Saturday, February 28, 2009

Obama To Lobbyists, "Bring It"

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama challenged the nation's vested interests to a legislative duel Saturday, saying he will fight to change health care, energy and education in dramatic ways that will upset the status quo.

"The system we have now might work for the powerful and well-connected interests that have run Washington for far too long," Obama said in his weekly radio and video address. "But I don't. I work for the American people."

He said the ambitious budget plan he presented Thursday will help millions of people, but only if Congress overcomes resistance from deep-pocket lobbies.

"I know these steps won't sit well with the special interests and lobbyists who are invested in the old way of doing business, and I know they're gearing up for a fight," Obama said, using tough-guy language reminiscent of his predecessor, George W. Bush. "My message to them is this: So am I."

It's Amazing What You Can Learn On Facebook

OK, I admit it, I was a little late to the Facebook and Twitter revolution. The whole social networking thing struck me as a great suckage of time - and while that's largely proven to be true in the last few months since I've come on board -  I've also discovered what a great way it is to learn really whacky stuff about people you barely know.

Case in point: From one of my Republican Facebook "friends" I learned that Republicans all over the country are finally shaking off the cobwebs and rising from their barcaloungers to mount a protest the likes of which this country has never seen.

Wingnut  populist of the nation united yesterday for a mass action of tea parties that shook the government to its knees. OK, its ankles.

Remember all those "Chicago Tea Parties" Americans were supposed to participate in, taking out their righteous anger against Obama's anti-American economic plans? It was supposed to the be first wave of Americans taking to the streets against socialism, the birth of the New Minutemen.

The results? Not so impressive.

Let's see...The Pittsburgh party was canceled due to rain. A whopping 79 people showed up today in Jacksonville, FL. Looks like maybe over a dozen showed up in Asheville, NC. Almost 10 people made it to the Buffalo, NY, protest. About 100 people throughout all of Los Angeles came out to Santa Monica Pier. All of about 300 people made it out throughout the entirety of Atlanta. 250 made it out to Dallas for the tea party there. 150 in Lansing. Looks like about 100 went to watch the Joe the Plumber and Michelle Malkin teabag fest in D.C. (if you had to retch, it's not my fault, just your dirty, dirty mind...)

But hey, if you're disappointed you missed the fun, don't worry! Our very own local wingnuts, KFI's "shock jock jihadists" John and Ken will be sponsoring something a little spicier for us folks in California:

On Saturday, March 7th, there will be a massive anti-tax rally at the Slide Bar Cafe in Fullertn. We are protesting the recent passage of the largest single tax increase in any state in the 232 1/2 year saga of these fruited plains by the Effeminator formerly known as the Governator formerly known as the Terminator formerly known as a steroid-injecting, pot-smoking, tittie-groping, knuckle-dragging "forehead".

Are you going to let this thick-skulled Austrialopithecus run you and your loved ones out of the greatest state in the greatest nation in the history of mankind? HELL NO! Neither will we suffer the continued tyranny of his cronies - especially those in the Republican Party - who either voted for or were complicit in this steaming horse turd of a budget.

This is only the first of many.


P.S. Homeless and illegal alien riff-raff welcome.

It's amazing what you can learn on Facebook.

Americans Won't Take No For An Answer

Americans United For Change first came on my radar when they ran a series of radio ads during the stimulus debate targeting "moderate" Republican Representatives and Senators and featuring Rush Limbaugh. Those ads were probably the most effective out there. 

Well, they've done it again, this time in video. 

Consider making a contribution.


Friday, February 27, 2009

Why I'm Voting NO On Measure B

I'll try and explain this difficult decision as best I can with as little hyperbole as possible.....

Los Angeles relies on coal-fired power plants more than almost any other large city in the country. More than 75% of the electricity DWP generates comes fossil fuels, most of that from coal.

Measure B, the "Green Energy/Good Jobs" ballot initiative promises to generate 400 megawatts of solar power by 2014, save lives by improving air quality (or at least keeping it from getting worse), create thousands of good-paying union jobs and make Los Angeles the solar capital of the United States, all while only costing rate payers an additional $1 a month.

The measure is just one component of a massive three-part plan called Solar LA The program's goal is to create a 1.3 gigawatt solar network of residential, commercial and municipally-owned solar energy systems.  
According to the literature, Solar LA simply the largest solar plan undertaken by any single city in the world - with the municpally-owned portion of the plan alone representing more solar capacity than in all of California today. By 2020, the plan will lower carbon emissions in Los Angeles and increase the City's solar portfolio by nearly 100- fold."

Measure B is the third part of this program - the municipally-owned part. What it proposes to do is to build and install thousands of solar panels on city-owned buildings and municipal properties such parking lots, parks, schools, etc. all over Los Angeles.

Sounds pretty good, right? As someone who believes in solar power and who's pro-union (in fact, both my husband and I are union members), I know it sounded great to me. We desperately need a comprehensive solar program. The sooner the better.

But the more research I did, the more I began to question if Measure B will be able to deliver on it's promises. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that if passed, Measure B will likely do the opposite, and will instead actually undermine the city's solar energy efforts.

Here's why:

Measure B is actually a Charter Amendment. It will transfer oversight of the solar power program from an independent five-member commission with technical expertise to the City Council, which is neither independent in this case, nor technically proficient. 

And because the measure would allow the council to change or suspend everything that's in it, without the normal public hearing process generated by a DWP Commission/City Council partnership, the council's new authority would not be accompanied by new accountability.

DWP has no experience creating or managing such an ambitious program, and they're shutting out third-party contractors that do. 

DWP has a pretty good record managing it's distribution networks ( DWP's customers remained relatively unaffected during the rolling blackouts of 2001). This is because DWP owns and controls both the power generated from coal-fired power plants in Utah and Arizona and the distribution network -  in the form of transmission lines - that bring power to us in Los Angeles. 

What they haven't done, though, is actually build the coal plants or the generators.  In essence, that's what DWP is proposing to do for solar - build an equivalent of it's own power plant - something it's never tried before. And since Measure B stipulates that all work must be done exclusively by DWP employees (outside the actual manufacture of the solar panels), it's shutting out outside contractors who have that experience.

Add to this DWP's spotty management record for other Green Power projects and a history of illegally overbilling clients, and in my mind there's some cause for concern. 

Most DWP workers don't have the expertise or experience to execute the plan, and the plan won't allow other trade unions an oportunity to participate. 

IBEW, the union representing DWP workers and - not so coincidentally - the authors of Measure B, will solely be responsible for implementing every aspect of the program. The problem, simply, is that most of the work is construction, not electrical. Work DWP has had  significant problems with in the past. 

Thousands of other trade unionists, like the membership AFL-CIO Laborers Local 300 - who have tons of experience installing solar panels - will be left out in the cold.*

Nobody knows how much this program will cost. 

Competing reports put the cost for Measure B (not the entire "Solar LA" program) anywhere from $1.5 billion to over $3 billion depending on which report you believe. The DWP is also apparently counting on a number of tax credits, subsidies, technological breakthroughs, economies of scale, volume discounts, and optimal sightings to drive down costs, none of which has been really vetted or talked through.

Frankly, I think higher rates in exchange for clean, renewable energy can be a fair deal, so that's not the issue for me. The fact that nobody knows one way or another, however, gives me pause, because this is yet another indicator this measure isn't fully cooked yet.

We don't need Measure B to create a municipally-owned solar power program in Los Angeles.

 The proponents of Measure B state that a "no" vote is a vote against all solar in LA. Well, this really isn't accurate. As stated above, Measure B is only one part of a three-part program. The other two parts are completely unaffected by the outcome of Tuesday's election. 

We have alternatives that should be explored. 

DWP should be putting more emphasis on creating ways for customers to purchase solar power or solar technology from a variety of vendors to ensure flexibility and encourage healthy competition. Instead, DWP seems determined to concentrate all their eggs in one basket. Their basket. 

For instance, DWP does not allow its customers to purchase solar electricity from third-party solar developers, a very popular model in the rest of the state that allows schools and businesses to harness tax credits and hedge against future utility rate increases. 

In an LA Times Op Ed, Adam Browning, co-founder and executive director of the Vote Solar Initiative, wrote: 

Even worse, during the last legislative session, the DWP supported a bill that would have allowed the utility to raid the state's SB 1 fund -- which was developed under the California Solar Initiative, a program that provides rebates for customers who install solar systems on their roofs and reduce their electricity bills -- and use the money for utility-owned wholesale power generation. It was an appalling move, and when my organization asked the governor to veto the bill, he did. 

Though the DWP has committed to generating 280 megawatts of solar energy via customer incentives under SB 1, the utility's plan lists only 130 megawatts that would come from qualifying customer programs. Department officials say they will follow the letter of the law, but it's pretty clear that they mean to follow the letter of the law until they can get the law changed. That's unacceptable, and the mayor and the leadership of the DWP should disavow these market-restricting tactics.

I think all this begs the question why, exactly, is Measure B on the ballot in the first place, and how did it get there?

There's been a lot of speculation that this might be a political move by Mayor Villaraigosa who, at the time Measure B was put on the ballot,  feared he'd be facing developer Rick Caruso in a serious primary challenge:

Like most things involving the council and City Hall, this all comes down to money and ambition. At the time Villaraigosa signed on to the extraordinary sleight-of-hand, he was in search of an insurance policy in case billionaire developer Rick Caruso jumped into the mayoral race against him. With its ability to spend unlimited amounts in independent expenditure campaigns waged on a candidate's behalf, IBEW Local 18 -- and Local pretty good insurance. The council members can hope that the unions and the consultants will remember them and their causes fondly too. 

Or maybe Villaraigosa is hoping Measure B will burnish his resume just in time to run for governor in 2010?)

(S)upport for Proposition B helps further align Villaraigosa's gubernatorial ambitions with two realities of statewide Democratic politics: the growing importance of Latino voters and the concomitant growth of organized labor's influence.

According to people close to the mayor's political operation, his hopes of capturing the nomination in the Democratic gubernatorial primary turn on the fact that Democratic races are decided in two places -- the Bay Area and Southern California, mainly Los Angeles. Their calculation is that San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown will split the vote of the Anglo-liberals who predominate in the Bay Area, while Lt. Gov. John Garamendi will shave off non-Latino voters in his Central Valley base.

Whatever the reason it ended up on the ballot, I'll be voting "no" on Measure B.  Because with Measure B off the table, we'd have a real opportunity for proponents and critics, the DWP, all trade unions, solar experts, environmentalists, stakeholders, and the City Council to work together to come up with a comprehensive plan to create a workable solution from the bottom up, not the top down.

Vote "no" on Measure B.

*For the record, my husband and I are members of .I.A.T.S.E. Local 700, so we don't have a dog in this fight.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Obama/Jindal = Audacity of Hope/Mendacity of Nope

I got nothing else to add. Really.

The Party Of Ideas? Not So Much.

The Republican governor of Utah on Monday said his party is blighted by leaders in Congress whose lack of new ideas renders them so "inconsequential" that he doesn't even bother to talk to them.

"I don't even know the congressional leadership," Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. told editors and reporters at The Washington Times, shrugging off questions about top congressional Republicans, including House Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. "I have not met them. I don't listen or read whatever it is they say because it is inconsequential - completely."

Monday, February 23, 2009

Obama Beats McCain Again

Mike, below, cites a quip President Obama made about his helicopter. I think the whole exchange (per ABC's Jake Tapper) is worth excerpting:

"I'm going to start with John McCain, because, know, he and I had some good debates about these issues," President Obama said in the final session of the Fiscal Responsibility Summit. "But -- and I mean what I say here -- I think John has also been extraordinarily consistent and sincere about these issues. And I want to see if you've -- John, you've got some thoughts about where we need to go and some priority areas. I know you were in procurement, for example, which is an area I know we would like to work on together with you."

Said the president's former Republican rival, "Well, thank you, Mr. President. And thank you for doing this...Just one area that I wanted to mention that I think consumed a lot of our conversation on procurement, it was the issue of cost overruns in the Defense Department. We all know how large the defense budget is."

And, McCain noted, "your helicopter is now going to cost as much as Air Force One. I don't think that there's any more graphic demonstration of how good ideas have -- have cost taxpayers an enormous amount of money."

Said Obama, "I've already talked to (Defense Secretary Robert) Gates about a thorough review of the helicopter situation."

Added the president, to laughter, "the helicopter I have now seems perfectly adequate to me. Of course, I've never had a helicopter before. So, you know, maybe -- maybe I've been deprived and I didn't know it.But I think it is a -- it is an -- an example of the procurement process gone amuck, and -- and we're going to have to fix it."

This is Obama at his most appealing. He makes a gracious introduction of his rival, who in turn tries to stick in the knife by painting him as wasting taxpayer dollars on needless luxuries. Obama, rather than sniping back, turns around and agrees with McCain while making the point that he's hardly accustomed to extravagence. The man is just a very, very skilled politician.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

President Obama's Weekly Address

From Daily Kos:

Last week, it was jobs. This week it's tax cuts.

President Obama rolled out a second tactic to sell his recovery plan to the American people this morning, using his weekly address to emphasize the tax breaks, which he claims are the most quickly enacted and the most widespread in American history.

Starting off with an emphasis on jobs--and a lyrical rhetoric of repetition in which he began sentence after sentence with the same reminder of what he and the Congress passed last week ("Because of what we did ...")--he built to a resounding passage of specifics that should get tax-cut lovers on his side:

Because of what we did, 95% of all working families will get a tax cut – in keeping with a promise I made on the campaign. And I’m pleased to announce that this morning, the Treasury Department began directing employers to reduce the amount of taxes withheld from paychecks – meaning that by April 1st, a typical family will begin taking home at least $65 more every month. Never before in our history has a tax cut taken effect faster or gone to so many hardworking Americans.

And once again, as he's been underscoring since the signing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, he reminded Americans that the bill is only the first step in a larger process of rescue legislation. "The road ahead," he warned, "will be long and full of hazards."

"Stop Playing Politics With My Life"

For some Republican governors, putting politics first over the needs of their constituents is their opening salvo for the 2012 Presidential race.

The stimulus has shaped up to be a Republican litmus test of sorts. If you're a real Republican, you're against it -- simple as that. In other words, if you want to run in -- and win -- a primary in 2010 (maybe 2012), you'd better oppose it.

The deal-breaker for these "real Republicans"?  Extending or increasing unemployment benefits.

Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana announced Friday that he would reject a portion of expanded unemployment benefits that would eventually require the state to raise taxes on businesses.

Mr. Jindal said he would reject $98.4 million in federal incentives to expand unemployment coverage, or 2.5 percent of the $3.8 billion that Louisiana stands to receive in all, on the grounds that it would force a change to state law to cover more unemployed people...........

Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi has also focused on the unemployment provisions, saying that of $54 million offered to his state under the bill, only $4 million would be available unless Mississippi changed its law to expand eligibility to part-time workers.........

Under the incentive program that Mr. Jindal turned down for Louisiana, Mississippi would get up to $56 million more for expanding coverage by selecting from a menu of options that includes giving benefits to some part-time workers. The $56 million would pay for the expanded benefits for five years......

Some governors objected even to the no-strings-attached $25 a week increase in unemployment benefits, saying it would raise expectations that would be difficult to manage when the federal dollars dry up.

In South Carolina, Republican Governor, Mark Sanford, doesn't flinch at rejecting the lifeline that would help his unemployed constituents.

Would a governor in a state with the third-highest unemployment rate in the nation really say no to President Obama's stimulus money?
Some observers suspect that governor, who is regularly mentioned as a presidential contender in 2012, is just grandstanding. It's hard for them to imagine a lawmaker leaving millions of dollars on the table in a state with a 9.5% unemployment rate -- one that has cut hundreds of millions from its budget in recent months, and will cut millions more in the next fiscal year.

For some out-of-work South Carolinians, even the suggestion of rejecting bailout money fills them with outrage. William Williams, 38, a laid-off telecommunications worker, had a message for Sanford as he searched futilely through a computerized job bank in Marion County, a struggling industrial area where unemployment has reached 19%.

"Stop playing politics with my life," Williams said, looking at his unemployed brother James. "If you ain't going to help your people . . . "

"Then get on out the way," James said.

Dylan and Ethan Ris over at AOL's Political Machine call this for what it is:

As you look back upon the economic developments of the past 8 months or so, what do you see? Is it rampant unemployment, home foreclosures, Wall Street greed, and hardworking people betrayed by government indifference and/or incompetence?

If so, then you are obviously not a Republican governor. Because a whole handful of them prefer to see our financial crisis as a stage for a massive political stunt.......

Sorry homeowners, schoolchildren, commuters and laid-off Americans. Although Rick Perry (R-TX), Mark Sanford (R-SC) and Sarah Palin (R-Russian Air Space) will remember to care about you come election season... well that's over a year away! Odd-numbered years mean political posturing season, and these folks will be damned if they let unemployment and poverty get in the way!

Ironically, the governors adopted this horrible idea at the suggestion of a Democrat. Paul Begala, a left-wing strategist and commentator, has already personally challenged South Carolina's Sanford to reject the money... and against the interest of his constituents, his own moral conscience and sanity in general, Sanford and his ilk are strongly considering such action!

Since the governors took the bait so easily the first time, we encourage Begala to now see how far he can go. For instance...

* He could tell Mark Sanford that if he really wants to reject President Obama's evil stimulus package, he could increase South Carolina's unemployment rate to 9.5% while maintaining its illiteracy rate at 15%.

* Or he could tell Rick Perry to increase Texas's uninsured rate to 24%, combined with some of the highest poverty in the country.

*Or he could tell the ubiquitous Palin to raise Alaska's high school dropout rate and STD rate to the highest nationwide.

Because you don't need a pinko socialist stimulus package for any of that stuff, now do you? Suck it, Barry! See you in 2012!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About The Mortgage Crisis But Were Afraid To Ask

Want to understand the credit crisis, but felt too embarrassed to admit you didn't have a clue? This is the best 10 minutes you'll ever spend.

The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.

This amazing video was part of a thesis work in the Media Design Program, a graduate studio at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. The goal: to distill a complex situation (like the credit crisis) for the unfamiliar and uninitiated.

Rick Santelli - New Patron Saint Of The Entitled Wall Street "Working Man"

CNBC's Rick Santelli - apparently high on a megadose of caffeine - lashed out at President Obama's stimulus plan on Chicago's trading floor this morning. He was lauded by applause by other traders.

Santelli asked traders on the floor: "This is America! How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor's mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can't pay their bills? Raise their hand. (no hands raised, lots of booing) President Obama, are you listening?"

Well, yes, apparently he is. Or at least his press secretary, Robert Gibbs is......

If you aren't a regular watcher of CNBC, Charles Lemos over at MyDD describes the situation on the Chicago trading floor aptly:

After watching the above, I first had to check my calendar. Somehow I felt I traveled back in time to the early 1970s to witness first hand Richard Nixon's "northern strategy," his pursuit of white ethnic voters who were so deeply disaffected over Great Society programs ranging from desegregation (remember the Boston busing madness?) to affirmative action among others that they would desert the Democratic Party becoming "Nixon's silent majority" and "Reagan Democrats". As historian Joe Merton noted "Nixon possessed a keen awareness of the `ethnic revival' of the early 1970s and engaged with specifically ethnic issues such as parochial school aid and ethnic heritage studies, and also shaped much of his early substantive policy to appeal to ethnics, culminating in the publication of the Rosow Report on blue-collar workers in May 1970."

Rick Santelli is heir to this legacy laced with racist overtones. Note the promo before the rant in the video link at CNBC. CNBC has an upcoming special entitled The Rise of America's New Black Overclass. Fear mongering, it's worked before so let's try it again. It's back to the 1970s for the GOP and their rabid white ethnics.

I spent a decade on Wall Street working for Alex. Brown & Sons, Deutsche Banc Securities and Goldman Sachs. I found Wall Street a largely liberal environment with one major exception, the trading floor. In my experience I found traders, who are largely white ethnics -Irish, Italian, Greek, Polish or Slovak among others- and graduates of the Seton Halls, the Boston Colleges, the Notre Dames, the Penn States were the most rabid conservative and foul mouthed people on the planet. Nor could any of them ever get my name right. "My name is Charles, not Chuckie" was something I would repeat whenever I had the misfortune to have to interact with them. Some of these folks made William Buckley appear moderate.

Whatever my own views on traders and their culture, it appears that Rick Santelli is their patron saint. In his five minute rant, Mr. Santelli went on to compare Barack Obama's America to Castro's Cuba and to suggest a kind of modern day "Boston Tea Party" - a call for a Chicago Tea Party as an anti-spending revolt. Mr. Santelli's "I'm mad as hell and I am not going to take it" tirade on CNBC brought cheers and applause on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade not to mention accolades from across the conservative blogs.

LA Times: Stop the budget madness with some common-sense reforms

From the LA Times:

Steve Lopez 
February 20, 2009

I had my toothbrush and sleeping bag at the ready, along with a boarding pass for a flight to Sacramento. My plan was to sack out in the Capitol until I was thrown out or they had a budget agreement, whichever came first.

So imagine my shock and disappointment when I awoke Thursday to find that an early-morning agreement had been reached -- and only 15 weeks late.

Nice going, Sacramento!

To hear Gov. Schwarzenegger tell it, you'd think he'd just won another Mr. Universe contest, or whatever-the-heck dumbbell competition he used to be involved in. And it was a victory of sorts. Yeah, they made some moves I don't like -- schools are getting whacked again, the elderly and disabled aren't faring much better, and air pollution regs are relaxed, for instance -- but the gang-that-couldn't-budget-straight ended up with a tough combination of spending cuts, tax increases and borrowing to close a projected $42-billion budget deficit.

Still, I couldn't help but wonder if this kind of stalemate would have happened under a stronger governor and stronger legislative leaders.

"No, it wouldn't have," said Darry Sragow, a Los Angeles political strategist who worked in Sacramento for 10 years.

Gov. Pete Wilson would have locked people in a room until it was settled, Sragow said. And legislative leaders Willie Brown and John Burton would have called on their decades of legislative experience and coalition-building to trade favors and get the job done.

I called Burton, who served six years as Senate president pro tem, to see if he agreed. "This probably could have been settled in five days," he said. 

The current Senate pro tem, Darrell Steinberg, is one of the good guys in state government. He's smart, a workaholic and extremely knowledgeable. But he's been in charge only since last summer. Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, who is equally impressive, has been at the helm only since last May.

"Both Karen and Darrell are collaborative and very suited for their jobs," said Sragow. "But they don't have a lot of clout, and so their ability to maneuver is fairly limited."


Because term limits, by design, give the boot to anyone who knows what they're doing, he said, and, for misguided reasons, "voters love term limits." 

Yeah, they love the concept of throwing the bums out after a few years. But do they also love the idea of layoff notices for thousands of state workers? Do they like seeing programs for the elderly threatened because state funds are frozen and do they like the threat of layoffs for their children's teachers, in part because everyone in Sacramento is a relative amateur?

Lifting term limits would be a good start in getting more out of Sacramento, not less. Look, if they're not doing the job, throw them out. But there's no need to require that everyone in Sacramento be on the low end of the learning curve in terms of experience.

This annual budget nonsense has a lot to do, as well, with the state's over-reliance on wildly fluctuating income tax revenue, and with California's requirement that the budget be passed by a two-thirds majority.

Make it a simple majority vote, already. We would have been done with this thing three months ago. And as Burton asks, was the end result so brilliant it had to take this long? 

The last piece of needed reform is to move the Legislature away from an election system that just about guarantees we'll keep getting soft-headed Democrats who sell their souls to labor leaders and knuckle-dragging Republicans who say the same thing every time you pull their string: "No new taxes, no new taxes, no new taxes."

Maybe the deal struck by Santa Maria Republican Sen. Abel Maldonado, who cast the deciding budget vote in return for open primaries, can move the state away from the rigid partisanship that rules Sacramento but doesn't truly reflect Californians' more moderate politics.

Mark Baldassare of the Public Policy Institute of California points out that Republican legislators are out of touch with their constituents, according to a January poll.

"About half of the Republicans said they favored mostly spending cuts as a solution," said Baldassare. "But lots of Republicans, not just the governor, saw that in the current fiscal reality, some mix of spending cuts and tax increases would be necessary."

The same is true nationally, as a current New Yorker article points out. According to one poll, 28% of Republicans and 56% of independent voters supported President Obama's stimulus plan, but only three Senate Republicans signed on. The problem is the way districts are carved up both nationally and in California, a process that makes extremism safe and compromise irrelevant.

So who exactly do California's GOP legislators represent?

"They represent the late great Howard Jarvis -- some philosophy that people don't like government and don't want to pay for what they've got," said Burton. "But they want cops, they want fire, they wants roads, they want schools."

As Burton tallies it, the Republicans won this budget battle despite agreeing to $14 billion in new taxes.

"They played the Democrats like a Stradivarius," said Burton. "They kept saying no, no, no, no, no, and the Dems were trying to solve the problem saying how about this, how about that, how about this? . . . The Dems used to be afraid of Tom McClintock, but he's gone, so I don't know who's scaring the . . . out of them now."

It wouldn't have happened on his watch, Burton says. "I would have shot somebody, or somebody would have shot me."

Limbaugh on Democrats "I Don't Care Why A Murderer Does It!"

Limbaugh likens Democrats to murderers, rapists, and "this Muslim guy" that "offed his wife's head"

Republicans In Exile - California Edition

Isn't it time to repeal 2/3ds? Can we mom, pretty please?

California Budget Follies: Epic Fail = Epic Change?

Reporting from Sacramento -- There was relief in the governor's face, and there were warm embraces between lawmakers who narrowly averted disaster. But beyond the state Capitol, among Californians embarrassed by the spectacle of elected officials who'd become the butt of late-night jokes, there was a question.

How can we stop this from ever happening again?

In a state where fed-up voters have a tradition of imposing their will, the crisis that led to a deficit of historic proportions and ended as the sun came up Thursday was seen as a potential defining moment for changing the way government and politics are run.

The sense that California's state government does not function has been building for several years -- since before the recall that swept Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger into office -- but residents and experts said nothing has so crystallized it as the turmoil of the last few months.

"I am horrified that our elected representatives let this happen," said Lauren Black, a Los Angeles County employee who lives in South Pasadena. She and others said it is time for a reckoning in Sacramento.

"I think," said Hillary Moglen, a public relations account executive from Culver City, "you have to capitalize on this catastrophe."

Until recently, Sacramento budget disputes largely played out during the summer and were then resolved. But now they have lasted longer, become more intense and recurred in quick succession. Taxpayers will feel this latest round acutely, in delayed income tax refund checks and more money forked over to the state. Californians' opinions of state officials and their performance are dismal, polls show.

"It seems to me that the public is probably more aware than any time in the last 20 or 30 years that there's something broken up there with respect to the budget process," said Bruce Cain, a political scientist at UC Berkeley.

Nationally, the economic crisis and the desire for change that resulted in the election of President Obama both bolster the tide for reform in the state, experts say.

There is a swirl of ideas in the air, including forcing the state to plan its finances for multiple years at once, docking the pay of lawmakers who don't approve a spending plan on time, removing from political parties the power to select candidates and eliminating the requirement that two-thirds of state lawmakers approve budgets -- which would effectively give Democrats the power to approve them without support from any Republicans.

A commission supported by Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) and the governor is expected to recommend changes in the tax code this spring. Bay Area business leaders are trying to sell the state on holding a full-blown constitutional convention to address California's thorniest problems, including water, prisons and budget paralysis.

Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, said many of the issues are not easily explained to a distracted electorate.

"It may be too difficult to explain to voters why something called the Constitutional Convention might improve their lives," he said.

Voters, meanwhile, have already proved eager to start the overhaul. Last November, they approved a redistricting ballot measure that reformers say will help ease the partisan grip on the Capitol.

The wounds now are even fresher. Jay Leno flashed pictures Wednesday night of state lawmakers sleeping at their desks.

"Welcome to California, now available on EBay!" he crowed to open his "Tonight Show" monologue.

Schwarzenegger said the crisis had created opportunities for two ideas he and the state Legislature are now sending to voters, and for which he will campaign. One is a rainy-day fund to sock money away in good times. The other, a measure for so-called open primaries that Sen. Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria) demanded in exchange for his budget vote, is touted as a way to elect more moderate representatives.

"The people are sick and tired of politicians fighting," Schwarzenegger told reporters Thursday. "There are various different things that are broken, and what we are trying to do is systematically fix those things. Very, very difficult to do."

California Forward, a nonprofit group supported by foundations, is advocating proposals to change the nuts and bolts of the state budget process, some of which could be done by lawmakers and some by voters.

The group supports requiring the state to budget for two years at a time, revising the way lawmakers approve budgets to increase their oversight of spending, reducing borrowing and ensuring that the state doesn't rely on income sources likely to someday disappear. The group has ties to leaders in business, unions and politics.

"We're actively building a coalition to help support these reforms," said Jim Mayer, the group's executive director. "We don't think the Legislature is going to do it on their own."

Already circulating are two ballot measures for the controversial idea of ending the gridlock by requiring only 55% of lawmakers to approve budgets, instead of the two-thirds requirement that now gives Republicans a powerful veto.

One of the measures would also scale back the threshold for approving new taxes.

Voters in 2004 soundly rejected a similar measure backed by teacher and public employee unions. But 50% supported the idea last month in a survey by the Public Policy Institute of California -- the highest level in the more than five years that the group has polled on that question. 

"That was amazing to me," said Mark Baldassare, the institute's president. 

In interviews Thursday, several Californians expressed enthusiasm for another idea that almost became part of the budget deal: docking lawmakers' pay if they can't approve the budget by a certain deadline. Instead, voters will get to decide whether to deny elected officials a raise when state finances are in the red. It could go on the statewide ballot as early as June 2010.

"Stop the Legislature from getting paid!" said Bob McLaughlin, 65, as he ate lunch at Presidente Restaurant in Santa Clarita. "That's their job, to pass the budget." 

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Time To Repeal The "Tyranny Of The Minority"

Just in time for the new craptacular California budget, Secretary Of State Deborah Bowen issues this press release:

SACRAMENTO – Secretary of State Debra Bowen today announced that the proponent of two new initiatives may begin collecting petition signatures for his measures. 

The Attorney General prepares the legal title and summary that is required to appear on initiative petitions. When the official language is complete, the Attorney General forwards it to the proponent and to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State then provides calendar deadlines to the proponent and to county elections officials, and the initiative may be circulated for signatures. The Attorney General’s official title and summary for the first measure is as follows:


Lowers the legislative vote requirement necessary to pass the state budget, and spending bills related to the budget, from sixty-seven percent (two-thirds) to fifty- five percent. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: Unknown changes in the content of the annual state budget. Fiscal impact would depend on the composition and actions of future Legislatures. (08-0022.) 

The Secretary of State’s tracking number for this measure is 1352 and the Attorney General’s tracking number is 08-0022.

The Attorney General’s official title and summary for the second measure is as follows:


Lowers the legislative vote requirement necessary to pass the state budget, spending bills related to the budget, and budget-related tax increases, from sixty-seven percent (two-thirds) to fifty-five percent. Retains sixty-seven percent (two-thirds) vote requirement for property tax increases. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: Unknown state fiscal impacts from lowering the legislative vote requirement for spending and tax increases related to the budget.  In some cases, the content of the annual state budget could change and/or state tax revenues could increase. Fiscal impact would depend on the composition and actions of future Legislatures. (08-0023.)  

The Secretary of State’s tracking number for this measure is 1353 and the Attorney General’s tracking number is 08-0023. 

The proponent for these measures, Maurice Read, must collect signatures of 694,354 registered voters – the number equal to 8% of the total votes cast for governor in the 2006 gubernatorial election – for each measure in order to qualify it for the ballot. The proponent has 150 days to circulate petitions for each of these measures, meaning the signatures must be collected by July 20, 2009. 

The initiative proponent can be reached at (510) 346-6200. 

Time to get busy.

Done Deal

From D-day:

So Abel's tears found a floor, and the deal is now done. It's a terrible, terrible deal. Let's first focus on what Maldonado got, which is less than meets the eye.

• He got his open primary legislation on the ballot, but not until June 2010. Arnold was interested in it, and so it was likely to get on that ballot anyway. This won't help Maldo in 2010, which was probably a condition of the deal. Considering that it affects Congressional races as well as legislative ones, I expect Nancy Pelosi to go all in trying to defeat and I don't expect it to pass. Open primaries have lost on the ballot in the past.

• The constitutional amendment banning legislative pay increases during deficit years passed; the amendment cutting all legislative pay during a late budget failed.

• The 12-cent gas tax increase was cut, replaced with a slight increase to the state income tax, federal stimulus money (which was always going to fill in because it was more than budgeted for) and $600 million in unspecified line-item vetoes from the Governor, which are going to be ugly. Let's just say that the huge corporate tax cut is not the first place Arnold's going to look.

Now, that's what Maldonado got. Among the other goodies in this budget, besides the corporate tax cuts and the privatization of state highway projects and the are:

A $10,000 tax credit for homebuyers, but only if they buy new construction. So a "developer bailout" when there is all kinds of existing inventory sitting on the market and lowering property values inside communities. And now there's an incentive for them to stay there. Great.

Large commercial vehicles are exempt from the increase in vehicle license fees, because... gee, I have no idea. This is perverse, the opposite of what we should be taxing, which are inefficient vehicles.

• Rental car companies can pass VLF increases on to customers, which they probably would have done anyway, but this makes it even easier.

• One provision allows for the delay of retrofitting of heavy diesel equipment, which will maintain poor air pollution in at-risk communities, and let's face it, kill people. Don't believe me, take it from the Chairman of the Air Resources Board, Mary Nichols: "There are people who will die because of this delay."

Dan Weintraub is right - this is a budget the GOP can be proud of, because it's a profoundly conservative budget. Because they hold a conservative veto over it. And they get the best of both worlds - they don't have to vote for the budget en masse so they don't have to own it. In short, the hijacking worked. And that's a function of process, not personality.

As Jean Ross says, "If this year’s budget negotiations don’t increase public support for reducing the vote requirement for approval of a budget and tax increases, it is not clear what will."

...there are two initiatives that have entered circulation that would repeal 2/3 for budget and taxes, and replace it with an arbitrary 55%. It should be majority rule. But it's about to gather signatures. Budgets and bad policies can eventually be changed if the process is changed.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Urgent Action Needed! California On The Verge Of Systemic Collapse

If you have been watching the news this week, you've heard about the budget debacle going on in Sacramento. For the last three days, we have remained one vote short of the required two-thirds majority for a budget deal, with only two Republicans being willing to join the Democratic caucus in the Senate. You can follow Calitics' coverage of the Budget here:

To be blunt, the budget deal on the table is a mess. It consists of over twenty bills in each chamber. It guts environmental protections on several major projects, it offers gifts to corporations and a few powerful industries. It relies on cuts and borrowing far too heavily, and does not provide the real long-term fixes of our revenue stream that we so desperately need. And the spending cap that will go to the ballot in the spring represents a major step backward, and progressives will have to expend substantial resources to defeat it. Yet despite all that, only one thing is really clear:

If we do nothing, the state faces systemic collapse.

Folks, this isn't about ideology, nor can it be a debate about budget priorities, or whether California government has grown too big or not big enough. We're looking over the edge of the cliff now. 

California is being hit harder by the economic crisis than any other state. We face a $40 billion deficit, and already the state is running out of money. Schools are looking at cutting classes and laying off teachers. Tomorrow, if there is no budget, 276 infrastructure projects will be halted - affecting 38,000 workers in the state, and the governor has announced that he will issue layoff notices to 20,000 state workers. And the state's credit rating, already low, will suffer further downgrades, effectively costing taxpayers more money.

The media has now taken notice that the Republicans are trying to bring the state down with them. But the media has little power if we aren't watching and if our leaders don't know we are watching them. So, here is what we need to do:

Call Senator Abel Maldanado (R-Monterey County, 916-651-4015) and tell him to give up his list of demands and end this hostage situation.

Call Senator Dave Cox (R-Fair Oaks, 916-651-4001) and tell him that the state deserves better than a Senator who goes back on a deal when threatened by his own party's extremists.

Tell as many people to do the same thing. Use every tool at your disposal, Twitter, facebook, or just word of mouth. The more people that know about this Republican extremism threatening our state, the better.

The Senate is set to once again resume session, and we might be in for another all-nighter. However, keep at it, because this is simply too important to let Republicans play their dangerous games with the lives of Californians.

California Budget Follies: Two-Thirds Of Nothing Is Still Nothing

From the LA Times:

Reporting from Sacramento -- Ending a weekend marathon of tense negotiations, bleary-eyed state lawmakers late Sunday suspended their bid to plug California's $41-billion deficit but vowed to continue working today to halt the state's dizzying slide toward financial collapse.

Despite support from legislative leaders in both parties, the budget deal became mired in politics. The two-day hunt for a third Republican in the state Senate willing to vote for $14.4 billion in temporary tax increases proved futile. Lawmakers and staff said there were enough GOP votes in the Assembly for passage in that house.

Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), clearly tired and angry, said lawmakers would resume negotiations this morning despite the Presidents Day state holiday.

"People are exhausted," Steinberg said, "so I thought long and hard about whether or not to continue this through the night. . . . We're gonna come back at 11 tomorrow morning and we're going to work again, and we're gonna come back every day until we get this done."

The deal appeared done at the weekend's start. Democrats already had sprinkled the budget with concessions to recalcitrant legislators, including more money for Orange County to please Sen. Louis Correa (D-Santa Ana), who had promised during his campaign not to raise taxes.

And two Senate Republicans were expected to vote for the package -- Dave Cogdill of Modesto, who played a role in negotiating the deal, and Roy Ashburn, a Bakersfield Republican in his final term. Among the concessions Ashburn won was a proposed $10,000 tax break for new home buyers.

Another key GOP senator, Dave Cox of Fair Oaks, was counted on by his own party's leaders to join the majority Democrats to win the two-thirds vote needed for passage. But Cox balked at the big tax bite.

The Legislature's Democratic leaders responded by ordering an overnight lockdown of the Capitol, forbidding lawmakers to leave the giant gold-domed building. As the leaders shuttled among offices trying to find the last vote needed to end the fiscal impasse, Capitol staffers got by on catnaps in chairs and couches or on office floors. A few slipped out for a shave or shower.

"I got an hour of sleep," said Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles). "We are not going to leave until we get this deal done. We will go as long as it takes."

But by about 8:30 Sunday night, the Senate had adjourned, and the Assembly followed soon afterward.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had remained in the Capitol all night Saturday in an unsuccessful bid to bring Republicans on board, something he has had great difficulty achieving throughout his tenure.

"We're just searching for that one more vote that we need in order to get the budget done," Schwarzenegger told reporters Sunday evening after a closed-door visit with Senate Democrats. "What is most important is that we hang in there. They should not leave. They should continue with the fight. We will not let go. We will not give up until there is a budget done."

From the California Progress Report:

Eleven of the Media News Group papers - including the San Jose Mercury News - published editorials on their front page criticizing the budget mess. Notably, these papers placed most of the blame where it actually belongs - on the Republicans. From the Mercury News editorial:

The governor and all 120 legislators share responsibility for this. But most of the blame for the immediate crisis falls on Republicans in the Legislature, who this past summer - to a person - signed a pledge to not raise taxes. That was before an already large deficit mushroomed, making the need for more revenue imperative. Since then, Democrats and the Republican governor have offered significant compromise, but GOP lawmakers cling to ideological purity - schools, health care and other essential responsibilities be damned.

These lawmakers constitute barely over one-third of the Legislature. But because the California Constitution requires a two-thirds vote on the budget, it enables the tyranny of a minority to trump majority rule.

This day didn't sneak up on anyone. It's the result of too much borrowing and too little political courage over too many years - lavish spending in good times and insufficient restraint in bad. For this, Democrats, who've controlled the Legislature, and the governor share responsibility. Compounding the problem are spending initiatives that bind the Legislature's hands. Voters have themselves to blame for these.

Obviously it's not a perfect editorial - California doesn't really have a spending problem - but it's good to see MNG papers, owned by a notorious right-wing union buster make such a strong case for Republican ideology being at the core of the crisis.

The Monterey Herald was even more direct in their version of the editorial:

The best hope is that the people will become angry enough to get the message across, especially to the Republicans, that they need to get the job done or get out of the way.

The stalemate is the result of the GOP's "no new taxes" pledge. It may have made for good headlines months ago, but sustaining it to the point of budgetary chaos is irresponsible....

A huge part of the problem is the state Constitution's requirement that budgets be approved by a two-thirds vote. It has not prevented past overspending, but it enables the minority party, Republicans for the moment, to play the spoiler role no matter the consequences.

It is time to join the majority of states without a super-majority provision. It is time to say goodbye to those who pretend to stand on principle. The no-tax pledge may have been sincere at the start, but it has become only a bargaining chip. Republicans are simply holding out for maximum impact.

Does this mean it's now conventional wisdom that Republican ideology and the 2/3 rule are to blame? I sure hope so. These editorials should bolster the case for an aggressive push by progressives and Democrats against the Republicans and the 2/3 rule in particular. If/when there is a special election this year, eliminating the 2/3 rule must be on there.

Let's hope these editorials will percolate around the state, especially to some of the bigger news outlets, and produce some accurate reporting on the crisis for a change - California is broke because Republicans wanted it to happen.