Sunday, November 25, 2012

Post Election Priorities

It's been said that there is no liberal or conservative way to pave a road.  Political differences are usually differences of priority or method, rather than absolute ones.  The following are priorities for the U.S. and for California that it seems difficult to argue against.


- We need a sustainable budget, independent of the current fiscal cliff situation, independent of how we get to that sustainable budget.  This is the single greatest threat to continued American prominence and liberal democracy on Earth.  It's a bridge too far to ask us to reform our tax system to incentivize wealth-building rather than wealth-hiding, and to reward tax-code-jockey attorneys, but we should start thinking about it.  Specifically, people regard taxes as penalties, period.  Start penalizing things you want people to do less of - polluting, crimes, unhealthy behaviors, etc.  (Singapore has used this model successfully for quite a while now, and we seem to think such "social engineering" is okay when it comes to owning homes and marriage.)  In other words, we should stop penalizign earning money and investing.

- Continue the economic and diplomatic pivot to Asia, and focus on containing the remaining threats to liberal democracy and the international order.  The countries which pose the greatest threat on that count, in this order, are Pakistan (which is largely run by extremist Muslims, and has nuclear weapons - how does this escape the notice of hawks?), Iran, and North Korea.  A nuclear weapon built in Pakistan and used by militants will be too late a reminder that the U.S. should not design its foreign policy around oil companies.

- Restructure immigration as recruiting.  Stop letting people in just because their husband is here; make it much easier to get people who have STEM degrees from top universities around the world, otherwise they will continue going to the UK and (increasingly) Asia.  At the same time, we can recognize that there's a legitimate security and economic consideration about the porousness of our border with Mexico that has nothing to do with racism, which unfortunately seems to be what has motivated the most passionate opinions on this issue.  After the election, the GOP has suddenly realized that not every American is a WASP and a reform of their immigration position is necessary.  Let's take advantage of this moment.

- The legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington is a more radical opportunity for local politics than many realize, because it will force a confrontation on state vs Federal rights on this and many other issues.  "Small government" conservatives will either have to get on board with CO and WA's right to do so (and to resist Eric Holder's goons) or stop claiming to be small government conservatives.  Furthermore we might finally understand what on Earth Holder has been doing, alienating some of the Dems' base in these states.  How to make sure it remains legal?  Invite states and localities to tax it, as has been done in Oakland.  They can't chill out every single small business.

- If the Dems are serious about staying partners with business (at least high-tech growth industries) then make a serious, concerted effort at smart regulation.  Yes, this will mean repealing and streamlining many regulations and maybe some departments.  The Obama administration has started to do this quietly but it needs to be much higher-profile to give confidence that it will be meaningful and that it will persist.  Staffing it with subject-matter experts who haven't spent their whole lives inside the Beltway will show seriousness in this regard; this can be done without letting foxes guard henhouses.  The FDA is a perfect place to start; implement some form of Andrew von Eschenbach's suggestion to make drug regulation about taking unsafe drugs off the market, rather than approving them before they can be sold.  (On the other side, the GOP is starting to look more like the party of big-business+government cronyism, and less like the party of capitalism.  Time to fix that before the Democrats take that away too.)


- We need a balanced, sustainable budget, and that has to mean pension reform, in some form.  Now that the Democrats have a supermajority, we will know if this can be accomplished.  If either party has a supermajority, and can't pass a balanced budget, then California cannot ever pass a balanced budget.  I do not have high hopes for this and think the state government will see tough times before any real reform ever occurs.  We will hear reasons for why it couldn't occur, but the point remains that even with a state-congressional supermajority, they will likely not pass a sustainable budget.  I hope I'm wrong about this.

- Other considerations are secondary.  It would be nice to see gay marriage having official recognition but in a state that's degrading its parks and universities because it doesn't know how to balance a checkbook, such otherwise important questions become ancillary considerations.


- Is public transportation really that difficult?  Yes, it's damn near impossible to put a real light rail system in (and San Diego doesn't have one) once an area develops, but is a real bus system really that expensive to develop?  My hope is that the local transit systems like UCSD's are putting enough people in place who see the value of one, and will vote accordingly in the future.

- For a California city, San Diego has a curiously unaccountable police department, with questions about officer-involved accidents and shootings often going un-answered.  Curiously in this mayoral election, we had a gay Republican facing a Democrat favored by police.  Filner's administration may not change this.

- If the Chargers want to build a new football stadium, that's fine, but to ask for taxpayer dollars to do it is absolutely unacceptable.  Filner is on record saying he opposes this - let's keep his feet to the fire in case he has some magical change of heart - and in any event, there is no evidence that stadiums help their local areas economically (in actuality they hurt).

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