The Vanguard has a new home, please update your bookmarks to

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Vanguard Radio Interview with James Hammond

We had a tough time slot this past Wednesday, up against the third Presidential debate. But for Davis voters, Measure W may be the most important issue on the ballot next to the Presidential Election.

On Wednesday, the Vanguard sat down with Davis Joint Unified Superintendent James Hammond and pressed him on the key issues of the day.

Talking about Race in the Presidential Campaign and in America

There have been a string of incidents in the past few days where the ugly face of racism has popped into the Presidential race. There is the unforgettable and unforgivable image of Obama on "food stamp" bill it features the unmistakable images of fried chicken and watermelon, the cultural stereotypes of African-Americans as lazy people who are on food stamps and welfare and eat nothing but fried chicken and watermelon.

Meanwhile in a more ominous development, CBS News in Atlanta reports this week:
"A racist letter is circulating in the Kirkwood neighborhood in southeast Atlanta. Residents are hurt and angry about the hate being spread through their community. CBS 46 News first told you about a hate letter received by minorities in Clayton County. Now residents here in southeast Atlanta are coming forward about another hate letter that was distributed last week."
I post the letter here as transcribed and redacted:



CNN reported yesterday there was another letter that ended as follows:
"The next time you come into my yard or walk down my street, I will be taking aim, shooting and asking questions later, not that anyone would miss you. I do have a few shallow graves that need filling."
This is clearly disturbing stuff which comes on the heels of more insinuations that Barack Obama is a Muslim, that he is linked to terrorists, and of course that his middle name sounds like that of a certain former and deceased leader in Iraq and his last name is one letter off from a certain other enemy of this country.

I still think the best line he had the other night at the Alfred E. Smith dinner was this one:
"I got my middle name from somebody who obviously didn't realize I would run for president."
All kidding aside, I think it is easy to get discouraged about reading this stuff and realizing that there are still people out there that think this way.

There was a line in the newscast in Atlanta that read:
"People said they thought we were in different times now."
Guess what folks, we are in different times now. I am too young to have lived in the 60s, but many who read this blog on a regular basis are not. In the scheme of things, 40 or 50 years is not that long a time. A few weeks ago I was reading the true account of what happened in Mississippi in the early 1960s when three civil rights leaders were murdered trying to register African-Americans to vote. This was the story that became the movie, Mississippi Burning.

And yes, as we are well aware, the issue of enfranchisement and voting has not altogether left us, as the Supreme Court decision allowing 200,000 people in Ohio to vote yesterday clearly illustrates.

But the thing about the incident in Mississippi was that the Klan killed those civil rights lawyers with direct assistance from law enforcement. The FBI had to come in to investigate and they could only get the ringleaders convicted on federal charges of civil rights violations. These people got away with murder and received very short sentences and they have never been re-tried in state court.

In Georgia local police are investigating these incidents as hate crimes and now the Secret Service has gotten involved. The world has changed. Republican leaders are appalled at these acts. Now we know that some local leadership has perpetuated some of the hate attacks as well, but for the most part, decent people are appalled at the display of hate and racism. It is no longer acceptable.

Things are different in this country. They are not perfect in this country. Racism is not gone from this country. But it is no longer acceptable in polite circles. It is no longer PC. I hate the word PC. It diminishes the import of something like this. It is not that it is not PC, it is that is plain old wrong.

And yet, even after watching the news coverage this week, even after watching this story from Sacramento:
"Offensive material was posted on the local Republican Party Web site supervised by [Craig] MacGlashan [chairman of the Sacramento County Republican Party] earlier this week. Republican leaders removed from the official party Web site material that sought to link Sen. Barack Obama to Osama bin Laden and encouraged people to "Waterboard Barack Obama."
Here was his original response:
"Originally, MacGlashan was noncommittal about the content.

"Some people find it offensive, others do not," he said. "I cannot comment on how people interpret things."

However, the heat must have gotten to him:

" upon further review he made a mistake.

"Let's face it, I screwed up," he said in a press release...

"When asked about the site by a reporter, my first thought was not to beat up on this volunteer, when I should have thought first about doing the right thing -- taking it down and condemning the material," MacGlashan said. "At first I did not realize how offensive the material was, and in the rush to move past it, I didn't take it seriously enough."

Maybe. But here's my point, and I think the bottom line here is important. You may or may not question whether MacGlashan really got the message that this inappropriate. However, the fact remains that the Republicans yanked it down either because they believe that the message was inappropriate (I actually would like to believe that) or because they knew the material would hurt their image. And that means that the public would find that message unacceptable.

We are just two weeks away from electing a black man as President of the United States. Barring the unforeseen that is going to happen. The fact that a black man was nominated as the party nominee for the Democratic Party, the fact that to do it he had to defeat a very powerful figure in her own right, the fact that he is now in position to become President is absolutely not only amazing but reassuring. We are not beyond racism by any means, many in the black community continue to live second class existences and carry the burden of hundreds of years of racism, slavery, and legalized segregation. We are not over that yet. But for the first it really looks like we are taking steps to get over that. This is huge.

People are now worried about the Bradley effect. The Bradley-Deukmejian race occurred in 1982--26 years ago if you can believe that. The Bradley effect is the supposed impact that white voters do not want to acknowledge their racial prejudices to pollsters and therefore conceal their preferences for the white candidate.

Remember 26 years is a long time. It was only a few short years after the busing controversy. Just 14 years after MLK's assassination. It was right about the time when MLK day became a national holiday. I was just reading a book about Nixon and Watergate and one of the points that came up is that Nixon was criticized by people in his inner circles for going to MLK's funeral in 1968. MLK at that time was a hugely polarizing figure. It is easy to forget that now. I diverge if only to illustrate that 1982 was not far removed from that era. Just as things that happened in 1994 do not seem that far off to many of us.

But I read a very interesting analysis about the Bradley effect is that there wasn't a Bradley-effect in the 1982 California Governor's election. What happened was very simple. Exit polls predicted that Bradley would win on election and he did win on election day. He lost narrowly at the end of the day because Deukmejian heavily won the absentee ballots. The Bradley effect is a misnomer and empirically unfounded.

There is a reason for that. Voters do not face that kind of cognitive disonnance that is described in the Bradley-effect. Voters make a judgment as to who they will vote for and then they will rationalize and justify it in their mind. In my days as a political science researcher, it was clear that voters are not generally able to articulate why they make a decision. They make a decision and then rely on rationalizations that are at the top of their mind. Hence political-psychological theories of voting and the voter decision do not square with the core assumption behind the Bradley-effect that voters will need to disguise their intentions in order to cover for their racial prejudices.

Final point here, the New York Times has an article this morning that is pretty amazing. First, it is expect that Barack Obama will announce that he raised $100 million last month, shattering previous records. He has such a cash discrepancy that he is pounding McCain across the country on the airwaves at a rate of over 4 to 1.

Look at the graphic to the right, and you can see the sudden surge of money. And this was part of his strategy. He was holding back his money until the last three weeks of the election and then he has unleashed it.

The NY Times writes:

"With advertisements running repeatedly day and night, on local stations and on the major broadcast networks, on niche cable networks and even on video games and his own dedicated satellite channels, Mr. Obama is now outadvertising Senator John McCain nationwide by a ratio of at least four to one, according to CMAG, a service that monitors political advertising. That difference is even larger in several closely contested states."

The article continues:

"While Mr. Obama has held a spending advantage throughout the general election campaign, his television dominance has become most apparent in the last few weeks. He has gone on a buying binge of television time that has allowed him to swamp Mr. McCain’s campaign with concurrent lines of positive and negative messages. Mr. Obama’s advertisements come as Republicans have begun a blitz of automated telephone calls attacking him."

Finally, the mix of negative to positive is interesting:

"The most recent analysis of the presidential advertisements by the University of Wisconsin, based on the period from Sept. 28 through Oct. 4, found that nearly 100 percent of Mr. McCain’s commercials included an attack on Mr. Obama and that 34 percent of Mr. Obama’s advertisements, which were more focused that week on promoting his agenda, included an attack on Mr. McCain.

That finding reflected the McCain campaign’s strategy of trying to make Mr. Obama an unacceptable choice in the eyes of undecided voters and Mr. Obama’s goal of making undecided voters comfortable with him.

But the Wisconsin Advertising Project says that since Mr. Obama wrapped up the Democratic nomination in June, 54 percent of Mr. McCain’s advertisements have been completely focused on attacking him, roughly a quarter have mixed criticism of Mr. Obama with a positive message about Mr. McCain, and 20 percent have been devoted solely to promoting Mr. McCain.

In the same period, the study found that 41 percent of Mr. Obama’s advertisements had been devoted solely to attacking Mr. McCain, one-fifth mixed criticism of Mr. McCain with a positive message about Mr. Obama, and 38 percent were solely devoted to promoting Mr. Obama. "

Now this follows the announcement by Major League Baseball to delay the start of the sixth game of the World Series in order to allow FOX to broadcast Barack Obama's thirty minute campaign advertisement.

Again, not saying that the election is over, but Obama is in very good shape at this point. And that does not even mention the Obama ground organization that is mobilized to get out the vote in a way that we have never seen before in our times. The polls now show anywhere between about a 4 and 8 or 9 point lead for Obama, but with these efforts, the polls may understate the eventual outcome and if Obama pulls a landslide, the Senate may indeed end up with a filibuster proof majority.

We can lament the tone and some of the racial attacks that have come out in the last few weeks, but I think that misses the amazing sea-change that has occurred in this country. This is a time of hope. And I think it is a time that many Americans never thought they would live to see. Whether you are a Republican, Democrat, Independent or Third Party, I think this is a good thing.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, October 17, 2008

Did Davis Biotech Firm Expose Davis to Potentially Dangerous Pathogens?

Sandi Trend will be speaking about her son’s case at a screening of The World According to Monsanto, Saturday, October 18, 2 p.m., UC Davis, Chemistry Room 194.

This week's Sacramento News and Review featured a story by Seth Sandronsky which outlined the plight of former Sacramento resident David Bell, who worked for a Davis biotech firm, AgraQuest.

According to the News and Review article:
"Five months later, he came down with severe flu symptoms. His face and teeth grew numb. Breathing became difficult and he developed severe headaches. His nose bled and his sputum turned bloody.

Ten years, four sinus surgeries and numerous medical treatments later, Bell remains incapacitated by the illness, which he and his mother, Sandi Trend, of Citrus Heights, claim was caused by bacteria and fungi he was exposed to at AgraQuest."
The Vanguard has been investigating this story for the last several months and is very concerned about the possibility that some of the microbes and bacteria that were used in this lab could have escaped into the Davis environment and exposed Davis residents to potentially lethal infections. One of the problems that David Bell faced was a broken Worker's Compensation system. The main focus of the News and Review Article was the plight of David Bell and the problems in the Worker's comp system.

Our concern however is also with the residents who live and work near 1105 Kennedy Place, in Davis, the original location of Agraquest. It is located near two school sites and surrounded by residential neighborhoods.

At this point in time, we would like a regulatory agency to explore the area around the lab and determine whether there are possible pathogens that would represent a health risk. One of the challenges we face however is uncertainty as to who holds regulatory authority over this issue. Efforts at this time are underway to determine who holds regulatory authority and how the possibility of a health threat can be investigated.


According to the News and Review:
"AgraQuest was founded in 1995 by Pam Marrone, a respected entomologist who had specialized in agriculture and insects at biotech giant Monsanto. Bell was a semester away from earning a bachelor’s degree in biology from Sacramento State when he started at the company in 1998. According to the transcript from his first workers’ compensation hearing, Bell worked primarily on two biopesticide projects, Laginex and Serenade.

Laginex is the brand name of Lagenidium giganteum, a water mold (fungi), which infects and kills mosquitoes. In a series of experiments, Bell documented what happened in water with mosquito larvae and Laginex and how to lengthen the biopesticide’s shelf life.

Serenade is a biopesticide used to control insects on crops. Its active ingredients are the Bacillus subtilis bacteria, which AgraQuest first found in a Fresno peach orchard. Bell tested soil samples taken from locations worldwide, using a fermentation process to extract the bacteria. He and a co-worker filled 10-kilo bags of Serenade from a larger drum. Bell did not wear a respirator while loading the Serenade."
At the March 18, 2008 Davis City Council meeting, the Davis City Council presented Pam Marrone with the 2007 Business and Economic Development award. According to the News and Review, "Marrone left AgraQuest in March 2006 to found Marrone Organic Innovations in Davis."

Marrone declined to comment for the News and Review Story; however, in October 2002, they write:
"As recently as October 2002, Marrone wrote that Serenade is “safe to workers and ground water,” in the industry journal Pesticide Outlook. At the workers’ compensation hearing, Denise Manker, AgraQuest’s vice president of global product development, testified that the company and its employees followed proper safety procedures and had tested its strain of Bacillus subtilis to ensure it did not contain a substance that causes allergic reactions. While noting that soil samples in the laboratory can be hazardous if handled incorrectly, she said it was highly unlikely that Bell had become infected by the Bacillus subtilis, since it’s not known to be harmful to humans."
Doug Haney is an advocate for human and patient rights who specializes in mold and microbe exposure. He wrote a book entitled "Toxic Mold! Toxic Enemy!" In it, he argues that over the years many researchers and doctors have been skeptical about the possibility of micro fungi infection, however in recent years there is increasing evidence of the danger of such organisms.

David Bell visited the Mayo Clinic in Arizona and they discovered a whole range of possible infectious agents. Sandi Trend, Bell's mother, was able to link many of the agents in the patents that AgraQuest was using to agents found in David Bell's body over the course of the last decade.

"According to peer-reviewed articles in British medical journal The Lancet, and other sources, serious questions have been raised about the safety of Bacillus subtilis for humans and animals.

Tests conducted at the clinic determined Bell had histo yeast, a mold found in soil, in his blood serum. He had developed histoplasmosis, which according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention affects the lungs and other organs and can be fatal if not treated."
Unfortunately, it does not appear that OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is equipped to handle this sort of problem.

CAL-OSHA investigated AgraQuest and found three of its ventilator hoods did not meet state standards. However, this was unrelated to the problems that David Bell is suffering from.

One of the big problems was pointed out by esteemed Dr. Larry Rose, who was the last doctor that worked for CAL-OSHA. OSHA has increasingly relied upon industry doctors and more often they have simply looked at smaller technical problems. They simply do not have the expertise to examine and diagnose this sort of problem.

As Larry Rose pointed out during a video interview which also featured local Davis activists and author of "Death on the Job" Dan Berman:
"When you're called in and a worker has possibly picked up a very serious infectious disease from the work process, you don't just go in and measure a face velocity and give a tag. You've gotta do some... you know real investigation. Go over all the medical records and you've got to get the organism and submit it to the proper lab to determine it's patogenicity. In other words, there's a series of steps you would take because you're not only trying to protect all the workers there now and future workers, but you also have to protect the community when you're talking about an infectious disease, this is a serious public health matter. So looking at what OSHA did [and] I'm just astounded that they had that kind of very weak response, inappropriate response according to the law."

As Doug Haney pointed out to me early on in my examination of this potential problem, he would be much less concerned about the possible health implications for the surrounding community of Davis if he believed that the lab was properly contained from the outside environment. Instead both photographic evidence and testimony from David Bell lead us to the opposite conclusion.
"The 20,000 microbes that they boast had been discovered throughout the world... were not fully contained in a way that specialized laboratories would require. That means they were in drawers, that they were open at some point, and exposed employees to whatever they were, they were unanalyzed, they were not determined at any point as to whether they were dangerous or not dangerous. That type of thing tells me that the laboratory was not a well-kept laboratory. The other part of it is that the building was in a residential area rather than a specific area for laboratories over in the Davis area."
The problem as Mr. Haney pointed out:
"[AgraQuest was] very soft in their application of training, in fact there was little or none that I know of that David [Bell] indicated. There were open suitcases of dirt or soil that had been brought in from foreign countries that were exposed in the laboratory. OSHA and other standards for laboratories indicate that you should not have any kind of drinks or foods associated in the actual work areas of laboratories, they have to be set aside, that wasn't the case at AgraQuest."

One of the biggest points of concern are photographs that show considerable corrosion on the outtake pipes several years after the lab moved from Kennedy Place to Drew Avenue. Is this residual pollution from the AgraQuest lab? Doug Haney believes so. As alarming was the fact that the dead crow in the picture above lay just beneath the pipe--undecomposed for two weeks between the time that the picture was taken and when Mr. Haney inspected the location.
"Ms. Trend had gone to that location about two weeks before I had a chance to view and told me about the fact there was this bird out there that was under this water outlet that showed a lot of corrosion, a lot of chemical build up. One thing about microbes, especially microfungi, is that they are the first to decompose in the external elements outside. This bird was not decomposed which told me that the company that produced the chemicals, Agraquest, were to destroy microfungi. And in this case, it kind of gave me the conclusion that those chemicals even six years after they had moved from the building were still strong enough and in the soil enough to eliminate rapid decomposure that rapidly takes place after an animal or person or a live species dies."
It would be a fairly easy task to have an agency or the health department take soil samples from around this building and determine if this actually represents a threat to the health of Davis and whether or not AgraQuest was responsible for this contamination of the environment.

Another concern is accounts by David Bell that indicate the use of a type of drain as a place to dump chemical and possibly biological residues.

David Bell told the Vanguard by phone from his current residence in Texas:
"It was more like a concrete culvert that enters onto a lawn, I don't think it actually goes into a sewer system. They chiseled out most of it already. It would kind of be like a big water runoff area, it was concrete and kind of sloped to the center, and that's where the cleaning of everything took place."
In the video that featured Dan Berman and Dr. Larry Rose, Sandi Trend, the mother of David Bell gave a full description of what occurred:
"David was instructed.... He was told to pick up this "drum" that was on an offsite farm because they wanted to use this drum for other broth, fermentation broth. So what he did is he went over to this farm and he brought it back and there was still liquid in it. So he didn't really know what he was suppose to do so he was told to clean it out and dump it down the drain. What drain? Well outside the lab..... and I went up there after this because I was trying to visualize in my mind, he's telling me that they mixed up powder in the bathroom and that the only ventilation was the bathroom fan, which is a normal household fan - ok. So I'm trying to visualize this and when I get there I'm going, "What drain"? And I wasn't the only one that was there so there was somebody with me. It's like "what drain" and "I don't see a drain" and it's like "Well I wonder if that's what David's talking about "? And what it was was it was like a storm drain, right outside the lab door that had just been hollowed out into the concrete and it led right into the dirt. So, when I called up David I go, "Is this the drain you're talking about"? He says "yeah". And excuse the expression... ok? I go "you dumped it out there"?! And he said, "that's where we dumped everything". I said, "what the hell did you do that for"? "That's were we dumped everything Mom, that's where I was told to dump everything". So, right into the dirt."
The Vanguard asked David Bell whether there were pathogens in the drums:
"There should have been by that point [live pathogens in the drum]. Everyone was arguing whether bacillus subtilus was pathogenic, however the fermentation process would get contaminated. If it sat that long there definitely could have been anything sitting in there. The fermentation process was still relatively rich in nutrients. So once it’s opened up to the air for the very first time things start in at that point."
In addition to dumping drums in the ground, there was also loss of some of the specimens from the lab.
"We were losing mosquitos all the time until I came up with a system to hold them in a mason jar with a screen on it. We were actually losing mosquitoes that weren't even endemic to our area in our area."
What kind of mosquitoes I asked David Bell:
"In particular what we were releasing were the malaria mosquitoes. There was no way to keep them contained when I showed up there."
He said he believed the number that were released was probably too small to allow them to reproduce, but nevertheless this is another example of the lax control standards at the original.

AgraQuest's new location on Drew Street may in fact be much more secure and up to date in their practices. It is important to note that the OSHA violations occurred at the new Drew Street location rather than the original location on Kennedy Place. As far as anyone knows, OSHA never inspected the original lab on Kennedy Place.

Where does this leave Davis at this point? It is difficult to say. Someone needs to thoroughly examine the soil around Kennedy Place to determine whether or not the agents in the soil represent a health threat to the Davis community.

I asked Doug Haney how big a concern this was. He pointed out that scientists estimate there are roughly 1.5 million microfungi and other species that have not been discovered and we only know about perhaps 400,000 species. That means you have an area from a foreign country that has ben excavated, you have a lot of unknown factors here.
"When you excavate an area that has never been excavated before into a foreign country, you are bringing those microbes in a new area and what happens with microbes in order to survive, they either fight off or ward off other species, or they integrate with other species and hybrid the species which makes them far more dangerous. "
Moreover, these species can survive for long periods of time as spores or in dormant stages. The health implications are unknown but potentially very serious.
"You could possibly rise in say neurological diseases, a rise in lower birth rate, a rise in cancer, a rise in leukemia, a rise in serious diseases."
These could show up almost immediately in some cases such as David Bell or they could could impact the population down the line. It could be 10 to 20 years before some of the implications of this are fully known.

Again, much of this is simply unknown because no responsible agency or regulatory agency has really investigated the matter. That is perhaps the most alarming aspect of all of this.

On October 1, 2007, Sandi Trend and Doug Haney met with District Attorney's Office Investigator Dan Stroski. Mr. Stroski was immediately interested and alarmed, however, he informed them some time later that the Yolo County District Attorney's office did not have the resources to do such an investigation.

The Vanguard will have a follow up article on this next Monday where we will examine the implications for how AgraQuest got these soil samples into the country and the potential threat that that represents.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Revisiting Measure N and Correcting My Own Errors

Up until now I had been neutral on Measure N--the charter city initiative. I have from the beginning however had some trepidations about it. Most recently I have been concerned about the potential for allowing well-financed interests put measures on the ballot and bankroll them to give themselves advantages either in negotiations with the city or in other matters.

The threat of binding arbitration and the plight of San Luis Obispo have weighed heavily on my mind. And while the council put language into the charter to prevent council actions on binding arbitration, they could not prevent voters for putting such language into the charter through an initiative.

However, even then I was willing to overlook this flaw as a remote possibility believing as I did that the council would have to put any major change to the charter before the voters. However, this belief is as it turns out completely inaccurate.

Amendments to the Charter itself do require a vote of the electorate. However, changes in law do not require amendments to the Charter so long as they are not in violation of the Charter. They could be implemented by ordinance.

Thus the City Attorney has suggested that the City Council could adopt Choice Voting by ordinance once the Charter is in place.

The upside is that the Charter would be broader than the current General Law status that we currently operate under in which we are bound by state laws that govern local municipalities. The Charter would free us up from those limitation and allow an entire array of new possibilities for new ordinances--none of which would require a vote by the electorate unless they are in violation of the Charter. And this charter is written so broadly that it allows virtually anything.

I am not comfortable allowing that degree of power to any elected body. Thus you see some of the original supporters of local control have moved against this measure in the last few weeks.

There are several critical errors that occurred in this process. I want to start however with this, I believe that both of the main sponsors of this measure--Stephen Souza and Lamar Heystek have good intentions here, have a sincere commitment to choice voting, however, I think the process was rushed, it was too narrow, and did not sufficiently engage the public. Even if this were a perfect charter, it would have difficulty passing now given the lack of community engagement and uncertainty about both the necessity and the nature of the changes.

However, there are several fatal mistakes that occurred.

The biggest was divorcing the choice voting issue from the charter city proposal. Two years ago, there was a strong and dedicated public movement for choice voting in the city of Davis. I have always had some questions about the need for choice voting and also the impact of it. But it is clear that there was a broad and diverse coalition of supporters for choice voting.

However, Councilmembers Souza and Heystek wanted as broad an agreement as possible from the City Council to place this on the ballot. In order to gain Ruth Asmundson's vote and make it a 4-1 majority, they removed choice voting from the charter. They also drew up the charter very broadly. Both of those decisions in the end killed the possibility of the charter passing for different reasons.

Removing choice voting seemed to sap the entire grassroots movement of their impetus. It also seemed to move the push far afield from its initial intent. Thus originally the focus was on choice voting, now the focus is on a charter for the city which would allow things such as choice voting but also a whole wide array of other new initiatives. On the surface that might not be a problem, but we do not see the grassroots energy that we saw two years ago.

Secondly, by adopting a broad charter, which seems to be the the trend on a state level, it enables the possibility of mischief. There is suddenly a very real possibility of a downside. San Luis Obispo again sees that become reality. They now have to deal with a $4.8 million deficit as a result of the arbitrators decision to award police officers with a 30 percent raise.

In this case, I think Don Saylor, Mayor Pro Tem of Davis has been right from the start. I have agreed with him as he suggsted that this is an solution in search of a problem. I do not see choice voting as solving any kind of problem. There may be problems within the electoral system with regards to the expense of running races, but we can look toward other solutions such as campaign finance reform and possibly district elections that do not require a charter.

I re-post Don Saylor's comments that I posted on Tuesday:

The strongest opponent of the measure is Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor.

Councilmember Saylor told the Sacramento Bee that he thinks the "proposal is too vague and gives voters little idea what their votes would actually do."
"Most charters list some specific services, Saylor said. But this measure, he said, just gives the council broader powers.

A previous provision that talked about choice voting was deleted, he said.

"If it's intended to enact choice voting, we should specify that," he said.

Saylor said he believes moving to choice voting is so important that it should go to a direct vote of the people and not be decided by the City Council."
Councilmember Saylor is also uncomfortable with the broad powers it gives the city council.

He told the Davis Enterprise:
"Someday later, the council could come up with a boutique tax, one that we're not allowed to do in a general law city. Which means the charter is probably premature, and we ought to get our act together before we put it on the ballot."
He continued:
"Saylor said that even if the current council would put choice voting on a future ballot, there are no guarantees that future councils would be so considerate.

"The authority that happens under the charter is the City Council takes on a greater amount of potential authority, and I'm not sure that's such a good idea... I'd like to know specifically - and I think the voters should demand to know - what the charter would do, not what might it do. What, exactly, are we intending to do?"
As I said at the onset of this entry, that the breaking point for me however is that this gives too much power to the city council. I am not comfortable doing that.

I am all for local control and would be willing to look again at a new initiative that vests the power in the voters of Davis (with some safeguards). But I will not support an initiative that allows the council to have the power to pass huge changes not currently allowed under general law status, by ordinance.

But in order for me to support this, it should be much more community driven, with much more community buy-in. This process made me uncomfortable from the start because it was largely led by Mr. Souza and Mr. Heystek. Again, I do not want to disparage them, they had good intentions here, but I think in the end, they were wrong on this issue.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Republicans Wave the White Flag of Surrender in the 5th Senate District

This was supposed to be one of the few contested Senate Races in the State of California. It pitted two sitting Assemblymembers--Lois Wolk from Davis versus Greg Aghazarian the Republican from Stockton.

Four years ago, this race went down to the wire. It was a hotly contested and bitter affair. Incumbent Mike Machado ended up prevailing and holding onto his seat by a somewhat deceptively wide margin.

However, things have changed in four years. The landscape is vastly different as is the district. Democrats now hold a 15-point advantage in this seat. And unlike 2004 which ended up being a narrowly Republican year, this year may be unlike any we've seen since 1974 or 1964. By the end of this year, even 2006 which saw the Democrats retake both houses of Congress may look tame by comparison.

It was under those terms that Greg Aghazarian ran trying to be the independent or maverick Republican. The only problem is that Greg Aghazarian is neither of those and people are tired of listening to Republicans tell them how different they are as they vote for more of the same.

According to internal polls, with less than a week to go, Lois Wolk is up by around 20 points. Given the relatively low profile of this race, the partisan breakdown of this district, and the overall political landscape, this one is over.

The California Majority Report yesterday reported that the Republicans have pulled their money out of this district and pulled the plug on future ads for Assemblyman Greg Aghazarian.

Democrats are now focusing on shoring up other districts and have put huge amounts of money into two key races. One is the 19th Senate District where former Assemblymember Hannah-Beth Jackson is locked in a baton-death march against conservative Tony Strickland who is trying to convince voters in Santa Barbara that he is green by featuring ads with PG&E killer Erin Brockowich.

Interestingly enough the California Majority Report also mentioned that Democrats are pumping money into the 30th Assembly District where Shafter Mayor Fran Florez faces Republican Danny Gilmore. That is a race of interest because not only is it Democratic pariah Nicole Parra's seat, not only is Parra supporting the Republican, but the Democrat is the son of Senator Dean Florez, a highly ranking member of the Senate and a candidate for Lt. Governor in 2010.

Politicker however reports that spokepeople for both the Aghazarian campaign and the Wolk campaign are still doing battle. Tom Haggins of the Wolk campaign suggests he expects the Aghazarian campaign which still have significant money and resources in their own right will go negative in the last two weeks. Meanwhile the spokesperson for the Aghazarian campaign said they have more money and their ads will continue to run.

What do you expect from the campaigns--they can't take anything for granted. Yesterday, the Davis Enterprise reported that Assembly candidate Mariko Yamada, who is running for the safe 8th AD is saying the same thing.
"I'm taking the general election as seriously as I did the primary... I don't want to take anything for granted."
Rhetoric aside, the 8th AD is a safe Democratic seat and the 5th SD is not far behind it. The battlegrounds have shifted. Look no further than on the national scene. Democrats are doing battle with Republicans in red states for the Presidency and Senate seats.

In California, the hottest contested races are places like the 4th Congressional District, one of the most heavily Republican districts in the state which just may go Democrat and some polls even show that Bill Durston is in the game against Dan Lungren for the 3rd Congressional District.

The only question at this point is how good a year will it be for the Democrats.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Superintendent James Hammond Guest on Vanguard Radio This Week

TONIGHT from 6 PM to 7 PM you can listen to the Vanguard Radio show on KDRT 95.7 FM. Our guest will be Davis Joint Unified Superintendent James Hammond. This is your chance to ask all of the questions that are burning about the school district and the state of affairs. Call in number: 530.792.1648

We are on opposite to the third and final Presidential debate, but come on, you've listened to two Presidential and one Vice Presidential debates already. The most important local issue on the ballot is Measure W and this is your chance to ask your questions of the Superintendent.

City Council Workshop Examines City Employee Salaries

Last night, the city of Davis held an Employee Compensation Workshop which walked the Davis City Council through the current city employee contract environment and make comparisons between the employee compensation plans for Davis in comparison with other communities.

A few general observations for and then I will get into some specific findings and criticisms of those findings and the presentation.

First, it was interesting but at several points, City Finance Director Paul Navazio clearly paid homage to the Vanguard and efforts by the Vanguard. At one point he made reference to what he described as the attention the arbitrary salary designation of $100,000 has drawn. Although interestingly enough, he cited the amount of employees who drew that compensation without factoring in overtime.

Later he alluded to the call for more transparency and correctly offered up efforts and workshops such as this as a means to provide the public with more transparency and accountability.

At the same time, and as we will see when we get into more detail, he infers that Davis' city compensation is considerably less than comparable cities (how comparable these other cities are can be subject to some dispute as we will see). And suggests at one point that one goal might be to bring up the salaries closer to market rate, although at the same time he suggested that was an illusive and moving target. Other data certainly called into question any suggestion that Davis needs to raise the rate of compensation in most categories.

Overall, I think it was a good and informative presentation that itself took nearly two hours and the entire session lasted well over three hours and well past midnight.

I am going to now go through some of the specific findings and make some comments about them. I will stress that I cannot do this presentation justice and that if you are interested in the topic, I recommend you watch a recording of the council meeting either on streaming video or a replay on Channel 16.

First, he broke down each designation by salary, health, retirement, and other compensation. So you come up with a total compensation package for a department head being around $200,000, $162,000 for a division manager, etc. There are a couple of interesting notes here.

First, there is no factoring in of overtime for either police and fire. We know that the average overtime for a firefighter for instance is something on the neighborhood of $30,000. The average overtime for a police officer is considerably less than that. So that will bump up the total compensation package for public safety officers.

A second problem was raised by Councilmember Sue Greenwald last night. That is that the typical fire fighter described here is step 1. However, as we learned when Councilmember Greenwald asked this of Paul Navazio, there are only 8 firefighters in step one but 22 firefighters in step 2, so why is step 1 considered "typical?" In other words, the designation understates the actual compensation that a typical Davis firefighter is receiving. That said, the difference between step 1 and step 2 is only about $4000 per year.

Then as we have discussed the retirement benefits plan. Conceivably with a 3% at 50, someone could receive between 75% and 90% of their highest base salary. I think the last chart really understates the amount that such employees can make.

And that does not include the additional retirement health benefits.

Here is a key finding. You will notice a very different recruitment environment for police officers versus firefighters. And that is something that is worth exploring. A key point here though is that Davis firefighters have always had at least 100 qualified applicants. There has not been a recruitment or retention problem in this regard.

The same is true for general employees, the city has generally identified between 12 and 30 qualified applicants and has rarely had trouble filling the positions.

Here is where there has been a problem. The specialized fields--information technology, engineers, and management positions. The city receives few qualfied candidates and the ability to draw those candidates is more impacted by the position's relation to the market compensation. In other words, many of these positions people could get jobs in the private sector and make more or they could make more in other jurisdictions.

However, for the most part, the city of Davis does not have trouble filling its positions for fire and for general employees. There seems to be more difficulty with police and with some of the specialized fields.

It is interesting that in most comparisons last night, Paul Navazio used the all-funds metric which put employee compensation at around 40% as opposed to just looking at the general fund, where employee compensation runs at 74%. I am not certain of the rationale for all-funds over general fund. For instance, in a school district you would look at general fund.

Here you have the comparison of employees salaries to the total salary over time. Again, it is a comparison between all-funds rather than the general fund. It shows a relatively steady ratio, but this graphic missed the explosion of growth in salaries in this decade where salaries more than double in the last eight years or so. A general criticism for a lot of these graphs is that by going back to 1990 rather than 2000, you miss some of the explosion of salaries.

Here again if you start at 2000-01, you see a huge growth in total personnel costs since that year.

This slide shows that if the city fully funded retirement benefits the amount of payment would go way up until about 2022, or the next 14 years, however after that point, the city would save a huge amount of money over the costs to pay-as-you go, which is what they do now.

Now we get into some of the comparative data, and this is where it starts to get problematic. I am not sure how comparable these cities really are. But the data shows that Davis have relatively low salaries and percentage of the all funds budget compared to these other cities, several of which are much larger than Davis.

Where Davis gets helped in these comparisons is first the relatively low cost for the city manager, which is somewhat misleading to use the city manager to office assistant as a metric. City Manager in most cases is the not the highest compensated employee. Councilmember Heystek joked that Bill Emlen would use this as a bargaining chip, but there is something to that. The relatively low compensation to the city manager definitely helps the ratio.

But here again we are stuck one several points. First, most cities have experienced large growth of public sector employee salaries. Davis is not alone and is not exemplorary in that position. The question is really whether Davis can afford to continue the growth in employee compensation that we saw in the last decade. And also whether Davis needs to--and it appears from the retention and recruitment rates that in most areas it does not. So these types of comparisons miss two key points.

One, Davis does not need to be at the top of the market to attract quality candidates to most positions.

Two, everyone is going to be struggling if the public sector salaries continue to increase. The fact that Davis is relatively modest in this regard does not mean we should increase our salaries, it means if we can hold the line on salaries, we will be in better position than these other cities.

This is a critical time, as you can see, almost every position except for the department heads is coming up for renewal in the next two years. Will we continue to give huge and generous salary increases or will we begin to hold the line.

That is the key. Now Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor used his time to make this point--he reflected on the relatively low percentage of pay and the very high satisfaction rating given to the city by residents in an opinion survey from last year. He suggested this reflected an exemplary job on both ends.

I disagree with his interpretation of the survey data. In fact, I wonder if the survey data is all that meaningful. I suspect that most people do not have a lot of direct experience with city services. People know this: they live in a middle class to upper middle class community. That means most people are well off or relatively comfortable. There is not a lot of poverty, crime, there are not huge glaring problems with infrastructure, though there are certainly some problems that come up. So most people probably do not think or experience directly city services.

Now if we do not address some of the unmet needs of this city, those ratings will go down. We do put good money into parks and they reflect that.

Those who have more direct dealings with city employees have a more mixed view. I would certainly be more critical of certain aspects of the city and the management of the city based on my more extensive dealings. So it is tempting to read a lot into that, but I am not sure we should.

The fire department provides generally good service but fire calls are rare. The police provide generally good service, there has been a segment of the population that has some complaints about it, but that is a relatively small percentage, and so most people would rate it high, but again, we have a relatively low crime city.

In other words, given those characteristics I am not surprised to see high rates of satisfaction, I would guess in similar communities to Davis, you would see similar rates of satisfaction.

For me though, the focus on employee compensation has to do with resources and not job performance. The idea that we can keep up with the market or that we should does not strike me as a wise move. As it is, I think public employee salaries--particularly high end salaries have grown too rapidly in the last decade.

I would have like to have seen a segmented graphic showing the growth of the different types of employees' salaries over the last decade. I think that would be very telling.

Again, the key will be the city's ability to slow down growth of salaries because retirement cannot be reduced, salaries cannot be reduced either, all we can do is slow down the rate of growth and let inflation bring back salaries into a more manageable range.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Silence on Measure N--Is the Charter City Initiative Doomed?

The silence was suddenly broken this morning. The focus in the city of Davis has been almost exclusively on either the Presidential election or the Parcel Tax. There has been some talk about the State senate Race. The Assembly race is of course safely in hand for Mariko Yamada. However, there is another big issue before Davis voters on November 4--whether or not Davis should become a Charter City.

You would not know it from anything we have seen or heard. Later this week most likely, the Vanguard will have a guest commentary that comes out against Measure N featuring some prominent Davisites. As many will recall, on August 24, 2008, Davis City Councilmember Lamar Heystek had a guest commentary in support of Measure N--the Case for home rule.

On July 23, 2008, we had the Councilmember on Vanguard Radio talking about the Charter City.

This morning, however, the silence on the issue has been broken with articles in both today's Davis Enterprise and Sacramento Bee. Nevertheless, given the quiet nature of the campaign, the lack of ground swell of support, and the uncertainly facing many residents about the impact of the measure, it seems highly unlikely that the measure will pass.

The Davis Enterprise article is in fact called, "Effects of a Davis Charter is Unknown."

But more than that, two years ago, there seemed to be a strong grassroots movement in support of choice voting in Davis. In order to enact choice voting however, the city of Davis must change from general law status, which gives it only the authority granted to it by the state legislature, to charter status.

The charter status would give it far broader powers to make its own rules on a variety of issues including public utilities, elections, revenue, and taxation.

There are some very good things that can come out of a charter city, Davis would not have to rely on Sacramento voters to form its own public utility like it did two years ago with SMUD. Davis could impose state of the art environmental regulation. It could vastly expand open meeting and public record laws. For choice voter fans, it could enact a choice voting system. These are the tip of the iceberg and frankly those who disparage some of these I think are being extremely wrongheaded.

On the other hand, there is a huge downside to a charter city.

Councilmember Sue Greenwald pressed the city council to put language in that would prohibit binding arbitration. The city council did. But here is the tricky thing about the charter, some suggest that the city council has more power under a charter, but I am not sure that is true. The voters also have more power under the charter.

In the town I grew up and where my family still lives, San Luis Obispo, in 2000, as a charter city, public safety employees put a measure on the ballot to enact binding arbitration for labor negotiations. We have spent much time on this blog talking about the power of public safety employees both in terms of bargaining and in terms of elections. They put this on the ballot, bankrolled it, had their members walk for it, and it passed. San Luis Obispo is a charter city.

This is from the October 1, San Luis Obispo Tribune and it shows the depth of the problem:
"The San Luis Obispo City Council filled a $4.8 million budget shortfall on Tuesday night, but not before reiterating its dislike of a binding arbitration agreement with police that forced the emergency meeting...

Although the meeting was not intended to be a forum for discussing the city’s voter-mandated binding arbitration for police and firefighters, council members renewed their complaints that the man-date has stripped them of their budget-making authority and threatened financial ruin for the city.

“Binding arbitration was a huge mistake,” said Councilwoman Christine Mulholland, who vowed to work to overturn the requirement.

Police and firefighters counter that binding arbitration is fair because they do not have the ability to strike as part of their labor negotiations.

In June, an arbitrator gave sworn police officers a 30 percent raise and increased dispatchers’ and other non-sworn police staff’s pay by 37 percent."
Could that happen in Davis? You betcha.

Binding arbitration means that a public employees union can press for arbitration at impasse and whatever the arbitrator rules, is what they get. What happened in San Luis Obispo is the police officers got a 30% payraise this year. That is right, an arbitrator from the bay area awarded them a 30% payraise. That will cost the city $4.8 million. That is their budget deficit this year. That is larger than the Davis School District's budget deficit they were facing this past winter. It is a disaster for the city of San Luis Obispo.

Now, here's what you need to understand, and again, I am not opposing this measure, only telling you what can happen. The Davis City Council put in a measure that protects Davis from binding arbitration. The city councils of the future cannot change that provision. But the voters can. They can do the same thing that happened in San Luis Obispo.

Is that a likely occurrence? No. For one thing, we have San Luis Obispo as a model, that people can use against the sponsors of such a measure, but it can happen.

Again, I want to emphasize, I have not decided how I am going to vote on this measure.

The strongest opponent of the measure is Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor.

Councilmember Saylor told the Sacramento Bee that he thinks the "proposal is too vague and gives voters little idea what their votes would actually do."
"Most charters list some specific services, Saylor said. But this measure, he said, just gives the council broader powers.

A previous provision that talked about choice voting was deleted, he said.

"If it's intended to enact choice voting, we should specify that," he said.

Saylor said he believes moving to choice voting is so important that it should go to a direct vote of the people and not be decided by the City Council."
Councilmember Saylor is also uncomfortable with the broad powers it gives the city council.

He told the Davis Enterprise:
"Someday later, the council could come up with a boutique tax, one that we're not allowed to do in a general law city. Which means the charter is probably premature, and we ought to get our act together before we put it on the ballot."
He continued:
"Saylor said that even if the current council would put choice voting on a future ballot, there are no guarantees that future councils would be so considerate.

"The authority that happens under the charter is the City Council takes on a greater amount of potential authority, and I'm not sure that's such a good idea... I'd like to know specifically - and I think the voters should demand to know - what the charter would do, not what might it do. What, exactly, are we intending to do?"
Now according to Kelly Stachowicz, Deputy City Manager, the charter city does not change anything immediately.

She told the Enterprise:
"What it does is provide the city with flexibility to consider additional options or potential change."
Moreover, after researching dozens of city charters, many look a lot like the one Davis is proposing.
"What we found was that the charters that have passed more recently have been very similar to the approach that Davis has taken... Those charters have been brief and broad. They did not have a whole lot of detail in them about what they wanted to change and alter. In most cases the community stayed the course and passed the charter in order to provide additional flexibility."
The curious thing for me is that in 2006, when the choice voting advisory measure was on the ballot and it passed largely with no organized opposition with 55% of the vote, there was a large grassroots movement behind it.

This year, with the step to make choice voting operational, is there a large grassroots movement behind it? All I have seen are Stephen Souza and Lamar Heystek, the principal proponents on council, leading a small and informal campaign on the measure. There does not seem to be energy behind it.

My sense from the response to these articles is that most Davisites have no idea that this measure is on the ballot, no idea what this measure will do, and no idea why they would want this measure in the first place. That is a recipe for defeat at the polls.

I hate to agree with Councilmember Saylor, but I think he has a good point when he argues that the charter is premature and that we ought to have our act together. It seems to me that the charter is premature, that the council was acting largely on its own, and that there is no huge groundswell of support for the charter as there was for choice voting.

I could be completely misreading the situation here, but right now, I just do not see the impetus to pass this measure.

But there are three weeks until the election, I doubt there is much solidified opposition to it either, but right now, I do not think this issue has been sold to Davis, I do not see the money behind to sell it to Davis nor do I see a volunteer network base who will push it through at the grassroots level.

At this point, I think proposal is dead on arrival. But we will see for sure in the coming weeks.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Monday, October 13, 2008

Endorsement Watch: 5th Senate and Measure W

'Tis the season to watch Sunday newspaper endorsements. For those who have been reading this blog for awhile, you know that for some reason I love to read and critique newspaper endorsements. For me, it gives us an insight into what the media think and to a lesser degree what issues they think are important and how we can evaluate the news overall.

Newspapers will argue that there is a separation of the the news and editorial function, but in my former profession as a social scientist, there has been some interesting empirical studies that argue otherwise.

Besides, at the end of the day, this blog was largely developed to respond to what the mainstream news was reporting and in general to criticize it.

We begin then with two newspaper endorsements that came down yesterday--one involving the 5th Senate District and the other involving Measure W.


There is one main reason why the Stockton Record endorses Aghazarian. It is not partisan. In fact, they have endorsed Barack Obama for President and Jerry McNerney for Congress--both of them Democrats. Granted the endorsement of Barack Obama was a very big deal. It was the first time since 1936 that the Stockton Record Endorsed a Democrat.

The reason the Stockon Record endorsed Aghazarian is that he's from Stockton.
"And that brings us to one of the most important reasons Aghazarian should be sent to the Senate: He lives here. He understands the district and its needs. He will be here.

Because of the loony way legislative districts have been carved out - with the express purpose of making them safe for incumbents - it is possible San Joaquin County could end up with no representatives in Sacramento who live in the county. That's unacceptable no matter the sincerity of an out-of-area politician's vow to be in the county often."
Are you kidding me? First of all, the current State Senator is from Linden which is essentially Stockton, so it is not as though there was a long history of Stockton being shutout of the Senate Seat. Second, it's a big district. It goes from San Joaquin County to Yolo and Solano Counties. Why does Stockton deserve a representative more than Yolo County or Solano County?

I am sorry but that is just selfish. There are many cities in this district, Stockton is the largest one but it's also on one end of the district, the majority of the district would be left high dry by such a move--if we are merely looking at geography.

Can we draw districts more compactly? Certainly, but I am not going to selected my representative based on geography.

A couple of other points that they argue.
"Aghazarian, who used to brag about his ascension through the Republican Party ranks, has reinvented himself for this campaign. His advertisements paint him as the candidate of "independent leadership," never mentioning his party affiliation."
The Record is for some reason buying into Aghazarian's non-partisan rhetoric. The reason he is arguing this is that he is running for election in a Democratic year in a district that has a 15 percent Democratic registration. He has not changed his tune or if he has, make him prove it in the legislature not as part of his campaign rhetoric. In short, his record as an Assemblyman shows nothing to lead one to believe he independent. Nothing.

Finally, I take issue with this:
"Wolk claims she is more effective than Aghazarian at working across the aisle, claiming she has had more bills signed by the Republican governor than any other legislator. In truth, however, most of the bills have been relatively insignificant."
In truth probably most legislation in the California Legislature, is insignificant. However, she did sponsor several key pieces of legislation dealing with flood control, delta protection, and elder protection. Somehow I doubt that Aghazarian has such a legislative record. They certainly do not cite it in the endorsement article.

However, this is really the most illogical of the Record's arguments. Democrats will control roughly 60% of the seats in the State Senate regardless of who wins this seat. Who is going to be the most effective legislator the majority party member or the minority party member? The answer is the majority party member who will pass a much higher percentage of legislation. It is not even close. The Stockton Record does even think about this contradiction with their argument. Aghazarian is not going to as effective as a minority party member as Wolk will as a majority party member, so if that is you rationale for voting, it makes no sense to vote for Aghazarian over Wolk.

In short, the Stockton Record probably has many good reasons to support Aghazarian, but they really do a poor job of selecting three that make no sense. I am sure they really do want Stockton to be Represented, but it's not like Stockton has not been Represented the past eight years. The rest of the District is just as deserving of representation as the City of Stockton.

In my opinion people should vote based on who they most agree with on the issues and who they think will be a better legislator. I cannot answer that question for my readers, but I can say that the Stockton Record falls woefully short in its endorsement criteria, at least the ones it states.


This is really not a surprise at all. Let us face it, the Davis Enterprise since 2005 has endorsed the wrong way from my perspective on every single issue except Measures P, Q, and W--the Parcel Taxes. They endorsed Covell Village. They endorsed Target. They endorsed Jeff Reisig for District Attorney. They endorsed Ruth Asmundson and Mike Levy in 2006 for Davis City Council. They endorsed Souza, Saylor and Sydney Vergis this year.

In other words, given that record, it is hard for me to use their endorsement of Measure W for much of anything other than to say that a broken clock is right twice a day--if it is an old fashioned, analog clock. And the Davis Enterprise is certainly that.

And frankly, I think the Stockton Record makes a stronger argument for Aghazarian than the Davis Enterprise does for Measure W.

The argument is this:
"Without the $2.4 million in extra funding per year, we face the same severe cuts and massive teacher layoffs that were threatened last spring. That's when the community came together - led by the Davis Schools Foundation - to raise $1.77 million. That one-time effort, along with more than $1 million in district budget cuts, plugged the hole for this school year only."
What happens if it fails:
"IF MEASURE W FAILS, the community faces another massive fundraising drive to save teachers and programs. Or worse, we face their loss due to budget cuts."
This is a point that has be driven home to voters. The $1.77 million raised by the schools foundation was one-time money the result of a hard drive in the community with the issue firmly in the minds of voters.

However, some need to recognize that that money is one-time money and it is not sustainable.
"But community philanthropy can't always be the answer, said Alan Anderson, the new president of the Davis Schools Foundation. 'Ongoing support is the best way to solve chronic under-funding from the state and to restore confidence in the future of our public schools for families, teachers and, of course, our students.'"
We had Alan Anderson on our radio show last spring, he is exactly right here as he was back then. The support by the Davis Schools Foundation was amazing and it saved programs and teachers but it was a one-time bridge loan, not a means by which to provide ongoing support. The voters need to decide if the programs funded by the $2.4 million and the teachers funded by that money are necessary for the Davis Schools to remain at the top of the state scale.

There are so many more factors that needed to be addressed in this editorial. We have mentioned them in this space time and again, so for now we are just thankful that at the very least the Davis Enterprise has the commitment to provide schools with the necessary funding to continue to function at a high level.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Bad Week For McCain

We can run through a week when the Dow plunged briefly under 8000, when a 120 point loss day look good because at one point it was a whole lot worse, when McCain slipped further behind Obama in the polls, and when McCain was not able to right his footing at a townhall debate that was supposed to be his strength.

Look at the body language of that debate and you can see where this race is going. Agree or disagree with Obama, he looked Presidential, he sounded measured and reasonable, for those who had fears about his conduct under pressure it has been largely put to rest.

In fact, it is the relatively more experience John McCain who has been increasingly to use the buzz-word from the Obama camp, erratic. Hey I can't help it, it is the best adjective. McCain has simply done things that are bizarre or perhaps best described as desperate and fleeting. He has shifted course too quickly. He has tried to go negative and recently pulled even those punches.

Let us start there because last weekend, it was Governor Sarah Palin who began the attack on Obama by connecting him with William Ayers, a former member of the Weather Underground from the 1960s and suggesting that his friendship with the 60s radical showed a lack of judgment and worse. The attacks are symbolic and suggestive as well as substantive. The symbolism of terrorism, the use of Obama's middle name, and other attacks are ways to allow people to be reminded that Obama is not the same as they are.

There are people who honestly believe that Obama is a Muslim. The most despicable display may have been the Sheriff from Florida who in full uniform attacked Obama at a McCain rally using his full name Barack Hussein Obama, as if to remind people, hey this guy is not one of us. It was almost a Vanguard moment when it was pointed out that it is illegal for a law enforcement officer to politic in uniform. When called on the issue, the Sheriff, did not seem to get it. He defended it by suggesting he was always on duty. Sorry but that's not how it works.

There is no evidence in the polling that the attacks are working. In part, I suspect that is because people are a bit more worried about substantive issues. The other thing is that you have to create these images early in a campaign. You have to plant them in the minds of voters and pound them home. In the last month, that is difficult because people have watched Obama for months now, they have seen him at the convention and at debates. They have, in short, their own view of the man.

These attacks have thus amounted largely to what they call "red meat" or fodder where the true believers rally behind, but not issues that middle of the road voters can relate. Obama's lead stretches by the day. States that I never thought would be in play, Obama may be ahead in such as North Carolina, Virginia, even Montana.

The news footage from the McCain rallies was frightening at times, when McCain was launching his attack microphones caught people saying things like he's a "terrorist" or "kill him." There has to be some responsibility here given the historic nature of Obama's run and the real dangers that exist there.

Perhaps to his credit and perhaps to his detriment, McCain has backed off the attack of late.

A man at a rally in Minnesota stood up and told mCain he was scared of Obama presidency.

McCain finally stepped up:
"I have to tell you. Sen. Obama is a decent person and a person you don't have to be scared of as president of the United States."
The crowd booed and shouted "Come on, John!" McCain quickly added:
"If I didn't think I'd be a heck of a lot better, I wouldn't be running for president of the United States."
A woman at a town hall meeting accused Obama of being an Arab, as though that were somehow the worst thing you could imagine.

McCain's response:
"No, ma'am. He's a decent family man and citizen."
On the one hand, McCain corrects her error, but on the other hand, McCain does not have the guts to say, there is nothing wrong with being an Arab, nor does he point out to her than in fact, Obama is a Christian not a Muslim.

There is a lot of ignorance going on in this race and there is a lot of ugliness rearing its heading and McCain despite attempts to ramp it down at the end of the week is a major contributor to it.

It has been a tough week for Governor Sarah Palin who is now facing ethics charges in Alaska for improperly dismissing an official who crimes was not firing an Alaska state trooper who happened to be divorcing Palin's sister. I guess abuse of power is alright if you are a maverick.

But the real irony is that she is the one throwing bombshells at Obama for his ties to domestic terrorists, while at the same time, she has ties to Alaska's Separatist Party. Palin's husband was a registered member of the Alaska Independence Party until 2002 when he re-registered as an independent voter. One of the planks is that they want Alaska to secede from the United States. Meanwhile, Governor Palin addressed the convention for this party and sent a video tape to the 2008 Convention telling the delegates to "keep up the good work" and calling their convention "inspiring."

If Palin wants Obama to explain his ties to Ayres, maybe she ought to clean out her own closet.

On October 5, she said:
"Our opponents see America as imperfect enough to pal around with terrorists who would bomb their own country."
And yet, she pals around with people who want to secede from our country and she addresses their conventions and tells them to "keep up the good work." Pot meet kettle.

So what is the truth. One of the best non-partisan sits around is

They called the attacks by McCain misleading and groundless.
"In a TV ad, McCain says Obama "lied" about his association with William Ayers, a former bomb-setting, anti-war radical from the 1960s and '70s. We find McCain's claim to be groundless. New details have recently come to light, but nothing Obama said previously has been shown to be false."
They continue:
"We find McCain's accusation that Obama "lied" to be groundless. It is true that recently released records show half a dozen or so more meetings between the two men than were previously known, but Obama never denied working with Ayers.

Other claims are seriously misleading. The education project described in the Web ad, far from being "radical," had the support of the Republican governor and was run by a board that included prominent local leaders, including one Republican who has donated $1,500 to McCain's campaign this year. The project is described by Education Week as reflecting "mainstream thinking" about school reform.

Despite the newly released records, there's still no evidence of a deep or strong "friendship" with Ayers, a former radical anti-war protester whose actions in the 1960s and '70s Obama has called "detestable" and "despicable."

Even the description of Ayers as a "terrorist" is a matter of interpretation. Setting off bombs can fairly be described as terrorism even when they are intended to cause only property damage, which is what Ayers has admitted doing in his youth. But for nearly three decades since, Ayers has lived the relatively quiet life of an educator. It would be correct to call him a "former terrorist," and an "unapologetic" one at that. But if McCain means the word "terrorist" to invoke images of 9/11, he's being misleading; Ayers is no Osama bin Laden now, and never was."
Here's the exchange in question:
McCain: Look, we don't care about an old washed-up terrorist and his wife, who still, at least on Sept. 11, 2001, said he still wanted to bomb more. ... The point is, Senator Obama said he was just a guy in the neighborhood. We need to know that's not true.

Obama never said Ayers was "just" a guy in the neighborhood. The quote is from a Democratic primary debate on April 16 in Philadelphia, and Obama actually was more forthcoming than McCain lets on. Obama specifically acknowledged working together with Ayers on a charitable board, and didn't deny getting some early political support from him. Here's the exchange:

ABC News' George Stephanopoulos, April 16: An early organizing meeting for your state senate campaign was held at his house, and your campaign has said you are friendly. Can you explain that relationship for the voters, and explain to Democrats why it won't be a problem?

Obama: George, but this is an example of what I'm talking about.

This is a guy who lives in my neighborhood, who's a professor of English in Chicago, who I know and who I have not received some official endorsement from. He's not somebody who I exchange ideas from on a regular basis.

And the notion that somehow as a consequence of me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago when I was 8 years old, somehow reflects on me and my values, doesn't make much sense, George
The article goes on to show a list of pretty mainstream and conservative people who also sit on the same board with Obama and Ayres.
Among the mainstream Chicago luminaries on Obama's board was Arnold R. Weber, a former president of Northwestern University, who in 1971 was appointed by Republican President Richard Nixon as executive director of the Cost of Living Council and who later was tapped by Republican President Ronald Reagan to serve on an emergency labor board. More recently, Weber has given $1,500 to John McCain's presidential campaign this year.

Others on Obama's supposedly "radical" board included Stanley Ikenberry, a former president of the University of Illinois system; Ray Romero, a vice president of Ameritech; Susan Crown, a philanthropist; Handy Lindsey, the president of the Field Foundation of Illinois; and Wanda White, the executive director of the Community Workshop for Economic Development.

Kurtz originally claimed that Ayers somehow was responsible for installing Obama as head of the board, speculating in his "cover-up" article that Obama "almost certainly received the job at the behest of Bill Ayers." But after days of poring over the records, he failed to produce any evidence of that in his Wall Street Journal article. To the contrary, Ayers was not involved in the choice, according to Deborah Leff, then president of the Joyce Foundation. She told the Times, and confirmed to, that she recommended Obama for the position to Patricia Graham of the Spencer Foundation. Graham told us that she asked Obama if he'd become chairman; he accepted, provided Graham would be vice-chair.

The bipartisan board of directors, which did not include Ayers, elected Obama chairman, and he served in that capacity from 1995 to 1999, awarding grants for projects and raising matching funds. Ayers headed up a separate arm of the group, working with grant recipients.
If you want to read the lengthy article click here.

The bottom line is that McCain and Palin probably could have picked a better target if they were bent on changing the subject. Given the economy in this country, more people are probably concerned about their retirement and their mortgage payments than the relationship between Obama and a 60s radical who did some really bad things when Obama was 8 years old.

If you are on the conservative side of the fence, I am sure there are many legitimate things with which to tie Obama. This is simply not one of them. And my guess is that based on the polls and lack of response from the public, this one goes away.

The amazing thing about this race is the Republicans response to the economic crisis--government intervention, bailout, and government backing of financial institutions.

There is a saying that there are no atheists in a fox hole, it appears equally true that there are no libertarians in an economic crisis. At the end of the day, that may be the biggest news that comes out of this week.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting