Category Archives: California politics

Government Is Not A Business

Can we please, pretty please, retire that tired old canard that “government needs to be run like a business”? I absolutely despise that little piece of conventional wisdom which politicians repeat each election. It’s bullshit.

Government cannot run like a business because it’s a completely different entity.

As the Los Angeles Times’ Michael Hiltzik writes today:

It would be obvious to any business person who had spent a day in public administration that government and business are antithetical. That’s not a flaw in the system. Government exists to take on precisely those tasks the private sector can’t or won’t do.

These include caring for the penniless; maintaining common amenities such as parks, schools, and universities; and creating infrastructure with broad value but unspecific beneficiaries, such as freeways and the Internet (which in coming days undoubtedly will be used by many readers to inform me by e-mail that they don’t see how government serves any purpose).

Most of these functions can’t be made to “pay” in the sense that a business strategy does. But they can be neglected or privatized only at great cost to society.

Thank you! Jeeebus, nothing annoys me more than hearing how government needs to be run like a business. No, it doesn’t! It can’t! I remember working for a Big Government Agency tasked with operating a National Recreation Area and being told we had to apply for-profit business practices to what we did. I’m sorry, but just how is that supposed to work? How do you make money break even off of maintaining hiking and mountain biking trails, campgrounds, and wildlife habitat? Especially when you have small businesses in the local town complaining about unfair competition from said Big Government Agency? If we operated like a business, then what would be left for the real businesses to do? It was laughable idea. We ended up having to explain that no amount of T-shirt and baseball cap sales and hunting permits would ever make us turn a profit break even. [Note: I hit send too soon on this one, but of course all government is not-for-profit — another reason why it can’t operate as a business. We weren’t tasked with making a profit but they did want us to try to break even and they gave us a few years to do it which was just stupid.]

Government and business are separate entities. We need both to function as a democracy. Trying to turn one into the other is what has led to disasters like Soviet-style Communism and Mussolini-style fascism.

Another problem, which I’ve discussed elsewhere, is that we do not — can not — put a monetary value on things that are quite literally priceless. Things like watershed, clean air, clean water or the soil erosion protection which forests provide. As I wrote last spring:

But it’s bigger than that. We also don’t factor in the value of what we’ve lost when we destroy those mountains and streams. We don’t consider that a forest isn’t just a piece of land or something pretty to look at or even the economic value of its timber. It’s a living system and it performs a function. Forests and streams provide water storage, flood management, even reduce the severity of floods. Trees take the Co2 and pollutants out of the atmosphere and replace it with oxygen, earth’s natural breathing mechanism provided to us, free of charge.

And here’s the thing: we haven’t invented a substitute for these natural living systems! When they’re gone, we’re all screwed. We have no air-scrubbers, no one has created the photosynthesis machine. The reason we can’t put a value on this is because it is truly priceless. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

I was writing about the environment but there are a whole bunch of non-easily quantifiable things. The education of your work force. The health of the population. The knowledge and experience of our senior citizens. Anyone who wants to be governor and tells you they plan to operate the state like a business is obviously not factoring in a whole bunch of things for which we cannot attach a dollar value because they are literally priceless.

And it’s hard for me to take these business sector politicians seriously. So many of them have little respect for what government does anyway — many of them don’t even vote. As Hiltzik wrote:

Engagement in democracy starts with participation in the ballot box. That’s the real significance of Whitman’s and Fiorina’s well-documented failures to vote over the years. This isn’t a “mistake,” as Whitman likes to call it. A mistake is getting the address of the polling place wrong, once. Not bothering to vote year after year? That’s contempt for the very concept of democracy.

I couldn’t agree more. Electing to office someone who not only holds the very concept of democracy in contempt but also misunderstands the function and role of government is the worst sort of mistake.


Filed under California politics, corporations, politics

>Gov. Christie Is No Hero

>What’s that hammering I hear? Why it’s the frame being assembled attempting to portray New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie as some kind of hero after this little contretemps.

Christie was in California campaigning for Meg Whitman when Ed Buck, a former candidate for West Hollywood city council whom Time Magazine described as a “conservative Republican,” called Whitman “Shwarzenegger in a dress.” Apparently he was angry that Whitman refused to answer his questions but instead of letting the candidate herself deal with her naysayer, Christie accused him of dividing the country.

Realllllleeee. Well isn’t that rich. This from the party of Joe “YOU LIE!” Wilson? The party of the GOP-backed town brawl meetings of Summer 2009?

Well, who said chivalry ain’t dead? Would have been nice to see the candidate herself deal with this guy but whatEVER. Here’s the video:

No, Gov. Christie. People who raise their voices and yell and scream are the folks who get shit done. So sorry that it makes you feel uncomfortable but learn to deal with it, dude. This isn’t one of George W. Bush’s stage-managed “Town Hall” meetings, full of hand-picked friendlies who ask questions like “can I pray for you?” Voters are pissed off and angry and if Meg Whitman can’t handle that then she doesn’t deserve to be governor.

Honestly, I’m tired of Republicans stirring shit up and then as soon as things get a little uncomfortable for them they demand a return to civility.


Filed under California politics

Putting It All Together

Related to this post and this post and the question

How can songs, poems, and the arts counteract such a monolithic malignancy?

In his book “God’s Politics” Jim Wallis says that a politician is someone who won’t make a decision until they stick their finger in the air to determine which way the wind is blowing.

What we need to do, Wallis says, is change the wind.

And that is exactly what the arts does: it changes the wind.


Filed under art, California politics

>Tell Us How You REALLY Feel

>Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sends the California legislature a memo:

Schwarzenegger’s people deny the hidden F-bomb was intentional.

Okie dokie.

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Filed under Arnold Schwarzenegger, California politics

>This Is Ridiculous

>Building on this morning’s post about the California budget crisis, Arnold should be so proud of this:

Tom Farber gives a lot of tests. He’s a calculus teacher, after all.

So when administrators at Rancho Bernardo, his suburban San Diego high school, announced the district was cutting spending on supplies by nearly a third, Farber had a problem. At 3 cents a page, his tests would cost more than $500 a year. His copying budget: $316. But he wanted to give students enough practice for the big tests they’ll face in the spring, such as the Advanced Placement exam.

“Tough times call for tough actions,” he says. So he started selling ads on his test papers: $10 for a quiz, $20 for a chapter test, $30 for a semester final.

Ads on test papers because the school district cut the supplies budget? This is a Libertarian’s wet dream. Free hand of the market! Problem solved! After all, in modern society everything is a commodity and everyone is a potential buyer! Everywhere a sales pitch, even in high school math class. Got to get that consumer messaging in early.

I think I’m going to be sick.

Farber says he was overwhelmed with requests from prospective advertisers. I’m not surprised. Young people today are an exceptionally ripe market for advertisers. They have few expenses and a lot of disposable income, and they’re easily suckered into buying a lot of crap they don’t need. And you don’t get a more captive audience than a high school kid showing up to take the calculus final.

If this doesn’t ring some alarm bells, I don’t know what will. Says Robert Weissman, managing director of Commercial Alert:

“The advertisers are paying for something, and it’s access to kids,” he says.

Exactly. I railed against advertising to children and youth well over a year ago when I was nauseated by the constant barrage of sales pitches at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta.

Free enterprise has its place. I just wish it would remember to stay in it.

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Filed under advertising, Arnold Schwarzenegger, California politics, consumerism

>No One Could Have Anticipated This

>California Governor/movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a fiscal emergency:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a fiscal emergency on Monday and called lawmakers into a special budget session, warning that California was in danger of running out of daily operating cash within two months.

Gee. And I totally thought his $15 billion bond issue idea to balance the budget in 2004 would save the day. Because, you know

he ruled out raising taxes, saying that would be the “final nail in California’s economic coffin.”

Yeah, how’d that work out for you, Governator?

Mismanagement like this is what supposedly got Gray Davis recalled. As it happens, a story overlooked in the heat of election season was the recall petition filed by the California prison guard’s union:

The California Correctional Peace Officers Association’s petition accuses the governor of “catastrophic leadership failings” that have left the state in worse fiscal shape than when he swept into office five years ago after voters recalled then-Gov. Gray Davis.

Schwarzenegger has seven days to respond to the union before it can file the petition with the secretary of state. The union would need to gather 1,041,530 valid signatures to qualify the recall for a statewide ballot.

I’m sure this will go away, if it hasn’t been forgotten already. Unlike the Gray Davis recall, which was orchestrated and paid for by the California Republican Party, I doubt California Democrats or a group like MoveOn has much interest in pushing to recall Schwarzenegger.

I do hope his botched handling of the California government kills his political career once and for all, though. He needs to goes back to bad acting and his Hummer collection. Fat chance, I know, since conservatives are attached to his burly physique, thick accent, and the rugged icon he played in the “Terminator” movies.

I think we all need to face facts and admit that Republicans couldn’t run a government if it came with training wheels, handles, and a driver’s ed teacher in the next seat.

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Filed under Arnold Schwarzenegger, California, California politics

>Darrell Issa, Democrat?

>Nashville, Tennessee is a lot like California in that most folks you meet here are from somewhere else. Many of you may not know that Southern Beale is actually a native Californian. Second generation native, actually (my mother was from Eagle Rock, my grandfather taught at Occidental). This is a matter of pride with Californians; back in the ‘80s we sported bumper stickers modeled after the telltale blue and yellow California license plate with the words “NATIVE.”

I mention this because I will always have an interest in California politics. In my post downthread about the California GOP, Flying Junior commented about Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, and his role in the recall of CA Governor Gray Davis.

I always thought Gray Davis got royally ripped off in that scam, the American people had the wool pulled over their eyes (and if the media were doing their job, the subsequent collapse of Enron would have made that clear), and American politics got stuck with a new Republican star in Arnold Schwarzenegger. What is with Republicans, anyway, that allows them to make derisive comments about liberals’ “Hollywood values” on the one hand and worship actor-politicians like Ronald Reagan, Fred Thompson and Arnold Schwarzenegger on the other?

Anyway, this is a long preamble to poke fun at Darrell Issa, a former car thief who’s done a lot wrong in his career as a Congressman, too. I always got the whiff of the opportunist from Issa, but this is ridiculous:

According to The Hill, when the House of Representatives had their official congressional photo taken last week, Issa sat on the Democrats’ side of the aisle.

Ooops. What a dufus.

Then again, maybe it was just wishful thinking?

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Filed under California politics, Darrell Issa