The June Primary is almost here!

May 20, 2018

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Gosh!  It’s election time again already.  What fun!  [Ha HA].  As usual, I’m putting up my opinions and recommendations for anyone who’s interested.  Take them for whatever they’re worth.

This isn’t a presidential election, but there’s still a lot to vote on.  A whole bunch of offices and eight ballot measures are on my ballot. (There may be more or fewer on yours, depending on where you live.)  As usual, I’m going to start “at the top”, both in terms of candidates at the top of the ballot and those representing the largest constituencies.  The closer where you live is to where I live, the further down the ballot you’ll get before our ballots diverge.  However, don’t forget to look at the ballot measures after the candidates, as these are often the most important decisions you’ll make.

Starting with statewide offices:

Governor 

Can you believe there are twenty-seven candidates on the ballot!!? I can’t recall an election with that many that everyone could vote for.  I’m not sure if this is a plus or a minus of the new “top two” approach, where the primary allows everybody to vote for any candidate.  The candidates aren’t even separated out by party preference.

I got my official statewide voter information guide last week. Not as huge as I expected it to be, with all the candidate statements to be included.  One problem with having this many candidates, and only one vote, is that the likelihood of any random candidate getting to the November ballot is extremely low.  The elections becomes as much a matter of name recognition as anything else.  If you ask me, it’s a pretty stupid way to run an election.  At the very least, we should be able to rank, for example, our top five candidates, and then narrow the number of candidates on the November ballot to no more than five.  Ranked choice voting would also make sense in November.  However, it is what it is, so you just get your one shot per race.  Maybe someone will put up an initiative to change this disaster.  [I hope]

Unfortunately, given the lack of name recognition, there may well be numerous very worthy candidates who won’t get to the November ballot.  Consequently, since I presume many people would like their vote to mean something – in terms of actually helping to choose who’s on the November ballot, I’m going to limit my initial comments to the more high-profile candidates.  I will probably add some more before election day, if I get time.

Among the main candidates, the Democrats clearly have a strong edge in getting to November.  In fact, it’s not at all unlikely, given the low name recognition of the Republican, minor party, and unaffiliated candidates, that the top two candidates will both be Democrats in most if not all races (at least for the Bay Area).  The same may well be true for all statewide races, especially given that California is a “bright blue” state.  Consequently, I’m going to focus my comments on the major Democratic candidates.  Late update (5/28/18) – it appears the top Republican gubernatorial candidate is currently outpacing the second-ranked Democrat, so at least in that race, November may be one Republican vs. one Democrat.  Still not a lot of options!

Here’s my rundown:

Gavin Newsom – current Lieutenant Governor and former San Francisco Mayor.  He’s clearly the highest profile candidate.  He’s also raised by far the most campaign funds ($14 M thus far!).  One of my rules of thumb is “follow the money.”  Contributors may not necessarily “buy” a candidate (although it’s been known to happen), but who the major contributors are tells a lot about where a candidate is coming from.  Reyes Holdings is Newsom’s biggest contributor ($146K).  They own beverage bottling and distribution companies around the U.S.  What’s their interest in Gavin?  Maybe they just like him, but more likely they think he’ll go light on taxing big corporations.  Next is Creative Artists Agency ($127K).  According to Wikipedia, it’s “is an American talent and sports agency based in Los Angeles, California. It is regarded as a dominant and influential company in the talent agency business and manages numerous prestigious clients.”  Maybe they like Gavin because of his “star” qualities?  Or maybe they think he’ll be sympathetic to Hollywood’s interests?  After that comes Hueston Hennigan LLP, a big law firm specializing in commercial litigation and white collar defense.  Why do they like Gavin, well, for one thing, they’re defending Southern California Edison in this winter’s Southern California wildfires.  Maybe they think he’ll be sympathetic to that utility’s interests?  Number four is Winklevoss Capital Management ($117K) – a big investment company and venture capital firm.  I guess they figure Gavin will be good for big business.  Rounding out his top five is Social Finance ($116K) – a big finance company (i.e., student loans, mortgages, commercial loans, etc.)  One can guess that they’re hopeful that Gavin will NOT be doing something to ease student debtors burdens.  Perhaps significantly, Gavin hasn’t put up any policy positions on the Voters Edge website; nor did he bother to put a statement in the voter information guide.  Shows how much he respects California voters’ interest in issues.  While Newsom has supported some liberal positions, notably on gay marriage, he’s become pretty establishment Democrat as Lieutenant Governor.  He’d probably be a bit to the left of Jerry Brown, but for a Democrat, that’s not saying much.

Antonio Villaraigosa – Former Mayor of Los Angeles, and currently titles himself a “public policy advisor” (whatever that means – maybe lobbyist?).  He’s raised just over $7M in funds, with major contributions by contractor Tudor Perini ($87K), various pipetrade unions and locals (just under $117K) and Harborview Capital Partners ($just under $117K), which describes itself as ” a full service commercial real estate finance, equity and advisory firm.”  Let’s just say it’s representing real estate and development interests.  So, I think one can safely say he’s well-liked by the real estate and development community – at least in Southern California.  Like Gavin, he also hasn’t put up any policy positions on the Voters Edge, or in the voter guide, but one could safely say he’d be pro-business and pro-development – probably not all that different from Jerry Brown, although again maybe a little more liberal on social issues.

John Chiang – current California State Treasurer – rounds out the top Democratic candidates (at least by $ contributions).  He’s collected about $5M, with major contributions from Northern California Carpenter unions ($58K), California United Nurses Union ($58K), and MWM Global Holdings, a financial consulting firm that “offers trust, wealth management, legal, corporate consulting, audit and accounting services” from its headquarters in the British Virgin Islands.  One might guess that the firm has done a fair bit of business with the treasurer’s office.  Mr. Chiang’s contributors suggest links to construction and other unions as well as financial management interests.  That would fit with his history of public finance (he was State Controller before he became State Treasurer.  Unlike Newsom and Villaraigosa, Chiang has put up some policy positions on voters’ edge, but not in the voter pamphlet.  He emphasizes housing, public education, and generally opposing the policies being put forward by the Republican Trump Administrations.  His platform appears considerably to the left of Villaraigosa’s and Newsom’s but there’s not a lot of policy history behind that.

Delaine Eastin – former Superintendent of Public Instruction – it’s an open question whether she should be considered a “main” candidate.  While her fundraising has been significant – just under $1 million, it’s far below any of the other major candidates – even the main Republican candidates.  However, she’s the only well-known candidate who’s a woman, and she has enough name recognition to possibly stage an upset and reach the November election.  I actually like he platform far better than any of the other main candidates, (and she’s the only major Democratic candidate to bother putting information into the voters’ guide), so she’s my long-shot recommendation.  Shame on the California establishment Democrats for their disdain for California voters!

John Cox (Republican) – added info (5/28/18) – Cox is a “mainstream” Republican – which at this point means he generally supports Trump, and Trump has endorsed him.  According to an article in the Sacramento Bee, the charter school movement is funding a major campaign effort against Cox, in the hopes it will allow Villaraigosa – a charter school supporter – to bump him out of second place, and bump Villaraigosa into the November election.  (Maybe if you really hate Villaraigosa, you should vote for Cox in June??)  He’s got a reasonably hefty campaign war chest (almost $6 million), but most of that is self-funded.  (Cox is, perhaps not surprisingly, quite wealthy.)  He’s anti-immigration, anti-regulation, pro-gun, and pro-Prop 13.  In other words, if you’re anything close to a Democrat, he’s a total anathema.  If he does make the November ballot, he’ll almost certainly continue the string of Republicans who lose resoundingly.

Lieutenant Governor

There are still a lot of candidates here, but nowhere near as many as for Governor or U.S. Senator.  Because time is growing short, I’m going to just cut to the chase and give you my pick – Gayle McLaughlin.

This is a rather insubstantial office.  The Lieutenant Governor does, however, get to sit on a number of significant boards, notably the State Lands Commission, the U.C. Board of Regents, the Cal State Univ. Board of Trustees, and the Economic Development Commission.  Gayle, as mayor of Richmond, led a progressive city council majority (which she helped elect) to make some major reforms, including hiring a top-notch police chief who made major changes in improving the police dept.’s sorry reputation.  She was a strong supporter of Bernie Sanders and carries his endorsement.  None of the other candidates are anywhere near as impressive.

Secretary of  State

This office is also considered a “minor” statewide office, but the office’s duties are considerable.  The Secretary of State is the state’s chief elections officer, responsible for setting up and running the state’s formidable elections apparatus.  The Secretary of State also maintains the state’s records of corporations and other legal entities, and maintains the state’s archives of historical materials.

Because the Secretary of State has a statewide platform, it’s a good place for someone to push for electoral reform, and as you can tell from my comments about our “top two” primary system, I think we badly need reform.  That’s why I’m supporting Michael Feinstein, Green Party candidate and former mayor of Santa Monica.  Will he get elected?  Not likely, but he’s pushing reforms that ought to be taken seriously; notably proportional representation in the Legislature, which would give us a more diverse and representative Legislature, as well as campaign finance reform.  While C.T. Weber (Peace & Freedom Party) supports much of the same platform, I think Feinstein has more visibility and credibility as a former elected official.

Controller

Another “minor” office.  There are only three candidates.  The Controller essentially is responsible for writing the state’s checks and ensuring there’s money to pay the bills.  If there’s illegal state spending going on, the Controller’s who you sue.  arguably, the Controller could refuse to write a check for something he/she felt was improper.  That, as far as I know, has never happened.  The Republican candidate says he’d make state spending more effective and efficient.  I don’t think he has that power.  The Democrat, Betty Yee, has been a loyal Democrat in various minor positions for many years.  Don’t expect her to do anything revolutionary, or even reformist.  The Peace & Freedom Party candidate says she’ll do things that I don’t think she has the power to do.  No endorsement for any of these candidates from me.  Maybe I’ll write in Bill Lockyer?

Treasurer

Yet another minor office, although the Treasurer does have the ability to refuse to authorize bond issuance if he thinks it would be unwise.  (As Treasurer, Bill Lockyer at one point said he wouldn’t issue bonds for the high-speed rail system because he felt that, with the lack of investor trust, the interest rate would be too high.  He eventually relented.)  I emphatically would NOT vote for Fiona Ma.  While she was on the State Board of Equalization, there were major scandals involving misspending of funds.  Was she involved?  She claims she wasn’t.  I’m not so sure.  In the Legislature, she voted in lockstep with the Democratic Party leadership.  I think she’d be a well-oiled cog in the Democratic state party machine.  I’d like to throw a shoe or two into that machine.  Maybe Greg Conlon??  Yeah, I know, he’s a Republican, and has about a snowball’s chance in Hell of getting elected, but he does seem well-qualified and less likely to just be a rubber stamp on the Democratic leadership’s checks.

Attorney General

While a “minor” office, it’s probably the most important of them.  Not only is the AG the state’s chief law enforcement officer, but he also heads up the state’s legal team, which both advises most state government entities and defends them in court.  When a state entity seems to be doing something that’s “not quite right”, it’s supposed to the the AG’s job to set them straight.  That hasn’t been the case for a long time, with the AG being filled by people with political aspirations who follow their party’s line.  Sadly, I don’t expect that to change in a major way with any of the candidates, but Dave Jones may have the best shot at doing it, as he’s running against a Democratic incumbent and bucking the system by doing that.  He’s also done a fairly credible job as insurance commissioner.

Insurance Commissioner

Speaking of Insurance Commissioner, this is one place I would NOT want to elect a Republican.  The last time we had a Republican in the office, it was a mess.  My choice would be Ricardo Lara.  as one of the co-authors of the proposed state single-payer health insurance bill, he showed he was willing to take on some powerful opponents.  The bill didn’t get very far, but maybe as Insurance Commissioner, he can do some good things with other insurance issues.

State Board of Equalization

This office really needs to be abolished!  There’s no reason why its duties couldn’t be absorbed into the Franchise Tax Board.  I frankly don’t trust ANY of the candidates particularly.  I may leave my ballot blank.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction

Tony Thurmond – This is where he should have been in the first place, instead of the State Assembly.  His heart is in educational issues.

Federal Offices

U.S. Senator

Lots of candidates again here, but it’s basically a two person race – Diane Feinstein versus Kevin De Leon.  Of the two, I’m going with Kevin De Leon, even though the polls seem to show that Feinstein’s the runaway favorite.  Feinstein’s middle-of-the-road stance has bothered me ever since she was San Francisco Mayor.  I think it’s time for her to be moved aside.

U.S. Representative

Barbara Lee – this seat is uncontested.

Local Offices

State Assembly 15th District

There are twelve candidates here.  There are three that seem to me worth voting for:  Dan Kalb, Ben Bartlett, and Jovanka Beckles.  Each of them is currently a city council member and thus has some legislative experience, although at the local level, and each has what appear to me to be some good ideas.  Unfortunately, all three may be swamped by the deluge of outside money pouring into Buffy Wicks’ campaign.   She has NO legislative experience and her money and endorsements come from having been a political flack in Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign.  She also worked on setting up Obamacare, and we all know all too well the flaws in that system.  (Yes, it’s better than nothing, but it was not well thought out and really needs to be replaced by something better and more inclusive.)  PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, Don’t vote for Buffy!

New information (as of 5/28/18) Follow the money.  As I said earlier in this post, who’s contributing to a candidate can be more telling than what they say they will do, or even who endorses them.  Here’s more information (from the Secretary of State via the groups – and websites – Maplight and Votersedge).  Summary of major donor info and classifications of donors (large vs. small, in-state vs out-of-state, individuals vs groups) for some of the major candidates:

Buffy Wicks:

Wicks contributions     Dan Kalb:

Kalb contributions

Jovanka Beckles

Beckles Contributions

Ben Bartlett:

Bartlett Contributions

Take-home lesson – Buffy Wicks has gotten much more $$ than any other candidate [and it shows in how many mailers she’s sent out and other campaign expenditures], a much higher proportion of out-of-state donors, and a high percentage of large corporate donors.  Draw your own conclusions!  For the others, lots of union donations – with the type of union varying by candidate (again, what unions are donating says a lot about how you can expect the candidate to vote), and almost nobody getting a lot of money from small donors.  (Jovanka Beckles has the highest percentage.)  None of this is good news, but none of it is unexpected either, given how the courts (especially U.S. Supreme Court) have emasculated campaign finance reform laws.

Superior Court Judge

No Opinion – I don’t think we should be electing judges.

Board of Education – 1st Trustee Area

Thus seat is uncontested.  It’s unclear to me what the County Board of Education does in incorporated areas of the county that have their own school board.  At any rate, the seat is uncontested, which says either that the incumbent is doing a good job or nobody cares enough about the position to run for it.  Since it makes no difference, I may leave this one blank too.

County Assessor

This is basically a technical job – the assessor doesn’t decide what gets assessed or for how much, just supervises the operation of getting the data.  That may change if we go to a split roll in November.  Given that, I’d go for John Weed, who’s the only candidate supporting a split roll.

County Auditor-Controller/Clerk-Recorder

This office is a peculiar mix of clerical and analytical responsibilities.  To my mind, the most important responsibilities are as auditor.  The auditor is supposed to look for honesty and efficiency in government.  I’d go for Irella Blackwood, who emphasizes that aspect of the office, while Melissa Wilk emphasizes the more routine duties that really hardly need an elected official to do.

County District Attorney

To my mind, this is the most important county office on the ballot this election.  While the District Attorney’s role in criminal prosecutions gets the most attention, the District Attorney also superintends the county civil grand jury, which studies and makes recommendations about county government.  The DA can also prosecute “political” crimes, like violations of campaign reform laws, conflict of interest laws, or Brown Act violations.  Usually, DAs are closely tied to the county’s political establishment, so these laws only get enforced against disfavored officials.  I’d expect Nancy O’Malley, a very well-connected Democrat, to continue that tradition.  My recommendation is Pamela Price.  She’s definitely looking for reform of the criminal justice system in the county – which IMHO it badly needs.  However, she’s also not tied in with the political establishment, which IMHO is another big pllus.

Ballot Measures

Prop 68 – YES –

while I distrust bonds these days, this one will do good things.

Prop. 69 –  YES –

Well, Duh.  You mean you want your transportation money frittered away?  (Not that it won’t be even if it’s spend on some state projects)

Prop. 70 – YES –

Case in point – 1/4 of the cap & trade funds are now going to high-speed rail construction, a project that is NEVER going to get completed and, in the meantime, is INCREASING GHG emissions!!  Here’s a link to a recent article about the debacle.  This one-shot at demanding more accountability in what gets funded isn’t much, but it’s better than nothing.  IMHO, cap & trade is a classic demonstration of the flaws in California’s Democratic Party establishment.  Decisions get made based on political pull, rather any rational consideration of public policy.  Shame on Jerry Brown and the Democratic legislative leadership!

Prop. 71 – YES –

very common sense measure.

Prop. 72 – YES –

water conservation measures like this should be incentivized, not disincentivized.

Regional Measure 3 –

NO,NO, NO – This is throwing bridge toll money at a laundry list of projects chosen to satisfy political and special interests.  As U.S. Representative DeSaunier says, it won’t solve our transportation problems.  MTC should be told to go back and start over!

Alameda County Measure A – YES –

childcare for low income families – badly needed

Oakland Measure D – YES –

library parcel tax – do we really want libraries to close???

 

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DON’T PANIC!

November 9, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


The November 2016 Ballot Measures – Part 1 – Statewide Measures

October 18, 2016

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

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

Here goes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 


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

June 19, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


More Thoughts on Money and Politics

November 7, 2012

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

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

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


Strict Construction, Gun Violence, and the Second Amendment

January 10, 2011

The assassination of a federal judge and attempted assassination of a congresswoman, along with the killing of several “civilians”, once again brings to the fore the issue of gun violence and the Second Amendment.  This is especially true now that the Supreme Court majority has applied so-called “strict constructionism” to find that the Second Amendment protects private gun ownership from almost all federal and state regulation.

Justice Scalia, one of the court’s more vocal advocates for strict constructionism, argues that the Constitution’s interpretation can’t change with the times.  According to him, if circumstances change, the answer  is to amend the Constitution accordingly.  By that standard, it appears the time is overdue to amend the Second Amendment.

Back when the Constitution, and specifically the Second Amendment, was written, the primary firearm was the flintlock musket, an inaccurate, short-range, and slow-to-load single-shot gun.  There were also handguns, but they were dueling pistols and the like — again inaccurate, single-shot, and clumsy to use.  Contrast that with the ten bullet clip-carrying semiautomatic pistol used by last Saturday’s assassin, or the Uzi or M-16 type assault weapons favored for gang violence, or, for that matter, the extremely accurate multi-shot high-powered rifle used to assassinate John F. Kennedy.  There’s no comparison.  Indeed, once could argue that they shouldn’t even be described by the same word, and that “arms” as used in the Second Amendment had an entirely different meaning than the guns, IEDs, and other weaponry available to conduct modern-day violence.  Nevertheless, Scalia, the NRA, Teapartiers and their ilk insist that the Second Amendment allows free rein to gun-toters. 

Given the results of last Saturday, and looking abroad to places like Pakistan and Afghanistan, where assassinations are becoming an almost daily occurrence, the question is, isn’t it time we amended the Second Amendment?  Sure, maybe a single-shot hunting rifle or a BB gun doesn’t need regulation, but an AK-47 or semiautomatic handgun is an entirely different story.

If people like Scalia are sincere in their assertion that the proper course of action when the Constitution no longer works well is to amend it, it’s time for him, and those like him, to get behind a movement to amend the Second Amendment to assure that the kinds of weapons that can cause mass-mayhem aren’t easily available to would-be assassins.

While we’re at it, it’s also long past due to take into account the changed nature of the media and of election campaigns.  The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision of last year practically turned the U.S. political system over to corporate control.  We really do need an amendment to recognize that the nature of political campaigning has fundamentally changed.  Unregulated campaign spending might have been perfectly OK in the confines of the thirteen original states, where almost anyone could afford to run off a broadside and have it hand-distributed by volunteers.  In this era of TV and radio ads, mass-mailings, focus groups, and psychologically attuned campaign consultants, however, it is increasingly true that we have been trapped by the “golden rule” — Those who have the gold make the rules.  That certainly wasn’t what the writers of the First Amendment envisioned.  If it takes a Constitutional amendment to bring power back to the people, then we need to get started on that process.

One last thought on Scalia and his strict constructionism friends:  The writers of the Constitution were not gods.  They were men coming from divergent situations attempting to cobble together a working structure for a national  government.  The Constitution includes numerous compromises reached to accommodate the differing view of the powers-that-be in different colonies.  Those compromises, and the reasons behind them, have now been well-documented.  While some of the divergences continue to exist — e.g., between large population and small population states, between urban and rural states, others, such as those associated with slavery, have long-since vanished.  Further, we have, over time, come to realize that some of the Constitution’s structures and procedures were neither functional nor fair.  Some of the worst of these, such as having Senators chosen by state legislatures, have been corrected.  That doesn’t mean, however, that we need to accept the current Constitutional structures and procedures as God-given mandates carved in stone.  Indeed, after almost two and a quarter centuries, maybe it’s time to consider a new Constitutional Convention. … Just a thought.


Political Campaigns, Free Speech, and the Citizens United Decision

November 7, 2010

This November’s election was our first real chance to see the effects of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.  The results are ominous for the future of U.S. politics.  Bucketfuls of money poured into political campaigns, both directly and as unregulated “independent expenditures” from groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who are no longer required to even disclose where the money is coming from.  As a result, moneyed special interests are exerting an influence unparalleled since the end of the “gilded age” of the 1880s.

The irony is that the Citizens United decision is based on a fundamental misreading of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  That amendment states, very simply, that, “Congress shall make no law respecting … …or abridging the freedom of speech … .”  As with all of the provisions of the Bill of Rights, we now have over two hundred years of Supreme Court jurisprudence interpreting that simple phrase.  The U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions have made a sharp distinction between regulating the content of speech and regulating the “time, place, and manner” of speech.  While the former is subject to “strict scrutiny”, requiring that any regulation be narrowly tailored and necessary to address a clear and present danger to a substantial interest of the state, the latter allows regulation so long as it is even-handed (i.e., content-neutral — applying equally to all speech, regardless of what it’s about).

In Buckley v Valeo, the Nixon-era Court, led by Chief Justice Warren Burger, decided that money was equivalent to free speech — i.e., regulating political contributions or expenditures was the same as regulating political speech.  A moment of thought should show the error that opinion created.  Money does not create political speech, hence regulating how much gets donated or spent doesn’t prohibit speech — it just regulates how loud that speech is. 

Just as a city can prohibit sound trucks from blasting political speech (or any other kind), so it would seem that government ought to have the power to limit how much money gets contributed or spent on political campaigns.  However, the complicating factor is that, in order to be content-neutral, such regulation would have to apply to all kinds of speech; not just political speech.  For example, the FCC could promulgate a regulation limiting how much time any one advertiser could buy for on-air commercials in any particular period of time (say, for example, no more than 1% of the broadcast day).  The post office could similarly limit how many pieces of advertising mail could be mailed in any one period.  However, in order not to invoke strict scrutiny, such regulations would have to apply to all kinds of mailings, not just political advertising.  This could be problematic; but, on the other hand, it could greatly cut down on the amount of junk mail and TV and radio ads Americans have to deal with — something that I suspect would delight most people.

The other option would be to identify a justification for content-specific regulation of speech that would survive strict scrutiny.  In the past, the Supreme Court has sometimes accepted preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption as justification for limiting direct campaign contributions, but not campaign expenditure or contributions to non-candidate-based political committees.  Since the Citizens United decision, however, it’s unclear if that will still work.  The court has repeatedly rejected arguments about trying to maintain a “level playing field” for political candidates.  Evidently, the Court feels that fair play has no place in the American political process.

One wonders, however, whether there’s an argument to be made that when one side can effectively drown out the other side’s voice — the equivalent of blasting away with loudspeakers so that other people can’t even be heard — government has a right to step in to protect the free speech right of those being overwhelmed.  Perhaps there needs to be the equivalent of the Sherman Antitrust Act to protect the free market of ideas from being monopolized by one group’s raw monetary power?


The Curse of Ideological Rigidity

June 5, 2010

Much has been made of the red state-blue state division in U.S. politics, and more recently of the rise of “tea party” Republicans as a political force.  However, the seeds of much of our current political mess were sown back in the early 1960s by Barry Goldwater and his allies in the Republican party.  They insisted that ideological purity was essential to revitalizing the party.  In particular, they lambasted pragmatists like Eisenhower and liberals like Nelson Rockefeller for tarnishing what they considered to be the core conservative values of the party.

While Goldwater himself was blasted out of the water in the 1964 presidential election, giving the liberal but pragmatic Lyndon Johnson the most lopsided win (61% of the popular vote) since Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency — a margin that no president since then has reached or exceeded — nevertheless his conservative ideology had taken hold within the party.  The failed Nixon presidency weakened the moderate wing of the party, and Gerald Ford’s decisive loss to Jimmy Carter was, for conservatives, more convincing evidence that Americans were tired of bland, centrist, Republicans.

The nomination, and then election, of Ronald Reagan, who had started out as a main-stream Democrat but shifted rightward politically as he grew older, completed the ideological victory of the right-wing within the Republican Party.  From that point onward, the battle within the Republican Party has only been between those who wanted to see a right-of-center government in coalition with conservative Democrats and those who insist that Republicans deserve and need to govern alone, based on an ideologically pure ultraconservative political philosophy.

The latter perspective is, perhaps ironically, best exemplified not by a presidential candidate or Congressional leader, but by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and his trusty sidekick, Clarence Thomas.  These two justices have loudly proclaimed their adherence to “original intent”, the doctrine that the Constitution is to be interpreted based entirely on the “intent of the framers.”  This doctrine suffers from the flaw, common in statutory interpretation, that it’s almost never possible to discern a single unified intent in the actions of a legislative body made up of many individuals with differing interests.  A review of opinions written by the Scalia/Thomas wing shows, however, that they are guided, not by original intent, but a rigid right-wing ultraconservative ideology that wants to see a federal government with only extremely limited powers and controlled by a strong “imperial” president.

Ideological rigidity did not, of course, originate with Barry Goldwater.  Indeed, one can argue that it goes back at least as far as some of the harsh punishments for sinful behavior set forth in the Old Testament.  Indeed, a good case can be made that Jesus’ rejection of the traditional Jewish faith of his time stemmed at least as much from revulsion against that rigidity as it did from his rejection of the corruption of the Jewish officialdom of Roman era Palestine.

The Romans themselves also showed a strong streak of ideological rigidity.  One thinks of Cato the Elder, who, it is claimed, ended each speech he gave in the Roman senate with the same sentence, “Carthago delenda est!” [Carthage must be destroyed!]  The Catholic Church has also had its periodic bursts of ideological rigidity, perhaps the most notable being that demonstrated in the Spanish Inquisition.  More recently, the Jacobins, and most notably Robespierre, espoused an extreme ideology during the French Revolution, imprisoning and guillotining those whom they felt threatened the purity of the revolution.  In the Twentieth Century, ideological rigidity has had its adherents on both the left and the right, ranging from Lenin to Stalin to Hitler and Franco to Mao, especially in his later years when the cultural revolution was proclaimed.

One would think that the list of sordid adherents to ideological rigidity would have given this political approach a bad name.  One would be wrong.  Why is that?  I believe it is because ideological rigidity allows people to reach simple answers to complex and vexing questions, ranging from what to do about the federal deficit to what should the country’s stance be towards immigration.   Once one accepts a pure ideological approach to political issues, one need not spend one’s time poring over volumes of data and listening to the complicated explanations of experts.  As the saying goes, “Don’t bother me with evidence, I know THE TRUTH.”  In this, political ideologists have much in common with religious ideologists, and it seems to me far from coincidence that many Tea Party adherents are also adherents to fundamentalist evangelical sects.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any easy answers about how to deal with those who have succumbed to the siren call of ideological rigidity.  Perhaps the best one can hope for is that recent disasters such as the Great Recession and the gulf oil spill will cause some of the far-right’s current adherents to begin to question whether their leaders really do have all the answers, and wonder whether it might be worth turning their brains back on.


Time to save the government!!

February 8, 2010

The U.S. Supreme Court has finally given away the entire store to corporations. (They’ve been gradually doing so for the past thirty-five years — see my essay on campaign finance reform on my law offices page.) If we want to return to government “of, by, and for the people,” we need to act. Click on the link below to get a bumper sticker and connect to the movement to take back America. 



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?


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