Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Democrats Now in Charge of California

The new California legislature has been sworn in, and the Democratic Party, or at least its elected politicians, are in charge. There are Democratic super majorities in both the State Assembly and the State Senate, and of course Governor Brown presumably stands ready to sign into law anything his fellow Democrats pass. To block any legislation Republicans would have to get at least a few Democrats to join with them.

The Democrats are limited by nothing but reality now. They owe their usual constituencies big time, but how can they pay up? The passage of Proposition 30, which increased income and sales taxes, insures that there should be enough income to balance the budget in 2013. The economy seems to be thawing, which could also boost revenue a bit. But there is little or no room to increase the budget for teachers, other civil servants, or public welfare. This is after four years of fairly drastic cutbacks. Teachers and police remain out of work, medical and dental help for the poor remains cut to the bone. As always, to raise more funds either the economy has to pick up steam or taxes need to be raised.

The Democrats could become real unpopular real quickly if they raised taxes again significantly. Don't expect it.

California is still dealing with two giant legacy issues: bonds and public employee pensions. Ever since the Great Depression, California had been able to depend on growth in population and per person income. In that situation it made sense to fund projects with bonds, since they would be relatively easy to pay off over time. The same with pensions: by promising great things in the future, current wage concessions could be minimized. The bonds carried what seemed to be low interest rates, but for years now we have been in a super-low interest rate environment, making the bonds relatively expensive and hard to pay off.

Pensions were premised on above-historical average returns in the stock market. Need we say more? To keep past promises the state government (and local governments too) would have to gut services and cut into the number of public employees even further.

California might still grow its way out of this mess, but the way forward is no longer clear. We are no longer the state that everyone wants to move to. We no longer have the world's best schools and universities. We have little buildable land that is not protected by environmentalists (and the environmentalists are right!). To the extent the population of California grows it needs to be urban growth, growth in the direction of high rise buildings, not further suburbanization. If the population stabilizes or grows slowly we need to raise wages for the average worker if we want the economy to expand. Yet raising wages can be difficult when globalized manufacturing and services is based on wages that are already lower than are paid here.

Then there is the issue of being part of the United States of America, which now has a debt so vast it is hard to imagine that it can remain solvent in the long run. California would probably be better off becoming its own nation, with its own ability to manage its economy, money, and debt system, but that won't happen. The U.S.A. has an out-of-control military and homeland security complex that is sinking our entire economy. Expect federal taxes to increase, leaving Californians less money to spend near home.

Our own tax mess hardly leaves the sense that California is governed any better than the nation. For many residents real estate taxes are low, since they are based on ancient property values. But many other residents are paying real estate taxes on expensive homes, and inflation is not easing their burden over time. We have compensated with a sales tax that gives many people pause when spending money. If you are lucky enough to have $100 to spend, you can only take $90 or so to the checkout counter, because taxes will eat up the difference. That makes a huge difference both to consumers and to the merchants that service them. Our California state income tax is quite progressive, but makes our state unattractive as a home for many upper income people.

We are short of water. We are well past the point where there is enough water to satisfy fish, farmers, and consumers. Despite having some of the best agricultural land on earth, we have so many residents that we are net food importers.

We used to have steel mills, foundries, and semiconductor fabrication plants. All gone, and unlikely to come back. Even Hollywood makes as many films as possible anywhere but California. We are strong on design, but also need to compete in the national and international markets, providing both services and real goods.

Herbert Hoover handed Franklin Delano Roosevelt a bigger mess in 1933. While economic in nature, it was a different sort of mess than confronts us today. Californians are watching the Democratic Party. Failure to deliver prosperity will almost certainly mean a cataclysm is in our future.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Mendocino County Measure F, End Corporate Rule, Defend Democracy

Measure F Official Title: Advisory Measure to End Corporate Rule and Defend Democracy

Mendocino County, California, election of November 6, 2012

The U.S. Supreme Court, so far, is okay with our government telling us exactly how much lead can be in our drinking water; how far apart (and from what types of trees) studs must be in the houses we build; and what banners cheerleaders can hold up, or not hold up, at public school football games. But when it comes to political campaign contributions, the Court had ruled that almost anything goes.

The effect, of course, is to allow both the average citizens and billionaires the rights to give unlimited funds to use in political advertising. How much can you give? True, most politicians have always allowed themselves to be bought and sold like so many properties on a monopoly board. The recent change is that the Supreme Court says Congress cannot regulate campaign contributions even in its own elections (even though the Constitution explicitly gives Congress the power of regulating the "manner" of elections in Article I, Section 4.). The election of 2012 is consequently being characterized by almost endless political advertisements funded by the criminally wealthy. Most of this "political free speech" as the Supreme Court would characterize it, is in the form of misleading attack ads.

The billionaires may be private citizens, but in almost every case their wealth was created by corporations. These corporations themselves, according to the Supreme Court, are persons with rights granted by the Constitution.

Imagine, however, if when the Mendocino County Building inspectors showed up, someone claimed that their construction project was a person, and therefore exempt from building codes. That the house has a right to build itself from sub-standard materiasl, for instance. That may seem absurd, but if the reasoning (if it can be called that) of the Supreme Court is taken to its logical conclusion, the housing result follows. Ultimately, by saying free speech implies a total lack of regulation, the Supremes argue that government should have no power whatsoever.

Why are corporations persons? Why, per the Supremes, because they are owned by persons, and to suppress the (alleged) rights of corporations would be to suppress the rights of the real human persons who own them.

Corporations are a form of property. You can buy or sell them like any other form of property. They have a legitimate purpose: to allow investors to share risks and rewards. There is nothing wrong with that in a barbaric, pre-utopian economy.

Proposition F takes the position, and allows the voters of Mendocino to take a position, saying the obvious: property is not a person. Property does not have free speech rights, or the right to freedom of religion, or the right to make political campaign donations.

A building is a piece of property. It can (and usually does) have multiple owners. Should personhood free buildings from regulation? Should city buildings be exempt from fire and safety codes?

Of course not. In a democracy we can argue endlessly about the details of the building codes, and the food and drug safety codes, and whether every child in every car must be strapped in a special seat meeting government regulations. But we need building codes, and food inspections, and the other trapping of civilization. Unless we want to abandon civilization itself.

We need to regulate campaigns, taking into account the needs of the candidates to have fair access to voters. And of the elected officials to represent all of the citizens, not just a few wealthy donors. We need to keep any particular group of people from buying the politicians who are supposed to represent all of us.

Measure F may only be an advisory measure, but it is sound advice.

William P. Meyers, Publisher and Editor, Mendoday.com

More information:

CaliforniaDemocracy.org pages on corporate personhood and related issues.

Move to Amend seeks to amend the Constitution to abolish corporate personhood and allow for the regulation of election campaigns.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Yes on California Proposition 40, Uphold Redistricting

Official Title: Redistricting. State Senate Districts. Referendum.

Proposition 40

For decades the politicians in the state legislature wrote their own tickets on California legislative districts, and also for the U.S. Congress districts in the state. The results were a disaster. It was almost impossible to defeat an incumbent in an election. Almost all districts were either heavily Democratic Party or Republican Party dominated. In order to achieve this, the Democrats in the legislature gave up roughly 3 seats in U.S. Congress.

In 2008 and 2010 the voters approved Proposition 11 and Proposition 20, setting up an independent commission to draw district boundaries without respect to the needs of individual politicians.

Republican Party politicians did not like the results of redistricting. They put Proposition 40 on the ballot. A Yes votes approves the new districts (really just State Senate districts) while a No vote allows the California Supreme Court to appoint former judges to redo the redistricting.

Meanwhile the California Supreme Court has ruled that the State Senate districts under consideration will apply in this 2012 election. Proposition 40, in effect, needed to be on the primary ballot to be effective; being delayed, it now borders on the ridiculous.

Yes on 40, up hold the independent redistricting commission.

Proposition 40 summary, official arguments, and text

No on California Proposition 39, Public Funding of Energy Corporations

Official Title: Tax treatment for Multistate Businesses. Clean Energy and Energy Efficiency Funding. Initiative Statute.

Proposition 39 appears to close a corporate tax loophole, and it would fund renewable, or "clean" energy in the state of California. Since in general I have supported closing corporate tax loopholes, and favor the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, why am I not supporting Proposition 39?

The California corporate income tax loophole is complex. Few corporations operate only in California. Their revenues and expenses come partly, or even mostly, from out of state. Current laws allow corporations to pick from two methods to determine how much taxable income to report. Naturally each corporation picks the method that results in their lowest taxes. Proposition 39 would impose a uniform method on these calculations.

Proposition 39 should result in an additional $1 billion of tax expense to corporations and $1 billion of revenue to the state government. If Proposition 39 stopped there, it would be a good initiative.

However, 39 continues a California tradition of misgovernment by pre-determining how the new tax revenue will be spent. At this point the money should just go to paying reducing the annual deficit. Once we have an annual surplus, it should be used to pay down debt. Once debt is at a tolerable level, it should be used to create a "rainy day" fund.

Only if the California budget situation improves vastly over the next few years should the $1 billion be considered as money that can be spent by the government. And how should it be spent? We can't know that now.

Our budget is a mess partly because past initiatives have roped off funds, forcing them to be used in certain ways, for instance to pay off bonds or for public education. The alleged benefit of this earmarking of tax revenue is that without it the Legislature would go wild and fund frivolous bureaucracies and new tax loopholes, while ignoring core areas.

It has not worked and it will work less well as time goes on. As corrupt and incompetent as the Legislature has been, it is still better to allocate funds on an as-needed basis. Some human judgment is needed to allocate funds each year, and that becomes impossible when initiatives earmark the vast majority of taxes collected by the state.

Has "clean energy" been left out? Clean Energy is itself a corporate industry. It has been highly subsidized by the federal government. Closing one corporate loophole to raise funds to shower down on a particular (and very small) set of corporations is just plain crazy. Wrapping a corporate subsidy in the flag of environmentalism may be good politics, but it is bad governance.

No on 39, No taxpayer funded bailout to the energy industry.

Proposition 39 summary, official arguments, and text

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Yes on Proposition 38, Income Tax increases to Pay for Education

Official Title: Tax to Fund Education and Early Childhood Programs. Initiative Statute

Proposition 38 would increase California income tax rates to fund public education at every level as well as early childhood development programs. Education is good for individuals and is also at the heart of our democratic culture. Education funding went up during the housing boom, but even then was largely inadequate. It has declined since 2008, and is set to decline more next year if both Proposition 38 and Proposition 30 fail to pass.

The other side of the equation is: who will pay this tax? In California we already have a relatively high state income tax and state sales tax. The income tax, however, is quite progressive, so that low income families pay little or no tax. The problem for the state is that real estate taxes, which are the primary funding source for public schools, are not only capped, but in most cases seriously undervalue the real estate. In my mind reforming the old Proposition 13, which got us into this mess, would be a better way of raising funds. Apparently no one thinks a proposition amending 13 could pass muster with the voters.

Proposition 38 raises income taxes taxes by 0.4% at the low end ($7,316 for a single citizen, so about $35 per year, but at that level the exemption would bring the tax to zero). It progresses gradually, with the bulk of people probably in the $38,000 to $48,000 bracket being increased from 8% to 9.4%, about $500 per year. Currently the highest tax rate, 9.3% begins at $48,000. Proposition 38 would make for graduated increases in the top bracket up to a peak of 2.2% additional for those lucky folk making $2.5 million or more per year. That would be about $55,000 additional tax at that level.

Fair enough, but while the lower middle class in particular complains about high costs at state colleges, they don't want to be taxed to pay for it. A soak the rich scheme would have had a better chance of passing, but the middle class is so large that failing to increase its taxes really limits how much money can be raised.

Interestingly, the woman behind Proposition 38, Molly Munger, has a lot of money but did not get it through having a high income and saving parts of it. She inherited her vast fortune from Big Daddy Charlie Munger, best known for his association with Warren Buffet. California's inheritance tax is pretty minimal, but for some reason no one looks at that as a source of funding. And of course the rich, represented by Mitt Romney, want to end the national inheritance tax altogether.

Ms. Munger ran some attack ads against Proposition 30, which she sees as undercutting Proposition 38. Proposition 30 barely raises enough money to keep the education budget at current levels and balance future budgets, so you can see why teachers & professors mostly favor 38. The problem is 38 is unlikely to pass (because it taxes the working and middle classes). Attacking 30, causing it to fail along with 38, would be yet another disaster for our schools.

Vote for Proposition 38. It is the right thing to do. But your vote for Proposition 30 is the crucial one, as it has a better chance of passing.

Yes on 38, Increasing Income Tax Rates to Fund Education

Proposition 38 summary, official arguments, and text

Monday, October 15, 2012

Yes on California Proposition 36, Three Strikes Reform

Official Title: Three Strikes Law. Repeat Felony Offenders. Penalties. Initiative Statute

Proposition 36 would amend California's Three Strikes law, which was supposed to be aimed at career and habitually violent criminals but in addition gave life sentences to many whose offenses were not that grave.

Under the current law, if a person has two prior "serious" or violent felony convictions, upon a third felony conviction (not just a violent or serious one), the sentence is life imprisonment. Under this system two bar fights and a non-violent theft can result in life imprisonment.

Three felonies may seem like a lot to those who have led felony-free lives, but the point is to distinguish sets of felonies that should add up to life imprisonment. Under Proposition 36, if one of the felonies was rape, murder, or child molestation, the third felony still results in life imprisonment.

Proposition 36 will make changes for those whose two prior convictions were for less grievous felonies and whose 3rd strike is a "nonserious, non-violent" felony. Even then, the usual sentence for the 3rd strike would be doubled.

Will some offenders be set free and then go out and commit a fourth crime? Sure. And everyone starts with zero convictions, yet crimes occur. Do most crimes go unconvicted? Certainly. The clearance rates for murders tends to less than 10%, and those solved are usually the amateur murders, not the gang-related or professional ones. Most criminals are convicted of only a few of the crimes they have actually committed. Yet most eventually serve some prison time, if they are not murdered by other criminals, because the more offenses you do, the more likely the police are to take notice and eventually try and convict you.

Do many former criminals reform? Yes, actually. When we sentence someone to life imprisonment for relatively minor crimes, we are sending the wrong message. If the justice system is fair, and is perceived as fair, it is much easier to get broad public buy-in. If the justice system strikes people as unjust, many people will refuse to cooperate with police or prosecutors who might otherwise.

Proposition 36 appears to be well thought out. It won't do away with crime in California, but it will make the justice system fairer.

Yes on 36, Fix the Three Strikes Law

Proposition 36 summary, official arguments, and text

Sunday, October 14, 2012

No on Proposition 35, Human Trafficking

Official Title: Human Trafficking. Penalties. Initiative Statute

Proposition 35 increases the penalties on "human trafficking," which means forced prostitution and slave labor. In the case of prostitution, it would not seem to apply to people who are freelance, voluntary prostitutes, but would apply to pimps, traffickers and kidnappers.

Slavery, and especially sexual slavery, are bad things. They are already illegal and the punishments are not light. The problem seems to be enforcement, which has usually been a low priority. In this time of tax resistance and cutbacks, it has been nearly nonexistent.

Sadly, human trafficking is a black-market business that responds to the laws of supply and demand. Even if there are more convictions, and longer sentences if Proposition 35 passes, there will be plenty of soldier-businessmen to step in and continue the practice.

Stiffer penalties may actually endanger the girls the law is presumed to protect. The girls are witnesses and often rightly afraid to testify given the brutality of their owners. With the stakes raised, owners would have greater incentive to murder anyone they suspected would testify against them.

I admire the people who put this issue to the California voters. However, I think it would be better to enforce the current laws. How you force overburdened police to prioritize this, I don't know.

So my No is not a strong No. If you think heavier penalties will do anything about this evil, then you should vote Yes.

Another solution would be to legalize and regulate prostitution, as is done in Nevada. Even then, however, we would need to keep the laws against sex slavery, and of course against sexual coercion of minors.

No on 35, Don't increase human trafficking penalties.

Proposition 35 summary, official arguments, and text

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Yes on California Proposition 34, abolish the Death Penalty

Official Title: Death Penalty. Initiative Statute

Proposition 34 repeals the death penalty in the State of California, replacing it with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

 Killing people is wrong, no matter who does it. Even in war, once an enemy soldier is captured, the rules of war forbid killing the prisoner.

 Some people may truly seem to deserve the death penalty, but they are the exception. The death penalty commonly is given to those who cannot afford good lawyers.

We know innocent people have been convicted and executed by our legal system. That is unacceptable.

 If I could make an exception for imposing the death penalty, it would be for Class A War Criminals, which is those powerful leaders who plan and engage in war. However many Americans have been such Class A War Criminals in our history, not one has been brought to justice, much less sentenced to death.

The death penalty is barbaric. It has been abolished in most civilized nations.

It may not be in our power to abolish it in the United States of America, but we can at least abolish it in the State of California.

 Yes on 34, Repeal the Death Penalty

Proposition 34 summary, official arguments, and text

Monday, October 8, 2012

No on California Proposition 32

Official Title: Political Contributions by Payroll Deduction. Contributions to Candidates.
Initiative Statute

Proposition 32 is supposed to look like a good campaign finance reform law, but instead it is an act of class warfare designed to get working-class money, what little there still is of it, out of politics. It pretends to limit corporate money in California elections, but does not.

Proposition 32's main point is banning political contributions using payroll deductions from both unions and corporations. But corporations don't impose payroll deductions for political purposes. Direct corporate contributions would come out of shareholder's profits. Most "corporate" contributions are actually personal contributions by management and shareholders.

Union payroll deductions are actually union dues. Without payroll dues deductions it would be almost impossible to fund unions. Ask the Wobblies, or Industrial Workers of the World, who became largely irrelevant in the 1920's largely because they insisted that workers pay dues voluntarily to the union each month, rather than through payroll deductions. Payroll dues deductions are part of the deal when a business recognizes that its employees have decided to be represented through a union.

This does lead to some problems, ranging from union bureaucrats paying themselves more like CEOs than like the workers they represent, to the problem of some workers paying to finance the campaigns of candidates or issues they disagree with.

I might support a law that prevented rich people from buying elections, and also restricted the use of union dues to directly representing the workers to their employers.

California Proposition 32 is not that law. It places no meaningful restrictions on rich people or corporate management or stockholders. It would kill funding of pro-union and pro-worker candidates.

No on 32, Save Our Right to Organize and Be Represented

Proposition 32 summary, official arguments, and text

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Yes on California Proposition 31


Proposition 31 reforms the California state budget process and adds flexibility to local government implementations of state mandates.

For over a decade every year the California State legislature has been late passing budgets. Often the partisan-driven deadlock in Sacramento has resulted in government workers and vendors receiving vouchers instead of paychecks. Partly that is the responsibility of voters who have sent uncompromising fools to represent them.

At least if Proposition 31 passes we will only have to go through the fiasco every two years, instead of each year. This also lines up budgets with elections for the State Assembly, which are held every two years.
The administration of state-funded programs by local governments has also become something of a nightmare and boondoggle. Proposition 31 cannot fix this, but it does have provisions to allow local governments to work together to tweek their procedures. Hopefully for the better.

31 also allows the Governor to reduce spending when there is an unexpected shortage of funds. That could have solved a lot of problems if it had been in place before the recession.

As usual, the text of Prop 31 is long and complicated, so opposers can find details to dislike.

Quoting the Argument in Favor, "Proposition 31 requires a real balanced budget." It actually makes more sense to build surpluses during good economic times and then spend during recessions, but what we have now is overspending all the time, which is leading us to disaster.

The Argument Against says Proposition 31 "will lead to lawsuits and confusion." That is not much of an argument: all law leads to lawsuits and confusion. We still want the best laws we can write. Most of the arguments against 31 seem to be scare tactics, rather than based on the actual likely effects of the law.

Yes on 31, Reform the California Budget system.

Proposition 31 summary, official arguments, and text

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Yes on California Proposition 30

Title: Temporary Taxes to Fund Education. Guaranteed Local Public Safety Funding. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.

Proposition 30 raises two California taxes on a temporary, but lengthy, basis. The money would be used for education, including through the college level, and for public safety, which is mainly police and prisons.

Education, preferably free public education, is a fundamental pillar of democracy. California's public schools were underfunded even before the recession hit in 2008. College education, in particular, has become a luxury only a few families can afford.

Policing and prisons, the justice system, and the very nature of society, need fundamental reform, but in the meantime we have no viable substitute for public safety. People who live in fear of crime cannot exercise their human and democratic rights. Public safety also needs increased funding.

The taxes imposed by Proposition 30 are fairly minimal. There would be a 1/4% increase in the current sales tax, but the rate would still be lower than we had two years ago. This would last four years.

There would also be an increase in California State income tax on natural (non-corporate) persons making over $250,000 in annual income, or couples making over $500,000 in annual income. The increase is graduated, from 1% at the $250,000 to $300,000 level up to 3% at the over $500,000 level.

Given the incredibly low federal tax rates for the highest-income taxpayers, this is not really much of a burden to the most fortunate Californians. The rest of us wish we could make that kind of income and have the privilege of paying the higher rate. This tax increase would last for seven years, and my guess is that it will have to be renewed then.

If there is a problem with Proposition 30, it is that is uses the Constitutional Amendment process. The California State Constitution is already a huge mess. This will add to it. The text is complex enough to render it unintelligible not just to ordinary citizens, but to everyone who is not already an expert in the tax code and state constitutional law. I just don't see why tax increases require amending the Constitution, except perhaps that then they can't be reversed easily.

Yes on 30, save our education system

Proposition 30 summary, official arguments, and text

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Top-two California Primary Shows Promise

Tuesday, June 5, we had the first test of the new, less-partisan, open primary system established under Proposition 14. While most candidates and voters stuck to their old partisan ways, some of the results were encouraging. Notably, this November there will be a number of contests between two Democratic Party identified candidates, or between two Republican Party identified candidates.

In the 53 House of Representatives congressional districts in California most of the races produced results similar to the old partisan primaries: a Republican will run against a Democrat in the fall. 40 districts will have that traditional choice.

One district, 37, had only one candidate, a Democrat, the incumbent.

Six districts will see two Democrats contenting for the seat in November.

Two districts will see two Republicans runoff.

Four districts will have an NPP, no political party, candidate in November. These independent candidates will face Democrats in three cases and a Republican in one case.

In the 80 California State Assembly races, 58 will be Dem v. Rep. Twelve races will pit Democratic Party candidates against each other. 6 will pit two Republican Party candidates against each other. Appallingly, in 3 districts only one person ran, a Democrat. Only one NPP, independent candidate made it to the November election, and will be facing a Democrat.

In the 20 California State Senate races (out of 80 4-year seats), 14 will be bipartisan in the fall. Two races will be between Democrats. One race will feature two Republican contenders. Three races had only one candidate, all Democratic Party.

Independents as candidates did not do well, and even those who made the Top Two are not likely to do well in the fall. Still, it is a start. Independents don't have the campaign organization or funding that the political parties have, but this may change with time. Also, independent voters often don't vote in primaries, since in the past they could only vote for or against propositions. Strong campaigns by independents in the primaries should encourage better voting habits by those who do not identify with a political party.
We will see a fair number of races where both candidates are from one political party this November. This is already a paradigm shift. In the past the party machine candidate won its primary. Since districts in California tend to be heavily biased to one or another party, the machine candidate of the majority party was almost guaranteed victory in the fall.

Now in Republican districts a far-right candidate may loose to a moderate Republican, if the Democrats and independents get out and vote for the moderate. Similarly for the Democratic Party dominated districts.
Third party candidates struck out under the new system, but they almost always struck out under the old system too. Buried in the results were a few Green Party and Libertarian Party candidates who came within decent range of making the top two. With more campaign contributions and better run campaigns these types of candidates could finally start upsetting the entrenched parties in 2014.

This is a great experiment in electoral democracy. The political party machines and their candidates will, of course, continue to look for ways to control the government gravy train. Citizens devoted to good government are going to have to get their electoral campaigning to a higher level if we ever want to see genuinely good government in California. Top-two primaries open the door to that possibility.
Note: some elections were close enough that counting straggling votes, or a recount, could change the results tabulated above.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Yes on California Proposition 28, term limits

Currently in the the State of California there are term limits for citizens serving in our state legislature. A person can serve three terms of two years in the California State Assembly and two terms of four years in the California State Senate. Thus a successful politician can serve a maximum of fourteen (14) years at the state level. After that, to remain in elected political office, the options are to return to local seats, try for one of the few statewide offices like governor, or try to jump to a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives or one of the two U.S. Senator positions.

Proposition 28, "Limits on Legislator's Terms in Office," which if passed would be an amendment to the California Constitution, would change the rules for term limits. A citizen would be able to serve only 12 years in the State Assembly or Senate, but could divide up those years as desired (or as the citizens are willing to vote).

This would serve to mitigate two problems at once. In the current system, upward-climbing politicians start in the Assembly. After spending a year running for office, they have a year of being a novice before running for Assembly again. By the time they are experienced at Assembly work, they are term limited out. They have spent 3 years running for office, then 3 years focused (hopefully) on the people's business. Their last year is usually spent desperately seeking a higher office, or getting ready to join the vast army of parasitic former legislators who become lobbyists or get appointed to highly paid, no-show California commission committee work.

Under 28 a citizen can get up to six terms in the state assembly. There would be a mix, in the assembly, of old hands who know their business and newer members to provide fresh energy. The same would basically be true of the State Senate.

Of course the corrupting power of money in politics will remain with us, as will a population of voters almost none of whom follows the legislative process closely (even I can't do that). Prop 28 is a tweak, not a revolution.

I like Proposition 28 and don't find any argument against it to be compelling.

Vote Yes on Proposition 28, the new term limits initiative.

Text of Proposition 28 with official arguments

Monday, May 7, 2012

Obama Pisses on our California Democracy

Barack Obama may be the first sort-of black President of the United States, but his political heritage is not much different than the entire line of Presidents starting with real-estate speculator George Washington. Barack will be the only choice on the Democratic Party Presidential ballot line for the June 5 election. The total corruption and march-in-line behind the leader mentality of the party is shown by the lack of even token progressive and anti-war opposition.

Knowing the Democratic Party nomination is locked up, and wanting to appeal to right-wing voters, Barack Obama ordered widespread, unconstitutional raids on our perfectly legal medical marijuana purveyors. It's a funny thing, the way almost all media sources keep the Obama name out of the stories about the raids. It is always the Justice Department. Like Obama is not head of the government. Like he could not order the stormtroopers to go after other crimes. Are there no Islamic teenagers who might be entrapped by agents offering them a chance to play with government-supplied C-4? Are there no criminals violating Disney's copyrights needing to be rounded up and put in concentration camps?

It is not just his Reaganesque marijuana policy that mocks California's enlightened citizenry. There's his anti-gay marriage stand. His ongoing military attacks on Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, plus anti-Iranian saber rattling. His promotion of the very men who created the mortgage derivatives and banking meltdown to be his top economic advisors. His failure to vigorously protect women's reproductive rights. His half-ass reformulation of the healthcare for profit system.

But what is a Democrat to do? It is too late to send Him a message by re-registering Green or No Political Preference (the new Decline to State, known everywhere else as independent). You can do that after the primary.

All you can do is vote for your favorite local candidates (up to and including Congress) and then not vote for Barack Obama. Barack does not give a damn how you feel about him, as long as he is the head of the corporate security state. He's going to be the next President. What not voting for Obama will do is show, when the votes are counted, that you care about California and your fellow Californians.

According to my readings of John Steinbeck, pretty many California citizens were smoking marijuana long before the 1960s rolled around. Since the 1960s California citizens have almost all been tolerant of their neighbors who choose to smoke. Sure, there are occasional problems with stoned citizens, but they pale compared to the problems of drunk citizens, and they don't seem to be significantly higher than the problems we encounter with perfectly sober citizens, either.

We Californians are a nation of individuals, but we do mostly share some cultural values, like respecting individual diversity. We have a disproportionate number of agnostics and atheists among us, and even our religious citizens tend more to humanist spirituality and ethical conduct than to memorize-the-text orthodoxy. We believe in evolution, and are evolving, but are ruled by people whose brain capacities froze at Middle Ages levels of memory and compute capabilities.

There are about 38 million of us. There were less than 4 million people living in the original 13 states at the time of the American Revolution, and that included slaves and Native Americans.

We should demand some respect from the rest of the states. If they do not respect our ways and our values, including ending marijuana prohibition, we should began the process of (hopefully without a civil war) leaving other United States and governing ourselves.

Because we can govern ourselves a lot better than the eastern states can govern us.

We don't need the national parties, either. Even if we stay in the Union, California citizens should have their own political parties, subject to our own corrupt bosses and political machines, rather than to the corrupt national bosses and machines.

Let's make that a goal: at least one California-centric party by 2014.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

California Independence and the Separation of States

Note: this entry was originally published on December 18, 2011 at californiademocracy.org. It should have been posted here as well at that time.

Suppose the Citizens of California, for whatever reason, wanted to separate from the United States. How could we do that?

So far in U.S. history there is only one precedent. The states of South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina, by the end of 1861, withdrew from the United States of America by votes within their states. President Abraham Lincoln, supported by a Republican Party-controlled Congress, simply made war (the Civil War) on the untied states, and the federal government won that war.

Since then the predominant thinking in the re-United States has been that a state cannot separate from the Union because military force will be used by the federal government to overcome any such manifestation of local democracy. Kind of like when Czechoslovakia tried to opt out of the Soviet Block. Because the issue of slavery was entangled with the issue of separation of states during the Civil War, it is still hard to have a rational discussion of the topic.

Clearly the U.S. Constitution allows for an amendment that would either allow a particular set of states to separate, or would set rules for separation in general. In fact, one could dissolve the entire Union with a Constitutional amendment. However, before writing such an amendment, we should look at the Constitution as it now stands.

Reading the Constitution, you will not find a single phrase that says that a state cannot withdraw from the union. Nor does it say that a state can withdraw. This is not that different from many issues of federal powers. How broad the specific powers granted the the Federal government are to be in practice has been a constant source of argument and litigation since the ink was dry on the original Constitution.

A majority of Americans opposed the Constitution as written at the time. To get it passed by the nine required states a great deal of bribery and intimidation was used. Also, it was promised that a number of amendments would be appended to the Constitution, to make the package more attractive.

Regarding the separation of states, clearly Amendment X, the Tenth Amendment, has the greatest bearing. Many people voted for the new Constitution with the idea that their state could withdraw from the Constitution if the whole experiment did not work out. They feared a central government that could become as tyrannical as the British Empire had been. Hence the amendment: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

I don't think you can get more clear than that without illegally declaring war on your neighbors, as Abraham Lincoln did. No where in the Constitution did it say that the Federal government could prevent a state government from withdrawing. The power to decide whether to be part of the United States was clearly a power "reserved to the States."

To force people to be governed against their will by any government, including the Federal government of the United States, is against the natural right of the people to govern themselves. That was recognized by the architects of the American revolution, or at least was prominent in their rhetoric.

If Californians should ever decide they want to separate from the United States, I suggest they go about it with more care than the State of South Carolina did in 1860.

First, the government of the State of California should write a state law saying that California has they right to separate and is indeed separating. Then this should be the basis of trying a case in the Supreme Court of the United States.

The Supreme Court is most likely, in fact certain, to rule that the State of California cannot secede by virtue of its own legislation. The point is not to expect an honest verdict, but to get a statement of why we cannot rule ourselves, and of the construction of the Constitution they use to rationalize this un-democratic ruling.

Then, having been ruled to still be part of the United States, we need to introduce legislation allowing us to leave. We should also try to pass a constitutional amendment making it clear what the rules are for leaving.

Of course, this whole path could be cut off by a Constitutional Amendment saying, roughly, "no State shall be allowed to separate from the United States, and the President and Congress shall have the power to use the military to enforce this provision."

The United States went to a great deal of trouble to break up the former nation of Yugoslavia just a couple of decades ago. We broke Vietnam in half in the 1950's when we did not like the projected outcome of elections there. I don't see why fair California should not be granted the same rights of divorce that the U.S. empire has so gladly imposed on weaker nations.

On the other hand, no one should want a messy divorce. Any such separation should be mutual and amicable.

Internally, I would want to see some major reforms before separation. The California Constitution is, itself, a mess (read it? It is so long even I gave up on the project). We would need to write a better California constitution. We also need a California-centric political party to replace both the Democratic and Republican Parties.