Monday, October 8, 2012

Funniest moments in the California Voter Guide

The California proposition system is a little ridiculous, and the most ridiculous part is the arguments that appear in the official voter guide.  Besides the BUZZWORDS IN ALL CAPS, they also never make rebuttals.  Rather than using the "rebuttal" space to address their opponents' points in any way, they just repeat the same points that were in their "argument" space.  This allows everyone to make really silly arguments, and it's only the most outrageous ones that ever get rebutted.

I'm going through the eleven propositions highlighting moments I thought were funny.  I'm not an especially informed voter, but writing this motivates me to inform myself a bit more.  Note that I may point out silly things said even by the side I agree with, but I make no claims of impartiality or balance.


Proposition 30 temporarily increases sales tax by 1/4 %, and increase the marginal income tax rate of filers who earn over 250K a year (that number is larger for joint filers and households).  The $6 billion additional revenues will prevent impending $6 billion cuts to education programs.
[Opponents:] PROP. 30 IS NOT WHAT IT SEEMS: It doesn't guarantee even one new dollar of funding for classrooms.
"NOT WHAT IT SEEMS" sure is an all-purpose argument.  I found this funny because the proposition is explicitly meant to prevent cuts, not to increase spending.

Proposition 31 reforms something about the budgeting process, and I don't really understand it.
[Supporters:] [Proposition 31 will] Prevent state government from spending money we don't have.
As I recall, California is in debt, and thus all the money we spend is technically money we don't have.  For some reason, I think eliminating the entire California budget is not a winning proposition.

Proposition 32 prohibits unions and corporations from using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes.  It also prohibits them from making "political contributions", which is one of multiple ways to spend money on politics (it does not prohibit "independent expenditures", which are another way).

The proposition is kind of funny in itself.  It's supposed to look "fair", because it applies to both unions and corporations, but only unions really get money from payroll deductions.  Corporations get money from profits.
LOL buzzwords and generic arguments.
[Opponents:] [Prop. 32] costs Californians over a MILLION DOLLARS for phony reform.
If you put it in all caps, it sounds like a lot, but in reality that's pebbles.

Proposition 33 allows auto insurance companies to discriminate prices based on whether the person has been covered by auto insurance over the past five years.  Exemptions are made for people who didn't have auto insurance due to layoffs or furloughs or military service.  The opponents point out that the proposition is 99% funded by Mercury Insurance's chairman.
[Named supporters include:] Estercita Aldinger
Small Business Owner
Another buzzword!  Guess what small business it is.  Hint: It's auto insurance.

Proposition 34 repeals the death penalty, and applies retroactively to people already sentenced to death.  The proposition also gives a one-time $100 million to law enforcement.  The legislative analyst estimates that it will otherwise save at least $100 million a year in court costs.
[Supporters:] Evidence shows MORE THAN 100 INNOCENT PEOPLE HAVE BEEN SENTENCED TO DEATH in the U.S., and some have been executed!
Look where in the sentence they stopped using all caps.  One wonders why they're talking about the entire U.S. rather than just California.
[Opponents:] Abolishing the death penalty costs taxpayers $100 MILLION OVER THE NEXT FOUR YEARS AND MANY MILLIONS MORE IN THE FUTURE.
This is so hilariously misleading.  The $100 million is not an ongoing cost, but a one-time cost which was attached to the bill but appears otherwise unrelated to the death penalty.  I don't know where the "many millions more" comes from, but I'm going to believe the legislative analyst instead.
Well, sure, Jerry Brown would know.  And I bet the California court system agrees.  If the courts thought any of them were innocent, they wouldn't be on death row!

Proposition 35 increases penalties for human trafficking, requires that traffickers register as sex offenders, and that sex offenders provide information about their internet activities.  There's some other stuff in there too.

The bill is opposed by sex workers, but they're obviously fighting a losing battle because hardly anyone is going to have sympathy for Erotic Service Providers Legal, Education, and Research Project, Inc.

The part that I found funny was that the opponents were obviously such amateurs.  Instead of using the traditional ALL CAPS, they instead provided urls to articles.  Who's gonna bother typing all those things into their browsers?  It's like they think the way to win an election is to provide information, rather than to mislead and appeal to emotion.

Proposition 36 reforms the three strikes law such that the third strike must be a serious or violent felony (rather than any old felony).  Some people convicted under the three strikes law may petition to have this new rule apply to them.  The legislative analyst estimates that this will save $70 million a year, increasing up to $90 million a year.
[Opponents:] A hidden provision in 36 will allow thousands of dangerous criminals get their prison sentence REDUCED and then RELEASED FROM PRISON early.
It's not exactly hidden.  It's right there in the official summary!
[Opponents:] 36 WON'T REDUCE TAXES.
Yes indeed.  It is not a tax reduction bill.  I read the summary.

Proposition 37 requires that genetically engineered foods be labeled as such.
[Supporters:] Proposition 37 will help protect your family's health.  The FDA says "providing more information to consumers about bioengineered foods would be useful."  Without accurate labeling, you risk eating foods you are allergic to.
That sure is a quote mine if I ever saw one!  I also like how they switch to talking about allergies as if that were a relevant point.
[Opponents:] [Prop. 37] EXEMPTS [from labeling] TWO-THIRDS OF THE FOODS CALIFORNIANS CONSUME--including products made by corporations funding the 37 campaign.
That just makes me wonder how they are counting foods.
[Opponents:] [Prop. 37] would cost taxpayers millions.
There's an error there: they forgot to put "MILLIONS" in all caps.

Proposition 38 is another bill that temporarily increases taxes for education funding, just like proposition 30.  The tax looks less progressive, and I get the sense that 38 has less support than 30.  Proposition 38 and 30 are conflicting initiatives, and the one that gets more votes is the one that will take effect.  (Technically, if 38 gets more votes, part of 30 will still go into effect.)
[Opponents use this as a section title:] $120 Billion Income Tax Hike on Most Californians
Here they inflate the numbers by omitting the fact that it's $120 billion over 12 years.
[Opponents:] If you earn $17,346 or more per year in taxable income, Prop. 38 raises your California personal income tax rate by as much as 21% on top of what you pay the Federal government.
There are two jokes hidden here.  First, by 21% they really mean that for certain tax brackets, the income tax increases from 9.3% to 11.3%.  Second, the tax bracket for which this occurs is not the one above $17,346, but the one above $500K. lolmath.  This one was so shameless that it actually got mentioned in the rebuttal!

Proposition 39 changes the way multistate businesses calculate the taxes, leading to an increase in annual revenues of about $1 billion.  $550 million of that is dedicated to energy efficency and clean energy jobs, while the rest would likely be spent on public schools and community colleges.
[Named proponents include:] Tom Steyer, Chairman
Californians for Clean Energy and Jobs

Jane Skeeter
California Small Business Owner
 My boyfriend pointed out that Californians for Clean Energy and Jobs was a front organization.  If you look up Tom Steyer, he does many notable things, and Wikipedia doesn't consider Californians for Clean Energy and Jobs to be among them.  I was interested to see what "small business" Jane Skeeter owns.  Apparently, it's a glass sculpture company.  Actually, that's kind of cool!
Everyone is using the all caps buzzwords!

Proposition 40 is a referendum to approve the new state senate districts created by the Citizens Redistricting Commision, which was created in 2008 to reduce gerrymandering.  Apparently, no one opposes Proposition 40.

My boyfriend had to explain this one to me.  People may challenge state senate districts by making a state proposition.  Confusingly, the challengers want a NO vote on the proposition, since by convention a YES means approving the districts.  Here, the NO sponsors appear to be senators who wanted more gerrymandered districts for this election.  However, the California supreme court ruled that even if Proposition 40 got voted down, it would only apply to the next election, not this one.  Following this ruling, the sponsors withdrew their campaign.

By withdrawing their sponsorship, the senators are basically admitting dishonesty.  If they truly thought the districts were bad, they would continue to ask for a NO vote.  But they really only wanted a NO because they thought it would help them get reelected this one time.


Wooo democracy.


Larry, The Barefoot Bum said...

Wooo democracy.

This is not democracy. This is an ad hoc wart-on-wart add-on to make an undemocratic republic look — if you squint and tilt your head — a little bit like a real democracy might look like.

miller said...

Larry, I recall that you advocate direct democracy rather than representative democracy. I take it you don't believe the California proposition system takes us there. If I may ask about that, do you think it just doesn't go far enough, or that it goes in the wrong direction entirely?

Larry, The Barefoot Bum said...

A little of both, I think.

The point of direct democracy is not that the people generally make "wiser" decisions; the point is that people need day-to-day experience of governing a community, even a small one, to become competent governors, to understand what governing really means and how it works.

In one sense, the referendum and initiative processes don't go far enough. While they are more democratic than pure representative democracy, they don't get us much closer to the ideal (in my opinion) of a society where all the people have the day-to-day responsibility of governing, and can thus contribute meaningfully to larger questions where they don't have day-to-day responsibility.

On the other hand, referenda and initiatives often ask precisely the wrong sort of questions of an inexperienced and deliberately mis-educated population. I was in California immediately after Proposition 13, the notorious tax-cutting measure that made California into much shittier place in only a decade. It gave a "mandate" for an attitude that an actual candidate could never have gained.

Whether you buy it or not, the republican, representative system is there precisely to put issues requiring political expertise in the hands of experts. Tacking on referenda and initiatives that deliberately subvert representation gives us the worst of both worlds: the interest-narrowness of representative government with the inexpert naivete of the general population.

Larry, The Barefoot Bum said...

Note that direct democracy has two justifications. The first is as noted above: you need to do something on a consistent basis to become competent. Even if most individuals govern in a direct democracy only over their own local community, they have a context and experience to contribute to discussions at larger levels of organization.

The second, of course, is that in a direct democracy, no subset of the population can ever capture the mechanisms of government; you don't have a class of professional politicians who are trusted to operate behind the backs of the people with the authority of office.

The most obvious drawback of direct democracy is the scaling problem. Even with a lot of assistance from technology and a professional civil service, I don't see how more than 5,000 people (and probably less than 1,000) can ever all just deliberate and vote on every issue of policy. Somehow, we need to scale up to boroughs, cities, regions, and countries of millions to hundreds of millions to possibly more than a billion. As I'm sure you're aware, scaling is one of the hardest meta-problems in technology.

There have been several attempts to scale direct democracy to larger units. The ancient Athenians created offices and filled them by lot. Using this method, they managed to scale up to about 100,000 (I'm vague on the exact numbers, but the population of Athens was on this order of magnitude). Of course, there were only about 30,000 actual voting citizens; women, slaves, and immigrants (metics) were not enfranchised. Still, it was a notable achievement, especially with only the minimal technology of hand-writing.

A more modern solution is delegated direct democracy, pioneered in the Paris Commune, on which Marx wrote approvingly in The Civil War in France. Presently, republican, representative democracies use a trustee system: elected representatives can more-or-less arbitrarily exercise the power of their elected offices without immediate consequence. They are even trusted to act without the specific knowledge and consent of their constituents.

In a delegated democracy, however, representatives are not "trusted." They can be recalled at any time, they cannot act secretly, their actions can be reversed by their constituencies, and they cannot in any way use their offices for personal gain. We do not ever want a delegate to make the "tough," unpopular decisions. If the tough decision needs to be made, the delegate needs to actually persuade his constituency.

There are other governmental and cultural requirements for a direct democracy -- a strong civil service, an independent judiciary, a "democratic" culture, and, of course, a macroeconomic policy -- but they're outside the scope of this comment.

miller said...

I've always been doubtful about the value of a more direct democracy precisely because of California's shitty proposition system. Thanks for explaining a way in which that might not follow.

sz said...

I want to note that there is a difference between governing and legislating (and that what Larry* wants has already been tried in Socialist Yugoslavia). In the end people are people, and the best way to minimize abuse of power is by constraining the actual power held. And yes, with transparency of government. By the way, a scaled direct democracy is a representative democracy. :-p

If we are dreaming anyway, I think that the internet allows for two types of direct democratic mechanisms: "wisdom of the crowd" exploitation in decision making, including budgeting; and open source development & improvement of legislation. In practice referenda fail to qualify for the first type due to their crude and ad hoc nature as Larry* pointed out.

Finally, I feel compelled to poke fun at Larry*s use of 'meta-problems' instead of 'challenges'.

*[With that moniker, your name really ought to be 'Barry', as my fingers presume while typing your name...]

Larry, The Barefoot Bum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Larry, The Barefoot Bum said...

what Larry* wants has already been tried in Socialist Yugoslavia

Tell me more!

By the way, a scaled direct democracy is a representative democracy. :-p

It's one way to scale democracy. However, it has known problems, most notably that even with only power of office, office-holders tend to identify with the de facto aristocracy. Read Failure of a Revolution by Sebastian Haffner for a particularly tragic example.

I feel compelled to poke fun at Larry*s use of 'meta-problems' instead of 'challenges'.

Harrumph. It's a meta problem because "scaling" by itself is not a challenge without a specific referent to what is actually being scaled. However, scaling (both down and up) a lot of different things poses interesting challenges.

And I pretty much stick with the name my parents gave me. Sorry if you don't find it amenable.

sz said...

Yugoslavia ended up as multiple representative democracies. The simple fact is that not all people want to be a politician...

There is no political system without problems. Compromises must be made, and even before that point the democratic level of all existing systems can be improved. But change also has a price.

Harrumph. It's a meta problem because "scaling" by itself is not a challenge without a specific referent to what is actually being scaled.

Rationalization can sometimes be a challenge... I accuse you of silly usage of a pet prefix.

And I pretty much stick with the name my parents gave me. Sorry if you don't find it amenable.

Don't worry, it's amendable. I'll just call you Barry from now on, as an abbreviation.

miller said...

sz, you're doing that thing again where none of what you say actually makes any sense. I described my attitude towards this thing in my post "How I deal with trolls":

Most people don't know how to argue, and instead they simply state their position (often unclearly at that).
If they don't present an argument, I don't need to either.

Emcada said...

still can't believe there's a proposition on labeling GMO's. It's not like it matters if a food is made with GMO's anyways.

sz said...


My apologies if the advocacy of wholesale cultural advancement of society to fix some problems in society provoced a trollish attitude on my part. The contrast between Larry's astute criticism and his naive and handwaving solution exasperated me.

The simple fact is that not all people want to be a politician...

This makes no sense to you? Do I need to first scourge the internet to find a poll that supports this self-evident fact, or quasi-intellectually drop the name of a book before it elevates to the status of argument? Or would you want me to actually spell out how this premise undermines all of Larry's hoped advantages of the direct democracy he described, as well as his justification for it?


miller said...

Sz, that's better. Will I have to prod you again next time to express yourself clearly?

Chris Bernstien said...

The 729 on death row murdered at least 1,279 people, with 230 children. 43 were police officers. 211 were raped, 319 were robbed, 66 were killed in execution style, and 47 were tortured. 11 murdered other inmates.

The arguments in support of Pro. 34, the ballot measure to abolish the death penalty, are exaggerated at best and, in most cases, misleading and false.

No “savings.” Alleged savings ignore increased life-time medical costs for aging inmates and require decreased security levels and housing 2-3 inmates per cell rather than one. Rather than spending 23 hours/day in their cell, inmates will be required to work. These changes will lead to increased violence for other inmates and guards and prove unworkable for these killers. Also, without the death penalty, the lack of incentive to plead the case to avoid the death penalty will lead to more trial and related costs and appeals.

No “accountability.” Max earnings for any inmate would amount to $383/year (assuming 100% of earnings went to victims), divided by number of qualifying victims. Hardly accounts for murdering a loved one.

No “full enforcement” as 729 inmates do not receive penalty given them by jurors. Also, for the 34,000 inmates serving life sentences, there will be NO increased penalty for killing a guard or another inmate. They’re already serving a life sentence.

Efforts are also being made to get rid of life sentences. (Human Rights Watch, Old Behind Bars, 2012.) This would lead to possible paroles for not only the 729 on death row, but the 34,000 others serving life sentences. On 9/30/12, Brown passed the first step, signing a bill to allow 309 inmates with life sentences for murder to be paroled after serving as little as 15 years. Life without parole is meaningless. Remember Charles Manson and Sirhan Sirhan. Convicted killers get out and kill again, such as Darryl Thomas Kemp, Kenneth Allen McDuff, and Bennie Demps.

Arguments of innocence bogus. Can’t identify one innocent person executed in CA. Can’t identify one person on CA’s death row who has exhausted his appeals and has a plausible claim of innocence. See