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Why Tax-On-Millionaires Measure Is a Slam Dunk

Monday, April 4th, 2011

Vanity Fair, the monthly organ of opulence that chronicles,  celebrates and caters to the self-indulgence of the uber rich, seems a strange place to encounter a learned and astute analysis of wealth inequality in America.

VF’s current issue, however, features just such an insightful piece, by Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, who not only  presents the latest evidence that the world’s oldest democracy is morphing rapidly into the biggest oligarchy on the planet, but also dissects the unhappy social implications of this economic and political transformation.

It’s no use pretending that what has obviously happened has not in fact happened. The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent. Their lot in life has improved considerably. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12 percent and 33 percent.

One response might be to celebrate the ingenuity and drive that brought good fortune to these people, and to contend that a rising tide lifts all boats. That response would be misguided. While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall. For men with only high-school degrees, the decline has been precipitous—12 percent in the last quarter-century alone.

All the growth in recent decades—and more—has gone to those at the top. In terms of income equality, America lags behind any country in the old, ossified Europe that President George W. Bush used to deride. Among our closest counterparts are Russia with its oligarchs and Iran. While many of the old centers of inequality in Latin America, such as Brazil, have been striving in recent years, rather successfully, to improve the plight of the poor and reduce gaps in income, America has allowed inequality to grow.

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The case in California: Since our last discourse on the subject, the massive gap between the wealthiest 1% and everyone else in the population has gained more traction as a political issue in California.

Paradoxically, the recent idiocy of Capitol Republicans, who blocked a popular vote on whether to extend a few modest taxes and fees that would  affect almost all Californians, has now made the GOP’s natural base among the very wealthiest taxpayers a far more narrow, rich and inviting target for pols and interest groups who are looking for Plan B to balance the budget while heading off even more cuts to education and other services; Plan B’s  Exhibit A is last week’s announcement by the California Federation of Teachers that they will push for a 1% income tax hike on the state’ richest 1%, a proposal that a new Ben Tulchin poll shows is backed by nearly three in four voters.

Such a proposal would find fertile political ground, in part because the dramatic national trend of growing wealth inequality is, if anything, more pronounced in California.

The Legislative Analysts’ most recent substantive report on the matter, published in 2000, found that in the previous 15 years, the adjusted gross income of the wealthiest 1% of Californians tripled, from 7% to 20%; while the overall wealth of the top one-fifth of taxpayers increased during the period, from 18 to 33%, it declined for the other 80% of taxpayers, at a time when governments were routinely cutting income and capital gains taxes for the wealthy and for corporations.

Talk about the government picking winners and losers.

Self vs. selfish interest: Beyond the moral queasiness such statistics brings on for social justice types, there are many practical reasons, based upon rudimentary self-interest, why this state of affairs represents a clear and present danger to the country and the state.

For starters, the tax-cut, no-regulation policies that have accelerated income disparity in recent decades also triggered the financial meltdown that set off the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Also, the steady, decades-long decline of inflation-adjusted incomes for the middle class shrinks the pool of confident consumers, keeping dollars out of the economy and making recovery more halting and problematic. More broadly, the wealth gap does violence to what Stiglitz recalls Alexis de Tocqueville labeled America’s “self-interest properly understood.”

The last two words were the key. Everyone possesses self-interest in a narrow sense: I want what’s good for me right now! Self-interest “properly understood” is different. It means appreciating that paying attention to everyone else’s self-interest—in other words, the common welfare—is in fact a precondition for one’s own ultimate well-being. Tocqueville was not suggesting that there was anything noble or idealistic about this outlook—in fact, he was suggesting the opposite. It was a mark of American pragmatism. Those canny Americans understood a basic fact: looking out for the other guy isn’t just good for the soul—it’s good for business.

For much of its recent history, the U.S. has been a place where the government literally provided the concrete underpinning for economic expansion and growth. Now that the no-taxes-ever-again crowd is gaining ascendance and – amazingly – recycling failed economic policies that crashed and burned the economy, the public-private partnership model that underwrote widespread business success for decades has fallen apart:

A modern economy requires “collective action”—it needs government to invest in infrastructure, education, and technology. The United States and the world have benefited greatly from government-sponsored research that led to the Internet, to advances in public health, and so on. But America has long suffered from an under-investment in infrastructure (look at the condition of our highways and bridges, our railroads and airports), in basic research, and in education at all levels. Further cutbacks in these areas lie ahead.

None of this should come as a surprise—it is simply what happens when a society’s wealth distribution becomes lopsided. The more divided a society becomes in terms of wealth, the more reluctant the wealthy become to spend money on common needs. The rich don’t need to rely on government for parks or education or medical care or personal security—they can buy all these things for themselves.

In the process, they become more distant from ordinary people, losing whatever empathy they may once have had. They also worry about strong government—one that could use its powers to adjust the balance, take some of their wealth, and invest it for the common good. The top 1 percent may complain about the kind of government we have in America, but in truth they like it just fine: too gridlocked to re-distribute, too divided to do anything but lower taxes.

Why it matters: In California, the impact of these “lopsided” policy changes are seen most visibly in public education or, more accurately, in the decline of public education. With the state financing 40% of the cost of public schools, which have seen the real dollar amounts of that support decrease for several years, policy shops from PPIC to UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access and the Center for Economic Research and Forecasting at California Lutheran University have described and analyzed the destructive impacts that reductions in education and training programs have on the California economy.

At present, California completely fails its lower class population.  It begins with an educational system that many don’t complete, while many of those who do are often unprepared to participate in a 21st century economy.  It ends with a lack of opportunity and upward mobility.

California’s K-12 program is a failure.  Dropout rates are extraordinary, and those who finish are often unprepared for employment or college.  The failure continues when the few who do manage to prepare for college find that the price has gone up and is now unaffordable for many.  Just as bad, classes are often not offered at times that are convenient for working students.

The arguments against: To be sure, there are policy arguments to be made against increasing the taxes on the rich, as the CFT proposes, starting with the fact that it may create an incentive for them to pick up and leave (although another PPIC study has presented data showing this is not the huge problem the Coupal/Fox axis would have us believe ).

Politically, however, that’s beside the point: if Republicans and conservatives hew unwaveringly to their unserious, I’ve-got-mine refusal to help govern the state, both the pressure on, and the demonization of, their core constituency will only increase.

Of all the costs imposed on our society by the top 1 percent, perhaps the greatest is this: the erosion of our sense of identity, in which fair play, equality of opportunity, and a sense of community are so important. America has long prided itself on being a fair society, where everyone has an equal chance of getting ahead, but the statistics suggest otherwise: the chances of a poor citizen, or even a middle-class citizen, making it to the top in America are smaller than in many countries of Europe. The cards are stacked against them.

It is this sense of an unjust system without opportunity that has given rise to the conflagrations in the Middle East: rising food prices and growing and persistent youth unemployment simply served as kindling. With youth unemployment in America at around 20 percent (and in some locations, and among some socio-demographic groups, at twice that); with one out of six Americans desiring a full-time job not able to get one; with one out of seven Americans on food stamps (and about the same number suffering from “food insecurity”)—given all this, there is ample evidence that something has blocked the vaunted “trickling down” from the top 1 percent to everyone else.

All of this is having the predictable effect of creating alienation—voter turnout among those in their 20s in the last election stood at 21 percent, comparable to the unemployment rate.

The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Too late.

Jerry Brown, meet Bob LaFollette: Having been bitch-slapped on budget negotiations by legislative Republicans, Jerry Brown has belatedly taken our earlier advice and is going on the road to campaign on behalf of his balanced plan to ease the deficit. Given the above, don’t be surprised to see him strike a populist tone, ala his “We the People” winter soldier 1992 campaign for president.

It’s worth recalling that shortly after the 1900 election, in which Robert La Follette was elected governor of Wisconsin, our hero Lincoln Steffens, the native San Franciscan who had become America’s greatest muckraking journalist, visited the “little giant” to write about what he expected to be a corrupt, demagogic, socialist, dictatorial boss, as he had been portrayed by the Establishment Republicans of the day.

After spending some time in Milwaukee and Madison, however, Steffens came to a very different conclusion:

La Follette from the beginning has asked, not the bosses, but the people for what he wanted, and after 1894 he simply broadened his field and redoubled his efforts. He circularized the state, he made speeches every chance he got, and if the test of demagogy is the tone and style of a man’s speeches, La Follette is the opposite of a demagogue.

Capable of fierce invective, his oratory is impersonal; passionate and emotional himself, his speeches are temperate. Some of them are so loaded with facts and such closely knit arguments that they demand careful reading, and their effect is traced to his delivery, which is forceful, emphatic, and fascinating.

As a political matter, it’s time for Jerry Brown to reach for his inner La Follette and start sounding some good, old fashioned, Wisconsin style populism. Instead of going after the railroads, as La Follete did, however, Brown should aim at the ultra-wealthy, the oil companies and other greedy corporate interests who have a) allowed the California Republican Party to gridlock the budget process and b) fought to keep special corporate loopholes, including outrageously low property tax rates from Prop. 13.

Sic temper tyrannis.

Hasta la Vista GOP, or Why Cesar Chavez Lives On

Monday, March 28th, 2011

As a union organizer, Cesar Chavez, whose birthday we commemorate today, was no friend of immigrants who slipped across the border illegally to provide cheap labor in the fields of California that undercut the drive for living wages for farm workers.

Hell, the United Farm Workers was known to have reported illegal strike-breakers to “la migra,” and in 1973, they set up a “wet line” (imagine the outrage if anyone else had used the term) along the US-Mexico border to stop immigrants from sneaking into the country illegally and undermining the UFW’s work organizing field hands.

But Chavez – especially in his later years — was a strong proponent of allowing illegal immigrants living and working here to become legalized, and today would surely be fighting for a path to citizenship, as his granddaughter, Dr. Cynthia Chavez, made clear in a TV ad for Jerry Brown during the 2010 governor’s race.

Which makes today the perfect opportunity to focus on an issue that Calbuzz has hammered on repeatedly – the need for California Republicans to support a path to citizenship for illegal and undocumented workers. Not because it’s the right and decent thing to do – never a powerful argument with the knuckle-dragging wing of the GOP — but because it’s a matter of their party’s political survival.

Failure to communicate: Don’t take our word for it. Some of the smartest Republicans around make the case. “A pathway to citizenship for those who have entered the country illegally is the most important element of immigration reform for Latino voters,” wrote Marty Wilson and Bob Moore, after a recent Moore Information survey of Latino voters in California.

According to the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California, about nine in 10 Latinos (86%) favor giving illegal immigrants “a chance to keep their jobs and eventually apply for legal status.” That’s a position shared by 68% of Democrats and 62% of independents but just 41% of Republicans.

What we have here is a failure to communicate. And the political effects are profound.

“Latino voters are widely negative about the Republican Party (26% favorable/47% unfavorable/27% no opinion) and widely positive about the Democrat[ic] Party (62/22/17),” Wilson and Moore wrote. Nor is the GOP “going to win many Latino voters by stressing conservatism; only 22% suggest that Republicans should, ‘stick to core values and nominate true Conservatives.’

Fully a third of Latino voters say they will never vote for a Republican although another third would consider GOP candidates if “Republicans move toward the center and nominate candidates who are less conservative.”

The big picture: To appreciate the magnitude of the challenge for the Republicans in California, it helps to understand first the national context.

During the past decade, the Latino population in the U.S. grew 43 times faster than the non-Hispanic white population, the Census Bureau reported last week. Between 2000 and 2010 the U.S. Hispanic population grew 43%, to 50.5 million from 35.3 million. Latinos’ share of the total population rose to 16% from 13% — accounting for more than half the total U.S. population growth in the decade.

At the same time, Census Bureau officials reported, the non-Hispanic white population grew by barely more than 1 percent, dropping as a portion of the total from to 64% from 69%.

“The states with the largest percent growth in their Hispanic populations include nine where the Latino population more than doubled, including a swath in the southeast United States – Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, and South Carolina. The Hispanic population also more than doubled in Maryland and South Dakota,” reports the Pew Hispanic Center in an analysis of the Census Bureau report.

“In six states, growth in the Hispanic population accounted for all of those states’ population growth; if the Hispanic population had not grown, those states would not have grown,” Pew added. “They included Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island. In Michigan, the state population declined over the decade but the Hispanic population grew.”

No place to hide: While Latinos in Florida, New York, Illinois and California cannot be viewed as a monolithic voting bloc – voters of Cuban, Puerto Rican, Haitian and Mexican ancestry, for example, cannot be easily categorized politically – surveys consistently find a common thread is a belief that there ought to be a mechanism for allowing illegal immigrants to become legal residents and/or full citizens.

And with the continued growth of Hispanics, red states are becoming less reliable safe harbors for Republicans (consider Nevada, for example) and so too are formerly “safe” Republican districts in California.

“Increasingly for California Republicans, there’s no place to run, no place to hide,” said Democratic consultant Garry South who, with former Republican state Sen. Jim Brulte, recently analyzed the changing electoral landscape for their partners at California Strategies.

“The demographics are moving so heavily against them, it’s becoming very difficult to maintain a meaningful number of completely safe GOP seats almost anywhere.

“Most of the huge Latino growth between 2000 and 2010 was in inland areas normally considered Republican, not along the coast,” South said “And Asians grew by even more than Latinos. Together, Latinos and Asian Americans now constitute an absolute majority of Californians. Republicans are getting on average about 30-35 percent of their votes. Do the math.”

Said South and Brulte in their analysis:

Based upon the historical standard of “safe” verses “competitive” districts, there will likely be a few more competitive legislative and congressional districts. That said, given that the top two vote getters regardless of political party run off in the November general election, the historical notion of “safe” districts now no longer applies.

 

While many GOP legislators, donors and activists, believe a “fair” redistricting presents a great opportunity, there is also a huge potential downside risk for the GOP as well. If the Democratic Party’s consistently overwhelming financial advantage is not countered at the legislative level, it is possible that Democrats [will] obtain a two-thirds majority in one or both houses of the state Legislature in 2012.

 

The GOP has not experienced a net pick up of legislative seats in a presidential election since 1984.

The Elephants’ elephant: In their analysis of Latino voters, Wilson and Moore call immigration “the elephant in the GOP living room.” The Arizona immigration law is widely unpopular among Latino voters, immigration reform is widely popular and Democrats are more likely than Republicans to be trusted, by a ratio 0f 57-21%, to reform immigration laws.

And the central issue is a pathway to citizenship.

Why is it so hard for Republicans to move on this issue? Because – partly in fear of an influx of Democratic-leaning voters – they’ve spent years railing against illegal immigration and appealing to the most nativistic and xenophobic impulses of their base voters. Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman – who otherwise might have been quite moderate on the issue – tacked so far right on immigration they made themselves pariahs among Latino voters in the 2010 governor’s race.

Even Mike Murphy, who made a bloody fortune leading Whitman’s disastrous 2010 campaign for governor, seems to have gotten the point. The GOP is saddled with a “base-driven strategy that has injected red-hot rhetoric into our party’s message on immigration” he told the Washington Post. “Primary politics have made the situation even worse,” Murphy said, suggesting as Chris Cillizza reported,  that GOP opposition to some sort of path toward legalization is a “non-starter” for Hispanic voters. No duh.

Wilson and Moore tested one message they believe can help the GOP find greater favor among Latinos. “A candidate who says, ‘secure the border first, stop illegal immigration, then find a way to address the status of people already here illegally’ gets a favorable reaction from 73%,” they found.

Others have suggested the GOP could favor legal residency, but not full citizenship with the right to vote, for undocumented workers. Still others say if an illegal immigrant serves in the U.S. military or graduates from college, he or she ought to be able to become a citizen.

How the keepers of the John Tanton anti-immigrant flame in California would react to a movement within the California Republican Party (or by a statewide GOP candidate) toward a more moderate line on immigration is, sadly, predictable. The phrase “head on a stick” comes to mind.

“I don’t think a Republican candidate can win on this issue either way in California,” said South “If they support a path to citizenship, they enrage and alienate their lily-white base. If they oppose it or try to straddle the issue, they just become the typical anti-immigrant Republican who wants to deport every Latino back to Mexico. They’re fucked. Hee, hee.”

Happy Cesar Chavez Day!

Notebook: eMeg, DiFi, Gay Rights, Pensions, Districts

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

The week’s most distressing political post comes from the Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire, reporting that Meg Whitman says she is “definitely not” running for the U.S. Senate in 2012.

Say it ain’t so, Meg.

As the rumor mongers who first proposed the notion that Her Megness should challenge Dianne Feinstein for Senate in 2012, we were disappointed beyond measure to read the piece, filed by Cari Tuna of the Journal’s San Francisco bureau. Beyond our pride of political authorship on this one, let’s face it, a Herself vs. Herself match-up between these two would be one of those once-in-a-lifetime campaigns we’d pay to cover.

Although eMeg threw cold water on our dream scenario, a close reading of the WSJ piece shows that she didn’t slam the door shut, either. Consider:

1-“Definitely not” ain’t exactly a Shermanesque statement, and it leaves her plenty of wiggle room down the road.

2-Even at that, there’s no full quote from Whitman saying she won’t run. The headline and the lede both attribute the fragment phrase “definitely not,” to eMeg, but she doesn’t utter those words inside the story.

3-In fact, her quotes suggest she remains quite interested in public office:

“I want to stay involved in public policy,” Ms. Whitman said in an interview Friday evening. “Now I see things in a way that I” had not prior to running for public office, she said.

4-The aforementioned Ms. Tuna went to Yale, ferhevinsake.  Boola frickin’ boola.

Yeah, we understand that taking on DiFi at this point looks like an absolute  fool’s errand. She’s the most popular pol in California, and the only survey taken on potential match-ups shows her skunking every possible Republican foe, including eMeg, 55-to-35 percent. Plus, the current lineup of loony tunes, losers and snoozers in the GOP’s 2012 presidential field won’t make such a run any easier.

But  eMeg is and, to us, always will be, a special case. Some key factors that make a Senate bid worth her consideration:

1-Despite spending $144 million to lose to Jerry Brown, Whitman’s net worth stayed steady, as the reliable Seema Mehta reports, leaving plenty more where that came from.

2-While Feinstein eked out a win against mega-bucks Michael Huffington in 1994, she still has scars from that campaign, and the prospect of another year-long brawl against a free-spending zillionaire at this stage of her career is not a happy one.

3-Whitman doesn’t have to hire Mike Murphy this time.

4) While eMeg got badly burned in the governor’s race because she illegally employed Nicky Diaz, Feinstein back in the day had her own, murky,  undocumented worker situation, as the late, great Susan Yoachum reported, which could neutralize the issue in a second Whitman statewide run.

5-Whitman’s business record, from eBay to Goldman Sachs, got a pretty fair airing last year, but it’s been a while since reporters and Republican oppo types took a close look at the financial dealings of Feinstein hubby Dick Blum, which could make for some interesting campaign reading, not to mention TV attack ads.

6) Most importantly, a Senate run would afford Her Megness a splendid second chance to have dinner with Calbuzz, thereby reversing the biggest blunder of her failed campaign for governor.

We’re just sayin’.

DiFi update: Feinstein meanwhile has been staking out a very high-profile position on behalf of gay rights. Our old friend Hank Plante, the former longtime political editor of KPIX-TV, reports:

“Senator Feinstein on Wednesday introduced legislation to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, a target of the gay rights movement since it was passed in 1996.

The law, which DiFi voted against when it was enacted, blocks the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages and denies federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples:

‘My own belief is that when two people love each other and enter the contract of marriage, the Federal government should honor that,’ she said.

Her move is the latest twist in her long evolution on the rights of gays and lesbians. Feinstein was one of the first San Francisco politicians to actively court gay voters when she first ran for the Board of Supervisors in 1969.

In 1982, as the city’s mayor, however, she angered many in the gay community by vetoing the city’s first domestic partners’ bill, saying the bill was poorly drafted.  Later in her term, however,  Feinstein’s AIDS budget for S.F. was bigger than President Reagan’s AIDS budget was for the entire nation.

‘Of all the big-league Democrats in the United States, Feinstein’s was undoubtedly the most consistently pro-gay voice,’ the late Randy Shilts wrote in “And the Band Played On,” his history of the AIDS epidemic.

In 2008, Feinstein became the most prominent political voice opposing Proposition 8, the ban on California’s same-sex marriages. She said that her views on gay marriage had ‘evolved’ over the years from originally not supporting it, to enthusiastically supporting it today.

At her Wednesday press conference, DiFi cited the 18,000 same-sex couples who were legally married in California before Prop. 8 passed. DOMA prevents those couples, and other legally married lesbian and gay Americans, from receiving survivors’ social security benefits, from filing joint federal income taxes and from taking unpaid leave to care for a sick partner.

Her bill now goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Feinstein is a long-time member.”

New Field Poll: California voters now believe pension benefits for public employees are too generous and strongly support a host of reforms – but oppose the idea of taking away their collective bargaining rights as part of a budget deal.

The new findings are certain to sharpen the Capitol debate over public pensions, which not only  is a key issue in negotiations between Governor Gandalf and Republican lawmakers, but also the focus of a war of words between Treasurer Bill Lockyer and the Little Hoover Commission, which recently recommended many of the reforms tested in the Field survey.

Field honcho Mark DiCamillo reported that a 42% plurality of voters believes that pension benefits for public workers are too generous, while 34% say they are about right and 14% that they are not generous enough. This represents a marked shift from 2009, when just 32% of registered voters told Field benefits were too generous, 40% said they were about right and 16% not generous enough.

Significantly, however, 50% of voters oppose combining a deficit reduction measure with legislation that would take away some collective bargaining rights of unionized public sector workers, a move that was taken by Wisconsin’s Republican governor, Scott Walker, and set off a volatile political battle between labor and Republican politicians across the country. In California, 42% say they would support an effort to limit public employee collective bargaining.

The complete Field Poll can be found here after about 6 am today.

Partisanship and Redistricting: While Republicans squawked at the notion of hiring Karin MacDonald of the  nonpartisan Statewide Database at UC Berkeley to draw new district lines, they’re suddenly silent about the only other candidate for the job — Republican Douglas Johnson,  a fellow at the conservative Rose Institute and the head of National Demographics, Inc. Wonder whyHere’s an idea: hire them both and make them split the contract and agree on a proposal — like newspapers do when they hire a Democratic and Republican pollster.

Calbuzz at Two: Wild Parties, Lady Gaga & a Field Poll

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

From Sydney Harbor to the Taj Mahal and Tiananmen Square, from  Big Ben to the Eiffel Tower and the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, raucous crowds numbered in the tens of millions gathered Wednesday amid pomp, pageantry and majestic bombardments of M80s and Megabangers to wildly cheer and celebrate the Second Anniversary of Calbuzz.

“Ich kann es nicht glauben,” murmured staff psychiatrist Dr. P.J. Hackenflack, weeping openly as he listened to reports of the global revelry on a transistor radio in his mom’s basement. “When we started this brave journey, there was no one who believed Calbuzz would still be around two years later, least of all me.”

There were no injuries.

As Tom Meyer released a limited edition cartoon commemorating the founders of Calbuzz celebrating the great day, the site’s Department of Archival Inquiry and Dewey Decimal System Research reported that the must-read web site has soared to Number 1,074,351 among the list of all the blogs in the world (you could look it up).

More: Amid reams of deep-think policy reporting on such fascinating subjects as the Sinclair Paint decision, the Parsky Tax Reform Commission and the Tranquillon Ridge offshore oil drilling project, Dr. H is pleased to  report that our all-time, nothing- else is-even-close,  first place most hits ever, popular post was the one and only piece that carried a headline that included Lady Gaga (you could look it up).

God, we love us some internets.

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.Note to Neanderthals: the most important finding in the Field/UC Berkeley poll out today is that six in 10 voters – including more than half of Republicans — support Gov. Jerry Brown’s call for a special election on tax and fee extensions to close about half the state’s $26 billion deficit.

And providing evidence for why the anti-tax jihadists are so adamant about NOT allowing Brown’s plan to reach the ballot, 58% of voters – 69% of Democrats and 66% of independents but just 35% of Republicans – say they’d vote to approve those extensions.

These are some of the findings from a survey in English and Spanish by the Field Poll and UC Berkeley of 898 registered voters Feb. 28-March 14.

Only a handful of voters – 11% — prefer to deal with the state’s deficit mostly through raising taxes and just 32% prefer using mostly spending cuts. Rather, the favored approach – by 52% — is a mix of budget cuts and increased tax revenues.

Moreover, as Mark DiCamillo of the Field Poll put it: “By a 55% to 43% margin, Californians say they are not willing to pay higher taxes for the purpose of helping the state balance its budget. However, by a 61% to 37% margin, voters agree with the statement, ‘I would be willing to extend temporary tax increases enacted several years ago to help the state balance its budget.”

Grover Norquist, Jon Fleischman, Jon Coupal, John and Ken take note: California voters would rather extend some minor tax and fee hikes and cut spending by about $12 billion than slice, dice and decimate schools or health care for the poor, elderly and disabled. You may have no heart but the voters of California do.

Of 14 areas suggested for budget cutbacks, only two – courts and prisons – receive majority support. And voters are vehemently opposed to cutbacks in some areas that would almost surely have to be slashed if tax extensions are not placed on the ballot and approved, including public schools, law enforcement and police, health programs for  low-income and disabled Californians, higher education, child care and mental health programs.

By far, the most contentious issue in Sacramento right now is whether the Legislature should place a special election on the June ballot. This requires a 2/3 vote which means Brown and the Democrats need two Republicans each from the Assembly and Senate to agree to the special election.

The most conservative voices in the GOP are threatening legislators with expulsion from the Republican Party and fevered opposition if they even vote to place Brown’s plan on the ballot. Yet the Field Poll/UC Berkeley study finds that registered Republicans – a more diverse group than the anti-tax crusaders – would prefer that approach as seen in the chart above.

As your Calbuzzers told you back in January, the whole battle is about whether Brown’s proposal is seen as extending or increasing taxes.

[Calbuzz gets the Field Poll from sources because one of the survey's big subscribers has complained that we should not be allowed to pay for a subscription on our own (which we actually offered to do). Since we don't have the proper link at post time, here's a link to the Field Poll's list of surveys which ought to have this one up by the time you read about it here. Here's the link to the survey]

One-way street: As Jerry Brown’s talks with the GOP 5 teeter, it’s tough to disagree with the sentiments of the Republicans’ top negotiator, Senator Bob Huff, as reported by Steve Harmon:

But Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, the lead GOP budget negotiator who has been aiding the GOP 5, said Republican backlash isn’t a concern. Republican activists would credit them, Huff said, if they forced Democrats to place pension and regulatory reforms, as well as a spending cap, on the ballot.

“They are asking us to cast a vote that separates us from our base,” he said. “So, Republicans would like to see Democrats going to the ballot with something that separates them from their base.”

Faced with the torches and pitchforks of state GOP wingnuts and crazies, the Republican lawmakers who have been hunkered down with Brown are putting it all on the line: at some point, he needs to man up and give something in return.

Budget talks add: Nice work by the Sacbee’s Torey (Don’t call me Tulip) Van Oot in churning out a set of mini-profiles of the GOP 5, about the only thing we’ve seen that tells people who these guys actually are.

Must-see TV:

-UCLA scholar demonstrates why there are so many dumb blonde jokes.

-What Sarkozy’s marital woes and Yeltsin’s tennis shorts have in common.

-How does he get these women to do such things?

-Second greatest buzzer beater of all time.

-Greatest buzzer beater ever.

Happy Anniversary all!

How Sacto Is Like Cairo: Why Difi Rivals Are Doomed

Monday, February 7th, 2011

One of the inherent strengths of local news operations, way too rarely exercised (see: newspapers, death of) is the daily opportunity to report how and why big global events matter to readers and viewers on the home front.

Tom Meyer, the blogosphere’s incarnation of  Thomas Nast, ofers a bit of this type of journalistic service with his latest take today, showing how the dramatic events in Egypt are a kind of real time Rorschach test which provide folks all along the political spectrum a chance to indulge in reassuring themselves, and insisting to others, that they’ve been right, right, right all along.

Underscoring the point, Frank Rich, the Pauline Kael of American politics, batted out a stinging indictment of the MSM this week, for its incessant braying of the clichéd claim that the crucial post hoc ergo propter hoc about the Egyptian populist revolt, which people there foolishly think is about their nation’s authoritarianism, economy and political corruption, is the role played in the events by…Twitter.

“Let’s get a reality check here,” said Jim Clancy, a CNN International anchor, who broke through the bloviation on Jan. 29 by noting that the biggest demonstrations to date occurred on a day when the Internet was down. “There wasn’t any Twitter. There wasn’t any Facebook,” he said. No less exasperated was another knowledgeable on-the-scene journalist, Richard Engel, who set the record straight on MSNBC in a satellite hook-up with Rachel Maddow. “This didn’t have anything to do with Twitter and Facebook,” he said. “This had to do with people’s dignity, people’s pride. People are not able to feed their families.”

“War,” Ambrose Pierce famously said, “is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.” But it’s hard to escape the sad conclusion that the corporate organs of the MSM have failed to do much educating about events in the Mideast; those in search of more serious and substantial information could do worse than to check out the live streaming reportage of Al Jazeera’s English coverage.

Thanks to the cowardice of broadcast and cable executives everywhere, this news service currently is all but unavailable anywhere in the country, a state of affairs that the organization is trying to address with its February 10 “Meet-up to demand Al Jazeera on your TV,” an online campaign which,  paradoxically, mirrors the very demands for the free flow of ideas now being sounded in Egypt.

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Difi and the GOP: Since Calbuzz launched, our Department of Mission Statements and Corporate Branding Jive has churned out any number of cheesy memorable slogans in a pitiful attempt to justify our existence to help you, our loyal readers, understand who we are and what we do.

Shooting the Wounded,” of course, reflects the historical role of sofa-bound political writers and editorialists everywhere, while “Burning Our Bridges One at a Time,” reflects our own deep and abiding belief in the solemn constitutional responsibility of the press to hurl brickbats, cheap shots and childish insults wildly and randomly, without regard to race, creed, color, sexual orientation, partisan belief or political persuasion.

Another great ideal in which Our Founders believed deeply is this:  “Politics is the greatest spectator sport of all.”

So it was that we began trying to drum up interest in the 2012 Senate race before the ink was even dry on the statement of vote from the 2010 elections. In furtherance of this goal, we specifically have encouraged Republican gov race loser Meg Whitman to take a crack at venerable Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein next year.

Alas, however, our project has now been dealt a severe blow, with the release of a survey by Public Policy Polling that shows Feinstein crushing Whitman 55-35% in a simulated contest among voters – the same margin she holds over former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, who got stomped by Difi’s sister Senator-for-life, Barbara Boxer.

Other matchups: Feinstein over former Congressman Tom Campbell 51-37%; Herself over former Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner 52-34%, and  Our Dianne smacking Darrell Issa (R-Car Alarm) by 54-33%, and crunching former Gov. Arnold Schwarzmuscle 59-25%.

(Weed whacking methodology alert) The only consolation for the potential GOP challengers (and for Calbuzz) is that PPP’s survey is an interactive voice response (IVR) poll, commonly known as a robopoll – in which a computer interacts with a respondent (like polls run by Survey USA and Rasmussen). And, heaven help us, Dean Debnam of PPP tells Calbuzz that their sample was taken from voter records (which would be fine if you were doing live calls and asking for that person) but the computer doesn’t know whether it’s interacting with the actual voter from the sample or someone else in the household. Sheesh.

Still, the numbers are of a consistency and magnitude that they’re likely to discourage potential GOP contenders pretty quickly, particularly those pondering the wisdom of tossing $1 billion or so large into a rat hole.

To which Calbuzz says: Take heart eMeg. After spending just shy of $180 million to lose the governor’s race, why not pop for a real survey and find out if you’d have any shot against Queen Mum?

Because. let’s face it, this whole in-between-elections, public policy thing ain’t much except a guaranteed cure for insomnia, and we’d be willing to pay to cover a cage match between you and Difi. We’d even give you a second chance to go to dinner with us.

Reagan Agonistes: Amid the orgy of commentary and political posturing accompanying the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birth, here’s the half-dozen items atop our recommended reading list:

1-Most intriguing op-ed was penned for the Orange County Register under the byline of the aforementioned Difi . We’re not sure we buy her argument that RR’s greatest strength was his “bipartisanship,” but she’s been going on about the importance of “governing from the center” for four decades, so you’ve at least got to hand it to her for consistency.

2- The most authoritative source on all things Reagan remains the canon of  Lou Cannon, who started covering him as a Sacto correspondent for the San Jose Mercury News.

3-Best quickly assembled, 60-second guide to memorable Reagan quotes is found over at Huffpost.

4-Most interesting observations on what made Reagan a first-rate politician come from Ken Khachigian, who turned in a workmanlike job of first person reporting about the great man’s speechifying tradecraft. (H/T Flashreport).

5-Most stomach-churning self-serving effort to identify with Reagan comes from, who else, Sarah Palin. Sorry, Lady Sled Dog, “we’re on the road to ruin,” is just about as far from his politics as it’s possible to be.

6-Best single quote comes from Richard Reeves, via Joel Fox“Ronald Reagan is still president,” he said, meaning the country is living with a political philosophy set out by Reagan. True, true, true, unfortunately.

Bonus read on Reagan: ThinkProgress has a little gem of a piece that will set conservatives’ hair on fire, including factoids on Reagan’s record as a serial tax-raiser.