Monday, June 30, 2008

In Nevada, Government Actually Sometimes Says 'No'

I'm sure most EBC readers don't spend much time reading about Nevada politics. But if you did, you'd know that, like California, Nevada faces a budget crunch, and its legislature held a special session last weekend to resolve things.

California could learn a lot from the way Nevada handles these things. In short, they cut. A lot. And they balanced their budget.

I was pretty shocked this past weekend as I read the Nevada Appeal articles about the special session. From the peace and quiet of my Nevada HQ, I tried to imagine how such a situation would play out in Sacramento.

First, there's just absolutely no way the Democrats in the California legislature would even consider significant spending cuts without first lining up hundreds of demonstrators.

California is childish in this way. Our representatives repeatedly pick the most important and valuable public services, and as soon as any cuts need to be made, they tell us that those are the ones that will be cut. Then they line up teachers, cops and whoever else they can find to demagogue the issue still further.

Then, the key moment comes when folks like Don Perata trot out their demands to raise taxes. This suggestion always strikes me as hilarious in light of the fact that California already is number 6 nationwide  in per-household government spending. Nevada is number 43.

Oh, and did I mention that Nevada has no income tax? Must be nice. Move to Nevada, get a 10 percent pay raise.

One thing that few Californians realize is that we may actually be at the end of a period of tax rationality.

Democrats are currently just a few votes shy of the two-thirds majority they need in both houses of the legislature to pass a budget without any input from Republicans. After the 2010 census, they will re-draw the legislative boundaries, with predictable results.

I think it's a reasonable likelihood that the Democrats will eventually get their two-thirds majority, and then I would expect to see state income tax rates in excess of 15 percent. I see absolutely nothing in the state's liberal agenda that stands in the way of such an eventuality.

It's sad to see things go this way. This is especially true in light of our neighbors in Nevada.

It's not as if Nevada is some sort of far-right-wing backwater. Far from it, actually: Democrats are the majority in the Nevada state assembly. No, the difference is that Nevada actually has political give-and-take. This is something that's increasingly lacking in California.

One-party government is a disaster. Even Leftists should be able to understand this point, considering the federal government's problems under monolithic Republican rule.

California needs more conservatism to make it more like Nevada. Only then may California be saved from its own shortsightedness.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Berkeley Library Has Free Wi-Fi; Oakland Not So Much

When it comes to high-brow -- or even medium-brow -- civic services, most Oaklanders head either to Berkeley or to San Francisco. Along with Silicon Valley, these neighboring cities are the only reason Oakland has the residents and home values it does.

Recently, I headed to the Berkeley Public Library's main branch to beat the heat. There, I was pleasantly surprised to see buildingwide free Internet access. I tested it out with my laptop, and it worked right away.

Seeing this alongside the library's excellent selection of magazines, newspapers and music from around the world got me excited about what offerings might be available in my native Oakland.

Now, I haven't entered an Oakland library in several years. My recollection of the Oakland main library was that it contained a rather large selection of books in eastern european languages, several decrepit computers and an enormous "ethnic studies" section. My local library branch is basically a children's library, which is fine, though it too contains only a couple totally outdated computers.

Rather than endure a trip to the Oakland library to check for wi-fi, I thought I'd check online. It seemed possible that this service might be available, considering the existence of the city's bizarre Ogawa Plaza hotspot.

Incidentally, I've always wondered what the point of that City Hall public hotspot is. It reminds me of the weird timing of traffic lights in downtown Oakland which I believe are perfectly designed to encourage carjacking. Anyone sitting around Ogawa plaza with an open laptop is taking a pretty big risk.

But I digress. My Internet search for wi-fi at Oakland's libraries turned up nothing. I did find Dellums' "task force" reports, which are as preposterous as they are pathetic, but I no wi-fi information.

Finally, I went ahead and drove downtown. Sadly, but with little surprise, I discovered no wi-fi at Oakland's library. Guess I'll stick to Berkeley for services aimed at grown-ups.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Why I Support Dellums' Tax Increase Plan

In his first meaningful action since becoming Oakland Mayor a year and a half ago, Ron Dellums has proposed a parcel tax to pay for new police officers. According to Oakbook, hiring 200 additional officers will cost homeowners $250 per year in parcel taxes.

My initial reaction to the proposal was my standard response to new taxation. I generally oppose new taxes on all levels, so this seemed like another in a long line of taxes I would oppose.

However, a friend encouraged me to think about the issue in more selfish terms. This makes sense to me. After all, the Leftists in control of the city constantly pursue their own ends with complete disregard for the welfare of others. And, while this approach violates the Golden Rule, it does follow the Silver Rule, which is almost as good: "Do unto others as they do unto you."

The first question is how the money will be spent. I think it's safe to assume that between 50 and 90 percent of the money will either be stolen for outside programs (think Measure Y) or go to bureaucracy. So, I'd anticipate a net increase of 20 to 100 police officers for my $250.

While this is probably still not enough to fully staff a police department for a city the size of Oakland, it should produce some direct benefits to me and my family. Violence should decline somewhat, and economic activity might increase as a consequence.

The critical second question is how much the proposal costs. To understand more about this question, I took a look at the Alameda County property tax website.

What I found was pretty interesting. Parcel taxes are well known to be regressive, since owners of small, inexpensive houses pay exactly the same dollar amount as those who own mansions.

I hadn't fully understood, however, the true dimensions of this regressiveness. Houses in Oakland cost anywhere from $100k to millions. The median house is in the $600k range. Without going too much into specifics, my house lies somewhat above the median of this range.

What I realized is that, as a percentage of my house value, this tax would have dramatically less impact for me than for poorer residents. This is great, as it means I am far more likely to recoup the cost of the tax than they are if the new police officers have some impact on property values.

So, from my own economic perspective, it makes sense to support the tax.

Both of the above arguments are critical to my support for the tax. I categorically oppose taxes for schools and the fire department, because I believe they add little incremental value to my property value.

Paying more for schools, in particular, has proven to be utterly worthless. Oakland remains a complete laughingstock, as the delta between Oakland and Piedmont house values demonstrates.
But paying for cops is significantly more promising. And, as a percentage of house value, this tax costs me relatively little. So, I support it. If you're in the same boat as me, I suggest you support it as well.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Deborah Edgerly's Departure Imminent?

Several people have contacted me asking me to comment on the story circulating that Oakland City Administrator is in hot water over her an incident which took place on June 7 involving her relative. Please click the link to read more about the story.

You may have noticed that bloggers in general are taking great care in discussing this story.

This is for a very good reason. East Bay Conservative's endowment fund is insufficient to defend against legal action, and this seems like this the sort of situation where any untoward comments might bring on litigation.

Obviously, given the facts as presented, the story should be deeply concerning to all Oakland residents. Edgerly is the top non-elected official in the city, and her actions can have significant repercussions.

To be very clear, I urge my readers to read the latest information about this case. I also encourage you to express your viewpoints as openly as you feel comfortable. I am going to limit my comments out of fear of retaliation. I live in Oakland, and it's important I ensure no harm comes to me or my family.

It is commonplace to see commentary in today's society labeling Republicans and the Bush administration as "Fascists." What many Leftists don't know, however, is this commentary slices both directions.

The litigious climate, encouraged at all levels by governmental misdeeds, creates danger for all of us. And, just as bad, it stifles the exercise of free speech.

Never forget that nearly every large urban local government in the country is run by liberal Democrats. In each such case, the conservative voices are largely gagged and ignored.

Fear of lawsuits and other retribution has a powerful chilling effect on free speech. And, it is not solely, or even mostly, a tool of the conservatives.

For now, I shall remain an interested observer in the Edgerly matter. But I will withhold any judgment until clearcut information becomes available.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

CA Income Taxes Too Low For Berkeley Leftist

With the state facing a budget deficit in spite of years and years of record revenue increases, Leftists are predictably searching for new tax dollars to mine. Thursday's Berkeley Daily Planet contained this lovely piece encouraging higher taxes and spending.

One of the most frustrating parts of being a conservative pseudo-journalist in this liberal region is that the local newspapers won't take any time whatsoever to present contrary viewpoints.

Sam Frankel's argument here is, frankly, insane. Frankel argues that the state government should reinstate the full Vehicle License Fee and, far more damaging, raise the top income tax rate to 11 percent and decrease the state mortgage tax deduction.

Frankel's argument sounds like the statements made by the antagonists in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, where they blithely allocate the wealthy citizens' money, under the assumption it will always be there for the taking.

I wonder if many Daily Planet readers have ever stopped to take a look at state income tax rates around the country. If they did so, they might be surprised. This is an issue of sufficient import that I've decided to reproduce the table at the bottom of this blog post.

Please do take a look at the table. What you'll notice is something people like Frankel either want to hide from you, or something they are just too ignorant to find out. California already has the highest income tax rate in the country, and its rates are far higher than any neighboring states, with the exception of Oregon.

Arizona and Colorado charge 4.5 percent, Utah and New Mexico charge around 5 percent. Nevada and Washington charge zero!

It's been well documented that the state of California has chased of millions of middle- and upper-middle-class residents through its ridiculous income tax rates. Frankel argues that an 11 percent tax rate is one wealthy people "can easily afford." But what our friend fails to realize is that they might choose to move in spite of their purported ability to pay the tax.

Each time California raises taxes of any sort, some of our productive citizens leave for other states. I have yet to see a single study which analyzes the effect this phenomenon has on the state budget. As recently as 2006, a proposition introduced a 1 percent surtax on those making more than $1 million per year. What if this tax caused enough people to leave the state that it actually lost the state money? I guess we'll never know whether that was the case.

Leftists make the arrogant assumption that high earners have no choices. This is far from true. The information economy permits people more flexibility than ever before in their choice of where to live. Hence the flood of people leaving California for more tax-friendly states.

What California should be doing is lowering its income tax rate and spending to reduce this outflow. Otherwise, we will end up with more of the same -- more people with their hands out as those with the money disappear across the Sierra Nevada mountains.

So, without further ado, I present a list of states, all of which would be better choices for EBC readers hoping to lower their tax burden.

The Table

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Oakland's Obstructionist Fourth Bore Coalition

I was excited today to read that the City of Oakland has reached an agreement with Caltrans regarding its ridiculous contention that building the fourth bore of the Caldecott tunnel will harm the city. Unfortunately, a lawsuit still obstructs the project -- one brought by a group of ne'er-do-well neighbors putting their provincial interests above those of the entire region.

Some background is in order. The Caldecott Tunnel currently has six traffic lanes, while the rest of highway 24 has 8 lanes. This means that for half of the day the tunnel cuts each side of the freeway in half.

Caltrans cleverly reverses the middle bore twice a day so rush hour gets full use of the tunnel. But this still leaves a reverse-commute pileup of cars. Each morning there is a traffic jam on the Oakland side of the hills, and vice versa for the Orinda side.

This backup does no one any good. It pollutes the area with needless air and noise pollution. It slows traffic and aggravates drivers. Most importantly, it does nothing to limit the amount of rush-hour traffic, since the pileup is in the reverse direction.

Installing the fourth bore will ameliorate these problems without significant harm to either side of the hills. Commuters will still have the same set of incentives they have today to ride Bart. Maybe a few more people will drive to Walnut Creek each morning, and more might drive to San Francisco in the evening. But even this impact seems rather far-fetched.

Enter the "Fourth Bore Coalition," a conglomeration of residents from the East Bay Bicycle Coalition and the North Hills Phoenix Association. The coalition's stated goal is to ensure the project provides a higher quality of life for residents on the west side of the hills.

I actually joined the coalition a couple of years ago, thinking this could be a reasonable way to shape policy. I support the fourth bore, but I would also like to see some additional bike lanes in the area as part of the plan. Boy was that a mistake.

But the coalition is a typical Leftist construct -- radicalized while pretending to be reasonable. It quickly became apparent to me that they had no intention of shaping policy. All they wanted to do was to stop the project or, at a minimum, cause as many problems as possible. Coalition leaders assured me that this was not the case, but I and others of my mindset knew they were lying. We exited and were soon forgotten.

True to form, the coalition demanded Caltrans proceed with a totally unwarranted extra environmental review process, then sued Caltrans.

To make matters worse, dealing directly with coalition leaders, it became clear that the reason they set up this entire artifice is they live right near the west bore entrance of the tunnel. Their real goal is to stop the project so they won't have to deal with the construction noise.

Now, the tunnel has been there since 1937, so it's pretty likely each of them bought their houses knowing full well about its existence. Their predicament reminds me of something my sister said to me a few years ago about Oakland: "If you don't like the school district and the taxes, move!" She was exactly right. I made the choice to live in Oakland.

So, to the leaders of the coalition, stop being crybabies and drop your lawsuit. You chose to live near the tunnel, and it's unreasonable for you to drag everyone else through prolonged traffic gridlock just to suit your provincial concerns. (And this is all ignoring the fact that their position is inherently irrational -- imagine the amount of extra exhaust they inhale because of the traffic jams!)

This case also illustrates an important conservative principle, litigation reform. The only reason these people are willing to file a lawsuit against Caltrans is because they perceive there as being no risk should they lose. We need to pass some sort of reform that makes it so this is not the case.

In the meantime, let's hope they give up soon and we get our fourth bore.

Mandela Foods: Urban Art Gallery?

Regular readers of East Bay Conservative will know how absolutely absurd I find the Mandela Foods Cooperative anti-poverty experiment and its main supporter, City Council member Nancy Nadel. I recently dropped by the site for an update on its status. It would appear its mission has shifted somewhat.

During the runup to the election, Nadel said that the coop just needed more time to get off the ground.That claim is becoming increasingly unbelievable. And, with Nadel's recent reelection, we can all await the coop's inevitable demand for more money.

In any event, the following are two pictures snapped Monday, June 9. The first shows some excellent urban art spraypainted on the coop's window. This is what is so nice about failed urban-renewal projects: the business failure is just the beginning of the show. Now come the taggers, and next we can probably expect to see a drug dealer set up shop in the back.


Speak of the devil. This second picture seems to indicate that they are building a small hiding place in the back of the coop's space. Is this where they'll hide the weed? Only time will tell. For now, the space continues to sit vacant, costing the city economically and in quality of life.


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Why Sullivan Lost

Today I sense a great deal of frustration in East Bay over the failure of several compelling candidates to unseat long-reviled incumbents.

Nowhere is this more clear than in Oakland's 3rd City Council district, where City Council member Nancy Nadel will hold on to her seat in spite of a terrible track record. I thought I'd take a moment to explain to people why Nadel won.

It's simple political science theory, really. This election was an "off" cycle election. The presidential primary took place months ago, and the general election isn't until November. Off cycle elections are well known to produce low turnouts. So, it's totally unsurprising that all it took to win a city council seat in Oakland's third district was a little over 3,000 votes.

Traditional political theory held that low-turnout elections bring out radicals, since they are the only ones willing to investigate the issues without the major media push of a general election. In local elections, however, this is not exactly so.

When a candidate needs only 3,000 votes to win a local election, the process becomes swayed more by those who have a direct vested interest in the election's outcome. I'm speaking, of course, of such groups as public-employee unions, those on the public dole and other "special interest" groups who receive money and favors directly from the government.

You can be certain that in an off election, each and every one of these people will come out and vote. And, each and every one of them will vote for the incumbent who as either provided them or promised them emoluments in the weeks before the election.

That's as against maybe 20% of those uncommitted voters whom the opposition courts. It's really no contest.

I don't specifically know which interest groups turned out for Nadel. I'm aware that the police officers' union endorsed Sullivan, but this is probably moot because few of them live in the district. It would probably require some digging to determine exactly who swung the election -- digging that really isn't worth the effort, from my perspective.

Hopefully this explanation will put to rest the repeated questions about "who were those 3,000" people and the suggestion that those people somehow didn't care about the outcome.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Their votes were a business decision. To them, Nadel equals money. End of story.

There is a solution to this problem, but the liberals among you aren't going to like it.

The solution is less government.

The less money the government has to allocate, the less this kind of thing happens. Money, like power, breeds corruption. There's no way around it.

The more money you give the government, the more you wind up with an entrenched oligarchy which pays off just enough of the population to keep being re-elected.

Sound familiar? Maybe it's time to give this "conservatism" thing a try. Fiscal conservatism anyway.

I for one welcome our new overlord. Welcome back, Ms. Nadel! Many happy returns!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Goodnight, Oakland

They say people get the leaders they deserve.

Today, Oaklanders indicated they see nothing wrong with their leadership. As far as I can tell, all the key incumbents were re-elected. That includes City Council members Jane Brunner and Nancy Nadel -- two candidates with virtually no support among the east bay's blogging elites.

I feel bad tonight for fellow bloggers such as V Smoothe, who spent many hours campaigning on behalf of Sean Sullivan. Not because these candidates lost, but because my fellow bloggers spent so much time on such a fruitless cause.

I understand the urge to compassion and the hope that collective action can harness this human drive to improve the lives of others. This drive led to Prop 98's defeat today, as well-meaning voters kept rent control in place.

Collective action in pursuit of compassion is the heart of liberalism, and also its undoing.

The problem is one of scale. Everyone knows of individuals who have positively impacted the lives of other individuals. Liberal theology contains many such anecdotes -- the poor worker who receives some money and gets a college degree, or the immigrant who finds a cheap apartment and starts a business.

Sadly, such anecdotes are usually the result of certain highly motivated individuals. They are not representative of anything but what one determined person can accomplish.

But liberals like to generalize. "It must be possible," they say, "to create a program which provides these same opportunities to the public at large."

In each and every situation where government has followed this formula, unintended consequences and gaming the system have destroyed the best of intentions. Such is the case with a rent control system that keeps San Francisco pieds-a-terre cheap for our wealthy bretheren. Such is the system which pays teenage mothers in Oakland to have kids, neglect them and ultimately raise murderers.

My friends. My fellow bloggers: Oakland does not want your help. And, largely, those you aim to help do not deserve your time and effort.

Oakland has spoken loud and clear: Oakland does not care about changes in leadership and government. Oakland is fine the way it is. Murders, rapes, carjackings and all.

I know that there is a tendency in the face of such defeat to think such things as, "we fought the good fight; we got our message out."

Let me say this very clearly. By participating in the political process in Oakland, you have wasted your time. You have accomplished absolutely nothing, save providing the government-media machine with a new set of intruders to repel. Our government is a self-healing mechanism, and you have strengthened its immune system for the next election.

No, if you want to make a difference, you must focus on individual action. Assist one person and you have done more than the government can ever hope to achieve.

Start a business. Employ people. Pursue gentrification. These are the things that will improve your surroundings.

Remember that this is not your government. It is their government, and we are all in their crosshairs. So, be selfish and self-reliant. Make decisions to protect yourselves. Be willing to leave if necessary.

Establish a Nevada HQ. I did.

But above all, do not participate in the process. The more you participate, the stronger the process. And we've all seen how that turns out.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Musical Interlude

Nancy Nadel's latest shenanigans got my spirits down. I found the following to lift them up:

Seriously, how can you not love this music.

Nancy Nadel's Solution For West Oakland: Subsistence Farming

Oakland City Councilwoman Nancy Nadel never fails to amaze me with her crackpot ideas. But she's outdone herself today.In a comment posted in response to Sean Sullivan's "food security" writeup, Ms. Nadel suggested that West Oakland's best hope is to "... [work] with .... neighbors to consider a commmunity food garden in a small park."

She also posted a completely inadequate explanation of her ongoing support for the failed Mandela Foods Cooperative experiment. "It is taking longer than we'd hoped as happens when you are learning," she says.

Nancy, I'm not sure you know this, but that learning you describe lies at the heart of capitalism. It's called comparative advantage.

Let's say a group of people decide they're pretty good at setting up stores where people come and buy groceries. For sake of argument, let's say those people organize into a group calling themselves "Fresh N' Easy."

Now, let's say that group of people offer to transfer their collective knowledge to West Oakland in the form of a grocery store. Now, do you:

  • Set up rules to encourage this decision, as it will benefit your constituents, or

  • Reject them, opting instead to find people totally unfamiliar with this line of business and start from scratch

Those who've paid any attention know which one Nadel chose. Basically, she screwed her constituents out of a grocery store, and now she's telling them to go buy some coveralls and grow their own food.

Nadel's response to Sullivan's article only gets more preposterous. She talks about food security. This in a city with simultaneous obesity and murder epidemics. Does she even live in Oakland?

This sort of stuff actually makes me feel sorry for Nadel's constituents in West Oakland. It's not the standard sort of white liberal guilt Nadel has mastered. No, it's true sadness borne out of suffering inflicted by uncaring powers-that-be. All Nadel would have to do for West Oakland to improve is get out of the way of progress. But she won't, and people die.

How does she sleep at night?

Oakland's Election 2008: Who cares?

It's election-endorsement time. Time for this humble blogger to lobby for the votes of my devoted readers.

I say “you” because, as a matter of policy, I do not vote in California. I changed my voter registration to my eastern headquarters in Nevada some time ago. I maintain this other HQ to permit a quick move of residence should California's taxation climate turn as nasty as I think it might.

Like most election cycles, this year we must decide whether to vote based on principle or on what will provide us the most political theater.

It would seem my fellow bloggers have the principled-voting bases covered. So, I'll leave that to them.


What could be better theater than watching our local liberals struggle with the end of rent control? Anyone with a reasonable understanding of economics knows it's a failed policy that randomly redistributes wealth.

You might not realize, however, how much local pain is a direct consequence of rent control. Ever wonder how Oakland's killing fields manage to remain so static and ungentrified?

Ending rent control will not end poverty, but it will permit Oakland to export some of its antisocial element to the surrounding communities. This is not only good for Oakland, but it will provide great theater.

So, I urge a vote for Proposition 98 and against Proposition 99.

Oakland City Council

Every candidate with any chance of winning is a union-loving liberal, so far as I can tell. So, the question comes down to whether to support the incumbent Leftists, or bring in a new set of Leftists.

After thinking about this matter long and hard, I've concluded the right approach is to vote for the most popular non-incumbent candidate in each race. In particular, I urge a vote for Sean Sullivan and Patrick McCullough against Nancy Nadel and Jane Brunner.

I am mindful that it was Nadel who put this blog on the map by engineering the Mandela Foods fiasco. Still, I think she and Brunner have run their course as public self-humiliators, and it's time to let someone else take their places.

I do not actually think Sullivan and McCullough will be able to make any meaningful change in Oakland. Their philosophies are both too rooted in failed Leftist theology. McCullough is a lawyer (we know what that means), and Sullivan works at some sort of non-profit. Not exactly impressive stuff.

But, both are new faces. Both will bring their own set of scandals and foibles for us to enjoy. Neither will make much of a difference, but hopefully neither can stop Oakland's gradual gentrification.

Oakland School Board

Here, your vote is irrelevant. No candidate is willing to do what it takes to improve the situation.

While I'm a big fan of political theater, I would rather not impose it on children.

So, lacking a better candidate, I suggest you vote for me, The Boss.

If elected, I promise to push singlemindedly and singlehandedly for my magnet schools proposal. It will fail, naturally, but at least we can get it some more publicity.