Full Text

Families Belong Together demonstrate at El Cerrito Plaza on Thursday.
Carolyn Norr
Families Belong Together demonstrate at El Cerrito Plaza on Thursday.


New: Why Berkeley Should Not Participate in Urban Shield Vendor Show and Tactical Exercises

Councilmember Kate Harrison
Friday June 22, 2018 - 02:38:00 PM

In 1990, the Berkeley Police Department (BPD) engaged in one of the most successful hostage rescue operations in history: Henry’s Hostage Crisis. This was not a case of foreign terrorism. The attacker was just 29 when he obtained three guns and took 33 people hostage. The BPD’s measured response to the situation was executed with textbook perfection. Their actions earned the BPD national acclaim, a legacy that our officers live up to each day.

Decades later, we see the BPD participating in a new and altogether different style of training -- Urban Shield, a set of war games, tactical exercises, and weapons expos designed around a Bush-era counter-terrorism agenda. Using millions of dollars in Department of Homeland Security funding, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office puts on 48 hours of tactical anti-terrorism exercises for federal and local departments. The only way to get full points in the competition is through full escalation of force. In a real-world hostage situation at Children’s Hospital in 2010, officers successfully resolved the crisis without loss of life but in an Urban Shield hostage scenario based on the event, teams “won” by escalating and killing the perpetrators.

Far from this real life example, many scenarios at Urban Shield are improbable and are built around military-grade technology featured by for-profit companies in the vender expo. Take one of last year’s exercises, supposedly based on the 2008 attacks in Mumbai. Designed by Execushield, the sensationalized scenario had officers use Navy-grade aquatic raiding craft to kill members of a Hezbollah terrorist group, which had crossed the US border from South America to set up an armed encampment in a wooded cabin near a reservoir in Livermore. More than just improbable, the exercise bore almost no relationship to the Mumbai attacks, which featured multiple shootings and bomb threats distributed across multiple days and urban locations.

Berkeley can and should do better than Urban Shield. After months of subcommittee meetings including the Police Chief and presentations from the SRT team (Berkeley’s SWAT), the Council’s Urban Shield Subcommittee recommended on June 4th that the BPD suspend participation for the 2018 vendor expo and tactical exercises until revisions are made to the program. Berkeley is not pulling out of Urban Shield entirely. Certain modules of this year’s Urban Shield -- like the Emergency Operations Center exercises and the community fair – will focus on mass care and casualty. I encourage the BPD to attend these modules. 

The Urban Shield program does not reflect our needs. In the past decade, rather than confronting terrorist threats, the police department has trended toward facing high-risk search, arrest warrant services, patrol support, and crowd management. The tactical exercises at Urban Shield do not focus on these activities but instead on politically-motivated mass violence, obscuring the principle of de-escalation in community crime encounters. Urban Shield squanders resources that could be used for pressing community concerns. Going forward, we propose that Urban Shield focus on much more likely crises such as earthquakes and the 1991 Oakland fire. 

Moreover, the Urban Shield competition and expo don’t reflect our values as a community. Take ICE’s involvement in Urban Shield. Alameda is a Sanctuary County and Berkeley was the first Sanctuary City in the nation; even so, Urban Shield has stubbornly continued to host ICE, forcing our officers to exercise alongside a group that clearly stands against our city’s commitment to justice. In 2017, Urban Shield hosted the far-right Oath Keepers, a fundamentalist vigilante organization that provides security for white supremacist events like last year’s protests in Berkeley. Additionally, the exercises reinforce implicit racial biases against black and brown people in their representation within the program, expressing what Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty calls racist undertones. Berkeley is against full escalation and the unnecessary use of force by officers -- yet Urban Shield encourages officers to escalate. 

Reform from within is no longer realistic. The Alameda County Board of Supervisors put guidelines in place that claimed to reform the event. Last year saw the Oath Keepers, ICE and surveillance firms participating anyway. Only some of the guidelines have been upheld and only after a community member brought violations to the attention of the Board, when the Sheriff signed a contract with a vendor that engages in blatant racial stereotyping. 

Urban Shield is not salvageable through our involvement because Berkeley and the BPD have no input into it. Many of its failures could have been avoided if local input was considered. Outsourcing public safety training without local input is dangerous, and Urban Shield has refused to listen to the communities it is meant to protect. 

Our officers need even more training in everyday emergency response and disaster preparedness. Lasts week’s shooting in South Berkeley shows this. The shooting was not by a terrorist or active shooter, but rather against a tenant by his landlord. The BPD used medical techniques taught to them at ongoing Bay Area Urban Areas Security Initiative trainings. More funding could be allocated to these if Urban Shield did not absorb $1.5 million of the $5 million annual grant. 

Reforming Urban Shield has been an exercise in futility for the community and the city. While the discussion continues, it is time to throw the full weight of our community into this withdrawal, aligning our community preparedness with our needs and values while supporting our officers as they take this brave step away from Urban Shield and what it represents. 

New: Record Spending and Outside Money Help Wicks in AD-15 Primary

Rob Wrenn
Friday June 22, 2018 - 02:44:00 PM

In November, voters in Berkeley and the rest of the historically progressive 15th Assembly District will decide between two dramatically different candidates: Buffy Wicks, a newcomer to the district, with no local track record, but with record amounts of outside money, and Jovanka Beckles, a locally based candidate with a strong record of progressive activism. 

Follow the Money 

Through May 19, Assembly District candidate Buffy Wicks, who finished first in a 12 candidate race in the June 5 primary, received contributions totaling $656,597.91, a record amount for this district, according to campaign filings with the California Secretary of State. 

On top of that, an independent expenditure committee of Govern for California, a group of wealthy “philanthropists” who support charter schools, spent $493,332.70 to support her candidacy, while the California Dental Association Independent Expenditure PAC spent $99,481.46 to support her. 

The money her campaign raised added to the money spent to support her by outside groups totals $1,249,414, a record amount for a candidate in our local Assembly District and far more than in previous elections. Govern for California’s heavy spending for Wicks makes this election very different from previous 15th District races. 

The Out of State Candidate 

Buffy Wicks, who has never held any elected office, managed Hilary Clinton’s 2016 California Primary campaign against Bernie Sanders and also worked in Barack Obama’s campaigns and in the Obama White House. She has only been registered to vote in the 15th Assembly since 2016 and between 2008 and 2016 lived out of state or in Los Angeles. 

She has no track record working on local issues in the district and, for that reason, it may not be surprising that only 14% of those who have contributed money to her campaign so far live in the district. 

48% of contributors to Wicks’ campaign committee live out of state. 20% are residents of Washington D.C. and its suburbs. She has more contributors not only in DC and its suburbs, but in Chicago and its suburbs, and in New York City and its suburbs, than she does in either Berkeley or Oakland. 

There has never been a such an expensive local Assembly race or a candidate who has relied so heavily on outside money. It’s not unusual for candidates to receive some contributions from family members and friends in other parts of the country, but it is unusual for a local East Bay candidate to rely so heavily on out of state money. 

The Locally Based Candidates 

In sharp contrast, Jovanka Beckles, Vice Mayor of Richmond, in her second term as a member of the Richmond City Council, who came in second behind Wicks, raised a more modest $157,844.25 in the same period, less than a quarter of what Wicks raised. Beckles spent less per vote received than any of the other six major candidates. Spending for Wicks per vote received was more than three and a half times spending for Beckles as of the end of the latest filing period, with total spending not yet reported. 

67% of Beckles’ contributors live in the District; only 4% of her contributors live out of state. No outside money from independent expenditure committees run by wealthy investors or special interests was spent to support her. Not surprisingly, she has the most contributors from Richmond. 



Buffy Wicks 

Jovanka Beckles 

Contributions received through May 19 



% contributors from AD 15 



% contributors out of state 



% contributors DC & suburbs 



Average contribution per 







Candidate committee 

Expenditures through May 19 





Independent Expenditures 

In support by outside groups 





Oakland City Councilmember Dan Kalb, who finished third behind Beckles, raised $279,21739 in the same period; 3% from out of state; 48% from inside the District. Much of the rest of his money came from parts of Oakland not in the District and from other Bay Area Cities. 

Berkeley school board member Judy Appel, who finished fourth, raised $288,791; 7% of her contributors reside out of state; 59% reside in the district. Appel had the largest number of contributors from Berkeley and was endorsed by four current Berkeley councilmembers. 

Two Berkeley-based candidates, East Bay MUD director Andy Katz and Berkeley City Councimember Ben Bartlett also raised very little money from out of state and got most of their contributions from AD-15 and the larger Bay Area. 

Big Increase Over 2014 

In the 2014 Assembly District 15 primary, Elizabeth Echols received 31.1% of the vote in the June primary, running ahead of Tony Thurmond who received 24.4%. 

In the same reporting periods that year, Echols, the best financed candidate, received contributions totaling $358,528.05, while Thurmond’s contributions totaled $242,014.90. Thurmond went on to win the November election. 

Wicks this year raised about $300,000 more than Echols did in 2014 for the same campaign filing periods. 

Who is Govern for California? 

So who the outsiders who are pouring so much money into our local Assembly race? Harriet Steele’s June 1 post on 48hills.org helps to answer the question and is worth reading. You can find it here: https://48hills.org/2018/06/big-right-wing-money-east-bay/ 

Steele reports that Govern for California’s founders are David Crane, a former advisor to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger; David Penner, currently chairman of the board of Wal-Mart, and Ron Conway, a wealthy tech investor. 

One of Govern for California’s committees takes the money it receives from wealthy donors and gives it as PAC contributions to candidates they like. Wicks received two $4400 PAC contributions (one for the primary; one for the general election) from this committee, the maximum that can be given in a state race. Another Govern for California Committee acts as an intermediary for wealthy donors, with the majority giving the maximum $4400 to Wicks. Over $76,000 was raised for Wicks’ campaign committee by Govern for California. This money from wealthy donors is equal to almost half of the money Beckles raised, most of it from local donors. 

More significant is the Govern for California Action Committee, which is the committee that expended to date $493,332.70 in support of Buffy Wicks. This paid for mailers supporting Wicks as well as for research and consulting work in support of her candidacy. A little over $120,000 was donated to this committee by David Crane. Over $36,000 was donated by a pro-charter schools PAC. Crane is a charter school supporter and critic of teachers’ unions. 

While per pupil spending in in California ranks 41st in the nation, these wealthy donors to Govern for California are not advocating for reform of Prop 13 to generate more money for education. Nor will you find them calling for a higher minimum wage, single payer health care, funding for affordable housing or advocating other progressive positions. This is not a group that is addressing the growing economic inequality in this country. 

The Govern for California Action Committee seems to exist largely to support Buffy Wicks. While two other candidates have received some support, over 95% of the expenditures to support candidates, in the current election cycle, have been spent to support Wicks, apparently the favorite of Govern for California and its founder David Crane. It seems fair to assume that they think she will advance their agenda if elected and would prevent election of a progressive Assembly member who would challenge that agenda. 

Other candidates receiving support from Govern for California, via its Network Committee, include Marshall Tuck, who is running against Tony Thurmond for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, with over $175,000 in contributions channeled to Tuck, the second highest amount of support from Govern for California committees. 

Catherine Baker, the Republican candidate in Assembly District 16, which includes Eastern Alameda County, Lamorinda and part of Walnut Creek, is also backed by Govern for California, which was an intermediary for over $88,000 in donations. The group also backs some moderate Democrats like Scott Weiner, author of SB 827. 

The CNA-backed Candidate 

Buffy Wicks was not the only candidate to benefit from independent expenditures, though far more outside money was spent for her than for any other candidate. Rochelle Pardue-Okimoto, Mayor Pro Tem of El Cerrito and a neonatal nurse at Alta Bates Hospital, who finished fifth in the primary, benefited from $137,715.40 of independent expenditure by a committee affiliated with her union, the California Nurses Association, and from $56,114.30 spend by the California African American PAC. Pardue-Okimoto was endorsed by current AD-15 Assembly member Tony Thurmond. 

Rochelle Pardue Okimoto was not the only candidate backed by her union. Jovanka Beckles, who makes her living as a mental health specialist working with children, was supported by the PAC affiliated with her onw union, Teamsters Local 856 and by other Teamsters PACs, and by PACS affiliated with unions representing healthcare workers and other workers. Other candidates, including Dan Kalb, Andy Katz and Judy Appel had some union PAC support, with Appel winning support of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers and other unions representing educators. Both Appel and Beckles received contributions from the Equality California PAC. 

Dan Kalb, supported by the Sierra Club, received a contribution from the Club’s PAC and one from a solar industry PAC. Union PAC money and the few other PAC contributions, though, played a relatively small role in the race, being totally dwarfed by all the outside money flowing to Buffy Wicks and spent in support of her candidacy by wealthy donors from outside the district. 


What’s at Stake 

It’s not just on charter schools and education that the candidates differ. Buffy Wicks is the only Democratic candidate in the primary who does not support repeal of Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act. Under Costa Hawkins, cities like Berkeley that passed rent control before 1995 cannot extend rent control to housing built since rent control was adopted (1980 in Berkeley). And no city can apply rent control to any housing built after 1995. Costa Hawkins prevents cities from taking steps, if they choose to do so, to protect tenants from soaring rents. There will be an initiative on the fall ballot to repeal Costa Hawkins. 

This fall’s election will determine whether outside money will prevail and whether a candidate with few ties to the East Bay and no track record, will end up representing one of the country’s more progressive districts. Her wealthy financial backers are not spending huge sums of money supporting her candidacy because they want to see progressive policy initiatives from AD-15’s representative. 


Technical note: contributions received is the sum of those reported on the form 460 for calendar year 2017 and those reported on Form 460 for 2018 through May 19. Money received after May 19 is not included, nor are expenditures made after May 19, which will be included in later campaign filings. Percent contributors from inside the District and from out of state is calculated from the spreadsheets for contributions on the Secretary of State’s Web site for AD-15. People whose contributions were returned for some reason are not included in my count. Some contributors made more than one contribution. Data based on percent of contributions, which is easier to calculate, would differ somewhat from date based on contributors, where each contributor is counted only once. Not all of Oakland falls within AD-15. Six zip codes made up entirely or partly of parts of Oakland fall wholly or partly in AD-15. Any person or group with one of these six zip codes is considered to be a resident of AD-15, though in a few cases they aren’t since district boundaries do not conform exactly to zip code boundaries. Street addresses are not given, so sorting by zip code is the best that can be done. Average contribution per contributor is calculated by dividing the total amount of contributions as found in the spreadsheets on the Secretary of State Web site by the number of contributors.

Join Protests Against Family Separation

Alberto Lopez
Wednesday June 20, 2018 - 12:06:00 PM

I want to bring to your attention that on June 30th there will be protests all over the country against the Trump administration's separation of families. I'm sure you have all seen the videos of the conditions in which ICE is keeping these kids. I was 11 years old when my family came to the U.S. and aside from the condescending attitude and rudeness of CBP when we went through passport control, our immigration experience was relatively uneventful. The experience was still traumatizing and the legal processes to become a permanent resident, and then a citizen felt dehumanizing at times. Even after going through that, I can't begin to imagine the hell those kids and parents are living.

I've been amused by the pundits, politicians, and newscasters mentioning how "this isn't who we are" and "how we are better than this." They seem to forget that there was a time when black children were sold like cattle and separated from their parents, or that the federal government took native children from their parents and sent them to "boarding schools" for what amounts to ethnic cleansing. Many of us are better than that, but a cursory look at social media or two minutes of watching Fox "News" will remind you that many have not moved past 1865 in their perception of the humanity of others.

I'd encourage you to visit the link below so you can see a list of protests near you. If you are not the protesting kind, but still feel inclined to do something, I have also included a link where you can find donation information for organizations helping the kids and their families.

Families Belong Together: Berkeley Mobilization

Protest link: https://www.familiesbelongtogether.org/

Donations: https://mashable.com/2018/06/18/child-separation-immigration-charities-donate/#8bGJniHFtqqo

ECLECTIC RANT: Trump’s Cruel Zero-Tolerance Immigration Policy in a Nutshell

Ralph E. Stone
Tuesday June 19, 2018 - 09:19:00 PM

In April 2018, the Trump administration introduced a "zero-tolerance” immigration policy calling for the prosecution of all individuals who illegally enter the U.S.. This policy has the effect of separating parents from their children when they enter the country together, because parents are referred for prosecution and the children are placed in the custody of a sponsor, such as a relative or foster home, or held in a shelter. The Trump administration’s hope is that harsh treatment would deter illegal immigration. 

When an adult is referred for prosecution, a child traveling with the adult is turned over to the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. That agency is responsible for placing the child with a sponsor as the child’s immigration case is resolved. Nearly 2,000 children were separated from their parents due to the zero-tolerance policy and reports indicate that federal authorities have lost track of nearly 1,500 immigrant children in their custody. 

A family seeking asylum does not necessarily make them illegal. Asylum seekers have a right to due process. The Due Process Clause, which the Supreme Court has ruled applies to “all persons” on U.S. soil, prohibits the government from separating a parent from her child absent the most compelling reasons. In addition, the zero-tolerance practices run counter to the Flores Settlement Agreement of 1997 currently binding on U.S. immigration services. It states, “The INS [now USCIS, ICE, and CBP] treats, and shall continue to treat, all minors in its custody with dignity, respect and special concern for their particular vulnerability as minors.” 

In a recent ruling, Sessions said that immigration judges should not necessarily consider claims of domestic abuse or gang violence as a basis for asylum seekers, absent other evidence that someone has suffered persecution as a member of a social group protected by law — a ruling that establishes a major new roadblock for thousands of Central Americans trying to seek refuge in the U.S. 

The American Psychological Association sent an open letter to President Trump calling for an immediate change to his administration’s immigration policy. 

“Families fleeing their homes to seek sanctuary in the United States are already under a tremendous amount of stress. Sudden and unexpected family separation, such as separating families at the border, can add to that stress, leading to emotional trauma in children.” 

Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited the Bible to defend the policy, saying that the Apostle Paul issued a “wise command” to obey the government. What would Jesus say about Sessions using the Bible to justify official cruelty to children? 

After coming under intense criticism for his administration's zero-tolerance policy, Trump then blamed the policy on a law enacted by Democrats, claiming that his opponents in Congress are blocking attempts to fix the immigration system to get rid of the “horrible law.” Turns out, however, the policy of separating families trying to cross the border illegally isn't a law in itself. Instead, it stems from a a “zero-tolerance” policy advocated by the Justice Department under Sessions, which calls for stricter adherence to existing laws.  

Actually, going back to the presidency of George W. Bush, family units were hardly ever detained, but rather processed and released with a notice to appear at immigration court. this policy was designed to offer noncriminal immigrants a way to earn temporary status in the U.S. while awaiting a ruling on whether they would be granted asylum. The “breaking up” of families is a Trump/Sessions policy and Trump is lying that it is the Democrats’ fault.  

Unfortunately, according to a recent Daily Beast poll conducted June 14-15, 46% of republicans agreed with the following statement, "It is appropriate to separate undocumented immigrant parents from their children when they cross the border in order to discourage others from crossing the border illegally.” So far Trump is successfully playing to his base, using his administration’s inhumane zero-tolerance immigration policy as leverage to get his wall and to help republicans maintain their majorities in Congress. 

Will Trump's strategy work? Stay tuned.

Jury Finds Berkeley Protesters Not Guilty in Assault Case

Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Monday June 18, 2018 - 07:33:00 PM

An Alameda County Superior Court jury today found five protesters not guilty of misdemeanor assault charges that were based on allegations that they attacked a President Trump supporter at a rally in Berkeley last year. 

Prosecutors alleged that Taylor Fuller, Scott Hedrick, Nathan Perry, Jeff Armstrong and Dustin Sawtelle beat Daniel Quillinan at the March4 Trump rally at the Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Rally in Berkeley on March 4, 2017, during the first of several clashes between pro- and anti-Trump protesters in Berkeley last year. 

Berkeley police Sgt. Jesse Grant wrote in a probable cause statement that Quillinan was seated at Milvia and Kittredge streets being treated for a three-inch laceration that required stitches when the five counter-protesters kicked and punched him numerous times. 

In addition to the misdemeanor assault charge, Perry was also charged with a misdemeanor count of possession of a leaded cane or billyclub. 

However, jurors today found the defendants, who don't live in Berkeley, not guilty of all charges. 

Armstrong, 33, lives in Oakland, Perry, 35, lives in Modesto, Hedrick, 31, lives in Martinez, and Fuller, 34, and Sawtelle, 40, live in San Francisco. 

The activist group By Any Means Necessary, or BAMN, describes the defendants as "the Berkeley 5 anti-fascist protesters." 

BAMN said the five men "are local heroes who stood up to neo-fascist attacks" and alleged that "they are falsely charged by neo-fascists and local law enforcement to advance Trump's agenda in the direction of a police state." 

BAMN described Quillinan as "a self-proclaimed fascist sympathizer and one of the main organizers of the repeated alt-right protests in Berkeley in 2017."

It's not Just Burrowing Owls, Kites are Raising Young at the Bulb Too

Robert Brokl
Thursday June 21, 2018 - 03:45:00 PM

Like the little trains that could, burrowing owls have made a dramatic arrival to the Albany Bulb plateau. Birdwatchers and photographers have lined the cyclone fence on the Bulb plateau, under the jurisdiction of the East Bay Regional Park District, hoping to catch glimpses of the birds at their mounds. Burrowing owls are small, long-legged owls that nest in burrows. Unusual for owls, they are active during the day. 

But they’re not the only rare California Species of Special Concern at the Bulb—a nesting pair of kites have successfully raised four young in a nest high in a tree top in the City of Albany-owned portion of the Bulb. Kites are birds of prey, distinguished for their hovering and diving flights. 

(Photo credit: Pam Young) 

Mature adults have dark red eyes, white breasts, and slate-colored wings. This juvenile has dark eyes, an orange band across its chest, and mottled brown white on its wings. 

My husband and I have been walking our dogs at the Bulb for the last 15 years. This year, we met a dog walker and Golden Gate Fields employee at the Bulb, with a replacement dog. The beloved pet he brought to work had died after killing a poisoned rat. Owls, kites, raptors in general, can have the same ugly fate, catching a poisoned rodent. 

The Bulb originated as a construction dumping site--part of the plan to eventually fill in the Bay. (An ornithologist from Boston told us the San Francisco Bay is studied globally as an example of efforts to repair and restore what had been so trashed.) 

Some time back, the plateau to the north of the parking lot was fenced off, as a mitigation for the Tom Bates soccer fields along Hwy. 80. The burrowing owls there were displaced, but officials hoped they might discover the Bulb. Or whatever: don’t mess with a soccer field named for Bates. The owls did move in last year. This year three different birds have been identified. 

Walking at dusk, we’ve been thrilled to experience the owls flying low and soundlessly by us. We’ve also encountered them sitting on the fence, not flying off as we walked gingerly around them. We’ve spotted other owls, possible barn owls, after dark. 

We also met up with Pam Young of the Audubon Society at the Bulb who shared some of their effort on the behalf of the owls. (These small owls are newly in the spotlight, after the recent New York Times story about the burrowing owls in Mountain View that are running up against feral cats favored by Google employees.) Unfortunately, we didn’t see any owls for all the high vegetation, but she was excited to find the kites, the breeding pair and their young. She also noted that their diet was “100% rodents." 

So far so good, like a 4-H project that gets a Gold Medal. Except that the Bulb is an urban park, and impinged upon on all sides by clashing interests. We also hadn’t forgotten about the poisoned pet, and worried how the owls would fare. 

The vegetation covered plateau is regularly mowed, and will be shortly, as the 4th of July approaches. A grass fire would impact traffic on the freeway. 

Scott Possin of the East Bay Regional Park District cites bird biologist Jules Evans who says burrowing owls prefer low grass, mowed areas. If the owls decide to breed, their young may still be vulnerable as late as May. And blackbirds, white crown sparrows, and other birds also nest in that area. As luck would have it, their nesting seasons are mostly over by the drop dead deadline of the 4th, and the nightmare urban plague of fireworks. 

Nearby Golden Gate Fields Racetrack, Costco, and the USPS Distribution warehouse all take measures to control rats and mice, often using rodenticides with anticoagulants and other poisons. Rats and mice are also part or all of the diet of the kites and owls. 

David Duggan, the new general manager of Golden Gate Fields, located within the borders of Berkeley and Albany, is open to exploring other options for rat control. Currently, Swat Pest control is using snap traps only in the stables, but Orkin Rodent Control is also working there. The Orkin phone operator I talked to said they were avoiding poison in their familiar plastic enclosed rodent bait stations, citing problems with rodents dying in walls. But she said they defer to their clients. 

Costco, in Richmond, is a special problem. The exterior of their store is lined with Ecolab plastic bait stations. They are labeled “poison,” with a poison hotline number to call. (I called the 800 number, asking about the bait stations. No help there, luckily I didn’t have a toddler throwing up and turning blue.) The stations have holes for easy exit and entry. Many are cracked and weathered. 

But Costco managers I talked to peremptorily dismissed my concerns. Keisha said the stations were “hotels rats entered and didn’t leave.” Period. Good-bye. The next manager, David Dorado, concurred, saying the rats remained in the traps. He denied the bait inside was poisonous, said that label was to discourage people from opening them up. (Perhaps to kill time during the long wait to have your tires changed?) 

Ecolab is a trip. They are a very big company, with many products. (Soap dispensers at Kaiser, I just noticed.) So I was told by the 800 number operator. She suggested using emails for Ecolab pest specialists, since she had no information about the bait stations, but my emails went unanswered. I did enjoy the Ecolab rodent education YouTube videos, which proclaimed the ground-breaking, patented “rodenticide-free devices (that) lower environmental impact," but the videos were oddly mute, even coy, about how exactly the rodents were dispatched. Snap traps? Baited with what? What if they nibbled bait and then decided to exit—traps don’t always spring. 

As the Swat owner explained, their bait stations aren’t labeled poisonous, because they’re not. 

The same Ecolab stations appear to be placed at the immense postal distribution facility next to Costco. Try getting someone there on the phone. 

Labels on Costco Rodent Bait Stations 

So, we have a situation of a threatened species making a tentative home, against all odds, with danger lurking just across the parking lot, or water. At worst, despite the best intentions of East Bay Regional Park employees and others, you have boutique, feel good conservation. 

The owls and kites have established a tentative foothold. Citizen activism, calling Costco (even better if you’re a member), Congressperson Lee (USPS), Richmond elected officials and Assembly candidate like Jovanka Beckles, Golden Gate Fields, and the East Bay Regional Park Dist. might help. 


Robert Brokl is an Oakland-based artist 


City of Berkeley and SEIU Dodge Strike

Keith Burbank (BCN)
Saturday June 16, 2018 - 10:14:00 AM

A strike was averted in Berkeley when city administrators today agreed to wage and safety measures with nearly 600 union workers, union officials said.  

Clerical and maintenance workers with the Service Employees International Union Local 1021 reached a tentative 2-year contract agreement before the 600 workers and 400 supporters walked off the job.  

City officials will allow maintenance workers to help evaluate situations when vehicles and equipment don't work to prevent future worker deaths. Sanitation worker Johnny Tolliver died on the job in 2016 when he was pinned between his truck and a utility pole. 

"We feel this new safety precaution will save lives," SEIU 1021 spokesman Carlos Rivera said.  

Clerical and maintenance workers will also receive cost-of-living adjustments, the other sticking point in the negotiations.  

Four hundred librarians, public health clinic workers and analysts were ready to strike with the clerical and maintenance workers if an agreement wasn't reached, according to union officials. 

City officials and union leaders also agreed to form a work group with community members to create an apprenticeship program to help area residents develop skills that will help them find work.  

Funding for the program may come from cannabis tax revenue.

Berkeley Landlord Charged with Shooting Tenant

Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Friday June 15, 2018 - 05:44:00 PM

A 75-year-old man was charged today with premeditated attempted murder and assault with a semi-automatic firearm for allegedly shooting his 39-year-old tenant in Berkeley on Wednesday morning, police and prosecutors said. 

Herman Little of Berkeley was arrested about two hours after the shooting, which occurred in the 2100 block of Essex Street shortly before 11:30 a.m. 

Berkeley police spokesman Officer Byron White said officers who responded to a report that a man was in the middle of the street in the 2100 block of Essex Street screaming that he had been shot found the victim suffering from gunshot wounds. 

White said the victim was taken to a hospital to be treated for serious gunshot wounds. 

A police spokesman said today that the man is now in stable condition and is expected to survive. 

Berkeley police Officer Xiao Ren wrote in a probable cause statement that Little "shot his tenant multiple times at point blank range," with two of the bullets striking the man in the right side of his chest and one striking him in his right hand. 

Ren said the tenant ran into his apartment after he was shot and locked the door but Little followed him inside by unlocking the door, "shooting at him once more while he was chasing him." 

Officers who searched the building found multiple guns as well as a home-made silencer that was made out of a pipe, according to Ren. 

Little, who is being held at the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, was arraigned today and is scheduled to return to court on June 22 to be assigned an attorney and possibly enter a plea. 

Little listed his occupation as being a merchant marine when he was booked, according to Alameda County jail records.



Families Belong Together, Taking Action

Becky O'Malley
Friday June 15, 2018 - 05:33:00 PM

By the time we heard about the rallies yesterday sponsored by Families Belong Together it was too late to go to them. Today (Friday, June 15) I did call Anna Tarkov, the press contact whom the Bay City News article listed for the organization . She’s in Chicago, and didn’t know much about how the planned events had turned about, nor about any plans for the future, but she took my phone number and said she’d pass it along to the local organizers.

From their web site and Facebook page I learned that they seem to be organized in the contemporary decentralized internet model pioneered by MoveOn.com. In this group, local volunteers can designate a location for supporters to gather as the spirit moves them. Around here, they were supposed to meet yesterday in Concord, El Cerrito Plaza, San Jose, Watsonville…a diverse collection of places outside the usual SF-Oakland-Berkeley orbit.

Many of us in Berkeley seem to be suffering from outrage fatigue, watching too much Rachel Maddow and learning too often about the travesty du jour. No action was planned here.

But when I heard evil Jeff Sessions smirking about tearing babies from their mothers’ arms, I was more upset than I’d been about anything else in the last round of disgusting behaviors. Somehow lying, cheating and stealing, the hallmarks of the Trump regime, have gotten to be old hat, but tearing up families …let’s just say I cried real tears over Michelle Goldberg’s column in my morning Times detailing what they’re doing to the children they seize at the border. I suspect many of my grandmother peers had the same reaction.

A flunky economist who’s part of the Trump gang said (and of course then walked back) that there would be “a special place in hell” for Justin Trudeau because he mildly reproved Trump for trying to start a war with China.

I don’t think so. In fact , most of the remaining special places in hell are already taken, being saved for that economist and the profane crowd he runs with, and one Jeff Sessions has just moved up to the top of the waiting list. 

I soon did hear from Carolyn Norr , one of the local organizers who’d been at El Cerrito Plaza with a couple of hundred people last night. And she does have a Berkeley family connection, though she now lives in Oakland with two kids. 

Why did you get involved, I asked. 

“It’s a moral atrocity!” she said. Of course, what else could it be? 

How did she hear about this action? From MomsRising, the activist internet-based conglomeration of mothers founded by Joan Blades, also a founder of MoveOn. 

Carolyn promised to send us some pictures along with a few words about what the moms are up to, and to let us know what’s happening with Families Belong Together as it develops. We’ll keep you posted. 

And how about those places in hell? I haven’t done much Bible-reading lately, but I seem to remember something about blasphemers. That would be Jeff Sessions in spades, who blasphemously claimed the authority of the Epistle of Paul (Romans 12) to justify how he’s treating those kids. Obey the law, or else, this verse seems to say. 

There are a couple of things wrong with this interpretation. Don’t blame this policy on God. 

In the first place, I do remember that the Bible says somewhere that the sins of the fathers should not be visited on their children. This cruel policy abuses defenseless kids just to teach their supposedly transgressing parents a lesson, and that’s just plain wrong. Regarding of what you say their parents have done, don’t punish the kids for it. Kids have rights too. 

But let’s give space for the final bible lesson to that good Catholic boy and father Steven Colbert, who delivered a mostly serious sermon on the selected text last night. He pointed out that the very same scripture admonishes the godly to love their neighbors, not arrest them and throw their babies in the slammer.  

We’ve come to a pretty pass when late night comics have a clearer moral compass than the attorney general, haven’t we? Let’s watch what Colbert had to say: 


If you’re as angry about this as Colbert and I am, there are several spontaneous organizations like Families Belong Together which have sprung up to protest this appalling situation, and if they organize more actions you can join them. If you’re not up for direct action at this point in your life, there’s always old faithful ACLU, doing their damndest to get these kids out of the lockup and back with their families—they can always use your financial support.

Public Comment

A Mother Speaks for Migrant Children

Carolyn Norr
Saturday June 16, 2018 - 09:59:00 AM

My boys are almost four and six-and-a half now, and sleep in their own bunk bed. But sometimes, they wake up, startled by some bad dream, or thirsty, or needing reassurance. Always, when they do, they call, “Mama!” and I wake from my own sleep to soothe them. Now, when they do, a thought comes to me, as I smooth my child’s hair and tuck him back in: that our government is moving to deny this type of reassurance to some children as a matter of policy. That our government has made a conscious, intentional decision to refuse some mothers the basic human right to comfort and protect their children, their toddlers, their babies.

The memory that comes to me when I wake is of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen announcing last week that every person who arrives at the US border without documents will be treated as a criminal, which means that their children, even as young as a year old, will be literally torn from their arms. This has already happened to more than 1900 kids. A baby was torn from her mother as she breastfed; the mother was handcuffed for resisting. Children are being kept in cages, parents can hear them screaming but are unable to comfort them. One father we know of took his own life when he was unable to stop them from snatching his toddler. ICE is planning tent cities to house the children stolen from their families.

There is no justification for this kind of terrorism. 

The argument, such as it is, for inflicting this nightmare on kids and parents, is that its cruelty will be a deterrent. That refugees and asylum seekers, hearing word that such a fate awaits them in the United States, will simply decide not to come.  

Besides being a mother, I have been a teacher and youth worker in the diverse city of Oakland, California for the past 15 years. I hear from the children I have worked with, stories that stay hidden, usually, and only come out shakingly, kids blinking back tears. I hear the violence and fear, the wars, the rapes, the abuses, that drive families to leave their homes, to leave everything, to flee.  

I think about a poem I once read, by Warsan Shire: “no one leaves home/ unless home is the mouth of a shark/it’s not something you ever thought of doing/until the blade burnt threats into/ your neck.” From the stories of the children I have worked with, I know this feeling explains why their families immigrated. 

Faced with impossible choices, families will choose the version of impossible they hope will give their children some chance to survive. It’s why my some of my ancestors came here from Ireland during the Potato Famine. It’s why other ancestors of mine rode in trains and crowed ships to escape the desperate poverty and violence they faced in Eastern Europe. I wonder if that is how Jeff Sessions and Kirstjen Nielsen imagine their own ancestors arriving here. 

Health care professionals and scientists tell us that kids enduring the trauma of forced separation have lifelong consequences. A trauma like that literally re-wires a growing brain. But as a mother, I don’t need hear that from a scientist. I know, in the deepest part of my heart, that this policy is a form of torture. 

There was a time in the history of our country when families arriving on our shores were forcibly separated as a matter of policy. It was a common practice during the slave trade, designed to break people, to undercut their humanity, to damage them forever. Most of us can acknowledge, by now, shameful travesty of slavery. Yet our new policy treads dangerously close to embracing a key tenant of that era: that some people, some parents, some children don’t deserve what we want for our own families. That some people don’t deserve their humanity. 

I can only hope as a mother, as a great-great-grandchild of immigrants, as a teacher, and as an American, that our own humanity is not so damaged that we will sit back, and allow this to occur to kids in our country. I can only hope that we will speak up in our politicians offices, to the streets, wherever we can, so that no child is calling “Mama!” in the night, and having their call, by our government’s intention, go unanswered.

Does The Equal Pay Act Actually Equalize?

Harry Brill
Saturday June 16, 2018 - 09:47:00 AM

Recently, several progressive and feminist organizations celebrated the 55th year of the Equal Pay Act, which mandates that women receive the same pay and amenities as men for engaging in jobs that have similar levels of skills and responsibilities. The law is broadly defined to cover jobs with different specific skills. The main purpose of the law is to assure that employers do not economically discriminate against women by paying less than what men earn for performing similar work.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against various minority groups, including women. If EEOC concurs with an employee's complaint, it can first attempt to settle the charge. It that doesn't succeed, EEOC can then file a law suit on behalf of the person who complained. If EEOC prevails, but the employer violates the law again, the agency can recommend that the employer be sentenced up to six months in prison. It is refreshing to find a law that at least on paper views white collar wrongdoing as a criminal offense. 

When the law was signed in 1963 by President Kennedy women were earning about 58 cents for every dollar earned by men. Currently, per dollar, white women earn 79 cents, African Americans, 63 cents, Hispanics and Native Americans, 54 cents. Much of the decline in the gender gap for white women was due, unfortunately, to the stagnation of male wages. Still, the median earnings of women who work full time is over $10,000 less than male income. It is no surprise that the poverty rate of women and their families is substantially higher than for men. In fact, women in America are 35 percent more likely than men to be poor. 

If the pace of improvement during the last 30 years continues, which is unlikely, white women will not achieve parity with men until 2051, which is 40 years from now. African Americans women won't achieve parity until 2124, which is in 108 years. Both Hispanic women and Native Americans women will not receive equal pay with men for over 200 years.  

The usual explanation for the relatively higher income that white men earn is that they are formally better educated. That truism, however, does not apply to gender differences. According to data from the Department of Education, beginning in 1982 more women have been earning bachelor degrees then men. In a recent year, women earned 61.6 percent of all associate degrees, 56.7 percent of all bachelor's degrees, 59.9 percent of all master's degrees, and 51.6 percent of all doctorate degrees.  

Generally speaking, for every 100 men obtaining a college degree at some level , 140 women are doing the same. If women's educational achievement actually accounted for the relative difference in income, they would be earning substantially more than men. 

What then is the Equal Pay Act accomplishing? Actually very little. The law is mainly a broken promise. Among the thousands of cases in which employees register a complaint, only about 10 percent receive monetary benefits including back pay. If after a settlement the employer continues to violate the Equal Pay Act, the EEOC makes no attempt to press for criminal charges. But the violations by many employers who are engaging in wage theft is a criminal act that should be prosecuted.  

Moreover, with few exceptions EEOC is representing particular individuals in a workplace but not all the employees who are similarly affected. EEOC makes no effort to impact the workplace generally. Attempting to assure that all women employees in any particular establishment are protected by the provisions of the Equal Pay Act is extremely rare. Such a comprehensive approach makes up no more than one percent of the cases. EEOC's problem, then, is not only that its impact is minimal. The absence of aggressive enforcement sends a signal to employers that it can continue to conduct business as usual. 

Of course, who a president chooses for EEOC's executive committee is very important. Trump just appointed the acting Chair. The Chair, Victoria A. Lipnic , can be counted on serving Trump's pro-business perspective. Undoubtedly, the other appointments that Trump makes will also be pro-business at the expense of working people. Clearly, then, the chances of improving EEOC's mandate to serve the legitimate interests of employees is very, very unlikely.

New: No Country for Old Women

Steve Martinot
Thursday June 21, 2018 - 11:15:00 AM

I’m reading Marcia Poole’s essay in the Planet (6/15/18) on Ani, an 80 year old Buddhist nun who’s been homeless for the last five years. She’s sick, and in a wheel chair, and living in a tent. That is, until she got thrown to the ground so hard that it cracked her skull. Now she’s in the hospital. She begged our Mayor, Jesse Arreguin, a couple of weeks ago, in a video interview at the encampment she’s living in, to please find her a place to live. She can’t beat her illnesses living in a tent. She needs to be able to wash.  

She’s been applying to everything she can find that might be a way off the street, and none of it has gotten anywhere. One might suppose that the Mayor knows that the city is more intent on just closing homeless encampments, and moving people around from place to place, from one raid after another, and so on, like they did in 2016. So he smiles as he leaves her.  

Osha Neumann sent an open letter to the city about the raids on RVs in the Marina just this month. Its essesntial message was, “oh no, not again; why is civility so impossible to embrace?” Many of the homeless who get kicked out of their encampments are disabled, but that doesn’t seem to matter. When seizing their property, the police are seizing their survivability.  

How does it feel, knowing that, in this society, it is okay that someone in a wheelchair has to live in a tent – or otherwise the sidewalk? When we get justly upset about children being torn from their parents that we write letters and make phone calls, is it because that is happening 1500 miles away?  

You know why so many Mexicans come to the US to work. Its because of corn. The US mass produces corn, and can sell it cheaper than Mexican farmers can produce the corn that they depend on for an income. NAFTA allows the US to export corn to Mexico free of tariffs. The Mexican farmers can’t compete. They lose their income, lose their land to the bank, and by growing the unemployment situation, drive the economy into recession. So they follow their money as if flees to the US hoping to get it back by working for it, so they can send it home to feed their kids. NAFTA takes parents away from their kids and ICE takes kids away from their parents.  

When the police raid the homeless, and take their possessions, they are taking what the homeless need to protect themselves from the environment. Without that protection, they die. Everyday, somewhere in the US, some homeless people die on the street. To take their possessions is separate them from their survivability. It is, in effect, to kill them, slowly. It should be manslaughter, but it’s done knowingly. The police commit attempted murder whenever they raid a homeless encampment, and take the people’s possessions. Its unconstitutional, of course, but we’re speaking about civility here – you know, ethics.  

How does it feel?  

How many of the children having been put in cages in Texas without their parents will have to die, perhaps by throwing themselves off a bridge in hopelessness, before we find a way to say "stop" to the government without having to wait two years for the next election. Death doesn’t wait that long.  

Homelessness happens. Maybe you have no pension, or maybe your pension is too little to keep up with what the real estate speculators are doing to rent levels and real estate prices in this whole area. Nowadays, old Victorians go for a million plus. To rent an apartment, you have to be able to pay $2000 a month for a studio or one bedroom.  

Ani is old, and sick. and can’t leave her tent. Except to wind up in the hospital. She cracked her skull open trying to get down to a BART platform. Her wheelchair got caught in the escalator and she fell.  

The city government claims it has no money for people. They spent over a hundred thousand for police overtime incurred during 2016 for all the raids on the homeless encampments. The US reaps huge profits from dominating Mexican markets with cheap goods, and have none to take care of the elderly and disabled homeless here.  

But there is plenty of money. This is the richest country in the world. Mexico isn’t the only only economy exploited by it. Yet government claims it is starved for funds so that housing programs, and educational systems, and health care, etc. all have to be cut back. However, there is plenty of money. It is in the five-sided building, that institution that simply has to wave its hand to get appropriations it didn’t even ask for. The US right now is bombing seven different countries in the world. Perhaps it can’t stop killing people in order to make its attitude toward the homeless here at "home" look benign. The military has but to cancel one contract for a new plane to provide health and education for everyone.  

Ani would have been dead by now if it weren’t for the other homeless people who belong to that prophetic group called “First the Came for the Homeless.” They call themselves an “intentional community,” which means they take care of each other, know each other well, make their own rules democratically, keep their place spic and span, and make sure nobody dies of hunger or a terrible disease. Alcohol and drugs are not an option. They are banned from the encampment. If you come into the camp wearing that millstone around your neck, they will take care of you, but only on the basis of agreements. Agreements occur between equals. It is what produces belonging. First, there is agreement on some method of getting rid of the millstone. Then, "belonging" means living up to the agreements.  

So Ani is still alive. But she’s doing some serious hospital time.  

You know what it makes me think of? There was a movie I saw a long time ago about a tribe in ancient Japan that would take their old people, who could no longer contribute to the well-being of the society, up into the mountains, and leave them there to starve to death, or throw them off a cliff. It was a 1958 film called “The Ballad of Narayama,” directed by Shichiro Fukuzawa. You watch the movie, and you go through the anguish of this family, torn between what the whole is doing and what the part must endure because of an age-old helplessness. (It is similar to the anguish that one sees in the woman who is the main character in the short story, “The Lottery,” by Shirley Jackson.)  

There was a lot of controversy at the time the movie came out about whether the story was true or not. Fukuzawa took the story from a novel about the practice, and made it visible for everyone. Some said only savages would treat people like that. You can imagine what some other people were saying.  

But now, we know the story in the movie was true. Except that the society that engages in this practice is the US, where homeless people who have been jettisoned sit on sidewalks waiting for the inevitable. They are stripped of belonging to society before the cops arrive, and they are deprived of survivability after they come. It is indeed savagery to simply leave the elderly to rot away on some mountain ledge or throw them off a cliff because they are no longer useful, or leave them sitting there on a sidewalk.  

It is indeed savagery to let people rot away in the rain or confiscate their tent so that they become defenseless against the elements. That savagery may only be the soft subtle economic workings of markets and trade, but they form a cliff from which people are thrown to their death.

Gaza Revisited

Jagjit Singh
Saturday June 16, 2018 - 10:09:00 AM

Israeli soldiers have killed at least 119 Palestinians and wounded more than 13,000 since the Palestinians’ nonviolent Great March of Return protests began on March 30. 

In response to worldwide condemnation of the slaughter and the murder of Palestinian Medic Razan al-Najjar, the Israeli military doctored a video in a crude attempt to smear her. 

At the time of her death, Razan al-Najjar was helping evacuate wounded Palestinians at a protest near the separation fence between Israel and Gaza. At the time of her killing she was wearing a white medical coat. 

The heavily edited video falsely claims the slain medic was acting as a “human shield” for Hamas when she was shot dead by an Israeli sniper. 

The IDF logic for her murder, killed with precision weaponry claims that even accidents are directed by God to occur only to bad people, so the victim’s murder was justified. Really? Using such twisted logic, do the Israelis imply 6 million Jews died during the holocaust because they were bad people?Responding to the brutal Israeli occupation, celebrity chief Anthony Bourdain said, “the world has visited many terrible things on the Palestinian people, none more shameful than robbing them of their basic humanity. People are not statistics.”


New: DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE:The Spanish Labyrinth

Conn Hallinan
Friday June 15, 2018 - 10:03:00 AM

As the socialist-led government takes over in Spain, newly minted Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez faces at least two daunting tasks: cleaning up the wreckage wrought by years of European Union (EU) enforced austerity and resolving the Catalan crisis exacerbated by Madrid’s violent reaction to last fall’s independence referendum. Unfortunately, his Party’s track record is not exactly sterling on either issue. 

Sanchez, leader of the Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), patched together parties in Catalonia and the Basque region, plus the leftist Podemos Party, to oust long-time Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the People’s Party (PP). But is the telegenic former economics professor up to the job, and will his Party challenge the economic program of the EU’s powerful “troika”—the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission? 

The answers to those questions are hardly clear, and in many ways the cross currents and rip tides of Spanish politics still resemble Gerald Brenan’s classic study of the Civil War, The Spanish Labyrinth. 

While the issue that brought Rajoy down was corruption—a massive kickback scheme that enriched scores of high-ranking PP members— his Party was already weakened by the 2015 election, and he has been forced to rely on the conservative Ciudadanos Party based in Catalonia to stay in power. In short, it was only a matter of time before he fell. 

Sanchez promises to address the “pressing social needs” of Spaniards, although he has been vague about what that actually means. But Spain is hurting. While economic growth returned in 2013, unemployment is still at 16.1, and youth joblessness is 35 percent. Rajoy took credit for the economy’s rebound from the massive financial meltdown in 2008, but there is little evidence that budget cuts and austerity did the trick. The two main engines for growth were cheap oil and a weak currency. 

The job growth has mainly been in short term and temp jobs, with lower pay and fewer benefits. That is not specific to Spain, however. Of the 5.2 million jobs created in the EU between 2013 and 2016, some 2.1 million of them have been short term, “mini” jobs that have been particularly hard on young people. Many continue to live at home with their aging parents, and 400,000 have emigrated to other European countries. 

Education, health care, and infrastructure have all deteriorated under a blizzard of budget cuts, and Sanchez will have to address those problems. His party’s record on the economy, however, has been more centrist than social democratic, and the PSOE basically accepts the neo-liberal mantra of tax cuts, deregulation and privatization. It was PSOE Prime Minister Jose Zapatero who sliced more than $17 billion from the budget in 2010, froze pensions, cut child care funds and home care for the elderly, and passed legislation making it easier to lay off workers. 

It was anger at the Socialists over rising unemployment that swept Rajoy and the PP into power in 2011. The PSOE has never recovered from that debacle, dropping from 44 percent of the vote to 24.9 percent today. It has only 84 deputies in the Parliament, just 14 more than Podemos. 

When Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias proposed forming a government of the left. Sanchez rejected it and instead appointed all PSOE people to the cabinet. However, he will have to rely on support from the left to stay in power, and there is no guarantee that it will be there unless the Socialists step away from their centrism and begin rolling back the austerity measures. 

Sanchez has a mixed record on leftism vs. centrism. He was ousted from the Party’s leadership last year by the PSOE’s rightwing when he considered forming a united front of the left. It was the Party’s rank and file, angered at the rightwing Socialists that allowed Rajoy to form a minority government that put him back in power. So far, Sanchez has been unwilling to consider the kind of alliance of left parties that has been so successful in Portugal. 

The new government will also need the support of the two Catalan parties, and that will likely be an uphill slog. The Catalans just elected a government that supports independence, although its President, Quim Torra has called for “talks.” 

The current Catalonia crisis was ignited when Rajoy torpedoed a 2006 agreement between the Spanish government and the Catalan government that would have given the province greater local control over its finances and recognized the Catalan’s unique culture. Under the prodding of the PP, the Constitutional Court overturned the agreement and shifted the dispute from the political realm to a legal issue. 

At the time, the idea of independence was marginal in Catalonia, but the refusal of Rajoy to even discuss the issue shifted it to the mainstream. “Independentism, which until 2010 was a decidedly minority option in Catalonia, has grown immensely,” according to Thomas Harrington, a Professor of Hispanic Studies at Trinity College, CT. 

The Catalans began pressing for a referendum on independence—nearly 80 percent supported holding one—although it was initially seen as non-binding. Even though Podemos did not support the idea of independence, it backed the basic democratic right of the Catalans to vote on the issue. The PSOE, however, was as hard-nosed on the issue as Rajoy and the PP. Not only did the Socialists not support the right of the Catalans to vote, they backed Rajoy’s crackdown on the province, although they decried the violence unleashed on citizens trying to vote during last October’s referendum. 

Some 2.3 million Catalans out of the 5.3 million registered voters went to the polls and overwhelmingly endorsed independence in spite of the fact that Rajoy sent some 10,000 National Police and Guardia Civil into the province to seize ballot, beat voters and injure more than 850 people. Legal procedures have been filed against over 700 mayors and elected officials, and the Catalan leadership is either in jail or on the run. While Sanchez said the crackdown was “a sad day for our democracy,” he will have a lot of explaining to do to the Catalan government. 

Unlike Rajoy, Sanchez says he wants a dialogue with the Catalans, although he also says he intends to uphold the Spanish constitution, which does not permit secession. 

Catalan society is deeply split. The big cities tend to be opposed to independence, as are many trade unions. The left is divided on the issue, but many young people support it. As the Financial Times’ Tobias Buck points out, “The younger generation, who have been schooled in Catalan and have less contact with the rest of Spain than their parents, are among the most enthusiastic backers of independence.” 

It is also clear that the brutality of Rajoy’s assault has moved people in that direction, although polls show independence still does not have a majority. But in a sense, that is irrelevant. When almost half the population wants something that “something” has to be addressed, and if Buck is right about the demographics, time is running out for Madrid. 

There are other serious constitutional issues that need to be addressed as well. Rural areas are greatly favored over cities. While it takes 125,000 voters in Madrid to elect a representative, in some rural areas it takes as few as 38,000. There is also a need to address Rajoy’s draconian laws against free speech and assembly. 

Just how stable Sanchez’s government will be is unclear. He must keep the Basques and the Catalans on board and do enough on the economy to maintain the support of Podemos. 

The PP is badly wounded, and the rightwing Ciudadanos Party—the only one that voted against the no confidence resolution—will be looking to fill that vacuum. Ciudadanos calls itself the “center,” but its economic policies are the same as those of the PP, and it is rabidly opposed to separatism. It performed poorly in the last election and in regional elections in Galicia and the Basque region. It did well in the recent Catalan elections, but that is because the Popular Party collapsed and its voters shifted to Ciudadanos. 

Sanchez must recognize that the Catalan issue is political, not legal, and that force is not an option. As Napoleon Bonaparte’s Foreign Minister Talleyrand once remarked, “You can do anything you like with bayonets, except sit on them,” summing up the truism that repression does not work in the long run. 



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







THE PUBLIC EYE:Donald Trump, Russian Agent

Bob Burnett
Saturday June 16, 2018 - 09:39:00 AM

511 days into the Trump presidency it's clear that Donald is the most destructive US President in recent history. He's divided the nation, alienated our historic allies, and made worse the planet's most pressing problems. Although there are several possible explanations for Trump's disastrous behavior, it's likely that he is acting on behalf of Russia. 

It's difficult to remember a time when the United States was more polarized. (Certainly not since the sixties.) Trump makes no attempt to be conciliatory; he plays to his base all the time. On issue after issue he demonizes Democrats and all those who oppose him. Trump has legitimized hate and exacerbated racial and ethnic antagonism. He's an unapologetic misogynist. To paraphrase George W. Bush, Trump is "a divider not a uniter." 

The overall state of the nation has deteriorated under Trump. (The latest Pew Research Poll indicates that 62 percent of respondents are dissatisfied "with the way things are going.") A recent report found that: "the United States is leading the developed world in income and wealth inequality;" and placed the blame at the feet of the Trump Administration. (For example, blue-collar wages are down .) Trump has jeopardized American democracy. 

Why Trump is doing such a terrible job? One answer is that he isn't up to the task; he lacks the intellectual and emotional strength to be President. And it doesn't help the situation that many of Washington's "best and brightest" don't want to work for Trump; as a result he has a thin and second-rate staff. 

Another explanation is that Trump is obsessed with eradicating the legacy of Barack Obama -- Donald wants to be the anti-Obama. Therefore his legislative agenda is to reverse Obama initiatives. Obama was for affordable healthcare; Trump pushed to overturn "Obamacare." Obama signed the "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals" policy; Trump reversed it. Obama signed the Iran Nuclear Accord -- the "Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action;" Trump unilaterally withdrew. Obama signed the Paris Climate Agreement; Trump plans to withdraw. In other words, if Obama was for it, Trump is reflexively against it. Trump has a negative agenda. 

By nature, Obama was a collaborator; a believer in "win-win" negotiation. By nature, Trump is individualistic competitor; a believer in "I win, you lose." 

A third, more sinister explanation is that Trump is a puppet. The question is who is pulling the strings? One theory is that Trump is controlled by a small group of Republican oligarchs including Sheldon Adelson, Robert Mercer, and Charles and David Koch. This might explain some Trump actions, such as moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem -- a key Adelson issue. However it does not explain many Trump actions such as the crackdown on immigrants, particularly the Trump's reversal of the "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals," which the Koch's oppose. 

Another theory is that Trump is beholden to Vladimir Putin and Russian Oligarchs. Under this line of reasoning, Putin and his inner circle are calling the shots; Trump goes along with them because he has no choice. 

There are many Trump actions that support the notion that Putin is telling him what to do. The most obvious is Trump's attitude towards Russia. For example, even though there's indisputable evidence that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, Trump refuses to acknowledge this . Even though it appears to many observers that Russia is at war with the US -- cyberwar -- Trump continues to cozy up to Putin. (Recently Putin told an Austrian news outlet that he talks to Trump "regularly." Trump recently declared that Russia should be brought back into to the G-7 discussions. (They were expelled after the invasion of Crimea.) He plans to invite Putin to the White House. 

Given that Putin is controlling Trump, what is Putin's strategy? There appear to be three aspects. The first is to use Trump to weaken western alliances: the United Nations, NATO, the G-7, etcetera. There's no doubt that Trump has done this; the most recent example being the June G-7 meeting where Trump left early and refused to sign the group communique. 

US global military alliances have also been weakened. For example, Trump just called off the annual United States-South Korea military exercises -- something that was requested by North Korea and Russia. 

Trump has weakened US alliances in general. By withdrawing from the Paris Climate accord, Trump signaled that the United States will no longer work with the rest of the world on climate change issues. By withdrawing from the Iran Nuclear Accord, Trump indicated that he reserved the right to act unilaterally throughout the world. Now, Trump has shaken up trade relations with America's largest trading partners (the European Union, China, Canada, Mexico, Japan, South Korea...). Trump has drastically curtailed the US role in all global endeavors such cybersecurity, health, immigration, tourism, etcetera. 

Putin also wants to weaken the relationship between the United States and the European Union. From the onset, Trump has disparaged the EU by actions such as supporting Brexit and demonizing Germany. As a result our EU partners no longer trust the US. 

Finally, Putin wants to weaken US democracy, weaken our resolve. There's no doubt that Trump has divided the country and as a consequence turned us inward, diminished our role as a global power. 

Putin is winning. 


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

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Wealth and Fame Are Not the Cure

Jack Bragen
Saturday June 16, 2018 - 09:50:00 AM

Over the many centuries of civilization, people who have experienced disturbances in their lives and minds have provided many of the greatest contributions to society. 

I am very sad to hear of Anthony Bourdain's death. I greatly enjoyed his television shows. I do not know the first thing about preparing food beyond perhaps boiling an egg. I am not a world traveler, and I find it difficult to get out of the Martinez area. Thus, Bourdain's television series gave me a window through which I could vicariously experience the world. 

Isn't it always about getting the fabled, "Something More"? Apparently, wealth and fame did not give Bourdain what he sought. Or, maybe they did, but they didn't solve other problems he may have had. 

For readers unfamiliar with Anthony Bourdain: He was an author, chef, and world-traveler. He had an incredible television series (that won three Emmy Awards three years in a row, and also may have won other awards) that aired on CNN, on Sunday evenings, and the series lasted about ten years, only to be [presumably] terminated by Bourdain's death. 

Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death, overall, in the U.S. Suicide is even more common among people with mental illness. It is common among those inflicted with schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar. One in ten people with schizophrenia commit suicide, making it the number one cause of premature death among us. 

It is important, in these times, where we have a seemingly harsher society compared to a few years ago, that we seek help if we feel at risk, and definitely, talk about it. 

Taking one's own life should never be seen as a "solution" to your problems. It should never be seen as cool, as fashionable, or as glamorous. It is an act that throws one's life away, and it does not consider the well-being of others who are left behind to pick up the pieces. Suicide is selfish, it is utterly foolish, and it is sometimes vain. 

People sometimes go undiagnosed, and may be able to hide the fact from the public that they have a psychiatric problem. Those who aren't able to hide their problem often get treated like crap by an uncaring society and are unable to earn a living due to discrimination. It is hard to know if it is better to remain closeted about one's condition, or not. Anthony Bourdain (not afflicted with schizophrenia, but with other problems) also mentioned on his show that he was a heroin addict in his past. 

When someone who has achieved fame and wealth takes her or his own life, it indicates that there are some things you can not run from. You can not run away from your own cranium, no matter how fast you run. If your mind is tormenting you, you must seek help, even when it can be very hard to do so. Perhaps Bourdain could not summon the courage or bridge the gap that would have allowed him to ask for help. 

In no way do I intend to imply lack of bravery on the part of Anthony Bourdain. I know nothing about him other than what I have seen on his television show. He went to places that a more fainthearted or less brave person, such as I, would never consider going. He probably had a small film crew with a CNN logo, but this was no protection had local people become sufficiently annoyed with his presence in sensitive places. 

With some important exceptions, an individual who attempts suicide, by definition, is mentally ill. It is hard to know what Bourdain's diagnosis would have been, and I wouldn't want to speculate a diagnosis (which also I am not qualified to do) as a cloud upon someone with such a tremendous legacy. 

This week's piece isn't really about Anthony Bourdain; it is about the concept that we owe our happiness and well-being to nonmaterial things. The ability to be at peace with oneself is a precious commodity. Once learned, it will serve you for the rest of your life--which could be longer as a result of learning that. 

It might seem for an hour, for a day, or for a month, that things are awful, are unbearable, and could never be resolved. However, this is an illusion. In life, there are instances in which we have to wade through cesspools. But once we reach the other side of the cesspool, we could get cleaned up and things could be better. Death comes soon enough anyway, so we may as well stick around a bit longer and see if there is an off-chance that we will be able to turn things around. 

In addition, there are medicines that can help, there are doctors who can help, and, one hopes, you have some family that could help you in a time of need. Do not make the mistake of thinking you are alone; you are not alone. 

FYI: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org 





ECLECTIC RANT: Trump Doing Putin’s Work

Ralph E. Stone
Saturday June 16, 2018 - 10:11:00 AM

At the Group of Seven (G7) meeting on June 8, President Trump called for the readmission of Russia into the group. Russia was tossed out of the Group after it annexed Crimea and intervened in the Ukraine and did so even after Russia intervened in the 2016 presidential election. Soon there will be only a de facto G6 Group. 

After the election intervention was revealed, both houses of Congress, with huge majorities, voted to authorize new sanctions on Russia. President Trump with great reluctance signed the bill. However, the Trump announced that he did not plan to impose the new sanctions. 

Trump pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, signed by 176 countries and the European Union. Then he canceled the Iran nuclear deal. Now he is threatening to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Under Trump, the U.S. does not keep its international agreements. 

Recently, the Trump administration controversially imposed tariffs on Canada, Mexico and the U.S.’s closest allies in Europe, despite protests from the leaders of all involved and against the advice of U.S. senators from both parties. The move was one of the clearest signs yet that the Trump administration does not stand by commitments to U.S. partners made by generations of previous presidents. 

Trump is in the process of tearing apart our alliances with are closest allies, which have benefited the U.S. militarily and economically for decades. “America First” is slowly becoming “America alone.”  

Meanwhile, Trump is cozying up to our adversaries North Korea and Russia. 

Moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal are destabilizing an already volatile Middle East, risking a wider regional war that the U.S. will be unable or unwilling to contain. 

At home, as Sen. John McCain charged, Trump is engaged in, “partisan attacks” on the FBI and the Department of Justice, which “serve no American interests — no party’s, no president’s, only Putin’s.” And added, “If we continue to undermine our own rule of law, we are doing Putin’s job for him.” 

Meanwhile, Trump is busy arranging a summit with Putin. What does Putin have on Trump? 

While all this is happening, Trump’s spineless GOP enablers in Congress are sitting with their collective thumbs up their asses doing nothing but issuing muted criticisms. 

Trump is akin to a fifth columnist, undermining American from within, in favor of Russia and to the detriment of our very democracy. Wake up America and smell the putrefaction surrounding you.

Arts & Events

The Ring, Or Wagner as Scam Artist

James Roy MacBean
Saturday June 16, 2018 - 09:52:00 AM

Ernest Newman famously wrote of Wagner that “The ‘problems’ of his operas are generally problems of his own personality and circumstances. His art, like his life, is all unconscious egoism.” Discussing both Verdi and Wagner, Peter Conrad wrote that “For Verdi there is no god, so music must fill up the absence; for Wagner there is no god, so he must personally assume the role.” Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, currently mounted by San Francisco Opera in all its 17-hour glory mixed with tedium, (or is it tedium mixed with occasional glory?), is Richard Wagner’s arrogant attempt to rewrite the history of the world and cast it in his own image. Opening night of the first Ring cycle was Tuesday, June 12, for Das Rheingold. Two more complete Ring cycles will continue through July 1. 

The Ring begins with an act of greed, a grasping for wealth and power as a substitute for lack of sex. In Das Rheingold, the Nibelung Alberich, a mean-spirited, misshapen individual, fails to entice the frolicsome Rhinemaidens to have sex with him, but he learns from the Rhinemaidens that only by renouncing love might someone have a chance to win the submerged gold in the river. So Alberich renounces love and brazenly steals the gold. His stolen wealth gives him power over all the other Nibelungs, whom he makes his slaves. Whipping them to work ever harder for his own personal aggrandizement, Alberich becomes the ultimate robber baron, the arch capitalist who enslaves his workers. His appetite for wealth and power is insatiable. Though he has renounced love, he has not renounced lust. He plans first to subjugate all men, then to force himself on their women who have shunned him in the past, making them slaves to his sexual desires. 

Thus Wagner begins what is a long, tortuous tale about his own gripes with modern society. Where greed rules and money is the measure of all things, what role is left for art, for the art of music? Where Wagner’s gripes are concerned, they are legion. But among his many gripes, the Jews hold a special place. In his anti-Semitic screed “Das Judenthum in der Musik/Judaism in Music,” Wagner writes, “According to the present constitution of this world, the Jew in truth is already more than emancipated: he rules, and will rule, so long as money remains the power before which we and all our doings and dealings lose their force.”  

It has been noted that in the Ring cycle, two characters have a peculiarly distinctive style of musical speech: these are the brothers Alberich and Mime. They and they alone, in recitative after recitative, sing in hissing, squealingl voices. Wagner, as we know from his essay on “Judaism in Music,” found the Jews’ way of speaking extremely repugnant. “Who has not been seized,” he writes, “with a feeling of the greatest revulsion, of horror mixed with the absurd, at hearing that sense-and-sound confounding gurgle, yodel, and cackle….?” Many commentators on Wagner’s Ring have speculatively identified Alberich and Mime as Jews. Alberich, as we have seen, sets the plot of the Ring in motion with a criminal act of greed when he steals the gold from the Rhinemaidens when they won’t have sex with him. Now possessing this wealth and power, Alberich enslaves his fellow Nibelungs. Even Mime, his brother, is physically and mentally abused by Alberich. Forced to work at his forge for Alberich’s accumulation of ever more wealth, Mime whines incessantly in his hissing, squealing caricature of a voice. We’ll hear far too much of that whining voice in the five and-a-half hours of Siegfried, the third of Wagner’s tetralogy.  

Where the current San Francisco Opera production of the Ring is concerned, director Francesca Zambello has updated her original 2011 staging, introducing more projections of water and nature imagery. Seeing the Ring as apocalyptic, Zambello notes that “we tried to incorporate more nature so that as the universe is destroyed, we see the annihilation of the natural world in sharper contrast.” So, yes, there is assuredly a dynamic of nature versus culture in the Ring. Wagner, as usual, sees things in terms of good versus evil. Nature is good; Culture, especially this money-grubbing culture, is evil. Zambello also seems to understand that the notion of a “twilight of the Gods” might not be about gods per se, but rather about the human gods of industry and commerce who rule our current world.  

In the course of the four operas of the Ring, both Wotan, the chief god, and Brünnhilde, his daughter, become less godlike and much more human. Even as early as the closing moments of the first opera, Das Rheingold, Zambello stages the rainbow bridge to Valhalla as nothing more than a gangplank to an unseen ocean liner. The ‘gods’ Wotan, Fricka, Freia, Donner, and Froh proceed up the gangplank wearing white suits and white hats as if they were simply boarding a cruise-ship. Loge, the god of fire, laughs cynically at them as they prance up the gangplank. Loge, alone among the ‘gods,’ seems to sense the scam in all this posturing by the so-called gods of industry and commerce. Loge also leads Wotan, the chief god, to descend to Alberich’s underground factory in Das Rheingold. And Loge tricks Alberich into using the magic tarnhelm to make himself into a tiny toad, which leads to his capture by Wotan, who steals the Ring from Alberich’s hand. Does Loge perhaps represent the attitude of Wagner towards these pompous ‘gods’? And if so, why does Loge disappear from the rest of the Ring cycle, though, unseen, he provides Wotan with the fire to encircle the sleeping Brünnhilde in Die Walküre, an act that sets in motion the downfall of the gods? 

Where the cast of this Rheingold is concerned, I found Greer Grimsley’s Wotan to be vocally underwhelming. Grimsley’s bass-baritone is in my opinion too light for the role of Wotan. It lacks both darkness and power. In the role of Alberich, German bass-baritone Falk Struckmann was excellent, arrogant at one moment and wheedling the next. As Fricka, mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton was also excellent. Her Fricka takes no nonsense from her husband Wotan. As Freia, goddess of everlasting youth, soprano Julie Adams sang grandly, expressing her dismay at the mercy of the giants Fasolt and Fafner. These latter, sung respectively by bass Andrea Silvestrelli and bass Raymond Aceto, were their usual clunky but physically impressive giants, clomping to and fro on stilts, it seemed.  

Mime was his usual whiney self, sung here with an appropriate edge by tenor David Cangelosi. Tenor Stefan Margita was a cynical, quite detached Loge. The Rhinemaidens were admirably sung by soprano Stacey Tappan, mezzo-soprano Lauren McNeese, and mezzo-soprano Renée Tatum. Erda, the earth mother, was sung by mezzo-soprano Ronnita Miller. Tenor Brandon Jovanovich, who will sing Siegmund in Die Walkure, performed Das Reingold’s minor role of Froh; and baritone Brian Mulligan, who will sing Gunther in Die Götterdämerung, sang the minor role of Donner. San Francisco Opera’s former music director Donald Runnicles returned to lead the orchestra in a taut performance of the opening night’s Das Rheingold. In the forthcoming operas of the Ring, we’ll see and hear how Wagner places himself and his music at the center of this world-historical scam.

SF Opera’s RING Cycle Ends with a Whimper

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Tuesday June 19, 2018 - 09:25:00 PM

In director Francesca Zambello’s revised staging of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, currently on display at San Francisco Opera, Die Götterdämerung, the final installment of this 17 hour marathon, ends with a nine year-old girl placing a potted sapling of an ash tree center-stage as the orchestral music fades. This is supposed to signify the beginning of a new era after the downfall of the gods. I don’t have much confidence that this ‘new’ era will be any different than the old.  

If in the old regime of Valhalla, both gods and men were power-hungry, scheming, and devious, who says the merely humans who apparently will be led by the Gibichungs will be any different? Gunther, the surviving Gibichung after his evil half-brother, Hagen, is killed, has been party all along to Hagen’s treacherous schemes to gain the Ring and wield power over the world. Hagen in turn was spurred on by his father, Alberich, who at the end of Die Götterdämerung is alive and still conniving to get the Ring. Moreover, Siegfried, who was allegedly the noblest of heroes, has shown himself a callous youth who despised his foster father, Mime, and prior to his death betrayed Brünnhilde, the woman he loved. Siegfried also boasted, once he wore the all-powerful ring, that he too had now enslaved the Nibelungs, as Alberich once did when he held the ring. So why in the world did Richard Wagner see the end of his Ring cycle as a revitalizing new beginning? True, the gold has been returned to the waters of the Rhine where it was when the Ring cycle began. But where it was once vulnerable to be stolen by a greedy human, who says another greedy human won’t steal it anew, and a new cycle will simply repeat this one? 

The answer, I’m afraid, is that Wagner posited his own persona and his own music as the salvation of the world-order. As Peter Conrad noted regarding the Ring, “The myth Wagner works out here concerns his own art. The tetralogy is a history of opera, and of Wagner’s efforts to use it as a revolutionary criticism of society.” To his credit, Conrad also acknowledges, as I do, the failure of that revolution. Instead, Wagner simply places himself and his music at the head of a new temple of worship at Bayreuth, where The Ring and Wagner’s other operas will be worshipped by an adoring, extremely wealthy public who can afford the exorbitant ticket prices. If Brünnhilde’s final act in Götterdämerung is to celebrate the dead hero Siegfried, it is also, and primarily, to celebrate Richard Wagner and his music. 

With Götterdämerung, George Bernard Shaw thought that Wagner reverted to the old operatic conventions he began by despising. Peter Conrad maintains that “Shaw mistook Wagner’s intentions. He was not relapsing into opera but showing how the world had lapsed into it. Rheingold is about the economy which will eventually produce opera, as its chosen means of exhibiting and expanding wealth. Götterdämerung, with its venal and ambitious siblings, reaches the society of ostentation and passionate extravagance. It is about the material splendor of opera….”  

For Wagner, the new Valhalla is Bayreuth. In Bayreuth, Wagner presides over the world of music as a god, as the god, indeed, the only god. (Wagner, unlike Wotan, would allow no other gods but himself.) 

I would never deny that even when he was indulging in pseudo-philosophy at its worst, as in the Ring, Wagner could and did create much beautiful music. For all its faults, the Ring has quite a bit of wonderful music to offer. Even Götterdämerung, if one could blot out the venal plot, contains some of the Ring’s greatest music. In San Francisco Opera’s current production of Götterdämerung, Swedish soprano Irene Theorin was a superb Brünnhilde. Her high notes could shatter even the steel of Siegfried’s sword, so powerful and sharply focused were they throughout this opera. If on occasion when she sang softly, Theorin’s voice was almost inaudible against the orchestra, well, this happens in Wagner’s operas. Tenor Daniel Brenna sang grandly as Siegfried, even if his oafish acting style seemed consistently overdone. Bass Andrea Silvestrelli was an ominous, powerful Hagen, the bastard-son of Alberich. (True to form, Alberich, who renounced love, never renounced lust; and Hagen is the result of one of Alberich’s lustful conquests.) The role of Gunther, Hagen’s half-brother by the same mother but not the same father, was ably sung by baritone Brian Mulligan. Soprano Melissa Citro, making her San Francisco Opera debut, was convincing as Gutrune. Falk Struckmann, who sang the role of Alberich in Rheingold and Siegfried, returns in the same role in Götterdämerung. As the Valkyrie Waltraute, mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton was excellent; and Barton did double-duty in this opera as the Second Norn. Mezzo-soprano Ronnita Miller and Sarah Cambridge were, respectively, the First and Third Norns. The three Rheinmaidens were the same as in Das Rheingold.  

As for Francesca Zambello’s staging of Die Götterdämerung, she gave us the waters of the Rhine fouled by plastic bottles that the Rhinemaidens have to clean up. The Gibichung palace was simply a modern, glassed-in country house. In the hunting-scene, the magic potion Hagen employs to jog Siegfried’s memory seems to be a can of Budweiser beer.  

A word of appreciation is due conductor Donald Runnicles. The task of keeping the vast Wagnerian orchestra always on the same track over 17 hours of music, is a monumental undertaking. Donald Runnicles met this challenge superbly, as did the orchestra. Finally, I can’t resist one last note regarding the phallic symbolism that is associated throughout the Ring with both sword and spear. When Waltraute visits Brunnhilde on her lonely rock in Götterdämerung, she reports that things are going badly in Valhalla. Wotan is in deep depression. “There he sits on his throne,” says Waltraute, “his broken spear in his hand.”

New: Wagner’s SIEGFRIED Is Hard to Take

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Tuesday June 19, 2018 - 09:20:00 PM

Act I of Wagner’s Siegfried has to be the most vile, mean-spirited act in all opera! It is one long, vituperative attack on an individual, Mime, the brother of Alberich, who in the course of this act reveals himself to be the ultimate stereotype of Wagner’s notion of the Jew. Mime is forever whining, and when he’s not whining, he’s wheedling for an opening to advance his greedy self-interest. What is perhaps even worse, Siegfried, the ostensible hero of this opera and of the entire Ring cycle, epitomizes just how Wagner believes Jews should be treated, which is utterly beyond contempt.  

Throughout Act I of Siegfried, young Siegfried shows nothing but loathing and disdain toward Mime, in spite of the fact that Mime has raised this boy from birth to young manhood. However, for no apparent reason other than finding Mime physically repulsive and ineffectual in reforging the shattered sword rent asunder by Wotan to allow Hunding to slay Siegmund, Siegfried demonstrates nothing but contempt for the man who has raised him. In Francesca Zambello’s staging, Mime’s abode is a funky old trailer parked in an urban junkyard under overhead power lines. In the tedious exposition that dominates Act I, Mime tells Siegfried he found Sieglinde heavily pregnant with child, alone and exhausted after her twin and lover Siegmund was killed by Hunding. Mime saw Sieglinde die as she gave birth to Siegfried. Mime took the infant Siegfried under his wing and raised him to adulthood, which is where this opera begins. Mime’s ulterior motives, it becomes clear, however, were always dominated by his own self-interest. Siegfried, Mime understood from the start, might prove useful to him in acquiring the Ring and thus obtaining wealth and power. In this endeavor, Siegfried might eventually become for Mime a powerful ally against Mime’s own brother, Alberich, who also compulsively seeks to get the Ring back in his hands.  

None of this is clear, however, when Act I of Siegfried begins. And right from the start, Siegfried responds to his surrogate father with nothing but contempt, which is demonstrated in both physical and verbal abuse of Mime by Siegfried. The young bumpkin, for that is what Siegfried is, repeatedly throws Mime to the ground, kicks him, and reviles him as a worthless, misshapen gnome. Is it any wonder the Nazis found inspiration in Wagner for their treatment of Jews? In the wake of Wagner’s Act I of Siegfried, are Nazi storm-troopers far behind?  

If the Jew is, first, deemed repulsive and, second, forever devious, then, in Wagner’s view, the Jew must be treated with the utmost contempt. This contempt Wagner indulges openly, through his ‘hero’ Siegfried, who makes absolutely no effort to cloak it any polite terms. As for Mime, sung here by tenor David Cangelosi, he spends as much time on the floor groveling and whining, as he does working haplessly at his forge. I find it painful to sit through Act I of Siegfried, and I am not a Jew. I find the music in this act ugly, tedious, and decidedly offensive. As for the text and dramatic action, they are utterly abhorrent. I once vowed to myself I’d never sit through another live performance of Act I of Siegfried. If I now broke that vow it is out of a sense of duty to share with my readers just how determinedly I am opposed to everything this music and this libretto stand for. (The libretto, of course, is by Wagner himself.)  

Act II of Siegfried I can also do without. I find little of interest in the musical and dramatic staging of the giant Fafner, who has turned himself into a monstrous dragon in order to protect the Ring he now holds. In this San Francisco Opera production, Fafner’s dragon is a two-ton vehicle resembling a huge scrap-metal compactor. Who goes to opera to be enthralled by a two-ton scrap-metal compactor? Musically, however, the Forest Murmurs and the song of the Forest Bird provide lovely moments, though I don’t approve of director Zambello’s decision to make the Forest Bird, usually just an off-stage voice, appear as a young hippie girl Siegfried happens to hear singing in the forest.  

Act III of Wagner’s Siegfried brings our bumpkin of a hero, played as such by American tenor Daniel Brenna, to the rock where Brünnhilde sleeps encircled by flames. First, however, Siegfried arrogantly dismisses Wotan, whom he does not recognize. Siegfried even shatter’s Wotan’s powerful wooden spear. This is yet another bit of phallic symbolism, with the young man using the steel sword/phallus earlier bequeathed to him via his mother to shatter the primitive wooden spear/phallus of his royal grandfather, thus rendering the now present but aging chief god impotent. Indeed, his spear/phallus now broken, Wotan is seen no more in the Ring. 

When Siegfried reaches the rock where Brünnhilde sleeps, our not so intrepid hero hesitates, then breaches the flaming circle. When he removes the helmet and breastplate from the sleeping Brünnhilde and sees her ample bosom, he utters in fear and astonishment, “This is no man.” Siegfried, you see, is now encountering the female for the first time in his life. Oh, by the way, Siegfried in this production is now wearing around his neck the green sash that Mime kept from his encounter with Sieglinde. Siegfried is now under the sign of his mother. In fact, when Brünnhilde awakens at Siegfried’s awkward kiss, his first utterance is that his mother, too, didn’t die, but rather, like Brünnhilde, only slept. 

Brünnhilde corrects Siegfried and tells him his mother is gone forever, but Brünnhilde now offers herself in place of a mother who will never return. What ensues is a long, tedious and somewhat laughable love-duet between Siegfried and Brünnhilde. It is laughable in the clumsy way Wagner depicts the woman as reluctant to give in to her human feelings of love; and here an overly made-up Iréne Theorin as Brünnhilde seemed laughable indeed, though she sang beautifully. This love duet is also laughable, at least in this production, because of the exceedingly clumsy way Daniel Brenna as Siegfried goes about trying to urge Brünnhilde to yield to him sexually. He acted for all the world like an oafish high school boy on prom night awkwardly trying to get his date to put out.  

This love-duet, according to Nietzsche, should have been the highlight, and maybe the end point, of Wagner’s Ring. In this production, though elegantly sung by Theorin and Brenna, it just seemed preposterous and quite ludicrous. On my way out of the Opera House, I met a woman carrying the opera program at the street-corner, who just shook her head and muttered out loud, with a grimace, “Oh! The 19th century.” My only reply was, “Yeah. What a crock!”

DIE WALKÜRE Reaches THE RING’s High Point

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Saturday June 16, 2018 - 09:56:00 AM

On Wednesday, June 13, San Francisco Opera opened Die Walküre, the second in Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelungen. Unlike the other operas in The Ring, which often get bogged down in tedious exposition, Die Walküre soars from beginning to end. Act I of Die Walkure presents the love of Siegmund and Sieglinde. Wagner, the ultimate narcissist, depicts the ideal love as one between twins separated early in childhood. In other words, for Wagner, the ideal love is for someone as much like himself as possible. Thus, when Siegmund and Sieglinde meet, it is love at first sight.  

No matter that Sieglinde is the wife of Hunding. She’s fettered in an unhappy marriage and all too ready to ditch her abusive husband as soon as the right man comes along. And the right man is Siegmund. Little by little, they realize they are brother and sister. But by then they are also head over heels in love with each other, so what matters incest to these two halves of an androgynous whole? Not at all; so they run off together once Siegmund succeeds in wrenching free the sword placed in an ash tree by his long-lost father. The sword, you see, is a metaphor for the phallus, a gift from the absent father. Now possessing the sword, Siegmund takes possession of his previously unused phallus. In love with his twin sister, Siegmund embodies love freed from all conventions and constrictions. But because this is Wagner, there will be a price to pay. 

Siegmund and Sieglinde have now placed themselves outside of society. They have flauted society’s rules and become outcasts. As outcasts, they are situated by director Francesca Zambello in an urban wasteland under a freeway overpass. Siegmund and Sieglinde take refuge there on a throwaway bench next to an old tire. Zambello thus likens them to our contemporary generation’s homeless. But that’s hardly the only price these illicit lovers must pay. Wotan, who now is depicted as CEO of some big company with an office overlooking San Francisco, initially instructs his daughter Brünnhilde to act on Siegmund’s behalf in the coming duel with Hunding. But Fricka, Wotan’s wife, storms into Wotan’s office and, as goddess of marriage, she takes umbrage at the callous way Siegmund and Sieglinde have broken Sieglinde’s marriage vows to Hunding. For this offense, Fricka declares haughtily, they must pay. To keep peace with his wife, Wotan reluctantly countermands his original instructions to Brünnhilde and, instead, insists that Siegmund must die at the hand of Hunding. Brünnhilde, beautifully sung here by soprano Iréne Theorin, is aghast at this change of heart by her father, so when Hunding kills Siegmund, Brünnhilde rescues Sieglinde and spirits her away. Domestic life and family interactions were never easy for Richard Wagner. 

Murky though the plot may be, Wagner’s music in Die Walküre is ravishingly beautiful. The burgeoning love between twins is presented in rapturous music. As Siegmund, tenor Brandon Jovanovich sang with passion and power; and his aria “Liebe und Lenz” was enthralling. The Sieglinde of soprano Karita Mattila was a thing of vocal beauty, her voice clear as a bell and brimming with intensity. As Fricka, mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton was intimidating even, or especially, to her husband, Wotan. In the role of Hunding, the jilted husband, bass Raymond Aceto sang powerfully and ominously. As Wotan, bass-baritone Greer Grimsley sang movingly in Die Walküre, even if this production calls for Wotan to appear more weak and vulnerable than in most productions. 

In Act III of Die Walkure, the scene shifts to a mountaintop where the Valkyries come flying in to await the arrival of their sister Brünnhilde. Conductor Donald Runnicles led his orchestra and the Valkyrie in a robust “Ride of the Valkyries.” When Brünnhilde arrives, she brings Sieglinde with her, and she tells Sieglinde she is pregnant with Siegmund’s child, who will grow up to become the greatest of heroes. Brünnhilde’s sisters are aghast that she has helped Sieglinde against the will of Wotan. They rightfully fear that Wotan will soon follow in fury at his daughter’s defiance. Sure enough, that’s what happens. Wotan angrily strips Brünnhilde of her divinity and immortality. Moreover, he declares, she will be put to sleep on the mountaintop, to be claimed by the first mortal man to awaken her. When Brünnhilde argues in her defense that she only did what Wotan secretly wished, Wotan recognizes that this is true; so he agrees to summon Loge, the god of fire, to enclose Brünnhilde in a circle of fire, so that only the bravest mortal hero might win her. As the fire music rings forth on the mountaintop, The Ring reaches its high point. In the two operas to come, it’s all downhill for the gods. To some extent, I hate to say, it’s also downhill for the audience.  

MTT Makes A Mish-Mash of Mussorgsky’s BORIS GODUNOV

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Tuesday June 19, 2018 - 09:36:00 PM

One thing I certainly won’t miss once Michael Tilson Thomas steps down as music director of San Francisco Symphony is his misguided penchant for gussying up the music with ill-conceived visual effects. Yet again MTT hooked up with Los Angeles-based video artist James Darrah, this time in three performances, June 14-17, of the opera Boris Godunov by Modest Mussorgsky. What MTT finds in the work of James Darrah I simply can’t fathom. I find Darrah’s video embellishments of classical music and opera puerile at best, and often quite distracting. (The one time I found Darrah’s imagery effective was in the semi-staged production of Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes.) This time around, with James Darrah serving as both video artist and director, we were subjected to Darrah’s usual overuse of the Davies Hall aisles for gratuitous entrances and exits of the singers, plus Darrah’s random and extraneous video imagery. (The only image that fit the story of Boris Godunov was Darrah’s inclusion of what looked like Russian Orthodox saints depicted in frescos on the walls of a monastery near Moscow; and even with these images, why in the world did Darrah abruptly switch them from color to black and White?) As I’ve said many times before, it’s a pity MTT won’t let the music simply stand on its own. 

Musically, this was a dark but compelling Boris Godunov. With a cast of mostly Russian singers, this Boris had deep roots in the world of Russian music, both in Mussorgsky’s day (1869) and in our day. Many of the current singers have distinguished themselves in these roles in major productions in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Using Mussorgsky’s original score of 1869 rather than the composer’s revised version of 1872, MTT opted for the more austere plotline of Boris Godunov based on a play by Alexander Pushkin. Thus, this historical opera which is set in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, depicts the somewhat reluctant rise of Boris to the Tsar’s throne as well as the intrigues of influential boyars and the eventual emotional breakdown of Boris and his pitiful death. However, instead of ending the opera with the death of Boris where Mussorgsky’s original score ended, MTT tacked on Mussorgsky’s Krony Forest scene that ends the 1872 version. Some of the worst excesses of James Darrah’s video embellishments came in this tacked-on ending.  

In the role of Boris, Stanislav Trofimov sang movingly, using his stentorian bass to convey Boris’s ability to command, yet also allowing his voice to reveal Boris’s more vulnerable side. Also outstanding was tenor Yevgeny Akimov as the intriguing boyar Prince Shuisky. Akimov was quite effective at bringing off the way his character publicly professed loyalty to Boris while secretly working to undermine him. Baritone Aleksey Bodganov ably sang the role of the pompous bureaucrat Shchelkalov; and bass Maxim Kuzmin-Karavaev was outstanding as the old monk and historical chronicler Pimen. As Grigory, tenor Sergei Skorokhodov effectively portrayed the young novice troubled by dreams of the murdered Dimitri. Bass Vyacheslav Pochapsky was effective as the somewhat dull-witted Varlaam, and tenor Ben Jones sang the role of Missail, Varlaam’s sidekick, in the scene at the inn near the Lithuanian border. Catherine Cook sang the character-role of the innkeeper, effectively portraying this woman’s realistic view of things as well as her empathy. Boris’s young son, Fyodor, was sung by mezzo-soprano Eliza Bonet, and Silvie Jensen sang Fyodor’s nurse. The Holy Fool, whose plaintive lament for the fate of the Russian people brings the tacked-on final scene to a close, was ably sung by tenor Stanislav Mostovy. Mussorgsky’s score is edgy and austere, and conductor MTT led the orchestra in a gripping account of Boris Godunov. Pity MTT couldn’t just let the music speak for itself.

The Berkeley Activist's Calendar, June 18-23

Kelly Hammargren, Sustainable Berkeley Alliance
Saturday June 16, 2018 - 11:14:00 AM

June 26 City Council meeting is available for comment email council@cityofberkeley.info 

Partial Agenda List: 18. Revisions to Investment Policy, 19. Trust Fund, 22. Reserve $11 million in Housing Trust Fund for Berkeley Way 25. Downtown Streets Sweeping Team, Graffiti Abatement, Poster Removal, 26. Audit Report: Code Enforcement Case Management and Oversight, 27. Credit Card Use Audit, 28. Fee Waivers Berkeley Rep Live/Work Housing 32. Removal Coast Live Oak Trees, 36. Expansion GoBerkeley Transportation, 38. Welcome to Berkeley Signs, 39. Urgency Ordinance Bonds to Finance Affordable Housing, 40. Adopt Budget, 41. Annual Appropriations Ordinance, 42. Ballot measure full-time salaries Mayor and City Council, 43. Increase transfer Tax to fund homeless services, 44. Borrowing $14 million, 45. Density Bonus, 46. HAC recommendations U1 Revenues, 47. Budget referral creation Vehicle Dweller Park in Berkeley 



Sunday, June 17, 2018 

No City sponsored events posted 

Monday, June 18, 2018 

Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board, Mon, June 18, 7:00 pm – 11:00 pm, 2134 MLK Jr. Way, City Council Chambers, Agenda: Budget, resolutions to modify contracts with Eviction Defense Center, Brian Augusta & Assoc. for legislative advocacy, Berkeley Community Media Center, 


Ad Hoc subcommittee on Urban Shield, Mon, June 18, 2:30 pm – 5:00 pm, 2134 MLK Jr Way, City Council Chambers, Agenda: Worthington letter to BAUASI, Emergency preparedness beyond 2018, extend subcommittee by 2 meetings, final recommendations and report 


Tax the Rich rally – Mon, June 18, 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm top of Solano in front of closed Oaks Theater,  

Tuesday, June 19, 2018 

Berkeley City Council, Tue, June 19, 2134 MLK Jr Way, City Council Chambers, 

  • 4:30 pm Closed Session, Agenda: Conference with Labor Negotiators, organizations Berkeley Firefighters 1227, Firefighters Association, Berkeley Chief Fire Officiers Association, Berkeley Police Association, SEIU, Local 1021 Maintenance and Clerical Chapters, https://www.cityofberkeley.info/Clerk/City_Council/2018/06_June/City_Council__06-19-2018_-_Special_Closed_Meeting_Agenda.aspx
  • 6:00 pm Special Meeting Worksession, Agenda: Seismic Safety Programs Update, Broadband Master Plan / Digital Divide https://www.cityofberkeley.info/Clerk/City_Council/2018/06_June/City_Council__06-19-2018_-_Special_Meeting_Agenda.aspx
Wednesday, June 20, 2018 

Animal Care Commission, Wed, June 20, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm, 1 Bolivar Drive, Berkeley Animal Shelter, Agenda: Revisit max number of dogs walked at one time by a single person, increase from 4 to 8, subcommittee to coordinate with Parks and Waterfront Commission Cesar Chavez off-leash area 


Commission on Aging, Wed, June 20, 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center, Agenda: Aging Friendly surveys 


Human Welfare & Community Action Commission, Wed, June 20, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm, 2939 Ellis St, South Berkeley Senior Center, Agenda: Review Independent Audit, Review Berkeley Funded Agency Program and Financials, Family Violence Law Center, J-Sei 


Planning Commission, Wed, June 20, 7:00 pm – 10:00 pm, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center, Agenda: Small Business Package, Affordable Housing and Community Benefits, 


16th Annual Senior LGBTQ Pride Celebration & Resource Fair, Wed, June 20, 1:00 pm – 3:30 pm, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center, 

Thursday, June 21, 2018 

Design Review Committee, Thur, June 21, 7:00 pm – 10:00 pm, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center, Agenda: 

  • UC Berkeley Upper Hearst Development – informational item, 2 proposed UCB projects, 6-stories, residential building over parking structure, new academic building
  • 2120 Berkeley Way – Final Design Review, renovation and addition of 3 stories for total 6-story office building
  • 2434 San Pablo – Majority recommendations, Car wash replacement and site improvements
  • 1110 University – Advisory Comments, demolish mixed use dry cleaners and 8 rent controlled units with 5-story mixed use, 36 units (12 BMR),
  • 2028 Bancroft – Majority recommendations, relocated 3-story residential building to 1940 Haste, construct 6-story residential building, 37 units (2 BMR), adjacent project 2025 Durant, convert parking to 2 residential units, common amenity space.

Fair Campaign Practices Commission, Thur, June 21, 7:00 pm, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center, Agenda: Public Campaign Financing-matching funds, Possible BERA violations 2016 Jesse Arreguin 


Open Government Commission, Thur, June 21, 8:00 pm, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center, Agenda: Steps, structure, content, format for communicating to Council, Report Lobbyist Registration and Revolving Door Ordinances, Draft Council item posting of draft minutes 


Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Product Panel of Experts, Thur, June 21, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm, 2939 Ellis St, South Berkeley Senior Center, no agenda posted, check before going 


Transportation Commission, Thur, June 21, 7:00 pm – 10:00 pm, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center, Agenda: Bike Plan implementation, Vision Zero, Berkeley Strategic Transportation (BeST), BART staff presentation on No. Berkeley BART station, Ohlone Greenway, Bike share, 


Friday, June 22, 2018 

No City meetings posted 

Saturday, June 23, 2018 

Heart 2 Heart Neighborhood Health and Wellness Celebration, Sat, June 23, 11:00 am – 3:00 pm, 2800 Park Street, San Pablo Community Center, 


Music In the Park | Kidchella Concert Series, Sat, June 23, 3:00 pm – 4:30 pm, Live Oak Park https://www.cityofberkeley.info/CalendarEventMain.aspx?calendarEventID=15496 

Sunday, June 24, 2018 

No City sponsored events found 



Poor Peoples Campaign – A National Call for Moral Revival starts Monday with six weekly themes, Week six June 17 - 23, A New and Unsettling Force: Confronting the Distorted Moral Narrative, Sat, June 23, Rally in Washington DC https://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/ 

Institute for Policy Studies, The Souls of Poor Folk https://ips-dc.org/souls-of-poor-folks/ 


When notices of meetings are found that are posted after Friday 5:00 pm they are added to the website schedule https://www.sustainableberkeleycoalition.com/whats-ahead.html and preceded by LATE ENTRY 


To see what happened at Berkeley City Council meetings in bite size by subject videos go to Watch Berkeley Gov, a new YouTube channel and read about the project by Dave Margulius at https://davemargulius.com/introducing-watch-berkeley-gov/