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.


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 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.

 


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


What Obama Should’ve Said

October 4, 2012

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

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

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

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

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


November 2012 Election Comments

October 4, 2012

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

President

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

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

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

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

U.S. Senator

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

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

U.S. Representative

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

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

State Senate

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

State Assembly

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

State Ballot Measures

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

So. Rant finished.  Now on to the specifics:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local Candidates

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

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

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

Oakland District One Council member:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The other candidates:

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

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

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

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

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

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


My June ballot election recommendations

May 28, 2012

I’m afraid I’ve been neglecting my blog of late – too much work.  However, several people have pointed out to me that there’s an election happening, and at least one or two people like to know my comments and recommendations before they vote.  (That’s not to say they follow my recommendations.  They just like to know them. For all I know, they may turn around and do the exact opposite!

So, for what it’s worth, here’s my two cents on the June ballot:

Presidential primary — what’s to say?  It’s already decided.  Let’s just move on.  We’ll come back to this
before the November election.

U.S. Senate — Well, this is the first time we’ve had all the candidates on one ballot.  Kinda interesting.  Lots of Republicans, a few Democrats, two Peace and Freedom, and one American Independent and one Libertarian.   I confess to knowing very little about most of the candidates.  I do note that most of the Republicans are businessmen/women.  I guess that kinda figures.  I’m not particularly thrilled with Feinstein, but it probably won’t make much difference; she’ll win by a landslide anyhow.  Just for the heck of it, you might try voting for Marsha Feinland, one of the Peace & Freedom candidates.  I think this is her third or fourth time running against Feinstein, so at least she’s got a bit of experience at being a candidate.

U.S. Representative — In the 13th Congressional District, where I am, there’s no real contest.  Barbara Lee has voted the way I would have on almost every issue, and has been one of the leaders in trying to get us extricated from Afghanistan.  Would that there were more like her.  Speaking of which, if you live in Pete Stark’s district, please vote for him.  He’s been a stalwart supporter of good things like single-payer healthcare and an opponent of military spending for years and years.  Yes, he’s getting older, but his votes still work for me.

For State Senator, Loni Hancock is running unopposed, as is Nancy Skinner for State Assembly.  Loni has been fighting the good fight for many years, so I can’t complain about her being unopposed.  Nancy Skinner, on the other hand has, in my opinion, been much less impressive.  However, since she’s unopposed, your only other option is to leave her space blank.  (A write-in wouldn’t count.)

For County Supervisor, in my district, District Five, there’s again no contest.  Keith Carson is running unopposed.  Being county supervisor in the current economic climate is no fun, so I don’t begrudge Keith his seat.

Finally, we do have one local contested race — Alameda County Superior Court Judge.  This is nonpartisan, and there’s no incumbent, so you’ve basically got three attorneys who want to be a judge.  I don’t know any of the three, and have only their  candidate statements to go on.  Based on that, however, I’d choose Andrew Wiener.  His emphasis on trying to reduce the adversarial atmosphere of the courtroom and promote negotiated settlements is, to my mind, a very worthwhile one.

Last, but certainly not least, there are the ballot measures.  There are two statewide measures, 28 and 29, and one local measure, a $48 per year parcel tax for the community college district.

Proposition 28 would modify the state term limit law by reducing the maximum [lifetime] allowance from 14 years to 12 but allowing those 12 to be served in either house, by the candidate’s preference.  I have never been a fan of term limits.  As a lawyer who deals with state laws, I’ve seen a definite decline in the quality of legislation since term limits were enacted.  What do you expect?  By the time you figure out how to write good laws, you’re termed out.  At least with this proposal, you could spend your years in one house and perhaps learn it better.  YES

Proposition 29 would put a $1 a pack additional state tax on cigarettes.  The No campaign is being funded almost entirely by the tobacco industry.  Now there is an evil empire!  The only [legitimate] thing that can be said against this measure is it may increase the amount of illegally sold cigarettes in the state, and perhaps in that way contribute to organized crime.  However, there’s more than enough money to be made selling other drugs, so I don’t think that’s a big concern.  Other than that, if the higher prices deter a few people from smoking, so much the better.  It is  sad, however, how many poor, uneducated people are smokers.  😦      YES

Measure B – $48 per year parcel tax to help fund Peralta Community College District.  This community college district has had more than its share of scandals, but whose fault is that?  Ours.  After all, we elect its governing board.  If they don’t do a good job, we ought to run better people for office.  All that having been said, Thanks to the recession and Prop. 13, the District, like all other public educational institutions, is strapped for funds.  The community colleges are especially important because this is about the only place left where working class kids can get an education beyond high school.  (That’s a sad commentary on the state of California’s once glorious higher education system!)  YES.


Ballot Measure Brain Teasers

November 3, 2010

Here’s a brain teaser for you — try to find a consistent frame of reference that makes sense of all the California ballot measure results from yesterday’s election.  It’s not easy.

Some parts fit together pretty well.  Propositions 22 and 26 are part of a consistent pattern of California voters asking government to keep its hands out of our wallets unless they ask nicely and we say yes.  Prop. 22 keeps state government (meaning the legislature) from taking money away from local jurisdictions to help balance the state budget.  It was sold as protecting local government resources.  As I noted in a previous post, the unmentioned major beneficiary will be redevelopment agencies.  I wonder why the no on 22 campaign didn’t play that up more.  I find it hard to believe, in between their taking money away from other local agencies and being able to exercise eminent domain to take property away from citizens, that voters have a warm spot in their heart for redevelopment agencies. [That’s not to say that they never do anything worthwhile.  To give them their due, for example, Emeryville’s redevelopment agency has had a big hand in transforming that city from truckyards and factories into a retail powerhouse.]  Prop. 26 also makes it harder for the state (or local agencies, for that matter) to collect money in the form of fees.  The complaint was that there were fees being created that were really taxes, and it was a subterfuge to get around Prop. 13 and Prop. 218’s voter approval requirements.  So now most fees will ALSO require a 2/3 popular vote.  The defeat of Prop. 21 also fits with the “keep your hand out of my friggin’ wallet” attitude of California voters.  Interestingly, for both this and Prop. 26, the Bay Area’s attitudes differed from the rest of the state’s.  Here’s a link to the voting map for prop 21 on the Secretary of State’s website:  http://vote.sos.ca.gov/maps/ballot-measures/21/  .  We in the Bay Area are apparently a bit more willing to pay the fare when it comes to government services.

This might all seem consistent, but at the same time voters also adopted Prop. 25, which eliminates the 2/3 majority requirement to pass the state budget.  Thus it’ll now be easier for the legislature to pass a budget, but harder for them to have it survive the laugh test of, “So where are you going to find the revenue to make this budget balance?”  Look for many more applications of smoke and mirrors to produce a “balanced” budget in the future.  Also look for the state budget deficit to continue to grow, since Californians seem to think they can have all the services they want without having to pay for them.

Props 20 and 27, like props 21,22, and 26, but unlike prop 25, also showed voters’ distrust of the legislature.  In 2008, the voters narrowly passed prop 11, taking legislative redistricting out of the (self-interested) hands  of the legislature and putting it into the hands of an independent “citizens’ commission”.  This year, the legislature tried to convince voters that they should reverse the decision.  No such luck.  In fact, the voters turned around and took congressional redistricting out of the legislature’s hands as well.  Perhaps, with the exception of prop 25, the theme might be that the legislature is not to be trusted with doing much of anything right.  Arguably, even prop 25 could be said to reflect that attitude.  i.e., “OK, you don’t seem to be able to handle passing a budget with a 2/3 majority.  We’ll make it easy for you — just get something out with a simple majority; and if you can’t handle that, we’ll take away your pay because you clearly aren’t earning it!”

Then we’ve got two “lifestyle” initiatives.  Prop 19, that would’ve legalized recreational marijuana use, and prop 23, which would have suspended the state’s global warming law. 

On the former, early polls seemed to show voter approval, but two things appeared to turn the tide.  First were a bunch of articles pointing to flaws in the initiative’s language that would result in litigation and unintended consequences.  Second was the U.S. Attorney General’s public announcement that he didn’t care what California did; he was still going to have MJ users, growers, sellers, etc. arrested and thrown in prison under federal narcotics laws.  This could, perhaps, have stirred up a states’ rights oriented state like Alaska or Mississippi to say, “Oh yeah?  We’ll see about that!  See you in court!”  But …  California is not a big states’ rights bastion, and with law enforcement groups up and down the state saying it was a bad idea, the voters apparently had second thoughts.

Prop 23 was a different story.  For one thing, Californians have long liked to think of themselves as being an environmentally conscious group.  After all, we have Yosemite, the redwoods, the sequoias, Lake Tahoe, etc.  We were also one of the first states to block offshore oil drilling after the big Santa Barbara oil spill, and Californians have bought more hybrid vehicles, not only in toto but on a per capita basis, than any other state.  So it only stands to reason that, having passed landmark legislation to try to curb global warming, Californians would not readily turn around and say, “Oops, we made a mistake.  Let’s put that law in the deep freeze for twenty years or so until it gets REALLY hot.”  It also didn’t help that it came out very early (thanks to California’s campaign finance disclosure laws) that almost all the money financing prop 23 was coming from out-of-state oil companies.  Hey, what the heck, they were in Oklahoma or inland areas of Texas.  It wasn’t their coastline that was going to disappear under water as sea levels rose.  Bottom line, Californians decided they didn’t believe the oil companies (who have, of course, tremendous credibility already — almost as good as Enron’s).

One thing that still leaves me scratching my head is that in spite of what appears to be a set of almost Tea Party-like attitudes  about government spending, Californians still elected an entire set of Democratic state office holders.  Like I said at the start of this post, sometimes it’s hard to come up with a consistent frame of reference for California voters.


Democratic Self-destruction

November 2, 2010

There will, of course, be pundits by the dozens attempting to dissect today’s election results.  Obviously, a large segment of the American public was not happy with the Democrats’ record over the past two years.  Obviously also, Obama’s mantra that the Republicans drove the economy into the ditch and now they’re complaining about us trying to pull it back out didn’t really wash (or, at least, not on a national level).  What went wrong? and can the Democrats do better over the next two years?

My personal opinion is that the Democrats’ majority in Congress was really a ticking time bomb that finally blew up today.  Ever since the 1992 election, Democrats have attempted to win over “red” states by running candidates who were slightly less conservative than their Republican opponents.  The tactic was at least somewhat successful, so the Democrats had, until today, nominally impressive majorities in both the House and Senate.  However, many of those nominally-Democratic seats were held by profoundly conservative people; people who had little use for the agenda of  more liberal Democrats, and voted at least as often with the Republicans, especially on key legislation.   As a result, given the unified opposition of the Republicans, Obama and the Democratic Congressional leadership were forced to repeatedly water down their legislative initiatives in order to capture enough votes in their own party to get the legislation passed.

It is, to my mind, only poetic justice that some of the victims in today’s rout of the Democratic party were the very conservative Democrats who were most effective in obstructing Obama’s legislative agenda.  Democrats like Blanche Lincoln lost, even though  they fought against Obama at almost every turn, because why would conservative red state voters choose someone who looked like a Republican when they could, instead, vote for someone who was a Republican?

Of course, with the shift in the House majority, we’re going to have, as in 1948 with Harry Truman’s presidential campaign, a “do-nothing” Congress.  While the Republicans will control the House, they will probably not gain control of the Senate.  More importantly, the Democrats will have sufficient reliable votes in the Senate to maintain a filibuster and block Republican legislation.  Even more importantly still, Republicans will have nowhere near enough votes in the House or Senate to override the vetoes that Obama will almost certainly use against any conservative legislation the Republicans might happen to be able to push through.

If the Republicans were inclined to look for bipartisan “deals”, they might still be able to put through a watered-down Republican program, as happened during Clinton’s second term on issues such as welfare and tax reform.  However, the Republicans have themselves been pushed to the right by their Tea Party wing.  As a result, I would expect no compromises and that almost no substantive legislation will make it into law over the next two years.

At that point, what happens next will depend on what the effects of a stalled legislative agenda are, and who gets blamed for it.  If Obama is lucky, the legislation he pushed through in the last two years will have some positive effects, enough that people will start looking back on the 2008-2010 years as a time when some good things happened.  Meanwhile, if, as most economists seem to predict, the U.S. economy remains in the doldrums until 2012, Obama may be able to blame that stalled economy on the “do-nothing Congress” and run a re-election campaign based on letting Obama be Obama again by giving him the Congress he needs to do something.

If, on the other hand, the economy recovers without any further help, that may bolster the Republicans’ argument that government intervention was unnecessary and support a push to further “unleash” American capitalism by electing an anti-regulation president — dare I say, like Sarah Palin.  While I’m not an economist, I find it hard to believe that a rudderless American economy will do anything but bob around helplessly for the next two years while other countries with more effective legislative programs steam on ahead.  However, only time will tell.


Election Day!!!

November 2, 2010

If you’re looking at this on November 2nd, you’re probably looking for advice on how to deal with your ballot.  I’ve put up several posts with my recommendations and comments.  (However, they won’t help you very much unless you vote in California.)  Please go down through my posts until you find those of interest to you.  They start below continue from there.  Here are links (in chronological order) if you want to get there fast.  The titles are mostly self-explanatory:

https://stuflash.wordpress.com/2010/09/11/first-comments-on-the-november-election-proposition-22/

https://stuflash.wordpress.com/2010/10/01/more-on-the-november-ballot/ — statewide ballot measures

https://stuflash.wordpress.com/2010/10/14/november-election-last-installment/ — candidate recommendations

https://stuflash.wordpress.com/2010/10/15/on-the-oakland-mayoral-race/

https://stuflash.wordpress.com/2010/10/15/thoughts-on-local-ballot-measures/


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