Category Archives: Politics

California Propositions on the Ballot – November 6, 2012 UPDATED WITH RESULTS

This year, adding to the excitement of the presidential race, there are a bunch of high-profile measures on the ballot, some even conflicting with each other. Here are some helpful Cliff Notes on the various props and how I would vote on them.

Proposition 30 – Vote YES      PASSED
Proposition 31 – Vote NO         FAILED
Proposition 32– Vote NO          FAILED
Proposition 33 – Vote NO         FAILED
Proposition 34– Vote YES        FAILED
Proposition 35 – Vote YES       PASSED
Proposition 36 – Vote YES       PASSED
Proposition 37 – Vote NO         FAILED
Proposition 38– Vote NO          FAILED
Proposition 39 – Vote YES       PASSED
Proposition 40 – Vote YES       PASSED

Proposition 30 –Proposition 30 is a broad and sweeping sales and income tax increase proposed by Governor Jerry Brown. Sales tax goes up from 7.25% to 7.5% and income taxes increase in various ways for those making over $250,000 for a period of 7 years and this increase takes place retroactively from Jan 1, 2012. The tricky part of this proposition is that funds from this proposition have already been taken into account in the state budget passed in June of this year, which prevented massive cuts to education. So if Prop 30 fails to pass, these cuts will automatically be triggered.

Arguments: Opponents argue that California already has high taxes and increasing taxes would be a burden on an economy that is still struggling. However, Prop 30 restores partially certain taxes that expired in 2010 and 2011. According to the Mercury News, “the overall tax burden will be the same as it was two years ago.” Another propostion, Prop 38 also takes aim at school funding. Read below to see why prop 30 is preferable.

My opinion: VOTE YES.

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Proposition 31: The two most important elements of Prop 31 are the establishment of a two-year budget cycle and allowing the Governor to cut spending unilaterally in the event of a fiscal emergency. This prop also prohibits the California State Legislature from “creating expenditures of more than $25 million unless offsetting revenues or spending cuts are identified”and puts some performance reviews of state programs in place. Another feature of the prop is that it gives counties the power to alter state statutes or regulations related to spending unless the state legislature or a state agency vetoes those changes within 60 days.

Arguments: This measure goes some way in making government more accountable. However, opponents are concerned about the extra power given to the Governor. Also, by having to offset every expenditure with a corresponding revenue, the prop severely hampers use of surplus funds arising out of economic development. Opponents also argue that by giving counties the power to override state legislation, it will create a patchwork of contradictary laws across the state.

My opinion: VOTE NO.

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Proposition 32: Prop 32 bans corporate and union contributions to political candidates. It also bans government contractors from contributing to politicians who have a say in contracts awarded to them and bans automatic deductions from corporations, unions, and government employees’ wages for political contributions.

Arguments: On the face of it, this proposition looks like the cleaning of the Augean stables of political money. However, by exempting business Super PACs and independent expenditure committees from this measure, the proposition effectively makes them the sole contributors to political candidates. This takes away the checks and balance big money has from union contributions by middle class workers. By limiting the ban to “paycheck deductions” the writers of this measure have created a loophole that allows contributions by corporations that come straight from their treasury.

My opinion: VOTE NO.

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Proposition 33: Prop 33 is very similar to an old Prop 17, which was narrowly defeated by voters in 2010. This prop allows for loyalty discounts to be given by auto insurance companies even when they get a new customer, provided the customer was insured continuously over the previous five years.

Arguments: The reason Prop 17 was defeated was because it had a clause in it that would allow insurance companies to severely penalize drivers who had lapsed in coverage. Voters saw through the intentions of George Joseph, the billionaire owner of Mercury Insurance, who funded that prop and this year’s prop 33 as well. Prop 33 has the same clause that allows increase of insurance fees for drivers without continuous coverage and deserves to be voted down as well.

My opinion: VOTE NO

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Proposition 34: Voting yes for the proposition effectively ends the death penalty in California. California is one of the 33 states in te US that currently have the death penalty.

Arguments: Should we be ranked with countries like Libya, Iran and Iraq who still have the death penalty? Hopefully we are more civilized than that.

My opinion: VOTE YES

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Proposition 35: This proposition takes a tough stance on human sex trafficking, expanding the definition and imposing more severe punishment.

Arguments: Opponents argue that this would broaden the definition of pimping and intrude into the definition of consensual sex between two adults, but this one is a no-brainer.

My opinion: VOTE YES

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Proposition 36: Modifies the state’s current three strikes law to provide for a life sentence only if the third offense is violent. Also provides for a reassessment of prison sentences for those already convicted under this law if their offenses were not very serious or violent.

Arguments: The three strikes law, passed in 1994, was a response to the murder of a girl by a repeat offender. However, in practice, the law pulled into its fold several offenders who were convicted of much more minor offenses like drug possession and petty thievery, ballooning prison costs , money that could be spent on better purposes like education and infrastructure. This modification is much overdue.

My opinion: VOTE YES.

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Proposition 37: This proposition requires labeling on raw or processed food offered for sale to consumers if the food is made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways. It has several exemptions.

Arguments: The biggest trouble with this prop, written with the best of intentions, is that it has been drafted in such a way as to make implementation very confusing and arbitrary. Though its opponents are the same companies that resisted transparency in labeling, the exemptions provided for “certified organic; unintentionally produced with genetically engineered material; made from animals fed or injected with genetically engineered material but not genetically engineered themselves; processed with or containing only small amounts of genetically engineered ingredients; administered for treatment of medical conditions; sold for immediate consumption such as in a restaurant; or alcoholic beverages” make this a fairly toothless and arbitrary law. While I believe there is a need to label foods as GM, the law needs to be clearer and less ambiguous.

My opinion: VOTE NO

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Proposition 38: Proposition 38 will increase state income tax rates for most Californians for a period of 12 years, with
most of the new revenue of $10 billion going to public school districts and early childhood development programs.

Arguments: Here is another proposition with great intentions and poor delivery. While funding public schools is a laudable cause, this proposition puts money directly in school hands instead of school districts, which means that rich schools would get the same amount of money as poor schools for things like technology, which makes no sense. Also, the money goes just to K-12 schools and charter schools, leaving universities out of the loop. This also competes directly with Prop 30; if both pass, the one with the most votes wins (more or less).

My opinion: VOTE NO

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Proposition 39: Prop 39 requires out-of-state businesses to pay California taxes based on their sales in the state and repeals existing law giving out-of-state businesses an option to choose a more preferential tax liability formula. Added revenue from this measure would fund energy efficiency and clean energy projects in the state.

Arguments: This measure levels the playing field for existing California businesses and encourages companies to invest in jobs and infrastructure in the state, since there is no more advantage to maintain a presence outside California.

My opinion: VOTE YES

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Proposition 40: In 2008, voters approved a Citizen’s Redistricting Commission that would redraw the state Senate districts. Opponents of that measure are trying to overturn it by voter referenndum. Voting Yes would keep the Commission in place. Voting No would overturn the commission and put the responsibility of drawing the district lines back with the legislature.

Arguments: The redistricting process has worked well with no complaints from citizens. Even the opponents of the Commission have given up and stopped their opposition.

My opinion: VOTE YES

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Jaya Ho! Women Power

With Mamata and Jayalalitha being sworn in chief ministers, nearly 380 million or 30% of the population will be governed by women [include UP under Mayavathi and Delhi under Sheila Dikshit]. It’s interesting that for decades women have been asking for a bill allowing 33% reservation of parliament seats for women. Life’s little irony!
Of the two results – in W. Bengal and Tamil Nadu – it was the one in Tamil Nadu that sprang a big surprise. News channels were way off the mark when they predicted anything from a DMK victory to a narrow lead for Jaya’s ADMK in assembly numbers. Just goes to show how these “scientific” polls done in AC-ed computer rooms and among a mere 6000 respondents are complete duds. The drivers, hawkers, maids and industrial workers were sure – amma would come back. They were worried about just one thing – the counting could be rigged. “She will win,” my maid said emphatically. “But a month between polling and counting… that worries me.”
Yet, the numbers are a surprise – 203/234. In all the interviews and analyses we were subjected to, it is Jaya alone who believed in these numbers. “My alliance will get over 200 seats,” she said, and one could see the interviewer smirking. I wonder where she is now – the interviewer, I mean.
So, how did the comeback queen, well, come back?
[1] Her campaign. She organised a youth wing, issued cards to them, asked them to find their own leaders. Once that got through, every week, she asked party leaders to organise street corner meetings in every town, every district. These were done from open trucks at public places and included all these new members. This was the training ground for the new recruits on how to reach out to the people. The speeches were meticulously written – by herself – describing local problems and attacking the local governments. These protests were recorded and broadcast on her Jaya TV and drew large audiences.
[2] In the month preceding the poll date she stormed the state – in a vehicle that dramatically opened at the top. One could hear audible gasps among the public when she emerged from the opening seated under a canopy. Tamil Nadu loves opening scenes; when the actor appears in the movie, he/she is greeted with whistles and applause.
[3] In every one of her election speeches she talked of the state – the state of the economy and law and order. She had stats to show how the power production had gone down, how the state debt had risen, how sand and granite were being mined illegally, how the prices had risen, the free rice was being sold in neighbouring states, rounding it off with the thundering announcement that in the middle of all this, the first family managed to prosper. She connected the “family’s” biz interests to why they were soft on Sri Lankan Tamils’ plight, to the Cauvery issue with Karnataka. It did help that she was once a very popular actor.
[4] She protested relentlessly, to the Election Commissioner. She explained how elections had been rigged in the past, how money got distributed, how the counting could go wrong, and what she wanted done. Amazingly, every one of her requests got accepted.
[5] She made a strategic alliance with another actor’s party – DMDK. The party had a 10% vote share in the previous election – a share that was cast against the ruling DMK. She gave them the 41 seats they demanded and kept for herself enough numbers to form her own government. “The people of Tamil Nadu will not like a coalition government,” she explained. Vijaykant (DMDK) too, saw the benefit of this alliance – he wanted DMK ouster and presence for himself in the assembly. The handshake paid off very handsomely for him. With 27+ seats now DMDK is the second largest party in the assembly and Vijaykant could be the leader of the opposition!
[6] Jaya knew that the last assembly elections were won because of the promise of freebies. Going for something free is deeply ingrained in the Tamil psyche- or why do shops announce “commissions” in gold buying! Even when you buy veggies you expect free sprigs of curry and coriander leaves – the “kosuru” without which no householder will pay the vendor! She waited for the DMK to announce the freebies, and doubled everything – they promised money, she promised gold. They promised free power, she promised cows and goats as well. Result: the “freebie” lure got neutralised.
[7] She put the 2G spectrum issue to the forefront by offering to support the central government unconditionally. Speaking calmly and in perfectly measured tones and with excellent diction she told a TV channel that she would see to it that the government did not fall if Raja got arrested and the DMK withdrew support. If she were seen as a crusader against corruption, could the Congress afford to lag behind? Raja was put behind bars and the spectrum issue became everyday conversation.
[8] She got help from NGOs. Several organisations went around campaigning against corruption – they printed booklets explaining the spectrum case, about land grabbing, environmental disasters coming out of the frenzy of building, about heritage sites being damaged by the Metro Rail project. I don’t know when a vast majority of people got educated on complex issues so thoroughly before elections.
[9] Tamil Nadu has a high percentage of educated voters. That may be because here politicos see education as business and any number of schools and engineering colleges are run using political profits. The young educated demographic know what is going on, and what to do.
[10] Jaya used her TV’s reach very well. [Did she hire a good PR firm?] In a series of talk shows, her anchors discussed economic issues in the state with experts, the spectrum case with all the players involved in TN and at the centre.
So it was all hard work and strategy. To dismiss the victory as the “people’s habit of seeking change” is to overlook the many pixels in the picture.
Jayalalitha has a very difficult task ahead “putting the administration back on rails”. We can only wish her the best. And hope she will set aside temptations of vendetta and concentrate on her mandated job.

By Geeta Padmanabhan

webOnly_JayaWith Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalitha being sworn in chief ministers, nearly 380 million or 30% of the population will be governed by women [include UP under Mayavathi and Delhi under Sheila Dikshit]. It’s interesting that for decades women have been asking for a bill allowing 33% reservation of parliament seats for women. Life’s little irony!

Of the two results – in W. Bengal and Tamil Nadu – it was the one in Tamil Nadu that sprang a big surprise. News channels were way off the mark when they predicted anything from a DMK victory to a narrow lead for Jaya’s ADMK in assembly numbers. Just goes to show how these “scientific” polls done in AC-ed computer rooms and among a mere 6000 respondents are complete duds. The drivers, hawkers, maids and industrial workers were sure – amma would come back. They were worried about just one thing – the counting could be rigged. “She will win,” my maid said emphatically. “But a month between polling and counting… that worries me.”

Yet, the numbers are a surprise – 203/234. In all the interviews and analyses we were subjected to, it is Jaya alone who believed in these numbers. “My alliance will get over 200 seats,” she said, and one could see the interviewer smirking. I wonder where she is now – the interviewer, I mean.

So, how did the comeback queen, well, come back?

[1] Her campaign. She organised a youth wing, issued cards to them, asked them to find their own leaders. Once that got through, every week, she asked party leaders to organise street corner meetings in every town, every district. These were done from open trucks at public places and included all these new members. This was the training ground for the new recruits on how to reach out to the people. The speeches were meticulously written – by herself – describing local problems and attacking the local governments. These protests were recorded and broadcast on her Jaya TV and drew large audiences.

[2] In the month preceding the poll date she stormed the state – in a vehicle that dramatically opened at the top. One could hear audible gasps among the public when she emerged from the opening seated under a canopy. Tamil Nadu loves opening scenes; when the actor appears in the movie, he/she is greeted with whistles and applause.

[3] In every one of her election speeches she talked of the state – the state of the economy and law and order. She had stats to show how the power production had gone down, how the state debt had risen, how sand and granite were being mined illegally, how the prices had risen, the free rice was being sold in neighbouring states, rounding it off with the thundering announcement that in the middle of all this, the first family managed to prosper. She connected the “family’s” biz interests to why they were soft on Sri Lankan Tamils’ plight, to the Cauvery issue with Karnataka. It did help that she was once a very popular actor.

[4] She protested relentlessly, to the Election Commissioner. She explained how elections had been rigged in the past, how money got distributed, how the counting could go wrong, and what she wanted done. Amazingly, every one of her requests got accepted.

[5] She made a strategic alliance with another actor’s party – DMDK. The party had a 10% vote share in the previous election – a share that was cast against the ruling DMK. She gave them the 41 seats they demanded and kept for herself enough numbers to form her own government. “The people of Tamil Nadu will not like a coalition government,” she explained. Vijaykant (DMDK) too, saw the benefit of this alliance – he wanted DMK ouster and presence for himself in the assembly. The handshake paid off very handsomely for him. With 27+ seats now DMDK is the second largest party in the assembly and Vijaykant could be the leader of the opposition!

[6] Jaya knew that the last assembly elections were won because of the promise of freebies. Going for something free is deeply ingrained in the Tamil psyche- or why do shops announce “commissions” in gold buying! Even when you buy veggies you expect free sprigs of curry and coriander leaves – the “kosuru” without which no householder will pay the vendor! She waited for the DMK to announce the freebies, and doubled everything – they promised money, she promised gold. They promised free power, she promised cows and goats as well. Result: the “freebie” lure got neutralised.

[7] She put the 2G spectrum issue to the forefront by offering to support the central government unconditionally. Speaking calmly and in perfectly measured tones and with excellent diction she told a TV channel that she would see to it that the government did not fall if Raja got arrested and the DMK withdrew support. If she were seen as a crusader against corruption, could the Congress afford to lag behind? Raja was put behind bars and the spectrum issue became everyday conversation.

[8] She got help from NGOs. Several organisations went around campaigning against corruption – they printed booklets explaining the spectrum case, about land grabbing, environmental disasters coming out of the frenzy of building, about heritage sites being damaged by the Metro Rail project. I don’t know when a vast majority of people got educated on complex issues so thoroughly before elections.

[9] Tamil Nadu has a high percentage of educated voters. That may be because here politicos see education as business and any number of schools and engineering colleges are run using political profits. The young educated demographic know what is going on, and what to do.

[10] Jaya used her TV’s reach very well. [Did she hire a good PR firm?] In a series of talk shows, her anchors discussed economic issues in the state with experts, the spectrum case with all the players involved in TN and at the centre.

So it was all hard work and strategy. To dismiss the victory as the “people’s habit of seeking change” is to overlook the many pixels in the picture.

Jayalalitha has a very difficult task ahead “putting the administration back on rails”. We can only wish her the best. And hope she will set aside temptations of vendetta and concentrate on her mandated job.

Winds of Change: 5 states in India go to the polls tomorrow

Hi Vidya,
Here is another piece. I have pasted it below. Yes, I can use the computer already!
Love, Mom.
Winds of change?
The excitement is palpable. Election results in the five states that went to polls are to be announced tomorrow – Friday the thirteenth. These elections, though in just five states out of the 29, were remarkable for many reasons.
In Dr. Qureshi, the country has a Chief Election Commissioner who believes in the rule of law – specially election rules of law. Like the grinning assassin, he smilingly went about supporting state chief electoral officers after demanding from them the strictest adherence to rules of conducting elections. What followed was nothing short of thorough education – for both the politicos and the public – on how elections should be conducted. The “model code of conduct” unfolded and was implemented, leaving us speechless. No wall graffiti, the State Chief Electoral Officer said, and white-washed those that got painted in the night. No street meetings blocking traffic, he said and sent the police to stop them. No buntings, no billboards, no convoys of politicians choking the roads, he said. The only avenue left to campaign was on a single vehicle and by going door-to-door, the old-fashioned way.
Flying squads could be called when party “functionaries” were caught distributing cash or kind. Distribution did not get stopped altogether, but news of capture of cash and freebies got splashed in the press, bad press! In one raid, Rs.5 crore was detected and deposited with the I-T department. In another, a book with names of the recipients neatly ticked off was taken away.
“People are not being allowed to do legitimate business,” said the ruling party. “Show documents for the cash and take it back,” said the electoral officer. “The district magistrates are harassing people,” said the ruling party. “They are strictly following our orders,” said the EO. “The government cannot carry on its business,” said the CM. “During elections, the government should remain suspended,” retorted the EO. “There is no colour, no conviviality this election,” said a union minister. “Elections are serious business,” said the EO. A union minister and a local bigwig assaulted a videographer and the revenue officer accompanying him (appointed to shoot pictures of cash transfers) and the revenue official promptly filed a case. The RO’s driver was murdered and the poor RO withdrew his FIR giving a different version of the scuffle. The case should be dismissed, said the union minister. “No,” said the court. “We are dealing with the first case. You can appeal again for the second case separately.” Ha.
The results will be announced tomorrow. History could be made if
[1] Mamata Banerjee wins West Bengal breaking the 33-year reign of a democratically elected communist government. This could leave the communist party with minimum presence in Indian governance.
[2] Jayalalitha comes back to power in Tamil Nadu. A lot of the underhand dealings of the last five years will come to light. The factions within the first family will be exposed. The equation between the Congress and the DMK will change. It will also put an end to freebie politics. Hopefully, sand/granite mining and land-grabbing will ebb. About the progress of the 2G spectrum case, can it be stopped now?
[3] If the left front comes back in Kerala. This state has always gone in for a change – that chain will be broken and the present chief minister’s credibility will be proven beyond doubt.
The winds of change are blowing elsewhere as well.
In J&K, for the first time in many decades a Kashmiri Pandit woman has been elected Sarpanch in a Muslim dominated area. Is this a beginning of integration?
In Andhra Pradesh, tribal women chased the MLA away (they threw mud on him) for not supporting them in their efforts to stop clay quarrying by private operators.
At the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, students refused to take the degree certificates (they stood and protested) when Union Minister for Environment came to deliver the convocation address. They didn’t want him to clear the Jaitapur nuclear project.
In Chennai, a small group of activists stopped sand quarrying at the Adyar estuary by quoting the rules and High Court judgments to the officials. The river was dug up in the night by a private operator with a bulldozer, but the officials have promised to restore the river.
The action will soon shift to the banning of Endosulfan nationwide. The Kerala chief minister has been actively campaigning for the ban. The infamous union minister for environment has made a statement that Endosulfan is not all that dangerous (he actually said it, guess he hasn’t seen the photographs of what it did at Kasargod in Kerala!) but the protests loom ahead.
Compare all this with Newt Gingrich’s announcement of his candidacy for next Presidential race and his ha-ha reason why he strayed from marriage. Dishwater!

By Geeta Padmanabhan

webOnly_IndiaElectionsThe excitement is palpable. Election results in the five states that went to polls are to be announced tomorrow – Friday the thirteenth. These elections, though in just five states out of the 29, were remarkable for many reasons.

In Dr. Qureshi, the country has a Chief Election Commissioner who believes in the rule of law – specially election rules of law. Like the grinning assassin, he smilingly went about supporting state chief electoral officers after demanding from them the strictest adherence to rules of conducting elections. What followed was nothing short of thorough education – for both the politicos and the public – on how elections should be conducted. The “model code of conduct” unfolded and was implemented, leaving us speechless. No wall graffiti, the State Chief Electoral Officer said, and white-washed those that got painted in the night. No street meetings blocking traffic, he said and sent the police to stop them. No buntings, no billboards, no convoys of politicians choking the roads, he said. The only avenue left to campaign was on a single vehicle and by going door-to-door, the old-fashioned way.

Flying squads could be called when party “functionaries” were caught distributing cash or kind. Distribution did not get stopped altogether, but news of capture of cash and freebies got splashed in the press, bad press! In one raid, Rs.5 crore was detected and deposited with the I-T department. In another, a book with names of the recipients neatly ticked off was taken away.

“People are not being allowed to do legitimate business,” said the ruling party. “Show documents for the cash and take it back,” said the electoral officer. “The district magistrates are harassing people,” said the ruling party. “They are strictly following our orders,” said the EO. “The government cannot carry on its business,” said the CM. “During elections, the government should remain suspended,” retorted the EO. “There is no colour, no conviviality this election,” said a union minister. “Elections are serious business,” said the EO. A union minister and a local bigwig assaulted a videographer and the revenue officer accompanying him (appointed to shoot pictures of cash transfers) and the revenue official promptly filed a case. The RO’s driver was murdered and the poor RO withdrew his FIR giving a different version of the scuffle. The case should be dismissed, said the union minister. “No,” said the court. “We are dealing with the first case. You can appeal again for the second case separately.” Ha.

The results will be announced tomorrow. History could be made if

[1] Mamata Banerjee wins West Bengal breaking the 33-year reign of a democratically elected communist government. This could leave the communist party with minimum presence in Indian governance.

[2] Jayalalitha comes back to power in Tamil Nadu. A lot of the underhand dealings of the last five years will come to light. The factions within the first family will be exposed. The equation between the Congress and the DMK will change. It will also put an end to freebie politics. Hopefully, sand/granite mining and land-grabbing will ebb. About the progress of the 2G spectrum case, can it be stopped now?

[3] If the left front comes back in Kerala. This state has always gone in for a change – that chain will be broken and the present chief minister’s credibility will be proven beyond doubt.

The winds of change are blowing elsewhere as well.

In J&K, for the first time in many decades a Kashmiri Pandit woman has been elected Sarpanch in a Muslim dominated area. Is this a beginning of integration?

In Andhra Pradesh, tribal women chased the MLA away (they threw mud on him) for not supporting them in their efforts to stop clay quarrying by private operators.

At the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, students refused to take the degree certificates (they stood and protested) when Union Minister for Environment came to deliver the convocation address. They didn’t want him to clear the Jaitapur nuclear project.

In Chennai, a small group of activists stopped sand quarrying at the Adyar estuary by quoting the rules and High Court judgments to the officials. The river was dug up in the night by a private operator with a bulldozer, but the officials have promised to restore the river.

The action will soon shift to the banning of Endosulfan nationwide. The Kerala chief minister has been actively campaigning for the ban. The infamous union minister for environment has made a statement that Endosulfan is not all that dangerous (he actually said it, guess he hasn’t seen the photographs of what it did at Kasargod in Kerala!) but the protests loom ahead.

Compare all this with Newt Gingrich’s announcement of his candidacy for next Presidential race and his ha-ha reason why he strayed from marriage. Dishwater!

Revoking the 14th Amendment

14th amendmentAs the election approaches, the Republicans have predictably raised a hot button issue that they hope will drive their voters to the polls, now that gay marriage is no longer as inflammatory as they would like. Their latest boogieman is the 14th amendment which, among other things,  gives anyone born in the United States the right of citizenship automatically. The proposal is to amend the Constitution so that children of illegal immigrants can no longer be citizens.

At first glance, this seems reasonable. After all, why give illegal immigrants a reward for their behavior.  Even people with somewhat liberal proclivities have confessed to thinking this is not such a bad idea. But, apart from the history behind the reason for the Amendment in the first place ( see Wikipedia article here) this is a pretty bad idea.

I wasn’t quite able to explain coherently why, but the Intertubes came to the rescue, as usual. In a blog post in Swampland (the Time magazine blog) blogger Kate Pickert asks these questions, which provide a great deal of clarity to the debate. Read and realize, as I did, the consequences of revoking the 14th Amendment

If their U.S.-born children wouldn’t become automatic citizens, would illegal immigrants choose not to have children in America? Would revoking this American right under our current Constitution actually really change anything on the ground? Hospitals that now care for undocumented immigrant women would most certainly still do so, even if their babies were similarly illegal. Would states, which control their own schools, disallow non-citizens from attending? What would be the social consequences of having an entire generation of these children grow up in the U.S. without being educated? What if a child was born to an undocumented father and a U.S. citizen mother? What about an undocumented mother and a citizen father? How do you prove this? Will the federal government require paternity tests before granting citizenship?

The central question that comes to mind is – do we really want an uneducated, unemployable sub-class of citizens a generation from now? And just imagine the bureaucracy ( and, consequently, money) involved in determining who can be a citizen and who cannot. For people who decry big government and want no part of any kind of governmental intrusion in their lives, this is a pretty big hypocrisy.

Primer for the California Primaries: June 8

vote

Results Update: Money power prevailed on Tuesday as the candidates deep pockets won. But Prop 16, which had an early lead, ended up being defeated. Scroll down for results.

It is a measure of our relative levels of peace and prosperity that we are so apathetic about voting, especially in primaries. That, and California’s horrendous habit of putting everything up to public referenda, abdicating the legislature’s responsibility to the voters. No wonder voters typically close their eyes (and minds) and blindly vote no on everything. Or stay home.

The trouble is, if you, as an informed voter, choose to stay out of the election process, then you hand over an enormous amount of power to the crazies on the fringe (one reason why the Tea Party is such a potent threat is that THEY VOTE!!!)

So go vote on Tuesday and here’s a quick primer to help you make up your mind on the various propositions and candidates up on the ballot.


PROPOSITIONS

Summary

Proposition 13 – Vote YES. Result: YES
Proposition 14 – Vote YES  Result: YES
Proposition 15 – Vote YES  Result: NO
Proposition 16 – Vote NO    Result: NO
Proposition 17 – Vote NO   Result: NO

Proposition 13- Voting Yes makes it easier for builders, developers, and property owners to make earthquake retrofits to their property without worrying that the retrofits will raise the value of the property and therefore, property tax.

Voting No preserves the status quo.

VOTE YES.

See, that was an easy one. You do want buildings in California to be safer, right?
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Proposition 14 – Voting Yes changes the primary process for a bunch of state positions, including Governor, and national positions, including Senators and Congress representatives. Basically, all voters would have all candidates on the ballot, and instead of the Democratic Party winner duking it out with the Republican Party winner in November, it would be the top two vote getters. In theory, you could have 2 Democratic candidates or 2 Republican candidates squaring off the in the general elections.

In theory this sounds rather nice, because we have seen how primaries can make even reasonable candidates tack hard left or hard right as they try to appeal to their base in the primaries. This way, you’d probably have candidates try to stay centrist in their positions in order to attract as many voters of either party.

In practice, the party affiliations would still show up on the ballot, so registered members of each party are probably going to vote along party lines anyway. And the successful candidates are usually the ones with the most money.

Still, I like the prospect of having candidates trying to appeal to a wider audience than the extreme elements of their base, even if it means that in today’s gerrymandered districts one party could get completely shut out of the general election. (Yes, you could have Carly Fiorina and Chuck DeVore vying for Senator and then you can stay home!). Third party candidates have been complaining that they will be shut out of the ballot process in November, but when did they have a chance anyway.

I am inclined to VOTE YES.
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Proposition 15 – Voting Yes on this proposition lifts the ban on public funding for political campaigns. It also establishes a public funding system for the Secretary of State position. You might call this a trial balloon for future public funding for other legislative races. Here’s how it will hopefully play out:

Once this proposition goes through, a system of public funding will be established for the Secretary of State position. Funds for this system will not come from taxpayers; rather, a higher fee on lobbyists and voluntary contributions will create the capital fund. Candidates eligible for public funding will have to prove they are serious contenders by collecting a certain number of signatures. They also prohibited from spending any more money than they are allotted.

If this works out, other legislative races have the option of going for public funding, since the ban has been lifted by this proposition.

This measure also expires in 2019, so we will have time to see how it works in 2014 and 2018.

Absolutely VOTE YES. Any step that moves us towards public campaign finance is a welcome step.
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Proposition 16- Have you seen any ad urging you to “Vote No” for this proposition? No? Didn’t think so. This proposition has been bankrolled and shamelessly promoted by PG&E, whose massive ad budget has simply drowned out the opposition.

Voting Yes on this proposition means that local governments would need approval from two-thirds of the voters before they can use alternative means of providing electricity services to their constituents. Since PG&E pretty much has a monopoly on electricity services at this time, and getting a two-thirds vote on anything is pretty much impossible, this is nothing but a blatant attempt to preserve the monopoly.

PG&E has been putting up really misleading ads that this is about our “Right to Vote,” but requiring an absolute majority is a subversion of the democratic process, and leads to minority rule, as can be seen from the gridlock in the U.S. Senate over the last year with filibuster threats by the Republicans for every little initiative.
Also, many townships with independent electricity contracts, like Palo Alto, currently have much lower electricity rates and this measure would make it much more expensive for them to expand service to new homeowners.

This is a bad proposition put up by a greedy power company. Opponents have not had any money to put up a spirited campaign so it up to us to educate ourselves and defeat it.

VOTE NO!!!
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Proposition 17 – Voting Yes changes insurance law to allow companies to penalize or reward drivers based on whether they have had continuous insurance coverage or now, regardless of which company they had coverage with. Supposedly, a surcharge to switch coverage is eliminated, and discounts can be offered by insurance companies if the driver maintains continuous coverage.

However, currently drivers in California do not pay a surcharge to switch companies. So this proposition’s claim to remove the surcharge is redundant. However, this proposition does add penalties for coverage lapse. If there was any period of time of 91 days or more in the last five years where you did not pay an insurance premium, you could be hit with heavy penalties, even if your driving record is blemish free or even if you never had a car.
Prop 17 is almost completely funded by Mercury insurance. Enough said.

VOTE NO.

CANDIDATES:

Governor

Republican: Steve Poizner. Supports gay rights, abortion rights. Fiscal conservative. Hard-working insurance commissioner. Result: Meg Whitman blew Poizner out of the water.
Democratic: Jerry Brown. Result: Jerry Brown comfortably.

US Senator

Republican: Tom Campbell. Supports gay rights, gun control and abortion rights. Fiscal conservative. Result: Carly Fiorina won by a big margin.
Democrat: Barbara Boxer. Result: Boxer.

Attorney General

Democrat: Kamala Harris. Smart, competent, female. What’s not to like? Result: Harris
Republican: Steve Cooley, Harris’ counterpart in Southern California. Result: Cooley

Mercifully, Orly Taitz, who, unbelievably, was contesting for Secretary of State, lost. For full results see here.

Picture courtesy Theresa Thomson via Creative Commons.

Health Care Reform overcomes a big hurdle

physician symbolHurray! A supermajority in the senate passes its version of the health care reform bill. The drama has been intense and there have been many moments when it seemed like talk of death panels and communism would defeat the process but, ultimately, with the help of giveaways to all the special interests and plenty of backroom wrangling, majority leader Harry Reid managed to thread the needle. Yes, this is a hugely imperfect bill. But it is also a tacit acceptance of the responsibility of the government to ensure affordable health care for its citizens. For that alone, it is a remarkable accomplishment. In the years to come, it will be hard to reverse any of the benefits and easier to keep improving upon the foundation that was laid today.

If, like me, you’ve been following the HCR drama with great interest but little understanding, here is a graphic representation of what reform is going to mean for the country courtesy The Wonk Room.

health care choices

What next for passage of the HCR Act? The house bill and the senate bill have to be merged in conference and the resulting bill will have to be approved once again by both bodies before it goes to the President for his signature.

The Wonk Room, once again, looks at the difference between the bills and suggests improvements that can be added in the merging process here.

California Special Election – Propositions on the ballot

UPDATE: Propositions 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D, 1E – Defeated. Proposition 1F – Passed.

The Californian budget process has always been a mess. Faced with an unprecedented financial crisis, Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Democratically-controlled State Legislature passed an austerity budget in February that closed California’s $42 billion shortfall through a combination of cuts to social services and education, and tax hikes.

The peculiarity of California is that the state constitution places an extraordinary burden on voters to make legislative decisions. Some of the budget measures passed by Sacramento have to be voted on by the electorate in order for them to take full effect. On Tuesday, voters will head to the ballot box to decide the fate of Propositions 1A through 1F.

Despite an aggressive push by the governor, turnout is expected to be low even though these propositions directly and immediately affect Californian residents and impact the ratings of California state bonds. If you are a registered voter and have not yet cast your vote, I urge you to read through the following information and make the trip to your polling place tomorrow.

Here is a summary of my recommendations on the various propositions on the ballot in November.

Proposition 1A – Vote YES
Proposition 1B – Vote YES
Proposition 1C – Vote YES
Proposition 1D – Vote YES
Proposition 1E – Vote YES
Proposition 1F – Vote YES

Proposition 1A – This measure changes the state budgeting practices. In a complicated way it attempts to do the following –

– Increase the size of the “Rainy Day” fund: This makes it possible for the legislature to divert more funds from the General Fund into a reserve when revenues are good. The idea is to stabilize the spending over lean and good years. The state would look at historic trends in revenue and when the current year’s revenue went over those trends the money would have to be put in the reserve fund.

– Spending out of the reserve fund would be restricted to certain causes.  If Prop 1B passes some of the reserve fund would go to education to ameliorate some of the cuts to K-12 spending this year. After spending on education or if Prop 1B fails those funds would be used to pay down debt or spending on infrastructure.

– The Governor gets the authority to make further spending cuts without legislative approval on two matters – spending on general state operations and cost-of-living adjustments to programs in the budget( not salaries.)

– State tax increases that were put in place in February would not expire in 2010-2011 but would continue till 2012-2013.

Arguments: Opponents argue that the proposition is full of loopholes and there was not enough transparency in the drafting process. They also suggest that this measure gives the Governor too much power to cut spending, even in good years. However, the status quo has hardly been working for California. Any attempt to even out revenues over good and bad years can only be beneficial to residents. Also the emphasis on restoring funding to education outof the reserve fund has this mother of two cheering.

My opinion: VOTE YES.

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Proposition 1B: Currently, Proposition 98 establishes a minimum funding level for education. However, loopholes in the law allow for the minimum funding to be calculated by a different formula if revenues are low. The legislature can also override Prop 98 in bad years and provide less than is required by law. When spending is less than mandated, a future obligation (called a “Maintenance factor obligation” ) is created to provide those funds. As of now, this obligation is around $1.4 billion.

Prop 1B allows for the creation of a “Supplemental Education” obligation of $9.3 billion starting 2011-2012. Funds for these come from Prop 1A. These payments are supposed to take care of the Maintenance Factor Obligation that will keep increasing for the next couple of years becaue of the cuts in education spending.

Arguments: The measure does not deal with the underlying problems in Maintenance Factor Obligation calculation or the ability of the legislature to override prop 98. What it does is restore some of the cuts that have been made this year in education, with payments starting in 2011-2012. The idea is that some money will be diverted to the “Rainy Day” fund under Prop 1A and can be used for education in the future.

It is not a well-written law but provides for immediate help ( even if it starts 2 years from now!) to schools and community colleges providing Prop 1A passes.

My opinion: VOTE YES.

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Proposition 1C: Changing the state’s operation of the lottery. Under current law, 50% of the state’s lottery revenues have to go back as prizes and spend no more than 16% on operating expenses. 34% of the funds go to educational institutions ( a very small part of overall education funding). Funds cannot be used for any other purposes.

This measure allows the state to give away a higher percentage to winners ( presumably to attract more lottery revenues), reduce the operating expenses to 13% and no longer dedicate the remaining funds to education( the shortfall would be made up from the General Fund).

More importantly, the measure would allow the state to borrow against future profits from the lottery, upto $5 billion of which is already in the state’s budget right now. The borrowing would be paid off by future lottery profits.

Arguments: This measure does not impact education funding as the shortfall is supposed to be made up by the General fund. In a time of financial crisis, this is a simple way to get some much needed funds right away against the hope that the economy will improve in future years. The success of the measure hinges on the improvement in lottery ticket sales due to the higher payout.

My opinion: VOTE YES.

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Proposition 1D: Protects Children’s Services funding and helps balance the state budget. There is a law on the books ( Proposition 10) that allows for diverting a portion of tobacco taxes towards the First % program that deals with development programs for children up to the age of 5. The funds go to state and county commissions every year and any unspent amount is carried over to the next year.

As it happens the commissions are sitting on an unspent fund of about $2.5 billion which as of now cannot be used for any purpose other than the First 5 program.  What this new proposition does is allow for a temporary redirection of these unspent funds to other state health and human services for young children that do not fall under the First 5 program. This ensures that those vital services don’t get cut at a time of economic uncertainty.
Arguments: The biggest argument against this proposition is that it diverts money from the First 5 program. However, since these are unspent funds that the various commissions are sitting on, there is no reason why these funds cannot be used right away in other places where they are needed. This is also a temporary measure whose effects will disappear after 2013-2014.

My opinion: VOTE YES

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Proposition 1E: Temporary reallocation for Mental Health Services funding. Helps balance state budget. Currently, Proposition 63, also known as the Mental Health Services Act, provides state funding for mental health programs through an income tax surcharge of 1% of income over $1 million. The funds are used for a variety of mental health services such as care, education and early intervention and cannot be reduced or diverted as the law stands now.

The new proposition allows for temporary redirecting ( 2009-10 and 2010-11) of some of the funds towards the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment program (EPSDT), which services Medicare beneficiaries under age 21. That way, funds for EPSDT don’t have to come form the General Fund at a time of fiscal crisis.

Arguments: While this proposition takes money away from the Prop 63 beneficiaries, currently unspent funds of $2.5 billion are sitting in state coffers under Prop 63. The idea is to temporarily be able to use this money at a time of fiscal crisis to fund another mental helath services program that would otherwise suffer.

My opinion: VOTE YES.

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Proposition 1F: Prevents increases in salaries of elected officials during budget deficit years. Salaries of elected officials in California are set by the California Citizen’s Compensation Commission based on several factors. The financial condition of the state is not one of them. in addition Proposition 6 prevents reduction of salaries during lean years.  This Proposition amends the Constitution to prevent the commission from raising the salaries during a deficit year( when the General Fund ends the year in a deficit.

Fiscally, the proposition does not have a huge impact. However, it is hoped that the potential impact of lower salaries for elected officials will  make them work harder towards balancing the budget!

Arguments: This is a largely symbolic gesture that ensures that politicians will not continue to get wage increases while their constituents suffer. If it makes you feel good, by all means vote for it.

My opinion: VOTE YES

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