What’s in a name?

Roll out the Astroturf: You’ve probably seen the full-page ads in The Sacramento Bee—the ones bashing the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD). They are sponsored by a group calling itself the Coalition for Reliable and Affordable Energy, which is a wholly owned and operated subsidiary of Pacific Gas and Electric. It’s a tough name to remember. The acronym, CRAE, just reminds Bites of crayfish—ooze-dwelling mudbugs with nasty little pinchers.

Bites suggests another moniker, which would be easier to recall: Just string together all the capital letters in Corporation Repels Attempts for Public Power in Yolo.

The “grassroots” group has been able to scrape enough money to purchase several full-page ads in the Bee encouraging SMUD ratepayers to call their SMUD representatives and oppose expanding the ratepayer-owned utility into Yolo County.

Turns out that CRAE’s treasurer, according to documents filed with the state, is a lobbyist for Nielsen Merksamer, a Mill Valley firm that got fined $240,000 for unfair political practices when it ran PG&E’s campaign against public power in San Francisco a couple of years back. Yeah, that’s got “reliability” written all over it.

The results of all this manufactured dissent: “I’ve gotten maybe 10 e-mails in the last three weeks,” said SMUD board member Peter Keat. The messages are running about 50-50 on the question of annexation. “A lot of it is people asking why SMUD doesn’t respond” to PG&E’s ad campaign. Unlike PG&E, SMUD is prohibited by law from engaging in political advertising. And Keat doesn’t think annexation is the kind of political cause that stirs regular people to pony up donations. “I mean, are you going to make a contribution?” Keat asked. Bites would, but Bites has no pockets.

Family values: Not satisfied with defining marriage for everybody else, the fundamentalists-first crowd is back with three proposed ballot measures that would gut domestic-partnership rights for gay couples and unmarried straights.

All would need to collect 598,000 signatures to make it to the ballot. One is the righteously named Voters’ Right to Protect Marriage Initiative, but all three essentially would eliminate the idea of domestic partnership, denying rights of child custody, child visitation, hospital visitation, health-care decisions for an incapacitated partner, insurance benefits and death benefits outside a marriage between one man and one woman.

If any of them becomes law, you could spend 50 years with your partner, and if they got sick, you could be told that you have no right to visit them in the hospital or to make critical decisions regarding their health care. Although you shared everything, your mortgage payments and other bills, you’d be entitled to no domestic-partnership benefits when they died. Bites suggests re-titling this package Special Consideration for Righteous Evangelical Wingnuts.

Guilty until proven innocent: It takes about 11 or 12 years to execute somebody in the United States. Even longer in California. Our local Congressman Dan Lungren thinks the government isn’t killing people fast enough. That’s why he’s one of the main sponsors of the Streamlined Procedures Act. It’s making its way through Congress at a pretty good clip and could be up for a floor vote in December. The bill would eliminate appeals to the federal courts in many death-penalty cases, unless the convicted could provide some sort of proof that they were factually innocent. The bill has been condemned by the Judicial Conference of the United States and the Conference of Chief Justices but mostly has been ignored in the local press despite Lungren’s strong advocacy of it.

Opponents of the bill, the Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform, have identified more than a dozen people who turned out to be innocent and eventually were released from prison who would have been put to death if Lungren’s bill were law. No fancy acronym needed, Bites proposes the congressman just reintroduce the legislation as the Kill-’em-all-and-let-God-sort-’em-out Act.