Letters for the Week of November 14

Readers sound off on robberies in Oakland, e-cigs, and media coverage of the BART strike.

“What’s Driving Oakland’s Robbery Epidemic?” Feature, 10/30

Rendering Robberies Unnecessary

We can put in all the kill switches, we can scratch up on all the phones, we can drench Oakland in a sea of cops, we can electrify all the fences. But Oakland will always be the city where my car gets broken into once a year, where people get mugged for their phones, where broken glass on the pavement fazes no one. At least it will be until people, at least most people, have a shot at the kind of employment that renders breaking into cars to survive unnecessary.

Anne-Marie Ross, Oakland

Eliminate Incentive to Steal

We’ve all seen the headlines about an uptick in burglaries and robberies in Oakland. How about going straight to the heart of the matter, where it all begins, with the young people snatching smartphones? Why would they do this when there are so many other opportunities? Or are there?

If we don’t create some opportunities, or provide other avenues, it will only get worse. You will never be able to walk down the street with a smartphone, or step out of a nice car on the street. That is what you get in an atmosphere where the divide between the haves and the have-nots is as extreme as ours. These folks have been bumping up against each other in Oakland for decades now. It’s just become more apparent lately, since some of us have gotten back to work quickly following the recent financial meltdown. Others languish in poverty, chasing after food stamps and other ways to simply survive. This huge disparity causes fear, envy, greed and resentment, along with a host of other ugly feelings, on both ends of the equation.

Creating jobs may be an answer, but how practical a goal is that? It’s a very complicated proposition, to say the least. The biggest job creators are small businesses, but honestly, who goes into business with the goal of creating jobs?

My husband and I ran into financial trouble after layoffs a number of years ago. And, we found that if you are over forty it gets much tougher to replace that job, or start a new career (at least one that pays a living wage). So we got creative with our smartphones and started using Airbnb, TaskRabbit, and a number of other apps to bring in cash. It’s the one thing that’s allowed us to generate enough income to stay here in this city (Oakland) we love so much. And, as artists, musicians, grandparents, community activists, and more, I like to think we make an important contribution to our social fabric.

At any rate, the suggestion/plan is simple: hand out free smartphones and wi-fi to residents in low-income areas of Oakland, so they can do the same. As an added bonus, when we flood the market, the incentive to steal smartphones will no longer exist. Honestly, I bet many of your readers have old smartphones (read: last year’s model) sitting in a drawer, following their upgrades to newer models. Why not pass it on to someone who could use it?

The wi-fi could come from any number of places, including folks like me, who are willing to share their unlimited data plans (mine comes through Sonic.net of Santa Rosa). Oh, there are also a few tech giants around, one of which is getting ready to put free wi-fi in San Francisco parks. Why not here?

We can do this, Oakland! We are a creative, resilient lot at both ends of the economic spectrum. So, rather than cluck on your mailing lists or sound the alarms, let’s get creative and solve this problem. Americans like us are good at that, remember? (Note: If readers/others are interested in pursuing an initiative like this, feel free to reach out to [email protected] or @justinetz on Twitter. Or, for the love of Oakland, please just take the idea and run with it!)

Justine tenZeldam, Oakland

“Scientists Criticize UC Berkeley’s Ban on E-Cigs,” News, 10/30

An Effective Smoking Substitute

I was a five-pack-a-day smoker for more than forty years. I can now say I am an ex-smoker and could not have done it without e-cigarettes.

I tried every other safe alternative on the market, and also those prescribed by my doctor, and failed. E-cigarettes have done what those didn’t — they stopped my smoking habit.

Are they safer? From the true, unbiased research I have read I believe them to be 99 percent safer. All I truly know is I can breathe again, smell and taste things in a way I never could before, and no one tells me I smell like a ashtray anymore. Research has consistently shown that virtually all e-cigarette users are using them as a substitute for smoking. There are thousands of e-cigarette users who have benefited from the availability of e-cigarettes.

I also urge you to not give in to the pharmaceutical industry and various health groups and foundations that have a large financial stake in smoking prevention. Electronic cigarettes interfere with their financial bottom line.

Ben Brown, Baltimore, Maryland

An Alternative to Smoking

E-cigs are not smoking cessation devices. They are a great-tasting, healthier, safer, and better-smelling alternative to smoking. Let’s get this straight — if we all start calling e-cigs “smoking cessation devices” then we will inevitably be fueling an unintentional fire that could result in the FDA regulating the sale of e-cigs as prescription drugs only sold in pharmacies. This is bad! This will kill the small e-cig retailer, and allow Big Pharma companies to take over.

We don’t want this, now do we people? Let’s start thinking before we start throwing everything on the same wagon. E-cigs are not cigarettes, nor are they devices for quitting cigarettes, they are simply an alternative. End of story!

Jason Stribling, Oakland

Puritans of the Past

It is not just a ban on electronic cigarettes, which is bad enough, but a ban on all tobacco products including smokeless tobacco. Smokeless tobacco has about 1 percent of the risk of cigarettes (contrary to common myth) and has no effect on non-users. The ban on all tobacco has nothing to do with protecting public health. It’s a moral crusade reminiscent of the alcohol prohibition of the past. The puritans of the past have come back to haunt us.

Alan Selk, Madison, Wisconsin

“Let Them Eat Cake,” Raising the Bar, 10/30

Media Preyed on Envy

Amen! This editorial hits so many nails dead on the head! The whole notion that the BART employees were somehow asking for unreasonable favors in merely wanting their salaries to keep up with inflation (and barely) is offensive. All the folks who thought the BART unions were unreasonable simply decided to succumb to jealousy and forgot to advocate for their own basic rights. Jay Youngdahl is absolutely right. The media coverage of the BART strike preyed on people’s envy, purposely distorted the facts, and betrayed a loss of consciousness of labor struggles. Thanks for sharing! Oh, and by the way, all the folks who were upset over the disruption of public transit clearly don’t understand the purpose and function of a strike — and I say that as someone who was very much affected by the disruption of public transit. I work a low-wage job that requires me to get to it on time early in the morning, including on weekends, and I don’t drive. It was difficult and challenging, and I still supported the unions through all of it.

Ore Carmi, Berkeley

Bias Towards Have-Mores

This article is spot on. It was obvious and disappointing at the time that the Oakland Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle editorials and letters were strongly biased in favor of the “have-mores.” Tax dollars paid by the middle benefit the top, and then the top denies living wages for the middle.

B. Thomas Smith, Oakland

Corrosive Language

Thanks for this. The corrosive language used to talk about worker struggle has been developed with the help of a lot of time and money in corporate think tanks. More articles like this are needed to restructure the dialogue in the United States about labor rights.

Caitlin Donohue, San Francisco

Blatant Attacks on Unions

Finally, an article hits the truth of the BART strike on the button! The BART strike is a poster child for what is happening to unions and the middle class throughout this country. The attack on unions, which are one of the last bulwarks for the survival of the middle class, is no longer subtle, but rather blatant and outright, fueled by corporate mass media. We see Republican-controlled states using the legislative tool ALEC to launch attacks on collective bargaining. There are many other examples. As Willie Brown pointed out in his column in the San Francisco Chronicle on October 21, BART management could have averted a strike if it had agreed to go to arbitration. As Jay Youngdahl points out, the newspapers and mainstream media have expanded the attack on the unions/middle class. We see people we work with who should know better rail against unions. It seems they, too, have drunk the Kool-Aid. Thank you, Mr. Youngdahl, for this important wakeup call.

Linda and Elliot Halpern, Berkeley

Beating the Mainstream Media

By the way, how come the mainstream press hardly noticed the obscene money being handed out to that BART “negotiator”? What was it, $300,000? That’s not newsworthy for some reason. Or the BART manager’s ridiculous salary? She’s worth that much because she has so much talent? Or the last manager who walked out with a $1 million golden parachute? Not a thing? Right, it’s all the workers’ fault; they are the greedy ones, asking for things like lunch breaks and health insurance. What do they think this is, Stalin’s Russia? This is one of the best articles I have read anywhere about the strike and the underlying issues — the real issues, not the ones that the mainstream media reported about. How do we get the word out, though? How can we beat the mainstream media where so many zombie Americans are stuck?

Al Margulies, Portland, Oregon

Violation of Law

It amazes me, as a union member and a member of contract negotiation teams, that BART management hasn’t been named in an unfair labor practice suit. It’s a violation of labor law to introduce new, previously unknown contractual issues that were not explicitly made a part of bargaining from the beginning of the process. To throw in significant changes to workplace conditions as management did, at the very end of negotiation, and then make the negotiated contract completely dependent on those new workplace conditions, is a violation of law as well as a violation of trust and fairness.

Joshua Summit, Hayward

“What a Waste,” Feature, 10/23

Provide More Dumpsters

Obviously punishing people who have no other options won’t work. The city needs to lean on Waste Management to provide dumpsters in impacted areas. It seems to me that would be a lot easier and more cost-effective than sending cops out to patrol the neighborhoods.

Ann Katz, Oakland


Consume Local Music

In the Bay Area, folks largely realize the importance of consuming locally. We know that it’s good for the environment; we know that it sustains local jobs; and we know that it builds our local economy. That being said, most people do not extend this logic to music.

Every time I hear top 40 popular music playing on someone’s radio, I wonder if they realize that supporting and normalizing those artists pours money into the hands of a few corporations that are consolidating media to the point of monopoly. Music shapes and reflects our culture, so why let corporate giants dictate and profit from this aspect of our lives when we’re often so conscious of the other facets of our consumption?

Since the hip hop industry shares overlapping ownership with privatized prisons around the country, it’s no wonder that mainstream-promoted rappers often depict behaviors that 1) land people in prison, 2) erode community and respect for peers, and 3) do not represent the broader and more complex genre as a whole. There are plenty of underground Bay Area artists performing near you with inspiring, honest, and intelligent messages that uplift, rather than degrade our community. Act locally, change the station.

Devin Weaver, Assistant Executive Director,
Hip Hop for Change, Oakland


The Express won a national award for journalism excellence in science reporting from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The paper won for Azeen Ghorayshi’s May 1 cover story, “Warning: Quake in 60 Seconds.” Her in-depth report explored efforts by scientists at UC Berkeley to develop a statewide early warning system for earthquakes.

The judges said Ghorayshi’s piece was “sound on science and sage on the politics of earthquake early warning systems,” and said the report explained “complicated seismology questions clearly and engagingly.”

Ghorayshi’s award also included a $3,000 honorarium. The first-place award was in the small newspaper category for all print publications in the United States with a circulation of less than 100,000. Founded in 1848, the American Association for the Advancement of Science is the world’s largest general scientific society and is the publisher of the journal Science.

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