Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Election Apathy Bodes Poorly for California

The election last week was devoid of passion in Mendocino County. There were no California state-level offices at stake, no state-wide propositions, nothing to stir up the voters except perhaps Proposition A, which would have rezoned an industrial site in Ukiah to mixed use with the emphasis on retail. The corporation that would have benefited from the rezoning spent a lot of money lying to the voters, but the Proposition went down in flames anyway.

The ridiculously poor governance of California was evident at the poling station. The extremely expensive computer scanning machine that briefly counted ballots after the state govenment forced the county to buy it was used - as a box. I suspect taxpayers paid about $15,000 for that box.

The Veterans Hall, now owned by the county, is of limited use these days because the county inspector decided its kitchen was non-conforming. Rules for exhaust hoods have changed. Bringing it up to code would cost about $35,000. The county does not have the money, so the kitchen can't be used.

California's government is among the most corrupt in the world. Karzai of Afghanistan looks like Mr. Clean compared to any California governor of the last 50 years. The difference is in the details. Californians may be famous for fornicating, but their human waste material disappears down flush toilets. Our political corruption is similarly disguised, but it is vast in its quantities and it poisons the political landscape. One can argue that it is not corruption because it is legal. The corrupt state legislature made it legal. It is legal to lobby, it is legal to give campaign contributions, it is legal to ask for laws to be passed. And there is nothing inherently wrong with lobbying for laws to be passed.

It is the laws that are passed, as opposed to the laws that are not passed, that mark the corruption.

Doing anything in California has becaome ridiculously expensive. Legitimate concerns like safety are turned into cash cows for the construction industry, lawyers, and politicians. Ordinary, hard working people could not afford houses because of the spider-web of laws making every house an order of magnitude more expensive than is necessary. Unable to afford houses, the snakes that run the real estate and credit agencies came up with the brilliant scheme of lending money to people who should have been buying one-room shacks on 1/8th acre lots to buy McMansions instead. As you know, that scheme backfired even on the real estate and banking industries.

I could write a book on how money for our public schools is misspent. Mostly that is not due to bad decision making in the school districts, but to bad law writing and bureaucratic administration in Sacramento.

I am an environmentalist, but the environmental laws (national and California) are a nightmare. A law should tell you whether you can do something or not. Either you can build a factory, retail complex, or housing development, or you can't. Instead we have a system of zoning, EIR (environmental impact reports), citizen lawsuits, and appeals courts that sucks the life out of business without actually protecting the environment. It is a good example of the Gruel of Law: small players can't afford the red tape, but the big players not only can cut right through it, they can generate more of it for their oponents.

I don't see a path to basic reforms in California. At this point we need a new Constitition and new legal codes. But if we try that from where we are standing now, the same special interests and their lawyers and political operatives will be off to another round of bad lawmaking.

Some of my friends believe we need to start with campaign finance reform. Clean up political contributions. I am not against that, but I know how black markets work. Just because unsavory lobbying and campaign-contributions for favors is legal now does not mean that outlawing them will make them go away. Black markets always arise when their is a desire to trade and a law that prohibits it.

Perhaps we should think like Alexander Hamilton. As much as I hate the guy, we might borrow his one big idea: you can only minimize corruption by making it work against itself.

The Green Party talks about social justice and the environment. I think they should talk about governance more. The Green Party officially favors small, locally based businesses (which could include worker or consumer-owned businesses). It wants those businesses to be environmentally friendly, of course. What that means to me is that the powers of Sacramento should be cut back in a major way. Let the counties and communities make most of the decisions. Let them tax as they like and spend as they like. State-level government should only come into play when there are matters that need to be coordinated between the counties.

The same is true of the Federal government. We don't need better federal law. We need the feds out of our hair. We don't need laws written by idiots from Mississippi to govern us. We came to California to get away from those folks.