Letters for December 2 

Readers sound off on Chevron, KPFA, green tech in Berkeley, and more.

"Slow Food for All?," Food, 10/1

Pick on the Right Group

An interesting take on a movement that at its core is doing the right thing. But keep in mind, there are not very many artisinal food makers out there, thus the cost is high for their products. Simple supply and demand. Poor folks can't afford heirlooms is not a news story. What Slow Food is doing to combat that is teaching kids in a variety of communities how to raise their own food. It's called Edible Schoolyard, ask Alice Waters about it. They can eat an heirloom from their own porch if they know how to garden, and it's cheaper than any grocery store. Visit China, go to Shanghai, and everyone all over the city is growing food. Why can't that be the way things are in East Oakland? You can grow anything anywhere in California, why are you talking about what food is available at the local Safeway? If you want to blame someone for the plight of poor folks obesity and malnutrition, go ask Mike Minasi at Safeway why his stores stock different neighborhoods differently. That's a news story. You're picking on the wrong group! Yuppies might be naive, but they are not all bad, and this is a great organization. Pick on the major food players and expose their business practice.

Benjamin Knight, Pink Hill, North Carolina


"A Friend of Chevron Gives a Costly Gift," Full Disclosure, 10/21

Why Richmond Can't Progress

The East Bay suffers from the Chevron refinery's toxic pollution. Now Robert Gammon's article on realtor Joe Fisher has exposed Chevron's moral pollution as well. (Does secretly funding global warming-deniers count as intellectual pollution?)

I've always wondered why Chevron, which contributes bupkas to our town, but owns a huge amount of land, didn't build its corporate headquarters here (and let some bucks trickle down to local businesses) instead of in suburban San Ramon. Perhaps its executives didn't want to work under a toxic cloud? 

It's a terrible thing to say, but I believe Chevron prefers Richmond to stay poor. That way it gets to play the Big Shot. I was there at the press conference organized to show small business support for Measure T, a no-brainer since the fee change only affected manufacturing. I was outraged by Chevron's thuggish sabotage of the democratic process, but that's just the tip of the melting iceberg. Thank you Bob Gammon for turning your light on Joe Fisher and one big reason Richmond can't progress.

Michael Beer, Richmond

Chevron's Green-Washing

Thank you for exposing what we in Richmond have long suspected — the insidious reach of Chevron's machinations. Joe Fisher's two reasons for embedding with Chevron reveal his loyalty to the corporation and his willingness to perpetrate its lies. Fisher says Chevron is a big employer, but only a fraction of its work force lives in Richmond. Fisher reiterates Chevron's claim that its taxes make up a third of Richmond's budget. In reality, a recent Pacific Institute study shows that Chevron's taxes are only a tenth of the city's budget. 

Chevron refuses to pay the hazardous materials fee, has its utility users fee capped when everyone else in the city pays 10 percent, and recently demanded and got refunds on their property taxes. Last November, Richmond voters passed Measure T which requires manufacturers to pay for their annual business license based on raw materials used. Now, in an attempt to avoid paying their fair share in Richmond, Chevron has challenged Measure T in the courts.

Thanks for showing the greater East Bay what we have long lived with; Chevron uses small "charitable" contributions to worthy organizations to buy their silence. Likewise, its political contributions to politicians buy their compliance. While ignoring and compromising the needs and environments of communities all over the globe, Chevron attempts to put itself forward as a socially conscious corporation flooding the media with its ironic "green washing" propaganda campaign. For more information and satire of these ads check out TrueCostofChevron.com.

Many corporations are in economic trouble, not so Chevron. With its enormous profits, it should be leading, paying its fair share, not looking for ways to shirk its responsibility to Richmond.

Margaret Jordan, Richmond Progressive Alliance, Richmond


KPFA Elections Mark Station's Latest Turmoil," News, 10/28

The Board Doesn't Represent the Listeners

KPFA board member Tracy Rosenberg managed to put a lot of words in my mouth ("We're not Fruits and Nuts," 11/11/09). She asserts that by criticizing the people who have floated to the top of Pacifica's byzantine governance system, I'm somehow dismissing the thousands of listeners who, thankfully, help KPFA pay its bills. So, how many of our listeners does a given KPFA board member represent? About 0.2 percent.

Here's the math: KPFA has somewhere in the vicinity of 150,000 listeners. Of them, a little over 21,000 give enough money to get ballots in our elections. Of those, less than 3,000 actually vote. And, under Pacifica's version of proportional representation, it only takes 10 percent of the vote to win a seat on the board. That's right: With 300 votes, a board member can serve as a surrogate for 150,000 listeners — 99.8 percent of whom did not vote for him or her.

Some people don't even have to cross the 300-vote threshold. Pacifica Vice Chair Joe Wanzala — someone who's argued against paying staff to work on programs, and who's circulated an e-mail insinuating Larry Bensky's a CIA asset — lost his last bid for election to KPFA's board. But since Pacifica's brand of democracy mandates that runner-ups fill vacancies, he got on when another member resigned. He's in good company: the board member from LA who's pressing a vendetta against Amy Goodman got on as an alternate as well.

By and large, Pacifica's "democracy" has produced equally unappealing and unrepresentative factions: In Los Angeles, one is organizing pickets of station fund-raisers, while its opposition is running a candidate who accuses KPFK's staff of "organized censorship of 911-related issues"; In New York, one group has scuttled most WBAI meetings with organized disruption, while a member of its opposition has burned Pacifica's bridges to Noam Chomsky by using his name and image in deceptive campaign mailers.

That's not to say there aren't some diamonds in the rough — but the level-headed, productive board members are generally the exception, and generally don't last. The business of keeping Pacifica healthy gets lost in the constant internal warfare. And, unfortunately, defenders of the status quo seem to think democracy means purging whoever doesn't agree with you. Witness Grace Aaron, chair of the Pacifica National Board: her response to my critiques was to talk to your reporter about a "movement" to recall me from KPFA's board, then threaten me with disciplinary action for mentioning the fact that she's a Scientologist.

I think I hope that kind of petty authoritarianism does not represent the majority of KPFA's listeners. I don't think it's what anyone wanted from the movement that took to the streets ten years ago to defend KPFA from a different authoritarian regime. But it's what we've been left with and it's a system that's long overdue for reform.

Brian Edwards-Tiekert, Staff Representative, KPFA Local Station Board, Berkeley


"Not-So-Tiny Kushner," Theater, 11/4

Hack Theater Review

I used to think that the East Bay Area was somewhat underserved in local media, lacking the media equivalent of the Chronicle to provide reviews, previews, and entertainment selections. However, Rachel Swan's piece has suggested me to we are not somewhat underserved, but are, rather, phenomenally underserved, for a region lacking in media outlets is better off than one who has media outlets that appear to be aggressively misleading reviews of local entertainment options. My issue is not with the opinions presented, it's with an underlying obvious lack of comprehension and understanding of the very media which Swan reviews that belies what can only be a breathtaking lack of commitment to journalistic standards.

I read your review of Tiny Kushner shortly before watching the same production at Berkeley Rep, the review seemed a little off, having never seen the production, simply by giving credit to the playwright for, directorial decisions. Now, I'm aware that the state of journalism as print media is collapsing in the late aughts is not where it once was, but, one would hope, that the dedicated weekly for the East Bay could afford to hire a freelance theatre reviewer who understands the subtle difference between writing and direction, and then implements these differences by reading a playbill to give credit where it's due (the staging and blocking choices should be credited to Tony Taccone, the director, and not to Tony Kushner, the playwright). Having met both men in the real world, I'd have little difficulty telling them apart. Having a degree in Dramatic Arts and a career in lighting design, I understand their different roles, but I can understand that such a commitment may be less than important to a publication which chooses to eschew copyeditors, or not credit those people tasked with such duties.I'll also note that when I walk into a show where the set is as full of content and shape as that one was and used video as an extensive design element, I was surprised, not that Berkeley Rep or Taccone would choose such a production design, but that such elements didn't even warrant a backwards glance or briefest bullet point discussion in Swan's review. Her completely missing such a key element of theatre criticism makes me wonder if she is not better suited to following a police or sports beat where a simple statement of who said and did what with a disregard for specifics of space and its use may be acceptable as the locations are well defined (like the fifty-yard line) or kept brief (as in a police blotter).

In fact, on repeated instances as I watched the show, as it occurred, and compared it to the show I'd read reviewed, I found myself wondering if Swan and I had seen the same production. I'm going to avoid criticizing her aggressive mischaracterizations of clear dialogue about feelings as psychobabble, or that a character quoting someone offstage when they insult someone else as being the same as that first character spewing insults. Such mistakes are common in the field of hack journalism. I'm also not going to go into her nonsensical request that the final one-act "Only we who Guard the Mystery Shall be Unhappy," should have "applied the Dostoyevsky in a more interesting way." For the brief use of the text provided the final line of the production, and the invocation of the author was used in a criticism of the forty-third president, by comparing him to Satan.I'd also like to note that ignoring a criticism of the Iraq war by noting that the war "shifted to Afghanistan and Pakistan." Ms. Swan should be aware that there are still American soldiers dying in Iraq, and the bombing of Iraq has been going on consistently throughout the Bush, Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations, but perhaps her staggering lack of interest in national foreign policy should be unsurprising, given that her beat appears to be arts, and she spends minimal time paying any attention to those. I will likely continue to peruse your periodical for information and events, but, as long as Swan remains a theatre editor, I will avoid seeking anything other than dates and times, for fear of being lectured about theatre by someone almost wholly unqualified to perform the most basic aspects of their job responsibilities.

Cassady Toles, Alameda


"Activists Try to Block Green Tech in Berkeley," Eco Watch, 11/11

What's Your Agenda?

These days when I read or listen to the news, I always ask, "What do they want me to believe?"  I can only assume that by allowing (instructing?) Robert Gammon to write his asinine hit piece on older, ponytailed, hippie Sixties activist types, opposing the so-called "green tech" corridor in West Berkeley, that he is representing the Express' agenda. And who do you work for East Bay Express?

Yes, I am skeptical of big moneyed development in our town. Are we just supposed to trust UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who bring us nuclear and biological weapons, to bring us "green" jobs? I guess the latest spin is that even nuclear is "green" when you are desperate. Sometimes I wonder if people are being programmed by their technological gadgets to fall for this kind of PR. I am not seeing much questioning. Do we trust the universities with their current agenda of raising tuition fees (32 percent) and raising administrative salaries while busily privatizing our once-vaunted and envied public higher education system?

When all else fails trot out the NIMBY word. By cracky, back when I was an activist against toxic waste incinerators being located along 880, they called us NIMBYS. It is really just a guilt-tripping word coined by rich developers and those who stand to benefit monetarily, including paid-off politicians, who would purport that "toxic sludge is good for you" in order to further their own ends. The reasoning is that we should all be willing to do our part and accept a little of the toxic burden, for the sake of "progress" (of course, some will accept more than others). Should we each be required to store a small box of nuclear waste?

Just who are the hypocrites? The questioning "hippies" or the manipulative developers who are using phony concern for the environment as a slick way of getting us to relinquish local control when the economy is down. It wouldn't be the first time.

We shouldn't be railroaded into accepting bogus solutions to environmental problems, and the public should have the right to critique those proposals. If you think about it, technology has gotten us into the fix we are in. Do we blindly trust scientists paid by corporations to bring us even more technology with the usual requisite side effects? This may turn out to be yet another boondoggle that makes money for corporations and does very little to help the environment or create jobs. Maybe low tech is the way to go. I can hear Robert Gammon jeering me now.

Vivian Warkentin, Berkeley

Green Is Too White

Robert Gammon was a much more interesting writer before he became an Environmental Jesuit and started doing "Chicken Little" journalism. All that effort for the sake of futility!

The "environmental movement" is too little too late. But even if it weren't, it would fail miserably anyway. Why? Because, like Zero Population Growth years ago, the "green" movement is too white.

Do you really believe all those so-called "minorities" which are actually a majority), both those in and out of this country, are going to give up their bourgeois ambitions (the ones they learned enviously watching us) just because we imperatively demand they do so? What you will get for your trouble is this attitude:

"So, you (white) Americans have gotten rich from over 150 years of heavy industry and race/class exploitation, but now when it's OUR TURN, you're telling us forget all that; forget about getting rich and living the high life; now, it's THE ENVIRONMENT. You know what? Up yours and the environment."

America has set a Babylonian example in world politics for so long, the backlash and fallout are now irreversible.

As for us "old hippies;" the so-called "Hippie Movement" was about personal freedom, not "political correctness." Political correctness bears the same relationship to personal freedom as Stalinism bears to true Marxism; that is why many of us "old hippies" reject it. And, now that most of us are in our senior years, why would we want to sacrifice any of our pleasures, privileges, and conveniences (in the little time we have left) for the sake of some conjectured disaster in a distant future we will never live to see? Please!

To add perspective, I have appended excerpts from a letter of one of the most brilliant men in history:

"Whenever someone consults me on a matter of importance, I first consider whether he is willing to listen to my advice. If I have not been asked, or if it is not present it unsolicited, as for compulsion, I never exact it, not even on my own son. If they (people) have a set way of life which pleases them, though it may not please me, it is not for me to make enemies of them with useless rebukes. When reformation is not forthcoming, the wise man will simply keep quiet and pray." — Plato, Epistle VII.

 James J. Fenton, Oakland

Gammon Uses Propaganda

Robert Gammon's attack on West Berkeley stakeholders and activists not only misrepresents their interests but also the Green Corridor that he advocates. He writes that spinoffs from UC and the LBL would "end up in the suburbs" if Berkeley limited new R&D to protect its existing manufacturing base of 320 companies and 7,500 living-wage jobs.

The Green Corridor consortium includes eight inner East Bay municipalities from San Leandro to Richmond, not suburbs and not just West Berkeley, where all concerned actually welcome product development companies, labs, and other new employers.

The problem is that, unlike neighboring cities, Berkeley is built out except for six large available sites that are appropriate for R&D. Changing the zoning standards in the rest of West Berkeley threatens to displace the current artisans and industries by removing protections put in place by the West Berkeley Plan. The idea is to keep our current jobs while creating more.

The solution is balance, a concept obviously unknown to Robert Gammon, who is a propagandist, not a journalist. The Express can do better.

Toni Mester, Berkeley

Dike the Golden Gate

"West Berkeley under water." When? While the major impact of climate change here is ocean rising, nobody is talking about the obvious solution: dike and lock the Golden Gate. Where is that element in the water bill? It guarantees: steady levels of water and its salinity in the delta, saves the $1.5 trillion of infrastructure threatened and provides an assured water supply to agriculture in the Central Valley, freeing up the clean water for urban use. We in Northern California must face the fact that we are outvoted 3 to 1 by the ever-thirsty denizens of the Southland. They will vote their self-interest at our environment's expense, so why not please them and save the bay and the delta, albeit in pre-Columbian form. If we are to live through droughts like a thousand years ago of up to eleven years duration, we cannot do what the only two million natives did: move to the shore and eat kelp and sealife. We have to engineer our way out of the problem, just as we built dams for freshwater resource development, we must save the infrastructure and resources for the future. A two- to three-meter rise in sea level is probable: Let's get ready.

Linus Hollis, Oakland


"Das Mann of Steel," Feature, 11/11

You Credited the Wrong Person

Joshua Emerson Smith needs to know how to research his subject before writing an article such as "Das Mann of Steel." Why are you giving lip service to the ultimate patriarchal theft, that of Dan Das Mann's sacred image of the creator of the giant steel sculptures and American Steel Arts complex? Anyone who really knows what's going on behind the creative scene knows that Karen Cusolito, mentioned only at the end of the article as Das Mann's business partner, is the nuts-and-bolts creator of these enormous sculptures. By the way, without Karen, American Steel would simply be another platform from which to worship Das Mann, not the vital artery where the arts and trades are brought together under one affordable roof, creating the amazing cooperative complex it is.

Montserrat Wassam, San Francisco

Don't Treat Her Like Trash

Well, if Joshua Emerson Smith was wanting to write an article to massage Dan's narcissism he did a good job, if he actually meant to write about American Steel and the wonderful things that are happening there then he should have concentrated a little more on the real reason that place works and will continue to work — Karen Cusolito.She is so much more than the "business partner" in American Steel — she is the true artist and orchestrator of that place and if your reporter could have just opened his eyes a little away from Dan's gaze then maybe he would have noticed that.Dan is a noteworthy person in this story, but there is so much more to this story that was passed by like trash.

Caroline Miller, San Francisco

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