Sunday, November 23, 2008

Just as a reminder

You're going to be hearing this kind of talk a lot as the Court deliberates on the constitutionality of how Prop 8 was enacted. It is completely disingenuous and without merit when dumbasses like this guy start saying things like:

"'If the court disobeys the constitution by voiding Prop. 8, it will ignite a voter revolt,' Thomasson said in statement released after the court agreed Wednesday to hear arguments over the validity of the constitutional amendment."

All we can do is remind people that if the Court finds Prop 8 was not properly slated on the ballot because it is a revision and not an amendment, then the court would be disobeying the constitution if and only if it does not void Prop 8. As much as these punch-drinkers want you to believe it, the Court is not hearing suits seeking to overturn the will of the voters; the Court is hearing cases about how the initiative was improperly slated on the ballot in the first place. Please, do not let people get away with saying the Court is undoing the will of the people or disobeying the constitution or acting outside the law or being 'activist'. This is a question of the legitimacy of the item being put on the ballot, not of the revision being made to the constitution.

Friday, November 21, 2008

More on Prop 8

So in doing my research on Prop 8 and the ensuing legal challenges, here's what I've come up with.

1. The court is not going to rule to overturn the will of the people. The court can't do that. California amended its constitution with Prop 8 and it is that constitution the Supreme Court is charged with upholding.

2. The court may rule that Prop 8 was not properly added to the ballot and in so finding, invalidate the amendment. But why would the courts do this?

2a. The California Constitution establishes two 'levels' of change a ballot initiative can enact. The first, an amendment, is a relatively minor change to the constitution and can be put on the ballot by petition. The second, a revision, is a major change which alters not the text but the fundamentals of the constitution.

2b. Discrimination against 'suspect classes' (that is to say, a classification of people where using that classification as the sole judgment is suspect) is forbidden by the California Constitution.

2f. In the past, when the California Constitution has been amended to remove rights, those rights have been removed from all people. For example, when the courts had held that Calfornian's freedom from 'cruel or unusual punishment' and that execution was cruel or unusual, the Constitution was amended to remove that protection from all Californians.

2c. Gay people constitute a suspect class.

2d. Prior to the enacting of Prop 8, gay people had the right to marry.

2e. Following the passage of Prop 8, a suspect class is explicitly forbidden a right it once had, while the remainder of the population retains that right.

2g. Amending the constitution to remove rights of a protected class is thus unprecedented and represents a material change to the fundamentals of the California Constitution.

2h. As a result, what was placed on the ballot as an amendment is actually a revision and is not eligible for entry on a ballot by petition; it must be placed on ballot by a 2/3 supermajority of both houses of the California Assembly.

3. I like this argumentation very much. The Mormons will bitch and moan about how the courts are undoing the will of the people. But if the court rules in favor of what I outlined in 2, then the people en masse don't have a say in this until the Assembly acts on it. And we've just spent millions and millions of dollars on something that never should've been on the ballot in the first place.

4. Yes, this is very similar to a challenge against Prop 8 before the election, which was declined by the Court. However, in the interest of acting conservatively, the Court chose not to hear the case; if Prop 8 failed, they could get away without having to make a decision and it would have the same policy effect as if they'd heard the case and turned Prop 8 down from the ballot. Now, they evidently believe they do need to make a decision on the case, because whether they do or do not find the placement of Prop 8 on the ballot was appropriate has a net effect regardless of what they decide.

5. It looks like the petition drive to get a repeal measure for Prop 8 is in the works, and even if the Court finds against the folks filing this suit, we'll revisit this battle in two years' time.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

When will my tax dollars start buying *me* wine?

CNN Political Ticker reports on the swill the G20 leaders are quaffing while trying to solve the current financial crisis:

"According to the White House, tonight's dinner to kick off the G-20 summit includes such dishes as 'Fruitwood-smoked Quail,' 'Thyme-roasted Rack of Lamb,' and 'Tomato, Fennel and Eggplant Fondue Chanterelle Jus.'

To wash it all down, world leaders will be served Shafer Cabernet “Hillside Select” 2003, a wine that sells at $499 on"

Now, I'm a liberal elitist, so 'herbs' like 'thyme' don't scare me. And I live in the Bay Area, so the idea of a fruitwood smoker (I mean, you have to admit, that's basically the gayest-sounding thing ever) doesn't scare me. The concept of fondue I find a bit passé, but neither George nor Laura Bush seem to -- how do I say it -- have their finger on the pulse of contemporary trends.

I am a bit of a wine geek, so I relish the importance of the right wine with the right food, and though I have never had a $500 bottle of wine, I am pretty gosh-darn sure there's no reason they should go dropping a McKinley per bottle to go with this meal.

To put us all at ease that our taxpayer dollars aren't being frivolously spent to pour extremely elegant rotten grape juice down the gullets of the world's dignitaries, the White House assures us thusly:

"Of course the White House gets its wine at wholesale prices," she said. "Given the intimate size of the group, it was an appropriate time for The White House to use this stock."

A group of 20 of your not-closest friends is an excuse to raid the Shafer?! Seriously? Let's take the wholesale-price argument at face value: The White House (that is to say, you and I) buys this at the 6-bottle wholesale price, meaning they pay the price of 6 bottles to buy a case of 12. According to Shafer's website, the 6 bottle price on a case of the current vintage Hillside Select Cabernet would be $1,290, or $107.50 / bottle.

So it's still a freaking Benji a bottle. Thank Jesus the conservatives are in power.

But the *really* offensive part of this is that they have no freaking business pouring relatively young Cabernet Sauvignon to pair with... quail?! Are you trying to drown the damn birds after you've already killed and cooked them? I'm sure they're delicious, but after masking all of its flavor with the tannins in even a 'delicate' Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon (and if you think they're all 'delicate', go roast your palate at Chimney Rock and get back to me), it'll totally overpower the dish you're serving it with! They could've managed a reasonably good Pinot Noir for half the price, or maybe done something ballsy like a moderately oaked + malolactic fermented white variety or blend and gone with that. I think Caymus Conundrum would've been great with the quail and that stuff retails around $25. This offensive mispairing and overspending must come to a stop. President-Elect Obama (is that ever going to get old??), it's time for a change!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election Reflection

So California screwed the pooch on Prop 8, boo. Jimmy Dobson's raging hardon from tunring a blue state gay hatin' must be epic. Good for him, but if it lasts more than four hours it could be the Viagra, so call your doctor. And some other props I care about are very close. Looking down the scorecard from my recommendations, I see that my usual inability to vote in the same way as a plurality of my fellow voters is still largely intact, despite moving from Indiana to the Golden State. Go figure. Maybe I just like being a contrarian.

Obama won, which has me feeling excitement and hope in a dark part of my soul I guess I forgot I had. I've never voted in a presidential election that didn't end up with a goddamn buffoon running the country, so I know you can understand my consternation with these, what are they... emotions?

What's striking to me, less than 24 hours after the election, is how many black people there are on TV news shows all of a sudden. Not that there haven't been black pundits, but I find it interesting that suddenly there's a bumper crop of 'em. And if Obama isn't replaced by an African-American in the Senate, the Senate will have a goose-egg in the black representation column. I don't want to rain on the hope parade, but I think it's far too soon to say this election was truly transformative in American politics. God, I hope it is, but in the meantime I wonder if we've not run the risk of mistaking historical significance and a sign that says CHANGE! as real, material change to the political landscape.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Election Selection Suggestion Projection

Having finally reached a point where I believe I know how I'm going to vote, I figure it's at least worth posting a few thoughts about the various ballot initiatives facing California / Alameda County / Oakland voters. This is my first "major" election in California, though I've voted several times in the other various and sundry we've had in the last two years. This ballot blows them all away, though: President, US Rep, State Senate, State Assembly, Judge, City Council, two Transit Directors, 12 state ballot initiatives, one public school initiative, two city initiatives, and two 'district' initiatives for things that I guess don't cooperate with other geopolitical boundaries.

I'd like to think I've put a fair amount of brainwork into figuring out how I believe the voting should go. Here are some thoughts; if you have other views please do leave a note in the comments.

1A: High-Speed Rail Bonds. $10 billion in bonds to start the construction of HSR between LA and the Bay Area, ultimately to Sacramento and San Diego. Anyone who's driven the I-5 corrior between SF and LA knows how stupid it is. And anyone who flies that much knows how ridiculous it is, too. Door-to-door travel times on the train will be as good as by jet if not better. This makes so much sense, I cringe to think it might not pass (but it will, handily, I believe). YES on 1A.

2: Standards for confining farm animals. Call me a hippie liberal douchebag if you want, but I don't believe the difference in cost between current guidelines and this new legislation will substantially affect the market. Let's not forget that the cost of moving eggs from Mexico to San Francisco is much, much greater than bringing them in from Livermore or Tracy or wherever. A projected marginal cost difference of $0.10 / dozen at the cash register seems worthwhile, and the best thing the opposition to Prop 2 has to offer is that it will increase our chances of catching bird flu. It's an incredible hypothetical straw man of a tall tale, believe me. YES on 2.

3: Children's Hospital Bond Act. It doesn't matter what your proposition is, if the best thing you have going for it is "But think of the children!" you provoke visions of a shrieking brain-decayed she-beast. You know, like Maggie Gallagher. I would love for someone to talk me down on this, but I don't understand what handouts to private children's hospitals is going to do for us. Not knocking the services they provide of course, but these initiatives read to me like an ultimatim: either give us the cash or we'll X, Y or Z, or punch your mom in the face or something. NO on 3.

4: Attempt to criminalize abortion in any way possible. Yeah, no. Parental notification law with no real protections for the girl who's preggers. There's no *reason* for this law, which is what irks me. NO on 4.

5: Nonviolent drug offenses, sentencting, parole, rehab. The arguments for and against this are totally weird. I do not get this or 9, which deals with bail. Unless I get a good case one way or the other, I'm tempted to leave 5 and 9 as no-votes. WTF on 5 and 9?!

6: Police and Law Enforcement funding. Arbitrary spending floors with no accountability or reform mechanism should reform be necessary. Poorly written and pretty awful as far as I can tell. No responsbility for results or anything, just "throw money at law enforcement" -- same thing that gets me about the US military budget. NO on 6.

7: Renewable energy generation. Props 7 and 10 also both smack of high-dollar handouts to private corporations with no oversight or mandatory ROI. The US gets screwed on this constantly with its telecom legislation and I do not understand why people tolerate such vauge and nebulous handouts of public money. If the energy generation that results from Prop 7 or 10 became part of the public portfolio and not just a free revenue stream for these corporations, maybe there'd be room to talk. I guess I don't see the public ROI for the cost here... NO on 7 and 10.

8: Eliminates right of same-sex couples to marry. Amending a Constitution to eliminate rights is about the most unpatriotic, un-American, and frankly, pathetic, thing I can imagine. It's virtually unprecedented and completely damaging in the historical perspective, and it's unnecessary and wrong. Peace, love, and happiness, folks. I've given more money, thought, and panic to this than any other political initiative. In some ways I actually wonder if this isn't more important than the Presidential election. I mean, hey gays, what's Obama gonna do for you? Maybe nothing as vindictive and hurtful as McCain, but he's not exactly out there happy to give a speech under a Pride flag, don't forget. NO as forcefully as I can on 8.

11: Redistricting no longer in the hands of politicians. I understand this is construed by partisan Democrats as a Republican power grab. But among people most at risk under this law, you have... Partisan Democrats. So I wonder why they don't have a better idea? Power to the people; this sufficiently randomizes the selection committee and defines and approing majority in a variety of ways to ensure that even among the bipartisan members of the committee, no tyranny should take place. I like the law, I like that while it's written to uphold political dichotomy that dichotomy isn't explicitly Republican vs. Democrat. And I think the guidelines are clear enough: Gerrymandering districts for incumbent security is a sufficiently large threat to democracy that we ought not engage in it any longer. And I think that's true, so I'm voting YES on 11.

12: Veteran's bond act. This feels like a SUPPORT THE TROOPS kind of initiative here, and I don't quite get all the ramifications. Another one where I feel like I don't have a terribly well-formed opinion and would value some input. WTF on 12?!

N: School funding parcel tax. Even the Oakland Schools don't support N. That's good enough for me. NO on N.

NN: Police services parcel tax. I know a ton of people will disagree with me on this. All other issues aside, the Oakland Police Department needs our funding so that it can hire officers. If we do not take control of the crime issues in Oakland, the worst parts of this city will fester like an open wound. It kills me to love living here so much and embrace all the great things we have to offer as a community, and yet see the horrible, out of control things that continue to take place, day after day. There are very few cities in the world blessed with the breathtaking amenities we have, but prioirty one is in taking public safety issues head-on, because without that, everything else falls apart. YES!! in the imperative on NN.

OO: Fixing youth program funding as a percentage of Oakland general fund. Compelling arguments on both sides of the issue, but the bottom line is this: OO fixes the percentage of the GENERAL FUND that goes into these programs. This endangers, ironically, things like libraries and the parks system, which while substantial benefactors of youth programs themselves, fall outside the funding designation of Prop OO. OO makes no provisions for oversight of efficacy or incentivizing strong performance. OO is an unabashed fat cut right off the top to programs with absolutely no concern for any other area of the city budget. Especially given the budgetary K-hole the city is in right now, I don't see how, in good conscience, you could vote anything other than NO on OO.

VV: Public transit parcel tax for AC Transit. I don't use AC transit as much as I should, I'm afraid. Part of the problem is that their flat fare structure causes AC to be more expensive than BART for transit within the Oakland - Berkeley area for me. There's probably a whole post to deal with those demons. That said, AC transit is a massive and massively successful transit agency. Their services are desperately needed, and I believe the Bus Rapid Transit system they're talking about developing on Telegraph and International (is that last one right?) is incredibly important and would be a major boon to transit in the East Bay. In sum, $48 / year with all funding and oversight remaining local to ensure AC's viability and to shore up support for BRT, I think, is well worth the cost. YES on VV.

WW: Maintain current parcel tax for East Bay Regional Parks District. I hardly take advantage of the EBRPD as much as I should, yet I know how great this fund is. It's part of the awesomeness of the East Bay and we dare not let that go! YES on WW.