Earth to California Voters: We have created a train wreck!

The latest poll shows that Arnold Schwarzenegger now holds the embarassing distinction of having the same 22% favorability rate as Gray Davis had when Davis became the first Governor in modern-day California to be recalled by an angry electorate.
Of course the public is angry again and for good reason: we’re at a 12.3% unemployment rate; we have one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country; the Republicans in the legislature continue to demand that we cut the taxes of fat-cat corporations and the well-heeled oil industry and yet demand more from hard-working Californians, while providing us with less.
We’re looking at a billionaire who thinks she’s Queen and thinks she’s equipped to “govern” the state. This is the same person who failed to vote for two decades and has, during this campaign, done more flip-flops than Arnold can do push-ups.
We’ve got a $19.3 Billion deficit that can’t be filled by getting rid of “fraud, waste and abuse” because  there isn’t enough “fraud waste and abuse” to fill a thimble of the state’s deficit. E-Meg wants us to think that, because she presided over a very successful business we should elect her to run the state of California. But increasing profits isn’t what a state government is supposed to do.  The goal of business is profit. We all know that—and if not, just check out Goldman-Sachs which says by making all this money, it’s doing “the lords work.” The role of government is to provide for its people. If we can tighten our belts and give more services for the dollar, that’s great, but the way to judge the success of government is by how well we educate our children, how well we protect our communities and how well we plan and build for the future.
There is no question that Queen Meg is not equipped or prepared to govern our state. That being said, the problem goes well beyond who we decide to have at the controls of the train. The problem is rather the train itself and the tracks upon which it rides
George Skelton observes in the L.A. Times that the problems we are facing don’t totally fall at the feet of the governor—although there is plenty of blame to go around on that score. The problem is an obvious one: California’s system of governance is a mess. It doesn’t work because it is a hodgepodge of stops and starts that don’t mesh, don’t allow majority rule and don’t really require that anyone take responsibility for what they’re doing in Sacramento. Applying the train analogy, we’ve got old and different kinds of rails to ride upon that don’t go in a straight line, aren’t even the same and dead-end all along the route.
I’m no fan of Queen Meg, Meg Whitless, or whatever other cute and probably accurate nicknames are out there which describe her cluelessness and imperial notion of governance. She is clearly unqualified to try to govern the largest state in the nation. But even if she were qualified, had voted over the last 20plus years (which horrorfyingly she has not), the state is simply ungovernable in its present configuration. Period.
Those who have studied or have any experience with state government know that it has been immobilized by several initiatives. Each of them may have had, in their day, a well-intended purpose, but put together they create an alphabet soup of dysfunction. They bump into each other, force the train to stop and turn circles when the train should be moving forward.
What is interesting is that no one knows this better than Jerry Brown. Perhaps that is why he’s speaking more in global concepts than popular but empty promises of cleaning up government or as our now very unpopular governor was accustomed to saying before he became such, “I’m going to blow up the boxes.”  Hmmmmm.
Let’s be clear on what the problems are and not what the right-wing spin machines have so effectively, albeit dishonestly claimed to be the reasons for our state’s deteriorating quality-of-life:
1- We have a revenue problem. It was created by so-called “free market” policies promoted by the Republicans and epitomized by the Bush Administration’s deregulation of just about everything—from the banks and financial institutions (the Goldman-Sachs syndrome) to the de facto deregulation of the oil industry (thanks to MMS’s cozy relationship with the oilies) to giving additional tax-breaks here in California to big monopolies that promised and delivered absolutely nothing in exchange. We have reduced taxes on the wealthiest among us and refused to create a more level-playing field for our young people who ask only the same opportunities that the prior generations had to work hard and live the California Dream.
2- We’re both the most and least democratic state in the country. We require a 2/3 vote of the legislature to pass a budget and a 2/3 vote to increase taxes. No other state does this; no other state is chronically late in getting their fiscal house in order every year. At the same time, we have given the people greater access to direct democracy than most other states through the creation of the initiative and referendum process. (See number 4 below)
3- Term-limits means we expect the least-experienced people to run the most diverse and complex state in the country. We are running the 8th largest economy in the world with inexperienced, short-term leaders. Term limits has been a disaster for good government. Ask Dems and Reps alike (at least those Reps who care about government and making sure it works, whether they think it should come in Extra Large or Small). We foolishly think that we’re punishing the politicians by limiting the length of time they can serve. In fact, what we’re doing is short-changing ourselves.
4- Money, not the people, are controlling public policy. The unique system of direct democracy has given way to big businesses buying their way onto the ballot. Just ask why was there a constitutional amendment on the ballot which would have given PG&E greater monopolistic control than it already has in its service areas (which represent the majority of the state)?

Who are these people who are now challenging the bipartisan global warming measure that will open up California as the leader—in jobs and technology for creation of an alternative energy industry to lead the country and world away from dirty, dangerous fossil fuels? They are four major TEXAS-BASED OIL companies. It is clear that when Hiram Johnson proposed the initiative as a way to insure that the people would be able to trump the power of the railroads (that were controlling the legislature in the early 1900’s), the last thing he dreamed would be that those same greed-driven, monopolistic entities would be taking control of the state yet again,buying their way onto the ballot and then spending millions to mislead the public as to their intentions.
Of course, adding to the corporate take-over of democracy, both in California and the nation is the outrageous U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United. In one fell swoop, this biased, “free-market” cabal has all but assured right-wing monopolies will control the future of elections and electoral politics for years to come.
All that being said, there is one thing that is clear: If we want to get California back on track, we certainly don’t want the party of NO to be in charge. We’ve seen what they’ve done nationally—and what kind of pollution, dysfunction and economic destruction they bring when we give them the power to do so. Look no farther than the Gulf of Mexico and Wall Street for starters. The right-wing that has taken over a once moderate, but business-leaning party, hates government (unless they’re running it) and doesn’t care if they take the state or country down with them as long as they regain control. That’s not democracy and that’s not what we, the people, are entitled to receive. 
We need to fix the system and thus the train tracks before we expect to turn this train around. Unless and until we do that, we’re going to see our beloved California continue its journey into the abyss and wonder why it happened.
This crisis is well-beyond any individual candidate and any single election. We’ve got to wake up to the mess that has befallen the rules of government in California. We, the people, want and deserve good schools, good roads, clean air and water, safe streets and economic opportunity. Until we straighten out how we run this state, we’re not going to get what we need for a brighter tomorrow. Time is running out.

3 thoughts on “Earth to California Voters: We have created a train wreck!

  1. I believe Hanna’s comments to truly illustrate a fundamental difference between the liberal view of the world and the conservative one. Consider her statement: The role of government is to provide for its people.
    Is this really true? It is not in the constitution. Furthermore, does it actually make sense? My role is to provide for myself and my children. If I give that role to the government, then where is the end of government? Since people have different goals and desires, the role of government becomes all consuming. Government then becomes responsible to feed, shelter, educate, provide medical care, provide amusement (was that was Colbert was testifying before congress?), etc. Literally everything in society in some way provides for people. This means everything is the perview of government.
    My view of government is that it should provide a legal framework for our society, protect against external threats, and pretty much get out of the way. Societal infrastructure should be provied by taxes that the government collects then hires contractors to build and execute (roads, for example). In almost all other cases, it is better for the government to allow the individual to determine what he wants for himself. For example, education would be far better if we gave parents vouchers and allowed them to be responsible for their childrens’ education.
    The philosophy Hannah argues for is truly the road to serfdom.

  2. Thank you, David, for your comment. I appreciate your thoughtful and civil response. How nice to see someone with a different point of view disagree respectfully. I will, in turn, do the same in response:
    Between virtually no government and complete government run everything, there is a broad spectrum of options. I believe government should and must play a role in protecting the public and providing opportunities that the private sector cannont do, especially when the bottom line for the private arena is PROFIT. The responsibility of government is its PEOPLE–protecting us from uncontrolled greed like Wall Street, Big Banks, dangerous products, environmental pollution. Government should provide protections and opportunities like education, infra-structure, roads, highways, quality of life, access to quality and affordable healthcare and educational opportunity for its people. The list continues, but those are and have been long-standing goals and responsibilities that the public expects and is entitled to expect from its government.
    I suspect you think that the “free-market” approach, unfettered by regulations or responsibilities to the public is the best approach. I think we’ve seen over and over again that the “free-market” isn’t free. When these “too-big-to-fail” entities, in particular, get caught acting with utter abandon and irresponsibility, the rest of us suffer–and pay up through our taxes. If we don’t, the economy collapses and we’re all seriously impacted.
    The private sector and capitalism as a system is strictly for profit; it is a system devoid of moral requirements by its very nature. Those who control the system become very rich, almost always to the detriment of the rest of us. Here is where government needs to play a role and a significant one. There is no better example of this than the recent serious recession which we have experienced. Uncontrolled greed creates catastrophic results. If not government regulation, oversight and enforcement, the public at large suffers dramatically from the selfishness of others.
    While there must be some flexibility, the issue is how much. Should PG&E, for example, be able to ignore the dangerous conditions of its eroding pipes? Should BP be able to ignore safety requirements in laying gaslines for oil exploration? Should we ignore the contaminants coming into our children’s toys from China? Should we turn and look away as food producers allow botulism and other contaminants to fester in its eggs and meat? Should mining companies be able to pollute our drinking water supplies through their cavalier, money-only approach to their bottom line?
    I think most of us would answer with a resounding “No”. So the question then is: Who should and can prevent this kind of dangerous, life and planet threatening behavior?
    I think this is where you and I and our particular visions of the world part company.
    What is your answer? Mine is that government must initiate laws that protect the public, the environment, our quality of life and the planet as a whole. At the same time, government can and should encourage creativity, entrepreneurship, philanthropy and excellence. But within certain guidelines so that those who work hard or are challenged with disabilities or poverty can also live with basic human dignity and respect. It isn’t an easy balancing act, but one always worth discussing and pursuing.
    Your turn.

  3. I am an engineer and have worked a longtime in the oil, gas, and pharmaceutical industries. Odd combination, true, I got into pharmaceuticals during a down period for oil.
    From my viewpoint, the US economy got into a credit crunch because a lot of large institutions loaned money to people to buy homes that they were not financially able to actually pay for. When I examine the facts of this what I find is that these banks and instutions (such as Fannie and Freddie) were not under-regulated. Rather they were top heavy with government regulators. Loans were made at the demand of the government. All one has to do is to understand the community redevelopment act and listen to audio tapes of Barney Frank who when told that Fannie and Freddie were over-leverage in 2007 denied there was a problem and said, “let the dice role.”
    As far as “too big too fail” what does that mean? I think they should have failed. Certainly GM should have been allowed to. But, these institutions were propped up with billions of dollars. To be honest, GM and Chrysler were propped up to support the UAW. And, if you are honest, you will admit that.
    The government through tarp has control of the banks, today. Why not downsize them? yet, the federal government chooses not to do so. Why? I assume political influence.
    By the way, we do not live in an Oliver Stone movie and Gordon Gecko was right when he said “Greed is good.” Greed makes you go to school, defer gratification, and invest for the future. Sure, you can say too much greed is bad, but isn’t too much of anything (including government) bad?
    Now, as far as BP is concerned I think you are not entirely wrong. I have worked on contracts for BP and they are generally penny wise and dollar stupid. They have made a lot of mistakes and this oil spill was just the latest. I might point out that the company has taken a $50 billion cut in its market equity and its stockholders (many of the retirees that have lost their dividends) are paying the price. I think there culture will change because of this, not because of any government regulations. I have dealt with government regulators and they are generally ineffective and stupid (i.e. see Barney Frank above).
    having said all that, don’t you think, at some point California has to back off? With a 9.55% marginal state income tax rate and 1 10.5% sales tax, the state is punishing its taxpayers. My wife and I are both engineers and we make pretty good money. However, one of the reasons we left California was the cost of taxes. Consider that in our last year in California, We were paying in raw numbers $30,000 federal taxes, $14,000 in state income taxes, $13,000 FICA, and $10,000 property taxes. That was coming to $67,000. Thus, we moved to Texas and saved $14,000 in state income taxes and $5,000 in property taxes. You are simply incentivizing your taxbase to leave.

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