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Saturday, April 29, 2006
We're Not All Idiots

I attended (strictly as an observer) the California State Democratic Convention this week, and was lucky enough to have access to meetings, press conferences, and so forth. So I wandered around, listening, not so much talking to people, because there were enough people speaking, trying to be heard, thrusting flyers in your face, and trying to make an impression. It's an interesting atmosphere. Most of it is pretty organized, but there is an agreeable chaos that suits me. I can't help but think that if enough people get in one place and yell loud enough, a decent idea might eventually be generated.

This year in California, the big race is for governor, and not just because the current one is Arnold Schwarzenegger. Admittedly, any race Arnold is in is going to be big news, you know, because he was in Last Action Hero. But what's more, his popularity is in the toilet, because he can't get anything done. California is an amazing place, but it is broken in so many ways, mainly because of Proposition 13. Passed in 1978 as a "taxpayer revolt" what it does mainly is fix in place the tax value of property. In other words, if you bought your house for $100,000 in 1985, whatever the property taxes were at that time remain in place until you sell the property. Your house might be worth five times that now, but you continue to pay the same rate.

Of course, the cost of schools, roads and other services continues to rise, but there is no corresponding rise in tax revenue. Thus, all these years later, the infrastructure is in shambles. The schools, formerly the best in the country, now consistently rank in the bottom third. Roads and bridges are in need of repair, and yet people still continue to move there, totaling now thirty-five million. The cost of real estate is the highest in the country, and anyone below upper middle class cannot purchase a home. Less than thirty years ago, any student in California could attend a state college for free, and please let me add that these schools include the University of California at Berkeley, the rest of the UC schools, and the CalState campuses, none of them slouches. Now you have to pay. A lot. If you can get in. This is progress?

But that's why California is screwed, and not even Arnold is strong enough to fix it, unless he were to raise taxes, and that isn't going to happen. It's still better to run enormous deficits than to pay for what you need apparently; George W. Bush has shown us the way.

The Democrats will rescue California, supposedly. There are two main candidates running, and I listened to them at their press conferences. One is named Steve Westly, and he made 150 million when he helped get eBay up and running. Steve will raise taxes "as a last resort." May I remind you that California is running structural deficits of 5-10 billion dollars each year. The other is named Phil Angelides, and he's made a few million in property development. Phil says he will ask large corporations and people making over $500,000 per year to pay more. In this day and age, this, sadly, is a bold step. Of course, it is costing him in the early polls, and it will probably cost him the primary election in June, and if not, the race in November against Arnold.

So, I wandered outside, and I hear a bullhorn going, and I recognize the voice of Peter Camejo. I first became aware of him when he ran in the ridiculous circus that was the Recall Election of 2003 in California. You may also recall he was Ralph Nader's running mate in the presidential election in 2004. I think what I found intriguing about him is that he talks like we still think Democrats talk, even though they haven't in thirty years. And he's not some damned hippie, he's a financier and economist, and he knows how the world works. So, when this guy lays out how things like universal health care and balancing the budget are possible, he's not just pulling it out of his ass.

Camejo is railing away about immigration, and what cowards the Democrats are on the issue, and the living wage in California, and WHY AREN'T THE DEMOCRATS TALKING ABOUT THESE ISSUES, and a dozen others? The Democrats want to get elected by saying "we aren't the Republicans," but really? What's the difference? Dems voted for the Patriot Act, the war in Iraq, they have allowed the president to erode our civil liberties with barely a whimper. Who needs them?

And I know he's right. Everyone standing there knows he's right. Democrats are hoping to fall back in to power this year, just because the Republicans are so crooked and incompetent, but I don't think it's going to happen, and I'm not just talking about California. We have the most criminal Congress and presidential administration since, well, ever, and the population of the US just doesn't care one single bit. The Republicans are liars of the worst sort. They don't tell you the type of lies that might make you feel good. No, they tell you the kind that make you feel worse, because there are people out there different than you, in religious belief, sexual orientation, or skin color, and they hate America.

Peter Camejo is one of the smartest guys in the country, and it's not because he believes in social justice or because he's made a lot of money, but because he's got the balls to try and solve problems, and listen to smart people who want to do the same. He is not satisfied with the status quo. The Republicans, of course, are.

And don't kid yourself. So are the Democrats.


posted at 10:08 PM

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