Tom’s Garden

Growing by the Bay

Category: politics

Governor says “screw SF”

I’m back from vacation, just in time to find that governor Arnold has sent a not very subtle message to the city by the bay, and the California legislature. As reported in the Guardian’s online site, the governor sent the following letter accompanying his veto of a bill sponsored by SF Assemblyman Tom Ammiano that would have strengthened the financing of the Port of San Francisco.

To decipher the governor’s real message, read the first letters of each line of the two main paragraphs.

I long for the day we have a grown-up person in the governor’s office.

How much income would legalizing marihuana bring to California?

Rebecca Cathcart, writing in today’s NYT about Gov. Schwarzenegger calling for a study of legalizing marijuana in California, says:

Sales could raise $1.2 billion to $1.34 billion in annual tax revenue, some estimates say.

But that would be little salve for the state’s deficit, which could reach $20 billion in 15 months if ballot initiatives proposed by the governor do not pass….

But surely the economic consequences of legalizing marijuana are more complex that just straight tax revenue on direct sales. Two consequences that come immediately to mind:

This is why the governor is acting sensibly (for once) in calling for a study.

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image via celebrity-cash.com.

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Begin Obama

Some pranksters civic-minded individuals replaced street signs for Bush Street in the city with Obama signs.

begin obama st., san francisco

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Image from Dawn Endico’s photostream

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Willie Brown on political ethics

Recently Willie Brown offered his take on the Blagojevich scandal. He writes:

Take Caroline Kennedy, who looks like she’s in line to get Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Senate seat in New York. If she goes to the governor, David Paterson, and tells him, “I’m Caroline Kennedy, and I have distinguished myself. And I am able to raise a ton of money” – and he appoints her – is there a quid pro quo if she then goes and raises money for him?

I’m not sure. But I do know that those are the kinds of things that come up in discussions about whether a politician will or won’t appoint someone to a job.

It’s surprising that Brown professes to be so unclear on the ethics of political appointments after his long political career. In the example he presents to explain his apparent uncertainty about this, a potential appointee offers the ability to raise money not for an individual’s personal gain but for a political campaign. Is this a gray area? Maybe. But calling a possibly off-white area gray does not make a completely wrong one right. Yet Brown maintains of Bragojevich’s actions that they are “all part of the democratic system. Whether Blagojevich went beyond that is open to question.”

Certainly legal guilt carries a greater burdon of proof than does guilt in the court of public opinion. But Blagojevich, if the transcripts that have been made public are accurate, appears to have be looking for money to go directly to himself and his family. It’s interesting that Willie Brown would attempt to blur the boundary between this and the Caroline Kennedy fundraising example above.

Brown has always appeared to have an uncomfortable relationship with President Elect Obama. Is it a coincidence that Zennie Abraham is saying at Oakland Focus that Obama outed Blagojevich?

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Video: War protest, 1967

This newsreel footage documents 1967 antiwar in San Francisco and elsewhere.

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Mayor Newsom’s press conference on California Supreme Court marriage ruling

I went over to City Hall over my lunch hour today and caught the press conference and celebration over the Supreme Court’s ruling that marriage does not depend on sexual orientation. I recorded some parts with my cell phone’s video — the quality is not the best but some of the spirit of the event might come through.

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“Raging Controversy” at the Goldman Awards

goldman awards

Yesterday I attended the Goldman Environmental Prize Awards, as I have done most years since sometime in the early 1990s. The event is held in the city’s beautiful War Memorial Opera House, with a reception afterward at City Hall. The award honors grassroots environmental activists from around the world with a cash prize of $150,000. According to Nancy Pelosi, the award is “on a par with the Nobel Peace Prize in terms of its recognition of courage and brilliance in protecting our environment.”

This year two of the winners were lawyer Pablo Fajardo Mendoza and community organizer Luis Yanza, both of Ecuador, who are suing Chevron to clean up oil contamination in the Amazon rain forest. This region is one of the world’s most contaminated sites, and residents report a large number of health problems and deaths that appear related to the contamination.

But the selection of the Ecuadorans for the prize has again highlighted the journalistic deficiencies of our local daily, whose declining circulation can be no surprise. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, in an article headlined (not very grammatically) “Controversy Mires Choice for Goldman Prize,” recognition of the Ecuardorans has created “a raging controversy.”

Which is the Chronicle‘s way of saying that Chevron held a press conference to express opposition to the activists who were suing the corporation. After all, according to Chevron general counsel Charles James, even if the environmental activists win in Ecuadoran courts “their ability to enforce this is going to be very limited.”

Well, sure it’s going to be limited. If Chevron was a country it would be much bigger and more powerful than Ecuador. So I guess the message is might makes right, no matter what the human and environmental consequences.

Is this really a “raging controversy”?

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Protest of Olympic torch in San Francisco

The following is an AP news story. The role of politics has dogged the Olympics almost since its founding. The 1936 games in Berlin, the 1968 games in Mexico City, and the 1972 games in Munich are a few notable instances.

SAN FRANCISCO — Tibetan immigrants protesting Chinese control of the Himalayan region vowed on March 10 to make San Francisco, the only U.S. city to host the Olympic torch relay, the focal point of American demonstrations against the Beijing Games.

The protesters chanting “Olympics in China, Torture in Tibet” and “Truth is our only weapon,” and some wiping away tears while singing the Tibet national anthem, also called on Mayor Gavin Newsom to reject the April 9 torch run and urged city officials to pass a resolution calling on China to improve conditions for Tibetans in their homeland.

Newsom’s spokesman, Nathan Ballard, said the mayor was deeply concerned about human rights in Tibet, but believed the Olympics was not the forum to address political issues.“It’s important to remember that the Olympic spirit is one of international harmony and goodwill, and it transcends politics,” Ballard said. “In this spirit, San Francisco is proud to be the only North American city to host the Olympic torch relay.”

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San Francisco Chronicle endorses Obama

Here is what the Chronicle says about their choice:

The American political system needs a period of reprieve and renewal.

It needs a reprieve from a White House that draws power from fear, sneers at any science that gets in the way of corporate or theocratic missions and stubbornly adheres to policies that leave the nation sinking in debt and mired in war. It craves a reprieve from the politics of bloodsport that prize clever calculation over courage, winning over principle, party label over national interest.

The renewal must come from a president who can lead by inspiration, who can set partisanship aside to define and achieve common goals, who can persuade a new generation of Americans that there is something noble and something important about public service.

There is no doubt about the Democrat with the vision and skills to bring that period of reprieve and renewal. It is Sen. Barack Obama.

As is often the case in a heavily contested primary, the relatively modest policy differences among the candidates have become magnified and inflamed beyond all due perspective. For example, Obama, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. John Edwards have pledged to expand health coverage, albeit with somewhat different approaches. Obama’s is certainly the most cautious, though perhaps the most realistic, considering that any overhaul of the health care system would require buy-in from at least some Republicans and myriad business interests that would be affected by such landmark federal regulation.

All three have vowed to phase out the U.S. military presence in Iraq. Obama, however, stands alone in his opposition to the invasion at the outset. Clinton and Edwards each voted to give President Bush the authorization to use military force against Saddam Hussein. Edwards acknowledges his mistake, Clinton parses the meaning of the resolution. It was Obama’s instincts that proved sound.

Clinton, who arrived in the U.S. Senate four years before Obama, has tried to make experience the issue. As senator, she has proved skillful at representing diverse New York interests and working with Republicans. But if she wants to highlight her White House experience as a defining difference, then it’s only fair to point out that two of the projects she was most deeply involved with produced a debacle (health care) and scandals (fund raising). Especially in recent days, her campaign has shown the sharp elbows that evoke the ugly underside of the Clinton years, and the (Karl Rove inspired) Bush years that succeeded them: the reflex to scorch the Earth, to do what is necessary to vanquish political adversaries … all is justified if you are left standing at the end.

America deserves better than these cycles of vengeance and retribution. Its possibilities are too great, its challenges too daunting, for partisan pettiness.

In a Jan. 17 meeting with our editorial board, Obama demonstrated an impressive command of a wide variety of issues. He listened intently to the questions. He responded with substance. He did not control a format without a stopwatch on answers or constraints on follow-up questions, yet he flourished in it.

He radiated the sense of possibility that has attracted the votes of independents and tapped into the idealism of young people during this campaign. He exuded the aura of a 46-year-old leader who could once again persuade the best and the brightest to forestall or pause their grand professional goals to serve in his administration.

Of all the candidates who talk about change, Barack Obama has made the case most forcefully and most convincingly. He gets our endorsement for the Democratic nomination.

Donors to secret nonprofit revealed

“Secret” and “nonprofit” are words that should not appear together. But the donors who have been financing Arnold Schwartzenegger’s jets and luxury suites have until recently somehow managed to keep their names private (despite nonprofit disclosure laws).

The donors receive tax breaks because their donations are made to an organization with nonprofit status. According to the Los Angeles Times, “the governor’s aides and the foundation say the arrangement takes a financial burden off taxpayers while allowing Schwarzenegger to serve as an ambassador for the state. Watchdog groups contend it has the potential to allow moneyed donors to wield undue influence without public scrutiny.”

Among the donors whose names were recently revealed is Don Fisher, founder of the Gap clothing stores, who is attempting to create a museum in San Francisco’s Presidio for his personal art collection.

LINK:
Donors to secret nonprofit named – Los Angeles Times

Send in the tugs!

How can we prevent another catastrophic spill in the San Francisco Bay? Oil is bad enough but there are also vessels carrying chemical cargo that could potentially require the evacuation of most of the Bay Area if released in a spill.

One suggestion has been to require double hulls on cargo ships. This is a fine idea, but I don’t know if the Bay Area has the clout to bring about the retooling of the entire worldwide fleet of vessels.

Rep. George Miller (a rather sensible fellow for a politician) has said that requiring cargo ships to have escort boats, stockpiling cleanup equipment more broadly across the Bay Area or spending hundreds of millions of dollars to remove hazardous underwater rocks should also be considered.

Put me down at least in favor of the escort boat proposal. This is a really good idea, which would go far to eliminate the danger of spills in the bay. Now, I heard a representative of the shipping industry complain that this would be prohibitively expensive. Right, and the auto industry said we could never afford seat belts or shatterproof windshields either.

Think about it. These enormous vessels are carrying cargo like, for example, huge fleets of Priuses destined for dealerships all around the bay. You think there’s any money in that? They can afford a tug to guide them through the bay, for goodness sake. And this would help to provide employment for our local watermen.

The tug escort plan is one that really must be enacted. Right now. I only hope the lobbyists don’t get to Arnold before it can get done.

Resignation

rolling headsIn one of the more Byzantine maneuvers in local politics recently, San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom has requested that all city department heads and commission appointees submit their resignations so he can decide whom to reappoint after the January election (in which he appears to face no serious challenger). According to the Bay Guardian — which asserts that Newsom’s request was a spur-of-the-moment decision (the Chronicle says that Newsom was discussing the plan nearly a year ago) — “a review of more than 200 letters received by the mayor office shows many city officials nearly begging keep their jobs, others terse, others choosing careful language to protect their rights and jobs, others defiant, others groveling with praise for Newsom.”

Some letters were certainly written more effectively than others. In the Chronicle Cecilia M. Vega notes that “Ron Miguel, a member of the Golden Gate Park Concourse Authority, mentioned in his letter that he has spoken with various members of Newsom’s staff to offer his services, including Alex Tourk — who resigned in January as the mayor’s campaign manager after Newsom admitted to having an affair with Tourk’s wife.

Chris Daly has written to the city attorney, saying he is “interested in the legal definition of ‘acceptance’ and any provisions that allow the Mayor to ‘accept’ or not ‘accept’ resignations and/or resignation offers. If these provisions exist, how would this acceptance or non-acceptance be exercised?”

The move is not unprecedented — Art Agnos did something similar — but it has rarely or ever been exercized so extensively. What’s it all about?

  • BeyondChron, speculates that the mayor is trying to raise campaign funds, by encouraging nervous managers to contribute money to his campaign.
  • Randy Shaw, also at BeyondChron, hopes that a housecleaning will revitalize the Housing Authority.
    UPDATE: Gregg Fortner, the executive director of the Housing Authority, refuses to resign. (And Nathaniel Ford, the head of Muni, wrote that his resignation was “not voluntary and if accepted by you will be interpreted as a Termination for Convenience pursuant to … my Employment Agreement.”)
  • Cecilia M. Vega (cited above) reports that “city insiders speculate that Newsom has a short list of names he specifically wants to see resign. High on the list, city sources say, is Police Chief Heather Fong, a Newsom appointee who heads the Police Department amid rising homicide rates and whose low-key leadership style has been criticized. City sources also said commissioners who have publicly strayed from the administration’s message can also expect to have their resignations accepted. In May, police commissioner Joe Alioto Veronese, a Newsom appointee, went against Newsom’s wishes and cast the swing vote to install a new Police Commission president.”
  • But San Francisco PartyParty says that “Gavin ain’t firing no minorities, even if they are important scapegoats,” so he “isn’t going to fire Chief Fong … instead he is going to ‘not not accept her resignation.’”
  • Meanwhile, KGO notes that the move is not exactly businesslike. “Shareholders would not like to hear that an entire cross section of the management of a company is replaced — that creates chaos, it creates uncertainty,” said Professor Eugene Muscat, University of San Francisco.

Amid all the speculation, Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, noting that “It would be more efficient to fire the folks who are not performing to the standards of the administration rather than putting everybody though this painful exercise,” may have made the most sense.


Image from Realonomics


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Rummy at Stanford

nob hill, 1902, with leland stanford and mark hopkins mansions

Most people think of the Bay Area as a hotbed of liberalism. Which it is. But the region was also host to a passel of robber barons. Several of these immensely wealthy industrialists settled on a hill overlooking downtown San Francisco — “the symbolic nexus of all old California money and power,” as Joan Didion called it — which consequently became known as Nob Hill.

One of these was Leland Stanford, president of the Central Pacific Railroad and founder of the university that bears his name (actually, the name of his son, Leland Stanford, Jr., who died of typhoid in Florence, Italy, as a teenager). At the time Stanford built his Nob Hill mansion it was the largest private residence in the state. In the image above, from 1902, it is the large building at the center top; the Mark Hopkins mansion is the turreted building to its left.

During the early 1860s Stanford served as governor of California. Ironically, for one who made his money from the railroads, in his inaugural speach he promised to protect the state from “the dregs of Asia.”

No one would deny that Stanford is an excellent school. Still, the legacy of the robber barons has not completely disappeared. Now the same school that gave us Condoleezza Rice is welcoming Donald Rumsfeld as a visiting fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution.

According to the institution’s director, John Raisian, Rumsefeld will participate in a task force devoted to world peace.

UPDATE, 26 Sept. 07: Jon Carroll calls for Rumsfeld to be shunned.

Secret List of Buildings You Can’t Photograph

bay bridge, san francisco

I took this photo of the Bay Bridge from the Ferry Building. But a while ago when my daughter was at the Ferry Building she was accosted by a security guy as she was shooting pictures. I suppose much of my photography is travel photography, whereas Ellen is more of an art photographer. So she might shoot unusual subjects, sometimes from odd perspectives. In this case she appears to have pointed her camera the wrong way, because a security guy grabbed her and tried to intimidate her with a a lot of questions. Then he took her to his supervisor, and together they continued the interrogation, which ended with them taking down a lot of her personal information.

Well, it turns out the Department of Homeland Security has a secret list of buildings that must not be photographed — but they won’t release the list. Marc Fisher quotes a police chief in the Washington Post:

I am certainly not implying that a person taking photographs is inherently “suspicious,” but when the appearance is that the subject of a photograph is a government installation, officers have a duty to ensure the safety of the occupants of this structure.

To which Fisher replies:

Hmmm. Any government installation? This overly broad approach to security is why we end up with ridiculous horror stories about innocent tourists getting hassled for taking photos of the Lincoln Memorial or the Department of the Interior … utterly ignoring the fact that the Soviet empire collapsed under the weight of its own paranoid security apparatus….

LINKS
Boing Boing
Washington Post

Spat among SF Political Bloggers

So SF bloggers are dumping wine and beer on each other now, over, um, Gavin Newsom’s hair … or something … I dunno. It all smacks of desperation for attention.

You could get the full story here. But why bother?

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