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An Off-Color History: How The Color of Law Misrepresents
The Origins of Racial Segregation

Richard Walker
Monday June 17, 2019 - 05:09:00 PM

Richard Rothstein's Color of Law[1] has made quite a splash and is widely praised for its no-holds barred look at American racism. Rothstein has toured the country lecturing about the book, has been interviewed on National Public Radio and other outlets many times, and has been widely praised and cited by mainstream liberals – and even some on the left.

Rothstein is correct to attack the systematic racism that has long plagued this country and to lay bare the way our cities have been racially segregated – and continue to be to this day. This is not exactly news, but it is an important truth that bears repeating for every generation. So, to the extent that it helps educate the young and especially white Americans about certain harsh realities, The Color of Law serves a good purpose. This country's sorry record on race needs to be aired as an essential part of our urban history.

On the other hand, Rothstein is wrong in ways that mislead readers about the causes and course of racial segregation. His errors of theory and fact seriously undermine the value of the book as a work of historiography and are a disservice to progressive politics today. Indeed, Rothstein ends up bolstering conservative positions on several fronts, starting with the idea that racism is not a structural element of US civil society and that government is the problem not the solution. Whatever his good intentions, Rothstein's dubious scholarship has some very bad, if unintended, consequences. 

Rothstein's central argument – as stated in the subtitle of the book – is that the federal government imposed the modern racial order on this country in the 20th century, particularly residential segregation. The first fundamental error of this thesis is that it underestimates the power of White Supremacy as the ruling order of the United States from its foundation. Rothstein spends precious little time on the history of white dominance over American society and how it was imposed in the 18th and 19th centuries, with and without the aid of governments. The racial order of this country goes back to the colonial era and has been reinforced again and again by people of European heritage looking to strengthen and defend White Privilege. They have done so by keeping people of color – natives, Africans, Asians, and Latins – "in their place" economically, legally and geographically. 

Rothstein could be forgiven for not replaying the history of racism in the US to concentrate on the 20th century, if he did not commit the sin of blithely dismissing the theory of "structural racism" derived from years of study of American history by race scholars.[2] In its place he favors a purely legal theory of de jure racial segregation (p. xv). This approach naively reproduces prevailing legal doctrine that harkens back to Classical Liberalism, in which law is the foundation of the modern social order and that order is arrived at through a "social contract".[3] This is the origin myth of bourgeois political theory, but it bears little relation to the reality of how modern state power has been constructed over the centuries. 

Here lies Rothstein's second fundamental error, his theory that the state establishes the rules and civil society follows along. It is not news that US law and government have helped to impose and support a racist order, including racial segregation; this has been a normal function of the American state for three centuries. The US Constitution, for example, included the 3/5ths rule for counting slaves and the federal government backed fugitive slave laws. But why did this happen? Because the politics of the time were deeply influenced by the power of southern planters, supported by northern merchants and a large percentage of the white people, south and north. It took years of abolitionist agitation, slave struggles and a Civil War to change that. Then, after a brief period of Reconstruction when the federal government supported black freedom and political rights, the southern landowners and their henchmen reinstituted black subordination throughout the states of the Old South. Bucking the racial order has been the exception, not the rule, of American governance. 

Do states just make up the rules and then impose them on a reluctant people? No, laws, agencies and the whole apparatus of the state did not burst full-born like Athena from the head of Zeus; they were put in place piece by piece along with the development of modern capitalist societies and racial orders.[4] In the process, they have mostly conformed to the existing social order and the will of the powerful who dominate civil society – unless they are seriously challenged from below. Indeed, class systems and racial orders require states to back them up through law, regulation, policing and terror, or else the repressed may rise up and return the favor. At one point, Rothstein observes that, "Without our government's purposeful imposition of racial segregation, other [private] causes...would have [had] far less opportunity for expression." (p. viii). That is most certainly true, but that is precisely why all governments are called upon by private actors to enforce their preferences. Civil powers alone aren't enough. 

There are, of course, dirigiste states that lord over civil society and dictatorships where a small clique uses the state for its own ends. But the U.S. is not Russia or Zimbabwe. Rothstein completely misunderstands how government works in the United States and how state policy relates to private power. American government is famously "federalist", meaning that it splits power between the federal government and the states, the states and local governments, and among a slew of local governments: counties, municipalities, and special districts. Furthermore, political representation is based geographically, so that, as Tip O'Neill famously said, "All politics is local". The virtue of US federalism is the way it makes government accessible and dispersed; the drawback is that it puts the state at every level in the thrall of parochial interests and local power structures. So if, in fact, American society is racist, then we would expect that governments from the local to the federal would be likely to represent the prevailing racial order. 

Thus, in the end, Rothstein achieves the opposite of what he apparently sets out to do. Instead of indicting America's racial order, he lets White Supremacy off the hook for its foul deeds. 

And by putting the blame chiefly on the state, he bolsters the long-standing conservative case against government (and liberal policy makers) as the cause of social malfunction. The upshot of bad history is that Rothstein ends up blaming mostly the wrong people – federal policy makers – rather than the wealthy and the capitalists who actually rule this country and its many levels of governments. This plays right into the hands of Fox News and conservative ideologues.[5] 

Rothstein's wrongheaded approach undergirds the detailed history of 20th century housing policies that fills the bulk of The Color of Law. Again, his primary target is the federal government and the ways it enabled and even imposed segregation on localities in the 20th century. It is undeniable that federal promotion of zoning, mortgage guarantees and public housing mostly lined up with the prevailing practices of racial segregation and reinforced them in important ways, given the powerful reach of the feds and their money. But Rothstein's idea that this was imposed on reluctant localities is ludicrous. 

This is not just a theoretical difference; Rothstein's empirics are faulty because he has to twist the facts to fit a bad theory. In order to makes the case that the federal government imposed residential segregation, he cherry-picks examples of government agencies refusing to approve projects where white liberals were willing to live with black families or white developers wanted to build integrated housing. Yes, there were such instances, but they are notable precisely for being exceptional efforts to break through the color line. 

In reality, the record of urban politics in the 20th century shows white people and their leaders getting the segregation they wanted with the help of local, state and federal governments. Not only were laws and regulations written and enforced with white preferences in mind, the consequences of governments not going along were clear. If whites didn't get the segregated neighborhoods they wanted, they were quick to protest, riot and resort to violence. Rothstein notes a few such cases but passes over them too glibly.[6] 

Furthermore, in telling the story of law and residential segregation, one cannot begin with public housing and zoning without first grasping the prior history of deed covenants, racial exclusion, and use restrictions reaching back to the 19th century, and without taking into account the power of the real estate industry as it developed in the early 20th century. Not only was racial segregation not new by the 1930s, it favored by upper class home owners and seen as the best business for an important sector of capital. 

Deed covenants go back to the 1880s and grew out of the common law of nuisance. They were the first major way of protecting white and upper-class property from the intrusion of immigrants, industry and people of color. Covenants were built into the first large-scale developments of the 1900s and 1910s, such as Roland Park in Baltimore, the Country Club District in Kansas City, and St. Francis Woods in San Francisco. These were the work of the first "community builders", as Marc Weiss has dubbed them, who founded the powerful National Association of Real Estate Boards (NAREB), backed better planning, zoning and subdivision rules, and later created the Urban Institute. Most houses built before the 1960s still have such covenants on their deeds, even if they are now unenforceable.[7] 

Zoning goes back even farther. The first racially-targeted land use restrictions, which were aimed at the exclusion of Chinese laundries, appeared in the 1860s in Modesto and San Francisco. The reason developers and their upper class customers turned to zoning in the early 20th century was that deed covenants proved to be too piecemeal to protect their territories of privilege effectively. The first zoning laws were explicitly racial, but that was overturned by the US Supreme Court in 1917. It was only after the court, in the Euclid v Ambler decision of 1926, said that zoning was not an unfair taking of private property that the new, improved system of spatial ordering became universal among city governments.[8] 

The Euclid decision points to another reason for separating industry, workers, pollution and other undesirables from the neighborhoods of the upper classes. Covenants and zoning were meant to protect class privilege, the single-family home and, above all, real estate values. Rothstein is wrong to dismiss these as mere excuses for racial segregation. He underestimates the power of America's commercial culture and the way the homes serve financial purposes of property owners. Not only are developers keen on profiting from land value appreciation, home owners always have one eye on house prices.[9] 

Nearly everyone of importance in city-building and public policy in the early 20th century agreed on the desireability of racial segregation, whether it was from outright racism, for keeping the peace or upholding land values.[10] It wasn't just "white folks" in general but the entire real estate industry leading the way: bankers, builders, and brokers, plus all the supporting cast of architects, landscape architects, civil engineers, lawyers, and urban planners. Even the most progressive of urban reformers, such as Catherine Bauer, Clarence Stein, and Henry Wright, tolerated racial segregation in housing and urban development.[11] 

The consequence of this consensus was that when the New Deal policies of public housing, mortgage rescues and federal mortgage insurance came along in the 1930s, they were following in a long-established tradition of racial segregation; they did not invent it. Furthermore, the laws creating key programs like the Home Owners' Loan Corporation (HOLC), the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) were passed (and written) with the help of NAREB and the mortgage banking industry. The chief economist of NAREB, Homer Hoyt, wrote the regulations for the FHA that included redlining as a means of minimizing risk for lenders and investors. As Weiss has observed: "Since the mandate was to stabilize homeownership and reduce long-term insurance risk from a purely financial and actuarial perspective, redlining made economic sense, even if it was immoral as social policy".[12] 

I have a further objection to The Color of Law in that Rothstein treats the New Deal as if Franklin Roosevelt and the New Dealers were just another bunch of racist white folks and that's all there is to it. The book even features FDR in the frontispiece, portraying him as central to the story of American racism. This is nonsense and a serious misrepresentation of the New Deal and what it tried to do for Americans. To begin with, most New Deal leaders, including Harold Ickes, Frances Perkins, Harry Hopkins and Eleanor Roosevelt, were profoundly anti-racist, and they made serious efforts to defy white supremacy and segregation. Moreover, they were pretty much the first federal officials to do so since Lincoln and Reconstruction. 

As a result, many New Deal programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Works Progress Administration (WPA) and public housing (under the Public Works Administration and the US Housing Administration) were not segregated at the beginning. The CCC, for one, was gradually forced to segregate its camps due to local pressure from southern and rural communities. The WPA built thousands of integrated recreation facilities, including swimming pools, and there is ample photographic evidence of integrated WPA work teams, especially in service projects like sewing rooms, classrooms and clinics. The CCC and WPA employed over a million African Americans and other people of color, who were paid the same regardless of race. The New Dealers were well aware of the plight of African Americans and targeted them with programs for farm loans, housing, schooling and more. It is especially galling that Rothstein starts his book with an attack on public housing, which the New Deal tried to build in quantity for the first time in US history and which provided tens of thousands of new homes for people of color. Public housing has always been a pariah in American politics and Rothstein plays right into that prejudice.[13] 

Needless to say, Roosevelt the man is not the same as the New Deal as a whole, and he should be judged on his own. FDR was a consummate politician who read the tenor of the times better than almost anyone else and was remarkably concerned about the plight of common people. He was neither racist nor particularly anti-racist (much to Eleanor's chagrin). Two of his worst decisions were the failure to back a federal anti-lynching law in the mid 1930s and the internment order for Japanese Americans in 1942. The former caved to Southern opinion to hold together the Democratic coalition in Congress and the latter to anti-Japanese sentiment and war hysteria on the West Coast. Roosevelt should be judged harshly on both counts, but this neither negates all his other contributions nor does it make the New Deal part of the seamless web of White Supremacy. [14] 

To be sure, the New Deal was not the Civil Rights movement – which came a generation later – but nor was it just a handmaiden to the US racial order of the time. It tried to buck that order in many cases and fell in line with it in others; an overall judgement is neither black nor white. But to condemn it from a position of juridical purity is ahistorical and misleading. While the New Deal's racial policies were seriously flawed, they played a significant role in nurturing the roots of the black liberation to come.[15] 

The upshot of Rothstein's perverse "hidden history" is a very public shaming of the New Deal, its leaders and its policies. This, too, conforms to popular conservative ideology that denigrates one of the most progressive moments in American history and government.[16] Instead of this kind of whitewash, it is important to revisit the history of New Deal policies to see how and why it went wrong on race in cases such as Social Security, the National Labor Relations Act and housing policy, while still doing a great deal of good for ordinary Americans. Overall, the New Deal should be remembered as the time of the greatest federal effort in American history to support working people – millions of whom were not white. 

A final complaint against Rothstein is that he only talks about racism in black and white, as if other people of color have not been its victims. It is a very East Coast view. Seen from the West Coast, the racial order has looked much different, and it was just as vicious in targeting Chinese, Japanese and Filipinos, among others. Rothstein may be correct that, overall, African Americans have suffered the most from White Supremacy, but one could give a good counter argument from the point of view of the genocide of native peoples. There is really no excuse for Rothstein's dismissive statement that "government-organized discrimination and even segregation of other groups, including Hispanics, Chinese and Japanese ...was of a lesser degree." (p. 233). The lack of a single mention of Asians, Chinese, or Indians/Native Americans in the index of The Color of Law is telling.[17] 

I want to end on the key point of where social change and racial progress comes from. The Color of Law is meant to educate us about the past, but in the end leaves us ignorant of how politics and power really work – which leaves us unable to see how to make the future look different. American racism and the racial order are not an unmovable barrier and they have been pushed back considerably since the middle of the 20th century. How was that done? Not by correcting the erroneous legal reasoning of the Supreme Court, as Rothstein seems to think. The final chapter of the book on "fixes" for segregation is all about law and policy, but taking those in isolation just won't do the job. 

Major social change never comes without a fight and massive popular struggles that have brought about improvements in the conditions of working people and people of color over time. That is how the Civil Right movement arose in the interwar period and finally triumphed in the realm of law and policy in the 1960s, after years of hard work and mobilization. Good policies can help, of course, as they did during the New Deal or the 1960s, but a fundamental social revolution against White Supremacy can only come through political upheaval and conflict, led from below. Rothstein has almost nothing to say about any of that. 

[1] Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. New York: WW Norton. 2017
[2] Where to start? Some of my favorites are WEB Dubois, 1935. Black Reconstruction. New York: Atheneum Press; St. Clair Drake and Horace Cayton. 1970. Black Metropolis; A Study Of Negro Life In A Northern City. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World; Robert Blauner, 1972. Racial Oppression in America. New York: Harper and Row; Michael Omi and Howard Winant. 1986. Racial Formation in the United States. New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul; and Audrey Smedley. 1993. Race in North America: Origin and Evolution of a Worldview. Boulder: Westview Press.
[3] See e.g., John Rawls, 1971. A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
[4] For an interesting discussion of this, see Migdal, Joel. 2001. State in Society: Studying How States and Societies Transform and Constitute One Another. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
[5] For a progressive analysis of segregation, see George Lipsitz. 2011. How Racism Takes Place. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
[6] For a good new history of residential segregation, see Andrea Gibbons, 2018. City of Segregation: One Hundred Years of Struggle for Housing in Los Angeles. London: Verso.
[7] On covenants, see Robert Fogelson, 2005. Bourgeois Nightmares: Suburbia, 1870-1930. New Haven: Yale University Press. On NAREB, see Marc Weiss, 1987. The Rise of the Community Builders: The American Real Estate Industry and Urban Land Planning. New York: Columbia University Press; Jeffrey Hornstein, 2005. A Nation of Realtors: A Cultural History of the Twentieth-Century American Middle Class. Durham: Duke University Press.
[8] On zoning, see Sonia Hirt, 2014. Zoned in the USA: The Origins and Implications of American Land-Use Regulation. Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press.
[9] To say this is not to dismiss the power of White racism but to say that it was not the only force at work in the spatial ordering of US cities. One urban historian who understands both the racial and the financial side of segregation, even for working class home owners, is David Freund, 2007. Colored Property: State Policy and White Racial Politics in Suburban America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
[10] The economic rationality of racial segregation and land use regulation was backed by the best land economists of the time, led by Richard Ely. Marc Weiss, 1989. Richard T. Ely and the contribution of economic research to national housing policy, 1920-1940. Urban Studies. 26: 115-126.
[11] Thanks to Marc Weiss for pointing this out to me in a personal communication, March 20, 2019.
[12] Weiss, personal communication, March 18, 2019. See especially Weiss, 1987. The Community Builders.

[13] For further evidence of New Deal inclusion, see the work of The Living New Deal project at: https://livingnewdeal.org/what-was-the-new-deal/new-deal-inclusion/ 

[14] On dealing with the Southern Democrats, see Katznelson, Ira. 2013. Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation. On anti-Japanese agitation, see Roger Daniels, 1977. The Politics of Prejudice: The Anti-Japanese Movement in California and the Struggle for Japanese Exclusion. Berkeley: University of California Press.
[15] Thomas Sugrue, 2008. Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North. New York: Random House.  

[16] A good example of using bad historical revisionism to disparage the New Deal is Amity Shlaes, 2007. The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression. New York: HarperCollins.
17] On California's racial order, a good starting point is Tomas Almaguer, 1994. Racial Fault Lines: The Historical Origins of White Supremacy in California. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Richard Walker is Professor Emeritus of Geography at the University of California, Berkeley, and Director of the Living New Deal project. A shorter version of this article appears in Jacobin Magazine as The New Deal Didn't Create Segregation.
Thanks to Rachel Brahinsky and Marc Weiss for feedback on this essay.

Peter Selz (1919-2019)

A.J. Fox
Friday June 21, 2019 - 05:16:00 PM

Peter Selz, the internationally celebrated art historian, professor, and essayist who served as founding director of the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive from 1965 through 1973, passed away early this morning, surrounded by family and friends. He was 100 years old.

“Peter Selz was a remarkable individual whose contributions to BAMPFA, UC Berkeley, and the broader art world are too numerous to count. Over the course of his tenure as our founding director, Peter transformed BAMPFA from a modest university art collection into the internationally renowned art and film institution it is today," said Lawrence Rinder, BAMPFA's director and chief curator. "Generations of Bay Area art lovers have benefited from his insight, knowledge, independence, and boundless energy, and his legacy will reverberate across and beyond our museum for decades to come.”

From his humble beginnings as a Jewish-German immigrant who fled Nazi Germany for the United States in 1936, Selz rose to become one of the most distinguished scholars and curators of the postwar art scene, developing close friendships with some of his generation’s most influential artists—including Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Sam Francis, Christo, and many others. After studying in Paris under a Fulbright scholarship and holding professorships at multiple prestigious universities, Selz moved to New York in 1958 to become the Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art. The position put him at the crux of powerful crosscurrents that were reshaping the New York art scene, from the influence of Abstract Expressionism to the rise of Pop art and Conceptualism. With a restless intellectual curiosity that would come to characterize his curatorial practice, Selz used his platform at MoMA to highlight work by an eclectic range of important artists, mounting influential midcareer surveys of Rothko, Jean Dubuffet, and Alberto Giacometti, among others.

In 1965, Selz accepted an invitation from the University of California to move to Berkeley and become the founding director of the museum that later became BAMPFA. What was then called the University Art Museum was conceived in the early 1960s to showcase the University’s growing art collection, which had recently been transformed by a gift from Hans Hofmann of nearly fifty of the artist’s finest works. As the museum’s first director, Selz was intimately involved in shaping the institution literally from the ground up—from engaging the renowned architect Mario Ciampi to design the iconic modernist building to partnering with the film director and scholar Sheldon Renan to establish the Pacific Film Archive at the heart of the museum’s program.

During his nearly decade-long tenure as founding director, Selz launched the young museum on an ambitious course, more than doubling the size of its collection with the addition of many Old Master, Modern, and contemporary masterworks and mounting massive exhibitions that took full advantage of the museum’s cavernous 100,000-square-foot facility. As his daughter Gabrielle Selz later observed, her father’s curatorial approach in Berkeley defied many of the fashionable art world trends of the 1960s; as the New York art scene deepened its embrace of Pop and Minimalism, the University Art Museum under Selz’s leadership celebrated the emergence of the countercultural Funk art movement with the massively influential group exhibition Funk in 1967. Selz also championed the work of figurative artists like Nathan Oliveira and ceramicists like Peter Voulkos, who went on to great acclaim despite working against the prevailing abstractionist trends of the period. As a professor in UC Berkeley’s art history department, Selz continued to distinguish himself as a scholar and essayist, authoring books and exhibition catalogs on Sam Francis, Ferdinand Hodler, German and Austrian Expressionism, and many other topics.

Selz concluded his tenure as the museum’s director in 1973 but continued to teach at UC Berkeley for more than a decade thereafter, retiring as an emeritus professor in 1988. He remained a major force in the Bay Area art scene even after stepping down as director, curating numerous exhibitions and partnering on projects with civic leaders and artists. Among these were the internationally acclaimed environmental artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, who engaged Selz as the project director of their ambitious installation Running Fence—a 24.5-mile long fabric fence crossing the Marin County hills, which was completed in 1976.

A beloved member of the Bay Area art community through the end of his life, Selz was recently honored with a one hundredth birthday party at BAMPFA on April 2. In what would be his final public appearance, Selz expressed to a large and affectionate audience his sense of optimism about the future of the art world: “I can say there’s a lot of very, very good art being produced now, a lot of surprises … I have felt optimistic about art all my life.”

Selz is survived by his fifth wife, Carole Schemmerling Selz; his daughters Tanya Selz and Gabrielle Selz from his first marriage, to Thalia Cheronis Selz; his stepdaughters Mia Baldwin and Kryssa Schemmerling; and his grandson, Theo Mync.



It's Deja Vu All Over Again

Becky O'Malley
Sunday June 23, 2019 - 09:03:00 AM

The mantra for the current era should be Dorothy Parker’s rumored telephone greeting: “What fresh hell is this?”

Every day the national administration produces a new unbelievable occurrence, most often generated by the guy at the top. The last couple of days, however, have revealed, to my great surprise, that there’s someone in the White House that makes Donald Trump look sane and sober.

That would be John Bolton, who with his henchman Michael Pompeo has been ginning up a war with Iran.

How do I know? Well, it’s that same old script, always good for a remake. The first version, in my youth in the early ‘60s, was the Tonkin Gulf incident, the one where an imaginary battle between a U.S. ship and the North Vietnamese produced, per Wikipedia,“ the passage by Congress of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which granted President Lyndon B. Johnson the authority to assist any Southeast Asian country whose government was considered to be jeopardized by communist aggression. The resolution served as Johnson's legal justification for deploying U.S. conventional forces and the commencement of open warfare against North Vietnam.”

The second bigtime remake was the episode of the WMDs, the Weapons of Mass Destruction, also imaginary, which were used to justify George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. 

This history explains why some of us have been just a wee bit skeptical about the latest Gulf incident, this one in the Gulf of Oman. It’s alleged that a drone was shot down, maybe by Iran, maybe inside or perhaps outside Iranian territory. 

And since nutty John Bolton has made no secret of his desire to crush Iran by any means necessary, suspecting him of producing yet another remake of the same old script only makes sense. 

In any event, some of us who have seen the previous versions of this movie are wondering what we can do this time to change the plot. 

Do we believe that Donald Trump had a sudden attack of common sense, asking if it’s really smart to kill a hundred or so people to avenge downing a drone? And even suggesting that it might just have been a mistake? 

Will wonders never cease? 

When this latest episode first hit the small screens in Berkeley, a veteran organizer wrote to an email list of her peers, including me, that she feared imminent war with Iran, and wondered what we could do to stop it. The responses included the usual suggestions: demonstrate, march, write postcards to legislators, telephone their offices…etc. etc . 

I have the greatest respect for all the women on her list. They range in age from mid-seventies to nineties, and they’ve been opposing war in all of its manifestation for most of their long and busy lives, taking action for many years under the banner of Grandmothers Against War. 

I’ve intersected several ways with various of them, one all the way back to Ann Arbor in the 1960s, and I admire what they’ve accomplished—no, we’ve accomplished--including ending the war in Vietnam, no minor feat. Their roots go back at least to Women for Peace (aka Women Strike for Peace), a movement started in the '60s which hoped to appeal to the better instincts of the powerful, mostly men in those days. 

Sadly,most of today’s powerful, still mostly men, with one Super-Grandmother exception, appear to be utterly lacking in conscience, despite Trump’s uncharacteristic last minute halt to the assault on Iran. That’s why I was encouraged to learn what some of the Grandmothers on the email list have already started doing: stopping war from the bottom instead of at the top. 

They are working with an organization that is dedicated to “trying to make sure young people understand the realities of joining the military before they enlist.” They've created an appealing web site designed to counter all the pro-military propaganda and undelivered promises which are used to entice young people to join the services, https://www.beforeenlisting.org 

There are many reasons why young people should not sign up for military duty. One very important indicator is the high suicide rate among service members and veterans. The Planet reported on this anecdotally way back in 2004, and it’s only gotten worse since then. 

I learned about the devious tricks used to persuade the young to sign up a number of years ago, when I got an anguished call from the single mother of a Richmond high school student. His grandmother had been my close friend before she died much too young of breast cancer, and since then I’d occasionally been a stand-in advisor for her children and grandchildren. 

The mother told me that her son, who was about 17 or 18, had been sweet-talked by a glib recruiter who came to his school into agreeing to join the army. She knew, as did I, that it was very unlikely that he would get the training described, and very likely that instead he’d be tossed into whatever phase of the unending Middle East war was going on at the moment. I also knew that promises by recruiters were not enforceable. 

I did some quick legal research and made some phone calls and then called the recruiting officer, who insisted on meeting me in his office deep in the bowels of Eastmont Mall, at that time the hangout for young people in East Oakland who had no good way to spend their time. 

Without referencing my research I suggested that the boy wanted to withdraw from his enlistment and that his mother agreed. The sergeant gave me a long dishonest song and dance about how that was forbidden by a binding contract the youngster had signed. I knew better and told him so, and after some brief stonewalling he agreed to tear the contract up. 

Most kids who make bad decisions, however, don’t get much advice about their rights. That’s why the work of Before Enlisting is so important. Potential recruits need information about alternatives which will get their lives on track, and the web site offers many

My young friend has certainly found one that works for him. We’d kind of lost touch since he escaped the army, so I was delighted to get a wedding invitation from him just last week. I looked him up on Facebook (it’s not all bad!) and discovered that he’d found his way to a culinary training program and established what sounds like a great career as a chef, working alongside his intended bride. 

It’s stories like this one which emphasize that we don’t just need to stop this endless war, whichever one it is, we need to dismantle a system based on tricking young Americans into becoming cannon fodder for phantom conflicts. Marches and postcards and petitions and op-eds and all the other traditional methods of trying to change the hearts and minds of decision makers and the voting public still have their place, but one-on-one personal contact as facilitated by Before Enlisting with those who’ve been targeted by the military service is saving lives one at a time in a domain outside the reach of the Trumps, Boltons and Pompeos. 

Here’s how to reach Beyond Enlisting from their site

“If you are an educator interested in learning more about what we can bring to your school or classroom, please do not hesitate to reach out. 

“Or, If you are interested in learning more about our program as a veteran interested in presenting in schools, or as a youth or civilian volunteer, please get in touch! 

“You can reach us by email at beforeenlisting(at)gmail(dot)com, or by phone: (415) 547-0126. We would love to walk you through what we offer (classroom presentations, group discussions, assembly performances, veteran Q&A, Warrior Writers readings...) and find what would be the best fit for you. Looking forward to talking!” 

Though working with Beyond Enlisting won’t prevent war with Iran, at least not this week, you can see the results right away, and it’s a satisfying accomplishment. 


Public Comment

The UC-GlaxoSmithKline Deal Should Be Surrounded by Red Flags. Where Are They?

Tina Stevens
Saturday June 22, 2019 - 10:15:00 PM

Last week, drug company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) announced its five-year $67 million partnership with UC Berkeley’s Jennifer Doudna and UC San Francisco’s Jonathan Weissman. Their stated goal is to establish a genomics institute with the aim of using CRISPR gene editing to find new medicines.

The GSK funds will support the Laboratory for Genomic Research, a new facility in San Francisco that will employ 24 full-time UC and 14 GSK scientists. GSK will play a hands-on role. Their prerogatives will influence the work that happens at the lab and they will have the option to license patents on discoveries. The arrangement raises obvious questions not only about conflicts of interest but also about handing a private corporation the benefits of research incubated by a public university. 

Doudna, a biochemist and molecular biologist who co-discovered CRISPR, showed no such doubts. “We see … opportunity to leverage the best of academic science and research … with also the very best of pharmaceutical science …,” she said. GSK’s science officer boasted that they made the decision to establish the partnership “maybe even within minutes of discussing it.” 

What could be unseemly about such unquestioning commitment and speed, especially when holding out the promise of finding new medicinals? 

Twenty years ago, the answer may well have been “a lot.” In 1998, when agricultural biotech company Syngenta (formerly Novartis) gave $25 million to UC Berkeley’s Plant and Molecular Biology Department, red flags flew up immediately . The funding triggered intense concern over how a cash infusion from industry could negatively influence academic research and whether—and in what ways—the public service responsibilities of the university would be compromised by the corporate funds. 

These are the same flags that should be waving in response to the GSK-UCB-UCSF deal. But the drowsy news coverage of the collaboration suggests that much has changed, quietly, in the intervening years. The steepening ascent of bio-entrepreneurialism continues to rub out the hazy line between university and commercial research. And apparently vanishing along with that division is a traditional, profound, and highly reasonable stricture: even the perception of conflicts of interest must be avoided because the public can’t easily know what’s influencing a researcher or affecting a publicly funded research agenda. Although it’s a struggle to maintain this restraint against profit motives and unchecked discretion, maintain it we must if we are also to maintain public trust. 

And the public has plenty of reason to be skeptical. In 2012, GSK was fined $3 billion for engaging in illegal marketing and kickbacks . In addition to greasing the palms of those who agreed to write prescriptions, its misdeeds included hiring “independent” doctors to push their treatments, paying for articles in medical journals in efforts to boost its medical products, and promoting misinformation about the safety for children of one of its antidepressant drugs, Paxil. In 2018, GSK set off privacy abuse alarms when it bought a $300 million stake in 23andMe to get access to that company’s massive bank of genetic data. 

Now, GSK employees will work side by side with University of California employees in a gleaming new Laboratory for Genomic Research. Such an industry-academic collaboration is unlike others we’ve seen. To be sure, it’s become common for corporations to fund academic research and for university researchers to create their own companies. These models and the conflict-of-interest problems they embody have become part of the troubling new normal. The GSK-UC deal amps the problem up considerably. What does it mean now that public university researchers will be foundational blocks in a major drug company—and one with such a dicey ethical track record? How much automatic but unearned public repute has GSK just secured by clothing itself in such academic credentials? 

For their part, scientists often profess incredulity that financial interests can affect what and how they research. “It is widely accepted among members of the scientific community,” explained Tufts University’s Sheldon Krimsky in Science in the Private Interest , “that the ‘state of mind’ of the scientist is not prone to the same influences that are known to corrupt the behavior of public officials.” Judging by the groggy nature of critical news coverage, professional science has done a good job persuading the press that professional discretion floats immutably above the need for public scrutiny. Yet, cases famously demonstrating how scientists’ judgment can be as faulty as anyone’s serve up chilling reminders of the need for vigilance. 

Consider U.C. Berkeley’s “Bring Your Genes to Cal" program (1, 2 , 3), in which science faculty encouraged incoming freshmen to send in swabs of their DNA, wasting no thought on what it means when those in positions of trust and authority can cajole students into giving up their genetic information. And then there’s that impressive history of unethical human experimentation, clinical trials, forced sterilizations, and non-consensual uses of human tissues. Think (to name just a few) Tuskegee, the birth control trials on Puerto Rican women, Carrie Buck, Jesse Gelsinger, and Henrietta Lacks. 

The public knows little about how the unprecedented collaboration between GSK and the UC public universities will be implemented. Have standards and procedures to ensure oversight, transparency, and accountability been addressed? What role will the public play in oversight? What legal rules and remedies will apply when private and public actors act inappropriately or cause injury? When standards for federal funding and private funding conflict, which will take precedence? How is the public service mission of land grant colleges like UC to be protected much less promoted when GSK is entitled to exclusively license and commercialize the best drug targets? Will industry be benefiting from taxpayer-funded grants to university researchers? Is public largesse to universities bending toward corporate welfare? 

Finally, how will members of this enthusiastic partnership prevent mission creep? At a conference with journalists following the announcement, a reporter asked Jennifer Doudna if they would edit embryos. “I don’t think there’s any intention right now to be editing embryos in this center,” she replied. “I think our goal is actually to work on various kinds of disease-related questions, but with the research using primary cells and tissues, potentially organized, that sort of thing.” Her answer gave science reporter Antonio Regalado pause: “surprised this needed a qualification of ‘right now.’ maybe later? door open? /end,” he tapped out on a Twitter thread that raised some of the critical questions that went unmentioned in the media coverage of the deal. 

Surely there are multiple reasons to be alarmed when assessing the mission and institutional procedures of this new hybrid creation, the Laboratory for Genomic Research. But without mainstream media attention, the public is unlikely to be alerted to them. 

Tina Stevens is author, with Stuart Newman, of Biotech Juggernaut: Hope, Hype, and Hidden Agendas of Entrepreneurial BioScience (Routledge, 2019). 

A Modest Proposal for the Berkeley Housing Crisis

Harvey Smith
Thursday June 20, 2019 - 03:52:00 PM

The grassy open space of People’s Park experienced its only murder recently. This incident has become another justification for the University’s plans to build student housing on this much maligned location. With the exception of a police killing of a protester at the park’s creation, the park has experienced just this one murder in its entire 50-year history. However, another nearby area of Berkeley - fraternity/sorority row - has experienced at least four in recent memory. Why not apply the same development logic to that area?

The unsightly median strips and traffic circle between Bancroft and Haste surely must harbor a breeding ground for drug and alcohol abuse and violent crime. There could be something in the unkempt tall weeds that encourages overindulgence, as well as shootings, stabbings and sexual violence so prevalent in the neighborhood. This could be easily solved by filling the unsightly and underutilized space with student housing. 

The current formula of a private-public partnership would support construction costs, realizing that it would be a design challenge for a firm like the one hired to build on the northeast corner of the campus. The firm would have to go beyond its usual cookie cutter designs applied generically here and to five other campuses in different parts of the country. Probably the biggest challenge would be the traffic circle. How do you fit a banal multi-story, square glass box in a round hole? 

Students occupying the new housing would be warned during campus orientations not to walk past the dangerous fraternity houses. Taking east-west streets instead of going north-south on Piedmont Avenue would be would good counsel because of a violence rate so much higher than People’s Park. 

Some would say this infill development would increase traffic during commute hours on already busy Piedmont Avenue. Probably the same people who complain about the reduction in parking at the proposed high rise development planned for the North Berkeley BART Station. Berkeley should respond to these detractors with a new chant, “With Uber, Lyft and Scooters, That’s All for the Commuters.” 


Another Modest Proposal Illustrated

Alfred Twu
Sunday June 23, 2019 - 10:27:00 PM
Alfred Twu


Tejinder Uberoi
Friday June 21, 2019 - 11:36:00 AM

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ seminal 2014 essay in the Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations,” helped spur new calls to make amends for slavery. Coates, the well-known African-American writer, made a number of powerful statements during his recent testimony before the House Judiciary Committee in favor of H.R.40. He rightly argues that it is not enough to atone for the horror of chattel slavery but more importantly to address the broader inequities that have persisted since emancipation more than a century ago. Coates identified two great crimes in American history, the near annihilation of Native- Americans, the theft of their land, and the cultivation of the land using enslaved Africans. Slavery started in 1619 when a Dutch ship brought 20 slaves to the British colony of Jamestown, Virginia, as a source of cheap labor. The profits generated from slavery exceeded $75 billion in today’s dollar value.  

Cotton in 1860 was the country’s largest exporter. The richest people at that time were slaveholders including Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. During the civil war, white cotton farmers reaped huge profits from the backs of African slaves.  

The contributions of American-Americans to music and film are legendary. Jazz, the blues and hip-hop are tightly woven into the fabric of American Culture. The giants of American literature, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and many others, are the enduring fruits of slavery.  

White America have always had distinct advantages over the African-American community through redlining, the FHA and the GI Bills. The Reverend Dr. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, called for a “moral budget calling the epidemic of poverty a “moral crisis.” 

There were 250 years of enslavement, followed by 100 years of terror followed by mass incarceration. It is time we recompense the African-American community for the sins of the past by injecting massive funds to upgrade inner-city communities with excellent schools, affordable housing and jobs. The mass incarceration of African-American communities requires urgent attention and finally we must not forget Native Americans who are suffering enormous hardships, with high unemployment, chronic food shortages and lack of adequate health care. 

Many other nations are guilty of similar crimes. Perhaps one of the most egregious examples is France who demanded reparations from Haiti as compensation for gaining their freedom.

How the US makes Enemies

Jagjit Singh
Thursday June 20, 2019 - 03:58:00 PM

President Trump’s bombastic language and nasty tweets has made the US the enemy of the planet. He was elected, albeit with some Russian help, by the American people who therefore reflect his values.  

Here is one example of Trump’s many “accomplishments”: 

IRAN -The Iranian nuclear deal was carefully crafted by the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, France, and China—plus Germany and the European Union which limited Iran’s nuclear fuel production. In return US sanctions would be lifted. In a blatant racist gesture to please his adoring fans, President Trump withdrew from the agreement sending a strong message to the world that US commitments are worthless, can be invalidated on a whim. According to the International Atomic Energy Commission Iran is in full compliance. They are now being punished by crippling US sanctions (prodded by Saudi Arabia and Israel) which is hurting the Iranian people. Always the proverbial bully, the US is now threatening the European Union and other nations who trade with Iran. Iran is left with no other option but to withdraw from the agreement and accelerate its nuclear bomb making capabilities as a viable defense option– much like North Korea.  

Another US quagmire is looming. Bogged down by an endless losing war in Afghanistan, we are on the cusp of a Middle East quagmire which will drive up oil prices and trigger a worldwide recession, courtesy of the master deal maker, Donald Trump. 

To wage war in Iran’s back yard would be a monumental blunder. It seems we have learned nothing from our past foreign adventures, Vietnam, Iraq and Libya, to name just a few. The dynamic duo, Pompeo and Bolton, who aggressively supported the Iraq invasion, are replacing the other miscreants, Bush and Cheney.

The UC Board of Regents: The Public Be Damned

Harry Brill
Thursday June 20, 2019 - 03:50:00 PM

To give you a sense of the members who serve on the U.C. Board of Regents, which is the ruling body of the UC system, take a look at the recent activities of Senator Feinstein's spouse, Richard Blum, who was reappointed to the Board in 2014 to a 12 year term. Blum was quite happy to accept a contract with the federal government to sell 56 buildings that house a post office. As the many protests made clear, the post offices are highly valued by the public . But this was not among Blum's concerns. For Blum, it is mainly about making lots of money. 


The UC Board is made up of 26 voting members, many of whom, like Blum, are business oriented appointments and corporate lawyers. Since faculty and students make up a majority of the UC population, shouldn't they be adequately represented? Yes, but they are not. Two faculty members serve on the Board but they cannot vote. And just one student is permitted to serve for two years and can vote only during the second year. Since students make up the vast majority of the campus population, one student vote every other year is not much of a concession. Clearly, the Board is highly undemocratic. 


The Board of Regents has recently made a major decision. The consequences will be good for the real estate industry but a disaster for students and the Berkeley public in general. The Regents agreed to increase student enrollment for UC Berkeley 30 percent to 44,735 by 2022-23. Of course, some students will benefit because they have been accepted by the school of their choice. 


But as the city of Berkeley realizes, this decision is worrisome. It has just sued UC Berkeley for not paying sufficient attention to the adverse consequences of this decision. It will increase homelessness and will be harmful to the environment. Both pollution and congestion, which is already a problem, will certainly become worse. 


Moreover, the quality of education will suffer as well. To accommodate the increase in the student body requires a larger budget. So the University decided to reduce its staff by 500, and every department has been told to reduce their budgets by 10 percent. As a result, the class size in many courses will be larger. 


Why then has the Board of Regents agreed to allow such a large increase in student admissions? The explanation is straight forward. The Board members care far more about the real estate industry than it does about the interests of students and the public generally. Real Estate developers want to build more profitable residential high rises. Obviously, to succeed the realtors must have available plenty of tenants. Thanks to the Board of Regents, the tenants will come mainly from the growing student body. 


Yep, this is cynical stuff. But that's what happens when democracy is sacrificed on behalf of those who have special interests.

Discretionary Despotics -- the Failure of the Brown Act

Steve Martinot
Wednesday June 19, 2019 - 11:56:00 AM

The purpose of the Brown Act (the "Act") is to make government transparent, to ensure that no policy is decided out of public view, and that public "input" is always to be facilitated. It is a democratizing purpose. Its focus is not only that the public be informed of government process, have access to its practices, but also have the right to speak. Under the “Act’s” purview, people in official positions, such as councilmembers or commissioners, are warned that they must pay attention to their unofficial discussions with each other. Should such discussions inadvertently involve a quorum, it would constitute an unannounced, and thus “un-public” policy-making discussion, in violation of the "Act."

Though the “Act’s” goal is an informed public, it does not provide for participation. It does nothing to break the monologic state to which “public comment” is relegated. It also leaves much official procedure discretionary, inviting exotic forms of silencing people. For instance, should the City Council seek to pass an unpopular measure (such as support for Urban Shield – a contemporary “civil defense” boondoggle), it could diminish public input by scheduling the item for late in the session, after many opponents would have left out of fatigue or in the interests of going to work in the morning. Those subjected to such deferral were essentially (and unethically) silenced. Indeed, this happens often enough to convince many people that it is an intentional strategy for constructing agendas. For that reason, many propose that controversial issues be scheduled early, out of respect for those expected to attend. 

An egregious example of abuse of discretionary power occurred at the last Berkeley City Council meeting (June 11, 2019). The Mayor arbitrarily and shamelessly changed the scheduled order of an agenda item, deferring it in the face of the many people who were present to speak on it. The malfeasance of that overt move was astounding. 

The issue was a receivership the city had imposed on a black family’s home in south Berkeley. The owner, a black man named Leonard Powell, had lived in that house for 40 years, raised his family there, and owned it free and clear. When an oddly machinated inspection took place during a falsely warranted police raid in 2014, some 23 Housing Code violations were found. Five different contractors estimated the costs of repair would come to between $150,000 and $180,000. The city pretended to provide funding, while secretly misrepresenting the availability to the money, and then falsely claimed Mr. Powell was recalcitrant with respect to the violations. This led to a suit to place the house under receivership. Nine months later, Mr.Powell was saddled with an $800,000 debt. The racketeers of NYC would have drooled with envy. 

The case was finally brought to City Council’s attention (on 6/11/19) by two Commission proposals (from Peace and Justice, and Housing Adjustment), dedicated to preventing any such injustice from happening again. Their proposals enumerated basic regulations limiting how the city was to deal with families and housing code violations, while reducing the option of receivership to the level of “last resort”. 

At the moment this item was to be addressed, the Mayor blithely announced that Council was going to address some business matters (budgetary questions) instead. Needless to say, the clamor of outrage stopped the meeting. It took some fifteen minutes to return Council to its previously announced agenda ordering. The Brown Act did nothing, at that moment, to guarantee that there would be transparency in governance. We had to win it for ourselves. 

h This raises the question, what kind of structural changes could be made in Council proceedings that would obviate this form of discretionary despotics? Lets review the Brown Act briefly. 

The underlying purpose of the "Act," for which "transparency" is the metaphor, is to prevent secret deals by elected representatives. It requires that all official decisions occur in public, in well-lighted places, and with sufficient advance notification of time, location, and agenda to allow the public to attend in an informed manner. It thus limits ad hoc discussions that policy-makers can have with each other, prohibiting unofficial meetings in which policy might secretly be decided. 

With respect to public participation, the “Act” establishes that speaking time must be allotted for public comment on all agenda items, and that time also be set aside for comment on items not on the agenda. However, it allows each body to set its own standards concerning actual time allotted for each public speaker (e.g. two minutes or three, generally). Though the public must be informed of these standards in advance, the “Act” simply states that they be "reasonable," that is, a balance between the business needs of an official body and the public’s desire to participate. "Balance," however, is essentially a pragmatic category, which demotes the ethics of "democratic" procedure to secondary status. It is in violation of those ethics that a Mayor could set an agenda item last if (or because) many people would show up to speak on it. Indeed, the concept of the "reasonable" in the Brown Act is nothing less than a "wildcard" that power can play against the people. 

Indeed, though the Mayor can unilaterally change the agenda order, the public, attending the session, has no comparable authority to do so, or even to move an item from the Consent Calendar to Action. Thus, there is a structural disparity in Council proceedings, an inherent imbalance between procedure and ethical principles that is essentially unreasonable. 

One glaring example of this imbalance occurs in the form of "decorum" rules which require a public speaker to address only the council body as a whole, rather than specific members. This appears to be common practice for California City Councils. While the motivations of such rules may be to shield delegates from abusive language or personal attacks, prohibiting a person from addressing their own representative in an elected body is not consistent with the Brown Act (let alone with the 1st Amendment). There are now court suits in litigation concerning this issue, and demanding such decorum rules be lifted – in Orange County in particular. 

In offering no resolution or recourse for such discretionary imbalances between the people and the Council, the “Act” paradoxically fosters the elitism and insularity that stand opposite participation and transparency. 

It also implicitly indicates that the "balance" provided for by the "Act," and the balance that would express a democratic ethics, are wholly distinct. A Council’s sense of "balance" between business and public input may act against constituency and social equity as a form of discretionary despotics. In opposition, it would seem that criticism designed to change an official’s mind (publicly) and thus their vote, or to reveal a hidden hypocrisy, or enumerate broken promises, or call out a consistently bad record on certain issues, should all be fair game for public commentary in any elective system. 

Indeed, we might point out that Berkeley City Council too often reveals a tendency to adopt dehumanizing (and at times sadistic) ordinances, which it couches as "reasonable." Ordinances punishing or tormenting homeless people for having an RV to sleep in, for instance, or punishing homeless people who set up encampments in order to create community, or ordinances giving the police the power to use stun guns and pepper spray in order to torture people into obedience (technological prohibitions against civil disobedience) have been passed. Representatives who can do this are clearly people who do not think that torture is wrong. The ethical issues at stake need to be raised with them – in public. 

In the face of a city government that seemingly cannot refrain from some form of despotic misanthropy (often indicative of backroom deals), we ordinary people have two options. One is to bring about a democratizing change in the rules (and ethics) of council. The other is to organize alternative policy-making bodies. 

Two issues

Two issues are raised here. If mayoral prerogative has discretionary power to change the agenda, the ethics of balance is violated by not providing a comparable power for the floor – those who come to provide "input." To the extent to which the rules do not, people are silenced. Under the Brown Act’s ethics of democratization, however, one would expect some correction of official discretionary autocracy. 

Second, if it is proper for a speaker to address a representative, why would it not be similarly proper for the representative to respond, and thus for the two of them to enter into a brief give-and-take, to wit, delegate reasoning in dialogue with constituent reasoning? Especially since dialogue is the democratic alternative to the subservient compliance of monologue. 

Let us look at these possibilities structurally. 

On democratizing council prerogatives

In Berkeley, the ethics of silencing the public prevails – through relegation to monologue, and constraint to imposed rules. Though each speaker is offered two minutes to speak, if ten or more people come to speak on an issue, each person gets one minute. This truncates a person’s ability to include data or depth of thought in advance. Though others can cede time to a speaker, that simply sacrifices the others’ ability to speak – again a form of silencing. Thus, a fully reasoned presentation can only occur through the unethical sacrifice of public participation. In addition, once public comment is over, any public statement is ruled “out of order.” Yet, if different groups arrive to advocate or defend specific interests differently, predetermined procedure like this erases the meanings inherent in those differences. In effect, a democracy-oriented ethos has been supplanted by despotic procedure, an absence of respect for the thinking and interests of constituencies. 

Democratic procedure, by definition, must enable the people who will be affected by a policy to participate in articulating and deciding (in dialogue) the policy that will affect them. Yet that principle stands in opposition to the alleged "reasonableness" and imbalance of Council’s discretionary impositions on the people – such as its ordering of the agenda. 

How could an agenda be democratized, that is, foster the “Act’s” public purpose? If X number of people come to speak on an item, let that item take precedence on the agenda over others for which fewer than X number of people have come. That is, let the agenda be flexible in terms of public interest. It would merely require the existence of a body to take a tally of the attendees. 

Addressing a specific councilmember cannot be banned under the 1st Amendment. But with respect to policy-making, that is not enough. Policy always involves dialogue, implying that constraint to monologue both silences and excludes. If individual councilmembers are to be addressed, whether to criticize or to convince, the one addressed should have to be able to respond. Dialogue, even at that molecular level, must be in accord with the "Act." And certain benefits would immediately accrue. It would break the structure of elitism while establishing a new equity in governance. The question it raises would concern regulation – how to keep it from becoming a full-scale discussion? 

In effect, the balancing of Council vs. public interests, the democratization of the agenda, and the extension of the ability of public speakers to address specific officials in molecular dialogue, present a City Council with both organizational and ethical issues. 

Let us consider a body charged with overseeing the ethical legitimacy of such an expansion of participation in Council, a body focused on ethics, and thus independent of predetermined rules and procedures. Let us call it a “Council Oversight Body,” and give it referee status over imbalances between Council business and the public’s desire for significance. Its focus would be the implementation of principled democratic political process, as a body charged with the ability to ethically judge the "reasonable," in the spirit of the "Act." Concepts of decorum, time allotments for speakers, dialogic input between speakers and the Council as called for by the particular character of each Council session (constituency interest, attendance, controversy of topic, etc.) would all come undeer its purview. 

A representative of such a body would sit on Council, off to the side in the company of the Manager and the City Attorney, and act to preserve the ethics of representation, the responsibility of representatives to constituents, and the maintenance of an open environment for the expression of ideas and interests. 


A Council Review Commission

One more step is needed to correct for the extent to which the “Act” permits discretionary despotism – a Council Review Commission (CRC). Analogous to the Police Review Commission, it would be a venue in which proposals for further restructuring and democratizing City Council could be voiced and discussed. Its purpose would be to critique and judge Council rules and operations, and discuss how to establish greater dialogue in the political process. Its meetings would themselves be a mode of public participation in the political process. 

While the PRC needs official status because the police are a closed institution, a CRC would not, since Council and the Commissions are open. A CRC could meet and be at liberty to propose things on an autonomous basis. It could independently judge, as a venue for public discussion, the extent to which the Council was resistant to forms of democratization or not. 

Its meetings would be open to the public for both input and dialogue on issues of City Council procedures and ethics. It would thus represent a degree of popular determination of how government should function, an actual venue for feedback based on dialogue, and about the institution of dialogue in actual governance. 

Revisiting Morality in the Age of Dishonesty

Wim Laven
Saturday June 22, 2019 - 10:29:00 PM

If Donald Trump actually follows through on his recently tweeted promise that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “will begin deporting the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States … as fast as they come in,” what will you do? According to the faith I was raised with I hope I would act according to the lessons found in the parable of the Good Samaritan. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus told of a traveler who was beaten, stripped, and left naked waiting for death. People who claimed to be great believers avoided this victim, but it was the Samaritan who stopped and freely rendered aid—selfless altruism. Charity, compassion, and forgiveness are the highest values I was raised with. I do my best to dedicate myself to their service, and I’m sure I’m not the only one left in a bind: what will I do? 

Recent stories tell of modern day Samaritans rendering aid to travelers (some seeking asylum, some trying to immigrate legally, some illegally…) at great risk. The case of Scott Warren in Arizona presents offering humanitarian aid as a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison; but there is no verdict, the jury is hung. His specific crimes are putting out food and water, and pointing directions (actions consistent with No More Deaths, a part of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson), which appears reflect values just like I was raised with. Do I have the strength to follow my religious convictions, even in the face of criminal prosecution like Warren has? 

Our current context should make us struggle no matter how much we think we’ve figured out. The case against Food Not Bombs taught us--after some alarming incidents to the contrary--that feeding the homeless is an act of protected expression, but with migrants the acts of feeding and pointing direction could invoke serious punishment. Do you love your Mexican or Central American neighbor enough to risk prosecution? 

I'm imagining in decades schoolkids will read narrative accounts from this period. Much like we learn about the great lengths Harriet Tubman went to in order to free 300 slaves, or the reflections of a teenager who wrote: How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world. Anne Frank did not survive, but her diary did. The Frank family went into hiding and they received aid from people who risked their lives to help provide them shelter. The purpose here is not to compare the current crimes against humanity against the events which have caused us to promise “never again.” The purpose is to genuinely acknowledge “I can do more to help these people.” 

The people seeking a better life in this country are not criminals for wanting to secure safety for their families, but they are cruelly punished nonetheless. They risk death in this effort. If captured they are placed in camps where their families are separated, and they lack in the service of basic needs--like soap and toothbrushes. These overcrowded internment camps fail the values of people taught to do good in this world.  

Many Americans are inspired by the same teachings I learned from Martin Luther King Jr. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” 

Trump has told more than 10,000 lies, and I am sure he has no means to follow through on his declarations of deportations. I believe it is unlikely those housing needy migrants have much to fear, but I must also acknowledge the risk associated with doing the right thing. Shockingly, 24 detainees have died in ICE custody during the Trump administration;how many more lives have to be lost before we as society force a commitment to honor the traveler? How many of us will rise to occasion of helping in the meantime? How many of us will make excuses for ignoring the children in need?  

What I see today from the self-professed Americans of faith, however, is supremely disappointing. Instead of considering the children being separated from families and listening to their terror-filed-screams, some prefer to ask: “why didn’t they try to come legally?” I realize not everyone was taught to build bigger tables instead of bigger walls, but I don’t understand the ignorance—people literally see no other option. “A place where large numbers of people, especially political prisoners or members of persecuted minorities, are deliberately imprisoned in a relatively small area with inadequate facilities” is the definition of a concentration camp. There are people more offended by the correct use of the term “concentration camps” to describe these conditions than the conditions themselves.  

There are concrete steps we can all take. The first is to insist that we stop tolerating dishonesty in all of its political forms. Next we can demand accountability from those in power whose monumental failures have produced this calamity. It is our responsibility to vote in replacements who will not further these crimes against humanity. We can also remember the supreme value of acts of love and kindness and look for ways to offer simple hospitality, human empathy. It is not necessary that anyone take on more risk than they feel safe with, but we all should speak out for those who do. Anne Frank was right; we can start making a better world right now. Lastly, we must not give up; the people have the power and we can make the government work for us if we collectively use our voices. Apathy or resignation is the death knell for democracy. 

Wim Laven, Ph.D., syndicated by PeaceVoice, teaches courses in political science and conflict resolution.  




Open Letter to the San Francisco School Board of Education about Arnautoff Mural

Carol Denney
Thursday June 20, 2019 - 03:47:00 PM

Victor Arnautoff, Russian emigre and New Deal artist assigned to depict George Washington's life, chose to depict the full story, that of George Washington as a slaveholder, and the push to expand westward as having deadly consequences for native peoples. Arnautoff's 1935 fresco represents one of the few examples of an artist's willingness to risk the consequences of telling the more honest, inclusive story of George Washington's role in American history.

It is certainly possible to view the depictions of exploitation as a promotion of exploitation. But Arnautoff's intent is unmistakable, as his own reflections on working on frescoes with renowned artist Diego Rivera makes clear, giving him, in his own words, "the belief that the making of art is not a matter of idle contemplation, it cannot leave the viewer indifferent. Its goal is to move people, to stimulate their thinking" and to see large public murals as "a weapon of ideas in the struggle for a new society, in the struggle for the future of mankind." 

While the mural at George Washington High School may technically belong to the school itself, the larger role it plays in San Francisco's art history and its early art scene both generally and with specific respect to the New Deal is a history with resonance for the whole county as we struggle for clarity about who we are and how we will face our path together, a path with no small amount of challenge regarding the racism of our past and our present, let alone our future. 

The students' and parents' engagement on this issue is phenomenal. But it is being mischaracterized as a united voice for the mural's destruction. At the school board hearing on June 18th, 2019, I heard many suggestions from both sides for appropriate signage and interpretation, for a native peoples' center for community study and engagement, for additional murals that carry forward the wealth of stories in the Bay Area of native peoples' and African-Americans' unique history and contributions. The effort by the current school board to channel this effort into a narrow option requiring the covering or destruction of Arnautoff's largest work seems peculiar in this light, especially considering the $375,000 to $600,000 in tax dollars required. 

I hope you can take the time to reflect on the broad range of possibilities for our community which could produce more murals, involve more students in their design, even to utilize the technique of frescoes to enhance public understanding of their unique qualities, which Arnautoff himself thought were dramatic. San Francisco is the place where art and politics famously tangle, famously dance, and famously produce more art, not less, often crafting a unique response to the pressures of the moment. My prayer is that this is one of those moments. 


The SFUSD school board meeting is this coming Tuesday, 5:00 pm, at 555 Franklin Street, near the Civic Center BART station, and there will be a demonstration in support of the mural's preservation out front.


THE PUBLIC EYE:Speaking Truth to Power

Bob Burnett
Friday June 21, 2019 - 11:20:00 AM

More and more of my friends tell me they can't bear to watch the news, because they can't stand to hear about the latest Trump outrage. Some unfortunates are afflicted with tinnituswhere they constantly hear a ringing or buzz in the background. The U.S. is subjected with the political version of this -- Trumpitus -- where there's always some Trump news item droning in the background. To deal with this backdrop of malevolence, to protect our sanity, you and I have to agree to stand up and proclaim the truth.

1.We're under attack by the Russians. The most disturbing conclusion from the Mueller Report is that Russia made a concerted effort to alter the results of the 2016 election. "The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion." Vladimir Putin and his cronies wanted Trump to win and engaged in a variety of technical efforts to help him. It's not clear what the overall impact was. Russians operatives were active in key swing states -- such as Michigan,Ohio, and Pennsylvania -- but it's not provable that the Russian efforts resulted in Trump's 78,000 vote margin. What is clear is that the Russians helped the Trump campaign by concerted social-media campaigns and hacking Clinton-campaign emails.

There's no evidence that Russian interference has abated. Indeed, if one looks at the Putin's objectives, there's no reason for the Russians to stop because they are succeeding. Russian efforts have weakened U.S. morale and diminished our role as leader of the "free" world. (They have also weakened the European Union and brought the United Kingdom to the brink of chaos.) 

2.The Republican Party doesn't want to do anything about this. Although the U.S. intelligence community is united in the belief that the Russians continue to interfere with our election process, Congressional Republicans aren't doing anything about this -- with the exception of the Senate Intelligence Committee co-chaired by Republican Senator Richard Burr and Democratic Senator Mark Warner. Nonetheless, on June 13th, Senate Republicans blocked Senator Warner's bill that would have required political campaigns to report attempts by foreign nationals to interfere with political elections. 

Trump has bullied the mainstream Republican Party into docile subservience. He's set this moral tone: it's okay to say and do anything, so long as you win. Trump has recast the GOP: "Thou shalt worship no gods other than Trump." 

As a consequence, Senate Republicans aren't doing any legislative work. Since January the Senate has only passed a few pieces of legislation. (They've spent most of their time confirming conservative judges.) In contrast, the Democratically controlled House has passed more than 120 bills. (https://www.vox.com/2019/5/24/18637163/trump-pelosi-democrats-bills-congress

3.Trump has deeply divided the nation. When you step inside the latest polls -- eg., Trump versus Biden -- you encounter an amazing number: most Americans say they will not vote for Trump in 2020. The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll (https://www.cnbc.com/2019/06/18/trump-reelection-chances-look-bad-in-state-polls.html) says: "Despite a strong economy... 62% of Americans report themselves uncomfortable or with reservations about a second Trump term; 52% called themselves 'very uncomfortable.'" The May Quinnipiac poll (https://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=2622) found: "President Trump begins his reelection campaign in a deep hole as 54 percent of American voters say they 'definitely' will not vote for him," 

Meanwhile, Trump is leaving a trail of moral destruction: He's eradicated comity, torn down the walls of political correctness, and made it okay for citizens to treat each other in a vile and -- sometimes - violent manner. 

A recent PPRI poll (https://www.prri.org/research/american-democracy-in-crisis-the-fate-of-pluralism-in-a-divided-nation/) found that Americans are more divided by politics than they are by race, ethnicity, or religion: "Americans are nearly unanimous in their belief that the country is divided over politics (91%), with 74% of Americans saying that the country is verydivided. Supporters of both political parties, as well as political independents, all agree that Americans are divided over politics: Republicans (96%), Democrats (91%), and independents (89%) all agree with this statement." 

4. Meanwhile, the U.S. is challenged by daunting problems. Most of us wouldn't get on a boat or plane knowing that the pilot was drunk. We depend upon our leaders to guide us through difficult circumstances. Nonetheless, the United States is beset by numerous problems and Donald Trump is incompetent. 

America faces a long list of challenges that would be daunting even if we had a real President: Global climate change. Nuclear proliferation. The deterioration of our international alliances. National security including the Russian attacks and terrorism. Healthcare. Economic inequality. Mental health including the opioid epidemic. Gun violence. Etcetera. 

Trump is not going to deal with these challenges. Until he's removed from office, he's likely to make things worse. As this was being written, Trump is preparing to attack Iran. 

How do we maintain our sanity in these perilous times? By going back to basics. Bay Area writer Angeles Arrien posited four rules for life: "Show up. Pay attention. Tell the truth. Don't be attached to the results." We've already shown up. For the time being, we're stuck with Trump. 

It's hard to pay attention given the constant drone of Trump outrage -- Trumpitus -- but it's essential because there are good things going on in the resistance. More and more Americans are waking up. 

And more than any time I can remember, it's essential to tell the truth. About Trump. The deplorable conduct of Washington Republicans. About the problems the nation faces. Tell the truth about how hard it is to be hopeful. 


And, of course, we have to resist. Every hour of every day. And like Angeles Arrien said, we can't get attached to the results. Telling the truth is hard work. 

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

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Antipsychotics Impair the Body's Cooling

Jack Bragen
Thursday June 20, 2019 - 03:56:00 PM

The hot weather is beginning for this year in California, and I think it is helpful to bring up the subject of caution due to heat sensitivity for many mental health consumers. 

Antipsychotic medications sometimes allow people who suffer from severe psychosis to have a chance of living with some amount of normalness, as opposed to being permanently locked up. However, this gift has numerous drawbacks, due to side-effects. 

Medications, in general, aren’t good or bad. They're treatments for psychosis and/or other neurologically caused mental illnesses, and they have both good and bad effects on patients. They are frequently used as a front-line treatment when someone shows up at a hospital and is believed to be suffering from psychosis, depression, or bipolar. 

Among numerous other drawbacks, antipsychotics can impair the body's ability to cool itself in hot weather. This is a simple fact, and no judgment of right or wrong need be attached. 

When taking these drugs, we should take precautions against overheating at this time of year. If the weather is hot, we should remain indoors, and we should use air conditioning if it is available. 

When someone has a medical condition that makes them more vulnerable to a heat related death, it supersedes concerns of energy usage. Avoiding global warming by keeping the air conditioning off can be done by others, not by someone who could lose their life by overheating. This is applicable to anyone with a health condition that makes them sensitive to heat exhaustion. 

If you currently have a CARE discount, you can save more money on your energy bill, in California, with a form (I think you can get it off the P. G. &E website) for your physician to fill out, verifying a medical condition and stating that you need heating and/or cooling. This allows energy costs to be less than they would otherwise be and can allow you to afford use of your air conditioning. 

Furthermore, you should avoid going to athletic events, outdoor events, or other things that could subject you to overheating, when the weather is hot. 

I've heard a psychiatrist mention that heat related deaths were frequent at Atascadero State Hospital, a maximum-security mental health prison, situated halfway between San Francisco and LA. (This was something I'd heard in the 1980's, and I don't have up to date facts about this.) 

I spoke to a woman in the 1980's, who told me that she'd had a son who was schizophrenic who'd died in a jail transport van. I've been in one of those transport vans, and the temperatures can skyrocket. 

The issue of heat, for mental health consumers, is serious stuff. People who take antipsychotics have a very good reason, and not just an excuse, to take care of ourselves in hot weather. 

Jack Bragen is author of "Instructions for Dealing with Schizophrenia, a Self-Help Manual" and other titles.

ECLECTIC RANT: Trump Would Accept Foreign Help in 2020 Election

Ralph E. Stone
Thursday June 20, 2019 - 03:44:00 PM

President Donald Trump admitted that he would accept a foreign government's assistance in an election -- and might not report it to the FBI. Sounds like an open invitation to Russia for help in his re-election campaign. This admission reflects Trump’s win-at-any-and-all-costs mentality.  

Bloomberg’s Jonathan Bernstein wrote, “He’s the country’s commander in chief and top diplomat, and as such responsible for making clear to all foreign nations and other groups that messing with the internal affairs of the United States will have serious consequences. Instead, he’s basically inviting everyone in." It was, “a helpful reminder … that he’s entirely unfit for the office he holds.”  

Given all the evidence of Russian interference in our 2016 presidential election, why else would Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) block election security legislation. 

It doesn’t seem to matter to Trump and Congressional Republicans that foreign interference in our elections is unacceptable and undemocratic. And it is illegal; federal election law prohibits a campaign from accepting contributions, which include assistance that is non monetary, from non-Americans. 

After much criticism for his admission, Trump in an interview with Fox & Friends attempted to backtrack on his admission by stating “of course” he would go to the FBI or the attorney general if a foreign power offered him dirt on an opponent.

Arts & Events

Dvorák’s RUSALKA Is A Resounding Success

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Thursday June 20, 2019 - 04:12:00 PM

In a summer season at San Francisco Opera where until now no production came anyway near being an unbridled success, we finally have in Dvorák’s Rusalka a production where everything came together beautifully. Rusalka is a fairytale folk opera rooted in Dvorák’s native Bohemia in what is now the Czech Republic. With a libretto by Jaroslav Kvapil, based on fairy tales by Karel Jaromir Erben and Božena Němcová (and remotely based on “The Little Mermaid“ by Hans Christian Anderson), Dvorák’s Rusalka is set in the magical world of water sprites who cavort in forest lakes. These female nymphs of the waters exert an erotic allure on any human men who chance to encounter them.  

However, in this story, it is Rusalka, a water sprite, who falls in love with a human -- a prince, moreover -- whom she espies from her watery home in a forested lake. Enduring the pangs of love for this handsome prince, Rusalka wishes to become human so that she might experience love as humans do. So Rusalka makes a pact with a nature-sorceress, Jezibaba, who warns Rusalka this will likely not end well, but goes ahead and facilitates Rusalka’s transition from a water sprite to a human.  

This, in a nutshell, is the story that Antonin Dvorák set to music near the turn of the 20th century. The premiere of Dvorák’s Rusalka was in Prague in 1901. San Francisco Opera has only offered one prior production of Rusalka before now, but that was a memorable one which I saw in 1995 featuring soprano Renée Fleming as Rusalka. Renée Fleming has no doubt done more than anyone else to bring Dvorák’s Rusalka to the attention of American audiences. And she has achieved overwhelming success in this endeavour, for Rusalka is now much in demand. 

San Francisco Opera’s current singer of this title-role is Rachel Willis-Sørensen, a native of the state of Washington. She made her debut here to great acclaim as Eva in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg in 2015. Now Rachel Willis-Sørensen returns to assume a role debut as Rusalka. In the first performance of Dvorak’s Rusalka in this summer season -- a Sunday, June 16 matinee -- Rachel Willis-Sørensen was nothing short of sensational! Her soprano has a rapier-like sharpness, but she can also sound lush and alluring. All of these vocal subtleties were in prominenet display in her performance on June 16. Rachel Willis-Sørensen’s “Hymn to the Moon“ in Act I, introduced by harp music, was a thing of beauty! Throughout the entire three-Act opera, Rachel Willis-Sørensen was absolutlely electrifyting as Rusalka! Moreover, her acting ability brought the trials and tribulations of Rusalka’s attempt to experience human love clearly and expressively to the forefront of this fairytale opera.  

Bass Kristinn Sigmundsson was excellent as Rusalka’s father, Vodnik, a water goblin. Vodnik warns his daughter of the perils of becoming human, and he never ceases lamenting the cruel fate of his “poor, pale Rusalka.“ In the role of Jezibaba, the forest sorceress, mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton was outstanding. Jezibaba warns Rusalka against becoming human, but she offers Rusalka a deal. If Rusalka agrees to give up the power of speech, Jezibaba will mix a potion to transform Rusalka into a mortal woman. Rusalka agrees, and in human form she wins the love of the Prince. But because she is now mute, Rusalka remains a mysterious outsider among human society. Even the Prince, admirably sung by tenor Brandon Jovanovich, is drawn to Rusalka much the same way all men are drawn to the lovely water sprites. For the Prince, Rusalka is as much a figment of his imagination as a real live woman. He brings Rusalka to his castle where he intends to marry her; but he confesses he hardly knows what to make of the mysterious Rusalka.  

Act II opens with a kitchen scene in the Prince’s palace. The Gamekeeper, sung by bass-baritone Philip Horst, and the Kitchen Boy, sung by mezzo-soprano Laura Krumm, gossip about the forthcoming marriage of the Prince and Rusalka. They fear witchcraft is behind the strange, speechless Rusalka. The scene shifts to the ballroom where a Foreign Princess arrives as one of the invited guests. She observes the Prince and Rusalka, then begins flirting with the Prince. Rusalka is jealous. Moreover, Rusalka, a child of nature, feels not at all at home in this hall mounted with the heads of stags lining the walls as hunting trophies.  

The Foreign Princess, admirably sung by Canadian soprano Sarah Cambridge, wins over the affection of the Prince. In an aside to Rusalka, the Prince tells Rusalka he finds her embraces cold and lacking in passion. Rusalka leaves the palace and encounters her father, Vodnik. Regaining her speech, she tells Vodnik of her despair. There are things about human love she simply doesn’t understand. Vodnik enters the palace and confronts the Prince, cursing him for his treatment of Rusalka. The Prince turns to the Foreign Princess in search of help; but she cruelly laughs at him and advises him to follow his bride into hell. 

In Act III we are back at the forest lake where the opera began. Alone and unhappy, Rusalka longs in vain to be reunited with her sister water sprites. But this is impossible. The Gamekeeper and Kitchen Boy come to seek help from Jezibaba to cure 

the strange illness that has befallen the Prince. Interrupting them, Vodnik, Rusalka’s father, chases them off in fear. Jezibaba laughs haughtily at the stupidity of humankind. The Prince then arrives at the edge of the lake where he first encountered Rusalka. Now he searches obsessively for her. Stepping out from the shadows, Rusalka now speaks to the Prince for the first time. She asks why he betrayed her. His only reply is to beg for a kiss. When Rusalka tells him her kiss will be fatal to him, the Prince replies he would gladly die for her kiss. Rusalka kisses him and the Prince dies. Rusalka asks God to have mercy on his soul. Then Rusalka vanishes into thin air.  

This production of Dvorak’s Rusalka by David McVicar premiered at Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2014. Our San Francisco Opera revival of this productioni is directed by Leah Housman. In nearly every respect it is an excellent production. The one false note, however, occurs right at the start during the overture. A man dressed in evening clothes enters and walks across the front of the stage. Who is this man? Then a woman in a flaming red dress walks across the stage and silently confronts the man. Who is this woman? Suddenly, he falls to the ground, and she stalks off. What in the world are we supposed to make of this? It was totally confusing to me. When I inquired in the Press Room during the first intermission about this bit of nonsense, I was told the woman was the Foreign Princess and the man was the Prince. That answer didn’t make things better, however, for we had no way of knowing who these people were when the opera had only just begun and we hadn’t yet met any of the characters. 

The stage sets by John McFarlane were very expressive. The forested lake where the water sprites cavort was surrounded by a tangled web of trree-trunks, through which 

a full moon shone mysteriously. The water sprites or wood nymphs were admirably sung by soprano Natalie Image, mezzo-soprano Simone McIntosh, and mezzo-soprano Ashley Dixon. Baritone Andrew Manea sang the cameo role of the Hunter. The Solo Dancers were Rachel Speidel Little and Christopher Nachtrab. The Chorus sang well under the direction of Ian Robertson. Making her San Francisco Opera debut was South Korean conductor Eun Sun Kim, who presided over a wholly successful Rusalka. There are four more performances of Rusalka on June 19, 22, 25, and 28. Don’t miss it!

An Underwhelming CARMEN at San Francisco Opera

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Thursday June 20, 2019 - 04:09:00 PM

Bizet’s Carmen is almost unimaginable without a dynamic, alluring, title-role singer. Unfortunately, the San Francisco Opera’s current Carmen, mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges. is a strangely underwhelming Carmen. Her voice simply doesn’t project, nor does her acting. She’s just there, going through the motions we associate with Carmen, but never catching fire either vocally or dramatically. .Although J’Nai Bridges was undertaking the role of Carmen for the first time, there was reason to think she could bring it off successfully, based on her performance, one of the few good things, in the 2017 world premiere of John Adams’ woebegone Girls of the Golden West. But, no, already into its third of seven performances, on June 14 J’Nai Bridges’ Carmen was still, at best, a work in progress. 

Where vocal fireworks are concerned, they didn’t come from J’Nai Briidges. Nor did they come from tenor Michael Polanzani, who was also making a role-debut as Don Jose. Polanzani’s presence in Act I was, like that of J’Nai Bridgs, decidedly underwhelming. In Polanzani’s case, unlike that of J’Nai Bridges, part of the problem was in the staging. While the staging by Francesca Zambello gave every opportunity for J’Nai Bridges to shine in Act I, though she failed to do so, this same staging seemed to relegate Don Jose to a mere afterthought. As Don Jose, Polanzani just sat in a chair and buried himself in some military reports with his back turned to Carmen’s seductive machinations. Thus, it seemed gratuitous that he should suddenly, for little apparent reason, succumb to Carmen’s blandishments and agree to help her escape incarceration. Nor did Polanzani’s singing in Act I radiate any electricity. In fact, it wasn’t until late in Act II, in his aria, “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée”/”The flower you threw to me,” that Michael Polanzani gave any indication he might be a fine Don Jose.  

But, alas, here too the staging did him no help. In this key scene in the tavern of Lillas Pastia, Polanzani’s Don Jose grovels on the floor before Carmen like a simpering child. Perhaps in response to this staging that characterized him as a very childish individual, Michael Polanzani may have internalized this characterization and both sung and acted like a vacuous child who really hasn’t a clue about women. It may be a reasonable interpretation of the character of Don Jose, but it drastically lessened the amount of empathy we can feel for Don Jose.  

Fortunately, however, this production of Bizet’s Carmen had one character who possessed a mature grasp of matters of love and lust; and this was Micaela, the girl from Don Jose’s village, indeed, his village sweetheart. In the role of Micaela, Romanian soprano Anita Hartig was sensational! Her voice, rich, full, and vibrant with intensity of feeling, rang out loud and clear in one beautiful passage after another. She was not just the little village girl sent by Don Jose’s mama; she was also, even foremost, the woman who sincerely loved Don Jose and sought to disabuse him of his misguided obsession with Carmen. If ever there was a Micaela who might be an equal combatant to Carmen in the struggle for Don Jose’s soul, Anita Hartig was surely it. In any case, Anita Hartig was the one principal singer in this Carmen that never for an instant faded into the woodwork. Instead, Anita Hartig commanded the stage and commanded all the principals onstage in every scene where she appeared.  

Bass-baritone Kyle Kettelsen was an assertive Escamillo, the bullfighter who rides in on a gorgeous horse in Act II and by Act III supplants Don Jose as Carmen’s latest flame. Outside the bullring in Seville, where the final scene takes place, Don Jose confronts Carmen for one last time; and when she refuses to give in to his repeated insistence that they resume their love affair, Don Jose stabs Carmen with a knife and kills her. In this production, however, he does not then turn the knife upon himself.  

In minor roles, soprano Natalie Image as Frasquita and mezzo-soprano Ashley Dixon as Mercedes were excellent as two gypsy friends of Carmen’s. There was excellent choreography, in the Act II scene in the tavern of Lillas Pastia, by Denni Sayers, and it featured dancing by Blanche Hamilton as Manuelita. In the role of Don Jose’s superior officer, Zuniga, bass David Leigh sang forcefully. As Dancairo, leader of the gypsy smugglers, tenor Christopher Oglesby sang ably, as did baritone Seok Jong Baek as Morales and Zhengyi Bai as Remendado. The San Francisco Opera Chorus sang well under the direction of Ian Robertson. Conductor James Gaffigan did what little he could do to rescue a Carmen that, unfortunately, was lacking in true firepower. This Carmen production continues with performances June 20, 23, 26, and 29.

Russian and Middle Eastern Films You Might Enjoy

Margot Smith
Thursday June 20, 2019 - 03:54:00 PM

I've enjoyed these, didn't know that I was that interested in Russia until...

Good Russian Movies (In roughly chronological order):

Ivan the Terrible, Part I-- (1944) is set in sixteenth-century Moscow, where the newly crowned Czar Ivan attempts to thwart both the boyars (the feudal nobility) and the hold of the church to create a unified Russia. Part I follows Ivan from his coronation to his voluntary exile to Alexandrov to await his people’s summons.

Ekaterina: The Rise of Catherine the Great. (2014)--Great film, Katherine the Great from a modern perspective.The renowned Empress of 18th Century Russia and part of the Romanoff dynasty begins her journey as a German princess selected to marry Peter the Third, heir to the Russian throne and grandson of Peter the Great. 10 episodes. Filmed in Russia. (on Amazon Prime) 

War and Peace--It is no exaggeration to say that Sergei Bondarchuk’s 1960s adaptation of the Leo Tolstoy novel “War and Peace” is a singular feat of filmmaking that can never be repeated. In Revival. (NYTIMES) Restored.  

The Young Karl Marx--(2017)The early years of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Jenny Marx, between Paris, Brussels and London.- Biographic, really good 

The Death of Stalin (2017)--a comedy with Krushov and gang--Moscow, 1953. After being in power for nearly 30 years, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin takes ill and quickly dies. Now the members of the Council of Ministers scramble for power.  

Meeting Gorbechev (2019) Werner Herzog, the incisive documentarian engaged in a meeting of minds with 88 year old Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, architect of Perestroika and Glasnost and the eighth and last leader of the Soviet Union. A long movie interesting to people really interested in this history. 

The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! (1966) Without hostile intent, a Soviet submarine runs aground off New England. Men are sent for a boat, but many villagers go into a tizzy, risking bloodshed. Funny at the time. Filmed in Mendocino. 

Red Sparrow--(2018) Ballerina Dominika Egorova is recruited to 'Sparrow School' a Russian intelligence service where she is forced to use her body as a weapon. But her first mission, targeting a CIA agent, threatens to unravel the security of both nations.modern spy thriller with Russia the bad guy. Rated R for violence and sex. 

The White Crow-(2017) Mockumentary --Young Rudolf Nureyev becomes a top ballet dancer in Russia, but a life-changing visit to Paris soon makes him seek asylum in France in 1961. 

Red Joan (2019) Very well done. Reminds us of the McCarthy era. With Judi Dench. 


And for history about eastern Europe, see: 

The End of the Ottoman Empire (2016)--This documentary offers an overview of the Ottomans, who ruled three continents for six centuries, and explains how the decline of the Ottoman Empire throughout the nineteenth century and up to 1925 informs current politics. Great movie, I saw it 3 times at BAMPFA.  

Letters from Baghdad (2017)-- Gertrude Bell (1868-1926), a character no less colourful, charismatic and compelling than Lawrence of Arabia. In this finely wrought documentary Tilda Swinton reads from the letters of the colourful and charismatic explorer, diplomat and archeologist who, along with TE Lawrence, shaped modern Iraq.  

The Berkeley Activist's Calendar, June 23-30

Kelly Hammargren, Sustainable Berkeley Coalition
Saturday June 22, 2019 - 10:19:00 PM

Worth Noting and Showing Up:

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are packed with meetings worth attending.

The City Council Agenda Committee on Monday afternoon and the City Council regular meeting Tuesday evening always have a long list of agenda items and make this week’s meeting summary extra thick.

NEW - Audio Recordings of the City Council Committee Meetings are now available and the quality is surprisingly good
Audio Recordings: click this link to access recent meeting MP3 audio files via Dropbox.

(Note: A Dropbox account is not required in order to access the MP3 files.)

Sunday, June 23, 2019

EV (Electric Vehicle) 101 Workshop, 11 am, - 12:30 pm, 2530 San Pablo, Event is free, but pre-registration needed – space limited, 350 Bay Area, Sponsored by Ecology Center and City of Berkeley, also offered Tuesday, June 25 at 6 pm


Housing is a Human Right Forum, 2 – 5 pm, 1802 Fairview, South Berkeley Community Church, hosted by Friends of Adeline


Monday, June 24, 2019 

City Council Health, Life Enrichment, Equity & Community Committee, 10 am, at 2180 Milvia, 6th Floor Redwood Conf Room, 2. Ban Racial, Ethnic, Cultural and Religious Discrimination on the Basis of Hairstyle or Headwear, 3. Managing RV Parking, 4. Air Quality Monitoring Program, 


Agenda and Rules Committee, 2:30 pm – 3:30 pm, 2180 Milvia, 6th Floor Redwood Conf Room, Agenda Planning for July 9, Consent: 1. Add $44,163 to contract (Total $127,700) Records Management Software System, 2. PO Up to $1 million Life Assist Emergency Medical Supplies for Fire Dept, 3. Waive Nuclear Free Berkeley Act to enter contract with UCB to evaluate Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax Program, 4. 2yr contract $75,000 for Cultural Humility Training Consultant, 5. Grant application Marina Blvd Bay Trail, 6. 2019-2022, $3.8 Million construction management services for Tuolumne Camp Project, 7. Add $70,000 to contract (total $180,000) Berry Brothers Towing, 9. RFP 1281 University residential development with 50% on-site units to be restricted to 50% AMI or below, consideration to non-traditional living arrangements, tiny homes and consider interim use for housing purposes, 10. Support AB 392 (use of force bill), 11. Referral to Planning Commission Local Construction Workforce Development Policy, 12. Support SB 347 Multilingual Sugar Sweetened Beverage Warning, 13. Oppose SB 386 Irrigation & Climate Change Prevention, 14. Support SB 14 Construction Bond CA public universities, Action: 15. a.&b. Independent audit male/female pay City of Berkeley employees, 16. a.&b. Use of Restraint Devices by Police and Fire Dept, 17. a.&b. Socially Responsible investment and procurement and role of Peace and Justice Commission, 18. New Ordinance Prohibiting Natural Gas Infrastructure in New Buildings, 19. Refer to Housing Advisory Commission to consider proposed Affordable Housing Framework and Policy, 20. Pilot Cannabis Event at Cesar Chavez Park. 


Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board – Eviction/Section 8/Foreclosure Committee, 5 pm, 2001 Center St, Law Library 2nd Floor, Agenda: 5. Ellis Bill Report 


Children, Youth and Recreation Commission, 7 – 9 pm at 2800 Park St, Frances Albrier Community Center at San Pablo Park, Agenda: 7. Director’s Report West Campus Pool Hours, BUSD/City Joint Facility Use Agreement, July 4 Kite Festival Funding 


Public Works Commission-Paving Subcommittee, 4-5:3 pm at 1497 Center, 4th Floor, Elm Conf Room 


Zero Waste Commission, 7 – 9 pm at 1326 Allston Way, Willow Room, City of Berkeley Corporation Yard, Agenda: 1. Presentation of Conceptual Plans for Solid Waste and Recycling Transfer Station Feasibility Study 


Tax the Rich Rally, with music by Occupella, 5 – 6 pm at the Top of Solano in front of the Closed Oaks Theater, Rain/Extreme Heat Cancels 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019 

Presentation: Human Rights and Wrongs: Causes of Migrations North, 1:30 -3:30 pm, 2939 Ellis, South Berkeley Senior Center, Speakers Adrianne Aron, Diana Bohn speak on findings from special delegation to Honduras 


Berkeley City Council – Special Closed Session, 4:30 pm, 2180 Milvia, 6th Floor Redwood Conf Room, Agenda: 1. Conference with legal counsel Berkeleyside v. City of Berkeley, RG 19004749, 2. Conference with real property negotiators for price and terms of 200 Marina Blvd (Double Tree) https://www.cityofberkeley.info/Clerk/City_Council/2019/06_June/City_Council__06-25-2019_-_Special_Closed_Meeting_Agenda.aspx 

Berkeley City Council – Regular Meeting, 6:00 pm – 11:00 pm, 1231 Addison Street, BUSD Board Room, Consent: Items 1. – 12. 2nd reading Tax rates for FY 2020, 14. $224,064 YMCA City Employee Memberships, 19. Revision Investment Policy, 20. $2,091,305 to extend Pathways STAIR operations to June 30, 2020, 21. $30,000 Block Grant Discretionary Funding June 1, 2019 – May 31, 2020, 22. $832,000 DDorthy Day House to Operate year-round Shelter at Veteran’s Building FY 2020 and FY 2021, 23. $233,835 Aging Services Programs for FY2020, 25. Extend contract by 2 yr - $276,000 with TruePoint Systems LLC for Accela Professional Services, 26. $65,000 NextRequest for Public Records Response Software System, 27. $225,000 Governmentjobs.com, Inc. DBA NEOGOV for Performance and Learning Management System, 28. Add $418,359 to Contract Accela, Inc. for Software Maintenance and Professional Services, 29. Add $35,000 and extend term for on-call landscape architecture, 30. Add $360,000 for new contract for the WETA MOU Planning Phase for potential ferry service and public recreation pier at Berkeley Marina, 31. Letter of commitment to affirm City of Berkeley participation in 2019 Bay Area SunShares residential solar and zero-emission vehicle program, 32. $80,000 contract with Rincon Consultants, Inc to develop Berkeley Pathway to Clean Energy Buildings Report, 33. $19,000,000 On-call Planning Services Contracts. 34. $140,875 Tanko Lighting for Street Light Luminaire Retrofit Project, 35. Educator and Educational Staff Housing - Amend Housing Trust Fund Guidelines to foster workforce housing for educators and educational staff by extending eligibility to include up to 120% AMI and provide $150,00 to BUSD for predevelopment planning, 36. Request City Manager and Dept of Public Works Collaborate to create and Action Plan by June 2020 to aggressively accelerate electrification of City’s Municipal Fleet and Phase out Fossil Fuel in municipal vehicles by 2030 with an update every 6 months, 37. Refer to Planning Commission Zoning Ordinance for Elmwood District to allow for amusement arcades, Action: 38. Budget Referral: $150,000 Remediation of Lawn Bowling, North Green and Santa Fe Right of Way FY 2020-2021 for alternative affordable housing, 39. Adopt FY 2020 and FY 2021 Biennial Budget, 40. Adopt FY 2020 Annual Appropriations Ordinance $520,227,935 (gross and $454,517,219 (net), 41. FY 2019-2020 Borrowing of Funds $35,000,000 Tax and Revenue Anticipation Notes, 42. Waiver of Encroachment Fees for Trash Corral Pilot Program for Telegraph BID and Downtown Berkeley Assoc. Information Reports: 43. Voluntary Time Off Program for FY 2020, 44. Audit Status Report Response: Code Enforcement-Improvements needed in Case Management and Oversight Jan1, 2019-April16, 2019, 45. FY 2020 Civic Arts Grant Awards, 46. FY 2019 2nd qtr Investment Report, 47. Referral Response: Community Microbond Initiative, 48. LPO NOD 2140 Shattuck Ave, 49. goBerkeley Parking Management Program, 50.&51. 2019 Commission on Disability Work Plan and Outreach Efforts, 52. Mental Health Commission 2018 Annual Report. 


Wednesday, June 26, 2019 

4X4 Joint Task Force Committee on Housing: Rent Board/City Council, 3 pm, 2180 Milvia, 1st Floor Cypress Room, 5. Tenant Opportunity Purchase Act (TOPA), 6. Proposed Fair Chance Ordinance, 7. Options for Expanded Rental Registration, 8. Update BMC 13.31 Housing Discrimination based on Source of Income, 9. Demolition Ordinance 


Civic Arts Commission, 6 – 8 pm at 1901 Russell St, Tarea Hall Pittman South Branch Library, Agenda: 8.a. Installation Poetry Panels, Finalists for T1 Project at San Pablo Park, Approval Sofie Ramos installation, 

Commission on the Status of Women, 6:45 – 9 pm at 2180 Milvia, Cypress Room, 7. Presentation by Kate Harrison, 9. Equal Pay Independent Audit 


Disaster and Fire Safety Commission, 7 – 9 pm at 997 Cedar St, Fire Department Training Center, Agenda: 3. Evacuation Workshops, Cal Fire Reduction Priorities, 5. Status Outdoor Public Warning System, Update NOAA Weather Radio Distribution, Emergency Medical Services and First Responder Advanced Life Support, 


Energy Commission, 6:30 – 9 pm at 1947 Center St, Sika Spruce Room, Agenda: 4. Gas Phase out recommendation, 6. Climate Action Fund, Pathway to Clean Energy Buildings 


Police Review Commission, 7 – 10 pm, at 2939 Ellis, South Berkeley Senior Center, Agenda: 9.a. Lexipol Policy #302 Handcuffing, Restraints, spit hood/spit masks, b. Lexipol policies 316,321,325, 418(obtaining air support), c. SB233 prohibiting arrest for certain sex crimes if reporting violent crimes, e. BPD Use of Force Policy, f. Lexipol policies 605,702,705(Personal Protective Equipment, 902(Prison Rape Elimination), 1000(Recruitment and Selection) 


Le Conte Neighbor Association, 7:30 pm – 9 pm, 2236 Parker, Life Adventist Church, Agenda: City Council restructuring into standing committee and maximizing your impact, UC Enrollment Lawsuits and Upper Hearst Project EIR, Urban Infrastructure from grey to green how to participate in City decisions for future 

Thursday, June 27, 2019 

Community Health Commission, 6:30 – 9 pm at 2939 Ellis St. South Berkeley Senior Center, No agenda posted, check before going https://www.cityofberkeley.info/Clerk/Commissions/Commissions__Community_Health_Commission_Homepage.aspx 

Mental Health Commission, 7 – 9 pm at 1947 Center St, Basement, Multi-Purpose Room, Agenda: 3. Annual Update, 4. & 5. Interview and vote on nominations Andrea Pritchett, Gabriella Castello-Kramer to Mental Health Commission, 8. Law Enforcement Use of Restraint Devices, 


Zoning Adjustment Board, 7 pm at 1231 Addison St, BUSD Board Room, staff recommend Approval of all http://www.cityofberkeley.info/zoningadjustmentsboard/ 

2174 Shattuck – add service distilled spirits, 

2468 Telegraph - add service distilled spirits, 

2398 Bancroft – new roof-top wireless, 

1811 Sixty Third – Construct 2-story duplex and 2-story single family dwelling on corner lot in R-2A, all average height 33 ft 

2701 Shattuck – construct 5-story, 62’, 57 dwelling units (including 5 Very Low Income units) 30 parking spaces, storage for 44 bikes, mixed-use 600 sq ft ground-floor Food Service 

0 Euclid – Berryman Reservoir, new 50’ monopole 4G LTE wireless facility operated by Verizon at EBMUD site consisting of 6 antennas, 6 remote units and ground equipment 

1951-75 Shattuck – demolish two existing non-residential buildings, construct 12-story, 120 ft mixed-use building with 156 dwelling units, 100 space subterranean parking 

Community Picnic, 9 am – 4 pm, 1730 Oregon, Grove Park, https://www.cityofberkeley.info/CalendarEventMain.aspx?calendarEventID=16159 

Friday, June 28, 2019 

No City meetings or events found 

Saturday, June 29, 2019 

Making a Healthier Home: Improving Indoor Air Quality & Comfort, 2 – 3:30 pm, 2530 San Pablo, Ecology Center, indoor air quality is typically 2-5 times worse than outdoor air – how to keep pollutants out of your home. Event is free, but space is limited, please RSVP online https://www.eventbrite.com/e/making-a-healthier-home-improving-indoor-air-quality-comfort-tickets-63083077182 


Sunday, June 30, 2019 

No City meetings or events found 




City Council Policy Committees Unfinished Business Items for Scheduling 

Agenda Committee 

Use of U1 Funds for Property Acquisition at 1001, 1007 and 1011 University Ave and 1925 Ninth Street from Housing Advisory Commission and City Manager 

Increase Compliance with Short-Term Rental Ordinance 

Disposition of City-owned Redevelopment Properties at 1631 and 1654 Fifth Street 

Vehicle Dweller Program 

Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act 

Land Use 

Adopt an Ordinance adding a new Chapter 9.50 to the Berkeley Municipal Code Requiring Legal Rights for Legal Tender (July 18 agenda) 

Facilities Infrastructure 

Consider Multi-year Bidding Processes for Street Paving 

Health, Life Enrichment, Equity & Community 

5.a.Recommendations Related to Code Enforcement Actions and Leonard Powell Fact Finding, 

5.b. Recommendations to Bring Justice to Mr. Leonard Powell and to Change Certain Policies to Ensure Housing Stability for Homeowners and Tenants 




Public Hearings Scheduled – Land Use Appeals 

2325 Sixth St (single family residence) – hearing pending – to be scheduled 

Notice of Decision (NOD) With End of Appeal Period 

None pending 

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




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, 

Unscheduled – Cannabis Health Considerations 



Referral Response: Explore Grant Writing Services 



To Check For Regional Meetings with Berkeley Council Appointees go to 



To check for Berkeley Unified School District Board Meetings go to 





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

http://www.sustainableberkeleycoalition.com/whats-ahead.html and in the Berkeley Daily Planet under activist’s calendar http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com 


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