Sunday, November 29, 2009

California Sticks it to the Kids

Last week, the University of California Board of Regents voted to increase student tuition by 32 percent to help close the system’s $535 million budget gap. The ensuing publicity surrounding the protests and demonstrations have been some of the most heated since the Vietnam War. As a current student of a private university in Southern California whose epic tuition continues to skyrocket each year, I initially approached the recent change in circumstances of the school to our west with cynicism and doubt. I still find it unfortunate that for those students who do not qualify for Cal Grants and financial aid, or those who do not have enough money to cover the new increases, that this money will come directly from the savings and loans of students and their families.

But as an unaffected party, I must selfishly admit: I’m kind of glad this is happening.

During one of the now infamous “sit-in” demonstrations, perhaps the demonized administrative officials should begin by encouraging indignant students to simply pick up a newspaper. Newspapers which show the overcrowding of state prisons, the ever-depleting credit ratings of California bonds, dangerous pension liabilities for state employees, and that special gift that will be passed on to California’s Generation Y: terrifying levels of state debt. The 32% tuition hike at UC campuses is just a preview of what’s to come in the next 40 years for those of us born after 1980.

So perhaps this will be the wake up call we politically active Gen Y’ers have been waiting for. About one in four eligible California voters under the age of thirty voted in the 2006 midterm elections. In 2010, another midterm election year, we’ll be electing a new Governor, Senator, and a host of statewide legislators. There has never been a more crucial time for UC students to make their voices heard.

The tuition hike will drive out many working class families from being able to afford the quality public education that was promised to California. This is a serious problem for current and future students from working and middle class backgrounds. But in the grand scheme of public decisions on who is to carry the state’s debt, this was probably Plan Z.

Some advice to my fellow sufferers of student debt: protests get you nowhere. Civilized civic participation – in large numbers – is the only way the state will take you seriously. Outbursts get you tasered; it’s votes that get your money back. The 26th Amendment was designed for just this purpose – allowing college-aged students to vote their way out of Vietnam. In November 2010, prove to the state that you’re worthy of your already underpriced education and your right to vote at age 18. Tell the state to pick on someone its own size; leave them kids alone.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

I Can See California From My House!

Love her or hate her: Sarah Palin has re-written the book on female candidacy. During her ten-week campaign spotlight, her candidacy peaked and plunged amid a seemingly relentless throng of dissenters. Her new book, Going Rogue: An American Life, and the resulting media blitz, will – like it or not – be the nagging undertone of the 2010 election in this state.

Palin’s book tour is a blessing for Democrats. Palin has effectively stolen the thunder away from the Republican spin machine and directed the spotlight on questions about her personal prospects. On the national scene, Palin’s melodic pitch seems to be much preferred by the conservative base than the rhythmic banging of heads against the wall of Congress as the healthcare bill faces its destiny. The once bread-and-butter Republican issues in the state, such as pork-filled legislation or the soaring costs of just about everything, are being sucked up by the momentum of a hockey mom gone rogue.

Less than a third of Americans think Palin would make a good president. Yet, during the Palin interview, the Oprah Winfrey show saw its best ratings in over two years. But if Palin truly wanted to make a difference without a title, as she proudly proclaimed in Monday’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, she would have a field day in California.

Candidates Carly Fiorina (Republican candidate for Senate) and Meg Whitman (Republican candidate for Governor) seem unsettled in their stances on Palin. Fiorina, while openly admitting that she hadn’t yet read Palin’s book, came to the defense of the former Vice Presidential candidate during an interview where Fiornia rebuffed the McCain campaign as “sexist.” Meanwhile, Whitman has been dodging Palin questions like the plague.

By endorsing one or both of the two candidates, Palin could help define the women themselves as a steadfast Republicans. Democrats in Boxer’s camp hope that Palin endorses Fiornia rival Chuck DeVore, who has thus far branded himself as the more conservative of the two. For Fiorina, a Palin endorsement solidify her conservative messaging in spite of rival Chuck DeVore’s casting of doubts.

Palin could also be of help to Whitman by solidifying her march against “career politicans,” an axe that was swung in Jerry Brown’s direction earlier this week. Although her poll numbers and finance coffers remain high, a high-profile tour on Whitman’s campaign could be just the shot in the arm she needs.

For both Fiorina and Whitman, Sarah Palin’s endorsement would mean an instantaneous spotlight. It would give Democrats a free pass, and shift the conversation away from the tough decisions to be made in the coming weeks.

But let’s not forget that just four years ago, the public perception of a certain sitting President was similarly low in public opinion polls. Palin will certainly capitalize on history (or herstory, shall we say). So for the sake of the Democrats, keep the Palin momentum alive. Just try not to elect her President.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Puff, Puff, Pass: Another Win for Weed

Former President Jimmy Carter once remarked, “Whatever starts in California, unfortunately has an inclination to spread.” For better or worse, President Carter’s words have rang especially true in recent days as Maine became the fifth state to follow California’s lead in approving the use of medical marijuana. Dozens of other states and municipalities have approved reduced fines or sentencing periods for marijuana related offenses. Political opponents of legalization point to California – most notably Los Angeles County – as proof that regulated cannabis outlets and relaxation of marijuana penalties are bad policies. As the County climbs to the number 5 spot in the state with more than 340,000 marijuana plants uprooted this year, and exponentially more marijuana dispensaries than any other city, I must ask the question that no self-respecting, blue-state twenty-four year old dares ponder: have Californians begun to overindulge?

Officials say that the increase in seizures can be largely attributed to Mexican drug cartels that have sought a location north of the border, but still in close proximity to their market. Smugglers on a north-south commute find the path of least resistance in Southern California. The notorious “Emerald Triangle” of Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity Counties has been a traditional safe haven for recreational and occupational growers alike. But an increased presence from law enforcement entities, especially the California Highway Patrol and area US Border Patrol agencies, have shifted operations to a cultivated and secluded 8-mile stretch of Angeles Crest Highway in North LA County, where about 150,000 plants were recently uncovered and destroyed.

As the number of seizures continues to climb, it undoubtedly spells trouble for many local medical marijuana dispensaries. Almost 1000 such dispensaries have found a home in Los Angeles since 2002. Last month, LA County District Attorney Steve Cooley and City Attorney Carmen Trutanich announced intentions to prosecute any distributor of marijuana that does so for a profit, and warned Los Angeles city dispensaries to prepare for eventual raids. These efforts were widely seen as a tactic to sway City Council members into adopting stricter laws against dispensaries and to ultimately discourage further proliferation throughout the city.

While the city and state attempt to conquer massive fiscal crises, perhaps our precious little resources should be directed elsewhere. It is estimated that between 150,000 and 300,000 Californians possess medically-sanctioned cannabis cards. A 2005 Australian economic study found that in the late 1990s, taxation of alcohol and tobacco consumption in Australia generated approximately $700 per capita. If marijuana were legalized and subject to taxation, the tax collections would increase by roughly $95 per capita, or 14 percent. Here in California, marijuana dispensaries pay between 7-9% in sales tax, depending on the city. If the state were to legalize the distribution and consumption of marijuana and regulate its taxation, the state could bring in $1.3 billion every year, according to the state Board of Equalization.

California Assembly Bill 390 suggests just that. Written and sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco, the Bill was introduced in February of 2009 and delayed until early 2010 (according to pro-legalization activists NORML, the Bill is being delayed in order to secure statewide support).

Clearly, any movement in the way of legalization requires a great deal of personal responsibility falling on the shoulders of the stoned. Before Californians can see the billions of tax revenue and marijuana users breathe their smoke-filled sighs of relief, there must be proof that little-to-no harm is being done under current circumstances.

So what can readers of this site do to ensure a pay-day for the state and harmony for stoners? Prove Jimmy Carter wrong, and make the “inclination to spread” a good thing after all.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Back to Basics

On Friday, October 30, in the dressing room of a costume store, I learned from my trusty Blackberry that San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom was no longer a candidate in the Democratic race for Governor. Despite Newsom’s charm and charisma, policy knowledge, and robust inventory of high-profile supporters, Mayor Newsom found himself behind Attorney General Jerry Brown by 8-to-1 in campaign cash and 20 points in the polls. On Friday, Newsom stated publicly, “With a young family and responsibilities at City Hall, I have found it impossible to commit the time required to complete this effort the way it needs to — and should be — done.”

The graveyard of the Newsom campaign is littered with cautionary tales. From the numerous columns, blogs, and “insider reports” that I’ve taken in on the subject, the more I believe that the Newsom campaign’s failure to launch has major implications for the future of political campaigning.

Newsom’s main strategy largely mirrored the ideology of Howard Dean’s presidential campaign in 2004. Dean, on the advice of strategist Joe Trippi, became legendary for his ability to reach out to young and low-dollar progressive supporters via the communication tools of the internet, and relied heavily on the ability of the progressive, green, and gay movements to contribute financial support.

We all know how that turned out.

Similarly, Newsom invested a large portion of his resources toward a cutting-edge internet campaign, utilizing Facebook, Twitter, and the blogosphere. However, this was no substitute for a grassroots, face-to-face operation that involved real – not virtual – solicitation of support. According to one insider, Newsom would make endless excuses for blowing off scheduled time for fundraising solicitation calls. In an attempt to suppress the frequent attacks of “Political Attention Deficit Disorder,” his campaign staff arranged for an office across the street from City Hall and an endless series of reminders and subtle persuasions in that direction. Insiders report that Newsom, despite the diligent pleas of campaign staff, could not be made to make the phone calls — even in the car during drive time — for a senator’s birthday or a labor leader’s new baby or whatever political urgency needed attention at any given moment.

“I have found it impossible to commit the time required to complete this effort the way it needs to – and should be – done.”

So how “should” it be done? The “grassroots fundraising” technique that failed Dean received a major face-lift from the Obama campaign; some even dedicate the victory over Hillary Clinton in the primaries to Obama’s unique ability to take internet campaigning to a new level. But the cautionary tale of the once-was Newsom campaign warns campaigners of the digital age not to forget the basics.

Just days before his official withdrawal from the race, Newsom stated, “If the entire campaign is just who raises more money, than we shouldn’t do anything except just sit on the phone and dial for dollars.” The moral of the story here is that although the tools of the internet allow for large-scale involvement of a wider audience, there is no substitute for the face-to-face, voice-to-voice interaction between candidate and voter that has epitomized the spirit of successful and inspirational campaigns of days past.