Sunday, November 25, 2012

Immigration Driving Shift in State Politics

Way back in 1964 Marshall McLuhan began his influential book, “Understanding Media,” with this anecdote from the New York Times: “A health director…reported this week that a small mouse, which presumably had been watching television, attacked a little girl and her full-grown cat. Both mouse and cat survived, and the incident is recorded here as a reminder that things seem to be changing.”

That odd case of turnabout might be used as a metaphor for the political transformation that’s occurred in California—from a state that four times gave electoral majorities to Ronald Reagan, twice as governor and twice as President, to a state that just voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama in spite of an unemployment rate that’s been above ten percent for over three years.

In addition, Democrats recently gained supermajorities in Sacramento and now sport a 38-15 bulge in the state’s Congressional delegation—Mary Bono Mack and Brian Bilbray being two recent GOP casualties.

San Diego is another case in point. That city recently chose pro-union, liberal Democrat Bob Filner as its mayor. This is the same municipality that from 1971 to 1983 was headed by Pete Wilson and from 1983 to 1986 by Roger Hedgecock.

A major factor driving this Left Coast transformation has been demographic. As journalist Diana West has noted: “In 1960 non-Hispanic whites made up 82 percent of the population of Los Angeles County. Forty years later…the white population had dwindled to 31 percent while Hispanics…accounted for 44.6 percent.”

In the last decade those figures have continued to fall and rise—to 27.6 percent and 48.1 percent respectively. This demographic change brought with it significant economic shifts. Thus, during the 1990s, a period of rapid economic growth in the country at large, the poverty rate rose 28 percent in Los Angeles County and over 60 percent in Riverside County.

Other sociological trends have combined with these demographic factors to produce the political shift that’s turned the Golden State dark blue. These trends include a dramatic rise of out-of-wedlock births among Latinos. Indeed, according to Center for Disease Controls statistics for 2003, Hispanics had by far the highest unmarried birthrate in the country (92 children per 1000 unmarried women).

Link those numbers with a dropout rate of 20 percent, and you have a circumstance where, as New York Times columnist Ross Douthat writes, many immigrants “aren’t assimilating successfully—or worse, are assimilating downward.”

Put otherwise, the family cohesiveness that was once touted as a strength of Hispanic culture is rapidly dissolving amid America’s media-driven culture. As it does, the government aid that both alleviates and promotes social dysfunction seems all the more necessary.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Proposition 30 Brings Smiles to Union Faces

It used to be said that patriotism was “the last refuge of scoundrels.” Nowadays the fa├žade behind which political rogues reside are the happy faces of children.

A case in point was the ubiquitous political ad featuring Governor Jerry Brown and a group of cheering kids. The obvious message was that whoever voted for Proposition 30 was doing so “for the children.” By implication, those voting against Prop. 30 were Ebenezer Scrooge clones whose hearts were unmoved by the tears they brought to the faces of little tykes.

If there were a truth in advertising requirement for political ads, the cohort standing behind Gov. Brown would have been officers from the California Teachers Association. When these mugs lit up at the mention of Prop. 30, folks would rightly conclude that this “temporary” sales and income tax increase was primarily “for the union”—specifically for a pension program that’s unfunded by tens-of-billions of dollars.

As those officials know, the word “fungible” concerns a thing’s interchangeability—including the idea that money taken from pot A can easily be shifted to pot B, and vice versa. Thus, if more money comes into a vessel that’s designated for classroom education, it becomes easier to divert funds for other purposes.

Fungibility is why lottery revenue didn’t prove, as advertised, a tremendous boon to education in the state and why Prop. 30 won’t cure its “funding problem.”

Indeed, the only reason education and public safety were specifically on Prop. 30’s budgetary chopping block is because the governor placed them there to extort a tax increase from voters. In effect, he pointed guns at schools and public safety and said the only alternatives were a tax rise or shooting kids and police officers.

It’s not a strategy that would have worked if the budgetary “trigger” mechanism were aimed at the multi-billion dollar bullet train or insolvent public employee pension programs.

The biggest deception of all, however, is that a lack of money is education’s most serious problem. This fallacy has been illustrated and ignored countless times. Even the late Democrat Senator Patrick Moynihan concluded that the correlation between money spent per pupil and positive academic outcomes was “derisory.”

Instead of the much-ballyhooed teacher-student ratio, Moynihan pointed to the rigorously ignored parent-student ratio as the most critical factor related to student success—a measure largely beyond the reach of legislators.

Two things politicians could change for the better with respect to education include requiring greater teacher accountability and increasing parents’ power to choose where their kids go to school. Neither policy will change as long as happy-faced CTA lobbyists own Sacramento.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The audacity of incumbency: Feinstein’s no-debate strategy

How does an incumbent Democratic senator win reelection when unemployment in her not-so-Golden State has exceeded ten percent for over three years and its business climate continues to place near the bottom of various national rankings. Diane Feinstein’s approach was simple: Ignore your opponent and outspend her 15 to 1.

For voters who encountered the name only on last Tuesday’s ballot, Feinstein’s Republican adversary was Elizabeth Emken—a talented lady who graduated from UCLA in 1984, worked for years at IBM as an efficiency and cost-cutting expert, and served as Vice President for Government Relations at Autism Speaks, a major advocacy organization for developmentally disabled children like Emken’s son, Alex.

One reason this resume was never encountered by millions of Californians is because Senator Feinstein refused to debate Emken even once. Feinstein’s imperious attitude was on full display a couple of months ago when San Francisco reporter Mark Matthews asked the senator why she hadn’t agreed to debate Emken. Feinstein responded shortly that she was running her own campaign.

When Matthews pressed the issue by saying, “Wouldn’t it be better for voters to hear both sides?” Feinstein replied, “Thank you very much,” stood up, patted Matthews on the shoulder, and walked away.

The condescension exhibited toward Matthews was also an expression of contempt for California voters. Why give the poor darlings a chance to hear another perspective when you have a massive campaign war-chest and an overwhelming name recognition advantage?

“We need to get rid of career politicians,” is a refrain I’ve heard repeatedly over the years. In accord with that sentiment Californians established term limits for their state legislators. If voters wish to put limits on Congressional office holders, however, they have to reject the incumbent in an election—something that’s not likely to happen as long California’s union-dominated political landscape looks like it does.

A powerful 20-year incumbent like Feinstein didn’t need to employ any tricks from the Democrats’ political playbook. There were no kids voicing their enthusiastic toilet-trained support for her candidacy (a la Jerry Brown’s Prop. 30 ad). There were no menacing portraits of Karl Rove and the Koch brothers threatening to turn California into a vast corporate-controlled wasteland (a la “No” on Prop. 32 ).

There was simply a supremely confident (one might say arrogant) senator facing the camera and mouthing a few platitudes about Medicare, Social Security, and “a woman’s right to choose.”

The result: A landslide for entrenched incumbency—even a narrow win in Riverside County. Please, no more empty words about hating career politicians unless you’re prepared to vote them out of office.

Media ignore feeble response on Libya (11/3)

In the era of electronic bombardment most Americans don’t pay attention to events that aren’t emphatically repeated at least a dozen times in the mainstream media. For them the terrorist attack in Libya on 9/11, the Obama administration’s unbelievable response to that attack, and the stunning comments of a grieving father at his son’s repatriation service never happened.

The September 11 attack in Benghazi resulted in the death of four Americans, including a U.S. Ambassador and former Navy SEAL and Imperial Beach resident, Tyrone Woods.

In the wake of this tragedy the mainstream media for days focused negative attention on Mitt Romney for criticizing an apologetic embassy response to a non-deadly demonstration in Cairo—the pretext for which was a YouTube video of a crude anti-Muslim film produced in Southern California.

Five days after the attack U. N. Ambassador Susan Rice appeared on five Sunday talk shows confidently asserting that the Libya attack wasn’t an organized terrorist operation but was precipitated by outrage over this same YouTube video.

Accordingly, mainstream news organizations scoured the Southland to expose the beliefs and background of the film’s “Coptic-Christian” maker and Hemet-based spokesman.

As information about the Benghazi raid dripped out, mostly via Fox News, the YouTube scenario about a “spontaneous demonstration” that morphed into a murderous, heavy-weapon assault became untenable. Yet even two weeks later the President denounced the video six times in a speech to the United Nations.

A few days ago Charles Woods, Tyrone’s father, raised a question one would think any honest journalist would pursue: Why was military assistance to his son not forthcoming during the 7-hour consulate siege? Related questions include the following: Why was the administration so reticent to attribute the Benghazi attack to an organized terrorist group? Why was the consulate’s security not better in light of prior local attacks and the fact that it was, after all, 9/11?

Almost totally ignored by mainstream media outlets were Mr. Woods’ negative comments about the demeanor of President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton at an Andrews Air Force Base memorial service.

Recently President Obama declared to an impertinent Denver TV reporter that what happened in Libya “has nothing to do” with the election. An honest press corps would be demanding (with Watergate intensity) that the White House prove, before the election, that its Libya response and comments weren’t, as they appear, largely driven by politics.

Prop. 32: It's time to shake off union's yoke (10/27)

A popular aphorism defines insanity as repeating the same action over and over but expecting different results. By this standard, most voters in the Golden State should long ago have been institutionalized.

Again and again majorities vote for the same big government, easy entitlement, union-dominated, hyper-green legislators in Sacramento. And time after time they get a state characterized by high unemployment, bulging budget deficits, fleeing entrepreneurs, and mediocre schools.

Assuming the voting public in California doesn’t actually desire these outcomes, it might be wise to vote for some changes on November 6--changes that transcend political cosmetics.

One major adjustment would be Proposition 32. This initiative allows individuals to decide for themselves if they want to contribute to political causes rather than having such funds automatically deducted from their paychecks.

In addition, the law would prohibit unions and corporations from contributing directly to political candidates. Nothing in the law, however, would (or constitutionally could) prohibit these organizations from promoting whatever general causes they wish to support.

Leading the fight for Proposition 32 is former Democratic Majority Leader in the California Senate, Gloria Romero—an unlikely source of support for a law designed to reign in union domination of Sacramento.

Romero, who earned a doctorate in psychology at UC Riverside and subsequently taught at Cal State, Los Angeles, supports Prop. 32 because, as she discovered during many closed-door legislative meetings, California’s government is currently (and has long been) “owned” by unions.

Chief among these proprietary lords is the California Teachers Association, which according to the Wall Street Journal has already put up more than $24 million to defeat Prop. 32. According to Romero, CTA lobbyists in Sacramento “walk around like they’re god” and regularly squash even modest attempts at educational reform.

There are, after all, more than 300,000 CTA members from whom the union annually collects via automatic payroll deductions about $50 million that can be used to buy political influence. No wonder, as Romero observes, California legislators always want to know where “their sugar daddy” stands on any issue.

It’s revealing that folks who are adamantly “pro-choice” when it comes to abortion are generally determined to put as many obstacles as possible in way of teachers and public employees whose political choices might not coincide with those of their unions. Apparently choice isn’t such an important value when it comes to amassing and exercising political power—even when the results of that power are chronically dysfunctional political and educational systems.

Power and money explain union support for California’s status quo. Other voters who oppose Prop. 32 can only plead ignorance or insanity.