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Friday, October 24, 2008

How Netroots has Changed Politics and Michele Bachmann Has Destroyed Herself

Michele Bachmann appeared last week on Chris Matthews show as many have time and time before. And really, she said nothing that extraordinary. In fact, what she said has been said time and time before by many Republicans in many different ways. Most years, they get away with it. They even win using the tactic of divide and conquor. Of labeling Democrats and liberals as un-American and traitors and America-haters. But this is not business as usual. And this year, those tactics do not work.

And so Michele Bachmann a Republican Congresswoman from Minnesota has taken a race that was labeled by most as a safe Republican race in a strong Republican district, and now she is in the fight of her life.

It all started on October 18, 2008.

Most years, most of the time, I do not like Chris Matthews. He calls his show "Hardball" but frankly he is not one who consistently asks tough questions. But something about the tone of this election has gotten into his craw and he is pressing his questions with deadly accuracy.

What started out as a simple exchange on William Ayers, turned into a game changer for Michele Bachmann. Somehow the subject turned to the question about anti-Americanism, something that seemed more ripe for the McCarthy era in the 1950s with the red scare than something in 2008 during an economic crisis. But there she was talking about it. And there Chris Matthews was pressing her to tell him how many Congress people are in that anti-American crowd.

Finally she said it:
"What I would say -- what I would say is that the news media should do a penetrating expose and take a look. I wish they would. I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out, are they pro-America or anti-America? I think people would love to see an expose like that."
Again, normally, this type of thing would have gone unnoticed and unpunished. But the world is different in 2008.

On reason it is different is the world of Netroots. And the liberal blogs took this story and ran. With netroots organizations and fundraising ability, they were able to raise over $750,000 for Michele Bachmann's opponent in just three days.

Wednesday, the Minnesota Star Tribune announced Democrat Elwyn Tinklenberg had raised $1.3 million by Wednesday--less than a week after Rep. Bachmann's comments.
"Bachmann's comments during her 14-minute appearance ignited a firestorm in the liberal blogosphere and proved to be manna from heaven for her opponent, Democrat Elwyn Tinklenberg. By Wednesday, his campaign had raised an additional $1.3 million -- and, as the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza pointed out at the Fix (2), the Sixth District race had dramatically changed."
How much has it changed?

Yesterday, the Minneapolis Star Tribune in addition to national sources report that the NRCC pulled about $50,000 worth of ads for Michele Bachmann.
"The national fundraising committee for GOP congressional candidates has canceled its Twin Cities TV advertising for Rep. Michele Bachmann, who is using the flap over her comments about Barack Obama to raise money on her own."
Meanwhile CQ Politics, one of the more respected analysts of Congressional races has changed their rating on this district from Republican Favored to Leans Republican.
"But for political drama, we just can't top Minnesota's 6th District, which is suddenly hosting one of the nation's hottest races -- because of highly controversial partisan remarks made by Michele Bachmann, the district's freshman Republican incumbent.

Although Democrats had long branded Bachmann as a conservative hard-liner, and recruited a relatively centrist challenger in former state transportation secretary Elwyn Tinklenberg, the incumbent nonetheless looked to be cruising to a relatively easy victory in her Republican-leaning district -- that is, until she dropped her "anti-A" bomb, stating on national television that Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and unnamed members of Congress might have "anti-American views." The huge flap that ensued has made Bachmann a much more visible target for Democratic activists nationwide, who in turn have poured money into Tinklenberg's campaign to fuel a late-campaign blitz.

Because of the overall conservative tone in her district, CQ Politics still considers Bachmann a slight favorite for re-election, but will be watching further developments very closely."
This is not just a story about Michele Bachmann, it is a story about the power of the left's netroots. The ability to capture people's attention, to seize on gaffe's and misstatements and to funnel huge amounts of money into races like these is frankly unprecedented and really unmatched by Republicans.

The political climate has indeed favored Democrats in both 2006 and 2008. However, the ability of netroots to largely bridge the gap in fundraising has been huge.

And no one has utilized this any better than Barack Obama. Utilizing the web, they have raised money on a level no one has ever dreamed of before. When it is all over, we will be talking about $750 million--that's three-quarters of a billion dollars.

How do they do it? They bombard their supporters with emails in part. They have a network now of over 3.1 million donors. This last month they raised $180 million mostly by small donors of less than $200 and an average of $86 per person. This month they are said to have already raised $133 million. That puts them at a huge advantage down the stretch.

Republicans are crying foul at this--the destruction of the public financing system. That's really funny in a lot of ways. Some are using this as proof the media are biased toward Democrats, after all where's the outrage.

What I do not think Republicans get is that there is a vast different between this type of fundraising and the huge amounts of money that Bush raised from oil interests, tobacco interests, defense interests, and other monied interests. The outrage is not the amount of money, it is the source of the money. Because of where Obama is getting his money from, who is he going to be beholden to? Ah that's right, the people who gave him largely small donations. I know people who give him $25 or $35 every few weeks. It adds up over the course of a year. But it is a series of small donations from average citizens.

That is not something to be outraged about, it is something to celebrate.

The mobilization of people through netroots has really taken off this year and it has the potential to really change politics over the long term.

As for Michele Bachmann, she doesn't seem to get it:
"Chris Matthews did what Chris Matthews is paid big bucks to do: Twist my words and set them up for full-fledged distortion when his next guest came on... And, when the liberal blogs got hold of little clips of my appearance, the spin machine really kicked into overdrive. ... They're motivated entirely by their hatred of me and my conservative beliefs."
I do not know how Chris Matthews twisted your words since we have you have on tape Congresswoman, but I know one thing, you handed this to the liberal blogs and they willingly obliged by flaying you.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

False and Misleading Campaign on Prop 8: Setting the Record Straight

It is tough to tell which side is winning on Proposition 8, the state proposition that would nullify a state Supreme Court decision that legalized gay marriage.

Early in the process the proposition was well behind, but a strong ad campaign has pushed it ahead in some polls.

Polls taken from mid-September showed the initiative well behind in both the Field and the PPIC polls. However, polls in early October showed the initiate passing.

The three most recent polls show uncertainty and confusion.

PPIC on October 16 had the initiative failing 52-44.

SurveyUSA on October 16 had the initiative passing 48-45, within the margin of error.

The latest PPIC poll has 52-44 opposed.

What does this tell us? Well Survey USA appears to consistently have it ahead whereas PPIC has it behind. Have not seen a Field Poll in awhile on it. Field is probably the only statewide polling organization I would trust.

What is clear to me though is that Proposition 8 is at this point too close to call. And if it passes, there are two factors to blame. First, Gavin Newsome the Mayor of San Francisco. I still blame Mayor Newsome for losing the 2004 Presidential election for the Democrats. It was his arrogant battle for Gay Marriage during a Presidential year that allowed Karl Rove and the Republicans to put Gay Marriage bans on the ballots across the country in order to get huge Republican turnouts and that turned races all over including the decisive state of Ohio which decided the Presidency.

Proposition 8 began to turn around when Proponents of the initiative played another arrogant clip of Mayor Newsome.

In this ad he says:
"This door's wide open now. It's going to happen, whether you like it or not."
Of course you have to have seen it to see his exaggerated facial expressions.

And the rest of the implications of that ad are preposterous:
"If the same sex marriage initiative goes down to defeat people will get sued over their personal beliefs, churches may lose their tax exemptions and gay marriage will be taught in public schools, etc."
But the real impact of that ad was the Mayor. Sorry Mayor, but can you not for once keep your big mouth close. If this measure passes it is on you.

Fortunately for the rest of us and Mayor Newsome in particular, the ad campaign has moved on.

Now it show a couple from Massachusetts who say that when their state legalized marriage for same-sex partners, their children in schools were forced to learn that boys could marry boys.

Now it turns out this is false.

Ted Mitchell is the President of the State Board of Education:
"Let me be clear, there is nothing in California state law that would require the teaching of marriage and that will not change. These ads are ridiculous and they are an insult to California's voters."
Delaine Eastin who is the past Superintendent of Public of Instruction:
"That ad is wrong. Not one person with any credibility has said otherwise... Prop. 8 has nothing to do with education, and the proponents know it. Not one word in Prop. 8 mentions education and no child can be forced, against the will of their parents, to attend any health-related class. California law prohibits it."
Present Superintendent of Public Instruction has lent his name and credibility to a No on 8 ad that sets the record straight.
"The Yes on 8 ads are alarming and irresponsible. Our public schools are not required to teach about marriage. And, in fact, curriculum involving health issues is chosen by local school governing boards...."
Click on the video below to see that response ad.

What is interesting to me is that the tactic that they have taken. The yes side is not going for a straight on approach with either of their major ads. If they really believed that the majority of the state was against gay marriage, would they not simply do a straight approach, if you do not want gay marriage, vote for Proposition 8. They are not doing that. Instead they are relying on falsified scare tactics to pass the measure. And they have the money to get away with it.

We shall see now if it works.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Thursday, October 23, 2008

State to Ask Davis Schools to Return $4.5 Million?

The Davis Enterprise reported yesterday that the Davis school district could be asked to return the $4.5 million it received just last year from the state in matching funds for the construction of Montgomery Elementary.
"That's apparently the gist of a new legal opinion from the state Attorney General's Office, directed to members of the State Allocation Board. The school district's appeal will be heard at a SAB meeting next Wednesday in Sacramento.

If the Davis district is asked to return the money, it will effectively reverse the SAB's decision in August 2007 to award the $4.5 million to the Davis district, following a lengthy appeal of an earlier decision by the Office of Public School Construction to deny the funds."
Last year, the school district received the $4.5 million plus matching funds from the state after a lengthy appeals process that we have highlighted. This stems from the district back in 2001 and 2002, missing critical state deadlines and therefore becoming ineligible.

However, after a long process, the district finally received the money last year.

Bruce Colby, the current Chief Budget Officer for the District expressed his surprise to the district, noting that the state formally approved the funds and the district received the money. After that, the district considered the matter close.

Colby told the Enterprise:
"It's unprecedented for the SAB to ask for money back after they've approved the money and sent the money."
Assemblywoman Lois Wolk who was also involved in the process of recouping the matching funds was similarly baffled.
"I was very surprised by the action of the Office of Public School Construction staff to try to reverse the decision of the State Allocation Board. In 2007, the SAB decided on a 7-3 vote to support the Davis school district's appeal for funding. Since then, the district has received the funds owed to them.

I see no reason to reopen this issue again. I will be working with the members of the State Allocation Board to ensure that the district's funding is secure."

This is a baffling decision by the state. The district has long since acknowledged the errors that led to the original loss of eligibility for the matching fund. They have implemented new fiscal policies, hired a new CBO (Mr. Colby), even hired a new Superintendent in James Hammond. They have done the due diligence to correct whatever fiscal problems existed under the previous CBO and the previous Superintendent.

What is gained now by revisiting this issue? The State Allocation Board already met and made their determination. The school district has already received the money from the state, and undoubtedly has already spent it to pay off the bonds that were used to finance the building project in lieu of matching funds.

At this point, any attempt by the state to take back that money would have to be considered punitive. What possible purpose would it serve at this point in time?

The State Allocation Board will meet next Wednesday.

Before people jump to conclusions, understand that this money is for facilities only. It cannot be used for the general fund. Therefore, this has absolutely no impact on the parcel tax. If there is a deficit as a result of this, the parcel tax money cannot be used for it. The parcel tax is explicitly allocated already. However, general fund money cannot be used for facilities and vice-versa.
"Under state law, the matching funds can only be used to fund facilities projects - such as modernization of existing school buildings, or construction of new school buildings. (The money can't be used to pay teacher salaries.)

The Davis school district ran short on facilities funds in 2007, and borrowed money to complete construction of the new building for Martin Luther King High School, which was dedicated in November 2007. 'Part of (the state matching funds) is to pay back the King loan,' Colby said Tuesday."
Also, the school district cannot pass another parcel tax in order to pay off this $4.5 million.

This needs to be very clear--the general fund and the facilities fund are completely separate and money cannot flow between the two.

The immediate concern will obviously be on the district's part to retain the money at the hearing next week.

This is another very concerning development. There appears to be no rhyme or reason for such as decision by the state to re-open this case.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

The Vanguard's Article on AgraQuest Provokes Strong Response from Both County Health Director and Building Owner

Following Friday's article on AgraQuest and the former office on Kennedy Place, Yolo County Health Director Bette Hinton was notified of the problem. As we now know, she actually learned of this problem a year ago.

Ironically, yesterday it was announced that Dr. Hinton would retire at the end of the year.
"Yolo County Health Officer and Health Department Director, Dr. Bette G. Hinton, today announced her intention to retire at the end of this year. Dr. Hinton has served Yolo County in her current position for the past ten years."
However, right now we focus on her response to this complaint.

Here is her full response:
"Our department became aware of Mr Bell's complaints in October of 2007. After review of a lengthy complaint document, the hazardous materials staff agreed that the Health Department had neither the technical expertise nor the regulatory authority to investigate the allegations. They made this decision after reviewing the Agra-Quest Hazardous Materials Business Plan, consultation with staff at the County Agriculture Department, the US Department of Agriculture, the Ca Dept of Food and Agriculture , the California Dept of Industrial Relations (CalOSHA) and with the US EPA. This matter was basically a workers compensation issue and a complaint that Agra-Quest dumped biological organisms with which they were working, into the soil around their facility. Additionally, the complaints were about an issue from 1998-1999 and there had been no other associated illnesses. In order to provide due diligence, we referred the complaint to USDA (which controls soil importation), California EPA and the California Department of Pesticide regulation. None of these agencies replied to us, but they may have investigated further.

With regard to the complaint of dumping biological material at the Kennedy Place facility, it would be extremely difficult to verify that now as the soil has been exposed for 10 years to any organism that might be found in our environment and many of the organisms that were used in the facility can be found elsewhere in our soil. Additionally, any pesticides which may have been successfully would probably be legal now for use on crops, etc. that surround us in an agricultural community. Personal contact with the soil would be necessary for harm to occur. This is not a chemical complaint where one might be concerned about water contamination or fumes from the site.

In summary, our hazardous materials specialist's evaluation is that the health department has no regulatory authority in this case. It does not appear to be an "imminent threat to public health and safety", which in the absence of clear regulatory authority, would be the only reason we could react."
My basic concerns with this response are threefold.

I fully understand that the Yolo County Health Department has "neither the technical expertise nor the regulatory authority to investigate the allegations." However, I would like to think as Director of the Health Department in Yolo County her responsibility would extend past that, and toward actually finding out who would have regulatory authority. This is a problem I have had at every level in this process and before me the family and consultants to David Bell. No one has had regulatory authority but worse yet, no one in a position to help has taken the time to find out who does.

Second, out of "due diligence" they referred the complaint to USDA, Cal-EPA, and Department of Pesticides, however, while they never replied, she also never followed up with them. To me that indicates a lack of concern.

Finally in response to the "imminent threat to public health and safety" there is actually some evidence that at least 11 other workers have become sick from this lab.

As Doug Haney, an expert on molds, fungi, and microbes tells us:
"When investigating this matter I was informed that one witness has indicated that at the same time Mr. Bell became ill, eleven other employees became ill also and the laboratory was locked up and secured by the company Chief Executive Officer."
They might not have reported their illness to the health department, but it seems unlikely that the health department has checked into this much either. Moreover, as I am sure Dr. Hinton is well aware, there are times when such impacts happen 10 to 20 years down the line.

Mr. Haney also takes issue with the claim that a sample taken ten years after the fact would not prove useful.
"To the contrary, and with the amount of chemicals and microbes that allegedly were dumped into the soil adjacent to the external wall directly behind the internal laboratory area, deep soil sampling 10 years later might render some very intriguing and revealing facts, especially those relating to microbial genetic mutational theory."
The overall response here from Dr. Hinton is disappointing. That is coupled by the response from Ron Broward, who is the owner of the building on Kennedy Place. He called the Vanguard on Monday morning at 10:00 to ask me to retract the story.

At this point I asked him why, he said that the story was completely false. His chief complaint was the use of the photos taken at the site, particularly that of the water faucet, which he characterized as a leaky sprinkler head. He said he has regular maintenance on the grounds who deal with such things and they simply replaced the sprinkler. Given the amount of corrosion and chemical deposits on that "sprinkler" it appears it would have had to be leaky for a long period of time.

I asked Doug Haney, who viewed the "sprinkler" what he thought he had seen:

"I saw and the picture shows it as, that could only be transferred over a long period of time. That's not a few day type accumulation. My first impression of it was as a biointeractive health psychologist is that it's chemistry, a lot of chemistry, on the drain."

Mr. Broward also suggested that the crow was planted on the location. That did not seem to be a very logical deduction.

I asked Sandi Trend, the mother of David Bell about this accusation:
"Believe me, it wasn't planted. It was suggested afterwords, well why didn't you get it so it could be analyzed. My comment was, I'm not touching that thing."
Instead she discovered it by happenstance when she came to look at the drain where her son had told her that he had dumped chemical drums years before.
"I took a friend of mine down and I want to see this drain where David said he was instructed to dump liquid. I didn't even notice the crow, it was my friend. I am looking around the building for a drain and it was my friend who said oh my god, there's a dead bird here. And that's how I saw the dead bird."
Of particular concern and unanswered by Mr. Broward was the lack of decomposition of this bird.

Doug Haney:
"I saw the crow two weeks later and I saw the pictures long after I saw the crow. I do know that the pictures were taken two weeks before because Sandi had told me that she had taken pictures of this crow earlier because she was putting it into her forte for her son.

That is correct [there was no decay of the bird when he inspected it]. After two weeks I would have expected to see almost bones and a little bit of feather."
The Vanguard is trying to track down another witnessed who viewed both the crow and the sprinkler with Mr. Haney.

In the meantime, Ron Broward adamantly told the Vanguard he would not pay to examine either the interior or the exterior of the building to determine if there is a potential health risk. He argued that there is no evidence that there is. He suggested that if I wanted it examined, I could pay for it myself.

He pointed out that AgraQuest has not even been in the building for a number of years. I mentioned to him that these microorganisms can survive much longer than that period of time. He admitted he did not know anything about that.

In a follow up meeting, yesterday, on the location, Broward told myself and several others that they had done extensive remodels of the building.

However, as Doug Haney points out, unless they are specifically going in to remove microfungi agents, a routine remodel would probably not be sufficient.

Finally, Mr. Broward told me that this report had scared his tenants. I went door-to-door yesterday with a resident of the Davisille Apartments next to the business park and we probably spoke to 20 or 30 people. All of them were concerned, none of them could be characterized as frightened. People want to know if this represents a health problem, but no one is panicking about it.

This process is likely going to move on with or without the help of the authorities. It is a shame that Mr. Broward responded as he did, he could have put an end to the uncertainty very quickly.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Did Congressman Lungren Ignore Potential National Security Threat Posed by AgraQuest's Importation of Foreign Soils?

Listen to Vanguard Radio tonight from 6 to 7 on KDRT 95.7 FM for more on this topic. Our guests will include Sandi Trend, mother of David Bell and Doug Haney. David Bell is scheduled to call in from Texas at 6:30. You can listen live on the internet by clicking here. Callers are encouraged to ask questions: 530.792.1648.

Last week, the Sacramento News and Review reported that an AgraQuest worker David Bell contracted a series of respiratory infections during his time working for the company in 1999. Now nearly nine years later, he continues to suffer from the debilitating illness.

The Vanguard raised questions about the environmental impact at the Kennedy Place location for AgraQuest. Questions were most specifically brought forth from Mr. Bell himself who informed the Vanguard that as an employee of AgraQuest he was told to dispose of waste material on a concrete culvert. The Vanguard also showed photographic evidence taken from several years later that suggests the possibility of contamination of the outside worksite.

In a follow up interview with David Bell, he warned us that the ventilation system at the 1105 Kennedy Place office building needs to be fully investigated as well due to the activities that took place in the building and the possibility that microbes ended up in the ventilation system.

During the course of the investigation into both Mr. Bell's health and the workplace conditions, the Vanguard has learned that AgraQuest may have been shipping soil and other biological samples into the United States on commercial flights without proper licenses. Moreover, David Bell reports that employees at AgraQuest at the time of his employment bragged about sneaking a green suitcase full of dirt past U.S. customs on a flight from Chile.

Doug Haney, an advocate for human and patients’ rights, who specializes in mold and microbe exposure, reported this to Congressman Dan Lungren in November of 2007 during a meeting with Gold River Field Office Staffers Alexandria Snyder and Michelle Panos. Congressman Lungren (R-CA) is the ranking Republican member on the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. Interestingly enough, in 2006 he co-authored the SAFE Act (Security and Freedom Enhancement Act) with Congresswoman Jane Harman (D-CA), a bill that was designed to improve security at U.S. ports.

Despite warnings about the possible implications from such lax customs handling in our war on terrorism, it appears at least from Mr. Haney's viewpoint that neither Congressman Lungren nor his staff followed through on these warnings.


There is a lengthy public record on AgraQuest's practice of importing soils and other biological agents into the United States from across the globe. In fact it is noted as a point of pride in the articles written about AgraQuest over the course of the past ten years.

As early as 1997, a Sacramento Bee article entitled, "AgraQuest Growing Its Own Success," reports that:
"They'll check out new samples of soils or plant roots or lichen arriving from across the globe."
In 2002, on National Public Radio's Morning Edition, the announcer reported that AgraQuest had gathered up to 20,000 samples of various soils and other biological samples.
"What they're looking for are microorganisms that secrete naturally occurring pesticides. To find them, over the past seven years they have gathered some 20,000 samples, like this dirt and some bits of leaves Marrone finds in an old stump here. Each sample usually contains many different types of microbes, which are grown up in the lab and tested."
The Wall Street Journal in 2005 reported:
"While many biopesticide makers tinker with microbes discovered on university campuses, AgraQuest is unusual because it searches fields and jungles for new compounds, often finding them in dead bugs. It's painstaking work... Over the past decade, Dr. Marrone estimates she's screened some 23,000 suspects. Tanks and storage boxes filled with rotting vermin line the hallways at AgraQuest's headquarters."
This particular article describes trips that AgraQuest's researchers take from around the world noting Honduras, Mexico, and other exotic locations.

What these articles do not discuss of course is how they got these samples into the country in those early days and whether or not they did so legally.

David Bell, who is now suffering from a string of respiratory illnesses that he believes stem from his work at AgraQuest became curious around 2004 or 2005 when he heard a story about a man arrested by agents at APHIS for illegally smuggling soil into the country.

APHIS is the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Their primary work is to defend America's animal and plant resources from agricultural pests and diseases. However, they also serve as a sort of regulatory agency which controls the animal, plant, disease, and soil specimens that come into the United States.

In order for companies to import such things as soil, pathogens, and microbes, they must be licensed by APHIS.

But according to David Bell, AgraQuest was not licensed in 1999 when he worked there.
"I called them [APHIS] up and asked them."
He continues:
"They told me they had no permit on file, that they would be contacting that company."
In fact, according to Mr. Bell, no APHIS permit shows up at AgraQuest until 2003 or 2004--a full six or seven years after they were reporting to have received soils from around the world in the Sacramento Bee article.
"Somewhere around there then a valid permit finally shows up in the record."
And yet Mr. Bell became aware in 1999 - at least four years before APHIS claims that AgraQuest had a valid license - that workers claimed they had smuggled soil into the country. In fact, the workers bragged about it.

How did David Bell find out?
"I asked them what the hell the green suitcase was for when they were unpacking the dirt out of it and that's when they were laughing about how they got it into the country."
So they told him.
"Usually they would take off on a company business trip and come back with it [soil] in a suitcase. They would check luggage full of dirt, soil."
Again, at this time, AgraQuest apparently did not have a license to do this according to APHIS. Moreover, they were able to basically sneak it past customs agents, at least according to what David Bell's co-worker Stephen Flannigan told him in 1999.

Doug Haney:
"While [David] was [at Agraquest], a Stephen Flannigan had brought in a suitcase of soils that he had obtained in a foreign country. At that time, I did not know what the countries were, nor did I know what the soils were, nor did I know what the microbes were, nor did anyone else know what the microbes were that were in the soils, because David indicated that Mr. Flannigan had told everyone, and was bragging to everyone, that he had taken those soils, on a commercial airplane, into the United States, over the border, and bypassed the inspectors. This is a clear violation of licensure - if there is no licensure - and laws pertaining to insects, plant life, and microbes."
Mr. Bell also described the contents of the soils based on his knowledge of the soils that he had examined:
"It could clearly have any kind of pathogens. Dirt and soil is a very dirty thing, especially when you are purposefully taking dirt with animal feces on purpose. Yeah, God knows what could have been in it, to be honest. Only AgraQuest knows that answer."
Where did the shipment come from?
"That particular time I believe it was coming from Chile."
There was another time apparently when their trip did not work out quite as well.
"I remember when they (co-workers at AgraQuest) went over to England, they were extremely pissed off due to heightened security having to take their shoes off, they couldn't smuggle any dirt on that trip. They were very disappointed about that, that was right about when that hoof and mouth disease was going on and they were making people disinfect their shoes. They were really disappointed that they couldn't bring the usual suitcase full of garbage back."

The idea that a company such as AgraQuest could simply slip soil and other potential biological agents containing microbes from around the world is alarming for those who might fear the United States' susceptibility to a biological attack.

This apparently is not a situation that simply ended with 9/11 and its tighter security measures.
"There was a gentleman coming in from Texas, who was detained at the airport for smuggling soils across federal lines."
Mr. Haney continued:
"That person was arrested, charged, and now [has] legal ramifications from that aspect."
But as Mr. Haney pointed out later in our interview, if that individual was caught smuggling at that time, you know that it probably was not the first time he tried to do so and you also know that others can do so or have tried as well. The difficulty in preventing the smuggling of a small bag of soil into this country - not to mention many other substances - that have the potential to be health threats is quite high.

Mr. Haney was alarmed.
"I felt with 21 years-plus of molecular sciences, there was a real gap of transfer of microbes into the United States, into laboratories and genetically modifying them, that there is a real possibility with terrorists taking those microbes, genetically linking those microbes, and creating a hybrid that could destroy a city very easily through disease..."

As the result of these concerns, Mr. Haney contacted Congressman Dan Lungren. Congressman Dan Lungren is the ranking member on the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. In 2006 he co-authored the SAFE Act with Congresswoman Jane Harman (D-CA), a bill that was designed to improve security at U.S. ports. Clearly this should have been an issue of interest to Congressman Lungren.

In November of 2007, Doug Haney, Sandi Trend, and several of their associates attended Dan Lungren's townhall meeting in Folsom, California. Several of them raised the AgraQuest issue during the course of the townhall meeting.

A few weeks prior to the townhall meeting Mr. Haney went about trying to set up a meeting with Congressman Lungren.
"I had called a couple of times to [Dan Lungren's] staff asking if we could have a meeting with him away from the presentation to inform him of what was going on at AgraQuest--the actual bringing in illegally, of the microbes, into the United States..."
Mr. Haney then met with Alexandra Snyder and Michelle Panos in Congressman Lungren's field office.
"I agreed to meet with Dan's [Lungren] staffer, Alexandra, the head of his staff in [Lungren’s field office]."
What did he talk to them about?
"I brought papers in and I discussed it at length with her, knowing at that point that Congressman Lungren was the [ranking member] of the Subcommittee on Homeland Security. I talked to her as to how someone could come across the borders, illegally bring in soils on commercial planes, and if they know anything about genetics... they could actually cause a hybrid that could cause major damage, illness, and death..."
He continued:
"We gave them documentation because we wanted to keep this low key as to not really put a scare into the community to get something done about it without tipping off foreign countries as to how dangerous this really could be."
At that time they promised to look into the situation, but according to Mr. Haney, "nothing" came of this meeting.
"I tried to contact Alexandra Snyder - a couple of times- months later. The instructions coming out of the meeting were that I would be contacted if my assistance was needed or just to find out more information."
But he heard nothing again.
"I tried to call about three or four months later because I had not heard anything from them, to check up and do another review of it. From that point on there was no contact whatsoever with Dan Lungren. So as far as health and safety, as far as national security involvement, I have heard absolutely nothing."
"Bottom line is because nothing is happening. A logical thing is that if you have a real loophole in something as vital to America as homeland security and you see that it has immediate ramifications you first would investigate it to find out how true it is..."
But again, nothing came of this meeting and Ms. Snyder never returned Mr. Haney's calls.

The Vanguard made several attempts to speak with Alexandra Snyder before talking to the media spokesperson in Dan Lungren's Congressional office. Unfortunately, we have not heard back from them at the time of press, however, we will add their response if and when we receive it.


It is worth noting that on Congressman Lungren’s campaign website they talk about his record on issues of terrorism and national security:
“Two years ago, Congressman Lungren authored the Safe Port Act of 2006, which received widespread bi-partisan support and was ultimately signed into law. This law represented a significant step forward in strengthening our national security from terrorists, but it was just a start. As a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, Congressman Lungren has continued working with both Democrats and Republicans to strengthen our borders and pursue terrorists wherever they hide.”
It is unfortunate that the Congressman did not take a more proactive stance on what could really represent a serious threat to national security. When the terrorists of 9/11 attacked the United States they did not use conventional weaponry. Instead they were able to turn commercial aircraft into bombs.

What AgraQuest was allegedly doing was importing microbes into the United States through soil. That represents a potential threat on a number of levels. First, if they can slip soil into our country, others can do it. Second, if they can slip soil into our country, others can likely slip other things into our country. Are we really prepared for the level of ingenuity the next terrorist attack may take the form of? We were not prepared despite intelligence reports for 9/11. We worry about all sorts of things to do with national security and yet, when we see a glaring hole in our customs system, the first line of defense against a potential biological attack, it appears that our elected officials have done very little.

The Congressman can brag all he wants about working across party lines on strengthening our borders, but it appears he let a big potential issue slip right past him without adequate inquiry. That is a concern.

From the standpoint of Davis it is also a concern that AgraQuest, who apparently (stress on apparently) had no license during their early years was slipping foreign species of microbes into our community and then doing a number of genetic engineering and other manipulations on these microbes. All of this in the name of creating so called organic pesticides. Perhaps we ought to re-think what we call organic.

In the meantime, we remain concerned not only about the health of David Bell but the safety for our community and apparently for our nation. It is our hope that responsible leaders will look at this situation anew and plug whatever holes they need to in order to insure better security.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Guest Commentary: Measure N Opponents Speak Out Against City Charter

by Pam Nieberg, Nancy Price, Don Shor, Rick Entrikin

The City Council has placed on the November ballot a Charter, Measure N, for the City of Davis. We are being asked to make a fundamental change in how we are governed. Under a Charter, we are no longer subject to state laws and regulations that have served us and other California cities well for many years. Rather, we would be governed at the will of the council majority in all aspects that deal with municipal affairs.

Davis is a “General Law” city, governed by the general laws of the state. More than 75% of California’s cities are General Law cities. Fewer than 25 % are Charter Cities. Individual Charters vary in length, detail and scope of issues addressed. Most are detailed documents and were adopted to address specific problems or issues in the specific jurisdiction. The proposed City Charter, drafted by two members of the City Council, is one page, does not address any specific issue, contains vague language, and gives broad powers to only five elected officials.

The proponents claim a Charter would give more power to the people, but this is not borne out in the Charter language. The Charter specifically states in part:
“The City shall have all powers possible for a city to have under the Constitution and laws of the State of California as fully and completely as though they were specifically enumerated in this Charter. The City shall have the power to make and enforce all ordinances and regulations with respect to municipal affairs, subject only to restrictions and limitations provided for in this Charter, and with respect to other matters subject to applicable general laws. Concerning municipal affairs, this Charter shall supercede all inconsistent laws.” And “The legislative power of the City shall be vested in the City Council, and in the people through the power of initiative and referendum, as provided for in the California Constitution.”
Clearly, this language gives power to the City Council to adopt or abolish ordinances and regulations with no restrictions, as none are included in the Charter. Future amendments to the Charter itself would require a vote of the people. However, the Charter gives future councils the power to adopt ordinances without a vote of the people in certain instances where it is not currently allowed. The “power” given to the people, to resort to referenda and initiatives, is already our right. Moreover, this Charter contains no specific recommendations relevant to municipal affairs.

Because the Charter is non-specific, we cannot determine what its impacts might be. Many arguments for the Charter have been proposed including that it could allow us to adopt Choice Voting, establish an assessment district to finance solar infrastructure, levy certain types of taxes not permitted by State law, and protect current city land use provisions.

ORIGINAL GOAL: CHOICE VOTING. In 2006, the people of Davis approved an advisory vote to allow us to “consider” Choice Voting. There has been no substantive public discussion of Choice Voting since. Our city attorney has confirmed that if this Charter is adopted, the Council would have the power to implement Choice Voting without a further vote of the people. Such a fundamental change in how we elect our representatives requires a thorough discussion and should be a decision left to the people. This discussion should occur prior to adopting a Charter that would permit implementation of Choice Voting. The Charter should also contain language that clearly states that Choice Voting would be permitted and should provide enough information for the electorate to make an informed decision.

ASSESSMENT DISTRICTS AND TAXES: Charter City status is not necessary for establishing a solar installation assessment district. Prior to 2008, the use of Assessment Districts for this purpose was permitted only to Charter Cities. However, in 2008, the state enacted legislation that permits General Law cities to implement assessment districts to fund solar power infrastructure.

There also has been talk regarding assessing a new tax in the form of a property transfer tax. This type of tax is not permitted under state law, but has been adopted by some Charter Cities (though this has been challenged). A property transfer tax is a tax on the seller, and sometimes the buyer, upon the sale of real property. This tax would unfairly harm seniors, who want to sell and downsize or move to be near their children, as well as young families, who want to sell to move up in the market to a larger home. This tax and others not currently permitted under state law could be adopted if this Charter passes.

DEVELOPMENT AND PLANNING: Proponents have argued that the Charter could be used to protect our progressive growth policies in Davis. They have threatened that the State might decide at some point to overturn these policies, and that including them in the Charter would protect them. However, the State has the power in any case to pass laws that are “issues of statewide concern” that would govern all cities, whether Charter or General Law. Some proponents argue that we can use the Charter to protect Measure J (the right to vote on changes in land use from agricultural to urban uses) by amending the Charter to include it without a sunset clause, thereby protecting it permanently. We don’t need a Charter to do this. We can place Measure J, without a sunset, on the ballot right now, if we wish to permanently protect it.

CONCLUSION: The Council acted hastily in placing this on the ballot. Such a fundamental change in how we are governed requires a thorough public discussion on whether or not we want a Charter and what we want it to address. The proponents argue that once the Charter passes we could then have this public discussion. Shouldn’t we have this discussion first?

There is no compelling reason to change how we are governed in Davis. There has been no public movement to become a Charter City. The proponents of the Charter should start over and create an open, inclusive community-wide process to determine whether we want a Charter and then, if we agree, work with the people to produce a document that addresses specific public policy issues or community problems, not a vague, non-specific document that could result in serious consequences for our City.

Please join us in voting NO on Measure N.

Still Against Proposition 11 and So-called Re-Districting "Reform"

Early in the process this year, I came out against Proposition 11. However, a lot has happened since that point in time. With two weeks to go before the election, I thought I would re-examine my thoughts on the issue.

Proposition 11 in a nutshell would change the way that California draws its districts every ten years for setting the geographic boundaries of the state's 120 legislative and four Board of Equalization districts. Under current law, that task falls to the state legislature. If Proposition 11 passes, it would give that power to a new 14-member commission. That commission must include five Democrats, five Republicans, and four from neither party.

Notably this would not include congressional districts.

The measure has pretty broad support across party lines with a variety of past and current elected officials, a number of both Democratic and Republican club organizations, and a number of interest groups on both sides.

Some of the groups supporting it are: Common Cause, AARP, Los Angeles Chamber, League of Women Voters, ACLU of Southern California, California Police Chiefs Association, among many others.

Prominent officials include Governor Schwarzenegger, Former Controller Steve Westly, Former Governor Gray Davis, Former Congressman Leon Panetta, Former Senate Republican Leader Jim Brulte, Former Speaker Robert Hertzberg, Davis' Assemblywoman Lois Wolk, among a number of others.

And the editorial boards of many of California's biggest newspapers: Los Angeles Times, San facisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, San Diego Union Tribune, Orange County Register, Fresno Bee, and the Stockton Record, again among others. Again you have liberal editorial boards and conservative ones.

With all of this said, I am still against this bill. As I thought through it last night, I realized, that as much as I have a reformist agenda in many ways, I do not have one with regards to voting reforms. Moreover, I think past voting reforms have created more harm than good.

Start with term limits. I think they have been an absolute disaster for California. They did not solve the problem of governance, it simply set loose a bunch of amateur legislators to control the 7th largest economy in the world. And as soon as those legislators actually learn the legislative process and how to write laws, they move on to the next branch of government.

That reform does two things, it vests power in elected and more permanent elements such as lobbyists and staffers. And it encourages promotion into ranks of government where the individuals have surpassed their skill. The result is that we get a rotating basis in the constitutional offices and it is far from clear that California is well-served by this.

I am also against the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution. There have only been a few times in history when an individual ever had a chance to run and win a third term. Ironically it happened more with the Republicans than the Democrats. Nevertheless, I think it is a horrible law because it effectively makes for a powerless, lame duck President which means there is a true executive only a short portion of time every eight years.

For both term limits and the 22nd Amendment, I believe the voters should have the right to vote for who they want. If they want to elect their representatives for life--let them. If the American People want to elect a President four times as they did with FDR, why stop them? I am really not concerned that America given the competitive system and the checks and balances we have will devolve into a tyranny based on allowing the public to select their leadership of their choosing. It is not as though these types of "reforms" have solved the problems.

I am against campaign finance reform. I see no evidence that the McCain-Feingold bill has slowed down the influence of money. I see no evidence that PACs exert less influence now than they did prior to that legislation. The same is true in California with Proposition 34. All that bill has done is make parties stronger with their ability to finance legislative campaigns.

It is ironic that Republicans now are decrying the death of campaign finance reform and public financing due to Barrack Obama raising $180 million last month. It was President Bush who set that in motion last year by raising around $200 million. Moreover, Barrack Obama actually raised most of this money from small donations. His average donation was $86. That's astounding. He has gotten over 3 million individual contributions. We want to encourage that kind of broad-based support, not discourage it.

It is in fact the death of public financing. And while public financing sounds like a good idea, it would be doomed as well unless we somehow passed a constitutional amendment that vested all power in the public financing system. And even then, I suspect monied interests would find loopholes.

What I would favor is instead what I favor for most things--full disclosure and transparency. And actually enforcing that fulll disclosure and transparency with real teeth.

Along those lines I think the initiative system is a particularly bad way to enact legislation. There are few laws, even ones that I have voted for, that were passed through initiative that actually worked well. So not only do I think that reform was a poor one, it is too easy for monied interests to get laws on the ballot and too difficult for the average citizen. Plus laws are complex and unless they are well-written they will devolve into unintended consequences.

And that is what I fear with Proposition 11. We seem to have a number of these supposed bipartisan panels selected various processes, and none of them appear to work particularly well.

Proposition 11 is a fairly complicated system and it is not altogether clear that this process would end up producing something that is better than what currently exists. Republicans seem to want it because they believe that the legislature is disproportionately Democratic compared to the state. I looked at the breakdown of the average Democratic vote statewide since 1996 and compared it to the legislative breakdown over the same period, and it is definitely stronger in the latter than the former, but not by as much as people might think.

Reformists such as Common Cause want to see competitive elections believing that they offer better representation. What is interesting is that you can argue the opposite is true as well. Let us say you have a roughly evenly split district. At any given time a large percentage of the population is going have someone representing them who does not fundamentally represent their values. Now let us suppose you have a district that is 70 to 80 percent of one party or another. That party will win 99% of time and more of those residents will have their views represented in the legislature. Which is a better system?

You want to argue that it breeds lack of accountability? Tell that to Carole Migden who lost her seat in the primary to Mark Leno. All that has happened is that you simply shift the place where accountability will occur.

You want to say it is rare for there to be a contested primary, that's fine, but realize that over 90% of incumbents in even marginally competitive seats win. Huge incumbency advantage. I am far from convinced that you are going to see a lot of incumbents go down in a system like this.

Bottom line is that both reformists and Republicans are going to be disappointed when the new system ends up being just like the old system.

I am tired of playing with the machinery of voting, believing somehow we can legislate our way into better governance. We cannot. Let us remove term limits, let us remove campaign finance reform, and all the voters to decide who should be in office. Real change will occur when citizens step up and say no more. And they do this from time to time. In 1994, the voters in the US tired of arrogant and corrupt Democratic leadership voted them out in record numbers.

In 2006, they reserved that election and voted the Democrats back in. This year, right now it appears, you will see large majorities for the Democrats in both houses of congress and probably a Democratic President. In 2004, that didn't even look possible.

Do not underestimate the voters. It does take big problems, but in the end the voters seem to handle those major changes just fine. We have had the current system in California for a long time, what in my opinion has made things worse is term limits and campaign finance. I am not about to put more restrictions on the current process.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Monday, October 20, 2008

Heystek, Souza, and Adler's Statements in Support of Measure N

On August 24, 2008, Davis Councilmember Lamar Heystek wrote a Guest Commentary for the Vanguard: "The Case For Home Rule for Davis."

Yesterday, Councilmember Heystek was joined by Councilmember Stephen Souza in the Davis Enterprise for their column on Measure N.

I have been critical of both their measure and the efforts to educate the public on this issue. However, I believe the public should gain all of the facts so that they can make an informed decision. For that reason I will give a full presentation of the points that the two current councilmembers make as well as the letter to the editor by former Mayor Jerry Adler.

Councilmembers Heystek and Souza argue that home rule allows for more local control and more efficient self-government.

They write:
"General law cities are bound by the state's general law, even with respect to municipal affairs. Charter cities are not. This means that a charter city has more home rule authority than a general law city because the charter city has more authority over municipal affairs."
This is the fundamental point that proponents of home rule, proponents of charter cities make--who should make the laws that govern a city--the city or the state legislature?

They argue that cities should make the laws that govern a city, stating:
"Now, as members of the Davis City Council, we believe the people of Davis should exercise their power and assert their municipal rights more fully under Measure N, the proposed city charter, which provides home rule for Davis."
Now in principal that sounds good, but what about in practice? In other words, what do we gain by having home rule?

The obvious one is choice voting. We cannot enact choice voting without being a charter city.
"Unfortunately, the current governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has vetoed Davis-friendly legislation such as Assembly Bill 1294, a bill unanimously endorsed by the City Council, that would have allowed general law cities like ours to decide for themselves whether to adopt choice voting for council elections. Gov. Schwarzenegger's ability to veto legislation that permits general law cities to govern themselves more fully stifles the city of Davis' progressiveness and ability to be on the cutting edge."
They move beyond choice voting as well. The next one is public electrical utilities.
"Several charter cities across the state provide for public electrical utilities, which Davis residents supported when they voted overwhelmingly in favor of Measures H and I in 2006. The prospect of providing electricity through a community facilities district for solar infrastructure financing makes public power an exciting possibility under charter city status."
They argue that choice voting would allow us the ability to be innovative without interference from the state legislature.
"Examples of our innovation to date include our agricultural mitigation, inclusionary housing and green building ordinances. However, the state may decide to legislate that general law cities like Davis cannot establish such high standards, rendering our own benchmarks meaningless. Measure N would allow Davis to codify and protect these laws in the charter if necessary."
But then they come back to general:
"The issue really isn't whether you support public electrical power (or choice voting or other ideas), but whether you support the notion that Davis shouldn't have to ask the legislators in Sacramento for permission to adopt such ideas. The latter issue, not the former, is the question that Measure N poses."
Actually, isn't the issue exactly about whether we support choice voting? This charter would not be before the voters without the issue of choice voting? Jerry Adler below even argues that's why this issue needs to come forth. So isn't that exactly the point?

At this point, if you are like me, you are saying, I don't mind the positive aspects of this program, but is there not a downside? Does not the City Council amass tremendous amount of power under this proposal--and does the charter as written provide the public in Davis with safeguards against such seizures of power by the city council?

Here is their response to this criticism:
"Some argue that the true beneficiary of power under a broadly drafted Measure N is the City Council, not the people at large. After all, on a weekly basis, the City Council makes most of the decisions on behalf of the people. We understand people's skepticism about what they consider the prospect of handing more powers to a City Council they may or may not agree with. However, just as the people of Davis have shown they possess the strength to override the council, they certainly have the strength to change the balance of power on the City Council at the ballot box every two years."
This is where I am not sure they have hit the point home. Here is an example for me. We have Measure J that allows us to vote on land use changes for proposed development outside our current boundaries. That does not mean I want a city council that puts 10 measure J votes on the ballot every two years. It takes time, energy, and resources to fight that battle. So just as I want checks and balances in congress so that every time we change party control in government we don't throw out our complete law books, the same applies for the city council. I want city council to have limited power to make major changes without voter approval and this seems to weaken those current protections by enabling the council to enact things by ordinance rather than by charter amendment. Now that is correctable in the charter proposal.

Their response to that is as follows:
"In fact, nothing prevents the people of Davis, either through their elected representatives or through the power of initiative, from actually downsizing and restricting municipal powers that otherwise could be granted through a charter. An example of this is Measure N's explicit ban on binding arbitration, a labor negotiation practice that has financially crippled city agencies such as that in San Luis Obispo."
Now they are putting the onus on the voters to limit power of the council rather than putting the burden elsewhere to expand the power of council. Write the law in such a way that the people can choose what innovations we want and I am likely going to be all for it, but as written now, it is too much power to give any council, not just one that I disagree with.

They address the issue of taxation:
"Speaking of finances, don't forget that any new tax measure under the charter would still be subject to the people, per Proposition 218. Our support for the charter does not come from a desire to impose taxes that we cannot levy now, considering the existence of current untapped mechanisms. Under general law, the city of Davis already has the power to levy a utility user's tax and increase its business license tax, but it hasn't."
I do not know if that is reassuring or not to the public. I will let some of the readers

The other sponsor of Measure N is former Davis Mayor Jerry Adler.

Here are a few key excerpts from his letter to the editor:
As a former City Council member signer of the ballot argument in favor of Measure N, the charter city proposal, I am especially interested in opposing opinions. Two such opinions recently appeared on this page.

One writer proclaimed that 'Measure N was prematurely and hastily placed on the ballot,' ignoring the facts that first in 1996 and again in 2005 two governance bodies strongly recommended in favor of a broad general language charter such as now proposed 'which allows the greatest flexibility for full exercise over the municipal affairs of the city. This means the minimum amount of detail in the charter.' Both reports have been discussed extensively by the council, the press and the community since 2005.

Both writers referenced choice voting, a matter not in the charter. The second writer opined that 'it appears to be a solution in search of a problem ....' Whether 'it' referenced choice voting, Measure N, or both is not clear.
He then cites the 2006 advisory vote on Measure L which without opposition polled about 55% and the fact that choice voting cannot be enacted without a charter.
"Ignored under any interpretation was the November 2006 majority advisory vote in favor of further consideration of a choice voting system. Any such system cannot be implemented or even seriously considered unless a broad general language charter is in place that allows enactment and any necessary amendments by ordinance."
And while he is correct on this point, the question that continues to emerge for me is why not enact both the charter and choice voting with one vote. More and more I just do not see there being a strong reason not to do so. If the rationale for putting Measure N on the battle is still Measure L, then let's keep them together.

Mr. Adler continues:
"Contrary to the first writer's dark hint 'about the wide implications of becoming a charter city,' there is no down side to adoption of the proposed charter."
That is a pretty sweeping statement by the former Mayor that ignores much of the discussion that has occurred on this blog laying out large concerns.

He lays out much like Councilmembers Souza and Heystek do, the upside, but his failure to consider even the possibility that there might be a downside, I think is a bit disingenuous. Reasonable people can disagree on these proposals, but there is always a downside to making changes, and that is true whether I agree or disagree with the proposals.

Later in the week, we will have some more guest commentary on this issue, for now this should be some good fodder for discussion.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

General Colin Powell's Endorsement of Barack Obama

There were rumors and speculation all week that Obama would get General Powell's endorsement, so it was not a tremendous surprised when that came to fruition. For the me the real surprise if you will, is the way he did went about doing it. Slowly, methodically, and thoroughly. He covered a wide area of issues and he took about seven minutes to do so.

The question everyone asks is what does it mean? One commentator said that generally endorsements do not mean much other than a brand name shortcut for voter information (it sounded like it came right out of the political science literature) that is inversely important to the prestige of the office. In other words, the higher the office, the less important the endorsement is. And I agree. I think endorsements for school board and city council candidates are far more important precisely because people have so much less information about the candidates.

We pay attention to newspaper endorsements as a sign as to how the candidate is doing less than a belief that a newspaper endorsement is really going to convince someone to vote one way or another.

The Colin Powell endorsement is different. First, Powell is one of those figures in American public life that seems to transcend partisanship. He is respected across the board except perhaps by the hard left. For that reason, his reputation is unimpeachable and in response you did not see Republicans yesterday able to discredit him or even attempt to. That's telling.

Second, his words were powerful and they help convince those voters on the bubble to take a chance on Obama. If you are concerned about Obama's foreign policy experience, Powell re-assures you. If you are concerned that Obama is risky and inexperienced, Powell reassures you.

Finally, any time you get an endorsement from the other side of the aisle it is a measure of how things are going for your campaign.

All of that would be true is Gen. Powell had opened his mouth to say he was voting for Barack Obama and nothing else.

But he did not stop there. His words are devastating if you are the Republicans or John McCain. He has known McCain for 25 years, he is a friend of John McCain, he supported John McCain a year ago. And now he is supporting Barack Obama.

For me, there is so much that we could focus on of what he said, but I think there are really two statements that stand out above all else and he gets into William Ayers, his judgment of selecting Sarah Palin, his demeanor during the time of economic crisis, the tone of the campaign, etc.

For me it was when he talked in plain terms about the Muslim charge, that is what I thought was powerful.

Gen. Powell says:
"I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim."
This is the point I made last week. Powell makes is stronger and more credibly than I could.
"Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian."
This is where John McCain stopped, but Powell makes the same point I did.
"But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, "He's a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America."
And if that were not strong enough as a statement, General Powell hammers it home in a way that really made you feel that the General means every single word he said. This was not a gut decision, this was a well-thought out statement about America and the America that this hero in our country wants to see.
"I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards--Purple Heart, Bronze Star--showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way. And John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know. But I'm troubled about the fact that, within the party, we have these kinds of expressions."
I am tired of anti-Muslim bigotry in this country. I am tired with the implication that if Obama is a Muslim, which he is not, that he must be associated with terrorists. There are Muslims who have fought and died for this country, who heeded the 9/11 call just as much as Christians and just as much as Jews and just as much a many Americans across all walks of life. John McCain is not a bigot, but John McCain did not get it either when the woman accused Obama of being an Arab and McCain said no he's not, he's a decent person. That's not the right answer, Gen. Powell's answer is.

Kareem Khan is a war hero with a bronze star and a purple heart and he was an American and he was a Muslim.

But that was not enough for General Powell. The line that the electorate is likely to hear for the next week's is the line about Barack Obama being a "transformational figure."

Here's the full excerpt:
"So, when I look at all of this and I think back to my Army career, we've got two individuals, either one of them could be a good president. But which is the president that we need now? Which is the individual that serves the needs of the nation for the next period of time? And I come to the conclusion that because of his ability to inspire, because of the inclusive nature of his campaign, because he is reaching out all across America, because of who he is and his rhetorical abilities--and we have to take that into account--as well as his substance--he has both style and substance--he has met the standard of being a successful president, being an exceptional president. I think he is a transformational figure. He is a new generation coming into the world--onto the world stage, onto the American stage, and for that reason I'll be voting for Senator Barack Obama."
Two other quick points. Powell gives Obama cover on the military issue:
"I have watched him over the last two years as he has educated himself, as he has become very familiar with these issues. He speaks authoritatively. He speaks with great insight into the challenges we're facing of a military and political and economic nature. And he is surrounding himself, I'm confident, with people who'll be able to give him the expertise that he, at the moment, does not have. And so I have watched an individual who has intellectual vigor and who dives deeply into issues and approaches issues with a very, very steady hand. And so I'm confident that he will be ready to take on these challenges on January 21st."
Finally the issue of race. This is where I really got angry with Pat Buchanan yesterday. Buchanan implied that this was simply about race. I do not believe anyone who knows Gen. Powell believes that.

Brokaw to his credit asked the question because it needed to be addressed strongly and Gen. Powell did just that.
"If I had only had that in mind, I could have done this six, eight, 10 months ago."
Then he really nailed it.
"I can't deny that it will be a historic event for an African-American to become president. And should that happen, all Americans should be proud--not just African-Americans, but all Americans--that we have reached this point in our national history where such a thing could happen. It will also not only electrify our country, I think it'll electrify the world."
I have seen many endorsements, I am not sure I have seen such powerful testimony on a wide array of issues from someone as respected as Gen. Powell. This endorsement will matter. It dominated the news cycle yesterday and will likely dominate again today. And it provides people on the bubble with a reason to vote for Obama. I cannot think of a stronger statement or a more powerful messenger.

For those who have not seen it, here is the video of it:

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Enterprise Opposes Measure N Due to Lack of Information

I was originally going to write about the Enterprise Endorsement and then cover the Op-Ed by Councilmembers Stephen Souza and Lamar Heystek and a letter to the editor by former Councilmember Jerry Adler all in Support of Measure N. However, I will hold off on the latter until later in the week as it deserves its own story.

This morning's Davis Enterprise has come out against Measure N. And for a very simple reason:
"Davis doesn't have enough information to decide in favor of Measure N."
Furthermore, they suggest:
"Could there be any worse time for Measure N than the Nov. 4 ballot?

Our attention is being pulled in myriad - and important - different ways, by a riveting presidential campaign, a plethora of statewide ballot measures, a handful of key local races and a critical school parcel tax."
This has been one of my concerns about both Measure N and Measure W. The voters have been swamped on the ballot. The main focus of most voters has been the Presidential Election. However, at least with Measure W, the public has seen a slew of articles and op-eds over the last few months. Moreover, last spring, everyone was aware of the condition of our schools.

While I agree with both points, and I certainly agree that the public has had its attention pulled in a number of different and important directions. And yet, if the Davis Enterprise wants to argue that the public does not have enough information about Measure N, are they not themselves partly to blame here?

How many articles has the Davis Enterprise run on Measure N? One on the measure itself on October 14--that was this week if you are keeping score at home.

Prior to that there was a single letter on October 8 to the Editor on Measure entitled: "We need more info; vote no on N." Peggy Epstein writes:
"The Davis voting public ought to be better informed about the wide implications of becoming a charter city before we vote to become one. In the meantime, I recommend a no vote on Measure N."
Prior to the October 14, 2008 article in the Enterprise, the last article on the charter was July 16, when the councilmembers voted to put it on the ballot. There was also an article on June 25, 2008.

So in the last almost six months, the Davis Enterprise has had exactly three articles on the issue. So maybe if the public is uninformed about the charter, they ought to put at least some of the blame on their themselves for failing to inform the public.

Why did the Enterprise spend so little time on this issue? Back in July, I was concerned with some of the possible consequences of the charter city proposal and implored a reporter for the Enterprise to cover it a bit more. The thought back then was that there was a lack of interest in the issue itself.

However, our story on the ballot language in mid-August drew 45 comments and some heated debates. Even more so in late August with Councilmember Lamar Heystek's op-ed. Still the Enterprise did not cover the issue despite clear interest at least by those who read this blog.

All of this said, one cannot put all of the criticism for the lack of information on the Davis Enterprise, though clearly there was not nearly enough coverage on an issue that has the potential to fundamentally change this city.

I also put the onus on the sponsors.

I mentioned this issue earlier this week, and I repeat it now. The decision to divorce the charter city proposal from the choice voting proposal was an error in my view. Why? In 2006, there was Measure L, an advisory vote about choice voting on the ballot. It drew a groundswell of support and had a large grassroots organization behind it.

Now as one of the sponsors of Measure N recently told me, many of those people were UC Davis students who have since moved on. And I appreciate that. Nevertheless the energy came from that issue and when the charter city issue was separated it seemed to sap the young energy for this change. Subsequently, I do not see the movement afoot.

This decision was made in part to gain the support of Mayor Ruth Asmundson who was willing to support a charter on the ballot but not choice voting. That gained council a 4-1 vote, but one has to wonder at least whether the measure would be stronger and have more energy with choice voting attached to it.

Second problem, this measure seems like a rushed job to get it on the ballot. Now let me explain because as the sponsors will rightly counter this measure is two years in the making. However, I would have liked to have seen a bunch of higher profile outreach meetings back in the spring with the likely ballot initiative that could have been explained fully to the public. There did not seem to be enough community discussion on this measure.

Furthermore, where is the Measure N campaign itself. I have received to this point in time no literature on Measure N. No phone calls. No door-to-door people. I even have the luxury of having both a permanent absentee voter and a vote on election day voter in my household so we get the early literature and the late literature. Nothing.

The bottom line here is that the public is not informed on this issue, the Davis Enterprise is correct about that and they are correct that that is a reason why this measure should not pass. Not the only reason as we have discussed earlier this week. However, if that is the indictment, I would like to see the Davis Enterprise take responsibility for failing to do their part to educate the public on this issue. One article since July 16 (over three months ago) is not acceptable.

And yes they have a lot to cover, but they never seem to have a problem printing their fluff pieces, err human interest stories.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

ACORN Hype is Overblown

Listening to my conservative friends, they are all up in arms about ACORN, arguing that this massive voter fraud will cast doubt on the current election.

Presidential Candidate John McCain fanned those flames with probably the most hyperbolic statement on this campaign during the third debate:
"... ACORN, who is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy."
The greatest frauds in voter history?

Has Mr. McCain never read his history books? Does he not understand how elections used to work or shall we say, didn't work.

You have to allow a certain amount of leeway in campaign rhetoric, but even by that standard this is over-the-top and also false.

The greatest resource a voter has access to these days is a variety of Fact Check organizations. I like, they seem to be pretty non-partisan and they go after both sides with equal gusto. Given some of the arguments and claims that have been posted on this board, I recommend some of our readers get acquainted with Fact Check and other means of checking their facts before they repeat campaign rhetoric and rumors.

What I like about FACT CHECK is that they cite their sources as though they were an academic journal--that allows for transparency and review by the reader.

The summary by FactCheck on ACORN is revealing:
"The McCain-Palin campaign accuses ACORN, a community activist group that operates nationwide, of perpetrating "massive voter fraud." It says Obama has “long and deep” ties to the group. We find both claims to be exaggerated. But we also find Obama has understated the extent of his work with the group."
They conclude:
"Neither ACORN nor its employees have been found guilty of, or even charged with, casting fraudulent votes. What a McCain-Palin Web ad calls "voter fraud" is actually voter registration fraud. Several ACORN canvassers have been found guilty of faking registration forms and others are being investigated. But the evidence that has surfaced so far shows they faked forms to get paid for work they didn’t do, not to stuff ballot boxes."
Unfortunately, this is a fairly common phenomena. We had a similar case back in San Luis Obispo when a paid canvasser not only submitted fake registration forms, but harassed people into signing registration forms, did not allow opposition party registrants to register (which is illegal), and used voter information to stalk female co-eds and ask them out on dates.

The big problem with all such enterprises is the fact that the canvassers are paid by the number of registration forms. So the more forms they submit, they more money they got. In San Luis Obispo, a political party was paying the money and they only got paid when people registered that party, not the other party and not independent.

The incentive structure in that case creates part of the problem. Moreover you end up having people who need the money get those jobs rather than committed activists who will be more respectful of the process.

By all accounts this is what happened with ACORN.

Fact Check writes:
"So far ACORN itself has not been officially charged with any fraud. Aside from the heated charges and counter-charges, no evidence has yet surfaced to show that the ACORN employees who submitted fraudulent registration forms intended to pave the way for illegal voting. Rather, they were trying to get paid by ACORN for doing no work. Dan Satterberg, the Republican prosecuting attorney in King County, Wash., where the largest ACORN case to date was prosecuted, said that the indicted ACORN employees were shirking responsibility, not plotting election fraud.

Satterberg: [A] joint federal and state investigation has determined that this scheme was not intended to permit illegal voting.

Instead, the defendants cheated their employer, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (or ACORN), to get paid for work they did not actually perform. ACORN's lax oversight of their own voter registration drive permitted this to happen. ... It was hardly a sophisticated plan: The defendants simply realized that making up names was easier than actually canvassing the streets looking for unregistered voters. ...

[It] appears that the employees of ACORN were not performing the work that they were being paid for, and to some extent, ACORN is a victim of employee theft."
ACORN'S response:
"In its defense, ACORN says that only a few of its 13,000 paid canvassers turned in any faked forms. "[T]here are always some people who want to get paid without really doing the job, or who aim to defraud their employer," the group said in an Oct. 10 statement on its Web site. "Any large department store will have some workers who shoplift."
ACORN also says it cannot simply discard suspicious forms on its own, but is required by law in most states to submit to local election officials all the forms its canvassers bring in. ACORN's Whelan told us that its own legal counsel strongly advises that the group do the same in states that don't explicitly require it, because "only election officials are legally able to determine the validity of a voter registration application." But ACORN says that it first flags all suspicious registrations. Staffers call the phone numbers written on completed registration forms to make sure they're valid and also take note of incomplete or duplicate forms. The group says that it alerts election officials to forms that look fishy when it sends them in."

FactCheck questions whether those procedures were followed by ACORN in several states. Moreover, ACORN accuses officials who are looking into some of these charges as engaging in voter suppression.
"While ACORN says that such raids are part of "a systematic partisan agenda of voter suppression," it is worth noting that in this case, Secretary of State Miller (from Nevada) is a Democrat."
What is clear then is that while ACORN itself is not trying to defraud the voting system, they are simply not doing enough to stop the problems and that is contributing to that perception by the public and giving fodder to people like John McCain.
"Prosecutor Satterberg wrote: "We believe that ACORN’s internal quality control procedures were not just deficient but entirely non-existent when it came to the latter stages of their operation in Tacoma." He fined the group $25,000 for failing to exercise sufficient oversight."
The next question is Obama's ties to ACORN, and FactCheck finds there are a bit more than Obama has let on but not as much as McCain claims.
"The [McCain campaign] ad says that "Obama's ties to ACORN run long and deep" – that he "taught classes" for the group, paid a "front" $800,000 for get-out-the-vote efforts, and was endorsed by ACORN for president. That last one's true – ACORN's political action committee did offer an Obama endorsement. It's also true that Obama has worked with the group in the past."
Here are a few of the ties and you can decide:
  • In 1995, Obama helped represent ACORN in a successful lawsuit to require the state of Illinois to offer "motor voter" registration at DMV offices. (This is the one he claims is his only tied to the organization. But Fact Check finds more ties, albeit indirect).

  • After law school, Obama directed a Chicago registration drive for Project Vote, which works closely with ACORN. And when Obama was on the board of directors of the Woods Fund, the foundation gave grants of $75,000 in 2001 and $70,000 in 2002 to ACORN's Chicago office. The McCain campaign and the Republican National Committee cite an additional grant of $45,000 in 2000. The Woods Fund has not responded to our calls about their 2000 grants.

  • The Obama campaign also paid Citizens Services Inc., a group affiliated with ACORN, more than $800,000 for get-out-the-vote (not voter registration) efforts during the primary election.
"Neither ACORN's Chicago office nor CSI has been accused of voter registration irregularities."
Overall, I think ACORN's problems are partially of their own making but the nature of them has been both exaggerated and distorted by political rhetoric.

If there is a problem it is once again with the notion of using paid canvassers. I have a similar problem with paid canvassers used to put propositions on the ballot. Voter registration is important, but paid canvassers are tantamount to mercenaries, people with no true convictions in it for money rather than public service. The system begs for this kind of problem to develop.

Now there is a way to avoid that problem in the future and that is for the organization to have very strict rules and guidelines and to properly administer and enforce them. And they simply have not done it.

But this is not voter fraud. Registering Dallas Cowboy's quarterback Tony Romo to vote in Nevada is not going to lead someone to fraudulently vote there. It is not going to lead to fraudulent votes being caste. It is simply an effort by paid canvassers to get paid for work they did not do. That's a problem alright, it is a waste of time and energy in the elections office and thievery of ACORN, but it is not going to destroy the fabric of our democracy.

---David M. Greenwald reporting