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Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin celebrated on Tuesday night with Kate Harrison, after preliminary election returns indicated that she will be his successor in City Council District 4.
M. H. O'Malley
Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin celebrated on Tuesday night with Kate Harrison, after preliminary election returns indicated that she will be his successor in City Council District 4.


Forum tonight on the homelessness crisis

Thursday March 09, 2017 - 10:34:00 AM

Tonight, Thursday, March 9, In partnership with Northbrae Community Church, BOCA (Berkeley Organizing Congregations for Action),
the Berkeley Food Network and the North Berkeley Public Library, please join Councilmember Sophie Hahn for a Community Forum onThe Homeless Crisis in Berkeley.

Thursday, March 9, 5:00-8:00 pm

Northbrae Community Church, 924 The Alameda

5:00-6:00 pm - Information Fair
to connect with nonprofits and service agencies 

6:00-7:00 pm - Presentation
Featuring Paul Buddenhagen, City of Berkeley
Director of Health,
Housing, and Community Services 

7:00-8:00 pm - Question & Answer

Deplorables battle to a draw in Berkeley

Becky O'Malley
Monday March 06, 2017 - 10:28:00 PM
A Trump fan who also believes in free speech!
Cynthia Papermaster
A Trump fan who also believes in free speech!

My sister in Southern California called me on Sunday night because she’d seen reports of violence in Berkeley on Saturday and she was worried. Knowing me for many years as she has, she thought I might have been there.

Well, we did go to the variously named Provo /Martin Luther King, Jr./Civic Center Park as we do on many Saturdays, mainly to buy tangerines at the Farmers’ Market (Brokaw, Gold Nugget, the best). And yes, we knew the Trumpistas would be there for comic relief, and no, we were not disappointed.

Really, there’s just one sobriquet that fits many on their team, “deplorables”. Unfortunately that also fits many on our team. The two groups, or at least those who came spoiling for a fight, deserved each other. Losers, all of them, and deeply pathetic.

Except for the black costumes and kerchief masks on some of our deplorables you’d have trouble telling the tribes apart. Each had a remarkable percentage of oddly decorated participants. Many, many variously ugly tattoos. At least one man in a skirt on each side. Lots of hair-dye, though theirs tended to unreal orange and platinum where ours ran to blue tones, probably not because they were Dems however. Braids and tie-dyes everywhere, both sides. Motorcycle jackets and boots for both.

Each side also had a reasonable number of seemingly peaceable hangers-on urging their cohorts to “be nice, don’t fight, eat a piece of fruit”. A self-labelled Grandmother for Trump was matched by someone of a similar age I recognized as a hardcore supporter of Berkeley’s Unitarian-Universalist Social Justice Committee.

I decided I wasn’t there to do neutral reporting, since the reliably impartial Bay City News would supply that for the Berkeley Daily Planet, and I saw Tracey Taylor from Berkeleyside snapping pictures. In fact, it appeared that the media outnumbered the demonstrators, both the pros with the fancy cameras and the amateurs with their cells. The reporters took to interviewing each other, because frankly it was pretty boring most of the time. 

As a non-reporter for the day, I allowed myself to be interviewed by both Italian and Korean video crews, who seemed confused when I simply repeated the tried-and- true ACLU/FSM party-line: I don’t like what they say, but I’ll defend their right to say it. Not to the death, though, I thought, as I repeatedly had to back off when folks with sticks started snarling and poking at one another. 

In between dodging some ineffectual skirmishes and one-punch fist fights I made a vain attempt to talk some sense into both sides, as did the daughter who was with me. Just for fun I started a few conversations with the Trumpettes with barely-remembered college Russian for “do you speak Russian”, a tip of the hat to the latest news about who their guy was hanging with. They just looked puzzled, and even more puzzled when I explained why I was speaking Russian, because clearly they hadn’t heard about that stuff. That’s not the guy they voted for. 

They were, most of the pro-Donald protesters, such an old-timey California crowd. They came from the tin-hat wing of the Republican Party, formerly the John Birch Society, dried-up wearers of bolo ties, diehard opponents of water fluoridation, homeschoolers, vaccination deniers. 

Oh, wait. That could describe some of the anti-Trumpers who showed up too, couldn’t it? A friend on the scene described how he’d gone to Sacramento before the election and worked a block, converting at least one Trumper to a Bernieite. Some such converts later voted for Dr. Jill, another vaccination-denier, not necessarily a plus for our team, but very Old Cal. At 500 paces, it was hard to tell them apart. 

Also on the scene as observers were quite a few Berkeley regulars that I knew, some like me attempting to speak sense to nutsos, with little success. One told me that she’d seen an anti-Trump woman stab a pro-Trump woman with an umbrella. Mrs. Pro then bashed Ms. Anti with the pole from her sign, causing some small amount of blood to flow, which was greeted enthusiastically by colleagues who’d brought bandages.  

Both sides were observed with canisters of pepper-spray, and some on each side appeared to have been sprayed. The Black Bloc-heads seemed to have smoke bombs and the Bikers for Trump firecrackers, with some of each deployed from time to time causing the crowd to scream. 

We picked up a couple of nasty-looking poles, one with nails sticking out of it, but we couldn’t decide if it was supposed to be a weapon or was just incredibly poor carpentry. 

Toward the end of the afternoon a smallish contingent took off to march around the block. I couldn’t figure out which set started out first, but by the time they got back the two groups were intermingled and indistinguishable. 

I’ve frequently been critical of the Berkeley Police, but on this occasion they acquitted themselves admirably. They maintained a constant non-violent uniformed presence, moving in a line toward the participants when things started to get contentious, but as BCN reported there were only ten arrests and seven minor injuries.  

I can’t speak to that myself, since we got really bored about 4:30 and just went home. Reports of violence, I was happy to reassure my sister, were greatly exaggerated. 




Flash: Kate Harrison wins in Berkeley City Council District 4

Tuesday March 07, 2017 - 11:11:00 PM
Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin celebrated on Tuesday night with Kate Harrison, after preliminary election returns indicated that she will be his successor in City Council District 4.
M. H. O'Malley
Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin celebrated on Tuesday night with Kate Harrison, after preliminary election returns indicated that she will be his successor in City Council District 4.

This is the vote total as of Tuesday night in the race for the Berkeley City Council district vacated by Mayor Jesse Arreguin:

Kate Harrison: 1278 votes = 63.71%

Ben Gould: 728 votes = 36.29%

Any votes which were dropped in boxes at Berkeley City Hall or at the Alameda county clerk's office or which are still in the mail have not been counted, but there are not enough ballots outstanding to change the winner.

Suspect who tried to run down officer spotted in Berkeley

Jeff Shuttleworth/Kiley Russell (BCN)
Tuesday March 07, 2017 - 03:26:00 PM

Berkeley police are searching in the area of Aquatic Park for an auto burglary suspect who allegedly tried to run down a Richmond officer with a car early this morning, prompting the officer to fire multiple rounds in self-defense, authorities said. 

Berkeley police said they received a call at 12:19 p.m. from a community member about a suspicious vehicle that possibly was involved in the Richmond incident. 

Officers who responded to the call found the suspect's vehicle abandoned in the area of Channing Way and Fourth streets, police said. 

The driver of that vehicle was seen running northwest on Channing Way toward Aquatic Park, which is just east of Interstate Highway 80, according to police. 

Numerous Berkeley officers are searching the area for the driver. Community members who live or work in the search area are asked by police to report any suspicious behavior or similarly described suspects to call (510) 981-5900. 

Richmond police spokesman Lt. Felix Tan said that at about 1:10 a.m. today, officers responded to a call about a man breaking into a truck on Sutter Avenue. 

When the first officer arrived at the scene, the suspect took off running and the officer gave chase but lost sight of him on Carlson Boulevard, Tan said.  

A second officer arrived a short time later and began looking for the suspect on foot. 

"Then all of a sudden this silver Mercedes darts out at the officer with no headlights on and trying to run him over," Tan said. "The second officer then, feeling that he was going to be run over and killed, he shoots at the driver in hopes of stopping the car." 

Police do not yet know if the shots hit the driver, Tan said. 

The suspect continued driving north on Carlson Boulevard, police said. 

The Mercedes-Benz was described as an early 2000s model silver four-door sedan and the suspect was described as a black man between 20 and 30 years old wearing a black hooded sweatshirt, according to Tan.

Tuesday is last day to vote in District 4 Berkeley election

Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Monday March 06, 2017 - 08:57:00 PM

Voters who live in Berkeley City Council District 4 in the city's downtown area have one more day to vote in a special vote-by-mail election pitting graduate student Ben Gould against veteran activist Kate Harrison.

Voters may still drop off ballots in a drop box in front of Berkeley City Hall at 2180 Milvia St. that's open 24 hours a day or at the Alameda County Registrar of Voters office at 1225 Fallon Street in Oakland, which is open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Tuesday. Voting by mail began on Feb. 6 and ends on Tuesday. Ballots received by Friday will still be counted.


The special election is needed because incumbent councilman Jesse Arreguin was elected to be Berkeley's new mayor in November and took office in December, leaving the District 4 seat open. 

The vacancy means that currently there are only eight votes on council, instead of the usual nine, and that fact has resulted in at least one deadlock on the council. 


Kate Harrison, 58, who works as an international justice advisor, says she's running because, "Berkeley deserves bold progressive, leadership - the kind I've provided the community as a government executive, commissioner and small business owner." 

In her ballot statement, Harrison said, "I helped pass Berkeley's rent control ordinance, led a successful campaign last year that provides $4 million a year for affordable housing and secured community benefits from downtown developers." 

Harrison said her priorities are creating affordable in-fill housing, addressing homelessness, protecting tenants, revitalizing the city's downtown, making the city sustainable and saving Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley, which may be closed in the future. 

Gould, 25, who ran for mayor last November but finished fourth with only 2.93 percent of the vote, is finishing up master's degrees at the University of California at Berkeley in public policy and environmental engineering. He also works as a policy analyst and previously worked as an environmental engineer. 

Gould said in his ballot statement that he was born and raised in Berkeley, graduated from Berkeley High School and, "I love Berkeley and will fight to protect our city's values and diversity." 

Gould said, "With my experience as an environmental engineer and as a policy analyst I bring a rational, non-ideological approach to addressing Berkeley's challenges." 

He promised, "I will deliver real solutions rooted in progressive principles" and said he will push for "long-term, regional approaches to homelessness." Gould said, "I will champion housing at all income levels to preserve Berkeley's cultural and economic diversity and I will continue the work of revitalizing downtown, expanding transit and bicycle infrastructure, ensuring public safety and leading efforts to prevent and mitigate climate change." 


Copyright © 2017 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited. 


Free Market Ideology is not Progressive Thinking

Dave Blake
Monday March 06, 2017 - 08:33:00 PM

David Blake served on the zoning board for 13 years at various times, appointed by Carla Woodworth, Dona Spring (his then Council representative), and Linda Maio, the Arts Commission for 6 years, appointed by Maio and Jesse Arreguin, his Council representative), and also served 9 years on the (architectural) Design Review Commission.

Markos Moulitsas (March 2 Berkeleyside, “Ben Gould for City Council, for a more affordable Berkeley”) boasts in his article of his pride in living here. I’m a 45-year long Berkeley resident, the last 17 as a homeowner; but I haven’t always been proud of my town. For the 14 years of the Bates council, I was frustrated and depressed to see Berkeley become a poster child for how to minimize construction of new affordable housing in a city that loves to think that it, and its council, are all dedicated progressives.

When Bates became mayor, Berkeley required that 20% of its new mixed use residential (residential over first-floor commercial), the overwhelming generator of our affordable housing construction, meet affordability standards. Under Bates, and with the crucial help of then staff attorney, now city attorney Zach Cowan and our then Zoning Officer, now downtown developer frontman Mark Rhoades, state density law was radically interpreted to reduce that number to barely over 10%. Berkeley fell from a state leader in affordable housing policy to deep into the bottom half. Anyone with an interest in our housing production for the last two decades should know that.  


When Moulitsas claims that newly-elected mayor Arreguin, formerly District 4 Councilmember, voted against or abstained on 1500 units of housing, he’s using (apparently, since he offers no citation) opposition research from Arreguin’s November opponent, real estate agent Laurie Capitelli, a staunch Bates ally who supports current District 4 candidate Benjamin Gould. This research is, unsurprisingly, heavily flawed, and in several ways: it’s an 8-year-long statistic (not mentioned by Moulitsas), and it only reflects the handful of cases, all controversial, that are appealed to the council from decisions of the Zoning Board. Most importantly, it mischaracterizes what happens when construction approval comes before the Council. Moulitsas suggests that Arreguin’s votes reflect kowtowing to NIMBY neighbors. The record shows that Arreguin’s arguments against certain large projects (90% of those he opposed) were about their meager contribution to affordable housing, which the council had the power to increase but consistently chose not to. (Also, in a couple of cases, the demolition of rent-controlled units.) Council hearings are never about whether or not to build: This is Berkeley; all empty lots eventually get buildings. The question is about what sort of project gets built. 

Moulitsas apparently wants a council that will approve all housing permits, no matter how appropriate a given project may be. He’s a true believer, and that belief seems be that if you just let developers loose to build whatever they can make the most money on, the housing market will improve for everyone. That is free-market nonsense. 

District 4 (and 7, campus, and 3, south of campus) have always elected Councilmembers who have been in the progressive Council wing since the district system was created. And the powerful downtown property owners always run a just-build-everything candidate in District 4 where I live because it represents the downtown; we’ve always slapped them down, because we know that what happens in downtown has direct effects on our neighborhoods. Gould is the downtown property owners’ candidate this time, as a glance at the city website (ci.berkeley.ca.us/elections, click public access portal, search for Gould) will reveal. His money comes from architects, developers and downtown property owners, his campaign manager is an operative of the developer/planner/architect lobby [Barely] Livable Berkeley; and many if not most of his canvassing crew is supplied by the Yelp-CEO funded [and aptly named] libertarian lobby BARF. 

Despite what the developers constantly tell us, the ultra-dense downtown buildings they’ve ground out are not a response to the need for long-term housing for current and aspiring residents, but fully intented to house UC students, whom the university has effectively abandoned any responsiblity to house. If all that you want is more Gaia buildings with students crammed two-and-three-up into tiny bedrooms, Gould may well be your guy. But if you believe that our city council should be focusing on the long-term needs of its low- and middle-income residents, with a commitment to truly affordable housing as a top priority, then you’ll want to keep this district in progressive hands, and those hands are attached to Kate Harrison. That’s what the Sierra Club says too. 

It’s late to rely on a postmark, so deliver your votes (by Tuesday!) to the box in front of (new) City Hall, 2180 Milvia!

Trump march results in 10 arrests, 7 minor injuries

Keith Burbank (BCN)
Sunday March 05, 2017 - 01:11:00 AM

Police said 10 people were arrested and seven suffered injuries in a March 4 Trump protest this afternoon in downtown Berkeley. 

The protest, which drew anti-Trump protesters, started at about noon at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park at 2151 Martin Luther King Junior Way. 

Five people were arrested on suspicion of battery, four on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and one on suspicion of resisting arrest, according to police. 

One person was allegedly carrying a dagger and police confiscated metal pipes, bats, two-by-fours, and bricks.  

The seven people with injuries declined to be taken to a hospital. 

Police had a hard time telling how many people gathered for the protest because of a farmer's market nearby, Officer Byron White said.  

Neither group got a permit to protest, White said. But he admitted the park is a public space.  

"We would like these events to be successful," he said. But without taking the right steps, such as getting permits, it hinders the city's ability to help, White said.  

Police are asking anyone who feels they were the victim of a crime during the protest to get in touch with them. Officers are looking for help identifying the people responsible for any crimes.  

BART officials closed the nearby Downtown Berkeley BART station for about an hour because of the protest. According to police, some demonstrators left the park and marched on Allston Way, which is one block from the BART station. 

Trains were not stopping at the station, but as of about 4:30 p.m. the station was open and trains were making regular stops there.

"March 4 Trump" planned for Saturday in Berkeley, counter-protests expected

Scott Morris (BCN)
Friday March 03, 2017 - 05:14:00 PM

A march for Donald Trump is planned in Berkeley this Saturday, one of dozens planned nationwide to show support for the new president. 

The "March 4 Trump" in Berkeley is the only event planned in the Bay Area and one of three planned in California. Marches were previously planned in Los Angeles and Sacramento, but organizers decided to cancel those to attempt to bolster attendance at the other events. 

As of this afternoon, 133 people had said they were attending the Berkeley march on the event's Facebook page. Several commenters were trying to arrange rides, some coming from elsewhere in the Bay Area or the Central Valley. 

Berkeley police Sgt. Andrew Frankel said today that the Police Department has been in touch with organizers and while they have not obtained a permit, they are coordinating with police. 

The rally is scheduled for 2 p.m. at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park and then will march to the University of California campus at about 3 p.m., Frankel said. He said he did not know how many people would attend. 

There has been some indication that there may be counter protests at the event, including from self-styled anti-fascist groups who helped organize the violent protest against far-right writer and speaker Milo Yiannopoulos last month.  

Asked if police had any plans to prevent violence between different factions of demonstrators on Saturday, Frankel said, "The department is prepared for a number of different contingencies." 

Counter-protesters have said that there is the potential for white nationalists to attend the march, but organizer Rich Black has pushed back against that suggestion in online postings, saying that no organizers have any association with white nationalist groups. 

"If any one person that shares the beliefs associated with white nationalism or belongs to any Neo-Nazi faction or Nazi Workers Party attempts to attend this event, they will be ejected immediately," Black wrote. 

Asked how they plan to eject Nazis from the rally, Black said today, "We have security detail as well and police will be present. We will remove agitators and nazis flying any nazi banners are agitators."

An Extremely Political Act: Silence

Carol Denney
Friday March 03, 2017 - 05:04:00 PM

I know what most people mean when they describe someone as "political." They mean they're tedious. They mean someone who is always angry, repetitive, boring, and don't forget repetitive. They're afraid they're going to dominate a gathering with speeches or worse, make them eat kale. I've met the people who fit this category. You can only hope they all end up having to sit next to each other someday on the same bus. 

What confuses me are the people who claim they are not "political", as if you could take it off and hang it up like a coat. I saw somebody recently stomping through a party trying to turn off the faucets of conversation everywhere about, for instance, the Electoral College as though the room would flood. It's especially entertaining, as a musician, to watch them parse songs as either "political" or "not political" considering the many efforts, both historic and contemporary, to prohibit indigenous music, or religious music, or music entirely. 

How do they do it? My hat is off to the exhausted people who try. It's a touchy time, after the recent election, and it's hard dodging the mea culpas and analyses flying through the air like butterflies in spring. It's hard to know where the third rail is in a room full of strangers, who might well be at both musical and political odds.  

But one thing I am sure of, is that after you've ironed all the politics out of your Thanksgiving, your social gathering, your songs, your speech, and the patterns of your life, I hope somebody lets you know that you've committed an extremely political act. That is, if you haven't silenced them entirely. 





Markos Moulitsas Zuniga trashes Berkeley progressives, supports developers' shill

Becky O'Malley
Friday March 03, 2017 - 04:20:00 PM

In case you ever wondered about the definition of “hypocrisy”, you might just want to compare and contrast a couple of documents which can be found online today.

Exhibit A is the outrageous hit piece just published in the op-ed section of Berkeleyside.com by Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, the owner of the DailyKos website under his corporate umbrella, the very prosperous Kos Media LLC.

It’s billed as an endorsement of Kate Harrison’s opponent in Berkeley’s District 4 council race, but provides him with an opportunity for a gratuitous attack on Mayor Jesse Arreguin,

Exhibit B is the “Daily Kos Rules of the Road” , his proprietary site’s somewhat smarmy guide to making nice online. Let’s see how Mr. Moulitsas Zuniga follows his own rules. 

Here’s one Kos Rule—don’t: 

“· Insult the character, intelligence, or background of people with whom you are arguing. You want to win an argument? Then don’t engage in ad-hominem attacks.” 

So then, check the lede of Markos Moulitsas’ op-ed: 

“Donald Trump wasn’t the only political earthquake last November. When the dust settled and the votes were counted, local Berkeley politics had been dramatically reshaped. A strong, pro-housing candidate for Berkeley Mayor was defeated by a notorious NIMBY, Jesse Arreguín, whose claim to fame was voting against or abstaining from nearly 1,500 units of housing. Under his reign, a regressive, anti-housing faction has taken control of the City Council, intent on stopping development of any future housing.” 

As you might have guessed, Jesse happens to have endorsed Kate for the seat he just vacated. Guess that makes him a “notorious nimby”? 

And then there’s a little problem with facts, a topic which the Rules address admirably: 

“Value the norms of a ‘reality-based community.’ Support your arguments with links to supporting documents and original source materials. Such original sources should be credible news and information sites.” 

Just exactly where can we find that data which would prove that the guy whom Jesse beat in the recent election was a “strong, pro-housing candidate”? Kos’s endorsee was, after all, funded by a cool $100,000 from the PAC of the National Association of Realtors, not exactly a progressive bunch devoted to the provision of affordable housing. 

And by the way, he lost. Not such a strong candidate, right? 

More missing facts: How many units of housing did Mayor Arreguin vote for since he’s been on the Berkeley city council? A whole lot more than he turned down. Look it up, Kos. 

The Kos site is billed as a way for Democrats to discuss important issues in a positive way: 

‘We are here to connect, unite, work together toward a common purpose, whether it’s to elect more and better Democrats, to advocate for specific issues, or even to socialize among like-minded friends. But ultimately, we are fighting to make ours a stronger, more effective, more progressive Democratic Party. Given our clear goals, these are our only ideological prohibitions: 

  • Advocacy for third parties or third-party candidates
  • Advocacy for voting against Democrats or not voting at all
  • Attacks on Democratic candidates based on right-wing rhetoric and frames.”
So why do you label Mayor Arreguin “the leader of a regressive faction”, Mr. Kos? 

Haven’t you heard that Jesse, a Democratic party activist since the age of 8, was endorsed by the Alameda County Democratic Party in the recent election? 

And by the way, some of his supporters in that “regressive faction” were progressive Democrats before you were born, as were many of us way back when you were still a Republican. 

Those same rules say Do: 

Fight hard but fight fair. Write an argument, not an attack. Remember, other people are just as passionate, committed, and ornery as you are. That’s supposed to be an advantage for us, right? Democrats boast about having a big tent. Learn from those who oppose you; let their challenges help you formulate your positions more clearly and draw upon better evidence. 

Accept that reasonable people may in the end still disagree." 

Who could argue with that? But what does Markos say about his target? 

“The bottom line is that Mayor Arreguín is no progressive; he’s the leader of a regressive faction that’s currently working to preserve Berkeley in amber, fighting change, and making it unaffordable to all but the wealthiest. In fact, that’s exactly what conservatism is all about!” 

No, Kos, your economic education seems to have stopped at Econ 101. Saying that building a huge number of expensive market-rate condos will eventually trickle-down to house low-income renters is the neoliberal equivalent of the bogus theories currently being pushed by the Republicans for health care. It’s a lot like the voucher-based education model espoused by Betsy DeVos. 

Let the market decide? Not my idea of progressive. 

My correspondent Tree Fitzpatrick deftly depicts Kos economics: 

"He is so NOT a progressive. He's analogous to Whole Foods, selling overpriced food to the hip and hip wannabees but run by an avid libertarian. We progressives must be a coveted market, especially we progressive who are actually progressive. Whole Foods very calculatingly markets to a liberal/progressive market because that market spends a lot. Kos appears to use the Whole Foods phoniness the way WF does." 

But let’s give the last word in this discussion to someone who commented on Berkeleyside.com about a year ago on an op-ed from an opponent of the luxury development at 2211 Harold Way: 

“Real democracy is at the polls, not the people who show up at arcane meetings. And the voters have spoken clearly and convincingly... I know that's an inconvenient reality, but it is the reality nonetheless.” 

Who could have said that? 

A guy named Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, That’s who. 

Click on his name above for more of his wit and wisdom as recorded for posterity on Disqus. 

Someone should really out him to his bloggies, many of whom would be appalled if they knew who this sanctimonious twerp was when he’s at home. 

Mayor Jesse Arreguin won the election. Get over it, Kos. 

And dear reader, if you’re a voter in District 4 and you still haven’t turned in your vote for Kate Harrison, just do it now. We need another genuine progressive on the Council. 







The Editor's Back Fence

Rolling release today--wait for it

Becky O'Malley
Friday March 03, 2017 - 05:10:00 PM

There's so much going on that I'm publishing this issue before everything has been posted, contrary to my usual procedure. Please keep checking for later posts, and if you're a contributing writer, don't worry, we'll get your piece online ASAP.

Public Comment

Open letter to Councilmember Hahn

Isabelle Gaston
Thursday March 09, 2017 - 10:38:00 AM

Thank you for your comments at Council Tuesday night regarding the City's infrastructure needs.
I agree with your statements regarding the need for a long-term comprehensive vision and plan for our City's infrastructure - not just for 2050 but for the 22nd century.
I also totally agree with you that we should evaluate new technologies before investing hundreds of millions of dollars into repairing the "old stuff."

For those who missed it, I encourage you to listen to Sophie's comments at ~ 1 hr, 15 minutes.

The Alchemy of Community Action: A report from South Berkeley

Steve Martinot
Saturday March 04, 2017 - 11:08:00 AM

A neighborhood speaks

On Feb. 27, 2017, about 25 people met in South Berkeley to figure out how to deal with a developer. The project in question is 2902 Adeline, at the corner of Russell St. In discussing the problem, these people were upholding an important democratic responsibility, that of attempting to participate in political decisions that would affect them.

They also expressed a high level of social responsibility insofar as they not only addressed community needs with respect to this specific development project. They also gave recognition and credence to the developer’s interests. These included the need to make a profit, as well as its (corporate) property rights. (I refer developers as "it," since they are generally LLCs, and not "he," which would be a silly personification).

The thinking of this community meeting rose above both considerations. The thought emerged, as conversation ensued, that if land and buildings have value (which developers count on), it is the surrounding society, the social environment, that gives it that value. A plot of land in Berkeley has a lot of value, whereas the same size plot of land southeast of Flagstaff, Arizona, would have very little. What makes the difference? The city of Berkeley, the Bay Area, and the people who live in it. That means that land value, and whatever benefit the developer gets from ownership, is linked to the community. To the extent that profit emerges from value that the surrounding society makes possible, the neighborhood should share in that benefit. 

Back in October of 2016, this community had proposed the following conditions for this project, given its position in the South Berkeley Adeline Corridor (a target area for city planning). 

  • building height no more than 4 stories, with 25 units.
  • 40% affordable housing units in the building – on site and not excused through fees
  • affordable units should be affordable for South Berkeley residents
  • 5% of the rent proceeds to go to community non-profits (servicing the needy)
  • Green and safe construction standards – no dust flying in residents’ kitchens
  • On-site parking for 85% of the building’s residents (i.e. no parking problems)
  • re-housing displaced South Berkeley residents as a priority
  • hire local labor for construction on the project.
This is really an advanced list of proposals, one that should form a firm basis of mutuality and shared benefit between the community and the developer. After all, the neighborhood is acceding to the developer’s desire to build a large apartment building from which to make a lot of money. It affirms that whereas property bestows rights, it also bestows responsibilities. And it asks the developer not to run roughshod over the community. 

The developer’s response is interesting. It proposes a building that is 6 stories, containing 50 units, four of which will be affordable, with only 18 on-site (off-street) parking, and a single payment of $100,000 to the community. The purpose of money was to hire personnel or attorneys whose role would be to assist those residents being displaced to find new housing. The contempt contained in this was mentioned by a few people at the meeting. 

Much of the discussion in the meeting concerned the role of the city. There is a city office called the “Adeline Corridor Planning Process” (ADPP). It has been holding meetings with the community to get input on planning the development of the Adeline Corridor. These get-togethers have been touted as the community’s chance to be involved in the planning process. It has been going on for a year and a half. One would have thought that the city office (ADPP) would play a role in mediating between this developer and the community. And that the city planners would be able to support the community’s proposals (at least in part). Unfortunately, the city agency has not done so. 

What then, it was asked, is the purpose of a plan if it does not affect the nature of developments in its planning area? Shouldn’t the city suggest that developers wait in order to see if their project corresponds with the eventual plan or not? This developer is jumping the gun, starting operations without waiting to see if it will accord with the plan or not. One would think the city would act responsibly toward the community and the plan. But its position is that if the law allows the developer to go ahead, then the developer can go according to the law. So much for a plan. 

There was a South Berkeley Plan developed in 1989 and 1990. This project doesn’t even honor that plan. If plans are useless for guiding how developers proceed, then their only use is to fool the community into thinking it is participating in something. 

A Zombie Zone of Undead meetings

There have been two other series of meetings concerning this project (beside those called by the ADPP). One series (of two meetings) was hosted by the developer, also to get neighborhood "input." At the first one, the developer presented its (corporate) plan, as outlined above (6 stories, 50 units, minimal on-site parking, etc.). Neighborhood residents raised objections concerning height, parking, open space, green-ness, and the inclusion of affordable units. Alternate suggestions and counter-proposals were offered – that is, the concept of "participation" was taken seriously. The feasibility for some proposed changes in the design were discussed. The developer’s architect said that some modifications were possible and would be made. 

In the second meeting, the same original proposal was presented, including none of the modifications that had been discussed in the first one. The same questions were raised, and they got the same answer. One person said, “We spoke to you last time; how come nothing we said appears in what you are presenting today?” At one point, the developer actually admitted, “We can’t do it with less than 6 stories.” 

That’s a terrible admission. Do you know what it really says? It has nothing to do with archetecture, since a building can be designed for any height and any number of units. It has nothing to do with construction, since that too can be anything. It has nothing to do with developer profits, since each unit will be providing its assigned part of the building’s income. It means that there is a hidden factor that puts unwarranted conditions on the project. It means that someone requires a certain quantity of profit, rather than a percentage of operating costs (with its amortizing of the original capital outlay). That "someone," that factor is the bank, the source of financing. And the developer is admitting that the bank will back the project only if it gets an expected return that somehow depends on six stories rather than four. Either the bank gets its expected return or it pulls out. It is hard to find any mutual responsibility, let alone democracy in that. 

This might suggest that when the community speaks to the developer, it is speaking to the wrong corporation. It needs to be speaking to the developer’s financial backing, that is, to people who don’t own the land, don’t hire labor, don’t live in the area, and don’t even vote in Berkeley. They are the undead behind gentrification. They are the ones who will insist on a certain size of development, with all its implicit detriment and destruction of local economic infrastructure. 

The second set of meetings were those of city commissions. The building went first to the Design Review Commission (DRC). The community showed up at the hearing, spoke about its needs and the project’s detriments, and asked for smaller design. The DRC agreed, and referred the proposal to the Zoning Adjustment Board with a modification in height. At the ZAB, the modifications suggested by the DRC were ignored. It affirmed the original plan. 

Another community effort relegated to the graveyard. The neighborhood is appealing the ZAB decision to the City Council, March 7, 2017. 

Witchcraft and the Law

In light of all this, the discussion on Feb. 27 was edifying. In their attempt to defend their neighborhood against what is called gentrification, the people fell back on how zoning standards established certain minimal aspects of the building. According to zoning law, there should be 4 stories, with 25 housing units. The developer had been able to supersede those standards using the state’s “density bonus” law. This is a law that allows a developer to ignore local zoning standards by putting in a certain number of affordable units, for which the developer can get a bonus of increased numbers of market rate units. One very low income unit will get a developer a 35% increase in the number of market rate units, like magic. 

The density bonus law is one of 4 state laws that operate to make local democracy at the city level difficult if not impossible (the others being the Costa-Hawkins Act, the Housing Accountability Act, and the “by-right” condition). Since two-thirds of all Berkeley residents are renters, the effect of these laws is that the city is powerless to defend the majority of its own constituency against greedy and unscrupulous landlords and developers. 

Against these laws and the culture of corporate domination they represent, the recent February meeting came up with a very interesting proposal (or counter-proposal to the developer’s contempt). After discussing the past vicissitudes of the project, one person made a motion that the community support a 4 story building, with 25 units (as per zoning regulations), and that anything built in excess of that be affordable housing – and specifically affordable for people in the immediate community – that is, low and very low income housing. If the developer persisted in demanding 50 units, then 25 of them should be low income affordable. 

Side-Note: an affordable unit, according to HUD standards (by which HUD provides subsidies) is one in which the tenant family pays no more than 30% of its income for rent. HUD divides the category of affordability into income levels calibrated according to the Area Median Income (AMI). These levels are moderate (80-120% of AMI), low (50-80%), very low (30-50%), and extremely low (<30%). The AMI for Alameda County is $93,000. For Berkeley, it is $65,000, which is 70% of the county AMI. The means that all moderate income residents in Berkeley are really low income on the county scale. And all low income residents in Berkeley are really very low income on the county scale. To include moderate income units in a Berkeley development (on the county scale, i.e. $93,000 AMI) would be to include units only available to high income families on the city scale (over 120% of city AMI) – in other words, it would do nothing for those in the city who need affordable housing. 

That is why the proviso in the community’s demands (no longer proposals, but now demands, since no steps toward dialogue have been honored) that the affordable units be affordable to people in that neighborhood, is so important. It is sidesteps the slight of hand that introduces an easy bias into developer calculations by playing county against city AMI. 

A neighborhood assembly

What this meeting really represented is an embryonic neighborhood assembly. It was people getting together to make political decisions for themselves about issues that affect their lives. Many different opinions were expressed in the conversation. Some proposed ways of pacifying the developer, others offered reasons to oppose it; still others suggested strategies for bringing the developer to the negotiation table, and some offered alternatives to development altogether. Thus, the issue of development, and the problem of gentrification’s detriments were looked at from many angles. But when the motion was made to the assembled people that the meeting support 4 stories, 25 units, and all construction over that being affordable, everyone came together, and voted for it unanimously. Democracy means that those who will be affected by a policy are involved in making that policy. 

The meeting was only an embryonic neighborhood assembly, since it didn’t establish a continuity or regularity for itself. And it didn’t define its boundaries with respect to who lived in the neighborhood it represented. But it was a first step toward that (see tinyurl.com/jthl6ye). 

It will be a long struggle. Even if the neighborhood loses, it won’t be the end, because the arrival of these large apartment buildings will begin to change the economic character of the neighborhood unignorably. Already, the local hardware store on Russell has announced it is closing because its building has been bought. A hardware store is an important part of a low income neighborhood’s economic infrastructure. 

This struggle is a test case, and it will set a precedent. If the developer gets his way, then the next one has a better chance (and two more large market rate apartment building are on the horizon, to be built within three blocks of this one). If the neighborhood can be included in the project through compromise, then that will set a precedent for the next two. 

It could be that developers might induce so much antagonism in communities toward market rate developments that the noise of objection raised by these communities becomes loud enough to scare the banks, and they think twice. You never know. (See tinyurl.com/jkbturb) 

For those who wish to make common cause with this neighborhood, the best thing to do is organize your own neighborhood, form your own neighborhood assembly, and add that to the network. 


Tejinder Uberoi
Saturday March 04, 2017 - 11:20:00 AM

The Russian-Trump connection gets murkier by the day. 

Our democracy should be based on free and fair elections. But there is mounting evidence that a significant number of Trump officials colluded with Russia to tilt the result in favor of the current president. This has become an unprecedented constitutional crisis. Attorney General, Jeff Session’s meetings with Russian ambassador contradict his earlier sworn testimony he gave to Congress. Sessions is only the latest villain in a dark conspiracy to subvert our democracy. It defies credulity that he acted on his own without the active support of his current boss. 

Sessions has committed a serious crime bordering on treason. He must step down, recusal is not enough. Furthermore, he should be disbarred and face jail time. Lying under oath is not a trivial matter. 

Russia's interference in the US, Ukraine and Georgia’s elections demonstrate their relentless efforts in subverting the sovereignty of independent nations. 

Their successful hacking renders the US increasingly vulnerable to cyber-attacks into our defense, financial, and infrastructure systems. 

Our government's weak response to such attacks sends a strong message to ISIS and other terror groups that the United Sates is weak and incapable of safeguarding its most important institutions. 

It's not a coincidence that both Donald Trump and Georgia's Bidzina Ivanishvlli campaigns rallied supporters with boisterous anti-media rants, lies about a rigged election system and anti-trade tirades. This is Putin’s playbook which he “generously” shares with his adversaries.

A Route To Poverty: The Decline of Conventional Employment

Harry Brill
Saturday March 04, 2017 - 11:28:00 AM

It doesn't take a genius to realize that the standard of living is declining despite the claims of many public officials and corporate CEOs. Among the important problems that have been battering working people is that millions of jobs have been and continue to be OUTSOURCED abroad. Since the year 2000, about 5.5 million jobs in manufacturing have been outsourced. A conservative estimate of the total shipped abroad since the year 2000 would be at least 9 million jobs This does not include the substantial number of jobs that have disappeared because of the steep decline in consumer spending as a result of moving jobs abroad.

Since the 1980s many businesses have employed another weapon -- DOMESTIC OUTSOURCING. In addition to sending work abroad, many establishments are also replacing their own workers with less expensive employees from subcontracting firms. Apparently they have decided that the very last thing they intend to do is to increase their workforce even if their business volume is expanding. Unless this development is successfully confronted a lot more working people and their families will be joining the ranks of the poor. 

Among many of the large corporations about 20 to 50 percent of their total workforce is procured from the many thousands of domestic subcontracting businesses. Bank of America, Verizon, Proctor & Gamble and FedEx Corporation each do business with many of these contractors. In certain industries, including oil, gas and pharmaceuticals, outside workers sometimes outnumber employees by at least 2 to 1. According to the Wall Street Journal there are currently about 20 million workers that are not employed directly by the company where they work. Moreover, many of these workers are leased for only part-time work and for a short period of time. 

The advantage to business is that compared to the wages paid to regular employees, labor costs are considerably lower. Subcontracted workers are paid up to 30 percent less than regular workers, and in agriculture, the wages are up to 40 percent lower. = Moreover, as many workers have experienced, even the highly exploitative poverty wages they receive do not satisfy their employers. So in addition many workers are also victimized by wage theft. They are paid below the minimum wage, not paid for working overtime, forced to work off the clock, and suffer unlawful paycheck deductions. According to a survey of workers in the food industry, 70 percent of the subcontracted workers are not paid for their overtime. About 25 percent reported minimum wage violations. Some of these violations are egregious. The Los Angeles Times reported that 11 bakery workers were paid just two dollars an hour over a two year period. Incredibly, 8 out of 10 Los Angeles workers experience wage theft.  

The obvious question is how do employers get away with their outrageous and illegal conduct? The obvious answer is that for one reason or another many workers feel too vulnerable to complain or for good reason feel that complaining would be futile. These subcontractors know how to recruit workers who will pose no serious problems. Among these "safe" employees are undocumented immigrants, workers who have been arrested, and a growing number of desperate workers who have been long term unemployed.  

Since these workers are not paid by the firms they work in, there is little or nothing they can do about their dismal situation. If they complain to the subcontractor they will not be dispatched to another firm. In effect, they are fired. Generally speaking, workers who are lucky enough to procure employment via subcontractors work in a climate of insecurity and fear that is encouraged by the establishment. 

The public recently learned, for example, of the almost 700 documented workers in 12 states who were arrested by the Immigration and Custom Enforcement agency and now face deportation. To understand the significance of these arrests, keep in mind that terrorizing these workers is not just a screwball idea of the Trump administration. The Obama administration also engaged in massive arrests of undocumented workers. In fact, in some weeks arrests exceeded 2000 undocumented workers. An advocate of these workers explained that stirring fear is the main motive of the establishment. Not surprisingly, the news of these arrests puts many of these workers on edge. It is certainly one way of assuring compliance among the 8 million highly exploited undocumented immigrants who are in the workforce. 

Although it is understandable that working people attempt to seek assistance from government, both federal and local, government has done very little to alleviate their problems. Over half of the subcontracted workforce who are employed in government programs receive no benefits at all. And very few receive paid sick leave and health insurance. Until President Obama signed an executive order that increased the wages of workers whose subcontractor has contracted with the federal government, 74 percent earned less than $10 an hour. Although the legal wage now is $10.20 an hour, Trump is threatening to rescind the executive order. But even if Obama's decision remains, it is still a poverty wage. 

Generally speaking, the laws that presumably protect contracted workers are too often ignored and violated. Among those workers who have legally challenged the theft of their wages, 83 percent who win a favorable decision never see a dime. Indeed, the enormous gains that corporations have made by employing subcontracted workers have been very costly to working people.  

It is very difficult to evaluate what lies ahead. However, if present trends continue, subcontracting rather than directly hiring workers will increase, and accordingly conventional hiring will continue to decline. As a result, the poverty that domestic outsourcing breeds will be engulfing a much larger share of the nation's workforce.

Trump’s Speech

Jagjit Singh
Saturday March 04, 2017 - 11:19:00 AM

In an incredibly low bar of expectations, President Trump stayed on script and was able to read from his teleprompter taking long pauses for thunderous applause from sycophantic Republicans who just a few months earlier had mocked and ridiculed him. 

Predictably, Trump heaped praise on his many accomplishments with promises of creating millions of jobs, winning wars, adding 56 billion to an already bloated military and building a beautiful wall on our southern borders. ‘Huddled masses’ will no longer be welcome to our shores. The architect of hate condemned “hate in all of its very ugly forms.” Candidate Trump I hope you are listening and embarrassed by your denigration and assaults on women, mocking the disabled and anti-immigrant diatribes. 

He promised to repeal the ACA with TrumpCare with significant lower costs and better coverage but the Pipe Piper offered no details on how this Houdini magic would be accomplished. He recently admitted to the nation’s governors that “nobody knew” replacing Obamacare “could be so complicated.” Oh really! Town hall meetings are becoming so loud and raucous that Congressional representatives are fearful to attend. The thud of shovels and pitch forks are getting louder. 

He promised to commit $1 trillion in an infrastructure plan for the nation’s “crumbling infrastructure” but offered no details. 

Perhaps, the lowest point of his speech was his cynical exploitation of the grieving wife of Navy Seal Ryan Owens who lost his life in a botched raid in Yemen. 


March Pepper Spray Times

By Grace Underpressure
Friday March 03, 2017 - 04:06:00 PM

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

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

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

This is a Very Good Deal. Go for it! 


ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Surviving is hard when living independently

Jack Bragen
Friday March 03, 2017 - 05:04:00 PM

Being disabled and at the same time, through employment, earning enough money to live on, is very difficult--one must deal with the effects of the medication, the effects of the illness, and, at the same time, the difficulties of the job.  

I have been collecting disability since I was in my mid-twenties, having thrown in the towel in the realm of working for a living. Had I been able to face the difficulties of employment, things would probably look very different for me. Had I stayed with some kind of decent career job, at this point I might have a lot less uncertainty.  

It is probably less work in the long term to initially face and conquer the difficulties of employment (if at all practicable), in comparison to getting older and having harshly limited choices, and other constraints of living in the poverty of being a SSDI and SSI recipient.  

Some of us are forced into institutional housing. This is not very good, as far as I am concerned. I don't like the baggage of living in mental health housing, which includes supervision and restrictions (sometimes implemented by fools), and includes living alongside other mentally ill people, some of whom are impaired and lack boundaries. But in some respects, this is a much easier situation than the alternatives.  

My path has been meandrous and all over the map (speaking metaphorically, not geographically). The consistent part of it includes never quite reaching success by my then current definition.  

For someone with a severe psychiatric illness who is compliant and even proactive in his or her treatment, who desires to live under decent conditions, there are obstacles. For one thing, the government isn't necessarily your friend.  

Let me begin by saying I am grateful for the fact that the government makes it possible for me to survive, as they provide income, medical care, and subsidized housing.  

However, I've been harassed by police a number of times over the years. And, various government agencies, such as Social Security and Housing, have been of significant pain.  

Aside from the government, criminals have created a lot of problems in my life. Men have been assaultive toward me, and I am not clear as to why I have been targeted.  

I feel that there is much I have been up against. I don't know how much of it to attribute to me being my own saboteur, the effects of karma, or some conspiracy having been plotted because I am an embarrassment to someone powerful. The last of those three is likely to be a paranoid delusion. Maybe I should replace that one with something like "random chance."  

Regardless of any of the above, surviving is hard when you are not the same as everyone else.  

Disabled people are targeted by predatory type people. A decent housing situation can be very difficult to find among the rare property owners who accept subsidies. Often, disabled people are forced to live in substandard housing, much of which is in drug, vermin, and crime infested neighborhoods.  

Some of the more naive disabled people are suckered into borrowing from predatory so-called "lenders." In fact, if you bother to read the disclosures, the fees involved are equal to or in excess of what you're borrowing, meaning that your annual percentage rate could be above 100 percent, and in some cases 200 percent. These are not legitimate loans.  

Then, your credit rating is ruined, and this makes it unlikely that you can ever move out of the drug and crime infested neighborhood where you live.  

In order to survive and live independently, if you are mentally ill, competence is necessary and so is courage. There exist numerous pitfalls and booby-traps that you must learn to circumnavigate. You may need to defend yourself against violent people, some of whom are mentally ill, some of whom are criminals, and some of whom might just be angry.  

You need to learn the ropes of government bureaucracy, at least to the extent that you can furnish paperwork that is demanded.  

My father once said, "Life is a game in which the object is to learn the rules; as soon as you learn the rules, it's over."  

Jack Bragen is author of "Schizophrenia: My 35-Year Battle," and, "Instructions for Dealing with Schizophrenia, a Self-Help Manual." 

THE PUBLIC EYE: Trump’s Kremlin Konnection

Bob Burnett
Friday March 03, 2017 - 04:47:00 PM

In "Hamlet," Shakespeare wrote, "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." What fun Shakespeare would have with Donald Trump! Imagine a play where Trump, the character, tries to dismiss his ties with Russia, and Shakespeare responds, "The scoundrel protests too much."

Although Trump and his lackeys keep trying to discredit the various rumors about his dealings with Russia, the press and the US national security bureaucracy won't let them go. There are at least four threads that connect Trump to the Kremlin.

1.Trump's business dealings with Russia. We do not fully understand Trump's Russian business connections because Trump has never released his tax returns. On February 28, 2016, Senator Ted Cruz said, “There have been multiple media reports about Donald’s business dealings with the mob, with the mafia. Maybe his [tax returns] show those business dealings are a lot more extensive than has been reported.” At the time, Politifact noted, “Cruz’s statement is accurate. Media reports have linked Trump to mafia bosses and mob-connected business associates for decades.” Time magazine , and other sources, have tied Trump to Russian oligarchs. 

Writing in the March 17th New Yorker Magazine , Evan Osnos, David Remnick and Joshua Yaffa observed: "Two weeks before the Inauguration, intelligence officers briefed both Obama and Trump about a dossier of unverified allegations compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer. The thirty-five-page dossier, which included claims about Trump’s behavior during a 2013 trip to Moscow, ... concluded that Russia had personal and financial material on Trump that could be used as blackmail." 

Of course, the dossier and the other rumors may be false. Nonetheless, Trump has an obligation to the American people to have his tax returns examined by a bipartisan set of experts so that rumors about his financial affairs can be dealt with responsibly. (After all, it is a national security issue.) 

2. Russia's Interference in the 2016 Election. A separate thread has to do with nefarious deeds committed by (supposed) Russian hackers during the election. 17 US intelligence agencies believe Russian hackers helped the Trump campaign by hacking DNC emails, as well as those of Clinton Campaign Manager John Podesta, and giving them to WikiLeaks. Recently, NBC News reported the CIA believes Russian operators wanted Trump to win. 

Writing for PBS (), David Bush reported that on January 6th, "The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a declassified version of its report to Obama on Russia’s role in the election. The report concluded with 'high confidence' — intelligence community speak for virtual certainty — that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the hacking operation in an effort to hurt Clinton’s campaign and help elect Trump. The report also found that the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service, gave the information it obtained from the DNC and Clinton campaign’s emails to WikiLeaks." 

Of course, in the past, the Director of National intelligence has been wrong -- for example, about Saddam Hussein possessing "weapons of mass destruction." Nonetheless, Congress has an obligation to the American people to evaluate reports that Russia interfered in the election. 

3. Team Trump contacts with Russia. A separate thread has to do with a variety of contacts between Trump associates and Russian authorities. On February 15th the New York Times () revealed that the FBI is investigating links between Russian intelligence and four members of the Trump team: Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, and Roger Stone. (And, more recently, Jeff Sessions and Jared Kushner.) On February 25th, the Guardian () reported that the White House has tried to interfere with the FBI investigation. (Writing for Bill Moyers, Michael Winship [/] reported on the Russian response: "Since the US election, there has been an unprecedented, and perhaps still continuing shakeup of top officials in Putin’s main security agency, the FSB, and a top former intelligence official in Putin’s entourage died recently in suspicious circumstances.") 

Connected with this is the conduct of General Michael Flynn, who up until February 13th was Trump's National Security Adviser. Apparently, after then President Obama leveled sanctions against Russia, Flynn called Sergey Kislyak, Russian ambassador to the US, and said words to the effect that Russia shouldn't worry the sanctions as Trump would reverse them. What's extraordinary is that these conversations were wiretapped; and Flynn, given his extensive intelligence background should have been aware of this. 

Once again, Congress has an obligation to investigate the Trump team connections to Russia. 

4. Putin's intentions. Finally, there's the thorny question of what Vladimir Putin wants. There's been a rush to say that he desires a close relationship with Trump. There are similarities. Both are thugs. Both have little regard for democracy and prefer the company of oligarchs. Both used the same tactics to gain power: disinformation, nationalism, xenophobia, racism... 

Nonetheless, there are significant differences between the two men. Their relationship is asymmetric: Putin is a strong leader of a weak state; Trump is a weak leader of a strong state. Putin is a former KGB agent; Trump a former reality TV star. Putin knows when to keep his mouth shut... 

What's most likely is that when Trump showed up, Putin saw an opportunity to strengthen his hand by derailing the Clinton campaign. The authors of the excellent New Yorker article, Osnos, Remnick and Yaffa, conclude that Putin regarded Trump's election as a way to weaken America's standing in the world and Putin believed this would elevate Russia's power: "Putin’s Russia has to come up with ways to make up for its economic and geopolitical weakness." 

So far, Putin's strategy has worked: Trump's election has weakened America's standing in the world (and jeopardized our alliances, such as NATO). What remains to be seen is whether our loss is Russia's gain. 

ECLECTIC RANT: Democrats Maintain Status Quo With Election of Perez to DNC Chair

Ralph E. Stone
Friday March 03, 2017 - 05:07:00 PM

Democrats this week maintained the status quo with the election of former Labor Secretary Tom Perez over Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn) for the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairmanship. Following his elevation, Perez appointed Ellison as Deputy Chair with unanimous approval. 

Ellison was supported by Bernie Sanders and the increasingly restive progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Appointing Ellison as Deputy DNC Chair was an effort to appease Sanders supporters as well as to help unite a fractured and divided party. 

As Will Rogers once said, “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.” 

Perez was U.S. Secretary Secretary of Labor from 2013 to 2017. He previously served as the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. 

Now is time for the Democratic Party to undergo a fundamental reassessment. The Party needs to be re-imagined as less of an insider’s club focused on raising corporate money and more of an advocate for the working-class. With a new, reinvigorated DNC and a new presidential nominee, Democrats can begin the task of taking back the White House in 2020 while making gains in the midterm elections. 

Is the Democratic Party ready to unite for the formidable tasks ahead? Is Perez the best person for the job? As a Democrat, I can only hope for the best.

Arts & Events

A French Don Quixote for Alameda’s Island Opera

John McMullen, ATCA
Monday March 06, 2017 - 10:57:00 PM

Two Bay Area outstanding voices are performing at the Elk’s Ballroom in Alameda. Igor Viera and Buffy Baggott, both of whom have played featured roles at San Francisco opera, are well-known to East Bay audiences. Viera plays Sancho Panza and Baggott is cast in the role of Dulcinee in Massenet’s version of the Don Quixote tale in French entitled “Don Quichotte.” 

Viera directs and brings a comic sensibility to the piece with hobbyhorses attached with suspenders (it’s traditional from the medieval Mummers Plays) to using a 1940’s animated cartoon of the windmill tilting scene.  

The story is taken not from Cervantes but from Jacques Le Lorrain. In it Dulcinee is not the town whore but the local queen who sends the knight on a quest to retrieve her jewel. Baggett’s mezzo fills the hall and her grand presence is that of a queen. 

William Pickersgill as Don Quichotte plays a most-reserved chevalier. His melodic bass, while a pleasure to hear, does not fill the hall as the other two leads do. He definitely looks the part. Quixote is unquestionably an ironic character, senile and delusional who has constant hallucinations, on an undefined quest to defend the helpless and destroy the wicked. Charlie Chaplin said that at the heart of comedy is pain. Were Mr. Pickersgill to show the Knight’s own brand of crazy, it could rouse a laugh or two and be from the same world as the others while, by contrast, heighten the pathos. 

The chorus is amazing for a small opera company, and we wish we would hear more from them. The small orchestra conducted by Philip Kuttner is perfect for the small hall. 

The Elk’s Ballroom’s architecture is a good reason to visit, as well as to hear a few excellent voices. There is a full bar and café seating as well as regular with refreshments available 

Island City Opera’s “Don Quichotte” 

Elks Ballroom, 2255 Santa Clara, Alameda (off Park Street). 

Sunday Matinees March 5 & 12 at 2:00 pm, and Friday March 10 at 7:30 

Running time 2:45 

Tickets, info at http://islandcityopera.org/2017donquixote/ or (510) 263-8060

Land of Mine: Denmark's Explosive Oscar-Nominated Film

Reviewed by Gar Smith
Saturday March 04, 2017 - 11:13:00 AM

Opens at the Albany Twin on March 3 (Rated R)

Hollywood's depiction of Silver Screen warfare has evolved. During and after WWII, Hollywood enlisted to promote warfare big-time, big-screen. The result was a genre of cinema we might call "warmance"—a glorification of the noble and heroic warrior soldier.

Recently, the "warmance" tradition has migrated into an endless stream of over-the-top summer action/adventure/sci-fi blockbusters. Warmance also commands laptops and smartphones with images of Small-Screen violence designed to transfix and reprogram young minds. You might call this new genre: "Warporn."

Now, increasingly, we have movies depicting the horrors of war—a genre we might call "warpology" films. Works like Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan and Mel Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge mix bloody mayhem with soul-affirming messages. One of the best of these films is Danish writer-director Martin Zandvliet's new Oscar-nominated Land of Mine.




This powerful Danish film unearths the little-known story of captive German POWs forced to remove 2 million German landmines from Denmark's beaches after the end of WWII. It's a taboo story that's been hidden from the Danish people. 

The Geneva Convention forbids ordering captive soldiers to do hard labor or carry out dangerous work but Denmark avoided this law—with the connivance of Britain, which handed over German "prisoners of war" but redefined them as "voluntarily surrendered enemy personnel." 

Most of the German soldiers captured at the end of the long war were old men and young boys—teenagers, most of them, some as young as 15. They had no training in mine removal and, as a result, 1,300 were killed or maimed, torn apart on Denmark's beaches, their names unknown.  

The film opens with Danish Sgt. Carl Rasmussen (Roland Muller) jumping from his jeep and attacking a young German POW being force-marched down a dirt road. The violence is sudden and appalling. Rasmussen's raging brutality against the Germans, who have "invaded this land of mine," is unchecked and excessive. 

The physical violence in the film is literally in-your-face, with tight shots of people being punched bloody and slapped until cheeks are swollen. (The actors must have suffered for these shots.) 

There is one scene that still hasn't left my mind. A young German stands at attention with Rasmussen about one foot from his face and the camera even closer. Rasmussen screams at the young man and slaps him—again and again and again—as he struggles to retain his composure. (Pray to the gods of cinema that this scene didn't require more than one take.) 

A group of American soldiers makes a brief cameo in a repellent scene that suggests Donald Trump's alleged affection for "water sports" may be shared by certain dominant military personalities as well. 

There is a redemptive scene at the end but it's a nerve-wracking viewing experience. Going in, you know that, inevitably, a bomb will explode and someone is going to die but you never know when or how. Every minute is a nail-biting minute. Each detonation is sudden and horrifying, the blasts either leaving the victim with bloodied stumps instead of limbs or blown into pieces too small to recognize as anything human. 

The actors (many of them young first-timers) are all memorable as they struggle to survive beatings, starvation, and the nerve-ripping hours spent face-down on the beaches, probing for mines and slowly unscrewing the sand-covered detonator caps that could blow them to hell. 

Rasmussen's initial intolerance makes it all-the-more affecting when the hardened commander eventually softens, takes a liking to the young German boys and winds up stealing bread to feed them. 

Land of Mine is a story that begins with an explosion of personal vengeance but slowly becomes a deeper story of human bonding and reconciliation. 

There is one particularly sublime scene: After a stretch of beach is cleared of 1,200 buried mines, Rasmussen gives his workers "a day off." They assemble on the de-mined beach for a game of soccer (played with a ragged makeshift ball). The Danish tyrant lets down his guard and joins his captives in a free-spirited contest for possession of the ball. 

(The scene is reminiscent of an actual moment during the 1914 "Christmas Truce" in WWI where British and German soldiers started singing the same carols (but in different languages). Against the orders of their officers, they emerged from their trenches and met in No Mans' Land, where they exchanged gifts and played a rousing game of soccer.) 

But don't relax yet. Zandvliet still has some more bloody surprises in store. 

Historical Facts (from the film studio's production notes): 

· From 1942 to 1944 Nazi Germany built the so-called Atlantic Wall in anticipation of an Allied invasion from Great Britain—an extensive system of coastal defense and fortifications along the coast of continental Europe and Scandinavia. Landmines were planted along great swathes of the West Coast of Denmark. There where more landmines per square meter on the Danish west coast than any other location along the entire European coast. 

Hitler was convinced that the Allied invasion would come via the Danish 

west coast since it is the shortest route to Berlin. 

· After the capitulation of Nazi Germany, the British liberation forces offered the Danish government the opportunity to enlist German POWs to defuse mines along the length of the Danish Western coastline. 

· The German POWs were neither educated nor equipped for this task and many belonged to the so-called Volkssturm, a national militia set up by Hitler towards the end of the war to conscript those not already serving for the German forces. Many were very young or old. The youngest were 13 years old. 

· To force German POWs to defuse mines was a violation of the 1929 Convention relating to the Treatment of Prisoners of War prior to the amendment to the Geneva Conventions of 1949. By calling the German POWs ‘voluntarily surrendered enemy personnel’ British and Danish commands bypassed the rules of the Convention. 

·The work began on Saturday, May 5,1945, and was completed on Thursday, October 1945. 

· According to historian Thomas Tram Pedersen, the exact number of the losses will never be known due to the chaos of the first months of peace. There are discrepancies between the Danish and German records. 

· After the war more than 2,000 German POW’s were forced to remove over 1.5 million landmines from the west coast of Denmark. 

· The relationship between the German POWs and the local population was poor—the prize for five years of occupation under Nazi rule. There was no proper accommodation provided and food was constantly scarce. 

· In 64 countries around the world, there are an estimated 110 million undetonated landmines still lodged in the ground. 

· Since 1975, landmines have killed or maimed more than one million people. 

· On average, 20 people die every day due to landmine blasts. 

· Even with training, mine disposal experts expect that for every 5,000 mines cleared, one worker will be killed and two workers will be injured by accidental explosions. 

· The only way to deactivate a landmine is by individual removal at a cost of $300—1,000 per mine according to the United Nations. 

The Source: A Cacophonous, Confused Opera cum Video Installation

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Saturday March 04, 2017 - 11:36:00 AM

There’s a rule of thumb one ought to keep in mind when dealing with art. Beware of artists who talk a better game than they show. Ted Hearne, the composer of The Source, an opera cum video installation whose ostensible subject matter is the material provided to WikiLeaks by Chelsea Manning (né Bradley Manning), talks a good game. In interviews or discussions with New York Times music critic Zachary Woolfe and Ryan Kost of San Francisco Chronicle, Ted Hearne manages to say a few things that sound reasonable and measured. Take this quote for instance, gleaned from Hearne’s interview with Zachary Woolfe that appeared in The New York Times on February 25, 2017. When asked how The Source fits into the contemporary world of Trump’s attacks on the media and “fake news,” Ted Hearne replied, “We have a huge need for real journalism, for good reporting and for truth. It’s totally under attack. But the power of art and music to blur all those boundaries and enact a sort of feeling, to free words from their need to be specific, that is a totally different type of truth.”  

Sounds reasonable. Yet think about this quote. Hearne seems to be saying that blurring the boundaries between facts and non-facts is good, that feelings are what really matter. Would Donald Trump disagree? I think not. This kind of thinking, with its emphasis on feelings, fits in all too well with Trump’s illusions and delusions about the media and “fake news.”  

In any case, I went into a performance of The Source, which opened at San Francisco Opera Center’s Taube Theatre over the weekend of February 24-6, with an open mind and a fair dose of curiosity. On entering the Taube Theatre, I was struck by the seating arrangement. Half the seats faced one way, while the other half faced the opposite way. On all four walls of the theatre were large video screens. It was not clear where the musicians would be placed, neither the instrumental ensemble nor the singers. When The Source began, it became clear that the instrumentalists were on a raised platform behind the huge video screen on the west wall of the theatre’s interior. One caught glimpses of the conductor’s hands and a violinist’s bowing of his instrument that were visible behind the images projected on the west wall’s screen. As for the singers, they were dispersed throughout the audience.  

Visually, this nearly 75-minute work offers almost nothing but mute, expressionless faces of people in varying degrees of close-up. The faces were projected on all four walls. The people filmed seem intent on paying close attention to something; but it wasn’t clear what they were attending to. I ran through several alternatives. Were they were listening to the score of The Source? Were they watching their own face on a video monitor? Most of the faces were utterly expressionless, offering no clue whatsoever to what they heard or saw, much less how they felt about it. Occasionally, however, one person might wince or slightly shake the head in apparent disapproval of something. This response seemed to occur in tandem with a particularly loud and abrasive bit of music. But what it was they were reacting to wasn’t at all clear. Was it the music, or something else? The Video Designers of The Source were Jim Findlay and Daniel Fish. Mr. Fish was also listed as Director. 

Ted Hearne has stated that The Source is about the confusion one faces when trying to comprehend the mass of data leaked by Chelsea Manning. These leaks, of course, contained classified material from army field reports from Iraq and Afghanistan and 251,000 diplomatic cables. All of this material was released by WikiLeaks and its media partners in 2010. The libretto of The Source, credited to Mark Doten, draws scattered words and phrases from these leaks, but also intersperses more scattered words and phrases from online chats Chelsea Manning had with notorious hacker Adrian Lamo, who eventually turned her in to the authorities, which led to Manning’s conviction in August 2013 and her sentencing to 35 years’ imprisonment. (In December 2016, in the last days of his presidency, Barack Obama commuted Manning’s sentence to seven years, meaning her release is scheduled for May 17, 2017.) 

Thus far, note that I have said nothing about the music of The Source. This omission is purposeful. From beginning to end of this 75 minute work, the music is cacaphonous in the extreme. Singers’ voices are distorted by electronic interference 

(a system called Auto-Tune) in such a way as to be almost incomprehensible. This is a pity, for vocalists Melissa Hughes, Samia Mounts, Isaiah Robinson, and Jonathan Woody all have fine voices. The instrumental music is heavy on percussion, with drums, guitar and keyboard blasting away in chamber-rock style. If The Source is about confusion, its score and vocal delivery certainly add to the confusion. It’s all a mish-mash of confusion, with random bits of sampling from such widely diverse sources as Mack the Knife by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, a song by the Dixie Chicks, Christina Aguilera singing from her album Bionic, and an interview with Stephen Hawking. The score itself might, I say, might, have been interesting in itself, if only it were not trying so hard to imitate or reproduce the confusion Hearne feels is at the heart of all the Chelsea Manning leaks as well as at the heart of Chelsea Manning’s troubled gender identity. (In case you haven’t read the papers in years, Bradley Manning underwent a sex change while in prison and became Chelsea Manning, eventually obliging the Army to provide her with hormone therapy.) 

At one point in The Source, the seemingly endless expressionless faces give way to black and white images of Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, who is identified as “a crazy white-haired Aussie who can’t seem to stay long in one country.” This seems a flippant, highly prejudicial way to identify Julian Assange. But whose words are these? Do they reflect the views of Ted Hearne and Mark Doten? Or are they simply quoted from some unidentified source? Nothing is clear in The Source. Voice-over snippets ensue with questions asked of Julian Assange by journalists.  

Soon, however, the video screens returned to their tedious display of expressionless faces, and the music kept on assaulting us with its cacophony. At many times, the vocalists did not so much sing as shriek. Quite a few audience members simply got up and left at various stages throughout the performance. I stayed till the end. Finally, after more than an hour’s onslaught of expressionless faces, we were shown a lengthy piece of footage leaked by Chelsea Manning. This footage was perhaps the most notorious and damning video material leaked by Chelsea Manning – footage of a US Army helicopter attack in Baghdad in which ten to twelve innocent Iraqi civilians were shot and killed by helicopter gunners who thought they saw weapons, which turned out to be cell phones and cameras. In the course of this footage, Army gunners repeatedly ask permission to open fire. “Come on, let us shoot!” one impatient gunner screams into his headset. Permission is eventually given. Ammunition rounds are fired, people fall dead in the street. Dust rises everywhere. “Fuck!” exclaims an Army gunner, “I was following that guy but lost him in the dust. He was headed for that building.”  

The shooting stops momentarily. Passers-by step forth to check on the fallen men. “Look at the dead bodies of those bastards,” exults an Army gunner. “We got ‘em good!” A van pulls up at the scene of the shooting, and dead bodies are placed in the van. The Army gunners think they see weapons being loaded in the van. They request permission to shoot at the van. Permission is granted. More ammunition rounds ring out. The van is disabled. “Got ‘em right through the windshield,” brags one Army gunner. “Good shot,” says another. “Thanks.” 

Rumor has it that the expressionless faces seen throughout The Source were shot while viewers watched this video footage of a misguided Army helicopter gunship’s killing of civilians in Baghdad. (I can’t confirm this rumor; but in retrospect it seems plausible.) When this grainy, black and white video footage of our US Army massacring civilians was over, The Source came to a close.  

House lights came on, and the audience sat there, stunned and unsure how to respond to what they had just seen and heard, much less how to respond to all the confusion and cacaphony that preceded this bit of leaked video material. Only when a male voice came over the intercom thanking us for coming to this event did the audience respond with polite, hesitant applause. It had been announced before the show that we were invited to stay afterwards for discussion with the creators of The Source. I passed up this invitation. As I said at the outset of this review, beware of artists who talk a better game than they show.