Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Tuesday May 29, 2007


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Noah Grant’s letter to the editor in the May 25 Daily Planet criticizes the current student move-out clean-up campaign co-sponsored by the city and university—and the Planet’s coverage of it—as having “missed a key point: recycling.” I’m afraid it’s Mr. Grant who missed the point, which was clearly stated in the earlier Planet article: “Door hangers were also hung up on the north side and the south side which alerted students about ways to recycle their trash . . . a drop-off recycling center will be set-up on the Clark Kerr campus. Non-profits such as the Alameda County Food Bank and the American Cancer Society will be there to pick up stuff. Computer parts and anything with a plug will be picked up by computer resource centers.”  

In addition, there has been a considerable amount of informal scavenging from the debris boxes, which is fine as long as the scavengers do not leave a mess behind. Finally, when the debris boxes are taken to the city’s transfer station the contents are sorted and recycled to the extent possible. 

There are some individuals who assume they can leave furniture and mattresses on the sidewalks of Berkeley and “someone will take it.” But too often no one does and the items are left to clutter the neighborhood until the city eventually hauls them away. In some cases, the items left curbside are toxic. It is everyone’s responsibility to prevent this kind of environmental pollution.  

Irene Hegarty 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am shocked and appalled at the snide tone of your May 22 article, “Dead Tenants Get Low-Income Housing.” 

Dead tenants need low-income housing, too! Many of us—city administrators and School Board officials excepted—have lost our jobs. We often suffer severe discrimination. Even your esteemed newspaper is full of negative references to “deadwood,” “deadweight,” and “dead wrong.” 

Avaricious landlords don’t want to rent to dead people. They’d just as soon stick us in a hole in the ground or shuttle us off to Rossmoor. We must stand up for our rights and by this I don’t mean rigor mortis. 

I know you have a certain amount of sympathy for our cause. Many of you staff seem like kindred spirits. 

So please, give us the same objective treatment that you do Patrick Kennedy, Tom Bates and AIPAC. 

Gordon Ghostwriter 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

On May 3, I participated in a demonstration in front of the Westin Hotel in Oakland to protest the firing of undocumented women workers—a very moving demonstration by people of all ages and races. 

At the end, Loni Hancock spoke, as well as one of the fired workers. By that time there was a large group of young people sitting in the street, obviously risking arrest.  

I argued with myself for a few minutes, then decided, in spite of the difference in my age (80-plus), to sit down with them. Not for long—I was lifted to my feet, put to one side, and told that their lawyer was expecting a certain number doing civil disobedience, and I could not be included. Discarded! Oh well, next time! 

Frances Berges 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

If BUSD will promise to subsidize swimmers at a new warm pool including new parking costs, additional swim fees about the current $2 per use, and other new costs such as locker room fees, showering fees, etc., and if BUSD will promise in writing not to tear down the gym and old pools until new facilities are ready to use, then and only then might I go along with BUSD plans to demolish the old gym. 

Frankly, I think BUSD fails to recognize the financial plight of most warm pool users; I believe the school board sneers at and dismisses the needs of the warm pool users, mistaking warm pool users for metal and emotionally disabled and the homeless. 

Frankly, I suspect BUSD has no idea how much teachers and students will have to pay to park in a new parking structure built by nobody knows who, and nobody knows what cost per vehicle...but probably more than $10,000 per car space minimum, more likely at least half again more than that. 

Frankly, I believe BUSD directors are hypocrites who have not read any of the engineers’ reports on the condition of the pools and old gym. Reading the charts in ABS Consulting’s report would clarify what is safer than what; the students who continue to use the main gym and its dressing rooms are in more danger than the few students moved to the Y who used to use the pool; See quotes in the May 4 Tribune by BUSD’s PR man, Mark Coplan. Possibly the engineers’ and ABS’s reports are incorrect; they are certainly confusing. ABS relies on calculations made for the SOHA reports seventeen years ago, which reports themselves are error-prone. 

My belief is that new swim fees will be between five and ten dollars per use, minimum, and parking will be between five and $15 per day. I will not be able to park and swim at those rates. 

The district failed to replace screens on new windows at south pool, in their grand wisdom, and now one huge panel has been smashed again. The city paid $6,000 to replace the windows a few months ago. The district is penny-wise and pound-foolish.  

Terry Cochrell 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

California needs prison reform now more than ever. With a dangerously overcrowded system that disproportionately incarcerates African-Americans and other minorities we need to shift the focus from building new prisons and place greater emphasis on prevention programs. 

Like many Bay Area cities, Richmond has a higher per capita percentage of residents who are parolees as compared to other cities in California. I have had the opportunity to work with programs that help these men and women get connected to support and I have seen first hand how the lack of state and federal funding for these programs has made it more difficult for parolees to successfully re-enter our communities. A great opportunity for helping these individuals is to create job training programs that will help the formerly incarcerated get into good paying jobs like those offered through union apprenticeship programs. 

California’s 70 percent recidivism rate underscores the need for more re-entry programs that can help those formerly incarcerated get connected to jobs and training programs, literacy programs, and substance abuse programs. As the California Legislature approaches a new fiscal year, greater emphasis must be placed on insuring there are state dollars to support reentry programs for those formerly incarcerated and meaningful rehabilitations programs that will help the incarcerated make successful transitions into society upon release. State efforts should also focus on creating alternative sentencing programs for youth offenders who commit non-violent crimes. These youth should be directed to programs where they will be given the chance to re-pay society for their crimes and have access to rehabilitative programs that can help them get a GED or diploma, counseling, training, mentoring, and support. This investment will help young offenders become constructive members of society rather than putting them on a path towards long-term incarceration. 

It was once stated that it would be cheaper to send a person to Harvard for a year than to house them in prison for a year. With that in mind let’s start focusing on the best ways to reduce incarceration rates, improve education, and eliminate poverty in California. 

Tony Thurmond 

Richmond City Councilmember 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

We were marooned for 15 years in the San Joaquin Valley, working five-day weeks and escaping on long weekends to San Francisco. As we drove up the I-5, KPFA would suddenly appear on the radio dial. Nirvana! Music, classical, international, jazz; intelligent discussions; real news: A whole new world not accessible in the Valley. 

When we retired and moved promptly to the Bay Area, KPFA became and continued to be our medium of choice. Thank God, none of the mellifluous voices and “sponsored” programs of NPR. Admittedly, both KQED and KPFA do fundraising, but at least KPFA confines it to four times a year, while sponsors lurk 24-7 on KQED. 

Uneven program quality and bickering are probably inevitable on KPFA, a station whose roots go back only five decades to a tiny anti-war beginning. I’ll continue, gratefully, to contribute as much as I can, listen to the programs I want, and then read a good book. Many thanks to everyone at KPFA. 

Beth Wilson 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

On behalf of the Slater family, I would like to thank the Daily Planet and writer Daniella Thompson for the fine May 18 article on Captain Slater’s house—my great-grandfather and his home on Shattuck Avenue. 

As a Berkeley native and fourth-generation resident, I am very interested in the city and its history. We are fortunate to have groups such as the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association and the Berkeley Historical Society. But most of all, we are very fortunate to have a fine, locally owned newspaper—a rarity these days and a welcome antidote to the corporate garbage that passes for journalism in the rest of the East Bay. 

Keep up the good work. 

Paul Slater 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

Although I now live in San Francisco, I spent my youth at the Berkeley public pools, along with Strawberry Canyon and Lake Anza. But it took the encouragement of my mother and the sense of community created by Yassir Chadly to make me a swimmer. In the fall of 2005, while living in Berkeley, I wanted to get into swimming, become a swimmer, and Yassir’s warmth and tips, very presence and attitude helped to take the sting out of the learning curve, making the pool and the water, quite simply, a much nicer place to be. Now back in The City, I get the chance to swim with my mother in the Berkeley public pools once every few months. I relish both the chance to join my mother in her element, in one of her passions, but also the chance to see this man. I know of very few people in this world that give so much to so many with such grace. It is something one recognizes about him in the very first minutes you’re in his presence. 

Thus, I would also ask the city to keep Yassir in place with all his previous benefits. Yassir plays a vital role to countless Berkeley residents and also to at least one beyond its borders. 

Felix Brenner 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

One of the stupidest, most idiotic things any bureaucracy ever did was when Caltrans put the signs that give an estimate of the time it will take to reach some place ahead. 

What does that mean for anyone stuck in traffic? Is it the time it would ordinarily take a driver traveling at the speed limit? 

Do those signs appear in the Sign Planning Manual? Did anyone in the whole organization object? Are they a pet project of someone who can’t be challenged? Was federal money involved? Has the federal inspector general’s office approved of them? 

Maybe Caltrans had some money they had to spend or they would lose it. It does happen. 

Why didn’t they spend it on bus stops at every interchange, like there is in Marin? 

Charles Smith 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

Joanna Graham and I have butted heads in these pages before. To be sure, there is no love lost, and I admit that I regard her as a very crude propagandist for the anti-Israel cause. As one example, among many, she has called Kuresh Arianpour’s now infamous Aug. 8, 2006 anti-Semitic screed published in the Daily Planet as an op-ed “eloquent.” Its thesis, readers will remember, was that Jews are racists who thereby caused all of their own miseries throughout history, from their enslavement in Egypt through the Holocaust. O’Malley claims to have published it only as an exercise in free speech, and even she has roundly denounced the piece. Not so Graham. For her it was “eloquent.” Should Mein Kampf or The Protocols of the Elders of Zion be upheld for their eloquence also? But I digress. 

In her latest piece of libel, Graham, with no evidence whatsoever, and no doubt out of a sense of revenge for the times that I have called her to task in these pages, seeks to tie me into Wornick’s place on the Peace and Justice Commission. I am not in any way Wornick’s “mentor,” as Graham claims. I know him, but not well. He certainly did not ask my opinion before sending a video link about Islam to Peace and Justice members, nor did he copy me on his e-mail to O’Malley. And neither he, nor anyone else on the commission, is working the “Gertz plan,” as per Graham’s delusional claims, since no such plan exists. 

Graham deems that anyone who does not vote anti-Israel resolutions on the Peace and Justice Commission must be Gertz’s “nominee.” No sitting or past member of the commission was ever my nominee in any sense of the word. Graham fabricates this lie out of whole cloth. I have expressed my opinion about the Peace and Justice Commission. O’Malley has abetted me in this by publishing my thoughts from time to time. But it is a leap of fantasy to suggest that I run the show. 

Graham accuses me of “fealty to a foreign master” and “serving . . . on behalf of Israeli hegemony in the Middle East.” I am a proud American, not an Israeli spy, and I have long advocated in this publication and elsewhere an Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, Gaza (both accomplished, thank goodness), and almost all of the West Bank (soon, I hope). Graham, again on the basis of absolutely no evidence, “presumes” that I am out to stop the Peace and Justice Commission from considering Iraq, Afghanistan, oil policy, nuclear weapons, and more. Utter nonsense. Be my guest, commissioners, debate them all. However, Ms. Graham, I can tell you with certainty that no one on the commission is waiting for this permission slip.  

To digress again, Graham assures readers that Azmi Bishara, an Arab-Israeli member of parliament faces the death penalty for treason (he has been accused of spying for Hizbollah). Ms. Graham, Palestinians routinely conduct summary executions for “treason” (no trial necessary in your precious Palestine). Israel, being a civilized democracy, has a fiercely independent judiciary, and does not have a death penalty. 

But my real beef is not with Graham but with O’Malley, who would deign to publish such libelous hysterics.  

John Gertz 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

According to McClatchy, in 2006 the Israeli death toll from the conflict hit a six-year low; further, successful suicide bombings nearly came to a halt. On Monday, May 21, that period of relative calm and security (for Jews only, not for Palestinians!) ended when an Israeli woman was killed by a Qassam rocket in Sderot. I have been unable to find out her name or age; nevertheless, I feel a strange and sad connection with her because 24 days earlier, in these pages, I predicted her death. You might say she died in a martyrdom operation, although I doubt she knew she had been chosen or agreed to her own sacrifice. 

Here’s what happened. Israel was being subjected to what it most dreads: a “peace offensive.” The Palestinians were mostly abiding by a self-imposed ceasefire; Hamas and Fatah had formed a unity government; and the Arab League had met and dusted off the Saudi peace plan. 

The ball was in Israel’s court. But Israel doesn’t want peace. It wants to keep the occupied territories. However, Israel can never publicly admit this. It can’t afford to look obstructionist. Therefore, the other side must always be the problem. 

What Israel badly needed was Palestinian violence causing Israeli civilian deaths. 

So Israel embarked on a methodical campaign of assassination until, finally, Hamas called off its ceasefire. It was at that point I made my prediction, which came true so shortly thereafter.  

Announcing further military operations, Foreign (and potential Prime) Minister Tzipi Livni said, “Israel will defend its citizens.” What she meant was, “It’s working! Everyone is stupid—except us Jews.” Have you heard about the Arab Peace Initiative lately? No, and you won’t. As Dov Weisglass—Ariel Sharon’s Karl Rove—famously remarked on a previous, similar occasion, it is now “in formaldehyde.” 

Joanna Graham 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Congratulations to the Daily Planet for looking into the considerable costs of RFID at Berkeley Public Library, and for uncovering the fact that the cost of RFID tags has increased 84 percent for the media/donut tags (from $1.15 to $2.12 each), and increased 28 percent for the regular tags (from 60 cents to 77 cents each)—just since September, 2005, and despite predictions to the contrary. 

Of course, the price increases are even more dramatic when compared with the much lower cost of the previously installed bar code technology. 

In the last several years, the most important assets of the library were cut—staff, book budgets, and open hours—even as privacy-threatening RFID was installed at a cost the union has estimated at more than $2 million. It is an unfortunate record of misplaced priorities.  

For the record, my comments about the failure of price cuts for RFID tags to actually occur were not directed at any individual’s comments, but at the general concept. As I mentioned to the article’s author, RFID tags made by one vendor cannot routinely be read by the equipment of another vendor. Thus, each vendor, including Berkeley Public Library’s vendor, Checkpoint, obtains a kind of “lock” on its customers. When customers do not have the ability to get tags from other vendors, they are not in a good position to resist their vendor’s price increases.  

This lack of “interoperability” unfortunately makes the library vulnerable to rising costs in all aspects of its RFID operation, and vulnerable to increasing drains on the money that staff and public alike want for both staff and materials that support the core functions of the library. We hope you continue to review questions about RFID, including a recent $108,000 RFID allocation that library staff said could better be used for staffing, and the concerns raised by a March, 2007 report from the union that suggests additional problems and costs may be attributable to RFID from an increase in worker injuries since RFID was installed.  

Peter Warfield 

Executive Director,  

Library Users Association 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Hello, My name is Abdur Shemsu and I am a senior at Berkeley High School. I have been a part of the Y-Scholars program since ninth grade. 

It has always been my goal to attend college, but since I will be the first in my family to pursue a university education, neither my family not I knew how to get there. I knew Y-Scholars would help and I was eager to get started. I participated in Academic Support Group meetings where a UC Berkeley Coordinator taught us about college requirements job applications, and scholarships. I attended tutoring to receive help on my homework and exams, SAT prep courses that improved my score by over 200 points, and college panels where I spoke to college students and gained an understanding of college life and its process. I took advantage of many other services provided through Y-Scholars and because of all their guidance and support, I was well equipped to enter my senior year. 

The first semester of my senior year, like for all seniors, was tough. Not only was I taking a rigorous course load that included honors and AP classes, I was also applying to colleges, scholarships and financial aid. Since my parents knew nothing about the process, I was left to handle this load on my own. Thankfully, Y-Scholars was there to help me. Since I was a senior, I didn’t have to attend Academic Support Group or tutoring. Instead, I was given my own personal college advisor who helped me throughout the whole process. We researched colleges together, wrote, edited and revised personal statements, applied to scholarships, and filled out the FAFSA. My coordinator also wrote numerous letters of recommendation for scholarships and academic programs, looked over my school assignments to make sure I wasn’t falling behind in school and kept me motivated throughout all of this even when things were looking down. 

Y-Scholars really helped me get through my senior year, and because of them, I have been accepted into UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, Santa Clara University, and all the Cal States I applied to! I am very proud of my accomplishments and it is because of Y-Scholars that I have to overcome my family hardships and my financial circumstances. Thank you Y-Scholars, and thank you for helping me raise money for a program that has made a difference in my life. 

Thank you for caring, and thank you for making a difference. 

Abdur Shemsu 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Global warming it the most serious issue facing this country today. For example, there are a lot of cars and trucks on the freeways here in the Bay Area, which result in heavy traffic. With both cars and trucks stuck there for hours, the smoke that comes out of them goes into the air. It seems that some people cannot survive even a day without a car. 

However, there are two groups that use the bus as their only transportation. They are seniors and the disabled. The majority of them are helping to combat global warming here in both Alameda and Contra Costa counties, by not either owning or driving a car. So it is a travesty that the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District still has a bus pass costing $20 a month for both these groups of people. I urge AC Transit to have some balance by lowering the price of the bus pass for both seniors and the disabled. 

Billy Trice, Jr. 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Want something fun to do with your kids this summer while also getting out in the sun and fresh air? How about volunteering at your local animal shelter walking dogs? These dogs would love the exercise and you just might get some licks and kisses. 

Vanessa Gaglione 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

On May 22, the Democratic leadership led by San Francisco’s Nancy Pelosi cut a deal with the Bush regime to continue funding the Bush wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These wars are illegal under international law and immoral under any decent standard. Funding them is complicity in war crimes even under the guise of “supporting the troops” which was one of the Democratic excuses for this deal. 

Why should anyone opposed to an unjust war wish to fund the troops to prosecute such a war. Would it have been OK for Germans to support the German troops in their prosecution of Hitler’s war as long as they personally opposed Hitler and the war? You can not support the troops and not also support the war in which they are fighting. We should support troops like Lt. Watada who have refused to fight in Iraq. But those fighting Bush’s war deserve no support in that war. 

In announcing the dastardly deal, Pelosi stated, “It is a new direction in Iraq that the American people called for. The president is finally conceding he has to be accountable.” Senator Harry Reid also claimed victory, “I don’t think there’s any way you can stretch what we’ve done in this supplemental as a defeat. Look how far we’ve come.” 

I am looking at the “new direction” and at “how far we’ve come” and we are on the same old road to destruction. The war in Afghanistan is now in its seventh year and the Iraq war is in its fifth year. Hundreds of thousands have needlessly died in these imperialist wars. Blood is on the hands of anyone who enables Bush to continue his crimes against humanity. 

Half-a-trillion dollars have been spent to defend and expand the U.S. global empire through these two wars and if the Bush regime is not stopped, we will soon face a third war in Iran. The Democrats can cut-off funding for the wars and impeach Bush, but both ideas are “off the table” according to their leaders. 

We can not rely on the Democrats to halt the fascist program of the Bush regime. Only concerted mass action can do so. Bush must be impeached. Funding must be stopped for crimes committed in our names. To find out how you can help, see 

Kenneth J. Theisen 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

For those still in the dark about Bush and his administration, its agenda and motives: Fundamentalists, unchecked, can destroy not only the World Trade Center but any country in the world, if given the chance. It was fundamentalists that flew airplanes into our buildings and it was another kind of fundamentalism that responded by attacking and occupying Iraq. From President Bush’s first use of the word “crusade” a fundamentalist mindset has been driving American policies, just as a comparable fundamentalism drives the attacks of our enemies. 

Fundamentalism is alive and well in our country’s borders, at home in the offices of the White House and the Pentagon (remember Lt. General William Boykin’s comments) as much as in the hills of Afghanistan and desert of Iraq. The Bush administration and Republicans will only become more extreme as time goes on, if they retain power. 

Ron Lowe 

Grass Valley 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

When it comes down to “other peoples’ money,” communities in Berkeley may inevitably find themselves involved in a prospective Utility Underground Program. This account of such an involvement focuses on the imperative to total procedural disclosure ... caveat, caveat ... usually included as an essential “gratuity” in any project of this magnitude and scope. 

Lack of specific consent datum and procedural guidelines as officially established in letter and intent subordinate this entire process to a mere formality. Going through the motions with wink-wink, quid pro quo politics also relegate the city of Berkeley, once esteemed as a city of intellectual enlightenment, to one of self-serving entitlement. 

If a proposed utility underground is more corporately expedient in promotion, as in this instance, than it is collectively engaged, acquisition of the end purpose becomes the integral component, by choice and presumptive design, in a very flawed process. As refers to this case in point ... the portentous assertion, “We’re going to do it anyway!” ... or the one-time great deal sell “Others paid $50,000 (or was it $35,000, or maybe $25,000) for the same thing!” ... and the ultimate ruse “You aren’t going to have any electricity!” These “hard sell” verbal vindictives appear subjectively conclusive as to their end, and objectively obscured as to their means of accomplishment. 

Also related specifically to hands-on access of the original disclosure guideline is the amorphously manipulated (or now lowered) 60 percent initial petition of consent by consensus, which dovetails the final 2/3 voter approval count of ballots cast (received). As regards the hands-on promotion of this underground, pursuant to the initial petition, schematic datum of the properties involved with calculated duns ... or the “done-deal,” complete with financial-aid options, for the less fortunate, are dispersed with alacrity. 

Embedded in the residual of this pervasive attrition is the “just hatched” neoclass of expendables, e.g. the elderly, new nesters, and no throw away doughers, who ultimately assume by pecuniary design, worst case scenarios ... property tax liens and/or incontrovertible debt. Recourse, as reasonable intervention and review of the process is “a day at divorce court.” Pile up a white collar laundry of bombastic diatribe, purposeful equivocations, pin-the-tail politics and the voice of counter-intuitivism, “How could I treat my neighbors so?” Some empowered advocates embrace city hall, while others are on a “Tahitian vacation.” 

As a cosmetic “eye-tuck” to upgrade the beauty of the surround and enhance panoramic ambiance, or if that’s too dilettante, maybe up the safety quotient for we few ... another emergent neoclass, Berkeley’s oligarchical plutocracy, as averred, “Did what they want to do and any way they can.” 

Why not an aboveboard underground? Is the answer obvious, or is it “just because we could?” without the intrigue, “all” may have had their own way anyway; maybe not ... honestly, we’ll never know! 

Margaret E. Castillo