Papers Please

Well, fellow San Diegans,  Memorial Day 2010 has come and gone and with it has begun the event that defines a California endless summer like no other: the Annual Invasion of the Zonies.

They’re Heeeeere……

You San Diegans know the drill.  Sometime around Easter all those Zonies who moved from Duluth to Phoenix in January saying, “My how wonderfully temperate it is here during the winter!” begin to remember that, come summer, the surface temperature of Arizona approximates that of Venus.  (I swear I’ve seen a Saab melt into a puddle of Swedish goo on a Scottsdale street in August.) So the migrant retired workers spend the next two months lubing and tuning their Winnebagos  and lining up on the  border at Yuma.  Then, on Memorial Day,  the Governor of Arizona a fires a gun (of course with all of Arizona’s open carry laws there’s no real need to wait until Memorial Day but tradition is tradition) and the invasion  of the Zonies begins.

And pacific life  as we Southern Californians know it ends until Labor Day.  Some years Thanksgiving.

There they are, the Zonies, parking their RVs down at Mission Bay across the heads-in  spaces,  taking up twenty spots each , setting up awnings and habachis and laying claim for the summer because they’re retired anyway.  As a result the closest any San Diegan will get to park to Mission Bay is La Mesa.

There they are, the Zonies, driving four vintage RVs side by side down the I-15 at precisely fifty-two miles per hour, causing twenty-mile traffic jams.  I think Zonieland has a contest every year to see which Zonie can cause the biggest backup on a San Diego freeway.  The winner gets free cortisone shots for a year.  That’s why Zonie RVs have those cameras on the back: to count the number of cars stacked up behind them.  And have you ever passed a Zonie RV?  It’s terrifying. All you ever see is a tuft of white hair atop a captain’s chair and two, liver-spotted hands on the steering wheel.

There they are, the Zonies,  hogging the Zoo and SeaWorld,  taking four hours to figure out how to take a picture of the Pandas with that new digital camera the grandkids gave them while little San Diegan children are left in line to cry.  There they are, the Zonies, taking up all the prime three to five PM dinner reservations in town, so our only choice for an afternoon tête-à-tête is Mickey D’s.

Well I, for one, am tired of these aliens in sneakers and oversized sunhats invading my homeland.  They have diseases, you know, those Zonies do, all full of catchy stuff like rheumatism, cataracts and incontinence.  They cause a ton of crime, too.    I have it on good authority that, every summer there’s a spike in shoplifting of stuff like Depends and Prep H at the Walgreens.  And they’re shiftless and lazy.  You never see a  Zonie work; they just get fat off  fat government social welfare checks.

Well, I don’t know about you but I’ve had it.  Absolutely had it.  Zonies are the enemy amidst.  It is time to act.  I suggest we go over to that national guard armory by Mesa College—the place the guy borrowed the tank—and “borrow” a few rocket-powered grenade launchers.   Then, come next Memorial Day, we hide in the Yucca plants along the I-8 across the bridge from Yuma.  First three Zonie RVs come across the state line—Kaboom! We blow ‘em right off their chassis.  The other Zonies see the smoking hulks, they’ll turn around and go invade New Mexico and make life miserable for the folk in Taos.

Let the battle cry be raised across the land! Death to Zonies! Death to Zonies! Death to…..oh, right.  Never mind.

Darn you, 14th Amendment.  Turns out those Zonies have rights.  Rights as people, mind you, not rights citizens of the Great State of California or even as citizens these United States.  Zonies have rights to life, liberty and property just because they’re people.  (And, yes, under those WalMart crew shirts and WalMart underwear Zonies are people.  Shriveled, incredibly blanched people.)

So, my fellow San Diegans,  looks like there’ll be no RPGs for us next Memorial Day.  We’ll just have to suck it up and tolerate those nefarious Zonies as they come here and spend money on full admissions to local attractions (that’s ok; we’ll just get Fun Passes and go see the fish in October), and at restaurants and hotels (darn them and all those local summer jobs they create).  I know it’s Zonie money but, hey, money’s money.

But can’t we at least discourage the onslaught a little bit?  Hey, how about whenever a local member of law enforcement—or waiters and waitresses—stop someone in the normal course of their duties they ask “suspicious” looking people—AKA Zonies—for their papers?  You know, see if they have valid permits to be a Zonie outside of Zonieland.  And if they don’t?  Whammo.  They’re sent packing back to one hundred-thirty Fahrenheit quicker than you can say “Undocumented Old Person.”

Of course we don’t want to “profile” people.  We can’t stop them just because they look different than Us.  But there are subtle ways you can tell who those Zonies are.  I mean, just look at their shoes.  Look at the way they talk.  You find me a blue haired old person in a pair of sandals with socks speaking about whitefish in an upper-Minnesotan accent and, badda-bing, it’s “Papers, please” time.

And for those Zonies originally from Wisconsin: “Papiere bitte.”

After all, if you just make things hard enough on ‘em they’ll get the message and leave…..

A (Red) Rose By Any Other Name

OK San Diego taxpayers, if you’re like me you’ve got your tuxes pressed and shoes shined, ready to attend THE social event of the San Diego  season. Set your watches for tonight at 7PM.

That , of course, is when I’ll be entertaining one and all by watching this Tuesday’s Lost on DVR !  I’ve got the widescreen and Bose sound system.  You bring the popcorn.  A good time will be had by all.

Unless, of course, you’re otherwise engaged.  Like in attending the San Diego County Taxpayers Association’s  15TH ANNUAL GOLDEN WATCHDOG & GOLDEN FLEECE AWARDS DINNER TONIGHT: Highlighting the Good, Bad and Ugly of Local Government soiree tonight at the Town and Country.

Me?  I’ve got too many bluebooks to grade and too many other things to do with the $200 or $250 ticket price (I forget the actual tab as I seem to have disposed of my invitation. )  And I really , really want to see how they resolve all those plot twists with Jack, Kate, Sawyer and the crew. (Twenty dollar bet it all ends with Jack waking up and saying, “Whoa dude, what a dream.”)

Look, I think the SDCTA is a fine group dedicated to its cause and doing no small public good in stimulating a community dialog on government accountability and oversight.   They are a civic minded crew, no bones.  My continual beef, petty though it is, remains that the SDCTA persists in claiming to be something it is not: a  nonpartisan group that represents San Diego County taxpayers. .

I’ve already bellyached about the representing county taxpayers bit.  There are plenty of county taxpayers (and, if you’ve bought a soda in the last year you, my friend, are a taxpayer) who do not see eye to eye (or adjoining universe to adjoining universe) with the SDCTA.

But I can forgive them that minor transgression.  A number of brands tend to overstate themselves.  Like the League of Women Voters which tend to come across of the League of Progressive Women’s Voters.  And the SDCTA’s name is accurate to an extent: it  is in San Diego County and does represent taxpayers.  At least some of them.

My bigger beef is that the SDCTA claims to be a nonpartisan organization.  It says so right in their Mission Statement, right between the claims to be a non-profit organization (true dat) and to be dedicated to promoting accountable government (true dat, too.) But then the mission statement goes on to say the SDCTA is dedicated to also  promoting “cost-effective and efficient government and opposing unnecessary taxes and fees.”

And therein lies my problem.

Ain’t no way, in this partisan age of ours that you can put the words “non-partisan” and “promoting cost-effective and effective government and opposing unnecessary taxes and fees”  into the same sentence without running into a massive contradiction.   It is precisely determining what exactly constitutes effective and efficient  government and unnecessary taxes and fees that forms the fundamental fault line between the two political major parties.

And the SDCTA consistently comes down on one side of that division.

The current June propositions are a case in point.  The SDCTA website lists its June ballot recommendations (here) . So do the websites for the  San Diego County Republicans (here) and the San Diego County Democrats (here).  I’ve summarized their positions  in the table below:

Of the six local propositions the County Republicans, Democrats and the SDCTA all took positions on  the “non-partisan” SDCTA lines up 100% with the GOP.   (In fairness, the SDCTA breaks 50/50 with the two parties on the statewide propositions.  This time around.)  I haven’t taken the time to track, election by election, SDCTA ballot recommendations and compare them to the two parties.  Maybe this summer.  My hunch, though, is that, over the long haul,  such research will  find a strong correlation between the SDCTA and the GOP.  I don’t think an organization that predominantly and consistently endorses the positions of one of the two parties has a lock on the claim to be “non-partisan.”

Indeed, the SDCTA’s claim to be non-partisan strikes me as something of a cop out.  If the organization truly has faith in its convictions shouldn’t it acknowledge  whom it aligns with and supports?  Claiming to be non-partisan is an attempt by the SDCTA to give itself an imprimatur of superiority over all those other crassly partisan groups wrestling down in the political mud and muck while the SDCTA stands proudly on its noble non-partisan pedestal above the fray.  It’s a brilliant marketing ploy, to be sure.  But most group today that  like to claim to be nonpartisan are like products that  claim to be “new and improved” or “low fat.”  The question is: Compared to what?

So I’ll spend tonight in watching the alternative realities that unfold on Lost.  Meanwhile the SDCTA can continue living in its own alternative reality where it is truly non-partisan.

California Budget Deficit? What California Budget Deficit?

The Gubernator announced his last May Revise  this past Friday.  It was greeted with the usual rending of garments and gnashing of teeth now a customary part of the California budget blowout.   To close an almost $20 billion deficit His Arnoldness is now proposing freezes on local education, more slashing of government workers’ numbers and pay and huge cuts in social welfare and state medical care, including the complete termination of Calworks. Take that , you million mooching kids living off of state handouts.

But what are you going to do when the state is running almost 25% in the red?

And Our Last Action-Hero Governor can’t even depend on a last minute uber-dramatic rescue from Obi Wan Obama.  Washington’s response to  the Governor’s January request for $7 billion in reimbursements for Federal programs?  Drop dead.  Washington’s likely response to his new $3.4 billion beg?  Ditto.

Our Term(Limited)inator in Chief shouldn’t be  asking for a paltry $3.4 billion, anyway.  If the Feds have the audacity to insult the Golden State with such brass tribute he should throw it back in their faces.

No, what  one of the most successful businessmen in Hollywood History should demand is $70 billion.  That’s BILLION, with a big “B”. $70 billion is how much more California pays the Feds then the Feds give back in services and spending.

Californians get back about 78¢ for every dollar collected here by the Feds That means for the $313 billion  per year Californians pay the Federal government the Feds put back around $224 billion  in services and payments.  Which leaves California with that magic $70 billion deficit vis-à-vis  D.C.

Rather than running a $20 billion dollar budget deficit  in terms of revenues and spending  California actually has a $50 billion surplus. That is, if the Golden State got to keep all the gold it ships off to Washington.  Who then ships it off Red States like Mississippi, Alabama and all the others who get more back than they put in to the Federal slot machine.

I heard a commentator on the Dennis Prager show today compare Germany bailing out Greece to Texas bailing out  California .  Sorry but that’s the wrong comparison.  Texas gets back 94$ per dollar it sends.  Alaska gets back  a whopping $1.84.

So it’s Germany is to Greece as California is to Alaska, SAT fans.

Note to Feds: pay us our $70 billion, please.  We’ll take it in gold, if possible.

Note to Sarah Palin:  Shuttup already.  Your state takes more federal money per dollar sent than any other and you have the nerve to cry at your own Tea Party?  How about  you send us Californians—Real Americans who pay a lot more in shouldering the burden of being Americans than you and your mooching Alaskans—the $3.6 billion more you get back from that hated American government than you send in?

Consider it a down payment on monies owed California by a grateful nation.

Happy Mothers Day, American Moms!

Once again it is time for us, individually and as a society, to pay honor to the 82.5 million women out there who have done their biological part to part to perpetuate the species (and, particularly, the American portion of said species.)  Mothers around the country will be awakened Sunday morning to breakfast in bed, taken out to sumptuous buffets, received heartfelt cards and be showered with lavish presents.

(That the breakfast will most likely be burned and spilled, the buffet overcrowded and out of shrimp, the card the result of at least 30 intense seconds spent perusing the best schmaltz the Hallmark people could mass produce and the presents handmade by seven year olds with limited manual dexterity, of course, only makes the day all the more personal and sweet.)

Yes, we Americans really know how to show old Mom (note: mom’s do not like to be called old)  just how much we really, truly and deeply care about them.  That’s why America  ranks (big foam finger ready, patriots?) 42nd in maternal mortality rates! Thanks to our concerted effort we have fewer moms dying to become moms than in 130 other countries!   (So what if American moms have a 10 times greater risk of dying than Irish moms do?  DO the Irish take their mom’s to Home Town Buffet?  So there.)

Who cares if the latest Save The Children survey found that the US comes in 28th in the list of best countries to be a mother in, behind the likes of former Eastern European Communist states Latvia and Slovenia ?  Do the Slovenian kids give their moms T-shirts with family pictures on them?

And so what if the United States is one of the only countries in the world (along with Lesotho, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea plus the Aussies and the Kiwis) that doesn’t provide guaranteed paid maternity leave to new mothers?  It’s not all of our responsibilities to pay goldbricking women for being careless or foolish enough to get pregnant and produce the next generation, after all.  Yeah, the Swedes may give their moms up to 450 paid maternity days but do they give them Hallmark cards with cute kittens on them?  Written in English?  I think not.

Yes, moms, we love you so much it hurts. Of course, the hurt is yours, not ours. Yours and your babies.  We seem to let a lot of them die, too.

They say you put your money where you’re mouth. Well, there  is no day of the year that allows us as a nation to more clearly declare just how we feel than on Mothers Day.   So take the $126.90 we’ll spend on average on you moms out there  in lieu of universal pre and postnatal care and guaranteed paid maternity leave. Take it  with a mother’s smile.  Then get back to work Monday  because your not being paid to have kids, you know.  Oh, and next time you do have a kid, American moms, try not to die doing it. Okay?

You’re making the rest of us look bad.

Let Them Eat (Nonpartisan) Cake

San Diego’s Bonny DA, Bonnie Dumanis, was quoted on KPBS this morning bemoaning the politicization of local Superior Court Judge elections by partisan political groups.  The problem seems that one such group is targeting several such judges up for election this June  for not being ideologically acceptable to the group’s own partisan tastes.

I empathize with our for Primary Prosecutor’s concern over ideologically litmus-testing people who are really supposed to be fair and balanced  (as opposed to Fox which is fair and balanced in so much at it tells its audience demographic exactly what it wants to hear) in the exercise of their public duty .  At the same time I’ve got to ask, “Well what did you think is going to happen when you pick custodians of Justice like these judges—and officers of the court like yourself—by popular election?”

California operates under a noble (or simply foolish) myth that simply striking party affiliations off from the names of people running in local elections makes such elections, viola, non-partisan.   It doesn’t, it hasn’t and it never will.  Elections are by their very function a partisan affair.  For decades San Diego could participate  in the ruse of nonpartisanship when a homogenous voting majority (read “white Republican”) almost always got it’s way in municipal (read “city-wide”) and judicial  elections.  As San Diego has become more diverse ethnically, socio-economically and politically—in other words as the former political homogeneity broke down—non-partisan (read non-competitive) elections became increasing partisan.

So if the good DA doesn’t like the partisanship there is only one solution:  the Federal Model (you know, the one created by those pesky constitutional framers) in which the custodians of Lady Justice’s virtue are appointed (by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate) to a life tenure.   Such  longevity of appointment is supposed to provide insulation from the very form of ideological pressure Dumanis alleges these judges are being exposed to.  (It might be pointed out that her Federal counterpart is also appointed by the President with the Advice and consent of  the Senate though not for life.  These prosecutors—the Bush Justice Department notwithstanding—are then supposed to be allowed to proceed with their judicial duties in a judiciously nonpartisan manner.

The Framers in their wisdom (ok, they blew that slavery thing.  And the Articles of Confederation were a miserable failure.  And they didn’t think through the long term impact of the apportionment of senators, the electoral college or the rise of political parties transcending state-based politics.  But one quibbles…)  understood  that too much democracy—the kind that leads to the tyranny of the majority—can produce just as many problems as too little democracy. Tyranny is tyranny, if you are on the non-repressing side.  So maybe, what with all the other ideas being floated around for constitutional reforms in the Golden State,  reconsidering the election of judges—and Das—need be discussed.

Until then Californians need remember that you can not have your nonpartisan judges and eat your political election cake to.

(And on that strained proverb, it’s off to the obviously—on my part—much needed weekend.)

In Nobody We Trust

This week’s Pew Research poll showing public satisfaction and trust with government are at all time lows should come as no surprise to anyone.   The American People’s  trust in their  government has been declining since JFK was blown away in Dallas .  As the chart above shows, one assassination, Vietnam War,  Nixon Watergate Scandal and a decade of 1970s Stagflation later public trust had plummeted from  near eighty percent  to the low twenties. Reagan restored some degree of trust, Bush I lost it, Clinton restored some then Bush II lost it.  (Note to Americans: Next time a guy named “Bush” is on the ballot, vote the other way.)

Two things have been driving this trust-deficit:  recurring  business cycles and increasing middle class anxiety.  While the public vents its frustration with the vagaries of their standard of living on Congress and government in genra, the   real  problems confronting America’s faith in its government (and, therefore itself) are far more systemic.  Which means, whatever the November midterm elections is going to have precious little impact on American’s trust in their government, no matter the outcome.

Look at the trust poll above.  Now look at the graph below with the  last 30 years with a rough overlay of economic recessions.

Trust in government always plummets with an economic downturn, as during the recessions of the early 1970s,  late 70s & early 80s, early 90s and today.  Then,  as recovery sets in, trust goes back up.  The Reagan boom saw trust go back up to a ten year high; the Clinton boom sent it even higher.  Americans seem to see the world through the narrow prism of their own pocketbooks.  (And, yes,  we ARE that simple and shallow.)  So, when times are good we trust government.  When they’re not we want to burn it to the ground.

The only other thing that spikes and depresses trust are major foreign policy events such as the 1st Gulf War and 9/11 (spike up) and the protracted Vietnam and Iraqi wars (trust down.)  How many congressmen are or are not reelected really has no impact on any of this.   Barring a major attack on America any time soon, the only thing that will bring a sustained return to trust will be economic recovery.

The second factor in all of this is the simple fact that, since the late 1960s, getting and staying in the broad middle class has become a progressively more tenuous proposition for an increasing number of people.  The pillars of the middle class have been growing incomes, secure home ownership, access to affordable healthcare and education and the promise of retirement.  All of these have come under growing pressure for the last generation.  This has made the middle class antsy.  Antsy people trust less.

Between the Second World War and the early 1970s the standard of living doubled in a generation.  It now takes 3 generations to replicate the gain.  Most Americans are living much better than in 1960or 1970–but it’s taking longer to see the gains of children over their parents.  Political Scientists call this “relative expectation,” the problem of people expecting improvement faster than government can provide it.  This leads, again, to middle class antsiness—like blue-collar support for George Wallace’s rebellion against “big government liberals.” (Read “government helping the poor and people of color and not blue collar whites who were starting to lose jobs not to affirmative action but to globalization.  Those textile jobs disappearing in the Southern US weren’t going to Watts or Harlem, they were going to Japan and Hong Kong.  Now they’re going to Vietnam and Bangladesh, exportation of low-end Chinese goods being SO early 21st century now.)

During really harsh economic times (like the Great Depression) relative expectation turns into “relative deprivation”—where the middle class, now desperate as it sees itself sliding back towards poverty, wants to find enemies to blame (and supports more radical political movements—aka fascist—that promise to restore the power of the Volk by making government more socially intrusive,  powerful—and authoritarian.) Thus the rise of the Fascists in the 1920s & 1930s.  We haven’t seen economies as bad as the 1930s in western democracies.  With each recession, though, more reactionary political movements form (e.g. the Wallace reaction to civil rights, the Militia movement reaction in the 1990s and even, one dare say, the Zonian reaction of this week, essentially criminalizing  being Hispanic while in the Grand Canyon State).

For most American households the Great Recession is far from over.  Even when it is in two or three years, most American households will probably find their buying power no greater than it was in 2007 which, adjusted for inflation, is not a whole lot better than it was in 1997 or even 1987.  Only this time Americans will not have an easy-credit gravy train to hitch on (those mortgages and credit cards becoming more elusive for the masses) which, in the long run, is a good thing. In the short run it’s going to hurt like hell.  And that means a prolonged visit by two really annoying relatives – Aunt Expectation and Uncle Deprivation.

So, for all of those who are hoping that a “Throw the Bums” out movement come November will make everything in America right as rain, lot’s of luck with that.  First, the bums rush ain’t gonna happen.  Congressional reelection rates have been averaging 90%-94% plus for several decades.  Even the 1994 Republican Revolution resulted in an incumbent defeat rate of less than 10%.  If, on the off chance, this November produces a changeover in the 10%-20% range (at the extreme – that’s 80 seats) it will hardly constitute a thorough housecleaning.

Second, even if we started over with a 100% new Congress (and imagine the fun with all those newbies on Capitol Hill—the lobbyists will think they’ve died and gone to paradise and their 77 legislative virgins) trust in government will not, Q.E.D., return.   Until the economy goes back up (meaning unemployment goes down and household economic security as measured by buying power and  mortgage viability goes up) trust stays low.  And until the middle class economic miracle of the 1940s-1950s get’s replicated again, trust never returns to the glory days of yesteryear.

Meanwhile, for those Progressives and Liberals hoping that things will tilt their way once the unpleasantness of the 2010 midterm is behind them, lot’s of luck with that, too.  The economic downturns of the 1970s & 1980s turned America from a center-left New Deal society to a Center-Right Reagan Revolution land.  Baring a quick turn around in the economy—or, worse, a further downturn—America becomes a plain old right society.   Which should give the GOP another grand decade or two of prominence before shifting demographics undercuts it.

Most pundits have fretted about the American left becoming like the European left.  They should be equally concerned if the decline in trust and middle class economic insecurity results in the American left becoming more like the European right.

Roasted Pork

Loyal reader LJdiver posted the following comment to my “Tea Partiers Unite” blog:

ljdiver Says: Here is the 2010 list of pork!

http://www.cagw.org/reports/pig-book/2010/pork-database.html

Consider your tax dollars well spent!

Intrigued, I followed the link.  According to the Citizens Against Government  Waste (America’s self-described #1 taxpayer watchdog) :

The Congressional Pig Book is CAGW’s annual compilation of the pork-barrel projects in the federal budget.  The 2010 Pig Book identified 9,129 projects at a cost of $16.5 billion in the 12 Appropriations Acts for fiscal 2009.  A “pork” project is a line-item in an appropriations bill that designates tax dollars for a specific purpose in circumvention of established budgetary procedures.  To qualify as pork, a project must meet one of seven criteria that were developed in 1991 by CAGW and the Congressional Porkbusters Coalition.

Now let’s see, the total Federal Budget for 2010 was $3.55 trillion .  That would make the pork percentage of the budget–lessee—divide $16.5 billion…carry the two…My gosh – how outrageous!  That means that–are you ready for this, outrage in hand–the percentage of pork in the Federal Budget is .0046478873 or, to round it , five-hundredths of one percent.  My Lord, if only we cut all that pork out we’d only have to find another trillion or two to balance the budget!

My point in all of this is not to justify government waste no matter how trivial it all amounts to in the big scheme of things.  Government can be more efficient, no doubt about it.  (As can Wall Street in handling what’s left of my 403(b) and me in handling my food to exercise ratio.)

I do have two beefs with the most vocal of the  anti-pork crowd, though.  First, given that, according to the CAGW figures,  my Nonfat milk has more fat in it that the Federal Budget  I’ve got to question why it’s worth spending so much time and effort on attacking government for the money it shouldn’t spend rather than attack it for not spending the money it does more effectively?  (Unless, of course, all these pork-attacks are a smoked pork screen to hide the real agenda of these “save the taxpayer” advocates which is to attack ALL government spending. In which case the argument being waged is purely ideological and not fiscal.)

Second, must one person’s pork is another person’s well-balanced meal.  I grabbed one of the CAWG’s “pork” items completely at random from the list. It’s $200,000 for:

KidsPeace, Altamonte Springs, KidsPeace Florida Therapeutic Foster Care Program (Juvenile Justice)

The earmark was sponsored by Florida Senator Bill Nelson.  Now, I can see where some might consider Therapeutic care for foster kids a big waste of time.  I mean, if anybody really cared about them they’d have real parents, wouldn’t they?  Are there no prisons?  Are there no workhouse for they likes of them?

You get my drift.

So LJDiver, I can’t really say I consider this piece of pork to be necessarily badly spent.  As for the list as a whole I repeat, $16.9 billion in pork is something to think about cutting.  But slaughtering a piglet that small just ain’t gonna feed the whole Deficit family.