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A Secret Service agent on the press shuttle at the Republican Convention
Chris Krohn
A Secret Service agent on the press shuttle at the Republican Convention


Freedom of the Press--for reporters with Secret Service credentials

Chris Krohn
Thursday July 21, 2016 - 01:43:00 PM
A Secret Service agent on the press shuttle at the Republican Convention
Chris Krohn
A Secret Service agent on the press shuttle at the Republican Convention

At this week’s Republican National Convention (RNC) the U.S. Secret Service is perhaps inadvertently redefining a free press. A.J. Liebling said that freedom of the press is only guaranteed to those who own one. He never met the Secret Service agent standing in the stairwell at the front of the press shuttle bus headed toward the RNC. 

The Secret Service was founded in 1851 to investigate counterfeiting, and then in 1901 after the assassination of President William McKinley the Congress requested that they provide security for the president. Today, the roll of the Secret Service is to investigate financial fraud and “protect both national leaders and visiting dignitaries,” according to their web site. So how does its mission come to include riding press shuttles? 

These shuttles move the more than 15,000 journalists covering the RNC back and forth between the sprawling official media area at the FirstMerit Convention Center on Lakeside Avenue in downtown Cleveland, and this year’s RNC bunker, known as “the Q,” or Quicken Loans Arena. This convention is designated as a “National Special Security Event,” similar to the security arrangements made for presidential inaugurations and State of the Union speeches. The Secret Service, backed by scores of HSI, the Homeland Security Investigations team, appear to be running the security convention show. 

So, how about taking a “secure” bus ride to the Q? 

To get on the media center shuttle a reporter must first be “credentialed” by the Secret Service. It involves filling out an on-line application, which presumably leads to a background check. If you get the badge, you can get on the bus and move through the recently constructed secure zone in downtown Cleveland. If you don’t have this Secret Service-issued press credential, then you must walk to the Q and wait in a screening line similar to an airport security area. 

The Secret Service agent positioned outside of the bus entrance stands in what my coach used to call the athletic stance, upright with knees slightly bent and arms out to the side. His eyes are intense; his greenish-grey suit is without wrinkle. He thrusts his arm out and grabs at my Secret Service-issued press credential. He checks his earpiece and then checks my ID again. Is someone talking to him? About my ID? 

He suddenly looks beyond me as a twenty-something journalist is or was perhaps trying to slip in behind me and get on the bus. “Nobody gets on the bus for the Q “until I say so,” he says. He moves his arm toward the door like he’s shooing away a bothersome fly. I’m in. 

“And don’t sit in that first seat, it’s mine.” 

I sit behind his seat. When we are ready to leave, and about fifteen now on the bus, I ask the agent how long the ride is. “I don’t know.” He in turn asks the driver to set the odometer. He pushes at his ear piece and tells the driver to go forward into the maze. 

The bus snakes through a realigned street that is contained within a recently constructed channel way yielding two narrow traffic lanes bounded by seven-foot high wrought iron fencing. I’ve heard of “secure zones” in Baghdad and Kabul, never in Cleveland. The agent gets up to stand in the stairwell. The bus passengers are silent, constantly checking their cell phone news feeds. The agent touches his ear piece again and gives a flick of the back of his hand toward the driver. 

We pass through checkpoint number 3, then 4. The bus slows and the agent nods at one of the three or four cops or HSI or state troopers who stand guard at each intersection. We exit one segment, cross a major thoroughfare like Superior or Euclid, and then enter another part of the hastily made metal tunnel. The HSI people are usually heavily armed and wear visible bullet-proof vests. 

This ride seems smoother on day four than it was the first day. Tensions ran higher on that first day, stares were sterner with no one knowing what might unfold this week. It’s a much more comfortable glove now. Checkpoints 5 then 6 are passed and head nods are exchanged. 

We are stopped at checkpoint 7. Four state troopers and three police officers stand between us and the next section of metal tunnel. They appear to be directing traffic coming out of the Q because two vehicles cannot fit through the driveway very comfortably. The agent pushes at his ear piece again. 

At checkpoint 8 there is row of 10 motorcycle cops, some ready to engage while others stand with their helmets off trying to stay out of the sun. One is checking out his colleague’s machine like he might buy it. We are now inside of the bounds of the Q, but the snaking fence still appears outside the bus window as we move along at about fifteen miles an hour. 

Checkpoint 9 is passed as the vehicle rumbles over another speed bump. We enter the bottom floor of a four-story garage. The bus winds circuitously through the empty garage passing more uniformed law enforcement. We stop. 

Before I get up I look at the agent. He’s got his right index finger pushing on his ear piece. 

“Okay, everyone can get out here.” 

I ask the driver how far it was through the maze of asphalt and iron. She looks down at the odometer and tells me it was exactly one-mile. 

It seemed much longer. Everyone files slowly off the bus. We still have one more security checkpoint to walk through before entering the arena. Is this what it takes to protect the freedom of the press I wonder?

The Battle for the Street in Cleveland

Chris Krohn
Thursday July 21, 2016 - 09:31:00 AM

Downtown Cleveland, Ohio has been in a state of near lockdown this week: more than Dallas, more than Baton Rouge, La., and perhaps even more than Bagdad. Groups of heavily armed police, military, US Marshals and Secret Service patrol the streets surrounding “the Q,” the Quicken Loans Arena where over 4,000 delegates and alternates of the Republican National Committee are holed up and set to nominate Donald J. Trump tonight as their candidate for President. The NBA’s Lebron James, who also performs at the Q, might be hard pressed to put up the kind of firepower now on display here in Cleveland, the “Rock and Roll Capitol of the World.” James’s shooting arsenal is formidable—hopefully we do not have to find out about any shots the police might take. 

The police mostly walk because it’s near impossible to drive anywhere close to the Q. And then there’s the seven-foot wrought iron fence that separates most of the pedestrians from many of the places people normally walk or drive to when the RNC is not in town. Although new cement barriers appear to be haphazardly placed in alleyways, parking garages or at intersections to divert both vehicles and pedestrians, there must be a plan, but it’s not immediately clear what it is. Maybe that’s what the Secret Service wants? 

According to Lt. Eric Hoskinson, campus police officer at Ohio University in Athens, there are police here from twenty-one states, including from the Golden State. That’s right, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) is here, not patrolling the 5 or the 101 or even 880, but Superior and Prospect Avenues, East 4th Street, and all the rest of the urban terrain surrounding the RNC’s super bunker. 

“They’re pretty good guys, glad they’re here,” says Hoskinson while standing on Euclid Avenue in downtown Cleveland. He offers a nod of his head toward a group of CHP officers like they’re old chums. The CHP is doing what most cops here appear to be doing after a tense first couple of days of getting used to the political street beat: The cops do a lot of standing around. At times they lean awkwardly on a wall, but most of the time they walk casually, often single file and usually in groups of four to eight officers. 

I’ve noticed police from Austin and Louisville, and state troopers from Florida and New Jersey trying to give the political tourists here directions. They finally have to admit that they’re not from Cleveland. I ask Lt. Hoskinson how police from Texas, Indiana, or even California are able to offer street advice. They adapt, according to a smiling Lt. Hoskinson. “I’m from Ohio, and sometimes these guys do better at giving directions that I can.”

New: Protesting the Republicans in Cleveland

Chris Krohn
Wednesday July 20, 2016 - 03:45:00 PM
Ohio is an open-carry state
Chris Krohn
Ohio is an open-carry state
Chris Krohn

You can openly carry an AR-15 automatic weapon around Cleveland, but don’t get caught with a tennis ball or they might lock you up. Tennis balls are on a lengthy list of prohibited articles in and around the Republican National Convention this week. To test the open tennis ball law, Code Pink’s, Medea Benjamin order five hundred and began distributing them, throwing, catching and otherwise playing with these spherical objects right outside the main pedestrian entrance of the RNC.

“People can walk around with assault weapons, but not tennis balls,” Benjamin told me as she watched other members of Code Pink perform a playful ‘Myth America pageant,’ in which each contestant says what kind of America they want to live in.

Also occurring yesterday afternoon in Cleveland’s Public Square, less than a half mile from the the Code Pink tennis ball confiscation, a group of a dozen men in various forms military dress and toting automatic weapons decided to exercise their open-carry law rights. When asked by the Planet what they were doing, a man wrapped in an ammunition cartridge belt and carrying an AR-15 said, “We are the West Ohio Minutemen, and our mission statement is to support the Second Amendment, and what we’re doing here pretty much makes that statement.” The group continued to march around an area that already held some 3000 protesters, many of whom were also exercising their rights of free speech, debating, discussing and carrying signs promoting a variety of political, social and religious issues. 

Suddenly, according to two witnesses, the Austin-based talk show host, Alex Jones of The Alex Jones Show “was either punched or hit with a pole,” according to Andrew Smith of Myrtle Beach, S.C. Smith, a Donald Trump supporter and listener to Jones’s radio show said it was hard to see what happened, “but Jones definitely got hit.” The police moved in quickly and hustled Jones away. It was not immediately clear if any arrests were made. 

Just after this incident on the opposite other side of Public Square, Carl Dix of the group, Stop Mass Incarceration Network, was addressing a crowd of a few hundred. The group was chanting, “Indict, convict, send those killer cops to jail. The whole damn system is guilty as hell.” And Dix was urging the group to “not back down to the Nuremburg rally happening down the street,” presumably referring to the RNC. 

Dix later passed the microphone to Dr. Cornel West who was a key endorser of the Bernie Sanders for President campaign, but has now switched his allegiance to the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein. West’s voice was a palpable calming presence in the midst of the increasing tension. “We come together in all colors,” he said “and we are talking about standing for humanity because it’s about hating injustice, and that’s why we are going to march,” West said as the crowd cheered raucously. He then added, “And we want people to know some of us are willing to die.” Pretty strong words during tense moments. 

On the edge of this gathering was Stevedore Crawford wearing a t-shirt with the words: “Tamir Rice, he will never R.I.P., Murdered by a P.I.G.” Crawford refuses to let the police shooting of Tamir Rice in November of 2014 go away he says. Rice was shot while holding a plastic replica gun at the Cudell Recreation Center here in Cleveland. 

He is out here protesting this single issue because “politics is not more important than a 12-year old boy from Cleveland, Ohio being murdered by police in the playground,” Crawford told the Planet. He had just performed his own street theater rendition of the shooting: Plastic gun stuck inside his pants, he feigned writhing in pain on the cement in front of a line of riot police. “They are scared of us in the ‘hood, and the most important thing in Cleveland, Ohio is Tamir Rice,” Crawford said. Then he turned to his young daughter to ask her to stand on the other side of the large circle of police line that was closing in slowly on the large group Cornel West was addressing. 

As West said goodbye to a loud ovation, a group of about one hundred protesters proceeded to march down Euclid Avenue. They were trailed by an equal number of security people including a couple dozen cops on bicycle. 

Many more signs and causes continued to be present on the square. The signs read: “America was never great. We need to over throw the system,” “Black men Built the White House,” and a woman, Marni Halasa, was dressed in a one-piece red sparkling bathing suit with a sash that read, “Make America Hate Again.” Halasa is from Akron, but runs a “protest consulting firm” she says, in New York City called, Revolution is Sexy. Her web side says that Revolution is Sexy is a consulting service “on how to effect real change in America, staging protests and events that will catapult your message into the media…” 

Two days before, the Rev. Bruce Wright was running on fumes over at the Ohio City Masonic Arts Center, an organizing nucleus for this week’s events. After an all-night car ride from Miami, Florida where he runs an organization called, Refuge Ministries, he’s responding to a reporter’s questions and trying to keep an all-day people’s convention going. He said he’s come to Cleveland to assist in organizing protests during the RNC. “Trump is racist and classist and he targets immigrants, people of color, and Muslims…and we believe neither party is talking about poverty.”  

The next day, Chuck D and Tom Morello of the group, Prophets of Rage, headlined an action titled, “End Poverty Now.” After an hour-long concert a group of over a thousand headed toward the RNC gathering a few miles away trailed by several hundred law enforcement officers. It was a spirited and loud march in the mid-day heat with both protesters and police going out of their way to be well, nice. 

During the march the Planet caught up with one of the organizers, Amir el-hajj Khalid Samad who is the CEO for “A Better Life Aka Peace in the Hood.” He said the goal of this march “was first and foremost to call an end to injustice and send a message to the visitors of Cleveland.” And what is that message? “That we are people of this land, we pay taxes and we own the streets,” said Samad. “Our job is to teach liberation and how to organize.” 

At the very end of the march line the rapper Chuck D was being slowed by by a half dozen journalists. He was frequently asked about Donald Trump. 

“He’s most arrogant if he thinks he can run a country,” he said. 

Chuck D’s fingers punctuated the air. He is a serious man: “Why doesn’t he start by running a city or county…start with a damn town first.” 

Chuck D said it was “disrespectful” of Trump to start with his first job in politics with the presidency. 

Marita Hayes, a retired attorney from Cleveland, was also marching. Hayes said she came today “to remind the Republicans that there’s people who care about one another, and that people are actually feeling safe and protected today by the police, but in communities across America we have to heighten the discussion of police-community relations.” 

Amy Delgado, a retail manager from Florida decided to spend part of her vacation this year with her husband on the streets surrounding the RNC. saying “Primarily, we are here because we’re tired of people waging war on poor people.” She added, “We really hate Trump because of his message of hate, this country was founded by immigrants.” 

Another event organizer, Randy Cunningham, was expecting a larger turnout and was only somewhat satisfied with the march. He is retired from the non-profit housing sector and has lived in Cleveland since 1980. Cunningham was recently represented by the American Civil Liberties Union in a law suit to force the city of Cleveland to issue a permit for this march. “We won the law suit and in fact, the group was made up of not only ‘Organize Ohio” and the “Northeast Coalition for the Homeless,” but “Citizens for Trump” too. 

The protesting effort in Cleveland began before the Republican National Convention’s first gavel even came down. It started last Friday night with “A People’s Justice and Peace Convention” at the Olivet Institutional Baptist Church on Quincy Street. An eighty-two point statement was published and signed onto by seventeen “conveners” including the Cleveland Environmental Action Network, Cleveland Peace Action, Organize Ohio, Sierra Club and Women Speak Out for Peace and Justice. The group’s intentions, according to their booklet, which is itself a kind of alternative convention manifesto published by the coalition, were to “lift up issues and problems that the Republican National Convention (RNC) will not authentically address.” 

These topics include the most pressing political and social issues of today’s progressive agenda: economic and environmental justice, healthcare and immigration reform, adequate funding for public education, a moratorium on deportations, gender equality, ending mass incarceration, and protection from discrimination of all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer individuals. The document also included “international justice planks” that dealt with ending the travel ban to Cuba, the relationship between Israel and Palestine, as well as “end[ing] the militarization of the U.S./Mexican border.” 

The schedule of the week’s alternative convention events reflected the diverse interests of the many organizations involved in collective dissent of the RNC’s platform. The idea seemed to be to fill the streets of Cleveland with a constant drumbeat of ideas and policies so that Clevelanders might not be overwhelmed by the drum beat of a 4-day Republican invasion. This seventeen-member coalition at least wanted to offer multiple opportunities for locals to speak up and speak out on issues important to them. Inherent in these activities was a profound distrust and real differences with the Donald Trump vision of building walls, deporting people and sending more police and military into American communities. 

From an outsider’s perspective it was tailor-made to come out looking chaotic, marginalized and a bit repetitive. If compared with what went on inside “The Q,” the arena where the Republicans were meeting, the people’s convention events were less stage-managed, more ethnically diverse, and with outcomes always uncertain. 

Marches, rallies, neighborhood canvassing, film screenings, public art, non-violence trainings and spoken-word poetry have all been taking place this week and can be followed on the web site, counterRNC.com. It was built just for Cleveland’s progressive community response to the RNC. But by some measures, the number of protesters who’ve turned out this week has been disappointing “Anemic” is how one long-time activist who wished not to be identified put it. He felt that the small crowds of dissenters may in fact marginalize progressive issues even more than they already are. 

Veteran journalist, Jose Lopez, who lives in Maryland and is bureau chief in Washington, D.C. of Notimex, the Mexican news agency, told the Planet he was expecting far bigger crowds of demonstrators when he arrived. “I came with an expectation that the mobilization [because of Trump] would be huge. They’ve been interesting, but not very big.” 

Code Pink’s, Benjamin has a theory. “A lot of protesters were scared away with the ‘open-carry’ issues and white supremacist rhetoric, and as a result these protests are smaller than they would otherwise be.” On the other hand, she also believes the protests that have taken place have been effective. “We had people get into the convention on both nights so far and unfurl banners reading, ‘We can live in peace’ and ‘No hatred, no racism.’ All three members of Code Pink were able to do “major interruptions,” according to Benjamin, “and of course, they were thrown out.” And not to be deterred she added, “We’ll be at the DNC too next week.”

Press Release: Nanci Armstrong-Temple’s Response to the Berkeley Police Association

Nanci Armstrong-Temple, Candidate, District 2 City Council
Wednesday July 20, 2016 - 05:05:00 PM

What happened at last night’s Berkeley City Council Meeting was a disgrace. We are at a critical time and we need police accountability not deferment of a critical issue for the fourth time. 

This over militarization at the expense of our communities of color is unacceptable. That is one of the reasons why I have declined the Berkeley Police Association’s request for an endorsement meeting. We need reform now. 

Here is my letter to BPA explaining why I am declining their invitation: 

July 19, 2016 

Berkeley Police Association 

Attention: Sean B. Barry 

1700 Shattuck Avenue 

Berkeley, CA 94709 

RE: Interview Invitation 

Mr. Barry, 

This letter is an acknowledgement of the Berkeley Police Association’s interest in scheduling a meeting to discuss my candidacy on July 21, 2016, at 6:20 PM at the BPA office at 1834 University Avenue in Berkeley. We are declining this offer. 

We are not seeking endorsement from any organization whose goal is to continue the current national and citywide trends of police violence and lack of accountability to the public. 

Nanci For Berkeley is dedicated to ending state-sanctioned murder and violence against Black, Brown and Poor people. 

Nanci For Berkeley is especially concerned about the murder and serious bodily injury inflicted on Berkeley residents by the Berkeley police, the violence enacted against protesters in the city of Berkeley, the lack of accountability in Berkeley policing, the lack of public transparency in the Berkeley Police Department in general, and the continued march towards a fully militarized police force in Berkeley. 

From your organization, I have received the “2016 Questionnaire for Candidates for Berkeley Mayor and City Council.” The questionnaire asks many questions about my willingness to support and/or fund many items it deems important to the function of its duties. These include: 

• An increase in Berkeley law enforcement officers 

• A K-9 unit for Berkeley 

• Armored vehicle acquisition in Berkeley 

• Tasers for Berkeley law enforcement 

• Easier access to police helicopters for Berkeley law enforcement 

Nanci for Berkeley believes that while the BPA continues to focus on military and compliance based equipment and resources, your organization is overlooking valuable avenues to a true commitment to public service and safety for the people of Berkeley. We know that what makes communities safer is adequate housing, meaningful employment with a livable wage, childcare, high-quality and culturally relevant education, and robust and comprehensive mental health and community programs. 

We look to the example of the whistleblowers in Oakland, who are shining a light on the pervasive criminality and abuse of power in the department. We look to the example of the former Chief of Police in Richmond, who stated publicly that #BlackLivesMatter and refused to participate in the militarization of the police as a force against the people. 

We call upon the Berkeley Police Department and the Berkeley Police Association to heed and follow these examples. We will not help you in your quest to better arm yourselves in the war you are waging against the people, and against justice. 

Nanci Armstrong-Temple 

Candidate, District 2 City Council

Press Release: Roads in Marina reopened

Berkeley Police
Tuesday July 19, 2016 - 08:47:00 PM

Police activity in area of Berkeley Marina area has concluded, all roads have been reopened. No action required.

Berkeley father, daughter drown in Hawaii

Scott Morris (BCN)
Tuesday July 19, 2016 - 05:19:00 PM

A Berkeley father and his 6-year-old daughter both drowned while visiting Hawaii on Saturday, the father when he jumped in the water to save his struggling daughter, local officials said. 

Mark Hornor, 46, and his 6-year-old daughter Mina were visiting the Makapu'u Tidepools on the eastern side of Oahu on Saturday morning while on a trip to the island to visit family, according to Honolulu Emergency Services Department spokeswoman Shayne Enright. 

The tide pools are down a short paved path that requires a hike. The area was windy and the water was rough that day, Enright said. 

At about 11:20 a.m., emergency services received 911 calls reporting two people in distress in the water. Lifeguards responded on personal watercrafts and found Hornor, bringing him back to nearby Sandy Beach Park, Enright said. 

They then went back and found Mina and brought her back to Sandy Beach as well. The lifeguards performed CPR on them as they were taken to a hospital, but they both died there later that day. 

Enright said that Mina had been knocked over by large waves and that Hornor had jumped in to save her.

Flash: Berkeley Police advise avoiding Marina amid reports of man with rifle

Dan McMenamin (BCN)
Tuesday July 19, 2016 - 05:17:00 PM

Police are advising people to avoid the Berkeley Marina this afternoon because of a report of a man with a rifle in the area, a police spokesman said. 

Berkeley police received several reports starting at 12:19 p.m. of a man on the pedestrian overcrossing near West Frontage Road carrying what appeared to be a rifle, police Sgt. Andrew Frankel said. 

He was last seen walking into McLaughlin Eastshore State Park and was described as a white or Hispanic man in his 40s who was wearing a yellow shirt, Frankel said. 

Police are advising people to avoid the area and said no vehicle traffic is allowed into the marina. 

Frankel said California Highway Patrol officers, including a helicopter crew, and East Bay Regional Park District police were assisting to search for the man. The search was still ongoing as of shortly before 2 p.m.

New: Report from Cleveland
Women for Trump: Who are they, and why?

Chris Krohn
Tuesday July 19, 2016 - 01:17:00 PM

What Donald Trump says about women has not been pretty. Comments like “blood coming out of her wherever,” referring to some women as “pigs,” and others as having “an ugly face and body,” perhaps represent who Trump is as much as his orange mane might characterize his appearance. He’s gone so far as to say that Rosie O’Donnell is “ugly inside and out,” he’s criticized Angelina Jolie as being “not beautiful,” and he once even called a breast feeding mom, “disgusting.”

Here in Cleveland at the Republican National Convention this week are hundreds, perhaps thousands of female Trump supporters. I asked more than a dozen Republican women why they were supporting Donald Trump and whether they were concerned about his past comments and behavior concerning women. 

The vast majority of the interviewees said that it was their dislike for the Democratic Party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, more than any other single factor that has pushed them into the Trump camp. Cheryl Howell, 57, is a retired administrative assistant from North Branch, Michigan and her tentative remarks are reflective of many GOP women. Howell carefully chose her words as she stood on East 4th Street, where Republicans party and are entertained by both left and rightwing protesters. Here the rank and file generally open themselves up to interviews. I spoke to Howell as we were standing directly in front of the MSNBC booth, from which live broadcasts spill out in all directions. 

“I don’t want Hillary to be President,” Howell said. “We need less government and Trump has a different outlook.” She paused before criticizing Trump, but is still determined to vote for him. “I’m not thrilled with the some of the comments he has made, and I do think he needs to work on thinking before he speaks,” she admitted. But at the end of the day, she said, she is a party loyalist, and she said firmly, “because he’s made some foolish statements doesn’t mean I won’t vote for him.” 

Cassandra Fairbanks sports several tattoos on her arms and legs. She writes for Sputnik and Teen Vogue and lives in Washington, D.C. As a Bernie Sanders supporter she’s perhaps an anomaly in the Trump camp—at least the Clinton campaign is hoping she is. “I’m very much against Hillary Clinton,” she said. “She took money from Saudi Arabia, which has a horrible track record on women.” Fairbanks then added, “Trump will only attack if we are attacked, and he’s against the TPP.” Finally, she took a deep breath and said, “I only went to Trump after Bernie lost.” 

Karen Williams was out on the town with her friend doing some political tourism. She wondered out loud in my direction why MSNBC’s Chris Matthews would not engage with her, but responded to my questions from a distance of about twenty feet over the two layers of glass surrounding his stage. She assumed a “liberal bias” she said. “He acknowledges you and he won’t even talk to me.” 

Williams is a mom of four who works full-time as a contract manager and lives in Cleveland. She said “Williams” is her maiden name. At work, she goes by her married last name, but “doesn’t want to create any trouble” with fellow employees. She was both circumspect and engaging as we spoke: 

“First of all I believe in the Republican Party platform and he (Trump) was not my first choice, (John) Kasich and (Chris) Christie were my top choices.” 

But why she supports Trump now comes down to “Hillary’s character” Williams said. 

“Hillary will continue with her corruptness, single-payer will bankrupt us, and if you want free education go out and work for it.” 

Judy Jackman is an alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention (RNC). She’s part of the large Texas delegation who wear American flag shirts with blue jeans, and all sport a similar white cowboy hat. You can’t miss them when looking out across the convention floor. 

I found Jackman sitting cross-legged on the cement in front of the Marriot hotel. She was smoking a cigarette and scrolling on her cell phone. Before retiring, Jackman said she taught for more than thirty years, mostly at Amarillo College in Amarillo, Texas. 

“When the primary began I was a Cruz supporter, and I was pleased with what he’s done in Washington.” She took a long drag on her filterless cigarette. Then Cruz finally dropped out and “I ordered [Trump’s] books and listened to his rallies. So, I’m educated,” she added, seeming to react to the criticism that many Trump supporters didn’t get past high school. “The system’s corrupt and he may be the only one that can have an impact on that corruption.” 

I noticed a large button on her flag-colored shirt. It read: “KFC Hillary Special: 2 fat thighs, 2 small breasts…left wing.” So is Judy Jackman at all disturbed by Trump’s negative comments concerning women? 

“You know, the world’s gotten so politically correct,” she said. “I listen to about half of this and wonder whether it’s true.” 

She also added “He was in a position where women wanted his attention too…and is that worse than some of these scandalous affairs Bill Clinton has had?” 

She ended our interview by saying what many here readily conclude: “They just want to go after Trump because it’s newsworthy.” Just then Jackman’s convention “invited guest” sat down on the sidewalk with us and reminded her that she’s also the president of the “High Plains Republican Woman’s” organization. 

I caught up with a fast-walking lawyer, Elizabeth (last name not offered) who is also an alternate delegate from Columbus, Ohio. She was on her way to the evening session on day one of the convention. She said that she was “sort of still working it out. Eventually I will get there.” 

To Trump? “Yes, because it’s about bringing a balance to the Supreme Court…the court, that’s what it’s about for me.” And his rude comments about women? “Insulting and rude comments are always bad” She said before quickly outpacing me, about to confront the vast security checkpoints set up outside and inside the Q Arena, site of the RNC. 

Finally, I sat down with Louisiana delegate, Patti Carter. It was around midnight. The first day’s events were just winding down and the closing prayer was about to be invoked. She sat among a sea of empty chairs. Carter was the last delegate from Louisiana still present at this late hour. 

She told me she just loves these conventions, just can’t get enough. She leaves her husband home, “but he supports my political work,” she said. The couple owns an “oil field service company” in Lafayette, La. So what is it about Trump and women? 

“He just evokes a patriotic passion in people…he’s awakened people,” she said. “It’s not true that women don’t like him, it’s a lie they put out there.” 

But what about his harsh language concerning women? “At first the older women…didn’t care for it, the younger ones talk like that all the time so they don’t care.” 

She paused. “It’s just people getting sick of political correctness. We just want somebody who is non-scripted.” Searching again for the right words Carter said, “They like him because he’s strong.” 

The many women who addressed the convention delegates from the stage on the first night expressed similar opinions-- Melania Trump was a rare exception in not attacking Hillary Clinton and sticking close to a script that praised her husband while extolling her own immigrant past. 

Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst was left as the closing act. The senator offered an unrelentingly harsh critique of Clinton’s record on foreign policy and recent email troubles. Ernst, in a non-prime time speaking opportunity (most of tonight’s prime time was filled by men) was enthusiastic in her condemnation of Clinton’s record even as the delegates were visibly streaming out of the arena following Melania Trump’s speech. 

“Hillary Clinton is unfit to serve as our nation’s commander-in-chief,” exhorted Ernst. She received energetic applause from the few thousand left in an arena that can hold 20,000 when she remarked, “With Hillary Clinton it’s always about her. It should be about you.” 

Chris Krohn is a freelance writer from Santa Cruz who will be reporting for the Planet from the Republican and Democratic Conventions.

U.C. student injured in Berkeley BB gun shooting

Daniel Montes (BCN)
Monday July 18, 2016 - 08:51:00 PM

A University of California at Berkeley student suffered minor injuries in a shooting that occurred on campus early this morning, according to UC Berkeley police. 

Around 12:20 a.m., a group of eight students were sitting and standing on the steps of the school's International House building at the corner of Piedmont Avenue and Bancroft Way, police said. 

The group noticed a person standing across the street holding what appeared to be a gun. The suspect then began shooting toward the building, causing the students to run inside, according to police. 

One of the students was injured during the shooting and was taken to a hospital, police said. 

After a preliminary investigation, officers determined the gun used was possibly a pellet or BB gun. Witnesses also told police a second male suspect may have been in the area setting off fireworks. 

Officers searched the area but were unable to find the suspects, according to police. 

The first suspect who shot at the group was described as a black male about 6 feet tall wearing a dark gray or black hooded sweatshirt and black pants. The second suspect was described as a black male wearing a blue hooded sweatshirt, police said. 

Around the same time, a similar incident occurred at the nearby intersection of Channing Way and Ellsworth Street, according to Berkeley police spokesman Sgt. Andrew Frankel. 

In that incident, a person in a car shot at another person, striking them in the back, possibly with a BB or pellet gun, police said. The victim declined medical attention, according to Frankel. 

The suspect in that shooting was described as a black man about 6 feet tall who was wearing a red hooded sweatshirt and drove a white four-door vehicle, Frankel said. 

Copyright © 2016 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited. 


U.C. Berkeley student confirmed dead in Nice

Keith Burbank (BCN)
Sunday July 17, 2016 - 07:09:00 PM

Officials with the University of California at Berkeley said a 20-year-old junior at the university was identified as one of the dozens of people who died in an attack Thursday in Nice, France.  

The officials said Nicolas Leslie who had been missing since a big-rig barreled through a crowd watching a fireworks show to celebrate France's independence on Bastille Day was confirmed among the dead, the FBI told university officials today.  

"This is tragic devastating news," UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks said in a statement.  

"All of us in the UC Berkeley family - both here on campus, and around the world - are heartbroken to learn that another promising young student has been lost to senseless violence."  

The attack killed at least 84 and injured more than 200. 

Leslie's death follows that of 18-year-old UC Berkeley sophomore Tarishi Jain, who was killed in a terrorist attack July 1 in Dhaka, Bangladesh.  

Three other UC Berkeley students were injured in the attack in Nice, university officials said.  

Two of those students have been released from a hospital and the third is recovering.  

All four were among 85 participants in a summer entrepreneurship program near Nice. 

Leslie was an environmental science major who planned to begin studying in the Haas School of Business next month.  

"Survivor's guilt is one of the strongest emotions I've felt," Leslie's friend Abhinav Kukreja said on Facebook today.  

"I did not know Nick all that while, but out of the last 21 days, I went out with him 20 nights. The one night I was sick, and wanted to stay home, this happened. You're the happiest person I ever knew. Thank you for the best three weeks of my life." 

Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom said on Twitter, "My thoughts are with the family, fellow students, and loved ones of @Cal student Nick Leslie." 

A vigil is planned for 4:30 p.m. Monday on Sproul Plaza on the UC Berkeley campus.

1500 San Pablo Avenue appeal to be heard at City Council

Toni Mester
Friday July 15, 2016 - 12:56:00 PM
1500 San Pablo Avenue: Alt B.
1500 San Pablo Avenue: Alt B.

The health and welfare of children will be a primary focus of the public hearing on the neighbors’ appeal of 1500 San Pablo Avenue at the City Council on Tuesday July 19 at 7 PM.

The appeal has two components: the need for traffic mitigation and a request for design modifications based on expansion of underground parking.

The appeal was signed by 36 neighbors residing on surrounding streets: Jones, Ninth, Tenth, Cedar, and San Pablo Avenue. Their contention is that they were denied due process in influencing the decisions of the Zoning Adjustment Board, which did not adequately consider the detriments of the project and possible mitigations. In two meetings, the Design Review Committee had produced only cosmetic changes to the exterior and better natural lighting of long dark corridors. Neither design review nor ZAB tried to reduce the mass of the five story building that was the neighbors’ main complaint.

The appeal also criticizes the traffic and parking study conducted by AECOM, which looked at six major intersections, four on San Pablo and two on Sixth, but did not examine the patterns on Gilman, Ninth and Tenth, nor estimate the routes that drivers would take during the construction of the Gilman Interchange. Rather than demand a new traffic study, the appellants are asking for concrete bollards on Jones west of the project to prevent vehicles from traversing the adjacent streets. Examples of such diverters are Tenth and Camelia near REI and Berkeley Way at the entrance of Trader Joe’s.  


The neighborhood in the vicinity of the proposed project is popular with young families who are moving into West Berkeley at a rapid rate, driving up house prices – even small cottages - to around a million bucks. According to realtors, the area is hot because of the walkability score, the schools, parks, tree lined streets, eclectic mix of architecture including historic houses, climate, and public transit. The 72 buses including a rapid service, run along San Pablo Avenue, and the 52 uses Cedar Street. The project area is about ten blocks to the North Berkeley BART station. The resulting popularity with young families means the streets are teeming with children, who were much evident at a recent block party. 

The appeal also contends that the ZAB inappropriately granted six waivers to the developer, three in the residential zone adjoining the neighborhood. The density bonus law allows zoning waivers, incentives, and concessions as a reward for building affordable housing. This project includes 16 such units available to very low income people. A waiver is a zoning set aside based on structural necessity, whereas a concession is a change in the code based on financial necessity. When a developer requests a concession, s/he must produce a financial pro-forma that analyzes income and costs, whereby the City asks a third party such as PlaceWorks to evaluate economic feasibility. 

The project site is now occupied by the vacant McNevin Cadillac showroom and adjoining parking lot. McNevin owns the single parcel, which is zoned C-W (commercial west) on the San Pablo Avenue side and R-1A (low density residential) on Tenth Street. An option was once attempted by Hudson McDonald and relinquished by them as a result of the recession following the banking crisis of 2008. 

While C-W mixed use zoning presents opportunity for dense housing, the R-1A is restricted to two dwelling units with setbacks, maximum lot coverage, a 28’ height limit, parking, and usable open space requirements. These standards have been waived to allow for 11 three story townhouses, most attached to each other side-by-side and all attached to the wall of a large parking garage with 148 residential and 25 commercial spaces. The usual 20’ minimum backyard in the R-1A has been exchanged for the garage, eliminating any chance of back doors and windows on the first two floors of the townhouses, which are intended for families. 

The appeal contends that the intrusion of the garage into the R-1A zone, an unpermitted use in our municipal zoning code that differentiates between a parking lot and a parking structure, is actually a concession, not a waiver, and that the developer must produce evidence of financial necessity in not fully excavating a parking garage under the commercial square footage on San Pablo Avenue. 

This has staff talking, and in fact the design of this project might boil down to the opinion of Zach Cowan, the City attorney. In addition to the legal question is the financial: can rents cover the cost of the redesign and added excavation and construction? There could be cost savings in the redesign, but that remains to be seen. 

It’s the Design, Stupid 

The design modifications are the pro-bono work of two architects in the project vicinity who contributed over one hundred hours on behalf of the neighborhood and have presented their ideas to the project developer Amir Massih and Peter Waller, the lead Pyatok architect. The developer is the brother of Kava Massih, the architect of the Berkeley Bowl West and other local buildings; both are Berkeley residents. 

The neighborhood design team came up with two alternatives: Plan A and Plan B, the first removing the fifth floor and repositioning the apartments next to a garden courtyard created by moving the parking garage. Plan A was rejected by the developer and ZAB on May 12. 

Plan B retains about two-thirds of the fifth floor, moves ten units to the garden, and has room for six more in case the developer needs added income to cover the costs. The garden courtyard also serves as the backyard of the townhouses, which would have windows and doors opening onto an area that could be planted with trees in the natural ground and have outdoor seating, a barbecue area, and a playground. Plan B slightly increases the overall density of the project while improving outdoor space for family living. 

There are other benefits to Plan B. The fifth floor is recessed, which creates the appearance of a four story building like the apartments on north Shattuck near Virginia. This reduces the mass and harmonizes with the neighborhood. The recess also allows better natural lighting of the interior courtyard/well and the apartments that surround it on the bottom floor. Our architectural team estimates that 13 units will otherwise never receive any direct sunlight, and the courtyard itself will mostly be shaded. The design revision fixes that problem. 

Plan B upgrades the quality of the project, not only by sun lighting the interior well, but in creating deluxe penthouse apartments with view balconies. The townhouses get ground floor access to the garden courtyard that serves as a collective backyard shared with the garden apartments. 

The interior community courtyard is a European concept, and it’s no surprise that one of the neighborhood architects went to design school in Germany. My brother lives in Copenhagen, Denmark where five story apartment buildings are the rule, built right to the sidewalk, but the entire interior block is a shared parklike space with playgrounds, barbecues, picnic tables, lawns, trees, and benches. 

On Tuesday night, Ed Herzog will present the appeal traffic concerns, and I will speak for the design team. It will be impossible to cover the issues in the short amount of time available. We have been lobbying for the last two weeks and have found that it takes at least a half hour to do the presentation; some of our meetings have lasted an hour. We will have a few minutes, and the public even less time. We ask neighbors to bring the children and support the traffic diverters on Jones Street, a recessed fifth floor, and other features of Plan B. And whatever happens, we ask for civility and dignity to set a good example and to allow the Council to cogitate in an atmosphere of relative quiet. 

A private park or parking? 

The issue of undergrounding parking has emerged as a primary problem in designing for our transit corridors. A subterranean garage lowers the height of the building and releases the ground floor for more creative, sidewalk friendly uses like live/work studios, cafes and restaurants, retail shops, and services. We want to increase the walkability of our commercial streets. The exit/entrance of a parking garage usually intrudes on a neighborhood street, but placing the parking on the ground floor is a huge waste of premium space. 

But undergrounding the parking is expensive, and rather than hide the pro-forma, the developer should release it to staff and the general public. Reading a cost and income spread sheet is not rocket science. Anybody who has run a business should be able to “pencil out” the variables. The neighborhood design team feels that rents from the six extra apartments and the deluxe fifth floor penthouses should pay back the costs. The new owners of the project will be Shorenstein, a huge real estate company with billions in assets; they can easily afford the investment, so it’s quite an insult to have them nickel- and-dime the City of Berkeley. 

As for our internal politics, let’s stop a moment and consider the contradictions of this predicament. Here we are, allowing an apartment building on a transit corridor in the smart growth belief that people will use the available buses and BART, but putting a parking garage where a private park should be located. We are either hypocrites or fools. 

Please come to the appeal public hearing, especially if you live or work in the neighborhood. This project is going to add traffic on Cedar Street, effect the views or property owners to the west and east, and impact the area in many ways, both positive and negative. Unless something happens between now and Tuesday night, we will be asking for a continuance so that staff can get the financial statement from the developer and hash out the design questions. 

If the garage is not excavated and moved towards San Pablo Avenue, the children in the townhouses and other family units will have no place to play except the streets, which brings us back to traffic. Instead of Irish students splattered on Kittredge Street, we’ll have kids at risk of being run over on Tenth and Jones Streets by vehicles coming and going from their own project. 

Toni Mester is a resident of West Berkeley

One UC Berkeley student missing, 3 injured in Nice attack

Keith Burbank (BCN)
Friday July 15, 2016 - 03:01:00 PM

Three University of California at Berkeley students were injured and one remains missing after an attack Thursday night in Nice, France, university officials said today.  

College of Natural Resources junior Nicolas Leslie, 20, is still missing after a big-rig barreled through a crowd of people watching a fireworks display local time as part of Bastille Day, or France's independence day, on a promenade in Nice.  

Friends of Leslie said he escaped injury but university spokeswoman Claire Holmes said she will not confirm that until he is found. 

University officials have been in touch with Leslie's family to help find him and bring him home, Holmes said. Leslie's Facebook page says he lives in Del Mar, California, and is from Milan, Italy.  

Two other students suffered broken legs and another a broken foot in the attack, which follows the death of UC Berkeley sophomore Tarishi Jain in a terror attack by Islamic militants in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on July 1.  

Leslie was one of 85 UC Berkeley students studying near Nice in a 15-day program called Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Europe, which is part of the International European Innovation Academy, according to university officials.  

Studying has been suspended as part of the three-day mourning period in France.  

University officials are offering to bring any students home if they want to come before the program ends July 24. So far, three students have chosen to come back to the U.S. 

University Vice Provost Cathy Koshland and Dean of Students Joseph Defraine Greenwell expressed their sympathy to all students and families and the French community affected by the violence . The attack killed at least 84 and injured more than 200.  

Two of Leslie's friends had this to say on Facebook: 

"Nick Leslie is missing in Nice, France," John Philip Josi said. "He was not injured during the attack but we have not heard from him since then." 

Another friend Abhinav Kukreja said, "Help me find my friend! Nick Leslie has been missing since last night's terror attack. We know he successfully avoided colliding with the truck, but we lost him in the stampede and chaos that followed."

It was not a good week for the NRA (News Analysis)

Gar Smith
Friday July 15, 2016 - 01:11:00 PM

The National Rifle Association likes to argue that people need to carry guns for "self-defense" but real-world experience shows that merely having a gun in your possession can get you killed.

On July 5, Alton Sterling was pinned to the ground after a scuffle with police while selling CDs outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge. The incident, captured on private cellphones and surveillance cameras, shows Sterling immobilized, pinned to the floor by two officers. At this point, one of the police shouts, "He's got a gun!" An officer pulls his revolver from his holster and shoves it into Sterling's chest. He fires point blank. Stirling was shot several times in the chest and once in the back for good measure. As Stirling lies mortally wounded, an officer leans over his body and appears to wrench a gun from inside one of the dying man's pockets.

Initial reports all indicate that it was the presence of a gun that escalated the confrontation that got Stirling killed. At no point do the videos show Stirling actually holding a gun in his hands.

According to CBS News, Abdullah Muflahi, the owner of the convenience store, testified that Stirling "was not holding a gun during the shooting, but that he saw officers remove one from his pocket afterward." Muflahi is now suing the police for allegedly seizing the store's surveillance videos without a warrant. (The police also seized the shopkeeper's cellphone and detained him inside a locked squad car and a jail cell for six hours.)

Chris LeDay, an equipment technician at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, caught the incident on his cellphone and posted it online, where it went viral. Twenty-four hours later, LeDay found himself arrested and charged with "assault and battery." LeDay believes this was an instance of police "retaliation" for posting the video. The charges were eventually dropped and—after spending 26 hours in jail—LeDay was ordered to pay a fine for some unpaid parking tickets and released.

Good Guys versus Bad Guys 

This was the week that proved the NRA's prized meme—"the only cure for a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun"—was demonstrably false. 

On July 6, in Minnesota, Philando Castile was pulled over ostensibly for a broken taillight. (More recently, the officer involved was heard on audiotape explaining that Castile had been pulled over as a possible robbery suspect because he had "a wide-set nose.") 

Castile, it turned out, was legally carrying a concealed weapon. His girlfriend confirmed that Castile informed the officer that he had a gun and a legal permit to carry it. But when Castile followed the cop's order to present his wallet and started to reach for his hip pocket, he was shot point-blank four times. 

To the NRA's closeted chagrin, Philando Castile was "a good guy with a gun" yet, within minutes, he suffered and died, live-streamed, on his girlfriend's Facebook page. 

One Bad Guy With a Gun Outshoots an Army of Police  

On July 7, five Dallas police officers were killed by a US Army-trained vet armed with a 70-year-old SKS semi-automatic carbine. Another seven officers were wounded. Although the police far outnumbered the solitary shooter (they were, ostensibly again, the "good guys") they were out-gunned a lone sniper. 

Micah Xavier Johnson, the combat veteran who opened fire on the police, seemed to send a clear, and disturbing, message: Start putting law-breaking "killer cops" in jail or more cops (good and bad) might start winding up in graves. 

Another disturbing message: The ultimate death of the Dallas assassin—killed by a bomb hand-delivered by a remotely guided robot—marked a troubling escalation in domestic policing. For the first time, an American citizen was targeted for an extrajudicial death inside US borders via a "killer drone." 

Will some future mass-killer be dispatched by a high-flying Predator drone? Will the "collateral damage" that accompanies drone warfare abroad soon become an "unfortunate consequence" of modern policing in US cities? 

More Guns = Greater Safety? 

The NRA was further discomfited by another matter that added to the confusion in Dallas: As many as 30 of the marchers in the crowd of peaceful protesters showed up wearing fatigues, gas-masks, and body armor and brandishing rifles. As of January 1, Dallas (and every other Texas town) became an "open-carry" city. So, when the shooting began in Dallas, cops on the ground couldn't tell who was a threat. 

As Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings noted, the pro-gun marchers wound up diverting attention from the actual gunman. The fact that other individuals were carrying guns "took our eye off the ball for a moment" Rawlings told CBS's Face the Nation

"You can carry a rifle legally and when you have gunfire going on, you usually go with the person that's got a gun," Rawlings explained. "And so our police grabbed some of those individuals, took them to police headquarters and worked it out and figured out that they were not the shooters. But that is one of the real issues with the gun rights issues that we face—that, in the middle of a firefight, it's hard to pick out the good guys and the bad guys." 

Dallas was lucky that day. It is only a matter of time until a single bullet—fired in the vicinity of a crowd of armed, NRA-friendly citizenry—triggers a self-inflicted mass-slaughter with fearful gun-lovers firing in the direction of anyone else they see holding a gun. 

Bad Guys with a Good Guy's Gun 

But the NRA's week of calamity wasn't over. On July 11, two bailiffs in Michigan were gunned down by an inmate they were escorting to a court hearing. On the way to a courtroom, an armed deputy—again, an ostensible "good guy with a gun"—had his pistol plucked from its holster from the prisoner he was entrusted to guard. The courthouse was described as an "extremely secure" environment. The inmate, identified as Larry Darnell Gordon, also happened to be handcuffed. In a matter of minutes, two bailiffs were shot dead and a sheriff's deputy and one civilian were wounded before the inmate was gunned down. For the record: everyone involved was white. 

The NRA Expresses its Concerns 

After each video of a murdered black man went viral, the NRA routinely dithered in issuing a position statement on the murders, relying repeatedly on the lame excuse, "[We cannot] comment while the investigation is ongoing." 

As USA Today pointed out: "The NRA's lack of reaction to or condolences for the deaths of Alton Sterling, 38, Tuesday in Louisiana and Philando Castile 32, Wednesday in Minnesota—both African Americans killed by police while legally carrying firearms—was in stark contrast to the statement they released after the attack in Dallas." In that instance, the gun-rights lobby quickly expressed "the deep anguish all of us feel for the heroic Dallas law enforcement officers who were killed or wounded." 

During a Congressional Black Caucus press conference on gun violence, Rep. Cedric Richmond—a Louisiana Democrat and NRA member—railed against the NRA's "blatant" hypocrisy. 

"I hunt and I fish and I own a gun," Richmond said, "but the last few days have clarified it for me . . . [the NRA's] Second Amendment concern is not a voice of concern for African Americans." 

Adding to the NRA's chagrin, Bahrain, Bermuda and the UAE all placed the US on a watchlist, warning their citizens that gun-saturated America was no longer a safe place for tourists to visit. As PolitiFact noted on January 18, 2013: "More Americans have died from guns in the United States since 1968 than on battlefields of all the wars in American history." The scale of gun-deaths in the US now routinely claims more lives than are lost in many countries with active civil wars—including both Pakistan and Sudan. 

Gar Smith is a Project Censored Award-winning reporter, co-founder of Environmentalists Against War, and author of Nuclear Roulette.

Yes, Clinton's Emails Were Hacked and Now You Can Read Them Online

Gar Smith
Friday July 15, 2016 - 01:55:00 PM

While it is difficult to excuse invasions of privacy when it comes to the rights of ordinary citizens, it is sometimes necessary to oversee and rein-in the abuses of powerful politicians and corrupt business leaders.

Hillary Clinton's emails are so in-the-news these days, it is worth taking a moment to note that, yes, the former Secretary of State's emails were hacked and, yes, as a result, anyone can now spend an afternoon (or all night) online, pretending to be a Global Czar of Espionage while combing through Clinton's electronic exchanges.

There are some surprising discoveries to uncover. Read, for example, the inside story of how the "conquering powers" tried to out-maneuver one another in the hidden battle to take over Libya's oil resources. Read the memo that informs Clinton that the funding behind the deadly attack on the US embassy in Benghazi came from . . . Saudi Arabia.


The emails handed over to government investigators by Hillary and her staff are now posted on a government website (link below). Other emails have been leaked by foreign sources and have recently appeared in a new Hil-specific corner of WikiLeaks -- also available for browsing on-line (link also below). 

Nonetheless, on July 5, FBI Director James Comey announced the conclusion of his agency's investigation of Hillary Clinton's email etiquette and insisted: "We did not find direct evidence that it was hacked successfully but given the nature of the system and the actors involved we would be unlikely to see such activity." 

Comey's comforting words echoed the assurance of the State Department back in May. As Andrew Blake reported in The Washington Times on Friday, May 6, 2016: 

"The State Department joined Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton in rejecting claims made by a Romanian hacker who boasted of breaching the former secretary of state's private email server. 

"We don't have any reason to believe that it might be true," department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters . . . . 

These denials seem to be acts of denial. The fact is, Clinton's emails have been hacked, leaked and let loose on the Internet via Russian sources and WikiLeaks. 

Back in May, I tapped into this trove when I wrote the following exposé: 

* * * 

Hillary's Email Bombshell:  

Saudi's Financed the Benghazi Attack 

Gar Smith / World Beyond War / The Real News / OpEd News / Medium.com  

(May 11, 2016) -- Bernie Sanders may have been chivalrous when he told a beleaguered Hillary Clinton, "The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails." But when it comes to actually reading some of Clinton's confidential exchanges, that's another matter. 

In December 2014, Hillary Rodham Clinton began providing the State Department with personal emails sent or received during her tenure as Secretary of State. The final batch was released on February 29, 2016. The entire collection is now posted on the State Department's Public Reading Room and is searchable via this link

But the collection is not complete. Clinton admits to having deleted 32,000 emails "deemed private." Among the missing are a number of politically charged emails sent to Secretary Clinton by a trusted colleague named Sidney Blumenthal. Blumenthal's emails were allegedly captured and copied by Marcel Lazar Lehel, an unemployed Romanian taxi driver better known as "Guccifer" and "Small Fume." 

In April of this year, Lehel became an instant celebrity after he was identified as the cyber-savvy interloper who had hacked into Clinton's official email account during her time as Secretary of State. (Lehel was recently awarded an all-expenses-paid trip from a Romanian prison to the US where he will spend his days in an American jail cell under an 18-month extradition order.) 

Guccifer's sudden celebrity may seem a bit odd, given that he initially released Clinton's compromised communiqués some time ago—back in 2013, to be precise. 

Before Guccifer became tabloid-fodder in the West, he had already popped a number of eyes by sharing his disclosures with the Russian media organization RT ("Hillary Clinton's 'hacked' Benghazi emails: FULL RELEASE") on March 20, 2013. (A second bundle of Guccifer's Blumenthal-Clinton emails was released on March 22, 2013.) 

Given the current frenzy over Guccifer and his revelations, it is remarkable that his headline-grabbing "leaks" went virtually unreported when he first twisted the spigot back in 2013. At the time, the mainstream media took little notice. The only "news outlets" to pick up on Guccifer's cyber-pranks were a few conspiracy sites like The Smoking Gun and Cryptome. [Note: You may experience trouble trying to access the Cryptome website.] 

The tranche of Clinton's "damn emails" subsequently posted by RT included some pretty damning revelations. Perhaps none was more shocking than the disclosure that the deadly attack on the American consulate in Benghazi on September 11, 2012—which took the life of US ambassador John Christopher "Chris" Stevens—was secretly financed by powerful figures in Saudi Arabia. 

This information was contained within the text of four messages Secretary Clinton received from Blumenthal. It should be noted that Blumenthal was not an employee of the US State Department. He was an employee of the Clinton Foundation, earning salary of $10,000 a month as a consultant providing memo-worthy Intel to Secretary Clinton. On the side, Blumenthal also was serving an entrepreneurial role inside a Libyan company called Osprey that was hoping to reap lucrative medical and military contracts under the new post-Qadaffi government. (Since such business deals could require State Department approval, Hillary Clinton might be asked someday whether this relationship with Blumenthal posed a "conflict of interest.") 

The Saudi's Role in the Benghazi Attack 

One confidential memo dispatched to Clinton on February 16, 2013 bore the warning: "The following information comes from extremely sensitive sources and it should be handled with care." In this memo, Blumenthal included a lengthy report from an "individual with sensitive access" who, "speaking on condition of absolute secrecy" described the role of the Mokhtar Belmokhtar (a former Al-Qaeda fighter from Algeria who became the leader of the Al-Murabitoun militia) in a January 16, 2013 hostage-taking incident at an Algerian gas facility. (A four-day battle eventually freed 685 Algerian workers and 107 foreigners and left 39 foreign hostages dead). 

Blumenthal's source then turned to the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi which was mounted by Ansar al Sharia, another radical militia. "This individual adds that this information provided by the French [intelligence] service indicates that the funding for both attacks originated with wealthy Sunni Islamists in Saudi Arabia. During July and August 2012, these financiers provided funds to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb (AQIM) contacts in southern Europe, who in turn passed the money onto AQIM operatives in Mauritania. The money was used to recruit operatives and purchase ammunition and supplies." 

"In a separate conversation," Blumenthal's memo continues, "Algerian DGSE [the state intelligence agency] officers note in private that Libyan intelligence officers tell them that the Benghazi attacks were funded by these financiers in Saudi Arabia." 

Alleged Saudi funding of the attack in Benghazi is particularly troubling in light of the mounting suspicions that the 28 censored pages of Washington's official 911 report spell out the role that powerful officials in Saudi Arabia played in supporting the hijackers who brought down the World Trade Center towers in 2001. It is disturbing to discover that Hillary Clinton was informed of Saudi involvement in the death of Ambassador Stevens in 2013 and has opted to remain silent. 

The Blumenthal memos make many references to the complex role of foreign intelligence—most prominently the CIA and Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (SIS)—both during Qaddafi's reign and after the unraveling of Libya's government. 

One of Blumenthal's sources refers to the "heightened public interest in the liaison relationships conducted by the CIA and the SIS with Qaddafi's intelligence and security services" and mentions the international organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) and its "efforts to tie Western governments to human rights violations committed under Qaddafi." 

According to one of Blumenthal's sources, Mohammed Yousef el-Magariaf, a Libyan politician who served as the president of the General National Congress and "interim head-of-state," was concerned that his "enemies are working to take advantage of his suspected links to the CIA" and predicted "this situation will only grow more complex as Qaddafi's son, Saif al Islam Qaddafi and al Senousi are brought before Libyan courts" since It was believed "both men will be linked to Western intelligence during their trials." 

Compounding the problem, Blumenthal warned Clinton, were "messages to Libya from the CIA and SIS [that] were found among the Tripoli Documents published by HRW indicating that the United States and Britain were eager to help Libya capture several senior LIFG [Libyan Islamic Fighting Group] figures." 

Blumenthal's memos reportedly constituted an article Clinton received relating to unfolding events inside Libya. Did Clinton actually read these intelligence updates? There is evidence that she did, at least on August 27, 2012, when Blumenthal dashed off a note to alert Clinton that Libya's newest president-to-be wished to "seek a discreet relationship with Israel." According to the documents released by Guccifer, Clinton replied: "If true, this is encouraging. Should consider passing to Israelis." 

The Role of Oil 

Blumenthal's confidential missives to Secretary Clinton included an assurance from one unnamed source that "the investigation of the murder of the United States ambassador" was one of many efforts "related to what he sees as his most important role—rebuilding the confidence of the international business community in its ability to operate in Libya safely and efficiently." 

Of course, when one speaks of "business" in Libya, that means "oil." 

One of Blumenthal's contacts confided that "the Italian government is stepping up its activities in Libya, and the president expects them to pressure to [sic] Abushagur [Mustafa Abushagur, a Libyan politician] appoint an individual like Ben Yezza to the oil ministry, where he can favor ENI [Italy's National Hydrocarbons Authority] and other Italian firms." 

In another posting, Blumenthal advises Clinton that any "comprehensive plan for the oil industry will face opposition from individuals with links to foreign oil firms, primarily foreign trained engineers who hope to see greater privatization in the oil an [sic] oil services industries in the wake of the revolution." Nonetheless, Clinton was advised: "The Italian government will continue to increase its investment in Libya in an effort to get ahead of the other foreign firms concerned in Libya." 

The French Connection 

Other memos from Guccifer's 2013 trove explored French President Nicolas Sarkozy's motivations for taking the lead in the military assault on Qaddafi's Libya. In one memo from April 2, 2011, Blumenthal explained that France was concerned that Qaddafi's $7 billion plan to create a Pan-African currency would deal a disastrous blow to the French economy, specifically the CFA franc, a widely circulated currency that had dominated West Africa since the days of French colonialism. 

Publicly, Sarkozy insisted the French military airstrikes we're simply designed to defend Libyans who wished to "liberate themselves from servitude." Blumenthal's Libya memos, however, suggest that France's motives had little to do with liberation. Instead, Blumenthal's Libyan confidantes cited Sarkozy's four primary goals: access to Libyan oil; increased French influence in Northern Africa; new French military bases in the region; and a public relations boost prior to Sarkozy's 2012 election. 

Secretary Clinton was likely not surprised to read that French intelligence had been working with the post-Qaddafi National Transitional Council to assure that French companies—not the Italians—enjoyed primary access to Libya's oil resources. One memo, dated March 22, 2011, was actually titled "How the French created the National Libyan Council, ou l'argent parle." 

"L'argent parle," of course, is French for "money talks." Blumenthal informed the Secretary that covert agents of France's General Directorate for External Security (DGSE) had been conducting "a series of meetings" in which they passed beaucoup "money and guidance" to members of the Libyan opposition. The memo continues: "[S]peaking under orders from [Sarkozy, they] promised that as soon the [Council] was organized, friends would recognize [it] as the new government of Libya." There was a clear quid pro quo: "in return for their assistance . . . the DGSE officers indicated that they expected the new government of Libya to favor French firms and national interests, particularly regarding the oil industry in Libya." 

For his part, Sarkozy officially denied coveting Qaddafi's carbon-fueled coffers and, ultimately, it was not France, but China and Russia, who wound up controlling most of Libya's "liberated" oil assets. 

* * * 

New Email Disclosures 

Since posting the Benghazi Bombshell story, a new collection of Hil-mails has been posted on the WikiLeaks website. One email from this new batch of high-level communiqués provides more detail on the role of oil in promoting the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi—and the subsequent battle to manage and manipulate the oily "spoils of war." 

One of these previously secret emails provides insights into the whys and hows of the war on Libya and its aftermath. This exchange between Clinton and her close aid Sid Blumenthal describes the feeding frenzy as oil-addicted world powers maneuvered to take advantage of the post-Gaddafi chaos. 

[Note: Emphasis added.] 

France, UK, et al, Jockeying in Libya/oil 

UNCLASSIFIED U.S. Department of State 

Case No. F-2014-20439 Doc No. C05788788 

Date: 01/07/2016 


From: H  

Sent: Sunday, September 18, 2011 7:57 PM 

To: 'sbwhoeoi _ 

Subject: Re: H: Intel: allies in Libya/oil. 

Sid Thx. I'll try to check in w you this week. 

--- --- 

From: sbwhoeop [mailto:sbwhoeop 

Sent: Thursday, September 15, 2011 01:32 PM 

To: H 

Subject: H: Intel: allies in Libya/oil. 


September 16, 2011 

For: Hillary 

From: Sid 

Re: France, UK, et al, jockeying in Libya/oil  

During mid-September 2011 French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron traveled to Tripoli to meet with and express support for the leaders of the new government of Libya under the National Transitional Council (NTC). According to knowledgeable individuals, as part of this effort, the two leaders, in private conversations, also intend to press the leaders of the NTC to reward their early support for the rebellion against Muammar al Qaddafi

Sarkozy and Cameron expect this recognition to be tangible, in the form of favorable contracts for French and British energy companies looking to play a major role in the Libyan oil industry

According to this source, Sarkozy feels, quite strongly, that without French support there would have been no revolution and that the NTC government must demonstrate that it realizes this fact. For his part, Cameron appears most concerned that despite British support for the rebels during the fighting, certain members of the NTC remain focused on the fact that the British government and oil industry had good relations with the Qaddafi regime, particularly the firm British Petroleum (BP). 

At the same time, this source indicates that the government of France is carrying out a concerted program of private and public diplomacy to press the new/transitional government of Libya to reserve as much as 35% of Libya's oil related industry for French firms, particularly the major French energy company TOTAL. 

Sources with access to the highest levels of Libya's ruling NTC, as well as senior advisors to Sarkozy, stated in strict confidence that while much of this pressure is being exerted at very senior diplomatic and political levels, the French external intelligence service (Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure/General Directorate for External Security -- DGSE) is using sources with influence over the NTC to press the French position

At present, as NTC leaders are consolidating their positions in Tripoli, they are attempting to balance the interests of the new government and the Libyan people against the need to recognize the support provided to them by France and other major powers in their struggle with Muammar al Qaddafi. These same sources indicate that NTC President Mustafa Abdul Jalil and the NTC leadership continue to be highly suspicious of the activities and goals of the governments of China and Russia in Libya. 

According to these sources, representatives of the Emir of Qatar have privately warned that while both countries pursue foreign economic policies that work to the disadvantage of the host government, it is somewhat easier to deal with firms associated with Russia. With this in mind the NTC has entered into an agreement with the Amsterdam base energy firm of GUNVOR International BV, which has close ties to the Russian government and the Russian oil industry

The NTC has also entered into an initial agreement, allowing TOTAL, to purchase and ship Libyan oil. This individual believes that this agreement does not set aside any specific portion of the Libyan oil industry for TOTAL, as Sarkozy would like

(Source Comment: NTC President Jalil continues to favor awarding foreign business agreements on a case by case basis, and has stated privately that he is reluctant to support entering into a comprehensive agreement of any kind with France, or any other country or entity. He is, however, prepared to favor firms from France, the United Kingdom, and the United States in specific cases, based on the support they provided for the NTC during the rebellion

He and his advisors are somewhat hostile toward the position of the Italian government and the Italian energy firm ENI, based on their past support for Qaddafi and their caution in coming to terms with the NTC before the fall of the previous government. Jalil harbors similar sentiments toward the UK government and British Petroleum (BP) but does recognize that they moved away from Qaddafi to support the NTC after France began active involvement in the Libyan uprising. 

Interestingly, although Jalil and Prime Minister Mahmoud Jebril have begun a low key power struggle within the NTC, they agree on these points regarding foreign business contracts. A separate source added that the French government in general and the DGSE in particular privately harbor a degree of mistrust toward Jalil based on intelligence indicating that he was responsible for the assassination of NTC military commander General Abdul Fatah Younes in July 2011. Younes was extremely well connected to the DGSE and the French military.) 

In the opinion of these sources the NTC leadership is more comfortable dealing with large private firms that are, in turn, well connected to friendly governments. To this end, and in addition to the GUNVOR and TOTAL contracts, the NTC has signed agreements with the Swiss energy firm GLENCORE, as well as VITOL of Qatar to service and ship oil as the fighting dies down across the country. These sources add that both firms provided active support to the NTC during the rebellion and are held in high regard by Jalil, Jabril and the rest of the leadership. 

During early September 2011 sources with excellent access to the highest levels of major Western European governments stated in confidence that, despite the stepped up fighting in recent weeks, there has been an unusually low level of damage to the infrastructure of the Libyan oil industry. This is true even in the western portion of the country and around town of Sirte, which remained under the control of forces loyal to Qaddafi. 

The NTC is already shipping approximately 300mm barrels of oil per day, primarily via GLENCORE and VITOL. The level of production is expected to increase when the fighting begins to die down in those areas still loyal to Qaddafi. (Source Comment: According to an individual with excellent access to the governments of Western Europe, the NTC must continue to make the final defeat and capture of Qaddafi their principal preoccupation, and avoid falling into political infighting and attempts by individuals to profit from the revolution. Failure to do so will lead to an extended period of violence and political chaos. 

Among the most important points the NTC leadership must address are its ability to field an organized and disciplined military force, while providing battlefield medical support for its troops, and humanitarian aid to the civilian population. In the opinion of this knowledgeable individual, until these goals are met the NTC will struggle to maintain credibility as an established government in Libya and among its foreign supporters.) 


Now, thanks to the Internet, anyone can look into Hillary's email bag. For anyone who wants to play armchair "counterspy," here is a link to the WikiLeaks site: 


Just type in a keyword and see what pops up. 

I just typed in the word "shoes," wondering if there might be some interesting emails between Mrs. Clinton and Huma Abedin discussing favored brands of fashionable footwear. 

Instead, I came across a touching farewell note from "Abdulwahab," a departing ambassador from Yemen. 

This hacked message reveals something reassuring. More often than not, these messages are thoughtful, well written, and full of reflection and personal consideration. These are not angry tweets pounded out by shallow Twitterheads. Many of these messages are written by people who display grace and manners. 

Herewith, Abdulwahab's Farewell Note: 

Subject: Fw: goodbye 

Farewell email from yemeni ambassador. 

From: wajeeh58 

Sent: Sunday, July 08, 2012 01:17 PM 

To: ablinken; capriciamarshall 

Abedin, Huma; fpandith 

Subject: goodbye 

My tenure as the ambassador of Yemen to the US has finally ended after fifteen long years. I have already left the US, and I am now in [- - -] and then I go to Yemen. . So, next time we meet, where ever in this universe, I will have no glamor. Stop calling me "your Excellency", I am not any more. That beautiful house I once occupied and used to celebrate life with all of you will now host ghosts until a new ambassador is appointed. 

This will take time, since my president is in no rush, it seems. What a beautiful journey I had in DC, the most beautiful city on earth, with the most beautiful people. I am looking back at the whole experience and can only find joy, despite the tremendous challenge that came with the job. If time can go back to the past and I have a wish, it will be serving in DC, in the same capacity, at the same age, and will definitely be hanging out with you, no one else. I will be happy to re-live the same experience, maybe with just a little different last couple of years :-). 


I will miss you all. I am excited I am finally changing jobs, but I am really sad I am leaving behind the best friendships I have ever built. I am especially sad to leave like this, with out saying proper goodbyes to the many friends I love. A habit I need to change maybe. But then, I know I will see you again soon wherever. You will always have a room in my house and you will have to come and visit. 


"Adioses" ("Good-byes") 

by Pablo Neruda 

Goodbye, goodbye, to one place or another, 

to every mouth, to every sorrow, 

to the insolent moon, to weeks 

which wound in the days and disappeared, 

goodbye to this voice and that one stained 

with amaranth, and goodbye 

to the usual bed and plate, 

to the twilit setting of all goodbyes, 

to the chair that is part of the same twilight, 

to the way made by my shoes. 

I spread myself, no question; 

I turned over whole lives, 

changed skin, lamps, and hates, 

it was something I had to do, 

not by law or whim, 

more of a chain reaction; 

each new journey enchained me; 

I took pleasure in places, in all places. 

And, newly arrived, I promptly said goodbye 

with still newborn tenderness 

as if the bread were to open and suddenly 

flee from the world of the table. 

So I left behind all languages, 

repeated goodbyes like an old door, 

changed cinemas, reasons, and tombs, 

left everywhere for somewhere else; 

I went on being, and being always 

half undone with joy, 

a bridegroom among sadnesses, 

never knowing how or when, 

ready to return, never returning. 

It's well known that he who returns never left, 

so I traced and retraced my life, 

changing clothes and planets, 

growing used to the company, 

to the great whirl of exile, 

to the great solitude of bells tolling. 


Gar Smith is co-founder of Environmentalists Against War, a Project Censored award-winning reporter and the author of Nuclear Roulette. 



Evil v. Good: it's the same old battle, still going on

Becky O'Malley
Saturday July 16, 2016 - 10:14:00 AM

“What fresh hell is this?”

The quotation is attributed, most often humorously, to Dorothy Parker, supposedly what she said when she answered the door, or perhaps the telephone.

It crossed my mind as I’ve been trying to decide what, if anything, is worth writing about this week.

Folks, we’ve have a rough couple of weeks, experiencing what the New York Times headlines as “a violent news cycle’. Yes, you could call it that.

A nightclub full of people attacked by a man claiming religious motivation. Two Black men senselessly gunned down by police within days of each other. Five policemen gunned down by a one crazed man openly carrying a legally-authorized assault weapon designed to kill many people quickly and efficiently, which it did. Another crazed man who didn’t need a gun running down a couple of hundred men, women and children strolling along a Riviera esplanade on a lovely holiday, killing very close to a hundred of them.

People all over the world seem to be going berserk (and that doesn’t even count whatever’s happening in Turkey as I write, which may or may not be irrational and might or might not succeed.)

It’s tempting to attribute all of this to the influence of the media: too much publicity given to too many bad actors which encourages others to emulate them, but you know what? It’s been going on for a long time. 

Sadly, truly, hatred of human beings for one another has surfaced intermittently from time immemorial, all the way back to Cain and Abel if you believe that origin story, or to the Neanderthals vs. Homo Sapiens if that’s how you explain the past. (Lately it’s come out that the last two groups might even have had sex in the mix to make things worse.) 

A constant thread in human history is xenophobia, fear of foreigners. In a milder form it’s behind a lot of what has produced Brexit and Trump’s spite wall, as well as quasi-Fascist governments in places like Hungary and Poland. It’s a word with Greek roots (ξένος ,xenos, meaning "strange", "foreigner", and φόβος, phobos, meaning "fear"). 

I learned about the more virulent form of xenophobia in my high school Latin class, reading Cesar’s Gallic Wars, in which he blamed detestable, uncivilized foreigners as a cover for seizing their assets. 

Nothing’s new. “No War for Oil” says fading Berkeley bumper stickers, but in fact that’s what the last decade of Middle East invasion by you know who is really about: oil. 

Oh, but it’s radical Islam, you might have heard some say. Yes, religion has repeatedly over history been used as an additional disguise for greed when xenophobia’s not enough. Christians excelled at it over the centuries, but they weren’t the only ones. 

Consider, for example, the Albigensian Crusades. They were a bloody but eminently successful attempt by the dominant Catholic faction in the Christian church to eliminate a competitive cult which had taken hold in the Languedoc region of France at the beginning of the 13th century. The bait dangled before the crusaders by the Pope: kill them all and you can have their stuff. And it worked, with the climax in the battle known as the Massacre of Bezier. Maybe as many as 20,000 humans were killed in a small town whose whole population was approximately that size: men, women and children, with very little credible effort on the part of the crusaders even to figure out which were faithful Catholics and which were heretics. 

There’s a famous Latin quote from a bishop about this: Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius. (Kill them all, because the Lord knows which ones are his). It’s a slogan which might well be adopted by the contemporaries who’ve been murdering in the name of Islam, since they have been killing Moslems and non-Moslems indiscriminately in recent attacks. 

The Cathar heretics in Languedoc tended to believe that good and evil were equally powerful in the world, and they may have had something there. Evil has certainly been rearing its ugly head lately in a big way. It’s tempting to believe that an actual Satan is behind the fresh hells which seem to be popping up everywhere. I can’t be quite that literal, but I do think it’s wise to expect the worst from humans, so if things do go right you’ll be pleasantly surprised. 

Take, as a case in point, what seems to be the war by the police on all too many African-American men and some women. It’s popular to say that most police officers are fine, it’s just a few bad apples that are not. 

That’s a mistake. It is all too easy for most police officers, like most humans, to perceive the “other” as the person with darker skin than your own and to fear that person. A former Seattle police chief has lately been on the public radio talk circuit with a theory that all police forces need to be retrained from the ground up, because they’re all afraid of people of different races from their own, and I think he’s on to something. 

In the cases which have become unexpectedly public in recent months, it’s clear that the officers who fired the shots which killed harmless Black men were operating in panic mode, scared out of their minds with no real excuse except irrational fear of Blacks. I would bet a lot of money that if some bold psychologist were to experiment with wiring up a few police officers—no, in all fairness, any similar group of White Americans—it would be possible to see the fear centers in their brains lighting up when they saw pictures of Black men doing nothing at all. It will take a whole lot of unlearning to solve this problem. 

A recent NextDoor discussion I saw featured a sizeable group of North Berkeleyans all bent out of shape because a report of a mugging in their neighborhood didn’t say whether or not the suspect was Black. A few patient liberals attempted to explain that if racial names are used in crime reports with no other identifying characteristics it exposes all others of that race to unwarranted scrutiny and possible danger, but the fearers just didn’t get it. 

Bottom line: xenophobia, religious fanaticism, greed disguised as religion: It’s all been done before, and it will be done again. Evil is everywhere, always has been, though definitions differ. For recently anointed candidate Mike Pence, it seems to be incarnate in same sex marriages, though others might think Donald Trump’s serial adultery is a more classic case in the same genre. 

Regardless, I think we could all agree that killing innocent people is wrong, at least in principle. Even Pence and Trump might agree that some of the cases documented on cell phones by witnesses have nothing good about them. 

With a constant supply of fresh hells facing the human race, it’s tempting to take up arms for one side or the other, but someone will always outgun you. Even though I'm White, when one White Northside Berkeley neighbor said online that he wasn’t worried because he had a whole lot of guns in his house, I was glad I live on the other side of town, particularly on behalf of my darker-skinned friends and family members. I'm afraid of that guy, for sure. 

Ainsi soit-il..as they say in France: And so it goes, as it always has. 

Public Comment

New: Convention

Bruce Joffee
Tuesday July 19, 2016 - 10:01:00 AM

Melania Trump had no words of her own to describe her husband. She had to steal Michelle Obama's praise of Barack Obama, spoken at the 2008 Democratic convention. There is a word that does describe the Shifty Huckster and his believers: unbelievable.

Unbelievable yet again

Bruce Joffee
Saturday July 16, 2016 - 05:40:00 PM

At the post-Twitter announcement press conference that re-announced the selection of Mike Pence as his running mate, the Shifty Huckster said, "Ted Cruz is a good guy," twice. This, after months and months of the wannabe Bully-in-Chief calling Cruz a liar and denigrating Cruz' father. This is yet another example of a small, insecure con artist saying whatever he wants the audience to hear at any given moment, irrespective of previous statements or any actual reality attached to his words. His words are literally, and actually, unbelievable. 

It leaves me to wonder why the lemmings who follow this Pied Piper believe that in spite of all the self-contradicting lies, this bankrupting pretend billionaire would actually fulfill their dreams of making this great country "great again."

An Open Letter to Congresswoman Barbara Lee about the Democratic platform

Raymond Barglow
Friday July 15, 2016 - 12:26:00 PM

Dear Representative Barbara Lee,

I belong to the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club here in the East Bay. What I say below reflects my own views, not any official position taken by the Club. I want first of all to thank you for your consistent support for non-violent alternatives to war and specifically for your opposition to Congressional “Authorization for Use of Military Force” in the aftermath of 9/11 and for your effort to end that authorization in May of this year.

I am also writing to express appreciation for the role you, as a member of the 2016 Democratic Party Platform Committee, have played in shaping the platform. I am one of those who voted for Bernie Sanders in the recently completed primary contest. Sanders has now endorsed Hillary Clinton, and both of them have called for a united campaign going forward. I hope – and I’m sure you do too – that we will all work together to elect progressive Democratic Party candidates in November and to implement a platform that both you and Sanders have acclaimed. (Sanders has hailed the document as “the most progressive Democratic platform in the history of our country.”)  


Among the contentious issues that the Platform Committee has dealt with are U.S. policy in the Middle East and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. On these two issues, you voted for a more moderate wording than the ones that Sanders delegates supported, and some critics on the left have taken you to task for doing that. To be sure, there are honest differences of opinion among progressives on these issues. I’d like you to know, though, that some of us who supported Sanders in the primary understand the positions you have taken, even if we do not fully agree in every instance. 

Regarding Middle East policy, Sanders-appointed Platform Committee members have pointed out that the 2016 Draft Platform does not take equally seriously Israeli and Palestinian longings for peace and justice. Still, as Jeremy Ben-Ami, president and founder of J Street, points out, "The new language breaks with the party's practice of framing its aim of establishing a Palestinian state solely in terms of Israel's interests,” and “By including parallel acknowledgment of Israeli and Palestinian rights, the party underscores its belief that the only viable resolution to the conflict -- a two-state solution -- requires recognizing the fates of the two peoples are intertwined.” 

The Draft Platform denounces the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, and in so doing does not, it seems to me, do full justice to this non-violent effort. Moreover, BDS proponents do not speak with one voice, and we should recognize the diversity of opinion among them. It’s noteworthy, though, that some of the most prominent critics of Israeli policies, including Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, and Rabbi Michael Lerner, have opposed the Global BDS Movement. As J Street points out, that movement “does not support the two-state solution, recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state, or distinguish between opposition to the existence of Israel itself and opposition to the occupation of the territory beyond the Green Line.” Hence the criticism of BDS in the Draft Platform is understandable, although the BDS Movement has contributed to raising awareness about the injustices imposed upon Palestinians by Israeli policies.  

Regarding the proposed TPP, here again progressives do not all agree. The Draft Platform stops short of opposition to this trade proposal, although it specifies conditions that trade policy must meet in order to be acceptable. These conditions are expressed in the Draft as general principles that it will be our task, as leaders and grassroots of the Democratic Party, to implement: 

“While we believe that openness to the world economy is an important source of American leadership and dynamism, we will only approve new trade agreements if they support American jobs, raise wages, and improve our national security. We believe any new trade agreements must include strong and enforceable labor and environmental standards in their core text. Trade agreements should crack down on the unfair and illegal subsidies other countries grant their businesses at the expense of ours. It should promote innovation of and access to lifesaving medicines. And it should protect a free and open internet. We should never enter into a trade agreement that prevents our government, or other governments, from putting in place rules that protect the environment, food safety, or the health of American citizens or others around the world.” 

It would have been better if the Draft Platform had expressly rejected the TPP. Yet the language in the Platform is strong and will support our efforts to ensure that future trade agreements protect the needs of workers and consumers in this country and abroad. 

As we all recognize, the Democratic Party is a notoriously diverse “big tent” that brings together Americans of multiple social classes, ethnicities, and persuasions. Hence the Party Platform is bound to be controversial and contested. Yet the drafting process has resulted in solidly progressive policy positions: an ambitious jobs plan, strong support for public education, abolition of the death penalty, expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit to more working people, Wall Street reform, a surtax on millionaires and billionaires, expansion of social security, anti-racism, immigration, universal healthcare, strong support for Tribal Nations, climate change and clean energy, reproductive rights, LGBT rights, and criminal justice reform. 

We should acknowledge, however, that the Draft Platform is deficient in its foreign policy perspective. The Platform should champion the peaceful resolution of international conflicts and advocate a major decrease in the military budget, freeing up funds to rebuild civilian infrastructure and provide millions of new jobs. I know that this is a cause that you hold dear too, and I appreciate the support you have given to it. 

Notwithstanding the neglect of the militarism issue in the Draft Platform, it does address major challenges that face our nation, and it will now be up to us, during and after this election season, to work together to put the Platform’s proposals into practice.

Politicians set bad example for children

Romila Khanna
Friday July 15, 2016 - 02:10:00 PM

hy do politicians want to smear the character of other people by using abusive words? People who are candidates to be President of the country should mind their language. Technology and media quickly relay the name-calling to a wide public. Even young children hear the news with their parents. 

I was visiting a friend. The child addressed his mom, “You crooked mom!” I was shocked to hear it. “Why don’t you correct your child? He is only a four year old.” She said, “ When politicians use nasty words for one another no one stops them.” 

She told me that she was watching TV the other day and heard Republican nominee Donald Trump used bad words for the Democratic nominee. It was the same word her son had just used. He was napping nearby and must have heard the news clip. 

Children like to imitate our language, our interactions and adult behavior all the time. We think they are too young to understand our words and actions, but this is not true. Research shows that even the unborn baby’s brain gets messages of happiness or rejection listening to their family and other surrounding sounds (including that from broadcast media). 

I think the public should make sure that all those who are in government use civil language and have good morals. 

We talk about raising the educational standards of the students. Our students learn a lot -- good or bad -- through technology and through verbal interaction with their teachers. 

I hope our leaders will modify their daily interactions with each other to be more perfect role models for students of all ages, and especially for early learners


THE PUBLIC EYE:Hillary Can Win Big

Bob Burnett
Friday July 15, 2016 - 12:24:00 PM

Hillary Clinton staggered out of the worst week of her 2016 presidential campaign with a 3 percent lead over Donald Trump. Nonetheless, it’s likely she will move forward to a resounding victory in November. Here’s what Hillary needs to do. 

1. Avoid further screw-ups: Although Clinton came out of the email hearings with her lead intact, the process further damaged her trustworthiness ratings. We’re now at the point where voters dislike both major candidates but continue to have stronger negative feelings for Trump. (Significant numbers of voters indicate they will support the Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson.) 

Going forward, the Clinton campaign can afford no further screw-ups. If they stay the course, Hillary will gradually enhance her positives – she’s a disciplined campaigner. Her biggest problem will be keeping Bill Clinton under control; in 2016 he’s proved to be a loose cannon. 

The July 25th Democratic convention must be free from controversy. Clinton needs to reconcile with Bernie Sanders and his supporters. She also needs to take the correct tone regarding the “Black Lives Matter” movement. 

2. Stay on message: The primary reason that Hillary leads Trump has been her ability to stay on message – after Bill Clinton met with Attorney General Loretta Lynch at the Phoenix Airport, Donald Trump had 10 days to blast Hillary on the email kerfuffle but failed to do so effectively – he continually veered off message. 

In the next four months, Clinton needs to stay on message; talk about jobs, terror, immigration, and gun control. She must not respond to Trump’s negative attacks on her – this should be done through surrogates. Hillary can build her leadership, competence, and trust numbers by staying on message while Trump fires random hate missiles at her. 

3. Bring excitement to her campaign: While the idea of Hillary Clinton, a woman, becoming President is exciting, Hillary herself is phlegmatic. The contrast between stolid Hillary and crazy Donald may be enough to guarantee Clinton’s victory, but it would be ideal to spice up the Democratic campaign with an exciting running mate. At the moment, the best choice seems to be Elizabeth Warren. 

While only a year younger than Hillary, Elizabeth seems more youthful and has a stronger appeal to Millenials. Warren has proven herself an effective advocate of progressive policies and an unusually effective Trump-basher. Elizabeth can be the foremost critic of all things Trump – in effect, the bad cop – while Hillary focuses on positive policy positions – plays the good cop. 

The Trump-led GOP convention (July 18) will probably be chaotic. Democrats should contrast that with a calm but exciting convention (July 25). 

4. Cleanup press relations: Hillary has not held a full-scale press conference in 2016. (Instead, she has given one-on-one interviews to cable news outlets such as CNN and MSNBC.) She has good reasons for this – the FBI email investigation was hanging over her head – but after the Democratic convention would be a good time for Hillary to give several press conferences. (And make herself more accessible to media outlets in swing states.) 

5. Roll out the campaign: The Los Angeles Times recently reported that Hillary has outspent Trump 15 to 1 ($45 million versus $3 million) on TV advertisements in swing states. 

In a recent Politico article, Clinton had the dominant field organization in 10 swing states. “92 percent of GOP insiders said Clinton was better positioned on the ground.” 

Hillary should make effective use of surrogates such as President Obama, Vice President Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Bill Clinton, Michelle Obama, and others. (Trump does not have anywhere near that number of surrogates.) 

Today, in swing states such as Florida and Nevada, the Clinton campaign is registering new voters and bombarding voters with Hillary ads. At the moment, Trump is doing nothing. 

6. Reintroduce herself to voters: The July 25th Democratic convention will be an opportunity for Hillary to reintroduce herself to voters. She has to do this as, coming out of the email kerfuffle, her negative approval rating is at 56.9 percent – almost as bad as Trump’s 60.2 percent. 

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, pollster Peter Hart suggested three things Clinton should do to boost her favorability ratings. “Reveal your compassionate side. In your campaign, you have shown mettle but you have lost your warmth and charm.” (Recently, Ezra Klein discussed Clinton’s compassionate side.) 

Hart’s second suggestion was: “Show you leadership skills. [Many] Voters have no sense of your special leadership abilities.” Finally, Hart suggested: “Be bolder and more focused… [Your campaign has] too many words and too many issues, and in the end there is no message. ‘Hillary for America’ and ‘stronger together’ are themes that say nothing.” These are wise words that Hillary should heed. 

7. Win the debates: Trump and Clinton will debate on September 26th, October 9th, and October 19th. Clinton should overwhelm Trump. 

There’s a real possibility that Hillary Clinton will win big on November 8th. To accomplish this she needs to run a flawless campaign after the Democratic convention. 

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


ECLECTIC RANT: McAllister/Jones standoff demonstrates SFPD revised use of force policy saves lives

Ralph E. Stone
Friday July 15, 2016 - 12:51:00 PM

On July 6, I was on the 5-Fulton bus going home. The bus pulled into the bus stop at Jones and McAllister Streets here in San Francisco, when we saw a shirtless man facing two police officers with their guns drawn. The bus quickly moved on. I didn’t know the conclusion of the incident until it was reported in the news later that day. 

The new use-of-force policies are given as part of the reason why no one was killed or suffered life-threatening injuries in this incident. The revised use-of-force policies, among other things, require a police officer to use de-escalation techniques to decrease the likelihood of the need to use force. The officer is supposed to attempt to understand the reasons why a person may be non-compliant or resisting arrest. That is, the person may not understand the situation because of a medical condition; mental, physical, or hearing impairment; language barrier; drug interaction; or emotional crisis, and have no criminal intent as opposed to the shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later. 

Under the new leadership of SFPD Police Chief Toney Chaplin, I commend the police officers for their handling of the incident without a death or life-threatening injury. 

SFPD’s revised use-of-force policies also require of officers, when possible, “to balance the severity of the offense committed and the level of resistance based on the totality of the circumstances known to or perceived by the officer at the time,” and to “use the lowest level of force necessary when encountering a subject who is armed with a weapon other than a firearm.” In the Jones and McAllister incident, the subject had a firearm, but the police deployed bean bag rounds and flash bangs in a successful attempt to resolve the standoff. The police did not have to use their firearms. In the Mario Woods incident, Woods was armed with a knife and while the police did not appear to be in danger, they fired their weapons anyway. 

The use-of-force polices seem commonsensical. I cannot believe these or similar policies are not already taught at the SFPD Academy or as part of ongoing officer training. In other words, were the shootings of Alex Nieto, Amilcar Perez-Lopez, Luis Gongora, Jessica Williams, and Mario Woods in accordance with the way San Francisco police were trained before the current use-of-force policies? I don’t believe that. 

The difference between the incident at Jones and McAllister streets and past shooting incidents is the public outrage over past police shootings and the under-pressure resignation of Police Chief Greg Suhr. While the revised use-of-force policies are welcome, the real causes of the past conduct by some officers was a lack of accountability and a lack of strong leadership from the police chief on down to the sergeants. 

The Mission of the San Francisco Police Department follows: 

“We, the members of the San Francisco Police Department, are committed to excellence in law enforcement and are dedicated to the people, traditions and diversity of our City. In order to protect life and property, prevent crime and reduce the fear of crime, we will provide service with understanding, response with compassion, performance with integrity and law enforcement with vision.” 

Hopefully, the San Francisco Police Department has turned the corner in fulfilling its mission. At least their handling of the Jones and McAllister incident is a promising new beginning.

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: You Don't Have to Like Your Psychiatrist

Jack Bragen
Friday July 15, 2016 - 12:49:00 PM

In 1984, I disliked the psychiatrist I saw at Kaiser in Hayward. I had been noncompliant with medication and, as a result, had been put on injections of Prolixin administered by a nurse--so that persons who were treating me could be certain that I was medicated.  

The psychiatrist was blunt in his explanation that something was wrong with my brain. He showed me a picture of a cross-section of a brain and pointed to the area that he said was creating the problem. I wasn't yet prepared to wrap my consciousness around that one.  

I experienced medication side effects that caused me a lot of suffering--I had a lot of body stiffness, along with medication-induced depression.  

Yet the psychiatrist was probably correct. Something hadn't worked right, or I wouldn't be in that situation. He hadn't tried to soften anything in his explanation of what was wrong with me. He hadn't denied the fact that I was getting medication side effects. In fact, he had lowered my dosage when he observed that my upper body was very stiff. I still didn't like him.  

The psychiatrist who I later saw at Kaiser Martinez was nicer. He still believed I needed medication and said I would need it "for quite a number of years." I didn't like hearing that. However this psychiatrist referred me to a therapy venue that was helpful, and referred me to Department of Rehabilitation, where I would later get job training. He also said that being schizophrenic didn't mean I wasn't intelligent; he said it affected "harnessing of intelligence." Thus, the pills from this doctor were easier to swallow.  

Later in life, psychiatrists were usually more likeable. Yet, there is no rule that you have to like your psychiatrist. She or he is there for the purpose of treating you for a disorder, and this is sort of a business transaction--or at least, you could see it that way. A doctor's bedside manner is a somewhat separate issue to whether or not they are any good at what they do.  

Your psychiatrist is not your friend. She or he may tell you things that you don't want to hear. If they can convince you to remain medicated, and can prescribe the right meds and the right dosages, and/or, prescribe other treatment, they have done their job.  

You don't have to like your psychiatrist--just be civil, and try to work with him or her. The treatment and your cooperation with it will benefit you. It is important to realize that the many of the medication side effects ease up after the first year to two. If you are unlucky enough to get Tardive Dyskinesia, it is possible that the psychiatrist will try to find a solution to that.  

(For the uninitiated; Tardive Dyskinesia is a reaction to antipsychotic medication causing involuntary movements of the mouth, face and upper body. It is disfiguring, it can be crippling, and it is often irreversible, including when antipsychotic medication is discontinued. It happens to a small percentage of those who take antipsychotics.)  

Mental illness isn't fair, Tardive Dyskinesia isn't fair, and the medications are far from perfect. But trying to go noncompliant, because you believe your psychiatrist is an ass, is not a solution. These illnesses do not go away without treatment, in fact they get worse. The best way of keeping most of your civil liberties intact, keeping your brain from deteriorating, and making a better life for yourself, is to cooperate with treatment, and in fact, to be proactive about it.  

It took me a number of years to come to terms with the fact of being mentally ill. I held on for a very long time to the notion that, at some point, I would be able to cure my problem with meditative techniques. 

As it turned out, the meditation wasn't in vain. It gave me the ability to like myself despite all of my imperfections. It is a help with internal challenges of facing life as a disabled person. It helps me in general, because I don't have to be controlled by baser impulses, and instead I can choose my actions consciously much more of the time. In addition, meditation helps with getting along with whomever my psychiatrist is at the time, even though he or she may tell me things I don't want to hear.  

Just to remind my readers that you can get my self-published memoir, "Schizophrenia: My 35-Year Battle - Vignettes of Hardship and Persistence." If you have difficulty ordering it from Amazon, you could look it up on LULU.com, the publisher, and get it directly from them. I also have other books that ought to be read, that are gathering cyberdust. For example, my science fiction collection, titled, "Revised Short Science Fiction Collection of Jack Bragen," also available on LULU. These works are self-published not because of them being of poor quality. I have opted to self-publish for other reasons.  

Arts & Events

AROUND & ABOUT: JAZZ: Kalil Wilson Sings at the Mystic Hotel Saturday Night & the Calfornia Jazz Conservatory Sunday Afternoon

Ken Bullock
Friday July 15, 2016 - 02:29:00 PM

I've been talking about the street in the clubs," said jazz singer Kalil Wilson, "and if a conversation interrupts me on the street, I talk about the clubs! They complement each other--the street uses other colors on the palette you don't find in the clubs."

While mentioning his upcoming appearances in Berkeley and San Francisco, the brilliant El Cerrito vocalist told about something new in his diverse career that's crossed genres from composing and songwriting to studying ethnomusicology, singing opera and jazz to rhythm & blues and funk--and now busking, playing on "the street."

He's set himself up with a keyboard at downtown Berkeley BART, at Rockridge and on Fourth Street, sometimes alone, sometimes with members of his band Love or other musical friends and collaborators. And, pleasantly surpised by what he's found, enjoys it.

"Jazz musicians, like classical musicians, haven't always enjoyed listenership from modern sensibilities," Kalil noted. "And in the clubs, where I'll be concentrating on making amazing music with my friends, people talk about other things than the music." 

"But to my amazement and joy," he continued, "I found out the street is full of people who love music, more than in the clubs. And it can pay as much as in the clubs or more. There's more of a flow of people. Members of the community, especially parents with children and people over 60 who have fun, and the kids will dance and drop money in the basket. And there're young people who realize jazz is youthful, it has a cool demeanor. Playing on the street's not as pristine an audial environment; there's traffic noise. But sometimes it's quieter than in the clubs." 

Kalil was born in Oakland, where he grew up on 51st and Shattuck, a half mile or so from Berkeley. His father, Baba Ken Okulolo, leads popular local groups like the West African Highlife Band, Kotoja and the Nigerian Brothers. His mother Jackie is a classical flautist. Kalil's homelife was filled with music. He attended Albany High and the Young Musicians Program at UC Berkeley, then studied ethnomusicology at UCLA, where he decided to concentrate on singing jazz around the time he graduated. "I never really did jazz before. I studied world music and most of my performance credits were opera." 

With pianist Berkeley Everett, Kalil began recording, "and after recording three tracks, it became clear we wanted to do more." He met the great jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell, head of Jazz Studies at UCLA and a mentor to Berkeley Everett, who called him "a very special young talent with a unique sound that crosses through genres." The two began to "hang out tons," and Burrell invited Kalil to join him onstage at gigs. He's since performed with Omara Portuondo, Esmeralda Spaulding and Carlos Santana, among others.  

Kalil speaks with brilliance and passion about the resonances between what're usually seen as very distinct genres of music and singing, from opera and jazz to hip-hop and calypso, reflecting on his expertise as both performer and scholar: "Calypso's a Greek word; it's a little more carnivalesque, giddy--like Swing, or Louis Armstrong. There's Commedia Dell'Arte in it! Very ribald, full of social commentary ... Before 1950, even 1960, jazz and classical music weren't in a disconnect with people's minds. They had the same excitement, the same vocalism, whether it was with arias under an ornate curtain or sung in a dance hall with an electrified band." 

Now living in El Cerrito, Kalil performs frequently with vibist Yancey Taylor at Geoffrey's Inner Circle in downtown Oakland ( geoffreyslive.com ), Birdland Jazzizsta Social Club (formerly of Berkeley, now on MLK between 44th & 43rd in Oakland: birdlandjazz.org ), no-cover dates at Sliver, the pizzaria on Center Street between Shattuck & Oxford ( sliverpizzeria.com/music/ ), most Mondays, 6-9, with his band Love (Dan Marshak, piano; Chris Bastian, bass and Genius Wesley, drums--all East Bay natives) at Club Deluxe ( www.clubdeluxe.co/calendar/ ) in the Haight-Ashbury of San Francisco, and will be performing 7-10 p. m. tomorrow night (Saturday, July 16) with the Parker Grant Trio in the jazz series at the Burritt Room & Tavern of the Mystic Hotel, 417 Stockton, across from the Sutter-Stockton Garage, off Union Square ( www.mystichotel.com )--no cover at either venue ...  

--And will also perform at downtown Berkeley's California Jazz Conservatory (née The JazzSchool) at 4:30 this Sunday, the 17th, with Dan Marshak (of Love), piano; Cindy Browne, bass; Isaac Schwartz, drums ( https://cjc.edu/concerts/ ) Tickets: $12. ( www.kalilwilson.com --& videos on YouTube 

Edwin Outwater Conducts Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday July 15, 2016 - 01:45:00 PM

San Francisco Symphony offered two performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Friday-Saturday, July 8-9, at Davies Hall, conducted by Edwin Outwater, now in his third season as Director of Summer Concerts at SF Symphony. Beethoven’s Ninth, of course, is a major milestone in any conductor’s career, and Outwater met the challenge with an excellent performance, leading his orchestra, soloists and chorus in a fiery yet tightly controlled reading of this great symphony.  

Scholars have long noted that Beethoven’s Ninth traverses a trajectory from darkness to light, or, put another way, from initial chaos to ultimate transcendence. One interpretation, initially put forth by Wilhelm von Lenz and Otto Baensch, noted similarities between Haydn’s Die Schopfung (Creation) and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and argued that here Beethoven painted a musical picture of the cosmos beginning in chaos, moving through strife to create form, achieving a primal state of nature in the pagan world of Arcadia, then ultimately moving beyond Arcadia to the eternal realm of Elysium. This interpretation owed a lot to Friedrich von Schiller, who wrote not only the poetic song An die Freude (Ode to Joy), which served Beethoven for his finale to the Ninth Symphony, but also wrote the famous essay “Naïve and Sentimental Poetry,” in which Schiller argued that humanity must not seek to recreate a primal Golden Age, an Arcadia, but must look forward to create an eternal realm of Elysium. This general interpretation of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was also taken up by the eminent French writer Romain Rolland in his book on Beethoven. (For an excellent summary of these positions, see the opening chapter of Maynard Solomon’s Beethoven Essays, Harvard University Press, 1988.) 

To be sure, there are hints, both musical and textual, that seem to support such an interpretation of Beethoven’s Ninth. Certainly, the opening measures of this work seem to express a sense of emergence or of crystallization, of something coming into being and seeking form. There are also foreshadowings in each of the first three movements of the Ode to Joy theme; and it is as if in these variants Beethoven were seeking an ultimate expression of Joy he had not yet fully and clearly elaborated. The second movement, a scherzo, is rhythmically driving and full of strife, but it also contains a trio that offers solemn respite from strife and a forward glimpse both to the Arcadian calm of the Adagio and to the Elysian transcendence of the Finale’s Ode to Joy.  

The Adagio begins with two bars of clarinets, bassoons, and strings in an upbeat mode. Two themes are introduced, varying in gait, key, and mood. When the second theme is dropped, the first is developed in great detail, achieving a harmonious serenity that could symbolize either Arcadia or the music of the spheres. Under Edwin Outwater’s leadership, the San Francisco Symphony gave a radiant reading of this marvelous Adagio.  

However, for Beethoven, whether or not he had in mind Schiller’s insistence that a return to Arcadia was not possible, the serenity of his Adagio was clearly not the ultimate goal toward which he was striving. Rejecting the Adagio theme, he writes: “Also not this; it is too tender; we must seek something more animated.” And when Beethoven discovers what will be his Joy theme, he writes: “This is it. Ha! It is now discovered.” 

To move from the serenity of the Adagio to the immense drama of the Ode to Joy, Beethoven introduces a dissonant fanfare of drums and brass, played fortissimo. It is music of great portent, and of great struggle. Following this outburst, the cellos and basses offer a growling protest. Then these low-register instruments begin to articulate the Ode to Joy theme. Playing softly, they are joined, first, by the violas, then by the violins. As the strings gradually increase the volume, they are joined by the brass, and ultimately the whole orchestra articulates the Joy theme in full, playing it now fortissimo. After a return of the dissonant fanfare that opened the movement, Beethoven launches into the Ode to Joy, prefaced by words Beethoven himself added to introduce Schiller’s poetic text.  

“O Freunde, nicht diese Tone! Sondern lasst uns angenehmere anstimmen; und Freudenvollere.” (Oh friends, put aside these sounds! Let us be more civil, and speak more joyfully.”) In this SF Symphony performance, these words were robustly sung by bass Adam Lau, who brought power and clear diction to his interpretation. Following this introduction, Adam Lau began the Ode to Joy with the familiar, inspiring words, “Freude, schöner Gotterfunken, Tochter aus Elysium” (“Joy, beautiful godlike spark, daughter of Elysium.”) Now the chorus enters, singing of the way all men become brothers under the soft wings of Joy.  

Following this inspirational moment, all four soloists praise nature. In San Francisco, the soloists, in addition to bass Adam Lau, were tenor Mario Chang, soprano Wendy Bryn Harmer, and mezzo-soprano Zanda Švėde. Their voices blending beautifully, they soared above the chorus, who soon joined in. Suddenly, a march cadence begins, as the text of Schiller’s Ode to Joy speaks of the harmony of the spheres and the orbit of planets. “Brothers,” admonishes the text, “follow your path joyfully, as a hero who rides toward victory.” This is followed by a repeat of the movement’s opening refrain of “Freude, schöner Gotterfunken.” Then the choral basses sing of a kiss for the millions, a kiss for the world. To this they add that a loving father must live above the canopy of stars. The whole chorus then asks if we humans sense the creator? “Seek him above the canopy of stars,” they sing. “Above the stars he must live.” Beethoven then launches into a fugue on the opening refrain of “Freude, schöner Gotterfunken.” This fugue, sung by all four soloists and the entire chorus, backed by the full orchestra, then brings the Ninth Sympny to its ecstatic climax. Under the direction of conductor Edwin Outwater, the orchestra, the soloists, and the Symphony Chorus led here by Eric Choate, combined forces to offer an excellent, rewarding reading of Beethoven’s masterful Ninth Symphony. 

Monteverdi’s L’INCORONAZIONE DI POPPEA Staged by Opera Theater Unlimited

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Wednesday July 20, 2016 - 01:07:00 PM

Opera Theater Unlimited is a young company, having produced till now only Benjamin Britten’s Turn of the Screw, which ran last September at San Francisco’s Exit Theatre on Eddy Street. Now they have produced a lively, well sung, exquisitely acted L’Incoronazione di Poppea by Claudio Monteverdi, which was offered Friday-Saturday, July 15-16, at Exit Theatre.  

Opera Theater Unlimited’s Artistic Director Sarah Young is committed to producing opera in small venues where audiences can experience opera up front and on an intimate basis. Exit Theatre, which is also home base for Black Box Baroque Opera, is an ideal venue for such small-scale productions. Vocally, there was nothing small-scale in this production of L’Incoronazione di Poppea (The Coronation of Poppea). For the most part, the singers were all well-trained musicians with excellent vocal technique and plenty of power. Many of them are graduates or ongoing graduate students at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.  

Monteverdi’s Poppea was this great composer’s last opera, and though it premiered in Venice in 1642 and tells a sordid tale of Roman Emperor Nero’s besotted infatuation with the courtesan Poppea, whom he marries and crowns Empress after divorcing and banishing his aristocratic wife Ottava, L’Incoronazione di Poppea is an astonishingly modern opera in both plot and musical complexity. Much of the appeal of Monteverdi’s Poppea hinges on the performance of the singer portraying Poppea. Back in 1975 I had the privilege of hearing the great mezzo-soprano Tatiana Troyanos sing Poppea at San Francisco Opera with tenor Eric Tappy as Nerone (Nero). Troyanos was sensational as Poppea! Her voice was lush, tonally rich, and sensuous. Troyanos caressed her vocal duets with Nerone without needing to overact the physical caresses she offers her lover. 

Alas, however, this was not the case with Opera Theater Unlimited’s Poppea, soprano Danielle Cheiken. In a cast that was largely superb vocally, Danielle Cheiken was the one exception. I found her voice strident and often shrill. Her acting, moreover, was almost embarrassingly over the top. Unable to convey her caresses vocally, Cheiken was literally all over Nerone physically, even crawling barefooted toward him in a negligee across the entire width of the stage to implore her imperial lover to linger with her instead of departing to attend to affairs of the Empire. When Cheiken was not wrapping herself around Nerone’s body, she often resorted to caressing her own body. As I said, it was embarrassingly over the top. 

What made this production work, however, was the excellence of all the other singers, a good job of stage direction by Sarah Young, and fine instrumental work by four musicians under the leadership of conductor Edward Hong. The four instrumentalists were Julija Zibrat on first violin, Azat Fishyan on second violin, James Jaffe on cello, and Paul Dab on keyboard continuo. In the live acoustic space of Exit Theatre’s intimate venue, these four musicians produced a lush sound that almost made one think a full-scale Baroque orchestra was playing. 

In the role of Nerone, mezzo-soprano Marissa Simmons was outstanding. Her vocal technique was flawless, as was her diction in Italian. Whether billing and cooing with Poppea or angrily reacting to the sententious nostrums of the Stoic philosopher Seneca, Marissa Simmons’ portrayal of Nerone was spot-on. Having recently obtained her Master of Music degree from SF Conservatory of Music, where she studied with Catherine Cook, Marissa Simmons seems poised to have a fine career in professional opera. Also excellent in a trousers-role was mezzo-soprano Ellen Presley as Ottone, the former lover of Poppea who returns from abroad at the outset of the opera only to find Poppea shacked up with Emperor Nero. Whether conveying Ottone’s anger and dismay at Poppea’s betrayal or conveying Ottone’s quick rebound to settle for the charms of Drusilla, Ellen Presley sang impressively and acted convincingly. Soprano Sara Hagenbuch was a delightful Drusilla, ever patient in her love for Ottone, for whom she offers her life in falsely confessing to having tried to kill Poppea when it was in fact Ottone who did so, acting on the orders (and threats to his own life) from Nerone’s neglected wife Ottavia. In the role of Ottavia, soprano Jill Morgan Brenner was sensational. Her poignant farewell aria when banished by Nerone, “Addio Roma, addio patria, addio amici,” was a vocal highlight of the opera.  

Baritone Bruce Wiatrack was adequate as Seneca, though perhaps this role is better allocated to a stentorian bass. Wiatrack succeded, however, in suggesting the gravitas of this Stoic philosopher but also the specious quality of his maxims and flattery. Among this production’s several cuts in the score, particularly glaring was the omission of the male chorus of Seneca’s disciples who try to persuade their mentor not to commit suicide when ordered to do so by Nerone. The “Non morire, Seneca, Non!” chorus is a fine, dramatic piece of music, and it was sorely missed here. In the role of Arnalta, Poppea’s nurse or lady-in-waiting, soprano Melissa Costa was excellent. Arnalta is a salty, Mama Roma sort of woman, full of brim and vinegar. She cautions Poppea about the dangers of love, warns of snakes lurking in the grass, and excoriates her mistress as a crazy woman when Poppea won’t listen to her warnings. But Arnalta also sings a lovely, tender lullaby to Poppea when her mistress takes a nap on-stage in Act II. Near the opera’s end, when it is clear that Poppea will be crowned as Empress, Arnalta gloats that now she herself will be treated as a lady, flattered by everyone seeking favors from the new Empress, and she admits that while knowing it’s all bullshit (as the supertitles put it), she’ll absolutely revel in her newly won rise in social station. Singing this role in a nasal but low register of her soprano voice, Melissa Costa was a totally convincing Arnalta. Finally, kudos are in store for two young sopranos, Maggie Manire and Katie Nix, who performed several roles each in this production. Whether portraying Nerone’s bodyguards, Nerone’s drinking buddy Lucano, or various gods and goddesses, Manire and Nix were vocally impressive and dramatically expressive. One last regret I have, however, is that in this production the final love-duet between Nerone and Poppea, the immortal “Pur ti muro, pur ti godo,” was not nearly as sublimely sensuous as it should be. Instead of situating this duet, which closes the opera, in the imperial bed, (where it was staged by SF Opera in 1975), director Sarah Young had her two principals walk around each other at a distance on a bare stage, looking like dazed zombies instead of besotted lovers gloating in their supreme moment of narcissistic glory.