Monday, November 26, 2012
If you look further, it only becomes clearer how phenomenally rich we are. Not just stuff - we have resources: human resources, natural resources, design and engineering and manufacturing resources. California produces oil and gas, tons of food, wine, clothing, biotechnology. Apple and Google and HP and Chevron and Levi's and Disney and Pixar and Tesla are here. We have world-class universities and research institutions and art schools. In short, we have a lot - money, assets, and resources.
But Stockton and San Bernardino have gone bankrupt, Oakland laid off police officers, Berkeley closed two public swimming pools, 20,000 teachers got pink slips earlier this year, course offerings at community colleges and public universities have been cut, state parks have been closed and infrastructure is not being maintained. This only makes sense if we are poor. Why would we want to lay off teachers and police, not maintain our roads, and reduce the quality and quantity of education? These things - education and infrastructure and public safety - are investments, not costs. You would only not invest if you did not have the money to invest. But we have the money.
There is enough money for another dinner at Gary Danko ($75-100) or a Hickey Freeman suit ($1500) or a BMW X5 ($60,000) or tearing down and rebuilding a La Jolla oceanfront home ($12 million). But there is not enough money to pay for police officers or school teachers or college professors? Nah, there is enough money. It just is not in the right place - it is an issue of how the money is distributed, rather than how much there is. The problem is with how the pie is sliced, not the size of the pie.
More later on re-slicing the pie...
Monday, October 29, 2012
This one is an attempt to reform and reshape the (dis)function of California state government. It does a whole bunch of things, the effects of which are hard to predict. Some of them I kind of like, others I am not so sure about.
It would move the state from a one-year budget cycle to a two-year budget cycle. I like this idea, as it would presumably result in more stable funding levels, and avoid the annual budget fiasco. Except that a big part of California's budget problem is that the state (post-Prop 13) is highly dependent upon income and sales taxes, both of which are highly volatile and hard to forecast. How can you do a longer-term budget when you don't know what your revenues will be even over one year? So this is nice in theory, but unlikely to work in practice. The way the Proposition addresses this is to give the governor more budget cutting authority if revenues are falling short. I have concerns about this, and it undercuts the additional certainty a two-year budget cycle would provide.
Proposition 31 also rearranges the relationship between the state and local governments in fairly sweeping ways. I can't figure out exactly how this would work in practice, except that there would be a lot of confusion and probably litigation. Again, the idea is interesting, but it is not clear that this has really been thought out well. Whatever you think the appropriate balance should be between the state and the locals, right now it is relatively clear (and there is still litigation over it). If this passes I am concerned that the chaos and uncertainty would outweigh the possible benefits.
The proposition also has a number of provisions that attempt to add discipline to the budget process. Again, this seems like a good idea, but the reality is more likely to be an increase in bureaucratic box-checking rather than real reform, so once more the costs might outweigh the benefits.
Finally, it requires that bills be published at least three days before the legislature votes on them. (Yes, the legislature often does not have time to read the bills they are voting on.) This is a great idea, that should have been put in place long ago.
I like this provision, but it is not enough to overcome my concerns with this proposition. I am reluctantly going to vote no on Proposition 31.
This is the latest attempt by Mercury Insurance to undo prior legislation limiting what car insurers can charge. On its face, its looks innocuous, as it just allows insurance companies to give a discount in certain situations. The reality is much nastier, as it would allow Mercury (and other insurance companies) to charge significantly more money to many customers. Vote no on Proposition 33.
Here is a good description of what is going on here: http://articles.latimes.com/2012/oct/21/business/la-fi-hiltzik-20121021
This one is difficult. This proposition has the support of well-meaning and knowledgeable people, who are legitimately concerned with human trafficking. They want to bring attention to the (very real and thorny) problem and crack down on it. On the other hand, it does this in large part by increasing prison terms for human trafficking, just when we may be starting to move away from the "more years in jail is better" model (see Proposition 36) as being expensive and counterproductive.
It also has the potential to significantly increase the number of people required to register as sex offenders (a practice I already find disturbing), and the opponents to the proposition argue that the spouses or children or roommates of prostitutes could be considered guilty of human trafficking, and have to register as sex offenders. To the extent that this proposition would have prostitution arrests or convictions require registration as a sex offender (as argued by some similarly well-informed and well-intended opponents), it may actually re-stigmatize the very victims it is trying to help.
I am concerned that the side effects will be more damaging than any good that it might do. There must be better ways to address human trafficking. I am going to vote no on Proposition 35.
Here are a few editorials on it:
Friday, October 26, 2012
This is a particularly shameless power grab by the 1%, trying to neutralize the only really organized opposition to them that exists: labor unions.
It pretends to be neutral, by prohibiting both corporations and unions from funding political contributions from paycheck deductions. But gee, only unions fund political contributions that way - corporations take the money they need for political contributions out well before it gets to workers' paychecks.
And it prohibits both corporations and unions from making political contributions. (Which might not stand up under Citizens United.) But it allows Super PACs and uber-wealthy individuals to still make those contributions. Vote no. No, no, no.
Here are some editorials that lay it out pretty well:
This one would end the death penalty in California. (Okay, I know I already posted about this, but I feel strongly about this proposition.) I am excited that this is on the ballot. Vote yes! Yes, yes, yes!
As I put it when I was running for California Attorney General in 2010:
The death penalty process in California is broken, and the costs of California's death penalty are too high. The costs are too high for taxpayers, for crime victims and their families, for the court system, for the convicted criminal, and ultimately for all Californians.
The death penalty has become an absurdity. A criminal has already been convicted and is locked up in prison, yet we spend 20 or even 30 years more on the case, continuing to argue about whether we should kill him. Stop already! Move on, go after the violent criminals who are still out there.
As these cases drag on for decades, the costs of the lawyers on both sides are being paid by California's taxpayers. Victims and their families keep being reminded of their trauma as the cases drag through the already clogged court system. And what is the product of all this time, money, energy and pain? The state gets to kill one of its citizens. Or maybe not. The whole process is a pointless waste. The costs are far too high and the benefits far too low.
The solution is to end imposition of the death penalty. Life in prison without possiblity of parole would become the maximum sentence imposed in California. With this one change, the appeals process could be cut to a fraction of its current duration, the state would save millions of dollars, our most capable and experienced prosecutors would be freed up to go after more violent criminals, court backlogs would be reduced, crime victims and their families could try to move on with their lives, and the state would no longer be in the business of killing.
Eliminate the death penalty. California cannot afford it.
And now we can eliminate it by voting yes on Proposition 34.
Do you want to know what is in your food? Proposition 37 would require that genetically engineered food be labeled to disclose that it has been genetically engineered. Seems like a good idea to me, so I am voting yes on 37.
Countries in Europe and Asia already do this. With labeling, if you like genetic engineering, you can buy foods produced that way. If you don't like it, you can avoid them. Right now you can't do either, because you can't easily tell from the label whether something has been genetically engineered or not.
Here are a couple of editorials:
This one is a bit odd, and the back story is way convoluted. But in the end it is pretty simple. (The answer: vote yes.)
Remember how a few years ago we voted for a citizens commission to redraw legislative districts, rather than having the legislature gerrymander districts into weird shapes? Well, even if you don't remember, we did that, and the commission drew up new maps accordingly. Voting yes on Proposition 40 just confirms that yes, we do in fact want to use the maps drawn up by the process we voted for.
So yes means yes, we meant yes, and we still mean yes. And pretty much everyone actually agrees on this one. Vote yes on 40.
And for the truly masochistic, here is the background story (that I can barely sort of follow):
Propositions 30 and 38
I don't really like either of these, but I am reluctantly supporting both of them. Proposition 30 is Jerry Brown's proposal to raise income taxes and sales taxes to support education and to help balance the budget. Proposition 38 is Molly Munger's proposal to raise income taxes to support education.
On the down side, I don't like sales taxes - like or not, we have a largely consumer-based economy, so putting a tax on the main driver of the economy seems to be counterproductive. It also tends to be regressive, as lower-income people spend a much higher proportion of their income and wealth than do wealthy people.
While I am sort of okay with income taxes, I would prefer a heavier reliance on resource extraction taxes (you pay to take oil or water or timber) and toxics taxes (you pay to make or sell or use carcinogens, respiratory irritants, and other poisons), along with limiting Proposition 13 protections to a primary residence. (If a business model, such as real estate development or commercial leasing, depends upon and assumes increasing property values, but the taxes on that property do not reflect those same increasing property values, you have a subsidy.) Car taxes also are a reasonable way to ensure that those who impose costs (air and water pollution, road building and maintenance) help pay for them.
That said, California needs more revenue. On a per capita basis, our government (believe it or not) is relatively lean. Physical infrastructure and education are investments in our future, not costs to be minimized. I do believe in cutting costs (more on that later), but we cannot cut our way out of our current hole. So I will vote for these two measures.
Why both? Because I want to show that Californians understand the need for more revenue. If they both fail - for whatever reason or reasons - the conventional spin will be that California is opposed to taxes, and really wants to just cut things. The result would severely damage California and its economy to an extent I don't think people fully realize.
This would end the death penalty in California, and replace it in life in prison without possibility of parole. This is a great idea, and would save lots of money that is now wasted - we spend millions of dollars every year paying lawyers to argue if some criminal already in prison should be killed or not.
We should spend our money catching and prosecuting the criminals out of the street, not the ones already locked up. And besides, the state should not be in the business of killing people. The arguments I made during my campaign for attorney general can be found here: http://www.peterallenforag.com/main/page_crime.html
Anyway, the death penalty is a ridiculously wasteful and unnecessary money sink, and should be eliminated. Yes on 34.
This proposition would soften California's "three strikes" law that currently requires stiff sentences (like life in prison) for a third criminal conviction. Proposition 36 would alter that law so that a life sentence would only be imposed when the third conviction is serious or violent. This would be a step in reducing the huge size of the prison population and its corresponding cost.
It is not clear how much it would save, but we can use any savings right now, and this seems to take a reasonable approach. So I am voting yes on 36.
Proposition 39 would eliminate a recently-created tax loophole that allows out-of-state corporations doing significant business in California to evade paying California taxes. That same loophole also discourages them from opening facilities in California. So 39 would fix this nonsensical arrangement, and potentially bring in an additional $1 billion per year, without raising taxes on Californians. So far, so good.
Here is an L.A. Times piece that describes the issue: http://articles.latimes.com/2012/oct/10/local/la-me-cap-prop39-20121011
But 39 then goes on to earmark half of the money for energy efficiency and alternative energy projects by creating a new fund, with its own oversight board. While energy efficiency and alternative energy are good, I have concerns about yet another budget-by-ballot measure that prevents us from spending the money on something that turns out to be a more urgent priority, and I also don't think we need to create a new government program and entity now.
So I am leaning slightly toward yes, since the tax loophole is really big and stupid and problematic, and it is not clear whether the legislature can get its act together to fix the problem. If you think the legislature will be able to fix it, then voting no on 39 makes sense.
More on other races soon!
Sunday, May 6, 2012
Picture a basketball league where one team has the only really tall player, so they get the league to change the rules to allow goaltending. Or a football league where one team has the dominant running game but a weak passing game, so they get the league to allow pass interference. Those teams would get a major advantage, and would start winning all the time. They are not cheating - they are following the rules. But the league has failed in its duty to keep the game fair and competitive. The league is corrupt, even if the teams that got the rule change did not have to directly bribe anyone.
Congress and many state legislatures have been quite obliging to large corporations that want to change the law. The examples are numerous, but include things like making it harder for people to discharge credit card debt in bankruptcy, allowing financial institutions to buy and sell risky derivatives, hindering regulation of toxic subtances, allowing corporations to shift income to other countries to avoid paying US taxes, putting up barriers to workers unionizing, and providing taxpayer-funded safety nets for high-stakes corporate speculation.
At first I thought it might be nice if Congress was so obliging to individuals, but then I realized that was a bad idea. Just because I might want that nice house on the beach in La Jolla, or my local car thief might want my Mazda, neither of us should be able to call up our legislator to write a new law allowing us to just take them. Allowing a corporation to steal the health of a community because it can make more money by emitting toxic pollutants is the same thing (except on a grander scale). Legislators need to look out for all of their constituents - and even beyond that. They need to look out for all residents of their state and all Americans - for everyone.
If a law benefits just a few, the costs to the many need to be considered. Unfortunately, Congress has not done that, and in fact has it backwards, killing laws that would benefit the many because of their costs to the (chosen) few. We should be passing laws that benefit the many, not just the (chosen) few.
Saturday, March 31, 2012
The following story appears in quite few places online, and in somewhat varying forms. (A less-snarky version is sometimes attributed to a "Jim Knowles.") For many of those spreading the story, it is enlisted to ridicule young people who are trying to be "green." But the really interesting thing about it is that it shows how - and when - we shifted to our current uber-consumption economy. Check it out:
Checking out at the supermarket recently, the young cashier suggested I should bring my own bags because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment. I apologized and explained, “We didn’t have this green thing back in my earlier days“.
The clerk responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations“.
She was right about one thing–our generation didn’t have the green thing in “Our” day. So what did we have back then? After some reflection and soul-searching on “Our” day, here’s what I remembered we did have….
Back then, we returned milk bottles, pop bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles repeatedly. So they really were recycled. But we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.
We walked up stairs, because we didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks. But she was right. We didn’t have the green thing in our day.
Back then, we washed the baby’s nappies because we didn’t have the throw-away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 240 volts — wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that young lady is right. We didn’t have the green thing back in our day.
Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of Wales. In the kitchen, we blended & stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.
Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn gas just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity. But she’s right. We didn’t have the green thing back then.
We drank from a water fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull. But we didn’t have the green thing back then.
Back then, people took the bus, and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service. We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.
But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the green thing back then?
Please post this on your Facebook profile so another selfish old person who needs a lesson in conservation from a smarty-pants young person can add to this.
The age of the speaker isn't totally clear, but to cover all of the points mentioned, he or she must be pretty old. So the mistake of the young cashier was one of not knowing history. Let's check out when some of these changes happened - but all of them happened after World War II.
Glass milk bottles and pop bottles that get reused. I remember these from the 1960s. Cardboard milk containers were common by the 1970s (with the demise of the milkman that delivered), with plastic milk jugs and soda bottles a more recent thing.
Walking to the grocery store, taking the bus, kids riding bikes to school. Car-oriented suburbs first appeared in significant numbers in the 1950s, and pretty much grew like crazy up until our recent housing crash, but the most significant growth was in the 1960s. Up through the 1940s, most folks lived in cities or small towns where you could walk to things. There were no shopping malls or big-box retailers with giant parking lots.
Disposable diapers. These were invented in the late '40s, began to be commercialized in the '50s, and became more popular in the '60s.
Clothes dryers and electric blenders and mixers. More post-WWII developments. These were all very common by the 1960s.
Styrofoam packing and bubble wrap. Bubble wrap was invented in 1960, but took a few years to catch on for packaging. Both of these were common by the 1970s.
Refillable pens. Ball point pens are not refillable (but you can replace the ink cartridge), so this is probably a reference to fountain pens. Ball point pens were invented in the 1940s, and became very common by the 1960s. Disposable ball point pens were just a little bit later.
Disposable razors. This is a new one - they were introduced in 1975 (although the disposable blade had been around since 1903).
So, given when these changes occurred, what generation was responsible for them? The Baby Boomers were just being born from the late '40s through the '50s, so most of this stuff started to change when they were still kids. (Although they might have happily continued with these changes in the '70s and '80s.) People who died in the '40s and '50s could not have been too involved in these changes. It looks like the main generation driving these changes is the generation of the speaker, who must be old enough to remember pre-WWII stuff, but young enough to still be out shopping.
If we want to play the "blame the generation" game, it looks like the speaker is the loser of this one. Isn't it sad that they knew how to live with less waste, but did not help us continue to live that way? Now we need to learn "the green thing" all over again.