One campaign, $68 million and counting

SUNNYVALE, CA - APRIL 27:  Former eBay CEO and...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

California gubernatorial hopeful Meg Whitman made a bundle as head of eBay. Where she spends it, her supporters say, is a matter of personal choice. She is currently choosing to spend it on buying her way into the governor’s office. Recent reports list her total costs closing in on $70 million — no big deal, since she has been quoted as saying $100 million on this phase wouldn’t pose any problem. This phase is still just the June primary.

Whitman has spent $68 million of her own money on the race so far, the Los Angeles Times reports. Whitman blasted the California airwaves with ads in March, according to the LA Times, but (opponent Steve) Poizner eventually made his own investments and gained traction with damaging attacks against Whitman’s stance on illegal immigration (he called her too soft on the issue). As a billionaire former business executive, Whitman was also hurt by the focus put on her ties to Goldman Sachs.

This space isn’t going to get into political endorsements or heavy-duty oppositions. And in any event, as a registered Democrat married to a confirmed Decline-to-state, votes from here are unlikely to affect the California Republican nomination.

But at what point does the investment of personal wealth throw up red flags about one’s motivations? Is wanting political office any different from wanting a Rolex watch or a ranch in Montana? When someone has no legislative experience, no known stands, no voting record (Whitman never bothered with voting much), how are we supposed to know what’s really driving the reach for power? Ross Perot spent about the same amount of his own money on his unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Presidency in 1992 as Whitman has thus far on a gubernatorial primary race. Perot dropped a little less on a similar adventure in 1996. He did have somewhat of a record of his convictions, and he was defended both times with arguments that it is a personal right to do whatever one wants with one’s personal wealth.

That is undoubtedly so. It’s a personal right. Why does it somehow feel wrong?

The fears behind Arizona immigration law

If immigration reform has been on the back burner, despite President Obama’s campaign promises to tackle the issue, the May Day marchers hope to move it back to the front, and turn up the heat. They turned out in New York — 5,000+ in Manhattan’s Foley Square, in Los Angeles — fired up by singer Gloria Estefan and Catholic Cardinal Roger Mahony, and here in San Francisco — where the basic fears raised by Arizona’s new law were evident. SB 1070, signed by Governor Jan Brewer last week, makes it a state crime to be in the U.S. illegally.

The (San Francisco) march, part of the annual worldwide May Day workers’ rights demonstrations, stretched four to five blocks and ended at City Hall, where members of the conservative Tea Party and local Golden Gate Minutemen held a counter-protest.

Jim Homer, a business manager for Local 216 of the Laborers International Union of North America, whose 100-member group led the march, said many fellow construction laborers fear Arizona’s SB1070 will spread to California and create cultural hostility toward foreign-born workers.

“The immigration system is set up to blame the workers who come here,” Homer said. “There needs to be reform of the immigration laws that put more focus on the employers and their responsibilities, not just on the people who come to this country to make a living.”

The two primary sides to the immigration issue were in sharp focus on the west coast:

(W)orkers and immigrants at the San Francisco march – and others like it in Oakland and San Jose – said the law will give police the right to check for immigration papers of any brown-skinned citizens.

At the Civic Center counter-protest, Elizabeth Kelly, an Alameda resident who supports the Golden Gate Minutemen, said she also wants immigration reform. The Minutemen are a local branch of the controversial national group that voluntarily patrols the border, trying to stop undocumented immigrants from entering the country.

“Close the border,” she said. “I want to see them go back. That’d be my immigration reform.”

The Golden Gate Minutemen, whose Web site features some scary stuff (May Day! May Day! Invaders Coming!) is part of the fear factor for a number of recent immigrant — some legal, some not — friends of mine. “They’re not going to ask questions first, they’re going to send you to jail or out of the country, and ask questions later,” said one.

Most reports say Obama won’t do much beyond tightening border control in the near future. A lot more is needed. Until we get real reform, including some reasonable guest worker provisions and amnesty for those who have proved themselves good citizens already, we’re going to continue to be a nation not just of immigrants, but of fear. Not a very comfortable social system for anyone.

Big S.F. protest of Arizona immigration law.

A quick solution for the national debt

I was just idly reading through the Wall Street Journal‘s Weekend Journal, a fine way to start a leisurely weekend morning and one of those niceties of life one cannot enjoy in front of a computer. Come on, folks, buy a newspaper for crying out loud.

In case you missed it, there are a few pages of Distinctive Properties & Estates for sale, and one of them might be just the thing for you. Skipping over the second home suggestions in the Turks and Caicos Islands ($9m and change) or New Zealand (Bay of Islands hotel, price on request) we find a comfy waterfront estate in Boca Raton, majestic views, $17,900,000, or a skier’s dream in Whitefish, MT for a mere $20m… or you might prefer urban living in the Big Apple in any of several condos with views for way under $25m.

I was particularly drawn to a shady Virginia estate overlooking the James River, where I learned to sail and to bum drinks from friendly millionaires (those were the days when a million was real money) sunning on their docks. It has garaging for 5 cars and a children’s stage on the lower level, and you can pick it up for a mere $4.8m, after which your children will no longer have to suffer with makeshift cardboard boxes for their theatricals.

Included in the 30-acre digs of a little piece of Garfield, MN heaven are a caretaker’s bungalow so you won’t have to worry about those professionally landscaped grounds going to pot, plus a couple of guesthouses for your friends who come to play midnight tennis on the lighted courts. That one’s a steal at $14.9m. Or maybe you’d be more interested in a fixer-upper in Los Angeles: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House, with separate staff quarters, can be yours for $15m and it is already “stabilized and awaiting future preservation.” Frank, whose designs were prone to have leaky roofs so caveat emptor, will surely bless you from the wherever-after of architectural geniuses.

Finally, mid-page, we learn that country superstar Alan Jackson’s pad (am I the only person who isn’t familiar with Alan’s oevre?) in Franklin, TN, is available for the first person to come up with $38m, and it has a bunch of rolling acres and a lot of two-story porches all of which “allude to the grand Southern plantations of years past.”

So here’s the deal. At the risk of being labeled a commie pinko redistribution of wealth fink, I am suggesting that we start a campaign of charitable giving to the national debt. It strikes me none of these prospective buyers and sellers (the above are only the tip of the golden iceberg) could possibly miss a couple million.  They would be honored at a grand ball, no crashers allowed, at the White House, possibly receiving a copy of Going Rogue, unless some Obama fan snuck in and wanted to choose Dreams From My Father. The point is, they would get a whole lot of honor and acclaim, and if a few thousand of these folks — even if it took two grand balls — each enlisted a hundred or so of their closest billionaire friends we could pay off the national debt and throw the leftovers into funding universal health care.

Since I am NOT a commie pinko anti-capitalist scum, I am only recommending this as a one-time event. You don’t pony up, you don’t get another chance at fame and feel-good glory. Then we all go back to our CA Prop-13-protected homes or our suburban underwater mortgages and life goes on.

Could anyone possibly argue with that?

Obama shifts justice department resources away from medical marijuana

A little ray of sanity from President Obama: the feds won’t be going after legitimate users of medical marijuana. This will be welcome news in San Francisco, where federal raids on legal suppliers during the Bush administration met with widespread protests; possibly unwelcome news in Los Angeles, which is cracking down on its over-supply of dispensaries; and interesting news in the U.K., where guardian.uk.com reported on it Monday.

The US justice department today told federal law enforcement officials to shift resources away from investigation and prosecution of medical marijuana users and suppliers.

In a memo sent this morning to federal prosecutors, officials at president Barack Obama’s justice department said that prosecutions of individuals who are clearly using or supplying marijuana for medical purposes are “unlikely to be an efficient use of limited federal resources” if the targets otherwise comply with state and federal laws.

Fourteen states allow some use of marijuana for medical purposes, though it remains banned under federal law. The Bush and Clinton administrations – the first to grapple with the conflict – essentially ignored the state laws, treating medical marijuana as illegal.

“The federal government is no longer at war with the 13 states that have chosen to allow patients to use marijuana for medical purposes,” said Bruce Mirken, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, which favours decriminalisation of the drug.

“It’s going to provide relief to a lot of people who have been anxious about whether or not they’re going to be arrested for helping patients get their doctor-recommended medicine,” said Tom Angell, a spokesman for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, which claims 1,500 former police, prosecutors, border patrol agents and other one-time fighters in the war on drugs among its membership.

This would’ve been good news for my sister, whose brief search for relief a few decades ago was mentioned in the post below. It would’ve made life a little easier for a lot of people with AIDS in recent decades.  Set aside the arguments pro or con recreational use; when a drug is known to help suffering people, and is legal in a particular city or state, wasting federal tax dollars to interfere seems to make very little sense.

The memo doesn’t legalize marijuana or end prosecution of illegal, for-profit sales etc. It does, though, leave these to local federal officials. And clarifies the federal government’s position.

It puts into writing remarks by attorney general Eric Holder, who in March said the federal government would end raids on legitimate medical marijuana dispensaries. Obama has indicated he is sympathetic to medical marijuana use, noting during the presidential campaign that his mother had died of cancer and that he saw no difference between morphine prescribed by doctors and marijuana used to relieve pain.

I don’t do pain very well. Given its prevalence in long, drawn-out illnesses today, I’m in favor of whatever palliative care and pain-relieving medicines there are. It is nice to have a president who understands.

via Obama justice department to shift from investigating medical marijuana cases | World news | guardian.co.uk.

The aches & pains of medical marijuana

An article in Sunday’s New York Times details the struggle in Los Angeles to regulate the cannabis dispensaries which have proliferated around the  city over the past six or eight years, raising the old medical marijuana questions about how to control, whether to tax and how useful it is in the first place. Reporter Solomon Moore cites Oakland, California’s Harborside Health Center as the place to which many are looking for a model.

‘Our No. 1 task is to show that we are worthy of the public’s trust in asking to distribute medical cannabis in a safe and secure manner,’ said Steve DeAngelo, the pig-tailed proprietor of Harborside, which has been in business for three years.

Harborside is one of four licensed dispensaries in Oakland run as nonprofit organizations. It is the largest, with 74 employees and revenues of about $20 million. Last summer, the Oakland City Council passed an ordinance to collect taxes from the sale of marijuana, a measure that Mr. DeAngelo supported.

Mr. DeAngelo designed Harborside to exude legitimacy, security and comfort. Visitors to the low-slung building are greeted by security guards who check the required physicians’ recommendations. Inside, the dispensary looks like a bank, except that the floor is covered with hemp carpeting and the eight tellers stand behind identical displays of marijuana and hashish.

There is a laboratory where technicians determine the potency of the marijuana and label it accordingly. (Harborside says it rejects 80 percent of the marijuana that arrives at its door for insufficient quality.) There is even a bank vault where the day’s cash is stored along with reserves of premium cannabis. An armored truck picks up deposits every evening.

City officials routinely audit the dispensary’s books. Surplus cash is rolled back into the center to pay for free counseling sessions and yoga for patients. “Oakland issued licenses and regulations, and Los Angeles did nothing and they are still unregulated,” Mr. DeAngelo said. “Cannabis is being distributed by inappropriate people.”

I don’t know where Los Angeles will go with all this, or how well Harborside will continue to operate for how long. What I do know is that marijuana serves a real medical purpose. Probably serves a real recreational purpose too, and there’s the rub; but since I missed the pot party — thank heavens, as I am addicted to anything that comes down the pike, and please don’t try to tell me one cannot get addicted to marijuana — I can’t address that issue. Everything I know is anecdotal, but convincing.

Decades ago my beloved sister was suffering acute gastro intestinal distress, much later identified as a symptom of celiac disease but this was before anybody really knew anything about celiac sprue. One day she said, “You know, everybody at X High School either smokes pot or knows where to get it. Could you get me some so I could at least try it?” Well, even though the statute of limitations would probably protect the surviving players I think I won’t go into details of this adventure. But what I learned was: buying and selling illegal pot is a little scary for the novice, but the deal was easy and nobody went to jail. It did indeed give relief to my suffering sister. Though both of us wished she could have that relief on an ongoing basis, we reached a mutual conclusion that the risk was not worth the reward, and that was the end of that.

Fast forward to the 1990s, when everyone I knew with AIDS knew how marijuana could relieve some symptoms of the disease, and most had a supply. I was in San Francisco by then, and celiac disease pales in comparison to AIDS. I don’t even recall how legal it was for this relief; too many other issues were more important. But again, I saw its usefulness.

The Times article quotes Christine Gasparac, a spokeswoman for California Attorney General Jerry Brown, as saying his office is getting calls from law officials and advocates around the state asking for clarity on medical marijuana laws. I know that’s tough, and that the answer will in many cases be left to the courts. I also know that legalizing marijuana, whether here in woo-hoo California or elsewhere, raises a multiplicity of sticky issues.

But still. It’s a useful drug. If Big Pharma were producing and marketing it, it would probably come in a little pill that costs a fortune and would be covered by expensive insurance policies. Every governmental body in the U.S. needs money. Taxes raise money. Are there not some dots that could be connected here?