Archive for 2014

Op Ed: Protecting Civil Rights Not a Partisan Pursuit

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

EisenhowerBy Duf Sundheim
Special to Calbuzz

First, I want to thank John Wildermuth for making my daily afternoon can of Diet Coke so unnecessary. His recent column at Fox and Hounds Daily provided me with one jolt after another.

I cannot hold John totally responsible for some of what he wrote.  In some circles you just are not taken seriously unless you compare Republicans to bent cops, imply they have a fourth grader’s ability to develop positions and that the positions they do develop are based upon “reasons lost in the fog of the past.”


But what really got me off my polo pony and in front of my computer was John’s statement that opposition to a proposed constitutional amendment that would have systematically reduced the number of Asian Americans in our California colleges (SCA5) was by “Asian American voters with a specific complaint very much in their own self interest. You know, just like all the other interest groups looking for something from the Legislature.”

Maybe it is just me, but I find it offensive to compare parents from a group that has experienced unthinkable discrimination in our state (see Internment Camps, World War Two) and who are concerned their children will not get a quality education because of their race to some business looking for a tax break.  And when Republicans stand up to support the civil rights of those people, we are “gleefully plotting how to use the kerfuffle” [kerfuffle!] “over UC admissions to pry them out the Democratic Party.”   Liberalism has come a long, long way.

Our history has sometimes been hijacked by the left.  That statement is too extreme you say?  To you, three questions:

0925littlerockBWho was the first president to use federal troops to support students who wanted to attend an all-white school? 

Kudos if you said Dwight Eisenhower, although totally understandable if you said John Kennedy.

True or false:  John Kennedy attempted to stop Martin Luther King from giving his “I Have a Dream” speech?

True.  Surprised?  You are not alone.

Who has deported more Latinos than all other presidents combined?

Of course, if the answer were a Republican we would have seen one documentary after another with dark, sinister music in the background.  But it’s Barack Obama.  I am still checking my TV listings.

So, as John challenges us, if SCA5 is not the answer to ensuring our black and Latino students get a quality education, what is our solution?  There are many, including many Democrats, who do a lot more on this issue than me. However, I spend a significant amount of time focusing on minority education issues in Santa ClaraCounty. And there are several things we can do in California that will have a lasting impact.

old-teacherFirst, we have to give schools the ability to get rid of poor teachers, especially those charged with sexually abusing our children. According to the Los AngelesSchool District’s own numbers, black students are 43% more likely to have a teacher who ranks in the bottom 5%, Latinos 68%. Yet under current law getting poor quality teachers out of the classroom is almost impossible

Then, many minority students who successfully survive the K-12 gauntlet are not admitted to California colleges. Often this is because our colleges accept students from outside California so they can charge more for them to attend.

If minority students are able to get into and graduate from college and then want to go back to their communities to teach, they are guaranteed they will be the first to be fired. This is because as a matter of state law the hiring of teachers is based on seniority, which disproportionately favors whites.

And we wonder why our children are failing.

Look, I don’t care who solves this problem.  If it’s Democrats, I will be the first to applaud them. And I am not saying every Republican has been a champion of civil rights or that there are not Democrats who have made tremendous sacrifices to get us where we are today.

lincolnmemorialWhat I am saying is that it is going to take more than insults and the perpetuation of tired political stereotypes to solve this problem.  It is going to require us to have as our No. 1 priority the interests of the children. It is going to require us to stand up to the real special interest that controls education in this state – the teachers’ union.

It is going to require us to write our laws based on empirical evidence, not raw political muscle. And finally, it is going to require us to listen to what each person has to say, even if they are Asian American and yes even if they are a Republican.

sundheimIf we do, we can ensure that each child, regardless of race, gets access to a quality education. I am not willing to even acknowledge there is an alternative.

When he’s not grooming his polo ponies, Duf Sundheim of Los Altos Hills is a principal at GPS Mediation and also Global Policy Strategies, APC.  He served as chairman of the California Republican Party 2003-2007, was active in the recall of Gov. Gray Davis and campaigns for redistricting and the open primary.

And Now The Key Question: Can Feds Convict Yee?

Monday, March 31st, 2014

wilecoyoteFor a decade or more, some FBI Not-So-Wile-E-Coyotes chased Roadrunner Willie Brown around the Capitol, determined to nail him for corruption, but whiffed every time.

So when His Willieness talks about the scandal in which the Feds have netted state Sen. Leland Yee, we tend to listen: While often wrong in his ghost-written Sunday column, Brown this time honed in on perhaps the most crucial question of the matter, as he opined on the senate’s action in “suspending” Yee and two other ethically-challenged lawmakers with pay, instead of giving them the boot:

“(E)xpelling the three would risk the prospect of potentially embarrassing hearings,” Brown’s column said. “Hearings for Yee and Calderon would have opened up a Pandora’s box of questions about what constitutes a bribe versus a political contribution – not a subject politicians want to discuss openly or in detail.”

williebrownThe Ayatollah, always good for a cogent quote. Of course. to the hoi polloi, the insider’s insight by Speaker Brown may seem a difference without distinction. As the late, great Lincoln Steffens reported, it was Israel W. Durham, the boss of Philadelphia, who schooled him about politics and money: “Contributions to campaign funds are more regular and, therefore, worse than bribes.”

Honest services: Huh?  The FBI’s now-famous, endlessly dissected court filing in support of arrests in the case (at press time: 24,200 Google results for the phrase “137-page affidavit”) makes for good reading, particularly the can’t-make-this stuff-up sections on Shrimp Boy and Uncle Leland, master arms dealer.

But the much-ballyhooed gun-running charge, which carries a maximum sentence of five-years, is the least of Yee’s problems, compared to the six counts of allegedly depriving citizens of “honest services” in performance of his official duties – a potential 20 years in prison and a $250K fine for each, as Maura Dolan reports in a must-read examination of the charges.

The Cal Ripken of California legal affairs reporting, Dolan highlights the fact that public corruption cases involving campaign contributions, rather than slam-dunk bribery, can be difficult to prove because prosecutors have to convince a jury “what the public official was thinking” when he accepted money:

threecardmonte“Campaign contribution cases are the trickiest,” said Dennis Riordan, one of San Francisco’s top appellate criminal defense lawyers.

 The Supreme Court has ruled that “people are entitled to donate to candidates to influence their actions and candidates are entitled to take into account the desires of their campaign donors when they vote,”  Riordan said…

 “We do allow politicians to solicit money, so just asking for money and taking money is not a crime,” (former federal prosecutor Rory Little said. ) “You have to connect it as a quid pro quo, and that is often hard because politicians are smart enough not to say it aloud.”

The case against Yee includes wiretaps and tape-recorded conversations, according to the affidavit, but the strength of that evidence ultimately may depend on word inflections and a jury’s collective interpretations of conversations. Also, the FBI stipulates that Yee at several points sharply protested when offered money in direct exchange for specific actions: “That’s pay to play and you can’t do that,” he told his consultant, who suggested Yee should trade a contribution directly for help in passing legislation purportedly sought by an undercover agent. On another occasion, he told a fed blatantly offering cash for favors: “You can’t do that, man, you go to jail for that.”

who-mePress Clips: Dolan’s is one of several salient pieces about legal issues, which largely have been overshadowed by all the excitement over the government’s allegations, but which spin the story ahead to show readers where things are going next.

Chronicle legal reporter Bob Egelko (back in the day he was a rifle-armed outfielder for the Muckrakers, the Capitol press corps softball team; but we digress) churned out an excellent thumbsucker that looks at the history of the 1988 federal law under which Yee is charged. The piece shows, among other things, that an attempt by the senator from the Sunset to claim the feds entrapped him would go nowhere:

In each case, an FBI affidavit said, the transactions involved interstate phone calls or electronic messages relayed across state lines, a prerequisite for charging Yee under the federal honest-services law rather than California’s bribery law.

If charged under state law, Yee might claim he had been entrapped — which, in California, means that the officers’ conduct would have induced a normally law-abiding person to commit a crime.

Under federal law, a defendant must also show that, regardless of the officers’ actions, he or she wasn’t predisposed to break the law before being approached, a virtually insurmountable burden in most cases.

“You have no chance on entrapment,” said Robert Weisberg, a Stanford University criminal law professor. The only viable defenses, he said, are “I didn’t do it” or “I was misunderstood.”

hustle“American Hustle” is just a hustle: KQED’s Scott Detrow interviewed former FBI agent James Weddick, who ran the famous “Shrimpgate” undercover operation in the Capitol a quarter century ago (what is it with the FBI and shrimp?). The ex-G-man defended his ex-employers against criticism that the bureau launches sting operations with a presumption of guilt and a determination to set up politicians, rather than simply investigating actions they suspect to be corrupt.

“Without those operations you’re not going to find out that you’ve got corrupt individuals doing bad things — stealing money from the public,” he said…

False fronts and FBI-initiated bribes are necessary, Wedick argues, because there’s typically little or no evidence when actual bribes take place. “The conversations, if there are conversations about payments of monies, are usually one-on-one. And so without the kind of evidence where a conversation is heard, it’s one person’s word against another’s,” he said.

The piece also features a nifty, at-a-glance info-graphic that shows exactly how much money, and for what purposes, the FBI spent on pretend bribes in the cases of both Yee and fellow senator Ron Calderon, who has been indicted in a separate case. Calderon got $90K, $20K more than Yee, for more low-rent actions. Count on the L.A. guys not to leave money on the table.

Bottom line: Stephen Larson, another former federal prosecutor, who now works the other side of the street as a defense attorney, neatly summed up the legal dynamic of the Yee case in an interview with the Sacbee’s Jim Miller:

“For prosecutors the singular challenge is establishing criminal intent – proving that contributions are bribes and not protected speech, something far harder to do in a court of law than the court of public opinion,” said Larson, a former federal prosecutor. “For the defense, the biggest hurdle is overcoming the common intuition that there is something wrong about people financially interested in political outcomes contributing money to politicians.”

steinberg Senate president Darrell Steinberg, who seems shell-shocked by the string of recent revelations that he’s unwittingly been overseeing a rat’s nest of alleged Capitol corruption, points his finger at the constant need for politicians to pursue money for campaign to win and stay in office; lamentably, the best solution he can offer, however, is the hoary, going-nowhere notion of changing the game with taxpayer money:

“It is legal, it is accepted, and it in fact is necessary for people running for office and for incumbents to raise money from interests and to later vote on measures that those interests have before the Legislature,” (Steinberg) Friday. “Might this be a moment and a moment to once again discuss public financing of campaigns or other measures that remove the reality of the present system? I hope so.”

Fat chance.