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The All Trump election

Tue, 8 Nov 2016 08:01:00 UT

I voted for Libertarian Gary Johnson in the general election. [...] yet I have had this dark presence that has shadowed me. Wherever I have gone, I have been put in the position of explaining or defending Trump by people who saw it as my duty to denounce The Donald. On the radio and speaking appearances, it has fallen to me to explain to Bay Area audiences why someone who is not a complete idiot would vote for Trump. To mention that Trump is preferable on regulation, Obamacare or the U.S. Supreme Court was to invite scorn. Never once did I see a reporter demand that Democrats disclose if they would vote for Clinton even though she set up a home-brew server for State Department emails, then deleted thousands of those emails after they were under subpoena. Trump, Trump. On panels, it has been my job to watch liberals excoriate Trump as a racist, sexist bigot. Sure, they winked, he won the Neanderthal GOP primary, but he could never win the popular vote. If the election is tight, on the other hand, both sides learn nothing and just go back to their corners. Most people in the press never thought Clinton’s baggage would hurt her chances. Me. I thought Hillary Clinton would be a terrible president. [...] guess what: Email:

Cities plot to tax streaming content

Sat, 29 Oct 2016 01:16:01 UT

The city of Alameda has put before its voters Measure K1, which would allow Alameda to tax pay-per-view and video streaming services like Netflix and Hulu as if they were public utilities. Residents pay them because governments spend money or issue special permits for infrastructure — they lay pipes for water, lay cable or wires for electricity, telephones and cable TV. Alas for government bureaucrats, technology and modern attitudes have put a dent in utility revenue. Alameda has been charging cell phone users a utility tax, Keimach tells me, but different companies have paid different amounts. Measure K1 establishes that cell phone users would pay the standard 7.5 percent utility tax. Cell phone companies could have fought cities’ taxing them as utilities, but they didn’t. Figure they needed elected officials to win approval for cell phone tower placement. Unlike the cell phone companies, however, the tech companies are fighting back. Think of “the precedent this sets,” he noted, if cities can tax services that don’t utilize public easements or infrastructure as utilities. Robert Callahan, California executive director of the Internet Association, calls Hulu and other platforms “apps” — because many people watch shows on their phones and their iPads or other tablets. The Utility Users Tax is an existing tax on certain utility bills. Since 1972, Alameda residents have paid a UUT on electricity, gas, cable TV and telecommunications.

Snowden asks for pardon from President Obama

Wed, 14 Sep 2016 23:00:00 UT

How did a guy who’s against authoritarian governments that spy on their citizens end up in Vladmir Putin’s Russia? Snowden blames the State Department for revoking his passport after he left Hong Kong, but why is he in Moscow? If Snowden wanted to stop the NSA’s practices in 2013, then why didn’t he, as former CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell suggested in his book “The Great War of Our Time,” simply copy a couple of documents and mail them to the Washington Post instead of downloading 1.7 million documents and taking them to China? If Obama pardons the biggest leaker of all time, then won’t he also have to pardon others — Chelsea Manning, former CIA chief David Petraeus — who also shared classified information? If Obama pardons Snowden, then how does the intelligence community keep secrets in the future? Better to make this a morality play than a hard-boiled look at the cost of these leaks to U.S. intelligence and America’s allies.

His and her baskets of unhealthy “deplorables”

Mon, 12 Sep 2016 23:00:00 UT

Is a presidential candidate with Hillary Clinton’s health problems — pneumonia now, but also for some time deep vein thrombosis and a history of blood clots — healthy enough to be president? Most probably, yes, but her weekend health issues make you wonder if Clintonia is covering up bigger health problems than her team has revealed to date. Only after a video revealed Clinton’s legs buckling as Secret Service agents had to spirit her into a van, did Camp Clinton release a statement that revealed she had been diagnosed with pneumonia Friday. Surely Clinton is aware of the more than 4,000 U.S. troops risking their lives in a bid to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as I write this. Critics pounced on Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson — a fitness buff who says he runs two to three hours every day he does not campaign — for fumbling when asked what he would do about Aleppo. (The rushed letter in which his doctor wrote that Trump could be “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency” was more a stunt than the result of close examination.) Trump now says he will release detailed records Thursday on “The Dr. Oz Show.”

Prop. 67 continues Sacramento’s war on free plastic bags

Sat, 10 Sep 2016 00:00:00 UT

“There’s no such thing as a free bag,” Sacramento political guru Steve Maviglio told The Chronicle’s editorial board at a meeting to urge a yes vote on Proposition 67. The initiative would uphold a state bill to prohibit retailers from giving customers free single-use plastic bags. Will Sacramento devise a way to charge shoppers who ride on elevators or escalators so that the virtuous folk who take the stairs don’t have to subsidize free-ride slouches? In the beginning, bag ban supporters said their law would save taxpayers money by eliminating a waste-management scourge — they didn’t seem to notice that plastic bags made up less than 1 percent of California’s waste stream. The bag-ban folks warn about plastic in the ocean — without informing voters that the overwhelming amount of that plastic doesn’t come from bags. Because local bag bans allow retailers to sell thicker plastic bags (with five times as much plastic) for a fee, Phil Rozenski of the bag industry told The Chronicle he believes plastic’s share of the waste stream is going up. The ban includes the usual left-wing politics, with its exemption for participants in the state’s Women, Infants and Children supplemental food program. [...] Sacramento has no problem sticking it to shoppers. [...] when there is an opportunity to make those who recycle feel virtuous, it doesn’t matter if the bag ban delivers. Some day, my many reusable bags will spend their “end of life” — Rozenski’s term — in a government landfill, where they will take up more space than the single-use bags they have replaced. The bag industry has offered an alternative ballot measure, Proposition 65, to stop “grocery stores from keeping all the money collected from carryout bag taxes as profit instead of helping the environment.”

Big headlines make bad laws

Wed, 7 Sep 2016 22:00:00 UT

[...] when Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky sentenced former Stanford student Brock Turner, now 21, to six months in jail — he served only three months — for sexually assaulting a woman who was too inebriated to consent to sex in 2015, California lawmakers did not hesitate. Wetterling’s disappearance spawned the 1994 national sex offender registry, advocated by Jacob’s mother, Patty, and signed by President Bill Clinton. While critics say Persky went easy on Turner because he was a white Stanford student, Turner in fact will be serving a life sentence as a registered sex offender. When convicted killers get out of prison, they face fewer restrictions than many convicted sex offenders like Turner. “Few new public policies have become so widespread so quickly or attracted such unanimous support from across the political spectrum,” Eli Lehrer of the libertarian-leaning R Street Institute wrote in National Affairs. Lehrer also argued “blanket residency restrictions” — such as California’s restrictions on living near schools or day care centers — “simply do not serve any valid public-safety purpose.” Prosecutors had charged Turner with sexual assault because he digitally penetrated the victim before two passersby intervened.

Presidential pardons, not just for low-level offenders anymore

Fri, 2 Sep 2016 21:00:00 UT

The mandatory minimum sentencing system effectively has allowed federal prosecutors to choose defendants’ sentences by deciding how to charge them. The feds sometimes can choose whether to charge buyers and sellers for dealing crack cocaine when it’s still powder — crack commands a longer sentence. Or not. [...] when a jury convicts a drug offender, the charges have already determined the sentence. On Tuesday, the Obama administration granted presidential commutations to 111 federal inmates — including Oakland’s Darryl Lamar Reed, a.k.a. “Lil D.” So Reed stands out as the rare Californian to win a commutation, as well as an exception to the criteria for Obama’s 2014 Clemency Initiative. Then-Deputy U.S. Attorney General James M. Cole explained that inmates applying for a sentence reduction should be “nonviolent, low-level offenders without significant ties to large-scale criminal organizations, gangs or cartels.” Reed had taken over the extensive drug operation of his uncle, Felix Mitchell, the onetime kingpin who died in federal prison. [...] it seems the administration is focusing on the first criterion alone — that an inmate would have “received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of the same offense(s) today.” In his first term, he released only one low-level offender serving a draconian federal sentence. In 2013, he stepped up to the plate when he commuted the sentences of eight crack offenders — six who were serving life terms, including Clarence Aaron, a first-time low-level nonviolent offender sentenced to life in prison. Article II, Sect. 2, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution states that the president “shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” A commutation of sentence reduces a sentence, either totally or partially, that is then being served, but it does not change the fact of conviction, imply innocence, or remove civil disabilities that apply to the convicted person as a result of the criminal conviction. “A pardon is an expression of the President’s forgiveness and ordinarily is granted in recognition of the applicant’s acceptance of responsibility for the crime and established good conduct” after sentence is served.

Obama’s rush job on mercy

Wed, 31 Aug 2016 23:00:00 UT

On Tuesday, President Obama commuted the sentences of 111 federal drug offenders. The federal mandatory minimum sentencing system — the bastard child of Washington’s ill-conceived war on drugs — was supposed to put drug kingpins away for long sentences. [...] the system lacks proportion, and too often has been used to put away low-level and nonviolent drug offenders for decades — 232 Obama commutation recipients were serving sentences of life without parole. On the one hand, I think it is great that Obama is bestowing mercy, as I have no doubt that thousands of the 193,070 federal inmates are serving sentences that far outweigh their crimes. The president changed his clemency criteria to allow for the early release of drug offenders also charged for firearms possession. The president is right on principle but, as his administration tries to process some 11,000 applications before he exits, the looming deadline expands the opportunity to make mistakes by releasing someone who is violent. [...] some 2016 commutations come with strings — recipients have to spend time in halfway houses or stick with drug treatment programs. Former pardon attorney Margaret Love fears that with this rushed schedule, the administration will turn down inmates who deserve commutations.

The selfie king never was ‘almost quaint’

Mon, 29 Aug 2016 22:00:00 UT

The husband of Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin resigned from Congress in 2011 when he was caught tweeting shots of his tumescent privates to a number of women not his wife. Over the three weeks between the story breaking and the seven-term Democrat’s resignation from his House seat, Weiner tried but failed to make light of his colossally bad judgment. Yet his pronouncements only made him look worse, as when for example Weiner said of his female correspondents, “To the best of my knowledge, they were all adults.” Observers figured that Weiner must have cleaned up his act when he ran for mayor of New York in 2013 — because, well, surely he would not risk putting his wife and young son through a second-time-around sexting scandal. Lying next to Weiner was his toddler son — who appears to be napping and, I would like to think, unaware of what his father was up to. News reports informed that the couple had been separated for close to a year. [...] on Monday, the selfie king showed that he had learned something useful when he shuttered his Twitter account.

Save the death penalty. No on Prop. 62

Fri, 26 Aug 2016 21:00:00 UT

Opponents of California’s death penalty have been highly successful at thwarting executions since the state resumed executions in 1992 after a 20-year hiatus. Measure sponsors argue that capital punishment presents the risk of executing an innocent person, but also state California’s death penalty is “simply unworkable.” Over the years, appellate attorneys have introduced endless time-sucking, frivolous appeals that have jammed the courts, largely on technical grounds that have nothing to do with guilt or innocence, e.g., the trial lawyer wasn’t top drawer; the defendant’s parents were abusive; lethal injection may not be 100 percent painless. In exasperation, the tough-on-crime Criminal Justice Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit on behalf of the families of murder victims of two Death Row inmates to prod the state to develop a drug protocol that should pass muster with the U.S. Supreme Court. State Attorney General Kamala Harris, who also said she would uphold California’s law despite her personal objections, tried to block the suit on the dubious grounds that the victims’ families “lack standing.” Opponent Matt Cherry of Death Penalty Focus told The Chronicle editorial board that capital punishment “has failed in California.” Since 1992, he added, “Just 13 people have been executed,” which he noted constitutes about 1 percent of the 930 individuals sentenced to death since 1978. In their ballot argument, Prop. 62 supporters warn that when executions resume, California risks executing an innocent person — like Carlos DeLuna who was executed in 1989 before an “independent investigation later proved his innocence.” In 2012, I asked Brown if he had considered appointing a panel to recommend Death Row inmates deserving of a commutation. Brown personally remains a death penalty opponent, so his answer is instructive: As attorney general, I think the representation was good. At a different editorial board meeting, former San Quentin State Prison Warden Jeanne Woodford, Ana Zamora of the No on 66 campaign and Berkeley law Professor Elisabeth Semel vigorously defended all of the hijinks played by anti-death-penalty lawyers. Why does it take a year to process an appeal based on a convicted killer’s childhood? Habeas Corpus Resource Center focus on worthy appeals and stop jamming up the courts with frivolous paper — and then complain about court backlogs? Why have opponents gone after the state for getting lethal injection drugs from compounding pharmacies or other states, after opponents made it impossible to secure drugs from once legal sources? If California voters should decide to repeal capital punishment, do not believe for one minute they won’t use every dirty trick to undermine life without parole.

Stanford rethinks booze. California should, too

Wed, 24 Aug 2016 23:00:00 UT

University spokeswoman Lisa Ann Lapin assured me that the goal of the new policy is “to curb binge drinking.” Turner, now 21, is the student convicted for the 2015 sexual assault of a 22-year-old woman too inebriated to consent to sex. Amid outcries against his light sentence — six months in jail, of which he’ll likely serve only three — Turner vowed to “speak out against the college campus drinking culture and the sexual promiscuity that goes along with that.” In a statement at sentencing, the victim said: “I don’t see headlines that read, ‘Brock Turner, Guilty of drinking too much and the sexual promiscuity that goes along with that.’” Stanford’s Student Alcohol Policy observes that it is not the responsibility of most Stanford officials to enforce state law but that campus police should enforce the law, and Lapin assures me they do. In 2008, some college administrators signed the Amethyst Initiative in part to reduce binge drinking and spark a conversation about how to prepare young people to be responsible about alcohol use. Chapman University Dean of Students Jerry Price explained that since the drinking age was raised from 18 in many states, students’ drinking patterns haven’t really changed. Price knows colleagues who fear a younger drinking age sends the wrong message, but he believes that since the 21-year-old rule “is not going to really reduce drinking,” it might be better to let students drink where campus staff can intervene, if needed.

Eminent domain means your home can be their castle

Sat, 20 Aug 2016 01:00:00 UT

[...] the Legislature is working to expand rules to allow local officials to green-light pet projects more likely to enrich powerful interests than benefit the communities the policy is supposed to serve. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “economic development” constituted “public use” in its infamous Kelo decision, which allowed governments to seize private property for private development. (The state or local government derives its power to take private property for public use in return for just compensation from the right of eminent domain.) The Kelo ruling emboldened cities like Oakland to seize private property at bargain prices to accommodate tony private development. Nothing is to prevent the state from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory. Oakland proved O’Connor right by seizing two properties — Revelli Tires and Autohouse — to make way for private development. Ravelli Tires and Autohouse had a form of blight — their owners didn’t have the political clout to fight back. In effect, AB2492 would allow officials to find that an area is blighted if, for example, the median income there is less than 80 percent of the median income either “statewide, countywide or citywide.” The “or” part, says Marko Mlikotin of the California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights, would allow local officials to “cherry-pick the data,” and let affluent communities parade as needy. [...] I suspect Mlikotin is right when he posits Brown’s move on redevelopment “really was about money, not some new found religion in private property rights.” There was little money to be made by people who would abuse eminent domain during the economic (downturn) that followed Kelo and the financial crisis, but in the past few years there is again economic incentive for government and politically favored developers to collude to grab land they can’t get in a free market. The cottage was moved, however, and now serves as a monument to all those who fight eminent domain abuses.

Reefer madness and the election

Thu, 11 Aug 2016 23:00:00 UT

For the first time since 1988, both major parties’ nominees — Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump — say that they have never smoked or experimented with marijuana (without inhaling). President Obama has been open about having used marijuana and other drugs in his youth, yet his administration has taken insufficient steps to inject some sanity into the federal government’s approach to marijuana policy. In 2008, the Obama campaign talked about keeping federal prosecutors from going after medical marijuana dispensaries in states that have legalized medical use such as California. To the contrary, in his first term especially, Obama’s Department of Justice was merciless on medical marijuana providers, as well as users. Drug Enforcement Administration acting head Chuck Rosenberg explained in a letter that the administration will expand research into marijuana’s medicinal benefits, but marijuana will remain a Schedule I drug because it “has no currently accepted medical use in treatment” in the United States, is not safe for use under medical supervision and has a high abuse potential. The harm from marijuana is less dramatic, but real; chronic usage among teens and young adults can reduce the chances that they will marry, have children or graduate from college. “It is best not to think of drug scheduling as an escalating ‘danger’ scale,” Rosenberg wrote, and better to focus on medical and scientific evidence. Californians legalized medical marijuana in 1996. [...] many of us have seen friends with cancer overcome nausea and diminished appetite because they had access to marijuana. Three years ago, CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta reported on marijuana’s efficacy in controlling neuropathic pain for some patients and helping children who suffered from constant seizures. If Washington politicians truly cared about helping people in need, then the Democrat in the White House and the Republicans in Congress would have enacted legislation like the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act right then and there. Democrat Hillary Clinton opposes marijuana decriminalization but has said that, if elected, she would downgrade marijuana from a Schedule I to Schedule II drug to remove barriers to medical research.

What did The Donald mean and when did he mean it?

Wed, 10 Aug 2016 23:00:00 UT

Most important, after each debate, the media will spend the next 24 to 48 hours debating what Trump really meant by his latest bizarre utterance and if that particular off-the-wall remark represents the last straw, sinking his campaign. Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta rightly ribbed Trump for engaging in shenanigans around these debates. The bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates had chosen the dates before Clinton won the nod and the NFL announced its schedule. Yet in this ugly election season, it’s voters who should wonder if the debate schedule is fair to the electorate. The debate commission will look at the polls after Labor Day to see if a third-party candidate has hit 15 percent support in five unnamed national polls. Commission Co-Chair Frank Fahrenkopf recently told CNBC the panel would “consider giving an inch” to an outsider — if, for example, a candidate hit an average of 14.5 in polls with a margin of error in the 3 percentage point range. [...] as Pace University political science Professor David Caputo told me, small tweaks are OK, but if the commission dumps its rules to accommodate a low-polling Johnson, “I think it would be very difficult” to say no to Trump’s demands for, say, time slots that are likely to draw top ratings or “fair” moderators.

Warning: Dangerous think tanks ahead

Tue, 9 Aug 2016 00:00:00 UT

Think Tanks Blur the Line reports that while think tanks in general “are seen as researchers independent of money interests,” some think tank biggies chase money from corporate donors. [...] they are doing so while reaping the benefits of their tax-exempt status, sometimes without disclosing their connections to corporate interests. The story starts with the liberal Brookings Institution, of all places, which talked up the $8 billion San Francisco Shipyard project while receiving some $400,000 from its developer, the Lennar Corp. The story asks: When think tank scholars testify before Congress or speak at other events,” the Times warns, “the public is often not aware of the financial relationships between these scholars and for-profit companies that hire them. When Brookings economist Robert Litan testified against a financial disclosure rule supported by Warren, he cited his own study, which disclosed it was supported by a large mutual fund asset manager. How the Left is Silencing Free Speech, Kimberley Strassel writes how politicians such as Warren have flipped the concept of disclosure on its head: The American people know almost nothing about the working of government. [...] disclosure is trained on the electorate, allowing the government to know everything about the political activities of Americans.