I’m a news junkie. I like to know what’s happening in the world, to understand why those things are happening, and to read a variety of informed opinions about the best ways to handle problems and replicate successes. I’ve always been a voracious reader, intensely curious about a wide variety of topics, but particularly drawn to current events and politics.
Years ago, when I worked at CompuServe, I had free access to a huge supply of online news sources. I also had free access to an expensive premium service called Executive News Service. It allowed you to set up clipping files with keywords about various topics. Executive News Service pulled any news stories with those keywords into the folders. I was in news junkie heaven. I know that Executive News Service seems like a bit of a yawn today, given easy access to free, unlimited services like Google’s news alerts; however, 25 years ago, ENS was cutting edge, and it helped cement my nascent news addiction.
But every once in a while, I slip into a current events funk. This usually happens when the news is so unremittingly depressing that I become overwhelmed and tune out for a while. And I’m in the midst of a doozy of a current events funk right now.
The news from quake- and tsunami-ravaged Japan is tragic. Tens of thousands are dead or missing. The work to recover that awaits the Japanese is daunting in the extreme. The dangers they face from damaged nuclear reactors are nightmarish, particularly in the context of Japan’s history.
The demonstrations that are sweeping the Arab world are encouraging and frightening at the same time. It’s encouraging to see oppressed people demanding change and frightening to see cruel crackdowns on protesters from those desperate to keep hold of power. We saw a peaceful toppling of a dictator in Egypt, but other power brokers are more willing to violently crush the opposition and less willing to step aside. We saw this in Iran when the Green Revolution was crushed and we see it now in Libya.
But when I see American politicians — like Newt Gingrich — using this crisis to showcase their hypocrisy and try to score political points, I’m frustrated and outraged. Gingrich is one of several conservatives who called for President Obama to take military action against Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and then criticized him when he did. That kind of blatant, ideological, hypocritical opportunism pushed me further toward a current events funk.
But it’s not just international news that’s to blame. Right here in California, the continuing state budget crisis is taking its toll.
I’ve long complained that California’s super-majority requirements for passing budgets, passing tax measures, or even putting tax measures on the ballot are un-American and dangerous. Exhibit A: the standoff in the legislature about Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget plan. Republicans in the legislature — a distinct minority — are unwilling to even let Californians vote on whether to extend taxes. Even with those tax extensions, the California budget situation is grim. Without them, it’s brutal.
If Republicans truly think that the best way to deal with California’s budget crisis is by using one side of the balance sheet only, why are they afraid to make that case to Californians? Clearly they are, as they’re relying on the super-majority requirement to block the budget plan from coming to a vote of Californians. In California, unfortunately, the minority rules on budget and tax issues; the effects of that anti-democratic system are being felt across the state, including right here in South County.
We need to return this state to true democracy: Simple majorities (50 percent plus one vote) ought to decide almost all issues, including taxes and budgets. Super majorities should be reserved for changing foundational documents like the California Constitution. Instead, we’ve got it bass-ackwards in the Golden State, making it ridiculously easy to amend the California Constitution and stunningly difficult to accomplish one of the most basic state functions, passing a budget.
Seeing the results of our lack of common sense and failure to adhere to one of the most basic principles of democracy was the tipping point for my current events funk. The funk will pass, but for now, I’m finding little joy from one of my usual passions.