Monday, October 31, 2005

California Proposition 78, 79, and 80: VOTE NO!

These are the three upcoming California Special Election ballot issues that are the 'no-brainers' of the ballot. As a libertarian-leaning conservative who is a strong supporter of "promoting individual liberty and economic freedom through the idea of limited government, private property rights, and free market capitalism" (as our masthead states), I emphatically urge everyone to VOTE NO on 78, 79, and 80. All three are anti-capitalist, pro-big government measures that will result in shortages and more regulation.

and are competing attempts to regulate prescription drugs. One is sponsored by the drug companies, the other by trial lawyers and consumer advocate groups, and both would mean government regulation of prescription drug costs. Government imposed cost controls always result in lower quality, lower supply, and frustrated consumers. I cannot think of a single circumstance where the imposition of government bureaucracy and regulation has resulted in lower costs, more choice, better quality, and more supply. The opposite is ALWAYS the result.

, if passed, would re-regulate California's electrical supply. While deregulation of a decade ago was poorly planned, and even more poorly executed, the re-imposition of government controls is not the answer. Like Prop's 78 and 79, the result will be less supply, fewer choices, and lower quality.

If you doubt my conclusions on free markets versus a regulated market, consider how the telephone service market developed. First, under the regulated market of the first five or six decades of telephone service here in the USA we though we had good prices, features, and quality. However, compare those days to the current, relatively unregulated mobile phone market. Prices are lower, features are too many to list, and long distance is FREE! In addition, the monthly costs keep dropping, and the features list grows longer.

Don't put the prescription drug market nor the electrical markets back into the stone age.

Vote NO on 78, 79, and 80.

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Saturday, October 29, 2005

California Proposition 76: State Spending and School Funding Limits

California's special election next month gives voters the opportunity to decide several important state issues. This post will discuss the merits of , which, if passed, would place limits on state spending and on state school funding.

Currently, there are spending limits in place in the state of California, but due to the nature of the source of state revenues, primarily personal and corporate income taxes and general sales taxes, revenues rise and fall dramatically as the state's economy rises and falls. Spending must rise and fall accordingly, or large surplusses or deficits result. The legislature hasn't shown the ability to restrain spending the surplusses, instead of holding it in reserve for the years when revenues fall below expected expendatures.

Prop 76 would change all that. In general, this proposition would limit spending to "the prior-year level of expenditures, adjusted by the average of the growth rates in combined General Fund and special fund revenues over the prior three years", as the non-partisan Legislative Analyst reports in the Voters Guide. This would have the effect over time of constraining spending during revenue-rich periods, but would allow more liberal spending in revenue-poor periods. It would accomplish this by placing excess revenues in reserve for those leaner times.

For school funding, this measure would alter the current minimum spending guarantees in place from previous propositions. It's rather complicated, but essentially would likely lower minimum spending guarantees, while at the same time reducing school funding volitility. School administrators would be able to better plan budgets with the knowledge that future funding would be more consistent.

It is important to note as well that just because minimum funding guarantees would likly be reduced, there is no reason to assume that actual school spending will decrease. The legislature and the governor can fund schools at higher than the minimum, and no limits are initiated by this proposal. It will be up to you and me to hold the state responsible if school funding is inadequate.

Finally, this proposal would grant new power to the governor to control spending. Under Prop 76, the governor could declare a "fiscal emergency", and then unilaterally reduce spending without legislative approval.

The Democrats and the public employee unions are, of course, opposed to this measure. They oppose any limits placed on their ability spend your money. The unions are specifically opposed to any limits that might impact their ability to implement pay raises and improve retirement benefits for their members. The legislature is heavily dominated by Democrats, and they, of course, oppose anything thing that limits their power to spend, and grants authority to the governor to override their spending plans.

They have never before shown any ability to restrain spending, and this proposal will bring some fiscal sanity and consistency to the budget process.

Vote YES on 76

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

California Proposition 75: Public Employee Union Member's Dues for Political Campaigns **UPDATED**

**UPDATE** Recent television advertisements paid for by public employee unions deceptively suggest that (paraphrasing) 'there are already ways for members to opt-out of politcal fees and activities', and that Prop 75 is therefore unecessary.

What they don't say, but as this original post did below, is that the only way for a union member to 'opt-out' is to resign membership in the union. A member cannot opt-out.

Furthermore, if this proposition is "unecessary", then why will the public employee unions pay the tens and probably hundreds of million dollars on their "No on 75" campaign?

This third installment in my series of discussions about the California Special Election next month discusses , which, if passed, would require public employee unions to receive annual written permission from each member to use union dues for political purposes.

The public employee unions (police, fire, nurses, and teachers, primarily) are absolutely livid about this proposition because it's passage would mean that these unions would not be able to compel their members to contribute money to spend on the political campaigns that the union leadership supports.

Currently, public employees are not required to join unions, and those who choose not to join must pay a fee to the union for the union's collective bargaining work, though they do not have to pay a fee to the union for political activities.

Members of the union, however, don't have that right, and must pay whatever fee the union leadership decides is appropriate to support whatever political position the leadership chooses. The member who believes in and supports the right to collective bargaining, but is not politically allied with the generally far-left leaning union leadership, MUST support financially the leadership's political positions. The passage of Prop 75 would end that unfair practice and allow loyal members the option to 'opting-out' of political activity. That is the extent of the proposition if passed.

The union leadership views this issue as one of power; specifically theirs. They try to paint the backers of Prop 75 as evil corporations out to destroy the American way of life, when, in fact, this matter is really about freedom and the rights of the individual over that of the union. Many union members support the union in its efforts to help members, but don't necessarily support the political positions of the union leadership. This proposition would simply allow the members themselves——not union leadership——to decide if they wish to finacially support the union's political activities.

One of the is that it unfairly targets unions, and doesn't require corporations to receive shareholder permission prior to contributing to a given political campaign. However, their is a very big difference between unions and corporations in this regard. If you work as a police officer, firefighter, nurse, or teacher in the state of California, you must join the union, or be represented by them as a non-member. There are no other choices.

However, no one is required to buy shares in a corporation. The decision to own or not to own shares in publicly traded corporation is entirely that of the individual. Furthermore, you can still work and provide for yourself and your family while owning, or while not owning shares in a corporation. Your livelihood is not affected in any way by your personal decision to own or not to own corporate stocks.

This issue, despite what the unions are spending millions to convince you of, is simply about choice. Your choice versus theirs. The rights of the individual or of the union. Freedom versus central control.

Vote YES on 75

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Thursday, October 13, 2005

California Proposition 74: Teacher Tenure **Updated**

Next month's special election here in California has several important propositions on the ballot. These were placed on the ballot by Governor Schwartzenegger after failing to agree with the Democrat-controlled legislature on these important issues. In my previous installment on these propositions, I discussed , the redistricting issue, and this week I will discuss , the "teacher tenure" issue.

If enacted, the measure would be officially titled . This measure affects two employment criteria for public school teachers: First, the probationary period for new teachers would be extended from two to five years. Second, school administrators would have the ability to fire lower-performing teachers who have received two consecutive "unsatisfactory evaluations", regardless of their tenure status. The dismissed teacher can, within 30 days of their dismissal, ask for an administrative hearing on their dismissal.

The teachers unions obviously are very upset about this measure. They don't like the idea that their members can be fired for poor performance, and without a prior hearing. Welcome to the real world, teachers!

Most of us——some estimates say 60%* —are employed as "at-will" employees, which means that we can be fired "at-will", with no reasons given. We can also quit under the same circumstances. There are some exceptions to this, of course, but for the most part, an at-will employee can be fired or can quit without reasons or notice, or hearings. Why shouldn't teachers work under the same employment rules as most everyone else?

Obviously collective bargaining agreements have had a lot to do with this issue, and the teachers unions are viscously fighting this proposition, as they stand a lot to lose if it passes. While I am a strong supporter of teachers, and have argued previously that I believe the lion's share of blame for poor student performance lies with parents, I also believe that teachers should be held to the same employment standards as the majority of Americans in the workforce.

Vote YES on 74.

*New estimates are closer to 80%

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Sunday, October 09, 2005

Is Atheism a Religion?

Yesterday's post about the spurred me into further investigation of the question of whether atheism is a form of religious belief. As I discussed yesterday,
"If belief in a Higher Power is considered a religious faith, then an equally powerful argument can be made that the non-belief in a Higher Power is also a religion. To put it another way, a religious person believes in a Higher Power. An atheist does not. Neither position can be proven with facts or science; each requires faith in an idea."
A Google search of the title of this post reveals many relevant links to this discussion. Many of those who consider themselves atheists bristle at the charge that atheism is a religion. Many of these people have a very simple adherence to atheism that they don't believe in any Higher Power, no After-Life, no Supreme Being, nothing.

There is also a very large segment of the atheist population who very actively seeks to abolish any references to any form of religious faith in any public forum, governmental agency, or public schools, or any organization or activity open to the general public. I would characterize this group of atheists as "activists", and suspect that many of them would also characterize themselves as politically liberal.

The latter group is the more vocal 'face' of atheism, and are usually the ones filing lawsuits to remove religious symbols from public buildings, schools, etc. These activist atheists zealously and ruthlessly pursue their non-believer goals—which seem to this writer as ultimately the elimination of all religious activity anywhere except possibly in the privacy of one's home. One such zealot sued to remove the Cross atop Mt. Soledad, and another sued to stop public schools from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and its reference to "under God".

In researching this question, however, I discovered a recent United State Appellate Court ruling that held that atheism is indeed areligiouss belief. The August, 2005 decision by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has spurred furious debate between those of religious faith and atheists, and even among atheists themselves.

Since the federal courts have now affirmed that , my argument that the San Diego judge who ruled that the public vote to transfer the land under the Cross on Mt. Soledad to private hands was an unconstitutional promotion of religion, was by her ruling violating the constitution by promoting atheism. Atheists want the Cross removed because their religion (atheism) says such symbols are opposed to their religion. If you are anti-religion, then you are pro-atheism. Therefore the removal of religion and religious symbols from public property is the promotion of atheism. The promotion of atheism is the promotion of a religion. The promotion of a religion by government is unconstitutional, therefore the order to removereligiouss symbols and practices from government property and institutions is, in fact, the unconstitutional promotion of a particular religious faith over others.

The Supreme Court has held (the ) that to beincompletelye with the1stt amendment, government must be secular in nature, must neither promote nor inhibit religious activity, and must not excessively entangle government and religion.

The ruling on the Mt. Soledad Cross, given the above, is in clear violation of the Lemon Test in that it promotes atheism, inhibits Christianity, and, through its promotion of atheism, excessively entangles government and religion.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Mt. Soledad Cross Controversy

Justice was again delayed by a San Diego county superior court judge who ruled Friday that the transfer of Cross and land around it atop Mt. Soledad in San Diego to a veteran's group was an "unconstitutional preference of the Christian religion to the exclusion of other religious and non-religious beliefs in violation of the No Preference Clause of the California Constitution."

Some quick background: The current Cross has been there since 1954, and was preceded in the same location by another Cross since 1913. In 1989, a local atheist began litigation to have the Cross removed, since it was on city-owned property. In 1991, a superior court judge held that the Cross, located on city property, violated the Separation clause of the US Constitution. Legal sparring has continued since that ruling, culminating with Prop A, which overwhelmingly passed last July by a 75% "yes" vote to transfer the Cross and the land on which it rests to a private veteran's group. Opponents filed legal challenges that judge Patricia Yim Cowett ruled to be unconstitutional.

This ruling makes no sense to me. Essentially, the judge held that the existence of the Cross, and it's transfer to a private group is unconstitutional. So the judge rules that the Cross on government property is unconstitutional, and the transfer of the Cross and land to a private entity is also unconstitutional. The only possible remedy then, would be to either move or destroy the Cross. What the judge failed to address, however, is the Free Exercise clause of the US Constitution. Every Easter, probably since 1913, various religious groups hold services at Mt. Soledad, and I would argue that to now deny them this opportunity would be a clear violation of the Free exercise clause.

As discussed in this space back in May of 2005, the Supreme Court has made very clear that the "wall of separation of church and state" is not a wall at all, but a fuzzy line. The government cannot promote NOR inhibit religion. By transferring the Cross, a now-historic part of San Diego, the government is certainly not promoting a religion. Since so many religious activities have occurred there by so many Christian sects for so many years, to argue that government has been somehow sponsoring or promoting religion is preposterous.

In fact, I would argue that by ordering the removal of the Cross, this judge is essentially promoting a form of religion, that form being atheism. If belief in a Higher Power is considered a religious faith, then an equally powerful argument can be made that the non-belief in a Higher Power is also a religion. To put it another way, a religious person believes in a Higher Power. An atheist does not. Neither position can be proven with facts or science; each requires faith in an idea.

I would therefore argue that to order the removal of the Cross is an unconstitutional promotion of a religion by government, that religion being atheism.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Harriet Miers

Like most people watching to see who President Bush would nominate to fill retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Conner, my first reaction to news reports that White House Council Harriet Miers was the nominee was, "Who?" I am, as you might guess, something of a newshound, and thought I knew all the major players in the Bush White House, but I must confess I had never even heard her name before she was announced as his choice.

Many in the MSM and the Blogosphere on both the Right (here, and here, and here, etc.) and Left (here, and here, and here etc.) have been either happy or sad with this news, and there is no real concensus as to whether the Left or the Right are more disappointed. Based on all I have so far heard, seen, and read, I would say that there are more conservatives who are disappointed than liberals, though I don't see how anybody could possibly know enough about her to even form an opinion yet.

I believe that the president could have, and probably should have chosen someone with much better credentials, though the choice is his and his alone. I hope he knows something that we don't.


Sunday, October 02, 2005

California Proposition 77: Redistricting

California's Prop 77 is an amendment to the state constitution that reforms how legislative districts are drawn. Under existing law, the legislature draws the boundaries of all statewide legislative districts, as is done in many, if not the majority of states. "Redistricting" is mandated by the federal constitution following the decennial federal population census, and usually provides incumbent politicians with the opportunity to draw political boundaries that favor their re-election, or at least the election of a member of their party to their seat. In fact, in the last election (November 2004) not a single legislative or Congressional seat in the state of California changed political party.

Under the current system, "gerrymandering" by the legislature reduces competitiveness and increases reelection rates of incumbents. This gerrymandering has resulted in average reelection rates in the US House and Senate of an average of approximately 93% and 81%, respectively, between 1964 and 2002.

Prop 77 seeks to change this system so that a three-member panel of retired state and/or federal judges would be empowered to draw up all statewide legislative districts. The recommendation would then be placed on the ballot for approval by the voters. Having read the entire text of the bill, there are many checks and balances that ensure that those in power will not in control of the process, which, under the current system is a huge conflict of interest.

The panel will be required to create boudaries that are contiguous, are geographically sensible, and that will strive to ensure that existing city and county boundaries are used whenever possible. If the voters reject the redistricting plan, then a new panel will be formed who will re-draft the proposal, which will again go to the voters. This process repeats until a plan is accepted.

I strongly support the passage of Prop 77.