Read My Lips. I Mean My Other Lips.

Gentleman Jerry Sanders has had his full-on Bush moment.  (That would be the kinder, gentler Bush 41 as opposed to the swaggeringer, already all but forgottener Bush 43.)

Jerry Sanders, Special  Election Edition 2005“Read My Lips. No New Municipal Taxes.”*

(*Offer does not apply to “fee increases”  e.g. Sewer.)

Jerry Sanders, New And Improved Don’t Won’t The City To Go Bankrupt On His Watch 2010 Limited Edition:    New Taxes?  Er, Okay!”

Now, the proposed sales tax increase is probably never going to see the revenue light of fiscal day.  Come November, voters perched on the edge of a double-dip recession will probably prove reluctant to open their pocketbooks to bailout a city government that has proven reluctant to realistically deal with its financial problems for an entire decade.  And the “Reform for Revenue” measure is about as Rube Goldberg  a contraption as has ever been put on a San Diego Ballot.  What with all its “privatize this” and “renegotiate that” provisions, this initiative has more moving parts than the Space Shuttle.  And, for all the hand-wringing over budget cutbacks,  firestation brownouts and pool drainings, the real pain voters will soon experience in municipal meltdown has but put off, if not for much longer.

But it’s interesting to watch the evolution from Jerry Sanders Running For Office: Pander to the voters by telling them you can have no tax increases, no cuts to city services and no municipal maladies of any kind;   to Jerry Sanders Running For Legacy: Acknowledge  that, while yes  fiscal reform is needed at this late date it’s either steep cuts in services or some token increase in taxes.

The simple reality is San Diego is now several billion in the red, the economy is getting ready to tank again as the local housing market looks to drop into the next ditch and  the only thing separating America’s Finest City and other basically bankrupt cities is time.  How long, one must wonder, before the city starts turning off every other street  light to save money like Colorado Springs?

Of course the politics of all this right out of the  San Diego provincial playbook, with the two Republicans on the non-partisan council voting against the six Democrats on the non-partisan council thereby setting up the next GOP contender for the non-partisan Mayoralship to boldly campaign on the slogan, “Read My Lips – oh, heck, you know the rest.”  (One can see Carl D practicing the line in the mirror every morning.)

By then though the game of San Diego municipal musical chairs may be over and a city that has been dancing on the brink for ten years may finally tip over.  And by then  a minor half-cent increase will do about as much good for San Diego finances as a roll of duct tape would have helped the Titanic.

In the interim it would be nice if mayoral mouthpiece Darrel Pudgil took a moment spent praising the mayor for his bold leadership in trying to close the near hundred mil budget gap (and gee, after only five yeas in office) to issue a small little apology to Darling Donna Frye.  Back in 2005 His Gentlemanness, in a  very ungentleman-like way,  savaged  the honest council woman for simply suggesting the city consider what Sanders himself has now embraced.

If you’re worried about legacy, Jerry, why don’t you go the whole nine yards and admit Donna was right a half-decade ago?

History is (de)Bunk

I am soooo relieved.  The pension crisis is all but resolved.  San Diego fiscal failure is almost certainly now averted.  The SS San Diegotanic, only inches from the belly-ripping ice berg of municipal debt has abruptly changed course and now heads for safe and serene waters.  All, now, is well at last.  At least that’s what your Captain, Gentleman, who told all you passengers on his fiscal ship in last Sunday’s UT.   Thanks to the bold actions of his administration, San Diego (just forty-nine months after his taking office mind you, but a nothing in glacial time) has  enacted the needed reforms  to solve the pension crisis, reign in the costs of government and avoid the false salvation of bankruptcy. 

Indeed, to hear his Honor tell it, its actually been these false prophets of fiscal futility, these nattering nabobs of bankruptcy negativity, who have been holding the City back from the promised land.  “In my view, the bankruptcy con job is nearly as irresponsible as the schemes that dug us into a financial hole in the first place,” Sanders said.  And bravo to that.  It was most certainly that Mike Aguirre (remember him?) and his constant whining about the fact that the pension deficit was getting worse every year despite the claims of the Mayor and the council to the contrary, that meddlesome maniac Mike and his dropping the “B” word in polite conversation, that’s kept San Diego on the fiscal ropes.  It’s been people like Pat Shea—the Igor to Aguirre’s  Dr. Frankenstein building the monster of municipal bankruptcy—who have systematically derailed real change by—gasp—talking about bankruptcy as an option to the City’s woes:

“For too long, progress in closing San Diego’s structural budget deficit has been sidetracked by a disinformation campaign that contends, against all evidence, that the city would be better off if it filed for bankruptcy… But the truth is talk of bankruptcy impedes progress on real substantive pension reform, and it poisons the climate for thoughtful solutions to our structural deficit. “

That’s right.  It hasn’t been the wholesale unwillingness of the Council, the Mayor or the people of San Diego to face fiscal facts and embrace substantial cuts to services and significant increases sources of revenues that’s kept the city out of budgetary whack.  It’s been the discussion of bankruptcy.  Oh, to have back all those hours all of us in San Diego have wasted talking about the dreaded “B.”  Why, its gotten so we can’t even have a discussion around the family dinner table about American Idol without someone or other sidetracking the conversation with a detailed analysis of Orange County’s old bankruptcy filing.  It’s a wonder the Mayor and the Council have had time to get anything else done at all.

Just one small point, though.  What is it that has changed since I talked about the danger of bankruptcy  here, here, here or even here that has actually changed in real terms over the Mayor’s watch?   How is the city budget and the pension plan on a truly more sustainable path than it was when Dick “Such a Lousy Thing to Happen To Such A Nice Guy” Murphy was being run out of town on a rail?  But, of course, as the Mayor says, any lingering fiscal unpleasantries  should be laid at doorstep of those suggesting a discussion of Plan B. 

Me thinks His Mayoralship does protest too much.  Why should Sanders go out of his way to bring up and bash the bankruptcy option—an option he pretty much says he settled back with his election in ’05 and reelection in ’08—unless that option really is potentially back on the table in a big way. 

But at least San Diegans can take solace. George W. Bush may have been the decider but Jerry Sanders is the “Debunker,” taking on all rival narratives to his overarching theme that it’s morning in San Diego.   Thank goodness. Now we can go proudly into the future completely forgetting about the past.  By golly,.  Jerry Sanders is our own Henry Ford.

The Axman Cometh

Forgot pigeons.  The most foul municipal fowls in San Diego are rosters.  And they’ve come home to roost

Cranky old misanthropes (like yours truly) have being saying ever since the great crisis of ’02 that the City of San Diego was only putting off its day of reckoning.  The pension crisis became business as usual once the Housing and Credit bubble hid the reality of how underfunded long term pension obligations remained.  Now that the bubbles have popped the pension fund has once again become a huge drain on general fund resources.  And, of course, when investment income streams dry up tax revenue streams are sure to follow.  

Think of the City’s current financial problems as being the same as California’s drought.  No snowpack, no water.  Sinking economy, no revenue, simple as that.  Yet, rather then move to shore up City finances during the good years (and, believe it or not, 2004-2008 were good years) the Mayor and Council took the low, easy road (just as previous Mayors and Councils did during the good years of the 1990s).  No significant moves were made to reign in pensions, trim city work forces or, more importantly, raise revenues to pay for all that “big government” that everybody seems to dislike—unless it’s cut, that is.  Then all those Tea partiers tend to whine about the lack of governmental lemon and sugar.

So now the Mayor and Council must make cuts.  First on the block,  some 200 jobs of mostly mid to lower level employees for a savings of some $20 million dollars.  Not bad.  Just $150 million to go.  The Mayor’s office also said today that most of those who lose these jobs will be able to transfer into currently vacant positions scheduled to be filled.  I’m trying to understand how this isn’t really a push and not a real cut (the net savings from the 200  cuts being offset by filling and paying salary on the 200 vacant positions).  In any event, the savings is but a pittance.  Other bombshell ideas – like pulling out all the fire rings at City beaches to save a few hundred grand – may be DOA as the Coastal Commission sets up hurdles and local residents rally to save their right to pass a Bota bag around the municipal camp fire.

Side note 1:  While 3400 people have signed up for the Facebook group “Save the San Diego Fire Pits”  I must ask how many have signed up for the Facebook group “Raise My Taxes To Save the San Diego Fire Pits”?  The answer, me thinkst, will be zero.   Which is symptomatic of the structural problem:  the Voters want.  They’ve been conned into thinking (by elected officials and the voters own venality) that they can have without paying,   They can’t.  At least forever.  And forever seems to be ending over the next two fiscal years. 

Side note 2:  If ACE parking can have dozens of unattended parking lots where drivers simply swipe a card or insert cash into a machine to get a little ticket saying they’ve rented a parking space for a set amount of time, why can’t the City do the same with fire rings?  Set up machines and charge an hourly rate that covers maintenance costs with a little profit (extra revenue) on top of it.  If people want to hang out at the rings let them pay for it.  And DON’T subcontract it out to ACE parking so they can take the profit.  Surely City employees are competent enough to manage the service.

I find myself incredulous that, increasingly, the only voice operating outside of fiscal fantasy at 202 C Street is Carl “Demonic” Demaio who keeps pointing out that one time fixes ain’t gonna fix this problem.  I differ with Demaio in terms of remedy – he wants to cut, cut, cut – though his proposed cuts alone aren’t going to fix this problem.   

The city needs to do three things to get out of this mess.  First, it needs to figure out a win-win strategy to restructure the pension fund that will cut down on yearly outward obligations without negatively impacting pension recipients.  How you do that, short of bankruptcy proceedings, I don’t know.  But the municipal unions are not going to hand back the benefits the city legally gave them.  Nor should they.  The people of San Diego benefited from their services and are bound to the agreed to compensation.  Maybe inkind compensation—like boosting medical or long term care provisions in exchange for cash-out offsets—can be considered.

Second, the City needs to pursue deficit-offset funding sources.  Unfortunately, most of these – State and, in particular, Federal—are outside the City’s control.  Some, though, may offer more flexibility.  I can’t believe I’m about to write this but, Keynesian economics wins out.  If the local economy is hurting the only way to generate a bigger revenue base in the future is to invest heavily in the infrastructure for such a base in the present.  That means, if ever there was a time to pursue the three big city infrastructure projects — new city hall, new main library and, gulp and heaven forgive me, new football stadium—this is the time.

Big concrete and steel projects mean big spending and payroll in the region over the next five plus years.  Which will help offset municipal deficits projected into that same period. Which will generate additional revenues (at least from the stadium and eventual ancillary development) in the out years.  With Obama banging on bankers to show more civic responsibility and do what bankers are supposed to do—lend!—the credit crunch may be coming to an end.  This can offer the city a tap of money to support these projects.  In addition,  getting these projects underway may open up taps of state and federal monies as well.  Indeed, perhaps the NFL and Chargers organization can be hit up for more up front monies now in exchange for an expedited stadium deal and public monies later.  While it would constitute another one of those lousy one-time money fixes, a patch in a sinking boat is still a patch.

I know I’ve railed against all three projects in the past but, as Keynes said, when times are hard having the government pay a man to dig a hole and fill it back up again is still better than having the man unemployed.  Ultimately a new Charger stadium may not be the best long term use of municipal monies but it may be one of the quicker ways to get money into the municipal treasury and the local pocket.   

Third and finally, the Mayor and council have to look at longer term fixes, such as true-costing future development projects to be sure that, when the next building boom and bubble comes, as it inevitably will, developers and buyers must pay the true public cost of their projects in terms of future city services and expenditures rather than just passing them off to the public trough.  

There is, ultimately, no such thing as a free lunch or fire ring. Time to roast some roosting rosters of fiscal foolishness and set the house in order.

Doing the Half-Latella

emily

I was delighted that no less a figure than Lani “Tax This!” Lutar herself took the time to respond to my humble (and, as in this case, bumbled) blog. The Dean of San Diego Tax Dissers (that’s right, Dick Ryder’s only a deputy dean) wrote a comment on my blog about the SDCTA municipal pension plan report–401k(illed)–in her usual elegant, intelligent and reasoned prose. (And I am very sincere in this. The LL C(ool)EO of San Diego fiscal frugality is always elegant, intelligent and reasoned. Which really just annoys the heck out of me! I mean, who wants to argue with someone who is always so darn elegant, intelligent and reasoned! Now kitschy Bob Kittle—arguing with him was absolutely guilt-free enjoyment! Miss you, big guy. Arguing with LL is just uncool—especially when she’s right and I’m plain wrong. Or, at least, partially wrong.) I copy her response in its entirety below to save you time, dear reader:

Dear Professor Luna:

Thank you for highlighting our report in your blog. We welcome dialogue and debate on public pensions at any time, especially with those that disagree with our viewpoint.

Please allow me to clarify a few inaccurate statements in your post.

“The only thing the report lacks is empirical proof of its basic thesis: that pension costs are driving tax increases in specific instances.”

If you read my quote in Calpensions (www.calpensions.com) I clearly communicate that pensions are not the only factor contributing to sales tax increase proposals. In both our press release and the pension report, we “link” pension costs and efforts to increase taxes. This is an observation—and nowhere in either document does it state that pension costs alone cause tax increases.

I will concede that we were comfortable highlighting the link between pension costs and tax increases because of fact-based knowledge from time series analysis we conducted in recent years for the cities with the highest pensions costs including El Cajon, La Mesa, National City and Chula Vista (all available on our website). We should’ve communicated this historical background more clearly within our report.

You also note our report is long on recommendations.

Actually, we have only two simple recommendations:
1. Cities should stop picking up the employees’ share of pension contributions.
2. Retirement benefit formulas should be reduced for new hires.

We never state anywhere in the report that defined benefit plans should be replaced with defined contribution plans (401k). And please stop putting words in our mouth: We do not claim that vested retirement benefits should be taken away from municipal workers.

You can argue that asking employees to contribute to their defined benefit plan is a backdoor way of asking for a pay cut. That is true. However, let me point you to page 26 and 28 of our report which debunks your notion that the only way public employees can contribute to their pension plans is via a 401k.

The purpose of our report is to shed light on the generous benefits and significant costs of public pensions provided to municipal employees. When pension costs alone consume 10% or more of a city’s general fund, everyone – city workers included – should be concerned about sustainability and solvency. An insolvent city or city on the brink of bankruptcy hurts communities and public workers.

Another important point you miss is that the majority of public workers contribute little to nothing toward their pensions and their retirement pay is boosted as a result of this practice. Rather than earning a $67,500 annual pension from a 3% @ age 60 formula in the example of a city administrator with 30 years of service, the employee would get an 8% increase in annual pension payments – or $72,900 – because they’re contributing nothing toward their retirement. Yes, you’re reading this correctly. In a bizarre twist, the less an employee pays into their CalPERS plan, the greater the benefit they receive upon retirement. Now that is lunacy.

Sincerely,

Lani Lutar
, President & CEO
, San Diego County Taxpayers Association

Good points, all. As to the point about empirical evidence in the report (or my allegation of lack thereof) I concede a split opinion. Lani concedes the report was not as explicit as it might have been in providing more detailed empirical support of the linkage between pension funds and taxes. I, in return, concede I should have written that the SDCTA was asserting that “pension costs are a causal factor” rather than “pension costs are the causal factor.” But demonstrating how causal a factor pension costs are in increasing taxes is not a minor matter. The SDCTA report calls on municipal employees to pay a price in increased pension costs. Not delineating how big an impact current pension plans have on municipal fiscal policy makes it more difficult to assess whether the pain thereby inflicted on the households of these employees is offset by likely gains to taxpayers, said gains being, I took and take it, the purpose of the SDCTA recommendations.

Lani also calls me to task for saying the report was “long on recommendations” when, if fact, it only had two. True dat. Mine is the guilt of fumbled rhetorical flourish. What I meant was that he report’s recommendations have significant—some might say profound—implications for municipal employees and the hiring of future, talented municipal workers. There might only be two of them but they have potential major significance.

More importantly, though, the LL points out I blew a big one in stating the goal of the report was to move municipal employees away from defined-benefit to defined-contribution plans. I confess I misread the report. I went back to it and read and reread it and cannot find the paragraph I was so certain the report contained stating that future municipal employees should be moved from their current defined benefits plan into 401k style plans. I got that wrong, plain and simple. The report calls for changing benefit calculation formulas and requiring employee contributions, but not for an abolition of the current defined benefit system. Lani is right. (As were getreal and CJ) . I was wrong. Mea and Culpa.

Or, in the immortal words of Emily Latella,  “Never mind.”

I still, however, stick by my principal, philosophical objection to the SDCTA report. I agree with Lani that there may well be inequities within the current pension plan, such as some workers paying less into the system getting more.  (I’m still trying to untie that now and figure out just how it works). I would argue, though, that is an unfairness between current employees within the same system and not, expo facto, an unfairness in comparison with employees outside of the system. A fundamental assumption underlying the SDCTA report is that the current pension plans for municipal employees are unfair or inequitable compared to workers in the private sector because most municipal employees contribute less than most private-sector employees to their retirement and get more in return. I must differ.

The claim that municipal employees do not currently contribute to their pensions is wrong. They are contributing to their retirement plans, no matter how much is or isn’t taken out of their base or take-home pay to fund their retirement plans. They are contributing simply by the fact that they are working for the city. Their labor is their contribution. Their retirement plan is part of their compensation package for said labor, just like their take-home pay and health benefits.

As I wrote in the original post, it is true most private-sector workers don’t have the advantage of such a benefit package. To call the municipal employee’s pensions “generous,” however, is a subjective, not objective, comparison.  One might instead argue that most private-sector employees have ungenerous pensions compared wih the fair and reasonable pensions municipal workers have. The fact that far more private-sector employees used to have similar defined-benefit pensions and the fact that an increasing number of private-sector employees are finding their current defined-contribution plans wholly inadequate to provide for the retirement security they worked for and expected to receive argues, in my opinion, toward this latter observation.

So, I retract my statement that the SDCTA report called for the replacement of current defined-benefit municipal pension plans with 401k-style plans. I stand, however, by the basic point of my piece: the fundamental philosophy underlying the SDCTA report rests on the assumption that it is unfair to taxpayers for municipal workers to have pension plans better than most private workers. And this assumption is incorrect.

“You get what you pay for”—pay municipal workers less and you’ll attract less talented workers, as our local police and fire departments have reported. Saving taxpayers money by cutting back municipal workers pension compensation may save short-term monies but could also cost more in long-term performance and efficiency. Or is it only Wall Street CEOs making gazillions of dollars who respond to the incentive of better pay?

Moreover, I stand by my argument that calling the pensions of municipal workers unfair or too generous compared with private-sector workers is a reversal of the real problem. I contend it is unfair that private-sector workers have seen the value of their pensions (not to mention paychecks) decline for the past generation and that eventually giving everyone in America a retirement the likes of municipal workers would be a national good. Which would be better for San Diego taxpayers—reducing other people’s pensions or increasing their own, after all?

I remain, however, flattered that Lani took the time to comment on my blog at all. Hope to hear from you again, LL C(ool)EO.

Crisis? What Crisis?

I have a piece on San Diego’s pension fund discomforts and budgetary woes today in the analog edition of CB.  Check it out here.

And what’s all the pension fund  hoo-haw about, anyway?  I thought that fiasco was over?  I mean, wasn’t it only the chicken little likes of fringe thinkers  at Voice of San Diego or The Reader or the whacko lefties  at at  CityBeat who cited—get this—official facts and figures to foolishly warn that the pension was still heading full-bore into multi-billion dollar oblivion? After all, banishing Mike  “The sky is falling and bankruptcy  still looms” Aguirre from public life was by itself supposed to solve any lingering pension problems.  Did you hear our now erstwhile city attorney  Jan  “the Ferret man”  Goldsmith  saying anything a pension crisis during last year’s campaign—or ever since?

Back when Mad Mike was warning the pension deficit could drown the city in red ink the total magnitude of the problem as around a billion dollars.  Now we awaken from slumber (or, better said, personal financial nightmares) to discover that the deficit has swollen to over two billion dollars?  Where was the screaming along the way?  True, it was little less than a year ago that Joe Esuchanko, a consulting actuary for the City of San Diego, dropped his little bombshell about the pension deficit exploding four times faster than local home prices were imploding.  But the city council spent more time taking one last opportunity to bash Aguirre back then  for running hundred thousand dollar office benefits than deal with Esuchanko’s stark numbers so how serious could the problem be?

I seem to recall reading a piece by local icon of intelligence Don Bauder last spring in which he was pointing out how bad the pension fund already was—and how much worse it was going to be—but then the fund’s actuary (I think it was) stood him up for an interview and never got back to him.  Correct me on this if I’m wrong—I’ve been going through back issues of the Reader looking for the exact quote.  But that was months ago.  We’re only having a kinda public awareness of this now?

Meanwhile Pension Fund Hefe  David Wescoe seems complacent about two billion dollar deficits.  According to him, the chasm of debt due to the crash of the pension fund portfolio is simply a natural fluctuation of the market which will no doubt right itself in the long term.  Of course that is what the pension fund management said back in 2002—when the pension debt was half of what it is now.  Inspires confidence, doesn’t it

And the worst  Jay Goldstone is worried about is laying off another 300-400  jobs because they had to kick the $30 million they had to give to the Pension kitty in any event?  The city’s required pension fund contributions may routinely top a quarter billion per year over the next decade to maybe 20%-25%  of their total unrestricted general fund  outlays!  At the rate things are going in a few years, the city may only be able to employ 300-400 people, total.

Summer Song

 Broke my long hiatus from punditry today with an article on the city’s faux-budget. Read it, hot from the pages from CityBeat Analog, here. Haven’t written since my last, aptly named entry, “Last Hurrah” back in April. Don’t really plan to write any more until the end of August. I’m not teaching this summer, for the first time in around 20 years, so I’m taking the summer off from my usual concerns–teaching, administrating, teaching, punditrying and, of course, teaching–to pursue other pursuits (beach, patio, other writing projects, beach, patio and, above all, five o’clock proseco time in the gazebo. I’m not kidding. We have a freakin’ gazebo and, every summer day at 5, adjourn there for a glass of cold proseco. It’s a good life.)

In any event, what is there to say right now that’s worth saying? At the local level things in June, 2009 are not really all that different than in June, 2000 or 2001. The city continues to muddle along with the usual mediocre municipal mundanity: precarious finances, feckless leadership and a gentle diminishment of America’s finest city to just another over-extended, under-repaired American town. Frye will be off the council soon, Jerry will be off to gentlemanly retirement and DeMaio will be Mayor—so it has been written, it seems, so it will be done. The Tribe of Five Old White People will continue to dominate the County. The Airport Authority will continue to plan billions of dollars in new projects that will never be spent for an airport that will never be adequate or replaced. The Chargers will continue to lobby for their new stadium which will inevitably be built with public monies (my suggestion, alas, that they build it beneath a three trillion dollar convention center expansion—which, I think, around the amount the convention center really dreams of spending) whether it takes another year or ten. Only the decline of the UT and the tantalizing possibility that the new owners might realize that if Kittle and Kompany continue to dictate editorial viewpoint the paper’s circulation will continue to shrink to the sixty-five and older north of Mira Mesa Boulevard crowd offers some hope for a break in the local monotony. Who knows – by fall the UT may have a new crowd (albeit probably a bunch of twenty-somethings paid minimum wage) flogging the pagewaves. Couldn’t hurt.

Of course, things have changed dramatically in Sacramento. Six years ago we had an unpopular second-term governor disowned even by his own party presiding over massive state deficits, declining services, increasing taxes, unrestrained partisan warfare with absolutely no realistic solutions being offered by the legislative leadership lugs. Oh, how times have changed. (Dramatic pause for sarcastic effect.)

And, at the national level, we have our Obama moment, Act One. Tobacco has been regulated. Some form of healthcare reform is on the way. The economy is no longer sinking. Yay. Except that the tobacco reform is about two generations too late to really matter, the healthcare reform is going to be delightfully watered down and any leveling off of economy we’re currently seeing is actually a consequence of actions taken last fall before Obama came into office. It takes around six months or more for policy decisions in DC to trickle into the real economy—the Obama stimulus won’t really begin to be felt until late summer and, by then, will be revealed, I fear, to be too little. Unemployment continues to rise – my bet is it eventually hits 11%-12%. Foreclosures continue to mount and the other shoe of the real estate debacle—the commercial side of the house—is caving. (Count empty storefronts and commercial “For Rent” signs next time you’re out.) At some point Obama’s love affair with Wall Street and Wall Street types has got to end and more aggressive Keynesian tactics aimed at homeowners and consumers have got kick in. According to retail experts, it’s going to take ten years, at this point, to get back to consumer spending levels in 2007. If everything starts turning around now. Obama keeps going the path he’s going and he runs the risk of becoming the American Kiichi Miiyazawa, (the Japanese Prime Minister who helped keep Japan from falling into depression back in 1990-1991 but, instead, ushered in a decade plus of stagnation.) The world can—and did—survive a stagnant Japan. It won’t survive, with any stability, a stagnant United States. Meanwhile national discourse has degenerated to a nasty level that simultaneously makes dock workers blush and insults the intelligence of second graders. I’m taking the summer off from Fox, MSBNC and the entire AM dial. I haven’t heard one original thing said (Obama is a radical, communist-socialist-muslim-American-hater and Republicans are Rush Limbaugh) in months by any of my brethren (albeit it far more lucratively compensated kin) in punditry. My bet is, come September 1, I turn on Sean Hannity and Chris Matthews after a two-month hiatus and I won’t have missed a beat. Maybe, by end of summer, democracy will have come to Iran. (Which I doubt. Erstwhile president Ahmadinukejihad will emerge from this ultimately stronger, probably having co-opted the authority of the religious clerics and, thereby, regressing Iran back to a standard authoritarian model.) If democracy does triumph, however, people are going to (oh, it gives me gout right down to my little toe to write this) reassess the Bush-Cheney theory of viral democracy. Look at Lebanon. But that’s a debate for another month.

In short, I go into the summer feeling crotchety and persnickety about all things political. By summers end, though, batteries recharged, feelings reinvigorated, I’ll be back to pound the punditry pages. Hopefully in a reformatted format—one of my summer projects is to try and upgrade and integrate this blog into more comprehensive website that can be useful to both my students and you, my faithful reader. (If there are any of you left – alas, even poor Mlaiuppa has bailed on me given my niggardly natterings. ) As such, a bid you summer time adieu. Look for me when the dog days are over, if you care to.

Flipping the Bird

lame_duck_bw__2_Move over idle downtown construction crane, the previous reigning bird-symbol of San Diego municipal malaise.  San Diego has a new City Fowl:  the Lame Duck.

First Jerry Sanders gets reelected last June to a second, dead-end term as Mayor.  Termed out in 2012 there’s already been speculation that his mayorship might get gubernatorial fever by 2010.  Note that Jerry has been a three to six year wonder in his recent gigs at the PD, United Way and Red Cross. Sticking with it for a seven year haul is something out of character for Gentleman Jer.  Yet even if he sticks it out for the full term he becomes increasingly marginalized after the 2010 Council elections when the question “Who’s Next?” begins dominating the tongues of the chattering classes. 

Now Ben Hueso announces his plan to try and bail on City governance by 2010.  No long term San Diego future for that bright young ambitious man.   So with the two principle leaders of San Diego government aiming for the door, how much pressure and influence are they going to be able to generate dealing with the matters of the here and now?  With the multiplicity of boards he serves on, Hueso is already spread in his energies and attention about as thin as a spritz of “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.” Throw in a run for Assembly and pretty much the only thing he’ll have time to use his Council office for his to store newspaper clippings. 

Meanwhile the city drifts on towards a pension and foreclosure precipice of fiscal doom.

Note to City Council:  You already screwed up once passing over the brightest bulb on your political marquee, Donna Frye in favor of the more political and less influential Ben Hueso.  If he’s turning himself into a self-inflicted lame duck, might you not at least want to consider turning over the gavel to the a lame duck Donna and her greater gravitas?  Might you atleast  consider giving Ben an early good-bye present by stripping him of all that time-consuming responsibility of being council president so he can pursue his higher  aspirations and elevate one of your fellow members whose shelf life is longer than 2010?

But, then, this is San Diego, where we force out of  touch nice guy Republican mayors to resign so we can replace them with out of  touch nice guy Republican mayors and make the lightest-weight council members Council President skipping over the established talent. 

That the city should endure a couple of years of Lame Duck leadership is truly lame. It’s also truly San Diego.