Letters to the Editor

Tuesday January 10, 2006


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Some so-called legal experts within the Justice Department like John Yoo have claimed the president has near imperial powers. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks Justice Department attorney John Yoo wrote that Congress could not place “limits on the president’s determinations as to any terrorist threat, the amount of military force to be used in response, or the method, timing and nature of the response.” Yoo went on to write “These decisions under our Constitution, are for the president alone to make.” Oh really? At the time Yoo was the deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department, he is now a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley. But last year Sandra Day O’Connor said “A state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation’s citizens,” but John Yoo believes it is. It’s so nice to know that we have law professors like John Yoo teaching young law students at Berkeley so then they can become a “legal” experts like him.  

Thomas Husted  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I read the political cartoons in the last edition of the Daily Planet. And yeah, one of the main reasons that I voted for Bush is that he did promise to keep the institution of marriage between man and woman. Yes, it is that important. Bush is a liar, buffoon, and someone that has dragged this country into the pits. But at least he had the gumption to speak out about something that is wrong and immoral. And why is it wrong and immoral? Because God said so! So, have your political cartoonist do some Bible study before he starts mocking Christians and their beliefs. If his way is so much better, why is the world in such chaos now?  

Troy Smith 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

The intent of City Hall, led by the mayor, seems to be to change how development occurs and use the powers of eminent domain to facilitate desired projects. This type of redevelopment was pursued in Oakland with disastrous results—one business person lost his business, land and livelihood so the city could qualify for HUD monies. Berkeley is euphemistically calling this type of development “opportunity zones.” It may be an opportunity, but not for property owners who have caught the eye of economic development. 

Sucha Banger, owner of Black & White Liquors, seems to be one of these. On Nov. 2, Wendy Cosin wrote to him warning him that the city would attempt to remove his liquor license because the business was “non-conforming.” The business has been in operation since 1936, according to the Sanborn Insurance Maps. At a meeting attended by several South Berkeley merchants and facility operators, the mayor commented that if he couldn’t get Mr. Banger out through a public nuisance citation, he would use zoning and code violations and eminent domain if need be to do so. 

At the ZAB public hearing many of the opponents to the Black & White Liquor Store uttered total falsehoods to paint a lurid picture of the area. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Grove Liquor Store and the M&N have had a long history of loitering, especially the M&N, which is close by the Drop-In Center. As someone who has lived in the area for 15 years, the unsavoriness of those two stores makes going to the Vault a challenge. One opponent subsequently remarked that although Mr. Banger has his license back, there has been no increase in crime or public nuisances. 

Many of the issues raised by the city as indicative of the problems at the liquor store are actually associated with BART and city services. The city recently added a mental health center there, increasing the number of clients, rather than customers. Who wants to go shopping where there are clients loitering about, waiting for their appointment? I have been told by the Berkeley police that I can expect higher crime because someone can come to the area by BART, commit a crime and disappear by BART and not get caught or even observed. 

This is an attempt by the city to persecute a hardworking, minority businessman so an overly large building can be built at the BART station to “repair the neighborhood.” Plopping a monolithic block in the middle of a neighborhood of two- and three-story buildings does not repair it. It undermines the minority residents and moves the area towards gentrification. A good way to start is to get minorities out on trumped up charges. Another is to apply for federal grants without any public input, using a tight deadline as an excuse. Are these two events unrelated? Think again. 

Dale Smith 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Whatever happens with the Derby Street field—and right now it looks like the home team is behind—school board member John Selawsky should recuse himself from any more votes and lobbying on the issue. 

This idea may spark a long rebuttal—actual sophist or not, Selawsky is certainly more verbose than even this correspondent.  

But if nothing else, there is an appearance of a conflict of interest, and that should be enough for him to stand down. 

Selawsky lives in the Derby Street neighborhood. He lives, as the long ball flies, about 150 to 200 feet beyond the 500-foot conflict-of-interest zone that School Board members sometimes cite when an issue hits close to home.  

But that is a narrowly legalistic argument, a distinction without meaning. (It is also, by the way, an argument that progressives would properly attack as phony if it were used by a more conservative school board or city councilmember who lived near a disputed piece of land.) 

Selawsky’s political career and personal life is tied to that neighborhood and to the Derby Street issue, which has long been a sacred rallying cry for progressives, or least for homeowners in the area who are also progressives. That’s fine.  

But he is elected by a citywide vote, and when he votes on this issue and lobbies against closing Derby Street, how is anyone to know which hat he is wearing—neighborhood activist cherry picking information or, as he portrayed himself during the Adult School fight, deliberative board member whose first job is to do what’s best for all the city’s students.  

He may also see himself as a helpful facilitator/mitigator, as indeed he has been, though only after he and the school board have tossed down some heavy-handed edict about the fate of a neighborhood.  

The Derby Street debate is already complicated and at times poisonous. There will be yet more public meetings in the next few months. We should remember that our beloved “process” can be an attempt by self-disciplined officials to gather facts and adjudicate differences or a cruel, emotionally draining sham orchestrated by politicians who have already made up their minds, as some city council members have privately or even publicly admitted. 

That we’ve failed for so long to do what most cities are perfectly capable of doing—building a ball field for kids who clearly need one, and a field of their own—is not just embarrassing. It’s meant that rumors of deals and property swaps, general mistrust, and suspicions of double standards for politically connected neighborhoods are infecting the body politic. 

There’s no reason for John Selawsky to make things worse. John, recuse thyself. 

James Day 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Loni Hancock drew a full house on Saturday in Oakland for her public meeting about her bill AB582—the California Clean Money and Fair Elections Act. 

Several people noted that a reform in election financing will be the basis for numerous other reforms in public policy, such as clean air and universal health care, which have been stalled by special interest lobbying. If there was ever a time when the stars, moon and whatever are all aligned for getting this done, that time is now, when so much corruption and anti-democratic practice are in the news. The public wants to take back democracy. Legislators want to take back their dignity, to serve the people, and not have to cater to well-funded corporate lobbyists. 

Loni Hancock has done a great job preparing this bill, and the California Clean Money Campaign has done the homework to make sure the proposed financing is practical. It looks like great law and I sure hope it passes. 

AB582 allows a candidate to accept public financing of his campaign, and not accept corporate contributions or large contributions from a wealthy individual. A candidate would qualify for public financing by collecting a sufficient number of $5 contributions to demonstrate sufficient support. 

One speaker gave us a good analogy. He noted that Rosa Parks showed that one can stand up for one’s rights by sitting down. He said that current campaign finance practice is like charging $2 extra to sit in the front of the bus. We the people need to sit up front, where we have access to the driver and can determine the direction of the bus. 

A unique feature of AB582 is the provision for additional public funding to match “independent expenditures,” by people not officially connected with an opponent’s campaign, up to a cap. This would fund a reply to a last-minute ad blitz by a supporter of one’s opponent. 

Maine and Arizona have already implemented clean money campaign rules. At the meeting, an Arizona state representative told us that she decided to run for office only because of the public financing; she was running against people who had plenty of special interest money. 

Maine has already passed a universal health care system, probably because clean money campaign rules made it difficult for the usual corporate opposition to kill the plan. Here in California, environmental bills often don’t make it to the Assembly floor because of such opposition. This situation can be changed. The time is ripe. 

Steve Geller 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Lawyers, politicians, and journalists are generally held in low esteem by the public at large. This may be because their sole product is words and they tend to use them more as weapons than as instruments for discourse. Whether out of malice, profit or negligence contemporary word merchants cripple communication and nothing illustrates this more cogently than the pervasive use of insidious suffixes.  

Every use of “ism” creates an abstract category that is vague, pejorative, doctrinaire and super-charged for controversy. Notice how a noun like “sex” is besmirched in the word “sexism” and consider too the explosive power you get when you join “ism” to the end of “race.” In effect, “ism” pollutes while its partner “ist” simultaneously personifies and vilifies as happens with sexist, racist, elitist, fascist, communist, extremist, terrorist and so on.  

The noun “terror” merits special consideration for when “ism” is suffixed it subtly erases clarity and jeopardizes civil disagreement. For example, every major TV news outlet has a terrorism expert. What special knowledge does this person possess and what exactly is he qualified to do? How did he achieve this status? Who supervised his research and approved his dissertation? How much do terrorism experts earn? Why don’t we have more female terrorism experts? Is Osama Bin Laden a terrorism expert? 

These sarcastic questions are intended to illustrate the confusion inherent in all occurrences of the “ism” suffix. 

Some “ism” words denote vague concepts: Creationism, Socialism, Capitalism, and Extremism.  

Others are relative and contentious; conservatism versus liberalism and secularism versus clericalism. 

Some are always bad: Fascism, Nazism, Imperialism, Totalitarianism, while nearly everyone considers Humanitarianism and Patriotism good. Finally, time and/or context can change good “ism” words like feminism and athleticism into bad ones.  

Not long ago an historian claiming that our society “…suffers from the tyranny of the present” coined the word “presentism.” More recently, in a New York Times op-ed commentary, the historical context of the Bush team’s expansion of presidential authority was referred to as persidentialism.  

Evidently “ism” can be appended indiscriminately, even to surnames. The sinister and tactical nature of the suffix is highlighted when persons accused of McCarthyism or Marxism are ipso facto condemned. A while back “Saddamism” was used for the first time in a respected newspaper, obviously assuming the reader understood its meaning.  

How long before the vocalizing classes start talking about Bushism and Chenyism? 

Marvin Chachere 

San Pablo