Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Thursday May 21, 2009 - 10:04:00 AM


Editors, Daily Planet: 

It is well known that bullies are afraid of being beaten up. That’s why they beat up on younger, smaller kids. Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh exhibit the same kind of braggadocio as they advocate torturing people under U.S. custody who are bound, gagged and hooded. 

We’ve heard from experienced CIA agents that torture doesn’t provide actionable intelligence; it only elicits what the torturer wants to hear. We’ve heard from political scientists that torture helps terrorists recruit new terrorists. We’ve heard from clergy and from listening to our own hearts, that torture blemishes our country’s moral character, rendering us indistinguishable from the bad guys. 

Yet, Cheney, Limbaugh, and their followers continue to advocate torture, claiming the security of the county depends on it. If torture worked, the terrorist Zarkawi wouldn’t have been water-boarded 185 times. In fact, he gave information during normal interrogations before water-boarding, and then clammed up when the torture began. 

Why do Cheney and Limbaugh continue calling for torture? Is it because they themselves are cowards, so afraid of torture they would start blabbing immediately, who figure that terrorists are equally afraid? Yet, we know that many of our sons and daughters under arms, and frankly, some terrorists as well, have the courage and conviction to resist the torturer’s coercion. They’d rather die than betray their country to bullying sadists who reveal themselves as moral degenerates. 

There’s a reason Cheney and Limbaugh are called “chicken hawks.” 

Bruce Joffe 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

I appreciated James Singmaster’s commentary concerning the clean coal fraud. I agree with him on every point, and I want to add that when you trap CO2, you also rob our atmosphere of oxygen. The “O2” in CO2 stands for two atoms of oxygen in the CO2 molecule. When fossil fuels are burned, it is a matter of combining the carbon atoms in the fossil fuels with oxygen from the atmosphere. When you then trap this CO2 you are losing that oxygen, rather than returning it to the atmosphere where it has a chance of being “reprocessed” by plant life into its original components of carbon and oxygen. 

When you burn hydrogen, the waste product is water. Plant life then has the ability to turn some of this water into oxygen plus the hydrogen that exists in carbohydrates and in other plant substances. 

Fossil fuels are a problem because you’re taking carbon from deep in the earth’s crust that was deposited in prehistory, and are introducing it into our present day atmosphere. This changes the total carbon in the earth’s biosphere and this in turn makes climactic change inevitable. 

These are just more reasons why coal isn’t clean, and never will be. 

Jack Bragen 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

The San Francisco Chronicle reported last week that the Berkeley High boys basketball team has been suspended from post-season play for two seasons (2010-2011) because BHS players severely vandalized the office of an opposing team’s coach at Newark after a February loss. This poor sportsmanship is in total contrast to BHS basketball tradition. 

Today’s BHS players obviously are unaware of the great East Bay high school basketball heritage of which yesterday’s BHS players were integral parts. Great sportsmen like Bill Russell, Frank Robinson, Paul Silas, Phil Chenier, Ruppert Jones and Gene Ransom made the East Bay game the best in the state for decades. Restoration of the BHS program to respectability must now be an urgent priority for BUSD administrators. I believe today’s BHS players are fully capable of measuring up to yesterday’s standards. 

Nathaniel Hardin 

El Cerrito 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am a Berkeley resident and business owner and I think the painting of the stage at People’s Park makes UC Berkeley Director of Community Relations Irene Hegarty, and the whole of UC Berkeley, look at best silly and petty, and at worst, outright confrontational.  

If this is the relationship UC Berkeley wishes to have with the people of Berkeley (and the rest of the world), they should continue with what they are doing. If not, they should consider spending their time doing something that would actually enhance the image of UC Berkeley. But just makes them look like bored bullies. If they remember the volleyball courts fiasco, they might want to try some other way of relating to the community.  

Phil Rowntree 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

“Downtown.” The word evokes images of a bustling dynamic place set to the theme of Petula Clark’s pop song. Isn’t that what we all want? An uplifting place to go where all our cares and worries can melt away, a place for bright lights, movie shows and chance encounters with friends or somebody who can become a friend? 

OK, now think “Downtown Berkeley.” Hhmm, we have some work to do. Yes we have a good selection of movie shows, some bright little places to go and the opportunity for those chance encounters if we are so plucky as to venture downtown. But the reputation and oftentimes the reality of downtown Berkeley has not been very inviting and even less uplifting. I won’t recount the numerous problems as they are pretty well known and along with many solutions are being well documented at 

How can we make it a more pleasant place to be? By building point towers which will create looming shadows for passersby and from a distance jut up here and there in the skyline as the physical manifestation of the developer/planner trysts taking place all too often down at city hall? By calculating the maximum allowable building heights and determining how many residents can be packed therein? And as a nod to “bright lights” binding the trees and tossing some strands about and calling it a job well done? I don’t think so. 

A city is people and a city is the physical surroundings and people are greatly affected by their physical surroundings. Put them in cracker boxes and they are likely to act like crackers. Put them in harmonious surroundings and they just might sing. Downtown Berkeley lacks harmony and the current downtown plan recommended by the Planning Commission exacerbates this problem. If there is an overall vision it was not built with the concept of creating a pleasant, friendly place. I urge the mayor and the Berkeley City Council to reject the current Planning Commission’s plan and to adopt the previous incarnation of the DAPAC plan which was well conceived over many years by conscientious citizens of Berkeley. 

Dianne Ayres 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In response to Toni Mester’s letter: There are about 20 people in the Citizens for East Shore Parks and not all of them were in favor of the fence around the meadow. My letters were never about the group as a whole but about Robert Cheasty, its president; Norman La Force, its former vice president and now director of the East Bay Regional Parks; Arthur Feinstein; and perhaps some others whose names I didn’t learn when I attended one of the meetings and presented my questions that were summarily dismissed with rudeness and inconsideration. It became clear to me then that they had used the organization for their own special interests that were indifferent to the entire Berkeley community. I was never ungrateful for how the meadow was acquired by the city, but because of the fence it is not really “public open space,” as Toni Mester calls it. Instead it has become in effect the private development of her Sierra Club and the Audubon Society where the public is locked out. I have nothing against bird sanctuaries, but the question I presented to CESP remains unanswered: why can’t the “174 acres” be shared by people and wildlife together with a more creative and less draconian landscape design? 

Pete Najarian 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In response to the May 14 article, “Berkeley Dropout Rates Still High for Minorities”: 

Berkeley High School has a “college adviser,” but no “technical trades,” or “vocational” counselor. Who in the school district administration made this decision given the high drop-out rate?  

Not every Berkeley High student is destined for college. The drop-out rate is not that of students, but administrators and school board members who dropped out of teaching trades and vocations, eliminating, for example, shop classes where students learned carpentry, metal, electrical, auto mechanics, welding, and masonry. And while the drop-out rate is cited as high for minorities, it’s equally high for non-minorities who simply disappear from Berkeley High without follow-up. 

The mind is a terrible thing to waste, but public school administrators are wasting the use of hands.  

Your May 14 article, “Berkeley Dropout Rates Still High for Minorities,” quotes the California state school chief Jack 0’Connell: “We need to build bridges to colleges and community colleges.” The chief made no mention of trades, technical or vocational schools. And he wonders why the public high school drop-out rate is high, and getting higher? Jack is blinded by his doctorate in education, if not master’s degree.  

Yes, there might be a few classes (computer and theater arts) with hands-on training, but such are available only to a few.  

If by the 10th grade a regular course of high school study during a regular day included hands-on, technical and vocational training, numerous students would discover their actual gifts, talents, abilities and intelligence. Such is often not discovered siting in chair watching a chalkboard, listening to a lecture.  

Four long years at Berkeley High—from the 9th to 12th grade—with nothing but academics for the majority of students is four years of boredom. Anyone reading this who has any connection to Berkeley High will know of at least one student if not more who simply stopped attending, finding the education one-dimensional, ignorant, and irrelevant. 

Why have numerous school administrators and school board members failed? Most have never worked in a trade or technical field, or outside a Monday to Friday, eight to five job. Such are completely unaware of the diversity of hands-on occupations available for a high school student to pursue.  

The only way to stop the high school drop-out rate is to remove college and university trained administrators, and instead hire leaders from the trades, vocations and technical fields. Such leaders would renew and inspire students to find their true abilities and intelligence.  

The emphasis during a high school education should be to prepare the majority of students to enter into a two year trade, technical, or vocational school so that at the completion of such they can earn a livable wage.  

Robert Valentine 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Every day we read about the increasing amount of violence in our society. In spite of our punishment and detrimental dealing with these law breakers, we all are suffering due to lawlessness of a handful of such people who hurt the community all the time. Locking in the prison or house arrest has not made them deter from such ruthless behavior patterns. Maybe instead of solitary confinement to deal with their antisocial behavior patterns, we need to focus on other ways of treatment by which they learn to act a little better. They need to learn to understand the value of life and its importance. All medical intervention, body and mind health issues of such people should be considered for helping them change. We need our society to grow more human qualities rather than becoming ruthless killers. 

Romila Khanna 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Last April 20, an extraordinary environmental award ceremony took place in San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House. The Goldman Environmental Prize ( was given to seven environmental activists. The $150,000 prize was established in 1989 by San Francisco civic leader and philanthropist Richard Goldman and his late wife, Rhoda Goldman. This year was the 20th anniversary of the prize. The prize ceremony can be experienced only if one receives an invitation. Since it was an important anniversary, Christiane Amanpour was the MC, and Al Gore and Robert Redford gave speeches. The Goldman Prize is the world’s largest and most prestigious prize for grass roots environmental activism, and is given to one or more people from each of six continents, designated as follows: North America, South and Central America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Island Nations. This year, for example, Wanze Edwards and Hugo Jabini of Suriname shared the prize for South and Central America for saving rainforest from destruction by foreign timber companies. The ceremony is always followed by a reception in City Hall. Environmental leaders, such as Carl Pope, the head of the Sierra Club, and civic leaders, such as former San Francisco Mayor Frank Jordan, attended, and were accessible for conversation at the reception. Here, delicious food is served, and a reception line with the Goldman family and the prize winners affords the opportunity to meet these people. I have attended several Goldman ceremonies, and found this one particularly special. I have had the opportunity to attend two Nobel Prize ceremonies in Stockholm, Sweden, and have told the Goldman family that that I find the Goldman Prize ceremony more inspiring than the Nobel Prize ceremony! 

David Seaborg 

Founder and president, World Rainforest Fund 

Walnut Creek 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

When I was building houses years ago, I was subjected to a constant barrage of tough building inspectors at every stage of construction. This was to protect the potential buyer of my houses from a substandard building. The houses had to be built according to “code.” The same process should be applied to selling houses. There should be a set of “code” regulations as strict and as compelling as building a house. The role of government should have been to protect buyers from a substandard loan, just as presently, buyers are protected from a substandard new house. What we need is a constant barrage of tough “loan inspectors!”  

Robert Blau  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Due to a transcription error in the third paragraph of my May 14 commentary, “New Barcode Checkout System Less Expensive Than Berkeley Library’s Aging RFID System,” a phrase was omitted. It should have read as follows:  

“The Peace and Justice Commission recommended in early January 2009 that the City Council deny the Library’s request for a waiver of the Nuclear Free Berkeley Act, but the City Council, nevertheless, approved the waiver in its Jan. 27 resolution that allowed the library to contract with 3M (a company involved in the nuclear industry) to maintain the RFID system.” 

Gene Bernardi 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

What in heaven's name is happening to our sky? Your know, the sky that belongs to all of us, that used to be blue? I have never seen and heard so much aircraft activity as I do now. At 6:30 this morning I watched 10 planes go over my house within 10 minutes. One morning three jets crossed paths right over my head. 

As we conscientious chumps on the ground are desperately working to reduce our personal carbon footprints, bicycling, forming carpools, joining climate change groups, driving Priuses, (don’t get me wrong, I’m all for it), is anyone monitoring what seems to be an even greater contributor to atmospheric pollution caused by the increased fuel usage and emissions from these jet aircraft flying to and fro, on what mission we know not? Many of these jets seem to be emitting a white mystery substance. I also notice weird scratchy scrawls and blotches in the sky that I never used to see. The breathing air left to us is worse than ever. By the end of the day, sometimes even as the day begins, the sky has a bright blinding white hazy quality. Is the pollution coming from our activities on the ground or is it coming down on us from above? Given the dire predictions of “climate change” why is nothing being done to limit this? Are others of you noticing this? Shouldn’t we notify our Congress people? 

Vivian Warkentin and Wanda Warkentin 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The stark contrast between our frenzied reaction to unfamiliar hazards and our reckless tolerance of familiar ones never ceases to amaze me. 

The current incidence of swine flu, which killed five Americans, has captured the headlines, canceled public events, and closed dozens of schools. At the same time, we have blithely continued our consumption of meat and dairy products, which has been linked conclusively with elevated risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and other chronic diseases that kill 1.3 million Americans annually. 

But it’s not just about chronic diseases. According to the United Nations, animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, leading to catastrophic floods, droughts, and sea level rises, which threaten human survival. It uses more fresh water and dumps more deadly wastes into our water supplies than all other human activities combined. 

Each of us has a shared responsibility for our society’s health and welfare. The best time to exercise this responsibility is on our next trip to the supermarket, where we can explore the rich variety of meat-free and dairy-free ready-to-eat frozen dinners, veggie burgers and dogs, lunch “meats,” and plant-based cheese, ice cream, and milk. Helpful transition hints and recipes galore are available at and 

Harold Kunitz 

Walnut Creek 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

The retirement of Justice David Souter of the U.S. Supreme Court will give President Obama an opportunity to pick a judge that will support the sovereignty of American Indians. The Supreme Court’s recent actions on Indian issues have not been positive. For example, on April 6, the court ruled against the Navajo Nation over the payment the Navajo are seeking from the Peabody Coal Company for mining on the Navajo land in Arizona. 

Writing for the majority of the court, Justice Scalia said the Navajo’s claim for the compensation had failed and should be stopped. That is not the kind of attitude that I need from a judge. I hope that President Obama will pick a judge who will be sensitive to the issues of American Indians. 

Billy Trice, Jr. 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Several years ago when the Berkeley dump was a large pit in Cesar Chavez Park, I was in the hauling business. I was down there at least once a day, sometimes twice. I got into the habit of stopping to rest in front of the meadow. It was a great place for me and other business people to stop and rest and use the public phones in front of the boat docks. They were used by sales and delivery people and many others that passed by.  

I would walk out into the meadow and felt so peaceful and relaxed. It was free then, no fences or signs. People ran their dogs, walked through the wilderness area and out to the water.  

Yes, there were homeless camps but nobody bothered anyone.  

There was plenty of wildlife, both living there and passing through to enjoy. I remember in particular the red-winged black birds and the countless jack rabbits which seem to have vanished. I still go down there, but with everything clear cut and fenced off there is nothing there any longer and all the wildlife is gone. Why did EBRPD have to destroy this great place? 

Randall Broder 

El Sobrante 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Your writer, J. Douglas Allan-Taylor is such an interesting enigma. When he pens a column like “Demise of G.O.P. Is Not Necessarily a Good Thing” (May 7), his writing is well documented and brilliant. And, when he serves as an apologist for Oakland’s absentee chief executive, he can be full of pompous crap! 

In these lean economic times you are lucky to have two totally different staffers for the price of one. 

Wayne P. Kirchoffer 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Obviously the Safeway store at College and Claremont in Oakland is very profitable, and works extremely well while serving the surrounding neighborhoods and appreciative customers who champion the store just the way it is. Nevertheless, the supermarket chain unveiled plans for a new, two story building complex—doubling the size of their present store with eight added retail storefronts, and a huge underground parking level. 

As an expensive, double talking marketing guru might suggest, “For what the property is worth, it is not generating enough income.” So why not, Mr. Safeway C.E.O., go ahead and build your bigger and better, more and more profitable, super supermarket. However, I may have news for your excellency. In the future another V.I.P. with all the answers will come along, tear down your magnificent monument, then erect his Tower of Babel. 

Infamous last words? If it works, don’t fix it. 

Jack Biringer 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

By now, you probably have heard of Mayor Dellums’ budget proposal to cut 140 Oakland police officers. Some say this is a tactical move to get federal stimulus money. If that works, fine. But just in case it does not, with all due respect to elected leaders, reducing the police force is a nonstarter. 

Crime is and has been the number one issue for voters in every poll we have taken over the past three years. There has been some improvement, but obviously not enough, and this is no time to give any consideration to reducing the number of officers. Voters won’t stand for it and neither will the business community which has invested in this city. 

We are just beginning to experience what Oakland can be like as the Uptown area comes to life with new dining, entertainment, and housing options. The city was recently given a boost in the New York Times travel section which depicted great things going on in Jack London Square, around the Lake and up at Chabot. This is great news. Unfortunately, we also continue to receive tragic news including the recent murder of a 97 year old woman in an Adams Point condo building. 

If the police force is reduced by 140 officers, which way will Oakland go? Will neighborhoods in the city emulate the growth and vibrancy of Uptown or will residents be shuttered behind iron gates and locked doors because they fear for their safety? Dom Arotzarena of the police officer’s union bluntly predicts that if the criminal element gets the idea that no one is watching, “crime will go up” and “more people will die.” 

The Safe Streets Committee has pledged to work with all of our elected leaders on efforts to ensure adequate police coverage. Last year we discontinued our signature drive on a potential ballot measure to increase the number of officers in part because elected officials who had been lukewarm to addressing public safety issues came on board and told us they got it—public safety is priority number one! We don’t want to go back to the voters and we certainly hope that will not be our only option. 

Let’s be clear about this. As bad as the budget crisis may be, it will only get worse if people get the idea that a bad crime problem will deteriorate further because we have reduced the number of police officers. Those great new restaurants and entertainment venues that Oakland is becoming known for will go empty. The housing that we are trying to sell or lease will not be filled with new residents. The business that we are trying to attract to the city in very challenging times will go elsewhere. And when the restaurants, homes, offices, entertainment and retail venues go dark, the tax revenues they would produce will be lost and the budget crisis will only get worse. 

Our message to elected leaders is simple and clear. Nothing is more important than public safety. Before you do anything else, make sure Oakland residents, workers and visitors are safe. Do not cut the police force by 140 officers. 

Gregory McConnell, 

Executive Director, Oakland Safe Streets Committee