A Booster Shot for Common Sense

dog_withboneChalk one up for sound science and common sense.

In state that too often makes policies, laws and regulations based on spasms of emotion, half-baked medical studies, distorted reality and political pressure, the approval of of Senate Bill 277, Sen. Richard Pan’s bill to require vaccines for schoolchildren, represents a major victory.

Major kudos to Governor Brown, who signed the bill into law yesterday, and to all those who voted for the measure in both houses.

For moderates, the significance of SB 277 is even bigger than the actual policy contained within the new law. It is a triumph over the hue and cry of a sincere, vocal minority of people holding passionate but extreme, irrational views. That includes moronic, mush-headed buffoons like Jim Carrey, who today called the Governor a “fascist.”

Right. We all want Jim Carrey dictating public health policy in California.

But let’s not kid ourselves. Whether it’s pesticides, ingredients used in consumer products or how water is best allocated, highly organized fringe groups will continue to push for policies based on the assumption of problems lacking credible science or data to support their positions. Just because these groups are loud, aggressive and committed does not make them right.

The nascent effort to eventually overturn SB 277 via a referendum will go down in flames, further making this point. So bring it on.

The success of  SB 277 suggests that maybe, just maybe, the lunatics really aren’t running the asylum after all. That common sense and science, not white-hot rhetoric, can in fact rule the day.

Here’s to hoping the Governor, California Legislature and the state’s quiet voters can keep it that way.

 

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July 1, 2015 · 7:03 PM

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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Filed under California Legislature, Congress, Journalism, Media, national security, partisanship, Politics

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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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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Filed under 2010 Election, California Legislature, Congress, Politics