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Reducing Gun Violence in Schools

Assemblymember Tony Thurmond
Thursday February 15, 2018 - 03:01:00 PM

As a parent of two public school students, I am heartbroken for the families who lost their loved ones yesterday in Parkland, Florida, and for everyone who has been traumatized by so many school shootings this year. And I am angry, because I have so little faith in our Republican-controlled Congress and President to do anything to address the crisis of gun violence in our country. 

In their total absence, we must take the safety of our kids into our own hands.  

There are steps that we can take to help schools learn how to identify students and members of their school communities who are potential threats. California is one of few states that has an extreme risk protection order (ERPO) law, which allows law enforcement to temporarily remove weapons from the possession of individuals reported to pose extreme risk. This is very relevant to the tragedy in Florida, where teachers and students believed this young man to be a threat and knew that he had weapons in his possession. 

I have been making progress in my Bay Area Assembly District to bring gun violence prevention programs to schools and youth organizations. We should provide these resources to every school district. I’m working to connect school districts across the state to training programs for addressing gun violence issues – click here to put your name on our list for more information and to share how your community is working to reduce school violence. 

Another initiative of mine, which aims to address mental health more broadly in our student population but will also help to reduce risks that students pose to themselves and others, is a bill I introduced this week which provides schools with resources for in-school physical, social, and emotional services for students. I believe that all students, no matter their income and background, should have access to mental health services to support their success and safety. 

I refuse to accept that there are no solutions to gun violence in schools. As a parent, I feel it is my duty to push for these reforms and additional changes to increase school safety. 

I invite you to join the conversation – join our list for more information on the progress of our initiatives and to share your input. We are more effective together than alone when it comes to ending gun violence. 

Thank you. 


Should You Celebrate Valentine's Day?

Harry Brill
Wednesday February 14, 2018 - 07:43:00 PM

The exact origin of the Valentine's Day holiday is vague. But what we do know is that around February 14th, the Romans celebrated a holiday in which the Emperor executed two men who were both named Valentine. Their martyrdom was honored by the Catholic Church. 

Also from February 13 to 15, the men whipped women with the hides of animals they had just slain. The women believed it would make them fertile. 

If true, the Romans had a very different conception of romance!!! 

Still, couples, please celebrate each other. Without weapons, of course.

Press Release: Celebrate the Year of the Dog with One of Your Own
All dog adoption fees waived on February 17th and 18th, 2018

From Matthai Chakko, City of Berkeley Information Officer
Wednesday February 14, 2018 - 07:37:00 PM

Celebrate the Chinese calendar's Year of the Dog with a pooch from Berkeley Animal Care Services - and we'll waive all adoption fees this weekend! 

They are dogs like Midnight (who would make the perfect hiking companion), Papa (who truly believes that he is a lap dog), or Victor, Vernon and Vance (who are determined to charm everyone they meet). Or many others. 

Come and pick out a canine companion! It will be a New Year's gift for both you and the dog you adopt. 

Our dogs have been loved. We proudly take in all animals that others have discarded, socialize them, train them, and have veterinarians care and thoroughly evaluate as we prepare them for caring homes. 

Our volunteers and staff also work hard to identify our dogs' personalities- traits that end up having far more impact on a good relationship with whomever takes them into their home. 

So bring good fortune to your home in this Year of the Dog by adopting your very own good luck charm. The shelter, located at 1 Bolivar Drive in Berkeley, is open Saturday from 10:00am to 4:00pm and Sunday from 11:00am to 3:00pm.  

For those who aren't adopting, we'll also be having a barbecue fundraiser in the parking lot to help pay for a few benefits for all of our animals. 

New: Draft of Revised Community Benefits Resolution for Meeting Tomorrow in Berkeley

Monday February 12, 2018 - 08:57:00 PM

This will be discussed at the meeting tomorrow, Tuesday, February 13, at the Berkeley City Council Chamber in the Maudelle Shirek Old City Hall, at 9:30 a.m. 

Draft of revised Community Benefits Resolution 

The Hollow Men

Sharon Hudson, former Berkeley resident
Sunday February 11, 2018 - 10:34:00 AM

I wish to thank Mr. Steve Martinot for his sad and all-too-true commentary on so-called public comment at council meetings and similar rituals (“The Ideology of Silencing,” 1/31/2018). Those who participate in public meetings, are, indeed, the hollow men of political discourse, and so, “in this last of meeting places / We grope together / To avoid speech…”

When I was active in Berkeley politics, I frequently participated in the specious process Mr. Martinot so aptly describes and decries. The ironies abounded. For example, the more important the issue, the more truncated and trivialized the public comments. And, decision makers cannot by rule respond to comments—how insane is that? If anything, they actually should be required to respond, thereby engaging in dialogue, gaining more information, or at least demonstrating that they are listening. The public speakers often know far more about the issues at hand than anyone on the council, and yet they are treated as if their heads are as hollow as those they speak to—or at. In fact, decision makers should be ashamed to participate in such a process, which makes mockery of democracy and humiliates their constituents. 

Especially contemptible and contemptuous is when the mayor or chair determines at the last minute, based on attendance, how many minutes each speaker will be allowed. In the pre-Bates period, three minutes was the normal “public comment” period, until Bates found that too taxing for his Trumpian brain. In those days I was actually so naïve and earnest as to prepare well-organized comments on complex issues. Not to prepare I would have considered not only ineffective, but disrespectful of the listeners. It took about a minute to explain one point fully. I frequently wanted to explain two disparate points and then show how the two points related to each other. Such a speech took two minutes for the two points and a third minute to show their relationship. But upon arrival at the council meeting, we would be unexpectedly cut to one minute…Alas! 

One-minute comments are necessarily simplistic and, as Mr. Martinot points out, only good for registering oneself on a “pro” or “anti” tally. If they are not simplistic, then they are aphorisms that can be “expressed,” but not meaningfully explored or understood, in one minute. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before I realized the futility of both the preparation and the ritual itself. Then I understood why the “old hands” in Berkeley politics did not prepare anything, but would just go to the microphone and try to complete the unfinished comments of the hapless speakers preceding them. With time too short to say anything profound, the idea that people don’t have anything to say that merits more than one minute has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Perhaps even more dehumanizing was the mayor's prioritizing of the time clock over any content the speaker might be trying to purvey. Already the speaker has, as Mr. Martinot points out, excised his or her commentary of all “unnecessary” content (such as concrete examples, personal stories, humor, etc.) that permits a speaker to personalize a concept or develop any relationship to the audience. Nonetheless, perhaps he or she has somehow managed to make a respectable and coherent presentation. Then suddenly, when the sixty seconds are up, with the speaker unable to finish his or her final point or even mid-sentence, down comes the chair’s gavel: WHAM! “Time up!” The speaker rushes to finish, but is inevitably reduced to engaging in a verbal wrestling match with the chair that entirely erases his or her dignity, credibility, and humanity, and along with it, the impact of everything said in the previous minute. 

Finally, the habit of scheduling public comment and voting on an important issue during the same meeting reveals unequivocally that the comment is only for show. If it were taken for content, the decision makers would expect time to digest the new information before voting. In this way the process itself exposes its own hollowness. This ritual may be called public comment, but as for real public input?—Our voices “are quiet and meaningless / As wind in dry grass.” 


Response to Steve Martinot's Characterization of Disability

Jack Bragen
Monday February 12, 2018 - 08:35:00 PM

Mr. Martinot, you are confused about what constitutes a disability, and you are uninformed about psychiatric disabilities. 

Disabilities in general are physical, cognitive, or other impairments that interfere with life activities, such as working a job, living independently, having full physical mobility, or doing other essential activities, things at which most people are expected to be proficient.  

"... it exhibits a form of disability that one could call "parapolitical" disability. It is sometimes characterized by childishness, and by irrationality..." 

Steve, you seem to be confusing normal character traits with disabilities. 

You wrote: "Mental illness and PTSD are terms thrown around concerning victims of social stress, or people abused by those they trusted. There used to be institutions run by the government that cared for such people. Some were communal, and others were simply large torture chambers, creating mental illness on a kind of medicated assembly line." 

To set the record straight, mental illnesses are brain disorders, and usually no one is to blame for them. While I've been betrayed by those I've trusted, everybody has at some point in their lives. Mental illnesses aren't caused by an interpersonal interaction.  

"...medicated assembly line..." --Are you getting this from watching "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest"? I've never been in a medication line. I've been given medication and it did not create my illness, it treated the disorder.  

Mr. Martinot, I would like to see you write on subjects about which you are informed; the subject of disabilities is not one of them, apparently.  

I could find more errors in this piece (dated February 11) but I do not have the time for it. Also, your writing is so non-concrete, vague, and metaphoric, that it is harder to pin you down on an outright falsehood.  

Suffice it to say that your article disseminates misinformation and promotes modern stereotypes. It also confuses and dilutes the definition of the word "disability." And, this is a disservice to those with legitimate mental health, physical, or neurological problems.  

Wiener's SB 827 Claims Debunked by SF Planning Department Report

Zelda Bronstein
Monday February 12, 2018 - 08:00:00 PM

At Scott Wiener’s February 3 town hall in San Francisco’s Outer Sunset neighborhood, I was startled to hear the city’s state senator say that his controversial new bill, SB 827, co-sponsored by Senator Nancy Skinner and drafted by California YIMBY Executive Director Brian Hanlon, was all about fostering the construction of the “missing middle”—“small to mid-sized apartment” buildings that are three to five stories tall with “maybe 8 to 20 units.”

Wiener told the packed house that during his first seven years in San Francisco, he lived in such a place on Collingwood Street in the Castro. “It was a four-story building—probably forty feet,” with nothing on the ground floor “and then three stories,” each with two units. “That’s what we’re talking about”—the sort of buildings, he said, that you see in the Sunset, the Richmond, and Noe Valley, as well as in the Castro.

Four days later, Wired posted a story in which Wiener made the same claim:

The goal, Wiener says, isn't Hong Kong–style high-rises. It's what housing advocates call the “missing middle,” things like side-by-side duplexes, eight-unit apartment buildings, six-story buildings—a building form even San Francisco built plenty of in the early 20th century.

What’s really missing here is straight talk: the urban form fostered by SB 827 would be much taller and denser than anything comprised of eight-unit, six-story apartment buildings. 

The “densification” effect is starkly evident in the bill’s text. SB 827 states that housing developments on parcels in so-called “transit-rich” locations—property within a half-mile of a “major transit stop” or a quarter-mile of “a high-quality transit corridor—would be exempt from “[m]aximum controls on residential density or floor area ratio.” (Floor area ratio is the ratio of a building’s total floor area to the size of the piece of land on which it is built.) A “transit-rich housing project” would also be exempt from “[a]ny design standard that restricts the applicant’s ability to construct the maximum number of units consistent with any applicable building code.” Just to be clear—that’s building, not zoning, code. In short: no limits on density. 

What springs to mind are the “micro-units” being hawked by developer Patrick Kennedy. His project on Harriet Street in San Francisco crams twenty-three 300 square-foot units into a four-story, 45-foot high building on a 3,750 square foot lot. Kennedy serves on the Advisory Committee of the Council of Infill Builders, which endorsed SB 827 six days after it was introduced on January 3. 

The hype about height is harder to detect. SB 827 states that a city cannot limit the height of a “transit-rich housing project” to less than 45, 55, or 85 feet, depending on the width of the street. “Story” as a measure of building height is not a technical term. But a mid-rise apartment building typically measures ten feet floor to floor. Based on that rule of thumb, SB 827’s height specs seem to jibe with Wiener’s talk of apartment buildings that are three to five stories high—though 85 feet would possibly allow seven-story structures. 

But as the San Francisco Planning Department observed last week, in a surprisingly stinging appraisal, 

"The legislation does not seem to remove the ability to use the State Density Bonus on top of the bill’s rezoning. Hence what is proposed as 45’, 55’, and 85’ heights could actually be 65’, 75’-85’, and over 100’ respectively, and so should be viewed in that light [emphasis added]." 

How does this jibe with talk of “side-by-side duplexes”? 

The San Francisco Planning Department also marked SB 827’s complete elimination of “all design standards related to building envelope other than height for buildings within the prescribed height limits” [emphasis in original]. The bill 

"precludes the applicability of any design guideline and Planning Code [in San Francisco’s General Plan] provisions that in any way reduces the size and shape of the building envelope from a maximal box within the height limit, allowing only application of California Building Code standards. This would preclude the ability to maintain any standards regarding rear yard, lot coverage, exposure, open space, setbacks, and bulk controls of any kind, to name a few. While the Building Code addresses light and air as primarily life and safety issues, these planning controls establish basic housing and neighborhood livability standards such as access and connection to daylight, openness in urban density, and natural spaces. Their elimination could result in residential projects with full lot coverage and little modulation or articulation, since any building modulation by definition reduces maximum building volume." 


"[t]he bill would also countermand the basic principles laid forth in the [General Plan’s] Urban Design Element, which reinforce livability patterns within the city fabric such as preservation of mid-block open space, inclusion of mid-block alleys on long blocks, matching of lightwells, and consideration of sun and shadow." 

What goes for San Francisco’s General Plan and zoning goes for every city’s plans and zoning: By eliminating local zoning in “transit-rich” locations, SB 827 would wipe out “basic housing and neighborhood livability standards,” providing an amazing bonanza to the real estate industry. 

The overview of the bill provided by Wiener’s office says that SB 828 “ensures that neighborhoods with transit access will have abundant housing and opportunity in livable communities…” Is this really your idea of livability, Senator? 

For another analysis, see SF planners blast Wiener housing bill that would upzone entire city 

The full report can be seen here.

Getting Our Priorities Straight

Kelly Hammargren
Monday February 12, 2018 - 01:35:00 PM

On Tuesday evening February 13, 2018 Berkeley City Council is set to approve the City Manager’s request for $550,000 for a conceptual design and feasibility study for a one block plaza on Center Street between Oxford and Shattuck. Somewhere in the budget there is supposedly $250,000 for open space improvement. That doesn’t even cover the cost of the design and study and certainly doesn’t cover the cost of actual construction. Put that in context. There can be found some multiple of millions of dollars for a plaza, but there isn’t “identified” funding to keep the homeless shelter at Premier Cru (10th and University) open past April 15th as Mayor Arreguin declared at the January 30, 2018 City Council meeting. 

Was it coincidence or planned theater that the homeless camp at Old City Hall was given 24 hour notice and raided at 5:00 am February 8, 2018 the same day as the case conference in Federal Court with Judge Alsup. The City is being sued for treatment of the homeless under Amendments I (freedom of speech), IV (search and seizure), XIV (due process) to the Constitution. The case conference did go on and the trial date is set for May 20, 2019. Attorneys for the homeless filed an Amendment VIII (cruel and unusual punishment) claim on Friday. 

Actions speak louder than the professed words of concern and declarations of an affordable housing emergency and a homeless crisis. The compact between city management and Berkeley police appears to be back on a roll with the latest homeless camp raid and terrorizing the homeless by chasing them from one location to another. Breaking up homeless camps does take away that continuous visible in our face speech, that there is something very wrong when the City can throw $550,000 at a design and feasibility study with more to follow and the poorest among us live on the streets, sleep in tents if they are lucky enough to keep them or curl up in doorways. 

Agenda item 6. 

Contract: Gehl Studio, Inc for Conceptual Design, Feasibility Study and Related Services for Center Street Plaza Project,  

From: City Manager  

Recommendation: Adopt a Resolution authorizing the City Manager to execute a contract and any amendments with Gehl Studio, Inc. for conceptual design, feasibility study and related services for the Center Street Plaza Project, for period March 1, 2018 through March 1, 2021, in an amount not to exceed $550,000. 

Financial Implications: Various Funds - $550,000 

Contact: Philip Harrington, Public Works, 981-6300 




Progressive Groups Endorse Price for Alameda County D.A. and Beckles for A.D. 15

Berkeley Tenants Union
Monday February 12, 2018 - 01:37:00 PM

Thank you to those who attended yesterday's joint endorsement forum with Berkeley Progressive Alliance and Berkeley Citizen Action. Approximately 150 people showed up to listen to candidates from the Assembly District 15 and Alameda County District Attorney Races.

There are two candidates for District Attorney: Nancy O'Malley and Pamela Price. Price received 80% of the vote, well above the 60% threshold needed for endorsement.

For the Assembly Race, ranked choice voting was implemented where members can vote for up to three of the nine candidates. After the first round of voting, Jovanka Beckles received 59% of the vote, far more than any of the other candidates. After votes were redistributed in the second round, Beckles received the number of votes needed for endorsement.

Congratulations to Pamela Price and Jovanka Beckles on receiving our endorsement!

Important Issue

Romila Khanna
Monday February 12, 2018 - 08:40:00 PM

Are we ready to accept the demise of Democracy? It seems that we have stopped thinking about the impact of public policies on the most needy population. 

I know that when people use the power to benefit themselves, they are not shouldering their public responsibilities as the governing body 

“Make America Great Again!” 

Are the city governments following the slogan only by eliminating the people’s common comforts, and taking resources away from the poor and sick and giving them to businesses and people who don’t have the need? 

People are warned not to take shelter under a tree, because it does not suit the city, where businesses might suffer. The new development policies don’t match the needs of the city or its population. New buildings are coming up harming poor and people with limited resources.  

People’s earnings remain the same but the rents go sky-high which forces tenants to move to less safe places. The city mayor in Berkeley has not taken steps to solve the problem of homelessness and affordable housing for low-income families or poor in the city.  

The homeless people are seen around on the pathways and bus stops. It is difficult to wait for the arrival of buses due to their smoking and drinking habit. Their physical and mental condition needs attention. They do spread flu symptoms to young and old people. Some times they use sidewalk to eliminate their bodily fluid. It is important to give them some kind of space where they have a bathroom facility to clean themselves to protect other users of the space, from cold, cough, stomach flu etc. 

Bus stops and sidewalk areas lack cleanliness and it specially needs attention from the city officials as it impacts our student population who regularly board the public transportation services. Public health and safety should be taken seriously hence the homeless problem needs the highest priority and immediate attention from the Mayor’s Think Desk.

New: How President Trump Encouraged Peace In North And South Korea: A Layman's Conjecture

Jack Bragen
Monday February 12, 2018 - 08:38:00 PM

The following is what I get from occasionally watching the news, and I think the conclusions I draw are reasonable ones, in the absence of any special knowledge or expertise… 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is not afraid of Donald Trump. This is because he is in charge of a significant arsenal of nuclear missiles that are capable of striking the U.S., and this makes it a lot more complicated for the U.S. to do anything to North Korea, militarily. Why does North Korea have nuclear missiles? This is because they pose a deterrent to military action, which the U.S. has been threatening to do. 

In Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. invaded after we discovered that those countries did not have WMD's. Why did the U.S. invade those countries? -Because we could.  

Now, why is North Korea engaging in substantial overtures of peace with its neighbor, South Korea? This is because they are able to do that, without the ever-present threat of military action of the U.S. If someone is pointing a loaded gun to your head, you are not able to function mentally. North Korea is making peace with South Korea because it makes sense to do that, and because the U.S. is no longer as much of a threat. Being threatened stifles the ability to reasonably conduct peace talks.  

President Trump, by flamboyantly threatening North Korea, and calling him names, such as "little rocket man," which, by the way is also abusive, goaded Kim Jong Un into stepping up his progress toward a nuclear weapon. Now that they have it, there is more of a balance of power between North Korea and the U.S. 

And what about missile defense?- It appears that there is no reliable defense that can be used to halt a nuclear missile, or even to prevent someone from walking into a country on foot with an atom bomb in a backpack.  

What does this mean?-Trump achieved the desired result. North Korea has nuclear weapons that can be used to retaliate against the U.S. if needed, and this allows more possibility of peace in the region.

DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE: A Dangerous Turn In U.S. Foreign Policy

Conn Hallinan
Tuesday February 06, 2018 - 01:52:00 PM

The Trump administration’s new National Defense Strategy is being touted as a sea change in U.S. foreign policy, a shift from the “war on terrorism” to “great power competition,” a line that would not be out of place in the years leading up to World War I. But is the shift really a major course change, or a re-statement of policies followed by the last four administrations? 

The U.S. has never taken its eyes off its big competitors. 

It was President Bill Clinton who moved NATO eastwards, abrogating a 1991 agreement with the Russians not to recruit former members of the Warsaw Pact that is at the root of current tensions with Moscow. And, while the U.S. and NATO point to Russia’s annexation of the Crimea as a sign of a “revanchist” Moscow, it was NATO that set the precedent of altering borders when it dismembered Serbia to create Kosovo after the 1999 Yugoslav war. 

It was President George W. Bush who designated China a “strategic competitor,” and who tried to lure India into an anti-Chinese alliance by allowing New Delhi to violate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Letting India purchase uranium on the international market— it was barred from doing so by refusing to sign the NPT—helped ignite the dangerous nuclear arms race with Pakistan in South Asia. 

And it was President Barack Obama who further chilled relations with the Russians by backing the 2014 coup in the Ukraine, and whose “Asia pivot” has led to tensions between Washington and Beijing. 

So is jettisoning “terrorism” as the enemy in favor of “great powers” just old wine, new bottle? Not quite. For one thing the new emphasis has a decidedly more dangerous edge to it. 

In speaking at Johns Hopkins, Defense Secretary James Mattis warned, “If you challenge us, it will be your longest and worst day,” a remark aimed directly at Russia. NATO ally Britain went even further. Chief of the United Kingdom General Staff, Nick Carter, told the Defense and Security Forum that “our generation has become use to wars of choice since the end of the Cold War,” but “we may not have a choice about conflict with Russia,” adding “The parallels with 1914 are stark.” 

Certainly the verbiage about Russia and China is alarming. Russia is routinely described as “aggressive,” “revisionist,” and “expansionist.” In a recent attack on China, US Defense Secretary Rex Tillerson described China’s trade with Latin America as “imperial.” 

But in 1914 there were several powerful and evenly matched empires at odds. That is not the case today. 

While Moscow is certainly capable of destroying the world with its nuclear weapons, Russia today bears little resemblance to 1914 Russia, or, for that matter, the Soviet Union. 

The U.S. and its allies currently spend more than 12 times what Russia does on its armaments--$840 billion to $69 billion—and that figure vastly underestimates Washington’s actual military outlay. A great deal of U.S. spending is not counted as “military,” including nuclear weapons, currently being modernized to the tune of $1.5 trillion. 

The balance between China and the U.S. is more even, but the U.S. outspends China almost three to one. Include Washington’s allies, Japan, Australia and South Korea, and that figure is almost four to one. In nuclear weapons, the ratio is vastly greater: 26 to 1 in favor of the U.S. Add NATO and the ratios are 28 to 1. 

This is not to say that the military forces of Russia and China are irrelevant. 

Russia’s intervention in the Syrian civil war helped turn the tide against the anti-Assad coalition put together by the US. But its economy is smaller than Italy’s, and its “aggression” is largely a response to NATO establishing a presence on Moscow’s doorstep. 

China has two military goals: to secure its sea-borne energy supplies by building up its navy and to establish a buffer zone in the East and South China seas to keep potential enemies at arm’s length. To that end it has constructed smaller, more agile ships, and missiles capable of keeping U.S. aircraft carriers out of range, a strategy called “area denial.” It has also modernized its military, cutting back on land-based forces and investing in air and sea assets. However, it spends less of its GDP on its military than does the US: 1.9 percent as opposed to 3.8 percent. 

Beijing has been rather heavy-handed in establishing “area denial,” aliening many of its neighbors—Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Taiwan—by claiming most of the South China Sea and building bases in the Paracel and Spratly islands. 

But China has been invaded several times, starting with the Opium Wars of 1839 and 1856, when Britain forced the Chinese to lift their ban on importing the drug. Japan invaded in 1895 and 1937. If the Chinese are touchy about their coastline, one can hardly blame them. 

China is, however, the US’s major competitor and the second largest economy in the world. It has replaced the US as Latin America’s largest trading partner and successfully outflanked Washington’s attempts to throttle its economic influence. When the US asked its key allies to boycott China’s new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, with the exception of Japan, they ignored Washington. 

However, commercial success is hardly “imperial.” 

Is this a new Cold War, when the U.S. attempted to surround and isolate the Soviet Union? There are parallels, but the Cold War was an ideological battle between two systems, socialism and capitalism. The fight today is over market access and economic domination. When Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned Latin America about China and Russia, it wasn’t about “Communist subversion,” but trade. 

There are other players behind this shift. 

For one, the big arms manufacturers—Lockheed Martian, Boeing, Raytheon, BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, and General Dynamics—have lots of cash to hand out come election time. “Great power competition” will be expensive, with lots of big-ticket items: aircraft carriers, submarines, surface ships, and an expanded air force. 

This is not to say that the U.S. has altered its foreign policy focus because of arms company lobbies, but they do have a seat at the table. And given that those companies have spread their operations to all 50 states, local political representatives and governors have a stake in keeping—and expanding—those high paying jobs. 

Nor are the Republicans going to get much opposition on increased defense spending from the Democrats, many of whom are as hawkish as their colleagues across the aisle. Higher defense spending—coupled with the recent tax cut bill—will rule out funding many of the programs the Democrats hold dear. Of course, for the Republicans that dilemma is a major side benefit: cut taxes, increase defense spending, then dismantle social services, Social Security and Medicare in order to service the deficit. 

And many of the Democrats are ahead of the curve when it comes to demonizing the Russians. The Russian bug-a-boo has allowed the Party to shift the blame for Hillary Clinton’s loss to Moscow’s manipulation of the election, thus avoiding having to examine its own lackluster campaign and unimaginative political program. 

There are other actors pushing this new emphasis as well, including the Bush administration’s neo-conservatives who launched the Iraq War. Their new target is Iran, even though inflating Iran to the level of a “great power” is laughable. Iran’s military budget is $12.3 billion. Saudi Arabia alone spends $63.7 billion on defense, slightly less than Russia, which has five times the population and eight times the land area. In a clash between Iran and the US and its local allies, the disparity in military strength would be a little more than 66 to 1. 

However, in terms of disasters, even Iraq would pale before a war with Iran. 

The most dangerous place in the world right now is the Korean Peninsula, where the Trump administration appears to be casting around for some kind of military demonstration that will not ignite a nuclear war. But how would China react to an attack that might put hostile troops on its southern border? 

Piling onto Moscow may have consequences as well. Andrei Kostin, head of one of Russia’s largest banks, VTB, told the Financial Times that adding more sanctions against Russia “would be like declaring war,” 

The problem with designating “great powers” as your adversaries is that they might just take your word for it and respond accordingly. 


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












Pelosi's a Leader

Robert Cheasty
Monday February 12, 2018 - 01:45:00 PM

Representative Nancy Pelosi's ability to lead and legislate is denigrated primarily by those disagree with her stands on issues.  

No matter who leads the Democrats, the Republicans and the conservative pundits will go on the attack. So Democrats who accept the negative characterization of Pelosi by the Republican echo chamber fail to acknowledge that this same character assassination will befall each leader the Democrats put forward.  

House Minority Leader Pelosi is not the problem. As to her age, it should be her ability, not age, by which she is be judged.  

Her recent marathon speech in high heels and no bathroom breaks proved both her skills and commitment to her policies. She is keeping the fate of children who grew up in America on the front burner, getting that DACA story back on the front pages of every major news outlet in the country. That takes skill and experience.



Dance with the One
That Brought You

Becky O'Malley
Saturday February 10, 2018 - 04:26:00 PM

So, it’s been a bit over a year since the more-progressive-than-thou majority assumed their seats on the Berkeley City Council. District 4 Councilmember Jesse Arreguin became mayor, and shortly thereafter Kate Harrison was elected to fill the last months of his council term. This might be a good time to remind all of these well-meaning folks about how they got where they are today, just in case they’re tempted to attribute their electoral victories exclusively to their personal charms.

First and foremost, what brought together a remarkable coalition of unlikely bedfellows to form their electoral majority was general distaste for the way the previous majority, headed by former mayor Tom Bates, had sold out Berkeley to rapacious for-profit developers.

Several “it’s time for a change” groups coalesced around the 2016 Berkeley election: 

  • the Sustainable Berkeley Coalition, people who first met because of their opposition to a project to demolish the home of the beloved Shattuck Cinemas in order to build a luxury high-rise at 2211 Harold Way, and went on to question the planning policies which produced that monstrosity ;
  • the Progressive Berkeley Alliance, mostly people who had previously been active in electoral campaigns, among others of Councilmembers Arreguin and Worthington, and more recently of Assemblymember Tony Thurmond and Bernie Sanders;
  • the Berkeley Tenants’ Union, supporters of Berkeley’s rent control and of candidates for the city’s elected Rent Board;
  • Berkeley Citizens’ Action, inheritors of the name and what was left of the organization that originally backed progressives way back in the early seventies;
  • and the Wellstone Democratic Club, with many members who were Berkeley and Oakland veterans of historic left movements of various kinds, formed to engage de novo in electoral politics, especially by endorsing and supporting primary candidates within the Democratic Party.

Many Berkeley activists are members of more than one of these groups and several others whose principles overlap though their tactics differ. A recent comment on the Sustainable Berkeley list-serv stated the perceived problem which united them succinctly: “…we’re giving up good sites to for-profit developers to build the market rate housing we don’t need and making it even harder to provide the low and middle income housing we urgently need.” 

The overarching issue in Berkeley, then and now, can be viewed as the trailing edge of the controversy over the 2211 Harold Way project which was the first test of the Downtown Plan which the developer-backed Bates organization, with collusion of the city’s Planning Department, sold to the then Berkeley City Council. Key to this plan was allowing “up to” five extra-tall buildings in the center of the city, if (and that was supposed to be IF) they provided “significant community benefits” in return for the variance needed for the added height above standard zoning allowances . 

The catch, of course, is that exactly what constitutes such “benefits” was essentially undefined, except for some loosey-goosey “guidelines”. 

In the last few years Berkeley has been experiencing a boom in the construction of clunky mid-rise faceless “luxury” apartments, transparently designed to attract well-off commuters to San Francisco tech jobs. The Harold Way project , fronted by a former City of Berkeley planning director who had obviously tailored the city’s regulations to his own specs before he joined the for-profit building industry, was seen by its numerous vociferous opponents as more of the same and worse. 

After a year or more of Sturm und Drang, the building was approved by the Bates-majority council with minimal community benefits and maximal public outrage at a December 2015 meeting which was marked by procedural shenanigans of all kinds on the part of the majority. 

The fallout from this excitement was that the Bates-backed candidates, including mayoral candidate Laurie Capitelli, lost in November of 2016. The broad-based coalition which supported their opponents was unprecedented. It included two former mayors, Gus Newport and Shirley Dean, previously viewed as the opposite ends of the political spectrum. 

Recently Councilmember Kate Harrison, an articulate Harold Way opponent who’ll need to run again in November to secure a full term in District 4, has been trying to get a clear, comprehensive description of what exactly constitutes “significant community benefits” into a council resolution with at least a modest number of teeth to avoid a re-run of that debacle. To that end an ad-hoc committee of the council (Arreguin, Harrison, Worthington, Droste) has been convened to produce a draft for council consideration. 

I attended the committee’s first meeting last week, and was mordantly amused to see that the usual building industry lobbyists, both management and union, showed up in force. Even Laurie Capitelli, the former District 5 councilmember who lost to Arreguin, was there with his wish list. It looked like a reprise of The Alligators’ Ball, with developers’ shills licking their lips at the prospect of swallowing up even more of Berkeley’s housing opportunities. 

Noteworthy updates on the despised Harold Way project emerged during the meeting. As predicted by opponents, the putative developer is now trying to sell the entitled project to another developer instead of building it, so nothing’s happened yet. 

Now it turns out that the City of Berkeley’s last Planning Department head, on her way out the door, extended the expiration date for the entitlements, which were supposed to expire if unused by December of 2017, by a full two years. And also, there’s been a request from the entitlement holder to ditch movie theaters in the new building, contrary to conditions on the use permit requiring them to be re-built. That outrageously presumptive demand was turned down by the current planning staff, at least for now. 

The crux of the matter: the so-called “community benefits” and the conditions on the use permit exist at the whim of Berkeley Planning Department staff after the deal goes down. And from very modest boons they can quickly turn into bupkes

This topic is again current because now there’s a big push to build a second over-height building, eighteen stories, at 2190 Shattuck. It would replace a nondescript mid-century structure which now houses a Walgreens and some offices. Some opponents complain that such a tall building would block the view of the Golden Gate from the U.C. Berkeley Campanile, but a new housing/commercial development at a height consistent with existing downtown zoning providing a decent number of inclusionary units has been generally welcomed by those who understand Berkeley’s need for affordable housing . 

One complicating factor for this project in particular is that the spokesperson for the would-be developer, present at the Ad-Hoc Committee Meeting and at ZAB discussions, is Jason Overman, Mayor Arreguin’s UCB roommate and one-time District 8 council candidate. It’s possible that the Mayor would be asked to recuse himself if the Zoning Adjustment Board approves the project with a benefit list for a height variance and then it’s appealed to the council. 

Better to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest. The wise course for progressive councilmembers (and their ZAB appointees) might be to permit this particular structure without any extra stories, and wait until there’s a robust, articulated policy on what exactly might qualify as real community benefits before approving a second tall building so the city can get a deal with real enforceable benefits. 

It’s crucial that the Mayor and councilmembers in the current majority remember that what united their supporters in the first place was opposition to inappropriate development. 

They might want to remember an old saying which is still good political advice: Dance with the One That Brought You. 


P.S.Just in: some news from the Twitterverse: 

"Stay tuned for a town hall meeting with BART on development of the North Berkeley BART parking lot. I am commited to starting the process of building housing there."  

Committed already? Really? Has he checked with his constituents about that? 

Action Item:Anyone who wants a chance to weigh in on the substantial community benefits question should come to the second meeting of the ad-hoc committee of the council, which will take place on Tuesday morning at 9:30 in the council chambers in the Maudelle Shirek Old City Hall building, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. 



Public Comment

Police Concerns

Chuck Mann, Greensboro, NC
Saturday February 10, 2018 - 04:58:00 PM

You can go online and see police body camera footage from a recent incident in Tennessee. An unarmed driver named Michael Dial was suspected of driving with a suspended license. A car chase ensued. Deputies rammed the vehicle, and tried to run it off the road. Sheriff Oddie Shoupe gave the order to ''take him out by any means necessary including deadly force''. Deputies spun the car around. Then deputy Adam West ''neutralized'' the driver by shooting him in the head. The Sheriff showed up on the scene and body camera footage shows that the Sheriff was more concerned with his patrol cars getting damaged than the life of a person who was suspected of driving with a suspended license. We need Sheriffs and deputies that are more concerned with the lives of citizens than damage to police property. No police officer should have a ''license to kill''.

Discriminating Against Discriminations

Steve Martinot
Sunday February 11, 2018 - 08:56:00 PM

Government ceases to be government when it falls prey to irresponsibility as a form of domination. When it does so, it exhibits a form of disability that one could call "parapolitical" disability. It is sometimes characterized by childishness, and by irrationality. It always reveals a failure to take responsibility for those people who depend on it. 

Disabilities exist among the people. There are the intellectually and developmentally disabled (IDD). There are the homeless who are economically disabled. There are those with physical disabilities or emotional issues. Mental illness and PTSD are terms thrown around concerning victims of social stress, or people abused by those they trusted. There used to be institutions run by the government that cared for such people. Some were communal, and others were simply large torture chambers, creating mental illness on a kind of medicated assembly line. One could associate "parapolitical" disability with official attitudes that accepted the latter as okay. 

What characterizes the condition of people with disabilities is a tendency to be shunned. The homeless are shunned because they are impoverished, and thus assumed to be thinking of larceny. The physically disabled are shunned, as are those with emotional issues because, in a society that abjures responsibility, they are seen as people who can’t “pull their weight.” There is a sanctity attributed to the idea that each must pull their own weight. Those unable to do so are thrust away, and discriminated against. Insofar as society is seen as a "weight" to pull, rather than as a communal place to live, the weight-pullers tend to take it out on those who don’t pull weight. 

IDD people have no natural community for themselves because of the nature of the care they need. It isolates and alienates them from social interaction. Some relate through advanced autism, inarticulateness, an inability to feed themselves. Some exhibit uncontrolled movement that would get them killed if allowed to cross streets unattended. Many people find them difficult to hang out with. Thus, there is a great need for community to overcome the loneliness. 

The homeless form communities as a primary way of surviving their shunning, the constancy with which they are shovelled out of the way by police raids. Community gives them the ability to take care of each other, and to withstand the political irresponsibility they face from government. The City Council of Berkeley has looked in the face of the homeless, as well as the face of IDD, and those with emotional issues, and seen nothing but its own rules. 

Those who “pull weight” also have a disability. Against the threat of impoverishment, they have to run like hell just to stay in the same place. And their disability is their inability to see a way off that treadmill. If they didn’t shun the homeless so much, they might see something about community that they could use. 

Space and place

Now, comes a man with a mission – to provide a community for those who need it. Rony Rolnizky steps up to do what political officials won’t, namely, create community for IDD. He does this because his own son is IDD, and he is dedicated to providing for him. 

He proposes a building that he himself will finance, a building of 6 stories, 63 living units of various sizes, 20% of which will be affordable units to be reserved for IDD people and their care-givers ("affordable" is a technical term meaning rent gets no greater than 30% of a tenant’s income). He will include all the affordable units on site – which is unusual for developers (they typically minimize the affordable units in case financial difficulty requires them to sell (aka re-capitalize) the building. Mr. Rolnizky even adds one more unit beyond what is required. That means he is serious. He is not planning on selling the building. But he petitions the city to waive certain equitability requirements (under the Federal Fair Housing Act) for renting to Section 8 and Shelter Plus Care people (those who are also shunned), in order to reserve those affordable housing units for IDD alone. And the city gives it to him. 

That’s when ideals clash with the grinding wheels of history. There are organizations that care for the economically and emotionally disabled. They work with Shelter Plus Care voucher holders, and object to them being excluded. “Shelter plus Care” is a program that gives vouchers to disabled people, giving them access to affordable housing. Shelter Plus Care voucher holders are people who are either homeless or would probably be homeless if it weren’t for that voucher. Some are disabled by impoverishment, others by the PTSD generated by their mere survival in a scornful society, or by physical or emotional issues. Many need care and community in order to function. Therein lies their paradigmatic similarity to the IDD. In their name, the waiver granted by the city to Mr. Rolnizky is appealed (City Council, January 23, 2018). 

Thus, a massive irony kicks in. Mr. Rolnizky finds himself acting in a political situation in which, to form the community he desires, he himself must shun. He excludes one shunned population in order to pay special attention to another. His building and his vision become a conflict zone between anti-discrimination movements, his own and the others. Seeking solutions, he becomes the poster-child for the problem. 

Where did they all come from, those who populate this problem? 

Back in the 1980s, the Reagan administration decided to stop contributing to mental hospitals and other institutions for people that society shunned. Many were thrown on the streets to fend for themselves. He also repealed certain real estate regulations that allowed land, housing and rent levels to rise sharply and without limit. Thus, the homeless were created, and mental illness given a presence on street corners and in places of business. It was done by policy and irresponsibility, justified by the pretended need to produce redundant armaments and warmaking machinery. Since then, the ethics of non-responsibility has become the norm. 

At the same time, industry was given subsidies to move off-shore. Jobs, and the ability to afford to survive, were lost. A variety of laws were then passed (like the Costa-Hawkins Act) to prevent renters from defending themselves against housing becoming unaffordable. And new groups of people to shun were created (those now known as “Section 8” and “Shelter Plus Care”). 

Nevertheless, laws against discrimination of any kind exist – discrimination on the basis of race, sex, creed, color, national origin, or disability, whether physical, intellectual, emotional, or developmental. Susan Henderson, who works in the community of physically and emotionally disabled, giving care to them through oganizational ability and community, argued (in City Council, Jan. 23) that the city had no right to pick and choose to which disabled community to grant housing affordability. When she does, she is not speaking about the waiver but about the real issue, the underlying evil for which shunning is one of its expressions. Racism, racial segregation, impoverishment, exclusion of the "unwanted," those are the real issues. 

She reads from a letter written on May 11, 2017, by Mr. Rolnizky’s lawyers in response to her own appeal. In it, they accuse the disabled population of Shelter plus Care people of having a tendency to violence. The lawyers don’t generalize. They simply say that among the Shelter plus Care people there are those who have a violent past, and are addicted to drugs. They don’t specify who has violence or drugs in their past. By implication, then, it could be anybody. Non-specification become a form of generalizing. Against the Shelter plus Care people, it becomes an accusation and a warning. “Rather than find out later, shun now.” This was the tactic of white supremacy when it built Jim Crow against black and brown people during the 1870s and 80s. 

The lawyers argue further that the “IDD population is … largely invisible to the able bodied community owing to their requirement of 24/7 care and assistance.” They do “not fit the stereotype of ‘people with disabilities,’” often needing devices to be able to speak or communicate. For this reason, they are singularly vulnerable, defenseless, and fragile, requiring special environments. But that means all the others are a stereotype. His generalization about Shelter plus Care people sets them in conflict with the IDD. Giving them equal opportunity to housing along with the IDD “may expose IDD persons on a daily basis to fellow residents with known history of violence or severe mental issues which could create potential life safety issues and legal liability.” It is an expectation of violence, generalizing in the same fashion as do the structures of racialization. 

Henderson responds, using the lawyers’ own argument, that members of the general public should be barred as well. Given that this is a violent society (with police killing unarmed people in the streets every day), by renting the other 50 units to "ordinary" people, he is placing his IDD community under similar threat, far beyond the sterilized environment he desires for them. 

City Council, with its parapolitical disability, cannot hear her. They affirm the waiver, granting Mr. Rolnizky’s exception from federal law, thereby waiving their own ethics. They cannot see that the violence against which the lawyers warn has already occurred, twice over. The first violence lies in the discriminatory exclusion and assault on the homeless and on those needing Shelter plus Care. It is an assault that turns away from its own generation of that form of suffering, and says, “get away from me,” “go somewhere else,” “you don’t belong here,” “I’m going to call the police.” The second form of violence is contained in the lawyer’s letter. It is the economically and emotionally disabled who are to be seen as the violent ones, precisely to disguise their having been subjected to primary violence. It is a paradigm of this society. When a cop hits a man with his nightstick, it is the victim of that violence who is arrested for assaulting the officer. 

To pit one form of disability against others through discursive derogation makes this case a “poster image” of the problem of discrimination itself. 

But all City Council can do is play with Mr. Rolnizky’s waiver like children. They ask him if he could split his 12 affordable units among the other categories of disability, in accord with the Fair Housing Act. For him, that is unacceptible. So the council turns to discussing windows and room sizes and how to name studios. 

The alternative

In other words, the City Council, with its own disability, could not see beyond the hierarchy of disabilities it created. Yet it had clear alternatives, which Mr. Rolnizky had himself shown them. They themselves shunned looking at the human condition as it arrayed itself before them. They could not even see the man with whom they were dealing, nor guage his dedication to this building. 

The zoning requirement that a development provide 20% affordable housing units is a minimum, not a maximum. The developer does not have to restrict himself to 20% affordable units. He could make it 40%, or 80% – and should, given the affordable housing crisis this area is suffering. Mr. Rolnizky wanted 20% of the units for the IDD people. But he could have easily added another 20% for Shelter plus Care people, and another for Section 8. He wouldn’t lose anything because the affordable units would be subsidized by HUD. He wasn’t going to sell the building because his intention, his unremitting desire, was to provide space for the IDD people (in order to provide it for his son). 

There is a good chance that, had the City Council made such a proposal, he would have jumped at it. He would have become a local hero in the struggle against homelessness, discrimination against the disabled, and the struggle for affordable housing in general. Here was a man seeking to pioneer in the development of community against the overarching alienation of this entire society. He would have provided a precedent for the city of Berkeley by including more affordable housing units than is required by the city’s own inclusionary zoning ordinance. 

The city does not need more market rate units. It has fulfilled twice over its requirement for market rate housing as established in Plan Bay Area. We see “Now Leasing” signs all over town for those who can afford $4000 a month. The council should be looking for alternatives in its every waking moment. Instead, it gives lip service to programs and studies, but does nothing to affect the actual building of affordable housing units. Instead, it talks about windows in bedrooms and how to name studio apartments. Therein lies the parapolitical disability of the City Council. Unable to imagine transcending the developmental barrier that is destroying the city’s neighborhoods, they chose to break federal anti-discrimination law. 

The Nunes Memo and the Democratic Response

Richard Phelps
Sunday February 11, 2018 - 08:54:00 PM

Many people bemoan the fact that the failure to release the Democratic memo is unfair and I totally agree. However, there is a more fundamental problem that is not getting much press, if any.

The fact that a person of interest in the ongoing investigation, Trump, gets to decide what gets released to the public, is a huge conflict of interest. If a judge was a person of interest in a civil or criminal case s/he would never be allowed to rule on any issue in that case. Why is no one screaming about this?? 

Any such decisions must be made by an independent and neutral person.

Kill Off Berkeley's Subcommittee on Homelessness

Carol Denney
Saturday February 10, 2018 - 04:59:00 PM

If you were really feeling generous about the Subcommittee on Homelessness, you would suggest that its forerunner was the Homeless Task Force, the large group of organizers, homeless people, non-profit representatives, and city officials who met for two years before the last election and produced a set of recommendations by consensus, which in this town is a pretty radical act. 

This was the group where you'd meet homeless people, if you'd never met them. You'd encounter non-profit representatives with their strange, wonky vocabularies. You'd meet the well-intended citizens would can never quite uproot their obvious Marxist origins. It was easily a group of over a hundred people who managed to up their neighbors' game, such that if you'd never heard the phrase "housing first" you'd hear that, along with all the semantic variations the city was about to use to subvert it. 

But the new Subcommittee on Homelessness is different. It's an echo chamber where good ideas go to die. And it's a springboard for the worst instincts in the City Manager's office which get turned into proposals unfiltered by any commission, unvetted by any of the able local nonprofits. I was there in the beginning when it was held in a large room and had local advocates, tent city representatives, more than the usual suspects. Those days are gone. 

If the current city council is not willing to kill off the Subcommittee on Homelessness, I have a suggestion. If one crime takes place within a Berkeley City Councilmember's district, all the people who live on that City Councilmember's block should have the police come and empty their homes of everything inside. If the people protest that they haven't done anything wrong, the police should just instruct them that they need to stand aside or they will be arrested. When they get out of jail, or after they've watched every last board game and shoe thrown onto the sidewalk in front of their homes, they can begin to try to reassemble their lives. 

And if this happens often enough, as it does to people doing their best to survive in tent cities, they'll be looking for new city council representation. And with a couple of wonderful and obvious exceptions to the rule, it's about time. 


Stereotyping The Homeless Equals Blaming The Victims

Harry Brill
Sunday February 11, 2018 - 09:02:00 PM

A proposal I have been making to provide housing for homeless individuals and families involves persuading those who are comfortably housed to make their vacant rooms available. Since there are far more empty bedrooms than homeless persons in the Bay Area, there is really no shortage of housing waiting to be built. The task of matching people is considerable, and would require resources and time. However, to build an adequate supply of low cost housing units, although certainly desirable, will take much longer and will be more expensive. 

But the unpopular stereotypes of the homeless serve as formidable barriers to home sharing. For it is widely believed that those who live on the streets are mentally ill or are substance abusers. Consequently, it is very difficult to even mobilize progressives to actively participate in a program that encourages house sharing on behalf of homeless applicants.  

Although serious mental illness afflicts a larger share of the homeless than among the population at large, the numbers are certainly not overwhelming. It is estimated that between 13 to 15 percent of the homeless suffer very serious mental problems. But the vast majority of those living on the streets are not afflicted. Moreover, it is a mistake to even assume that those who are mentally ill are more likely to commit violence. Less than five percent of the overall violence in the United States is directly related to mental illness. 

Here is one hurdle that has been reported. According to the research conducted by the John Hopkins School of Public Health sensational media coverage perpetuates the inaccurate perceptions that many who are mental ill are dangerous. In fact, it is even nonsense to think that those who have emotional problems are unlikely to be excellent roommates. 

Substance abuse is a serious problem for large numbers of homeless persons. About 26 percent of those living on the streets use drugs, and the rate is higher for alcohol addiction, which is 38 percent. However, despite the tremendous difficulties that the homeless suffer, the majority are not resorting to substance abuse. 

It is immensely important that we resist the tendency to attribute the presumed shortcomings of a minority to virtually all of its members. Unfortunately, the mass media, which is controlled by the wealthy, encourages us to blame the homeless victims rather than the institutions and individuals that have contributed to their abysmal life situation. In fact, those who are really dangerous are the ones who are doing the blaming. It is they who are mainly guilty for paying poverty wages and charging incredibly high, unaffordable rents, both of which have increased homelessness and poverty considerably. Incredibly, a recent Harvard University based study reports that more than a quarter of renter households are now paying over 50 Percent of their incomes for housing. As a UN official looking into poverty in the United States concluded, "extreme poverty in the United States is a political choice of the powerful". Homelessness included 

Progressives who have been concerned about the homeless issue have favored what they call a Housing First Approach. They recognize that what the homeless need as quickly as possible is affordable housing. And if needed, only then should they be provided with necessary social services. Utah has taken this issue seriously. It has reduced chronic homelessness by 90 percent over a ten year period -- from 2,000 to 200. Tenants pay either 30 percent of their income or up to $50 a month, whichever is greater. Among the factors that motivated Utah to tackle the homelessness problem was the realization that the annual costs of providing services like emergency room visits and jail time was far more expensive than providing housing. Another advantage has been the vigorous advocacy by influential organizations. Clearly, Utah's achievement is quite an accomplishment. 

But things are very different In the Bay area, where developers are far more influential. Most developers share the same unhealthy addiction, which is to maximize profits. Although builders are required to set aside a few units to rent at below market rates, even these monthly rents, which are in the thousands, are still very high. However, the Berkeley City Council recently voted unanimously to explore the construction by a private developer of micro-units for the homeless and others with low income. These units according to one developer would be only about 160 Square feet. The catch is that the rents will be $1000 a month, which is still high. It is expected that some of the rents would come from other sources than the tenants. But that remains to be seen. 

Councilman Ben Bartlett, who was a co-sponsor of the micro-unit ordinance, remarked that "I am not willing to sit by and watch people die in the street." Bartlett has the right instinct which is why we should move as quickly as possible to encourage home sharing A home sharing program would not only benefit those in need of housing. They could benefit the hosts as well.  

Among those who should be solicited are the substantial number of seniors who are living alone. Many would welcome a compatible housemate. For example, a Berkeley senior, who is a friend of mine, recently sent out an email to find a housemate who would pay a low rent in exchange of doing some chores. Certainly many seniors as well as others who live alone could benefit from the many advantages of having a housemate, including sharing some of the costs. Believe it or not, many who are homeless are also working. Losing a place to live is not necessarily accompanied by a loss of a job. 

If the appropriate background checks are made of both the hosts and the homeless, who are seeking shelter, there is very little to worry about. In New York City, the New York Foundation of Senior Citizens has been involved for more than two decades in helping seniors find housemates. The organization has a staff that checks out prospective housemates. They thoroughly screen and check the references of both hosts and guest applicants. And they have a system that helps determine how compatible the match would be. Their efforts have been highly successful. As a result of its excellent reputation, the organization has been able to obtain both public and foundation support.  


If it can happen in New York, it can be made to happen here. It is vitally important to persuade the Berkeley City Council and similar political bodies in other communities to provide the initial funding to set up a similar organization in the East Bay. And it is especially important that progressives become actively involved. Ben Bartlett is absolutely right. We cannot sit by and watch people die in the street


THE PUBLIC EYE:Pelosi's Marathon

Bob Burnett
Saturday February 10, 2018 - 04:48:00 PM

I like Nancy Pelosi. She's a smart, hard-working, progressive leader. But she’s getting old, so there have been calls for her to step aside. That's why her February 7th, 8 hour 10 minute filibuster is worthy of mention. When it counts, Pelosi still has what it takes. 

Next month, Nancy Pelosi will turn 78. She's been in the House of Representatives since 1987 (representing San Francisco) and the House Democratic leader since 2003. Since 2010, Republicans have focused their wrath on her and turned her—and Barack Obama — into their hate objects. Whenever there's a competitive house race, Republicans routinely paint the Democratic candidate as a "Pelosi liberal," someone who will "enact the Pelosi agenda." 

For many Republicans, Nancy Pelosi has become the face of the Democratic Party. On the February 2nd PBS New Hour, conservative columnist David Brooks quipped, "And we get a false view of politics based on what Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi are screaming each other." (Liberal columnist Mark Shields came to Pelosi's defense, "Let me just establish first at the outset there is no moral parity between Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump.") 

Republicans like to attack Pelosi because she's a San Francisco liberal — not a bad thing, in my opinion — and because she's a woman. (If we ever doubted that misogyny lies at the heart of Republican politics, we only have to study the behavior of Donald Trump — it's hard to imagine a more sexist U.S. politician.) 

Recently some Democrats have turned on Pelosi because of her age. They've suggested that she should step aside in favor of some younger Democrat. Not suprisingly, all the Dems suggested for Pelosi's position are white men. 

At the moment, Democrats are scrambling around trying to find leadership that can stand up to the Trump news juggernaut. It's a daunting task because Trump has the dual advantage of being able to use the White House propaganda machine and — as a reality TV star — being extremely media savvy. Many have suggested that Nancy Pelosi and the Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, aren't the ideal politicians to represent the Dems. But there's no unity on which Democrat should represent the Party. (For their State-of-the-Union response, Democrats actually had five different responses; the official response was by Congressman Joe Kennedy — who did a good job.) 

Early 2018 finds the Democratic Party in an unusual condition: the base is highly motivated — at least here in California — and the national leadership seems to be in disarray. That's why Pelosi's marathon was important. 

On February 7th, Pelosi spoke in defense of the Dreamers. The Washington Post observed that Pelosi's filibuster was the longest ever in the House of Representatives — the previous record was 5 hours 15 minutes set in 1909. "According to our Washington Post team who was watching Pelosi, she barely took time to unwrap a mint several hours in and was not interrupted once." The Post also noted that during the entire 8 hours and 10 minutes, Pelosi wore "four-inch heels." (So much for the concern that Pelosi no longer has the energy to be an effective Democratic leader.) 

All this would be notable, and amusing, if it was not for the fact that Pelosi was defending the Dreamers, the 690,000 young people who are legally adrift since September 5th, when Donald Trump terminated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. On January 9th, Trump promised that he would soon sign a “clean” DACA bill. However, on January 12th, when presented with a bipartisan compromise, Trump reneged on his promise. Since then the Dreamers status has been precarious. 

On January 22nd, when Senate Democrats ended 2018's first government shutdown, they forged an agreement with Republican Senate leadership that within a couple of weeks there would be a Senate debate on the resolution of the DACA issue. Unfortunately, House Democrats were unable to get the Republican Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, to agree to a similar plan. At the moment, Ryan has not agreed to let the House debate DACA or immigration in general. (Many feel this is because if Ryan lets the full house vote on DACA, and immigration, the result is likely to be something that the White House does not agree with.) 

On February 7th, Pelosi said she supports the substance of the pending Senate budget agreement — to avert a government shutdown — but wants to extract an an explicit promise from Paul Ryan that he'll bring a Dreamer bill to the floor soon. (According to the New York Times, during her 8 hour 10 minute filibuster, "Pelosi read heart-rending testimonies from Dreamers who had written their representatives about their lives. There was Andrea Seabra, who is serving in the Air Force, and whose father was a member of the Peruvian Air Force. There was Carlos Gonzalez, who once worked as an aide to former Representative Michael M. Honda, Democrat of California. And there was Al Okere, whose father was killed by the Nigerian police after articles he wrote criticizing the Nigerian government appeared in a newspaper.") 

Some Democrats have issues with Nancy Pelosi. Nonetheless, it's hard to imagine any other Democrat doing what she did on February 7th. Pelosi is a leader. Hopefully she can lead Washington Democrats to a satisfactory resolution of the DACA crisis. 

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

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: It's Okay to be Mentally Ill, But You're Not Allowed to Act Crazy

Jack Bragen
Saturday February 10, 2018 - 04:55:00 PM

An acquaintance with bipolar is having a manic episode, and one of his reasons for distress is that people aren't that kind toward him. They cannot handle his behavior, and some of the people he deals with are downright condemnatory, because of how he is acting. People continue to expect that this person will follow social norms, and will behave in a manner that is accommodating toward them. This man points out the fact that people sorely lack adequate understanding of his problems. And this includes people who really ought to be helpful, such as fellow mental health consumers, and mental health professionals. 

Most people can not deal with "crazy." People are taught to be organized, to be conformist, to be "normal." When someone behaves in a manner outside of what is expected, they are subject to ostracism, and they are subject to other repercussions. 

The nearly universal expectation is that everyone behaves according to the accepted norm. People could often be considered mentally ill for merely being different, or for behaving in ways that people don't normally behave. This is aside from people who are gravely disabled or who pose a threat. Going into a drugstore and being confused isn't against the law. However, there are laws against "disorderly conduct." If we are seen as a nuisance to people, it may not go well for us.  

Society has rules and expectations. If we decide that society is wrong and we're right, then we are not going to get cooperation, and we will end up in a bad scenario. While some people may actually "know better" than the rest of society, it is necessary to realize that society is bigger than we are, and we need to act in a way that is expected if we are going to exist.  

Certainly, I want to bring up that it is unjust that most of society has too many expectations and doesn't tolerate uniqueness enough. However, a lot of this has to do with how we package things. Almost any weirdness is palatable or even popular if we give it the right packaging and present it in ways that are deemed appropriate. This is just how people function. 

Even being a delusional schizophrenic can be put in packaging that allows others to tolerate, or even embrace. When we buy food at a grocery store, or when we buy a book or an electronic item, impression is everything. When we get dental work or cosmetic surgery, much of it is about how we perceive ourselves. We could have dental flaws or body flaws, and if they don't cause pain, it may not be urgent to get them resolved. If they present a problem in appearance, many people would find it distressing.  

Another thing is labels. If we act "crazy" in public, we become categorized as weird. If people commonly acted "weird," it would lose the "weird" label, and would be an accepted mode of behavior. If acting weird made people wealthy, it would automatically be acceptable.  

However, as it stands, when we are symptomatic, many people do not want to deal with us. This is harsh, and it causes suffering. What can we do about this? Maybe we can cultivate more patience, and become more non-assuming. Other than that, if you see someone who is apparently down and out, just mentally put yourself in his or her shoes. Try to think of how you would feel if you were in that situation. This could cause you to have compassion, something that today's culture has all but abandoned.  

ECLECTIC RANT: Comment on release of controversial Nunes’ memo

Ralph E. Stone
Saturday February 10, 2018 - 05:05:00 PM

The release of the highly-anticipated Representative Devin Nunes’ memo which claims to show the Department of Justice (DOJ) and FBI abusing their surveillance power, is really just a list of past Republican talking points on Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. 

Trump’s and the GOP leaders’ main justification for the release is all about transparency. "I've always believed in the public's right to know,” Vice President Mike Pence said. I assume Trump will now disclose his tax returns. 

This is a spurious argument when we are only going to see the memo crafted by House Intelligence Committee Republicans — and possibly with White House assistance — but not the Democrat rebuttal. The GOP-controlled committee voted not to release the rebuttal.  

The memo seeks to undercut the Steele dossier used by the FBI as support for applications for warrants to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) to monitor Carter Page, a Trump campaign associate. Of course, the Nunes’ memo does not reveal what other support the FBI produced to obtain the warrants because the committee could have, but did not, approve the release of those documents. 

Clearly, transparency was not the committee’s goal in releasing the memo. 

What then were the reasons for releasing the classified memo? The only reasons I can see is to undermine the credibility of the DOJ and the FBI and by extension Mueller’s Russia probe, and a pretext to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller, FBI Director Christopher Wray, and possibly even Mueller. 

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) comment on the release of the Nunes’ memo is right on point: “The latest attacks against the FBI and Department of Justice serve no American interests ― no party’s, no President’s, only Putin’s. The American people deserve to know all the facts surrounding Russia’s ongoing efforts to subvert our democracy, which is why Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation must proceed unimpeded. Our nation’s elected officials, including the president, must stop looking at this investigation through the lens of politics and manufacturing political sideshows. If we continue to undermine our own rule of law, we are doing Putin’s job for him.” 

I look forward to reading the Democrat rebuttal if Trump allows its release. 

Arts & Events

The Berkeley Activist's Calendar, Feb. 11-18

Kelly Hammargren, Sustainable Berkeley Coalition
Sunday February 11, 2018 - 10:31:00 AM

As usual, the list of City meetings is long and packed, however, there are four meetings that deserve special attention: City Council Regular Session on Tuesday evening, Significant Community Benefits Tuesday morning, Urban Shield Wednesday afternoon and Design Review Committee on Thursday evening.

Tuesday evening Berkeley City Council items 11, 32, 38, 39 all relate to the homeless – the fence on Adeline, porta potties, homeless encampment, storage at Premier Cru. Take aways from the forum on Homelessness, 0.83% of Berkeley population is homeless, 75% homeless are from the area, there is a direct relationship between the increasing homeless population and rent increases, 97% of homeless want to be in housing. Reality check, Stonefire at University and Milvia listed prices for 2 Bed – 2 Bath are $6360 - $6720. Estimates of the number of vacant/unrented apartments in Berkeley is 1000 -3000 – true number is unknown.

Indivisible Berkeley list of actions you can do from home, https://www.indivisibleberkeley.org/actions

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


Sunday, February 11, 2018

Candidate Forum CA Assembly District 15, Alameda County DA, 2:00 pm – 5:30 pm, 2939 Ellis, South Berkeley Senior Center, everyone welcome to hear candidates, only members of BTU, BPA, BCA will vote for endorsement.

Indivisible Berkeley General Assembly, Sunday, Feb 11, 7:30 pm - 9:00 pm, 1970 Chestnut St, Finnish Hall, General Assembly meeting 

Monday, February 12, 2018 

No City meetings 

Tax the Rich rally – Monday, Feb 12, winter hours 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm top of Solano in front of closed Oaks Theater,  

Tuesday, February 13, 2018 

Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Community Benefits, Tue, Feb 8, 9:30 am – 11:00 am, 2134 MLK Jr Way – Council Chambers, Continued discussion/action on strengthening Significant Community Benefits 


Agenda Committee Meeting, Tue, Feb 13, 2:30 pm – 3:30 pm, 2180 Milvia, Redwood Conf Room 6th floor, Agenda: Plan for Feb 27 Council meeting, partial list, restrict number of vehicles a single owner can park, guidelines NIXIE alerts, 739 Channing Appeal, Wildland Urban Interface recommendations from Disaster Fire and Safety Commission – counter by City Manager, Undergrounding Utilities, 


Berkeley City Council, Tues, Feb 6, 2134 MLK Jr Way, City Council Chambers, 

5:00 pm Closed Session Litigation Gray v. City of Berkeley 

6:00 pm Regular Session Agenda: Berkeley City Council February 13, regular meeting is available for comment, 11. remove fence around Here There, 29. Fund Reserves, 30. Residential parking perits 31. Significant Community Benefits, 32.a&b. Porta Potties, 33. Tax rate for cannabis 35. Stormwater Ballot initiative 36. a&b Paid Family leave, 37. U1 funds, 38 a.&b. Homeless Encampment, 39. a.&b. Premier Cru storage for homeless, 43. Information space for Berkeley Food Network 

Email comments to: council@cityofberkeley.info 


Wednesday, February 14, 2018 

Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Urban Shield. Wed, Feb 14, 2:30 pm, 2180 Milvia, Cypress Room, 1st Floor, Subcommittee members: Arreguin, Davila, Harrison, Wengraf 


Homeless Commission, Wed, Feb 14, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center, Agenda: sidewalk and encampment policy 


Parks and Waterfront Commission, Wed, Feb 14, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm, 2800 Park St, Frances Albrier Community Center, Agenda: Park Hours – no public use 10 pm – 6 am 


Police Review Commission, Wed, Feb 14, 7:00 pm – 10:00 pm, 2939 Ellis St, South Berkeley Senior Center, Agenda: Special Van use, 1033 program, BPD accountability, use of force, Lexipol policy 


Thursday, February 15, 2018 

Design Review Committee, Thur, Feb 15, 7:00 pm – 10:00 pm, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center http://www.cityofberkeley.info/designreview/ 

  • 2190 Shattuck Ave –Walgreen’s site - will block view of Golden Gate Bridge, construct 18 story, 274 residential units, 103 parking spaces, Discussion with Majority Recommendations
  • 1200 San Pablo – demolish single story non-residential building and construct 6-story, 70 foot mixed use 57 dwelling, 44 parking spaces, 52 bicycles
Fair Campaign Practices Commission, Thur, Feb 15, 7:00 pm, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center, Agenda: matching funds, complaint alleging BERA violation committee Hahn for Council 


Open Government Commission, Thur, Feb 15, 7:30 pm, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center, Agenda: Amending Commissioners Manual submission revised or supplemental material, reports - revolving door lobbying subcommittee 


Mental Health Commission – Subcommittee meetings, Thur, Feb 15 

  • 1:00 pm Fiscal and Program Accountability, 2000 University, Au Coquelet,
  • 5:30 pm, Annual Report, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center

Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Product Panel of Experts, Thur, Feb 15, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm, 2939 Ellis St, South Berkeley Senior Center 


Transportation Commission, Thur, Feb 15, 7:00 pm – 10:00 pm, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center, Agenda: Gilman I-80 interchange, traffic calming, 



Friday, February 16, 2018 



Saturday, February 17, 2018 

Animal Care Commission, Sat, Feb 17, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm, 1 Bolivar Drive, Berkeley Animal Shelter 


Landmarks Preservation Commission – Policies and Procedures Subcommittee, Sat, Feb 17, 3:00 pm – 4:30 pm, 1947 Center St, 2nd Floor, Camphor Conference Room, 


Sunday, February 18, 2018 

No announced City meetings or demonstrations 




Garrick Ohlsson’s Brilliant “Emperor” Concerto of Beethoven

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Saturday February 10, 2018 - 04:54:00 PM

On Thursday evening, February 8, Garrick Ohlsson returned to Davies Hall to perform in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73, with the San Francisco Symphony under Herbert Blomstedt. This concerto, so-called the “Emperor,” marks the culmination and conclusion of Beethoven’s “heroic” style that began with the Third Symphony, “Eroica.” Musically, Garrick Ohlsson and Herbert Blomstedt are well-matched. They have performed together many times over the decades. Still, when onstage together now they seem physical opposites. Ohlsson is a great bear of a man. Blomstedt, now age ninety, and looking a bit frail, though he is still full of energy, is dwarfed by Ohlsson. However, they make beautiful music together. Ohlsson’s rendition of Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto is almost a benchmark for all pianists. Likewise, Blomstedt’s attention to orchestral details in this work, his sense of timing and dynamic variations, make Blomstedt’s “Emperor” Concerto almost a benchmark for all conductors. 

Both soloist and conductor were in splendid form on Thursday evening. The opening Allegro, the longest movement Beethoven ever wrote, was a thing of wonder. The orchestra opens with three sonorous chords, and the solo piano responds to each with flourishes of runs, trills, and scales. In this, the sheer dexterity of Garrick Ohlsson was spectacular. The orchestra then embarks on a lengthy, 100-bar exposition of two main themes. The first is in the violins and clarinets. The second is heard in the strings then repeated by the horns. Herbert Blomstedt brought out the lyrical sweep of these two themes. A development of epic proportions ensues. After a climax, Garrick Ohlsson embarked on Beethoven’s cadenza, and it is not the usual improvisation but rather a brilliant further development by Beethoven of this movement’s thematic material. When the orchestra resumes, Blomstedt emphasized the increased dissonance that brings so much excitement to this movement. But Blomstedt also emphasized the shifting dynamics, which moves back and forth from fortissimo brilliance to pianissimo sweetness.  

The second movement, marked Adagio un poco mosso, was in the hands of Blomstedt and Ohlsson a thing of beauty. The orchestra intones a sort of chorale, plaintive and somber, almost religious. Then the piano comments on it with a song played pianissimo. Beethoven then presents two variations on the chorale. The first is heard in the solo piano. The second issues from the orchestra. Two bars before the end of the movement, Beethoven telegraphs what will become the main theme of the third and final movement. Once this theme bursts forth in full fortissimo, we are off and running, without pause, in the finale. Here Beethoven gives us German dance music, with two main themes, both full of energy. However, Blomstedt makes certain, here too, that dynamic variations are emphasized, now forte, then pianissimo, and, finally, fortissimo.  

At the conclusion of this great concerto, the audience exploded with applause. Blomstedt and Ohlsson embraced and shared bows. Togteher, they acknowledged the orchestra. Then, after several returns to the stage for more bows, Garrick Ohlsson performed as an encore the beautiful second movement of Beethoven’s “Pathétique” Sonata in C-minor, Op. 13.  

Alas, a prior commitment prevented me from staying for the second half of Thursday’s program, which consisted of Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar’s Symphony No. 2 in G minor, Op. 34. This entire program is repeated Friday and Saturday evenings, February 9-10, at Davies Hall. 

Stephen Isserlis Plays Haydn’s Second Cello Concerto with Philharmonia Baroque

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Sunday February 11, 2018 - 09:10:00 PM

In a concert series dubbed “Harmonic Convergence,” Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, led by Nicholas McGegan, performed music of Mozart, Haydn, and Frederick William Herschel. If the last named is not familiar to you as a composer, perhaps he is more familiar to you as the astronomer who discovered the planet Uranus as well as many comets. In any case, the main attraction in these concerts, which took place throughout the Bay Area from February 7 through 11, was British cellist Stephen Isserlis, who performed in Joseph Haydn’s Concerto for Violincello No. 2 in D Major. I attended the Saturday, February 10 concert at Berkeley’s First Congregational Church.  

Never having heard Stephen Isserlis before in a live performance, I awaited this concert with curious anticipation. Musically, Stephen Isserlis did not disappoint. His tone, on a Stradivarius of 1726, is robust. His technique is impeccable. Stylistically, he is the antithesis of the diffident Yo-Yo Ma. Isserlis is no shrinking violet. He attacks the instrument with vigorous physicality. If anything, Isserlis plays with almost too much physicality. He sways with the music, frequently tossing his shoulder-length mop of grey ringlets, and he tends to complete a phrase with a flamboyant wave of the arms. When doing so, he waves his bow high and wide, so wide in fact, that at moments I thought the members of the violin section were in danger of being struck by Isserlis’s far-flung bow. Fortunately, however, they were seated a safe enough distance to escape even the wide wingspan of Stephen Isserlis’s outstretched arms. 

Musically, Haydn’s Second Cello Concerto offers lovely melodies in all three movements. The work opens with the orchestra playing a lilting melody, which is soon joined by the cello. Towards the end of the first movement, Haydn left space for a cadenza; and Isserlis performed his own cadenza, a brilliant piece of work. The second movement, marked Adagio, opens with a lovely melody by the cello. Throughout this movement Haydn pushes the cello to its technical limits, with multiple stops, lengthy arpeggios, and highly difficult fingering. Stephen Isserlis handled all these difficulties impeccably. The third and final movement offers a delightful Rondo. There is a momentary pause near the end of this movement, after which the work rushes headlong to its joyful conclusion. This Cello Concerto by Haydn was indisputably the highlight of the concert, and it received thunderous applause from the audience. 

Leading off the program was Mozart’s Symphony No. 17 in G Major, K. 129. Mozart composed this symphony in Salzburg at age 16. It opens with a daring move – a coup d’archet, that is, a quadruple stop or chord using all four strings. Then a crescendo follows over what sounds like a drum roll played in the lower strings. A melody is embellished with snappy short-long figures, and these become integral to the rest of the movement. Program notes identify a crescendo rising from pianissimo to forte as something Mozart learned from the fabled Mannheim Orchestra. This puzzled me, for I did not think Mozart visited Mannheim until he stopped there for four months with his mother on his way to Paris when he was 20 years old. But, sure enough, Mozart did indeed visit Mannheim much earlier, in 1763, to be exact, when he was only 7 years old. The second movement, an Andante, offers lovely melodies and a restful air of joy and simplicity. The third and final movement opens with oboes and horns blaring forth in “hunting music.” This offers a rollicking finale in the form of a gigue. 

After intermission, Nicholas McGegan led the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra in Sir William Herschel’s Symphony No. 8 in C minor. Herschel wrote 24 symphonies, though they are rarely performed. Symphony No. 8 is ingratiatingly brief. Only the third and final movement, an agitated Presto assai, struck me as interesting. It whips back and forth from brooding turmoil to elegantly genteel passages.  

Last on the program was Joseph Haydn ‘s Symphony No. 43 in E-flat Major, “Mercury.” (The nickname was added by an anonymous 19th century individual.) This symphony opens with a slow introduction, almost sounding like a minuet. Then it picks up speed, becoming a true Allegro. Later, Haydn plays with the audience by restating the opening theme three times in three different keys, “as if fishing for a keyhole in the dark,” reads the Program Notes. The second movement, marked Adagio, I find tediously repetitive, as it obsesses endlessly over a short-short-long motive. Enough already! The third movement is a minuet suggestive of the German Ländler. As dance music goes, this is folksy in the extreme. The fourth and final movement opens quietly, then bursts forth in a brisk Allegro. Haydn pauses momentarily towards the end, then rushes headlong to a brilliant conclusion. 

Performing on period instruments, the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra gave a solid account of each piece of music presented in this concert. If the term “Harmonic Convergence” seemed contrived (a sop, I suppose, to William Herschel), oh well, I suppose that’s simply a marketing ploy. One needn’t take such hooks seriously.

Jonathan Biss & St. Paul Chamber Orchestra Play Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Sunday February 11, 2018 - 09:08:00 PM

How lucky we are in the Bay Area! This week, in the space of four days, we heard Beethoven’s monumental Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, nicknamed the “Emperor,” performed by two world-class pianists with two world-class orchestras! On Thursday, February 9, I heard pianist Garrick Ohlsson team up with conductor Herbert Blomstedt and the San Francisco Symphony; and on Sunday afternoon, February 11, I heard Jonathan Biss as soloist and director with the St, Paul Chamber Orchestra. What a study of contrasts were the two performances. The Ohlsson-Blomstedt rendition of Beethoven’s “Emperor” concerto, as I wrote in the review that was posted here Saturday, was outstanding in its attention to details, and, especially, its attention to dynamics. Jonathan Biss’s rendition, on the contrary, paid little attention to dynamics. It’s not that Biss did not occasionally play softly. He did, though not as softly as Ohlsson. Rather, it’s that the St, Paul Chamber Orchestra rarely played softly, and, here too, never as softly as the San Francisco Symphony led by Herbert Blomstedt. In short, there was little, if any, sense of dynamic contrast in the Biss-St. Paul Chamber Orchestra rendition of Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto. Instead, Biss and his orchestra thundered throughout this work, hardly ever allowing softer, more delicate moments to appear in the music.  

This much said, I want to emphasize that I don’t doubt for an instant just how consummate a pianist is Jonathan Biss. He is phenomenal. His technique is absolutely awesome. If I have any reservation about Biss, it falls in the area of interpretation. Attention to dynamic variations seems, to me, at least, to be something essential to Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto. When such attention is lacking or minimized, something essential is lost. We can wonder, awestruck, at the fabulous technique of a pianist like Jonathan Biss as he thunders through this concerto; but this kind of interpretation makes Beethoven out to be one-dimensional, and that does the composer an injustice. (Incidentally, on this issue I recall just how profoundly moving was the delicate touch of pianist Maria Joao Pires in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37, when she performed it here in February, 2016 with the San Francisco Symphony under Herbert Blomstedt. Indeed, so delicate and so moving was the touch of Ms. Pires that it brought Maestro Blomstedt to tears of appreciation! Beethoven, as understood by Blomstedt, Pires, and Ohlsson, should not be cubby-holed as a thunderer, which is how so many pianists, including Jonathan Biss, seem to treat him.) 

Leading off Sunday’s program was Maurice Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin. In this work, Ravel paid tribute to Francois Couperin, an important composer at the court of Louis XIV. Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin, which first appeared in a piano version in 1919, was immediately transcribed by Ravel for a chamber orchestra. It is this latter version that was played by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. In all four sections of this work, the oboe is prominently featured, and principal oboist Kathryn Greenbank performed admirably. 

Rounding off the first half of Sunday’s program was O Mikros, O Megas, a work by Greek-American composer George Tsontakis. The title, meaning something like “Small World, Great World,” was inspired by the opening lines of “Axion Esti” by the great contemporary Greek poet Odysseas Elytis: “Aftos O Kosmos, O Mikros, O Megas.” The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra was a co-commissioner of this work by George Tsontakis; and they premiered it in 2016. Since then they have performed it eighteen times in concerts. In offering introductory remarks, an orchestra spokesman noted that in spite of its title, there is little contrast in this work between small and great. I beg to differ. It seems to me that in each of the four sections there is a contrast between the small world of inner quiet and the great world of cosmic turbulence. Granted, each of the four sections ends on a quiet note. This is definitely an inward-looking piece. But it looks inward for quiet and repose in the face of a cosmic world of agitation and urgency. I find O Mikros, O Megas by George Tsontakis a lovely, profoundly moving piece of contemporary music; and I hope the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra will soon record it.