Friday, February 13, 2009

Something I really don't freakin' understand: Jerry Lewis edition

(From Calitics)

The Los Angeles Times is reporting (I know, that phrase sounds inherently contradictory these days) that California stands to receive $26 billion from the jobs bill being shepherded through the Congress.

In other news, Rep. Jerry Lewis is insane. And by that, I mean certifiably guano-crazy. Delusional. Unstable, even.

But first, the money. Yes, our state should be getting $26 billion very soon:

Reporting from Sacramento and Washington -- The $789-billion economic stimulus bill headed toward congressional approval is expected to pour $26 billion into California -- building roads, upgrading schools and launching other projects intended to create or save jobs.

The expectation is that the federal government will funnel at least $9.2 billion directly to the state treasury, mostly for education and healthcare, in the next 18 months. Millions of Californians will get a tax cut aimed at promoting consumer spending.

That all sounds really good. But keep in mind that the budget "compromise" that's being worked out in Sacramento already takes these funds into account. And if, for some reason, California doesn't see the federal help that the budget is taking for granted, god help us all:

The austere budget package in the works in Sacramento already assumes that the federal assistance will wipe out nearly a quarter of California's deficit. If it falls short of that, Californians are in for even more financial carnage; about $1 billion in extra program cuts and tax hikes would be triggered under the budget plan.

The extra cuts would apply to welfare grants, aid to the elderly and disabled, and Medi-Cal. State colleges and universities would also lose money, as would the court system.

It'll come out of you one way or another, don't worry. For all the Republicans like to chirp on about not raising taxes, it just means that if you try to send your kids to a good state school or community college, it'll be even more expensive for you. But don't worry, you got to keep your marginal rate low. Or something.

I would have you keep in mind, though, just how far $26 billion really goes in the State of California. I was just on a conference call with Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti a couple of days ago wherein he mentioned that the City of Los Angeles alone has $13 billion worth of shovel-ready public works projects--especially school construction and renovation, as well as transportation projects--and that the city only expects to see $500 million in federal stimulus--or, less than 4% of what they could use. Bottom line: this is a mere down payment. Maybe not even that.

But back to the deranged affliction of Jerry Lewis. See, this is what Jerry Lewis had to say about the possibility of California being dropped a federal lifeline:

The measure has its critics. Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands), who is expected to be joined by most if not all of his fellow California Republicans in Congress in opposing the measure, said it would "spur permanent growth in government programs and spending that will hamstring future budgets and plunge our nation further into debt every year."

Apparently, the hamstringing of future budgets and the sewer-pipe-deep plunge our nation has already taken into debt aren't enough to want Representative Lewis to want to just possibly try out something different. No, his main concern, ladies and gentlemen? Limiting the growth of government programs! It doesn't matter that people are jobless. It doesn't matter that private employers don't have the wherewithal to pick up the slack, nor does it matter that we're in desperate need of infrastructure improvement. No, what matters, simply put, is that government not grow any bigger.

And this is the key element here: Jerry Lewis and his fellow Republicans in both Washington and Sacramento are like little children walking on the sidewalk trying to make sure that they don't step on any cracks. They're paying such good attention to making sure they don't step on any of the "government growth" cracks that they've forgotten where they're going or why. All they know is that they don't want to step on a crack, because if they do, they'll lose the imaginary game they came up with in their own heads within the last 5 minutes.

Welcome to today's Republican Party: where actual results come a distant second to commitment to principle.

Friday the 13th edition: Burton Watch!

It is with amusement that I have been witnessing the brouhaha surrounding Burton Watch, one of the latest additions to the political blogosphere of California.

I take it that those in the know are eagerly awaiting the next entry in the ongoing multi-part series that...shall we say...challenges Burton's credentials to be the next CDP chair. What I can say is that when I read articles such as this one by my fellow Calitics blogger Dave Dayen, or when I read the listservs of the progressive wing of the California Democratic Party, there are quite a few people who have severe reservations about John Burton's impending chairmanship of the CDP, and I'm beginning to wonder what might happen if this "Burton Watch" site catches any traction in traditional media. Will it galvanize anything more than the token opposition what seems to be Burton's inevitable victory?

Hard to say. But I'm not alone in having misgivings about Burton's chairmanship, especially when I hear some of the stories about his style of politics and his ideas about fundraising accountability. My chief misgiving, simply put, is that the role of CDP chair should not be filled by a legislator; it should be filled by an organizer. I am worried that what many have dubbed John Burton's backroom style won't be conducive to building the type of organizational infrastructure that we need to enact serious reform in this state.

That being said, I think John Burton will make for a competent chair. But it'll be interesting to see if that new blog proves otherwise.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

On vote-trading: John Wildermuth's epic journalism FAIL

Attention San Francisco Chronicle: the truth called. They want Page B-6 of yesterday's paper back.

You see, in recent days, the Courage Campaign has come out with a new action asking Attorney General Jerry Brown to investigate Republican lawmakers for potential violations of the California Penal Code regarding vote-trading.

In comes John Wildermuth to save the day, and tell the Courage Campaign that they need to be careful:

You have to be careful what you wish for in politics, and Democrat-friendly groups looking to bash Republican legislators over state budget delays should remember that.

Well, John, a couple of points are in order here. I would say that the first one is your use of the word "bash." Now, in a political journalism context, "bash" is frequently used to refer to one side attacking another side on its policy positions, and implies a typical political attack. However, the Courage Campaign is not bashinig Republican legislators. They are encouraging the Attorney General to investigate a possible crime. And what are they going after? Not "state budget delays", John. The "delay" has nothing to do with it. It is, rather, allegations of vote-trading, which is illegal under the California Penal Code. After all, the Republicans appear to have made offers that they will vote for a budget compromise if the Democrats vote to gut certain labor and environmental regulations.

So, that's for starters: John, you're portraying this as typical partisan run-of-the-mill politics, when in reality it's anything but. But let's move on, shall we?

"The California Penal Code explicitly prohibits this type of vote-trading, and the attorney general is duty-bound to investigate this felonious activity," said Rick Jacobs, founder of the progressive Courage Campaign.

People on both sides of the political aisle say Jacobs seems to be attacking the type of horse-trading that goes on every day in Sacramento, Washington and every city hall and state capital in the country.

Now, there's a reason I titled this post "epic journalism fail": because that's exactly what your piece is, John. I would have you notice that nowhere do you actually mention what California's Penal Code actually says on the subject:

86. Every Member of either house of the Legislature, or any member of the legislative body of a city, county, city and county, school district, or other special district, who asks, receives, or agrees to receive, any bribe, upon any understanding that his or her official vote, opinion, judgment, or action shall be influenced thereby, or shall give, in any particular manner, or upon any particular side of any question or matter upon which he or she may be required to act in his or her official capacity, or gives, or offers or promises to give, any official vote in consideration that another Member of the Legislature, or another member of the legislative body of a city, county, city and county, school district, or other special district shall give this vote either upon the same or another question, is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years and, in cases in which no bribe has been actually received, by a restitution fine of not less than two thousand dollars ($2,000) or not more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000) or, in cases in which a bribe was actually received, by a restitution fine of at least the actual amount of the bribe received or two thousand dollars ($2,000), whichever is greater, or any larger amount of not more than double the amount of any bribe received or ten thousand dollars ($10,000), whichever is greater.

I have bolded the relevant section of the text. It's the part, John, that says, basically, that trading votes, either on the same question (i.e., bill) or a different question (i.e., "I'll vote for yours if you vote for mine") is illegal.

So I'll be completely honest here, John. I don't honestly give a damn if you claim it's the type of thing that goes on every day in Sacramento and Washington--and the reason I don't is that if you're going to write an article critical of the Courage Campaign's call for an investigation, you might actually want to discuss the merits of the case. I'm no lawyer, John, but generally, the way the law works is: state the law; state the facts; apply the law to the facts. And it doesn't matter whether "it happens all the time" or "all the kids are doing it" or any other such excuse or rationale. The only questions are: what is the law, and what are the facts?

My recommendation, John, is that if you have a problem with the Penal Code barring political horse-trading, take it up with the Penal Code. But critiquing the Courage Campaign for actually asking that the Code be enforced? That's just weak.

And I would end there, John, but your epic journalism fail is not yet done. I submit as evidence:

Under the interpretation by Jacobs and the unions, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and her GOP counterparts could be looking at prison time for negotiating Wednesday's agreement on President Obama's stimulus package.

FAIL! John, I did mention, did I not, that this is the California Penal Code, not the US Code? And that, according to the Penal Code, the law applies to "Every Member of either house of the Legislature, or any member of the legislative body of a city, county, city and county, school district, or other special district"? So, no, Nancy Pelosi and her GOP colleagues could not be prosecuted under section 86?

And, John, even if there were some vague ambiguity about that, the United States Constitution would put that to rest--specifically, Article 1, Section 6:

The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States. They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.

That provision, of course, as clarified by subsequent interpretations such as the 1966 US v. Johnson ruling, clarify completely that members of Congress cannot be prosecuted for any speech and debate (for example, negotiating the stimulus bill?) that they engage in as a part of their official duties.

I bring it up, John, because you're not only trying to compare apples to oranges. It's worse than that. It's worse because what you think is an apple is actually...say...a kiwi. And that, John, is a pure and unadulterated journalism FAIL. Until you know more about the law and the Constitution than I do, I recommend you stop writing about it for a major newspaper.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Los Angeles County Democratic Party soundly rejects endorsement of John Burton

(cross-posted from my post at Calitics

Endorsements for CDP Executive Offices were considered at last night's Los Angeles County Democratic Central Committee meeting. As expected, the Committee voted to endorse Eric Bauman for Male Vice-Chair by voice vote; the committee did not take up the issue of Female Vice-Chair, as Alex Rooker was not in attendance and could not make it.
The endorsement for Chair, however, was very interesting. Chris Finnie spoke on behalf of her candidacy, and got quite a loud ovation despite having laryngitis and having practically no voice. After Finnie's speech, someone made a motion from the floor to endorse John Burton for chair. That motion was soundly rejected, with only 50 voting for, and more than 90 voting against.

At that point, the room was buzzing, and Eric Bauman made a motion from the podium that the issue be allowed to be reconsidered at the next month's meeting when John Burton would have a chance to speak; that motion was accepted unanimously on voice vote. I expect that John Burton will be easily endorsed at the March meeting, provided that he shows up to the meeting. But if last night was any indication, the Los Angeles County Central Committee members aren't going to roll over for Burton and they're going to make him earn their support.

As a side note, the Controller's race, which is hotly contested between current Controller Eric Bradley and Progressive Caucus favorite Hilary Crosby, was much closer than I expected. Eric and Hilary had a very cordial, if brief, forum at the meeting, and I honestly felt that Hilary gave the better answers and showed a knowledge of the inner workings of CDP finances that I would have only expected a party insider to have. Despite it being Eric's home turf, Hilary nearly denied him the endorsement; Eric needed to get 71 of the total votes cast, and ended up getting 72. Forcing the LACDP to go neutral would have been a big coup for Hilary, but the fact that she even got that far is a big testament to the strength of her campaign, and the big support she's getting in the progressive movement.

Hybrid owners fall victim to Los Angeles municipal budget shortfall

I heard on the news last night that the Los Angeles City Council had voted to lift the special perk that operators of hybrid vehicles get of not having to pay for parking at city meters. I contacted someone I know in Eric Garcetti's office, and I was informed that the new policy would be effective on March 1.

So, all you Prius, Civic Hybrid and Insight owners (and any other qualifying hybrid vehicles), remember to start putting your coins back into meters in the City of Los Angeles starting in March, or you'll be getting a ticket to help balance the city budget even more! (To the best of my knowledge, the City of Santa Monica is still offering free meter parking to hybrid operators.)

And believe me, I'm not angry at all. I don't really know how much money per annum the City will be able to get from us hybrid owners paying at meters, but even if it's a few hundred thousand, that's money that should be going to more vital services around Los Angeles.