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Charges Dropped against UC Berkeley Employee Arrested During Demonstration

Daniel Montes (BCN)
Thursday March 01, 2018 - 02:09:00 PM

The Alameda County District Attorney's Office has dropped charges against a University of California at Berkeley employee arrested last month during a demonstration at the school, union officials said today. 

On Feb. 1, David Cole, a 51-year-old cook at a UC Berkeley dining hall, was protesting when he was arrested near the intersection of Telegraph Avenue and Bancroft Way at about noon. 

"Today, after weeks of struggle and after thousands of Californians joined protests and signed petitions, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley dropped the absurd and unjustified charges," American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger and Vice President Michael Avant said in a joint statement. 

"Mr. Cole was violently assaulted and arrested by police while participating in a peaceful rally to honor the generations long struggle that Black workers have waged against discrimination and unfair treatment on the job," according to the statement. 

AFSCME officials said Cole sustained injuries to his head and had to have stitches in his eyes and nose after officers threw him to the ground during the arrest. 

Part of the incident was filmed and posted onto social media. 

But UC Berkeley Vice Chancellor Marc Fisher said in a statement released after the incident that Cole had been part of a protest that blocked the intersection of Telegraph and Bancroft and that Cole ran toward an occupied vehicle that was making its way through the intersection and threw the sign he was carrying at the vehicle. 

Fisher said when a UC police officer tried to detain Cole "he became uncooperative and disregarded instructions from the officer." Fisher said the officer asked for assistance and he and other UC officers tried to detain Cole but Cole resisted so multiple officers were needed to take him into custody. 

Cole sustained a cut that required treatment at a hospital and he later was transferred to the Berkeley City Jail, where he was booked, according to Fisher. 

Cole was then released from jail because UC police advocated that he be cited and released without needing to post bail, Fisher said. 

Union officials disputed Fisher's account of the incident, saying that witnesses said Cole didn't do anything to the vehicle and that the vehicle drove toward the protesters who were in the intersection and made contact with several of them and then someone other than Cole threw something at the car. The protest at UC campuses across the state was scheduled to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the deaths of two black Memphis sanitation workers, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, killed when their truck's compactor malfunctioned, prompting a strike by union workers. Dr. Martin Luther King was visiting the striking sanitation workers when he was assassinated in April 1968, AFSCME officials said.

Oakland Mayor Defends Warnings about ICE

Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Friday March 02, 2018 - 02:22:00 PM

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf today again defended her recent warning to the community ahead of a large-scale operation by federal immigration authorities. 

Speaking to reporters after a ground-breaking ceremony for an affordable housing project in Oakland's largely Hispanic Fruitvale district, Schaaf said, "I remain confident that my actions were both legal and moral." 

White House officials have suggested that Schaaf may have engaged in obstruction of justice by warning the community before recent U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids in Northern California that resulted in the arrest of about 230 people. 

"I find it difficult to believe even in today's America that informing people of their legal rights could be considered illegal," Schaaf said. 

Schaaf has met with legal advisers and said she believes she acted "within the confines of the law." 

"I did what I believe was right for my community as well as to protect public safety," Schaaf said. "People should be able to live without fear or panic and know their rights and responsibilities as well as their recourses." 

Schaaf said she and her office have received some angry comments since she issued her warning but she hasn't received any death threats and isn't concerned about her safety. 

She called it lie for the Trump Administration to claim that immigrants are dangerous criminals. 

"ICE's own data demonstrated that the majority of the people they've arrested had no criminal background," she said.

Northern California Sweeps Arrest 232

Janis Mara (BCN)
Friday March 02, 2018 - 02:18:00 PM

Immigration officials arrested more than 200 people on suspicion of immigration violations during a sweep in northern and central California that ended Wednesday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said late Thursday. 

ICE arrested 232 individuals who allegedly violated federal immigration laws in the area extending from Bakersfield to the Oregon border, immigration officials said. 

Of those arrested, 180 were convicted criminals - had been given a final order of removal but didn't leave - or were previously deported but returned illegally, according to ICE. Immigration officials said 115 had prior felony convictions for offenses such as sex crimes, weapons charges or assault. 

In San Leandro, ICE officers arrested a Mexican citizen with alleged criminal convictions of involuntary manslaughter and domestic violence. That suspect had been removed but returned, according to immigration officials. 

In Vallejo, ICE officers arrested a citizen of El Salvador who also had been removed but returned, immigration officials said. That person allegedly has many convictions for driving under the influence. 

Some of those arrested will face criminal prosecution for illegal entry and re-entry after deportation, immigration officials said. Those who are not being federally prosecuted will be processed for removal from the U.S. 

Those with outstanding deportation orders, or who came back to the U.S. after being deported, are "subject to immediate removal from the country," immigration officials said. 

The arrests were driven by leads from the local ICE field office, in collaboration with the Pacific Enforcement Response Center and the National Criminal Analysis and Targeting Center. 

In a news release, ICE said efforts by local government have shielded "criminal aliens" from immigration enforcement "and created another magnet for more illegal immigration, all at the expense of the safety and security of the very people it purports to protect." 

The comment was a reference to the decision by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf to notify the public last weekend in advance of the massive sweep.  

In a press conference Thursday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Schaaf's warning was "outrageous," adding that the mayor is under investigation by the Department of Justice.

California Bar Warns Immigrants to Check Legal Credentials

Janis Mara11(BCN)
Friday March 02, 2018 - 02:16:00 PM

The California State Bar is warning those seeking legal help following the recent immigration sweep to carefully vet attorneys or other legal providers before using them. 

Those seeking help should ask for attorneys' state bar numbers, get contracts in writing, watch out for providers asking for cash payment and keep a paper trail, according to the State Bar. 

Immigration officials arrested 232 people on suspicion of immigration violations in a sweep in northern and central California that ended Wednesday. 

Some of those arrested will face criminal prosecution for illegal entry and re-entry after deportation, immigration officials have said. Others will be deported. 

To make sure those who purport to help are qualified to do so, the bar association urges immigrants to ask for state bar numbers and look them up on the State Bar website at www.calbar.ca.gov. Information is also available at (800) 843-9053. 

Also, immigrants should be wary of those who call themselves "notarios," as this is not authorized in California. 

In Hispanic countries, notarios publicos are highly trained legal professionals akin to attorneys, according to the National Notary Association. In the U.S., however, notaries are state-commissioned officials with narrow duties, and unethical individuals exploit the term, the association said. 

Immigrants should be sure to get their contracts in writing, along with receipts for payment, according to the association. 

It's also important to keep a paper trail. Those who don't have checking accounts should use cashier's checks.  

Under California law, attorneys may not promise a particular outcome from legal representation, lie about their ability to represent a person in immigration court or seek clients by mail unless the letter and envelope are labeled as an advertisement.

Press Release: Give Input on "Significant Community Benefit" Packages for Downtown Buildings Over 75 Feet

from Matthai Chakko, City of Berkeley
Friday March 02, 2018 - 03:18:00 PM

Use the City of Berkeley's online forum to help Council decide whether to establish a more specific process and more precise standards for evaluating "significant community benefit" packages for downtown buildings exceeding 75 feet. 

The proposal Council is considering on March 13 would also rescind Resolution No. 67,172, which, in 2015, established a process and standards for evaluating "significant community benefit" packages for downtown buildings over 75 feet.Community 

View and give input on this Berkeley Considers topic, which was selected by the Council Agenda Committee. Learn more by reading Item 28 on the March 13, 2018 agenda

Registered users on Berkeley Considers - found at www.cityofberkeley.info/considers - can post their comments online with or without their name. Anyone can view registered comments. The goal of the forum is to broaden civic discourse in a constructive and civil manner. 

On Berkeley Considers, each person on Council-focused topics will be allowed one comment, a feature enforced through registration and through the platform operator's analysis of 25 different fraud detection data points, such as IP addresses, browser identity and similarity between email addresses. 

The forum will also be moderated so that comments comply with our guidelines for civility, which prohibits elements such as hate speech, personal attacks or obscene materials. 

In the process, the intention is to create a more informed community and provide Council with a broader array of voices. 

The platform is operated by Peak Democracy, which has used its software and services to broaden civic discourse around the country and Canada. 

When registering, you will be asked for your name and home address. This confidential information is used only by Peak Democracy to identify statements from residents in and near Berkeley - so that users know which statements are from local residents. They will keep your information confidential, they do not accept advertising, and they will not share contact information, as noted in the company's Privacy Policy

Of course, community members can, at any time, mail the full council through one email address: council@cityofberkeley.info

Online forums are not social science, nor scientific polling. But, as with public comment, it is intended to provide the Council with additional data to help in its decision making process. 

Look at the question before you. Consider what others are saying. Let the City Council know what you would like them to consider for Berkeley.

SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Friday March 02, 2018 - 05:48:00 PM

No Nukes Is Good Nukes. As this week's East Bay Express reveals, UC Berkeley may finally lose its 75-year contract serving the Pentagon's nuclear weapons industry. The bad news: among the contenders vying to claim the contract…. Bechtel. That must hurt, especially given that there's already a Bechtel building on the UCB campus. (Anyone else suffering from Bechtel fatigue?) 

Trump to the Rescue. On February 26, during at a White House event with the nation's governors, Donald J. Trump addressed the mass-killing of 17 Florida students and declared: "We have to end our country of what's happening with respect to that subject." 


After calling the initial police response "a disgrace," Trump went on to claim: "I really believe I'd run in there, even if I didn't have a weapon." 

That boast hardly squares with Trump's on-air comments during a Howard Stern interview in 2008: "I'm not good for medical," Trump confessed. "if you cut your finger and there's blood pouring out, I'm gone." 

The reprimander-in-chief recalled an incident at his Mar-a-Lago retreat where a guest fell and began bleeding. "He was right in front of me and I turned away. I didn't want to touch him . . . he's bleeding all over the place, I felt terrible." Trump trembled. But it wasn't the human suffering that troubled Trump. As he explained to Stern: "You know, beautiful marble floor, didn't look like it. It changed color. Became very red." 

Our Weaponized Vocabulary: How can we have a world at peace when our language is infiltrated with so many words of war? 

• On February 27, Bay Area Congressmember Mike Thompson (CA-05) explained his plan to use a "discharge petition" to advance a gun control initiative. He then told reporters: "I know it's a long shot." 

• A new KCBS radio ad for Star One promises new banking customers "a fully loaded checking account." 

• When ICE officials attacked Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff for daring to warn Bay Area immigrants of an impending ICE raid, Schaff declared she was: "Armed with the truth." 

• I was just on a conference call with 14 anti-war activists. At one point, the convener encouraged everyone to "ldentify a winnable target." 

• A well-known advocacy group recently circulated a detailed email lamenting the costs of Washington's unwinnable 16-year war in Afghanistan. The long message ended with the rousing salutation, "Keep on fighting!" 

Get Me to the Kurch on Time. I never thought about this before, but why isn't "Jesus Christ" pronounced "Jesus Chu-rist"? A church, after all, isn't called a Kurch. 

Twitter Targets Advocacy. Recently, the anti-war group World Beyond War (WBW) caught some unexpected cyber-flack for posting a story that revealed school-shooter Nikolas Cruz received Pentagon-sponsored weapons training while a student at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. The school's Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps offered an indoor firing range for rifle-toting students who were recruited with the assistance of a $10,000 grant from the NRA. During his stint with the JROTC, Cruz was commended for his "excellence in marksmanship." 

But when reporter Max Blumenthal attempted to read the WBW expose while waiting for a plane in a foreign airport, he found the WBW account was blocked. Blumenthal sent the following email to WBW: 

Sent: Feb 17, 2018 5:29 PM
Subject: [WBW-CC] Israelis block WBW?

I was blocked from reading this article by Ben Gurion Int’l Airport’s WiFi provider on the grounds that it was published by an “advocacy organization”  

I contacted World Beyond War and received the following comment: 

"We are an advocacy organization 

Google and Facebook steer people away 

US media won't cover JROTC/military factor in shootings 

US billboard companies refuse our money for billboards 

This is why people don't know anything; they aren't allowed to see anything." 

Something I just noticed: Apparently, when a Twitter link is blocked, a "strike-through" mark is superimposed on the ampersand in the targeted email address. Cute! 

Guns Didn't Stop Guns. Trump insists that no shooters would target a school if they knew in advance there was armed security on site. Attention Donald: Nikolas Cruz had been a student at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. He knew there was an armed guard there. And that didn't stop him. 

So what about the armed sheriffs deputies who arrived on the scene and made no attempt to confront the killer? Could it be that the cops were carrying service revolvers and didn't want to tangle with a gunman armed with an AR-15? 

AR-15s Instead of Apples for Teachers? If "peace officers" are cowed by the presence of an AR-15, arming teachers can't simply involve handguns: Mr. Fuller and Ms. Whitaker will need to be trained to handle high-powered assault rifles. 

If guns are the cure (and not the disease), we'd all be better off if ticket-takers at movie theaters were armed. And preachers in pulpits. And politicians at public gatherings. And babysitters in homes. And Liittle League baseball coaches on practice fields. And clowns at the circus. And dolphins at Marineworld. 

If the use of weapons-of-war for "self-defense" becomes acceptable, the National Rifle Association might find some competitors cropping up. Get ready for the National Machine-gun Association, the National Bayonet Association, the National Hand-grenade Association, the National Flamethrower Association? Oh, wait… Elon Musk has already taken care of that one. 

Elon Musk just sold $3.5 million worth of flamethrowers from CNBC


Who's On the Take with the NRA? After every mass shooting, America's elected officials utter the gun lobby's hollow mantra: "thoughts and prayers." It's part of the political inaction bought and paid for by the largesse of the National Rifle Association. 

But now there's an antidote. The Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund has created a tool to turn the tables on gun-cozy politicians. Simply go online to everytown.org/signup/follow-the-money, enter your zip code, and instantly see if your congressmember or senators have accepted NRA ducats. And, if so, how much. 

Celebration of Dorothy Bryant on Sunday

Saturday March 03, 2018 - 08:39:00 AM

A Celebration of
Dorothy Bryant’s Life and Work
will be held on
Sunday, March 4, 2018,
from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.
at Northbrae Community Church
941 The Alameda in Berkeley

If possible, RSVP

lorrisf@comcast.net or (415) 922-7439



Will We Have the Courage to be Sanctuary Citizens?

Becky O'Malley
Friday March 02, 2018 - 05:24:00 PM

So it’s finally raining, and we can’t complain, because we need the rain.

On the other hand, an errant branch poked a couple of big holes in our roof last week, so I’m complaining. What to do?

First, I called the big old-line locally owned roofing company that put the new roof on maybe a decade ago. It’s well-Yelped, recommended on Next Door, etc. But…

Fully Booked, first appointment not until mid-April, and then just for the estimate, work schedule TBD, they said. What could be done?

Then I remembered what we’d done in the last roofing crisis, when either a raccoon or a grizzly bear scraped a long line of shingles off of the garage roof. (Yes, this happens more often than you’d think. And we live in urban central Berkeley, not in the hills.)

A damaged garage roof in the summer is less serious than a hole in the roof above your bedroom in the rainy season, but still…so we asked around, and a friend recommended…let’s just call him Jose.

He’s the owner-operator of a small roofing business. He came right away, did a quick professional fix at what seemed to be a fair price, without insisting on a signed contract even before going up on a ladder to take a look as the big guys do, for a price.

So we called him again and left a message on his cell phone (no receptionist, in fact probably no office).

When he called back on Wednesday, he apologized profusely for not being able to come over until Friday at 9. He showed up on the dot this morning with another guy and a big ladder, and fixed it right up, just in time before the rain started again.

Why am I telling you all this? Because, of course, “Jose” speaks good English but with a Spanish (probably Mexican Spanish) accent. And no, we didn’t ask about his immigration status.

Don’t tell ICE. The immigration police have been busy raiding employers suspected of hiring undocumented workers. They’ve evidently concentrated on convenience stores, but who knows when they might go after homeowners getting roofs repaired?

If the Trump administration’s crazy campaign to rid the United States of willing competent workers continues, there will be serious consequences in many sectors of society.

Already, a favorite Farmer’s Market vendor told us recently that they didn’t have spinach because although they grew it they couldn’t find pickers—there’s a 25% agricultural labor shortage in Santa Cruz County.

And the immigration insanity is not just about Latino workers from the Americas. 

A friend who teaches at San Jose State called me to express her extreme frustration because a favorite restaurant near campus, Café Pomegranate, had suddenly closed, with rumors that the owners had gone back to Kuwait because of visa problems. 

The next day, the San Jose Mercury News had the story: Immigration Visa Quagmire forces owner to Self-Deport.

The founder had an L1 visa, the kind that’s designed to encourage immigrants to invest in businesses, and according to my source the family had done just that, to great success. But the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services hadn’t been able (or perhaps willing) to process their documentation, and they’ve finally just decided to give up and go back to Kuwait. Another Trump triumph. 

Roof, spinach, lunch…not biggies, right? But collectively all of these minor outrages add up to a huge sea change in how this country will get along without the immigrants who have made our economy work for many decades. 

And here we’ve just focused on how the native-born rest of us will make out. For the full horror stories of how the migrants themselves are suffering, I refer you to any daily newspaper. The recent worst is the one about the mother being locked up in a Texas warehouse while her seven-year-old is incarcerated far away in the Northeast. Have we come to this? 

This week I had a chat with a Jewish neighbor, now 88, who was hidden during World War II from the age of 13 in a Holland home. He’s gone to periodic reunions of these hidden children and their descendants in Israel over the years. I have another friend, a bit younger, who was taken in by a French family during the war at 4 or 5 years old and didn’t learn who she really was, or even that she was Jewish, until she was grown. 

Do we have the same courage, to take in fleeing refugees? 

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf has gotten a lot of guff for simply passing along general information she’d received about the threat of a big ICE roundup last weekend. The San Francisco Chronicle had a snarky editorial the next day, when only 150 or so were reported to have been arrested: Editorial: Schaaf’s ICE alert came with great risks

“The … risk she took was to her credibility. Was this tip real or just a rumor? If it’s the latter, it should not have been spread with the mayor’s imprimatur.” 

Really? What should she have done, then? Just kept it to herself? 

The arrest totals over the weekend have now gotten up to more than 350 by some accounts, and various comments attributed to ICE suggested that more than 800 people had gotten away. In their lame attempts to justify themselves, some ICE official has claimed that about half of those arrested had charges or convictions pending—but doesn’t that mean that the other half did not? 

This morning’s Chronicle, front page, profiled an old guy whose “crimes” were a DUI more than a decade ago and driving without a license, proably at a time when getting a license if you were undocumented was risky. Chances are that many of the so-called “criminals” were no more dangerous than he is. 

And is this policy? In the Trump era, how can we know what’s policy and what’s just enthusiastic personal sadism? 

Today’s email brought an offer from Jewish Voice for Peace for a Mezuzah, in this case a ceramic piece to hang on a door which says “sanctuary” in Arabic, Spanish, Hebrew and English. 

This is what they say it means: 

“With this symbol on our doors, we mark our homes as a sanctuary. Likewise the space outside our door frame. Who might be standing at the threshold, in the holy space outside our front door? Is it a neighbor facing deportation? A person who is hungry or underhoused? A person fleeing a violent home or workspace? Our own tired, troubled soul? Or that of the beloveds who live with us? 

“The mezuzah says that we are welcome in our vulnerability and need. It says that we can breathe in kedusha, holiness, sanctity. And we can breathe it back out into the world. Both directions. The traditional text of the mezuzah reminds us to love God ‘with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our resources [one interpretation of me’odecha]. May this mezuzah remind us to act justly with all of the love in our hearts, with the strength of our souls, with whatever resources we can muster, to provide sanctuary to those who are oppressed in our world. 

“JVP’s Jewish values are about working towards a safe, free, and just world— for us and everyone. And that means standing up against Israeli occupation and apartheid, and for the right of Palestinians to live in freedom and dignity. It also means standing up against ICE deportations, and policies that tear immigrant and refugee families apart. It teaches that when we say “Never again,” we mean “to anyone.” It teaches that it’s on us to stand up for what’s right, and that the time to stand up is now.” 

Even if you’re not Jewish, there’s some good advice here. Mayor Schaaf has set an example that we might just have to follow. 


Public Comment

Sb 827 Is Wrong... So What Is Right?

Russ Tilleman
Friday March 02, 2018 - 11:18:00 AM
Russ Tilleman
Russ Tilleman

Unlike Scott Wiener and Nancy Skinner, I have personally increased the housing available in Berkeley, and I have done it in a way that hasn’t destroyed my neighborhood. All with building permits and all within the existing zoning. While I was at it, I made my house earthquake-safe, upgraded the utilities and systems, and added off-street parking. 

My project has taken quite a while because I did a lot of the work myself to save money. And it isn't perfect, if I did it again, I would do some things differently. But it can serve as an important example of the right way to add housing in a crowded urban environment. 

A Century Is A Long Time 

My house was built in 1906, and when I bought it in 2002, it still had the original crumbling brick foundation. The house was so structurally- unsound that I could feel it swaying back and forth in high winds. A small earthquake produced loud banging and splintering noises. 

Living a few blocks from the Hayward Fault, which is expected to produce a huge quake any day now, I decided something should be done. 

Don't Tear It Down! 

The house had no off-street parking, which near College Avenue is a real problem. The washer/drier and water heater were blocking off the back hallway. There was also asbestos, and ancient wiring and pipes. 

But other than that, it was a nice old Berkeley house. Properly maintained, it could have centuries more of life, protecting people from the elements and giving them a place to live their lives. I didn’t want to see all the natural resources and human exertion that went into it thrown away.‘ 

Major Surgery 

After much thought, I decided to jack up the house and build another story underneath it. That would fix the foundation problem, provide off-street parking for two cars, and add two new bedrooms, a full bathroom and a laundry room. Abate the asbestos, rewire, plumb, bolt it all down for when the big one hits. 

No doubt about it, this was a big project. But it made a lot of sense. 

It would preserve a building whose carbon footprint had long since been paid for with 100 years of daily use. It would preserve the character of the neighborhood. And I could live in the house throughout the project. Except when my water heater broke, I never had day without hot water and electricity. 

"A House You Build Yourself Is Never Finished” 

My project is still ongoing, but it is finally nearing completion after many years. The house is earthquake-safe, it has gone through several small ones with no damage and little noise. It has new wiring, the asbestos has been dealt with. I have off-street parking. Soon I will have my laundry room. 

This has all been done fairly inexpensively. And with a fairly small carbon footprint compared to tearing it all down and building something new. Walking down the street, the house looks like it was built this way originally. 

This Could Be Done Instead Of SB 827 

One of the reasons I did my project was as an experiment. It was clear that housing was in short supply here, and I felt that if I could add space to my house this way, other people could as well. 

Adding another story under every house in Berkeley would increase housing here by close to 50 percent. I chose to keep my house single-family and just add more rooms, but the same construction could create a separate apartment if desired. 

A Big Opportunity 

I think most houses in Berkeley could easily be expanded like this. Tens of thousands of new residences could be built without significantly impacting neighborhood quality of life. Or wasting the carbon that is embodied in Berkeley's existing housing stock. 

If the State of California really wants to increase housing in cities like Berkeley, and do it in a carbon-efficient way, it can provide low-interest loans to homeowners to build apartments under their existing structures. In doing so, it can help create healthy, comfortable condominiums or rental units owned by the middle class. Not tenements owned by the rich venture capitalists who are backing SB827. 

Who Does The Legislature Work For? 

Our elected officials have a clear choice in this issue. They can create green, socially conscious housing owned by the people of California who voted them into office, or they can create unhealthy, ugly planet-roasting warrens owned by their super-rich campaign donors. 

Which do you think is going to happen?

Putting An End to Homelessness - Politeness Doesn't Work!

Harry Brill
Saturday March 03, 2018 - 11:07:00 AM

Any effort the cities and the state can play to provide the homeless and those who are likely to become homeless with affordable housing should be made. But only the federal government has the resources to make a major dent on the problem. Unfortunately the federal government has been making things worse, particularly by giving up on public housing and reducing the availability of Section 8, in which tenants pay to a willing landlord 30 percent of their income, and the government subsidizes the rest. But unless we can turn things around, I don't see an easy way out for the overwhelming majority of the homeless and near homeless. It could be done but would require a massive anti-poverty movement that doesn't suffer from being addicted with too much politeness.

The Socialist Alternative

Harry Brill
Friday March 02, 2018 - 11:11:00 AM

Many socialists were enthusiastic during the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign for claiming he is a socialist. Among the outcomes is that his associating his progressive political programs with a socialist perspective played an important role in boosting the membership of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). In fact, this 75 year old presidential candidate can take considerable credit for inspiring particularly young people to join the organization. Since 2015 the average age of members declined from a median average of about 68 to 33 years. Also, DSA, now the largest socialist organization in the nation, has increased phenomenally from about 6700 members in 2016 to over 32,000 dues paying members. The East Bay chapter, which is among the largest, has a paid up membership of over 900. 

Although Bernie certainly supports progressive programs, he is really a social democrat rather than a socialist. In other words, he favors state regulation rather than state ownership. Building a socialist society is mainly about replacing capitalism. Keep in mind that to define socialism too broadly would make this concept virtually meaningless. 

Bernie's hero is FDR. He is particularly impressed with Roosevelt's proposed economic bill of rights. FDR's rights included guaranteed health care, the right to a good education, adequate earnings on the job, and the regulation of big business. These are very important economic goals. But like FDR, Bernie is not advocating socialism. 

The character of DSA is quite different and more complex than the FDR new deal perspective. DSA has chapters throughout the country, including about 20 in California. The concept of socialism for the majority of DSA's members is replacing capitalism with a democratic, worker controlled economic system. As the DSA handbook for new members claims, the exploitation and abuse working people and the public at large experience are not just the occasional side effects of capitalism. They are endemic to the system. 

However, there are members who prefer to regulate rather than replace capitalism. And there are others who are relatively new to politics, and are trying to think through just what the ideology of socialism signifies. 

One might assume that these differences would result in considerable and ongoing tension. But for a very important reason, this is unlikely to happen. DSA is a multi-tendency organization, which offers political room to all who want to join because they are dissatisfied with the nation's political and economic inequities and the oppressive role of big business. Issues are discussed and debated. But attempts to achieve any objective undemocratically or to exclude any caucus within a chapter that is unpopular is not acceptable. 

The one issue that is potentially divisive is the relations of DSA to the Democratic Party. This issue is not, of course, unusual in the progressive community. Michael Harrington, who was among the founders of DSA, insisted that "the Democratic Party must be our main political arena". He claimed that this route offers the "left wing of the possible". The Eugene Debs Caucus of the East Bay DSA, on the other hand, complains that the Democratic Party is the graveyard of social justice movements. However, a perusal of the many chapters of DSA indicates that most members are willing to work both within and outside the Democratic Party, whatever best serves DSA's political objectives. 

DSA is an organization rather than being registered as political party. so it cannot be listed on the ballot. However, the DSA played an important role last year in electing about 35 DSA members. One outstanding victory elected Democrat Lee Carter who defeated a Republican in Virginia's lower house. Also, at least 17 DSA members in Texas are seeking office. 

Working on electoral issues is one of the three priorities that DSA delegates voted on at the last Chicago convention. 

Medicare for all is another DSA priority. For example, the East Bay DSA chapter along with California Nurses Associations mobilized over 150 volunteers for door to door canvassing to educate voters about the benefits of single payer health care. The campaign has been very successful in persuading residents. If and when DSA along with other progressive organizations achieve a single payer system, the next goal would be to work toward replacing the private insurance companies with a public sector organization. 

The third priority is working with the labor movement. Only a strong labor movement could successfully struggle to improve the standard of living of working people and their families. Partnering with labor is an essential component of a democratic socialist program. 

But what are the implications of the differences between Bernie's and DSA's perspectives? In the long run the differences are significant. Regulating or replacing capitalism take very different paths. But with regard to the day to day struggles, they have much in common. Progressives of all stripes, socialists and non-socialists, support Medicare For All, creating good paying jobs, reducing income inequality, addressing racial, ethnic, and gender inequality, and challenging the nation's horrendous environmental problems. 

Generally speaking, progressives agree that it is necessary to democratize all areas of life, including but not limited to the economy. 

About working together, DSA and the California Nurses Association, for example, have different ideologies. Yet they have jointly advocated single payer health care. That progressives of different stripes must respect each other is absolutely essential to building a just and humane society

March Pepper Spray Times

By Grace Underpressure
Friday March 02, 2018 - 02:28:00 PM

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

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

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

This is a Very Good Deal. Go for it! 


THE PUBLIC EYE: Forecasting the Midterm Elections in the South

Bob Burnett
Friday March 02, 2018 - 12:01:00 PM

The 2018 midterm elections will occur on November 6th. Democrats need to win 24 seats to take back the house and 2 seats to gain control of the Senate. This week we look at the 11 southern states where there are a handful of opportunities for the Democrats. 

A February 4th ABC News/Washington Post poll suggests why Democrats look forward to November 6th: "Democrats lead by 14 points among likely voters... But that reflects a vast 38-point Democratic lead in districts already held by Democratic members of Congress. In districts the [GOP] holds, by contrast, it’s a tight 45-51 percent Democratic vs. Republican contest." Democrats also lead in enthusiasm: "They lead very widely among those who say it’s especially important to vote this year." 

A "blue wave" is predicted because experts believe that Democrats are more motivated to vote than are Republicans. Because most Democrats deplore Trump and his Republican Party, Dems are eager to curtail Trump by taking back the House of Representatives and possibly the Senate. 

Intensity of feeling should play a critical role in the November 6th elections. In the latest Quinnipiac Poll 57 percent of respondents disapproved of the job Trump is doing (38 percent approved). 49 percent of the poll respondents disapproved strongly (29 percent approved strongly). 

Notably, Trump is losing the support of women. The most recent Washington Post poll indicates that 65 percent of women disapprove of the job Trump is doing. 

What is clear from the polls is that there is a big difference in how Trump is viewed in Red and Blue congressional districts. Red district voters support Trump: they feel he is doing a good job, ignore his lies, and believe the investigation into possible collusion with Russia is a hoax. Blue district voters have radically different feelings. This suggests that the 2018 outcome is going to be decided by swing districts. The balance of this article examines the swing districts in the South -- ignoring states like Arkansas where there do not appear to be Democratic opportunities. 

Florida: The Senate race pits the incumbent, Bill Nelson (D), against a yet-to-be-determined Republican; the Cook Report rates this as "Lean Democrat." There's also an open Governor slot as the incumbent, Scott (R) is leaving because of term limits; Cook rates this as a "toss up." There are 5 House seats of interest: 

FL 7 Murphy (D) -- lean Democrat
FL 13 Crist (D) -- likely Democrat
Fl 18 Most (R) -- likely Republican
FL 26 Curbelo (R) -- toss up
FL 27 Ros-Lehtinen (R) -- lean Democrat; as Ros-Lehtinen is retiring 

Georgia: The Republican Governor (Deal) is term-limited out. Cook rates this as a safe Republican seat but Dems are very high on their leading candidate, Stacey Abrams. There are two House seats of interest: 

GA 6 Handel (R) -- lean Republican
GA 7 Woodall (R) -- likely Republican 

Kentucky: There is one House seat of interest: KY 6 Barr (R) -- lean Republican. 

North Carolina: There are three House seats of interest:
NC 2 Holding (R) -- likely Republican
NC 9 Pittenger (R) -- likely Republican
NC 13 Budd (R) -- likely Republican 

Tennessee: This Senate seat is in play because the incumbent, Corker (R), is retiring; Cook rates this as a tossup because the Democrats are running a strong candidate, former governor Phil Bredesen. The Republican Governor (Haslam) is term-limited out; Cook rates this a likely Republian. 

Texas: Every election, Democrats claim that, because of demographic shifts, big changes are coming in Texas. We'll see. Republican Senator Ted Cruz is up for reelection; Cook rates this as likely Republican. There are 3 House seat in play:
TX 7 Culberson (R) -- toss up
TX 23 Hurd (R) -- lean Republican
TX 32 Sessions (R) -- lean Republican 

In summary, in the South Democrats have the opportunity to pick up at least one Senate seat, a Governorship, and five House seats. 

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

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Mindfulness to Address Psychosis

Jack Bragen
Friday March 02, 2018 - 11:04:00 AM

In this week's column, I am taking a break from national events and offering some escapism in the form of meditation hints. Maybe next week I will be back to talking about the jeopardy we mentally ill, and everyone else, are facing due to the current political and social climate. Meanwhile, here come some methods that might make you feel a bit better, and that might, along with conventional treatment, help create clearer thinking. 

Human beings don't actually live in "reality." People live apart from truth, in their projection of what they believe to be the truth. Any person is capable of a "delusion," not just people diagnosed with mental illness. 

By my opinion, someone becomes "psychotic" at the point where the thinking is, firstly, split off from what most people believe, secondly, in conflict with the data from the five physical senses, and thirdly, causes you to be a danger to yourself or others, or gravely disabled.  

Concerning who is in touch with "reality" and who isn't, don't try to answer that. Instead, get your thinking at least partly synced to that of others. Also, there are other things you can do to improve the thinking. 

Psychotic delusions are remotely analogous to a computer virus affecting the mind. You can learn to identify delusions before they multiply. The prerequisite is usually being medicated. 

Medication slows down the thoughts to the extent that you may be able to identify delusions. When the thoughts are too many and too fast, you don't have a chance to evaluate the accuracy of the thoughts. Medication to treat psychosis, unfortunately, slows down everything. Yet, for some of us, it is a necessary horribleness. 

There are exercises you can do to extract delusions. There are exercises you can do to alleviate, to an extent, emotional and physical pain, in their various forms. 

The first step that I suggest is merely to acknowledge that some of your beliefs may be delusions. The next step is the realization that you could be emotionally attached to some of the delusions, while on the other hand, that some of your delusions could make you scared. 

The hope for something better is a big yearning in people. It is a strong enough force within the mind that it can increase the susceptibility to some types of delusions. 

Fear is another powerful force within us that can increase the likelihood of delusions. Additionally, delusions may increase at times when we feel a lack of hope, or possibly a difficulty accepting ourselves. 


If we practice meditation, it can lead to the ability to be happy right now, without the need to hope for something that we believe will be better. Meditation can also alleviate some of our anxiety and fear. And it can also allow us to sidestep the all too common emotional barrier that blocks accepting ourselves just as we are. 

Meditation to accomplish the above can involve years of practice. However, it begins with recognizing areas in the mind that need "work." I am talking about "inner work" which is an intangible, and yet it exists. 

If you see a therapist, one who knows her or his "stuff," they may be able to help with some of our more difficult emotions. If the emotional component of a delusion is lessened, we will be able to recognize and discard delusions without as much resistance to the process. 

The work of recognizing a delusion could be helped by means of "reality checking," which usually involves asking someone who you know fairly well, if, to them a thought seems real, if it seems paranoid, or if it seems unrealistic and false. 

If we are able to inventory the thoughts, accomplished by writing the thoughts on paper (not on a computer--also, the writing tablet or notebook should not be left just anywhere, where someone else could pick it up and read it)--it is a great step number two. 

Step number three is to develop a method that is pre-prepared to use when it is needed, to deprogram or negate possible delusions. This type of development, unfortunately, can take years of practice. 

In the short term, much can be done toward improving how you process thoughts. Writing down thoughts, again, is very useful. When you see an idea on paper and not just in your head, it is a lot easier to evaluate it. The simple acknowledgment, that your mind is capable of an error, is another important step. 

You should realize that there are numerous advantages in life to having clear and accurate thinking. Clear thinking includes, among many other things, that you acknowledge and correct mistakes. These mistakes could be at the level of an incorrect thought, or could have progressed to the point of jeopardizing life circumstances. Whatever stage the error is in, the acknowledgment of the error matters. 

Basic clarity of thought should not be taken for granted. It is usually an acquired skill, and not one that we were born with. If you can think clearly, this will help you in almost any pursuit in life. Thinking clearly and speaking truthfully are superior skills compared to an exceptional ability to lie to people and be believed. 

For someone with a mental illness, clear thinking isn't out of reach, but it may take longer to develop. In doing many projects or things, it helps to have a clear assessment of what is required, and a realistic assessment of one's abilities and one's limitations. 

ECLECTIC RANT: Modest Proposals to Address Gun Violence

Ralph E. Stone
Friday March 02, 2018 - 11:06:00 AM


Like many Americans, I am appalled at the level of gun violence in this country. Therefore, I favor reasonable federal gun control measures to limit such violence. While in the U.S. Army, I was trained in a number of small arms, including the M-16 rifle, the military version of the AR-15. As an officer, I carried a .45 caliber pistol during the Vietnam War. As a civilian, I never saw the need to own a gun, but I understand that other law-abiding citizens must have their guns..

Let’s start with a Congressional ban of AR-15-type semi-automatic weapons and bump stocks. 


Consider that this country already boasts approximately 300 million guns, or eighty-eight for every hundred people. Yet, a recent CNN poll showed that 70% of Americans were in favor of stricter gun control laws. To me that indicates that even law-abiding gun enthusiasts want to curb gun violence. 

While it is impossible to eliminate gun violence altogether in this country, we can certainly reduce mass shootings. Eliminating weapons of war like the semi-automatic AR-15 won’t eliminate mass shootings, but it will certainly help. Over time the AR-15s already in circulation should be reduced over time. 

“AR,” by the way, stands for "ArmaLite rifle," after the company that developed the gun for use by the U.S. military in the 1950s. (The military's version, nearly indistinguishable from the AR-15, is called the M-16.) “Bump stock” firing is a well-established capability that uses the recoil of a semi-automatic firearm to fire multiple shots in rapid succession. 

In the wake of the mass school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 13, we heard the usual cry for more gun control laws. This was the 18th school shooting this year and 300th school shooting since 2013.  

After these previous school shootings, there was a noticeable absence of action at the federal level about gun violence in America. This time may be different, however, as students across the country have said never again (#NeverAgain) will they be silent. Students formed March For Our Lives, which “was created by, inspired by, and led by students across the country who will no longer risk their lives waiting for someone else to take action to stop the epidemic of mass school shootings that has become all too familiar.” March For Our Lives is planning a march to Washington, D.C. on March 24th to demand change from lawmakers. 

President Trump, members of Congress, and politicians across the country seem to be listening. Trump even held a “listening session” with parents and students — including those impacted by the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting. 

Gun Violence Is A Public Health Risk 

Let’s face it, gun violence in this country should not be a political issue; it’s a public health issue. Congress should embrace science in the fight for gun-law reform. The World Health Organization already considers violence a public health threat, whether a firearm is involved or not. And days after the deadly mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, the American Medical Association adopted a policy calling gun violence in the U.S. "a public health crisis.” 

Ban AR-15s and Bump Stocks 

The National Rifle Association (NRA) calls the AR-15 "America's most popular rifle.” An AR-15, or a variant, was reportedly used in several mass shootings, including Aurora, Colorado; Newtown, Connecticut; San Bernardino, California; Sutherland Springs, Texas; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Parkland, Florida, in which a total of 154 people were killed. 

As the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held in Tardy v. Hogan, certain kinds of rifles, including assault rifles, are “weapons of war,” and are not covered under the Second Amendment for the purpose of self-defense. They have no use in hunting and are unnecessarily powerful as home defense weapons. Let’s face it, an AR-15 is not for hunting, it's for killing. Common sense should tell us It is time to ban such weapons. 

Congress should pass Senator Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) proposed legislation that would prohibit the ownership, manufacture, or sale of AR-15s and bump stocks. The proposed legislation is similar to the 10-year 1994 Assault Weapons ban that was implemented by Congress under then-president Bill Clinton, but allowed to lapse in 1994. 

President Trump did signal support for a ban on bump stocks. It is not coincidental, however, that banning bump stocks is also backed by the NRA, but such support would allow Trump to say he's taking action. You will notice, however, that Trump did not signal support for Senator Feinstein’s assault rifle ban. 

The state of our gun laws is not because of the Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller that established “right of an individual to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home,” or the gun industry, but rather the real or perceived power of the NRA on its members, many members of Congress, and many politicians across the country.  

However, the pressure to disassociate from the NRA is growing. For example, a number of companies -- including First National Bank of Omaha, United Airlines, MetLife Inc., North American Van Lines, Hertz, Best Western, LifeLock, Norton, Alamo, Enterprise and National Car Rental, and Wyndham Worldwide, the parent company of Ramada, Days Inn, Super 8 and other nationwide hotel brands -- have announced plans to terminate special discounts and benefits for NRA members. Also a petition is circulating online urging companies to #BoycottNRA, even trending to Twitter. 

Let CDC Again Provide Research On Gun Violence 

One side argues for gun control, and the other argues there is too little research proving those measures work. Whatever, we need more, not less, research on gun violence. 

Why is there so little research on gun violence? It is partly because in 1997, Congress added an amendment to the bill funding the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which prohibits the agency from funding any research that "may be used to advocate or promote gun control." The amendment was added in response to a CDC-funded study that purported to demonstrate that having a gun in the home was associated with a higher risk of homicide by a family member or close acquaintances. The ban effectively stopped all research on gun violence by the CDC. This amendment must be rescinded. 


As former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently remarked, “I think it is time to have a conversation about what the right to bear arms means in the modern world,” Rice told radio host Hugh Hewitt on February 23. “I don’t understand why civilians need to have access to military weapons. We wouldn’t say you can go out and buy a tank.” 

I am always hopeful, but not overly optimistic that meaningful gun-law action will be taken at the federal level. But as they say, “Where there is a will, there’s a way.” 

Arts & Events

The Berkeley Activist's Calendar: March 4-11

Kelly Hammargren
Saturday March 03, 2018 - 08:44:00 AM

The March 13 City Council meeting includes items of contention that were left unsettled and rescheduled. Comments emailed early council@cityofberkeley.info have the best chance of being read.

  • Surveillance Technology and Community Safety has 3 versions: a. by the Police Review Commission (PRC) with counter proposal b. by the City Manager and c. by Mayor Arreguin.
  • The PRC has made recommendations to respond to the Police Equity Report which showed racial bias – there was resistance to the release of the report – this is the first presentation of the recommendations.
  • BRIDGE Affordable housing project has a $15 million funding shortfall.
  • Strengthening Significant Community Benefits needs support as Berkeley history shows over and over promised benefits offered by projects to gain community support often fall to the cutting room floor when it comes to actually building the project.

Significant Community Benefits on Buildings over 75 feet is also available for comment on Berkeley Considers. 


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


Sunday, 4, 2018 

Legislative Action Training, Sun, March 4, 10:00 am – 3:00 pm, 2530 San Pablo Ave, #1, Sierra Club Chapter Office, Berkeley, RSVP 


Monday, 5, 2018 

Ad Hoc Committee on Community Benefits, Mon, March 5, 11:00 am – 12:30 pm, 2180 Milvia, Redwood Room, 6th Floor, agenda: continuing discussion strengthening community benefits, Committee members: Arreguin, Harrison, Droste, Worthington 


Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board – Outreach Committee, Mon, March 5, 5:45 pm, 2001 Center Street Law Library, 2nd Floor, 


Peace and Justice Commission, Mon, March 5, 7:00 pm – 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center, Agenda: resolution on ending homelessness 


Personnel Board, Mon, March 5, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center, Agenda: Extension Temporary Animal Services Assistant https://www.cityofberkeley.info/Clerk/Commissions/Commissions__Personnel_Board_Homepage.aspx 

Tax the Rich rally – Mon, March 5, 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm top of Solano in front of closed Oaks Theater, rain cancels. This is the last Monday with winter hours 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm. Beginning March 12, Tax the Rich resumes daylight savings time 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm. 

Tuesday, 6, 2018 

Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board – Workshop for Landlords on Evictions, Tue, March 6, 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm, 2090 Kittredge, 3rd Floor, Berkeley Central Library 


Oxford Tract Organizing & Coalition Building Meeting, Tue, March 6, 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm, 265 McCone Hall, 


Wednesday, 7, 2018 

Board of Library Trustees, Wed, March 7, 6:30 pm, 1901 Russell St, Tarea Hall Pittman South Branch Library, Agenda: Library Internet Use Policy 


Commission on Disability, Wed, March 7, 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center 


Planning Commission – meeting canceled 

Thursday, 8, 2018 

Community Environmental Advisory Commission, Thur, March 8, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm, 1901 Russell St, South Branch Library, agenda not posted 


Parks and Waterfront Commission – Subcommittee Off Leash Area – Cesar Chavez Park, Thur, March 8, 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm, 201 University Ave, Marina Conference Room, Agenda: rules procedures commercial dog walkers 


Zoning Adjustments Board, Thur, March 8, 7:00 pm – 11:30 pm, 2134 MLK Jr. Way, City Council Chambers 


  • 1711 & 1713 MLK Jr Way conversion commercial space to residential, increase bedrooms from 3 to 15 continue to April 12
  • 642 Arlington – enlarge existing single family dwelling
  • 2028 Bancroft Way – relocate existing 2-story residential building to 1940 Haste, construct 6-story, 62 foot 37 unit residential building, advisory comments
  • 2236 Channing Way – convert medical offices, lounge, laundry area and parking into 3 new dwelling units in 5-story mixed use building, new total 22 dwelling units
  • 1740 San Pablo Ave – demolish 2 1-story buildings, construct 5-story mixed use, 48 dwelling units, 3 live/work, 1 800 sq ft quick serve restaurant, 53 parking spaces
  • 1499 University Ave – add roof-top deck to 39 room hotel.


Friday, 9, 2018 

Berkeley City reduced service day 

Saturday, 10, 2018 

Free Showing Film “Tomorrow” Creative solutions to climate change, Sat, March 10, 10:00 am – 1:00 pm, doors open 9:30 am, 10890 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito City Hall 


Anita Hill, Barbara Lee & Elihu Harris Lecture Series, March 10, 7:00 pm, 1001 Broadway, Oakland, Oakland Mariott City Center 


Sunday, 11, 2018 - Spring Forward - Daylight Savings Begins  

Indivisible Berkeley General Assembly, Sun, March 11, 7:30 pm – 8:30 pm, doors open at 7:00 pm, 1970 Chestnut St, Finnish Hall, General Assembly meeting, 







Heras-Casado Conducts Schoenberg and Brahms

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday March 02, 2018 - 05:44:00 PM

Pablo Heras-Casado, who was last seen here in 2016 conducting the San Francisco Symphony in works by Mozart, Schumann, and Dvorak, returned to Davies Hall this weekend, March 1-3, to conduct Helix by Esa-Pekka Salonen, Violin Concerto No. 2 in C-sharp minor by Arnold Schoenberg, and Symphony No. 1 in C minor by Johannes Brahms. Heras-Casado, as I noted in reviewing his 2016 appearances here, exudes confidence and charisma, and he conducts with an extremely energetic style. In fact, he’s almost too energetic. Orchestra members don’t really need to have every single phrase acted out for them by a conductor. Nor should audiences require such coddling. While dynamic energy has its place, that place is hardly each and every moment of a work being performed. In conducting, less is sometimes more. (Take Herbert Blomstedt, for example.)  

However, to give Heras-Casado his due, he led the San Francisco Symphony effectively this weekend in a program that might give both conductors and orchestras some trouble. Helix by Esa-Pecca Salonen is a 9-minute piece of relentless accelerando. It is almost as full of bombast as Ravel’s Bolero. Like this latter, Helix struck me as extremely distasteful. In choosing to perform it, perhaps Heras-Casado wished to give a nod to contemporary music. All well and good, though as music it’s not so good. Next on the program was another work often shunned by conductors and audiences: Schoenberg’s Concerto No. 2 in C-sharp minor for Violin and Orchestra. This work, dating from 1967, was dedicated to violinist David Oistrakh, who performed it at its official premiere on September 26, 1967 in Moscow with Kiril Kondrashin conducting the Moscow Philharmonic. For our San Francisco Symphony performances this week, Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik was the solo violinist; and his love for this work was evident. He even contributed a little item in the Program Notes calling attention to the street songs, folk songs, a Yiddish cry of a street-vendor selling bagels, and melodies of David Oistrakh’s hometown of Odessa, on the Black Sea.  

Barantschik gave a thoroughly satisfying rendition of Schostakovich’s writing for solo violin. If Barantschik’s tone was a bit thin early on, it became fuller as the concerto progressed. He handled the first movement’s cadenza, a two-part invention, with much aplomb. The second movement, marked Adagio, opens with the solo violin backed softly by cellos. Soon the violin engages a dialogue with various wind instruments, beginning with the flute. A cadenza ensues, this time with explosive chords over a timpani roll. The solo violin goes on virtuosic runs, eventually returning to the flute melody heard earlier. A solo horn enters to close out this movement in a soft, poignant finish. The final movement begins in the same Adagio tempo as the second movement; and the solo violin opens with the same note last heard in the horn. Now, however, four horns intrude with a sarcastic shriek, as if to undercut the violin’s melody. The violin responds with vigor. Now the tempo accelerates to Allegro, and the finale begins in the form of a humorous, even acerbic, rondo. Three distinct themes are introduced. The third theme sets up a dialogue between solo violin and oboe and clarinet. Yet another cadenza ensues, this one bigger and more powerful than the earlier two. This cadenza sets in motion a brisk, full-bore closing statement that brings this concerto to a rousing finish. Throughout this concerto, conductor Heras-Casado and violinist Barantschik were well teamed together; and theirs was a very rewarding and enjoyable interpretation of this infrequently heard Violin Concerto No. 2 by Schoenberg. 

After intermission, Heras-Casado returned to lead the Symphony in the one staple workhorse of the program: Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C minor. Daunted by the nine symphonies of Beethoven, Brahms delayed composing a symphony until he felt he was ready. “You have no idea,” he wrote, “what it’s like to hear the footsteps of a giant like Beethoven behind you.” Brahms began his first symphony in 1862 but didn’t complete it until 1876.  

Fourteen years in the making, Brahms Symphony No. 1 in C minor was an immediate success at its premiere on November 4, 1876 in Karlsruhe under Otto Desoff. Its thirty-seven bar introduction has been called one of the sublime utterances in symphonic literature. Personally, I find this opening pompously portentous. To me, it strikes a pose, but not one I immediately accept on face value. It strives all too earnestly to be taken ever so seriously, and I find myself holding reservations about this pose. Moreover, to me, I never quite get over my reservations until the fourth and final movement, when Brahms unleashes an exultant melody that is clearly derivative from Beethoven’s Ode to Joy from his Ninth Symphony. In short, the spector of Beethoven hovers over Brahms’ First Symphony in all too evident a fashion. Thus, though I admire the overall ambition and texture of Brahms First Symphony, I find it an almost academic exercise, albeit a very fine exercise, demonstrating how difficult it must have been to write a symphony after Beethoven. In this regard, however, Franz Schubert had already shown what an original voice he could muster in writing symphonies immediately after Beethoven. In any case, by the time Brahms wrote his Fourth Symphony, I concede that he had by then found his own symphonic voice, and the Brahms Fourth Symphony is one of my favorites of the symphonic repertory.  

In conducting the Brahms First Symphony, Pablo Heras-Casado was all over the podium, leaping, crouching, waving his arms in horizontal slashing gestures, then sweeping his arms to call forth sweeping melodic phrases. His energetic gestures did not so much lead the orchestra, it seemed to me, as call attention to the music for the benefit of the audience. However, I find this a questionable agenda. In conducting, as I said earlier, less is sometimes more.  


Daniil Trifonov and Sergei Babayan Play Four-Hand Piano Music

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday March 02, 2018 - 11:16:00 AM

In the second of his three programs this season under the auspices of San Francisco Symphony, pianist Daniil Trifonov teamed up with his mentor, Sergei Babayan, to perform music from the four-hand piano repertory. Their concert took place on Tuesday evening, February 27 at Davies Hall. Having studied with Sergei Babayan at the Cleveland Institute of Music, Daniil Trifonov welcomed the opportunity to perform together with Babayan, saying “it’s a great pleasure to be on a stage with him.”  

Physically, Trifonov and Babayan present very different appearances. Trifonov is lean, lithe and tall, while Babayan is short and stocky. Trifonov’s piano style is agitated, almost demonic. He bounces up and down on the stool like a man possessed. Babayan, on the contrary, plants himself on the stool and plays with almost no movement of the body. These two pianists may come at their instrument differently, physically speaking, but they were demonstrably on the same wavelength musically. As Trifonov puts it, “Because I’ve studied with him, there is already a certain understanding, a certain similar musical ‘frequency’ on which both musicians collaborate, and that of course is very helpful.”  

The program included Robert Schumann’s Andante and Variations, Opus 46, from 1843, Arvo Pärt’s Pari intervallo from 1976/1980, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Sonata in D Major for Two Pianos, K.448, from 1781, and Suites 1 and 2 for Two Pianos by Sergei Rachmaninoff, the first from 1893 and the second from 1901. In the Schumann, which began the program, the composer made use of shifts in tempo, mode, rhythm, and emotional mood to keep his set of variations on a simple phrase both interesting and fresh. Next came Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s short piece entitled Pari intervallo. Here two parts are set in precise parallel motion with each other, so that the interval between them is always the same – hence the “equal interval” of the work’s title. Stylistically, this piece reminded me of the piano music of Eric Satie. Here one heard the same soft, slow, tuneful repetition one finds in Satie’s Gymnopédies. 

` Mozart, as we know, grew up in a house where he and his sister, Nannerl, often played works for four-hand piano. Mozart’s Sonata in D Major for Two Pianos, however, was not composed for the composer to be joined by his sister, but rather by his gifted pupil, Josepha Auernhammer. It is a lovely work, full of grace. It opens with a sonata-allegro form, whose development ranges into free invention. The recapitulation then recycles earlier material. The lovely second movement, marked Andante, offers a wistful first theme and a second theme that gives way to a duet of two pianos. The recapitulation leads into a coda of cascades from two pianos, brilliantly played here by Trifonov and Babayan. The finale, marked Molto allegro, is in sonata-rondo form. Here the two pianos race through a lively romp, closing the work on hunting-horn-like flourishes.  

After intermission, Trifonov and Babayan turned their attention to Rachmaninoff, performing this composer’s Suites 1 and 2 for Two Pianos. Suite No. 1 bears a sub-title Fantaisie-tableaux; and in this work Rachmaninoff engaged in scene-painting based on poems. First comes a Barcarolle from Romantic poet Mikhail Lermontov that likens a lost love to the passing of a Venetian gondola, gently plying its way through the inky waters. Here there are many variations on a simple, gently rocking phrase. Next comes a section entitled The Night … The Love, based on a line from Byron’s Parisina. A nightingale’s song is repeated endlessly by Trifonov’s piano while Babayan’s piano embroiders increasingly lavish figures over the relentless call of the nightingale. The third section, entitled Tears, offers a Largo that features a four-note phrase that dominates throughout. The fourth and final section, Easter, features an evocation of church-bells as if heard coming from first one part of town then another and yet another, all beautifully evoking the Russian Orthodox Easter.  

Rachmaninoff’s Suite No. 2 for Two Pianos, composed in 1901, eight years after his Suite No. 1, opens with a march. Themes are passed back and forth between the two pianos, now one taking the lead, now the other. The second movement offers a waltz, but it is full of cross-rhythms and quirks. A Trio section features a gorgeous melody in a half-speed waltz in one piano over against a full-speed waltz in the other piano. The Romance that follows is one of Rachmaninoff’s best slow movements, a stunningly beautiful moment of sheer lyricism. The finale offers a Taranatella that races full-speed ahead to a glorious close.  

After taking multiple bows, Daniil Trifonov and Sergei Babayan played one encore, a ferociously flamboyant excerpt from Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera The Snow Maiden. Trifonov and Babayan were given tumultuous applause from a very appreciative audience. It was well-deserved.