Thursday, February 19, 2009

California Nightmare Passed

This is the budget the CA legislature finally passed that Governorahnold called "perfect" as described in the lede of the New York Times: After five days of intense, nearly nonstop negotiations over how to close a $41 billion gap, California state senators agreed early Thursday morning on a budget that raises taxes, cuts deeply into services and borrows far into the future, leaving nearly every person in the state scathed in some way.'

The Times quotes the governator: “Some special interests may not like this budget — but like I always say, what’s good for the people is not always good for special interests." So Ahnold still does comedy. The budget process for the last several months was nothing but bribing enough Republicans to pass it with special interest provisions, including the open primary that the last R wanted, and hefty corporate tax breaks for multinationals, in a budget that raises taxes for ordinary people and reduces services. To be fair, some Dems had to be bribed too. Politics is rarely uglier than at the level of state legislatures.

But yes, California lives to stew in its contradictions another day.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Latest CA Hold-Up

Last night's deal fell apart early Wednesday, and by Wednesday night, there's another deal between one R legislator and the governator, though the Dems haven't signed on yet. The deal is for constitutional amendments added to the budget bill--that's not a typo and it's not clever enough to be satire--including one for open primaries.

Meanwhile, L.A. is considering water rationing this summer for the first time in twenty years, and a major cache of fossils was found in L.A. That's separate from the talking fossils destroying the state in Sacramento.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

California Follies Update

Word just before midnight is that the one more R vote needed to pass the extremely compromised California budget has been obtained, at the possible cost of a coup in the R Senate leadership, with an uberwingnut replacing the "normal" wingnut as Senate minority leader.

But no vote expected tonight, so deal or no deal tomorrow.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Gandhian Hardball

Today's topic for meaningless chatter is bipartisanship. GOPers say the stim wasn't, the Obama folks insist the stim was: David Axelrod: "the package reflects the thinking of members of both parties. And I think that over time . . . there'll be a positive effect of just having dialogue, of just talking, which has not happened for a long time in this town."

On the other hand, President Obama told Clarence Page he thought the Republicans decided to make the stim a party line vote even before he first met with them. Andrew Sullivan sees it in stark terms--writing about Republicans: Their clear and open intent is to do all they can, however they can, to sabotage the new administration (and the economy to boot). They want failure. Even now. Even after the last eight years. Even in a recession as steeply dangerous as this one. There are legitimate debates to be had; and then there is the cynicism and surrealism of total political war. We now should have even less doubt about what kind of people they are. And the mountain of partisan vitriol Obama will have to climb every day of the next four or eight years."

The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg has a creative take: "Fifty years ago, the civil-rights movement understood that nonviolence can be an effective weapon even if—or especially if—the other side refuses to follow suit. Obama has a similarly tough-minded understanding of the political uses of bipartisanship, which, even if it fails as a tactic for compromise, can succeed as a tonal strategy: once the other side makes itself appear intransigently, destructively partisan, the game is half won. Obama is learning to throw the ball harder. But it’s not Rovian hardball he’s playing. More like Gandhian hardball."

But given that all the steps Obama is taking and will take are going to take time to work, probably beyond the next election cycle in 2010, reinforcing political party support is going to be a topic (which should thrill the kids bidding each other up on the rec list at Daily Kos, with their adrenelin needs for contentious election campaigns.) The gossip on filling cabinet vacancies includes Kathleen Sebelius for HHS and Harold Ford, Jr. for Commerce. But these appointments would take two strong candidates out of contention for picking up Senate seats--much more of the moment for Sebelius, who is the only Kansas Democrat polling well enough to win in 2010. Not only the quest for the 60th Democrat is at stake, but the symbolism of Kansas is worth a lot in future inroads into GOPer territory.

But there are a lot of other uncertainties as well as other opportunities. Chances seem pretty good for a pickup in New Hampshire, but now the Dem seats in Illinois and perhaps even New York and Colorado are less than certain, with possibly contentious primaries ahead. On the other hand, if Charlie Crist runs for the Senate in Florida, given his support of Obama and the stim, there may be another R vote to join the lonely three. (Assuming Spector survives both a primary and a general in PA, which is not at all a sure thing. I'm not altogether sure he's even going to run.)

As ridiculous and repulsive as politics gets on the national level, it can't hold a candle to state politics. Right now California is working hard to commit suicide. Our legislature is full of fools and knaves, and the governator is so ineffective that people may begin to pine for Gray Davis. A budget deal, which gets worse by the minute, is only exceeded in awful consequences by no budget deal--and even if there is one, it may well be nullified by angry voters as early as May. In an apt if a little inside baseball analysis, there's this truth: The bill is coming due for 30 years of anti-tax zealotry and the belief that we can provide whatever citizens need without paying for it.The corporate tax breaks are really insulting, but the state's credit is zilch and it's estimated that delay will cost some $300 million simply in stopping and then restarting ongoing infrastructure projects. All in all, things are getting too big for such small politics.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The New Politics

There's a new reality out here taking shape. The economic crisis is changing the country, and it's changing the world--so much so that a new national security advisor says the unrest it causes is more of a threat than terrorism. And that's before it becomes obvious to everyone that the Climate Crisis will change everything.

We are maybe even less willing to see that there is a new politics in Washington, in the country and perhaps beginning elsewhere in the world. The Era of Obama has begun.

What the Washington Post wrote about the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act is worth repeating: "Twenty-four days into his presidency, Barack Obama recorded last night a legislative achievement of the sort that few of his predecessors achieved at any point in their tenure."In size and scope, there is almost nothing in history to rival the economic stimulus legislation that Obama shepherded through Congress in just over three weeks... The feat compares only with President Franklin D. Roosevelt's banking system overhaul in 1933, which cleared Congress within days of his inauguration."

After all the drama, Obama got about the amount he wanted, and his core programs and priorities were funded. He not only is pouring money into the economy, he's jump-starting the future.

Yet as Ron Brownstein notes the progressive left is moaning about Obama's mistakes on the biggest week of the modern presidency, at least since FDR. Democrats are going crazy because bipartisanship didn't work and made Obama look dumb. But Obama never wavered from his principles, stuck with his party, said that he's still committed to changing how Washington operates, but injecting civility and a sense of the common good is a long term process. And as he said Saturday, "I am an eternal optimist [but] that doesn't mean I'm a sap."

And though he got few Republican votes--they were a precious few. And he also got the considerable help of Joe Lieberman, and Joe Klein thinks "his active lobbying for the bill has to be considered directly attributable to the grace with which Obama treated him."

But even more deluded than nervous Dems are Republicans who think they've scored big. The best House members and some safe seat Senators have done is coopted primary challenges from the right. The media bought their bilge--out of habit maybe, or because they thrive on contrived conflict. Just how thoroughly they bought it, and how thoroughly wrong they were, is the gleeful subject of Frank Rich's column today: "Just as in the presidential campaign, Obama has once again outwitted the punditocracy and the opposition. The same crowd that said he was a wimpy hope-monger who could never beat Hillary or get white votes was played for fools again."

Rich notes "As the liberal blog ThinkProgress reported, G.O.P. members of Congress wildly outnumbered Democrats as guests on all cable news networks, not just Fox News, in the three days of intense debate about the House stimulus bill." He quotes David Axelrod. The stimulus battle was more of the same. “This town talks to itself and whips itself into a frenzy with its own theories that are completely at odds with what the rest of America is thinking,” he [Axelrod] says. Once the frenzy got going, it didn’t matter that most polls showed support for Obama and his economic package: “If you watched cable TV, you’d see our support was plummeting, we were in trouble. It was almost like living in a parallel universe.”

Obama is enormously popular outside of Washington, and he's making sure Washington knows it by getting huge crowds in places where he lost in the election. And he's not going to sign "the stim" in some Washington ceremony but in Denver, Colorado. But we're not talking about the power of personality alone--Obama is popular because he's in touch. Much of Washington is not.

That's the new politics.