Thursday, October 30, 2008

It's Frustrating

Seemingly rational people will natter for hours about our dependence on foreign oil as the root of (nearly) all evil while Exxon Mobil breaks another earnings record in the third quarter just ended. The problem isn't the nationality of the oil, it's that Big Oil doesn't give a rat's ass about America or any other country and we all just line up for it: "Please, sir, might I have another."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

It's Not That There Aren't Any Appropriate Bond Issues

Proposition 12 on the California ballot is to fund the CalVet home loan program, and it appears about every other year if memory serves. According to the legislative analyst, since 1921 "the CalVet program has been totally supported by the participating veterans at no direct cost to the taxpayer." I'm willing to bet on the vets.

Proposition 3 is a little bit trickier, but not a lot. Prop 3 asks for $280 Million to fund children's hospitals throughout the state. 20% of the money would go to the five hospitals within the University of California system while 80% would be made available to as many as eight hospitals such as Children's Hospital Los Angeles and Children's Hospital of Orange County. Purists argue that using bond money to support non-government hospitals is wrong and I understand that argument while disagreeing with it. These are California public-benefit corporations such as the Lucille Salter Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford doing cutting-edge work and, to the extent that their legitimate funding needs cannot be met by payments from patients and insurers, they are worthy of our support.

We need to keep faith with our children's hospitals and our veterans. They've earned that.

Monday, October 27, 2008

What Happens When People Like Me Get Pissed and Write Laws

Have you ever wondered what draws a person to becoming a sheriff or district attorney? I understand someone wanting to get into law enforcement, wanting to serve and protect their community from criminals, but at what point does one start to see it as a stepping stone to power? And crime victims; who can't empathize with what they must be going through, but some people just get through it and try to get on with their lives while others become crusaders like John Walsh and some become crusaders for some really bad laws. Hook a crime victims group up with a DA and a sheriff and you get things like Propositions 6 and 9.

Bear in mind that California already has an unfunded deficit (this year) of $15 Billion. Without identifying any source of funding, Proposition 6 calls for a billion dollars of additional funding for criminal justice programs, increased jail time for certain offenses, and increased parole costs. Did I mention that California is already under a federal court order to expand its prison system, because the funding for that isn't in here. No new street cops either.

Proposition 9 calls for... well, basically it calls for enforcement and expansion of Proposition 8, "Victims' Bill of Rights" from the 1982 election, restricts early release of inmates, and changes the rules for granting and revoking parole. It prioritizes restitution to victims above any other fines or obligations a criminal might owe, and that's pretty straightforward. It also expands notification to victims of the release of persons prior to trial and, although suspects are presumed innocent until they are convicted, I can see the sense of that. I'm reasonably sure that exempting the victim from providing material for discovery is a Constitutional problem, but it's 2008 and I could be wrong about that.

Prop 9 requires that the Legislature and counties fully fund prisons and jails so that prisoners don't have to be released early to comply with the Federal Court orders. It would also require lifer convicts to wait at least 3 years between parole hearings and give victims' families 90 days notice instead of 30 days notice and a rehearing every year. Once again wading into Constitutional issues, it also seeks to extend the length of time (mandated by federal court order) we can keep a parolee locked up on a parole violation before giving him a probable cause hearing and a revocation hearing.

Prop 6 does address the craziness of releasing undocumented aliens on low bail or their own recognizance. If you don't see the hole in that theory then we should talk about a multi-level marketing opportunity I know of.

There are good reasons why people like me aren't encouraged to write laws - and I'm not under the stress of being a victim of a violent crime. DAs and sheriffs should know better than to take advantage of them, but then they are what they are.

We're $15 Billion in the hole this year and things ain't looking good on the horizon for an early recovery. We're already under court orders to deal with prison and jail overcrowding and health care for prisoners, and then there are those pesky street cops and firefighters and health care providers and educators and... Do you get where I'm going with this? When you factor in the inevitable legal challenges, I think we should just work toward real enforcement of existing law and see how that works for a year or two.

Just This Once I Hope Lindsey Graham is Right

Senator Graham is supposed to have said that Gen. Powell "was never truly a Republican." I, of course, have been a more than a little pissed at the general since he participated in fabricating and selling the pretext for the war in Iraq, but if he truly did not give his soul over to the forces of darkness that would be reassuring that he was ever a good person.

I always marvel at the convoluted logic of the neo-fascist. We have a trillion dollar debt on the year, and Graham accuses Obama (and, by extension, Powell) of supporting "increased spending." We are ten digits into negative numbers! How delusional are these people?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Questions of Rights and Wrongs

There are three propositions on the California ballot that, to my mind, deal with what is right and what is wrong.

Proposition 2 deals with (institutional) cruelty to animals, and whether or not economic expediency justifies it. It's interesting to me that the argument in opposition to it centers on egg production and I suspect that's (at least partly) because (almost) everybody likes eggs and (almost) nobody likes chickens, but it includes calves raised for veal, and pregnant pigs as well as egg-laying hens. The prospective standard is that these animals must be confined only in ways that allow them to lie down, stand up, stretch their limbs and turn around. Exceptions are made for transportation, rodeos (!?!), fairs (although the pens at county fairs I've been to exceed these standards), 4H programs (!?!), slaughter, research and veterinary purposes.
The poultry industry argues that if this passes then all eggs will have to be trucked in from Mexico because this is an impossible standard for them to meet, and then we'll all die from salmonella (Mexican salmonella in contrast to the California salmonella that affected the folks around here early this month). They contend that California birds are much healthier and happier in their 8 inch by 8 inch cages (only slightly less plausible than the "happy cows" ad campaign).

Proposition 4 is on the ballot again to require notification of a pregnant unemancipated minor's parents 48 hours before an abortion. I write about this before every election because it gets put on the ballot for every election. To soften the blow this time, they don't seek parental consent - only notification; but it's interesting to me that the measure speaks of a pregnant unemancipated minor. I'm not a lawyer, but I'm reasonably sure that California law still recognizes pregnant minors as emancipated with respect to their pregnancies which would leave California physicians liable for their breach of the doctor-patient privilege in complying.

Proposition 8, of course, is the measure seeking to override the equal protection clause of the California Constitution and ban same-sex couples from marrying. I've written about this enough, and there have been plenty of rulings against "separate but equal" to bolster the argument against it. Someone give me an argument that doesn't begin with "It says in the Bible..." and we can talk.

Friday, October 24, 2008

You Want $10 Billion for a What!?!

A high speed rail system to connect Sacramento/San Francisco to Los Angeles. No, seriously.

California has a $15 Billion budget deficit, and Proposition 1 on the November 4th ballot asks for the credit card to make a down payment on a $40 Billion high-speed rail system. I don't know very much about very much, but when I first heard this without numbers the first thing that popped into my head was "how many people are queuing up for a better way to commute from San Francisco to LA... apart from the Governor?" People in Northern Califonria and people in Southern California don't even like each other, much less visit that much.

I've seen the traffic in San Francisco and I live with the traffic in the LA metroplex, and if we're going to borrow $10 Billion to improve the commute I think we can do better than giving some guy $10 Billion in walking-around money so he can try to raise the other $30 Billion from the Feds and private investors to try to put in a bullet train between here to there. In fact, this might not be the best year ever for trying to raise $30 Billion from the Feds and private investors because, you know, the global economy is in the tank.

Proposition 10 almost seems rational by comparison. Proposition 10 only asks to borrow $5 Billion; $3.5 Billion to help businesses convert their gasoline powered vehicle fleets to vehicles powered by natural gas, and the rest for research into other alternative energy sources.

Why has T. Boone Pickens picked up the check for this campaign? It might have nothing to do with the fact that he sells natural gas for vehicles, but that's not what got my goat in the first place; what got my goat in the first place was the idea of paying people with borrowed money to make good business decisions. Oil is more expensive than natural gas; how much more incentive do they need to find alternatives? How many of these commercial fleets are even going to be in business next year?

Proposition 10 is only half as expensive as Proposition 1 and it is entirely possible that additional natural gas powered vehicles would get onto California roads in my lifetime (unlike that bullet train), but why in the hell are we thinking about borrowing $15 Billion (another $15 Billion) for either of these projects? Aside from the (lack of) merits of either proposition, $10 Billion isn't going to get that train in, and Pickens already has $3.5 Billion - let him pay incentives.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Connectivity or the lack thereof

Campaign season and I haven't been able to post... but it looks like I might have put that issue to rest for the moment, and I hope to be able to run through the California ballot propositions. Of course, I'm primarily interested in seeing Obama elected, but California politics has this surreal quality that, after 38 years here, still makes absolutely no sense to me.

How did the global economy get into this condition? Well, in California we're running huge deficits, but there are still things we need (and even more things we want) so we've put up a bunch of pork barrel projects to be funded with bond issues because by the time the bonds mature we'll have the money to pay them, right? Right?

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

More Thoughts on the Bailout

I've been thinking about this bailout thing quite a bit and, although I'm probably no smarter than I was when I started, I'm pretty sure I'm against it.

For one thing, I admit it, I seriously don't like ultimatums. I've always felt that once the ultimatums started then sooner or later we were going to get to "or else" and so we might as well get on with it.

For another thing, I don't believe the doomsayers. Bankers bank. I don't believe for a second that the finance industry is suddenly going to start burying their billions in their back yards; they're going to invest it - perhaps more wisely but that's not a bad thing. Life will go on and the economy will rebuild on a sound fiscal footing instead of the Potemkin villages we've been putting our savings into.

The finance industry might very well wind up having to write off a trillion dollars in bad loans they never should have made in the first place, but that's what happens when you make bad loans. My 401 may turn into Monopoly money until stocks recover, but that's what I get for letting boneheads hold my retirement nest egg with no oversight. If we give these people, for instance the former CEO of Goldman Sachs who didn't see a trillion dollar loss coming while he was there up until a few months ago, $700 Billion to cover their current bad debt ceteris paribus why are they not going to just run up another $700 Billion in bad debt?

Threats irritate the crap out of me, and I don't want to embark on the rest of my life waiting for the other shoe to drop. Let's call in the markers and get this over with once and for all; and let's do what's necessary to prevent this from happening in the future.