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New: Berkeley Council meeting ends in chaos

Thomas Lord
Thursday June 22, 2017 - 10:04:00 AM

"You don't have to break his arm!" urged Council Member Cheryl Davila (District 2), addressing Berkeley Police as they employed pain compliance techniques on a protester who held a stop-urban-shield banner at last night's City Council meeting. Other council members had scurried out of the room to flee the angry chants of hundreds who came out to protest Berkeley Police participation in the Urban Shield expo and training exercises. 

Davila and Council Member Kate Harrison were the two lone "No" votes, standing firmly against Berkeley Police participation in militarized training. Urban Shield is an element of the Bay Area region's federally sponsored Urban Areas Security Initiative (BAUASI). Under BAUASI's Regaional Training Exercise Plan (RTEP -- the military loves them some acronyms), Berkeley Police are supposed to become equipped and trained for, among other things, crowd control, "riot" suppression, and mass arrests. 

When the diverse crowd of BAUASI critics moved from the middle school auditorium to the street a police mob stood waiting for them and immediately set about "controlling" the crowd with shoving and strikes of batons. According to the local NBC affiliate (and pictures on twitter) one senior protester was bloodied by a blow to the head. Long time Berkeley activist Russel Bates was also struck multiple times. Two protesters were arrested.

New: Mayor Arreguin and the Berkeley City Council vote in favor of Police Militarization (Public Comment)

Dr. James McFadden
Thursday June 22, 2017 - 10:03:00 AM

Any doubts that the Berkeley City Council represents the interests of the neoliberal police state (as opposed to the public interest) were smashed during the June 20 council meeting. There have been hints since December that our new “progressive” Mayor and some City Council members were really “fauxgressives.” Of that we can now be assured. A key threshold was crossed – we now know the Council supports the militarized police state. We now know that representative democracy is dead in Berkeley since the Council discounted the public who showed up to demand that the drift toward police militarization and mass surveillance be ended.  

Over 400 people showed up to plea that the Berkeley City Council vote against Urban Shield, against participation in UASI (Urban Areas Security Initiative), against participation in NCRIC (Northern California Regional Intelligence Center), and against the purchase of an armored police van. Once again the Berkeley City Council ignored public input and voted in favor of police militarization and surveillance. The predetermined outcome could be anticipated by the speed that most Council members moved through the gathered crowd rather than stopping to shake hands and greet the public. 

The meeting began with a police presentation that lasted nearly twice the time allocated, and where we learned that Urban Shield was essential in training our police in tourniquet application (something I learned as a boy scout). At that point, Mayor Jesse Arreguin tried to pull a fast one by changing the agreed upon agenda and demanding that the rebuttal argument, a Davila-Harrison power point and Stop Urban Shield presentation, be broken apart. The meeting immediately broke down with Stop Urban Shield leaders refusing to acquiesce to the mayor’s demands. The Council called a recess and the meeting was then taken over by Stop Urban Shield. They used “mic check” to demonstrate solidarity of the public in the face of the mayor’s bullying tactics. Rather than calling in the police, who were waiting anxiously in the hall, a compromise was made to put the combined Davila-Harrison and Stop Urban Shield presentations at the end of the public comment period (with the mayor saving a bit of face). 

The public comments were overwhelming against the agreements. They lasted 3-4 hours even though they were limited to one minute per person (speakers could pool up to 4 minutes). One highlight was former Mayor Gus Newport telling Mayor Arreguin that Bernie Sanders wanted to know why Gus had asked Bernie to support Arreguin. Bernie is apparently pissed that Arreguin favors police militarization. I don’t think Jesse will ever get that endorsement again. Passionate pleas were then made regarding the racist Urban Shield training, the militarization of police and its impact on people of color, and the mass collection of data under the NCRIC agreement. Only two people spoke in favor of Urban Shield. 

The Davila-Harrison and Stop Urban Shield presentations were then made, but paled in comparison to the public comments. Any hope that public input would be considered was immediately dashed by Council comments which included a few non-sequiturs and false narratives that turned the public comments on their heads. It quickly became apparent that the “fix was in” and public comments would be ignored. The vote on the armored van ended in a 7-2 vote in favor of militarization (Harrison and Davila on the losing end) and that set the tone for the rest of the meeting. 

The NCRIC and UASI votes were then split up. There was a brief glimmer of hope that NCRIC would fail when the Mayor stated he was against it, and when Bartlett also voted no. Hahn had already voted solidarity with police surveillance (voting with Droste, Wengraf, and Maio who were sure votes for militarization), and the deciding vote fell to Worthington. In keeping with his recent pattern of channeling Tom Bates, Worthington voted yes on NCRIC. Harrison attempted some compromises on the UASI agreement, but in the end the UASI was also ratified. That left only participation Urban Shield training. 

The Urban Shield vote seemed in doubt, with some hope that crumbs would be scattered to the public. The council debate ended with Hahn giving a long winded speech that initially sounded like she would vote “No” on Urban Shield, including strategic pauses for applause, raising the last hopes of the remaining 200+ people. But late in this speech she changed her tune and said she would vote in favor of participation this year – a classic Sophie Hahn bait and switch speech as I’ve observed several times over the years. The room filled with boos. 

Jesse, seeing that time was running out, quickly called a vote and the room erupted in pandemonium. Stop Urban Shield took the stage with their banner during the vote and police moved in making arrests and ironically demonstrating what the Police Chief Greenwood means when he talks about community policing. The Council (except Davila) quickly fled the room protected by the cops who continued to intimidate and threaten the crowd. The public eventually moved out into the street chanting slogans and demanding that police release those arrested.  

Outside, a shoving match ensued with police striking some protesters with their batons. The cops made a quick getaway with the two “terrorists” (aka protestors) who dared to hold up a protest banner, and then regrouped as riot police in an attempt to clear the street. Funny thing was, the public was not afraid and held their ground. The police retreated then made several more attempts to intimidate the crowd – all of which failed. Speeches were made and slogans were sung. In the end the police realized they were vastly outnumbered by the crowd and that any attempt at mass arrests following this vote would not look good. So the police tucked tail and left. The crowd vowed to continue to push for an end police militarization and surveillance, and to end Urban Shield. 

We now know where our Council stands on police militarization. They have showed proper subservience to a militarized police state. Their attempts to wear down the public with late night delays and multiple postponed votes did not work. With each meeting, public outcry against Urban Shield, against the UASI/NCRIC agreements, and against the armored van grew stronger. This outcry against militarized policing and information sharing with the Trump regime has become a litmus test for the Council – and they failed the test. 

We now know that when push comes to shove, the Council will side with the police state over the public. It appears that the Council has chosen to side with the Police Officers Association out of fear of their political power. The Council is now allied with Trump’s militarized oppression of minorities and immigrants. And the Council will continue the path of police militarization designed to suppress public protest against the Trump regime. Mayor Arreguin, Sophie Hahn, Bob Bartlett, and Kriss Worthington have now demonstrated that they are fauxgressives, not progressives. They have now teamed up with the corporate-developer votes of Maio, Wengraf and Droste. 

It appears we only have two progressive voices remaining on the Council – Davila and Harrison – less than we thought we had a year ago. As The Who sung: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” At least we now know that we can’t count on our city representatives to side with the public. Instead, the Council will side with the police when they suppress the coming protests against the Republican’s austerity, anti-environment and war programs. Our Council has chosen the same side as Trump, Bush, Clinton and Obama in creating and enhancing a militarized surveillance police state. It is now time for us to decide what we are going to do about representatives who fail to represent. 


UC Berkeley police seek suspects in Grizzly Peak shooting

Bay City News
Wednesday June 21, 2017 - 01:35:00 PM

Campus police at the University of California, Berkeley are looking for three suspects in connection with an early morning armed robbery on Grizzly Peak that ended with a female victim being shot in the leg. 

Officers responded to a local hospital on report of a gunshot wound victim at 3:49 a.m. 

They determined that a female and two male victims who were not affiliated with the university had been parked at Signpost 16 along Grizzly Peak Boulevard around 3 a.m. when they were approached by three suspects who demanded their money, according to police.  

The victims fled the scene in their vehicle rather than comply with the demand, and one of the suspects opened fire, striking the female victim in the leg with at least one bullet. 

They were all described as Hispanic men in their mid-20s, police said. 

The first suspect had long black hair pulled back, possibly in a ponytail, and a red T-shirt with a graphic on it as well as dark pants. 

The second suspect had a slim build with a tattoo on his chest, a white T-shirt and dark pants. 

The third suspect was also wearing a white T-shirt and dark pants, but additional information about him was not immediately available. 

A vehicle associated with the suspects was described as a white SUV, possibly a Toyota 4Runner, with damage to the driver's side door, according to police. 

Anyone with additional information is asked to contact the University of California Police Department's criminal investigation bureau at (510) 542-0472 during business hours or (510) 642-6760 at all other times.


Alex Kekauoha (BCN)
Tuesday June 20, 2017 - 01:45:00 PM

Electric customers across California are asked to conserve electricity today and Wednesday because of the heat wave. 

The California Independent System Operator, which oversees the operation of the state's bulk electric system, transmission lines and electricity market, has issued a statewide Flex Alert, or a call for voluntary electricity conservation. 

Electric customers are urged to conserve electricity from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. today and Wednesday. 

Conservation is especially recommended during the late afternoon, when air conditioners are typically at peak use, CAISO official said. 

According to CAISO officials, electric customers can help avoid power outages by turning off all unnecessary lights, using major appliances before 2 p.m. or after 9 p.m., and setting air conditioners to 78 degrees or higher. 

During times of higher temperatures, demand on the power grid can be strained as air conditioner use increases. Peak usage for today and Wednesday is expected to exceed 47,000 megawatts each day in the CAISO service territory, which serves roughly 80 percent of the state's electricity customers, CAISO officials said. 

More electricity conservation tips are available at www.flexalert.org.



Berkeley councilmembers need to become better listeners

Becky O'Malley
Friday June 16, 2017 - 03:02:00 PM

The decision-making process of the Berkeley City Council needs an attitude adjustment, or a procedural update, or something. In an effort to make sure that important tasks can be completed at a reasonable hour, the new council majority has moved up the start time to 6 p.m., which in theory could get the ceremonial matters and the consent calendar out of the way before tackling the harder stuff at seven.

But at the first meeting under the new schedule, the meeting time was extended at 11:15, no better than it ever was, and so an urgent major proposal before the council was postponed for two more weeks.

As a simpleton who shall be nameless might tweet, SAD!

The major problem, one which has been the major problem in the approximately forty years since I’ve been watching the Berkeley City Council on and off, is that the only reliable way to get the attention of even the best-intentioned city council is to have as many concerned citizens as possible show up in the flesh to make their case in what’s become one or two minute sound-bytes. This problem is not unique to Berkeley, although many who live here and subscribe to the theory of Berkeley exceptionalism would like to think so. I’ve seen the same phenomenon on the Santa Cruz city council, even though they start their meeting in the afternoon with a break for dinner.

It’s fashionable to deride the public comment part of city council agendas as crazy people just sounding off, but in fact I’ve observed, not just once but many times, that citizen input can be the only way elected officials learn about serious problems. The most striking recent example was in Santa Cruz, where the police learned in public comment time that they’d been hornswoggled by ICE into participating in a round-up of undocumented people who had no connection to crime during what they thought was a drug bust, contrary to city policy. (To their credit, the police made a public apology the next day, though the damage was done.)

The very important topic which was left hanging this week by the Berkeley City Council was correcting more than a decade of neglect by requiring developers to include of a substantial number of on-site units for lower-income tenants in the speculative luxury housing which is flooding into Berkeley at the moment. The council didn’t even pass the second best alternative: requiring, in lieu of units, a substantial financial contribution toward construction of affordable housing on other sites.  

What slowed things down was the long line of Berkeleyans who correctly believed that they needed to show up to voice their support of Councilmember Kate Harrison’s eminently sensible proposal for ensuring funding for affordable housing at the lowest income levels. They were matched, not surprisingly, by the developer-funded claque of entitled 20-and-30 somethings who now materialize all over the Bay Area to avow their belief in the high-school level dogma of ideally-efficient markets whenever development is on the agenda at a city council anywhere. 

All of this talking takes a long time, leaving very little time for the sitting councilmembers to deliberate and decide. And yet, they need the input. 

The housing decision was put off for at least two weeks. This upcoming week, another very important topic is on the council agenda, Berkeley’s participation in the militaristic Urban Shield program. Our correspondents in the Planet’s Public Comment section have done an excellent job of stating their conclusions on both topics, so I won’t reiterate what they say here—let’s just say that they’re right on both counts. As always, we’d be happy to run contrary views, but none have been submitted as yet. 

It should be noted, however, that Tuesday’s special council meeting will be at Longfellow School, in anticipation of a big crowd. Also, it’s rumored that the alt-right plans to show its ugly face, so this might not be a pleasant evening, but if you care, you should show up. 

A good solution to the real problem of council decisions being made late at night when both members and constituents are too tired to make much sense has been suggested to me. Perhaps it’s time for the Berkeley City Council to hold New Englands style town-hall meetings, monthly or bi-monthly, with all councilmembers in attendance and paying attention.  

Also, and this is important, no decisions should be made at these meetings. And the councilmembers must commit to actually listening, courteously. Please, eyes off the smartphones, no tweeting allowed.  

Speakers from the public should be given a decent amount of time, enough to make a well-thought-out case for their issues, perhaps three minutes increased to six if someone else yields their time or a councilmember requests it.  

The Berkeley City Council has traditionally takes a looong summer recess, or at least got in the habit of doing slow under the last administration. How about scheduling one of these listening sessions mid-August, with whichever councilmembers are in town present and the rest agreeing to watch the video? 

Can we do it? Worth a try. 

But meanwhile, if you care about affordable housing or militarization of police, you’d better show on the next two Tuesdays to make your voice heard.  

And by the way, Happy Bloomsday.  





Public Comment

Berkeley Council delays action on affordable housing proposal

Charlene M. Woodcock
Friday June 16, 2017 - 10:40:00 AM

The council meeting was a pretty depressing spectacle Tuesday night, with the minority, the Livable Berkeley-Rhoades-Caner-Panzer contingent who couldn’t elect their mayor, dominating with their tired, disproven trickle-down theory of housing.

But they succeeded in pushing the council to justify one more delay in dealing with the crisis, contributing to the longtime holding pattern for low-income housing projects, while the market rate projects continue to be approved to the profit of developers and investors.

We elected a new council majority to deal with our housing crisis but they seem to be too timid or unwilling to oppose the pro-development interests even though Berkeley voters elected them to do so. Kate Harrison’s very modest proposal to hold the in-lieu fee to $34,000 for those developers unwilling to designate 20% of units for low-income residents was delayed for further discussion, further “studies,” and, once again, nothing done to address the crisis. 

We need bold policy changes to reverse the huge oversupply of high-end housing that is crowding out long-time Berkeley residents who can’t afford the dramatically higher rents and house prices. 

Berkeley has already met 141% of its ABAG quota for above moderate income housing but only 40% of units for very- low-income and a very shameful 3% of low-income and 4% of moderate-income units. 

What’s worse is that unless policy changes are made now, the above-moderate units will double to 278% of quota, thanks to the many projects in the pipeline. 

But those projects can be altered. Several of us have consulted with a very experienced land-use attorney who confirms that courts have approved a city’s right to change zoning and other requirements affecting developers right up until ground is broken for the project. 

This council can require LEED Platinum energy efficiency standards of all projects now in the pipeline, as they should do if we are to address climate change as we must do. This will improve those projects for the benefit of all of us. And they can require 40% low-income units or more, or a considerably higher in-lieu fee for projects in the pipeline so that we can actually build a fund for inclusionary projects and work with non-profit developers. If a more responsible environmental and social policy displeases for-profit developers unwilling to design for zero net energy and at least 40% inclusionary low-income housing, so much the better. They aren’t providing what we need. 

The council could improve the terribly destructive 2211 Harold Way project, which would turn downtown Berkeley into a construction zone, demolish the Shattuck Cinemas, downtown’s economic engine, and contribute many more of the above-moderate units that we don’t need. A zero net energy building, respectful of the scale of downtown’s historic area, incorporating 40% low income units, would be welcomed by most Berkeley residents. Conversely, this city council majority will own this bad project if they fail to modify it to suit Berkeley’s needs. 

Their responsibility is to the residents of Berkeley. Their mandate from the voters is to change city policy dramatically in order to correct the shameful imbalance between housing for the wealthy and housing for families and low-income residents, and to ensure housing for Berkeley residents, not those from outside Berkeley who can pay much higher rents.

Federal entanglements: it's time to say goodbye

J.P. Massar
Friday June 16, 2017 - 11:44:00 AM

On June 20th, the Berkeley City Council will be deciding whether to continue participating in Urban Shield, which among other things conducts SWAT team trainings mandated to have "a nexus to terrorism."

If Berkeley is to have police, there is no doubt they need to receiving proper and effective training. Berkeley must ask itself, then "What constitutes such training, and in what environment? Here are some principles Berkeley's policy makers should embrace:

- Training must not occur in a militaristic, testosterone-laden, violence-promoting and racially-charged environment. (This should go without saying.) Urban Shield is all of that. Urban Shield advocates dismiss such problems, or claim they will be easily fixed. The truth is that they are inherent in training which promotes the mythos of "The Warrior Cop," evident in Urban Shield promotional pictures and videos. - Training should be about the most critical, most likely, and most life-threatening issues Berkeley faces.

That means, for one, encounters with those in need of mental health services. Emergency training must also offer coordinated preparedness for a major earthquake or Hills fire, things that are almost inevitable, rather than unlikely scenarios. 

In the United States, it is approximately thirty times as likely that a police officer will kill someone as it is that someone is killed in a terroristic act by a non-police officer. It only makes sense, then, in maximizing lives saved, to place far more emphasis on de-escalation, disarmament and other engagement techniques that minimize the chance of someone being killed in a police encounter than continuing, as Berkeley's police have done for the last decade through Urban Shield, to train with so much energy against terror. 

The Council therefore must end Berkeley's participation in Urban Shield and insist tht BPD prioritize training to face the real and most likely dangers Berkeley faces. 

Also on the 20th the Council will take up whether to enter into agreements with various Federal agencies - so called Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs). 

Regardless of the details in any particular Federal MOU or other psuedo-agreement, The Council needs to step back and think seriously about what entanglement with this administration - directly and through its subordinate agencies - means. 

- We have ICE agents looking for 4th graders at schools, and terrorizing people with children and grandchildren who have been on these shores for decades. - We have a Attorney General who would like nothing better than to lock most of Berkeley away for violating drug laws. - We have a President who may well have committed obstruction of justice. At least twice. - We have a President who doesn't understand the 1st amendment, who ran on a Muslim Ban, and whom likely doesn't understand any of the other nine amendments in the Bill of Rights. - We have agencies like the FBI and the NSA with vast powers, subordinate to an Executive Branch which is vindictive, tempered only by its seeming incompetence. 

The question whether we should be cutting all the ties that we possibly can with this Hydra has a straightforward, logically arrived at, answer: Yes, absolutely yes. The Council must absolutely refuse to cooperate in any way with ICE, NCRIC (The local Federal "fusion center" which collects data on all of us) and UASI (the entity that funds Urban Shield), and to the extent legally possible ensure that we are not unwittingly allowing agencies such as the FBI, the ATF or the DoJ to provide information on immigrants living in Berkeley to ICE or to given them assistance in executing Sessions' drug war. 

The Council must refuse to sign any MOU with NCRIC or UASI, and, as Oakland is in the process of doing, revoke and rescind any and all agreements we have with ICE.

Berkeley city manager short-circuits process for police armored tactical van--Tuesday Council meeting to consider action

Gene Bernardi, Veterans For Peace E. Bay Chapt. #162 and SuperBOLD ( Berkeleyans Organizing for Liberty Defense)
Friday June 16, 2017 - 10:46:00 AM

On November 1, 2016 the Berkeley City Manager signed an "Agreement with the City and County of San Francisco...for the distribution of FY 2016 UASI Grant Funds". UASI is the Urban Areas Security Initiative program run by the U. S. Department of Homeland Security. UASI provides grants for Urban Shield and military equipment such as an Armored Tactical Van. 

This signage by the city manager with S.F., the UASI fiscal agent, short-circuited the process for the Armored Van purchase because FY 2016 UASI had not, and HAS NOT YET been considered for renewal by the Berkeley City Council! This greased the wheels for the funding of the Armored Tactical Van which appeared on the December 13, 2016 City Council Agenda and was approved by the Council with only one brave soul, Cheryl Davila voting NO. 

The UASI Grants Funds Agreement includes Appendix A which spells out the details for the purchase of the Armored Tactical Van for the Berkeley Police Department (BPD) which is to receive the van September 29, 2017, to be deployed October 30, 2017

Crowds of concerned members of the public and representatives of organizations have flooded Berkeley City hall at several meetings waiting to speak out against the Berkeley City Council renewal of FY 2016 UASI/Urban Shield and the final purchase of the Armored Van. 

Many were barred by Police from entering City Council chambers in violation of The Brown Act's requirement that legislative body meetings be open to the public. Furthermore, New Business was addressed before Old Business in violation of Robert's Rules of Order by reference a part of Berkeley's Council Rules of Procedure. Several times now the Council has delayed action on UASI and the Armored Van. A delay was last approved after midnight on May 16, 2017 after people had waited over five hours to speak! 

A final vote on the Armored Van requires that the Council authorize the City Manager to execute a purchase order for the Armored Tactical Van ("Specially Equipped Panel Van") from the Armored Group. (Which military equipment companies will benefit from this purchase with our Federal tax money and BPD money?) 

The Berkeley City Council has called a Special Meeting on June 20, 2017, 6pm at Longfellow Middle School, Berkeley to consider the renewal of UASI and the FBI's NCRIC (Northern California Regional Intelligence Center) receptacle for the Joint Terrorism Task Force surveillance system, as well as the final purchase order for the Armored Tactical Van. 

Longfellow Middle School is at 1500 Derby Street, Berkeley. All Council meetings are open to the public. Please attend and speak on these programs which many feel have a chilling affect on our freedom of speech and assembly. 

Eric Trump

Jagjit Singh
Friday June 16, 2017 - 12:04:00 PM

The Trump family seems determined to monetize the presidency. 

In a devastating exposé Forbes reported that charity work by Eric Trump’s Foundation raised approximately $16 million claiming that there would be no charge using Trump Golf courses where the venues were held. 

Ian Gillule, former membership and marketing director of the Trump National Westchester golf course, recalled Trump saying, “I don't care if it's my son or not — everybody gets billed." 

The Trump family then charged huge sums of money to host the vents – misleading the public and profiting from donations intended for the sick children of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. 

Forbes commented that “Golf charity experts say the listed expenses defy any reasonable cost justification for a one-day golf tournament," 

Forbes also reported that additional sums of money were directed to several of Trump golf course clients. Who are the losers? The children of St. Jude. Sad! 

Ivanka Trump

Tejinder Uberoi
Friday June 16, 2017 - 11:47:00 AM

Determined to monetize her new association with the Chinese government, Ivanka Trump secured three new exclusive trademark deals. This happened the very same day she and her father had dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump’s private resort in Florida. Ivanka‘s company has since filed numerous additional Chinese trademark applications to maximize her penetration into the Chinese market. Although Ivanka no longer manages the company she retains an ownership stake and still benefits from the company profits. 

To prevent revelations about poor working conditions at the factory manufacturing her brand of shoes, the Chinese government arrested three activists who were investigating labor conditions at the factory. 

The activists were working for a New York based non-profit – China Labor Watch. This is the first time in nearly two decades that the Chinese government has interfered with the activities of the non-profit. Amnesty International is demanding the release of the three activists. 

The non-profit was planning to release its report about working conditions at the factory - Huajian International, next month. An early draft describes workers being verbally abused, forced to work excessive overtime, and paid below minimum wages. 

It is shameful that Ivanka or a spokesperson of her company failed to demand the immediate release of the three activists and better working condtions at the factory. This is shameful. The bad seed seems to have been handed down from father to daughter.

Eating anything they feed you

Carol Denney
Friday June 16, 2017 - 11:20:00 AM
Carol Denney

I have a rueful saying about musicians; "musicians will eat anything you feed them." The point, after a lifetime of gigs that either pay nothing or less than minimum wage considering expenses and practice time, is to acknowledge that we're in it because we can't help ourselves. Artists with a calling, a much kinder word than obsession, couldn't stop creating if you paid them.

After reading the almost perpetual promotion of "tiny houses" in Street Spirit in the past year I have begun to feel like I'm sharing pages with members of a cult. There appears to be no recognition that "tiny houses" violate habitability requirements, cost more, and reduce green standards. I've found there's almost no interest from those who promote them in organizing for rent control, vacancy and mitigation fees for landlords and developers, or rehabbing older buildings for cooperative low-cost housing, or other more practical responses to the lack of low-income housing.  

Our habitability standards are not at fault for our housing crisis, which accelerated when the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act passed in 1995 allowing landlords to raise rents to market rate when a unit was vacated, a change which also had the effect of incentivizing owner-move-ins and evictions. In fact, the burden you create for people if you force them to live without water, heat, electricity, and cooking facilities is huge. The hide-and-go-seek game played in most towns with restroom availability, for instance, in order to avoid attracting poor people in need of washing out a few things is documented in Berkeley's Downtown Berkeley Association meeting minutes and policy recommendations; when the new BART Plaza is unveiled a public restroom will be strangely missing thanks to their lobbying - with our money. BART's own restrooms remain firmly locked still using the tired post 9-11 security hazard excuse. 

"Tiny houses" don't have bathrooms, or kitchens, or heat, or trash receptacles unless you go for the full decked-out-like-a-house treatment which rockets the price up so high their promoters turn red-faced, since the whole miniaturization fad rests on overlapping myths of seeming cheap, or green, or habitable. Trying to cook and bathe in a glorified tent without ventilation near combustible materials is not just hard, it's dangerous, as several local fires in tent cities recently underscore. 

Landlords have habitability requirements imposed on them by the city and state so that people don't die of mold, or hypothermia, or a conflagration like the Ghost Ship fire while paying rent for the privilege. And Berkeley had lots of cheap housing in the early 1970's. That's part of the reason People's Park exists; there was so much cheap housing and office space that the University of California regents simply found UC Berkeley's argument that they really need to build housing or offices or sports courts there unconvincing, and wouldn't vote them any money to build anything, resulting in a user-developed park. 

But the "tiny houses" band plays on. The usual accompanying theme is that they are better than nothing, and I used to agree. But now I am not so sure. "Tiny house" promotion has displaced rational approaches to our housing crisis. There's nothing good about that. Poor people are being short-changed in the promotion of what is technically and legally uninhabitable under the law, and there's nothing good about that. Landlords and property owners charge anything they want, get rich, and my colleagues want to ask for less instead of more. 

A couple of my friends attended the earliest meetings of Youth Spirit Artworks' tiny house promotion, and described what they considered the phenomenon of "groupthink" at work, where the desire for conformity and consensus in a group results in what Wikipedia describes as "an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences." 

Maybe. But the most recent pro-"tiny houses" article makes it clear that "musicians will eat anything you feed them" is at least a competing guiding principle. The writer, Lydia Gans, points out correctly that when you have nothing at all, anything looks good. And I do agree that in a pouring rain offering someone who is homeless an umbrella is a good thing. But offering someone an umbrella instead of housing is not a good thing. And charging rent for that umbrella, in my book, is an outrage. 

It is easy, perhaps too easy, to have one's sense of compassion hijacked by the flavor-of-the-month, landlord-driven effort to promote "tiny houses" as an answer to the housing crisis. But there's nothing pretty about trying to live in a miniature train set where you accidentally knock over the town hall every time you reach for your shoes. Real human needs, like your shoes, can certainly be miniaturized. But good luck getting those shoes on. 


Telling the truth about Senator Skinner

Sheila Goldmacher
Friday June 16, 2017 - 10:55:00 AM

I appreciated Zelda Bronstein's alert on Skinner's bills. Shortly after last week's Daily Planet printed her first letter, Sen. Skinner sent out a list of the bills she "authored". I called her on stating that she "authored" the Sb562 single payer bill. She never did, she merely signed on to it after two of her colleagues in the Senate Lara and Atkins introduced it. In fact she was nowhere to be seen at the rally on the Capitol steps when they first introduced the bill in front of hundreds of us who had come to Sacramento to applaud their efforts. Assemblymembers Thurmond and Bonta from the Assembly were present and immediately came forward to say they were in support of SB 562. I called her office when I got home asking why Sen. Skinner had not appeared to support the bill. Aide said she was somewhere else. She sure was. 

In fact her comments which were aired on KPFA the next day after the Senate passed the bill earlier this week, were lukewarm, she claimed her first job was to "protect" the ACA as if apologizing for voting yes on SB 562. 

Ms. Skinner is nothing but another neoliberal politician, the friend and admirer of those we have just cleared off the Berkeley City Council, in my humble opinion.



Jack Bragen
Friday June 16, 2017 - 10:41:00 AM

As of April of this year, it has been 21 years since a complete psychotic episode has forced me to be hospitalized in an inpatient psychiatric ward. To give some readers a perspective, the first building of the present day Contra Costa Regional Medical Center was in an early stage of construction, and from the window of I-Ward, where I stayed, I could see the crew welding together the girders of the frame of that building. (Also, at the time, Bill Clinton was our President.)

The previous hospital, which is about 90 % demolished to make room for the current one, was called Merrithew Memorial Hospital, also known as "County." When I was in the old "I" Ward, I had the belief that I was in a museum of ancient psychiatric wards because of how primitive everything was. (Merrithew was first built during or near the time of WWII.) I also believed I was on Mars.

A judge ordered me to take medication in a "Riese Hearing," and I have been medicated since then, for the past twenty one years and two months. Schizophrenia doesn't just go away--you need to do things to keep it in remission. One of these things is to be medicated, and other parts to treatment are also essential.  

My temperament is different than it was. Previously, I'd had brain capacity, but I was not accessing it very well. Upon the psychotic episode and release, I was in the care of my then fiancé, (now married twenty years), and I was still very delusional because it was taking longer for my brain to recover from a fourth major psychotic break.  

However, the outcome of being in a comfortable environment, (my fiancé and I were cohabitating in a tiny apartment at the "Riverhouse" in Martinez), in which I was mostly free of demands, and in which I was being taken care of, was that I was able to spend a great deal of time and focus on gaining a better understanding of my mind.  

I spent many hours per day sitting in a chair in a corner, with a radio playing, massive amounts of paper, and a place to keep my refreshments, and I would look within and take notes on what I saw. 

The first realization to come about was that I'd been very delusional. Yet, I learned a lot more than that about myself. Some of this material will be subject matter for a future book.  


Being medication compliant and showing that I am cooperative with treatment professionals and others has been a substantial factor in remaining out of hospitalization and in continuing to have basic freedoms. In general, the attitude of non-combativeness toward established authority, such as police officers, property managers, and others who could affect me, has been another piece of the puzzle. This doesn't mean that I am a human doormat, and it doesn't mean that I don't stand up for my rights. There is a right way to stand up for yourself and a wrong way.  

My wife said that if I were to stop taking medication, she would move out. My wife has been an essential part of my continued stability. She has a lot of sense, and usually, when offering advice, knows what she's talking about.  

Looking deeply into my past has given me the knowledge of where I made mistakes. Although Zen Buddhism advises living in the now, the act of going back into my memories has given me a lot of information concerning the things I did wrong in my past, and of how I shouldn't repeat those mistakes.  

In my recovery, expert outpatient psychiatric care has been an essential. 

It is not impossible that I could get acutely psychotic again, which would require being re-hospitalized, or which could be fatal at my age, since psychosis is not only a threat to one's survival (due to not having judgment) it is also a huge stress on the body. Psychosis can cause a "fight or flight" response; and this could be continuous for a long period, until treatment is reintroduced--if the person survives that long.  

However, I hope not to have another psychotic episode. The knowledge that it could happen to me if I tried to stop medication, or possibly from other causes, gives me a healthy amount of caution.  

Schizoid diseases are awful. And in order to have a decent existence, the diseases must be kept under control. You do this by means of cooperating with doctors, and by taking other positive steps.  


The life of a person with mental illness could often be considered a salvage. These diseases can devour a large portion of one's productive lifespan, they can be disabling, and they can take away other things. Some of these things are the "good things" that most nondisabled Americans take for granted.  

We are forced to live with less, and it has to be good enough. Thus, it is a salvage--whether we like it or not. Life may not be giving us what we'd hoped for, however, there are still things that we can enjoy. We can do our best to live productively and to enjoy some things, and that's all we can do. I am sorry if that seems disappointing.  


Something to enjoy: "Stories to Read at the Kitchen Table at Night," a kindle e-book available on Amazon, affordably priced. Author: Jack Bragen 

THE PUBLIC EYE:When Will Trump Lose His Base?

Bob Burnett
Friday June 16, 2017 - 10:57:00 AM

After the Trump White House careened through another terrible week, Washington insiders wonder how long Trump can survive. The answer is: as long as he holds his base. Trump and his voters are locked in a deadly embrace: his base desperately wants to believe he will address their grievances and Trump is willing to lie to keep their support.

In her latest insightful Trump analysis, in the New York Review , Elizabeth Drew observed, "Trump is, for all his deep flaws, in some ways a cannier politician than [former President] Nixon; he knows how to lie to his people to keep them behind him...People can have a hard time recognizing that they’ve been conned. And Trump is skilled at flimflam, creating illusions." 

Despite Trump's "flimflam," his approval ratings steadily decline. 538 finds that 56 percent disapprove of the job Trump is doing versus 38 percent that approve. Nonetheless, 82 percent of Republicans approve of Trump. 

Elizabeth Drew asks the question that most Trump opponents have been pondering: "When, or will, Trump’s voters realize that he isn’t delivering on his promises, that his health care and tax proposals will help the wealthy at their expense, that he isn’t producing the jobs he claims?" 

There are four factors that determine Trump's base support: the first is his health. Donald is 71, overweight, with a poor attitude towards food, sleep, and exercise. During his recent overseas junket, his staff described him as "exhausted." (Trump is limiting further trips because of the exhaustion.) During a sojourn in Italy, Trump wasn't able to walk to a restaurant with other world leaders and travelled the short distance in a golf cart. 

Some of Trump's erratic behavior could be the result of poor physical health. If his health deteriorates further -- for example, he is unable to travel overseas or to attend campaign rallies -- then Trump will be labelled as "weak," "frail, "incompetent," and "pathetic." 

The second factor that could impact Trump's support is media coverage. While the mainstream media (MSNBC, CNN, New York Times, Washington Post...) has reported adversely on Trump's behavior, the right-wing media (Fox, Breitbart...) has been supportive. (When Trump said he was "vindicated" by James Comey's testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, the mainstream media scoffed but the right-wing media echoed Trump's sentiments.) What could cause the right-wing media to shift? 

Elizabeth Drew noted that Trump is a "cannier" politician than Nixon. "He can... make use of social media, Fox News, and friendly talk shows to keep [his base] loyal." Trump has the ability to dominate the daily news by means of a tweet or a call to a conservative talk-show host. However, as the Trump-Russia investigation has accelerated he has lost some of this advantage. (For example, during the week of June 5th the news was dominated by James Comey not by Donald Trump.) 

If Trump continues to fail to perform -- if, for example, the Senate is unable to make progress on healthcare -- or if evidence of his physical limitations becomes more obvious, then the right-wing media will turn on him. 

The third factor that could determine Trump voters attitude is the stance of the Republican Party. At the moment, the only political entity more unpopular than Trump is the GOP. Therefore, Party leaders such as Mitch McConnell, Reince Priebus, and Paul Ryan continue to back Trump. Their attitude seems to be: "Trump may be crazy but he's the only chance we have of accomplishing our agenda." 

So far, the Republican Congress has been remarkably disciplined supporting Trump. Nonetheless, the more dire Republican prospects in 2018, the more likely we are to see Republican congresspeople abandon Trump. For example, a few days ago Arizona Republican Congresswoman Martha McSally told constituents: "They (Democrats) only need 23 seats. The path to that gavel being handed over is through my seat, and right now it doesn't matter that it's me. It doesn't matter what I've done. It doesn't matter. It's just that I have an 'R' next to my name, and right now this environment would have me not prevail." 

The Republican problem is that they have not advanced any meaningful legislation. Trump's agenda is supposed to be Obamacare repeal, massive tax cuts, and a trillion dollar infrastructure package. So far, none of this has happened. 

The Trump Administration is running out of runway. If there are no meaningful GOP legislative accomplishments by Labor Day, then Republican congress people will begin distancing themselves from Trump. 

Finally, the fourth factor that could influence Trump voters is the economy. So far Trump has been blessed by a positive, if tepid economy. (The 2017 first quarter GDP increased by only .7 percent.) The US economy is at full employment and wage growth has barely exceeded inflation. 

Trump promised to push economic growth by means of a massive infrastructure investment. So far this program has languished. 

Trump's position is deteriorating. He's beginning to lose his domination of the news. His legislative agenda appears to be dead in the water. All it will take is one major setback and the Trump facade will crumble; his voters will massively unfriend him. 

The question is what will this setback be? Will it be developments in the Russia investigation or the economy or something unpredictable? 

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

DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE:Europe: The Danger of the Center

Conn Hallinan
Friday June 16, 2017 - 11:37:00 AM

The good news out of Europe is that Marine Le Pen’s neo-Nazi National Front took a beating in the May 7 French presidential election. The bad news is that the program of the winner, Emmanuel Macron, might put Le Pen back in the running six years from now.

Macron pledges to cut 120,000 public jobs, reduce spending by 60 billion Euros, jettison the 35-hour workweek, raise the retirement age, weaken unions’ negotiating strength and cut corporate taxes. It is a program that is unlikely to revive the morbid French economy, but it will certainly worsen the plight of jobless youth and seniors and hand the National Front ammunition for the 2022 election.

Europe is enmeshed in an economic crisis brought on by the structure of the European Union (EU), on one hand, and the nature of capitalism, on the other. That convergence has derailed economies throughout the 27-member trade group, impoverished tens of millions, and helped conjure up racist, rightwing movements that are not likely to be deterred by a few election losses.

Obscuring the roots of this crisis is the myth that debt is the result of spendthrift behavior, the economic sluggishness a consequence of high taxes, and rigid labor rules that handcuff businesses and inhibit growth. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is fond of saying that countries should behave like a “frugal Swabian house frau.” 

Is Merkel’s observation bases on a myth or is it allegory? While an allegory is the “figurative treatment of one subject under the guise of another,” a myth is “an unproven or false collective belief that is used to justify a social institution.” The difference may seem pedantic, however, it is anything but, and, because myths are particularly hard to dislodge once they become widespread, it is essential to unpack exactly how the EU got itself in trouble. 

Part of the problem is capitalism itself, an economic system that generates both enormous productive capacity and economic chaos. 

Capitalism is afflicted by two kinds of crisis, cyclical and structural. The cyclical ones—recessions—tend to occur pretty much every 10 ten years. The U.S. and Europe went through recessions in the early 1980s, early 1990s, and the first years of 2000. They are painful and unpleasant but generally over in about 18 months. 

Every 40 or 50 years, however, there is a structural crisis like the 1929 crash and the ensuing Great Depression. 

When a structural crisis hits, capitalism re-organizes itself. In the 1930s, the solution was to create a re-distributive capitalism that used the power of the state to prime the economic pump and alleviate some of the chaos that accompanies such re-organizations. Unemployment insurance and Social Security took some of the edge off the pain, public works absorbed some of the jobless, and unions got the right to organize and strike. 

Capitalism went through another structural crisis at the end of the 1970s, and it is the fallout from that one that currently plagues the EU—and the U.S. Using the 1979-81 recession as a screen, taxes on corporations and the wealthy were slashed, business and finance de-regulated, public institutions privatized, and unions assaulted. Capitalism also went global.  

Globalism did spur enormous growth, but with a deep flaw. With unions weakened—in part by direct attack, in part by the enormous pool of cheap labor now available in the developing world—wages either stagnated or fell in Europe and the U.S., and the gap between rich and poor widened. A 2015 study by Oxfam found that 1 percent of humanity now controls over half the world’s wealth, and the top 20 percent owns 94.5 percent. In short, 80 percent of the world gets by on 5.5 percent of the world’s wealth. 

This is not just a problem for the developing and under developed world. Germany has the biggest economy in the EU, and the fourth largest in the world. In 2000, Germany’s top 20 percent earned 3.5 percent more than the bottom 20 percent. Today that number has increased five times. For the bottom 10 percent, income has actually fallen. While earnings are up 6 percent, the cost of living has increased 24 percent. If that Swabian house frau was among that 10 percent, it didn’t make a whole lot of difference how frugal she was, she was broke. 

Globalization generated instability by creating a crisis of accumulation. A few people had lots of money, but far too many had very little, certainly not enough to absorb the output of the global economy. Global capitalism was awash with cash, but where to use it? The answer was financial speculation—especially since many of the restraints and safety measures had been removed through deregulation. 

For Europe, most of that speculation went into land. Land prices in Spain and Ireland rose 500 percent from 1999 to 2007. In the case of Ireland, it was almost unreal. Irish real estate loans went from 5 billion Euros in 1999 to 96.2 billion Euros in 2007, or more than half the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the Republic. Over the same period, European household debt increased on the average by 39 percent. 

That this was a bubble was obvious and all bubbles pop sooner or later. This one exploded in the U.S. in late 2007 and quickly spread to Europe. 

What is important to keep in mind is that the EU countries that got in trouble were hardly spendthrifts. Spain, Portugal, and Ireland all had modest debt ratios and budget surpluses at the time of the crisis. 

The problem was not prodigal governments but a sudden hike in borrowing rates, which made it expensive to finance government operations. That was coupled with a decision to use taxpayer money to bail out banks that had gotten themselves in trouble speculating on real estate. Essentially, Portuguese, Spaniards, Greeks and Irish picked up the debts of banks they had never borrowed anything from. 

Irish taxpayers shelled out 30 billion Euros to bailout the Irish-Anglo bank, a figure equivalent to the Republic’s tax revenues for an entire year. Since none of these countries had that kind of money on hand, they applied for “bailouts” from the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission, the so-called “troika.” Some 89 percent of those bailouts went to banks. The day the Greek bailout was announced, French bank shares rose 24 percent. 

It was not that EU countries were debt free, but in 2014, the Committee for a Citizen’s Audit on the Public Debt found that between 60 and 70 percent of those debts were due not to overspending, but instead tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, and increases in interest rates. The latter favors creditors and speculators. The Committee found that most deficits were the result of “political decisions” that shift the wealth from one class to another. 

In the long run, some of that debt will have to be forgiven because it is simply unpayable. The 1952 London Debt Convention that cut Germany’s post-war debt and ignited an economic revival could serve as a template. 

Converging with this crisis of capitalism is the way the EU is structured, although the two are hardly independent of one another. Many of EU’s strictures were specifically designed to favor capital and finance and to marginalize the control that the Union’s 500 million members have over economic matters. 

The first problem is that all economic decisions are made by the “troika,” an unelected body that answers to no one. There is a European Parliament, but it has little power or control over finance. The same is true for EU member governments. When former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis told German Finance Minister Wolfgang Wolfgang Schauble that his left-wing Syriza Party was elected to resist the austerity policies of the EU, Schuable replied, “We cannot possibly let an election change anything.” 

The second problem is that national governments have no control over the value of the Euro. Of the EU’s 27 members, 19 of them use the common currency and make up the Eurozone. Germany’s condition for giving up the Mark and adopting the Euro was that Eurozone members were required to keep budget deficits to no more than 3 percent of national income, and debt levels to no higher than 60 percent of GDP. While that formula works well for Germany’s powerful export model, it doesn’t for of a number of other Eurozone economies. 

The Euro’s value is set by the European Central Bank, which means that members cannot devalue their currency, a common strategy for dealing with debt, and one near and dear to the U.S. Treasury. As long as it’s smooth sailing, this rule works, but when a financial crisis hits, the common currency and the debt restrictions can mean big trouble for the smaller, less export-centered economies. When the financial bubble popped in 2008, countries like Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland—and to a certain extent, France—saw their debts soar, with strategies for dealing with it hamstrung by the Eurozone rules. 

And that is when the third problem with the Eurozone kicked in. While there is a common currency, there is no sharing of debt through tax receipts. In a single currency system like the U.S., powerful economies in California and New York pay for bills in places like Mississippi and Louisiana. 

Some 44 percent of Louisiana’s state budget is paid for by the federal government, which collects taxes in wealthy states and doles out some of it to regions whose economies are either too small or inefficient to meet their budget needs. If you get into trouble in the Eurozone, you are on your own. 

While the EU has been good for banks and countries like Germany and Austria, it hasn’t been so good for many other of its members. Applying austerity as a cure for debt doesn’t cure the problem, it just creates a spiral of more debt and yet more austerity. As Rana Foroohar, business columnist for the Financial Times put it, “No nation can grow when the consumer, the corporate sector, and the public sector stop spending.” 

Because most the center-left parties bought into the austerity-as-a-cure-for-debt formula, they have been devastated at the polls. The Dutch Labor Party was crushed in the last election, the French Socialists got less than 7 percent of the vote, and the Spanish Socialists are barely keeping ahead of the much more left Podemos Party. The Italian Socialist Party has dropped over 15 points in the polls and is now running behind the rather bizarre Five Star Movement. The Greek Socialists are a footnote. 

The lesson for the left would seem to be that moving to the center or the right is a prescription for electoral disaster, 

Macron’s new centrist party, En Marche!, won, but mostly due to the anti-Le Pen vote. His program of austerity, restraints on unions, and corporate tax cuts is popular with everyone, although En Marche! did well in the first round of voting for the legislature, and poll indicate he may get a majority. If he does not, he plans to push the measures through by decree. 

It is unlikely that such a centrist program will do anything to reduce France’s unemployment rate—9.6 percent overall and 25 percent among youth age 18 to 29—or lift the economy. Labor “reform” and austerity do not jump start economies, and tax cuts have an equally dreary record. Indeed, as Foroohar points out, there is not a single example in the last 20 years where tax cuts for business or the wealthy stimulated an economy. Indeed, the economic surge in the 1990s happened while tax rates were on the rise. 

If the economic situation worsens, or even stays the same, the right will be waiting to pounce with their easy answers to economic crisis: nationalism and racism. 

The clock is ticking. Germany will hold elections in September, and it looks as if Italy will also go to the polls this fall. In Spain, the right-wing minority government is looking increasingly fragile and another election is a strong possibility. 

Center-left parties are doing well in Portugal, where the Socialists have made common cause with two more leftist parties. In Britain the Labour Party’s sharp break with the Party’s centrism upended the Conservative Party, denied it a majority in Parliament. A recent YouGov poll found that a majority of Britains supported Labour’s left-wing platform over the Conservatives’ austerity program. 

The Portuguese coalition is demonstrating that there are successful economic models out there to deal with debt and growth that don’t impoverish the many for the benefit of a few. The question is, can the left in Italy, Spain and Germany put together programs that tap into the seething unrest that globalism’s inequality has generated? 


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

ECLETIC RANT:Jeff Sessions' testimony

Ralph E. Stone
Friday June 16, 2017 - 11:26:00 AM

In his June 13, 2017 testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Attorney General Jeff Sessions repeatedly denied suggestions that he had improper contact with Russian authorities or hurt this country, which he claimed to have served with honor for 35 years.

That he has served this country with “honor for 35 years" is laughable. Remember, his appointment to a federal district court in 1986 by then-President Ronald Reagan was rejected over allegations he called a black attorney “boy,” suggested a white lawyer working for black clients was a race traitor, joked that the only issue he had with the Ku Klux Klan was their drug use, and referred to civil rights groups as “un-American” organizations trying to “force civil rights down the throats of people who were trying to put problems behind them.” 

And if you look closely at his terrible record as Alabama Attorney General, you will find a legal officer who failed to hold allies, political and otherwise, "accountable to the Constitution, to the law, or to basic ethical standards."  

Why then would anyone believe Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III?  

Of course, his appalling record makes him the perfect Attorney General in the Trump administration.

Arts & Events

DINNER THEATER REVIEW: The Burlesque Spirit of 'The Soiled Dove' Under the Big Top

Ken Bullock
Friday June 16, 2017 - 11:24:00 AM

Under the Big Top at Alameda Point, over 40 period-clad performers assemble to put on a show, 'The Soiled Dove,' for their audience--some there for dinner, some just for the fun--a latter-day evocation of San Francisco's notorious and long-running Barbary Coast and its louche entertainments, especially from the Gilded Age that mocked late Victorian strictures and the beginnings of what later was dubbed The Jazz Age ...

Arriving for dinner and greeted by a personable staff (who later take a vivacious role in the evening's entertainment), surrounded by other diner-spectators, in an array of dress from casual to period get-up, if just a top hat or bonnet, or evening dress for a few, the expansive sense of what the Vau de Vire Society, which produces the Edwardian Ball, has in mind for its patrons begins to sink in, provoking both a relaxed feeling and attentiveness. The audience has plenty of time for drinks from the capacious (and reasonably priced) no-host bar and the tasty, imaginative fare served with easygoing grace, but there's more than just food and drink to amuse in the enormous tent, even before showtime. 

Because the entertainment starts quickly enough, with an excellent acrobat, eccentric like an Edward Gorey grotesque, balancing on chairs piled ever higher above the small platform in the midst of dinner tables, while he moves and gestures like a mechanical man appealing or responding to the audience.

Meanwhile, the music's warming up and the Soiled Doves--old Barbary Coast monicker for ladies of the evening--begin to put in an appearance along the balustrade of one of the three elevated stages at the front of the tent, where by the end of dinner, the action will begin, finally swirling around and thriugh the audience as the show reaches its climax a couple of hours later.

And the talent runs deep enough in a cast that's spread thick between musicians and singers, acrobats and contortionists, chorus girls and boys and slapstick comics, some of the performers doubling, making it hard to give pride of place to one type of act or a particular performer over another.

There's a big emphasis on burlesque, the spirit of the Barbary Coast, both coy and assured, maybe more so than any burlesque revival show I've seen, this spirit often more a light touch on everything, or more concentrated in some acts, giving the evening much of its savor.

There's a nonstop stream of acts--a seductive and humorous singing pole dancer, comic fisticuffs by slapstick patrons of the Soiled Doves, Emperor Norton in full regalia raving onstage--but his speech resembles a little some Gilbert & Sullivan patter--surrounded by a bevy of chorus ghirls, who process with him through the audience. Later there's a beefy male hoop dancer, a beautiful and demure aerialist on a stage in the audience, succeeded by ladies performing elaborate tricks on hoops floating in the air above the tables, a funny and scary female aerialist swigging a little brown jug who somehow manages to recover from a multitude of slips and tumbles above ...

There's a lovely singer standing at an upright piano, who makes music and song from the stage that becomes backup for a gorgeous, ivory-skinned contortionist in the midst of the audience, The lead male singer with the excellent big band up above the crowd descends at one point as a waterfront revival preacher with his female flock--and chorus lines do sailor dances and the can-can in ways that would make Offenbach blush ...

The show culminates with the whole cast and all the servers jiving on all stages on all levels and throughout the tent, the MC in his tall top hat jigging onstage in the midst of the audience, excitedly calling out the players as they single themselves out in the fray, finally with a stunning electric violinist in showgirl garb standing atop the bar in a musical duel with the singer, also on violin, high above the crowd on the highest stage at the opposite end of the big top, with the band pumping out rhythms behind him.

It was opening night, and it took awhile for the dynamics and segues between attractions to gel, as well as the sound. The show's brilliance was most apparent in the last third. More of a sense of contrast would've helped; the variety of acts would be better supported by it. And the casual atmosphere had a downside in some confusion of seating and standing when the show-only guests came in. Spectators standing to get a better view, or dancing "in the aisles" added to the carnivalesque sense, but blocked the view for those seated.

But these are easily corrected caveats. 'The Soiled Dove' spills over with talent and action for those who like their entertainment more lavish and frantic than a three-ring circus.


The Soiled Dove takes place in a 50 foot high, 125 foot round big top from a seventh generation Italian circus family in Tortona.

Spectators are encouraged to dress in period attire. Four course dinner is provided by Work of Art, no-host bar by Monarch Bar, music by JazzMafia/Realistic Orchestra with B-3 organist Mighty Dave and cameos by local performers.

7:30 dinner, 9:30 show, Fridays and Saturdays, June 9-July 1, Tortona Big Top, 2100 Ferry Point, Alameda Free parking. $50 show only; $130 dinner & show. https://thesoileddove_tortonabigtop.eventbrite.com/

Susanna Mälkki Returns to Lead Symphony in Beethoven & Stravinsky

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday June 16, 2017 - 11:41:00 AM

Over the last few years Susanna Mälkki has become one of the most highly regarded young conductors on the international music scene. Mälkki, a native of Finland, returned to the Bay Area for a series of concerts June 9-11 with the San Francisco Symphony. On the program were two works by Igor Stravinsky – Scherzo fantastique (1907) and Le Sacre du printemps (1913) – plus Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15 (1795), featuring Garrick Ohlsson as soloist. I attended the Sunday matinee concert on June 11 at Davies Hall. 

Opening the program was an early work by Stravinsky, the Scherzo fantastique from 1907. This brief (11 minute) work may (or may not) be inspired by Stravinsky’s reading of Maurice Maeterlinck’s book Life of the Bees, which the composer once described as “a half-philosophical, half imaginative work which charmed me, as they say, head over heels.” There are indeed musical passages in this Scherzo fantastique that suggest the swarming and buzzing of bees. One brief passage even reminds us of Rimsky-Korsakov’s famous Flight of the Bumblebee; and we should note that Rimsky-Korsakov was Stravinsky’s mentor at the time the young Stravinsky composed his Scherzo fantastique. Suffice it to say that this work is full of orchestral color, perhaps especially in the solo for alto flute in the central portion. Conductor Mälkki effectively brought out the verve of this early work by Stravinsky. 

Next on the program was Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto, a work that was not actually the first piano concerto Beethoven composed but rather the one he numbered as his First Piano Concerto when it was published in 1801. Beethoven himself played the piano at this work’s premiere in Vienna on December 18, 1795. As this concerto opens we hear soft strings and timpani, then a soft trumpet call, followed by a similar passage in forte. Undulations in the strings introduce a second subject in the remote key of F minor, and this subject undergoes key changes in constantly rising sequence. We must wait for more than 100 measures before the piano enters, and when it does, it plays a theme not heard at all in what precedes the piano’s entry. Beethoven, who played piano at this work’s premiere, seems to be emphasizing that the piano soloist is an independent, perhaps more than equal component in this concerto. However, having opened with an entirely new theme, Beethoven never returns to this theme. Instead, the piano embarks on swift runs over low orchestral accompaniment. A martial march ensues. Soft, small glissandi by the piano lead to a brilliant downward thrust by the piano at full fortissimo and a loud trumpet call, creating a moment of sheer theatrical effect. The first movement proceeds with three cadenzas written out by Beethoven, each more brilliant than the others, all performed with technical felicity and utmost sensitivity by Garrick Ohlsson.  

The second movement, marked Largo, is delicate in mood and texture, and it includes a lovely clarinet solo. There is considerable pathos in this slow movement. The third and final movement, a Rondo allegro, opens with a humorous take on military marches. The piano opens and is quickly joined by the orchestra, as a merry romp ensues, offering a bumptious but eminently memorable version of a military march. At the end, the piano seems to grow silent, providing a last sly poke in the eye of ‘respectable’ musical expectations. Throughout this entire First Piano Concerto by Beethoven, the combination of Garrick Ohlsson on piano and Susanna Mälkki as conductor kept the excitement level at a peak of listener enjoyment.  

After intermission Susanna Mälkki returned to lead the orchestra in Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring). This work created a scandal when it premiered as a staged ballet by Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes at Paris’s Théâtre des Champs-Élysées on May 29, 1913. The Paris audience found Stravinsky’s musical evocation of pagan Russia’s celebration of Spring to be a barbarous monstrosity. As time went by, however, Le Sacre du printemps became recognized as a seminal work of Modernism. Its musical primitivism is somewhat akin to the influence of African sculpture on visual art.  

Le Sacre du printemps opens with a high-pitched bassoon solo that is apparently drawn from a Lithuanian folk tune. Elegantly played here by Stephen Paulson, this bassoon solo immediately establishes an eerie and exotic mood. Other woodwind and brass instruments join in to evoke the mystery of Spring’s renewal. The ensuing “Ballet of Adolescent Girls” features a vigorous rhythm to portray the stamping of feet in a primitive dance. Four trumpets intone a solemn chant against a little dance melody in the flutes. The section called “Spring Rounds” is introduced by a theme for unison clarinets and bass clarinets accompanied by trills in the flutes. “The Games of the Rival Tribes” bring on a section of competitive interaction between two groups, set in propulsive rhythms and rapidly changing meters. Then a vigorous theme for four tubas brings on the Sage, who consecrates the earth, after which a savage dance ensues. 

The second major section of Le Sacre du printemps opens with a portrait of a Spring night in pagan Russia. Musically, the harmonic colors are dark, gloomy, and mysterious. A winding and solemn theme is heard in the flutes as the dance of the “Mysterious Circle of Adolescents” ensues. When the ancestors are evoked, the music becomes ponderous and primeval, almost barbaric, full of heavy chords and savage thrusts. The music grows ever more feverish as the Chosen One singled out by Fate must dance to her death. The rhythms become enormously complex, full of drive, and the meters change with breathtaking rapidity. A frenzy is reached, and the work comes to a close with one last savage outburst from the orchestra. Throughout this work conductor Susanna Mälkki brought tremendous energy to the podium as she punched the air with outstretched arms, crouched low as if to wrench the music from the violins, then sprang upward to call for a fortissimo outburst from the full orchestra. Mälkki is definitely a major talent among conductors, and the Symphony responded to her leadership with a splendidly taut and i.nspired performance of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps.