May 19 Special Election Wrap-Up

(I’ve been out of town for the past couple of days, and will continue to be through the weekend. Posting will continue to be light.)

So, Propositions 1A-1E were defeated, in thoroughly unsurprising fashion. I don’t have all that much to say, that hasn’t already been said by others, so I’ll just post some links.

It is disappointing to see the continuing fail of the state’s Democratic leadership. I find it shocking that they actually believe that this was a referendum on new taxes, when the revolt on Prop 1A at the state party convention was clearly no such thing. Why assume that the ‘voters’ sided with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association rather than the Courage Campaign, especially when there is evidence to to contrary?

However, despite Democrat’s seeming acquisence to the governor’s Hooverite budget, there is finally a real discussion about the long-term structural reforms needed to get the state back under control. Of course, some people still don’t understand what the hell is going on. The problem is structural, not personal. On that note, an alliance of progressive organizations, including the Courage Campaign, have launched the Declaration of Democracy campaign, calling for a majority vote budget. Go here to support it.

Finally, OC Progressive has the run-down on the effect of the governor’s budget proposal on local police forces. I guess you’re only ‘soft on crime’ if you want sensible sentencing reform.

The LA Times on the May 19 Special Election, Again (Updated)

Faced with polling that shows that voters aren’t buying their last editorial, the Los Angeles Times tries, once again, to convince people to vote yes.

Some voters seem to think that rejecting these measures will send politicians a message. It will. It will tell them that Californians won’t stand for constructive compromise of the sort that Republican state Sen. Dave Cogdill of Modesto and Assemblyman Mike Villines of Clovis sought when they agreed to the deal, and that we’ll grant political points for intransigence but none for actual accomplishment. It will tell them that we are suckers for grandstanding. It will tell them to keep fighting and stay deadlocked.

California must get on a different road, change its political dynamic and perhaps its political structure, but it can do that only if it can move. And to move, voters must pass the ballot measures. There is little point in arguing over the next turn if the discussion takes place in the back seat of a rusted-out hulk.

First off, the entire car metaphor (not quoted), is ridiculous, but for those of you who bothered to follow through to the whole editorial, I’ll play along. The spending cap, prop 1A, is the equivalent of reducing the size of gas tank so we’ll never be able to travel as far while also deciding not to pay for regular maintenance. The car will keep running for a while and will cost less – right until the transmission falls out.

More seriously, passing the ballot propositions won’t actually keep the state running. Prop 1A doesn’t have any effects for 3-4 years. The education funding in Prop 1B is already owed to the schools by the state. Indeed, the California Federation of Teachers has sued the state to get that money. Prop 1c will only help the state if we can find anyone to buy our bonds – a problem we are already having – and with lottery revenues down there isn’t much incentive for potential purchasers. Propositions 1D and 1E just shuffle money around, at the cost of our state’s worst off; and prop 1F has nothing to do with the budget at all.

Even if all of the ballot measures pass, we are still looking at a budget short-fall of $10 billion dollars on May 20th. It would be nice if the LA Times recognized that simple fact. There is no significant up-side to passing these ballot measures, and a considerable cost in future  budget flexibility. Unless, of course, you are a centrism fetishist who cares more about ‘bipartisan compromise’ than actually solving our state’s problems.

Since we’ll still have a budget crisis on May 20, there is no good reason to create a spending cap on May 19. Instead, we need real long-term budget reform, in the form of a return to a simply majority requirement for both the budget and taxes. I agree that the majority vote won’t solve our immediate problem – but neither will Prop 1A. If nothing else, the Times should recognize that if we can afford to put off a majority-vote reform until the present crisis has passed, then surely we can do the same with an ill-conceived and poorly debated spending cap.

Update: The Sacramento Bee has different numbers:

The Republican governor’s Department of Finance has projected a budget gap of $15.4 billion if the May 19 special election ballot measures pass and $21.3 billion if they fail. The state would gain nearly $6 billion in solutions if Propositions 1C, 1D and 1E pass, including $5 billion in 1C’s borrowing against the California Lottery.

Ken Calvert’s Telephone Town Hall

So apparently Ken Calvert held a telephone town hall last week accompanied by a number of robocalls telling people that he had done so. According to his robo-call voicemail message, the major topics were the economy, Iraq/Afghanistan, illegal immigration, and local transportation.

Looking at the summary at the link above, I find it hard to believe that these were the real questions asked – the tenses of the opening paragraphs are all confused, suggesting this was drawn up before the call. More importantly, though, it is highly unlikely that there was not a single question about the state budget crisis, the bank bailouts, or the stimulus plan. Indeed, three of the eight questions appear to have been related in some way to immigration. This is certainly one of Calvert’s favorite topics, but I doubt that is true of 30,000 random constituents. Have I mentioned that this robocall was on Cinco de Mayo? Congressman, you are a classy classy man.

In case you are wondering, the Congressman’s call indicated that he is “fighting for” tax relief, job creation, and the development of new energy sources, while he opposes amnesty and wasteful government spending.

Finally, I don’t remember getting a single robocall from Calvert during the campaign last year. So, I’m going to take his efforts now as a sign that Bill Hedrick has him worried – a good sign.

Addendum: I’d be interested in knowing what was actually discussed during the town hall, if anyone knows.

Published in: on May 10, 2009 at 1:21 am  Leave a Comment  
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May 19 Special Election: Don’t Listen to the LA Times

The Los Angeles Times came out with its endorsements on the May 19 special election. Unfortunately, their decision-making is a little baffling. With regards to Proposition 1A, they see the problem (one I have called government by algorithm) and then draw a truly strange conclusion:

The reserve fund is closely linked to the spending cap, and that gives us pause, because The Times has long objected to hands-free budgeting — decision-making that removes human thinking from the fiscal planning process. But after several decades’ worth of ballot measures that impose formulas to grab cash for education and other favored programs, California finds itself so far down the robo-budgeting road that it may need a bit more automation just to regain its bearings [emphasis added].

I disagree – strongly. Beyond being anti-democratic (with a small ‘d’), more “robo-budgeting” makes the legislature even less accountable to voters. The only way to restore balance to the budgeting process is to make the legislature more accountable to voters. Currently, for example, the 2/3rds rule prevents true accountability because no single party gets the blame or credit for the debacle. Republicans point to the Democratic majority and say “don’t blame us”, while the reverse is equally true. This cultivates a throw-the-bums-out mentality that makes the entire process more toxic and discourages innovation and true reform. The spending cap will complicate this issue. The Times would be better served by opposing Prop 1A and calling for systematic budget process reform, including both the repeal of outstanding robo-budgeting propositions and the 2/3rds rule.

Additionally, the Times completely ignores the increased power given to the Governor to mandate cuts in lean years – a step that further reduces legislative accountability and further distrupts an already unequal balance of powers in Sacramento.

The Times then moves on to Prop 1B, and draws this conclusion:

It’s ostensibly intended to restore $9.3 billion in funding that public schools and community colleges would get in better economic times under Proposition 98 (the granddaddy of ballot-box budgeting measures, passed in 1988 as an attempt to ensure adequate school funding). But in doing so, it could ratchet up the autopilot spending that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says he’s trying to stop. We support better funding for schools, but not by imposing more inflexible formulas [emphasis added].

And yet this is precisely what proposition 1A does! Honestly, their reasoning is not internally consistent. Instead, I suspect they honestly oppose robo-budgeting, but want to appear to be part of the “responsible center” – hence their endorsement of proposition 1A.

The rest of the editorial is more-or-less what you would expect, and, honestly, I don’t care all that much about the remaining propositions. However, on Prop 1C, they make another inconsistent argument. Namely, that it will raise revenue without raising taxes. What it will actually do it raise revenue now at the cost of decreased revenue in the future. Fewer cuts or tax increases now at the cost of cuts or tax increases in the future. This is, of course, exactly what the state does when it borrows, but given declining lottery revenues due to the economy, I’m not so certain we’ll be able to sell its future revenues for nearly as much as the governor things we can. This is not a wise or responsible path.

For a more complete discussion of my opinions on the ballot measures, see this post here. Also take a look at the Calitics endorsements (hint: we more-or-less agree) and the nonpartisan League of Women Voters, who have a very good discussion.

Impeach Jay Bybee

I wrote yesterday about David Dayen’s petition to have the CDP adopt a resolution calling for Judge Bybee’s impeachment. Today, the Courage Campaign has joined the call. Sign their petition here. The deadline is Friday 9am – so sign now.

When President Barack Obama released the contents of President Bush’s torture memos, America learned the full extent of the horror that was unleashed at Guanatanamo Bay on detainees. One of the memos was written by Jay Bybee in August 2002. It authorized the use of waterboarding, “cramped confinement”, “walling” — where a detainee’s head is repeatedly pushed against a wall — and even putting insects into a confined space with a detainee.

Jay Bybee is now a federal judge here in California, serving on the important Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco. He has not been held accountable for the lawbreaking he committed and enabled.

The California grassroots are determined to change that. Los Angeles Democratic activists John Heaner, Agi Kessler and Richard Mathews have sponsored a resolution calling on the House of Representatives to begin impeachment proceedings against Jay Bybee.

Update: And here is a petition to John Conyers, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee from the People For the American Way.

LA Times Opinion Round-Up

Today is Los Angeles Times intensive.

On high-speed rail. The Times appears to misunderstand the concept by complaining that the current federal funding for high-speed rail is debt financed, as part of the stimulus bill. Debt-financing is half the point. On the other hand, their point about gas taxes being insufficient for current infrastructure is valid, and is why I’ve previously discussed the need for mileage taxes, allowing gas taxes to be shifted toward clean energy investment and climate change mitigation. Of course, that the Secretary of Transportation was talking about mileage taxes over a month ago goes unremarked upon.

On torture. The Times nails the description of the memos, “Orwellian horrors”, and rightly calls for Obama to close a loophole suggesting that the CIA might not be bound by the Army Field Manual. However, I fail to see how that could possibly be seen as being “in the same spirit” as announcing CIA operatives wouldn’t be subject to war crimes prosecutions. And, of course, how the Times could endorse that announcement after reading the memos is baffling. But the Times has been weak on the prosecution issue all along. In a classic example, in a point-counterpoint discussion of prosecutions, both sides argued against prosecutions. Good job picking a diversity of opinions.

Tim Rutten on a truth commission. While I agree that a full report on whether actionable intelligence was gained from torture is necessary, we also need to determine the full scope of law breaking and what, if any, sanction is received from Congressional leadership. More importantly, we already know that torture didn’t work on Abu Zubaida – apparently Rutten missed that article. Of course, torture’s unreliability as an interrogation technique has been known for almost 400 years in the West as that appears to have been missed by almost everyone over the past eight years.

As an aside, Rutten’s ongoing opposition to prosecutions (he once referred to the decision to torture as a “policy difference”) should give the lie to his claim of being a civil libertarian. That, or he is too cowardly to stand far enough outside of the mainstream media to call for them.

Department of “Huh?”: LA Times 9th Circuit Reporting

I don’t particularly understand what prompted this article in the LA Times on the 9th Circuit.

If I were a suspicious conservative, I might suspect that it was an attempt by the liberal media to rally the troops in preparation for confirmation battles. However, I don’t see this as being particularly effective in that regard (and if the goal was to arrest the conservative trend, then the article was needed years ago to rally opposition to Bush appointments.)

Frankly, given the current and future openings on the court, it seems strange to describe the court at ‘trending conservative’ – that trend is very likely to be reversed in the relatively short term. Especially if the court is expanded, as it should be, to reflect its increased work-load, allowing Obama to appoint a full quarter of the judges.

More importantly, though, the article is all over the place. It discusses dissents from denial of rehearing en banc. It mentions briefly and in passing Bybee’s role in authorizing torture, but has no comment. It uncritically accepts conservative arguments that the traditionally liberal bent of the court is encouraging forum shopping, as if forum shopping wasn’t a major component of the justice system in general and as if there isn’t similar forum shopping in, say, the 4th Circuit.

I don’t really see how this kind of poorly explained judicial reporting sufficiently informs the public to participate in debates over judicial reform and judicial appointments.

Addendum: Credit where credit is due, they do refer to Bybee as authorizing “torture” instead of “enhanced interrogation techniques.” It is good to see the media using the word torture in a straight reporting piece.

Published in: on April 19, 2009 at 11:08 am  Leave a Comment  
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May 19 Special Election: Just Say No

Calitics has announced its endorsements for the ballot propositions on the May 19 special election: no on everything. I agree, and will not duplicate their analysis. I’ve written before on the problem with spending caps (Prop. 1A), but it is worth quoting the League of Women Voters on this issue:

[Prop. 1A] would actually make it more difficult for future governors and legislatures to enact budgets that meet California’s needs and address state priorities. It would amend the state Constitution to dictate restrictions on the use of funds put into the reserve and limit how “unanticipated” revenues can be used in good years. It could lock in a reduced level of public services by not taking proper account of the state’s changing demographics and actual growth in costs. Prop 1A would also give future governors new power to make budget cuts without legislative oversight. Like the other propositions opposed by the League on this ballot, Prop 1A came from a deeply flawed process that resulted in measures written in haste and without public input or analysis. The League would support real budget reform, but we regretfully conclude that this measure would only make things worse. (League of Women Voters)

The only issues where I break a little from the Calitics editorial board is on propositions 1D and 1E. As a rule, I am generally opposed to dedicated tax increases tied to specific spending. With the exception of sin and consumption taxes tied to related issues (carbon taxes for climate change, alcohol/tobacco taxes for health care), I feel that such arrangements strip flexibility from the legislature and prevent reasonable shifts in government priorities. They distort the budget process just as Prop 13 does, if not to the same extent. However, the issue of dedicated taxes should be addressed as part of comprehensive budgetary reform, and not as a part of a crazy budget work-around. So, I come to the same conclusion: no on Props. 1D and 1E.

With it increasingly clear that this budget will not be sufficient even if all of the ballot propositions pass, there is no reason to pass them at all. We cannot be held more hostage than we already are.

Climate Change and California

The LA Times has an article on recommendations made by the state’s Climate Action Team to prepare the state for the consequences of global warming. Among the suggestions are limiting coastal development, phased abandonment of certain coastal areas, and relocating state infrastructure inland. Orange County and the San Francisco Bay area are particularly hard it. Notably, both the Oakland and San Francisco Airports will be under water.

Sea levels along California have risen nearly 8 inches in the past century, although this varies with coastal dynamics. According to the Pacific Institute report, 260,000 Californians already live in flood zones, but are assumed to be protected by existing structures, such as levees and sea walls.

A 1.4-meter sea level rise would increase the population at risk to 480,000. Currently, 1,900 miles of roads and highways are at risk of flooding, which would grow to 3,500 miles under the sea level rise projections.

orange-county-sea-levels1

Impact of Rising Sea Levels on Orange County

Rising sea levels are, of course, only one of the consequences of global warming. Some others include increased frequency of wild fires, drought, and inconsistent or nonexistent water supply from glacial/snow melt. Mitigating all of these will cost considerable money which is why I’ve suggested using mileage taxes for infrastructure and retasking gas taxes to climate change mitigation.

Impact of Rising Sea Levels on the Bay Area

Impact of Rising Sea Levels on the Bay Area

The full report can be found here, while a map of the impacted coastal areas is here. The images in this post are screen shots of the impact on Orange County and the Bay Area taken from the map.

Proposition 8 Oral Arguments

I managed to watch the oral arguments on overturning Proposition 8 this morning, and I found them fairly interesting, if ultimately disappointing. It left me with the fairly strong impression that the existing marriages will not be invalidated, but that the ban on same-sex marriage will stand as it is. Robert at Calitics has a discussion/prognostication post, on which I have commented, but I wanted to expand a little here.

Personally, I thought that it was unclear which way both Chief Justice George and Justice Corrigan were leaning, although the chief justice was clearly taken aback by Kenneth Starr’s argument that even the right to free speech could be taken away by initiative amendment. On the arguments in favor of overturning the amendment, I thought Therese Stewart was the most convincing. On the other hand, I found the argument advanced on behalf of the attorney general to be entirely unconvincing, a view that appeared to be shared by the court. Additionally, it appeared that Christopher Krueger was unprepared.

As an aside, Mr. Starr, the appropriate title for any attorney general or, in this case, senior assistant deputy attorney general is not ‘general’. ‘General’ is an adjective modifying the noun attorney, which is why the plural is attorneys general not attorney generals. I would think a man of your experience would know that.

On the upside, I do think the court’s decision will ultimately establish some standard indicating that changes to fundamental rights are a revision, rather than an amendment, to the Constitution, even if they find that the changes made by Proposition 8, which were repeatedly described as limited to the term ‘marriage’. This will have to be viewed as a win for minority rights in general, which will be a poor, but valuable, consolation prize.

Interesting items:

  1. Justice Chin was very interested in the possibility of directing the state to ‘get out of the marriage business’ as a way of reconciling equal protection with the prohibition on same-sex marriage. I personally think this is a viable and reasonable solution. I’ve always favored the French system where the civil marriage and the religious marriage are performed separately (traditionally the wedding party walks from the town hall to the church for the religious service). I don’t think the other justices were really on board with this idea, nor did the various attorneys seem prepared to answer the question of whether the court could so order in this case.
  2. Most of the justices asked whether the arguments in favor of overturning the amendment amounted to ‘it is too easy to amend the Constitution.’ I honestly think the correct answer is ‘no’, which I believe Ken Starr’s argument in favor of radical majoritarian rule tyranny make starkly clear. However, it is too easy to amend the Constitution and initiative reform needs to be on the agenda for any constitutional convention.
  3. The Chief Justice seemed especially concerned with the question of whether an amendment adding a right to the Constitution should also properly be a revision, if Proposition 8 is a revision. The attorneys in favor of overturning Proposition 8 gave conflicting answers to this question, and I didn’t think any of them gave a particularly good one. My personal response, having had time to think about it, facing no pressure, and having read none of the briefs or precedent, would be that the language of Article 1 Section 1 clearly allows for unenumerated rights, and that therefore enumerating a right can properly be an amendment in that it adds to the Constitution within its general scheme and framework. It did not come into existence, it merely became enumerated. Proposition 8, on the other hand, does more than simply unenumerate a right (for example, striking the word ‘privacy’ from section 1 after which there may still exist the right), it affirms that for same-sex couples there is no right to marry.
  4. Justice Kennard’s accent and manner of speaking is kind of enthralling.

There will be a decision in 90 days. In the mean time, I think I’ll focus on the fight against the spending cap.