Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Conservative"s View Of Broken Government

 Tony Blankley, a conservative who has experienced the hard knocks of Washington politics, suggests we won't know whether we have a broken government -- a conclusion already reached in some political circles -- until the Republicans control Congress in 2011.

The budget hawks, he argues, will follow the will of the people to curb entitlement spending in Social Security and Medicare and funnel the nation's economy to a balanced budget and path to reduce the national debt. If not, then by Blankley's definition, we will have a broken government.

The author and columnist, writing in The Huffington Post, epitomizes the blinders conservatives wear in applying simple panaceas to complex problems.

Never mind the previous eight years the Republican Bush administration transferred a surplus to a $1.2 trillion deficit, plunged the economy to the brink of depression and got us in two wars, one by necessity. They enacted generous tax cuts for the wealthy and a drug subsidy program for seniors without paying for it.

Putting all that aside, the only way to salvage bankruptcy in our entitlement programs is to raise individual payroll taxes and Medicare premiums, reduce benefits and eliminate waste, fraud and abuse. According to Blankley, that's plugging a $50 trillion gap of unfunded liabilities in our entitlement programs.

It begs a question: Will the groundswell of an enlightened electorate voting for budget hawks be so gung-ho when they learn they will pay more and receive less bang for their buck?

And, another: Will the Republicans attack the Defense Budget with the same aggressive vigor as entitlements?

Blankley envisions this:

So, should the election play out as described, 2011 will be the year that will test whether our government is broken, because a pretty good definition of a broken government (or more accurately, a broken polity -- a government and its electorate) is one that agrees on a great threat to society, agrees broadly on what needs to be done -- and cannot do it.

While the more progressive wing of America views the Senate as dysfunctional because the minority Republicans are blocking all major legislation with the threat of filibusters, Blankley sees it as a victory for freedom preventing the enactment of bad policy driven by worse programs.

There is nothing new in that. I served in the Reagan White House and with Newt Gingrich in the 1990s. I recall feeling both times that government was broken -- the filibuster was blocking our majority rule -- because we couldn't get "vital" legislation enacted. (In fact, both times I was involved, inter alia, in the failed effort to close down the Department of Education, saving only its essential student loan functions.) We overreached. We got a lot done, but only that with which the public was comfortable.

Unlike some Republicans, he gives credit to the Clinton administration for at least balancing the budget once and creating a surplus with the inference the Reagan administration set the economy rebounding in that direction.

The fact is, a higher tax structure and robust economy swelled the federal coffers with income beyond their wildest expectations. The same cause and effect are needed to salvage the remaining years of the Obama administration.

Blankley cites examples of broken government in the fall of the Roman Empire and the U.S. Civil War.

Under Lincoln, "America got its first real, sustained taste of authoritarian government." Uh oh. Is he suggesting the Senate passing legislation democratically by simple majority vote "authoritarian?"

Blankley is a bloodied foot soldier for more intellectual conservative voices I respect in David Brooks and George Will. It's just sometimes the blinders he wears as a campaign consultant for Republican candidates can't filter his partisanship.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Cats Are Meowing For Charlie

Charlie Rangel, the smooth-talking gadfly serving as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, is a cat with nine lives. One might say this seasoned pol from Harlem is ethically challenged in today's world casting spotlights on influence peddling from lobbyists.

"I think he comes from a different day at school, where there weren't these ethics laws . . . where there wasn't the glare of public scrutiny," said Patrick Kennedy, the retiring Democratic representative from Rhode Island.
The first in a series of ethics violations were handed down Friday by the House Committee on Standards and Official Conduct  against Rangel. He was the only one of four legislators admonished for accepting corporate-paid travel expenses for trips to the Caribbean in 2007 and 2008.

Before we dive into any more of Rangel's ethical ennui, let's cut to the political chase. At least six times, Republicans have called for his resignation from the powerful committee he chairs. Now, at least one Democrat has joined the chorus.

A defiant Charlie counters never. He has the support of Speaker Nancy Pelosi. And, I concur. For now.

It is one thing to defile Charlie as a tax and spend flaming liberal. But to strip him of leadership for a penny ante fling is quite another. If nothing else, Charlie knows the House, has built relationships with Congressmen for more than two decades and can move legislation. He cajoles, backslaps, and twists arms. He is the consummate deal maker. That's the essence of what good chairmen do.

In defending her friend, Pelosi noted the report said only his staff, not Charlie, knew about the trip sponsors, and that's why he was admonished. “They did not take action against him,” she said. “They just said he did not willfully break the rules,” in a classic case of verbal parsing.

As much as I admire Charlie, I would keep a close eye on him if we were playing poker.

While Rangel may have thrown his staff under the bus, the other involved persons not only defied logic but demonstrated acute cases of amnesia. They said they were unaware the trip was sponsored even though they posed for pictures under corporate logos and banners.

Cleared were Reps. Yvette Clarke of New York, Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and Donald M. Payne of New Jersey as well as Virgin Islands delegate  Donna M. Christensen

Among the sponsors underwriting the non-profit conference hosts to resorts in St. Maarten and Antigua were CitiGroup, AT&T, IBM, Pfizer and Verizon.

Much more serious are these other ethical violations in which Rangel is fighting: 

Failure to pay taxes on a villa he owns in the Dominican Republic, the use of his congressional office to raise money for the wing of a New York college named in his honor, revised financial disclosure forms that show more than $500,000 in previously unreported wealth, and his use of a rent-controlled apartment for his political committees.

Among actions the House ethics panel could recommend is turning their findings over to the Department of Justice. Then and only then is when I would ask Charlie to step down if not resign from the House. for the last of his nine cats by then will have been sacrificed.

But until then, the political pandering proceeds. I loved this metaphoric jab:

"Pelosi and her allies refuse to listen to themselves," Ken Spain, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in a statement. "The Speaker promised the run the 'most ethical congress in history' and instead the voters got an out-of-touch, tone-deaf majority that appears to be belly flopping into the very swamp they promised to drain."

At least one Democrat is calling for Charlie's resignation. He is Rep. Paul Hodes of New Hampshire who's distancing himself from the taint of corruption while seeking a bid for U.S. Senator in that wholesome state.

Public interest groups also entered the fray. Their complaint is that the House can't hold its own members accountable. Said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington:
“The report simply defies logic. The committee apparently views its job to clear members of Congress of allegations of misconduct, not to sanction members or do full and fair investigations.” The case against Rangel and others involved 2,500 pages of documents.

Poor Charlie. The road kill is shrinking his cat population.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Bad Day At Blair House

Never have I been so befuddled trying to write a story after viewing seven hours of the health care debate between President Obama and Republican and Democratic members of both the House and Senate.
Here it is a day later and I'm still stuck. A couple of impressions do stick in my brain.

To drop it, walk away and pretend the rising costs and grievous and capricious conduct of the private insurance carriers will go away is a criminal act of neglect by both parties in Congress.

I was more swayed by the argument put forth by Democrats that it must be tackled in a comprehensive reform package than the Republican version of cobbling it together one step at a time. I agree with Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa that there are too many integrated parts that need to blend in conjunction with each other to  make it work.
The thought of doing nothing brought tears to my eyes each time a politician told a sob story from some poor wretch screwed by the current system. Those in the massive room at Blair House, the vice president's mansion near the White House, are numbed after reading these stories from constituents. Even those who had family members victimized.
Visions of 43,000 Americans dieing each year because they can't afford health coverage. We wouldn't stand for that one minute if we lost 43,000 of our bravest on the battlefields every year.

The system is cruel. The poorest of Americans receive more than adequate medical care through MediCaid. But if one's income is above Medicaid's lowest poverty level and even if they work two jobs they can't afford to pay for private health insurance which in many cases would amount to nearly half their monthly income.
One theme I heard during the meeting was that health care was a right by one faction and personal responsibility by the other. The latter is easy to say, as President Obama cryptically observed to a Congressman, when you're earning $170,000 a year. 
From all the chattering and posturing and talking points, the only gigantic gap between the Democrats and Republicans was providing coverage to about 30 million uninsured Americans.
Am I that dumb a deal couldn't be struck on those issues where there were overlaps? A big hearty Sarah Palin you betcha. On the flip side, the two bills passed by the House and Senate, even if they were passed close to their current versions, would be so watered down they probably wouldn't work anyway.
Yeah, I'm dumb. As if I didn't know what a donut hole in Medicare's drug coverage plan was. As if I didn't know the procedural process in the Senate between a supermajority vote of 60 compared to reconciliation of simple majorities plus one. As if I believed Sen. John McCain that circumventing Senate rules by reconciliation is a defeat for democracy in America as we know it.
For all Americans who politicians think we are dumb, I say adios pendejos.
During  that so-called summit, I wore a couple of hats. 

My MC (media critic) baseball cap was chagrin for the U-Tube episode of the clash between President Obama and McCain. Obama bluntly reminded the former presidential opponent "the campaign is over." A better observation by some was Obama playing CEO, calling all the politicians in the room by their first names while he was respectively addressed as "Mr. President." My observation was Obama playing Monty Hall in "Let's Make A Deal" and the Republicans were forever opening the wrong door whether it was No 1, 2 or 3.
Under my PS (political science) baseball cap, I gained a ton of respect for Sen. Tom Coburn, the Texas Republican and physician who pointed out one of every three dollars spent on Medicare is wasted. He suggested undercover regulators attack the system's abuse. This is a sore point with me. If fraud and waste in the millions annually is common knowledge in Medicare for years, why hasn't it been corrected? Why do we need a comprehensive health care bill to fix it? 
One pet peeve gnawing at me during the meeting was the Democrats saying health reforms must be enacted now. Well, politically, the time is ripe. However, few if any reform measures if passed would not kick in for four years.
The final thought I had on the summit was a yearning for the good old days when five or less politicians would enter a smoke-filled room and remain until they negotiated a deal. Not transparent, but terribly effective.
As we head into March and April, the media will focus as a laser on all the political machinations Congress may take on either passing or killing a health reform bill. The Democrats are so desperate most will do anything so that Obama can sign which he would do.

We must then wait until the November midterms for the dumb public to vote up or down on the politicians who both tried and failed to get us out of this mess. The Republicans are licking their chops. Even if health care is a dead issue on their minds, jobs and unemployment will still be live and well.

In the end, it's not good government. But the politics is boffo at the box office.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Sorry State Of Our Schools

Of all the professions in America, the one I consider the most important for an inquisitive, enlightened citizenry is the role our teachers play in private and public schools. Think about it. No other person, hopefully with the help and support of parents, has such an important impact on the development of a child than a teacher.

I consider myself among the fortunate to have learned at the feet of Harold Ambuel, my seventh grade math teacher. From Gordon Wilson, my senior high school English teacher. From Jonathon Chappell, my college political science professor.

I was doubly fortunate to have parents who would not tolerate excuses for D and C grades; my father because he threatened to put the horse whip to my behind; my mother because I did not want to disappoint her.

I, as millions of other Americans following current folklore, consider the ideal teacher none other than James Escalante, the calculus teacher at Garfield High School in the barrios of Los Angeles made famous by the film "Stand And Deliver."

The problem is: For every one James Escalante, there is 1,000 teachers who can't teach, can't inspire their students and if they survive enough years can't be fired. Not only are our resources drying up, they're directed and weighted to lift those unable to function in our society with a full deck or those who refuse to learn until it is too late when they wake up some morning in their 30s or 40s and suddenly realized what fools they were.

I am a firm believer of merit raises for the good, productive teachers we do have in our system. Make their salaries comparable to our civil engineers or some grade in today's job market that pays in the six figures.

I am told that teacher unions vehemently oppose a merit system -- even voucher programs --  and school superintendents and school boards do not have the will or clout to override such resistance.

The fact is, teachers are not paid well and it is a miracle so many remain in the profession which I would hope would be for love of the job. And, yes, I'm factoring in the shallow argument that most teachers only work nine months out of each year. Take a look at this chart. It rates by states a "salary-comfort" index which includes cost-of-living and other factors.

Illinois is No. 1 with an average $58,680 annual salary. Three states we'll look at closely are No. 39 Utah at $40,007, No. 42 California at $59,825  and No.44 Rhode Island at $54,730.

The recession has been extremely tough on school financing in which funding comes from property taxes, state aid, federal grants and private endowments.

How each state and school district face their budget cuts ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous. It is almost reading a fairy tale disguised as a horror flick on public administration.

In Utah, a state legislator proposes eliminating the senior class in all high schools to save what he figures is $60 million in a budget that needs cutting by $700 million.

In Rhode Island, all teachers at Central Falls High School were fired Tuesday with the hope half will be rehired next school year through a new federal government grant program. Rhode Island is an extreme case. Unemployment is 13% and Central Falls is an underachiever. Consider this:

Seven percent of 11th graders were proficient in math; 33% proficient in writing; 55% proficient in reading and only 52% graduated within four years while 30% dropped out in the class of 2008.

The Draconian decision by the school board was refusal by teachers to work extra hours after school for no additional pay. It is common practice in most states to fire teachers and staff who lack seniority and then hire some if not all back once the budget is reconciled, usually by August. Central Falls is a rarity where all were canned.

In California, the San Diego Unified School District board began cutting budget programs Tuesday, a process that has axed $300 million since 2008 in a district with 9,000 teachers, 130,000 students and 202 schools. About $19 million was cut last night from employee wages and benefits -- amounting to 6% of their current salaries -- in which trustees are praying the unions will accept.

Besides hoping for the best, San Diego is taking a kinder, gentler approach which makes one wonder why these expenses lasted as long as they have. Among the $63 million cuts en route to make up a $87.8 deficit in the $1.2 billion operating budget:

Cutting weeklong seminars at historic sites for fourth and fifth graders to two and three days; cutting a half day from a four-day trip for sixth graders to a mountain campsite; ending free bus transportation to families who do not qualify for subsidized lunches; cancel free educational testing for ninth-grades; and kill a proposed increase to special-education services.

“I’m worried about the kind of education the children will get next year,”  Pamela Forde, who teaches second and third grades at Rosa Parks Elementary School, told a Union-Tribune reporter.  “But I’m worried about my own welfare, too. My husband and I both teach in the district, and we bought a house six months ago.”

I'm worried, too. What happened to the 3 Rs? Little wonder why there are so few James Escalantes in our classrooms.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

DUI Checkpoints A Cash Cow For Cops, Cities

This article written by California Watch, an investigative team run by Lowell Bergman, former "60 Minutes" producer, blew my mind. It was emailed to me by a Riverside County District Attorney investigator and previous participant in the sobriety checkpoint program while a member of the National City Police Department. It is reprinted in its entirety. It is also on line at the California Watch web site.

Sobriety checkpoints in California are increasingly turning into profitable operations for local police departments that are far more likely to seize cars from unlicensed motorists than catch drunken drivers.
An investigation by the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley with California Watch has found that impounds at checkpoints in 2009 generated an estimated $40 million in towing fees and police fines - revenue that cities divide with towing firms.
Additionally, police officers received about $30 million in overtime pay for the DUI crackdowns, funded by the California Office of Traffic Safety.
In dozens of interviews over the past three months, law enforcement officials and tow truck operators say that vehicles are predominantly taken from minority motorists - often illegal immigrants.
In the course of its examination, the Investigative Reporting Program reviewed hundreds of pages of city financial records and police reports, and analyzed data documenting the results from every checkpoint that received state funding during the past two years. Among the findings:
. Sobriety checkpoints frequently screen traffic within, or near, Hispanic neighborhoods. Cities where Hispanics represent a majority of the population are seizing cars at three times the rate of cities with small minority populations. In South Gate, a Los Angeles County city where Hispanics make up 92 percent of the population, police confiscated an average of 86 vehicles per operation last fiscal year.
. The seizures appear to defy a 2005 federal appellate court ruling that determined police cannot impound cars solely because the driver is unlicensed. In fact, police across the state have ratcheted up vehicle seizures. Last year, officers impounded more than 24,000 cars and trucks at checkpoints. That total is roughly seven times higher than the 3,200 drunken driving arrests at roadway operations. The percentage of vehicle seizures has increased 53 percent compared to 2007.
. Departments frequently overstaff checkpoints with officers, all earning overtime. The Moreno Valley Police Department in Riverside County averaged 38 officers at each operation last year, six times more than federal guidelines say is required. Nearly 50 other local police and sheriff's departments averaged 20 or more officers per checkpoint - operations that averaged three DUI arrests a night.
Law enforcement officials say demographics play no role in determining where police establish checkpoints.
Indeed, the Investigative Reporting Program's analysis did not find evidence that police departments set up checkpoints to specifically target Hispanic neighborhoods. The operations typically take place on major thoroughfares near highways, and minority motorists are often caught in the checkpoints' net.
"All we're looking for is to screen for sobriety and if you have a licensed driver," said Capt. Ralph Newcomb of the Montebello Police Department. "Where you're from, what your status is, that never comes up."
Additionally, the 2005 appellate court ruling includes exceptions, allowing police to seize a vehicle driven by an unlicensed motorist when abandoning it might put the public at risk. Examples include vehicles parked on a narrow shoulder or obstructing fire lanes.
But reporters attending checkpoints in Sacramento, Hayward and Los Angeles observed officers impounding cars that appeared to pose no danger.
Reporters also noted that many of the drivers who lost their cars at these checkpoints were illegal immigrants, based on interviews with the drivers and police. They rarely challenge vehicle seizures or have the cash to recover their cars, studies and interviews show.
Some tow truck company officials relayed stories of immigrant mothers arriving at impound lots to remove baby car seats and children's toys before leaving the vehicle to the tow firm.
"I have to stand here for days and watch them take their whole life out of their vehicles," said Mattea Ezgar, an office manager at Terra Linda Towing in San Rafael.
This wasn't what lawmakers intended when they passed an impound law 15 years ago - the same law that the federal court has since questioned, said David Roberti, former president of the state Senate.
"When something is that successful, then maybe it's too easy to obtain an impoundment, which should usually be way more toward the exception than the rule," Roberti said.
The impound law granted police the authority to seize unlicensed drivers' cars for 30 days. The California Attorney General's Office said in a written statement that the state law is murky in terms of whether vehicles driven by unlicensed motorists can be taken at all.
Police do not typically seize the cars of motorists arrested for drunken driving, meaning the owners can retrieve their vehicles the next day, according to law enforcement officials.
With support from groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, California more than doubled its use of sobriety checkpoints the past three years.
To be sure, DUI checkpoints have saved countless lives on the nation's roadways and have brought thousands of drunken drivers to justice. And by inspecting driver's licenses, police catch motorists driving unlawfully, typically without insurance, and temporarily remove them from the road.
State officials have declared that 2010 will be the "year of the checkpoint." Police are scheduling 2,500 of the operations in every region of California. Some departments have begun to broaden the definition of sobriety checkpoints to include checking for unlicensed drivers.
To recover an impounded vehicle, owners have to pay between $1,000 and $4,000 in tow and storage charges and fines assessed by local governments, municipal finance records show.
Owners abandon their cars at tow lots roughly 70 percent of the time, said Perry Shusta, owner of Arrowhead Towing in Antioch and vice president of the California Tow Truck Association. Many of the unrecovered cars are sold by the tow firms, which keep the proceeds.
Cities show big disparity in DUI arrests and vehicle seizures
The city of Montebello's DUI checkpoints rank among California's least effective at getting drunks off the road, the Investigative Reporting Program found.
Last year, officers there failed to conduct a single field sobriety test at three of the city's five roadway operations, state records show.
Montebello collected upward of $95,000 during the last fiscal year from checkpoints, including grant money for police overtime.

The California Office of Traffic Safety, which is administered in part by officials at UC Berkeley, continues to fund Montebello's operations, providing a fresh $37,000 grant for this year.
Most of the state's 3,200 roadblocks over the past two years occurred in or near Hispanic neighborhoods, the Investigative Reporting Program's analysis shows. Sixty-one percent of the checkpoints occurred in locations with at least 31 percent Hispanic population. About 17 percent of the state's checkpoints occurred in areas with the lowest Hispanic population - under 18 percent.
Further, police impound the most cars per checkpoint in cities where Hispanics are a majority of the population, according to state traffic safety statistics and U.S. Census data.
Officers do not inquire about the drivers' residency status. Nor do they contact U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement when they suspect unlicensed motorists are in the country illegally.
For 12 years, Francisco Ruiz has run El Potro, a Latin music nightclub, at the northeast corner of A Street and Hesperian Boulevard in Hayward. Not once had he seen a DUI checkpoint. Then, in 2009, the city's police department conducted four operations just outside his front door.
"They're not taking drunk drivers," Ruiz said as he watched cars crawl through a Dec. 18 checkpoint at the intersection. "They're taking people without a license."
An hour into the operation that evening, officers had yet to make a DUI arrest, reporters observed. But about a half dozen cars were impounded, leaving drivers stranded. Only one of the drivers could show he was a legal U.S. resident.
The state does not consistently collect data on where local police departments set up checkpoints. A majority of California law enforcement agencies declined to release records showing which intersections they target, or what transpired at checkpoints, making it difficult to perform a statistical analysis of seizures in heavily minority communities.
But cities across the state operate checkpoints in high minority communities, the Investigative Reporting Program found through demographic data and more than three dozen interviews with law enforcement officials at DUI crackdowns.
Checkpoints in cities where Hispanics are the largest share of the population seized 34 cars per operation, a rate three times higher than cities with the smallest Hispanic populations, the Investigative Reporting Program's analysis shows.
The disparity between vehicles impounds and DUI arrests exist in virtually every region of California.
In San Rafael, 10 of the city's 12 sobriety checkpoints the past two years took place on streets surrounding the city's heavily Hispanic neighborhoods. Those operations resulted in four DUI arrests and 121 impounded cars for driver's license violations.
The LAPD's driver's license impounds doubled the past two years. One operation in December netted 64 vehicle seizures and four drunken driving arrests.
Funding for DUI crackdowns plays major role
The federal government provides the California Office of Traffic Safety about $100 million each year to promote responsible driving that reduces roadway deaths. Of that, $30 million goes into programs that fund drunken driving crackdowns, particularly checkpoints.
Police overtime accounts for more than 90 percent of the expense of sobriety checkpoints. Law enforcement agencies tend to use more officers than a checkpoint requires, according to guidelines established by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Statewide, police departments on average deployed 18 officers at each checkpoint, according to state data. The federal traffic safety agency advises that police can set up checkpoints with as few as six officers.
The additional dozen officers typical at a California roadway operation cost state and federal taxpayers an extra $5.5 million during the 2008-2009 fiscal year, according to the Investigative Reporting Program's analysis.
At least a dozen officers spent hours sitting and chatting at an operation in early January in downtown Los Angeles. A couple of officers smoked cigars as they watched cars go through the screening.
Impounds spur search and seizure concerns
California police have seized the cars of unlicensed drivers for 15 years under the state law that allows such vehicles to be impounded for 30 days.
But in 2005, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in an Oregon case that law enforcement can't impound a vehicle if the only offense is unlicensed driving. To do so would violate the Fourth Amendment, which protects everyone within the United States, whether they are legal residents or not.
One exception is called the "community caretaker" doctrine, which permits police to impound a car if it poses a threat to public safety, is parked illegally or would be vandalized imminently if left in place.
The ruling dramatically altered the law regarding vehicle impounds. In response, the Legislative Counsel of California in 2007 called into question the legality of the state's impound procedures.
A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of California's impound law is awaiting oral arguments before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals later this year. The state and several cities that are defendants argue that impounds are penalties for a criminal offense, and therefore car owners are not subject to Fourth Amendment protection.
Former state Sen. Roberti, then chairman of the Senate's Judiciary Committee, said he and his fellow lawmakers did not consider how the impound law might impact unlicensed drivers.
"It turned out to be a far more vigorous enforcement than any of us would have dreamed of at the time," he said.

Stuff You Need To Know About The Tea Party

This is one of those no, but, stories. I'm no great fan of polls. Too often the questions are rigged to prove a point. Often, the methodology is flawed or the demographics selected biased. I take polls for what they are: A flashpoint that may or not reflect a trend.

And now the proverbial but.

The Economist, published by our Brit friends across the pond, publishes a poll that indicates 34% Americans believe the national economy is getting worse compared to 62% last year. I bet the naysayers didn't know that. A quarter of the public say the economy is getting better compared to 5% last year.

That's the meaty stuff.  Then the questions really get cool as the Economist explores the inner-sanctums of the Tea Party movement. Among the findings:

  • 20% Americans, half Republicans, consider themselves part of the tea party movement.
  • 88% tea partiers think Americans have a favorable view of them.
  • 38% tea partiers say the economy is the most important issue while 23% say the budget deficit. Tea partiers more than any other group blame government spending as the cause harming the economy.
  • More than 60% tea partiers rate Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck with the highest approval.
  • 78% tea partiers do not like President Obama as a person while 9% favor his job performance.
  • 85% tea partiers believe Obama is a socialist compared to 60% Republicans and 34% of all Americans.
  • 20% tea partiers want their state to secede from the union while only 7% Americans would consider it.
On other issues:

  • 14% of Americans say Obama is a "racist who hates white people" while 25% Republicans agree.
  • 15% of Americans take the view that Obama should be impeached while 36% of Republicans and 44% of tea parties share that view. 
What I gleamed from the poll is that almost nine of 10 tea partiers are pretty full of themselves.

The poll was conducted before Palin told them they must decide to join either the Republican or Democratic Party if they wish to exert any political clout. Makes you wonder if they still approve of her by a 60% margin.

Big Fuss Over A Down-Sized Jobs Bill

Senate Republicans have the Democrats so spooked with the threat of filibusters that a scaled down $15 billion jobs bill from an original $85 billion to help get thousands of Americans back to work while millions remain on the dole is being spun by both sides as a major victory.

That's like shooting beebees at a tank.

And, wouldn't you know the new kid on the block, Republican Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, cast the vote that turned four other Republicans to vote against the filibuster 62-30 allowing an up and down majority floor vote Wednesday.

It amazes me of all the fuss. This thing is a can of peanuts compared to a much broader approach brewing in the House. Merging their two bills will be a piece of work. Now that compromise will be awesome, by comparison.

Just listen to the crowing from both parties.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. -- “Today, jobs triumphed over politics.”

President Barack Obama -- “The American people want to see Washington put aside partisan differences and make progress on jobs, and today the Senate took one important step forward in doing that.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R- Kentucky -- “Millions of Americans want to get back to work. That’s why Republicans will offer ideas that will make it easier for businesses to hire new workers. Those ideas should be considered, too.” 

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. -- “I hope this is a beginning of a new day here in the Senate."

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine -- “We have to demonstrate outside the Beltway and to Americans that we need to move forward initiatives that are going to benefit small businesses and individuals in a tough economy.”

Brown -- “It is the first step in creating jobs, not only for the people of Massachusetts but for the people of the country.”

After Brown's vote, other Republicans that followed were Senators Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, George V. Voinovich of Ohio and Christopher S. Bond of Missouri. Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska was the lone Democrat vote in favor of the parliamentary roadblock.

Keep that up Sen. Brown and your supporters might convince the skeptics you're the real deal.

And, what's the big deal?

An unknown number of shovel-ready construction jobs to repair America's decaying infrastructure. The bill would infuse billions into the nation's highway construction fund.

The provision would allow businesses to write off up to $250,000 in capital investments in 2010 rather than depreciating the costs over time. It is projected to cost the government $35 million over 10 years. About $13 billion would give companies who hire unemployed Americans an exemption from paying payroll taxes on those workers through the end of this year. It also provides a $1,000 tax credit to employers who keep new workers on the payroll for at least for 52 weeks.

During yesterday's debate, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., declared “Enough with the political games," believing his Republican colleagues were toying with the Democrats. That is before the Republicans faked him out of his jock strap. His caucus was prepared to call repeated votes to force Republicans to explain why they were balking at the measure they supported.

As I said. The Republicans have spooked the Democrats and got them in their cross-hairs. Bang. Bang.

Only in American politics can a band aide serve the purpose of a tourniquet.

Hampered By Age, An Icon Is Released

As a sports town, San Diego can best be described as sometimes a bridesmaid but never a bride. No one knows that better than LaDainian Tomlinson, affectionately known as LT.  The greatest running back in San Diego Chargers franchise whose 153 touchdowns ranks third in National Football League history has been released.

Age, a more pass-happy offense, an often-injured offensive line and the loss of the best blocking fullback ever -- all contributed to Tomlinson's pink slip in the cut-throat business of the NFL. He is free to be hired by the other 31 teams for what probably will be a bargain.

Tomlinson, 30, is an icon in San Diego, perhaps more popular than Tony Gwynn, the Hall of Fame outfielder for the San Diego Padres baseball club. He was the face of the NFL just as Lance Alworth, a former Charger wide receiver and Hall of Famer, was in the days of the old American Football League.

In football, all the former Texan who played college football at TCU wanted was to win the Super Bowl. His team made it only as far as the playoffs in four tries. Those 12,490 rushing yards, eighth on the all-time NFL list, were nice but no cigar. In 2006, he scored a league record 31 touchdown, was the NFL MVP and won the Walter Peyton Humanitarian award.

To me and 10,000 inner city kids, LT could have won 10 straight Super Bowls and never surpassed the good he did off the field. He and his wife LaTorsha.spent millions of their own wealth on charities through their foundation. They formed health clinics, playing fields, educational programs and drives for healthy foods for the poor living in the black ghettos and barrios of San Diego.

At every Charger game, Tomlinson bought 100 tickets in a bleacher section of Qualcom Stadium for the needy children. After each home game, he would sign autographs for the kids, do the obligatory high-fives and see to it they were given a hot meal before returning home.

He put his money where his mouth is,  meaning he did most of the charitable work without fanfare or pestering the daily newspaper for publicity. 

The average career of running backs in the NFL is three years. LT survived nine, the last year a statistical shortfall, including a pathetic performance in the second round of last season's playoff against the New York Jets.

In his six most successful seasons, Tomlinson played alongside fullback Lorenzo Neal whose blocks opened gaping holes LT would squirt, juke and dart through. Neal was traded two seasons ago and suddenly holes were filled with 300-pound defensive tackles. His desire was there. His legs were not.

I hope Tomlinson's wish is granted and lands with a team that can advance him to NFL heaven. One team that could use him is the New England Patriots which has come close to claiming itself a dynasty in recent years.

Meanwhile, the Chargers 1961 edition is the only major professional franchise to win a championship for San Diego. The Chargers were in the Super Bowl once and lost. The Padres were in the World Series twice and lost both times in 1984 and 1996.

I'll miss LT and that gorgeous baby blue old school uniform numbered 21.

Nick Canepa, the great sports columnist of the San Diego Union-Tribune, ended his column today with these parting words:

But it would have been great, great for all concerned, if the final shot in the Chargers movie featured Sheriff LT, the man who tamed the West, riding off, guns blazing, tossing down his star to the roar of a grateful public. A statue of the man should be erected somewhere around here.

But this is almost as though the director couldn’t decide how to end it. LaDainian Tomlinson came in like a 747. He should not be leaving by cab.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Virginia's Disgrace Banning Gays From State Jobs

 I am not gay. It is a reason I seldom venture into gay rights issues. I'll defer that usually to persons closer to the cause or the gay community themselves. But I also believe I am a compassionate individual.

And believe me, Buster, that compassion turns to outrage when a person's basic dignity and civil rights are abused by government or special interests. I don't care whether that person is colored, a religious zealot, another gender, a dwarf, and, yes, even a transvestite.

Who pulled my chain? Newly elected Republican Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, that's who. By the stroke of a pen and rubber stamp, McDonnell has signed an executive order removing protection for lesbians and gay men from discrimination in state jobs.

It rescinds an order Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine issued in 2006 that extended state policy specifically banning discrimination against employees based on their sexual preference.

McDonnell's chief of staff told The Washington Post  the new order still bars "any and all discrimination," whatever that means. Check that. Since sexual preference has been removed, to fire them for being gay is not discriminatory. Is that the idea?

What's next on the Virginia public employment ax? Obese white guys. Blacks who can't jump and useless on a basketball court for a pickup game between two department intramural offices. How about women who have had abortions. And what about the employment applications for state jobs. Is there a box to check that the applicant is gay?

Discrimination is discrimination. It sucks.

Having said that, I also think the gay rights issue is more than adequately covered in the main street media and Internet. The last I looked about 6% of America are gays or lesbians. Their advocacy in sheer number of stories outflanks by far their numbers as a group. But they are fighting bigots who cloak their prejudice in the cloak of religion and that, my friends, is a formidable foe.

I'm a reasonable person and former owner of a small business. There are certain rules that must be established such as arriving at work on time and no drinking or drugs on the job.

If two gays stripped their clothes, jumped on top of their desks in an office and began getting it on, you fire the imbeciles. Short of that, common sense prevails until their sexual preference, political rants, religious preoccupation or vulgar vocabulary interferes with the work they're paid to perform.

The Virginia case is not exclusive to Republicans for bigotry knows no political boundaries.

A friend of mine on the old San Diego Evening Tribune "came out of the closet" in the 1970s and made no secret of his homosexuality. Yes, he was a piece of work, but he did his job well and in time his gay advocacy gained respect from his colleagues. He may not have won the war but he has won numerous battles proving that gays are people too just like straights. I was happy for him and his partner who took advantage of the period when California's brief same-sex marriage law in Proposition 8 was still legal.

It's not that I am comfortable, as they say, in my own skin. Prop 8 and the dead-in-the-water U.S.constitutional amendment promoting marriage only between a man and a woman doesn't threaten me.

You can read to me all the Bible scriptures in the Old and New Testaments about the sins of homosexuality and it won't change my mind one twit. I counter with the Golden Rule.

To discriminate against gays in the market place, the work place or in Heavens' Knows Where, is flat out wrong. What they do behind close doors is their business as it is for heterosexual couples.

Presidemt Stamps His Imprint on 'ObamaCare'

 For the first time since the start of the health care reform debate, the president has publicly placed his imprint on the legislative package. He has proposed compromises on key elements that are different in the bills passed by the House and Senate.

The summary of what we can now finally call "ObamaCare" without the ridicule from opponents is in a pdf online. It was posted Monday by the White House, 72 hours in advance of the summit meeting Thursday between President Obama and members from both parties of Congress.

As a representative of Main Street, I urge Congress to adopt the proposals. Easy for me to say.

The ObamaCare plan is a start. It bridges the gap between essential elements of both bills.

It avoids discussion on two contentious elements. One is on the abortion funding question which in my mind is a red-herring considering the magnitude of the sweeping reforms offered in the two bills and the president's proposals.

The other is no public option to compete with the private insurers. Although most progressives favor a single-payer system modeled after Medicare, the president's proposal offers a market-based pool offering what is billed as affordable options to individuals, families, employees and small businesses.

One thing is certain. All Americans except the poorest will be mandated to buy health insurance or pay a penalty. Businesses employing 50 or more workers also will be fined if  they do not offer shared health insurance costs.

Where the president really stepped his foot in is proposals stronger than the House and Senate bills over fighting fraud, abuse and other criminal acts involving the billing of Medicare, MediCaid and private insurers by doctors, contract providers and individual miscreants who game the system. Those convicted will be jailed and their names placed on a universal data base.

Deleted for good measure from the Senate bill will be Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson's deal that would have given his state free MediCaid increases forever. Instead, the president proposes more MediCaid funding paid by the federal government to all the states.

The plan would establish review boards in each state supervised by the U.S. Health and Human Resources  agency to justify private insurance premium increases and forever end the practice of denying an individual coverage because of preexisting conditions.

ObamaCare would cover an additional 31 million Americans who now cannot afford health insurance and  reduce the deficit by $100 billion over the next ten years – and about $1 trillion over the second decade – by cutting government overspending and reining in waste, fraud and abuse.

I can't vouch for the deficit savings Obama concocts because we've heard such glowing promises in the past with vastly different results.

I  am also unclear how the Senate in particular will enact such a proposal into law either by reconciliation or challenging the 60-vote filibuster rule. As I understand Senate rules, it appears what the president is proposing could be handled by reconciliation -- 50 plus one vote for passage.

If the Senate Republicans hold the line at 41 votes, which they are likely to do with their new buddy Scott Brown of Massachusetts aboard, I would force them to actually take the Senate podium and talk a blue moon.

The Republicans would be seen for what they are by the American people -- obstructionists.

Easy for me to say. Majority Leader Harry Reid doesn't return my phone calls.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

What If The Republicans Were In Charge

Newsweek has what we called a thumbsucker posing what if the Republicans were in control of Congress and the White House.

I don't mean to put words in their mouth, but the answer is:

Not much.

The article divides the issues confronting our federal executive and legislative branches albeit I must observe that health reform and gays in the military would never see the light of day in a nation run by Republicans.

I was looking for answers to what the GOP now known as the party of no would do when they seized majority power. In this regard, Newsweek failed other than regurgitating what they are doing now and the not so distant past -- as in the Bush administration.

Before we discuss the difference on the issues, Newsweek summarized the current situation:

In zero-sum Washington, members of the opposition party have little incentive to help the president, especially if it means the credit for their actions could accrue to him and not them. If politics is the art of compromise, then politics as practiced in the capital is the art of preventing compromise at all costs. This is why, infuriatingly, our elected officials spend so much time plotting ways to stick it to the other side with "filibuster-proof super-majorities" and "nuclear options," while the unemployment rate hovers in the double digits and 46 million Americans go without health insurance. It is why not a single GOP senator voted for the health-care bill now stalled in Congress, and why Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell turned against a GOP-inspired plan for a deficit commission once Obama endorsed the idea.

On jobs,  Newsweek said the Republican mantra is simple. Tax cuts and tax credits:

Leave more money in the hands of business owners, Republicans say, and they will use it to place orders—stimulating job growth—or hire new workers themselves.

Republicans would end any stimulus program even though there is evidence the Democrats' $787 billion plan may have saved the country from sliding into a full scale depression.

On debt, Newsweek contends Republican leadership has failed to address the corp problem -- a $1.4 trillion deficit with a $12 trillion national debt growing at the rate of $3.87 billion daily. 

Small-government Republicans come down squarely on the side of smaller deficits. It is an issue that goes to their deepest principles, and appeals both to their base and to the growing tea-party movement they hope to win over. Cut spending, reduce government, and restore America's strength. Sounds great. Except that no one in either party has figured out how to do that in a way that won't cause a rebellion among the voters.

Neither party is addressing the elephant in the room, Newsweek says.

The real problem is runaway costs in three sacred entitlement programs: Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Until something is done to bring them under control before the baby boomers start retiring en masse, the rest is just talk.


One Republican, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, has introduced a detailed proposal to cut the deficit by reining in Medicare and Social Security spending. It would shift some of the burden from the government to individuals and introduce, among other things, a voucher system for Medicare. The result? Ryan has attracted just nine Republican cosponsors and zero Democrats.

On health care, the Republican 219-page reform package duplicates what the Democrats took 1,990 pages to write.

Democrats favor one vast nationwide pool and would require insurers to offer plans that meet government minimum requirements for coverage and costs so the industry can't steer the old and sick into more expensive plans with stingier benefits. Republicans see that as intrusive government meddling. They want a system of small, self-selecting pools of people with similar needs. The free market will see to it that insurance companies meet demand, they say—a claim that is met with skepticism by many economists and health-care analysts, who note that it hasn't worked that way in places where such ideas have been tried.

On foreign policy, there is little disagreement since the Obama administration essentially is following the policies of the Bush regime. There are red-herring disputes closing Guantanamo Bay prison and the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" rule banning gays in the military. On whether to try military combatants in federal or military courts, Newsweek uses Missouri Republican Sen. Kit Bond as the voice of the GOP:

Republicans insist that revealing which methods can and cannot be used only helps the enemy train against U.S. interrogation. Bond and other Republicans argue it is important for the United States to keep its options open. If Osama bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri were to be captured, Bond says, U.S. officials must have the ability to declare them enemy combatants so that they can be "interrogated until we have obtained every bit of intelligence they possess."

On education, Newsweek argues the Republicans are light years ahead of the Democrats who still cling to the thought that throwing enough money at the problem somehow will solve it.

(Republicans) have introduced some of the most successful reform ideas for improving failing schools: increasing competition and choice, raising standards and expectations, and relying on hard data to determine what works and what doesn't.

Yet, they resorted to their old out-of-power ways by voting against Obama's $4.3 billion Race to the Top initiative—offering rewards to the states that had the most ambitious school-reform programs.

 I love these what if -- thumbsucker -- stories because by looking at the larger picture they shed light on the trees in the forest. The system is suffering from a root rot disease.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Pick Your Poison: Premium Hike Or Tax Hike

In researching data as fodder for a column touting the much ballyhooed televised summit on health care legislation next Thursday between President Obama and members of both parties in the House and Senate, I was dumbstruck by urban legends that usually get in the way of a good story.

It involves cost containment.

For-profit insurance carriers apply a model using premiums, share-of-costs and caps to balance income with beneficiary costs. In at least five states, individual policy holders -- about 9% of all Americans --are being hit with anywhere from 18 to 39% premium increases. Company health premiums -- paid by about 60% Americans -- are increasing about 5%. Industry sources say administrative costs average 30%. Nationally, inflation increased 1%. The largest carriers earned $12 billion in profits last year.

To hear progressives tell it, Medicare covering seniors starting at age 65 are happy with the single-payer government program and proudly claim it operates with only a 1% overhead. Two things they omit: Waste and fraud amounting in the billions and private supplemental coverage called "Medigap" subject to substantial premium increases.

I know about the latter. When I moved from rural Oregon in 2003 to metropolitan San Diego my Mediigap carrier American Republican increased my monthly premium from $101 to $256.

Here's the rub what I'm suggesting.

When it comes to paying our health care bills, we're going to get soaked. It makes no difference if it is called a rate hike by the private sector or a tax levy by the public sector. Call it by any name and it's the same money out of your pocket.

This is where I part ways from the Republicans and some moderate Democrats in Congress. The mere whisper of a tax increase is considered a treasonous offense. That is the basic argument against the public option provision passed in the House health reform bill. Yet, the Congressional Budget Office determined it was budget neutral.

A Newsweek Poll released this week indicates such skepticism. It reported:

When asked about Obama's plan (without being given any details about what the legislation includes), 49% opposed it and 40% were in favor. But after hearing key features of the legislation described, 48% supported the plan and 43% remained opposed.

President Obama is using the announced rate hikes by Anthem Blue Cross to 700,000 policy holders in California and other states for political capital re-energizing health care legislation from the ashes.

That’s why, next week, I am inviting members of both parties to take part in a bipartisan health care meeting, and I hope they come in a spirit of good faith. I don’t want to see this meeting turn into political theater, with each side simply reciting talking points and trying to score political points. Instead, I ask members of both parties to seek common ground in an effort to solve a problem that’s been with us for generations. 

On Monday, Obama’s own comprehensive proposal, aimed at uniting Democrats who spent much of the past year deeply divided on many points, will be released online.

What won't be included is a robust public option despite a growing groundswell of a progressive block of 20 Democratic Senators in support by attempting to hurdle procedural hurdles through a 50-vote plus one reconciliation.

Ezra Klein, an astute observer of the health care reform legislation, explains there is considerable buck passing on the proposal between Senate leaders and the White House. The Washington Post reporter writes:

Trying to figure out the politics of this public option revival has been a bit of a strange experience. On the one hand, momentum seems to be building: The letter asking (Majority Sen. Harry) Reid to run the public option through the reconciliation process has 18 senators attached. Last night, (Secretary of Health and Human Resources) Kathleen Sebelius told Rachel Maddow that if the public option is "part of the decision of the Senate leadership to move forward," then the administration would fight for it.

Today, Harry Reid's office said, "If a decision is made to use reconciliation to advance health care, Senator Reid will work with the White House, the House, and members of his caucus in an effort to craft a public option that can overcome procedural obstacles and secure enough votes." His caveat: The White House has to help round up the votes.

On the surface, then, you have almost 20 senators supporting the idea, the Senate majority leader giving it his backing and the White House saying they'll follow the Senate's lead. Green pastures ahead, right?

Well, not as far as I can tell. I've spoken to a lot of offices about this now, and all of them are ambivalent privately, even if they're supportive publicly. No one feels able to say no to this letter, but none of them seem interested in reopening the wars over the public option.

That's why the White House kicked this at Reid and Reid tossed it back at the White House. If the public option is a done deal, everyone will sign on the dotted line. But between here and there is a lot of work that no one seems committed to doing, and that many fear will undermine the work being done on the rest of the bill. 
What you're seeing here are the weird politics of the public option at play. It's popular in the country. It's wildly popular among the base. It's the subject of obsessive interest in the media. There is little downside to supporting it publicly, huge downside to opposing it, and no one is allowed to ignore the issue, or even take a few days to see where the votes are. 

But it's divisive on the Hill. Bringing it back energizes all the narratives that Democrats fear most: That they're cutting secret deals without Republicans in the room, that they're building an extremist bill, that health-care reform is a government takeover. And this is all happening without 60 votes in the Senate or even certainty of simple majorities in the Congress. Democrats have spent the last month in a state of agonized confusion, and just as matters were clarifying, now this battle threatens to start up again. 

Progressives as myself simply see the public option as a tool to lower costs in the free market place of insurance policies. Free markets are the lynchpin of conservatives, yet they become critics of the very system they cherish on this subject.

Hey, as much as you like, you can't have it both ways, guys. As we see from the Ezra Klein report, it would be nice for the Democrats to show some cojones on the public option. The public supports the concept but the Republicans have framed it as a socialist plot even though we all remember that woman at a town hall meeting last August:

"Down with socialism. But, don't you dare touch my Medicare."

Friday, February 19, 2010

Let's Get On With It, Tiger

Apology accepted, Tiger. Now return to the golf course while you still have some mojo in your bones.

Frankly, Scarlett, I don't give a damn what others think about Tiger Woods. I have always considered Tiger what he is -- perhaps the greatest professional golfer of all time. Period. Granted, off the course he's been a jerk.

Being a superstar and a jerk at the same time is nothing new in American culture. Get over it.

Before athletes became brand names, my nominee for all-time scumbag was Ty Cobb because his vicious exploits were displayed not only off the field but on it. Hack Wilson was a drunk. Babe Ruth was both a womanizer and glutton for food and booze. The only really good guy on and off the field in those days was Lou Gehrig.

Today's brand names are also phonies. Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens and Mark MacGwire come to mind.

Tiger Woods is not a phony. Thank your lucky stars he wasn't a serial killer. I have no ounce of compassion for the women who stepped forth and claimed to have affairs with him. It takes two to tangle, ladies. They are what they are -- groupies. And, based on Tiger's apology today, he was a willing predator only too happy to be stalked.

Some may nominate Tiger Woods for an Academy Award on his 13 1/2-minute mission statement today at

the Sawgrass country club at Ponte Vedra Beach in Florida. So be it.

As a visitor in the past to Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous meetings, it is clear to me that Tiger Woods is in the process of completing the 12-step program to recovery.

One of those steps is submission to a higher power, and, in Tiger's case, an admission to his faith in Buhdism
taught to him in his youth by his mother. As any AA person will tell you, it doesn't matter what higher calling that is despite what some religious crackpots may say.

What Tiger hasn't learned from his transgressions is that he may want to protect his image, his private life, his wife Elin and two children, but he can't no matter how much of a control freak he is. Live with it, Tiger.

When this guy returns to the PGA tour, he didn't know. We all know that's the only way he can make a living so it's only a matter of time. When that happens, he may learn piecing his marriage back together may be a walk in the park compared to the zoo that will hound him on the tournament circuit.

No celebrity in the history of the world has offered such a mea culpa and asked for forgiveness. Of course, no country in the world is as pious, prudish or sanctomonius over sex as our own American culture.

Tiger Woods is not the reincarnation of Buhdah.  He is a professional golfer. In that, he's a gold mine, a television ratings monster which double or better ever time he steps foot on a course. The reason is not his sex drive but the products of clubs in his golf bag. A career of winning 71 PGA titles, including 14 majors in which he's in pursuit of the record 18 held by Jack Niclaus.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

California's Case For Worst

It was high comedy if not so tragic that zillions of readers responded to a Gail Collins column in the New York Times pitching their states as the worst in the nation. Illinois, New York and New Jersey were the top contenders.

May I offer California?

We on the Left Coast may lack in crooks in our state government but not in futility.

Exhibit A: Have you noticed the U.S. Senate can't get much done because of the 60-vote rule? In California, the threshold is a two-thirds (67%) supermajority to pass the state budget.

Unlike most states, California's economic woes exacerbated by the recession represent not only a dysfunctional government but a irresponsible citizenry. Yeah, you read that correctly.

Because of lax requirements making it easy to place initiatives on the ballot, Californians are ahead of the national curve in such areas as curbs on property tax levies, mandatory educational spending and bond issues financing stem cell research and a high-speed rail system between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

These are all fine in good times. These are not good times. The result is that California's bond rating is zilch. In man-in-the-street terms, that's a credit rating under 200.

What's a governor to do? Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plea for more bailout funds from Congress fell on deaf ears. Arnie was not pleased when he learned Ben Nelson horse collared his cronies to pay for all its additional MediCaid costs forever in the Senate's healthcare bill.

Some think the Terminator ought to resort to his own devises. One solution is for California to secede from the Union, declare war on the United States by firing an unmanned, unarmed missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base, concede defeat and receive foreign aid to rebuild. At least the feds can print its own money which states can't as well as that tacky requirement of balancing their budgets.

Or, California voters could elect Prince Frederic von Anhalt, eighth husband of Zsa Zsa Gabor, who filed candidacy papers for governor Tuesday. His platform to reduce the state's growing $20 billion deficit by leveling "sin" taxes on cigars, cigarettes, booze, marijuana, prostitution and "bad" drivers may resonate with the kooky electorate.

To measure how serious California's problem is, consider this:

The state was the world's fifth largest economy in 2002. Today it ranks eighth. Unemployment is 14% and rising with hundreds of businesses fleeing to Nevada and other far-flung confines.

Meg Whitman, former CEO of EBay, is a Republican candidate for governor who promises to solve California's fiscal ills which she describes as a "crises in confidence." Her platform includes more jobs and fix the education system.

LOL, Meg and all the other gubernatorial candidates that include a much older former governor in Jerry Brown, once called "Gov. Moonbeam" by a New York columnist, obviously an elitist. One slogan Brown, a Democrat, coined during his reign in the 1970s was quite appropriate for today's environment: An admonition for state citizens to "lower your horizons."

The filing deadline for state elections is March 17. Any chances Gary Coleman and Maria Carey plan to run for governor again?

The Los Angeles Times, a skeleton of its former self, still wields some clout in California political circles. In a series of editorial articles on fixing state government, the Times argues for passage of still two more constitutional amendments, a document already the third longest in the world.

On the June ballot is Proposition 14 in which passage would require open primaries. The goal is to end legislative gridlock created by gerrymandered districts.The Times:

Open primaries would free candidates to take positions on issues that they feel are right for their districts without fear of retribution from political parties or special interests. Voters would be able to vote for the candidate of their choice, regardless of party affiliation, and the candidates who advance to the general election would be those with the most support -- thereby restoring true democracy.

The other is a ballot measure called  the Best Practices Budget Accountability Act slated for the November general election in which the goal is to ease budget deadlocks which have occurred in 22 or the last 23 budget sessions, finally resulting in IOUs, protests, furloughs and de facto bankruptcy.

The initiative would set pay-as-you-go limits on new programs, require goals and performance measurements for every program reviewed at two and five-year intervals and unexpected revenue increases to pay off debt.

As deadly dull these measure are, it is essential they pass, the Times maintains.

One of the major sins created by legislatures past is the ungodly debt incurred in its retirement pension programs for state workers and teachers.

First, the recession blew 20% of the 2008-2009 portfolio of the California Public Employees' Retirement System and the California State Teachers' Retirement System and the state cannot afford to pick up the slack.

The two funds have set aside less than 1% of the $62 billion they need to cover lifetime health insurance benefits for retirees.Taxpayers are legally bound to meet those contractual obligations.

Susan Urahn, managing director of the Pew Center on the States, said one way states can reduce the costs in coming years is to reduce benefits for new public employees. They also can increase greater employee contributions to retirement funds as well as raise retirement ages and improve the way pension funds are managed.

In California, a law enforcement officer's pension is based on years of service. After 30 years with an ending annual salary of $100,000, for example, he/she would receive 90% or $90,000 in his retirement years.

Another measure vying for the November ballot is increasing full retirement for public employees from 60 to 66, saving the state $500 billion over the next 30 years, according to its sponsor, Marcia Fritz, president of the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility.

In one major regard, California is the same as all 50 states.

No one is willing to pay more taxes. Everyone wants government spending cut for all programs except those that affects them.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Censorship: Its Ugly Tentacles

Do you believe in government censorship? Of course not.

Then why should we tolerate special interest censorship? It happens more often than one might think.

Remember the Republican loyalists protesting the airing of a CBS television series on the Reagans in 1992? CBS chickened out and sold the rights to Showtime. The series laid a ratings egg. What's significant is that the series was in the can when the hue and cry of protest rose to a pinnacle of sight-unseen hysteria.

Flash forward to today as The History Channel prepares a script for a non-fiction mini-series on John F. Kennedy. Not even casting, production, filming nor a premiere date is set. But a groundswell of Democratic loyalists of Kennedy is flourishing to halt production.

The reason? The project is spearheaded by Joel Surnow, a conservative and creator of the Fox show "24" who counts Rush Limbaugh as one of his biggest fans.

Copies of the scripts' early drafts were obtained by Robert Greenwald, a filmmaker who is critical of Fox. He produced a 13-minute video on a web site It includes statements from prominent historians, including Theodore C. Sorensen, a former Kennedy adviser. In the video, “Every single conversation with the president in the Oval Office or elsewhere in which I, according to the script, participated, never happened," Sorenson said.

Stephen  Kronish is the lead screenwriter for the “Kennedys.” mini-series. He said that the History channel’s standards for producing its mini-series require bibliographic annotations and legal vetting before filming proceeds. He also said that he was drawing upon nonfiction works, including books by Seymour Hersh, Robert Dallek, David Talbot and others. “If I’m wrong,” he said, “I guess all of them are wrong.”

This is the gist of an opinion piece in today's New York Times written by David Itzkoff.

As a writer, I have an inherent aversion to someone looking over my shoulder and telling me or influencing me their demands on how the final product should appear. My backbone really stiffens when they tell me it's their way or the highway.

These loyalists whether they are Reaganites or Kennedyites are doing nothing more than preserving a brand.

I say let the market decide. People believe what they want. But, the general rule special interests  forget, is that people are not stupid.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What Was Rachael Thinking

On Sunday, ABC-TV reporter Jonathon Karl nailed former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Karl asked Cheney to explain why he scolds the Obama administration for trying terrorists in federal courts while the Bush administration did the very same thing with shoe bomber Richard Reid and at least 112 other suspected terrorists.

CHENEY:  Well, we didn‘t all agree with that.  We had, I can remember, a meeting in the Roosevelt Room in the west wing of the White House, where we had a major shootout over how this was going to be handled, between the Justice Department that advocated that approach and many of the rest of us who wanted to treat it as an intelligence matter, as an act of war with military commissions.  We never thoroughly or totally resolved those issues.  These are tough questions, no doubt about it. 

And on Monday, Keith Olbermann on his MSNBC Countdown show, hammered more nails into the Cheney coffin. After playing more clips of the ABC interview, Olbermann connected his own dots and concluded Cheney's high profile lambasting of Obama policies was the former vice president's personal views and not those placed in practice by the Bushies.

And, oif course, Cheney's views are those expressed by the neo-cons within the Bush administration. They lost but Cheney is pushing that agenda as if it were Custer's last stand. Why? Your guess is as good as mine.

Rather than continue that thread which is the only real news coming out of the weekend talk show circuit, Rachael Maddow who follows Olbermann on the MSNBC nightly stable, completely ignored it.

After playing most of the same clips of the ABC interview as Olbermann did, she told listeners:

You could have put him into military custody, but you did not. The Republican effort to attack President Obama on the basis of the underpants bomber, unlike the underpants bomb itself, appears to be blowing up.  Say what you will about Dick Cheney, he‘s generally pretty skilled at making political attacks out of national security issues, but this time, on this one, even he is all tied up in knots.

At  that point, I began yelling at the television set.


Now, I like most of Rachael Maddow's work. Her innate intelligence as a Rhodes Scholar is reflected in her reportage.

More clips:

KARL:  So, was it a mistake when your administration took on the Richard Reid case?
CHENEY:  Well, we could have put him into military custody.  I don‘t -- I don‘t question that.
MADDOW:  Yes, but you didn‘t. You didn‘t. You could have and you didn‘t. The attempted Republican talking point on the underpants bomber is that it‘s an outrage that this would-be bomber was read his Miranda rights and treated as a criminal.

 Now, here Rachael redeems herself by showing clips of the Republican echo machine:

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, SOUTH CAROLINA:  And is reading Miranda rights to terrorists any way to fight a war?

SEN. ORRIN HATCH, UTAH:  Some of us have been so upset about it that they immunized him with the Miranda rule.
RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR:  You do not—you do not go in and interrupt it with Miranda warnings.
REP. PETER KING, NEW YORK:  We don‘t have to give Miranda warnings up-front.
SEN. KIT BOND, MISSOURI:  Mirandizing a terrorist like Abdulmutallab is absolutely ridiculous.
I don‘t know what purpose there was in mirandizing him.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, MINORITY LEADER:  The administration seems to have lost sight of this essential requirement for national security out of a preoccupation, a preoccupation, with reading the Christmas Day bomber his Miranda rights.
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN, MINNESOTA:  He should not have been given his Miranda warnings.  This should not have been a mirandized situation.  You don‘t mirandize!

Oh, but we do. By the way, two of the three terrorists tried by military commissions are roaming free while all tried in our federal system remain behind bars.

I have no horse in this mirandizing debacle. But the preponderance of evidence most definitely is scaled in favor of federal court prosecutions.

Maddow is at her best making a case against Republican hypocrisy. Cheney is a different story. She blew it. He's in it for himself. Period. More proof from Olbermann. Roll  the clip:

CHENEY:  I won some, I lost some.  I can‘t—
KARL:  I mean, waterboarding, clearly, what was your—
CHENEY:  I was a big supporter of waterboarding.  I was a big supporter of the enhanced interrogation techniques.
KARL:  And you opposed the administration‘s actions of doing away with waterboarding?

Olbermann insisted Cheney's admission of water boarding implies he's an international war criminal. That's a little rich.

He then interviewed Lawrence O'Donnell, a Huffington Post columnist, MSNBC fill-in and former Senate committee adviser. Roll the tape:

O‘DONNELL:  It was really quite striking.  And it‘s (waterboarding) been underplayed, I think, because of the way he treated it so routinely—and just made it seem like something that‘s perfectly reasonable, perfectly reasonable position to take, perfectly reasonable admission to make at this point in this story.

But I think one of—the overall impression of the interview so far, if you listen to George Will and the comment across the political spectrum from the most reasonable of those commentators, is that Cheney demonstrated that everything he‘s criticizing President Obama for is an extension of policy that already existed in the Cheney White House and that these were lost battles within the Cheney White House.  That he lost the battle there is and he wants to continue to fight them against the Obama/Biden White House.
OLBERMANN:  Citing this idea that he expanded this backwards a little bit to reveal the unfortunately phrased “shootout” in the White House between himself and unnamed others, am I wrong about the tone that—whatever else he lacks, and I would say he lacks a grasp of reality, Mr. Cheney has never lacked certitude.  Did this seem a little more defensive to you than the previous explosions on the subject?
O‘DONNELL:  Well, I think when he‘s in adult company, outside of FOX News, he actually has to adopt a different style, and I think he knows that.  And I think he knows when that panel is going to follow him, as they did on ABC News and analyze everything he has to say, he has to stay a little bit closer to the base.  A little bit closer to reality.

As George Bush was prone to do, I have for years pinned the name of Darth Vader on Cheney.

I don't believe he is an evil man. I just disagree with his policies in pursuing our enemies. And, in that regard, I am happy his true colors have been exposed.

I shutter to think if he had won that battle in the White House. If nothing else, it did not have a legal leg to stand on.

So the next time, you hear him impugn the Obama administration, keep one thing in mind. He's grinding his own ax and the echo chamber of Republicans following his trail are zombies.

Here's how Rachael Maddow ended her segment on Cheney, still flailing away that he is the voice of the Bush administration, which he isn't:

Only now, the Bush administration in exile would have you believe that what they did all those years was a huge mistake. The mistakenness of which only became apparent when some other president did it, someone who‘s a Democrat.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Utah Eyes Cutting 12th Grade To Save $60M

Faced with a $700 million budget shortfall, a Utah Republican state legislator has found a way he figures will cut about 8% of it by eliminating the senior year of high school.

State Sen. Chris Buttars has since toned down the idea, suggesting instead that senior year become optional for students who complete their required credits early. He estimated the move could save up to $60 million, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

"The bottom line is saving taxpayer dollars while improving options for students," said state Sen. Howard A. Stephenson, a Republican and co-chairman of the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee. "The more options we give to students to accelerate, the more beneficial it is to students and taxpayers."

About 200 students a year take advantage of early graduation, said Brenda Hales, state associate superintendent.

This story comes to you courtesy of the Los Angeles Times and Salt Lake City Tribune and remarkably not sponsored by the Utah State Republican Party.

"You're looking at these budget gaps where lawmakers have to use everything and anything to try to resolve them," said Todd Haggerty, a policy associate with the National Conference of State Legislatures. "It's left lawmakers with very unpopular decisions."

Let's see if I got this right. Except for the 200 who graduate early, are all the rest of the high school seniors in the state of Utah goofing off with that age old malady called "senioritis?"

As Rodney Dangerfield would say. "Tough state that Utah. Tough state."

A View Of Global Warming From Main Street

I'm just an average person who turns the air conditioning on when its hot and the furnace on when its cold. When it comes to global warming, I figure the pollutants we emit into the air probably contributes to the trend in some degree.

That's an unshakable belief just as evolution makes more sense than the creationist theory.

Now, what empirical knowledge I have on climate change you can stuff in a whiskey shot glass. Pollutants, or
the air we breath, is another matter.

I went to high school in the foothills of Claremont, Calif., and the smog settling in the foothills from Los Angeles in the 1950s was enough to gag an elephant. Even on its worst days some six decades later, smog is not as thick, thanks to environmental restrictions the state imposed on gasoline emissions.

I lived in two rural communities in Oregon from 1990 to 2003 and it was the most pristine air I ever inhaled. I used to take walks along the county roads. When an old pickup truck passed belching black smoke from its exhaust, my dog Honey would sneeze and I would cough, a forced recall of my LA days when my throat felt like asbestos. In my 13 years in Oregon, I never experienced flu-like cold symptoms, a malady frequented twice annually in my California days.

Here's a fact few of you know. Those landscaped center dividers along the California freeway system are either oleanders or acacia shrubs. Why? They're the only two plant species other than weeds that can survive vehicle emissions.

The smog-producing freeways in Southern California accelerated the death of citrus groves and vegetable farms as much by disease as by a monumental upsurge in land prices. Perhaps, not so dramatic as the river in Cleveland catching on fire, but with the same results.

I remember driving down Interstate 5 to Tijuana in my newspaper days in San Diego. The perpetual wafts of smoke from the TJ dump eventually would invade your nostrils. It would take several days to rid the stink.

So don't tell me pollutants have nothing to do with the environment.

The global warming skeptics and deniers that we mostly hear from are conservatives voiced so crudely by Fox News' Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly and ilk. Now, I'm paraphrasing Hannity, but during the two recent snow blizzards on the East Coast he would show a live outdoor shot and gloat, "There folks, is global warming at work."

Ridicule aside, the Washington Post Monday published a serious article on the problems besetting the global warming hysteria raised by its deniers. It concluded the theory was correct but the methodology to prove it was flawed.

It targeted the 2007 United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which won a Nobel Prize by stating  "warming of the climate system is unequivocal."

Among the errors was most of the Netherlands is below sea level, which it isn't, and a typographical error which predicted Himalaya glaciers would melt by 2035 rather than 2530. Reports the Post:

In the past year, a cache of stolen e-mails, revealing that prominent climate scientists sought to prevent the publication of works by their detractors, has sullied their image as impartial academics. The errors in the U.N. report -- a document intended to be the last nail in the coffin of climate doubt -- are a serious problem that could end up forcing environmentalists to focus more on the old question of proving that climate change is a threat, instead of the new question of how to stop it. 

And this response from two doubting Thomas in the Senate::

Two Republican senators who have long opposed a cap on carbon emissions, James M. Inhofe (Okla.) and John Barrasso (Wyo.), are citing the errors as further reasons to block mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions. Last week, Barrasso called for an independent probe into the IPCC, suggesting that the United States should halt any action on climate until it verifies the panel's scientific conclusions. 

Inhofe said Thursday in the Senate that the Environmental Protection Agency's efforts to curb greenhouse gases should be reexamined, since the U.N. panel's conclusions influenced the agency's finding that climate change poses a public threat. "The ramifications of the IPCC spread far and wide, most notably to the Environmental Protection Agency's finding that greenhouse gases from mobile sources endanger public health and welfare," Inhofe said. On Friday, a coalition of conservative groups filed a petition to overturn the EPA's finding on the same grounds.

 It seems to me sitting here at a computer while sipping iced tea that conservatives have one valid point to their argument. That is the cost to implement any program to reduce carbon emissions into the ozone or whatever Al Gore was talking about in his documentary "The Inconvenient Truth."

As an average guy, I have another observation. Since global warming effects the entire planet, what good would it do if, for example, only the United States, Canada, Europe and Japan cracked down on greenhouse emissions while China, India and all the Third World nations did little or nothing.

I'm not convinced any little bit helps on a planetary scale. It's more an all or nothing effort which is not only improbable but impossible. And, I say that as an optimist at heart.

As for the experts on this subject, click here.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

John McCain's Dubious Right Turn

The perception was in the good old days when John McCain was a maverick and darling of the press corps for being accessible and quotable, you could take his word to the bank.

Which is why many eyebrows are being raised when he has reversed his stands on "Don[t Ask. Don't Tell," 
a bipartisan proposal for a deficit reduction commission, even though he initially was one of the measure's co-sponsors, on climate change and on amnesty for illegal workers. Let's not forget he originally opposed President Bush's tax cuts he claimed helped only the rich. And later flipped flopped.

"I don't believe that I've changed," McCain told Doyle McManus in a story published in Sunday's Los Angeles Times.

I beg to differ with the old war horse. I side with other political observers that for the time being McCain is shifting right to secure his nomination in the Arizona Republican Primary. His most formidable challenger will be former Congressman J.D. Hayworth who said he will announce his candidacy Monday.

Conservatives have never trusted McCain, claiming he is too bipartisan and fault him for joining Democrat Russ Feingold for the campaign finance law and Democrat Ted Kennedy who coauthered the failed immigration reform bill with the Viet Nam war hero.

But McCain knows Arizona and how to beat tough challengers in the primaries, with a lot of help from independents who can vote in their state primaries. His mentor was conservative icon Sen. Barry Goldwater.

Turning right has helped McCain buck the anti-incumbent mood as well as announcing his former GOP vice presidential running mate Sarah Palin endorses him and will campaign with him prior to the August primary.

It is no coincidence that McCain's right turn came after polls in November indicated he and Hayworth were dead even.

A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely 2010 Republican Primary voters in Arizona finds the longtime incumbent leading Hayworth by a 53% to 31% margin. 

To hear McCain tell it, he has never changed his position on the military's ban of homosexuals despite saying at a 2006 event at Iowa State that he would follow the advise of the military brass.

No doubt McCain lost his temper because he wasn't informed in advance that Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, announced the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy was wrong and a review to change it was underway.

But as McManus notes in his story, critics overlooked McCain's other, blunter statements of his views. "I remain opposed to the open expression of homosexuality in the U.S. military," McCain wrote in 2007.

McCain explained his reversal on the deficit commission:

His vote against the deficit commission he once supported is harder to explain except as an act of party loyalty (Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell asked for it) and as another way to take a swipe at Obama. He said it's because he feared a commission with a Democratic majority would recommend tax increases. But McCain doesn't much like the Democrat who defeated him in the 2008 presidential election. And it's not simply because he lost the race.

The two tangled even before the presidential campaign, when then-Sen. Obama briefly signed on to a McCain proposal for bipartisan ethics legislation -- only to back out when Democratic leaders sponsored a different bill.

The Palin endorsement is a coup for the McCain campaign. It could split ultra-conservative and Tea Party support for Hayworth. It must be noted that Palin at least is expressing her appreciation for McCain choosing her as his running mate in 2008. Her other endorsements and campaign commitments include rallying cries for rightwing Republicans Michelle Bachman of Minnesota and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Another plus in McCain's campaign is luring the popular Scott Brown for an endorsement and campaign help. Brown, the newly elected Republican Senator from Massachusetts, is a darling flavor of the month of the conservative wing of the party.

What McCain is up against is the questionable strength yielded by Arizona's large contingent of conservatives. "We cannot depend on that man to be a conservative," Rob Haney, chairman of the Maricopa Country Republican Committee representing Phoenix, told the local daily newspaper.

McCain's once-powerful support from independents is particularly lacking; just 38 percent approved of his performance. But among Republicans, McCain retains solid support; 51 percent approved and just 14 percent disapproved, according to a telephone poll conducted Jan. 7-22 with 629 registered voters.

McCain's war chest is $5 million compared to Hayworth's $100,000.

What's so frustrating is that McCain is no better or worse than any other politician. During election cycles, they turn themselves into whores pandering to their constituents for the sole purpose of getting reelected without regard for what's best for the country. Principles, if they have any, fly out the door. Ergo, the proverbial flip flop.

If I were his banker, I wouldn't deposit his word.