Whose idea was it to push bullet trains? Rahm Emanuel's doctor brother. I feel ill.

"The Escape Artists," the new book about the Obama administration's economic policy-making, has an amazing story about who's responsible for the decision to dump tens of billions of dollars in federal stimulus money into bullet-train debacles. One Chris Reed, writing at Cal Watchdog, has all the details. The key passage from "Escape Artists" is here: In December [2008], the economic team dutifully prepared a list of drab but high-bang-for-your-buck outlays to [Rahm] Emanuel. The list included … $20 billion to repair existing roads and bridges, $5 billion to repair public housing units and another $5 billion to upgrade sewage treatment facilities. … Emanuel’s brother, Ezekiel, a doctor who was joining the administration as a health care adviser, happened to be staying with the future chief of staff when the list arrived via fax. “There’s nothing that really gets my heart racing,” the brother later complained. “What would get your heart racing?” Rahm Emanuel asked glumly. “I don’t know. How about high-speed rail -- getting from New York to D.C. in 90 minutes?” Within days, some $20 billion in high-speed rail investments had immaculately materialized on the list. Are you kidding me? The Obama administration’s obsession with high-speed rail began as a way to get Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel’s heart racing? This is at the root of the president’s determination to trick/bully California and other states into building immense boondoggles by providing them initial billions until the projects became too big to fail? I feel ill. Also check out One Chris Reed's article for an amazing story from "Escape Artists" about green jobs. Obama knew you couldn't build an economic recovery on them, but he went ahead and lied about it anyways.  

'Terrorists' who oppose tax hikes: Prepare for the onslaught

Here we go again. As frenzied as the tax-hike obsessives have been in recent months and years, Jerry Brown's weekend warning that the 2012-13 budget is $16 billion short is sure to ramp up their intensity. So get ready for the media/Dem onslaught, folks, and prepare to be reviled. Will Jerry Brown get lots of blame for his $4-billion-in-extra-revenue fantasy that he concocted last June? It's made a dire situation much worse. Will anyone in the media point out that contracts with gov unions that Jerry approved this fiscal year not only continue providing "step" increases for time on the job -- in other words, just for showing up -- but overall pay hikes? Will anyone in the media point out that the people with power in this state have blocked all fundamental reforms -- except the one (prisoner "realignment") that allowed them to shift costs to local governments? No, no and no. Instead, we'll see the usual one-two punch to explain all that is wrong with California. 1. Those damn Republicans who oppose tax hikes are to blame. No. They're. Not. For all the alleged insurmountable obstacles to raising taxes in California, the state has among the nation's highest income, sales and gasoline taxes; and the highest corporate taxes in the West. Property taxes are about average, thanks to Prop. 13. We should be able to live within our means. Most other states can pull this off. Which brings us to the next refrain in the Dem/media litany... 2. Prop. 13 is to blame. It ruined the state. No. It. Didn't. The limit on the annual increases has not prevented property tax revenue from going up by more than population growth and inflation for more than 30 years. Yes, the state may have a screwed-up tax structure. But that's not Prop. 13's fault. That's the fault of the status quoists in Sacramento who like things as they are, no matter what, just with more money from taxpayers. And the incredible thing about Prop. 13 is that it just showed its utility all over again during the housing bubble. Home prices in some markets nearly tripled from 1998 to 2006. Imagine the disruption in the lives of retirees and those living on fixed incomes if their property taxes had gone up that fast. Yet I think I'm the only guy in the California print media who has ever mentioned this. That's incredible, when you think about what that says about media conformity -- and stupidity. How is it not news that Prop. 13 saved millions of people from disaster? Because it doesn't fit the narrative. A more honest narrative might occasionally, yunno, note that the revenue crisis could be alleviated with economic growth, but that the Legislature and the governor only care about the sliver of the private sector economy that includes "green" jobs. A more honest narrative might also note that for the eighth year in a row, the nation's CEOs have rated California as the most business-hostile state. But those narratives will give way to the usual media-Dem juggernaut. Everything can be made right in California with higher taxes, and people who don't support higher taxes are greedy "terrorists." This is one case where I'm rooting for the "terrorists" -- my fellow "terrorists." Tom McClintock saw all this coming in September 2008 in his final major speech to the Legislature: According to the State Controller's reports, last year, our tax structure produced $96 billion in actual revenues - a record year. We budgeted $103 billion and spent $107 billion. In short, our spending exceeded our revenue by $11 billion and exceeded our adopted budget by $4 billion. This year, if the economy gets no worse, we can expect to produce $97 billion in tax revenues. Claims that the revenues will be higher are based on accounting gimmicks that mask the numbers but do not change the underlying reality. .... So I leave the Senate with this warning. I believe that last year's budget pushed this state beyond a fiscal tipping point. The unsustainable growth of spending pushed us beyond a point where neither tax increases nor conventional line item reductions can bring us into balance. ... I believe we have now also passed the point where conventional budget reductions can restore our state's finances. I believe we have now reached the terminal stage of a bureaucratic state where our bureaucracies have become so large and so tangled that they can no longer perform basic functions. "The terminal stage" has been unfolding ever since. What happens to California? It changes in sweeping, fundamental, unprecedented ways. Or it collapses.      

Arnold's self-loving ode: It's revealing what he omits -- and what he includes

After Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher got national attention for self-righteously quitting the GOP to pursue the San Diego mayor's seat as an independent, it was inevitable that Arnold Schwarzenegger would write an L.A. Times op-ed patting himself on the back for being a constructive non-Neanderthal maverick Republican. Years before he was fine-tuning the constructive maverick narrative for Fletcher, political guru Matt David was doing it for John McCain,  Arnold and Jon Huntsman. But the problem for Schwarzenegger is what he leaves out of his op-ed -- his assault on the Sacramento establishment from 2003-2005 -- and what he leaves in -- implied championing of three of the left's biggest boondoggles: Obamacare, green jobs and the bullet train. If I were Fletcher, I'm not sure I'd want to be linked to Arnold. The uncomfortable truth for Schwarzenegger, Fletcher and anyone who promotes the "both sides are to blame" narrative in California is that one side has almost the power, so of course it is primarily to blame for where California finds itself. Arnold understood this from when he ran in the 2003 recall to his special election wipeout in 2005. California would have become a far saner state if Arnold had prevailed in 2005, with teacher tenure reform, a state budget straightjacket and an indirect limit on union power through "paycheck protection" over automatic deduction of union dues from public employee paychecks. But Arnold didn't prevail. And immediately afterwards, he began flailing around in the most awkward, overt legacy hunt of any politician I have ever seen. This is reflected in his onanistic L.A. Times' op-ed over the weekend. What does he knock conformist Republicans for? A thoughtful, defensible position would have been for opposing any broad changes in the tax code that might have raised taxes for some but would have promoted overall economic growth. Instead, Arnold gets on his high horse with Republicans for not going along with three of the biggest boondoggles of the modern political era: Some Republicans today aren't even willing to have conversations about protecting the environment, investing in the infrastructure America needs or improving healthcare. The first part is a reference to the green jobs boondoggle, the second to the bullet train and the third to Obamacare. It is not a partisan assertion to say that independent folks looking at all three have run away screaming over their horrible cost-to-benefit ratios. But Arnold doesn't care. He had the vision thing in spades, yunno? He wants to remind us he was for the green-jobs-will-save-us-all fantasy before Obama and Jerry Brown. That he was for the bullet train fantasy before Obama and Brown. And that between Mitt Romney and Obama, he sought the same sort of mandatory health insurance program for all Californians -- only to be thwarted by that most unlikely voice of reason, Don Perata! What's funniest of all is the way that people not in San Diego describe what's going on in San Diego. Like the NYT's David Brooks, Arnold tried to depict Fletcher as having been rebuffed by rigid GOP reactionaries, contrary to Ronald Reagan's desire for a "welcoming, open and diverse Republican Party." Two months ago, Republicans in the city of San Diego's central committee had three choices to endorse for mayor. One was Fletcher, a handsome war hero married to a Bush 43 staffer, someone with cute young kids, someone championed by former San Diego war hero-turned-mayor-and-then-governor Pete Wilson and someone whose biggest legislative accomplishment was passing a complex new law on sex offenders that was broadly if not accurately seen as a standard tough-on-crime crackdown. One was Bonnie Dumanis, the tough-on-crime San Diego district attorney who had the support of incumbent Republican mayor Jerry Sanders. She is gay, of which Bill O'Reilly, who likes to call her "Mrs. Dumanis," seems unaware. The third Republican mayoral candidate --  and the one whose victory with the city central committee led to Fletcher's quitting the party -- is Carl DeMaio -- a gay libertarian whose retail political skills are often found lacking and whose ties to San Diego are slim. So which young Republican politician's journey to the party's endorsement is more likely -- Fletcher's or DeMaio's? If you said the latter, I look forward to you naming all the other young gay libertarians whom California Republicans have rallied around. If you said the former, plainly, you're drinking the Matt David Kool-Aid. But Arnold, of course, isn't a drinker of the Kool-Aid. Since his 2005 special election wipeout, he's been a dispenser of the Kool-Aid, of the idea that Republicans share much of the blame for our local/state woes. In a state where 97 percent of the power rests with Democrats, that's nearly as ridiculous as blaming the dissidents in Pyongyang for North Korea's woes.      

State's 2 biggest school districts begin Potemkin village-ization

Some 225 years ago, when empress Catherine the Great visited the Crimea region, legend has it that a Russian public official named Potemkin ordered construction of "villages" that looked great from afar but were actually just facades. Think the fake small town the good guys built in "Blazing Saddles." Now many California school districts are beginning their Potemkin village-ization. To cover compensation costs that top 90 percent or more of operating budgets, everything must go until there are just facades of schools left. Everything must go, that is, but pay and pensions for veteran and retired teachers. The latest example comes from Los Angeles Unified: Facing unrelenting budget pressure, Los Angeles Unified has pared its summer school program - again - to its smallest size ever, with only a limited number of courses available to failing high school students who need to make up classes to graduate. Credit-recovery classes will be offered at just 16 of the district's nearly 100 high schools, with online classes hosted at eight campuses. Only seniors who have received a "D" or "F" in a required subject like health or algebra and sophomores and juniors who have failed one of those core classes can enroll. Unlike past summers, credit-recovery classes will not be offered at LAUSD's adult schools, which are on the chopping block because of a $390 million deficit facing the district. District officials hope California voters will pass a sales-tax hike and local voters will pass a $298-a-year parcel tax so they can salvage the adult schools. "We're in a horrible (financial) bind from the state," Assistant Superintendent Alvaro Cortes said Wednesday. "We've been going through this for the last four years, and it's not going to get any better." The last paragraph is just pure manure. It is not the state's fault that California public schools almost uniformly award automatic raises based on years on the job. In San Diego Unified, for example, the last contract I saw provides automatic 3.8 percent annual raises for 15 of the first 20 years a teacher is on the job. That is in addition to raises teacher unions win through collective bargaining. In San Diego Unified, in 2012-13, teachers will get phased-in raises that add up to 7.2 percent. And no surprise, San Diego Unified, the second largest state school district after L.A. Unified, is also undergoing Potemkin Village-ization: The San Diego school board voted to eliminate nearly 1,000 nonteaching positions Tuesday night .... . Under the San Diego Unified School District’s preliminary budget, more than 1,600 teachers and well over 1,000 full and part-time nonteaching employees — including classroom assistants, cafeteria workers, and office clerks — will be laid off next year. ... Lost in the districtwide protests against the teacher layoffs that cover 20 percent of the elementary teaching force has been the hit to San Diego Unified’s early childhood education program that would lose state funding under California’s preliminary budget. Of the district’s 185 state-funded prekindergarten teachers, 150 received pink slips. The program serves students from low-income San Diego families and helps prepare them for kindergarten by teaching language, social and physical skills, and identifying students with special needs. Some 385 nonteaching jobs at the child development centers have also been cut. So once again, can someone tell me how teacher unions are all about social justice? There used to be a document on the San Diego Unified website that showed the district was on track to spend 102 percent -- 102 percent!!! -- of its operating budget on pay and benefits. I can't find it now. But that is still the best example ever of what I've been whining about for years. When the Potemkin village-ization of California public schools is complete, thanks to insane pay policies, all available money will go to employee and ex-employee compensation. 102 percent, for you non-math majors out there, is more than 100 percent.

What Arnold’s memoirs need: A chapter on his betrayal of California

Smart new essay in Cal Watchdog: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s offbeat request last week on his Facebook page for the public to tell him what to write about in his pending memoirs got the result he wanted: lots of attention. “More than 2,000 people responded: Talk about bodybuilding, your childhood and your time on movie sets, they wrote,” said an account in the Sacramento Bee. “Talk about politics. And sex.” But the former governor’s upcoming book is unlikely to truthfully detail perhaps the most profound and far-reaching action of Schwarzenegger’s life: his decision to betray Californians and saddle their economy with a permanent burden because of his determination to be remembered as a green icon. Whole thing here. The author, Chris Reed, well, I barely know where to begin. He's bounced back nicely after a rough 2008. His Aussie venture seems to be going well. But the teaching gig didn't work out.

"Pensions for all's" respected defender: What he leaves out

A credible media figure (i.e., not George Skelton) has emerged to defend Democratic lawmakers' "pensions for all" proposal. SB 1234 would require private sector employees to pay 3 percent of their wages into a low-risk pension fund in return for a small guaranteed retirement benefit. In Prop Zero, Joe Mathews took issue with my description of the plan as "baked." I think the first reaction of most people would be fury over the fact they were being forced to take a 3 percent pay cut to fund a novel, untested state program they had no reason to trust. Joe said my reaction and those of other critics was understandable but "completely backward." Yo, Joe, say it ain't so. Yo, Joe, when it comes to SB 1234, I like my side's odds. Why does Mathews think it makes sense? Because its emphasis on low-risk pension funds could midwife a more cautious approach to public sector investment returns' assumptions and usher in a new era of realism at CalPERS. While this proposal offers a modest, low-risk pension plan for private workers, it has even greater potential as a new, smarter, safer approach to pensions for everyone -- including public sector workers. This seems like an excessively complicated way to address CalPERS' habit of trying to disguise its vast financial problems and bully its critics. But even if you think Joe Mathews is onto something when he makes this point. he still doesn't address SB 1234's manifold shortcomings. It's not accurate to imply that the bill was dismissed by critics without being fully scrutinized. When I wrote about this on Feb. 23 after reading the bill analysis on leginfo, I identified lots of problems and obstacles: 1) It can easily be depicted as statewide 3 percent pay cut for private sector workers at a time when many are counting every last penny. 2) It can also be depicted as a truly bizarre response to the real pension crisis: requiring everyone who doesn’t have one of the great public employee pensions to invest in the state’s low-rent version of Social Security. 3) Does anyone really believe that this program wouldn’t morph into something that’s partly or largely subsidized by taxpayers or (more likely) private employers? 4) It is built on the assumption that everyone in the private sector is an idiot without the forethought to prepare for retirement. Poverty among the retired is low — even among those who don’t enjoy for decades 75 percent of their highest pay from their government pensions. 5) It presumes a faith in government that I just don’t think Californians have. If Joe has his public-policy-analyst hat on and thinks there are worthy aspects to SB 1234, that's one thing. But if Joe is in political analyst mode and actually thinks this will fly with the public, I've got a subdivision in Lake Elsinore that I'd like to have him take a look at. To believe Californians in the private sector have anywhere near the level of faith in state government to accept losing 3 percent of pay on an ongoing basis to fund a state-overseen pension fund ... well, that is hard to believe. A shorter description comes to mind. You guessed it. This view is, yes, baked.. Back to you, Joe. When it comes to you and SB 1234, to paraphrase Moses Malone, I want mo, mo, mo! P.S.: Yes, emailers, I know that I said last week that this week I would be on vacation. In my defense, I just had no idea I would face such provocations. I will try to avoid the fray tomorrow. But I have a bad feeling that the bullet train's ludicrous new business plan may bring me back to Calwhine on Tuesday night.          

Schizo CalPERS ponders apocalypse while still mocking pension 'myths'

Ed Mendel continues to break more juicy stories about CalPERS than the rest of the state media combined. Along with the Dans (Weintraub and Borenstein), he will be a first-ballot inductee in the Golden State Pension Coverage Hall of Fame. His latest scoop shows CalPERS officials being more honest than they've ever been, worrying that a big economic downturn could drive the giant pension agency down to just 40 percent of necessary funding. So why does CalPERS keep cranking out the happy talk and disinformation on its calpersresponds.com website? This, as the kids say, is wack. My favorite "myth" cited by CalPERS is that "CalPERS is unsustainable." This post indicates this "myth" was first addressed and allegedly debunked on Sept. 23, 2009, the week the website appears to have been activated. How was it allegedly debunked? With these two lame paragraphs: Fact: As a percentage of payroll, employer contribution rates are returning to the levels of the 1980s. In fiscal years 1979-80, 1980-81, 1981-82, for example, pensions as a percent of payroll for miscellaneous State workers were 19 percent of payroll. View details of State Miscellaneous Tier 1 Rates. Fact: Employer contribution rates have been very stable over the past six years, changing by less than 1 percent of payroll during the past six years, thanks to our rate-smoothing policy. The expected increase in employer rates due to the downturn will increase employer contributions by an average of 1 to 3.7 percent of payroll in 2011-12. View more information on projected increases in employer contribution rates for public agencies. These "facts," of course, don't prove jack. Pensions are unsustainable for many, many of the local governments CalPERS so poorly serves, and this very narrow framing of sustainability as being about broad employer contribution rates is a complete red herring. These "facts" don't change the fact that Stockton, San Jose, Los Angeles, etc., have real crises looming and can't stay the course. But CalPERS follows the Maviglian tactic of focusing almost entirely on state pension problems, which are minor compared to those facing so many cities. Of course, what makes the pension giant's assertion that it's a myth that "CalPERS is unsustainable" so downright hilarious is that the main person responsible for the "CalPERS is unsustainable" shorthand is .... you got it! CalPERS' own actuary! As reported by, who else, Ed Mendel -- and just six weeks before CalPERS declared the claim a myth. This is from a story Ed posted Aug. 12, 2009 about a pension seminar that took an unexpectedly candid turn, perhaps because those in attendance didn't think a reporter was in the room: Ron Seeling, the CalPERS chief actuary, described the process used to “smooth” the rate increases that will be imposed on the 1,500 local government agencies in CalPERS in 2011 in the wake of the stock market crash. Instead of a rate increase of 4 to 20 percent of pay, the smoothing will reduce the rate hike to a more manageable 0.5 to 2 percent of pay. “I don’t want to sugarcoat anything,” Seeling said as he neared the end of his comments. “We are facing decades without significant turnarounds in assets, decades of — what I, my personal words, nobody else’s — unsustainable pension costs of between 25 percent of pay for a miscellaneous plan and 40 to 50 percent of pay for a safety plan (police and firefighters) … unsustainable pension costs. We’ve got to find some other solutions.” How priceless -- CalPERS setting up a website with a primary goal of disavowing its actuary's grim warning as a "myth." As for Ron Seeling, well, you can guess what happened to him. In March 2010, seven months after his declaration that CalPERS was on an "unsustainable" track, he retired. Did CalPERS put out a press release? Nope. The appointment of Seeling's successor three months later? That merited a press release of 413 words about how darn important the job of chief actuary was. LOL. Where have you gone, Ron Seiling-o? A blogger turns his lonely eyes to you (woo woo woo). I'd love to hear the stories Seiling could tell if he were loaded up with sodium pentothal. P.S., 9 p.m., March 24: Please read the comments, folks, so you can enjoy a truly hilarious attempt by a public employee to pretend CalPERS actually has a good investment record, and that only my stupidity prevents me from figuring this out. Just riotously stupid spinning. I guarantee plenty of laughs.

'Solyndra Times Seven': A new frame for the bullet-train debacle

The national media have devoted plenty of skeptical attention to California’s bullet-train boondoggle—from the ballooning cost of the California High-Speed Rail Authority project to its shoddy management to the baffling decision to build the first segment in the lightly populated Central Valley. But the press has yet to focus on a crucial fact: the bullet train isn’t just some quirky Left Coast fiasco; it’s also a grotesque waste of federal money. The project serves as a powerful reminder of the Obama administration’s mishandling of the $787 billion stimulus that Congress passed in February 2009 with solemn assurances of prudence and accountability. The bullet-train project, in fact, can be thought of as “Solyndra times seven”—that’s how far its costs outstrip those of the much-touted Bay Area solar panel manufacturer that burned through $528 million in federal loans before declaring bankruptcy and folding last September. That's the lead of my new piece for City Journal California. It's step one in my campaign to make the bullet train a national story about stimulus insanity, not just about a crazy folly unfolding in the goofy Golden State. Thanks to my old friends John and Ken at KFI 640 AM for giving attention to the column on their show Wednesday. You can hear them talk about the bullet train fiasco and my commentary for about 20 minutes beginning at the 12:40 mark of this on-demand podcast.

When will pension fallacies be exposed? Lavish benefits not necessary to draw workers

This Sacramento Bee story pointing out that local governments in its region spent more propping up failing public employee pension plans than it would cost to build the Kings a new arena is interesting because it points to a part of the pension debacle that never gets enough attention. A central argument against public spending on sports facilities is that they're simply not necessities and that they amount to giveaways to the politically connected. The exact same thing is true of ludicrously generous pensions. With the possible exception of police, they're just not necessary to attract and retain public employees. Remember, the theory used to justify defined-benefit pensions for public employees in the mid-20th century was that they were necessary because public employee pay was so low. That's no longer true. They exist as a function of political power. Now the new trope used to justify lavish pensions is that without them there would be a massive exodus of talented government workers. This brings me to one of my favorite moments of recent years in California academia: the retromingent way the UC Berkeley labor "think tank" embarrassed itself back in 2009 with a report warning of the huge downside of furloughing state workers a day or two a month: [Because of furloughs] employers are most likely to lose highly productive workers that have greater opportunities for outside advancement and find it more difficult to attract such workers in the future. What were the footnoted sources for this claim? 4 Yellen, Janet L. (1984, May). Efficiency wage models of unemployment. The American Economic Review, 74, (2), 200-205. 5 Campbell, Carl M, III & Kamlani, Kunal S. (1997, August). The reasons for wage rigidity: Evidence from a survey of firms. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 112, (3), 759-89. The first is a broad, long-term study of the entire U.S. economy that is focused on the private sector, not government. See for yourself. The second deals entirely with the private sector. See for yourself. As I wrote back in 2009, why does this matter? Because if you know even a tiny bit about labor economics, you understand there is an enormous difference between the public and private sectors. The UC Berkeley study posits that the dynamic that exists in the private sector exists in state goverment -- that there is active market demand for state employees that means furloughs would result in an exodus of the talented. Bunk. The public sector's turnover is minuscule. Here's what the ultimate labor think tank -- one that doesn't reach conclusions before it starts -- reports with the latest jobs data, from January: Monthly job turnover in the private sector is far higher than it is in the state government sector. That's from the U.S. Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics. Remember, this tiny turnover is occurring even as public employees face what has been depicted as the roughest stretch they've ever faced. Plainly, the argument that there is heavy market demand for state employees is wrong. Obviously, the UC Berkeley "study" is actually a pronouncement from an interest group, not an academic work. The media have finally woken up to the pension crisis. The focus is usually on the huge cost. But there's not nearly enough focus paid to the fact that the basic rationales for lavish pensions -- they're necessary because of low pay and to prevent brain drains -- are both crocks.

Daftness of governor's notion of school 'reform' finally sinking in

After Jerry Brown mocked Senate President Darrell Steinberg last fall for pushing the latest "siren song of school reform," the gov went on to tout local control as a better way than the current emphasis on student testing and teacher accountability. Here and elsewhere, I've pointed out the obvious -- in effect, if not in words, what Brown wants is tantamount to a return to the old days of how public education operated. Yo, Jerry: K-12 schools way back when were so dysfunctional that it triggered the broad education reform movement that you now consider a trendy failure, including the misfire that is No Child Left Behind. I've been waiting .... and waiting ... and waiting ... for someone else in the media to figure this out. Now someone has, and lordy lordy, it's former Sac Bee editorial page editor Peter Schrag, one of the most respected establishment voices on education. Brown now talks blithely about weighted school funding and increased local control. But it’s a century of local (and/or state) control, always responsive to electoral majorities, which brought the educational mess the nation finds itself in now. This is why I wrote what I wrote in December. Education is one of the biggest issues in California, yet Jerry -- while billing himself as the smartest guy in the room -- has staked out a fundamentally incoherent stand: The governor pairs this broad skepticism of reform efforts with a denunciation of federal officials such as U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan for not having "a trust or even a belief in local schools" -- as if school reform will ever percolate up from districts in which teachers unions are almost always the most powerful force and use their clout to maximize teacher compensation and jobs protection. So, to sum up, Brown knows schools need to improve. (Good.) But he is suspicious of reformers and appears to doubt sweeping reforms based on broad policy changes could even work. (Uh-oh.) And he thinks local school districts could innovate their way to success if given the chance. (Oh, no!) This is a perfect recipe for inertia, for the governor has tied himself up in knots. Why on Earth would alleged smart guy Jerry Brown think local control would work any better now than it did in the 1980s and 1990s? If anything, the teachers unions in California are even more powerful then they were then. Illustrating this truth: The Los Angeles Times' stories in the past 18 months that finally, finally, FINALLY followed up on Lance Izumi's long-ago reporting that it was almost impossible to fire teachers in LAUSD. Back to alleged smart guv Jerry Brown: If Brown thinks there are no slam-dunk-obvious ideas for reform -- just flashy, flavor-of-the-week ideas -- that is ridiculous. Here are two: 1) There's not a large, successful industry in the world that pays its most important employees primarily based on seniority. Nor is there such an industry that ignores which jobs are most important in favor of a one-size-fits-all pay structure. If kindergarten teachers can have such a profound long-term effect on students' lives, as research suggests, then why on Earth are they paid the same as high-school gym teachers? 2) It's 2011, for God's sake, not the 19th century. Why on Earth is our school year based on the presumption that we need to have our kids out of classrooms all summer to help get the harvest out? These are not "siren songs." They are obvious reforms. But as long as Brown sees school reform as an oxymoron, he'll never be able to rouse himself to take on the status quo. The appalling result of his dithering will be a California education system that continues to value the interests of school employees over students. Hip hip hooray. I was looking at a standard California collective bargaining agreement for school districts the other day. Teachers in the Golden State, among the highest-paid in the nation, work only 184 days a year, not the 240 or so the rest of us do. Why? Really, why? Bueller? Bueller? Bueller? Don't anyone dare tell me this policy is in place because it makes sense for students and for public education.               That's from MSN-Encarta from 2011.