Tag Archives: Blue Dog

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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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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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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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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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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