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Druggings, Sexual Assaults at U.C. Berkeley Fraternities

Scott Morris (BCN)
Friday February 26, 2016 - 10:28:00 AM

Four female students at the University of California at Berkeley are believed to have been drugged at two different fraternities on Friday evening, university police said. 

Two students were reported drugged at the Chi Psi fraternity at 2311 Piedmont Ave. while on the same evening two other students were drugged at the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity about a block away on Channing Way. 

Police previously reported there was a sexual assault the same night at an unnamed fraternity. 

University police have asked anyone who thinks they had been drugged to seek medical attention and to file a police report. 

Anyone with information about sexual assaults or druggings has been asked to contact Berkeley police at (510) 981-5900.

Five Star Flickers Out on University, Still Shines Brightly on Solano

Gar Smith
Friday February 26, 2016 - 06:31:00 PM

There's a special shock that chills the urban soul. You've felt it if you've ever made a pilgrimage to a favorite, long-time hangout—be it a restaurant, a bookstore, a boutique or a bar—only to discover the doors locked, the lights out and the enterprise suddenly, unexpectedly, inexplicably gone.

If you felt that familiar "disturbance in the force" recently, it could have been caused by the demise People's Coffee and Tea on Downtown Shattuck. Or it may have been the bittersweet vibes that marked the last call for Berkeley's Inkworks, the activist print collective that bowed out after 42 heroic years on February 20.

Or it could have been an emotional ripple from the closure of Berkeley's beloved Five Star Video at the corner of University and Sacramento, which pulled the plug on Sunday, February 21.

Fortunately, Five Star's larger operation on Solano Avenue in North Berkeley is still open for business—with offerings of tens of thousands of DVDs—mainstream, cult, rare, and eclectic—from the US and around the planet.  

When owner Andy Katz relocated and expanded Five Star's Solano quarters in August 2012, a Berkeleyside reporter asked why he was bucking the tide and expanding operations when other DVDealers were bowing out under the pressure from online competitors. 

"Why not be contrarian," Katz replied. "You can't go on Netflix and say: 'Tell me what's a good movie.'" Five Star was the kind of place where you could ask that question—and, more often than not, find yourself engaged in a long, fascinating exchange with knowledgeable fellow film-freaks. 

Winding Up the Last Reel 

But the years—and the Invisible Hand-held Cudgel of the Marketplace—has taken its toll. "After 23 years," Katz says, "It's time to call it quits." 

"That's life! That's the way it is," Katz told the Planet as he took a breather from breaking down the racks and shelves at the University venue. But he hastened to add that the old site isn't gone quite yet. 

"We'll be having a huge sale of our entire DVD collection," Katz told the Planet. "It's going to be a first-come-first-served basis. Hopefully, the store will be fairly organized so those special discs won't be too hard to find." 

A three-day weekend blow-out sale is set for March 11-13 at the University Avenue location and will run from 10AM-to-5PM daily. In addition to thousands of DVDs, Five Star has announced that furnishings and fixtures will be for sale, too. 

"The sale will offer up all of the titles that were for rent and the prices will be VERY good," Katz told the Planet. "As you know, we specialized in just about every genre we carried and everything must go. Prices will be lower than those found at local resellers and, should a customer want to purchase massive quantities of DVDs and BluRays, further discounts will be offered." 

Any DVDs that remain will go to charity, Katz explained. "I intend to give all the remaining 'kids' and 'family' DVDs to Childrens' Hospital in Oakland. When we transitioned from VHS to DVD, all of the 'kids' tapes went there. That’s where they will do the most good." 

Five Star also is looking for volunteers with trucks or "a reasonably priced hauling service" to help remove any unsold furniture and fixtures. 

While the University Avenue haunt certainly will be missed, the Solano store (at 1882 Solano Avenue between Fresno and The Alameda) continues to carry the torch for fans of rental video. 

During a recent visit, the Planet asked the Solano staff how many movies they had in their collection. "17,000 titles!" grinned the young woman at the front counter. "But that's just titles," another staffer shouted from the back of the store. "If you count everything, including duplicates, we've got 20,000 DVDs!" 

Fond Remembrances 

If you have any doubt about what Five Star's University outpost meant to its customers, here are some random quotes from the store's Yelp page: 

"Their prices are reasonable and I feel better supporting them than giving my money to big corporations like Blockbuster and Netflix."



"I enjoy that you can "geek-out" with them about film, and the staff picks are almost always worthwhile." 

"Those who know me, know I am a complete film buff and very particular when it comes to selecting titles. Five Star Video has an unbeatable collection of films, all of which are impeccably organized." 

"Super-smart, sweet people behind the counter . . . . I love my neighborhood video store. Viva our DVD player!" 

"Really knowledgeable and helpful people . . . Plus a bubble gum machine for the kids." 

"Five Star Video is also dog friendly! They even keep dog biscuits on hand at the checkout counter!" 

"This independent video store is amazing and holds a great amount of love for films and customers, so, stop by and show Five Star Video some love…." 

Note: The Solano store continues to honor two of Five Star's favorite traditions—the free gumball machine for kids and complimentary dog biscuits for four-footed film fans.

The Stock Market's Stock Phrases

Gar Smith
Friday February 26, 2016 - 04:57:00 PM

We'll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false."

—Attributed to CIA Director William Casey in 1981 *

With the global economy once more teetering on the brink collapse, it is useful to remind ourselves that we live in a country where everyday life is defined by disinformation, misdirection and euphemisms.

Today, people who used to be known as "employees" or "workers" have learned not to expect better wages or benefits. Instead, they are flattered with empty, honorific titles. Yesterday's big-box "wage-slaves" are now addressed as "associates." Low-paid, part-time academics are called "adjuncts." CostCo employees have become "partners." (And once you've been granted the title of "partner," wouldn't it seem rude to ask for a raise?)

A few months ago, Crate and Barrel employees were expected to feel better when their massive layoffs were announced in a letter that read: "We are grateful to our departing associates for their hard work and service." [Emphasis added.]

And the folks who are still lucky enough to have jobs now flock to corporate outlets to spend their money on coffee, fast-food, and gadgets, flattered by the notion that they are no longer mere customers or cash-cows: They are now "guests," "customers," and "patrons."

At the same time, the corporate-owned mainstream media (which has been dominated by major Wall Street players including General Electric, Comcast, Westinghouse, and Viacom) perpetuate the confusion by draping their offerings beneath brightly branded veils. 

Watch Out for these Watch Words 

As the new "economic-collapse comedy," The Big Short reveals, Wall Street has created its own obscure lexicon of euphemisms to better flummox the public by making it difficult for outsiders to understand what the speculative tribes are really doing from day to day. "Credit-default swaps," "collateralized debt obligations," "tranches," "mortgage-backed securities," "synthetics"—all impenetrable terms invented to conveniently bounce off the average brain. 

At the start of 2016, Wall Street found itself in the grips of the greatest first-week declines of any year in its history. While investors were widely described as "scared," the corporate-owned media invited selected stock pundits to reassure their radio and television audiences. They inevitably recited the same familiar patter: 

"The stock market goes up and it goes down but the market always bounces back." 

"The important thing to remember is: Don't panic." 

"Stick with your plan." 

"Just sit tight." (And do nothing while major investors are busy shedding stocks like there's no tomorrow). 

"Don’t try to time the markets," Washington Post money manager Barry Ritholtz advised, "The odds of you jumping out on time and getting back in are stacked against you." 

Meanwhile, Wall Street continues to be protected by a wall of euphemisms, endlessly intoned by the monied media. Let's take a look at a few of the leading examples of misleading Wall Street lingo. 

Taking Stock of Some Stock Phrases 

When panicked investors start selling their stocks to avoid further loses, this is called "profit-taking." (A nice, positive spin on the process of losing your 401k savings.) 

When the market crashes, that is called a "correction." (Synonyms for "correction," by the way, include "improvement," "righting," and "reparation." 

So, when the opposite occurs and the market is soaring, shouldn't we call this a "mistake"? Or a "blunder"?) 

When the value of the dollar shrinks, that's called "inflation." (And inflation's a good thing, right? You always want your car tires to be properly inflated.) 

When the market claims irrational and unsustainable levels of profitability, that's described as a "balloon." How merry. And when a balloon "pops," no big problem: You simply inflate a new one. 

And when the market is in a tail-spin and your $10 shares are suddenly worth ten cents, well, that's simply a good time for "bargain hunting." 

Henry Blodget of the Business Insider http://www.businessinsider.com/meaningless-phrases-that-sound-smart-on-cnbc-2011-6>has noted that Wall Street relies on a basket of "market phrases that sound intelligent but don't mean anything." In addition to making the speaker sound "as wise as Warren Buffett (who, to his great credit, never speaks this way)," they have the added benefit that "no matter what happens, the analyst can always be 'right' and never be 'wrong'—because they didn't actually say anything." 

Here are some excerpts from Blodget's blog on market-speak: 

"I'm cautiously optimistic." A classic. Can be used in almost all circumstances and market conditions. 

"We're constructive on the market." It sounds generally optimistic, which everyone will like, but it doesn't commit you to any specific recommendation or prediction. 

"The trend is your friend." It sounds pithy and wise. . . . It sounds calm and confident. . . . Alas, knowing what stocks have done — the trend — tells you almost nothing about what stocks will do. 

"There's lots of cash on the sidelines." A classic way to suggest that the market will eventually go up. 

"We're in a bottoming process." A classic way to describe a stock or market that has fallen a lot and might do anything from here. Also known as: "Forming a base." 

"Take a wait-and-see approach." A perennial favorite. It sounds prudent and cautious. . . . It sounds appropriately skeptical. It means nothing. How long are you going to wait? What are you waiting for? 

In November 2015, Jason Zweig (prompted by concerns that the cash-trading industry "abounds in euphemism, doublespeak, myth and mendacity") authored a book called The Devil’s Financial Dictionary. Here are a few of Zweig's specimens of specious market-speak: 

Apology: A Wall Street apology always purports to take responsibility, but usually omits contrition, shame, a desire to make good on what went bad, or the willingness to make sure the same behavior never happens again. 

Bull Market: A period of rising prices that leads many investors to believe that their IQ has risen at least as much as the market value of their portfolios. After the inevitable fall in prices, they will learn that both increases were temporary. 

Potential Conflict of Interest: An actual conflict of interest. 

Regulator: A bureaucrat who attempts to stop rampaging elephants by brandishing feather-dusters at them. Also, a future employee of a bank, hedge fund, brokerage, investment-management firm, or financial lobbying organization. 

Rumor: The Wall Street equivalent of a fact. 

Sell: What Wall Street analysts say investors should almost never do, regardless of a stock’s price or market conditions. 

And finally, here's George Carlin, railing righteously about the corporate criminal class in 1988: 

These are the Law and Order people! These are the people who are against street crime! They want to put street criminals in jail to make life safer for the business criminals! Yeah! They’re against street crime, provided that street isn’t Wall Street. 


--- --- 

* This quote continues to be argued by people who weren’t there and apparently cannot believe a CIA Director would ever say such a thing. But spreading disinformation is precisely what the CIA does. 



ABAG-MTC Merger Scheme Bodes Badly for Berkeley

Becky O'Malley
Friday February 26, 2016 - 04:10:00 PM

My first real beat assignment after I decided to try my hand at journalism while waiting to get into law school was covering regional planning for the San Francisco Bay Guardian. The boss in those days, circa 1974, was Bruce Brugmann, a fire-breathing mudraker of the old school. He was roundly ridiculed in establishment quarters for a couple of hobbyhorses he was fond of riding.

One, PG&E, has turned out to be just about exactly as bad as Bruce thought it was, but sadly nothing much has been done about it. The once-mighty San Francisco Chronicle (transmogrified from the Hearst Examiner, a story too long to tell here) has been on the case for a couple of years after a pipeline blew up disastrously, but the long love affair between PG&E and the PUC continues. Brugmann was right all along. Now he’s retired and they’re still at it.

His other big bugaboo was his relentless opposition to what he labelled “the Manhattanization of San Francisco.” Despite his best efforts, the center of that city has gradually become a warren of dark concrete canyons, in a location where the Mediterranean climate depends on sunshine to be comfortable for the inhabitants. Manhattan itself, meanwhile, is gradually purging all inhabitants except international oligarchs who can go to one of their other homes when the gloom is too great. And now they’re colonizing San Francisco, and yes, even Berkeley.

Bruce knew something was up, even four decades ago. Regional planning in those days was being birthed in a few small offices on the basement level of the Claremont Hotel, walking distance from my house, which is probably why I got the assignment. It was mostly the Association of Bay Area Governments in those days, and there wasn’t much news coming out of the Claremont.

Fast forward to not too long in the past. Unbeknownst to almost everyone except a few hardcore planning groupies, regional planning has become the great big tail that wags the little dog. Its offspring in the California legislature, popularly known as SB375, is widely believed in some circles to be the devil’s spawn, engaged in taking over from our local governments with the goal of redesigning our home cities out from under us. A proposed ABAG-MTC merger could be the next step in the process. 

How do I know this? Like most Bay Area residents, I haven’t really been paying much attention to regional planning topics in the last 10 or 20 years. But I do sometimes take a look at the lineal descendant of the old SFBG, the 48 Hills blog, which was started by former Guardian editor Tim Redmond after he was fired by that paper’s corporate acquisitors, who shut it down not long afterwards. 

Now writing for 48 Hills, which is mostly if not exclusively about the city of San Francisco, is one of the Bay Area’s pre-eminent planning wonks, Zelda Bronstein. She was once the local Public Eye columnist for the Berkeley Daily Planet, also a member and chair of the Berkeley Planning Commission, and once even ran (unsuccessfully) for Mayor of Berkeley. She’s recognized that the discipline formerly known as regional planning has gotten its hooks deep into the city she’s supposed to be reporting on, and has documented what’s going on. Her focus is on SF, but much of what she writes about affects Berkeley too. 

And here’s where we do an unconventional segue into a reading list. If you want to know what’s been happening while you weren’t paying attention, you should really read all of the stories which Bronstein wrote for 48 Hills, listed at the end of this piece. 

But if that’s too much to read today, at least read the latest one, which reports on the current push to combine two regional planning agencies into one super-powerful entity. That’s the one that finally got my attention, because in watching Mayor Tom Bates’s drive to, yes, Manhattanize downtown Berkeley, I realized that the California Environmental Quality Act was gradually being gutted at the state level, stripping both San Francisco and Berkeley residents of local control over what happened in their cities. 

So when I got a press release announcing that our very own Assemblymember Tony Thurmond, who defeated the Bates candidate in the last election, had become chair of a newly-minted Assembly Select Committee on Regional Planning in the San Francisco Bay Area, and would hold a hearing in Oakland to “introduce his new select committee and its goals and invite legislators and the public to express their vision and priorities for regional planning in the SF Bay Area,” I decided to check it out. 

According to the press release, the committee and panelists would “evaluate the historical roles of the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), their proposed merger, and discuss regional planning as it relates to public safety, transit planning, affordable housing, and climate change.” 

The panelists were listed as Supervisor Dave Cortese, President of the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors and Chair of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), Julie Pierce, City of Clayton Councilmember, ABAG President and ABAG Administrative Committee Chair, and Lynn Dantzker, Partner, Management Partners. 

By and large, nothing happened on that rainy February afternoon that wasn’t predicted in Zelda’s January account, including a plea by Novato Mayor Pat Ecklund in the short public comment window for an explanation of what problem, if any, the proposed merger was supposed to be solving. And no, she still didn’t get an answer from panel or committee. 

But for me, long absent from the regional scene, there was one Saul-on-the-road-Damascus moment. When I stopped paying attention, the buzz word for the activity in questions was the reasonable sounding “regional planning” tag, and indeed that’s what 48 Hills has started using for Zelda Bronstein’s stories. 

However, at this hearing, ABAG President (and Clayton Councilmember) Julie Pierce described the goal as creating “a model for regional governance”. Say what? Folks, there’s a big difference between “planning” and “governance”, at least if words still have any meaning. 

So I did what I usually do to track trends these days: asked Wikipedia. The Wikipedia section on “governance” is a fantastic meander through a lot of different connotations, starting with “all processes of governing.” Bottom line: now ABAG and MTC are angling to govern Berkeley, not just to help us plan. I know, I know, excessively literal, but that’s what’s been happening. 

That’s why we’ve been ordered by ABAG, MTC and allies to turn our comfortable human-scale city into “Speculation City”, a profitable warehouse for everyone who won’t fit in San Francisco and doesn’t want to live in Silicon Valley, a concept successfully branded by development interests as “smart growth”. The goal, poorly hidden, is to keep all these bodies out of lovely places like, unh-huh, Clayton

“Regional governance” is how already developed streetcar suburbs like Berkeley, one of the original transit-friendly areas, will be forced to jam many more people into an already super-dense urban environment, just to Keep Clayton Bucolic. 

If you doubt me, oh ye of little faith, take a look at Clayton’s civic web page. Some excerpts: 

Nestled at the bucolic base of picturesque Mt. Diablo, Clayton is in close proximity to the greater San Francisco Bay Area with all the amenities, sports and cultural opportunities offered by that choice location…Clayton is a safe residential community of around 11,288 people…. In Clayton, everyone is family. And families are most important. Clayton is simply a great place to live, work and play for people who cherish small-town living and traditional American values… In this community, crime is low and police are respected. High-quality public and private schools are plentiful. Trails for pedestrians, equestrians and bicyclists meander through the City connecting one with another.  

Eleven thousand two hundred eighty-eight people in the whole durn town? And they want to govern Berkeley?  

That’s smaller than one Berkeley council district. The Harold Way monstrosity, the Colossus of Rhoades, alone, could add about ten percent of the population of Clayton to our Berkeley city streets. If the Bates faction gets its way in the future, we have at least five more of these coming down the pike, a half-Clayton for sure. 

If you don’t believe me, just hop on your bicycle and tour an outer suburbs this weekend. I’ve never been to Clayton, but I did go to Fairfield a couple of weeks ago, to see an opera in their very nice “downtown” performing arts center. There I saw numerous one-story strip malls surrounded by acres of parking, with a reasonable number of three story apartments surrounded by more acres of parking lots and many one-story single family homes. 

There’s plenty of room there for more homes of all kinds in the not-pristine developed areas, so why do we have to Manhattanize Berkeley, which is already a dense though human-scale city? And don’t tell me it’s because BART comes to Berkeley—it goes to Concord too, just a short bus ride from Clayton. 

Based on my two-hour sample of who said what to whom at the Select Committee meeting, I’d say that Supervisor Dave Cortese (President of the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors and Chair of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and also former ABAG President and unsuccessful candidate for Mayor of San Jose) is the big macher among the visible electeds who are involved in this merger push. Another member of the MTC board is (quelle surprise!) Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, appointed (by whom?) to represent Alameda County. 

What we have here seems to me to be a shadow government in formation, to be run behind the scenes by planning professionals like Lynn Dantzker, and beholden to bigtime urban property owners looking for an inside track on development opportunities in areas near BART. That’s just speculation on my part, of course, and I no longer consider myself a reporter, but I’ve been around this block more than once. 

If you really want to know what’s going on, don’t count on your print press to inform you any more--not that it ever did. The big newsies are too busy with important topics like what the Warriors are up to. 

Just to get you started, read Zelda’s stories below, and take a look at 48 Hills from time to time, even if you don’t live in The City. 

Those of us in Berkeley who worked hard to elect Tony Thurmond are lucky that he’s gotten this committee chairmanship. Now we need to make sure he knows what’s going on in this merger scheme. 


"The regional government merger: is anyone asking why?," January 21, 2016

"Displacement policy at risk in quiet power struggle," July 21, 2015

"Secrecy rules in regional planning power struggle," August 31, 2015

"Should the regional transit agency be elected?," September 17, 2015

"A pricey palace, huge losses in risky investments, a busted bridge--and now the agency responsible wants more power," October 11, 2015

"The strange and telling story behind the regional planning merger deal," November 12, 2015


"The attack on local zoning control," December 8, 2015 



"Prosperity, poverty, and really bad planning," April 14, 2015 



"The false promise of regional governance," May 12, 2015 



"The attack on SoMa: city wants to create a new downtown, wiping out culture and thousands of blue-collar jobs," January 30, 2014 



"The attack on SoMa: why is this happening anyway?" March 3, 2014 





The Editor's Back Fence

Berkeley Girl Makes the Big Time

Friday February 26, 2016 - 06:50:00 PM

Jackie DeBose, former and still occasional Berkeley resident, is featured in a story in Saturday's New York Times

For Black Women in South Carolina, It’s Clinton’s Turn 

Public Comment

New: Clinton is the Choice for Anyone Who Can Think

Jack Bragen
Thursday March 03, 2016 - 09:49:00 AM

Jeff Hoffman: " If you're truly progressive, there's no way in hell you vote for Clinton, regardless of who she's running against."

Are you sure of that? Let's review some of the things Trump has been saying. He wants to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. He wants to deport all undocumuented workers. He is going to build a wall at the Mexican border and make Mexico pay for it. (The Mexican leader scoffed at this.) When asked about the Klu Klux Klan, he barely spoke a word of denouncemnt. He said he would bomb the s--- out of ISIS.

Jenna Johson of the Washington Post: Trump said he would "defund planned parenthood." Trump said, "The Environmental Protection Agency might also disappear." Trump said he would "Bar Syrian refugees from entering the country and kick out any who are already living here." He said he would: "Prosecute Hillary Clinton for her use of a private e-mail server while serving as secretary of state." Trump said he would, "Be unpredictable. 'No one is going to touch us, because I'm so unpredictable.'"

Nina Bahadur, of the Huffington Post: "Trump has consistently insulted, belittled, sexualized and stereotyped women. He has also taken the time to personally insult individual notable women like Sarah Jessica Parker, Rosie O'Donnell, Cher, Bette Midler, and others."

When Obama was running, he claimed that Obama was not born in the U.S.

Mr. Hoffman, Hillary Clinton would be the first woman president. I think that counts for something. I thought progressives wanted a woman president. On the other hand Trump, a white male, is the most sexist public figure the U.S. has seen in the 21st century.  

While it is true that Hillary Clinton's stands on the various issues lean toward the moderate, and while it is true that she is willing to utilize U.S. military capabilities, I believe she would make a superlative President, and this is so whether you consider yourself "progressive" or otherwise. Clinton has basic competence for the position, and this is something Trump can't honestly claim.  

Trump is the most terrifying political figure in U.S. politics we have seen in a very long time, and he deserves to be soundly defeated in his bid for the Presidency.  

The Housing Crisis: the strange failure of supply and demand

Steve Martinot
Friday February 26, 2016 - 05:03:00 PM

An exercise in economic process


We have a severe housing crisis. The supply-side advocates say that building market rate housing will meet part of the demand, and thus resolve the crisis. What I propose here is a specific exercise, hypothesizing specific terms relevant to this crisis, to test if this is true. We shall examine what happens when all market rate housing is built in the midst of a housing crisis, and what happens if all affordable housing is built in the midst of such a crisis.

To do this, I will first define a set of assumptions in order to map the limits of this exercise’s machinery. And then we shall examine three different cases of housing development: all market rate, all middle income affordable, and all low income affordable. 



The following assumptions will suffice to set up this hypothetical exercise.

People are rational: they will not voluntarily move from an apartment at one rent level to an apartment at a higher rent level without having first received a significant increase in income (and in this exercise, we postulate no income increases).

People are economical: when housing units at a certain rent level become vacant, some families in a higher rent level will seek to move to them, thus saving money.

Landlords are earnings oriented: when demand for housing goes up, there is "market" pressure on landlords to raise the rent.

Rent increases are only permissible between tenants: the rent on a housing unit can be increased only after a tenant moves out. Many landlords will attempt to pressure tenants to move out in order to raise the rent when demand is high.

The hypothetical situation we shall examine: in this hypothetical city, there are 1200 rental units, divided into 3 categories: (A) 400 renting for $1000, (B) 400 renting for $2000, and (C) 400 renting for $3000, all non-rent controlled. All are rented; there is a vacancy rate close to zero.

These assumptions essentially set up the dynamics of the housing situation in this hypothetical city. They are carefully chosen to simplify the exercise, so that the specific dynamic of supply and demand can be observed with greater clarity.

There are rent controlled units in this city, but they are essentially off the market and will not be included in this exercise. Because they are controlled units, tenants have a greater ability to withstand landlord pressure to move. But landlord pressure on tenants to move will be a significant factor in this exercise. 



Setting this exercise in motion

To set this exercise in motion, we hypothesize that 150 families are seeking to move into this city – either because it is an attractive place to live, or because of employment. Many come because they have high-paying jobs in finance and IT. Of these 150 newly arriving families, 50 are earning $40,000 a year each, 50 are earning $80,000 a year each, and 50 families will be earning $120,000 a year. 


These arrivals present an increase in housing demand of 12.5%. Unfortunately, the city has the means for building only 100 new housing units, which will only amount to an 8% increase in housing capacity. We will ignore the time element required to build new housing simply in order to provide housing for our exercise. 

At all three levels, these newly arriving renters will be looking for housing that will not cost more than between 30% and 50% of their income at most, and most will take occupancy at lower rent if they can. Those making $40,000 will be looking for rents from $1000 to $1500 a month. Those earning $80,000 will be looking for rents from $2000 to $2500 a month, and those making $120,000 can easily afford the top market rate, which is $3000. Because of these arrivals, great pressure develops to raise the rent levels for currently existing rental units. Because of this pressure, there are projections that market rate rents can reach $4000 a month (40% of the high income family’s income), or perhaps even $5000 (50%), based on the prognosis that many high income families will be climbing a career ladder and experiencing future increases in salary. 

This upward pressure on rents is the operation of the law of supply and demand. It works to raise prices when demand overshadows supply. But as we shall see, it does not work as a general principle for resolving a housing crisis. 

The arrival of the new middle and high income families becomes the backdrop for a housing crisis in this city. They put upward pressure on market rent rates, while the low income families do not. In obedience to this market pressure, many landlords try to force current tenants to move so that they can raise the rent on those units. The general term we shall use for this landlord activity will be “harassment,” though it may take many forms – for instance, threats, failure to maintain housing conditions, unneeded construction, inspectors who will declare the unit unfit for habitation, etc. It doesn’t matter if this harassment is legal or not; it exists. As tenants are forced out by landlords, they join those looking for housing, and thus the demand for low and middle income housing grows. That is, the city faces an increase in the demand for low income and middle income housing from among its own current residents as a result of that harassment. And in response to that growth of demand, there is greater market pressure on landlords to raise their rent. It is this circular process that constitutes the inner machinery of the housing crisis. 

Let us see what happens if the city responds to the crisis by building market rate housing, moderate income affordable housing, or low income affordable housing. The term "affordable housing” refers to the HUD standard, which considers rent proper if no more than 30% of the tenant’s income. Thus, "affordable" refers to a relation between rent and income rather than rent and the housing market. 


Three scenarios

First case scenario: the city builds 100 market rate units. 


This means that there will be a total of 500 high level rent housing units (starting at $3000 a month), with only 50 families able to take occupancy in them. Nevertheless, because of the increase in demand (high and middle income), these units will be listed for more than $3000 a month. The newly arrived families, who earn $120,000 a year, can easily pay between $3000 and $4000 a month for rent. But there will be very little competition for the remaining 50 units since none of the current residents paying $3000 a month will move to a new unit that will cost more (it would be irrational). None of the low income families will be able to consider moving into the new units. 

Because of this inability to occupy all the new units, the middle income families (both resident and newly arrived) find themselves at the center of the housing crisis. With the arrival of the new middle income families, middle income residents will face continued harassment to move out so that the landlord can rent to the newly arrived at a higher rate. Some will pay the increase, but many will be forced out, and the newly arrived will take their place at the higher rent (up from $3200, for instance). The same thing will happen among the low rent level units and the newly arrived low income families. More and more will end up paying far more than 30% of their income in rent. For both groups, those that accept higher rent or occupy a more expensive apartment, there will be a lose of disposable income. Their economic participation in the city through consumption and taxes will decline. 

In short, the crisis will not be abated. Roughly 50% of the new units will remain empty, with only a few occupied by middle income families who have been forced to move. There will still be a demand for 100 new units for the new arrivals who cannot afford the new market rate apartments. And rents will rise for both low and middle income families to the extent landlords are successful in moving tenants out. In effect, while some low and middle income families are induced to move, other new low and middle income families will take there place; the balance between those in residence and those looking for one will amount to a zero sum game. Many will have to leave the area. And the aggregate disposable income and revenue for the city will drop. 

In sum, the occupancy success rate for this scenario will be around 50%, with a loss of aggregate disposable income as a result of renters paying more rent than they had been. And landlord harassment of tenants will continue as before because demand will still be high. The crisis will continue. 


Second case scenario: the city decides to build 100 new units of middle income affordable housing. 

This means that the city now has 500 middle level rental units, 400 of which are subject to market forces. The remaining 100 middle level rental units that will rent for 30% of a tenant’s income. These units will target middle income families that are earning $80,000 a year. The targetting of a specific income level by an affordable housing project means that for each unit built, the rent will be at or above a certain level ($2000 a month for moderate income families in our hypothetical exercise). If low income families were allowed to move in, paying rent of $1000 a month, it would undermine the building’s financial sustainability. 

The immediate effect of building these 100 middle income affordable units would be that the new middle income arrivals could move in, at 30% of their income for rent. We might assume that perhaps 50 of the 400 middle income families that are being harassed out of their current homes would also move into these new affordable units. That would open 50 middle rent level units that would then rent for more than $2000, owing to market pressure from the new arrivals’ increased demand. When affordable housing is built, and families move in from a comparable rent level, there is market pressure to raise the rents on the apartments they have vacated. Current resident high income families would then move into these vacated middle rent level units. Even at an increase rent of $2500 or $2700 a month, these units would be a bargain for them (earning $120,000 a year). And newly arrived high income families would move into the apartments they had vacated (also at higher rent). 

The crisis caused by landlord harassment of current renters would be abated by half, since now, only low income families would feel that harassment. And the market pressure to raise rents would be abated through the absorption of the newly arrived middle and high income families in the 100 middle income units opened by the new construction. Demand would have gone down by two-thirds, and landlords would have lost their incentive to raise rents other than among the low rent level units. Among them there would be a zero-sum exchange of current and newly arrived renters. 

In sum, the occupancy success rate of this scenario would be 100%, without loss of aggregate income, but with only a reduction in the housing crisis by about half. 50 families would still be without housing. They would mostly be from the low income bracket. And the loss of disposable rent among some would be better balanced by the increase of disposable income for others. 


Third case scenario: the city decides to build 100 new units of low income affordable housing. 

This means that the city now has 500 units for low income tenants. Four hundred of them are subject to market forces, whose rent level rises as landlords succeed in forcing current tenants out. One hundred of them will rent for 30% of tenant income, targetting low income families who earn $40,000 a year. The mechanism of income targetting is similar to that for scenario two, except that maintenance financing will have to be at a lower level. Rent will be around $1000 a month for these low income families. 

The immediate effect of building these 100 low income affordable units will be that the new low income arrivals will move in, at 30% of their income for rent. Since they would occupy only 50 of the new units, there will be the opportunity for some 50 of the 400 low income families who are being harassed by landlords to leave their current homes and move into the remaining new low income affordable units. That will open 50 low rent level units, whose rents would then rise above their former $1000 level, and into which middle income families will move since the rent, even at $1500 or $1700 a month, will be considerably less than their former middle rent level housing ($2000 a month). And their disposable income will rise. The apartments that they vacate will then be occupied by the 50 newly arrived middle income families, but at an increase in rent above their original $2000 a month. 

The housing crisis affecting low income and middle income renters through landlord harassment will abate, since the increased demand for low and middle income housing would have been absorbed. Some landlords would have gotten increased rents from the middle income arrivals to whom they had rented, diminishing their disposable income, but for others there would be an enhancment. Aggregate disposable income would on the whole be increased (up for 100 families and down for 50), and thus the local city economy would benefit. 

There will still be 50 families, mostly high income, who will still be looking for housing. And the epicenter of the crisis will have shifted to the high income population, who are most capable of withstanding it. The current resident and the newly arrived will enter a zero sum game balancing residence and looking for residence, as in scenario two, which will not diminsh the demand for high income rental units. And that means that not all harassment of middle income tenants will have totally abated. But the high income families have the greatest ability to wait (living in towns nearby) for the city’s construction or new housing to catch up with them (which it can given higher disposable income among its denizens, and greater revenues). 

In sum, the occupancy success rate for this scenario would be 100%, without loss of aggregate disposable income, and with an abatement of the housing crisis for the vast majority of tenants (a cessation of landlord harassment). 


In conclusion

To recapitulate, this exercise has addressed three possible solutions to the problems raised by an increase in demand for housing. We have examined those scenarios in a situation where demand requires 12.5% increase in housing units, and the city can only provide an 8% increase. This is a realistic example insofar as corporate developers will hesitate before building to completely saturate a market. They do not wish to have unused capacity, meaning unoccupied housing. So they will generally only agree to build up to a certain margin of demand. 


What this exercise as a whole demonstrates is that one cannot simply apply the law of supply and demand to the housing situation. Because people are rational, and will not move voluntarily from one rental situation to that of a higher rent level (without a significant increase in income), the movement of supply in the housing market can only be from the bottom up. To build housing at the top will mean that the new capacity will remain at the top, and some of it will remain unoccupied. To simply build housing at the top of the rental market will be to exacerbate the housing crisis, and cause severe social disruption and probably unrest. 

What these three exercises teach are the following: 


  1. If all market rate housing is built, it will only have a 50% occupancy success rate in proving housing, without any abatement to the crisis faced by current tenants being forced out of their homes. A majority newly arrived middle and low income families will be without housing. And there will be a drop in aggregate income of the city’s renters.
  2. If all middle income affordable housing is built, then the occupancy success rate will be 100%, but with only a partial abatement of the housing crisis, and both low and middle income tenants will continue to feel the pressure and harassment to vacate so that landlords can raise their rents. But there will be less of a drop in aggregate disposable income.
  3. If all low income affordable units are built, there will be 100% occupancy success rate, accompanied by a significant reduction in the housing crisis to about a sixth of what it had been, and there will be a gain in aggregate disposable income for the entire city.
The city would be wise to choose the third scenario as it will put it in good economic straits to carry forward its intention to finally house all the new-comers. If the city listens to the supply side advocates, with their false use of the law of supply and demand, it will not resolve the housing crisis, but it will force entire communities of residents to leave town. With the third scenario, on the contrary, there will be an increase in aggregate income for the city, which will provide it with greater options for financing the remaining 50 units of housing in order to complete a fully-housed resident profile. 


Israeli Shin Bet guilty of Torture

Jagjit Singh
Friday February 26, 2016 - 04:51:00 PM

A new report by two Israeli human rights groups, B’Tselem and HaMoked, accuses the Israeli internal security agency, Shin Net of appalling treatment of Palestinian prisoners at the Shikma interrogation facility. Dozens of prisoners are exposed to extreme heat and cold, deprived of sleep, spat on, put in stress positions causing extreme pain and given sub-standard food. Many were denied shower facilities for days or weeks at a time. The report also highlighted the complicit nature of other security branches such as the Israeli prison system IPS), which turns a blind eye to these abhorrent practices. 

The report concludes that "The combination of conditions both in and outside the interrogation room constitutes abuse and inhuman, degrading treatment, at times even amounting to torture." By its actions Shin Bet has violated a Supreme Court injunction banning torture. The IPS purpose is to break a prisoner’s spirit and military judges invariably rubber stamp motions for remand in custody. 

This dovetails with a statement by the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, in which he accused Israel of the abominable treatment of Palestinians. He accuses Israel “having two standards for adherence to the rule of law in the West Bank—one for Jews and one for Palestinians. He added "Too many attacks on Palestinians lack a vigorous investigation or response by Israeli authorities. Too much vigilantism goes unchecked. And at times there seem to be two standards of adherence to the rule of law—one for Israelis and another for Palestinians." 

The President Must Not Delay Nominating Justice

Romila Khanna
Friday February 26, 2016 - 06:35:00 PM

I was watching TV today. The screen showed Justice Scalia’s empty seat in the Supreme Court. I was under the impression that President has the constitutional power to nominate a well-qualified candidate to fill the vacant seat. But it seems many of our lawmakers are worried that a justice appointed by the President would favor the president’s political leanings rather than the rule of law. Surely well qualified means a person dedicated to the rule of law. It seems that Republicans are obstructionist. 

Many members of the public are unhappy that Republican congressmen waste time and taxpayer dollars to continue to block President Obama’s judicial nominations. It is even more troubling that Republican congressmen block programs that provide a safety net in health and educational benefits for the least privileged citizens – the low income and the poor. 

How will the next generation learn that Republicans and Democrats can work together to maintain a sense of community among all citizens, rich and poor? They need a better example than Washington is providing right now.

New: Clinton vs. Trump

Jeff Hoffman
Tuesday March 01, 2016 - 09:51:00 PM

I find it laughable that anyone except for those with vested interests would care much who wins between Clinton and Trump. If the Democratic primary weren't rigged in favor of establishment candidates like Clinton and if Clinton didn't have a huge advantage of money and power behind her, we might be able to vote for Bernie Sanders against Trump. Sanders is the only choice for real progressives who would have a realistic chance of getting elected (obviously the Green and other minor party candidates are good choices ideologically, but they have no chance of winning). 

In some ways, Trump would be better than Clinton: for one thing, he strongly opposes the TPP and other such agreements. Clinton now says she's opposed to the TPP too, but she's really not and won't block it if elected. TPP is a huge issue, bigger than all the social issues put together, because it will affect far more people and the entire planet environmentally. 

While we all hate the Republicans and their racist & homophobic garbage, Trump is clearly not as bad as Rubio or Cruz (see the previous paragraph). Clinton is nothing but another corporate Democrat, is a quintessential yuppie, and is a total war monger to boot. She might be better on abortion/birth control -- another huge issue because it affect a half the population directly (women) and the entire planet regarding overpopulation -- but Trump used to be pro-choice also, and it's hard to say whether he's just saying he's anti-choice in order to get the Republican troglodytes to vote for him. Overall, it's basically a tossup who's worse, so who cares? 

Unless Bernie Sanders pulls off a totally unexpected upset, I'll be voting Green once again in the presidential election (Barbara Lee and Ron Dellums are the only Democrats I've voted for since George McGovern). I see no reason to vote for Clinton. I really hate the hysteria that's created every four years by mainstream Democrats telling us that we'd better tow their corporate line or we'll end up with [fill in the blank], who will be equivalent to Hitler. Trump would not be as bad as Reagan or Bush II/Cheney, so enough of this BS. If you're truly progressive, there's no way in hell you vote for Clinton, regardless of who she's running against.


THE PUBLIC EYE: Clinton vs. Trump: First Impressions

Bob Burnett
Friday February 26, 2016 - 04:49:00 PM

Eight months before the presidential election, it’s clear that voters are going to have choose between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump. It’s only been nine months since “the Donald” announced his candidacy, but in that time he has turned the Republican establishment upside down. The race to the finish line, on November 8, promises to be a nail biter. 

Both candidates are well known: Trump from having been a reality-TV star and New York personality for twenty years; Clinton from having been in the political spotlight since her husband, Bill, ran for President 25 years ago. Americans have strong opinions about both candidates: Trump’s favorability ratings are 57 percent unfavorable and 36.4 percent favorable. < a href= http://elections.huffingtonpost.com/pollster/hillary-clinton-favorable-rating >Clinton’s aren’t much better: 53 percent unfavorable and 40.8 percent favorable. 

By most definitions, Clinton is a Washington insider: She came to Washington in 1992, served as First Lady, United States Senator, and Secretary of State. Trump is an outsider. He’s never held political office. (Indeed, until a few years ago, most observers thought Trump was a Democrat.) 

Clinton has wrapped herself in the mantle of Barack Obama and is running to guarantee a third-term for his policies. She has the support of the entire Democratic establishment. (Which accounts for her relatively easy victory over insurgent Senator Bernie Sanders.) 

Trump is running as the political maverick. He has no political endorsements from establishment Republicans. (Indeed, one might say that he is running as an Independent from within the framework of the Republican Party.) Trump believes “Obama has been a terrible President” and seeks to reverse many of the accomplishments of the last eight years including Obamacare and the Iran Nuclear Agreement. 

Obviously, there are stark policy differences between Clinton and Trump. For example, Trump wants to build a huge wall along the US-Mexico border and deport 11 million undocumented residents. Clinton wants the undocumented to have a pathway to citizenship. Trump believes that global climate change is a hoax. Clinton takes it seriously and believes that the US needs to do everything it can to avert the consequences. 

Both candidates have a solid base within their Party. Trump has commandeered the anger wing of the Republican Party, the segment that does not trust anyone in Washington. These voters are enthralled by Trump the personality; it’s not so much what he says as the way he says it. 

Clinton has a solid base within the Democratic Party. These are folks who have known her for a long time, believe her to be a gifted leader, well qualified to continue the legacy of Barack Obama. Democrats are angry, too, but their anger is directed at Washington Republicans who they believe have gone out of their way to obstruct the Obama administration for the past 7 years. 

Assuming that both candidates hold their respective bases, the 2016 election will be decided by Independents. The latest Gallup Poll suggests that only 11 percent of voters are truly Independent. The other 89 percent of the electorate are split between Democrats “including leaners” 46 percent and Republicans and leaners 43 percent. 

There’s an argument to be made that some Republicans loathe Trump and may not vote for him. But will they vote for Hillary? Probably not; perhaps they will not vote at all. On the other hand, some Democrats do not like Clinton. But will they vote for Trump? Probably not; perhaps they will not vote at all. 

If we assume the Democrat and Republican base stays intact, the final outcome will be decided by the Party that deploys the best get-out-the-vote campaign and the attitudes of a relatively small number of Independents. 

Who are these 11-percent hard-core Independents? Gallup says they are Americans who do not identify with either Party and are dissatisfied with government, in general. An April Pew Research report indicated that Independents were disproportionately white men, including a surprising number of Hispanics. They tend to not have college degrees and be in the 18-33 age group (Millenials). 

If safe to assume that some Independents will not vote, particularly the Millenials. Those who do vote are likely to split between Trump (anger at government) and Clinton (Trumps racism). 

The current Huffington Post Clinton versus Trump poll-of-polls shows Clinton with 48.1 percent and Trump with 42.8 percent with 9.1 percent undecided. (This is remarkably similar to Democrats all voting for Clinton (46 percent), Republicans for Trump (43 percent) and 11 percent undecided.) 

The next eight months of the presidential contest will see a nerve-wracking competition featuring two well-known candidates who have historically low unfavorable ratings. 

If Hillary Clinton is to prevail she will have to: make no strategic mistakes; do well in the debates with Trump; mount an effective get-out-the-vote campaign; and attract high numbers of certain voting segments: including single women, Hispanics, and Millenials. 

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

ECLECTIC RANT: Permanent Housing for Homeless: An Unsolvable Problem?

Ralph E. Stone
Friday February 26, 2016 - 04:54:00 PM

My wife and I arrived in San Francisco in 1971. Since at least that time, getting the homeless into housing or shelters has been a "concern" or a priority for every administration. Yet, the number of homeless keeps increasing from about 6,248 in 2005 to about 6,686 in 2015.  

True, between 2004 and 2014, 11,362 had been housed. Why then does the homeless count keep increasing? According to a 2016 survey 29% of the San Francisco homeless migrate here from another state or another California county. Could it be that as fast as we find housing or temporary shelter for some, new arrivals take their place?  

Homelessness in the U.S. is a national disgrace. On a single night in January 2013, there were 610,042 people experiencing homelessness in the U.S., including 394,698 people who were homeless in sheltered locations and 215,344 people who were living in unsheltered locations. 

There should be a policy of universal affordable housing for everyone. But because homelessness is a national problem, it will require a serious recommitment by the federal government to create, subsidize, and maintain truly affordable housing. Until then, finding permanent housing for San Francisco's homeless is probably an unsolvable problem. In the meantime, the best we can probably do is expand the Navigation Center program, which provides one-stop help for the homeless, and offer temporary shelter, if not permanent housing, for the City's homeless. 

San Francisco has allocated $241 million this year for homeless programs but considering that the number of homeless seems to increase over the years, I wonder if we are getting as much bang for the buck as we should, or are we throwing too much money down a rabbit hole in an attempt to solve and unsolvable problem.  

We will have to wait for the next homeless count to find out whether the $241 million allocated for homeless programs was well spent. 


The 2010 Update of "Without Housing - Decades of Federal Housing Cutbacks, Massive Homelessness and Policy Failures" by the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), provides an excellent overview of the origins of contemporary homelessness in the U.S.

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Thirty-Two Years on Antipsychotic Medications

Jack Bragen
Friday February 26, 2016 - 04:26:00 PM

Antipsychotic medications haven't made my intellect inoperative. I haven't become impaired from them. I am able to feel pain and to cry, and I am able to enjoy certain things. My mind is nimble enough to where I am not verbally outmaneuvered by most psychotherapists unless I allow it. 

I function on a lot of levels. Because I have practiced a lot of mindfulness, I am partly able to observe myself in a more aware perspective. I have studied meditation and have used this as a tool to deal with residual symptoms, medication side effects, and the difficulties of life.  

I believe the brain isn't the sole seat of thought. People and other creatures have something that goes deeper than the firings of neurons, the operation of gray matter. Many people seem to believe that the human mind is no more than a super-powered computer. A computer doesn't have the ability to be self-aware. People and certainly other creatures have available to us a deeper level of thought. 

The abovementioned concept has allowed me to get more use of my imperfect brain than I would get otherwise. The extra perspective that I have accessed gives me the ability to make maps of the workings of my mind, it often allows me to focus my mind, as though focusing a lens; and it allows me to take my foibles and difficulties less seriously than I otherwise would. 

Thirty-two years taking antipsychotic drugs hasn't ruined my brain and it hasn't ruined my life, either. While the medication introduces a limit to how much energy I have available, and introduces other limits, I credit the medication with essentially saving my life. 

I do not believe the cause of getting my illness was solely biological. However, once the illness had progressed into full-blown paranoid schizophrenia, it became non-negotiable that I needed to be medicated. The problem was and still is at a severity such that neurochemical intervention is necessary, for me.  

Had I not become schizophrenic, I would have accomplished a lot more in life by this age. Yet the illness and the accompanying circumstances have taught me some things and some humility that I wouldn't have learned otherwise. I have spent time among oppressed people. I have spent time among the down and out.  

The choice is, risking irreversible side effects from meds as well as risking possible neurological damage from them, versus not voluntarily taking medication and having repeated relapses. A relapse is much worse, since, according to one psychiatrist, it causes a setback of about ten years for each relapse. The setback consists of having a badly damaged operating system in the mind, synaptic or neurological damage to the brain, and life circumstances often being ruined. 

Upon getting older, I have less ability to recover following the brain dump of a psychotic episode. I am fortunate that I gained enough insight into my condition in time to commit to treatment on a permanent basis. Had I not gained such insight, I would be in the "revolving door" as one psychologist described it. 

His name was Fernando, and he was once my counselor, about thirty years ago. He described "the revolving door" of the mental health system as the predicament where persons with mental illness keep going in and out of the hospital due to not properly dealing with their illness. Going on and off of medication is like playing Russian Roulette with one's brain condition and one's life. 

It is not easy to be medicated. Psych meds can cause a psychiatric consumer to feel miserable. This is especially so for the first year or two of taking them. 

Psychiatric medications, because they slow the brain, can cause brain atrophy. I have avoided atrophy because I have put a great deal of effort into the use of my mind and into remaining active. If on antipsychotic medication, we must have activities that keep the brain engaged, or we could risk losing function. Something as simple as brushing one's teeth is sometimes harder when on meds. Putting effort into life, but not to the extent of self-torture, is essential. 

When we fight against the effects of the illness, and push against the limits imposed by medication, inevitably we will win some of the battles and lose some of them. When unable to do something, or when we have a bad day, we need not be discouraged.  


Unauthorized copies of e-books: My electronic books for sale on Amazon are being pirated and sold on other websites. Please only purchase my e-books through Amazon. Or buy physical copies, available from a variety of sellers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and www.lulu.com. Just to make it easier, here is a link to my latest release, "Schizophrenia: My 35 Year Battle." 



Arts & Events

An Evening With Bruce Barthol and a Work in Progress:
The story of his life in the songs he’s written

Conn Hallinan
Thursday February 25, 2016 - 03:40:00 PM

It could have been a night of nostalgia. The Art House Gallery & Culture Center on Shattuck is covered with ‘60s kitsch, photos of demonstrators facing down cops, and rock posters from Avalon and the Fillmore. Bruce Barthol kicked off the evening of the sold out event with “Country Joe & the Fish’s” anti-war classic “Fixin’ to Die Rag,” but Barthol does not do memory lane, he does politics, the more current the better. 

Barthol, the original bass player for “The Fish,” and long-time music director for the San Francisco Mime Troupe, takes the audience on an odyssey both political and physical. As the child of academics his family bounced around from Berkeley to Pennsylvania, Los Angeles, Spain, and finally landing him in Berkeley on the eve of the Free Speech Movement (FSM) in 1964. 

As he jumped from place to place he gathered ideas and experiences that eventually translated into songs. It was encountering Christian fundamentalists in Pennsylvania in 1953 that would ultimately give birth to “We are the Army of the Righteous,” from the Mime Troupe’s 1981“Fact Wino Meets the Moral Majority.” The play, a hilarious but searing indictment of the religious right, won the San Francisco Bay Area Theater Circle’s Award for best production and music. 

The “evening” merges song and place. Hence a version of “The Old Chisholm Trail” is part of the family’s move back East across the physical and cultural desert of Utah (“There wasn’t much on the radio back then, so we sang all the way”). The move to Spain during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco is illustrated by is own Spanish civil war songs. 

Barthol moves through his early life rather quickly to bring the story to 1964 and his arrival at the University of California at Berkeley in time for the FSM upheaval. Barthol clearly doesn’t forget things. He used his five decade-old experiences and memories with the FSM to create songs for a Joan Holden play written for the 50th anniversary of the FSM. Indeed, one of the evening’s best tunes is one that captures the fear and courage of the students waiting to be arrested in UC’s Sproul Hall.  

He weaves biography throughout the performance, including his battles with the draft, and his years in England that gave him some relief from the madness at home, a journey, he says, that took him “from the land of the psychotic to the land of the neurotic.”  

He gives brief historical sketches about each movement he traverses: free speech, the farm workers’ fight for union representation, the hostage crisis in Iran (including a lovely song on the Shah), and the arrival of Ronald Reagan—“Mordor was awakening and Hell was coming.” There are stories and songs about Central America, the military industrial complex, the de-industrialization of the U.S., the energy crisis, Israelis and Palestinians, and migrant workers, the latter accompanied by a catchy tune, “Star Ferry.” 

Each of these moments in history has its story and its song, and Barthol is careful to not get bogged down in too much detail or too many verses. He is also a funny guy, so when he talks about the troubles in Northern Ireland, there is an Irish joke. When he talks about his time in Europe banging around with different bands, there is a German joke.  

The underlying message, however, is straight out of Bertolt Brecht: the purpose of art is to make revolution. Which doesn’t mean you can’t be funny. Indeed, humor is one of the most powerful tools in politics, and Barthol knows exactly how to wield it. He is—as one suspects Brecht was—driven to do what he does. “I write songs,” he told the audience, “because I have to write them.” And then underlines the point with a catchy “Taking a cakewalk to Baghdad” summarizing the litany of U.S. foreign policy disasters over the past decade. 

Barthol covers a lot of ground, in large part because there is so much to write about, and so many lessons one can learn from looking back. The idea, however, is to mine the passions and experiences of the past and retool them for moment. Early in the “story,” Barthol sings the “Fixin’ to Die Rag,” that a substantial portion of the audience knew by heart. But after a few verses, the song shifted from Vietnam to Afghanistan, Iraq, and other places that mothers can have their “boys come home in a box.” 

The “story” is headed for Ireland next, but Barthol will almost certainly bring it back to the U.S. and the Bay Area. When he does, buy a ticket and get ready for an evening of memory and politics, and why you can’t do the latter will without the former. 

Conn Hallinan 


All in a Day’s Work: Two Fine Pianists and a Bruckner Symphony

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday February 26, 2016 - 11:45:00 AM

On Thursday, February 25, I attended both a matinee performance at Davies Hall of the San Francisco Symphony with pianist Maria João Pires and, in the evening, Richard Goode’s piano recital at Herbst Theatre featuring an all-Bach program. Making her San Francisco Symphony debut, veteran Portuguese pianist Maria João Pires gave an exquisite performance in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37. With Conductor Laureate Herbert Blomstedt leading the orchestra and Maria João Pires playing with sublime finesse, this was a performance of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto that emphasized the delicacy of this work. Ms. Pires never overstates the music. Even when playing fortissimo, she never hammers away as many other pianists do when playing Beethoven. Instead, Pires takes us inside the music, enabling us to feel the delicacy that often gets over-whelmed by more aggressive pianists. 

Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto certainly gets off to an aggressive start, with the orchestra issuing thunderous C minor outbursts that prefigure those in the composer’s Fifth Symphony. There ensues a lengthy orchestral introduction of two themes, one a blunt assertion heard first in the strings and quickly answered by the woodwinds before being taken up by the whole orchestra, the second a gracious melody in the major mode heard in the violins with clarinets. The exposition is expanded at great length before the piano even begins to play, and when Maria João Pires makes her entrance it is by way of an ornamental, three-measure lead of scales played in octaves. Pires then states the main theme in solo fashion. Here Beethoven utilizes the new technology that enabled piano manufacturers to stretch the range of their instruments, and he leads his pianist all the way up to the C above the ledger line atop the treble staff. Even here, however, Maria João Pires plays with an exquisite touch. Beethoven, as we know, greatly admired Mozart’s C minor Piano Concerto No. 24, and in his own C minor concerto Beethoven follows Mozart in allowing an intricate dialogue between piano and orchestra to extend far beyond the normal conventions of the era. In fact, in this first movement the solo cadenza is followed by a coda in which the piano takes the lead with arpeggios while the orchestra offers a modest accompaniment. The movement ends with the piano taking up yet again the scales-in-octaves with which it began. 

The second movement is a lush, lovely Largo in E Major. Then piano opens with a solo of gentle lyricism. Later, Beethoven creates a noble dialogue between the piano playing arpeggios and flute and bassoon over pizzicato strings. Only at the end is the hushed mood of this movement broken by a surprising fortissimo chord. The final movement is a rollicking, ebullient Rondo that is one of Beethoven’s most familiar and popular movements for piano and orchestra. With the lively tempos provided by conductor Herbert Blomstedt and the intelligent phrasing of soloist Maria João Pires, this C minor Piano Concerto by Beethoven was a sheer delight. 

After intermission the orchestra returned to play Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 3 in D minor. Blomsted chose to perform the 1873 Nowak edition of this much-revised symphony, which earlier had been brutally revised by the Schalk brothers, two of Bruckner’s students. Bruckner, who was orphaned at age twelve and was taken in as a choir singer by the Augustinian monastery at St. Florian near Linz, never overcame his lowly social status. He spoke with a peasant accent, wore trousers that looked like they’d been made by a carpenter, was clumsy in society, had a disturbing tendency to fall in love with sixteen year-old girls, and was extremely pious, once interrupting a lesson in counterpoint he was teaching to kneel in prayer when he heard the angelus sound in the church next door. His music, when it was first heard in Vienna, received a harsh welcome. Audiences fled in droves. Only Gustave Mahler offered him praise and consolation. In an admiring gesture, Mahler even borrowed a phrase from the Scherzo of Bruckner’s Third Symphony for the Scherzo of Mahler’s own First Symphony.  

Bruckner’s symphonies all proceed by means of small blocks of music set in dynamic contrast with one another in often surprising ways. Passages that seem to build towards an all-out, full orchestra fortissimo will suddenly come to an abrupt halt, only to be followed by music of a gentle character heard piano in the strings only. There’s a set of such moments in the Scherzo of Bruckner’s Third Symphony that simply makes me smile with delight when I hear it. First the composer builds up an extended passage with full orchestra and blaring brass. Then, suddenly, when we least expect it, he returns to a gently swaying dance tune from the Austrian countryside heard piano in the strings. After a few measures of this lowly but ingratiating dance tune, Bruckner changes course again and embarks on yet another build-up of full orchestra and blaring brass playing fortissimo. In fact, the ending of the whole symphony proceeds in similar fashion, with a lengthy pianissimo slowly transforming into a blazing fortissimo. Conductor Herbert Blomstedt led a thoroughly delightful and sensitive performance of this Symphony No. 3 in D minor by Bruckner. 

On Thursday evening I attended Richard Goode’s piano recital of an all-Bach program at Herbst Theatre. Having heard Richard Goode play all three of Franz Schubert’s final sonatas last year in Davies Hall, I looked forward to hearing this excellent pianist play Bach. My only other experience of hearing a pianist perform an all-Bach program was one of the most memorable musical events I’ve ever attended. In the summer of 1969 I heard Sviatoslav Richter play Bach’s entire Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II in the small, exquisite Romanesque church in Gourdon in the Dordogne region of southwest France. Richter’s performance was absolutely mesmerizing! 

Perhaps with Richter in mind, my hopes for this Richard Goode recital were set too high. Richter is, in my opinion, in a class by himself. In any case, though I can’t in any way detriment the playing of Richard Goode, this all-Bach recital never quite took off. It began graciously enough with Goode performing Prelude and Fugue No. 1 in C major from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II. Next on the program was Bach’s French Suite No. 5 in G major. This piece includes a popular Gavotte and ends with a highly complex Gigue that is a fugue in 12/16 meter. Richard Goode’s performance of this work was outstanding, the high point of the evening. There followed, however, Bach’s set of Fifteen Sinfonias, only one of which, the fifth, in E-flat Major, struck me as particularly interesting. 

After intermission, Goode played another work from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II, the Prelude and Fugue No. 11 in F Major. The prelude proceeds smoothly enough in a broad 3/2 meter, while the fugue races off in the unusual meter of 6/16 and closes in a cheerful finale. Next on the program was Bach’s Partita No. 2 in C minor, whose tonality offers a dark, melancholy mood until we reach the surprising final Capriccio which brings the work to a brilliant close. The recital’s final work was Bach’s Italian Concerto, which the composer wrote at the age of fifty. It is a concerto in the Italian style, full of dynamic contrasts. The middle movement, an Andante, offers a lovely slow movement while the two outer movements display a mixture of solo and tutti passages. As an encore, Richard Goode played the Sarabande from Bach’s Fifth Partita.