DON’T PANIC!

November 9, 2016

OK, So the election is [almost] over, and at a national level, there are a lot of folks (by the latest results a [small] plurality of the nation’s voters) who are feeling everything from glum to despondent to suicidal — and with some reason perhaps.  Our country remains very sharply divided based on race, religion, culture, education, and income.  Each of those carries with it a portion of each person’s worldview, and those worldviews are sharply divergent.  Perhaps even more to the point, it is increasingly difficult to see how one brings those divergent views together into any sort of consensus that can move us – the collective us in the largest sense of all of humanity – to come together and take effective action on the pressing problems that demand our attention.

Those problems are numerous; ranging from climate change to income and wealth maldistribution to hunger, disease, (sounds a little bit like the four horsemen), war, crime, poverty, etc.  In this country, we have people who believe that we need to open our gates to immigrants fleeing war, oppression and poverty and those who believe we need to tightly secure those gates against the risk of terrorists and criminals.  We have those who believe that we need to let the free market loose from government shackles and those who believe those shackles need to be tightened far more to avoid the risk of another financial debacle.  We have those who believe Obamacare has helped millions of people to improve their healthcare and those who believe it is taking many Americans on a road to ruin, both financial and physical.

While the Republicans have now take control of both the Presidency and the Congress, they have not erased those divisions.  All you need to do is look at the electoral map of the country state-by-state, county-by-county, city-by-city, and even neighborhood-by-neighborhood to realize that the country is and will probably remain, at least for a while, very divided against itself.

Some of the checks and balances in our constitution have now be come less effective, but they have not disappeared.  The Republicans may “control” Congress, but they remain divided internally, as demonstrated by the many party leaders who divorced themselves from Donald Trump’s candidacy.  Whether they can unite behind a legislative agenda remains to be seen, as does the long-term effect of whatever legislation they succeed in getting enacted.  The Supreme Court remains, at least for the moment, a deterrent to any proposal that is so radical that it would violate the Constitution’s basic principles.  While Trump will probably appoint a conservative justice, that will only restore the tenuous balance that has been maintained for quite a while.  Even if that balance shifts to the right, it would not be the first time.  Under Reagan, the Rehnquist Court undid many of the precedents the Warren Court had set.  It did not, however, destroy the country.  Set it back, perhaps, but not destroy it.

There’s also the view that U.S. politics tends to “pendulum” over time.  Every time there’s a move to the left, there’s a countervailing move to the right, which is, again, followed by a move to the left.  We can’t predict right now how a Trump administration will work (or not), but chances are that two years from now at least some voters will be unhappy enough to want to change direction again.  Especially if Trump and his Republican allies succeed in their plans for tax and federal budget cuts, we may see ourselves moving into a major recession, which is likely to sour many voters on leaving the Republicans in charge.

In short, as the title of this blog post suggests, it’s not time to panic and start looking for another country to emigrate to.  Besides, there are few issues that respect national boundaries any more.  The economy, disease, and, of course, climate change, don’t stop at national boundaries.  If the U.S. is heading into a minefield, the rest of the world is close behind – or in some cases in front of us.  We’re just as likely to affect the direction humanity takes here as somewhere else.

So, I guess my take-home message in this post is perhaps best stated by paraphrasing alternative radio newscaster “Scoop” Nisker’s closing comment in his news reports:  If you don’t like the news, go out and do something to change it; and that can be something as simple as talking to your neighbors, friends, and relatives about your disagreements.


The November 2016 Ballot Measures – Part 1 – Statewide Measures

October 18, 2016

This is the first of several posts I’m going to do on the November general election.  There’s too much on the ballot to put it all in one, or even two posts.  Just in terms of statewide ballot measures, there are seventeen of them.  That may not be a record, (The most in recent history was 20 in November of 2000) but it’s still a lot to get your arms around.

My starting point in commenting on them will be the recommendation of the Courage Campaign, a generally “Progressive left”membership group in California.  (Membership is defined loosely – no dues or anything, just a willingness to call yourself a member and participate in occasional lobbying efforts and membership poll.)  They polled their members and came up with a set of recommendations on the measures.  I don’t always agree with them, but it’s as good a place to start as any (and probably better than either the official Republican or Democratic Party positions).  In case you’re wondering what other groups’ opinions are, the Courage Campaign has put together a compilation of recommendations.  Here‘s the link to it.

Here goes:

Proposition 51 – $9 billion bond to fix and upgrade CA school facilities — Courage’s position: Neutral.  My position, Oppose.  I have become more and more skeptical of bond measure as I’ve seen more and more of them get twisted out of shape from what the voters are promised.  The state constitution requires that bonds be spent on what the voters approved, but the courts have been notably lax in enforcing those requirements, so I have become much less trusting.  In this case, however, there are other problems as well.  The $9 billion dollars is to be given out on a “first come-first served” basis, which will tend to favor the well-financed and well-organized (i.e., wealthy) districts who can get their applications in quickly.  The measure doesn’t prioritize poorer districts or those with more pressing capital needs (e.g., districts with older, earthquake vulnerable building or with overcrowded facilities).  The measure also take pressure off developers to pay for the schools needed to service big residential projects they build.  They are making the profits; they ought to pay for the public improvements those projects require.
Proposition 52 – Make Hospital Fee Permanent to Pay for Healthcare Services — Courage’s position: Neutral.  My position, Support.  While ideally we ought to have a single-payer system where everyone gets the healthcare they need and we all pay for it collectively through taxes.  (Clinton and Trump both reject single-payer, but what do you expect of candidates raking in donations from the healthcare, pharmaceutical, and private insurance industries.)  Given that we aren’t going to single-payer any time soon, at least this will make sure the neediest people in our society get at least some healthcare.  Yes, hospitals will pass on the fee to their users, but until we go to single payer, it’s probably the best we can do.
Proposition 53 – “Stop Right-Wing Millionaire from Blocking Infrastructure Projects” [Courage Campaign’s description, not mine]. Courage’s position –  Oppose.  My position –  Support. Big public project can bring with them big problems.  Nationally, there was Boston’s “big dig.”  Here in California, we’ve had the new Bay Bridge project and the BART to airport projects (Oakland & SF), all of which have had large cost overruns and questionable results.  (Both BART project have turned out to be big money losers.)  The main thing motivating this measure is Jerry Brown’s twin tunnel “peripheral tunnel” proposal for shipping more water south.  Because Southern California agencies would pick up most of the tab, this wouldn’t require a general obligation bond [which would already have to go on the ballot], but a revenue bond, which currently doesn’t require voter approval.  This measure would require voter approval for such measures if the involve over $2 billion.  Given the Legislature’s (and local agencies’) untrustworthiness,  this  seems to me to be a good idea.  Also, what happens if the revenue doesn’t cover the costs, or if one of the agencies promising to pay goes belly up.  Who do you think will end up picking up the tab?  Us, the California taxpayers.
Proposition 54 – 72-Hour Publication of Bills Prior to Vote — Courage’s position – Neutral.  My position – Support.  Particularly near the end of the legislative session, the Legislature now often resorts to so-called “gut and amend” measures, which take a bill that has already passed one house, removes all of its substance, and quickly replaces it with something entirely different.  Such “end of session” bills are notorious for being approved, with the connivance of the legislative (Democratic) leadership and the Governor, with little opportunity for public scrutiny or comment.  IMHO, this is really bad public policy, and in the past has resulted in some really bad bills.  Yes, this would slow down the legislative process, and might keep some measures from getting enacted, but that, to me, is not necessarily a bad thing.
Proposition 55 – Extend the Tax on the Wealthy to Fund Education and Healthcare — Courage’s position – Support. My position – Support.  This again is a stop-gap measure.  As Bernie Sanders said repeatedly in his campaign, we all benefit from making quality education available to all, and healthcare ought to be a right, not a privilege.  In almost all other developed countries, it is.  Why not here, because moneyed special interests control the legislative process, both in Congress and the Legislature.  This measure isn’t really what we need, but it’s better than the alternative of not having funding at all.

Proposition 56 – $2 per pack tobacco tax.  Courage’s position – Support.  My position – Support.  Opponents of this measure label it a “nanny tax” – government using its tax powers to force us to do “what’s best for us.”  If it’s approved by the voters, this won’t be government telling us what to do; it’ll be us deciding what WE want to do.  I sympathize with people who’ve been sucked into tobacco addiction; and there’s absolutely no question it’s an addiction, just as much as heroin or cocaine; and far more than marijuana.  Problem is, it’s a really harmful addiction, and we, as a society, end up picking up much of the tab for dealing with its harmful results – heart disease, emphysema, cancers of all sort – you name it and whatever harmful medical condition you think of is probably either caused by or worsened by tobacco use.  At least the proceeds of this tax will help somewhat pay for all those costs, as well as help pay for programs to get people to kick the habit.  Big tobacco, of course, opposes this.  I can’t think of a better reason to support it.

Proposition 57 – Reform California’s Broken Parole and Juvenile Trial System [Courage Campaign’s label].  Courage’s position – Support.  My position – Support.  You should read up on the details of this measure.  How things are run now is the sad legacy of twenty years of “tough on crime” ballot measures that have left our prisons overflowing  with inmates, destroyed many thousands of people’s lives, and haven’t really worked in terms of reducing crime.  Californians have had a schizophrenic attitude towards crime – on the one hand wanting to “correct” bad behavior and on the other wanting to punish it.  Even with pets, it’s become clear that punishment isn’t a good way to teach behavior.  People are much more intelligent than pets (at least mostly) and all punishment does is build resentment.  Prisons ought to be a last-resort place to put people that we can’t prevent from harming others any other way.  This measure was really forced on us by the federal courts’ acknowledging that  California’s current way of running its prisons – overcrowding them and focusing on punishment – violated the 8th Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments.  We’ve had to be dragged kicking and screaming to this measure, but at least we’re there.  Much more needs to be done before our criminal justice system begins to bear any relation to justice and recognize the realities of what we’ve learned about correction in the past hundred years.

Proposition 58 – Repeal the ban on bilingual education.  Courage’s position – Support.  My position – Support.  We’re finally undoing some of the mischief done by the over-simplistic and ideologically motivated ballot measures of the ’80s and ’90s.  Remember “English Only”?  Supposedly, bilingual education let non-english speakers go through school without learning english, and “immersion” in english would be “tough love.”  It didn’t work.  All it did was further reduce non-english speakers’ motivation for staying in school.  Without bilingual education, many non-english speakers will get no education.  How does that help us as a society?

Proposition 59 – Overturn Citizens United.  Courage’s position – Support.  My position – Support.  For any of you who may have been asleep for the past few years, “Citizens United” was the name of a U.S. Supreme Court case where the court, by a 5-4 majority, decided that 1) corporations had a right of free speech, and 2) donating money to political campaigns was equivalent to free speech and therefore could not be regulated.  Since then, corporate control of our government has mushroomed even beyond where it was before, with “dark money” political committees able to raise unlimited funds from corporate sources while those contributions were hidden from public disclosure.  Is it any wonder that our two major presidential candidates are both almost totally beholden to Wall Street and other big-money interests?  Unfortunately, this measure does little more than register whether California’s voters are unhappy with the current situation.  It remains to be seen how much California’s congressional delegation will pay to the results.

Proposition 60 – Mandatory Condom Use in Adult Films. Courage’s position – Neutral.  My position – Support.  This has been one of the more controversial measures on the ballot, because it deals with California’s huge porn movie industry.  There are two issues here: 1) should California outlaw unsafe sex in porn movies as a public health measure, and 2) should California stop porn movies from showing, and thereby glamorizing, unsafe sex?  My answer to both questions is yes.  We’ve known for more that 20 years that sex without condoms can spread sexually transmitted disease.  Maybe if people were all totally monogamous, and only had sex with one person – ever – condoms would only be needed for birth control (but isn’t that a good enough reason in itself?), but porn movies more often than not portray casual sex which is exactly where condoms are most needed.  Yes, it’s true we show lots of stupid human behavior in movies.  How about we eliminate one of the stupider ones?

Proposition 61 – drug price ceiling in California.  Courage’s position – Support.  My position – Support.  This measure would cap the price California pays for state-supported drug purchases (e.g., MediCal) to the price paid by the Federal VA, which negotiates prices with drug companies and does a very good job of it.  Short of going to single-payer [strange how that keeps popping up] this is another way to at least get some handle on reining in the explosive increases in prescription drug prices.  Not surprisingly, many mainstream organizations, like the Democratic Party, that get lots of money from the pharmaceutical industry, don’t support this measure.  Also not surprisingly, the Sanders campaign’s successor group, Our Revolution, does.  So do I, for the same reasons.

Proposition 62 – Repeal the Death Penalty.  Courage’s position – Support.  My Position – Support.  Here we go again.For some reason, Californians still seem to believe that the death penalty somehow makes sense.  Nevermind that study after study shows that it has virtually no deterrent effect, and that states and countries that have abolished the death penalties have no higher rate of what California calls capital crimes than states and countries that still execute people.To me, though, the most convincing argument is that juries are not 100% accurate.  We’ve seen over and over cases where someone was convicted and sentenced to death, only to discover years later that they didn’t do the crime they were accused of.  It’s bad enough when they’ve spent years in prison.  What do you do when they’ve already been executed.  Saying, “Oops, we’re sorry,” is so inadequate as to be criminal in itself.  If California wants to call itself a civilized state, it must eliminate the death penalty.  NOW.

Proposition 63 – Increased state controls on guns and ammunition.  Courage’s position – Support.  My position – Support.  I don’t care what the NRA says.  While guns, by themselves, don’t kill people (at least not usually), people with guns and ammunition do.  As has been pointed out innumerable times, when private citizens have more guns, the amount of gun violence goes up, not down.  In my humble opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court made one of its stupider decisions (other than Citizens United) when it decided the right to bear arms applied to individual private citizens.  Well, since we’re stuck with that (and Citizens United) for the time being, at least this makes private gun ownership a little bit safer for those of us who aren’t NRA fanatics.

Proposition 64 – Legalized Marijuana use.  Courage’s position – Support.  My position – Support.  OK, so marijuana isn’t a totally harmless drug.  If you’ve been smoking wed, your probably shouldn’t be driving a car, or operating machinery; but it’s no more dangerous than drinking alcohol, and a lot less dangerous (and addictive) than smoking cigarettes.  The prohibition on marijuana use is a hold-over from the days when the state was considered responsible for regulating private morality – along with prohibiting alcohol consumption on the Sabbath and prohibiting public displays of affection.  Folks, this is not Iran, and we don’t need to have the government regulating private morality and creating victimless crimes that get people thrown in prison.

Proposition 65 and 67 – plastic bag fee versus repeal of plastic bag prohibition.  Courage’s position – Oppose 65; Support 67.  My position – Oppose 65; Support 67.  Both these ballot measures are the result of the financial power of the plastic bag industry.  It circulated and qualified a referendum [Prop. 67] of the Legislature’s prohibition on disposable plastic bag use (like in supermarkets) and then qualified its own initiative measure that would allow them but put a fee on them to go into a state fund.  All you need think about is the huge island of plastic, much of it plastic bags, floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  You can also think about the thousands of birds and sea creatures who die each year when they mistake plastic bags for sea creatures like jellyfish and choke on them.  also think about how much cleaner beaches and parks have gotten where disposable plastic bags have been eliminated.  We need to greatly reduce our use of plastic. Period.  It’s bad for the environment.  Yes, it’s regulating behavior, but so are many hundreds of laws that nobody complains about.  Regulating objectionable behavior is one thing government does.  Using plastic bags, unlike marijuana, isn’t victimless.  Ask a sea turtle that’s died from one.

Proposition 66 – Make the Death Penalty more “Efficient.”  Courage’s position – Oppose.  My position – Oppose.  As should be evident from my position of Proposition 62, I consider this proposition an embarrassing holdover from the years when Californian’s approach to crime was “lock ’em up” or “kill ’em.”  That approach didn’t work.  Making the death penalty more “efficient” – i.e., quicker to decide and carry out – will only increase the likelihood of mistakes.  I consider this measure little short of barbaric.  Hell, if we want to make the system more “efficient,” how about when someone’s accused of a crime, they’re immediately brought before a judge, who flips a coin.  Heads you’re innocent, tails you’re guilty.  That’s efficient, but it’s sure not justice.

 

Next post will deal with local ballot measures.  Third post will deal with candidate.

 


November 2016 Election – Part 3 Candidates

October 23, 2016

So, if you’ve already read Parts 1 and 2, you know my thought about all the ballot measures.  (If not, maybe you ought to go back and read them.)  This post discusses the various political candidates on the ballot – at least on my ballot.  I’ll make a few comments about candidates not on my ballot, but I tend to go with Voltaire’s closing comment in Candide, “Let us take care of our [own] garden.”

Starting at the top, and working down to more local races.

U.S. President. – Californians have the luxury of having four choices on the ballot, plus the opportunity for a write-in vote.  Most of the attention has focused on the two major party candidates, Hillary Clinton [D] and Donald Trump [R], but there are also Jill Stein [G] and Gary Johnson [L].  If you’ve read some of my other posts, you’re probably already aware that I’m not a big fan of either Clinton or Trump.  From what I’ve seen of the various polls (which i do tend to follow), a lot of folks share my feelings.  Clinton and Trump have the highest unpopularity and untrustworthy ratings of any major candidates in recent history.

Again, if you’ve read my posts from earlier presidential elections, you’re probably aware that I’m a believer in #Ivins’Rule – named for the late great Molly Ivins of Texas.  More recently, it’s also been dubbed, #strategicvoting.  The basic idea is that you don’t vote in a vacuum, but in the context of your state’s situation in the Electoral College, which is what actually chooses the president (at least in most years).  Except for Nebraska and Maine, which break things down by congressional districts, each state’s electoral college votes are a “winner takes all” contest.  Whichever candidate gets the plurality of the statewide vote is awarded all of that state’s electoral college votes.  (Actually, that party’s electoral party delegate are chosen, which still leaves to potential for an “unfaithful delegate” to  vote contrary to the popular vote.)  What Ivins’ Rule says is that you wait until the late polling is available – like maybe a week before election day – and see what they day about your state.  If a candidate has a lead of more than five points at that point, they’re going to win regardless of your vote, so you can feel free to vote for whomever you want.  If it’s closer than that, your vote might actually matter, so you should limit your preference to the two [or potentially more] candidates that have a real shot at winning.

Here in California, Hillary Clinton is a runaway favorite to carry the state – only Hawaii and the District of Columbia give Clinton a wider margin.  As far as actual policies go, my favorite by far is Jill Stein of the Green Party.  Her platform is very close to what Bernie Sanders had proposed.  (Indeed, she even offered him the vice presidential slot on her ticket, which he probably wisely refused.)  Can she win?  No way.  However, if she rolls up credible vote counts in some states, it will send a message that the policies she espouses have some backing among the voting public.  If she wins one or more counties or congressional districts, there may even be a push for some in Congress to claim a mandate for her policies (if they’re so inclined).

Why not the others?  While Trumps’ policies are, in a few areas, better than those of the average Republican candidate (e.g., trade agreements), he still represents the Republicans’ racist, elitist, and ultra-capitalist policies, which can truly be called nineteenth century.  As for Clinton, while she’s perhaps a bit more liberal that her husband, both of them represent the neo-liberal center-left establishment policies that have dominated the Democratic Party since the end of World War II.  As such, her policies attempt to prop up the semi-monopolistic capitalist crony policies that run the U.S. and many other Western governments (e.g., particularly Germany).  In this country, those policies have led to, as Bernie Sanders pointed out, the biggest gap between the rich and poor since the Great Depression.  Worldwide, they reflect attempts to maintain the hegemony of multinational corporate titans and crush any attempt at populist revolts (as in Greece and Iceland).  While Hillary pays lip-service to a concern for climate change, she, like Governor Jerry Brown, will not push the kind of needed reforms – like a nationwide revenue-neutral carbon tax – that are needed to truly reduce the world’s greenhouse gas production and prevent a global catastrophe.  She’s also opposed to making healthcare and public education through college a right to which all citizens are entitled.  Most European, and even non-European developed countries, already recognize those rights.  She’s also been a staunch supporter of “free-trade,” which is basically a code word for allowing the multinational corporations to continue to rake in profits at the expense of the world’s workforce.  As for the Libertarians, while their platform looks better than Trump’s in some ways, it’s still skewed in favor of corporate interests and against the poor.

U.S. Senate – No preference.  With California’s “top two” primary system, we no longer even have the option of writing in someone.  We’re stuck with the two front-runners, even if they’re both Democrats and don’t differ all that much.  That’s the case here (IMHO).  We’ve got two very much “mainstream” Democrats – one perhaps a bit to the right of the other – but neither is going to venture into the areas where, for example, a Bernie Sanders would go.  That’s too bad.  California’s voters deserve better choices.  I’m leaving my ballot blank here in protest.

U.S. House – I have the luxury of living in Barbara Lee’s District.  Perhaps the only thing I begrudge her is that she was unwilling to endorse Bernie Sanders.  I can understand it, though.  If she had, she probably wouldn’t have been picked for the party’s platform committee, and I suspect it was her influence that helped get many Bernie’s programs included in the platform.

CA State Senate – Under the top two, our choice is between two liberal Democratic former assembly members, Nancy Skinner and Sandré Swanson.  Nancy came out of Berkeley’s BCA and is aligned with Tom Bates.  Sandré came out of Oakland and is aligned with Ron Dellums and Barbara Lee (for whom he worked).  I am concerned about some of the company Nancy keeps, particularly with the building trades unions – not the most progressive element of the Democratic Party.  My choice is Sandré.

CA State Assembly – As with Barbara Lee,the choice here is clear.  Tony Thurmond has generally been a good representative of his district, and deserves re-election.

Superior Court Judge – as I have often said before, I don’t believe the public generally knows enough about judges and their work to make an informed choice, so i don’t believe judges should be elected.  In this case, however, on of the candidates is really more a politician than anything else.  Barbara Thomas served on the Alameda City Council and is presumably hoping her popularity there will get her elected.  I was not impressed with her as a city council member, nor was I impressed with her judicial temperament.  Her opponent, Scott Jackson, has an impressive background of public and community service and seems better suited as a judge for Alameda County’s diverse community.

Peralta Community College District – The current trustee, Cy Gulassa, is retiring.  I know Cy well and think he did a good job.  He has endorsed Karen Weinstein to succeed him.  She’s had a lot of relevant experience.  While her opponent, Nick Resnick, is a teacher, he hasn’t been associated with Peralta, and his candidate statement is short on specifics.  I’m going with the more experienced candidate, Ms. Weinstein.

AC TRANSIT BOARD

There are two seats up in our area – Ward 2 and at-large.  I know both incumbents, Chris Peeples and Greg Harper, quite well.  Both take their position very seriously and are very knowledgeable about AC Transit.  While they don’t always agree, that’s to be expected with the complicated decisions the District faces.  Nevertheless, I believe they both deserve re-election, and nothing said by their opponents convinces me otherwise.

BART Board – District 3 – BART is an important regional transit agency, but one that has struck me as having a pretty incompetent board.  Rebecca Saltzman was elected four years ago with a background of transit advocacy and a platform of reform.  I haven’t seen much happening since in the way of reform.  BART still seems focused on expansion, with proposals for expansion to Livermore and Brentwood as well as the ongoing and VERY expensive push down to San Jose (which essentially duplicates Amtrak service).  BART has a $3.5 billion bond measure on the ballot, supposedly for repairing and upgrading its existing system.  The bond language, however, includes a key groups of wiggle words – “acquisition of real property,” that could be used for expenditures for system expansion.  I’m very uncomfortable with that, and while Ms. Saltzman trumpets a “fix it first” policy, it’s not clear what that means in terms of the still-planned BART expansions, which I consider ill-conceived money losers (like the two airport extensions).  On the other hand, her chief opponent, Ken Chew, seems no better, and, based on his endorsements, perhaps even worse in terms of emphasizing support from the areas of future BART expansion.  To say the least, I’m not comfortable with either choice.

Of the other two less visible candidates, neither has a lot of experience or a lot of campaign resources.  Worth Freeman seems to talk in generalities.  One doesn’t get the sense that he’s gotten his arms around BART’s problems.  Varun Paul appear to have a better grasp, and seems more focused on addressing the dissatisfaction with how BART [doesn’t] work now.  My first choice based on best candidate is Varun Paul.  In terms of practical expectation of getting elected, it’s Rebecca Saltzman, with major reservations based on my discomfort over many of her positions.

East Bay Regional Park District – Ward 2 – The longtime incumbent for this seat, John Sutter, is retiring from the board, and there are four candidates to replace him: Dee Rosario, a retired Regional Park Supervisor; John Roberts, a banking regulator; Ken Fickett, an entrepreneur; and Audree V. Jones-Taylor, a retired City of Oakland Park Director.  All four have backgrounds of involvements with parks.  Two appear to be from East of the hills (Roberts and Fickett) and two from West of the hills.   My personal concern is that areas west of the hills seem to get short-changed in park services.  Thus I limit myself to Rosario and Jones-Taylor.  Both have a long history of management of park lands.  They type of lands differ, though.  Jones-Taylor managed City of Oakland Parks, which tend to be focused more on the recreational than the wildlife and conservation side.  That leans me more to Mr. Rosario.He managed Redwood Regional Park, which is one of the most successful Oakland area regional parks, and appears to me to have been well-run.  Frankly, probably any of the four would probably work out OK (although I have my concerns about Mr. Roberts’ involvement with mountain biking – a problematic activity on EBRPD trails), but I plan to vote for Mr. Rosario, based on his long experience with regional parks and his endorsement by the Sierra Club, which knows the regional parks and their problems well.

OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL

At-Large Seat – With four candidates running against the incumbent, Rebecca Kaplan, and with ranked choice voting in play, this is a complicated election.  Of the five, there are three I’d rule out immediately.

  • Bruce Quan’s main qualification appears to be that he convinced Chinese investors to salvage the Brooklyn Basin luxury housing project after its developer, Signature Properties, appeared to get into financial trouble from overextending itself.  Built next to the 880 Freeway without good transit access, this has always seemed an ill-conceived and doomed project.  Saving it, to me, is hardly something to trumpet.  His policy positions are all mom & apple pie, with no details.
  • Nancy Sidebotham is a perennial city council candidate.  She’s never won, and for good reasons.  Here policy positions tend to favor not spending money and a naive belief that the free market can solve Oakland’s problems.  She’s opposed to the soda tax (which I support), she says dealing with the homeless in Oakland should fall entirely on Alameda County, when obviously these are Oakland residents (even if they don’t have a permanent address).  She has refused to support the police commission measure (LL), although she’s waffling on this issue.  She strikes me as a reactionary person in the literal sense of someone who reacts against things, rather than approaching issues positively and creatively.
  • Peggy Moore is a former aide to Mayor Libby Schaaf, and it appears she was recruited by the Mayor to run against Rebecca Kaplan, whom the Mayor perceives (perhaps correctly) as a threat to her hegemony over city government.  Her positions again tend to be mom & apple pie, and focus on improving communication, rather that addressing real city issues.  She comes across as someone who loves to talk, rather than act.

That leaves two candidate whom I think merit serious consideration:  Rebecca Kaplan and Matt Hummel.

  • Matt Hummel – the current chair of the City’s cannabis commission, has progressive positions on city issues, and correctly recognizes that the holder of the at-large seat needs to view the entire city, rather than any one district, and should take responsibility for seeing that groups that aren’t otherwise being listened to have someone hear them out and potentially be their spokesperson on the council.  He supports the police commission measure and feels that the homeless need to have attention paid to their needs.  Nevertheless, I have concerns about his lack of experience.  He’s my second choice for the at-large seat.
  • Rebecca Kaplan, the incumbent, is running for re-election to the at-large seat.  She is generally seen as one of the leaders of the progressive “wing” of the council, along with Dan Kalb and Noel Gallo.  She has taken the lead on a number of important policy initiatives, including addressing the city’s housing shortage and setting up the citizens’ police commission.  When she first got on the council, I was somewhat put off by her ambitions, especially when she then ran for mayor.  At this point, she is  running for her third term as at-large member, and her ambition is now matched by her experience.  In my opinion, while she can sometimes be abrasive, she’s one of the most effective council member, which is presumably why the Mayor has supported one of her opponents.  She’s my first choice for this seat.

District One – There are two candidates for this seat:  Dan Kalb, the incumbent after his first four-year term, and Kevin Corbett, a probate attorney with his office in San Leandro.  The two are in stark contrast on their issue positions.  Dan Kalb helped put the police commission measure on the ballot, while Kevin Corbett opposes the measure and feels the Mayor should continue to have total control over the police department.  Dan Kalb also helped write and put on the ballot the renter protection measure, while Mr. Corbett also opposes this measure and believes that market forces should be allowed to set rental prices.  He also opposes the City infrastructure bond measure, saying that higher efficiency is all we need to solve Oakland’s monetary problems.  To me, this seems a glib and oversimplistic answer.  Maybe Oakland’s administration could be made better and more efficient, but that’s the Mayor’s and the City Administrator’s jobs, not that of the City Council, which sets policy, rather than superintend the City’s day-to-day operations.  His answer to the City’s housing shortage is let the market build housing wherever and however much it wants, with no direct intervention and nothing to make that housing more affordable.  To be blunt, he appears a throwback to the Republican ideology of firty years ago that believed that the market would solve all of our problems.  I, for one, think that’s a fairy tale.  While I don’t always agree with Dan, and often wish he would be more forceful (like Ms. Kaplan is), he’s by far the better choice.  Dan Kalb first choice; no second choice.

OAKLAND UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT BOARD

District One – This seat also has two candidates:  Jody London, the incumbent after her first term, and Don Macleay, an OUSD parent and Green Party activist (he has previously run for Mayor and for the District 1 council seat).  Ms. London deserves credit for having taken office with the City just having recovered from bankruptcy and state receivership and having to rebuild its financial and educational credibility.  The school district has now largely recovered financially, but is still struggling educationally.  In particular, the district has trouble retaining students, both because the drop out and because the move to charter or private schools.  as district enrollment drops, so does its revenue and available resources, and the board doesn’t seem to have been able to reverse this drain.

Don Macleay promises to focus on this problem, and promises to gather community input on how the District can better meet student needs.  He also wants to see the District restore some of its practically oriented courses, including shop and civic education, that were cut as the District fell into financial disrepair.  I am concerned that Jody London has too much of a complacent attitude about the District’s current status.  To me, the District appears to be still in somewhat of a crisis, and business as usual isn’t enough.  I plan to vote for Mr. Macleay.

Oakland City Attorney – there is only one candidate for this important office, the incumbent, Barbara Parker.  While she’s held the office for quite a while, I cannot say that I have been overly impressed with her expertise.  It would have been nice if someone had run against her, if only to spark some debate.  I plan to write in Dan Seigel, the former attorney for OUSD and a well-known Oakland attorney.

 


November 2016 Ballot Measures – Part 2, Local Ballot Measures

October 20, 2016

This is Part 2 of my blog’s coverage of the November 8 2016 general election. If you are looking for my comments on the statewide ballot measures, you should look here.  My candidate comments will be posted in Part 3.

A cautionary note – these comments will be most applicable if you live in Oakland, California, although parts will also apply if you live in larger parts of the S.F. Bay area.  I’m going to start with the broader measures and then drill down to the more local one.

I’d previously put up a link to a site that gave various “progressive” groups’ recommendations on statewide measures.  There aren’t as many groups endorsing on local measures, but both the League of Women Voters (Oakland and more general) and KQED have website devoted to giving the pros and cons of local measures, as well as information on all election candidates.  If you’re not interested in reading through the 200 page voter information guide (plus sample ballot, for local contests) these sites are good places to start in figuring out what to do with you ballot choices.  Just a caution that if the give you your ballot choices by some zip code, some zip codes overlap several jurisdictions, so you may see candidates and measures that won’t be on your ballot.  If in doubt, consult your sample ballot.  There are a few sites that have made local ballot recommendations.  One of the more comprehensive is the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, a left-leaning Oakland/Berkeley Democratic Club.  It’s recommendations can be found here.  I’m not going to give local newspaper recommendations, because IMHO in these days of corporate control of the news media, their best use is for wrapping dead fish – and you can’t even do that with the electronic versions.

So, ready or not, off we go!

Measure RR – $3.5 billion of bonds for acquisition and improvement of property.  I’m really conflicted on this.  As I’ve stated earlier on the statewide measures, bond measures have become a particularly manipulative way for public agencies to get taxpayer money to finance whatever they want to do.  In theory, they can only use the bonds as they’ve promised the voters, but agencies (and perhaps particularly BART) have gotten very adept at writing bond measures so the money can be used for practically anything they want.  [caveat – Bonds cannot be used to pay ongoing expenses or salaries – with certain exceptions.  Those types of expenses have to be paid for by taxes or assessments – typically either special assessments or parcel taxes.]

There’s no question BART has big problems.  I get e-mail notifications whenever BART has service problems, and these days I typically get four or five a day.  Often, it’s an announcement of a delay due to an equipment problem; either on a train, on the track, or with switching equipment.  This reflects the fact that BART has failed woefully in keeping its system updated.  as they acknowledge in their argument for this bond, a lot of their electrical equipment hasn’t been updated since the system was built in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  In addition, the system is, frankly, poorly designed.  Unlike the New York, Chicago, or Boston subways, there’s no redundancy.  One central trunk line carries most trains and a problem in a key station (e.g., West Oakland or Oakland 12th St. City Center) can foul up most of the system.)  That’s a failure of foresight from back when the system was designed.  You can blame it on the Bay Area Council, which pushed the system through as a way to shuttle commuters between the suburbs and Downtown San Francisco – then the hub for Bay Area businesses.

Meanwhile, over the years, BART has put through multiple expansion problems, most of which have continued that same suburbs to SF logic and have sucked up many billions of dollars on lines that come nowhere near paying for themselves while filling up the central trunk line’s capacity for trains.  The system still continues this same now-ridiculous logic, proposing further expansions to Brentwood and Livermore, plus a duplicative expansion from Fremont to San Jose.  The $3.5 billion in this bond contains NO restrictions on how it can be used.  Yes, it COULD update BART’s outdated equipment and trackage, but it could also purchase property for future expansion right-of-way.

We’re stuck with a Hobson’s choice.  Approve the bond and risk pouring more money down the drain for expansions to satisfy suburban voters, or turn it down and suffer with a system where breakdowns have already become a daily occurrence.  A very reluctant Yes.

Measure C1 – Extends $8 per month ($96 per year) parcel tax for 20 years, raising about $30 million per year, or a total of $6 billion.  Like BART, AC Transit is a victim of lack of imagination, as well as the Bay Area’s overall backwards thinking.  AC Transit arose from the corpse of failed private transit providers (chiefly the Key System).  These systems were begun by real estate developers to serve their suburban projects.  They weren’t intended to make money, and in the long run, they didn’t.  Further, the Bay Area’s transit system resembles 19th century Italy or Germany – a hodgepodge of tiny fiefdoms without an overall plan.  In theory, MTC ought to unify them, but it doesn’t, because its members are appointed by local fiefdoms as well, and reflect the dominance of automotive travel in California.  You’d think we’d learn from looking abroad (or even at NYC or Boston) that a seamless, unified transit system works better and more efficiently.  It hasn’t happened, and it wont as long as transit is the stepchild of local government.

Nevertheless, AC Transit does serve an essential function, especially for those who by choice or necessity don’t have a car.  The Bay Area is badly in need of an overhaul of its transit system, but I sure don’t see that happening any time soon.  This measure is a stopgap measure, but necessary to keep the wolves at bay.  Another reluctant Yes.

Measure A1 – County Affordable Housing Bond – $580 million for acquisition/improvement of real property.  Again, bonds are often problematic, and with the problems this county, and the Bay Area, face with housing price escalation, this – and much more – is needed.

Ultimately, our housing crisis won’t be solved until we acknowledge the linkage between jobs and housing.  The Bay Area Council and other business groups (especially the Silicon Valley Leadership Group – AKA Silicon Valley Manufacturers Group) continue to push job growth as the savior of the Bay Area economy.  What they really mean is the savior of their multi-billion dollar companies their multi-billion dollar fortunes.  Meanwhile they bring in thousands of new employees who then use their inflated salaries to displace existing residents.  To be blunt, we can’t build ourselves out of this mess unless we demand linkage between job growth and housing growth, and insist that those creating jobs (and their cities) take some responsibility for providing the housing those new workers will need.

As it is, this measure is just a drop in the bucket, but it’s better than nothing.  Yet another reluctant Yes.

OAKLAND MEASURES

Measure HH – 1 cent per ounce “soda tax”.  This would levy a tax on sugar-added drinks (but not for pure fruit juice drinks or diet beverages).  Yes, you can call it a “sin tax,” or more accurately, perhaps, a health tax.  At this point, it’s almost as hard to ignore the connection between sugary drinks, obesity, and diabetes as it is between cigarettes, lung cancer, and emphysema.  We tax the latter, why not the former?  Why not, because the manufacturers and distributors of those drinks, like those of tobacco products, don’t want us to.  That’s who’s behind the opposition to this measure, who deceptively call it a “grocery tax.”  Vote Yes.

Measure II – extends maximum lease term for public property from 60 to 99 years.  What’s this about?  The rationale is that the City can get better deals from private leasees if it offers a longer lease, and will be better able to insist on higher-cost improvements because the leasee gets a longer payback time on their investment.  On the other hand, this means a bad deal will last longer.  (Think the Colosseum Raiders deal.)  There are arguments both ways, and if my trust level in Oakland’s government were higher I might support it.   No.

Measure JJ – Extends renter protections from properties built before 1980 to those built before 1995 (the year state law changed prohibiting renter protections on housing built after that date).  With Oakland’s current housing crisis, this is a necessary, but not sufficient, response.  (See my comments on Measure A1.)  Anyone opposing this is either ignorant, obtuse, or a landlord.  Yes.

Measure KK – Public Works $600 million bond measure – We know that Oakland’s infrastructure is failing, and we need affordable housing, and this promises both.  Again, I have strong reservations about open-ended bond measures such as this one, which will ultimately have to be paid back by us taxpayers.  I’d feel better about it if I had more trust in how Oakland spends its money.  Still, there are quite a few good project happening around Oakland, and if we want a better city, we need to be willing to pay for it.  Yet another reluctant Yes.

Measure LL – Oakland Civilian Police Commission.  This measure could be stronger.  I’d have liked it better if the Mayor didn’t have a strong (but not totally controlling) hand in its appointment, but to my mind, it’s absolutely essential.  The support for this measure given by Council Members Kalb and Gallo explains the Police Officers Association’s hit pieces attacking them.  Frankly, OPD’s internal discipline system has been so sabotaged by contract provisions inserted by the POA.  This reform is long overdue and necessary if we citizens are ever going to develop trust in out city’s police department.  YES, YES, YES!

Measure G1 – Oakland Unified School District $120 per year parcel tax.  OUSD put this measure on the ballot to provide additional funds for school teacher salaries and to enhance various school programs.  There are disputes about how the money gets distributed, but teachers deserve better pay and our public schools need more resources generally.  It’d be better if this could come from property taxes, which are less regressive, but you can thank Prop. 13 for eliminating that option.  Yes.


The Revolution will not be Televised

March 17, 2016

According to the establishment media, Bernie Sanders’ campaign is done, kaput, finito.  There’s nothing left to do but have him pack up his bags and head off to Hillary’s coronation.  To this I say, “Not so fast.”  From the beginning, Bernie has been clear in saying that this is not about a Presidential campaign.  This is about starting a political revolution to take back the United States Government from the billionaires and special interests who now control it.

It goes almost without saying that revolutions are neither fast nor easy.  Those who claim otherwise are either ignorant or liars.  Even the U.S. Revolution, which was short in time-frame as revolutions go, took far longer than from 1776 to 1781, the time in which open declared warfare between the U.S. and Britain was happening.  The Boston Massacre, the first recognized bloodshed of the revolution, was in 1770.  The Townshend Acts, which gave rise to the revolutionary slogan, “No taxation without representation,” had been put in place two years earlier.

The Chinese Revolution, led by, among others, Mao Zedung and Zhou Enlai, lasted at least from 1934 (the Long March) to eventual military victory in 1949, but the Communist Party of China had actually begun in 1921.  In India, Gandhi returned from South Africa in 1915, but India did not gain its independence until 1950.  Other countries such as France and England have undergone repeated revolutions, each of which dramatically changed control of the country.

While Bernie may not be envisioning revolutionary troops storming the barricades of Washington DC, he is looking to ignite a mass movement on a scale not seen in this country since the New Deal of the 1930s.  A movement like that, while it may be catalyzed by an individual, will only have staying power if it can expand beyond any one person to become focused on a vision that is being pursued.

In Bernie’s case, that vision involves reversing many years of gradual domination of America’s political process by wealthy individuals and even wealthier corporations.  (One can argue that from its very beginning, the U.S. Government has been dominated by the well-to-do, but the proportion of people with control over the government has been greatly reduced with the rise of mega-corporations and a large billionaire class.)  It also involves reasserting the Rooseveltian ideal that Government exists to protect the interests of the common people, not the wealthy.

The establishment was shocked when Bernie’s campaign actually gained traction and began attracting not only large crowds, but lots and lots of small donations and volunteers, particularly among the youth of the country.  Not since Gene McCarthy’s “children’s crusade” of 1968 had there been such an outpouring of political activity from college campuses (as well as from the “millenials” not in college).  The combination of anger and idealism was something U.S. political parties were not used to.

Now, a combination of a series of primaries in conservative Southern states on “Super Tuesday,” followed by primaries in somewhat less conservative, but still not liberal, Midwestern states, has splashed cold water on those “feeling the Bern.”  The message the establishment news media are sending is, “It’s all over now.  Better give up on Bernie and get behind Hillary.”  If this is truly going to be a political revolution, the answer needs to be a resounding, “No Thanks!”

The Primaries and Caucuses are still important.  First, it’s not yet clear that Bernie can no longer win the nomination.  However, even if that were the case, convention delegates can still influence the party platform.   Even more importantly, it’s not just the presidency that’s at stake in November.  There are Congressional elections as well as elections for state legislatures and local offices.  All of these can be foci for demands that power return to the common people.  Even if Hillary, Trump, or someone else other than Bernie is elected president, a political revolution with staying power could begin to grab the reins of power away from the corporate elite that currently runs things.

The first thing to do, however, is to stop letting the corporate media brainwash us and control our minds.  As local radio newscaster Scoop Nisker  used to say, “If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own!”


Why the Supreme Court Majority, in Misinterpreting the Second Amendment, has Violated the Canons of Statutory Construction

June 19, 2015

A well regulated Militia, being essential to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  U.S. Constitution, Amendment II [1791]

That’s the Second Amendment, one of ten included in James Madison’s proposed first thirteen amendments to the Constitution. Ten of those thirteen were fairly promptly ratified and became the “Bill of Rights”. They are rightfully thought of as a bulwark against the over-expansion of the strong central government that Hamilton had pushed for, and specifically protections for the individual against the power of the federal government (and, since the ratification of the 14th Amendment, against the power of state and local governments).

The U.S. Supreme Court’s current conservative majority has taken the Second Amendment in this context, and has focused on its second half, “…the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” In doing so, however, that majority has violated a central canon of statutory construction – that a statute (or constitutional provision) be interpreted to give meaning to every word of the statute.

The first half of the Second Amendment, “A well regulated Militia, being essential to the security of a free State,” can be seen as a preamble, or perhaps more precisely as a context for the second half. Another rule of statutory construction is that the words of a statute should not be read in isolation, but in context. Here, the context of the second half of the amendment is protecting “a well regulated militia” and its function of protecting “the security of a free State.”

In other words, the right to keep and bear arms is protected so that the people of the United States can continue to have “a well regulated militia”. Again, keeping the context in mind, in 1789 (or 1791) there was no standing federal army. An army was raised as the need arose. In the meantime, there were local and state militias – what we would now call paramilitary organizations, or perhaps militias as the term is used in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.

So, in that context, the right of “the people” to keep and bear arms is not an individual right, but a right of the people as organized into militias. Further, those militias were intended to be, “well organized”. Indeed, that was supposed to be the central purpose of having the right to keep and bear arms. A militia needs training and discipline if it was going to function well to protect the security of a free State. (And again, this should be taken in the context of a document written ten years after a prolonged war against what was then the central government, and fought largely by local and state militias organized under General George Washington.)

Bringing those concepts into the 21st Century, the right to keep and bear arms does not protect an individual’s right to own and carry guns (or sabers, or hand grenades).  Rather, it protect the right of the people, organized into well regulated groups intended to protect the security of a free State.

What do such organized militias include? Well, obviously they include the National Guard, as state militias have come to be known, and their members. They also include state and local police forces, which are intended to “protect the security of a free State.” They could also include well regulated local, state or national groups organized to protect the security of a free State. Could that include so-called “self defense” groups? Maybe. Right-wing paramilitary groups? Questionable. Groups of gun-toting skinheads or neonazis? Probably not. The Ku Klux Klan? I don’t think so.  They certainly don’t include individual citizens who aren’t part of a “well organized militia”, and certainly not the millions of deranged individuals and criminals who now, thanks to the majority of the U.S. Supreme Court, claim the right to keep and bear [and use?] arms.

Those on the Supreme Court (and I am thinking specifically of Justice Scalia) who strongly espouse strict constructionism and original intent in interpreting the Constitution, appear to have been lured by ideological predilections into straying from their self-chosen narrow path by broadening the meaning of the Second Amendment. Perhaps, in the context of the Charleston Massacre, it’s finally time they reconsider.


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.


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


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.


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