All posts by David Dayen

California’s Prison Despair Is Still With Us

(Hey, look who it is, and he’s drawing attention to the prison crisis again. – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

(this is cross-posted at FDL News)

When I wrote regularly for Calitics, the progressive blog for California politics, I took a particular interest in the prison crisis, which has reached epidemic proportions in the Golden State.  The health care system has already been taken over by a federal receiver because it violated the prisoners’ Constitutional rights against cruel and unusual punishment, with at least one prisoner dying each week from medical neglect.  The entire system, which fits 170,000 convicts into jails with 100,000 beds, may get taken over by the courts as well.  Severe overcrowding, cutbacks to rehabilitation and treatment programs, and an insane parole policy which sends 2/3 of all recidivists back to jail for technical parole violations have contributed to the problem.  As has the pervasive “tough on crime” stance from the political leadership of both parties, which has yet to be contrasted with any kind of progressive message on how to fight crime smartly and safely, at lower cost and with corresponding lower incarceration and crime rates.

Here are a few stories that all happened within the past 24 hours in California, regarding these matters: (over)

1) The State Assembly, dominated by Democrats with a 50-29 majority (with one independent), voted down a bill that would have allowed courts to review cases of juveniles sentences to life without the possibility of parole.  The sponsor of the bill, LeLand Yee (D-San Francisco), noted that “No other country in the world outside of the United States allows children to be sentenced to life without parole.”  But over a dozen Assembly Democrats, either worried about close races in November or future statewide races (and the hopes of gaining support from police officers, prison guards or other interests that support the “tough on crime” status quo), either voted against the bill or walked away from the vote.  This bill would have affected a grand total of 250 inmates and gave them the opportunity to prevent being locked up from a mistake made when they were children.

2) While only 34 of an 80-seat Assembly could bother to vote to end life sentences for juveniles, the entire state Senate voted unanimously for something called “Chelsea’s Law,” another in a parade of sentencing constrictions against sex offenders.  I believe this adds the death penalty into the mix, in addition to raising sentences for all permutations of the crime.  California has already deprived sex offenders from living in homes if they ever manage to get out of prison, leading them to sleep under bridges and get lost in the system, which defeats the entire purpose of making children safer.  

This is part and parcel with 30 years of stiffer sentences coming out of the state legislature – over 1,000 sentencing laws in that time and every single one of them increased sentences.

3) LA County has a new toy, a “gift from Raytheon,” as it was put on the radio (does it come in blue?), called an Assault Intervention Device, basically a modified taser that gives the sensation of extreme heat and forces any instigator into submission.  This should be a nice experiment in efficient torture of the “pain without injury” variety, with the prisoners used as guinea pigs.  Hopefully the guards will get to see how far it can go!

4) The prison health care system has actually not fully improved under federal receivership, with prisoners still suffering from extreme medical neglect.  One woman told the story of a convict relative who was refused treatment for glaucoma for so long that his eye exploded.

Again, most of this washed over me in one 40-minute car ride.  And nobody seems to care much about it.  There’s precious little organizing on this topic from the “smart on crime” perspective, outside of the Ella Baker Center and a couple other underfunded concerns.  In my time at Calitics I probably wrote 40 posts about the prison crisis, and maybe drew a half a comment per.  I don’t know whether it’s the racial and socioeconomic composition of the blogosphere or the “out of sight, out of mind” tendency of most people, but here we have the vulnerable and the voiceless who are basically getting their Constitutional rights stripped away in some of the most unjust ways imaginable, and they need someone speaking up for them.  

Furthermore, the prison crisis connects to virtually everything that’s wrong with California.  The white flight ushered in by inner-city riots in the mid-1960s prefigured movement conservatism in places like Orange County.  Nixon was among the original law and order candidates, and that perspective gets a lot of support among the sprawl of California, regardless of party.  This sprawl, of course, breeds entitlement on the part of the suburban classes, as they want their tax dollars to go to their infrastructure to support their gas guzzlers, and not to turn around the inner cities that house “those” people.  Environmental issues, land use, water, immigration, race – all of this can be traced back to the crisis in the prisons, or at least shown as a major symptom.

It’s pathetic that every leader in this state for the last thirty years has looked to the empirical political disadvantage of standing against this human cruelty, and the advantage of steering clear of the issue.  The leadership vacuum has led to a severe loss of dignity and justice, and worse, it could lead to a systematic decline in political participation, according to a fascinating new paper.

Weaver and Lerman argue that experience with police and prisons is an important contact — indeed, perhaps the only contact — between many citizens and their government.  This contact then socializes people to have particular attitudes toward that government.  And these attitudes are far from democratic ideals […]

It shows the apparent effect of contact with the criminal justice system on whether people are registered to vote, actually vote or participate in at least one civic organization.  People are far less likely to do any of these things as their contact with police and prisons ranges from no contact to being questioned, arrested, convicted, serving time in prison or serving at least one year in prison (“serious time”).

Meanwhile, distrust in all levels of government increases as contact with the criminal justice system increases […]

Weaver and Lerman conclude:

If we take seriously the results presented here, they suggest that those with contact at every level of criminal supervision withdraw from political life – they are not in civic groups, they are less likely to express their political voice in elections, they are less involved in their communities. Thus, the carceral state carries deep implications for who is included and how they are included in the polity.

This is not a joke or something to easily dismiss.  So much flows from this mindless, Hammurabic-style cycle of vengeance that creates terrible outcomes for society.  I wish someone would have the courage to speak about it.

California’s Past, California’s Future

Over at Newstalgia, Gordon Skene posted a fascinating echo of the past, from a Jerry Brown address to the state the day after the passage of Prop. 13 in 1978.

The Jerry Brown you hear is in full backpedal mode, telling voters that the message was received, that government spending is a scourge, that “we must look forward to lean and frugal budgets.”  Voters sent a message that they want their taxes cut, and the state will oblige.  Brown offered a hiring freeze for state workers, proposed a round of budget cuts, and endorsed some kind of automatic limit on spending for the future.  He offered a defense of state workers late in the clip, and he asked corporations to pretty-please take the huge windfall they would get by having their property taxes lowered to “invest in the state,” but otherwise, it’s a full-on co-opting of the Jarvis message.

Now, coming the day after passage of Prop. 13, you can argue that Brown was doing what he had to do.  The people really did speak, although they didn’t quite know the consequences of the words they were using, and Brown would have a re-election battle within 5 months, and he had to project a message that he “felt the pain” of those out there who voted to save their homes.

The problem is that this statement is directly analogous to the statement of Darrell Steinberg on May 20, 2009, the day after the special election went down in flames.  Some would obviously ague that he was in the same position as Brown, and did what he had to do as well.  As I said on May 20:

Where is the argument for DEMOCRACY in these statements?  Since 1978 that democracy has crumbled and needs to be completely rebuilt.  Everyone knows this but refuses to say it out loud.  This is why the legislature and the Governor have historically low approval ratings.  People are starved for actual leadership and see none.  Only democracy will save us.  This failed experiment with conservative Two Santa Claus Theories has now become deeply destructive.  Because the democrats have provided no leadership and ceded the rhetorical ground, California public opinion holds the contradictory beliefs that the state should not raise taxes and also not cut spending.  And if it persists without leadership and advocacy to the contrary, nothing will change.

Not once in those 31 intervening years has an argument been offered that leads proudly instead of placates meekly, that tells people about the future instead of the past, that makes stands on principle instead of trying to do the best with the system we have.  That address in 1978 should have been replayed in a loop at every Democratic committee meeting and club event for 31 years, with the inevitable question asked afterward: “Is this a rallying cry?  Is this the voice of a party that presumes to be on the side of the people?  Is this giving people a vision, a dream, even a goal?”

People understand this in their lizard brains.  They can naturally discern the strong and the weak, and gravitate toward the former even if their strength is repulsive.  Since 1978, we have had exactly one other Democratic Governor in California, the kind of guy who signs on to amicus briefs with the Cal Chamber of Commerce defending illegal gubernatorial actions, and he was run out of Sacramento by a radical right movement that considered him too much of a hippie.  (By the way, the modern version of Jerry Brown similarly loves illegal, anti-democratic executive actions, probably because he can’t wait to use them.)

I have always thought that a strong defense of democracy, of the principles of majority rule, of government as a protector and a defender, would be rewarded in the public square.  Instead we muddle through, and people suffer.  I have not taken too much note of this “failure of the California dream” concept – for my money, as long as there were millions in poverty, gated communities and invisible barriers stratifying society, a separate California for the poor, the sick, the aged, then that dream was a good tool for marketers but a destructive proposition to tout.  And while this has never been more true in our unequal society, it was ever thus.  For the dream to be resurrected, it would have to be something fundamentally different.  Not a “dream” of suburban sprawl and excess, but a dream of a society that takes care of one another, that seeks to maximize potential, that provides opportunity and allows individual dreams to take root.  That can only happen in a flowering democracy reflective of the popular will.

I think leaders are emerging.  While I won’t be a part of day-to-day writing of the back and forth of California politics, as a citizen of the state I intend not to abandon it but to do whatever I can to involve myself in a movement toward fulfilling that new dream.  It’s deeply frustrating to analyze the politics of a state surrounded by brick walls to responsible governance at every turn, but paradoxically I think it remains an exciting time to be a progressive in California.  The long march continues.

CA-03: Gary Davis Appears To Be Out

I got the same email that Randy Bayne did:

All indications are that Gary Davis is dropping his bid for the 3rd Congressional District and switching to another run for Elk Grove City Council. Just a few minutes ago, I was alerted that his Facebook page had changed, and just after that was forwarded a copy of a newsletter from Gary Davis – Elk Grove City Council announcing his run for the council. The logo was even the same as his congressional campaign logo – changed to Elk Grove City Council – of course.

Davis had trouble keeping up with the other two candidates, Bill Slaton and Ami Bera, in fundraising.  With Q3 just ending, obviously it wasn’t happening for him, so he cut his losses.

Bera, a doctor who challenged incumbent Dan Lungren directly at a town hall meeting in August, has raised the most cash so far, but Slaton entered the race just a few weeks before last quarter’s deadline, so we’ll see.

While CQ Politics lists the CA-03 race as leans Republican, Lungren has not been offered help by national Republicans in their next campaign arm fundraiser.  Only Mary Bono Mack of CA-45 figures in that fundraiser.  That’s probably more a function of Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet outraising Bono Mack last quarter – she needs the help more than Lungren in the money chase.  But overall, I’d still mark CA-03 as a top target seat in 2010, with CA-45 next on the list.  And Democrats know this.

Whitman Gets a HUGE Bailout As Santa Clara Co. Acknowledges Registration In 1999

Meg Whitman was seriously on the ropes for her apparent lack of voting or even registering to vote until she was 46 years old.  Her contradictory and downright puzzling alibis and statements after the fact were utterly mockable, and Chris Kelly did the honors, as he’s wont to do.  But all along, Whitman was looking for a lifeline – some discrepancy in the reporting that she could use to muddy the entire story, to “prove” that the Sacramento Bee was wrong in their reporting, even if 99% of the story remains true.  She has found that lifeline.

Republican candidate Meg Whitman was registered to vote in Santa Clara County for nine months in 1999, Santa Clara elections officials said today, admitting that they supplied inaccurate information to The Bee and other news organizations on the issue.

The Registrar of Voters had previously told The Bee and other media outlets that there was no record of Margaret Cushing Whitman being registered to vote or voting in Santa Clara County in its current voter registration database, on its older microfiche records, or in a separate database of canceled voter registrations.

On Monday, Whitman’s campaign said its own team had last week discovered a previously unknown record of Whitman being registered to vote. They said they found it in an archived Santa Clara County voter registration database […]

DFM then found an archival voting registration record for Whitman on an old back-up file of the county’s 1999 registration records not available to county staff, he said.

“The back-up file confirmed that Ms. Whitman was registered to vote in Palo Alto from February 8, 1999 to October 4, 1999,” Moreles said.

Importantly, no votes took place in Santa Clara County between February and October 1999.  And while Whitman, according to the Registrar of Voters, re-registered in a different county sometime after that, there is not yet a record of such a registration – at least not until 2002.

The point is that this doesn’t fundamentally change the story about Whitman’s voting record.  She still hasn’t produced the full records on her own; still hasn’t confirmed any registration or vote prior to 1999, when she was 43 years old; still hasn’t accounted for the “I clearly remember voting in 1984” remark she made on Fox News yesterday; still hasn’t clarified numerous contradictions in her evolving set of stories; and still hasn’t shown a voting record befitting any kind of engaged citizen.

However, she has one little data point where the Bee made a mistake.  And she’s sure to use that to try and discredit the whole article and the whole issue.  Whenever asked about this from now on, she’ll start with “The Sacramento Bee article was inaccurate.”  And she’ll be technically right.  And it won’t answer the question.

It’ll probably work, too.

It’s at least good enough for Rudy Giuliani to endorse her.

Mid-Day Wednesday News Dump

You may have noticed that my story about Sen. Boxer and others stepping up and insisting a public option in the Senate health care bill made its way to Firedoglake today.  Well, there’s a good reason for that.

I’ve accepted a position with Firedoglake running a new site over there that will be called FDL News.  The site has not yet gone live bit will come into being in the next couple weeks; in the meantime I’ll be posting on the main site over there, starting next Monday (today was kind of a preview).  It’s an opportunity to do a mix of breaking news, analysis and some original reporting.  Firedoglake has some fine bloggers in their stable and I’m excited about the opportunity.

Unfortunately, what this means is that, due to the expected workload, I will be unable to continue writing at Calitics, at least in the near term.  This is a big blow to me.  I started here sometime after the 2006 gubernatorial election and have participated in Calitics’ expansion to one of the more widely-read sites in the state blogosphere, and even a conduit for national blogs to understand what the hell was going on out here during the various budget and governance crises.  The site has been a real boon to me in learning how to cover an unfolding story, which will greatly enhance my capabilities at my new job.

More than that, Calitics is like a family.  All of us writers sort of built this site together and took it from scratch into as important a daily read to understand California politics as there is anywhere in the state, including (perhaps especially including) all major media outlets.  Brian, Robert, Dante, Julia, Jeremy, Lucas and anyone else I’ve missed should be extremely proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish, and I have no doubts that they’ll be able to make great strides in the future.  This remains a crucial time for progressives in California, with so many challenges: to return majority rule to the state, construct a Constitution that actually works to govern the population, restore democracy to the citizenry, all with 2010 elections coming up to boot.  Those are not small topics, and as a California resident I know I’ll be looking to Calitics to help sort it all out.

I never intended for blogging to be anything more than a hobby, but it quickly grew to an obsession and now a career.  Thanks to everybody here for helping make that a reality.  And who knows, maybe you’ll see me pop up in the comments every now and again.  I’m going to stop posting here on Friday.  I’ll be sure to drop a URL and let you all know where you can find me once FDL News gets off the ground.

Thank you again.

Boxer Finally Jumps Aboard, Insisting On A Strong Public Option In Final Senate Bill

I’m hearing from sources about a letter to Harry Reid from a collection of liberal Senators, led by Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Sherrod Brown, insisting that Reid publicly commit to putting a public option in any health care bill that reaches the Senate floor.  There’s a big difference between having a public option in the bill before the fact or trying to get it in by amendment.  It’s likely that amendments to the bill will require a 60-vote threshold, therefore it would take 60 votes to get a public option into the bill if it’s absent, or 60 to get one out of the bill if it’s present.  Nobody has said that there are those numbers of votes to do either of those actions.  So whether the bill comes to the Senate floor with a public option or not is a crucial decision.  The four people in that room making that decision are Max Baucus of the Finance Committee, Tom Harkin of the HELP Committee, Harry Reid and someone from the White House.  A lot of this will depend on the White House’s inclination, and they certainly floated their support over the weekend.  But Reid’s public statements have been noncommital.

The liberal faction in the Senate, led by Rockefeller and Brown but also for the first time including Sen. Barbara Boxer, want a real commitment.  According to sources, Sen. Reid will meet with this faction at 5pm ET.  Senator Reid’s office confirms that this meeting will be held today.  So presumably, some kind of accommodation will be offered, although the liberal Senators in the meeting will seek a definitive commitment, I’m told.

There have been various talks from public option supporters in the Senate about wanting to see it in the final bill, but this is the furthest it has gone, to my knowledge.  Some Senators, like Sen. Boxer, are going on the record insisting a public option for the first time.  Of course we don’t know what form this “public option” will take – the Wall Street Journal reports today that Tom Carper’s state-based approach is gaining support among Senate moderates, and Debbie Stabenow in a press conference today confirmed that this is a possibility:

In a press conference this morning with other Democratic senators, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) — member of the Senate Finance Committee and a supporter of a robust public option — says it’s a “broad definition.”

“The states are one way to go,” she said

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who also sits on Finance and supports a public option as enthusiastically as Stabenow does, added, “There are state options that are devised in such a way that only a region of the state is included, in which case that’s not really a significant public option.”

“If the whole state is included in a public option — they have that option — well that’s a much more significant standard than some that have been proposed,” Menendez told reporters.

I would assume that Reid may offer this as a compromise inclusion in the bill.  We’ll see if the Brown-Rockefeller faction will take the deal.  Certainly they are pushing very hard for a higher standard than that.  And with the House of Representatives close in getting majority support for a public option using Medicare +5% rates, perhaps that gives them some leverage too.

Impeach Arnold?

Could it be that enough Democrats in the Assembly have finally had enough with the culture of blackmail and are ready to exact some real consequences?

In the Assembly, Democrats are employing tactics that seem designed to pressure the governor into signing bills. Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico, D-Newark, sent a letter to Attorney General Jerry Brown asking him to investigate whether the governor’s strategy is illegal. He cited a part of the state constitution that says it is a felony to seek to influence a legislative vote by means of “bribery, promise of reward, intimidation or other dishonest means.”

“While politicians are certainly allowed to express their disagreements in any way they find productive, they are not allowed to refuse to perform their sworn duties in order to force the legislature to accept policy positions,” Torrico wrote. “And public officials are specifically prohibited from the kind of direct ‘horse trading’ in which a government official agrees to take, or not take, a certain action in exchange for a specific vote.”

Assembly sources said some Assembly Democrats even suggested on a conference call last week that the lower house should impeach the governor if he imposes a mass veto. The constitution says the Assembly has the “sole power of impeachment” and that it can pursue it on a majority vote for unspecified “misconduct in office.” The Senate would then conduct a trial.

The idea seems to crop up every time lawmakers are frustrated with the governor, said Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco. It appears to be mostly talk for now.

“I know some members have mentioned the possibility of impeaching the governor,” Torrico said, adding, “There’s certainly a growing number of members who consider the governor’s extortion tactics to be illegal and a dereliction of duty. But (impeachment) has not been discussed formally in the caucus as an option.”

This sounds like a bluff on all counts, although the Governor’s actions certainly violate the spirit and (depending on your reading) the letter of the law about using “bribery, promise of reward, intimidation or other dishonest means” to influence a legislative vote.  I don’t expect Jerry Brown to act on it, however, because he’d probably welcome the ability to threaten the legislature in this manner were he the Governor.

And yet, if the Governor were to veto the entire legislative session because he couldn’t get his way on water (and doesn’t that represent a failure of HIS leadership, not the legislature’s?), I would say a case could be made that using extortion and running the state like a Hollywood negotiation is grounds for removal.  What’s more, while a two-thirds vote for removal in the Senate would be unlikely (though, given Schwarzenegger’s standing in the Republican Party, not completely out of the question), just saddling him with the legacy of impeachment would be a crushing blow to his ego, not to mention his efforts at putting a happy face on his astonishingly awful leadership.

I don’t think this is much more than a parlor game.  But just so we know the rules, a Governor can be impeached for “misconduct in office” by a simple majority in the Assembly.  According to Article 5 of the Constitution, it seems that during impeachment – not removal but impeachment – the Lieutenant Governor becomes Governor. (“The Lieutenant Governor shall act as Governor during the impeachment, absence from the State, or other temporary disability of the Governor or of a Governor-elect who fails to take office.”)  Given that John Garamendi could be elected to Congress in four weeks, the line of succession appears to show that the President Pro Tem of the Senate would be next in line.  So if the unthinkable happens, by November 3 we could be looking at Governor Darrell Steinberg.

Arnold Supports Health Care Reform – Just Not In California

One of the enduring takeaways of the Schwarzenegger era is just how much latitude he is given on the national level as some kind of transformative post-partisan leader, when those same reporters know that California is crumbling into dust under, and in many cases because of, his leadership.  We witnessed this again today as national media types heaped praise on the Governor issuing a letter about the Obama health care reform plan:

“As Governor, I have made significant efforts to advance health reform in California. As the Obama Administration was launching the current debate on health care reform, I hosted a bipartisan forum in our state because I believe in the vital importance of this issue, and that it should be addressed through bipartisan cooperation.

“Our principal goals, slowing the growth in costs, enhancing the quality of care delivered, improving the lives of individuals, and helping to ensure a strong economic recovery, are the same goals that the president is trying to achieve. I appreciate his partnership with the states and encourage our colleagues on both sides of the political aisle at the national level to move forward and accomplish these vital goals for the American people.”

I love the phrase “significant efforts,” by the way.  Others might call them “failed efforts,” but YMMV.

But this “praise” for health care reform is just a piece of paper.  One would think that the national media would seek to know the actions of the Governor on health care – one would be wrong, but one would still think that.  And it would take about 10 seconds of Googling to figure out that the Governor has vetoed key elements of the legislation working through Congress.  Last year he vetoed AB1945, which would have banned rescission, the insurance industry practice of dumping sick customers for technical violations on their applications like typos the moment that they try to use their policies for treatment.  He vetoed SB840, the universal health care bill, on multiple occasions in the past.  He vetoed SB1440, which would have mandated that insurance companies spend 85% of premiums on medical care.  He vetoed SB973, which would have created a public insurance option by linking local and regional measures.  He vetoed AB2, expanding the state’s high-risk pool for people with pre-existing conditions.

He basically has vetoed many of the same provisions to be found in the current health care bill.  And he is threatening to veto every bill on his desk this year, including another bill to ban rescissions so that customers who have paid insurance premiums for years aren’t left to die when they want to use their policies.  Anthony Wright notes some of the other bills:

* AB 119 (Jones): GENDER RATING, to prohibit insurers from charging different premium rates based on gender.

* AB 2 (De La Torre): INDEPENDENT REVIEW, to create an independent review process when an insurer wishes to rescind a consumer’s health policy, create new standards and requirements for medical underwriting, and requires state review before plan approval. Also raises the standard in existing law so that coverage can only be rescinded if a consumer willfully misrepresents his health history.

* AB 98 (De La Torre): MATERNITY COVERAGE, to require all individual insurance policies to cover maternity services.

* AB 244 (Beall): MENTAL HEALTH PARITY, to require most health plans to provide coverage for all diagnosable mental illnesses.

Dan Walters calls these bills “nothing of cosmic importance”.  Well sure, he’s not going to have a kid, and women are charged more than men by insurance companies anyway!  To an entitled white man with a good-paying job, he doesn’t have to worry about losing his policy or not getting comprehensive medical coverage.  But to a woman who can’t afford to lose her job to have a baby, or someone with a mental health problem who can’t get relief for his suffering, or someone with an individual policy living constantly in fear that his or her insurance will get revoked precisely when they need it, these are issues of “cosmic importance.”  Anyone saying otherwise is ignorant.

And yet the Governor will have no problem holding these bills, and these people, hostage.  His buddies at the Chamber of Commerce probably don’t want him to sign them at all.  So he writes a pretty letter supporting health care reform, while denying the very same measures to his own constituents.  And national media types call him a “bold leader.”

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.

Ruled By Neo-Hooverists

What leaped out of last Friday’s pathetic jobs report for a lot of people was the significant drop in employment for government workers, particularly at the state and local level:

The latest jobs numbers from the Labor Department are out. In the past, we’ve noted the protected status of government workers. While private sector payrolls were falling like a stone, government employment at every level was growing. In recent months it had been falling slightly, but still remained above its pre-recession levels.

No more. In September, state and local government payrolls fell below the levels of December 2007, when the recession began. The declines indicate the pain that state and local governments are feeling from severe budget shortfalls, despite the $787 billion stimulus package last winter.

There’s a very good reason that the stimulus package failed to avert this drop in state and local government payrolls.  During the stimulus debate, Presidents Ben Nelson and Susan Collins decided to drop $40 billion dollars in state-based aid that would have gone directly to saving these jobs.  Presumably faced with no choice to clear the 60-vote cloture hurdle, Democrats and the Administration went along, and that state aid vanished.  So unsurprisingly, as a result, state worker jobs have vanished right along with it.  That translates to hundreds of thousands of jobs all over the country that would have meant hundreds of thousands more consumers with spending money, hundreds of thousands more people off the unemployment insurance rolls and contributing to state budgets rather than taking from them, hundreds of thousands more people providing help and aid to others who have trouble getting it due to scaled-back state workforces.  

It was a terrible, terrible idea.  Especially because the woes for state budgets are only beginning, and what aid did come with the stimulus will probably run out before state economies recover.

History suggests it could take six or more years for sales and income taxes – which make up roughly two-thirds of states’ revenue – to return to pre-recession levels. That augurs deeper cuts to state jobs and services in order to maintain funding for core programs such as public schools and Medicaid.

What’s different from the three previous recessions, which took states three to five years to recover from, is that employment and consumer spending aren’t expected to bounce back as quickly.

To balance their budgets in the meantime, states are likely to further raise taxes on the money people earn and spend; increase college tuition; reduce funding for the arts and other cultural programs; and push costs into the future by delaying pay raises for employees and repairs of government buildings. Some states, including Massachusetts, Missouri and Arizona, already are making or considering fresh cuts just months after lawmakers agreed on new budgets.

I would say that $40 billion dollars in direct aid could have gone a long way right now and in the future.  But instead, we are ruled by neo-Hooverists.