November 1-7, 2006

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The Byrne Report

Election Blues

By Peter Byrne

During election season, I wait by the mailbox in anticipation of chuckling through colorful mailers filled with outrageous lies. Some people amuse themselves by snorting meth or sipping wine or watching television. When I am not pulling the wings off of flies, I recreate by watching self-serving plutocrats scramble after votes while pretending that normal people have a real say in how we are governed. I relish the glossy hit pieces published by paid political assassins.

In the end, does it really matter which corporate-branded narcissist gets to lord it over us for an unproductive term or two? The $74 billion (including interest) worth of bonds on the ballot is designed to serve Wall Street underwriters and politically savvy contractors who build public works with planned obsolescence and cost overruns in mind. The biggest laugh in this year's bond bundle are the "disaster prevention" projects. National, regional and local governments in America have seldom, if ever, been truly prepared for coping with natural and man-made disasters, because the "prevention" money usually gets sucked off into baggage X-ray machines that do not work, or flood-control systems built with substandard sand, or Predator drone planes spying on political demonstrations.

The Best Hit Piece Award for this year goes to Mike Healy, who is running for mayor of Petaluma. Healy sent out a vomit-colored mailer portraying his "nice" opponent, Pam Torliatt, as pro-traffic jam. It was sexist and dumb. When I telephoned Healy, he declined to talk to me because, he said, I had once called him a "nitwit" in print. He must have been referring to the column of Sept. 21, 2005, in which I described how he and other members of the Petaluma City Council tried to stall a garbage contract for transparently political reasons. But I did not call him a nitwit or any other name; the column was mostly a recitation of facts. (OK, I called him a lawyer. Apologies.) It is unfortunate for attorney Healy that he remembers himself as a nitwit.

Second place goes to Phil Angelides, whose union supporters mailed out multiple mug shots of scowling sexual offenders. Their ridiculous message is that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is soft on registered sex predators.

(While we are on the subject of Angelides: Why did the Democratic Party nominate for governor the only piece of protoplasm in California who could not beat Arnold? Answer: Feinstein, Boxer, Kerry, both Clintons and the party establishment are beholden to the man who created this wetlands-paving politician. Angelides' sugar-pop is Angelo Tsakopoulos, the super-rich developer of the Sacramento flood plain, and a Democratic Party money pump.)

Schwarzenegger, on the other hand, deserves to be thrown out of office simply for vetoing dozens of reasonable bills such as protecting public health in prisons by distributing condoms; protecting farmworkers from being cheated out of their wages; and providing court interpreters to Californians who need language translation in civil cases. Not to mention vetoing same-sex marriage and universal health care! Both gubernatorial candidates moan endlessly about prison overcrowding while continuing to support the vicious "three strikes" law that has incarcerated tens of thousands of people who should not be doing hard time.

With the exception of supporting our antiwar congressperson Lynn Woolsey, I am voting Peace and Freedom Party down the line as a protest against the sock puppets. But I see no reason not to vote yes on general principle for the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) project (Measure R), or the water project (Measure F). And, yes! Sane Petalumans must oppose the Nevada Gold & Casino-controlled Indian tribe that would bring yet another life-destroying casino to the North Bay.

And that brings us to Proposition 90, the ban on state governments using the power of eminent domain to seize property for redevelopment and private purposes. This badly-written proposition is designed to undermine the common good and exempt developers from being responsive to environmental concerns. I was poised to vote no. But then I talked to Mary Ratcliff, who publishes the Bay View newspaper in San Francisco's Bayview-Hunters Point district, which is targeted for gentrification by eminent domain.

After 30,000 city residents recently signed a petition to force the Bayview-Hunters Point redevelopment plan to a popular vote, the city attorney voided the people's will, ludicrously arguing that petition signers had not been given copies of the voluminous redevelopment plan. Ratcliff is supporting Proposition 90, hoping that squelching the power of eminent domain will thwart the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency's plan to tear out the heart of yet another black community and replace it with expensive condos, boutiques and 20-bucks-a-shot sake bars. Her message is that saving California's inner-urban communities from redevelopment's bulldozer should be a higher priority than protecting the pretty beaches, open spaces and low skylines cherished by rich NIMBYs and the bed-and-breakfast set. Ouch.

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