California Propositions

CALIFORNIA PROPOSITIONS....This is a special post for California readers. The rest of you may safely go about your Sunday business normally.

This year we have 12 initiatives on the California ballot. As longtime readers know, my default position is to very strongly oppose all initiatives. My reasons are here, but the nickel version is that (a) most initiatives these days are funded by corporate interests, not the grassroots, and corporate interests don't really need yet another avenue to work their will on the public, (b) generally speaking, laws should be laws, not constitutional amendments or initiative statutes, where they're essentially etched in stone forever, and (c) ballot box budgeting is a curse.

At the request of my wife, I'll add one other thing: I've routinely voted against not just initiatives, but also against virtually all bond measures for the past couple of decades. Here's why. In the distant past, bond measures were used for capital projects that needed a big dollop of funding right away even though their useful life was decades long. But that's barely ever the case anymore. Rather, they've become little more than ways to evade the normal budgeting process. Most of the time they fund projects that will take a long time to build and could just as easily (and more cheaply) be funded out of general revenues. What's more, the standard mantra that they "require no tax increase" is baloney: they allocate money and that money (plus interest) has to be paid back out of the general fund. This money comes from taxes, just like every other expenditure.

Obviously you might not share my generic distaste for both the initiative process and the abuse of bond funding. So take that into account as you read the rest of this post. And a note for my non-California readers, since I always get a few questions about this. Several of the initiatives on the ballot this year (4, 8, 9, and 11) are constitutional amendments, and yes, a simple majority vote is all it takes to amend the state constitution here. I know it seems weird, but that's the way it is.

  1. High-speed rail bond. NO. As I said above, I generally oppose bond measures. But high speed rail is a worthy long-term endeavor, so I should probably explain my opposition to this particular bond issue in some detail. Here it is: We. Don't. Have. Any. Money.

    I continue to be flabbergasted at the unwillingness of Californians to understand just how bad our fiscal situation is. It's mind boggling. We've been running huge deficits for the past six years even though the economy was booming. The coming recession is only going to make it worse. We just flatly can't afford this right now.

    On its merits, I'll confess to some skepticism too. Both the cost projections and the ridership projections for the planned 220 mph train from LA to San Francisco strike me as typically optimistic for these things (as does the 220 mph goal, frankly), and I really have to wonder if we don't have better ways to spend a billion or two a year on transit projects. But those are side issues that would only be worth discussing if we had the money to support this in the first place. We don't.

  2. Farm Animal Confinement. YES. This initiative requires that farm animals be penned in cages that allow them to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs, and turn around freely. In practice, it would affect only the egg industry, and it moves California very moderately in the direction of more humane treatment of farm animals. The factory farming industry is running the usual campaign claiming that it would put California farmers out of business entirely, but that dog just won't hunt anymore. That's what they always say. In reality, it will probably increase the cost of eggs a few pennies per dozen and nothing more.

    This initiative passes most of my smell tests too. It's a genuine grassroots initiative that would have a hard time getting past the legislature thanks to corporate agribusiness lobbying. It's a moderately written law that allows us to experiment a bit without going off a cliff. And it's not ballot box budgeting.

  3. Children's hospital bond act. NO. We. Don't. Have. Any. Money. Even for good causes, I'm afraid. This is an issue for the legislature, not for ballot box budgeting.

  4. Parental notification for teenage abortions. NO. I think we all know what this is about.

  5. Nonviolent drug offenses. NO. This is a followup to Prop 36, which was passed in 2000 and mandates treatment for many drug offenses instead of jail time. Unfortunately, as with many initiatives, Prop 5 is mostly well intentioned but poorly drafted. Thanks to fuzzy wording, it might allow violent criminals to evade jail time merely by claiming that their crimes were in the service of a drug habit, and it might cripple some of the state's most successful rehabilitation programs. These are risks that might be worth taking if this were merely a normal law, which could be modified if it didn't work out, but as an initiative statute it would be set in stone virtually forever no matter how well it worked. That's a bad deal.

  6. Police and law enforcement funding. NO. This is yet another "tough on crime" initiative, something that California is already overburdened with. It's also an egregious example of ballot box budgeting, in which law enforcement tries to mandate more funding for itself. Forget it.

  7. Renewable energy generation. NO. As near as I can tell, Prop 7 is genuinely well meaning. But as with Prop 5, it's badly drafted and would actually hurt many suppliers of alternative energy, which is why virtually every environmental organization opposes it.

  8. Bans same-sex marriage. NO. I think gay marriage is perfectly fine. If you do too, vote No on 8. Nuff said.

  9. "Marsy's law." NO. This is yet another pet project from a local zillionaire with a bee up his bonnet. But Prop 9 is mostly unnecessary, and to the extent it offers anything new it's just another generic "get tough" initiative that will cost a bucket of money, keep our prisons even more overcrowded, and prevent defense attorneys from doing legitimate parts of their job. What's more, even if you approve of this kind of thing, it certainly doesn't deserve to be engraved in stone and put in the constitution.

  10. T. Boone Pickens alternative energy bond. NO. This is basically just a stealth initiative to funnel some government cash into the hands of T. Boone Pickens. See here for more. Also: We. Don't. Have. Any. Money.

  11. Redistricting reform. YES. On the downside, this initiative is a little bit squirrelly, setting up an oddball "citizen commission" to perform redistricting every ten years. It's also not clear that it would have a huge impact. I used to be a big foe of gerrymandering, but I've read enough research over the past couple of years to convince me that its impact on the electoral process is actually fairly modest.

    Still, "modest" isn't zero. And while the citizen commission is a little odd, it's not outlandish and not obviously biased against either party. What's more, Prop 11 is a limited effort that affects only state districts, not congressional districts. Bottom line: Whether the effect is modest or not, allowing partisan legislatures to draw their own lines is crazy. We've missed a lot of chances to reform this in the past, and overall Prop 11 strikes me as a decent start on a difficult task.

  12. Cal-Vet bonds. YES. Huh? I'm recommending Yes on a bond? Yep. We've been issuing Cal-Vet home loan bonds for decades, they genuinely don't cost the taxpayers anything (the bonds are paid back by the vets who get the loans), and it's for a good cause.

Palin-McCain: The Skirmishing Begins

PALIN-McCAIN: THE SKIRMISHING BEGINS....Yesterday I mentioned that I was looking forward to the (anonymous! on background!) war that was sure to erupt after the election between Sarah Palin and John McCain. Palin, after all, is not exactly famous for standing by her mentors in their hour of need. But guess what? I don't have to wait until after the election after all! Ben Smith reports:

Palin supporters, inside the campaign and out, said Palin blames her handlers for a botched rollout and a tarnished public image — even as others in McCain's camp blame the pick of the relatively inexperienced Alaska governor, and her public performance, for McCain's decline.

"She's lost confidence in most of the people on the plane," said a senior Republican who speaks to Palin, referring to her campaign jet. He said Palin had begun to "go rogue" in some of her public pronouncements and decisions. "I think she'd like to go more rogue," he said.

...."The campaign as a whole bought completely into what the Washington media said — that she's completely inexperienced," said a close Palin ally outside the campaign who speaks regularly to the candidate.

"Her strategy was to be trustworthy and a team player during the convention and thereafter, but she felt completely mismanaged and mishandled and ill advised," the person said. "Recently, she's gone from relying on McCain advisers who were assigned to her to relying on her own instincts."

Etc. etc.

Read the whole thing, which I take as just the barest teaser of the bloodshed that's gong to erupt between McCain and Palin loyalists after the election. My prediction: they're both going to come out of it with their careers in ruins. The only difference is that Palin probably won't realize it for a while.

UPDATE: More exciting skirmishing here! "She is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone," says a McCain adviser. "She does not have any relationships of trust with any of us, her family or anyone else. Also, she is playing for her own future and sees herself as the next leader of the party. Remember: Divas trust only unto themselves, as they see themselves as the beginning and end of all wisdom."

Financial Meltdown Watch

FINANCIAL MELTDOWN WATCH....A while back I was wondering who was left to bail out, now that we'd announced plans to take care of big banks, little banks, investment banks, and Fannie and Freddie. Insurance companies? Hedge funds? Today we learn the answer:

The Treasury Department is dramatically expanding the scope of its bailout of the financial system with a plan to take ownership stakes in the nation's insurance companies, signaling new concerns about a sector of the economy whose troubles until now have been overshadowed by the banking industry, government and industry sources said.

Anybody else?

The availability of U.S. government cash in the middle of a global credit squeeze is drawing requests from insurance firms, auto makers, state governments and transit agencies. While Treasury intended for the program to apply broadly, the growing requests could put a strain on the $700 billion, a sum that only last month stunned lawmakers.

Meanwhile, in the spirit of the world catching a cold when America sneezes, emerging markets, which had almost nothing to do with causing the financial crisis, are going to pay an even steeper price than us:

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng fell 8.3 percent to 12,618. Markets in India, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines were also down sharply as investors bailed from emerging markets around the world to cut their exposure to risky assets and meet redemption needs at home. On Thursday, key indices in Russia, Brazil and Mexico also fell.

"Funds are pouring out of emerging markets," said Linus Yip, a strategist at First Shanghai Securities in Hong Kong. "A lot of money that flowed into the region during the last five years from the U.S. and Europe is being cashed out. The global crisis has come to Asia."

It's sort of like global warming: we cause the problem, but poor countries suffer the brunt of the consequences.

'Yes on 8' Blackmail Won't Stop Corporate Opposition

In case you haven't heard, right-wingers and religious zealots have worked themselves into a tizzy supporting Proposition 8, which would change the California constitution to say marriage is only between a man and a woman. There are even reports that Yes on 8 folks sent threatening letters to 30 companies who donated to No on 8. In the letter, Yes on 8 said that if the companies didn't give them the same amount of money, they would publish their names.

Obviously not fearing a large-scale boycott from the Mormon Church, Steve Jobs and company have spoken out against Proposition 8. From Apple's home page:

Apple is publicly opposing Proposition 8 and making a donation of $100,000 to the No on 8 campaign. Apple was among the first California companies to offer equal rights and benefits to our employees' same-sex partners, and we strongly believe that a person's fundamental rights — including the right to marry — should not be affected by their sexual orientation. Apple views this as a civil rights issue, rather than just a political issue, and is therefore speaking out publicly against Proposition 8.

Other major corporations who have publicly opposed Proposition 8 include Google, PG&E, Levi Strauss, and Clear Channel. If Yes on 8 folks want to organize a boycott, they'll have to do it without Google's search engine, Apple computers, or PG&E's electricity and phone services. The No on 8 have no similar technological limitations, and have even issued a cheeky set of "I'm a Mac; I'm a PC"-style commercials.

—Steve Aquino and Jen Phillips

eBay to Ban Sale of Ivory After Damning Report

elephant.jpgeBay announced this week that it would ban all sales of elephant ivory on its site after the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) reported (.pdf) that eBay auctions account for nearly two-thirds of the global trade in endangered species.

The animal-rights group tracked 7,000 online listings in 11 countries, cross-referencing the names of animals on endangered species lists with product keywords like trophy, oil, claw, and rug. The amount of trade in the US, they said, was ten times higher than the next-highest countries, China and the UK. Nearly 75 percent of trades were in elephant ivory; another 20 percent were exotic birds. Primates, cats, and other animals made up the difference.

Part of what's so insidious about online trading is how difficult it is to police. The sheer volume of auctions on big sites like eBay, where close to $2,000 worth of goods changes hands every second, makes it hard to verify every seller's claims. So, for example, a seller who claims his ivory earrings are "pre-ban"—made from ivory obtained before the US banned such imports in 1989—covers his back legally, but may not have documentation to back up his claims.

mojo-photo-morrisseybaby.jpgVia Towleroad comes word that 49-year-old singer Morrissey will release his 9th solo album, to be called Year of Refusal (or maybe Years of Refusal?), early next year, calling it his "strongest" album yet in an interview with BBC Radio 1's Janice Long. (That's apparently the cover art to the right.) Perhaps more intriguingly, the outspoken lyricist is writing his autobiography, partially to clear up some of the "silly and really extreme" misquotes attributed to him over the years. What could he mean? As the Guardian points out:

Like when Morrissey allegedly announced that he wished George W Bush dead? Or when he allegedly wrote that he "[understood] why fur-farmers and so-called laboratory scientists are repaid with violence"? Or when he allegedly told NME that "the higher the influx [of immigrants] into England the more the British identity disappears"?

Oh yeah, maybe those. The Guardian also observes that Mozza's Wikipedia page is more than one-quarter controversy, including such topics as "Music Industry Feuds," "Accusations of Racism," and "Arguments with Political Leaders." God bless him.

After the jump: videos, videos, videos.

Is it just me, or has a kind of eye-of-the-hurricane feeling descended over the presidential campaigns? While waves of economic chaos build around us, the competing teams at the center seem almost in a sort of stasis, with Obama holding his position and McCain unable to break out of his. Inside this calm oasis, the colorful flowers of ridiculous YouTube videos may flourish, and indeed, this week has seen quite a bloom.

Vlad and Friend Boris – "Song for Sarah"

If you've wondered what it's like to be on the receiving end of the Palin Gaze from across the Bering Strait, well, a couple of Russians are here to tell us all about it, and it turns out they're gazing right back. Longingly. Could this video be a Borat-style hoax? The Russian words in the title seem to be straight from a phrasebook: "Very nice. Excellent. And you? Not bad." Plus the misspellings in the subtitles ("teliscop"?) are a bit farfetched, although I do remember the now-demolished Hotel Rossia on Red Square had a large permanent metal sign in English in its lobby that spelled "is" with a "z" in every instance, so who knows.

Oh so many more after the jump.

Friday Cat Blogging - 24 October 2008

FRIDAY CATBLOGGING....I had something new and exciting planned for today, but a combination of technical problems and feline noncooperation scotched my best efforts. Maybe next week.

But things turned out OK anyway. Domino is taking the week off because I ended up snapping this picture of Inkblot at the last minute (i.e., about an hour ago) and I thought it deserved more prominent treatment than usual. Magnificent, isn't he? Mother Jones is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, which means I'm not allowed to endorse candidates for office, but my reading of the law suggests that this applies only to human candidates. So consider this Inkblot's official campaign portrait. That's a face you can trust to get tough with Wall Street, get tough with Ahmadinewhoever, and get especially tough on our nation's growing problem of barking suburban dogs. Inkblot '08!

By the way, if you're in the Orange County area, I'll be on a panel today at UC Irvine that features "conversations among important contemporary bloggers." Unfortunately, Ezra Klein had to cancel, so they got me instead. My session is at 3:45. Details here and here if you want to drop by.

Like a Swiss Watch

LIKE A SWISS WATCH....Let's summarize the past couple of days: (a) Politico reports that La Palin has spent $150,000 on campaign outfits, (b) John McCain's brother calls 911 to complain about a traffic jam and then curses at the operator for telling him to get off the line, (c) the New York Times reports that Palin also spent $30,000 or so on hair and makeup over a period of two weeks, and (d) a white woman who claimed she was attacked by a black Obama supporter admits that the whole thing was a hoax.

But I guess this is no big deal because the McCain campaign was running so smoothly it could afford a few minor glitches like this, right?