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Letters for June 23

Readers sound off on Hamas, indie video stores, and poaching in Berkeley.


"Kiss Me I'm Palestinian," Events & Attractions, 5/26

You Heart Hitler?

I note that a solo piece performed by a Palestinian who says it focuses upon her searching for her identity appears under the charming name of "I Heart Hamas." Since Hamas, in addition to subjugating Palestinian woman, jailing gays, and torturing and murdering dissidents, advocates the genocide of Israeli Jews, one can't help but think that the name of this piece could give rise to titles for potentially similar subject matter such as "I Heart Hitler."

Naturally, although the Express feature gives no such indication, one would nevertheless like to believe that the author intended the name "I Heart Hamas" to signify satire. But given that the venue is La Peña Cultural Center, the home of many loony left paeans to other unsavory regimes such as those of Castro and Chavez, I would be surprised if the author didn't mean her title in utmost sincerity.

Dan Spitzer, Berkeley

"Reel Video Threatened by Bankruptcy," Culture Spy, 6/9

What About Videots?

I'm sad that we lost Videots in Elmwood recently. You didn't mention them.

Li-hsia Wang, Berkeley

"Recycling and Anxiety in Berkeley," Feature, 6/9

Poaching Is a Symptom

As the former operations manager of the Berkeley Curbside Recycling program, I can attest that poaching makes people including myself incredibly angry. I have trapped poachers in cul de sacs with my recycling truck and shoveled material out of their pickup just to humiliate them. I have had people call me in tears because a poacher emptied their recyclables on the lawn in search of a can. All of my outreach staff were told not to say the "p" word in public forums because the public's anger is such that once poaching was broached we would never get back on subject.

What is not apparent is that the comingled aluminum cans, glass bottles, and plastic cost more for a garbage company or recycling center to sort and market than they are worth. The moneymaker for recycling programs is newsprint. Ideally, the value of the paper offsets the sorting cost of the containers (glass and cans). The West Coast paper industry is structured in such a way that makes it especially vulnerable during times of economic contraction. Most of the paper is going to East Asia. The American Paper Industry never made an adequate investment in recycling, relying instead on federal subsidies for resource extraction. When the demand from East Asia ceased, recycling markets crashed. Also less and less newsprint is being used in papers. The decline in paper quantities and value has increased the cost of recycling programs.

Then we are confronted with the fact that long-term unemployment is debilitating to an individual, and many poachers are now unemployable. And we are making the problem worse. The closure of the NUMMI plant on Fremont added potentially 20,000 people to the pool of poachers from the loss of direct and indirect jobs. Poachers could have been shipyard workers, cannery workers, assembly-line workers. The Bay Area used to have many of those factories. And that directly affects us who are middle-class. If they were making those good wages they would be buying houses and keeping our home-equity values high. Instead we are fighting them for our garbage.

Once we view poaching as a symptom instead of a moral failing we can act on the solutions that are in front of us.

First: Poaching as a misdemeanor in Berkeley is self-defeating. The DA will not prosecute garbage theft, and the police will not make arrests. Make it an infraction and get the vehicles (the real problem) off the road.

Second: The largest class of exports from the Port of Oakland by volume and value is recyclables: our garbage. This is a decadent state of affairs. And by decadent I mean ourselves. Next to the Port of Oakland is a very large source of industrial grade water: East Bay MUD. East Bay MUD also has energy sources. Waste Paper + water + energy + land will give you a paper mill and that is at least 800 jobs. This is just paper, similar endeavors can be made with plastics, metals, textiles, glass, and ceramics. Given the natural advantages of Oakland, access to water, access to materials, access to a workforce, access to cheap energy, access to transportation, access to demand, the East Bay should be the West Coast's version of the Ruhr. A "green" Ruhr. These factories will absorb the pool of poachers and create value in our community.

Local political leadership plus some seed money (local waste management agencies) plus loan guarantees (yes I mean earmarks) and real purchasing preferences by government can start to reindustrialize the East Bay. That will benefit all us.

Dave Williamson, Berkeley

Target the Centers

Why is it so hard to calculate the value of the materials that poachers take? They sell the stuff in recycling centers, and the centers certainly know how much they take in. So get the data from the centers.

Come to think of it, why are there still recycling centers for ordinary waste, anyway? Shouldn't every can, every bottle, every re-sellable poachable thing be picked up by a city waste service instead of a poacher? Recycling centers have to have permits. Cities could shut down the market for poached materials by forbidding centers from taking it in.

All that stuff belongs to us. Recycling centers and the cities that license them shouldn't be enabling the poaching.

Mike Bradley, Oakland

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