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Richmond City Council Resolves To Oppose The Patriot Act

February 26, 2003

At the February 25, 2003, City Council Meeting, the Richmond City Council, after listening to the passionate pleas of some 40 citizens, voted 8 ayes, 0 nays and 1 abstention to become the 48th U.S. city to oppose the Patriot Act.

I was the one abstention. Based on what I had read of the Patriot Act and what I had heard from others, including the 40 persons speaking at last night’s meeting, I too agreed that the Patriot Act was an egregious example of overreaching, capitalizing on a national tragedy to advance the mechanics of a classic police state.

On the other hand, I was the only person confessing that I had not actually read the act in its entirety -- from start to finish, 126 pages and 57,992 words. In fact, I will buy each City Council member who can truthfully say they have actually read the Patriot Act a dinner at his or her restaurant of choice. I might even extend the offer to those who testified at the meeting.

But my principal reason for abstaining was that I felt a city council can make better use of its time and energy by concentrating on serious, unresolved local problems rather than national and international politics.

I lost one E-FORUM reader, who wrote: “I can't believe you abstained from the vote on the PATRIOT Act last night, after so many people made the point that this issue is not just national but that the city enforces such an act and is the frontline interface with the public for such an act.  I was extremely disappointed, and so were many others who had thought you could be counted on for sensible actions.  However, your abstention makes it clear that you don't have very much to say that I need to hear. Please remove me from your list.”

I lost another supporter, who emailed me even before I got home: “I was frankly stunned by your remarks at the end of what I can only describe as an absolutely inspiring city council meeting.  I was SO PROUD of what I thought to be our unanimous city council. And the Richmond residents that showed up!  I was PROUD to be from Richmond.  I have been so frightened by what has been happening to our country.  Was your mind elsewhere when people were telling you how important their freedoms were to them?  And the librarians in Richmond?  Aren't they your concern?  There is NOTHING more important to be done in Richmond than to support our civil rights.  NOTHING.  A pot hole can always be fixed.  But the Constitution is the basis of everything we hold dear and it is being dismantled piece by piece in front of our eyes.  Not just potential damage, but the reality!  I was so relieved to contemplate that at least we could have SOME elected officials that support the Constitution even when those in Washington don't have the guts or the brains to do so.  And then you poured cold water over the whole event.  What were you thinking?  To think we should ignore our responsibility to the Constitution and our civil rights in favor of local issues is...  frankly unbelievable.  I can only scratch my head and ask you to read again your oath of office.  It is not for nothing those words are in there.  That is the FIRST thing we ask of you as a councilman.” 

On a positive note, I did receive one phone call, however, from a woman who thanked me for voting to oppose the Patriot Act.

Clearly, the Patriot Act is important, and I can buy the argument that it could adversely affect the lives of some number of Richmond residents. I accept the fact that it tramples on our constitutional rights. I have always believed that 9/11 was a failure of Bush's FBI and CIA to communicate and act on knowledge they had legally obtained prior to the PatriotAct, rather than constraints on their ability to obtain critical intelligence. However, the Bush administration has a list of transgressions, that, in my humble opinion, will also adversely affect the lives of Richmond residents. In a City with a homicide rate that rises above most of California, a $5 million looming budget shortfall, a police force that fancies itself as the “first responder to terrorism” without any funding to do so and hundreds of millions of dollars of unfunded infrastructure deferred maintenance, can we afford the luxury of devoting the major portion of City Council meetings to matters of federal legislation and national politics, no matter how critical are the principles involved?

If that’s what people believe is our highest priority, I have my own list of resolutions to oppose Bush administration. I propose the City Council agendize and debate resolutions condemning the Bush administration for the following, which represent only a fraction of my complaint list, in which I believe is something everyone can find dear to his or her heart. In just the first year, George Bush, our first un-elected president:

·Cut $39 million from federal spending on libraries

·Cut $35 million in funding for advanced pediatric training for doctors

·Delayed rules that would reduce “acceptable” levels of arsenic in drinking water

·Cut funding for research into cleaner, more efficient cars and trucks by 28 percent

·Revoked rules strengthening the power of the government to deny contracts to companies that violate federal laws, environmental laws, and workplace safety standards.

·Allowed Secretary of Interior Gale Norton to request suggestions for opening up national monuments for foresting, coal mining and oil and gas drilling.

·Broken campaign promise to invest 4100 million per year in rain forest conservation.

·Reduced by 86 percent the Community access program, which coordinated care for people without health insurance among public hospitals, clinics and other health care providers.

·Nullified a proposal to increase public access to information about potential ramifications of chemical plant accidents

·Cut funding of Girls and Boys Clubs of America programs in public housing by $60 million.

·Pulled out of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol agreement on global warming, ultimately signed by 178 other countries.

·Rejected an international accord to enforce the 1972 treaty banning germ warfare.

·Cut $200 million from workforce training programs for dislocated workers.

·Cut $20 million from the Childcare and development grant, a program that provides child care to low-income families as they are forced from welfare to work.

·Eliminated prescription contraceptive coverage to federal employees (though Viagra is still covered).

·Cut $700 million in funds for public housing repair.

·Cut half a billion dollars from the Environmental Protection Agency budget.

·Overturned workplace ergonomic rules designed to protect workers health and safety.

·Abandoned a campaign pledge to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, a major contributor to global warming.

·Prohibited any federal aid from going to international family planning organizations that provide abortion counseling, referrals or services with their own funds.

·Nominated former mining company executive Dan Lauriki as assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine safety and Health.

·Appointed Lynn Scarlett, a global warming skeptic and an opponent of stricter standards on air pollution, as Undersecretary of the Interior.

·Approved Interior Secretary Gale Norton’s controversial plan to auction off areas close to Florida’s eastern shore for oil and gas development.

·Announced plans to allow oil drilling in Montana’s Lewis and Clark Wilderness.

·Threatened to shut down the White House AIDS office.

·Decided to no longer seek guidance from the American Bar association for federal judiciary appointments.

·Denied college financial aid to students convicted of misdemeanor drug charges (though convicted murderers are still eligible for aid)

·Allocated only 3 percent of the amount requested by Justice Department lawyers in the government’s continues litigation against tobacco companies.

·Pushed through a tax cut, 43 percent of which goes to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.

·Signed a bill making it harder for poor and middle class Americans to file for bankruptcy, even when facing overwhelming medical bills.

·Appointed affirmative action opponent Kay Cole James to direct the Office of Personnel Management.

·Cut $15.7 million from programs dealing with child abuse and neglect.

·Proposed elimination of the “Reading Is Fundamental” program, which gives free books to poor children.

·Pushed for development of “mini-nukes,” designed to attack deeply buried targets - a violation of the Comprehensive Test ban Treaty.

·Tried to reverse regulation protecting sixty million aces of national forest from logging and road building.

·Appointed John Bolton, an opponent of nonproliferation treaties and the United Nations, as Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.

·Made Monsanto executive Linda Fisher deputy administrator of the Environmental protection Agency.

·Nominated Michael McConnell, a leading critic of the separation of church and state, to a federal judgeship.

·Nominated civil rights opponent Terrance Boyle to a federal judgeship.

·Cancelled the 2004 deadline for auto makers to develop high-mileage cars.

·Named John Walters, an ardent opponent of prison drug treatment programs, as drug czar.

·Appointed oil and coal lobbyist J. Steven Giles as Deputy Secretary of the Interior.

·Named Bennett Raley, who has called for repeal of the Endangered Species Act, as Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Water and Science.

·Sought dismissal of a class-action lawsuit files in the United States against Japan by Asian women forced to work as sex slaves during World War II.

·Appointed as solicitor general Ted Olson, chief lawyer for Bush in the Florida voting debacle.

·Proposed to ease the federal permit process for constructing refineries, nuclear facilities and hydroelectric dams, including environmental standards.

·Proposed selling of oil and gas tracts in the Alaska Wildlife Preserve.

·More than 8 million workers are unemployed, and minority and women workers have been particularly hard hit. More than one million workers have exhausted their federal unemployment benefits and cannot find work. The number of workers unemployed for more than 15 weeks has increased almost 140% in the last two years.