Tag Archives: Political Reform

Let’s Tea Party in the Cayman Islands

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The National Tax Day Tea Parties held today in Sacramento and around the country were clever media events and may have raised elements of legitimate issues. But were all these protestors angry at the right people?

According to a recent report on NPR, the United States Treasury estimates our country loses $123 billion annually in tax revenues owed by scofflaws who avoid taxes via such tax haven nations as the Cayman Islands, Switzerland and the Dutch Antilles.  If we were able to reign in these offshore tax cheats, the recouped revenue would be so great that it would cut taxes by 12 percent for every American taxpayer, says the story’s interviewee, David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author.   

Twelve percent? Staggering.  The flip side of this factoid reveals a brutal truth:  law-abiding, tax-paying Americans of all stripes and incomes — from the working poor and middle class to the upper class and the rich — are carrying the freight for all the wealthy American individuals and corporations gaming the system through international tax havens. 

The Blue Dog doesn’t have a single bone to pick with Americans who have come by their wealth honestly and legally — be it from hard work, luck, ingenuity or inheritance. If you’re rich, good for you.  Just pay your taxes. Most do, with those in the higher income brackets paying the bulk of the taxes in this country. Punishing the law-abiding rich by dramatically redistributing their wealth is ultimately counterproductive and antithetical to the American Dream. People with means are neither the enemy nor the target of this post.

But those who don’t pay a dime because they find shelter in the Dutch Antilles or some other tax-haven nation? And we subsidize this? Now that boils the blood.  

So let’s direct our scorn and reformist energy into cutting our taxes by 12 percent by going after those who don’t pay any taxes and are therefore stealing from the rest of us. It’s a bit ridiculous to think we in California can do much about any of this. Maybe a CalPERS divestiture protest that blackballs tax haven nations. Who knows. These are are thorny, complex matters involving sovereign nations and international law.  

The bottom line for the Blue Dog is that he had to cut painful checks to Uncle Sam and Uncle Arnold a few days ago. Like most Californian residents and small business owners in tax season, he grumbled and muttered a cliche about death and taxes, sucked it up, paid what he owed, then went back to work. No time or interest in the Sacramento tea party. But one in the Cayman Islands? Where do we sign up? 

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Required Reading on Prop. 1A

dog_withboneLooking for a thoughtful, historical and dispassionate (albeit clearly supportive) perspective on the state’s May 19 special election?

Be sure to read “Dan Weintraub: Why You Ought to Vote for Prop. 1A,” which ran in yesterday’s Sacramento Bee Forum section. The piece speaks for itself and manages to both recognize and rise above the rants taking place elsewhere over the ballot measure. Despite its measured approach — or more likely because of it —  the pro-Prop. 1A column is attracting some pretty angry online comments from readers. If you missed the paper yesterday, Blue Dog says to check it out.

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In-Kind, In Reverse, is Perverse

This BitesMost Americans would be aghast if during the heyday of the Bush Administration the President had invited Halliburton to sit in for him on his weekly radio address. The inappropriateness of such a scenario is so clear and outrageous it doesn’t require any explanation.

 So why is it that the Democrats in California can so easily and with impunity cede their statewide weekly radio address to an outside special interest group?

 That’s exactly what they did when they recently handed the mike to Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.  While her address was a fairly innocuous tribute to Cesar Chavez, the content is irrelevant. The Blue Dog would be equally critical if the Governor handed over his weekly radio address to the California Chamber of Commerce to promote “Take-Your-Daughter-to-Work Day.”  

The point is this: Have we become so numb and cynical that such boundaries no longer matter?

The purpose of these weekly radio communiqués is to deliver a message directly from our elected representatives – not to curry favor with or reward a special interest group. And labor, especially public employee unions, in California is at the top of this special interest heap. During election season they offer up countless millions of dollars worth of “in-kind” contributions, including thousands of bodies to call voters from phone banks, walk precincts and hold rallies.

There is a surreal perversion about these in-kind contributions going in the opposite direction. And it has even happened on the floor of the State Assembly  last year, when legislators loudly applauded a labor leader sitting in the gallery right before a big labor vote his organization was sponsoring. We wouldn’t stand for oil companies being similarly honored before a legislative vote on offshore drilling. And we shouldn’t tolerate it with labor or any other group.

We’re talking about a brand of symbolism that is intensely powerful. But as it becomes more accepted and unquestioned, its effect on the democratic process continues to corrode public trust. After all, where do we go as a society when our leaders surrender not just their own voices, but their responsibilities to avoid even the appearance of bias, favoritism and special interest coddling? 

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No Cliffhanger: The GOP’s Lemming Leadership

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Let’s get serious about the English language. Seems we in Sacramento are pretty cavalier about the term “leadership.”

Is it true leadership if the leader is taking you off a cliff a la the final scene in Thelma and Lousie?  That’s the question any thinking moderate Californian should be asking in light of comments from the State Senate’s freshly-minted Republican “leader” Dennis Hollingsworth.

The Senator came into the spotlight yesterday, telling the Sacramento Press Club that his words were twisted out of context when,  during the budget impasse, he reportedly urged fellow Republican Sen. Abel Maldonado to let California “go into bankruptcy, let it go off a cliff, we need to prove a point, that it’s the majority’s fault.”

Hollingsworth’s “context” defense carries about as much weight as a Twinkie for anyone who has ever worked inside the Capitol, where pettiness knows few bounds.

[Note: Democrats are just as guilty of factoring into the mix how certain proposals and votes will “jam” the other party. But at least they haven’t of late been as blatant or tone deaf in public as Hollingsworth. They and the Governor actually appear to be trying to solve a serious problem by making difficult choices. What a concept.]

Since the new minority leader is the one who opened his mouth, he’s the one under the microscope. Which brings us back to the question of leadership and Hollingsworth’s utterances on Proposition 1A.

The May 19 ballot measure is the brainchild of the Legislature and the Governor.  Sure it has unsavory elements, but they are spread around. Extended tax increases for spending caps. 

Perfect? Far from it. But it’s not like this is some leftwing conspiracy. Special interests on the hard right and left hate both hate the ballot package. That should tell us something. The California Chamber and Farm Bureau Federation are supporting the initiative. Hardly radical groups. That says even more about this measure making enough sense to vote for it.  Even if its a Hail Mary pass play, who the hell cares at this point? 

Hollingsworth’s assurances he won’t be campaigning against Prop. 1A and the other ballot measures were mighty big of him. Just tell the entire capitol press corps and millions of Californians through the news media that the package sucks and is doomed to defeat. But no campaigning! The needle on the Blue Dog’s BS meter almost spun off the dial over that one.

Rather than standing with the entire Army, taking some bullets and showing a united front against a common enemy, Hollingsworth is taking his platoon AWOL and running for the cliffs, scorching the earth with flamethrowers as they bolt away. How sadly predictable.

The Blue Dog Dictionary doesn’t count this as leadership.

 

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A Doddering DC Hurts California

dog_snarling1Let’s get this right out front: The Blue Dog is an Obama supporter. While certainly not in lock step with everything the President says and does, the Blue Dog thinks he is the right man for the job at this onerous time in our nation’s history.  It’s not his fault that Godzilla had already taken over Wall Street and the nation’s economy by the time he moved into the White House. The Blue Dog bristles at the daily barbs and self aggrandizing attacks on the President by the Hannity, O’Reilly and their ilk. There is little, if anything, constructive about them.

American moderates of all stripes are pulling for this country to get its act together and witness some WWII era unity. But the AIG scandal is starting to say more about the incompetence of Capitol Hill and shakiness of the Administration than it does about rampant and obscene corporate greed. This episode isn’t some abstract scandal that happens 3,000 miles away. U.SSen. Christopher Dodd does California a disservice when he denies and then later admits he knew and approved language paving the way for obscene bonuses. It also gives ammo to the right wingers when it surfaces that Dodd is the top recipient of AIG political contributions over the years, as the Wall Street Journal reports today. 

All this bumbling and doddering damages credibility in Sacramento as well. It undermines efforts by Governor Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders to convince the public to support upcoming ballot propositions that would increase taxes in exchange for spending caps and tighter reins on fiscal accountability.  Government needs to prove it can police itself, as well as a corporate America receiving billions from taxpayers. 

The Blue Dog weighed in yesterday leaning heavily in support for Prop. 1A, which is on the California ballot this May. But the mess in Washington creates a perception 1A supporters will have to work overtime to overcome. While government cannot always run like business — they are indeed two separate animals — Sacramento needs to lay out clear metrics, oversight controls and layers of accountability to ensure the ballot measures in fact do what they are supposed to.

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No Bull: More Legislators Needed in Sacramento

main_dog1California legislators are out of touch for a very good reason: they represent too many people. 

Our state possesses the dubious distinction of being the least democratic and representative of any state in the union. So when a free-thinking voice in the Capitol is bullied, stifled or silenced by either Republican or Democratic party leadership, Californians living in those districts are disenfranchised in massive numbers. Each Senator represents about 847,000 Californians; each Assemblymember 423,500 constituents. 

To put this in perspective, Senators in other states represent a rough ballpark average of 120,000 — anywhere from 16,459 (Wyoming) to as many as 672,000 (Texas). For Assemblymembers in the rest of the nation, it’s an average of about 47,000 — from 3,089 (New Hampshire, which has 400 Assemblymembers) to 139,00 (Texas). 

The Blue Dog pulled this data from the National Conference of State Legislatures; it is a real eye opener because California’s numbers are so grotesquely out of whack in comparison –even with large states like New York, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Massachusetts, Washington and Minnesota. 

So here’s an idea the Blue Dog wants to put out for discussion: Californians should consider more legislators in the Capitol as a solution to gridlock. Yes, you read correctly. More of those same people who have crippled and disgraced our government? The Blue Dog realizes this sounds crazy and counterintuitive.  After all, how can more of a bad thing be good? 

One word: accountability. 

More legislators would mean smaller districts. Smaller districts would mean our elected officials would be responsible for smaller geographic areas and fewer constituents. We might even know who they are and be able to recognize them so we could bend their ears at a Home Depot or Safeway or Olive Garden. Smaller regions could mean more affordable campaigns. More affordable campaigns would likely result in a larger pool of candidates less beholden to the parties. 

The millions of moderate California Republicans and Democrats — and smaller parties themselves, like Green, Libertarian, Independents and Peace & Freedom Parties — deserve a voice more in line with their numbers. Micro legislative districts could be part of the answer if they diluted the polarized party political power and gave Centrists more representation, greater leverage and the ability to play a role in influential coalitions. 

Sure this is a simple concept. But it has some merit. So why isn’t this reform idea in play? Splitting California into three states sounds intriguing, but is really a pipe dream. Redistricting is a necessary reform that needs to happen. But changing boundaries doesn’t get at the root problem. We know the banking system got too big for its own good. The Blue Dog wonders if the same isn’t true for the California Legislature. He’s going to have a cigar now and chew on this bone some more. What do you think?

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