Achtung: A Consensus Crisis

dog_snarlingAs gridlock once again descends on Capitol Hill in the form of a government shutdown, a recent Washington Post piece by E.J. Dionne, Jr. provides a thoughtful perspective on how the United States is falling behind in much more than education and the global economy. Our history as a government of and by the people is also at stake. We are no longer leaders in the art of compromise and consensus building.

Germany, our post-WWII progeny, has something to teach us on that front.

“The Germans don’t buy the zero-sum thinking that government and markets — or liberty and equality — can’t be pursued jointly,”  Jackson Janes, president of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies told Dionne. “They argue about the same issues we face — how much social, how much market and how much government do we want? — but their starting point is that all three should be working together: capitalism with a strong welfare dimension steered by a government which is an ally, not the enemy.”

Berlin Wall

California leads the nation in many ways – some good, some bad. Our state’s recent history suggests that Washington is following Sacramento’s inability to develop consensus in legislation, regulation and public policy issues.  The extremists on both ends of the spectrum too often hold the state, and now the nation, hostage. Ironically, when government shuts down, our elected officials still collect their paychecks and are frequently immune from the impacts of the laws and red tape they impose.

California and the U.S. have built their own version of the Berlin Wall with ideology, not concrete. Instead of dividing people, they are severing the ability to hammer out bipartisan agreements that constructively benefit the citizenry. A mantra of this blog is bipartisanship. But that appears to simply be vapor, a naive dream.

Sometimes I think what we need, if not a forceful third party of moderates from both sides of the aisle, is a parliamentary system. Multiple parties would force coalitions. And gridlock could be broken up at anytime by calling for a vote of confidence at any time irrespective of the eternal election cycle.

When it comes to learning from Germany, Dionne sums it up nicely:

“Germans applied to their own best traditions some useful pointers about reaching workable compromises in a democracy fromus — from the America of FDR, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower. Why do Germans remember ideas from our history that the shutdowners dearly want us to forget?”

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Panetta: Partisanship A Major Threat to National Security

Bone

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Carla Marinucci had a nice profile recently on Leon Panetta, a native Californian and statesman par excellence.

I’ve always thought of Panetta, who recently retired from a long and distinguished career, as someone who always viewed his responsibilities the way all elected officials should: as public servants. From congressman and White House chief of staff to director of the OMB or CIA, here is a man who has always seemed to act and speak with a profound respect for our nation and its democratic institutions. Pragmatism over ideology. Policy over politics. Respect over vitriol. Duty over personal aggrandizement.

What really jumped off the page of Marinucci’s piece was Panetta’s concern over extreme partisanship and how it poses one our country’s most serious threats to national security. This, remember, is coming from a guy who was in charge of the CIA and Department of Defense. He knows a little bit about what the United States is up against. When he says one of our greatest dangers is ourselves, that bears attention.

Leon Panetta

 If you wonder why we need more people like Panetta in government, check out this passage from the Chronicle piece:

“The avuncular Panetta gets deadly serious when he talks about what he believes is one of the greatest dangers to America’s future – political partisanship that, he said, has never been more divisive or discouraging.

Washington “has really become dysfunctional,” said Panetta, who began his political career as a Republican, “and when that happens, in many ways that becomes a greater national security threat than almost anything else.”

“I’m sensing that – for whatever reason – we’re in a testing period now as to whether some of this can change,” he said. “Unfortunately, I think this is a time when change is going to happen – not from the top down – but from the bottom up.”

His mission now, Panetta said, is “to get young people who are not trapped by partisanship to recognize that things can be different – if they’re willing to take the risk involved with getting elected to public office.”

He’s encouraged, he said, because the new crop of students who hope to become public servants is less attached to “strong ideological edge” of their parents’ generation.

“They’re much more pragmatic; they’re much more willing to see if problems can be solved,” he said. “I don’t see them as being tied to the kind of party label as you see playing out in Washington – and in Sacramento for that matter.”

Let’s hope Panetta is as successful with this mission as he was throughout his career. We need more leaders like him.

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State Republicans Dead Wrong on Budget

For as pro-business and anti-tax as this Blue Dog is, California’s Republican state legislators are way off base by rejecting Governor Brown’s call for putting a tax extension vote before the electorate. It is a pathetic, albeit classic, case of extreme ideology getting in the way of problem solving, sacrifice and compromise.

Extending taxes should really be a no-brainer that the Legislature and Governor should man-up for and even pass on their own without seeking the political cover of the ballot.

First, this is an extension. The taxes are already in existence. Our politicians are fond of putting things in terms of kitchen-table talk, so look at it this way: If a household is in dire financial straits, it cuts expenses and seeks to preserve existing income. Christmas money from relatives? Check. Bonus from work? Check. Rental deposit? Check. Refunds from car insurance or other sources? Check.  You get the idea.

Second, Brown is exhibiting dogged determination in making harsh cuts. We all know there is a ton of government waste and programs on the bubble that should be cut. But he also appears to be going all the way to the bone in a way that will shock liberal Dems. The Republicans need to bring more than the word “NO” to the table.

Third, perhaps worse than taxes, most moderates and independents despise spinelessness. But this dearth of leadership and lack of problem-solving is precisely what we are seeing and hearing from the California GOP.

To wit: “This is really not our problem,” Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Oakdale, said Tuesday after meeting with Brown.

And this, in the Los Angeles Times from Sen. Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) the highest-ranking Republican budget leaders: “Listen, the drill is, we come up with a budget, it gets vilified by everybody and at the end of the day we don’t have the ability to pass it. It’s a majority-vote budget. We’re not the majority. We respect that. We’ll be part of the process but it’s not like we’re going to lead with all the things where we become the bad guys. The majority has the ability, they have the authority. God bless them, we’re here to help.”

Whining, hand-wringing and lobbing grenades is no way to attract people to your cause. The Republican position here is pure Stone Age. It’s embarrassing and exactly the type of unreasonable position that has marginalized the Republican party in California. Also it is why conservative and moderate Dems cannot bring themselves to embrace the party.

Don’t get me wrong. I hate taxes as much as the next guy and would not support new taxes. But the $9 billion or so already on the table needs to stay on the table until we get out of this mess. Republicans should hold their noses and see the common sense in this.

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Where is Governor Moonbeam?

Happy New Year, Californians.

While it is easy to remain cynical about the fate of the Golden State, Governor Jerry Brown’s first week on the job, as well as his run-up to taking office, has indeed been heartening. In terms of both symbolism and substance, one cannot help but be impressed by his sober, workmanlike approach to his job.

Whether a holding a low-key hotdog inaugural, making it a priority to open the lines of communication with Republicans or making the effort to meet key stakeholder groups in their own offices — Brown is drawing raves from both sides of the aisle.

Obviously, style must soon give way to substance. On the eve of his budget unveiling tomorrow, Brown appears dialed-into our crisis in a way we have not seen for the past eight years. Sure, closed door meetings discussions with Brown have been described as like watching a Super Ball bouncing all over the room. Yet, there is little, if any, public evidence of the old and quirky Governor Moonbeam. Instead, we are seeing a sure hand and steady grip at the helm of the Titanic.

By making it clear no-one is immune from deep, ugly cuts; that voters should approve tax extensions; and that the state must push more responsibility to local government, he is asserting a pragmatic no-nonsense, non-partisan approach that offers a glimmer of hope for our dire situation. It has not gone unnoticed that many believe the large contingent of  liberal Democrats is going to be Brown’s biggest nemesis.

The business community is on pins and needles waiting for all Brown’s appointments to be made. Already there are rumblings and concerns being voiced around Sacramento his appointments thus far are too partisan. But none of that matters if Brown continues to set the right tone and stays true to less government and living within the state’s means. By definition, that should curtail government’s insatiable appetite to regulate and stifle business.

If Brown stays tough, smart and fair, California might just have a chance.

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Let’s Tie the Knot & Move On

How about a cease fire in the endless legal ping pong battle over gay marriage?

On the right, you’ve got the folks who say gays will destroy the fabric of society before they all burn in hell. On the left, the activists render similar inflammatory judgments by equating the issue with slavery and branding those who don’t support them as hate-filled bigots.

Enough already. Both sides are out of line. This is one of those classic issues that conflicts millions of moderates and independents, including this Blue Dog, who has been bouncing with the ping pong ball and legal machinations.

On the one hand the institution of marriage possesses centuries of history and grounding as a sacred and rite and legal status synonymous only with a heterosexual relationships. To one way of thinking, gays can’t be “married” any more than heteros can pronounce themselves to be “gay.”

On the other hand, you’ve got a group of people who can make a damn good case they are the victims of discrimination. They want to form a union with another person and express it in the ultimate frame of reference: marriage. And who can blame them for wanting to be a part of society in that way?

This Blue Dog – an openly heterosexual coming up on 20 years of marriage — has gone back and forth on this one, balancing a traditional upbringing and legal issues with changing societal values and the pursuit of happiness. All court briefs and vitriol flying from both sides doesn’t make it any easier to sort things out. In fact, it seems whichever extreme bellows last is the one to disagree with.

But after much thought, the conclusion reached here is that gays should be allowed to marry. Pure and simple, it is the only decent thing to do. The rationale?

(1) With divorce rates at more the 50 percent, marriage is hardly as sacred as heterosexuals purport it to be. We have not done a very good job preserving the institution in a way that shows much respect for it.

(2)  If two consenting adults love each other and want to spend the rest of their lives together under the banner of marriage, that should be a good thing.

(3) The nuclear family has been disintegrating all around us and is at the root of so many social ills. There are millions of neglected kids who would benefit from two-parent families regardless of gender. Before you mock that notion of family, just think about the transformation of heterosexual families. The Blue Dog has an adopted son. And what about  blended families, second marriages, shared custody, adopted kids (here in our own state and from as far away as China), invitro fertilization, grandparents raising children, foster families, etc. Rather than destroy the family unit, married gay couples have an opportunity to be part of a new and bigger solution to help raise the next generation children.

(4) We need unity now more than ever. Married gays will encounter all of the same trials and tribulations every married couple faces. Marriage can be damn hard. Is there not the distinct possibility that extending marriage across the board can actually be a force that will help people relate to one another in new and surprising ways? It’s not so polly-anne-ish to see this upside.

(5) The majority is not always right. A lot of ballot initiatives are later found to be illegal.

(6) The face of Norman Rockwell’s United States is changing. In addition to a piece on gay marriage and its impact on politics, last Sunday’s New York Times included a disturbing trend story on community movements nationwide seeking to ban the construction of mosques. Below that story was one on a reunion of senior citizens who served as models for Norman Rockwell’s iconic painting. If a young Rockwell were alive today, his version of Americana would almost certainly include Muslim families and gay couples.

(7) God is love. Doubt that is a legal term judges are considering. But it kind of sums the whole thing up in this camp; the concept should be one the anti-gay marriage crowd should ponder in their Christian heart of hearts. Conversely, gays should exhibit tolerance and understanding of the fact that many, many people were raised in traditional families with traditional values. They should be respected and allowed some slack and time to get used to the concept of gay marriage as it becomes a new norm.

One last thing. How about some talk about restoring the word “gay” to its original meaning? The one my grandmother used so freely over Christmas dinner while everyone else snickered?

So let’s tie the knot, California, and attack much bigger challenges as one people.

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A Coyote-Ugly Truth

The Blue Dog typically takes a pass on email jokes, but here’s one worth sharing that apparently is making the rounds around high places in the State Capitol:

CALIFORNIA: The Governor of California is jogging with his dog along a nature trail. a coyote jumps out, bites the Governor and attacks his dog.

1. The Governor starts to intervene but reflects upon the movie “Bambi” and then realizes he should stop; the coyote is only doing what is natural.

2. He calls animal control. Animal Control captures coyote and bills the State $200 testing it for diseases and $500 for relocating it.

3. He calls a veterinarian. The vet collects the dead dog and bills the State $200 testing it for diseases.

4. The Governor goes to hospital and spends $3,500 getting checked for diseases from the coyote and on getting his bite wound bandaged.

5. The running trail gets shut down for 6 months while Fish & Game conducts a $100,000 survey to make sure the area is free of dangerous animals.

6. The Governor spends $50,000 in state funds implementing a “coyote awareness” program for residents of the area.

7. The State Legislature spends $2 million to study how to better treat rabies and how to permanently eradicate the disease throughout the world.

8. The Governor’s security agent is fired for not stopping the attack somehow and for letting the Governor attempt to intervene.

9. Additional cost to State of California: $75,000 to hire and train a new security agent with additional special training with regards to the nature of coyotes.

10. PETA protests the coyote’s relocation and files suit against the State.

ARIZONA: The Governor of Arizona is jogging with her dog along a nature trail. a coyote jumps out and attacks her dog.

1. The Governor shoots the coyote with her State-issued pistol and keeps jogging. The Governor has spent $0.50 on a .45 ACP hollow point cartridge.

2. The buzzards eat the dead coyote.

And that’s why California is broke.

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Can Party Leaders Afford to Dismiss Sentiment Behind Prop. 14?

Few things unite Republican and Democratic party hardliners more than a threat to the status quo. The current two-party stranglehold in California has yielded a virtual monopoly on ideas and public policy. This reality, coupled with ridiculously uncompetitive legislative districts, is a prime source of the gridlock we see daily in Sacramento.

Candidates pander to their liberal and conservative bases in the primaries, then try to convince everyone in the general election they are moderates in the center. Once they get into office they revert, with very few exceptions, back to lapdogs for the extremes of their respective parties and special interests. This is a sham Californians obviously see through given their approval for Open Primaries — just as they did in rejecting some of the big corporate power plays in the other statewide propositions this week.

But rather than catching a clue about voter sentiment and realizing how smart the electorate actually is, the entrenched party apparatchiks condescendingly dismiss the will of the people. John Burton, old-guard Democrat and Party Chairman, vowed as early as Tuesday night to consider filing a lawsuit. The Republican establishment, also voiced strong opposition to Prop. 14′s passage, and seemed content to stand with Burton, albeit in a crouched position.

Of all things, our politicians fear moderate voters and independents who care more about common sense problem solving than capital D or R ideology. An open primary will mean candidates will actually have to appeal to a broader range of the electorate from the get go — not just the extremes as has been the case for too long. One look no farther than Steve Poizner for a timely example. Long considered a moderate Republican, Poizner transformed himself into the second coming of Bill O’Reilly during a campaign in which he sought to brand himself as the only “true conservative” on the Republican ticket. A big reason he was trounced, besides winner Meg Whitman’s financial largesse, was that he was simply too disingenuous to believe.

Prop. 14 is emblematic of voter frustration and disenfranchisement. The measure, which passed overwhelmingly, is perhaps not as revolutionary as Prop. 13 and and term limits. But neither is it as draconian. The Blue Dog has seen first hand the chaos of term limits, which despite their intent have ironically backfired for a whole host of reasons. And Prop. 13 is at the root of many problems the state is facing today. But Prop. 14 would not appear to be in that camp. As political columnist Dan Weintraub writes in today’s Sacramento Bee, Prop. 14 is a victory for centrists/moderates and independents who deserve a voice earlier in the process.

Rather than scrambling like cockroaches for attorneys to overturn the will of the people, the Democrat and Republican Party Corporations should seek ways to broaden their appeal with more mainstream candidates. Tuesday’s election should make one thing clear to them: the majority of voters (of all parties) are standing by with cans of RAID.

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Banning BPA = Blind Pandering to Activists

Senator Dianne Feinstein has a well-earned reputation on most issues for her pragmatism, moderation and critical /independent thinking. So it is surprising that she seems to have gotten caught up the swirl of irrational Chemo-Phobia that has long afflicted Sacramento (where, in the interest of full disclosure, the Blue Dog has worked on this issue for industry) and now spread to Capitol Hill.

Feinstein is usually too smart to get suckered by emotion and policy making by anecdote. But there she is, sponsoring legislation to ban a chemical known as bisphonel-A  (BPA) used to ensure the safety of food, packaging and other consumer products.

Never mind that, according to a public policy research article: “On January 15, 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a long-awaited update of its policy regarding bisphenol A (BPA)–an industrial chemical used to add strength and flexibility to many plastic products–finding it safe as currently used. The FDA review was undertaken after intense campaigning by advocacy groups and the media to ban or severely restrict BPA use, which continues even in the wake of the FDA decision. The campaigners’ focus has now expanded to include other regulatory bodies, as well as states and localities. If they are successful, they will jeopardize the system for making regulatory decisions based on sound science.”

If you did not know this and other facts, Feinstein would sound totally reasonable in her May 18th news conference. But when you listen to what she says, there is “no there there.” Just an uncharacteristically rambling statement that cobbles together bits and pieces of information, emotion and childhood memories. Obesity and breast cancer linked to BPA? She always ate from jars and tin cans? In favor of the precautionary principle?

Honestly, Di-Fi, we deserve better from you. Is this really worth your energy and stature?

The Senator would do well to apply her ample and usually open mind to more reading. Perhaps a review of  the American Cancer Society’s recent criticism of the President’s Cancer Panel Report, which it says vastly overstates the risks from environmental sources. According to a story in the New York Times, only two percent of all cancers are related to community or household environmental sources. Di-Fi would should also cuddle up with the body of serious science — and not crumbs of research scattered along her path.

Feinstein should pick up the latest edition of the New Scientist, which features a cover story on “The Age of Denial: Why So Many People Refuse to Believe the Truth.” The special report points out that we live in an era in which special interests — of all stripes — will cherry pick information to make their case. And the  “commitment to a belief takes precedence over the evidence.”

We see science being ignored by the Right and some in corporate America with the denial of  global warming. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence.

Yet we also see this equally on the Left, which for years has been blaming vaccines for autism based on a single bogus study now fully discredited. The attack on BPA and other widely researched chemicals used in commerce are likewise misguided and without credible scientific basis. These issues are being driven by a narrowly focused band of elitist environmentalists bent on injecting terror into consumers on everything from sunscreen, plastic bags, sippy cups and plastic baby bottles (products, incidentally originally created to better protect health and the environment)

If Di-Fi really wants to advance public health, here’s an idea: Transfer the $30-million for yet another BPA study to a another research project — studying the adverse mental and physical health impacts from repeated worrying about unsubstantiated, phantom dangers.

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Much Ado About Palin

For being such an irrelevant lightweight, Sarah Palin still manages to get under the Left’s thin skin (more on that in a minute). While this is hardly a news flash, it is ironic that Palin is now, according to CNN and others, showing skill at also alienating the right — especially Chuck DeVore supporters — with today’s endorsement of Carly Fiorina, one of three seeking the Republican spot to take on incumbent U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer.

Boxer certainly isn’t the Blue Dog’s cup of tea, but it is hard to see how Palin’s endorsement helps Fiorina attract the middle once the primary is over and Palin is hanging on her back like Clint Eastwood’s orangutan in “Every Which Way But Loose.” Carly’s camp is dissing Tom Campbell for a track record of losing big races because of his moderate credentials. Perhaps a valid point. But that may have more to do with public persona than partisan orientation. On paper, Campbell would appear the best person to unseat Boxer. While Fiorina remains intriguing — she would appear to be much less so for independents and moderate Dems with a Palin endorsement.  Seriously, is the Official Palin Stamp of Approval really the holy grail for Republicans? They are in big trouble if it is.

As for Palin’s ability to burrow like a crazed tick under the thin skin of liberals . . . The BlueDog – while no fan of Palin – finds all the contrived controversy about her Cal State University Stanislaus speech utterly ridiculous. An AG Jerry Brown investigation? State legislative news conferences, dumpster diving and conspiracy theories involving Palin’s agreement with a non-profit university foundation? You gotta be kidding me. Aren’t there bigger fish to fry?

You couldn’t pay the Blue Dog to hear Palin speak. She is a dim bulb on a huge ego trip. She was not vice presidential timber, but that’s what elections are for. The reality is that plenty of people relate to Palin and want to hear her blather on about whatever is on her mind. Like it or not, she is a big draw among an ardent group of voters, commands large fees and can help organizations like the CSU-Stanislaus foundation raise funds for worthwhile causes like scholarships.

Good for her. The  last time we checked this was still the United States and citizens (and illegals, apparently) had a few rights involving freedom of speech, expression, assembly and getting paid what the market will bear.

If Bill Ayers or Reverend Jeremiah Wright were speaking on a public university campus, this type of flap wouldn’t even be on the radar. Instead, we see an ongoing witch hunt against Palin by the Left – a energy that only gives her a credibility she wouldn’t otherwise possess. Moderates and independents in California — even those with no love for Palin — have little interest in seeing precious state resources and legislative energy wasted on character assassination.

So, to the Lefties: “Get Over Her” . . .  To the Republicans: “Get Over Her”

To the Rest of Us Suckers in the Middle: “Pray we don’t get stuck with two extremes in November.”

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The Unifying Irish Force

While most people associate St. Patrick’s Day with Guinness and boozing it up, the Blue Dog is struck by the holiday’s ability to bring people together. We see and hear so much about Americans splintering into individual silos and talking to themselves in Internet echo chambers. Yet for the second year in a row, the Blue Dog has been surprised how many people of all political and ethnic stripes don GREEN on this day — Tea Party activists, gays,  Hispanics, Chinese and African Americans.

With moderates and independents big on consensus and harmony, it is refreshing to see something other than hatred or a national calamity / tragedy (War,  September 11, Katrina, etc.) bring people together.

Perhaps it is not surprising then that St. Patrick was originally associated with the color blue. So celebrate this unselfconscious, celebratory and apolitical holiday. And be sure to toast more than Ireland — cheer  the larger symbolism of St. Patrick’s Day: Hope.

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Fabian’s Right: Dems Should Jettison BS & Approve Maldonado

The Blue Dog applauds former Assemby Speaker and Democrat Fabian Nunez for his eloquent, reasoned opinion piece in this morning’s Sacramento Bee: “Confirm GOP’s Maldonado, show Legislature can function.”

In his commentary, Nunez articulates a number of central Centrist themes in championing Republican state senator Abel Maldonado for the vacant Lieutenant Governor post. More political leaders should come out to exhibit the same type of common sense and statesman-like leadership as Nunez. The Capitol circus needs more responsible outside ringmasters.

We will let his piece speak for itself and encourage you — and the Legislature’s Democratic leadership — to read it.

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Obama’s Rush to the Economic Right: Will Sacramento Follow Suit?

Taking in President Obama’s state of the Union speech while frying patty melts for his kids, one thing struck the Blue Dog big time: Obama came out of the gates running for the center. In fact, his momentum seemed to carry him across the line and into Republican territory on jobs and the economy. Obamas’s most surprising, and apparently sincere, admission that business is still the engine that drives the economy was refreshing and even startling. Good for him. And let’s hope the Republicans find it in themselves to work with him instead of trying to sabotage the country for political gain in November.

And Obama should get credit for stabilizing the economy and starting to clean up the crap left by the previous Administrations. But his claims of jobs creation, however, rang a bit hollow. After all, the avalanche of recovery funds have chiefly been absorbed in protecting public sector jobs. In fact, the Stimulus Project suggests as much as 75 percent of the mega funds have gone to entitlements and government works.

Saving taxpayer-funded jobs ain’t the same thing as creating jobs. Government may employ people, but it doesn’t create the underlying wealth and new revenue. It absorbs, redistributes and transfers wealth. And yes, it plays a critical role in curbing private-sector abuse. This is all the subject of a whole different conversation. The point here is that government jobs are the offspring of taxpayers and especially the loins of business.

One wonders if the liberals in Sacramento heard Obama. Or were they too busy watching Nancy Pelosi and Joe Binden grin ear to ear as if they had just sipped the Kool-Aid or were in on the same joke?  One worries if the California Left really does get it. Here’s a classic example: A few months ago, there was a “Jobs Summit” held in Sacramento to explore  ways to create jobs. According the press account, there was an array of traditional Democratic stakeholders — labor, public employees unions, government, academics, think tanks and the like. But guess what? No mention of the economic engine Obama talked about. Apparently business wasn’t important enough to have a seat at the table. Never mind business is the table, as Obama pointed out in his speech.

We are in big trouble if this “summit” mentality mirrors the current mindset in the Capitol, a notorious Slaughterhouse for pro-business and private sector job growth initiatives. Growing business is serious business, and is getting more urgent. Consider that California’s nearly 13 percent unemployment rate is nearly as high (about 2 points less) than Michigan, which has been decimated by the gasping auto industry.

Obama called on policy grounded in “common sense”  and post partisanship. Whether this can happen in DC is anyone’s guess. Here in Sacramento, the stakes are higher and the divisions perhaps even greater in terms partisan rancor.

Nonetheless, let’s think big, and positively. So here’s a call — albeit a naive one –  from the millions of silent Centrists who would love to see the following from the California Legislature:

(1) Make private sector job creation its number one priority. And that doesn’t mean hiding behind the long-term dream of  “green job creation” at the same time regulations and laws are passed to ban products, shut down what manufacturing is left, hamstring farmers, mandate bureaucratic reporting of information that is already readily available just to curry favor with special interests and activists groups, etc.

(2) Steinberg and Perez should each reach across the aisle and name a moderate, respected Republican in each house as a Job Czar, who would serve as advisors on job-related legislation.

(3)  Run every bill through an economic filter with analysis from an independent third-party group of economists — as well as from Capitol staff and their bosses.

(4) Create a legislative Siberia for any bill that creates a new program or bureaucracy.   State office buildings already are littered with programs that don’t have adequate funding.

The Blue Dog likes to start from the ideal and work backwards, lowering expectations as we go. So let’s think big. Sacramento Dems – take a page from the Democrat in Chief. Create an environment friendly for jobs growth and you’ll ultimately have plenty of tax revenue to address the many ominous ills in our state.

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What Scott Brown Means for Jerry Brown, et al

Depending on your pundit, Scott Brown’s stunning ascension to Ted Kennedy’s vacant Massachusetts Senate congressional seat is either a crippling defeat for the Democrats or a harbinger that Republicans will soon hold sway throughout the nation.

In reality, these are both oversimplifications and miss the point. From this Left Coast moderate perch, Brown’s surprise win is a victory for the great swath of independents and moderates who cut through both sides of the aisle.

What moderates lack in colorful political personalities and a party all their own, we make up for with a nasty habit of abruptly slamming on the brakes when we see either fringe taking control of the wheel. President Clinton learned this. So did Newt Gingrich. This is what seems to have just sent shockwaves through the nation’s political circles.

Anyone listening? There is a reason the nation’s fastest growing political force is gathering around the independent, moderate center. We may not have the power to hold conventions and catapult candidates out of the primaries. But we serve as critical check-and-balance calibrators and defiant momentum changers.

Massachusetts’ liberal base is legendary. So there is no denying Brown’s victory sends a powerful signal. But is it one Senator Barbara Boxer will understand or heed? If she exhibits the entitlement mentality and arrogance displayed by Democrats along the Eastern seaboard and in DC . . . she could well be toast. No matter what, the likes of Carly Fiorina and  Tom Campbell should suddenly feel very, very emboldened.

In the race for Arnold’s seat, Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner will have to look over their shoulders as they pander to the Republican’s hardcore right. It seems Jerry Brown would do well to take advantage of being unchallenged (for a race he hasn’t officially entered) and stake out centerfield while his adversaries charge wildly to right before trying to veer back to the middle post June.

The moderate pendulum is not just swinging, but rather assertively at that. November is suddenly getting interesting.

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What’s Your S.O.S.?

Governor Schwarzenegger delivered his final State of the State (SOS) address this morning. It was a mixed bag. Sober reality check. Wistful glorification of California’s can-do spirit. A vague, punch-drunk plan of attack for rescuing California.Protecting education, cutting prisons, tax breaks. They all sound wonderful. How this stacks up with financial and political reality is highly suspect. But give the Governor credit for connecting the dots and trying to move ahead in the face of insurmountable odds.

Depending on your viewpoint and situation, S.O.S. can mean a lot of things.

* For castaways desperate for salvation, it’s the equivalent of a Hail Mary pass – “Save Our Souls.”

* For soldiers sick of canteen food, it’s “Sh*! on a Shingle.”

* For cynics in the capitol press corps and in The Building, it’s “Same of Sh@#.”

* For liberals, to paraphrase Democratic ex-Speaker Karen Bass, it’s “Save our Shreds” of what is now the social safety net.

* For Arnold, it boiled down to the “Same Optimistic Speech.”

The Blue Dog thinks it was very well-written and delivered pretty well. But the feel-good tone evaporated minutes after the speech . . . just inventory the pitiful track record of a Centrist Governor sandwiched between too-far right Republicans and the dominant left-wing Liberals. They are all talking about collaboration now. But as Sacramento political pundit Steve Swatt so nicely put it: “By summer the olive branches will be fire wood.”

Achieving some measure of budget reform should now be Governor Schwarzenegger’s drumbeat to a proud legacy, It’s a worthy goal and the Governor should be applauded for that. The Legislature should, but of course, won’t, do anything meaningful or visionary to help him.  After all, a broken system cannot fix itself.

Yes, Governor, California is a wonderful place indeed. But her glow has faded and she can’t rely on her looks any more. The fresh-faced beauty queen is now a haggard middle-aged woman with missing teeth and a crack pipe in her hand.  Optimism alone is not going to change that fact.

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Governor Confirms Bradshaw’s Departure

Bone A few hours after the Blue Dog’s previous posting, the Governor’s press office confirmed the the news about Vickie Bradshaw’s departure from her post as Cabinet Secretary. The press release issued this afternoon spins forward about her new role in promoting a green economic miracle, but predictably doesn’t answer the obvious question, “Why?”

Will be interesting to see who they can get to fill such a short-term, yet critical, role in the horseshoe.

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Source: Bradshaw Leaving Horseshoe

Pay AttentionA well-placed source tells the Blue Dog that Vickie Bradshaw will be leaving her post as Cabinet Secretary to Governor Schwarzenegger, whose office is expected to make the announcement next week. Her departure is a blow to most state agencies because she has been their only pipeline to the Governor. She has also been credited with playing a moderating and stabilizing influence within the horseshoe. She and Paul Feist,, her likewise highly regarded chief deputy, are said to be returning to the agency from which they came a year ago — The Labor & Workforce Agency.  No reason given, however, rumors suggest possible tension between Bradshaw and the Governor’s chief of staff, Susan Kennedy (aka SBK), who has been a frustrating firewall between agency chiefs and the Governor. Some say, Bradshaw’s departure is disconcerting especially given the ominous 2010 that is shaping up around the budget, and the predictable exodus of staff that is expected as the Administration winds down.

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Blinding With Science

Main DogYesterday’s post on bisphenol-A and Senate Bill 797 (Pavley) drew a healthy reader comment as well as a few offline requests to see links to the research mentioned in the post.  And why not? We should be making policy on facts and science — not emotion. Here is some of the science underlying the worldwide regulatory view that there is no compelling evidence at this time that BPA poses a health and should be banned. But read and draw your own conclusions:

State of California [OEHHA]:   “Following the staff presentation, comments from the public and committee discussion, the DARTIC determined that, based upon current scientific information, bisphenol A has not been clearly shown to cause reproductive toxicity; and therefore the Committee declined to add it to the Proposition 65 chemical list.”

[As an aside, how do the scientists at OEHAA feel about being dismissed at political appointees? They looked at the research trumpeted by Pavley and bill proponents and rejected it. So how come their public employee union -- the California Association of Professional Scientists -- isn't standing up to defend them and their work? ]

Health CanadaHealth Significance of the Survey Results - The provisional tolerable daily intake (TDI) of 25 µg/kg body weight/day has been pre-established by Health Canada as a conservatively safe level for BPA presence in food. Based on the average BPA level in canned drinks (0.57 µg/L*), if an adult (60 kg body weight) consumes one canned drink (355 mL) per day, the dietary intake of BPA would be equivalent to 0.2 µg/day which represents 0.0135% of the provisional TDI. Based on the highest BPA level in canned drinks (4.5 µg/L*), an adult (60 kg body weight) would have to consume approximately 940 canned drinks in one day to approach the provisional TDI set by Health Canada.

The results of this survey clearly indicate that exposure to BPA through the consumption of canned drink products would be extremely low. The low levels of BPA found in canned drink products available for sale in Canada confirm Health Canada’s previous assessment conclusion that the current dietary exposure to BPA through food packaging uses is not expected to pose a health risk to the general population.

European Union: European safety watchdogs reaffirm belief in safety of BPA

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ)FSANZ has assessed the risk to infants from exposure to BPA and concurred with the conclusions reached by the US FDA and the EFSA that the levels of exposure are very low and do not pose a significant health risk.

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Can We Bottle All That Phony Hysteria?

dog_snarling

As California prepares to turn loose tens of thousands of prisoners, extreme factions of the Legislature and activist groups are getting all lathered up about – get this – the supposed hazards of shatter-proof baby bottles (which incidentally have likely saved countless lives by preventing young children from choking to death).

As David Letterman would say: “I’m not making this up.”

Activist groups today are planning to adorn the State Capitol grounds with a 15-foot baby bottle as a PR stunt to push for Senate Bill 797 (Pavley), which would create the Toxin-Free Infants & Toddlers Act.

[Full Disclosure: The Blue Dog is working with opponents to kill this ridiculous bill]

In essence, SB 797 would ban a chemical known as Bisphenol-A (BPA) from baby bottles and other drinking containers used by children three and under. This would be a necessary and commendable goal if there were any serious science underlying the concern. Trouble is, even the state agency lauded by the environmentalists, doesn’t even see any reason for concern.

A scientific advisory board of The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) recently determined that BPA doesn’t even belong on the state’s Prop. 65 list of known carcinogens. Even wine and beer are on this list – but not BPA. Specifically, July 15 OEHHA’s Development and Reproductive Toxicant Identification Committee (DARTIC) unanimously voted NOT TO ADD BPA to the Proposition 65 list.

The Committee – consisting of experts from several California universities spanning a wide range of relevant scientific disciplines – serves as the “State’s Qualified Experts” for determining whether a chemical has been clearly shown, through scientifically valid testing according to generally accepted principles, to cause reproductive or developmental toxicity. If the state’s scientific experts do not believe products containing BPA deserve even a warning label, how is an outright ban warranted?

And the irony here gets quite tasty. Last month some of the proponents of SB 797 lobbied against the agency’s possible elimination, touting OEHHA as leaders in protecting public health through independent scientific research. They sent out press releases and wrote opinion pieces going to bat for the agency.

Now, when science-based policy doesn’t support activist driven policy, OEHHA’s science advisory board becomes the focus. Activists are now pouting that the “committee is made up of political appointees who do not necessarily have the research and science background best-suited to interpret cutting-edge science, as evidenced by this decision.”

So let’s get this straight: last month OEHHA worth saving from the budget ax, but this month the agency is being advised by political appointees who don’t have the expertise to make these decisions? Please, give us all a break.

The SB 797 special interests have also got to be annoyed with our northern neighbors and friends across the pond. After all, the U.S. activists love to fawn all over the EU and Canada when it comes to their chemical policies. So the following facts must also be hard for them to swallow:

  • Just last month, Health Canada released studies of BPA in infant formula and baby food containers and concluded “Based on the overall weight of evidence, as described in the Health Risk Assessment of BPA from food packaging applications, the results of this survey further confirms Health Canada’s previous assessment conclusion that the current dietary exposure to BPA through food packaging uses is not expected to pose a health risk to the consumer
  • Regulatory agencies in the EU, Japan, United Kingdom and Australia/New Zealand have looked at BPA as used in these applications and have not issued any restrictions.  Do we assume that those regulatory agencies are made up of unqualified political appointees too?
  • Finally, SB 797 flies in the face of the Green Chemistry initiative – the Governor and Legislature’s landmark measure to take chemical policy out of the hands of Legislators and into the hands of state scientists.

Why is a bill like this even circulating?

Pavely is a teacher and land use expert. Most, if not all of her colleagues have no serious scientific credentials. I don’t believe there is a toxicologist among them. Yeah, tree-tall baby bottles may make for snappy PR events and great TV news, but if you look inside this big bottle all you will see is special interest scare tactics and specious science.

Meanwhile, how about those freed inmates?

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461 Days & Counting

Bone


While the BlueDog has been away for the past few weeks tending to some family matters, he has been keeping mental notes of things we will be catching up on in the next few posts: juicy hypocrisy, the elevated status of moderates in DC and, if we can stomach it, our new state budget.

Today let’s circle back on a wonderful cover story in the New York Times Magazine a few Sundays ago profiling the 2010 race for California governor. Not only is it a great, albeit highly subjective, read, it provides a refreshing and sharp brand of insight that only a perceptive outsider can offer.  How Mark Leibovich, a reporter in the paper’s Washington bureau, and his editors, portrayed the candidates was fascinating, as was the respective candidate views on Governor Schwarzenegger and California’s battered condition. CalBuzz weighed in a while back with its take on the story. Here are some of the BlueDog’s top-line impressions from the article (in alphabetical order):

Jerry Brown: Comes across as the elder statesman. A far cry from the Moonbeam days. “An unlikely grown-up in the field, Jerry Brown recently dubbed himself as the Apostle of Common Sense . . .  Brown delights in deflating overblown rhetoric,” Leibovich writes.

Tom Campbell: Glowing appraisal of his resume [“immaculately credentialed policy marvel”] and his stance as a socially liberal Republican with strong acumen in government finance. “The perception lingers that he will be seriously outgunned” but could benefit from the entry of a social conservative candidate, who would siphon support away from Whitman and Poizner.

Dianne Feinstein: While not a focus of the story, the Senator’s towering presence was mentioned in passing. No insight into her plans, just the usual: If she gets in the race, she is the immediate front runner.

Gavin Newsom: Suprisingly big play for the SF mayor. He garners a nice cover photo as the “Gavinator.” Inside he gets similar star treatment with another full-page photo on the beach. You’d think he was the heir apparent to Arnold judging from all the fawning and attention. In terms of content, the SF Mayor’s struggle with dyslexia humanizes him in an endearing way. But he ultimately comes across as a flakey lightweight trying to claim he isn’t a liberal. A description of a Newsom visit to the Central Valley is pretty comical. And the fact Newsom (he who reigns over the self-proclaimed greenest city on earth) zooms away in a gas guzzling SUV is a classic image.

Steve Poizner: Strolling through what appears to be the Capitol Rose Garden, Poizner’s photo is flattering and he looks like a governor. But Leibovich suggests that he is dead in the water. “Poizner faces many obstacles. For starters, he is the state’s insurance commissioner (bookish, with a beakish nose) and is little-known, and his name sounds like poison.”  Ouch. That hardly seemed necessary.

Meg Whitman:  While she got a fair amount of ink, Whitman was the only one of the five profiled candidates with no photo in the story. Nada. Zero. Zilch. Unless the former queen of eBay declined a photo session, this was a major slight and an inexcusable omission.  After all, she is the only woman in the race, and many consider her a highly formidable candidate. Like Poizner, she was the recipient of snide editorial comment. It’s not like the NYT is going to decide the 2010 election but she got glaringly short shrift; her campaign consultants should still be steaming at the treatment. NYT editors should know better.

A winner on this early national media stage?

Newsom if you just glanced at the pictures and scanned the piece; Brown and Campbell if you were looking for substance and took time to read the story. Come to think of it, the latter two would make for an interesting race in November. Brown has aged in way that appears to bring him closer to the center as a visionary pragmatist. Campbell brings many of those same qualities to the table as a seasoned, moderate Republican.

But take time to read the piece and decide for yourself. By the way, no one really answered the big question boasted in headline: Why do the candidates want the job? We have 461 more days to find out.

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Comfortably Numb in Neverland

Main Dog

“After the ecstasy, the laundry,” goes the Zen adage.

Or in Sacramento terms: “After Independence Day celebrations, the grindstone.”

And it looks like the grindstone is still winning. Big 5 leadership noses rubbed raw. Budget gridlock continues. Tough, impossible choices are delayed. No news here.

And really, does anyone really care outside of Sacramento? Isn’t it totally plausible that our elected officials are getting more calls from constituents wanting help getting tickets to the Michael Jackson memorial service than are grousing about the budget? Our legislators have got to be breathing a huge sigh of relief that the Michael Jackson Saga is sucking so much media and public attention from away from the impasse. Nothing like a good soap opera to relieve the pressure.

For a minute, let’s suspend reality and dream of a world when Californians and the media gave even a fraction of the attention and energy into our dysfunctional government as is going into the King of Pop’s funeral arrangements and second coming [The Blue Dog, swear to God, actually saw a newscast this evening devoting coverage to some local guy who says a knot in his birch tree contains the face of Jackson].

One percent of that kind of interest in the Capitol and we’d have a budget. Five percent, a revolution . . .

Yeah, Independence Day is a time for feeling good about our country, state and freedoms. But that is only half of the bargain. The other piece is that we all possess a responsibility to be passionately engaged in our Democracy. When we pay obsessively more attention to birch trees and dead celebrities we shouldn’t complain too much about the government we get.

The contrast between what is going on in LA and Sacramento over this past Fourth of July and well into the foreseeable future is almost too much to bear. Meanwhile, we’ve got a lot of laundry piling up.

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High-Priced Escorts?

This Bites

Did you hear the one about the convicted murderer, an elderly female prisoner with breast cancer? How many prison guards did it take to provide an escort to her chemotherapy appointment?

In California, the rumored punchline is: FOUR.

A little bird, albeit not a jailbird, dropped this tidbit in the Blue Dog’s dish. Can’t vouch for the veracity of the information, but if true, this has to be a candidate for the  annual “$72,000 Government Toilet Seat Awards.”

We already know the sweet arrangement the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) has going. Sure we need to respect, protect and fairly compensate our prison guards, who no doubt have phenomenally difficult and thankless jobs. But this type of story may hint at why California needs what — 30,000 prison guards and a budget some three times that of a state like Texas? And if true, this quadruple burly escort service for old ladies — even if it would happen to be a mass murderer like Dorothea Puente — would seem obvious overkill. Are these the policies written into contracts from which California cannot escape?

While a card-carrying member of Amnesty International who is all for humane treatment of inmates, the BlueDog is compelled to ask if we’ve taken things too far. Do prisoners receive better healthcare than the working poor or even the middle class? Is their food service of higher quality than the lard and dough we feed our school kids? (A produce company has complained to the BlueDog that inmates are mandated to receive top grade fruits and veggies.)

Perhaps above all else, the moderate faction abhors the imprisonment of common sense and balance. Prison reform is a massively complex matter requiring a lot of legal maneuvering. But there’s a simple way to have your voice heard — either regarding questionable corrections or other agency expenditures: report it to Governor Schwarzenegger’s Waste Watchers Program.

After all, this is your government. And the time is ripe for speaking out.

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Docs’ Eye View of Healthcare Reform

Pay AttentionBefore mowing on a tasty Father’s Day dinner of BBQ spareribs, grilled corn and summer salad, the BlueDog posed the following question to his own father and brother-in-law, Mayo and Cleveland Clinic-trained Central Valley physicians with a combined 103-years of experience in American medicine:

If you could wave a wand and fix the healthcare system in the United States, what would you do?

Here is what they said. Bear in mind, these are fiercely opinionated and incredibly intelligent, ethical doctors who entered medicine as a calling and out of a love for medicine. They are on the far downside of their careers. They have no turf they need to protect.  They aren’t being paid to defend anyone’s position, including the AMA’s. ["Too many doctors nowadays think MD stands for much dough," my brother-in-law even lamented.]. They just speak bluntly, as doctors often do, about how things should be. It’s about as pure a viewpoint you can get these days. You might be surprised at their views:

(1) The delivery system should be a single payer system -think Medicare for everyone – but run by a quasi-governmental organization such as the Federal Reserve, Tennessee Valley Authority or Base Closure Commission with strong input from respected professionals and medical economists and a minimum number of politicians.

(2) Cost containment is key and depends on properly placed provider incentives for efficiency – that is, (a) budgets negotiated with large physician run, cohesive, integrated multispecialty medical groups with strong leadership and experience in utilization review and quality assessment (there are many now in existence – Mayo’s, Cleveland Clinic, Sutter, Kaiser, etc., most participating in HMOS), (b) avoid physician-owned facilities and (c) negotiate a national drug formulary.

(3) Evidence-based medicine. Define quality using the most recent information from data-based medical studies. Require, as much as possible, that treatments and diagnostic procedures are in line with current standards as determined by professionals.

(4) Systems should be funded by a pay-as-you-go, transparent, fund from visible personal and business taxes, which over time would replace all or most of present private premiums. This should not be funded from general tax revenue. A reasonable administrative cost allowed, perhaps not over 5 percent. Commercial insurance would remain only is a supplemental form, covering deductibles and co-pays as is now allowed in Medicare.

(5) A federal cap on pain-and-suffering awards for malpractice. Experience in several states, including California suggests it lowers malpractice premiums.

When the BlueDog’s father speaks to community groups and seniors, he defines socialized medicine for them and asks if they are in favor of it. No hands are raised. But when he asks how many like Medicare, all hands go up. “This is socialized medicine,” he tells them. “And it basically works.”

So consider the source of these reforms. Two big-brained guys who have committed their lives to medicine and medical economics. No axes to grind. No skin in the game anymore. Just a passionate wish for medicine to be much more than it is today . . . in the richest nation on earth.

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Hating Conditional Outrage Over Hate

dog_snarling

A core moderate value is fair play. We bristle at double standards and identity politics. The PC Thought Police are getting on our nerves, and we wish they’d burn their energy pursuing culprits of an under-appreciated and highly insidious crime: Hypocrisy. Nothing rankles us more than when one person or group conveniently operates two sets of books – one for them, and one for everybody else.

Or, as Sacramento’s civil and measured morning AM radio duo of Armstrong & Getty so beautifully call it: exercising “conditional outrage.”

On this front, we’ve had a lot of fodder the past few weeks both in Sacramento and nationally.

Across the fruited plains, the Blue Dog has noted a surprising number of blanket accusations being tossed around by liberal commentators (especially Paul Krugman) in the New York Times that the conservative media is somehow responsible for the violent murders of a Kansas abortion doctor and a security guard at the National Holocaust Museum.

Really?

The Blue Dog never bought into the liberal media conspiracy, and he’s not buying into this mush-headed attack on conservative pundits either.  These killers are hateful, ignorant whack jobs. Period. If we’re really playing this sophomoric blame game, then we will have to blame liberals for the breakdown of the American family, the welfare state, AIDS, drug abuse and teen pregnancy.

The latter topic, of course, serves as a rather tidy transition to the David Letterman controversy.  The comedian’s foot-in-mouth joke about the promiscuity of Gov. Sarah Palin’s daughter(s) has been fascinating to watch, especially how it raised some interesting challenges to women’s groups, who one imagines weren’t exactly walking precincts for her in November.

While the Blue Dog doesn’t think much of Palin and is a lifelong Letterman fan, personal favorites or what side of the partisan boundary one is on should be irrelevant. The comedic Hoosier deservedly ended up in the crosshairs because he crossed way over. That was obvious. But what wasn’t so self-evident was how strong a backlash he would get. To its credit, the National Organization for Women (NOW) eventually stood up by inducting Letterman into the NOW Hall of Shame.

As an aside, did anyone notice if the City of San Francisco is now moving to become a Letterman Free Zone? Has the California Legislative Women’s Caucus put together a resolution to show their solidarity with the Palins?

Didn’t think so. If the joke had been doled out by a conservative about a Democrat’s gay or transgender child, the outrage meter would have broken the needle compared to what Letterman is getting.

Which helps make the point: Respect and common decency isn’t about right or left or middle. It should transcend all those artificial labels. Situational rules are confusing, hypocritical and ultimately a disservice to serious, legitimate issues.

We may wonder why President Obama gets a free pass on gay marriage, but the former Miss California is held in contempt and is fair game for her views when they basically mirror Obama’s. Shouldn’t she be accorded the same respect as the transgender community, which was on the receiving end of a recent Sacramento shock jock attack?

Although their formats and subject matter differ, why is Letterman merely a comic, but Rush Limbaugh somehow the voice of an entire party – and not simply the bombastic entertainer he really is? And if the N word is as despicable as the Blue Dog was raised to believe (the most offensive word in the English language his parents always told him), then shouldn’t it be so across the board?

Outrage becomes suspect the very moment we start hedging, making exceptions, parsing and partitioning our outrage to fit one given ideology, ethnicity or lifestyle.  It cheapens the respect we all ought to have for one another.

If we can’t figure this out and live by the Golden Rule, then we need to pass a law that says even feeble attempts at humor cannot be considered hate crimes.

If we can’t figure this out as human beings, we need to make every joke or comment about any subject socially acceptable again. Get respectful, or get thicker skin.

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Race to the Bottom

Pay AttentionAs hard as this may be to fathom, a few other states are competing with California for the distinction of most screwed up state.

It’s a Gong Show out there.

Illinois has given us a former well-coifed idiot of a governor accused of selling a U.S. Senate seat. Blogo’s wife is now putting food on her family’s table and paying for legal counsel by eating tarantulas on reality TV. Florida will feel eternal shame for the infamous hanging chad incident.

But according to Gail Collins in a recent New York Times column, New Yorkers are grousing THEY  have the worst government – While California quietly sinks in a sea of  almost quaint Alfred. E. Newman “What, me worry?” incompetence and stubborn ideological warfare, New York’s sports a different variety of dysfunction — scandal, absurdity and partisan musical chairs.

Here’s some of the juicy stuff pulled from her column about the goings on in the Albany statehouse:

* Two Senate Democrats defected to the Republican side of the aisle, throwing things into chaos. (One recently bounced back, tying everything up in knots)

* One of these fine gents is “about to go on trial for domestic violence . . . I can’t tell you how inspiring it is to see the fate of the legislative agenda hinging on a person who is under indictment for stabbing his girlfriend with a broken glass.”

* The only happy campers have been reporters, “who have not seen anything this interesting since Gov. Eliot Spitzer was driven out of office in that sex scandal and [now Governor] Paterson marked his succession by calling a press conference to confess he had cheated on his wife.”

Collins goes on to talk about besotted bathing-suit-wearing Louisiana lawmakers being dragged back to the Baton Rouge state house by state troopers a few years back. She reminds us of Pennsylvania legislators giving themselves four years ago an enormous pay raise at 2 a.m. [They now have a curfew for legislative sessions].

But New York, she says, is working overtime to earn the distinction as worst state government.

Collins never mentioned California. Not once.

Should we feel comforted by this omission; that our bleak situation is flying under the radar and that things aren’t really so bad after all?

Or insulted by another demeaning East Coast slight to the Left Coast?

The Blue Dog will flip a coin on that one.

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npr: National Prosperous Radio

Bone While we watch helplessly as many newspapers struggle to stay afloat, it is encouraging to know that at least one serious purveyor of in-depth news is thriving: National Public Radio.

Before anyone tries to gore the station as a bastion of liberalism, consider  independent market data that draws a very different and eyebrow-raising conclusion: 34 percent of NPR listeners define themselves as conservatives. That’s nearly equal to the 37 percent who say they tilt far left. The rest, or 29 percent, say they are middle of the road (us blue doggies).  

An NPR insider explained there remains a strong appetite among the radio’s demographic (typically college-educated with good incomes) for substantive programming regardless of their political viewpoint. And just for fun, even if it were it to be documented that NPR is massively liberal in its content, wouldn’t this suggest conservatives are more open-minded than liberals? After all, can you imagine 34-percent of The O’Reilly Factor viewers identifying themselves as liberals?

But we’re chasing a tangent. What is fascinating about NPR is that it is running counter to the trend we’re seeing with the Incredible Shrinking Attention Span (ISAS) throughout our society. Get this: There actually are people out there who prefer five and ten-minute segments as opposed to 30-second snippets . . . People who are gravitating to calm, thoughtful voices rather than the political rants and raves that infect the AM band and the cable TV talk shows.

And while the downturn in the economy has impacted corporate underwriting, the Blue Dog is told that donations from listeners are way up, as is the overall listenership locally, statewide and nationally, which has seen a 47-percent jump in the past seven years. More than 34 million people listen to NPR each week. More people tune in to “Morning Edition” than watch NBC’s “Today Show.” And can  you wrap your mind mind around the fact NPR has more bureaus (38) nationwide than CNN?

In Sacramento, Capital Public Radio’s KXJZ 90.9 FM has catapulted from the 16th ranked station in market to number two, only behind KFBK, according to Arbitron ratings comparing Fall of 2005 with the same time frame last year. Listenership has nearly doubled in that time. It is remarkable that contributions from just 10-15 percent of its listeners can sustain the enterprise. 

Some media watchers toy with the idea of developing a similar non-profit funding model for the newspaper industry. Free it from the shackles of Wall Street. That may be a stretch, but certainly anything should be on the table to save print or transition it safely to digital terra firma. Should we get to that point, the Blue Dog will be first in line with a contribution. In the meantime, stay tuned in to public radio.

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It Could Be Worse

 

A Snooze While there can be no state in the union more dysfunctional than California, we can rest easier and take heart in the goings on in South Carolina, where Governor Mark Sanford is fighting, of all things, federal stimulus funds. You read correctly — he is refusing to accept a $700 million (quaint by our standards, but with a potential to rise to as much as $3 billion ultimately) over the objections of the Columbia statehouse, which says it (not the Governor) have authority over the matter. The squabble is heading to the Palmetto State’s Supreme Court, and it looks like Sanford will get the short end of the stick.

For political observers here it is interesting to note that Sanford is largely seen as posturing for a national run and sees his ideological stand as a way to pander to the hard right. The Governor claims the money will bloat programs and create more government he won’t be able to sustain when federal funds disappear. Glenn McConnell, the Republican president of the state legislature, told Wall Street Journal that : “I believe politically he’s already moved beyond the state of South Carolina.” 

Outside of being hit by a plague of locusts, this is about the only fiasco or brand of gridlock that hasn’t befallen Sacramento. It also reflects on the relative sanity of Governor Schwarzenegger, who has welcomed the aid and sees the federal government as an ally. Just imagine if Tom McClintock were our governor. 

Oh yeah, there is another splinter of inspiration we can pull from our brothers in SC and it’s not drawn from Hootie & the Blowfish. Rather, the state motto: Dum Spiro Spero — “While I breathe, I hope.” . . . Here’s to California’s iron lung.

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No Moderate Is An Island

Pay AttentionSometimes, the Blue Dog would rather have someone else do the barking about the state of Moderate Nation. Some good mind chow in CNN.com’s “No One Represents America’s Center.”

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. . . Open Primary Makes a Baker’s Dozen

dog_withboneA Blue Dog reader with decades of experience inside the Capitol weighed in with another reform measure omitted in the 12 reforms mentioned in the last post. Here is what he says:

 “I think a lot of the reforms you mentioned would be helpful, but the key reform we need is the open primary.  Both of the parties are controlled by special interest groups so it is very difficult to win a partisan primary unless you are owned by them.  At least an open primary gives moderates of both parties a real shot.  It also helps make members from now safe districts a little more responsible since they could face a November election running against a member of their own party.  A little fear and/or respect of the voters would further help the system.”

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A Dirty Dozen Reforms for Reinventing California

Main DogAs the dust settles and legislators and the governor peer up and out of their foxholes, let’s hope they see the citizenry circulating petitions for gutsy reform initiatives. The system is broken and beyond repair. Time to tear down the entire house and build a new one from a new foundation up. So checking politics at the door, here are a dozen nakedly brash ideas — old and new — that should be on the table.  

(1)  Establish a Constitutional Convention that is not beholden, created or otherwise connected with the Legislature or Executive Branch. The recommendations of which would ultimately be put into a ballot initiative. Reform measures the convention should recommend and/or consider:  

(2) Reducing the size of legislative districts, increasing number of legislators to achieve greater accountability (see earlier post)

(3) Eliminating term limits

 (4) Weighing pros and cons of a part-time legislature

(5) Eliminating the two-thirds majority vote on budget matters

(6) Mandating a two-year budget cycle and level of rainy-day cash reserves

(7)  Pegging expansion of state spending to inflation or another reasonable benchmark level; maybe tacking on a few percentage points; but basically establishing strict spending limits coupled with a mechanism for flexibility 

(8) Examining the evisceration of all sacred cows, especially Prop. 13 and Prop. 98

(9)  Investigating what responsibilities and funding should be returned to local governments, which are by definition closer to the people they serve 

(10) Mulligans. As naive as it may be, we need to find a way to get out from under expensive contactual obligations and mandated funding for programs. Can an initiative wipe the slate clean so we can start with a clean slate — i.e. – renegotiating everything in terms of benefits, salaries, services, etc.? 

(11) Requiring a boot camp for new legislators prior to assuming office so they aren’t learning the basics on the job

(12) Creating a legislative process that isn’t a joke. Specifically we need to ensure exhaustive discussion of complex issues. Too many times we see enormously critical decisions made with just “two minutes for each side” to present their positions in policy committees. This is an insult to the democratic process and irresponsible. Californians deserve better. 

The Blue Dog totally gets the latest spasm of voter anger. But it’s not enough anymore to simply stew. Let’s do something titanic and constructive with all the vitriol at our disposal. Let’s reinvent the business of government from the ground up.

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Humor Upon the Gallows

dog_withboneThe worse things get, the more we apparently rely on humor to survive. The fallout from yesterday’s vote and sudden momentum pushing California’s  death spiral into oblivion has brought about an unexpectedly large dose of humor from several anonymous CalBlueDog readers. One offered some creative ways to generate revenue. Another  a way to make difficult cuts. Another sent along a photo capturing some of yesterday’s carnage. Yes the sky is falling, but we might as well chuckle before it crashes down on our heads: 

*Revenue from Naming Rights: “The Legislature ought to start selling ad space and naming rights in the Capitol and at the various state agencies to raise money.” Here are some ideas:

- The Cache Creek State Capitol Dome (with Neon Sign instead atop for an extra Billion) . . . The Kaiser-Permanente Department of of Public Health . . .  The Chevron Department of Conservation . . . the Waste Management Integrated Waste Management Board . . . The Pfizer Assembly Committee on Health . . .  The ACLU Assembly Committee on Public Safety . . . The Senate Judiciary Committee brought to you by the California Correctional Peace Officers Association . . . The Toyota Air Resources Board . . . The Sierra Club Senate Committee on Environmental Safety & Toxic Materials . . . The  CTA Assembly Committee of Education . . . The SEIU Senate Labor & Industrial Relations Committee . . . The Disney Assembly Committee on Water, Parks & Wildlife . . . The State Farm Assembly Committee on Insurance . . . the Wells Fargo Senate Committee on Banking, Finance & Insurance . . .  

Budget Cuts from Survivor Alcatraz: Another reader suggests taking all state agency and department heads and putting them on Alcatraz Island, where they must fend for themselves, their departments and make a case for their respective programs. Arnold’s Hollywood friends can produce the episodes pro bono and Californians can tune in to make the hard decisions by voting programs and public servants off the island. We can follow it up with a Series: Survivor: Catalina involving legislators. The state could reap millions in TV broadcast revenue from advertisers; if the program goes nationwide, we get the royalties. 

Eyewitness to Carnage: Finally, this photo came over the transom. 

SS STEINBERG RIP

While the shot unfairly singles out Senator Steinberg, the Blue Dog imagines there are plenty more boats sinking with other names, including a large vessel called the S.S. Capitol.  The Blue Dog thanks his readers, and welcomes more antics as he gears up for more serious fare . . . “The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.”

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Think Small, Californians

Bone They say takers eat well, but givers sleep well. Maybe it’s time we start focusing more on our sleep. 

Given the enormity of the challenges facing California, it is easy to become fatalistic and cynical. The problems are so daunting and our leadership so dysfunctional that it leaves us feeling totally helpless and impotent. Perhaps we should adapt a new personal survival strategy: downsize our expectations of government/others and demand more from ourselves. 

Yeah, its easy to rail on the status quo and bark for reform. The BlueDog will continue to howl, attracting a growing cadre of like-minded California moderates in the process. But for today, let’s focus on pointing the finger at ourselves. What can we do to improve our own little corners of the world? The people we encounter as we go about our lives? How can we assume more personal responsibility for our fellow man?

There are a zillion things we can do that don’t involve giving money or too much of your time:  

* Donate clothes, furniture and appliances to charities. Donations are down and demand is up at local thrifts.

* Spend some time talking to a friend or acquaintance who has lost a job. Ask what you can do to help.

* Be a considerate driver

* Turn off the Blackberry and spend genuine time with your kid.

* Stop cursing. 

* Instead of scorn, indifference or subsidizing an addiction with loose change, look a homeless person in the eye and say hello. Better yet, extend yourself and buy him or her a sandwich.

* Pick up somebody else’s litter or trash.

* And because the BlueDog can’t resist: Maybe we should call for a freeze on all pending legislation for a year. In the meantime, requiring all legislators and their staffs to leave the Capitol so they can apply all their state-paid time to doing something tangible and meaningful in their communities — instead of being marginalized by a process that encourages division, problem-creation, mediocrity and gridlock. One would think that a more gratifying application of public service. 

If we did any one of these things every day, California’s collective soul might lift us out of the morass in some weird, cosmic way. At the very least, we would all sleep a bit better . . . even as California burns itself to the ground.

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Trivial Pursuits & Greed in the Bag

dog_snarling“Give Me Men to Match My Mountains,” begs a caption chiseled into a building across from the State Capitol. It’s a majestic call for leadership from another, less cynical era. Here’s something more apt for today: “Give Me Men & Women to Build Our Mole Hills.” 

From all quarters, the inane seems to be the only arsenal available to our elected officials:  To wit:  Sacramento County Supervisor Roger Dickinson, who thinks the critical issue of our time centers on banning plastic bags – a plank in a platform he obviously thinks will catapult him into the state Assembly next year. Way to go Roger, you probably do belong in the Legislature, a place where every day seems disproportionately focused on playing trival pursuit on the malodorous tongue of a frothing, volatile multi-headed leviathan known as the budget crisis, health care crisis, unemployment crisis, homeless crisis, education crisis . . . 

But those matters can wait while our elected officials dicker around with things like Assembly Bill 68 (Brownley), which seeks to impose a 25-cent tax on plastic shopping bags. Proponents trot out “Bag Man” at news conferences where they twist facts like taffy. A preponderance of science and research shows plastic bags to be a non issue. There is even a strong case to be made they actually are better for the environment than paper (note earlier posting here and again full disclosure that the Blue Dog has performed consulting work for firms that produce plastic bags and packaging materials).

Bag Man: A Capitol Policy Maker

Bag Man: A Capitol Policy Maker

The BlueDog- an avid recycler – is old enough to remember when paper bags were evil because they were made by raping our forests. But who the hell cares about  historical perspective? Or  pesky details associated with life cycle analysis, consumer choice, financial impact on shoppers or the Legislature’s abrupt abortion of its nascent plastic bag recycling program? 

This is, after all, California, land of endless opportunity to do something well-meaning, but ultimately amounting to a public policy mole hill. Someone should scratch at beneath the surface in search of motivations. Frustration on the part of our elected officials at their own self-evident impotence in solving what truly matters? A desire to distract us from reality? Control issues? Or is it something less cosmic and more base, like greed?

If you read the fine print of AB 68, you’ll see a provision that allows grocery stores and retailers to keep 5 cents for each bag they tax. Wow. The bag itself probably costs less than a penny. Bag bashers like Dickinson and Brownley claim “19 billion” plastic bags are sold annually. So if we do the math, that’s a $4.75 Billion reach into the pockets of Californians — of that, about a Cool Billion will go to grocery stores and retailers. Can they possibly need that kind of jack to administer the program? In an industry with razor thin profit margins, it’s no wonder their associations are on board with measure. Seems like an incentive to push more bags.

The winners in this game of trivial pursuit certainly aren’t average Californians, who have bigger worries on their minds and loftier expectations of their elected officials. Where is our Sir Edmund Hillary? Where are our fearless, dutiful Sherpas?

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Death By 1,000 Cuts & Tweets

dog_snarlingA state media insider tells the BlueDog that the Los Angeles Times has issued an edict to cut down the length of its front-page news stories. The new policy mandates that no A1 news story shall run more 28 or so column issues — a cut from the previous maximum length of 35 column inches.

This is a 20 percent cut, and is in keeping with a business goal of achieving a 50-50 balance of advertisements and news. Page A3 — the showcase for California and Capitol news — is a meager shadow of its former self. Consider the Thursday, May 7 edition, which contains just one article and a weather photo.

The Times has always considered itself a national paper — a claim increasingly suspect given erosion of interest in state news. Some speculate the short shrift stems from the fact the Times’ top two editors are alumni of its business page, which has now replaced the once robust California section’s mix of local and state news as the B-section of the newspaper.  With that shift, news from the state Capitol, matters of public policy, politics or state issues of import are now crammed into the A-section. Meanwhile California goes to hell. 

This internal news from the Times is hardly earthshaking. But it’s a another disconcerting symbol — not only of the amazing shrinking newspaper, but the anorexia Californians (leading the nation again) seem to have when it comes to substance in its media and information diet.  

Earlier this year, the Sacramento Bee eliminated its Monday morning commentary page, which now runs print advertisements opposite editorials. The op-ed is evolving into the ad-ed.  There is just something unseemly about this, even if it is sincerely designed to stanch the bleeding. 

The once derided USA Today even looks robust against the inevitable trend toward morsels of democratized, digital media. We are now compressing sound bites into nano bites; decentralizing news from established sources to random blogs (yes, even fairly credible ones like this one), Twittering “tweet”communiques maxing out just over 100 characters (not words or inches).  Against this benchmark, the 28 column inches in the Times is a veritable encyclopedia that warrants continued reverence. But the ink continues to ooze quietly from the newspaper industry like a shaving nick that refuses to coagulate. And we’re running out of band aids.

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Circling the Drain @ 14 Percent

main_dogThe BlueDog is still chomping on the latest Field Poll released last week about the California Legislature’s appalling approval ratings from the very people it purports to serve.  To realize just how truly abysmal the numbers are, let’s put them into a broader, more historical context of polling “lowlights”:               

Governor Schwarzenegger     33%
George W. Bush           29%
Gray Davis                   25%* 
Richard Nixon                       24%
Harry Truman     22%
California Legislature 14%

It’s a jaw dropping perspective. Can it get any worse? Unfortunately, the answer is probably yes, especially if we peer into the mind of the legislators themselves.

“You know, the Legislature is generally unpopular, but people tend to like their own legislator, ” Senate Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg said in Kevin Yamamura’s coverage of the poll in the Sacramento Bee

The BlueDog about choked on his English muffin upon reading this. After all, Steinberg is one of the best and brightest in the Capitol. By all accounts he is as decent and dedicated a public servant as they come.  While there’s a kernel of truth to his conventional wisdom, it comes across as cavalier and tone deaf. Nuancing the  sentiment of 86 percent of California voters seems like a risky proposition.  

This is exactly the type of mindset that insulates legislators from reality  . . . along with a highly deferential workplace environment in which they are fawned over, catered to and not always told the harsh truth by those around them as they travel up and down in their own private elevators.  Safe legislative districts and a broken political system only reinforce the illusion of being in sync with their constituents.

But this being a blog for Moderates, there is a one positive takeaway from the poll: the putrid view of the Legislature may be serving as a unifying bipartisan force.

“What’s remarkable about his job rating numbers is that there’s no differentiation between the two parties,” Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo told the Bee: “I can’t think of another elected official who, when getting negative ratings, scores just as poorly among his own party as among the opposing party.”

Sounds like a catalyst for reform. It won’t be long until the Legislature succeeds in flushing itself down the drain, and the 86 percent of us can commence the business of reforming California government.

* (Based on an online figure stating Davis’ approval ratings were in the “mid-20s” around time of recall election)

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The Specter of Specter for California Republicans

Bone  In case you missed it, here’s what Senator Olympia Snow (R-Maine) had to say in a New York Times op-ed yesterday about a key learning from Senator Arlen Specter’s (now D-Pennsylvania) defection to the Democratic Party:

“In my view, the political environment that has made it inhospitable for a moderate Republican in Pennsylvania is a microcosm of a deeper, more pervasive problem that places our party in jeopardy nationwide. I have said that, without question, we cannot prevail as a party without conservatives. But it is equally certain we cannot prevail in the future without moderates . . . We can’t continue to fold our philosophical tent into an umbrella under which only a select few can stand.”

Snowe makes a huge statement on behalf of Centrism. Her commentary should be required reading for Republican leadership and consultants here in Sacramento — as well as serve as a yellow light for Capitol Democrats, who cannot afford to become so cocky with power that they gun their engines and veer too sharply to the left.


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When “Green” is Mean, Meaningless Garbage

dog_snarlingComing off Earth Day 2009 is a good time to take a closer look at the notion of “Green.”

California moderates generally embrace “good green” — sensible and effective things like recycling, conserving water, engaging in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas and our respective carbon footprints. There certainly is no shortage of legitimate environmental issues to attack. California has a proud history of leading the nation in many landmark environmental policies. Most of us consider ourselves environmentalists. 

But precisely because of this positive association with being green, our state legislators are susceptible to any proposal masquerading as pro-environment. Among most legislative Democrats, if a proposal comes from an environmental group it must be sponsored by God him (or) herself.

Dance the Elitist Santa Monica Strut, throw out a sweet sounding name like “Heal the Bay” or “Save the Bay” and everyone collects a free pass to suspend common sense, ignore sound science and arrogantly ignore unintended consequences, including harm to average Californians, and yes, even the environment.   The Blue Dog has worked with the business community on related issues and has found the consistent disregard for facts (and constructive partnerships) to be staggering. 

As prime examples, consider the movement to ban Styrofoam food containers and tax or ban plastic bags. Sounds like a good idea, right? After all, activists claim our landfills and oceans are “choking” on this waste.  

While nice sound bites, these are colossal fibs unreflective of reality or the bigger picture.  No one wants this stuff on our streets or in our oceans. But these proposals exaggerate what amounts to a littering issue; they likely mean more harm than good. Consider:

* Plastic bags make up less than one-percent of garbage in landfills. 

* Significantly less energy and fewer carbon emissions are required to make plastic bags and polystyrene foam than paper or cardboard.

* Despite what you hear, San Francisco’s ban on plastic bags had no impact on litter from plastic bags . . . Check out the city’s own litter report.

* In SF delivery trucks dropping off paper bags to stores now need to make six more trips than it used to take for plastic ones, which are lighter and take up less space. That’s a six-fold increase in emissions. Would any serious environmentalist make this tradeoff?  

And what about the human and economic toll? 

* When recommending a ban on polystyrene foam — now embodied in AB 1358 (Hill) — the Ocean Protection Council callously and arrogantly dismissed concerns from real life workers who make these containers. “You can always find another job,” these mostly minority, blue-collar workers were in essence told.

(Hello?  They’re just good paying jobs with benefits in a state with an 11-percent unemployment rate. Anybody home?)

* In addition to the ban bills, AB 68 (Brownley) and AB 87 (Davis) seek a 25-cent tax on every plastic and paper bag given shoppers at grocery/convenience stores. In terms of tone deafness, this is on par with giving pay raises to Capitol staff. A number of local governments are considering the same bad move. 

* Also, don’t forget the legislature recently passed a bill to boost bag recycling – the first in the nation!  Prodded by activists, they now say recycling doesn’t work so it is time to go postal on plastic. 

Due to liberal Democrats’ inability to distinguish good green from bad, these bills can be expected to flutter to the Governor’s desk upon green halo wings.

After all, isn’t it easier to ban or tax than roll up the sleeves to do something substantive — like creating innovative green job programs with incentives to recycle more plastic bags and foam containers?  Or how about simply cracking down rock hard on people who litter? 

One hopes the Governor with see these measures for what they really are: well-intentioned, but ultimately mean and meaningless green garbage from elitist cocktail environmentalists who have perfected the art of insidiously trashing California with misguided ideas.

 

 

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Centrists Rising

dog_withboneWhile the phrase “groundswell of moderation” may seem like an oxymoron, the robust and quiet center of California is mobilizing to offer an array of reform measures intended to help fix state government.  In case you missed it, check out the piece today from the Sacramento Bee’s Dan Walters, “Two Strategies to Change California Government.”

Here’s a choice excerpt from his column: 

“California’s never-ending budget crisis has, if nothing else, solidified broader acceptance of what until recently had seemed to be a radical notion – that the state’s governance is deeply flawed and needs fundamental overhaul.

“Two centrist, bipartisan civic groups – California Forward and the Bay Area Council – are pushing two different and somewhat competitive reform strategies, both aimed at asking voters next year to take action of some kind, and both appear to be picking up steam.”

The message to California Blue Dogs: you are not alone.

Stay tuned.

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Time for a Simple Majority

main_dogModerate Californians like their checks and balances. Leaning toward the fiscally conservative side of the spectrum, we have historically found a degree of comfort in knowing a two-thirds majority is required to pass a budget in the California Legislature.  The rule has provided the minority Republicans with some leverage and an ability to help keep runaway liberal spending at bay. 

The Blue Dog has always thought this a reasonable provision in our state’s constitution and believed it worth preserving. But no longer. It is time consider a new position on this important issue. 

The rationale? The Republicans themselves. Instead of using the super-majority constructively  as a way to extract reforms and compromise, the Republican right wingers have repeatedly used it like Somali pirates wield their AK-47s — to take the state hostage.

The most recent example surfaced over the weekend with the state GOP voting down all six reform measures on the May 19 special ballot. The Governor and legislature — including a few moderate Reps — put Proposition 1A and the other package of initiatives as a compromise effort to curb spending in exchange for temporary tax increases.

Perfect? No. Progress and a necessary move in the right direction? Yes.

The California Chamber of Commerce, Farm Bureau and other Republican-leaning groups also agree and are supporting the reform. 

By formally adopting its already known NO position, the state GOP has etched its irresponsibility in stone. The party ideologues have  made it clear that they favor bomb throwing and scorched earth policies to imperfect compromise.

Yet, what they are doing is going to blow up in their faces. By shoving moderates away, the right wing is inviting us to embrace Democratic efforts to strip away the privilege of a two-thirds budget vote.

If the May 19 measures go down in flames, as predicted, the next move on the chessboard needs to be a push for a simple majority. It’s the only sane option left. The GOP has simply failed as a trusted steward of the two-thirds rule and deserves a simple majority. 

The Navy SEALs spent a lot of time monitoring the behavior of the Somali pirates before they took action. The patterns of the right in Sacramento are pretty well established and predictable.  So don’t be surprised if Californians pull the trigger and take away the weapon of choice from the state’s homegrown brand of political pirates. It seems the only way to rescue California from its perpetual hostage situation.

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Let’s Tea Party in the Cayman Islands

This Bites

The National Tax Day Tea Parties held today in Sacramento and around the country were clever media events and may have raised elements of legitimate issues. But were all these protestors angry at the right people?

According to a recent report on NPR, the United States Treasury estimates our country loses $123 billion annually in tax revenues owed by scofflaws who avoid taxes via such tax haven nations as the Cayman Islands, Switzerland and the Dutch Antilles.  If we were able to reign in these offshore tax cheats, the recouped revenue would be so great that it would cut taxes by 12 percent for every American taxpayer, says the story’s interviewee, David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author.   

Twelve percent? Staggering.  The flip side of this factoid reveals a brutal truth:  law-abiding, tax-paying Americans of all stripes and incomes — from the working poor and middle class to the upper class and the rich — are carrying the freight for all the wealthy American individuals and corporations gaming the system through international tax havens. 

The Blue Dog doesn’t have a single bone to pick with Americans who have come by their wealth honestly and legally — be it from hard work, luck, ingenuity or inheritance. If you’re rich, good for you.  Just pay your taxes. Most do, with those in the higher income brackets paying the bulk of the taxes in this country. Punishing the law-abiding rich by dramatically redistributing their wealth is ultimately counterproductive and antithetical to the American Dream. People with means are neither the enemy nor the target of this post.

But those who don’t pay a dime because they find shelter in the Dutch Antilles or some other tax-haven nation? And we subsidize this? Now that boils the blood.  

So let’s direct our scorn and reformist energy into cutting our taxes by 12 percent by going after those who don’t pay any taxes and are therefore stealing from the rest of us. It’s a bit ridiculous to think we in California can do much about any of this. Maybe a CalPERS divestiture protest that blackballs tax haven nations. Who knows. These are are thorny, complex matters involving sovereign nations and international law.  

The bottom line for the Blue Dog is that he had to cut painful checks to Uncle Sam and Uncle Arnold a few days ago. Like most Californian residents and small business owners in tax season, he grumbled and muttered a cliche about death and taxes, sucked it up, paid what he owed, then went back to work. No time or interest in the Sacramento tea party. But one in the Cayman Islands? Where do we sign up? 

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Eating Its Best & Brightest

 

main_dog When the Blue Dog was reporting for the St. Petersburg Times in Florida, an editor ripping up one of his stories joked that “newspapers eat their young.”

Nearly 20 years later, that adage needs to be revised. Like flesh-eating bacteria, newspapers are no longer content eating their young, they are devouring many of their best and brightest veteran journalists. The brain drain among the capitol press corps — especially at the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle — over the past few years (and months) is as disturbing as it is disheartening. And the problem is just as bad at the bureaus’ mother ships around the state. This is hardly a news flash; we all know this. But the wince factor just seems to grow with each departure.

The most recent example is Stuart Leavenworth’s announcement he is taking a hiatus from the Sacramento Bee’s editorial board. For the next six months to a year, he’ll be delving into the culinary arts at a restaurant in the Bay Area. One hopes this is really what it is portrayed to be — merely a sabbatical — and that Leavenworth will indeed be returning. Otherwise, it’s a big loss. Leavenworth has always embodied what is good and necessary in journalism: decency, open-mindedness and the ability to simultaneously be reasoned, critical and fair. 

Newspapers need to survive. But survival has many dimensions. There is the economic one, of course. And the question: will print last in a digital age? But the notion of qualitative survival too often gets short shrift in the discussion, as if it is an afterthought.

Not all journalists are created equal. Losing the best and brightest strikes the Blue Dog as a way to speed up the death spiral. When seasoned, respected and sometimes feared journalists get shown the door or decide to bail, newspapers lose much of the stature, credibility and value that makes them so essential to our society.

By eating its senior class, the Fourth Estate is devaluing itself and is in danger of becoming increasingly irrelevant. This is especially true in Sacramento, where along with Capitol staffers and lobbyists, the press corps is a vital keeper of institutional memory. Without  it, the watchdog role of the press diminishes. How can we mourn the demise of something once it becomes inconsequential?

As they push numbers around and ponder the next round of buyout offers, the non-journalist bean counters at the Times, Chron, Bee, et al  should realize that cannibalizing the core value of a newspaper is hardly a recipe for long term survival.

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Required Reading on Prop. 1A

dog_withboneLooking for a thoughtful, historical and dispassionate (albeit clearly supportive) perspective on the state’s May 19 special election?

Be sure to read “Dan Weintraub: Why You Ought to Vote for Prop. 1A,” which ran in yesterday’s Sacramento Bee Forum section. The piece speaks for itself and manages to both recognize and rise above the rants taking place elsewhere over the ballot measure. Despite its measured approach — or more likely because of it —  the pro-Prop. 1A column is attracting some pretty angry online comments from readers. If you missed the paper yesterday, Blue Dog says to check it out.

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In-Kind, In Reverse, is Perverse

This BitesMost Americans would be aghast if during the heyday of the Bush Administration the President had invited Halliburton to sit in for him on his weekly radio address. The inappropriateness of such a scenario is so clear and outrageous it doesn’t require any explanation.

 So why is it that the Democrats in California can so easily and with impunity cede their statewide weekly radio address to an outside special interest group?

 That’s exactly what they did when they recently handed the mike to Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.  While her address was a fairly innocuous tribute to Cesar Chavez, the content is irrelevant. The Blue Dog would be equally critical if the Governor handed over his weekly radio address to the California Chamber of Commerce to promote “Take-Your-Daughter-to-Work Day.”  

The point is this: Have we become so numb and cynical that such boundaries no longer matter?

The purpose of these weekly radio communiqués is to deliver a message directly from our elected representatives – not to curry favor with or reward a special interest group. And labor, especially public employee unions, in California is at the top of this special interest heap. During election season they offer up countless millions of dollars worth of “in-kind” contributions, including thousands of bodies to call voters from phone banks, walk precincts and hold rallies.

There is a surreal perversion about these in-kind contributions going in the opposite direction. And it has even happened on the floor of the State Assembly  last year, when legislators loudly applauded a labor leader sitting in the gallery right before a big labor vote his organization was sponsoring. We wouldn’t stand for oil companies being similarly honored before a legislative vote on offshore drilling. And we shouldn’t tolerate it with labor or any other group.

We’re talking about a brand of symbolism that is intensely powerful. But as it becomes more accepted and unquestioned, its effect on the democratic process continues to corrode public trust. After all, where do we go as a society when our leaders surrender not just their own voices, but their responsibilities to avoid even the appearance of bias, favoritism and special interest coddling? 

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No Cliffhanger: The GOP’s Lemming Leadership

This Bites

 

 

Let’s get serious about the English language. Seems we in Sacramento are pretty cavalier about the term “leadership.”

Is it true leadership if the leader is taking you off a cliff a la the final scene in Thelma and Lousie?  That’s the question any thinking moderate Californian should be asking in light of comments from the State Senate’s freshly-minted Republican “leader” Dennis Hollingsworth.

The Senator came into the spotlight yesterday, telling the Sacramento Press Club that his words were twisted out of context when,  during the budget impasse, he reportedly urged fellow Republican Sen. Abel Maldonado to let California “go into bankruptcy, let it go off a cliff, we need to prove a point, that it’s the majority’s fault.”

Hollingsworth’s “context” defense carries about as much weight as a Twinkie for anyone who has ever worked inside the Capitol, where pettiness knows few bounds.

[Note: Democrats are just as guilty of factoring into the mix how certain proposals and votes will “jam” the other party. But at least they haven’t of late been as blatant or tone deaf in public as Hollingsworth. They and the Governor actually appear to be trying to solve a serious problem by making difficult choices. What a concept.]

Since the new minority leader is the one who opened his mouth, he’s the one under the microscope. Which brings us back to the question of leadership and Hollingsworth’s utterances on Proposition 1A.

The May 19 ballot measure is the brainchild of the Legislature and the Governor.  Sure it has unsavory elements, but they are spread around. Extended tax increases for spending caps. 

Perfect? Far from it. But it’s not like this is some leftwing conspiracy. Special interests on the hard right and left hate both hate the ballot package. That should tell us something. The California Chamber and Farm Bureau Federation are supporting the initiative. Hardly radical groups. That says even more about this measure making enough sense to vote for it.  Even if its a Hail Mary pass play, who the hell cares at this point? 

Hollingsworth’s assurances he won’t be campaigning against Prop. 1A and the other ballot measures were mighty big of him. Just tell the entire capitol press corps and millions of Californians through the news media that the package sucks and is doomed to defeat. But no campaigning! The needle on the Blue Dog’s BS meter almost spun off the dial over that one.

Rather than standing with the entire Army, taking some bullets and showing a united front against a common enemy, Hollingsworth is taking his platoon AWOL and running for the cliffs, scorching the earth with flamethrowers as they bolt away. How sadly predictable.

The Blue Dog Dictionary doesn’t count this as leadership.

 

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Rumor Mill: Canciamilla Making Run for Congressional Seat

main_dogWhile the Blue Dog considers himself  more of a policy guy than a hardcore observer of candidate maneuverings, he isn’t above sharing some grist for the Capitol rumor mill when it lands on his plate. 

A well-placed source in the building offers this unsubstantiated scoop:

“Ex-Mod Squad Assemblymember Joe Canciamilla is preparing to run for the Congressional seat being vacated by Ellen Tauscher after she goes to the Obama Administration. He has $$$ in the bank and is being supported by a group of Silicon Valley types who supposedly will provide funding.
 
“Tom Torlakson has said that he will not enter the race and will instead be sticking with his run for Superintendent of Public Instruction. He has endorsed current State Senator Mark DeSaulnier for the seat, so there could be an expensive primary shootout between Canciamilla and DeSaulnier.” 
 

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Hit the Roads, Jack

 

Sleeping DogWhile right wingers love to pillory the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as a leftist organization, the ACLU has historically defended free speech across the spectrum. If the Blue Dog’s memory serves him correctly, the group has even defended the right of such despicable hate groups as the KKK to spew their vitriolic propaganda. The ACLU is at its most credible and noble when it rises above politics and keeps its eye on free speech regardless of how abhorrent or offensive it may be. 

Against this backdrop, let’s take a look at today’s news about Latino legislators and ethnic groups seeking to ban the San Diego Minutemen from the state’s Adopt-A-Highway Program. Okay, so the Minutemen are very close to, if not over, the line when it comes to patriotism bleeding into vigilantism. But is a highway cleanup sponsorship really the hill you want to die on? 

The Blue Dog thinks the issue is a a loser since it plays into the hands of the Minutemen. First, protecting the border is a federal issue; let them deal with it. Second, by elevating this in the media, you give the Minutemen unwarranted stature and attention. Third, while we don’t know where the ACLU is on this, there are likely legitimate free speech issues that make a legal battle futile.  

CalTrans head Will Kempton summed it up best: “The bottom line is there is no way to deny these folks regardless of how we feel about them.”

The Blue Dog recommends a more intriguing tactic: The Hispanic groups should organize their own set of volunteers to oversee the Minutemen’s clean up effort. Police them like the Minutemen police the border. Break out the video cameras to make sure they do their jobs cleaning up California. That would really get their goat. “Hey you missed that cigarette butt over there. Get the lead out, gringos before that Burger King bag blows away.”  There is no telling how much enjoyment could be derived from watching the watchdogs pick up garbage.  

Litter is supposedly such an ominous issue confronting California that the state Legislature has introduced a whole package of ludicrous bills intended to combat the problem (more on that in a future post). So if this truly is such a huge crisis facing the state, then let’s turn the Minutemen loose and divert their energy to picking up trash. Meantime, the Blue Dog is going to take a nap on this one. Wake him up when the roads are clean.

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A Doddering DC Hurts California

dog_snarling1Let’s get this right out front: The Blue Dog is an Obama supporter. While certainly not in lock step with everything the President says and does, the Blue Dog thinks he is the right man for the job at this onerous time in our nation’s history.  It’s not his fault that Godzilla had already taken over Wall Street and the nation’s economy by the time he moved into the White House. The Blue Dog bristles at the daily barbs and self aggrandizing attacks on the President by the Hannity, O’Reilly and their ilk. There is little, if anything, constructive about them.

American moderates of all stripes are pulling for this country to get its act together and witness some WWII era unity. But the AIG scandal is starting to say more about the incompetence of Capitol Hill and shakiness of the Administration than it does about rampant and obscene corporate greed. This episode isn’t some abstract scandal that happens 3,000 miles away. U.SSen. Christopher Dodd does California a disservice when he denies and then later admits he knew and approved language paving the way for obscene bonuses. It also gives ammo to the right wingers when it surfaces that Dodd is the top recipient of AIG political contributions over the years, as the Wall Street Journal reports today. 

All this bumbling and doddering damages credibility in Sacramento as well. It undermines efforts by Governor Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders to convince the public to support upcoming ballot propositions that would increase taxes in exchange for spending caps and tighter reins on fiscal accountability.  Government needs to prove it can police itself, as well as a corporate America receiving billions from taxpayers. 

The Blue Dog weighed in yesterday leaning heavily in support for Prop. 1A, which is on the California ballot this May. But the mess in Washington creates a perception 1A supporters will have to work overtime to overcome. While government cannot always run like business — they are indeed two separate animals — Sacramento needs to lay out clear metrics, oversight controls and layers of accountability to ensure the ballot measures in fact do what they are supposed to.

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The Beast with Two Backs

dog_withboneThe Blue Dog applauds the Sacramento Bee’s Dan Weintraub for his clarity in exposing  the odd bedfellows snuggling together beneath the sheets of Proposition 1A. The May 19 special election measure, an outgrowth of this year’s big budget compromise, asks Californians to approve short-term tax hikes in exchange for spending caps.

In the real world, these are called tradeoffs. Hard choices. Balancing competing interests. Gray areas. But, predictably, these are alien concepts for the black-and-white crowd.  

 “It contains elements that are very distasteful to both the hard right and the hard left of the political spectrum,” writes Weintraub, who wonders if voters in the middle (that’s us) will “split the difference between the extremes and chart a centrist path for their troubled state.” 

Let’s hope so. The Blue Dog thinks this is a no-brainer for moderates of both parties. On one hand, we have the lunatics on the right who see taxes everywhere — just like M. Night Shyamalan sees dead people. On the other, we have the liberal maniacs who think of government as a giant ATM that is morally obligated to generate taxpayer dollars as responsibly as the OctoMom spits out babies. 

This odd pair of special interests claim nothing is going on between the two. No hanky panky. They’re just staying on their respective sides of the bed, spineless backs toward one another, heads gently resting on their ideological pillows. The Blue Dog suspects something a bit more unseemly – a little political dry humping perhaps, making the beast with two backs at worst. This bedroom needs some air freshener and even more sunlight from the capitol press corps. 

Do the polar opposites really believe the rest of us wouldn’t notice how bizarre this relationship is and what it suggests to moderate Californians who want solutions and reform, even if imperfect and difficult as they may be?

Meg Whitman’s op-ed yesterday against Prop. 1A was disappointing in this regard; instead of staking out the middle ground, she used the issue to pander to the anti-tax zealots in advance of her 2010 gubernatorial run. (Whitman, it should be noted, is a distant third in a CalBlueDog poll behind Dianne Feinstein and Tom Campbell as the best moderate candidate for California). Hey, Meg, did you realize the California Chamber of Commerce supports Prop. 1A?

While the Blue Dog is still checking out the fine print, if the extremists on both sides of the political divide loathe Prop 1A, there’s a 99 percent likelihood the measure is a sure-fire measure voters should pass. If you’re sick in bed  (no matter who you are sleeping with), do you really expect the doctor’s medicine to taste like honey?

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No Bull: More Legislators Needed in Sacramento

main_dog1California legislators are out of touch for a very good reason: they represent too many people. 

Our state possesses the dubious distinction of being the least democratic and representative of any state in the union. So when a free-thinking voice in the Capitol is bullied, stifled or silenced by either Republican or Democratic party leadership, Californians living in those districts are disenfranchised in massive numbers. Each Senator represents about 847,000 Californians; each Assemblymember 423,500 constituents. 

To put this in perspective, Senators in other states represent a rough ballpark average of 120,000 — anywhere from 16,459 (Wyoming) to as many as 672,000 (Texas). For Assemblymembers in the rest of the nation, it’s an average of about 47,000 — from 3,089 (New Hampshire, which has 400 Assemblymembers) to 139,00 (Texas). 

The Blue Dog pulled this data from the National Conference of State Legislatures; it is a real eye opener because California’s numbers are so grotesquely out of whack in comparison –even with large states like New York, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Massachusetts, Washington and Minnesota. 

So here’s an idea the Blue Dog wants to put out for discussion: Californians should consider more legislators in the Capitol as a solution to gridlock. Yes, you read correctly. More of those same people who have crippled and disgraced our government? The Blue Dog realizes this sounds crazy and counterintuitive.  After all, how can more of a bad thing be good? 

One word: accountability. 

More legislators would mean smaller districts. Smaller districts would mean our elected officials would be responsible for smaller geographic areas and fewer constituents. We might even know who they are and be able to recognize them so we could bend their ears at a Home Depot or Safeway or Olive Garden. Smaller regions could mean more affordable campaigns. More affordable campaigns would likely result in a larger pool of candidates less beholden to the parties. 

The millions of moderate California Republicans and Democrats — and smaller parties themselves, like Green, Libertarian, Independents and Peace & Freedom Parties — deserve a voice more in line with their numbers. Micro legislative districts could be part of the answer if they diluted the polarized party political power and gave Centrists more representation, greater leverage and the ability to play a role in influential coalitions. 

Sure this is a simple concept. But it has some merit. So why isn’t this reform idea in play? Splitting California into three states sounds intriguing, but is really a pipe dream. Redistricting is a necessary reform that needs to happen. But changing boundaries doesn’t get at the root problem. We know the banking system got too big for its own good. The Blue Dog wonders if the same isn’t true for the California Legislature. He’s going to have a cigar now and chew on this bone some more. What do you think?

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2010 Governor’s Race to the Center

Main DogA surprising data point in Sunday’s New York Times: “38 percent of Americans say they are Democrats, 28 percent call themselves Republicans, and another 29 percent identify as independents, according to an average of national polls conducted last year by The New York Times and CBS News.”

While some of those calling themselves independent may be at the extreme ends of the political spectrum, the Blue Dog assumes most inhabit the center, and even may be registered in either party. We all know how shamelessly politicians pander in the primaries to their respective party’s ideological base. But then for the general election, they move to the center. 

If Californians mirror the national statistic, then nearly a third of the electorate is in the center. Given this assumption, the Blue Dog thought it would be an interesting exercise to flash forward to the fall of 2010.  So how do the proclaimed and suspected candidates for Governor look through a centrist lens? Tell the Blue Dog what you think by answering this quick poll, and forwarding to anyone whose opinion you respect. And if you think of any serious name who has been omitted, let the Blue Dog know. If we get a good turnout, we may do a runoff. 

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