The Real Governments of Blue America

Officially, a big part of the federal government shut down late last month. In important ways, however, America’s government went AWOL almost two years earlier, when Donald Trump was inaugurated.

After all, politicians supposedly seek office in order to get stuff done — to tackle real problems and implement solutions. But neither Trump, who spends his energy inventing crises at the border, nor the Republicans who controlled Congress for two years have done any of that. Their only major legislative achievement was a tax cut that blew up the deficit without, as far as anyone can tell, doing anything to enhance the economy’s long-run growth prospects.

Meanwhile, there has been no hint of the infrastructure plan Trump promised to deliver. And after many years of denouncing Obamacare and promising to provide a far better replacement, Republicans turned out to have no idea how to do that, and in particular no plan to protect Americans with pre-existing conditions.

Why can’t Republicans govern? It’s not just that their party is committed to an ideology that says that government is always the problem, never the solution. Beyond that, they have systematically deprived themselves of the ability to analyze policies and learn from evidence, because hard thinking might lead someone to question received doctrine.

And Republicans still control the Senate and the White House. So even when (if?) the shutdown ends, it will be at least two years before we have a government in Washington that’s actually capable of, or even interested in, governing.

Until recently Republicans had a virtual lock on state government. Almost half the population lived in states with Republican “trifectas,” that is, G.O.P. control of both houses plus the governorship. Democrats had comparable control in California, and pretty much nowhere else.

But elections since then have transformed the picture. New Jersey and Washington went full Democratic in 2017, and six more states, including Illinois and New York, flipped in November. At this point more than a third of Americans live under full Democratic control, not far short of the Republican total.

These newly empowered majorities are moving quickly to start governing again. And the experience of states that already had Democratic trifectas suggests that they may achieve a lot.

And health care isn’t the only front for new action. For example, Newsom is also proposing major new spending on education and housing affordability. The latter is very important: Soaring housing costs are the biggest flaw in California’s otherwise impressive success story.

Now, let’s be clear: Not all of the new Democratic policy proposals will actually be implemented, and not all of those that do go into effect will live up to expectations. There’s no such thing as perfection, in policy or in life, and leaders who never experience failures or setbacks aren’t taking enough risks.

The point, however, is that newly empowered state and local politicians do seem willing to take risks and try new things in an effort to make progress against the nation’s problems.

And that’s a very hopeful sign for America, because their example may prove contagious.

Justice Louis Brandeis famously described the states as the laboratories of democracy; right now they’re the places where we’re seeing what it looks like when elected officials try to do what they were elected to do, and actually govern. If we’re lucky, two years from now that attitude may re-establish itself in the nation’s capital.

 

An Ocasio-Cortez for the GOP?

Elizabeth Heng, 33 and Cambodian-American, is not your father’s Republican.

Far from the slash-and-burn attacks of so many candidates, Ms. Heng’s pitch to voters is measured and low-key. But it’s no less devastating. A campaign video has Ms. Heng walking past abandoned houses, homeless people and empty storefronts. She says that for 14 years the district has been represented by “a nice man, Jim Costa”—who has done almost nothing to bring a better life to his constituents.

The $3 Billion Plan to Turn Hoover Dam Into a Giant Battery

.. Now it is the focus of a distinctly 21st-century challenge: turning the dam into a vast reservoir of excess electricity, fed by the solar farms and wind turbines that represent the power sources of the future.

.. wants to equip it with a $3 billion pipeline and a pump station powered by solar and wind energy. The pump station, downstream, would help regulate the water flow through the dam’s generators, sending water back to the top to help manage electricity at times of peak demand.

The net result would be a kind of energy storage — performing much the same function as the giant lithium-ion batteries being developed to absorb and release power.

.. The Hoover Dam project may help answer a looming question for the energy industry: how to come up with affordable and efficient power storage
.. when solar and wind farms produce more electricity than consumers need, California utilities have had to find ways to get rid of it — including giving it away to other states — or risk overloading the electric grid and causing blackouts.
.. The target for completion is 2028, and some say the effort could inspire similar innovations at other dams.
.. Using Hoover Dam to help manage the electricity grid has been mentioned informally over the last 15 years. But no one pursued the idea seriously until about a year ago, as California began grappling with the need to better manage its soaring alternative-electricity production — part of weaning itself from coal-fired and nuclear power plants.
.. estimated that utility-scale lithium-ion batteries cost 26 cents a kilowatt-hour, compared with 15 cents for a pumped-storage hydroelectric project. The typical household pays about 12.5 cents a kilowatt-hour for electricity.
.. engineers propose building a pump station about 20 miles downstream from the main reservoir, Lake Mead
.. “Hoover Dam is ideal for this,” said Kelly Sanders, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Southern California. “It’s a gigantic plant. We don’t have anything on the horizon as far as batteries of that magnitude.”
.. “With lithium-ion batteries, you have durability issues,” Mr. Narayan said. “If they last five to 10 years, that would be a stretch, especially because we expect to use these facilities at full capacity. It has to be 10 times more durable than it is today.”
.. its proposal would increase the productivity of the dam, which operates at just 20 percent of its potential, to avoid releasing too much water at once and flooding towns downstream.

California Is the Model for National Divorce, Not Democratic Domination

When you break down the migration numbers even further, the results are fascinating. While California loses residents to most states, it enjoys net positive migration mainly from other blue states, most notably New York, Illinois, and New Jersey. This means that California’s population churn — immigration combined with domestic migration — pushes it farther down the progressive path.

Third, while Teixeira and Leyden point to California as a model for combatting inequality, it’s one of the most unequal states in the nation. The most prosperous parts of the state are not only undeniably beautiful, they’re also populated by a creative and entrepreneurial class that gives each place a distinctive intellectual energy. If you’re rich enough, parts of California are very, very nice places to live. If you’re not, housing prices will keep you out more effectively than the guards at any gated community.

.. The end result is inequality so great that the nation’s tech titans happen to live in the poverty capital of America. According to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, nearly one out of five state residents is poor.

Finally, California’s progressive supermajority has led to a spate of petty authoritarianism that most Americans reject. I’ve written extensively about how California is seceding from the Constitution. The state has taken direct aim at the First Amendment rights of its pro-life citizens, implemented confiscatory gun-control policies, regulated pronoun usage, and repeatedly attempted to restrict religious liberty. All too often California progressives have demonstrated that “California values” are incompatible with the Bill of Rights.

.. the so-called “Cal 3” initiative announced that it had collected more than 600,000 signatures to put the break-up of the state on California’s November ballot. The longshot proposal would create three new states — North California, South California, and California — and its proponents promise that it would solve persistent problems created by “failing school systems, high taxes, deteriorating infrastructure and strained government.”

But if California progressives try to remake, say, Tennessee in their own image, they’ll find that resistance is fierce. American federalism can encompass progressive and conservative enclaves. American polarization reinforces and hardens those bubbles. Teixera and Leyden believe that one side is destined to dominate. Perhaps. But there’s a different option: We could be destined to go our separate ways.

Planet Money: Pre-filled Income Tax Returns: Tax Hero

Doing your taxes doesn’t have to be a pain. In many countries around the world, filing taxes is so easy and painless, “tax day” isn’t even a thing.

Back in 2005, a little group of California tax experts were talking shop and they figured, we could do that here in the U.S. A lot of people in California get all of their income from their paychecks, and taxes are already withheld from those paychecks. In those cases, California could just fill out the W-2 for the taxpayers, who could check for errors and just send them back in. Easy as 1-2-3. (That was the slogan the state came up with). They named it: ReadyReturn.

Why Housing Is Unaffordable in California

in California’s coastal metros more than two-thirds of cities and counties have policies explicitly aimed at restricting housing growth, such as limits on density. 

.. When a developer wants to break ground, local governments impose multilayered reviews that can mean getting approval from the municipal building department, health department, fire department and planning commission as well as elected officials.

Neighbors can delay or block projects using the state’s 1970 Environmental Quality Act. It isn’t coincidental that California’s housing prices soared during the 1970s. Getting a building permit in San Francisco takes about three times as long as in the typical American metro.

.. All told, it costs between $50,000 and $75,000 more to build a home in California than in the rest of the country. Building a low-income housing unit costs $332,000—about $80,000 more than the median home in Dallas or Phoenix.

.. Opponents accuse developers of being greedy, but their real gripe is that subdividing the lots would increase the housing stock and thereby diminish the value of their own homes.

.. California’s housing policies are intrinsically regressive. Limiting the supply drives up home values in well-to-do coastal communities, while pricing everyone else out of the market. Households in the lowest quartile in California spend about two-thirds of their incomes on housing; those in the top quartile spend just 16%.

.. The conundrum California’s landed gentry face is they want to boost their home values—and at the same time to have an abundant supply of low-wage workers to mow their lawns and clean their pools too.

A tech billionaire blocked public beach access. A court just forced him to open it up.

“The decision is an important step to vindicate the principle that the public has a right to access the California coast regardless of their wealth and resources,” Buescher told The Post, calling the gate and use of guards a “defacto privatization of what is an incredibly valuable public resource.” The decision also ordered Khosla to pay nearly $500,000 in attorney costs.

.. The suit came after community members and Surfriders sought an amicable solution, Howe and Buescher said. Protests and letter-writing campaigns to apply public pressure failed. The situation escalated in October 2012, when the San Mateo County sheriff cited a group of five surfers on the beach for trespassing. The charges were dropped in 2013.

 .. In 2014, the state lands commission sought to end the legal battle by paying to create road or sidewalk access to the beach on Khosla’s property, or to use a portion of the road. Surveyors estimated a price of $300,000. Khosla countered with an offer of about $30 million.