Tag Archives: legislation

Congress could still be MIA after new war powers bill

On a regular basis, members of Congress grumble about the Executive Branch usurping the war powers granted to Congress by the U.S. Constitution. Nevertheless, air strikes and other incursions continue unabated. Last month, President Joe Biden ordered “defensive precision air strikes” in Iraq and Syria, reportedly in response to drone attacks on U.S. personnel stationed in Iraq.

This month, Congress’ grumbling resulted in Senate Bill 2391, the National Security Powers Act, introduced on 07/20/21 by Senators Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont).

SB 2391 aims to do the following:

  • Increase Congress’ control over the authorization of military actions.
  • Reform the review of weapons sales to foreign countries.
  • Increase Congress’ control over the declaration of national emergencies.

The Bill aims to accomplish its objectives principally by the following:

  • Repeal of the War Powers Resolution of 1973.
  • Sunset four existing authorizations for the use of military force. One of which is the open-ended authorization President Dwight Eisenhower obtained from Congress in 1957 purportedly to protect Middle Eastern nations from Communist aggression. The remaining three authorizations are those Congress granted following the 9/11 attack on the U.S.
  • Set forth the minutia of what words in the Bill mean, when a U.S. President can send troops into military action without Congress’ authorization, and when authorizations are supposed to end.
  • Require Congressional authorization for foreign arms sales over certain amounts.
  • Require a President submit underlying laws and protocols supporting declarations of emergency, and limit the duration of states of emergency.

In spite of rhetoric about usurpation of war powers, all this bill aims to accomplish is a reform of how Congress can continue to dodge its Constitutional responsibility to speedily and efficiently deliberate on matters of war, and choose to declare or not declare war when military hostilities arise.

If Congress were really serious about curbing Presidential usurpation of power in matters of military action, all that Congress needs to do is repeal all war-related statutory authorizations now on the books and abide solely by what the U.S. Constitution states in Article I, Section 8, Clause 11; and Article II, Section 2,

Article I – Congress shall have the power,

  • To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
  • To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
  • To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces.

Article II –

  • The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States.

Articles I and II make clear that Congress needs to declare war before a President exercises his duties as Commander in Chief. Constitutionally, in matters of war a President’s duties are solely military, directing deployments of troops placed at his command by Congress.

This Bill requires Congressional approval of government foreign arms sales over certain amounts. This requirement implies Congress’ view that choosing arms buyers is akin to choosing friends and foes. Besides, the U.S. Constitution gives Congress sole power in Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 to “Regulate commerce with foreign nations.”

The last time Congress exercised its Constitutional responsibility under Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 was December 1941. For the last 80 years, men and women in the military have been sent into battle without public debate or a formal declaration of war. Although Senate Bill 2391 falls short in requiring that Congress exercise its Constitutional duty regarding the declaration of war, it does call for some restraints that could prevent the Executive Branch from engaging the nation in forever wars.

Pictured: Korean War – Nearly 40,000 U.S. soldiers died in action and more than 100,000 were wounded in a war that was never declared by the U.S. Congress.

Yoga Moms United for Slow Streets

Today’s urban streets that feature barricades prohibiting thru traffic sport different names depending on target population – slow streets, car-free streets, safe streets, and open streets are the most popular titles.  Bikers, joggers, and central planners love these streets.  Central planners especially have been dreaming about the extinction of automobiles for decades.

The COVID-19 pandemic was the brass ring, the golden ticket for car-free-streets implementation in cities throughout the U.S.  Sheltered-in-place folks in urban areas needed safe outdoor spaces for fresh air and exercise, and car-free streets stepped in as a solution.

The City of Oakland was the first in California to implement a slow-streets program back in April 2020.  The cities of Emeryville, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Berkeley, Alameda, and others soon followed.   

However now as the pandemic wanes, so does the temporary nature of car-free streets.  Local legislation is popping up to make these streets permanent.  Cities are rebranding the streets’ existence as good for health, recreation and pedestrian protection regardless of pandemics. 

California assembly member Adrin Nazarian (D-LA) introduced AB 773 (at present awaiting referral) to facilitate the “closing of a portion of any street to through vehicular traffic if local authorities deem such action necessary for the safety and protection of people using that portion of the street.”

All the enthusiasm for car-free streets comes with a measure of cynicism. 

Car-free streets are best suited for yoga moms, cycling dads and others in the higher-income brackets.  They fit right in with the lifestyles of work-from-home professionals that like to go out for a stroll between Zoom meetings.  They are fantastic for bike messengers and able-bodied non-workers. 

Generally, they are impediments for workers that need to drop off their kids in daycare and/or school and be at work by 8:00 am.  Closed areas that provide direct access to destinations, such as the Great Highway in San Francisco, represent scarce time spent on meandering.  Car-free streets do not serve residents of neighborhoods plagued with crime, where taking a stroll down a street might not be the wise thing to do. 

In spite of talk of aiming for racial equity in car-free streets initiatives, neighborhoods with majority black and brown residents often reject them. 

Ah, but slow streets help small businesses that often employ those of lower income, no?  – picture of happy people sitting outside in a “shared space” on a sunny day enjoying their margaritas.  Feels more like advertising than truthful reporting. 

But slow streets reduce pollution and traffic fatalities! – no picture of the irate motorist barreling through a slow street barricade, or another just clogging up the parallel street.

San Francisco Supervisor Shamann Walton made pretty clear what he thinks of slow-street equity.  Of the proposed permanent closure of the eastern half of Golden Gate Park’s JFK Drive, Supervisor Walton said like “1950s in the South.”  Walton’s supervisorial district contains large populations of lower-income residents that live in less than safe areas, without efficient public transit.  Thus car ownership and usage is high compared to the rest of the City.  Where do they park if they want to visit the north-eastern part of GGP?  No parking along the closed portion of JFK, and the park’s underground garage is expensive.

In the city of Oakland, initial surveys on car-free streets showed the program was popular.  Problem was, two thirds of survey respondents were white and 40% had household incomes of $150,000 or more (Oakland’s population is over 70% non-white, and the median household income is $76,000).  So, Oakland’s Essential Places program, designed for lower-income neighborhoods, chucked the strolling/biking narrative, strengthened barricades so cars would not plow through them, and rebranded objectives as helping pedestrians move around safely in reaching essential destinations.  Maybe lower-income Oaklanders view slow streets as suspiciously as does San Francisco Supervisor Walton? 

Government programs are immortal by nature.  Like government bureaus, they are also “the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth.”   Especially so are programs such as car-free streets that help implement agendas like climate change, smart cities, or transit-oriented development.  For example, Smart Growth America, advocates for smart cities, contributed to the funding for Oakland’s slow-street initiative. 

The elites can comfortably ignore or embrace these agendas. The less affluent cannot.  Urban housing developments have contributed to gentrification and increased cost of housing for families.  Divestment from petroleum has increased the cost of energy and transportation.  Slow streets, coupled with a “transit first” policy that lacks reliable transit, only serve to inconvenience the working poor. 

Politicians and the public need to stop the cynicism.  Streets are for transit and responsible drivers that need to get where they need to go.  Bike lanes, street crossings, sidewalks, playgrounds and parks are the domain of folks not driving at the time. 

This article, written by JVN website editor, was first published on California Political News and Views

Taxes Disguised as Fees Raiding Your Pockets

The California Supreme Court accepted for review on October 14, 2020, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association vs. Bay Area Toll Authority. Those who recall the 2018 epic battle pro and con Regional Measure 3 (RM3), which raised bridge tolls by $3, might not be surprised.

The Court granted and held the HJTA case pending disposition of a similar case, Zolly v. City of Oakland. So, it will be a while.

The basic issue with RM3 is whether it is a fee – as supporters claim – or a tax — as opponents point out. RM3 passed with 55% voter approval. Article XIII, Section 3 of the California Constitution requires two thirds approval for passage of a tax.

Article XIII, Section 3 is the Constitutional Amendment approved by voters November 2010 as Proposition 26. Prop 26 was intended to put a break on the proliferation of taxes and fees emptying the pockets of California residents.

Difference Between a Tax and A Fee

Article XIII, Section 3 says any charge is a tax except what the Section specifically says is a fee:

“(b) As used in this section, “tax” means any levy, charge, or exaction of any kind imposed by the State, except the following:

(1) A charge imposed for a specific benefit conferred or privilege granted directly to the payor that is not provided to those not charged, and which does not exceed the reasonable costs to the State of conferring the benefit or granting the privilege to the payor.

(2) A charge imposed for a specific government service or product provided directly to the payor that is not provided to those not charged, and which does not exceed the reasonable costs to the State of providing the service or product to the payor.

(3) A charge imposed for the reasonable regulatory costs to the State incident to issuing licenses and permits, performing investigations, inspections, and audits, enforcing agricultural marketing orders, and the administrative enforcement and adjudication thereof.

(4) A charge imposed for entrance to or use of state property, or the purchase, rental, or lease of state property, except charges governed by Section 15 of Article XI.

(5) A fine, penalty, or other monetary charge imposed by the judicial branch of government or the State, as a result of a violation of law. “

(Article XI, Section 15, of the California Constitution refers to “revenues derived from taxes imposed pursuant to the Vehicle License Fee Law.”)

The Problem With RM3

Regional Measure 3 exacts a charge to motorists crossing the Bay Area’s State-owned bridges. But revenues derived from that charge are not limited to benefiting motorists by building highways or fixing potholes. The bulk of RM3 revenues benefits users of other modes of transportation, like public transit riders, bicyclists, and walkers.

RM3 is intended to fund a wide variety of improvements to Bay Area mobility. Therefore, the measures’ charge to motorists exceeds the cost of benefits received by motorists.

The use of revenues derived from RM3 make the measure clearly a tax, according to Clauses 1) and 2) of Section 3, Article XIII.

Proponents’ Argument

What argument could proponents of Regional Measure 3 make in view of Clauses 1) and 2)?

Aside from arguments that amount to we want the money, proponents argue that RM3 falls under Clause 4), a charge to enter or use state-owned property. They also argue that Clause 4) is not subject to the relationship of charge to payer vs. benefit to payer as are Clauses 1) and 2). Clause 4) does not have the wording on charge vs. benefit that Clauses 1) and 2) have.

Enter Zolly vs. City of Oakland

Robert Zolly, owner of an Oakland apartment building, joined two other small-property landlords in suing the City of Oakland. The lawsuit claims that the city’s fee for hauling garbage far exceeds the cost of hauling said garbage. Indeed it does, because the haulers’ franchise costs are included in the garbage-collecting fee. A portion representing the haulers’ franchise pass through is placed in Oakland’s general fund to cover expenses not related to garbage collection.

The Court sees a comparison between using garbage-hauling fees to fund general city services, and using bridge tolls to fund public transit and other modes of mobility. A strict adherence to Article XIII, Section 3 would render such use of funds unconstitutional.

Bigger Issues

Regional Measure 3 is the brainchild of the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). MTC is an agency easy to dislike. Its commissioners are appointed, not elected. However, MTC’s power to determine the destiny of the San Francisco Bay Area keeps growing.

Although MTC is a transportation agency, it is deeply involved in housing policy. Its Committee to House the Bay Area (CASA) has been a powerful influence behind state and local legislation dealing with evictions, rent caps, rent assistance, and other housing-related mandates.

There is a crucial difference between Regional Measure 3 and Measures 1 and 2. RM3 carried a mandate that all nine Bay Area Counties had to place RM3 on their ballots whether they liked it or not, and passage was based on votes aggregated from all nine counties. More of this strategy should be expected, as indicated by plans to place Faster Bay Area on a future ballot. RM3 contributed to the ongoing blurring of what a legal voters’ jurisdiction is supposed to be.

Your Pockets Are At Peril

There are pitfalls inherent in the kind of “regional planning” exemplified by RM3. If the Court sides with RM3 proponents, extracting money from Bay Area residents will become a lot easier. Proposals for tax increases disguised as fees will rain upon all our heads.

Stimulus Plans – Peace For Our Time

CARES allocations

Senate Version of CARES Act that passed the House on March 27, 2020.  Diagram from NPR Special Series: “What’s Inside The Senate’s $2 Trillion Coronavirus Aid Package.”

In difficult times people tend to want immediate solutions, regardless of how those solutions will affect their own future or the future of their descendants.

England’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain became the poster child for such actions when on September 30, 1938 he delivered to a jubilant crowd the news that there would be “peace for our time.”

Today the U.S. faces the challenge of a pandemic that is causing not only sickness and death, but also economic havoc. In response to a looming economic disaster, the Administration, Congress, Treasury, and the Federal Reserve all responded forcefully.

Forceful responses, often done hastily under pressure from a fearful public and eager special interests, are never free of consequences.

The Fed’s Response

Between March 17 and March 23, the Federal Reserve significantly increased its power and monetary risk by implementing its plan to provide funds and guarantees to private non-banking entities. This response shifts the burden of default from private investors to the American taxpayer – taxation without representation at its worse. The Just Vote No Blog summarized the Fed’s response in Once Again the Fed Wants to Save Us.

Congressional Response

Close on the heels of the Federal Reserve’s actions, Congress passed three major emergency spending packages, which President Trump signed into law:

* The $8.3 billion Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, signed into law March 6, 2020. The bill provides $6.7 billion in emergency funding to federal agencies responding to the coronavirus pandemic, and $1.6 billion to aid international response.

* The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, signed into law March 18, 2020. The bill includes provisions for paid sick leave, insurance coverage of coronavirus testing, nutrition assistance, and unemployment benefits. Funding available for the program is currently $3 billion. The federal Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that outlays for the next 12 months will be around $97.4 billion.

* The $2 trillion CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act), signed into law March 27, 2020. CARES estimated allocations are: $560 billion to individuals. $500 billion to big corporations. $377 billion to small businesses. $339.8 billion to state and local governments. $153.5 billion to public health. $26 billion to food programs. $43.7 billion to education and “other.”

“Phase 4,” an “infrastructure” bill is being considered. There is not yet an agreement as to what “infrastructure” might entail.

Future Consequences

The three emergency packages now signed into law, plus the anticipated infrastructure bill, represent huge increases in federal spending. Necessary by most accounts to revive an economy suffering from the devastation wrought be the coronavirus, but not free of future consequences.

As of April 6, 2020, the U.S. national debt stood at $23.9 trillion, the largest in the world for a single sovereign country. CARES and the other rescue packages will add to that already enormous debt. Our leaders under advice of post-Keynesian economists choose to dismiss threats of default or hardships imposed on future generations.

Government grows with spending, and government growth is a concern to many. With growth comes overreach and a moving away from the Republic’s legacy of limited government as spelled out in the Constitution. Our leaders, as well as the public, increasingly demand from government whatever it takes to fix a challenge, often without regard to Constitutional protections over individual rights and private property.

Representative Thomas Massie Speaks Up

A popular recent piece of news was Thomas Massie (R-KY) and his request for a roll call vote to approve the CARES Act in the House of Representatives. The narrative was how dare Massie stand in the way of passage of a piece of legislation designed to save us all from total economic collapse!

Thomas Massie dared because it was important to him that the Republic not die of a thousand cuts inflicted by the “let’s do what it takes” crowd. So, he announced before the vote was to take place that he would mount the challenge of a roll call vote and quorum. That prompted legislators to do their job and ensure a quorum in the passage of CARES, as the Constitution requires. As expected, though, legislators present refused a roll call vote.

The Just Vote No Blog recommends you watch Nick Gillespie’s interview with Representative Thomas Massie. The Representative from Kentucky deep dives into questions leaders and the media gloss over, like what is the extent to government’s role in this pandemic, where is the criteria for lockdowns, is the corporate bailout a transfer for wealth from workers to stockholders, why is so much money going into economic relief instead of into efforts to find a vaccine, test every American, produce ventilators.

There are Two Californias: Why Pretend there is Only One?

Scales of justice

In California, residents of the coastal cities are different from those who live inland. There is a similar divide between people who live in coastal states and people who live in inland states. Do these two factions enjoy equal say?

Inland states, less populous than coastal states, enjoy equal say in the U.S. Senate, where all states are represented by an equal number of Senators. However, residents of inland California have zero say, since the California Senate structure is based on population, exactly the same as the California Assembly. The needs of inland Californians might be entirely different from those of coastal Californians, but the inland people must live under rules developed and approved by the populous coastal people.

It was not always that way. At one time California operated under the U.S. Senate model, and all its Senatorial districts were represented by an equal number of state Senators. In those days farmers in the Central Valley had a change to compete with their big-city brethren.

That all changed in 1964 when an activist U.S. Supreme Court under the leadership of “Living Constitution” advocate Earl Warrant, declared in Reynolds vs. Sims that all state Senate seats needed to be allocated based on population.

One of the first things the newly empowered big-city folks did was to change the California Legislature from part time to full time. That happened in 1966. A full-time legislature is usually defined as one that meets throughout the year, while a part-time legislature meets for a portion of the year. For reference, today we have 10 full time state legislatures out of 50.

1966 marked the birth of the professional California politician, without other means of support, who keeps recycling through the state’s political system. It started the exponential growth in the volume of bills micromanaging every nook and cranny to be found. Staff, salaries, benefits, taxes, fees all grew as well.

For those readers interested in the first part of the new reality – Reynolds vs Sims, and the resulting neglect of farmers in the Central Valley – here is a link to an article in the California Political News & Views. Note that in his introduction to the article, publisher Steve Frank, mentions the ruinous results of California moving to a full-time legislature:  All California is Not Alike.

Would Even Bigger Government Fix California?

Big Government

The California Secretary of State cleared for signature gathering voters’ initiative 19-0012, that would do the following if passed:

* Replace the current partisan bicameral legislature with a non-partisan unicameral one.

* Increase the number of legislators from 40 State Senators and 80 Assembly Members to 250 legislators intended to represent by 2024 80,000 to 100,000 persons for each legislator.

* According to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, if passed this initiative would incur a one-time cost of hundreds of millions of dollars to expand the State Capitol in Sacramento to accommodate the new legislators, incur ongoing increased building maintenance costs of a few million dollars annually, and incur state costs of millions of dollars per year to oversee elections.

What are the Real Changes?

The substantive changes this initiative if passed would implement would be,

* A significant growth in government.

* A significant growth in legislators writing laws to govern California residents.

* A significant growth in costs, and thus presumably taxpayer obligations.

Can the Changes Accomplish Objectives?

Whether this initiative would accomplish its objectives might be questionable.

* There would be no change in California’s proportional representation based on population. Thus, the populous coastal areas would continue to dominate sparsely-populated inland areas.

* The hope that much smaller districts would afford residents better control of their representatives might be a consummation devoutly to be wished.

Representatives Without Representation

This Nation was born over the rallying cry “Taxation Without Representation!” Today perhaps the rallying cry should be “Representatives Without Representation!”

The Just Vote No Blog has often noted a new trend: Ideological legislators whose actions are based on what they believe is needed from their point of view, not based on what their constituents need or want.

We are not speaking here about unconstitutional proposals, which legislators should indeed reject. We are talking about ordinary things described in the Just Vote No Article Who Are California Legislators Working For?

Government Growth is Not The Solution But the Problem

Whether smaller districts at significantly increased costs would change the present ideological bent of legislators is something voters need to think about when considering increasing the size of our legislature.

Our Founding Fathers advocated a lean Federal government that focused on specific enumerated obligations.  They did not opine on how states should govern, as long as states operated withing the bounds of the Federal Constitution.

California’s government is anything but lean.  The volume of laws and regulations attempting to control every aspect of California residents’ lives is mind boggling.  Could residents in a smaller district control such a tsunami?

Lies, Hate and Disinformation – Should Facebook Decide What’s What?

FB Protesters - Copy

Crowds have been gathering in front of Facebook headquarters and Mark Zuckerberg’s home demanding that Facebook stop accepting political ads from users and stop availing users of targeted political ads.  The crowd that gathered on February 17 was organized by well-known groups like Media Alliance and Global Exchange

Some groups have demanded that Mark Zuckerberg step down as Facebook CEO. They cite Twitter’s ban on political ads and Google’s ban on targeted political ads as models for stopping posted content that mislead voters.

Although both major political parties use Facebook and other media platforms to promote their causes, the current demands focus more specifically on right-leaning political groups:

* Mr. Zuckerberg appears to be engaged in some kind of mutual assistance arrangement with Donald Trump that will help him to get re-elected. Facebook does not need to wait for government regulations to stop accepting any political advertising in 2020 until after the elections on November 4. If there is any doubt whether an ad is political, it should err on the side of caution and refuse to publish. It is unlikely that Facebook will follow this course. George Soros: Remove Zuckerberg and Sandberg From Their Posts. Letter from Soros to Financial Times, February 17, 2020.

* This year’s US presidential elections are in jeopardy—in part because San Francisco Bay Area technology company Facebook refuses to take responsibility for the lies, hate, and disinformation that are being spread using its platform. Crowd Outside Mark Zuckerberg’s Home Protests Political Disinformation on Facebook, Newsweek, February 18, 2020.

* Tech companies must play a more active role in regulating the content on their platforms, and we stand in full support of tech platforms removing demonstrably false content and instituting better transparency standards. That approach combats the spread of disinformation without harming civic engagement or limiting the ability of campaigns to connect directly with voters. DCCC, DNC, DSCC Joint Statement on Google’s Recent Changes To Its Political Ad Policy. November 22, 2019.

In spite of demands for banning all political ads or banning targeted ads, the real item on the left-leaning wish list is for Facebook to act as gatekeeper and ban false or misleading content. This is a tall order requiring ample resources, which does not help Facebook’s bottom line.

Facebook is not a content provider, it merely offers a platform for content generated by users. Therefore, Facebook is supposedly protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act immunizes websites from certain liability when they publish information provided by another source. This usually arises in the context of defamation, privacy, negligence, and other tort claims. It does not, however, cover criminal liability, copyright infringement, or other intellectual property claims. Findlaw:  Understanding the Legal Issues for Social Networking Sites.

The bigger elephant in the room, other than that Facebook benefits monetarily from political ads that might be misleading, is how would the folks creating Facebook algorithms determine what is misleading.

Say, a Facebook political ad states that immigrants helped build our nation, while another ad states that illegal immigrants are a burden to taxpayers. What ad should Facebook approve or prohibit? Could picking one or the other ever be considered objective? Would Facebook’s financial bottom line be affected by an effort to fact check such a complex question?

The point here is that what protesters are advocating is blatant censorship, and censorship outside the parameters of laws such as Section 230 is never good.

BART Considers Free Tickets to Remedy Dwindling Ridership

News from the San Francisco Bay Area’s rapid transit system is that ridership off-peak hours and weekends is dwindling, which impacts the BART District’s financial bottom line. In response BART is considering targeting that ridership with free and discounted promotional tickets, as well as a means-based ticket program.

Such response from marketing professionals is often routine. However, such response from BART is bizarre.

49% of people who responded to BART’s survey question “Why not ride BART on Weekends?” indicated concern about crime on BART (26%) and homelessness on BART (23%). There appears to be no follow up question whether if tickets were free potential riders would ignore these concerns, even if they could imagine the possibility of more homeless people and more people bent on crime also taking advantage of free rides.

BART ridership 2

BART Board Meeting February 13, 2020: Rebuilding Ridership

35% of respondents to the question “Why not Commute on BART?” indicated stations were too far from where the respondents lived. Would free tickets overcome that concern, even when BART officials eye removing “park & ride” spaces to get commuters out of their private vehicles, and even when there might not be viable ways for BART riders to reach stations other than by personal vehicle?BART survey

BART Board Meeting February 13, 2020:  Rebuilding Ridership

BART is not alone as a transit agency in its loss of revenue, but it serves as example of ravages inflicted by a cluster of intractable problems plaguing California:

* High costs of construction, operations and personnel leave little room for services such as providing sufficient security guards to ensure safety and custodians to ensure cleanliness.

* Astronomical housing costs that force people to move as far into suburbs as California’s stringent urban boundaries rules allow, where principal transit lines do not reach and local transit is scarce or non-existent.

* Large and growing numbers of homeless individuals that seek shelter in transit stations and ride public transit, especially during off-peak hours.

Homelessness is particularly problematic. Numbers are so large that they affect all social and economic sectors. Although BART finances are precarious, the agency can no longer focus on delivering effective transportation riders would be pleased to use. BART is now expected to divert resources away from transportation and toward dealing with homeless – and often mentally and emotionally impaired – individuals in stations and trains.

California officials fondly envision the death of the personal vehicle and the birth of a regional transit network serving Bay Area residents. At present, such vision falls under the category of cognitive dissonance.

Moms 4 Housing vs. Private Property

Moms 4 Housing

Sameerah Karim raises her fist with supporters after filing a claim to fight her eviction notice at Alameda County Superior Court. (Molly Solomon/KQED)

The Story, Once More

Hundreds of news articles have reported for the last couple of months the saga of four homeless moms and their children who moved last November into a vacant house owned by the investment firm Wedgewood Properties in Oakland, California.

Given that the estimated number of unsheltered people in the U.S. is nearly 200,000 (45% in California), one could assume that many take shelter unobtrusively in vacant property. However, quiet occupation was not the intent in this story.

The moms immediately received strategic and legal help from Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), admiration from public officials, and support from cheering crowds outside the house. They founded the collective Moms 4 Housing, and in the name of one of the moms, Dominique Walker, defended an eviction notice in court.

Dominique Walker’s argument was that the court must grant right of possession to the women occupying the house with their children, because housing is a right, the house had been vacant for two years, and the alternative to occupying the house would be living in the streets. Walker requested the court’s permission to offer expert testimony on the right to hosing based on federal and international law.

Judge Patrick McKinney on January 10, ruled that Dominique Walker had no valid claim to possession of the house, and eviction could take place. He indicated that Walker’s argument of housing rights under federal and international law were “outside the scope of this proceeding.”

Alameda County Sheriffs then conducted a pre-dawn raid with full swat regalia and battering rams, while many supporters of Moms 4 Housing surrounded the house and the press took it all in. Two moms and two supporters were arrested and soon released. Dominique Walker was not in the house at the time of the raid, since she was attending an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now.

Although Wedgewood Properties offered to pay for a few months of shelter for the moms they refused to negotiate the mom’s request to purchase the house through the Oakland Community Land Trust “for exactly what they paid for it.”

Rights Under Federal and International Law?

There are a number of U.S. federal statutes that prohibit discrimination in housing, provide home-buying assistance, and help with rent payments. None of these statutes mandate a roof over everyone’s head or indicate that housing is a human right.

There are numerous trans-national declarations of human rights. Most of these declarations were implemented by the United Nations, including one of the most notable, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In spite of its mane, the Declaration of Human Rights does not mandate a home for all who need one; instead it speaks of economic, social, and cultural conditions that should be respected. Perhaps most pertinent to the Moms 4 Housing case is the Declaration’s Article 17: ”Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.”

The Legal Perspective

The U.S. Constitution is clear on matters of property: no one can be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public good without just compensation.” (Amendment 5, Section 1). The prohibition applies also to States: ” …nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, without due process of law…” (Amendment 14, Section 1).

Judge Patrick McKinney’s decision in the Moms 4 Housing case should have been anticipated, given the case’s lack of a Constitutional basis, lack of U.S. statutes affording possession of other people’s property due to an occupier’s hardships, and the fact that international declarations (as opposed to international treaties) have no standing in U.S. courts.

Economic Realities and Progressive Solutions

The U.S. Constitution’s clarity in matters of private property has always been a stumbling block to those who favor a more communal ownership of property. They make a distinction between classical liberals (presumably outdated liberals) who defend unrestricted private property, and contemporary liberals who adjust the concept of private property to modern times. Corporate ownership of property, the function of wealth in political power, and rising economic inequalities are realities of modern time cited by contemporary liberals.

Contemporary ‘classical liberals’ (and related, ‘libertarians’) still defend the classical conception … However, most contemporary liberal authors accept private property as a fundamental right but supplement this acceptance of unrestricted private property rights with a set of social rights. This supplementation strategy also reflects the practice of many international human rights documents and national constitutions. Social rights (to housing, health care, etc.) are meant to counterbalance the harsh effects to vulnerable individuals resulting from only recognizing unrestricted private property rights.” Private Property and Political Power in a Liberal-Democratic Society, Dutch Research Council, 2016.

The largely supportive response from the press and from public officials that Moms 4 Housing received evidences that private property is no longer universally viewed as the unrestricted right of owners. However, Judge Patrick McKinney’s court order was based on the classical concept of property. According to the research paper mentioned above, such dichotomy could be remedied by implementing an “institutional translation” of “abstract proposals for a fair wealth distribution.” In other words change the nation’s Constitutional and statutory framework to reflect a concept of communal, rather than private, property.

Remedy Worse than the Disease

The Just Vote No Blog has pointed out in several articles that although the U.S. is overall still economically powerful and politically free, there are serious underlying challenges that need correction. Such challenges have the perverse effect of benefiting some and devastating others. Profligate government spending, an unsustainable national debt, cheap money, stocks valued at several times earnings are root challenges that will not be corrected by simply distributing property. Moms 4 Housing and their supporters are sadly on the wrong track.

Not Just Water Conservation Bills

Drought

Western states like Arizona, Nevada and California do suffer from droughts, necessitating at time severe water conservation measures.  However, at present California is the only state that has chosen to deal with its water challenges mostly by imposing draconian and now permanent restrictions on water use.  Meanwhile the state’s water infrastructure, such as reservoirs and canals, is either mostly neglected or on environmentalists’ chopping blocks.

The Just Vote No Blog recommends AB 1668 and SB 606:  Far From Just Water Conservation Bills, published today in California Political News & Views.

The article questions whether California legislators are searching for solutions to the state’s water shortages, or are simply thirsty for control over their constituents.  Why are legislators charging residents the highest taxes in the nation, and then letting the states’ infrastructure go to ruin?

California residents need to challenge AB 1668 and SB 606 before these bills become fully implemented during the next two years.