As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Airbrush Of Human Beings From The California Budget Crisis

Peter Schrag is one of the few columnists left in this state who consistently makes sense, and today he attacks that silly NYTimes article about California, in particular the elements of conventional wisdom:

In his passing references to California’s serious issues, many of which have major implications for the nation as a whole, Leibovich collects pieces of the conventional wisdom, even when, as in his facile summary of the causes of gridlock in Sacramento, it’s wrong. Since Democrats have again and again agreed to multi-billion dollar cuts, it is not, as he thinks, just a matter of “’no more taxes’ (Republicans) and ‘no more cuts’ (Democrats).”

And while Jerry Brown, in his prior tenure as governor was indeed labeled “Governor Moonbeam” (by a Chicago columnist) for his space proposals, as Leibovich says, the label applied much more broadly to his inattention to the daily duties of his office and, most particularly to his dithering while the forces that produced Proposition 13 began to roll.

Brown later acknowledged that he didn’t have the attention span to focus on the property tax reforms that were then so urgently needed to avert the revolt of 1978. But to this day, almost no one has said much of Brown’s role in creating the anti-government climate and resentments that helped fuel the Proposition 13 drive.

It was the Brown, echoing much of the 1970s counter-culture, who, as much as anyone, was poor-mouthing the schools and universities as failing their students and who threatened to cut their funding if they didn’t shape up. It is Brown who spent most of his political career savaging politics and politicians, even as he ran for yet another office. Now this is the guy who wants to be governor again. But Leibovich doesn’t tell his readers that long history. Maybe he doesn’t know it.

The line about how those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it can be inserted here. But Schrag hits on the most important failing of the article, and indeed of a good chunk of the political media here in California - they airbrush out the people who suffer for the failures of the politicians.

Where are California and the people who are feeling the pain – the school kids and teachers in hopelessly underfunded schools, the children who are losing their health care, the minimum-wage working mothers struggling to pay their child care, the students who are losing their university grants? Is all this really about nothing?

To far too many, the answer is yes. It's politics as theater, as a sporting event, where winners and losers are checked on a board, and whether or not a leader will keep their position is made the story rather than the principles he or she represents. And yet it's not Governor Hot Tubs and Stogies who will feel the pain of an economic downturn and massive budget cuts, nor well-heeled consultants or columnists who make up the scorecards. It's people.

People like the students in the Cal State system who may see their fees raised 20%, just months after a 10% hike approved in May. This will effectively block higher education for a non-trivial number of students, as will proposed enrollment reductions of 32,000 students.

People like LA County homeowners who have defaulted at twice the rate in May as they have in the previous month, as a foreclosure backlog builds up due to various moratoriums and an increase in repossessed homes entering the market.

People like IOU holders who may have to turn to check-cashing stores to get less-than-full value for their registered warrants after Friday, when most major banks (who have all been bailed out by the federal government, by the way) stop the exchange of the notes.

And people like the elderly, disabled and blind, who rely on the in-home support services that the Governor is trying to illegally cut in contravention of a contempt-of-court citation, at least in Fresno.

These are the great unmentioned in this California crisis, the people who Dan Walters tries to smear in his column today by turning every Democratic concern for the impacts of policy as a sellout to "public employee unions." Behind those unions are workers, and the people they serve need the help the provide, in many cases, simply to survive. But it would be too dangerous to Walters' beautiful mind to consider those faces, so he chooses to make political hay out of the violation of people.

This is the point of the People's Day of Reckoning Coalition. They refuse to have their existence denied any longer.

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