Monthly Archives: April 2009

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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