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Tuesday, July 30, 2002

  1 comments

This is an old April Fools joke, right?

The Oakland Tribune reports that State Senator John Burton is pushing a bill which would give Indian tribes a veto over public and private development on any California land that they consider sacred.

I did a double take when I read this. It sounded almost exactly like an April Fools joke we pulled off back in 1997.

Back when my wife [actually we live together, and tomorrow we're celebrating the 25th annual renewal of our cohabitation contract, but that's another story…] Sandi Webb was on the Simi Valley City Council, a local landowner was trying to get approval to build a Wal-Mart, Home Depot, etc. on his property. He'd managed to jump through all the regulatory hoops, and everything seemed to be clear sailing, just as April 1st rolled around.

So we composed the official-looking notice shown below (click on it for an enlarged version). At 5 am I drove over to his house, parked, and waited till the newspaper was delivered. Then I snuck over and inserted the notice in his paper.

At 6:30 am he sat down on the pot, opened his newspaper, saw the notice, and had a real shit-fit. The timelines we'd put in the notice would delay the project past certain contractual deadlines, causing the entire deal to fall through. He panicked. He began frantically calling Directory Assistance in Washington, D.C., trying in vain to locate the mythical "federal Board of Native Antiquities". As soon as City Hall opened, he rushed over there to find out what was going on. The Assistant City Attorney called in the Assistant City Planner, who looked at the notice and said, yeah, he remembered something about sacred Indian holes.

After more frantic phone calls, including to the local Chumash tribe, they began having their doubts. No one else remembered seeing that insert in their morning paper, and none of the papers in the news rack contained it either. It finally penetrated that it must be a practical joke. "But who could have done it?" the landowner asked. The City staffers just looked at each other and together said "Sandi". (This was not exactly the first April Fools prank she'd been responsible for.)

Fortunately he had a great sense of humor, and wasn't upset (perhaps was even a bit flattered?) that a Council Member would go to all that effort to hoax him.

It used to be considered hyperbole to warn that tobacco lawsuits would someday lead to junk food lawsuits. And five years ago "U.S. Code Section 38.1551(a)(5)" in the above notice was merely a joke. Now it's been reincarnated as a bill that has already cleared the California State Senate.

These days is any parody safe from government intrusion?








Friday, July 26, 2002

  0 comments

Our very thin-skinned Governor Davis wants to know who's been bad-mouthing him. For the past year he's been trying to force the American Taxpayers Alliance to disclose the names of its backers, after they began running TV ads attacking his handling of the power crisis.

Davis got a Superior Court judge to order the American Taxpayers Alliance to file reports as a political campaign committee, but it has appealed the order. Fortunately the ATA is likely to win on appeal, even if it has to appeal all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

What makes me think so? After all, I'm not a lawyer (although I have a brother and cousins and late uncles who are and were attorneys, so I can claim genetic predisposition as well as a great deal of osmotic knowledge regarding legal arguments). Back in 1995 the Supreme Court issued a very broad and wonderfully-worded decision in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission which provides substantial First Amendment protection to anonymous speech in general and anonymous pamphleteering in particular. It's worth quoting some of the highlights from that decision.

Citing its previous Talley decision, and harking back to the anonymous pamphleteers who helped found our nation, the Court noted Justice Black's comment that "...persecuted groups and sects from time to time throughout history have been able to criticize oppressive practices and laws either anonymously or not at all. ... Justice Black recalled England's abusive press licensing laws and seditious libel prosecutions, and he reminded us that even the arguments favoring the ratification of the Constitution advanced in the Federalist Papers were published under fictitious names. ... On occasion, quite apart from any threat of persecution, an advocate may believe her ideas will be more persuasive if her readers are unaware of her identity. Anonymity thereby provides a way for a writer who may be personally unpopular to ensure that readers will not prejudge her message simply because they do not like its proponent. Thus, even in the field of political rhetoric, where the identity of the speaker is an important component of many attempts to persuade,- City of Ladue v. Gilleo, 512 U. S. ___, ___ (1994) (slip op., at 13), the most effective advocates have sometimes opted for anonymity."

The Court went on to say that "Under our Constitution, anonymous pamphleteering is not a pernicious, fraudulent practice, but an honorable tradition of advocacy and of dissent. Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. See generally J. S. Mill, On Liberty, in On Liberty and Considerations on Representative Government 1, 3-4 (R. McCallum ed. 1947). It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation-and their ideas from suppression-at the hand of an intolerant society. The right to remain anonymous may be abused when it shields fraudulent conduct. But political speech by its nature will sometimes have unpalatable consequences, and, in general, our society accords greater weight to the value of free speech than to the dangers of its misuse."

The Court summarized its decision by saying that "The freedom to publish anonymously is protected by the First Amendment, and, as Talley indicates, extends beyond the literary realm to the advocacy of political causes." It further described such political advocacy as "core political speech", and that any laws attempting to regulate it are subject to a standard of "exacting scrutiny'' under which restrictions would only be upheld if they were "narrowly tailored to serve an overriding state interest".

Given how vindictive Davis has proven himself to be, and how willing he is to use the powers of his office to battle and destroy his political opponents, it's no wonder that some of those opponents would prefer the shield of anonymity. And that's exactly why the First Amendment provides such a shield. I don't think Davis will succeed in this particular attempt to strike back at the American Taxpayers Alliance.

But that obviously won't stop him from trying.








Thursday, July 25, 2002

  0 comments

According to the old saw, a conservative is a liberal who's been mugged. These days a liberal is a conservative whose family member has had cancer.

Lyn Nofziger, Reagan's White House political director, said Wednesday that he became a supporter of medicinal marijuana when his daughter was dying of cancer. Marijuana was the only drug that helped alleviate her nausea and the other side effects of chemotherapy, he said.

Nofziger joined liberal Democrat Congressman Barney Frank and Republican Congressman Ron Paul at a news conference to promote a bill allowing states to make their own decisions regarding medical marijuana. Dr. Paul, a physician, argued from a states rights viewpoint that "Even the most vocal opponents of marijuana reform laws should support the bill, because it presents them an opportunity to enact strict laws in their own state legislatures."

According to the Los Angeles Times news report, Ron Paul—a former Libertarian Party presidential candidate—called the denial of access to marijuana to suffering patients "criminal." "Where are the compassionate conservatives today? They're not here, and they should be," Paul said, arguing that decriminalizing marijuana, which he dubbed a "so-called illegal drug," would be restoring rights lost to federal oversight in the early 1900s.

Republican (and former libertarian) Congressman Dana Rohrabacher of Huntington Beach also supported the bill, saying "Let's get over some of the stereotypes and hangovers from the '60s."

Unfortunately most Republicans have too much invested in the failed Drug War to admit they could be wrong, and most Democrats are too scared of being labeled "soft on crime" to do what's right. If someday they personally contract cancer or AIDS, and are dying in agonizing pain and uncontrollable nausea, they'll certainly get no sympathy from me.








Wednesday, July 24, 2002

  0 comments

UPDATE ON SIMON'S TAX RETURN FIASCO

As I said, it was the worst of all possible worlds. Bill Simon is being crucified in editorials and op-ed pieces throughout the state (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here) for the belated semi-release of his tax records. As usual, venerable political analyst Dan Walters puts it best:

Simon could have saved himself a lot of grief, and kept the focus on Davis, had he understood that when he ran for governor, he implicitly evolved from a private citizen into a public figure, accountable not only for his positions but for his demeanor.

Simon should have known that coming from a wealthy family with myriad investments, he would face intense financial scrutiny and questions -- especially when he would be claiming business experience as his major qualification to govern. You can't ask Californians, in effect, to elect you as governor because you know how to run things, and then claim that details on your business and financial life are private. It just doesn't wash any cleaner than Davis signing billions of dollars in power supply contracts and then refusing to release details, or insisting that the tens of millions of dollars he has raised from special interest groups have no effect on his policies.








Tuesday, July 23, 2002

  0 comments

UPDATE ON AB 1493: NO REFERENDUM

After reading over various news reports from around California, I finally found a San Diego Union Tribune story which contained this nugget buried near the end:

The auto industry is expected to challenge the legislation in court. Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for a coalition of automakers, said states cannot independently impose fuel-economy standards, which she said is the true goal of the bill. The industry decided not to go with a referendum, she said. "We wanted to get away from the political games and get into a rational decision-making forum," Bergquist said.

Why couldn't they do both? Can't they walk and chew gum at the same time? Translation: A referendum would have been too expensive and its chance of success too dicey.

I was wrong and Ann Salisbury was right in her comments to my earlier post on whether there was likely to be a referendum. A survey by the Public Policy Institute of California had shown 81% of California adults favoring "a state law requiring all automakers to further reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases from new cars in California by 2009." Of course that is a rather biased wording of the issue, and is certainly not the same as saying that Californians would vote to uphold AB 1493 in a referendum. But that's obviously how environmentalists would strive to frame the issue, while auto manufacturers tried to frame it as a harmful tax and limitation on personal vehicles like SUVs. Apparently anti-AB 1493 political consultants concluded, after extensive private polling and focus group interviews, that they'd have to pour too many tens of millions of dollars into a referendum campaign without sufficient certainty that they'd win.

Besides, AB 1493 really does contain some significant concessions over its previous incarnation, AB 1058. Under the amended AB 1493 version, the new regulations cannot impose additional fees or taxes on vehicles or fuel or mileage, nor can they ban SUVs or force a weight reduction or reduce speed limits or enact mileage travel limitations. Plus any new regulations are subject to a mandatory public hearing by the legislature which can over-ride them; that will discourage the bureaucrats from coming up with rules that are too politically unpopular.

This turns out to be a big win for Gray Davis. A referendum on the November, 2002 ballot may or may not have overturned AB 1493, but the toxic fallout from $50 million in attack advertising could have done a lot of collateral damage to his re-election prospects. Now that danger has evaporated, while Davis reaps the rewards of shoring up his environmentalist and liberal credentials and voter base.








Monday, July 22, 2002

  0 comments

I wish I had some talent as a sketch artist. I'd like to draw a political cartoon of Gray Davis and Bill Simon as two gunslingers, facing off against each other for the climactic showdown, trying to see which one can manage to shoot his own feet off first.

The Sacramento Bee reported today that Bill Simon has finally agreed to let reporters take a peek at his income tax returns. Sort of. A few selected reporters could take all of two hours to review 11 years worth of returns. But not make copies or take photos or even make notes to themselves on tape recorders or computers.

This is supposed to prove Simon has nothing to hide? This is supposed to end the attacks by Davis, or end the demands of the media for full disclosure? What kind of idiot on Simon's campaign staff dreams up this stuff? And if it's Simon himself, what kind of idiot continues working for him? (That last question is rhetorical -- as long as Simon keeps writing the checks, campaign consultants will happily continue working for him.)

Was Simon really so naive as to think he could run for Governor of California without having to release his tax returns? Now he has achieved the worst of all possible worlds: He suffered months of political flack for his stonewalling. And it was all for nought since he finally caved. Except he's still fudging on access, so it actually looks worse politically than an absolute refusal or a full release.

There is one other possible explanation. Maybe he really didn't think he'd have to release his tax returns because Simon never expected to win the California primary. Perhaps he was merely building contacts and name recognition to position himself for a future campaign. But then Davis went and put in his two cents (so to speak), and Riordan self-destructed, and to everyone's astonishment Simon suddenly emerged as the nominee. Life imitated art, and like Robert Redford in The Candidate, it was a case of "what do I do now"?

Maybe Simon will figure out the answer before November 5th. Or maybe not.








Wednesday, July 17, 2002

  0 comments

THIS is the reason I am so strongly in favor of the death penalty:

The monster responsible for snatching 5-year-old Samantha Runnion and brutally raping and murdering her deserves to be very slowly skinned alive. Since that's not an option, the very least that should happen to him is execution. And I don't give a rat's ass what his IQ is, or whether he was abused during childhood, or any other bullshit excuses his lawyers may come up with.








Tuesday, July 16, 2002

  0 comments

Lately I seem to be fixated on the California gubernatorial race, and that's really not my intention.

But I live here in California, and it's hard not to be fascinated by the spectacle. Dan Walters has another excellent column comparing the Davis-Simon contest to the 1994 race between Governor Pete Wilson and State Treasurer Kathleen Brown. Wilson's popularity had fallen into a chasm, I think getting as low as 15% in 1992, but he was able to trash Brown over her death penalty opposition and use Prop 187 as a wedge issue to win re-election. Dan Walters thinks a similar scenario could play itself out this year.

The true depth of Gray Davis' difficulties is encapsulated in the fact that he hasn't crushed Simon so far. Neither Simon nor his campaign strategists have shown an enormous amount of competence, to put it as delicately as possible. But as I posted back on May 23rd, Davis finds himself the focus of a "perfect storm" that he himself whipped up -- so perfect it just might capsize him regardless of what kind of campaign his opponent runs.

One question that dogged Pete Wilson throughout his 1994 campaign was whether he would run for President in 1996. He publicly promised to serve out his full second term as Governor, and then immediately reversed himself once he got re-elected. This did not endear him to Republicans, already burned by George H.W. Bush's "read my lips, no new taxes" lie. They also feared that a Wilson candidacy would leave California in the hands of Lt. Governor Gray Davis, since whenever Wilson campaigned outside the state, the Governor's full powers would be automatically assumed by the Lt. Governor.

Wilson never recovered from his disastrous and abortive Presidential fling.

So the question I'm not hearing from anyone is: Will Gray Davis promise not to run for President or Vice-President in 2004 if he is re-elected? After all it's never been any secret that Davis harbors Presidential ambitions, and any California governor is automatically ranked as a serious Presidential or VP possibility.

What does this tell us about Davis? Why isn't he being hammered with that question the way Wilson was? Shouldn't a re-election victory under horrid political circumstances ignite a Davis Presidential boomlet?

One possible answer is that Davis is facing much worse re-election odds than even Wilson did, so no one is looking beyond November 5th. A better answer is that Davis has shown himself to be so incredibly corrupt and incompetent that the concept of him as President is totally incomprehensible to most people.

Still, it would be amusing for someone to ask the question, and to see if Davis will make a Wilsonian promise to complete a second term as Governor.








Thursday, July 11, 2002

  0 comments

UPDATE #2:

Davis' spokesman has announced that the Governor will sign AB 1493 on July 22nd. Opponents are being publicly non-committal about their intentions to mount a referendum. Supporters are trying to convince themselves it won't happen. And, to be fair, there's still a chance it might not. Opponents could conceivably decide it's cheaper to fight in the courts than to finance a referendum. Maybe the Republican pressure to unbottle the bill and force it onto the Governor's desk was merely posturing and bluff.

But if so, why the continuing stall to July 22nd?

I foresee a lot more Cal Worthington commercials in California's near future.

UPDATE:

Well, it only took one day, not my estimated two weeks [see yesterday's post], for the Democrats to cave. According to this report, Republican Assemblyman Bill Campbell just told the John & Ken radio talk show (KFI AM 640) that they've forced AB 1493 to be sent to the Governor's desk. The pieces are falling into place for a referendum on this November's ballot.

It will be one heck of a war. On the one side you'll have every Hollywood star and liberal organization battling to approve AB 1493 as a symbolic step towards halting global warming. On the other side you'll have auto manufacturers and dealers and labor unions and business associations and conservative organizations painting AB 1493 as an economy-killer which will strip transportation choices from consumers just to make an empty gesture.

Which will voters in the liberal State of California pick: higher gas prices or higher CO2 levels? saving the Earth or saving their SUVs? Gray Davis or Cal Worthington? [of the nostalgically famous "Cal Worthington Ford" commercials, for those of you not in the know]

Four months and $50 million dollars from now, my guess is that AB 1493 crashes and burns.






  3 comments

The latest poll is not good news for Gray Davis

I've been very skeptical in the past about Simon's prospects, about the competence of his campaign advisors, and about Simon's failure to aggressively define himself after his upset primary victory. And I keep pointing out that Gray Davis should not be underestimated -- campaigning and raising money for campaigning is his life. But his manifestly-obvious incompetence and corruption as governor may ultimately trump everything else.

As someone who has lived in California for over 30 years, it's been my personal observation that the Field Poll has a heavy liberal slant (both ideologically and methodologically), and that it is routinely off by 5 to 10 points in that direction as compared to actual election results. When the previous Field Poll showed Davis with a 14 point lead, I had to conclude that Davis was really ahead (albeit by a much slimmer margin). This latest Field Poll tells me that Davis and Simon are in a dead heat, or possibly that Simon has an extremely narrow lead. More importantly, this Field Poll shows a definite, substantial shift in Simon's favor, which has to be extremely bad news for Davis. If Davis' campaign strategy was working, he'd have successfully demonized Simon by now, and Simon would be fading away as a viable challenger. Instead Simon is gaining credibility, and the media is focussing on Davis' problems.

The proof of the pudding will be when the Davis camp starts to actively attack Green candidate Peter Camejo for his "devisiveness", and begins comparing the situation to the 2000 election in which Nader cost Gore the Presidency. That will be the tip-off that Davis' internal polls and focus groups show him headed to likely defeat. The thing is, none of the Democrats in California are truly going to care! A lot of them did care about Gore, and hated Bush, and were extremely upset that Nader split the liberal vote. But the most that Democrat voters will do this year is to hold their noses while they vote for Davis, because they don't want a Republican in office.

Those liberals who can't stand the stench even with nose plugs will vote for Camejo or not vote at all. And if that costs Davis the Governorship? Oh well.








Wednesday, July 10, 2002

  0 comments

Davis is shitting bricks, and Democrats are trying to cover his ass.

The Orange County Register and Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters are both reporting that Davis intends to sign AB 1493 (the anti-greenhouse-gas bill) to appease his liberal base, but that Democrats are scared a subsequent referendum drive will put it on the November election ballot and thereby further threaten Davis' relection hopes. So Democrats in the legislature are bottling up the already-passed bill, hoping to run out the clock.

The referendum process in California is very tricky. Among other things, Article II Section 10(d) of the California Constitution says you need a summary and title prepared by the State Attorney General [Democrat Bill Lockyer], and the AG has ten days in which to generate that after the Governor signs it and a referendum request is submitted. In addition, the petitions must contain the entire text of the measure, including the summary. That turns each individual petition into a huge multi-page document, and this incredibly expensive printing job can't start until the AG's summary is available.

So it takes a lot of money to mount a successful referendum in California, especially on an abbreviated time schedule. But by making all possible preparations ahead of time, and laying out perhaps $5 million, I think the signatures can be gathered in as little as one week after the Attorney General's summary is released.

The good news is that the Secretary of State, Bill Jones, is a Republican. He won't add to the delays, and if anything will lean on his office staff and on the County Registrars to complete the random-sample signature verification well ahead of the statuatory deadlines. And if the referendum backers concentrate on Republican counties (e.g., Orange County), they can further assure that the signature verifications are finished quickly and fairly.

So if this bill is sent to Davis within the next few days or weeks, it can still make it onto the November ballot. But if the Democrats blatantly sit on it till August 31st, and Davis then takes 30 days before signing it, and Lockyer takes 10 days to prepare a summary, they will succeed in delaying the referendum till March 2004 and thereby protect Davis' butt.

I don't think the PR pressures will let them sit on it that long. Here's my prediction: The Dems will stall another two weeks, while newspaper editorials and talk show hosts lambast them and advertising pressure from WeDrive.org builds up, then they'll finally send it on to Davis. He'll take his 12 days, then Lockyer will take his 10 days, and petitioning will finally start in the final week of August. After a record signature-gathering blitz, petitions will be submitted around September 1st and they will be verified by the end of September, which is more than 31 days before the general election. Opponents of AB 1493 will pour $50 million into defeating it in November, and in the process badly (perhaps fatally) damage Davis' re-election campaign.

And if that happy chain of events occurs, Kyoto will be totally destroyed as a political issue in the United States.








Tuesday, July 02, 2002

  0 comments

Democrats take the Plege, but God burns them anyway.

I noticed a huge discrepancy between the CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll results from June 21-23 and June 28-30 on the generic Congressional ballot. Yesterday (July 1st) Gallup released an analysis from a survey taken a week ago (June 21-23) which showed the Democrats with a big lead in the generic Congressional ballot. Among regular voters the Dems lead 49% to 45%, while among registered voters the Dems lead 50% to 42%.

Yesterday another article from USA Today reported that a survey by the same CNN/USA Today/Gallup combination, taken June 28-30, has Reps leading 46% to 44% among adults, and Reps leading 49% to 44% among registered voters.

That's a 13% swing among registered voters in a single week. Now it is possible that the results merely represent outliers, on the extreme ends of the statistical margins of error. Or maybe somebody at Gallup or USA Today confused the "R" and "D" letters. But there has been nothing in the news that could possibly explain such an incredibly drastic reversal.

Oops, yes there was -- a certain Circuit Court decision that outlawed "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.

If the surveys are accurate, and that swing is real, then you know why Democrats have been stumbling over the Capital steps desperately trying to do damage control.










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