Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Thursday August 07, 2008 - 12:05:00 PM


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Quarter after quarter, and year after year, the oil companies post record profits that are higher than ever before. If they were just passing the high cost of crude oil on to the consumer, their profits would be constant. No, they are squeezing us for excessive profits simply because they can. 

Sure, this hurts us consumers. It is also wrecking havoc on our country’s economy. And still, they receive billions in tax breaks. These must stop. Instead, the oily companies should pay a windfall-profits tax. Let’s use their profits to fund solar and wind energy alternatives. Then we could drive plug-in electric cars with no carbon footprint on the environment. 

Bruce Joffe 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

I’ve been a regular patron of McDonald’s restaurant in Berkeley over the past 20 or more years, always aiming for a table at the window where I’ve spent happy hours sipping coffee, reading a newspaper or simply watching the passing parade on Shattuck Avenue. 

In all those years I’ve had ample opportunity to observe Susan Hanks, who was recently dismissed by McDonald’s after 26 years of faithful service. Granted that Susan is developmentally disabled, this didn’t affect her work one whit. Clearly, Susan loved her job—loved it with a passion. She wiped tables and chairs with gusto, stacked trays, picked up trash from the floor and pushed a broom, all with lightning speed. If I tried to engage her in conversation, she made it clear she was there to work—not to chat. Never mind that we had been neighbors in the Elmwood District at one time. 

It pains me to think what this cruel dismissal has meant to someone so dedicated to her job. Could McDonald’s not have waited until Susan and the two other employee retired? Are we to assume that this restaurant will now recruit only graduate students and Ph.D.’s to clean tables and pick up trash? I suggest they consider that Safeway stores have successfully hired developmentally disabled workers for many years. 

Dorothy Snodgrass 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In the East Bay Then and Now article entitled “Civil War Hero Established a Military Dynasty,” the exploits of Captain William McCleave during the Civil War are described. Several incidents involved battles between the California Volunteers and Indian tribes in Texas and New Mexico. I have a different perspective on his actions there. For example, Captain McCleave and the infamous Kit Carson attacked a Kiowa village of 150 lodges and killed many men, women and children. For this, Kit Carson named him as the officer “deserving highest praise.” 

He may have led an honorable and productive life in Berkeley, but his actions against many Indian tribes and individuals during the Civil War do not make him a hero.  

What is ironic is that he left Ireland during the famine that resulted from English policies that favored the rights of the large landowners over the farmers who worked the land. So he and his family and many thousands others were driven from Ireland because of a government policy. Then he comes to the United States and attacks Native Americans who also are trying to protect their ancestral lands and families against a military machine. 

For me the irony is two-fold. My ancestors were driven from their ancestral lands in Scotland in the early 1800s so that large English landowners could use their land to graze sheep for the lucrative wool markets of England. In many cases the families were forced off their land and their houses burned to the ground. My Irish ancestors came to the United States, like Wm McCleave, because they were starving, due to a potato famine and English policy. I wonder why he thought that attacking Kiowa and Comanche villages was honorable, but starving in Ireland was not. 

He may have been a hero to some, but not to me and many of my friends and relatives. 

Will Galeson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

China is a major trade partner, major arms supplier and major defender of the junta in the international arena, especially in the United Nations Security Council. The military junta in Burma is still in power to this day, despite strong and continuous resistance by the people of Burma, because of China’s support. China has provided billions of dollars in weapons, used its veto power at the UN Security Council to paralyze peaceful efforts at change, and unilaterally undermined diplomatic efforts to free the world’s only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners. 

The Olympics begin on Aug. 8—the 20th anniversary of Burma’s largest national democratic uprising, when millions bravely marched through the streets, and nearly toppled the military regime if they had not been brutally massacred. 

The people of Burma are continually calling for a protection of freedom and human rights and an end to attacks against ethnic minorities. China however continues to send weapons and funds to the Burmese dictatorship, allowing attacks against civilians to continue. 

Human rights activists inside Burma have called on people around the world to not watch the Olympic ceremonies because of China’s support for the Burmese military. You can still support the athletes in what they do, support the Chinese people, and support the games for what they stand for, but don’t support the Chinese government’s policies. 

Don Irwin 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

In the event of an earthquake on the Hayward Fault could the university be held liable for any injuries or deaths occurring at or near the (new) sports facility cum stadium given that a reasonable person could (and many have) foreseen such an occurrence and other building options were readily available? Given the likelihood of such an occurrence, would the lack of an adequate disaster plan and evacuation proceeding constitute simple negligence or rise to the level of willful and intentional disregard of human safety and life? Will the liability for any such an event be restricted to the university or can it be extended to any donors, trustees or public officials who knowingly supported the venture despite its risks? Or will the taxpayers be saddled with any liabilities that may occur? 

Should the university be liable to the city for any infrastructure damage or public safety costs caused by the project? Should not users of the facility as well as people who live and work nearby be adequately warned of the dangers and likelihood of a major quake? Would warning labels printed (like on cigarette packages) on tickets along with postings in the area be adequate or should users and property buyers be required to sign documents assuming the risk? Should disaster plans be posted at all entrances and exits to the complex? Should half-time disaster drills become a normal part of every game? 

At what point does potential risk outweigh potential gain? Should not safety be a primary consideration in the creation of any educational facility? Is a sports facility at that location necessary for the diffusion of knowledge? When and how can an institution be judged guilty of betraying a public trust? What is the penalty for that? 

Joanne Kowalski 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Our great City of Berkeley is known worldwide for its outstanding progressiveness. When Mike and Becky O’Malley purchased the Daily Planet, they created an amazing newspaper that represents that unique, distinguishing quality. No other publication has now, or ever, done that important job. Without getting too maudlin: Three big Berkeley cheers for the O’Malleys! 

Robert Blau 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

A “friend of mine” who is a former smoker (he quit again, just this morning), remembered an incident on Telegraph Avenue, near the Med. He was directed as far from its entrance as possible. Fair enough, I say. 

Standing at the edge of the street where bike riders were exposed to his exhalations (and car exhaust), “he” uttered to a fellow fumer, “We’re pushed to the curb with the junkies and pigeons. Oh. Sorry—you don’t look like a pigeon.” 

I’ve stopped referring to tobacco addiction as a habit. Not many years ago, there was a running ad in a local paper which read: “Be paid to ridicule smokers.” Had that ad been about alcoholics, there would have been quite a negative response from readers. The medical condition of alcoholism has been upgraded to a disease. Remember when those who suffered that affliction were considered by more people as losers and bums? 

Pedestrians are not addicted to car exhaust, nor to the noise they produce. 

If only the mass availability of tobacco had been prevented, especially the most toxic form: cigarettes. 

Ove Ofteness 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Soon there won’t be any place in public to smoke. After all, smoking in public makes everyone downwind smoke, too. It’s not as unobtrusive as snuff or chaw, after all. It makes the rest of us do the drug, too. A little help for you, Al, and Michael, and other self-loathing smokers: Feverfew. This bitter (God’s way of preventing overdosing?) relative of tansy and chrysanthemum contains chemicals called parthenols which do the same thing to your capillaries as nicotine. This gets rid of the dreaded withdrawal migraine. Nicotine’s stimulant and anti-depressant affects can be replaced by coffee or tea or chocolate or even guarana, none of which have to be set on fire to tickle the brain and enrage passing crazed bicyclists. Can’t find Feverfew? It grows like a weed in this area, freely self-seeding and coming back from mild frosts readily. E-mail me for a plant or two or five. No more dragon breath, please.  

Linus Hollis 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Al Winslow’s article “Not A Time To Be A Smoker” illustrates the lengths to which a smoker must go to avoid persecution. I feel bad for those poor addicted people. But smoke—any kind of smoke—causes me to cough and constantly clear my throat. Everyone’s right to clean air trumps any perceived right to smoke. 

It is clear that both smokers and second-hand smokers are at risk for a number of diseases and cancers. It’s no wonder, because cigarettes contain a high number of toxic chemicals. 

Smoking organic tobacco and papers still takes its toll on the lungs because of fine particulates, as well as the dioxin that rains down on all crops, whether organic or not. 

Research in the scientific journal Archives of Environmental Health has shown that cigarettes deliver high levels of dioxins that are comparable to those coming out of incinerator stacks. Dioxins are linked to a very wide range of diseases and cancers, some of which have negative effects on the human endocrine system. This makes dioxin an endocrine disruptor, causing inappropriate quantity of hormones—too much, too little or none at all—that affect nearly every bodily function from reproduction and development to memory and body temperature regulation. 

But there are many other toxic chemicals involved in smoking. Alternative ingredients can take the place of real tobacco including but not limited to: loblolly pine cellulose; paper manufacturing waste; agricultural waste; timber products waste; municipal paper waste; and food processing waste. The chlorine-bleached paper it’s typically wrapped in is a source of dioxins. If that isn’t enough then there are radioactive phosphate tobacco fertilizers (Polonium 210); burn accelerants; a wide range of sugars and artificial sweeteners; an abundance of chemicals used in commercial farming; and residue from 400 pesticides registered for use with tobacco. 

To continue smoking is to continue one’s self abuse. But please don’t do it around others who did not specifically give permission to smoke nearby. I wish the author and all smokers the will to stop. But just give it up Al. (Please.) 

Paul Goettlich 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In his July 31 letter, Ben Padilla attempts to justify his opposition to gay marriage on both historical and biblical grounds. He states that the “personal writings” of our “Founding Fathers” make it clear that they were theists and believed in “the God of the Bible.” Probably true, but in their wisdom they set aside their personal beliefs to create a constitution which forbids “respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The Bible, like other ancient religious scripts, is a collection of opinion and superstition set forth by pedants whose views, in their time, were surely as bigoted as those of Mr. Padilla, and it has no place in state policy. His own distaste for homosexuality is made vivid by his revulsion at public gay displays. As to his contention that homosexuality is “physically harmful” and damaging to the spirit, I wonder what has so severely damaged his. The glory of democracy is that we all may decide for ourselves what is good for us, or not. 

Jerry Landis 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Our California Constitution—the law of our land—should guarantee the same freedoms and rights to everyone. No one group should be singled out to be treated differently. However, Proposition 8 would deny gay and lesbian couples these freedoms and rights. Regardless of how you feel about this issue, the freedom to marry is fundamental to our society, just like the freedoms of religion and speech. The government has no business telling people who can and cannot get married. Just like government has no business telling us what to read, watch on TV or do in our private lives. We don’t need Prop. 8; we don’t need more government in our lives. 

Will Weiner 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Twice in the past couple of months strangers have come to help when I’ve toppled over in my electric scooters (two different ones, and the falls were for two different reasons). 

The more recent event was this past Thursday on Haste Street, where some clown was parked in a driveway, narrowing the already narrow sidewalk. Scooter and I went over sideways, with the scooter’s falling on top of my leg and pinning me. Fortunately, my service dog managed to steer clear of me. I called for help and four people showed up. The first was a man who kept saying, “I love you, I’m coming to help you,” as he piled his packages near a wall. The second, third and fourth were an occupational therapist who undoubtedly works at the Herrick Campus, a FedEx deliveryman and a man in scrubs who could have been anything from a neurosurgeon to a janitor. The first man got the scooter off me. The occupational therapist helped me sit up and lent me her handkerchief, and the FedEx man and the man in scrubs got the scooter upright. 

The earlier event was scary enough that I had a bystander (who’d been all the way across Shattuck) come running across to offer help. Since I’d landed on my head I was concerned about a head injury, so I asked the guy to call 911. Our paramedics are wonderful. They’re kind, gentle and very well trained. And they had me sitting up and standing up in a very short time. 

And both times, I found myself thinking how glad I am that I moved to Berkeley, lo these many years ago, because it’s a place where people do pay attention when others need help. The purpose of this letter is to say thank you to everyone who helped me and made sure I was OK. 

And for the occupational therapist, I’m going to return your handkerchief, cleaned of blood and as fresh and soft as when you offered it to me. 

Joann Lee 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Over two weeks ago, Dan Mogulof, executive director of UC Berkeley’s Office of Public Affairs, criticized Becky O’Malley’s editorial for its “personal animus.” As yet, you have remained undefended, until now. How does the spokesman for an organization employing for two months the tactic of starving the young people in the oaks dare to claim the higher ground? And even offer a sarcastic lecture in his July letter to the editor? It is UC who has handled the theater of the last year and a half so poorly, so arrogantly considering the amount of neighborhood and citywide opposition to their athletic project. How often do you see Shirley Dean and Betty Olds climbing trees? Of course, remember Dona Spring’s appearance at the tree-sit and unanswered plea for reason (food for the protestors)? However this turns out, UC and Mogulof have without a doubt behaved shamefully with unnecessary disrespect to its neighbors and the citizens of Berkeley. 

Charles Pappas  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

There is graffiti on the wall at Milva and Channing which says “cars are assholes.” In Berkeley it barely raises an eyebrow; if it does you may have chuckled. I no longer drive, but I do walk all over Berkeley. In the past three years I have been hit three times, I have been screamed at, sworn at, and spit upon—not by car drivers but by bicyclists. I’m not speaking about thugs from the lower rungs of society, I’m speaking of UC Berkeley students, 30-something parents towing their toddler buggy, workers heading to their jobs, and younger students heading to classes or parks. 

The City of Berkeley speaks of their master plan for the community, a plan in which they reduce the number of cars and provide incentive for the use of public transport, bikes, foot traffic as alternate ways of moving from place to place. I am all for better living and reducing our dependency on oil and gas by reducing the use of cars, but not if there is no incentive for the police department to enforce public safety. 

I’ll put this simply: If you are on wheels you are not a pedestrian and do not belong on a sidewalk. Twice I have been hit in a marked crosswalk (once while pushing a stroller) by a cyclist who blew through a stop sign. Both times, they did not apologize; they just admonished me for not getting out of their way. Once I was hit on a sidewalk because I would not give way after they had shouted “on your left!” 

I see cyclists on the sidewalk all over Berkeley, even on designated bicycle boulevards: Milva, Virginia and Ninth Street. I see cyclists ride against the flow of traffic so they can see cars. I see cyclists ignore traffic lights and street signs. I see people decide they’re cyclists until confronted by a red light and then suddenly they become a pedestrian, hoping the curb and turning abruptly to ride through the pedestrian crosswalk; wobbling into pedestrians crossing the street. And then, most disheartening of all, I see the Berkeley police force make the choice to stop a jaywalker downtown and ignore the bicyclist wobbling into the elderly woman with a cane in front of Tullys and the main BART station entrance; within 20 feet of the blue and white sign which says “Walk your bike on the sidewalk.” 

What I would like to see is more effort made by all of us to remember that our safety and well-being is tied to the safety and well being of those around us. If you want respect for your chosen mode of transportation, than you need to respect others around you, regardless of their mode of transportation. I would like to see Berkeley step up to the plate and realize that just because you have plans that limit and reduce the use of cars in the city, that does not mean you have reduced threats to public safety. I’d like to see the laws of public safety applied uniformly and safely—not just in the tourist areas or the business districts. We residents, who suffer and endure harassment and injury due to the carelessness or ignorance of bicyclists, deserve the support and protection of the law enforcement and the city government. 

Meri Liston 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am a gardener at UC Berkeley. I write to point out that in my experience, the university has 20 or 30 full-time houseless residents sleeping in the creekbed, under the bridges and behind the buildings all over campus that they do nothing about. They ignore these resident homeless persons, only occasionally sending gardeners out to clean up the camping spots and unlawfully throw away people’s possessions, and now all of a sudden they are upset about the tree-sitter support folks sleeping in the median? 

Hank Chapot 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

In her most recent editorial, Becky O’Malley slams the City Council’s failure to appeal the court decision on the Student Athlete High Performance Center as undemocratic, describing the public session as “by my count...about 50 or 60 pro-appeal, with just two or three con.” Actually, 10 speakers urged the council not to appeal. Becky further claims not to know about the existence of a “silent majority in opposition” even though signed petitions, Kitchen Democracy polls, calls and e-mails to councilmembers, and letters to the Daily Planet demonstrate clearly that a sizable segment of the community does not want the litigation to continue. 

O’Malley says that these opponents of the appeal are “too busy or too self-important perhaps to show up in person.” It’s true that many are busy—working, supporting their families, having dinner with their kids, paying their taxes. They also vote. The speakers in opposition to the appeal are long-time residents of Berkeley, and two of the speakers represented the Chamber of Commerce and the business community. Unlike many of the tree-sitter supports, they are here for the long term, they care deeply about their community, and they will vote in November. The day city policy is set by a nose count of who is able to pack the council chamber and jeer the loudest will be a dark day for democracy. 

Sandy Bails 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I take exception to Sherman Boyson’s description (Letters, July 31) of the oak grove preservationists who attended the July 24 City Council meeting as “unwashed thugs.” I was amongst that group of “tree supporters,” and I hereby proclaim that my personal hygiene is beyond reproach! Of course, I cannot speak for the other attendees (be they pro- or anti-tree), nor can I attest to their state of washedness...or lack thereof. Apparently, there was some sort of body-cleanliness meter in operation at City Hall that evening, that provided Boyson the compiled data he required to reach his “unshowered” conclusions. Or maybe he just made it up. 

All I know for sure is that meeting was attended to overflowing by a wide cross section of Berkeley citizens, including a former Berkeley mayor, a variety of educators, UC students, doctors, lawyers, community leaders, business owners and elder environmentalists. A neatly dressed young woman with a child in her arms, spoke with great clarity, eloquence, passion and reason as she implored the city council to vote for a continuation of the lawsuit. She was typical of the vast majority who spoke that evening. Such a well informed, civic conscious and concerned citizenry, hardly deserves to be referred to as “unwashed thugs.” 

The handful of attendees expressing a pro-university or anti-appeal view, were indeed at times met with moans and groans of disapproval, not completely unexpected in such an emotionally charged atmosphere, and less than I have heard at prior council meetings addressing other subjects. And, contrary to Boyson’s paranoid and hysterical fantasies, certainly no one at any time was ever “shouted down” or prevented from fully expressing their views. That is simply a lie. 

While the tree-sitters and their supporters have engaged in a deliberate and prolonged campaign of non-violent civil disobedience, I have observed tree-sitters abused and endangered. Each night I see them tortured with sleep deprivation techniques. I have seen peaceful supporters pushed to the ground and injured by UC police. Yes, I have observed truly violent and genuinely thuggish behavior, and it has all come courtesy of the university. 

Boyson’s letter describing that July 24 council meeting is so preposterous, that I am in doubt of his actual attendance. If he indeed was there, then by his own description he must be a “misfit” with “nothing else to do in his life.” To remedy this situation, first I would suggest that he get a job. Perhaps gainful employment would help dilute and divert his cowardly fear of those of us who would dare challenge his revered power structures...such as UC. Next, a good long shower might inspire him to come up with a rationale to support his views. With an actual rationale, cheap personal attacks might not be necessary. 

I still stand patiently waiting for someone, anyone to provide me a rational reason as to why the university is so bound and determined to destroy a sacred and environmentally valuable and irreplaceable grove of oaks to build their gym. Why not just respectfully build it elsewhere...somewhere that makes the community happier and the athletes safer? Any explanations? Mr. Boyson? 

Kevin Moore 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

On July 31 I got an e-mail from a friend saying he was surprised to see that I was supporting Susan Wengraf’s candidacy for the District 5 council seat. I was surprised by his message, since I hadn’t endorsed Wengraf and don’t plan to do so.  

Then I remembered that Susan and I had run into each other at a recent council meeting. She’d asked me to sign her signature-in-lieu-of-filing-fee form, and I’d done so. That gesture in no way constituted an endorsement. By signing Wengraf’s form, I merely helped her avoid paying the full $150 fee that the city charges would-be candidates for municipal office. The city clerk knocks off a dollar for each signature of a registered Berkeley voter. It’s a weird—and, for both candidates and the clerk’s staff (who have to validate every signature), an annoyingly time-consuming—procedure. I think it ought to be struck from the city’s election rules.  

I wondered how my friend knew that I’d signed Wengraf’s form. It must be in the Planet, I thought. Sure enough, the paper’s July 31 issue included an article by Judith Scherr that reviewed the names on the signature-in-lieu-of-filing fee forms submitted so far (the deadline to file is Aug. 8). Scherr had picked out my name, among others, from the 186 signatories on Wengraf’s form.  

Reading Scherr’s piece, I could see how my friend got the mistaken idea that I was supporting Wengraf. “These signatures,” wrote Scherr, “are not formal endorsements—registered Berkeley voters can sign any number of signature-in-lieu papers. Still, a glance at the lists of signatures gives some clues to who the candidates’ friends are—in politics and life.”  

Hardly. More often—and certainly in the case at hand—a signature just bears witness to a chance encounter between politically active Berkeleyans. Nothing more. 

Zelda Bronstein 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Voters approved Measure Y to curb crime in Oakland. However, Measure Y also funds services for the large number of parolees who are released to Oakland every year. The city estimates that 3,000 are returned to the area annually. In fact, Alameda County, site of Oakland, received nearly 50 percent more new parolees per capita than Los Angeles County in 2005, according to the Los Angeles Times. 

Oakland, the state’s eighth-largest city, is home to a large population of parolees, who account for approximately 50 percent of the crimes committed there.  

“You certainly see folks who are either on probation or coming out of prison on parole at great risk of committing violent crimes or being victims of violent crime,” said Lenore Anderson, the city’s safety director. 

It’s not surprising that Oakland had the highest rate of violent crime of any large city in California last year: 190.5 incidents for every 10,000 people, according to a Times analysis of recently released FBI data. That’s nearly two and a half times the rate in Los Angeles. 

There were 1,066 more rapes, robberies, murders and aggravated assaults in Oakland last year than in San Francisco, which has nearly twice the population. Oakland’s violent crime rate jumped 34.1 percent between 2005 and 2006 and 38 percent between 2003 and 2006. 

We need to challenge the disproportionate number of parolees allowed to be released in Oakland if we are going to curb crime. 

Tori Thompson 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Dona Spring was a giant of ethics and nurturance. It is sad as a big chunk of warm humanity is gone. She was like a gushing spring of pure, sweet water. 

Richard List 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger pushes for a sales tax hike—a one-cent increase for three years would help end the budget impasse and deficit. 

The GOP’s response: “We continue to be opposed to broad-based rate increases especially in the face of a weak economy,” says Roger Niello. 

“There you go again.” A few anti-tax Republicans continue to force their flawed and warped ideology on millions of Californians—deficits and fiscal instability be damned. 

Ron Lowe 

Nevada City