Ramblings From the Ragged Crumbling Edge Of The Reality-Based Community

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Uncle Jack's Guide to Oregon Ballot Measures - 2006 

...now that Volume 1 of the Oregon Voter’s “Pamphlet”, a wildly misnamed 169-page publication larger than the phone books of some places I have lived, has hit our mail boxes with the language and arguments for and against the 10 ballot measures that Oregonians will be deciding this fall, it is clearly time once again to provide Uncle Jack’s Guide for safely navigating the shoalwaters of the Oregon initiative system. The need for such guidance has made itself manifest through the years as legions of new voters who have moved here from other states and misunderstood the culture and backstories of our system voted mistakenly for property tax initiatives, the Measure 37 property rights measure, and the occasional unconstitutional term limits ballot. In my home area of Central Oregon alone, there has been an uncontrolled explosion of growth such that a sizable proportion of voters will be looking with confusion at their vote-by-mail ballots (a true Oregon anomoly), either not remembering or not knowing that this is how we do things here. It is to these brave rookie sojourners that I offer this free service....

There are some simple fundamental rules to understand about the Oregon initiative system. First of all, it is a tool about 85% of the time for a small minority of people who have an axe to grind (see Measure 37); second, these small groups are frequently from outside of the state and are simply using our relatively friendly system to get their measure passed somewhere (see this year’s Measure 48). While not a hard and fast rule, it is safe to say that a voter could say “No” to 85% of ballot measures on any given year and sleep like a baby with the outcome. This year, although the percentages don’t work out exactly, is just such a year....

Let’s start with Uncle Jack’s First Rule Of Ballot Measure Voting: Vote NO To Constitutional Amendments. One of the quirks of the Oregon system is that it is remarkably easy to get constitutional amendments onto the ballot. There is no special hurdle over which to leap; the successful initiative that placed in the State Constitution the requirement that tax increases and school bond measures and fire district levys pass by a supermajority was its own self passed by a simple majority after needing only the same amount of signatures as any other non-amendment measure. Because of this, every wingnut in the country tries to make his own special little axe-grinding measure into a constitutional amendment, all the better to make it more difficult for more clear-headed actors to snuff the silly little idea later. In executing Uncle Jack’s First Rule, we see therefore that we should vote “NO” on:

Measure 40 (voting for Supreme Court and Appelate Judges by District - the first step in politicizing the vote for state judges);

Measure 45 (term limits; give it up, guys);

Measure 46 (exists solely for the reason of authorizing Measure 47, which creates campaign finance limits, so this makes it a two-fer because you can vote against Measure 47, too, since its goal is to steal the voice from anyone outside the system); and

Measure 48 (a marginally modified retread of the Colorado Tax Payer Bill of Rights (TABOR) initiative that has been a disaster for Colorado. You’ve heard of Snakes on A Plane; this is Snakes on the Budgetary Process. This measure has some differences from Colorado’s TABOR, but they are either meaningless or rely on promises that can’t be kept regarding the behavior of the legislature, not to mention the fact that they don’t address the role that the Oregon Kicker Law would play in the creation of any sort of unspecified “rainy day fund” that the supporters are trying to foist off on Oregon’s voters. Most important point: This Is A Measure Supported And Funded Primarily By Outsiders. Nuff said)...

Having disposed of the Big Dog constitutional amendment issues, we can now turn our attention to the other whiney-ass little axe grinding measures that are being offered for our consideration. First there is Measure 39, which would prohibit the sort of eminent domain issue that was seen in the US Supreme Court Case “Kelo vs. The City of New London”. This measure has a certain visceral attraction for a lot of people, and I have to admit that I am one of them. The idea that someone could offer me some low-ball “fair market value” for my land and throw me off in order to turn it over to a private development solely for the “public” purpose of increasing property tax revenue has a bad feel; that’s not how we feel about our land out here in the west. The measure itself, however, is overbroad and harms the government’s ability to engage in certain legitimate partnerships and needs to go down to defeat.

Then there is Measure 41, which allows us to claim deductions equal to our federal exemption deductions. This is, quite simply, a back door effort to create a tax cut that would rob more money from the Oregon General Fund and force the sorts of cuts in services that the sponsors don’t have the guts to come right out and advocate in their own right. It’s Grover Norquist wrapped in Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility, and it needs to be stomped on.

Measure 42 is a bit of a quandry because it fetches Uncle Jack’s Second Rule, Vote Against Any Measure Sponsored By Bill Sizemore, up against the reality of Uncle Jack’s own life. Measure 42 prohibits insurance companies from using credit scores to set insurance rates. In my mind I feel the need to say “Vote against Measure 42", but my heart remembers when the insurance rates for my four cars was raised 20% two years ago on the strength of a single credit card payment that arrived at it’s assigned destination a day late; the credit card company didn’t hammer me for that one late payment, but that farmy sort of insurance company jumped on it like wolves on a crippled moose calf. I will choke down my strong personal feelings about this issue, however, and rely on the traditional accuracy of the Second Rule and say “vote No”.

Measure 43 creates the requirement of a 48-hour notification period for the parents of teenage girls before providing abortions. This isn’t about family; it’s about limiting abortion. Just Vote No.

Measure 44 is a rarity. It authorizes anyone who doesn’t have a health care plan with prescripton drug coverage to participate in the Oregon Prescription Drug Plan. It’s a rarity because there is not, in the Voters’ “Pamphlet”, a single argument in opposition. Who’s gonna argue with that? Vote yes on 44.

So there you have it, Oregon Voters. It’s simple as pie; Vote Yes on Measure 44 and No on the other nine ballot measures.

You’re welcome....

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Taking British Sass Over the Afghan Failure 

...swear to God, I don't know what it is about the upbringing of British General officers, but they are turning out to be the lippiest bunch you could ever hope to meet. I mean, on this side of the pond, we fling three- and four-star generals out in the street for making independent professional estimations about the number of troops the conquest and pacification of a Middle Eastern country might require, especially when those professional estimations run counter to the stone-cast desires of the Secretary of Defense. But not the Brit's, man. Just a week after British Army Chief General Richard Dannatt declared that we should be getting the hell out of Iraq while the gettin' was good because we are beyond the point of accomplishing anything positive there, now the leader of all NATO troops in Afghanistan, British General David Richards, reiterated a point he first made last week about how how our approach to the conquest and redevelopment of that violence-torn country had been basically one big mistake and that, all these years later, we are probably looking at no better than a six-month window to try to turn things around or face the prospect of losing the hearts and minds of the Afghan people to the Taliban. Over here, in the land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, such talk would get these general officers busted down to the level of stripping parts off of clapped-out Iraq-war veteran Humvee's under the brutal sun of some Texas military repair depot, but they just seem to do things differently back in Mother England...

In Dr. Pangloss's otherwise perfect world, this should be one more nail in the coffin of George W. Bush's hopeless, hapless mishandling of his own "War on Terra", since General Richards is speaking specifically about the failure of the United States to put out the effort to restore either the security or the well-being of the Afghan people. Iraq, for reasons best left to the historians, was the where-all and be-all of Gee Dubs surrounding gang of swindlers, crooks, fixers, and lackeys. Invading Afghanistan was an unfortunate diversion to the plans of this cabal, because it was the obvious target and - given the spectacular and brutal nature of the 9/11 attack - not the sort of thing that they could turn their back on like they did the solid evidence about the perp's behind the USS Cole attack, which they also had a moral obligation to deal with but...just...simply...didn't. Bushco had no choice but to attack Afghanistan, even though that wasn't the country they wanted to go after, so they did it on the cheap, with far too few US assets and far too little assistance and far too ready a willingness to strip assets away from that Area of Operation in order to go after Saddam in Iraq (which we would have eventually done in any case; anybody who thinks that right now, in year 6 of Gee Dub's presidency, we wouldn't be engaged in ground conflict in Iraq is entertaining self-delusion)...

The most painful aspect of British General Richards' comments is that they are absolutely true, and they are absolutely an un-named indictment of the policy of the United States toward Afghanistan. The attacks of 9/11 came out of Afghanistan; the Taliban openly supported Al Qaeda and welcomed the presence of Osama bin Laden and the training camps of his followers; and Afghanistan represented the dangers of a failed state, an active terrorist infrastructure, and a society that was easily as brutal as anything that Saddam and his gang could crank up in Iraq. Afghanistan was a crossroad of terrorism and the drug trade, and a handfull of different disruptive types of bad besides, but we as a country decided to play it on the cheap and basically cut and run when the demands of the Iraqi invasion bacame more pressing. We failed to carry through with development and restoration and all that nasty nation-building stuff that a nation takes on as an obligation when it overthrows another nation's sitting government. General Richards is calling us on that failure, in his oh so proper vedy vedy British way, in a manner that our own military Chiefs of Staff members couldn't get away with, and he is exactly right. We are dangerously close to losing Afghanistan because of our failure in a war of expectations. No matter how much lipstick we smear on this pig, the truths being spoken by British Generals are telling us the ugly uncomfortable truth about how far behind the curve we are in Gee Dub's version of the "War on Terra" that he so desperately wants to be the point of electoral discussion...

Sunday, October 15, 2006

An Un-Surprising Endorsement for Oregon Governor 

...as my local newspaper, the Bend Bulletin, cranks up its list of endorsements for the mid-term election, there will be few surprises. One notable endorsement - or lack thereof, if you will - was the Bulletin’s opposition to Measure 43, a fairly draconian parental notification measure that is usually the darling of the brand of conservatives running the Republican party in Central Oregon. On the other hand, nobody but the spinners and mechanic’s in the Ron Saxton gubernatorial campaign will expend much energy expressing surprise over the appearance in today’s editorial section of an endorsement for Repub Ron Saxton for governor (no link here because the bean counters at the Bulletin seem to think that my subscription of many years cuts no slack whatsoever when it comes to access on their web site). It’s generally understood, after all, that in any partisan election the Bulleting is going to endorse any Repub man who hasn’t been caught in bed with either another live man, a dead woman, or a barnyard animal of either sex; there are other qualifications required...

That’s not to say that the overtaxed minions in the Bulletin’s editorial sweatshop won’t try to do their best to craft all the pretty phrases necessary to sell their endorsement. Saxton is “accomplished” and “respected” and “has the smarts” to deliver government services more efficiently.


Ron Saxton is just another in a drearily long line of Repub medicine show hustlers with lots of talk about how a couple of spoonfuls of magic, along with tax cuts for the big dogs and steely-eyed efficiency applied to state government, will cure everything that ails us. It’s at this point that we must give a referential nod to the Bulletin and other state newspapers for having failed to do any sort of heavy lifting in trying to bring their readership to any sort of understanding about how state government should work or is working. “Tax cuts and efficient government” is just simple hucksterism, a scam looking for a pidgeon, and it sells because the Bulletin and other news organizations spend all sorts of time covering scandals furniture purchases and individual failings without talking much about how things actually work. This sales job is the art of playing games with definitions and perceptions, selling the voters on the idea that somebody will waltz into Salem and sweep away all those lazy unproductive employees who spend most of their time taking coffee breaks and calculating their Public Employees’ Retirement System annuities, fling superfluous administrators bodily out the door, and sell the state motor pool function to one of the national Car Rental companies. The outcome, according to this story, will be the sudden discovery of bushel baskets of cash sitting around the halls in government offices all over Salem, allowing a new flowering of governmental performance while taxpayers wallow in those large piles of dollar bills like piles of autumn leaves they no longer have to send to Salem to pay for all that wasteful government. It all sounds good and might even have a certain attraction to it were such snake oil being retailed by somebody who actually had some experience trying to deliver government services at some undefined “more efficient” level. The sad, unfortunate, ugly little truth is that there really isn’t a successful model to draw from, because none of these strange little crusaders have any sort of actual understanding of what “efficiency” means. Far too often, as will be the case with Saxton, “efficiency” is defined as “getting rid of those functions that we don’t think you need”. Efficiency, to the party of unnecessary wars, Jack Abramoff, Enron, Halliburton, sweetheart deals with Big Pharma, and the casual pursuit of Congressional pages, is getting rid of those government functions that interfere with their friends’ activities. “Efficiency” is getting rid of people and programs that take care of labor enforcement, legal business practices, protection of the environment, and taking care of all those lazy listless poor people (who are probably all illegal immigrants anyway).

But never mind that. Never mind the fact that Ron Saxton has neither experience or any actual clue that he would care to share with us about how to implement any of this tax cut/efficiency action in a way that would truly be of benefit to my children, my elderly relatives, or myself, since none of us are either rich, big business, or Republican. Never mind, because he’s the Bulletin’s pick, to absolutely noone’s surprise...

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?