I’ll take a dozen U.S. Senators please.
Having worked on the failed 2009-10 California Constitutional Convention campaign, several friends have recently asked me to comment on the proposal to split California into six different states.
Here’s the background: Last December, venture capitalist Tim Draper filed a petition to circulate for signatures a ballot measure which, if passed by the voters, would slice this California roll into six delicious pieces.
Last week, the measure was given Title and Summary from the Attorney General, meaning the petition is now clear for circulation. To qualify for the November 2014 ballot, the petition has 150 days to collect 807,615 signatures from registered California voters. In the coming months, get ready for a paid signature gatherer to shove the this petition (third from the top) in your face while you walk through the Whole Foods parking lot. Read the full initiative language here.
So, is splitting California up into six (or any number) of other states a good idea and, if so, could this ballot measure actually get it done?
Let’s start with the second question first. According to the U.S. Constitution, California may only split up with Congressional approval (something the ballot measure acknowledges). This is exceedingly unlikely for two reasons. First, because it would require 66 Senators to vote to reduce their own power by diluting the Senate with an addition ten votes (more on this in a moment). Second, this is Congress we’re talking about.
But let’s assume we woke up tomorrow morning and California was suddenly and irrevocably split into the lines conceived by Mr. Draper. What would happen?
Most immediately, the people of the new States of Jefferson and Central California (Redding, Shasta, Fresno, Bakersfield, etc.) would find themselves a whole lot poorer as the people of the new States of Silicon Valley and North, West and South California (San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, San Diego) shed themselves of regions that consume more tax revenues than they produce. The roads, schools and social services in California’s rural regions would deteriorate, while the wealthy urban coastal regions would get a financial boost.
But all the money in the world won’t do much good without water, and here’s where things get interesting. Jefferson wins big, seizing control of California’s three largest reservoirs (Shasta, Oroville and Trinity). Silicon Valley would lose the high-quality Hetch Hetchy and Mokelumne River projects to Central California, but would gain the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta pumping facilities, arguably the biggest prize of them all. These facilities can pump way more water than the new Silicon Valley will ever need, so the techies will be in for making a nice profit selling their excess water to Central California farmers and Southern California’s cities. At least the farmers could mitigate some of these costs by leveling a fee to wheel that water through through their portion of the California Aqueduct down to Los Angeles, who (shocker) loses big. Virtually every drop of water Los Angeles’s desert existence relies on is now located in another state. At least the San Dieagans (San Diego-ins?) get the Colorado River.
Meanwhile, the rest of America is none too happy. Where there were once two U.S. Senators (both Democrats) representing California, there’re now a dozen. As many as nine of them could be Democrats, obliterating any chance of the Republican Party, in its current form, to control the US Senate. In retaliation, the Republican Party pressures the Texas State Legislature (dominated by Republicans) to immediately divide Texas into five different states which, unlike California, Texas has a vaguely understood unilateral right to do under its 1845 Annexation Agreement. Seeing their relative power in the US Senate sharply decline, the Governors of New York and Florida (the next most populous states) demand their states split as well. One by one, the United States plunges into a Constitutional Crisis.
But this is all collateral damage. What, if anything, could California gain?
Mr. Draper claims he’s motivated by the belief that California has become ungovernable. From schools to roads, Californians suffer a Yosemite Valley-sized gap between the taxes we pay and the services we receive. But it’s unclear how partition would help, and in the poorer areas of the state it would very likely make things worse. In fact, Mr. Draper, 2009 called, it wants its rhetoric back. California voters have enacted significant budget, political and tax reforms since the blockbuster deficits and budget stalemates of the early 2000′s. California’s legislature has now passed on-time budgets three years and counting, while last month Governor Brown announced that the state was projecting a once-unimaginable $6 billion budget surplus. The Bay Area is experiencing an economic boom, and the housing market is finally recovering from the devastation of 2008. Unemployment is still relatively high, though that’s partly due to the drought’s negative impact on farm labor.
And yet, for all its faults, partition would at least strike an honorable blow against one of the great inequities of American democracy: the U.S. Senate. As we learned in high school civics, the Founding Fathers were able to bridge the political distrust between the large and small states through the creation of a bicameral legislature consisting of a House of Representatives elected from districts of equal population (proportionately benefiting the large states), and a U.S. Senate consisting of two Senators from each state (disproportionately benefiting the small states). The House was to reflect the popular passions of the people, while the Senate, as George Washington explained, would cool those passions like a saucer cools tea. Tragically, Washington died before ever explaining how a saucer actually cools tea.
Here’s the rub: Americans in large states are today proportionately far less represented in the U.S. Senate than their ancestors were. Consider this: the Constitution was negotiated in 1787, when the population difference between the largest state, Virginia, and the smallest state, Delaware, was 12-1. That means an American citizen in Delaware received twelve times the representation in the Senate as an American citizen in Virginia. Today, the ratio is 66-1. Today’s smallest state, Wyoming, is barely larger than colonial Virginia, while the largest, California, is the size of Poland. It’s difficult to imagine James Madison ever agreeing to such an extreme imbalance.
Had the Founders agreed in 1787 to index the 12-1 ratio to population growth and decennial reapportionment, we could have avoided this problem. Now that we’re stuck with it, the only likely solution would be a redrawing of all state boundaries to roughly equal size, or at least to sizes within the original 12-1 framework, and that would require a second national constitutional convention.
Any takers? Didn’t think so.
Here’s my op-ed in today’s San Francisco Chronicle: http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/openforum/article/Bay-Area-tech-boom-not-cause-of-region-s-problems-5080195.php
We’ve been here before. New arrivals pour into a great American city as cautious locals grapple with the impact of a new and foreign presence.
Some say their customs are too different – that they socialize only with each other and speak an odd language. They are accused of displacing longtime residents and squeezing public infrastructure.
Others argue that the newcomers bring unique talents and perspectives. Their arrival is not a burden to be shouldered, but an opportunity to be seized.
Today, this familiar debate is playing out across the Bay Area, but with an interesting twist: The newcomers aren’t poor immigrant families, but young, educated tech workers who’ve come from every corner of the earth in pursuit of their own California dream.
When they first began arriving several years ago, the mood was welcoming. Deep into the Great Recession, companies such as Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and Twitter were providing well-paying jobs and creating some of the most iconic products in popular culture.
What’s more, research from the Bay Area Council Economic Institute showed that each of these tech jobs had an astounding effect of creating an additional 4.3 jobs in the local economy. Due in part to this dizzying statistic, tech has elevated the Bay Area to the forefront of America’s economic recovery, plunging San Francisco’s unemployment rate to among the lowest in the developed world.
Yet this success has left some people anxious, and a darker mood has emerged. According to the Census Bureau, 2013 rents in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose shot up 21, 15 and 13 percent respectively. Evictions have increased. Somehow, it is suspected, the newcomers are to blame. Last week, protesters in San Francisco’s Mission District surrounded a tech commuter bus and chanted antieviction slogans.
It’s true: The persistent gap between the Bay Area’s housing supply and demand has drastically inflated the rental market. But blaming the tech – or any other – sector is a pointless game that solves nothing.
The hard truth is that the Bay Area’s housing and transit systems are bursting at the seams. According to the San Francisco Apartment Association, last year the city added 68,000 new jobs and just 120 new housing units. Silicon Valley’s rental vacancy rates are even lower than the city’s.
Between San Francisco and Silicon Valley, Caltrain operates at capacity while both Highways 101 and 280 are mired in gridlock. This congestion has ripple effects beyond the Peninsula, with huge impacts for a region where 50 percent of all employees cross at least one county line to get to work.
Against this backdrop, tech’s shuttles are a godsend, eliminating 327,000 cars and 10,000 tons of carbon every year at no cost to the taxpayer. For antieviction advocates to focus on shuttles, rather than building more transit-oriented housing, is a tragic waste of energy.
The frustration we are witnessing on the streets, train platforms, social media sites and coffee shops is the product of a generation of under-investing in housing and transportation. It is having a detrimental impact on the quality of life of everyone lucky enough to call this region home. Bay Area voters should demand a visionary expansion of affordable housing and an aggressive capital reinvestment in our public transportation systems, and be wary of activists and politicians who vilify the newcomers.
Need the perfect gift for that special skeptical someone? Never fear! (Purchase here). In this new portrait, a young Richard Dawkins is depicted raising the evidence: an exquisite Echiocerasammonite fossil. Dawkins’ sweater and shirt are comprised of the writings of Charles Darwin as reprinted in The Portable Atheist, while the fossil is composed of clippings from the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The spiral twirl emanating behind is composed of the nucleobases of a genetic code. I will be producing a limited number of these posters, which will start shipping January 3rd. To repeat, these posters will not be available in time for Christmas deliveries. Purchase here.
GEEK OUT TIME.
Hollywood hasn’t been very faithful to Superman. While her lurid romance with Batman (seven films!) had been well known for years, the full extent of her betrayal goes much deeper. Have you realized she’s been with Iron Man three times, and Spiderman four? Or that she lied not only with the X-Men, but with the Avengers too! Her wily pursuit of easy thrills has lowered her to embracing unbelievably lessor characters: Thor, Catwoman, Daredevil, Hancock (!). Her depravity had become a chasm which knew no floor.
Why had Hollywood abandoned Superman? Theories were everywhere. His virtue made him too boring. His powers were too awesome. His friends weren’t very interesting, nor were his enemies for that matter. His Kansas upbringing was too homely. His glasses too unbelievable. His underwear too ridiculous.
In 2006, Superman Returns made an effort to win her back. Supes went all-nostalgia on her, taking her on a date similar to their first. Clark Kent brought the awe-shucks, and Lex Luthor brought the kryptonite. Lois Lane ultimately kissed him, though it may have been out of pity for the lame effort put before her. Hollywood was not impressed.
If Superman was going to win Hollywood back, he wasn’t going to do it with nostalgia. Rather, he was going to have to surprise her. He was going to have to dig deep and show Hollywood that she never really knew him — or at least not all of him. Superman needed an authentic reinvention for the big screen.
For those of us younger than 40 who have known Superman primarily through comic books, this needn’t had been so difficult.
My grandpa’s Superman may have leapt tall buildings, but mine flew at near-light speeds. His Clark Kent was a stuttering klutz; mine was a debonair professional. His Superman fought bank robbers, bandits, and runaway trains; mine fought Doomsday, Hank Henshaw, and the Eradicator. His Superman was an incorruptible moral rampart; mine was an honest man doing his best given the profound moral implications of wielding insane power.
Though for some stubborn reason, despite the many valid dimensions of the Superman character, only one dimension ever seemed to make it into past films. And whether real or imagined, super or plain, one dimensional people are always boring.
Ultimately, it was the dimension explored least that was begging to be explored most: the stupefying level of superheroic violence of Superman comics. Not torture, but the simply unavoidable implications of what it would mean for supermen to really, really fight. Superman’s epic to-the-death brawl with Doomsday spanned the entire North American continent, leveled several cities, and filled seven issues. They bludgeoned each other into skyscrapers and knocked one another into space before ultimately collapsing in front of the Daily Planet. The story’s illustrations are among the most iconic ever produced by the medium, and the artists, Dan Jurgens and Tom Grummett among them, were my true heroes as a child.
You would think this type of hot action would get Hollywood very excited indeed. And yet, movies kept insisting on Superman “fighting” Lex Luthor (an evil but otherwise measly human) and kryptonite. It bears repeating: Hollywood has traditionally depicted the most powerful being of all time fighting an obese man and a rock. It’s astounding.
Enter Man of Steel. At long last, the Superman movie you’ve always wanted to see but never thought would actually get made: Superman fights a supervillain, punch-for-earth-shattering-punch. But while fans of Superman comics are raving, the movie has received middling reviews, criticized for being too violent, too dark, and without enough of either Lois Lane or romance.
First, the violence — as overblown as it might be, it is wholly justified by the source material, the comics, and something fans like me have dreamed of watching come alive on the big screen since forever. It’s awesome.
Second, the romance — while critics mostly fawned over the portrayal of young Clark Kent as child terrified of his flickering and uncontrollable powers, they we’re very unhappy that this humiliated introvert doesn’t grow into Supercasanova. Thankfully, Snyder resists this campy temptation, and instead gives us one perfectly respectable kiss (his first, for all we know) between Superman and Lois Lane. This reboot is clearly going to inspire a sequel and likely a third installment, giving us plenty of time to explore that component of story in the next film.
Third, the darkness — Superman’s costume is literally darker than many expect, but as a result is somehow more believable as a piece of alien clothing. It just works.
Finally, back to the violence. [SPOILER ALERT!] I’ve read several objections over the end of the film, which depicts Superman killing General Zod in order to save some humans Zod was about to kill in a kill-him-or-they-die moment. This drew rather pointed criticism a-la the Superman-never-kills argument.
Not to get too dorky on this subject (which means I’m about to), but we must defer to the comics for what Superman would-and-would-not do. And what do the comics say? Superman’s no-kill rule originates from the bottomless anguish he felt after having killed…General Zod on the pretext that they were too evil and powerful to be taken alive!
The greatest critique I can level at the Man of Steel is that killing Zod appeared to traumatize Superman for approximately 8 seconds following the act, rather than the truly tortured moment of Superman’s life represented in the comics. But following the utter triumph that the movie otherwise is, I have every reason to believe that not only do Snyder and Nolan recognize the guilt Superman must eventually feel, but also how to best use that deepening of the character to fly the inevitable sequel(s) to even greater heights.
See this film.
From today’s San Francisco Chronicle, this is literally my opinion the subject.
San Franciscans have noticed increasing numbers of employee shuttle buses around the city over the past year. The organic growth of this innovative transit network has occurred alongside California’s efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, and is a great example of the shift to the kind of activities that policymakers hoped would occur.
Even positive change, however, can bring challenges and this is no exception. There have been concerns expressed about shuttle impacts and calls from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to regulate the shuttles. If regulation is deemed necessary, then it is crucial that it be very carefully crafted in a manner that recognizes both the economic and environmental benefits of the shuttles.
On the economic front, the Bay Area is experiencing some of the strongest growth in the developed world. Driving this growth is San Francisco’s booming tech sector, whose high wages and expanding employment have been shown to create dramatic economic gains across all demographics and throughout entire communities.
The Bay Area Council Economic Institute estimates that every job created in the high-tech sector eventually creates about 4.3 jobs in the local goods and services economy. That’s everything from day-care providers to waiters and day laborers, and helps explain why the city and region have the lowest unemployment rates in California.
It also explains why the employee shuttles aren’t simply about tech. Hospitals, universities and retailers, among others, also operate their own shuttles. In other words, the shuttles service the region’s economic backbone.
Which brings us to climate change.
By law, California must reduce its carbon-dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and to 60 percent of those levels by 2050. Because 38 percent of California’s greenhouse-gas emissions are directly attributable to transportation, mostly single-occupant automobiles, the employee shuttles have emerged as a valuable tool to meet environmental, economic and transit challenges.
According to a San Francisco County Transportation Authority report, the shuttles remove 20 million vehicle miles from Bay Area roads and freeways each year, while 28 percent of shuttle riders have forgone car ownership completely. The result has been a net reduction of the Bay Area’s carbon footprint by an impressive 9,000 tons, and the removal of 327,000 single passenger trips from the region’s roadways each year. The shuttle trend is good for business, residents, traffic and the environment, and is in clear alignment with the city’s long-standing, transit-first policy.
Recognizing these benefits, the City of San Francisco has already begun the process to approve dedicated shuttle stops to avoid possible conflicts with its own Muni buses. We hope this positive trend continues and the city resists calls from some quarters for restrictive regulation that could stifle shuttle service and push thousands of San Francisco residents out of the city or into their cars, or both. The city transportation authority report found that 62 percent of shuttle riders say that their decision to live in San Francisco was influenced by the convenience provided by their employee shuttle service.
It is very important that any proposed regulation continues to allow the shuttles the flexibility necessary to serve the thousands of San Franciscan workers who depend on them. Doing so would best serve the residents, the environment, and San Francisco’s standing as a world-class smart city.
Once again, Barack Obama has been sworn in as President of the United States. The time is therefore ripe to reflect on some of the excellent commentary and analysis from his first four years in office.
An exhaustive list this is not. Matt Tiabbi’s writings on the financial system, for example, defined the populist fury from Occupy to the Tea Party, and the national debate over the role of debt has hugely benefitted from the pen (or keyboard) of Paul Krugman. The past four years have also given us some analysis notable for being wrong (hint: his name rhymes with David Brooks).
But of all the reading I’ve done on American politics since just prior to the start of the 2008 primary season, three articles really stand out. Two are from the Atlantic–one each by Andrew Sullivan and James Fallows–and the third by New York Magazine‘s Jonathan Chait. As Obama’s second term agenda comes into focus–immigration, guns, and inequality–the emerging picture largely validates the claims made by these three authors, an altogether impressive feat in a punditocracy boiling with mediocrity.
What: Goodbye to All That: Why Obama Matters
Who: Andrew Sullivan, The Atlantic
When: November 2007
The Claim: Obama’s candidacy represents the end of Baby Boomer rule.
Published one year and two days before Obama defeated John McCain, right around the time Obama was buttering up Iowa Democrats with his electrifying Jefferson-Jackson speech, many people didn’t know what make of the hopeful Senator from Illinois. Sullivan did.
The Obama candidacy is about ending a war…a nonviolent civil war that has crippled America at the very time the world needs it most. It is a war about war—and about culture and about religion and about race. And in that war, Obama—and Obama alone—offers the possibility of a truce.
Goodby to All That was about the never-ending psychodrama of the Baby Boomer generation. Their youthful idealism had aged poorly, argued Sullivan, and the two leaders they had produced (Clinton and the younger Bush) embodied, to cartoonish perfection, all that was wrong with those born between 1945 and 1963: a deficit of self-control, a surfeit of self-importance, and a bottomless insecurity.
It wasn’t his positions–Obama largely campaigned on a boilerplate moderate-Democrat platform–but his style, confidence, and optimism which set him apart from his chief political opponent at the time, Hillary Clinton. And so Sullivan unleashes the analytic pearl of that historic primary:
As a liberal, [Hillary Clinton] has spent years in a defensive crouch against triumphant post-Reagan conservatism. Her liberalism is warped by what you might call a Political Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Reagan spooked people on the left, especially those, like Clinton, who were interested primarily in winning power. She has internalized what most Democrats of her generation have internalized: They suspect that the majority is not with them, and so some quotient of discretion, fear, or plain deception is required if they are to advance their objectives. And so the less-adept ones seem deceptive, and the more-practiced ones, like Clinton, exhibit the plastic-ness and inauthenticity that still plague her candidacy. She’s hiding her true feelings. We know it, she knows we know it, and there is no way out of it.
Perhaps as Sullivan was typing these words, Hillary Clinton delivered a speech on at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire where she directly acknowledged the political failure of her generation, saying “I don’t want us to be the first generation of Americans to leave our country worse than when we found it”. Following four terms of Clinton-Bush, Americans were more interested in giving a new generation their first shot than giving the Boomers a fifth.
What: Obama, Explained
Who: James Fallows, The Atlantic
When: March 2012
The Question: Is Obama a ninja or a dilettante?
Following 20 years of Bush-Clinton-Bush, America was hungry for an outsider. In 2008, Barack Obama gave voters what they wanted. Within a year of his inauguration, however, the Obama administration was caught flat footed by a movement of conservative populists in revolt at everything the new President represented stood for: youth, diversity, and urbanism. Republicans were shockingly disrespectful of the President at home, while China was disrespecting him abroad. The Tea Party shellacked Democrats in the 2010 primary, taking back the House of Representatives and leaving many wondering if Obama, by jumping ahead of ultimate-fighter Hillary Clinton, had bitten off more than he could chew.
In the February before the Tea Party midterms, Bill O’Reilly asked Jon Stewart to assess Obama’s performance to that point. When Stewart replied that he couldn’t ”tell if [Obama]‘s a Jedi-Master, playing chess on a three level board way ahead of us, or if this is kicking his ass”, the always self-satisfied O’Reilly responded in amazement “you really don’t know?” as if it was clear to all but Stewart that Obama was in over his head.
Or, as James Fallows posed the question in his fantastic analysis of Obama’s first term:
Is [Obama] a skillful political player and policy visionary—a chess master who always sees several moves ahead of his opponents (and of the punditocracy)? Or is he politically clumsy and out of his depth—a pawn overwhelmed by events, at the mercy of a second-rate staff and of the Republicans?
Fallows’ answer was that Obama had shown both good and poor judgment, but that ultimately, he had “shown the main trait we can hope for in a president—an ability to grow and adapt—and that the reason to oppose his reelection would be disagreement with his goals, not that he proved unable to rise to the job. As time has gone on, he has given increasing evidence that the skills he displayed in the campaign were not purely a fluke”.
Fallows’ examples of Obama’s successful leadership were our improving China posture, the prevention of another Great Depression, America’s improved global standing, and the passage of Healthcare reform. Fair enough. But it is the journey, and not so much the destination, where James Fallows’ article really wins.
What: 2012 or Never
Who: Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine
When: February 2012
The Claim: The deepest effect of Obama’s election upon the Republicans’ psyche has been to make them truly fear, for the first time since before Ronald Reagan, that the future is against them”
“When jubilant supporters of Obama gathered in Grant Park on Election Night in 2008″ writes Jonathan Chait, “Republicans saw a glimpse of their own political mortality. And a galvanizing picture of just what their new rulers would look like.”
Following defeat, Republicans were faced with a strategic decision: interpret Obama’s victory as the dawning of new majority and pivot the party as appropriate, or, interpret Obama’s victory as a fluke born of Bush fatigue and soldier on, demography be damned.
As James Fallows mentioned in Obama, Explained, the topic of Obama-as-fluke was a huge one for American conservatives. One of the reasons conservatives were so ecstatic following Mitt Romney’s victory over Obama in the first debate was how the President’s droning, lazy performance perfectly confirmed what they had been telling themselves on talk radio for years: Obama is empty calories, an overreaction to the Bush years, a blip on the radar, soon pushed aside as our truth goes marching on.
The Republican Party settled on a strategy of obstructing Obama’s agenda on all fronts, culminating in a standoff over an increase to the nation’s debt ceiling, a topic never before put to debate. The President was flummoxed as he suddenly found himself trapped in a Quixotean debate with Congress over whether or not the legislative branch was going to pay the bills it had itself racked up. Desperate to make a compromise prior to an unprecedented default on American debt,
Obama offered Republicans hundreds of billions of dollars in spending cuts and a permanent extension of Bush-era tax rates in return for just $800 billion in higher revenue over a decade. Instead the party bet everything on 2012, preferring a Hail Mary strategy. That is the basis of the House Republicans’ otherwise inexplicable choice to vote last spring for [the Paul Ryan] budget plan that would lock in low taxes, slash spending, and transform Medicare into private vouchers—none of which was popular with voters.
The way to make sense of that foolhardiness is that the party has decided to bet everything on its one “last chance.” Not the last chance for the Republican Party to win power—there will be many of those, and over time it will surely learn to compete for nonwhite voters—but its last chance to exercise power in its current form, as a party of anti-government fundamentalism powered by sublimated white Christian identity politics. And whatever rhetorical concessions to moderates and independents the eventual Republican nominee may be tempted to make in the fall, he’ll find himself fairly boxed in by everything he’s already done this winter to please that base.
If they lose their bid to unseat Obama, they will have mortgaged their future for nothing at all. And over the last several months, it has appeared increasingly likely that the party’s great all-or-nothing bet may land, ultimately, on nothing. In which case, the Republicans will have turned an unfavorable outlook into a truly bleak one in a fit of panic. The deepest effect of Obama’s election upon the Republicans’ psyche has been to make them truly fear, for the first time since before Ronald Reagan, that the future is against them.
Chait’s ability to synthesize anxiety as the driving force behind the Republican Party made his essay one of the best of the GOP’s 2012 primary season.
THE NEXT FOUR YEARS
Republican opposition to Obama’s first term was characterized by extraordinary slander, or as as Stephen Colbert put it, “a torch and pitchfork-wielding mob empty of all thoughts. An injured, vengeful animal lashing out blindly at shapes and colors.” Republicans questioned Obama’s birth certificate, his college transcripts, and his faith. They called him a socialist, a liar, a tyrant, and an arrogant elitist with death panels. They accused him of launching “apology tours”, “palling around with terrorists”, and harboring “a Kenyan anti-colonial worldview”. Their leader in the Senate said that the number one priority of the Party was preventing Obama’s reelection.
But that didn’t happen. Not only was Obama reelected, but nearly everything else went wrong for the GOP. Marriage equality was enshrined in three states and cannabis became legal in two. In California, Democrats took supermajorities of both houses of the state legislature and every single statewide constitutional office.
Today, with Republicans on the ropes and their King exposed, Obama is on the verge of becoming a transformative President, putting to bed a coalition which has largely governed the United States since 1978, and in the process showing himself to be a master chess player. On the Fiscal Cliff, Obama boxed Republicans into voting to increase taxes on the rich in exchange for virtually nothing. On the debt ceiling, the GOP has boxed itself into debating itself over whether or not it will pay its own bills. On immigration, an issue seen critical by GOP strategists, the party will likely split in two. The same is likely true for gun control and disaster-preparedness, following both the Sandy Hook massacre and Superstorm Sandy. Given the high possibility of GOP disunity on all these fronts, Republicans themselves are beginning to predict a Democratic House-takeover in 2014, and Democrats keeping the Presidency in 2016.
More often than not, pundits get it wrong. Which is why it’s so satisfying to discover intelligent analysts getting it right. In a world of armchair pontificators (guilty), it’s good to know we still got some pros.
Following a half-century of economic, social, and moral decay, the American city is back. The food is better, the streets are cleaner, and the bars are packed like it’s August 1929. New York City is wrapping up it’s safest year since 1960, while San Francisco’s skyline is cluttered with cranes and i-beams as a wave of building highlights a new era of confidence. Even in poor Detroit, perhaps the most abused urban landscape in America, an artisan class is taking advantage of near-free real estate and forging new communities from the abyss.
Why this is happening and where it’s going, this new era of urban renewal, is something Pacificvs intends to focus on in 2013. What I can say now is that I consider the urban migration a positive trend which should be encouraged through public policy.
From where I stand, the force, or forces, driving the urban renewal appear to be almost entirely generational. Following victory over fascism and depression, the Greatest Generation disrupted what had been a massive multi-century migration into cities by settling in sprawling newly constructed suburbs. Their children, the Baby Boomers, already born into a world where the American City was in decline, embraced car-centric lifestyles that largely kept them in the suburbs they were born. Today, their children, the millennial generation, evinces a gargantuan need for a level of social interaction that the suburbs not only cannot provide, but is completely anathema to suburban principles of space.
To be sure, this urban renewal is occurring unevenly and amidst overall economic hardship. Whereas the effect in places like New York and San Francisco have been dramatic, the old rust belt continues to struggle. Unemployment remains high. Chicago just had a record year for homicides. Perhaps nothing threatens the urban spring than the continuing poor performance of the nation’s system of public schools; the creative class flooding into cities will ultimately settle down in places that can educate their children, not places where they can get fancy cocktails and use public transit.
Looking forward to a great 2013!
On February 13th, 1861, the editor of South Carolina’s Charleston Mercury newspaper penned a defiant polemic against the new Provisional Constitution of the Confederate States of America. The crime? In an appeal to moderate border states, rebel delegates outlawed the importation of new slaves from Africa. “The South is now in the formation of a Slave Republic“. Slave society, he argued, was something to “avow and affirm…as a living principle of social order” which could fail only if its leaders failed to fully embrace it as such. He urged rebel leaders across the South to just come out and admit what everyone knew but for some reason (shame, most likely) couldn’t: that they were fighting for slavery because they believed in it.
The editor’s name was Leo W. Spratt. 40 years later in 1901, Spratt bought a book, a Christmas present, titled ‘Abe’ Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories (a greatest hits album of sorts to Lincoln’s legendary humor). Spratt gifted the book to a man named “Darius”. On May 31, 1922, Darius cut out a newspaper clipping, a picture of the 79 year old Robert Todd Lincoln, the President’s only surviving son, who had attended the dedication of his slain father’s memorial the previous day. Darius folded the clipping into the book.
90 years, six months, and five days later (aka December 5, 2012), I met a colleague for a work lunch at a Galette 88, a modern creperie located in San Francisco’s financial district. We discussed innovations in the water sector. I had the smoked salmon crepe.
On my way back to the office I passed by a book seller. Nothing much, just a couple stands run by a man named Rick.
Rick had some gems. But one edition in particular took my eye–a dark work, covered in ornate gold leaf, tarnished and earthen by over four score of hands and neglect. Emblazoned on the cover was the portrait of Lincoln, looking every bit the man whose melancholy was once described as having “dripped from him as he walked”.
The inside cover revealed a lonely newspaper clipping, an old man had joined an entire nation in loving remembrance of his long dead father. The book was signed:
Leo W. Spratt
Dec 25: 1901
To Darius [unreadable]
What motivated this old rebel to spend money on a slapstick Lincoln totem? Had he recanted? Was it a gag gift? A joke among old confederate buddies? Did Darius cut out the picture of Robert as a keepsake? Were they, as former enemies of the president, as gripped by Lincoln’s overwhelming legacy as the rest of the us?
Spratt once had a terrible vision of an imperial Slave Republic at the center of global power, respect, and commerce. “Bride of the world, rather than the miserable mistress of the North” he wrote. Forty years later he was giving Lincoln jokes to buddies.
Now he’s dead, and his book is mine.
Individual candidate and party preferences are based on a complex mix of reason, emotion, assumption, prejudice, ignorance, conviction, self interest, selflessness, philosophy, love, hate, fear, and hope. Given that uncrackable code, I prefer to stick to ballot propositions. So without further adieu, for the great state of California and the great City of San Francisco, Pacificvs thus endorses…
Proposition 30 – Yes
For 35 years California has been engaged in a radical two-step experiment. Step one: divest state resources from public education. Step two: repeat. Proposition 30 would authorize tax increases which would bring in about $6 billion to reverse the devastating cuts to education, and is supported by labor and business. Half the money would be raised by increasing income taxes on the 1% by 1% while the other half would be paid for by everybody else through a modest increase in the sales tax. Everybody pays, the wealthy a bit more, but everybody wins. Yes on 30.
Proposition 31 – Yes
California’s state government is plagued with too many institutional problems to list, and Proposition 31 doesn’t come close to solving all of them. But it does offer some sensible solutions to some of them, including moving to two-year budget cycles, devolving state decision making to local governments, and requiring lawmakers to identify new funding for new spending. Yes on 31.
Proposition 32 – No
It is the worst type of proposition that forces you to ask of its proponents “what do you take me for”? Proposition 32 is one of those. Recall the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that obliterated all political spending limits for corporations and unions? And remember how you’ve heard about corporate profits soaring to unprecedented heights, while the America’s unions spiral into oblivion? Proposition 32 would cement the imbalance of capital over labor by eliminating the ability of unions to raise money, and you can’t spend money you can’t raise. What’s insulting: Proposition 32 “offers” to limit corporate political fundraising by outlawing corporate practices that are already illegal. What a joke. Vote no on 32.
Proposition 33 – No
As a general principle I’m deeply skeptical of proposals put forth by single interests. Prop. 33 was written and put forward by the Mercury Insurance group, and allows auto insurance companies to engage in price discrimination against folks (like myself) who for several years have given up car ownership, regardless of your driving record. Vote No on 33.
Proposition 34 – Yes
Until the day government can guarantee it will never accidentally execute an innocent citizen, everyoneshould be opposed to the death penalty. Proposition 34 would end capital punishment in California, and transmute the sentences of all prisoners so condemned to life-without-parole. Which, by the way, would save California a lot of money because government-murder is expensive. It’s also obscenely racist. Vote yes on 34.
Proposition 35 – No
Sex trafficking is a crime against human dignity and should be severely punished. That’s why it’s disappointing that the backers of Proposition 35 squandered an opportunity to do just that, and opted instead to present voters with an hysterical overreach. In addition to increasing sentences on sex traffickers (a good thing) Prop 35 would turn an 18 year old who is dating a 17 into a registered sex offender, eliminating said 18 year old’s chance to amount to anything in this life. Besides, we don’t need an initiative to increase sentences on sex traffickers: there is a thing called the legislature, and they tend to enjoy passing tough-on-crime laws, and can do so without criminalizing high school kids. Vote No on 35.
Proposition 36 – Yes
Voters should be wary of any public policy that appears too tailor-made for a catchy slogan. Voters passed just such a law in 1994 called “Three strikes, you’re out” (get it?). It forces mandatory life-sentences on third-time felons, no matter how banal the crime (the famous example is of the guy sentenced to life-in-prison for shoplifting $150 bucks from K-Mart). While carting-off assholes sounds nice, it’s actually really, really expensive (about $60,000 per inmate, per year) and is money best saved for criminals who are actually dangerous. That’s exactly what Proposition 36 does, by reserving the life-sentence for third-offenders who’ve committed a violent or serious offense. Vote Yes on 36.
Proposition 37 – Yes
No issue has been more fear-based and unscientific than the campaigns for-and-against Proposition 37, which would force most food products sold in California to prominently label whether or not the product contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs). What irks me about this campaign is that Yes-on-37 is driven almost entirely by ignorance and paranoia of precisely the same caliber as vaccine denialism. Let’s be clear, when a paleolithic farmer decided to plant his largest crops next to each other in the hopes that they’d produce even larger crops, that’s GMO. Far from being the harbinger of a Brave New World, artificial selection is among our species’ most primitive useful talents. The difference is that today science allows us to pinpoint very specific genes–like ones for drought resistance–and artificially select for them with great accuracy. As such, GMOs could provide extraordinary benefits to drought prone and poverty stricken locales across the globe. I am further annoyed by Yes-on-37’s stupid campaign point that we should label GMOs because Europe does, as if European civilization (of all places!) has never enacted bad public policy. Alas, I am resigned to vote yes. Why? First, because the labels would apply to all food sold in California, it wouldn’t discriminate against food grown in California, and therefore renders the No-on-37 fears of economic hardship to farmers moot. Apart from that key point, there’s this: more than anything else, I believe Proposition 37 is the public’s reaction to the general understanding that US food policy is no longer serving the public interest, and that we’re through ignoring it. My hope is that if Proposition 37 passes, I will wake up the next day in a world where subsidies, pesticides, and hormone abuse (in short, actual problems) are treated as serious matters of public health rather than as the boutique concerns of the rich. If that world requires some labels that will cost little, hurt no one, and humor some harmless paranoiacs, I think we should go for it. Vote Yes on 37.
Proposition 38 – Yes
Most people don’t mind taxes per se, what they do mind is unfairness. It’s not fair that one group should pay for the second, when the second provides nothing to the first (or so it goes). Proposition 38 is no such proposal. In an era of 1 percent vs 99 percent vs 47 percent, Proposition 38 would raise income taxes on just about everybody to pay for an elemental public services that benefits everyone: public education. Yes, Proposition 32 would also increase taxes to pay for public education. Is it too much? No. Taxes today are at their lowest levels in three generations, that’s because we’ve spent the last generation cutting them. If we want a civilization, we have to pay for it. Yes on 38. (NOTE: If both 38 and 30 pass, then the one with the fewer votes will actually fail, even if it passes. I support the Governor’s Proposition 30 over 38, so if you can remember Yes on 30, No on 38, then go for it. Otherwise, I’d rather blast yes on both into the interwebs to avoid confusion. We definitely need one to pass).
Proposition 39 – Yes
Proposition 39 closes a loophole that allows out-of-state businesses from paying in-state taxes on their in-state profits. It would raise about $1 billion per year to close our budget hole. Opponents claim it will kill jobs, as if Arkansas-based Wal-Mart won’t want to sell goods to Californians because it’s profits won’t be a fraction of a percent as high. No brainer: Yes on 39.
Proposition 40 – Yes
Here we go, one of those yes-means-no propositions. As a “referendum”, Proposition 40 is asking voters to validate a law they already passed. The law in question created a non-partisan Citizen Redistricting Commission that takes the job of redistricting legislative districts away from politicians. A ‘yes’ vote means you think the law should stand and that the citizens commission should stay. Vote Yes on 40.
San Francisco Measures
Proposition A – Yes
Proposition A would enact a modest parcel tax of $79 a year on every lot in San Francisco. The tax would raise $16 million for SF City College, which is facing $25 million in cuts from the state government. A modest tax, a big gain. Yes on A.
Proposition B – Yes
A yes vote would authorize $195 million in bonds for the much needed upgrades of San Francisco’s public parks. As a member of the Pacific Coast Hardball League’s Sunset Nobles (of the Mission), I have hard-won proof of the uneven and unkept fields of San Francisco in the form of bruises and lumps all over my body. There are legitimate concerns with the management of San Francisco’s Department of Rec. and Park that have left some unhappy with this deal, but the parks have been neglected too long to ignore this opportunity. Vote Yes on B.
Proposition C – Yes
San Francisco is crazy expensive. One of the reasons why it’s so expensive is that the supply of homes hasn’t come close to keeping up with the demand to live here. Proposition C would authorize the construction of 30,000 new rental units throughout the city and establish a Housing Trust Fund to help offset the rising costs of living here. That’s important, because unless you’re planning on having millionaire’s mop your floors, the City’s working class will be forced to relocate, i.e. commute, outside the city, clogging roadways and contributing to our already horrendous productivity losses due to traffic. Vote Yes on C.
Proposition D – Yes
It’s kinda cool that San Francisco elects its City Attorney and Treasurer in off-year elections. It’s also crazy arcane and expensive. Let’s move their elections to even years, like everybody else’s, and we can vote less often (but don’t worry, being California we’ll still be voting plenty often). Vote Yes on D.
Proposition E – Yes
San Francisco is the only city in California to tax businesses based on the size of their payroll. That means that as businesses grow, they have a powerful incentive to leave. Proposition E would change that, by phasing out the payroll tax and replacing it with a revenue tax, which would generate about $30 million more for the City’s general fund, which is a small–but welcome–move in the right direction following about $1.5 billion in cuts over the past several years. It’s also fairer to small and growing businesses. Vote yes on E.
Proposition F – No
What do you get when you combine unbelievable narcissism with breathtaking ignorance? You get Proposition F: a proposal to force the City to spend millions of dollars on a plan to spend billions of dollars to dismantle its world-class source of pristine drinking water and carbon-free electricity: the Hetch Hetchy reservoir. Why on earth must we consider this proposal? Because for an extreme fringe, avenging John Muir’s legacy is an objective that exists in a plane beyond reason. And yes, this fringe is extreme: the Sierra Club doesn’t even support it. Granted, we probably wouldn’t build Hetch Hetchy today. But it’s already built, and the ingeniously engineered system continues to provide extraordinary economic, environmental, and social justice benefit to millions of Californians inside and outside San Francisco. In a country with scores of useless reservoirs begging to be torn down, Hetch Hetchy is the last one we should dismantle. But proponents of Proposition F say it would only authorize a study to see if it’s feasible to restore the lost Hetch Hetchy valley, what’s wrong with that? Here’s where the breathtaking narcissism comes in. Hetch Hetchy restoration has been studied seven times in the past 25 years, and all the studies say the same thing: it’s not feasible. Why isn’t it feasible? Because it would cost an absurd amount of money. How much money? $10 billion. How much is $10 billion? $10 billion is enough to send every San Francisco child to UC Berkeley for 30 years. $10 billion could provide every California 2012 High School Graduate with a fully funded four-year CSU education. Proposition F would instead have us spend $10 billion on dismantling our largest source of water and carbon-free power, and spew 387,000 metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere trying to replace it, all in the name of building a new campground. Let’s save ourselves billions of dollars for things that matter by saving Hetch Hetchy. Vote No on F.