Letters for March 24

Readers sound off on our profile of Dr. Assad, Berkeley Daily Planet reporter Richard Brenneman, and Burmese refugees.

“Oakland Pot Doc Is Defrocked,” Feature, 3/10

Hardly Muckraking

It was muckraking when the North Coast Journal reported the sexual charges against Hany Assad in 2007, while he was still practicing. But it was beating a dead horse and merely salacious when the East Bay Express resurrected the story months after Assad’s license was pulled.

I’m writing because my name was invoked in a paragraph consisting of five false sentences:

“Ever since Proposition 215 passed in 1996, there’s been a boom in clinics run by doctors that only prescribe pot.” Your inapt use of the verb “prescribe” is trivial compared to your distortion of the political situation after the passage of Prop. 215. As of November, 1996, there was only one pro-cannabis MD, Tod Mikuriya, flying up and down the state conducting ad hoc clinics. Slowly and cautiously over the ensuing years, a few other doctors let it be known that they recognized cannabis as safe and effective medicine. Drs. Frank Lucido, David Bearman and Stephen Banister were among the first and patients flocked to them for approvals. All three got investigated by the state medical board and Banister was put on probation. In the next wave Drs. Eidelman, Hergenrather, Fry, Denney, O’Connell, Barth came out as pro-cannabis. As of 2003, nine of the 15 doctors issuing large numbers of approvals had been investigated by the med board — a costly, frightening ordeal that sufficed to keep doctors of average courage from doing so. 

“According to Fred Gardner, a leading member of the cannabis clinician community … there’s an estimated 600,000 to 700,000 people with pot recommendations from a doctor, amid a field of perhaps 4 million California pot smokers.” I’m not a clinician, I’m a writer and I never made either estimate. You can (not) look it up.

“Anywhere from fifty to a few hundred doctors in the state do all the prescribing.”  The first half of that sentence is one of the facts your reporter should have tried to nail down, the second half is provably wrong. Thousands of mainstream California doctors have authorized cannabis use by their patients. When I surveyed California doctors in 2006 for the O’Shaughnessy’s 10-year report, I concluded, “Approximately 160,000 patients have been authorized to use cannabis by some 30 MDs involved in the survey. In Oregon, where a 1998 voter initiative created a medical-marijuana program that tracks participants, an equivalent number of cannabis specialists have issued 45% of the approvals. By extrapolation we put the number of Californians who have become legal cannabis users since Prop. 215 passed at around 350,000.” In other words, slightly more than half the authorized patients were approved by their “regular” doctors and other specialists such as oncologists. 

“No one counts them.” The Patient ID Center keeps track of doctors who issue approvals that gets processed by their Oakland and LA offices. The number exceeded 2,100 as of a few months ago. 

“They set up high-volume practices where they exclusively determine if marijuana would be an effective treatment for customer maladies.” Not all cannabis specialists run high-volume practices. In any case, volume reflects demand. Demand has been pent-up because most doctors, having learned nothing about cannabis in medical school, remain reluctant to recommend it, while others are simply too scared of running afoul of the medical board. As for “exclusively,” who other than the doctor and patient should be involved in the treatment decision? The local police? The reality is, some pro-cannabis doctors are conscientious, painstaking, ethical and respectful; and some are cursory, venal and sleazy. As in every field, there’s a spectrum of skill. I’d put Phil Denney at the high end of his and David Downs at the low end of his.

Fred Gardner

David Downs Responds

I misattributed the “600,000 to 700,000” figure to Mr. Gardner and I should have attributed it to Dr. Denney. Apologies.

It doesn’t change the fact that there are now literally “countless” doctors running high-volume practices up and down the state capable of making millions of dollars off cannabis recommendations. They did not exist before 215, so I characterize this as a boom.

Indeed, Fred Gardner is not a clinician, he is the editor of a medical cannabis journal O’Shaughnessy’s, long-time member of the Society of Cannabis Clinicians, and a long-time activist. This led me to correctly characterize him as “a leading member” of that community.

Former SCC president Dr. P.A. Denney provided me with the estimate of 50 high-volume doctors, while the Los Angeles Times‘ Steve Lopez in 2009 provided the estimate of a few hundred. There is no official count. While any doctor can recommend cannabis (I interviewed a respected doc at UC Davis who had issued one in her decades-long career), a select few are responsible for the majority of recommendations.

According to the California Medical Board, no officials count the number of recommendations, or doctors who issue them, as it is a private matter between doctors and patients. The Patient ID Center does keep track of some doctors, but no one counts them all. While there may be 2,100 doctors who at one time have issued a recommendation tracked by the Patient ID Center, a select few like Assad do much of the high-volume work, essentially running script mills. In Venice Beach, clowns dance along the boardwalk with big signs encouraging people to come in off the street for a doctor’s recommendation and cannabis purchase from such high-volume clinics.

Gardner does not dispute the existence of high-volume, shady practices like Assad’s. And we both can agree: not all doctors run high volume clinics; volume reflects demand; and mainstream doctors are loathe to recommend cannabis and know little about it due to the paucity of US research on the substance. We agree research should be fully funded.

We agree no one other than a doctor and patient should be involved in a treatment decision. We agree there are bad apples and good apples in every bunch.

I would add that: the existence of script mills like Assad’s taint both the reputation of the medical community as well the legalization cause. It turns medicine into quackery and makes legalizers look duplicitous. The clinical cannabis community’s aversion to shunning or, god forbid, turning in members like Assad ultimately hurts their credibility and their cause. They should self-police or more stories like these will emerge. Ultimately, I hope marijuana is legalized for personal use, so people like Assad can’t make millions of dollars discrediting medicine and harming patients with the illusion of care.

To my knowledge no publication has discovered that this is the first pot doctor to have his license revoked in the state. And no local, mainstream, print publication has reported on how Assad took Oaklanders’ money and gave them a worthless recommendation. This makes the story both original and a public service. In contrast to Mr. Gardner’s assessment of my reporting skills, I thank him for his correction, and understand his effort to minimize and dismiss even a modicum of negative press for his or her cause.

Biased Piece

I am disappointed that despite my efforts to correct factual errors many remain. The statement “A Los Angeles buyer who went on to purchase NorCal Healthcare” is not true! I purchased the practice from Dr. Assad and own it outright. I have hired a Los Angeles-based firm to provide management services. California law does not allow ownership of a medical practice by anyone other than a physician.

Medical cannabis cannot be “prescribed.” Its use can only be recommended or approved and it is easier, not harder to approve cannabis use by a patient with a complicated history.

In addition I believe your repeated reference to “pot” rather than the proper term cannabis belies a bias consistent with the overall sleazy nature of the piece. Lastly, please note the correct spelling of my name.

Philip A. Denney, M.D., Oakland

Editor’s Note

The misspelling of Dr. Philip A. Denney’s first name on second reference was made by me, Robert Gammon, editor of the story. In addition, the story’s author asked me to correct an error he made prior to publication concerning the purchase of NorCal Healthcare, but I neglected to do so.

As for the term “prescribed,” we used that term interchangeably with “recommended” throughout the story. And while we fully realize that physicians can’t technically “prescribe” pot in California, the term, in that context, has generally come to mean the same as “recommending” it.

And finally, neither the author nor the editor intended the term “pot” to be a pejorative. Nor is the author, his editor, or this newspaper biased against medical marijuana. As regular readers know, the opposite is more likely true.     

“The Berkeley Daily Planet: A Personal Obituary,” Feature, 3/3

Question Brenneman

I launched www.DPWatchEDog.com in February 2009 as a corrective to the Daily Planet‘s hysterical anti-Israelism and its forays into overt anti-Semitism. The Daily Planet, despite espousing a policy of publishing all comers, had refused to publish a number of my submitted letters, presumably because they were critical of the Daily Planet. I had no other way to Express my free speech rights than to launch my own web site. That web site grew in time, and has been widely complimented for the depth of its research. Though I have never personally spoken with a Daily Planet advertiser, I have heard anecdotally that after reviewing the information on my web site more than a few of them dropped the paper. 

The only time I met Richard Brenneman was in May of last year when he came to my office representing himself as a “local reporter” interested only in the facts surrounding my local dispute with the Daily Planet. Though a reporter for the Daily Planet, he insisted he intended to “play it down the middle.” Having nothing to hide, I granted the interview. On June 3, 2009, the Daily Planet published eight separate articles written by Brenneman and O’Malley condemning myself and others who were opposed to the Daily Planet

Among other things, I learned from Brenneman that day that I am a religious fanatic and a “ziocon” Republican. The fact that I had told Brenneman that I am life-long liberal Democrat, an avowed secularist who rarely attends synagogue, and that, though a Zionist, I identify with Israel’s left-wing parties did not prevent him from simply making up whatever he pleased. Using a snippet of a quotation, Brenneman falsely claimed that I was out to destroy the Planet, when the full quote revealed that I was making precisely the opposite point, namely, that a good local paper is a community asset and that I only sought its reform. 

Becky O’Malley, not to be outdone by her reporter, called me a liar, a lunatic, and a Nazi. With this as background, and in close imitation of pro-life extremist web sites that publish the pictures and addresses of legal abortion providers, Brenneman published my address along with my picture, in a thinly veiled call to the Daily Planet‘s radical minions to do me violence. One such person dropped by the next day. There was no conceivable news justification for the publication of my address. After eventually being dismissed by the Daily Planet, “local reporter” Richard Brenneman launched a blog, wouldn’t you know it, that is dedicated in part to the demonization of Israel and American Zionists.

O’Malley’s hard-left readership chimed in, denouncing me as a “racist,” “fascist,” “scum,” and more. Reading their letters, one can detect no evidence that the authors had ever even visited the web site that they condemned. Self-described “First Amendment absolutist,” Becky O’Malley, placed a spam blocker on me so that she would not have to publish my response to all this, and ignored me when I used an old-fashion fax machine to get around the block.

In the meantime, as O’Malley continued to publish anti-Semitic tracts with merry abandon (but never anything that could be construed as anti-black, anti-Muslim, anti-gay, or misogynous — hate speech being reserved only for Jews), her ardent defender, Richard Brenneman, boldly announced that he, as a Jew, could vouch that O’Malley was not an anti-Semite. However, as DPWatchDog revealed, Brenneman was born to Mennonites, lived in an ashram where he was a practicing Hindu astrologer, left to convert to Christian Science, then wrote a book condemning Christian Science, and is now, according to his blog, a practicing atheist. His sole claim to being Jewish stems from the fact (if the man is to be believed at all) that one of his several wives was Jewish.

Since the print paper’s closing, I have reached out to some of its employees with offers of help. Most of them were as much a victim of Becky O’Malley’s vicious prejudices and vulgar bullying as the community at large, though, as for Brenneman, he probably justly reaped the rewards of what he helped to sow.

John Gertz, Berkeley

Cowardly Attacks

Ironic that you would choose Richard Brenneman to write the post mortem for the Berkeley Daily Planet. He is in no position to be objective, having served as the O’Malley’s journalistic hatchetman on many issues. His blatantly personal ad hominem attacks on me and others involved in the campaign to stop anti-Semitic editorial in the paper certainly marked a low point in what was already an enterprise known for sub-standard journalism. Brenneman’s attacks were particularly cowardly, since he knew we couldn’t respond — the supposedly “pro-free-speech” Planet had a policy of not printing any submissions by those of us who sought to reform it. Ultimately, however, the Planet failed because it offended large swaths of the Jewish and business communities. The O’Malleys and their small cadre of ultra-left followers obviously had no idea how to run a successful community-based newspaper.

James Sinkinson, Oakland

Why the Focus on Israel?

Since the Express saw fit to publish a host of untruths by Richard Brenneman concerning with the demise of the Berkeley Daily Planet, it seems only fair that your paper consider printing my rejoinder to Brenneman’s manifest falsehoods.Thank you for your consideration of the above. And I here provide a final correction here in the text below of a few more minor typos I have caught … When I saw a press screening of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, I was appalled by the film’s portrait of Jews exhibiting the worst stereotypical behavior as frequently depicted by anti-Semites which correspondingly had earlier resulted in centuries of persecution. Gibson denied being anti-Semitic and the film was hugely successful at the box office. Then a wise friend of mine said, “Bigots who work in the public’s eye will sooner or later blunder and reveal their biases.” And thus it was with Gibson. Arrested for drunk driving by a Jewish officer, Gibson ranted, “Fucking Jews. … Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world. Are you a Jew?”There is a correlation here with the O’Malleys and their Berkeley Daily Planet. Week after week, the paper printed op-eds, commentaries, and letters by both Becky O’Malley and contributors obsessed with eviscerating Israel. Indeed, as the meticulously research web site DPwatchdog.com documented, Israel and the Palestinian territories are noted in far greater measure by the Planet than El Cerrito and Albany combined, leading many of us to ask, “What’s with the O’Malley’s obsession with Israel? Isn’t the Planet supposed to be a paper focused upon local issues?” And if there is to be some emphasis upon international affairs, why is there scant or no mention of the horrific situations in Darfur, the Congo, Tibet, Burma, etc., while Israel is incessantly vilified?Like Mel Gibson, Becky O’Malley soon clearly demonstrated her antipathy both toward Israel and Jews by her publication of the Iranian Kurosh Arianpur’s op-ed in which alleged Jewish attitudes were used to justify every murderous outrage Jews have historically suffered, including the Holocaust. Despite a huge outpouring of criticism by prominent local politicians and religious leaders, O’Malley tendered no apology for printing screed that would only appear elsewhere in the publications of a David Duke.In response to this outrage, I unilaterally started visiting advertisers, asking if their businesses wished to be associated with an anti-Semitic publication. All I had to do was show advertisers the vicious bigotry regularly printed in the Planet and 85 percent of them vowed to cease placing ads once their contract with the paper expired.As the cliché would have it, “Birds of a feather flock together” reflects the lockstep perspective of those who worked for or regularly contributed to the Planet. Old Lefty columnist Conn Hallinan, for a number of years an editor of the Communist Party’s US newspaper, Peoples World Weekly, time and again excreted baseless commentary alleging “neo-colonial, imperialist, or ethnic cleansing” actions by Israel, largely eschewing the facts. And primary reporter Richard Brenneman, a former Christian Scientist who once served as chief astrologer to a corrupt Indian guru and who used to champion his belief in psychic surgery, was enlisted by O’Malley to pen an eight-page hit piece knocking myself, John Gertz, and Jim Sinkinson for working against the paper. What Brenneman wrote was little more than a litany of lies and half-truths. And, like Mel Gibson, Brenneman’s own venemous smears against Israel and, correspondingly Jews, would be reflected in his blog in which he wrote that Zionists conspired with the Nazis during the Holocaust to justify sending Jews to present-day Israel. See http://richardbrenneman.wordpress.com/2009/12/22/apples-and-apples-in-the-mideast for this repugnant fiction which speaks volumes about Brenneman’s unveiled biases.

If you read Brenneman’s blog, it may become clear why he was never employed long term by any major publication. His biases consistently contradict his ability to do honest reportage. To cite just one instance, in the Express he wrote that I am a member of the IACEB. While I respect that organization and have contributed to it from time to time, I do not belong to it. The actions I took were unilateral, stemming from a decision to do something about a toxic Ministry of Hate promulgated weekly in our community by the Planet.Finally, there is the facile moral banner in which the O’Malleys draped themselves: free speech. If that were the case, why were so many would-be contributions of those critical of the paper and supportive of Israel rejected, to say nothing of the banishment of any rejoinders from Gertz, Sinkinson, and yours truly? Free speech indeed!In sum, while a viciously anti-Semitic newspaper has bitten the dust, we still have the generally excellent East Bay Express to provide reportage on the Bay Area. One caveat: Associate Editor Robert Gammon called those spearheading the anti-Planet movement “ultraconservative Zionists.” Yes, Mr. Gammon, we are indeed proud Zionists. But Gertz, Sinkinson, and I all happen to be liberal Dems. To avoid your facile and fallacious stereotyping of the Planet‘s critics, all you had to do was call us and ask, something I taught in the very first day of my college journalism 101 course which I doubt you would pass. And while fact-checking is basic to any measure of journalistic integrity, Becky O’Malley acknowledged to The New York Times that the Planet did not fact-check what it printed. This conspicuous omission from the journalist canon was crystalline in much of what the Planet published.As for the Daily Planet, few will miss it. Not only did the paper engage in overt journalist malfeasance, printing a book review by the author of the book he himself had written (he just happened to be a major advertiser of the Planet), publishing letters to the editor written by a staff volunteer who praised the paper, and, as noted, egregiously failing to fact-check. It boggles the mind to think that this, along with the decision to print repulsive anti-Jewish op-eds and letters, is what Brenneman calls a “platform for good journalism.” But the real crux of the paper’s demise may be seen in the following: Just as KPFA’s listenership fell by a third during the eight years of the Bush administration, ultimately only those simpletons who still see the US and Israel as evil incarnate took the Planet seriously. Most people know that the world is an infinitely more complex place and that PC ideologues in Berkeley represent far fewer individuals in our community than Becky O’Malley, who couldn’t transcend her own biases, was remotely capable of comprehending.

Dan Spitzer, Berkeley

Richard Brenneman Responds

Where to begin. I was not born to Mennonites. My family was Presbyterian (the last Mennonites came four generations earlier). He lies when he says my “sole claim to being Jewish stems from the fact (if the man is to be believed at all) that one of his several wives was Jewish.” Two exes are Jewish, in fact, and I converted to Conservative Judaism for my first marriage, and though I have been an atheist for the last three decades, the head of Union Theological Seminary back in the 1970s informed me that changing religion didn’t mean I wasn’t Jewish. I had been baptized into the tribe, as it were.

And Gertz knew I’d converted, because he had posted an entry at his web site criticizing an op-ed I’d written, which included this: “Sinkinson also implies that I’m an anti-Semite, an allegation that drew laughter from my two daughters, who are descendants of both that Goldman and that Sachs as well as Edwin Vogel, one of the founders of CIT. They’re also step-great-grand-nieces of Sir Rudolph Peierls. I converted for my first marriage, and unlike some of my critics, I can remember my bris. I would also add that four of the five great loves of my life have been Jewish by birth.”

And yes, I did live in a Hindu household (not an ashram) — in Oakland — and I was a Christian Scientist. But so what; a lot of young people were exploring other religions and philosophies in the ’60s and ’70s (remember JewBus, Jews who had become Buddhists?). And “practicing atheist”? What the hell is that? If by that he means I don’t believe in a deity, true. But there’s no practice involved, no dues, no services, no collection plate, not even any friendly get-togethers.

He accuses me of “demonizing” Israel and American Zionists on my blog. If that’s the case, Gertz has more than demonized me. My concerns are with the policies of the Israeli government. That doesn’t make me a “demonizer” of Israel any more than my criticism of the Vietnam War made me a demonizer of the United States.

I never said John was a Republican, though he has given money to Republican candidates known for their strong support of Israel. Consider Wally Herger, a Republican congressional representative from up north. Why does Gertz, a “liberal,” support an incumbent who thinks a public option health care plan is a threat to democracy (see http://www.mtshastanews.com/news/x769902147/Congressman-Herger-calls-Obama-plan-threat-to-democracy)? Just throw his name plus “Israel” into Google and the answer is apparent.

I used the term “Ziocon” to describe the critics because their aims regarding the shaping of America’s foreign policy in the Mideast differ not in the slightest from those of the Neocons.

And a call to do him violence? I published his business address, just as the Planet’s business address is published, and just as my own home address is freely available to anyone who wants it. And the “thinly veiled call to do violence?” That implies a criminal conspiracy and is libelous on its face. There was no such intent, but the truth seems to matter little to John Gertz, who has demonstrated his willingness to say anything in support of his cause. And my “radical minions? Sorry, but I don’t have any minions, radical or otherwise.

And the eight articles he mentioned, which appeared in the June 4, 2009, issue of the Daily Planet (http://www.berkeleydailyPlanet.com/issue/2009-06-04) were all written by me alone. A separate editorial was written by Becky.

I was never Becky’s hatchet man. And Mr. Sinkinson is the man who made “blatantly ad hominem attacks” in his letters to the advertisers about me, accusing me of omitting facts which were right there in the articles I had written. (See here for details: http://www.berkeleydailyPlanet.com/issue/2009-08-06/article/33470). And cowardly? Really. But, oh wait, isn’t that an ad hominem attack?

As for Mr. Spitzer, it’s hard to know where to begin. While he impugns my journalistic integrity and implies I left every previous employer of journalistic misdeeds, I’ve been given job recommendations from every newspaper where I’ve ever worked. I’ve also won awards from the State Bar of California, the American Bar Association, the California Newspaper Publishers Association, the Nevada State Press Association, the Greater Los Angeles Press Club (then the nation’s largest), and other organizations.

And the blog post he labels “repugnant fiction” is historically accurate, which is why he applies a broad brush about my “unveiled biases.” I oppose the violent eviction of people from their homes, whether it’s done by G.I.s in Vietnam or by the IDF in the West Bank. I apply no criticism to Israel that I don’t apply to my own country. As for the Red-baiting, sheesh. And I’m no Mel Gibson, either; if so, I could afford to have my teeth fixed. Oh, and just for the record, I’ve never worked for a paper that fact-checks in the way magazines do (and, among other papers, I’ve worked for the Sacramento Bee and the Las Vegas Review-Journal).

The accusation of lies and “venemous smears against Israel and, correspondingly Jews” may be actionable libel, and by lumping me in with Mel Gibson, he’s effectively labeled me an anti-Semite — which would come as a great surprise to my Jewish ex-wives and my two Jewish daughters, who seem think their old man’s a bit of alright.

But the accusation of antisemitism is easy to hurl, and done with hope that it sticks.

And Spitzer’s visits to advertisers? He just didn’t point to articles. He told merchants that if they continued, they’d be boycotted. Or so at least three merchants he visited have told me and cited as the reason they dropped their ads.

For my stories for the Planet on their campaign, I made calls to all three individuals, seeking interviews. Only Gertz accepted.

All three critics neglect to mention that many if not most of the criticisms of Israel published in the paper were written by fellow Jews.

Sinkinson has repeatedly claimed in his mailings that letters to the editor and reader-submitted op-ed pieces critical of Israel were “editorials.” They were not, and as a publicist for one pro-Israel lobby (FLAME), he knows that quite well.

I did not agree with the paper in the matter of publishing the two letters which could be considered antisemitic. But I saw them after the fact, and I had no role in shaping editorial policy, as my article made clear.

There was much about the Planet’s news policies I disagreed with, which was stated in the article. But the paper did provide the base for some very solid reporting along the way. I stand by the journalism I did for the paper, including the articles I wrote about its critics. My article for the East Bay Express was, as clearly stated, a personal reflection, and I stand by it.

Sad to See It Downsize

I, too, am very sad to see this and other papers disappear or downsize although I was not a regular reader of the Berkeley Daily Planet. I was grateful for the paper’s coverage of some Oakland issues (I live in Oakland). I thought the article was well balanced. 

I am grateful for the Express! Please, don’t go away.    

Laurie Umeh, Oakland


A major mouthpiece of the late lamented Planet and the author of many insensitive, fictionalized police blotter reports therein, Richard Brenneman is now heard from in the East Bay Express. In this article he stops short of spreading that sort of fiction, but the very end of the piece is indicative. Glibly saying the Planet‘s foes considered the paper “a potent symbol onto which they could blame their own failures” reaches for a strong or juicy closing phrase, but it’s a meaningless (perhaps self-protective) assumption.

Sandy Rothman, Berkeley

Critical Doesn’t Spell Anti-Semite

Well, the defenders of Zionist exceptionalism and race-based privilege in Israel have done it again. Congratulations! This time they struck another un-American blow against free speech by contributing to last month’s print demise of the Berkeley Daily Planet newspaper. The Planet‘s crime? It was the only Bay Area newspaper with genuine balance, regularly printing readers’ letters-to-the-editor that humanized Palestinians and characterized what’s happening to them in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem as “genocide.”

The Planet printed such views on an equal par with the usual Arab-dehumanizing views we’re one-sidedly fed every day from national news organizations, from major movie and TV studios, and from 99.9 percent of our lawmakers, who fear damn well that their re-election chances would be Berkeley Daily Planet-ed if they said publicly that Palestinians — like Israeli Jews — equally have the right to defend themselves, and if they were to vote on foreign policy accordingly.

As a US taxpayer and opponent of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I have a huge stake in knowing how the fattest foreign recipient of US money spends my tax dollars. If this recipient were my ancestral Philippines, I’d scrutinize that country’s human rights policies more passionately — and criticize it more loudly — than others. (I’m actually going there in May to be an international election observer, in the wake of last November’s election-related beheadings.) But to whom has this distinction belonged, for decades? Israel. If you don’t want to deserve my special criticism, stop taking the lion’s share of my taxes!

Even Bay Area enablers of Palestinian genocide — whose ranks distressingly include too many Berkeley folks who have the nerve to call themselves “liberals” — have every constitutional right to their views. So do I; so do you. But what’s your opinion worth if you’re only getting your Mid-East information from news organizations, major movie and TV studios, and politicians who fear their bottom line will suffer if they dare to humanize Palestinians on an equal basis to Israeli Jews? I found it ironic to read Richard Brenneman’s thoughtful March 3 obituary for the Planet in the East Bay Express — a newspaper that, starting September 23, 2009, regularly accepted money to print ads that promoted the notion that the Planet was “hysterical, biased, and anti-Semitic.”

Am I “anti-Semitic” for writing this letter? Even though I don’t feel or advocate hostility toward Jews, the Jewish religion, or culture (the definition of an anti-Semite), and even though I don’t advocate the end of the Israeli state within its pre-June 1967 borders, that’s exactly what activist Bay Area genocide enablers would have you believe. It used to be that “anti-Semite” meant anyone that hates Jews; somehow, today “anti-Semite” means anyone that blind defenders of Israel hate.

The way out of this genocide-enabling madness begins with more informed debate, not less. To balance out the hideous one-sidedness in America over the Mid-East debate, here are some web sites that are operated and/or supported by Jews of conscience: shovrimshtika.org, btselem.org/English/, notanotherdime.net, jewishvoiceforpeace.org, ajjp.org, jewssayno.wordpress.com/about/, and democracynow.org. These folks of conscience don’t try to preserve their “liberal” credentials by safely echoing the lame genocide-enabling cop-outs, “It’s just too complicated” and “There’s no good solution,” exactly the way phony liberals justified taking no meaningful action during the Civil Rights Movement. No, in the face of intense internal community pressure they’re bravely making sure they’re not on the wrong side of history. Bravo to them!

And au revoir, print version of the Berkeley Daily Planet.

Clarito Aradanas, Berkeley

“Life in the Shadows,” News, 2/17

Journalism or Pandering?

Thanks a heap. The story was a superb recapitulation of a very ugly stereotype — Asians as helpless victims to those wicked black people. The blurb on the cover stated that living in “inner city” Oakland is somehow even more difficult than life in a refugee camp in Thailand. Is that so? The last time I was in Thailand (Jan. 2009) the government was finally sorting out a new constitution because the chiefs of the military had invalidated an election and the previous constitution, both with the blessings of the monarch. Also, the army and oil smugglers were busy blurring the line between politics, economics, and religion in the south because the local smugglers are mostly Muslims, so the perception is that it’s an Islamic insurgency. To the east of the country, the Thai and Cambodian armies were taking pot-shots at each other over, of all things, a Buddhist Temple that lay in a disputed area of the frontier. As for the very heart of the country, there are miles and miles of shanties in downtown Bangkok, made of used two-by-fours and corrugated steel, directly under the #4 turnpike. I haven’t personally visited a refugee camp, but I have a vague sense that living in a tent is in fact less desirable than living even in a hard-scrabble neighborhood of Oakland. At least here the police aren’t completely corrupt, and at least here the military answers to the civilian government instead of the vice versa. At least here, the situation stands a bare chance of getting better.

I don’t speak without sympathy for the new immigrants in the article. I know that life is hard for all immigrants. My point is that moving to a new country is always difficult, but even a liberal as myself can acknowledge that once you get a footing here, it’s a hell of a lot better here than in many, many other corners of the world.

Is this really journalism? It looks a lot more like pandering.

Joseph DiMaio, Oakland


In our review of Big Light’s Animals in Bloom (Local Licks, 3/17/10), we misprinted the name of the band. Also, the album was not self-released but released on the label reapandsow.


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