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The following is a letter to me from Rep. Jimmy Panetta in response to my correspondence to him about the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. Following his letter is my response:

Dear Ms. Akkad,

Thank you for contacting me regarding the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (H.R. 1697) and allowing me to clarify my position as a co-sponsor of this bill.

I share your strong commitment to civil rights, including the First Amendment right to free speech. The Israel Anti-Boycott Act, however, does not restrict the right of U.S. citizens to free speech, but rather is a narrowly targeted bill that would exercise Congress’s authority to regulate international commercial activity.

In 1977, Congress amended the Export Administration Act to prohibit U.S. persons from complying with unauthorized boycotts by a foreign government. This law, upheld by the courts, was enacted in response to the Arab League boycott initiated after Israel’s independence. The Israel Anti-Boycott Act would extend this existing prohibition on U.S. companies from cooperating with foreign government boycotts of Israel to boycotts by international government organizations, such as the United Nations.

The legislation was introduced in response to U.N. Human Rights Council and other international government organization initiatives to economically isolate Israel while ignoring the atrocious human rights practices of some of the world’s worst regimes. The bill does not regulate non-governmental organizations, nor does it prohibit Americans from expressing their political points of view, including speaking in support of boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) efforts, engaging in boycott activities or otherwise voicing criticism of Israel. Furthermore, the legislation neither compels companies to conduct business with Israel, nor punishes them for refusing to do business with Israel for political or economic reasons.

Again, I share your commitment to the constitutionally protected right to free speech. As the bill moves through the legislative process, I will keep your views in mind and support any effort to further clarify that the bill does not infringe on the right to freedom of speech.

I appreciate knowing of your concerns and encourage you to continue to be in touch via my website, signing up for my e-newsletter, following me on Facebook or Twitter, or calling my office.  It is an honor to serve you and the central coast of California in the United States Congress.

Sincerely,

JIMMY PANETTA
Member of Congress

 

Mr response:

To refresh your memory, I had tried to offer Mr. Panetta some background about the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, given his support of HR 1697; had pointed out how such a bill would run counter to our Constitution; and then specifically asked him why, given his district’s composition, he would choose to be part of such a bill in the first place.  Since Mr. Panetta did not respond my points, I remain curious about his motives.

With the luxury retirement offers, I attended a meeting our congressman had with the Monterey chapter of Veterans for Peace on Friday, Aug. 18 . He was there to address topics of interest to that group, which included their concern over his co-sponsorship of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. Explaining his rationale, Mr. Panetta began by giving us his understanding that it “focuses on the Export Administration Act of 1977” that was created, in part, “to prevent people from participating in the Arab boycott of Israel back at that time.”

He continued by stating, “Arabs were boycotting Israel just because they did not like Israel. You know the reasons why. Back in 1977 this law was created … What the law says is that it prevents people from participating in an unsanctioned boycott of a foreign government.”

For emphasis he repeated his explanation, and said, “It prevents participation in a boycott by a foreign government.” He stated that the act went through the courts, was challenged and found constitutional. It is current law.

Then, in further explaining what he calls a narrowly focused bill, he said HR 1697 amends that act by adding international government organizations, “and that’s it.” He said, “So what the law would say is that it prevents participation in an unsanctioned boycott by a foreign government and international government organizations. That’s all it does. So, if you’re for BDS (Boycott, Divestments, Sanctions) against Israel, you can speak out. You can do your own boycott, divestment, sanctions. Companies by themselves can do their own BDS. It does not prevent anybody, and please correct me if I’m wrong, it does not prevent anybody from doing their own boycott, divestment, sanctions of Israel.”

He further stated, “It also depends upon how you feel about BDS. I am against BDS, Bernie Sanders is against BDS. I just got back from a trip to Israel where every single person I talked to over there, from people in Israeli leadership to people in Palestinian leadership — the Palestinian minister of finance — I had a one-on-one conversation with him and I straight out asked, ‘How do you feel about BDS?’. He said, ’Of course I’m against it. It hurts us.’ I spoke to people in the labor movement. They were against it. And I made sure because I wanted to see if there was anybody who supports BDS. Not one person supports BDS.”

He concluded by stating that before the bill goes to the House for a vote, “The authors should clarify the bill to let people understand that it doesn’t go against/infringe free speech. The second thing is if it comes to a vote as is, I will be inclined to introduce an amendment to the bill to clarify that bill.”

I believe Mr. Panetta hasn’t done all of the research he spoke of at that Friday. On a minor point, the Export Administration Act was introduced in March of 1979 and enacted into law by Jimmy Carter in September 1979. So, some of his terminology and dates are incorrect. In addition, unless my reading of the current bill HR 1697 from the government’s website is completely wrong, the bill, like the Senate’s version, still contains these words:

The bill prohibits any U.S. person engaged interstate or foreign commerce from supporting:

  • any request by a foreign country to impose any boycott against a country that is friendly to the United States and that is not itself the object of any form of boycott pursuant to United States law or regulation, or
  • any boycott fostered or imposed by any international governmental organization against Israel or any request by any international governmental organization to impose such a boycott.

Unless “U.S. Person” does not refer to you and me and to any U.S. company, I believe Mr. Panetta’s letter is inaccurate.  What he said to his audience Aug. 18 also seems to be inaccurate. “U.S .Persons” do appear to be prohibited from a boycott, divestment or sanction of certain Israeli policies. Perhaps Mr. Panetta should read the actual bill before the House. Again.

The trip he referred to was for freshmen members of Congress, along with Steny Hoyer and Kevin McCarthy, and took place in early August. It was paid for by the American Israel Education Foundation, a charitable organization affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Of course he met with those people! They’re the only people he either had time to meet or was allowed to meet on the whirlwind trip. His reference to the Palestinian finance minister is laughable because Salam Fayyad at this point has very little support or credibility among Palestinians and remains a relevant voice only for Israel and its allies. Like many of the other members of the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Fayyad has worked hard to keep the Palestinian economy dependent on Israel while promoting a small economic elite in the West Bank. Of course Mr. Fayyad would reject any support of the BDS movement!

Mr. Panetta could have spoken with people in the region who would let him know that BDS is not anti-Semitic but rather is against Israeli occupation of Palestine. Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, it is non-violent in nature and simply aimed at giving Palestinians the same rights as the rest of humanity.

There seems no logic to his firm rejection of BDS nor does he seem to understand the obviously complicated issues surrounding the Palestinian/Israeli impasse. Mr. Panetta’s focus on HR 1697 is its potential constitutional problem. It’s an important one, but it’s not the only problem with this amendment to a segment of the original unfortunate law.

In his Q&A session, Mr. Panetta said that if the authors of the amendment do not clarify it to ensure that it does not infringe on free speech, he will do just that. Given the wording of the existing bill, Mr. Panetta would have to rewrite a significant portion with very little apparent chance of it being approved. His statement also conflicts with what he said earlier in his discussion, that the House Rules Committee under GOP majority rule controls all amendments to House bills. He and Barbara Lee sit on the Rules Committee. So he saw exactly how her amendment to repeal the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) adopted after Sept. 11, 2001 was “plucked right out” of the Appropriations bill before it was sent to the House floor for a vote.

Mr. Panetta acknowledged that his amendment to cut off all funding for any executive order that would open up our coast to oil drilling received the same fate. So, what assurance does he think he has in offering any successful amendment to this or any bill? It’s easy for him to offer an amendment, especially in the environment on Capitol Hill. It appears far harder for him to be straight with his constituents.

I do not believe Mr. Panetta has devoted enough time to any investigation prior to offering his support for HR 1697. Perhaps it’s because he’s new to Capitol Hill or because he doesn’t have adequate advisers or time managers. That was clearly obvious on Friday when he mentioned that he had not had time to read the 10 questions the veterans had sent him prior to the meeting. His time with the veterans was also limited because his aide rushed him to his next gathering even though they had arrived late to this one. I left frustrated and assume others felt the same.

It also makes me wonder why a freshman member of Congress from an ag/tourist district feels the need to support this bill.

Akkad lives in Carmel and maintains close ties to the Middle East. Panetta, a Democrat,  represents the Central Coast in Congress.

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A Peninsula water solution without desal?

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For those of you who missed it, the Monterey County Weekly had an important piece this week raising the possibility that the Pure Water recycling project could be enlarged enough to eliminate the need for Cal Am’s tremendously expensive desalination plant. Here it is.

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Friends, in light of the violence and death wrought in Charlottesville, Va., the failure of the president to denounce the KKK, Nazis, and white supremacist groups is more than outrageous.

His suggestion that there are “fine people, very fine people” within these groups betrays a basic understanding of what these groups stand for and his continued efforts to try to maintain his base of support among these groups. The fact that millions of Jews were slaughtered by the Nazis and that thousands of Americans died fighting to liberate Europe, North Africa, and Russia from the horror of the Nazis seems not to register with the current occupant of the White House.

As the fascist organizations bask in the media attention and the equivocations of the president, they are planning to demonstrate in other cities to provoke violence and to seek attention for their warped, immoral, racist, and violent ideology. It is important NOT to allow police powers or other governmental authorities to suggest that their conduct is protected as free speech under the First Amendment. Their conduct explicitly advocates violence against Jews and people of color including immigrants. Permits should be denied and organizers of these hate groups should be brought to justice as terrorists—that is what they are.

Too many have died to rid the planet of the scourge of those who worship Hitler and now Trump. Let us draw courage and purpose from the courage and sacrifice of HEATHER HEYER who was killed by a terrorist (and the 20 others injured and the two police officers who died) and as part of a conspiracy of groups of terrorists who are pushing their sick and morally bankrupt ideology, looking for media coverage, audiences, and new recruits. Not in San Francisco, not anywhere… Time to build the resistance, time to join arms with all communities to denounce the hate and to promote the protection of ALL people’s inalienable right to life, safety, and equality…. The current occupant of the White House has betrayed his oath of office and should be impeached.

P.S. Last night in San Luis Obispo, 1000 demonstrated in solidarity with the victims of Charlottesville and in opposition to the Unify the Right Movement.

Bill Monning, D-Carmel, represents the Central Coast in the California Senate.

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Superior Court Judge Tom Wills has upheld Monterey County’s approval of the Ferrini Ranch subdivision along the Monterey-Salinas Highway. Disagreeing with LandWatch, the Highway 68 Coalition and others, Wills held on Aug. 3 that Monterey County’s environmental review adequately disclosed and mitigated impacts to water resources, traffic and air pollution.

The project consists of 185 lots with 168 market-rate homes and 17 inclusionary units on the east side of Highway 68 between San Benancio and River Roads. It sits across the highway from the existing Toro Park subdivision, also developed by the Ferrini developers, the Kelton family of Southern California, longtime campaign contributors to several Monterey County supervisors over the years. See previous piece on special treatment afforded the developer.

“To say we are disappointed is an understatement,” said Michael DeLapa, executive director of LandWatch, one of the plaintiffs.
DeLapa said Monterey County’s approval of the venture relied on unsatisfactory measures to mitigate water and traffic issues.

The environmental impact report said the Salinas Valley Water Project would provide a sustainable supply even though it is already in overdraft and is being seriously undermined by seawater intrusion.

While transportation officials say relieving congestion on Highway 68 is their highest priority, the development would add significant traffic to the heavily traveled road. The developer will be required to pay for another traffic signal, or likely a roundabout, and to widen a one-mile stretch of the highway.

DeLapa said LandWatch will consider an appeal.

“We remain undeterred in our strong belief, supported by strong facts, that the county and the court erred, and that Ferrini Ranch is the wrong development in the wrong place.”

You can read the court’s decision here (1.8M PDF file).

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Weigh in on what can be done about the racist right

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Your thoughts: Is the apparent rise of white supremacism a function of politics or pathology? Should it be confronted or ignored?

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Monterey County’s principal traffic agency is on the verge of trying to improve traffic conditions on Highway 68, also known as the Monterey-Salinas Highway, in a roundabout way. Literally.

Thursday night, three transportation officials made a presentation in support of replacing all the traffic lights on Highway 68 between Blanco Road in Salinas and the Monterey Airport with roundabouts, also known as traffic circles. The panelists were Debbie Hale, executive director of the Transportation Agency of Monterey; Grant Leonard, a TAMC planner and the point man on this project; and Rich Deal, traffic engineer for the city of Monterey. Mike DeLapa, executive director of LandWatch, was the moderator. They spoke to a lively group of about 75 residents who braved the humidity and Route 68 rush-hour traffic to attend the meeting at San Benancio Middle School.

While informational, this presentation was basically a hard sell of roundabouts, giving very short shrift to any other options. It may be that roundabouts are safer than traffic lights, as alleged. And it may be that roundabouts will improve the flow of traffic on Highway 68, although crawling along at 20 mph or less through the circles may be more of a slow drip than a flow. But for those of us who were previously force fed traffic lights all along this 15-mile “corridor” (the term used by the planner) because they would make the highway safer, allow a bit of skepticism about this “flavor of the month” safety improvement.

Whatever is decided, the money will come from voter-approved Measure X. Addressing existing congestion on 68 is the No. 1 priority for use of that money. The TAMC board is scheduled to vote on the roundabout plan this month, starting a process of construction design, right-of-way acquisition and environmental review that could take more than three years to complete before actual roadwork could begin.

Deal gave a lengthy description of the roundabout that is just being completed on Holman Highway (Highway 68 west), next to Highway 1 and the entrance to Pebble Beach. As a former designer of freeways, Deal said he much preferred designing a roadway that is environmentally friendly. He showed a diagram of the new roundabout, which includes a bike/pedestrian path over Highway 1, sparing bikers and walkers the nightmare of vying with cars and trucks in the roundabout. When asked why there was only one roundabout on this part of Highway 68, Deal said the money was limited. He said additional roundabouts are being proposed to replace the light at Community Hospital and the light where Highway 68 enters Pacific Grove.

Are there options other than roundabouts? Yes. Highway 68 can remain as is, an option that some in the audience favored. Or there could be a bypass at Corral de Tierra and San Benancio roads, which would allow traffic from these two busy side roads to enter and exit 68 without traffic lights stopping the flow of traffic.

This is an option suggested by Mike Weaver of the Highway 68 Coalition. It has been an option since the Las Palmas development was built. As part of the Highway 68 traffic mitigation for that project 19 years ago, money was given to the county to buy 11-plus acres next to the highway just north of the Corral de Tierra stoplight. This acreage makes the building of the bypass possible – no more land needs to be purchased. However, TAMC’s Leonard said the bypass alone would cost $25 million. In contrast, he put a $50 million pricetag on all the proposed Highway 68 roundabouts.

Another option is “adaptive signals,” that is, making the Highway 68 signals talk to each other, so that the green lights can be synchronized. This would also speed the flow of traffic. However, according to Leonard, this option costs at least $34 million, and it has been apparently rejected because of the cost.

How many roundabouts would be built? The intent is to place them on 68 at Josselyn Canyon Road, Olmstead Road, State Route 218, York, Pasadera, Laureles Grade, Corral de Tierra, San Benancio, “New Torero” and Blanco. Leonard said there may also be a roundabout at the Ragsdale intersection. The “New Torero” designation is for the expected improvements to the Torero intersection, at the Toro Park subdivision, which will be funded by the money from the developers of Ferrini Ranch. Leonard said that because the Ferrini Ranch development has been approved by the Board of Supervisors, and even though it is in litigation, TAMC must factor in the money the developer has to pay to mitigate the development’s traffic impact. TAMC has not played an active role in limiting development along Route 68, despite the fact that fewer vehicles using the road on a daily basis would make the highway safer.

The panelists observed that the roundabouts would not increase the capacity of Highway 68, which they acknowledged is used by far too many vehicles. Its design capacity is 16,000 vehicles per day, and currently it accommodates between 25,000 and 32,000. The primary reason to build roundabouts is that they are expected reduce accidents by keeping traffic moving. One study has shown that travel time on the entire route at peak hours would be reduced by approximately 5 minutes if the roundabouts replace the stoplights.

One person who spoke up is an avid biker who likes to bike “the loop,” the roadway that loops away from the highway San Benancio to Corral de Tierra. He asked how the roundabouts would affect bicyclists, who now can ride on the shoulders of Highway 68. If the roundabouts were built at both San Benancio and Corral, bicyclists would have to navigate the traffic circles while hoping not to get rear-ended by road-raged drivers. The bicyclist suggested a frontage road but the idea was met with a shrug. Clearly, some users of Highway 68 have not been given much consideration in this proposed plan for roundabouts. On the other hand, drivers of 18-wheelers will be happy to learn that their rigs will still be welcome on this scenic highway.

For those who remember when Route 68 was a two-lane road connecting Salinas and Monterey, be advised that TAMC also plans to widen Route 68 to two lanes in each direction between the airport and York Road, as well as between Toro Park and Corral De Tierra. Thus, our scenic highway will become a scenic freeway for the most part, and there will still be a few places for drivers to come roaring up in the right lane to cut in front of you as you enter one of the remaining parts of the two-lane highway. That widening of Route 68 has a price tag of $107 million.

There is a bright spot in all of this. The state has become very interested in protecting wildlife by building corridors for them to safely get over or under highways, so that they can still wander over their entire habitat. We were informed that even if the roundabouts are not built, and even if the widening is not done, the state will help improve the “connectivity” for wildlife at 10 locations along Route 68. The state would help pay for the expansion of drain pipes to make them big enough for deer and other wildlife to get through, so they can go from one side of Route 68 to the other.

According to Hale and Leonard, this plan will be presented to the TAMC board at its August meeting for approval. Once approved, the plan is sent to the state Department of Transportation for its review and comments. But since the money for the roundabouts will be taken from the Measure X taxes, a local source, the state will not be required to give its approval. Once TAMC gives the OK, it can follow the state’s suggestions or not. The public can write comments on TAMC’s website at this time, as well as after the plan comes back to the county after the state’s review.

How many roundabouts would be built at one time? No one knows for sure. Also, no one at TAMC knows how long it would take to build all the projected roundabouts. And no one knows how the construction process itself would hurt traffic flow on an already challenged roadway. The planners expect there would be more traffic on Imjin Road, which also connects Marina to the Salinas Valley.

One wonders what it would take to reduce the carbon footprint on Highway 68 –- to build light rail connecting Salinas and Monterey and to run electric buses for employees, as Silicon Valley employers do. Yes, it would take a lot of money. It would require a bolder view of the future than replacing traffic lights with traffic roundabouts. It would require embracing measures that actually reduce the number of gas-guzzling cars and trucks on Route 68, thereby reducing pollution, improving safety, and eliminating some of the worst road-rage drivers in the county.

My hope is that someday we will return to the San Benancio School and discuss our disappointment with the roundabout plan as we review TAMC’s plans for reducing the vehicles being driven daily on this beleaguered scenic highway.

Ann Hill is a retired lawyer who lives near Highway 68.

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I have been fascinated by elephants ever since I was a small child and my parents rewarded me for good behavior with a wonderful trip to the circus. They were huge and I was so excited to see such a large animal actually do tricks. There were other attractions that day but I couldn’t have ignored the elephants. They were just so damned big and different.

As history tells us, the Romans ignored elephants, only to get trampled by Hannibal. There should have been a lesson there for the ages but local politicians, the California Public Utilities Commission and Cal Am Water have blatantly ignored the elephant in the room of water politics.

“There’s an elephant in the room” is meant to identify a major element of an issue that is ignored or deliberately avoided while the issue is being discussed. During discussions of how the Monterey Peninsula is to come up with a reliable source of reasonably priced water, the invisible pachyderm has been the cost that eventually will be paid by Cal Am customers. Neither our local politicians, the CPUC or Cal Am has been publicly addressing the overall costs of future delivery of water. The total costs are not clear, but among the costs looming for the customers is at least $280 million for the desalination plant Cal Am plans to build and numerous other expenses to be billed later. That’s an elephant that doesn’t get mentioned during the ongoing and long-running debate over the size, design and location of the desal plant.

Instead, the politicians merely praise Cal Am’s progress on the project while the CPUC and Cal Am simply ignore the elephant. Whatever the cost, the CPUC will allow Cal Am to pocket the money from ever higher rates. All the while, the huge animal with a big trunk and big feet fills the room.

Even the best eye doctors could not open the eyes of the politicians. The CPUC and Cal Am, meanwhile, seem to have glasses that digitally erase the elephant’s image. And it will remain that way until the grassroots efforts now in progress restore the vision of the people in charge. Fortunately for the customers, the groups Public Water Now and WRAMP and others have been fighting the high costs and are making headway toward making sure everyone sees the elephant.

The CPUC’s mandate is that it treat ratepayers and utilities equally. But the commissioners don’t get it and our elected officials don’t seem to want to get it. If you, as a ratepayer, don’t want to get trampled even more than you already have, you should join your water activists as they ride the invisible elephants into the center of the public discussion for all to see.  Let the unseeing trio become like the Romans.  Get on board, see what you can do to open some eyes

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Sometimes news stories speak for themselves. This one from the San Francisco Chronicle almost does that. It’s about a proposed development in our midst called Walden Monterey. A place of peaceful reflection for those with $5 million for a building lot. Here is the San Francisco Chronicle and here is some advertising material in found online. Walden Monterey

Reflect.

From a Walden Monterey ad

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This past weekend, I read an interesting article in The Intercept, “US Lawmakers Seek to Criminally Outlaw Support for Boycott Campaign Against Israel.” It caught my eye because I’ve had the privilege of meeting and discussing this boycott campaign with one of the founding members of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Movement, Omar Barghouti. What I know about the movement leads me to conclude that it comes nowhere close to being a threat to the state of Israel, if that country is serious about ending its occupation and colonization of Palestinian land.

The subject is the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, H.R. 1697, that would make it a crime to support or even furnish information about a boycott directed at Israel or Israeli businesses called by the United Nations, the European Union or any other “international governmental organization.” Violations would be punishable by fines of up to $1 million and imprisonment for up to 20 years.

I did a double take when I saw that one of the many co-sponsors of the bill is our 20th Congressional District representative, Jimmy Panetta. What follows are the comments that I would share with him in a letter or face to face:

Dear Congressman Panetta,

I wonder if you can explain to your constituents why you’ve chosen to attach your name to the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, HR 1697.

In the first place, its title is misleading and it tries to conflate anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism. BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality. It is NOT anti-Semitic but rather it is against Israeli occupation of Palestine. It was inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement and, like that successful movement, is non-violent in nature and simply aimed at giving Palestinians the same rights as the rest of humanity.

Secondly, HR 1697, an AIPAC-sponsored proposal, appears to impose civic and criminal punishment on individuals solely for their political beliefs about Israel and its policies. Doesn’t that violate the 1st Amendment? Strictly speaking from a constitutional perspective, this bill seems to be antithetical to the very ideals Congress seeks to uphold. So, again, Mr. Panetta, why are you co-sponsoring it?

Thirdly, why would a congressman from the 20th District – one based on agriculture and tourism – feel the need to be a part of this bill? You sit on the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committees, not Foreign Affairs or Financial Services. Additionally and ironically, we live in an area that was affected by a boycott of its own back in the 1960s. What’s the difference between UFW supporters of that historic grape strike in Delano – like Caesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and Bill Monning – and BDS supporters? How is your co-sponsorship of HR 1697 going to impact Monterey or Santa Cruz counties? And, on the other side of the world, what kind of message is this bill sending to the Palestinians and Israelis when things are heating up once again in Jerusalem over the Al-Aqsa dispute?

In an effort to urge you to reconsider your co-sponsorship, I would be happy to provide you neutral and accurate information about the BDS movement, if you’re interested in being fully informed. Additionally, you undoubtedly are aware there are many Palestinians and other Arabs who are your constituents here on the Monterey Peninsula and in the rest of your district. Many of them, I am sure, share my concern over your seemingly needless support of HR 1697. If you’re interested, we could meet with you to give you information that might make you rethink your support of this unfortunate bill.

Sincerely,

Celeste B. Akkad

If Partisan readers feel as I do about this issue, I urge you to contact Congressman Panetta.

Celeste Akkad lives in Carmel.

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Think your Cal Am bill is big now? Just wait

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Cal Am sign at job site

The sign declaring “Your water bill at work” is, in the eyes of water activist Michael Baer, a big, fat lie.

It is posted at a worksite in Monterey where crews are installing a 36-inch water transmission line that eventually will be used to transport Cal Am water.

The problem, says Baer, is that the bills paid by Cal Am customers for the most expensive water in the country do not yet include the costs of the pipeline. That cost was originally estimated at $40 million but the pricetag has since risen to $53 million. What that means, Baer says, is that it is future Cal Am water bills that will be paying for the work. In other words, another rate increase.

In recent years, Cal Am has been authorized to charge more and more, sometimes just to maintain its profit margin and at other times for special reasons. For instance, Baer noted, the current bills include the cost of removing San Clemente Dam, which had silted up because Cal Am failed to maintain it. They also include a $40 million-plus award to Cal Am to cover the cost of water that wasn’t used because of conservation efforts by customers.

“Our water bills, the most expensive in the country according to Food & Water Watch, do not reflect a single penny collected towards paying for the Monterey pipeline costs,” Baer said.

Also still to come on water bills are incomplete slant well test as part of Cal Am’s desalination project. That 27-month test was initially pegged to cost $4 million. It’s around $16 million now, Baer said.

And then, of course, added on to the water bills will be the cost of the desalination plant itself. Early on, it was estimated to cost $280 million. Regardless of whether it ever gets built, the state will enable Cal Am to bill customers for its expenses.

Michael Baer is a retired public school science teacher,  a 30-plus year resident of the Monterey Peninsula, and a water activist.

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UPDATED WITH INFO ON HOLLISTER ARREST

Look for the upstart cannabis industry of Salinas, and possibly a wider swath of the community, to be shaken by a law enforcement search Thursday of the Salinas home of medical pot grower and restaurateur Mike Hackett.

As first reported by the Monterey County Weekly, marijuana and a plastic bag of white powder were found in an SUV parked in front of Hackett’s Maple Park home while the residence was being searched by the San Benito County Unified Narcotics Team early Thursday.

The Weekly has now reported that no bag of white powder was found.

The San Benito County Sheriff’s Office later reported that is had seized 150 grams of marijuana, scales, packaging material for sales, suspected marijuana pay-owe documents, firearms, and ammunition and had found a large amount of currency.

The news release said the search was an outgrowth of Hackett’s arrest July 1 during the Hollister Independence Day motorcycle rally. It said he had been arrested for possession of cocaine for sale. A sheriff’s official said he had been spotted openly sharing small quantities of cocaine with others at a bar.

The Weekly reported that Hackett was handcuffed during Thursday’s search but his lawyer, Tom Worthington, said there had been no arrest. Worthington said the search was authorized by a warrant signed July 14 by a San Benito County judge but authorities would not provide him with a copy of the law enforcement affidavit detailing grounds for the action. Such affidavits are generally made public two weeks after a search.

Worthington said he had known Hackett professionally and personally for many years “and we expect a very favorable outcome.”

A Hackett associate said he understood that law enforcement had received a tip about Hackett’s activities after he was arrested during a bar fight in Hollister during the annual Fourth of July motorcycle rally there.

Hackett owns Casa Sorrento restaurant in downtown Salinas and formerly was a partner in Hacienda Mexican Grill in North Salinas. Article updated to make clear that Hackett is no longer involved in Hacienda. As president of River View Farms, Hackett also has become one of the most prominent players in the Salinas Valley’s burgeoning medical cannabis industry. He was well situated when the industry started blossoming because he had purchased two commercial greenhouses that had been used by flower growers before trade agreements killed the local flower industry nearly two decades ago.

When Monterey County supervisors started handing out permits for commercial marijuana production, they limited the permits to operations within existing greenhouses. The stated intent of that rule was to keep the marijuana industry contained in easily monitored spaces. The result was a real estate boom among the rows of seemingly abandoned greenhouses south of Salinas. A Los Angeles Times article from last year explains the situation well.

Hackett has been quietly active in Salinas-area politics as a campaign contributor and occasional host of political fundraisers. Local law enforcement organizations and politicians have routinely used Casa Sorrento for fund-raisers, with Hackett sometimes donating the space. He was among several commercial pot growers to contribute last year to Jimmy Panetta’s successful congressional campaign, chipping in $1,000.

Hackett is a longtime friend and associate of another significant campaign contributor locally, David Drew, founder of the Growers Pub bar and restaurant downtown. Growers Pub has been the site of numerous political gatherings, which has proved controversial at times because of Drew’s decades-old convictions and prison terms on marijuana- and cocaine-related charges.

Hackett was featured prominently in a recent Sacramento Bee profile of the Salinas marijuana scene.

“Hackett grew up in the valley, the son of a lettuce and celery farmer. He graduated from North Salinas High School and has worked in nearly every aspect of agriculture, including planting, picking, property leasing and farm-pallet manufacturing,” The Bee reported.

“Most recently, in an area surrounded by strawberry and broccoli fields near the Salinas River – the ‘crossroads of heaven,’ he calls it – Hackett was growing poinsettias, succulents, carnations and snap dragons in aging greenhouses. Now he is converting family property to produce cannabis in a venture called Riverview Farms.

“Hackett never has grown pot before, but has no shortage of confidence. ‘I have the best agricultural scientists right here in the Salinas Valley,’ he says. ‘I have the best soil scientists. This is a plant just like anything else. There is no reason we shouldn’t be able to use our technology here and incorporate that into cannabis.’”

“Hackett says one of his greenhouses did ‘a sizable trial’ with marijuana cultivation last year and he was ‘very pleased with the results.’ He is planning on going into the business in a big way, exploring expansion beyond cultivation to a potential retail dispensary and a concentrates manufacturing facility.”

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Travel tidbits from The Clumsy Tourist

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Just back from two weeks of limping the streets of the mysterious East. No, not that one. The one with Montreal and the Back Bay and Manhattan. It’s only mysterious to me because I’ve haven’t spent much time there.

Don’t worry. I have no slides. Just a few notes that might be helpful if you find yourself alone on a bench on Mont Royal because your travel companions don’t want to hear another word about your sprained/broken ankle.

CHELSEA

Except for a rundown motel in Saratoga Springs, the cheapest lodging of the journey was at the Sheraton Four Points in Chelsea. The reviews say look out for mold. We didn’t see any. The location was good and the price, south of $140 not including tax, was super by NYC standards.

I had never heard of the giant Storm King sculpture park near Albany but I’m glad we stopped. They’ve got Calders and di Suveros and lots of other stuff

Everyone said, “If you’re going to be in Chelsea, you’ve got to go on the Highline.” We did go even though we didn’t know what it is. It’s an elevated walkway, a former rail line or somesuch, and it goes on for a long way and you get to see the city from a different perspective. Pretty cool.

At the north end of the Highline, we found our best meal of the NYC leg of the trip. Chelsea Market. Lobster rolls. There must be a lot of lobster around this year because everyone’s pushing lobster rolls. Even Arby’s. OK, probably not Arby’s.

I limped past the Chelsea Hotel, the one made famous by Janis Joplin and others.

FIREWORKS

Arrived in NY just in time for the July 4 fireworks show over the river. Either the East River or the other one. Biggest fireworks show I ever saw.

Katz’s deli in NYC has been around forever. If you can finish one of their pastrami sandwiches, you shouldn’t

NY has been overrun by people, lots and lots of them. People everywhere you look. Some might not be tourists.

We wanted to see a play but the prices were out of our range. We are not Cal Am shareholders. We kept entering the Hamilton lottery for discount tickets but no dice. So we spent $7 apiece for some cool shows at the Upright Citizens Brigade, a Second City type place where everyone’s trying to make it to Saturday Night Live. Very funny. One of the players was Aaron Jackson, who plays Ivanka on the Funny or Die web series “Jerad and Ivanka.”

HIPSTERS

Two thirds of our party wanted to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge all the way to hip Williamsburg. However, one third of our party is still limping pitifully from that ankle injury. You might have heard about that.  So we rented a wheelchair for the trip. This third of our party quickly learned what it feels like to become invisible in a crowd.

UPSTATE

Departing NYC in a rented Prius, we spent that one night in Saratoga Springs. If seemed like California, the Saratoga, Los Gatos, Menlo Park part. Lots of well-off people eating and drinking well.

Lake Champlain on a busy day

The least crowded part of New York state is farther north, way up there along Lake Champlain. It is beautiful and there is like nobody there, not even on a July weekend. In charming Willsboro, the hamburger stand is open only on weekends. It is a great place to relax before driving to Montreal. (More about Lake Champlain in a later installment.)

NO PARLEZ

The last time I was in Quebec was 40 years ago. English was still legal for most purposes. Now, as soon as you drive across the border, you realize that you know no French at all and will have to rely on instinct. Not only were there no English subtitles on the highway signs, I swear I saw some fine print saying “nope, no English here either,” only in French. It was nice, though, because it was a lot like going to Paris without having to deal with airline food.

Now that everything is online, it is hard to find tour books in many cities. If they exist at all, they are in major bookstores, and if you don’t speak French, you will have a hard time finding one of those in Montreal.

Montreal is a wonderful city. In Old Montreal, we ate at a Polish restaurant where Kate McGarrigle used to play the piano before her sister died and Kate stopped singing. I’d like to think their friend Leonard Cohen dropped by at times but the young wait staff wasn’t sure. Another highlight was the food at Moleskine, where we bumped into Giancarlo Esposito, who plays the owner of the Mexican chicken restaurant on “Better Call Saul.”

Montreal

MAPLE SYRUP, 3 GALLONS FOR $100

Burlington, Vermont, is also on Lake Champlain but it is worlds away from the sleepy New York side. Bernie Sanders used to be mayor there and he did a heckuva job. Great waterfront. Good shopping. Good college. Think Santa Cruz with skiing instead of surfing.

The rest of Vermont and New Hampshire also stacked up nicely but they were a means to an end for us. We were headed to Boston.

BEANTOWN

I tried to visit Boston 40 years ago but arrived by car at rush hour in the rain and sort of got washed away by it all. Much better this time.

In Little Italy, we abided by Boston law and had cannoli from crowded Mike’s Pastry Shop. Very good, but we actually preferred the fresher ones from Maria’s Pastry Shop, a relatively gloomy little shop on the other side of the neighborhood.

We did all the right things in Boston. Ate some beans, fed Paul Revere’s horse, etc., but the big deal was ancient Fenway Park. I grew up a Yankees fan, by virtue of geography and an overly competitive nature. After Fenway, I’m now a Red Sox fan, unless, of course, they’re playing the Giants. World Series next year. You’ll see.

Unfortunately, tickets to Fenway games, especially those against the Yankees, are pricier than Hamilton tickets. Our landlord for the weekend told us the secret. Buy them off Stub Hub but wait until about 30 minutes before the game when a $200 seat in distant left field becomes a $70 seat.

In the middle of the eighth inning, they really do play that awful Neal Diamond song, “Sweet Caroline,” but the enthusiasm makes it better than bearable. Center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. made a magnificent catch to rob Aaron Judge of a home run and the Sox went on to win. I’m going to have to learn how to spell Yastrzemski.

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If you’re interested in Carmel news, there’s really only one place to get it these days and that’s the Carmel Pine Cone. Which is too bad. The last two editions of the weekly illustrate both of those points.

On the positive side, there was quite a bit of news about Carmel in those papers, and though much of it was the stuff of press releases, there was a lot of it. Chicken dinner news, we used to call it when I was a paid journalist. Informative if not very illuminating.

In the not-so-positive column, among the biggest stories two weeks ago and again this past week was that the Carmel City Council was hiring local lawyer Glen Mozingo to replace the retiring Don Freeman as city attorney. Actually, it wasn’t the hiring that was not-so-positive. It was the Pine Cone’s selective fashion of reporting it.

The Pine Cone stories contained plenty of useful information about Mozingo and how happy the council is to have him but they left out some of the most interesting parts, such as how he was heavily involved in the successful mayoral campaign of Steve Dallas. The Partisan found that part interesting enough to suggest as far back as January that Mozingo was the favorite for the job, which pays $156,000 a year plus $275 an hour for such things as going to court. We made that prediction on the basis of the city’s decision to start slipping him some legal work here and there after Dallas’ election and the barn-burner of a speech Mozingo made at a Dallas kickoff event last year. The speech was largely a rant against the previous administration of Mayor Jason Burnett and City Administrator Jason Stilwell. I think we mentioned then, too, that Mozingo’s wife, Heidi Burch, had blasted Burnett and Stilwell when she resigned from a big job at City Hall. That wasn’t in the latest Pine Cone stories either.

The Monterey Herald hasn’t written nearly as much about Mozingo, but it did mention the Dallas connection in its story announcing his hiring.

Carmel plays politics hard. It’s personal and factional. Who’s in and who’s out is a big deal, and the Pine Cone hasn’t been shy about playing along both in print and behind the scenes. For it to trumpet Mozingo’s selection without mentioning his history and connections is like profiling Newt Gingrich without mentioning that he’s a Republican. Pine Cone Publisher Paul Miller did everything in his power to cultivate Burnett and Stilwell and everything in his power to run Stilwell out of town when he didn’t play the right kind of ball.

The Monterey County Weekly may have been a bit slow to pick up on the Mozingo thing but it did do a nice job in a Squid Fry column reporting on two impressive-sounding medals “dangling” on Mozingo’s curriculum vitae.

The Partisan wrote about one of them, the U.S. Congressional Medal of Distinction, in January but not the other. The Congressional Medal of Distinction is awarded to GOP campaign contributors and is given out by the National Republican Congressional Committee. It isn’t a hard medal to come by as long as you don’t mind writing a few checks.

The other big award touted by Mozingo is the Congressional Gold Medal. Mozingo said on his resume that he received both of the congressional awards for work he did negotiating highway funding.

Here’s what the Weekly wrote about that

“As for the prestigious Congressional Gold Medal, it’s been awarded to the likes of Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan and Mother Theresa. Squid could find no evidence Mozingo ever received one, so Squid checked with the U.S. Office of the Historian in Washington, D.C., just to be sure. Their answer: nope. Mozingo emailed a photo of the medal in question to the Weekly, and it’s another NRCC medal (that’s the one for campaign contributors.) The box states, ‘In recognition of support for President Bush and the Republican Party.’ Squid found one on eBay for $19.99.”

The Partisan emailed the author of the two Pine Cone pieces, Mary Schey, early Tuesday to ask why she hadn’t included anything about the Mozingo-Dallas relationship or the congressional awards. No word from her yet but we’ll add her response if it arrives.

One of the Schey articles, under a headline about how the Carmel Council was “ebullient” over its ability to snag Mozingo. did mention Dallas in passing, quoting him as saying that no one had objected to the hiring of his friend.

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A brief in this week’s Monterey County Weekly about a scrap between county police agencies and media outlets over the encryption of police radio traffic got me thinking.

First, as a former reporter who spent years in newsrooms with police scanners squawking just loud enough to be heard by a stressed-out desk editor or an amped-up cop reporter, I naturally side with the media on this one. I hope the Law Enforcement Officer Association changes direction.

For myself and my erstwhile colleagues, police scanners were a valuable tool that provided a rolling outline of what was happening in the local emergency services world. They’re critical for photographers and camera crews, whose appetites are whetted by locations of big traffic accidents, water rescues or street closures caused by police incidents. Often the first hint of something bigger – an armed robbery or drive-by shooting – came when the newsroom scanner emitted a be-on-the-lookout for suspects or getaway cars. Never once did I hear of any police complaints about the media misusing scanners.

Secondly, my nostalgia circuits switched on full as I thought about about the times newsroom scanners sent me or colleagues out the door headed to a big fire, a shooting or, just a few years ago, after a black bear lumbering through a Seaside neighborhood.

I recalled rookie lessons in decoding scanner language — the state Penal Code numbers for serious crimes, the police 10-code, the frequencies used by different police and fire agencies. I heard dispatchers use the term X-Ray for a female — as in, “See the X-Ray at (such-and-such location)” — but never figured out why. In scanner world, there were males and X-rays.

At my first newspaper job in the Humboldt County hamlet of Garberville, I had two electrical devices on my desk, a pencil sharpener and a police scanner. The sharpener probably provided more practical use. The only channel the scanner picked up clearly was used by the volunteer fire department. Since the volunteers were alerted to any emergency by thunderous horn blasts that rattled every window in town, the scanner wasn’t necessary to sound the alert in my one-man newsroom. Still I liked to see the tiny bank of red lights flash by on the scanner. I felt a link to a bigger world beyond the office walls.

I recall cop reporters who fussed over their scanners — programming new frequencies, fine-tuning the squelch — as avidly as garage mechanics tuning up hot rods.

A guaranteed heart-thumper was riding shotgun with a photographer with a scanner on the dashboard blaring at top volume. The photographer would be pressing the pedal to the metal, passing cars right and left, steering with one hand while fiddling with the scanner knobs and then yell over the din, “Did you catch the address?”

While the radio traffic offered bare tips on whether a consequential story might be breaking, I don’t recall any sensitive information about a crime or emergency being relayed on a newsroom scanner.

Both police and fire agencies seemed to routinely use tactical channels on frequencies we didn’t  know for that kind of talk. You’d invariably hear instructions to switch over to the “silver channel,” or “channel B” just as things got interesting. Often, you’d hear cops at the scene being told to “use a landline” to relay information. 

In recent years, to the frustration of myself and other nosy reporters, police scanner traffic provided sparser information. Transmissions from fire agencies rolling medical crews to emergencies provided a better inkling something was happening.

Scanner traffic never substituted for reporters and cameras on the scene. At a minimum, a reporter would call a police commander if something caught their ear on the scanner and ask, “What the heck is going on?” 

No self-respecting reporter or editor would base a story on unverified radio calls. The line gets a little blurry today with social media, but responsible media tweeting on scanner traffic attribute it to emergency radio reports and underscore that it’s unverified. The old rule that it’s best to be right rather than first is still a good rule.

The move by local police agencies to screen scanner transmissions from the media behind encryption seems a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist. The Weekly reported that police agencies are concerned for the safety of officers who may be harmed by criminals monitoring scanners after a major crime. But criminals, along with hardcore cop reporters, overnight convenience store clerks and other insomniacs, have been listening to police scanners since I began work in a newsroom 40 years ago.  

My inner cynic thinks it’s just excuse to plunk down public money on some fancy new police radio equipment. Legitimate security issues should be worked out between media outlets and police agencies. That would build trust between two key players in the community. Just saying no doesn’t instill trust, and it further obscures what the police do from the public they serve.

When I started journalism, a reporter working the cop beat on a medium-sized daily paper would start a shift by swinging by major city and county sheriff stations to check overnight reports, daily incident logs and chat up officers and other staff members in patrol and detective divisions. The rest of the day was doing interviews on non-daily stories, making phone checks with smaller city cop shops and checking out possible stories  picked up on the scanner.

Today the cop beat has largely devolved to rewriting press releases, attending press conferences hours after major events and dealing with police media relations officers who typically respond to questions by saying they’re working on a press release. It’s a one-way system in which virtually the only police news reported are stories fed to every media outlet. 

Partly it’s because of the lack of full-time cop reporters in depleted newsrooms. But timely access to basic police records such as daily activity logs was always a battle with insular departments. Years ago, some agencies started putting such records online. But they lagged a day or two behind. If an entry caught a reporter’s eye, it was certain no one would be around to talk about it for days or longer.

Aside from press briefings, staged events and interactions with public affairs officers, personal contact between reporters and police increasingly occurs only in the field at major incidents. A few reporters may have personal cell numbers for trusted sources among police ranks. But these well-sourced cop reporters are getting rare as newsrooms shrink. 

That leaves police scanners  – always a vital tool in community journalism – as one of the last unfiltered human links between the police and the people trying to keep their communities informed. It’s a bond that shouldn’t be easily tossed aside.

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The adversarial relationship between Democrats and Republicans has evolved since the election of Ronald Reagan. Market-interested Republicans are committed to limiting governance through deregulation and tax cuts. Empowerment-interested Democrats believe that government must guarantee the health, civil liberty, and consumer power of the greatest number of Americans through spending and subsidies. Democrats are pragmatic policy makers; Republicans are deductive policy makers. Democrats are evidence-guided; Republicans are doctrine-guided.

But both have a cognitive problem. They think their interests are opposed; when in fact, they are complementary. Republicans want profits from selling goods and services, whereas Democrats want the greatest number of Americans to buy the goods and services sold on the market. Both fail to see that the convergence of their respective interests is correlative rather than adversarial.

However, in 2017 Republicans added a new strategy to their tool box of lobbying, campaign contribution manipulation, voter suppression, gerrymandering, and old fashioned election contests. They moved from implementing ideological policies through constitutional means to implementing policies that hurt the people Democrats want to empower. They instituted policies of domestic cruelty.

On July 1, 2017, Coral Davenport of The New York Times reported that EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, has been working diligently to “disable” the authority of the agency charged with protecting the nation’s air, water, and public health. Using war metaphors, Pruitt told coal miners, “It’s sad that a regulatory body of the government of the United States would declare a war on any part of our economy… The regulatory assault is over.”

Mr. Pruitt, with the blessing of Donald Trump, has sought to weaken climate change regulations, repeal rules curbing pollution in the nation’s waterways, delay implementation of rules that require fossil fuel companies to rein in leaks of methane from oil and gas wells, put off the date by which companies must comply with a rule to prevent explosions and spills at chemical plants, and reverse a ban on the use of a pesticide that the EPA’s own scientists have said is linked to the damage of children’s nervous systems.

Davenport reports that instead of relying on the expertise of career civil servants in the EPA, Mr. Pruitt has farmed out his policy research to a network of lawyers, lobbyists, and the Republican Attorneys General Association funded by Exxon Mobil, Koch Industries, Murray Energy, and Southern Company. Under Pruitt, the EPA has been captured by market interests who are using it to hurt people.

Concurrently, the American Health Care Act (AHC) that passed in Paul Ryan’s House hurts people in order to pave the way for a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans. On March 13, 2017, the Congressional Budget Office Estimate confirmed that Ryan’s AHC reduces outlays for Medicaid and eliminates the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) subsidies for non-group health insurance. The AHC repeals (1) the increase in the Hospital Insurance payroll tax rate for high-income taxpayers; (2) the surtax on high income taxpayers’ net investment income; (3) the annual fees imposed on health insurers; and (4) the establishment of a new tax credit for health insurance.

By 2018, 14 million more people would be uninsured under the AHC legislation than under the current law. “Most of that increase would stem from repealing the penalties associated with the individual mandate,” according to the CBO Report. Between 2018 and 2026 the CBO anticipates further reductions in insurance coverage due in large part from changes in Medicaid enrollment. In 2026, an estimated 52 million people would be uninsured, compared with 28 million who would lack insurance that year under the Affordable Care Act.

CBO estimates that the AHC will decrease direct Medicaid spending by $880 billion over the 2017-2026 period. “That reduction would stem primarily from lower enrollment throughout the period, culminating in 14 million fewer Medicaid enrollees by 2026, a reduction of about 17 percent relative to the number under the current law.”

Moreover, “Under the legislation, premiums for older people could be five times larger than those for younger people in many states, but the size of the tax credits for older people would only be twice the size of the credits for younger people.”

The AHC also prevents federal funding of Planned Parenthood and any other program that is: “(1) a nonprofit organization described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and exempt from tax under section 501(a) of the code; (2) an essential community provider that is primarily engaged in providing family planning and reproductive health services and related medical care; (3) an entity that provides abortions—except in instances in which the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest or the woman’s life is in danger; and (4) an entity that had expenditures under the Medicaid program that exceeded $350 million in fiscal year 2014.”

These executive and legislative policies of domestic cruelty are the work of public servants who took an oath to the Constitution that seeks a “more perfect union.” Creating policies of domestic cruelty is a violation of that oath. Those policies are threats to the personal and environmental health of Americans. They also impair the right of all Americans to consume the goods and services offered by a market economy to the extent of their financial ability.

Will Democrats ask themselves: “Can we come up with a counter-strategy before millions of Americans are victimized by policies of domestic cruelty?”

Bill Daniels practices law and mediation in Monterey. He has previously written for Truthout and the WIP.

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