November 2012 California Ballot Measure Recommendations

Before diving into the individual propositions, I thought it time to update my “general principles”:

1) In general, ballot measures are a bad idea. They aren't vetted by the normal legislative processes, which allow for compromise and amendment, and they create a "higher level" of statutory law which the Legislature cannot easily amend if changes need to be made. When in doubt, vote no. Unfortunately, the increasing body of initiative-based laws over time has resulted in many situations where an initiative is required to do something that could normally be done by the Legislature. (I’ve tried to mark those with asterisks.)

2) Ballot-box budgeting has made a quagmire of California's finances. Anything that further locks the budget into mandated spending is making the problem worse, no matter how well-intentioned.

3) Bond measures are supposed to be for emergencies and investment in capital improvements which will pay themselves off in increased prosperity for the state. Anything else is just a cheap way to make future generations pay our bills.

4) The state constitution is there to establish the basic structure of the government and to define fundamental rights. The fact that it can be amended by a simple 50% majority has made the California constitution into a joke. Use the federal constitution as a guideline: if any proposed amendment is longer than a couple paragraphs, then it doesn't belong in the constitution. Again, we need to make exceptions for fixing the many past amendments which can only be modified through this process. (And again, I’ll try to mark those with asterisks.)

5) My newest rule of thumb: If the argument for a measure can be summed up as “but think of the children!” then it’s probably a bad idea. These are usually cheap “feel good” propositions that sacrifice good governance and pragmatic results for the sake of scoring easy political points. At best they’re well-intentioned but misguided, at worst they’re cynical attempts to pass odious laws in disguise.

On to the propositions...

Prop 30*: Yes
This is an unpleasant but necessary measure, raising taxes to pull California out of the abyss of red ink. I personally prefer a heavily progressive tax code and would prefer not to raise the regressive sales tax, but the fact that this hits both ends of the tax spectrum is a good thing – the fairest tax increases are usually those that leave nobody happy. The constitutional transfer of budget authority for emergency services back to local government is also a step in the right direction. This measure was already “passed” by the governor and legislature and is designed to work with the current budget. It’s also the first example of a “fix it” measure; the fact that we need a constitutional amendment to set temporary tax rates is just another indicator of how screwed up the whole initiative system has become.

Prop 31*: No
So many of the ideas in this measure look good, e.g. transfer of authority back to local governments and long-term budgeting, that I’m sorely tempted to say yes. But the more detail I read, even in the promotional info from the backers, the more I kept running into places where my internal “good idea” reaction turned into “huh?” or even “wtf!” Prop 31 is a mish-mash of gloriously half-baked reforms that I’d like to see explored, but there’s no way I’m going to vote for it as is. A quote from the L.A. Times nicely summed up my opinion: “It is too broad, too shallow and, importantly, for a measure that adds new language to the state Constitution, too inflexible.”

Prop 32: No
This is, plain and simple, an anti-union measure. It disingenuously purports to treat unions and corporations equally, but corporations don’t use payroll deductions to pay for political activities – they take the money out BEFORE it gets to the paycheck. I’d be more than happy to reduce the influence of both unions and corporations on elections – but only on BOTH. Unions and corporations are natural checks on each others' excesses, and as long as one side’s allowed to play politics then the other needs the same ability. (Btw, the idea that unions are stealing money from unwilling workers to use in politics is an outright lie. Union membership is always voluntary, and representation fees paid by non-members can't be used for political activities.)

Prop 33*: No (again)
See . The fact that Mercury Insurance has spent millions to put an almost identical measure back on the ballot means they obviously expect this change to bring them even more millions in profit by somehow increasing overall insurance rates. The fact that it’s not obvious HOW just makes me more suspicious. As the ballot measure argument so elegantly states, “When was the last time an insurance company executive spent $8 million on a ballot initiative to save you money?”

Prop 34: Yes
I believe as a matter of principle that there are times and places where society has a right to execute individuals. But as a matter of practice, there’s just too much chance of getting it wrong, so I think it’s better to err on the side of leniency and just dump the death penalty. The fact that life imprisonment is vastly CHEAPER than executing criminals makes this option even better. Note that though this issue is something that could be handled by the Legislature, this is such a hot button issue that I understand why so many politicians are unwilling to touch it... and that’s actually the original reason for having initiatives to begin with.

Prop 35: No
This one’s just unnecessary. Human trafficking is already illegal, and there’s no evidence that any of these changes will do a thing to reduce the problem – a problem which, while I hate to use the word “insignificant” for something so heinous, is not exactly “rampant” in California. This is also a case of principle 5 in action: an initiative more focused on appearing to solve the problem than actually doing so.

Prop 36*: Yes
Three strikes reform is long overdue. The original Prop 184 is a textbook example of how even good initiatives can go wrong – unintended side effects (like overflowing our prisons with petty criminals due to the technical definition of a “felony strike”) can’t be fixed during the simple “yes/no” voting process, nor can they be corrected by follow-up legislative action. Prop 36 addresses these problems reasonably while retaining the original intent of “three strikes and you’re out”. Meanwhile, Prop 36’s opponents come in two categories: people trying to score political points with a “hard on crime” attitude and the increasingly unsavory victims’ rights movement (which deserves a post of its own).

Prop 37: No
I’m all for labeling GMO foods, mostly so I can hold parties in which every dish is made from certified Franken-food. Allowing those who strangely want to avoid GMO foods the opportunity to do so would just be a minor side benefit. However, Prop 37 rings too many alarm bells. It’s so full of exceptions which water down the rules that it calls into question its basic purpose. So while I’m willing to appease the anti-GMO crowd, I’m going to insist they go through regular channels rather than risk putting a screwed up initiative on the books.

Prop 38*: No
Prop 38 is the “unofficial” counterpart to Prop 30, raising taxes primarily for education. It’s well-meaning but full of the kind of flaws that got us into this budget mess: attempts to micro-manage how the money is spent and explicitly preventing legislative attempts to “meddle” with it. More importantly, it threatens the passage of Prop 30; if both measures pass, only the one with the most votes goes into effect. I vastly prefer the simple, straightforward Prop 30, so this one’s gotta go.

Prop 39: No
This proposition includes a re-hash of Prop 24 (, with the addition of new rules on how the additional income should be used. While I’m still sympathetic to the proposed change, my “mild no” on Prop 24 becomes a firm no with the new budgeting limits. The last thing California needs is more mandated funding rules.

Prop 40: Yes
Prop 40 is a special case. It’s not an initiative, but a referendum – a challenge to the existing legislative districts which were created by the new committee-based re-districting process (a result of Prop 11). As such, a yes vote means to keep the status quo. In this specific case Prop 40 was a nasty little attempt by some state Senate incumbents to de-rail the new 2012 districts. They never even expected to succeed at the polls, only to get the courts to stay the new districts pending the outcome of the referendum, giving them one last “safe” election out of their old gerrymandered districts. However, since the courts refused to play ball that plan fell through, and Prop 40’s original backers (who, remember, originally wanted you to vote no) pulled their support and are now doing their best to pretend this never happened.


June 2012 Ballot Recommendations

Wow, we actually made it through 2011 without a single special election to push more ballot measures. Not only that, but even with 18 months of pent up ballot insanity, we've only got TWO initiatives to vote on! There are a few measures purposefully waiting in the wings until November when they hope the higher turnout of a general election will increase the likelihood of passage, but it's still looking pretty sparse.

So anyway, here's my take on the two available. I'll link to my general principles, but really these are pretty straightforward.

Prop 28: Yes
I don't like term limits. It's one thing to ensure accountability to the voters, it's another to forcefully retire your most experienced employees just about the time they figure out how to do their jobs well. (And without even the benefit of hiring a newbie at lower salary -- they all earn the same amount.) And anyways, the real effect of term limits isn't to make our legislators accountable to the voters, it's to make them accountable to the lobbyists and campaign fund-raisers, since instead of actually doing their current jobs, our legislators are concentrating on preparing for the next office they'll need to shoot for.

So while I'd love to see term limits shot down entirely, this prop at least makes them more palatable. Individuals can serve in the Legislature for 12 years total, no matter which chamber, rather than the crazy musical chairs game caused by separate limits of 6 years in the Assembly and 8 in the Senate. Call me crazy, but I'd kind of like to put behind us the recent trend of freshman legislators as speakers of the Assembly, because the more senior assemblymen are all busy scrambling for new offices.

Prop 29: No
Sigh. Ballot box budgeting and sin taxes: each a red flag by itself, and this one's got both. Sure, California needs money. But this doesn't actually give any money to the general fund to pay for the many goverment services we already can't afford. Instead most of the money goes to cancer research, a worthy cause but one already quite generously funded by the federal government. If anyone wants to raise tobacco taxes and/or increase funding to tobacco-related disease prevention and research, they should go through the normal channels. This is most definitely NOT an emergency situation that requires an end-run around the legislative process.

Ballot Measure Recommendations - November General Election

OK, I'm going to try not writing this at the last minute this time! Last time I actually heard some compelling arguments that changed my thinking about the propositions on the primary ballot -- AFTER the election, which is not a good time for that.

As always, I'll preface my comments with a repeat of my general principles:

Proposition 19: meh

I'm all for limited pot legalization. And I like the way this proposition leaves most of the implementation details up to local governments and the state legislature. But as long as the feds continue to prosecute marijuana this really doesn't make much of a change. California's already spending very little time and money prosecuting and jailing marijuana crimes ("several tens of millions of dollars annually" is a drop in the bucket). And while I think the opponents are exaggerating the "loopholes", those ARE the types of bugs that the legislative process can easily catch which the initiative process won't.

Overall I just don't see a compelling reason for this, which means I'm gonna rely on principle #1 and vote no. However, I won't be too worried if it passes. At the least it will "send a message" which might allow federal and/or state legislators to cover their asses when dealing with this issue in the future.

Proposition 20: No

 I voted for Prop 11. I think allowing legislators to draw their own districts is a long-term recipe for disaster that's been proven by California's sorry state. That said, the redistricting system created by Prop 11 is experimental and has yet to actually be used. The California Legislature is seriously broken, and I'm willing to gamble on a new system. Our Congressional representation, however, while probably contributing to the partisan deadlock in Congress, isn't in such a crisis. I'd prefer to see how the new system works with the 2010 redistricting before expanding its scope.

 Proposition 21: No

Sigh, more ballot box budgeting. (See general principle #2.) I like our state parks. I'm willing to pay higher entry fees to support them. I'm even willing to pay higher taxes to ensure that everyone can use them. I'm NOT willing to lock in yet another mandated spending flow, especially one based on a fairly regressive funding source.

 Proposition 22: No, with reservations

 I have to admit I'm torn on this one. Ever since California "nationalized" collection of local property and sales taxes, it's become de rigueur for the state to use money earmarked for counties and cities to balance its own budget shortfalls. It's supposed to be done only in emergencies, but the California budget has basically been in a permanent state of emergency for years. And even though most, if not all, of the "borrowed" funds have to be "repaid" within a few years, local governments have effectively lost control of their ability to manage their own budgets. We've already passed two measures to reduce these shenanigans, but the state keeps finding new loopholes.

 I would love to see a comprehensive measure to decouple state and municipal funding sources in order to end this unhealthy dependency, but there are a number of things about this specific amendment that bother me. First, there's the general rule of adding yet another layer of straitjackets to the whole budgeting process. Second, the limitation to transportation and redevelopment funds. Yes, those are the funds that tend to get raided most often, but I'm worried that it will just shift the state's rapacity to other sectors. Finally, the prohibition on using funds to pay off bonds. I want bonds paid off, and actually think it's a GOOD idea to divert at least some of the money for new projects so we can finish paying for the old projects. Put that all together and I'm going to stick with my rule, "when in doubt vote no, and that goes double for constitutional amendments". However, I won't be particularly disappointed if it does pass. It will help out the cities and counties and just MIGHT force Sacramento to come to start addressing its systemic problems.

 Proposition 23: Big No

 Oh, energy industry! We can always count on your for at least one self-serving, short-sighted proposition each election. Pollution is, quite literally, industry's way of making everyone else pay so they can make money. It's the equivalent of dumping toxic trash into the local park and saying "What? You expect ME to pay for that? And hey, it's your kids fault if they play in it and get sick!" Sure, letting companies do that allows them to make more money, hire more people, offer cheaper products, and generally contribute more to the local economy. But it should be obvious that, no matter how much this will help the economy, SOMEBODY will eventually pay for the consequences. So no, I don't think it's a good idea to reduce pollution controls because whenever the economy slows down. I'm far more concerned about the long term economic costs that will occur from reduced public health, damaged environments, economic dislocations of climate change, or expensive efforts to mitigate those effects.

 Proposition 24: Mild No

 Two issues here. First, there's the validity of the tax changes under discussion. I don't buy the "these were crucial to keep jobs in California" line, but they do appear to be reasonable changes. I couldn't find any hard info comparing these tax rules to other states, but combining the info from the Legislative Analyst with that from various editorials, it looks like one (tax carrybacks) brings California more in line with federal practices, while another (letting multi-state businesses choose between two taxation systems) is quite unusual -- not the two systems, both of which are common, just allowing businesses to choose the one which will net them lower taxes. Still, definitely not something that I think needs a ballot measure to repeal, that can be done through regular channels.

 The second issue is whether or not it's wise to provide corporate tax breaks during a budget crisis. No matter how reasonable, it does seem crazy that we're giving tax breaks when the state budget is falling apart. It only makes sense when you learn that these tax changes were used in order to get some Republican votes to pass the 2008 and 2009 budgets. Now I've got definite views on the ridiculousness of our budget process (see below), but I think I'm once again going to fall on the side of not using ballot measures to override the legislative process. FIX the process, yes, but not go back and review every single deal that was made in order to get votes.

 Proposition 25: Yes, yes, a million times yes!

 Every political and economic expert agrees that, of the many causes for California's current fiscal crisis, the 2/3 majority requirement to pass the budget tops the list. The only people that disagree are California Republican legislators, who are desperately clinging onto their ability to scuttle the budget in order to extort concessions (not necessarily related to the budget). I specifically say the California Republicans, because most of those in other states have enough foresight to realize that when they're in the majority they wouldn't want similar power handed to the Democrats. There are places in the government process where you want to require super-majorities (can we say "constitutional amendments"?), but passing an annual budget is not one of them.

 Prop 25 still leaves the 2/3 requirement to raise taxes. The governor still has line-item veto. This will not be the end of the world. And for all those Republicans who say the Democrats will be "let loose" to destroy the state, I would remind you that if that happens it will simply hasten the day when a Republican majority gets elected and has the power to reverse those changes.

Proposition 26: No, no, a million (OK, maybe only a thousand) times no!

 This is the exact opposite of Prop 25, adding yet another hurdle to efficient government. Just read the legislative analyst's analysis: Hundreds, possibly thousands of routine regulatory fees would require 2/3 majority in the legislature. Even worse, cities and counties would be required to put every single one of these into a measure for the public to vote on, again with a 2/3 majority required. This would even include raising fees, something which has to be done routinely to account for inflation, since many of these are flat fees. This could cost BILLIONS in lost revenues. Yes, it's true that this proposition doesn't touch direct assessments, but many problems require a broader definition of "mitigation" -- see the lead example in the analysis.

 Let's also throw out the term "hidden taxes". The CA Supreme Court has ruled that these fees don't count as taxes. That's why they have to amend the constitution (yes, this is an amendment) to change the definition.

 Even if you think the government regulates too much, deregulation must be done carefully and with planning. Look what happened when we deregulated energy a decade ago -- it created the very crisis which put our current governor into office. This would be using a shotgun to do the work of a scalpel.

 You know what that the real effect will be if this passes? A lot of these programs will have to start relying on the state's General Fund. That means shifting the burden of the costs from the specific corporations involved to the taxpayers as a whole. (See Prop 23 above.) Face it, many of these programs are quite popular and/or necessary for public safety, and when things get desperate it will be a lot easier to pass one overall tax hike than a hundred separate fee hikes.

 There's actually another possible outcome should this pass. If we can't charge fees to mitigate certain activities, processes, and materials, we may end up just banning them all together. And much as I'd love to see this come back and bite the corporations in the asses, I think it would simply drive businesses to other states -- you know, one of the 49 where the government wasn't forced into an all-or-nothing approach to dealing with industries which impact the environment, public health, and public safety.

Proposition 27: No

 Since this is basically a repeal of Prop 11, this is pretty simple if you voted in the 2008 general election. Just vote opposite to how you voted back then.

 There is one monkeywrench to this issue, however, and that's Prop 14, which we passed in June. By eliminating the traditional primary/general system and switching to a general/run-off system, it's essentially eliminated party affiliation from affecting the electoral process. That means that even if the Legislature draws up "safe districts", it does mean that the more moderate candidates who usually lost in the old party-specific primaries are more likely to appear in the run-off, where they can (presumably) count on the votes of the opposing party against the more partisan candidate. That eliminates some, but not all, of the reasons for Prop 11.

 But if you really want to eliminate the safe districts all together, I still think Prop 11 is necessary. Prop 14 stops them from creating safe districts for individuals, but not for the parties as a whole. Besides, as a matter of principle, I oppose the idea of letting legislators define their own districts. Let's at least see if the Prop 11 system works before we throw it out.


Party affiliation and web trends

Interesting factoid: Political candidates in California follow distinctive party-based behavior patterns when choosing domain names. Green candidates shun .com domains and prefer .org. Peace and Freedom candidates are the same -- when they have their own site. Usually they rely on the communal party site, a .org. Democrats will occasionally choose .org, but usually stick with .com. Republicans eschew everything but .com. Finally, Libertarian and AIP candidates are all over the map, with .coms, .orgs, and even a few .nets.

On the other hand, candidates are getting less predictable in their web site design. I can no longer determine a web site's party by glancing at the monitor from across the room. There used to be a close correspondence between Republican candidates and web sites that were heavy on the red, white, and blue, with lots of flag imagery. A lot of Democrats are now using those themes, while many Republicans have moderated the heavy-handed symbolism. Of course, an all-green page is still an indicator of a Green candidate, but increasing numbers have decided that their party name doesn't mandate monochromatic web sites. Even the Libertarians and AIP candidates are using a lot less patriotic midi music and animated flag images (for which I am extremely thankful!)

(no subject)

After spending weeks staring at campaign websites, I'm really beginning to loathe many of the candidates. Not just for their positions, which range from innocuous to silly to offensive. Not just for their badly designed websites full of broken links. Not even because they're making huge amounts of work for me by having those websites. It's because they're losers.

I mean that both literally and figuratively. They lost the election. More importantly, they always WERE going to lose the election. They never had a chance in hell of winning. So why did they run? A few were long-shot chances. The third party candidates are working collectively to make a political statement. But for the rest? There are a host of ways to meaningfully get into mainstream politics and put yourself on the path for possible future election to a state or national office. Trying to win the Democratic primary for governor of California against Jerry Brown is not one of them.

So what's their deal? Is it just for the ego gratification of seeing your name on the ballot? Are they operating under the delusion that more than a handful of people will even bother to look at their websites? Are they just trying to win a bar bet -- last one to run for major office buys the next round? I really don't know. There's probably a different reason for each candidate. But they all have one thing in common: they're losers.

2010 Primary Ballot Measure Recommendations

I'm way too rushed downloading candidate websites (thank you SO much to all 23 people who think they can be governor, the 14 running for attorney general, and so on) to give the propositions the attention they deserve. But I know how I'm going to vote and will try (during breaks while I wait for the archiving software to chug along) to explain my reasons here. As I finish this, I'm actually just about to begin downloading the ballot measure websites -- if I find compelling arguments to change my mind I'll post a quick update.

For my general rules of thumb see

Prop 13 – Definite Yes

It's telling when the voter guide says "No argument against Proposition 13 was submitted." This Prop 13 amends the original Prop 13 to create a permanent exemption for seismic retrofitting. If you upgrade your building to meet the latest earthquake standards, you won't get re-assessed as you would if you made other major modifications. I don't know about you, but I spend a lot of time in buildings in California, and I really don't want to discourage their owners from keeping them up to spec.

 Prop 14 – Moderate Yes

California has a long history of tinkering with the way primaries work, and this is the latest example. It's also the most dramatic, since it makes our state elections run the same way our municipal elections run, which basically means ignoring political parties. All candidates are thrown into one big pot in the primary. The top two, ignoring party lines, go on to the general. (Some differences from the municipal: There's still a general election, even if someone gets more than 50% of the votes in the primary. Plus candidates are ALLOWED to list their party affiliation on the ballot – it just makes no difference in how the election process works.)

 How this would play out really depends on the dynamic of the individual districts involved. Some places won't change at all, in others all bets are off. At the very least, you can say that this will make California politics DIFFERENT. I do, however, want to refute the argument I've heard from many sources that it reduces voter choice. That's just plain bullshit. It allows everyone to vote for any candidate in the primary. The fact that no candidate from any specific party may make it to the general election (very likely for third parties) makes no difference. Every voter already had a chance to vote for that person in the primary, an opportunity they would NOT have had in the old system if that candidate had lost his party's primary nomination. So yes, fewer choices in the general, but in exchange you get ALL the choices in the primary.

 Another argument I don't accept is this example: "In a heavily Democratic district two Democrats are likely to top the list, so there won't be a Republican in the general election. Thus Republicans are disenfranchised." Well guess what, no Republican was going to win that district anyway! So no, in that example Republicans won't get a chance to throw away their vote in the general election on a candidate who has no chance of winning. They will, however, have an opportunity to choose between the two leading Democrats, a much more meaningful choice which they would NOT have had in the traditional primary system.

 The only negative argument that I've heard that holds water is the possibility of "diluting" a specific interest group by having too many candidates representing them. If 20 Democrats run against 2 Republicans, there's a good chance the two Republicans will have the most votes, even in a Democratic district. The traditional primary system did do a good job of "concentrating" interest groups onto a single candidate – but ONLY when those interests matched party lines! The old system has always had spoilers, in the form of the third party candidates. Bush won in 2000 only because of Nader, and Clinton won in 1992 only because of Perot. This may happen more often than in the old system, but it will happen in different ways that aren't defined solely on party lines.

 As for all the ways voters and candidates can "game" the system – yeah, so what? There are a dozen ways to game the current system, exploiting the loopholes you can find in any set of rules. The proposed system won't have more loopholes. It will just have DIFFERENT ones.

 So will this reduce partisanship in our representatives? It certainly won't solve all of our problems with legislative gridlock, but it will likely help. And I think breaking that deadlock is desperately needed. The current system favors the election of extremist candidates in the primaries, those who appeal to the narrow constituency of a single party, so those are the only candidates we're left to choose from in the generals. And hey, if we don't like it, we can always change to a new primary system a few years from now – it's a California tradition!

 Prop 15 – Yes

This is one of those measures that's really intended to do just one small thing, and the rest is just cover. The cover is a limited experiment with publicly funded elections for the Secretary of State position in the next two elections. It would be funded by a modest tax on lobbyists (and no other source – this will in no way eat into existing funds). There's a lot of fine print about who qualifies for money and how the funds are distributed. Ignore it. Because the REAL point is simply to rescind the current ban on publicly funded elections, opening the doors for future experiments. Now I have yet to see a system for publicly funded elections that actually works (we have one at the federal level, but almost no one uses it), but I think cities and counties should at least be allowed to try it out. So this one gets a yes – with a raspberry for wasting our time with the all the extraneous material.

 Prop 16 – Hell No

Ah, corporate ballot measures. One of California's less savory political traditions, where anyone with a few million dollars can collect the signatures to get a ballot measure written specifically to increase their profits. And then spend millions more convincing voters that the measure is really all about better government or helping children or stopping criminals or whatever other phony cause they can come up with. Most of the time the voters spot these and they go down in flames, but enough pass that they keep trying.

 This one of the more egregious examples. PG&E is trying to shut down (or at least prevent the creation of) public utilities in California, thus keeping more customers for themselves. The claims of "voter fairness" and "people deserve to vote" are just standard "big lie" tactics. If you keep complaining that people aren't being allowed to vote, maybe some people won't notice that they already CAN, and that what you're proposing actually makes it HARDER for a majority of citizens to get what they vote for.

 Prop 17 – No

Corporate ballot measure #2. This time it's Mercury Insurance, backed by other insurance companies, trying (again) to loosen the restrictions of Prop. 103. Surprisingly, for the first time ever I actually think they've made a reasonable case! Prop 103 allows insurers a very narrow range of characteristics that they're allowed to use to set auto insurance rates. One of those things is a loyalty bonus – they can give you a discount for having continuous coverage with them for a long time. What they CAN'T do is offer discounts to new customers for having had a long-term policy with ANOTHER company – an obvious marketing tactic to entice customers to switch.

 So why would anyone object to the insurance companies LOWERING their rates? Because, by definition, if they lower someone's rates they have to raise someone else's. In this case it would fall on people who have NOT had continuous insurance policies for a long time, i.e. new drivers and those who had a lapse in their insurance coverage. Now normally I'd say let the free market prevail. If some insurers raise rates on new drivers, those drivers can always switch to a company that doesn't. But auto liability insurance isn't a free market – it's state-granted monopoly, a situation which distorts the picture dramatically. The Prop 103 restrictions on profiling were put in there specifically because all the major insurers were setting their rates to exclude "risky" drivers, forcing those drivers into shoddy fly-by-night operations (which rarely paid out on claims) or to just drive without insurance, undermining the entire purpose of the liability system.

 So basically, this one boils down to "if it ain't broke don't fix it". The proposed change sounds  reasonable (though I would note that Mercury Insurance has a terrible track record of twisting insurance regulations to screw over customers), but the current system is working just fine (take a glance at their quarterly profits) and I don't see any reason to meddle with it.

A thousand elephants!

Spring Concert on June 19 - tickets available!

My first full concert with the West Coast Singers is coming up soon! The music is really coming together, and in my not-so-humble opinion, sounds pretty damned good.

Early-bird tickets are available now for the reduced price of $20. Please let me know if you'd like me to get some for you (and thus avoid the service fee for online ticket purchases). Really hoping a bunch of friends will be able to make it!
A thousand elephants!

The fate of orphaned works

I just spent over an hour trying to figure out who holds the copyright on a campaign poster in our Campaign Literature Archive. The answer boils down to "nobody". The political committee that produced it was dissolved decades ago and did not explicitly pass the copyright on to another organization. (I highly doubt that as they wrapped up their final financial disclosure forms, it even crossed anyone's mind to consider the disbursement of their intellectual property.) There is no "default heir" as there would be if it were an individual. But lack of a copyright owner doesn't mean lack of a copyright! The copyright is still technically in effect, and the poster won't enter the public domain until 120 years after it's creation. And so the upshot is, a researcher is unable to put an image of the picture into an article. And neither will anyone else until the end of this century.

In the course of following the copyright trail, I did run across the following prescient speech:

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No melted chocolate!

Looking out at today's beautiful sunny weather, I realized that this is NOT a good thing. I don't want to repeat the fiasco of two years ago when an April heat wave caused all the Easter chocolate to melt. Fortunately weather reports show a cold storm front coming through on Wednesday, and highs in the 60s over the weekend. As long as the long-range forecasts aren't too far off we should be set!