Sunday, September 03, 2006

Modest Proposals 

Since the various PACs and factions and so on have been screaming about their pet causes for a couple of weeks now, I thought I'd jump into the fray and offer my comments on California's upcoming Propositions in the November election -- and even as I type this, yet another anti-proposition commercial comes on the air. Summaries below are from the California Legislative Analyst's Office; the presumably non-biased, non-partisan digest of the content of the proposal.

Proposition 83: Sex Offenders
This proposal would increase penalties for sex offenses, require GPS devices for registered sex offenders, limit where registered sex offenders may live, and generally make more sex offenders eligible for commitment as sexually violent predators.
Ah yes. “Sex offenders.” Welcome to Salem, 2006. While I think there’s some validity to the equivalent of a scarlet letter on some sex offenders – rapists and child molesters – I also think that far too many people who don’t deserve it are being tagged with the label. When you can be branded a sex offender for life because someone saw your penis while you were peeing in an alley, the system has gone way too far.

If the tag strictly applied to those who tried to force themselves sexually on another person or to force another person to perform sexually, then yeah, I think we could make a case for creating mini-gulags. Otherwise, this is an idea with about one half an iota of nobility to it. The rest of it is panicked soccer mom NIMBY thinking.

In theory, I guess they’d all have to live somewhere. In practice, it would turn into one of two things. Either, a) Nobody volunteers to house them, or b) Inner-city slumlords take enormous bribes from the government – inner-city children and women be damned. But you know that none of the people so proscribed are going to wind up within twenty miles of rich white people.

The hell of it is, if our society didn’t have such fucked up ideas about sex and drugs, 99% of harmful sex offenders could be cured and neutralized without resorting to any kind of castration. Speaking of which, why did no one complain that California’s law to chemically or otherwise castrate habitual sex offenders is patently sexist? I mean, no one has ever suggested yanking the ovaries out of any of the (admittedly few) a female sex offenders.

Which I think gets us back to the point. “Sex offender” is a label like “deadbeat dad.” Easy to toss onto someone with or without proof, impossible to remove. It’s the indelible ink of the professional victim class.

But back to treatment. Once upon a time, psychiatrists discovered that they could completely reprogram a person’s paraphilia, and channel it into something else. Given the proper drugs and treatment, they could turn an unrepentant child molester’s attentions away from children forever, and focus them one something innocuous, like a fluffy pink slipper. Unfortunately, the miracle drug that led to such results is called LSD, and this country has had its head up their ass about it for forty years. Now pass the Xanax, a couple of Vicodin, and better toss in a Prilosec, ‘cause that shit’s gonna give me heartburn.

Anyway... this is a proposition that might be well-intentioned in theory, but which will cause more problems, scapegoating and heartache than it intends. There must be a better solution than this, so don’t fall for the “for the children” bullshit, because this proposal isn’t for the children. It’s to make all the whiny-ass tofu munchers who’ve never faced any danger in their lives feel safer from the big evil boogie men.

Proposition 84: Water Quality, Safety and Supply (Bond Initiative)
This initiative allows the state to sell $5.4 billion in general obligation bonds for safe drinking water, water quality, and water supply; flood control; natural resource protection; and park improvements.
I have a simple rule when it comes to bond issues in California. Just Say No! This state already owes enough on outstanding bonds, and far too much of the money raised by those bonds never went to the place intended. Safe drinking water? How about leaning on the water companies instead of adding further debt to the property owners? Note also that this proposition veers into the “more than one issue” zone. Park improvements would seem to be a different area than safe drinking water – which probably means that all this money won’t be coming back out of your faucet, but will pay for badly designed, over priced drinking fountains in parks no one ever goes to anyway.

At least California has gotten better on the kneejerk passage of every single bond issue to be proposed. It got so bad a few years ago that I used to joke, “If you put a bond issue on the ballot to raise money to send every African American on a one-way trip to Liberia, Californians would just see the word ‘bond’ and be stupid enough to pass it.” That’s finally starting to change, and I think people are finally figuring it out. Passing bonds in a state that’s already so indebted is like giving the unemployed single mother of four a new credit card with a ten thousand dollar balance every month. Only bad can happen, but not to the credit card company...

Proposition 85: Waiting Period and Parental Notification Before Termination of Minor's Pregnancy
This proposition amends the California Constitution to require, with certain exceptions, a physician (or his or her representative) to notify the parent or legal guardian of a pregnant minor at least 48 hours before performing an abortion involving that minor. (This measure does not require a physician or a minor to obtain the consent of a parent or guardian.) This measure applies only to cases involving an “unemancipated” minor. The proposition identifies an unemancipated minor as being a female under the age of 18 who has not entered into a valid marriage, is not on active duty in the armed services of the United States, and has not been declared free from her parents’ or guardians’ custody and control under state law.
No. Just... no. And note that definition of unemancipated minor there. Does that mean that all males are instantly emancipated by this bill? Hey, if I were fifteen and this law passed, I think I’d try to fuck with the bad wording and get myself declared emancipated, just to watch our elected officials over-react and grandstand and wet themselves.

Speaking of sexism in law, though – there’s no mention of notifying the parents of the father of the child before an abortion, is there? Oh, I’m sure the raving rightwing right to no choice crowd would love that, too. But we don’t need more legal requirements that prevent doctors from doing medicine, and we don’t need the government snooping into the uteri of minor girls, as much as I’m sure they’d all love to. Again, this is an idea that’s only good until the first exception. What happens to the fourteen year-old who got raped by daddy and wants to abort that frog baby without the sick fuck knowing...?

Hypothetical? Perhaps. But it’s always when the hypothetical situations pop up – and they do pop up – that fascistic laws like this fall to pieces.

Proposition 86: Tax on Cigarettes
This measure increases excise taxes on cigarettes (and indirectly on other tobacco products) to provide funding for hospitals for emergency services as well as programs to increase access to health insurance for children, expand nursing education, support various new and existing health and education activities, curb tobacco use and regulate tobacco sales.
Okay, enough with the “sin” taxes already. As we’ve seen in the past, tax monies levied on things like cigarettes and alcohol never wind up where they were intended to go. Just ask Rob Reiner, whose malfeasance with previous cigarette tax funding torpedoed both the “raise more taxes” proposition he tried to pass in the last election and, with any luck, his future political career.
If you don’t like smoking, fine. Don’t smoke. But shove your self-righteous attitude up your ass if you think voting for a tax that doesn’t affect you is a good thing. What if the tobacco industry proposed a 50% excise tax on (insert your favorite guilty pleasure here: ice cream, tofu, gym membership, etc.). What if it passed and you suddenly had to pay a lot more?

Increasing taxes do not decrease use of tobacco or alcohol very much. In fact, if anything, they actually reduce revenue, because people find ways to get around paying the tax. I can mail-order cigarettes from out of state, for example, or drive to the nearest Reservation and pay no taxes – neither State, nor Federal. So, for every person who does the same, the proposed $2.60 per pack increase in taxes would actually lead to a net loss of $0.87 per pack – or, for the state, a reduction of $3.47 in expected revenue. Tell me that won’t screw with the budget when July 1, 2007 comes around.

Proposition 87: Alternative Energy
Beginning in January 2007, the measure would impose a severance tax on oil production in California to generate revenues to fund $4 billion in alternative energy programs over time. (The term “severance tax” is commonly used to describe a tax on the production of any mineral or product taken from the ground, including oil.) The measure defines “producers,” who are required to pay the tax, broadly to include any person who extracts oil from the ground or water, owns or manages an oil well, or owns a royalty interest in oil.
NO (Qualified).
In theory – hell yeah, fuck the oil companies and their billion dollar profits. Lets make them help us pay for the methods of their own demise.

In practice – multi-billion dollar, multi-national companies always find a way to avoid the law. As much as this bill promises that companies cannot legally pass the tax on to the consumers, you just know that there are now fleets of oil company lawyers figuring out exactly how to do that without getting caught.

Note the wording defining who would pay the tax: “The measure defines ‘producers...’ to include any person who extracts oil from the ground... owns or manages an oil well, or owns a royalty interest in oil.” Somehow, I think that the oil companies, who “only” refine the stuff into gasoline, are going to weasel out of that one, and the brunt of the tax will fall onto entities that aren’t making ten billion a quarter in profits.

It’s another case of “Great idea, poor execution”. If this measure were to have any teeth at all, it would base the tax on gross sales of gasoline – in other words, apply the tax post-consumer, prohibiting calculating the tax as a cost of doing business. That way, the oil companies would have a very convenient way of weaseling out of paying so much. Lowering prices at the pump.

Proposition 88: Education Funding, Real Property Parcel Tax
This measure creates a statewide parcel tax and uses the resulting revenue to fund specific K-12 education programs. It would take effect July 1, 2007.
Did you know that the money dumped into public education has actually doubled since 1971? Don’t believe the horror stories the schools tell. It’s not that they’re getting less money. It’s that they (via their bureaucratic school boards) have no clue how to spend it properly. And so, we have this attempt to suck harder at the public teat. “You own property, so you get to fund our schools.”

You know what? Screw that. I know plenty of people with no kids who own property – straight couples who chose not to breed, gay couples who haven’t done the baby thing yet, retired people on fixed incomes. Not to mention all the apartment owners who derive no direct benefit from this increased tax, so will be left with two alternatives. In the case of rent control, they’ll have to eat it. In the case of no rent control, they’ll have to pass it to their tenants. Just another temptation for landlords to sell out to developers, who will suck yet more apartments out of the market, turning them into condos – in turn, driving more families out of the “good” neighborhoods, effectively cutting the tax revenue.

Once upon a time (as in 1978), there was a Proposition on the ballot. It was called Prop 13, and it had a simple premise. Property taxes in California were too high. Prop 13 rolled back tax rates to a reasonable amount, and banned increases that were not passed by a two thirds vote of the people. Teachers and their unions bitched and wailed and claimed that passage of Prop 13 would be the end of the world. Prop 13 passed by an overwhelming majority, property taxes went way down, and school funding somehow continued to go up. In fact, I passed through the California secondary public schools post-Prop 13, and it seemed to have no effect at all.

The point is, the schools have had the money for the last twenty-five years – they’ve just blown it on the wrong things. The money should be going to hiring good teachers and buying good books. Thanks to a combination of idiot bureaucrats, teachers’ unions and Federal incompetence, none of that has happened. But sucking yet more money out of people who own property that is woefully inflated in value is not the answer.

Hey, here’s a modest proposal. Want to pay for the schools? Let’s pass a “Child Tax.” Make it non-deductible on Federal Income Tax. Pay X amount for one child, 2X and 3X for up to three children – and then crank up the increment beyond three kids. Want to have four? Fine. Your share of the tax is 6X. Five kids? 8X. And so on. But, for once, let’s make the parents put their money where their crotchfruit is (and/or are). A side benefit is this: with the parents having to pay out the nose for their kids’ educations, maybe they’ll get involved with the schools and finally fix the mess with which we’re stuck.

Proposition 89: Political Campaigns - Public Financing
This measure makes significant changes to state laws regarding the financing of campaigns for elected state offices and state ballot measures. The measure’s provisions regarding candidates for office generally affect only state elected officials.
YES (Qualified).
Y’know, this is a good bill that has a nice poison pill stuck into it. On the up side, it limits campaign spending by “private” candidates, equalizes the playing field by giving publicly funded candidates more money when their opponents overspend, and limits what candidates can spend to support or oppose a ballot measure.

All of that, and then this: “Increases tax rate on corporations and financial institutions. For corporations, tax rate would increase from 8.84 percent to 9.04 percent. For financial institutions, tax rate would increase from 10.84 percent to 11.04 percent.” Yeah, that’s only a 2/10ths of one percent increase, but you know what that translates into. Banks will cut services or increase fees; corporations will fuck their employees. I mean, my gawd – Mobil Oil will have to pay an extra two million per quarter out of their ten billion dollar profits, and no way they’re going to cut perqs for their overpaid, fatass Execs, so instead they’ll figure out how to lay off six hundred minimum wage employees per quarter. (Hint: if they shot three CEOs per quarter, they’d save more than enough.)

On the other hand, the political system should really work like this: people file to run, at no charge. They each receive a certain amount of public money to finance their campaign, and are not allowed to contribute a single penny or take a single donation. Running for governor? Everybody, regardless of party, gets, say, ten million. (And isn’t it sad that it costs that much to buy your way into higher office?) Of course, it’d be nice if we also brought back the “equal time” broadcast rules that St. Fucking Reagan (may he burn in hell) annihilated in the 80s.

Anyway... theoretically, those tax increases are designed to pay for this measure, but they’re a guarantee that conservatives will pass on this proposition. And I have to wonder whether this bit wasn’t stuck in precisely to make the measure fail. After all, as anyone who has ever played Sim City knows, you can’t just up the taxes on one sector without upping them on all. If the bill provided for, say, a .05% increase across the board – corporate, financial and citizen – then it would have a fair chance of passing. After all, in that case, the mega oil companies would only pay two billion a year (out of forty billion) and the average minimum wage schmuck would only pay an additional $702 per year.

Proposition 90: Government Acquisition, Regulation of Private Property
This measure requires government to pay property owners if it passes certain new laws or rules that result in substantial economic losses to their property.
This is the only absolute, unqualified, total utter “Yes” I have for any of the propositions on this ballot. Simply put, this is the “Eminent Domain Protection” law that we’ve needed ever since the Supreme Court stuck their nine heads up their nine asses and said it was okay for a local government to use eminent domain to take land to give to some fuck-ass developer to turn into a mega mall for their own profit.

Oddly enough, I think I blogged just about this law way back when that decision was made. Simply put: if government wants a piece of land, they have to pay the owner the fair market value, and then they can only use that land for the public benefit: schools, roads, parks or other government-owned public facilities. No more big box stores. No more condo developments. No more giving big money BJs to shitheads in construction hats. (Which reminds me. Memo to Shakespeare. “The first thing we do it, shoot all the developers.” Provided that each of them has a lawyer in their lap. But don’t get me started on that subject. Developers are fucking scumbags who don’t deserve to eat or breath. Period.)

Want to stem that tide of rich old white fucks in suits raping the land on which you live? Want to tell them, “Sorry, asshole. You’re not going to buy my land from the government for one tenth of what it’s worth, and then build shitbox condos on it and sell them for fifty times what they’re worth”? Want to end this land grab that’s the new American class war? Want to equalize the playing field in the game of Haves (and Want Mores) vs. Have Nots (and Want Anything)?

Then vote yes on Prop 90. Every other proposition on the California ballot in November, vote no. But this one... let’s send a message, and send the yes votes beyond 80%.

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