Thursday, January 29, 2004
 
Talk about your disclaimers! The other day, as I was making an appointment online through the DMV website, I noticed this curious disclaimer at the bottom of every page:

"The content found herein may not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Schwarzenegger Administration."

What? The Governor is distancing himself from instructions on how to renew auto registrations and drivers' licenses? This smacks of the overwrought legal fear that has prompted some other notable and humorous legal disclaimers.

Then again, this week's news has been filled with items about the Governor's abysmal record on keeping campaign promises, accusations that he's double-talking Democratic legislators in private sessions, charges of outright lying about his campaign finance intentions, and criticism from otherwise supportive columnists about flip-flopping on his open government initiative. Given the increasing evidence that statements from the Governor's mouth simply can't be trusted, perhaps he should post this disclaimer prominently on his chin.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004
 
What's a campaign without dirty tricks? In today's Santa Barbara News-Press (subscription required), Nora Wallace unearths foul play in the county's 3rd District Supervisor race. Brooks Firestone was caught fielding a "poll" in December that "contained information about [candidate Steve] Pappas' business having its license suspended by the state, noted that he has not voted regularly in the 3rd District since moving there 12 years ago, that his business had a lien and that he had not paid his property taxes."

Nora Wallace is a good and careful reporter. She refers to this December exercise solely as a "poll." But real political polls don't poison respondents' answers by feeding them dirt on other candidates. This is commonly known as a "push-poll," one of the most insidious campaign tactics in use today. It's not illegal, but it's widely reviled. It's also highly effective, as John McCain learned in the 2000 South Carolina primary.

Brooks, though, didn't settle for just push-polling the negatives of a fellow candidate. According to Ms. Wallace:

"Mr. Firestone said he willingly shared the results with Mr. Pappas -- the candidate believed to be the most likely to splinter votes away from Mr. Firestone -- and asked him to explain the problems."

"But Mr. Pappas says Mr. Firestone threatened to mail the information to registered voters via campaign literature unless Mr. Pappas pulled out of the race."

Candidates that conduct their own polls guard them like the Crown Jewels. They don't share results with other candidates, although they might hint at really good results to reporters. So even if Mr. Firestone didn't explicitly threaten to use this dirt in his campaign, the fact that he "willingly shared" the results is highly unusual, implicitly intimidating, and one careful step short of blackmail.

Ms. Wallace notes that the push-poll "suddenly introduced the issue of personal integrity into a race that so far has been shaped as an ideological contest over issues." Presumably the push-poll was intended to impugn Mr. Pappas' integrity, although its discovery certainly impugns Mr. Firestone's. Ms. Wallace does not comment on the personal integrity of allowing one's son to choose one's daughter-in-law on a game show.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004
 
The Governor's debt funding hits a snag. I'm not talking about that massive $15 billion bond measure, either. Seems that the Guv's $4.5 million loan to his recall campaign committee was ruled a violation of campaign finance laws.

You see, wealthy candidates can donate -- as in never get back -- unlimited money to their campaigns. But the state's campaign finance watchdogs won't let you loan more than $100,000 to your campaign prior to an election. Loans usually get paid back with campaign contributions, so large loans would allow candidates to avoid the spirit of Proposition 34, which requires reporting of contributors during the actual campaign.

There is an exception to the $100,000 loan limit, but only if the loan is made in the "lender's regular course of business on terms available to members of the general public." The judge that ruled in this case decided that you and I wouldn't normally be able to secure a $4.5 million unsecured loan from a Beverly Hills Bank. And, given that the banking industry was the Governor's largest campaign contributor, there was a reasonable suspicion of some quid pro quo implied by even the granting of the loan.

Monday, January 26, 2004
 
I've been holding off on posting much analysis of campaigning for Dean in Iowa because I just wasn't sure what the real lessons were going to be without a little perspective. One week later may not be enough perspective, but I'm totally convinced of at least one thing: corporate media in this country has way, way too much power, and the manufactured flap around Dean's speech last Monday night illustrates just how completely out of control this situation is.

The Columbia Journalism Review blog has this analysis of how the tale has been wagging the wags so far. The only part I disagree with is their description of campaign coverage as a "hermetically sealed world." That used to be true, but it's less true now. Taken all together, weblogs, email lists, and the ground organization and local meetings fueled by these sources, constitute a new medium for shaping people's understanding of reality and challenging the corporate media when they get it wrong. The hermetically sealed universe finally has sprung a few leaks.

Watching the Chris Matthews show Sunday morning, one pundit smugly proclaimed that "All that matters about the speech is how it played on TV." Hang on a sec: the truth doesn't matter? What actually happened that night doesn't matter? The incredible hubris of the corporate media doesn't matter? I think it does, and the good news is that that every time a blatant assassination attempt like this occurrs, the circle of people who understand what's going on widens. In this instance, based on the conversations I've had over the past few days (as well as Dean's revival in the NH polls) I think that circle has widened a lot. And people realize you don't have to turn the TV off or not enjoy it: you just have to think about it.

Ultimately, what most irks about this situation is that the press just plain got the story wrong. Governor Dean simply wasn't angry or anything like it. The six or seven folks from Santa Barbara who'd traveled to Iowa and who were there all agree: we saw a perfectly fine (in fact, spine tingling good) rally speech given to a room full of 3500 screaming, flag waving supporters. Dean's response to that situation was perfectly reasonable; the smile never left his face. I'm far more concerned about putting someone in the White House who can't generate that kind of energy and respond to it, because that's the only way we're going to break out of the rut we're in.

So: death to the "Conventional Wisdom." Keep thinking critically. Keep reading, and (this is so important!) keep talking to people. If we do this, regardless of who the candidate is this time around, we will get our country back.

Thursday, January 22, 2004
 
Priceless? Here's another key statistic that came from this past weekend's California Democratic Party convention:

Vehicle License Fee rebate for someone who purchases a new $30,000 car: $400.

Proposed cut in healthcare and general assistance benefits for a CalWORKS single mother of two, working 20 hours per week: $400.

Look on the Governor's face when he tries to justify why discounts on luxury sedans should come at the expense of single working mothers: Priceless.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004
 
Tripling the debt tax. The Governor's proposed budget depends on a $15 billion bond issue to paper over previous debt spending. We've already heard plenty of scare tactics from the Governor's office that without this bond, we'll be speeding headlong towards bankruptcy. You're likely to hear much more of this fearmongering up until the March 2 primary election, where the bond issue is on the ballot.

A number of local Democrats just came back from the California Democratic Party annual convention (which is why my posts were sparse over the weekend). It was a source of several interesting statistics about the proposed budget and the bond issue. One, from Los Angeles County's Treasurer and Tax Collector, highlighted how easy reliance on bonds is really a tax in disguise. Here are the specifics:

1. The general fund currently includes about $2.5 billion per year to pay interest on previously issued bonds. That money comes straight from the income and sales taxes that would otherwise go to pay for health care, education, etc.

2. In addition to previously issued bonds, we have about $25 billion in bonds that have been approved, but not yet sold. The March ballot contains two bond initiateives totaling about $27 billion.

3. If all the new bonds pass, and the old bonds are issued, the general fund will have to allocate about $7.5 billion in future years to cover interest on all bonds.

In short, the Governor is proposing to triple the debt tax, once again stealing revenues that are normally dedicated to worthwhile state expenditures. Instead, they'll go to cover his backside because he couldn't follow through on his budget campaign promises.

 
Update from Iowa. Sorry there haven't been any updates or pictures, but we're finally back at headquarters in Des Moines after not having a 'net connection out in the field. We'll post a full update & analysis later - we're a little disappointed with how things turned out of course, but not even a little demoralized. We've learned a ton, met a bunch of amazing people, and talked some really sweet (if inscrutable) Iowans. We have to go grab lunch now and then hop on the plane, but more soon when we get a chance!

Monday, January 19, 2004
 
Governor, time to update your calendar! Remember this campaign promise to limit the influence of special interests on the budget process?

"It is inherently suspect for politicians to be taking money from lobbyists while they are spending the people's money. As Governor I will propose a ban on all fundraising by the legislature and the Governor from the day I propose a budget until I sign a budget."

The Governor proposed his budget on Friday, January 9th. He held his first fundraiser of the year on Friday, January 16. Boy, was that quick work on getting the budget signed!

 
A State of the Union report card can be downloaded here. Use it to rate how the President acknowledges the state of our healthcare, economy, environment, and other important issues. After the speech, you can log into Tompaine.com and provide instant feedback on the speech.

Saturday, January 17, 2004
 
In Iowa! Jen and I are here, we're trained, and we're (maybe) shipping out to Fort Dodge soon to go canvass up there. I just spoke with Susan who is out in the field with Nico, knocking on doors already. Things are a little chaotic but we're having fun - during our training, Tim Russert came by and watched! Hopefully we'll have 'net access tonight in Ft. Dodge, we're outta here. I'll try to post some pictures then...

Friday, January 16, 2004
 

Presidential race update. This weekend, eight members of the local Dean campaign (including me) are headed to Iowa to help the campaign out in the days leading up to Monday's caucus. Lots of bloggers will be covering what's going on, and the Dean camp is aggregating them in something called the BloggerStorm. We'll be posting an update or three here as well if we get a chance. If folks from other campaigns are also traveling to campaign this weekend and want to run updates here, drop us a line. Space and time permitting, we'll try to run those, too.

Whoever the nominee ends up being, the Dean campaign so far has illustrated one dynamic that we're unfortunately likely to be stuck with all the way through to November: the mainstream media is going to be hell-bent on the Al Gore style destruction of our candidate. Matt Taibbi wrote on this in the NYPress recently, Salon had some good coverage, and even the AP has picked it up now.

The way to fight this is simple, but not easy: it's going to take a mountain of one to one communication, door knocks, coversations over the back fence, coffeeshop and bar, letters to the editor and to individuals, and blog posts. If there's a news story that sounds more like RNC talking points than objective reporting, we've got to be on it.


Wednesday, January 14, 2004
 
We've known for a while that the President is a space cadet, but I never thought it would come to this. If only his deficits were actually surpluses, we could just stack up all the money and climb straight to the moon....

Tuesday, January 13, 2004
 
We don't need no stinkin' species! From today's Washington Post, we hear that House Resources Committee Chair Richard Pombo plans to gut the Endangered Species Act through a series of amendments and cuts. He's embraced this approach after Democrats have repeatedly thwarted his attempts to gut the Act or to rewrite it entirely.

The local angle is that Pombo was installed as chair of the committee over several other aspirants, presumably because he was better trusted to tow the Republican Party line on destroying the environment for corporate exploitation. One of those thwarted aspirants included Elton Gallegly, who represents northern Santa Barbara County, and who still sits on the committee.

If the Republicans couldn't trust Mr. Gallegly to gut environmental protections, maybe he'll lend a sympathetic ear. Please send him an email encouraging him to stand firm against any erosion of the Endangered Species Act.

If you don't like the response you get, make a campaign contribution to Brett Wagner, the Democrat vying to unseat Mr. Gallegly this November.

Monday, January 12, 2004
 
Westly comes back to the fold. Lots of good articles in this weekend's Sacramento Bee on the details of the Governor's budget proposal. There will be plenty of fodder to discuss over the next few days.

The first one to get my attention, though, is an item covering Controller Steve Westly's thumbs down on the Governor's spending package. The most important quotation in the article appears below:

"'Many people are saying this looks an awful lot like the Gray Davis budget, and in fact it does,' Westly said."

Meet the new boss -- Same as the old boss.

The recall subjected us to a 60-day campaign where a movie actor conned the public into believing that he was smart enough to fix the budget in a way that Gray Davis could not. He implied that there were oceans of waste and pet spending projects that were easy to scrap without hurting Californians. He also promised that he could balance the budget without hurting the environment, cutting education, raising taxes, or increasing our debt.

He lied.

If we're going to use the same old solutions to fix the state's budget, why did we waste $65 million in state and county funds last hear to hold a special recall election? If this kind of performance was worth recalling before, shouldn't we think about doing it again?

Sunday, January 11, 2004
 
The Great Democratic Revival. As a child attending an evangelical Protestant church, I learned about the many opportunities we had for evangelism. While some people went on foreign missions and others stood on soap boxes, I was encouraged simply to be comfortable mentioning Jesus when the opportunity arose in public. My elders assured me that people would ask me more if they were ready to hear the message.

Now that I'm active in local Democratic politics, I've been repurposing those subtle evangelical techniques. I've also been finding lots of eager hearts and minds.

Today, I took my daughter for a Sunday morning at the park. She befriended another little girl, and I struck up a conversation with the girl's mother. She's a local elementary teacher, so we spoke about several school district issues. The conversation apparently intrigued her, so she asked me about my profession. I told her that I was a health care consultant, but that I was also Chair of the county's Democratic Party.

Her eyes quickly brightened. "Oh, I'm so glad to hear that. I've been trying to find out what I can do to get George Bush out of office. Can you tell me how I can help?"

I was only too eager to direct her to our website and our email. I also mentioned that many local Democrats were also facing elections in March, and that they also needed help to unseat well-funded Republican challengers.

Was this remarkable? Maybe not. At least not until you consider that this woman was nine months pregnant and scheduled to deliver her second child the next day!

Here's the part that really made me chuckle. As I was describing the kinds of volunteer help we needed, the father of another boy at the park approached. "I couldn't help but overhear your conversation; I'd like to help out, too." I guess that quiet evangelism is working in spades. If you'd like to help, please visit our website or send an email!

Friday, January 09, 2004
 
No new taxes...sort of. How do you raise taxes without having to say you've raised them? You steal them from other governments or agencies that were already collecting them.

The Governor's budget proposal was unveiled today. It includes stealing $1.3 billion in property taxes from the local governments that depend so heavily on them. These are the same local governments that had $4 billion in vehicle license fees stolen from them with the Governor's first executive order, and then restored it, sort of, by invoking an emergency provision granted during last year's budget.

The heisted property taxes will go to K-14 schools, to cover part of the state's funding obligations under Proposition 98. Stealing local property taxes to pay for schools sounds awfully similar to something Pete Wilson did twice to get out of finding state money for public education. Currently, counties get only 20 cents of every dollar levied in property taxes, and schools get about half. The current proposal will further exaggerate this imbalance.

Oh, and remember those "special fund" budgets I mentioned before, with dedicated revenue streams for dedicated projects? Well, the Governor stole $1.1 billion of that, too, by suspending Proposition 42, which guarantees that gasoline sales taxes go to the transportation special fund.

After the cameras were off following my recent tete-a-tete with Carpinteria Councilman Greg Gandrud -- you know, "Widen 101 Greg" -- he lamented that all of this budget fuss was distracting people from real issues, like why we don't have any more state money for transportation projects. Hmm, Greg, I guess we're another $1.1 billion short now. But, hey, at least we didn't raise any taxes, right?

Thursday, January 08, 2004
 
Here's a freebie for the Governor. Tomorrow, the Legislature (and the public) will get their first glimpse at how our Governor plans to eliminate $15 billion in spending from the California state budget. As I've mentioned before, the cuts he's already proposed only cover about 10% of the shortfall.

During Tuesday's State of the State Address, the Governor made this plea to the public:

"I plan a total review of government - its performance, its practices, its cost.... I want your ideas and the more radical the better."

That got me thinking. Hey, since the Governor has already proposed cutting activity programs for the developmentally disabled, why not do the same for perfectly able-bodied schoolkids? As you may recall (oops, I shouldn't use that word here), Citizen Schwarzenegger championed and bankrolled Proposition 49, which dramatically expanded spending on after-school programs without creating a new revenue source to pay for it. Californians love to vote for feelgood propositions with unfunded mandates (I'm surprised that we haven't seen one offering free puppies to everyone), so this passed with 56.7% of the vote.

Only problem is, it mandates $550 million in new spending every year, starting with this year's budget. Hey, that's another 3.6% towards that $15 billion in spending cuts, and we'll still have over $100 million in previously guaranteed spending for after school programs.

Whaddya say, Governor? Are you willing to suspend your Proposition 49 to fix your new budget? Only time will tell....

Wednesday, January 07, 2004
 
If you hear two Republicans use the same statistic, it's probably a lie. This was what I was thinking last night while providing local reaction to the State of the State Address on KEYT-TV. You see, the Governor claimed that:

"Over the last five years, the state's income increased by 25 percent, but spending increased by 43 percent."

The way we were supposed to interpret these numbers was even clearer:

"The fact of the matter is that we do not have a tax crisis; we do not have a budget crisis; we have a spending crisis."

During our post-speech analysis, my Republican counterpart, Carpinteria City Councilman Greg Gandrud, repeated the same numbers. Bingo! I didn't know what was wrong with it at the time, but I knew something was amiss.

I called the Governor's office today to figure out their source for the statistic. I was told that the numbers were available on the California Department of Finance website, although I'd have to do some hunting and pecking. I've found the spending numbers in this table. (The revenue numbers in this table don't match the 25% claim, so I'll keep looking.)

There are three reasons that the 43% number is a lie:

1. The data are really old.
The five most recent years in the Governor's source data end with Fiscal Year 2001-2002. To refresh your memory, California's fiscal years run from July 1 through June 30. That means that the most recent data in this table ended four months before Gray Davis was re-elected Governor, and fifteen months before the recall.

Does that make a difference? You bet. California has passed two budgets since these figures became available, and each has cut spending from the year before. And the last budget in the Governor's data had a spending increase of zero percent. Zero.

It also makes a difference because of who introduced those budgets. Two of the budgets cited in the Governor's figures were introduced by Pete Wilson. Of the five budgets introduced by Gray Davis, two had spending increases, and three did not.

2. The data lump general and special funds together.
All of the fuss right now is how to cut the general fund budget. This is the budget that gets paid for by income taxes, sales taxes, and vehicle license fees. We also have special fund budgets that direct money from dedicated revenue streams (e.g., fuel taxes) to dedicated expenses (e.g., fixing roads). In the last year of the Governor's data, general fund spending was $76.5 billion. The figure he uses is $96.2 billion.

3. The data use actual, not budgeted expenses.
If you're going to hold legislators to task, do it using the numbers they voted on. A legislature estimates spending in some areas, like Medi-Cal and unemployment insurance, based on some assumptions about how many people will be eligible and how much they'll use these programs. Once the budget is passed, the state can't withhold Medi-Cal payments from hospitals because total spending has hit the budgeted amount for the fiscal year.

It just so happens that the last two years of the Governor's figures overlap with the first 18 months of the Bush Administration, which lost 250,000 California jobs during that period. Hmm, do you think that might increase spending in unemployment insurance and Medi-Cal?

 
Watching RNC and DNC Chairmans Ed Gillespie and Terry McAuliffe yesterday afternoon on Crossfire was frustrating. They were going back and forth about the ads that were posted on the MoveOn site comparing Bush to Hitler. Note that these weren't ads that were actually run on TV or endorsed in any way by MoveOn: they were simply submissions to their contest, and both McAuliffe and MoveOn have been falling all over themselves to apologize for posting them since then.

Why not go out on a limb and stand up for the content of these ads? The fact is, there are absolutely some parallels between things Hitler said and things that Bush has said. That isn't the same as saying "Bush is the same as (or worse) than Hitler," - it's merely pointing out that there are some parallels. As Herman Goering put it during the Nuremberg trials, “Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.” That's all that an ad like this is saying: ("Chyron" refers to the voice-over part of the ad)
GRAPHIC: Pictures Of Hitler
HITLER: (Speaking In German)
CHYRON: We have taken new measures to protect our homeland, 

GRAPHIC: Pictures Of Hitler
HITLER: (Speaking In German)
CHYRON: I believe I am acting in accordance with the will of
     the Almighty Creator,

GRAPHIC: Pictures Of Hitler
HITLER: (Speaking In German)
CHYRON: God told me to strike at al-Qaida and I struck them,

GRAPHIC: Pictures of President Bush
HITLER: (Speaking In German)
CHYRON: and then He instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did.

CHYRON: SOUND FAMILIAR?
BACKGROUND: Cheering German Crowd
If there's a silver lining here, perhaps it's that this has gotten MoveOn and their contest a ton of well deserved earned media. I'm still not sure the focus of this contest was right: at a time when the left is being attacked for just being Bush haters and not having a positive vision of their own, I'm not sure this is what we need at this particular moment. This is really just a reflection of a larger problem I have with MoveOn - they've come up with some terrific tactics since they started in '98 or so, but I still don't have any clear idea of where they're headed or what they stand for. They're always reacting to things, never pushing their own agenda, which makes me wonder if they have one. We need to more clearly articulate the postive vision of the future the left has at its core!


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