Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Wednesday January 28, 2009 - 07:22:00 PM


Editors, Daily Planet: 

What a glorious day we lived in Richmond on Jan. 20. What formidable struggles led us to this day. Many of these struggles took place right here in Richmond. 

The story of the Gary family, who in the 1950s fought against racism and housing discrimination with the support of a broad coalition, is just one of the steps along the way to President Obama’s inauguration ( ). How proud I am to be African American. How thankful I am to all those in Richmond and elsewhere who made this new era possible. The cheers and joy we shared at the Richmond Convention Center on Jan. 20 will be with us forever. I am grateful to the City of Richmond and the Neighborhood House of North Richmond for sponsoring such a wonderful celebration of unity, pride, hope, citizenship, and vision. 

Now it is time to do what we were asked by our president: We must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America. Let us, all Americans, embrace and act locally on the duties we have to ourselves, our city, our nation, and the world. 

Jovanka Beckles 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It is obvious from your letters column that Berkeley folk have lots of opinions about Israel’s actions against Hamas in Gaza. Fine. We can argue and disagree. But let’s not argue about the facts—or neglect them. Here are four indisputable facts that should help the open-minded decide whether Israel’s actions were proportionate and justified. 

1. Hamas is a terrorist organization—so declared by the U.S. and the European Union, and factually demonstrable by its constant rocket attacks targeted solely at Israeli civilians. That’s the very definition of terrorism. (Ironic, isn’t it? Israel was daily condemned for targeting civilians in Gaza—which it does not purposely do—while Hamas, which openly does target civilians, gets a free pass from the international community.) 

2. Hamas is dedicated to the annihilation of Israel and Jews. This is no secret: Destruction of Israel is part of the public Hamas charter. (When somebody is bombing your country with the avowed purpose of destroying you, you do what it takes to stop them. Far from being disproportionate, it would appear that Israel has not yet done enough.) 

3. Hamas believes in global jihad. As a fundamentalist Islamist organization, with ties to the radical Muslim Brotherhood, Hizbollah and Iran, Hamas wishes to impose Shari’a—Islamic law—upon the world’s people. As such, it is the enemy of all nations that don’t subscribe to the tenets of fundamentalist Islam, including the U.S. (and Egypt and Saudi Arabia). Again, Hamas makes no secret of its jihadist mission or its list of enemies. 

4. Hamas militia hide among Gaza’s civilians, risking the lives of thousands of innocent people. Hamas does not deny this tactic—indeed they revel in it, citing the willingness of Palestinians to martyr themselves for the cause. Example: An Israeli response to Hamas rocket fire last week hit a U.N.-sponsored school in Gaza and killed several people. According to the NY Times, a Palestinian witness reported that the rockets were fired just 25 yards from the school. 

As obvious as these facts are, it’s astounding that the press, Daily Planet readers, many world leaders and NGOs completely ignore this reality. 

Given the facts, here’s my opinion: The world would be well served if Hamas were put out of business once and for all. We can only hope that President Obama and Barbara Lee support Israel’s effort to do just that. 

Jim Sinkinson 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

It is frustrating as a liberal to read a self-identified liberal, Daily Planet Executive Editor Becky O’Malley, in her Dec. 17, 2008 editorial, taking to task Arnie Kohn for his “blanket condemnation” of charter schools in an article appearing in The Nation magazine criticizing Arne Duncan, the new secretary of Education. 

I believe all liberals (and many conservatives) should also hold a blanket condemnation of undemocratic charter schools. 

Why don’t liberals see that charter schools are a legal entity called a corporation and thus have no requirement to be democratic? Corporations are responsible to their board of directors and their stockholders. While corporate charter schools don’t have stockholders supplying cash, are they not publicly funded and privatively run?  

Apparently, the editor of the Berkeley Daily Planet, and other liberals, are as blinded to these structural facts as occupants of Harry Potters’ world are to his presence when blanketed by his cloak of invisibility. 

And, it is ironic that O’Malley argues for holding schools and teachers accountable for students’ failure but is blind to the reality that charter schools are not held accountable for their test score successes. Because charter schools receive little or no oversight when administering their high-stakes tests, corporate charter school test scores are as problematic as banks holding subprime mortgages. Lack of testing regulation provides less than honest corporate charters with an Enron like opportunity to game the system and milk the taxpayers. 

Corporate papers change the relationship of a charter school from a school directly accountable to public institutions, such as democratically elected school boards, to a school accountable to a corporate board of directors, normally appointed by the persons organizing the school.  

Corporate papers legally insulate corporate charter schools from both democratic institutions and the children and parents of the neighborhood community where they reside. Corporate charter schools are a legal organization providing public funding for de-regulated private management lacking public accountability.  

Yes, Ms. O’Malley, without question there are good and bad charter schools but presently unregulated, undemocratic corporate charter schools deserve the public’s blanket condemnation. 

Jim Mordecai  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

If you think anti-tax Republicans are ready to put taxes on the table, consider new taxes, throw in the towel, you’ve been drinking too much joyjuice. The GOP minority is wedded to it’s “no new taxes for the rich” and could care less if millions of Californians suffer. 

Anti-tax guru Grover Norquist must be smiling as his anti-tax brood of GOP politicians hold the state of California and its residents hostage once again. 

Republicans have yet to publicly support any kind of realistic revenue solution that would close the $42 billion state budget deficit. Do you know the names of these GOP politicians who are gumming up the works? 

California desperately needs an infusion of revenue that only taxes can bring. But, don’t count on Republicans to help solve the financial crisis at hand until their feet are held to the coals. 

Ron Lowe  

Nevada City 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Although he’s going to make a number of overdue positive changes, as an Obama-skeptic I’m afraid our new president will be pretty much circumscribed in the basics as a political prisoner of the military-corporate complex, the empire, and its warfare state. 

Yet I was pleasantly surprised when President Obama said in his inaugural speech, “We are a nation of Christians, Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers.” So we non-believers are perfectly acceptable partners in the president’s perspective of public inclusion. 

Contrast that to the pariah status we were consigned to by President George H. W. Bush when he said, “I don’t know that atheists should be accepted as citizens nor should they be regarded as patriots. This is one nation under God.” 

So we free thinkers, secular humanists, skeptics, agnostics and atheists have every right to hold our heads high and act as voices of reason and sanity in a world plagued by ancient superstition and irrelevant dogma that keep so many billions of our fellow humans enthralled in the intellectual middle ages. 

Harry Siitonen  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Much has been said and written about the spectacular hat Aretha Franklin wore at the Obama inauguration. Now that was a hat! Or should I have called it a “chapeau”? No, it was more than that. It was a bold statement: “I’m proud to be a black woman, proud to be singing at the inauguration of this country’s first black president.” 

Watching Aretha’s rousing performance, completely fascinated by the hat, I thought to myself, “Now, I’ve seen that hat before. But where?” Then a bulb went off in my head. Of course; I had seen that exact hat at the Berkeley Hat Co. on Telegraph Avenue, at Dwight Way. I therefore made a bee-line for the shop, and there it was—an exact duplicate. So I stopped in to talk with the owner, Carol Lipnick. She and her husband have been in business at this location for more than 30 years and are an important part of the Telegraph Avenue scene. 

Carol obligingly filled me in on details of “the hat.” It had been designed by a young Korean, Luk Song. Just as Michelle Obama’s lovely white ball gown will undoubtedly advance the career of its designer, Jason Wu, I suspect Mr. Song’s reputation as a creator of sensational hats will also take off. 

Dorothy Snodgrass 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

Last week, state Sen. Loni Hancock invited public suggestions regarding the California Senate Committee on Food and Agriculture. On Jan. 12, the San Francisco Chronicle had a story entitled, “Business souring fast in state’s dairy industry.” Yesterday, a close relative informed me his wife has breast cancer, and will undergo surgery after a few months of chemotherapy. 

It is very sad when people feel it is easier to remove body parts than to remove animal protein from their diet. Sadly, cancer is mostly a lifestyle choice, like so many other major diseases and early deaths by “natural causes.” 

Raising animals is an inefficient, heavily subsidized business, which depletes water and topsoil, pollutes our waterways, is a major source of global warming, and makes universal healthcare very expensive. Please take every possible step to remove animal-farming subsidies from our state budget. 

Months ago, a Berkeley Daily Planet letter-writer suggested the profitable petroleum industry should bail-out the auto makers. Similarly, let the profitable benefactors of the cholesterol-clogging animal-protein business bail-out their upstream farm partners. How many erectile dysfunction and other drug commercials must Americans endure? 

Mitch Cohen 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

At a time when everyone in the private sector is tightening their belts, and Berkeley looming budget cuts, why is it appropriate to throw money at Berkeley’s city manager, one of its highest-paid employees? Has he threatened to resign unless he’s paid more? If he did resign, would Berkeley be unable to fill his position with a qualified replacement at his current salary? 

Before the City Council approves or denies the mayor’s request to pay the city manager more, I suggest the city auditor (not the city’s personnel department, which reports to the city manager, raising the potential for a conflict of interest) answer the following question: How many qualified candidates for city manager were other cities in the Bay Area able to attract, offering the same or less pay than Berkeley does? That should more accurately tell the city council whether the city manager’s current salary is adequate. 

Keith Winnard 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Obama doesn’t care if he’s doing Rush Limbaugh a favor by citing his “I hope he fails” quote. We forget that Limbaugh was just a crazy-right freakshow until “President” Bush’s election forced us to take Limbaugh seriously, just like it opened up space for Ann Coulter to perform. He doesn’t represent Republican strategic thinking. Obama is using him to embarrass Senate Republicans, like he used Bush on McCain (but not necessarily to beat them in the next election, just to raise that specter to encourage some of them to behave). 

The only president to seriously misunderestimate Limbaugh was Bush’s father, who carried Limbaugh’s bags to the Lincoln Bedroom when he had him over during his re-election campaign. Limbaugh toadied to Bush until he lost, and then gleefully reported how mortified he had been to see the president doing the labor of servants. 

Dave Blake 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Due to a copyediting error, my Jan. 15 commentary, “Senior Power,” stated that “…it should be possible to provide geriatric-related immunizations (e.g. flu, pneumonia, herpes)…” It is herpes zoster, specifically, that is relevant to senior citizens. Wikipedia’s several articles provide details of herpes’ numerous types. In particular, the article, “Varicella zoster virus” is about herpes zoster, often referred to as shingles. In the past the vaccine has been very expensive; it is only recently that the vaccine is affordable and some times available in one’s physician’s office. 

Helen Rippier Wheeler 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

You can shop and do good for the Berkeley schools this week at the new CB2 store on Fourth Street! From opening day on Thursday, Jan. 29 through Sunday, Feb. 1, a percentage of sales will be donated to Berkeley Public Education Foundation (BPEF), which supports all Berkeley public schools by providing grants, volunteers, and program assistance. BPEF is supported entirely through contributions from individuals and businesses, and is proud to have been selected by CB2 as a charity valued for its community-wide engagement and impact. 

CB2 is a division of Crate and Barrel and features affordable modern furnishings for apartment, loft, home. The Berkeley store is one of only five now open, in New York, Chicago, and the Bay Area. If you are looking to enliven your living space, this weekend is a great time to do it while also supporting Berkeley IS greatest asset—our 9,000 wonderful Pre-K through 12th grade students and their teachers! 

Thank you, CB2! 

Molly Fraker 

Executive Director 

Berkeley Public Education Foundation 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

When deciding if the city manager should get a raise, Kriss Worthington brought to everyone’s attention that it is in the city’s charter that a comprehensive written evaluation is required when giving a raise to the city manager. I am not sure of the exact words, but Kriss wanted to go by the regulations and bring this item back to the council after the appropriate procedures were followed. Kriss was not saying the city manager didn’t deserve a raise, only that we need to follow procedure. When showing Mayor Bates the paper that showed this information, Mayor Bates pushed it away and said, “So what.” Way to go, King Bates! I’ll let others comment on the mayor trying to convince the city that the city manager is working for free. 

Lori Kossowky 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Zelda Bronstein’s Jan. 22 commentary demonstrates how the solution to a problem is determined by the manner in which it is framed. The mayor’s argument in support of raising the city manager’s salary is the same as is found in almost any proxy statement. Every company claims that their CEO is an individual with rare and valuable talents. To make sure they can retain this individual, companies do extensive research on what other comparable companies pay their CEOs. Companies fear the loss of their talent if their pay scale is not competitive. 

It all sounds very reasonable. However, proxies never compare their CEO’s compensation to the compensation of CEOs of smaller or bigger companies, or (heaven forbid) to those of other employees. This means that CEO salaries are free to float increasingly above other employee’s salaries. In fact, using comparable salaries to set salaries has a built-in positive feedback loop that drives all CEO salaries higher. If a company strives to improve its position by raising CEO compensation so it can get talent, then this shifts the relative position of other companies, who then have to pay more to retain their position. 

This process is ultimately unsustainable, which suggests that we need to broaden the framework within which we view this problem. Consider, if we increase upper management compensation in times of declining revenue, then we will have to cut back on the very services that upper management supposedly manages. 

Some CEOs get 100 times what city managers make, and thus are presumably more talented or more critical to the organization’s success. People like myself, who make another factor of 10 less than city managers, are considered interchangeable and replaceable. But the system has no way to ensure that these valuations across jobs are correct or even reasonable. Nor do high salaries necessarily assure competence. 

The inverse is also true. As a parent I have seen some great teachers. Teachers, even talented teachers, are not that handsomely paid, so presumably the talented ones are not there just for the money. If Berkeley wants to compete, without breaking the budget, it needs to make its jobs worthwhile for more than just their salary. 

Robert Clear