Commentary – Quentin Kopp

I Pledge Allegiance

Often repeated is Justice Louis D. Brandeis’ observation in the Dec. 20, 1913 edition of Harper’s Weekly: “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”

That’s antithetical to a current U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas, who wrote last month in a concurring majority decision that the 1964 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Sullivan versus. New York Times ruling elected public officials were barred by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution from suing a newspaper for defamation unless malice or lack of reasonable cause for the statement can be proven. Susceptibility to criticism from media (and the public at large) is a vicissitude of elected office. It works the other way, too. The current president and others condemn “fake media.” Publicity often constitutes remediation.

As president of the Korean War Memorial Foundation, which raised more than $4 million in charitable contributions to build an arresting memorial in the Presidio across the road from the National Cemetery, I’m sorely distressed by the San Francisco Board of Education, whose president announced after his induction that the Pledge of Allegiance would no longer be recited upon commencement of board meetings. The Foundation board has twice delivered letters this year to him requesting restoration of that small but significant expression of respect for our country. The disdainful president refuses to reply to a non-profit entity composed of Korean War veterans who dedicated such memorial Aug. 1, 2016.

That display of disrespect and cowardice from a public school district’s governing board leader resembles the reasons many knowledgeable American writers report such interstices in education about historical national events, including the Korean War. It extends to colleges. Historian David McCullough writes: “We are raising a generation of young Americans who are by and large historically illiterate,” and describes a Missouri college student who thanked him for visiting the college because, she stated, “. . . until now, I never understood that the original 13 colonies were all on the East Coast.” Another student asked him: “Aside from Harry Truman and John Adams, how many other Presidents have you interviewed?” As a replacement, colleges inform students of courses exploring “white privilege” (Hamilton College), “abolition of whiteness” (Hunter College), and white people with special, unfair advantages exist because “society was set up for them,” and their successes result from white privilege (University of Minnesota, Duluth).

A survey in October 2015 found that more than half of American college students oppose free speech on campus, and the University of California tries to make amends to a student assaulted while trying to distribute brochures about political conservatism. That reminds me of the late Dr. Thomas Sowell opining: “The next time some academics tell you how important diversity is, ask how many conservatives there are in their sociology department.”

Meanwhile, taxpayers continue to absorb unwarranted costs, not only from the bastardized California high-speed rail project (more on that next month), but the governor’s proposal of health care for undocumented aliens under 26 at a cost of $260 million, Los Angeles’ public pension data showing a 2017 $1,462,770 pension payment to a deputy police chief, plus six 2016 payments of more than $1 million to five retired deputy and assistant fire and police chiefs and a $200,000 San Francisco settlement with an illegal alien because San Francisco police notified the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in December 2015 that he had tried to retrieve a police report about his stolen automobile. The illegal alien’s lawsuit was based upon violation of San Francisco’s sanctuary ordinance prohibiting police from telling ICE that an illegal alien was at a police station.

As the 2020 presidential election unfolds with multiple candidates, I’m reminded of a New York Post report last month that donations to the Clinton Foundation declined after Mrs. Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election. In 2016, donors contributed $62.9 million to her foundation, but in 2017 donations declined to $26.6 million, a 58 percent reduction after her defeat!

I made a mistake in my January column about Sen. Kamala Harris’ 2003 misconduct while running for district attorney. Public financing is not available in a district attorney election (taxpayers can grease only Board of Supervisors and mayoral candidates with a $1 million total this fiscal year in public money). In 2003, our Anti-Corruption Ordinance enabled a candidate to voluntarily accept a campaign spending limit by so stating in writing after filing her or his candidacy. Harris agreed to the $211,000 limit. The Voter Information Handbook, under then-existing law, contained a statement of which district attorney candidates agreed to a spending limitation. She was listed. After the Handbook was printed for distribution to voters, she announced she wouldn’t obey the spending limit and spent $1.15 million. The law provided for removal of her name from the ballot. Instead, the Ethics Commission fined her $34,000 in lieu of a maximum $275,000 fine. Thereafter, the voluntary spending promise in the Anti-Corruption Ordinance was repealed for unclear reasons. In my opinion, it should be re-enacted as the only legally allowable, effective means of reducing expenditures for district attorney, city attorney, assessor and the like. 

Quentin Kopp is a former San Francisco supervisor and state senator, retired judge and former member of the SF Ethics Committee.

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