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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Debra Saunders

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Debra Saunders

Last Build Date: Sun, 12 Apr 2009 00:00:00 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2009

Who Wants to Free Mumia Now?

Sun, 12 Apr 2009 00:00:00 -0600

Call it progress. Being convicted for killing a police officer has lost the cachet it once had for the far left -- especially since Oakland just buried slain police officers Sgts. Mark Dunakin, Ervin Romans and Daniel Sakai, and Officer John Hege.

Consider that Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, introduced a House resolution honoring the four Oakland officers. She once signed a letter against Abu-Jamal's execution. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution naming a day in Abu-Jamal's honor. Ditto the European Parliament. The anti-Iraq war group Not in Our Name proudly advertised Abu-Jamal's endorsement as one of its celebrity signatories -- unbothered by the prospect of dubbing a cop-killer as a committed peacenik. Writer Alice Walker likened Abu-Jamal to South African leader Nelson Mandela.

Oakland schools scheduled a Mumia teach-in for January 1999 -- although it was mostly derailed after a sniper shot Oakland officer James Williams Jr., whose funeral was held on the same day. The teach-in lesson plan had referred to Abu-Jamal not as a cop killer, but as a "political prisoner."

Be it noted, the letter signed by Lee and others argued against Abu-Jamal's execution because "he well may be innocent." The usual Hollywood stars -- Ed Asner, Mike Farrell -- were happy to impugn the motives and behavior of Philly police and prosecutors. Devotees desperately clung to the notion that Abu-Jamal, formerly Wesley Cook, was a victim of racism. Indeed, they so wanted to believe that Abu-Jamal was unfairly convicted that they overlooked the gratuitous execution of Faulkner.

But the evidence was overwhelming. A jury -- and not all the members were white, as it included two African-Americans -- convicted Abu-Jamal and sentenced him to death.

After police pulled over Abu-Jamal's brother for driving the wrong way on a one-way street, a battle followed. Faulkner was shot five times, once between the eyes. Authorities found Abu-Jamal near the mortally wounded Faulkner because he could not run away, as his brother did; Faulkner had shot Abu-Jamal in the chest. Also, four eyewitnesses identified Abu-Jamal. Two witnesses heard Abu-Jamal admit to shooting Faulkner and that he hoped Faulkner dies.

What is more, Abu-Jamal has never explicitly stated that he did not shoot Faulkner. He did not testify at his own trial before his conviction. He served as his own lawyer -- with professional backup counsel -- yet failed to produce his brother as a witness. Guilty.

But he knows how to play to a certain crowd swayed more by race-laden rhetoric than fact. So from death row, he keeps cranking out books, radio commentaries and self-congratulatory hype about how the racist system put him in prison. As in his latest self-homage, "This is the story of law learned, not in the ivory towers of multibillion-dollar endowed universities (but) in the bowels of the slave-ship, in the hidden, dank dungeons of America."

I suppose it is possible that if the Supreme Court reinstates Abu-Jamal's justly deserved death sentence, apologists will again clamor for TV time to rail against the injustice of Abu-Jamal's conviction. But if his followers really believe he is innocent, they should remain committed to the cause, whether he faces execution or not.

Their rallying cry is, after all, "Free Mumia." I would like to think that the Hollywood and Bay Area left have become wiser and now understand that the murder of a cop is not justifiable and cannot be overlooked because good liberals are too busy being righteous and denouncing the racist criminal justice system. Sure, there were a few left-wing loons who lionized Oakland cop-killer Lovelle Mixon, but local politicians knew which funeral to attend and whom not to defend.

Maybe the difference is that Dunakin, Romans, Sakai and Hege fell close to home.

The Return of the Fuzzies

Thu, 09 Apr 2009 00:00:00 -0600

Yet the Math Wars continue in California, as well as in New Jersey, Oregon and elsewhere. In Palo Alto, parent and former Bush education official Ze'ev Wurman is one of a group of parents who oppose the Palo Alto Unified School District Board's April 14 vote to use "Everyday Mathematics" in grades K-5. Wurman recognizes that the "fuzzies" aren't as fuzzy as they used to be, but also believes that state educators who approve math texts "fell asleep at the switch" when they approved the "Everyday" series in 2007.

The "Everyday" approach supports "spiraling" what students learn over as long as two or more years. As an "Everyday" teacher guide explained, "If we can, as a matter of principle and practice, avoid anxiety about children 'getting' something the first time around, then children will be more relaxed and pick up part or all of what they need. They may not initially remember it, but with appropriate reminders, they will very likely recall, recognize, and get a better grip on the skill or concept when it comes around again in a new format or application -- as it will!" Those are my italics -- to highlight the "fuzzies'" performance anxiety.

Becki Cohn-Vargas of the Palo Alto schools told me that a majority of a district committee recommended "Everyday Math" after "a very extensive process." "Spiraling" helps students because "it goes deeper each time." Also, the district will closely observe where the new series needs to be supplemented. "We have a lot of confidence in our teachers," she added and the district's high test scores support that.

"Everyday" dissenters object to the program's emphasis on teaching different algorithms to solve equations. A fourth-grade manual supports "low-stress" partial-quotients algorithm, which demonstrates a longer way to divide 158 by 12, by noting that 10 is a partial quotient that yields the number 120, and then encourages students to use other partial quotients -- 2 or 3 -- to find the answer.

"Partial-sums addition" tells students to add 6,802 plus 453 by adding 6,000 and 1,200 (which is 800 plus 400) plus 50 plus 5. Why? Because: "One way is not better than another."

Now, I understand why a teacher would demonstrate these methods to students -- even the ultra-complicated "lattice" method of multiplication (which is even more tedious to explain, so I will spare you). Different approaches can provide students with other ways to understand why 6 times 9 equals 54.

But making students use slow, labor-intensive algorithms is, to me, the sort of mind-numbing exercise likely to instill hatred of math in students. So you see the dividing line in the Math Wars: The fuzzies think that children will crumble and turn on math if you make them memorize math facts in early grades, while traditionalists think students will fall behind in math if they don't learn basics thoroughly and early. Besides, elongating and verbalizing math exercises is the classroom equivalent of getting your teeth drilled.

Lost and Found on Fringes of First Family

Sun, 05 Apr 2009 00:00:00 -0600

What does that mean? Obama asked. As he wrote in his compelling memoir, "Dreams from My Father," Onyango answered, "Don't get lost" is a common expression: "Sometimes it has a more serious meaning. Let's say a son or husband moves to the city, or to the West, like our Uncle Omar, in Boston. They promise to return after completing school. They say they'll send for the family once they get settled. At first they write once a week. Then it's just once a month. Then they stop writing completely. No one sees them again. They've been lost, you see. Even if people know where they are." Twenty years later, a week before Obama was elected president, the London Times -- not an American news organization; perhaps U.S. journalists were too busy scrounging for dirt on GOP running mate Sarah Palin's family -- found Onyango living in Boston public housing in violation of a 2004 deportation order. At the time, Obama announced that he was unaware that his aunt, whose bid for political asylum was rejected, was living in America. And: "If she is violating laws, those laws have to be obeyed." In a move perceived as preventing Onyango's deportation, the Bush administration ordered a stop to any deportations before the election without White House approval. On Wednesday, April 1, Onyango appeared before an immigration judge who ordered a February 2010 re-hearing for her argument against deportation. As I read the Washington Post story, I had to ask: Who got lost? Zeituni and Auma were pivotal characters in the memoir that made Obama's mark on the world. How could he not know where his aunt was living? True, his aunt was not family in the way I know family -- people you've known since your birth or theirs. Perhaps I was guilty of amplifying the bond I saw in the book. Indeed, Obama plainly addressed the gulf between him and his African relatives, including the seven half-siblings whom his father sired with three other wives. When he met a grandmother, she demanded cash. It was his Aunt Zeituni who then told him how relatives and friends had looked to his Harvard-educated father for handouts. "And you must learn this from life," she said. "If you have something, then everyone will want a piece of it. So you have to draw the line somewhere. If everyone is family, no one is family." During the 2008 campaign, conservative pundits waged a satirical campaign to help support half-brother George Hussein Onyango Obama after media reports that he lived in a shack outside Nairobi on $1 per month. Be it noted, Barack Obama owed this son of his father's fourth wife little to nothing. Obama was turned away when he tried to meet the brother about whom he had but recently learned. Obama wrote, "I took comfort in the fact that perhaps one day, when he was older, George, too, might want to know who his father had been, and who his brothers and sisters were, and that if he ever came to me, I would be there for him, to tell him the story I knew." A White House aide confirmed that Obama is not involved in trying to influence the outcome of Zeituni Onyango's deportation case. The Associated Press reported that Onyango attended Obama's U.S. Senate swearing-in ceremony in 2004, but Obama has said he did not know that his aunt was living in Boston in 2008. The aide confirmed that Obama has not seen his aunt since the election and that he is not working for some alternative living arrangement for her. (Hint for Obama: Maybe you should ask your pal Gordon Brown to find her a safe sinecure.) To be honest, if Obama stepped in to help his aunt, by, say, asking a friendly member of Congress to write a bill naturalizing Onyango, I would understand. Yes, he would be asking for special treatment. But why be president if you can't use the White House to help your aunt? (Unless you have too long a line of aunts.) Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which [...]

Europe on the Cheap

Thu, 02 Apr 2009 00:40:00 -0600

Now, with gasoline in the $2 per gallon range, Obama's brainstorm for a successful business model is to create "the next generation of clean cars." Get it: GM and Chrysler are in trouble because their cars weren't liberal enough.

It helps if you forget that the Big Three cranked out big cars for years because Americans bought them in the days before gasoline hit $4 per gallon.

Here's the European-government-with-American-taxes angle: If Obamaland believes it is in the interest of America's national security to drive fuel-efficient cars, the only sure route there is to levy higher gasoline taxes -- as they do in Europe.

Look at France, where taxes account for about 70 percent of the price of gasoline, compared to less than 17 percent in the United States. Our Betters in Europe pay some $5 to $6.50 per gallon of gas -- or 2.5 to three times more than Americans pay. That's why Europeans drive smaller cars. And that's why European carmakers design smaller cars.

Instead, Obama plans to push Americans into buying his promised "new generation of clean cars" with -- you guessed it -- lower taxes. This week, he supported "a generous credit to consumers who turn in old, less fuel-efficient cars and purchase cleaner cars." That's on top of an Obama stimulus provision that allows consumers to deduct sales and excise taxes for cars bought between Feb. 16 and the end of the year.

There's a logic deficit to the whole approach.

If the administration truly wants Americans to drive smaller cars, it needs to instill in automakers utter certainty that gasoline prices will rise and stay at very high rates. Short-term tax credits can't do that, as they leave carmakers unsure of what families will buy and afraid of losing the cushy-sized car market.

Raising the gasoline tax gradually but continuously is the only sure way to meet Obama's fuel-efficiency agenda. But Obama won't propose it because there is no way to hide the tax. Every time drivers fill their tanks, they'll see the price tag and know who put it there.

His entire 2008 campaign was based on telling voters they could get more government programs to promote health care, education and his environmental agenda -- but 95 percent of families would not have to pay for it. When asked in a debate with rival John McCain what sacrifices he would ask Americans to make, Obama answered, "There is going to be the need for each and every one of us to start thinking about how we use energy." That's right, his sacrifice wasn't in the pocketbook -- except for families earning more than $250,000 -- his sacrifice was in asking voters to think.

Consider Obama's campaign pledge to deliver universal access to health care. Say this for the French, they pay for their services; they pay a value-added tax of up to 19.6 percent and a 40 percent tax rate for income above some $88,313. But at the 2008 convention, the Democratic platform asserted that under ObamaCare, the "typical American family" would save "up to $2,500 per year." European services, American taxes -- with a bonus.

Who really pays? The future taxpayers of America saddled with rapidly accumulating debt.

There you have the real Obama model -- Europe, but on lower U.S. tax rates. This combo makes for an unsustainable model. Like Chrysler.

Pelosi on 'Un-American' Immigration Law

Tue, 24 Mar 2009 00:00:00 -0600

In 2003, Pelosi accused ICE of "terrorizing" workers after agents raided a number of Wal-Mart stores for hiring and contracting undocumented janitors. By the way, during the 2008 primary, then-Sen. Barack Obama also said that some communities "were terrorized" by ICE "raids."

At a news conference last week, La Speaker gave an increasingly qualified explanation: "What I said was separating parents from their children -- ICE raids that separate parents from their children in the middle of night are un-American, and I stand by that. And those were the issues that we were dealing with, three families where the parents were separated -- a parent was separated from the children and the prospect of the second parent being separated. And I do believe that separating parents from their children, in these cases -- sometimes in the middle of night -- is un-American."

I asked Pelosi's staff for information about families that ICE had separated in the middle of the night. Spokesman Brendan Daly sent statements made by two children -- both American citizens -- at the Ess Eff event. The three families turned into two families -- Daly noted that Pelosi spoke with others privately -- and the two mothers were left at home, although the children fear their mothers also could be deported. There was one 5 a.m. arrest. The teenagers also argued that, as U.S. citizens, they have a right to stay in America, and they believe their parents should be able to stay, as well.

Pelosi added, "We have to enforce our laws." But if Pelosi really believes in enforcing the law, why is she criticizing ICE agents who put themselves on the line to make immigration laws work?

At the news conference, Pelosi had little good to say about ICE's enforcement. She noted, "We don't have to kick in doors in the middle of the night and take fathers out of their homes."

Amy Kudwa, from the Department of Homeland Security, told me, "No enforcement actions take place in the middle of the night, whether it be workplace enforcement or fugitive actions." She noted that ICE agents ask "a very rigorous set of questions" about any humanitarian needs or care-giving responsibilities someone might have before they detain the person.

And Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano believes in using her department's "limited resources to the greatest effect, which is targeting criminal aliens and those employers who flout our laws."

While Pelosi's use of the word "raids" suggests random sweeps that deprive individuals of due process, in the past couple of years ICE efforts have targeted "immigration fugitives" -- that is, individuals who have violated a judge's deportation order. Unless they've refused to show up to a hearing, they've had their day in court.

Why were the fathers arrested? I asked Daly. "I don't know specifically beyond what the kids said," he answered. That's interesting because according to ICE, 20 percent of "immigration fugitives" have been convicted of crimes in America in addition to being ordered deported.

In 1995, when the National Rifle Association dismissed those who enforce federal gun laws as "jackbooted government thugs," the left was outraged. Yet Pelosi essentially has a similar opinion of the men and women who risk their safety daily in order to uphold laws passed by her own legislative body. They enforce the law, and she dismisses their work as "un-American." If she doesn't like the law, she should change it. She's the speaker.

Congress, Overtax Thyself

Sun, 22 Mar 2009 00:00:00 -0600

But as Americans keep discovering, bad can get worse. Witness the House bill that passed Thursday by a 328-93 vote to levy a 90 percent tax on bonuses for executives at corporations that got more than $5 billion in bailout bucks. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi proclaimed: "With this resolution, I think that we are making two important statements. One is that the administration should continue in its efforts to recoup, recover the money and prevent these bonuses from going forward. And the other is that we want our money back and we want our money back now for the taxpayers." Two statements? What about: By about a 328-93 ratio, House members would vote to throw their mothers out of the lifeboat to save themselves. Here's the short version of why that House vote is probably unconstitutional. As Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., noted before his "nay" vote: "There is something called a bill of attainder. You can't punish a group because you don't like them. You can't have them treated more onerously than somebody else without a trial." Now for the question as to whether there is any honor left in Washington. President Barack Obama and Congress had the opportunity to pass a measure before the AIG bonuses were paid to limit bonuses paid by corporations that have received federal bailout funds. Yet Congress failed to do so. Au contraire, the Obama stimulus package included a measure to protect "any bonus payment required to be paid pursuant to a written employment contract executed on or before February 11, 2009." Sen. Christopher Dodd -- the largest recipient of AIG executives' political contributions in the U.S. Senate, according to the Center for Responsive Politics -- told CNN Tuesday that he had no idea who inserted that language into the Obama stimulus bill. Then Wednesday, Dodd was forced to admit he himself had submitted that language -- at the request of the Obama Treasury Department. In California this week, President Obama told a town hall meeting: "I know Washington's all in a tizzy, and everybody's pointing fingers at each other and saying it's their fault, the Democrats' fault, the Republicans' fault. Listen, I'll take responsibility; I'm the president." After the House passed the tax-the-bonuses bill, Obama announced, "Now this legislation moves to the Senate, and I look forward to receiving a final product that will serve as a strong signal to the executives who run these firms that such compensation will not be tolerated." It would be a sorry example of taking responsibility for Obama to sign a measure that goes back on not only his own stimulus package but also the very language that his people asked Dodd to insert. I feel as if I'm watching a movie in which a hired thug kills someone and then another hired thug kills the first thug and then another thug kills the second thug. In less than two months in office, Obama has shown that in a town full of snakes, he's the fastest runner. Who on Wall Street will trust him now? On Monday, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, suggested AIG executives take old-fashioned responsibility and show remorse for their failures -- and "resign or go commit suicide," a statement that Grassley later half-rescinded Washington-style. Actually, AIG Chief Executive Officer Edward Liddy was working on just that. As he told a House Financial Services subcommittee Wednesday, some bonus recipients volunteered to return 100 percent of their bonuses, and he was asking those who make more than $100,000 a year to return half. If Liddy can step up to the plate, why not Congress and Obama? If Washington truly believes that entities that screw up should not be subsidized by taxpayers and if Obama truly believes in taking responsibility, then Congress should pass and the president should sign a bill to levy a 90 percent ta[...]

Tree Sitter Is Not in Berkeley Anymore

Thu, 19 Mar 2009 00:00:00 -0600

In June 2008, Anderson, who goes by the name "Cricket," was arrested and charged with trespassing and violating a court order -- and still he was able to chat happily with reporters.

Segue to the West Bank last week. Anderson had joined pro-Palestinian protesters in the village of Naalin, where he was seriously wounded when an Israeli-fired tear gas canister hit him in the head. Fellow activists said the attack was unprovoked. The Israeli Defense Forces said they were reacting to rock-throwing demonstrators. Whatever happened, Anderson found out in the worst way that political protest outside the Bay Area isn't all energy bars and catch and release.

Back in the Bay Area, Anderson's fellow peace activists could have used the awful occasion of Anderson's situation to contemplate how wonderful it is to live in a safe country. Instead, Monday night, they held their usual menacing and violence-tinged protest, which closed down a swath of Market Street and exposed Ess Eff once again as a consequence-free environment. According to the San Francisco Police Department, five protesters were booked on charges including felony aggravated assault, battery on a police officer and tampering with a vehicle. They went beyond their very American right to express their political views freely --
and illegally blocked off a portion of a main city street, keeping other people from going about their business.

Their purpose clearly was not to express ideas, but to interfere with the lives of other people, particularly people with real jobs and places to go. And for some -- those who showed up with masks because they planned on breaking the law -- the point was to disrupt and intimidate citizens.

What happens to protesters who assault cops? Russ Giuntini, chief assistant district attorney for San Francisco, told me, "When we first got here, the old philosophy was cops are supposed to take a punch." Now with a good case, he said, his office will prosecute. Police Officers Association President Gary Delagnes, however, wonders whether there will be consequences. "There are no repercussions in San Francisco," he told me.

Organizers said the Monday event was designed to honor Anderson's work fighting for human rights. "We're outraged to see what happened to Tristan as an American happens day in and day out to folks in Palestine," David Solnit, who is a friend of Anderson's, told KTVU.

So because Cricket's friends are outraged, they vandalize cars and block traffic. They have to know that their actions are not going to change the situation in the Mideast, but they can make you late for dinner. Also, they are affecting police overtime costs. Deputy Chief Kevin Cashman estimated that evening's action cost
$27,804.27 in regular-duty and overtime payroll costs. That's just one night in the big city. This is not police officers' idea of a good time. Cashman noted: "This is blood money. Officers often have to go into harm's way and are on the receiving end of objects being thrown at them."

Cashman was adamant in noting SFPD's duty to "to protect everyone's First Amendment rights." He noted that 90 to 95 percent of protesters simply are exercising their right to free speech. Often, many even tell police that they support law enforcement, not the violent anarchists.

The problem is, however, when an officer's skull is fractured -- as was the case with SFPD's Peter Shields during an anti-World Trade Organization protest in 2005 -- there are no angry marches closing down Market Street.

Obama on the Economy: Both Sides Now

Tue, 17 Mar 2009 00:20:00 -0600

President Obama himself said last week, "If we are keeping focused on all the fundamentally sound aspects of our economy ... then we're going to get through this."

If Obama is confident about the soundness of the U.S. economy, does that mean he "just doesn't get it?" No, it means that he is president. Now he has to pay the political price for incessant badmouthing of the U.S. economy. Now he has to prop up the very system at which he had been sniping for years.

And I do mean years. Of course Obama spent 2007 and 2008 talking down the economy -- he was running in a Democratic primary. But as far back as 2002, before he became a senator, Obama suggested that Bush was waging war against Saddam Hussein "to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression." Factually, Obama was incorrect. There had been four bigger one-month drops since the Depression -- but there was little downside to over-trashing the economy, albeit inaccurately, during the Bush years.

Now Obama owns the economy -- so the economy fear-mongering must end. As top White House economic adviser Larry Summers told the Brookings Institution, "We need to instill the trust that allows opportunity to overcome fear and enables families and businesses to again imagine a brighter future." In what he called "the central paradox of financial crisis," Summers observed "that while the problem was caused by excessive complacency and excessive optimism, what we need today is more optimism and more confidence."

That sounds like a column I wrote last September when I thought Democrats were being overly pessimistic about an economy that had been wounded by a government loan to AIG (then $85 billion), a $30 billion bailout in May for JP Morgan to buy Bear Stearns and the pricey shoring up of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Clearly, I was wrong about looming damage of overly swapped bad credit and Wall Street panic.

Six months later, two Washington administrations have thrown another $2 trillion into the pit -- and some Democrats are arguing that more spending is needed to stimulate the economy.

On the one hand, I think Summers is right. Fear and panic are stalling an engine that still has plenty of kick left -- but it won't start purring until the public believes again.

Now that they're on the running-things side, Obama and company are learning that it's a lot easier to kick the economy than to jump start it. Too bad that they were a lot better at kicking it.

The Drug War Body Count

Sun, 15 Mar 2009 00:20:00 -0600

Now, that baby step is big. They should have used the L-word, legalize, as decriminalizing drugs would leave trafficking and big profits under the control of violent cartels. But as Eric Sterling, president of The Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, figures, "decriminalization is often used as a euphemism for legalization," in part because voters perceive legalization as complete lawlessness, when it should entail regulation "by a state by state basis and a drug by drug basis." Which is why Norm Stamper, the former Seattle police chief, now speaks for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. He grew up in San Diego and has spent a lot of time in Mexico. "I love the country and it's heartbreaking to see what's happening, when we know there's a solution for it," Stamper told me. "There's a simple but profound stroke that can drive the cartels and the street traffickers out of business -- end the prohibition model and replace it with a regulatory model." On March 7, The Economist resumed its call for an end to the war on drugs: "Prohibition has failed; legalisation is the best solution." Noting that more than 800 Mexican police and soldiers were killed since December 2006, the editorial noted, "Indeed, far from reducing crime, prohibition has fostered gangsterism on a scale that the world has never seen before." Thursday, CNN anchor Rob Marciano read parts of The Economist piece to Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., then asked her about legalizing drugs. Sanchez responded (please bear with this quote, it's a bit garbled), "Certainly there is one drug -- it's called alcohol -- that we prohibited in the United States and had such a problem with as far as underground economy and cartels of that sort that we ended up actually regulating it and taxing it. And so, there has always been this thought that maybe if we do that with drugs, it would lower the profits in it and make some of this go away." Ess Eff Assemblyman Tom Ammiano has introduced a bill to legalize and tax and regulate "the state's largest cash crop" -- which would help with Sacramento's chronic budget shortfalls. I think it's fair to assume that if the bill passed, California would see an increase in marijuana use -- which is not good -- but a decrease in drug profits and violence -- which is good. At a House subcommittee hearing last week, Rep. John Tierney, D-Ma., figured that $15 to $25 billion in annual profits from drug sales in the United States bankroll Mexican cartels' purchases of guns from America. "The profits and guns -- and drug precursors in some cases -- then find their way back across the border to Mexico and fuel the increasing violence." Sterling said of the violence in Mexico, it "is not senseless. It's very deliberate. The reason the violence becomes more gruesome is because it's murder as message. It's an attempt to intimidate the government to make the government the way it used to be." Sidney Weintraub of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told the Chronicle that 40 percent of Mexico's drug sales are marijuana. "What we have to do is change our policy and decriminalize marijuana." Think the L-word, instead, to put more kingpins out of business. Except that to question the drug war is to risk losing tax money. When the El Paso City Council passed a resolution calling for "open, honest, national dialogue on ending the prohibition of narcotics," state and national politicians threatened to withhold government funds. The Associated Press reported on a letter by five Democratic state representatives that warned that the resolution "does not bring the right attention to El Paso. It says, 'We give up and we don't care.'" The El Paso mayor vetoed the measure and it died. I'd say that to not ask if p[...]

Richard Allen Davis: Safe on Death Row

Thu, 12 Mar 2009 00:00:00 -0600

"Who would think it would take almost as long for this guy to get his hearing after he was sentenced to death than my daughter was on this Earth and she didn't reach her 13th birthday?" Polly's father, Marc Klaas, told me Tuesday. Expect a ruling on that appeal within 90 days. Then there's a state habeas corpus appeal. Then Davis has a federal habeas corpus appeal. Before it's over, Davis, now 54, probably will have died of boredom. Or from another opium overdose, like the one for which he was treated in 2006, despite the fact that he was inside San Quentin. How did it take this long? Davis was sentenced to death in September 1996 for the 1993 crime. Then it took the California Supreme Court office that handles appellate attorneys until mid-2001 to appoint attorney Phillip Cherney to represent Davis. As I've reported before, five years is not an unusual hiatus. Then it took Cherney until July 11, 2005 to file an opening brief. Producing the appeal took longer than the prosecuting of Davis. After another four years of delay and back and forth with the California attorney general's office, voila, there was a hearing in March. "I have no issue with the careful consideration of death penalty appeals or that it is an automatic process," said Klaas, and he wants a system that prevents the execution of an innocent man. But the last 13 years were not dedicated to a hunt to find the real killer. Davis confessed on videotape. He led authorities to Polly's body. So the basis of the appeal was legal contortion. Cherney argued that the trial should have been moved from Sonoma County, not to San Jose, but to San Diego. Also, while police had advised Davis about his right to remain silent and consult a lawyer, they did not do so before one pre-confession talk. As if a man with an 11-page rap sheet might be unaware of his rights. According to The Associated Press, Cherney even complained that California's inability to quickly carry out executions has forced Davis "to endure the uncertainty and ever-present tension on death row for such an extended time constitutes cruel and unusual punishment." Shameless. "I was expecting some kind of brilliant argumentation," Klaas told me afterward. After all, the five-year process to appoint an attorney is supposed to limit the pool to highly qualified specialists. Instead, Klaas watched "some guy with a ponytail making pretty weak arguments." In Cherney's defense, weak arguments were all he had. How much has this exercise cost taxpayers? No one knows. That information is restricted. Ron Matthias, the supervising deputy attorney general handling the case, told me, "The frustration that you are describing is shared widely." Here's the worst part: If Davis said tomorrow that he wanted "the big jab," the state could not comply. In 2006, U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel suspended all California lethal injections. Later, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld lethal injection. Didn't matter, because a Marin County judge had ruled that there must be public comment on the new Fogel-inspired lethal injection protocol before it is adopted. When will the public comment occur? "I don't know," a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesperson answered. It's funny how the folks who want to parole criminals to pare the state budget never look at the high cost of glacial appeals. Klaas believes that the decades-long delays are the result of "a silent protest against the death penalty by the defense bar, abolitionists and other death-row apologists." If there ever is an innocent person on death row, he'll die before the courts find out.[...]

Newsweek, Frum Fall for White House Spin

Tue, 10 Mar 2009 00:43:06 -0600

Thus Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele called Limbaugh "ugly" and "incendiary." Not a smart move. Later Steele called Limbaugh to apologize - adding a new twist to a story concocted by Democrats.

As reported last week, Demo gurus James Carville and Stan Greenberg first concocted the idea of making Limbaugh the GOP albatross last year after a poll showed that among younger voters Limbaugh's ratings were in the toilet. White House adviser David Axelrod and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs joined in the get-Limbaugh gambit, while White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel called Limbaugh "the voice and the intellectual force and energy behind the Republican party" on CBS' "Face the Nation."

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee jumped into the act and sent out an e-mail instructing recipients to send an "urgent call" for GOP senators "to denounce this shameful rhetoric." Key to the strategy are gullible partisans who fall for the phony umbrage of cynical operatives. Tens of thousands of outraged sheep - I mean, concerned individuals -have signed on, according to the DSCC.

"Shameful rhetoric?" Sorry, but the only thing that would make these operatives more gleeful would be if GOP leaders were caught in hotel rooms with hookers. This whole brouhaha is designed to get Republicans to snipe at each other and, perhaps more important, to distract voters from what is happening to their 401(k)s - after Democrats have thrown an extra trillion dollars at the economy.

"It's incredibly cynical," former McCain adviser Nicolle Wallace wrote in the Daily Beast. "It assumes that voters are too stupid to know the difference between a talk-radio host and a party's elected leaders."

This week, former Bush speechwriter David Frum foolishly bit at the worm. "Limbaugh is kryptonite, weakening the GOP nationally," Frum wrote in a Newsweek cover piece, "Why Rush is Wrong." Frum concluded that while he probably agrees with Limbaugh on most ideological matters, "The issues on which we do disagree are maybe the most important to the future of the conservative movement and the Republican Party: Should conservatives be trying to provoke or persuade? To narrow our coalition or enlarge it? To enflame or govern?"

Of course, the answer is: Both.

Yes, political parties need to reach beyond their ranks, but you don't win with an alienated base. Witness the Clinton-distancing Al Gore and the pro-Iraq-war voting John Kerry. Witness my guy, John McCain.

And you don't win without people who charge up the base. That's what Limbaugh does better than anyone. (And I say that as a "mushy" moderate conservative.)

While many think Limbaugh is enjoying the Obama-supplied spotlight, he was pretty steamed in e-mails to me. Divided government, he wrote, "is designed to ensure that the president fails when he is wrong. The framers wanted the country to succeed; if they wanted the president to succeed, they would not have saddled him with Congress, courts, a free press, and elections every four years."

"I can think of no pursuit more childish than an Oval-Office-initiated food fight with a talk-radio host," Wallace wrote. Apparently Team Obama sees the Limbaugh feud as an effective use of its time.

A Mud Fight of Civil Rights

Sun, 08 Mar 2009 00:20:00 -0600

Or as George reminded a lawyer for the anti-Proposition 8 side who had been leaning on the 4-3 ruling, "Today we have a different state constitution, don't we?" Justice Joyce Kennard was in a similar pickle. She voted with George to legalize same-sex marriage -- despite the passage of Proposition 22, which 61 percent of voters approved in 2000, a statute against same-sex marriage. But as Kennard told attorneys pushing to overturn Proposition 8, the court had to choose between "the inalienable right to marry and the right of the people to change the constitution as they see fit. And what I'm picking up from the oral argument in this case is this court should willy-nilly disregard the will of the people." That's about it. San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera and other Proposition 8 opponents came up with the highly legalistic argument. To wit: Proposition 8 is invalid because, after the 2008 George decision, it represented a "revision" of the state constitution -- and thus needed a two-thirds vote of the Legislature or an act of a constitutional convention before it could be put on the ballot. Attorney General Jerry Brown took a different tack. Staff attorney Christopher Krueger argued that same-sex marriage is an "inalienable" right that should not be subject to majority vote. That's choice -- considering that when Brown was governor in 1977, he signed the state law that stipulated that marriage was not simply between two persons, but a male and female. If Brown runs for governor for 2010, he'll have to explain why he is entitled to use tax funds to overturn the will of California voters. It took Proposition 8 defender Ken Starr -- of Monica Lewinsky blue dress fame -- to observe that "the right of the people is inalienable to control their constitution." Representing same-sex couples, attorney Shannon Minter told the court that in delineating between married heterosexuals and civil unions for same-sex couples, Proposition 8 "puts those couples in a second-class status. It marks them as second-class citizens. It deprives them of equal liberty, dignity and privacy." This argument, which oozes with victimhood, is much used -- and, I'm sorry, ridiculous. Before Proposition 8, California same-sex newlyweds did not have equal rights. State civil union laws had conferred the same rights that California bestows on heterosexual married couples -- except the term "married." But the 18,000 same-sex marriages that occurred in California were not recognized by the federal agencies and most states. They were equal unions in name only. Thus to argue that the return to civil unions makes these families "second class" is to ignore the fact that they were not equal. Instead, like civil unions, California same-sex marriage was a step in an as-yet unachieved bid for equality. Of course, the don't-make-us-second-class-citizens-by-changing-the-name argument drew blood. After all, in the May ruling, George had written that calling same-sex marriages something other than marriage constituted "significantly unequal treatment." Thursday, he looked hurt as he told Minter he found it "remarkable" that Minter was focusing on "the nomenclature" instead of "the court's recognition of very important rights" for gays. On the plus side, George's and the other justices' questions during oral arguments suggest that the court recognizes its obligation to respect the popular vote to amend the constitution. On the down side, I think it's remarkable that so many politicians are willing to use the courts -- not persuasion, not the ballot -- to thwart the will of Californians. Justice Ming Chin, [...]

Profound Irresponsibility Redux

Thu, 05 Mar 2009 00:00:00 -0600

It's not that cutting taxes in itself is bad, but it is hardly responsible to tell Americans that they can benefit from more than $1 trillion in new government spending (when you add his stimulus and recent budgets) -- and the best part is, only other people will pay for it.

Last year, Tax Foundation President Scott A. Hodge estimated that under current law, 47 million federal tax filers -- or 33 percent of filing households -- would owe zero on their federal income taxes in 2009. Under Plan Obama, he calculated, 63 million filers -- or 44 percent -- would pay zero in federal income taxes -- although, they would contribute to Social Security and may pay sales tax. (Republican John McCain's plan was not substantially different: Hodge estimated that under Plan McCain, 43 percent of filers would pay no income tax.)

The 44 percent estimate did not include the 15 million individuals and families that simply did not file taxes in 2006. Add them with the zero-income tax filers and the ratio of American households paying no federal income taxes is about half.

Without taking a position, the Tax Foundation's Matt Moon noted that there are people who wonder if it is a problem in a democracy to have "a swath (of voters) that demands more services and a swath that pays for it."

Count me among that group. But in Obamaland, all bounty is free. Take the 10-year, $630 billion Obama health plan -- which aims at universal access to health care for all Americans -- with, again, only the rich explicitly paying. Obama plans to fund half his package with "savings" (read: spending cuts), which magically only promote efficiency or improve the quality of care. Then Obama funds the other half by capping itemized tax deductions for families earning more than $250,000 -- and that's on top of a proposed income tax hike for those families.

Be it noted, all income groups might have to contribute at some point -- details to follow: Page 27 of the O-plan observes that "others have proposed different ideas to finance expanded health coverage," including a value-added tax. But there are no specifics on a VAT, only a quick nod to the fact that the $630 billion that Plan Obama sets aside for health care reform "is not sufficient to fully fund comprehensive reform."

The question that has baffled me: If President Obama wanted to stimulate the economy and to make health care available to all Americans, why didn't he, in concert with efforts to stabilize credit markets, make universal health care the lynchpin of his stimulus package? In one measure, Obama could have removed an obstacle to some families' financial stability, created a chain of community health clinics, and presented job and educational opportunities for would-be health care workers. And Republicans would have had a much harder time voting against it.

Instead, Obama opted for a pork-rich $787 billion monster -- with something for everyone, and only a small group asked to bankroll the free-for-all. The New Era of Responsibility has a new motto: The administration will talk about the need to live within one's means, and will continue to pass the check.

The Heat Is On True Believers

Tue, 03 Mar 2009 00:00:00 -0600

Then again, Clinton knew that the Senate would not ratify the pact. Before Gore flew to Kyoto, the Senate had voted 95-0 in favor of a resolution that declared that Washington should not be a signatory to any protocol that exempted developing nations, like India and China.

Wrongly, Gore nonetheless agreed to a pact that set no limits on nations like China and India. And all those geniuses in the -- all bow -- international community agreed to a pact that the U.S. Senate had opposed unanimously. They were so dazzled by their good intentions that they botched their entire mission.

After Bush officially disassociated with Kyoto, Our Betters in Europe dedicated themselves to complaining that the Bush administration would not be part of the pact, and that ruined things. Indeed, some leaders were so busy pointing fingers at America that they failed to find the time to make their own countries meet their Kyoto goals.

During the Bush years, politicians found that they could demonstrate their environmental bona fides simply by saying they supported Kyoto. Even if they were Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., John Kerry, D-Mass., Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., John McCain, R-Ariz., or any of the other 91 senators who voted for Resolution 98. The same applied to European leaders as well, as the Times reported on their quest for tougher laws, but barely their failure to meet Kyoto.

Until Sunday, that is, when (after years of stories about Europe's commitment to fighting global warming, without reporting results) the Times ran a chart that showed that most Kyoto-bound countries are not meeting their Kyoto targets. Only four Western European countries -- Sweden, Monaco, France and Britain -- are likely to meet their Kyoto goals. Germany is not on target. Spain, Ireland and Italy are spewing greenhouse gases far in excess of their Kyoto goals.

Now that a Democrat is in the White House, the Times is reporting on how difficult it has been for true believers to meet their Kyoto mandates. The focus of stories used to be on whether politicians said they supported Kyoto -- and as long as leaders said they believed, they didn't have to curb their emissions. Now the Times is focusing not on beliefs, but on results.

To those of us who are global warming agnostics and to skeptics, the emphasis on belief always undercut the science. After all, if greenhouse gas emissions were the threat that alarmists said they were, you would expect environmentalists to demand changes from China (now the world's largest emitter).

But when I asked U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2007 about why the United States -- but not China and India -- should have to curb emissions, Ban answered that America has a "historical responsibility" to cut emissions, while China and India "have their own positions." Like the Kyoto crowd, Ban emitted more political ideology than science.

B.T. Collins, RIP

Sun, 01 Mar 2009 00:00:00 -0600

After he was elected to the Assembly in a 1991 special election, Collins view of the institution did not improve. Collins complained, according to his sister's account, that he could no longer talk about the Legislature: "It's downright awful. The rooms are full of ego-driven people who do nothing but talk. The problems are enormous, the phone calls nasty, and nobody is in charge of anything." Nearly 20 years later, Sacramento seems even worse. There are too few politicians willing to say, as Collins did, "I don't believe in single-issue politics. I have to vote my conscience whether you agree with me or not. I will not tell you what you want to hear. I'm nobody's boy." If voters tried to pressure him to change his mind, Collins told them, "Hey, I'm not your candidate. You need to sign up for the other guy." Collins died of a heart attack at age 52 on March 19, 1993. During his memorial service, Brown and Wilson shared the stage as both fought back tears. I don't think Sacramento will ever see the likes of Collins again. I am writing this column and plugging Baker's book because B.T. Collins was the greatest man I ever knew. Part of his genius is that he would give any person -- no matter how exalted -- hell. He had the gift of mixing irreverence with charm. According to legend, when Brown interviewed Collins, who had gone to law school after losing an arm and a leg during combat, he asked Collins if he had voted for him. Collins responded, "I never vote for short ex-Jesuits." He got the job, moved up in the ranks and, eventually, became Brown's chief of staff. Her brother, Baker wrote, kept giant-sized jars of Midol to be "deliberately sexist" as well as aspirin to discourage "whiners and complainers." He held himself to the same standards to which he held others. After sending a letter of resignation to Brown because he wanted a pay raise, Collins followed it with another letter to "rescind the crybaby letter of resignation." His reasoning? "You and I both know you are impossible." And: "I am old-fashioned enough to still believe in respect for the office. So I cannot address you as 'Jerry' in our conversations or in those with others." Collins closed, "My main problem in years to come will be erasing the taint of having worked for you. Perhaps you could supply me with a prison record for the time I spent here. If I don't get a raise, I will go into a sulk and will bad mouth you throughout the Capitol." Most famously, when he was director of the California Conservation Corps and Brown was taking heat for ordering the spraying of the insecticide Malathion, Collins publicly drank a glass of water diluted with the chemical to show it was safe. Case closed. After Wilson appointed Collins to head the California Youth Authority, Collins issued a controversial edict: He refused to read letters from the incarcerated with misspellings and grammatical errors. Editorial boards were aghast. At the time, Collins told The Chronicle, "I dare the ACLU to sue me for depriving (the wards) of their right to be ignorant. I'm looking at these letters -- they're all the standard kind that say, 'this guy hit me,' 'this guy is a snitch' -- it's 15, 16 hours a day reading these, and I'm thinking, 'These little a------- better learn to use some proper grammar.'" After Wilson asked him to run for a vacant Assembly seat, Collins did and won. Collins understood that not only was it important that a Republican win the Carmichael (Sacramento County) district, but more important, that[...]