Online Edition: February 2008     Vol. XXI, No. 6

sponsored by Peace Life Center, Public invited

  • MODESTO PEACE LIFE CENTER VIGILS: Monthly peace vigils are held THE FIRST FRIDAY of the month at McHenry Ave. and J St., (Five points), 4:30-5:30 pm. Call the Center for info: 529-5750.

  • Click here for peace action schedule around the area.

  • PEACE LIFE CENTER WILL BE OPEN WEDNESDAYS, Noon to 3 pm. Come by for coffee or tea and just to chat or look at our book and magazine collection. Bring your own bag lunch; there may be films some days. 720 13th St. Call us 529-5750, we'll get back to you with info on vigils and other activities.

Click Here to download the 2008 Peace Essay Flyer

Connections needs help!

Stanislaus Connections, the peace and justice newspaper of the Modesto Peace Life Center, needs volunteers able to help edit, write, or help put up the paper each month. We meet two times per month. If you are interested in helping with our progressive paper, contact us.

Email Jim Costello, or call 537-7818. Or call Myrtle Osner, 522-4967,


Saturday, February 23, 2008
Peace Life Center
720 13th St., Modesto
8:30 a.m. — 12:00 p.m.


Peace & Justice

Around the Center: 

Living Lightly

Recipes from Connections

A Gathering of Voices--Joshua Pollock

Out and About


Masthead and Back Issues

Opinion and Letters to Connections

Interesting Web sites

February 5 Election: much more than the primaries


By now you are probably sick of the national jockeying for President of the U.S. When you get your sample ballot, you will be surprised at its complexity.

The national furor has so eclipsed local decisions that most of us don’t know that there are seven State of California Constitutional Amendments and Initiatives that will need your decision making. For these measures, you can get help by picking up a “PROS AND CONS “ Leaflet, published by the League of Women Voters of California, available at our county libraries or by email,, or phone to the local League of Women Voters (Modesto: 524-1698), or online at

Other Issues on the Ballot

STANISLAUS COUNTY: Measure E and L are two competing measures about county planning. Measure E, also known as SOS, Stamp Out Sprawl, was submitted to the county Board of Supervisors last summer, but they did not place it on the November ballot, although it was probably submitted in time. The Board of Supervisors then put their own measure on the ballot, (now known as “Measure L”) which establishes a General Plan Review Commission to consider a new General Plan with limitations on changes on conversion of land from agricultural use to residential use.

Since this is possible in the General Plan process we already have, (if the planners can get the Supervisors to vote for the changes) you have to wonder why these competing Measures?

CITY OF MODESTO: In addition, the City of Modesto has two ballot measures which will put into law two charter amendments, Measures M and N. (Only residents within the city limits of Modesto can vote on these.) These two measures are crucial to the workings of city government. Measure M is called “Accountability in City Hall” and it changes the mayor’s responsibilities as well as creating a Citizen’s Salary Setting Commission and a number of other important changes. Good luck understanding all of this.

PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY ELECTIONS: To top it all off, this is the election in which you vote for your choice for President of the United States. Be aware that you are only voting for your “preference”. And your ballot will only have the names of those candidates belonging to the party you have registered with. This vote doesn’t elect our president, it only gives YOUR PREFERENCE since this is a primary. The final vote will take place next November, after the parties have had their conventions and decided who the final candidate for each party will be There are six parties all together, but you will receive a ballot listing only those candidates running in the party you chose when you registered to vote.

FOR THOSE WHO REGISTERED “DECLINE TO STATE” (meaning you did not choose a party). It is possible to vote on a “crossover” ballot for presidential candidates, but ONLY American Independent and Democratic parties allow that.

So in the long run, the party conventions really choose the presidential contenders.

A final word: The ballot is printed in both English and Spanish. Some have wondered about the extra expense. State law requires ballots to be printed in the languages of 25 per cent of the County’s population. Stanislaus County qualifies under that law.

You may also get more information by going to the county election website: If you are reading this and are in some other county, find your county’s voter registrar website and check it out if you don’t get enough information from your sample ballot. Or, call your local League of Women Voters.

Litmus test for ballot measures


Ask yourself these three questions before voting yes or no on Feb. 5.

Californians are again facing the consequences of our love affair with direct democracy. On Feb. 5, we will cast votes on seven ballot measures covering complicated policy issues like community college funding and gas-tax allocations. More technical still, there are four amendments on exactly how we should amend the state's Indian casino compacts. And dozens more ballot measures are in the pipeline.

In an ideal world, we would weigh the arguments for and against each ballot measure, research the topic and read the entire text. But most people don't have the time, energy or expertise to grapple with many of the issues raised. So here is an easy three-part test to screen out the real turkeys.

For each measure, ask yourself these questions, each rooted in the fundamental tenets of American democracy. If the answer to any of them is no, you should vote no on the measure.

Is the ballot measure democratic?

If a measure specifies that it can only be changed by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, be wary. If it requires an extraordinary supermajority like four-fifths, vote no. Most ballot measures in California become law if a simple majority of voters vote yes. This is consistent with the great principle of majority rule we all learned, starting in kindergarten. But proponents of some ballot measures are uncomfortable with majority rule and require that any changes to the enacted measure be made only by supermajority votes of the Legislature.

A two-thirds majority to amend a law is sometimes necessary but should be the exception. The framers of the U.S. Constitution understood this and deliberately rejected supermajority votes in Congress, save for four extraordinary circumstances, including impeachments and veto overrides. Unfortunately, Californians of late have forgotten the wisdom of the framers and have embraced supermajority requirements for nearly every ballot measure.

But extraordinary supermajority rules are shams, creating the illusion that a measure can be changed while making it nearly impossible to do so. For example, with California's bicameral Legislature, a four-fifths majority requirement to amend means that a mere nine senators can thwart the actions of the Assembly and 31 other senators.

All laws, including those created by ballot measures, need to have an effective way of being amended because no law is perfect and change is a constant. Ballot measures requiring supermajority votes to change are both undemocratic and perilous.

Is the ballot measure funded?

If a measure creates new programs, new agencies or new government spending without saying where the money comes from, vote no. It is easy to write a ballot measure promising the world, but it is much tougher — and politically risky — to write a measure that specifies how those promises will be funded. Unfortunately, Californians have passed ballot measures creating programs that are ultimately not fully implemented because there is no funding. Proposition 83 from 2006, which requires registered sex offenders to wear an electronic tracking device for life, is one example. We've also approved mandating that a certain percentage of the state budget be spent on this or that without regard for the effect on other public services.

Is the ballot measure subject to checks and balances?

If a measure creates an agency or program outside the regular checks and balances of state government, vote no. Some ballot measure proponents are so contemptuous of the processes of democratic government, and so convinced of their own wisdom, that they write, and voters have approved, measures creating personal fiefdoms disguised as public agencies. Look at the legislative analyst's summary and the pro and con arguments in your ballot pamphlet for telltale signs, such as: "revenues would be placed in a special fund" or "not be subject to civil service laws." Proposition 71, passed in 2004 to create California's stem cell research institute, comes to mind. These fiefdoms typically have funding sources outside the state budget process and are thus exempt from review or change by the governor or the Legislature. They are exempt from laws mandating public meetings, open records and conflict of interest restrictions.

In short, if a ballot measure can only be amended by supermajorities, if it promises no-cost programs, if it creates personal fiefdoms disguised as public agencies, vote no.

Dr. Tim Hodson is executive director of the Center for California Studies at Sacramento State University,


Copyright 2008 Los Angeles. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Let’s toast to ten good things about 2007

As we closed this year on the low of Congress giving Bush more billions for war, and the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, let’s remember some of the year’s gains that can revive our spirits for the New Year. Here are just ten.

1. With the exception of the White House, this has been a banner year for environmental consciousness and action. Al Gore and the scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change won the Nobel Peace Prize. Green building and renewable energy have exploded. Congress passed the Green Jobs Act of 2007, authorizing $125 million for green job training. Over 700 U.S. mayors, representing 25 percent of the U.S. population, have signed a pledge to reduce greenhouse gases by 2012. Illinois became the 26th state to require that some of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources and Kansas became the first state to refuse a permit for a new coal-fired power plant for health and environmental reasons. That’s progress!

2. On the global environmental scene, the Bush dinosaurs were tackled head on. When the US delegation at the UN climate change conference in Bali tried to sabotage the negotiations, the delegate from tiny Papua New Guinea threw diplomatic niceties to the wind and said that if the U.S. couldn’t lead, it should get out of the way. Embarrassed by international and domestic outrage, the U.S. delegation buckled, and the way was cleared for adopting the “Bali road map.” Although it is a weak mandate, it lays the groundwork for a stronger climate agreement post-2012 when the first phase of the Kyoto Protocols ends.

3. Imagine living in a waste-free urban society? Well, it’s no longer a utopian dream but a well-thought-out plan for India’s state of Kerala. The plan to be “waste-free” within five years includes waste prevention, intensive re-use and recycling, composting, replacing unsustainable materials with sustainable ones, training people to produce these materials, and providing funds for setting up sustainably run businesses. The ground-breaking plan, spearheaded by a local grassroots movement, demonstrates how citizen groups can advance pioneering policies to heal the planet.

4.While the war in Iraq rages on, a new war was stopped. The specter of war with Iran loomed large throughout the year, with Washington accusing Iran of killing U.S. soldiers in Iraq and being a nuclear threat. Then in December came the National Intelligence Estimate showing that the Bush administration knew all along that Iran had shelved its nuclear weapons program in 2003. It exposed the Administration claims of an Iranian threat as unjustifiably inflated, and the winds of war were suddenly subdued. Nothing is guaranteed, but a U.S. military attack on Iran is less likely now than it was earlier in the year.

5.This year also brought a decrease in tensions with North Korea. Hostilities flared after North Korea successfully conducted a nuclear test in 2006. But the Bush administration, bogged down in Iraq and pushed by international pressure, agreed to negotiate. Following a series of six-party talks involving North Korea, South Korea, China, Russia, Japan, and the U.S, on March 17, 2007, an historic agreement was reached. North Korea agreed to shut down its main nuclear facility and submit a list of its nuclear programs in exchange for fuel and normalization talks with the U.S. and Japan. During this age of raw aggression, it is a welcome example of putting diplomacy first.

6. The Iraqi people have little to celebrate, but there was one important victory for the people this year. Remember how the Bush administration and Congress were insisting that the Iraqi Parliament pass a new oil law? Touted as a way to “share oil revenue among all Iraqis”, the oil law was really designed to transform the country’s currently nationalized oil system to one open to foreign corporate control. But opposition was fierce inside Iraq, especially from the nation’s oil worker unions. In a rare sign of independence from Washington and concern for domestic opinion, the Iraqi Parliament withstood intense U.S. pressure and refused to pass the oil law.

7. In early 2007, few Americans had heard of the private security company Blackwater. By year’s end, Blackwater had become infamous for the killing of civilians in Iraq. The radical privatization of our military to corporations like Blackwater that are accountable to no one was exposed for all to see. This frightening process is still well under way, with more private contractors in Iraq than soldiers, but at least the issue has now entered the public dialogue. And Blackwater has received such a black eye that it’s unlikely to get a new Iraq contract when the present one expires in May.

8. One victory on both the war and environmental fronts came in Australia, where Labor Party’s Kevin Rudd beat conservative John Howard to become Prime Minister. Howard was an enthusiastic backer of George Bush’s disastrous war on terror, from defending the Guantánamo prison and extraordinary rendition to sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. Howard also joined Bush in refusing to ratify the Kyoto Agreement, arguing it would cost Australians jobs. After assuming office on December 3, Kevin Rudd immediately signed the Kyoto agreement and he has promised to remove Australia’s combat troops from Iraq by mid-2008.

9. Sometimes a loss is a win. Hugo Chavez had initiated a constitutional referendum that would have, among other changes, scrapped term limits. His immediate acceptance of a razor-thin margin of defeat before all the votes were even counted showed his democratic colors and made it a lot harder for Bush and the corporate media to label him a dictator. Despite the loss, Chavez remains extremely popular, especially among the poor and working class in Venezuela. And throughout Latin America, the historic transformation led by progressive leaders like Chavez continues to blossom.

10. Last but not least, this year saw the resignation of some of Bush’s closest allies in government-Donald Rumsfeld resigned as Secretary of Defense, Alberto Gonzalez as Attorney General, and Karl Rove as Deputy Chief of Staff. Best of all, we can give thanks that we only have ONE YEAR left of the criminal, war-mongering, constitution-shredding, rights-violating, torture-sanctioning Bush Administration! It’s just GOT to get better than this!

So here’s a toast to a green future, diplomacy, and surviving the last throes of the Bush regime. Que viva 2008!

Medea Benjamin ( is cofounder of CODEPINK and Global Exchange.

Concert benefits Habitat for Humanity


Church choirs from Stanislaus County will meet for their fourteenth annual grand concert on Sunday, February 17 at 4.p.m. For months at least ten choirs have been preparing their most favorite anthems to present to the music loving public.

Modesto’s First Methodist Church, at 15th and I Streets has hosted this event each year as a way to present good music to the public, in the process raising money for Habitat for Humanity locally. By this time we have built a total of three houses, complete, with the money raised at all those concerts. Besides the individual choirs singing their favorite numbers, the massed choir (numbering over 100) all learn the same music, indeed “making a joyful noise to the Lord”.

In Memoriam

James Alvin Barker
December 20, 1930 — December 27, 2007 do justly,
to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God.
— Micah, 8:8

In Memoriam

Donna Diane Durham
January 28, 1953 — December 22, 2007

— tree hugger and child hugger extraordinaire —

On the Road to Ethiopia

After living in the land of plenty here in Qatar, Leslie and I decided to visit the quintessential land of famine, Ethiopia. There was much to recommend the country: it has a wealth of archeological treasures, a unique history, dozens of exotic ethnic groups, an exciting cuisine, a fairly safe travel environment, and a cheap price tag. More importantly to the Ethiopians, the famines of twenty and thirty years ago no longer stalk the hills, though the population is far from prosperous. As the only traditionally Christian nation in Africa and as the only African nation never to have been really colonized, Ethiopia developed pretty much on its own for two thousand years, which resulted in a culture like no other.

Our hotel in Addis Ababa had originally been part of a palace compound of Haile Selassie. Arriving midday on a Saturday, we were treated to the scene of twenty or so different wedding parties celebrating in the palace’s adjoining park. Because of the beauty of the flowers and expansiveness of the lawns, the grounds of the hotel were the favorite place to get one’s wedding photos taken. Each couple had an attendant chorus of dancing, clapping, and singing well-wishers, each decked out in matching robes with emblazoned crosses. Each group seemed to have a different color scheme: blue, green, purple, red, maroon, or white-on-white. Swirling around a central drummer or following him in a stately parade, the groups shouted songs of joy and praise. Squatting on their haunches and singing ditties that made the newlyweds blush, groups of friends encircled the happy couples. As in the West, brides wore white gowns, and although most grooms were in tuxes, the occasional groom wrapped himself in a white fur trimmed cape and sported a white crown. Also in accord with Western fashion, bridesmaids wore identical strapless gowns (some cut quite low), men had on formal or business suits, stretch limos awaited, and professional photographers snapped and videoed memories of the special day. If it weren’t for the ubiquitous drums topped with animal hides and wrapped in brilliantly colored print cloth, one might think one had stumbled onto any number of Western wedding photo shoots.

What arrested our senses, however, was the sheer exuberance of it all. Folks in the Persian Gulf are just so touchy about their private lives. They put walls around their houses and walls around their emotions. They drape their women in black, cover their faces, and forbid them to be photographed even though not much of them can really be seen. Wedding parties are segregated according to gender, and many families have traditions of marrying partners who share much of the same bloodline. Public dancing usually means guys in white robes slowly stomping the ground and waving swords around. And here in the middle of the day in bright sunlight were all these beautiful young people in vibrant colors shaking their bodies and sharing their joy at being alive in such a public fashion.

Lest you think that all Ethiopians have the wherewithal to squander lots of birr (one birr equals about a penny) on such displays of conspicuous consumption, be assured that the folks we saw were members of the small but rising middle class. Walk outside the gated and guarded park and Africa is there to greet you in all of its grim poverty, crumbling infrastructure, and impossible public health problems. As Africa goes, Addis is fairly modern (at least in its central area), and its amenities and opportunities for education and work have made it a magnet for desperate people from the countryside who are willing to do almost any kind of labor just to stay alive. On the outskirts of town, for example, we saw women of all ages staggering down steep mountainsides carrying impossibly heavy loads of firewood to earn two or three dollars for a full day’s grueling work. Some of the bundles they strapped to their backs were ten feet long and almost as much in circumference. In the crowded markets people hawked all manner of recycled material for next to nothing, and any area which might be touristed swarmed with sellers of post cards and junk jewelry. Beggars implored one’s charity and children simply looked you in the face and said, “Money.”

Yet with all of the poverty and health issues (e. g., one in fourteen women die in childbirth, 7% of the population has HIV/AIDS, and the government spends $1.20 per person on health care per year), Ethiopia’s economy has grown by 10% for each of the past four years. In a way, Addis is the capital of Africa as it hosts the headquarters of the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. In a way, of course, Ethiopia is all of our motherland, at least those of us descended from Lucy, our Australopithecus progenitrix, who actually looks pretty good for a gal of 3 million years, give or take a millennium or two. With a diverse population and plenty of international restaurants, the city seems poised to explode with development, and money keeps flowing in from the Ethiopian Diaspora which spread all over the world following the horrendous famines and the brutal military government the country suffered in the 70’s and 80’s. An increase in the standard of living for most Ethiopians will take some time, assuming “trickle down” economics operate in the Horn of Africa. It may turn out, however, to be a case of the richer get richer and the poor getting the occasional bag of U. S. Department of Agriculture surplus wheat.


Tenth of each month. Submit peace, justice and environmentally friendly event notices to P.O. Box 134, Modesto, CA, 95353, or call 522-4967 or 575-4299, or email to Jim Costello. Free listings subject to space, availability and editing.