Sunday, May 23, 2010

Tea Party and CA Quality of Life Issues

When tea party folks speak out at an AARP meeting they are called "seniors". When they speak at a tea party meeting they are called "old white people". Oops. Is my Eurpean heritage showing? Oh, my, I have to cover that up.

There is much to be learned about the issues and concerns being raised by the tea party without taking the emotion as the same as the substantive concerns. Quality of life issues are becoming more important in the political arena. And political parties would do better to address them. San Francisco is a sanctuary city that has displaced its African-American population. Violence continues to plague the Bay Area and ethnic conflicts are increasingly seen as the cause. Just recently the Asian community made a visible presence at the Board of Superviors about the assaults on their elderly. Public schools in the city have experienced "white flight" due to their dysfunctionality.

Although immigrants are provided with sanctuary in some CA cities, immigrants often remain trapped in the drug subeconomy or the lowest paid jobs, due partly because there is no capability of integrating them and no transition based on their skill sets.

How does one address a migration which goes beyond the carrying capacity of resources and public infrastructure? Teaching has become a field for Teach America and AmeriCorps kids, so Spanish speaking children do not have the needed content instruction in Spanish nor the qualified ESL teachers to make the transition to English. People pitch tent cities in Fresno and Sacramento as homelessness takes a significant leap in its quantitative character. Water resources have become a regular urban vs. rural (Northern CA vs. southern CA) conflict as demand increases and overpopulation expand urban needs in the Central Valley and southern California. Again, quality of life issues.

Denying the problems is not the same as providing solutions to real concerns. Marginalizing people and ridiculing them allows public officials from ever addressing what people are trying to say and projects the Dem-Repug conflict as if it had real substance in the policy arena. That is my problem with the Arizona boycott that has such a following with municipal leaders in L.A., San Jose and San Francisco. It's easier to point to Arizona than for them to address the real impacts in their own cities. Posturing- it's the favorite pastime of the Urban Democratic Machine and enables them from addressing the consequences of their actions.

Greens need to be much more cognizant of the political manipulations of the duopoly. Repugs are trying to assimilate the tea party and align it with their corporate base. Dems are trying to discredit the tea party to mobilize their urban bases despite the rampant injustice that pervades urban communities. Greens can address the issues of concern raised by the tea party without promoting the ethnic divisions that certain leaders of the duopoly are using for their own gain. We don't need to try and make them into a "Green" tea party. But it is worth our while to listen to what they are trying to say.

Population is a Green concern. Social services and public education are Green concerns. Equal justice is a Green concern. Political representation is a Green concern. Let's demand accountability of public officials right where we are. Let's oppose laws that racially profile. Let's organize as if the people in America are not enemies to be feared but have something substantive to say that we need to listen to. And let's show people that real leadership means formulating sound policies that are just and deal with peoples' concerns. We are all Americans and our fate is intertwined.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Laura Wells, Green Candidate for Governor, Addresses Water Planning

Water Policy – Key Themes
•Better public understanding of the Myths and Facts
•More representative planning processes are needed
•Public benefit must trump water profiteering
California has gone through three years of drought, and there is no assurance that the problems will end anytime soon. Massive media campaigns are mounted as each segment of our state anxiously attempts to secure more water for itself in any way possible, spreading blame recklessly, claiming all of the benefits for their own local use, and creating imaginary problems that Californians are asked to solve with our pocketbooks.

We need to separate facts from fiction, expose the water myths for what they are, and insist on sound planning for a sustainable future.

Water Myths: There are many who would place all of the blame for unemployment in the San Joaquin Valley on the lack of water for irrigation. This is misleading. There are many sources of unemployment but water reduction is not one of them.

There is the fable of the Delta Smelt, the little fish that everyone blames for shutting down the pumps. However, only about one-third of the cutback in water deliveries to Westlands Water district could be attributed to environmental actions. The rest is attributable to the drought, while districts on the East Side of the San Joaquin Valley have been receiving 100% of their deliveries.

If California is to have a sound, sustainable water policy, then we must put aside these political water myths and begin to deal with facts.

Water Facts: There is only a fixed amount of water on this planet. Most of it is salty. The freshwater we use falls as rain, or as snow in the Sierras. Building more dams will not increase the amount of water that we have. It could be an overly expensive action, since there is already not enough rain to fill California's reservoirs now, and climate change threatens an even drier future.

We don't know how much water is required to maintain the Sacramento – San Joaquin Delta as a fresh water estuary. If we fail to answer this correctly, the salty water from San Francisco Bay will flood the estuary, ruining the farmlands there, and we will have to shut down the aqueducts to avoid sending that contaminated water to Southern California. That is an economic catastrophe that must be avoided.

For years, the taxpayers of California have been subsidizing the delivery of water for agricultural use. It is only in recent years that this publicly funded water intended for agriculture has, in turn, been re-sold for urban use at a significant profit. None of that profit was returned to the citizens of California.

The water that we pump from the ground needs to be replenished or the land will eventually sink. In some parts of the state, ground water pumping has left entire communities below sea level. Land subsidence due to ground water pumping has caused some parts of the San Joaquin Valley to sink over 20 ft. since records were initially kept. The Santa Clara County community of Alviso dropped below sea level and now must be protected by levees. Yet, California has never measured its ground water on a regular basis. We do not know how fast the aquifers are being depleted, or how much water is being pumped each year. Those who pump that water use all of their political might to make sure these measurements never happen.

What We Propose
Representative Water Planning
Planning for a sustainable water future for California requires that all interested parties have a seat at the table and come to a consensus as to what priorities will prevail and how they will be administered. Legislating solutions for the Delta water without involving those who live and work there will never accomplish this.

•California needs to change the way we plan for and manage our water supplies. The principle of bioregionalism - living within the means of a region's natural resources - should give direction to future water policies. It begins with the application of Green Values to water.
•California must develop regional water plans that assure public input into the state water plan that in turn must be based on sound science and on priorities that are in the public interest.
•Private profiteering must never be allowed from publicly subsidized water. If water secured at agricultural rates is re-sold at a profit for non-agricultural use, then the public must benefit -- not private profiteers.
•Environmental justice, ecological impact, and depletion of groundwater supplies need to be integrated with the ongoing process for approval of new water withdrawals.
•The legislature should re-work the 2010 Water Bond and improve it by revising the priorities, re-considering regional impacts, stripping out the special interests, and then re-submit it for public approval.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Arizona State Legislature Provokes New "War Between the States"

It is nice for people to realize that we need not accept behavior that restricts the movement of American citizens. This is the problem with the Arizona law and the many Chicano and Native citizens who live in Arizona are as likely to be subjected to harassment as the individuals who have been smuggled in for profit.

The jails of California are filled with those who are unable to find employment or depend on the drug subeconomy. The agribusinesses that continue to promote the human trafficing have increased the stress on public health and education. The increased violence in communities and the assaults on the elderly remain a profound source of concern. Addressing the needs of the our society due to the migration need to be done without the platitudes of moral superiority. Solutions to infrastructure problems have not come from either side of the immigration issue to date.

I have lived in NM on the border region and am opposed to the idea of a wall as mere posturing and pork for those regions, rather than a real solution. That does not mean that things can remain as they are. Hospitals closing emergency rooms, the inability to provide education of children without English langauge skills and the poverty and living conditions have been seriously impacted on the infrastructure of all border states. The carrying capacity of our water resource systems are being taxed beyond their ability to function sustainably. State budgets cannot address the profound stresses that have resulted from increased population.

The focus of the debate needs to address real solutions to the consequences of the migration. The border with Mexico will inherently be porous and will be circumvented. The government of Mexico is no more concerned about addressing the migration than the government of the United States is. It remains their own social safety valve in addressing the poverty of their own citizens and a source for revenues that are sent to family members in Mexico. This is the international context of the issue. It extends beyond the impact of NAFTA and the maquiladoras. Those fleeing poverty and oppression in Mexico are not to blame for their willingness to risk their safety for a brighter future in America. But we cannot absorb the profound impacts based on existing policies or continued massive influxes of people.

The Arizona law is indeed bad law and will not contribute to the real tasks ahead. A real discussion needs to be based on what is not working and why, as well as how can we begin to provide workable solutions. Polarization of ethnic communities is sharpening and the Arizona law has increased it. It is worth our while to seek the foundations of the conflict, grasp how to increase our abilities to recognize the social conflicts that have arisen and provide some real assurances that public officials are beginning to address real concerns of people on all sides of the issues. Repealing the Arizona law would be the first step in recognizing the dramatic impact of it on perceptions among Hispanics in America.

The recent passage of a ban on ethnic studies curricula in Arizona will not solve the problems of high dropout rates in Arizona and California. It will not address the lack of achievement of students in the United States. It might be worth mentioning the failure of public education in both Arizona and California. This new law against Chicano studies will not decrease drop-outs, or improve the skills of non-English speaking students or provide technological education for the future economy. Priorities need to be made. This is not an instance of funding priorities, and for that reason and others I would not support this law. It is solely intended to polarize Arizona's people.

The fundamental issue remains the failure of American public education and the failures of American students to achieve up to grade level. It is curious though when this bill becomes such a focus of the media when compared to Prop 100 in Arizona which seeks to protect funding for public schools. The resulting boycotts from California cities is increasing the volatility of the issue. I guess if you can't do anything about improving public education, it is more effective for politicians to posture and point their fingers of disdain at the "bad dogs" in other states.

Our infrastructure in California is becoming critically overburdened. California public officials would do better to address our significant needs in education and address the budget and public infrastructure issues with a real sense of priorities for Californians.

Monday, May 03, 2010

5 Reasons to Vote 'NO' on Top 2 Primary 'Reform'

[Editor's Note: This commentary was originally posted on Green Change]

Published by Green Change, April 27, 2010
The top five reasons for Californians to reject Top Two Primaries
by Dave Schwab

On 8 June 2010, voters in California will decide the fate of Proposition 14, the Top Two Primaries Act. If Top Two primaries are adopted, all candidates for Congress and state office in California will run in the June primary on a single ballot used by all voters. Then, only the two candidates who receive the two highest vote totals will be allowed to run in the general election.

Proponents of Top Two, aware that California voters rejected the idea in 2004, have been claiming that Top Two will fix California's government by reducing partisan gridlock. There is nothing from the experience of the states that use Top Two to support their claims. However, there is ample evidence that Top Two further entrenches incumbents and reduces voter choice. In fact, it's more than likely that Top Two would reinforce gridlock and entrench the same politicians who created it.

  1. Top Two won't work.
  2. Top Two is unpopular.
  3. Two is undemocratic.
  4. Top Two is unconstitutional.
  5. Two is unecessary.

Close consideration shows not only that Top Two won't work, but also that it is unpopular, undemocratic, unconstitutional, and unnecessary. There are many good election reforms that deserve support, but Proposition 14 is not one of them. Let's explore the top five reasons for California voters to reject Top Two:

1. Top Two won't work.

Proponents claim that Top Two will reduce partisanship in elections, the supposed cause of dysfunction in California state government. There is nothing in the experience of the states that have used Top Two, Louisiana and Washington, to suggest that it reduces partisanship. To be honest, backers of Proposition 14 should be saying that Top Two entrenches incumbents. When Washington used Top Two for the first time in 2008, out of 123 state legislative races, 8 Congressional races, and 8 statewide races, only a single incumbent was defeated in the primary - a state legislator who had a personal scandal and would almost certainly have been defeated under any system.

The claim that Top Two will reduce gridlock in California's legislature is baseless. In the words of election law expert Richard Winger, "The real cause of gridlock in the California legislature is the rule that budgets can only be passed by a two-thirds vote of each house of the legislature… The real solution to solve California's budget gridlock is to eliminate the rule that the budget can only be passed with two-thirds of the legislators in each house… We should let the majority party in the legislature govern. If the voters elect a majority party, let that majority party pass its budget. If we don't like that budget, we not only have recall, initiative or referendum, we can defeat the majority party in the next election and replace it."

Top Two would front-load the election season with an early, make-or-break primary. In the short season before the primary, the advantage to candidates with the money to bombard voters with advertising would be multiplied many times over. In an era where special interests and their front groups can funnel billions of dollars into political campaigns, independent candidates who run on good ideas and grassroots organizing will find it virtually impossible to compete with well-funded political insiders.

It's unrealistic, too, to expect that the press will counter this imbalance by providing the voters with fair and balanced coverage. The media already pays more attention to political horse races than to candidates' positions on the issues. If Top Two is passed, it's improbable that the media will suddenly make the extra effort to fully inform the voters about all their choices before the primary. More likely, media outlets will simply try to pick the likely Top Two winners based on how well known and well-funded they are, and largely ignore the other candidates.

The claim that Top Two will solve California's political problems has no factual basis. In fact, the evidence suggests that it could make existing problems worse. Perhaps most unrealistic is the idea that limiting voters' choices in the general election will somehow make politics better. Aside from incumbent politicians, who honestly believes that giving voters less choice in elections will improve anything?

2. Top Two is unpopular.

In 2004, California voters rejected Top Two by voting 54% against Proposition 62. In 2008, voters in nearby Oregon rejected Ballot Measure 65, which would have established a Top Two system, in a landslide of 66%.

On the other hand, instant runoff voting, an improved voting system that protects voter choice, has won approval from voters in San Francisco, Berkeley, Davis, and Oakland by margins of 56%, 72%, 55%, and 69%, respectively. Charter amendments authorizing use of instant runoff voting, or IRV, have passed in San Leandro and Santa Clara counties. After using IRV for the first time, 82% of San Francisco voters said they preferred IRV to the city's previous election system.

The numbers don't lie: instant runoff voting is as popular as Top Two is unpopular. So why are political insiders pushing for Top Two, which has recently been rejected by Californians and a full two-thirds of voters in Oregon?

3. Top Two is undemocratic.

By design, Top Two restricts voter choice. By cutting down the field of candidates in primary season, which is notoriously dominated by big-spending special interests and party bosses, Top Two guarantees that most independent and third-party candidates, as well as grassroots candidates in the major parties, will be out of the race before most voters and journalists are even paying attention. Opposition to Top Two from numerous election reform groups, as well as voices from across the political spectrum, demonstrates Americans' basic understanding that limiting voter choice runs counter to the idea of democracy. Voters should have the right to vote for the candidates and parties they agree with, and the public discourse suffers when independent voices are cut out of the debate.

Proponents of Top Two often claim that it won't hurt third parties and independents. Richard Winger of Ballot Access News, America's leading expert on ballot access laws, explains why this is false: "In practice, [Top Two] would eliminate minor party and independent candidates from the November ballot. We know this is true because Washington State tried the system for the first time in 2008, and that's what happened. Washington, for the first time since it became a state in 1889, had no minor party or independent candidates in November for any statewide state race or for any congressional race."

Top Two would effectively restrict voter choice to two parties - or one party in many districts. Although the Constitution makes no mention of political parties, the practical effect of Top Two would be to give the Democratic and Republican parties a monopoly on power. Which leads to the next problem with Top Two:

4. Top Two is unconstitutional.

Americans' First Amendment right to association gives us the right to support any political party we choose. The right of political parties to run candidates for office is violated when the electoral system is set up to make it easy for dominant parties to push everyone else off the ballot. If the Democratic and Whig parties had passed laws to protect incumbent politicians and ruling parties in the 19th century, we would probably never have had a President Abraham Lincoln or a Republican Party.

Proposition 14 would immediately disqualify the Libertarian and Peace and Freedom parties, further violating their members' First Amendment right to free association. America's founders warned that political parties could try to use their power to further their own narrow self-interest. What would they think about a proposed law that would give two parties a virtual stranglehold on elections?

5. Top Two is unnecessary.

Instant runoff voting, an improved voting system used in San Francisco and other California cities, actually delivers the benefits that Top Two is supposed to, without the drawbacks that make Top Two worse than the status quo. Even with more than two candidates on the ballot, instant runoff voting, or IRV, ensures that the candidate with the broadest support will be the winner.

Under IRV, voters rank the candidates in their order of preference - as election reform advocates say, "IRV is as easy as 1, 2, 3." If no candidate receives a majority of first-place votes, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated, and votes for the eliminated candidate are transferred to voters' next choices. This process continues until one candidate has a majority.

Instant runoff voting has several clear advantages. It eliminates the common problem of "spoiled elections", in which one candidate wins without majority support. In the same way, it eliminates the problem of similar candidates "splitting the vote", and actually encourages positive campaigning, since it creates an incentive for candidates to appeal to their rivals' supporters. Finally, since IRV produces a majority winner no matter how many candidates are on the ballot, it allows for an informative and broad debate during election season, with voters exposed to a range of views before making their decision.

Top Two is a deeply flawed system in comparison with instant runoff voting. With Top Two, vote-splitting will still be a problem in multi-candidate races. Negative campaigning will become the norm under Top Two: like a game of king of the mountain, candidates will throw each other in the mud in hopes of coming out on top.

Realistically, Top Two will not accomplish what its proponents claim, aside from producing false "majority winners" selected by a plurality of a minority of voters. In other words, when 10% of voters turn out for the Top Two primary and vote 40% for Candidate A and 35% for Candidate B, that doesn't mean that the other 92.5% of voters are going to feel that they have a satisfactory choice in either Candidate A or B.

If Top Two passes, the political discourse will suffer, because the period between June primaries and November elections, currently the most active time for public debate, will be purged of the independent, third party, and grassroots candidates who so often bring fresh, innovative ideas to politics. Instead, the range of opinions voters hear will be restricted to two, often coming from candidates in the same party.

Instead of front-loading the election cycle with a make-or-break Top Two primary, instant runoff voting would allow all candidates to compete in the general election, when the vast majority of voters actually turn out. Voters would get to hear and consider viewpoints from a wider range of candidates in the general election, not just two candidates who may well belong to the same party. After considering what all the candidates have to say, voters could get out their instant runoff ballots and support the candidates they agree with most, without fear of inadvertently helping the candidates they agree with least. Maybe that's why voters prefer IRV: instead of feeling pressured to support the lesser of two evils, they can support their favorite candidates - whether liberal, conservative, moderate, Republican, Democrat, Green, Libertarian, Peace and Freedom, American Independent, or just plain independent - and know that their vote won't be wasted.

Instant runoff voting produces winners with broad majority support more reliably than Top Two, and without the problems that make Top Two worse than no reform. Why should voters accept an unnecessary and flawed system, when a better system is already gaining ground throughout California?

The top five reasons to reject Top Two - plus one

To recapitulate, Top Two won't work - at least not like proponents claim it will. Top Two is unpopular - voters recently rejected it in California and Oregon. Top Two is undemocratic - it restricts voter choice and suppresses independent voices outside the two-party political establishment. Top Two is unconstitutional - it violates our civil rights by giving two parties an effective monopoly on power. Finally, Top Two is unnecessary, when instant runoff voting is better on all counts.

One last reason to vote against Proposition 14: Top Two is a top-down proposal. Ballot measures like Proposition 14 always seem to come from political insiders, usually with the backing of wealthy special interests to help advertise the alleged benefits of Top Two to a skeptical public. Indeed, Proposition 14 was placed on the ballot as part of a vote-trading deal by State Senator Abel Maldonado, who felt Top Two could help his ambitions for higher office. Governor Schwarzenegger has funneled $500,000 from his personal PAC into the campaign for Top Two, including money from corporations like Chevron, PG&E, and Wal-Mart. Corporations that have donated directly to the Proposition 14 effort include Hewlett Packard, Blue Shield of California, and Pacific Life Insurance Company. In the words of election reformer Christina Tobin, who is running as the Libertarian candidate for California Secretary of State, "It is safe to assume that large corporations regulated by the state want to have government in their pockets. They want to maintain the two-party status quo."

Instant runoff voting, on the other hand, always comes from the grassroots. Campaigns for IRV are led by active citizens, community organizers and voters' rights groups like FairVote, Californians for Electoral Reform, and the Coalition for Free and Open Elections (all of which are opposing Proposition 14). Referendum victories show that voters like the idea of IRV, and exit polls show that voters like how it works in practice. If the goal is to fix California's election system so that it will produce winners with majority support, why are Proposition 14's backers pushing the flawed, unpopular Top Two system instead of instant runoff voting?

All Californians who value democratic freedoms and sincerely want better elections should vote no on Proposition 14. Even members of the Republican and Democratic parties, if they heed the founders' warnings about political factions, should recognize the danger of cementing the Democratic-Republican monopoly on power and vote no. You don't have to be a libertarian to value the civil and political liberties of your fellow Americans. For supporters of electoral reform, Top Two is just a distraction from the real goals of instant runoff voting and other worthy reforms like proportional representation. We have better options than Top Two - options that we might not know about today, if Top Two had been in place earlier to stifle independent voices in the public arena.

Here's what you can do to help stop Top Two:
  • Share this article with your friends and family.
  • Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper explaining why you oppose Proposition 14.
  • Volunteer with Green Change to help stop Top Two.
Learn more about the campaign to save independent politics in California at