Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Clean-Money Elections

California voters next week will decide the fate of Prop 89, which is a "clean money" measure, providing for public campaign finance and contribution limits, especially for corporations. There are real reasons to be suspicious of Prop 89, since it was written by the California Nurses Association and may unduly favor that group over other unions and organizations. Unfortunately, the underlying issue is, as usual, getting lost in the fog of the campaign.

The central problem in American politics is the jaw-dropping cost of running an election campaign. A member of Congress needs to raise thousands of dollars per day for two years in anticipation of the next re-election campaign. Ballot measures are multi-million dollar brawls, with more and more money chasing fewer and fewer voters. The costs of a campaign are so enormous that candidates feel that they have no choice but to go after the large checks from the deep pockets of corporations. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that political contributions are a form of protected speech under the First Amendment.

I therefore propose the following measure as a first step towards political sanity. It may require a Constitutional amendment, but I think it's important enough to warrant such a momentous tactic.

The Congress and the States shall have the power to limit the political speech of fictitious persons.
The idea still needs some fleshing out, because freedom of political speech is meaningless if a corporation (such as a television station or a newspaper or a magazine) can be muzzled. Perhaps a more direct approach would be better: "Freedom of the speech and of the press shall not be construed to include the freedom for a corporation or other fictitious legal person to contribute without limits to a campaign for or against a particular candidate or ballot measure." In any case, the basic idea is that the right of the people to have a clean political
process must trump the right of corporations to make contributions to campaigns.

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A conservative look at Habeas

The liberal side of the political spectrum has been aghast at the Bush Administration's brazenness in so cavalierly eroding the cornerstone of liberty, the Great Writ of habeas corpus. Apologists for the Bush régime point out that the Military Commissions Act of 2006 ("the torture bill") only removes habeas for non-citizen detainees. If you're a red-blooded American terror suspect, you still have habeas, but not if you're Saudi or Yemeni or Canadi. Those non-citizens, the reasoning goes, have no Constitutional rights at all, since they're not citizens under our Constitution.

Thing is, there's a strong conservative response to that viewpoint. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights and the 17 amendments since then provide individuals with certain rights, to be sure, but they also serve an equally important function: they limit the powers of the government. The full scope of the Tenth Amendment is a bit murky, but the underlying intent is clear: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people." In other words, we don't want the federal government to have any powers not explicitly granted to it.

True conservatives, unlike George W. Bush, believe in limited government. They believe in accountability in government, to which Bush pays lip service but no actual allegiance. They believe in transparency of government, which Bush demands overseas but inhibits at home. It often seems that Bush wants to replace the last words of the Bill of Rights with "reserved ... to the President." True conservatives know that there is no greater threat to the liberty of the nation than the threat from within, the threat of government overreach and abuse of power. Fortunately, conservatives are beginning to awaken to the threat posed by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: we will never win the war on terror by out-barbarizing the terrorists or by being more bad-ass or more ruthless. The only way to win the war on terror is by standing resolutely for openness, tolerance, and the rule of law — not the rule of law when it's convenient, but the rule of law all the time, even in time of war.

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Monday, October 30, 2006

Dick Armey on Hardball tomorrow

Dick Armey, a Republican former Congressman from the north side of Dallas, Texas, will be appearing tomorrow on MSNBC Hardball with Chris Matthews, discussing the GOP leadership. Although Armey worked closely with Newt Gingrich to create the "Contract for America" that drove the Republicans to a sweeping victory in the 1994 elections, he has spoken out against so-called religious leaders, specifically including James Dobson of Focus on the Family, as a "gang of thugs." It will be interesting to see what he has to say.

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Handy Halloween Hint

A well-dressed protester on October 5
Photo copyright ©2006 Lincoln Madison.

A friend passed along a useful tip for Halloween masks: you can buy "cosmetic sponges" at any pharmacy. Tape one on the inside of your mask, just above your eyebrows, and it will make the mask much more comfortable to wear.

Then you can vanquish the vile villainous varmints whose venal vacuity verges on veridicide — by wearing a Guy Fawkes mask!

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Sunday, October 29, 2006


Some of my fellow Princeton and Cal-Berkeley alums have come up with a political web site called Rizzleweb.com, which offers you the opportunity to rate your politicians and discuss politics generally. They're just getting started, and the site indicates that it is still in beta testing, but check it out and see what you think.

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Christine Todd Whitman

Christine Todd Whitman, former governor of New Jersey and former head of the EPA, was one of the guests on this week's Real Time with Bill Maher. She took a number of stands against the policies and practices of the Bush Administration and the current Congressional leadership, but it all left me wondering how she could be saying these things, having been the state chair of Bush's re-election effort just two years ago. Very few of the things mentioned are particularly recent revelations: by the time of the 2004 election cycle, we already knew that Iraq was a disaster, and that incompetent management from the top was the culprit.

Andrew Sullivan made the point that it was not only Democrats who were spineless in failing to stand up to the Administration's blundering, but also true conservatives and traditional Republicans who failed to call out the Administration. Whitman's response: "The Democrats didn't call them on it. And I agree, the true conservatives — when you see spending the way it's going, when you see the kinds of government interference in our everyday lives, those are not conservative principles. They're contrary to conservative principles. And we need to get back to conservative principles."

True enough, but what of that is news to you in the last two years? Back in 2004, the Iraq War had already dragged on far longer than the "I doubt six months" that Rumsfeld predicted, Bush and the Republican Congress were already spending money hand over fist, and we already had conservative heresies like the Patriot Act. While I applaud Ms. Whitman for speaking out now, I still must ask, as I did back in 2004, why she didn't speak out then. Andrew Sullivan had the courage of his convictions to speak out as a conservative Republican and endorse John Kerry in 2004 and now to endorse Democrats for Congress, because of the necessity of reining in the abuse of power that is endemic in the Bush/Neocon ruling faction of the Republican Party.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

The Great Debate

I attended "The Great Debate," co-sponsored by KQKE-AM "The Quake," our local Air America affiliate, and KNEW-AM, a local talk-radio station on the conservative side of the political spectrum. Each side put forth four panelists, with former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown as the moderator. There were some statements made by some of the right-wingers that made me cringe, that made me angry, or that made me laugh at the panelists, but I'd like to focus on some of the common ground I found. After all, I haven't completely abandoned my conservative upbringing!

Read more...The panelists for the left were Stephanie Miller, Thom Hartmann, Rachel Maddow, and Johnny Steele; on the right, Jack Armstrong, Joe Getty, Jerry Doyle, and Rusty Humphries.

Both sides agreed that redistricting is urgently needed across the country. Three of the conservative panelists talked about having supported Prop 77, Governor Schwarzenegger's redistricting measure. The Third Path opposed Prop 77, but not because of any attachment to the fucked-up system we have now. I felt that Prop 77 was, first of all, slanted in a partisan manner, and secondly, insufficiently vetted by public hearings. California has some ludicrously gerrymandered districts, as do most states — with a few notable exceptions, like Iowa. Florida's 16th District has been in the news lately for other reasons, but it's either one of those districts that is only contiguous at low tide, or it's pretty damned close. Districts are drawn primarily on the basis of party affiliation in order to give the incumbents an easy ride to re-election year after year after year.

Both sides also agreed that the problem with people like Duke Cunningham, Bob Ney, and William Jefferson isn't their party affiliation, but the fact that they're [alleged] crooks. More to the point, most members of Congress are more concerned with clinging to their own power than serving the public. Surprisingly, two of the conservative panelists spoke out strongly in favor of the Democratic surge in the 2006 elections, because it will punish the Republican Party for its betrayal of the principles of conservatism and of good government. One of the panelists, Jerry Doyle, whom you will recognize if you watched Babylon Five, ran for Congress in 2000 as a Republican, in what he describes as an effort to bring the party back to its core beliefs. As long as we have gerrymandered districts and a public that talks about dissatisfaction but yet keeps re-electing incumbents, we will continue to have bad government. As long as we allow ourselves to be distracted by peripheral issues, the politicians will avoid taking real stands on substantive issues.

Both sides agreed that the initiative system in California makes a mockery of the democratic process, because we have a system in which special interests are able to write initiatives which effectively bribe key allies and then saturate the airwaves with advertising to all but buy the election, knowing that they can sneak in a provision that will return their investment many times over. Since initiatives are straight yes-or-no votes, there's no opportunity to fine-tune a proposal and understand its ramifications.

Both sides agreed that the Republicans have a shameful track record on immigration, and that the Bush Administration has opposed any meaningful action — specifically aggressive fines against employers who hire illegal workers — out of loyalty to its large corporate backers. Both sides agreed that the massive deficit spending by the Republican Congress has been beyond irresponsible.

And then I returned home just in time for Real Time with Bill Maher, to round out my evening of politics.

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White House Press Secretary Tony Snow says that it is a "no-brainer" that the United States does not torture, and it is a "no-brainer" that the United States follows international law. Yet the White House Office of Legal Counsel wrote in a formal opinion that "customary international law, whatever its source and content, does not bind the President," and we know that C.I.A. interrogators have used waterboarding — established in U.S. legal precedent after World War II as torture — in interrogating post-9/11 prisoners.

In the same memo, John Yoo takes the absurd position that "As the Nation’s representative in foreign affairs, the President has a variety of constitutional powers with respect to treaties, including the powers to suspend them, withhold performance of them, contravene them or terminate them." That assertion is incomprehensible in light of the clear language of Article VI: "This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land." Nothing there, or in Article II, either explicitly or implicitly gives the President the power to terminate a treaty, any more than he could unilaterally terminate a federal law or a part of the Constitution itself.

The "no-brainer" is that the Bush Administration will do anything and say anything without regard to international law, domestic law, or even the Constitution, in its pursuit of unlimited power.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A Sensible Marriage Law

The New Jersey Supreme Court today ruled that the state's constitution requires that committed same-sex couples have equal legal rights as mixed-sex married couples. There has been quite a lot of noise about undermining the religious institution of marriage, which only highlights the need to separate the legal concept from the religious version, in order to prevent either from impinging on the other's turf. The obvious solution is this:


The Marriage Protection Act of 2006
  1. Findings and Statement of Purpose. Considerable controversy has arisen over the conflict between the desire of many same-sex couples to have legal recognition and protection for their relationships, and the religious beliefs of many citizens that same-sex relationships are immoral. It is thus necessary to separate the religious institution of marriage from the legal recognition of romantic partnership, in order to protect both.
  2. Any two adult persons may enter into a Civil Marriage.
  3. All existing references to marriage in state and federal law shall be construed as applying to Civil Marriage, except where those references would restrict the availability of Civil Marriage based on sex.
  4. Civil Marriage shall be recognized as valid in all civil contexts, including but not limited to employment, housing, and public accommodations.
  5. The religious institution of marriage may be defined by any religion, without interference of any kind from the government. No religion shall be required to recognize any Civil Marriage as a valid religious marriage, nor shall a Civil Marriage be a requirement for recognition of a religious marriage.
  6. Any religious corporation shall be required to recognize the validity of Civil Marriage in any context in which it provides employment, housing, or public accommodations, except where such benefits are explicitly and specifically limited to adherents of that particular religion.
I'm sure there are several pages of legalese that would be needed to flesh out the concept, but I think that's a pretty good summary of the framework. One inconspicuous detail in my proposal is that it would effectively legalize polygamy within a religious context, although only two of the participants could be civilly married; the others would have to have legal documents to formalize their connection for civil purposes. While the people of the United States overwhelmingly oppose polygamy — by an even larger margin than same-sex marriage — the fact is that much of the harm caused by polygamy results from the necessity of hiding from public view. If we as a nation are serious about religious liberty, it must extend to FLDS as much as to Methodists or Baptists, and they must be allowed to practice their religion in the light of day.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Sir, No Sir!

Tonight on Countdown, Keith Olbermann had an interview with an active-duty U.S. Marine who is speaking out against the Iraq War. The transcript isn't yet available on the MSNBC web site, but here's the gist: Sergeant Liam Madden is one of a growing number of active-duty rank-and-file military personnel who are are sending "protected communications" to individual members of Congress, urging them to bring the Iraq War to an end. In Sgt. Madden's view, "There is no benefit to the parties involved, including the American servicemembers, the Iraqi people, and the American people. This is a war for no benefit, in my eyes." White House Press Secretary Tony Snow cast aspersions on these brave troops who are serving or have served in Iraq, saying that these anti-war soldiers are "going to be able to get more press than than the hundreds of thousands who have come back and said they are proud of their service." As Sgt. Madden clearly demonstrates, it is entirely possible to be proud of your service in the military while at the same time speaking out against the misbegotten, misguided, mismanaged mission in which you are deployed — just as it is possible to love America while speaking out against some of the actions taken in our name.

In the Vietnam War, one of the elements that is often overlooked is the extent to which active-duty servicemembers took leading roles in the anti-war movement. The documentary Sir, No Sir! tells their story, beginning with soldiers at Fort Hood, which by an odd coincidence is just about next door to President Bush's ranch in Texas. The troops spoke out, and increasingly refused orders to fight in Vietnam. According to Pentagon records, there were 503,926 "incidents of desertion" between 1966 and 1971. In many cases, entire units refused to mobilize. Iraq Veterans Against the War is offering free copies of the DVD to anyone who has served in the military since 9/11 (see IVAW.org for details). One other little detail: Sir, No Sir! documents that the story of a returning Vietnam veteran being spat upon when he arrived back in the United States is almost certainly a complete fabrication.

Soldiers in a time of war still have not only the right but the obligation to speak out when they believe their orders are illegal or immoral. I salute Sgt. Madden and other troops with the courage to publicly oppose this war.

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Al Gore in Berkeley for Prop 87

Vice President Al Gore provided the focal point for a rally in favor of California Proposition 87 this afternoon. He was introduced by Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and Representative Barbara Lee (D–CA.09). The message was simple and direct. First, America and the world are facing a dual crisis: global warming and dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Second, California is once again in the position to lead the nation and the world in developing new technologies to provide clean energy.

Gore spoke about some space enthusiasts he spoke with recently, some of whom suggested that we go live on other planets. His answer: the people in charge couldn't even evacuate New Orleans! He also mentioned a Saudi oil minister who observed some 30 years ago that the Stone Age didn't end because of a shortage of stones. Just as humans found better technologies to replace their stone tools, now we must find better technologies to replace fossil fuels. American reliance on foreign oil in particular leaves us vulnerable to actions like the Arab oil embargos of 1973 and 1979 — made possible by our own "Peak Oil" moment in 1972 — but also leaves us vulnerable to political manipulation. Whenever public sentiment begins to turn against oil producers, they sacrifice some of their profits and lower prices for a while to defuse the enthusiasm for alternative energy. We need to follow the example set by Brazil: embrace new technology and make a national commitment to energy self-sufficiency. Beyond the ill effects on America of our dependence on oil imports, Gore also spoke of the corrosive effects of the dependence on oil exports by many Middle Eastern countries. The petrodollars skew the political and economic landscape in a way that feeds continued instability, especially since many of those petrodollars end up in the hands of insurgents or terrorists.

On the subject of climate change, Gore took on the naysayers with the metaphor of a fire in your children's bedroom: "How fast will that crib burn? Am I going to have to pay for a new crib? Is that baby fire-retardant?" The population of our planet has more than quadrupled in less than a century, and the use of fossil fuels has increased far more rapidly than that as more countries have industrialized. We are seeing climate change that is far outside the bounds of normal natural fluctuations, and indeed outside the bounds of all of human history.

Speaking of the approach needed to the urgent challenges of the 21st century, Gore recalled the words of General Omar Bradley at the conclusion of World War II: "It is time we steered by the stars, not by the lights of every passing ship." It's time for someone to step forward and demonstrate some real leadership in confronting global warming and energy dependence. California has the chance to lead the charge, and thus to reap the benefits of the opportunity presented by this crisis. [Yes, Gore used a line about the Chinese characters for crisis, danger, and opportunity, but at least he didn't present it in its usual flawed formulation.] Just as California led the high-tech revolution with Silicon Valley, we will lead the clean energy revolution with the passage of Prop 87.

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Off to see Al Gore

Former Vice President Al Gore will be speaking live in Berkeley at noon today to support California Prop 87. The event is being held at 2151 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, across from Berkeley City Hall, about two blocks from the downtown Berkeley BART station.

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Danielle Pletka's world of delusion

Danielle Pletka, Vice President for Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, is one of the guests on tonight's HBO Real Time with Bill Maher, and she's airing her bizarre delusions for the world to see.

Read more...She claims that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran has said that he wants to destroy the United States. In fact, he has said that he wants to destroy Israel, and he has said that he believes that Muslims should isolate the U.S. and Britain, but he has never, at least since becoming President, publicly called for the destruction of the United States.

Her delusions really shine through, though, in her creation of the right's favorite straw-man argument, that anyone who believes that the Bush Administration has done a horrifically bad job in Iraq must somehow believe that we personally are morally worse than Saddam.

Bill Maher: For the next 100 years, these people are going to hate America because we went in there condescendingly and said to them, you know what, you're a backwards society, we're going to bring you —

Danielle Pletka: We said, "Don't die under Saddam Hussein." Where's your humanity?

[discussion about how many people died under Saddam vs. under the U.S. occupation, poison gas, Iran-Iraq War, Kurds, etc.]

Maher: We're supposed to be the good guys!

Pletka: You cannot equate the United States military, the men and women who serve in that military, to the government of Saddam Hussein; that's wrong.

Ben Affleck: Stop, stop. Ma'am, that's grotesque. You're recharacterizing his argument to win the argument to all of a sudden conflate what he is saying, which is, "Did more people die under Saddam Hussein?"

Pletka [to Bill Maher]: You said we're just as bad as Saddam Hussein! You did!

Affleck: No, he didn't say that. What he said was, "Did more people die or not as a result of this invasion?," and you turn around and say to him, "Well, you're saying that American soldiers are the same as Saddam Hussein." That's horrible, hideous, and offensive.

Pletka [to Bill Maher]: That is exactly what you said! ... We'll go back and get the transcript and fight about it later, but that is what you implied, for sure. I'm sorry.
To borrow a phrase from Danielle Pletka's earlier comments, "Horse manure!" Bill Maher neither said nor implied anything remotely close to suggesting that American soldiers — or Americans in general, or the American government — are the same as Saddam Hussein or his government. Not even the slightest whiff of a hint of a possibility of an analogy. The point he was making by exclaiming, "We're supposed to be the good guys!" is that it is not enough for the United States to simply claim to be less evil than Saddam Hussein. We have set the stage for a massive civil war, out of which a peaceful and stable Iraq might emerge in another couple of decades, but in the mean time we have made the situation far worse for the average Iraqi citizen — and that is precisely why the people there hate us so much, and why a majority of them believe that it is acceptable to attack and kill American soldiers.

In particular, the suggestion that the Iraqi people were better off under Saddam Hussein than they are in the current situation is not at all the same thing as suggesting that American soldiers or administrators are just as evil as Saddam Hussein and his henchmen. It is simply saying that we fucked up Iraq because we didn't know what we were doing. Whatever else Saddam did — and he did a lot of horrible things — he didn't allow the Shia and the Sunnis to go around killing each other at random, blowing up mosques, killing people waiting in line to buy bread or kerosene, and running suicide bombers into masses of people. Yes, Saddam's police hauled people off in the dead of night to be tortured and killed, and no one is suggesting that's a good thing. However, the simple reality is that people are being hauled off in the dead of night — or in broad daylight — in the current civil war, in greater numbers than under Saddam.

The United States went into Iraq to depose Saddam, but we did it without a plan to secure the peace, and by committing that ghastly blunder, we have created a situation that is even worse for the Iraqi people than living under Saddam. How was it our right to tell the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have died since 2003 that we have decided that they should give up their lives for their country to be free of the evil dictator Saddam Hussein? The tragic mistake made by the right, as exemplified tonight by Danielle Pletka, is the belief that the U.S., because of its intrinsic moral goodness, can do no wrong. She seems to honestly believe that we went into Iraq to liberate the Iraqi people because we had only their best interests at heart, and that is a delusion.

I realize that it's difficult to get a coherent conservative on Bill Maher's program, but Danielle Pletka did not comport herself well tonight.

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Changing Cable Companies

The other day, I checked out Crooks and Liars, where I found a link to a video from Keith Olbermann's Countdown on MSNBC. Yesterday, I went over to a friend's house to watch the show, since my current cable company doesn't carry MSNBC. Olbermann closes each show by saying, "Good night, and good luck." For anyone who missed the wonderful movie by that title, it was the close for each broadcast by journalist Edward R. Murrow, the man who turned the tide against Senator Joe McCarthy, mostly just by showing footage of McCarthy's outrageous red-baiting performances in Senate hearings. Murrow had already made a name for himself in broadcast journalism history by his live radio reports from London during World War II, but it was his report on McCarthy that put him up with George Washington Carver (the inventor of peanut butter) in my childhood pantheon of heroes.

Today, Olbermann uses the same tag line, and it's no coincidence. Olbermann is playing Murrow to George W. Bush's "Tailgunner Joe." It's an overused phrase lately, but Olbermann is speaking truth to power. Back on 2006-10-05, Olbermann had a "Special Comment" section in the broadcast, with things like this to say:


The President doesn't just hear what he wants. He hears things, that only he can hear. It defies belief that this President and his administration could continue to find new unexplored political gutters into which they could wallow. Yet they do.

. . .

You have dishonored your party, sir — you have dishonored your supporters — you have dishonored yourself. But tonight the stark question we must face is, Why?

Why has the ferocity of your venom against the Democrats, now exceeded the ferocity of your venom against the terrorists? Why have you chosen to go down in history as the President who made things up? In less than one month you have gone from a flawed call to unity, to this clarion call to hatred of Americans, by Americans. If this is not simply the most shameless example of the rhetoric of political hackery, then it would have to be the cry of a leader crumbling under the weight of his own lies.

. . .

This President — in his bullying of the Senate last month and in his slandering of the Democrats this month — has shown us that he believes whoever the enemies are — they are hiding themselves inside a dangerous cloak, called the Constitution of the United States of America.

. . .

Mr. President, these new lies go to the heart of what it is that you truly wish to preserve. It is not our freedom, nor our country — your actions against the Constitution give irrefutable proof of that. You want to preserve a political party's power. And obviously you'll sell this country out, to do it.

These are lies about the Democrats piled atop lies about Iraq which were piled atop lies about your preparations for Al-Qaeda.

I think that's stuff worth the trouble to change cable companies. To quote Edward R. Murrow, "We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven into an age of unreason if we dig deep into our history and remember we are not descended from fearful men."

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

California Bond Measures

California Propositions 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D, and 1E: bond measures

No on 1A (Transportation Funding: Legislative Constitutional Amendment*)
Yes on 1B (Highway Safety, Traffic Reduction, Air Quality, Port Security)
Yes on 1C (Housing and Emergency Shelter)
Yes on 1D (Public Education Facilities)
Yes on 1E (Disaster Preparedness and Flood Prevention)
* Prop 1A is only a constitutional amendment, not a bond measure

Read more...Prop 1A: Transportation Funding Protection. Not actually a bond measure but a Constitutional Amendment. In 2002, voters approved Prop 42, requiring the state of California to use most gasoline tax revenues for transportation. However, there was an emergency escape clause allowing 2/3 of the legislature plus the governor to suspend that requirement, provided they commit to repaying the lost revenue in future years. Prop 1A would make it more difficult to borrow from the gas tax in a budget crisis, meaning that we would have to slash education, public health, and law enforcement in order to maintain our priority on building freeways. We need to put much more attention and much more money into our transportation system — not just building ever more freeways, but also emphasizing public transit. However, we should not lock that priority into the state constitution. We should elect legislators with the political will to prioritize spending and raise the revenue to pay for it.

Bond measures mean !!FREE MONEY!! — just like a credit card! You get to go shopping and never actually pay for anything. ... Oh, wait a second; do I have that right?

Issuing a bond is borrowing money, to be repaid double over the next 30 years or so. If the bond's purpose doesn't qualify for federal tax exemption, the repayment is even more than double. Bonds make sense for building things that will benefit the community for decades to come: roads, schools, and hospitals, but not salaries, routine maintenance, or short-term projects. The other catch is that arguments in favor of bond measures invariably proclaim that they will not raise your taxes. That's technically true, but deeply misleading. Repaying bonds is by law irrevocably the absolute first priority of the state budget, even before paying for education, hospitals, police, firefighters, or earthquake retrofits. The bonds on this November's ballot total $42.7 billion, which would cost about $2.8 billion per year over the life of the bonds. That's $2.8 billion skimmed right off the top of the state budget, not available for anything else, no matter what. That's not to say that we shouldn't approve the bond measures, but only that we need to be sure that they're worth the serious commitment involved for a full generation of Californians.

This year, in addition to one bond measure submitted by initiative (Prop 84), we have four bond measures submitted by the legislature. Because ballot measures from the legislature go first on the ballot, but the numbers had already been assigned for the initiatives, the legislature's bond measures are numbered 1B through 1E. Taken together, they form "The Rebuild California Plan." It is important to emphasize, though, that Prop 1A is a separate issue.

Prop 1B: Highway Safety, Traffic Reduction, Air Quality, and Port Security Bond Act of 2006. $19.9 billion in bonds, costing a total of $38.9 billion over 30 years, to pay for increased capacity on state highways, upgrades on local transit and intercity rail service, air quality improvement projects, and safety and security projects on public transit, railroad crossings, highways, and ports. These items are all desperately needed to keep California's people and our economy moving. The counter-argument is that many of these projects ought to be funded on a pay-as-you-go basis; the problem is that we don't have the money, so we have to borrow it. Also, the federal Department of Homeland Security has proven that it is too busy worrying about things like popcorn factories in Indiana and detecting improvised explosive devices in Wyoming to bother with trivialities like security at the Port of Long Beach, where 40% of our nation's imports arrive.

Prop 1C: Housing and Emergency Shelter Trust Fund Act of 2006. $2.85 billion in bonds, costing a total of $6.1 billion over 30 years, to facilitate new housing in already-developed areas, encourage home ownership, build new apartments with some set aside for low-income tenants, and build shelters for battered women and homeless people. The cost of housing in California is ridiculous. The median price of a single-family dwelling in California is over $500,000. Here in San Francisco, rent for a studio apartment is well over $1,000/month, even if you're willing to live on top of a crack den. The focus on housing near existing transit hubs is especially important.

Prop 1D: Kindergarten—University Public Education Facilities Bond Act of 2006. $10.4 billion, costing a total of $20.3 billion over 30 years, to modernize existing schools, build new schools, relieve overcrowding, enhance vocational training, fund "green" environmental projects at school facilities, and improve facilities at our community colleges and state universities (both CSU and UC). Education is the engine that powers the economy, more than any other factor. Since 1978, California has let its top-notch educational system slide into the bottom tier. If we want a prosperous new century, we need to invest in education.

Prop 1E: Disaster Preparedness and Flood Prevention Bond Act of 2006. $4.1 billion, costing a total of $8 billion over 30 years, to rebuild the levees in the Central Valley, improve flood control in other areas, build bypasses to divert flood waters, and map out areas most vulnerable to flooding. The levees protect more than just the homes and farms along the rivers of the Central Valley: they also protect our drinking water supply. If the levees fail, 2/3 of California could be without clean drinking water. It ain't just in Nawlins that George Bush doesn't care about levees, so the state needs to step in. The opposition ballot argument is absolutely right that California needs to expand its water supply, but that need is in addition to, not in opposition to, the need to protect the existing supply.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

No, no, no, NO on Prop 83

California Proposition 83: Sex Offenders. Sexually Violent Predators. Punishment, Residence Restrictions and Monitoring. (Initiative Statute)

Yet again, we are presented with a "tough on crime" measure that is ill-conceived, overly broad, and lacking in focus. I expect that Prop 83 will pass with a large majority, but that's a damned shame, because it's terrible legislation and a misguided public policy.

Read more...Prop 83 would ban all registered sex offenders (RSOs) from living within 2,000 feet (610m) of a school or park. In many of California's cities, there are no homes that are not within 2,000 feet of some school or park. NIMBYism aside, sex offenders have to live somewhere when they get out of jail. Current law keeps RSOs a minimum of ¼ mile (1,320 feet, or 402m) away from schools and parks, with "high-risk" RSOs a minimum of ½ mile (2,640 feet, or 804m) out. For RSOs who are not in the "high-risk" category, ¼ mile keeps them far enough away that they can't keep a watch on the school playground from their homes. More to the point, keeping these low-risk RSOs out of cities will concentrate them into rural areas, where they will be under even less supervision with even less police presence.

Prop 83 would also extend the parks/schools prohibition to thousands of misdemeanor offenders, for the rest of their lives. It would also require GPS monitoring of all felony RSOs. At first glance, that might sound like a good thing, but the reality is that our police resources are severely limited, and imposing a blanket requirement like this is not their most effective use. The state already monitors about 1,000 of the highest-risk offenders, plus additional RSOs monitored at the county level. Trying to monitor too many people only makes it more likely that the really dangerous ones will slip through the cracks.

The State of Iowa passed a law with many similar provisions to Prop 83. In February 2006, the Iowa County Attorneys Association — that's the prosecutors — issued a statement that said:

The Iowa County Attorneys Association believes that the 2,000 foot residency restriction for persons who have been convicted of sex offenses involving minors does not provide the protection that was originally intended and that the cost of enforcing the requirement and the unintended effects on families of offenders warrant replacing the restriction with more effective protective measures.
The truth is, most repeat child sex offenders do not go after strangers. They prey upon members of their own families in their own homes, and Jessica's Law does nothing to prevent such offenses. Another example of the Law of Unintended Consequences is that the residency restrictions in Iowa wound up causing additional harm to the victims of child sexual predators: "[T]here are more refusals by defendants charged with sex offenses to enter into plea agreements. Plea agreements are necessary in many cases involving child victims in order to protect the children from the trauma of the trial process."

The ICAA outlined its recommendations for changing Iowa's residency restrictions, including:
Most important, any restriction that carries the expectation that it can be effectively enforced must be applied to a more limited group of offenders than is covered by the current [Iowa] residency restriction. This group should be identified by a competent assessment performed by trained persons acting on behalf of the state. The assessment should be directed at applying the statutory restriction only to those offenders that present an actual risk in public areas to children with whom the offender has no prior relationship.
In other words, it's a dangerous waste of law enforcement resources to cast too wide a net. We need to focus on the most dangerous people, not treat everyone convicted of any sort of sex crime equally. We distinguish in law between murder and jaywalking; likewise, we must distinguish between true sexually violent predators and lesser sex offenders.

Another point from the Iowa report: we need to take measures to protect all children from all offenders, including relatives, teachers, coaches, clergy, and Congressmen.

Vote no on 83! It throws money and personnel at the problem, but won't make our kids any safer. The Iowa prosecutors said, "[Our] observations are not motivated by sympathy for those committing sex offenses against children, but by our concern that legislative proposals designed to protect children must be both effective and enforceable. Anything else lets our children down." Prop 83 fails on both counts.

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Yes on 84

California Proposition 84: Water Quality, Safety and Supply. Flood Control. Natural Resource Protection. Park Improvements. Bonds. (Initiative Statute)

Prop 84 would issue $5.4 billion in bonds (with an estimated repayment cost of $10.5 billion over 30 years) to fund projects for flood control and drinking water. California's population continues to grow, so we need to have water for them to drink and cook and bathe, not to mention water to grow their food and water for industrial and commercial purposes. The Central Valley isn't quite the Ninth Ward, but our levees are in need of serious and immediate attention.

I do have one serious beef with the Yes on 84 arguments, though: the claim that these bonds will solve the problem "without raising taxes" is technically correct, but cynically misleading. The repayment of the bonds will be from tax revenues, requiring either a reduction in other spending or an increase in taxes. You can't just pull $350 million a year out of thin air. Unfortunately, this specious reasoning pops up with nearly every bond measure.

Still, the bottom line is that we need these projects to protect the future of California, and we will benefit from them for decades to come. Vote yes on 84.

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No, no, no, NO on Prop 85

California Proposition 85: Waiting Period and Parental Notification before Termination of Minor's Pregnancy. (Initiative Constitutional Amendment)

Proponents would have you believe that passing a ballot measure will magically make families communicate and make teenagers behave responsibly. Public policy shouldn't be guided by idyllic fantasies. "The California Supreme Court found overwhelming evidence that similar laws in other states cause real harm to teenagers and families." That's a quote out of the voter information guide, but I couldn't put it better.

The authoritarian religious right is trying to impose by force its narrow theocratic agenda. Don't be a part of it. Vote no on 85.

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Yes on 86

California Proposition 86: Tax on Cigarettes. (Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute)

Prop 86 would add $0.13 per cigarette ($2.60 per pack) to the existing excise tax on tobacco, with equivalent taxes on other forms of tobacco. The revenue goes to pay for hospital emergency rooms, non-profit community clinics, stop-smoking programs, health insurance for children, research on tobacco and cancer, and a variety of other programs.

Read more...Prop 86 is endorsed by the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, nurses, emergency-room doctors, and other healthcare experts. The opposition is mostly funded by R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris — two large tobacco companies whose executives testified before Congress that they were absolutely convinced, despite decades of solid evidence, that tobacco is not addictive.

The opponents are making a big stink about one particular provision: "Section 9 gives hospitals an exemption to antitrust laws." Section 9 creates Chapter 4.5 of Division 2.5 of the Health and Safety Code, including new HSC Section 1797.303(b): "It is the policy of the state to encourage hospitals to work cooperatively to develop regional plans for assuring maximum availability of emergency services to all patients, and to share equitably in the provision of emergency services to uninsured and low-income underinsured patients in achieving such maximum availability of emergency services." It goes on to say that, to the extent that any hospitals work cooperatively in developing and implementing the plans for providing emergency services, they will be exempt from antitrust rules. That's a far cry from the blank check that the opponents would like you to believe. Likewise, the opponents' claim that "There's nothing in Prop. 86 that limits what hospitals can charge taxpayers for emergency services for the uninsured" is contradicted by the text of the law.

The Yes on 86 TV ads are very simple and to-the-point: 86 is sponsored by the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, and the California Hospital Association; it is opposed by big tobacco. Whom do you trust? Vote yes on 86.

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Yes on 87

California Proposition 87: Alternative Energy. Research, Production, Incentives. Tax on California Oil Producers. (Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute)

Prop 87 would create a tax on oil extracted in California and use the money to fund programs to reduce oil consumption and develop alternative energy sources.

The oil companies are fighting hard against it, but it's endorsed by an impressive array of health and environmental groups including the American Lung Association, the California League of Conservation Voters, Cal-PIRG, Environment California, the Gray Panthers, the National Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, 8 other members of Congress, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, the American Nurses Association, and the Northern and Southern California Public Health Associations, just to name a few. Al Gore has a TV commercial endorsing it.

America is addicted to oil, and it is once again up to California to lead the way forward into a new century of energy independence. Vote yes on 87.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

No on 88

California Proposition 88: Education Funding. Real Property Parcel Tax. (Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute)

Prop 88 would write into the state constitution a $50 per parcel property tax and direct the revenue towards some worthy education projects. However, it is opposed by the PTA. If you can't convince the PTA to support a measure to help the schools, there's got to be something deeply wrong with your proposal.

Read more...First, some general gripes: there is something deeply wrong with the fundamental structure of the California Constitution: it is a haphazard collection of ballot measures, mostly written by special-interest groups. It gets overly specific about most issues, particularly in terms of the budget process. The Legislature only controls a small fraction of the General Fund, because most of it has been earmarked by a succession of ballot measures. Unfortunately, the deplorable state of our Constitution is a symptom of the chronic lack of political leadership: the power vacuum created by the Legislature's inaction on a diverse array of issues leaves the door wide open to the abuse of process that our ballot measures have become. That said, I have a simple standard when it comes to voting on a constitutional amendment: if it isn't absolutely perfect, I am honor-bound to vote no. Prop 88 fails that test easily, but I'm not even sure that the underlying idea is a good one.

California's public school system is a shambles for one very specific reason: Proposition 13 from 1978 hamstrung our local governments, especially our schools, starving them for funding, leaving our classes to get larger and larger, our textbooks more out of date, our buildings more dilapidated, and our teachers more overworked and underpaid. Before Prop 13, California's school system was the envy of the nation and of the world. California's excellent schools made possible the economic engine of Silicon Valley, and served as a magnet for businesses of all types. Today, California is competing with states like Mississippi for the lowest rungs of the education ladder.

The proponents of Prop 88 say, "Two ultra-conservative special-interest groups are opposing this measure, just like they've opposed other efforts to improve public education in our state." What about the Parents-Teachers Association? That ain't what I call no ultra-conservative special-interest group.

California needs to increase funding for public education significantly. The way I propose to do it is by repealing Prop 13, because Prop 13 was the wrong answer to a real problem back in 1978, and it is the cause of many more problems in the intervening 28 years. We shouldn't have to choose between starving our schools or taxing our retirees out of their own homes. There has to be a third path. In the mean time, put the tax measures before the public and make the case for why they are necessary. Don't waste creative energy on finding new ways to circumvent Prop 13 when what it needs is a total overhaul.

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Yes on 89

California Proposition 89: Political Campaigns. Public Financing. Corporate Tax Increase. Campaign Contribution and Expenditure Limits. (Initiative Statute)

Vote yes on Prop 89 for real electoral reform.

Read more...Prop 89 creates a mechanism for public financing of campaigns for the governor, legislators, members of the Board of Equalization, and seven other officials. It also reduces the limit on a private campaign contribution, imposes limits on donations for or against ballot measures, and increases the corporate tax rate by 0.20% to fund the public financing contributions.

Let's look at the rebuttal to the argument in favor, from the official voter information guide. "The supporters of Proposition 89 won't tell you that [Prop 90 will] raise taxes by hundreds of millions of dollars so politicians can run their campaigns at taxpayers' expense." An interesting accusation, considering that the argument they are supposedly rebutting says, "Proposition 89 is specifically funded by a modest increase in the corporate income tax rate." Since the words "Political Campaigns. Public Financing." are right in the title of the measure, this claim qualifies as a bald-faced lie. Shame upon Larry McCarthy, Betty Jo Toccoli, and James M. Hall for lying to you.

The opponents also claim that Prop 89 would "severely limit" the ability of many small businesses from backing candidates or impacting measures. In fact, the limit is $10,000. If your business is in a position to contribute more than $10,000 to a single candidate or ballot measure, then you're not a small business.

Will the politicians, as the opponents claim, spend the public financing on negative attack ads? Without a doubt, yes. However, if they take the public money, they also have to participate in a public debate. They also won't have the same deep pockets for those attack ads.

Prop 89 is endorsed by the Los Angeles Times, the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, NOW, and several pages of other organizations and people. It is opposed mostly by large corporations.

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No, no, no, NO on Prop 90

California Proposition 90: Government Acquisition, Regulation of Private Property. (Initiative Constitutional Amendment)

Billed as a measure to rein in the abuse of eminent domain, this trojan horse constitutional amendment is really about destroying the government's ability to enact any land-use restrictions whatsoever. Prop 90 is bankrolled almost entirely by Howard Rich, a rabidly libertarian real-estate investor in New York.

Read more...The stated purpose of Prop 90 is to end the abuse of eminent domain, the ability of the government to force you to sell your land for public purposes. The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision Kelo v. New London held that the government can use eminent domain if there is any benefit to the public — specifically, in that case, an increase in the tax base — from the seizure of the land. Traditionally, eminent domain has been reserved for more direct public benefits: building highways, railroads, schools, jails, and the like. The city of New London, Connecticut, used eminent domain to seize people's homes in order to turn the land over to a private developer to build an office park — a use far outside most people's understandings of the bounds of their authority.

The devil is in the details, though. Prop 90 does curtail the abuse of eminent domain by adding restrictions such as this one: "Private property may not be taken or damaged for private use." [Prop 90, Section 3, amending Section 19(a)(1) of the California Constitution], but things get much dicier down in Section 19(b)(8):

Except when taken to protect public health and safety, "damage" to private property includes government actions that result in substantial economic loss to private property. Examples of substantial economic loss include, but are not limited to, the downzoning of private property, the elimination of any access to private property, and limitations on the use of private air space. "Government action" shall mean any statute, charter provision, ordinance, resolution, law, rule or regulation.
That means no new environmental regulations and no new zoning restrictions, and it means that any government regulation of any kind could be tied up in court for years with any claim of "substantial economic loss to private property."

The ballot argument in favor of Prop 90 says, "[O]pponents falsely claim that the measure will hurt the enforcement of environmental regulations. But all existing California environmental laws and regulations are expressly protected." The key word is existing. Any new environmental regulations would be prohibitively expensive. On the flip side, the opponents' ballot argument hits a bullseye:
If local voters pass a measure to limit a new development to 500 houses — instead of 2,000 houses that a developer wants to build — under Prop 90, the developer could demand a payment for the value of the remaining 1,500 houses. Even if local community services and infrastructure would be strained by the larger development, Prop 90 would put taxpayers at risk for payment.
The proponents of Prop 90 are shaking their fists, saying that "the government" should pay for anything it does that in any way diminishes the theoretical value of your property. They seem to be unaware that "the government" really means taxpayers: you and me.

Don't be fooled by this horrible, cynical effort to cripple our ability to regulate land use. As the rebuttal to the proponents' argument says, "[I]f Prop. 90 was a well-designed reform of eminent domain, many thoughtful Californians would support it."

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What a difference italics can make!

I just heard a radio ad on Air America that caught my attention. The ad is for a book entitled Screwed, by Thom Hartmann, but the tag line for the ad is, "Get Screwed by Thom Hartmann." It sounds so very different without the italics.

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Saturday, October 07, 2006

CNN changes another Republican scandal to Democrat

As The Daily Show with Jon Stewart has delighted in pointing out, the people at Fox News are so committed to the ideological mythology that Republicans are the party of good upstanding family moral values, while the Democrats are licentious equivocators, that they couldn't process the cognitive dissonance that former U.S. Representative Mark Foley is a Republican that they displayed his name on their screens as "Mark Foley (D–FL)" Not only that, they apparently repeated the mistake for a second day, even after having the issue brought to their attention publicly.

Well, I was just reading a CNN.com news item entitled "GOP prods Democrats over Foley scandal," in which several Republicans voice their tinfoil-hatted theories about Democratic operatives sitting on the fact that the Republicans were sitting on their sicko Congressman so that the Democrats could use this Republican scandal to electoral advantage. Yawn. Thing is, it isn't just the crackpot theory that the Republicans are advancing, it's also the supposedly fair and balanced unbiased and "authoritative" coverage by CNN:

Top GOP leaders, including Boehner and Majority Whip Roy Blunt, of Missouri, have rushed to Hastert's defense. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, wrote a letter supporting Hastert, saying it was inappropriate to ask for the speaker's resignation when similar scandals in the 1980s prompted a "dramatically different standard."

Barton was referring to Democratic Reps. Gerry Studds of Massachusetts and Dan Crane of Illinois, both of whom were censured after having sexual relationships with 17-year-old pages. Crane lost his re-election bid, while Studds survived the scandal. — CNN.com article at http://www.cnn.com/2006/POLITICS/10/06/foley.fallout/index.html
Well, yes, except that Dan Crane was one of those Republican members of Congress. Oops; score a blooper for CNN.

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Friday, October 06, 2006

The Comma Comment

President Bush, in an interview on CNN's Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer on 2006-09-20, suggested that, from the perspective of history, the current bloody violence in Iraq will "look like just a comma." I've heard a fair bit of chatter about the comment, but Thursday night's Daily Show with Jon Stewart was the first time I've seen the actual video clip. I noticed something that I haven't heard commented on in the press, that Jon Stewart let slide by, and that's missing from the rush transcript posted on CNN's web site. Here is Bush's actual quote:

Yes, you see it on TV. And that's the — that's the power of an enemy that is willing to kill innocent people. But there is also an unbelievable will and resiliency by the Iraqi people.

Twelve million people voted last December. Admittedly, it seems like a decade ago. I like to tell people when the final history is written on Iran, Iraq, it will look like just a comma, because there is — my point is, there is a strong will for democracy.
Sounds like a Freudian slip to me, given the reports that Bush has asked for action plans for a ground invasion of Iran in the quite likely event that a massive aerial bombardment is inadequate to destroy their nuclear programs (nuclear weapons, nuclear power, or both). I don't by any means want to detract from the inhuman insensitivity of what Bush meant to say, but it's worth noting what he actually did say.

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

World Can't Wait LIVE

The World Can't Wait contingent just returned to Justin Herman Plaza (at the foot of Market Street in San Francisco) after marching down Market Street to the Civic Center plaza, past city, state, and federal office buildings, and back down Market Street. Below the fold are some photos from the march.


The crowd gathered in Justin Herman Plaza before the march.

Speakers on the stage

Not exactly your typical protester

The Raging Grannies protesting the war

The march sets out from Justin Herman Plaza onto Market Street

An art car worthy of Burning Man, but with a message

The march continues down Market Street

Some of the protesters dressed in Guy Fawkes masks, in an homage to the film V for Vendetta, whose ominous relevance to our present situation is unmistakable.

UPDATE: The latest word back at Justin Herman Plaza is that, after having granted our permit for amplified sound from noon to 9 p.m., the SFPD has unilaterally revoked the permit, despite the fact that the protest has been entirely peaceful (with zero arrests, in fact) and entirely within the bounds of the permit. It's difficult not to see such an action as politically motivated, but I'll see if I can find out the official explanation.

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World Can't Wait TODAY

Today is the National Day of Mass Resistance declared by World Can't Wait to drive out the Bush régime.

  • the illegal Iraq war, with wars already planned in Iran and other countries
  • torturing people, justifying torture, and legalizing torture
  • indefinite detention on mere suspicion, without access to courts, lawyers, or family
  • a narrow Christian theocratic domestic agenda full of hatred and intolerance
  • suppression of science for political, religious, or economic reasons
  • hostility towards not only abortion, but also all forms of birth control
  • a culture of greed, bigotry, intolerance, and ignorance
Recent events, just in the past week, have underscored the issues involved — and I'm not talking about Congressman Mark Foley and the pages. Senators McCain, Graham, and Warner took a principled stand against the Bush Administration's drive to legalize torture, but in the end they caved in and gave the President unchecked power to detain whomever he pleases and use any method of "interrogation" that he alone deems appropriate. Almost without notice, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would gut the First Amendment's guarantee of separation of church and state by making it impossible for ordinary Americans to stop the imposition of Christian religious items by the government.

The Democratic Party has shown far too little willingness to challenge the Bush régime, and the Greens and other "third parties" have failed to step up to the plate; indeed, they haven't even made it to the locker room, if I may continue a sports analogy. The people must rise up and demand — from Republicans, Democrats, and anyone else who wants to be a player on the national political stage — an end to these immoral policies and the hostility towards our fundamental rights as supposedly guaranteed by the Constitution.

Quoting the World Can't Wait call to action: "History is full of examples where people who had right on their side fought against tremendous odds and were victorious. And it is also full of examples of people passively hoping to wait it out, only to get swallowed up by a horror beyond what they ever imagined. The future is unwritten; which one we get is up to us."

I'll bring you updates from the protest; if I can find a WiFi connection, I'll be blogging live.

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Evening of Conscience

The World Can't Wait group held an "Evening of Conscience" Monday at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland. The evening featured a video by Mark Ruffalo (reading a statement from Sean Penn), poet Elmaz Abinader, author Alice Walker (The Color Purple), rapper Boots Riley, and author Daniel Ellsberg (The Pentagon Papers). Look below the fold for photos and a report from the event.

Read more...The evening opened with a group of youth reading aloud the call for the October 5 protest. Trinidad, from Youth Movement Records, got the crowd fired up with a political rap. Larry Everest, the master of ceremonies for the evening, announced that over 170 protests are scheduled for Thursday, with more than 70 of those in "red" states. World Can't Wait also took out a banner ad on MySpace, resulting in more than ten e-mails per minute from young people wanting to get involved. Mark Ruffalo, appearing on a video, read a statement from Sean Penn, urging everyone to get involved and stay involved.

Berta Guillen of SEIU Local 87, representing the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of World Can't Wait, spoke about a Muslim teen being tortured by American soldiers, cluster bombs blasting Lebanese villages to rubble, the devastation of the 9th Ward of New Orleans more than a year after Hurricane Katrina, and the litany of reasons that, under the Nuremberg protocols, President Bush should be behind bars. The October 5 protest in San Francisco will feature speakers including Medea Benjamin, Jodie Evans, Thom Hartmann, and Daniel Ellsberg.

Dennis Bernstein from KPFA Flashpoints made reference to the canonical example of the limits on free speech: your freedom of speech does not include the right to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater. Dennis made the point that there is a fire in the theater of our democracy, so it is our moral obligation to shout.

Next up was Elmaz Abinader, a Lebanese-American poet, performeing two pieces, accompanied on saxophone by Kamal Hamachi Mansour, a 16-year-old Lebanese-Palestinian-American student at Albany High School. Elmaz quoted her mother: "I never thought I'd live to see us lose the Bill of Rights." Her piece "Between Me and Heaven" is a meditation beginning on the 102nd floor of the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Alice Walker, best known as the author of The Color Purple, talked about the Code Pink march on the White House on 2003-03-08, in which she and Medea Benjamin and others were arrested by reluctant police when they refused to disperse. She read from The Other Side of War, asking, What does it mean to be a human being? "We cannot have peace in the world if we are not peaceful." What is happening in Africa and elsewhere is because men didn't listen to women, and women didn't listen to women either, and no one listened to the children and the poets. Alice has written a children's book, Why War is Never a Good Idea, but has so far been unable to find a publisher. "No more war, no more lies, no more torture, and definitely none of it in our name!"

Michael Lange introduced Boots Riley, speaking of some of the choices that face us today: "Ballot or Bullet — Freedom or Suppression — Live together as neighbors or Perish as fools"

Boots Riley, a political activist since his teens and a member of the rap group The Coup, performed a couple of numbers. The Coup gained considerable prominence because the cover art for an album that was scheduled to be released in September 2001 showed the band members in front of the World Trade Center towers as they burst into flames from a large explosion. The cover art was entirely coincidental: it was finalized three months before the attacks on 9/11, and there is no connection at all between The Coup and al Qaeda.

Allen Michaan, the owner of the Grand Lake Theater, introduced the final speaker, Daniel Ellsberg. Michaan was galvanized to take a more activist role after the December 2000 Supreme Court decision to stop counting the ballots in Florida.

Daniel Ellsberg is best known for leaking the "Pentagon Papers" to newspapers in 1971. The papers were a classified assessment of the military situation in Vietnam, in which the top brass candidly stated that there was no possibility of military victory in the Vietnam War. Ellsberg initially tried to get a Senator to introduce these assessments into the public record, since members are shielded from prosecution for anything they say on the floor of Congress. Two years of efforts yielded no results, so, inspired by the thousands of young men who went to jail rather than serve in Vietnam, Ellsberg gave the documents to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and 17 other newspapers. His courageous action hastened the end of the Vietnam War, although among his greatest regrets is that he waited two full years, while thousands of young soldiers and civilians died in an unnecessary and unwinnable war.

The amendment offered by Senator Arlen Specter (R–PA) to give "enemy combatant" detainees a single shot at habeas corpus, was defeated by a vote of 48–51. It only takes 41 Senators to sustain a filibuster, so why did those 48 Senators cave in and allow a right that has stood in our legal tradition for nine centuries to be brushed aside in the name of a war without end? Ellsberg sees the passage of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 — the bill that gives the President the authority to detain anyone without oversight and decide unilaterally what methods of interrogation are acceptable — as second only to the clause in Article V of the Constitution that protected slavery for 15 years, among the shameful moments in the history of the U.S. Constitution.

On the subject of slavery, Dean Harold Koh of Yale Law School says that the theory of "inherent rights" of the Presidency as advanced by George W. Bush's legal advisors (most notably John Yoo) would allow the President to reinstitute slavery or commit genocide with impunity, so long as he did so under the aegis of his role as Commander in Chief.

George W. Bush doesn't care about our freedom, and he has demonstrated disastrously bad judgment — it is not a good reflection on the U.S. electorate that Bush got almost half the vote. (Whatever you say about irregularities in the 2004 election, Bush at least got within stealing distance of winning.)

Ellsberg directed an appeal to anyone who might be in the position he held in 1969, with access to classified documents to provide a concrete paper trail: "Don't wait until the bombs are falling. Don't wait until another war is started. If you have documents proving that the government is lying us into war, don't delay." The leaks we have gotten so far have come too late and have come without the necessary documents to substantiate them.

He also outlined his vision of where the United States is heading:

  • "PATRIOT Act Plus"
  • massive detention camps with torture
  • resumed nuclear weapons testing
  • resumption of the military draft, to provide troops for a ground invasion of Iran
  • the total surveillance state
  • secret informers like in East Germany or the Stalinist Soviet Union
The reality today is that we have the NSA with no meaningful restrictions on its surveillance activities, and 14,000 secret prisoners. The Iraqi people overwhelmingly want us out — Sunni, Shia, and Kurds. We are conducting a war on someone else's territory against their wishes. We are using unjust means for an unjust cause. It took us ten years to get out of Vietnam — and Vietnam didn't have oil.

The October 5 protests must be non-violent in nature, because violence plays into the hands of those who would institute a police state. Likewise, George W. Bush plays into the hands of Osama bin Laden, and Israel plays into the hands of Hezbollah. "We have to be the sand in the machine to stop this juggernaut."

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Tony Blankley Blows Goats for Spare Change

Tony Blankley is the editor of the Washington Times — not to be confused with the Washington Post, New York Times, or Los Angeles Times — and an avowed Republican partisan. He worked for the Goldwater campaign in 1964, served in the White House under Ronald Reagan, and was Newt Gingrich's press secretary. He took a principled stand by calling for House Speaker Dennis Hastert to resign his leadership position because of the way he handled the Mark Foley allegations:, but he loses all semblance of principles when he begins discussing the Democrats in relation to the scandal and its timing.


In this case, defending Denny Hastert's decisions is ethically wrong, would undermine our party's commitment to the defense of traditional moral values and is politically stupid in the bargain.

I have known Denny for almost two decades. He is an exceedingly decent man and a hard worker for conservative Republican values and politics. But we cannot deny the fact that he had a sustained lapse of good judgment. The fact that he reportedly has been quite ill for some time may be an explanation — but not an excuse.
However, he loses all semblance of principles when he begins discussing the Democrats in relation to the scandal and its timing:
The fact that Democrats might also cover up such facts is just another reason why I am a Republican. Republicans do stand for sound moral values.
Republicans stand for "sound moral values," huh, Tony? The Republican Party ceaselessly talks about their narrow vision of "moral values," but they don't do a very good job of practicing what they preach. Take Tony's former boss Newt Gingrich, for example. His wife was lying in a hospital bed, recovering from her third cancer surgery. Newt came to her bedside — to serve her with divorce papers! Later, he divorced his second wife in order to marry the aide with whom he had been having an affair. That's just one example that hits close to Tony Blankley, but I could go on and on.
But this may end up being embarrassing to the Democrats, too. It is implausible that ABC got a hold of this information on their own and just happened to broadcast it on the last day of the congressional session.

While I don't have any proof, I will be amazed if Democratic operatives and at least a few Democratic congressmen didn't know about this and fed it to the media through various obscure blogs and to ABC. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) (just like the National Republican Congressional Committee) is in the business of disseminating negative information before elections, among other things.
Well, Tony, while I don't have any proof, I will be amazed if you don't blow goats for spare change. It's an equally well-founded accusation. Be careful throwing conspiracy theories around, Tony, because you might lend credibility to some of the real conspiracies, like Bush's conspiracy to eliminate all checks on Presidential power.

Quotes are from Tony Blankley's column "Republican integrity" in the Washington Times, 2006-10-04; emphasis added by The Third Path.

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See also: "Tony Blankley Foretells the End of His Own Career," 2006-02-12

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