Thursday, November 4, 2010

Reactions to 2010 Political Campaigns and Elections

There's no doubt the Tea Partyists and Republicans, as well as the owners of the TV stations, did extremely well in this year's political cycle, highlighted by results of the elections on November 2nd, and President Obama, as he acknowledged, took a "shellacking". The Republicans gained solid control of the House of Representatives, narrowed the majority held by Democrats in the Senate, and gained many more state governorships and legislatures under their control. With nearly an incredible $4 billion in campaign spending, a record for midterm elections, much of it on television advertising, the TV station owners must have had a great year.

However, with Obama in office for at least two more years, and having the powerful bill veto power, and with 53 colleagues and allies in the Senate compared to 47 for Republicans, the Democrats still have substantial leverage. It's also some comfort for Obama that like opinion polls for the Democratic Party, the Republican Party is not very popular either. Of major concern for the Democrats going forward, though, for the next ten years until the 2020 census, is the material advantage Republicans will have in congressional redistricting, optimizing their prospects for keeping control of the House of Representatives.

I think most analysts and commentators agree that the Republican successes were primarily due to understandable anger, frustrations, and serious anxiety of voters at their personal economic situations caused by joblessness, underemployment, decline in home values, foreclosures, concern about potential upcoming cuts to Social Security and Medicare, and how all of these would likely affect their standard of living and ability to retire in any kind of comfort. Since the Democrats controlled Congress and held the White House, voters with some justification placed most of the blame on Obama, Senate Majority Leader Reid and Speaker Pelosi.

While the policies followed by Obama and the Democrats have been strongly criticized by the Republican leadership, especially by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, I'm not convinced the policies generally were wrong, given the precarious state of the deep recession and our fragile financial system at the time. However, it appears evident that Obama's Administration and Democrats in Congress did not focus enough on jobs creation, probably could have been more attentive to the needs of American businesses, especially smaller businesses, and no doubt were not as willing as they should have been to incorporate prudent input offered by Republicans on major legislation such as healthcare and financial regulatory reform.

Now just a few comments on the campaigns. As I believe I've commented on in earlier posts, in my view the campaigns go on for far too long, there's far too much negative advertising, far too much money is spent, voters too often don't even get a clear where idea where candidates really stand on many important issues, and it's embarrassing and sad that such a relatively small percentage of eligible voters actually show up to vote. Many reforms are needed, but unfortunately few will probably be approved and implemented, in part due to our Constitution's Bill of Rights, because the media doesn't do their job adequately, and because too many voters are cynical about politics, apathetic and lazy.

Well, what happens now? Democrats and Republicans will quickly be discussing and fine tuning what their objectives, priorities and strategies will be for the remainder of the year. Obama has apparently invited their political leaders to dinner at the White House on November 18th to talk about how they can cooperate in improving the economy and job opportunities for unemployed and underemployed Americans. Presumably McConnell won't use this opportunity to repeat his rather clumsy and overtly partisan statement that making sure Obama is only a one term president is his very top priority. Both sides are reluctant to compromise, but possibly willing to go ahead if it's not a very major issue, and/or they get enough in return. Hopefully there will be some general agreement on the directions we need to go on the economy, jobs, cutting the budget deficit and managing our public debt more prudently.

There are several areas where cooperation and compromise can and should be achieved. The most obvious one is on extending the President Bush tax cuts scheduled to expire on December 31st. Obama will no doubt be willing to compromise and include extension for households earning more than $250,000 as the Republicans are demanding, although it will likely add to our budget deficit until economic growth picks up. The question is the period of extension and if the $250,000 will be increased to $500,000 or even $1 million. Other areas of potential cooperation includes international trade and foreign policies. I doubt very much else of serious substance will happen legislatively before January 2nd when the new Congress convenes.

In 2011 I'd expect there will be serious political pressures to make at least some changes to the health care law passed this year that will be more acceptable to businesses, that will more convincingly reduce overall costs and that will serve to somehow limit expected federal spending obligations. We can also expect legislation on immigration reform, energy and public education reforms, and possibly some tinkering with the recently enacted financial regulatory reform law to make it more acceptable to Republicans.

It's rather obvious that both political parties will focus a great deal in 2011 on doing things that will please and solidify their respective bases, impress the increasingly influential political Independents, and position themselves favorably for the critical 2012 presidential and congressional elections, in addition to doing what they consider in the best interests of their party and the country.

Obama is a smart pragmatist and clearly recognizes he needs Republican support for the next two years and, as a result, will quite likely move more to the center and a little bit right, depending on the issues under consideration. The key person for him to try to work with on a bipartisan basis is Speaker-elect Boehner who has just emphasized that his agenda is the "public's agenda". We know it relates to job creation, limiting federal spending, keeping taxes low, and reducing our budget deficits. But what specifically? I guess we'll find out in the next few months.

It will also be very interesting to hear who among Republicans will move to the front as the leading candidate to oppose Obama in 2012. I can't believe it will turn out to be Sarah Palin, though Obama probably would hope it might be her, and suspect it will be one of the more moderate Republican governors. We'll likely know by summer next year.

Monday, November 1, 2010

California Proposition 19 - Legalizing Marijuana

Reportedly as many as 100 million Americans have tried marijuana (also known as "cannabis") in different forms for relaxation, pleasure and/or medicinal purposes, although I greatly doubt the actual number is that high. It's also reported that sales of marijuana products in California alone totaled as much as $14 billion annually in recent years, an incredibly high and a little hard to believe number.

As most knowledgeable voters know, Proposition 19 allows people 21 years or older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, cultivate, or transport this hemp plant for personal use, but it will have no affect on federal law which generally still forbids these activities. I was originally leaning towards voting for the proposition, but after more research and reflection have decided to oppose it, though with mixed feelings.

There were a number of familiar reasons why I was earlier leaning to support the measure. Legalizing marijuana should restrict funding to the dangerous and criminal drug cartels operating in Mexico and other parts of Central America, as well as in South America, and the many criminal gangs operating in California. That's a good thing. It would probably also save substantial law enforcement resources that are now being spent on arresting misdemeanor marijuana possession cases which could probably be better deployed to combat much more troubling violent crimes. Another reason is that the measure would allow taxation on marijuana sales that, according to the state's Board of Equalization, could generate a badly needed estimated $1.4 billion in new annual revenue.

The above are very compelling reasons for legalization. However, there are also good reasons to oppose the measure as written. First, it doesn't make sense to me that each of hundreds of local municipalities should individually decide how to control and tax marijuana sales as opposed to having a uniform position throughout the state. Another disturbing factor in this debate is the federal government's current law against legalization and the fact that U. S. Attorney General Eric Holder opposes Proposition 19 and has made it clear that federal authorities will continue to prosecute those who violate the federal law. Approval of the measure will lead to a great deal of uncertainty for consumers and dealers, as well as for California authorities, in addition to the need to spend a lot of wasted moneys on lawyers for meetings in Washington, hearings,and trials.

Furthermore, passing the measure will very possibly have some serious unintended consequences affecting public safety and federal funding for our public schools. As opponents have claimed, the measure doesn't provide the Highway Patrol with any tests or objective standards to determine what constitutes driving under the influence, unlike the case with alcohol. It might well also create problems for employers, especially those of bus and truck drivers, who need a strict policy for employees to be drug free for the interest of public safety. Perhaps more important, given the federal law and Mr. Holder's position on prosecution of violators, the measure's passing could jeopardize California's prospects for obtaining federal contracts and funding for our public schools. One superintendent has stated that the school funding at stake could be as much as $9.4 billion! That's a great deal to risk.

While I support the concept of legalization for the reasons cited above, I agree with many of the well-known opponents, including the two main candidates for both governor and state attorney general, that Proposition 19 is not the right measure at this time. It would certainly be desirable for the state and the federal government to be in sync on this issue, and I'm not sure how much this has been pursued or exactly why there is a policy difference at present. That should be examined and the public advised. In any case, it seems to me that the new governor and state legislature should at least seriously pursue a modified proposition that would apply to the entire state and address the major weaknesses brought up by opponents, such as the public safety issues and the standards that would be applied by the Highway Patrol and other authorities.