The Week



Flash: Power Outage Could Happen Tonight

Tuesday October 08, 2019 - 12:10:00 PM

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin has posted information about a possible PG&E power shutdown which will affect most of Berkeley which could be in effect after 4 a.m. tomorrow. Information about what we should do to prepare for it can be found here: -more-

Midnight Traveler: One Family's Epic Tale of Survival

Reviewed by Gar Smith
Tuesday October 08, 2019 - 12:27:00 PM

Extraordinary. Harrowing. Heroic. Stoic. Suspenseful. Nail-biting. Frightening. Exhausting. Unforgettable.

These are just a few of the words that come to mind in an attempt to capture the experience of watching Midnight Traveler, the cinematic saga of one family's attempt to survive the challenge of forced migration.

Midnight Traveler is an astonishing record of an epic tale of survival that follows an Afghan family of four—Hassan, his wife Fatima, and theirs daughters, precocious Nargis and little Zahra—on a perilous three-year, 3,500-mile journey.

It would have been a major accomplishment had this film been produced by a major studio with a big budget, a well-crafted script by an A-list screenwriter, and a cast of internationally known actors. Instead, this is a documentary—a homemade movie of a family made homeless by political division and the perils of life in a combat zone.

Miraculously, despite having to deal with armed police, human traffickers, smugglers, and attacks by anti-immigrant gangs, the family survives this road-trip from Hell intact. Even more miraculously, Fazili and his wife (also a filmmaker) were able to capture their ordeal on the family's three mobile phones. Those fraught images form the heart of Fazili's transfixing docudrama. -more-

Inheriting Injustice: The Wednesday Vigils

Gar Smith
Friday October 04, 2019 - 05:34:00 PM

If you've wondered about the vigil that appears in front of the Berkeley Probate Court on Wednesday mornings—covering the lawn in front of the old City Hall building with dozens protest signs—Maxine Ussery will be more than happy to fill you in. Ussery is a member of The Gospel Truth Probate Reform Movement and, if you ask, she'll hand you a thick, 26-page press packet filled with protest letters and press clippings.

Every Wednesday, a half-dozen protestors routinely gather on the MLK sidewalk to hand out literature about an ongoing injustice that has caused distress among the daughters and sons of the "Pearl Harbor Generation of African Americans." The phrase refers to the now-aging population of local residents who relocated to the Bay Area during WWII and bought homes for their families.

According to Ussery and other demonstrators, property that would be expected to be passed down to children and heirs has, all too frequently, wound up in the hands of the Alameda Country Probate Court. Or, more specifically, in the hands of the Probate Court's 20-plus attorneys—most of whom appear to be white and male.

The problem comes about whenever a dispute arises among the children of aging parents. A standard Will or Living Trust document is intended to smooth the path for the transfer of wealth and property but, if there is a challenge from one or more family members, the Probate Court can intervene and impose a "confiscation-of-inheritance" scenario.

In a 2016 document, Ussery complained: "We believe Alameda Country's Probate Courts have, over the last 50 years, legally robbed the African-American community of well over One Hundred Million Dollars."

Ussery and more than 45 other aggrieved members of the community maintain that the Probate Court system has profited from "pitting legally named beneficiaries/trustees against each other so that the Court can claim they have to administer the estate/trust because the legal beneficiaries cannot agree; And then getting approval to sell the assets of the estate/trust to satisfy some overwhelming, non-existing, tax debt or unforeseen expense that the estate/trust has occurred." -more-



Trees in Traffic Circles Are Still Threatened by the City of Berkeley

Becky O'Malley
Saturday October 05, 2019 - 12:05:00 PM

It’s a time-tested government strategy: if you want to duck a controversial issue, appoint a citizen’s group to study it, and hope that the controversy will go away in time. That’s what the Berkeley City Council did when confronted with an ongoing struggle between city employees eager to clear-cut the traffic circles in flatland neighborhoods and the neighbors who have been lovingly maintaining them for many years.

There’s a plethora of news reports and op-eds on the history of what’s happened so far which can be found with a simple google search on “traffic circles Berkeley”, but in the interest of saving time and space let’s just summarize the various press reports:

Sometime in 2015 there was a lawsuit filed by someone who was injured in a collision at an intersection in the southside area which contained a planted traffic circle. The defendant driver was quickly determined to be essentially judgement-proof, so the plaintiff focused on the deep pockets of the City of Berkeley, also a defendant. The suit was handled, some say ineptly, by a new Berkeley city attorney who opted to settle instead instead of risking a trial. Analyses of the terms of the settlement differ, but the bottom line seems to be that blame for the accident, fairly or unfairly, was fixed on the vegetation in the circle, especially a tree.

This outcome was seized upon by the city’s public works and traffic staffers as an opportunity to take over the circles and strip them of most of the plantings, though nothing in the settlement specifically required this.

A public outcry ensued, resulting in a Berkeley City Council resolution in February of this year to establish, yes, a Citizen’s Task Force to study the problem and present a report on next steps. -more-

Public Comment

The 1930s and The Thirty Hour Week

Harry Brill
Friday October 04, 2019 - 05:31:00 PM

If the federal government decided to make a 30 hour seek mandatory without reducing wages or cutting benefits it would created millions of jobs and improve the quality of lives of many workers and their families. Of course the current political climate is unfavorable to taking such a giant step.

So it may be surprising to many that once this country was close to adopting early during the 1930s depression a shorter work week of 30 hours that paid working people the same as they earned on their full time jobs. Quite a contrast with the current practice of cutting programs as the economy declines. b Shortly after Franklin D. Roosevelt's (FDR) first presidential election a bill was proposed in both houses of Congress to reduce full time jobs to 30 hours a week. Employees who work longer hours would be paid time-and-a-half. The purpose was to substantially reduce unemployment. The bill in the Senate, which was written by Hugo Black, who was among the most liberal U.S. Senators, passed by an overwhelming majority of 53 to 30. FDR's strong support of the bill was among the reasons why it succeeded.

It was assumed that the 30 work week would also sale through the House as well. Instead, it never even came to a vote. One of the key committees, the Rules Committee, would have to release the bill for a house vote. However, the committee decided withhold its release.

The main reason is that enormous business pressure persuaded FDR to change his mind. He responded by putting considerable pressure on the Committee to withhold the bill. So FDR with the cooperation of the Committee successfully killed the 30 hour week proposal.

Several years later the President and Congress established the Fair Labor Standard Act, which required many employers to pay time-and-a-half when work exceeded forty hours. This bill was certainly welcomed by many workers. But it is several light years away from the 30 hour week. Not only are the number of hours much longer. The law excluded many workers from receiving a legal minimum wage and overtime for working long hours. The millions of agricultural employees have been among those excluded from recognition.

But the problem is not just a substantive one. There is something very seriously wrong with the process as well. That it is perfectly legal for a US President to interfere with another branch of government to prevent a vote from being taken is not what a genuine democracy is about. -more-


ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Tragic Ends to Tragic Lives

Jack Bragen
Saturday October 05, 2019 - 12:21:00 PM


This week's column has dismal content, and you should embark on reading it with caution. It reflects the realities that many persons with mental illness face, and often these are not good. However, I'd like to preface it with another reality, which is hope. So long as we live, breathe and think, we can do some things to better our life circumstances and our mental condition. It takes effort and it takes bravery, but, if you are determined, you can make things better.

I have a brother with schizophrenia, the same condition that affects me. We've both made it past age 50. Yet, it is common for men afflicted with this disease not to make it as far as we have. I could name perhaps a dozen men and women with psychiatric illness who did not make it past 50. There are multiple causes of death. One of the most common is suicide. I've met numerous individuals who died this way. Others have had early heart disease, and/or diabetes. Others have passed because of an accidental drug overdose or bad interaction. You do not hear of many mentally ill people making it to their seventies.

These deaths are tragedies and should not be trivialized because of it happening to a mentally ill person. People often don't perceive us as being in the category of fully-fledged human beings. Many medical doctors do not treat mentally ill patients with the same level of care afforded to a non-afflicted person. -more-

THE PUBLIC EYE:Impeachment Messaging

Bob Burnett
Friday October 04, 2019 - 05:27:00 PM

With the September 24th initiation of a formal impeachment inquiry, the political battle lines have formed. Democrats will subpoena witnesses and gather material that will be presented before the House Intelligence committee; eventually the House Judiciary Committee will construct the formal impeachment measure and submit it to the entire House of Representatives. Meanwhile, Donald Trump, and his Republican acolytes, will do everything they can to discredit the inquiry. Their obstruction will take (at least) ten forms.

By the way, before you consider what follows, it would be a good idea to read the "Unclassified Memorandum of Telephone Conversation" between Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky ( ). It would also be a good idea to read the "Unclassified Whistleblower memo to Senator Richard Burr and Congressman Adam Schiff." (

One Trump strategy will be to ignore the allegations of Trump misconduct and to attack. -more-

ECLECTIC RANT: Whistleblower Complaint: Trump’s Misdirection Tactics

Ralph E. Stone
Saturday October 05, 2019 - 04:51:00 PM

The thrust of the whistleblower complaint isn’t really about Joe Biden and his son Hunter as some Trump apologists would have you believe. Trump was using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 election. -more-

SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Saturday October 05, 2019 - 04:11:00 PM

Animal Defenders Claim Whole Foods Ain't Holy

On Monday, the Noe Valley outlet of Jeff Bezos' Amazon/Washington Post/Whole Foods Empire, took a nick when scores of animal rights protestors blocked the entrance, clambered to the rooftops, and unfurled a huge poster of Bezos. The Berkeley-based group, Direct Action Everywhere (DAE), claims that Whole Foods is guilty of sourcing and selling the remains of animals raised and slaughtered on farms that engage in "animal cruelty." Thirty activists were arrested and Whole Foods went to court to request a restraining order to prevent DAE from staging future protests at any of its 88 California stores.

Kudos to KCBS

Special reporting kudos to the KCBS radio reporter who cover the DAE protests and informed listeners that the majority of Whole Food shoppers were supportive of the demonstrators and condemned animal cruelty. However, KCBS reported, there was "one shopper" who expressed disapproval. KCBS recorded the aggrieved shopper's complaint as follows:

"I just came here to buy some milk for my babies! And some guy comes up and calls me a 'murderer'!"

It's hard not to feel some sympathy for this fellow. But that was not the end of the story, thanks to the KCBS reporter who was on his journalistic toes. He spotted the shopper exiting the store with his purchase and noticed he wasn't carrying any milk. Instead, KCBS listeners discovered, he had purchased "three New York strip steaks."

Warspeak -more-

Arts & Events

Renée Fleming in Recital at Zellerbach

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Monday October 07, 2019 - 11:56:00 AM

On October 5, famed soprano Renée Fleming gave a recital at Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall accompanied by pianist Richard Bado. Opening the program were four songs by Franz Schubert: Suleika, Lied der Mignon: Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt, Die Vogel, and Rastlose Liebe. For me, the highlight was Lied der Mignon, a song full of longing. Die Vogel was brief and whimsical; and Lastlose Liebe brought this Schubert set to an upbeat close. -more-

Husband-Wife Duo Pene Pati & Amina Edris Sing Romeo and Juliet

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Saturday October 05, 2019 - 05:14:00 PM

Tuesday, October 1 felt like a family affair at San Francisco Opera. What made it seem a family affair was not just that the husband-wife duo of Pene Pati and Amina Edris were singing the lead roles this one night only in Charles Gounods Roméo et Juliette. It was also that our local audiences have watched these two young singers emerge from the Merola and Adler Fellow Programs, then move on to grace the big stage of the San Francisco Opera. We have heard tenor Pene Pati and soprano Amina Edris many times over the past six years. We have noted that they met in 2016 when both were Adler Fellows. We have noted that they married later in 2016, and we have heard them sing countless times, individually, and, occasionally, together. But to hear them sing the roles of Romeo and Juliet, based on Shakespeares immortal young lovers, was something special, something like, well, a family affair for all of us, and a cause for celebration.

Their story is heart-warming. Pene Pati is a Samoan-born tenor who became a New Zealand citizen. Amina Edris is an Egyptian-born soprano who also became a New Zealand citizen. And they met as Adler Fellows in San Francisco. In this citys multi-cultural milieu, this husband-wife duo is a testament to what we hold dear. On October 1, in hearing Pene Pati and Amina Edris sing Romeo and Juliet, San Francisco audiences could bask in the warmth of this family affair. And the superb singing of Pene Pati and Amina Edris just reinforced this spirit of a family celebration. -more-

Updated: A Superb EUGENE ONEGIN At Livermore Valley Opera

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Saturday October 05, 2019 - 04:47:00 PM

On Sunday, September 29, I made my first ever venture to Livermore Valley Opera for a production of Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. To say that I was surprised by how excellent was this production is understated praise. I have seen many Eugene Onegins, including one from the Bolshoi Opera I saw in Paris in 1969 conducted by Mstislav Rostropovich in his first visit ever outside the Soviet Union. That was indeed memorable! However, this Livermore Valley Opera production of Eugene Oregon ranks up there with the best. As Tatiana, soprano Antonina Chehovska was sensational! What a voice! It’s bright, it’s warm, and it’s radiant! Chehovska’s “Letter scene” was a thing of utmost beauty! I hung on every word she sang. As Onegin, baritone Morgan Smith was excellent. He has a powerful voice, almost too powerful a voice. While he needs to control it a bit to vary the dynamics, Smith sang beautifully and forcefully. -more-

16 Year-Old Maria Dueñas’ Encore Steals The Show

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Saturday October 05, 2019 - 05:21:00 PM

As the featured soloist in Felix Mendelssohn’s great Violin Concerto, 16 year-old Maria Dueñas gave ample evidence of a talent in the making. Then, at the Friday, October 4, performance I attended, Maria Dueñas played a riveting encore. In this work, Maria Dueñas made it clear that her formidable talent is already full-blown. But whose music was this? When she lit into this encore without announcing what she would play, I wager she had most of the audience in a fog. Whereas most encores offered by soloists are short and sweet, this work, whatever it was, was lengthy and full of challenging technical difficulties. Yet Maria Dueñas brought it off superbly. Whose music was this? -more-

The Berkeley Activist's Calendar, October 6-13

Kelly Hammargren, Sustainable Berkeley Coalition.
Saturday October 05, 2019 - 04:07:00 PM

Worth Noting

Saturday, October 12 is the Emergency Prep Fair

If you don’t have solar on your roof you can still choose 100% renewable electricity thru Opt Up for 100% Clean Electricity through East Bay Community Energy by choosing Renewable 100 If your budget is too squeezed to pay a few more dollars a month for 100% renewable Brilliant 100% is carbon free and the same cost as PG&E.

The City Council October 15 meeting agenda is available for comment. Follow the link or check the highlights from the agenda following the list of meetings and events. Email comments to

Plan Ahead

East Bay SunShares Workshops, Tuesday, October 15, 6 – 7:30 pm at 2939 Ellis, South Berkeley Senior Center, pre-registration requested (not required). SunShares makes it easier and more affordable for Bay Area residents to go solar.

City of Berkeley Planning open House, Wednesday, October 16, 4-6 pm, 1947 Center

Housing Framework: What’s happening with Measures O, P and U1, Saturday, October 19, 10 am at Harriet Tubman Terrace

Sunday, October 6, 2019

3rd National Election Integrity Conference, 10 am – 6 pm, at 2939 Ellis St, South Berkeley Senior Center, last day of two-day conference, theme “In Paper We Trust” This is a ticketed event with discounts for seniors, students, educators.

Tiny Living Festival – Tiny House Festival, 10 am – 6 pm, 25th St & Barrett Ave, Richmond, CA (Parking Lot across from Richmond Art Center, this is a ticketed event.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Community Environmental Advisory Commission – Plastics Elimination Subcommittee, 3 pm at 2000 University, Au Coquelet, Agenda: Strategies and alternatives to increasing plastic use,

Measure O Bond Oversight Committee – Request for Proposals Subcommittee, 2180 Milvia, 2nd floor Dogwood Room, Agenda: 4. Funding Applications Received (4), Bridge, Northern CA Land Trust, Resources for Community Development, SAHA

Peace and Justice Commission, 7 pm at 2180 Milvia, 1st Floor Cypress Room, Agenda: 7. City Auditor Presentation on Internal Domestic Violence Policy, 8. Presentation Alameda County Census 2020, 10. Support for strengthened police oversight

Personnel Board, 7 – 9 pm, 2180 Milvia, 6th Floor Redwood Conference Room, Agenda: VI. Discussion only Temporary Employee Report

Free Smoking Cessation Clinic, 6 – 8 pm at 2939 Ellis St, South Berkeley Senior Center,

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. -more-