Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

No on Prop 32 – Misguided Attempt to Limit Special Interests

November 2, 2012

Prop 32 is titled “Political Contributions by Payroll Deduction. Contributions to Candidates. Initiative Statute.”

The official summary reads:

Prohibits unions from using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes. Applies same use prohibition to payroll deductions, if any, by corporations or government contractors. Prohibits union and corporate contributions to candidates and their committees. Prohibits government contractor contributions to elected officers or their committees.

Prop 32 is the most visible of all the initiatives on the ballot this November. Both sides have put on radio and TV ads, and according to Ballotpedia, the Yes side has raised $59 million and the No side has raised $68 million.

The proposed law is very straightforward. The full text of the law is very concise. It requires employers or unions to get employee permission before deducting money for political purposes. It also bans corporations and unions from contributing to campaigns.

The No on 32 ads are the second most misleading in this election, only behind those opposing Prop 37. They claim that special interests like big banks, Wall Street and Super PACs have written in special exemptions for themselves. Read the full text. These do not exist at all.

Super PACs are an easy target because voters associate them with super-rich political donors. However, they are federal and not state entities. They also cannot be associated with a campaign in any way; they must be independent. They can run ads but cannot have any communication with candidates. So the alleged “loophole” portrayed is because state law has no jurisdiction over Super PACs.

I fully support the laws proposed in Prop 32, but I feel it is really misguided. Even if it passes, big union and corporate money will just pour into Super PACs instead. Politicians in Sacramento will still support those interests. If we want to limit corporate and union interests in Sacramento, we should only elect those into office who have integrity and values and won’t be sold to the highest bidder.

To implement real change, we need to change the people in Sacramento, not the laws governing a broken system. We also need to hold those in Sacramento accountable and make them do their jobs instead of relying on ballot measures for any meaningful legislation.

So while I support the premise behind Prop 32, I personally will be voting NO on it. Prop 32 is an attempt to fix a broken system, but the real fix is to elect politicians with integrity and values who will not sell out to corporate or union interests.

Prop 31 – Unnecessary Budget Rules

November 2, 2012

Prop 31 is titled: State Budget. State and Local Government. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.

The official summary reads:

Establishes two-year state budget. Sets rules for offsetting new expenditures, and Governor budget cuts in fiscal emergencies. Local governments can alter application of laws governing state-funded programs. Fiscal Impact: Decreased state sales tax revenues of $200 million annually, with corresponding increases of funding to local governments. Other, potentially more significant changes in state and local budgets, depending on future decisions by public officials.

Prop 31 addresses many issues, and I don’t think it addresses them very effectively.

First, it seeks to establish a two-year budget cycle instead of an annual budget. I’m not sure how this is supposed to help taxpayers. If Sacramento can’t balance a budget without accounting gimmicks every year, why is changing it to every other year going to help?

Second, it creates rules that for every government program that exceed $25 million, the legislature has to either raise taxes or cut programs in the amount of the new program. While this sounds like a good idea, it could easily backfire. What happens if the state is running a surplus and wants to add a program to help schools? I know, the state of California running a surplus is pretty farfetched, but if it did, the legislature would still have to adopt cuts to offset the new program that could be paid for out of savings.

Third, it gives the Governor power to cut the budget by his or herself during emergencies. Personally, I am very leery of giving this kind of power to any individual. It basically makes the Governor the King of California because we will always be in a state of financial emergency.

Finally, it allows for about $200 million of annual sales tax revenue to be sent directly back to local communities. I really like this part of the Proposition, but not enough to vote for it. $200 million is only 0.14% of our state budget so it will have a negligible impact to the state. But this is a law that the state legislature should just pass. Why does it have to be on a proposition at all? This is further proof that our politicians in Sacramento do absolutely nothing and wait for ballot measures instead of doing their jobs.

This leads me to a perfect segue to my closing argument. Many proponents of Prop 31 say that we can’t trust our lawmakers to balance a budget or manage taxpayer dollars so we need this to pass.

If we can’t trust our politicians, it is our job to vote them out! If we want politicians in Sacramento to balance the budget, we need to elect representatives who will do just that! It makes no sense that we need to pass ballot measures to do something as fundamental as balancing a checkbook.

I recommend voting NO on Prop 31. It adds unnecessary layers to the state budget and will not change anything in Sacramento. There is a need to vote those in Sacramento who are absolutely failing out of office. There is no need for Prop 31.

NO on Prop 30 – An Expensive Bandaid to a Bigger Problem

November 2, 2012

I haven’t posted in a while, but I’ve decided to write a series as a Voter Guide for this year’s election. Mainly this is a way for me to formulate my thoughts on matters. Ballotpedia is a great resource.

The first ballot measure in the 2012 Election in California is Proposition 30. It is a proposed amendment to the California Constitution.

Prop 30 is titled “Temporary Taxes to Fund Education. Guaranteed Local Public Safety Funding. Initiative Constitutional Amendment” and the summary reads:

Increases personal income tax on annual earnings over $250,000 for seven years. Increases sales and use tax by ¼ cent for four years. Allocates temporary tax revenues 89 percent to K-12 schools and 11 percent to community colleges. Bars use of funds for administrative costs, but provides local school governing boards discretion to decide, in open meetings and subject to annual audit, how funds are to be spent. Guarantees funding for public safety services realigned from state to local governments

Governor Jerry Brown says these new taxes will raise an additional $9 billion while other estimates are around $6 billion annually.

Many people in California are against Prop 30 only because it raises taxes. It could leave to wealthy individuals establishing residences in other states to avoid paying higher income taxes and by raising sales taxes, it actually disproportionately hurts lower income families and individuals. But I think that there are bigger issues that need to be addressed.

According to the current budget, California’s state revenue for this year is estimated at $132 billion. California’s state expenditures are estimated at $142 billion. Governor Brown’s revised budget with all the cuts still comes it at $138 billion.

The reason for this proposition is because our state is so dysfunctional that we can’t cut 4.3% of our state budget. You would think that you could find 4.3% somewhere. If you or your family is spending more than it takes in, you have to make sacrifices. You would probably be able to reduce spending by 4.3% fairly easily.

However, rather than trying to make meaningful cuts that could get our state going again, Governor Brown is proposing a couple of new taxes to increase revenues just enough to kick the can down the road a little bit further.

Prop 30 will not solve any of the current problems with California’s finances. It will only allow our politicians in Sacramento to put off any real changes for a few years before they have to come back and ask to raise the sales tax by another 0.25%.

The proponents of Prop 30 say this is saving our schools and it’s worth paying a little more to secure their futures. Having schoolchildren play the victim is a pretty easy card to play. Steven Spielberg even donated $30,000 to the pro-Prop 30 side. If Spielberg cared so much, why didn’t he donate that money directly to schools? Why donate it to a political cause?

I’m all for funding our schools, but I don’t think sending more tax dollars to Sacramento is the way to go. The current thinking in California, and the United States in general, is that we need government to take care of us. If the state or federal government won’t do it, no one will.

I am a much bigger proponent of local money supporting schools. Raise the funds at school district, city or county level. However, this money that we could raise locally will no longer be available because it has already been taxed away to Sacramento. For every dollar Sacramento takes from us in taxes, that is one less dollar we could have spent more efficiently at the local level.

To support schools in poor areas, we could have school districts set up partnerships with other school districts to help those in areas where funding is harder to come by. This would work much better than having bureaucrats in Sacramento arbitrarily dole it out.

Since Prop 30 is merely a band-aid to temporarily stop the bleeding in our state budget, I would strongly recommend voting NO on Prop 30. Rather than giving more money and power to Sacramento, we need to push for real and meaningful cuts to our state budget and open our minds to solve our school funding problems at the local level, where our dollars will be spent much more effectively.

Making Work for ATT

December 29, 2010

At work, we had a phone line through ATT that we didn’t use anymore. We also had a DSL line that we use for our phone system tied to that account. We wanted to cancel the phone line, but keep the DSL line. Sounds pretty simple, right?

Let’s just say it ended up being a lesson in the power of the International Communications Workers Union. When we canceled the phone line, they told us we would have a new account number. Nobody thought anything of it.

Then, the next morning, our phones were dead. I checked the DSL modem, to see if it was that or the phone system itself. The lights on the modem were all dead. Definitely a DSL problem. After calling ATT, we figured out that our new account number meant we had a completely new account. They couldn’t just cancel the phone line and keep the DSL line active. Perhaps this was a quirk in ATT’s system.

They told us that they would be able to turn it on for us in a few hours.   Then we got a call back from another rep saying that since we were in California, they couldn’t just turn it back on.  They had to send someone out to install the line.

We told them that we already had the modem, everything was hooked up, and we just needed the line switched. The answer was no. We had to have someone come out. So we scheduled it between 8 am and noon in a few days.

This was during a time when our office was closed for the Holidays, but I had some work to do so I came in with our IT guy. That morning at 9:30, we got an automated call from ATT saying that our line was now ready to use and we needed to register our account.   So now I came in to wait for an install that wasn’t even going to happen? They also were kind enough to tell us if we were having trouble, they could send someone out for $150.

I was mad, so I got on chat support with ATT. We got the modem activated and were up and running. I asked them why they told us someone had to come out. They said that on their records, no one was ever scheduled. I was dumbfounded.

After all this, an ATT truck pulls up in front of our office. The guy sits there for a minute, then comes in and asks “So you’re all up and running?”

We said that we set it up ourselves. We suspected that there had to be some sort of subcontractor or union agreement behind his visit, so we asked him if he was part of a union. That’s when he told us he was part of the ICW. We asked what he was going to do, and he said “say hi and leave.”

This was one of my first direct experiences with a union “make work” program. There was no need for him to come to our office at all, but the State of California requires him to do so. The union lobbied for these regulations not to ensure that our connection was up and running, but to make sure this person had a job.

Makes you realize why we’re so uncompetitive here in CA and in the US in general…

Hayek and Bailouts

October 5, 2010

I’m in the middle of reading The Road to Serfdom, by FA Hayek.  I’m on a part right now that talks about the role of government and the free market.

People now think that free market supporters want no regulation and financial anarchy.  This is especially true with the criticism of the Tea Party.

However, Hayek claims that laws are necessary and that there are two main points:

1.  The rules have to be predictable and known in advance.

2.  The rules have to be set with no regard of who they will benefit.  A law created to benefit a particular group will create imbalances.

Unfortunately, we actually have not violated rule #1 in our economic system today.  The rules are very predictable, that our government will bail out big corporations at the expense of the individual family.  This is predictable in all the wrong ways.

We have violated rule #2 and you would be hard pressed to find any legislation that does not seek to help one particular group.  The healthcare laws are supposed to help the uninsured.  The financial overhaul is supposed to benefit the consumer.  While the laws are well meaning, we know that they will not work because business will exploit the laws that they lobbied for in their favor.

As I read more of The Road to Serfdom, I’ll keep posting my thoughts.  It is not a very easy read (Hayek’s sentences last forever!) but the ideas that he was expressing in the 1940’s are as true today as they have ever been.

TARP Success?

October 5, 2010

Today, the Treasury Department declared that the government will only lose $29 billion from the TARP program.  This is being hailed as a huge success and that we saved the financial system and the economy, preventing a second Great Depression and barely losing any money.

I have some big problems with these statements.  First of all, most of the big banks that were infused with cash paid back that money within a year of the program starting.  How can a bank go from about to collapse to financially stable so quickly?

Think about Goldman, it received $10 billion from the government.  If they just took that money and invested it for a year in 3% government bonds, that’s $300 million!  Citi and Bank of America got $20 billion each.  That could turn to $600 million of pure profit.

Did the big financial institutions create a sense of panic, in order to get the government to step in and “save” them by taking over all their bad debts?  Did they know that this panic would lead the government create a web of regulations that stifles future competition?  Anytime banks and government come together, I have a feeling the banks are going to win.

Also, where did this money come from anyway?  We created $700 billion out of thin air, gave it to banks to earn interest on, took on their bad loans, and then they gave it back to the Treasury.   Will the government now put that money to rest?  Or will it eventually make it back into the economy.

And finally, $33 billion is still a lot of money.  We have just become desensitized to the number because we saw the $750 billion stimulus package and the $700 billion bailout.  $33 billion just seems like a drop in the bucket.

While the government claims the success of TARP, I find it hard to believe that it saved our economy and that the true cost was really that low.  We’re still mired in a stalled economy and the bad debt is still out there and has not been liquidated.  And with all the success of this bailout, business now knows that future bailouts will be sure to follow, allowing them to take more foolish risks and setting us up for even bigger failure.

My View of a Green America

July 8, 2009

With all the talk of “cap and trade” and the new green industries, I thought it was time to really look at a vision of a truly “green” America, not one manufactured by political parties and big business.

First, just think about how we get electricity.  It is produced by a coal power plant, transmitted hundreds of miles, and then to our homes.  It has been this way for a century.  Most of the power we generate is wasted though, because we have no efficient way to store the excess electricity.  Is this a product of a lack of science?  No.  It is because of a lack of innovation because utilities are politically insulated companies, granted monopoly rights by our governments.

You would think, by now, every home would be fitted with solar panels that could generate more than enough electricity for the house.  You would also believe that each house would be equipped with some sort of device, be it a flywheel or another invention, that could store power generated during the day to be used at night.

Then, we could all drive plug-in hybrid cars, cutting our gas consumption to a small fraction, and using the power generated by our homes to charge the cars.

Why haven’t we gotten to this point yet?  Because as consumers, we have no choice.  We have to buy our power from our local utility.  If you even mention power deregulation, everyone always brings up the California fiasco.  However, the reason it failed is because they deregulated everything except the end user.  We were still stuck buying power from the monopolies, no matter how much they manipulated the price.  And who can blame them?  If you had a captive audience, wouldn’t you charge as much as you could?

Imagine if there was competition for supplying power.  You could buy from a solar provider, hydroelectric, nuclear, or if you wanted to save a few bucks, coal.  If we had the choice, I think a lot of people would sacrifice a few dollars a month to buy from a cleaner source.  Rather than having the government subsidize the coal plants, we would put them out of business because we want a cleaner solution.  This would cause for innovation from the coal companies to find a better way to burn the fuel.

Government restrictions and a horrible cap and trade policy cannot and will not help the environment one bit.  It will just generate revenues for the government and their partner utility companies, while charging the consumer more, and allowing the utilities to keep polluting.

In India, companies claim that they can capture carbon in huge underground tunnels.  They can then print out carbon certificates at will, and sell them on the cap and trade market.  Utility companies can buy these certificates and not have to change their ways at all, while this bogus company makes millions.

We need to be able to hold companies accountable, and if it is proven that a utility’s pollution is harming people, they need to be held accountable.  We can have the Supreme Court giving them a free pass to pollute all they want.  That’s not helping anyone.

It’s not about global warming or climate change either.  It is about creating the most efficient and cost effective source of power we can make, while polluting and wasting less.  We need innovation in the way we produce power and the only way that will happen is ending government/utility partnerships, allowing consumer choice, and letting the markets work.  Cap and Trade or any other government sponsored method will only hurt the environment and the consumers, while making the utility companies and the government itself handsome profits.

Obama Will Now Protect Us in Cyberspace, Too

May 29, 2009

President Obama can do it all.  He can fix the nation’s economy, bailout banks, prearrange bankruptcies for the automakers, and now he can protect us all from “cyberattacks” and the “epidemic of cybercrime.”  He is going to create a “cyberspace czar” to make sure we are all safe.  I say this is more needless government intervention that will not help anything at all, and will lead to a huge waste in taxpayer dollars.

All you have to do is look at the FDA and SEC.  These are two government agencies that are supposed to protect us who fail miserably.

The FDA is supposed to “keep our food safe” but they are always reacting too late.  With the last peanut salmonella scare, they forced the company in Georgia to issue a recall.  If they were supposed to be monitoring our food, shouldn’t they have caught that?  Only after people got sick did they react, and then it took a long time for them to track it back to the plant in Georgia.  What did they do to protect us?

The same goes for the SEC, who are supposed to protect investors from fraud and unethical business practices.  They had information on Bernie Madoff, that basically outlined the entire ponzi scheme, but they chose to ignore it.  They also were way behind on the Enron case, and definitely were absent when dot com companies were defrauding investors left and right.  What protecting did they do?  They talk tough about regulation and oversight, but then they miss a $64 billion ponzi scheme right under their nose.

Now the “cybersecurity czar” is supposed to protect us?  What a joke.  The last president didn’t even use email but now the White House is up to being able to monitor cybercrime?

First of all, most “cybercrime” is fraud that just happens to use the internet.  Check cashing scams and the “long lost relative in Nigeria” scams could happen anywhere.  Also, phishing schemes rely on user error, not hackers.  Unless the White House monitors every email and every click we make, they will not be able to protect the victims of these crimes.

Also, wouldn’t it make sense to leave this task up to the professionals?  There are multimillion dollar companies like Symantec, McAfee and Norton that already patrol cyberspace.  They keep our computers safe and secure.  They have the best people and are on the leading edge of the field.  What good is the government going to do competing against or marginalizing these companies?

When the government recruits their staff, they will lure workers away from these companies with high salaries, paid for by taxpayers.  This will lead to an artificial rise in the cost of labor because government is distorting the price.  This will only hurt the private companies who need to make money to survive.  Since the government can just keep printing money, they can be allowed to misallocate resources in this manner.

Instead of a czar, we need education so people know to update their computers and their virus software.  If they did not go to the phishing sites or be duped into a scheme, we’d be better off.  By creating the czar, we are saying the problems are too big to be solved and that they are just a fact of life, so we need to regulate them.  This is band-aid government at it’s best and it will just lead to a bigger waste of taxpayer money, and no benefit to society as a whole.

Obama’s Misguided Fuel Efficiency Policy

May 19, 2009

Today, President Obama announced his goal to increase fuel efficiency standards in our cars to an average of 35.5 gallons by 2016.  What he didn’t say is that he is going to keep using the horrible and unfair CAFE fuel efficiency standards and how this is going to absolutely kill the American automakers.  His policies are straight out of a “Politics 101” textbook.  They are so naive and idealistic and he does not realize that there are unintended consequences of his policies.

I’m not an expert on fuel efficiency and the auto industry, but a quick search on wikipedia for “CAFE Fuel Standards” was all I needed.  A little research showed me how the rules and regulations are broken.  Instead of addressing the root of the problem with our auto industry and efficiency standards, our President just reaches for pie in the sky goals with no regard for the blowback of his actions.

As I wrote before, the problem with the Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) standards is that they measure the harmonic mean of all the cars sold domestically by automakers.  Since the domestic automakers sell mostly trucks, they then have to sell – not just produce – an equal amount of crappy, fuel efficient cars that no one wants to buy in order to meet the standard.  They end up having to sell these at huge discounts or even at a loss to rental car agencies.  The Big Three lose money on every compact car they make because of labor and union costs, but make money on every truck and SUV they sell.  The importers from Asia and Europe sell mostly compact cars, so they are at an advantage.  They build these cars using the same US labor, but they are not burdened with the labor costs the US automakers are strapped with.   They can meet the fuel standards and be profitable at the same time.

On a side note, we know that US labor costs are not going to go down either.   The United Auto Workers are now majority owners in Chrysler, and will probably come out the same with GM.  With a partnership of labor and the government running the company, how can we expect labor costs to decrease?  Instead, they will continue to increase, and the taxpayers will keep giving them more money to prop them up.

But back to fuel efficiency.  I believe that we need more efficient cars, and we are already on our way there.  Hybrids are all the rage, and the automakers can’t keep up with the demand.  But are hybrids really green?  Massive amounts of energy go into producing the electric batteries they use.  I won’t get into that debate here, but the consumer demand for more efficient cars is very, very strong.

Why not just let the consumer and the market dictate fuel efficiency?  Why do we need laws created by bureaucrats to overregulate the industry?  Look at how competitive and innovative trucks have become in the last year or so.  As gas prices skyrocketed, consumers wanted fuel efficiency.  Toyota came out marketing their Tundra aggressively, and Ford, Chevy and Dodge responded.  All of the commercials touting features and miles per gallon were a testament that the market works and if consumers demand something, the automakers will listen.  It was capitalism and the free markets at their finest!

But why punish our auto industry for making the best trucks?  Even if they get a truck that can average 30 MPG by 2016, they will have sell an equal amount of compact cars that average 40 MPG to meet the tougher standard.  Or, if they can only get 25 MPG out of the truck, they will have to sell even more 40 MPG compacts.  The smaller cars are money losers for the US auto makers, so we are forcing them to make an unprofitable product.  What kind of business can succeed with that kind of regulation placed on them?

If we were to measure anything, we should measure how much progress is being made by a manufacturer for that particular make and model.  If the auto makers make a truck 250% more efficient than last year’s model, they should be rewarded.  If they can’t make money producing small compact cars, don’t force them to make them.  Let the imports fill that market and let the US automakers focus on making their breadwinners, the trucks and SUVs better.

The bottom line is that consumers are already demanding more efficient vehicles.  Let that demand drive what is produced and sold in the US.  Don’t regulate for the sake of regulating and sign the death sentence for the US auto industry.  We need real changes in the policies of our country, not more well intentioned but horribly executed Politics 101, pipe-dream nonsense from our leaders in Washington.

The GOP Needs to Embrace Ron Paul

May 18, 2009

Lately, I’ve been reading articles about the state of dissarray the Republican Party is in, and how there is a leadership void in the party.  The Republican National Committee Chairman, Michael Steele, says he’s the leader.  Rush Limbaugh wants to be the voice of the party.  Ex-Vice President Dick Cheney is going on every talk show he can trying to further push the George Bush Neo-Conservative agenda.  The Democrats have seized on this opportunity and have poked and prodded the GOP into making rash statements and decisions, further pushing them into a hole.

The funny thing, is that the Republican Party has a leader, with millions of followers, but they don’t want to acknowledge him.  The person is Ron Paul, and whether the rest of the GOP likes it or not, he is the true leader of the conservative, constitutionalist, Republican movement.  He understands the issues facing the country, and can back up what he says with his record.

All you have to do is look at all of the talk shows Dr. Paul has been making appearances on lately.  He is the only member of the GOP that is regularly on Fox, CNBC, MSNBC, and CNN.  He also set fundraising records during his Presidential campaign during the Republican primaries.  Plus, he won an NCAA basketball style bracket of GOP contenders on NPR.com by way of the votes of visitors on the site.

With the Democrats and Republicans growing closer together, with only a few billion dollars spending here or there between them, the GOP needs to separate itself and really stand up for the small government our founding fathers envisioned, and the freedom and liberty of all citizens.  With Ron Paul as the head of the GOP, we could get this country back on the right track and back to the way it is supposed to be.  If we keep down the current path, we will see less prosperity, less freedom, and more pain for the American people.  There is an answer to our problems, and the Republicans need to wake up and embrace him.