Saturday, April 30, 2005

Letter from Oakland

Aimee Allison for City Council
There is a special election for City Council in Oakland, and one of the eight candidates is a Green. Aimee Allison is endorsed by the Sierra Club and the Oakland teachers union. She has a BA in history and an MA in education from Stanford and taught high school for four years. She was also a conscientious objector in the first Gulf War, with an honorable discharge from the military.
Here's some commentary on her campaign from Bay Area blogger Daniel Borgström.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Mayors going down

Language No Barrier to Vitriol

Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn, locked in an increasingly acrimonious race for reelection, sharpened his attacks Saturday on Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa in their final scheduled debate and for the first time cast himself as the candidate who will upend the status quo.

"We can't afford to go back to … policies of the past. Let's go forward into the future," Hahn said, linking his opponent to policies he said have failed at the city's Police Department and its public schools.

The mayor also took a new swipe at Villaraigosa's past, injecting into the campaign a 28-year-old misdemeanor assault charge that was ultimately dismissed.

The tenacious attacks by Hahn hewed to a reelection strategy that has tarred Villaraigosa for his work for the American Civil Liberties Union, his lackluster record on the City Council and his ties to former Police Chief Bernard C. Parks.


Villaraigosa, who led Hahn by 18 points in the most recent Times Poll, also continued to criticize him for presiding over an administration that has been under criminal investigation for more than a year.

The two men, who also faced off in a nasty 2001 race for mayor, have tangled in four rancorous debates.


Hahn said he "rejected the status quo" at the Police Department and suggested Villaraigosa would take the department backward because of his ties to Parks, who has endorsed Villaraigosa.

The mayor said he "didn't like the status quo of not building houses," so he created a housing trust fund.

And embracing reform of the Los Angeles Unified School District, the mayor said he wants "to change the status quo at LAUSD."

Hahn largely avoided the issue of education reform until last week, when he said he wants to appoint three school board members.

First of all, is the LA Times selectively quoting, or has the mayoral campaign fallen to such depths as to produce front-page platitudes such as "We can't afford to go back to … policies of the past. Let's go forward into the future"? Mayor Hahn has got to be running the most pathetic campaign I have ever seen. This is a perfect example of how Instant Runoff Voting would improve our electoral system. After all, people were bored with the Mayor's race already when they voted the first time, in March. Hahn should be happy though... he could have been named one of the country's three worst mayors by Time magazine:

San Diego's Embattled Mayor to Resign

San Diego Mayor Dick Murphy, under fire for a city pension scandal that remains the focus of a criminal probe, on Monday announced his resignation and said the seventh-largest U.S. city needed a fresh start.

Murphy, who won reelection in November, said he would resign effective July 15, allowing him time to finish work on the budget for next fiscal year.

"A good leader knows when it is time to move on," Murphy said. "It is time for me to move on and time for a fresh start for the city."

Murphy, a Republican originally elected in 2000, was named one of the three worst big city mayors in the United States last week by Time magazine, which said the pension scandal had "discredited" his administration.

The $3.6 billion San Diego City Employees Retirement System has a deficit of more than a billion dollars, due in part to underfunding by the city and benefit increases.

Federal prosecutors and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission are investigating the fund's shortfall. The city attorney and district attorney have separate probes underway.


Murphy has been a lightning rod for criticism since he resumed office in 2004, after an election in which City Councilwoman Donna Frye won 5,500 more votes than him on a write-in ballot. Thousands of those votes were deemed invalid because voters failed to color in a bubble, and Murphy took office on a slim margin.

His resignation leaves the city with the choice of appointing an interim mayor until the next general election or holding a special election.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Disaster capitalism

In The Nation, a distressing article by Naomi Klein about Neoliberals at the World Bank and elsewhere using rebuilding as a way to force "reforms" on nations, behind the scenes and undemocratically.

As in other reconstruction sites, from Haiti to Iraq, tsunami relief has little to do with recovering what was lost. Although hotels and industry have already started reconstructing on the coast, in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia and India, governments have passed laws preventing families from rebuilding their oceanfront homes. Hundreds of thousands of people are being forcibly relocated inland, to military style barracks in Aceh and prefab concrete boxes in Thailand. The coast is not being rebuilt as it was--dotted with fishing villages and beaches strewn with handmade nets. Instead, governments, corporations and foreign donors are teaming up to rebuild it as they would like it to be: the beaches as playgrounds for tourists, the oceans as watery mines for corporate fishing fleets, both serviced by privatized airports and highways built on borrowed money.
You should read the entire article. These are powerful accusations.

Friday, April 22, 2005

gas prices, gas prices, gas prices

Here is an article on the energy bill I pulled basically at random (from the Houston Chronicle):

House energy bill targets gas prices


...By a vote of 249-183, the House approved a comprehensive new energy bill designed to increase domestic energy supplies and lessen the nation's dependence on foreign oil.

The 1,000-page, $8.1 billion bill seeks to expand domestic oil and natural gas drilling, encourage construction of new refineries and bar states from requiring their own specialized fuel blends — measures proponents say will help U.S. motorists.

To drive home the point, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., Thursday visited an Exxon station near Capitol Hill, where regular unleaded was selling for nearly $2.40 a gallon.

"Folks, it's about gas prices, gas prices, gas prices," Hastert said. "Consumers are getting squeezed at the pumps."


Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, responding to voters' e-mails on the White House Web site, said "the fundamental problems that caused the high gas prices ... were largely ignored during the 1990s and will not be fixed overnight."

But Stephanie Carter, field organizer for the Texas Public Interest Research Group, said the House passed a bill "that will do nothing to help consumers and will ignore clean alternatives" all just hours before the start of Earth Day.

The centerpiece of the energy bill would allow oil companies to hunt for crude in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. That proposal could bring a flood of new oil to U.S. refineries, but those barrels wouldn't begin flowing for several years.

But other measures would give refiners greater flexibility that can help avoid the price spikes that have plagued summer driving for years.

Red Cavaney, president of the American Petroleum Institute, predicts the legislation could make a difference by the summer of 2006.


EIA analysts examined two proposals included in this bill — a ban on the gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) and expanded use of the corn-based component ethanol — and concluded those measures could push up the cost of producing gasoline by a few cents per gallon.


MTBE was added to gasoline to help fuel burn more cleanly. But this chemical has been blamed for fouling water supplies.

Protection from such lawsuits was "the No. 1, the No. 2 and the No. 3 issue for us," oil industry lobbyist Cavaney said.

Much of the nation's MTBE production is centered in Houston. And House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, has repeatedly insisted it remain in the bill.

Now I dislike paying high prices for gas as much as anyone else, but this is incredibly short-sighted. Energy Secretary Bodman is right to say that "the fundamental problems that caused the high gas prices ... were largely ignored during the 1990s," but he doesn't acknowledge that this bill hardly addresses those fundamental problems. Lower gas prices in the short term will only lead to gas shortages in the next few decades.

Debates over ethanol -- a scam, basically -- and MTBE are totally besides the point. Environmentalists are already using MTBE to attack DeLay, but I'm not sure I agree with their premise. MTBE is a sad case, but since Congress told oil companies to add it, I don't see how they can hold the companies accountable now (feel free to correct me in the comments if you disagree). Anyway, the real necessity is alternative sources of energy, which this bill hardly addresses. Any tax breaks they give to renewable energy are totally offest by the breaks they are giving to oil companies and utilities.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Green Party state meeting info

The next Green Party of California plenary is May 21-22 in the San Fernando Valley (Sylmar). The schedule is here.

Support the troops: use less oil, pt. 2

It isn't fully available on-line, but there is a great article in The Atlantic this month about how the military's rejection of fuel efficiency is increasing the cost of the war and putting soldiers in danger. The Pentagon rejected the advice of a commission a few years ago to consider fuel economy in new vehicles. Now, some of their heavily armored vehicles get as little as one mile per gallon of gasoline. The transportation of this fuel creates more targets for insurgents, and in turn requires more heavy armor and humvees to guard the transports.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Support the troops: use less oil

Last month, the Energy Future Coalition wrote to the President urging him to pursue an energy policy that would curtail the use of fossil fuels.

As the Wall Street Journal reported last month:

Today, 26 former national-security officials from Republican and Democratic administrations will send a letter to President Bush calling for "a major new initiative to curtail U.S. consumption" by improving the fuel economy of U.S. autos and developing alternatives to fossil fuels. The group asks the federal government to spend as much as $1 billion on the effort over the next five years—"a level proportionate with other priorities for our nation's defense."

Now the New York Times notes that President Bush has, predictably, ignored this advice, and is still pushing an energy plan -- developed with the help of the energy industry behind closed doors -- that would continue to subsidize the use of fossil fuels:

The House is moving quickly and with sad predictability toward approval of yet another energy bill heavily weighted in favor of the oil, gas and coal industries. In due course the Senate may give the country something better. But unless Mr. Bush rapidly elevates the discussion, any bill that emerges from Congress is almost certain to fall short of the creative strategies needed to confront the two great energy-related issues of the age: the country's increasing dependency on imported oil, and global warming, which is caused chiefly by the very fuels the bill so generously subsidizes.
Where are the Democrats on this? In California, they are trying to get rid of the gas tax!

Thomas Friedman, the flat world and geo-greens

I'm not really a fan of Thomas Friedman, but I've been paying more attention to him since he introduced his "Geo-Green" label. If you haven't seen his columns, the point is that an interventionist, globalist, even neocon agenda should be combined with support for alternative energy and conservation. Alternative energy could become a huge industry with the right incentives from government, and if America did this quickly, those jobs would be created here, and we would regain some global respect. Meanwhile, less reliance on foreign oil potentially undermines undemocratic regimes in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, etc. Combine this with support for democratic movements in these countries, and it might lead to bloodless revolutions (as in Ukraine) rather than wars (Iraq). He is now promoting a book that discusses these issues, along with the broader question of how globalization is changing the world and impacting American competitiveness.

Today Robert Wright offered an extension of Friedman's argument in Slate:

[Friedman] shows us some of globalization's beneficiaries—such as Indians who take "accent neutralization" classes and who, so far as I can tell, are as decent and worthy as the American airline reservation clerks and tech-support workers whose jobs they're taking (and who seem to prefer "exploitation" to nonexploitation). What's more, even as some Americans are losing, other Americans are winning, via cheaper airline tickets, more tech support, whatever. So, with net gains outweighing net losses, it's a non-zero-sum game, with a positive-sum outcome—a good thing on balance, at least from a global moral standpoint. (I've argued that this is the basic story of history: Technological evolution allows the playing of more complex, more far-flung non-zero-sum games, and political structures adapt to this impetus.)

Even globalization's downsides—such as displaced American workers—can have an upside for liberals in political terms. A churning workforce strengthens the case for the kind of safety net that Democrats champion and Republicans resist. (Globalization-induced jitters may help explain why President Bush's plan to make Social Security less secure hasn't captured the nation's imagination.) Friedman outlines an agenda of "compassionate flatism" that includes portable, subsidized health care, wage insurance, and subsidies for college and vocational school. You can argue about the details, and you can push them to the left. (He notes that corporations like to put offices and factories in countries with universal health care.) But this is clearly a Democratic agenda, and, as more and more white-collar jobs move abroad, its appeal to traditionally Republican voters should grow.

Globalization's domestic disruptions can also be softened by global institutions. As the sociologist Douglas Massey argues in his just-published liberal manifesto Return of the L Word, the World Trade Organization, though reviled on the far left as a capitalist tool, could, with American leadership, use its clout to enforce labor standards abroad that are already embraced by the U.N.'s toothless International Labor Organization. For example: the right of workers everywhere to bargain collectively. (Workers of the world unite.)


Like Friedman, I accept Bush's premise that spreading political freedom is both morally good and good for America's long-term national security. But is Bush's instinctive means to that end—invading countries that aren't yet free—really the best approach? Friedman's book fortified my belief that the answer is no.

Friedman, unlike many liberals, has long appreciated that, more than ever, economic liberty encourages political liberty. As statist economies have liberalized, this linkage has worked faster in some cases (South Korea, Taiwan) than in others (China), but it works at some speed just about everywhere.

Wright seems to be writing for a Democratic audience, and he ends his long (for Slate, very long) article with an ad hominem attack on "Naderite nationalists" who oppose globalization. Whether the label is fair or not -- I have always been an internationalist; isn't the attack on lefties always that we blame America first? -- the point is that globalization is a fact, and we should embrace the aspects of it that make the world a better, more peaceful place, and attempt to fix the parts that don't. Greens should push progressive policies that address Friedman's "compassionate flatism" agenda--education, health care, job training, research investments -- as well as connected issues of alternative energy, immigration reform and support for Democratic movements.


Welcome to Michael Rochmes's Green Party Blog. Although nobody has asked me any questions about this newly minted blog, I'll introduce it in a Frequently Asked Questions manner:

Q. What is the purpose of this blog?

A. There are three things I am trying to do here. The first is to work out my own political opinions. The second is to start a discussion within the Green Party about the direction of the party, and how it can be most effective. The third is to create a space to discuss and diseminate news and research that impacts that discussion.

Q. Is this website officially related to the Green Party?

A: No. This site has no official connection to the Green Party. I have not told anyone I am starting it. I am, however, currently the database coordinator for the Green Party of Los Angeles County, which means I maintain the database of voters that the GPLAC got from the Registrar of Voters. But that position has nothing to do with this website.

Q. What kinds of issues will be discussed on this blog?

A. Well, I believe that the most important issues for the Green Party to address are energy and health care, so those wil come up a lot. Since all politics are local and the Green Party is a grassroots political party, I will discuss issues affecting California and Los Angeles (I grew up in Santa Monica, went to college in Berkeley, lived for a year in Washington, D.C., and returned to Southern California in the summer of 2004. I now live in Los Angeles, near Larchmont Village). Lastly, I will discuss internal Green Party politics -- the kind of thing you can read about the Democrats or Republicans in the Los Angeles Times or popular blogs, but that go largely unreported about third parties because of a lack of mainstream interest.

As best I can, I am going to keep this blog focused on solving problems, rather than attacking individuals. So don't expect accusations about Tom DeLay's corruption or gossip about the sex lives of conservatives. If that makes this blog boring, so be it.

Q. Why is this called Michael Rochmes' Green Party Blog?

A. This is not going to be a personal blog. I am not going to talk about what I had for breakfast or what my favorite movie is. But I do want to be open about where the opinions that are discussed are coming from.

I have wanted to start a blog to discuss my political views and the Green Party for some time, but have been reticient to do so, particularly because of concerns about identifiying myself. Although I have been involved in the Green Party off and on since high school, I have not always wanted to wear my political affiliation on my sleeve. For one thing, I wanted to become a journalist, although I now think that is not the right career path for me. Secondly, many people who I agree with on most issues were so angry over the presidential election in 2000 that I was afraid of being shunned or even discriminated agaisnt by a potential employer. (For the record, I supported Ralph Nader -- loudly and vigorously -- in 2000. I supported John Kerry in 2004.) Conversely, I was worried that fellow Greens would get angry over my criticisms of the Green Party and some of my more conservative views.

In the end, I decided that anonymity is more trouble than it is worth.

Q. Why the Green Party?

A. This is a tough question. Kerry's campaign was more liberal in many ways than Gore's, and the destruction of the George W. Bush administration calls out for a unified opposition. But I still believe there is a place for the Green Party in the short and long term. Democrats are too cautious and too wedded to the status quo in terms of fuel efficiency, universal health care, the war on drugs, and yes, gay marriage. While I hope the Democrats can regain power in Washington, I think the Greens, if we get our act together, can help move public opinion on vital issues facing our country and the world. If the Democrats (or Republicans) steal these issues from us, so much the better.