Oct 262010
Official "Vote NO on Prop 8" logo
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Okay, the midterm election is another day closer, and here’s the next installment of my Voter’s Guide. So, if you have the time and are so inclined, you can read on. I’ll give you my position on each issue and also share why I’m voting the way I am.

Of course, if you’re a conservative, you’re not likely to agree with my positions, as I just today reviewed the guides assembled by several Democratic leaning groups, like the Courage Campaign, CREDO and the California Democratic Party (okay, so a little more partisan than just a lean), and it looks like I’ll be voting the party line on all issues for which they’ve taken a position. Perhaps this content could still have some value for conservatives though — as an anti-guide, or maybe just to help understand why somebody might vote along the Democratic line.

Proposition 22: Prohibits the state from borrowing or taking funds used for transportation, redevelopment, or local government projects and services.

Under the State Constitution, state and local governments share revenue from certain sources. This arrangement leads, from time to time, to the state affecting the distribution of funds to local agencies. This initiative will apply new limits to the authority of the state over local finances.

Specifically, the measure will limit the state’s access to fuel tax revenues, including temporary borrowing for cash flow purposes; it will also prohibit the redirection of redevelopment funds and eliminate the state’s ability to temporarily shift taxes from cities, counties and special districts to schools. There is also a provision to prohibit the use of Vehicle License Fees to cover state mandated costs.

In a nutshell, this initiative is designed to tie the state government’s hands in matters of the distribution of shared revenues. On the surface, this seems to have some merit. Those promoting the initiative label it a measure to “stop state raids” of local funding. Who wouldn’t be for that?

The problem is found in the detail. First off, Prop-22 attempts to constrain the state at a time when we have a $20 billion budget crisis. And it does so in a manner that prohibits the state from even performing such innocuous maneuvers as temporary borrowing to avoid cash flow issues. It also takes money from schools and codifies into the State Constitution protections for redevelopment agencies.

These measures seem unwise and imprudent in such a time of fiscal crisis. Proponents argue that the money should flow to its originally intended targets, while the opposition would argue that when money is tight, it should flow in order of precedent for the services most needed.

Good organizations are split on this proposition, with cities, most police, and local firefighters in favor, and teachers, nurses, and state firefighters opposed. The truth is that, if passed, the initiative will take significant funds from schools and healthcare and send it to redevelopment agencies and the private developers who rely on their funding. This is just bad policy and deserves to be defeated by an informed electorate.

Proposition 23: Suspends implementation of Air Pollution Control Law (AB32).

The state enacted AB32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act, in 2006. AB32 set a target of reducing the Green House Gas (GHG) to their 1990 levels by 2020. The legislation required the Air Resources Board (ARB) to adopt the rules required to make this happen. Proposition 23 seeks to suspend the implementation of AB32 until the unemployment rate in California drops to 5.5 percent or below for four consecutive quarters.

Proponents of the initiative promote the measure as a smart move to minimize energy costs and spur job creation. They insist that the move is needed, in spite of pollution concerns, because of the state’s $20 billion budget deficit and high unemployment. They contend that, while Global Warming may be a serious concern, California cannot solve the issue on its own.

What the proponents don’t want to reveal is the fact that since 1970, California has had only three periods when the unemployment rate was below 5.5 percent, and that those periods each lasted only around 2-1/2 years. The fact is that with unemployment currently over 12 percent, it will be a long while before California experiences a full year where unemployment dips below 5.5 percent.

The other thing that Prop-23 supporters don’t want California voters to understand is that main backers of the proposition are Valero and Tesoro oil companies — two Texas firms who are amongst the worst polluters in the state.

This proposition has nothing to do with jobs. These oil companies are simply trying to use the state’s unemployment situation as leverage to rationalize legislation that will only serve to increase pollution and bolster their bottom lines. For them, this is all about maintaining the status quo, about keeping the profits in the coffers of polluters instead of transferring the wealth to a new generation of clean energy companies.

California is on the leading edge of developing a clean energy economy. Millions of jobs will be established as this effort is allowed to move forward. Californians need to reject the self-serving propaganda of these old-world, dirty energy polluters and embrace the future. Clean energy will return America to the forefront of technology, establishing new export industries and putting the planet on a track for a sustainable future, while simultaneously addressing our nation’s security and economic issues associated with dependency on foreign oil.

Prop-23 is a death blow for progress that serves but one purpose — to save the profits of polluters. There is absolutely no reason to vote in favor of this proposition except to support dirty energy and the oil companies behind it. VOTE NO — Please!

Proposition 24: Repeals recent legislation that would allow businesses to lower their tax liability.

The background on this proposition is that the legislature and governor recently made certain agreements that changed the rules for business tax treatment in California. This proposition seeks to repeal these deals and return the tax rules to their previous status.

Prop-24 will repeal deals involving business use of financial losses, the determination of income for multistate businesses, and the ability of businesses to share tax deductions.

With regard to losses, the initiative will repeal the deal that allowed businesses to claim present losses on amended returns for previously filed tax years. It will also return the allowance permitting losses to be carried forward for 20 years back to only 10 years.

On the topic of California taxable income, the measure will eliminate a new rule that allows businesses to be taxed based only on the portion of their sales in California. It will return the process to its former state where business income was based on three factors: the value of the businesses properties in California, its payroll within the state and its sales. It will also, obviously, prevent business from changing the method they choose to use each year.

Finally, the initiative will repeal a deal where businesses within a unitary group of businesses were allowed to share tax credits, and it will return the rules to their former status where only the business that earns a tax credit can use it.

The fiscal impact of Prop-24 amounts to an increase of state revenue of around $1.3 billion by 2012-13. Most of that increase will be channeled to schools under Prop-98.

Proponents of Prop-24 label the measure the “Tax Fairness Act.” Opponents call it the “Jobs Tax.” Therein lies the debate. But oddly enough, Republicans and Democrats alike support Prop-24. Why? Because they understand that giving special tax breaks that apply only to multistate businesses is not only bad governing —  it’s also BAD BUSINESS.

California is in dire economic straits, and making special deals for large, multistate businesses that will greatly reduce tax revenues and require further cuts to essential services is as imprudent as it is unfair. Businesses that are based in California need to pay taxes to California, regardless of where they make their sales — just like other California businesses.

A vote for fairness is in order — vote YES on Prop-24.

So, that’s installment #2. If you’re interested, stay tuned and tomorrow we’ll finish the propositions with installment #3 of Dave’s 2-cents on the California election.

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Oct 252010
ballot box
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The midterm election is now about a week away, and being a political junkie, I’ve of course got my ducks in a row. While you may still want to take this with a grain of salt, I have read all of the 9 propositions on the California ballot and carefully considered the arguments both for and against each. I’ve also had many people ask me how I was going to vote on specific issues, so this then is my first installment on an answer.

Proposition 19: The legalization of marijuana under California law.

This is a big 10-4. Marijuana should never have been illegal in the first place. It’s sad to see that Senator Feinstein is behind the Argument Against Prop-19. She and Laura Dean-Mooney of MADD are in opposition for the same unsupportable reason. They claim that the legislation will lead to bus drivers and the like being stoned on the job. They even assert that jobs could be lost and schools could lose federal money, all because employers will not be able stop employees from being high at work.

Of course, this is all complete nonsense. There is really no change in the present situation, except that employers would no longer be able to terminate employment based solely on the fact that an employee had tested positive for marijuana, which can remain in a person’s system for as much as 30 days. The new legislation expresses the strict prohibition on impairment while driving or partaking of other potentially dangerous activities and also stipulates that employers have the right to address impairment of job performance.

Those opposing the reform on the grounds stated are simply attempting to create a legitimate sounding argument to support their underlying position against legalization.

For those not hampered by emotional belief systems on the matter, the facts are clear. Marijuana is a drug that’s far less dangerous than alcohol and should be regulated and controlled instead of criminalized. This proposition will put an end to the massive number of Californians arrested for marijuana each year — 61,000 in 2008, and it will free law enforcement officers to focus where they’re really needed — working on violent crimes.

Legalization will reduce law enforcement costs and help address prison overcrowding. It will remove the black market and strike a blow on the cartels while also removing the profit motive on American streets. Legalization will, in short, cut crime. This is the primary reason that police organizations throughout the state support Prop-19.

And as if this were not enough, the legalization of marijuana will establish a new revenue source for our cash-strapped state. The Board of Equalization estimates that tax revenues will start out at around $1.4 billion, and that’s on top of the cost savings.

Incidentally, the other popularly surfaced argument against legalization is the “Gateway Theory.” While not specifically mentioned by those opposing Prop-19, it should be understood that study after study has refuted any statistically significant linkage between marijuana use and the abuse of more dangerous drugs. In fact, there’s a much stronger correlation to alcohol use, and even where direct correlation was evidenced, the studies found other more significant links.

Proposition 20: Redistricting of congressional districts.

The question here is really a case of not only who do you trust to configure California’s congressional districts, but whether or not you feel that you should have some recourse if you disagree with the districts they define.

Under current law, there is a 14-member redistricting commission that will define districts for the state legislature, but their authority does not extend to congressional districts, which are presently under the purview of the state legislature. Prop-20 will expand the authority of the Citizens Redistricting Commission to include congressional redistricting.

Those in favor of the proposition assert that the legislature can’t be trusted to serve anyone’s interest but their own and therefore an independent authority is needed. Those opposed claim that the redistricting commission is a waste of taxpayer money — that it creates a new bureaucracy, and that most importantly — taxpayers will have no recourse to hold the commission responsible for its actions.

It is interesting to know that the entire Yes on Prop-20 campaign has been funded by Charles Munger, Jr., son of Wall Street billionaire Charles Munger.

In the end, although proponents are undoubtedly right that the politicians will carve out the districts in their best interest, and that such action typically results in more incumbents being reelected, there’s really nothing to prove that an independent commission will net any better results. Incumbents win because they typically get more campaign financing and the electorate votes for them.

There are far more effective measures that can be put in place to address the incumbent issue than a redistricting bureaucracy that answers to nobody. If we’re serious about effective change and holding politicians accountable, we should instead move for public campaign finance, preferential voting and term limits. And in the meantime, if you don’t like what the legislature does with redistricting, you can vote them out. A NO vote seems in order for Prop-20.

Proposition 21: The $18 annual vehicle fee to help fund state parks.

This initiative is simple. It adds an $18 fee to the vehicle registration for all non-commercial vehicles, except trailers and trailer coaches, and the proceeds are earmarked to go to state parks and wildlife programs. In return, all subject vehicles are allowed access to state parks without further charges.

Proponents of the proposition argue that state parks are in peril from poor maintenance and many are in danger of closing. Opponents claim that the initiative is a “cynical budget shell game that could still leave our parks dilapidated.”

Of course, even in their argument, the opposition admits that the parks need the funding. Their game is to color the initiative in the worst possible light, labeling it the “Car Tax.” These people are none other than the same folk who oppose any taxation, regardless of the intent. And their claim that the parks could remain dilapidated completely ignores the fact that 85% of the proceeds are dedicated to the operation and maintenance of our state parks.

Those who don’t understand or appreciate the process through which a society of free people fund the services that are important to them will never support taxes or fees of any sort. These people don’t seem to understand that the state economy has suffered and that parks are already closing and are in serious need of maintenance as a result.

The real question here is whether or not you believe that the preservation of the California state parks is worth $18 per year. And if you ever visit them, the real cost is closer to zero. Sometimes people just need to stand up and say, “Yes, I’m willing to pay for that.” Oddly, it’s usually those who can afford it least who are willing to make the sacrifice, and those with deep pockets who complain about every penny they pay.

If you care about the state parks, vote YES. It’s a small amount to pay.

And if you’re interested, stay tuned each day this week for further installments of my 2 cents on the California election.

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Oct 232010
Photo portrait of John F. Kennedy, President o...
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Article first published as Prostituted Government, America up for Sale on Technorati.

Baby Boomers are likely to remember the words spoken by John F. Kennedy during his inaugural address.

The youngest man ever elected president took office and wasted no time in reminding the American people of how different the world had become and of the responsibility placed upon our great nation. He pulled no punches in identifying the true enemies of humanity: “tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself.” And he concluded his speech with both a commitment to the task at hand and an admonishment for all Americans: “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”

What would be the reaction today to a president asking for such patriotism? Yet in 1961, JFK’s call to unity and selflessness was arguably the hallmark of his address. His were words that could well have been spoken by Jefferson or Adams, even by Patrick Henry himself. How sad it is that things have changed so, in less than 50 years.

President Kennedy spoke out of love and respect for a nation built on high moral principles. He spoke of a nation that held the power to “abolish all forms of human poverty.” He called on all Americans to join him in the fight . . . and America responded with dedication and applause.

Today, the tables have turned. Americans don’t ask what they can do for their country; they don’t even see poverty as a mutual enemy. The new prescription for prosperity in America is not to fight tyranny and band together for the common good — it’s a call to social Darwinism, to every person for themselves. Fifty years ago the predominant mindset was one of abundance, where through unity we could achieve anything. Today, America is figuratively much smaller and weaker. The grand vision is all but lost. The belief is now in scarcity and a sense that only the few can truly prosper.

This change in paradigm has nothing to do with inevitability. It was and still is completely avoidable. The sad truth is that Americans have been sold a bad bill of goods wrapped in the trappings of good business. We sit now in the most dire economic straits in nearly a century, and instead of pulling together to fight our common foes, we’re allowing ourselves to be divided by those who benefit from our lack of unity.

Thomas Jefferson once said that, “Experience demands that man is the only animal which devours his own kind, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor.” This truth has been long understood and accepted, yet this is exactly what we, the American people, have allowed to happen in our country. The unity of the Kennedy era has been lost to the government-is-the-enemy doctrine espoused by Ronald Reagan and movement conservatism.

The 21st Century American political system thrives on a state of dynamic tension where the two sides debate the same issues ad nauseam. Never reaching resolution, this ebb and flow produces, at best, incremental change, and in the end is essentially a lesson in futility. The structure is based on a two-party, zero sum shouting match where the only people who win are those who benefit from maintaining the status quo.

What’s needed is an alternative to this Sisyphean drama. We need real progress. We need a return to morality in politics, where money is confined as the currency of our capitalism and not of our democracy. Sadly, what we have instead is a near complete departure from anything of the sort.

Not only does truth in politics seem to be at an all-time low, but with the Supreme Court’s ruling on “Citizens United,” where corporations were granted personhood, the stream of falsehood and mudslinging deceit is so constant as to be virtually inescapable. America is now the great political prostitute of the planet, with more money being spent to buy votes through misinformation than at any time in any place. Hurray for America!

Is this really the political process that the American people want?  Is there any way that this caricature of democracy can lead to a government “of the people, by the people and for the people?”

This new dynamic has no place in the American political system. The Founding Fathers perceived the evils of corporate greed and did everything they could to ensure that the democracy could withstand their siege. Thomas Jefferson warned us of their thirst for control, “I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.” But modern conservatism has ignored his warning.

The conservative court’s decision that corporations are people has created a situation where, not only are vast sums of money being spent by corporate interests to influence the 2010 election, but the American electorate isn’t even afforded the right to know who’s behind the spending.

Under their new found freedom to influence elections, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is spending record amounts of money. Where their total for the 2008 elections was a mere $33.5 million, they promise to spend $75 million in 2010. And not only is the Chamber raising record amounts for its campaign spending from U.S. corporations, like Prudential Financial, Dow Chemical, A.I.G., Goldman Sachs and Chevron  Texaco, but they’re bringing in huge amounts from foreign companies who have a stake in American jobs, trade policies and tax regulations.

Of course, it’s easy to understand why the Republicans in the Senate fought to defeat the Disclose Act, which would have required disclosure of funding sources, since the vast majority of the corporate money is going to either support Republican candidates or defeat Democrats — a full 93% of the Chamber’s 70 ads, according to the New York Times. This statistic might help explain why only 10% of groups running ads in support of Republicans have revealed their funding sources, while 50% of Democratic supporters have.

Regardless of the outcome, it’s too late for the 2010 election. American politics has fallen into an abyss of moral decay. Monied interests are so firmly in control of the process and the tyranny of the elite is so prevalent that both Kennedy and Jefferson have to be turning in their graves. Tea Party patriots, as misguided as they may be, have the right idea — the American people need to take their country back. Hopefully, between now and the 2012 election, they’ll figure out that the government is not the enemy, and that it’s actually the instrument of their collective will.

One person, one vote — that was the intent. That is the only system that can work, and it can only be sustained through an informed, not misinformed electorate. Let us all hope that we might return to the high moral principles of our past, of our founding. Let us understand once again that we are One Nation, One People – E Pluribus Unum.

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