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New: Marking Guantanamo Prison Anniversary Jan. 10 and Active Hope in 2016

Cynthia Papermaster, Berkeley No More Guantanamos
Wednesday January 06, 2016 - 08:57:00 PM

Berkeley will join cities around the country on January 10 in marking the 14th Anniversary of Guantanamo Prison. Cleared prisoners are being released at a snail’s pace. Forced feeding continues, “detainees” have lost hope. We are still holding them without charge and without respect for their rights and the law.

Codepink and the Berkeley Fellowship Social Justice Committee will host an event on January 10 which will include presentations on shutting Guantanamo, prosecuting torture policy-makers-- including UC Law Professor John Yoo, police accountability for murder and brutality, and various additional social and environmental justice issues, with the goal of “climbing out of our silos” (single-issue focus) to better work together on the many critical issues that need addressing. We’re going to hear about victories, and we’re going to strategize for more victories in 2016. Time’s running out for doing things the same old way— we’ve got to unite and work together if we want a future worth living. We’re tired of fighting the power. Let’s take and BE the power in 2016. 

Featured speakers include famed Eco-philosopher and Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy, Solartopia author Harvey “No Nukes” Wasserman, Shahid Buttar of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee and Defending Dissent Foundation, author of books on election theft and voting machines Jon Simons, KPFA host Dennis Bernstein, speakers from SURJ (Standing Up for Racial Justice) and APTP (Anti Police-Terror Project), San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, legal intervenors to Shut Diablo Canyon spokeswoman Linda Seeley, Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission Chair George Lippman, Codepink anti-drone activist Toby Blome, Berkeley No More Guantanamos Director Cynthia Papermaster, Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute Director Emeritus Ann Fagan Ginger. 

Many activists are overwhelmed with the variety of issues needing their attention. The number of meetings, protests, and actions of various sorts are causing burnout, but worse, we are not seeing many victories and we need some victories to have hope and to keep going to make this world a just and healthy one. 

This 2016 election year will be a real opportunity for change if we take advantage of the predicted huge voter turnout to turn the corporate-funded Republicans and Democrats out of office who are not protecting the environment, upholding the law, or legislating for citizens’ needs. Can we unite behind progressive candidates and elect them? We think so. We know it’s possible given the current disgust with the mainstream political parties, the gridlock in Washington, and the corruption that’s evident. 

The hoped-for goal of the gathering will be to identify actions and strategies that are, or could, lead to victories on the local, state, national and international level. 

Another goal is to cross-pollinate and enhance our limited resources by working together more, by sharing ideas, support and communication so we can better join our voices and creative actions for more effective results. 

If readers are interested in any of the following topics, their participation in Sunday’s event will be most welcome and appreciated: ensure clean elections; shut Guantanamo Prison and release cleared prisoners; prosecute torture policy makers such as Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Jay Bybee, John Yoo; civilize and de-militarize the police and hold them accountable for murder and brutality; audit the Pentagon and end U.S. wars; shut Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant; stop fracking and mountain top removal, label GMOs, prevent coal and oil trains, promote clean energy; protect our civil liberties, end mass surveillance, mass incarceration and indefinite solitary confinement; create public banks; support a Berkeley Progressive Alliance working for a progressive Mayor and City Council in 2016. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016, at Historic Berkeley Fellowship Hall, 1924 Cedar Street @ Bonita, Berkeley.  

Donations accepted. Wheelchair accessible. 

4:30-6 pm Program Part 1, Issue Roundtables 

6-7 pm Vegetarian/Vegan Potluck dinner and live music
7-9 pm Program Part 2, Presentations, Roundtables, video, poetry, music, refreshments, action strategies

New: Berkeley's Suit Against Monsanto Approved

Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Wednesday January 06, 2016 - 03:07:00 PM

The Berkeley City Council has voted unanimously to file a nuisance lawsuit that seeks to hold Monsanto Co. accountable for the cost of cleaning up contamination that the city believes is linked to the company's products. 

The council's 6-0 vote on Tuesday means that Berkeley is joining Oakland, San Jose, San Diego and Spokane, Washington, in filing suits against Monsanto, an agricultural biotech company based in St. Louis. 

The suit will seek to recover the cost of cleaning up PCBs, synthetic organic chemicals whose full name is polychlorinated biphenyl. 

Oakland's suit was filed in November in U.S. District Court in San Francisco and seeks compensatory and punitive damages for the continuing presence of PCBs in Oakland runoff. 

The chemicals were used in power transformers, electrical equipment, paints, caulks and other building materials, according to Oakland's city attorney's office. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has found that PCBs are likely a carcinogen to humans. 

Berkeley City Councilman Kriss Worthington, who led the effort to get the city to file suit, said today that it's possible that Berkeley's suit will be combined with those filed by other cities but he would prefer that it remain separate because "our issues are specific to Berkeley." 

Worthington said, "Monsanto's polluting proliferation of PCBs was a corporate crime and restitution for this nefarious nuisance should come from Monsanto's profits, not from the taxpayers' pockets." 

Monsanto officials couldn't immediately be reached for comment today. 

On its website, Monsanto said PCBs were used in hundreds of industrial and commercial applications from the 1930s to 1970s and because they were non-flammable and provided electrical insulating properties, they were intended to increase the safety of products such as electrical equipment, motor oil, fluorescent light ballasts, cable insulation, caulk and thermal insulation. 

Monsanto said many electrical and building codes and insurance companies required PCBs for use in electrical equipment in buildings where the possibility of fire presented a risk to human life. 

Monsanto said that after studies determined that PCBs do not readily break down and can remain in the environment, its predecessor company decided to stop manufacturing them. The EPA banned their production in 1979.

New: Corporate Greed and Shortsightedness Will Lead to Demise of U.S. (Opinion)

Jack Bragen
Wednesday January 06, 2016 - 01:15:00 PM

We have heard a number of people complain about the lack of a good immigration policy in America. Donald Trump, in his campaign, boldly proclaimed that a wall will be built. However, Trump knows very well that this will never happen. With imported labor and outsourcing, we have another plantation economy. Corporate America would never give up the cheap imported labor and outsourcing, which is a huge augment to profits. However, this is a source of economic bleeding, in which dollars are leaving the U.S. and going to other countries.  

To help ease the trade deficit, the U.S. is the world's number one exporter of weapons. This contributes to international instability that in the long run is a threat to U.S. safety and security.  

Since we have cheap, nonunion labor at home and people working literally for nickels overseas, those who would ordinarily collect union wages are displaced and may resort to the escapism and [short-lived] profit of illicit drugs. This is a pernicious source of internal destruction of American society. It also causes numerous individuals who might otherwise be productive to be incarcerated repeatedly, or in some cases for life. Then, we have the taxpayers funding new prison construction, and funding the food, upkeep, and medical care of prisoners. This does not interfere with corporate profits.  

Imported energy and the fossil fuel infrastructure is another source of mammoth profits for the mega corporations.  

In the 1970's, there was a lot of talk in the scientific community of the potential for controlled hydrogen fusion as a relatively clean, cheap, and unlimited source of energy. I would think that by now this could have been developed, and there must be a reason why it hasn't. It would instantaneously put all of the oil companies out of business. (It would also be a solution to global warming, since any type of atomic energy source doesn't contribute to greenhouse gases.) Funding for fusion research has been marginalized. I would think for something that has the potential to revolutionize conditions on our planet, that fusion research would be pursued ardently.  

The net result of corporate greed? The U.S. economy will eventually implode, and China as well as other countries will take over economically, and could possibly, five or six decades from now, physically invade the U.S.  

Press Release: New interactive map compares carbon footprints of Bay Area neighborhoods

Robert Sanders, UC Media Relations
Wednesday January 06, 2016 - 12:39:00 PM

The Paris climate summit ended last year with landmark national commitments for greenhouse gas reductions, but much of the hard work of reducing emissions will fall on cities to change their residents’ behavior.

A neighborhood-by-neighborhood inventory of carbon emissions will help households and cities compare and ideally lower their carbon footprints. To do that, cities need data on current carbon emissions, and a new map of neighborhood-by-neighborhood carbon consumption in the San Francisco Bay Area provides this critical information, showing in detail how the region contributes to global climate change.Click on image below to open map. 

carbon emissions by neighborhood
The first-of-its-kind interactive map was produced by the University of California, Berkeley’s CoolClimate Network and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, and covers census block groups –neighborhoods of several hundred to a few thousand households – in the nine-county area. Neighborhoods with relatively high emissions for any component of their carbon footprints show up as red, while low-emission neighborhoods are green. 

“This is the most granular carbon footprint assessment anywhere in the world,” said Christopher Jones, the program director of the CoolClimate Network and first author of a study about the Bay Area carbon inventory. “It includes everything: energy use, transportation, food, goods, services, construction, water and waste. No one has compared neighborhoods like this before.” 

UC Berkeley researchers calculated the carbon footprints based on household consumption, regardless of where on the globe emissions occurred, as opposed to more common inventories that only track direct local emissions. For example, if a computer was made in China but purchased by a household in Berkeley, all emissions from the production of the computer are allocated to the household’s Berkeley neighborhood. 

The new Bay Area inventory is based on a full life-cycle analysis of the emissions generated in the production, use and disposal of each type of product or service. In the case of motor vehicles, the inventory considers the greenhouse gases emitted in the production of all the individual parts that go into the vehicle, vehicle assembly, transporting the vehicle to the dealer, maintenance of the vehicle during its useful life, plus the emissions from refining and burning the fuel used to propel the vehicle. 

“The development of a consumption-based greenhouse gas inventory is an important step toward protecting the climate,” said Jack Broadbent, executive officer of the air quality district. “It provides the bigger picture of how goods and services consumed by each of us in the Bay Area contribute to climate change and, by extension, highlights opportunities to reduce those emissions.” 

Bay Area cities shown early versions of the new detailed map were eager for more information, Jones said, a sign that communities are becoming more proactive in altering consumer behavior. 

“A large number of sessions at the Paris climate conference were dedicated to actions by cities and local governments,” said Daniel Kammen, a co-author, professor of energy and resources and of public policy and director of UC Berkeley’s Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, known as RAEL, where the work was conducted. “Cities really crave this information and we want to make it easier for them to get it.” 

Consumption map

One striking result of the Bay Area inventory, Jones said, is the wide variation in size and composition of household carbon footprints. Some neighborhoods have footprints three or four times larger than others, even within the same city, suggesting the need for highly tailored climate campaigns to change consumer behavior. 

Carbon footprint of typical San Francisco Bay Area household Carbon footprint of typical San Francisco Bay Area household. 

Suburban residents, for example, tend to own more cars and larger homes, making them good targets for new low-carbon technology, such as photovoltaics and electric vehicles. Urban areas, on the other hand, tend to have low transportation costs and may best be targeted by campaigns to encourage a less carbon-intensive diet and supporting low-carbon local services. 

“For Bay Area households, electricity is a tiny part of the problem, but it’s a huge part of the solution,” Jones said. “The biggest opportunity we identified to reduce emissions from consumption is to massively scale up electrification of our vehicles and our heating. The total combined potential savings is about 30 percent of the S.F. Bay Area’s carbon footprint.” 

The CoolClimate Network last year published an online, interactive map of carbon footprints by ZIP code for the entire country. The new Bay Area inventory will be used as a pilot project for a statewide inventory by 2016, and could serve as a model for a similar inventory covering the entire U.S. 

“As cities start to organize community-scale campaigns to change behavior, these maps become relevant because they can be used to target different neighborhoods depending on, for example, vehicle or electricity or natural gas usage,” Jones said. 

One example of a city-based approach to lowering greenhouse gas emissions is the Cool California Challenge, a statewide competition between cities to reduce household carbon footprints. The program began as a pilot project by RAEL researchers in collaboration with the Air Resources Board in 2013 and 2014, and is now run by Energy Upgrade California. 

The interactive map could also be used to pinpoint the best areas and designs for new housing. “The study really highlights the benefits of urban infill,” said Jones. “The size and location of homes affect all aspects of household consumption.”

Carbon footprints compared 

The study, published online, found that transportation is the largest source of emissions by Bay Area households (33 percent), followed by food (19 percent), goods (18 percent), services (18 percent), heating fuels (5 percent), home construction (3 percent), electricity (2 percent) and waste (1 percent). In some areas, food accounts for over one-third of emissions. 

Map of average household carbon footprints (tCO2e per household) in S.F. Bay Area census block groups Map of average household carbon footprints in S.F. Bay Area census block groups. 

Yet some cities have more than twice the overall carbon footprint of others, and motor vehicles aren’t always the largest source of emissions. In some urban cores, like Oakland, food contributes roughly an equivalent amount as vehicles with a lot of variation within the city. In other cities, transportation-related emissions are upward of three times higher than in urban core areas. 

Interestingly, this consumption-based approach finds about 35 percent higher greenhouse gas emissions than the traditional territorial approach for the region, largely due to higher emissions from imported food and goods. 

“Our goal is to provide high-quality information for the cities and regions that are doing the hard but important work, through encouragement or investments, to reduce their communities’ emissions,” Jones said. 

The work is funded in part by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the California High-Speed Rail Authority.


Berkeley: Scenes of Corruption (Opinion)

Steve Martinot
Wednesday January 06, 2016 - 10:46:00 AM

Toward the end of 2015, we witnessed a degree of political corruption in the Berkeley City Council that was unprecedented – so much so that many commentators at city council meetings proclaimed, “this is not what Berkeley is all about; this is not who we are.” It was a flagrant financial corruption, in which one could discern underhanded “benefits.” It was more a sense of dehumanization, a gap or disconnect that had opened between the government and the people. Insofar as it affected itself in three related political crises, a housing crisis, a crisis of homelessness, and a crisis of policing, this political disconnect appears to have widened to the point of a non-traversability marking the onset of a profound political crisis. In this article, I will spell out how this disconnect expressed itself with respect to the specific issues. I will give a more general portrait of the underlying structure in a sequel to this one. 

The housing crisis

The housing crisis has been brought about by a plan for development for the entire Bay Area (called Plan Bay Area). Spawned by ABAG, and written into law as amendments to SB375 (which ironically concerned protection of the environment), this plan allots housing construction to bay area cities, ostensibly to cut down on commuter highway pollution. Over 2900 housing units have been assigned to Berkeley, to be built by 2020. The vast majority of these housing units will be “market rate” rentals. And because the very proposal for development has led to huge increases in “market rate” rent levels, these developments will be available for high income families only. 

The actual housing crisis, however, is felt not by them but by low and moderate income families. Because rent levels rise in anticipation of an influx of high income residents, many low and moderate families get forced out of their homes – a form of economic hands-off eviction. When these tenants look for housing in the city, they then draw a blank because the rise in rent levels has preceded them. They end up having to move to another town, and then commute. Though new housing is planned, its ironic effect will be to bring impoverishment through housing costs, and mass dislocation of longtime residents. Whole neighborhoods will be destroyed as a result. 

The city cannot stop this process, however, because rent control is prohibited under the Costa-Hawkins Act of 1995. The crisis can only be resolved by building affordable housing. And there the city crashes against the corporate structure. 

Corporate developers will insist on building predominantly market rate housing for very real economic reasons: finances and the debt structure. They finance their operations with loans, using their construction projects as collateral. Should they encounter financial difficulty along the way, they may have to recapitalize the building (usually by selling it) to meet their loan obligations. The presence of affordable housing units in a building will diminish the ability to recapitalize it. That is because rents for affordable units are set by HUD at 30% of the tenant’s income, and not by the rental market. This not only reduces the building’s profitability, it carries with it a link to political structure that is independent of the housing market. Most capital investment chooses not to be "burdened" by such factors. It puts a crimp in the project’s potential earnings. And banks will be wary of lending funds unless the ability to resell is assured. 

In effect, affordable housing construction depends on non-profit associations. The city actually promises to require 10% affordable housing in each new development. However, it makes this promise in the knowledge that developers can pay a mitigation fee in lieu of such units, and thus not include them. The city colludes with the developers by keeping the mitigation fee low, far below that recommended by the latest Nexus Study of the problem. Thus, it evinces an advanced level of political corruption, a scorn for low and moderate income families. “This is not what Berkeley is all about; etc.” 

But the situation is actually worse. Affordable housing is not the purpose of the Plan Bay Area (the plan which has created this crisis). The plan’s purpose for requiring construction is to bring those who live in the suburbs closer to their jobs – focusing mostly on high income executives, technicians, engineers, and financial specialists. They can and will pay more for housing. That willingness, along with the land speculators attracted to such situations, produce a general increase in the cost of living, creating severe difficulties for those making traditional wages. 

The Plan’s motive is to make the three major industries of the Bay Area – finance, IT, and transportation – more efficient. Its political purpose is to “tune up” the Bay Area to serve as the “capital city” of the Pacific Rim economy, that economic community composed of those nations designated as signatories to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) currently proposed by the US government. Its subtext, of course, is competition with China. 

As a result, huge monoliths are planned all over town that will rise above residential areas in stylistic discord, causing traffic and parking problems – San Pablo Ave. and Cedar St., Telegraph Ave. and Blake St. (two buildings), University and 5th St. In no case has the community had more than “comment” involvement in any of these plans. 

Against this, all over Berkeley, neighborhood groups and associations are forming whose major demands are for affordable housing, protection against dislocation, and a seat at the planning tables for specific projects, so that they can protect those aspects of the neighborhood that they depend on. 

Ultimately, only a declaration of emergency will resolve this crisis. It would permit a moratorium on rent increases that would then give the city time to build the affordable housing it needs to stem the massive dislocation that is now threatening its people. 


The homeless crisis

Oddly enough, the council, and many other people in the city, wonder why the number of homeless has risen in the last year. While the homeless population averaged between 800 and 900 in 2013, it is now up to around 2100. Is it simply the attraction of the city? Or is it maybe internally generated? 

Two kinds of complaints have arisen about the homeless. Some people say, “Get these disgusting people out of our city.” And others object, “The homeless are human beings also, why haven’t you [city council] provided them with bathrooms yet, so that they don’t have to humiliate themselves in public?” The council appears to have listened only to the first group. In partnership with the Downtown Berkeley Association, it passed redundant laws to bring the issue to public attention in order to use the homeless for its own political purposes. 

The demand by the homeless for showers, bathrooms, and sleeping areas (if not housing) has been loud and long. The humane response would have been to at least provide some basic services like public toilets and sleeping areas. It is owing to this failure that the situation has produced complaints about “uncivil behavior,” and that people who smell bad. The city uses those complaints to increase police action against the homeless. In sum, it creates the conditions for “bad behavior” through inaction and then calls the cops to punish the victims of that inaction. If the police had not raided and broken up a variety of encampments under bridges and freeways where no one encountered them, they would not have forced the homeless to focus on the downtown area and its parks, where they could then be used by the city as a propaganda mechanism to increase police activity. The council remains indifferent to the police confiscation of property needed to survive exposure to the elements (clothing, sleeping bags, ponchos, etc.), denying it committed any crimes itself though its deprivation of property condemns people to possible sickness or death from exposure. 

At no time were the homeless themselves consulted as to their needs or their behavior, or included in discussions concerning their situation. Instead, the police were consulted. It is as if the mayor or the council simply told the police, make the city attractive for corporate developers. 

But the city’s corruption lies not just in its own inaction. Its true corruption lies in its use of the homeless for other political purposes. When considering its budget, it sought to cut funds for services and drop-in centers that homeless people rely on. By creating a more desperate population, it hoped to turn them and residents against each other in neighborhoods that were targeted for development. By creating conflict, the city would then become the arbiter, while creating a dependence on itself with respect to real neighborhood issues, like housing. In particular, it could use neighborhood hostility to the homeless to subvert neighborhood resistance to development and to economic dislocations. 

The real cruelty of the council’s schemes was revealed during its last meeting of 2015 when it refused to consider a proposed emergency measure for extra services and shelters for the homeless as bitter winter weather approached, while proceeding with usual business about traffic patterns and zoning. 

The political crisis

There is a political crisis in Berkeley, of which the housing and homeless situations are the primary symptoms. We see this crisis unfold in other forms of malfeasance, in which a strong conflict of interest exists between institutions and constituencies. In almost routine fashion, the council’s vote divides 6-3 in favor of institutionality (such developers, business districts, the police, etc.). 

The police have to be included in the structure of this political corruption. They partake in the uniformity of style that one finds among police all across the country, crushing homeless encampments, and deploying other forms of violence. Police violence has become all too prevalent in the US. Over 1100 people were shot and killed across the country by police in 2015. That’s three a day. The latest in SF had the distinct character of a firing squad – five cops confronting Mario Woods, each one twice his size, and all shooting at once because he took two steps to the side. The vast majority of instances where people are shot (mostly people of color) is for disobedience. This demand for obedience, the regimentation and militarization of civil society that it represents, has become uniform throughout the US. 

Many in Berkeley remember when the mayor called the police to arrest a man who was about to speak at council about the police having killed his sister (Kayla Moore). The mayor chose that moment to move the agenda item to the end of the meeting (an illegal move). The police dragged the man out of the council chambers. 

During the Berkeley demonstrations of Dec. 2014 sparked by two such “disobedience deaths” of black men (Michael Brown and Eric Garner), the Berkeley police deployed themselves in such a manner as to play a political role against the demonstrators. Scores of people were injured from beatings, shootings, tasers, tear gas, kettling, pepper spray, etc. deployed as "obedience" technology. Three huge hearings occurred in the wake of this violence, detailing police assaults. No compensation has been offered those harmed, while the police report excusing its comportment was accepted without question. No communities have been included in revising police manuals, nor in suggesting how police should comport themselves in a civil manner. Only a few mild rebukes for racial profiling have been forthcoming from council about the police. 

An associated police question emerges with respect to the BPD’s contracts with federal fusion centers (NCRIC-North Cal Resource and Information Center), which council also ratifies without question. To the extent police autonomy and fusion center contracts represent federal (coast-to-coast) policy within the city structure, it hobbles city government autonomy. And this brings us full circle to the issue of Plan Bay Area and its relation to the Pacific Rim economy and the TPP. 

It is possible that the council actually thinks that it is doing the right thing, that it is not criminalizing poverty, that the police really “serve and protect,” that its promises of affordable housing will actually be fulfilled. But its actions belie that. The council knows that toilets, shelters, and jobs will change homeless behavior, that higher mitigation fees will serve the constituents better, and that cancellation of the police fusion center contract will actually put the police under local civilian control. Instead, the homeless face dire threats to their health and lives, low income families face the threat of dislocation and possible homelessness, and the police get military weapons. City council chooses to exacerbate these conditions by violating its responsibility to the residents. And it has done so to the point where only states of emergency have any hope of preserving the people of the city. 

To escape the bind it is in, the city would have to involve the people of the neighborhoods in all aspects of development and the resolution of social problems. Neighborhood associations would have to be given a seat at the planning tables with a vote. The homeless themselves, through their own intentional community, would have to be party to the decisions that the council and the police make with respect to them, with a vote. And the communities would have to have access to the procedural and training manuals of the police, with the ability to modify them so that malfeasance by the police cannot hide behind the claim to “proper procedure.” In other words, democracy rather than obedience to institutional interests. 



Updated: Berkeley Council Votes to Join Lawsuits against Monsanto

Councilmember Kriss Worthington
Tuesday January 05, 2016 - 12:22:00 PM

By a vote of 6-0-0-3 on Tuesday January 5, the Berkeley City Council voted to file a nuisance lawsuit to hold Monsanto accountable for cleanup of PCB contamination linked to Monsanto products. 

San Jose, San Diego, Oakland and Spokane, Washington are other cities that have already filed suit. Below is a link to Oakland lawsuit: 


New: Power's Out in Berkeley

Monday January 04, 2016 - 12:35:00 PM

As of this writing, PGE reports that in Berkeley there are eight power outages affecting 3877 Customers. For a map, click here.

New: El Nino Storms Expected to Hit Berkeley, Bay Area Tonight

Jade Atkins (BCN)
Monday January 04, 2016 - 12:20:00 PM

A series of strong Pacific storm systems is expected to hit the Bay Area starting tonight in what National Weather Service officials say is the beginning of the much-anticipated El Nino. 

Bay Area residents can expect about an inch of rainfall in the lower elevations and more than three inches possible in coastal and mountain ranges, according to weather service forecaster Bob Benjamin. 

The beginning of the system came through this morning but has since dissipated, Benjamin said. 

Commuters in the Bay Area should be advised that the majority of the rainfall is expected to occur during the peak morning commute hours on Tuesday and Wednesday. People should expect delays and possible flooding in areas with poor drainage, according to Benjamin. 

He said the storms appear to signal the start of El Nino conditions, described by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as unusually warm equatorial sea temperatures across the Pacific Ocean. 

"The previous systems we saw had a lot of cold air, with temperatures at freezing or near freezing. In this system, we'll see the temperatures remain about the same through the day and night with the clouds remaining low," Benjamin said. 

Passengers at San Francisco International Airport can expect some flight delays as a ground delay program was put into effect this morning, SFO spokesman Doug Yakel said. 

Ground delay programs, which reduce the flow of aircraft into the airport, are often triggered by weather conditions such as rain or heavy fog at SFO, Yakel said. 

Passengers are encouraged to check with their airlines prior to arriving at the airport for any delays or updated information regarding their flights. 

Should any passengers be stranded overnight, Yakel said the airport is equipped with blankets and pillows and will work with restaurants within the airport to stay open later to accommodate passenger needs. 

The rain is expected to let up by the weekend, but is likely to be back at the beginning of next week, weather service officials said. ;

New: The Homelessness Situation (Opinion)

David Esler
Monday January 04, 2016 - 11:57:00 AM

Re: your December 21st editorial, “The Sun Will Shine on Berkeley -- Tomorrow”. The situation with the homeless is indeed distressing, especially in this harsh weather and given the resources of this town and its alleged heritage of compassion. As a volunteer and donor at Berkeley Food & Housing Project for many years, I know that Terrie Light and her staff are working hard on a long-term solution -- the planned consolidated downtown homeless support center -- and supporting a short-term one to address the El Nino season as best they can with limited resources and person power. But the City could certainly do better without the Council voting to criminalize homelessness. If they’re so upset about public urination, then why not provide some damn public restrooms overseen by a few homeless who are willing to work for a little cash (what a concept)? 

The roots of homelessness are hugely complex, involving many factors, the most significant -- and the one in which both the City of Berkeley and Alameda County are woefully deficient -- being better community mental health care, since so many people living on the street suffer from schizophrenia, paranoid delusions, and other forms of mental illness. If the Council were to turn its energies more from development and high-rise buildings that violate the height limit and toward a comprehensive, well-thought-out plan to address homelessness in a compassionate manner, we might find fewer homeless congregating on the streets, threatening residents, defecating in the parks, and sleeping in doorways in near-freezing weather. 

The current situation of homelessness in California’s cities largely dates from a governor and legislature more than forty years ago choosing to close mental hospitals with a promise to replace them with urban clinics and day-care centers that miraculously failed to materialize when funding was never made available to support them. In truth, the mentally ill were simply turned out into the streets to fend for themselves, thus becoming a burden for city governments that lacked proper resources and money to deal with. These decisions didn’t cause homelessness, of course, but they severely exaggerated it to the condition we see now. 

It’s a question of priorities. We see these people every day and turn our heads away from them, knowing subconsciously that there but for fortune go we. (That’s why we refuse to acknowledge them, as they remind us of our own vulnerabilities.) Too many of the scions pushing downtown development and gentrification wish they could solve the “homeless problem” by snapping their fingers and making the street dwellers disappear. Well, folks, they ain’t going to go away. They’re here, a daily test of our compassion, tolerance, and resolve. We have to do a better job of providing care for them and a realistic solution for dealing with the inherent causes of homelessness. It can happen; we just have to make it as important a priority as building high rise luxury condominiums for the well off.

New: DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE:Dispatches Awards for 2015 (Opinion)

Conn Hallinan
Sunday January 03, 2016 - 10:18:00 AM

Each year Dispatches From The Edge gives awards to individuals, companies, and governments that make following the news a daily adventure. Here are the awards for 2015 

The First Amendment Award to U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter for issuing a new Law Of War manual that defines reporters as “unprivileged belligerents” who will lose their “privileged” status by “the relaying of information” which “could constitute taking a direct part in hostilities.” Translation? If you report you are in the same class as members of al-Qaeda. 

A Pentagon spokesperson said that the military “supports and respects the vital work that journalists perform.” Just so long as they keep what the see, hear, and discover to themselves? Professor of constitutional law Heidi Kitrosser called the language “alarming.” 

Runner up is the U.S. Military College at West Point for hiring Assistant Professor of Law William C. Bradford, who argues that the military should target “legal scholars” who are critical of the “war on terrorism.” Such critics are “treasonous”, he says. Bradford proposes going after “law school facilities, scholars’ home offices and media outlets where they give interviews.” Bradford also favors attacking “Islamic holy sites,” even if that means “great destruction, innumerable enemy casualties, and civilian collateral damage.” 

The Little Bo Peep Award for losing track of things goes to the U.S. Defense Department for being unable to account for $35 billion in construction aid to Afghanistan, which is about $14 billion more than the country’s GDP. The U.S. has spent $107.5 billion on reconstruction in Afghanistan, more than the Marshall Plan. Most of it went to private contractors. 

The Pentagon response to the report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan on the missing funds was to declare that all such information was now classified, because it might provide “sensitive information for those that threaten our forces and Afghan forces.” It has since partially backed off that declaration. 

While it is only pocket change compared to Afghanistan, the Pentagon also could not account for more than $500 million in military aid to Yemen. The U.S. is currently aiding Saudi Arabia and a number of other Gulf monarchies that are bombing Houthi rebels battling the Yemeni government. Much of that aid was supposed to go for fighting Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), against which the U.S. is also waging a drone war. The most effective foes of AQAP are the Shiite Houthis. So we are supporting the Saudis and their allies against the Houthis, while fighting Al-Qaeda in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. 

If the reader is confused, Dispatches suggests taking a strong painkiller and lying down. 

The George Orwell Award For Language goes to the intelligence gathering organizations of the “Five Eyes” surveillance alliance—the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand—who changed the words “mass surveillance” to “bulk collection.” The linguistic gymnastics allows the Five to claim that they are not violating Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In the 2000 decision of Amann v. Switzerland, the Court found that it was illegal to store information on an individual’s private life. 

As investigative journalist Glen Greenwald points out, the name switch is similar to replacing the world “torture” with “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The first is illegal, the second vague enough for interrogators to claim they are not violating the International Convention Against Torture. 

A runner up is the U.S. Defense Department, which changed the scary title of “Air Sea Battle” to describe the U.S.’s current military doctrine vis-à-vis China, to “Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons.” The Air Sea Battle doctrine calls for bottling up China’s navy, launching missile attacks to destroy command centers, and landing troops on the Chinese mainland. It includes scenarios for the use of nuclear weapons. “Global Commons,” on the other hand, sounds like a picnic on the lawn. 

The Lassie Come Home Award to the U.S. Marine Corps for creating a 160-pound robot dog that will “enhance the Marine Corps war-fighting capabilities,” according to Captain James Pineiro. Pineiro heads up the Corp’s Warfighting Laboratory at Quantico, Virginia. “We see it as a great potential for the future dismounted infantry.” 

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is also designing an autonomous fighting robot. Can the Terminator be far off? 

The Golden Lemon Award goes to Lockheed Martin, the biggest arms manufacturer in the world, which has managed to produce two stunningly expensive weapons systems that don’t work. 

The F-35 Lighting II is the single most expensive weapons system in U.S. history: $1.5 trillion. It is supposed to replace all other fighter-bomber aircraft in the American arsenal, including the F-15, F-16 and F-18, and will begin deployment in 2016. 

Slight problem. 

In dogfights with the three decade-old F-16, the F-35 routinely lost. Because it is heavy and underpowered, it is extremely difficult to turn the plane during air-to-air combat. It has a fancy 25-MM Gatling gun that gets off 3,000 rounds a minute—but the plane can only carry 180 rounds. As one Air Force official put it, “Hope you don’t miss.” Oh, and the software for the gun won’t be out until 2019. 

And that’s not the only glitch. 

The F-35 has stealth technology, but its Identification Friend or Foe system is so bad that pilots are required to get a visual confirmation of their target. Not a good idea when the other guys have long-range air-to-air missiles. The $600,000 high-tech helmet the pilot uses to see everything around him often doesn’t work very well, and there isn’t enough room in the cockpit to turn your head. If the helmet goes out, there is no backup landing systems, so maybe you had better eject? Bad idea. The fatality rate for small pilots (those under 139 pounds) at low speeds is 98 percent, not good odds. Larger pilots do better but the changes of a broken neck are still distressingly high. 


But it is not just Lockheed Martin’s airplanes that don’t work, neither do its ships. 

The company’s new Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), The Milwaukee, broke down during its recent East Coast tour and had to be towed to Virginia Beach. The LCSs are designed to fight in shallow waters, but a recent Pentagon analysis says the ships would “not be survivable in a hostile combat situation.” The LCSs have been plagued with engine problems and spend more than 50 percent of their time in port being repaired. The program costs $37 billion. 

And Lockheed Martin, along with Northrop Grumman and Boeing, just got a $58.2 billion contract to build the next generation Long Range Strike Bomber. Sigh. 

The Great Moments In Democracy Award goes to Jyrki Katainen, Finnish vice-president of the European Commission, the executive arm of the 28-nation European Union. When Greece’s anti-austerity Syriza Party was elected, he commented, “We don’t change policies depending on elections.” So, why is it that people have elections? 

A close runner up in this category is German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble, who denounced Athens’ government for not cracking down on Greeks who can’t pay their taxes. The biggest tax dodger in Greece? That would be the huge German construction company, Hochtief, which has not paid the Value Added Tax for 20 years, nor made its required contributions to social security. Estimates are that the company owes Greece one billion Euros.  


The Ty-D-Bol Cleanup Award to the U.S. State Department for finally agreeing to clean up plutonium contamination, the residue from three hydrogen bombs that fell near the Andalusia town of Palomares in Southern Spain in 1966. The bombs were released when a B-52 collided with an air tanker. While the bombs did not explode—Palomares and a significant section of southern Spain would not exist if they had—they broke open, spreading seven pounds highly toxic plutonium 239 over the area. Plutonium has a half-life of 24,000 years. 

While there was an initial cleanup, Francisco Franco’s fascist government covered up the incident and played down the dangers of plutonium. But recent studies indicate that there is still contamination, and some of the radioactive materials are degrading into americium, a producer of dangerous gamma radiation. 

When Spain re-raised the issue in 2011, the U.S. stonewalled Madrid. So why is Washington coming to an agreement now? Quid pro quo: the U.S. wants to base some of its navy at Rota in Southern Spain, and the Marines are setting up a permanent base at Moron de la Frontera. 

As for nukes, the U.S. is deploying its new B61-12 guided nuclear bomb in Europe. At $11 billion it is the most expensive nuke in the U.S. arsenal. The U.S. will base the B61-12 in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Turkey, a violation of Articles I and II of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Those two articles ban transferring nukes from a nuclear weapon state to a non-nuclear weapon state. 

Dispatches assumes they will also bring lots of mops and buckets. 

Buyer Beware Award to the purchasing arm of the U.S. Defense Department that sent dozens of MD-530 attack helicopters to Afghanistan to build up the Afghan Air Force. Except the McDonnell Douglass-made choppers can’t operate above 8,000 feet, which means they can’t clear many of the mountains that ring Kabul. The Afghan capital is at 6,000 feet. It also doesn’t have the range to reach Taliban-controlled areas and, according to the pilots, its guns jam all the time. The Pentagon also paid more than $400 million to give Afghanistan 16 transport plane that were in such bad condition they couldn’t fly. The planes ended up being sold as scrap for $32,000. 

The Pogo Possum “We Have Met The Enemy and He Is Us” Award goes to Defense Intelligence Agency for warning Congress that “Chinese and Russian military leaders…were developing capabilities to deny [the] U.S. use of space in the event of a conflict”. Indeed, U.S. military satellites were jammed 261 times in 2015—by the United States. Asked how many times China and Russia had jammed U.S. signals, Gen. John Hyten, head of the Air Force Space Command replied, “I don’t really know. My guess is zero.” 

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














Flash: Advisory: Police Activity

Berkeley Police
Saturday January 02, 2016 - 04:22:00 PM

Berkeley Police Department is currently involved in police activity in the area of Dana St/Carleton St. Please avoid this area.

The Best Political Fiction of 2015

Bob Burnett
Thursday December 31, 2015 - 02:04:00 PM

Here are my five favorite 2015 reads for fun; all — of course — with political overtones.

5. “The Girl With All the Gifts,” by M.R. Carey. (Science Fiction/Horror) Theme: Police-state abuses A delightfully ghoulish retelling of the classic “Day of the Triffids.” Movie version due for release in 2016.

4. “Blood, Salt, and Water,” by Denise Mina. (Mystery/Police Procedural) Theme: Sexism Thought by many to be the finest mystery writer in the British Isles, Mina is back with her favorite character, Glasgow homicide detective, Alex Morrow. It’s a good story, well written; notable for Mina’s unsparing attention to the sexism that confronts her female detective at every step —perhaps the most realistic series about a woman trying to juggle two careers.

3. “The Three-Body Problem” by Liu Cixin (translated from Chinese). (Science Fiction) Theme: Environmental degradation (!) This interesting, hopeful novel would be a serious contender for book of the year except for the technical complexity (quantum mechanics, signal theory, and artificial intelligence) and the occasionally clunky narrative. Plot: After the cultural revolution, China’s leaders conclude they are losing the arms race to America and Russia and ask aliens for help. A bad idea. 

2. ”The Whites,” by Richard Price. (Mystery/Police Procedural) Theme: Police brutality Ostensibly a police procedural, it’s really a meditation on justice and personal responsibility. The best of the detective genre since “Mystic River.” 

1. “Big Little Lies,” by Liane Morality. (Dark Mystery) Theme: Sexism, abuse Plot: three women meet when they enroll their kids at the first day of Kindergarten. They become friends and we learn their very interesting stories. And, through a fantastic use of narrative-shift, we learn that six months from now there’s a murder at a charity benefit for the Kindergarten and the women are being questioned. But, until the end, we don’t know who is murdered or who did it. The rights to “Big Little Lies” have been purchased by Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman. 

Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer and retired Silicon Valley Executive. He can be reached at bburnett@sonic.net 



Smash-and-Grab Hits Berkeley

Becky O'Malley
Friday January 01, 2016 - 02:55:00 PM

And a Happy New Year to you too! Last night someone (presumably not an art lover) broke down the gate to our side yard and snatched Mike O’Malley’s two-foot high 30 lb. ceramic sculpture of Eve and Lilith from his “Out of Doors” sculpture display wall. For pictures, see on Tom Dalzell’s QuirkyBerkeley website: A Fence of Doors. And Windows. And Ceramic Sculpture.

As far as we can remember, nothing was amiss when we got home New Year’s morning around 1 a.m., but we might have been too sleepy to notice (we’re getting a bit old for these late hours).

It doesn’t seem to have been simple vandalism—it would have been a lot easier just to smash stuff in situ, so to speak, but they actually made off with this big heavy object. It was a nice sculpture, took a lot of work to build, with an interesting story line which was posted next to it, about Adam’s “first wife” or maybe on-the-side girlfriend Lilith. This apocryphal story seems to be exciting for some adherents of exotic offshoots of the three desert religions, which could have motivated the thief perhaps. Sometimes Lilith is portrayed as a demon, though not in this piece.

In any event, we found the sculpture at the corner of our lot next to the garage, broken into bits which were then laid out in an eerie row along the fence. The heads of both women, as well as Eve’s naked body, were intact. Nearby, we found an empty bottle from Mendocino Red Tail Ale, on the label of which someone had written with a black marker the words “the hope”. Weird, right?

In the deep recesses of my reptile brain I do remember that a partisan of one of those warring desert sects said in one of his poison pen letters to the Planet at least five years ago that he’d pissed on our garage when he was in Berkeley because he thought we were pro-Islam and pro-Communist and worse. He also disclosed that he lived at the time in Ukiah. That’s in Mendocino County, right?

Cue Twilight Zone music. Just sayin’.  

Will we call the police? Probably not, because what could they do? They have bigger fish to fry. 

Meanwhile, the latent Comp Lit major in me is longing to take this event as a metaphor for the destruction of the civilized world by the forces of evil, starting with the hostilities in the Middle East which threaten to suck the Rest-of-World into the fiery furnace, all the way down to the invasion of cities around the world like London and San Francisco and even little Berkeley by runaway capitalism, which threatens to demolish local landmarks in order to erect priapic monuments to greed.  

How’s that for an overextended image? Pretty impressive, no? 

Yes, I’m thinking, one more time, about The Residences at Berkeley Plaza on Harold Way. At least, and maybe more. 

In yesterday’s New York Times op-eds, there’s a piece by the paper’s former executive editor Max Frankel, a resident of the formerly haimish Upper West Side, which in now being invaded by “two dozen or so supertall luxury towers sprouting up along the southern edge of Central Park.” He says that the superrich with “suspect foreign assets…enrich themselves by exploiting weak zoning rules to pour hideous implants into Manhattan cavities”. Sound familiar? Read the whole thing; it’s great: Make Them Pay for Park Views. 

With his tongue slightly in cheek, Frankel suggests that the new owners should be paying for the enjoyment of looking down on the public park and other “expensive, expansive public amenities” by means of a tax on each view window in the structures. This is a great idea, and guess what? It would work in Berkeley. 

Case in point: as approved by our weak-as-water Berkeley City Council, the Residences at Berkeley Plaza are slated to block a part of the view of the Golden Gate from the Campanile on the University of California campus. New residents of the edifice would acquire an exclusive window on some of that view, now a part of the public commons which we all share. Why not tax their expropriation?  

Frankel hopes that the New York Legislature might be persuaded to enact a window tax to protect residents of his state. Here in California it would be much easier—we could use the local initiative process to protect Berkeley alone, as a start. 

Oh, wait. That was what was promised first by Measure R 1.0 and then in Berkeley’s Downtown Area Plan, in return for allowing all those extra stories with super views. Builders were even supposed to provide on-site affordable units, but instead the council seems to have given the Harold property owner a deep, deep discount on what was supposed to be significant community benefits, agreeing to a cut-rate payment which will do little for people who need places to live. And so it goes. 

In all seriousness, the process of smash-and-grab development which is just starting around here is everywhere now. I keep up with other places by reading the London and New York Reviews, the New York Times and occasionally the Paris press online, and every issue seems to recount a new horror story of the physical destruction which rapacious flight capital is wreaking around the world. 

Berkeleyans have a parochial tendency to view local manifestations of big problems as “only in Berkeley” events. I think there was some sort of “NIMBY” unit in the fondly remembered (though not by me) How Berkeley Can You Be parade (sponsored by a guy who lived in Piedmont of course.) And then people are surprised when stuff happens that they don’t like, and even worse, by disasters like the Library Gardens tragedy, which happened in a building whose development was mired in political chicanery of all sorts which was reported in the Planet as it happened at the time.  

At the couple of New Years’ Eve parties we attended, populated by solid citizens many of whom believe themselves to be liberal or even progressive and occasionally radical, nice-seeming people I chatted with deplored what they knew to be going on, but they had no idea of what caused it or how to stop it. The way in which money now rules the political process in this country is unbelievable to those who came of age in the sixties when much seemed possible. (See Paul Krugman, Privilege, Pathology and Power, today for gory details). 

Again the small local example: the process which resulted in the approval of the Harold Way building was rife with procedural errors (see Tom Lochner’s excellent report in the Contra Costa Times). But it might cost tens of thousands of dollars for the public to challenge it, with no angel waiting in the wings, and the financial backer’s shills have boasted that their legal war chest is $5 million, on a project where profits are estimated to be something like $100 million. 

In a particularly unappealing modern version of Nero’s fiddling while Rome burned, our city mothers and fathers right and left are preoccupied with pooping in the parks while homeless people are sleeping outside in freezing weather and our civic fabric is being consumed to line the pockets of speculators.  

One of the lasting souvenirs of my Cal education was committing to memory quite a bit of W.B. Yeats’ 1919 poem The Second Coming. Interpretations of exactly what the poet meant are numerous; I seem to remember that one of them saved my grade in an English class long ago. Now, however, it’s just the stray lines that stick in my mind, notably this one as I observe the lackadaisical way people here cluck-cluck about problems without doing anything about them: 

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

A bit over-dramatic, perhaps, when the topic is broken bric-a-brac or bad buildings, but not inaccurate. The statue might have been smashed by an insane ideologue, or it might have been stolen by an art-lover who dropped it by accident, we’ll never know for sure. Similarly, the politicians everywhere who are endorsing colossal giveaways of the public commons could be naïve do-gooders or recipients of payoffs or anything in between, but ordinary people don’t have the time, money, energy or conviction to figure out what’s happening and stop it.  

Just too bad, all of it. 




Public Comment

Berkeley City Council vs.The Public

Harry Brill
Thursday December 31, 2015 - 04:04:00 PM

Did you listen to the recent Democratic Party Presidential candidates debate? If so, I regret to say that if anyone of these candidates became a member of the Berkeley City Council, they would be on the losing side on a very important issue. In contrast to the majority of the City Council, all three candidates, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O'Malley, who was a former governor of Maryland, unequivocally and strongly support paid family leave for working people. 

The City's own Labor Commission proposed to the conservative leaning City Council paid sick leave. But the majority of the Berkeley City Council members, including Mayor Bates and Laurie Capitelli, who is a candidate for mayor next year, wouldn't budge. The three Presidential candidates would be more at home in San Francisco, Emeryville, and Oakland, where paid sick leave is now law. 

Paid sick leave is not only a labor issue. It is a public health issue as well. Since many low wage sick workers feel financially compelled to go to work, they are exposing their customers and other workers to health risks. Do the majority of members of the Berkeley City Council lack the compassion for the well being of the majority of the public? It seems so. 

What we do know is that we have the compassion for others. Please express your concern by insisting that the members of the Berkeley City Council enact a good paid sick leave ordinance. Also contact mayoralty candidate Laurie Capitelli. 

To reach all members of the Council, email to: council@cityofberkeley.info 

To reach Capitelli, send email to: lcapitelli@cityofberkeley.info or contact him at one of the following phone numbers: (510) 981-7150 or (510) 981-7155

The Democratic Debate

Tejinder Uberoi
Thursday December 31, 2015 - 02:15:00 PM

Both the O’Malley and Sanders campaigns have rightly accused the ‘undemocratic DNC’ of boosting Clinton’s prospects by limiting the number of debates and scheduling them during low-viewership times like Saturday nights. According to Nielsen, only 6.7 million people tuned in to ABC during the last debate — a fraction of the 18 million who watched the fifth Republican debate.  

It was the second Democratic debate in a row held on a Saturday night. The next Democratic debate is scheduled for Sunday, January 17, during the Martin Luther King Day three-day-long weekend. 

During the last debate. O’Malley rightly accused both of his rivals of being weak on gun control; this will likely encourage lone wolf assassins to purchase firearms at gun shows before launching attacks on unsuspecting Americans. 

The debate also exposed Sanders and Clinton’s foreign policy blunders. Clinton was a vigorous supporter of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and both she and Sanders the ouster of Gaddafi in Libya. Both decisions have created monumental chaos in the Middle East and the death and displacement of millions. Clinton played out her well-known hawkishness to demonstrate her ‘steel-toughness’, to compete with the boys, by advocating a no-fly zone over Syria, heading for a possible dangerous collision course with Russia. Both Syria and Iraq have invited the Soviets into their air space in contrast to the US who not received such a request. A no-fly zone would be a clear violation of international law and fraught with incredible risk.

Tamir Rice

Jagjit Singh
Thursday December 31, 2015 - 02:11:00 PM

Once again a family mourns the death of their son, 12 year-old African American, Tamir Rice. On November 22, 2014, a 911 caller reported seeing a young juvenile waving what appeared to be a toy gun. Tragically that vital information was not transmitted to the responding officer. Officer Timothy Loehmann shot Tamir within two seconds after his police cruiser pulled up in front of the boy. Neither Loehmann nor his partner, Frank Garmback administered first aid to save the boy’s life. They then handcuffed Tamir’s 14-year-old sister and threw her to the ground as she ran to her brother’s side, callously leaving the boy to die. Incredibly, an Ohio grand jury returned a decision not to indict following more than a year’s investigation. 

What was omitted during trial was Officer Timothy Loehmann’s resignation from another police force after a “dangerous loss of composure” during firearms training. It is an absolute travesty that police officers who responded made no attempt to assess the situation for themselves but only saw the boy’s skin color and toy gun as a danger to the community which required the use of maximum lethal force. Tamir’s death has become another alarming statistic of a criminal justice system that continues to offer blanket impunity to police officers for their actions when confronting African-Americans. It is extremely doubtful whether a 911 would even have been made if a white boy had been playing with a toy gun. It appears that the prosecutor deliberately cherry-picked the jury and what amounts to gross prosecutorial misconduct recommended a non-indictment. Other experts did find probable cause, including a municipal court judge who recommended Officer Loehmann be charged with murder, manslaughter and reckless homicide.

Saudi Arabia

Jagjit Singh
Monday December 21, 2015 - 04:09:00 PM

One of the great shortcomings in the American-led fight against the Islamic State is the lack of fighters from Muslim countries. The announcement by Saudi Arabia that it has cobbled together 34 Islamic nations to fight terrorism is not very encouraging. It surely depends on the Saudi’s definition of terrorism. It seems unlikely they will set their sights on their ISIS Sunni brothers. Furthermore, given their abysmal record of killing thousands of civilians, with U.S. supplied weapons, in neighboring Yemen makes it extremely unlikely that they are sincere in fighting ISIS. Saudi Arabia has fomented the growing turmoil in much of the Arab world by funding Wahhabi religious schools and clerics who are spreading the kind of extremist doctrine that is at the heart of the Islamic State’s ideology. 

It is time for the American people to wake-up and realize that Saudi Arabia has never been our friend - it has always been shaking our hand while orchestrating policies detrimental to our well-being. Calling them friends is symptomatic of the corruption of our own ideals where trade in weapons of death triumphs concerns for human rights. A staggering $100 billion of weapons has been sold to the Saudi kingdom over the last 5 years. 

Until the U.S. and the West are willing to confront this oil-rich Frankenstein that is more suited to the Game of Thrones than to the 21st century, the turmoil in the Middle East will continue.

Just Desserts

Phil Allen
Thursday December 31, 2015 - 04:03:00 PM

Could it be that the recent misfortunes of our local NFL teams reflect a territorial gloom their gold-counting concerns seem unaware of, except during public-relations stunts? 

Consider the Forty Niners. I've been sorting through some 20-year-old videos--now that I found a machine to play them on--of that team in its waning glory years. Steve Young/Jerry Rice pretty much tells the tale. What struck me about that franchise at that time was how its legacy grew apace with that of Silicon Valley, including associations with goddam Stanford. (Bill Walsh, the head coach who orchestrated the team's dynastic rise, was hired from the Cardinal; Superbowl 19--excuse me, that's XIX--was played in its stadium.) Both the intelligence industry and the Niners seemed unstoppable. Watching this wine-and-cheese team, with TV commentary from Republican-sounding Pat Summerall and Demo doughboy John Madden, was like polishing gold nuggets. Is it too much to compare their teams of late with the arrival, also geographically-proximate, of social-networking firms? The latter are sharply run, but their product tends toward an isolating as well as a gathering influence. Long gone is the warm hands-on involvement of owner Eddie de Bartolo; he's was succeeded by shy functionarial relatives. As for the current players, try to pick a hero. Who, then, could have seen the result? A boiling-over crowd of nouveaux tres riches, suitably housed, seeing a second-rate club from a skybox. And the relation between ticket prices and rental prices? 

And the Raiders.. few teams in sports are as closely identified with their towns, and its gritty fans, hereinafter called "(the) pawns". Theirs is a story of abandonment by reason of vanity. These fearsome mercenaries fled to the desert, and an awkward fan base, only to return home to grand concessions for its conquering-hero owner. Now, they're about to split again, and just as they return to form. The fans are betrayed twice, but that Raiders part of city/county taxpayers' bills will be round awhile. And, as goes the team will go many fans, as untenable costs-of-living--particularly rents--will drive them to some other desert. 

And yet, the tickets sell. Pass the bread.

January Pepper Spray Times

By Grace Underpressure
Sunday January 03, 2016 - 11:36:00 AM

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

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

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

This is a Very Good Deal. Go for it! 


ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Why I Suggest Self-Employment

Jack Bragen
Friday January 01, 2016 - 04:23:00 PM

When dealing with job placement via a mental health agency, a mental health consumer could be grossly underestimated, and could be placed in a position which is well below our capabilities. For example, my wife has a Bachelor's Degree, and a worker at Department of Vocational Rehabilitation placed her in training to become a motel maid. Some mental health professionals presume that we have subnormal intelligence.  

It can be hard not to buy into this. Mental health professionals have convinced many persons with mental illness that we can't do anything that entails the higher functions of the mind. Because of this, we may learn to think and act accordingly.  

Being mentally ill and medicated does not preclude having an otherwise good mind. However, mentally ill people are taught to devalue ourselves. If we assert that we have plans of something nebulously professional, we are said to have a delusion.  

A worker at Department of Rehabilitation scoffed at my plans to become self-employed, claiming that people become self-employed when they are great at handling regular employment, and that self-employment is a step up from that. 

However, I recommend self-employment for persons with disabilities. There are numerous reasons why, when ready, we might try this.  

Many people on medication can not keep up with the pace of work in an entry-level unskilled job. Psychiatric drugs can slow people down. When we try to perform physically at something, we are up against a brick wall of our brain being medicated. Some people with psych disabilities quit their medication while in a job, and the outcome isn't good. It is a desperate attempt at being better at a job. Or, it could be the belief that because we can work, we aren't mentally disabled after all. This appears to be a common mistake.  

Working in one's own business entails that we can generally work at our own pace. If we are dealing with the expectations of a customer, we may have to do some work to fulfill those expectations. However, if there are a couple of customers who are not happy, this is normal for any company and isn't always a reflection on the work performance. We can afford to lose a few customers as long as the great majority of customers are kept happy.  

Self-employment can involve numerous types of work. My first "company" involved window washing for people's homes and businesses. I was seventeen years old, and the work was eclipsed by my first psychotic episode. A few years later, (following electronics training and employment in television repair) I wanted to be self-employed in electronic repair. Initially, I did this in addition to working for an established repair shop.  

The self-employment that I performed in my past included going to people's homes and helping them with their computer issues, and, years beforehand, repair of analog TV's and VCR's in people's homes. I also, at one point, had a shop that I ran in a storage space in Concord that I called, "Poor Man's Electronic Exchange."  

In all cases, my businesses didn't involve hiring anyone, but simply doing the work myself. Hiring someone involves a massive amount of extra liability, expense, and recordkeeping, and I don't recommend it. I also do not suggest a business partner unless such a person is a spouse or close relative.  

If starting a business that involves a service performed for the public, you must be capable of providing what you promise. If you are not certain that you can do something for a customer, I suggest that you don't initially promise it. If there is something you thought you could do but it turns out that you can't, in general, the sooner you inform the customer of this, the better off you are.  

The advantages of self-employment include, but are not limited to: You can't be fired; You can take a sick day as needed, for any reason, including not feeling up for work; You can work at your own pace; You do not need to deal with a supervisor--you are your own supervisor; self-employed people get more respect; The amount of pay, if you are charging the going rate, (which you should) is much higher for a comparable amount of work. 

Things to keep in mind are: You will at some point need licensing and insurance; You will need to keep basic records for tax purposes; most small businesses shut down within a year or two of starting up; You should not expect huge amounts of money; If you advertise in the Yellow Pages or in a newspaper, you could get too many calls, and this can feel overwhelming.  

(Concerning the last item above, that of "too many calls," strategies can be used to prevent getting too stressed. For one thing, have a separate phone line for customer calls, and only take calls when prepared to do so, possibly for certain scheduled hours. Secondly, if you have more prospective customers than prepared to handle, inform the customers of this. A little bit of communication goes a long way. Worse than having "too many calls" is when your phone never rings. Finally, find someone in your chosen field to whom you can send overflow.) 

I know someone who has a part-time housecleaning business, and she does very well at that. She has designed her company around her capabilities and her needs. This seems to suit this woman, and she has been doing this for a long time. I know someone else who worked for decades as a freelance proofreader for book publishing houses.  

Someone suggested to me that working independently and without external pressure is suitable for numerous people who are mentally ill and gifted. Another possibility is to do an EBay business or become an Amazon vendor--I have heard this can be lucrative.  

If you have a home-based business and the work is outcall, you should probably google your customer beforehand, and you should avoid working in high crime areas.  

If you are disabled, one approach is to keep your company low-key. You could consider that your company is part-time and you are not doing it for the purpose of making a massive amount of money. I suggest outcall rather than renting a business space; the amount of savings of not leasing a space could make the difference between your company being viable, or not. 

If you have assets to protect, you should get public liability insurance.  

It is extremely hard to maintain work of any kind if we are doing this in an emotional vacuum. Getting support, including positive reinforcement, is more important than the amount of money being earned. When we are doing hard work in an emotional or social environment of nothing, it tends to knock the wind out of us.  

To get started, there are massive numbers of books and classes on starting a small business. 

In order to fund the startup costs, the Social Security Administration has a program called, P.A.S.S., Plan to Achieve Self Support. They do not necessarily expect that you will be completely self-supporting, but Social Security saves some money if you have income to report.  

About fifteen years ago, under P.A.S.S., I studied computer servicing textbooks with the goal of getting a computer certification for my computer assistance company. I failed the exam by one question, and at the time did not want to retake the exam, which I could have done. However, the computer knowledge I acquired in my independent study continues to serve me to this day in my writing career, since I am able to maintain and upgrade my own computers.  

Every business or job has a beginning, a middle, and an end. This essay is intended merely to offer ideas, and it should not be seen as a standard that you have to reach. When I was in phases wherein I didn't feel as good, in some instances I had to shut down my self-employment and/or work attempts. There is no shame in this. I suggest that you do not let parents, mental health workers, or yourself, berate you if you do not feel up to a task. The put-downs, whether generated by oneself or someone else, add more weight to the emotional baggage that could hinder trying something new in the future.  

Self-employment isn't suited for everyone. Yet, it can be one way of us giving ourselves a job. We should not approach it with the goal of making a living, but should instead think about the benefit (and fun) of having something interesting to do.

THE PUBLIC EYE: Remembering 2015: Republicans Get Conned

Bob Burnett
Thursday December 31, 2015 - 01:14:00 PM

It’s hard to feel sorry for Republicans, given that they control both sides of Congress and two-thirds of state legislatures. It’s difficult to feel compassion for members of a Party who, for much of the year, acted like bullies. Nonetheless, in 2015 the GOP’s rank-and-file get royally conned; not once but twice. 

At the beginning of 2015, before Donald Trump entered the Republican presidential primary and sucked up most of the MSM energy, the political news was about the bad things that Congressional Republicans intended to do: defund Planned Parenthood – perhaps women’s health services in general, cut back on entitlement programs, restrict the EPA’s ability to regulate our air and water, and (just perhaps) kill Obamacare. Big words that came to nothing! 

The far out right Freedom Caucus flexed it muscle and shoved Speaker John Boehner out the door. Then it nixed his handpicked predecessor, Kevin McCarthy. Finally, as an anxious nation held its breath, the Freedom Caucus got their guy, Representative Paul Ryan. 

To the surprise of many during the end-of-the-year-budget showdown, Speaker Ryan responded to his new challenge by surrendering to the Democrats. As Ryan Lizza reported in the New Yorker

Recall that, only a few weeks ago, House conservatives were trying to use this omnibus bill to kill federal funding for Planned Parenthood, halt Obama’s plan to resettle Syrian refugees in the United States, attack numerous Obama environmental policies, and generate a wish list of some hundred and fifty policy riders… [House Democratic Leader Nancy] Pelosi, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, and the White House got all of the riders struck from the bill… [in exchange for] an end to the forty-year ban on American crude-oil exports, which Democrats agreed to in return for an extension of solar- and wind-energy-industry tax credits. The extension of the tax credits is an enormous victory for Democrats, perhaps the most significant green-energy achievement of the Obama era. Bloomberg Business, citing one industry analyst, says, ‘the deal will speed up the shift from fossil fuels more than the global climate deal struck this month in Paris and more than Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan that regulates coal plants.’

Although, rank-and-file Republicans were outraged by Ryan’s capitulation, they shouldn’t have been. Congressional Republicans never had the votes to kill federal funding for Planned Parenthood and the other items on their kill list. It was a gigantic bluff. Republicans conned their base and, to a great extent, themselves. 

We could laugh at Republicans and ask how they could possibly put their trust in weasels like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, but riff-raff wouldn’t get the joke. The Irony is that through all of 2015 the GOP faithful railed against President Obama, decried him as a socialist, “the worse President ever.” Obama just had what probably was the best year of any second-term President in recent memory. Among other things, he protected his healthcare program, instituted strict regulations on coal-fired plants, signed a historic accord with Iran, and led the world at the Paris Climate talks resulting ina historic accord

What did Congressional Republicans accomplish? Very little. In the sad tradition of recent Republican-led Congresses, it was remarkably unproductive

As a result of Paul Ryan’s betrayal, GOP voters are justifiably pissed off at their Washington leaders. A November Pew Research Poll found that only 11 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say they trust the government. “Far more Republicans (32%) than Democrats (12%) say they are angry with the government.” 

So it makes sense that Republicans are looking outside the Washington establishment for their 2016 Presidential candidate. The latest Huffington Post Poll of Polls suggests their candidate will be Donald Trump. (Who has a commanding 37.5 percent to 18.3 percent lead over his nearest competitor Ted Cruz – another outsider even though he’s a Senator.) 

This is the other con: rank-and-file Republicans feel Trump represents their interests but other than immigration he doesn’t. He’s a single-issue candidate who lacks any substance on major issues. And, if you look at the historic conservative hot buttons, such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and taxes, Trump comes off as far more liberal than his erstwhile competitors. Trump is an uncontrollable narcissist whom Republicans like because he’s a lot more compelling than the rest of their weak presidential field. 

Now there’s a third con, that somehow the competition will stay open and – gasp – result in a contested Republican convention in July. And some dark horse – Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan – will miraculously become the Republican nominee. 

Not a chance! It’s over! For weeks, Trump and his evil twin, Ted Cruz, have commanded more than 50 percent of the vote in each of the primary states. The Republican race is not competitive. The Loonies have won! The GOP is stuck with Trump and probably Cruz as his running mate. 

It’s tempting to feel sorry for the Republican base because they have been the big losers of 2015. It’s tempting to feel sorry for them until we remember their objective is to destroy the planet and our democracy. 

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



Conn Hallinan
Wednesday December 23, 2015 - 02:20:00 PM

For the third time in a year, the tight-fisted, austerity policies of the European Union (EU) took a beating, as Spanish voters crushed their rightwing government and overturned four decades of two-party reign. Following in the footsteps of Greek and Portuguese voters earlier this year, Spaniards soundly rejected the economic formula of the Troika—the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund—that has impoverished millions of people and driven the jobless rate to almost a quarter of the country. 

Greece’s leftist prime minister, Alex Tsipras said “Austerity has been politically defeated in Spain,” and that the election was a sign “that Europe was changing.” Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi said, “As already happened in Greece and Portugal, governments which apply rigid austerity measures…are destined to lose their majorities.” 

The big loser in the Spanish elections was the rightwing Popular Party (PP) that lost 63 seats and its majority in the 350-member parliament. The PP won more votes than any other single party, but its support fell from 44 percent in the 2011 elections to 28.7 percent. While PP Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy ran on a platform that the Spanish economy had recovered from its disastrous plummet following the 2007-08 worldwide financial crisis, voters were not buying. 

The economy is indeed growing—3.1 percent this year and projections for 2.7 percent in 2016—but after four years it has yet to reach pre-crisis levels. Unemployment has remained at 21 percent nationwide and more than double that figure among youth and in Spain’s battered south.  

Besides delivering a decisive “no” to austerity, Spaniards also turned out the two-party system that has dominated Spain since the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975. For 40 years the PP and Socialists Workers Party (PSOE) have taken turns running the country, racking up a track record of corruption and malfeasance. The Socialists also took a drubbing, albeit less so than the PP. PSOE lost 20 seats and fell from 28.8 percent support in 2011 to 22 percent in 2015. 

The winners were two new parties, the left-wing Podemos (“We Can”) and the center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens), although it was former that really won the day. 

In pre-election polls the Citizens party was projected to become the second largest party, but voters clearly decided that its free market economic strategies and backward positions on abortion and immigration made it look like PP-lite. Ciudadanos was supposed to win upwards of 25 percent. Instead it took less than 14 percent of the vote, although that translates into 40 seats.  

For months the Spanish and European media have been filled with stories on Podemos’ falling support—one newspaper called it “No Podemos” (“No we can’t”)—and the New York Times essentially anointed Ciudadanos as the new up and comer. Voters had a different idea and gave the left party 20.6 percent of the vote and 69 seats in the parliament. 

Spain’s political system is heavily weighted toward rural areas, where both the PP and the Socialists are strong. In Madrid, a candidate needs more than 128,000 votes to be elected. In a rural area that figure can be only a little over 38,000. The difference in votes between the Socialists and Podemos—both won more than five million—was only 341,000, but the Socialists have 90 seats and Podemos has 69. 

Podemos came out of the 2011 plaza demonstrations by “Los Indignados” fighting against home foreclosures, social inequality, evictions, and massive cuts in support for education and health care. Its membership is mainly urban, although it has made gains in rural areas. Its grassroots organizing experience came in handy it when it needed to turn out votes. 

Cuidadanos started as a regional party opposed to Catalan independence but, taking a page from Podemos’s book, went national last year. 

Rajoy says he intends to form a government, but how that would work is not clear. Both Podemos and the Socialists—between them they control 159 seats—have made it clear they intend to fight any attempt by the PP to remain in power. Rajoy could try a coalition with the Citizens Party, but that would only amount to 163 seats, and one needs 176 seats to control the parliament. In any case, Citizens’ leader, Albert Rivera, says he won’t go into an alliance with Rajoy because of the PP’s history of corruption. 

There are other members of the parliament representing the Basque regions and Catalonia, and Podemos emerged as the strongest party in both regions. However, it will not be easy for a Socialist Party/Podemos alliance to patch together a majority, and it will require navigating the tricky politics of Catalonia. 

Catalonia, Spain’s richest province has 17 seats in the parliament, all of whom support either greater independence or outright secession. Catalonia became part of Spain after it was conquered by a joint French/Spanish army during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-14). It has its own language and culture, which until recently was suppressed by Madrid. In September, 47.7 percent of Catalans voted for independence-leaning candidates, who now control the regional parliament. 

The Socialists Party and Podemos are both opposed to Catalonian independence, although Podemos believes the issue should be up to the Catalans and supports a referendum on the issue. Ciudadanos is adamantly opposed to Catalan independence. 

It might be possible to cobble together a government from the 159 seats that the Socialists and Podemos control with the 28 other seats representing Basques, Catalans, Canary Islanders, plus other leftish groups. While such a government looks fragile, it might be better than trying to forge a three-way alliance of Socialists, Podemos and Ciudadanos. 

The latter party is opposed to government regulation, supports privatization of publically owned assets and, at its core, is socially conservative. The left, on the other hand, wants a strong role for government and is firmly opposed to privatization. And the election, says Socialist Party leader Pedro Sanchez, shows Spain wants “a move to the left.” 

On January 13, King Felipe VI will most likely offer Rajoy the first shot at forming a government. If he does, it will be a short-lived minority one. Last month the right-wing Portuguese president appointed a minority rightist government, which only lasted a week. The Portuguese left is currently hammering together a three-way alliance that will run the country. 

If Rajoy fails, and the Socialists can’t cobble something together, then there will have to be new elections. However, the left has the best chance of pulling a coalition together. 

Whatever happens, the old two-party system is broken. Before this election, the two major parties controlled 75 percent to 85 percent of the votes. In this last election that fell to just over 50 percent. And that, as Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias says, means, “Spain is not going to be the same, and we are happy.” 

The next hurtle is the EU. But while the Troika could beat up on Greece, Spain, with the fifth largest economy in the EU, is altogether another matter. The game is changing, and Spain is a new piece on the board, one that the Troika will not be able to bully quite as easily as Greece and Portugal. 


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


ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Employment and Self-Worth

Jack Bragen
Thursday December 31, 2015 - 02:13:00 PM

Society's "work ethic" can be a source of self-punishment, usually in the form of self-critical thoughts. The terminology people use, "working" and "not working," are non-coincidentally the same terms we use when a vacuum cleaner or television are either operating properly or broken and in need of repair.

Many people have been raised in an environment in which praise and acceptance from parents and others was contingent on the job we were doing. This translates later in life to our sense of self-worth being conditional on having a successful career.

As persons with disabilities, this expectation can be a heavy emotional weight. We might believe we "should be working." Yet, trying to fulfill "the work ethic" might be part of the reason why we became ill.  

People without a disability who have been raised from childhood to perform academically and then in a career, may never question the work ethic and may not believe work is difficult. Many nondisabled people take it for granted that they are able to perform in a job and earn money.  

A psychiatric illness, however, may throw a monkey wrench into the works before we become fully developed as "working" adults. This is especially so with illnesses that have early onset.  

Problematic development related to work and/or relationships could lead up to a psychotic break, a manic episode, or depression. Once medicated and in outpatient institutionalization, we are up against even bigger barriers if we are trying to have a job or have a relationship.  

Psychiatric medications often prevent performing competitively in a job. This is because many of these medications limit the energy level of the body and mind. Yet, we generally have little or no choice in taking these meds, because without them, there is a huge risk of relapse and getting acute symptoms of mental illness all over again.  

Outpatient institutionalization exposes us to reinforcement of the idea that we can't work in a job. This negative expectation can cause a lot of distress, and it sabotages future work attempts.  

Most people, when working at or toward a professional career, need positive reinforcement from friends, family, and associates at their job. Yet, as soon as we are medicated and institutionalized, we are getting reinforcement of the idea that we are sick, can't do anything, and need help.  

This also impacts relationships, since most people who are not mentally ill who are seeking a relationship would never consider going out with someone with a psychiatric disability.  

Because of all of this, the "reality" we are expected to return to when we are in recovery is not the same as the reality we left behind when we became psychotic, depressed or manic. This is remotely analogous to what happened to Vietnam veterans who went off to war with the noble idea of fighting for our country and came back to the U.S., only to be vilified.  

The work ethic apparently works fine for most people. However, if we have a psychiatric disability, we need to give ourselves a break, and not persecute ourselves for "failing" to live up to this often self-imposed standard.  


Arts & Events

New: Around & About--Music: Ensemble San Francisco at the City Club

Ken Bullock
Wednesday January 06, 2016 - 01:18:00 PM

Ensemble San Francisco, its players drawn from the San Francisco Symphony, Ballet and Opera orchestras--Christine McLeavey Payne, piano; Laura Griffiths, oboe; Meredith Brown, horn; Rebecca Jackson, violin; Matthew Young, viola and Jonah Kim, cello--will play Brahm's Trio for Horn, Violin and Piano; Britten's Phantasy Quartet; Barber's Cello Sonata, Op 6. and Mozart's Oboe Quartet, 8 p. m. Tuesday, January 12 for Berkeley Chamber Concerts, in its 23rd season, at the Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant, between Dana and Ellsworth. A complimentary wine and cheese reception will follow the performance, a chance to meet the artists. General admission, $30; students through high school, free; post-secondary school students, $15. 525-5211; www.berkeleychamberperform.org

New: San Francisco Chamber Orchestra’s New Year’s Eve Concert

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Monday January 04, 2016 - 12:39:00 PM

Many years ago – how many no one seems to know – San Francisco Chamber Orchestra’s founding Musical Director Edgar Braun (1933-2002) began the tradition of offering a New Year’s Eve concert in Berkeley. Ben Simon, SFCO’s current Music Director, recalls attending these concerts when he was in high school. Currently, SFCO has expanded this tradition by adding, in addition to the Berkeley New Year’s Eve concert, performances on Friday, Jan. 1 in Palo Alto and on Sunday, Jan. 3 at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco. On the program this time around were two works by Joseph Haydn – the Sinfonia Concertante in B-flat, Op. 84, and the “Farewell” Symphony No. 45 in F-sharp minor – plus a Concerto for Three Violins, BWV 1064R, by Johann Sebastian Bach, and an orchestral suite entitled “Quiet City” by Aaron Copland. 

At Thursday’s New Year’s Eve concert at Berkeley’s First Congregational Church, the program got under way with Haydn’s Sinfonia Concertante in B-flat featuring four soloists – Peter Lemberg on oboe, Karla Ekholm on bassoon, Eugene Chukhlov on violin, and Eric Gaenslen on cello. Invited to London in 1790, Haydn arrived there in 1791 and was immediately asked to compose a sinfonia concertante by the London impresario Johann Peter Saloman. Haydn chose to feature a solo group of oboe, bassoon, violin, and cello because this unusual grouping would highlight the strongest players in Saloman’s ensemble. The result was a work full of elegant dialogue among the four solo instruments. In the opening movement, a brief string introduction precedes the entry of the first soloist, the violin, which opens a dialogue with both the bassoon and oboe, soon joined by the cello. Of the two double reed instruments – the oboe and bassoon – their dialogue featured the high notes of Peter Lemberg’s oboe playing atop the sonorous low notes of Karla Ekholm’s bassoon. Meanwhile, Eugene Chukhlov on violin carried on a dialogue with Eric Gaenslen’s voluptuous cello. The second movement, a slow Andante, was almost elegiac in mood. It featured dialogues between violin and bassoon, on one hand, and oboe and cello, on the other. The Finale: Allegro con spirito offered the violin soloist several opportunities to shine in virtuosity, and the bassoon was offered a dramatically rapid passage taken up also by the cello. All in all, this Sinfonia Concertante showcased late Haydn’s masterful writing for an unusual grouping of instruments that somehow all work together marvelously. 

Next on the program was J.S. Bach’s Concerto for Three Violins. This work was probably derived from a concerto for three harpsichords, an arrangement of which exists. However, scholars now believe the harpsichord arrangement was most likely derived from a lost concerto for three violins. So the work heard at this New Year’s Eve concert was a reconstruction based on the score for three harp-sichords. Featured as the three violinists were 2015-16 Debut Artists Grace Huh, Sofie Ledor, and Chili Ekman, ages 13, 10, and 11 respectively. SFCO’s Debut Artist program offers outstanding young instrumentalists the opportunity to rehearse and perform publicly with professional musicians. Bach’s Concerto for Three Violins follows in the tradition of the Italian concerti of Antonio Vivaldi, much admired by J.S. Bach, who carefully copied out by hand many of Vivaldi’s scores. The opening movement offers witty repartee between the soloists and orchestra. The second movement, a slow Adagio, establishes a lyrically melancholy mood, while the final Allegro movement offers each violin soloist an opportunity for virtuoso display. 

13 year-old Grace Huh was especially impressive for her technical virtuosity.  

After intermission SFCO played Aaron Copland’s orchestral suite entitled “Quiet City,” featuring soloists Kathy Connor on English horn and John Freeman on trumpet. This piece began as incidental music for a play, and it was initially scored for clarinet, alto sax, trumpet, and piano. Copland later expanded it into the present orchestral suite but kept the title “Quiet City.” This title is a bit of a misnomer, for the trumpet’s contributions hardly evoke a “quiet city.” Restless repeated notes blare forth from the trumpet throughout this piece, overwhelming the muffled, mysterious sound of the English horn. This brief suite strikes me as an unfulfilled work that doesn’t quite know what it’s doing or where it’s leading. Why it was included in this New Year’s Eve program is anyone’s guess. 

The final work on the program was Haydn’s “Farewell” Symphony No. 45 in F-sharp minor. This symphony offers one of the most famous practical jokes in music history. Aware that his musicians were champing at the bit over Prince Esterhazy’s decision to extend the court’s stay at his summer residence when all the musicians wanted was to return to the families they’d left behind six months earlier at Prince Esterhazy’s principal residence in Eisenstadt, Haydn created a symphony in which the final movement includes an Adagio section wherein players began blowing out the candles on their music stands and leave the stage until only two violins remain to finish the symphony in near total darkness. Prince Esterhazy got the message and announced, “If they all leave, then we must leave too,” and he ordered the court to prepare to return to Eisenstadt the next day.  

Musically, this symphony opens with a very lively first movement, marked Allegro assai, which is almost Mozartian in the number of dramatic themes intro-duced in quick succession. The slow second movement offers a limping, two-step motif that is almost lugubrious in mood. The third movement is a Menuet that trails off abruptly; and the final movement is divided in two – a Presto which suddenly comes to a halt and gives way to an Adagio during which all the musicians but two gradually vacate the stage. SFCO’s Music Director Ben Simon took this symphony’s “Farewell” as a Farewell to 2015, bringing this New Year’s Eve concert to a close. 

New: Audrey Vardanega’s Recital to Honor the Late George Cleve

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Monday January 04, 2016 - 10:17:00 AM

Now twenty years old, Oakland pianist Audrey Vardanega considers herself a protégée of Maestro George Cleve, the founding Director of Midsummer Mozart and conductor of the San Jose Symphony. Maestro Cleve died in August, shortly after I heard him conduct two Mozart works in kicking off the 2015 Midsummer Mozart Festival -- the overture to the one-act opera Der Schauspieldirektor/The Impresario, and Mozart’s 41st and final Symphony, nicknamed “The Jupiter.” (See my review of this concert in the July 21, 2015 issue of this paper.) To honor Maestro Cleve, Audrey Vardanega put together a program of piano works that spoke to her of George Cleve and the music he loved. Vardanega’s recital took place before a packed house on Sunday evening, January 3, 2016, at Berkeley’s Hillside Club. 

First on the program was Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 4 in E-flat Major, K. 282. In program notes, Miss Vardanega indicated that the apparent simplicity of this early sonata by Mozart is misleading. The work’s first movement, in particular, she finds extremely demanding, and this is so in spite – or because – of the economy of notes and the lyricism of melody in this Adagio movement. Every note counts, she states, and every note requires intense focus. Vardanega played this slow move-ment with great sensitivity, emphasizing its lilting lyricism. In the second movement, marked Menuetto I, Vardanega brought out Mozart’s dynamic shifts, the abrupt changes from piano to forte and vice versa. Likewise in the third movement, marked Menuetto II. The final Allegro came off as a spirited and celebratory romp. 

Next on the program were three movements by Franz Liszt based on three sonnets by Petrarch. Sonnet No. 47 speaks of Petrarch’s love for Laura and of the first time he saw her. The music Liszt wrote is full of longing, lovingly played here by Audrey Vardanega. Sonnet No. 104, according to Vardanega, is the most impassioned of the Tre Sonnetti di Petrarca. Here Liszt gives full sway to a wide range of emotions – peace, grief, helplessness, tormented love, and nostalgia. Vardanega played this sonnet with theatrical flair, highlighting the dramatic moments and, alternately, giving a lyrical serenity to the dreamy moments. Sonnet No. 123 is full of drama, as Petrarch reminisces over his love for Laura, recalling both the joy and pain of this pure, idealized love.  

After intermission Audrey Vardanega returned to the $200,000 Fazioli piano to play the Ondine movement from Maurice Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit. This notoriously demanding work, reputedly the most difficult in the entire piano repertoire, was handled impressively by Vardanega. Ravel’s music evokes the shimmering water-world of a nixie or water-nymph who loves a mortal. Here Vardanega’s awesome technique was clearly in focus, and her passage-work was flawless. To her, this music speaks of transcendence to a world of encompassing light, putting her (and, hopefully, the listener) in touch with states of being beyond human reason. To Vardanega, this music evokes, above all, her mentor Maestro George Cleve, for whom she played this work a week before he died. 

For the final set, Vardanega chose to play Johannes Brahms’s Kalvierstucke, Op. 118. This is a work of late Brahms, in which the composer looks back over a life of unfulfilled longing for love, violent torment, worldly success, and nostalgic regrets. These Kavierstucke are comprised of six pieces. Intermezzo in A minor opens the work with a fair amount of drama. Intermezzo in A Major establishes a lyrical theme of longing, then offers an inversion of this theme that is, if anything, more beautiful than its original statement. Ballade in G minor is agitated and full of torment. In this piece the rather slight Audrey Vardanega proved she has plenty of power and can hammer away with the best and strongest of pianists. Intermezzo in F minor seems full of regrets; and Romanze in F Major evokes grief and loss. The final Intermezzo in E-flat minor seems to me to acknowledge the composer’s sense of his own vulnerability. It brings this set of six pieces to a close on a humble note. However, young Audrey Vardanega’s exquisite pianism was anything but humble. In this final set and in all the music she played in this concert honoring George Cleve, Audrey Vardanega clearly and forcefully established herself as a major talent.