For a sharp and historically informed analysis of the pension follies of state Democratic lawmakers, no one is going to top Jerry Roberts' and Phil Trounstine's piece on Calbuzz. Let’s be blunt. Democrats, whose political livelihoods have steadily and increasingly become dependent on union money since Jerry Brown in his first term signed the legislation that gave state employees collective bargaining rights, are terrified of moving an inch on pensions without permission and marching orders from the labor groups that finance their campaigns. But while it's great to see this pointed out by practically the only contrarian voices in the progressive media, I still have two gripes with Jerry and Phil. The first is that they essentially echo the union talking point that the pension crisis has been exaggerated: As a practical matter, pension reform is not the most pressing fiscal issue facing the state, as we’ve stipulated before. But as a practical matter, guys, pension reform is absolutely the most pressing fiscal issue facing many local governments. No one should ever say that the state's not in a horrible position short term without also quickly adding but that's not true for Los Angeles, San Jose, San Francisco, San Diego, etc. And here's my second gripe: When will someone in California's progressive media point out that programs for the poor are bearing far more of the pain in recent state budgets than employee compensation? Instead, we see this pretend game that holds compensation has been slashed for years -- coverage that never points out most public employees get automatic raises just for time served on the job until they have reached the top level in their job classification. I recently pointed out 60 percent-plus of San Diego Unified's teachers got "step" increases in each of the last three years for which their pay was reduced by furloughs. Why isn't this sort of data presented WITH EVERY LAST STORY about employee compensation? Instead, as someone who's read the L.A. Times for 22 years and the Sac Bee for 17, I can tell you that I literally don't recall a single article in either of the two papers that thoroughly covered this angle. Partisanship? Incompetence? Stupidity? A combo of the three? Who knows. But this info is crucial and important and "contextual," to use the trendy term from the ombud set. Roberts and Trounstine have dared to cross the unions by being "contextual" on pension reform. Now if only the Evan Halpers and Judy Lins of the world would follow suit on local and state government pay practices. At a time wen the saftey net is being gutted, it's not partisan analysis to point out what those practices say about how 21st-century California Democrats define "social justice." It's bleeping obvious.
I'm off for a week to stew about the Lakers and hunt for a place in California that's one-third as perfect as this place. I saw a celebrity there once who was tired and emotional, but Googling shows he's still alive, so I will keep his name to myself. I may be outraged enough about some state issue to rev up the laptop, but I hope not. Some have compassion fatigue. I have outrage fatigue. I blame Rough & Tumble.
A tweet I sent out earlier today lamenting that birther Gary Kreep had pulled ahead in a close race for Superior Court judge here in San Diego prompted two emails ripping me for not being happy to see a "true conservative" win a judgeship. Groan. I'm a libertarian lite, not a conservative. And I remain absolutely stupefied that birthers and people who tolerate birthers don't realize that Barack Obama and his fans love this idiocy being repeated because it discredits all critics of the president. I'm completely convinced that Obama has intentionally not acted in decisive ways to end this moronic "debate" because he knows it helps him. Duh. Duh. Duh. To recycle what I wrote a half year ago, the idea that Obama wasn't born in the U.S. is so painfully stupid I barely know where to start. Here's one obvious way to refute it: His parents' presence at the University of Hawaii was well-documented. Arriving in 1959, his father was celebrated as the university's first African-born student. His mom's arrival the next year is also documented. So what did Obama's poor graduate student mom purportedly do? Fly to Kenya or Indonesia in the summer of 1961, with or without Barack Sr., so she could have their kid in Third World conditions instead of First World Oahu? People really believe this? Really? Sheesh. In an interview with Kreep this spring, I brought this up. He asked why his birther views were relevant. I pointed out he wanted to be a judge, and asked what did believing stuff like this say about his judgment. He offered an earnest, intense defense of his views. Oh. My. God. It's incredible/depressing/amazing that after all these years, I keep encountering people who either repeat the birther baloney or raise other myths, like the idea Obama Jr. never really went to Columbia University. This is so bleeping tiresome, and wrong. I wish the people who focus on this stuff -- even if they really and truly believe it -- would just shut up. At least if they really and truly don't want Obama to be re-elected. His record is so godawful, starting with the horror that is Obamacare and the wasted $800 billion in stimulus spending, that it is immensely counterproductive to bring up the birther stuff or the other urban myths. Why? 1. It takes away from far more powerful arguments against Obama's re-election -- far more powerful because they are true and about real issues. 2. But mostly because the birther narrative gives credibility -- oh, yes, it does -- to the argument that the disdain for Obama is because of who he is, not what he's done as president. This is a toxic perfume the GOP should shun. It's inevitable that a president with as exotic a background as Obama's would raise doubts that previous presidents didn't. But at some point, these doubts appear to reflect the "fear of the other" -- especially when they're unsubstantiated -- and "fear of the other" is easily depicted as, yes, racist. The 20 percent or whatever it is of adults who are birthers might read that last sentence and recoil -- "That's unfair!" "That's not right!" "Slander!" Sorry, chumps, go back and read my first graph. The 1959 arrival of Barack Obama Sr. was not just a footnote at the University of Hawaii -- it was an event! The first African student! Anyone who understands this to be true and who is also a birther who believes the president's mom left Oahu to have her kid thousands of miles away in scary hospitals for no apparent reason -- well, you draw your own conclusions, but I suspect the people who believe this have either had lobotomies or should strongly consider them. Still believe the birther dung? Please keep it to yourself. Unless, that is, you want your least favorite "noncitizen" to be elected president for a second time. Sheesh.
For years, I whined on my old blog about the lazy way that most Sacramento reporters covered the state budget -- specifically, all the stories that accepted the union/Democratic establishment premise that state spending had to go up 6 percent or 8 percent a year, or else spending was being "cut." It wasn't the George Skeltons of the world who tried to take me to the woodshed for my stupidity. It was Dan Walters, who is infinitely less predictable than Skelton or his colleague Dan Morain. He wrote a Feb. 26, 2009, column that basically said I was a dolt serving up right-wing talking points. (I can't find it online any more, alas.) I take the events of the past three years as vindication that my view of how budgets should be reported is in line with what the great majority of Californians believe. If the state budget is $100 billion one year, but is projected under "baseline budgeting" practices to go to $106 billion the next year, but ends up being $100 billion, no typical taxpayer or reader buys the idea that this is a $6 billion cut. But now I hope to win on a new front: coverage of alleged teacher salary cuts. The L.A. Times is now reporting that teachers in the state's largest school district, L.A. Unified, have agreed to take pay cuts of 5 percent. Hey, LAT reporter Howard Blume: How about some, yunno, context? When I looked into the conventional wisdom that San Diego Unified teachers had taken a pay cut this and last school year, I found that wasn't true at all. Given the relative uniformity of teacher compensation practices in California, what goes for San Diego Unified probably holds for L.A. Unified. To wit: Of the 6,000-plus teachers in San Diego Unified, here's how many got "step" pay increases of 3.8 percent solely based on their years on the job: In 2009/10, 4,967. In 2010/11, 4,865. In 2011/12, 4,163. These raises are given automatically to teachers in San Diego Unified for 15 of their first 20 years on the job. So much for the simple narrative of pay cuts. Every year, most teachers got "step" increases. Wait, there's more. The pay sweeteners for graduate school coursework that even President Obama and Arne Duncan say is idiotic also saved lots of teachers from alleged 5 percent pay cuts. In 2009/10, 971 got "column" increases. In 2010/11, 721 did. In 2011/12, 512 did. The fact is that it's time the media's reporting on public employee pay finally smartened up the same way that its coverage of public employee pensions smartened up. The public sector enjoys built-in advantages that are unimaginable in the private sector, starting with automatic raises based on years on the job -- not on performance or the fiscal health of the employer. I have no specific impression of how Howard Blume of the L.A. Times has done his job, but it would seem pretty obvious to me that the next time he writes about LAUSD pay "cuts," he should bring up this angle. Unless he's just a tool like the L.A. Times big shot who adopted a Democratic consultant's call for spending to be described as "investments." This is an excerpt from what I wrote about Evan Halper in August 2008 on America's Finest Blog: A few years ago, the theories of George Lakoff, a UC Berkeley linguist, were all the rage. He argued that Democrats were then in the doldrums because they were inept at framing issues. One of his main suggestions: Dems should describe government spending as an "investment" and spending decisions as choices on where to "invest." This is a joke, of course, a severe and misleading twist on the traditional meaning of invest and investment. Salaries and benefits paid to government employees are not "investments." Transfer payments to poor people are not "investments." Given the fact that experts say there's no correlation between school spending and student performance, it's also absurd to call education spending an "investment." But all's fair in politics, so it made sense for Dems to use this "frame" to make their case. But why would journalists -- unless they also had an agenda designed to change the way voters thought about government spending? Which brings us Los Angeles Times' Sacramento-bureau reporter Evan Halper. Look at the shameless way he employs Lakoff's "framing" technique in his ostensibly straight news reporting. Excerpts: September 21, 2008: Come winter, emergency cuts will probably be needed. Proposals to invest in -- or merely maintain -- the state's roads, schools and healthcare facilities will be put on the shelf again. August 16, 2008: Some needs of government are unpredictable, and placing strict formulas on how the state spends its money could ultimately squeeze schools, healthcare services, the prison system and other government programs that polls suggest voters want the state to invest in. August 16, 2008: Assembly Budget Committee Vice Chairman Roger Niello ... defended the GOP formula, saying it allows for enough spending growth to steadily increase investments in education and healthcare. January 11, 2008: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's ambitious policy agenda collided with fiscal reality Thursday as he rolled out a proposed budget that threatens to unravel his investment in schools, healthcare and criminal justice programs. I could go on, but the point is made. Halper's trying to change how people traditionally think about government spending. What's funny is the date of his earliest use of this tactic, at least according to my Nexis search. May 12, 2005: School groups, healthcare organizations and advocates for the poor, meanwhile, are calling for the governor to invest billions more in those areas. End excerpts. As I wrote a few years back ... Why is this significant? That same month (May 2005), The New Republic reported ... In California, where he has some of his deepest political ties, Lakoff has huddled with local Democrats numerous times. He devoted his presentation at a February retreat to offering advice on the issues that will dominate next year's gubernatorial campaign ... starting with spending and the budget. Some Dems obliged by using the "invest/investment" claptrap. And so did Halper. Maybe the timing is a coincidence. But one way or the other, Lakoff set out in early 2005 to change how state Democrats talk about spending -- and instead, his biggest California convert ended up being the nominally nonpartisan state government reporter for the state's most influential newspaper. Great, just great. We need to see fiscal conservatives push back in every way possible when they see "cuts" in teacher pay written about that leave out the automatic pay raises that most teachers get year in and year out. The pension scams have been exposed. Now it's time for the union-driven pay scams to be exposed as well.
I sincerely admire Keith Olbermann as a sportscaster and baseball columnist/seamhead. But on and off over the years, I've sent him notes saying I can't understand the contrast between his thoughtful analysis of baseball and his ridiculously predictable political analysis, which routinely beatifies all those who share his lefty views and Nazifies those with whom he disagrees. I've also blogged about him. He never responded. Until last night. But just with what he wrote above. No follow-up. Even after I pestered him with examples of issues he simplifies, such as the silliness of the left saying it's social justice to shred the social safety net while largely insulating public employees from the compensation/job traumas faced by those in the private sector. Boo!!!!! Keith Olbermann, I want a Twitter flame war with you! You've got time on your hands, man! Engage! Sincerely, C. Reed
The New York Times has an entertaining story about how Mitt Romney's visits to the beachfront home he bought in 2008 in posh La Jolla have some of his neighbors grumbling and bummed, and for good reason. The idea that a possible future president would have a second home in a place as crowded as La Jolla is crazy. It's not Key Biscayne or San Clemente or the Bush or Kennedy compounds. I've driven past Romney's home and been flabbergasted at the idea it could be the Western White House. But beyond making this valid point, the article also has two really funny passages. One involves an anecdote about Romney confronting a pot-smoking beachgoer. The other has the Times quoting Darrell Issa in a way that makes the high-profile Vista Republican congressman look like a total liar. Local lawmakers are largely unmoved by the neighbors’ complaints, especially those with long memories. Darrell Issa, the Republican congressman who represents parts of San Diego County, can still recall when President Nixon, during his first year in office, purchased a waterfront mansion in nearby San Clemente, Calif. La Casa Pacifica, as Nixon called it, was quickly rechristened the Western White House. Like his presidency, Nixon’s presence in town was deeply polarizing. “Some people were thrilled,” Mr. Issa said. “They’d be down at the Mission Restaurant and Nixon would be 10 paces over. And other people would say: ‘I can’t get a decent chair. The Secret Service is taking them all.’ ” In 1969, Darrell Issa was in high school in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, where he remained until Nov. 1, 1970, when he dropped out of school to enter the military, per a Wikipedia page that mostly feels like it was posted by his staff. Issa was not, repeat, not in the San Diego/San Clemente area when Nixon started showing up at his Western White House. But I bet it wasn't Issa lying. I bet it was NYT editors polishing the piece by reporter Michael Barbaro and turning an observation by Issa about what he'd heard about the effect of Nixon's arrival in San Clemente into an anecdote that made it sound like this was something that he knew of through personal experience. I've reached out to Issa's staff -- and to Barbaro -- to find out.
Even before he quit the Republican Party in March, San Diego Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher had come into the cross hairs of influential Flashreport publisher Jon Fleischman and Steven Greenhut, the Sacramento-based libertarian think tanker, editor and pundit with a national following. Now, as an independent mayoral candidate in today's elections in San Diego, Fletcher has lived up to their warnings. He's essentially teamed up with public employee unions against San Diego's leading critic of the government status quo, rival mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio. I provide the grisly details here at Cal Watchdog. [DeMaio's} assault on the San Diego City Hall status quo has produced a vicious response from individual union members and union organizations. DeMaio and his supporters were taunted and harassed while gathering signatures for a sweeping benefits reform measure that’s on Tuesday’s ballot as Proposition B. The first-term councilman, who is gay, has also been baited for his sexual orientation and subjected to an ugly whispering campaign. Last week, the city police union began airing a grossly misleading attack ad that implied DeMaio didn’t think the families of dead cops should get survivor benefits. But the perverse twist is which mayoral candidate has been the unions’ main partner in assaulting DeMaio in defense of the status quo. It’s not [veteran Democratic congressman Bob] Filner, the abrasive, in-your-face traditional 1960s liberal. It’s Fletcher, a photogenic 35-year-old Marine war hero who until two months ago was a conservative Republican with some maverick trappings. After DeMaio shocked many observers by capturing the local GOP’s formal endorsement over the more experienced [county District Attorney Bonnie] Dumanis and more conventional Fletcher, Fletcher dropped his party affiliation and insisted it wasn’t driven by expedience but by his conscience. To the cheers of New York Times columnist David Brooks, Fletcher declared he could no longer in good faith be a member of a party that was part of a dysfunctional political dynamic dominated by “extremists.” Ever since, Fletcher has offered up DeMaio as an example of the “extremists” who are polluting California’s body politic — even as Fletcher has supported Proposition B, the sweeping benefits reform measure largely authored by DeMaio that can fairly be described as radical. It would shift all new city hires but police to 401(k)-type retirement benefits and seek to impose a five-year cap on the “pensionable pay” of all employees. ... Meanwhile, he’s kept his opinions to himself about the extremism on display in the union-led campaigns against Proposition A, which would ban the city’s use of project labor agreements unless doing so would lead to the loss of state or federal funds, and against Proposition B. To undercut Proposition A, unions got the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown to enact a law that takes state construction funds away from charter cities with PLA bans. That’s extraordinary enough, but it doesn’t compare to Sacramento’s reaction to Proposition B. The state Public Employment Relations Board, controlled by union allies, sought unsuccessfully to keep the measure off the ballot and has made clear its intention to scuttle the measure should it pass. Why? On the grounds that since some elected officials helped draft Proposition B, it amounted to a violation of collective-bargaining rights. By this bizarre standard, just about any attempt by the public to use the ballot process to directly control public employees’ pay and compensation can be deemed a violation of employee rights. For those on the outside looking in, this union bullying and intimidation may seem so grotesque and over the top that it verges on the comic. But for those who live anywhere else in California, don’t feel inclined to cackle. Today the target is unlucky San Diego, but soon it will be your community. In many ways, I remain an admirer of Nathan Fletcher. His work on Chelsea's Law was exemplary. It wasn't just a knee-jerk ramping up of prison sentences in response to a terrible crime. It was a thoughtful attempt to refocus the corrections system in a pragmatic way, a sincere attempt to target the real bad guys and get away from the warehousing of non-threats that is the preferred approach of California's prison-industrial complex. But I am baffled, sincerely baffled, if Fletcher honestly believes that his present course is the way to solve California's problems, as opposed to a way to help him climb the political ladder. Unless you're on his payroll, it's tough not to be cynical about his actions.