Two ballot measures on the San Diego ballot Tuesday haven't just stirred up the ire of local unions. They've gotten the attention of union puppet masters in Sacramento, who have used the Legislature and a state agency to make clear that San Diego can't be allowed to have local control of how local government functions. Will San Diegans stand up to the bullies? We'll see. The issues are laid out in this U-T San Diego editorial: Proposition A would ban the city from requiring project labor agreements be used on construction projects, except when such bans would lead to the forfeiture of state or federal funding. PLAs dictate that governments follow costly, unnecessary union compensation practices and job rules. To try to intimidate voters in San Diego and elsewhere into voting against bans on PLAs, the union bullies who control Sacramento got a law passed that potentially could cost the city millions of dollars in state construction funds if Proposition A passes. The law, however, is legally suspect. But beyond that, enough is enough. It’s time someone stood up to Sacramento and illustrated that majority Democrats in the Legislature amount to puppets manipulated by their union masters. It’s disgraceful that Gov. Jerry Brown, who sometimes takes on unions, signed their bill into law. Proposition B would give all newly hired city workers but police officers 401(k)-style retirement plans instead of defined-benefit pensions. It would also direct elected city leaders to seek a five-year freeze on pensionable pay of city employees to keep down the long-term costs of retirement benefits for those with vested pension rights. Once again, the union bullies who control Sacramento are trying to keep San Diego voters from exercising local control of their government. The union allies who control the state Public Employment Relations Board have made clear they will try to block the measure by any means necessary. When will the insane excesses of California unions get the in-depth focus they deserve from the media? I've lived in Hawaii, a state where unions are nearly as powerful as in California, and I have seen how they operate. What happens in Sacramento just isn't the norm. It's grossly over the top. But we rarely see the media frame union power plays in a way that provides this context.
It was good to be back on the radio with Martha Montelongo of Gadfly Radio. Go here if you want to hear the podcast. That link should be good until Tuesday morning. For fans of my 2009-2011 show on KOGO 600 AM in San Diego, I have some news. I will have a weeknight show on the U-T TV cable channel in San Diego, probably an hour long, probably debuting in early summer. More info TK.
I think the drug war is crazy and that marijuana should be legalized. But as a student of U.S. politics, I'm flabbergasted by the implications of the fact that it didn't come out until now that Barack Obama was such a gung-ho young pothead that he thanked his drug dealer in his high school yearbook. Obama barely beat Hillary Clinton. If he had to spend months in 2007-08 dealing with stories that his high school buddies all depicted him as a smarter, more exotic version of Cheech and Chong, I don't think he would have won. But there are many interesting twists and turns to contemplate here. It's a matter of record that Bill Clinton thought the fawning media coverage (go to the 4:10 mark) of Obama gave him the Democratic nomination and the presidency in 2007-08. So it's easy to see this from the perspective of "oh, the media going soft on Obama yet again." But it's also a matter of fact that more dirt on candidates is turned up by opposition research done by rival candidates than the media itself. Anyone who doubts that the story about Mitt Romney being a high school bully didn't have the Obama camp's fingerprints all over it needs to go back and see all the references to the politics of people recounting the story to the Washington Post. So this points to a delicious and strange possibility. that the Clintons knew about Obama's pot devotion thanks to their vaunted opposition research, but kept it under wraps to keep the story from being framed as planted by the Clintons to destroy America's first potential black president. Which brings us to "Primary Colors," Anonymous/Joe Klein's savvy, funny 1996 novel that was a thinly fictionalized account of Bill Clinton's successful 1992 presidential campaign. In the book, small-southern state Gov. Jack Stanton and lawyer wife Susan are stand-ins for Bill and Hillary. The governor's campaign is on its way to winning the Democratic nomination when a late-entry candidate, kind of a New Age-y version of Ross Perot named Fred Picker, jumps in the race and strikes a chord with an electorate that is still unsold on Stanton. (Some reviews said Picker was Perot mixed with Jerry Brown.) The Stantons' vaunted opposition research team quickly turns up career-ending dirt on Picker, setting the stage for another evocation of "Primary Colors'" main theme: the contrast between the noble, uplifting rhetoric of candidates and the seamy way they operate so as to secure power. Will the Stantons use the dirt to destroy their opponent or not? This is the key question of the final third of the novel. The Stantons do so, but indirectly, meeting with Picker and laying out what they've found out about his early-career cocaine habit, bisexual adventures and corruption. He drops out of the race. The final page of the novel involves the main narrator (Stanton aide Henry Burton, based on George Stephanapolous) who has turned in his resignation because of this political blackmail -- but who is still drawn to the Stantons because of their potential to change politics in ways he would like. Is it possible in the real world, the real world Stantons had to make a decision of this magnitude in 2007? You betcha. But I think that if they did know and leaked it out, there was a very real chance it would come back to haunt them. And the Clintons thought they were going to beat Obama without pointing out what was right there in his high school yearbook for all to see. Maybe that's one reason we saw so many clips like this in 2008. Bill Clinton couldn't believe the media weren't digging up on Obama what was waiting for them on Oahu.
The people running CalPERS constantly pat themselves on the back even as they join in a dishonest effort to downplay the pension crisis with disinformation and shady accounting. This is just what their most powerful patrons -- public employee unions -- want them to do. But the "social justice" set of the political left, which nominally includes unions, is also a victim of CalPERS' arrogance and incompetence. It turns out that CalPERS basically ignored directions from the Legislature that it divest its investments in firms involved in the Sudan genocide, one of the dearest causes of the celebrity and campus left. That's my CalPERS! This is from a San Diego CityBeat story from last year that just came to my attention this week. CalPERS may have changed its ways since, but the story is still a hilarious commentary on how it works: Since the mid 2000s, dozens of states have passed legislation requiring public pension funds to shed investments in companies working in Sudan as well as Iran, an increasingly hostile threat to global stability and U.S. national security. Most pension systems have reported fairly smooth transitions to what are sometimes described as “terror-free portfolios.” ... In California, the narrative goes a bit differently. At the end of December, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) staff presented an estimate of what it spends annually “complying” with mandates to divest from companies in Sudan and Iran. The total bill: $550,000. ... CalPERS has a funny definition of “compliance.” It has not divested any stock nor honored the short “do not invest” list it released in 2006, complaining it would hurt the fund. In fact, CalPERS’s board passed a policy in February 2009 stating that it would not divest from companies as the law demands, period. ... CalPERS argued that writing “engagement” letters to the companies was sufficient. CalPERS’s latest reports to the legislature, dated Dec. 31, 2010, indicate they have made little progress. As of Nov. 30, 2010, CalPERS had $23 million invested in two companies operating in Sudan which it says are immediately subject to divestment and $347 million invested in companies in Iran that also must be divested. When does the crack-up begin on the left? When do the social justice types figure out they're totally being used? When do they notice that budget cuts always punish the poor and needy much more than public employees? As a libertarian lite who wishes social issues would just disappear, I understand the view that the right's coalition is incoherent. But the left's should be seen the same way. The "social justice" set has being used as camouflage in California for years and years and years, and you'd think eventually that George Clooney, Ramona Ripston or the UC Berkeley Faculty Senate would figure this out.
The idea that unions are a bad influence on California is hardly just a conclusion of folks on the right. In 2005, the Los Angeles Times endorsed Prop. 75, saying barring the automatic deduction of union dues from public employees' pay would lead to a fairer balance of power at the local and state government level. The Sacramento Bee editorial page has gone after unions for being unreasonable for years; here's a recent example. Unions are so out of control that it barely raises eyebrows when union officials and allies like state Dem Party leader John Burton advocate a policy that would prevent giving anti-convulsion drugs to kids at risk of death if the person doing the giving isn't a union nurse. But guess who completely absolves unions? The Calbuzz boys, whose writing style/shtick builds off the idea that they're smarter than everybody, and the L.A. Times' George Skelton, dean of Sacramento journos. Really, guys? Not a single mention of unions in your recent dissections of California's dysfunction? Not one? Wow. Skelton's myopia is his norm. I groaned when I read the following but was hardly surprised. The real blame rests with the recession, an outdated roller-coaster tax system, the two-thirds legislative vote requirement for tax increases, an outmoded Proposition 13 property tax system that has shifted power and responsibility from local governments to Sacramento, legislative term limits that stunt lawmakers' growth — and political polarization. Same old Shelton. But remember that Phil Trounstine and Jerry Roberts, the Calbuzzers, write as if they alone understand California yet are otherwise surrounded by idiots and knaves. So how on Earth is it possible that they could write 930 words on the state's screwed-up budget and never mention the word "union"? Now I understand the theory that Proposition 13 is the root of all evil. I understand the theory that the lack of an oil extraction tax seems unfair given how other states deal with the same issue. But, holy bleep, to look at all of California's problems and boil it down to GOP opposition to higher taxes? Really? Like Reagan, Brown is at heart a traditionalist, embracing the old-school belief that politics is the art of the possible, fueled by negotiations in the service of finding agreement. That is why Brown keeps expecting Republicans to want to negotiate for things they want in exchange for things he wants. But the vast majority of the GOP minority doesn’t want to negotiate, because they don’t want an agreement. Brown’s focused and patient efforts to craft a budget deal belie the decades-old rap on him as too heedless and flaky for the painstakingly hard work of governing. He can only hope, however, that amid all the posing, grandstanding and strutting in the Republican caucus, there are at least a couple of grown-ups with the backbone to stand up and help him do the job. Given what happened to Nathan Fletcher's smart tax deal with Jerry Brown last fall, I understand gripes about GOP obstinance. But when one side has so much more power than the other side, it's simply bizarre to absolve the strongest supporters of the side with the great majority of power of any responsibility for the state's problems. It takes amazing tunnel vision to write 930 words about why California is screwed up and not mention unions. It takes amazing chutzpah to do this in a column in which the Calbuzzers mock other journos for their takes on the Golden State. What do they ignore? Lots of things. When times are bad, unions pressure Democrats to always make social services for the poor be the first target of budget cutting, preserving public employee compensation by any means possible. When times are good, they pressure Democrats to save extra revenue for them. In the revenue boom that lasted from 2003-2007, social services spending went up by barely the rate of inflation, while spending on schools (teacher unions) and prisons (guard unions) went up at least four times as fast. Unions have blocked teacher tenure reform and any policies that pursue teacher accountability. Unions have rigged CalPERS and CalSTRS into fighting for a crazy status quo by controlling their boards and used their clout in the Legislature to block pension reform. They've passed one state law to make it more difficult for local governments to declare bankruptcy, so as to preserve public employee compensation, and they're pursuing another law to make it even harder. They oppose letting volunteers clean up parks. They require leaders of the Legislature to block significant bills helping the economy because then they can use those bills as political chits to win concessions related to, you guessed it, protect public employee jobs and compensation. In south Los Angeles, when Latino parents wanted a charter school, someone left leaflets warning that their organizing meeting would be raided by agents looking for illegal immigrants. UTLA members are the only logical suspects. Against this backdrop, it's nutty that anyone can go 20 words without citing unions as part of the state's dysfunction, much less full essays. At least when Skelton ignores the T. Rex in the room, he doesn't do so while patting himself on the back. In their essay, Roberts' and Trounstine's self-regard rings through: The only thing worse was reading the inane Back East commentary, written by the usual assortment of Romney-sniffing blowhards, ill-informed thumbsuckers and right-wing mantra-chanters whose knowledge and understanding of California politics seems proscribed by the collected rantings of Flashreport freelancers and the world’s shortest book, viz. The Wit and Wisdom of Jon Coupal. OK, OK, it's clear, Calbuzzers, you think the pundits on the right are nitwits. But how can it not be crystal-clear, Jerry and Phil, that when you write 930 words of analysis on California's woes without mentioning unions, you are yourselves guilty of the same partisan hackery and hucksterism you see on the right? I will leave the closing argument to the L.A. Times, and the paper's Oct. 16, 2005, editorial: At many levels of government, public employee unions, aided by their political war chests, have gained control over both sides of the negotiating process. When public employee unions wield the type of influence they now do in California, too much governing becomes an exercise in self-dealing. I look forward to a sarcastic, name-calling screed against the L.A. Times from the Calbuzz guys. Not.
"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 , 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.
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.
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.
The fifth anniversary of the massive Stanford-led studies of California public schools is upon us, and once again, the special interests are characterizing the report as focusing on a lack of resources. Unlike the reporters who are now writing about "Getting Down to Facts," I actually read about a thousand pages of the reports. And as I wrote back in 2007, buried in all the multiple studies, here is the lead: A review of all California school districts shows “essentially no relationship between spending and student outcomes” and that spending more is futile until “extensive and systemic reforms” are in place. In other words, the problem is much more about the stupid way money is spent than the lack of money. Here's my March 25, 2007 take on the comprehensive review of state schools. “Getting Down to Facts” – the massive new study of California's public education system – amounts to a comprehensive repudiation of the argument that all we need to improve schools is a better-funded status quo. But instead of acknowledging this, the interest groups, union officials and liberal pundits who have long defined school quality as a function of school spending insisted the study was in fact deeply sympathetic to their position. Here's what a “coalition of community-based and advocacy organizations – California ACORN, Californians for Justice, PICO California and Public Advocates” said: “[T]hese studies make it clear that California needs to make a substantial new investment in public education – in addition to system reform – to ensure all students meet expectations.” No, that's not what the studies make clear. They say unless huge reforms are in place, it's pointless to spend more. Next up on the spin front were the Sacramento Bee's Peter Schrag and California Teachers Association President Barbara Kerr. Both slagged Arnold Schwarzenegger for saying the “studies show that no amount of money will improve our schools without needed education reform. We need to focus on critical school reform before any discussion about more resources.” Schrag and Kerr sought to frame it as the governor's conclusion – not the researchers' – that reforms should come first, then funding. Bunk. The study says a review of all California school districts shows “essentially no relationship between spending and student outcomes” and that spending more is futile until “extensive and systemic reforms” are in place. Yes, “Getting Down to Facts” does say a case can be made for a big increase in spending to help underperforming schools and the millions of California kids, especially Latinos and African-Americans, who are poorly served by them. But it says reforms must come first. Saying “Getting Down to Facts” calls for vast, unfocused new education spending is like saying “A Nation at Risk” – the landmark 1983 federal report that triggered the modern school reform movement – called for vast, unfocused new education spending. Oh, wait. Now that I think about it, that's exactly what defenders of the education status quo did back then, too. I look forward to how Peter Schrag, the editorial pages of the state's newspapers and, of course, the inestimable George Skelton get things wrong this time around. Here's a link to all the studies that comprised "Getting Down to Facts." You can read them all, and you will never see a single sentence agreeing with the central premise of California education policy, which is that school quality is a function of school spending. No, it's not.
From 2001-2009, many people on the left and more than a few on the right and in libertarian circles warmed to the argument that one reason George W. Bush was such a disappointing president was because he lived in a bubble, surrounded by yes men. When is the rest of California going to figure out that almost all of Sacramento is in a bubble? Exit polls after the May 19, 2009, special election showed Dems, Republicans and independents alike hated the higher taxes pushed by the Sacramento media-political establishment. Yet inside the Sacramento bubble, the columnist for the most influential newspaper writes that it is "hard to find anyone" who doesn’t think tax hikes should now be shoved down voters’ throats. And the governor whose own tax hike power play would callously put schools at risk unless income and sales taxes are increased by a November ballot measure goes on national TV to suggest that only Republican "cult" members are opposed. Yo, George Skelton! Yo, Jerry Brown! Who says the public is on your side? Dan Walters frequently makes the point that this depiction of Republicans as being the solo villains of Sacramento doesn't reflect reality. Despite all my whining about them, the Sacramento Bee and L.A. Times editorial pages will occasionally make the point that union power is what makes Sacramento dysfunctional, not GOP lawmakers' opposition to higher taxes. But too many of the beat writers who cover the Legislature often implicitly accept the Brown/Skelton narrative that there is something wrong/unusual/despicable about those who refuse to back higher taxes to sustain a local and state government status quo that isn't working. I have yet to talk to a management consultant or efficiency expert who doesn't ridicule California's public employee compensation practices as divorced from the real world, or who wonders why the state whose information-technology innovations fueled the productivity revolution can't bring those innovations to the public sector. And it's not just libertarian cranks who say it's insane to base teacher pay on years on the job and meaningless graduate school course work. It's Barack Obama. But very little critical thinking is the norm in the beat writers' stories about the narratives offered by those in power in Sacramento. Consider the reaction from the beat writers back in the summer of 2009 to the rhetoric coming from lawmakers and union supporters who were furious that they couldn't get Republican lawmakers to go along with tax hikes even though California voters of all stripes had rejected them in the May 19 special election that year. This is from my blog on July 19, 2009: Tax-hike foes: First they were terrorists. Then racists. Now Nazis. Even by Sacramento standards, the political establishment's reaction to the backlash against its latest push for tax hikes is increasingly unhinged. First there was Assembly Speaker Karen Bass likening her loudest critics to terrorists. Then there was Bass and her staff in a bizarre miniflap in which they appeared to hint that an aide to our newly tax-averse governor might be a racist. Why? Because he used the word "boycott" in describing the decision of Bass, who is African-American, to skip a Big 5 meeting on the budget. "Staying off buses in Montgomery to bring down Jim Crow is a boycott. Missing a photo op to prop up Arnold Schwarzenegger is not," her spokeswoman said. Now, as Reason blogger Tim Cavanaugh notes, Bass' biggest backer, the California Teachers Association, is weighing in. The CTA's new ad denouncing the governor invokes the specter of . . . Nazism. "It's a touch of class to use the phrases 'never forget' and 'never again' in an attack on Austria's most popular export since Hitler, but I think any fair-minded person would agree that cutting public school fiddling classes is exactly the same as the Holocaust," Cavanaugh wrote. What extreme rhetoric will the desperate Sacramento establishment resort to next in its never-ending fight for higher taxes? Remember, this came two months after California voters resoundingly rejected higher taxes in the belief that a state with among the nation's highest income, sales and gasoline taxes should be able to make ends meet. Yet no one in the Sacramento media -- not one journo -- pointed out that Dems were reviling Republicans for opposing higher taxes just after California voters made clear that they also opposed higher taxes. Instead, the crazy comments of Karen Bass and Dem lawmakers like Noreen Evans were taken seriously by the mainstream media, or at least offered without any larger context. The public is opposed to higher taxes? Says who? Like George Skelton and Jerry Brown, evidently most Sacramento journos think it is "hard to find anyone" who doesn’t think tax hikes should be shoved down Californians’ throats.