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DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE: Nuclear War: A Thousand Buttons

Conn Hallinan
Saturday January 20, 2018 - 03:58:00 PM

When President Donald Trump bragged that his nuclear “button” was bigger and more efficient than North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s “button,” he was perpetuating the myth that the leaders of nuclear-armed nations control their weapons. But you do not have to be Trump, Kim, Vladimir Putin, Theresa May, Xi Jinping, Narendra Modi, Mamnoon Hussain, or Benjamin Netanyahu to push that “button.” There are thousands of buttons and thousands of people who can initiate a nuclear war.

Indeed, the very nature of nuclear weapons requires that the power to use them is decentralized and dispersed. And while it is sobering to think of leaders like Kim and Trump with their finger on the trigger, a nuclear war is far more likely to be started by some anonymous captain in an Ohio-class submarine patrolling the Pacific or a Pakistani colonel on the Indian border.

In his book ”The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner,” Daniel Ellsberg says that the recent uproar over Trump’s threats to visit “fire and fury” on North Korea misses the point that “every president has delegated” the authority to use nuclear weapons. “The idea that the president is the only one with the sole power to issue an order that will be recognized as an authentic authorized order is totally false,” he told National Public Radio

If a single “button” were the case, decapitating a country’s leader would prevent the use of nuclear weapons. Take out Washington (or Mar-a-Largo), Moscow, or Beijing and you would neutralize a nation’s nuclear force. In reality, the decision to use those weapons merely shifts further down the chain of command. The Russians call it “dead hand”: Moscow goes, and some general in the Urals launches an ICBM or the captain of a Borei-class submarine in the Sea of Okhotsk fires off his multiple war head SS-N-32 “Bulava” missiles. 

During the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, a single commodore on a Soviet submarine off Cuba, Vasili Arkhipov, refused to okay an order by the sub’s first and second in command to launch a nuclear tipped torpedo at U.S. warships that were harassing the vessel. If he had not intervened, according to Ellsberg, it is quite likely there would have been a nuclear war between the U.S., its allies, and the Soviet Union. 

The problem with nuclear weapons—besides the fact that they are capable of destroying human civilizations and most life on the planet—is that they are actually quite fragile, with a very limited life span: “use them or lose them” is the philosophy of nuclear war planners, because if you hesitate, your opponent may destroy them before they can be launched. 

The more efficient and accurate your nuclear force, the more destabilizing it becomes. For instance, the U.S. has thousands of nuclear weapons deployed in a “triad”: air, land and sea. To attack the U.S. with nuclear weapons would be tantamount to committing suicide, because no matter how large the attacking force was, it would be almost impossible to eliminate every warhead. 

Russia also has vast numbers of weapons, although they are more vulnerable than those of the U.S. Russia has fewer ballistic missiles subs, does not really have a modern strategic bomber force, and its land-based missiles are endangered by recent American breakthroughs in warhead technology. According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the U.S. now has the capability to “destroy all of Russia’s ICBM silos” in a first strike and still retain 80 percent of its warheads in reserve. 

A “first strike” attack—also called “counterforce”—has always been central to U.S. military planning, and was recently adopted by the Russians as well. As a result, both nations keep their nuclear forces on a hair trigger, fearful that the other side could neutralize their nuclear weapons with a first strike. 

The danger here, of course, is war by mistake, and there have been at least a half dozen incidents where the two countries have come within minutes of a nuclear exchange. A weather rocket, a flock of geese, an errant test tape, have all brought the world to the edge of disaster. 

The time frame for making a decision about whether one is under attack or not is extremely narrow. It is estimated that the U.S. would have about 30 minutes to determine whether an attack was real, but, because the Russians do not have a reliable satellite warning system, that time frame would be about 15 minutes or less for Moscow. 

China and India had a no-first use policy, but recently New Delhi adopted a “counterforce” strategy. Britain, France and Pakistan all reserve the right to first-use, The Israeli government refuses to admit it has nuclear weapons, so it is unclear what its policies are. 

Of all the nuclear-armed countries, North Korea is the most vulnerable, simply because it probably has no more than 50 or so nuclear weapons. There is a caveat here: U.S. intelligence has been consistently wrong on Pyongyang’s capabilities. It underestimated its ability to produce long-range missiles, it disparaged its capacity to produce a hydrogen bomb, and it miscalculated its capacity to wage cyber war. In short, the U.S. has no idea what would happen if it attacked North Korea. 

Almost all estimates are that such a war would range from calamitous to catastrophic. And nuclear weapons are likely to make it the latter. The recent talk in Washington about a limited attack on North Korea—the so-called “bloody nose” strategy—could be seen by Pyongyang as an attempt to take out its small nuclear force. Under the rule of “use them or lose them,” North Korea might decide to launch them locally—South Korea—regionally—Japan—or even at the U.S. Estimates of the outcome of such a war range from the hundreds of thousands to several million dead. 

Apparently there is also a plan to take out Kim Jung-Un, but decapitating North Korea’s leadership merely devolves the decision to use nuclear weapons to some commander in the field. Plus eliminating a nation’s leader would make it almost impossible to halt such a war. Who would one negotiate with? 

In the end, the problem comes down to the nature of nuclear weapons themselves. Their enormous power and ability to strike quickly makes them vulnerable, and that vulnerability requires that the decision to use them be decentralized. 

The recent scare that a ballistic missile was headed toward Hawaii was a bureaucratic screw up, someone pushing the wrong button on a computer. But that is how the world could end. Consider the following scenario: 

An Ohio-class submarine armed with 24 Trident II ballistic missiles is on patrol in the East China Sea. Each Trident II missile has eight W-76 or W-88 warheads, 192 in all. The former pack a 100-kiloton punch, the latter up to 475 kilotons. In total, the submarine can generate up to 91,200 kilos of explosive force. The bomb that destroyed Hiroshima was 15 kilotons. The U.S. has 18-Ohio class submarines. 

A report comes over the COM that a missile is headed toward Hawaii, and then communications go dead, a not uncommon occurrence, according to Ellsberg. The captain of the Ohio-class sub knows he is not alone out there. Stalking him could be a Russian Yasen-class or Chinese Shang-class hunter-killer submarine. The U.S. captain needs to make a decision: use them or lose them. 

It doesn’t take a major crisis to touch off a nuclear war. Maybe things get a little out of hand between Indian and Chinese troops on a disputed Himalayan plateau. Maybe India employs its “cold start” strategy of a limited military incursion into Pakistan and some local Pakistani field officer panics and launches a tactical nuclear weapon. The recently released U.S. “Nuclear Posture Review” posits using nuclear weapons in the case of a major cyber attack. 

As Beatrice Fihn of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons puts it, “Our extinction could be one insult away.” 

Some 252 million years ago something catastrophic happened to the planet. A combination of massive volcanic activity, asteroid strikes, and the release of stored up carbon dioxide in the oceans killed 96 percent of life in the sea and 70 percent of land life. Called the Permian-Triassic Extinction Event, it was the greatest die-off in our planet’s history. 

Unless we get serious about abolishing nuclear weapons—something 122 nations voted to do last July—some unnamed captain in a submarine could do the same. 

There are lots and lots and lots of buttons out there 

Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com andmiddleempireseries.wordpress.com 




More Sidewalk Rules Versus Common Sense

Carol Denney
Wednesday January 24, 2018 - 03:42:00 PM
First They Came for the Homeless's lawsuit survived a legal challenge and is being allowed to broaden its complaint against the City of Berkeley by U.S. District Judge William Alsup
First They Came for the Homeless's lawsuit survived a legal challenge and is being allowed to broaden its complaint against the City of Berkeley by U.S. District Judge William Alsup
Permit-free tables and chairs are not considered problematic by the proposed new sidewalk regulations; just people with too many possessions.
Permit-free tables and chairs are not considered problematic by the proposed new sidewalk regulations; just people with too many possessions.

It's happening now in Berkeley. A funny, clunky, three-leg legislation race about poverty on a collision course. 

First you have the city's Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Homelessness, which may have started with diverse voices but quickly devolved into something disdained by the very people about to be impacted by the Subcommittee's (surprise!) new sidewalk laws headed for the council in February and which may convert the new BART Plaza into a year-long conflict zone. It's now a sprinkle of council voices and city staff most of whom still think homelessness can be ticketed away. 

Second, you have the Commission on Homelessness, which consistently reflects common sense and best practices: bathrooms, wash stations, safe camping places, and trash pickup for groups of people with literally nowhere else to go. Commissioner Carol Marasovic, invited to present the Commission's recommendations to the Berkeley City Council on January 23rd, 2018, remained amused and upbeat as she was outflanked by city representatives at her table insisting that they were already doing those things, or were about to get around to it. The Commission on Homelessness's recommendations were passed on in favor of a companion report by the city recommending that the city was almost there anyway. 

Third, you have an array of outside pressures: the lawsuit by First They Came for the Homeless, with U.S. District Judge William Alsup allowing the group to broaden their complaint against the City of Berkeley if the city attempts to enforce or threatens to enforce a state law during the housing shortage; the actions of nearby cities including Oakland in recognizing the necessity of bathrooms, wash stations, medical assistance, campgrounds, and trash pickup for people in need; a growing Hepatitis C outbreak; a visit by a United Nations (UN) representative for an upcoming international report on the treatment of people forced to live outside on the streets. 

The battle over who gets to use the sidewalks is even more fascinating given that the City of Berkeley has joined other municipalities in creating "public-private partnerships" in public spaces governed uneasily by commercial restaurants and cafes. Did your path to the post office just get narrowed by sidewalkblockingsmoke.jpgpermanent or semi-permanent tables and chairs? Do neighboring businesses now routinely put out permit-free tables and chairs cluttering and obstructing access through commercial areas? Can someone who doesn't buy anything sit down? 

No one can miss these comical phenomena. But somehow the sidewalk laws being unveiled by the Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Homelessness are tailored toward making it difficult for people, not merchants who routinely try to capitalize on their proximity to a public sidewalk. 

The next move should be to send the new sidewalk rules proposal from the Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Homelessness to relevant commissions. Skipping this step will guarantee conflict and ensure misunderstanding, not to mention legal challenges. The UN rep was clear; while other countries organize to attend and assist people in need, US cities, and California in particular, have build an ineffective mountain of confusing ordinances -3 feet from here and 5 feet from there plus sunset laws requiring careful attendance as to whether it is 7 am or 6 am, idiocy designed to trap and catch people who circle the courts or the drain depending on their health and stamina.

We're better than this as a city. There are a few voices on the council who share community concerns about the city's and the Downtown Berkeley Association's (DBA) decades of discrimination. But the oversight the DBA needs is still missing, something that should be a no-brainer after all the court cases and discriminatory legislation born in their back rooms, often with the council's help.

An informal overture to the DBA, which is being given a contract to control BART Plaza, to enlist their cooperation with a small group of community members tasked to clarify policy and field complaints could still come from commissions and councilmembers. The DBA's current promotions are highly selective; entire festivals are left out of their ad campaigns, which makes no sense even from a business angle. But still there is currently no independent group to whom one can raise the issue. 

Filtering these decisions through DBA CEO John Caner, who plunked his friend's strange bear sculpture down in a public plaza because he could is a good example of how even art can be used to reinforce cliques and conventions of discrimination instead of our city's commitments to inclusion and innovation. It's especially bewildering in a city with so many arts and civil rights groups working tirelessly to recognize institutional discrimination and affirm the need to include more diversity, more history, and more avenues to inclusion. Our arts and our legislation benefit wildly from the embrace of brilliant, if unexpected, community voices. 

# # # 

IMG_2516.JPGCaption: First They Came for the Homeless's lawsuit survived a legal challenge and is being allowed to broaden its complaint against the City of Berkeley by U.S. District Judge William Alsup.

Flash: Judge Allows Some Claims in Berkeley Homeless Lawsuit, Dismisses BART as Defendant

Julia Cheever (BCN)
Monday January 22, 2018 - 12:11:00 PM

A federal judge in San Francisco has turned down a request by the city of Berkeley for dismissal of a civil rights lawsuit filed by a group of homeless people.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup said two members of the group called First They Came for the Homeless could pursue claims that the city violated their due process and free speech rights during evictions from municipal land. 

Alsup, in a ruling issued on Friday, dismissed some additional claims against the city and also dismissed BART as a defendant. 

The group, which has an estimated 20 to 30 members, camped on land owned by BART on the west side of BART tracks near the Oakland border for about 10 months beginning in January 2017. The homeless residents left the site in early November, following BART's posting of notices to vacate the property in late October. 

The group members claim that before that, Berkeley police moved them from 12 different locations on city land between October 2016 and early January 2017 and seized and threw away property they could not carry or left behind. 

Alsup dismissed BART as a defendant because plaintiffs are no longer camping on BART property and that area is now fenced off. 

But, he said that Clark Sullivan and Adam Bredenberg, who joined the group before January 2017, can proceed with their claims that Berkeley unconstitutionally seized their property during the earlier evictions, failed to give them adequate notice and retaliated for their comments criticizing Berkeley's response to the homelessness crisis. 

Alsup said three other individual plaintiffs did not join the group until after January 2017 and therefore could not sue over the city's actions before then. 

EmilyRose Johns, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said they will ask Alsup to certify the lawsuit as a class action on behalf of all members of First They Came for the Homeless or possibly a larger group of homeless Berkeley residents. 

"We're pleased the judge is allowing the case to go forward," Johns said. 

Group members are now living in three different locations on city land, she said. 

City of Berkeley spokesman Matthai Chakko said, "The city's motion to dismiss was based solely on the plaintiffs' allegations, and no evidence was presented to the court. 

"The city is confident that once the facts are presented, it will prevail on plaintiffs' remaining claims regarding unlawful seizure of property and First Amendment retaliation," Chakko said. 

The next hearing in the case is a case management conference before Alsup on Feb. 8. No date for a trial has been set. 

The lawsuit was originally filed on Oct. 23 as a handwritten complaint against BART by three encampment residents acting as their own lawyers. Three days later, a group of five residents, now represented by lawyers, filed an amended complaint that added Berkeley as a defendant. 

The lawsuit alleges Berkeley "has consistently failed to provide enough shelter beds for its homeless population." It cites a 2017 study that said two-thirds of about 1,000 homeless people lacked shelter beds. 

The city has said that helping homeless people get housed is a priority and that it devotes "significant resources to help address, on a local level, what is a regional, statewide and national issue."

We need a just society!

Romila Khanna
Monday January 22, 2018 - 02:21:00 PM

Our legislators get their pay in time while poverty stricken citizens worry whether they can scrape together enough to feed their families. The legislators forget they were sent to Washington to fix the broken economic system, the immigration policy, employment, education and healthcare. They were not sent to Washington to enjoy the good life. The legislators must solve the problems of an economy where the rich get richer and the poor become poorer. Access of the very poor to schools and colleges gives them a ladder on which to climb from poverty into the middle class. Assurance of continued healthcare and social security gives our poor elders the safety net they need to live in dignity.  

It is high time now to include the welfare of all American in our national policies. The latest revision to the tax code helps the wealthiest Americans, jeopardizing the status of low income and middle income Americans. Let’s stop paying out the salaries of our legislators, so they can experience for themselves, what it is like to be poor and resource-less. We must make the US not merely a wealthy society but a just society.

SQUEAKY WHEEL: Shelter with Care

Toni Mester
Sunday January 21, 2018 - 08:02:00 PM
2527 San Pablo Avenue
2527 San Pablo Avenue

The appeal of the first six-story apartment building on San Pablo Avenue will be heard at the City Council meeting on Tuesday January 23, which starts at 6 pm; it’s the first item on the action calendar. The project is a 63-unit density bonus venture designed and sponsored by Rony Rolnizky, the architect of Hillside Village at 1797 and 1801 Shattuck Avenue and 3001 Telegraph Avenue, across from Whole Foods. In many ways, this is “just an apartment building” to quote the applicant, but he has added a twist in requesting that the 12 below market rate units (BMRs) – six for very low income and six for low income – be set aside for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DDs) and has requested a waiver of the City’s Section 8 and Shelter+Care requirements: 40% of the six very low income (VLI) apartments for each category. In this case, that would amount to 2 Section 8 and 2 Shelter+Care units. 

The waiver created controversy at the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) meeting of July 27, 2017 with three members voting against the project because of the waiver and design issues, and prompted an appeal by Susan Henderson, the CEO of the Disability Rights, Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) located at the Ed Roberts Campus, who feels that the waiver pits one group of disabled against another, and that Rolnizky and his lawyers stereotype homeless people. 

I joined the appeal to ensure the BMR allotment met the new mitigation fee rules, passed by the Council on June 27 but not effective until September, and to make a plea for City wide density standards, now on the Planning Commission’s work schedule. Other appellants include merchants across the street from the project. 

The Waiver

The new Shelter+Care program provides subsidies for the chronically homeless, using funds from HUD administered by the Berkeley housing department in collaboration with several community agencies. Participants pay approximately 30% of their income towards rent and receive ongoing supportive services. To qualify, an individual must be chronically homeless and disabled, physically or mentally. Rolnizky doesn’t want such people in his building because he says they may have “a past history of violence, drug/substance abuse and severe mental issues” and pose a risk to the I/DDs who are “vulnerable, defenseless, and fragile” and require “an integrated safe, supportive housing community.” 

Henderson claims his are “prejudicial ideas about people with low incomes or mental health disabilities” and that “local law must promote fair housing opportunities and cannot act as a constraint.” It’s hard to imagine that the inhabitants of two units out of 63 would significantly alter the safety of another small minority in the building, but this conflict indicates how the disadvantaged compete for limited resources. A few apartments in one building represent a drop in the bucket of housing needs for the homeless and disabled. People who pass for normal might pose more dangers than those whose troubles are known. 

Several elements of the interior design create more logistical problems for the disabled than any formerly homeless person could; these include the single elevator, a cramped laundry room on the top floor, narrow studios, dim corridors, limited indoor common areas, and a shady roof deck. One elevator in a tall building is especially risky, as failure forces tenants to stay home or navigate up many flights of stairs during repairs. This is a common complaint from disabled tenants in such situations, like the elevator outage at Acton Court in November 2015. 

The interior corridors on four floors have no natural light, which means the building must operate on an emergency generator during power outages, and no common space other than the stairwells. Thirteen of the studio apartments are exceedingly narrow, about 12 feet wide, and a disproportionate number of the smaller apartments have been designated as the BMRs despite Berkeley’s rules that state, “All inclusionary units shall be reasonably dispersed throughout the project, be of the same size and contain, on the average, the same number of bedrooms as the non-inclusionary units…and be comparable with the design or use….” Presumably, the housing department will correct size differentials in designating the BMRs. 

Private decks consume almost half the usable open space, and huge inequities exist between apartments with spacious decks and those with small balconies or none at all. Of the 18 units with private outdoor space, only one BMR has a balcony. For those without, the available open space is a large roof deck located on the northeast corner and surrounded by walls and the mechanical penthouse. The deck will have spectacular views of the hills but only receive direct sunlight on midsummer mornings. Roof decks have become a popular way of providing required open space because they allow a developer to maximize the lot coverage and residential square footage, especially with the density bonus. But the City has never studied the use of roof decks to fine-tune the standards such as the preferred placement for sun access. 

The desirable southeast corner of the top floor is occupied by the owner’s apartment, a 1,165 square foot master suite with three bedrooms and 502 square feet of deck on the east and south sides. It’s the only three-bedroom apartment in the building and enjoys most of the available sun. Sharing the sixth floor are five two-bedroom units, a studio, a small common room off the deck, a laundry room with eight washers and dryers, and an accessible toilet. 

Ronizky likes laundry rooms rather than washer/dryer stackers in each apartment that provide convenience and reduced laundry costs for the tenants. For example, 3001 Telegraph has a coin-operated laundry that has prompted bad reviews, while buildings by other developers contain a W/D in each apartment. The top floor laundry room at 2527 San Pablo Avenue prompted comments from ZAB member Patrick Sheahan, an architect who asked how caretakers would manage the laundry. Would they leave their charges unattended? Will the laundry facilities be included in the rent or be coin operated? Tenants will not have convenient laundry machines in their apartments, but they shouldn’t be burdened with extra costs. 

There is no ground floor leasing office. The common room at the entrance will serve as a meeting area for people coming and going. The sixth floor common room space probably will probably be used as a lounge for people doing their laundry. Neither is large enough for programmed activities like classes and parties. 

It is obvious that design review, a subcommittee of the zoning board, and the ZAB itself are not addressing the interests of tenants, especially those with special needs. Design review tends to look at exterior features, while the zoning board evaluates a building’s adherence to the code, and state law has begun to limit their discretion. The City should improve objective building standards to protect tenant needs and comforts. 

Contradictions of Integrative Housing

The request for the waiver and the design problems of 2527 San Pablo Avenue originate with the developer’s desire to provide for his disabled 20 year-old son Simon. Those who have heard his impassioned pleas for a building where developmentally disabled people can mingle with the heterogeneous population have been moved by his drive. But his attempt to privately fund integrative housing for the disabled through the mechanism of the density bonus displays a fundamental contradiction. He has asked for a waiver of a handful of units based on the assertion that the I/DDs are “very vulnerable defenseless and fragile” while expecting them to thrive in a densely packed six-story building with one elevator, a laundry on the top floor, little access to sunshine, and where they will be a small minority. 

Perhaps the community and the Council can convince Rolnizky to follow the example of the Spirit Residential developers who abandoned their density bonus apartment project at 2100 San Pablo Avenue to build instead a facility serving the elderly including memory care. Like Belmont Village assisted living in Albany, it will be filled to capacity upon opening; the need is so great. The developer of 2527 could build a similarly successful facility for the developmentally disabled and their families that would house three times their number than his proposed project. 

Toni Mester is a resident of West Berkeley. 

Tens of Thousands March in Bay Area

Keith Burbank/Janis Mara(BCN)
Saturday January 20, 2018 - 08:07:00 PM

About 65,000 people or more marched in San Francisco this afternoon in the 2018 Women's March to draw women to political action, organizers said.  

The march started at about 1:45 p.m. at Civic Center Plaza and ended at The Embarcadero, a main road on the east side of the city. "We had a huge rally, which was amazing," march spokeswoman Martha Shaughnessy, 38, of San Francisco, said.  

The attendance may have been lower than last year when an estimated 100,000 marched, but the 65,000 estimate may be revised upward, Shaughnessy said.  

The Women's Marches began in January 2017 in the wake of the election of President Donald Trump, drawing huge crowds at events across the globe. 

The march's co-leader Sophia Andary, 35, of San Francisco, said the march this year was about action in addition to coming out to resist.  

She said if women and others don't take action such as voting and getting involved nothing will change.  

When asked whether she is going to run for office, she said she's not against the idea.  

Three years ago she would have said definitely no. She now is interested in working for others who are running for office.  

Shaughnessy said women marchers were encouraged to register to vote, to commit to voting, to organize locally, to run for office and to get more women running for office. 

Speakers at the rally before the march spoke about both national and local issues, which was different from last year when speakers spoke only about national issues.  

Local issues included those coming up for vote in the city's June election, when among other things, San Francisco residents will elect a new mayor.  

Separate marches took place in other Bay Area cities such as Walnut Creek and San Jose and in Oakland where 40,000 to 50,000 people marched peacefully from Lake Merritt to Frank Ogawa Plaza, police said.  

Shaughnessy said this year's march also included talk about the #MeToo movement, which has prompted women to call out others who have sexually harassed or sexually assaulted them.  

She said the conversation among marchers was about women having more of a voice.  

Dezie Woods-Jones, the California president of Black Women Organized for Political Action, this morning issued a statement encouraging black women to participate in the march. 

Peaceful Oakland Women's March Estimated at 50,000

Janis Mara (BCN)
Saturday January 20, 2018 - 04:44:00 PM

Oakland police said the Women's March that took place in downtown Oakland today drew an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 attendees and took place peacefully. 

There have been no reports of arrests, citations, vandalism or injuries, police said. 

The march began with speeches by leaders including Congresswoman Barbara Lee in the vicinity of Fourteenth Street and Lake Merritt, and proceeded to Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in front of Oakland City Hall.  

There was a sound system with a DJ in the Plaza, where spontaneous volunteers ranging in age from about 14 months to over 80, mostly clever kids, entertained an enthusiastic audience with energetic dance moves.  

There was no program at the end of the march, but instead organizations staffed tables which touted activities to promote electoral and social change.

John 0liver Simon

J.D. Moyer
Sunday January 21, 2018 - 11:49:00 AM

John Oliver Simon, one of the Bay Area’s most beloved poets, died in the early hours of January 16th, from cancer, in the home of his fiancée Susie Kepner. He is survived by daughters Kia Simon and Lorelei Bosserman, son-in-law J.D. Moyer, granddaughter Tesla Rose Moyer, and former wives Pam Simon Hazel, Alta, and Jan Courtright Simon. He was 75. 

Born in New York City in 1942, he wrote his first poem under a full moon in 1956. Educated at The Putney School, Swarthmore College (Phi Beta Kappa), and the University of California Berkeley, Simon was mentored by John C. Adler, Jeffrey Campbell, Daniel Hoffman, Gary Snyder, Lew Welch and Carol Lee Sanchez. 

While at Cal and after, Simon was active in the Free Speech Movement and in the famous struggle to liberate Berkeley's People’s Park. Of this time, he wrote "I was a newcomer to the Bay Area, having arrived in Berkeley in September 1964 in time to sit down in the crowd on Sproul Plaza surrounding the police car which was holding Jack Weinberg prisoner in the back seat in the first act of what would become the Free Speech Movement. I came west three months after graduating from Swarthmore College, planning to get my Ph.D. in English at Cal since I had not been accepted to graduate school at Harvard, and because my mother's forebears had arrived in San Francisco a hundred ten years before that and California was my terrain of legend.” 

Simon’s nine full-length books of poetry included “Caminante” (praised by Gary Snyder and Juan Felipe Herrera), “Roads to Dawn Lake” (Oyez Press, 1968), “Rattlesnake Grass” (Hanging Loose Press, 1978), “Lord of the House of Dawn” (Bombshelter Press, 1991), and “Grandpa’s Syllables (White Violet Press, 2015). His poetry was published in numerous literary journals and reviews, “from Abraxas to Zyzzyva.” He also co-founded and edited the poetry magazine Aldebaran Review, which ran from 1967 to 1978. 

In 1989 Simon was awarded an Individual Artist’s Fellowship by the California Arts Council. He also received an NEA Fellowship in Translation for his work with the great Chilean surrealist poet Gonzalo Rojas (1917-2011). On January 20, 2015, Simon's contributions to the Bay Area writing and educational community were recognized by the city of Berkeley with "John Oliver Simon Day." On May 14, 2016, the Berkeley Poetry Festival presented him with its Lifetime Achievement Award. 

As an educator, Simon devoted himself to teaching children to write poetry. He co-founded and taught at the People's Community School in Berkeley, 1969-1973. He was a former president and board member of California Poets in the Schools (CalPoets), and served as the Artistic Director of Poetry Inside Out, a program of the Center for the Art of Translation. In 2013, he was named the River of Words Teacher of the Year by former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass. 

Despite not learning Spanish until the age of forty, Simon became a noted translator specializing in contemporary Latin American poetry. His cultural reporting was featured in Poetry Flash and American Poetry Review. In 2017 he travelled to Madrid to attend a conference of translators of Gonzalo Rojas. 

In addition to his daily writing practice, Simon was an avid backpacker, kayaker, gardener, and baseball fan. 

John Oliver Simon touched the lives of thousands with his teaching, friendship, and poems. Mexican poet Alberto Blanco wrote “The poems of John Oliver Simon, like all true poems, trace a map, a psychography, which allows us to enter, not only into another life but into the voyage of that life, and not only into another culture, but into other cultures: into another point of view.” Simon himself wrote “Language is the central human invention, the hive which we are ceaselessly elaborating, even as I speak.” 

A Memorial Service will be held at Chapel of the Chimes, 4499 Piedmont Ave. in Oakland, on February 3rd, starting at 2pm.


Public Comment

Open Letter to the Berkeley City Council
Re: the "Activation of BART Plaza"

Carol Denney
Sunday January 21, 2018 - 11:15:00 AM

I have concerns about the January 23rd plan to allow the Downtown Berkeley Association to "implement arts and cultural programming" at BART Plaza given its past record.

The Downtown Berkeley Association began its history trying to outlaw panhandling, helping create ordinances that targeted the poor, violated the constitution, and were overturned by the courts. Their mission of driving the poor out of shared space has never changed. We've had to battle anti-sitting laws, laws designed to target people with more than two square feet of belongings all with the same purpose: to make life as difficult as possible for the most vulnerable among us.

They allowed posters in BART Plaza created by the city, but threatened with arrest anyone who posted a flier from any other source, claiming in writing that the First Amendment only applied to the government. They violated campaign finance laws in their wholehearted effort to target the people they have unilaterally decided should not be allowed to enjoy the benefits of public space downtown.

This is the same Downtown Berkeley Association which ignores Public Record Act requests, which trains Green Shirt Block by Block "ambassadors" who then seem to think it is their job to assault homeless people on camera for exercising their constitutional right to rest. Their advertisement of downtown businesses is highly selective - some are celebrated while others are ignored - and there is no oversight or complaint system as was promised when our current mayor was campaigning. 

The Downtown Berkeley Association which did these things is being made the arbiter of art and culture in a public space where they've brutalized anyone who doesn't fit their preferred profile. Please pull this 

item off the agenda, reduce its $50,000 cost to the $10,000 recommended by the Arts Commission, and make sure this contract is overseen by an oversight committee composed of representatives from the Peace and Justice Commission, the Police Review Commission, the Commission on Mental Health, the Arts Commission, the Commission on Homelessness, and the Human Welfare Commission so that any programming and management decisions instituted have a chance of being fair.  

Thank you, 

We Can Defeat Homelessness

Harry Brill
Sunday January 21, 2018 - 11:07:00 AM

Among the grim statistics is the growing numbers of homeless people, which has climbed to about 600,000. Twenty percent of the homeless reside in California. Among the major causes are unemployment, skyrocketing rents, mortgage foreclosures, and a costly medical crisis. Indeed, if a financial crisis occurs, most families discover that they had been living on the edge. Nearly seven in 10 Americans (69 percent) have less than $1,000 in their savings account. If they are unable to meet their financial obligations, individuals and families risk eviction and losing their homes. 

Ending up homeless is not simply inconvenient and uncomfortable. Adults over 50 who are homeless have mortality rates that are four times higher than the general population. In fact, adults who are at least 50 make up about 50 percent of the homeless. 

Progressive organizations have been urging the federal government at all levels to address the problems of homelessness. With regard to the role of the federal government it is not only that they are doing very little. Over the years they have made matters worse. The government has not only given up on public housing. Also, the number of public housing units, about 10,000, are demolished every year. The reason is that the government has allowed these buildings to deteriorate, which has made them unlivable . Another major housing program, Section 8 housing, which subsidizes the rents tenants pay in the private market, is also being cut back. 

There are also other government housing programs that have been feebly enforced. The "Homeless Assistance Act", mandates that empty or underused property the government owns be made available to homelessness advocacy organizations. But this law has been feebly enforce. The same with the 1994 Base Closure Act, which encourages closed bases to convert the facilities to housing for the homeless. Either the federal government does little or nothing or engages in policies that actually increases homelessness. 

Obviously, the federal government should be pressured to provide low cost housing including the revival of the public housing program. But this approach is problematic because the hurdles are immense. Believe it or not, far more could be accomplished by 

the private sector. There are millions of spare bedrooms in every metropolitan areas across the United States. For every homeless person there are five vacant bedrooms. 

Among the potentially available living quarters are housing units occupied by senior citizens. Many older Americans if approached would be open to sharing their housing space. There are well over 11 million people over the age of 65 living alone. The New York City nonprofit New York Foundation for Senior Citizens has been for the last two decades successfully matching people to share their homes. The organization pairs seniors with either younger or older persons who are seeking housing. The organization's rule is that at least one of the matches must be at least 60 years. Although the Foundation for Senior Citizens is not primarily a program to serve the homeless, it prevents some of its clients from becoming homeless by helping them find affordable housing. An excellent article that discusses the role of the organization is in the January 14th New York Times. For more information, you can also google its name. 

For both objective and subjective reasons, senior citizens living alone could benefit by sharing their spaces. The research on those who live alone show higher mortality rates, a greater vulnerability to becoming ill, and tendency to suffer depression and other psychological problems. As one researcher noted, a social rather than an isolated environment is like food. Without it, the consequences are often detrimental. 

But successfully matching people for home sharing can be extremely difficult. Organizations that are committed to reducing homelessness must develop the resources and capacity that are likely to yield a successful outcome. The social work staff of the New York Foundation for Senior Citizens screen and check references of all host and guest applicants. It. should be kept in mind that those who are homeless, just like those who are not, represent a very diverse group and may have different attributes to share with others. Perhaps some enjoy cooking, or feel comfortable escorting who they live with to their medical appointments. Also, their interests may be similar with regard to the music they listen to or they enjoy reading similar books. For some, privacy is paramount. And of course, money matters. About 25 percent of the homeless are working. Losing their homes or apartments does not necessarily mean that their job has been lost as well. Having a paycheck makes it possible to share various costs. 

There is one mistake that is worth avoiding. Undoubtedly, those who have been homeless for a while have been under considerable stress. In some instances, the impact is severe and extremely difficult to overcome. But for the most part those who believe that providing psychological treatment should precede efforts to obtain a roof over the heads of the homeless are mistaken. This perspective reflects a blaming the victim approach. According to the evidence, the best treatment that homeless persons can receive is a place to live. Once having escaped homelessness, they are in a much better position to address their personal problems. 

Clearly, persuading seniors as well as many others who live alone to share their living quarters could provide housing for a tremendous number of homeless and near homeless people. The various communities -- political, professional, religious, small business, neighborhood and community organizations, and of course senior citizen organizations and homeless constituencies - - should develop an alliance to achieve this objective. If the initial efforts are successful it would then become possible to attract state and local funds as well as foundation money to expand the program. If done right housing the homeless is certainly a winnable venture. 

For questions and comments: harry.brill@sbcglobal.net 

Another Opinion on Stop Signs

Chris Gilbert
Sunday January 21, 2018 - 11:48:00 AM

The campaign to install more stop signs may be misguided, according to recent research and on-the-ground experience in Europe.  

“Imagine what would happen if you took down road signs and traffic signals. More accidents would surely result, or at least significant confusion and slower traffic. Or would it? The surprising thing is that a number of cities around the world have actually done this, and experienced dramatic declines in traffic accidents. “ 

“The idea is based on an urban design philosophy known as “shared space.” When drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists are forced to develop their own natural ways of interacting with each other, goes the thinking, they work out better social behaviors than the rule-driven behaviors dictated by professional traffic engineers. This does not mean an abandonment of design considerations, but rather a commitment to the larger public space designs instead of overly prescriptive traffic control devices such as traffic lights, signs and road markings.” 

“The Dutch town of Drachten adopted this “unsafe is safe” approach in 2007 and found that casualties at one junction dropped from thirty-six over the previous four years to only two in the two years following the removal of traffic lights. Traffic jams no longer occur in the town’s main junction, which handles 22,000 cars a day. The town is “Verkeersbordvrij,” meaning “free of traffic signs.” 


“The plans derive inspiration and motivation from a large-scale experiment in the town of Drachten in the Netherlands, which has 45,000 inhabitants. ... Cyclists dutifully raise their arm when they want to make a turn, and drivers communicate by hand signs, nods and waving. 

"More than half of our signs have already been scrapped," says traffic planner Koop Kerkstra. "Only two out of our original 18 traffic light crossings are left, and we've converted them to roundabouts." Now traffic is regulated by only two rules in Drachten: "Yield to the right" and "Get in someone's way and you'll be towed." 

“Strange as it may seem, the number of accidents has declined dramatically. Experts from Argentina and the United States have visited Drachten. Even London has expressed an interest in this new example of automobile anarchy. And the model is being tested in the British capital's Kensington neighborhood.” 



In particular, let’s take Milvia. This is supposed to be a bike-friendly street, yet there are too many stop signs for a cyclist; at Vine, Virginia, then further south around the baseball field. All at 4-way stops. No wonder cyclists ignore so many stop signs. It is easy for a car driver to use the brake and gas pedals to stop and go at stop signs, but for cyclists stopping, putting your foot on the ground then starting up again is a major effort.  

Further discussion: 

Accident-free zone: The German town which scrapped all traffic lights and road signs 

Distracting Miss Daisy: Why stop signs and speed limits endanger Americans 

Trump Sinks into the Gutter

Jagjit Singh
Sunday January 21, 2018 - 11:31:00 AM

Trump’s latest disgusting racist comments disparaging Haiti and Africa as s-holes, preferring immigration of white Norwegians has sent shockwaves throughout the world. This is also an appalling reflection on Republican enablers and Trump supporters who continue to remain silent. It is shocking that there were enough Americans who ignored Trump’s narcissism, racism, misogyny and mental instability who were willing to elect him and continue to support him. This is the man who falsely claimed he would spend all his time in the White House but has spent 33% of his time on his properties at huge cost to the US taxpayer. 

It is also a sad indictment of the Democrats, other than Senator Dick Durbin, who were cowered into silence over his racist A-hole comments.  

This is a wakeup call for all Americans to ensure that Trump is removed from office and the Democrats regain control of the House and Senate. America is at the cross roads of good and evil as depicted in the epic Hindu drama, the Mahabharata. 

It is time we recognize we have an “upstairs – downstairs caste system” society where black and brown communities” are trapped into strait jackets making social mobility virtually impossible. 

What makes Trump’s racist comments even more galling is they were juxtaposed alongside his prepared speech honoring Martin Luther King’s legacy as an iconic civil rights leader. What hypocrisy!

Please Comment on Berkeley Surveillance Ordinance Proposal

James McFadden
Sunday January 21, 2018 - 11:34:00 AM

If you care about the direction the country is going towards a surveillance state (aka Snowden), then please make a comment on Berkeley Considers supporting the proposed Berkeley Surveillance Ordinance. You can do this anonymously. 


A simple one or two line statement is all that is needed. 

Berkeley Considers seems to be one of those mechanisms that the City Manager uses in order to suggest there is no interest by the public (if few supporting comments appear) when she tries to sway the Council (most people do not know about Berkeley Considers). Please make your opinion count - support the commissioners who designed this ordinance. My comments are already posted. 

This is item 34a on the Jan 23 City Council Agenda. City Council: 01-23-2018 - Regular Meeting Agenda - City of Berkeley, CA 

As usual whenever a commission makes a recommendation, the City Manager often makes a counter recommendation (34b) that either guts the commission recommendation or, in this case, is a request for more time (stalling). That the City Manager and her staff would need more time is absurd. This item has been debated by several commissions for at least 18 months and the current wording has been known for months. Please tell the Council to support their commissioners and vote in favor of this ordinance.

Meaningless Homeowners Exemption

Paul M. Schwartz, attorney at law
Sunday January 21, 2018 - 11:25:00 AM

With the recent skewering of high tax states by the federal government, the state government needs to step in and provide California homeowners property tax relief by restoring a meaningful homeowners exemption. Since we homeowners in California are now limited to a $10,000 property tax deduction on our federal taxes, it is time for the state legislators and the governor to restore us a state benefit that has been inflated away. 

Regarding your homeowner property taxes, you are entitled to a $7,000 exemption to be deducted from the assessed value of your home. This exemption has been in effect for at least 50 years and has never been adjusted for inflation. It has basically become meaningless and amounts to a joke, a joke on us. 

In 1972, the median value of a home in California was close to $35,000. With the homeowners exemption of $7,000 you were receiving a 20% reduction on your property taxes related to the assessed value of your home. 

I am assuming today, in 2018, the median value of a home in California is approximately $750,000. In Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego, it is significantly higher. This means the $7,000 homeowners exemption is now worth less than 1% as a reduction on your homeowner property taxes. 

The legislature and the governor need to adjust the exemption. It should not be a flat dollar amount as it currently is, but should be adjusted to a percentage of the assessed value. Consequently the exemption would not need to be adjusted to future fluctuations in the value of your home. It would maintain its value. 

In 1972 the homeowners exemption was worth 20% of your home's assessed value. The exemption needs to be reset at a percentage rate of 20% to provide homeowners what it was worth decades ago. 

I am sure our elected officials will scream they can't afford to receive less money from us. The reality is they have been quietly allowing the homeowners exemption to become worthless. They have taken away one of the few tax benefits available to us. In the process they have been receiving large infusions of cash every time a home in California changes hands. 


ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Obsessive Gratification Systems and Ensuing Disasters

Jack Bragen
Sunday January 21, 2018 - 11:27:00 AM

Becoming symptomatic due to unfulfilled gratification systems is a scenario out of many in which persons with mental illness can become unstable. There are numerous paths to becoming acutely ill, and what I am about to describe is only one of them. 

What I am calling, "gratification systems," are not unique to persons with mental illness. Many people gain gratification through money and power. Some gain it through sexual encounters. In some instances, looking forward to a particular goal, or perhaps wish, programs the mind to create gratification through something a person thinks she or he will obtain, or attain. 

Even practitioners of meditation are sometimes subject to this; this seems contradictory to their philosophy. Trying to meditate because you want to "become a Buddha," is a goal-directed gratification system, and seems contradictory to the essence of the philosophy. Not all meditation practitioners are subject to this, however. 

In one of his books, "Peace is Every Step," Thich Nhat Hanh warns against postponing happiness, and says we should allow ourselves to be happy right now--not in so many words. (I would give an exact quote, but I've misplaced my copy of the book.) 

The concept that "I'll be happy as soon as I get [or have, or attain] something, is a source of distress for people, and is a way for us to frantically run on a treadmill of our own making. 

Trouble arises if the gratification system is too strong, to the point of being obsessive. This is sometimes relevant to a cycle of periodic relapse of people with schizophrenia. While there are a lot of non-afflicted people who have overly strong desire systems, a person with a predisposition to schizophrenia can be triggered into a psychotic episode when it is clear that her or his wishes will not come about. 

If you look, for example, at Olympic athletes, you see people who have obsessively strong desire/gratification systems. Who can blame them? If you win a gold medal, you could be set, economically, for life. However, Olympic athletes have done the hard work needed to have a chance at obtaining their goals. 

If a person is in "pre-psychosis," their mind could be establishing unrealistic desires or obsessions. These might be things we are set on, and yet we may not be functioning close to a level necessary to get what we want. 

Wanting something and having the sense that we deserve it is not enough. We must also be capable of doing the things needed to make it happen. This brings into the picture the need for a realistic self-assessment. 

Being obsessive toward a goal is usually unhealthy, including when a person is within the bounds of realism. Many politicians have realistic chances of obtaining more and more powerful public offices. Yet, many have made power into an exclusive focus, one that excludes the well-being of those they have been elected to serve. 

Other obsessions, that perhaps are more common, might include purchasing too many lottery tickets, to the point where one can't make rent. This is the belief that oneself is somehow special, and has some perhaps supernatural ability to obtain the winning ticket. 

On the other hand, when the jackpot is several hundred million dollars, I have heard of multimillionaires purchasing huge numbers of tickets, possibly on the basis that the jackpot is so large that doing this makes mathematical sense. I am not clear about this. 

My last purchase of a lottery ticket was in 1985, or 1986. (Before 1985, there was no lottery in California.) After buying maybe five scratchers at the most and not winning anything, I quickly realized that it was money down the drain. It is on a par with the foolishness of spending money on cigarettes. 

But, when a "pre-psychotic" person becomes aware that she or he isn't getting the thing they have set up their mind to expect, it can lead to an abrupt worsening of the illness. 

If the individual survives this and is hospitalized, it is a chance to learn acceptance of an unhappy truth. And that is when things can begin to be better. 

The above isn't the only way that someone can "decompensate." Furthermore, if the brain had been functioning as it should, and if the predisposition to psychosis had been absent, the individual, at the point of realizing they're not going to get what is wanted, could have some kind of epiphany, rather than their mind going down into the pit of psychosis. 

There is a border between mere lack of realism, versus being outright delusional. A mental health practitioner advised me to attend a day program because he believed I had unrealistic ideas about what my writing would do for me. 

When I went to the program [because I was open-minded about the practitioner's idea], a senior citizen tried to assault me. When I asked for help from staff, they didn't do anything. So, rather than having an altercation with someone who probably couldn't defend himself against me, I walked out. And that was the last time that I went to a day program of any mental health provider. 

As it turns out, the senior citizen who wanted to attack me suffered from a stroke or seizures that made him aggressive; this was further reason for me not to blame the would-be attacker for his actions. 

Schizophrenia is a disease, and so are alcoholism, drug addiction, gambling addiction, and many other behavioral problems. The thing about schizophrenia, however, is that the basic mechanism for finding reality becomes compromised. And because of this, schizophrenia is sometimes very hard to deal with and treat. 

Schizophrenia is not a character problem and it is not a sign of weakness. Someone might say, "Oh, he/she didn't get what he/she wanted, couldn't handle it and went psycho..." 

However, that is an oversimplification. You can insult mentally ill people all you want, you can label us losers, and you could call us freaks or weaklings. However, the truth is, we are human beings, we have dignity, and we've suffered from a brain disease. 

Unrealistic desires aren't the cause of schizophrenia. A brain defect is. In this week's column, I am pointing out a scenario that is not universal, and that happens only to some people who have schizophrenia or other psychosis. Other people can get reactive psychosis, due to a traumatic event. Still others can get sick with no particular cause that we can point to. 



Yet, who is to be the judge of what is or isn't realism? Certainly, people in positions of treating mentally ill people are usually quick to judge that the ambitions of someone with mental illness are not realistic. If I'd bought that judgment, this column and my other published writing wouldn't exist. 

I've had numerous desires earlier in my life that, at the time, were not realistic, but which, later in life, were in the realm of possibility. There is no rule that says if you are mentally ill you shouldn't try to do great things. Numerous mentally ill people have achieved great things. 

And there are plenty of so-called "normal" people whose ambitions aren't realistic. Entire industries are built on people's foolishness. For example, there is "Invent-Help," a company that takes your money and your idea. If your idea is any good, they'll steal it. If not, they've got your money anyway. 

If you are mentally ill, it does not mean that you can't do anything. If you aren't mentally ill, it does not necessarily mean that you are not a fool.

THE PUBLIC EYE: The Politics of Sustainability

Bob Burnett
Sunday January 21, 2018 - 11:02:00 AM

As Democrats embark on a ten-month campaign to take back Congress, it's clear they need a unifying message. Because Republicans are defined by Trump, Dems could unite on the theme, "lock him up." While satisfying, this slogan doesn't capture the depravity of Trump's reign or the fact that Republicans have sold their souls uniting behind him. A better solution for Democrats would be to focus on sustainability. 

Within the environmental movement, sustainability means: "avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance." The key notion is that we live within a system that, to function properly, has to be balanced

What is true for the environment is also true for the US economy and for our national security. Democrats must have a sustainable vision for each of these systems. 

Environment: Trump views the environment as a free resource to be used with impunity. The Republican attitude towards global climate change, and the environment in general, is shaped by three notions: The first is dominion; that humans have the right to exploit our natural resources. The second notion is exclusion, which argues that environmental costs, such as pollution, are outside the economic system and, therefore, have no bearing on economic projections (thus coal companies claim to be exempt from the downstream consequences of mining). The third is denial; Republicans deny the reality of global climate change and make policy in a fact-free zone. 

Trump touts a policy of "energy dominance." This broad policy includes support for out-of-favor energy sources such as coal and nuclear power and features opening up previously off-limits petroleum resources such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and US coastal waters. (It also includes eliminating regulations on existing power plants and drilling sites.) 

Republicans claim the moral authority for Trump's perspective. Their perspective is driven by "dominionism;" the right-wing Christian notion that God has given humans dominion over the earth. Republicans ignore the consequences of pollution. And, deny there are any long-term consequences of their policies -- such as global climate change. 

The politics of sustainability argues that global climate change is real and consideration of it, and the environment in general, should influence all of national policy decisions. 

Economy: Trump's view of the economy parallels his perspective on the environment. (It's fed by the classic Calvinistic view of capitalism.) 

Once again, there are three complementary notions. The philosophy of dominion argues that in a "Christian capitalist" economy there are inevitably winners and losers: the "winners" are likely those chosen by God to go to heaven. 

The philosophy of exclusion argues that in a capitalist economy government has only limited authority. Republicans want government to stay away from all business transaction; they argue that the economy should be restricted only by "the invisible hand" of the marketplace. 

Finally, the Republican economic ideology is based upon denial. At the moment, Republicans boast of a booming stock market and low unemployment; they ignore the reality that this economy disproportionately favors the rich and powerful. (Republicans base their optimism upon the widely discredited notion of "trickle-down economics.) Republicans take the position that prosperity is inevitable and ignore economic history that says booms inevitably end with catastrophic consequences. 

The politics of sustainability argues that you cannot separate democracy and the economy; in order for democracy to flourish, the economy must work for everyone. Thus, if capitalistic institutions are unfair, the government must intervene to protect working Americans. 

National Security: Spending on U.S. national security is 15 percent of all federal governmental spending (which includes mandatory expenditures such as Social Security and Medicare) and more than 50 percent of all discretionary spending. In 2016, the US spent $611 billion on defense expenditures, 36 percent of the world total, and more than the next eight countries' combined total. 

Trump's view on national security is influenced by the same three considerations. The philosophy of dominion argues the US is the most powerful nation in the world and therefore we need to have a gargantuan military establishment. 

The Republican philosophy of exclusion argues that, like environmental costs, defense expenditures are outside the traditional economic system and, therefore, have no impact on the economy. 

And, once again, the Republican philosophy is dominated by denial. After the end of the cold war, US defense spending gradually declined only to dramatically increase after 9/11. Now, the $611 billion is 3.5 percent of the gross domestic product (Chinese military expenditures are 2.1 percent of their GDP). This level of expenditure makes no sense and is not sustainable, when the the United States has so many unmet needs that could be addressed by these funds -- for example, infrastructure. 

In his December 18th speech Trump articulated an "America First" strategy: "The first duty of our government is to serve its citizens... With every decision and every action, we are now putting America first. We are rebuilding our nation..." Unfortunately, Trump's actions belie his words; he continues to prioritize military spending over critical domestic spending. 

The politics of sustainability argues that the current levels of US military expenditures are not sustainable. The United States has crucial domestic needs that must be met to protect working families and bolster democracy. 

Democrats must have a sustainable vision for the environment, the economy, and national security. Their 2018 message should be based upon sustainability. 

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

ECLECTIC RANT:U.S Government Shut Down — Dreamers Left Dangling

Ralph E. Stone
Sunday January 21, 2018 - 07:59:00 PM

At 11:59:59 on Friday, January 19, 2018, the U.S. government funding went dry and the government shut down. Today, Saturday, January 20, both the House and Senate are caucusing to try pass a continuing resolution to "kick the can down the road" until February or pass legislation to help the "Dreamers." The prospects for both are uncertain.  

This is the second government shutdown in five years. From October 1, to October 17, 2013, the government shut down and curtailed most routine operations. Regular government operations resumed October 17 after an interim appropriations bill was signed into law. During the shut down, approximately 800,000 federal employees were indefinitely furloughed, and another 1.3 million were required to report to work without known payment dates. Only those government services deemed "excepted" under the Antideficiency Act were continued; and only those employees deemed "excepted" continued to report to work. The 16-day-long shut down of October 2013 was the third-longest government shutdown in U.S. history. The U.S. Budget Office estimated the shut down cost taxpayers $2 billion.  

As Donald Trump said of the 2013 shut down, "the problems start from the top and have to get solved from the top… The President is the leader, and he’s got to get everybody in a room and he’s got to lead." Ergo, Trump must be responsible for the latest government shut down.  

When President Trump called African countries “shitholes” (or perhaps “shithouses”) in a White House meeting, he was also criticizing a proposed immigration deal struck by a bipartisan group of US senators — the only bipartisan proposal so far that could have provided a solution for the 790,000 unauthorized immigrants facing the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in time to avoid a government shutdown. The proposed framework that Senators. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) agreed to, along with Senators. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Cory Gardner (R-CO), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ), covers the four areas that the White House and Congressional leaders agreed to after Tuesday’s meeting: a DACA fix, a wall, restrictions on “chain migration,” and an end to the diversity visa lottery program. Trump declared the proposed DACA deal "dead." However, there were hopes that if the deal reached Trump he would sign it. The proposed deal did not pass Congress. 

As House Minority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) later remarked, "Negotiating with this White House is like negotiating with Jell-O. It's next to impossible."  

It is disingenuous of Trump to now blame the Democrats or Congress for failing to pass legislation to provide legal status for the 790,000 young immigrants. The Dream Act was introduced in Congress in 2001 and has been reintroduced several times but failed to pass each time. In response, Obama in 2012, issued an Executive Order giving these young unauthorized immigrants the right to seek work permits and deportation relief through the DACA program. California has the highest number of DACA recipients.  

Given past experience, Trump knew or should have known that the Dream Act or other legislation to help the Dreamers was unlikely to pass in Congress by March 5, 2018, the deadline set by him. The blame for ending the DACA program is Trump's and Trump's alone. With a stroke of a pen, he phased out DACA. Trump promised to sign the Dream Act, if Congress passed it. But Trump changed the rules in midstream by demanding a quid pro quo -- he will sign a Dream Act or other help for Dreamers if Congress provides money for a wall and limits visas for extended family members, which Republicans call chain migration, and cancellation of the visa lottery program.  

As Trump stated after the 2013 government shut down, the buck stops at the presidency. Trump could restore DACA with a stroke of his pen. Given Trump's anti-immigrant stance that is unlikely to happen.  

Will the shut down continue until either the Democrats or the Republican blink? We will just have to wait and see in the coming days or weeks. Stay tuned.

Arts & Events

Island City Opera’s Rimsky-Korsakov Double-Bill

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Sunday January 21, 2018 - 08:12:00 PM

At the Alameda Elks Club, Island City Opera presents two one-act operas by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov – Mozart and Salieri, set to a play by Alexander Pushkin, and Kashchey, the Immortal, based on a Russian fairy tale. This double-bill opened on January 19 and concludes with performances on January 26 & 28. I caught the Sunday matinee on January 21.

Let me say straightaway that I consider myself lucky to have attended the January 21 performance, for that was the only date when the role of Kashcheyevna, the wizard’s daughter in Kashchey, the Immortal, was sung by German mezzo-soprano Katja Heuzeroth. I have always appreciated Silvie Jensen, who sings all the other performances of this role, whenever I’ve heard her. However, Katja Heuzeroth was absolutely sensational. Her voice was sumptuous, sensuous, and rapturous. According to the program notes, she made her professional debut at Bayreuth in Wagnerian roles, which I’m sure she sang beautifully. The big question is where can we in the Bay Area hear Katja Heuzeroth in any role she wishes to sing? I’d go anywhere to hear her; and I hope to have many opportunities to do so if, as the program notes seem to indicate, she now is locally based.  

But here I’m running ahead of myself. Opening the Island City Opera double-bill was Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart and Salieri, which was sung here in an English translation prepared by Richard Bogart and Lidiya Yankovskaya. The latter, by the way, was the conductor for both Rimsky-Korsakov operas. She comes to the Bay Area from the Chicago Opera Theatre, where she is Music Director. In Ms. Yankovskaya’s hands, the small Island City Opera Orchestra of some two dozen members gave a richly robust rendition of Rimsky-Korsakov’s music.  

In Mozart and Salieri, Rimsky-Korsakov eschewed his usual Russian style for a more strictly classical style befitting the subject matter. Setting to music a word-for-word text by the great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, Rimsky-Korsakov created a two-man opera that imagines a day and evening in the lives of Mozart and Salieri, in the course of which Salieri convinces himself that it is his duty to poison Mozart in order to save the art of music from aspiring to reach heights only Mozart could achieve. In the role of Salieri, baritone Anders Froehlich was superb. His ardent baritone was both powerful and vulnerable. In the role of Mozart, tenor Darron Flagg was insouciant and yet humble, earnestly conveying Mozart’s ill-placed trust in his friend-and-colleague Antonio Salieri. When Mozart plays on piano something he has just written for Salieri, Rimksy-Korsakov offers a pastiche of Mozartean music he composed himself. But when Mozart lets Salieri read the score of his just-completed Requiem, Rimsky-Korsakov gives us some of Mozart’s opening measures for orchestra and chorus. If Pushkin’s text lacks some of the deeper psychological insights into artists’ envy as delineated by Peter Schaffer’s play Amadeus (memorably filmed by Milos Foreman), nonetheless, it offers a tasty hors d’oeuvre for the more substantial fare to come in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Kashchey, the Immortal. 

Sung here in Russian, Kashchey, the Immortal gave Rimsky-Korsakov an opportunity to engage Russian folk tales of sorcerers and magic. In this one-act opera, the composer demonstrated how he had assimilated Wagner’s lush orchestration and use of leitmotives. Yet he did so in true Russian fashion, even foreshadowing Stravinsky’s music in The Firebird. Considered one of Rimsky-Korsakov’s finest operas by Russian audiences, Kashchey, the Immortal has never until now been performed in the USA. Island City Opera did itself proud in giving this opera a fine staging by director Richard Bogart and providing a conductor, Lidiya Yankovskaya, with excellent experience and credentials in the Russian repertory. 

Tenor Alex Boyer sang the title-role of Kashchey. His voice rang out with malevolent ardor in Kashchey’s confidence in his own immortality. Yet Alex Boyer conveyed a vulnerability in Kashchey as well as this wizard’s bluster. At the January 21 performance I attended, the role of the Tsarevna, or imprisoned Princess, was sung by soprano Maria Okunev, who was convincing as the much put-upon captive of the venomous grey-bearded Kashchey. (For all other performances the role of the Tsarevna is sung by Rebecca Nathanson.)  

The role of Prince Ivan, who is both the betrothed of the Tasrevna and viewed as a threat to Kashchey’s rule, was ably sung by baritone Igor Viera. When Prince Ivan is lured into the castle of the beautiful but evil daughter of Kashchey, named Kashcheyevna, he drinks a potion that causes him to momentarily forget his love for his betrothed Tsarevna. Thus he succumbs to the blandishments of the beautiful Kashcheyevna; and a lyrical dream-like love duet ensues between these two. Here mezzo-soprano Katja Heuzeroth was at her finest as Kashcheyevna, her voice sensuously enveloping Prince Ivan’s voice in lustrous sound. However, a winged messenger, the Storm Knight, flies in and brings a breath of fresh air that awakens Prince Ivan from the dream-world of his love for the false Kashcheyevna. The Storm Knight, sung here by veteran baritone Bojan Knezevic, brings Prince Ivan to his senses and transports him to Kashchey’s castle, where he is reunited with his betrothed. However, Kashcheyevna follows Prince Ivan and makes one last effort to win his love, but to no avail. For the first time in her life, Kashcheyevna begins to know the pangs of love, and at this moment she sheds tears. This undoes the magic immortality of her father Kashchey and brings about the wicked old man’s death, as Prince Ivan and Tsarevna live happily ever after, and the earth sings of Spring and renewal in a chorale finale.  

Kashchey, the Immortal, for all its fairy-tale elements of sorcerers and magic, and its all too simple division of good versus evil characters, is a highly successful opera full of vocal highlights and wonderful orchestral color. Congratulations are in order to Island City opera for offering us this American premiere of an opera I hope to have the opportunity to hear again in the not too distant future.

The Berkeley Activist's Calendar
January 21 – January 28

Kelly Hammargren
Sunday January 21, 2018 - 11:52:00 AM

The coming week January 21 – January 28 is packed with City meetings. The week starts with the affordable housing update Sunday. Monday is Zero Waste Commission, Commission Chair Alfred Twu is running against Council member Lori Droste for District 8. City Council is Tuesday with Porta Potties, Surveillance and Significant Community Benefits on the Agenda. Wednesday the Disaster and Fire Safety Commission will be making a recommendation on Urban Shield. The same evening the Police Review Commission meets. The week finishes Thursday when ZAB will be reviewing the Final Environmental Impact Report for 2190 Shattuck Ave, the building that will block the view of the Golden Gate Bridge from Campanile Way. 

The agenda for January 30th City Council meeting is available for comment, item 7. Fire Safety and Prevention, item 9. Revenue stream for housing homeless and low-income students, 10. Berkeley Way Housing update, item 11. Endorse 2018 Affordable Housing State Ballot Initiative, item 14. Adopt resolution “Premier Cru” property 1001, 1007, 1011 University, 1925 Ninth St purchased to develop affordable housing, direct and refer to City Manager to outline full development potential of site and report back by June 12, 2018. email comments to: council@cityofberkeley.info partial agenda listing: 



Indivisible Berkeley list of actions you can do from home and opportunities to work on elections 2018 https://www.indivisibleberkeley.org/actions 


The meeting list is also posted on the Sustainable Berkeley Coalition website. 



Sunday, January 21, 2017 

Update on Affordable Housing, Sun, Jan 21, 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm, Berkeley Central Library, 2090 Kittredge, New State Laws, sponsored by Berkeley Citizens Action (BCA), Berkeley Tenant Union, Cal’s Progressive Student Association,  


Monday, January 22, 2018 

City Council Closed Session Special Meeting, Mon, Jan 22, 4:00 pm, 2180 Milvia, Conference with Labor Negotiators, Employee Labor Contracts – BFFA (Fire Fighters) Local 1227, BPA (Berkeley Police), IBEW (Electrical Workers) Local 1245 

Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board, Mon, Jan 22, 7:00 pm – 11:00 pm, 2134 MLK Jr. Way, City Council Chambers 


Children, Youth and Recreation Commission, Mon, Jan 22, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm, 2800 Park St, Frances Albrier Community Center at San Pablo Park 


Tax the Rich rally – Mon, Jan 22, winter hours 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm top of Solano in front of closed Oaks Theater, rain cancels 

Civic Arts Commission – Public Art Subcommittee, Mon, Jan 22, 9:00 am – 10:30 am, 2180 Milvia, Cypress 1st Floor 


Zero Waste Commission, Mon, Jan 22, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center 


Tuesday, January 23, 2018 

Berkeley City Council, Tues, Jan 23, 6:00 pm – 11:00 pm, 2134 MLK Jr Way, City Council Chambers 

4:30 pm Closed Session: Agenda: 1. Conference with BUSD 1231 Addison Price and Terms 2. Deshon Hudson v. City of Berkeley 


6:00 pm Regular Session: Agenda:16. Broadband Master Plan, 17. Ferry feasibility study $330,744 30. Student Housing, 31. Ad Hoc Committees to be open to the public with minutes, 24 hour notice of meeting, 34 a. Surveillance Ordinance – Police Review Commission, 34b. Surveillance Ordinance – City Manager requesting delay to complete counter proposal 35. Significant Community Benefits 37a. Porta Potties – Homeless Commission, 37b. Porta Potties - City Manager, 39. Replace Berkeley City Limit signs to “Welcome to Berkeley”, LOVE LIFE!” “Sanctuary City” and “Ohlone Territory”, 43. Information Report – To Achieve Fairness and Impartiality-Report and Recommendations from Berkeley Police 44. Homeless Task Force Recommendations 


Wednesday, January 24, 2018 

Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board – Eviction/Section 8/Foreclosure Committee Meeting, Wed, Jan 24, 5:30 pm, 2001 Center St, Law Library 2nd Floor 


Civic Arts Commission, Wed, Jan 24, 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center, Agenda: T1 Festival Grant Guidelines, 

Policy Subcommittee 5:30 pm – 6:30 pm. 


Commission on the Status of Women, Wed, Jan 24, 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center 


Disaster and Fire Safety Commission, Wed, Jan 24, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm, 997 Cedar St, Fire Department Training Center, Agenda: Urban Shield Recommendation, Disaster preparedness, Fire safety hills 


Energy Commission, Wed, Jan 24, 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center 


Police Review Commission, Wed, Jan 24, 7:00 pm – 10:00 pm, 2939 Ellis St, South Berkeley Senior Center, Agenda: mutual aid pacts, specially equipped van policy, 1033 program 


Thursday, January 25, 2018 

Community Health Commission, Thur, Jan 25, 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm, 2939 Ellis St. South Berkeley Senior Center, 


Mental Health Commission, Thur, Jan 25, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center 


Zoning Adjustments Board, Thur, Jan 25, 7:00 pm – 11:30 pm, 2134 MLK Jr. Way, City Council Chambers email comments to: zab@cityofberkeley.info 

  • 2524 Dwight Way – construct new 2-story single family residence and operate by-right as mini-dorm
  • 1120 Second St – rooftop wireless
  • 1734 Spruce – legalize 7th dwelling bringing total 13 bedrooms are parcel
  • 2556 Telegraph – The Village 5-story, 22 units, 2-live-work, 3358 commercial space
  • 2190 Shattuck Ave – Certification Final EIR, 18-story mixed use building which will obstruct the view of the Golden Gate Bridge from Campanile Way

Friday, January 26, 2018 

No published City meetings as of 5:00 pm on Jan 19 

Saturday, January 27, 2018 

Rally for Reproductive Justice, Sat, Jan 27, 11:30 am, 90 7th Street, SF Federal Building, rally counters Walk for Life 


Sunday, January 28, 2018 

Relax and rest 





"Sign My Name to Freedom"
A New Book by Betty Reid Soskin

Sunday January 21, 2018 - 08:20:00 PM

In Betty Reid Soskin’s 96 years of living, she has been a witness to a grand sweep of American history. When she was born in 1921, the lynching of African Americans was a national epidemic, blackface minstrel shows that both mocked and denigrated black music were the most popular American form of entertainment, white women had only just won the right to vote in American elections through the 19th Amendment passed the year before, and most African Americans in the Deep South could not vote at all. From her great-grandmother, who had been enslaved until she was in her mid-20s, Betty heard stories of slavery and the times of terror and deep difficulties for Black Folk that followed. In her lifetime, Betty watched the nation begin to confront its race and gender biases when forced to come together over the Fascist and Nazi world threat of the World War II era, saw those differences nearly break apart at the seams again in the upheavals of the civil rights and Black Power eras, saw the defeat of the Southern-led white segregationists following the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts and, finally, lived long enough to witness both the election of an African American president and the re-emergence of a militant, racist far right that rose up out of the ashes of the old segregationists. 

But far more than being merely a witness, Betty Reid Soskin has been an active participant with so many other Americans in shaping the country as we know it now. The child of proud Louisiana Creole parents who refused to bow down to Southern discrimination, she was raised in the Black Bay Area community before the great westward migration of World War II. After working in the civilian homefront effort in the war years, she and her husband, Mel Reid, helped break down racial boundaries by moving into a previously all-white and initially unwelcoming community east of the Oakland hills. 

There she raised four children—one openly gay, one developmentally disabled—while resisting the prejudices against the family that existed among many of her neighbors. 

With Mel, she opened up one of the first Bay Area record stores in Berkeley both owned by African Americans and dedicated to the distribution of African American music. Her volunteer work in rehabilitating the community in which the record shop began eventually led her to a paid position as a state legislative aid, helping to plan the innovative Rosie the Riveter National Park in Richmond, California, then to a “second” career at the Rosie Park as the oldest park ranger in the history of the National Park Service. In between, she used her talents as a singer and songwriter to interpret and chronicle the great American social upheavals that marked the 1960s. 

In 2003, Betty displayed a new talent—writing—when she created the popular blog CBreaux Speaks. Now followed by thousands, her blog is a collection of Betty’s sometimes fierce, sometimes gently persuasive, but always brightly honest story that weaves both the wisdom of the ages and the fresh enthusiasm of an always youthful mind into her long journey through an American and African American life, as well as America’s long struggle to both understand and cleanse its soul. Blending together selections from many of Betty’s hundreds of blog entries with interviews, letters, and speeches collected throughout her long life, Sign My Name to Freedom invites readers into an American life through the words and thoughts of a national treasure who has never stopped looking at herself, the nation, or the world with fresh eyes. 

Betty Reid Soskin has been a home-front war-years worker, a singer-songwriter and performer, a writer, a legislative aide, a National Parks ranger, a national icon, and an honest and tireless fighter, both against discrimination of all forms and for the growth and triumph of the human spirit and values that would benefit us all. In her blog, CBreaux Speaks at cbreaux.blogspot.com, she writes, “Life has never been richer, nor more abundantly lyrical,” and “I’ve grown into someone I’d like to know—were I not me already!” Website: cbreaux.blogspot.com 

About the Editor: Oakland, California, native J. Douglas Allen-Taylor was a natural choice to edit Sign My Name to Freedom. Besides having known Betty Reid Soskin literally “all my life” through extensive family and community ties, he is a longtime journalist and political columnist. He is the author of the 2012 novel Sugaree Rising about resistance in a black Southern community.