A painting of the United States sinking into a toilet now on display in the cafeteria of the state Department of Justice has raised the ire of the state Republican Party, which is demanding that Attorney General Bill Lockyer remove the image.
The painting -- part of an exhibit of more than 30 works by lawyer artists and pieces with overt legal themes -- has an American flag-painted continental United States heading into a toilet. Next to it are the words: "T'anks to Mr. Bush."
The artist, Stephen Pearcy, a Berkeley lawyer with a house in Sacramento, won earlier notoriety for hanging an effigy of an American soldier on the outside of his home here with a sign saying "Bush lied, I died." Angry residents tore the effigies down.
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[California Republican Party spokeswoman] Hanretty countered that Lockyer, a Democrat and staunch supporter of free speech [call me cynical, but this strikes me as a sneaky form of editorializing in a straight news article -- ed.], would not have allowed art to be displayed that gays or lesbians found offensive or promoted violence toward women.
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Pearcy could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but in a statement that accompanies the exhibit he said he had made the painting on July 4, 2003, to "show the direction this country was (and still is) headed under the Bush administration." The painting also "confronted the absurd display of 'fanatical patriotism' following 9/11," he said.
To support his thesis, Pearcy recites a litany of government actions he objects to including torture of detainees, censorship, hiring "more cops rather than teachers," SUVs and lack of corporate accountability.
A few points spring to mind concerning his examples of "government action":
1. His point on censorship seems rather undermined by the fact that his political art is being displayed in a California state government building. If he's referring to NY Times reporter Judith Miller being held in contempt for failure to testify in a grand jury investigation, then it's worth pointing out that the First Amendment does not confer an absolute privilege.
2. How are SUVs an example of government action? I'm not sure how the government is involved with the purchase and use of SUVs by private individuals. Perhaps he's faulting the government for not imposing punitively high taxes on SUV purchases (contrasted with the income tax credit for a "qualified electric vehicle" and the deduction for hybrids). Still seems a tad hypocritical, in light of the Porsche ownership.
3. Lack of corporate accountability - this seems more an example of government inaction. As with the SUVs, this would be more a sin of omission, as it were. Or perhaps he just didn't get the memo on Sarbanes-Oxley (PDF). Who knows?
Like I said, still not impressed.
As for the artistic merits, I don't venture an opinion, other than to say I think it's amusing that he's chosen to "confront the absurd display of 'fanatical patriotism'" with another absurd display.
"We can no longer ask our riders to do more," Johnson said. They can't afford it." [BART spokesman Linton] Johnson said BART management rejected a proposal the unions presented Thursday, which called for annual raises of between 2 percent and 4 percent over three years, and offered to triple union contributions for health benefits to $75 a month.
Union officials could not be reached for comment this morning. But Larry Hendel, the lead negotiator for BART's two largest unions — Service Employees International Union 790 and Amalgamated Transit Union 1555, which together represent 2,300 of BART's 2,700 employees — told the Associated Press he had his "fingers crossed" that a strike could be averted.
"We're far apart on issues of service and safety, medical benefits and wages," he said. "But we're planning to work through the night if necessary to reach a fair agreement without going to a strike."
However, the unions were proceeding with plans for a strike if necessary.
That had the Bay Area's other transit agencies reiterating their plans this morning to absorb the 310,000 current BART riders who would be left stranded in the event of a strike. Plans include extending carpool hours to increasing the numbers of ferry boats and buses.
BART officials say riders cannot be asked to pay more. The average full- time BART union employee, they say, receives a total fringe benefits package worth $31,719 a year on top of their average annual base salary of $67,865 for a total average annual compensation of $99,584.
The cost of benefits -- particularly retirement medical benefits -- has increased 66 percent in four years, and is likely to rise another 70 percent over the next four years, according to BART officials. Full-time BART union employees now pay about $25 per month in health care coverage for themselves and all their eligible family members, a rate that has remained the same since 1996.
I wasn't around for the last strike, so I suspect I'm taking it a bit less calmly than others. Then again, perhaps not.
Update:No strike. For now. Still not feeling that charitably inclined, especially not after going to the BART station and seeing several employees screwing around. The interesting part of all this is how people who are normally pro-union change when a strike threatens major disruptions to their personal life.