Friday, June 26, 2009

California: Take 2

An idea I have been discussing for some time, which I believe originated from reading on a blog somewhere, is that the only way to save California from fiscal and political collapse is to have a constitutional convention and retool the entire process by which the state governs itself.

Many of you aren't from California, so let me outline a couple key problems with our state.  First of all, we're practically bankrupt.  Secondly, it's almost impossible to fix... as a 2/3 vote is required to pass any tax increases or to even pass a budget.  This is incredibly stupid, as it gives the minority party basically all the power in budget/tax negotiations, and means that we haven't passed a budget on time in... well, I don't even know.  The legislature can't change this, because it's in our freak'n constitution.  And basically our voters are idiots, who think this is a good idea.  They don't want to pay more taxes, yet they don't want the state to go belly up.  I'm not saying it's necessarily one or the other, but giving 1/3+1 of our representatives control over this process is just asking to get nothing done.  And so, we'll have to resort to the ballot initiative process, again, if we want it changed.

Every single election, California has a series of ballot initiatives (e.g. Prop 8) which go before the voters.  Most people don't even understand what they mean, yet they vote on them, and the ones that pass don't just become law--they become constitutional amendments.

In short, the way we govern the state of California is essentially the same way winners are picked on American Idol.  The ignorant masses read a paragraph-long summary about something they don't understand, and then vote according to whatever they think will piss off Simon the most (in this case, Simon being our state politicians).  It's a fucking train wreck.  The process came about years ago after a period of notorious corruption in California politics.  The ballot initiative process was supposed to be a way for the public to put a check on their elected officials if they were getting out of hand.  It sounds good, but in reality it's a disaster.

Maybe this makes me sound elitist, that I don't think the average Joe is smart enough to know how to write freak'n legislation... but really; that's why we have representatives to begin with!  When representatives get out of hand, the check the public has on them is a general election!  Of course, that's practically useless too these days, as our State Assembly/Senate districts are so gerrymandered that it's essentially useless to run a candidate from another party against the incumbent.

California's gubernatorial election is in 2010.  Would I like to see a Democrat win? Sure... but in reality, it doesn't matter who wins, Democrat, or Republican... because the system is inherently broken.  Democrat Gray Davis was booted from office because of the same problems the Governator is now experiencing, proving my point perfectly.  The one (only?) candidate who has announced so far is Gavin Newsom, current mayor of San Francisco.  He's an interesting guy who has made some real progressive reforms in the city (universal healthcare for one).  I'll be paying close attention to his evolving campaign, but in all honesty I will vote for any candidate, Democrat or Republican, who declares his/her support for a Constitutional Convention to reform our broken state.  Short of that, I'll settle for a detailed and comprehensive proposal for fixing the major problems at the root of the system (here's a good start)--which unfortunately, may have to come down to more f-ing ballot initiatives.

I set out today to do a bit of research on this topic, and maybe submit an op-ed.  Guess I should have done that months ago when I first wanted to, because the Times beat me to the punch.  So instead I settled for this brief rant, and point you to that Times piece, and also this outline of what the Constitutional Convention process might look like, by

What are your thoughts?  An over reaction, or is this a necessity? 

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Greetings from Nicaragua! (photos to come)

¿Que pasa, Lefties?

This is Henry, reporting from Masaya, Nicaragua, a city about 40 minutes outside of Managua, the capital. Masaya is where I have been living and working for the past 10 days. The city has the same population as South Bend, our dear home, but looks quite different in many ways.

First, you should know, that Nicaragua is not India. Interestingly, in terms of raw numbers, they are ranked nearly the same in poverty (wikipedia). But the problems that plague the two nations aren't identical. In my short time here I have gotten a small taste of what impediments must be surmounted and what intervention can be done successfully. For those of you who know me well, it is impossible for me to ignore the macro dynamics and big picture for this situation.

I'm working for a Nicaraguan NGO named Alternativa, which deals with small businesses and microfinance. We try to assist people who need working capital or business training to get off the ground. It has oddly been helpful having experience with College Democrats and the Obama Campaign, because we are constantly dealing with organizing trade cooperatives (shoemakers, craftsmen, various artisans) and trying to help people reach their common goal. Enthusiasm and energy are also requisites in development work.

Nevertheless, the question of what is working in development constantly presses our minds. I cannot help but think back to discussions in my Central American Development course, with Prof. (& fmr. VP of Honduras) Luis Cosenza. The difficulty with development is often about sustainability.
  • Is it right to industrialize and inject capital into a society just so the PPP/capita rises?
  • What about the environmental damage that is caused when every country in the world tries to imitate the industrial revolution?
  • What about the vicious consumption of resources that could leave future generations without necessities?
  • What about the rat race that pushes the poorest countries even further down and creates animosity and rivalry amongst poorer nations?
  • Is the work we are doing contributing to a lasting improvement that will outlive our presence/money?

As development workers, we ask these types of questions daily with every move we make. It is not enough to help lift specific individuals from poverty if the consequences are worse for the entire human race. However, there is hope.

Education and health are two fields that have been making incontrovertible, meaningful progress in the developing world. Another angle, dealing with skills training and microfinance, is beginning to pick up steam. In an era that is searching for answers to development outside of (or in addition to) the traditional IMF/Washington Consensus model, it is the NGO community that is innovating and discovering solutions.

I'll be sure to keep you all updated as I go along.

Take Care,

Henry "Enrique" Vasquez
Masaya, Nicaragua

PS- Anyone who would like to chat in Spanish come August, I'll be ready...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

President Obama's Press Conference: Iran, Healthcare, etc.

For those who missed it, or have lives and aren't following cable news in the afternoon like me...  Here is President Obama's press conference from today.

Discuss in the comments...

Monday, June 22, 2009

ATTN: Democrats - Don't F*ck This Up!

I hope everyone enjoyed the first official weekend of summer, and to all the dad's out there, a happy belated Father's Day to you!  I just spent the weekend up at my dad's place and also visited some more of my family in L.A.  It's always nice to take some time to relax and appreciate the blessing that it is to have friends and family in our lives who are safe and healthy.  For this reason, and especially when we encounter times in our lives when we aren't fortunate enough to be able to say this, the issue of having quality healthcare for ourselves and our loved ones is one that everybody can relate to.

For decades now we have known that healthcare in this country is a problem.  Yes, we have some of the best doctors and technology in the world at our disposal, but too often these resources are only available to the fortunate among us who have great health coverage.  Even still, often times the access to such resources for those with insurance still results in a burdensome healthcare bill that severely cripples a family's finances.  Others with no healthcare put off seeing a doctor until their condition has gotten worse, resulting in a lower quality of life for that person, lower productivity for their employer, a higher cost to treat that patient, and if the condition is life threatening this delay only lowers the patient's odds of survival.

For decades now we have also been told the following by Democrats: "Give us a Democratic majority in Congress/put us in the White House, and we will finally be able to achieve affordable, universal healthcare for every American" . . . "Healthcare in this wealthiest country in the world should be a right, not a privilege" . . . and so on.  The Clinton administration tried to deliver on these promises in 1993, yet ultimately failed.  Though, Clinton had to deal with a much different political climate in that day--a more conservative country still deeply entrenched in the Gordon Gecko "greed is good" philosophy of the Reagan era.  Clinton's second term faced a Republican congress, and so once again began the campaign promises for another decade: "Give us back Congress and we will fight for universal healthcare."

Well Democrats, we listened this time.  As healthcare prices skyrocketed over the last many years, and Americans watched grossly exaggerated Reaganomics and neo-conservative hubris crash & burn, we got it.  First we backhanded the Republicans in congress in 2006 in an attempt to put the brakes on George W's crazy train, and when that wasn't enough we kicked the crap out of John "get off my lawn!" McCain and widened your majorities in both chambers of Congress.  Simply put, my dear Democrats,

Now I'm pretty sure the House Dems can get this done, and it's really going to come down to the Senate Dems. Maaayyybe there's one or two of you who can justify not voting for a public option because of your constituencies... though I really doubt it considering that 72% of the American people support a public healthcare plan.  72-FREAKING-%!!!  
... 72 percent of those questioned supported a government-administered insurance plan — something like Medicare for those under 65 — that would compete for customers with private insurers. Twenty percent said they were opposed ... with half of those who call themselves Republicans saying they would support a public plan, along with nearly three-fourths of independents and almost nine in 10 Democrats.
Now some of you know I don't have a whole lot of tolerance for Blue Dogs much of the time, but I really do understand the binds that some of them find themselves in.  But let's get something straight here.  Blue Dogs glowingly refer to themselves as "centrist" Democrats, meaning they are supposedly where the middle of the country is at on most issues even if that means they're to the right of the Democratic base.  Well I've often called bullshit on this argument as being a false premise in that the country is not more to the right on many issues, but at no other time has it been more easy for me to do so than now.  Democratic Senators, if you don't support a strong public option for healthcare you are not a Democrat, you are not a Blue Dog, you are a freaking rightwing Republican!  Public, universal healthcare is not just a goal for the Democratic base, but 72% of the American people.  You do not get to call yourself a centrist if you desire to fling yourself into the 20% minority that is opposed to public healthcare.  The party isn't run by the DLC anymore (They should really be called the D-LLC, as in limited liability corporation, ha-ha... no?). 

This isn't 1993 anymore.  And if the Democrats act like it is, and pull the same Republican-lite crap that they did back then at a time when the public is now demanding strong, structural change, they will have failed the American people.  If this happens, once again the Dems will start losing elections because people won't be able to tell the difference between the party that's supposed to fight for the little guy and the party that stands for business interests.  They'll scratch their heads like it's 1994, and then tell us, "Send us back to Congress so we can fight for real healthcare reform!"

More on the polling in the chart above, at

UPDATE 6/23:

Thank you, Mr. President.  Now will the Senate follow the president's lead?