Thursday, May 28, 2009

Shock Doctrine: California

As my last post indicated, the fallout from the impending California state and local budget cuts will be immense, and for some populations, they will be devastating.

Almost the entire social safety net (such as it is) is proposed to be cut by the governor in order to just begin to meet the looming deficit. The destruction will commence on July 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year, and it won't stop until... who knows.

Of course the Doctrinaires are salivating. There has never been an opportunity like this in their lifetimes, and there probably never will be one again. California state government is effectively bankrupt, and though it will not exactly cease to exist, its services to citizens will start to disappear, and in some cases will be terminated forthwith.

Of course the main cuts are going to fall on the poor, the old, the sick, and the demented, the way they always do, only this time in too many cases, there will be nothing at all to cushion the blow. Too bad, so sad. Bye bye.

Democrats and Republicans will collaborate in this endeavor. Democrats of course will say they just HATE to do it, sorry, sorry, while Republicans as one will say, "Tough luck, suckers!" and will laugh at the suffering left in their wake.

And who is on the sidelines?



Otherwise engaged?

Our President, of course.

Simply can't be bothered right now. GM, Chrysler, and the Financial Sector have sucked up all the money; the Congress stripped out much of the state stabilization funding from the stimulus; Californians, so sorry, are on their own.

And so, the domestic Shock Doctrine laboratory, the Demonstration Project if you will, gets under way in a little over a month. Hope everyone has stocked up on popcorn.

This ought to be good.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

California's Crisis

Everyone is expecting the California Bloodbath to commence on July 1. State government is, in effect, going to grind to a halt, out of money, and to survive as an entity, the State Powers That Be will slash and burn the budget in wild abandon, putting almost the entire burden of California's economic collapse -- which has led to the government collapse -- on the poorest, the weakest, the sickest, the oldest, and the least able.

The propositions failed. Well, all but the one that forbade increasing legislative and state officer salaries when there is a "deficit." Since the state government can't theoretically operate at a "deficit", this measure is really nothing but a slap in the face of the Governor and the Legislature for their pissery over the last many years that has brought us to this point.

In their defense, there's not a lot they can do. To pass a budget or to raise taxes, they have to have a 2/3rds majority in both houses of the legislature. The remnant Republicans have one-third of the votes in both houses and they are rigidly united against any increase in taxes (although sales taxes and VLFs -- "car taxes" -- were raised, strangely enough, while billions of dollars in tax breaks for corporations "balanced" the revenue increase so it wasn't a net increase in taxes. Such is hypocrisy in the California legislature.)

The Orange Waxy Man, the man who invented John Bohner Tan, the Governator, swept in to office by throwing out the pencil-necked Gray Davis (who had quite a small budget pickle compared to Schwarzenegger's) and promptly cutting taxes, throwing the state into several years of tumult while adjustments were made for the lost revenue.

Only adjustments never were made, and things just got worse and worse and worse.

And with the collapse of the economy, there is nothing to be done about it. There is no more revenue "reasonably" to be had. ("Reasonably" because you can't tax the rich or they'll flee the state; the burden on everyone else is close to the maximum right now; the faltering economy isn't stable.) That means $85 billion in revenue this fiscal year (maybe), which is about the same as the revenue projection for 1999. And the budget is $110 billion. Oops.

The budget has increased essentially no more than inflation since 1999; revenues have obviously declined. They decline because, in part, the rich have the rump Republicans in the legislature to protect them from the ravening hordes. And the state constitution is set up to ensure that protection.

The governor -- no matter who it is -- flaps his gums and flails around; the legislature throws pies and plays with blocks; the prophets of Doom pontificate; and everything goes to hell in a handbasket, year in and year out, guaranteed.

And when the People, in frustration and anger, bestir themselves to do something about it through the Initiative process (ie: Proposition 13, Proposition 209; Proposition 8) their betters in the Governor's Office and the Legislature and the various branches of the bureaucracy do their level best to slap the People silly -- and make as many painful, horrendous, gawdawful cuts and administrative decisions as they possibly can.

It is ever thus.

The War between the People of California and their Government is ongoing, neverending, debilitating, cruel, and often deadly.

The fact that the Government decided to use the ballot process to paper over the budget mess in the Capitol for the time being led to the People soundly rejecting this nonsense. The legislature and the governor had been dithering for months -- some would say years -- over the looming budget problem. No sensible solutions were possible because of the complete recalcitrance of the rump Republican caucus that would not provide the votes necessary to pass a flawed but feasible budget. So they came up with a Rube Goldberg scheme that made no sense to anybody and foisted it off on the People, who they knew weren't going to vote for it, or they should have known, and now, of course, they blame the People.

It's what they do.

This is actually a Reagan/Jarvis legacy but we won't get into that.

Always the People of California are blamed for their own folly. This mess is of their own making, and they deserve to suffer, severely if necessary, in order to "teach them a lesson."


It's not the Nanny State, it's the Daddy State.

This has been going on in one form or another for decades, since Reagan was governor really, and it is time to call a halt to the madness.

The problems California's government continually faces are structural, built in to the loopy taxation and expense system that itself is built in to the State Constitution.

Time to change the Constitution. Which state governments can do with much more ease than the Federal government.

Progressives, supposedly, are preparing a package of initiatives for the 2010 ballot that are supposed to address some of the structural issues that have long plagued the state and its budgeting, but I will say right now they are going to fail -- if they can even manage to get any on the ballot.

Why not go for broke and re-write the Constitution?

Well connected political and financial interests in California are headed in that direction as this Dan Walters column from the Sacramento Bee makes clear:

Dan Walters: Two strategies to change California government

By Dan Walters
Published: Tuesday, Apr. 21, 2009 - 12:00 am | Page 3A

California's never-ending budget crisis has, if nothing else, solidified broader acceptance of what until recently had seemed to be a radical notion – that the state's governance is deeply flawed and needs fundamental overhaul.

Two centrist, bipartisan civic groups – California Forward and the Bay Area Council – are pushing two different and somewhat competitive reform strategies, both aimed at asking voters next year to take action of some kind, and both appear to be picking up steam.

California Forward, an organization financed with millions of dollars from the state's top foundations, had been pursuing an incremental approach to reform. It endorsed shifting legislative redistricting to an independent commission, which voters approved last year. It is also endorsing the six budget-related measures on the May 19 special election ballot and has been poised to support a form of open primary elections on next year's ballot, aimed at reducing partisanship.

The Bay Area Council, a collection of corporate CEOs, has had a more aggressive approach, working on two ballot measures for 2010, one that would allow voters to call a constitutional convention without going through the Legislature, another that would call such a convention to overhaul state and perhaps local government.

Both have implicit, and sometimes explicit, support from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. "I think that eventually the state of California has to look at a constitutional convention, to really look at the whole thing, the way government works in California," Schwarzenegger said during a presentation to the Commonwealth Club last month, "because there are many aspects of government in California that are dysfunctional."

That was a boost for the Bay Area Council, but California Forward is dominated by the governor's allies and advisers. They include Robert Hertzberg, the former Democratic speaker of the state Assembly who has assumed the group's co-chairmanship. He succeeded Leon Panetta, now director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

On Monday, Hertzberg laid out a more aggressive agenda, calling for sweeping changes in fiscal procedures, including two-year state budgets and eliminating the two-thirds vote requirement for budgets (while retaining it for new taxes), tax reform, modifying legislative term limits, and strengthening local governments.

"The public doesn't trust Sacramento," Hertzberg told the Sacramento Press Club, adding, "People are mad as hell … it's real."

His reform list is similar to the Bay Area Council's, but Hertzberg says he wants to give the Legislature a chance to fashion a reform package through a constitutional revision commission, rather than jumping to a constitutional convention. "We are going to light this thing up," he said.

The two groups, which have been conducting talks together, appear to have agreed on a two-pronged strategy. They'll try the legislative route first. If that fails, they'll pursue a constitutional convention proposal for the 2010 ballot.

Where are the Progressives?

The answer is nowhere. Well, nowhere that is going to stop the corporate steamroller that's getting under way.

The whole idea of getting out in front of pernicious actions like those outlined in Walters' piece is anathema to progressives, especially of the internet variety. They are culturally attuned to reaction, not action, and so various interests such as the corporate/foundation cabal mentioned above run rings around the progressives in California and throughout the land.

Progressives need to recognize the power they have -- at least in theory -- to precipitate change, radical change if need be, and stop reacting to the radicalism of others.

But we're not there yet.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

OT: Hospice

Had to call Emergency Services yesterday for the first time since starting the Hospice Care at Home program for the elder relation being cared for here. She... expired... on us. But then, after the incident was over, she said, "They sent me back."

When the EMTs got here, maybe three minutes after calling and perhaps ten minutes after she "expired", she had somewhat revived, was breathing and semi-conscious, and they did their tests and exams, pronouncing her "Eh, OK," and -- after some discussion about DNRs and whatnot -- decision was made to keep her here, not to transport her to the hospital (all her vitals were good enough, and there wasn't anything they could do for her at the hospital that we couldn't do here.)

She came to after they left, and her first remark was: "I don't want to go anywhere!" I said, "Oh no, they're gone now. They're not going to take you anywhere. You're home. You're going to be all right."

That's when she said, "They sent me back." She said she didn't remember anything of what happened, wondered if she fell down, though. I said, "No, no. You just collapsed. Passed out. You didn't fall. You were unconscious."

Well... she's been having bowel trouble, persistent diarrhea that we treat with medication. The medication works fast but it's temporary, and what's been happening is that she will have a normal bowel movement followed by diarrhea. In the past, this has made her cranky, but apart from the clean-up, it hasn't been a big deal.

This time was different. She had a normal bowel movement, but she was complaining about head aches and dizziness, and quite suddenly she said, "Oh, it's coming," and she practically exploded with diarrhea. As she was sitting on the commode, she started to drool and fall over and become less and less responsive. I sat her on the bed. She was unconscious but breathing with difficulty. Then those... erm... rattles. Then she stopped breathing. Her pulse stopped. She started turning gray. She was completely unresponsive. This went on for maybe a minute or two. Time to call. While I was on the phone, she began to revive, haltingly, but come back she did. And then she had another episode of diarrhea, poor thing.

According to the EMTs, she'd probably pinched the vaugus nerve at some point while she was having a bowel movement and that caused her to lose consciousness. Fairly common in old people. It had never happened to her before, but there's always a first time. There was no sign that she'd had a heart attack, but it was possible. They'd have to check that at the hospital. No obvious sign that she'd died.

But I've seen people die, and that's what I saw her do. She herself thinks that's what happened. But... "They sent me back."

And though she is very weak right now, she said, "They sent me back, so I guess that means I'm supposed to live to 100, eh, like our neighbor did. Good!"

She'll be 89 next month. I'd say she's good for at least a few more years.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A reminder

Franken isn't in the Senate, and Lieberman is.

Franken may get a meeting with Joe Biden, but Lieberman has the ear of The President.

It was Lieberman, along with his pal Little Lindsey, who convinced Obama to withhold the additional photos of abuse of captives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And this man (and his spawn) is on my teevee all the time now, when he couldn't be bothered to show his face or reveal his location during most of the Bushevik reign of error.

He -- and she -- is on the teevee so often, it seems, that as far as the newsreaders are concerned, he IS (still) the Vice President. This is not an honorific in their eyes, this is an actuality. The man never left office as far as they know, and given the control he apparently still has over the levers of government power, who's to say they're wrong?


Saturday, May 9, 2009


People who grew up in the 1950's have a certain -- perhaps unreasonable -- expectation of life. Kind of the flip side of Old Soviet pensioners: they expected a certain level of accommodation, even regard, for their contributions to Post War Soviet recovery and achievement, whereas Americans expected "progress," unbounded progress, and the perfection of American ideals.

Events did not meet expectations.

Old Soviet pensioners have been in dire shape for years, since the collapse of the Soviet Union and its Empire; many simply expired, died off from various untreated ailments, alcoholism, poverty, starvation, exposure to the elements, etc. It's called "thinning the herd." The ones I've talked to who emigrated to the United States have a certain far-away look in their eye, remembering what it was supposed to be like, horrified and disgusted at what it became, blaming the Communists, and blaming "others" (named and unnamed) in equal measure for the failures that led to their exile from the Motherland and to the tragedy of living there now.

Young people from the former Soviet Union don't seem to have that sense of loss and longing the old folks do. While they may not be Happy Americans (yet), they never seemed to key into the Soviet system, were always skeptical of it, and when it failed, they said "Good Riddance." Russia today is for the young, not the old, I guess.

In this country, the 1950's were a shiny, glittery time for most Americans, a time when consumerism and conformity took over common sense, and whatever was "new" was seized on with near-worshipful glee.

The need for conformity came with the promise of Progress, and consumerism was necessary to the perpetuation of the New. I always thought that the conformity that characterized the 1950's was primarily a consquence of the nation's collective experience during the Depression and its overwhelming militarization during World War II. So many people experienced life in the military, for example, and the Victory of WWII that they quite naturally translated the concepts of military life into the civilian sector, with a focus on suppressing independence of thought and deed and conforming to norms and expectations of Society. From their own experience, that's what was necessary.

They had given up so much material well-being during the Depression and World War II that it was not surprising at all that they would turn to rampant consumerism after the War. Finally they could afford modest luxuries like teevees, and finally there were products available they could buy.

Of course there were critics who decried this "decline" in the American Way of Life. What happened to Rugged Individuality? Where were the creators and inventors and enterpreneurs who had characterized American Life through most of its history? Why did everyone want to be the same? What was the good of that?

Conformity was the first to go, rejected by college students in the early 1960's, completely overthrown as an American Value by the end of the '60's. Americans have mostly not returned to Conformity -- and would have a very hard time doing so in any case under the current highly polarized political framework.

Consumerism has waxed and waned. Once everybody had their suburban houses and their teevees and their high-finned new cars every couple of years, it became harder and harder to sell to an already saturated market.

There was only so much you could reasonably "consume," only so much you needed, and as conformity was rejected, consumerism fell into disfavor as well.

Yet few Boomers expected to see what we do today, a return (almost) to conditions that prevailed in the 1930's, and the serious possibility of falling so deep into economic depression, the majority of people may never see recovery.

As Boomers age, they're told -- like Soviet Pensioners -- they'll have to make do with less and less, and if it is too little to get by on, oh well. Tough luck, suckers. Sweep the streets and sell your trinkets. Just shut up.

Social Darwinism once more rears its ugly head. The American Empire, now almost completely consolidated as a political reality, has no use for excess baggage and has no compunction about torturing and exterminating whomever stands in its way. We witness with a kind of shocked horror what's been going on overseas, what is still going on overseas despite our new Good Emperor's many assurances, and some of us react with disgust and despair as we realize those practices now so commonly applied overseas -- like the drones flown over Pakistan firing at will, piloted by pimple-faced 20 year-olds at Groom Lake, Nevada, "Area 51," no less! -- can be dispatched domestically in a twinkling. Have any thoughts of rising up? Think again. Blackwater is still a chief government contractor.

The government patiently assures us that unemployment will continue to increase at least through 2010, and that many of the millions and millions of jobs that have so far been lost are never coming back. We are experiencing as thorogoing an economic restructuring as has ever happened in this country, and what has been lost is for many people gone forever.

Foreclosed and overbuilt homes are being demolished while the ranks of the homeless increase. Communities and whole cities are economically devastated and very little -- or in some cases nothing -- is done; recovery programs are limited and strictly confined to certain favored sectors of the population. There is no intention to reemploy people thrown out of work quickly, and in many cases there's no intention to reemploy them at all.

And through all of the restructuring going on around us, the constant refrain is and has been "Entitlement Reform," which means cutting and reducing and restricting and eliminating what very little is left of the social safety net so laboriously constructed by previous generations.

De-Entitling the masses is the key to understanding the Future as envisioned by the Powers That Be.

And don't ever think those Powers will lose their Entitlements. Not on a bet.

With all this swirling instability around us, the economic and political opportunists -- the Randians, the Objectivists, the Libertarians, and so on -- see plenty of hay to be made, offering bogus Individualist "answers" to the masses to the fear and the uncertainty of Modern Times.

It was happening in the '30's as well, but most people could see that the Randian Individualist response to despair and destitution might be something to think about or enjoy as an observer, but there was no chance for Individuals entirely on their own.

Nevertheless, the call is out there to shuck off the bonds of Government per se, live free, go your own way, forget about the uselessness of a corrupt and decadent Central Government, grow your own food, build your own place, live off the grid, and protect yourself with abundant armaments. That's the future.


What a concept.

Friday, May 8, 2009

F**king Brilliant

My contempt for Libertarianism is boundless, and this little video I found posted at dKos this morning encapsulates a dose of it.

When people rage against teh Central Government or piddle on the Government Schools or demand the liberty to impose their authority on others (ie: Warlordism) in a Regulation Free Market, I about puke.

And then when they start celebrating Ron Paul as the ideological key to the New America, I laugh and laugh.

He claims to be some kind of "Constitutionalist" but what he really is is a Confederate who disputes the entire history of Constitutional self-government in this country. He would go back to 1789 -- pre-1789 in fact -- and start the Government over; to him, pretty much everything the Government has done since Ratification has been in Error.

That may be, but it is not "Constitutionalism" to claim nothing but Error on the part of Government since the beginning of the Constitution. The absurdity of his position is plain. And yet there are always some who can't see it.

He's a Confederate; he does not believe in a Constitutionally Self-Governing Republic as defined -- and operated -- under the Constitution of the United States of America since 1789. He believes in the Confederation under the previous Articles, which proved even in its own time to be unviable as a nation.

In fact, it's more than possible to make a case for some other form of Government than we have, and that case should be made in my view. It may ideed involve reflection on the Confederation. The United States Government has become rotten and corrupted and Palace oriented, and the Constitution itself has provided the means and the impetus to that development. The nature of the Constitution of 1789 made the current Imperial State almost inevitable, and now that we are there, it's more than reasonable to evaluate it on the basis of the Public Interest. Is this what the People truly want?

The Government, for its part, doesn't really care what "The People" (a fiction in Government eyes) want. The practice of Government has long been to govern counter to the People and the Public Interest, and little or nothing has stood in the way of that practice. That practice of governing against the People's Will and the Public Interest was quite open during the Bushevik years; Cheney was (and is) proud of it.

The answer is not Libertarianism, however.

The video shows why.

If I can find some time, I'll try to expand on these thoughts (as I have tried in the past). The current situation is unstable. Under the circumstances, we should be thinking about and arguing over and considering options on a way forward. There is no going back, but we don't know what the best way forward is. The Government, to be sure, is busy consolidating its Imperial Grandeur, safe (it thinks) behind it's Palace Gates. Operating quite independently of us, We, the People.

How do we deal with that?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

So it's come to this

This is in Victorville, CA; reports are that the same thing is going on or planned in Temecula. Spec homes in new developments demolished rather than completed or sold at a lower price:

The builder was Matthews Homes, a long-time California builder, the bank foreclosing on these properties was Guaranty Bank of Austin, and the destruction of these new homes shouldn't really be so surprising.

Many areas of California (and elsewhere) were vastly overbuilt during the real estate boom. There is a huge inventory of unsold and foreclosed new and nearly new homes throughout the state, and despite extraordinary efforts by the state and other interests and authorities, these homes cannot realistically be sold soon in this market. In many cases, the inflated mortgages have already been paid off on foreclosed properties through Private Mortgage Insurance, but the idle properties themselves are an expense (fines, taxes, upkeep, security, etc.) and rather than pay for the expense involved in holding these properties, owners of record demolish them. By doing so, they reduce inventory, clear the "nuisance" and the costs associated with it from the property and they make it possible to eventually rebuild if market conditions ever warrant.

And that's a big If.

Many areas of California have gone through repeated real estate booms/busts, and of course some of them have ultimately become very successful. Los Angeles itself is a prime case in point. But the outer fringes and most desert areas of California have had their occasional booms (or not as the case may be) only to see the projects ultimately abandoned and never revived. The skeletons of these projects are all over the state, if you know where to look and what to look for, some completely abandoned, others barely hanging on with a relative handful of hardy residents.

Victorville is not exactly a highly sought after location, but it is not by any means an abandoned railroad siding like many other places in the Mojave Desert. It "grew" very fast during the real estate boom, and it has suffered more than many other areas during the bust. How much of the "growth" can be sustained still remains to be seen, and one way to manage that "growth" is to prune the excess.

Demolishing houses that have already been paid for (or have already been written off as the case may be) in areas like Victorville -- where growth is not likely to return soon to the rates seen during the boom -- makes a kind of yucky economic sense, and we're liable to see more of it as the real estate market finds its bottom and stabilizes.

Still, it's shocking to witness.