Tag Archives: Sacramento Bee

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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Death By 1,000 Cuts & Tweets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Circling the Drain @ 14 Percent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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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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