Letters for June 4

Readers sound off on pointing the finger at the black guy, rent control, and the case for firing UC Berkeley law professor John Yoo.

“The Torture Professor,” Feature, 5/14

Yoo Was Wrong, But So Are You

While I largely agreed with Gammon’s criticism of Professor Yoo, I’m appalled by some of the arguments he makes.

First, he cites the notorious Nuremberg Trials as some sort of moral authority. Those show trials were a “macabre farce” as the leading UK historian, A.J.P. Taylor noted. One side to a conflict served as Judge, Jury, and Executioner. See Advance to Barbarism by F.J.P. Veale. The Germans were not permitted to contest the main charges of crimes against humanity and aggressive warfare. All they could plead were individual cases of “following orders.”

The “Allied” side were guilty of at least as many war crimes as the so-called “Axis,” and in the case of the USSR many more. There were fantastic allegations of human lampshades, human bars of soap, and four million gassed at Auschwitz-Birkenau, all of which are totally discredited even by mainstream hacks.

Second, there’s the inevitable recycling of the old statist bromide from old Ollie Wendell that free speech is limited. Not so. You either have an inalienable right to free speech or it is a government granted permission. While property rights routinely govern its exercise, a publicly funded university has no right to censor political views since we are all forced to pay for it. Even as deranged a far leftist as Noam Chomsky conceded that Kissinger had a right to return to Harvard if he wished.

Gammon is attempting to smuggle  his own abhorrent ideas into domestic law as Woo did in international law.

A pox on both your houses.

Michael P. Hardesty, Oakland

He’s a War Criminal

John Woo is like Albert Speer and Edward Teller. He is very intelligent but has sacrificed his soul and compassion in pursuit of power. He should be treated like a Nazi war criminal, his tenure revoked, and let him spend the rest of his life changing bedpans. I am amazed that Boalt Law School Dean Christopher Edley Jr. says he is protected by academic freedom. Would he still feel the same way if Yoo created a legal framework to make lynchings possible again?

Steve Deutsch, Berkeley

We Did Protest Yoo

Thanks for your piece on John Yoo. It is a valuable summary of the history of the torture memos.

I do, however, take exception to your assertion that Berkeley students haven’t protested Yoo. While there should be more and continuing protests against Yoo, you are simply wrong that they haven’t done so in the past. In fact, as early as the fall of 2005, there was a series of protests inside and outside of Yoo’s classroom at Berkeley. These protests culminated in students getting arrested. At the time, the only source reporting this story off of campus, and the source where I learned about it (since I’m not a Cal student) was KPFA 94.1 FM, and specifically Dennis Bernstein’s “Flashpoints” program. These protests were, if I’m not mistaken, some of the first actions taken by the young activist group, World Can’t Wait — Drive Out the Bush Regime. Incidentally, Marjorie Cohn, who you cite in your piece, was a regular guest on Flashpoints during that period.

It’s unfortunate that the student protests haven’t continued, if that is indeed an accurate representation of fact (of which I’m not convinced), but to a great extent, there cannot be activism without information on which to predicate it. And until the last six months, there has been very little establishment media coverage of the case of John Yoo, and the alternative presses have been all too quiet themselves. Of course, students on campus must have had access to damning information about Yoo, and therefore some of the onus must be placed on them, but the East Bay Express should not be making pronouncements when it wasn’t beating this drum back in 2005 when students were being arrested for protesting Yoo.

Matthew Isles, Oakland

No Hague, No Money

No, UC Berkeley Boalt Hall law school should not fire John Yoo. That would be an insult to academic freedom. They should set up a special Chair for Law and Torture at a satellite campus in the Hague, the Netherlands. And, they should keep Yoo’s academic load light, so he can find time to defend himself in the unfortunate event he is indicted by the prosecutor for World Court.

I’m a graduate of Boalt Hall. Next time the school calls me to ask for money, that is exactly what I will suggest. If they go for it, they’ll get my money.

Don Driscoll, Albany

Go a Step Further

Thanks East Bay Express for the excellent article. I hope you will follow it up with more information. I have a few points I would add:

1) John Yoo’s thesis on the unlimited powers of “the commander in chief” suggests that when the president is at war Congress’ war powers are suspended altogether. A letter from John Conyers et al. to President Bush on May 8, 2008, reminded the president of their powers:

“We are writing to register our strong opposition to possible unilateral, preemptive military action against other nations by the Executive Branch without Congressional authorization. As you know, Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution grants Congress the power ‘to declare war,’ to lay and collect taxes to ‘provide for the common defense’ and general welfare of the United States, to ‘raise and support armies,’ to ‘provide and maintain a navy’ to ‘make rules for the regulation for the land and naval forces,’ to ‘provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions,’ to ‘provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia,’ and to ‘make all laws necessary and proper for carrying into execution … all … powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States.’ Congress is also given exclusive power over the purse. The Constitution says, ‘No money shall be drawn from the Treasury but in consequence of appropriations made by law.’ By contrast, the sole war powers granted to the Executive Branch through the President can be found in Article II, Section 2, which states, ‘The President shall be the Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into actual Service of the United States.’ Nothing in the history of the ‘Commander-in-Chief’ clause suggests that the authors of the provision intended it to grant the Executive Branch the authority to engage U.S. forces in military action whenever and wherever it sees fit without any prior authorization from Congress. In our view, the founders of our country intended this power to allow the President to repel sudden attacks and immediate threats, not to unilaterally launch, without congressional approval, preemptive military actions against foreign countries. As former Republican Representative Mickey Edwards recently wrote, ‘[the decision to go to war] … is the single most difficult choice any public official can be called upon to make. That is precisely why the nation’s Founders, aware of the deadly wars of Europe, deliberately withheld from the executive branch the power to engage in war unless such action was expressly approved by the people themselves, through their representatives in Congress.’ Members of Congress, including the signatories of this letter, have previously expressed concern about this issue. On April 25, 2006, sixty-two Members of Congress joined in a bipartisan letter that called on you to seek congressional approval before making any preemptive military strikes against Iran…”

In my view Congress should take the Conyers letter one step further and force a hearing to determine whether the foundations under which the Iraq War was conducted were legal and constitutional. If illegal activity would be established the next step would be to prosecute those who had initiated and conducted the illegal activity. For instance, Yoo’s action (advice) resulted in the Bush administration’s abrogation of its treaties relative to war crimes. The power to make treaties is in both the president and Congress: “(Section 2) He [the president] shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur.”

Did two-thirds of Congress agree to Yoo’s instructions on torture, etc.? Did they agree to abrogate US treaties relative to war crimes? Were they consulted on the abrogation of the treaties?

Thus, one could take the Yoo thesis to its end, concluding that the president has the right to suspend Congress during times of war, leaving only the commander-in-chief with legal responsibilities — as a dictator. Yoo’s thesis is the kind of argument that made Hitler the dictator of Germany. Thus, there is a legitimate need to iron out just exactly how far the Yoo thesis intended to go in extorting Congressional powers in favor of President Bush’s “commander-in-chief” powers. For the next US president could take Bush’s powers as a precedent and expand them.

2) The Nuremberg Trials involved several categories of criminals. One category involved “hate mongering,” and the court found the publisher of a German newspaper, Julius Streicher, guilty. The trials concluded that a good part of the anti-Semitic actions (genocide, etc.) perpetrated by Nazi Germany were egged on by Streicher through his newspaper, Der Stuermer, from 1922 until 1933, together with his other publications and his other activities. A summary of the “Jew Baiting” for which he was accused and hanged is at http://www.ess.uwe.ac.uk/genocide/Streicher.htm.

We can see that the arm of the Nuremberg laws had a wide stretch, holding many different people accountable for crimes against humanity. Western law is based upon precedent, as Yoo ought to agree. There are precedents from Nuremberg and the Hague today that can bring Yoo and those who acted on his plan(s) to account.

3) The Hague international court has demonstrated and continues to demonstrate that nobody is above the international covenants that came from the Nuremburg Trials. According to a PBS Newshour interview of Judge Meron on June 14, 2005, the court had brought 22 fugitives from the Kosovo War to its chambers. The present schedule of the court (http://www.un.org/icty/) shows a continuing intensity in bringing forth war criminals from that war to justice.

The Hague international court has shown that no leaders can hide behind their borders or laws to avoid being brought to justice for international crimes. The Bush administration may attempt to pardon itself to avoid criminal prosecution, but the fact remains that both US and international law hold that no man is above the law. (Section 2: “… he [the president] shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.”)

To this end we may conclude, based upon US and international precedents, that the one who draws up the plans for a crime is as guilty as the man who commits the crime. The man who orders the crime might hold a higher responsibility. And finally we have to look at the propagandists. Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Education and Propaganda Minister, and Joseph Streicher, a newspaper publisher, were both found guilty. Goebbels committed suicide May 1, 1945.

4) As pertaining to John Yoo’s freedom of speech, as a university professor, actions by John Yoo that are paid for by the US government would not seem to fall under the “freedom of speech” clause of the US Constitution or the University of California’s bylaws. He was the US government official who crafted the plans to overturn international law and the abrogation of US international treaties. He was paid for his advice and instruction and it appears that government officials used his advice to carry out deeds recognized by the Hague international court as war crimes. It is doubtful that an argument can be made that two-thirds majority of the US Congress agreed with those deeds so advised by Yoo. The requirement of “advice and consent of Congress” noted above requires that the president bring forth such relevant issues before Congress for Congressional consent.

Mel Copeland, Berkeley

Don’t Discriminate Prosecution

If the case was about a Jew instead of a Yoo there wouln’t be a peep in Berkeley. There are Jews in the War Department like Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and Elliot Abrams, architects of the war in the Middle East, but there’s no call for their prosecution in Berkeley. Not even for that representative of La Raza, Alberto González, who was John Yoo’s chief.

John Yoo was a low-rank lawyer for a short period of time, an irrelevant figure; his bad luck is to have a Chinese surname. Bashing China is popular in the US today, including among the politically correct; witness the spectacle in San Francisco about the Olympics. Not only China but anything Asian. We can see how in the middle of natural disasters in China and Myanmar, at KPFA radio Kris Welch launches an attack on China for its “abuses” in Tibet — she’d like Tibet to  become a Buhdist theocracy — and Dennis Bernstein restarts his crusade against Myanmar for what he calls “the narcoterrorist dictatorship.” Nothing about donating humanitarian aid for the people. Just like George Bush they demand the introduction of the Trojan Horse of the imperialist “humanitarian aid.” These are the same people who gave one hour of free air time to war criminals John McCain and Robert McNamara to promote their respective books.

The hundreds of thousands that participated in the marches against the war disappeared from the streets when they started to listen to the politically correct harangues from the stage; the great majority of the people despise their policies.

John Yoo might have produced the despicable “opinions” but he had no power to implement them — once again barking at the wrong tree.

Leo West, San Leandro

“Middle-School Marauders,” Apprehension, 4/30

Playing the Race Card

Aren’t we bored yet with always pointing the finger at the black guys? After reading Anneli Rufus’ column, my first thought was: welcome to the surreal life, where the criminals are always black.

It is quite disheartening to me that even in a community publication like the East Bay Express, we are still subjected to the same racial profiling and bigotry that is perpetuated by mass media.

Rufus begins her tale by writing how “surreal” it is that the criminals in her reports are kids. Further reading shows us exactly which group of kids she is referring to. “Three black males” and “a group of … black youth” are the only detailed descriptions we receive from Rufus to paint our own mental picture of these young criminals. Never once in the entire article was any other nationality singled out or stated by name.

Especially notable was how Rufus concludes her story with a tale of a “black ski-masked African-American gunman.” With stories like these it is no longer surprising to me why any black man, or boy, can easily fit the description for any crime in America.

For the first time in history we have a black man running for president of this great nation. He is good at promoting peace, unity, and all those classic American values we all hold so close and dear to our patriotic hearts. If he does win, I really hope nothing goes wrong, because all of us Americans are well trained in pointing the finger at the black guy.

Parker Lanet, San Leandro

Editor’s Note

In our crime column, when describing suspects still at large, we include race and other appearance-related details.

“Raising the Rent at 138 Monte Cresta,” Feature, 5/7

A Climate of Greed

As a longtime resident of the Bay Area, I have seen rents increase an average of 100-150 percent over the past fifteen years. This hyper-inflation serves only to decrease the value of the American currency and to generate a climate of greed that borders on criminal.

With regard to rent control in Oakland, there is very little in the way of real protection for tenants — even though the law states that rents cannot be increased more than the CPI annually.

The truth is that unscrupulous landlords regularly take advantage of “opportunistic evictions” to get rid of long-term tenants so that their rent rolls can be brought up to “market rate” — the hyper-inflated figure landlords now feel entitled to charging.

Another tactic used by unscrupulous landlords is the “prompt-payment discount” clause in some leases that states the rent to be much higher than the rate paid for “prompt payment.” Potential tenants are hooked into the lower rate by “bait and switch” advertising stating the lower rent is the rent on the apartment. This is a slick way of getting around California laws that limit the amount that can be charged for late payments on rent, and to usuriously increase tenants’ rent.

In one such case, rent was advertised on a studio apartment on Craigslist for $790 per month. The attorney/landlord’s twisted logic stated that the rent was in fact $1399 per month. Added to this was a “prompt-payment discount” clause that equaled the amount advertised on Craigslist, $790 per month. The draconian conditions stated that this “prompt-payment discount” was earned only if rent was always received by the landlord on the 1st, regardless of whether or not this date fell on a holiday, or the rent was postmarked on the 1st. The penalty for slipping on these conditions, even once, was a permanent rent increase to the usurious $1399 a month, nearly twice the advertised rent.

The “just cause ordinance” is being flagrantly violated, criminal codes are being broken — “bait and switch” is a misdemeanor, and the California Civil Code is being broken with regard to late penalties and legally defined timely rent payment. Yet unscrupulous landlords are getting away with this flagrant abuse.

The net effect of landlords invoking “prompt-payment discounts” and then illegally raising tenants’ rents well beyond the annual CPI is the creeping erosion of affordability in rental housing. Increasing tolerance of this type of landlord abuse is ominous for the future of decent rental housing, but equally dangerous is the pattern of “opportunistic evictions” that permanently destroys affordable housing in the face of gentrification.

All tenants should be concerned about the erosion of tenant protections, hyper-inflation in rents, and the destruction of affordable housing by means of “opportunistic evictions.” Greed is the driving force. Greed knows no bounds and cares nothing about the health of the community or the welfare of the members who compose it. The rope of affordability unravels from the poorest citizens in the community to the better off. It is just a matter of time and the advance of greed that facilitates the unraveling.

Anne Wellington, Oakland

Buy Your Own Property, Whiners

It’s amazing to me how people that would view themselves as being rational and reasonably intelligent, can accuse a property owner such as Dennis Cox as having some sort of “sinister plan” to drive them out of their homes. Believe it or not, there are certain rights that even Mr. Cox is entitled to. As a businessman, there are certain costs that he must pass on to his tenants, just as the prices of trucking food to the local grocers have been passed on to us. It’s the nature of business.

Where do these tenants get off, believing in their own minds that they have a right to demand goods and services at a price that they would set themselves?

Renting for twenty and thirty years can be seen as a sign of someone who is clearly out of touch with the responsibilities of property ownership, therefore to make idiotic statements such as “maybe he should have financed his property in a way where the cost would not be  passed to the tenant” is absurd. The cost of doing business is always passed on to the customer. Where have these people been? If someone said to them “maybe you should get off your lazy ass and seek property ownership,” I’m sure they would feel insulted. But because a man took the initiative —and risk — of becoming a landlord, they somehow feel it’s okay to disrespect and demonize him for seeking to express his rights as an owner.

Grow up.

The same way you seek to take money from Mr. Cox’s pockets, maybe you should take a little from your own, and pay the increase, or exercise your right to move out.

Carl Chambers, Stockton


In our May 21 story about creating bee-friendly gardens, we failed to mention that only female honeybees sting.


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