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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Reich’



D.C. and Sacto: A Tale of Two Political Universes

Monday, April 11th, 2011

After speaking in Los Alamitos last weekend, Gov. Jerry Brown labeled as “pathetic” the last-minute deal on the federal budget that averted a government shutdown.

“You’re not the superpower of the world if you have to stay up half the night trying to make a few decisions over a fraction of your budget,” Brown said.

Krusty the Governor should know from pathetic: he’s surrounded by it in Sacramento. That’s not to mention what seems to have been his own feckless attempts to quietly persuade a handful of Republicans to do what they have no inclination to do: give voters the right to decide whether to extend some taxes instead of slashing another $15.4 billion from the California budget.

So now Brown is on a belated bully-pulpit tour of California, hoping to build pressure on Republicans to make a reasonable deal on the budget. “You got to wear people down,” Brown told reporters. “You have to persuade them, and you have to go out to as many parts of California to create the mood, the momentum, and the environment where people are ready to face the music.”

But even Gov. Gandalf now admits he’s facing dark forces that may be too strong for his wizardry.

“Getting some of these Republicans to let the people vote for taxes or cuts is like asking the pope to let Catholics vote on abortion,” he said. “Highly unlikely.”

Passive aggressive behavior: In Washington, House Republicans – who were in danger of over-reading their “mandate” – and Senate Democrats – who were in danger of placing their genitals in a mason jar – finally made a deal because not making a deal was seen by both sides as too politically perilous.

How that’s different from Sacramento is this: In Washington, the party leaders in Congress can actually make a deal because a) they want to, and b) they have the power.

In Sacramento, not only do the passive aggressive Republicans have no incentive to allow a vote on taxes – since the 2/3-vote requirement on taxes allows them to accomplish their goal by sitting on their hands – but their leaders have no power to make a deal.

This is something Calbuzz has hammered on for some time. As we explained back in July 2009:

The governor and the Legislature fulminate and flounder simply because no one in the Capitol in 2009 has the stature, clout or influence to cut a deal like Ronnie and Jesse or Pete and Willie once did.

Strip away all the policy wonkery, weed whacking and egghead analysis  and you find that a combination of term limits and politically-safe, gerrymandered legislative seats has created a political atmosphere in which every legislator is an army of one – and none of them fears the governor, the speaker or any other leader in the Legislature.

For the moment, the Democratic leaders appear to have a bit more sway over their members than the Republican leadership. But that too may disintegrate if Brown’s terms for a deal include a spending cap or pension reforms that the jefes in the California Teachers Association, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association or Service Employees International Union don’t find acceptable.

Reapportionment and the top-two election system may mitigate the wing-nut intransigence of Sacramento in coming years – perhaps replenishing the Legislature with lawmakers who don’t believe compromise is capitulation. But until term limits are eliminated, leadership will remain a huge impediment to deal-making in the public interest.

Talking to reporters on Saturday, Brown also argued that President Obama faced “the same problem I do, only worse.” He likened the need for supermajorities to overcome filibusters in the U.S. Senate to the Legislative votes needed to raise taxes in California.

Caving in to bullies: But there is a more important way in which Sacramento and Washington are alike, as outlined in a compelling essay by Robert Reich, professor of public policy at UC Berkeley and former secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton.

“The right-wing bullies are emboldened. They will hold the nation hostage again and again,” he wrote the other day, urging Obama and the Democrats to take a stand.

All the while, he and the Democratic leadership in Congress refuse to refute the Republicans’ big lie – that spending cuts will lead to more jobs. In fact, spending cuts now will lead to fewer jobs. They’ll slow down an already-anemic recovery. That will cause immense and unnecessary suffering for millions of Americans.

The President continues to legitimize the Republican claim that too much government spending caused the economy to tank, and that by cutting back spending we’ll get the economy going again.

Even before the bullies began hammering him his deficit commission already recommended $3 of spending cuts for every dollar of tax increase. Then the President froze non-defense domestic spending and froze federal pay. And he continues to draw the false analogy between a family’s budget and the national budget.

He is losing the war of ideas because he won’t tell the American public the truth: That we need more government spending now – not less – in order to get out of the gravitational pull of the Great Recession.

Likewise, Democrats in Sacramento – including Gov. Brown – seem to have conceded the argument that public employee pensions, extravagant state spending on social services, over-regulation and over-taxation are the causes of California’s deficit. All of which is simply not supported by the facts.

Bottom line: Jerry Brown won a huge mandate in large part because he said he would bring order to the chaos in Sacramento and that he would not raise taxes without a vote of the people. He did not win by promising to slash teachers’ pensions, eviscerate environmental regulation or cut taxes on rich people.

In Washington, the Republicans – now talking about eliminating Medicare — are overinterpreting their electoral mandate, as analyst Charlie Cook has noted.

But the Republicans in California have no such mandate to misread: what they have is the power of a minority veto in the Legislature. Still, they seem to think they’ve got the voters on their side; Brown and the Democrats need to  disabuse them.

But please, spare us the White House’s obnoxious new mantra — “winning the future.”

Press Clips: Fox (Mis)Fires, Oligarchs on the March

Friday, April 8th, 2011

Joel Fox is a temperate and thoughtful guy whose online opinings usually skip the fact-free cant and bombast that mark so many offerings from elsewhere in California’s conservative blogosphere.

So imagine our surprise when Fox fired his latest broadside at Calbuzz over at Fox and Hounds, a truly woeful – or was it willful? – misreading of our recent dispatch chronicling the state and nation’s steady march from democracy to oligarchy.

Filled with straw men, fatuousness and borderline hysteria, our friend Joel’s ravings served up a pungent hash of off-point platitudes, boiler plate bromides and red herring reasoning that did everything but attack our ancestors — while managing to utterly avoid addressing the central argument of our thesis.

Other than that, it was a helluva’ piece.

Dr. Corey meet Dr. Fox: We’ll spare you most of the gruesome details, except to note that, among other things, Fox fabricated his own premise for our argument (“Calbuzz…claim(ed) the way to save California is to tax the rich and tax businesses”); misrepresented the thrust of Jerry Brown’s 1992 presidential campaign (it wasn’t the flat tax, as Fox claims, which was only one issue that Brown employed to make the broader point that the political system is rigged to redistribute wealth upward – but what do we know, we only covered it); and leaned on sweeping, unproven assertions in lieu of evidence to make pre-cooked points (Tiger Woods and the tennis-playing Williams sisters prefer Florida to California because of tax laws, he says, and they “are just the tip of the iceberg” – Ah, the old ipso facto iceberg sum proof – Irwin Corey would be proud).

We could go on, but shooting at life boats ain’t our style. Except sometimes.

We’re political writers, not advocates like Fox, so we bring this whole thing up because we’re still scratching our heads about why he mysteriously neglected in his bashing to even mention, let alone critique, the analysis that we actually proffered.

Namely:

1-There has been a massive shift in wealth in the U.S. over recent decades, to the overwhelming benefit of the richest one percent of the population and the detriment of almost everyone else.

2-This shift has occurred – and been enabled by – 30 years of policies based precisely on the tax-cut, low-regulation ideology that Fox and his cohort just love, and which they continue to champion, despite the fact its real-life impact has been to trigger the greatest recession since the 1930s.

3-Awareness of the accumulating evidence of how and why wealth is becoming more and more concentrated in the hands of a tiny, oligarchic class is growing; as it moves into the mainstream, this awareness over time will change the terms and framework of political debate dramatically:

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.

Which, of course, would hardly be a boon for bumper sticker, anti-government orthodoxy or the cozy “taxpayer advocate” political network that’s so well served the interests of Fox et al. since Howard Jarvis was still stumbling around in a boozy haze.

Hey, maybe that’s why he didn’t mention what we said.

Recommended reading:

– Here’s a nifty infographic primer on what’s actually happening to real people in the U.S. economy.

–Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, now a professor at Cal, writes about the implications of the oligarch economy in a clear, accessible, frequent and timely way, as in this recent essay on the subject.

–Also this and this or this. Or this or this and this.

Rip Van Calbuzz: Not sure how this one got by us at the time, but the eagle-eared Steve Harmon had an intriguing scooplet on Sacramento’s budget mess that mysteriously seems not to have been picked up.

Mike Genest, the finance director under ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, had a revealing comment in a wide-ranging budget discussion on Capital Public Radio today.

Genest, now a political consultant advising Republican senators who are in talks with Gov. Jerry Brown, was asked if Brown’s tax extension should be placed on the ballot. He said:

“As a Republican, I kinda hate to say it but our tax burden is less now because of recession. The amount of the economy going to state government is lower than it has been for several years. Except for right at the bottom of the recession, you go back 30 years to find tax revenues at this low a level. So, there is a case to be made that we might need to keep those taxes at a higher level for a while.”

He went on to say, however, that Republicans “shouldn’t lose the opportunity while contemplating doing this. We ought to take that opportunity to get serious reforms.”

Politics is all about exploiting opportunities, but the brazenness of the ask couldn’t have been clearer. A Republican who is advising GOP senators in talks with Brown, acknowledges that the tax burden is low and the current rates should be continued — but that they might as well extract as much as possible since they have the leverage of a two-thirds vote that’s required to put a tax issue on the ballot (with the goal, of course, of, as Genest said, “helping the economy grow”).

Guess that’s why Genest hasn’t moved to Florida with Tiger, Serena and Venus.

Where’s the Inquistor when you need him: Genest isn’t the only Republican talking out of school: we can only imagine what torments right-wing talk show host Eric Hogue will endure on the rack for uttering this heresy, suggesting that the children of illegal immigrants are actually, um, people.

For Republicans to spend time in crafting legislation that refuses qualified, achieving high school graduates is highly corrosive. Granted, Americans are rightfully frustrated with the lack of attention from the federal government toward illegal immigration and its impending fiscal costs placed upon taxpayer supported state and federal budgets – not to mention the effects (good and bad) illegal immigration has upon our private sector economy. But we must learn to restrain ourselves from legislation and ballot initiatives that do nothing but evolve into political wedge issues and cultural ‘cat nip.’ Funneling any initial state reforms through the children of illegal immigrants (to get back at the parent’s illegal behavior) is mean-spirited, politically corrosive and wrongheaded.

Fleischman! Fox! Hogue and Genest to the dungeon at once!