Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

Category: Reader Opinion

How Congress can save Social Security [The reply]

Social Security

Several readers have commented in recent days on the proposal to eliminate or raise the payroll cap as one means of assuring the long-term viability of Social Security. After my Op-Ed, "The golden trade-off," was put to bed, I came across an especially relevant comment from an especially relevant source, the Congressional Research Service, or CRS. 

The service has operated for nearly a century as a bipartisan helpmate for the House and the Senate. In September 2010, the CRS filed a report examining one of the specific issues posed in "The golden trade-off," i.e., what would be the fiscal impact if Congress in fact raised or eliminated the cap. Here is the bottom-line essence of the CRS report:

"Raising or eliminating the cap on wages that are subject to taxes could reduce the long-range deficit in the Social Security Trust Funds. For example, if the maximum taxable earnings amount had been raised in 2005 from $90,000 to $150,000 -- roughly the level needed to cover 90% of all earnings -- it would have eliminated roughly 40% of the long-range shortfall in Social Security. If all earnings were subject to the payroll tax, but the [taxable] base was retained for benefit calculations, the Social Security Trust Funds would remain solvent for the next 75 years…"  (My italics)

In other words, eliminating the cap on wages would place the Social Security system on firm ground for the next 75 years. In return, the benefits paid to high earners would no longer be capped; their taxes would rise, but so too would their benefits.

All of which gives an upcoming Congress the opportunity to achieve a stunning solution to a vexing political problem.

As a related aside, I'd like to respond specifically to commenter limitgovt. You state: "Since the benefits received under these programs are fixed and not adjusted for income, the tax is already extremely progressive when compared to benefits received." The CRS proposal would remove the inequity cited in the first part of your comment. As for the second part, allow me to disagree. It's true that the benefits paid by Social Security are progressive, i.e., lower-income workers receive relatively more in benefits compared to their contributions. It's equally true that the payroll tax itself is inherently regressive, and will likely be paid for decades before a single dollar in benefits is received. Fact: Social Security is progressive on the back end, but it's highly regressive on the front end.

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Roth IRAs: A real 'fiscal Frankenstein'

Reorganizing government out of the subsidy business

--Gerald E. Scorse

Illustration by Paul Tong / Tribune Media Services

Rick Santorum's 'verbal ooze' inspires new adjective [Most commented]

Rick Santorum
"[Rick] Santorum's near-victory in the Iowa caucuses last week raised the volume on some of his more paranoid kvetchings about the moral breakdown of society -- gay marriage being a slippery slope to marrying your pet, "Christendom" being under attack, birth control being "not OK" even for married couples, writes Meghan Daum in this week's column about Santorum, the "weird, pious wackadoo" running for the Republican presidential nomination.  She continues:

Sure, the wind that Iowa put beneath Santorum's wings was roundly knocked out from under him in New Hampshire. But the fact that pundits spent the preceding week pretending to take seriously the notion that Santorum could end up as the nominee shows the degree to which the Christian right has taken on an almost mythic quality in GOP politics.

Here's a sampling of comments from our discussion board.

New word: Santorumonious

WORD FOR THE DAY

Santorumonious -- maintaining an extreme and unreasonable belief in the piety or righteousness of one's own actions or opinions, despite clear evidence to the contrary.

--HiVeloCT

Santorum doesn't speak for all Christians

Implying that Santorum speaks for all Christians is like saying that Al Sharpton speaks for all African Americans. It is offensive and just plain wrong. There is a tiny fraction of Christians to whom Santorum appeals, and yes, they vote.

Most Christians are not wackadoos, thank you very much. We are well-educated and came to our beliefs after much study and life experience. We are tolerant of other belief systems but are vocal in defending what we believe to be justice and fairness, particularly when it comes to children and the family. We are deeply protective of the innocence of children and the defenseless unborn. We promote and practice adoption as an option to abortion in unplanned pregnancies. We promote contraception but prefer abstinence in the case of unmarried people.

Frankly, we are tired of the vocal minority getting so much media attention when so many of us are working daily in the trenches of reality at our churches and in community organizations with people, feeding them, finding them homes, helping single moms, mentoring youth, and providing alternatives for pregnant women on a daily basis. The media ignores the day-in, day-out charitable work of Christian organizations because it doesn't serve their agenda of screaming-meemie crazy people with picket signs. So we quietly continue to do what we do and know that what we do serves people where they need it most.

--califmom

Santorum's verbal ooze

It would give me some pleasure to see Mr. Santorum deprived of some of his supposedly righteous ammunition against liberal causes. One of the "jewels" in Santorum's thinking concerns the meaning and purpose of marriage. It seems to me, if we were just to "unhitch" marriage from religion, arguments over it would gradually begin to disappear. Perhaps I touched a nerve, but I cannot see the connection between these two. One is a philosophy, the other is a practical arrangement invented by our society with nothing "philosophical" intended.

Over many years, I have seen Mr. Santorum spill his verbal ooze in the House Chamber. His outlandish revelations of the "truth" as he sees it have caused many a Congressman, and no doubt not just a few TV viewers to gently nod off into sweet dreams. The reason why I avoid mentioning specific Santorum rantings is the same as Darwin's unwillingness to arbitrate "Evolution;" it is totally pointless and it fits the remark: "My mind is made up; don't confuse me with facts."

--ragmaniac

*For clarity purposes, spelling errors in the above comments have been corrected.

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Santorum's defense of bigotry fails on all counts

Santorum: Full of surprises from the beginning

Santorum, Gingrich fail to cut Romney down to size

--Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum speaks to supporters during a campaign stop at the Springdale House and Gardens this week in Columbia, S.C. Credit: Mark Wilson / Getty Images

California can't afford the bullet train [Most commented]

Bullet Train
Dump California's bullet train. At least, that's the overwhelming sentiment among readers who've been responding to the board's most recent editorial, "Keep California's bullet train on track." The board wrote:

The project is unquestionably risky, far more expensive than voters were told it would be when they approved nearly $10 billion in bonds to build it in 2008, and unlikely to be finished until years later than promoters had suggested. Polls show that the public is turning against it, and if new information emerges forecasting more serious troubles, even we might be persuaded to dump it. But we're not there yet, especially because the latest report, from the California High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group, doesn't tell us anything we didn't already know.

Here's what readers are saying.

The state cannot afford it

This is the biggest boondoggle in CA history and should be permanently shelved.  The voters were fed a lot of baloney when the first "guestimates" came out and it turns out, as is typical of these projects, that the ridership was vastly overstated and the costs vastly understated.  The state simply cannot afford the luxury of building a high speed rail network no one uses and be stuck with billions a year in debt.  This is a virtual image of all the "city financed football stadiums" that plague the countryside with massive debts.  The very instant the pols and unions get involved, costs just triple every six months.  Brown would be nuts to allow this junk project to see the light of day.

--beecnul8r

Too much to pay for nostalgia  

This utter waste of taxpayer money can never compete with the airlines.  There is a fast Amtrak train between DC and NYC, yet the airlines fly full.  Who is going to spend 2 hrs and 40 min on a train when an airliner makes the trip in 1 hour and can take you to San Jose, Oakland or San Francisco?  It sounds like a wonderful nostalgic thing to ride the train but passenger trains are on the way out.  

--byron.m.allen

Simple economics

It's really simple. Let's say these billions and billions are spent for this boondoggle. Right now you can fly Southwest between L.A. and SF or Sacramento for $200 round trip. It takes an hour each way. Will this train, which will take several hours for the same trip be considerably less than flying? $100 round trip? $75? If the answer is no, it shouldn't be built. Also, what if you want to take a family to SF? Even if it's $100 round-trip. That's $400 for four people. So I can pay $400 to take a train that takes 3 or so hours OR, pay 1/4 the price and drive and it only takes a few hours more.

As can be seen, all it takes is someone with a basic understanding of economics to realize what folly this project is. For some reason the millions being spent by the state and consultants to study this for some reason fail to come to the same conclusion. Oh wait, it's not their money, it's the taxpayers. There's your reason folks.

--thomas35

Kill the train

This is another Government boondoggle. The costs we were sold on originally have skyrocketed way over budget. No one will ride it for what the price of a ticket would have to be. Please just kill it now. We have an enormous budget deficit. We need to quit spending, not building trains to nowhere that no one will ride. Kill it now!

--danceswithtrees

Send the bill to the fiscal fools

The Times writers and editorial staff remain consistent.  Throw billions of debt at every political issue.  There is not one high speed rail that makes a dime on earth.  The estimated $93 billion for this fiscal nightmare is just a start.  That does not even include employees, pay, benefits, infrastructure, or maintance.  There are no estimated annual costs for actual "operation."

Fiscal fools should be sent the bill if they want this.  There is no free lunch.

--tommythek50

A better way to spend the money

Do we really need yet another public project that is way over cost, will take way longer to complete than planned, and will never make money?  I work in infrastructure and believe me, that money would be much better spent rebuilding our crumbling cities.

--mr.incredible

Scrap the train; build more airports

You promoters of the bullet train are a bunch of delusional knuckleheads. Not one passenger train system IN THE WORLD can exist without being heavily subsidized by government money. In Europe the passenger trains ONLY carry 6% of the population! The train system in America, AmTrak, is subsidized by the federal government and still loses money! 

If I want to go from Southern California to San Francisco, I can hop on a plane and be there in less than an hour and for less money than it would cost to go by the proposed bullet train.
Trains are 18th Century technology. If people want to get from point A to point B fast, just build more airports!

--Lion Heart

*For clarity purposes, spelling errors in the above comments have been corrected.

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Timeline: California high-speed rail project

California's bullet train: Boondoggle or boon?

Blowback: Mend, don't end, California's bullet-train program

--Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: California High-Speed Rail Authority artist's rendering of a high-speed train speeding along the California coast. Credit: California High Speed Rail Authority / Associated Press

Prop. 13 and the issue of Amador Valley [The reply]

Prop13
My most recent column, which asks why Prop. 13 should be sacrosanct, drew many comments, including this one from "jackjack5."

Two weeks ago, Jim Newton wrote an article “about a lawsuit working its way through the state courts that poses a novel and fundamental challenge to Proposition 13, the tax initiative approved by California voters in 1978. According to the lawsuit, brought by former UCLA Chancellor Charles Young — represented by William A. Norris — Proposition 13's imposition of a two-thirds requirement for the Legislature to approve any tax increase may have so altered the arrangements of California government that it constitutes a revision of the Constitution rather than a mere amendment.”

Newton wrote that it was a novel approach. The problem is that it wasn’t novel at all. In fact, the issue was decided by the California Supreme Court in the 1979 case of Amador Valley Joint Union High Sch. Dist. v. State Bd. of Equalization in which the Court specifically found that Prop. 13 was an amendment and not a revision. So it is stare decisis and the Supreme Court is not going back to change its mind.

As a City Attorney who was very involved in Prop. 13 litigation I can provide a history.

What bothers me is that after Newton’s original article appeared, I wrote a short letter to The Times with a copy to Newton, pointing out this major error in his article but The Times chose not to publish the letter nor did Newton correct it in his latest article. Things must have changed since I studied journalism.

Here is my reply.

JackJack5 raises two points in his post: that Amador Valley resolved the question of whether Prop. 13 was a revision or an amendment and that I ignored his earlier post alleging that I’d committed a “major error” by not responding to his assertion that Amador Valley thus settled the question. Let me take one at a time:

First, the court in Amador Valley did find that Prop. 13 was an amendment, but it did not reach the argument that the plaintiffs in the new litigation have raised. In Amador Valley, the court considered arguments that the limits on property taxes imposed by the proposition altered the relationship between state and local governments and eroded “home rule” through its cap on property taxes. The court found that those relationships were not sufficiently affected to make Prop. 13 a revision but rather that it was properly considered an amendment. That’s important because if Prop. 13 were a revision, it would not have been valid -- revisions require the approval of the Legislature, not just the people.

But the court did not rule on another aspect of Prop. 13 -- its requirement that all other future taxes receive the approval of two-thirds of the Legislature, rather than a simple majority. That’s the issue in the current case, and the court has never directly spoken on it. The plaintiffs believe they thus have a new claim despite Amador Valley. JackJack5 may not agree with that claim, but it is, as I reported, novel and interesting, and full of profound implications. It’s worth noting, by the way, that the lawyer in the current case, William A. Norris, also was the lead lawyer in Amador Valley, so he knows something of this history, too.

As to the notion that I ignored the complaint about the column, that’s not just false but provably so. I filed this reply on our website, in which I addressed these issues, and I included this sentence in the follow-up column, which refers to Amador Valley, though not by name: “In 1978, the court declared the proposition an amendment, not a revision, but it did not address the two-thirds requirement in the Legislature, so that question remains open.”

Again, JackJack5 is free to read the case differently, but there’s an open question, and this lawsuit is exploring it. It seems to me that’s an important subject for Californians to think about; that’s why I’ve made it the subject of two columns and intend to return to it again. 

RELATED:

Newton: Could Prop. 13 fall?

Debunking the Prop. 13 debunkers

Proposition 13 lawsuit: Farce or threat?

-- Jim Newton

Photo: Howard Jarvis, chief sponsor of Proposition 13, signals victory as he casts his own vote at the Fairfax-Melrose precinct on June 6, 1978. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Should the crosses at Camp Pendleton come down? [Most commented]

Cross Camp Pendleton
The crosses at Camp Pendleton erected to memorialize fallen Marines are a sensitive issue. On the one hand, the religious symbols are a way to honor people who scarified their lives for our country. On the other, there's the constitutional issue of separation of church and state.

The editorial board weighs in on this issue in Wednesday's pages, putting it bluntly:

The military, like any other government agency, cannot allow people to install large religious symbols wherever they want on public property. Once in place for any length of time, those symbols (and usually that means a cross) tend to be seen as established markers, and proposals to remove them are wrongly viewed as anti-religion and, specifically, anti-Christian.

But the board also offers a compromise:

One course of action that would allow the new crosses to remain would be to invite Marines of other religious beliefs to add their own symbols to the hill. That would ensure the separation of church and state while also being sensitive to the sense of loss suffered by those in the armed services. It would create a place where all people in uniform can remember the sacrifices made by so many.

The majority of readers debating on our discussion board are less flexible. In between commenters calling The Times a communist newspaper and The L.A. Slimes, there are passionate arguments that share a range of perspectives. Some respond directly to the editorial, while others are responding to the debate generally. Here's a selection of comments.

A note from a Marine

You know, I hear a lot of whining and complaining from outsiders who will never see this memorial on the base. We Marines fight to protect American freedoms -- which includes the freedom of religion. You decry these individuals who have gone out on their own time with their own resources to honor the fallen in their own way. Instead of complaining, then step up to establish other memorials, but do not ask others to conform to your views. I and my brother/sister Marines fight to protect the rights of ALL Americans, not just a vocal minority that want it all their own way instead of learning how to live with others and respect the fact that there are many divergent views in this country.

-- an old Marine

The casualties overwhelmingly borne by Christians

The casualties in these latest wars are overwhelmingly being borne by Christians -- active or nominal. The Jewish weekly 'Forward' did a profile of all the Jewish casualties they could find, there were something like 35 -- less than three quarters of one percent of casualties.  I suspect similar figures for Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans, etc. If there are to be other religions represented, then the proportionality of casualties should be represented also.

--JohnDrakeSloat

Soldiers' rights

Since when do soldiers have the right to set up personal monuments on military bases?  It seems to me that it is more of a military discipline issue than a Constitutional issue ...

-- Songquo

A mission to destroy our Constitutional government

God please save us from Christians. They will not rest until they destroy our Constitutional government and replace it with a religious-fascist state.

--GaryRath

In favor of equal access

I don't recall anything in the Constitution that specifically addresses such things as Miranda rights, bi-racial marriage or segregation in the schools, but every one of these were Constitutional issues that were decide by the Supreme Court.

But personally, I say just allow others to erect memorials using their respective religious symbols and presto; equal access and no Constitutional issue!

-- HiVeloCT

*For clarity purposes, spelling errors in the above comments have been corrected.

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Camp Pendleton's other big cross

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--Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Scott Radetski, 49, a retired Navy chaplain, staff Sgt. Justin Rettenberger, 31, and gunnery Sgt. Josue Magana, 32, both Marines, erect a cross on top of a mountain on Veterans Day that overlooks both the Pacific Ocean and the Marine Corps base at Camp Pendleton. Credit: Los Angeles Times

2011's top 10 political stories, as chosen by our readers

Weiner
When the editorial board started working on our top 10 list of the year's biggest political stories, which appears on Friday's editorial page, we asked readers to come up with their own nominees. Their responses, most of which appeared on our Facebook page, in some cases agreed with ours: the Arab Spring, the Occupy Wall Street movement and the European debt crisis all turned up on reader lists, just as they do on our own. Here are some others that either we didn't think of, chose not to include or    wouldn't dare touch in a family newspaper. Some spelling and punctuation has been corrected.

"Anthony Weiner's weiner." -- George Olivos

"How about the nationwide voter suppression going on all over the U.S. by Republican-controlled state governments designed to keep minorities and college kids from voting since they tend to vote liberal. If you can't win the election, try and rig it in your favor." -- Kevin Duval

"The rising Latino electoral influence and the backlash against anti-Latino rhetoric." -- Carlos Galindo-Elvira

"A Congress that doesn't work." -- Anthony Sionni

"Gov. Scott Walker, Wisconsin -- saved Wisconsin, property taxes went down -- thank you, governor, just named Governor of the Year!" -- Janness Abraham

"The L.A. City Council helping to bankrupt the city by getting rid of huge tax-generating sources like pot dispensaries and super graphics." -- Wes Adams

"The exit of U.S. troops from Iraq." -- Iris Hicks

"The 'Corporations are People' Supreme Court decision. Terrible, lasting implications." -- Trudi Devine

"The U.S. continues to ignore global warming and other major energy and pollution problems. Since this blindness on the part of the world's super power is pushing us closer toward sliding into the abyss, I would say that is up there in importance." -- Melanie MacQueen

"The extinction of the moderate Republican." -- Sharon Stuart McRee

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Photos:Ted Rall's 10 most popular cartoons of 2011

-- Dan Turner

Photo: Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) at a June news conference. Credit: Jin Lee / Bloomberg

Porn in the library: Censorship vs. decency

Library
The Times' editorial board has been pondering the availability of pornography in the library, an issue that catches the public's eye every few months when one of the porn viewers misbehaves, or parents find it's hard for their children to browse the stacks without catching on eyeful. Most recently, it was the November arrest of a homeless man in the Laguna Beach library for allegedly fonding himself while viewing porn, with a crowd of seven other men around him. It's the advent of the Internet, of course, that creates this new scene in the library. Some parents in the town are now calling for the porn sites to be blocked.

Editorial writers and editors were as bothered as anyone else by the thought that an institution we revere as much as the public library -- remember that most journalists grew up with their noses in books -- was being used to view lurid photos. It was pointed out that, although librarians hotly defend against censorship of any kind, nonetheless they make value judgments all the time about what sort of materials should be available in libraries, by purchasing news and home magazines rather than nudie publications. On the Internet, though, porn is, like most things, free. Keeping it away from patrons involves an active step, just as it takes an active -- and costly -- step of purchasing pornography in print to make it available.

"Lady Chatterley's Lover" was once considered pornography, not just unsuitable for a library but illegal to sell in some countries a little more than half a century ago. Banning materials from the library because the majority of people find them distasteful is a dicey step. What might the majority find unsuitable next? Something that you want to read, perhaps? Yet all patrons to the library should be able to search for books and videos without patently offensive material shining across the room at them.

Whose rights matter more? 

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--Karin Klein

Photo: Camarillo Public Library. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Medicare: Saving it is the only option [Most commented]

Medicare-Death-Panel
Medicare needs a makeover before it implodes, and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) may have just devised a way. If, of course, you're willing to make some concessions.

The unlikely pair, as Wednesday's editorial puts it, have come up with a "bold and politically risky plan that could help slow the rate of growth of premiums and bring more innovation to the health insurance market without dismantling one of the federal government's most popular programs."

Though the plan doesn't dismantle Medicare, it throws in some curveballs. In allowing seniors the option of buying their own insurance, similar to "Obamacare," for example, the Wyden-Ryan plan would create a more competitive marketplace for health insurance. Says the editorial board:

Why bother providing a private alternative, if Medicare works? Because its costs are growing unsustainably. It's already one of Washington's costliest programs, and its burgeoning demand for dollars is draining resources from other priorities. It can't survive on its current trajectory. Although the healthcare reform law took numerous steps to rein in Medicare, including a cap on its budget that increases only slightly faster than the economy grows, it didn't do enough to eliminate the incentives in the system to demand too much care and charge too much for it.

"The proposal isn't a silver bullet," the board writes. But, they continue: "The fact is, the country can't afford Medicare as we know it today, and last year's healthcare reform law started the process of changing it. The Wyden-Ryan plan is a promising addition to that effort."

Readers take a different view, at least those who are writing up rebuttals on our discussion board. Here are a few of their arguments.

Medicare -- with no adjustments -- for all

A few years ago, the Los Angeles Times published an article by Jaime Court entitled "Medicare for All." Following Court's advice and allowing everyone to enroll in Medicare would be the best way to save Medicare.

In addition, Medicare could be allowed to bid for proper pharmaceuticals. We could also attack the causes of Medicare expenses, such as sugary soft drinks, red meat and environmental pollution. Red meat is a known carcinogen; sugary soft drinks cause diabetes; and we permit all sorts of corporations to dump highly toxic chemicals into our air and water.

Your editorial failed to mention who is paying for Wyden's and Ryan's campaign bills -- pharmaceutical companies and for-profit health insurance companies.

Ryan's plan is nothing but a ripoff. We need to save Medicare as we know it rather than end it.

-- mnyegele

Are the elderly capable of negotiating with insurance companies?

Articles such as this should give lie to the concept of a liberal press. There simply isn't any major city newspaper that supports positions that were mainstream within the Democratic Party just a few years ago and are still mainstream with the American voters. 

The reality is that people's mental health declines as they age. Anyone who has worked with the elderly will tell you that a very large percentage of the elderly are simply incapable of negotiating with insurance companies. Free markets only work when both the consumer and the seller are able to act in their interest.

An insurance market whose primary customers are the elderly will quickly become dominated by the interest of the insurers. In a very really sense this is worse than simply reducing Medicare benefits. Because the insurance providers will not be interested in reducing the cost of the program to the taxpayers, but rather simply in capturing more of the tax money spent on Medicare, quickly the insurance companies will become a lobby for more and more Medicare spending, less and less of which will be spent on patients.

Even if this dynamic did not come to pass, healthcare is not a traditional market. HMOs started to fail to contain costs not because of customer complaints or the movie As Good As it Gets but because the hospitals consolidated to control the market. 

--robert.lee.hotchkiss

A conspiracy theory about Ryan

I don't know what Wyden thinks he's going to get from this, but Ryan DOES want to end Medicare, and this is his first step.

A *serious* effort to reduce Medicare costs would include negotiating drug prices, re-importing drugs that have been exported from the US, and putting controls on insurance companies (on both prices and profits). A national plan that included everyone would help. (So would single payer.) You'll notice that NONE of those are being proposed.

--pj.evans88

A better plan

This editorial seems to back up its approval of Wyden/Ryan with a balanced view of its strengths and weaknesses.  However, its dependence on the current Healthcare Reform Act makes it a risky bet in the unfortunate event of a Republican November upset. If the Republicans get control of all three branches, they will favor corporate interests, ensuring that Big Insurance and Big Pharma will prosper at the expense of the public.  I would rather see a more comprehensive effort to improve healthcare for everyone, not just seniors. Although it is true that seniors run up big end-of-life medical bills, many costs could be reduced through a system based on lifetime health promotion and access to preventive care for all -- rich and poor alike.

--stephesthe

*For clarity purposes, spelling errors in the above comments have been corrected.

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A message to 'Obamacare' haters [The Reply]

Photos: Ted Rall's 10 most popular cartoons of 2011

--Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Protesters are seen on April 26 outside Gateway Technical College in Kenosha, Wis., where Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) was speaking. Credit: Jeffrey Phelps / Associated Press

Proposition 13 lawsuit: Farce or threat? [The reply]

Prop. 13
Well, I guess it's no great surprise to discover that Californians still care deeply about Proposition 13. My column this week, about a lawsuit that challenges the 33-year-old measure, touched off hundreds of angry emails, many from property owners who worried that if the challenge were successful, they could be forced back to the days when rising values and rising taxes threatened to push some owners from their homes.

Sifting through the name-calling -- surely it's possible for people to disagree about the effects of Proposition 13 and the merits of the legal case against it without calling each other "morons," "dimwits" or "self-righteous, sanctimonious moonbats" -- the basic lines of response were two: Those who think the legal challenge is a farce, and those who worry that it might be for real.

In the farce category, a number of readers argued that the Supreme Court already has ruled on the issue at the center of this case, the question of whether Proposition 13 was an amendment to the California Constitution, which merely requires a vote of the people, or whether it in fact amounted to a revision, in which case it would have needed the support of the Legislature as well. Because the Legislature did not approve Proposition 13, if it really was a revision, then all or part of it might be legally invalid. Some readers pointed to a 1978 case in which the court did address the issue, ruling that Proposition 13 was an amendment and thus valid. But the case that readers cited, Amador Valley Joint Union High School District vs. State Board of Equalization (1978), confronted a challenge to Proposition 13 in terms of its reach in rolling back property taxes and its alleged alteration of the balance of power between local governments and Sacramento. The court concluded that Proposition 13 did not so alter those relationships that it would destroy "home rule," and it found that even though local governments would have a harder time raising taxes in the future, they still could if they could persuade voters to go along. Thus, viewed through those arguments, the court concluded that Proposition 13 was an amendment, not a revision.

The new case raises different issues, however. It does not contest Proposition 13's ability to restrain property taxes but rather says that another provision of the initiative, the one requiring any new taxes approved by the Legislature to receive a two-thirds majority of the Assembly and state Senate, so fundamentally alters the work of the Legislature that it should be classified as a revision. Defenders of Proposition 13 argue that the court has spoken; supporters of this lawsuit say they believe the court has not addressed this point. One other note to consider: The lead lawyer in the new case, retired judge William A. Norris, knows something about the Amador case. He was the lead lawyer then too.

On the other end of those reacting to the column were those who bemoaned this lawsuit, not because they think it's unlikely to succeed but rather because they fear that it might. For some, Proposition 13 has worn poorly. They see the inequity between new home-buyers and established owners that can result in radically different tax bills for similar homes; they complain that the limitations on the government for raising public funds has starved schools and infrastructure; they see Proposition 13 as stifling and responsible for much of California's decline in the years since voters approved it. For others, however, it is a monument to citizen power and to restrained taxation. Losing it, they fear, would plunge California back to the days when tax bills were rising so fast that some could not afford to stay. As one reader put it: "Repeal Prop. 13. Otherwise known as: Kick grannie and pops out of their home."

Finally, beyond those readers eager to see the measure repealed and those desperate to keep it in place, there's a third group. They boil this issue down to illegal immigration. Then again, that's how they boil down every issue.

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--Jim Newton

Photo: Since 1978, when this photo was taken in Manhattan Beach, Prop. 13 has established the basic facts of political life in California. Now there's a legal challenge. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Obama: The peace president, clarified

Obama
Tom Hayden wrote in an Op-Ed Dec. 16 about the role of "determined peace activists" in ending the war in Iraq, including  "one who embraced their cause and became president": Barack Obama. Hayden called Obama's opposition to the war -- which Obama, then an Illinois state senator, made clear in an announcement in October 2002 in Chicago --  a "brave stance for an ambitious politician."

Hayden went on to call Obama "the first president to campaign on a promise to end an ongoing American war." That assertion, however, is not true, and it has been corrected for the record. As a reader pointed out, Dwight D. Eisenhower campaigned in 1952 on ending the Korean War. And Richard M. Nixon promised to end the  Vietnam War during his successful presidential campaign in 1968.

Hayden, however, stands by the idea that Obama has played a singular role among recent presidents. In an email, he clarified his point:

Dwight D. Eisenhower promised to end the war in Korea, it is true, but he left the Korean peninsula partitioned and more than 25,000 American troops occupying the South until the present time. Those U.S. troops are pledged to fight again if hostilities erupt between the two Koreas.

Richard M. Nixon promised to end the Vietnam War, but his "secret plan" for peace led to the U.S. invasion of Cambodia, escalated the bombing of North Vietnam, and resulted in tens of thousands of more American casualties until the war was lost to North Vietnam years after Nixon took office.

By contrast, Obama pulled the last of 170,000 American troops out of Iraq on schedule this month. True, he is leaving 16,000 personnel at the huge U.S. Embassy for "defensive" purposes, but they are hardly about to initiate another war. Iraq itself may erupt in sectarian war once again, but that calamity cannot be prevented by another U.S. military occupation, only by effective diplomacy with Shiite countries like Iran, with whom we have no diplomatic relations.

Compared to Eisenhower and Nixon, Obama has ended the war he pledged to end.

ALSO:

In Iraq, peace at last

McManus: An elusive victory in Iraq

Goldberg: American imperialism? Please

U.S. pullout leaves Iraqi interpreters out on limb

--Susan Brenneman

Photo: President Obama greets troops as they step off a plane on the tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., on Dec. 20 during a ceremony marking the return of the United States Forces-Iraq Colors and the end of the war in Iraq. Credit: Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press 

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