Saturday, October 4, 2008

Panic in Needle Park

Bailing out reckless, greedy, and probably criminal, wheeler dealers is hideous. But it would be even more hideous to see those who’ve been hard-working and careful lose their life savings in a nationwide financial meltdown. We face, in the words of Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK), “the greatest financial risk and peril this country has ever seen.” According to Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT), “There is a crisis in our country … Our economy is on a precipice … and we must do what we can to move it back from that brink”.

October 3, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (HR 1424) aka the $700 billion bailout, was approved by the House of Representatives and signed into law by the President. I should be relieved. My IRA and 401(k) are safe, at least for the next week or so. But somehow I feel like I just bought a boatload of cocaine for a mob of crack whores—and so did you.

The full text of HR 1424 is 451 pages long. But only about a quarter of that (112 pages) actually addresses the “Troubled Assets Relief Program” (TARP), i.e. the mortgage meltdown, and related provisions. Despite our “financial peril”, our economy “on a precipice”, the folks in Washington found time to add over three hundred pages of special tax breaks and other programs to a bill that will already burden the taxpayers to the tune of $700,000,000,000.

Why bother to openly debate a comprehensive national energy strategy when you can just tack a 148-page “Energy Improvement and Extension Act” onto the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act. The bill has tax credits and/or allowances for everything from wind energy, insulation, and plug-in cars to oil refineries, coal, and tar sands.

There’s more.

There are pages and pages of special tax breaks. Some of these seem fair, such as those addressing costs generated by natural disasters. Others are shamelessly opportunistic, including provisions for the film industry, racetracks, the wool research fund, and “wooden arrows designed for use by children”.

What a generous people we are! Even in a crisis, we provide for the poor starving film industry and auto racing. And of course, whose heart doesn’t leap at the sight of children playing with their wooden arrows? Especially those who manufacture prosthetic eyeballs.

Wait! That’s not all.

There are provisions for revenue sharing with states and counties with large amounts of federally owned land and the Merchantable Timber Contracting Pilot Program. Guess the lumber lobby has a lot of pull. Lost in the middle of all this is the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which constituted the original HR 1424, before it got hijacked into the bailout bill.

To balance out this binge of spending and tax credits, there’s also all of nine pages of “spending reductions and appropriate revenue raisers for new tax relief” which primarily address taxes on deferred compensation.

What were they thinking?!?

Even if our economy is not completely broken, our system is. What were these Senators and Representatives thinking? Is the U.S. Congress so morally bereft that even a bill to address a worldwide economic crisis is just another opportunity to load up on pork?

Is the crisis really real? Could our economy be so close to collapse that lobbyists and Congressmen saw HR 1424 as their last chance to pick the carcass clean? Have we elected the sort of people who would rifle through the pockets of accident victims looking for cash and credit cards?

Maybe they’re so addicted to pork, they just can’t help themselves, like junkies who really intend to use that welfare check to pay the rent, really intend to buy food for the kids, but always end up in the shooting gallery.

Is this the best America has to offer?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Last Chance!

Today, October 2, is your last chance to submit comments regarding the southerly extension of the Foothill Tollway (Route 241). Comments by snail mail must be postmarked as of today and addressed to:

Thomas Street, Attorney-Advisor
NOAA Office of General Counsel for Ocean Services
1305 East-West Highway, Room 6111
Silver Spring, MD 20910 .

Comments may also be e-mailed to

Let’s hope the Secretary of Commerce has a better sense of geography than the numerous members of the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency board who testified at the public hearing. For some reason, numerous elected officials from cities like Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano, and Laguna Niguel seemed to believe that they had no means of evacuation in case of emergencies except the Highway 5. Did Coast Highway/El Camino disappear? Do folks in San Juan Capistrano not have access to the Ortega Highway of the San Joaquin Hill Transportation Corridor—built by the very people who now seem to have forgotten its existence?

Also failing Geography 101 were elected officials from cities like Anaheim who said the corridor extension was necessary to provide access to Riverside County if the 91 became inaccessible. Pretty strange, since the 241 would connect to the 91 within Orange County, where parallel routes are provided by La Palma and Santa Ana Canyon Road, doing nothing to eliminate the bottleneck through Santa Ana Canyon west of the 71 and, further east, Highway 15, which are also conveniently forgotten.

Even more strange was a member of the Orange County Board of Supervisors who maintained that San Diego would be cutoff from goods and services from the rest of the United States, if something happened along the 5.

WOW! Somebody buy these folks an atlas.

And get your letters in. NOW.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

When told that the peasants were revolting, the king sniffed and replied, “They most certainly are!”

Why do so many “public” officials seem so uncomfortable with the public in general? Locally, some council members merely go through the motions during public hearings, alternately acting bored, impatient, and contemptuous. But at least all members of the public have an equal chance to speak—even if council members aren’t all that interested.

That isn’t the case in all “public” hearings these days. For example, at California Coastal Commission hearings, anyone holding an elective office may speak before us mere mortals, giving the term “first among equals” a whole new meaning. But it’s not equal either. Elected officials get extra time.

It doesn’t matter what office you hold. If you manage to get elected to the Happy Camp Community Services District Board in Siskiyou County, your testimony on endangered birds in San Diego is way more important than that of any local resident or even renowned ornithologists. Who cares if you’ve never been south of Los Angeles?

Some Are More Equal Than Others

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has taken this to a whole new level. After receiving masses of requests to hold a public hearing before making a decision on the southern extension of the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor/State Route 241, NOAA scheduled a hearing for Monday, September 22, at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. This was over the protests of the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) who wanted to exclude the public.

As stated in NOAA’s published guidelines: "… no testimony or presentation by either TCA or the Commission is anticipated or requested, as the purpose of the hearing is to solicit public comments. If, however, either party chooses to appear, it will be allowed three minutes to give testimony. "

Now that NOAA has issued their speaker schedule, we see find that 134 elected officials and representatives of organizations will be afforded four minutes each to speak with an estimated twenty (20!!!) members of the general public allowed up to three minutes each, though over five hundred members of the general public submitted requests to speak. So much for soliciting public comments.

Who are the priority speakers? Well, there are fourteen members of the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) boards, plus TCA chief executive Tom Margro, for about an hour of TCA testimony, assuming four minutes each.

What organizations are represented? There are many recognized groups, such as environmental groups, Native-American tribes, labor unions, and business associations.

A Parody of Public Participation

In addition, NOAA is also considering private businesses to be “organizations”. Thus CH2M Hill, design manager for the proposed tollroad, gets priority speaking privileges as an organization. Wonder if they’ll be billing for their time at the hearing.

Other “organizations” include Rancho Mission Viejo/Tony Moiso, a cable television company, a magazine publisher, and an attorney whose “organization” consists of his own small firm.

Boy do I feel silly. I could have slapped my speaker request on business letterhead and had a priority speaking spot. But it wouldn’t have been right.

It wouldn’t be been the only thing not right, though. NOAA seems to have sought a way to satisfy both the TCA, who wanted to stop any hearing, and the thousands of California residents who wanted a hearing. NOAA will hold a “public” hearing while denying meaningful participation by the public in general through a system of speaker priorities.

But I’m still going.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Got Rats?

This Saturday, August 23, the Orange County Animal Shelter will be having a special cat adoption day they are calling Catopia . Between 10 am and 3 pm they will be giving a free cat carrier, free spay/neuter and other special incentives to anyone who adopts a cat from the shelter.

The shelter is located at 561 The City Drive in Orange. They have a variety of cats, not just the proverbial alley cats, but some pretty fancy ones, too. There will also be special children's activities.

You may find the purrfect addition to your household.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Nonpartisan My Aunt Fanny

Nearly one hundred years ago California voters, sick of government corruption and ineptitude at all levels, enacted a series of reforms intended to make government more responsive and less corrupt. These included provisions for intiative, referenda, and recall, as well as nonpartisan election of judicial, school, county, and municipal offices, a provision still in the California Elections Code .

But that doesn’t matter to powers that be in the local GOP. Monday night, August 18, the Orange County Republican Central Committee voted on their first round of endorsements for local races in the county.

They endorsed all Republican incumbents seeking re-election, something they have done pretty routinely in the past. Hey, weren’t the Republicans the ones who were so hot on term limits a few years back?

But that was different. That was to get rid of Democrat Willie Brown. No sauce for the gander here.

“Early endorsements” were also bestowed on a few anointed non-incumbent candidates: Gary Monahan and Jim Righeimer in Costa Mesa, Don Hansen protégée Devin Dwyer in Huntington Beach, and John Campbell staffer Lou Penrose nee Luigi Rossetti, Jr. in Dana Point.

This was outside the normal vetting process, basically rubber stamping the directive of county chair Scott Baugh and the big boys with the big bucks via the endorsing committee. Presumably qualifications include close alliances developed with Mr. Baugh over drinks and cigars at Gulfstream.

Look for the Orange County party and Lincoln Club to pony up for the Chosen Ones. Be aware that funds you may contribute to the GOP at large may or may not go to electing a Republican president, governor, or senator, but may be spent right in your own back yard on a candidate you may or may not support. If you like the candidates that’s fine; if not, give directly to the candidates of your choice.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Fields On Mesa Council

Tuesday evening, August 19, the Costa Mesa City Council will vote on a new animal control ordinance imposing penalties on dog owners whose pets make any sound audible at the property line. At the last Council meeting, city staff indicated that they received pretty many calls regarding barking dogs, over seven hundred last year. Of those, ten escalated to formal complaints, three went to mediation and three citations were issued. Guess we need a new ordinance for those three.

While some council members suggested that the ordinance be worded to clearly address sounds normally associated with nuisance animals, such as barking or howling for long periods, Mayor Bever disagreed. He was adamant that the ordinance address any noise made by a dog, including knocking around toys, digging, or pushing his bowl around since those could also “drive you nuts”.

Make Your List

Now that the city is in the business of eliminating anything that could irritate anyone, they can start on my list: People driving 25 miles per hour in the 35 mph zone, and 35 in the 45 zone; people who walk two or three abreast at a snail’s pace down a sidewalk or store aisle; people who park across two parking spaces; power mowers; power edgers grinding and screeching against the pavement; fluorescent lights that flicker or hum; anyone playing Marco Polo for more than six and a half minutes; squealing roof turbines; kids kicking the back of the seat in front of them on an airplane or at the movies; their parents…

I’m just getting warmed up. The problem is, I’m sure I do lots of things that annoy other people. Heck, I even do things that annoy me when I realize I’m doing them.

Is the city going to regulate anything that irritates anyone? Will they make rules limiting how many minutes a day kids can bounce around a basketball in the front yard? Or play ping pong on the patio? What about constant gurgling from backyard fountains? Or pool cleaners? Or noisy skateboard wheels?

Next thing you know, they’ll be making rules against ball games in public parks. Oh, wait. They’re already doing that.

Maybe it depends on who finds what annoying.

Better be careful

If you live near Mr. Bever, be really careful. Don’t let your dog have any squeaky toys, any clunky toys, or anything that might possibly make any audible sound while playing. Stick moleskin on the dog tags so they don’t jingle, though if the city’s so concerned about eliminating any audible sound, they shouldn’t issue metal tags. Eliminate potential crunching noises by feeding only soft food--no Nylabones for your buddy. Get Fido a set of Ugg boots so his toenails won’t click on the pavement, wrap his tail in foam, and don't forget to glue bubble wrap to the sides and bottom of the dog dishes.

Still, just to be on the safe side, get a half a dozen sets of wind chimes in various pitches and timbers to drown out the sound of your dog’s breathing, lest anyone hear it at the property line. Better yet, just leave the leaf blower running.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Set free????

Reading recent headlines about self-identified Christian bikers arrested after a brawl at Blackie’s which culminated in a fatal stabbing, my reaction was probably not atypical: “Christian? I don’t think so.”

It’s easy to dismiss the individuals involved as “not real Christians”. Bar brawls, gang rivalry, weapons caches. Now those are “real” sins. You or I would never be involved in that.

But then, what is the standard for “real Christians”? Do real Christians fudge on their taxes? Indulge in predatory business practices? Disguise defects in a house or car for sale? Ignore the hungry and hurting? Surf the web all day when they're being paid to work? What about the demolition derbies taking place in many a church parking lot every Sunday?

As a reminder, Paul made a list of things he labels “wicked” There’s murder and depravity. So far so good, but there’s more, including envy, greed, malice, gossip, strife, insolence, arrogance, heartlessness, ruthlessness, and disobedience to parents.

Some of these are even valued in Orange County's culture of success. But they’re a far cry from the perfection to which we should aspire.

The economy has gone south, and times are hard. Temptations are many. We’re entering the active political campaign season, when questionable means may be justified in light of a hoped for end. Let our behavior be such that no one would be prompted to think “Christian? I don’t think so.”

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Off and Running--Sort of

As of 5 pm Friday, August 8, 2008 Eric Bever, Chris Bunyan, Katrina Foley, Gary Monahan Nick Moss, Lisa Reedy, Jim Righeimer, and Bill Sneen had filed papers to fun for the Costa Mesa City Council this fall. Because incumbent Linda Dixon did not file, the deadline to file has been extended to August 13.

Look for Bever, Monahan, and Righeimer to share resources, if they don’t run as a formal slate. Look for a sizeable chunk of those resources to come from the ostensibly conservative Orange County GOP establishment.

Mesa Verde Homeowners will be sponsoring a forum at the Neighborhood Community Center on Thursday August 21, 2008. This will one of our earliest chances to see the candidates together responding to residents’ questions.

See you there.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Creative Financing in Costa Mesa

Recently, spending by the City of Costa has been outstripping revenues, but on July 15, the City Council declined to place any measure on the ballot to increase either the hotel tax or business licenses fees, both among the lowest in Orange County.

But don’t worry. They’ve thought of a new way to raise revenue.

Tonight August 5, the City Council will consider a new animal control ordinance which would result in a first time fine of $250 for a dog that barks for more than a half hour. Fines would escalate for subsequent offenses.

Of course no one wants to listen to a dog that barks for hours on end. Just as no one wants to listen to yowling cats, squawking parrots, or power tools for an extended period either.

But how do they define “barking dog”? Any dog that “barks, bays, howls or makes any noise audible beyond the boundaries of the property on which the dog is situated.” Any noise audible? That could include panting, slurping from the water dish, or even thumping a happy tail against a wall or flower pot.

And why just dogs? The City would retain a part of the existing Code regarding animal noise “to ensure that any noisy animal which creates a nuisance can be addressed”. How is it that the existing code can “ensure” that “any noisy animal…can be addressed”, but cannot adequately address noisy dogs?

In eight years on the City Council I received complaints about noise from boom boxes, dive bars, dance clubs, party houses, leaf blowers, garage bands, the police helicopter, squawking birds, and even kids bouncing a basketball, but I don’t recall barking dogs as an issue. Watching council meetings, this does not seem to have changed much. Apparently our Animal Control officers are doing a good job using the existing ordinance.

It’s Not the Noise

Where noise is an issue, the City’s existing Codes address noise in terms of decibel (dB) levels and time of day. Under the existing Codes, noise over an extended time is limited to 55 dB during the day and 50 dB at night, a level 100,000 times the lowest level audible for people with good hearing. Leaf blowers may only be used during the day and are restricted to a maximum of 65 dB (incidentally a level normally exceeded by all but electric or battery powered leaf blowers).

The proposed ordnance makes no distinctions when the noise is created by dogs. Whether 2 pm or 2 am; 1 dB or 100 dB; it would all be the same. It wouldn’t matter if you kept your dogs inside or even had them de-barked (please don’t), since noise could still be audible.

And let’s face it, if this City Council were really concerned about noise, would we have at least six hours of whistles, pops and house-rattling booms every Fourth of July?

It’s the Economy

On the other hand, assuming that Costa Mesa follows national trends, there are at least 20,000 to 25,000 dogs in town. If even ten percent make “audible noise” for a half hour, that’s at least a half million bucks into city coffers. You’ve gotta admire their creativity, if not their common sense

Disputes between neighbors often play out at City Hall, usually through the venues of Code Enforcement and Animal Control. Often complaints regarding pets have little or nothing to do with the animals themselves and everything to do with problems between neighbors over some other issue. Would this become another hammer with which to beat up a neighbor?

Who Cares

But hey, who cares if the City makes money off the deal? I do. My current canine buddy is pretty quiet, but one can’t predict the future. My greater concern, though, is dog owners subject to draconian fines for even minimal noise, several orders of magnitude lower than noise levels acceptable for any other source.

We already have too many dogs at the shelters, a problem exacerbated by a rise in home foreclosures. It would be tragic if any dog owner felt forced to surrender a dog to the shelter as a result of this ordinance.

That’s sad. I think I’ll go pet my dog. Not too much, though. The thumping of that waggly tail might be audible.

Just Stamp It Out

Tuesday, August 5, the Costa Mesa City Council will consider whether to initiate a general plan amendment to allow L.A. Fitness to build a 45,000 square foot health club in an area designated for industrial use along Harbor Boulevard north of the 405. Under the city’s general plan, the area should be developed with large site research, manufacturing, office, and industrial development. Commercial uses are to be ancillary and supportive of the industrial use. Commercial recreation is permitted, but only if complementary to the industrial area.

When allowed, commercial uses in the industrial park are limited to a lower floor area ratio, which is the amount of building allowed per lot area. The floor area is restricted because commercial uses generate more traffic. L.A. Fitness wants a general plan amendment to allow a higher floor area ratio, i.e. a larger building and additional traffic.

It’s not as if there are no vacant commercial sites in the area. Along just the short stretch of Harbor between Gisler and Merrimac, there’s a fenced-off former motel site, the old La-Z-Boy site, the fenced-off (see a trend here?) Kona Lanes site, and the abandoned auto dealer next to Ace. Wouldn’t it make sense to encourage commercial developers to use one of these vacant locations, instead of amending our general plan to accommodate conversion of our industrial base to commercial use on demand?

Why does L.A. Fitness need to build in the industrial park? Why do they need the extra large building? Costa Mesa already has more than a dozen health clubs. Is there some enormous demand for another in the northwest industrial area?

According to the L.A. Fitness representative, “the reason is that L.A. Fitness has a model that they stamp out.” Golly, can’t have some local yahoos and their silly general plan get in the way of the model they “stamp out”, not even if the general plan was developed with input from hundreds of residents.

As detailed in the City’s staff report the project fails to meet any of the City’s criteria for amending the general plan. Staff recommends denial of the request, and they’re making the right call.

Let’s hope the City Council agrees. Contrary to the assertion of a Council Member who appears to be living in some strange parallel universe, peak hour traffic on Harbor Boulevard does NOT “move pretty quickly”. We do not need the additional traffic on Harbor Boulevard.

And Costa Mesa deserves better than a “model they stamp out”.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Earmarks for Gas Guzzlers

Tired of spending a fortune for gas every week? Thinking maybe you don’t really need a full size Subcontinent or Exhibition to commute by yourself every day? Considering downsizing or carpooling?

Wait a minute! Hold that Hummer! July 30, Congressman John “Don’t-Expect-Me-To-Help-My-District-It-Would-Be-Fiscally-Irresponsible” Campbell introduced HR 6667 which would provide a tax deduction for the cost of fuel utilized to commute to work, whether or not you otherwise itemize deductions.

Other work-related expenses, such as the cost of tools, uniforms, or professional licenses, must still add up to at least two percent of your income before you can take a tax deduction. But fossil fuel is special.

On his web page Campbell states, “I will be working hard to encourage greater energy efficiency by offering conservation tax incentives to Americans who make their home, car, and business more energy efficient.” And what better tax incentive for Americans to make their cars more energy efficient than increased tax deductions for gas guzzlers? Instead of the carbon tax proposed by some, Campbell’s proposing a carbon tax deduction.

Sure, you may have chosen to live forty miles from your job, opting for an Inland Empire McMansion over a smaller house and shorter commute. You chose that 4WD Grand Cherokee as an essential accessory for your never-get-off-the-pavement suburban lifestyle.

Keep driving that pollution spewing dually for the sixty mile commute to your office job. And don’t even think of buying a bus pass. No tax deduction there.

Thanks to the panderers in Congress, you won’t have to bear the cost of unwise personal choices by yourself. Whether it’s a lone commute in a ten passenger cargo van or a re-fied mortgage for a trip to Tahiti and a plasma TV, Congress is there to help, courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Don't Touch That Sparkler

It seems that each year in Costa Mesa, we face the perennial fireworks controversy. Opponents of fireworks sales cite safety hazards and effects on infants and pets. Proponents cite revenue generated and the American tradition.

The city does have rules regarding sales and discharge of fireworks, enforced with variable success. Under Costa Mesa Municipal Codes Section 12-20 fireworks may not be discharged in any park. Under Section 9-190, fireworks may not be sold to anyone under the age of eighteen or discharged by anyone under eighteen; fireworks may not be thrown and may be discharged only between 4:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. on the 4th of July. It is illegal to discharge fireworks on any other day or any other time in Costa Mesa.

Those who don’t like fireworks are asked to tolerate them for the limited period that discharge is permitted. Maybe it is reasonable, even patriotic, to celebrate the 4th of July with fireworks, but sometimes I wonder if some of the biggest fireworks aficionados may see the 4th as nothing more than a chance to take off work, drink beer, and blow stuff up.

To allow those truly observing this important day in our nation’s history to celebrate with fireworks if they so desire, I propose the following quiz. To purchase or discharge fireworks, one would have to score at least 8 points on the following quiz. To sell fireworks, one would need a score of at least 10.

Test yourself

1. What do we celebrate on July 4?

a. Right to vote
b. Freeing the slaves
c. United States independence
d. Right to form labor unions
e. End of Prohibition

Answer: c. The 4th of July is officially called “Independence Day”. It marks the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

Score one point if correct. Minus 10 points for any other answer.

2. From whom did we become independent?

a. Great Britain
d.Multi-national corporations

Answer: a. Great Britain/England.

Score one point if correct.

3. Who was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence?

a. Benjamin Franklin
b. Thomas Jefferson
c. George Washington
d. John Hancock

Answer: b. Thomas Jefferson.

Score one point if correct.

4. Who was the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence?

a. Benjamin Franklin
b. Thomas Jefferson
c. George Washington
d. John Hancock

Answer: d. John Hancock

Score one point if correct.

5. The Constitution gives us the right to “life, liberty, and happiness”. True or false.

False on several counts. The correct expression is “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” and the Constitution never uses this phrase, which is from the Declaration of Independence.

Score one point if correct. Score an extra half point if you knew the source of the phrase.

6. From where do we get our inalienable rights?

a. Constitution
b. Declaration of Independence
c. Congress
d. President
e. Our Creator

Answer: e. As stated in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…”

Score one point if correct. Deduct a point if you answered c or d.

7. Why do we create governments?

a. Keep us safe from enemies foreign and domestic
b. Provide roads, schools and other necessary infrastructure
c. Preserve our rights
d. Entertain us

Answer: c. Preserve our rights. As stated in the Declaration of Independence, “to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”. That last bit still gives me a thrill. Remember it next time any elected official gets arrogant.

Score one point if correct.

8. Which of the following was/were not included in the Declaration of Independence among the “injuries and usurpations” committed by the King of Great Britain:

a. Dissolving elected legislative bodies
b. Failure to approve appropriate immigration laws
c. Appointing too many bureaucrats
d. Giving the military authority over civil authorities
e. Taxation without representation
f. Interference with international trade
g. Deprivation of trial by jury
h. Overseas trials
i. Working with others to allow foreign jurisdiction to supersede American laws.

None of the above.

a. “He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly… He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected… suspending our own Legislatures”
b. “He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither…”
c. “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.”
d. “He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.”
e. “imposing Taxes on us without our Consent”.
f. “cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world”
g. “depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury”
h. “transporting us beyond Seas to be tried”
i. “He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation”

Score one point if correct. Deduct a point if you said e.

9. Which of the following is/are not protected from government interference under the Bill of Rights?

a. Freedom of religion
b. Right to tell stupid jokes
c. Right to an education
d. Right to a jury trial
e. Right to invite whoever I want to a party
f. Right not to be offended by hate speech
g. Right to a writ of habeas corpus

Answer: c, f, and g. Habeas corpus(g), which prohibits holding you in jail or prison without charges, is so important it is included in the main body of the Constitution (Article 1, Section 9), so that is a bit of a trick question. The writ of habeas corpus forces those holding you to identify the charges against you.

Freedom of religion (a) is protected under the First Amendment, as is freedom of speech (b) and freedom of assembly (e), just so you keep it peaceful—no right to LOUD parties. Right to trial by jury is protected under the Sixth Amendment.

Score one point if you said c and f, or c,f, and g. Score a half a point if you said c or f. Score an extra point if you knew that the right to a writ of habeas corpus was included in the Constitution elsewhere. Deduct a half point each if you said a, b, d, or e.

10. Under the Constitution, what powers does the President have?

a. Set tax rates
b. Borrow money/increase national debt
c. Adopt laws
d. Run the military
e. Declare war
f. Negotiate treaties
g. Set immigration policy

Answer: d and f. The President runs the military, though only Congress can actually declare war; and negotiates treaties, though treaties must still be approved by the Senate. All of the rest are duties of Congress. The President has does have veto power, but vetoes can be overridden by a two thirds vote of the Congress. The Constitution was carefully designed not too place too much power in the hands of any one individual.

Score one point for a correct answer. Score a half point if d or f were selected alone, none if combined with any other answer.

Bonus round

1. Did you vote in the June 2008 statewide election?

a. Yes
b. Yes, and I campaigned for a candidate/ballot issue
c. Yes, and I worked at the polls
d. No
e. I am not registered to vote
f. Was there an election?

Score one point for a, two points for b or c. Deduct one point for e or f.

2. Did you serve in the United States military?

Score four points for yes, unless dishonorably discharged. Score two points if you have a child or spouse currently serving in the military.

3. Did you serve in the U.S. military in a combat area? (applies to anyone from infantrymen and fighter pilots to medics and translators to cooks and mechanics. If there were bullets or bombs flying around you, it counts in my book.)

Score ten points for yes. Thank you, and enjoy your 4th of July!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Don't Touch That Phone

Get your Bluetooth ready. Starting Tuesday, July 1, it will be illegal to operate a vehicle in California and use a cell phone unless you have a hands-free device. Under the new law, you'll be hit witha $20 fine for a first offense and a $50 fine for each additional offense. Not a fortune, but a night at the movies.

Just in case you're wondering what to do with your hands while driving—well, other than eating, flossing your teeth, shaving, putting on makeup, and playing the clarinet—Chrysler’s got just the thing.

Starting in August, Chrysler will offer UConnect, which makes a vehicle a mobile Wi-Fi hot spot. As quoted in USA Today, Chrysler Mopar director Rob Richards said drivers will be able to “make dinner reservations, check directions or weather, make online purchases (or) surf Facebook".

Nothing in the UConnect system will keep motorists from doing these things while driving, though Chrysler says they will discourage it. In response to concerns raised by safety advocates, Chrysler connectivity manager Keefe Leung indicated behavior behind the wheel was up to the driver. Leung said, “We’re relying on the responsibility of the consumer.”

In a further effort to broaden Chrysler’s appeal, Chrysler will also begin offering an optional roof-mounted gun turret on selected models. The turret will be available as an individual option, or included in the PT P Diddy Package or Ludacris Town and Country Package, including gun turret, 14 K gold electroplated rims, satellite radio and Bose sound system. The Ludacris package will also include extra cup holders.

Spokesman Moe Rawn said “This package will allow Chrysler models to better serve the urban market”, suggesting an intent to go head to head with Escalade. In response to concerns raised by safety advocates and law enforcement, Rawn said “We’re relying on the responsibility of the consumer”.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Just Don't Call Her Sweetie

This week Sandra Hutchens was publicly sworn in as Orange County Sheriff-Coroner. By all accounts, Hutchens is bright, tough, and highly experienced. An added plus, she comes in as an outsider not obviously allied with any political faction in Orange County, but has the political savvy to have risen high in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. She seems a great choice for our troubled Sheriff’s Department.

Still, shouldn’t we have an elected Sheriff? Under Article 11 (Section 3) of the California Constitution, counties are supposed to have an elected sheriff. Even charter counties must have an elected sheriff (Article 11, Section 4).

Why don't we get to vote?

How can we have an appointed sheriff? Under California’s Government Code, all elective county officers, except supervisors on a split cycle, are to be selected at the same election as state governor. Just in case there were any question, the Code specifically says that sheriff is to be elected on the same gubernatorial cycle and that vacancies are to be filled “as provided by law”.

The Supreme Court established the precedent that the above Code means county officers can't be elected at any other time in 1901 in People ex rel. Owen D. Richardson v. Cobb (S. F. No. 2684, Supreme Court of California, Department Two, 133 Cal. 74; 65 P. 325; 1901 Cal. LEXIS 865, 1901), a case about a local justice; and People ex rel. Martin Murphy, Respondent, v. Al. G. Col (S. F. No. 2657, Supreme Court of California, 132 Cal. 334; 64 P. 477; 1901 Cal. LEXIS 1060, 1901), a case about county auditor. This has been cited as a precedent for appointment of sheriff in Orange County and elsewhere.

But what about the California Constitution? It says we’re to have an elected sheriff. The precedent setting cases above don’t address offices that, under the Constitution, must be elected.

Does the California Constitution even allow an unelected sheriff? State law says that if the office of sheriff becomes vacant, the undersheriff is to assume the sheriff’s duties.

Should we have to make do with an undersheriff until 2010? That seems unsatisfactory. Would an undersheriff be able to authoritatively undertake the reforms the Orange County Sheriff’s Department so clearly needs?

We can vote in the future.

Do we really only have three choices? Violate the California Constitution, violate State law and judicial precedent, or muddle through with an undersheriff?

The Orange County Charter requires that vacancies on the Board of Supervisors occurring in the first three years of a term be filled by election. Vacancies in the final year of a supervisor’s term are to be filled by the top vote getter in the March primary.

Why not change the charter to apply this provision to any elected county office, or at least those the State Constitution specifies as elected offices? There’s an election this November. It’s not too late to place a charter amendment on the ballot.

Then again....

On the other hand, maybe the system has worked pretty well as is. A local councilman seems unable to believe that a Y chromosome is not essential equipment for the job. He’s not alone, either. Even the Democrat’s presumptive nominee for president , for cryin’ out loud, puts down a respected female reporter as “sweetie” and blows off her question with barely a ripple in the media. Are the voters of Jurassic Park numerous enough to sway an election to a lesser candidate purely on the basis of sex?

Maybe the OC Supes are doing OK the way it is. After all, the voters picked Carona in the first place.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Love for Sale, Cheap

If you’re considering an addition to your household, try a visit to the Orange County Animal Shelter , at 561 The City Drive South, across the street from The Block in Orange.

This Saturday, June 28, the shelter will be holding a pet fair. In addition to dogs, cats, bunnies (lots of bunnies, bunnies doing what bunnies do), and other animals up for adoption, there will be demonstrations and even free stuff.

The shelter has some very nice animals in a range of sizes and types. The shelter is required to accept all comers and therefore cannot be a no-kill shelter. Any animal you adopt will enrich your life immeasurably and will make room for the other guys, letting them stay around until their owners can find them or they find good homes, too.

Summer can be especially bad. Housesitters accidentally leave gates open, and pets get out. Pets panic on the 4th of July and take off. People move, and barbaric as it may seem, leave their pets behind to fend for themselves.

Go to the shelter and do somebody a favor--maybe yourself.


After having been voluntarily incommunicado for some time, what was voluntary has been forced in recent weeks, thanks to AT&T and Caltrans.

On May 27, Caltrans contractors working on the 405 Freeway near Fairview hit seven major telephone cables serving hundreds of us in the Killybrooke and Mesa Verde areas of Costa Mesa. So, if you had no land line or DSL, you can thank Caltrans.

I learned this not from the phone company, who merely promised to send a repair rep, not from the newspaper, but while out for a walk. Gracie and I have continued our long rambles-- previously in the company of our late buddy Harley--into odd pockets of Costa Mesa and beyond. What should we come upon but an AT&T truck convention in Gisler Park! The repair guys were hard at work, but took a few minutes to explain what had happened.

We couldn’t phone out, and calls to any of the affected phones resulted in a continuous busy signal. Our service was restored after a few days, though not without some strange effects on the answering machine. Others weren’t so lucky. When we next visited Gisler Park, on June 7 over ten days after phones first went down, AT&T crews were still working to restore remaining outages.

As if that weren’t enough, AT&T has also been putting new equipment on the lines to provide telephone, high speed internet, and TV from their boxes, so next time Caltrans hits something we can lose the TV, too. The work on the lines caused additional, intermittent outages—and an even more goofed up answer machine. A subtle means of recruiting subscribers for their message service, perhaps?

AT&T says they will adjust our bills for downtime, but will not reimburse us for extra minutes on our cell phones. For that, maybe Caltrans should take responsibility. District 12 offices serving Orange County are at 3347 Michelson Drive, Suite 100 Irvine CA 92612-0611, phone 949-724-2000