Hide and seek: Last week, we searched in vain for the identity of the shadowy figure behind Berkeleyboycott.com, the Web site that advocates the ongoing economic isolation of Berkeley, aka "City of Treason." The evidence implied that he was a BMW-driving yuppie lawyer from Oakland who may or may not be named Bubbie Katz. Finally, the lone boycotter himself has weighed in, revealing that he doesn't own a Beemer but he does have a sense of humor. "I am not a lawyer, but after I saw your article I considered contacting one to see whether claiming that someone is a lawyer is a form of libel," he writes from Boycott headquarters. He says the Web site is his, but that the lawyer in question is simply a friend who registered the site. Who, then, is the elusive Katz? "I'm not sure," he says.
All he'll say about his own identity is that he's a 41-year-old, lifelong East Bay resident, a securities consultant, and a "green Republican." And he practices what he preaches. Since launching his boycott last fall, he has completely forsaken Peet's Coffee and all the other city businesses he once patronized. He's not sure how many locals are following his example, but he's content to be publicizing what he describes as the Berkeley city council's "pro-terror resolutions" and UC Berkeley's transformation into a "safe haven for Arab terror groups organizing in the United States." He gets more than a dozen e-mails a day, he writes, about two-thirds positive. Typical hate mail, according to our mystery man, rants about "killing all Jews" and accuses him of being "a Zionist pig."
Providing a real name would just provide fodder for this kind of attack, he says. "If someone presents an opinion, backed up with facts, what is the relevance of who is presenting that opinion?" he asks. On the other hand, the line between well-reasoned criticism and scurrilous ad hominem attacks can get pretty blurry on the site: Consider, for instance, its illustration of Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean dressed as a Nazi. This, he says, is an "appropriate criticism of a government official." But there are lines of taste even he won't cross. When someone sent him an illustration depicting city council member Kriss Worthington having sex with Yasser Arafat, he rejected it outright.
Ellen in the middle: Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher (D-Walnut Creek) was pestered by human billboards following her around at the Fairfield July 4 parade, denouncing President Bush's fast-track trade bill. It might seem odd for protectionists to be bugging Tauscher. After all, in December the Contra Costa Democrat voted against the first version of the bill, which would allow the president to negotiate free-trade pacts with minimal interference from Congress. But a coalition of enviros and unionistas are taking no chances that Tauscher will repeat herself when the bill returns to the House from conference committee.
Last time around, Bush managed to push the bill through the House by only one vote, giving opponents hope that they might be able to kill it by pressuring a few other members to switch sides. But they must also make sure their converts, including New Dems such as Palo Alto's Anna Eshoo, keep the faith. John Dalrymple, head of the Contra Costa AFL-CIO Labor Council, says the word on the Hill is that people like Eshoo will be looking to Tauscher for cues before casting their votes. So the Labor Council and Sierra Club are joining forces to get their members on the phones.
The good news for the union leader and his crew: Last year's redistricting made Tauscher's turf a lot more Democratic and thus she can vote liberal without having to look over her shoulder. The bad news: Her high-tech pals view fast-track as a litmus test, and Mrs. T failed on the first go-round. Tauscher is widely rumored to be keen on seeking higher office, and she might not want to anger future campaign benefactors.
Tauscher is keeping mum until the bill returns to the House in its final form.
Reddy or not: We at 7 Days certainly miss the days when we had Hans Hagen to kick around. Berkeleyans, of course, will remember the late landlord as the kooky German who tried to circumvent rent control by declaring his apartment building a church with "followers" who paid to live there. Some of the features of the sex-obsessed Sebastian Kneipp Water Church included a statue of a phallus atop his apartment building that cleverly employed a garden hose to simulate ejaculation, and a copulation chamber where one was encouraged to sing "California Here I Come" while completing the deed. Hagen so detested rent control regulators that one time he got down on all fours and bleated like a goat when a hearing examiner inspected the property. Hagen kept the Rent Board tied up in administrative appeals and litigation for more than a decade. Ah, good times, good times. But we digress.
Recently, after the old man passed away, his daughters chose not to continue in their father's footsteps. They settled with the tenants and the Rent Board and sold the property in December. Word began spreading that they had sold the building to Lakireddy Bali Reddy, the notorious Berkeley landlord convicted for importing underage sex slaves from India. If the Kneipp Church had a heaven, Hans Hagen was probably looking down and laughing at the irony.
As it turns out, the Lakireddy empire wasn't the inheritor of the Water Church. Not exactly, anyhow. The building was purchased by Dr. Raj Reddy and his wife, who own Raj Properties. But a February 2000 story in New California Media described Raj as a "relative" of Lakireddy who put up his Hanford home as collateral to help pay the real estate mogul's bail. And according to Susan Luten, Raj Reddy's attorney, Lakireddy's company used to manage a few properties for Raj before the sex scandal erupted. But that's ancient history, she said. Meanwhile, tenants at the old Water Church says things have improved since the new owners took over: "These guys have done okay," said one. "They've painted the building and torn down all of Hagen's weird shit."
eBay here we come.
Ikeda is it ... run!: That sure was an uplifting display of humanitarian virtues at 250 Frank Ogawa Plaza last week. A few weeks ago, city officials granted a request from members of the Soka Gakkai Buddhist group to set up a photo exhibit in the lobby of the city-owned building as part of a national tour honoring heroes of peacemaking throughout history. The honorees included such renowned pacifists as Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and ... Daisuke Ikeda?
Maybe you've never heard of Ikeda, but roughly ten thousand Japanese citizens wish they never had. Back in 1995, after the deadly sarin gas attack on a Tokyo subway train, the government began investigating the influence of allegedly dangerous cults in Japanese society -- and after Aum Shinrikyo, the organization that executed the attack, the lay Buddhist group Soka Gakkai and its leader Ikeda became the primary target of the investigation.
Soka Gakkai, which means "value-creating society," is one of several Japanese organizations that claim to draw inspiration from Nichiren, a thirteenth-century monk who coined the chant "nam myoho renge kyo" as a means to spiritual enlightenment. But the San Francisco Chronicle and Time magazine report that Soka Gakkai has been accused of a variety of dangerous practices, including browbeating its members into relentless fund-raising campaigns, forming phony political parties in order to surreptitiously influence the government, and beating and harassing members who try to leave. In 1991, dissident member Yoshiro Yahiro left the group with about a hundred others; shortly afterwards, he claimed, several hundred Soka Gakkai goons stormed into the new temple he had founded and beat him so severely that he was hospitalized for three months. In 1995, Tokyo Assembly member Akiyo Asaki was reportedly preparing to deliver a speech on the excesses of Soka Gakkai when she mysteriously fell to her death from the window of a five-story building.
Not quite like marching to Selma, eh? That's what at least one city employee thought when she saw the display and contacted us. City officials explain that screening every display applicant for bizarre religious crimes is just something they never thought of doing -- besides, the display has already appeared at the International House at UC Berkeley. We asked Soka Gakkai member Bruce Nickelson, who organized the display, why Ikeda deserved the stature of Gandhi and King. "Since 1964, he has every year issued a peace proposal and submitted it to the United Nations," Nickelson says. "It's observations and recommendations to advance peace, nuclear disarmament, and address refugee status."
Sounds lovely, but what about those pesky allegations of abuse and exploitation? "I'm unaware of those particular stories," Nickelson says, "But I know that any number of allegations have been raised, and without exception, Ikeda and his organization has prevailed. It comes with the territory of promoting peace around the world."
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