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Senator Elizabeth Warren, candidate for President, speaking at Laney College in Oakland
Senator Elizabeth Warren, candidate for President, speaking at Laney College in Oakland


Elizabeth Warren’s Oakland Town Hall Meeting

Glen Kohler
Saturday June 01, 2019 - 10:04:00 AM
Senator Elizabeth Warren, candidate for President, speaking at Laney College in Oakland
Senator Elizabeth Warren, candidate for President, speaking at Laney College in Oakland

Elizabeth Warren is an American missile aimed at the heart of the economic and social injustices perpetrated by laissez-faire capitalism. She is a mixture of hard headed realism, eminent pragmatism, and passionate idealism: articulate, personable, engaging, and completely focused on the ills of this country and how to solve them.

Warren’s demeanor when she spoke at Laney College on Friday was natural and unassuming as she recounted her early life and her career: teaching disadvantaged children, studying law, and teaching business and banking law at the university level. Getting fired from her job teaching children by a male principal for being visibly pregnant. Running for office; winning her Senate seat.  

She described the glee of Republican Congressmen giving each other high fives for passing legislation to deprive tens of millions of Americans of health care. An unnamed senator advising her to ‘ask for less’ in her campaign speeches; advice she disregards, because what she is asking for is precisely what hundreds of millions of Americans urgently need: 

Pre-school, free or at reasonable and affordable cost, for all children. Free education for all children. Free college education for all citizens; erasing student debt for the majority of recent graduates now laboring under an obligation that was not imposed upon senior Republican leaders in their time. 

How to pay for this (and more)? By levying a two-cent tax on every dollar above 50 million earned or held in assets by the 75,000 richest families in America. 

She said more: that America must sequester atmospheric carbon if we are to survive. That our ‘Dreamers’ and long-time foreign citizens (our strength) must have paths to citizenship. And she said that every accumulation of vast riches was made by using others’ labor and others’ tax monies spent on the roads, sidewalks, government services, and every other appurtenance of the American society that made collecting those fortunes possible. 

The only difference between Warren and her supporters, and the Republicans and corporate Democrats who oppose her, is that as the latter enjoy the fruits of this country’s socialist institutions, they refuse to acknowledging or give back to their benefactors—while Warren wants to even the economic playing field with a two-cent tax to give everyone a chance to succeed. 

Is she electable? The crowd of over 10,000 East Bay residents at her Oakland Town Hall clearly thought so. Warren’s clarity of vision and firm commitment to issues that others either soft-pedal or step around puts her head and shoulders above every other Democratic candidate. 

Using Debt Collectors' Tools, Local Activists Hope to Erase Over $1,000,000 in East Bay Medical Debt

JP Massar
Sunday June 02, 2019 - 12:05:00 PM

Strike Debt Bay Area, a small activist group devoted to abolishing unjust debt, has achieved its initial goal of being able to eliminate $1,000,000 of medical debt owed by low and no-income East Bay residents.

Medical debt is a particularly pernicious form of debt. Savoring the pun, it is akin to rubbing salt into an open wound. Those unfortunate enough to be stricken with cancer, to have their child need expensive medical care, or to get into a debilitating accident frequently then find themselves with the added, impossibly stressful burden of an insurmountable debt, harassed non-stop by debt collectors seeking to squeeze anything they can out of someone already down and out.

Medical debt in America is a staggering problem: almost one out of every five Americans has unpaid medical debt on their credit report (https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/1-in-5-americans-has-crippling-medical-debt-476579013.html). In 2016, hospitals across the United States were facing about $38 billion in uncompensated care (https://www.apnews.com/98cc9c1e9eca4fa28f4a5623b2a02e91). Behind every single unpaid medical debt is a human story. And behind every unpaid medical debt is a collection industry whose sole source of profit is, and whose continued existence relies on, a sufficiency of such debt and human misery.

If you're unfortunate enough to be a person who gets calls about unpaid bills, here's what you may not know: those calls very likely don't come from the person you owe. Instead, they usually come from debt collectors who bought your debt from its original source. In the case of medical debt, hospitals and doctors' offices generally sell the debt as soon as they've determined that you're not going to pay promptly. They sell it to "high end" debt collectors, who will harass you and see if they can get you to pay. If they can get you to pay then they get all the money you owe, minus the money they spent to buy your debt. If they can't get you to pay - usually because you simply don't have the money - they'll sell the debt further down the debt collector chain -- for less money -- and someone new will start harassing you and see how successful they are at getting you to pay. So they have fewer successes, but they paid less for the debt, so they get to keep more of whatever debts they do collect.

Unless you are a business set up exactly by specific rules, you can't buy your own debt that way. And you can't buy Aunt Fatima's debt that way either. That's where RIP Medical Debt comes in. 

RIP Medical Debt is a national non-profit that wipes out defaulted medical debt by buying it up for a penny or less on the dollar on the open market (you read that correctly, a penny or less on the dollar, 100:1). They both collect donations on their own and partner with locals – churches, schools, newspapers, activist groups - who go out into their own communities to find donations. 


Strike Debt Bay Area (SDBA) and its local partner's campaigns (here and here), working through RIP, have collectively raised more than $10,000 already - enough to buy up and literally rip up $1,000,000 or more in medical debt. The more raised the more debt that can be abolished, and now the target is $15,000 for $1.5 million. 


In Berkeley, the McGee-Spaulding Neighbors in Action neighborhood group has endorsed the effort and its members have contributed time and dollars to making it a success. Regionally, Public Bank East Bay, the Alameda County Green Party and First They Came for the Homeless have also endorsed the campaign. An item is coming soon before the Berkeley City Council to allow Councilmember Kate Harrison to make a contribution from her discretionary council fund, and other councilmembers will have the opportunity at that time to do the same.

Greg Jan, one of the coordinators of Strike Debt Bay Area's campaign, noted

"Donating to abolish a neighbor's medical debt is particularly satisfying - knowing the relief from stress that a small amount, leveraged 100-fold, will bring to someone, while at the same time rubbing our hands because some debt collector somewhere has been denied their pound of flesh."

No one should have medical debt. Period. No one should die for lack of money to buy insulin. Period. While so many people are working so hard to make this be reality, it is not yet that way anywhere in our fifty states. By carrying out this campaign, Strike Debt Bay Area hopes to not only help those in need, but to call attention to the absurdity of GoFundMe's and debt relief as society's systemic answer to the vicissitudes of disease, infection and injury.

The campaign target is $15,000, which will initiate RIP’s process to buy up and erase a bundle of local debt. To find out more about the campaign, the market for medical debt and the history of medical debt relief, SDBA has prepared an FAQ.

Woman Killed in Fiery Collision in Downtown Berkeley

Kathleen Kirkwood (BCN)
Saturday June 01, 2019 - 03:16:00 PM

A 36-year-old woman killed in a crash Friday night in Berkeley has been identified as Luvette Monarque of North Hollywood, the Alameda County Coroner's Office said Saturday. 

The crash, reported at 11:47 p.m. in the 2200 block of Haste Street, was triggered by a speeding Tesla that hit a Ford Fiesta and a Dodge pickup truck, police said. 

The Fiesta was pushed into two parked cars and caught fire. Monarque was one of four passengers in the Fiesta and was sitting in the back seat, officials said. 

Both Monarque and a 32-year-old woman sitting next to her had to be extricated from the car, authorities said. The other woman was in critical condition on Saturday. 

The two other passengers in the Fiesta were also hospitalized.  

In addition The Tesla had five people inside and one was hospitalized after the crash, according to police. 

Alcohol or drugs were not considered factors in the crash, but police said speed contributed to the collision. 

The driver of the Tesla was cooperating with investigators.

William Barclay Caldeira, 1968-2019
The Unnatural Circumstances of a Natural Death

Carol Denney
Friday May 31, 2019 - 01:47:00 PM

The third migrant child to die in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody in the last six months died last week sounding a national note of alarm. Around the same time Consider the Homeless Director Barbara Brust's informal count of homeless deaths in the past year on Berkeley's streets reached at least thirteen, one for every million dollars spent on the recent BART plaza renovation, and her grassroots outreach group held a candlelit memorial in their name May 14th on City Hall's steps. Her group took care to share their names, tell their stories, and dignify their lives.

That count just reached at least fifteen with addition of two more deaths, including that of William Barclay Caldeira, former commissioner on the Commission on Homelessness, who died May 20th, according to initial coroner's office statements, of natural causes in an ambulance on the way to a hospital. Friends including his appointer Councilmember Cheryl Davila held a memorial for him Friday, May 24th near City Hall to mourn his loss. 

Known to his friends as "300", Caldeira was an independent thinker and a steadfast council watcher who knew both the players and the game. Sitting with him at a council or commission meeting was often a riotous narration of a back story threaded with invention, comedy and invective. District 4 Councilmember Kate Harrison offered this quotation regarding 300's death; 

"William Barclay (affectionately known as 300) spoke up not just for himself but for others who were left behind by our cruel, money-centered society. His comments at Council meetings often made me sit up and think about problems in a different way. Not to mention he always bothered to learn everyone’s middle name, sometimes to the amusement and sometimes the embarrassment of the person he was addressing! We failed him and he will be missed. Our city is poorer without him." 

But Harrison, along with the rest of the city council present at the May 28th council meeting, voted to "take no action" to avoid supporting Councilmember Cheryl Davila's resolution for a moratorium on the use of the "three by three" ordinance[1] requiring homeless people to have no more than a small 3'x3' square footprint of belongings on a sidewalk. Davila pleaded with her fellow councilmembers to recognize the untenable burden the ordinance places on vulnerable people, often too disabled or ill to manage constantly having to move belongings to avoid getting tickets. "We have 58 storage units," she reminded the council, adding the city currently has just under 200 shelter beds, not enough for the approximately 1,000 people sleeping on Berkeley's streets on any given night. The council gave itself the usual pat on the back for the "millions and millions" it spends on "services" and sat on its hands. 

300 had recently lost his battle for housing, and it left him in despair. Davila and I were among the many people who checked in with him several times a week before his death bringing him food or just sitting with him awhile listening to the sound of an intelligent, articulate man whose level of stamina for Berkeley's hypocrisy was all but gone. 

Berkeley has lost at least 15 unhoused people on its streets to death in the past year under Mayor Jesse Arreguin and the current city council's watch, an administration now brimming with Measure O and P funding. And with the shining exception of Councilmember Cheryl Davila, they refused the clearest, most obvious opportunity to do something more practical than continue to harass and criminalize the poor on the street. They whispered together unselfconsciously through Councilmember Davila's cogent remarks on the need for immediate, practical help for those dying slowly in plain sight on Berkeley streets. Consider the Homeless Director Barbara Brust's critical remarks from the floor during the council's congratulatory back-slapping session about how much they do and how much they spend! earned her a threat from the mayor to have her removed from the council chambers. 

Councilmember Rashi Kesarwani came the closest to echoing Councilmember Cheryl Davila's elegant reduction of Berkeley's status quo to simple math: 1,000 homeless people on the street minus less than 200 shelter beds equals death. Kesarwani noted the 43% increase in homelessness countywide and stated that "the 1,000 person plan" others were citing as "turning the ship around" (Councilmember Sophie Hahn) was in fact "not enough."  

Unless, of course, death is just part of the plan. They're natural deaths, after all. As Berkeley has systematically converted older, low-income, rent-controlled housing to sparkling new unregulated high-end housing, the habitat for low-income people is almost completely gone. What little margin this college town used to use to help harbor people on the margins is now soaking up short-term rental money. This is the new face of compassion, according to Mayor Jesse Arreguin, and most of the Berkeley City Council gives it a bold, bald thumbs-up. 

300's last few weeks struck me as having everything in common with the burrowing owls trying gamely to survive their threatened status at the inland edge of Cesar Chavez Park among off-leash dogs, drones, and people clueless about habitat. It's not that people can't hang by their fingernails, as 300 had done for years. It's just that a growing ratio of them, at some point, can only hold on for so long. Our city's willingness to house only the wealthy has racial and cultural implications, to be sure. But for 300, unlike for all but one of the Berkeley City Council on May 28th, 2019, it seemed personal. 

300 was a graduate of Berkeley High. He was more able than most to express his thoughts, to write, to articulate his ideas. He had no difficulty recognizing the inadequacies and the indignities which seem larded into every inch of the city's current "services" presumed to be a path out of homelessness. With all due respect to the difficult job of the city staff lined up to explain how many 3x3 citations (14) have so far been issued to how many people (12) since the ordinance's enactment on April 22, 2019, William Barclay Caldeira's voice is the voice the mayor should have paid more attention to. His life and death, in this city ranked by Bloomberg News in 2014 as among the top ten in the nation in income disparity, is proof to those with common sense that our city, for all its sense of its own generosity, is doing something terribly and utterly wrong.  

[1] Ordinance 7632N.S. (BMC 14.48.160 and 14.48.170)"Miscellaneous Use of Streets and Sidewalks/Shared Sidewalk Policy" 



Playing the Odds of March

Becky O'Malley
Friday May 31, 2019 - 06:26:00 PM

My Chronicle this morning included a photo of a billboard ad at 4th and Townsend for Elizabeth Warren exhorting us to “Break Up Big Tech”, complete with a texting address where you could add your assent to this sentiment. Unfortunately, this only adds to my conviction that Senator Warren was surely a great law professor, is an excellent senator and would be a terrific president, but she’s not the world’s most skillful politician.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve taken at least one of the courses and read at least one of the books and enough reviews of said books to convince me that anti-trust law is A Good Thing in principle. I could construct a narrative something along the lines of “anti-trust scrutiny of IBM made way for Microsoft and Microsoft’s anti-trust scrutiny made way for Google, but now Facebook seems to need some observation as an irresponsible monopoly” and so forth…but I won’t.

I could also argue the other side: that telephone service has gone to hell since the breakup of The Real AT&T (as opposed to its ineffectual namesake which is really Bell South) , and that AT&T’s monopoly position allowed Bell Labs to become a remarkable research center…but I won’t do that either.

Let’s just say that “Break Up Big Tech” is an excellent theoretical position with which I might even agree, but it’s a lousy South of Market billboard slogan. Many of those who will see it, Democratically inclined folks who work for those Big Tech companies and don’t know much about antitrust theory, might perceive it as a threat to their jobs. Many more might just wonder what it’s talking about.

If you have billboard bucks to burn, how about “Health Care for All”? Or “End Student Loan Debt”? or “Affordable Housing Now”? or “Free Child Refugees”? . “Break Up Big Tech” is not a wedge issue. 

Speaking of possible game changers, Senator Warren was one of the first Democrats to land on the impeachment bandwagon with both feet. I must confess I can’t exactly remember what her twitter said and don’t want to look it up, but it was something about no one being above the law, as I recall. 

I agree that the Mueller report supplied ample evidence of laws being broken, especially as regards obstruction of justice. Mueller’s heavy hints, backed up by his recent press conference, pointed toward impeachment as the appropriate remedy. 

Where he (and she) left me was the assumption that Justice Department policies carried constitutional weight—that the U.S. Constitution says anything about prosecuting a president. What I remember from law school many years ago is that the Constitution trumps (sorry) administrative regulations. 

What seems to be going on with Mueller and Barr is the influence of the Old Boys Network, a phenomenon not covered by antitrust law, though it should be. Mueller is an old-school upper class Republican, a classmate at the toney St. Paul’s boarding school of Senator John Kerry and other privileged notables. He appears to be reluctant to openly break with his similarly situated old friend Barr—he’s someone who’d prefer Congress to deal with the dirty laundry. 

For whatever reason, the Justice Department won’t act, so Congress has to do it. I get that. But marketing and timing are everything. Nancy Pelosi, a wizard at both, is right on this one. 

Consider an old vaudeville routine, an early prototype of Ted Talks. A guy appears on stage with a donkey, under a sign: “Teaching Donkeys to Read”. He picks up a big stick and whacks the donkey on its behind, eliciting a loud hee-haw. A lady in the first row jumps up saying, “Why did you hit that poor donkey?” 

“First you have to get their attention,” the guy explains. 

As someone who spent 16 years in Small Tech selling an arcane technology to people who had no idea why they wanted it, I can attest to the truth of that analysis. 

The voters are like that donkey. Currently, the polls do not support impeachment, so in order to win the 2020 election, first you have to get their attention. 

There’s ample ammunition in the Mueller report for shooting down Trump, but the most effective way to get the electorate engaged is through lengthy televised hearings into all the sordid particulars. Consensus among thinking people (those, i.e., who agree with me) is to open an impeachment inquiry first, only following up with the impeachment itself after the dark deeds have been illuminated , preferably close to election time. 

Remember, impeachment given the current Senate will not get rid of Trump—only the election will do that, unless he resigns. But he is no Nixon, who with all his flaws was pretty smart and might even have had a slight sense of shame, the remnants of his Quaker upbringing. Trump won’t be guilt-tripped into quitting. 

All the rest of the contenders for the Democratic nomination have nonetheless come out for impeachment—Senator Warren is no worse than the others. What she lacks in political acumen she makes up for in brains and temperament. 

She’s one of the three contenders I’ve met in a small group environment with plenty of time for questions. When she was first running for Senate I saw her in a LeConte neighborhood garden, the home of someone who’s run for City Council a couple of times but lost to more progressive-signalling candidates. Many hard questions were asked, and her answers hit them all out of the park. She’s one smart, articulate woman. 

I met Kamala Harris when she was running for Attorney General, at the home of a Claremont African-American power couple, at least one of whom was part of a very big-time national law firm. She is absolutely loaded with charm, but the attendees were on their best behavior at question time, so I couldn’t evaluate her rhetorical prowess. But she looks pretty darn good in the Senate. 

Bernie Sanders has another brand of charm—he’s the grandpa you always wish you had, though few do. You expect his pockets to be loaded with peppermints. 

I met him long ago, when he was diving for dollars. All Eastern Democrats come to the Bay Area to raise money, especially to Berkeley. I suppose he needed the money for his senate campaign, though his whole state has fewer people than San Francisco. 

Hosts at an elegant luncheon were Tom Bates and Loni Hancock—can’t remember which was Mayor and which was in the legislature at the time, since they rotated the family seats. The venue might surprise you: Chez Panisse restaurant, as I remember co-hosted by the proprietress herself. For all his populist affect, ol’ Social Democrat Bernie knows which side the baguette is buttered on. 

What will beat Trump? Brains, charm, political acumen? Where does an impeachment vote fit into the calculus? 

If I knew the answers to those questions, I’d let you know. I’m glad the primary is not until March, so I can make up my mind who and what to support. 

On the other hand, and I think I’ve said this before, I’d gladly vote for any one of the 20-something announced Democratic candidates, or, still, for my old yella’ dawg if he gets the nomination. The current president is a raving lunatic, so there’s nowhere to go but up. 


Public Comment

When Did California Politics Lose Its Common Sense?

Bob Silvestri
Thursday May 30, 2019 - 10:13:00 AM

In the wake of the postponement of a vote on SB 50, until January 2020, there has been a flurry of articles lamenting its fate. But, I’ve yet to read one in the mainstream media that says anything negative about the bill itself. Their focus is pretty much about placing blame and shame on those who opposed it.

In a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, The revenge of the suburbs: Why California’s effort to build more in single-family-home neighborhoods failed, reporter Liam Dillon concludes that the reason SB 50 failed was due to opposition from “suburban homeowners” (the new dog whistle to allege rich, white elitism). His title is eye-catching, but is without substantive facts or understanding of the underlying issues and economics (it reads as if Liam may be an aspiring screenwriter).

Am I implying that everyone opposed to SB 50 has noble motives or reasonable arguments? No. Am I saying that there aren’t people who are elitists or are just categorically against all change? No. Am I saying that there isn’t selfishness or racism in the world? Of course not. You don’t have to look too far to find xenophobes, homophobes, phobo-phobes, or worse. But, to conflate all that with middle class, suburbanites is just laughable and sophomoric.

The LA Times article conveniently avoids mentioning that SB 50 was officially opposed by numerous inner-city, community groups and the state’s two largest cities, San Francisco and Los Angeles, who have more political clout than all the suburban towns combined. The city councils and planning departments of other large cities such as Oakland, Sacramento, San Jose, and San Diego, also did not endorse SB 50.[1] At the same time, it was also opposed by many small cities and counties, evidenced by the fact that the League of California Cities opposed it.

These are not minor considerations. In fact, the major support for SB 50 came from Senator Wiener’s political allies and his funders in tech, real estate and trade unions, all of whom stood to benefit, directly.

That is why SB 50 failed. It didn’t solve the problem, the majority of those in local government knew it, and it probably would have made things worse. It’s really that simple. 

Senator Wiener has lost sight of the goal that started this whole conversation decades ago: providing affordable housing for those most in need, not for those who believe that affordable housing in the most expensive locations, is somehow a constitutionally protected right – or even more selfishly that our top housing priority should be that the children of suburban parents are able to live in Marin County or San Francisco. 

Similarly, Farhad Manjoo of the NY Times wrote an opinion piece, apparently based on nothing more than Twitter-ish, soundbite hyperbole, entitled, America’s Cities Are Unlivable. Blame Wealthy Liberals. He subtitled the piece, “The demise of a California housing measure shows how progressives abandon progressive values in their own backyards.” He describes the streets of San Francisco as “a plague of garbage and needles and feces, and every morning brings fresh horror stories from a “Black Mirror” hellscape.” (another aspiring screenwriter?). 

In response, Susan Kirsch, founder of Livable California, and I penned the following letter to the editor of the NY Times: 

Many California cities, low-income neighborhood groups, middle class homeowners and renters, professional planners, the League of California Cities, and both the San Francisco and Los Angeles Boards of Supervisors opposed SB 50. Their conclusion: it was a blunt instrument, top-down measure that trampled on the powers of locally elected government and benefited real estate developers and institutional financial investors without solving California’s housing crisis. Worse, it likely creates even greater vulnerability of displacement for low-income residents and those most in need of affordable housing. 

Senator Scott Wiener and his YIMBY (yes in my backyard) supporters want to dismiss the general public’s reasonable concerns and are intent on labeling suburbanites NIMBYs, but the facts remain. SB 50 is an historic over-reach by state government to strip locally elected city and county government’s land use, zoning and planning powers, in violation of the California State Constitution, and hand those powers over to unelected, politically appointed state agencies.  

My bet is our letter will never see the light of day. Crafting realistic public policy solutions is hard work and filled with a myriad of inconvenient details that can’t be wished away for political convenience. 

The demise of the middle class 

According to current political fashion, traditional middle class goals about raising a family in a suburban community are now considered something to be ashamed of. Doing one’s “fair share” now goes far beyond paying taxes, giving to local charities, volunteering at schools and for sports teams, being engaged in local community affairs, or your investment in pride of ownership. In fact, we now hear single-family homeownership itself being described as “institutional racism” and considered grounds for labeling homeowners as elitist, NIMBYs and worse. Why not try some obvious solutions before we stoop to that? 

It's all "sticks and stones" as far as I'm concerned, but I find it disturbing, because this tendency to attack a messenger with a differing point of view is coming from highly-educated and very well-funded individuals and organizations. 

Social media seems to be the cesspool for the gestation of this, but mainstream media and local newspapers are no better at getting to the underlying issues and are arguably worse, because they have a substantial readership and by indolently parroting unsubstantiated assertions as fact, they give credence to false narratives about the need to end local control of land use, zoning and planning. Or perhaps, they really don’t care to look too close, because the complexity of what’s really going on won’t make a neat, sensational story about good guys and bad guys. 

Today in California, the assault on single family homeownership, small business owners, the self-employed, and just about everything that has been traditionally defined as “middle class” continues unabated. 

Wage increases are too slow to keep up if you’re in anything other than tech, law, big real estate development, or finance. Meanwhile, regressive taxation and fees continue to skyrocket (sales taxes, school bond fees, bridge tolls, business fees, parcel fees, utility fees, special district impact fees, etc.), with legislation in the works that will soon add dozens more. And let’s stop kidding ourselves. All taxes and fees assessed to housing or other property or businesses get passed on to renters and consumers. If it’s not passed on, then the condition of the housing deteriorates and the businesses close their doors. There’s no magic here. That’s how markets work. 

The plain truth is that so-called housing “solutions” such as SB 50, AB 1487 and the CASA Compact are built on increasing control from the top and regressive tax and fee schemes that hurt the working poor and small businesses the most. In fact, MTC / Wiener’s entire vision is built on regressive taxation and fees paid by those most in need of affordable housing and most vulnerable to the legislation's negative impacts. And, our own Marin County Senator, Mike McGuire, has now become one of their head cheerleaders. 

But, what if I were to tell you that the fundamental arguments against SB 50, or SB 827 that came before it, or whatever incarnation comes next, are not really about housing at all? What if I were to tell you that what the media and Senator Wiener would like to have us all believe is at best highly questionable and more likely beside the point? And that in the case of the CASA Compact, its rationale is pretty much made up out of whole cloth so that certain special interests can fatten their bottom lines or continue their rapid company growth and hiring, but lay off the costs and impacts on taxpayers. 

Knee-jerk decision-making based on sound-bite false narratives 

The SB 50 crowd keeps intentionally framing the argument as being for or against “housing,” rather than acknowledging (or even knowing?) that the basic arguments against SB 50 are not really about that. What’s at stake are the precedents that would be set by SB 50, which are actually separate from the issues surrounding housing or development. 

It’s similar to the argument currently being fought in Washington D.C., regarding the subpoena powers of Congress. It’s essentially irrelevant if it’s a subpoena for testimony or a tax return or a stained blue dress. What’s at stake are the principles regarding the respective powers and roles of the legislative branch and the executive branch of our government, not whether Deutsche Bank did or didn’t make a stupid loan or investment (something they’ve been known to do for decades). 

In California, the arguments in opposition to SB 50 and CASA are first and foremost about the respective powers and roles of locally elected city and county governments, and the state. It is those arguments that have to be addressed and settled before we can craft a housing bill that has any chance of producing a significant amount of affordable housing. In the ideologically-driven zeal of both reporters noted above and Senator Wiener and his cadre, awareness of this seems to have been lost, if it ever existed in the first place. 

Under AB 1487, for example, MTC and its CASA Compact Committee of private, self-appointed and self-anointed corporate and special interests, and political insiders are attempting to create a regional government agency, disguised as a “special district,” that can unilaterally assess fees on residents and businesses, and propose new, regressive tax measures. 

This is essentially a new, “mezzanine” form of government, manned in theory by a percentage of elected representatives, but in practice is so many steps removed from any local control or reasonable public oversight that for all intent and purposes, it’s a black box. Its opacity pretty much guarantees it becoming yet another trough from which special interests and political insiders can feast without taxpayer knowledge. 

It is simply a reincarnation of the regional development authorities that were struck down and dissolved by the California Supreme Court in 2013, for being grossly corrupt and ineffective money pits. Its powers are destined to be abused because it ignores the shortcomings of human nature and provides no checks and balances. 

Markets matter 

It’s been recently reported that the SF Bay Area has the highest construction costs in the world. At the same time the City of San Francisco now has more billionaires per capita than any other city in the world. On top of that, on average, San Francisco residents are now paid the highest salaries in the world. Could it be that all of this is somehow an impediment to building anything but luxury housing here? Don’t you think that anyone sincerely trying to understand housing in the San Francisco Bay Area would want to take these factors into consideration, before we start penalizing cities for not building housing -- which they don't actually do, anyway? 

Housing prices cannot rise unless there are people who can afford them. Perhaps this sheds some light on the demand side. Are people being left behind? Absolutely. So, then which types of fixes have worked in the past and which have not? 

This brings me back to an argument I’ve made before that cannot be emphasized enough. In an article entitled Affordable housing solutions: more government, less government, or smart government?, I wrote: 

All real public wealth is the result of the efficient utilization of private manpower and capital (the tax base), which is measured as “productivity.” The efficient utilization of capital is absolutely critical to addressing any large scale, systemic challenge such as affordable housing. And, capital is always limited. 

This is fundamentally important, but is being summarily ignored. Why? Perhaps, because our elected representatives in Sacramento don’t care and are only looking out for their own benefit, or they don’t really understand what it means, much less the implications of ignoring it? 

As a case in point, I met with Senator Mike McGuire in March of this year, at his invitation, to discuss affordable housing. As a former and current affordable housing developer, for over an hour I tried to lay out relevant facts and arguments that needed to be considered. He was very earnest and tried to act attentive, and he was highly complementary, but it was apparent he knew little about real estate, affordable housing, financing, tax credits, the related history, or government programs. Bottom line, I felt like I was talking to a middle-schooler. He was ignorant of the facts at hand and in truth, seemed disinterested in knowing too many details. He didn't ask any questions. 

I was not talking to a person capable of coming up with realistic, socially equitable, and economically and environmentally sustainable solutions that would result in significant affordable housing creation. Yet in spite of his handicap, according to news reports, "McGuire vows to push forward with” SB 50. 

The business of selling solutions versus solving problems 

The proponents of SB 50 and now AB 1487 appear willing to go to great lengths to create a narrative that fits their ends. A day after SB 50 was shelved, California YIMBY released results of a poll conducted by a Washington DC-based company they had hired, Lake Research Partners (LRP), which suggested that the bill was wildly popular among California voters. 

According to LRP, 66 percent of California voters supported SB 50, whereas only 18 percent opposed it. First off, polling only 1,200 random people is not much of a sampling and we have no idea where they lived or what their personal situation was. Secondly, the polls questions were designed to get the responses sought. 

For example, people were asked if they supported a bill that would “allow developers to build new apartments near transit and jobs if they also include affordable housing for moderate to low income workers?” Who wouldn’t endorse that? It fails to note that the affordable in lieu provisions are already the law and fails to explain the true density impacts. Or, they were asked about a bill that will “reduce car traffic and pollution by allowing more housing to be built near public transportation like trains and buses.” Sounds nice doesn’t it? Too bad there’s no funding to improve our lousy public transit system. Or, how about to “allow communities to protect themselves against gentrification,” even though SB 50 does no such thing? 

The way they “explained” SB 50 it sounded like a community protection act, not the developer giveaway it really was. So, of course, if you define SB 50 that way, everyone will say yes. But, that has nothing to do with what it would actually do in each community, urban or suburban – which is why the City of San Francisco opposed it. 

I have some questions I'd like them to ask. How about... 

If you worked really hard and saved till it hurt to afford to be able to move your family into a single-family home with a small yard, in a quite neighborhood, and you fixed it up and did it within all the onerous restrictions on height and setbacks and parking and so on, and then someone comes along and builds a 4 story fourplex on the lot next door, and the tenants have 8 cars that ended up parked all over the street in front of your house (because unlike you, they have no parking requirements), and their windows look down into your once private backyard, would you vote for that? 


If you have to commute to work in San Francisco from Hayward, but drive to the BART parking lot near the station, because you live a mile away and have to carry a lot of stuff to work. But, then BART cuts a deal with a developer to make extra cash to cover their unfunded pension liabilities, and they eliminate the parking lot to build an 8 story building, are you good with that? 

Just wondering how those results might change. 

If you say it often enough, it becomes the truth 

It’s ironic that here in our one party state, the very same people who probably (rightfully and understandably) loathe the Trump Administration’s complete disregard for democratic norms and principles and its attempts to rule by top down edicts, seem to have no problem whatsoever, when those same tactics and lack of principles are employed to accomplish their own personal agenda and political policy goals. 

How is it that the Wiener / YIMBY / Governor Newsom crowd cannot comprehend that the majority of those arguing against legislation like SB 50, AB 1487, and a slew of other bills in the works, are pushing back to preserve the powers vested in their own elected representatives, the powers SB 50 wanted to hand over to unelected, politically appointed agencies and self-appointed “stakeholder” cabals like CASA. 

When President Trump calls his opponents slanderous things and gives them insulting nicknames, he's called a sociopath, a narcissist, and a man-child. But when progressives call people racists, NIMBYs, elitists or whatever, they claim they're noble and fighting for a just cause. Sorry, you can't have it both ways. Either you’re just "good people on both sides" or you're pretty much the same, right? And, I’m pretty sure I'm right about Trump being both those things. 

Meanwhile, we continue to waste real opportunities to pass legislation that might actually have a positive impact on the development of affordable housing by tapping the power of private capital markets. 

Wouldn’t it be better to advance programs that are based on economic realities rather than wishful thinking? 

[1] Mayors of some of these cities supported SB50 but not with their city council’s or planning department’s support. 

Bob Silvestri is a Mill Valley resident and the founder and president of Community Venture Partners, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit community organization funded only by individuals in Marin and the San Francisco Bay Area. 

When did California politics lose its common sense? first appeared in the Marin Post.

Facebook money and California housing

Zelda Bronstein
Thursday May 30, 2019 - 04:02:00 PM

How Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan are funding a shadow government that’s shaping California and Bay Area housing policy

On January 24, 2019, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the limited liability company founded by Dr. Priscilla Chan and her husband, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and funded by a lifetime pledge of 99 percent of his Facebook shares (he’s given $3 billion so far), announced that CZI had helped to launch the Partnership for the Bay’s Future, “a new kind of public-private housing partnership….aimed at helping to solve the interconnected challenges of housing, transportation, and economic opportunity.” The website of the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative promotes charitable giving, although it’s really not a charity.

Joined by the Ford Foundation, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, other big philanthropies, and Facebook itself, the Partnership had already raised $280 million, with plans to assemble a total of $500 million over the next five years.

According to one account, the Partnership for the Bay’s Future “grew out of CZI’s interest in housing and an initial funding commitment” of $50 million. Ten of those millions will go to a “Policy Fund” led by the San Francisco Foundation that, the Partnership website says, will be disbursed to counties, cities, and community groups in San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda, and Contra Costa Counties to “protect families and individuals burdened by high rents…, preserve and produce affordable housing” and “enable more Bay Area residents to remain in their communities.”

Lost in the buzz of acclaim that greeted the Partnership’s founding was the fact that CZI had already donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to nonprofit organizations that have used their grants to shape public housing policy for the Bay Area. Those donations are not secret; they’re listed on the CZI website; and the foundation’s broader interest in housing policy has been noted in the media.

What hasn’t been reported:

Some of CZI’s biggest grantees are promoting policies that, stated intentions notwithstanding, will inflate land values, boost rents, and force many of the Bay Area’s most vulnerable residents out of their homes, while instituting and reinforcing undemocratic forms of governance that benefit Big Tech and Big Property Capital.

These CZI grantees often collaborate. They have clout in Sacramento, manifest in bills such as SB 50 (Wiener), SB 330 (Skinner)—both endorsed by Facebook—and AB 1487 (Chiu), endorsed by CZI, and their contractual and informal relationships with state agencies.

Public records we have obtained show that this shadow government is being facilitated by CASA (the Committee to House the Bay Area), the secretive, ad hoc entity that officially operated under the auspices of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission from June 2017 to December 2018, and whose members continue to lobby Sacramento, in at least one case with public funding from MTC. 

[Read the rest of the story on 48hills. com]

Song of the Private Out-of-Town Developer

Carol Denney
Thursday May 30, 2019 - 03:57:00 PM

To the tune of "Oh, Suzanna"

oh, I come from Alabama to develop People's Park

and from what I've heard the chancellor say it's going to be a lark

well they brought me here to monetize these priceless public lands

and privatize your landmarks while your mayor sits on his hands

Chorus: oh, Suzanna, oh don't you cry for me

I'll be out of here as soon as I destroy your history


oh, the public-private partnership we use it to disguise 

a move which otherwise is known as pri-va-tize 

public resources belong you as people would agree 

but a little hocus-pocus and they all belong to me 


Chorus: oh, Suzanna, oh don't you cry for me 

I'll be out of here as soon as I destroy your history 


if the campus wants to save some dough I think it's pretty plain 

just quit playing football cause it messes up your brain 

try some chess or checkers let the students make the call 

they can really save some money unless they pick volleyball 


Chorus: oh, Suzanna, oh don't you cry for me 

I'll be out of here as soon as I destroy your history 


in 1967 there were houses on that block 

which they bulldozed and then walked away- the neighbors were in shock 

so the people built a garden so that everyone could share 

but the chancellor says development has got to start right there 


Chorus: oh, Suzanna, oh don't you cry for me 

I'll be out of here as soon as I destroy your history 


I'm an out of town developer and I am not to blame 

it's the chancellor and the regents setting up this dirty game 

since UC makes nuclear weapons it's embarrassing for sure 

to have People's Park - a symbol of resistance against war

Kali Yuga

Jagjit Singh
Friday May 31, 2019 - 10:05:00 AM

The US and much of world is sinking into what the Hindus call Kali Yuga, the period when the “World Soul” is Black in hue; only one quarter of virtue remains, which slowly dwindles to zero at the end of the Kali Yuga. People turn to wickedness; disease, lethargy, anger, natural calamities, anguish and fear of scarcity dominate. The Trump administration is a good example of Kali Yuga.

They continue to dishonor the basic tenets of Christianity by punishing “good Christians” who are helping the poor. The Good Book is replete with aphorisms of helping the poor yet the US border patrol has declared war on those who provide humanitarian aid to migrants. 

Scott Warren, an activist with the Tucson-based “No More Deaths”, is being charged with allegedly “harboring” undocumented immigrants. His crime - providing water, food and clean clothes to two undocumented migrants crossing the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona. If convicted Scott Warren could spend 20 years in prison. 

For years volunteers with, “No More Deaths” and other aid groups have left water and food tin the Sonoran Desert to assist migrants survive the blistering heat. 

Recently, the anti-Christ U.S. Border Patrol agents intentionally destroyed more than 3,000 gallons of water left out for migrants crossing the border. “No More Deaths” published a video showing border agents dumping out jugs of water in the desert. I urge readers to tweet @POTUS and his avowed Christian Vice-President, Mike Pence (@mike_pence) and demand US Border Patrol halt their inhumane activities.

The Value of Zoos

Jack Bragen
Sunday June 02, 2019 - 11:26:00 AM

Zoos allow human beings to keep species alive that have become extinct or nearly extinct in shrinking and disappearing habitats in the wild, and where many of them are also subject to poaching.\ 

Zoos allow ordinary, non-wealthy families to get a look at creatures other than human, which (or whom) they would never otherwise see, hear and smell. Not everyone can afford the expense or the time off from work to go to South America, Africa, or other places. Many of us who occasionally visit zoos could never conceive, or financially afford to travel.  

Modern zoos have mostly improved compared to the not so distant past in how animals are treated, and in what their environments and living conditions are. 

In the 1980's, I visited the San Francisco zoo and saw that a lion was caged in a small enclosure and was quite agitated. Yet, in the 2000's, I visited the replacement zoo, and it was vastly better.  

Additionally, creatures able to live in the wild are better off if they are not bothered or harassed by human spectators.

June Pepper Spray Times

By Grace Underpressure
Friday May 31, 2019 - 06:36:00 PM

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

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

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

This is a Very Good Deal. Go for it! 

Mindfulness, Survival of Humans, and Our Deficiencies

Jack Bragen
Friday May 31, 2019 - 10:12:00 AM

Learning to have a better quality of consciousness is a great aspiration. Doing this adds to the collective level of consciousness on our planet and contributes toward the possible survival of life on Earth. If we lacked mindfulness on our planet, and if we lacked other disciplines to improve the mind, such as psychology, people would be stuck in primitive, archaic and violent patterns, even more so than we are now, and we would not have made it this far without destroying ourselves. 

When embarking on the pursuit of meditation, environment makes a massive difference. People can not pursue meditation when there is an onslaught of aggression toward them. When people are excessively in one's face, when they won't allow a person to have somewhat of a peaceful environment, when they are manipulative, deceitful and sabotaging, it is extremely difficult to attempt mindfulness. 

Zen temples, and other places of meditation and/or spiritual practices, are meant to be peaceful places. Being in a peaceful place is good for you. If you are a soldier, you can't follow the ethic of non-killing. If you are incarcerated, fellow internees will force you to defend yourself. 

In some contexts, meditation practices simply won't help you. In other situations, meditation isn't practicable because people won't let you exist in peace. 

Tibet has been under Chinese occupation for numerous decades. According to a simple web search, more than a million Tibetans have been killed. The Dalai Lama is from Tibet and is an amazing leader of Tibetan Buddhists. He exiled himself from Tibet a very long time ago and can't go back. China has committed atrocities against meditation practitioners and others. Mindfulness, at least on the physical plane, doesn't fix that. 

Evil people, evil corporations and evil governments would like it if no one was permitted to live in peace and raise their consciousness. They feel a need to dominate everyone. When under such rulers, you can't meditate. 

On the other hand, mindfulness is collectively, absolutely needed if the human species is to survive the next few centuries. 

Albert Einstein was a "militant pacifist" until it became apparent that the Nazis were trying to develop an atomic bomb. Apparently, when he discovered Relativity, he had no concept that a bomb could be made with Uranium, with the physics that he had discovered in his mind. He contacted the President, and the Manhattan Project followed. 

Peaceful people have not found a good way to fend off predatory people. Predatory people aren't interested in helping anyone but themselves, and we don't have a good way of changing them. 

The human species is in a difficult predicament because of our human nature, because of advances in technology, and because human consciousness hasn't evolved enough to allow peaceful coexistence. Mindfulness will be an essential part of the solution. There are, however, some very big missing pieces to any possible solutions to the multiple threats to our continued survival. 

Any ideas? 

Jack Bragen is author of "An Offering of Power: Valuable, Unusual Meditation Methods."  


THE PUBLIC EYE: Trump’s Road to Armageddon

Bob Burnett
Friday May 31, 2019 - 10:02:00 AM

Just when we think that Donald Trump's behavior cannot become more bizarre, it does. On May 22, congressional leaders went to the White House, ostensibly to discuss a plan to rebuild America's crumbling infrastructure; Trump walked out of the meeting, after throwing a temper tantrum -- saying he would not work with Congressional Democrats until they called off all investigations into his (alleged) high crimes and misdemeanors. Democrats aren't going to call off these investigations and Trump isn't going to work with Congress. So where does this leave us? On the road to armageddon.

The Federal Debt Limit expired on March 1st and, at the moment, the Treasury Department is using accounting gimmicks to pay the nation's bills. Experts say that this will only work until sometime in September-October. What will happen then?

Forbes Magazine (https://www.forbes.com/sites/teresaghilarducci/2019/04/25/the-u-s-debt-ceiling-expired-on-march-1-and-nobody-cared-but-they-will/#57842bff6b3f ) explains: "When the [debt] limit is reached, the U.S. Treasury can’t borrow any more... severely impacting the real economy for fear the government would default on our debt.... Interest rates, already one of the fastest rising costs in the federal budget, will rise as the political crisis builds, because foreign borrowers will demand an additional risk premium. And rising interest rates will impact U.S. Treasuries, mortgages, credit cards, car loans, student debt, and corporate debt. If workers, households, students, and corporations can’t pay their bills because of the interest rate shocks, the economy could go into recession."

Judging by his increasingly erratic behavior, it's likely that Trump will hold the nation hostage over the Federal Debt Limit -- and the appropriations bill to keep government running (which comes due October 1st). Trump will issue an ultimatum, "Call off the investigations or I won't sign these bills." Even though his intransigence will be opposed by all congressional Democrats and most Republicans, Trump will refuse to compromise. In the process he will drag the United States over a financial cliff. 

Of course, the House Democrats could head off this turmoil by dropping all Trump-related investigations. But they are not going to do that because the Mueller Report concludes: (a) Trump committed crimes by obstructing justice and (b) the Russian government continues to meddle in our political affairs. Writing in the New York Review of Books (https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2019/05/23/robert-mueller-report-trump-indictment/ ) David Cole (ACLU National Legal Director) observes: "The [Mueller] report dispassionately lays out the facts, which are an indictment in all but name." 

On May 29th, Robert Mueller made a brief public statement where he again noted: " If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so [in our report]." Mueller repeated that he and his associates did not indict Trump because such an action was against Department of Justice policy. 

Over the next three months, the Democrats will continue their Trump investigations. Given the unprecedented Trump Administration obstruction, the House is likely to instigate a formal impeachment inquiry -- which would strengthen its legal case to obtain key documents and testimony. 

Over the summer, the White House will likely initiate no new policy proposals or legislative action. Instead the Administration will continually rail against the investigations, call them "witch hunts." And, Trump will take trips: Next week Trump will go to the United Kingdom, Ireland, and France for D-day memorial ceremonies. At the end of June, Trump will travel to Japan for the G20 Summit -- which will give him a chance to confer with his buddy, Vladimir Putin. In August, Trump will go to France for the G7 Summit. (In between, Trump will go to campaign rallies and play golf.) 

During this same period the House of Representatives will be hard at work. (Except, possibly, for the month of August, when it is scheduled to be in recess. Given the current circumstances, plus the desire of Democrats to prove that they can walk and chew gum at the same time -- investigate Trump (and the Russians) and also generate meaningful legislation -- it's likely that the House will stay in session during August.) 

In the past, faced with an extreme conflict, Trump has usually backed down. However, last December 22nd Trump didn't back down on his request for border-wall funding, he initiated a 35-day (partial) government shutdown -- the longest shutdown in U.S. history. Given this recent history, and Trump's desperation-fueled erratic behavior, there's no reason to believe that he will back down in September if faced with a combination debt-limit and appropriations conflict. 

We're headed for armageddon and Donald Trump doesn't care. Trump is focussed on protecting himself, not the United States. 

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

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Dealing with Loss

Jack Bragen
Friday May 31, 2019 - 10:08:00 AM

One of the challenges in getting well and staying in remission is that of appropriately dealing with loss. Remaining out of the hospital involves a lot of self-management. This includes methods for dealing with emotional hard times. To stay well, a person with mental illness must be able to deal with the hard things that life brings, without going too far into an abyss of pain, yet without trying to sweep difficulties under a rug. 

A loss that is too devastating can trigger a relapse of severe symptoms. When we lose a person, place or thing, something or someone that meant a lot to us, it can evoke strong painful emotions--and we may have already been somewhat fragile. 

In some instances, recovery from a delusional system can bring about feelings of loss. We may have believed things about ourselves that made us feel grandiose, and which were not accurate. Or we may have believed a particular good thing was going to happen for us, and we realize it won't happen, at least for now. Recovery from a delusional system can be emotionally difficult. 

A mentally ill person may experience a relapse as a form of loss. Following a relapse, we experience the aftermath. We come to realize that it has happened to us once again, and this entails a major setback, and it means starting over on many things. The losses could be of liberty, levels of functioning, and other life circumstances. 

Loss exists in life, whether we are dealing with the loss of illusions, or the loss of something reality-based and meaningful to us. 

I am experiencing the seven-year anniversary of losing my father. Part of what I'm facing is that I have unfinished business with him. And I realize that this will not ever be resolved. 

Perhaps the first step in remaining well is to acknowledge that we have experienced a loss, and that we should expect emotional pain from it. Secondly, we should get the support that we need. This could come from family, from a therapist, or from a friend. 

Mindfulness can help with loss. Yet, we should not expect that mindfulness will prevent the pain of loss. We should expect that it will allow us to feel the inevitable emotions and will allow us to tolerate these emotions. 

Yet, we must also be careful that we do not fall into a bottomless pit of grief. If the emotions become too powerful to handle, we may need to take steps to lower the amplitude of the painful emotions. Whether or not a painful emotion seems valid, too strong of one can do harm to us. 

Medication could be an option. A temporary increase in meds may help us remain stabilized in a time of emotional difficulty. A non-drug option is to distract ourselves. Or, both can be used in combination. 

We should remember that it is necessary to keep up on our treatment--especially any medications that are prescribed. We should also make sure we are getting enough sleep. And, we should not push ourselves too hard at work, whatever form that work takes for us (whether it is a job or other, e.g., volunteering, school, or household tasks). 

If we feel that we need help, we should ask for it. If things are at the point where we become desperate and have suicidal thoughts, and/or thoughts of harming others, we are better off going into the hospital, rather than having consequences that will be worse.  

We should realize, whether our loss feels like a setback, or feels like we are moving into uncharted waters, that life will continue, and there are many things to live for. We should realize, that these emotions are temporary, and we will feel better in the future. 

We do not need to allow a setback, or a loss become a defining thing in how we see ourselves. We can continue liking ourselves, whether the loss is of someone close to us, or whether the loss seems to affect who we are. In fact, loss doesn't affect who we are. 

Above all, we need to be gentle with ourselves and with others. This means that when angry or upset, getting some space for a while. It means making sure that we don't blame ourselves. It means that we maintain basic respect for others, and especially for ourselves. 

Jack Bragen is author of "Understanding People with Schizophrenia" and other titles.

ECLECTIC RANT: National Animal Rights Day

Ralph E. Stone
Thursday May 30, 2019 - 03:59:00 PM

The 9th National Animal Rights Day will be celebrated on Sunday June 2, 2019. Let’s salute our non-human friends and companions.

Anyone whose family includes a pet knows that animals think and feel. In fact, a number of scientific studies has shown that animals are far closer to us than recently believed. The Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness in Human and Nonhuman Animals, signed by a group of leading animal researchers, asserts that mammals, birds and other creatures posses consciousness and, in all likelihood, emotions and self-awareness.

If we accept that animals are self-aware beings and have emotions, then this raises the question of whether we should keep animals in captivity (zoos), whether we should allow the cruel confinement and mistreatment of farm animals, and whether we should use animals for experimentation and research. 

What's wrong with zoos? Zoos evolved at a time when travel for most people was impractical and few people had a chance to see wild animals up close. Today, we can take a plane to Africa, Australia, or Costa Rica for photo safaris or even watch nature documentaries on television or view live Internet videos, which can show animals’ natural behavior that in many cases cannot even be seen in zoos. There is no excuse for keeping intelligent social animals in cages for our amusement. In short, we shouldn't be confining animals to cramped conditions thereby depriving them of everything that is natural and important to them. 

Farm animals are often the victim of cruelty. For example, ten or more egg-laying hens housed in a wire cage the size of a file drawer stacked several levels high. Or branding cattle with an extremely hot or extremely cold iron stamp without anesthesia or castrating pigs and cows -- a painful procedure -- or debeaking, the process of cutting with a hot blade, the beaks of chickens, turkeys, and ducks without anesthesia to reduce pecking among, fighting, and cannibalism of overstressed, overcrowded birds in factory farms or using cattle prods that deliver an electric shock to get cattle moving. 

Animal experiments are widely used to develop new drugs and to test the safety of cosmetics and other personal care products. But many of these experiments cause pain to the animals involved or reduce their quality of life in other ways. Typically, a new drug or cosmetic is used on an animal to test its effectiveness. If it is found to be effective, it is then tested on humans. However, the research may show that the tested drug or cosmetic may be harmful or ineffective and never tested on humans.  

The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) is the only federal law that covers animals in NIH-funded research but is recommended policy only, not a mandatory requirement. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is charged with enforcing the AWA. Under the AWA, research institutions are required to establish an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) “to oversee and evaluate all aspects of the institution’s animal care and use program.” While the USDA and the AWA and IACUC systems supposedly ensure “humane” treatment of animals in labs, the system is plagued with loopholes that leave animals with little or no protection. 

But this begs the question as to why sentient beings are used for experimentation at all. 

The Humane Methods of Livestock Act is a federal law designed to decrease suffering of livestock during slaughter. 

The Preventing Animal Cruel and Torture (PACT) Act was recently re-introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. PACT would criminalize "crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating and impaling animals." The measure would also address bestiality and other attempts to sexually exploit animals. 

Each state has enacted laws to punish those who engage in cruelty to animals. And cruelty does not only mean physical abuse but also neglect. Although in some states animal cruelty is only a misdemeanor, not a felony. 

Many studies show that violent offenders frequently have childhood and adolescent histories of serious and repeated animal cruelty. 

In addition, many states have farm animal confinement laws laws, animal euthanasia laws, and laws concerning the sale of pets at retail pet stores. California is the only state to ban the retail sale of dogs, cats, rabbits 

IThe Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) is using an interesting approach to freeing sentient beings by seeking writs of habeas corpus (literally to produce the body) on behalf of members of the great ape family (chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, and gorillas). The objective of NhRP is “to change the common law status of great apes, elephants, dolphins, and whales from mere “things,” which lack the capacity to possess any legal right, to “legal persons,” who possess such fundamental rights as bodily liberty and bodily integrity. The progress of these NhRP lawsuits is worth watching. 

As a long-time member of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) with two indoor and two outdoor cats in our family, and participants in a number of African safaris to view animals and birds in their natural habitat, rather than animal killing for “sport,” I invite everyone to read ASPCA’s “Report Animal Cruelty.” 

The goal is to crack down on animal cruelty by enacting and enforcing laws for their protection, thus making our communities safer places for our non-human friends. After all, it is their planet too. 

SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Saturday June 01, 2019 - 03:08:00 PM

When it comes to former senator and war prisoner John McCain, Donald Trump just can't let go. Trump continues to speak ill of the dead. Now his petulant pettiness has peaked again following a dust-up over a reported White House request to further disrespect the departed Arizona Republican. Responding to press reports that the Navy had overruled a White House request that would have draped a tarp over the bow of the USS John McCain, President BoneSpur was left to sputter: "I didn't know anything about it! I would never have done that!" 

But then, Trump's self-adoration got the best of him: he couldn't resist adding that, whoever did attempt to hide McCain's name, did so "with the best of intentions." 

Trump's latest juvenile outburst against a certified Navy hero calls for a new term-of-appointment for our insult-inclined, slander-prone Reprimander-in-chief. How about "Chief Petty Officer"? 

Corporate Rebranding: Passing Gas 

On May 39, The Guardian of London broke the following news: 

"America is the land of freedom, as any politician will be happy to tell you. What you don’t hear quite so often is that the stuff under the land is also apparently made of freedom as well. That is, at least according to a news release this week from the Department of Energy (DoE)." 

The Guardian explained that Trump's US Undersecretary of Energy, Mark W. Menezes, has trotted out a new term for the climate-warming natural gas that lurks untapped off US shores. Call it "Freedom Gas," Menezes says. And what constitutes this "gas of freedom"? Assistant Secretary for Fossil Fuel Energy Steven Winberg has a phrase for that, too. Freedom Gas, Winberg explained, is composed of "molecules of US freedom" that are manifestly destined to be "exported around the world." 

Big Oil's New Cry: "CO2 Lives Matter" 

The celebration of "molecules of freedom" prompted Washington State Gov. and Presidential Candidate Jay Inslee to Tweet: "This has to be a joke. (Remember freedom fries?)" 

But it isn't a joke. Energy Department chief Rick Perry is also pushing the idea that crude oil is just liberty in a liquid form. 

In early May, Perry told EURACTV: “Seventy-five years after liberating Europe from Nazi Germany occupation, the United States is again delivering a form of freedom to the European continent. And rather than in the form of young American soldiers, it’s in the form of liquefied natural gas.” 

The Trump administration quickly adopted the new lingo, even issuing a statement that increased off-shore drilling is "critical to spreading freedom gas." 

William Happer, a member of Trump's National Security Council who specializes in advising on climate change and emerging technologies, recently complained that: “The demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler.” 

It follows, then, that Happer is equating environmental activists with Nazi Stormtroopers conspiring to eradicate innocent molecules. (Part of this false equivalence does pan out, however: CO2 molecules do wind up in a Gas Chamber—i.e., the increasingly polluted atmosphere that threatens every lung and iceberg on Earth.) 

Finally, there's Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who sees Climate Collapse as an unprecedented business opportunity. According to Pompeo, "Steady reductions in sea ice are opening new passageways and new opportunities for trade. Arctic sea lanes could become the 21st century Suez and Panama Canals." 

Pompeo isn't troubled by projections that Washington, DC and Mar-a-Lago will also become waterways as melting polar ice raises coastal seas worldwide. 

Another US Monument to War 

The last thing our nation's capital needs is another monument to war but, on May 30, Washington, DC saw the debut of the National Desert Storm and Desert Shield Memorial

The new monument is situated right across the street from the US Institute of Peace and, while the choice of location may be challenged, the design seems appropriate: the centerpiece features a large wall that shrinks in size as it spirals inward around an empty space and reaches no conclusion. 

According to the organizers—The National Council on US-Arab Relations (NACUSAR) and The National Desert Storm War Memorial Association—the landmark is intended to celebrate "international partnership and statesmanship." (Footnote: None of the 11 individuals on NACUSAR's board of directors appears to be Arab-American.

The public was invited to attend—but only those who could show a valid driver's license or passport. 

World BEYOND War founder David Swanson had several questions for the monument builders: 

"Will the monument celebrate the basing of troops in Saudi Arabia that led to 9/11? 

Will there be any depictions of fictional infants taken out of imaginary incubators? [A hoax cooked up to trick US politicians into to attacking Iraqi—GS.] 

Which Congressmembers present promoted that story and can we give them a special round of applause? 

How will the overwhelmingly Iraqi victims be memorialized? 

Will victims of Gulf War Syndrome be remembered with an Eternal Open-burn-pit?" 


War of Words 

The military has many words for "our brave fighting men and women"—troops, soldiers, sailors, pilots, special operations officers—but it was a bit odd to read a report in the June 1 Chronicle that a hidden bomb in Kabul was responsible for "lightly wounding four American forces." 

So an individual soldier can now be called a "force." 

That turns out to be an apt appellation that exposes the truth about a soldier's role in foreign invasions. To wit: Imposing "force" is the opposite of protecting "liberty" or "freedom." 

There You Forgo Again 

Here's an odd grammatical question: 

If you say: "I choose to forgo dessert," what do you say afterwards? "I forwent dessert"? (And do I have a writer's annoying obsession with words? That's a foregone conclusion.) 

Zippy He Do Draw, Zippy Today 

Bill Griffith, the local cartoonist who shot to fame as the creator of Zippy the Pinhead (a mainstay of the "underground press" of the Sixties) is out with a new 256-page hardback titled: "Nobody's Fool: The Life and Times of Schlitzie the Pinhead" (Abrams Books, $24.99)—the real person behind the comic strip. 

Back in the Sixties, Zippy the Pinhead was a mainstay of the comic cast that inhabited the pages of the Berkeley Barban ink-stained ensemble that included R. Crumb's Mr. Natural, Gilbert Sheldon's The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, Spain Rodriguez's Trashman, and S. Clay Wilson's Checkered Demon. 

Fellow cartoonist R. Crumb has proclaimed: "Nobody's Fool is bofffo! The best graphic novel of the year!" (Such kind words from R. Crumb are worth their weight in Acapulco Gold.) 

A natural concern with such a book and such a subject is that the project might be seen as profiting off a character defined by his "disability." Advance reviews suggest that the actual book appears to be an honest attempt to memorialize the history of a real human being whose life was appropriated for public amusement and private profit. 

CNN anchor (and a closet cartoonist, himself) Jake Tapper writes: “Bill Griffith’s artistic investigation into the real life of Schlitzie Surtees in Nobody’s Fool is as heartbreaking and poignant as his Zippy the Pinhead is hilarious and clever. The biography manages to be both gorgeous and tragic, a warts-and-all exploration of how this country has treated those with disabilities and challenges, while also being a meditation on the ephemerality of fame. The questions Griffith raises about the nature of exploitation, acceptance, and quality of life are haunting. A masterpiece of the medium.” 

Here's a short video about the life of the real "Zippy." 


More information and autographed copies of the book are available 

from http://zippythepinhead.com/pages/nobodysfool_order.html 

Don't Let Your Kids See this Book 

On a recent morning run, I came across a "Little Free Library" perched on a post in front of a house on Hopkins Street. Pausing to check out the books offered inside, I discovered a 1991 edition of The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth, authored by Henci Goer and Amy Romano. 

My first thought: "You might want to hide this book from your first-born child." 

A New National Anthem for the Trump Era 

It's time, isn't it? Anyone else want to chime in with a alternative anthem for our beleaguered times? 

My Country' 'Tis of Trump 

G Smith (2019) With apologies to Sameul F. Smith (1844) 

My country, 'tis of Trump, Big Wall around a dump, For thee I mourn. 

Land where my freedoms died, Thanks to our ruler's pride, 

From every minor slight, Tweet-storms rained his scorn. 

Cruel Narcistocracy, Dearth of nobility, Thy reign I loathe 

Trump loves oil's rocks and drills, Trees felled for timber mills, 

Who cares what Nature needs? Climate Change? A hoax. 

Let pure greed swell the breeze, And all the poor folk freeze, Sweat-shops prolong. 

The press we excoriate, Dictators we imitate, Critics we extirpate, Muslims don't belong. 

Where 'ere our flag's unfurled, Insults and taunts are hurled, Then come the bombs. 

Bomb-dropping, damn the costs, Targeting schools and mosques, 

US-made holocausts, From Syria to Sudan. 

Groper of beauty queens, Porn stars and nubile teens, Of thee I squeeze. 

Master of business deals, Defaults and bankruptcies, Rubles-for-scruples schemes, Great Don our King. 

Berkeley's Climate Plan Would Ban Gas 

On May 31, Melissa Yu, an organizer with the Sierra Club's SF Bay Chapter, sends out the following notice: 

In June, a proposed ordinance that would require climate-friendly, all-electric new construction in Berkeley will have a chance to clear a final hurdle before it can go to the City Council for a vote this summer. The ordinance, introduced by Councilmember Kate Harrison, would phase out installation of polluting gas infrastructure when issuing permits for new buildings. It is an important next step toward achieving clean, healthy, and affordable homes for our community. 

All-electric buildings can save homeowners money. Modern, high-efficiency electric heating technologies can also cost less up-front than their gas counterparts . . . . 

Berkeley has set ambitious emission reduction goals — but the city is 18 percent behind its 2020 target . . . . In Berkeley, 27% of city-wide greenhouse gas emissions come from the use of natural gas in the residential and commercial sectors . . . . 

Here in Berkeley, our municipal buildings are powered by 100% carbon-free electricity and electricity for privately owned buildings is 85% carbon-free at a minimum . . . . 

Fossil fuel appliances release dangerous toxins, leading to air pollution levels in some homes that would be illegal if measured outside. A recent study found that gas stoves may be responsible for up to 12 percent of childhood asthma cases.
Berkeley’s electrification ordinance is a sensible step toward achieving clean, healthy, and affordable homes.
Take Action: Click Here to Tell City decision-makers that you support this move to limit Berkeley's reliance on fossil fuels. 

Public Banking Bill Passes Assembly: Now on to the Senate 

On May 16, AB 857, the local public banking bill, passed out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee and, on May 30, the California State Assembly voted to pass the local public banking bill! It received 41 "Yes" votes, the bare minimum needed to survive. Now it's on to the Senate. 

Assemblymembers Miguel Santiago (District 52) and David Chiu (District 17) are the bill's authors. The East Bay can thanks assemblymembers Buffy Wicks (District 15: (916) 319-2015) and Rob Bonta (District 18: (916) 319-2018) for cosponsoring the bill. 

If you support the public banking campaign, the following Assemblymembers need to hear from you. (If you’re not sure which district you live in, check this finder.) 

District 14—Timothy Grayson: (916) 319-2014 

District 16—Rebecca Bauer-Kahan: (916) 319-2016 

District 20—Bill Quirk: (916) 319-2020
District 25—Kansen Chu: (916) 319-2025 

The East Bay Needs a Public Bank 

Volunteers with Public Bank East Bay (PBEB) have spent recent months encouraging the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to set aside $216,000 to fund a business plan for public banking (a pittance, when compared to Alameda’s $3 billion-plus annual budget). 

The business plan would present a blueprint for the bank, spelling out how it will be funded and who will serve on the board to oversee its operations. The state’s Department of Business Oversight then will be able to issue a charter creating the bank. The PBEB proposal has been crafted by a "nationally recognized banking attorney who has written more than 200 bank business plans." 

In May, State Senator Nancy Skinner (whose district covers much of the East Bay) sent a letter to the Alameda Board of Supervisors and County Treasurer Henry Levy, strongly urging action on the business plan. Skinner has proposed that the county provide the initial start-up funds as a loan to be paid back when the public bank is finally up and running. 

More Information: PBEB meetings are held at 2044 Franklin Street, Oakland. Friends of the Public Bank of Oakland is located at 4114 39th Avenue, Oakland, Ca 94619. contact@publicbankeastbay.org

Who's That at the Window? 

This week, the occupants of ActivSpace, an artist/entrepreneur workspace on Berkeley's Seventh Street received a note that maintenance crews on a "scissor lift" would be upgrading windows on the block-long, three-story building. The official notice ended with the following advice. 

Things you may do: 


  • Wave and say hi
  • Use the workers as character reference for your art
Things not to do: 



  • Challenge them to a break-dancing competition
  • Slowly opening and closing the blinds while making intense eye contact

Arts & Events

Stunning Shostakovich 8th Symphony

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Sunday June 02, 2019 - 11:01:00 AM

Dmitri Shostakovich may be at one and the same time both the most intensely political composer and the most intensely personal. In so much of his music – symphonies, trios, string quartets, operas – Shostakovich wrote musical meditations on the life of his country, the Soviet Union, and in doing so he also meditated upon his own difficulties in coming to grips with the political realities of his era, the Stalin years. Born in 1906, Shostakovich came of age after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. At age eighteen, he wrote his Symphony No. 1, presenting it as his graduation piece at the Leningrad Conservatory. With this success, Shostakovich burst on the scene as a much-heralded Soviet composer.  

Over the ensuing years, Shostakovich’s reputation waxed and waned several times over, as he often ran afoul of the Soviet cultural watchdogs. Having been accused of formalism, Shostakovich ‘rehabilitated’ himself with his immensely popular 5th Symphony. Then, in 1941, he won acclaim for his 7th Symphony, a paean of praise to the citizens of Leningrad who withstood the brutal Nazi siege in World War II. However, when in 1943 Shostakovich followed this triumph with his 8th Symphony, many listeners were puzzled. What was Shostakovich saying in this anguished score? The answer, it would seem, is that Shostakovich was here meditating upon all that the war – and the years of Stalinist dictatorship, with its gulags, purges, and horrors – had cost the Russian people and Shostakovich himself.  

In performances Thursday through Saturday, May 30-June 1, the San Francisco Symphony presented Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 8 in C minor led by guest conductor Juraj Valčhua. Composed in mid-war 1943, the 8th Symphony is a vast panorama of the political and the personal. Almost miraculously, it’s all here in the music. It begins with a Fate motive, ominous and foreboding. There follows immediately a touchingly gentle melody in the violins, a momentary breath of fresh air. Then, as the Adagio, a 30-minute opening movement, develops, all hell breaks loose. There is military music, piercing screams from oboes and clarinets, a lovely English horn solo (beautifully performed by Russ deLuna), trumpet blasts, and more. 

Then there is a set of three marches – the first heroic or mock-heroic; the second a scherzo march with a forlorn piccolo solo (ably performed by Cathy Payne); and the third a march dominated by an elongated ostinato. I love the audacity with which Shostakovich keeps this rhythmic ostinato going and going, ever changing the instruments that perpetuate this relentless machine of sound and fury. And, like Shakespeare’s “sound and fury,” this ostinato may well be “signifying nothing,” the absolute senselessness of war and political brutality.  

Then the mood shifts, as the fourth movement, a Largo, offers a mournful, brooding sadness that is almost funereal, yet contains a suggestion of renewed life. And, finally, there is a shift from C minor to C Major, as the final movement begins to assert a tentative triumph over all the tragedy one has undergone earlier. Moreover, in this finale there are multiple false climaxes, big and brassy, yet the true mood established by Shostakovich in the end is one of quiet acceptance, as life goes on. It is a remarkable ending to a thoroughly remarkable symphony, and under the direction of Juraj Valčhua the San Francisco Symphony did this Shostakovich 8th Symphony proud. 

In the first half of this program, concertmaster Alexander Barantschik was the soloist in Johann Sebastian Bach’s Violin Concerto in E Major, BWV 1042. Barantschik is in his element in Bach’s music; and he may never have sounded better than in this concerto. His tone, which in some recent performances has occasionally sounded thin, was here plangent throughout. If Barantschik and conductor Valčhua tended to race through the two outer movements of this Bach concerto, they slowed everything down beautifully in the dreamy, middle Adagio. All told, this was a lively opener for a concert dominated by the stunning Shostakovich 8th Symphony. 


Theater Review & Preview of Festival--'Orphelin 2.0' by Effervescent Théâtre de la Feuille of Hong Kong at the Ongoing San Francisco International Arts Festival

Ken Bullock
Friday May 31, 2019 - 10:22:00 AM

A bright, energetic theater troupe from Hong Kong, Théâtre de la Feuille, performed their own updated version of the ancient Chinese story 'The Orphan of Zhao' with brilliant mime and acrobatic ensemble work, all in the service of a fine, crystalized sense of storytelling, to open the first full weekend of two for the San Francisco International Arts Festival at Fort Mason on San Francisco's northern waterfront. 

Performing at the Cowell Theater, situated on the Bay waters, just one of the Festival's venues, Théâtre de la Feuille's five member ensemble--Suen Chi Hung, Lai Cheung Leong, Wang Yao, Li Tengfei and Liao Shuyi--accompanied by an onstage musician--Heidi Law; music design by Fung Chin Lung--fleshed out the story of the destruction of the Zhao clan, leaving only infant Zhao Wu, concealed and mentored by loyal Zhao retainer Cheng Ying, until he confronts his family's murderer years later. 

'The Orphan of Zhao' by playwright Junxiang Ji was originally staged as "Chinese Opera" during the Yuan era of the 13th century, based on chronicles from the Han Dynasty (Second Century, BCE to Second Century, CE). It was the first Chinese play to be translated into European languages, including English, during the 18th century. Voltaire based his play 'Orphelin' on it. Théâtre de la Feuille has adapted Ji's play, taking into account contradictory variants of the ancient tale, as well as its European Enlightenment vogue, so--'Orphelin 2.0.' 

'The Orphan of Zhao' has been called "the Chinese Hamlet," from the revenge theme, the suicidal thoughts of Cheng Ying--and a subplot of incestuous love between brother and sister inlaws that sparks the bloodletting. 

It was moving to hear Hamlet's Soliloquy delivered in Chinese by the Cheng Ying character--and exciting to watch the ensemble acrobatics depicting childbirth, massacres, concealment--and finally a splendid triumphal human juggernaut parading through the theater. 

Watching the troupe, it seemed both very much a modern Chinese adaptation of a classic, with nods to classic Chinese theatrical forms, but also having the particular condensed elegance of modern French mime. I learned later that their excellent director, Ata Wong Chun Tat, studied at L'Ecole Internationale de Mime et de Théâtre in Paris, gathering classmates there of different backgrounds from Hong Kong and around China to form the company.  

Jacques Lecoq, founder of the School, was initiated in theater by members of Jacques Copeau's family theater company, one of the original modern European theater troupes. Copeau's collaborator Charles Dullin's own Théâtre de L'Atelier was the laboratory for Corporeal Mime and also fostered Antonin Artaud. Copeau's theater was the inspiration for Jerzy Grotowski's concept of the Poor Theater. 

(And the 18th century Jesuit translations of Chinese plays, as well as the techniques of Chinese Opera, inspired Brecht's Epic Theater--and Théâtre de la Feuille's spectacle certainly had an epic theatrical sense with its historical sweep, yet attention to a compact milieu of central characters amid the great events.) 

I hope this gifted troupe returns soon to the Bay Area. 

But the Festival has more to show in all the performing arts, as well as in panels and symposia on art and social issues, to promote its theme this year, "the Path to Democracy," with scores of both local and visiting international artists, sometimes in collaboration. 

In theater, the Festival just announced the confirmation of the appearance this weekend of Prague's Spitfire Theater, after the cancellations of Canada's Compagnie Virginie Brunelle and Syria's Collective Ma'louba, due to last minute visa denials by the US State Department. 

Spitfire will perform their masked play 'Antiwords,' described as a creative reimagining of Vaclav Havel's famous play, 'Audience,' Thursday at 9:30, Saturday at 7:30 and Sunday at 7, at the Southside Theater, Building D, Fort Mason, with a special workshop held at the ACT Studio, Sunday at 1 o'clock. Performance tickets $15-$28. 

For information and tickets, check the Festival website: https://www.sfiaf.org/ or call (415) 433-6988

Spectacular Eifman Ballet from St. Petersburg at Zellerbach Friday to Sunday

Ken Bullock
Friday May 31, 2019 - 10:21:00 AM

Cal Performances closes its 2018-19 season by featuring the spectacular Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg with 'The Pygmalion Effect,' four performances from Friday at 8 through Saturday (2 & 8) to Sunday at 3. 

Boris Eifman, who founded the Leningrad Ballet Ensemble in 1977, and has premiered over 50 shows, has created a new piece from the old Pygmalion story, this time of a ballroom dancer challenged to "sculpt" a clumsy young woman into a virtuoso dancer, set to the music of Johann Strauss, Junior. 

Eifman's work has been characterized as based in classical Russian ballet, expressed with great theatricality, using stunning effects like acrobatic pas de deux. 

Tickets: $36-$135 (half price tickets available for UC students) Info: calperformances.org  

Eifman's website: www.eifmanballet/ru/en/

Vilde Frang Performs Elgar’s Violin Concerto

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday May 31, 2019 - 10:24:00 AM

Young Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang, who debuted in San Francisco in 2014 with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, returned to Davies Hall for three performances, Thursday-Saturday, May 23-5, with the San Francisco Symphony led by guest conductor Krzysztof Urbanski. I attended the Saturday, May 25 performance. Vilde Frang was featured as soloist in Edward Elgar’s Violin Concerto in B minor, Opus 61 (1910). For some reason, this concerto is rarely heard. It has only been performed here twice: once in 1985, and again in 1998, both times with Pinchas Zukerman as soloist. Though bursting with Romantic lyricism, it is also fiendishly difficult.  

In composing this work, Elgar consulted with violinist William H. Reed, whose advice the composer sought on technical concerns. Much of the time, the soloist must play against an orchestra playing forte. When the soloist’s part is at or near the top of the violin’s register, this makes it difficult, though not impossible, for the solo violin to be heard. Vilde Frang made the best of these difficult moments, though where she really shone was in passages that featured her gorgeous tone in the low register of her 1864 instrument by Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume.  

A work in three movements, Elgar’s Violin Concerto opens with a lengthy orchestral introduction. When the soloist eventually enters, uncharacteristically, on the introduction’s closing bars, the solo violin simply completes the phrase begun in the orchestra. Immediately, however, the solo violin begins to introduce a wealth of new material. Beginning quietly, the soloist, here Vilde Frang, gradually heats up the music in a stormy development, but then she slows everything down as she initiates a more melancholy mood. Throughout this movement, there is interesting give-and-take between orchestra and soloist. In this regard, conductor Urbanski and soloist Frang seemed totally in synch. Vilde Frang negotiated the more vigorous passages with intensity of focus and technical aplomb. 

The second movement, a slow Andante, is set in B-flat Major. Though the music opens quietly, the soloist speeds things up, while the dynamics remain soft. A sudden virtuoso leap was brilliantly performed by Vilde Frang. This leap, unexpect-edly wild, recurs a second time, now introduced by a subtle use of Wagner’s famed “Tristan chord.” But the coda returns to a quiet, hushed tone.  

The third and final movement, marked Allegro molto, is where, against tradition, Elgar chose to give the soloist a cadenza. Even here, however, Elgar goes against the grain, for cadenzas are usually unaccompanied, while Elgar has written a cadenza accompagnata. Moreover, the cadenza is marked Lento, or Slow. In this cadenza Vilde Frang was at her best. Her ravishing tone in the low register shone forth in lush, lyrical passages. There was virtuosity galore, but it was generally unobtrusive virtuosity, subtly integrated with the moments of light orchestral accompaniment. Once the cadenza is concluded, the movement takes off once again in Allegro molto tempo and surges forward to a brilliant conclusion, last expressed in the horns. 

Opening the concert, in a switch from the printed program, was Grazyna Bacewicz’s Overture (1943). Never having heard any of Bacewicz’s music before, I was struck by the prominent, almost stridently insistent use of the brass section that I found somewhat surprising, indeed, almost disconcerting, in a work by a Polish composer written in 1943, a brutal year for World War II Poland. One might admire the pluck of this female Polish composer who strikes an optimistic note in the face of tragedy, but I for one found more enjoyment in the quiet use of woodwinds than in the composer’s repeatedly belligerent writing for brass.  

After intermission, Krzysztof Urbanski led the orchestra in Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 in A Major, Opus 90, Italian, written in 1833. Urbanski has an elegant conducting style. With baton in his right hand, he beats the time. With his left hand he directs all the nuances, singling out individual sections or soloists, or, conversely, calling for broad sweeping gestures from the orchestra as a whole. Now returning here for the third time, Krzysztof Urbanski seems to have established a fine rapport with the Symphony orchestra, who react favorably to his elegant, slightly reserved conducting style. Their rendition of Mendelssohn’s much loved Fourth Symphony was a delight. I especially enjoyed the way the various brass instruments (trombone, horn, and trumpet) echo one another at several moments in the first movement. Likewise, I loved the introduction by softly played woodwinds that opens the final movement. All told, a fine concert full of music both unfamiliar and familiar, all performed with aplomb. 

The Berkeley Activist's Calendar:
Berkeley Public Meetings and Civic Events for June 2 - 8, 2019

Sunday June 02, 2019 - 11:04:00 AM

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Berkeley Historical Society presents --"Yeasty Times, the Experimental School Program"-- from 3-5 pm, at 1931 Center St. Moderated by Joanne Tien and with an expert panel discussion. Free admission and for more information --see:



The 16th Berkeley World Music Festival, noon – 8 pm, at People’s Park and throughout Telegraph Ave.; and Sunday Streets provides dance areas, crafts, with children’s activities each day, --see:


Roses in Bloom -an Acoustical Series, from 3 – 5 pm at the Rose Garden.


Monday, June 3, 2019  

Tax the Rich Rally, with music by Occupella, 5–6 pm at the Top of Solano Ave in front of the closed Oaks Theater. Rain cancels event. 

Peace and Justice Commission, at 7 pm at 2180 Milvia St, 1st Floor Cypress Room, on Agenda-Items: #8-On City Socially Responsible Investments and Procurement; #9-Possible BUSD Appointments; #11- On action for Sanctuary Community Working Group; #13- On Support to ban a Facial Recognition System; #15-On the Adeline Corridor Plan; --see: 


Public Works Commission-Street Lighting Subcommittee, from Noon-1:30 pm at 1947 Center St., on agenda: Review of 5-Year Paving Plan; --see: 




Public Safety Committee, from 10:30-Noon, at 2180 Milvia St.,1st Floor, Cypress Room. On Agenda, items: #2-Review BPD Stop-Data Collection Policy uses; #3-To develop alternative code compliance measures for non-traditional live/work space. #4- Recommend a public Outdoor Warning System & holistic emergency alert plan;--see: 




Tuesday, June 4, 2019 

Personnel Board, from 7–9 pm, at 2180 Milvia, 6th Floor Redwood Conference Room, no agenda posted. Contact 981-6800. --see: 


Wednesday, June 5, 2019 

Homeless Services Panel, from 7– 9 pm, at 2180 Milvia, 1st Floor Cypress Rm. On agenda, item #5- Q& A on overview of Berkeley’s Homeless Services System; Updates on TNC Objects on Sidewalks; and implementation of the RV ordinance. --see: 


Commission on Disability, from 6:30–9 pm at 1326 Allston, Bldg A, Willow Room. On Agenda: #2.San Pablo Ave Plan, #5. Homeless concerns & #6. RV parking, --see: 




Planning Commission, from 7–10 pm, at the South Berkeley Senior Center 2939 Ellis. Agenda: the Adeline Corridor Specific Plan,--see: 





Thursday, June 6, 2019 

Medical Cannibis Commission, from 2-4 pm, at 2180 Milvia St., Redwood Room. No agenda posted. Call 981-7484 for info, --see: 


Facilities, Infrastructure,Transportation, Environment,& Sustainability (FITES) Committee, at 2 pm, at 

2180 Milvia St., 6th Flr, Redwood Rm. On agenda, item: #2. Adopt new code to prohibit natural gas in future development projects, #3.Transition to Zero-Emission Refuse Trucks, #4.Recommending a Fossil-Fuel Free Berkeley, --see: 




Public Works Commission, from 7–10 pm at 1326 Allston Way, Willow Room, City of Berkeley Corporation Yard. - No Agenda posted; check before going.--See: 


Landmarks Preservation Commission, from 7–11pm, at 1947 Center St, in Multipurpose Room, Basement. On agenda:
- 1581 LeRoy Ave, for consideration (& exterior alterations Hillside School)
- 1915-Fourth St., Structural & exterior alterations (Spenger's Fish Grotto)
- 1440 Hawthorne Terrace, designation for Marsh House and gardens 

- 1450 Hawthorne Terrace, designation for Sperry-McLaughlin House and gardens 

- 1690 Walnut Ave., designation for Las Casitas Apt.Bldg. 

- 2526 Hawthorne Terrace, designation for G&E Blood residence.
- and, to review Adeline Corridor Specific Plan and Draft EIR. --See:



Land Use and Housing & Economic Development Committee meeting -- Cancelled -- (was to be 10:30-Noon, at 2180 Milvia, 1st Floor Cypress Rm.) --See: 


Housing Advisory Commission, from 7-10 pm, at 2939 Ellis, South Berkeley Senior Center, on agenda: 

#6. Affordable Housing preference policies, #7. Review of Adeline Corridor Specific Plan. --See: 


Friday, June 7, 2019 - No City meetings or events listed. 

Saturday, June 8, 2019  

KidChella - Music in the Park, Saturday, from 3-5 pm, at Willard Park, 2730 Hillegass Ave. With Purple Fox and the Heebie Jeebies - a fun funky, rockin' reggae band from Silicon Valley.

Sunday, June 9, 2019 - No City meetings or events listed. 

* * * 

Worth Noting 

-- Much of the significant public action in city admim policy is taking place at the City Council Committee meetings which are scheduled and held during the daytime. The Minutes from these Council Committee meetings are very brief and not well detailed and often posted very late (or not at all). Also none of these City Council Committee meetings have an audio or video recorded documentation for our public access. We need to demand responsible transparency and access to this public information. 

-- The Adeline Corridor Specific Plan (Draft Plan) and Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) are available for review and comment at <https://www.cityofberkeley.info/AdelineCorridor/

and to enter public comment, send email to: <adelinecorridor@cityofberkeley.info> on or before July 1, 2019, 5:00 pm. 

The next community public meeting on the ACS Plan is at: 

- Planning Commission - June 5, from 7– 10 pm at the South Berkeley Senior Center, 2939 Ellis. 

-- The Berkeley Neighborhoods Council's June-16 community forum on "Opportunity Zones" (is cancelled) to be rescheduled. BNC will announce when this forum will re-schedule at the next BNC meeting on June 8. Please join the conversation and attend that meeting. See: http://berkeleyneighborhoodscouncil.com/ 

-- KidChella - Music in the Park, Saturday, June 22 from 3-5 pm, Live Oak Park, 1301 Shattuck Ave. with 

Asheba, a musical storyteller who specializes in calypso, the musical and folkloric oral tradition of Trinidad. 


Land Use 

Public Hearings Scheduled – Land Use Appeals 

Notice of Decision (NOD) With End of Appeal Period 

- 2325 Sixth St (Single-family residence) – 6-5-2019 

- 2072 Addison (eliminate off-street parking) – 6-5-2019 

Remanded to ZAB or LPC With 90-Day Deadline 

- 1155-73 Hearst (develop 2 parcels) – referred back to City Council – to be scheduled 

- 2701 Shattuck Ave (construct 5-story mixed-use building) – ZAB 6-30-2019 


- June 18 –Green Stormwater Infrastructure, Mandatory and Recommended Green Stormwater Infrastructure in New and Existing Redevelopments or Projects (Policy Committee), Council Budget and Strategic Plan Procedures 

- Sept 17 – Arts and Culture Plan, Zero Waste Rate Review, Adeline Corridor Plan 

- Oct 22 – Berkeley’s 2020 Vision Update, Census 2020 Update, Short Term Rentals 

- Nov 5 - Transfer Station Feasibility Study, Vision Zero Action Plan, 

- Dec. 5 – Measure T1 Update 

- Unscheduled – Cannabis Health Considerations workshop 


- June 11 – tentative EBMUD presentation, tba. 

- Explore Grant-Writing Services from Specialized Municipal Grant-Writing Firms. 

* * * 

This *Sustainable Berkeley Coalition civic meetings calendar is posted on the SBC website at and it is also available at the Facebook pages for **Berkeley Progressive Alliance (BPA) and for Berkeley Citizens Action (BCA). 

Also, visit the (BNC) Berkeley Neighborhoods Council Newsletter link for information on City and community issues at