Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Thursday January 14, 2010 - 09:26:00 AM


Editors, Daily Planet: 

In the Dec. 10, 2009 edition of the Berkeley Daily Planet, Berkeley Organizing Congregations for Action (BOCA) submitted a commentary in support of the REALM Charter School proposal which was submitted to the Berkeley School Board on Dec. 16, 2009. In the days leading up to the school board meeting, we were informed that the statistic we had received regarding only ONE African-American male student being enrolled in an AP course at Berkeley High School was inaccurate. After further research and cooperation from Berkeley High School and other BUSD staff, we would like to make a correction and publish the most accurate statistics provided to us. Of the 862 African-American students, 62 African-American males are enrolled in AP courses throughout Berkeley High School. In the spirit of truth and integrity, we have expressed our deep desire and commitment to the BUSD School Board and Administration to be accurate and honest in our advocacy. Given the broad consensus within our city that the achievement gap is real, BOCA affirms there is no need to embellish or misrepresent the facts as we collectively work to improve the quality of education for our families. In spite of this isolated inaccuracy, BOCA remains committed to our historic work of empowering families and communities through training, meaningful relationships, research and public actions. We strongly believe we need more quality educational programs and REALM Charter School is a promising option we can employ to reach that end.  

Michael McBride 

BOCA Executive Director 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

We applaud the recent decision by Berkeley High School to integrate science labs into the regular school day. It also makes sense to us that most students should take high-school-level science courses before taking college-level courses—such is the norm at virtually every other high school in the country. 

When our older daughter was at BHS (class of 2005), she took AP biology, AP chemistry, and AP physics and received perfect scores on the corresponding AP exams. AP Physics was her favorite course in high school and helped to determine her future career path. So we appreciate the value of the AP science program at Berkeley High and very much hope that these excellent college-level courses will remain available for all students who are ready for them. We also hope that in exceptional cases students would be allowed to skip over pre-requisites and enroll directly in AP courses. A bored student is as much at risk as an underprepared student. 

But for every science-obsessed teenager like our older daughter, who willingly and faithfully arrived at school on time for 7:30 a.m. labs and happily spent several hours a day on challenging physics or chemistry problems, there are many more who struggle through AP science courses short of sleep, anxiety-ridden, and sometimes paying $80/hour for private tutoring (because even with extra lab periods, it’s extremely difficult for the vast majority of students to absorb two years’ worth of material in one year). Under the current system, students who are ambitious to attend selective colleges often feel pressured to enroll in AP science courses beginning in their sophomore year, whether they really want to or not. And if they resist this pressure, they may find that the level of teaching and learning in their classes is actually below the appropriate high-school standard because so many of the college-bound students have opted for AP classes. Science courses ordinarily offered to 9th–11th grade students should be rigorous college-preparatory courses. And it should be possible for these courses, like all other core college-prep courses at BHS, to be taught effectively within the regular six-period school day, freeing up zero and seventh period (and terribly scarce resources) for enrichment and support. 

Carol S. Lashof 

William T. Newton 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you to the California Highway Patrol and hard-working San Francisco Bridge Authority driver working their Christmas Day shifts. At 5 p.m., my right front tire blew and I pulled to a halt in the right lane. Within three minutes, a CHP officer arrived, putting his motorcycle between my disabled vehicle and the endless stream of oncoming holiday traffic. He had already contacted the Bridge Authority and I appreciated his calm competence. By 6 p.m., little donut spare in place, I resumed my eastward drive from the Toll Plaza to meet my guests awaiting me in Berkeley. 

Inquiring as to how I would arrange for payment, my Bridge Authority angel (Steve?) let me know, “No charge, Ma’am. Think of it as your tax dollars at work.” 

Although I received many lovely gifts this past holiday season, none were sweeter than this. It’s all too easy to blame community ills on public employees. To become a damsel in distress on an evening when everyone wants only to be safe with their loved ones, I was reminded why taxes can be a good thing. In 46 years of driving, I have never had a smoking, rubber-shredding blow out, much less while traveling east on the Bridge. Had we not had a reliable infrastructure in place to respond to my emergency, I—and likely other travelers—may have suffered for it. Instead, I get to issue a public Shout Out to all those who graciously serve their shifts on the Emergency Services teams that, day in and day out, ensure the well-being of all California citizens, even when we forget or are rude about the costs of such an infrastructure. 

In gratitude, 

Fern Leaf 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

A perusal of both the Daily Planet’s archives as well as a look at its Jan. 7–13 edition calls into question the sincerity of owner/editor Becky O’Malley’s apologia for publishing what she acknowledges to be an overtly anti-Semitic letter. O’Malley says the Atlanta-originated letter should not have been published because the paper prioritizes letters from locals, yet about half of the letters responding to the NY Times piece on the Planet in that same issue stem from out-of-town authors. 

  O’Malley goes on to imply that she was upset that the prose in the offensive letter was intemperate and therefore the DP should have refrained from publishing it. Since when has the Planet shied away from intemperate speech, especially when it comes to vilifying Israel or Jews? After all, it did print the anti-Semitic diatribe by Kurosh Arianpour stating that Jews have deserved every tragedy they have historically suffered, including the Holocaust. 

  As she never fails to do, O’Malley goes on to say that the author identified himself as Jewish. So what? Iranian President Amadinejad may have had Jewish ancestry, as do such local anti-Israel activists as Joanna Graham, Barbara Lubin, Dennis Bernstein and Jeffrey Blankfort. Most members of the Jewish community deem these haters of Israel as anti-Semitic, or, at the very least, it proves that it is hardly out of the realm of possibility to have some Jewish genetic heritage yet still demonstrate a hysterical bias against a democratic state where nearly half of the world’s Jews reside. 

  Finally, O’Malley engages in a sleight of hand by stating that the letter was addressed to John Gertz, who the NY Times noted is the creator of www., a website that tracks the Daily Planet’s malfeasance. Don’t be fooled by this: the letter was sent directly to the Daily Planet for publication in its letters’ page, just as its author clearly intended. How else would Planet have had access to it? 

  Becky’s apology ends with “We regret the error” for publishing the letter. Yet right beneath the apology the paper printed an op-ed by Hassan Fouda that would have readers believe that some Israeli rabbis have led the Israeli army to sanction the killing of Palestinian children. So does O’Malley really “regret” publishing anti-Semitic letters? No more than my cat does for mutilating a mouse. 

Ann Emerson 

La Honda 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

In her letter of Dec. 17, Ann Emerson of La Honda says that she has come to Berkeley repeatedly to accompany Dan Spitzer on his visits to the Planet’s advertisers to dissuade them from placing ads in the newspaper. Contrary to what those business owners have reported, Ms Emerson testifies that “In his interaction with advertisers, Mr. Spitzer is unfailingly polite.” On a second visit, she says, Mr. Spitzer (no doubt politely) reminds advertisers “of an obvious reality: If they keep advertising in an anti-Semitic paper, they are likely to lose the patronage of Berkeley’s sizable Jewish community.”  

How do these “informational” visits differ from a protection racket? Furthermore, how have Emerson, Spitzer, and a few others delegated themselves to speak for “Berkeley’s sizable Jewish community,” many of whose members vocally support the Planet? Berkeley’s newspaper serves that community, as it does others, by reporting at length on events such as exhibitions at the Jewish museums and East Bay Jewish Community Center. Its absence would leave a void where there is now substantial coverage.  

On Dec. 24, the San Francisco Chronicle quoted Mr. Spitzer as saying he was ecstatic at the return of Berkeley’s Black Oak Books, adding that, “We really need our independent bookstores.” Spitzer clearly does not feel that way about independent newspapers that carry opinions about Israel with which he so disagrees that he would deprive the rest of us of that resource.  

Gray Brechin 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Those who are seeking to discredit the Daily Planet have also attempted to smear my name because I wrote an article that defended the Planet. In a website named “The DP Watchdog,” in which the authors are too cowardly to include their names, they have posted a piece on the web that implies anything I write is questionable because I am “a psychotic.” 

When I first saw that piece on the web, I felt that it didn’t deserve a response from me because it should be obvious to anyone it is a bigoted and ignorant piece. I’ve lived with mental illness for many years, and it is clear, at least to me, that it doesn’t mean I am a non-person. And it is clear, at least to me, that anyone who automatically discredits someone because they have a mental illness is ignorant as well as bigoted. 

For example: What if someone was discredited in journalism because they have diabetes? Wouldn’t that seem ludicrous? Or, what about when people were not allowed to participate because of the color of their skin? This attempt to discredit me is the same thing. 

The above points are obvious to me, but I am starting to realize that the general public may need to have them explained, as I am now doing. People may not instantly recognize prejudice against the mentally ill when they see it, such as the writing in the “DP Watchdog.” 

A recovered mentally ill person, such as I, can do many of the same things as their non-disabled peers. The limitations that exist are parallel to those of other disabilities and include side effects of the medications, a lowering of stamina in general, sensitivity to stress, and, to be honest, an occasional lapse in judgment. None of these limitations should prohibit me from participating in writing. 

I am responding at this time because I realize that the general public may not be aware of the information I am putting out in this paper, and may simply believe that if you’re mentally ill, it automatically means that you’re a crazy person. I realize that this is an attitude that many in the public still have, and that the mentally ill are largely an unacknowledged minority. 

Those who seek to discredit the Planet accuse its editors of being prejudiced against Jews. We now see that we are dealing with people who are capable of the very same prejudice that they object to. And this only reinforces the same points that I made in the original piece. Jews are capable of the same flaws attributed to “human nature” as those of any other ethnic background, and being bigoted is a universal disease that affects all groups of people. Having the Holocaust happen to us doesn’t make Jews holier than other groups of people, although it ought to make all of us wary. 

The murders that happened in the Holocaust weren’t just directed at Jews. A lot of mentally ill people and people with other disabilities were put to death, and so were gays and so were those persons who openly disagreed with the Nazi regime. 

That’s why we’d all better be careful not to classify anyone as a non-person on the basis of disability, race, sexual orientation, or other characteristics that aren’t related to the content of a person’s character. We’ve seen what happened in the Holocaust, and let it be a lesson not to dismiss anyone’s personhood, and this includes “a psychotic” who wrote this. 

Jack Bragen 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

As a Jewish supporter of the Daily Planet and an activist against the Israeli occupation, I would like to thank Becky O’Malley for her response to Leon Mayeri’s op-ed, in which she apologizes for printing an offensive letter to the editor. I have long believed that the Planet’s policy of printing everything, no matter how offensive or oppressive, was mistaken. However, because of the intense polarization caused by those advocating a boycott of the Daily Planet I was reticent to speak up lest my arguments be perceived as supporting them, which I most certainly do not. While I do appreciate the Planet’s willingness to print letters expressing a wide diversity of opinions, including controversial and unpopular ones and including ones highly critical of Israeli policy, I am glad that O’Malley seems to be realizing that it may not be the best idea to print everything that comes across her desk. 

In that light, I would also like to respond to the letter signed by Jonathan Bernstein of the Anti-Defamation League and others the week before, which states of Becky O’Malley that “she has never, to our knowledge, published any hate speech directed at other [non-Jewish] minorities.” I can only conclude that the signatories of that letter do not regularly read the Planet, or that their sensitivity to what constitutes hate speech directed a non-Jews is lacking. Over the years, I have read many letters to the Planet that have expressed anti-Black, anti-Latino, anti-Arab, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and misogynist viewpoints. In fact many of the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim letters are submitted by self-described Israel supporters, a prime example being a particularly hateful op-ed the Planet published on Oct. 15, 2009. (This is only one example out of many.) 

In my opinion, neither that op-ed nor the infamous Arianpour one merited publication. I support Becky O’Malley’s efforts to consider the effects of what she prints and to take into account the detrimental effects of spreading hatred and prejudice in our community. 

Terry Fletcher  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

During the last City Council meeting of 2009, Councilmember Wozniak removed a declaration of amnesty for war resisters from the consent calendar. Berkeley could have provided a safe haven for war resisters during the holiday season and the New Year. But Councilmember Wozniak, the only councilperson to speak that the decision be removed from the consent calendar, denied them that opportunity. Furthermore, the councilmember distributed a printout featuring quotes comparing war resisters to Nazi appeasers. The City Council meetings are sporadically set on Tuesdays at 7 p.m.—rather that is only on the Tuesdays they graciously decide to go through with it, and mingle with the masses. Whichever Tuesday they decide to have a next meeting, people need to face the City Council, Wozniak in particular, an demand that Berkeley be an amnesty city for war resisters. Having people serve in a war when their hearts and minds cannot allow them to continue is a form of servitude. There is no other segment of society, no other job, in which someone would face jail for realizing they chose the wrong path. Young people are being lied to by recruiters, politicians—now including Berkeley’s own Wozniak—and the media. They are lied to, yet they and they alone have to assume responsibility and the overbearing penalties for being in the situation they get into. If the pillars of American society won’t tell the truth about the wars we are engaged in, then the enlisted must have the right to resist.  

Nathan Pitts 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Yesterday I took BART to visit friends in Lafayette. As the train approached the station, I saw the familiar white crosses on that grassy knoll and thought, as always, of John McCrae’s famous verse: 

In Flanders fields the poppies blow 

Between the crosses, row on row. 

But the crosses on this knoll, erected in 2003, number more than 4,000 American soldiers killed in Iraq. I wonder if we shouldn’t now erect another grassy knoll honoring the soldiers killed in Afghanistan, hoping and praying that the toll in this unholy war comes nowhere near that of Iraq! 

Dorothy Snodgrass  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am very excited to be able to once again ride a ferry from Berkeley to San Francisco, or as it is now looking, being able to take weekend trips from Berkeley to Angel Island, and/or the Northbay ferry terminals. Some of my fondest memories as a child were of taking a ride on the ferry out of Berkeley. 

The Berkeley ferry project, having been in the works for over 10 years now, has been long in coming, and has over the years been supported by a landslide majority of its residents. It appears that only people with NIMBY attitudes do not want this public project to happen. Their environmental argument makes no sense, since Berkeley traditionally has been home to ferries and seaside commerce since its Gold Rush era beginnings. Last week in the letters section of this paper, David Daniels said the ferry would cost $170 million. That number is over five times the stated cost of the Berkeley Ferry terminal. Perhaps his $170 million figure comes from the total cost of the entire build-out of the Bay Area ferry transportation system that is mandated by the state to take place? This ferry system will be the public’s BART-on-the-bay, and likely the only operating mass transportation system after the Big One hits. 

Lastly, the ferries already built by WETA, the agency in charge of restoring the Berkeley ferry, have been tested and shown to be the cleanest diesel ferries in the world. That is no small feat. And while not yet committing to it beyond strong expressed interest, and some formal studies, and receiving a $2.5 million grant, WETA has been trying to make a zero-emission ferry a reality. WETA has already tried to build a fuel-cell-powered ferry, but no boat builder wanted to attempt this. So WETA is at least trying to give us the most environmentally friendly product possible. But seeing how Berkeley likes to be on the environmental forefront, perhaps we can demand that the next ferries built for this system be powered by alternative energy sources like wind or fuel cells. Whatever we do, let’s welcome back the ferry with open arms and racing hearts. 

Jerome J. Garcia  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Regarding your two front-page stories on the loss of several units of Berkeley’s Public Housing (Berkeley Daily Planet, Jan. 7–13, 2010). While I’m saddened to read of the loss of several units of Berkeley’s Public Housing Stock, the Berkeley Housing Authority would greatly benefit its low-income citizens by following the Oakland Housing Authority’s lead in building new project-based HUD-funded Section 8 housing. 

In December 2008, I moved into a brand new apartment building in East Oakland with 63 other very-low-income seniors. The building is managed by Affordable Housing Associates of Berkeley, and each one-bedroom unit has a project-based Section 8 voucher. Furthermore, the Oakland Housing Authority is planning to build a new project-based Section 8 apartment building for low-income seniors at Sixth and Oak Streets in downtown Oakland in the near future. 

  This past summer several Section 8 residents and myself petitioned the Oakland Planning Commission at their July 2009 meeting in support of the Oakland Housing Element. This is a master plan devised by the East Bay Housing Organization and other local groups to advocate for affordable housing for very-low-income Oakland residents. The Oakland Planning Commission members were impressed by our presence at their meeting and voted 6–0 to recommend to the Oakland City Council that the Oakland Housing Element be adopted. 

The Oakland Housing Authority, Affordable Housing Associates of Berkeley and the East Bay Housing Organization are to be commended for their efforts in providing affordable housing for low-income Oakland residents. 

Joe Kempkes 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

I was laughing along with Conn Hallinan at the stupidity of people who would spend gazillions on projects that couldn’t possibly work, when I suddenly stopped laughing and realized that it’s not stupidity or incompetence (well, not entirely), but campaign contributions—bribery. Granny D walked across the country at age 90 to call attention to the fact that nothing good would come from our system of government while re-election depends on massive contributions from corporations and industries. We are now enmeshed in details of the Insurance Companies Protection Act (”health reform”) with single-payer having vanished before our eyes. 

I’d like to see a “Bulworth” moment, in which some politician comes forward to speak the truth that the insurance industry has bought nearly every member of Congress, and that the welfare and wishes of ordinary people count for nothing in this debate—or the one on war funding, either. 

Ruth Bird 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

As a member of the legal profession, I abhor the alleged acts of UC Law Professor John Yoo. However, I still believe in due process—meaning he, too, deserves his day in court before conviction and termination from his job at Cal. I agree with Dean Christopher Edley Jr., civil rights lawyer and the author of Not all Black and White—Affirmative Action, Race and American Values. This scenario reminds me of the stories of the South my father used to tell us about; e.g., a black man being lynched for allegedly looking at a white woman. An architect of torture, too, deserves to mount a defense. 

All too often the public wishes to condemn and convict. A public university should be careful in rushing to judgment, because if Yoo is fired prematurely the public will pay the ultimate price should he sue for wrongful termination. Those who want justice should treat others justly. 

Gabrielle Wilson 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Dec. 15 Contra Costa Times editorial “Bay Area air regulators should drop mandatory no-burn night” rails against mandatory no-burn orders on winter Spare the Air days but misses an important point: the BAAQMD already tried the voluntary method, unsuccessfully. 

  We live in the Oakland hills, and the wood smoke envelops the cul-de-sac and hangs over us like a dense cloud. Before the mandatory no-burn went into effect, neighbors continued to burn on spare-the-air days. I suffer whenever their chimneys spew wood smoke, day or night.  

  We appreciated having our first wood-smoke-free Thanksgiving last year. 

Thank you, EPA, for making it man-datory to stop wood burning and protecting our health. 

Ruth Thompson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Since 1972, the Clean Water Act (CWA) has protected our waters from pollution. Unfortunately, recent Supreme Court decisions have significantly weakened the bill, putting protected bodies of water back into harm’s way. 

Thankfully, in response to these decisions the Clean Water Restoration Act was proposed in Congress. The act doesn’t impose any new regulations or add any new kinds of water. The act simply reaffirms the historic scope of the CWA. 

This bill is critical not only for environmental reasons. It is also important for our nation’s health. Across the United States, over 110 million people are getting their drinking water from public supplies fed by streams that are in danger of losing their protections under these new rulings. 

Please urge your representatives to support this legislation. It’s made it through the Senate. It’s up to us to make sure it makes it through the House. 

David Drayton 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

I changed insurance and still have to buy my diabetes test strips on Ebay because they are not covered. Can I get something resembling real coverage after paying over $1000 a month in premiums? Does my $2700 deductible make me healthier on my broke months? Better coverage will result in better, cheaper outcomes. It’s really that simple. 

Jasmine Tokuda 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It seems odd that a town as educated and pacific as Berkeley would be offering boxing lessons and camps for kids (and adults). Especially with the recent controversy about research on the damage of repeated head butting in football, why would we be sponsoring an even more aggressive “sport”—one where the sole purpose is to beat up the other guy, especially with blows to the head? 

Chris Gilbert 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Health care should not be a for-profit industry. This is unethical, as the industry profits most from denying care whenever possible, with unconscionable consequences for hundreds of thousands of people, their families, and their pocketbooks. In this less-than-perfect world, at the very least, let’s have a not-for-profit government option. The least this will do is provide some real competition and keep premiums down. The best? Something approaching the reliable comfort level for all people enjoyed by Canada and much of Europe. 

Elizabeth Blumenstock