Sunday, September 9, 2012

November 6th


Because you probably won't see this anywhere else . . .

The Basics
First of all, there will be a Presidential election Tuesday, November 6th. This is the Olympics of elections: the most important election we will have for four years. In California you have to register to vote no later than a postmark of October 22nd to vote in this election. You'll probably want to make sure you have a state-issued ID card with you when you go to vote as well, just to be on the safe side.

Top of the Ballot
For me, the choice for President is between the Democratic nominee Barack Obama and the Green Party nominee Dr. Jill Stein. The Republican nominee Mitt Romney is too far away from my values in terms of his willingness to cut government spending and move away from progressive taxation. His stance on the environment (i.e. screw it, drill baby drill) is also depressing. His hawkishness on foreign affairs doesn't strike me well. We've gotten ourselves into more than enough wars already. The Libertarian nominee, Gary Johnson, as is typical with Libertarians, strikes me well on foreign policy (only fight when necessary and shrink the military) and strikes me extremely poorly on domestic policy (a government so small it does almost nothing).

That brings me back to Obama and Stein. Obama's biggest mistake as president was that his stimulus package was too small to crush the recession and return us to full employment. It did help to end the recession (2007-09) and to bring the national unemployment rate down from its recent peak of 10.0% (seasonally adjusted) in October 2009 to 8.1% today. The story is similar but more serious in California, with unemployment peaking at 12.4% in mid-2010 and currently at 10.7%.

It goes without saying that 8.1% and 10.7% unemployment are pretty pathetic figures. 5% or less is more characteristic of a healthy economy. I don't want to let congressional Republicans off the hook here, since they are ideologically opposed to government spending or, almost inexplicably, even tax cuts proposed by Obama, to help the economy. I'm skeptical of deregulation as a panacea, given that if anything, the housing bubble and banking collapse were possible because of the absence of strong and intelligent regulations in those industries.  Obama has also come up short in his embrace of the "logic" of cutting the deficit now. The cuts in government spending or tax hikes necessary to do that would endanger the fragile economic recovery and risk another recession if carried too far. We need more stimulus, then to tackle the deficit in the medium to long run. Obama's embrace of austerity (i.e. using spending cuts or tax increases to reduce the deficit, even while the economy is still reeling) shows that he is in substantial agreement with Romney and the Republicans, except that they want to avoid any tax increases, even for the rich. The two parties are thus arguing about the right way to do the wrong thing (austerity and deficit reduction) for the economy and the unemployed.

Obama has also disappointed on foreign policy. He has wound down the War in Iraq (although we'll probably have bases there until the end of time) but he has continued and even surged in Afghanistan, the longest war in American history. He engaged us in the Libyan conflict with no approval from Congress, setting a dangerous precedent. His drones have free reign over many countries, killing with minimal oversight, and innocent civilians have paid a heavy price for our "precision" strikes. He has promised to take no options (e.g. war) off the table in confronting Iran's nuclear program.

Dr. Stein is my party's candidate. Her views match my own most closely in terms of her support for a robust government jobs program to end the economic slump and invest in environmentally sound projects (the "Green New Deal"), her antipathy to our violent foreign policy, which probably creates at least as many enemies as it kills, and her embrace of single-payer universal healthcare (which unlike Obamacare would cover everyone and more efficiently to boot). Dr. Stein is the candidate my idealistic side tells me to vote for. Her spunk and vision truly make me feel hopeful and remind me that there are still rebellious people out there who dare to speak truth to power, which in my opinion is the only true genesis of positive change. Voting for the Green candidate is a pure act of protest and rebellion. It feels great, but it takes courage.

Obama is the candidate my pragmatic side tells me to vote for. However, if I vote for Obama it will be with no small reluctance and with a full understanding that it will take constant and intense public pressure to push his administration in a constructive direction. I find it disheartening that the best arguments that occur to me for Obama are actually just manifestations of my fear of what Republicans could do with power (i.e. they are really arguments against Republicans). Democrats have a large voter registration edge in California (43% of registered voters versus 30% for Republicans) so it is likely that all of our state's electoral votes will go to Obama. As you know, the popular vote doesn't matter in the vote for president except to decide the allocation of electoral votes, and most states are winner take all.

Regardless of your political ideology, please remember that there are more than two presidential candidates. We Americans and our two major parties have brought this country to a terrible economic situation, and if there is any valid critique of our political system, it is that despite the obvious failings of the Republicans and Democrats, challenging their grip on power is as difficult as ever. Yet, I still firmly believe the only wasted vote is the one not cast. Please also remember that you're not just a citizen on election day. You have to constantly fight for the policies you want by communicating, giving money to groups you agree with, etc. Voting is only one part of the toolkit of a citizen activist.

Ballot Measures
If you're in California like me, there are also 11 ballot measures to vote on. There are a few I especially like:

Prop 30 is Governor Brown's temporary tax hike to fund education and other public services. For me this is a definite "yes" vote. Our public services are hurting. The fees at our public universities have skyrocketed and K-12 education is threatened with more painful cuts. Aid for the poor, elderly and disabled has taken a serious hit. It's time to stop the bleeding.

Prop 34 would end the death penalty in California and replace it with life without parole as the most serious criminal penalty in the state. I'm in full support of this measure. The death penalty is problematic for a number of reasons. For example, you can't take it back if you find exculpatory evidence later, it is more often applied to people of color, and it doesn't make sense to kill people to show that killing is wrong.

Prop 36 would reform three strikes by requiring that the third felony be serious or violent to trigger an automatic life sentence. I support this measure. Our prisons are unconstitutionally overcrowded according to the Supreme Court. There have been cases of life sentences being imposed for felonies that seem laughably minor. The punishment needs to fit the crime. Let's built a society where people have better options than a life of crime instead of turning to jails to solve all of our problems.

Prop 38 is another tax measure that raises more revenue than Prop 30 and earmarks the money more specifically for education. I agree with Brown that having this on the ballot lowers the chances for Prop 30, which has been polling better. But honestly, I'll probably vote for it as well because I think we need to fund education in this state one way or another.

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