Category Archives: California

Hasta La Vista Father Christmas: California Post-Election Blues

“Christmas, children, is not a date. It is a state of mind.”  Mary Ellen Chase

There will be no Christmas in May for California. What happened to California?  How did we come to this: poised on the brink of State bankruptcy?

Reason TV has produced an excellent video analysis. Unfortunately, it emphasizes too heavily the role of public employee unions in the State’s budget woes and doesn’t spend enough time analyzing how wasteful spending has compounded the crisis.

While voters overwhelming voted “Yes” (by the almost mythical 2/3 “supermajority”) to preventing salary increases for members of the legislature in budget deficit years, the overwhelming majority of these useless State Senators and Representatives will be re-elected. Go figure.

It’s not a surprise that there is not one county in California where a majority voted “Yes” on Propositions 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D and 1E.

It has always been my contention that Californians like to spend money, they just don’t like to pay the bills.

EXTRA READING:

Sundown for California, The American
California’s Dependency Culture, George Will
Voters Say ‘no way’ to budget ballot measures, The Sacramento Bee
California budget mess: Where did our money go?, San Jose Mercury News
A California election left open to interpretation, The Los Angeles Times

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Filed under California, California Budget Crisis, Politics, Taxation

California Budget Farce: We Report, You Decide

ITEM #1

Calif. tax refunds to be delayed starting Feb. 1
refunds, student aid, social services and mental health programs. A severe drop in revenue has left the state’s main bank account depleted. The state had been relying on borrowing from special funds and Wall Street investors; those options are no longer available.l

ITEM #2

The University of California regents voted Wednesday to cut freshman enrollment by 6 percent, slashing 2,300 spots as the UC system grapples with expected cuts in state funding.

[snip}

Regents in favor said the cuts were necessary to maintain quality.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget proposal calls for cutting $131 million from the UC system by June 2010 and eliminating a planned budget increase of $210 million for 2009-10

UCLA and UC Berkeley will not be affected by Wednesday’s decision and enrollment at UC Merced will continue to grow. Enrollment at the university system’s other six campuses will be reduced.

ITEM #3

Subject: January 20th Inauguration event
From: “Robert J. Birgeneau, Chancellor” <CALmessages@berkeley.edu>
Date: Mon, January 12, 2009 6:15 pm
To: “Academic Senate Faculty, Staff, All Academic Titles, Other Members of the Campus Community, Students,” <CALmessages@berkeley.edu>
Priority: Normal

TO ALL MEMBERS OF THE BERKELEY CAMPUS COMMUNITY:

I invite you to join UC Berkeley students, faculty and staff and members of our
local community at a public viewing of the inauguration of President Barack H. Obama
on Tuesday, January 20, 2009, in Sproul Plaza.  A large screen will be installed at
the main entrance to Sproul Hall, and proceedings from Washington, D.C. will be
broadcast beginning at 7:30 am.  The Presidential Oath of Office will be
administered by 9:00 am (noon EST), with the inaugural address following.  Note that
the proceedings are outdoors and will be held rain or shine.  The University's
formal program will begin at 8:15 a.m.

[snip]

Spring instruction begins on January 20th and we will not be cancelling morning
classes; however, some instructors, for academic reasons, may opt to bring their
class to this event. Campus supervisors have discretion to grant two hours of
administrative leave to staff to attend this event, as work demands permit.  Please
print out this message for those members of your staff who do not use computers.

I look forward to joining you all at this historic event.

Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau

The State of California is out of money. The State of California will be paying its bills with IOUs. The State of California will be reducing the University of California’s budget and cutting enrollment.

But, UC Berkeley will be paying its staff to sit on their arses for several non-productive hours to watch the inauguration of The One, The Messiah, Lord Barack Obama.

This is both an opportunity for our campus community to share in a momentous historic occasion for our country and a time to rededicate ourselves to public service – a primary mission of our university.

Now that’s real Public Service for you… a bloated bureaucracy wasting tax payer money on political pomp and circumstance.

EXTRA READING:
California goes bust: Tax refunds to be delayed, HotAir.com
California’s Budget Crisis Solved, RedCounty.com
What if California Could File Bankruptcy?, Fox & Hounds Daily.com

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Filed under Barack Obama, Bureaucracy, California, Government Waste, UC Berkeley

California Proposition 1A: Suburban Sprawl with a Bullet

Tomorrow, California residents will be voting on Proposition 1A, a measure to finance construction of a high-speed “bullet” train. CalVoter.com
has posted a nice summary of the initiative’s glittering intentions:

  • Provides long-distance commuters with a safe, convenient, affordable, and reliable alternative to driving and high gas prices.
  • Reduces traffic congestions on the state’s highways and at the state’s airports.
  • Reduces California’s dependence on foreign oil.
  • Reduces air pollution and global warming greenhouse gases.
  • Establishes a clean, efficient 220 MPH transportation system.
  • Improves existing passenger rail lines serving the state’s major population centers.
  • Provides for California’s growing population.
  • Provides for a bond issue of $9.95 billion to establish high-speed train service linking Southern California counties, the Sacramento/San Joaquin Valley, and the San Francisco Bay Area.
  • Provides that at least 90% of these bond funds shall be spent for specific construction projects, with private and public matching funds required, including, but not limited to, federal funds, funds from revenue bonds, and local funds.
  • Requires that use of all bond funds is subject to independent audits.
  • Appropriates money from the General Fund to pay bond principle and interest.
  • Fiscal Impact: State costs of about $19.4 billion, assuming 30 years to pay of both principle ($9.95 billion) and interest ($9.5 billion) costs of the bonds. Payments of about $647 million per year.
  • Fiscal Impact: When constructed, additional unknown costs, probably in excess of $1 billion a year, to operate and maintain a high-speed train system. The costs would be at least partially, and potentially fully, offset by passenger fare revenues, depending on ridership.

Most critiques of Proposition 1A have focused on the $9.95 billion projected cost of the bond. My fear is that constructing a high-speed bullet train between San Francisco and Los Angeles would bring the state one step closer to construction of an immense megalopolis between the two cities.

The coming new Ice Age, a world so overpopulated that humankind would cease to exist by the year 2000, and a giant megalopolis seen from space as a bright continuous blob of light between LA to SF were three of the prominent environmental scare stories that I was taught about in school in the late 60s and early 70s. In my child’s mind’s eye, the state was a vast, unknowable expanse. Stockton was just that–a stockyard town–not a sprawling suburb. Vacaville was a dusty farm town along the interstate whose only point of interest was the NutTree, a storefront along Hwy. 40 selling candy and treats and toys. All one has to do is to look at the impact that construction of the Interstate Highway system has had on California. It created a population explosion in what once had been farmland (e.g., Modesto, Stockton, Dixon, Fairfield, Vacaville, Fresno, Bakersfield). Small towns between San Francisco and Sacramento exploded into suburbs covered with houses and malls.

Construction of a high-speed rail system may be history repeating itself:

The Interstate Highways that were created to help protect and defend the United States of America were also to be used for commerce and travel. Though no one could have predicted it, the Interstate Highway was a major impetus for in the development of suburbanization and sprawl of U.S. cities. While Eisenhower never desired the Interstates to pass through or reach into the major cities of the U.S., it happened, and along with the Interstates came the problems of congestion, smog, automobile dependency, drop in densities of urban areas, the decline of mass transit, and others. [U.S Interstate Highway System at About.com]

The term “edge cities” was coined by Washington Post journalist and author Joel Garreau in his 1991 book Edge City: Life on the New Frontier. Garreau equates the growing edge cities at major suburban freeway interchanges around America as the latest transformation of how we live and work. These new suburban cities have sprung up like dandelions across the fruited plain, they’re home to glistening office towers, huge retail complexes, and are always located close to major highways. [Edge cities at About.com]

Environmental advocacy groups such as the Sierra Club are in favor of Proposition 1A.

“The Sierra Club supports Proposition 1A because a zero-emission high-speed train system will cut global warming pollution and help Californians move around without getting stuck in crowded airports and congested freeways,” said Bill Magavern, the Director of Sierra Club California. “Proposition 1A will save costly fuel and promote sustainable land use and urban revitalization. The California Air Resources Board projects that a high-speed rail system would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a million metric tons in 2020. By 2030, when the whole system is in place, high-speed rail travel is anticipated to reduce California’s greenhouse gas emissions by up to 6 million tons per year.”

With major metropolitan cities limiting sprawl and creating greenbelts around their outer edges, the amount of land available for construction of single-family homes is declining. Environmental and conservation groups assume that the train’s clients will prefer to live in one of the two major urban areas servicing the rail system. This is naive beyond belief.

A high-speed rail system would create an incentive to build or expand cities into areas that have remained untouched (e.g., the Altamont Pass, Pacheco, Ontario, and Tehachapi).

Think twice before voting “yes.” You may be voting to create California’s version of BosWash, the megalopolis between Boston and Washington.

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Filed under 2008 Election, Bullet Train, California, High-speed Train, Megalopolis, Politics, Proposition 1A

Prop 8 and Creative Class® Warfare

This week, the San Jose Mercury News published an opinion piece (Keep the door open to world talent; reject Prop. 8) by Andrew Szeri, the Dean of Graduate Studies at UC Berkeley. Szeri argues that recognition of same-sex marriage plays a prominent, if not deciding, factor in attracting well-educated international talent to the United States. I found this claim to to be an odd, if not surreal, rationale for a “No” vote on Proposition 8.

A vote for Proposition 8, denying the recognition of same-sex marriages, yanks away the welcome mat from talented people who aspire to come to the United States and join one of the most dynamic societies on Earth. They want to move to a place where their talents can be fully exercised, in a society of mutual respect and understanding.

When I think of same-sex marriage, the last thing that weighs on my mind is whether Akshay and Padma from ITT Bombay will refuse to attend graduate school in California because the backwards cretins will not let one man marry another man.

However, as William Wulf, past president of the National Academy of Engineering, noted in testimony before Congress, America’s reputation is changing. “The international image of the United States has been one of a welcoming ‘land of opportunity,’ ” he wrote in 2005 testimony, “The Importance of Foreign-born Scientists and Engineers to the Security of The United States.” “We are in the process, however, of destroying that image and replacing it with one of a xenophobic, hostile nation.”

It may well be that a segment of the international community sees the U.S. as “xenophobic” and “hostile.” But, this is a function of U.S. immigration policy, hostility toward ever-increasing numbers of foreign nationals crossing the border illegally, and an entrenched bureaucracy that makes it difficult to get the appropriate visas. It has no apparent correlation with laws allowing same-sex marriage?

To test the thesis, I took a straw poll among my international colleagues. The question I asked was: Did U.S. policy on same-sex marriage have any influence on your decision to come to the U.S.? They looked at me with blank stares. Not one claimed that same-sex marriage policies factored into their choice of which university or their choice of U.S. state to live in.

What is the connection? When it legalized same-sex marriage, California joined the ranks of other enlightened parts of the world. The legalization of same-sex marriage may be regarded as the ultimate sign of the openness of a society…. Are we willing to send to Canada or to Europe the talent that comes knocking at our door? They will make their inventions in Canada and Europe, not here; start their businesses there, not here; enrich the culture there, not here; and shape opinion there, not here.

Wow, I didn’t realize that I’ve been living in the Dark Ages for the past 40 years. The problem with this statement is that in Europe only Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands and Norway allow same-sex couples to formally marry. Most of the other Western European nations recognize only civil unions. If Szeri’s statement is true, California will not be competing with Britain, France, Germany or Ireland for these highly-prized Creative Class® individuals because they are do not allow same-sex marriage.

Just how did Szeri come to the conclusion that a society’s approval of same-sex marriage is a paramount symbol of a tolerant and inviting society? By training and profession, Szeri is a professor of mechanical engineering. He is not an expert on economic competitiveness and or human capital. As it turns out Szeri is an acolyte of Richard Florida–academic, author, consultant, and “creativity” guru.

University of Toronto social theorist Richard Florida argued in the Washington Monthly in 2002 that such values are crucial to attracting and retaining the “creative class” of highly educated scientists and engineers, artists and entrepreneurs. “Talented people seek an environment open to differences,” he wrote. “When they are sizing up a new company and community, acceptance of diversity and of gays (and lesbians) in particular is a sign that reads ‘non-standard people welcome here.

Richard Florida has written numerous books and papers discussing the role that physical and social amenities play in attracting human capital to specific regions of the nation. In his paper, Creative Class or Human Capital?, Florida describes how the 3 T’s (talent, technology and tolerance) play a major role in attracting highly-educated, highly-skilled individuals to certain cities and the economic and social impact. One of the indicators of tolerance is what Florida calls the “Gay index” or the “Bohemian-Gay index.” He postulates that gays and bohemians (artists, musicians and other who don’t live traditional lifestyles) are more highly concentrated in cities/regions that are socially “tolerant”. In The Rise of the Creative Class, Florida says that the “Gay Index” of a community as being a “reasonable proxy for an area’s openness to different kinds of people and ideas.” Just why and how this is a reasonable proxy goes unexplained. It is little more than untested conventional wisdom.

There are several criticisms of Florida’s thesis:

(1) Florida’s methodology and data analysis have been criticized and refuted. In his article Urban Amenities: Lakes, Opera, and Juice Bars Do They Drive Development?, Terry Nichols Clark, of the University of Chicago, discusses additional amenities that draw people to specific geographical areas, and he reminds the reader that “what attracts one person can repel others. There is no ‘silver bullet’ for urban dynamics.” Clark’s research also concluded that “Percent gays…had inconsistent or near zero relations with many factors…. For instance, percent gays is unrelated to high tech patents and growth in college graduates using data for all US counties.” Clark also states “We found weak or zero linkages between gays and tolerance, risk aversion, college towns and amenities using direct tolerance and risk items….”

My straw poll of my international colleagues seems to support this. They listed the following reasons for choosing the Bay Area: mild climate; large local populations of Indians, Asians and Latinos with similar cultures and languages; easy access to the beach (diving, surfing) and the mountains (skiing, snowboarding); and entertainment (symphonies, theaters, etc.). Not one considered that the large gay population meant that the Bay Area or California were more inviting than any other area of nation.

(2) Florida’s Creative Class® theory was developed in the 1990s during the dot-com boom. That boom went bust, and how just how applicable any of its economic, social and cultural factors are in 2008 remain to be seen. Author Karrie Jacobs wrote in 2005 “Maybe Florida bugs me because I lived for a time in 3 T’s central, San Francisco, from the pinnacle of the dot-com boom to the bottom of the bust. I lived in a place that was so perfectly attuned to the needs and desires of a particular creative class that hardly anyone else could stand it (or afford it).”

(3) There is recent evidence that the well-educated and skilled workers that Florida claims are attracted to urban areas with high “Gay indexes” are leaving due to increasing home prices and cost of living (Mayor battles a trend of families leaving city, San Francisco Chronicle; Bright Lights, big city… and few kids, Christian Science Monitor; Where Did All the Children Go? In San Francisco and Other Big U.S. Cities, High Costs Drive Out Middle-Class Families, The Washington Post; Children in exodus; SF has lowest number of families in state, San Francisco Chronicle; Saying Goodbye California Sun, Hello Midwest, The New York Times). San Francisco is also seeing its African-American community disappearing due to gentrification of its less expensive neighborhoods (Black population deserting San Francisco, study says, San Francisco Chronicle; Census: Blacks leaving San Francisco in droves, The Berkeley Daily Planet).

(4) Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Is the San Francisco Bay Area attractive to the Creative Class® because there are so many gays and bohemians, or are the gays and bohemians attracted to the Bay Area because of the high quality of life created by the Creative Class®?

There is a certain elitist condescension to the idea that one class, the Creative Class®, is to be preferred and pursued instead of, or at the expense of, other classes of people. It is also presumptious to place the interests of one class or gender over another without considering the extraordinary impact this might have on the rest of society. This type of thinking is a perfect example of the hubris of the human intellect that sees itself as the Master of the Universe, all-knowing and all-powerful, capable of engineering societies and environments in its own conceited image.

Do we really want to undergo social engineering based on the speculations of highly-educated but fallible academics such as Richard Florida and Andrew Szeri? Do we want to abandon over 5,000 years of human civilization, tradition, and culture for theories that are taken to be true but are based on insufficient evidence?

I will end with the wisdom of Russell Kirk, who notes that the intelligent conservative

“… thinks that the liberal and the radical, blind to the just claims of Permanence, would endanger the heritage bequeathed to us, in an endeavor to hurry us into some dubious Terrestrial Paradise. The conservative, in short, favors reasoned and temperate progress; he is opposed to the cult of Progress, whose votaries believe that everything new necessarily is superior to everything old…. prudence is chief among virtues. Any public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences, not merely by temporary advantage or popularity.

Extra Reading:

The California Supremes and Gay Marriage, Thomas Lifson, American Thinker

Inferiority Redefined, William C. Duncan, American Spectator

Redefining Marriage Away, DL Tubbs and RP George, City Journal

Why We Need a Marriage Amendment, DL Tubbs and RP George, City Journal

Gay Men Support Prop 8, California Conservative

Going Beyond Same-Sex Marriage, Mark Tooley, American Spectator

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Filed under 2008 Election, Andrew Szeri, California, conservatives, Prop 8, Richard Florida, Russell Kirk, same-sex marriage

California’s East Berlin Syndrome: the good and bad in the Sunday Merc

The Good: Mike Swift has written an excellent, balanced article, “In taxing times, target the rich?” Paul McCauley and Brad Rooker are attempting to qualify an initiative that will levy a one-time 55 percent “wealth” tax on property worth $20 million (individual) or $40 million (joint) as well as a permanent 35 percent increase on joint-filers making more than $500,000 annually.

This initiative is a cynical play on class warfare. McCauley’s statement to the Merc is the typical socialist fare: “… the educational establishment, the media, government mouthpieces, institutional churches and nearly everyone else have mesmerized the working class into thinking that the rich deserve the wealth and income they have.” Mr. and Ms. Working Class you are just mesmerized zombies who need McCauley and Rooker (whoever they are) to free you from your bondage. The rich don’t “deserve” the wealth and income they have, but they “earned” it and it belongs to them. Here’s a thought: if you want a piece of that pie, use some initiative and entrepreneurial spirit to earn your own! Their choice of targets is rather odd, given that Rooker has enlisted the California Teachers Association (i.e., educational establishment) to collect signatures to qualify the initiative for the November ballot. Of course, part of that 55 percent income tax is promised to fund California’s cause celebre, “environmental protection.” I am waiting for the day when some activist proposes that we protect the California environment by moving all the people to neighboring states.

The article’s most insightful comment comes from Kris Vosburgh of the the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, describing the California Legislature as suffering from East Berlin Syndrome, “thinking there’s a wall around California.” At one time this attitude had merit. The benefits of living in California–its mild climate, myriad recreational activities and entertainment, and once plentiful jobs–kept people and employers bound to the State. However, higher taxes and an increasingly anti-business attitude are pushing individuals and corporations out. Unfortunately, I have personal experience with this phenomenon. Citing the increasing cost of doing business in California, the company for which my husband worked for 16 years, closed all of its California offices–pulling operations back to Colorado and the East Coast. Eighteen months later, my 50-year old husband still has not found another job in his chosen profession.

Is my husband’s dilemma the fault of California’s wealthiest citizens? Does this incite in me a burning desire to tax their heinies in a fit of rage? Absolutely not. Although Mssrs. McCauley and Rooker would be happy if it did. Increasing wealth and income taxes will only inspire some of the wealthy (many of whom are business owners) to move out of California, leaving more workers without jobs and decreased taxes from revenue. It will motivate others to find tax shelters and loopholes. In the end, this initiative will provide no lasting solution to California’s economic woes. It is merely an symbolic act pandering to emotion and resentment.

The Bad: The Mercury News is no doubt a liberal-leaning newspaper, and its Editorial staff have been cheerleading for Barack Obama for months. However, I was surprised by the shallow argument given in support of Obama’s experience in the Sunday editorial “Palin renews McCain’s maverick image, but is clearly unqualified.” The Merc writes “In the Senate, in organizing a stunningly successful national campaign and through 18 months of hard campaigning for the nomination, Obama proved to be capable, articulate and knowledgeable as anyone in Congress–and certainly the equal of McCain.” Obama’s Senate experience is weak at best. He’s spent approximately 143 working days in the Senate (a little more than four months), has authored no legislation that has been signed and enacted, and has never held a meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he was selected to chair. This can’t even come close to matching McCain’s 36 years of Senate experience. Even Sarah Palin has more leadership experience: helping her husband run their family business, as city council member, as mayor and in her two years as Governor of Alaska. Does the Mercury News really believe that merely campaigning for President (keep in mind that Obama has staff who organize and run the campaign) qualifies a person for that job? What a stunningly weak argument.

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Filed under 2008 Election, Barack Obama, California, John McCain, Politics, Sarah Palin, Taxation