25 May

Don’t Give Up The Ghost Just Yet

There’s a question I find I’m asking myself more and more lately, and it’s this — What makes for a good politician? Inherent in that question is the assumption that there can be such a thing as a “good” politician, but let’s just assume they’re out there for the sake of argument. I know a lot of us have opinions on which politicians are good and which are not. It’s actually a quantifiable fact that Congress hasn’t enjoyed much popularity in recent years

You’d think we would have collectively gotten the message decided en masse to throw the bums out. Only we haven’t. More often than not, we believe our own elected officials are the only ones that are worth a damn in today’s modern political circus, and it shows. Incumbents are reelected with baffling regularity.  Congress as a whole might not be heading in the direction we want, but, damn it, if our guy or gal isn’t trying their best to right the ship.

That got me thinking about what we expect from our elected representatives. Here in California, we’re a largely Democratic state, in terms of voter registration. This has surely led to some disenfranchisement on the part of Republicans, Independents, and anyone else who doesn’t toe the increasingly liberal lines set forth by the California Democratic Party and its cadre of candidates, activists, and lobbyists.

I know I’ve felt it. In every presidential election of my adult life, I know my vote was effectively nullified because of the rules that govern how California allocates its electoral votes. For as long as I’ve been cognizant of Sacramento politics, I’ve known that my vote and my voice are largely meaningless in a state that sees my point of view as an aberration. Something divisive purely for purpose of sewing hate. I, and many others like me, have been marginalized, ignored, and openly mocked by a government that claims to have our best interests at heart.

But do they?

Some recent events have given me a glimmer of hope that the rest of California will eventually wake up from this self-imposed fugue state. Apparently, a good deal of citizens have decided they don’t like the direction the state is taking with the Bullet Train. We’re not stupid. We see the costs ballooning every day. We realize we were sold a bill of goods by the governor, who has bullied this project past us at every turn. Governor Brown has vociferously defended the project, going so far as to call opponents “small minded”.

More locally, activists in the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles took to the streets to protest the erection of a proposed homeless shelter. Hundreds of people voiced their opposition to the plan. And this wasn’t their first protest on this issue. Despite the local outcry, LA City Council President Herb Wesson (who, coincidentally, represents the residents of Koreatown) said the project will move forward. He had this to say:

A few days ago I met with one of the opposition leaders who looked me in my face and he said, “Why don’t you think about your future?” I’m not worried about my future. I’ve been blessed. I have a good life. We are fighting for the future of the mother of two that is going to sleep in a doorway or sleep in her car with one eye open so she can keep an eye on her children and make sure that she’s not robbed or raped or worse.

Isn’t Mr. Wesson supposed to represent these people. He’s supposed to consider his constituents’ needs first, right? That’s what we would all expect from our own elected representatives. That’s why we sent them to City Hall or the State Capitol or Washington in the first place, right? If they aren’t there to fight for us, why are they there? Could there be another reason?

I think the argument can definitely be made that a politician sometimes needs to do something unpopular for the betterment of society as a whole. Everyone knows that sometimes in life you’re forced to make difficult choices. They can be simple, like choosing to cook meals at home, rather than eating out, to save money. They can also be difficult, like deciding to move from your home because you can no longer afford it. People do what they have to do for the good of their families.

Politicians are no different. However, that doesn’t mean they are given carte blanche to do whatever they please as long as they deem it to be for the good of society. It’s my belief that far too many politicians almost immediately disregard the wants and needs of their constituency upon election. Like Governor Brown and Herb Wesson illustrate, the desires of those who put these politician in office are often relegated to background noise in whatever particular crusade in which they elect to engage. Unless those constituents have money, of course. But that’s another topic for another day.

Ultimately, we need to break this trend. We need to remind our politicians why we sent them to their various offices in the first place. They are there to represent us and our needs. They are our advocate. Our voice. Far too often, a neophyte politician will choose to vote with his or her party, rather than with his or her people. The allure is great, I’m sure. Power. Professional camaraderie. Access to people and places the average citizen will never enjoy. Kennedy’s White House was called Camelot for a reason.

I’m sure that was a factor in what led my own state senate representative Josh Newman, who ran as an independently minded Democrat and won an extremely narrow victory in a tight race, to immediately seek shelter from the half of his district who didn’t vote for him in the relative safety of the other State Senate Democrats. And they’ve rewarded him for his loyalty (not to his constituents, of course, but to the party) by voting to change recall rules and funneling money into his bid to fend off his recall.

But I’m confident he will be recalled. And I hope it will send a message to all the other politicians in California to remind them who’s in charge. We need to put the rest of our politicians, locally and nationally, on notice. We need to stop reelecting incumbents with 90+% rates. We need to stop settling for the lesser of two evils. We need real community leaders to step up and take the reins of government back for the people.

I’d say we need to put the fear of god in them, but I doubt that would do much of anything. So, instead, let’s put their fear of unemployment in them. It’s apparently the only thing they’ll listen to.

 

24 May

Has It Really Come to This?

When I woke up today, I didn’t think I’d be defending Tomi freaking Lahren, but here we are.
 
First things first: I don’t like Tomi Lahren. Never have. I think she’s vacuous and detrimental to the overall public debate and I really wish networks would stop giving her air time and people would stop taking her seriously.
 
That said, I can’t believe the LA Times would print an article that basically justifies someone throwing water on Ms. Lahren. I don’t care what you say or what positions you take, the thought of using physical violence (and throwing water on someone can definitely be categorized as such) to silence someone and/or punish them for their words is completely anathema to what I believe.

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23 May

Single Payer Price Tag – $400 billion

single payer

One topic we haven’t spent too much time on in depth is the prospect of having a single payer healthcare system here in California. Proponents of such a system have made many arguments in favor of it. It was a major plank in Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign platform. There has also been discussion about whether Obamacare was designed to fail to pave the way for a single payer system down the road.

So far, these debates have been happening largely on the national stage with proponents and opponents lobbying Congress one way or the other. With the rise of the American Health Care Act as the fulfillment of a promise Republicans made to their constituents to repeal and replace Obamacare, the prospect of a single payer universal healthcare system seems to be more pie in the sky than ever before.

single payer need not apply

That is, unless you live in California. State Sens. Lara and Atkins have introduced SB 562, the Healthy California Act. This bill would extend healthcare benefits to every resident of California, citizen or not. While the merits of such a bill will likely be hotly debated here in the Golden State, one aspect of it cannot be denied — the cost.

Until just recently, the cost of such a venture was unknown. A single payer healthcare system in a state as large as California has never been attempted in the US. We have nearly 40 million people living here. The economic impact of single payer has always been a major sticking point in practical implementation. Exactly how much is this going to cost us?

$400 billion. That’s billion with a B. And that’s not a one-time cost. That’s an annual cost. To put that in perspective, California’s total annual budget is estimated to be around $250 billion. The legislative analysis estimates that around $200 billion in existing state and federal funds could be used to offset the cost of a single payer healthcare system, but that leaves another $200 billion to be raised through other means.

The government isn't the only one who will pay.

This being California, it’s practically a surefire bet that those other means will inevitably be new taxes. We would be almost doubling our current budget. Double. I suspect most of these increased taxes will be levied against our businesses. The argument will likely be that they will no longer need to pay for employee healthcare plans, so the money they would have spent should be directed to this new tax. I also predict a new affluence tax on individuals and couples making more than $500,000 annually (or maybe $250,000!). The analysis itself proposes one scenario where an increased payroll tax of 15% could foot some of the bill.

The net result will be an ever accelerating free fall to the bottom of the business friendliness rankings and an increased exodus of the middle class to more tax friendly states. After all, around 65% of general fund revenue comes from direct personal income taxes. Don’t worry though. Our legislators will surely find a way to pass this first and then figure out how to pay for it later. I’m sure we will be talking about this a lot more in coming weeks. Be sure to check out our podcast archives to keep up to date on everything going on in California.

11 May

Why Support the Newman Recall?

There has been a lot of debate recently concerning the potential recall of State Senator Josh Newman of California’s 29th senate district. And rightfully so. Recalling a politician is no easy task, even when the impetus behind the recall is something as divisive as a widely unpopular gas and vehicle registration tax. It is an endeavor that oftentimes sees the enthusiasm of supporters and the public at large wane as the process goes on. This is completely understandable. The world of local politics is murky and toxic.

Ling Ling Chang, Suhkee Kang, and Josh Newman (subject of potential recall)

Here there be dragons.

So, why support a recall? The biggest reason for me is we didn’t have a say in approving this tax. Now, if you listen to our interview with Sen. Newman you will find that he believes that we did have a say in the tax. We elected him to the state senate to represent us and our interests. In doing so, we have implicitly given our approval to his actions, whatever they may be. We, in essence, stand behind his votes because they are our votes.

How ridiculous does that sound? That an elected politician would attempt to justify his vote for a controversial (and downright stupid) bill simply because he was duly elected is the height of hubris. Such a stance fails to address the very real concerns people have about the bill. The argument that “we had to do something” just doesn’t hold water. To continue with aqueous analogies, what is the point of bailing out a sinking ship when you have yet to patch up the hole?

There’s a lot of rhetoric out there right now regarding the gas tax. Most of it is moot now that Gov. Brown has signed SB1 into law, but it has bearing on my motivations behind supporting this recall. Here are some facts. California spent $419,090 per state-controlled highway mile in 2013. This put us at 44th of 50 in terms of total spending per mile. In that same year, we ranked 10th in the nation in total state-controlled highway miles at 18,535. That means in 2013 we spent nearly $7.8 billion on California highways only to have them be some of the worst roads in America. (source)

Our daily commute

A typical day on California highways.

We spend more to repair fewer miles of road than several other states. In 2013, Texas had 80,490 miles of state-controlled highways. That’s 4.3 times the mileage of California’s state-controlled highways. Given that fact, one would expect Texas’ cost per mile to be around the same magnitude difference from California’s. Not so. Texas only paid $177,357 per mile. They were able to service over 4 times the amount of mileage California did for nearly 2.4 times less money.

When we asked Sen. Newman about this discrepancy, he stated that there are many differences between Texas and California, which is true. California has a higher cost of living. California wages are typically higher than wages in Texas. Things just cost more here. All of that is true. However, it’s also true that Caltrans may be massively overstaffed. It may also be true that Texas has found cost-effective ways to service its larger state-controlled highway system than we have.

What we needed to do before passing this bill was to take a full audit of Caltrans and determine where and how we can cut costs. That’s just responsible governance. Instead, we get a manufactured crisis that won’t even come close to addressing the infrastructure issues we have in this state. We get a tax and fee increase that will cost working families hundreds of dollars extra per year (or more). We get a bill that has the potential of doing largely the opposite of its stated intention.

What we have is an unacceptably large pile of unanswered questions. The answer to those questions was not to pass a tax increase on the working and middle classes. Our elected officials owed us more than that. They still do. Josh Newman ran on being fiscally conservative. It’s part of the reason I voted for him. His actions have shown that he cares more about voting in lockstep with the Democrats in Sacramento than he does actually serving our district.

That is my main reason for supporting this recall. He has betrayed out trust. We didn’t have a voice in Sacramento when he voted for this tax and fee increase. We must use our voice now to recall him and elect a true advocate for our interests.

06 May

Episode 2 – Josh Newman Interview

State Senator for District 29

Here it is — our interview with California State Senator Josh Newman. He graciously sat down with us to discuss a couple of pressing issues for the 29th District and California as a whole. Specifically, he discussed his vote for SB1. While we had some issues with the live stream audio, the quality of our recording here is pretty darn good. Hopefully, this information will help his constituents understand whey he voted the way he did, for better or worse.