Archive for the Elections Category

And now for some post-election humor. I know nothing about the context or origin of this photograph. But it made me laugh really hard.

The Hose

There’s an election coming up in a week or so and I thought it would be an interesting exercise to write up the reasoning behind my voting plans, starting with general principles and then applying them to the concretes of my actual ballot.

I’ve often said that I don’t have a political party, I have political values. Specifically, I value the principle of individual rights and I want to see it protected by the government across the board. This is a minority view in the culture today, which means politically I am put in the position of playing defense rather than offense. While I find the Tea Parties a promising cultural phenomenon, too many of their candidates are strongly religious and this poses serious dangers in the medium term. However, the egalitarian nihilism being advanced by the current Democratic party poses a much more immediate threat. Getting politicians who understand and support the principle of individual rights requires time for cultural and intellectual activism. That time will not be available if the government continues to bankrupt the country. The only way I see to buy that time is to block the ability of both parties to seriously advance their positions by preventing either one from gaining full control of both Congress and the White House. (In my lifetime there have been a total of 8 years in which the Democrats solidly controlled Congress and the White House: 1977-1980, 1993-1994 and 2009-2010. There have been 2 years in which the Republicans solidly controlled Congress and the White House: 2005-2006. Each of these periods provoked a massive political backlash and a swing to the opposition party. Apparently there is nothing that makes a party less popular than enabling it to implement its agenda.)

At the national level the primary strategic goal is gridlock, to buy time for further intellectual activism. The secondary strategic goal is to break the hold of the political-class Republicans on the leadership of the Republican Party by electing Tea Party candidates wherever possible. This is a variation of the gridlock principle applied to the internal power balance of the GOP itself. (If a similar internal power struggle could be ignited inside the Democratic party that would be great, but it doesn’t seem likely unless someone convinces Hillary Clinton to launch a primary challenge against Obama in 2012. A worthwhile goal but not relevant to the current midterm election. Update: On the topic of internal power struggles in the Democratic party, today I found this. Perhaps it’s not only more likely than I thought, but actually underway.)

At the state and local level my options are more limited, given that California is a heavily Democratic state and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. My main hope here is to try to keep politicians responsive by keeping their elections as close as possible, which leads to the general principle of voting anti-incumbent. Where I live that almost always means voting Republican just because the incumbents are almost always Democrats. If a particular challenger is unusually noxious I may simply refrain from voting in that race; if a seat is open and neither candidate impresses me as unusually good or unusually bad, I vote for the minority party on the gridlock principle.

For non-partisan offices, unless one of the candidates has come to my attention outside the campaign in a positive or negative way, I usually refrain from voting simply because I lack the information to make an informed judgment and the time to track it down. (An example of an exception: Back in 2006 there was a major corruption scandal in San Jose involving waste disposal contracts. The mayoral race was between two City Council members who both, during the race, criticized the contract. But only one of them, Chuck Reed, had strongly opposed it before it blew up into a scandal. On the theory that character is what you do in the dark — when the public isn’t roused and paying attention — I voted for Reed. Since he hasn’t come to my negative attention since then, I retain a measure of approval for him and will probably vote for him and/or his allies when and as possible.)

For ballot initiatives, my principles are a bit simpler. Anything that raises taxes or fees, I oppose. Anything that seeks to borrow money, I oppose. Anything that seeks to expand the scope of government action into previously free areas, I oppose. Anything that clearly abolishes a government policy that violates rights, I support. Anything fiddling with the nitty-gritty details of government operation, or too unclearly-written to have understandable consequences, I oppose on the principle of ‘the devil you know’. I also reserve the right to vote for anything that the political class hates on general principle, like anti-gerrymandering initiatives and term limits.

With that said, let’s take a look at the ballot and see how these rules translate into actual votes (or not). First, the elected offices.

  • Governor. This is an open office. Jerry Brown was noxious the last time he was governor, the state legislature is firmly in Democratic hands, and Meg Whitman doesn’t strike me as unusually bad. So the noxious candidate, gridlock and minority party principles all align. Meg Whitman, GOP.
  • Lt. Governor. Another open office. Gridlock doesn’t really apply, since as far as I can tell the office of Lt. Governor doesn’t actually do anything. But anyone who could get elected Mayor of San Francisco is automatically noxious in my book, and the minority party principle aligns with it. Abel Maldonado, GOP.
  • Secretary of State. Anti-incumbent. Damon Dunn, GOP.
  • Controller. Anti-incumbent. Tony Strickland, GOP.
  • Treasurer. Anti-incumbent. Mimi Walters, GOP.
  • Attorney General. Open office. Minority party principle. Steve Cooley, GOP.
  • Insurance Commissioner. Open office. Minority party principle. Mike Villines, GOP.
  • State Board of Equalization, District 1. (And doesn’t that sound like something out of Atlas Shrugged, or Anthem?) Anti-incumbent. Kevin R. Scott, GOP.
  • United States Senator. Anti-incumbent, gridlock and noxious all together. Carly Fiorina, GOP.
  • United States Representative, District 16. Anti-incumbent and gridlock. Daniel Sahagun, GOP.
  • State Assembly, District 24. Anti-incumbent, minority party. Robert Chandler, GOP.
  • San Jose/Evergreen Community College District, Governing Board Member Trustee Area 6. Anti-incumbent. Jeffrey Lease.
  • Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, District 1. Anti-incumbent. Forrest Williams.
  • San Jose City Council, District 9. Non-partisan, positive information principle — one candidate is a political ally of Chuck Reed, who still hasn’t pissed me off. Larry Pegram.
  • Various judicial offices, Superintendent of Public Instruction and Santa Clara Valley Water District Director, District 4 left blank by the non-partisan office, no information principle.

Wow, there’s a lot of the bloody parasites, aren’t there? Now on to the initiatives, state and local.

  • Measure 19: Legalizes marijuana for personal use. The drug war is an insane violation of individual rights; anything that dials it back even a little bit is a good thing. Yes.
  • Measure 20: Redistricting of Congressional districts. This is an anti-gerrymandering initiative, putting control of redrawing district lines in the hands of an independent commission instead of the state legislature. In general, allowing politicians to pick their own voters leads to less responsive government — and anything the political class hates this much is ipso facto probably a good idea. Yes.
  • Measure 21: Annual vehicle license fee surcharge. This is a tax/fee increase. No.
  • Measure 22: Requires state to distribute tax revenue to local governments for various purposes even in the face of severe fiscal hardship. California is facing serious ongoing budget problems — the state is essentially bankrupt. The state and local governments are fighting over the shrinking pie, and this initiative is a shot in that ongoing battle. Ultimately the only solution is to shrink the state government; I don’t see how locking in spending obligations helps with that. No.
  • Measure 23: Suspends implementation of a ‘viro emissions control law until the state unemployment level drops to 5.5% or lower. This kind of environmentalist legislation violates the freedom of production and trade; blocking it even temporarily is rights-protecting. Plus I hate the ‘viros, so it’s nice to stick a finger in their eye. Yes.
  • Measure 24: Repeals recent legislation that enhanced business’ ability to lower their tax liability. The less wealth the government takes by force, the better, all else being equal. No.
  • Measure 25: Changes legislative vote requirement to pass budget and budget-related legislation from 2/3 to simple majority. The legislature in California is strongly Democratic. The 2/3 requirement on the budget is the only thing that gives the Republicans any relevance in budget debates at all. Given the strong likelihood that Brown will win the governor’s race, this is the last sliver of resistance to a total left-wing political monoculture in the state. Hell No.
  • Measure 26: Reclassifies certain state and local fees so they require 2/3 approval. Anything that makes it more difficult for the government to nickel-and-dime the public is good. Yes.
  • Measure 27: Eliminates the State Commission on Redistricting. This is basically the evil twin of Measure 20, putting control of redistricting firmly in the hands of the legislature. All the reasons for supporting 20 are reasons to oppose this. No.
  • Measure A: Tax increase to fund public health care for children. They lost me at ‘tax increase’ and added insult to injury by playing the ‘for the children’ card. No.
  • Measure B: Motor vehicle registration fee increase to fund street maintenance. Raise a fee, lose a vote. No.
  • Measure C: Term limits for members of the Santa Clara Valley Water District. It’s weak sauce for an institution that probably shouldn’t exist at all, but they hate it and I hate them. Yes.
  • Measure G: A bond issue to fund local community colleges. It’s a bond issue. The first rule of crushing debt is we do not talk about crushing debt. The second rule is stop borrowing! No.
  • Measure U: Marijuana business tax. Legalizing marijuana is good. New taxes are bad. (I could be argued on this one on the grounds that treating marijuana businesses differently from other businesses weakens the principle of equality before the law, but this initiative looks like a special tax levied specifically against marijuana businesses. Oh, and it’s a gross receipts tax. <Expletive redacted> that.) No.
  • Measure V: Limit powers of outside arbitrators, and Measure W: Pension reform. These two initiatives are closely-coupled attempts by the San Jose City Council to begin addressing the problem of public pension expenses. The public pension tsunami is one of a number of massive problems looming ever larger in the economic windshield. While I can’t vouch for the likely effectiveness of these proposals, I do know that the status quo is leading to disaster. Yes.

Wow. If I’d known in advance that there were that many things on the ballot I might not have started writing this. Still, I hope you enjoyed this not-so-brief snapshot into how I think about voting decisions.

Bill Dupray says “Remind me again why Chris Christie can’t be president in 2012?” Um, because the winner of the next Presidential election won’t be inaugurated until January 2013?

That said, I know what he meant. Christie is definitely a breath of fresh air in the morass of contemporary politics — not necessarily because of his substantive policies, the full impact of which remains to be seen — but simply because he treats the people of his state like adults. He doesn’t pretend that the hard choices aren’t necessary, or that they can be made without pain, and he believes the public is mature enough to grasp the facts, evaluate them and act appropriately.

It’s a sad comment on the rest of our political leadership, on the left and the right, that that alone is enough to make Christie stand out from the crowd.

Anyone paying attention to the news knows that 2010 is shaping up to be a Republican year.  A growing grass-roots backlash against the Democrats is reflected in both election results and polls.  But one should never underestimate the ability of the GOP to blow an advantage, and here’s an example of why — they don’t understand the power of narrative.  The left is expert at setting up narrative lines that provide the structure for media coverage of events.  Facts that play into the narrative get picked up, repeated, elaborated.  Facts that run counter to the narrative are ignored, suppressed, abandoned.  And the narratives are almost always ones that benefit the left and damage the right.

One of the narratives the left has been setting up recently is the classic “conservatives are just a bunch of racist rednecks”.  They’ve been particularly anxious to set this frame up around the Tea Party movement in the hopes of scaring off and/or driving away the independent voters who have been attracted by the Tea Party’s message of fiscal responsibility, but they’ll use it on mainstream Republicans too.  It never gets old.  Now, if you want to fight a narrative line, you must not do anything that feeds into it and gives it credibility.  Any fact that even seems to support the narrative may be seized upon, repeated endlessly as ‘proof’ of its accuracy, and used to cement its power in the upcoming news cycle.

In light of the above, I now present to you Bob McDonnell, the recently-elected governor of Virginia.

Idiot.

I just received the following e-mail from my father, which I assume is circulating around the underbelly of the Internet. (I have edited it lightly, mostly by removing repetitions of the line about “Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. I got the point the first time, thanks.)

Subject: This makes sense to me!

I think we should print this off and send it to our congressmen…..over and over again until they “get it”!!!

THIS IS HOW YOU FIX CONGRESS!!!!!

Congressional Reform Act of 2010

  1. Term Limits: 12 years only, one of the possible options below.
    1. Two Six year Senate terms
    2. Six Two year House terms
    3. One Six year Senate term and three Two Year House terms
  2. No Tenure / No Pension: A congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.
  3. Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security: All funds in the Congressional retirement fund moves to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system; Congress participates with the American people.
  4. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan just as all Americans.
  5. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.
  6. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.
  7. Congress and the President must equally abide in all laws they impose on the American people. Signing statements will not be used nor honored.
  8. All contracts with past and present congressmen are void effective 1/1/11. The American people did not make this contract with congressmen, congressmen made all these contracts for themselves.

Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

If you agree with the above, pass it on to all in your address list. If not, just delete.

I thought that, as a list of proposed solutions to the problems afflicting our government, this largely misses the point.  Herewith, my response.

That stuff feeds an emotional desire for vengence, but doesn’t really address the fundamental problem.

The Founding Fathers envisioned a government whose sole function was the protection of the individual rights to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness; the purpose of the Constitution was to establish such a government, with powers limited to those necessary and proper to the fulfillment of that end.  Our government has thrown off those restrictions, arrogating effectively unlimited power to itself.  Our leaders are contemptuous of the very idea that the Constitution limits their power — you may or may not have noticed the derision with which House Speaker Pelosi dismissed a question regarding the constitutional authority enabling a government takeover of the health care system.  (She said that “wasn’t a serious question” and refused to answer it.)

Unsurprisingly, the power we have allowed our government to amass attracts unsavory people, whose personalities are marred by narcissism and power-lust.  Is it surprising that such people fasten themselves to jobs that give them the power they lust for, refuse to give them up, and proceed to act as rulers while treating the American people as serfs?

As long as you have a pot of honey, you will have flies attracted to it.  You can’t stop the process by putting a lid on the pot — you have to get rid of the honey.  Restore the limitations on the government’s power.  A Congress that has no authority beyond protecting the individual rights of the people would be a Congress with no ability to dispense favors to favored constituents or special interests.  Such a government would not need multi-trillion dollar budgets, and would not be in a position to bail out the connected or punish the productive when they refuse to abase themselves.

It is widely acknowledged today that our government is thoroughly corrupt — but what does that really mean?  A government action is corrupt when it directs government power and resources to an inappropriate end.  But since the proper end of government is the protection of individual rights, this means that any government action not directed to that end is inherently corrupt — and that is 90%+ of what the government does today.  Corruption is the norm, not the exception, and the problem is not structural, but functional — specifically, that our government officials have lost their understanding of what their proper function *is*.

If we wish to reclaim our government and halt the ongoing theft of the liberties envisioned for us by the Founders, this is the issue we must push.  We must insist that our Congressmen understand the purpose of their jobs, and we must replace those who reject that purpose with new Congressmen who do.  This job starts by finding such candidates and supporting them in the upcoming primaries, wherever possible.  I suggest contacting your local Tea Party organization as a good starting place.

Yesterday, Anne and I swung by the San Jose Tea Party protest.  We didn’t have time to prepare anything, so we simply wandered around taking pictures and chatting with people.  I was fairly impressed with the turnout, considering that San Jose is a fairly liberal city in a very liberal state.  I know nothing about estimating crowd sizes, but the San Jose Mercury News reports the turnout at 1000.  (I’ve been told that the local talk radio station estimated 2000, but since they helped organize they’re likely to skew high.  So I’d guess somewhere in the middle.)  We don’t have a decent panoramic shot, but here’s a couple of the crowd:

sjtp-20090415-1.jpg

sjtp-20090415-2.jpg

There were a lot of signs, ranging from the clearly home-made to the professionally printed.  The overall theme was, sadly, political, with objections to taxation, excessive government spending and rapidly increasing debt.  There was a lot of talk about what people were against, but much less about what people were for.  That’s a problem, which I’ll talk about a bit more towards the end of this post.

sjtp-20090415-5.jpg

Congress took some well-deserved hits for passing the so-called stimulus bill without actually reading it first.

sjtp-20090415-3.jpg

sjtp-20090415-6.jpg

There were some people with a more positive message.  Nice to see a good word for capitalism.

sjtp-20090415-4.jpg

I didn’t see any giant puppets, but large revolutionary-era flags are always a winner.

sjtp-20090415-7.jpg

These guys probably win the award for “Longest Trip To The Protest”.  It must be scary to flee socialist oppression in one’s homeland only to witness the same thing rising in your new country, aided and abetted by people who should damn well know better.

sjtp-20090415-8.jpg

In spite of the attempts by the port side to present the Tea Party movement as a purely partisan affair, it isn’t.  George W. Bush and profligate Republicans took a fair amount of smacking right along with Obama and the Democrats.  There’s discontent brewing here, but it isn’t going to automatically turn into votes for the GOP on election day unless they take steps to earn them.

sjtp-20090415-9.jpg

Not everything was serious.  This guy wanted Obama to help him.  Well, sort of.

sjtp-20090415-10.jpg

Get a group of a thousand people together and there’s always going to be a few people who are off-message.

sjtp-20090415-11.jpg

(For those who don’t follow sports, the Sharks are San Jose’s NHL team.)

Speaking of folks who were off-message, we had a small group of left-wing counter-protesters show up.  Oddly enough, their focus was on amnesty for illegal aliens, which is just weird given that the Tea Party was about fiscal policy.  I don’t know if they were hoping to provoke a fight with the racist right-wingers who turned out for the Tea Party in their minds, or what, but the people I talked to were mostly bemused.  There was some back-and-forth chanting, but for the most part we ignored them.  This guy pretty much sums up my reaction.

sjtp-20090415-12.jpg

The Mercury News writes that:

the protest turned tense when a competing group of about 40 people began circling the tax protesters, banging drums, shouting epithets, screaming about immigrant rights and promoting anarchy. At one point, the smaller group stormed the stage of the tax protesters, and more than a dozen San Jose riot police separated the groups. Meanwhile, dozens more officers stood guard on mounted patrol, in police cars and on foot to maintain peace. No arrests were made.

I didn’t see the charge on the stage, but that does sound like the kind of behavior I expect from leftists.  There was a point later in the rally when the police were separating the lefties from the rest of us, but both groups were just standing there.

sjtp-20090415-13.jpg

The Tea Party people I spoke to were almost uniformly calm, friendly, smiling and open to discussion.  (I did chat with one hard-core religious nut who was, frankly, scary.  I’ve got an invitation to a class on Biblical Prophecy.  I won’t be going.)

Here’s me in black next to the woman with the pro-capitalism sign.  I want one of those tri-corn hats.

sjtp-20090415-14.jpg

There were a couple of other Objectivists around who had taken the time to put together signs.  Here they are in Q&A format.

sjtp-20090415-15.jpg

sjtp-20090415-16.jpg

No literature, though.  I understand that the Golden Gate Objectivists had something a bit better prepared for the San Francisco Tea Party.

Overall impression: the people I saw and spoke to are very unhappy with where they see the country going, but they lack ideas to explain why the country is going that way.  Lots of outrage, little reasoning.  This is a serious problem, because ultimately it is ideas that drive cultural and political change.  If you can’t explain why you’re outraged, what would be a better alternative to the status quo, and why, you’re dead in the water.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that people are looking for the answers they need.  This suggests that bringing literature to these protests for free distribution should be a high priority for the next wave.  Literature at multiple levels of information density would be even better, ranging from simple one-page fliers at the low end, to pamphlets and article collections in the middle, all the way up to copies of Atlas Shrugged at the high end.  On this note the Ohio Objectivist Society did something brilliant, collecting together a number of excellent articles on aspects of the current crisis, its roots and Ayn Rand’s relevance to the solution into a reprint booklet called The Portable Objectivist.  (They also have a web version.  And yes, they got permission from the copyright holders — Objectivists respect property rights, and try to practice what we preach.)  Something I’m hoping will emerge from the various write-ups I’m seeing is a set of ‘best practices’ for working future protests.  There’s a learning curve here and we need to move up it, fast.

I was very pleased to read that a number of Objectivists spoke at various Tea Parties.  Rational Jenn had a short recorded video which was played before the 16,000 people at the Atlanta Tea Party.  Greg Perkins of Noodlefood was the kickoff speaker at the Boise Tea Party, and on short notice at that.  John Lewis gave a good speech focused on moral fundamentals at the Charlotte Tea Party, and there’s YouTube video of that that I can’t resist using to wrap things up.  More like this in Boston on the 4th of July, please.

Ok, I lied… there’s also a post-speech interview with Dr. Lewis, and I’m going to wrap up with that instead. He’s bang-on… we need a moral change if we’re going to get a sustainable political change. The American people are divided in spirit, and we send inconsistent signals to our elected officials — we want free stuff, but we don’t want to pay for it ourselves and we don’t want to go into debt for it either. Something there has to give, and if we want to avoid a total loss of freedom it had better be the desire for free stuff.

The first time I found myself agreeing with former Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern, I joked that it was a sign of the impending apocalypse.  Now he’s gone and said something else sensible.

The third time is generally taken as a sign of enemy action.  If he does this again I’ll have to wonder if the GOP kidnapped his dog.