, the company became so safety conscious they got after their employees about stuff like wearing helmets when they biked. I am right now imagining Chevron corporation engineers planning their next deep ocean or arctic drilling adventure while working in an LEED-certified building! It will be so much healthier for them. 

Which is to express my opinion that while green buildings are certainly preferable to non-green ones, as an approach to climate change and all the other many environmental catastrophes we humans are creating at breakneck speed, building of any sort is probably a less than adequate response and even possibly part of the problem, since slowing down economic activity to sustainable levels seems key. 

The building approach to environmentalism reaches its nadir, in my estimation, in the pro-Echols mailer from the Professional Engineers in California Government PAC (her husband is a CalTrans engineer) which asserts that “building transportation projects” will “create jobs, reduce congestion, preserve the environment, and improve our quality of life.” I imagine a brand new super highway, or possibly the California high-speed railroad—a project which Echols supports—right down the middle of the provided picture of a stream flowing through ferny woods. 

Bates-Hancock is closely aligned with developers, contractors, and the building trades. That’s why, I assume, Hancock drove her controversial “gut and amend” bill SB 54 through the state senate last year. It pitted the member unions of the State Building and Construction Trades Council against refinery workers, many of whom are members of the United Steel Workers—a move that caused a stir because it threatened to put Contra Costa’s immensely important and hard-won industrial safety ordinance at risk. 

It’s also, I assume why Elizabeth Echols is the Chosen One of the Bates-Hancock machine. Her CV in the “green building” industry (“a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down”) and her cautious, pro-business, conflict-free approach to the issues that confront us make her the next excellent torchbearer. But I find risible the suggestion that her record so terrifies Chevron that “Big Oil” is spending big bucks to defeat her. 

I don’t need or expect Echols to be the kind of person who chains herself to the White House fence, or sits in a tree for a year, or blows up power plants. But somehow I imagine her as someone who has always had the kind of job where people in suits sit around a big table in a nice conference room and work out plans that will “improve people’s lives” while incidentally enriching themselves (“what’s good for the planet is good for business”). 

Unfortunately, however, conflict is real. For example, Chevron wants to expand its Richmond refinery to handle more polluting fuels; the residents of Richmond want their kids to be able to breathe and also not get cancer. I’m not sure Elizabeth Echols has the slightest clue that this is true—or maybe I’m just worried about which side she’ll be on. 

For example [see above], her website and Sierra Club endorsement state that “Elizabeth will stand up for a moratorium on fracking,” but the mailer from which I quote (“East Bay Woman”) says “she’s a strong advocate of a ban.” So, Elizabeth, which is it?

The Assembly Race Turns Nasty

Joanna Graham
Friday October 24, 2014 - 10:22:00 AM

What’s going on in the race for California Assembly District 15? Elizabeth Echols is running perhaps the nastiest campaign I have ever seen—a nearly 100% negative campaign based on the insinuation that her opponent, Tony Thurmond, is backed by “big oil, tobacco, and predatory lenders”—perhaps the three industries most guaranteed to bring rage into the hearts of liberal Bay Area voters (surpassing even Big Soda).

And on what is this insinuation based? Has Tony Thurmond done anything in his public career to give grounds for it? Not that I have so far been able to dig up—nor Echols either, presumably, since she has provided no instances. Rather, it is based completely on the mysterious direct mail we have been receiving on Thurmond’s behalf from The Alliance for California’s Tomorrow and, apparently (I have not personally received any of these), from Keep CA Strong PAC.

So what are these entities? They are independent expenditure committees, which have been proliferating like cancer cells, particularly in the aftermath of Citizens United. Essentially they are political money laundering operations designed specifically to make the connection between the donor and the beneficiary untraceable. Even the recipient of the largesse does not know—by law cannot know—who is spending the money. So the source of the mailers is a mystery. Thurmond does not know who paid for them and Echols does not know either.  

Mal Warwick, long-time Berkeley political operative and current supporter of Elizabeth Echols, wrote, in his Berkeleyside op-ed of October 16, “There’s no way to know why these groups [big tobacco and big oil] are spending so much money here. We can only assume that something about Thurmond, or his opponent, Elizabeth Echols, has moved them to support one and oppose the other.” 

I agree—with two provisos. One, we have no reason to conclude that the donors are “big oil etc.” since we don’t know which entity or entities from published donor lists which include a broad array of California organizations, labor as well as business, are actually paying for the mailers. And two, since every mailing may well be doing more harm than good to Thurmond—this is rather Machiavellian—we don’t even know which candidate is being supported, which opposed. It’s possible that someone is mailing them specifically to give Echols, one of the weakest candidates to come down the pipe in a long time, something to campaign about. 

I have a guess about that, but it’s pure guess. I will return to it in a moment. But first, a reminder. 

This assembly race is not the sort of race that we are used to and that, at first glance, it appears to be—a race between two more-or-less equal Democrats, each with his or her own group of supporters. This is a race which was not supposed to be happening, because Elizabeth Echols is the Chosen One of Berkeley’s own Bates-Hancock machine which has controlled the assembly seat for the past 38 years (and the mayoralty of Berkeley for 20 and counting). 

Remember that Echols won the primary back in June, and, if California hadn’t changed to the bizarre top-two rule, she would have faced some hapless Republican in the general election and won handily. The contest with Thurmond was unexpected and, I am sure, deeply resented. As we know from long experience, Tom Bates does not like to be thwarted. 

In the 2002 election, for example, he removed free papers that endorsed his rival from boxes on the U.C. campus; after first denying it, he paid a $100 fine. In 2008, Nancy Skinner, described at the time in the Daily Cal as “part of the dominant political organization in Berkeley” and “connected to the Bates-Hancock faction,” entered the race belatedly amidst some confusion as to whether she had been planning to run at all, going on to defeat Bates’s enemy, Berkeley city councilmember Kriss Worthington. So in the Berkeley half of the assembly district, there’s a history of not completely nice campaigning. 

Note that I said “Berkeley half.” The Warwick op-ed is entitled “Big Tobacco and Big Oil have no place in Berkeley Politics,” and the op-ed decries the entry of outside interests into a “Berkeley” race. Nothing could better demonstrate my contention that, after 38 years, the assembly seat is considered a “Berkeley” (i.e., Bates-Hancock) seat. Because wait! There is another medium-sized city in the district—Richmond. And from the point of view of Richmond politics, “big oil” is hardly an outside interest. As long-time Richmond city council member and current mayoral candidate Tom Butt remarked in 2007: “There’s an old saying here, that Richmond’s a plantation, and Chevron’s the plantation owner.” 

Butt should know. As of early October Chevron had spent $1.26 million through three campaign committees, all with the same address and slightly differing versions of another of those vaguely progressive sounding names—Moving Forward—to defeat him and three potentially troublesome candidates for the Richmond city council. That’s a lot of money to spend on a municipal election. Why? 

Because (1) in the last decade, for the first time in 100 years, a progressive faction that actually stands up to Chevron managed to get elected to the Richmond city council and the mayoralty, and (2), they did so at the worst possible time for Chevron, which desperately needs to upgrade its Richmond refinery to process heavy crude, which—let’s face it—is the crude of the future. 

How did Tony Thurmond vote on Chevron’s upgrade/expansion during his years on the Richmond city council (2005-08)? He voted with the progressive faction against it, and the plan remains in limbo at this time. In the 2007 SF Gate article quoted above, activist Juan Reardon remarked, “If it’s a matter of serious economic concern to Chevron, they’re going to get their way. Everyone knows that taking on Chevron jeopardizes your chances of getting re-elected to the council or of running successfully for higher office.” 

I think it’s possible that Warwick is right about “big oil” but wrong about who is the target and who the beneficiary. It might seem a little crazy that Chevron would be trying to keep Thurmond out of the assembly by funding direct mail for him—including the gorgeous 16-page booklet “resembling a corporate report” to which Warwick refers. I certainly have no proof of this and many other options are on the table. But if Chevron wants to punish Thurmond for his city council votes, it seems to me that it would be counterproductive for them to attack him directly. There’s hardly anything more likely to encourage liberal Bay Area voters to support a candidate than a perception that “big oil” is out to get him, while obviously expensive mailers resembling corporate reports are likely to push us in the other direction. In addition, I can’t imagine why a “good” person or organization which truly wanted to support Thurmond wouldn’t clearly self-identify, instead of going through a money-laundering IE that raises troubling questions and hands his opponent her one and only issue. 

There is at least one prior instance of The Alliance for California’s Tomorrow attempting to game the system in a California race, when, in a primary, they supported a Republican candidate who could not possibly win in November, in an apparent attempt to keep a progressive Democrat out of the top two. And with respect to Chevron’s current three similarly named IE committees in Richmond, Sarah Swanbeck of California Common Cause remarked that, “This is a good way, and I’m using the word good ironically, for corporations to obfuscate where funding actually comes from,” adding that the creation of multiple campaign committees with similar names is unusual. 

All of which is to say that we’re still in the early days of independent expenditure committees and the process is only going to get more sophisticated, more strategic, more subtle, more ruthless, and more confusing to the voter. The best defense, I believe, is to pay no attention to anything that comes from anywhere other than a candidate’s own campaign committee. 

Meanwhile, I’ve made up my mind about Elizabeth Echols. Anyone who would run such a dirty campaign—not only negative, but based completely on innuendo with respect to mailings the source of which is unknown and which her opponent cannot control—is a person of bad character. I wouldn’t vote for her under any circumstances. 





Chevron Discredits Itself in Mayoral Smear Campaign

Colin Murphy
Friday October 24, 2014 - 02:30:00 PM

In what is turning out to be an epic political battle, the race for Richmond City Council is less than one month away from election day.

The stakes are massive: in a city that receives approximately 10% of its total revenue from Chevron, one of Richmond's largest employers, the oil giant has every intention of maintaining its powerful political influence there.

But after three major disasters at the Richmond Chevron Refinery, the worst of which was an explosion and fire that sent more than fifteen thousand residents to the hospital in August 2012, there's evidence that the Richmond populace is not so enthusiastic about the company's presence in their city. According a Richmond Confidential article last year, Contra Costa County Supervisor John Goia said that “there's always been a love-hate relationship between Chevron and Richmond.” He added, “support is at an all-time low.” 

Chevron claims to support the people of the working-class city. However, despite pouring millions into City programs — a typical corporate PR maneuver that could hardly be seen as humanitarian — Chevron doesn't seem to care enough about Richmond residents to tell them the truth. Instead, the massive corporation has elected the path of disingenuity by using smear tactics. For example, it has portrayed Richmond City Council candidate Eduardo Martinez as an “anarchist.” Online, Martinez has personally denounced that claim as “ludicrous,” saying he “believes we need government.”. It is also worth noting that contrary to Chevron's lies, anarchism is not anarchy. Anarchism is a political philosophy based on orderly, structured political and social institutions - not a power vacuum. 

Moving Forward is the official name of Chevron's not-so-subtle, ostensibly insecure attempt at a political mobilization. Beyond slamming E. Martinez, it has caused an outrage of homophobia by attacking Vice-Mayor Jovanka Beckles, a lesbian who is also running for City Council on the progressive Team Richmond slate, along with Eduardo Martinez and Gayle McLaughlin, on the basis of Beckles's sexual orientation. Even more problematically, Moving Forward has alleged that Beckles "does nothing but" contribute to the City's "most dysfunctional Council in recent memory" when in fact it is the non-progressive candidates on the Council — namely the volatile Corky Booz and Nate Bates, both staunchly pro-Chevron — who consistently bark, badger, provoke conflict, and stonewall Council meetings. 

Moving Forward might as well be called the Chevron Defamation League, considering its affinity for slander. Indeed, this is what a major oil corporation resorts to after - possibly? — seeing the writing on the wall: the global fossil fuel industry is on its way out, slowly but surely. As the International Energy Outlook's 2012 report states, “no more than one-third (1/3) of proven fossil fuel reserves can be burned prior to 2050 if the world” is to keep global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius. Scientific consensus holds that warming the atmosphere past two degrees would cause irreversible warming vis-α-vis geophysical feedback loops, most infamously methane release through the thawing of Earth's vast permafrost. 

Public shows of support for a world beyond fossil fuels is building rapidly. Examples abound. Earlier this year, the Native American-led Connect the Dots Healing Walks drew hundreds to march miles in protest of the 5 fossil fuel refineries along the Carquinez Strait. Coupled with the unprecedentedly diverse 400,000 person-strong People's Climate March in New York City two weeks ago, which saw satellite protests all around the world of up to 30,000 people, these actions show that concern for climate change has moved people from all walks of life, in almost every country on Earth, to begin taking action. The world is realizing that coal, oil, gas and other fossil fuels must be left in the ground. And the sooner the better, for the stark realities of business-as-usual greenhouse gas emissions are clear: if we don't stop using oil, gas, and coal, our species could make as much as half of the planet's land area too hot to support human life . Furthermore, the climate crisis could wipe out 85% of the entire Amazon rainforest — which currently produces 25% of all oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere. The Amazon could turn into a veritable scrub wasteland. 

Chevron is a corporation motivated by profit whose activities are fast helping to overheat the planet at the potential cost of millions of species and billions of lives. In that light, Richmond and humanity have everything to lose by continuing to support this company. Those who currently work for Chevron's Richmond Refinery should be supported in finding employment elsewhere, namely in the burgeoning local living economies engaged in energy efficiency, harnessing renewable energy sources, and creating resilient local food systems, among other projects. By continuing to support fossil fuel combustion instead of bolstering new economic initiatives and institutions to move Richmond and the region away from dirty fuels, we run the risk of — well, running out of time. 

The window for taking action to prevent runaway climate change is fast closing on the City of Richmond as well as the Bay Area. Therefore, taking immediate action to develop new institutions to replace those that cradle fossil fuels is the fundamental task at hand. It is our societal duty to do so in order to preserve a decent life on this planet for current and future generations. As a City that now has a strong progressive tradition, Richmond is poised to be a national or even global leader in creating a new economy — an economy of green jobs that prioritizes People and Planet instead of Profit. Richmond cannot succeed in creating that future, however, if Chevron is allowed to maintain its stranglehold there. 

How NOT to Vote in Berkeley's District 8: Avoid the Revolving Door

Nigel Guest
Friday October 24, 2014 - 11:20:00 AM

As a resident of Berkeley's District 8, I'm concerned that the front-runner in our Councilmember's race may be a person who has more potential conflicts of interest than anybody I can recall, namely Mike Cohen. He has a senior position at UC Berkeley, in which he is in charge of licensing the university's technology to commercial enterprises, particularly startups, and he is co-founder and a major stockholder in Peak Democracy, which organizes online forums for local governments. He appears to be within the letter of the FPPC's definition of conflict-of-interest, but he is well outside its spirit. District 8 may be the area most impacted by the activities of UC Berkeley, and its residents are often at loggerheads with the Administration, including multiple citizens' lawsuits against it. Thus any ties to UC are a problem for someone whose job is to support the residents' interests - the incumbent is a case in point. 

Mike has publicly stated that, if elected, he will resign from UC, and I'm sure he will. However: 

Is this any different from the revolving-door politics we decry in Sacramento and Washington, where people shuttle between closely-linked public and private positions? A particularly egregious example is Michael Peevey, the president of the PUC, who was a former CEO of Southern California Edison. And we wonder why our utility providers are so expensive and inefficient! 

Mike's job duties at UC have undoubtedly left him with close personal ties with the management of many Berkeley tech, and particularly synthetic biology, startups. These companies will need zoning and building permits and variances, and who better to help than a City Councilmember? 

According to his own candidate's webpage, as part of his work at UC, Mike co-founded QB3's East Bay Innovation Center. QB3 is the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (aka synthetic biology), and the property is being built by Wareham Development, which has a number of projects in West Berkeley. Wareham, too, needs City permits and variances! 

Regarding Peak Democracy, Mike's mandatory FPPC declaration shows no income from this company, which is unusual, to say the least, for a director and co-founder of a well-established business. Furthermore, the company had a 2011 contract with three City Councilmembers (the strongest proponents of large-scale development on the Council beside the mayor) that was very likely paid for out of the public funds at their disposal. So, as a minimum, it has good connections with the City. Incidentally, Peak Democracy's forum asked for people's opinion on the building of labs, etc. in West Berkeley. It had a grand total of 237 respondents, which nonetheless seemed to satisfy the clients, because it gave them the answer they wanted! 

Fellow residents, I urge you to elect someone who will represent you, not UC and business owners in other Districts, or outside developers.

James Risen, a Pulitzer Prize Winning Hero , is Threatened with Jail for Protecting Source

Jagjit Singh
Friday October 24, 2014 - 11:18:00 AM

In a determined effort to punish James Risen, the New York Times investigative reporter, the Bush and now the Obama administration has threatened him with imprisonment unless he reveals his source who provided him details of the massive illegal warrantless wiretapping conducted by the National Security Agency. This case will undoubtedly become the most significant challenge to press freedom in decades. 

In 2006 Risen won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting and has more recently published a book, “State of War” which provides startling details of the long dark history of the CIA and the Bush administration. The government accuses the CIA officer, Jeffrey Sterling, of giving Risen classified information about the agency’s role in disrupting Iran’s nuclear program, which Risen argues effectively gave Iran a blueprint for designing a bomb.  

In what appears to be a crude effort to silence Risen to prevent the botched ‘Sterling Affair” coming to light, the Obama administration has intensified its effort to compel Risen to reveal his source. In a gesture of defiance, Risen responded to the Justice Department highhandedness by releasing another book, titled "Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War." He stated that "you cannot have aggressive investigative reporting in America without confidential sources — and without aggressive investigative reporting, we can’t really have a democracy." This may prove to be a landmark case which may eventually determine the future of journalism.

The Parks Tax and its Discontents

Jim McGrath and Toni Mester
Friday October 24, 2014 - 10:36:00 AM
At the Rose Garden
Caitlin Brostrom
At the Rose Garden
At James Kenney Park
Susan McKay
At James Kenney Park

It must be the worst of times in Berkeley when a modest and pragmatic measure that wins endorsements from the entire City Council, civic leaders, candidates, and the political mainstream from the Chamber of Commerce to the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club still doesn’t satisfy outspoken members of our community. 

The campaign for Measure F, the parks tax increase, led by Jim McGrath, the Chair of the Parks and Waterfront Commission, and a small group of current and former Parks Commissioners, has aroused some latent anxieties and outright hostilities in two distinct camps. Unfortunately, their concerns, albeit passionately held and professed, have little to do with the sad state of our park system, which Measure F will begin to correct. Let’s be clear about that: Measure F is only the first step in what will be a long process to salvage our recreational facilities and reclaim Berkeley’s parks heritage.  

The two camps are the fiscal conservatives and the disappointed advocates for the reconstruction of Willard Pool and the creation of a new park along the undeveloped southern section of the Santa Fe right-of-way. Each group has a different motive for opposing Measure F but both are marked by deep distrust of City government, both the Council and the management, aka “the staff.” And while both groups profess a love of our parks, they seem willing to sacrifice them to other purposes. 

The Budget Hawks 

The fiscal conservatives include Budget SOS, the Committee for FACTS, and neighborhood groups in the hills, including the Board of NEBA (Northeast Berkeley Association) and sometimes CENA (Claremont-Elmwood), who together or separately have opposed most taxes and bonds in the last elections, including the streets bond of 2012 (passed), the pools bonds of 2010 and 2012 (failed), the libraries bond of 2008 (passed), and the school bonds of 2010 and 2006 (passed). 

Their arguments are fairly consistent and manifest in Barbara Gilbert’s recent No on F opinion piece in Berkeleyside: the City is mismanaged, has allowed employee related costs to balloon at the expense of infrastructure and services, and lacks a comprehensive plan to deal with future unfunded liabilities. They contend that City employee salaries, benefits, and pensions – especially fire and police - are excessive compared to nearby cities and that expenditures lack transparency and accountability. They want the University, developers, and private foundations to contribute more and overburdened taxpayers less. 

These would be powerful arguments if they were combined with a pragmatic strategy to raise revenues, both public and private, reign in pension and health care costs, and correct infrastructure decay. Gilbert believes that “A NO vote will incentivize [the City] to start fixing big fiscal problems and start asking all stakeholders to contribute to the wellbeing of our City.” 

Unfortunately a NO vote does not provide such incentives. The “starve the beast” strategy is self-defeating: it’s the stick without a carrot. A NO vote on Measure F would instead force the City to close unsafe recreational facilities that are a liability risk and layoff more maintenance workers. Holding the parks hostage to fear, frustration, and political stalemate robs citizens of amenities that make life in Berkeley worth the price of admission. 

The Parks Department  

In fact, Parks, Recreation, and Waterfront is a well-managed and complex Department that delivers a panoply of programs with a budget $25 million, which is 7% of the gross City budget of $364 million. Within its purview lies the Marina, a self-supporting enterprise funded by berthing fees and business rents that pay for the Shorebird Park Nature Center and its ecology programs, led by naturalist Patty Donald, the entire waterfront infrastructure including docks and the pier, César Chavez Park, and the salaries of the 17 Marina staff. The Marina fund constitutes 22% ($5 million) of the PRW budget. 

Recreational activities in the parks and pools are supported by the General Fund ($5.5 million, 22% of the PRW budget) and directed by the famously hard-working Denise Brown. A complete description of the current program is contained in the Fall and Holiday activity guide which includes offerings such as the pre-K, after school, and disabled inclusion programs, day camps, sports lessons, and special events. There’s a kids oriented Halloween Carnival coming up on Sunday October 26, including a parade and costume contest at San Pablo Park. 

The camps fund, which used to run a profit, is struggling in the red after the tragic Rim Fire in August 2013 destroyed Berkeley Tuolumne Camp, which will be rebuilt mostly by insurance and donations from friends and supporters. Time will tell if there will be a shortfall in the reconstruction and how that money will be raised or whether the alternative site at Echo Lake will turn a profit in the interim. 

The Parks Tax 

The Parks tax itself supports maintenance of 52 parks, trails, and the 35,000 trees in our urban forest, which is managed by Dan Gallagher. The current staff of 44 is down three positions, which could be filled with passage of Measure F. These are physically demanding but good union jobs that can support a family and will help keep all of the endangered facilities safe and open for public use. 

In addition, Measure F would raise over $1 million a year to repair what needs to be fixed. With the existing repair funds, the extra steady income would allow staff to schedule repairs in a planned sequence that would halt the deterioration. The list of projects is contained in the staff report to the Council work session of February 11 and includes restoration of tennis court and ball fields City wide, the Rose Garden, Aquatic Park, James Kenney Center, and the locker rooms and plumbing in the West Campus and King pools. 

The parks tax income is augmented by grants, totaling more than $15 million since 2009, and accounting for the full cost of the new Bay Trail. Some notable recent grants include Federal transportation funds for the Bay Trail, East Bay Regional Park district Measure WW monies for resurfacing the San Pablo Park basketball courts and skate park, Cosco Busan oil spill grants for improvements at the South Sailing Basin, and State Boating and Waterways for other waterfront amenities. These targeted grants show good management and help to rebuild the parks, but cannot always be spent on pressing maintenance problems. 

Scott Ferris is overseeing this entire operation, and from our perspective, he’s doing a great job. He listens and responds to the concerns of the community and the Commission. For example, in our separate report to the Council on February 11, the Commission recommended that the staff encourage and supervise more community volunteers in the parks. His response was to revitalize the monthly community crew days when the entire maintenance crew and neighbors work and lunch together at a park site to make improvements. Recent CCDs have been held at the Marin Circle and San Pablo Park. 

Ferris rose to the challenge of responding to the devastation of the Rim Fire in meetings with the Forest Service. It was he and Assistant City Manager William Rogers who presciently insured the camps against fire, saving the City perhaps as much as $30 million. 

The point of all this unabashed boosterism is that the Department is delivering value for the taxpayers’ money. Parks is not only putting it to good use by delivering vital community services but also by leveraging taxes with enterprise and grants that currently comprise 28% of the PRW budget and have largely gone unnoticed. 

The Disappointed 

What has not gone unnoticed, especially in South Berkeley, is the fate of Willard Pool, which was closed in June 2010 after the failure of Measure C, a Mello-Roos pools bond that got 62% approval, short of the 2/3 required. The pools supporters tried again in November 2012 in dual tax and bond measures N and O that also failed at similar rates of approval, 60 and 62%, respectively. 

The pool was closed after the general fund allowance for recreational programs was cut in 2010, including three full-time positions and the adult sports program. The PRW was already running a deficit with little money available for repairs and upgrades. A month after closure, Willard pool was filled with dirt in order to provide weight to counteract the hydraulic lift of groundwater, an attempt to preserve the vessel against cracking. 

This year, the Willard community had high hopes for a revival of their cherished pool located within the grounds of Willard Junior High School on Telegraph and Derby. For them and for the Commission, reopening was a matter of equity for south Berkeley since west and north Berkeley are served by West Campus and King pools, respectively. Although swimming is the most expensive recreation because of the high cost of installing and operating pools, the exercise provides excellent health benefits, lifesaving skills, and qualification for the Navy and the Coast Guard. 

The career of parks commissioner Dru Howard is a case in point. Because she had learned how to swim in a Cincinnati public pool as a child, Howard qualified to join the Navy, where she met chaplains who helped her discover her true vocation. A graduate of Starr King School for the Ministry, she now serves as clergy at the McGee Avenue Baptist Church. 

A Difficult Decision 

In their months-long deliberation on how to raise revenues to fund the parks, the City Council wavered between a parks tax, favored by the City Manager, staff and the Mayor, and a Mello-Roos bond, promoted by those involved in previous campaigns for the pools and by supporters of the Santa Fe right-of-way. 

Instituted as a response to Prop 13, The Mello-Roos is a combined tax and bond measure that allows a municipality to form a community facilities district (CFD) and raise funds for a particular purpose by imposing an adjustable tax for operating costs as well as selling bonds for capital improvements. A general obligation bond, in contrast, cannot be used for operational expenses. 

Like other special parcel taxes, the Mello-Roos levy is calculated by square footage, not assessed valuation, which many view as more equitable than the current situation in which neighbors owning houses of similar sizes pay hugely different ad valorem taxes depending on the purchase price. However, setting up the CFD involves specialized legal work that costs over $20,000. Berkeley only has one CFD, established in 2000 by Measure Q, which covered construction of the fire warehouse between Murray Street and Folger Streets in West Berkeley and funds emergency fire services. 

The Council and the Mello-Roos supporters disagreed on the interpretation of the two community surveys conducted in March, in which Willard Pool and the Santa Fe right-of-way fared poorly, only getting about 50% in the two asks; and in April, when concern about the deterioration of the parks in general scored 70%. These two results influenced the Council’s final decision. 

In May, the Council gave city staff direction to prepare a proposal for a Mello Roos district that would include several options. The initial package included reconstruction of Willard Pool and other projects such as the Rose Garden, courts and ball fields City-wide, Aquatic Park, James Kenney Community Center, other parks and pools, and the Santa Fe right-of-way.  

A local architecture firm (ELS) estimated the construction cost of a new Willard Pool at $4 million, to which the City adds “soft” costs of 45% that include design and engineering, construction management, inspection and testing of utilities and metering, and project contingencies (unexpected costs) that bring the estimated cost to more than $5.7 million plus annual operating expenses of at least $300,000. 

The estimated cost of the package for an owner of a 1900 square foot house, ranged from about $56/year to over $85/year. To their credit, Councilmembers Linda Maio and Laurie Capitelli tried to come up with a Mello-Roos measure that included Willard Pool and other projects, but at a lower cost. After several debates and votes, the Council ran out of time to adjust the content and cost of the measure. On June 24th the council decided to put a parks tax increase on the ballot, now Measure F, reasoning that a more expensive measure was unlikely to succeed in a non-Presidential election year. 

Many of us share disappointment that Willard Pool will not be revived, not yet. But that feeling is not a valid reason to vote against Measure F. In fact, passage of the parks tax is probably a precondition for the eventual reconstruction of Willard Pool because maintenance and repair of existing facilities must come first, to satisfy not only the needs of the PRW Department, but also the desires of the many citizens who want improvements to their neighborhood parks. 

In our unanimous February 11 recommendation to the City Council, the Commission put a raise in the parks tax first. The current income is simply inadequate to take care of Berkeley’s parks. If Measure F passes, citizens can consider issuing bonds to fund major projects. If it fails, the condition of our common property will continue to deteriorate and facilities will be closed. 

That’s the choice. 

Jim McGrath and Toni Mester are the Chair and Treasurer of the Yes on Measure F campaign. 




Cuba & the Ebola Crisis

Tejinder Uberoi
Friday October 24, 2014 - 06:03:00 PM

While much of the world is finding it difficult to recruit trained medical staff to dispatch to West Africa to combat the Ebola epidemic, one nation is responding to the crisis. Cuba has already dispatched 165 health workers to Sierra Leone and is sending 91 additional staff to Liberia and Guinea. This brings the total to 256 people, more than a third of all foreign medical staff. Cuban President, Raúl Castro, offered to work with the United States to help combat the Ebola epidemic. 

Cuba deserves credit for its show of compassion and it is heartening that after some hesitation, the US agreed to work with Cuba. It is encouraging that Cuba offered an olive branch to the US in spite of suffering from decades of crippling economic sanctions. Cuba has an excellent health care system and highly trained medical professions and has trained many Latin American students to become doctors, free of charge. The Cuban embargo has been a complete an utter failure; it has not forced the Castro’s out of power and indeed Cuba was once a close US ally. The continued embargo is politically motivated to pander to a relatively small number of ex-pat Miami Cubans. If we have had several successful rapprochements with autocratic governments such as Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia China, Russia, Vietnam, Myanmar, and others, why not normalize relations with Cuba and lift the crippling embargo which disproportionately hurts the poor?

UC Berkeley is a Private University!

Harry Brill
Friday October 24, 2014 - 10:45:00 AM

One of the serious shortcomings of the recently enacted Berkeley Minimum Wage Law, which became effective October 1, is the permanent exemption for the University of California Berkeley campus. By 2016, the minimum wage will reach $12.53 per hour. But not for many employees of UC Berkeley. Because the University is presumably a public institution sustained by the state, its workforce is not covered by local laws. However, the reality is that although the State of California had once been its primary source of funding, this is no longer the case. 

In fact, UC Berkeley is has been transformed from a public to a private university. 

Nicholas B. Dirks, who is the chancellor of UC Berkeley just sent out a fund raising letter complaining that the University receives only about 12 percent of its budget from the State. So the chancellor now claims that using a budget criteria is no longer appropriate for considering the institution a public university. Rather, he points out, we all have a collective stake in the institution which is what makes it public.  

I would like to believe that the Chancellor recognizes that the University's employees are among the constituencies with an important stake in the University. Since this is, indeed, the case, the University's administrators should make sure that its entire work force is provided with good working conditions and adequate wages. 

I don't know to what extent its workforce would benefit if the Berkeley minimum wage ordinance applies to the University. What I do know is that since its funding base no longer depends on the State, and that it has become a private university, Berkeley's minimum wage ordinance should apply to all University employees.

New: It's a No-Brainer: Berkeley Takes On Big Soda

Vivian Warkentin
Tuesday October 28, 2014 - 07:50:00 PM

That Soda Tax--It's a no- brainer. This is Liberal Progressive Berzerkley town and we DEFY you Big Soda! It's us against Big Soda. That's all. Don't bother me with details, I've already got my yes on D yard sign up. 

That local paragon of environmental stewardship, The Ecology Center, has put everything on hold for this most important of environmental issues. Hang the fact that the California State Department of Food And Agriculture has made a ruling that would pre- emt all local control, and allow pesticide spraying without notice or consent anywhere in California, including over schools, homes, organic farms etc, (ala the Brown Apple Moth Spray in spades). Comments from the public end on Oct. 31, 2014 at PEIRinfo@edfa.ca.gov. 

Wow, that's before the election. Heck we can't do everything. Gotta pick our battles. 

Our leaders had the foresight to exempt baby formula,(get 'em hooked young) and medical drinks like that life saver, Ensure, full of GMO high fructose corn syrup and GMO soy isolate. The diet aspartame drinks will of course be exempt even though they cause cravings for sweets to go up and are even more responsible for diabetes and obesity than Big Sugar. 

Hey, our town may make some extra bucks off of the chump sugar addicts, unless they decide to buy their drinks from businesses in close by towns. 

Come on, don't be negative. The important thing is that we reward our leaders for trying, and we at least feel good that it looks like something is being done about something

New: Big Money Invades the 15th Assembly District

Mal Warwick
Tuesday October 28, 2014 - 07:48:00 PM

Since I have now been attacked twice in the Daily Planet by someone named Joanna Graham, most recently yesterday in a “Take Two” addendum to her original piece, it’s time to respond. Ms. Graham is apparently exercised that I stated the obvious about the forces at play in the 15th Assembly District race in an opinion piece I wrote elsewhere. 

In her first diatribe, Ms. Graham states that she has never seen such a negative campaign as the one waged by Elizabeth Echols for the 15th A.D. seat. This is laughable. What planet does Ms. Graham live on? The negative campaigns I’ve personally witnessed over the years involve vicious ad hominem attacks, statements quoted out of context, and outright lies. Ms. Echols, her campaign workers, the Democratic Party, and I have all done nothing but to state — reflecting the public record — that two so-called “independent expenditure committees” (special-interest PACs) have weighed in on behalf of Tony Thurmond. The last I checked, they had already spent more than $200,000 to support his campaign. Those are facts. There’s nothing negative about stating simple facts. 

It is also a fact that a statewide organization called the California Oil Producers Association — the pro-fracking lobby — has contributed $450,000 to the two PACs that are supporting Mr. Thurmond. Ms. Graham disingenuously suggests that it’s impossible to tell who’s behind the money spent in support of Mr. Thurmond. But there’s no way around it: the frackers are supporting Mr. Thurmond. 

Ms. Graham also expressed displeasure that I addressed my remarks to Berkeley readers by referring to the city in my article. A less biased reader might have recognized that I had written the article as an Op-Ed for Berkeleyside, which has emphasized that it is interested only in news for and about Berkeley. I might add that Ms. Graham’s articles appear in a publication called the Berkeley Daily Planet. 

Ms. Graham has particularly called out for attention my assertion that the frackers’ reasons for supporting Mr. Thurmond are unknown. While this is true, since the frackers have not made any public comment about the race, it’s outrageous for her to suggest that they are doing so because they want to defeat him. Nobody spends more than $200,000 on a political campaign in order to defeat the candidate they’re backing! 

I have no idea whether Ms. Graham knows the two candidates involved in this race. I do. I regard Tony Thurmond as a nice guy. I don’t know him at all well, but I believe he’s sincere and well-meaning. However, Mr. Thurmond is a former one-term city council member and one-term school board member. Neither his resume nor his demonstrated abilities are in the same league as those of Elizabeth Echols, who has held responsible senior positions in two Democratic Administrations, in the nonprofit sector, and in the private sector. We are extremely fortunate that a person of her caliber would agree to run. We need a representative in Sacramento who will immediately gain the respect of her colleagues and hit the ground running. That’s why I’m supporting Elizabeth Echols.

Election Day

Romila Khanna
Friday October 24, 2014 - 01:16:00 PM

November 4th is the day for us to decide about important issues facing us at home and abroad. Let us elect those who will help us regain trust in the government and its policymakers. At the present time, our basic needs are ignored in favor of conveniences for the rich. Our need for basic health care and access to education is great. Our opportunity to be heard and to participate in decision-making is zero. 

I am urging people to cast their vote for real change. I would like to elect representatives who would care for all, but especially for low-income individuals and for low-income families. I would like representatives to assist the poor towards health care and towards training in job generating skills. We all strive for a better life, for better communities and for good fortune. By good fortune I mean improvement in our status in society. Real change will happen only if we become independent of the party line and elect a representative who has empathy for all. Let us think very carefully before we cast our votes on November 4, 2014.

Raw Milk on the Ballot

Nancy Snedden
Friday October 24, 2014 - 11:02:00 AM

Vote YES on HB 4307 and HB 4038. 

I grew up on raw milk and and I drink it now. It's time to stop the misinformative big business propaganda and let us do what people have been doing for millenia--drink milk from healthy naturally fed animals.

Carol Denney on Leafblowers

Hank Chapot
Friday October 24, 2014 - 10:50:00 AM

I fully agree with Carol Denny’s piece on leaf blowers. In communities where they are banned, neighbors should talk to neighbors whose gardeners persist in using the machine. However, as a professional gardener, whenever I hear a municipality is discussing banning the blower, I agree, blowers are polluting machines that disturb settled dust and urban particulate matter. However, if you are going to take away this tool from the worker, YOU WILL HAVE TO PAY HIM MORE if you want him to use a rake, hose or broom to achieve the same kind of cleanliness. Or, customers could accept a little less perfection... 

P.S. As a current gardener at UC Berkeley, I am exempt from city regulations. We own a few dozen blowers (and lots of other polluting gas-powered tools) that are regularly in use, even on "spare the air" days.


ECLECTIC RANT: Ebola, Like AIDS, Can Be Brought Under Control

Ralph Stone
Friday October 24, 2014 - 10:53:00 AM

My 19-year old son died of AIDS back in the early days of the AIDS pandemic. The hysteria surrounding the Ebola crisis reminds me somewhat of the hysteria in the early days of the AIDS crisis. There was a plethora of misinformation, risky rumors, blaming of the victim, and lots of finger pointing. At one time an AIDS diagnosis was a virtual death sentence. But as AIDS hit the United States and Europe, money poured into research. Now AIDS is largely treatable as a chronic illness although medications are costly. 

Unfortunately, past Ebola virus disease outbreaks occurred mostly in African countries. Thus, there was little economic incentive for the private sector to develop an Ebola vaccine. 

Now there is a fun political game going on in Washington D.C. called pin-the-tail on Barack Obama over the Ebola crisis. It is no coincidence that many are trying to turn the Ebola crisis into a political issue with the midterm elections just around the corner. By the way, didn’t Congress cut funds from the National Institute of Health possibly preventing an Ebola vaccine by now? 

The World Health Organization (WHO) took the blame for failing to stop the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, but the United Nations agency has been starved of resources to effectively respond in the first place. But WHO probably should have sounded the alarm earlier; it dropped the ball for months when it assured health officials the outbreak was under control. WHO is now finally ramping up efforts to prevent Ebola from spreading beyond the countries most affected by the deadly virus. However, WHO shares blame with richer countries like the U.S, which should have moved faster. 

There will be more Ebola cases in the U.S. and Europe and if they are properly quarantined and cared for they will pose less and less risk to others. What we need to do is stamp out Ebola in West Africa by a bigger, coordinated effort to get the epidemic under control. And, ultimately, we need a lobby pressing for more government funding for Ebola research to find an Ebola vaccine. 

What was needed during the AIDS crisis – and is needed now – is accurate and timely information to help people take precautions and take a more rational approach towards the disease. I am somewhat encouraged that the U.S. and the world health community is finally addressing Ebola as a health issue, not a political blame-game.

THE PUBLIC EYE: What Do Millennials Want?

Bob Burnett
Friday October 24, 2014 - 10:24:00 AM

Attempting to predict the outcome of the November 4th midterm elections, political observers have scratched their heads at the behavior of the youngest US demographic segment, the Millennials. These are the 80 million voters born after 1981. They have the power to determine any political race but it’s unclear what they want or even if they will vote. 

Political demographers focus on four US population cohorts. The “Silent Generation” born from 1925 to 1942. The “Baby Boomers” born from 1943 to the early 1960s. “Generation X” born from the early 1960s to the early 1980s. And “The Millennials” born from the early 1980s until the early 2000s – sometimes called “Generation Y.” 

Some demographers have labeled the Millennials, “Generation Me,” citing their supposed narcissism. A recent Pew Research report characterized the Millennials as, “relatively unattached to organized politics and religion, linked by social media, burdened by debt, distrustful of people, in no rush to marry— and optimistic about the future. They are also America’s most racially diverse generation.” They’re also the least likely to vote. 

The 2014 Pew Research Center political typology poll dissected the American political electorate into eight groups: three Democratic, three Republican, Independents, and non voters. The Pew political typology had two dimensions. One is the likelihood of voting. Pew segmented potential voters into three categories: “General Public,” “Registered Voter,” and “Politically Engaged.” Roughly 10 percent of the General Public is composed of non voters, “Political Bystanders.” 38 percent of the Political Bystanders are Millennials. 

Pew provided a detailed description of Millennials political affiliation. 29 percent are Republicans: “Steadfast Conservatives” (4 percent), “Business Conservatives” (6 percent), and “Young Outsiders” (19 percent). 9 percent are Independents – Pew calls them “Hard-Pressed Skeptics.” 45 percent are Democrats: “Next Generation Left” (19 percent), “Faith and Family Left” (10 percent), and “Solid Liberals” (16 percent). The remaining 17 percent are the Political Bystanders. 

An April Harvard University poll found that only 23 percent of Millennials planned to vote on November 4th. The Pew research explained this: 

It’s been clear for some time now that young people are growing more disillusioned and disconnected from Washington. There’s an erosion of trust in the individuals and institutions that make government work — and now we see the lowest level of interest in any election we’ve measured since 2000.
(An October Fusion poll found when Millennials do vote, they prefer Democrats: “47% of likely millennial voters say they’ll choose Democrats, 32% say they will vote for Republicans, and 21% are undecided.”) 

There are several theories about why Millennials don’t plan to vote. One is that they don’t trust government. Pew observed that Millennials are less trusting than the other demographic cohorts: “Just 19% of Millennials say most people can be trusted, compared with 31% of Gen Xers, 37% of Silents and 40% of Boomers.” Pew explained, “Their racial diversity may partly explain Millennials’ low levels of social trust.” 

However, research by the Tufts University Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning found that, in 2010, 33.5 percent of Millennials said they did not vote because of their work or busy schedule. (Another 17.2 percent of Millennials said they did not vote because they weren’t interested or “felt my vote wouldn’t count.”) 

Typically, Millennials complain they are having a hard time making ends meet. Pew Research noted, “Millennials are the first in the modern era to have higher levels of student loan debt, poverty and unemployment, and lower levels of wealth and personal income than their two immediate predecessor generations had at the same age.” Digging deeper, a recent NPR report noted, “About two-thirds of Millennials between ages 25 and 32 lack a bachelor's degree.” Pew research observed, “Millennial college graduates ages 25 to 32, who are working full time, earn more annually—about $17,500 more—than employed young adults holding only a high school diploma.” 

Perhaps there’s a simple explanation for the Millennials lack of enthusiasm about the 2014-midterm elections. In 2008 and 2012, record numbers of Millennials voted for Barack Obama and Democrats, in general. (In 2012, Millennials gave Obama his largest margin over Romney, 60 percent versus 37 percent.) But according to the April Harvard University poll, “Young people are growing more disillusioned and disconnected from Washington.” Perhaps Millennials bought into Obama’s slogan, “Change we can believe in.” Unfortunately, this change hasn’t happened as fast as they expected. 

Nonetheless, there are obvious tactics Democrats can use to connect with Millennials. Promoting an increase in the minimum wage and reduction of student loan debt are only two of the issues that impact this cohort. Young women are interested in pay equity and reduction of violence against women. People-of-color seek equal protection under the law. 

When the dust of the midterm elections settles, it will be interesting to see how many Millennials voted and what issues brought them to the polls. In 2016, the Millennials vote will likely determine who is elected President. 

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




ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Paranoia Toward Psychotherapists

Jack Bragen
Friday October 24, 2014 - 10:56:00 AM

I often have paranoid feelings concerning mental health practitioners even though these are the professionals who apparently are trying to help. However, not all of this paranoia is unfounded. Among counselors who are generally dedicated and giving people, there are a few bad apples. 

It is not my paranoid imagination that in some cases, mental health professionals do not perceive me as a person, but rather as a "subject." 

In a mental health treatment organization, there is a clear line of separation between staff and the recipients of treatment. Staff, among themselves, may have a camaraderie and a friendly social atmosphere. Collectively, they regard recipients of treatment as "clients" and not as equals. We are sometimes not even perceived as sentient beings subject to human suffering. 

This scenario is difficult to acknowledge. No one wants to be seen as an object of an experiment, a monster, a freak or a sick person. 

The best of mental health practitioners, many of whom I have had the privilege to work with, see the people they are treating as human beings like themselves, and they acknowledge that we do feel pain, and that we do experience self-reflection. I am lucky that I currently receive treatment at a venue in which the humanity of the recipients of treatment is acknowledged. 

Over the last thirty years I have been misled enough times that I find it hard to trust treatment practitioners. There are some therapeutic techniques that from the get-go don't work for me. If the therapist is incapable of being a person toward me, will not switch techniques or is incapable of another technique, therapy will not happen for me. 

I don't mind some amount of healthy distancing of a therapist. However, when it is combined with being dispassionate about inflicting psychological pain, you don't have a therapist, you have an interrogator. 

If a therapist wants to do some digging into deep emotions, how do you know they will be able to close you back up after the surgery is done? In some therapy, it is like getting an appendectomy but leaving you in a state of having all of your organs hanging out. The flesh needs to be sewn back together and the incision needs to be closed, and not all therapists know how or are willing to do that. 

Would you try to drive an automobile that had the cylinder head unscrewed from the engine block? The same goes for people on a psychological level. In fact, sometimes deep pain does get resolved, but the patient is left stripped of his or her defenses and abruptly can not function in the human environment. 

I don't trust a twenty-five-year-old therapist to take my subconscious apart, do the repairs they believe are needed, and then send me on my way supposedly cured. This is partly due to the fact that I know more about myself than a twenty-five-year-old therapist--even though such a person may have great ambitions of rebuilding me. 

A few years ago, a therapist on his second meeting with me asked, "Please describe your worst experience that has ever happened to you." Are you kidding? My worst experience is having you ask me that question. 

I am absolutely grateful that mental health practitioners exist and for the fact that most are helpful. Had it not been for mental health treatment, including talk therapy, I would be in a far worse situation. So while I may have complaints about a few, I believe that as a whole, at least in present day, people who deliver psychotherapy and psychiatry are good for people like myself who have these diseases. I am not an anti-psychiatry person who believes mental illness doesn't exist and that the whole profession is a sham. My position is in the middle of two extremes. 

So, while sometimes I get paranoid about the intentions of therapists, I do realize that at least some of the time I need to trust some people for some things. And this column is not intended to be a put-down of the psychotherapy profession or a denial that we sometimes need this help.

Arts & Events

New: Another Stirring Soprano Debut in San Francisco Opera’s TOSCA

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Tuesday October 28, 2014 - 08:14:00 PM

In a season dominated by star-quality sopranos, San Francisco Opera offered yet another outstanding company debut in Armenian soprano Lianna Haroutounian’s vocally voluptuous Floria Tosca. Critics have sometimes been harsh on Puccini’s Tosca – Joseph Kerman haughtily dismissed it as “that shabby little shocker” – but audiences have always loved it. In San Francisco, the first-night audience for Tosca on Thursday, October 23, offered frequent bravos and bravas as well as a standing ovation at the close of the opera. As was warranted, the greatest outbursts of applause went to Lianna Haroutounian for her sumptuous singing as Tosca, a role in which she offered superb vocalism featuring brilliant high notes and lush low notes. Haroutounian has already sung at Royal Opera, Covent Garden, and makes her New York Met debut later this year. 

Haroutounian’s counterpart here was tenor Brian Jagde as Mario Cavaradossi. Jagde, who ably sang the role of Pinkerton in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly in San Francisco Opera’s Spring season, has boyish good looks and a strong well-pitched tenor. Yet, somehow, as Cavaradossi, Jagde’s voice seemingly lacked color. On the other hand, bass-baritone Mark Delavan as Scarpia, the villain of the piece, exhibited his dark vocalism to great dramatic effect, even if occasionally his voice was drowned out by the orchestra, as, for example, in Scarpia’s aside during the climax of the Te Deum in Act I. Incidentally, this beautiful Te Deum, which Julian Budden calls “the most powerful of Puccini’s harmonic oscillations …, not to be equaled until the Act I finale of Turandot,” was movingly presented by the chorus led by Ian Robertson and by the orchestra under the direction of Riccardo Frizzi. 

Utilising the familiar sets designed by Thierry Bosquet, which clearly situate the opera in recognizable sites in Rome such as the Church of Sant’ Andrea in Valle for Act I, the Palazzo Farnese for Act II, and the Castel Sant’ Angelo for Act III, director Jose Maria Condemi moved principals, auxiliaries and choristers adroitly, never allowing the drama to become static. If the plot of Puccini’s Tosca, adapted from the play by Victorien Sardou, is indeed a melodrama, it is melodrama at its best, elevated to its heights by the libretto fashioned by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, and above all by the ingenuity and intensity of Puccini’s lyric genius. 

The opera’s first big aria belongs to Cavaradossi, the painter who contemplates his portrait of the Magdalen, which he has modeled after a beautiful woman he dis-creetly observed praying in the nearby chapel. In his aria, “Recondita armonia,” beautifully sung here by Brian Jagde, Cavaradossi marvels over the way two beautiful women – the blond, blue-eyed woman he saw praying and his own beloved, dark-haired and dark-eyed Tosca – have miraculously combined in his painted Magdalen. Moments later, when Tosca herself arrives, she is quick to notice – and take umbrage at – the blond, blue-eyed woman in the portrait. However, she accepts Cavaradossi’s forthright explanation and is consoled by his passionate declarations of love. Nonetheless, as she exits, she admonishes him half-ironically, and with a hint of malice, “Ma falle gli occhi neri!” / “But make the eyes dark!”  

Act I also offers considerable humor in the person of the Sacristan, a sharply drawn figure of a narrow-minded religious lackey, here ably sung by bass-baritone Dale Travis. Likewise, there is political intrigue embodied in the person of Angelotti, a man of Republican convictions who has just escaped from the Castel Sant’ Angelo and seeks refuge in the chapel at Sant’ Andrea in Valle. Angelotti is portrayed here with great intensity by bass Scott Conner. Cavaradossi, who shares the escaped prisoner’s political convictions, guides Angelotti to his own villa hidden away in the woods. 

When Scarpia enters the church, the music and drama turn ominous. Scarpia, the Bourbon monarchy’s chief of police, is hot on the trail of the escaped political prisoner Angelotti. But it also becomes clear that Scarpia is even more interested in pursuing Tosca for his depraved sexual adventurism than in pursuing Angelotti. When he sees Cavaradossi’s portrait of the Magdalen, which he recognizes as a portrait of the Countess Attavanti, Scarpia instantly realizes he can chase two birds with one stone. In this endeavor he is aided by the discovery in the nearby chapel of a woman’s fan emblazoned with the Attavanti family crest. In an aside, Scarpia notes that “where a handkerchief served Iago, this fan will serve me,” – a reference not only to Shakespeare but also, and to Italian opera audiences more to the point, a reference to Verdi’s Otello. Scarpia immediately uses the Attavanti fan to further arouse Tosca’s jealousy, which has already been amply established. 

Act II is situated in the Bourbon monarchy’s Roman headquarters in the Palazzo Farnese, where Scarpia orders around his minions Spoletta, sung by tenor Joel Sorenstrem, and Sciarrone, sung by baritone Efraín Solís. Although they have not found Angelotti, they have brought in Cavaradossi for interrogation. Cavaradossi defiantly claims to know nothing regarding Angelotti’s whereabouts. Scarpia orders that Cavaradossi be tortured. Tosca, summoned by Scarpia, is alarmed to discover that Cavaradossi is subjected to torture. Though at first she claims to know nothing about Angelotti, hearing her lover’s moans from a nearby room, Tosca soon gives in to Scarpia’s ruthless insistence that Cavardossi’s fate is in her hands; and she blurts out Angelotti’s hiding place. 

Dragged in front of Scarpia by his torturers, Cavaradossi curses Tosca and again declares his defiance of Scarpia and the Bourbon monarchy. Scarpia orders that Cavaradossi’s torture be resumed. He also insinuates that if Tosca gives herself to him sexually, he will give her back her Cavaradossi. While despising Scarpia and resisting his advances, Tosca indulges in a lovely internal monologue. This aria, “Vissi d’arte,” is her plaintive prayer asking God for justice for a life she has given over to good works, art and love. As Tosca, Lianna Haroutounian sang this famous aria beautifully, with passionate intensity and lush vocalism. Then Tosca strikes a bargain with Scarpia. If he will write out a safe-conduct note for her and Cavaradossi, she will submit to him. As Scarpia writes out the note, Tosca grabs a knife, and when Scarpia advances on her, she stabs him repeatedly in the chest and neck. Scarpia falls dying to the floor. 

Act III of Tosca is set on the rooftop parapets of Castel Sant’ Angelo, where Cavaradossi is a prisoner awaiting execution. It is shortly before dawn; and Puccini paints a lovely musical picture of this quiet moment when only a shepherd boy’s plaintive song is heard in the distance. Cavaradossi sings the aria, “E lucevan le stelle,” his beautifully forlorn reminiscence of a night of love with Tosca. Soon Tosca herself arrives and shows him the safe-conduct she has obtained from Scarpia. At first Cavaradossi thinks Tosca has compromised herself in obtaining this favor. But she quickly tells him how she found the courage to stab Scarpia to death. Overwhelmed, Cavaradossi sings “O dolci mani,” a brief aria apostrophizing the soft and gentle hands of his beloved who nonetheless used these same hands to kill Scarpia and obtain the freedom of her lover. Tosca, believing that Scarpia has ordered only a mock execution, informs Mario that he must pretend to die by falling at the first gunshots. Scarpia, however, has ordered a real execution, which is carried out before Tosca’s very eyes. When she discovers the truth of her lover’s death, Tosca leaps to her own death from the parapets of Castel Sant’ Angelo, bringing Puccini’s opera to a dramatic and tragic close. San Francisco Opera has given us a taut, musically rich and dram-atically intense production of Tosca, one featuring yet another bright new star in Armenian soprano Lianna Haroutounian. 


EDITOR'S Note: There are only three more performances of SF Opera's Tosca. If you're a Tosca fan but these don't work for you or are too expensive, Verismo Opera is doing Tosca on November 8 in Berkeley, as well as several performances elsewhere in the East Bay. See http://www.verismoopera.org/topics/view/54223c270cf23bdd615527d2/ for details. 

Theater Review: 'Mahmoud'--Tara Grammy Presented by Golden Thread
"Taxi Driver, Gay Man, Pre-teen Girl--One Iranian Actress, One BIG identity crisis."

Ken Bullock
Friday October 24, 2014 - 07:16:00 PM



Tara Grammy's solo show, 'Mahmoud,' 'which she co-wrote and acts in (her director, Tom Arthur Davis, is the other author), is billed this way, seemingly an amusing style of saying what most solo shows are really about: a vehicle to showcase a performer, usually based on sketch comedy. 

But there's much more to 'Mahmoud,' both as clever sketch and, surprisingly, as very immediate theater, than first meets the eye. There're good reasons it won the Best of Fringe in Toronto, the Excellence in Solo Performance Award at the New York Fringe Festival and has sold out at venues in Los Angeles. 

Tara Grammy's a bright young Iranian-Canadian actress--and like the typical solo show, her act makes the most of this. She segues between her three characters with quick offbeat timing and a rubber face, taking on the humorous mannerisms of an Iranian expatriate engineer (the titular Mahmoud) become engineer of my own cab," who hasn't seen his homeland for 25 years or more, but talks about nothing else; a pert Spanish immigrant queen with a jangling laugh, always striking dance poses or on the phone with his Iranian boyfriend who's visiting family in Tehran--and Tara, the author-actress' pubescent alter ego, pouty about being Iranian, which she explains at length in full Valley Girl ...  

"Growing up in Toronto where your ethnicity's your money maker ... I dyed my hair blonde again, but properly ... and bought lots of Nair ... Blonde, hairless and beautiful ... " 

Eloquence seems to take over from hilarious blather here and there--the cabbie reads Hafez's great poems (there's an age-old game, especially on Nawwuz, springtime New Years, in Iran, telling your fortune by flipping open Hafez's Divan at random) or Tara practicing her audition for Romeo & Juliet, pulling out the stops when she flops dead--but even these are cut with street noise and cellphone ringtones. The Spaniard pulls a typical solo show stunt in audience contact, getting a front row spectator to take his picture on his phone as he rhumbas--but another cellphone rings, the exuberant queen wordlessly apologizes with eyes and lips, and the photo op's ruined as he takes the call from Tehran ...  

And just at the point where Tara Grammy's exploited every inch of cleverness and comedy from her characters, both in monologue and dialogue, and the format of the solo performance, just as its reliance on parody and mimicry becomes increasingly obvious ... once again she turns on a dime, while enacting a cab ride Tara takes with Mahmoud--and suddenly everything's strange, deadly serious ... and very theatrical. Words cease and her excellent physical theatrics come to the fore--and as Artaud said about real theater, "you don't really know anymore just where you are anymore"--and then it suddenly ends, before there's a chance of a metaphor or melodrama, diluting the truth of what she's shown us. 

Tara Grammy's now based in Los Angeles, working at the CBS Sketch Comedy Diversity Showcase and appearing in the forthcoming film, 'Jimmy Vesvood: American Hero!' But 'Mahmoud' hails from Toronto, as its author-actress does, a vital theater scene--and one full of that same Diversity--which we seldom see anything from here. Grammy later mentioned that Sohail Parsa--a student of the great Iranian man of theater and film, Bahram Beyzaie, and artistic director at Toronto's Modern Times Stage Company, well-known in Canada's theater community--had a hand in choreographing 'Mahmoud's' statling closing scene. So 'Mahmoud' acquires even more importance to be seen, as does the next Golden Thread presentation, 'Dear Armen,' also from Toronto, by Armenian-Canadians about "gender binaries" (October 30-November 9).  

Friday and Saturday at 8, Sunday at 3 at the Thick House, 1695-18th Street on Potrero Hill, San Francisco. $25; Student-Senior-TBA $20 (--or two-play pass with 'Dear Armen'--$35) goldenthread.org

CITIZENFOUR: Documenting Edward Snowden's Pulitzer-Prize-winning Act of Courage
Opens at the Albany Twin theater on October 24.

Reviewed by Gar Smith
Friday October 24, 2014 - 11:42:00 AM

CITIZENFOUR is a real-life spy thriller featuring three charismatic and eloquent individuals driven by high moral purpose into a knife-ringed pit of high-stakes intrigue. The dialogue crackles like a Hollywood script in a story that unfolds like a John le Carre novel. 

Like journalist Laura Poitras (the film's Peabody award-winning, Oscar-nominated director), we don't actually see Edward Snowden until the film is well underway. He initially appears as a faceless message on a computer screen. His encrypted e-mail, signed "CITIZENFOUR," reaches out—very carefully—for a trustworthy media contact. As Poitras reads in one of CITIZENFOUR's initial e-mails: "You are probably wondering why I chose you but the fact is you chose yourself." The writer is aware of Poitras' post-911 films on the Iraq war and the Guantanamo prison. He takes reports of subsequent government surveillance and harassment as proof Poitras is legit and can be trusted. 


"Dear Laura," he writes. "For now, know that every border you cross, every purchase you make, every call you dial, every cellphone tower you pass, friend you keep, site you visit, and subject line you type, is in the hands of a system whose reach is unlimited but whose safeguards are not." 

Poitras learns that the mysterious caller originally attempted to contact London Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald but backed off when he failed to acquire a secure means of communication. After Poitras signals her interest, CITIZENFOUR explains that the information he is offering is so voluminous that no one reporter could process it. He suggests that Poitras contact Greenwald. "I ask only that you insure this information makes it home—to the American public. Thank you and be careful." 

After making intricate travel plans, Poitras (in Berlin) and Greenwald (in Sao Paolo) fly to Hong Kong for a secret meeting with Snowden. The cagey whistleblower initially rejects the idea of having the media focus on his role or his back story. He wants the journalists to focus solely on the content of his disclosures. 

Fortunately, Poitras convinces Snowden to let her bring her cameras along and he allows her to film the politically seismic events that transpire in the crowded hotel room over the next few days. 

Given the stakes and potential repercussions (ranging from criminal charges and jail time to deadly "accidents" or outright assassination), it is extraordinary that such film footage exists, let alone has come to comprise a mainstream motion picture experience that can now be shared by audiences across United States and worldwide. 

During their initial meeting, Snowden hints at the power the NSA has on its side. If you wish to establish a password code, he instructs, you need to bear in mind that NSA has electronic tools capable of generating "one-trillion-guesses-per-second." 

Because it is a given that this film was shot covertly, every scene is shadowed by apprehension. The power and reach of Washington's surveillance empire remains a constant threat. 

At one point, after finishing a call on the hotel phone near his bed, Snowden warns the filmmakers that, even while it is supposedly "off" and resting in its cradle, the phone is still capable of picking up the conversations of anyone the NSA chooses to target. And shortly after warning about the government's near-omniscient electronic abilities, Snowden and his guests are rattled when an electronic alarm shatters the silence of Snowden's room. 

Everyone looks perplexed and concerned. Is this a signal? If so, what next? A SWAT team knocking down the doors? A Predator drone moving into position to take out Snowdon and the reporters with a Hellfire missile? 

Snowden recalls, with longing, the early promise of the World Wide Web. "The Internet was once free," a place where children anywhere in the world could connect with kids in other countries and even send messages that could challenge world leaders. But now we live in a world where the NSA has the power to spy on all communications—emails, phonecalls, website visits, travel destination, shopping habits, bank accounts. As Snowden points out, "when you know someone is listening, people began to self-police" what they are willing to say. 

The NSA's spying "is a free-speech issue," Snowden insists, because how can you have freedom when the State has you under constant surveillance? 

Scene by scene, CITIZENFOUR serves as a powerful, unique and gritty reminder about how extensive and encompassing domestic spying has become under presidents Bush and Obama. 

The concern is underscored by footage showing the construction of the NSA's massive new concrete-walled headquarters near Bluffdale, Utah. The $2 billion Utah Data Center is a project of such huge and faceless proportions that it suggests the raising of Egypt's pyramids or the end-of-times building of Noah's Ark. With ten major command centers from Oahu to Fort Meade, Maryland, the NSA is the US-version of East Germany's Stasi "on steroids." 

William Binney, the senior crypto-mathematician entrusted with setting up the NSA's worldwide eavesdropping network, has also gone public with his concerns. "They violated the Constitution setting it up," Binney told http://www.wired.com/2012/03/ff_nsadatacenter/3/>Wired magazine. "But they didn't care. They were going to do it anyway, and they were going to crucify anyone who stood in the way." 

Binney quit the agency to warn the public and politicians that NSA's Stellar Wind program was bigger than anyone suspected—and extended to interception of domestic phone calls and email. From the start, the program was capable of capturing 320 million calls a day—approximately 73 to 80 percent of the total amount of the NSA's global intercepts. 

Late in the film, Greenwald shares some unexpected information. It appears that Snowden's revelations have inspired another insider to leak highly classified information. 

Because they know their words may be overheard and recorded, Greenwald and Snowden are compelled to "converse" by exchanging words and phrases scribbled on pieces of notebook paper. Glancing at one of Greenwald's notes, Snowden is clearly astonished by what the new source has begun to reveal. More than anyone else on Earth, Snowden understands the dangers this new source will soon be facing. 

The note-passing scene makes for high drama as the disclosures (and the fear of being overheard by NSA bugs) literally leave both men "speechless." The scene may also trigger flop-sweat paranoia in the audience when it becomes apparent that some of the words written on those pieces of paper briefly come into focus as they are passed back and forth. 

You can't help but think: "NSA must already have a copy of this documentary." You want to yell at the screen: "Turn off the damn cameras before the NSA has a chance to hit the pause button and command a screen grab!" Couldn't the disclosure of the information on those notepads potentially trigger one or more mysterious deaths at various locations around the world? One sheet left on a table, clearly bears the code word "Jabber." 

Obviously, the filmmakers are meticulously careful bunch. One can only conclude that the information—for whatever reason—is no longer of any strategic value. But still, the extraordinary scene captured in that hotel room in Hong Kong ends with Greenwald carefully collecting and tearing every page into tiny one-inch square bits. 

There are many moments in CITIIZENFOUR that linger in the mind. Here is one. 

About midway in Poitras' film, Snowden pauses in front of a bathroom mirror and attempts to change his appearance before leaving the safety of his hotel. He shaves his cheeks and grabs some gel to slick down his hair. Suddenly, instead of looking like a stubble-faced post-teen computer nerd, he takes on the suave appearance of a younger Matthew McConaughey. 

As Snowden turns toward the camera, we see a modest and honest individual whose moral charisma is matched by physical charisma. You would entrust your car, your home, your child—heck, your country!—to this man. 

Let's hear it: "Snowden for President!" (If you're looking for a candidate who's the farthest thing from a "Washington insider," Snowden's the guy.) 

Pelican Dreams: If You Love Birds, This Movie Fills the Bill
At Berkeley's Elmwood Theater

Gar Smith
Friday October 24, 2014 - 11:36:00 AM

Note: Director Judy Irving will be on stage for a Q&A after Saturday's 7:20PM screening. 

It's hard to follow a film like The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. After all, how often does a documentary feature an eccentric guitar-plucking parrot-protector who is so charming that the director falls in love with him and they get married? As a story, Pelican Dreams doesn't rise to the emotional heights of Parrots but, as a visual treat, it stands on its own two legs—as does "Gigi," the film's feathered protagonist. Pelican Dreams is a visual poem of serene, primordial beauty. 


Director Judy Irving named the bird "GG" after watching a TV news report that captured the "arrest" of a confused pelican trapped in the middle of the Golden Gate bridge. The young three-month-old female was thin, dehydrated, and clearly confused. Who better than Judy Irving to lead us through the trials and tribulations of a wayward bird? 

Since there is not that much of a story arc to deal with, Pelican Dreams, leans into the emotional The director confides that she has always wanted to be a pelican. As a kid, she recalls, "I even thought I resembled a pelican." And, like many children, she had "flying dreams." 

There is something awesome and just plain weepingly beautiful about watching pelicans gliding through the sky. Pelican Dreams includes some gorgeous slow-motion footage of pelicans in the sky doing acrobatic quarter-twists before diving toward the ocean—and folding like a closing switchblade at the very last second before slicing into the water. 

Irving, who narrates her film, begins by describing pelicans as "flying dinosaurs." The comparison in not convincing. In this wonderfully filmed documentary, Irving's pelicans are more like strange, feathered ballet dancers. Even better, while they are elegant in the air, they are goofy-looking and endearingly clumsy on the ground. Pelicans are also inquisitive creatures. They are alert to their surroundings and they readily make eye-contact—like puppies. 

After visiting GG at an animal recovery outpost north of the Golden Gate, Irving travels to GG's birthplace on Santa Barbara in the Channel Islands off southern California. 

We learn why GG was "lucky to make it to SF." Irving's cameras zero in on the harsh life of a newborn pelican. The battle for survival begins at birth. The sibling rivalry is harsh and, often, lethal. More often than not, only the first chick survives. Chick number two might make it but chick three is most likely doomed. 

During a visit in June, Irving's camera records a chick having a convulsive seizure. The behavior is bizarre and troubling: the cause remains unknown. Starvation? No one knows. After about eight weeks, the surviving chicks begin experimenting with their first flights. Irving's cameras catch a lot of these first flights, capturing the magic moment when an initial tentative attempt suddenly turns into an instinctive ascendant transformation. 

Pelicans may be brown and white for most of the time but, during mating season, their bodies go ablaze with striking carnival colors. Their bills turn deep red; their eye go blue. (Warning: This film includes bouts of uncensored, wing-flapping pelican sex.) 

Unlike most avians, pelicans have no voice. Adults are nearly silent but for a muted breathing sound and, of course, the noise of their great beaks, which clack with the authority of a clapboard on a Hollywood film set. Instead of sounds, pelicans must rely on gestures and pantomime. Irving gives an example: If you want to tell a pelican "I like you!" just swivel your head in a 360-degree circle. 

"Pelicans, when they are sleeping, look extremely comfortable." The film footage bears this out. 

Monte Merrick, GG's caretaker explains why the birds are referred to by the numbers banded on their legs. Important to keep a distance from these recovering birds because they are wild creatures. Still, he adds, "Who wouldn't want to have a pelican for a buddy?" 

Pelicans are 25 million years our seniors on this planet and they are found on every continent but Antarctica. But they almost disappeared from the West Coast, thanks to the impacts of humankind. 

In 1969, studies at UC Berkeley found high levels of the chemical pesticide DDT had nearly wiped out the state's pelicans. Only one egg was found to have survived intact. Pelicans were declared endangered in 1970. DDT was finally banned and the brown pelicans have slowly made a comeback. Fortunately the California Brown Pelicans were able to survive because of a protected colony that was thriving off the coast of Mexico. As a result, California colonies of 17,000 big-billed birds ("Like Coney Island for pelicans") are not uncommon. 

But new problems threaten pelicans. As one of the caretakers in Irving's film notes: "There's something weird going on" with pelicans. Climate change is most likely involved. Pelicans are migratory: they fly north and they fly south south. Recently, with rising global temperatures, the pelicans' northern nests stayed warm well into the fall and, when the birds finally made their unusually delayed departure, they flew smack into a snowstorm. Many died. 

And no film about pelicans could avoid including footage of the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The ghastly sight of a pelican barely breathing beneath a chocolate-colored cloak of oil. 

Pelican Dreams also captured footage of another troubling development: hundry pelicans attacking neighboring birds. It is unnerving to watch scenes where famished pelicans pounce on smaller common murres—sometimes pausing to devour the young chicks.. 

Other problems include plastic fishing lures and metal hooks stuck in beaks. Pelicans nearly choked to death from eating over-large fish thrown to them by fishermen. (The larger, bonier fish can clog a pelican's beak and throat.) 

Food left in garbage dumps attracts the birds and then exposes them to grease and oil, which can damage feathers and the protective coating that keeps cold ocean water at bay. 

Since GG's story is one of a slow and uneventful recovery, Pelican Dreams turns its lens on another pelican-in-recovery. Morro—a pelican found near Morro Bay—proves to be so badly injured that he will never recover the ability to fly. What happens when an injured pelican can't recover? The word a caregiver offers (reluctantly) is: "Euthanasia." Will this be Morro's fate? And what awaits GG? 

There is a wonderful scene of lonely, grounded Morro, who has had to watch as one pelican after another recovers and takes of into the sky, leaving him behind in the backyard of a caretaker couple. One day, desperately alone, Morro tentatively clambers up the steps to the couples' house and slowly taps open the door to his with his beak. Like Willie Wonka discovering a chocolate factory, Morro steps into this strange new world and explores the premises with a combination of fear and wonder. The word here is: "entrancing." 

Added bonus: Mark Bittner (the human star of The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill and the director's mate) makes a guest appearance. 

Press Release: Melody of China to Combine Chinese Traditional Music with Western New Music in Bay Area Premiere Performances in November

Friday October 24, 2014 - 11:06:00 AM

Talent and beauty are merged into one as Melody of China, San Francisco’s premiere Chinese chamber ensemble, premieres a new work at Old First Church on Friday, November 7 at 8 P.M. with follow-up performances at Yoshi’s Oakland and the Community School of Music and Arts in Mountain View. The program will feature captivating performances by the bold and dynamic Melody of China, known for their mastery of Chinese traditional instruments, with talented guests Peter Josheff, Jon Jang, Francis Wong, Marcus Shelby and Deszon X. Claiborne.

All three concerts will showcase Melody of China’s (MoC) newest commissions, exciting collaborations, and lively traditional selections. The program at Old First Church (San Francisco) will feature the premiere of Yuanlin Chen’s "Coexistent Beauty" for yangqin, guzheng, pipa, sheng, dizi, bass clarinet, violin, cello, keyboard and electronics. Chen’s piece, supported by a grant from Chamber Music America, will be performed again at the Community School of Music and Arts and Yoshi’s Oakland. In the composer’s words: “Coexistent Beauty explores differences and connections in various perspectives among human society.” The program at Yoshi’s will also include a new work for Chinese instruments and jazz quartet along with a vocal performance by MoC’s own Gangqin Zhao. The program at the Community School will include Chen’s new work and traditional selections. Other pieces include "Flying China," MoC’s own medley of traditional pieces showcasing each instrument, and several other stirring selections from the group’s vast traditional repertoire.

The concerts will feature several high-profile guests including the bay area’s leading new music clarinetist Peter Josheff, violinist Dan Flanagan, cellist Kevin Yu, drummer Deszon X. Claiborne, Mongolian Horse-head fiddle master Bo Li and keyboardist Eric Myers. The Yoshi’s date will also feature jazz pioneers pianist Jon Jang, saxophonist Francis Wong and bassist Marcus Shelby.  


TICKETS & PERFORMANCES: Melody of China performs three shows: the first is Friday, November 7, 8 P.M. at Old First Church, 1751 Sacramento Street, San Francisco. Tickets are $17 General Admission; $14 for Seniors 65 and over; $5 for full-time Students; Children 12 and under are free; visit http://oldfirstconcerts.org/performances/626/ or call (415) 474 - 1608. The second performance is Sunday, November 9, 2 P.M. at the Community School of Music and Art, 230 San Antonio Circle, Mountain View; admission is Free; visit http://arts4all.org/attend/concerts.htm for more information. The third concert takes place Tuesday, November 11, 10:30 P.M. and includes a special Chinese/jazz fusion performance; it’s happening at Yoshi’s Oakland, 510 Embarcadero W., Oakland; tickets are $12; visit www.yoshis.com/oakland/jazzclub/artist/show/4570 for details and to purchase tickets.  


ABOUT MELODY OF CHINA: Co-founded by Hong Wang and Yangqin Zhao, Melody of China has helped to popularize Chinese music in San Francisco, the Bay Area and throughout the nation. The ensemble has premiered over 40 new works by 20 contemporary composers including Kui Dong, Gang Situ, Yuanlin Chen and Carl Stone. They’ve performed all over the world including New York’s Lincoln Center, in Germany with the Berlin Philharmonic, and at the Chicago Jazz Festival. Members include: yangqin (hammered dulcimer) soloist and Melody of China Director Yangqin Zhao, Gangqin Zhao on guzheng (zither), Shenshen Zhang on pipa (lute), Wanpeng Guo on sheng (mouth organ), Xian Lu on dizi (bamboo flutes) and Li Bo on matouqin (horse-head fiddle). Although they all trace their origins to China, they’ve succeeded in making the Bay Area home by carving a niche being the only long-standing Chinese chamber ensemble in San Francisco and one of the leading ensembles in the U.S. The group’s longevity has enabled them to break barriers and work with a variety of arts organizations including Oakland Ballet, San Francisco Symphony, Lines Ballet, Earplay and Anthony Brown’s Asian-American Jazz Orchestra. 

For more information about the group, visit Melody of China’s website at http://melodyofchina.org
See MoC performance video: http://vimeo.com/107505628 

Press Release: Demonstration on Saturday to Block Israeli Ship at Port of Oakland

From Lara Kiswani
Friday October 24, 2014 - 10:58:00 AM

Oakland—On Saturday, October 26, 2014, hundreds of people from across the Bay Area will picket at Berth 57 in the Port of Oakland to block the Israeli owned ZIM Lines ship from unloading to protest Israel’s continued blockade on Gaza and its ongoing occupation of Palestine. Organized by Block the Boat Coalition (BTB), this protest follows the historic success of a similar BTB action in August in response to the Israeli bombardment on Gaza. The Zim Piraeus was prevented from unloading for four straight days and was ultimately forced to leave with most of its cargo still on board. 

Organizers have already claimed a partial victory for this protest. The Zim Shanghai, which was originally scheduled to arrive at the Port of Oakland on October 25, has gone off course, delaying its arrival for October 26 in a move that activists say is an attempt to avoid the picket. "In our last protest in August, ZIM unsuccessfully tried to wait us out by delaying its arrival," says Eyad Aburahma of Arab Youth Organizing. "ZIM is now attempting this again. It shows that our organizing is working, and we will be ready for it whenever it arrives." 

Although the Israeli assault on Gaza has stopped with a ceasefire agreement, organizers argue that protesting Israel’s ongoing occupation must continue. “While Israel is not currently decimating Gaza with bombs, it continues to hold it under siege, and is still expanding its illegal settlements in the West Bank, imprisoning and displacing Palestinians,” says Lara Kiswani, Executive Director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, an anchor organization in BTB. Activists see this action against ZIM as part of the worldwide Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign to isolate Israel, similar to the movement that helped bring down apartheid in South Africa. “We will continue organizing protests to build on the BDS movement against Israeli Apartheid,” added Kiswani. 

Organizers are also denouncing the central role the U.S. plays in supporting Israel as well as the relationship between Israel and the increased militarization of local police forces. “As the U.S. is sending more than $3 billion a year to Israel, police departments in the U.S. are regularly trained by the Israeli military on how to better repress and control our communities here,” says Aburahma. “Not only is ZIM shipping weapons and ammunition to be used against Black and brown communities in the U.S., but the outrageous military-style crackdown we saw against the people of Ferguson was in part informed by training the police got from Israeli law enforcement.” 

​The BTB actions are in response to the call from Gaza that was issued on September 5, 2014, by the BDS National Committee, the main trade and professional unions, women’s associations, and mass movements in Palestine, calling for “building effective direct action against Israel and Israeli companies, such as the inspiring Block the Boat actions [in August] that prevented Israeli ships from unloading in California and Seattle." The August BTB protest against ZIM in Oakland became a catalyst for similar actions to take place all over the country and world, including in LA/Long Beach, Seattle, Tampa, and Vancouver. 


Protesters will meet at the West Oakland BART Station on October 26 at 5:00am, followed by a march to Berth 57 at the Port of Oakland shortly thereafter. Carpools from the BART station to the port will be available for those who may not be able to walk with the march. Organizers will be available for interview before and during the action. 


There is a text alert system designed for sharing important action updates about the ship's schedule, and protest plans. Those planning to attend should text “join” to 510-346-5951. Those following the action remotely are asked not to sign up for SMS alerts, but rather to follow @BlocktheBoat on Twitter.