Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Tuesday January 15, 2008


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Here’s a quick-mantra for the world today: Those few of us who profit obscenely from “free market capitalism,” make absolutely sure that those of us who don’t, are successfully silenced.  

Robert Blau 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It was like listening to what happens after the Berlin Wall Comes down. It was Ann Cooper giving her presentation this past Wednesday, to the School Board, on what has changed with the public school’s food program, and it was everything that I had wished for. She began by saying that in the past 28 months, she’s gotten rid of all transfats and high fructose corn syrup in school food. Bravo, I clapped. She said that all milk at lunch is organic, and the hamburger they serve only once a month, is grass fed, and that she tries to spend most of her budget on local farms, within 100 miles of Berkeley. And every school has a garden program. 

It’s a miracle! Berkeley is so lucky. We have Michael Pollan teaching and talking and writing here, we have Alice Waters and a slew of master cooks, and now all our schools have the best school food and garden program in the world. 

Beebo Turman displayed her four three-inch inch binders of notes and agendas—representing eight hard years of long meetings. Eric Weaver, who started working on this when his son was in kindergarten and is now half-way through high school, sat in the audience. 

Those of us who wrote the original Food Policy and insisted on the word organic, sent this news around the world. Berkeley, being Berkeley, our comet of a food policy made the news in 140 countries. And while it took six years before Berkeley schools even began to implement the guts of this policy, good school food is now mainstream, laws in many states, and Berkeley’s food policy is the basis of the school food policy in Great Britain. 

We have outlasted administrators who told us that our dreams were foolhardy and unaffordable, who rolled their eyes when we talked about fruits and vegetables, and who looked at us as gargoyles from outer space when we talked about fresh-cooked rather than factory-made food. And most of all about childhood obesity, and that kids can’t learn, can’t sit still on high sugar, high salt, high fat, laced with preservatives fake color and chemical flavoring. (But heh, that stuff was vitamin fortified.) 

And I remember a prior food administrator who said, kids don’t eat vegetables. And now, every garden teacher and every nutrition cooking teacher at each school, can attest. Kids don’t eat vegetables, they wolf them down. 

It’s all true today! All of it.  

So this is a shout out, to all those above, and to Michele Lawrence who opened the door, to Alice Waters and the Chez Panisse Foundation for helping with the funding, to the Center for Ecoliteracy for supporting school gardens and the mantra “eat local, eat local.” And to all those folks who work with our great school garden programs, to you department chairs of the weeding department, kudos! 

Yolanda Huang 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Standing in front of the Oak Grove at the last home game of the football season (Nov. 10), an enthusiastic fan jabbed my eye with outpointed fingers. My eye still hurts everyday.  

I had to insist twice, with help from witnesses, that the UCB cops stop the guy. A police report was filed (so I can prove this story is true), yet I was not allowed to press charges against the guy. I did nothing to provoke the guy, which the cops understood. But the cops explained that sometimes when there’s a crowd and a tense situation, people do things they wouldn’t otherwise do. The guy was let go with no charges filed, no citation issued. My eye hurts every day. 

I may have, it seems, poured a little water on a cop during a tense incident one night at the Grove. Yes, water, not an “unknown chemical substance.” I was held that night, the following day, and that following night. That second night I was held post-bail, a bail which the cops tried unsuccessfully to set at a whopping $35,000. Despite having a disability, I was held without access to appropriate medical care which I did need at the time and asked for multiple times. Cops everywhere I was shuffled around to all believed I used “unknown chemical substances,” so my rights were often violated. I was denied access to a phone for over 24 hours.  

The media believed the embellishment. All the papers printed the bogus story about “unknown chemicals.” But it was water, a fact which even the cops now admit. But still because how they lied about what I did, people did believe “unknown chemicals.” 

And despite slandering me, having me held like a terrorist, and having to pay some bail, the cops want to punish me further. For water. They are taking me to trial; going to kick me when I’m down. I have no clue what the punishment will be, but the charges are four misdemeanor counts of battery on police officers. For water. My eye hurts every day. 

There is obviously a double standard about what constitutes battery, and who is allowed to press charges. Anyway, we’ll see how far I get in court with “sometimes when there’s a crowd and a tense situation, people do things they wouldn’t otherwise do.” 

Nathan Pitts 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Vincent Casalaina’s letter last Friday in opposition to the potential Bus Rapid Transit project was flawed in two respects: It based its argument on obsolete data, and it used faulty circular logic. 

Casalaina continues to argue that what’s included in the draft environmental impact report (released in 2006) is what inevitably will be built. He thereby fails to understand the very good reason why environmental review requires two stages: the draft EIR uncovers issues of community concern so that the final EIR is highly likely to address them. Casalaina’s concern with parking is a perfect example: it has risen to the top of local issues people care about when looking at BRT in Berkeley, so it’s certain that the issue will be fully explored. AC Transit has already committed to describing potential mitigations for any final scenario chosen by the City of Berkeley as its “preferred local alternative.” As a basis for opposition, therefore, the draft EIR is about as reliable as last month’s weather forecast. 

Casalaina was also “concerned about spending any more time and money to develop a preferred alternative if we feel that all of the alternatives will be disastrous for Berkeley.” There’s the bad logic: how, exactly, will we know if any alternatives will be “disastrous” without analyzing at least one of them in detail? Once the final EIR has laid out the preferred local alternative and its negative impacts along with their mitigations, we will be able to discuss potential “disastrousness”—but surely not until then. Let’s reach our conclusions after we see the evidence, not before. 

Finally, anyone who proposes Rapid Bus as the adequate alternative to BRT has never actually ridden the 1R on Telegraph or in downtown at rush hours. Without the amenities of a full BRT implementation—dedicated lanes wherever practical, pre-board ticketing, signal priority and more—the 1R will never be more than another local bus stuck in our increasingly challenging commute-hour traffic. 

Alan Tobey 

Friends of BRT 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Police vehicles, ambulances, and fire trucks have long had a way of traveling quickly without requiring an empty lane to use at all time. Their method has not required workers and shoppers to give up hundreds of parking spaces. How do they do it? They have the law saying they have the right of way. They are permitted to use flashing lights and unique noises to remind people to let them pass. 

If AC Transit can prove that 1) its buses would actually make better time with a freed up right-of-way, and 2) the improved speed would attract a worthwhile number of additional passengers, then they have a long-established means of achieving their goal. The appropriate legislative bodies could pass ordinances or laws giving the buses the right-of-way over regular traffic. The buses could be equipped with flashing lights and some unique warning sound. Drivers hearing a couple of bars of (for example) “the wheels of the bus go round and round” played on diesel horn would quickly learn to pull to the side to let these efficient vehicles pass. 

Drivers and parkers would be inconvenienced only when there is a bus behind them trying to pass. The city could collect its meter revenues, and local businesses would continue to be able to sell to people who, for whatever reason, need a car. Costs would be minimal to specially equip a couple of dozen buses for particular chosen routes. 

Peter Liederman 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am so sorry Sandra Graber was killed crossing Marin on Dec. 31. 

As someone who advocated for years to improve Marin’s safety through reconfiguration, I must seriously consider Mr. Chamberlin’s charge that the elimination of the small pedestrian islands due to the reconfiguration is at fault. This was discussed recently by the Albany Strollers and Rollers, and a different perspective emerged. Like Colusa, Santa Fe Avenue intersects Marin at an acute angle. At this angle, the driver turning left onto Marin often has their view of the cross walk blocked by the roof column between the windshield and the side window. This has been observed to cause some conflict between pedestrians and drivers at Santa Fe and Marin. Having recognized this hazard, Albany applied for a grant last fall to install left turn signals on Santa Fe to eliminate this conflict. Perhaps a similar solution is needed at Colusa and Marin. 

As to the reconfiguration not slowing down traffic on Marin, it is true that the follow-up survey did not show this to be the case. This was because traffic volumes were so much less at the time of this survey, apparently due to rainy weather. Albany’s speed survey last September did show a dramatic reduction in average speed, however, to 27 mph with a daily traffic volume of 19,500. This is the first time the average speed has been under 30 mph in at least a decade, and is 5 mph less than the average speed in April, 1997, the last time the traffic volume was near 20,000. While a 5 mph, 15 percent reduction may not seem very significant, average accident severity correlates to the square of the speed rather than just the speed. Therefore this reduction should reduce average accident severity by almost 30%. On this measure alone, the reconfiguration has been a success in making all of Marin safer. Of course, the reconfiguration also eliminated the passing lane, which presented an additional hazard to pedestrians beyond just vehicle speed alone. This situation was unequivocally responsible for a pedestrian fatality on Marin in the summer of 2003. 

Preston Jordan 

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory 

Earth Science Division 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

To state the glaringly obvious: the greatest danger to pedestrians in Berkeley are the pedestrians themselves. Whatever the many virtues of walking, the overwhelming majority of pedestrians consistently behave ignorantly, arrogantly, and/or selfishly when entering our roadways, putting themselves and others at risk. They seem to believe their moral superiority (“I’m an ecological pedestrian, you’re a planet-killing driver”) or perceived legal right-of-way (“All cars must halt for MEEEEE”) will magically stop all vehicles. Or maybe they are just too busy zoning to their iPods, or exchanging important gossip on their cell phones to care. Unfortunately, in the real world, vehicles don’t always stop in time. 

The collisions are not, as has been suggested, predominantly a result of Berkeley car culture, but rather of Berkeley pedestrian culture. Instead of rushing to blame speeding cars, we should be asking why pedestrians are in such a damn hurry to cross the street. If Berkeley pedestrians simply treated cars as the dangerous 2.5 ton missiles they are by 1) avoiding crossing streets in front of nearby oncoming vehicles, and 2) crossing cautiously under all conditions, vehicle-pedestrian collisions would be entirely eliminated except for the most unique unfortunate circumstances. Regardless of whether drivers behave recklessly or responsibly, pedestrians are nearly always “in the drivers seat” in regards their own safety. Right now, they invariably choose to drive their safety off the nearest cliff and take their chances. “Precaution” does not exist in the vocabulary of the Berkeley pedestrian, and THAT is the problem. 

Having spent nearly 40 of my 50 years elsewhere, and speaking as both a driver and pedestrian, the lack of regard Berkeley pedestrians show for their own safety is appalling. I’m amazed the injury and fatality rates aren’t much higher. It’s time Berkeley pedestrians grew up and behaved responsibly— that is, if they truly want to protect themselves instead of digging up scapegoats to fit whatever irrational ideology they’ve adopted to support their narcissistic behavior. I look forward to the day when a Berkeley pedestrian actually looks both ways before crossing a street (especially when they are pushing a baby carriage; even looking one way would be an improvement), or waits for a line of twenty cars to pass instead of forcing them all to brake and idle, wasting gas and spewing emissions, so one single solitary self-absorbed “green” pedestrian can mosey across. 

Bernie Lenhoff 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Is everybody ready for the Republican election year assault on our senses; ready for down and dirty politics in ‘08. The GOP will do anything to win the upcoming elections. There will be the usual distortion and confusion of facts, half-truths, the dredging up of past inaccuracies, character assassination, false charges, feeding the fires of fear and scare tactics galore. Plus, no one has yet fixed the flawed and vulnerable electronic voting process. Maybe the GOP has changed its ways. 

Ron Lowe 

Grass Valley 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Marvin Chachere offers us another thoughtful article (Jan. 8) this time on the last days of the American Republic, in which he reflects on “the drift of the ‘American experiment’ from its mooring as a republic towards a de facto empire.” Recently Naomi Wolfe, author of The End of America, wrote an essay in the Guardian entitled “Fascist America, in 10 easy steps” listing those steps that have been used repeatedly to subvert democracies into totalitarian states, and equating them with tactics employed by the Bush administration to undermine democratic processes in the United States. Her address detailing this can be seen on YouTube. 

Mr. Chachere says, “I look at the nation we have become and I see a pearl of promise being uncultivated, ignored and debased.” He describes, of course, our country, but that statement may be applied in microcosm to every child in an American public school. The neglect of education in America is at the root of the impending collapse of our democracy. 

Jerry Landis 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In her Jan. 4 article “Clashes Continue Inside KPFA,” Judith Scherr updates issues of Pacifica/KPFA management and politics, including the Station Board election. I would’ve liked to see some items included or covered more carefully and accurately: 

Larry Bensky’s e-mail blast violation was ruled a clear, primary campaign practices violation by National Election Supervisor (NES) Casey Peters because the message was sent on the station e-mail server, not from Bensky’s private website as he implies. The server is clearly identified as in the e-mail header and footer. There’s really no question, I don’t think even KPFA management denies this; only Larry and his Concerned Listeners (CL) pals are playing dumb. The e-mail list itself is actually a station resource accumulated over the years he was on staff hosting Sunday Salon. Further, Sasha Lilley’s usual disingenuous denial of management and programmers being aware of or ignoring the NES prescribed remedies and penalties, besides partly refuted by Casey’s message to the interim GM, doesn’t a) address their continued refusal to provide access as ordered to the three independent candidate slates to transmit short messages to the list or b) mitigate Bensky’s continued on air appearances which flaunt the controlling cabal’s disregard and contempt for the NES prohibition/authority and Pacifica democratic election process. 

Pacifica interim Executive Director Dan Siegel’s letter to the Pacifica Community. This flagrant, critical violation of Pacifica bylaws, campaign rules and California corporations code is even more blatant than Bensky’s in using Pacifica positions and resources to intervene and influence the election—and likely had more adverse impact early in the voting period when it was practically the only election statement available to voters on the station and foundation websites or on air. So while Scherr perhaps couldn’t adequately cover both violations in one article, this one should’ve been referenced or at least mentioned. 

Peoples Radio is not alone in criticisms and complaints of myriad campaign violations and station management’s blackout of election information and collusion with the CL group. The collective letter to the NES (signed by 25) and the Open Letter from the Committee on Fair Elections (60 and counting; to be published as a commentary) were endorsed by multiple candidates and supporters of the three independent, pro-listener democracy slates, including Voices for Justice and I-Team, current and former Board members, active listeners and staff. 

Note: A public forum on KPFA/Pacifica elections is planned for February. 

Bob English 

2007 KPFA Board Candidate 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

As an old (83) man I have many opportunities to test primary care physicians (PCPs) for competence. What is an added aid to this endeavor is that my HMO requires that you be referred to a specialist by your PCP. This is not good for your health but good for my investigation. 

In the future I will audition a new PCP. I will give you an example from my experience (tendon completely torn off the shoulder; diagnosed as bursitis by my PCP.) 1. Ask your PCP what he would do if you came to him with sore shoulders that resulted from raising a window several mornings. Would he ask you if you had difficulty brushing your teeth, combing your hair, putting a dish on a high shelf? (symptoms specific for rotator cuff tear.) 2. Would he test you for rotator cuff tear? (A very simple test with an unambiguous result if you have a detached tendon.) 3. Would he say he wasn’t sure what your problem was and send you immediately to orthopedics? Any of these would be correct. My PCP just asked if I was getting better; said I had bursitis. I was getting better. I was reassured. After a year I quit improving so asked for a referral. The orthopedic surgeon said MRI showed the tendon completely torn off the bone. The muscle now atrophied. It was now too late to attempt repair. I said I had been improving. Surgeon said that was misleading. It was due to the three remaining attached muscles partially compensating for the detached muscle. 

Lost my hearing completely one day. Ears felt stopped up. PCP prescribed a nasal decongestant. I recovered. Lost hearing again. This time I only recovered partial hearing. Asked for referral. Otologist tested me with a tuning fork and determined my problem was an inner ear problem, not a middle ear problem as the PCP guessed. The PCP didn’t use a tuning fork. The otologist said most PCPs don’t have tuning forks! Otologist said MRI showed no tumor but permanent damage to auditory nerve. The primary treatment is prednisone within 48 hours. Too late. 

Daughter had malignant melanoma diagnosed as a harmless mole. PCP said she could see a dermatologist if she liked. She went. Had biopsy then immediate surgery. Dermatologist said melanoma diagnosis is tricky. Said PCPs should never guess but send patient to a specialist. I found the specialists excellent. The PCPs guessed and were wrong. It was as though the PCPs took a survey course in “medicine appreciation” rather than rigorously studying the profession. 

If you can afford it choose a medical plan that allows self-referral. Some HMOs are dropping the PCP-only referral due to poor PCP diagnoses and treatments. Medicine has advanced to the point where a PCP can’t cover the whole field. What’s frightening is that some PCPs don’t know that. 

Sam Craig 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

We are in a new year and it is still the same thing. The price of the bus pass for both seniors and the disabled is still $20. How can the Alameda-Contra Costa Transportation District do this to both of these groups? Don’t they realize that both seniors and the disabled use the bus as their only form of transportation? By doing so they are helping to fight global warming. 

I think the transportation district should lobby politicians in Sacramento and Washington D.C. for more funding so that they can lower the bus prices. The politicians in Washington have money to fund the war in Iraq, they should have money for seniors and the disabled. 

Billy Trice, Jr. 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Highway 580 westbound toward the Bay Bridge, where drivers are going to Route 80, has long been a problem, as drivers merge to the left. 

The alternate route is to use West MacArthur. Caltrans has a new onramp which is used very little. Persons leaving the Kaiser Hospital can go up to the front of the line if they are headed north on Route 80. 

Charles Smith 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I wish to bring to the attention of the public an issue concerning the children’s computers at the Berkeley Public Library. The library’s stated policy “affirms the right and responsibility of a parent to determine and monitor their child’s Internet access.” However, there is no monitoring at the library itself. Children of all ages are able to view any site they wish to, including pornography and chat rooms. 

Children’s computers “for the exclusive use by children” are available at the library. These computers recognize a special card granted to children 13 and under. However, the child does not have to use the children’s computer and can use that or the adult computer. MySpace, a predator hangout and site of a recent child suicide, required people who access their site to state that they are 14 years or over. A child using the children’s card is theoretically not eligible for MySpace, yet the library allows the child to access this and other “age-restricted sites” on either the adult or children’s computer. 

Parents, who know that their child has a children’s computer card, are lulled into believing that the library has parental controls, as many parents do at their homes. This is not the case. The library enables youngsters’ access to dangerous and questionable Internet sites and parents are most likely not aware of it. The library has issued an Internet use policy that basically washes their hands of any responsibility. Most parents are not aware of this and are not aware that their children have access to predatory sites. 

I worked at the library until recently and quit my position there when it was made clear to me that I could not intervene to protect children by upholding age restrictions on sites viewed. 

Thomas Lynch 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Bob Egelko in the Jan. 5 San Francisco Chronicle reminded us that some three years ago George Bush (unwittingly? or, probably, purposefully?) seated on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco one Jay Bybee, former Justice Department supervisory signer of John Woo’s now notorious memo to then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales advising that the Bill of Rights’ (geographically restricted!) prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments (torture) allows the infliction of pain up to that as severe as is caused by “organ failure, impairment of bodily functions or even death.” 

Gonzales is now gone from the federal government, and revolted students repeatedly protest Woo’s being on Boalt Hall’s faculty, but Jay Bybee, obvious adherent of Woo’s advocacy of extreme pain to extract dubious “information” from unindicted suspects remains on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Judges can be removed from our courts by impeachment by Congress. Action to impeach Jay Bybee is long overdue. 

Judith Segard Hunt 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

As if it isn’t enough of a scandal that the point is even being mooted as to whether waterboarding constitutes torture, we now have the administration, that same administration which showed no compunction at outing a CIA operative to serve their own political ends, claiming protection of the identity of the interrogators (read torturers) as the rationale for the destruction of tapes documenting the practice. 

This, given all the technology at hand at Langley—those pixilation and voice modification potentialities we are all now so familiar with from CNN—is sure to go down as one of the lamest excuses to date from the most corrupt administration since Harding, and would be almost laughable, were the stakes not so high. 

The motivation is no secret. It is the same motive that drove the Nazis to destroy whatever evidence they could of the camps—and the enormity of that crime should not blind us to the fact that it differs by degree only—an all too human impulse: to destory the evidence of their crimes. Hopefully, some still have a sense of shame as well. 

R.W. “Red” Snapper