Friday, January 14, 2011


Hey everyone, I'm not abandoning this new venture. However, given that based on the traffic numbers you all seem to like the commentary more than the links, I'm going to be doing more of that and not the daily link posts. Instead, I'll incorporate things that I find interesting around the web into my opinion posts. For the last couple of days though, I've been busy getting ready to go back to Berkeley and so haven't had much time. Look for a post this weekend on my thoughts on Jerry Brown's first two weeks.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Links for 1/10/11 - Brown's Budget

California Budget: Jerry Brown wants to tame budget with tax extensions, deep cuts - Basically, no one's happy.  Except maybe Sutter.

Brown's 'Hail Mary' plan puts our Schools in Peril - Complaints from the education community.

GOP leaders: No votes to put taxes on ballot - Governor, might want to get started on that no tax hike budget...

Maldonado opposes tax extension - Not even the least conservative GOP member of the legislature (when he was there) will consider Brown's five year tax hike.

A Status Quo Budget With More Questions Than Answers - Dem Joe Matthews says Brown's budget is just more of the same.

Many Capital CEOs got 2009 pay hikes - Did they deserve them?

The Enduring Lesson of the 2010 Elections - California Republican Party chair candidate Tom Del Beccaro speaks out.

The Money Trail: City signs to world places could get you a tad lost - While facing a budget deficit, City of Sacramento spends $7000 on signs that don't point in the right direction.

After false start, Burbank High hopes to kick off sports project - State bureaucrats get in the way of urgently needed sports fields.

Attack survivor 'disgusted' by sentence reduction - More on the Nunez travesty. Pardons and Clemency granted by lame duck governors should be subject to ratification by the next governor.

Prison assistant returns gift from Fabian Nunez family - Did Arnold get a Kindle too?

Manchin Defends 'Dead Aim' Ad - A Democrat with common sense.

Hypocrite Birgeneau

So this morning, like every morning, I got out of bed, went to my computer, and checked my e-mail. There I saw an e-mail with the subject "Chancellor Birgeneau comments on Arizona shootings."  It was addressed to all students and staff at UC Berkeley. OK, I thought, the chancellor simply wants to share his sorrow that we all felt over the weekend. Not sure why that's the role of a university chancellor but whatever, it could do no harm, right?


Here's the e-mail, in full:

Dear members of our campus community:

This weekend's shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the deaths and injuries of many others in the horrific event in Tucson, Arizona have shocked our nation.  We here at UC Berkeley offer our sincere condolences to everyone who has been personally affected by this tragedy.

Such a brutal and violent attack on an individual who has devoted herself to public service is deeply regrettable.  It calls upon us as an academic community to stop and ponder the climate in which such an act can be contemplated, even by a mind that is profoundly disturbed.  A climate in which demonization of others goes unchallenged and hateful speech is tolerated can lead to such a tragedy.  I believe that it is not a coincidence that this calamity has occurred in a state which has legislated discrimination against undocumented persons.  This same mean-spirited xenophobia played a major role in the defeat of the Dream Act by our legislators in Washington, leaving many exceptionally talented and deserving young people, including our own undocumented students, painfully in limbo with regard to their futures in this country.

On our own campus, and throughout all the campuses of the University of California, we must continue to work toward a climate of equity and inclusion for all.  We must be vigilant to condemn hate speech and acts of vandalism on our campuses by those wanting to promote enmity.  We must work to support dialogue about our differences and eschew expressions of demonization of others, including virulent attacks on Israel, anti-Muslim graffiti, racism towards African-Americans, Chicano/Latinos and other underrepresented minority groups, and homophobic acts.  Continuing to support our principles of community will ensure a better and safer campus.  We must do this now so that our students, as future leaders of this great country, will continue to set the standard for a better and safer nation.

Robert J. Birgeneau
Chancellor, UC Berkeley

First of all, he commits the same sin I talked about yesterday. He ascribes the shootings to the widespread desire by Arizonans to secure their borders, a claim that has ZERO basis in fact.  If this is the quality of work that Birgeneau produces on a regular basis, I wonder how he passed undergrad let alone earned a PhD and achieved tenure. If I submitted an essay like this to one of my classes I would probably be flunked for submitting something that is patently false.  

But more interesting is that he is a hypocrite. After stating, "A climate in which demonization of others goes unchallenged and hateful speech is tolerated can lead to such a tragedy," he proceeds to demonize everyone who did not support the Dream Act or who supported Arizona's immigration law (three in five Americans) but calling them xenophobes. How does that solve the problem chancellor? It seems like you are doing exactly what you speak against. 

Chancellor Birgeneau ought to send another e-mail retracting one part of the e-mail, either the one calling 60% of Americans xenophobes or, if he doesn't want to do that, the part where he calls for Americans to be more respectful. The two can't go together. 

And while he's at it, he might want to stop by any lower division professor's office hours and ask them about the consequences of making arguments with absolutely no evidence behind them. He could use a remedial course. 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

On 'Toning Down' Opinions

In the aftermath of yesterday's tragic shooting rampage in Arizona, many in the media and politics have attempted to blame the incident on heated tea party rhetoric, specifically Sarah Palin, who several months ago posted this map of Congressional districts in the "cross hairs," including that of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. They claim that even if no harm is intended, fiery language has inspired mentally unstable individuals to take drastic actions such as we saw yesterday. 

First of all, the notion that the tea party, Sarah Palin, or any other mainstream commentator had a role in this specific incident ought to be summarily dismissed. As has been widely reported, the suspect has listed as among his favorite books The Communist Manifesto and Mein Kempf, hardly tea party classics. His You Tube profile features a video of a flag burning. Clearly this individual is not a conservative. He's a psychopath. Those who are trying to pin this event on the conservative movement  are deceiving the American people and ought to be ashamed of themselves for trying to turn a national tragedy into a divisive political issue.

That said, it raises a larger question which ought to be addressed.  The primary message of those who are trying to make an issue out of this is that heated rhetoric leads to events such as this. I'm not so sure that is the case, and even if it is, classifying strong language as "dangerous" language is dangerous in of itself. Allow me to explain.

Advocates of this position claim to argue not for silencing beliefs but instead for them to be "toned down." The problem is that this misses the full scope of what an opinion is. An opinion isn't just your view on something but how strongly you believe it. For example, lets consider two opinions one might have. The first is that steak is the best dinner choice. The second is that breaking into his house and raping his wife and children is wrong.

Assuming this individual is normal, the second opinion will be a whole lot more important than the first. He will be much more upset if the stranger violates his family than if he doesn't get his steak. If he were arguing for these respective beliefs, you would expect him to use much stronger language when expressing his view on the second.  Yet those who believe that all rhetoric ought to be 'toned down' miss this entirely. They assume that opinions are a just a preference among a number of choices without considering the strength of the preference.

To ask individuals to not express their opinions strongly is to deny them the opportunity to fully express their mind. To be clear, I don't agree with certain Tea Party members who claim that Obama is a socialist or that he is destroying  the country or whatever the complaint of the day may be. But assuming they actually hold such beliefs, I can't ask them not to say it or to transform "Barack Obama is a socialist" into "I disagree with President Obama's desire to raise the marginal income tax on the wealthiest Americans and use that money for social programs." Or for my friends on the far left, I can't ask you to change, "George Bush is a war criminal" into "It is possible that some of President Bush's policies with respect to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may not fully comply with various international statutes and UN Declarations." If you hold that belief so strongly, it is your right to express it strongly.  I can disagree with it, and disagree with how strongly you present it, but I can't force you not to say it.

To be clear, I don't believe that individuals bear no responsibility for how others react to their statements. Statements such as "Members of congress should be shot down" or "George Bush should die" are clearly inappropriate and could result in a reasonable person hearing them and believing violence is the right thing to do. However, that must be the standard: a reasonable person. Some seem to be suggesting that any speech that might provoke an unreasonable person ought to be frowned upon. This is flawed on its face: by definition, it is impossible to predict the behavior of a person who is irrational.  So the only solution would be to "tone down" our rhetoric into a sea of monotony, where individuals are not free to express their strong opinions in a way that lets others understand how deeply they feel them.

The events of yesterday were tragic and certainly should inspire some self reflection. But it would be even more tragic if this event forced Americans to suppress their truly held opinions.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

1/7-1/9/11 Weekend Links - Tragedy in Tucson

Rep. Giffords in Intensive Care After Being Shot in the Head at Public Event - Horrific attack on Congresswoman and her constituents.

War of words rages on Twitter - Sad. Some want to politicise this tragic situation.

Banned Four Loko gets new use as auto fuel - Such a waste...

House Republicans Challenge Obama on Debt Limit - The debt limit has to be raised, but it should come with spending cuts.

New State Schools Chief Declares Fiscal Emergency - The real emergency is lack of fiscal discipline.

Insiders: Romney the top GOP Contender, Daniels Second - Daniels gaining steam

William Daley takes Obama back of the Future: Will Obama respond with centrist policies or is this just for show?

Study, Other Western States have Budget Problems too: The exception is Colorado, which has a strict spending limit. Take note, California.

Rudy Guiliani Considering Second Run for President: Would shake up race but probably little chance to get nomination. Economy, not national security, is the big concern now, not Rudy's strong suit. And GOP is more conservative than 2008.

Positives hold Steady for Supreme Court, Negatives Down. Of note, 37% say court too liberal while only 22% say too conservative. The mantra that the Roberts court is too conservative doesn't seem to be reflected in the population.

Consolidating Tax Beurocracies and Old Idea, New Necessity - Before we even consider raising taxes, we should consolidate as much as we can.

California Solar Firms Lured to other States - Even green jobs aren't staying in California.

California GOP Delegation Could have Sway on Immigration issues in Congress - Hopefully they work to solve the issue, not just talk.

Jerry Brown talks Campaign Ads with Tourists - Classless.

Friday, January 7, 2011

California's Indisputable Facts and their Implications

Earlier this week, the California Legislative Analyst Office came out with the latest version of their "Cal Facts" handbook.  It is a brief overview of many of the public policy issues facing the state. It should be required reading for every citizen - a quiz should be administered before one casts a vote.  Some of the interesting points and their implications:

  • Of major industries, government has shed the third least percentage of jobs in during the recent recession (page 3). While public employees certainly have not been spared pain during the downturn, it has hardly been an undue burden. Only the information and Education/Health sectors have lost a lower percentage of jobs.
  • Personal income declined in 2009 for the first time since the Great Depression (page 4). It really is bad out there...
  • Over the next decade, the number of 18-24 year olds in the state will decline while the number of seniors skyrockets. Good news for higher education, bad news for heath services (page 6).
  • As of 2008, only 41 percent of California's population was white (page 7). Republicans need to expand their appeal to minority groups. Now.
  • California's tax burden is higher than the national average (page 9). Democrats, get this through your head: Californians aren't under taxed. True, we are lower than New York, but I'm not sure we want to aspire to that.
  • The top one percent of income earners provide 50 percent of income tax revenue and income tax makes up over half of state revenue (page 20-21). We need rich people. We probably shouldn't tax them out of the state.
  • Pension costs for state employees have skyrocketed with no plan in place to pay for them (page 27). If you like our current budget shortfalls, you'll love it when these unfunded pension obligations come due.
  • Adjusted for inflation, per pupil spending within the legislature's authority dropped from about $9000 in 2000 (dot com boom) to $7900 last fiscal year (page 31). Not good, but considering the doom and gloom stories it is hardly falling off a cliff.
  • Despite spending cuts, student test scores have continued to rise throughout the last decade (page 34). Money does not equal achievement.
  • The average teacher salary in California is over $66,000 per year (page 36). Good teachers ought to be getting twice that and bad teachers ought to get none of that, but still it isn't bad. In fact, it's tops in the nation.
  • Adjusted for inflation, per student spending for University of California is less than it was a decade ago but still at about the same level as 1970, in the glory days of the Master Plan for Higher Education (page 39). That suggests that the problem isn't just less state funding - a big part is UC failing to control costs. Note that the CSU and community college systems haven't seen such large fluctuations.
  • Community college students are getting a steal (page 41). I see no reason why in a budget crisis those students who can afford to pay more shouldn't be asked to pay a proportion similar to their counterparts in the UC and CSU systems.
  • Crime has drastically declined over the past two decades (page 53). Sensible "tough on crime" laws work.
  • California's incarceration rate is near the US average (page 54). Most of California's prisoners deserve to be there. The solution to the overcrowding problem is to expand capacity, not release them early.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Links for 1/6/11 - A Constitutional Question

Historic reading of Constitution sees House tussle. Why this is controversial is beyond me.

NPR Boss Who Fired Juan Williams Resigns. No word on whether she'll see her therapist.

The Disappointment of the Recall. The 2003 recall of Gray Davis got me interested in politics but it ultimately accomplished little. For the record, I supported McClintock.

Jerry Brown defends appointment of ousted former schools chief Bill Honig. A convicted felon for school board. Also appointed was a California Teachers Association lobbyist.

Dan Morain: High-flying Harris must return to Earth. Why Democrats are so enamored with Harris is unexplainable. She was the lowest vote-getter on the Democratic ticket and has more baggage than Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.

State Supreme Court Justice Moreno to step down. Brown gets a Supreme Court pick early. No word on whether Rose Bird can be resurrected from the grave.

Luck picks school over NFL. If Andrew Luck wanted to get a good architecture degree, he should have gone to Cal. Much higher ranked than Stanfurd.