Archives for the month of: October, 2014

election 2014

Political initiatives are often written in “legalese” that the average American has a hard time breaking down to understand. Even when it is clear what an initiative means, how the initiative is implemented is subject to interpretation, so it is really anyone’s guess as to how initiatives will impact the lives of the citizens.

This election year in California, there are very few initiatives on the ballot -6 to be exact.  This is in part because of the increasingly difficult requirements for filing. Nevertheless, despite the low number, the responsible voter must attempt to form an opinion and have his opinion heard at the polls.

Instead of voters allowing their opinions to be swayed by colorful advertising, there is another way to be educated on California initiatives. There is a document  available on the California Fair Political Practices Committee website that shows all the major contributors for the initiatives on the ballot.  Knowing who is behind the ballot can be very enlightening.

Initiative 1 authorizes the purchase of bonds to strengthen the California water system. It is not specified how exactly this will be implemented or whether indeed it will be implemented.  Previous such bond measures authorized the building of dams for reservoirs but were stymied from proceeding by legal action by Environmental groups.

Initiative 2 implements a rainy day fund for California emergencies with a view to a balanced California budget. Once again very little detail is given as to where money will be taken from to create this fund. What fund will be robbed and what essential California services will be hampered to build a “savings account’?

Initiatives 1 and 2 have one thing in common, they both have the highest contributor of all of the initiatives and it happens to be the same contributor-the Brown For Governor organization. Following a more than $5million contribution to each of these initiatives, television ads in favor of the initiatives were run featuring Governor Brown.  There have been no television ads for Governor Brown’s re-election.  There was speculation in the media, that by contributing to these initiatives The Brown For Governor campaign was able to circumvent campaign spending restraints while promoting Governor Brown in the ads. Once this speculation was voiced in the media, the ads seem to have all but disappeared.

It is interesting that health organizations Dignity Health and the California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems also support both of these initiatives. It is a little bit difficult to see what correlation there is between health care and these initiatives.

It is not hard to understand why California American Council of Engineering Companies Issues Fund* and Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters Issues Committee (including contributions from Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters Legislative Improvement Committee)* Aera Energy LLC* are major contributors of initiative 1 which could potentially create jobs for members of these organizations to build the infrastructure for the water system.  Potentially this water could be used to help farmers which would explain why California Farm Bureau Federation* is a major contributor.  However, once again the vagueness of the initiative does not specify who the water will supply.  It could very well be that, just like the California Aqueduct this water system could bypass farmers and be directed to households in Southern California.

Because of the fact that the same contributors that could benefit from Initiative 1 are supporting Initiative 2, it could be construed that the “rainy day” fund that is being established by the initiative will be used for a lack of “rainy days’ i.e. future droughts, and therefore that fund would be used for the water system as well.

There are no large contributors opposing initiatives 1 and 2.

Proposition 45 requires the California Insurance Commissioner to approve any rate increases by Health Insurance Companies. Watch dog groups are contributing heavily in its favor, as well as nurses associations.  The opposing camp is out-funding the proponents by over $50million, according to the CFPP document. There is no surprise that the opposing contributors are mainly large health care organizations and insurance companies.

Proposition 46 requires drug testing of doctors and raises the cap on medical negligence awards from the current $250,000. Like Proposition 45 the opposition has more than $50million in contributions according to the CFPP than those contributing in favor of the proposition.  And, like proposition 45 the opposition is Health Care Organizations and Insurance companies.  Contributors in favor of the proposition are consumer groups and law firms, not surprisingly.

Proposition 47 reduces certain drug and property felonies to misdemeanors this is heavily funded by the ACLU with no major funding for opposing. It would beg to question why no prison or law enforcement organization is opposing the proposition.

Proposition 48 is an agreement between the state of California and the Mono Indians and Wiyot Tribe to create a new casino. There are no major contributions to support the initiative and not surprisingly all major contributors opposed have connections with current Indian gaming casinos.

Whether or not this information helps the voter in their decision making process, it certainly gives some food for thought.

calpers

Judge Christopher Klein has approved the conditions proposed for the settlement  of Stockton, California’s bankruptcy. Once again, as in the case of bankruptcies in other California cities, CalPERS, the California Public Employees Retirement System is the big winner while all other debtors are the big losers. While there will be no reduction in payments to CalPERS, all other debtors will receive a fraction of what they are owed. Most notably is Franklin-Templeton, who will receive a $300,000 settlement on its more than $34million debt.

Judge Klein gave the green light to cut pensions in an earlier ruling. According to the SACBEE

“Klein compared the Stockton-CalPERS relationship to a retailer using bankruptcy to opt out of a bad shopping-mall lease. “The city’s contract with CalPERS could be rejected,” the judge said to a courtroom packed with lawyers, city officials and retirees.”

Stockton, however, doesn’t have the stomach (or other anatomical parts) required to stand up to the power of CalPERS, so the investment firm, and therefore, its investors will take the hit. This should serve as a warning to any financial institution who wants to do its civic duty, by offering assistance to a California municipality.  They, like Franklin-Templeton should expect to be sacrificed at the altar of the mighty CalPERS.

The problem of CalPERS, with its bloated pensions based on bloated salaries, throughout the state, is the albatross on the necks of municipalities who are drowning in debt. San Jose and San Diego have attempted to reduce pensions through voter approved initiatives meant to improve the financial health of these cities.

But as Steven Greenhut explains:

“The courts gutted the most significant part of the San Jose initiative. And while San Diego continues to implement its reform, Brown’s appointees to the union-controlled Public Employment Relations Board have been suing the city to stop the voter-approved measure. PERB claims the public vote was illegal because the city first had an obligation to negotiate with the unions representing the new workers who will face lower benefit levels. Union demands even trump the right to vote, in the administration’s view.”

Could the Stockton bankruptcy be the beginning of more to come in other California cities who must sacrifice city services and financial viability to support impossible agreements to a retirement system they cannot sustain? Can we learn from Detroit-whose pension system played heavily in its demise-before every city in California becomes a wasteland?

Stockton

The second city in California to file for Federal Bankruptcy is Stockton California. As of the first of the year, 13 municipalities  in the U.S. had filed for bankruptcy. Detroit was the most recent city in the U. S. to file.  The biggest issue these cities face is how to handle, what amounts to their largest financial obligation-retirement pensions for their employees.

Stockton’s Program is tied to CalPERS-The California State Employees Fund. The presiding judge made a ruling that could potentially be a game changer for the behemoth that is CalPERS.

All of these bankruptcies were the result of the bust in the housing market in 2008 which cost Americans their homes and jobs. While the government bailed out the banks that caused the bust, another casualty of the housing bust were the cities where these foreclosed homes were located. Each foreclosure robbed the cities of property taxes that supported city services. Where is the federal bailout for these cities?

Unable to pay for these services, the debts incurred became insurmountable, and with creditors pressuring for payment, the cities opted to file for bankruptcy.

As the proceedings slowly move forward, cutting pensions is a sticking point that none of them want to implement. Detroit  has agreed to cut pensions by 4.5 percent and is negotiating to give city property to the companies holding the loans for pension plans.

Although Vallejo, California was able to keep its pensions intact, the city remains insolvent and will likely have to refile for bankruptcy.

Fueling Stockton’s problem on this issue it the fact that one of its creditors-Franklin-Templeton, is unwilling to accept their offered settlement.

“Franklin Templeton wants Stockton to reduce its CalPERS payments to free up more cash to repay the loan. It said the proposed repayment amounts to just 12 cents on the dollar, while other creditors are due to receive 50 cents to 100 cents on the dollar.” SacBee

San Bernadino, who filed bankruptcy one month after Stockton, suspended payments to CalPERS during their proceedings and reportedly will make some concessions to reduce pensions.

Franklin will not admit to forcing Stockton’s hand in the matter. They want an agreement that includes a gradual increase in payments as the city’s resources are increased, foreseeably, by a recent tax increase.

Franklin’s objections have caused U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Klein to make a groundbreaking ruling, allowing Stockton to break agreements with the California sacred cow of CalPERS to reduce payments and free up money to other creditors. His ruling does not demand that Stockton take this action, but it does give them permission.

The final decision on the city of Stockton’s asset disbursement will be made later this month and could be used to define future similar  cases. This could be the beginning of a reduction in the power of CalPERS and possibly a redefinition of the State Employees retirement system.  Whether or not this case will be its undoing remains to be seen.

scarlett

I am a terrible romantic. Maybe that is one of the reasons that I have been single many more years than attached.  The fictional love stories just can’t seem to materialize in any of my real life relationships.

One of my favorite romances is Gone With The Wind. Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler’s timeless love story has always captivated me.  Their turbulent relationship ends with Rhett’s famous line (in the movie version). When Scarlett asks him (as he finally leaves her after years of alienating his affection), “What shall I do?  Where shall I go?” He responds, “Frankly Scarlett, I don’t give a damn.”

As he walks out the door and into the foggy night, Scarlett throws herself on the stairs and sobs.  As she sobs, she thinks of the only other man that she really loved-her father. She remembers her father’s words,” There is one thing you love more than me Katie Scarlett-Tara.” (Tara- the family plantation.)

“Yes,” Scarlett answers the memory, ”Tara, I’ll go home to Tara”. And with that- Tara is her reason to face another day.

Every woman needs a Tara in her life-something that gives her purpose and meaning, and the rock upon which she builds her life. Men need one too, but usually they do. Men tend to find their identity in their work, where as women find it in their relationships.

Relationships are so tenuous, even those that weather the years have plenty of low spots which could feasibly send your identity into an abyss. That is why women need a Tara.

It is far too big a burden for any relationship to be the source of a person’s identity. This no doubt, is one of the reasons that relationships have a hard time sticking.

I discovered my Tara recently. I was bemoaning my singleness and generally feeling sorry for myself, when I got a kudo on one of my writing pieces.  It immediately altered my attitude as quickly as the dog in “Up”s attitude changes over “Squirrel”.  All semblance of unhappiness evaporated in the bliss of my Tara.

My Tara has its roots in the one relationship that I will allow to define me-that with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  He is the One True Rock that is the greatest foundation for my life. All my endeavors (including my writing) are expressions of my service to Him.  I am like Don
Quixote with my pen (ie laptop) as my sword-battling evil, injustice and oppression to insure liberty and justice for all.

Find your Tara -your raison d’etre- and when you find it you will be home and anything else is just a plus.

fairy jerry

Jerry Brown has always been a liberal. When he was governor of California in the 70s, being liberal meant smoking pot, anti- war, anti-fuzz (police), anti-government, and championing the cause of gay rights. Conservatives called him Fairy Jerry because he held these values and also went to a Buddhist Monastery in Japan.  In other words, yesterday’s democrat, would be a libertarian today. As governor he fought against the death penalty, government corruption, and fought for gay rights.

The Jerry Brown of today has just passed liberty killing laws and vetoed one liberty promoting bill.

He vetoed AB-1327 which overwhelmingly passed the House and the Senate- a law that would have prevented warrantless drone surveillance of citizens by police agencies. It would have offered some protection of personal privacy for the people of California.

He passed SB 270 a law that makes California the first state to outlaw plastic bags in grocery stores by adding a tax if you don’t bring your own bag.

He passed a three-bill package that took ground water rights away from property owners and gave the local water boards jurisdiction of water use.

He passed a law requiring verbal consent in sexual relationships on California State-funded college campuses, broadening the opportunity for prosecution of assault to an absurd degree.

As a ploy to avoid campaign contribution limitations-Brown launched his campaign ads this week with funds raised to promote California Measures 1 and 2-a water bond measure and a rainy day fund law.  Beat the system Jerry has learned to work the system.

The new liberal is really the new socialist- growing government while reducing personal freedoms. My, have times changed Jerry Brown.