Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Monday January 05, 2009 - 07:20:00 PM

Editors, Daily Planet: 


Censorship is a controversial issue, as evidenced by the amount of discussion in regard to the censoring of visual art from the Addison Street Windows Gallery. However, unless we are able to view the work, our judgment about this gallery's decision lacks perspective. To facilitate an educated debate on this topic, The Red Door Gallery ( is showing two of the aforementioned censored works in its exhibition, "Art and the Body Politick." Hopefully, this lends perspective to the discussion and encourages healthy discourse on a topic so critical to our community's history. 

Lauren Odell Usher 



Editors, Daily Planet: 


I tolerated the Memorial Stadium tree-sit with reasonably good humor. Despite being an environmentalist myself, I never fully empathized with the cause. It seemed too small an area of landscaping to dedicate such resources toward protecting when there are much larger ecological causes in our own backyard that warrant much more attention (e.g., the bay and delta). But I allowed that some people may have a strong connection to their own sacred places and perhaps this grove was a sacred place for the people sitting in the trees. I was disappointed to find out that many of the final tree-sitters were not local and had little to no connection to Strawberry Canyon or even the Bay Area prior to ascending. It hinted that their motivation was one of self-aggrandizement rather than a committed passion for a piece of land. Still, to each his or her own. 

This latest tree-sit in People’s Park goes beyond the absurd and borders on the offensive. I don’t intend to question the motives of the tree-sitter, but as someone who has dedicated his life to healing ecosystems, I find distractions to petty causes such as the preservation of three acacia trees in People’s Park counter-productive.  

I know the trees in question. I travel past the one that was removed every day on my way to work. Acacia trees are invasive and horribly damaging to native Californian ecosystems. People’s Park is a small urban park. It has great cultural value but its ecological value is minor. The ecological value of three invasive acacia trees in a small urban park is negligible, if not negative. I would urge the tree-sitter and his compatriots to focus their energy, attention, and local celebrity on more productive and urgent environmental issues.  

Rich Walkling 



Editors, Daily Planet: 


Estelle Jelinek’s Dec. 23 review of my book, Multiethnic Australia: Its History and Future brought out some changes in the status of indigenous peoples there: citizenship and the vote. The recent movie, Australia, set on a cattle station (ranch) in the Northern Territory from 1939 to 1942, can serve as a prelude to other major changes in later decades: 

When a cattle industry developed in the Territory and adjacent Western Australia (it’s too hot there for sheep), station owners used indigenous people as stockmen and their wives as domestic servants; they lived in camps on the stations, working for room and board. By 1940 stockmen received wages, but they were about a fifth of what white workers got. During World War II many indigenous people worked for the military in Darwin or served in the army; seeing how other people lived and were treated made them chafe under the old system. In 1946 stockmen from 25 stations in Western Australia went on strike, demanding higher wages and better living conditions. They didn’t get either. 

In the mid-1960s the Northern Territory legislature passed an equal pay for equal work law; station owners appealed and got a three year delay to help them make the transition. After that, many downsized their operations and evicted their indigenous workforces. As one worker recalled, station managers said: “We can’t afford to pay you the basic wage, and we can’t afford to keep feeding you. The Welfare mob have a lot of money for you to live on in the town. So pack up your camp and start walking.” At Wave Hill, a large station in the Northern Territory owned by an English lord, where Gurindji people still worked for low wages, they went on strike in 1966, but again to no avail. 

Their plight had an unforeseen side effect, leading to a movement for the return of their traditional lands so indigenous people could run their own cattle stations. In the 1970s, under a program initiated by the Labor government of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, the Gurindji and some other indigenous peoples were granted land. And in 1992, in the landmark land reform case called Mabo (brought by indigenous people including Eddie Mabo, in Queensland), the High Court ruled that indigenous peoples had a right to the use of their ancestral lands. The effects of that ruling are being played out to this day. 

Celeste Lipow MacLeod 



Editors, Daily Planet: 


After reading the recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle, "Dellums faces growing criticism," I agree with San Francisco State University political science professor Robert Smith's assessment that Mr. Dellums' next two years will be like his last two. "It's his personality and character." 

Why should Oakland residents continue to pay the mayor his full salary, with limo and driver, travel expenses and other perks when he essentially only works part time? If we don't remove him from office now and cut our losses, Mr. Dellums will continue to disappoint us and leave us with a bigger mess, if that's possible. More crime victims will suffer needlessly. 

Impeach the mayor now. Don't sit and wait and expect a sudden miraculous major turnaround in terms of the mayor's personality and character. Let someone more motivated and competent take over. Someone who is willing to work full time to combat the escalating crime we face these next two years. We need to take tough measures in order to make Oakland a safe city again. 

Tori Thompson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 


I would like to point out to Ms. Loubel two errors in her Dec. 23 piece. First the commission did not accept a misleading environmental impact report (EIR). They did however accept a mitigated negative declaration (MND) which can be accepted in lieu of an EIR. It is the first step so to speak. If the commission denies the MND, an EIR must be prepared which is a more complete declaration of impacts and requires a higher level of mitigation for those impacts. 

Second, the statement, “How many endangered species does the [built-up] site have?” and comment upon it by Ms. Loubel, while funny, misses the point that the site is unlikely to have endangered species on the site since it is built up. Nevertheless, significant impacts from traffic, streetlights, runoff etc would significantly affect any species, endangered or otherwise from associated indirect impacts. Missing this point means the article did not disclose to the public that the commissioner's comment was ignorant. Considering she is a member of the Planning Commission and should therefore understand the importance of indirect impacts, her comment shows how ignorant she is of basic planning concepts—inexcusable. 

Peter Weschler 



Editors, Daily Planet: 


If you read the arts pages of national newspapers and magazines, you might have noted that most U.S. theaters display anglophilia in their "theatre" names and listings. After wracking my brain for a way to do something about this incredibly trivial annoyance, I think I have a solution that will also give a boost to the economy.  

We could make it illegal to use the English English rather than the American English spelling of "theater." Business would boom for graphic designers, printers of books, posters, letterheads, and programs. Architects, neon crafters, sign installers would be busier from coast to coast. And the penalties for infractions could be steep. 

I can't think of another area that suffers from this echo of colonial power. How often do you go to your favourite automotive centre to change your tyres or go to the banque to cash a cheque? 

Enough said. 

Bonnie Hughes 



Editors, Daily Planet: 


Stevanne Auerbach ("One Neat City! Change Starts with Clean Community," Commentary, Dec. 10) has a stack of things she doesn't like about Berkeley's landscape; old food wrappers, trash, graffiti—and homeless people. Thank you for allowing her to so clearly express her interest in having the "streetlivers," as she puts it, "cleaned up" like so much trash. 

My idea of "one neat city" would be a place where such obvious bigotry is just as obviously and publicly singled out for objection. If any readers out there know Ms. Auerbach, let her know that in a month where 533,000 jobs were lost and one out of 10 homeowners is in foreclosure, her suggestion that homelessness be treated like so much graffiti is not kind, useful, or welcome. 

Carol Denney 



Editors, Daily Planet: 


Hard-working Americans should have to right to organize their coworkers around issues like health care and workplace safety. But that's not the case today. 

American workers trying to form or join a union today have the odds stacked against them. Major corporations routinely coerce, intimidate, or even fire employees who try to unionize. They can essentially veto their workers' choice to form a union. 

We need a system that puts the power to organize back in the hands of American workers, and the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) does just that. It prevents corporate bullying and allows hard working men and women to form a union so long as a simply majority supports it. It's democracy in the workplace, and it's commonsense fairness. 

Big business and their super-rich CEOs are already flooding radio and television with attack ads, but we shouldn't back down now. Big CEOs pay themselves seven-digit salaries with eight-digit bonuses while giving nothing back to the people who work their entire lives. It's time for a change. 

Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress were given a mandate last month, they should use to pass the Employee Free Choice Act into law. 

Kenneth Martin 




Editors, Daily Planet: 


J. Douglas Allen-Taylor asks a very good and well phrased question in his recent article: 

"But has the [Mayor Dellums] carried out his core responsibility of running the city? If you’re looking for the definitive answer to that question, you’re going to be disappointed. The answer depends upon the criteria put forth by the person posing the question, and those criteria have a wide variance. " 

There is one criterion I'd like to ask about, and that is the criterion described in the city charter. What exactly are the Oakland mayor's areas of responsibility? Does he appoint? Oversee? Propose? Veto? And what departments? Does he have any role in the Redevelopment Agency or the Port? What is the relationship between the mayor's powers and the school system? Can he fire administration officials? Can he fire the chief of police for example? The city administrator? Or does he ask for the resignation? Can he declare a state of emergency? Call an election? How is the "Strong Mayor" strong? Did Harris have that much less power when he had Manager Bob? What are the checks and balances with the council? What powers are held by council and the mayor cannot do anything about them? Who, if anyone, is responsible for the quality of Oakland agencies?  

I am not asking these questions because I know the answers. I have lived in Oakland for most of the last 20 years and I do not begin to know or even know where I could find out. Is it spelled out clearly in the charter or does it take a team of lawyers to understand? Do state laws dictate some of the terms? I think it might be good to take a step back and have a background report on what the powers of that office really are and then match that to the actions taken by Dellums, Brown, and Harris to give us an idea of when they are using their charter authority and when they are exercising their leadership role outside of the strict legal description of the job.  

Don Macleay 




Editors, Daily Planet: 


Do you remember in the good old days when folks used to hang tiny silver-plated kiddy booties over their car's rearview mirrors? Well, here's a chance for that old fashioned custom to come to life again; only this time with a little less cutesiness and more meaningful political significance. Tiny silver-plated replicas of the two shoes thrown at Bush should be made available immediately! I would be the first to buy them! Liberal venture capitalists, here's an opportunity.  

Robert Blau 



Editors, Daily Planet: 


After reading Zionist Freedom Alliance Director Yehuda Hakohen's commentary, "Address the Real Problems at Berkeley," I was wondering what Mr. Hakohen meant by stating that "the ZFA's overall message is one of Jewish rights." Does he mean the right to conquer and occupy neighboring territories? 

The right to impose curfews on the non-Jewish residents of those territories? 

To erect separation barriers deep inside their borders that choke off any possibility for normal subsistence? To starve a massive population by closing border crossings, disabling their ability to obtain life-sustaining food, fuel and medicine? I could go on, but I think my point has been made. 

I fail to see why the ZFA needs to "unapologetically assert that the Jewish people...enjoy national rights," while denying those same rights for their Palestinian neighbors. Maybe what is needed, Mr. Hakohen, is something broader, say, a desire for human rights, and equality for all. 

Robert Kanter 




Editors, Daily Planet: 


I've always considered former Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld to be an absolute master of perplexing, convoluted and unintelligible rhetoric. I'm having second thoughts. Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, in explaining the bungled investigation of the Chauncey Bailey murder case, stated "Look at the whole thing. All of it is tied in. The whole thing means the whole thing." 

Move over, Donald—you have competition. 

Dorothy Snodgrass 



Editors, Daily Planet: 


Recently, USA Today published an article, shocking to many of us, asserting that the air quality around Berkeley's schools was among the worst in the nation. The article linked the bad air to the Pacific Steel Casting (PSC) plants at Gilman and Second Streets. The city and the school district joined many who were greatly concerned. We made a formal request to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to explain the USA Today reports. Below is the Air District's strongly worded response, which Mayor Bates has also sent to Berkeley Schools Superintendent Bill Huyett.  

The city will not relieve Pacific Steel Casting of its responsibility to improve its processes and limit its emissions. We will continue to press for improvements based on facts. The USA Today report does not appear to fall into the "factually useful" category.  

Linda Maio 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

 The USA Today series that looked at toxic air near schools and communities was misleading and false. The EPA data used to research the story is not scientifically valid or verified for the purposes of making risk based assessments.
 The EPA's Toxics Release Inventory data is not used for quantifiable inventory purposes by any local, state or federal agency to determine air emissions limits. The data are notoriously inaccurate, and there is no quality assurance/quality control required before it is submitted.
 The most damning point against the EPA's TRI data is the fact that the agency does not recognize diesel particulate matter as a toxic pollutant, even though the agency two years ago significantly tightened the fine particulate matter air quality standard—cutting it nearly in half. Diesel particulate matter is the primary source of risk in most industrial or high traffic areas. The study itself states that "large industrial sites account for only a fraction of the nation's toxic air pollution. The EPA estimates that in 2002, cars, smaller businesses and other sources accounted for 85 percent of the toxic chemicals in the nation's air."
 The Political Economy Research Institute sites six reasons why the TRI data should not be used for risk screening purposes, citing incorrect, inaccurate and inadequate information as the first three sources of error.
 It is irresponsible for a national newspaper, like USA Today, to develop a "study" based on unscientific and invalidated data. Readers throughout the United States deserve better standards of reporting than this.
Jack Broadbent
Executive Officer
Bay Area Air Quality Management District




Editors, Daily Planet: 


Thank you Kristin McFarland for your Dec. 18 article in the Daily Planet, highlighting Malcolm X School's successful efforts in academic growth with socioeconomically disadvantaged students. Educators know the significance of The Title One Academic Achievement Award along with the Distinguished School Award as the most honored awards a California public school can earn. Malcolm X School has achieved both! 

Take the opportunity and visit Malcolm X School in South Berkeley during the instructional day and note how clean and quiet the halls are while learning in the classrooms is taking place. The time, effort, planning and professional skills involved in achieving success are daunting! Students, parents and staff working together show what is possible! This is happening in a state that ranks at the bottom in money spent on education! 

Congratulations to Principal Cheryl Chinn and her staff of dedicated and hard working professionals! By the way, in addition to academics, Malcolm X School has an outstanding performing arts program! The school motto is "Together We Can." 

James Harris    

Past parent and teacher, Malcolm X School 



Editors, Daily Planet: 


Though we simplify good versus bad, 

No conscience means utterly mad. 

To some, copacetic  

Is sociopathetic. 

There isn't much more I could add. 


Ove Ofteness 



Editors, Daily Planet: 


Maybe Joe Eaton’s feeders are too close to an open window. Too prevent birds from coming inside the house, one should be mindful not to provide an environment where they can get lost. Be mindful that a captured bird is extremely frightened long before the gigantic hand captures it. Considering it has only a mere seven or eight years to live, this could be a very stressful event if you count those moments in a bird’s time. Maybe this is the same wren that visits our place as does Joe’s. We placed our specialty feeders (including the nectar) up high and away from the house for the wren and his other buddies. It is nowhere near a building, or cats, dogs, or even those annoying squirrels. If we intentionally maintain a garden area for the birds then it is also a Sanctuary for Wildlife. We should make those surroundings safer for the birds as suggested by nature organizations like the National Wild Life Federation. If we can’t do these little things for the protection of the birds then who will? At least, we should put a small screen around the opening or close the enticing window.  

Dea Robertson-Gutierrez 



Editors, Daily Planet: 


With an economic downturn propelling it, I'm more aware this year for the need to focus on the simplicity of the original message on which Christmas is based: the birth of a baby whose adult life was to become all about love, healing the sick, and justice for the downtrodden. Jesus sought out society's rejects—tax collectors and others considered sinners. All were included in his ministry. Can I do less than try to bring my thought, word, and action in line with the command to "love one another," and to do so through simple acts of kindness and grace? For me, this includes a daily period of quiet contemplation of the God whom Jesus called father and shepherd and whose goodness he trusted unquestioningly. It may be hard to believe that good can triumph when evil seems to be so active in the world, but there is evidence all around of people of good will applying their expertise to the problems around them. My prayers seek to encompass and lift up all—people, animals, the environment—suffering hurt and degradation, that they may know hope and peace. May the spirit of gratitude and joy, "the wonders of his love," extend the reach of blessings, as 19th century author and healer Mary Baker Eddy wrote, "…over continent and ocean, to the earth's remotest bound." 

Marilyn McPherson 



Editors, Daily Planet: 


With the daily news of declining sales and increasing layoffs I want to ease the suffering. When I hear of restaurants, retailers and auto-makers facing possible closure and millions of people losing their homes because they can’t earn enough to make their payments, I want to help. I want to go out and lunch at restaurants, not the simple salads my wife packs into my cooler. I want to buy clothes at malls instead of thrift stores and outlets. And I want to buy a brand new truck, especially from poor Chrysler. I wonder—would they reward my benevolence with a good deal on one of those 25mpg Dodge Sprinters that Mercedes builds?  

The problem is, I don’t have much money in my pocket, and my plastic is all in debits. The only way I can see to be of any real help in this time of great national need is to spend the money I normally give to the IRS. As far as I can tell, once they get it, they simply give it to their crying friends. Wouldn’t it be more efficient for me to distribute this money to my crying friends? With the extra money in my pocket and not yet debited accounts I would, for my country man and woman, go out and spend like I’ve never spent before. I’m sure I could do this, so long as I felt the money wasn’t really mine. 

This simple plan would surely work. Local cafes, thrift stores and mechanics would smile again. For me to be even more helpful, to lift the bottom line of larger companies, I’d need the pro-active assistance of the federal government. If the president, Congress or treasurer would give me a loan against the taxes they could no longer afford to let me pay, I would promise to spend every penny, and spend it locally, since it’s a global economy and I can get that German truck at my nearby American dealer. 

Hard times can only be softened if we help each other. I’m willing to do my part. And I bet you are, too.  

Eric Rasmussen 

Castro Valley 



Editors, Daily Planet: 


In slick advertisements paid for by oil companies, we are led to believe that the big oil producers are on the forefront of researching and obtaining alternate fuels. In fact, the opposite is true: The oil companies would like it if alternatives to gasoline would disappear and never come back. 

I see a two-year cycle in the fluctuation of gas prices, a cycle intended to disrupt the implementation of alternatives to gasoline. When alternates to gasoline are widespread, this will end the monopoly of the oil companies on transportation fuel, and it will end this horrible choke hold they have on Americans. 

Gas prices soar at the high point of the cycle. At that point many people join the alternative fuels movement because of the fact that gas prices are becoming unbearable. 

A few months later, at the point where the alternate fuels movement is gaining momentum, and we are getting ready to implement many of the plans, gas prices inexplicably drop, way down. And they stay down for about the next year; enough time for people to forget about alternate fuels. After all, who needs biofuels when gas is cheap? 

Then, when alternate fuels have been forgotten, and when we’re not looking, gas prices begin to creep upward. The oil companies at this point are reaping huge profits. 

Gas prices go upward some more, until someone says we ought to do something about this. And we have arrived again at the top of the two-year cycle. 

If we employ our human memory, and remember that at some point, the oil companies will stick it to us again if we let them, we can end the monopoly of the oil companies forever, and we will no longer have the wild fluctuations in gas prices. 

We ought to continue the pursuit of alternative energy, including times when gas prices are low. 

Jack Bragen 




Editors, Daily Planet: 


There's too much "green talk." Many businesses are jumping on the ecology bandwagon. Bank of America has a Mastercard that rewards customers with carbon tradeoffs. McDonald's has tried to greenwash its hamburgers by touting the use of recycled paper. General Motors has become more environmentally friendly by stopping production of their 10-miles-per-gallon H1 Hummer. Unfortunately, even well-intentioned efforts may have little impact on global warming because increased population inevitably results in more pollution. For example, buying a hybrid automobile simply means that it is less environmentally unfriendly. Any effort to stop global warming—other than population reduction—is just a speed bump on the way to the apocalypse. 

Robert Gable 



Editors, Daily Planet: 


I am wondering if in the medical field doctors will do the research to bring changes in the existing system of providing treatment to their patients for better health and longevity. Mostly the patients are only told about the physical problem or the trouble but they don't encourage the patients to take preventive steps. I know that in major drastic health reasons, the medical intervention may be important but it should be done after real discussion with the field of all experts naturopathy, homeopathy and allopathy. The human life must be treated with respect, and care so the poor patients do feel comfortable. We need to think in the ancient way of healing where the supreme power and natural healing also takes place even in the hospitalized patients. 

Romila Khanna 



Editors, Daily Planet: 


In this time of such heartbreaking terror in the name of God, let us all take a moment and be open to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit of justice, and mercy and love; this is where of I speak. In our own small world here in the Bay Area, let us not give into the naming rights and ownership of peace and justice. All of us, all good people: Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindi,Pagan, Agnostic and Atheist; we have to stand together in the widening division brought on by the most radical of the political-religious zealots. The Spirit of peace and love is indeed Holy by its nature. When we encounter one another, let us be united in grace and tenderness, and not attack our sisters and brothers for their own spiritual beliefs (or lack there of). Let us not bring the battle to our fellow citizens, but to those who may make a difference. And in our unique ways, let us offer a prayer, a song, a work of art, or a pice of theatre to peace. 

Mike Vaughn