Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Tuesday June 16, 2009 - 11:45:00 AM


Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Internet has been blamed for the demise of book stores in California, but the real culprit is the sales tax. While the Internet has made book selling more of a national market, stores such as Black Oaks Books could compete and survive if it were not for the sales tax. The sales tax makes books 10 percent more expensive, which is often less than the media-rate shipping charge from an out-of-state seller. Unlike stores that cater to a mostly local customer base, book stores are generally unable to pass the sales tax on to their customers, so it eats directly into profit. With an already thin profit margin, the reduction in profit caused by the tax inflicts losses, and the store goes out of business. 

Some people advocate a national sales tax, but that would just promote competition from overseas. The solution is to completely abolish taxes on sales. The sales tax is a regressive, antiquated tax not suited to the global economy of the 21st century. California has an income and property tax, so why also have a sales tax? Since the sales tax is not generally tax deductible, the sales tax provides a windfall tax gain to the federal government. We should eliminate the book-store-killing sales tax and shift taxation to tax-deductible property and income taxes. Both the rich and the poor would pay less taxes, more money would stay in California, and book stores would be able to survive. 

Fred Foldvary 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

On April 30, 1987, the Berkeley City Council passed an ordinance (5803) establishing preferential parking guidelines, among which was included Berkeley Municipal Code 14.08.130. This code reads: “A 50 percent discount on applicable fees will be granted to persons meeting low-income criteria established by the Director of Finance.” 

Every year since 1987, when the ordinance has been updated, that discount stipulation has not been included, but it became the practice of the Finance Department to continue to allow the discount. In 2004, the code (6762; 5803 14.08.150)) stipulated: “The Finance Department and the Planning Division are empowered to issue rules and regulations not inconsistent with this ordinance.” This year, for the first time, the finance director, Robert Hicks, without any direction from the City Council, has decided to issue a rule inconsistent with this ordinance by discontinuing the discount for low-income residents of Berkeley (those with an income of no more than $34,000). In the past, the $30 fee was reduced to $15. 

I am protesting this arbitrary decision by the finance director, a decision which is not only disrespectful of the low-income residents of this city but will cause them great hardship. 

Estelle Jelinek 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

So now that he is cleared of wrongdoing, Don Perata feels that nothing will stop him on his quest to become mayor of Oakland. I beg to differ. Perata has already had a bad influence on the city by favoring the interests of outside developers over ordinary citizens. For example, he and Mayor Jerry Brown used the so-called three Rs in 2000 to help their allies either get elected or win re-election to public office. 

In December 2002, Perata had one of his friends who is a developer from Dublin, get city council approval to build houses on the Leona Quarry over the objection of residents who live there. In 2003, while still a state senator, he had the state school superintendent take control over the Oakland school district over the objection of the Oakland school board. 

In conclusion, if Don Perata becomes mayor in 2010, expect too many developments here in Oakland which will result in water shortages in the city. 

Billy Trice, Jr. 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am so thankful to Asa Dodsworth and Steven Finacom for exposing the City of Berkeley’s true colors regarding gardens and fruit trees, and the hypocrisy of the so-called Climate Action Plan. I hope interested people will attend the event at the Berkeley Unitarian Fellowship at 7 p.m. Monday, June 22, at BFUU (Cedar and Bonita), where Asa and others will be speaking about the city’s attack on urban gardens. 

The larger newspapers covered the fanfare over the Climate Action Plan without noticing the discrepancies between the city’s policies and climate issues. It’s a perfect portrait of why we need the perfect nexus of our community newspaper and our active, clear-headed citizens. 

Carol Denney 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

This once beautiful area has been turned into a wasteland. The wildlife is all gone, the whole area is fenced off, replete with an ominous sign that says keep out, no trespassing, no parking, etc. No one can use it. They call is restoration. What it really is desecration. One more open space gone.  

The truth is this is just another pork barrel project, and when the money runs out it will be abandoned. They have been milking this for quite a while and hopefully it will end soon. Then the field will grow wild again, the fences will be circumvented, the wildlife will return and all the people who once enjoyed this multi-purpose filed will return. 

Randall Broder 

El Sobrante 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I read a statement in your paper that stated the managers were confused when they called the police after Nadra Foster refused to leave KPFA in August 2008. I was directly involved as the manager who handled the incident and I had no confusion over the series of events that led to her arrest. Nadra had no unpaid or paid staff position at the time of the incident. She was interfering with an employee from performing his job by refusing to leave the studio. When Nadra refused to leave the building, after I and another manager talked with her, the officers were called at the advice of Human Resources. 

KPFA has a history of allowing individuals who have behavior problems to enter the station. Employees working at the station must be allowed to perform their duties in a respectful environment. There are safe workplace policies that must be enforced. There were prior incidents involving this individual yelling at management that went as far back as 2003. There was an earlier altercation in May 2008 involving Nadra which resulted in her not being allowed back to KPFA. As a manager decisions made are not easy and not everyone will agree with those decisions. A person who chooses not to cooperate with officers and instead tries to fight them is a potentially volatile individual. KPFA is a workplace and as such they have the right to expect people to abide by rules that honor everyone that work there, both paid and unpaid. 

Lois Withers 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein prides herself on her environmental record. But, by opposing the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), she is hurting the whistleblowers who so often alert us to egregious environmental damage being done by corporations. The EFCA will make it harder for companies to delay union votes for interested workers. It will also increase penalties for illegally firing or retaliating against an employee for union activity.  

A fair and direct path to forming a union is crucial for the environment because unions provide strong protections for their members who blow the whistle on illegal dumping and pollution. Sen. Feinstein needs to join every other Congressional Democrat from California in supporting the EFCA if she wishes to live up to her reputation for environmental leadership. 

Christina Armor 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

In the last decade, health care costs have risen five times faster than wages in California, according to a new report by Health Care for America Now. Rising costs put small businesses and working people in our community in a desperate squeeze. 

In California, Kaiser Permanente and WellPoint, Inc. control roughly 60 percent of the health insurance markets. This concentration of private health care coverage devastates competition and leaves no incentives for the monopolies to keep prices down for us consumers. And without choices, its California’s working families and small business owners who suffer most. The data in a new report from Health Care for America Now shows how much of California’s market is controlled by one of two insurance companies (Kaiser Permanente or WellPoint, Inc). 

By giving us a choice of a public health insurance plan that’s available to everyone, Congress can break the insurance industry’s monopoly. A choice of a public health insurance plan is good for consumers. It will allow us to choose the plan that meets our needs the best. More competition and choice means more efficiency as insurance plans compete and prices go down. And that’s good for families and small business. 

Congress should give us the choice of a public health insurance plan when they reform health care. 

John Lynch 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I’m 58 years old. I was an occupational therapist. My job was to help other people and I loved my work. 

I’ve worked ever since I was 12 years old—first as a babysitter. In high-school I worked as a sales clerk to pay for my school clothes and spending money. I put myself through college doing odd jobs. 

Over 10 years ago I came down with a devastating immune system illness. Much of the time I’m bedridden and am unable to speak. I have only limited use of my arms. I desperately wish that I could do the work that I so love. Without a great deal of help from home health aides that are paid for by the state, I wouldn’t be alive. 

The governor is now proposing to slash health care and the help I’m getting. He has stated that thousands of people who are in my position should instead go and live in nursing homes. Yet it would cost the state five times more money to live in a nursing home than it costs to maintain me in my home. 

Will his next proposal be to turn people out of nursing homes into the streets to die? 

Anyone can become ill or injured. Many people are only one pay check away from being on the street. Is it only the wealthiest people who should be allowed to have adequate health care? 

If we don’t want to revert to a dog-eat-dog social system, we must not abandon those of us who are incapacitated and can’t care for themselves. To do this, we must generate the revenues to pay for it. We must overhaul our current system and create a system of taxation so that the wealthiest individuals and corporations pay more taxes.  

Please contact Budget Committee Chairwoman Noreen Davis (916) 319-2107 and your local legislators. Strongly urge them not to balance the budget by cutting critical services to health, education, and other public services but by increasing revenues. 

This is the only way we can all have a safety net that will be there if we truly need it.  

A. Cunningham 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

I recently moved into non-profit affordable housing in Oakland and have a few observations about Helen Rippier Wheeler’s June 4 commentary, “Berkeley Low-Income Rental Housing Not Necessarily Affordable.” 

First, using HUD’s Section 8 website as my reference, they list not one but two types of Section 8 housing: individual, which Wheeler notes, and Project-based Section 8. I live in the latter in East Oakland. The way the project-based Section 8 works is after one year occupancy by residents of a new building, each individual apartment gets the Section 8 designation (it does not travel with the resident upon leaving). 

Second, Wheeler uses the term “low-income” repeatedly in her article. Currently, there are two categories below low-income i.e., very low-income and extremely low-income. 

Wheeler makes a strong point when she writes “the best way to retain BHA staff is to provide public comment supporting a subsidy.” This can be done at meetings of the City Council and to inform your councilmember. If low-income tenants do not attend and show themselves, real estate developers and landlords who oppose “affordable housing” in Berkeley will be the only people present when City Council votes on low-income housing issues.” Last night (June 3) several extremely low-income seniors and me appeared before the Oakland Housing Commission to seek support for the Oakland Housing Element. The commission voted 6-0 to recommend the Housing Element to the Oakland City Council. 

Joe Kempkes 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

While it may be considered inappropriate to speak poorly of the dead, since there are so many dead as a result of Ronald Reagan’s presidency who cannot speak, it is only fair to remember, as the two Nancys tearfully unveiled his statue, that it was he who sponsored death squads in Angola, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mozambique and Nicaragua which resulted in the murder of more than 500,000 innocent civilians; that he illegally attacked Grenada and Libya, and defied a World Court ruling against his Nicaraguan war. He was also responsible for the Iran-Contra scandal, swapping arms for hostages with the Iranian mullahs, and defied the will of Congress and subverted the U.S. Constitution by diverting funds from these arms sales to his illegal wars in Central America, as well as allowing cheap drugs to flood U.S. inner cities so that drug money could also finance his wars. He supported the genocidal Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, as well as the Argentinian “Dirty War” where 30,000 civilians “disappeared,” not to mention his support of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Moving on, he failed to enforce federal labor and environmental laws and his lax oversight set the stage for the Savings and Loan $500 billion dollar scandal and the massive financial scandals we suffer today; and his raising of payroll taxes while all but eliminating progressive income tax for the wealthy, resulted in the largest transfer of wealth from poor to rich in history—before the Bush era. It is, indeed, something the cry about. 

Tom Miller 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Gov. Schwarzenegger’s plan for California is getting a bum rap. 

We’re told California’s large population renders it “ungovernable.” By eliminating welfare and senior programs, old and infirm people will die more quickly, thereby reducing surplus population. Similarly by reducing the medical coverage for sickly children, we will be “culling the herd.” It’s brilliant. 

His proposal to close the parks will give us thousands of acres on which to live. With our schools gutted, our public colleges closing doors, our homes foreclosed, and so many of us “between jobs,” we will have a golden opportunity to live off the land in the parks—land which formerly was used only by sunbathers, surfers and other elitists. Our states’ pioneer spirit will be revived as thousands flock to the wide open spaces to apply the homesteading and vigilante skills that made America great. 

Inner city youth will thrive in this new environment since they have already been well educated in the fine arts of firearm usage, militia organizing and self defense. Boys in the ‘Hood will easily transform to Boys in the Wood. Same for the thousands of people the governor releases from prison—at long last, an environment that meets their skill set. 

Finally, the problem of illegal immigration will be solved too, because no one will want to come here anymore. 

Well done, governor, well done. 

Larry Hendel 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I was horrified to learn that the state is considering closing many of our state parks. 

I understand there is a budget crisis, but the parks represent a tiny portion of the total budget, and closing them would come at a huge cost to the people. 

In a world that has become increasingly developed, it is more important now than ever to protect our access to nature. 

I hike Mount Diablo every day, and cannot imagine being denied the opportunity to smell the sweet scent of Buckeye blossoms or hear the beautiful song of the Black-headed Grosbeak! 

I truly hope our elected representative will do the right thing, and preserve our right to enjoy our parks! 

Laura Vonnegut 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

According to a June 3, 2009, Associated Press-GfK survey, 52 percent of Americans say torture is justified in some cases to thwart terrorists attacks. More than two thirds of Republicans say torture can be justified compared with just over a third of Democrats. This poll comes on the heels of former Vice President Cheney’s unctuous justifications that “enhanced interrogation techniques” (a euphemism for torture), sanctioned by the Bush administration, are not torture. Cheney dismissed criticism as “contrived indignation and phony moralizing.” Unfortunately, this poll seems to indicate that too many Americans are believing Cheney’s big lie.  

Those who sanctioned torture or justify torture either don’t know the law, or advocate flaunting the law, or have lost their moral bearings. Human torture is not only morally unacceptable—it is also a crime. Waterboarding, for example, is explicitly prohibited by the Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions. Using torture places us in the same company as history’s infamous torturers. Waterboarding, for example, dates back to the Dark Ages. By using torture, we lost any ideological advantage we might have had—the promotion of democracy, freedom and human rights. We became the thugs our enemies say we are.  

How could a country with a Judaic-Christian heritage even consider torture justifiable. But then, I remember that many torture methods were invented during the Roman Catholic Church inquisitions beginning in the 1300s, that torture was used during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 and 1693, and that the public lynchings of blacks during the 19th and 20th centuries often included burning and torture.  

And who can forget the U.S Army School of Americas (SOA)/Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, based in Fort Benning, Georgia, which trains Latin American security personnel in combat, counter-insurgency, and counter-narcotics. The SOA training manuals advocated torture, extortion, and execution. Is it any wonder that SOA graduates are responsible for some of the worst human rights abuses in Latin America? The United States used many of these same torture techniques at Guantánamo Bay Prison, Abu Ghraib, and by proxy through our rendition program. 

Have we regressed as a society to where torture is yet again acceptable or never was unacceptable? Apparently so. 

Ralph E. Stone 

San Francisco