Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

The Dream of Poor Bazin

Jerry Stratton

What if the Three Musketeers were journalists in Washington, DC? What if journalists were swashbuckling, swaggering, hard-drinking warriors of truth? Find out in Jerry Stratton’s The Dream of Poor Bazin.

Cornering the wild government in California

Jerry Stratton, October 3, 2010

Watching the cocktail-party Republicans lash out against the tea party rebellion in places like Delaware, Alaska, South Carolina, and Utah, I can’t help but think of a cornered predator lashing out indiscriminately. For their whole life they’ve been in charge and on top, and now the fucking meerkats are trying to take over? And succeeding? What is the world coming to?

The mainstream media loves to support the cocktail party: treating a tea party candidate’s being goth in high school as if it had anything to do with the issues; reporting polls for a write-in cocktail-party candidate as if the candidate were listed on the ballot in order to make it look like the candidate has momentum; using photographs of a Glenn Beck rally to make it look like a rally in favor of big government actually had a strong turnout. They know that in the past they could do stuff like this and no one would call them on it in public. They’re still trying, in the hopes that maybe they can sneak something past. Maybe, in some cases, they’ll succeed: sometimes that wild animal does win.

Case in point: the backlash, at least for me, of the insane allegations against Meg Whitman. Now, because of the lock-step support of the health care takeover by Democrats, I was not going to vote for Jerry Brown—I made that promise to the Democrats and to Brown on the eve of the takeover vote, and I will keep that promise. But I was planning on voting for a more libertarian candidate for governor1. Now? This kind of McCarthyite “I have these papers” tactics cannot stand. Allred might as well have been waving a letter from Ed McMahon for all the relevance it has to the allegations. The letter specifically forbids the recipient from using it to start an investigation into immigration status.2 All the letter warns about is that their employee might not get the right benefits unless the issue is cleared up.

Nationally, it’s a war between the status quo and reformers. The initiatives in California and in San Diego also reflect this war.

Redistricting

A couple of years ago, Californians passed an initiative taking away the right of state politicians to form their own districts.3 This applied mainly to the state assembly and the state senate. Proposition 20 basically applies proposition 11 to California’s federal districts as well: instead of the state legislature and governor drawing and approving districts, the same redistricting commission that draws state districts will now also draw federal districts.

This is less of a big deal to me, since, unlike with state districts, both with or without proposition 20, the politicians drawing federal districts are not the same politicians running for office in those districts.

Left to myself4 I probably would have voted no on this one—I have a general rule about abstaining from voting for offices I know nothing about, and voting no on propositions I know nothing about or don’t care about.

But then we come to proposition 27. Proposition 27 abolishes proposition 11’s redistricting commission and puts redistricting back in the hands of the politicians who run in those districts. It’s a pure incumbent protection act. It claims that the voters can “challenge” a redistricting; all this means is that anyone opposing the legislature’s new map can try to get a proposition on the ballot invalidating it.

If the backers of proposition 27 really wanted reform, they would have kept proposition 11 and added one extra requirement: that the redistricting must pass a popular vote in the next regularly scheduled election. This would help ensure that the independent commission also had a check on its power. But the only reform proposition 27 provides is to ensure that California’s crazy districts remain as oddly-shaped as they need to be to ensure that incumbents get reelected.

In a year of well-deserved anti-incumbent fervor, proposition 27 is an attempt to return to business-as-usual. It needs to be slapped down, and hard. Proposition 20 is probably a good idea, too. Many of the politicians in the state legislature are looking to become federal legislators.

Ending prohibition

I’m with Dean Esmay on this one: it’s amazing that it’s 2010 and we’re still wasting billions trying to prop up prohibition. Part of the conflict in this country right now over illegal immigration is caused by prohibition. We know that prohibition causes gang violence and border crime. We saw it during alcohol prohibition, and we saw it end when alcohol prohibition ended. It’s no surprise that we see the same thing today under prohibition.

Unlike Esmay, I already knew that the tea party is more open to discussing the fiscal insanity that is prohibition than the cocktail party is. Incumbents are about power; prohibition is billions of dollars to be spent without any real oversight. That’s what the cocktail party wants.

Proposition 19 is a good start at ending that power.

Note that if you’re worried that proposition 19 makes it legal to drive under the influence, it’s a complete lie by the opposition to 19. The text of the proposition clearly states that “This act shall not be construed to affect, limit, or amend any statute that forbids impairment while engaging in dangerous activities such as driving.” Look at the top left of page 94 of the voter information guide, 11304 (a).

If it walks like a tax…

The power to tax is the power to control, and that’s what the proponents of big government are all about. California has made it harder to pass taxes without getting voter approval, so the legislature has started adding “fees” that are, for all practical purposes, taxes under another name. We saw the same thing on the national level when the White House swore up and down that mandatory health care fees meant to pay for other people’s health care weren’t a tax. Of course they’re a tax, and now that it’s in their interest to say so (to keep the courts from striking it down), they do.

Proposition 26 clears up the definition of what is a tax, and thus requires a supermajority to pass. It’s a good proposition. Everybody has to pay taxes whether they approve of them or not. Requiring a two-thirds majority helps ensure that there is wide popular support for a particular tax. Giving a tax another name just to get around this requirement is wrong.

For example, proposition 21 is an attempt to re-imposing a vehicle tax, so as to pay for state parks. The reason they claim they have to do this is that they’ve taken state park fees and other moneys that were supposed to be used for state parks, and used them for general budgeting. Even the proponents of proposition 21 admit that the reason they need it is that “Sacramento politicians have devastated state parks and wildlife conservation programs.”

Judging from what legislators like state senator Alan Lowenthal have said, they deliberately raided state park moneys for other purposes, in the hopes that the voters would fall for a shell game. Well, don’t fall for it. Vote no on 21.

Raids like that are why solutions like proposition 22 are so appealing. Proposition 22 prohibits raids on transportation funds. Take a look at the arguments against proposition 22: it’s going to hurt firefighting funds, it’s going to hurt health care funds. How can it possibly hurt those funds when the moneys in question are already dedicated to highway and other transportation improvements? Because currently, the legislature comes to the voters and asks for money for “highways” and then uses them for something else. Even worse, some of these funds are promised for local projects to get them passed—and then the state raids them for other purposes that are less popular.

I vacillate back and forth between the propriety of earmarking specific funds for specific purposes, or having one general fund for all purposes. But I’m always against promising one thing when asking for the money, and using it for something else. On the national level, that was the big problem with TARP. It was promised to be used for a very specific purpose; it ended up being used to bail out automobile companies.

On the other hand, it looks like proposition 22 makes it harder for the state to rein in eminent domain abuses. And on the other other hand, is it likely the state would even try? The whole redevelopment agency system in California is a mess. I’m inclined to vote no, but I recognize the appeal of blocking these bait-and-switch tactics.

That brings us to proposition 25, the legislature’s spending spree act of 2010. At least it’s more honest: it doesn’t try to call taxes fees to get around the two-thirds requirement; it just repeals the two-thirds requirement. It claims to be fiscally sane by punishing legislators if the legislature doesn’t spend money. Given only a majority vote, legislatures rarely have problems spending money. That’s the whole point.

The proponents of proposition 25 seem to think that the legislature isn’t doing its job if it doesn’t spend money. It’s pure cocktail-party politics, thinking that the job of the legislature is to pass spending bills and they should be punished if they don’t. And proponents also argue that the bill doesn’t make it easier to increase taxes, just to spend money. That kind of thinking is California’s problem in a nutshell.

Substitute conscripts in the war on climate

Speaking of back-door taxes, I’m not sure there’s any field that so blatantly shows the divide between the political elite and the rest of us as does climate change. When Al Gore buys “carbon credits” to offset his expensive, carbon-producing lifestyle, he’s not doing anything for the environment. He’s using his wealth and connections to duck the issue. In effect, he’s hiring a substitute conscript to fight the war while he calls on everyone else to tighten their belts.

AB 32 requires California to reduce its energy footprint to 1990 levels. Before the Internet. Before personal computers were common. When California had seven million fewer people—an increase of 25%.5 And when fewer of them used air conditioning.

The latter is key: in 1990, there were things, such as air conditioning, that were the realm of the elite. And the people who passed AB 32 aren’t asking themselves to forego air conditioning. But they are asking us to.

AB 32’s implementation includes “cap and trade”. Cap-and-trade is designed to reduce energy use by making it more expensive. California will sell the right to produce a limited amount of greenhouse gasses; anyone who needs more energy than California sells them will need to buy those rights from someone else. It increases the costs of making things, delivering things, and using things.

This will work one of two ways: either California will sell so many carbon rights that it doesn’t matter, and this ends up just being a tax that raises prices by however much the emissions rights cost; or, California will sell limited emissions rights; those rights will cost exorbitant amounts in the aftermarket, creating a shortage of energy and things made with energy, thus raising the cost of everything by large amounts.

In either case, politicians will still get their air conditioning. It doesn’t matter how much it costs: it’s not their money paying for it.

Proposition 23 doesn’t even repeal AB 32. It just suspends AB 32’s cost increases until after the economy improves enough that the unemployment rate drops to 5.5%—when, theoretically, we’re more able to afford those cost increases. California’s unemployment rate is currently about 12%. That’s more than one out of every ten person in California who we know can’t afford increases to the cost of living here. Nor is 5.5% an unreasonably-low number. California’s unemployment has been under 5.5% from March 1999 to July 2001; it was under 5.5% from May 2005 to July 2007. For that matter, that 1990 period they want us to go back to was part of a long-running period of under-5.5% unemployment starting in December 1987.

Delaying AB 32 until the economy improves is a good idea.

Offices

Carly Fiorina really does sound like a great candidate for senator. Beyond that I’m not seeing a lot of good in the California races. The Democratic nominee for Secretary of State shares the name of the Universal Politician in my unpublished It Isn’t Murder If They’re Yankees, which is probably funny for the five or six people who have been kind enough to read it and give comments.

Summary

The Mimsy Voter’s Guide to incremental culture revolution.

GovernorMeg Whitman
SenatorCarly Fiorina, of course
Proposition 19Yesend prohibition
Proposition 20Yestake federal redistricting away from legislature
Proposition 21No21 imposes an additional vehicle tax
Proposition 22Probably no22 blocks raids on transportation funds but also strengthens redevelopment agencies
Proposition 23Yessuspend AB 32 until economy improves
Proposition 24No24 raises the cost of doing business in California
Proposition 25Fuck No25 makes it easier for the legislature to spend money
Proposition 26Yesmake it harder to raise taxes by calling them fees
Proposition 27No27 lets legislators create their own voting districts

California’s in a lot of trouble right now for many reasons, not least of which is that our version of Chris Christie tried to do too much at once, and gave up after his first setback. I’m not sure it’s possible for California to survive; but if it is, this election, especially proposition 26 and retiring Barbara Boxer, provides a good starting point.

  1. I saw American Independent candidate Chelene Nightingale at the El Cajon tea party and was reasonably impressed. What is the deal with neither the Republican nor Democratic candidate being listed in the official state voter guide, though? Page 74 lists the Green candidate, the Peace and Freedom candidate, the Libertarian, and Chelene. But there’s no entry for Whitman or Brown.

  2. Nor do I think I disagree with that prohibition. The federal government is well known for stupid errors of spelling and record mismatches. Add to that the non-ASCII letters and variant English spellings of non-English names, and there’s far too much potential for screwing up someone’s life by treating these letters as an allegation of illegal behavior.

  3. This was Proposition 11 in November 2008.

  4. Left to myself? In California? Yeah, that’s a joke.

  5. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, California’s population in 1990 was 29,760,021. It’s population in 2009 was 36,961,664.

  1. <- Dodging recession
  2. Government-run insurance ->