Thursday, December 22, 2011

MERRY SANTA MONICA SOLSTICE

Jon Stewart mocks the idea of a “War on Christmas” by featuring images of huge Christmas (or “holiday”) trees located in public spaces throughout the nation. The bit provides a stark verbal-visual juxtaposition for the amusement of progressive nabobs.

Logically, such anecdotal evidence is as invalid as concluding that malnutrition doesn’t exist based on photographs of overweight Americans.

If Mr. Stewart directed his attention to the various “Winter” programs performed in public schools throughout the country—or to the city of Santa Monica—he might come to a different conclusion.

That city’s Palisades Park has long displayed a series of Nativity scenes assembled by various church groups. This year, however, only two of the 21 display areas focus on Christmas. Another, appropriately enough, has a Hanukkah theme.

Three, however, tout anti-religious messages, and the rest are empty—all thanks to non-resident atheist activist Damon Vix and his cohorts from American Atheists Inc. and the Freedom from Religion Foundation.

The Trinity of in-your-face displays wish holiday viewers a “Happy Solstice,” place the Christian faith on the same level as the Olympian god Neptune, and provide spectators with this intellectually dubious observation by Thomas Jefferson: “Religions are all alike—founded on fables and mythologies.”

Apparently the rigorously applied PC rule that regularly silences public religious expressions that “might give offense” doesn’t apply when the offending shoe is on an atheist’s foot.

The fact that most of the atheist-reserved spaces in Santa Monica are empty speaks volumes about the ongoing war on Christmas. Displays that once gave joy and hope now offer nothing to lift the spirit. Angels, shepherds, wise men, and lovable critters are replaced by a void that aptly symbolizes an uncaring, godless universe.

Scenes depicting the holy family are banished. In their place stands a barren, undecorated sign whose “Happy Solstice” greeting mocks the spiritual legacy of a civilization that for almost two millennia has expressed gratitude to a god who revealed himself in the humble form of an infant.

San Diego’s “December Nights” in Balboa Park provides a more understated version of secularization. The Holy Day that must not be prominently displayed is mentioned indirectly in the third paragraph of the event’s Internet description—and then only as the name of an international festival where one can sample “food from around the globe.”

This “secular sanitization” of our cultural heritage brings to mind Alfred North Whitehead’s delightful rebuke of Voltaire’s excessively critical philosophical musings: “If men cannot live on bread alone, still less can they do so on disinfectants.”

Kudos to cities like Poway that still embrace these “offensive” but uplifting words: Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

GRINCHLY STATE JOBS TRENDS

Break out the bubbly. California’s unemployment rate plummeted to 11.7 percent in October (down from 11.9 the prior month). If national stats for November are any indication, the Golden State may approach 11 percent by Christmas. But before the party gets too euphoric, some Grinchly accounting is in order.

First, it’s worth noting that only Nevada’s October unemployment rate (13.4) exceeds that of California. Then there are the numbers for Riverside County (13.7), which surpass even the unlucky figure posted by Nevada.

The really bad news comes when one scrutinizes long-term trends. A study commissioned by “City Journal” found that California’s employment picture had become “far less vibrant and diverse” even before the recent recession. Below are some grim statistics:

From 1992 to 2000 California experienced dynamic growth in business start-ups, especially in Silicon Valley. A total of 776,500 net jobs were created when start-ups are offset with closures. By contrast, the state suffered a net loss of over 250,000 jobs in the same category over the next eight years—a difference of over a million jobs. In short, even before the 2008 recession, California had stopped attracting new business investment.

Job production in large metropolitan regions also plummeted when compared with the prior eight-year period. Specifically, from 1992 to 2000 the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay areas added over 1.1 million new jobs. Yet from 2000 to 2008 these areas (including Orange County and Silicon Valley) created fewer than 70,000 new jobs.

In addition, the jobs created in California from 2000 to 2008 generally paid much less than those created earlier. From 1992 to 2000 almost 909,000 net jobs were created in high-paying industries. That lofty figure fell to a negative 270,000 during the next eight years.

The bright spot for good jobs from 2000 to 2008 was in housing and construction—sectors now moribund after the real estate bubble burst.

The lion’s share of jobs created in California from 2000 to 2008 was in the generally low-paying “administration and support” category. This fact corresponds with the study’s finding that employment growth was confined largely to jobs paying between 50 and 75 percent of the state average.

A final fly in the bubbly concerns the dramatic reduction in jobs with firms having over 100 employees. That number dropped from a positive 564,000 in 1992-2000 to a negative 685,000 over the next eight years.

The primary culprits behind these Scrooge-like figures, according to various analysts, are “suffocating regulations…and a political class uninterested in business concerns, if not downright hostile to them.”

Put briefly, Sacramento is too much in tune with the Occupy movement.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

OCCUPY PROTESTS MISSING GRATITUDE (and Basic Economics)

A video on the Occupy San Diego website asks mostly young participants in this event to describe how they feel—in one word. Terms like “angry” and “frustrated” are common. Other popular responses concern feelings of exhilaration. The word “thankful,” however, is conspicuously absent from this verbal potpourri.

Gratitude isn’t a sentiment that’s typical among folks who delight in expressing indignation over perceived injustices perpetrated by faceless villains. Individuals obsessed with utopian dreams (“free education for everyone”) also tend to ignore the absurdity of demanding higher pay for teachers who provide a theoretically free service.

A world of rights and free lunches provided by an all-caring government is the vision that permeates the rhetoric of most occupiers.

Well, here’s something for which occupiers in New York, San Diego, and Los Angeles can give thanks: The much-vilified “one percent” isn’t a static group of individuals.

Indeed, economist Thomas Sowell notes that while the percentage of national wealth parked within that category has increased over the years, the “flesh-and-blood people” occupying that one percent in 1996 actually “had their incomes go down…by a whopping 26 percent by 2005.”

These seemingly contradictory statistics become understandable when one realizes that “most people who are in the top 1 percent in a given year do not stay in that bracket.”

Viewed more broadly, folks tend to go up the economic scale as they get older. That’s why households headed by someone 65 or older have, on average, more than 15 times as much wealth (not income) as households headed by persons under 35.

This circumstance indicates that experience and a lifetime of work is typically rewarded in the U.S.—a nation where, according to World Bank economist Branko Milanovic, the poorest five percent of Americans are richer than 68 percent of the world’s inhabitants. That’s a startling statistic, especially in light of the fact that most “poor” Americans will eventually become better off.

At Thanksgiving it’s also instructive to recall that the settlement at Plymouth only flourished after the Pilgrims abandoned the collectivist economic system they initially practiced—with disastrous results.

As Governor William Bradford observed in his diary, the “communism” of goods produced “confusion and discontent” and “retarded much employment.” By contrast, when private property was introduced, the new system “had very good success” and “made all hands industrious.”

That industry was consummated with abundance and gratitude—an attitude that’s perhaps the best indicator of an individual’s (or a society’s) character. Unfortunately, many occupiers seem woefully deficient when it comes to expressing gratitude for blessings (economic and otherwise) that are often taken for granted.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

PITIFUL SEXUAL PEDAGOGY

San Diego’s Patrick Henry High School made national headlines recently—not for academic achievement but for pushing the social envelope a bit further in a direction that tickles the fancy of progressives. Specifically, the school selected a girl (presumably a lesbian) as homecoming king. Her girlfriend was picked as homecoming queen.

For folks whose understanding of sexuality is shaped by the ideology-driven lessons dispensed by most academics and by story lines within the secular media (e.g. “Glee” and MTV), the proper response to this event would be, “Isn’t that special.”

Individuals whose views aren’t a mirror image of pop-culture are more likely to sigh and feel pity for a cohort of youngsters who’ve been so badly served by their teachers.

The presumptions reflected in this student vote include the idea that sexual orientation is solely determined by one’s genes, that same-sex relationships stand on the same level as male-female commitments, and that differences between males and females are insignificant, even when it comes to parenting.

These are among the notions drummed into the heads of kids eager to embrace the message that most folks over thirty are bigots and that following one’s impulses is a virtue known as “being yourself.”

However, that same-sex attractions can be fostered by societal expectations is clearly shown by the homosexual bonds promoted, with ultimately disastrous demographic consequences, in the Greek city-state of Sparta. (See David Goldman, “How Civilizations Die.”) Has anyone ever asked students at Patrick Henry to ponder such facts?

If ancient history is too far removed from young iTuners, how about considering the bio of actress Anne Heche, a three-year “gay” partner of Ellen Degeneres who later had a son by her now-divorced husband, Coley Laffoon. Doesn’t such ambiguity about one’s own sexuality deserve more than thoughtless dismissal via the handy term “bisexual”?

As for the oft-asserted claim that all sexual relationships are created equal and that children only require two loving adults in their lives, I’m confident that this politically-correct assertion will eventually be seen as bogus.

Several decades ago the intense desire to sympathize with single parents led a host of sociologists to claim that it was only the stigma of single-parenthood that harmed children in such households. This non-judgmental judgment was eventually reversed (as the late Senator Patrick Moynihan noted in his monograph, “Defining Deviancy Down” *) after the stigma vanished, single-parenthood proliferated, but the related child pathologies persisted.

Something similar will happen, I predict, after the harm done by progressive sexual pedagogy and a sex-crazed, rootless culture becomes so widespread that it will be impossible to deny and all but impossible to reverse.

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* A relevant quotation from Moynihan’s monograph: Writing in the Journal of Marriage and the Family in 1989, Sara McLanahan and Karen Booth noted: "Whereas a decade ago the prevailing view was that single motherhood had no harmful effects on children, recent research is less optimistic."

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Occupiers Versus the Tea Party

Like a bad case of the flu, Occupy Wall Street (OWS) and its nationwide spawn won’t go away. Predictably, mainstream media and their political cronies (including the leftist-in-chief) have tried to spin these demonstrations as progressive versions of the influential Tea Party rallies—judgments akin to dramatic comparisons that put Paris Hilton in the same league as Katharine Hepburn.

I was present at Oceanside Municipal Pier on April 15, 2009, when more than 3000 working folks gathered to peacefully protest the huge deficits that were being racked up in the first months of the Obama Administration. “Thousands” also reportedly showed up at Temecula’s Duck Pond. At least one protestor carried a prophetic sign that perfectly fit the half-billion dollar Solyndra scandal then being hatched: “It’s not stimulus. It’s payback.”

The primary protest message was as focused as one could expect from a largely spontaneous event: 1. The government is spending too much and should not increase taxes. 2. The unprecedented growth in government is a danger to liberty.

At the Oceanside Tea Party (as at all such gatherings) there was no attempt to provoke confrontations with police or shut down public facilities. Many parents with kids were present, and American flags were abundant and waved with pride.

By contrast, OWS protestors have shut down the Brooklyn Bridge, ignored trespassing and health ordinances, drained municipal resources, and had a negative impact on nearby small businesses.

Moreover, a New York Times numbers guy used credible crowd estimates in 150 cities to come up with a nationwide figure of only 70,000 for the movement’s October 15 protest. The largest gathering, in the Big Apple, was put around 7,000. Figures for Chicago, Denver, and Oakland were each south of the conservative estimate for Oceanside’s April 15 event in 2009.

When it comes to the make-up and message of this group, Democratic pollster Doug Schoen finds what a perusal of video evidence suggests—that the OWS crowd is mostly young (about half under 30) and overwhelmingly leftist in orientation (74% voted for Obama). Significantly, almost a third believe violence may be employed to achieve their collectivist goals.

This finding dovetails with the much larger violent demonstrations in Europe onto which OWS, October 15, piggybacked. After all, the socialist left is a worldwide, reason-resistant virus that didn’t disappear with the collapse of the Soviet Union—a movement composed of power-hungry ideologues and useful idiots who employ utopian demands and violence (when expedient) to achieve totalitarian ends.

In sum, the dubious character of OWS is best epitomized by the picture of a protestor apparently defecating on a New York City police car.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

OCCUPY THE NANNY STATE

“Occupy Wall Street” has come to L.A. and San Diego. Fortunately, the small contingent of youngsters holding anti-capitalist signs at Ynez and Rancho California in Temecula last Saturday would have had a hard time occupying the nearby Pat & Oscar’s—a corporate enterprise that has filed for bankruptcy and shuttered two Carlsbad outlets thanks to an economy that’s been run for years by the protestors’ ideological soulmates in Sacramento.

After perusing the major “Occupy” web sites, especially “Occupy L.A.,” I feel safe in saying that most protestors would qualify for confinement within a hypothetical home for the criminally na├»ve. These folks generally display all the intellectual depth of those infatuated voters who elected our inexperienced, teleprompter-dependent president based on a vacuous “Hope and Change” platform.

Callow sign-holders calling for an end to capitalism are apparently unaware of the profound financial crises in Europe’s Grecian-formula economies or the utter lunacy of simply erasing all debts. These adolescent activists also seem oblivious to the implications of the four-trillion dollar deficit their transformational president has piled up in only three years—thanks in no small measure to socialist policies most non-taxpaying protestors apparently favor.

The thunderous, prolonged applause that last year greeted President Obama’s collegiate announcement that kids can stay on their parents’ insurance policies till age twenty-six typifies this entitlement mindset.

The following web-page comment by an “occupier” puts that applause into halting words: "We have been kind of screwed over by our government, which should be taking care of us and instead is taking advantage of us."

Patrick Henry and company must be spinning in their graves. Instead of protecting individual liberties and property, government for this and other protestors has become a lifelong nanny.

Unsurprisingly, many Democrats, labor unions, and public service workers that have sapped tax-paying Americans for fat pensions for decades have thrown in with these would-be waifs who prefer the multi-syllabic drivel of pseudo-professor Cornel West to any real knowledge about economics achieved by intellectual effort.

Reading a book or two by legitimate scholars like Thomas Sowell or Milton Friedman would be sufficient to enlighten all those who aren’t irredeemably committed to massaging their belly buttons. The reason Washington D.C. and corporations (like Solyndra) massage each other is because America’s government has become a giant 3.7 trillion-dollar slush fund. That’s why Wall Street’s Goldman-Sachs gave much more money to Obama than to McCain in 2008.

The best way to “get money out of politics” is to shrink government and let consumers, not Obama’s czars, determine winners and losers. But mobs, as opposed to most Tea Partiers, love mindless chants, power, simplistic schemes and especially imposing themselves on others.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

SPENDING OTHER PEOPLE'S MONEY

Merryle Rukeyser once said on his son’s long-running “Wall Street Week” TV show that a liberal is someone who’s liberal with other people’s money.

The half-billion dollar loan dished out by President Obama’s Energy Department to the politically connected and now bankrupt Solyndra Corporation is a potentially criminal case-in-point.

Rukeyser’s aphorism was given additional weight by Professor Arthur Brooks’ 2006 book, “Who Really Cares,” a scholarly investigation that showed conservatives, on average, give much more time and money to charitable activities than their liberal counterparts—a disparity that holds true even when one excludes contributions made to churches.

A corollary to Rukeyser’s definition is that liberals are also more likely to lobby for taxpayer funding with the taxpayer’s own money.

A few months ago I noted that a local PBS station was using its government-subsidized broadcast time to encourage viewers to support continued Congressional funding for public broadcasting. Now I see that Riverside County has a court web page encouraging county residents to petition the Governor “to restore vital funding to the court and provide more judges to hear cases.”

This taxpayer-funded lobbying effort even includes sample letters addressed to Governor Brown and state legislators that contend Riverside County needs twice as many judges than it currently has.

I have no problem with arguments in favor of increased funding for the court system, but that a government web page is doing the lobbying poses a serious issue—namely, whether government officials and government-sponsored groups should be using government funds to solicit the general public for more funding.

The fact that even conservative Riverside County has taken up this dubious practice isn’t a good sign.

Both politicians and ordinary citizens are free to make arguments about how public money should be spent. But putatively non-political government officials and institutions shouldn’t themselves solicit the general public for funds.

A similar problem arises when public employee unions use their political clout to sweeten employment benefits—a common scenario where government employees sit on both sides of the bargaining table without a clear bottom line to stiffen the spines of pliant politicians.

This negotiating imbalance is one of the reasons even FDR said, “All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.” He added that “militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of Government employees.”

Unfortunately, the militancy recently exhibited by public workers in Wisconsin now matches the audacity of both public and private groups for whom government has become a gigantic trough of other people’s money.

Friday, September 16, 2011

A GREEN BUBBLE BURSTS: "SHOVEL READY" FOR SOLYNDRA

Conspicuously absent from President Obama’s “jobs speech” last week was the “green jobs” refrain that punctuated prior rhetorical efforts.

Looking on the bright side, perhaps the President’s economic team has finally gotten it through their skulls that quixotic wind and solar investments have been a bust.

The more likely reason “green jobs” didn’t accompany “pass this bill now” in the President’s solo rendition of “Son of Stimulus” was the recent bankruptcy filing of California-based Solyndra—a solar energy company that stiffed around a thousand former workers just two years after receiving a cool half-billion dollars of government assistance.

To make this environmental disaster even more embarrassing for the administration, FBI agents carted away documents from the company’s Fremont headquarters in order to investigate possible hanky-panky.

The political smoke that suggests fire arises from the cozy relationship between the White House and Solyndra—especially the tie with George Kaiser, one of Solyndra’s key backers who donated $53,000 to Obama’s 2008 campaign and helped “bundle” thousands more. White House visitor logs also show twenty visits by Solyndra officials and investors, most by Kaiser, between March, 2009, and April, 2011.

Even worse on the appearance-of-impropriety scale, the Obama administration “fast-tracked” the company’s loan application to the Department of Energy in 2009—a decision later criticized by the Government Accountability Office.

Back in the giddy days of Stimulus 1.0, President Obama specifically pointed to Solyndra as a model of green-energy success. At least Mr. Obama was correct on one score. Solyndra is a “model”—of government cronyism and market manipulation.

According to Solyndra CEO Brian Harrison, “Regulatory and policy uncertainties in recent months created significant near-term excess supply and price erosion.” In plain English this verbal smokescreen means that today’s solar market is largely a function of government subsidies.

“Excess supply” (as was the case with mortgages and housing in the prior decade) refers to government policies, in the U.S. and abroad, that have created another bubble that’s in the process of bursting. Case in point: Two other solar companies, SpectraWatt and Evergreen Solar, filed for bankruptcy just weeks before Solyndra.

Meanwhile, according to government sources cited by the New York Times, other Obama “green jobs” programs in the Golden State have netted less than 1,300 jobs at the price of over 150 million dollars.

Still, Malibu-minded Congressman Henry Waxman, along with Gov. Brown and Sacramento’s ruling Democrats, continue to pursue the illusion of “green jobs”—a fantasy that even a New York Times piece suggests is a very expensive “pipe dream.”

Get the shovel ready—not for jobs, but to clean up the mess.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

ANN COULTER: EXPOSING THE LEFT'S MOB MENTALITY

Many moons ago ABC’s Sam Donaldson compared the French and American Revolutions—implying that the two events were historical twins. Even then I knew enough history to conclude that this simplistic equation was bogus.

Unfortunately, I didn’t know just how wrongheaded the comparison was until I read Ann Coulter’s recent book “Demonic”—in particular the chapters about the slaughter of over half a million souls that occurred in France from 1789 to 1794. (By comparison, the religion-steeped American Revolution had about 20,000 casualties—half disease-related—and none of the mob-inspired butchery that was common in France.)

Coulter contends that the details and philosophical motivation for this bestial continental bloodbath aren’t more widely known because France’s statist revolution was compatible with the beliefs and propaganda methods of modern leftists. American universities, of course, are seminaries for such ideas, and attachment to these dogmas is so fervent that prominent conservatives on campus are often, in mob-like fashion, shouted down or even, on occasion, assaulted.

Coulter notes that neither Cornell (in 2010-2011) nor UCLA had courses specifically on the French Revolution. I can add that none of my numerous graduate courses in intellectual history came close to presenting the depths of atheistic depravity exhibited in Coulter’s chapters on the revolution and Terror.

I perused UCSD’s offerings on the topic and found a single course taught by a professor whose primary interests are gender and labor relations. The absence of student reviews on the web suggests that the course (buried deep in the university’s multicultural offerings) didn’t light anyone’s fire.

Coulter also observes (as David Horowitz did earlier in his book, “The Professors”) that many violent radicals from the 60s ensconced themselves in positions in higher education —among them Obama associates and former “Weathermen” Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn.

In California Coulter mentions former Black Panther Angela Davis (long time Professor at UC Santa Cruz) and Ron (Maulana) Karenga. Karenga, a former 60s radical and inventor of Kwanzaa, was able to go from prison for physically assaulting two women to Chairman of Black Studies at Cal State Long Beach in a mere fourteen years. That’s quite a tenure track.

Throw in the fact that UC-system employees were candidate Obama’s number one source of funds in 2008 (contributing $1.64 million or 50 times the amount given to McCain) and you have several exhibits favoring Coulter’s thesis that modern leftists often try to achieve their goals not by rational argument but by the exclusion of opposing views.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters’ recent “go to hell” condemnation of Tea Party Americans further reinforces Coulter’s point about the left’s mob-baiting mentality.

Friday, August 19, 2011

PUT BRAKES ON THE BULLET TRAIN

While driving to the central coast a few weeks back, I often wished that some of the state fundsemployed over the last decade on mass transit schemes would have been used to repair or widen the roads connecting Menifee and San Luis Obispo.

Perhaps in answer to my starless wish, it now seems increasingly likely that more rational cost estimates may derail the high-speed San Francisco to San Diego boondoggle whose initial funding was authorized by 52.7 percent of California voters in 2008.

The most recent construction “guesstimate” just for the Merced to Bakersfield rail-to-nowhere section came in at 10 to 13.9 billion dollars—40 to 95 percent above the prior 7.1 billion figure. Considering the trajectory of this preliminary revision, the final project could cost anywhere from 80 to 200 billion dollars.

Earlier this year State Treasurer Bill Lockyear, the fellow charged with selling California’s high-speed rail bonds, observed that private investors have exhibited no real interest in purchasing these bonds absent a sound business plan. Indeed, Lockyear even acknowledged that he himself agreed with investors who felt the folks in charge of the project don’t know what they’re doing. Said Lockyear, “We don’t have a plan that makes sense.”

As more realistic cost estimates come in, the rapid-rail “business plan” seems to bear a mega-expensive price tag that will never be largely picked up, as hoped, by private investors, the federal government, and those who ride the choo-choo.

A prescient report last month by three Bay Area financial experts observed that megaprojects of this sort have a consistent record of cost overruns. Sixty percent is just the rail average. However, if the bullet train performs as badly as the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge project, the final price tag would be more than five times present cost estimates or around $247 billion.

On the bright side, Boston’s Big-Dig came in with a comparatively modest 300% cost overrun—a ratio that would put California’s high-speed bottom line at over 130 billion.

Another low-balled item has been the price of bullet train tickets, which have already been revised sharply upward. Among items likely overestimated in early scenarios are ridership and ridership revenue.

Amazingly, even Democrats in the California legislature have begun to question the wisdom of proceeding with this high-speed rip-off. Senator Alan Lowenthal, a past supporter of the project, recently acknowledged that “we really need to re-examine what we’re spending and what we’re going to get for it.”

Put more accurately, legislators need to scrutinize the project carefully for the first time—and then, as
Rep. Diane Harkey has been urging, scrap it.

Monday, August 01, 2011

UC FEEDS THE DIVERSITY BEAST

Responding to a recent 150-million dollar reduction in funding for the University of California system, UC’s vice president for budget and capital resources, Patrick Lenz, insisted that the state’s campuses and offices have already “cut to the bone.”

Not exactly. Despite “draconian” cuts that professional education bureaucrats are paid to lament, campuses throughout the UC system obviously have enough dough to fund and even expand a gargantuan diversity establishment.

As Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute notes, diversity-related positions not only have “been protected from budget cuts, their numbers are actually growing.” A prime example is a new vice chancellor position for equity, diversity, and inclusion at UCSD.

Such a position might conceivably be rationalized if no comparable function existed, but according to MacDonald, UCSD’s “massive diversity apparatus” already includes a Chancellor’s Diversity Office, an associate chancellor for faculty equity, an assistant vice chancellor for diversity, faculty equity advisors, graduate diversity coordinators, a staff diversity liaison, an undergraduate diversity liaison, a graduate student diversity liaison, a chief diversity officer, a director of development for diversity initiatives, an Office of Academic Diversity and Equal Opportunity, a Committee on Gender Identify and Sexual Orientation Issues, a Committee on the Status of Women, a Campus Council on Climate Culture and Inclusion, a Diversity Council, directors of the Cross-Cultural Center, a Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center, and a Women’s Center.

Somewhere in that plethora of politically correct conformity (generically known as “diversity”) one would think that several warm bodies could be found to cover the new vice chancellor’s task of “building on existing diversity plans to develop and implement a campus-wide strategy on equity, diversity, and inclusion.”

Unfortunately UCSD is not alone in its multiplication of “diversity” administrators. UC Berkeley, for example, has its own vice chancellor for equity and inclusion with a staff of seventeen in his immediate office. In 2009 this fellow’s base pay was almost $200,000—over three times the official starting salary for assistant professors in the UC system.

But since the diversity beast must be perpetually appeased, the burden of budget cuts continues to fall on regular students in the form of tuition increases and not on the legion of tax-supported “multi-culti” functionaries.

A further consequence of this mad devotion to political correctness is that prestigious professors are being lured away by institutions that employ their funds more wisely. Such was the case with a trio of cancer researchers who recently left UCSD and headed for Houston, Texas—where a 40% benefit package increase awaits them at Rice University in the nation’s premier red state.

Meanwhile, the UC system adds more administrative diversity fluff.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A SUMMER DREAM OF SECESSION

A new state of South California? It’s about as likely to happen as the current state of California is to balance this year’s budget without using smoke-and-mirrors.

Still, at the end of June Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone proposed a conference to consider forming a new state that would be carved out of 13 counties in Southern California--including Riverside, Orange and San Diego Counties but excluding Los Angeles.

Stone’s secessionist rhetoric was partly motivated by budgetary decisions in Sacramento that diverted around 14-million dollars in 2011-2012 vehicle license fee revenues from four cities in Riverside County: Eastvale, Jurupa Valley, Menifee and Wildomar.

Later at a Board of Supervisors meeting Stone modified his proposal and suggested a summit of city and county officials this fall to discuss problems local governments are facing due to state regulation and appropriation of taxes formerly directed to counties and municipalities.

The Board approved this modified proposal, which is to be funded privately and lacks any reference to Fort Sumter. Stone insisted, however, that secession would still be an option should the conferees fail to discover viable solutions to enduring problems like border security, chronic budget deficits, and economic stagnation.

Since any secessionist reorganization would need to be okayed by both Sacramento and Congress, the chances of it happening are infinitesimally small. But it’s midsummer, and folks can be forgiven for dreaming.

Currently California’s state motto is “eureka”—Greek for “I have found it.” The motto of our new imaginary state could be the Latin equivalent of one of the following: “The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen,” or “SoCal—where humans trump delta smelts,” or “Here ‘illegal’ really means ‘illegal.’”

Other contenders might be “Educating for life, not for interest groups,” or “Love LA? Take I-10 West.”

Stone’s own thoughts about his 13-county political dream are that it would have a part-time legislature, no term limits and strict limits on property taxes.

One wag suggested that the new state’s capital could be in Disneyland. But even the Magic Kingdom would have a hard time topping the fantasies that have emanated from Sacramento during the last two decades.

The same critic added that secession involves “major surgery where we need a Band-Aid”—an analogy whose tepid medical prescription demonstrates the kind of remoteness from economic and political reality that prompted Stone to float the secessionist idea in the first place.

Stone’s midsummer political dream might at least prompt realistic conversations about factors that have made the once Golden State largely ungovernable—factors like entrenched public-sector interest groups, hopelessly gerrymandered legislative districts, and excessive concentration of power in Sacramento.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

SOCKING IT TO THE GRINGOS

It was a week and two days before the fourth of July when the U.S.A. and Mexico squared off in a Gold Cup soccer match. The stadium was packed with fans, the vast majority of whom were supporting the green-clad Mexican squad.

During the American national anthem the boisterous crowd bounced beach balls back and forth and tooted their noisy air-horns. Then throughout the contest a torrent of verbal abuse was reportedly hurled toward the American goalie.

At game’s end Mexico had secured a 4-2 comeback win over their North American rivals. Adding insult to injury, the post-game awards ceremony was conducted almost entirely in Spanish.

The real kicker in this sorry tale of poor sportsmanship is that this prominent event was held in Pasadena’s Rose Bowl.

U.S. goalie Tim Howard, who was doubtless in a sour mood after letting in four goals and being constantly harassed from the stands, directed his anger toward the sponsor of the tournament for conducting the award ceremony almost totally in Spanish: “You can bet your ass that if we were in Mexico City, it wouldn’t all be in English.”

A writer for the LA Times called the night “imperfectly odd…strangely unsettling” and “uniquely American”—displaying in his high-falutin’ prose precisely the political sentiments that have allowed Los Angeles to be transformed in the last five decades from an overwhelmingly Anglo town in 1960 into (in the words of former LA Mayor Jim Hahn) “a Mexican city.”

That demographic transformation wouldn’t be so unsettling if American elites and most teachers in our public school system still believed in the principle enunciated in Latin on our nation’s coins: e pluribus unum--“out of many, one.”

Unfortunately, since the 60s the mantra of multiculturalism has been drummed into the heads of Americans vegetating in classrooms or in front of the boob tube. That ideology goes beyond embracing feelings of ethnic pride to include a fashionable hatred that exaggerates and dwells obsessively on everything that’s wrong with America.

Given this elitist catechism, it’s inevitable that the time-honored practice of assimilation and pride at becoming an American is being replaced by a litany of historical grievances directed against the country in which immigrants (especially illegals) live and work.

Instead of honoring the values articulated in the country’s Declaration of Independence, America is increasingly seen by those who cross its southern border as the land that victimized their ancestors and owes them big-time reparations.

Americans who’ve absorbed this guilt-inducing caricature are loath to require anything of these newcomers and are inclined to interpret evidence of cultural disintegration as “uniquely American.”

In short, multiculturalism, anti-Americanism and lax border enforcement are triplets.

Friday, June 24, 2011

CALIFORNIA AND THE FIRST RULE OF HOLES: STOP DIGGING!

The first rule of holes: When you find yourself stuck in one, stop digging. It’s an axiom that’s obvious to most folks who aren’t professional politicians.

Governor Brown, however, seems determined to keep working the shovel by pushing for an extension of “temporary” tax hikes to fill the substantial hole that remains in the state’s balance sheet. Accordingly, Brown vetoed the budget passed by his own party last week.

To the governor’s credit, he correctly observed that the proposed budget “continues big deficits for years to come” and “contains legally questionable maneuvers, costly borrowing and unrealistic savings.”

Those sleazy practices have been part and parcel of what got California into its longstanding fiscal hole, but so have high taxes, excessive spending, stifling regulations, jaw-dropping public pension plans and failure to tap abundant natural resources. As Senate GOP Leader Bob Dutton observed, Californians need a budget with “meaningful pension reform, a spending limit and business-regulation relief for job creation.”

It was amusing to see a supposedly balanced budget passed in Sacramento just at the June 15 deadline. Without such a bill, according to recently passed Proposition 25, legislators would no longer receive pay for their ditch-digging accomplishments.

The governor’s veto, however, put the onus on State Controller John Chiang to decide whether or not the legislators had met their constitutional obligation. After first suggesting that he had no “authority to judge the honesty, legitimacy or viability of a budget,” Chiang eventually concluded that “the numbers” in the vetoed budget “simply did not add up.” Consequently, the man who cuts the checks ruled that representatives would be going without pay until a budget without “miscalculations” is passed.

Meanwhile, unemployment in California stands at 11.7 percent—34.5% higher than the other 49 states. A net loss of 29,000 jobs last month suggests that the slight dip in the not-so-Golden State’s unemployment rate in May was due to folks dropping out of the labor market and wasn’t a sign of recovery.

Academics and lawyers without a clue will doubtless look to schemes like abolishing death penalty trials, cutting down the prison population, or legalizing marijuana as no-pain, no-brain methods for balancing the state’s books. .

New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie takes a more sensible approach. That much-vilified chief executive recently got a budget that changed the state’s pension and benefits system for public workers passed through a Democrat-controlled Senate. If Christie manages to get that same bill through the Assembly, he will have gone a long way toward getting his state out of its fiscal hole.

On the other coast, California’s legislators just keep digging.

Friday, June 10, 2011

WHO'S THAT GRADUATION SPEAKER?

It’s commencement season. That means graduates throughout the Southland are often being treated to the predictable pop-cultural prattle of various commencement speakers.

After perusing lists of graduation presenters throughout the nation, it seems one could do a lot worse than the mostly profession-based speakers at UCSD ceremonies. One name, however, stuck out as indicative of a trend away from serious scholarship in our institutions of higher learning—David Alan Grier.

For those unfamiliar with today’s pop-cultural icons, Grier (or DAG) is a fairly articulate actor, comedian, and graduate of Yale Drama School who will be addressing some 1000 students of Thurgood Marshall College this Saturday.

Grier’s professional credits range from serious drama (David Mamet’s “Race”) to crude humor that inhabits the cultural wasteland between R-rated and NC-17. The comic’s “Phat man” character can be counted on to push the envelope of bad taste, doubtless under the brain-dead assumption that humorous skits highlighting social dysfunction (especially in the black community) have no negative effects.

Grier’s “No Child Left Behind” video is a prime example of the sophisticated corruption pioneered by Calvin Klein that combines images of children with adult sexual content that could arguably be called soft porn.

Grier is best known to the general public for his expletive-filled rant against two “Dancing With the Stars” judges after he was eliminated from the competition. An obscene comment about Sarah Palin also tarnishes DAG’s resume, as well as the following depraved remark about McCain’s handling of Palin as his running-mate: “John McCain, your pimp hand has gone soft.”

After perusing Grier’s Internet reflections, a few serious, I have little doubt that his diploma-day ruminations (and especially his selection as speaker) will do more to destroy than to improve the lives of African-Americans.

Grier’s role as commencement day speaker is unfortunately consistent with the half-century decline in academic standards recently asserted by UC Santa Barbara Professor Philip Babcock and UC Riverside Professor Mindy Marks. The principal evidence for this regression is evidence of a huge decline in study time for full-time students “from twenty-four hours per week in 1961 to fourteen hours per week in 2003.” .

The researchers considered various explanations for this data (like shifting school demographics and better technology) but found an erosion in academic standards the most compelling explanation. The tapping of David Alan Grier for commencement duties is at least corroborative anecdotal evidence for their hypothesis.

By contrast, State Senator Bill Emmerson encouraged graduates of Mt. San Jacinto College to work hard and set challenging goals within a difficult and competitive environment—all in about 635 words. No harm there.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

WALMART, GOVMART, AND MEASURE C

In 2006, journalist Robert Samuelson noted that Democratic politicians had adopted a new corporate bete noire, Walmart. Sam Walton’s retail giant was displacing Exxon Mobil and Microsoft as the villain du jour for business-loathing do-gooders.

As a thought experiment, Samuelson suggested that critics should simply nationalize the company and double wages that then averaged about 50% above the national minimum wage.
Walmart, of course, would no longer exist as a profit-making, tax-paying enterprise. Instead, it would become another money-losing conduit through which political patronage would be dispensed and tax dollars redistributed.

Politicians would “find unending opportunities for grandstanding and meddling. Does Wal-Mart import too much from China? Order it to cut back… Are its stores ugly? Appoint architectural advisers.”

Govmart, in other words, would deliver countless payoffs to favored constituencies and few, if any, low prices and products to consumers in general. Samuelson might also have noted that this new monstrosity would be a retail version of California’s government—providing sweetheart deals for its public employees and to unions with political clout.

As currently organized, Walmart not only offers low prices, it also exerts price pressure on other businesses. One consulting firm calculated that the company’s influence lowered consumer prices by a total of 3.1 percent between 1985 and 2004. Today Walmart, with 1.4 million employees in the U.S., is the nation’s largest private job-provider.

Critics contend that the company’s success is actually government-subsidized because a significant percentage of Walmart employees receive public benefits like foodstamps. A more reasonable economic analysis would ask how many more Americans would be unemployed or more dependent on welfare were it not for the jobs Walmart creates and for the money saved by consumers who can then purchase additional items.

On June 7, voters in Menifee will have an opportunity to say “yes” or “no” to Walmart and several other businesses that hope to occupy a shopping center at the northwest corner of I-215 and Scott Rd.

The most compelling arguments against expansion (and Measure C) are the lack of adequate roadways in the area and the absence of a clear plan for generating the revenue that’s needed for construction.

Supporters of Measure C argue that infrastructure funds largely depend on the additional tax revenues that new businesses (especially Walmart) can generate.

This municipal decision should, I think, be based primarily on these issues: infrastructure, jobs, tax revenues, and the desirability (or not) of new businesses in Menifee. The decision should not be based on the corporate hatred fostered by politicians and their union allies who see Walmart’s employee pool as a potential boon to themselves and their very political coffers.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

ATLASES SHRUG OFF CALIFORNIA

The Edwards Cinema complex in San Marcos shrugged off “Atlas…” last week. Before its run was finished, however, I caught a Tuesday matinee performance. After three weeks the flick attracted an audience of perhaps a dozen souls.

Overall, the film version of Ayn Rand’s classic novel has grossed a bit more than four million dollars—not too bad for a movie that opened in only 299 theaters.

Dramatically speaking, one could quibble with various aspects of the production, as P.J. O’Rourke does, somewhat reluctantly, in his Wall Street Journal blog review. What is not open to serious debate is that the film’s philosophical premise represents a voice in the intellectual wilderness of Hollywood and California. After all, when was the last time powerful California politicians or a major studio script portrayed corporate leaders as heroic?

“Atlas Shrugged” has two such protagonists, one a shapely railroad magnate and another a steel manufacturer forced by cynical politicians to divest his holdings in other industries. In addition, the film’s take on the way sheer envy and the lust for political power utilize concepts like “fairness” to accomplish their sordid ends hits very close to the truth—a fact that explains the avalanche of negative reviews (most dressed in dramatic garb) that have been issued by mainstream media elites.

Currently California, which sports a 12% unemployment rate, provides a real time illustration of Rand’s novel by vilifying “greedy” businesses and driving various “Atlases” to flee the state or begin operations elsewhere. All this has been done in the name of “fairness” or for the sake of a dogmatic green ideology.

The recent decision by Obama’s National Labor Relations Board to file a complaint against Boeing Corporation for planning to open a facility in right-to-work South Carolina must have been music to the ears of Senator Barbara Boxer and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi—politicians whose Sacramento allies continue to pass laws that have transformed the Golden State into one of the most business-hostile environments in the nation.

The logic behind this perverse sentiment is that government-heavy states will benefit if corporate property rights are limited for “the greater good”—thus minimizing competition between states. In short, if all states are run as irresponsibly as California (with huge public employee pensions, absurdly restrictive environmental regulations, and generous welfare benefits for residents and illegals) Californians will benefit.

The more likely result is that the entire country will start to resemble California and that enterprise and tax revenues nationwide will dwindle.

As of this writing “Atlas Shrugged” was still showing at Horton Plaza in San Diego and in Riverside’s Mission Grove Theaters.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"THE OLD BALL GAME" NO MORE

“It is extremely unfortunate that this incident took place on what was otherwise a great day at Dodger Stadium…”

This obtuse statement by Dodger management after the brutal beating of Giants fan Bryan Stow in the stadium parking lot is reminiscent of the cruel joke about Lincoln’s assassination at Ford’s Theater: “Mrs. Lincoln, aside from the shooting, how was the play?”

Meanwhile, Stow remains in a coma, and his two children are uncertain if their father will ever be able to give them another hug.

Dodger damage control includes appointing former L.A. police chief Bill Bratton as a security consultant, reviewing policy on alcohol sizes and prices, and offering a $25,000 reward for information about the two thugs responsible for the beating—a figure currently increased to $150,000 by others..

A question seldom raised in the various articles about this incident is why hundreds of security officers should be needed at a baseball game—a question that suggests answers most folks would rather ignore.

Mayor Villaraigosa speaks nostalgically of the days when he watched the “Boys in Blue play at Chavez Ravine,” then laments obliquely that “our stadium environment has become something we can no longer be proud of”—as if the problem concerned shabby restroom facilities and not the number of individuals in cities like Los Angeles whose link to civilized behavior has become tenuous.

I can recall the days when fans often wore sportcoats and even ties to baseball games—a time when the use of crude expletives was viewed with all the disdain now reserved for smokers. It was an era prior to the cultural revolution that viewed obscene language as a badge of honor and chunked “meaningless” behavioral restrictions into a dustbin labeled “Don’t trust anyone [or anything] over thirty.”

The ultimate result of those sixties innovations is that residents in San Diego and Riverside County now have to ponder seriously the security implications of attending a major league baseball game—especially at Dodger Stadium.

A typical response to any criticism of modern American culture is that virulent discrimination existed in the past. This rationalization forges a link between the decadence of a Charlie Sheen and the just treatment of all individuals—as if progress in civil rights would have been impossible absent the abolition of traditional standards of dress, speech and deportment.

Apparently the beating of a few innocent fathers at baseball games is the price we pay for a more just society—or so the “logic” goes.

Only profound decadence, however, could seriously believe that social justice and barbaric behavior belong on the same team.

Friday, April 01, 2011

TEXAS, TAXES, AND GOVERNOR BROWN

In the Texas of my youth there was an ongoing verbal jousting match between the Lone Star State and California. One native joke had a West Coast visitor disparaging a puny Texas watermelon—only to be informed that he was eyeing a Texas-size grape. Californians responded with similar estimates of the Golden State.

In February an outsider to this interstate rivalry, journalist Mark Hemingway, composed a series of articles for the Washington Examiner that again compared Texas and California. “The result,” said Hemingway, was that “the only thing that isn’t bigger in Texas is the government.”

He also might have added that Texas’ unemployment isn’t nearly as large as California’s. Despite similarly-sized Hispanic populations (about a third) and borders with Mexico, unemployment in the Lone Star State last month was a seasonally adjusted 8.2 percent. California’s rate, by contrast, was 12.2 percent—a figure exceeded only by Nevada’s 13.6 percent.

The other side of those statistics, of course, is that employment has been growing more in Texas than in any other state. Hemingway observes that in 2008 “70% of all the jobs in the country were created in Texas” and that in the first half of 2010 the state “added 178,000 jobs—twice as many as any other state.” Meanwhile, California “lost more than 113,000 jobs from August 2009 to August 2010.”

The primary reason for this radical economic disparity, according to Hemingway, is Texas’ business-friendly climate, a state whose low-tax, right-to-work, low-regulation environment contrasts sharply with California’s environmental- and union-driven regulatory regime.

California’s Board of Barbering and Cosmetology provided Hemingway with a poster-girl example of regulators-gone-wild by “requiring African hair-braiding businesses to undergo 1600 hours of training and (to) pay $5,000 in licensing fees”—mandates so onerous that a San Diego federal judge in 1999 sided with “locktician” and SDSU Professor, JoAnne Cornwell, and struck down the requirements.

The cosmetology kerfuffle of ’99 is nothing compared to the new state cap-and-trade regulations that were recently put on hold by a state judge—not for economic reasons, mind you, but because they might cause disproportionate pollution in poor neighborhoods.

Hemingway also notes that California’s per capita state and local government spending is over 46% more than in Texas and that much of that money goes to extravagant public pensions (now underfunded by $535 billion) and to government jobs that average $90,000 a year—a third above the national average.

No wonder that California, from 2000 to 2009, “had a domestic outflow of 1.5 million people,” while 850,000 moved to Texas from other states.

And Jerry Brown’s solution to California’s chronic budget deficit? Raise taxes.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A PLEDGE DRIVE FOR UNCLE SAM

I wasn’t exactly “shocked, shocked” when I heard fundraisers on a local public television station imploring viewers to urge Congress to support federal funding for PBS. I was, however, a bit surprised, since using public money to lobby for more government support seemed to me a clear no-no.

Apparently the “smarter-than-thou” haughtiness that oozes from NPR microphones has now infected folks charged with convincing people that a cultural Armageddon awaits if the Corporation for Public Broadcasting doesn’t get its annual federal fix of 432 million bucks.

Unfortunately for PBS aficionados, it was President Obama’s own bipartisan budget commission that last year recommended eliminating funding for CPB in view of the country’s massive 1.5 trillion dollar annual and 14 trillion dollar total debt.

Mr. Obama, however, promptly ignored the Simpson-Bowles report and continued to fund the organization headed, until her recent resignation, by former Senior New York Times Vice-President, Vivian Schiller.

Amid this budget battle, the firing of analyst Juan Williams didn’t help PBS’s insistence that it’s an impartial source for news. Williams only said out loud what almost all the flying public thinks when an individual with distinctive Muslim garb boards a flight. Under Schiller’s publicly funded regime, such honesty was a firing offense.

Recently a “news-sting” operation provided more evidence of what any politically sentient observer knows—that CPB’s culture is overwhelmingly leftist. This undercover operation involved two men posing as members of the Muslim Brotherhood and discussing a possible five-million dollar donation to NPR.

During their conversation with now-fired NPR executive Ron Schiller (no relation to Vivian), the former Schiller accused the Tea Party and the GOP of being “fanatically involved in people’s personal lives and very fundamental Christian.” Schiller also called the Tea Party “a weird evangelical kind of move(ment)” and “xenophobic”—a group filled with “white, middle-America, gun-toting” and “seriously racist, racist people.”

After gratuitously taking off his NPR hat and expressing his own “personal” views, Schiller added that Republicans have an “anti-intellectual” bent and that “liberals today might be more educated, fair and balanced than conservatives.”

These “fair and balanced” thoughts probably strike most “gun-toting” Tea Partiers in North County and Riverside County as more than a bit obtuse. Schiller’s comments certainly won’t generate many donations from that quarter during the regular appeals made by those perky PBS hostesses.

In many respects CPB is a news and education version of the corrupt relationship that now exists between public-sector unions and governments at all levels—a relationship in which, as George Will put it, “Government sits on both sides of the table.” Except in this case government sponsors a pledge drive directed at itself.

Friday, March 04, 2011

THE HIGH-SPEED MARKETING MACHINE

Florida governor Rick Scott recently said “No thanks” to 2.4 billion federal dollars for a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando. The governor, based on empirically-grounded estimates in a Reason Foundation study, foresaw significant cost overruns and doubted the optimistic annual ridership estimate of three million.

In prior weeks governors in Wisconsin and Ohio also declined a small mountain of Federal Reserve Notes dedicated to high-speed rail in their states.

Then there’s New Jersey’s gutsy governor, Chris Christie, who last year pulled the plug on the nation’s most expensive public works project—an 8.7 billion dollar rail tunnel between New Jersey and Manhattan.

For Democrats in Sacramento and bureaucrats at the California High Speed Rail Authority, these acts of fiscal sanity only mean more “free money” for California’s massive high-speed boondoggle.

Recently, Orange County’s PBS station (in between using federal funds to urge its viewers to support more federal funding) interviewed CHSRA’s Vice-Chairman, Tom Umberg--a long-time Democrat politician who got his position at the Rail Authority thanks to former California State Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez.

Though the government-funded interviewer did have a Reason Foundation representative present for balance, Umberg was never pressed on critical points like how much the project will cost Californians, how much the drowning-in-debt feds will be chipping in, what tickets will cost, what eminent domain issues exist, and whether Umberg can point to any history of success for federal rail projects in the U.S.

Umberg doubtless enjoyed the futuristic visuals of the system as he grinned broadly, stressed his free money scenario, and said the Spanish high-speed rail system from Madrid to Barcelona was a great prototype. (Viewers of government-sponsored journalism wouldn’t know that those tickets currently cost $330, round trip. Nor would they have information about the total cost of the project or its ongoing expense in a country that currently boasts a 20% unemployment rate.)

Assemblywoman Diane Harkey did pose these hard questions in the relative privacy of a subcommittee hearing a few weeks earlier.

Harkey said that what we now have is a “high-speed marketing machine…with absolutely no accountability.” When she asked Rail Authority reps, “At what point do you determine that…a segment of this line is too expensive to build?” She says she was told, “Never.”

Harkey noted that the plan “shifts and moves continually” and that one can’t get a handle on the dollars. Current estimates range from 60 to 80 billion dollars, plus operating expenses. Harkey also observed that some money, both for capital expenses and connecting facilities, are expected to come from impacted counties.

To those questions Umberg and Sacramento Democrats reply, “All aboard.”

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Additional note from a Reader: Here's a clip from a Simpson's episode about a con man pushing residents to build a monorail in their town:
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jF_yLodI1CQ&feature=player_embedded 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

GREEN JOBS AND HOT AIR

President Obama’s recent State of the Union Address reprised the “green jobs” theme that he constantly touted in his 2008 campaign as the key to America’s economic future. Those stump speeches were regularly punctuated with references to the great job Spain was doing in this arena.

At least candidate Obama’s misguided economic assessment occurred before the release of a 2009 study by a research team from Madrid’s King Juan Carlos University that concluded Spain’s green energy programs destroyed twice as many private sector jobs as they created. A subsequent Danish study (“Wind Energy: The Case of Denmark”) reached similarly damning conclusions.

Candidate Jerry Brown could not plausibly claim ignorance of these studies when last year he employed the President’s eco-mantra in his successful gubernatorial race--promising 500,000 jobs based on various green incentives and subsidies.

Brown could, however, as Obamaphiles in the media have done, ignore or disparage the European studies. Indeed, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (the “renewables” branch of Obama's Energy Department) issued its own dismissive review of the Spanish study.

Not surprisingly, the czars, czarinas and “czardines” in the Energy Department don’t like the idea that they aren't indispensable to the welfare of the nation—and are quite likely economic liabilities.

Thus, the NREL analysis found fault with the Spanish study’s comparison of the how much it cost to create a government-subsidized green job with costs per worker in the private sector. It also saw nothing amiss with the fact that each government green job cost over $700,000.

As an Institute for Energy Research analysis sarcastically notes, NREL’s more “sophisticated” analysis assumes that money grows on trees rather than coming from private sector taxpayers.

NREL also envisions significant job growth in Spain based on their ability to export energy technologies to the rest of the world—an assumption that’s constantly applied by green politicians to California’s renewable future. Spain, in other words, will gain jobs, by becoming the “white elephant” supplier of inefficient energy technologies to gullible countries throughout the world.

One is free to pick among dueling studies, but the real proof is in the economic pudding. Spain, as of January of this year, had an unemployment rate of over 20% and rising—this after a decade of sponsoring the kind of programs about which Obama and Brown speak effusively. California, which has followed similar green policies for years, has an unemployment rate over 12%--well over the national average.

With all the green hot air blowing out of Sacramento, the Golden State may soon be replicating Spain’s even more abysmal economic performance.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

MONEY DOWN A RAIL HOLE

After the President’s State of the Union address, we now know how the U.S. will deal with an annual budget deficit of 1.5 trillion dollars. (That’s $1,500,000,000,000.) The answer is “green jobs” and high-speed rail.

California, with an unemployment rate of 12.5 % and a huge, chronic budget deficit, knows all about the benefits of green jobs and high-speed rail.

A bit more than two years ago, well-funded greenies and their government cohorts convinced gullible California voters to begin the process of building a high-speed rail system that’s ultimately supposed to travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles to San Diego (via the Inland Empire).

The price tag for the general obligation bonds approved in November of 2008 was 9.95 billion dollars—a figure doubtless chosen to keep the total discreetly under double-digits and to imply that government estimates on such projects can be calculated with precision.

It is instructive, however, to recall that when Medicare cost a mere three billion dollars in 1966, an inflation-adjusted estimate for the program in 1990 was twelve billion. The actual cost in that year was 107 billion. Multiplying official estimates by 8 or 9 is often a good way to approximate a program’s actual cost.

Case in point: North County’s cute Sprinter rail system from Escondido to Oceanside was estimated in 1990 to cost about $60 million. It ended up at 477 million. Following suite, the Rail Authority estimate for the state high-speed rail system increased from 33.6 to 42.6 billion in 2009 alone. If ditzy Californians insist on throwing more money down a rail hole, the final cost, according to economic journalist Robert Samuelson, “could easily approach 200 billion.”

The benefits of such projects, by contrast, regularly run well below estimates. Sprinter daily ridership, for example, was projected at 11,000 per day—increasing to 20,000 by 2020. In fact, ridership has yet to crack a 9,000 average, even for the best months.

Similarly, fare projections for a one-way high-speed rail trip from LA to the Bay Area have already increased from $55 during the Prop 1A campaign to $105. Topping all these disappointments, Samuelson has argued that the project’s crucial environmental benefits will be minimal to nonexistent.

In the meantime, the California High-Speed Rail Authority provides on its website a glowing image of 600,000 construction-related jobs that will eventually produce a cluster of gleaming trains traveling at speeds up to 220 mph past a bevy of active wind-turbines.

The highly optimistic Rail Authority completion date for the LA-to-the-Bay backbone of the system is 2020—yet another “shovel-ready” project. And voters should know exactly what those taxpayer-funded scoopers will be shoveling.

Monday, January 17, 2011

CROSSES IN JUDICIAL CROSS HAIRS

It used to be that death and taxes were the only sure things in life. To that list must now be added litigation over the Mt. Soledad cross, litigation entering its twenty-second year.

Death has claimed the original plaintiff, an atheist-veteran named Philip Paulson. Unfortunately the American Civil Liberties Union continues to devote its substantial resources toward the ultimate goal of removing all religious references and symbols from the public life of a republic founded by patriots who saw life and liberty as the gift of a Creator whose justice is praised at length on the Jefferson Memorial, a structure dedicated in 1943.

Ironically, it was Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists of Connecticut that’s been manipulated by cultural elites who’ve constructed a society more reflective of their secular, government-saturated ideals—folks who fervently wish (as a comedian recently said) that the middle of the country would disappear.

Jefferson’s letter, not the first amendment to the Constitution, mentions a “wall of separation between church and state.” It wasn’t until 1947 that those words entered American jurisprudence via an ill-reasoned opinion by Justice Hugo Black who quoted the phrase only to conclude that New Jersey’s subsidy of transportation to parochial schools didn’t violate this non-constitutional yardstick.

It wasn’t long until justices began to employ this same standard to remove all manner of religious actions and objects (from prayer to postings of the ten commandments) from government-related property and activities.

Significantly, two days after Jefferson wrote his now-famous letter, the heterodox President attended a Christian religious service (as he regularly did) that was held in the Capitol building itself—services that took place continuously till after the Civil War.

The Ninth Circuit Court recently ruled (as they did previously concerning a small Mohave Desert cross) that the cross atop Mt. Soledad is an unconstitutional infringement of the establishment clause—a section any honest analyst would acknowledge originally proscribed only the establishment of an official national church along the lines of the Church of England. States, by contrast, were free to promote their own established churches, some of which continued to exist long after the passage of the national constitution.

Today that U.S. Constitution has become, as Jefferson ominously predicted, “a thing of wax” in the hands of an arrogant judiciary. What guides these modern demigods is their own political wishes. As with abortion rights and gay marriage, these jurists regularly exhibit contempt for a Constitution designed to limit the powers of government.

With their connivance government has grown to a gargantuan size that’s inimical to the interests of that liberty our Founding Fathers wished fervently to preserve.

[Jefferson’s Danbury Letter, his attendance of church services in the Capitol building, his view (and others' views) of the first amendment establishment clause, and the use of Jefferson’s letter by Justice Hugo Black in the 1947 Everson case is discussed at length in Stephen Mansfield’s book, Ten Tortured Words.]

Thursday, January 06, 2011

"BONG-US" BUDGET SOLUTIONS

How to balance the state’s budget? That is the question.

The political class ensconced in Sacramento has made clear its preference—higher taxes. Unfortunately for these self-infatuated mandarins, California voters have defeated numerous revenue-enhancing propositions in recent years—most of them quite handily.

On the other hand, voters also soundly rejected the four ballot measures put forward by the original incarnation of Governor Schwarzenegger in 2005—propositions that aimed to restrain spending and curb the power of public employee unions.

In last November’s election, Californians reiterated their support for far-reaching environmental restrictions (Prop. 23) whose ultimate cost, in terms of jobs, lost revenues, and increased prices, will likely dwarf the benefits derived from allowing businesses to keep recently enacted tax breaks (Prop. 24).

Judging from this voting pattern, the mindset of Californians seems to match perfectly, and in spades, this cynical political aphorism: “What voters want from their government is more services and lower taxes.”

In the Golden State those services increasingly come in the form of regulations designed to improve “quality of life”—usually at the expense of economic development.

The most defensible examples of this quality-of-life objective are municipally-based decisions that concern zoning and construction of large retail stores in areas where traffic infrastructure is lacking and the secondary impact of mega-businesses on the surrounding area is uncertain. These are the primary concerns expressed by opponents of a Walmart superstore in Menifee.

The least defensible examples involve federal environmental regulations that put the welfare of critters like the delta smelt above that of thousands of Californians in the Central Valley who depend on its agricultural productivity for their livelihood.

Other laws in the same dubious quality-of-life category are state-based measures that may dramatically increase energy costs for the sake of global warming theories. Remarkably, these laws don’t make the slightest dent in hypothetical climate projections since China and India are (understandably) unwilling to forego the much more tangible, immediate, and certain quality of life improvements linked to economic growth.

Thus the principal benefit of these climate-based energy policies is psychological—to which benefit one may add the largely illusory promise of “green jobs.”

Given these delusional priorities, Californians may eventually embrace the city of Oakland’s solution for its financial woes, marijuana production and taxation—a “silver-bong” that’s been put on hold since the defeat of Proposition 19.

Given a choice between taxing reefer or reworking state pensions, developing oil reserves, improving the business climate and cutting state expenditures, the fraternal twin of the bogus “casino solution” looks pretty good—especially when you’re inhaling deeply.