Friday, June 24, 2011


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


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.