Culture Of Blackmail

One reason why I didn’t particularly care for the Guardian’s Failifornia article was that it was really a human interest piece masquerading as a serious argument.   It’s not because its data was flawed or its tone insincere – though there’s some of that; the long section on Mendota neglects to mention that the city hinges entirely on agriculture and features 30% unemployment or more ANYTIME there’s a drought, unconnected to the larger structural problems in the state – but because it didn’t even try to assess the root causes of the crisis or the steps for resolution.

For example, it would be beneficial to take a look at the culture of blackmail we have here in state government (as an aside, did the writer even visit Sacramento?).  Politicians have learned over 30-plus years of dealing with onerous budget requirements that threatening blackmail is really the best way to get anything done.  Witness Arnold Schwarzenegger, threatening to veto nearly 700 bills that have passed both houses of the Legislature unless he gets his way on a water bill.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, apparently standing by a threat to veto hundreds of bills on his desk unless a deal can be reached on the state’s water problems, has suggested to Senate leader Darrell Steinberg that all legislation before the governor should be withdrawn to avoid a veto. About 700 bills are awaiting action.

Schwarzenegger did not formally request that the bills be yanked, but that was the implicit suggestion in his proposal, Capitol sources said.

The communications between Steinberg and the governor were referenced in an e-mail sent from Steinberg to Senate Democrats this week. In the internal e-mail, which was reviewed by Capitol Weekly, Steinberg said Schwarzenegger “even mentioned coming back this week to withdraw bills from his desk and hold them until after water is done.”

Arnold is absolutely ballsy enough to do this.  He has only signed 3 bills in the past four weeks since the Legislature adjourned September 11, and with six days to go and the Legislature not scheduled to return until after the deadline on October 11, I’m convinced of his sincerity to basically flush the entire legislative session down the toilet.

You just don’t see headlines like this in other states.  And that’s because the process here rewards blackmail.  Arnold knows that there are no repercussions for vetoing 700 bills.  There’s no media willing to call him out, there’s no possibility of a veto override because of some unwritten rule whereby that function doesn’t exist anymore, and there’s a high possibility of legislative Democrats simply capitulating to whatever shrieking Republican demands in order to appear “reasonable” or just move along the machinery of government.  Arnold’s just using good tactical sense because the system is set up to reward the most outlandish actions.   So he’ll probably get what amounts to a bailout of wealthy agribusiness interests at the expense of the environment and the working class.

This is truly the portrait of failure in California.  Right-wing interests have learned how to hijack so well you’d think they attended one of those Al Qaeda training camps where they practice on the monkey bars.  And the entire political class walks around as if this is perfectly normal.  It’s actually appalling.

If you want to drill down to why California is in crisis, it’s because we routinely see political leaders walk into the capital strapped with dynamite across their chests, only to be given the key to the city and a milkshake as a reward for such behavior.

The Merced Sun-Star editorialized on this today, bashing the Governor for his inflexibility and willingness to toss out important bills on mortgage reform and health care for his own personal vanity, but also saying, “Lawmakers rarely reach closure on state budgets and complex, controversial policies unless they have a gun pointed at their heads.”  Yes, and that’s the PROBLEM, not a one-off sentence to be seen as an inexorable truism.

One thought on “Culture Of Blackmail”

  1. is unconnected with the structural problems that are causing California’s “failed state” is not really useful, either, David.

    The Central Valley is not some exotic foreign country, and you can’t consider California’s overall economic catastrophe without including the agricultural component — which, while relatively smaller than it once was, is still enormous. To pretend that the economic difficulties of the Central Valley are either perpetual or are merely a matter of The (So-Called) Drought is simply obtuse.

    The intricacies and egos in the Capitol are part of the problem to be sure, and it’s natual to focus on what that the politicians do and don’t do. But there is more to the collapse of the California Dream than that; it’s even greater than partisan politics, ignorant voters, and a clunky, anachronistic and self-contradictory constitution.

    The levels of unemployment in the Central Valley are not normal, not even in a drought. The reactions of some of the ranchers and farmers to irrigation cutbacks have contributed to the agricultural employment declines, but the main problem is the collapse of the real estate and housing sectors which used to employ a lot of those who are now idle. That collapse is as profound in the Central Valley as it is in the LA Basin, and it may be having a much more pronounced effect.

    I for one am not convinced the politicians could have saved the situation even if they had had a functioning political and governmental apparatus through which to work.

    Basically, we can’t go back to 1978 for a do-over. That titanic mistake (Prop 13) set the stage for the collapse we’re experiencing now. There are no tweaks that can fix it. We live with the consequences; we have no choice. And what we’re going through was made almost inevitable by the choices made in 1978 and afterwards, not just by politicians, but by the people of California, and particularly by the finaincial interests that have benefitted so spectacularly over these past few decades.

    This may well be the Final Bust, and in truth the California Dream may be permanently over. I’ve been struck by the apparent complete indifference to California’s plight in Washington, DC. It’s as if the national government has already divorced itself from the Left Coast, and to them, California as a whole, not just the Central Valley, is an exotic foreign country they choose not to assist in its hour of need. Like so many others, they are sitting around with their popcorn “watching” the collapse. Perhaps they’re studying its effects. Or maybe they’re not paying any attention at all.

    And their disinterest is not just a political thing. Our governments in Sacramento and Washington are pretty much fully captive of certain high powered corporate and financial interests, and the economic decisions they make in their boardrooms are the driving factors in both capitals. The Peoples’ Voice is muted at best under the circumstances. California’s agricultural sector is not divorced from the overall gamesmanship and brinksmanship and lust for profit above all that infects the entire government/economic system. So those barrachos lolling about in Mendota are not really all that extraneous to the overall situation. They are a consequence, just as much as an Angeleno trying to get ahold of EDD for an extension of benefits.

    And as for the hostage-taking and blackmail he Capitol you mention as the real cause of so many of our problems, whether that’s a “failure” or not depends on who you are and what your interests are. For the most part, Arnold and the corporate and financial interests he serves are getting everything they want. It’s not a “failure” for them, is it?

    The striking economic disparity in California (seen in stark relief in the Central Valley) is not a “failure” for those on top. Those who profit from others’ misery are doing better than ever. It’s not a “failure” for them.

    As for our political class, no matter their party, they see to it that they will always do just fine, thank you very much, and what looks like their abject failure to us is “success” to them.

    At this point, reliance on political systems and processes to turn the situation around is a non-starter. It isn’t working and it’s not going to work. If progressive change is going to come, it’ll have to come from the top, through the financial and corporate interests that control those systems and processes — and a very great deal else besides. All we’re seeing from them is a greater and greater determination to fortify their compounds and cut the rest of us loose. Permanently.

    It’s gonna take the equivalent of tumbrils and guillotines to really make an impression on them.

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