Whatever It Is, I’m Against It

Food for Thought

Your proposition may be good
But let’s have one thing understood—
Whatever it is, I’m against it!

With the approach of every election with state propositions to consider, I start hearing Groucho Marx singing “Whatever it is, I’m Against It” from Horsefeathers in my head. That’s exactly how I feel when I look through the 12 propositions on this year’s ballot. Why are we even being asked to consider most of them? Why are there measures requiring massive public funding in light of the unfathomable public debt we have at present? Why are we being BooneDoggled by billionaires into approving their pet projects for self-enrichment? Why do special interests try and sneak through measures that ordinary people have no way of judging the merits of, or understanding their long-term impact on society?  What business do we have legislating morality on behalf of a few religious nuts based on their fundamentalist distortions of the tenets of Christianity?

The late great comedian George Carlin had a hilarious bit where he deconstructed the Ten Commandments and found that nearly all of them were unnecessary and wondered what the hell they were even doing on the list in the first place. He reduced them to two and added a third: Thou Shalt Keep Thy Religion to Thyself. I think we could do the same with this year’s crop of twelve propositions and add Carlin’s Third Commandment as a thirteenth.

Starting with the religion category, we can eliminate Propositions 4 and 8 right off the bat. These have no business even being on the ballot and are a waste of citizens’ time and money when we have far more important matters to attend to. They contradict rights guaranteed in the US Constitution and they attempt to impose the religious judgment of Christian zealots on the state. I’m against them.

Ultraconservative gazillionaire T. Boone Pickens doesn’t have enough money and power as it is; he wants more and he wants us to pay for it. Other wealthy fat cats are trying the same. Voting no will stop them for now. Propositions 7 and 10 will appropriate more taxpayer money to the rich and replace small entrepreneurs with big corporate business controlled by Pickens and others like him. I’m against them.

Propositions 1, 3 and 12 mandate bonds for special projects. Prop 1 will obligate the state to the tune of $20 billion to create a high-speed 2 ½ hour rail service between Los Angeles and the Bay Area. This is not money well spent. What we should be doing is completely revamping our nationwide rail system with a public/private partnership of some kind that will make rail travel a viable transportation option for the entire country. This is something we should have done 50 years ago instead of dismantling the system to suit the automobile and oil industries. Now we are in the dark ages of public transport compared to Europe and Japan.  Spend the money to improve rail travel for everyone, not just business travelers in a hurry. I’m against it.

Proposition 3 will cost us $2 billion over 30 years to improve children’s hospitals. We won’t need to take this approach with the coming of a national healthcare system. I like children and I want them to have the very best care and facilities in the world, as well as every other citizen. We’ll have that when we have real nationalized universal coverage, which is what we should be putting our energy in to. I’m against it.

Proposition 12 mandates a further $1 billion in bonds for Cal-Vet to loan to veterans to purchase homes. While this is a worthy cause, so is loaning money to people who aren’t vets. Our financial system is in turmoil because of mortgage problems as it is. We need to address those first. Also, the public just paid an enormous sum to bail out banks by being forced to buy shares in them. Let the nationalized banking system loan to vets and others with strict regulation and oversight. I’m against it.

Props 5, 6 and 9 relate to law enforcement and criminal justice programs. These are issues that should be considered by our elected legislators who have time to study all of the different facets of each measure. Most of us have no idea what these measures replace. The average person hasn’t the time or access to legal expertise to make an informed decision. In that case it’s best to do nothing. I’m against them.

We are now down to two Propositions, numbers 2 and 11.

Proposition 11 sets up a public board to redraw electoral districts. I am reading this one very carefully before I make up my mind, probably at the last minute. We need to do something about this issue, but given some of the crazy proposals we have been asked to consider already, I am wary of this one. I don’t know if this is the solution we seek, so unless I am completely convinced by the text of the proposition, it will be a “no” too. At this point it is a “maybe.”

That leaves lonely Proposition 2, where we are being asked to approve new laws that will raise the standards as to how animals are kept on corporate farms. Animals can’t speak up for themselves, so we have to do it for them. The truth is, a great many California factory farms keep animals in appalling conditions that would sicken any normal human being who saw it for themselves. I know it makes me sick. I am voting “yes” for this one.

The score for now: Groucho 10.5, State of California 1.5.

That leaves Carlin’s Third Commandment, our vicarious Proposition 13. To this I give a hearty, resounding “YES.”

NOTE: In the coming week, beginning later today, we will be running a series of pieces on each of the state propositions and many of the local city and county measures. These are a welcome consequence of our relationship with Silicon Valley Metro and the Virtual Valley Network, giving us a whole team of writers to call on for this special purpose. We hope that you will take the opportunity to share your views on all of these. In the meantime, please tell us what you think about the “Groucho” option below.


  1. Although I often disagree violently with Jack’s politics, he’s correct on the concept of when in doubt, vote “no.” I voted “no” on most of the props as well, including #2.

  2. Jack, thanks for your thoughts on the ballot measures but I would like to respectfully ask you to be more sympathetic to the democratic process and to uphold our residents’ rights to present issues to us for voting.

    There are many issues that state legislatures are reluctant to handle, and we need to have the people decide them.

    Guarding our rights of recall, initiative, and referendum is the proper task of the pundit class, not their belittlement, no matter how unusually they play out in the real world.

    If we don’t support democratic principles in the small things, how will we support democratic principles when the really big issues come at us out of the cloud of dust from the economic collapse we may be facing?

  3. Jack,

    Very well said. Thank you for giving us your compassionate thoughts on Prop 2. I am of course supporting Prop 2 for the humane treatment of animals, but also for another very important reason. We must start holding our food providers accountable for the quality of the food they are packaging and selling to us. If animals are raised in filthy conditions it will most certainly affect our health and our children’s health.  I don’t think many people realize the truly horrific conditions in which these animals are kept in, nor do they realize the kinds of drugs and chemicals that are being fed to these animals. If they did, I think being a nation of carnivores would be a thing of the past.

    One last note, I find the amounts of money being shoved into these campaigns to be outrageous. We could feed a small third world country, give proper health care to those badly in need of it, feed millions of families here in the US, and provide a million other badly needed services to citizens all over this country, including but not limited to our American Veterans.

  4. Jack and Hugh—it is simpler than that. If election day comes (I voted yesterday by mail) and you don’t even know what a Proposition is about, then it clearly doesn’t impact your life that much. Vote no.

    Out of the 11 I saw, I probably already knew about and understood 5 of them.

  5. Kathleen: welcome back.

    The $$ spent on Props. here in Califa is dwarfed by the $435 MILLION Obama is spending and the $200 MILLION pledged as “independent expenditures” on his behalf by the AFL-CIO. No wonder he reversed himself after the conventions and disdained public financing.

    Change?  What change?  Same ol’ special interest politicas as usual for this so-called agent for change we need.

    Too bad McCain/Palin is such an awful choice.

    Right now my vote for Prez. goes to “none of the above”.

    Has the Boston Tea Party Redux been scheduled yet?

  6. Dale –

    Initiative/referendum/recall process in this state is a joke. Being “sympathetic” to resident’s “rights” to place poorly crafted, self-interested garbage before the voters is largely why the state is in the mess we are in today.

    “Great” ideas by the people like Prop 98, Prop 13 and the hundreds of constitutional amendments, bonding for special interest projects and those issues that attempt to push someone else’s self-righteous sense of morality onto the public is what got us to this jacked up, deficit spending, economically depressed state of affairs we are in today. 

    We elect legislators and a Governor to handle the business of the state. The idea being that all issues have the opportunity to be properly considered in a forum designed to enable all sides to have their say.  If we don’t like how that process is currently run, or don’t believe the process is working correctly, let’s stop relecting the people who run it and try someone else out for a change. 

    This state, like the entire nation, is facing an economic crisis of monumental size. We face a skyrocketing jobless rate, exponential increases in mortgage foreclosures, and a state budget so out of whack it can’t pay its own bills. Through all this however, what makes the ballot for our consideration is a bunch of new bonds to borrow our way into paying for even more services that we can’t afford, and a proposed law to make sure we take care of some poor chickens on a farm. Being kind and loving to animals getting set for a one way ticket to my BBQ is one of our top priorities right now? Really?

    I’m sorry, but if this is really what the “people” have to offer, I say they are idiots and deserve the no vote they will be getting from me.

  7. Jack – I’ve been humming that same tune myself, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember which Marx Brothers movie it came from … thanks!

  8. The San Francisco Chronicle editorial made much the same point on Sunday—whether you are for or against them, most of these issues should not be on the ballot at all, but should be handled through the normal legislative process.

    The proposition system was introduced to break the hold that the Southern Pacific Railroad had over the legislature. But now it has been taken over by the rich and powerful it was supposed to free us from.

    Having T. Boone Pickens bankroll Prop. 10, which would direct huge sums of money to a certain T. Boone Pickens, is the most outrageous example, but some of the others are not much better.

    Here’s a link to the Chronicle editorial:


  9. #10 – Mark G –

    Well said, sir, bravo!

    For each well meaning ballot proposition that passes there are budget mandates and set-asides.  Each of these budget mandates makes it more difficult for the legislature to do its job and deliver a balanced budget.

    As noble as the initiative/referendum/recall process once was, it has become a ticket for special interests to veil their special interests under the guise of well-meaning legislation.  All the special interests have to do is submit a gut-grabbing headline to hook voter interest and they can pack their initiative with all sorts of self-serving crap.

    Unfortunately, we’re caught in a vicious circle.  If the legislature were doing its job, we wouldn’t need the initiative process to fill in the empty spaces.  Merely voting out the “crooks” won’t work unless we substantially change the way things are done in Sacramento.

    Besides, ask anyone, their elected official isn’t the crook…it’s the other guy in the other district.  Always.

  10. Protecting our democratic rights is worth the cost and hassle of deciding issues according to constitutional provisions. When we give up on these principles, we lose the heart of civilization.

    We mustn’t be afraid of large issues, nor of voting NO.

  11. Dale, I guess that is where we disagree.  I do not believe the general public has any business deciding issues according to constitutional provisions.  The general public has no idea what is in the constitution.  Our nation’s founding fathers were all too keen on the dangers of mob rule, which is why they established a representative democracy (republic).  Today’s average voter is an idiot who votes blindly by party or what they see on tv the moment before they mark their ballot.  Our government was designed to shield us from the whims of public opinion and the misguided ineptness of the average “Joe”.

    You say we should not be afraid of the “large” issue.  I ask what of the 12 props before us qualifies as a “large” issue?  Is regulating how Old MacDonald (not sure if his first name is Joe) runs his farm a “large” issue?  I don’t think so.

  12. Mark, large issues are those not readily eligible for settlement in a legislative context. I served in a state legislature for eight years back in the 60s & 70s so I have some experience with understanding this. Off hand, at least two issues on the ballot this November are of such a nature, the socially-vast implications of marriage rights and the redistricting of legislative seats.

  13. A “large” issue this year is who can get married to whom? That alone is symbolic of how sad our system is these days.

    The question should not be “Can this issue be solved in a legislative context?”, but rather, “Is this really an issue that needs solving at all?”

  14. #13- Mark G. said: “Is regulating how Old MacDonald (not sure if his first name is Joe) runs his farm a “large” issue?  I don’t think so.”
    It is a “large” issue if there is little to no oversight and accountability, on the part of those farmers that are feeding, raising, drugging, and slaughtering the food we eat. Our health and well-being, and that of our children are very much affected by how they run their businesses.