Sunday, October 30, 2016

California Propositions 60-67

Continuing with the topic of my last blog, here are my recommendations for the rest of this year's California's statewide propositions.

61 YES State Prescription Drug Purchases. Prohibits any state agency from paying more for a prescription drug from a drug manufacturer than the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs pays. This would especially impact Medi-Cal, the Public Employees Retirement System, Department of Corrections, University of California, California State University and State Hospitals, which combine for over $3.7 billion in prescription drug purchases a year. There's been a lot of negative advertising on this, in fact, as of now $108 million of it. And almost every dime of that comes from the out-of-state pharmaceutical industry led by Merck and Pfizer. Or you can believe Bernie Sanders,  AARP and the California Nurses Association, who say this measure will save the state and California citizens hundreds of millions of dollars. I have a pretty good idea who's looking out for average people and who's out to protect their outrageous profit margins. Vote yes.

62 YES Replaces the Death Penalty with Life without the Possibility of Parole. Get rid of the barbaric and unequal death penalty once and for all.

63 YES Firearms and Ammunition Sales. Includes a number of common-sense public safety provisions without compromising any Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens. Individuals will have to pass a background check to buy ammunition, magazines will be limited to ten rounds, persons convicted of stealing a firearm will not be able to own one, requires that lost or stolen firearms or ammunition be reported to law enforcement and requires the California Department of Justice to report prohibited persons to the National Instant Criminal Background check system. What's not to like?

64 YES Marijuana Legalization. Legalizes marijuana sales to persons over 21 and imposes 15% excise tax and state cultivation taxes of $9.25 per ounce, establishes licensing and labeling requirements, prohibits marketing to minors. I'm no advocate of marijuana, but the prohibition strategy doesn't work. It's better to take the profits away from organized crime. Countries such as Portugal and Sweden that have legalized drugs and used some of the revenues for counseling and treatment have seen usage levels substantially decline.

65 NO Revenue from Plastic Bags. This is a plastic bag manufacturer smokescreen proposition meant to confuse and distract voters from voting for Proposition 67, which would prohibit the free provision of single-use bags by grocery stores. If both pass, the one that gets the most votes would go into effect. If you care about the environment, vote for Prop 67 instead.

66 NO Death Penalty. Would limit petitions and challenges in death penalty cases with the object of shortening the process and carrying out more executions. Reject this barbaric initiative.

67 YES Supports the Ban on Single-Use Plastic or Paper Grocery Bags.  Passage would uphold SB 270, which banned the provision of single-use bags at grocery and specific other stores. Would permit the sale of reusable bags for at least 10 cents per bag. Each year 15 billion single-use bags are distributed to Californians, 400 per person. 150 cities and counties have already stopped this practice, and the legislature has made the ban statewide with Senate Bill 270. This is an issue because many of these bags wind up in the ocean to ensnare or sicken marine life; others are ingested by birds and animals, choking them or clogging their digestive tracts. If you care about wildlife and the environment vote yes on 67 and no on 65.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

California Propositions 51-59

California has a dizzying array of 17 statewide ballot propositions this year. Here are my recommendations on the first 9 of these measures.

51 YES School Bonds for K-12 and Community College Facilities. $9 billion in total includes $3 billion for K-12 construction, $3 billion for K-12 modernization, $2 billion for Community College facilities, $500 million for career technical education facilities and $500 million for charter school facilities. California has 6.2 million K-12 and 2.1 million community college students. It takes substantial investment every few years to keep up with that. Vote yes.

52 YES Medi-Cal Hospital Fee Program. Extends current fee on hospitals that brings in $3 billion in matching money from the Federal Government to California to fund medical services for 6.7 million children, 1.6 million seniors and 4.5 million low-income families. Endorsed by both the Democratic and Republican Parties, this is a no-brainer.

53 NO Statewide Voter Approval  for Revenue Bonds. Would put even local bond measures, if over $2 billion, up for a statewide vote. It takes away local control of an area's own projects.

54 NO Legislative Procedures and Transparency. It sounds good but would hamstring the give and take of legislative compromise. Every time a comma is changed in a bill it would have to wait another 72 hours for a vote. Sponsored by conservative billionaire Charles Munger.

55 YES Tax Extension to Fund Education and Healthcare. Extends for 12 more years the 1 to three percent income tax increases passed in Prop 30 on high earners to safeguard school and healthcare funding. 1% applies to single filers at $263,000 and joint filers at $526,000; 3% starts for single filers at $526,000 and joint filers at $1,053,000. Remember when the state budget was $20 billion in deficit every year before Prop 30 passed? It's been in surplus ever since. We need to keep this in place.

56 YES $2 Per Pack Cigarette Tax Increase. Tax would go from .87 to 2.87 per pack. The additional revenue, projected to be between $1 billion and 1.4 billion, would go to Medi-cal (70%), Anti-Tobacco Education (10%), Disease research and physician training at the University of California (10%), and administration and enforcement (10%). Almost all the money against this proposition comes from tobacco companies.

57 YES Parole and Rehabilitation for Nonviolent Offenders. We need a prison system able to require rehabilitation and job skills for release, and the ability to offer incentives for nonviolent offenders to take rehabilitative steps and term extensions for those inmates who misbehave and refuse to complete rehabilitative steps. Read the safeguards in your voter pamphlet. The claims of opponents that murderers and rapists would be released are baseless.

58 YES English Proficiency and Multilingual Education.  Repeals 1998's Proposition 227 which mandated English-only instruction. Authorizes school districts to establish dual-language immersion programs as a path to English proficiency. Gives parents of students of limited English proficiency the option to have their children be taught solely in English. Research shows the bilingual approach is the most effective for fostering English proficiency; our educational practices ought to reflect this.

59 YES Citizens United Advisory Question. Asks California's elected officials to use their constitutional authority to propose and ratify an amendment to the federal Constitution overturning the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision that allows unlimited secret corporate money into our election system.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Democrats Poised to Take Control of Senate

Somewhat lost in the glare of the presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is the upcoming battle for control of the U.S. Senate. Democrats appear to have a strong chance to gain the upper hand. Republicans currently enjoy a 54-46 majority in the chamber. If, as seems increasingly likely, Clinton wins the White House, Democrats would need only a 50-50 tie to secure control. That's because the constitution directs that the Vice President serves as the official President of the Senate and that he casts the decisive vote in the event of a tie. So to wrest control away the Democrats need a net gain of four Senate seats this year.

The importance of the Senate to the next president cannot be overestimated. The Senate votes whether to confirm ambassadors, cabinet secretaries and all judicial appointments, for instance. With even a tie in the Senate, a new President Hillary Clinton could easily fill the existing and any future vacancies on the Supreme Court so long as the Democrats stayed unified. So, what are the prospects of the Democrats gaining four Senate seats on November 8? Here are the races to watch.

It looks as though 8 seats of the 34 up for a vote are in play this year with the potential to change parties. Seven Senate seats presently held by Republicans are vulnerable and one seat held by a Democrat is vulnerable. The three Republican seats facing the toughest challenges are Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana. The GOP is almost certain to lose all three.  In Illinois Tammy Duckworth has a 9.6% polling edge on Republican incumbent Mark Kirk. Projections wizard Nate Silver (his website is gives Duckworth an 89% chance of winning. In Wisconsin former Senator Russ Feingold (D) leads Sen. Ron Johnson (R) by 6.9% for the job Johnson took away from him in 2010. That advantage this late in the game gives Feingold an 88% chance of victory, according to 538. The Indiana race has former Sen. Evan Bayh (D) up by 3.1% in the polls over Todd Young (R), nominated by the GOP to hold the seat being vacated by the retiring Daniel Coats. Nate Silver gives Bayh a 66% probability of winning.

There are two other Republican-held Senate seats, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, where Democrats are leading, albeit by smaller margins. Democrat Katie McGinty leads Republican incumbent Pat Toomey by 1.3% in the polling averages in Pennsylvania. FiveThirtyEight gives McGinty a 60% likelihood of making Pennsylvania the Democrats' fourth Senate pickup. In New Hampshire, Governor Maggie Hassan (D) leads Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) by 0.8%. That small edge is enough for Nate Silver to credit Hassan with a 55% probability of victory.

There are two other GOP-held seats where a minuscule Republican lead gives Democrats a chance for a take-away. In North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr (R) is trying to hold off Deborah Ross. He's leading in the polls by 0.7% and Silver gives Ross a 44% chance. Missouri is also tight. Roy Blunt (R) is trying to retain his job against Jason Kander (D). Blunt's average lead in recent polls is 1.1%. FiveThirtyEight rates this one as 56-44 for Blunt.

Then there is one Democratic Senate seat they are in danger of losing to a Republican. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid is retiring in Nevada. Catherine Cortez-Masto is trying to hold the seat for the Dems; Joe Heck is trying to gain it for the Reps. Heck has a 0.5% lead in the polls, but Nate Silver rates the race as 53-47 Cortez-Masto, probably on the strength of the Hillary Clinton and Harry Reid's impressive get-out-the-vote operation in Nevada.

So, the bottom line is the Democrats need a net pickup of four seats if Clinton is President to control the Senate. They would need to gain five if Trump wins. Watch New Hampshire and North Carolina early on election night. If Dems are doing well it will portend a change in control of the Senate. If the GOP holds in those two swing seats they may well be able to retain a bare edge in the chamber and thwart Clinton's judicial preferences. What are the overall chances? Nate's FiveThirtyEight number crunchers give the Democrats a 65.2% likelihood of taking control.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Meaning of a Trump Presidency

Civil Rights giant John Lewis was beaten in Selma on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. On another occasion he was left unconscious in a pool of blood after getting off a freedom rider bus. He is the last living speaker from the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, having addressed the crowd and the nation's conscience just before Martin Luther King made his "I Have a Dream" speech. Now a congressman from Georgia, here is what he had to say recently about the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency, as quoted in Esquire Magazine. 

 John Lewis: A True Superhero | Huffington Post

"When I see the people that react to Donald Trump's words at those rallies, I see the same look in their eyes that I saw [in the eyes of Dallas Sheriff Clark and his posse]—a look that says, 'you're not a part of us, you're not a part of the American family, you come from someplace else.' When Trump talks about building a wall, to lock certain individuals out, people rallied. They screamed and yelled. It reminded me of some of the rallies that I saw on television for [infamous racist/segregationist Alabama governor] George Wallace during the '60s. It makes me somewhat sad. I thought for many, many years that our country had become much more hopeful, much more optimistic, and we had come to a place where we saw unbelievable changes. I've said over and over again that we have witnessed what I like to call a nonviolent revolution in America during the last 50 years, a revolution of values, a revolution of ideas. I think the Trump campaign is trying to take us back to another place, another time, and we've come so far, made so much progress, I don't think we can afford to go back. We have to go forwards, and continue to be what Dr. King called 'the beloved community,' where we lay down the burden of division, the burden of hate, and create an American community at peace with itself."