Recommendations for November 2014 General Election

October 19, 2014

To begin with, my apologies for having been so long in posting anything to my blog.  I have, to say the least, been very busy the past few months, and it’s only the prodding of friends (thank you for the prods) and the immanence of November that have prompted me to get back on-line here and put down my thoughts.

Let me start with some general comments.  With this election, we’re seeing the effect of California’s new open primary (AKA “top two”) electoral system, and I must admit I don’t like them at all.  Yes, it does mean that there’s almost always a contest in the November election, unless a seat is totally uncontested or one candidate’s such an overwhelming favorite that they get over 50% in the primary.  However, narrowing the choices to two often means you get a choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledee — two candidates who aren’t saying significantly different things.  Sometimes, it devolves into the choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledumber – two candidates who seem to be trying to outdo each other to mouth mindless platitudes and pretend there are no real issues.

My other preliminary comment comes in the context of the current Ebola panic.  Republicans are saying that the whole situation is Obama’s fault, while Democrats either chime in with blaming Obama (if they’re up for re-election in a red-tinged state) or assert he’s done everything right and it’s all the Republicans’ fault.  It seems to me that there’s more than enough blame to go around.

As was pointed out by an recent article in New York Times, after 9-11 George W. altered the mindset of the CDC to focus on the risk of a bioterrorism attack.  (Such an attack hasn’t come close to happening after thirteen years.)  Many at the CDC got disgusted with what they considered a silly distraction and left.  Further, there followed a series of budget cuts which, although they didn’t specifically target the CDC (as opposed, for example, to food stamps), nevertheless left it less able to address all possible risks and led to a triage mentality where only the most likely risks at any time got attention.    Since Ebola was half a world away, it didn’t get much priority.  While Democrats tended to object to the cuts, some of them were accepted, and others even proposed as a way to make the Republicans look bad.

It has also been pointed out that the budget cuts affected grant funding by NIH.  There are, and have been, people out there working on trying to develop a vaccine and other weapons against Ebola.  Unfortunately, there’s not a large political constituency in the U.S. to push for Ebola funding (unlike heart disease or breast cancer).  When cuts had to be made, guess which kind of research ended up on the chopping block.  (By the way, the people in charge at NIH have said that if it weren’t for the budget cuts, they’d have developed an Ebola vaccine by now.)  The U.S. has also not pushed to make sure that WHO has adequate funding, and Africa has not been a priority for foreign aid funding, especially not public health infrastructure.  It’s not “sexy.”  Again, Republicans were in the forefront in attacking U.N. funding, but many Democrats were not unwilling to let it go in favor of domestic priorities.  Now the chickens are coming home to roost.

So, with that diatribe out of the way, let’s move on to the ballot, starting at the top.

At the federal level, California’s contests are only the house seats.  In my district (13th), it’s pretty easy.  Regardless of what kind of job you think Barbara Lee is doing (and while she’s hardly a firebrand, she votes the right [or should I say left?] way on most issues, her Republican opponent is little more than a joke.  If there were third parties on the ballot, it might be more interesting, but as it is, I’d recommend LEE.

At the top of the statewide offices is, of course, the governor.  Here’s where the top two has really taken its toll.  We’ve got only two choices – Jerry Brown or Neel Kashkari.  Kashkari is somewhat moderate for a Republican, but that’s damning with faint praise.  On the other hand, while Jerry Brown has shown some competence in holding the Legislature’s spending sprees in check, his stance on water issues (the “twin tunnels”) and high-speed rail show his desire to want to outdo his dad in leaving a monument to himself.  Unfortunately, neither monument makes sense.  Better he should have proposed a 30 foot high solid gold statue of himself on a horse.  It’d cost much, much, less and be about as useful.  as you can tell, I don’t have a lot of use for Governor Brown.  You can make your own choice, but I’m leaving my ballot blank in protest.

Lieutenant Governor – Here you’ve got two not very competent (IMHO) politicians vying for a totally useless job.  We probably ought to abolish the post, although the Lieutenant Governor does sit on a few bodies, like the State Lands Commission, and the Board of Regents of UC and Board of Trustees of the California State University system.  Unfortunately, the Lieutenant Governor has no obvious credentials for sitting on any of these boards.  It would be far better if these boards had more knowledgeable, if less politically visible, members.  At any rate, I can’t get excited about either, but Newsom is probably the lesser of the two evils.

Secretary of State – This office has important, if mundane, responsibilities, including tracking various business entities and running California’s statewide elections.  Alex Padilla, the Democrat, is an undistinguished state senator.  Pete Peterson, the Republican, is part of the administration of Pepperdine University, a righ-wing oriented school in the LA area.  While much of what Peterson says has some logic to it (improving the business-friendly attitude of the Secretary of State’s business entity section, improving the technology of California elections, I frankly don’t trust someone with an ideological stance superintending California’s electoral process.  That’s not to say that I trust a Democratic politician like Padilla more.  This is another example where to “top two” process has left two choices, neither of which I like.Maybe you should flip a coin?  (Like deciding whether to issue $8.5 billion in bonds?)

Controller – This is the office that superintends California’s public funds, including supervising the disbursement of legislative appropriation and auditing the financial records of state agencies.  It’s potentially a very important office in keeping California government honest.  It probably should not be a partisan office, but it is.  If I trusted the Republican, I might actually want a Republican here t counterbalance Jerry Brown’s power.  Unfortunately, I have not trust in Ms. Swearengin, the current Mayor of Fresno.  I’ve had one person from Fresno ask me to vote for her so she’s no longer be running that city!  Not a ringing endorsement.  The Democrat, Betty Yee, has a more professional background in auditing and currently serves on the State Board of Equalization.  She may be the better choice, although I doubt she has the guts to oppose Jerry Brown’s administration of state agencies.

Treasurer – This is the person who handles California’s finances and investments.  Again, an important office that probably should be nonpartisan.  John Chiang has had eight years as State Controller, and his term of office has been very quiet.  Perhaps there should have been audits of things like the Bay Bridge construction, but there weren’t.  I’d expect him to do whatever Jerry Brown tells him to.  Greg Conlon, the Republican, is a CPA and businessman.  On this one office, I might end up voting for the Republican.

Attorney General – This is another office where the “top two” leave me cold.  I can’t see voting for a Republican, given how the last Republican who held it, George Deukmejian, pushed a “law and order” strategy that, to my mind, was a total failure.  Still, the incumbent, Kamala Harris, has underwhelmed me with her performance.  I was shocked when her office advocated preempting CEQA under federal law for California’s high-speed rail project, a huge project with enormous potential to do environmental damage.  I’m afraid I’m going to leave this blank on my ballot in protest.

Insurance Commissioner – This is about the only statewide office that I feel reasonably good about making a recommendation.  Former State Senator Dave Jones, the incumbent, has been consistently pro-consumer.  He deserves another term.

Superintendent of Public Instruction – This is one statewide office that IS (at least nominally) nonpartisan.  The incumbent, Tom Torlakson, has stong backing form the teachers’ unions.  I worry that his support for those unions may be getting in the way of making the best decisions, especially when it comes to the controversial issue of charter schools.  I am not an avid supporter of charter schools, which can draw off resources a top students from the conventional public school system, but I do think charter schools have their place as a laboratory of innovation and experimentation, and frankly many of our conventional public school systems are failing, so something other than the status quo is needed.  For that reason, I’m choosing the challenger, Marshall Tuck.

Board of Equalization – Another somewhat technical financial position.  The Board of Equalization administers the state tax system and is the board of appeal for state income tax and franchise tax disputes.  It’s the only elected board of its kind in the country.  Again, this shouldn’t be a partisan position, but it is.  I have no trust in either candidate.  Fiona Ma, the Democratic candidate is, in my opinion, nothing but a political hack, and I would trust her about as far as I could throw her (actually, not even that far).  I don’t trust her Republican opponent any more than her.  Pull the coin out again, or leave it blank?  That’s my quandary.

State Assembly (15th Assembly District) – Another “victory” for the top two approach.  There were some very good candidates in the primary, but they didn’t have as much money and political connections as these two.  I’m not enthusiastic about either.  Tony Thurmond served on the West Contra Costa School District Board.  You might remember that district went bankrupt a few years back.  I’m not sure if he was on the board when it did, but it’s a district that has not done itself proud.  His opponent, Elizabeth Echols, has even less to recommend her.  She has never held elective office, and was a federal bureaucrat before being drawn into this race by her friends in the local Democratic party machine.  Neither seems to have a lot to say other than the usual Democratic platitudes.  I’m going with Thurmond just because I’m so sick of the local Democratic Party machine.

COURT JUSTICES

If you’ve been reading my blog for any time at all, you know I think the idea of electing judges is stupid, and an invitation for mischief.  (Recall the Mississippi Supreme Court Justice who was thrown out of office for putting a sculpture of the ten commandments in the State Supreme Court’s courthouse, and then was promptly re-elected by Mississippi voters, who thought it was great fun to thumb their nose at the First Amendment’s establishment clause.)

Supreme Court – I suppose you might look at this vote as a referendum on how the Supreme Court is doing.  By that token, I might be tempted to vote no on all of them based on their refusal to take up the high-speed rail case.  However, I think that would be unfair and probably unwise.  I will, in this case, abstain.

Court of Appeal justices – A lot of the same principles apply here, but I follow the First District Court of Appeal’s decisions pretty closely, and I’d have to say I’ve been increasingly disappointed in them over the past few years.  This used to be one of the best districts, but IMHO it isn’t any more.  The one exception I’d make is Justice Ignazio Ruvolo, who I think is doing a good job.  However, I make no recommendations on any of these votes.

STATE BALLOT MEASURES

Proposition 1 (Water Bond) – There’s a common theme among most of this year’s ballot measures (both state and local) – the compromise.  The idea is that whichever side of an issue you’re on, the ballot measure gives you “enough” to vote for it.  Perhaps the perfect should not be the enemy of the good, but what about the “not too bad?”  In this case, the “not too bad” isn’t good enough for me.  Yes, we need to address California water deficiencies and the environmental and economic consequences.  Something must be done.  But throwing a wad of money at big surface storage project (i.e., dams) isn’t a good way to go.  It may be good, in the short run, for some farmers, but it’s bad for the fish and not good for the delta.  We could have done far better, but if this bond passes, nothing else will happen for a while.  Vote no and send the message – do better next time.

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 An add-on for Prop. 1.  I just heard that NRDC (who supports the measure) says that if the measure’s promises of environmental benefits aren’t carried through on , they’re ready to go to court to enforce those promises.  To which I say, “Good luck with that!”  As some of you know, I’ve been heavily involved in litigating on the failure of the state government to carry out the promises it made in the 2008 high-speed rail bond.  Just last month, the Court of Appeal said that at least some of the promises made in that measure weren’t enforceable.  Thus was overturned nearly 100 years of precedent, and the Supreme Court refused to grant review.  Bottom line, for any bond or tax measure placed on the ballot, you can no longer count on those ballot promises being carried through.  If they’re ignored, the courts could leave you high and dry.  [an appropriate analogy for a water bond measure]

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Proposition 2 – Budget Stabilization Account – “Rainy Day Fund” – This is an enforced savings plan for the state, but it lacks the needed flexibility to avoid damaging the state during recessions.  NO

Proposition 45 [I don’t know why there’s a gap] – Health Insurance Rate Changes – This would place health insurance rates under the jurisdiction of the insurance commissioner, as many other kinds of insurance already are.  If you trust Blue Cross implicitly, by all means vote no.  If you think there needs to be someone who asks them to justify their rate increases, vote yes.  I’m voting yes.  [add-on:  my wife, a physician, is voting no.  She’s worried the insurance commissioner could cut rates to the point where insurance companies start nickel-and-diming physician reimbursement rates, to the detriment of hospitals and community clinics.   Obviously, I disagree.]

Proposition 46 – Another one of the “compromises.”  The trial lawyers want to be able to increase damage awards in malpractice lawsuits (they’re currently capped by state law).    They figured they could make it more popular by putting the screws to doctors and their alleged tendency towards drug addiction.  If we’re going to start random drug testing folks, maybe politicians should be first in line, followed by trial lawyers.  NO

Proposition 47 – Reduces some drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.  We’ve already tried throwing everyone who commits crimes in prison for a long time.  It was called three strikes, and it didn’t work.  Now we’ve got overcrowded prisons gobbling up our tax dollars.  Let’s spend that money of getting people out of the criminal pathway instead.  YES

Proposition 48 -Indian Gaming Compacts referendum – We’ve had lots of Indian gaming compacts, allowing tribes to set up casinos on tribal lands.  This compact was for casinos NOT on tribal land.  Personally, I think expanding casinos was a bad idea, and this compact makes it worse.  NO

LOCAL RACES

These are all nominally nonpartisan races, but in Alameda or most of Contra Costa County, if you’re not a Democrat, it’s probably not worth trying to run.  That may be changing, however, as more and more voters switch to decline to state.  You’d think the Democratic and Republican parties might take a hint that maybe voters were getting dissatisfied.  Apparently not.

Alameda County Superintendent of Schools – I have to confess I’m at a loss to decipher which of these two candidates is the better choice.  Karen Monroe is clearly the establishment choice.  She’s now associate superintendent and is heir apparent to step in and replace Sheila Jordan, the retiring superintendent.  If you think the County’s currently doing a good job on its educational responsibilities (which i don’t particularly), she’s obviously your choice.  Helen Foster’s platform sounds very similar to that of Ms. Monroe, but includes more detail, and focuses on those students currently being left behind.  She lacks establishment endorsements, but is endorsed by the Alameda Newspaper Group.  However, I’m not sure I consider that a plus.  It’s definitely a  puzzle, and this is one race where I honestly don’t feel I can make a recommendation, but my leaning would be in Dr. Foster’s direction.

East Bay MUD Director – Ward 3 – This race, however, is one where I feel very confident in making an endorsement.  East Bay MUD, our water and sewer district, has a reputation of being at the forefront of progressive and pro-environment water policy.  That reputation is, at this point, largely undeserved.  EBMUD has focused, over the past 20 years, in trying to get more water, primarily by a cooperative project with Sacramento County to use its federal Bureau of Reclamation contract (yes, the folks who run the Central Valley Project for all the ag users) for water from the Sacramento River.  This year, with the drought, EBMUD is drawing on that water, at a cost of over $500 per acre-foot.  Not as costly as some water, but a lot more than its Mokelumne supply, and much more than the more environmentally benign groundwater storage conjunctive use option would be.  However, EBMUD would rather join the farmers at the straw than try to move forward into groundwater storage, which ag users have been slow to adopt.  EBMUD’s also been asleep at the switch on adopting a rate structure to addresses yearly fluctuations in water supply to send a price signal to customers about how important conservation is.  The incumbent, Katy Foulkes, has been on the board for twenty years, but somehow is just now thinking about a drought rate structure.  Her opponent, Marguerite Young, comes out of a progressive water policy background and is pushing for more emphasis on conservation, and on speeding up replacing EBMUD’s aged water pipe system.   Ms. Young is a clear choice.

AC Transit At Large Director – There are three candidates, and almost no information about them.  Joel B. Young, the incumbent, has been on the AC Transit board since 2009 and  ran unsuccessfully for State Assembly in 2012.  That suggests his heart isn’t in his current position.   I’ve also heard not very good things about him as a board member.  His endorsements come entirely from labor unions, which suggests he’s a pro-labor vote an the board.  That may or may not be a good thing.  Of the three, Dollene Jones’ twenty years experience as an AC Transit driver givers her a perspective not found on the current board.  On that basis, she’d be my choice.

Oakland Mayor – OK, this one’s a biggie.  With fifteen candidates on the ballot, it’s not easy making a choice.  The ranked choice election makes it a little easier, because you can pick up to three candidates.  My strategy in using ranked choice is two-fold.  First, pick out the candidate you like best, regardless of their chance of success.  make them your number one choice.  It they win, you’ve helped make it happen, and hopefully you’ll be very happy.  If not, you’ve still got your second and third choices.  For the second and third choices, pick candidates that have a realistic possibility of winning, and then, again, choose you most favored as second and next most favored as third.  If you’ve got major reservations about a candidate, DON’T PICK THEM!!!  Better to leave choice blank than help elect a candidate and end up kicking yourself later because you knew better.
So, who are my top choices?  Let me start by saying who I’ve eliminated:  1)  I eliminate those who’ve never held an elective office.  You don’t start your political career as mayor of a large and difficult-to-manage city.  That kind of on-the-job training we definitely don’t need.  2)  I eliminate those who seem overly ambitious.  We need a mayor who’s going to focus on being mayor, not running for their next political office.  We had enough of that with Jerry Brown.  Between those to, it knocks out most of the candidates.  Here are my choices among those left:
1.   Dan Siegel – I frankly don’t think he has much chance of getting elected, but he’s got a lot of experience and is still idealistic enough not to get dragged down by the political deal making that’s all too common in Oakland.  Like Jean Quan, he’s got a lot of experience with Oakland schools, and that’s something that is one of Oakland’s weakest links.  He’s also got a focus on restorative justice, which is, to my mind, an approach that could work well for Oakland.
2.  Jean Quan – Jean Quan has certainly got more experience than any other candidate, and has had four years of handling the City.  She’s certainly made her share of mistakes, but I think she’s learned from them.  As with Dan Siegel, she’s got a strong focus on education and a generally progressive attitude.  I also think she’s realistic in what she can hope to accomplish, unlike some of the candidates’ pie-in-the-sky approach to police staffing.  Sure, we need more police than we have now, but how are you going to pay for 900 sworn officers???  Better, perhaps to spend more money one putting people on non-criminal tracks than running around trying to arrest and jail them all.
3.  Rebecca Kaplan – I make this third choice with some trepidation.  Ms. Kaplan strikes me as someone who’s aspiring for higher office, which is not my ideal choice for mayor.  She also strikes me as somewhat too prone to posturing, and I fear she’s too doctrinaire on some issues (like Bus Rapid Transit) which makes her not open to listening to things she doesn’t want to hear [but needs to].  Nevertheless, her generally progressive approach would, IMHO, be better than that of her equally ambitious but more conservative sister council member, Ms. Schaaf, or the even more conservative Mr. Tuman.  Call this pick a defensive move to avoid electing someone I’d like even less.

City Auditor – This is potentially an important office.  My sense of Oakland’s administration is that it’s rather inefficient and could use a strong critical eye.  However, the auditor should NOT be a political office.  It’s not the place to sharpen knives.  The two candidates are both CPAs, and hence at least qualified to conduct audits, but Len Raphael is a strong political slant.  He ran unsuccessfully for City Council (District 1) in 2012 on what was basically a “law and order” platform.  as i said, i don’t think we need a politician as auditor.  His opponent, Brenda Roberts, is an experience corporate auditor.  I worry that she may bring too narrow a financial focus to the auditor position, as opposed to looking a functional as well as financial audits, but I think a strong financial auditor would be helpful.  I pick Roberts.

LOCAL BALLOT MEASURES

Finally, we have the local ballot measures.  There’s one county measure, one Oakland Unified School District Measnure, and five Oakland city measures.  Here are my takes on them:

Measure BB – 30 year 1/2 cent sales tax INCREASE, bringing the county transportation sales tax to 1%.  The last attempt to pass this tax, with NO time limitation, just barely failed.  Now they’ve gotten slightly less ambitious and are ONLY asking for a 30 year tax.  I will probably expire before it does.  I think thirty years is too long.  We don’t even know what the transportation of 30 years from now will look like.  We shouldn’t already be giving it funding, sight unseen.
Further, this is a classic “something for everyone” measure with enough boondoggles to satisfy any advocate of government waste.  We’re already funding the ridiculous BART to Warm Springs, and now this adds BART to Livermore – a give-away to construction contractors and unions that will be an even bigger boondoggle that the Oakland Airport Connector (which is now expected to cost $7 one-way for a ten minute ride!)  There’s also lost of money for highway expansion, to further feed our appetite for gasoline, along with an uncritical subsidy for any and all transit.  We could, and ought to, be doing much better.  NO

Measure N – this money would help pay for services to make graduation rates higher and make Oakland’s graduates more successful.  The OUSD isn’t one of the best run school districts around, but it’s got an enormous job to do, and needs all the help it can get.  YES

Measure Z – This continues Oakland’s Measure Y – a public safety funding measure – that provides both money for police services and money to provide help getting people (particularly youth) off the criminal track.  YES!!

Measure CC -an attempt to give the Oakland Public Ethics Commission at least a few teeth (which it badly needs).  YES

Measure DD – Establishes an independent redistricting commission for the City Council and OUSD trustee seats.  Badly needed to get the politics out of the redistricting process.  YES

Measure EE – Would replace one of Oakland’s retirement systems with a fixed annuity to be paid for with existing funds.  Would get the City out of the business of administering this system.  YES

Measure FF – sets a $12.25 per hour minimum wage within Oakland.  This was a compromise between the current grossly inadequate minimum wage and the $15 per hour wage advocated by labor groups but opposed by businesses.  It will help considerable, and isn’t that high that it will drive business out of the city.  (We really need to have at least a countywide, or better a Bay Area uniform minimum wage, gut at least this is a step in the right direction.)  YES


November 2012 Election Comments

October 4, 2012

OK.  I got my sample ballot & voter information booklet in the mail, and I’m sure the absentee ballots are going out shortly, so it looks like it’s time to give my usual rundown of candidates and issues.  as usual, I give my standard disclosures and disclaimers.  [Hey, what do you expect, I’m a lawyer!]  These are obviously just my own personal opinions, and while I have read through candidate statements and ballot arguments (and in some cases, the text of the measure as well), and have talked to some of the candidates personally, I don’t claim to be an expert on evaluating candidates or ballot measures.  Well, I guess I can claim some expertise on the latter, having helped to write a few local measures.  That having been said, HERE WE GO!

President

Obviously, the two major choices are Romney and Obama.  Between those two, for me Obama is the obvious choice.  I’m not anywhere close to entirely happy with Obama and how he’s run the country the past four years.  Our foreign policy is still far too militaristic (although lightyears ahead of where it was under George W), Obamacare is a sorry substitute for the single-payer healthcare we ought to have, and, as Paul Krugman has said innumerable times, Obama’s economic policy is anemic compared to what’s needed to pull us out of our current doldrums.  [However, he does have the excuse that with the Republican majority in the house, nothing can be done in the legislative arena.]  BTW, see my separate post critiquing Obama’s performance in the first debate.

All that having been said,  I think that, DEPENDING ON WHERE YOU LIVE, you should take a serious look at some of the third party candidates.  With that, I will once again recite  Ivins’ Rule, named for Molly Ivins, the late Texas [don’t hold that against her] political commentator.  The basic rule is, regardless of what your state or locality allows, don’t vote early unless you absolutely have to.  Wait until, at the earliest, a week before election day, and then look at what the polling results are FOR YOUR STATE.  Because we have the electoral college system, each state is its own election [exception — in Maine, each congressional district is its own election].  Regardless of what’s happening in the national polls, what really matters is who wins a plurality of the vote in each individual state.  Except for Maine, that candidate get ALL that state’s electoral votes for president.

So, now let’s get back to Ivins’ Rule.  When you look at your state’s polling result, the crucial question is whether the difference between Romney’s and Obama’s polling results in greater than five percent.  If either of the two is ahead by more than five percent, then barring a nuclear war or something equally calamitous, the election in your state is essentially over.  That means you can vote for whomever you want, because it won’t make any difference.  If, however the difference is less than 5%, you better choose between Obama and Romney, or you may be kicking yourself for the next  for years.  Luckily, here in California Obama’s lead is unassailable.  (I think it’s  currently over 20% statewide.)

So, if you’re lucky enough to have the luxury of voting for a minor party candidate, my suggestion would be to look seriously at Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate.  I say that not just because I’m registered as green.  From what I’ve seen of her, she’s just as smart as either of the major party candidates (she’s a Massachusetts physician), and her platform makes enormous sense — cut the defense budget, enact single-payer healthcare, promote a justice system that, as Jesse Jackson famously said, puts our money at the front end, rather than the back end – i.e., promotes restorative justice, puts the U.S. squarely at the forefront in trying to reverse climate change and promote sustainable care for our ailing planet, etc.  Of coure there’s no way she’ll get elected, but just think.  If she got 5% of the vote nationwide, even if she didn’t win a single electoral vote, wouldn’t that make a statement that there’s a significant number of people who think as she does?  Who knows, maybe a few Democrats might even start paying attention in a real way.

U.S. Senator

Again here, the choice is pretty simple, even simpler because there are no minor party candidates on the ballot.  :(  I don’t particularly like Feinstein.  She’s incredibly wishy-washy on lots of issues, and just plain bad on some, but as with Obama, she’s in a whole different league (or century) from her Republican opponent.  Unless you’re a “tea partier” [and if you are, why are you reading this blog??], you gotta vote for Feinstein.

Note – if you’re not in California, see my discussion of Ivins’ Rule above and act accordingly.

U.S. Representative

Again, given my location in the East Bay, the choice is pretty simple.  Barbara Lee has been on the right side (or perhaps I should say the left side) of just about every issue before Congress.  Her opponent waves her hands around to try to look more reasonable, but we all know that the last reasonable Republicans here in California have already left that disaster of a party.  Unless you want to go back to the gilded age where workers could, if they were lucky, get 10 cents a day for pay, vote for Lee.

If you’re in another district, re-read Ivins’ Rule again.

State Senate

Here’s another place I get to apply Ivins’ Rule.  Loni Hancock has been one of the better senators in the state senate, based on her voting record.  That’s as it should  be, she represents one of the most liberal districts in the state.  She’s going  to win this race overwhelmingly.  Since that’s the case, it’s a place you could show that you’d like some more space on the left of the ballot by voting for the Peace & Freedom Party candidate, Mary McIlroy.

State Assembly

I could just invoke Ivins’ Rule again in urging a vote for the Peace & Freedom Party candidate (Eugene Ruyle), but there’s something more at stake.  I have followed Nancy Skinner since she first ran for the assembly (when I supported her), and have been very disappointed in her performance.  Again, she represents one of the most liberal districts in the state, but she has followed in lockstep whatever the Democratic legislative leadership has told her.  Overall, she’s voted against the party leadership only 0.7% of the time.  By comparison, Hancock, while no eccentric, bucked the party leadership on 1.2% of votes, Leland Yee, from San Francisco (perhaps the only place more liberal than the East Bay), opposed Democratic leaders 2.6% of the time, and Jared Huffman, a liberal stalwart in Marin, voted differently 1.8% of the time.  Maybe Skinner just likes whatever the leadership says.  If so, that’s a disappointment in itself, because the leadership has been, in a number of cases, like its support for the high-speed rail project, just stupid.  Maybe she votes that way to “go along to get along.”  If so, that says nothing any better about her.  We deserve better.

State Ballot Measures

Let me start with a general statement.  California’s initiative and referendum processes are in serious need of reform.  I say that as an attorney who regularly advises local groups on their initiative and referendum battles, and knows the turf pretty well.  Between picayune requirements that make it harder and harder for grassroots campaigns to succeed, and the overwhelming force of a tidal wave of  special interest money that at this point almost totally dominates the statewide ballot measure scene, we’ve got a real mess in California.  Not only that, but because of the nature of California ballot measure law (in the state constitution, no less), if a mistake gets made with a ballot measure, it’s very likely to be permanent, or at least very long-lasting.  I’ve already made it clear in past postings that I think passing Prop. 13 was unwise.  Yes, it did some good and necessary things that the legislature was unwilling to tackle. but its left state and local government in a long-term fiscal disaster.  Likewise for the “Victims Bill of Rights”, “Three Strikes”, and term limits.  The state’s voters aren’t always smart enough to get it right on the first try, but it’s incredibly hard to revise anything the voters have done.  Maybe things enacted by the voters should automatically go back on the ballot in five years, so people get to think about it again, and competing or correcting measures can be put on at that time?

So. Rant finished.  Now on to the specifics:

30 – Jerry Brown’s tax measure – a reluctant yes.  I’m not 100% happy with it, but if it fails, the draconian school cuts are unacceptable.

31- NO!  This initiative, put on the ballot by California Forward, at first glance seems appealing, and it would indeed do some things that would improve how the legislature handles budget issues, like going to a two-year budget cycle.  HOWEVER, it makes radical changes in the relations between state and local government, including allowing local government to exempt itself from various “inconvenient” state laws and regulations, including CEQA, and potentially state labor laws.  This is a really bad idea!  Not only that, but it locks all of its changes into the state constitution, making them extremely hard to change in the future.  [See my rant above.]  A number of members of the initial taskforce pointed out the problems, but California Forward refused to budge.  They subsequently resigned.  (See ballot arguments against.)  Shame on California Forward!!

32 – NO!  A fraudulent attempt to disable labor union political activity while leaving corporate political power basically unchecked.

33- NO.  One insurance company (Mercury) makes a second attempt to tilt the playing field in its direction.

34- YES – the death penalty makes little sense as a deterrent, as public policy, or financially.

35 – No –  Human trafficking is without question a bad thing.  Whether we’re talking about actual enslavement or just the “normal” pimping and prostitution stuff.  There need to be serious consequences for those who screw over their fellow human beings.  However, this measure seems to play into the general punitive bent of three strikes and other efforts to just, “lock ‘em all up and throw away the key.”  Our prison system is clear evidence that  this approach hasn’t worked and isn’t working.  Again, once something gets passed by the voters, it’s very hard to change.  This is an issue for the legislature to tackle, not the voters.

36 – YES – again, as with the death penalty, three strikes is a punitive, ineffective, and financially damaging measure.  This reform will help.

37 – YES – truth in labeling for genetically-engineered foods.  People should have a knowing choice about supporting Monsanto’s fiddling with the agricultural gene pool.  BTW, the no argument points to the measure’s enforcement against local retailers.  Unfortunately, California has no direct leverage against national food producers, only against businesses operating in California.  Enforcement against retailers is the only leverage we have against national big business.  It’s a big one, though.  If, for example, California retailers wouldn’t carry General Mills foods because they don’t own up to using genetically engineered ingredients, General Mills could lose A LOT of business.  We need to use our market share power to change the market.

38 – NO – The major alternative tax measure.  Too narrowly focused on education funding, and will impact the poor more than the rich.

39 – YES – levels the playing field for internet businesses who siphon off $$ from California without paying taxes.  Time to end the free ride.

40 – YES – For once, here was a ballot measure (redistricting reform) that was needed, and that worked. The redistricting effort was a resounding success.  Say no to Republican sour grapes!

A1 – NO – public funding for the Oakland Zoo – while zoos are a nice family amenity, I am bothered by the Oakland Zoo’s expansionistic policies, and I don’t think they should be feeding at the public trough [so to speak] when the zoo’s governing board has no public accountability for its actions.

B1 – NO!! – INDEFINITE  extension AND increase in county transportation sales tax.  Sales taxes are regressive.  This would give an unaccountable county agency permanent funding with no requirement to come back to the voters – EVER.  Their predecessor (ACTA) had to be sued to block it from spending money on a project the voters hadn’t authorized.  Would eliminate the ONLY real voter accountability this agency now has.

J – Yes – Another bond fund infusion for Oakland schools.  I’m somewhat bothered by adding more bond debt to a school district that just emerged from a major financial crisis.  On the other hand, many Oakland schools are seriously physically deficient.  We really need to change Prop 13 to allow adequate funding for local schools, cities, and counties.  Until then, band-aid measures like this are the best we can do.

Local Candidates

If you live outside of Oakland/Alameda County, you can stop here if you want.  The rest is just for “local yokels”

AC Transit — Chris Peeples is knowledgeable and listens to the community.  I don’t agree with him 100%, but he’s a good choice.

BART Board – Rebecca Saltzman would seem the obvious pro-environment choice, but I’ve been disturbed by some of her statements in support of high-speed rail and BART extensions, which seem to indicate a knee-jerk support for extending transit even where it may not make economic sense and actually be sprawl-inducing.  I like Anthony Pegram’s candidate statement and plan to vote for him.

Oakland District One Council member:

Top three [ranked choice]  — for more detailed information, look at the write-ups in the recently-initiated Rockridge Patch, or view some youtube clips from a candidate forum:

1) Dan Kalb (knowledgeable, intelligent, pro-environment & pro-neighborhood. Lives in Rockridge.)

2) Donald Macleay (local green party member, pro-environment & pro-neighborhood.  Lives in Temescal) – Update (11/3/12) -

3)  No choice.  See below for why I can’t endorse any of the others:

I DON’T like: Len Raphael – confrontational and pro-development (although he does oppose Safeway’s College Ave. project);

Amy Lemley – knee-jerk smart growth (married to smart-growth fanatic who works at NRDC & pushed for BRT on Telegraph).  Her background is not in the broad public policy areas North Oakland needs.  I fear she’s a stalking horse for her husband, and would be too obeisant to Kernighan and Schaaf, both of whom endorse her and both of whom are aggressively pro-development.  She’s refused to take a firm position on the College Ave. Safeway project, just saying that she’d encourage negotiations.

The other candidates:

Don Link’s a nice guy and supportive on Safeway, but I worry he’d be out of his depth.  Focus is mainly on public safety

Richard Reya – his candidate statement reads very well.  He seems to be saying a lot of the right things.  BUT, it turns out that he’s the policy director for California Forward.  If that doesn’t ring a bell, go back and re-read my discussion of Prop. 31.  Sorry, but as policy director, his allowing Prop. 31 to move forward and go on the ballot shows, in my estimation, very bad judgment.  He’s also non-commital on the College Ave. Safeway project.  Not who I want representing me on the City Council!

Craig Brandt is also pushing for more police, but where’s the money going to come from???  As of late, he seems to have dropped out of the race.

At Large Council Member – Sorry, I’m afraid you’re on your own here. I can’t honestly and wholeheartedly recommend any of the choices.  Neither Kaplan nor De la Fuente have been supportive on Safeway.  De la Fuente is a dealmaker in the Perata mold.  He hopes to use the at-large seat as a stepping stone to another mayoral run.  Kaplan is, in many ways, pretty good, but she’s so focused on smart growth that she loses sight of neighborhood values.  She was the only council member to enthusiastically push Bus Rapid Transit on Telegraph despite strong community opposition.  I fear she’d favor major densification around the Rockridge BART in spite of its damaging traffic impacts.  As for the other candidates, none of them is qualified by background or experience, and Carol Tolbert has a gruesome history on North Oakland redevelopment around the Old Merritt College site — can you say corruption??

City attorney – I’m not real keen on Jane Brunner, but I’m also not excited by Barbara Parker.  I worry that she’s got the typical black Oakland establishment (e.g., Geoffrey Pete, Mary King, Bill Patterson) supporting her.  Yet Jane Brunner’s often been too much of a dealmaker.  No recommendation.  (As with judges, I think this really shouldn’t be an elected position.)

School Board – Jody London has, in my opinion, been doing OK.  The schools are in a tough place, and her opponent fought to keep Santa Fe School (in the Golden Gate area of Northwest Oakland)  open when it was an absolute disaster – probably worse than no school at all. Yes, we need to do more to help children in the poorer parts of the city, but that requires money that the district doesn’t have.  (Can you say Prop. 13?)  It also bothers me that Ms. Pecot was endorsed by the teachers union.  One wonders about the quid pro quo that may have been involved.  Teachers need fair pay, but I’ve also seen the teachers union defend poorly performing teachers just because they were active in the union.  Not how I think a school district should be run.


How about a three state solution??

November 2, 2014

This is about Israel/Palestine, not California.  The usual liberal proposal is that the current Israel, including the West Bank and Gaza, should be divided into an Israeli/Jewish state and a Palestinian/Arab state.  Supposedly, this will give both sides what they want.  I’m not sure that’s true.  I suspect a lot of Israeli Jews are perfectly fine with sharing their country with Palestinian Arabs, so long as the Arabs are OK with sharing the country with them, and are perfectly willing to have Jews and Arabs have totally equal rights, rather than the kind of Jewish preferences that now exist in Israel.

On the other hand, it’s very clear that there are some Palestinian Arabs that want nothing to do with anything Jewish, and some Israeli Jews who want nothing to do with anything Arab.  It seems the way to accommodate all three groups is to have three states instead of two:  One totally Arab/Palestinian, one totally Jewish, and one for both Jews & Arabs.  It also seems to me that the way to decide on how big each state would be is to have a plebiscite for residents of the entire Israel/Palestine area where people could choose which of the three states they’d prefer to live in.  The size of the states would depend on the number of votes that state got.

The three states would all have to agree that all citizens of all three states would have certain minimum human rights (e.g., right to hold property, right to vote, right to education & healthcare, right to practice one’s religion, right to trial by jury, etc.) but beyond that, the all-Arab and all-Jewish states would be allowed to have a state religion that would be given preferential treatment and citizens with that religion might, to the extent allowed by the basic human rights, also be given preferential treatment and religious laws could be, by majority vote, made binding on the entire population (again, within the framework of basic human rights).

The Arab/Jewish equality state, by contrast, would have additional constitutional provisions forbidding establishment of a favored religion, requiring equal treatment of all citizens, regardless of religion (or lack thereof) etc.  Further, all three states would be required to allow free immigration/emigration between the three states (conditioned on ensuring security of borders and prohibition on transporting firearms or other weapons between the states).  All three countries would also have to be open to inspection by an international body charged with ensuring that weapons aimed at attacking another state would not be available.

My guess is that the “middle” state would get the lion’s share of both Jews and Arabs.  There would obviously need to be a way to have a fair partitioning and/or sharing of resources (especially water), and some areas, like Jerusalem, would probably need to be under international control, because I’d bet that all three countries would demand that it be included in their area.

Of course, this is probably just as much pie-in-the-sky as any other proposed solution, but at least it seems a bit more realistic than the two state solution being proposed by the U.S.


Recommendation for June 2014 California Primary Election

May 28, 2014

I finally have enough time to put down my thoughts on the June primary election ballot.  To start with, I have to say that this is not an impressive crop of candidates.  My personal feeling is that we’re seeing the effects of Citizens United and its progeny.  As special interests continue to pour money into election campaigns, the cost of running for office continues to escalate, and those special interest dollars come at a steep price.  The interests want assurance that their money will be a good investment.  Whatever the interest, be it the Chamber of Commerce or a labor organization, they want to know that the candidate’s vote is “in the bag.”  If a candidate doesn’t feel comfortable pledging themselves to that special interest’s agenda, they’ll get no money, and no money, in most cases, means no campaign.  Hence elections are more and more becoming a battle between special interests, and the public interest gets left in the dust.

So, on to this June’s crop of candidates and ballot measures.

Let’s start with the ballot measures.  I always find a good place to start is the ballot arguments pro and con – not the subject matter, but who’s signing them.  That tells you what special interests have lined up on one side or another, and likely who paid to get the measure put on the ballot, one way or another.  So let’s get started.

Proposition 42Veterans Housing and Homeless Prevention Bond Act – This would authorize the state to issue $600 Million in General Obligation state bonds to fund “affordable multifamily supportive housing” specifically for veterans.  The bonds would presumably be used to build or rehabilitate multifamily rental housing for vets.  Why vets?  Well, lots of vets suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) as a result of being screwed up by the military. Often, they’re mentally ill and prone to substance abuse.  That usually means they either can’t or are unwilling to hold down a job.  How, then, are they going to pay the rent??  The bond gives preference to “supportive” housing, but that term is left pretty undefined.  Bear in mind that the cost of this program, like that of any general obligation bond, is borne by us, the taxpayers.

The measure is supported basically by veterans’ groups, who obviously have a vested interest is supporting their members.  My feeling about the measure is: 1)  Good try – screwed up people, whether veterans or not, need lots more help than they’re getting; 2) This proposal impresses me as being pretty ineffective at helping those needing help most; 3)  Who it will really help is the building trades unions, which are who probably pushed to get it on the ballot; 4)  Do we really need another poorly thought out bond measure to add to the state’s debt burden?  (I confess I am thinking about the $10 billion we voted in 2008 for high-speed rail, another poorly planned and even more poorly implemented bond measure.  At this point, I trust neither the Legislature not the courts to assure that the bonds we vote for do what they’re proposed to do.)  NO

Proposition 42Public Records. Open Meetings. State Reimbursement to Local Agencies. Legislative Constitutional Amendment.  This measure would amend the state constitution [WARNING – another constitutional amendment!] to protect the public’s right to have local agencies follow the California Public Records act and the Brown Act, BUT, it would also eliminate the requirement that the state reimburse local government for the cost of compliance.

This measure arose out of a fight in last year’s budget, when Governor Brown proposed to allow local government to not enforce the Public Records act or Brown Act.  The reason was because under the constitution, when the state forces local government to comply with a mandate costing money, it generally has to pick up the tab for that compliance.  Brown, wanting to reduce the budget, proposed to drop the mandate for Brown Act & Public Record Act compliance, and reduce the state budget accordingly.  Of course it didn’t hurt (for Brown) that he’s not a big fan of open government anyhow, so if local government dropped compliance, who cares?  Well, a lot of Californians did, and the measure was hastily dropped.

Now, the governor and legislature still want the state not to pay, so this measure shifts the cost to local government.  How will they pay it??  Good question.  With Prop 13, there are fewer and fewer local government funding sources.  What it mainly means is that it will get much more costly to get documents from local government.  Some local courts are already starting to charge $1 a page to copy, or even just download, court documents available on-line.Expect the costs to see agendas, minutes, etc. to skyrocket.

In my humble opinion, this is a bad “solution” to the problem.  It will further guarantee that government will only provide services for the 1%.  NO

Alameda County Measure AA – This would reauthorize a 1/2 cent county sales tax for local healthcare facilities, especially the county hospital system (Highland Hospital etc.)   Highland and the county healthcare system are crucial, especially given the large number of low-income uninsured and Medical patients in the county.  If this measure fails, we’re in serious trouble!  YES

Candidates:

Statewide Offices:

Governor – To my mind, this office, and almost all the statewide offices, highlight the problem we face in getting good, thoughtful, candidates to run for office.  While I like some things Jerry Brown has done as governor, I think he’s autocratic, insensitive to the public, and has got many of his priorities totally screwed up as he seeks to leave a “legacy” in his last term – notably in his high-speed rail and water tunnel projects, both of which will spend huge amounts of public money to not solve the real problems (inadequate state transportation policy and inadequate state water policy.  Both of these projects are largely driven by construction contractors and unions who see huge profits and large number of short-term union construction jobs.  This is a hell of a way to set government policy.

Unfortunately, the alternatives aren’t very attractive.  The Republican candidates all follow the mantra of saying let’s reduce taxes and eliminate all government regulation (and, by the way, make sure everybody can have all the guns they want) and everything will magically get better.  Can you say fantasyland?  The other candidates don’t seem to have realistic programs either.  My recommendation would be to vote for the Green Party candidate – Luis Rodriguez – as a protest.  (It doesn’t really matter who you vote for any more.  With the “top two” primary, Brown and the choice of reactionary Republican – probably Donnelly – will end up facing off in a “choose who is less disgusting to you” November run-off.)

Lieutenant Governor – This office currently makes very little sense.It would probably make sense to have this be an office appointed by the governor for the sole purpose of temporarily acting as interim governor when the governor is unavailable (e.g., out of state).  Again, it doesn’t really matter who you vote for, because in November it’ll be Newson vs. Nehring.  My protest vote choices?  Either Goodman (Green Party) or Korevaar (Independent Democrat)

Secretary of State – This race got a little more interesting when Leland Yee, the favored Democrat, got indicted.  I’m impressed by Cressman’s credentials as having worked on campaign finance issues with Common Cause and his open support to trying to overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling (although as Secretary of State, he can’t do what he claims and keep corporations from meddling in California politics, at least not without a federal constitutional amendment).  Cressman.

Controller – An obscure office.  One of its main characteristics is the controller is the state’s accountant and, theoretically, conducts audits (although there’s also a state auditor and a joint legislative audit committee.  Mostly, it’s who you sue when you want to sue the Legislature.  Betty Yee, one of two mainstream Democratic candidate, appears well-qualified, but I worry about her heavy set of labor union endorsements. Still, she’d be a far better choice that John Perez, a career Democratic politician. We might do better to have an outsider in this office.  Wells (Green Party)

Treasurer – This is the guy who signs the state’s checks.  He also makes the go-no go decision on issuing bonds and other major day-to-day state financial decisions.  The current controller, John Chiang, wants to move into this office.  If he does, expect status quo and no change.  I can’t recommend the Republican, however (who didn’t even put in a ballot statement).  Brown (Green Party)

Attorney General – The state’s top legal officer.  The AG prosecutes lawsuits (both civil and criminal) on behalf of the state, and conversely defends the state against lawsuits.  The AG also prepares legal opinions that provide guidance on interpreting state laws and writes ballot measure summaries for state ballot measures.  A very important office, but one that, in my humble opinion, has gotten way too political in recent years.  The current AG, Kamala Harris, epitomizes the problem.  She’s basically Jerry Brown’s mouthpiece (as the term was used in old gangster movies to refer to the mob boss’s attorney). I really can’t recommend any of the choices.  WRITE SOMEONE IN AS A PROTEST?

Insurance Commissioner – This is actually quite an important office.  The IC regulates insurance carriers in the state and enforces the requirements of Proposition 103, which dramatically changed California’s insurance laws and made the insurance commissioner an elected office.  The incumbent Dave Jones, appears to have been pretty effective in holding insurance companies to account.  Jones.

Board of Equalization, 2nd District – An obscure but important office.  The Board of Equalization oversees most tax collection (except income tax) and is the appellate board for disputes over income tax.  Sadly, there are only two candidates –  James Theis, a Republican who has no chance in this heavily-Democratic District, and Fiona Ma – a Democratic party hack whose performance in the legislature has been notably lackluster.  NO RECOMMENDATION.

U.S. Representative – The incumbent for the 13th District, Barbara Lee, has been a stalwart liberal, inheriting that mantle from Ron Dellums, on whose staff she served.  She’s been a strong voice against the Democratic Party’s status quo, for example, consistently voting against U.S. military intervention abroad and for reducing the military’s budget.  Lee.

State Assembly – Lots of candidates here.  My personal feeling is that the two “leading” candidates, Thurmond & Echols, are both in the pocket of public employee unions and would be rubber stamps for the Democratic legislative leadership.  (I do not consider either of those to be a positive attribute.)  The two candidates who’ve impressed me are Pamela Price and Sam Kang.  I slightly prefer Kang because he has courageously spoken out about the need to change Prop. 13 to make it fairer.  Kang

Alameda County Schools Superintendent – This office sounds more important than it is.  Most local school districts run their own affairs, but the county superintendent sometimes steps in on occasional issues, like authorizing charter schools, and is responsible for education in the county jails, a potentially important function for rehabilitation and reducing recidivism.  Given what the office is about, the two best qualified and most impressive candidates seem to be Jeff Bowser and Naomi Easton.  Of the two, Ms. Easton appears better qualified.  Easton

County Assessor, County Auditor/Clerk-Controller, District Attorney, Sheriff, and Treasurer/Tax Collector – Five important offices; all effectively uncontested.  (For Auditor/Clerk, Ms Kathleen Knox ran, but it turns out she doesn’t even live in the county, and has been indicted for violation of state election law.)  Thomsen, Manning, NO VOTE [D.A.], Ahern, White


More Thoughts on Money and Politics

November 7, 2012

I’ve written before on what a disaster the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case has been.  Yesterday’s election, and the campaign leading up to it, again emphasized how that decision has fundamentally changed and degraded the American political process.  While it’s true that in some cases a candidate or ballot measure won in spite of being badly outspent, I don’t think it shows that money has no influence.  To use a sports analogy, if I had gone into the boxing ring against Muhammed Ali when he was in his prime, and he started the fight with one hand tied behind his back, there is little question in my mind that he’d still win easily.  Likewise, when a candidate or ballot measure is so obviously superior, large amounts on money won’t necessarily save the inferior candidate or issue position.

This brings me to another analogy (also from sports) that I think shows clearly why Citizens United was wrongly decided.  We all know that Lance Armstrong was a great athlete.  We also now know that he used steroids to enhance his performance.  Whether he could have won his many championships without using steroids is, at this point, impossible to say.  However, I think virtually everyone would agree that for him to use steroids in a situation that gave him an unfair advantage was wrong.

I would suggest that allowing a candidate or political committee to raise, donate, or spend unlimited funds, and especially to allow that to happen without anyone knowing where that money is coming from is like allowing someone to go up to Lance Armstrong as he prepared for a race and inject him with a needle-full of lord knows what kind of drug.  That’s not allowed in sports, and it shouldn’t be allowed in politics.


What Obama Should’ve Said

October 4, 2012

OK.  So the commentators seem to be saying that Romney won last night’s debate.  I’m not so sure.  If he did, it’s only because Obama didn’t press him hard enough on things like how he’s going to reduce the deficit while making huge increases in military spending and dropping the tax rates on both corporations and high-income individuals.  I know, he says he’ll reduce loopholes and exemptions, but unless he’s talking about eliminating the mortgage interest deduction, state & local taxes deduction, and medical expense deductions [starts to sound like making the alternative minimum tax apply to everyone] it’s hard to see how he’ll get deficit reduction.

My big beef with Obama, though, was when Romney dinged him on his alternative energy program.  Obama just let it slide past, even after Romney poured fuel on the fire [so to speak] by talking about how he thinks the country should be burning more “clean coal’.  Never mind that the very idea of “clean coal” is almost a contradiction in terms (maybe not entirely, in terms of conventional air pollutants, although the technology is not anywhere close to there yet).  What Obama shudda, cudda come back with, though, was a strong defense of moving America’s energy production into the 21st century, rather than back to the 19th.  Oil and gas technology goes back to the dawn of the 20th century, and coal goes back to the 18th century.

In fact, if you think about it, burning coal is shamelessly wasteful.  Here we’ve got an enormous resource of almost pure carbon — the basic source of all organic chemicals, which includes many of the products we depend upon on a daily basis.  Right now, a lot of those compounds are made from petroleum, which we mostly import.  Wouldn’t it make sense to be putting our coal resources into manufacturing the organic compounds we now make from petroleum, and putting research dollars into how to do that efficiently, effectively, and economically, rather than burning it up into CO2 and atmospheric pollutants?

Wouldn’t it also make sense, given that climate change is real [why didn’t he challenge Romney on that!?] to push for new and better ways to produce energy, and save the carbon in coal for when we figure out how to use it in efficient forms of energy production like fuel cells (where we can perhaps capture and sequester any GHG products produced?)   Seems to me Obama missed a chance to show Romney up and put himself forward as someone who’s thinking about the future rather than the past.

But, what do I know?  I’m just an “average citizen”, not a spin doctor.


Environmental protection under attack – Again.

August 21, 2012

CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act, is California’s most important environmental statute.  It’s a “truth in lending act” for the environment.  It requires government to admit the environmental damage projects cause, AND look at reducing or avoiding that damage.  It also encourages public participation.  However, because CEQA violations invalidate project approvals, it is favorite punching bag for developers, business groups, and recently Governor Brown, who said he never saw a CEQA exemption he didn’t like.

In recent legislative sessions, a pattern has emerged.  As the session winds down, suddenly legislation appears to “reform” CEQA.  In 2008, then-governor Schwarzenegger pushed through a CEQA exemption for twelve Caltrans projects.  The next session, a developer got a CEQA exemption for an enormous Southern California stadium project.  Last session, another stadium got CEQA “streamlining.” Then, at the eleventh hour, the offer was expanded to a group of huge projects the governor (now Jerry Brown) would pick.

As the current legislative session ends, the same pattern is repeating with vengeance.  A coalition of business and development interests is proposing a bill, SB 317, to not just weaken, but eviscerate CEQA.  Pointing to the range of regulatory laws in effect, they argue that CEQA has outlived its usefulness and should be largely replaced by reliance on other environmental and planning laws.  This ignores a number of basic facts:  1) these same forces have, for the past forty years, fought, often successfully, to weaken the laws they claim make CEQA unnecessary; 2) state planning laws often exempt charter cities entirely, and defer to local decision makers, who, influenced by these same special interests, often make decisions at the expense of their own constituents; 3) only CEQA brings the searchlight of public scrutiny on environmental decision-making.  Most other environmental laws involve obscure bureaucrats with little incentive to require rigorous compliance. 

With our continuing economic doldrums, it is tempting to think weakening CEQA will result in more jobs, more economic activity, and a better future.  However, it’s worth remembering that 1) the more than 99% of CEQA projects get though without a hitch; 2) while CEQA lawsuits are rare, even rarer is a project halted or even greatly delayed, and 3) for every good project that might be somewhat delayed, many more unnecessarily environmentally damaging projects are either stopped or (far more often) revised and improved through the CEQA process.

There were good reasons why CEQA was created, and those reasons are still valid.  Before there was CEQA, public and private entities did lots of environmental damage because nobody asked tough questions.  From pesticides, to toxic mines and groundwater contamination, to smog, to the Cypress Structure, the litany of damage to California’s environment, and to society, that happened before CEQA is long.  And who do you suppose ends up bearing the cost for cleaning up those messes?  More often than not, it is the public purse, and taxpayers, who pick up the tab.  While other laws form an ever-more-fragile patchwork (much like our increasingly-frayed social “safety net”), only CEQA requires comprehensive environmental scrutiny, and only CEQA affirmatively involves the public.  If you feel CEQA is still important to protect California’s environment, and your pocketbook, now’s the time to let your legislators know!


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