Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Nov. 2008 California proposition recommendations

Official results. Results below, in purple.

Abortions, high-speed trains, gay marriage, renewable energy and chicken cages. It could only be another California ballot.

Prop. 1A. The, and I quote, “Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act.” Which are safe, reliable and high-speed – the passengers, the trains, the bonds, or the act?

Look, I like safe, reliable, high-speed passengers as much as the next person, and choo-choos are nice too, but I object to all bonds as a method of funding state projects, 1) on pragmatic grounds: they’re an expensive form of finance, with almost as much going to interest, which is just money flushed down the toilet, as is spent on anything productive, 2) on fairness grounds: they’re regressive, giving undeserved tax deductions to bond purchasers, 3) on principled, democratic grounds: they place tax obligations on the future generations that have to pay them off, which amounts to taxation without representation.

Beyond that, the money would be spent mostly or entirely on purely preliminary work on a bunch of projects, most of which will never be built – a high-speed train from Merced to Stockton to San Francisco? I don’t think so. Most of the list is bait and switch, just there to attract voters in those areas. At best, 1A would provide seed money for a possible LA-SF train that would require a lot more money and federal backing to have any chance of becoming a reality. No on 1A.

Yes, 52%.

Prop. 2. For better treatment of farm animals (until we kill them and eat them, anyway), mostly in the form of improved housing. Yes.

Yes, 63%. Californians love their chickens.

Prop. 3. Children’s hospital bonds. See 1A for my argument against any bond act. In addition, there seems to be an excess of micro-management here, such as naming diseases that the hospitals should be focused on. Like 99% of voters, I lack the medical expertise to decide which diseases should be prioritized now, and no one can predict what the situation will be 5 or 10 or 15 years from now. I’m also not sure whether children’s health in this state is best served by focusing funding on a small number of children’s hospitals (some of which are private hospitals). No.
Yes, 55%. Californians are, well, okay with their children.

Prop. 4. Parental notification of abortion for minors, and a 48-hour waiting period.

Speaking of waiting periods, we voted down this exact measure in 2006 and 2005. I’d be against this anyway: parents should no more be able to force their daughters to carry a pregnancy to term than to force them to abort against their will. But this version also has problems with the way the judicial-bypass alternative is set up: it can take so long that parental notification might become, well, redundant; and if there is any sort of abuse, including “emotional abuse,” the girl must make a written statement (is this really the time to be giving her homework?), which will be passed on to the cops or Protective Services, a provision which seems less about protecting abused pregnant minors than it is a “nuclear option” designed to raise the stakes for girls opting for abortion.

The supporters of Prop. 4 have revamped their argument this time around. In 2005 and 2006, identical ballot arguments made clear their hostility to promiscuous little trollops: “When parents are involved and minors cannot anticipate secret access to free abortions they more often avoid the reckless behavior which leads to pregnancies.” Because that didn’t work, this time around they’re claiming to be concerned primarily with protecting the young Junos from sexual predators who impregnate them and then drag them off to abortion clinics. They claim, without any proof or logic, that “These laws reduce teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, without danger or harm to minors,” they claim that law enforcement supports this initiative, and they keep repeating the phrase “secret abortions,” as opposed to abortions carried out in the food court at the local mall, I suppose.

This is dangerous and stupid, and should be defeated by a large enough majority that we don’t have to see it again in 2010. No.

No, 52%, not as large as I'd have liked.

Prop. 5. More drug addiction treatment, including for prisoners, less imprisonment for non-violent drug offenders, decriminalization of marijuana possession. Yes, why don’t we try something that’s cheaper and more likely to succeed than what we’ve been doing?

No, 60%. Californians love their prisons.

Prop. 6. Spending minimums for criminal justice programs; more jail time for certain crimes.

The spending part is more micromanaging of the budget, which is supposed to be the Legislature’s job (yeah I know, I know, but just because they haven’t been doing it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be doing it). Nor should we be setting in stone how the budget should be allocated in the future. We don’t know what future needs will be, and it’s undemocratic to take decisions, especially budgetary decisions, out of the hands of our elected representatives in the future. No taxation without representation and all that.

The increased penalties are draconian, sometimes ridiculously, like life imprisonment for gang members who threaten witnesses or break into homes,. Plus a new crime of failing to register with the police as a gang member. And increased sentences (as much as ten years) for various crimes if performed by gang members. Presumably the police get to decide who is a gang member, which is a lot of power for them to abuse. Juvenile gang members to be tried in adult courts; increased use of hearsay evidence in court; cracking down on graffiti; you name it, really, the list goes on and on.

Mean-spirited, reactionary, self-defeating, stupid, and I can’t even imagine how much it would cost to implement. No.

No, 69%. Funny: mean-spirited, reactionary, self-defeating, stupid law 'n order measures usually do better than this.

Prop. 7. Requires power companies to increase the amount of energy derived from renewable energy sources.

Gosh, a proposition that requires us to be experts on both the science of cutting-edge renewable-energy technologies and the economics of the electricity market. Fortunately, the legislative analyst is there to help: “The PUC has set the amount of the penalties at 5 cents per kilowatt hour by which the IOU or ESP falls short of its RPS target...” Thanks for clearing that up, Mr. or Ms. Legislative Analyst.

Of course we don’t have the expertise to decide on this, so the authors of 7 blizzard us with details and hope we’ll just assume that anything environmental-sounding must be good. Now, I’m all for renewable energy, but I don’t trust that Prop 7 is the way to achieve it. I don’t know if the targets it sets make sense. I don’t like Californians taking the financial hit alone (the claim of supporters that it would increase electric bills by no more than 3% per year is just a claim; it’s not actually in the initiative anywhere) for an issue that should be addressed at the national level. I’m not sure why the authority to set rates would shift from the PUC to the Energy Commission, or the reason for the insistence that contracts be for more than 20 years when technological innovations might change the situation completely. This sort of massive transformation needs to be overseen and tweaked as needed, not set in stone. And smaller power generators, especially solar, do seem to be locked out completely for no good reason.

This seems like the wrong means to a commendable end. No.

No, 65%, with all the environmental groups joining the energy companies in opposition.

Prop. 8. “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”

Excuse me for the pedantry, but I just have to criticize the grammar. For a start, as written, it says that “marriage between a man and a woman” is literally the only thing at all, of the myriad of things under the sun, which will be valid or recognized (the sun won’t be valid or recognized either). That’s an interesting epistemological statement, although not perhaps one best argued in a voter pamphlet. The bad grammar results from the authors being unwilling to acknowledge the existence of gay people, much less to use the sacred word “marriage” to describe the relationship between gay people, leaving them unable to name the thing that they wish to ban. “Only marriages between a man and a woman, and not Abominations Unto the Lord, are valid and recognized in the God-Fearing State of California” might sound a little, I don’t know, unkind.

I don’t think I need to make an elaborate argument here; you probably know what you think. But remember, this is about policy, not your personal comfort zone. It doesn’t matter whether gay marriage makes you uncomfortable any more than whether you think Bristol Palin is marrying the high school dropout who knocked her up for all the wrong reasons and it’ll never work out. It’s the state’s job to register marriages, not judge them. And it is, or should be, the function of the state constitution to entrench rights, not discrimination.No.

Yes, 52.5%. Californians love their gays, but not in, you know, that way. The way that gives them equal rights, that is.

Prop. 9. Increases the role of crime victims in parole and bail decisions. Other provisions would interfere with the right to a fair trial, such as giving victims the ability to prevent the defense receiving certain information about them. Yet other details are designed to disadvantage people in relation to the state, such as removing the right to counsel in parole-revocation hearings. Time between parole hearings would be greatly increased. And there’s something about “finality” in criminal proceedings; I’ve read the initiative’s text and I still have no idea what if anything is meant by that.

Victims of crime already have the “rights” to be informed of parole hearings and speak at them. Those parts of Prop. 9 are redundant, window dressing to obscure the new provisions, which are all aimed at reducing the rights of defendants and prisoners and making the criminal justice system an instrument of personal vengeance rather than public order and rehabilitation. No.

Yes, 53.5%. I'm hoping some of this gets thrown out in court.

Prop. 10. Bonds for alternative fuels and cars run by alternative fuels, mostly in the form of rebates, with a bit of solar and wind thrown in.

I oppose this one because it is funded by bonds (see Prop. 1A above), but also because I don’t think rebates are what will got more alternative-fuel-powered cars on the road, since even $5,000 won’t begin to make them competitive (and there’s nothing to stop manufacturers and dealers raising prices and pocketing the money themselves). And as it happens, most of the money wouldn’t go to cars but to trucks, run on natural gas, which isn’t the most eco-friendly fuel either. In other words, Prop. 10, backed by T. Boone Pickens, would fund the wrong solutions, and subsidize his business interests. No.

No, 60%.

Prop. 11. Redistricting. Again!

These little schemes are always like one of those complicated board games where by the time you’ve read through all the rules, everyone’s cranky and no one wants to play it anymore. Redistricting for the US Congress would remain as now, except that the Legislature would be asked to take into account “communities of interest,” whatever that means (the prop. doesn’t say!). For the Legislature, there would be a citizens’ commission. Anybody who hasn’t held office, been a lobbyist or contributed lots of money to a candidate in the last ten years, or changed their party registration in the past five, could apply to join, although I have no idea who would. Then, three faceless state bureaucrats narrow the applicants down to 60 based on their intelligence and “appreciation of California’s diversity,” whatever that might mean; then leaders of the Legislature would strike out 24; then 8 names would be drawn out of a hat and those 8 would pick 6 more. In total, they would have to be 5 Dems, 5 Reps, and 4 small party or non-party. Which presumably means that if those 8 chosen at random happened to include, say, 5 Democrats, a Green and 2 non-party, they would get to choose the Republican members. And hilarity ensues. To be approved, a plan would require 9 votes, including 3 R’s, 3 D’s and 3 others.

Even if I had any confidence that a group of people so chosen could produce a fair electoral map, and agree on it, which I don’t, I’d still have a major problem with it: by insisting that panel members’ primary qualification should be their party affiliation, this measure enshrines the two parties at the heart of the redistricting process, thereby doing exactly what the current system is rightly criticized for doing, protecting the interests of the two-party establishment and trying to pre-determine the outcomes of elections. But the Republican and Democratic parties are not branches of government or established religions, so they should not be officially entrenched in the constitution. If the measure instead called for the commission to have set numbers of Methodists, Catholics and Episcopalians, or whites, blacks and Hispanics, there would be outrage. So why should party be privileged? And as party identification continues to decline in this state, with fewer people voting the straight party ticket and only 77% registered as R’s or D’s, there is less and less justification for institutionalizing the two parties. No.

Yes, 50.6%.

Prop. 12. Bonds for loans to veterans to buy homes. Most of my objections to bonds don’t apply here, since the veterans will be the ones paying off the bonds and the interest. So you can vote for it if you like.

Yes, 63.5%.

Comments and rebuttals are welcome; sarcastic remarks about Californian participatory democracy are... probably inevitable.

(UPDATE: for well thought-out recommendations by people who mostly agree with me, see Kevin Drum, whose argument that Prop. 5 is not well-drafted and should not be set in stone in case in case it works out badly in practice is fairly convincing, enough so that I will probably flip-flop on this one several times between now and election day; the SF Bay Guardian; and Greenboy at Needlenose, whose recommendations have the virtue of coming in limerick form.)

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