Expect sporadic posts through April 8.
Monday’s L.A. Times story with this headline — “Bid to appease bullet train critics may violate law” — and this subhead — “Revisions are in conflict with the ballot measure approved by voters and may go against the Obama administration’s plans. Gov. Jerry Brown backs the changes but admits potential legal problems” escaped my notice for a day. But it’s epochal: It points out the clear path to the bullet train’s demise. Sharp attorneys hired by well-heeled opponents of the project — whether they are cities in the Silicon Valley, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association or Central Valley agribusiness, or all three in tandem — are going to kill this dead in court, using the incredibly specific provisions in Proposition 1A exactly as they were intended: to prevent a boondoggle. Hip hip hooray!
Here’s my latest column for Cal Watchdog:
Just as red and blue have become associated with Republicans and Democrats, respectively, because of Election Night maps, will green someday become a synonym for fraud and dishonesty? After listening to Jerry Brown’s two years of lies, prevarications and fantasies about “green jobs,” I hope so. It would be semantic justice.
When former Oakland baseball slugger Mark McGwire was confronted by a congressional committee about his steroid-fueled record-setting, he famously said, “I’m not here to talk about the past.” Now Oakland Tribune reporter Josh Richman does a depressing piece about how Oakland political slugger Don Perata is using a proposition campaign as a full employment scheme for his cronies, and Richman doesn’t even give the context that shows this isn’t the first time Perata has been down this path. Instead, all he writes is that “Perata and some of his political associates were the subjects of a five-year-long FBI corruption probe, which ended in 2009 without … charges ever filed.” Sheesh. Josh Richman apparently isn’t here to talk about the past.
Ed Mendel continues to break more juicy stories about CalPERS than the rest of the state media combined. Along with the Dans (Weintraub and Borenstein), he will be a first-ballot inductee in the Golden State Pension Coverage Hall of Fame. His latest scoop shows CalPERS officials being more honest than they’ve ever been, worrying that a big economic downturn could drive the giant pension agency down to just 40 percent of necessary funding. So why does CalPERS keep cranking out the happy talk and disinformation on its calpersresponds.com website? This, as the kids say, is wack.
The national media have devoted plenty of skeptical attention to California’s bullet-train boondoggle—from the ballooning cost of the California High-Speed Rail Authority project to its shoddy management to the baffling decision to build the first segment in the lightly populated Central Valley. But the press has yet to focus on a crucial fact: the bullet train isn’t just some quirky Left Coast fiasco; it’s also a grotesque waste of federal money. The project serves as a powerful reminder of the Obama administration’s mishandling of the $787 billion stimulus that Congress passed in February 2009 with solemn assurances of prudence and accountability. The bullet-train project, in fact, can be thought of as “Solyndra times seven”—that’s how far its costs outstrip those of the much-touted Bay Area solar panel manufacturer that burned through $528 million in federal loans before declaring bankruptcy and folding last September.
Ed Mendel’s report on CalPERS’ horrible investment returns over the past five years — 99 percent of big government pension funds did better — brings me back to the point I made two months back: No matter how badly CalPERS does, the bonuses keep flowing. I predict that later this year, we’ll find out this is still the case. It’s not like, yunno, CalPERS is hard up for cash. Groan.
This Sacramento Bee story pointing out that local governments in its region spent more propping up failing public employee pension plans than it would cost to build the Kings a new arena is interesting because it points to a part of the pension debacle that never gets enough attention. A central argument against public spending on sports facilities is that they’re simply not necessities and that they amount to giveaways to the politically connected. The exact same thing is true of ludicrously generous pensions. With the possible exception of police, they’re just not necessary to attract and retain public employees.
I hammered George Skelton as hard as I could in December when the L.A. TImes’ columnist wrote that it was “hard to find anyone around the Capitol outside the governor’s office who doesn’t think the promise [to seek voter approval before raising taxes] was wrongheaded.” Uhhhhh …. George? George? George? Have you heard about the majority of Californians opposed to tax hikes? But lookie here: Skelton is dumping on Jerry’s demagogic, nonsensical tax hike ballot compromise the day it is finalized! Did George’s career-long concussion finally wear off?
The UC Davis pepper spray incident now has an upside: It’s going to force the political left to confront how its coddling of public employees goes against its alleged love of “social justice.” Normally this schism is only obvious when it comes to how Democrats protect teachers’ interests over K-12 students. Now I bet it becomes obvious with how they’ll protect police officers over college students involved in a passive protest. Enjoy!