Friday, October 16, 2020

Endorsements for the Nov. 2020 election in San Francisco

Greetings. Hopefully most of you have already voted, but if not, I'm here for you.

Election endorsements are a tradition at The Gray Report because I think we don't talk (not scream) enough about political choices, and that's how we get dangerous extremists in office.

This year's ballot is a seminar in wealth economics. Government is not a business: it must provide services for free that cost the city or state money. Thus it must raise money through taxes. Taxes are a zero-sum game: when Donald Trump pays only $750 a year, other people have to pay more. Many of the propositions on this ballot involve privileged groups trying to avoid paying taxes. These groups include owners of buildings worth more than $10 million; CEOs who earn more than 100 times their company's entry-level salary; and the greedy homeowners who voted for Proposition 13 in 1978, locking in their property taxes at a low level until they sold, eventually plummeting the state's school system because of the budget cuts. They have decided underpaying their taxes in perpetuity on their home isn't enough. The chutzpah. Middle-class and working-class people do not have a ballot proposition this year to lower our taxes; for each one of these taxes that the privileged avoid, we will pay more. Go ahead: take a look.

Understanding the local races is more difficult this year because the San Francisco Chronicle  decided to make its endorsement editorials available to subscribers only, which makes zero sense to me. Do you want the people you endorse elected or not? Fortunately, even without a print publication, the San Francisco Bay Guardian continues to do the hard work of interviewing candidates and sharing its opinions with everyone. Thank you. I also looked at the endorsements of the LA Times, candidate statements on Smart Voter, and the candidates' websites.

Dear undecided voters: If you don't know who to vote for in the school board race, you're not alone. There's never enough information in these races; we'll work through it together. But if you haven't decided who to vote for for US President, please stay home.

US President: Joe Biden

Germans had one chance to vote Hitler out of office, and they didn't do it. This is our one chance.

US State Representative, District 12: Nancy Pelosi

I wish Pelosi had relinquished her leadership role before reaching 80 years old. She says this will be her final term in office, though, and I don't see any reason not to let her serve it out. This will be a highly contested seat in 2022, but this year her opponent isn't really qualified.


State Senator, District 11: Scott Wiener

The left likes to make fun of Wiener, but I like him, dating back to his campaign while on the Board of Supervisors to ticket double-parked cars. He's hard-working, sponsors a lot of legislation, and he's liberal by US standards if moderate by San Francisco standards. He's a pragmatist: one of his pushes in the legislature was for bars in SF to stay open until 4 a.m. We're supposed to be a world-class city, so why should we have small-town blue laws?

State Assembly Member, District 17: David Chiu

I don't actually like Chiu, who is too conservative for San Francisco, but he has no credible opposition. His opponent is Starchild, who describes himself thus: "I'm a companion (erotic service provider), pansexual, veg'n, freedom activist and aspiring novelist based in San Francisco, with a BA in journalism from San Francisco State University and a work background including stints in retail and movie theaters as well as being a warehouse worker, legal assistant, and enlisted member of the U.S. Army Reserves." I'm sure Starchild's services are needed in Sacramento, but I'm not sure they're needed while the legislature is in session.

Member, Board of Education: Matt Alexander, Mark Sanchez, Kevine Boggess, Michelle Parker

The school board race is one where it would be nice to know why the Chronicle made its recommendations. Instead I'm left with the Guardian's choices and the candidates' own websites, because most of them didn't bother to provide information to Smart Voter.

Alexander has a nice record as the head of a charter school for underprivileged students. Sanchez, an incumbent, is also a former teacher and principal. Boggess, an education policy director at a nonprofit, has a lot of endorsements. Parker, a former PTA board president, has all the mainstream Democratic politicians behind her. 

Member, Community College Board: Victor Olivieri, Marie Hurabiell, Shanell Williams, Tom Temprano

I always hate this election more than any other. And I'm not alone: half the eligible incumbents decided not to run for re-election. City College of San Francisco has been mismanaged for years, nearly going bankrupt and nearly losing its accreditation. Its board elections tend to draw ideologues and not people interested in governing. CCSF tries to do too many things to appease too many constituencies and historically has not taken budgeting seriously.


Olivieri and Hurabiell are the board members CCSF needs: Grownups whose first priority is balancing the budget for an organization that has run big deficits for years. This should be every candidate's priority. Please vote for Olivieri and Hurabiell, because it's our money and they keep squandering it.

You gotta pick four candidates. Williams and Temprano are incumbents, which isn't really a good thing on this board, but both the Guardian and the Chronicle endorse them and you gotta vote for somebody. 

Bart director, district 9: Bevan Dufty

These are difficult times for BART, with ridership way down. Dufty is one of those local Democrats who jumps from job to job after being term-limited off the Board of Supervisors. But he at least has a lot of local political experience and he has no credible opposition.

State propositions


Proposition 14, Stem cell re-funding: NO

In 2004, when the Bush administration made stem-cell research controversial for religious reasons, California voters stepped up and gave $3 billion to create a board that would dole out taxpayer money for stem-cell research. (I voted for it.) Sixteen years later -- a long time even by medical research standards -- that money hasn't led to a single FDA-approved product, and there have been questions about how the unelected board allocates the money, with some members able to profit from it. This proposition would throw another $6.5 billion in taxpayer money to the board with insufficient oversight. The state stepped up once to do the federal government's job, but we can't keep throwing that money down a hole.

Proposition 15, Commercial property reassessment: YES

In 1978, California homeowners passed Proposition 13 to lower their property taxes. An unintended consequence is that it also froze taxes on commercial property. Home taxes eventually go up because people sell their homes, but commercial real estate companies use a variety of methods to get around that. The Guardian reports that Donald Trump owns half of the Bank of America building, and he pays a tiny amount of taxes on it because its tax rate was frozen in 1978. Taxation is a zero-sum game: if Trump pays fewer taxes, you pay more. Vote yes to raise Trump's taxes (not that he'll pay them anyway, but let's give it a shot.)

Proposition 16, Repeal of affirmative action ban: NO

I'm going to lose some followers over this, but that's fine: that's why I do these posts, so we can discuss issues.

In 1996, California voters banned the use of race as a factor in university admissions, public contracting and public employment. We definitely needed affirmative action after decades of discrimination, but at some point it should end. The way to fight discrimination is with equal opportunity, not more discrimination. Affirmative action sees the world in black and white. Asian Americans are screwed by quota systems. And who decides who is white today, and thereby the least-favored people for university admissions? What about first-generation immigrants? Are Arabs white? Race is just not that simple.

University admissions should give advantages to students based on their economic circumstances. Look at the four key members of the Golden State Warriors' dynasty: Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. All four identify as black, though two have white mothers. Two of them were raised in economically depressed areas by single mothers. Two of them were the sons of NBA stars and were raised with every privilege. Should all four have been treated the same by university admissions departments because of their race, or should the economically underprivileged pair have been given the edge?

One more point I want to make on this issue: What we have learned since 2016 is that the most dangerous people in the United States are uneducated white people. Do we really want to set up a system to produce more of them?

Proposition 17, Voting rights for parolees: YES

In California, felons are not allowed to vote until they finish their parole. I don't see the reason for this. If they are on parole, they have been allowed to live and work as contributing members of society. Voting is part of that.

Proposition 18, Primary voting for 17-year-olds: YES

I don't like expanding voting rights beyond adults who are U.S. citizens, as called for in the Constitution. But primary elections are a little different, especially in this state, where the Democratic primary often decides the office. This bill would allow people who will be 18 at the time of the general election to participate in the primary election beforehand. It's a tiny expansion of voting rights to people who would have them anyway in just a few short months.

Proposition 19, Skirting property taxes: NO

This is an extension of the infamous Proposition 13. Homeowners who paid super-low taxes for decades would be able to buy and sell up to three different homes without ever having a fair tax assessment. Essentially, their ability to skirt taxes that the rest of us have to pay would be grandfathered in for life. Taxation is a zero-sum game. They've paid far less than their fair share, and they did nothing to earn it except to vote for their wallets at the expense of state schools. Don't keep rewarding them.


Proposition 20, Felonies for shoplifting: NO


This isn't an easy call for me. I dislike criminal justice issues being decided by ballot referendums, because voters generally are too bloodthirsty for punishment and not focused on rehabilitation. This proposal fits into that frame: it would allow prosecutors to charge felony theft for items over $250, rather than the current $950 limit, and would add more types of crimes (including hate crimes and aggravated assault) to the list of those that are not eligible for parole. Normally it would be a hard no for me. But most grocery-store chains in the state are supporting it. In 2014 and again in 2016, California voters passed laws liberalizing incarceration policies; the stores say shoplifting has spiked because there are no consequences. Moreover, organized looting has become a thorn in the image of the protest movement; protesters march with legitimate beefs during the day, but as soon as darkness falls, vanloads of professional thieves who have nothing to do with social justice show up to break store windows and steal whatever they can carry. There's not much motivation for overworked police to make arrests because if an individual member of the gang is only carrying $900 worth of stuff, it's a misdemeanor. I would support redefining felony theft at $250 if the bill did only that.

Why I can't support the bill as is: California's prisons remain overcrowded, and this bill's provisions limiting parole are a mistake. We have to make some difficult choices about who to let out, and some of those choices will be wrong. To me, this bill doesn't help the situation by taking the decision about individuals out of the hands of prosecutors and the parole board.

Proposition 21, Rent control: YES

This should be a no-brainer. In 1995, California passed the Costa-Hawkins act, which forbid local cities from imposing rent control on vacant apartments. You want to know why working-class people can't afford to live in San Francisco, not to mention Napa and a number of other cities? This is why. The bill would simply restore to local municipalities the ability to pass tenant-friendly policies like rent freezes. We're going to have a national homelessness crisis next year because of the pandemic if Congress doesn't get its act together on rent and evictions. We already have a homelessness crisis in California. Passing this proposition is a step to addressing it. 


Proposition 22, Uber/Lyft rewriting the law in their favor: NO

Should we let companies write the laws governing them? If your answer to that is "no," vote NO on this proposition.

Last year the state passed a law giving workers' rights like sick leave and health insurance to people who work fulltime without being called fulltime employees. Two of the main offenders in exploiting their workers are Uber and Lyft. They have spent more than $130 million on ads pushing this proposition, which rewrites the law the way they want it: with no rights for drivers, no matter how many hours they work.

The original law had some flaws, notably as applied to freelance writers, but the legislature has moved to fix those. If there are other flaws regarding Uber's and Lyft's business, the legislature can handle them. Putting this proposition on the ballot is nothing less than an attempt by Uber and Lyft to use their investors' money to write their own laws. Don't be a party to it.

Proposition 23, Dialysis clinics: NO

Here's another greedy self-interested law, in this case pushed by a health care workers union. The law would require a doctor to be on site at dialysis clinics. But that isn't needed, and it will both drive up the cost of dialysis and possibly put it out of reach for some people who need it.

The Guardian raises another concern: this is the kind of law used in many states to restrict abortion, by requiring, for example, that doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at a local hospital. To be clear, abortion is not on the ballot here. But the Guardian is right in saying that the nitty gritty of medical procedures is not something we should get in the habit of legislating by ballot initiative.

Proposition 24, Deceptive privacy law: NO

This law sounds like a great idea, but it's a Trojan horse, giving tech companies more ability to collect your personal information, and allowing them to block you from using apps if you don't opt in to such practices. Like the previous two ballot measures, this is a self-interested measure passed by an industry that wants to fool voters into increasing its profit margins. Don't fall for it. 

Proposition 25, Bail reform: YES

California is already moving away from cash bail for people charged with crimes to a system that bases their release on whether or not they are a flight risk or a danger to the community. Requiring cash bail hits low-income people hardest, often causing the most vulnerable people to lose their job or enter a cycle of debt when they can least afford it. One of my strongest beliefs about criminal justice is that the US focuses too much on punishment and not enough on the reality that most people will get out of prison eventually, and we'll all be better off if we ease their transition to society. Eliminating cash bail is a step in the right direction. If someone is convicted, lock them up, but until then, let them keep working and providing for their family, because otherwise you're encouraging them to get money however they can, and that's not good for anyone.

City and county ballot propositions

Proposition A, Homelessness and parks bond: NO

It's tempting vote for this measure for a $487 million bond -- half of which can be passed on to tenants -- because it sounds good. But during a pandemic, with city revenues down, do we need to spend another $239 million on parks? Homelessness is a huge problem, but it's a state problem: does San Francisco have to spend $207 million on facilities for substance abuse and mental health? In 2018 California voters approved $2 billion in bonds for supportive housing for people with mental illness. Where is San Francisco's share of that $2 billion? Measures like this can act as a homeless magnet, which is why we need statewide action, not this huge local expenditure.

I supported the 2018 city bond for $425 million to repair the seawall. That had to be done. This bill is a mishmash of parks projects that aren't absolutely necessary and homeless services that should be paid for by the state. Vote no and let the board of supervisors come back to us in the next election with a cleaner bond bill that separates two unconnected issues.

Proposition B, Extra bureaucracy: NO

This proposal would increase the ratio of managers to workers at city hall by splitting the Department of Public Works in two, and would increase the difficulty of getting anything done by creating a political commission with appointees coming from the mayor's office and the Board of Supervisors. The Guardian implies it was created because the former head of Public Works was arrested and charged with fraud. The problem there was that former mayor Ed Lee removed oversight of the department. Obviously it needs oversight, but this is overkill. Just ask Mayor London Breed to appoint someone in her office to oversee Public Works' contracts. Simple. I would vote yes for just an oversight board, but splitting DPW in two is an unnecessary overreaction.

Citizenship ceremoney
Citizenship ceremony

Proposition C, Allows non-citizens on public boards: NO

The U.S. is one of the more open countries in the world about allowing citizenship. I say this as someone who lived in Japan, where earning citizenship is extremely difficult. Citizenship brings rights and privileges and that includes the privilege to take part in governmental policy boards. Some people say that non-citizens are affected by policy decisions and so should be able to take part in the decision-making. Sure -- all they have to do is become citizens. I don't want people who haven't made that level of commitment to living in the United States to make decisions about the future of our city.

Proposition D, Sheriff's department oversight board: YES

I'm not entirely sure this is necessary. In San Francisco, the sheriff's department is really only responsible for the jail, and we don't read all that much bad news about the jail. But if we've learned one thing in 2020, it's that all sworn officers licensed to carry firearms should have oversight. 

Proposition E, Police staffing: YES

Probably thanks to the police union, since 1994 the city charter has required the city to have 1,971 sworn police officers. I don't know whether that's too many (possibly, if you're going to have police reform and farm out tasks to other agencies) or too few, but I do know that it's a silly random number codified into law. Let's fix that.

Proposition F, Business tax reform: YES

We can't get back the hundreds of millions of dollars that tech companies should have been paying but haven't because of city tax breaks. But we can try to fix the broken system that allows them to pay less than their fair share. You want to address homelessness? Start by taxing the tech companies, not apartment renters. This law would actually increase the number of small businesses exempt from taxation while increasing gross receipts taxes on the tech giants. If the tech giants want to leave town, I hear San Antonio's nice. When are your staff vacating their apartments?

Proposition G, 16 year olds voting: NO

I'm sorry but most people at age 16 are simply not old enough to consider the issues for voting. Plus, I don't see any advantage to this bill, and the disadvantages could become quickly apparent in school board elections, which are already difficult enough without candidates having to pander to students.

Proposition H, Planning changes without oversight: NO

There was no public hearing on these proposed 90 pages of changes to the planning code that would deregulate land use in commercial districts. Are they good ideas or not? This is a topic for a multi-hour hearing to tease out all the possible ramifications. Instead, we get 30 words on a ballot. That's not enough information to go on. Vote NO and make supporters explain what they want and why they want it.


Proposition I, Higher tax on $10 million real estate sales: YES

Taxation is a zero-sum game. This bill would increase taxes on properties that sell for more than $10 million. Ask yourself, who better to get more money from than somebody who just sold a building for $20 million? If this doesn't pass, we'll get that tax money from the working class instead. 

Proposition J, Parcel tax for schools: YES

A similar $288 parcel tax passed in 2018 but legal questions over the need for a simple majority or supermajority threw it into doubt. This is the same bill, essentially, and the schools need the money.

Proposition K, Permitting affordable housing: YES

This bill allows the city to build up to 10,000 affordable housing units. It's just the first step, as it doesn't provide any funding. But it's necessary thanks to an antiquated element of the state Constitution that requires voter approval before building any low-income housing.

Proposition L, Overpaid CEO tax: YES

This measure would increase city business taxes on any company where the CEO makes more than 100 times what the lowest-paid fulltime worker makes. Not only will it bring in more revenue; it might make more people think about how overpaid CEOs are. If you or I have a bad week at work, we'll get fired, but a CEO can drive a company to the brink of bankruptcy with bad decisions and walk away with a $100 million golden parachute. What -- you say that companies whose CEOs make more than $500 million a year won't want to locate in San Francisco? Like I said, I heard San Antonio's nice. Can we have your spot in the bakery line?

Proposition RR, Caltrain sales tax: NO

Caltrain mostly benefits people living on the Peninsula, where average incomes are much higher than in the city. Now that Caltrain is low on funds, it wants a regional sales tax administered by San Mateo County. But because more shops are in San Francisco, we'll pay the brunt of it. No thanks. You have the money down there; you pay for it.

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.
Vote!

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

National Black Farmers Association asks for a court injunction ending Roundup sales

 Two weeks after spraying with Roundup. Courtesy UC
Roundup may be the most widely used and thus financially successful herbicide in history. But brand owner Bayer is already facing a reckoning after agreeing to pay $10.9 billion to settle claims that the weedkiller causes cancer.

The National Black Farmers Association wants more than just money: it wants Roundup rounded up and taken out of the pasture, for good.

I'm a little surprised the NBFA's lawsuit, filed last week in Missouri federal district court against Bayer subsidiary Monsanto, hasn't attracted more attention. If successful, it could have an enormous impact on farming nationwide, with worldwide repercussions. And given the successes that lawsuits alleging that Roundup causes cancer have had in court, it would be short-sighted to say the NBFA doesn't have a chance of winning.

Bayer's corporate statement characterized the NBFA as a lawsuit by two legal firms that refused to join the $10.9 billion settlement. According to one of NBFA's attorneys, more than 25,000 cancer victims have not settled with Bayer.

Bayer bought Monsanto for $63 billion in 2018, thus acquiring Roundup and its financial successes and legal liabilities. You have to wonder at what point Bayer will decide the latter outweigh the former, especially as countries all over the world are taking various steps to ban Roundup.

What the NBFA is arguing is that black farmers were uniquely vulnerable to Monsanto.


Sunday, August 30, 2020

Guest post: Don't write off the 2020 vintage, says Sonoma vintner Jake Bilbro

Jake Bilbro, author of this guest post and owner of Limerick Lane
I got a call last week from Limerick Lane winery owner Jake Bilbro, who is concerned that media coverage (including mine) about smoke is going to unfairly taint the reputation of the 2020 vintage. I offered Jake an opportunity to write a guest post. These are his words, lightly edited.

"2020 has been an unparalleled year in regards to challenges. We can relegate that to wine, the greater business world outside of wine, civil rights issues, Covid-19 pandemic, California wildfires, or just life in general.

In this environment there is, in my opinion, a stress level that doesn't seem to go away. Fuses slowly and subtly shorten and our communal irrational behavior intensifies. Some could argue that it evolves to the situation but I would say it augments because the evolution in question isn't a move in a positive direction. 

We jump to conclusions, our responses are heightened, things seem scarier. It is a natural reaction to accumulated prolonged stress.

Over the last couple of weeks, the unbelievable has happened... another fire and more crazy weather has hit our state. I have no interest in discussing the causes of this fire at the moment. My concern is how we react to it as a community. 


Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Quiz: Guess which very popular wine has more residual sugar?


What's in the wines America is really drinking? I can't tell you about additives -- those aren't listed on the label, as the wine industry as a whole prefers secrecy, even as young consumers keep saying they want to know what's going in their bodies.

What I can tell you, thanks to the labs at the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, is how much residual sugar is in some of the most popular wines in the United States.

To be clear, "residual sugar" isn't "added sugar." What it means is that the winery -- all of these are large commercial wine factories -- picks the grapes riper than they need to be, and then stops the fermentation before all of the sugar in these overripe grapes becomes alcohol. They leave in that sugar to please the sweet tooth of consumers, who often think they are buying "dry wine" because, unlike the EU, where wines must have under 9 g/l of RS to be considered "dry,"* the US has no standard for what "dry wine" actually is. Some of our "dry wines" are loaded with sugar, and not by accident, as sweetness sells.

* Europe has an exception for wines over 7 g/l Total Acidity, which isn't something you see often in US wines, and never in supermarket wines like these.

The winery then must add higher amounts of sulfites or other preservatives to the wine than would be needed if it were dry, in order to prevent the sugar in the wine from re-fermenting in the bottle. So wherever you find a high amount of RS, you will also find other things you might not want to drink.

I looked up the top 15 selling wine brands in the US in 2018, according to Wine Handbook 2019, and the top wines from the Wine & Spirits Restaurant poll, on the website of the LCBO, which tests all the wines sold in that Canadian province for a number of things, including residual sugar. Ontario doesn't carry all of these wines, notably excluding Franzia and Sutter Home, the No. 1 and No. 4 selling wines in the U.S. by volume.

I could just post the results, but let's have a little more fun. See if you can guess which wine has the most residual sugar (RS). Note that I didn't even use the big sugar bombs. If you want to avoid lots of RS, stay away from cheap Moscatos and cheap ros├ęs.

Which brings me to wine Twitter's current fixation, "clean wine." People on Twitter keep whining about how their handpicked estate vineyard biodynamic native-yeast Counoise is a way more natural product than "clean wine." Stipulated. But what do you think people who might be interested in "clean wine" have been drinking to this point? Take the quiz -- the answer to that question is all over it like marshmallows on sweet potatoes.





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Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Introducing the "Mood: What Will We Drink on Nov. 3?" series

We'll all need a drink on Nov. 3, Election Night. It's the night the United States chooses between democracy and fascism. And to paraphrase Michael Jordan, fascists drink wine too.

The only question is what will we drink. Will it be the most delicious wine in the cellar -- or perhaps hemlock?

I'm going to run a regular series of Mood graphics to try to capture the shifting election dynamics. Because why not: this is the most terrifying summer of my lifetime, so we might as well try to capture the mood and amuse ourselves as we teeter on the brink.

Most of these I will just post on Twitter so you might want to follow me there if you aren't already.

If I get re-interested in Instagram (I do not trust its owner Facebook, so I took it off my phone), I might post some there as well.

Let's start off today with a few possible Nov. 3 beverage selections, based on polls of states that are at least somewhat purple:

HOT:



COULD BE OK:




GULP:




Forget the usual stuff I put here to boost my social-media presence.
Do this: REGISTER TO VOTE! Do it now because the GOP will try to stop you.


Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Does what's on the label matter? One obstinate consumer (me) goes to great lengths to find out

Me as a sake judge, with a pre-pandemic haircut
What's in a classification? Does it matter what a wine or spirit actually is, rather than what it's called?

Does what's on the label matter?

I think it does matter, which is how I fell into a two-month-long rabbit hole regarding a sake for which I paid less than $20 and immediately demanded a refund (which I got) -- without even opening it.

This is the tale of Ban Ryu sake, made by 242-year-old Eiko Fuji Brewery in Yamagata, Japan and imported to the US by Joto Sake. But really it's the tale of me: not as a writer and journalist, but as a demanding and obstinate consumer.


Thursday, July 16, 2020

In defense of "clean wine": Wake up, wine industry

Cameron Diaz is pissing off wine snobs
The wine Internet is furious about actress Cameron Diaz's foray into the wine business. Diaz is calling her new Avaline brand "clean wine" even though, as Alder Yarrow points out, it's bulk wine from Spain that's full of unnecessary (but not harmful) chemicals.

I could jump on the bandwagon of wine snobs bashing Diaz in public. I'm not going to spend my own money on a bottle of Spanish bulk wine that touts its imaginary virtue while hiding its origins.

But I won't, because the wine industry is missing the point.

The point is not that Avaline wine is a scam. It might be.

The point is that there is a market for a wine like Avaline, and the wine industry on the whole is not filling it, so Cameron Diaz can step right in. And in that, I say, bully for her.