Of Climate Change, Tipping Points, Paris, and Trump

June 4, 2017

The news about climate change these days is anything but good – at least if you’re rooting on the side of the long-term survival of species, ecosystems, and human civilization.  President Trump has announced that the U.S. Government will be rescinding its acceptance of the Paris Accords, which had committed the U.S. to making steep reductions in its Greenhouse Gas (“GHG”) emissions over the next ten years.  The quick analysis by climate scientists is that the loss of that commitment would mean a 0.2-0.3 degree Celsius increase in the 50-year worldwide average temperature rise – from about 3.5 degrees to 3.7 or 3.8 degrees.  When one considers that, in order to avoid drastic consequences, most climate scientists figure that a 1.5 degree increase is all that can be tolerated without major repercussions, It means we’re all that much deeper in hot water (so-to-speak).

Interestingly, Trump did not say the U.S. would ignore climate change.  Instead, he said that the U.S. commitment was a bad deal for us, compared to what other countries had committed to, and he wanted to see something fairer.  To some extent, that’s a supportable position.

The Paris Accords were the result of a desperate last-ditch effort by the international community to avoid having to admit abject failure in addressing human-caused world climate change.  Previous efforts had either been ineffectual or run aground on disagreements between nations with differing national interests.  This time, rather than face failure, the world community opted to accept a “lowest common denominator” – something pretty meaningless that at least everyone could agree upon.  The result was a voluntary agreement, with no real teeth, that allowed each country to decide for itself what it was willing to commit to.  In some cases, like the U.S., the E.U. countries, and China, those commitments were fairly impressive – not good enough to reach the 1.5 degree goal, but at least a significant reduction in GHG production compared to staying with the status quo. In other cases, notably India, the promised effort was little more than eyewash – a token effort that promised little if any reduction in GHG production.

It’s interesting, and perhaps significant, that one of the two countries not to sign the accords, Nicaragua, did so not because the Agreement was too strong, but because it was so weak as to be practically meaningless.  (Nicaragua, by the way, is already way ahead of most countries in lowering its GHG production.)  To the extent the U.S. was committing to major reductions in GHG production while some other countries’ commitments were so minimal as to be laughable, Trump might have had a point, if he had demanded, as a condition for the U.S. staying in, that there be a minimum threshold of GHG emissions reductions to which all signatory countries would have to commit.  That would have been a principled statement, and might have actually gotten at least some other countries to follow suit.

Instead, however, he put the U.S. withdrawal in the context of the narrow self-interests of U.S. businesses that might be put at a disadvantage compared to companies based, for example, in India.  That’s neither an enlightened or principled position.  If other countries were to follow Trump’s example, the Agreement would very quickly collapse.

What are the repercussions’ of President Trump’s decision?  Well, to begin with, pulling out of the Paris accords is not simply a matter of tearing up a document.  Withdrawing from the Paris Accords, like Brexit, is a complicated multi-year process.  There is plenty of time for second thoughts, in addition to the 2018 Congressional elections and the 2020 Presidential election, before the U.S.’s exit becomes final.  Meanwhile, if Trump is serious about caring about climate change and the environment (which  he still claims to be), he ought to be pushing the U.S. forward on efforts at addressing climate change that don’t put U.S. businesses at a serious disadvantage.  (Yes, there are such things, like putting a serious effort into developing cost-effective carbon sequestration methods.)

All that having been said, the worldwide temperatures are continuing to creep up, year by year.  Some time in the not-very-distant future, they’ll very likely pass the 1.5 degree increase that scientists are warning about.  What happens then?

Well, the Paris Accord negotiators were well-aware that the agreement they had reached wouldn’t get the world to where it needed to be on climate change.  However, the agreement included a requirements that the commitment made be revisited every five years.  The negotiators expected that in five years, the effect of climate change would be more evident, indisputable, and severe; and disregarding them would be less politically acceptable.  As a result, the reasoning was that five years down the road, the commitments would become more meaningful, and perhaps the worst effect could still be avoided.

However, climate scientists have warned that at some point, we will reach a “tipping point” in climate change.  As average temperatures continue to rise, there are numerous effects that will, in themselves, increase the rate of GHG emissions.  In cybernetics, this is called a positive feedback loop.  With public address audio systems, the result is the squeal you hear when a microphone is placed too near a loudspeaker.

Right now, the earth has natural mechanisms for sequestering – i.e., keeping out of the atmosphere – GHG.  For example, the ocean’s waters contain vast amounts of dissolved carbon dioxide (or technically, carbonic acid).  Further, as the atmospheric CO2 concentration rises, more of it gets dissolved.  However, as water warms, its ability to hold dissolved CO2 decreases.  Thus, as the oceans warm, along with the rest of the planet, they’ll release a huge amount of dissolved CO2 into the air.  Similarly, as the permafrost – permanently frozen ground in the vast arctic tundra of Russia and Canada – warms, there is a huge amount of methane, generated from decayed prehistoric vegetable matter, that will likewise get released.  This happened before, at the end of the Permian geological era, and resulted in a sharp temperature increase.  Accompanying that was a huge mass extinction that eradicated a majority of then-existing life on earth.  (This is shown in the fossil records from that time.)

Another way in which climate change is likely to affect sequestration is that vegetation is continually removing CO2 from the atmosphere and converting it to organic matter through photosynthesis.  While a lot of this matter later decays – re-releasing the sequestered CO2, trees sequester massive amounts of CO2 as wood.  A lot of this happens in tropical rain forests, located near the equator.  However, as global temperatures keep rising, some parts of the Earth’s equatorial area will become too hot for rain forest trees.  Those trees will die, and then rot.  Not only will sequestration decrease, but lots of sequestered CO2 will be released.

Yet another damaging positive feedback loop is already being seen in the melting of the arctic sea ice.  The two polar icecaps are vast areas of white snow and ice.  They reflect back into the atmosphere most of the sunlight that reaches them, meaning that the radiant heat carried by that sunlight goes back out into space.  Even with the current level of global warming, more and more of the north polar icecap is melting in the summer months, exposing the much darker seawater underneath.  That exposed seawater absorbs far more of the heat from sunlight, increasing the warming of the Arctic Ocean, which, in turn, further accelerates the melting of the polar icecap.  The result of this cycle could soon be the total loss of the north polar icecap, with more warming and a huge increase in sea level.

At the South Pole, warming will also mean the melting of polar ice, which will expose the bare rock of Antarctica.  Again, the result will be much more absorption of solar radiation, faster global warming, and more sea level rise.

Add all these feedback loops together, and at some point climate change will reach a “tipping point” – a point where temperature increases begin to accelerate.  Once we reach that point, it will matter very little whether humanity has started making more serious efforts to reduce its GHG emissions, or even to sequester some existing emissions.  It may well be “game over” for human civilization, and for many of the Earth’s plant and animal species.

Even after the tipping point, humans might be able, using drastic means, to reverse the course of climate change.  Some people have proposed that we begin to engage in “geoengineering” – intentionally attempting to influence the Earth’s climate by, for example, putting large amount of reflective material into the polar upper atmosphere to replace the icecaps’ reflective effect.  That, however, would come with its own huge risks.  We would, in essence, be “playing God” with our own planet.  We would be doing, however, without, the omniscience and  omnipotence by which God would avoid unintended consequences.  Moreover, the Earth is not like a computer game.  There is no “Reset” button to punch if a particular experiment goes awry.  It would be a “game” we’d be playing “for keeps,” and with all the planet’s life at stake.


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 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!”


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.


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.


The spook in the White House

July 12, 2009

Revealed!  There was a spook in the White House!!!  No, it wasn’t the ghost of Abraham Lincoln, nor that of his ten year old son, William Lincoln, who died in the White House in 1862.  Nor was it any of the other U.S. Presidents who died in office.  This spook is still alive and very much kicking.

As revealed this week, former Vice President Dick Cheney was instrumental in establishing a secret spying program in the CIA, and then hiding it from Congress.  Here’s an article on the program and Cheney’s role.

Of course, this news is not a big surprise to those of us who’ve gotten to know Cheney’s ways over the eight years when he pulled the strings on W’s puppet regime.  It all goes along with Bush-Cheney’s conception of the “imperial presidency”, where supposedly the Constitution granted the President (and, in his stead, the Vice President) plenary power to do whatever the hell they wanted to the country.

Doesn’t fit with your understanding of what the Constitution says?  No problem.  The Bush Jr./Bush Sr./ Reagan  majority on the Supreme Court stands ready, willing, and able to show you how to read it properly.  (Of course, George W & Co. didn’t quite get the chance to finish the job right in terms of the Court’s membership.  Those darned liberal justices were unwilling to retire or die quickly enough to pump up Bush’s majority position.  So now Cheney is  stuck with only wishy-washy some-time 5-4 majority to defend his actions, depending on how Justice Kennedy happens to feel on the issue.)

No matter.  The Bushes picked a bunch of young and healthy reactionaries to fill their court slots, so come 2012 when Sarah Palin sashays into the White House, she’ll certainly be able to complete the task.  (Of course, Palin’s landslide victory would come along with veto-proof Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, easily able to confirm anyone short of Adolph Hitler.)

In the meantime, wouldn’t it be nice if Cheney could be indicted, prosecuted, convicted, and sentence so at leas he’d spend a few days in a federal prison contemplating his illegal actions before Sarah Palin grants him (and George W.) a full pardon?


Post-election thoughts on Obama, Prop. 8, etc.

November 8, 2008

As the euphoria of America having elected a black president starts to wear off, it is, perhaps, time to look at some of the details of last Tuesday’s election.  Here are some points to ponder:

  • Obama took clear majorities of the various non-white ethnic groups.  According to exit polling, he got roughly 95% of the black vote, over 2/3 of the hispanic vote, over 60% of the asian vote, and over two thirds of the “other minorities” vote.  voter preference by racial/ethnic identity
  • The converse of this is that McCain got 55% of the white vote.  Does this prove that whites are still racists?  Not exactly.  For one thing, 43% of white voters were ready to vote for a black president.  (The 2% difference reflects minor candidates.)  Further, not all those who voted for McCain were voting against Obama.  There are a lot of Republicans who would have supported a black Republican against a white Democrat (or a black conservative against a white liberal).  Nevertheless, it suggests that those who rejoiced that “America has finally turned the page on racism” may have been premature in breaking out the champagne.
  • Obama won handily in urban areas, split the vote in the suburbs, and lost heavily in most rural areas.  The red state/blue state dicotomy was probably an oversimplification, but there is definitely a major cultural gap in this country.  The gap also reflects itself in other voter breakdowns:  Obama won much more heavily among better educated voters; McCain won heavily among evangelical voters and opponents of abortion and gay rights; Obama won heavily among younger voters, while McCain did best among voters over age 65.  As has been noted, another generational change is underway, one perhaps of comparable significance to the generation gap of the 1960s.  I think it’s significant that McCain did best among those who were “pre-boomers”.  There was also somewhat of a dip in support for Obama among “Gen-Xers” as opposed to those born earlier and later.  Perhaps this is a long-term legacy of the Reagan years?
  • In addition to the other gaps, the gender gap is back.  Obama won handily among females, McCain did similarly well among males (especially white males).  This is not something new, and probably reflects as much as anything the greater conservatism of male voters compared to females.  Why that is?  Your guess is as good as mine.  Can one make the equation testosterone = conservatism?  (But what about Ayn Rand? Karl Marx? Margaret Thatcher? etc.)

Beyond the presidental race, the number one item here in California was the narrow victory of Proposition 8.  Huge amounts of money were spent for and against the measure.  Predictably, a lot of the pro money came from religious groups, primarily Catholics and Mormons; a lot of the anti money came from groups supporting gays and gay rights.

In the aftermath, there’s already talk of a follow-up initiative to reverse Prop. 8.  Certainly, Prop.8’s victory was narrow, and the polling seems to indicate a steady growth of tolerance towards the idea of gay marriage.  Nevertheless, I’d suggest that rather than a direct reversal, a modification might be far more successful.  Consider this, if you will, a potential example of the dialectic approach to politics.  (Thesis = Cal Supremes OK gay marriage; Antithesis = Prop. 8; Synthesis = new ballot measure.)  Another way of looking at it is an analogy to physics:  when two forces are directly opposed to one another, they tend to cancel each other out.  If, however, one force is exerted at an angle to the other force, a shift in direction occurs, and the resulting force can be considerably stronger than if the two forces were directly opposed.

Perhaps the single most important factor in Prop. 8’s victory was its support among religious groups.  Among other things, proponents claimed that churches unwilling to perform gay marriages might lose their tax-exempt status.  Also, conservative Christians felt that the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing gay marriage demeaned the value of their own religion-based marriages.

I would suggest that an interesting approach would be to simply differentiate between civil and religious marriages.  We already have both kinds.  Why not simply define civil marriage as the only kind of marriage given legal recognition in California and require that civil marriage be available to any two consenting adults?  Religions could put whatever restrictions they wanted on religious marriages in their own church; such marriages would have no legal effect.  (Naturally, this would mean that people getting a religious marriage would also need to have the marriage validated as a civil marriage.  That ought to be a simple matter to put into the new law.  Also, all existing marriages would be grandfathered in as valid civil marriages.)

By clearly distinguishing between civil and religious marriage, and specifying that California law only recognizes the former, such a measure ought to side-step most religious opposition.  No church would be required to perform, or even recognize, gay marriages.  If a gay person didn’t like being in such a church, they’d be welcome to join a different church.  (Why any gay person would want to belong to such a church is a mystery to me).  However, in accordance with the recent supreme court decision, California civil society would not differentiate based on sexual orientation in deciding who could gain the benefits of a civil marriage.

One other suggestion I’ve seen offered is to have the new initiative also take “marriage education” out of the public school curriculum.  Sex education, including education about sexual orientation, would stay in (subject to parents’ ability to opt-out for their kids).  High school education about California government would also include explaining how civil marriage works, including its being open to all.  This would address the “scary” thought (at least to some parents) of second graders being taught about gay marriage.  (Parents would still be free to teach whatever they wanted to about marriage within their own home or church.)

Seems to me a ballot measure incorporating these elements would be hard for anyone, even a Mormon, to oppose.  Maybe I’m wrong, but then maybe I’ve underestimated the extent to which support of Prop. 8 was motivated by sheer prejudice, rather than rationally supported position.  This would certainly tell us what the motivating forces were.


Thoughts on the November 2008 Election (Oakland, CA edition)

October 17, 2008
The following is the text of an e-mail I just sent out to semi-local (i.e. Californian) friends and relatives.  It gives my thoughts on the California ballot.  If you’re not a Californian, most of it probably won’t be of much interest (although I am not such an elitist as to think California’s problems are unique to the state).  If you do live in, as our Gouvernator might call it, “Khaleefohrneyah”, please read on.
————————————————————
Well, my absentee ballot came in the mail yesterday, so that must mean it’s time for my periodic rant about the election ballot.  As always, let me start with my usual statement.  I try to only sent this out to people I think would want to receive it.  If I made a mistake in including you on the recipient list, please let me know and I’ll try to see that you’re not included in the future.
 
Second, since this is going out to people living in a variety of different places in California, I’m hitting the statewide measure more than local stuff.  If I haven’t covered something local in your area, more likely than not it means I don’t know enough about it to feel I’ve got something worth saying (and to modify a quote from Bambi, “If you can’t say something worth saying, don’t say nothin’ at all.”)  Nevertheless, if I haven’t covered something you’re interested in, you can shoot me back an e-mail or give me a call, and I’ll let you know if I’ve got anything that I think is worth telling you.  So, without further ado, on with the show:
 
State ballot measures:
 
As usual, there’s lots of fun for all ages here.  (Well, maybe not for the under two crew, but you can always fingerpaint on the ballot pamphlet.)  As time goes on, I get more and more chary about signing initiative petitions.  I always start by asking who the sponsor is, and if the circulator doesn’t know or gives me a BS answer, I won’t sign.  I wish more people would do that.  There’s a huge amount of money wasted pro and con on ballot measure campaigns, and we Californians have only ourselves to blame for some of the worst things to happen in our state.  (At least I don’t have to blame myself for Prop. 13 — I didn’t live here yet.)
 
Prop 1A  — No.  As some of you may know, I’m not entirely neutral on this, but I probably know more about this issue than 98% of Californians, having represented a coalition of environmental and transportation groups fighting the current high speed rail authority board for the past five years.  I certainly think high speed rail would, in the long term, be a good thing for the state.  However, now isn’t the time and this isn’t the way.  With the state’s huge deficit and budget problems, taking on $10 Billion in bond debt as only a down-payment doesn’t make sense to me.  Further, over the past five years of watching the High Speed Rail Authority, I’ve become convinced that this is the gang that couldn’t shoot straight, except when it comes to political patronage.  This project has become an enormous boondoggle that will benefit San Jose at the expense of the rest of the state.  It’s hardly a coincidence that the proposed system centers on Diridon Station in San Jose.  Ron Diridon, the Authority’s past chair, and Quentin Kopp, its current chair, are, just in themselves, two very good reasons to vote down this bond measure.  Sad to say, probably the best thing to be done with the current project and Authority is to throw them both out and start over.
 
Prop 2 — This is one of a number of measures that’s got good arguments on both sides.  There’s little question that we can and should do better in treating the animals that are grown for food.  However, the measure’s opponents note that since this only affects California, there’s a good likelihood that its passage will just move the offending operations to other states, without helping animals and losing lots of California jobs in the process.  However, on balance I think this is a place where California can move things forward.  If we vote this in, I think other states will follow — Yes.
 
Prop. 3 — How can you be against childrens’ hospitals?  Well, when we don’t have the money to spend, that’s how.  This is one of several bond measures that, in better times, I might have favored.  Not now.  Perhaps if it was limited to funding earthquake retrofit work, I’d support it, but the range of allowable spending is way too broad to support in the state’s current financial condition — No.
 
Prop. 4 — NO, NO, NO — The religious right makes another try at taking down abortion rights in California.  They’ve given up on the frontal attack, so now they try to nibble in from the sides.  If you have any connection to teen-aged girls, you should already know this measure is a really bad idea.  The one thing most pregnant teens — especially those under 16 — generally don’t want to do is to tell their parents about it and get a huge, long lecture.  This is a recipe for a lot of unwanted kids to get born.
 
Prop. 5 — This one’s a hard one for me.  I’ve voted for the previous decriminalization initiatives, but it’s not clear how well they’re working yet.  It is clear that a lot of the criminal activity that goes on in places like Oakland is linked to drugs (that and gangs, which often, in turn, are linked to drugs).  As the short arguments pro point out, taking drug treatment out of the criminal justice system could save us a bundle in prison costs, and there’s little question that throwing people into prison only changes their behavior for the time they’re incarcerated, and even then, only to the extend that they’re limited as to who they can rob.  Clearly, solving society’s drug addiction problem is an enormous task that the current “correctional” system hardly touches.  Will this do better?  I don’t know, and doing it by initiative makes it very hard to make “mid-course corrections”.  By the time of the next initiative, I may switch sides, but for the moment, still mark me down for Yes.
 
Pro. 6 — No.  This one’s a lot easier for me to deal with.  Throwing people into jail doesn’t usually solve much.  Hiring more police doesn’t solve that much either.  (Bear in mind this is a statewide measure — how much of that money do you think would ever get to Oakland or Berkeley?)  They’re both band-aid approaches to deep-rooted societal problems.  Especially with money being as tight as it is in the state budget, and this measure not generating any revenue, just spending it, I think the answer has to be no.
 
Prop. 7 — initially, I thought this sounded like a good idea.  Then I read through the Union of Concerned Scientists’ analysis of what it does, and concluded that this is another one of those ballot measures that sounds good when you first hear about it, but looks worse and worse the deeper you dig into it.  The rigidity of the measure is problematic.  What if a public power entity is having trouble meeting the goals due to funding shortfalls?  Do they have to close up and transfer their customers to PG&E?  Could PG&E even handle the extra load without a big rate increase?  Why can’t we rely on the public to press public power entities to do the right thing?  Again, the rigidity of the initiative process for this kind of planning seems inappropriate.  No.
 
Prop. 8 — No, No, No — Another right wing attack on California’s “Godless liberal culture”.  Thank you very much, but I think each of us, as an adult, can make decisions about how to run our own lives, so long as other people aren’t being hurt.  Aha! say the right-wingers, but what about if they have kids?  Well, what about it?  I know any number of gay and lesbian couples who are raising kids, and for the most part they appear to be doing at least as good a job of it as the heterosexual couples I know (perhaps better!).  I think it’s highly ironic that the right wing seems to want to keep government out of our lives, except when it comes to the bedroom.
 
Prop. 9 –No — Sounds innocuous.  Why not allow crime victims to have input into the decisions affecting the perpetrator?  But don’t they already have a lot of opportunities for input?  Seems like we’ve already had several “victims’ bill of rights” initiatives, and they’ve all passed.  I don’t see that this does much that isn’t already part of the current criminal justice system; but locking even more of it in by initiative is, again, making things more costly and inflexible.
 
Prop. 10 — No — Here’s another measure that initially sounds good and beneficial and ecological.  Only when you look closer and realize that it was written and funded by one of the biggest producers of natural gas do you start to see, perhaps, an ulterior motive.  Yes, we need to move towards renewables, but no, moving everyone over to natural gas vehicles, paid for with bond money the state can’t afford, is NOT a good answer.
 
Prop. 11 — Yes — OK, I’m bucking the Democratic Party powers that be on this one.  There’s no doubt in my mind that California’s (and the whole country’s) political system is very seriously broken.  We’ve been waiting for about the past 20 years for the legislature to do something to reform the current legislative redistricting process.  It hasn’t happened.  We can probably wait another 20 years, and it still won’t.  It’s something called self-interest.  Is this plan perfect?  Far from it.  Can we expect anything better in the near future?  I doubt it.  This probably won’t pass anyhow, but maybe if it did we’d finally break the stranglehold the current Democratic Party and Republican Party establishments have over statewide politics.  It certainly can hardly make things much worse!
 
Prop. 12 — Given that I’ve recommended against all the other bond measures on the state ballot, you’d think I’d oppose this one too; but there’s a big difference.  This bond gets paid off by the veterans, not the taxpayers.  Given that difference, I’m not against allowing the state’s credit rating (such as it is) to be used to benefit veterans.  (I may not always have agreed with the wars they fought in, but I certainly accept that many of them took major risks for what they felt was the country’s best interest.)
 
Local measures:
Oakland
 
Measure N — School teacher pay parcel tax — I couldn’t understand why the teachers’ union opposed this measure, until I learned it would also apply to charter school teachers’ pay.  (Charter school teachers aren’t necessarily union members.) The other school employee unions are similarly opposed because only teachers would get raises from it.  My feeling is that you’ve got to start somewhere, and that Oakland teachers are currently grossly underpaid.  I also think that charter schools can sometimes be a good thing.  With all the union opposition, and the 2/3 majority requirements [thank you, Prop. 13], this will probably lose, but I’d recommend YES.
 
Measure NN — police services parcel tax — Unlike the state measure, this local police funding measure attaches revenue to the expenditure.  As I said above, more police is really just a band-aid measure, but when you’re bleeding, a band-aid can still be a good thing.  Oakland needs to do a better job of recruiting, training, and controlling its police; but more funding is probably part (but NOT all) of the answer.  Yes.
 
Measure OO — NO — “Kids First II” — Unlike the police measure above, this measure sucks money out of the Oakland city budget for specific non-city kids services, but doesn’t put any money in to pay for it.  So, you get to choose — fund Boys Clubs – and close down the libraries; fund girl scouts — and close down city swimming pools.  This is stupid, narrow, self-interest on the part of the sponsoring groups.  it’s a really bad idea.  (I got into a big argument with some petition circulators when they misrepresented the measure to me trying to get me to sign the petition.)
 
Regional Measures
 
Measures VV — Yes — Parcel tax to continue funding for AC Transit services such as senior and youth discount fares.  It’s too bad that we have to resort to parcel taxes for these services.  We really ought to raise the gas tax, but the governor has been unwilling to allow that to be done at the local level, and there are too many Republican areas in the state to make it happen statewide.
 
Measure WW — Yes — East Bay regional Park District land acquisition bond measure (will be repaid out of property tax funds).  Detractors carp about the possible use of some bond funds for non-regional parks projects, like the Oakland Zoo.  Sadly, that’s the political cost required to get this passed by the park district board and supported by local elected officials.  Again, it’s the triumph of narrow self-interest.  Nevertheless, Regional Parks has been hamstrung in buying additional park areas because the measure AA funds we voted on some thirty years ago have now been used up.  There’s still places that ought to be public parklands, and if this doesn’t pass, some of them will probably become condo projects instead.
 
Candidates
 
I left these for last because there aren’t a lot of choices.  Yes, theoretically, you could vote for Republicans.  You could also throw yourself off a cliff.  The latter would probably, in the long run, be less painful.  Here are my selections.  Very likely, they won’t agree with yours.  So it goes.
 
President — Nader/Gonzalez  — Here in California, we’re lucky to have the freedom to vote for whomever we want without worrying about the national consequences.  If I lived in Florida or Ohio, maybe I wouldn’t be voting for Nader.  Still, having listened to as much of the debates as I could stomach (about five minutes was all of the VP debate that I could stand), I really would have loved to hear Nader and Gonzales answering the questions.  Neither major party really wants to give straight answers– they’re afraid of alienating one or another constituency.  Sometimes, they don’t even want to deal with the issue, like how do you reduce the federal deficit or keep social security solvent in the long term.  I especially like that Nader isn’t afraid to upset the foreign policy establishment applecart by questioning the wisdom of trying to maintain America’s world empire (which is really what we’ve now got).
 
U.S. Rep. — Barbara Lee — She votes the right way, but it’s sure frustrating that very little leadership seems to come out of her office.
 
State Senator — Loni Hancock — Loni’s been a force for good in the Assembly, pushing through a campaign finance measure and providing major support for single-payer healthcare.  I expect she’ll be a force for good in the Senate too, probably more so than Don Perata, who all too often chose pragmatism over doing the right thing.  Frankly, the one thing I worry about is how much influence her husband has on her.  (I used to like Tom Bates, but not any more.)
 
State Representative — Nancy Skinner — She’ll probably do OK.  We’ll just have to see.
 
Superior Court judge — Dennis Hayashi — To me, this one’s pretty straightforward.  Given the choice between a prosecutor and a public interest attorney, I look around at the past twenty years of gubernatorial appointments to judgeships and say, there are already more than enough former prosecutors sitting up on the bench.  It’d be nice to have someone with a public interest perspective.
 
AC Transit Directors
At Large — Chris Peeples – I’ve know Chris for more than 20 years, and have always found him intelligent, thoughtful, and hard-working.  Joyce Roy, his opponent, is a vehement transit advocate, but I sometimes think she doesn’t look long or hard enough before she leaps.  She has jumped on Chris for AC Transit’s continuing purchase of the European-made Val Hool buses.  I’ve ridden the Van Hools, and I’m not sure I understand what all the fuss is about.  True, they’re not the most comfortable bus in the world, but I haven’t ridden on a comfortable bus in more than forty years — when they stopped putting padded seats in buses.  Apparently, the Van Hools are problematic for some disabled passengers, but I’ve never seen any problems.  They are, apparently, some of the cleanest running diesels available.  Given the Bay Area’s air problems, that’s important.  I think Chris’ long-standing devotion to AC Transit deserves to be rewarded.  I support Chris.
 
Ward 2 — I’ve also know Greg Harper for a long time — over thirty years, from when I first voted to appoint him to the Emerville Planning Commission back in 1985.  Again, Greg is also intelligent, thoughtful, and hard-working.  It’s interesting to me that he and Chris Peeples sometimes clash on the AC Transit board.  Nevertheless, they seem to, for the most part, agree on what works (and what doesn’t) in that system.  Greg’s opponent doesn’t appear to be running an active campaign and didn’t even place a candidate’s statement in the sample ballot booklet.  That doesn’t say much for his ability to run a transit district.  Greg is the clear choice.
 
Oakland at-large councilmember — This was my toughest choice among candidates.  I know both the candidates and they’re both intelligent, hard-working women.  While I don’t agree with either of their programs 100%, I found things to like in what each of them have to say.  What swayed me the most, however, was who was supporting them.  When someone supports a politician, there’s usually a pay-back.  Sometimes its overt, often it’s not, but it’s almost always there.  In this case, what alarmed me was Kerry Hammill’s endorsement by the entire conservative wing of the Oakland City Council, led by Ignacio DeLaFuente.  Ignacio has led the pro-business wing of the council for a long time, and may well try yet another run for mayor when Dellums’ term is up.  Regardless, I find Kerry Hammill’s connection to him and his supporters disturbing; even more disturbing than that the Oakland Chamber of Commerce’s PAC is supporting Rebecca Kaplan.  (I’m not sure I’ve figured that one out yet.)  Put that together with Kerry’s close connection to Don Perata (she used to work for him), and it leaves me very worried about her independence on the council.  In the end, my vote goes for Kaplan.

My Presidential Platform?

February 22, 2007

 This is a comment I put up on another blog, “Soapbox”, in Gristmill, part of the Grist site with environmental news and comment.  I originally put it up as a response to a post by Terry Tamminen, former head of Cal EPA until Governor Schwarzenegger found him too environmental for his taste (or those of his campaign contributors).  Here’s a link to that post:   http://www.grist.org/comments/soapbox/2007/02/16/tamminen/index.html?source=weekly

 My platform – close to the ground

  1. I agree with Terry.  Apologize to the Iraqi people, commit to US reparations, and start trying to extricate this country from being the world’s policeman (and a rather brutal one at that).  Along those lines, endorse a UN sponsored regional peace conference to resolve the situations in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  (Some suggested proposals – a) a federated Republic of Iraq, with oil revenues distributed among the various provinces based solely on their population size; b) regional disarmament [including EVERYONE, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, India, Israel, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc.], coupled to a promise that all US [and Western European and other outside countries] forces will be permanently withdrawn from the entire region.)
  2.  Totally revise US foreign policy as follows:  a) no more military aid to ANYONE; b) humanitarian and development aid to countries based on need through UN agencies, with no US strings attached; c) a new US policy favoring allowing every country the right of self-determination, based on popular plebescite, on what kind of government it wants; d)  no more US interference with any country’s internal affairs; e) a commitment to take international disputes to the UN, rather than attempt unilateral action; f) agree to have the US participate in the World Court;  g) have the US ratify the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  3.   Announce a policy of phased demilitarization of the country.  Included in that would be the unilateral reduction in the size of the U.S. military to make it comparable to those of other major world powers.  Follow that up with a proposal for phased reductions, through internationally supervised treaties, in all countries’ military forced.  Unilateral action by the U.S. to reduce nuclear stockpiles to a size comparable to that of Russian stockpiles, followed by phased and policed reductions in the stockpiles of all nuclear powers.
  4.  Establish a national single-payer healthcare system, modeled loosely after the Canadian system.
  5.  Establish public financing for all federal elections, along the lines of the systems already put in place in Maine and Arizona.  Propose a constitutional amendment allowing reasonable limitations on “independent” campaign expenditures in elections and providing for a one week campaign-free “cooling off” period just prior to the election.  Eliminate the Electoral College and replace it by a national popular vote for the presidency.
  6.  Make combatting global warming the number one national priority.  That includes: a) establishing new gas mileage standards for all vehicles, with those standards to be ratchetted up on an annual basis; b)  establish a national institute of climate and energy research, with all research coming out of the institute freely available in the public domain.  Major research areas would include: alternative power sources, with an emphasis on renewable carbon-free sources, study of ways of removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, etc.;  c) establish a national carbon tax, with the proceeds to be used both to fund energy research and to assist in decreasing the societal disruption caused by reducing energy use
  7.  Establish a National Institute of Environmental Research to study how American society is impacting the environment, how the US can have a smaller “environmental footprint” on the world, and what can be done to undo some of the environmental damage that has already been done.
  8.  Agree to undo NAFTA and other “free trade” agreements, and replace them by trade agreements that require participating countries to respect uniform environmental, labor, and human rights standards.

I think that’s enough for four years’ worth.  I’m sure I could come up with some other ideas for a second term.


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