Category Archives: Congress

What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love & Understanding?

This BitesIn surveying the myriad assaults on freedom of speech and thought, there appears to be a unifying culprit: Groupthink. Borrowing from George Orwell’s 1984, the principle is simply that enormous pressure within a particular group or political party stifles independent thinking or alternative viewpoints.

One of the most honorable aspects of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is that the organization will defend the right for individuals and groups to speak their minds — regardless of how abhorrent they may be (i.e., the KKK).  This basic freedom is under assault from all quarters.

The left and right and media continue their march to the extreme fringes of discourse. They are all complicit in this disgusting trend, which feeds off controversy, fear, emotion, hyperbole, the demise of civility and power of social media. The results are as shameful as they are sickening:

  • In the nation’s capital, Sen. Elizabeth Warren if yanked off the floor for reading a statement by widow of Martin Luther King.
  • Last week in Sacramento, the Democrats did the same thing by removing Sen. Janet Nguyen (R-Garden Grove) as she sought to deliver a speech criticizing the late Tom Hayden for his anti-war activities.
  • Panel discussions on both CNN and Fox News are nothing but forums for bias and shouting under the guise of journalism.
  • President Trump bans news outlets from news briefings in retaliation for unfavorable coverage.
  • Universities – including UC Berkeley (birthplace of the free speech movement) cancel speeches from controversial figures.
  • Protestors disrupt town halls with no intention of finding common ground.

What is happening, America?

We have become a state and nation of thin-skinned people who already have their minds made up in lockstep with their peer groups and according to their respective Groupthink labels. In this type of environment, anyone holding a different view is public enemy number one and a target for attack.

This is especially damaging to moderates, who often find themselves in a no-man’s-land that seeks to balance and find   valid elements of opposing views in an effort to reach consensus or compromise. One would think this approach would prevail because most people want solutions. Yet extreme Groupthink drowns it all out. This reality only confirms the adage that the only things in lying in the middle of the road are dead.peace-love

Enough with the labeling. Enough with the intolerance. Enough with hate.

About the only silver bullet the Blue Dog can come up with is to change our national anthem to Nick Lowe’s “(What’s so Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?” as performed by Elvis Costello.

Since this song was written by a Brit, maybe everyone can agree to this. Go ahead and laugh. Got any better ideas?

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Filed under California Legislature, Congress, Donald Trump, Freedom of Speech, Journalism, Media, Politics

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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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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Filed under Congress, Environment, Media, Politics

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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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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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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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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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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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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