Letters for June 18

Readers sound off on the Alameda Theater, Mario Juarez, John Yoo, global hunger, Oakland police, Pete Stark, and the mass dissemination of dumbness.

“Alameda Theater, The Sequel,” News, 5/21

One More Happy Taxpayer

I am moving back to Alameda after being away for many years and I am delighted about this renovation. I’ll happily pay my share of higher taxes to enjoy a gem like this in a town with no other movie theater.

Liz Barrett, Alameda

Worth a Try

There is one similar theater from a while back in Sonoma County that restored the original theater (the Raven) and built around the corner (not directly connected?) a multiplex. The Raven then showed vintage and independent files (if I remember correctly). So someone did do something similar!!! In Healdsburg. I don’t know if they are going strong but the combination of vintage (my favorite) and new screens to bring people into the area is good.

And theaters bring restaurant customers if the theater is in a restaurant district. Both “feed” each other economically so the investment is better for a downtown area. If done right these sort of investments are worthwhile for a city. But, unfortunately, it is a very difficult and very specific way to do it, they can fail so easily if done in a variety of ways other than the narrow few that would work (location-specific, so what works varies). I hope that the Alameda theater project succeeds. It’s worth it.

Randolph D. Garrett, Antioch

Civic Debt, the Sequel

The best place to see the new parking garage? From inside the restored theater. 🙂

I guess deadlines and space prevented Rin Kelly from talking about the roughly $40 million of debt that Alameda City Council issued through the redevelopment agency — without voter approval — to build the parking garage and the megaplex, when most people only wanted the historic theater restored. Other cities, like El Cerrito, found ways to restore their historic cinema without issuing tens of millions of dollars of debt arbitrarily.

David Howard, Alameda

“Candidate for Council Has a Troubled Past,” Full Disclosure, 5/21

Hope for the Future

I agree that Oakland City Council candidate Mario Juarez should not be elected to the office as he has some unfinished problems from his past. However, I also believe that Juarez is the most promising future leader for Oakland.

As a concerned citizen living near Oakland, I realize that this city’s future, for better or for worse, hugely depends on the vision and mission of the city’s representatives. Juarez, whose campaign is endorsed by Oakland Teachers and the Democratic Party, seems to hold the key to lead Oakland to greater heights. In his formal statement posted on his web site, he was able to capture the most urgent problems this city needs to address, including decreasing crime through his Safety First Plan, improving homeownership program for low-income employees, and triggering economic growth for the city.

While some might be concerned with his questionable past, it should be taken into consideration that he has proven himself to be a better person right now. As a real estate agent, Mario Juarez Selling Team currently employs around sixty people and is thriving. Moreover, the issue pertaining to his inexperience in the political field should not even be brought up as America believes in giving equal chances for everyone to run for office.

I believe that despite his troubled past, Juarez is a promising potential leader that should be supported. It might not be wise to vote him to the office at the present moment, but the city should watch and support him as he tries to make amends from his past, because here is the person that could change Oakland’s future for the better.

Athalia Nakula, Emeryville

Editor’s Note

Mario Juarez was not successful in his bid for the Oakland City Council.

“The Torture Professor,” Feature, 5/14

The Constitutional Case

Instead of debating whether John Yoo violated standards of legal ethics and hence should be fired, a simpler rule applies here. All UC employees have to sign a pledge to support and uphold the Constitution — this was supposedly implemented to target communists in the past, and was the focus of much debate by the faculty in the ’50s and ’60s. But Yoo, who has argued that the Fourth Amendment somehow doesn’t apply to the President in times of crisis or war, has done more to undermine the Constitution than perhaps any UC employee in memory. THAT alone should be cause for his dismissal — perhaps after a trial by his (faculty) peers.

Robert Schechtman, Berkeley

Render Him to the World Court

Since John Yoo was working for the Justice Department at the time he wrote the torture memos, and could not have been paid at the same time by the University of California, which is against its employment regulations, then it seems the issue of academic freedom does not apply to him. Therefore, he cannot hide behind this issue now, nor can the University of California, Berkeley. (See University of California Policy and Procedures Manual to verify, please.) These are open documents regarding hiring and retention policies.

Could he not also be prosecuted for failing to uphold the US Constitution at the Justice Department, especially Amendment VIII to the Bill of Rights which unequivocally prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment”? By what stretch of anyone’s imagination could the torture Yoo espoused be considered “usual”? Yoo eschewed only “organ failure,” presumably not ripping nails off hands, for example. This inhumanity seems prosecutable. Render him to the World Court if necessary.

Philomena Burkhardt, Richmond

If Deadly Force Is Okay, Why Is Nondeadly Force Wrong?

If Robert Gammon wants to see Professor John Woo fired from UC and tried for “war crimes” just for rendering a legal opinion, he needs to muster an argument better than that found in the emotional swill posing as an argument. I haven’t followed this crisis du jour too closely, but it was clear that advancing an agenda was more important to Mr. Gammon than sifting the truth of the matter, as evidenced by his terming the Federalist Society “ultra-right-wing,” which if true, makes the founding fathers similarly right-wing.

First, to allege that a legal brief was the proximate cause of whatever excesses occurred at Abu Ghraib is a ridiculous assertion that would never hold up in court. This is akin to stating that the government’s decision to support the South Vietnam government with troops was responsible for the My Lai massacre or that advocating gun ownership by law-abiding citizens is responsible for the Columbine massacre. Why not just blame God for all the sin in the world because, after all, man is his creation. It should be obvious that the missing link in these examples is the will of the acting agent. I sincerely doubt any of the low-level soldiers at A.G. ever even heard of John Woo, much less read his brief.

Second, considering how most people accept the government’s authority to use deadly force in appropriate circumstances (e.g., a war or municipal police powers), why is it so offensive to use less than deadly force for an identical purpose, that being the security of a nation and her citizens? Since Mr. Gammon made no argument for disarmament and pacifism, I can only assume he has no problem with killing a human being but only in hurting him. If it is acceptable to kill in self-defense, why is it not acceptable to physically extract information from a prisoner to prevent, say, the detonation of a hidden nuclear device?

Third, how are we defining torture? Mr. Gammon asserts that waterboarding “has long since been considered torture.” If that’s the case, then the US has been torturing its own troops. Those training for special forces operations are subjected to treatment that they could face if captured, including waterboarding. Where is Mr. Gammon’s outrage at the application of this technique to his fellow citizens? Or does he believe that they’re not being tortured because they assent to the training, making his definition subjective and thus useless?

Fourth, the author mentions international law, specifically the Geneva Convention. He failed to mention that that law applies only to its signatories, which are nations that field conventionally uniformed forces. Prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are not in this category but are instead simply lawless combatants similar to pirates of yesteryear. As such, they enjoy few rights and privileges.

Time and space prevent a more thorough critique of Mr. Gammon’s reasoning. These are just some points he needs to rethink before churning out more chum for yet another East Bay, leftist feeding frenzy. I’m not saying Professor Woo is necessarily correct in all his legal conclusions, but Mr. Gammon appears to be wrong in his.

James A. Smith, Esq., Walnut Creek

Expose Him as a Charlatan

Robert Gammon makes an interesting but inconclusive case that John Yoo should be prosecuted for war crimes. He is correct that Yoo’s defenders cannot have it both ways. If Yoo is not culpable for acts of torture because he only acted in an advisory capacity, then it cannot also be true that his advice immunizes the officials who ordered those acts. Attorney General Mukasey has the case exactly backwards when he said recently that Yoo should not be prosecuted because he was doing his part to protect the country when his official responsibility was to render sound legal advice and not to make policy.

Gammon also makes a strong case that Yoo violated legal ethics. As a member of the California State Bar, I might agree that Yoo should be suspended or disbarred assuming that he was a member of the bar. One possible ground would be his apparent violation of Rule 3–210 of the California Rules of Professional Conduct, which states that a member shall not advise the violation of any law unless the member believes in good faith that the law is invalid. The American Bar Association is a voluntary organization, but the Model Rules of Professional Conduct cited by Gammon also can be used in state bar disciplinary proceedings.

As a Boalt Hall graduate, however, I am less persuaded that Yoo should be removed from the faculty. Professors are not ordinarily removed for inaccuracy and lack of appropriate restraint or respect for the opinions of others. The larger problem is that Yoo was not engaged in research when he committed the supposed violations of intellectual honesty and research misconduct. Here Gammon cannot have it both ways. He suggests that Yoo is not protected by academic freedom because his nonacademic writings produced illegal actions, but he also suggests that Yoo can be removed from the faculty because those writings violated academic standards.

I would agree that the torture memo and other documents crafted by Yoo in the Office of Legal Counsel represent an insidious form of intellectual corruption. As a government lawyer, Yoo promoted and arguably participated in war crimes. As a scholar, his views have contaminated the law (and the science of moral philosophy) with false doctrines. His strange notion that public officials have a moral obligation to commit torture to avoid remote or hypothetical risks of attack is incoherent. But the remedy for those intellectual abuses may be to expose him as a charlatan within the academic community and not to expel him from the community.

Robert Denham, Berkeley

Stop Giving to UC Berkeley

Your May article of opposition to the retention of Professor John Yoo by UC Berkeley focused on the possibilities of legal action against him at some future time under various university rules and human rights laws.

While Chile’s General Pinochet was confined by house arrest some two decades after he left office, and the Chilean laws of immunity for torturers were eventually lifted, this kind of solution is limited to a small circle of professionals. The rest of the public so far has been forced to be bystanders — a helpless and dangerous condition.

There is a way for a much larger general public to act. Thousands of UC graduates are frequently appealed to for funds for the university. Following the lead of a friend, I have just written the university to say that as long as John Yoo is employed there, I will not contribute funds.

Further, John Yoo ultimately is not very important in this matter. There is a more important basic principle at issue. That principle is, that universities should not employ any people who have ordered, designed, carried out, or in any way implemented torture as public policy. This too is part of my letter — insistence that the university actively adopt such a limit on hiring.

It is important to consider insisting on such a policy now, because many professionals have been involved in US torture in one way or another — especially psychologists and other clinicians, as well as lawyers. In their anticipation of the end of the Bush administration, any number may seek academic positions as a hedge against the official policy coming to an end. The names of many of them, with résumés, can be found in professional sources, in news articles, and elsewhere. Are they coming to a neighborhood near you?

The University of California has put itself now in a weakened position in the competition for money in a bad economy. UC graduates — and graduates of colleges and universities across the country — have other places to contribute funds. For instance, to public schools and hospitals starved for money and lacking the federal support of universities. Or if graduates need to contribute to nonprofit organizations for tax purposes, a more direct way to deal with torture is to give to any of the 25 torture treatment centers in the US (there are four in California, including Survivors International in San Francisco, and the Center for Survivors of Torture in San Jose).

Gerald Gray, Campbell

Miscellaneous Letters

How You Can Stop Global Hunger

It’s been the leading story in major newspapers and TV news programs. More than 100 million people are being driven deeper into poverty by a “silent tsunami” of rising food prices, according to World Food Program Executive Director Josette Sheeran. A dozen countries have experienced food riots and strikes.

Prices for basic food staples such as rice, wheat, corn, and soybeans have skyrocketed in recent months. They are driven by rising fuel and fertilizer prices, diversion of corn to produce biofuels, drought in key food-producing countries, soil depletion through overgrazing, and growing demand for meat in China and other developing nations.

The resulting hunger afflicts nearly one billion people, mostly women and children. It kills an astonishing 24,000 per day. It’s not just a problem for strangers in faraway lands. It affects millions of Americans, and some US stores are already rationing food.

The good news is that even a small shift toward a plant-based diet in the US and other developed countries would free up enough land, water, and fuel to feed everyone. More than 80 percent of US agricultural land grows animal feed. A plant-based diet requires only 16-20 percent of the resources of the standard American diet.

Every one of us can start abating the scourge of world hunger today by reducing our consumption of meat and other animal products and by supporting food distribution agencies. For more information, see TheHungerSite.org.

Evan Teller, Emeryville

Oakland Endures

I’m an independent and interested reader of the East Bay Express. I am particularly interested to read Robert Gammon’s articles. What Robert is doing in vital to the community. He has, I’m confident, a good factual basis for uncovering perceived misdeeds and/or potential misdeeds. Regarding the political landscape, there will be no lack of subject matter for him to investigate. The populace seems to get what they deserve without many substantial candidates coming forward. So yes I’m interested in what he’s finding and writing about.

This is one of the checks and balances left for what we call our version of democracy. As a former Oaklander, I still follow what is and what is not happening to one of America’s finest cities. The leadership lacks but charm of Oakland endures.

My best to Robert!

Rob Sorensen, Newark

Who Needs More Cops If They Won’t Do Their Jobs?

I am a disabled resident of Oakland who just encountered being a victim of Oakland’s rising crime spree. I was hit in an auto accident, then shot at in their attempt to rob us. After running for my life and finding safety on an AC bus, the Oakland police that I encountered took my experience as a joke. So much so that I was never mentioned in the report. The report states: Non Injury Car accident — w/ Brandishing of a firearm.

Oakland wants more money for officers; Why? The officers that are on duty are taking their jobs as jokes. Not protecting or serving the community that pays them. No longer do officers even try to locate suspects, but wait until most citizens are dead or too afraid to make a difference in their communities. In West and East Oakland crimes are being committed in broad daylight without regard for “law enforcement” because there is none, even with police cars within a block of the offense.

I have been traumatized, not only by the crime I endured, but as well by the agency that was supposed to make me feel somewhat safe living here. How can Oakland feel safe if the color of your skin affects how you are protected or served? I question the new mayor to review whom he is hiring and the level of service that they provide to all citizens.

Ramon Jackson, Oakland

Some Advice From an Opponent

Open letter to Pete Stark. Impeachment means holding hearings — not removal from office; that requires conviction in the Senate. There are nearly forty members of Congress who say they want Cheney impeached. Only one, Dennis Kucinich, has filed articles of impeachment. If another of those forty, and then another and another, file their own articles, hearings would start, and Cheney would, I believe, resign within a month. This worked with Nixon. Ninety members of Congress, including you, Pete Stark, filed resolution after resolution to start hearings for Nixon. And when they flooded the House with these resolutions the Judiciary Committee had to start hearings. Within months Nixon resigned.

Pete — stand up again for your country. Remember back thirty years and how you felt about the criminal in the White House? How do you feel about the criminal Cheney? We have evidence in the public record of his crimes. We are torturing! Cheney is committing treason when he stands on the deck of a battleship and threatens war on Iran. Hearings for Cheney could take as little as one day! The investigations would be easier than the baseball steroid situation.

Pete, you’re renowned for your principled actions. Nothing is more important than saving our Constitution now. More than 60 percent of your constituents voted to impeach in your recent survey of your district. Do your duty to them and the oath you took to defend the Constitution. File articles of impeachment for Cheney immediately.

Cynthia Papermaster, Candidate for Congress, Berkeley

The Mass Dissemination of Dumbness

A relative told me about a charcoal lighter fluid that had been made “idiot proof.” He said they went to great lengths to make the lighter fluid safe for foolish people might who squirt it on hot coals, an action which he had taken, and which common sense would tell most people not to do. He said if it had been gasoline instead, the flame would have gone up the stream of fluid that was being squirted and would have ignited the bottle in his hand. He said they designed the charcoal lighter fluid such that dummies who use it improperly wouldn’t light themselves on fire or create an explosion. It doesn’t say much for the estimated intelligence of people who barbecue.

Warning labels on hazardous products are another example of idiot-proofing things in our culture. Many people might believe if a product comes without a warning label, it means there is no hazard to the product. This assumption could not be accurate. Rather, there are plenty of hazards that haven’t been discovered as yet, and plenty of labeling or lack of labeling that’s not up to date. There is no substitute for basic caution or a person using their senses. The prevalence of warning labels may lull us into a false sense of security.

How about TV ads for prescription drugs? The long, wordy disclosures of possible side effects, like “headache, nausea, fatigue, or bleeding that could possibly lead to death,” are there because the government thought we ought to be warned before taking these drugs. Again, the assumption is if something were wrong with it, the FDA would take it off the shelf. The myth is if there is a risk, it will be spelled out in the literature. This is not always the case. Many problems with drugs don’t get discovered until the medication has been tested on humans by being on the market for a decade or longer. If the drug has recently been approved, there is a likelihood of an undiscovered risk. Disclosures of side effects on TV commercials do more to downplay the real risks of the drugs.

The drug companies also attempt to generate excitement over how good you’re going to feel when you take this “miracle drug.” Images are shown of people having a great time in nature or painting, or climbing rocks, or at a country club. You’re supposed to believe this new drug will give you the good life. (It doesn’t matter that before you took the medication, even before you got sick, you didn’t go to country clubs, paint, or climb rocks; you went to Starbucks.) The dumbing down consists of the drug companies promoting the impression they are looking out for your health. In fact, drug companies sell drugs.

For another example of the mass dissemination of dumbness, look to television news. With an air of objectivity, the newscasters present a highly distorted view of society; and on a tenth-grade level of comprehension. When the news obsessively covers crime, including gang violence, bizarre murders, robberies, and people being attacked, it is biased newscasting. I say this because the amount of time given to crime on our newscasts is out of proportion. It can make people think the world is a lot more dangerous than it truly is. Meanwhile, other stories are being neglected, ones we would be interested in hearing about if we knew of them. The dumbing down is we become afraid to step outside our front door, plus we never know about many of the “good” things being done.

The political races are commented upon over and over again as though the newscasters were objective and fair. If you want to know more, just look to see whose commercials appear during the political coverage. Those will be the sponsors who might just have an influence on what is shown and not shown. The principle that holds true for the highly spun political coverage we’re seeing: if they can’t dazzle you with brilliance, they’ll baffle you with bull. The dumbing down consists of the news trying to do the thinking on your behalf about who to vote for.

Automobiles were one of the first products to become “idiot friendly” with the introduction of the automatic transmission. Soon, power steering, power brakes, and air-conditioning were added and soon power locks, then power locks that lock automatically. The car has various “idiot lights” to tell you if there’s a problem. A lot of engines break down because people fail to check their oil often enough. This is according to one expert auto mechanic who remembers the time before the self-service gas stations; the attendant would check your oil while filling your tank.

Most people automatically trust anything on the shelf at their supermarket. It seems paranoid to go looking for that rare occasion when you bought something hazardous. Everyone needs to trust something, even if that trust is a little bit naive.

In America today, it is amazing the extent to which the consumer is protected from mishaps either from their own lapse in judgment, or through something to do with a product. We should be grateful for this, yet we should keep our eyes open a little more.

When I was about eight years old, my grandmother gave me chicken soup full of chicken bones that I almost choked on. I have a vague memory of her telling me I was supposed to learn something from this experience. I guess the lesson was, sometimes you should watch out for the unpleasant and hazardous surprises because there’s not always someone to “idiot proof” every situation for you. Life can be dangerous.

Jack Bragen, Martinez

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