Quick Hit: Tea Parties and California Budgets

I’d been mulling the meaning and fallout from the tea parties and in a conversation with a friend, suggested that the fate of the Governator and Legislature-sponsored budget initiatives in California might be a litmus test.

If I were organizing the tea parties, I said, I’d be busting a** to defeat them, and force the issue of state budgetary incompetence.

Well, along comes a Field poll, which suggests that what I’d contemplated is really happening:

Voters strongly oppose five special election measures being sold as a budget-reform elixir for California’s burgeoning $40 billion deficit.

But voters in a new Field Poll overwhelmingly support a measure to bar legislators and state officers from getting a pay raise when there is a budget deficit.

And with heightened surliness, they’re telling Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature that they’re fed up with more government spending and higher taxes.

Which kind of supports my notion, and is picked up on by Hugh Hewitt:

Forget Arlen Specter. The most important political message of this season is going to come out of California in three weeks.

…which could be true. Or not.

Because there is also opposition to the initiatives from the left. Here’s former gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides in the LA Times:

But it’s worse than that. The measure would actually deepen California’s budget woes. It would require that money be stashed away in a rainy-day fund even though the state is already pulling in less money each year than it spends. That’s a little like telling a family facing foreclosure that they’re not putting enough money away in their 401(k) account. Even in tough budget years, it would force additional cuts of more than $1 billion — an amount equal to about one-third of the University of California system’s budget.

Proposition 1A would squeeze spending on crucial investments in colleges and healthcare, and it would prevent the state from restoring needed programs as the economy rebounds. It also would lock confusing, complicated, autopilot budget language into the state Constitution — making it harder, not easier, to adopt common-sense budgets. With complex formulas and linear regression models cemented into law, the already daunting task of budgeting would be that much harder.

Perhaps the greatest damage of Proposition 1A is that, by once again making a false promise to the people of California, it further erodes the trust necessary to achieve the two real changes needed to solve California’s budget woes: replacing the requirement that budgets be passed by a two-thirds majority with a simple majority vote to end the tyranny of an extreme, ideological minority, and actually adopting a balanced budget that meets California’s 21st century needs.

Phil is unhappy that a minority of legislators can keep the state unions from just driving up to the state treasury…

So the question for the day is whether it’s really the Tea Party rejectionists that will drive the vote, or if matters are more complex than that. I’d start by digging into the Field Poll internals…when I get the time.

Quick Hit: Cars

I think this Wall Street Journal editorial (shockingly!) understates the way that management captured the auto industry during the good times and milked it dry for its own benefit (the price of which was to allow the UAW unfettered access to the other teat). But it captures something about the collapse of both the auto and financial industries which we ought to take very seriously.

For more than 40 years, a 25% tariff has kept out foreign-built pickup trucks even as a studied loophole was created in fuel-economy regulations to let the Big Three develop a lucrative, protected niche in the “passenger truck” business.

This became the long-running unwritten deal. This was Washington’s real auto policy.

For three decades, the Big Three were able to survive precisely because they skimped on quality and features in the money-losing sedans they were required under Congress’s fuel economy rules to build in high-cost UAW factories. In return, Washington compensated them with the hothouse, politically protected opportunity to profit from pickups and SUVs.

And that point – that the issue isn’t too much regulation or too little regulation, but regulation that is captured by and for the regulated – is something we ought to be damn thoughtful about as we contemplate an immense expansion of regulatory authority in this country.

-

Quick Hits

Life has been trying to wrestle with lately – I have a cool new gig which has me buried (good news: in these times, I have a cool gig), my family has each been at points where Attention Must Be Paid (good news: that is why you have a family – to pay attention to each other…), and so blogging has suffered pretty badly.

When I think about it, there’s another reason though. I just have a worse and worse taste in my mental mouth as I think about the issues that are important to me.

I read the news and blogs every day and just feel dyspeptic. I’m honestly not sure why; what I read is (to my views) a healthy mixture of good and bad news. It’s not like I see horror on every page (like some people I know).

For me, a part of it is the fact that I keep starting Really Long things and putting them aside because I don’t have the time right now to do the topics justice.

So here’s my plan; I’m going to start throwing out short bits on these interesting-to-me (and one hopes, to you), and when I can, come back and write something resembling a real argument.

-

John Gideon, Voting Integrity Advocate: 1947 – 2009

One of the early sources I looked to as I started educating myself on issues around voting was www.votersunite.com; it was a site that provided a wealth of information that helped me form my opinion that our voting processes were deeply flawed.

One of the driving forces behind that site was John Gideon, who died yesterday of meningitis.

I did not always agree with Gideon; I continue to be agnostic about some issues that he was passionate about. But I agreed – and agree – more strongly than my words can show with his core view that we voters have let the mechanics of out voting process be taken over by politicians and corporate vendors, and that we need to take it back.

People like John – amateurs who transform their passion into expertise and action – are the reason we should remain optimistic about the state of our Republic.

He will be missed, and not only by those who loved and knew him, but by the rest of us to whom he was a mentor and an example. My condolences to his family and friends. I hope that as sad as they may be, their pride in his accomplishments and character sustains them.

Godspeed.

Pale Fire, As Seen In 1962

If forced to pick, I’d have to say that Vladimir Nabokov is my favorite writer; he’s someone who rereading after rereading shows me something new and intricately beautiful.

One of my favorite novels of his is ‘Pale Fire’ – a tragic satire on art in the academy, on political power and loss, and on our ability to spin magic life out of words.

TNR just reposted Mary McCarthy’s brilliant review from 1962 online (h/t Mickey Kaus)

Pale Fire is a Jack-in-the-box, a Faberge gem, a clockwork toy, a chess problem, an infernal machine, a trap to catch reviewers, a cat-and-mouse game, a do-it-yourself novel. It consists of a 999-line poem of four cantos in heroic couplets together with an editor’s preface, notes, index, and proof-corrections. When the separate parts are assembled, according to the manufacturer’s directions, and fitted together with the help of clues and cross-references, which must be hunted down as in a paper-chase, a novel on several levels is revealed, and these “levels” are not the customary “levels of meaning” of modernist criticism but planes in a fictive space, rather like those houses of memory in medieval mnemonic science, where words, facts, and numbers were stored till wanted in various rooms and attics, or like the Houses of astrology into which the heavens are divided.

…read the whole thing, and then go buy the book.

An Object Lesson In The Fragility Of The Modern Economy

I’ve started shooting a fair amount again this year (as karmic balance for my pro-Obama vote, I bought a Kimber 1911 and a Springfield M1A for Kwaanza, as well as a Kahr P9 for TG); and I’m recently stunned by the price of ammo (and shooting enough that it matters).

Bulk (200 – 1,000 rounds) .308 rifle ammunition is over $1.25/round for Federal Match and well over $0.50/round for bulk military surplus (about 2x what I’m used to paying). 45ACP is $0.50 in bulk (over 2x what I’m used to paying).

Now before you get concerned that by buying 500 – 1,000 rounds at a time I’m stocking up for the Zombie wars, note that a morning’s serious practice with the handgun can use 200 rounds, and that a morning with the rifle is 50 rounds easily.

(And as a result of burning all this powder, my shooting is getting back to decent, except for my one bad pistol habit – lifting my head to see where the shot went, which pulls the rounds low.)

But I just was sent a great blog post on why ammo is so spendy and one that ought to get us all thinking about the modern economy.

Supply Chain Management 101: on the ammunition shortage:

…Ammo makers, too, know with fair certainty how much they’re going to sell to the wholesalers during that period, and sign contracts for the purchase of sufficient components to produce those products. They don’t typically keep large stores of components on hand, as standing inventory is expensive, so components are delivered on a “just in time” basis.

The suppliers of those components do the same thing with raw materials; again, ammunition is a stable business, which allows them to forecast with pretty good accuracy the stuff they need to make the components they sell. This pattern repeats itself on up the chain, all the way to the people who mine the stuff necessary to make a single cartridge.

Along comes a huge, sudden spike in demand. Retailers all over the country are suddenly swamped with ammunition purchases, and quickly call their suppliers to get more. The first few calls are rewarded with replacement stock, but soon the wholesaler’s shelves are bare too – their entire year allotment of ammunition is gone in just a few days.

Read the whole thing, as they say…his final paragraph is worth noting as well:

The supply chain is simply empty, all the way up to the people who mine the raw materials. It’s going to take time to replace all the links in that chain, and it’s not because of the war in Iraq/Afghanistan, The Joos, FEMA, the CIA, a secret agreement to implement gun control through ammo availability, or any other silly theory you may have heard. This is a textbook example of what happens when an inelastic supply chain, composed with scarce “just in time” inventories, meets insatiable demand. It’s not sexy or intriguing, but that’s the way it is.

You know what’s scarier? Your food comes to you the same way. Imagine what would happen if…

Or if two of the big container ports were closed for two months…

-

Harman: Why Now?

So the media are all abuzz over a conversation my Congresswoman, Jane Harman, had regarding AIPAC in 2006.

The events themselves are interesting – not fascinating, but interesting – as an example of the ‘scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ politics that represents our government today. Only snippets have been released, so we don’t know if they are edited to do maximum damage to Harman (I’d guess likely) or minimize the import of the conversation.

Without getting into the substance of the AIPAC thing, it always seemed small beer, but significant as the tip of a larger set of partially hidden events around the jockeying by Israel and the Arab states for influence over US policy.

What’s most interesting to me about this story is the timing. Why is it being released now?

That’s always the interesting question with things like this. Is it just random timing?

Or is someone trying to pin a strong advocate for Israel into a corner just as Obama gets ready to begin getting deeply engaged in the Israel-Palestine impasse?

…I need to do a post on that, by the way…

-