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Endorsements for General Election, November 6, 2012

President: Barack Obama.

US Senator: Diane Feinstein. Sigh.

US Representative, District 14: Jackie Speier.

State Senator, SD 13: Jerry Hill. This is a repeat of the Primary ballot. I leaned to Jerry then. The Merc analysis of the debate between the two notes that one of the distinctions is that Jerry has been more supportive of high-speed rail (though still with restrictions). OTOH, he's also been more open to seeing housing development in the salt flats area; I'm not crazy about that, but we do need more housing, and he has at least said that he wants housing their limited, and still supports densification in the existing areas.

State Assembly, AD 22: Kevin Mullin, who's the only Dem running.

County of San Mateo Board of Supervisors, District 4: Shelly Masur. Another repeat from the Primary. I did seriously consider Warren Slocum, but I came down on the side of Masur then, and I do again now. Interestingly, the Merc, which is relatively conservative for the SF Bay Area, is endorsing Masur, who's probably the more progressive candidate.

County Board of Ed Member, Trustee Area 7: Joe Ross. I've met him -- he was a volunteer for the Becker campaign -- and I found him to be thoughtful, and good at active listening. He also has a more impressive list of endorsements, and more detail in his policy discussions.

San Mateo County Harbor District, Members, Board of Commissioners: Holsinger, Brennan, Parravano. Two of the six candidates didn't even bother to submit statements. Among the other four, three are incumbents; the one who isn't is Brennan. I'm going with the three who I think have the strongest set of endorsements and seem to make good, detailed statements, in the ballot pamphlet and to the League of Women Voters SmartVoter site.

Sequoia Healthcare District, Members, Board of Directors: Kane, Griffin. It's a "vote for two". There are three candidates. One is an anti-government kook who wants to dissolve the district and stop providing county medical services. I'm voting for the other two, both of whom seem fine.

Prop 30 and 38: YES and NO, respectively. This overcomes my default opposition to propositions because a tax hike require a two-thirds vote of the legislature and all the Republicans have signed the idiotic no-taxes-ever pledge; in order to just keep struggling along with our already straitjacketed budget, we need Prop 30. Both of these props involve imposing a temporary income tax hike. Prop 30 is only a hike on the top bracket (but also includes a small sales tax hike); 38 is much broader. 38 adds to the "ballot box budgeting" constraints faced by the legislature. Also, Prop 30 reverses some broad budget cuts (developmental services, fire, police, etc), whereas 38 only provides for schools. If both 30 and 38 pass the 50% threshhold, but Prop 38 gets more yes votes than 30, only 38 counts. So, I'm planning to vote YES on 30, NO on 38.

Prop 31: NO. Does some good things (better budgeting process in some ways -- I do like the idea of having the two-year time horizon), but some really bad things, like devolving a lot of powers to local governments in ways that will create complexity and redundancy, and putting in place a loophole-riddled Pay-As-You-Go rule that has been criticized by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (a non-partisan think-tank that I'm a fan of, and that more or less wrote the Congressional PAYGO rule that Dems have used since the '90s). PeteRates.com has a longer write-up on this. Interestingly, the CA Republicans want this measure, but some Tea Party groups oppose it; whereas the Dems and their various interest groups (Cal Federation of Teachers, Cal League of Conservation Voters, etc) are unified in opposition.

Prop 32: NO. This basically attacks the ability of unions to organize and spend money on state races, while not limiting many incorporated entities or PACs. Even groups that usually analyze elections without endorsing anything, like the League of Women Voters, are opposed.

Prop 33: NO. This is a re-run of the Mercury Insurance proposition we voted down a few years ago. It's an attempt to undermine the rules set up by the CA Insurance Commissioner, to let insurers gouge customers who have a lapse in coverage.

Prop 34: YES. Ends the death penalty, and commutes all outstanding death penalties to a true life without parole sentence. It takes a bunch of the savings and grants the money to local law enforcement for the first four years of implementation, dedicated to bringing down the unsolved rate on rapes and murders. PeteRates again has a good write-up on this topic, if you're not already familiar with all of the serious problems. Even if you don't oppose the idea of state-sanctioned execution to begin with, we simply can't guarantee that everybody executed is actually guilty, and if you screw that up it's not something you can make right. And in the service of this monstrous system, we waste huge amounts of money going through all the appeals, dragging the process out for years. A life-without-parole sentence would provide more finality, sooner, at a lower cost. I'm not crazy about the ballot-box budgeting thing, but it's time limited; so it sends money to an area that does need funding currently, without locking it in forever.

Prop 35: NO. This proposition does not overcome my default presumption against propositions. Human trafficking is already illegal, and if it needs to be penalized more, the legislature should deal with that. Legislators love looking tough on crime. If this is important, they can deal with it. It's also worth noting that the way this ballot measure is written, it has some really weird effects; for instance, anyone who "benefits" from prostitution -- such as a parent, child, or roommate of somebody who engages in prostitution who has part of their rent paid by the prostitute's income -- could be classified as a sex offender.

Prop 36: YES. Scales back the Three Strikes law, requiring the third strike to be violent. It's a little weird that if your record is "murder, murder, non-violent theft", you don't get automatic life, while if your record is "murder, non-violent theft, murder", you do. But, I'm generally in favor of scaling back the three-strikes law, and since it was initially put in place by proposition, we can only scale it back this way.

Prop 37: Waffling. I'm in favor of GMO labelling in general. Not for any health reasons -- I don't think there's any reason to think the types of GMOs that go into the human food supply are dangerous -- but because of their role in industrial monoculture, and because of the ugly way that patent law has been misapplied to the field of bioengineering. I'm really not happy about doing this from the ballot box; if we ever want to edit it we have to go back to the ballot box again. a_steep_hill, in comments, below, makes some arguments in favor, and I also saw some reasonable-seeming materials in favor in Whole Foods today. Christa also ended up arguing the YES side the other day, before flying off to MD, basically just because the anti campaign has been so over-the-top. There's a reasonable argument to be made, but they're not making that, they're taking their corporate millions and spending it on pure irrational fear-mongering.

Prop 39: YES. Back in 2008, when the financial crisis was crashing tax revenues, Arnold bridged a late-year budget gap by using "revenue accelerators" -- in which some taxes got collected early, without collecting more tax overall. As a price for agreeing to this, the Republicans who came over and allowed that budget demanded some new tax loopholes, including one that made it easier for out-of-state companies with substantial revenue in CA to avoid paying taxes on that revenue. This closes that loophole, restoring the pre-'08 rules. This will bring in $1B per year. For the first five years, it takes about half of that and spends it on a green energy grant program. Again, I'd prefer skipping the ballot-box budgeting thing, but it's time-limited, and looks like a reasonably good program.

Prop 40: YES. If this measure gets a "no", there would be state and county spending totalling about $1M to re-draw the State Senate districts, again. Republicans put this on the ballot in the hopes of getting a more favorable map, but then dropped their campaign b/c the courts basically told them they couldn't have such a map until at least 2014, and the new map would be more or less the same to what we currently have.

San Mateo Measure A: YES. Raises the sales tax (sigh) to restore funding for some really critical services (like 911 dispatch).

San Mateo Measure B: YES. Changes from electing all five county supervisors in county-wide at-large elections, to actually using the districts. Cuts the number of constituents for a supervisor from ~300k down to ~60k; this would theoretically make campaigns cheaper, less dependent on high-profile endorsements, and make it more possible to keep in contact with more constituents. We're the only county that currently does things this way, and regardless of the fate of Measure B, the at-large system may be struck down by the courts as diluting the vote of our Latino and Asian-American communities. I don't feel strongly about the at-large versus district-based elections question, but I mildly lean towards districts, and we may as well save the litigation costs.

San Mateo Measure C: YES. Takes the Controller / Auditor job and makes it an appointed position, rather than elected. It's a specialized position that requires a specific skill set. The supervisors believe the controller should be selected through a hiring process that lets them review those skills. Nobody's bothering to oppose this measure.
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  • 14 comments
Re: Prop 37
What about the studies that found the toxin in maternal and fetal blood that correlated with GM foods in Canada?
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0890623811000566
I am aware that there have been a couple responses to it, but they were unconvincing to me.
That appears to be discussing "Pesticides Associated with Genetically Modified Foods", which they acronymize as PAGMF. These are chemicals that are used as part of the whole Industrial Monoculture system, that are particularly used with, say, Roundup Ready crops. The herbicides are just as bad as the pesticides. But there's nothing inherent to the GM food itself that's toxic -- it's the other stuff that's getting sprayed on and around it. We already had serious problems with this back in the '50s and '60s, when Silent Spring was published, and to be honest, things are probably better in some ways now.

In any case, I do agree that the system that GMOs are a part of is messed up, and I'm not opposed to some kind of labelling standard. But, I can imagine some future genetic tweaks -- say, introducing a gene that makes a plant grow its roots deeper, so it's more drought resistant and better at fixing the soil -- that would be useful in the context of a sustainable farming operation. It's not clear to me that everything should be swept under the same heading. Maybe that's OK to start with, but if we do the labelling standard by ballot measure, it's incredibly cumbersome to go back and edit it later.

If they'd instead, say, directed the same department that runs the CA Organic labelling standard to create a GMO labelling standard, laying out some principles for that and then leaving some implementation flexibility, I'd definitely be for that. (Especially if they included a funding mechanism.)
You do realize that Prop 37 is probably the last hurrah for the food transparency effort, right? This is one of those situations where the real goal is to change the national standard, but this will never happen at the federal level for obvious reasons. So it's going to have to happen on the state level, and traditionally California has been one of the states that leads shifts of this sort.

I agree that the ballot measure is a poor way to make regulation, but it's also quite clear that the state regulatory bodies are not going to take action on this item. There is far too much lobbying money in play. That same lobbying money might also persuade the voters to reject Prop 37, granted. But I see at least a potential victory at the ballot box, whereas I see no chance whatsoever via any other mechanims.

Understand also that this is a very time-sensitive issue. GMOs have spread through much but not all of the food system, and we are already starting to see negative side effects from their use (e.g. the superweeds). There is also evidence of spread of these organisms to their wild-type counterparts (e.g. Ignacio Chapella), though that research has not been well supported so it's not conclusive. Like the agri-chemical treadmill that most farmers are stuck on, the GMO-tech treadmill is harder to get off the longer you've been on it, so arresting the spread of this technology sooner is definitely relevant.

(Yes, of course Prop 37 will not forbid the planting of GMO crops. But given the opportunity to avoid GMO products, consumers seem inclined to do so, which will quickly change the economics of planting GMO.)

Lastly, what do you see in this bill that you would want to change in the future?

For the most part, the genetic improvements that you discuss (better roots, better drought resistance, etc) do not exist because they are not in the financial best interests of the companies that develop these technologies, and because they are much harder to do than simply inserting a resistance gene. To improve a crop in a worthwhile way requires messing with the basic metabolic balance of the organism. Which is not to say that it's impossible, but it's fundamentally much much harder than what we have done to date.

Also, relative to many of the concerns about GMOs, it doesn't really matter what new abilities you grant to the plant. We still don't know (because the research has been so poor, and so badly subverted by IP) much of anything about the safety of these plants. There are questions both about the effect of the inserted genes, and also the effect of the insertion process itself. We don't have many long-term feeding trials (Monsanto, etc do 90 day trials, not lifetime or mutli-generation trials), and those that have been done frequently show worrisome results (which, if published, ensure that the researcher in question is never permitted access to the IP to do followup studies). Regardless of the modification, the potential for spread to the wild population, or to nearby organic/non-GMO farms, remains the same. If you are an organic farmer, these plants are bad neighbors, regardless of what they are supposed to do.

In short, GMOs are a technology that holds great promise if we can learn to use it in a responsible fashion. But corporate agribusiness has taken the technology and run with it in such a fashion that that is really no longer a possibility. The current crop of biotech companies that have invested in GMO foodcrops need to get hurt, badly, and lose a ton of money. Then, after that shakeout has occurred, maybe we can have another go at the technology in a decade or two when we have a better idea of what we're actually doing inside the plant.
Well, I still haven't filled out my ballot, and I edited the text to move that to undecided. Christa was really ticked off by the incoherency and dishonesty of the paid anti campaign, and I kinda don't like rewarding that either.

I can't quite get behind the idea that "hurting Monsanto" is an actual reason to vote for the bill. I mean, it's definitely not a reason to vote against it. I'm OK with imposing costs on them. But it's not entirely clear to me what the incidence of the costs for this will be. I dunno, maybe it's still worth it, and if the regulators eventually come up with a good labeling scheme we can get agricultural interests to finance a campaign to get the state to buy into that, since it'll be simpler for them to comply with one national scheme than multiple state things...
Thanks. I appreciate that.

As far as "hurting Monsanto" goes: I do see Monsanto as the worst of a group of really bad actors (not just for GMOs, but even more for the damage they have done to the diversity of our seed supply, all in the name of securing their own ongoing profits). That said, the goal is not to exact revenge or anything that petty. I want to see the current set of GMO players be forced to abandon the market as unprofitable.
Given the wholesale rejection of GMO in Europe and Japan, the US is one of the few remaining wealthy markets for those products. If Prop 37 passes, and then propagates through the country as I hope it will, it really could be the end of at least the BT and RoundupReady products.
GMO technology definitely has promise, but there's so much money in play that scientific integrity has been entirely abandoned by industry and has been badly damaged in academia as a direct result of industry influence. So if they get the money rug pulled out from under them, then hopefully that pattern of behavior will end. In the meantime, I would expect to see academic research continue in that direction, at a much reduced pace but hopefully with higher quality results. Eventually we'd get a second round of GMO R&D and eventually GMO products. Hopefully by that time the state of the art (or of our understanding) will have advanced enough that we could proceed with some confidence.

As to your statement that "there's no reason to think they are dangerous", are you familiar with the so-called Pusztai affair? The implication of his findings was that the danger arose not from the new functions which were inserts, but from a side effect of the modification technique itself.

The disturbing thing, to me, about this study is not that he found some indication of potential problems. It is that, rather than doing followup studies, the study results were suppressed and Pusztai was ostracized. His work was criticized, it's true, but honestly, no experiment or study is perfect. They all have weaknesses, which is why followup studies are done. This was not a case of gross scientific misconduct or fraud, just of a less-than-perfect study. The correct response in that case is to fund more research, not less.

I'm no expert in genetics but I'm pretty sure that the transgenic techniques used for the potatoes in that study are no longer in use, if only because of the amount of time that has passed. So the findings of that study may now be irrelevant. However, the pattern of behavior and abuse of the research process has continued. To this day, I don't know of any GMO company that has published the results of a long-term or multi-generation feeding trial. Personally, I find that absurd.

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As covered in the article, capital cases expand appeal rights, beyond what's normal for other major felonies. That's part of why it saves a lot of money to get rid of the death penalty. I am not happy with the way the Supreme Court has curtailed appeal rights in general. In particular, since Schlup v. Delo, it's been the position of the federal courts (and subsequently most state courts, though some states are changing that) that you can't get an appeal based solely on evidence of actual innocence -- you need to add a procedural claim, showing that that evidence should've appeared in your original trial, but was suppressed by prosecutors, or failed to get included because your state-provided counsel was inadequate, or whatever else.

The problem with appeal rights is one that can be addressed separately, either by the legislature (as in the NY case noted above), or the ballot, or even, I think, by the courts; I'm pretty sure the CA Supreme Court could decide to alter the standards for appeals in CA state criminal cases.

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My understanding is that 38 is polling behind 30, so it's probably OK to vote for both; they'll either both fail, or 30 will pass and not 38, or they'll both break 50% but 30 will win.

However, b/c I'm not crazy about locking in yet more of the budget through ballot measures, I'm concerned that 38 may even be worse-than-nothing. Even if you're OK with a lock-in that at least has a dedicated funding stream, this one is a really substantial chunk of tax revenue, and once you're taxing people for that, it gets harder (and more economically distoring) to raise taxes elsewhere for other purposes... I'd rather leave more room in the tax structure for flexibility.

Anyways, I can see the argument for 38 being better than nothing, but I come down thinking that 30 is much better than either nothing or 38, with the latter two in close contention, so I'd rather not risk hurting 30.
I think the best argument against 38 is that Molly Munger is now running ads against 30. If you ultimately care about school funding, running ads encouraging a no vote on the other school funding initiative is a bad move...especially when your brother is a leading funder of the No 30/Yes 32 campaigns.

I'm voting yes on 38, but I don't think it will pass. It's also pretty restrictive even for schools and school districts - it requires some not-well-vetted expenditures and its no administrative funding includes no cash to teachers in the form of increased salaries (or even extended pay for professional development, I believe).
Thank you.
Thank you! And I'm sad I couldn't make it, yet again. One of these years I won't have conferences or other conflicts.
Thank you for all the good information!! And like chimerically said, I'm sad I couldn't make it - again. Someday!
Ha, I'm with Christa: voting yes on 37 because the opposition is so pent up and Hoover Institutiony I feel like it.

I think 31 is extremely creepy, but that's not just the legislation in it (some of which is miserable - for instance, the state of emergency, which would make it even easier to cut school funding and not pay it back. Presently, the state can IOU and decline to pay, but they're supposed to eventually pay back with interest, although the state has yet to get started on paying back the Groper withholdings). The California Forward people are truly bad news, with lots of bad ideas for taking the state forward into a free market paradise of for profit schools, even less of a safety net, and theoretically "green" initiatives that do less for the environment than they do for private pockets. I want them to fail so badly they decide to go Forward another state.