Wednesday, June 16, 2010

We elected you to be a leader, Mr. President. Now would be a good time.

Last Night’s Oval Office address on the catastrophe in the Gulf was not a great example of leadership on President Obama’s part. Sure, he boldly and quotably asserted that “our clean energy future is now.” Reading a quote like this out of context makes it seem like this was another one of those uplifting, brilliant, optimistic Obama addresses that he’s so good at, the kind that rallies an entire nation to his side; in reality, it was nothing more than a vague proclamation supported by a bunch of empty rhetoric and half-hearted suggestions for policies on how to get us to that clean energy future.

This was Obama’s opportunity to lay out clear objectives and goals for what the United States can do to wean itself off of fossil fuels, and, in the process, combat the dangerous effects of climate change. He could have talked about the need for a market-based cap-and-trade program to overturn the tide of global warming. He might have compared this disaster in the Gulf to the one five years ago, and said that more natural disasters like Katrina will happen, more often and with greater intensity, as long as we are still addicted to the gooey black stuff we see bubbling up in marshes and on beaches. But he didn’t. Instead, he hedged and weaved and didn’t really suggest any specifics at all. Here is an actual quote from his speech:

"Some have suggested raising efficiency standards in our buildings like we did in our cars and trucks. Some believe we should set standards to ensure that more of our electricity comes from wind and solar power. Others wonder why the energy industry only spends a fraction of what the high-tech industry does on research and development - and want to rapidly boost our investments in such research and development."

Some have suggested these things, Mr. President? Who is "some"? How about everyone in their right mind is suggesting these things?! Show a little backbone; endorse one concrete policy idea - or better yet, follow in the footsteps of some of your greatest predecessors, like Roosevelt and Truman, and come out in favor of a whole package of ideas. A New Deal for clean energy, something like that. In his entire speech, Obama didn’t even mention the American Power Act - the watered-down, pseudo-bipartisan climate bill introduced by Sens. John Kerry and Joe Lieberman last month.

Contrast the President’s wishy-washy “we could do this, or we might do that” address with California’s Democratic candidate for governor, Jerry Brown, who yesterday touched on the same subject. Brown unveiled an eight-point “Clean Energy Jobs Plan,” and to be fair, although many of his “points” aren’t actual policy ideas that the government could enact as a law, there are some real and major actions that could be taken to move California, and the nation, toward cleaner energy and away from oil.

For example, Brown proposes codifying in statute an existing Executive Order, signed by Governor Schwarzenegger, requiring all electric power utilities to generate 33 percent of their power from renewable energy sources. He wants the California Energy Commission to fast-track the permitting process for electric projects using cleaner energy. He says that the California Public Utilities Commission should provide monetary incentives for homeowners to upgrade and retrofit their homes to use less, and cleaner, energy.

Also on Brown’s list - requiring potential homebuyers to be given accurate and detailed information about a property’s energy use before they purchase; having the Energy Commission institute stronger appliance standards for consumer products like light bulbs, dishwashers, and so forth…

Brown, who at 72 years old and having several terms in elective office at various levels, doesn’t inspire nearly the passion or emotion of Obama’s most fervent supporters, is offering actual solutions for a real problem, not heated, overblown rhetoric. Perhaps Obama, who often seems to think that simply saying he will take care of a problem is tantamount to actually doing something about it, should take a lesson from Brown’s playbook.

All of this isn’t to suggest that I dislike, or have lost all faith in, President Obama. But I find myself doubting that he has the leadership skill necessary to tackle the bigger issue here - not the BP oil spill, but the transition away from fossil fuels and to a clean energy economy that absolutely has to happen sometime in the next decade or so if we are ever again to be a prosperous and peaceful society. I knocked on doors for Barack Obama; I pleaded with complete strangers, in person and on the phone, to vote for this man because I believed he had a leadership quality sorely lacking in our politics. I still believe that he might. But it’s time for him to prove it.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Money Can't Buy You Love... But It Sure Can Buy You An Election

A few important lessons to take away from Tuesday’s statewide primary election:

First, the dynamics of a race can change dramatically in the last 2-3 weeks of a campaign. Until sometime in early May, the conventional wisdom in the U.S. Senate Republican primary was that former congressman Tom Campbell was headed for a victory over former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. Most polls had Campbell holding onto a 10-to-15-point lead. Fiorina lurched to the right, picking up endorsements from Sarah Palin, anti-abortion rights groups, and supporting gun ownership rights for suspected terrorists. The media took this as a sign that Fiorina was going to split the conservative vote with far-right candidate Chuck DeVore, thus benefiting the moderate Campbell.

Here, as is often the case with elections, the conventional wisdom – and the media – was wrong. It appears that very few moderates voted in the Republican primary; maybe there just aren’t any moderate Republicans left. (I hate to say “I told you so” – actually, I don’t – but it was I who said of Campbell, back in January, The man supports same-sex marriage and proposed a temporary hike in the gas tax last year to pay down California’s budget deficit; mark my words, he is not going to win a Republican primary.) Either way, Fiorina took home an easy 56 percent of the vote, much more than either of her two challengers combined; she now goes into the general election contest against incumbent Barbara Boxer stronger than ever.

The same rule – about the dynamics of a race changing as the race comes to a close – applies in the gubernatorial contest. April was Steve Poizner’s month; the state insurance commissioner had been running a distant second in the Republican primary, often 40 to 50 points behind Meg Whitman in opinion polls. Before April his candidacy was widely considered DOA; but then Arizona passed its controversial immigration law, Whitman’s ties to Goldman Sachs were exposed, and Poizner dumped some of his considerable personal fortune (which nonetheless pales next to Whitman’s) into the campaign. All of a sudden, the polls showed a much tighter race; Poizner appeared to be within 10 points of Whitman. Could he eke out a victory?

Alas, Poizner’s brief comeback was not to be, and Whitman made a dramatic turnaround in May, amping up her media spending, nabbing coveted endorsements from prominent Republicans like Dick Cheney and Newt Gingrich, and shifting to the right, stealing Poizner’s momentum on the immigration issue. The jury is still out on how much, if at all, Whitman’s right turn will hurt her in the general election against Jerry Brown; but it certainly helped her take back the Republican race. It turns out those pre-April polls were the most accurate of them all; Whitman finished with a stunning 64 percent. Poizner, once considered a rising star of the state GOP, took just 29 percent. I’d be surprised if this hasn’t completely destroyed his career in statewide politics.

The second rule is that Los Angeles clearly no longer dominates state politics; for the moment, the power center of California politics is the Bay Area. All of the major-party candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, and U.S. Senator are either from, or identify as their political base, the Northern California region. Indeed, in the race with the most prominent North-versus-South dynamic – the Democratic contest for lieutenant governor – San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom not only defeated Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn by more than 20 points, but won several Southern California counties, including San Diego, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo. Only in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties did Hahn’s vote total even exceed 50 percent.

Another new rule is that the Tea Party movement doesn’t do as well in large states, where campaigns usually cost in the several millions of dollars, as it does in smaller ones like Nevada. Here, the electoral results speak for themselves. In several prominent races, the candidate who most clearly identified himself as a Tea Partier pulled an embarrassingly low percentage of the vote, be it Poizner’s 29 percent in the gubernatorial contest, Sam Aanestad’s 30.5 percent in the race for lieutenant governor, senatorial wannabe Chuck DeVore’s 19 percent… Even in the campaign for attorney general, where the Tea Party had little or no presence that I’m aware of, the candidate backed by the Tea Partiers’ favorite congressman – Tom McClintock – came in a distant second, with 34 percent.

My personal favorite rule demonstrated by Tuesday's results is that money may be able to buy you a lot of love if you’re a candidate (Whitman, Fiorina), but not necessarily if you’re a corporation looking to use the initiative process to fatten your wallet. Pacific Gas and Electric, the state’s largest private utility, and Mercury Insurance, a large auto insurer, each spent millions of dollars to pass Propositions 16 and 17, respectively. Proposition 16 would have cemented PG&E’s monopoly on municipal power by requiring a two-thirds vote of the electorate any time a city or county tried to establish a competing public power company, like Sacramento’s SMUD; Proposition 17 would have dismantled state auto insurance regulations in such a way that would have benefited Mercury and other large insurers. For each initiative, the corporate proponents spent much, much more on advertising and media than their grassroots opponents; but in neither race were California voters fooled. Both 16 and 17 took less than 48 percent of the vote.

One rule that I previously thought to be written in stone in California politics – that any Republican who supports a tax increase is doomed to electoral failure – may have been upended this year. Abel Maldonado, the incumbent lieutenant governor who supported the February 2009 budget agreement that contained several short-term tax hikes, faced what was supposed to be a strong primary challenge from conservative anti-tax state Senator Sam Aanestad. Surprisingly, Maldonado, who was considered the Senate’s most moderate Republican by far before Governor Schwarzenegger appointed him lieutenant governor, pulled out a nearly 13-point victory over Aanestad.

Then again, in the race for state insurance commissioner, a little-known Republican candidate who spent less than $5,000 on his campaign and had absolutely no endorsements or establishment support whatsoever may have narrowly defeated a three-term GOP state legislator, Mike Villines, who voted for the same 2009 budget agreement. The race is still up in the air, as absentee ballots have yet to be fully counted, but challenger Brian Fitzgerald currently has a 10,000-vote lead over Villines, which a befuddled media is chalking up to Republican anger over Villines’s tax vote last year.

Ultimately, though, the election belongs to Meg Whitman. Whatever happens, both in the near and distant future, what we will all remember is the money. Something like $70 million of her own personal fortune was spent to win the primary alone; look for her to spend upwards of another $100 million on the general election. Whether she defeats Brown or not – and I fear for my state’s future if she does – we will remember the money. When all is said and done, and Whitman is thanking the volunteers for phone banking and going door-to-door, when she is attributing her victory to institutional support from GOP leaders like Mitt Romney and Condoleezza Rice, when her supporters boast of her scapegoating of undocumented immigrants as the reason for her victory, we will remember the money. For better or for worse, Meg Whitman has now changed California politics forever.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Government's Going To Take Away Your Right To Watch "The Biggest Loser"

One of the peculiar things I’ve noticed about conservatives is that they tend to think the government – any government, federal, state, or local – has much more political power than it actually does. Yesterday’s New York Times column by former George W. Bush adviser N. Gregory Mankiw provides an excellent example of this phenomenon.

The purpose of Mankiw’s column is to analyze recent attempts by multiple governments across the United States to enact, or at least study, imposing new taxes on soda and other ultra-sugary drinks. Whatever your stance on this issue – and I recognize that it is more complex than a simple left-versus-right, tax-versus-no-tax, government-versus-market debate – Mankiw’s culminating argument is nothing short of absurd:

Taxing soda may encourage better nutrition and benefit our future selves. But so could taxing candy, ice cream and fried foods. Subsidizing broccoli, gym memberships and dental floss comes next. Taxing mindless television shows and subsidizing serious literature cannot be far behind.

Setting aside the fact that taxes on junk and fast food, or subsidies for healthy diets and activities, are both legitimate ideas worth debating, Mankiw’s paranoid idea that a soda tax would somehow lead to the federal government taxing crap TV like Jersey Shore and subsidizing, say, the works of Philip Roth is one of the most egregious uses of the slippery slope fallacy I’ve ever seen. The main reason this is so beyond the pale is that, as Mr. Mankiw and so many other libertarian/free-market devotees seem to forget, we elect the government.

In order for the federal government to enact something so obscene as a tax on awful television shows, Americans would have to vote into office, in separate and distinct electoral contests, at least 218 members of the House of Representatives (a majority of the total 435), 60 members of the Senate (a three-fifths majority of the 100 Senators, since just about everything controversial is filibustered these days), and a President willing to sign such a policy into law. All of these elected officials – except for the ones who retire, who usually represent a small fraction of the total – would have to be held accountable by the voters at the next election. This is how public policy works in a democracy.

Of course, any such policy as Mankiw ominously hints “cannot be far behind” a soda tax would be challenged in court, and given that the Supreme Court under John Roberts has become such a hotbed of right-wing judicial activism, there’s a good chance that a Real Housewives of Wherever tax or a Michael Chabon subsidy would be struck down as unconstitutional.

What I’m getting at with my poor attempts to make pop culture quips is that there exist democratic safeguards against Mankiw’s ridiculous notion that the government is going to suddenly tax shows like Survivor or American Idol, the most important being that there is zero public support for such an idea, and it is the public that chooses the government.

This paranoia is among the most prominent fears of right-wing economists like Mankiw – the idea that “the government” or “the state” is going to enact some horrible, oppressive policy that will rob of us of all of the freedoms that we hold dear, and that there is absolutely nothing we will be able to do about it. Never mind that one-third of the Senate and 100 percent of the House of Representatives is chosen by the people in free and fair elections every two years, or that the President is elected once every four years, and limited to two terms. That policy is always coming. It's always just around the corner.

(P.S. Times blogger David Leonhardt has posted an excellent rebuttal to Mankiw. He doesn’t address the silly “the big bad government is gonna tax TV shows it doesn’t like” argument, but he does make a solid argument for some kind of public policy to reduce Americans’ intake of ultra-caloric beverages. Did you know that the annual national cost of obesity in the U.S. comes to $147 billion? That’s $1,250 per household. To paraphrase one of my favorite movies, Clerks, would you be willing to pay someone that much money to kill you every year?)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Joe Lieberman is a despicable human being.

I can forgive Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, who once upon a time was a Democrat (ha!), for his strong support of the Iraq War; lots of people supported it. Similarly, his vehement opposition to providing a public option for those who can’t afford private, for-profit health insurance may have been infuriating, but it was a legitimate position to take. As a Senator, it's his prerogative to publicly oppose, and vote against, any proposal with which he disagrees.

But today’s move – suggesting that terrorism suspects who are American citizens be stripped of their citizenship so that they can be denied their constitutional rights – is one of the most disgusting and appalling suggestions I have ever heard from a politician. I’m sorry Joe Lieberman wet his pants with fear when he heard that Faisal Shahzad, the wannabe Times Square bomber, was read his Miranda rights. I’m sure the guy’s never seen an episode of Law and Order and therefore has no idea that he has a right to remain silent and to have counsel present at his questioning, and that by informing him of these rights, the intelligence community lost access to vital information about, you know, the next idiot who's going to try and blow up a car filled with nonexplosive fertilizer from Home Depot.

If we’re going to go down this road, why don’t we just suggest that anyone accused of a crime who might have pertinent knowledge about other criminals be automatically stripped of his or her citizenship, so that he or she can be flogged, waterboarded, or held indefinitely at a Naval base in Cuba, until giving us the information that we need? Gang members, drug kingpins, Mafia lords – just think of all the noncitizens we could create!

Of course, if we strip them of their citizenship and they somehow manage to stay here, aren’t we just adding to the illegal immigration problem?

(P.S. I didn't even get into the fact that Lieberman's suggestion blatantly disregards the Supreme Court ruling, handed down over forty years ago, that the government cannot involuntarily strip an American of his or her citizenship. Court rulings are just one of the many constitutional protections built into our system of government that become irrelevant to Joe Lieberman when one pathetic failed terrorist gets read his Miranda rights.)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Meg Whitman: Anti-Labor but Pro-Labour?

British elections are coming up on May 6, and California's primary election is on June 8. Normally there isn't much cross-contamination between British and American politics, in large part due to the fact that the major parties here and there don't exactly correlate. Britain's Conservatives, for example, are to the left of most U.S. Republicans and even some conservative Democrats on issues such as the environment; the British Labour Party would be considered solidly left-wing by American standards. They're a member of the Socialist International organization; can you imagine U.S. voters electing a party affiliated with a group called Socialist International? Just their name encompasses two of the ideologies Americans tend to hate most!

Oddly enough, however, there is a California-British connection this year. According to the San Francisco Chronicle's Carla Marinucci, Meg Whitman was part of an elite group of business leaders enlisted to "advise" the U.K. Labour government on issues of globalization and trade a few years back. Fascinating.

Or not - realistically, in an increasingly globalized economy, American businesspeople advising the British government, whatever party happens to be in power, doesn't seem that out of the ordinary. But you can bet it will find its way into the Republican primary. Anyone care to take bets on how many more days it will be before Steve Poizner is linking Whitman to "a European political party affiliated with (cue ominous music) international socialists!"?? Let's see, it's Friday now... I wouldn't at all be surprised if StevePo's got those ads on the air by Wednesday. Let the betting begin!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

There’s a very revealing moment in Bob Woodward’s excellent book The Choice, about President Clinton’s 1996 reelection race, in which Clinton mentions to his press secretary, Mike McCurry, that he privately hopes Bob Dole will win the Republican presidential nomination that year. McCurry is confused; sure, Dole is the most sane and rational candidate, but that also gives him the greatest chance of beating Clinton in the general election. Therefore, shouldn’t Clinton favor a kooky right-wing nut like Pat Buchanan, or a monumentally unqualified hack like Steve Forbes? “Dole’s the only one that’s got any capability to do the job,” Clinton (allegedly) said. “Something could happen to me. We could have a major crisis that goes bad on us… and they (the voters) might throw me out on my rear end.”

It was very thoughtful and insightful of Clinton to feel this way, and in hindsight he was correct. Although he fell well short of defeating Clinton, Dole would not have actually been a terrible president; he certainly would have been superior to most of his GOP opponents, or to George W. Bush, for that matter. (Since that election Bob Dole has done Viagra commercials and his craziest opponent, Pat Buchanan, has come out against U.S. participation in World War II; if you had to choose, who would you rather have had in the White House?)

I worry that we’re in a similar situation today, leading up to the 2012 election. The current Republican frontrunner, so declared by the mainstream media and a handful of unreliable preprimary polls, is former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. There’s little question that Romney is a conservative, but by the standards of today’s Hannity-Limbaugh-Palin-led GOP, he just might not be conservative enough.

What he is, however, is somewhat qualified to be president – at least by the standards of his likely opponents. He’s a smart businessman, a bit of an intellectual (a rare and risky thing to be in the age of Glenn Beck and Tea Parties), and has demonstrated a degree of independent thinking unheard of in a party that is increasingly demanding strict adherence to right-wing ideological principles. I won’t even get into the comprehensive health care reform he championed and enacted in Massachusetts, and how that’s going to play out in the presidential race; but it’s unquestionably one of the most important and influential pieces of legislation signed by a Republican governor so far this decade.

Romney being a decent human being and a strong candidate (albeit one I still would not support, I must add), I am concerned that Obama and the Democratic Party leadership are going to do everything they can in advance of the Republican primaries to sabotage his chances of winning the nomination, in the hopes that a wingnut like Sarah Palin, Haley Barbour or (God help us all) Ron Paul runs away with it and then goes down in flames in the general election. Obviously, this would be a great strategy if it were guaranteed to work, but it isn’t. What Clinton apparently said in 1996 - "I want to have some confidence in the person I turn the keys over to" - applies doubly today. If Obama were to unfortunately lose in 2012, I would want, as an American, to have some confidence that whomever defeated him wasn't going to wreck the country, Bush-style.

Jonathan Chait has discussed this multiple times on his blog – the possibility that the economy might go into free-fall, or that Obama might get caught up in some personal scandal that, like Clinton, has no bearing on the job he does as president but could cost him votes nonetheless. If either of those things – or any other unforeseen circumstances – occurs, then we, as a country, could potentially be stuck with President Palin or President Paul. Is anybody prepared to take that risk? Are there any center-left Democrats out there like me who seriously disagree that Romney would be an exponentially better president than most of the kooks currently leading his party??

No, the best thing for our country would be for Romney to win the Republican nomination, probably put a token conservative (though hopefully someone more qualified to actually serve than Sarah Palin) on the ticket, and face off in a spirited (but hopefully unsuccessful) race against President Obama. At least that means the voters will have a choice between two candidates who actually know what they’re talking about.
In what I’m hoping the State political press will start calling “Three-way-debate-gate,” or maybe “Menage-a-Meg,” GOP gubernatorial frontrunner Meg Whitman has declined, or at least not yet said whether she’ll accept, Democratic candidate Jerry Brown’s invitation for a three-person debate between herself, Brown, and Whitman’s Republican primary opponent Steve Poizner. (Not surprisingly, Poizner has accepted – after all, what’s he got to lose? He’s 49 points down in the polls.)

The general reaction is that Brown’s invitation, offered during this past weekend’s state Democratic convention, was a smart tactical move. For one thing, challenging your opponent(s) to a debate always puts them on the defensive, and establishes you as an aggressive, confident candidate. However, no one really thinks it hurts your opponent if they either refuse to debate, squabble over the proposed rules for the debate, or delay their RSVP indefinitely. Voters just aren’t paying that much attention.

In fact, the thing that would hurt Whitman the most right now would be to accept Brown’s invitation, and debate both of her opponents. For one thing, she’s not as good a public speaker as either of them. I’ve seen Steve Poizner speak in person several times, and he’s a good, if not great, debater. At his worst moments, he comes across as that nerdy kid who got made fun of a lot in high school and developed a bit of a temper for it. At his best moments, whether you agree with him or not (and I generally don't), he displays a real knowledge of public policy and government, the kind more politicians wish they had.

As for Brown, few public figures, in California or elsewhere, are as entertaining or enjoyable to listen to. He peppers his speech with references to his past and to his record in government, makes oddball references to obscure European philosophers, and although he hasn’t offered many specific proposals yet, he rarely speaks in the kind of broad generalities Whitman is prone to using. He’s been criticized as something of an eccentric speaker, but absolutely no one would call him boring, or suggest that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Whitman, on the other hand, sort of comes across in speeches as the stereotypical CEO who’s been surrounded by “yes-men” and had everything handed to her for most of her career. It’s not that she’s arrogant or condescending; quite the opposite. In order to sound condescending, you have to at least sound like you know what you’re talking about, and in your humble correspondent’s opinion, Whitman just doesn’t. (Plus, her tendency to begin every single sentence with the phrase "So, what I've said is..." drives me up the wall.) Putting her in a debate with two knowledgeable, entertaining, and (in Brown’s case) likeable opponents would only cost her.

Then there’s the fact that a three-way debate would almost certainly turn into a gang-up on Whitman. Sure, Brown would speak generally about not repeating the failed Republican policies of the Bush-Schwarzenegger years, but he’d concentrate most of his fire on Whitman specifically. Similarly, Poizner would no doubt trade barbs with Brown, on the extreme off-chance that he wins the June primary and has to face Brown in the general election, but it’s a sure bet he’d spend nearly all of his time attacking Whitman. Why would you want to subject yourself to this if you were Meg?

Whitman is the “rising star” of California politics right now, and both Brown and Poizner are just dying to get in some hits. You can bet they’d both go after her (non)voting record; Brown would attack her for proposing a repeal of the capital gains tax, which the Sacramento Bee helpfully reported would benefit Whitman herself, considerably; Poizner would attack her from the right on immigration.

If Whitman has any sense of self-preservation about her, what she’ll do is politely decline Brown’s invitation, noting that it’s both inappropriate and unprecedented for a multiparty debate in advance of the primaries, and invite Poizner to one or two more debates before their June 8 contest. Meanwhile, she should commit in advance to a series of debates with Brown after the primary election. No one really cares how she does against Poizner anymore; he’s all but out of the game at this point. But facing Brown – or facing Brown and Poizner together – could really hurt her, and with poll numbers as high as hers, there’s nowhere for Meg to go but down.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Today’s Tea Party protest at the State Capitol was a pretty mild affair compared to previous ones I’ve seen – there were very few signs advocating, for example, violent revolution against the federal government, or suggesting that Barack Obama was not born in the United States (a view held by a disproportionately large percentage of Tea Partiers), or comparing high-ranking Democrats to Adolf Hitler. Accusing the President and Congress of Marxism, socialism and communism are all still acceptable, of course, but it's good to see the Tea Partiers accept that Nazism might be a stretch.

On the contrary, there were dozens of people walking around with voter-registration and initiative signature petitions, and most of the speakers were exhorting their listeners to get out there and vote, as opposed to, say, urging them to "take up arms" in their battle against everything Obama. I don’t know how many of the TPers trying to overturn California’s landmark climate emissions law knew that they were shilling for powerful Texas oil companies in the process, but kudos to them for at least getting involved. It’s more than you can say for most Americans.

Indeed, there seem to be signs that the Tea Party is becoming less and less insane by the day. Earlier this week, organizers of today’s protest in Pleasanton disinvited Orly Taitz from speaking at their event.

Taitz, for those of you who don’t know, is the nutcase who heads up the Birther movement alleging that Barack Obama is not a natural-born U.S. citizen, shouts instead of talking, and is running for California secretary of state. Hey, Orly – when the folks who dress up like Ben Franklin, have no idea that Medicare is a government-run program, and carry around signs portraying Nancy Pelosi as Pinocchio are calling you a weirdo… wow.

Adding insult (read “sanity”) to injury (read “craziness”), two high-profile Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate – Carly Fiorina and Chuck DeVore – have disavowed Taitz’s theories completely, each one boldly asserting Barack Obama’s legitimacy to be president.

Fiorina, via a spokesperson, had the cojones to own up to her belief that “President Obama is absolutely eligible for the presidency and is a natural-born United States citizen.”

And DeVore, the self-proclaimed “Tea Party candidate” in this race, “strongly disapproves of Orly Taitz and the crazy theories she continues to advance.”

This is strong stuff, considering that the Obama-was-born-here view only holds sway with about four in ten Republicans, and a similar number of Tea Partiers.

Maybe the biggest news in this story is that this is actually considered news in today’s America – that a group of conservatives, including two candidates for office, have accepted that the President of the United States was actually born here and that this isn’t all just some clever Kenyan/Russian/Chinese/Iranian/Venezuelan hoax.

Not that this has caught on with all GOP politicos – in the same article linked to above, neither the vice chair of the California Republican Party nor a prominent State Assembly candidate from the East Bay (and current mayor of San Ramon) would say where they believe Obama was born.

Here’s my question, though – do they really believe that crap about us landing on the moon?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Sure Enough...

As if to prove my point in yesterday's post about Meg Whitman limiting herself with regards to those "solutions" she's so sure she's got for California, eMeg gave (gasp!) a press conference at the California Republican Party convention today, addressing her ideas for the budget crisis. Among them? No overall spending cuts to education, $4 billion in tax cuts, and reducing state spending by $15 billion over four years through reducing inefficiencies and waste. (All of this info is courtesy of John Myers, at KQED Public Radio.)

Guess what, Meg? Education spending represents 40 percent of the general fund budget; I don't want to cut it any more than anybody else does, but good luck chipping away at a $20 billion shortfall otherwise. Cutting taxes to the tune of $4 billion - about 0.2 percent of state GDP - won't do squat to create jobs or jump-start the economy, but it will drive up the deficit by another $4 billion or so.

And as for those spending cuts - never mind the question of whether there's $15 billion in "waste" in the state budget to begin with (there isn't). Meg, my friend, sit down. The deficit is $20 billion this year alone. And unless the economy rebounds faster than one of my sinus infections, it will probably be in the $10 to $15 billion range, annually, through the middle of this decade. So $15 billion over four years ain't gonna bring us back to black, as Amy Winehouse would put it. (I tried to say "back in black" so as to make an AC/DC reference, but it just doesn't sound right, does it?)

Wait a minute, I've just run some numbers in my head (the best place to do math, I find) - if she's going to cut taxes by $4 billion per year, that comes out to $16 billion over four years. That's a billion dollars more than she's proposing to cut in spending. Which brings us right back to square one, deficit-wise. Actually, square one plus another billion dollars, give or take.

Hey, media - you wanna stop taking this lady seriously already?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Some comments on Meg Whitman, who faithful readers know I don’t much care for. Part of it might be that I’m a state employee, and state employees have been her favorite punching bag throughout most of her campaign. (Immigrants, another favorite scapegoat for conservatives, are thus far being mercifully spared Whitman’s ire, which is more than can be said for her 50-points-down-in-the-polls “opponent” Steve Poizner.)

The notoriously press-shy Whitman – who may have made political history yesterday when she invited a group of reporters to an “open press” event and then told them, once they arrived, that they were no longer welcome – sat down for an interview with San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders. I go back and forth on Saunders; she calls herself a “San Francisco conservative,” which I guess is somehow different from a normal conservative, except that she still seems to believe climate change either isn't happening, or isn't serious enough to do much about. Good on ya.

But to her credit, she got eMeg to sit down and actually talk about the issues. Well, not so much the issues as her biography. According to Saunders, the big question about Whitman is, “Can she govern?” Never mind that there’s already an easy, one-word answer to this question (hint: it’s two letters, starts with “n,” and rhymes with “go”). Saunders falls into that age-old trap of assuming that someone with corporate management experience is somehow capable of running a government. I’m not the first one to say this, and I’m sure I won’t be the last, but it’s important for people to know that running a business and running a government are not the same thing, and someone who is good at one is not necessarily going to be even remotely good at the other.

For one thing, Whitman herself acknowledges that she has “not directly negotiated with unions” in her business experience. That alone ought to disqualify any business leader who’s running for governor of California, whose hundreds of thousands of state employees constitute one of the most powerful interest groups in the history of American politics. If you have no idea how to deal with unions, good luck trying to cut the state workforce by 30,000 jobs.

I was also more than a little dismayed by Whitman’s boast, in her co-written (read: ghostwritten) memoir The Power of Many, that she “can go into virtually any kind of business, analyze the situation and come up with an effective plan to solve problems and achieve goals.” For one thing, coming up with a plan wouldn’t be her job as governor – negotiating a plan with enough of the 120 members of the Legislature for it to pass both houses would be. That’s what Jerry Brown plans to do, anyway.

And as for that “effective plan” eMeg insists she can come up with, it doesn’t help if you purposefully wall off a number of possible solutions – or components of solutions – to the problems your business or government is facing. Pledging to oppose tax increases, promising to increase education spending – these are both costly decisions to make, especially before you’ve even been hired by the company. Can you imagine a candidate for CEO of a corporation that’s bleeding money by the billions proclaiming, before they even take office, “If you elect me CEO of this corporation, I promise I will not raise any of our products’ prices. I also promise to increase Research and Development spending.” No way; any responsible business leader has to consider every possible option “on the table,” as does a responsible political leader.

Then again, Whitman does boast of having thought up “a method to save hours of food preparation time by washing potatoes in dishwashers.” That’s what California really needs; someone who can wash our potatoes quicker. How about when Jerry Brown becomes governor, he appoints Meg Whitman as State Potato Washer? Assuming she agrees not to take a salary. Times are tight, after all.