Thursday, June 30, 2011

Dear Readers

Dear Readers,

May I crave your momentary indulgence.  That wasn’t really a question.  Just read.  Please.
I don’t, as a rule, do the self-referential, but I realized that my latest incoherent rant about Jerry Brown and the Republican Party, nearly one year since I started California Mwananchi from my sickbed in Nairobi (sounds dramatic, doesn’t it?—it wasn’t), put me at over 100,000 words (though that might include the “Share to Facebook” buttons, of which you should feel free to make liberal use).  I can just hear what my advisor would say to the 100,000-word mark—“Why couldn’t you apply some of this to your work!?  You might actually finish on time!  You might get a job when you finish!”

I’d long resisted The Blog as one of these newfangled inventions like televisions, light-switches, cars (though not BART), and automatic staplers: if the dinosaurs did without them, so could I! 

But of course I couldn’t resist the allure of being able to volubly proclaim those things I was accustomed to muttering under my breath or mentally rehashing while on a run.  The upside is that since I write more things down I mutter less, and look less crazy (though more out of place in Berkeley).  The downside is that if an idea occurs to me I have to try really hard to remember it, feeling obligated to write about it, and end up muttering anyway. 

I’ve found that when you’re writing for a blog, the little man who normally stands at the tip of your tongue and clubs bad ideas to death before they come out and embarrass you doesn’t do much good.  Looking back on some posts, I find myself thinking, “How crass, how confident, how prescient!  And you spelled ‘were’ as ‘wee’”. 

There have been more political posts than I initially planned (and they have, I suspect, got longer and longer and longer), but that just speaks to what a politically charged environment—globally and locally—we all live in, and how much is at stake in the events that go reported every day but too-often un-debated by those of us who should practise democracy more often and with greater vigour—we citizens .  I’ve been labelled a “union troll”, a “Democrat”, a “Liberal, a “Fascist” and a “Socialist” (the last two by the same person, who I think was a trifle confused about something). 

Unless I start getting death-threats (unlikely, on the face of it), the politically-minded posts won’t go away, or decrease in number.  But I’m reading a lot of fiction this summer, so maybe there will be more book-review style posts.  And the coming year includes some travel, which means that I will be able to report from time to time on the most cringe worthy of spectacles—me attempting to negotiate that most daunting of places called “the world outside of California”. 

There are posts that are still floating around in the back of my mind that might get written someday—on PTSD in the military, on the global arms trade, another post on the inept leadership of Berkeley’s International House, etc.  I’d welcome suggestions. 

The knowledge that any event is a potential post has made me take a notepad (and sometimes a camera) with me more often, and sometimes even stay out past my bedtime (Shock!  Horror!) to see something first-hand: Wheeler Hall, occupied by students who had climbed to a soaring balcony to protest the wrongs done them by university leadership; downtown Oakland, picketed by workers increasingly under pressure from the Republican Party; all three nights of the wonderful production of The Great Game at the Berkeley Rep.

I appreciate knowing that it’s not just my parents (who long after they learned that the Internet was not a town located near Crawford, Texas thought that a blog was something you took for intestinal disorders) and my dog reading the blog.  Some of the other five of you undoubtedly read it out of a misplaced sense of obligation, for the entertainment value my deluded rantings might afford, or because, let’s face it, anything’s more interesting than cricket.  (That’s right.  I said it.)  The reading is appreciated because, as all those English teachers said, it’s always best to write to be read. 

Before last summer, it had been a long time since I’d written with anything like regularity, or on non-academic topics.  It’s amazing how pleasant a process it is: you can write about anything you like; there are no deadlines; there are no length requirements; nobody can talk back to you; there is an outlet for all of your frustration with (insert as applicable) /The Republican Party/Mark Yudof/Obama/Jerry Brown/the politics of wildlife in east and central Africa ca. 1890-1975/.

And if you’re a waverer—is blogging selling out to the twenty-first century? will it go to my head? do I have to write all the time? (yes, yes, no)—all I can say is to try it. 

You might like it. 

And even if you don’t, you will mutter less.


But now back to the unmatchable view from the top of Bancroft Avenue, down to the water, the Golden Gate, the Marin headlands, the Pacific. 

I remain,

An ‘umble California Mwananchi. 

Friends like these: Brown and Miliband v. labour

Could today be said to mark the end of formal progressive politics in Britain?  The Liberal Democrats remain mired in the inconsistencies of their unholy alliance with the chain-saw wielding Conservative Party that is hell-bent on wrecking Britain’s public services.  And today, as hundreds of thousands of public sector workers gathered across Britain to protest cuts to services and to their pensions, Ed Miliband called the strikes “wrong”. 

Not misguided, not ill-timed, not strategically-mistaken: wrong.  Any of these other descriptors, while craven, would at least have preserved the impression that the Labour Party leader, who owes his position largely to the backing of trades union membership, at least recognises the moral impetus and rectitude behind the strikes.  But here, as in his efforts to be tougher on crime than the Conservatives in opposing Ken Clarke’s prison reforms from the right, he is thinking too much in electoral arithmetic and is not practising any kind of moral calculus.

But Miliband keeps good political company.  California Governor Jerry Brown was today applauded by media for “demonstrating an independence from his union backers by vetoing an undemocratic and unbalanced labor bill”, as if stiff-arming the workforce is in itself a good thing!  Brown, who seldom fails to mention (especially when in the company of Latino voters) his former association with César  Chávez  (never as cosy as Brown likes to make out), is making a typically short-termist move in trying to set himself up as the neutral arbiter, independent from the influences of organised labour.

In common with Miliband, Brown sees association with organised labour as a losing proposition.  But this need not be so.  However, Democratic and Labour Party leadership have ceded the field to their right-wing opponents who now (as successfully in Britain and unsuccessfully in the U.S. in the 1930s) restate an older argument about the division of the world into the constitutional middle classes and the unionised working classes.  The end.

But of course it’s not as easy as that.  The line between middle and working classes is fuzzy, and those who purport to speak for the middle classes tend to be the extraordinarily affluent, keen to project themselves as just “regular people”, under siege from militant unions.  And the class thing doesn’t quite map in another respect.  Because what the Republican and Conservative Parties are trying to do is to foster an ugly resentment in the hearts of non-unionised workers (whose protection was stripped from them by the same right-wingers) against their better-off unionised brethren. 

These two parties are trying to start a fight between people who largely share interests.  If private sector workers were unionised in large numbers, they could make the same sorts of gains that public sector workers have (instead they are encouraged to drag public sector workers down to their less-protected, often more poorly-compensated level).  Workers across these sectors share not only an interest in making their employers more accountable, but in the adequate funding of public services.

The education sector is a good example.  The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education recently published data showing the change in median family income against changes in tuition at public two-year colleges in the U.S. between 1999 and 2009 (historically the most accessible sector of the public education sector).  In California, income (uncorrected for the increases in cost of living) increased something on the order of 5% or less.  Tuition skyrocketed nearly 80%.  The story is the same for four-year colleges, long an incredibly good deal for the middle classes in particular.  Again, California saw a roughly 5% increase in income alongside a massive 90% increase in tuition.  (2011 Report, 4-6.)

The story is equally grim where K-12 education is concerned.  What appears to be California’s budget will make further violent cuts to the California State University and University of California systems, forcing tuition further upwards.  It is also based (and yet somehow this isn’t one of the “accounting tricks” commentators have been decrying) on untested assumptions about revenue windfalls rather than on a solid source of revenue, and should these assumptions fall short, CSU and UC will face further cuts, and K-12 schools will see their year cut by a week.

This will come with a long-term price-tag.  A growing number of students in California do not complete high school (around 20%).  The number falls to 2.6% in Contra Costa County’s San Ramon, and rises to an unconscionable 63.3% in Los Angeles’ Vernon Central (Portrait of California 142-50).  Startlingly, “one hundred of California’s nearly 2,500 high schools account for nearly half of the state’s dropouts.  In about seventy high schools, more than half of the students drop out” (Portrait of California 98). 

Attainment of a high school diploma has been shown to be tied to “longer life expectancy, better health, less crime, generational transfer of knowledge and civic participation” (Portrait of California 77).  As a legacy of Proposition 13, California spends far less money on education per-student than other states, and has dropped from being a leader in the education of K-12 students to one of the worst-ranked states in the union.  Proposition 13 has led to an estimated $13 billion less in revenue per year during the 2000s, with devastating consequences for the education sector, the motor of our state’s economy. 

At a time when “educational attainment is a key driver of earnings”, California (in common with the nation) will face a shortage of highly-educated and –skilled workers.*

The story is much the same in Britain, where government funding for higher education has plummeted to such an extent that it is now fair to say that Britain’s universities have been stealthily privatised.  At a time when their is little formal political will to resist the trend against social cohesiveness and responsibility (although much of California’s Democratic Party is disgusted with Brown), it falls to the “informal” political sphere—the workforce—to object to the attack on our future.

* “The United States is not producing enough highly skilled workers to meet labor market demand, and the earnings of such workers are thus increasing sharply in comparison to the wages of people with less education.  The problem is acute in California [...] Another factor in wage stagnation is the decline in unionisation among California workers, which can, in turn, partially be attributed to the declining fortunes of the heavily organised manufacturing sector.  Research has shown that unionised salary and wage workers in California earn 13.3 percent more per hour than non-union workers in similar positions and that the union wage premium, though in effect across the full range of salaries, is most substantial for workers at the lower end of the earnings distribution.  Though the union wage premium has declined somewhat for low-wage workers in the past two decades, union wages remain higher than the comparable wages of non-union workers in similar positions at all levels of the wage scale in California.  In addition, unionised workers are far more likely to enjoy benefits that enhance their living standards and provide economic security, such as health insurance and retirement savings plans”.  (Portrait of California 117-118).   And of course the Republican Party in California would rather target unionised labour than try to transmit these benefits to the workforce as a whole (failing to understand—or perhaps understanding all too well) that unionised workers' successes don't stem from some knee-jerk political support of unions, but from the power of a unified workforce—something which would bode ill for the profits of the financial, energy, big ag and other interests backing the Republican Party

Friday, June 24, 2011

Obama turns his back on the truth over Afghanistan

My stomach wasn’t strong enough to watch Obama’s speech on Afghanistan, so I just waited until the following morning to read the papers and later, the transcript of his remarks. 

You would have thought, based on the headlines, that Obama had declared a courageous, daring new strategy wildly at deviance with the caution that characterised his earlier pronouncements on the wars he is waging in Afghanistan and Pakistan (there was not a single word of substance on Pakistan or the war we are waging there to the consternation of many Pakistanis).  “Obama: 30,000 plus surge troops leaving Afghanistan” the headlines screamed. 

“A brand-new plan for Afghanistan: Obama’s troop withdrawal marks a dramatic—and risky—shift in strategy”. 

“Obama will speed pullout from war in Afghanistan”.

“End of the Afghan war is in sight”.

“Obama’s Afghanistan exit”.

But there is nothing novel, courageous, dramatic or speedy about the draw-down (because that is what it is—not a withdrawal) that Obama is proposing.  Nor is the end to the war remotely in sight.   At the beginning of 2013, still 18 months off, 70,000 U.S. soldiers will remain in Afghanistan (20,000 more than the number still in Iraq today, coming up on three years after Obama’s election). 

We could have a new President-elect before the last of these 30,000 soldiers are gone.  We could have elected still another President in 2016 before the last of the U.S. soldiers have left Afghanistan—assuming they are withdrawn at the same rate as those who came with Obama’s surge.  But that is highly unlikely.  We’ve been told again and again that we are likely to have soldiers in Afghanistan for many, many years to come, perhaps even decades.  Obama is being dishonest with the electorate and fudging on details when he says that “by 2014 [the change of the mission from one of combat to one of support] will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security”. 

And already, cringing and timid though his efforts are, the military has the knives out for Obama.  Backstabbing General Petraeus and Admiral Mullen, known neither for their respect of the principle of civilian command nor for the facts, called Obama’s strategy “more aggressive” than necessary (in withdrawing), “a risk”, a source of “real concerns”, a “rushed ending”. 

Obama has also shifted the focus from the Taliban to al-Qaeda, a sleight of hand that enables him to claim success where any good news might otherwise be elusive.  While his ability to constantly shift the goal-posts (reminiscent of the machinations of the neocons over Iraq) shows great political deftness, it is patently dishonest, speaks to an amoral and chaotic foreign policy, and demonstrates that there is no serious, underlying rationale for waging this war. 

Obama has abandoned his commitment to fostering a strengthened civil society in Afghanistan and Pakistan—the one redeeming feature of his last major speech on Afghanistan, though one about which the details were always troublingly fuzzy.  Now he has re-written history to be able to claim that we are fulfilling a much more narrowly defined commitment, though he is still absurdly vague about the measure of success or even our policy goals. 

It is an open question, given that Obama tells us that we have zero remaining aspiration to do good by Afghan society, why any U.S. soldiers are needed in Afghanistan, when it is increasingly clear that a majority of al-Qaeda threats seem to emanate from Pakistan, where our continued military presence and bombing campaign is likely to further inflame opinion against us and our policies.

Obama’s speech could have been given by George W Bush at any time between 2003 and 2008.  And the lone statement of objective is chilling: “The goal that we seek is achievable, and can be expressed simply: no safe-haven from which al-Qaida or its affiliates can launch attacks against our homeland, or our allies”.

As we know, the strength of organisations like al-Qaeda fluctuate over time.  Are we going to maintain forces in Afghanistan indefinitely to head off any resurgence (failing to act on the knowledge that a military presence in a foreign country can act as a catalyst to the birth of such organisations)?  How, given the inadequacy of our intelligence, and our dependence for such on countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan (which have agendas of their own) will we be able to know when al-Qaeda is sufficiently weakened? 

And above all, why are we so unwilling to face up to that most blindingly obvious of home truths?  Namely, that waging war in this way is the biggest breeder of national security threats that exists.  That our presence is a boon and a recruitment tool for the Taliban, and an obstacle to political reform. 

As galling is the fact that Obama is attempting to turn his foreign policy failures, with all of their bloody and costly implications, into a doctrine: “We must chart a more centred course.  Like generations before, we must embrace America’s singular role in the course of human events.  But we must be as pragmatic as we are passionate; as strategic as we are resolute...when innocents are being slaughtered and global security endangered, we don’t have to choose between standing idly by or acting on our own.  Instead we must rally international action, which we are doing in Libya, where we do not have a single soldier on the ground but are supporting allies in protecting the Libyan people and giving them the chance to determine their destiny”.

Now informed commentators have pointed out the dangers, moral and otherwise of bombing campaigns that are reminiscent of colonial-era police actions undertaken by lawless regimes with precious little respect for human life. 

Never mind that thus far, the intervention in Libya has achieved virtually nothing in terms of resolving the conflict there, and would not by any means, even if ‘successful’, point the way to a more democratic and just Libyan society.  Nor does he care to define what exactly “America’s singular role in the course of human events” is, most likely because this is a ridiculous homily that has been trotted out by President after President, generating a cost in human lives and money all out of proportion to the philosophically puny framework behind American exceptionalism.

Obama, the man who we hoped would bring thoughtfulness, logic and perhaps a moral framework to bear on the formulation of policy, has even more to say along this stupid line: “We must remember that what sets America apart is not solely our power—it is the principles upon which our union was founded”.  So long as we persist in the belief that we are the only country founded on principles of democracy, which values the rule of law, which treasures rights and has a past we remember, we will remain mired in conflict, in an out-moded and conflict-ridden global framework, imprisoned by our own ignorance and hubris.

The New York Times ran a story titled “Afghans imagine a country without foreign forces”.  For the time being, and likely the next decade or more, they will have to rely on their imaginations, just as Americans will if they try to conceive of being a country once more at peace.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

John Chiang's public disservice to California

John Chiang, California’s State Controller is the Golden State’s political Golden Boy, his popularity boosted by this week’s decision to withhold the pay of legislators for their failure to pass a budget that met his personal approval.

Chiang’s move, maybe or maybe not legally defensible (we’ll find out, because legislators are planning to mount a legal challenge to the Controller’s decision), is turning the budget negotiations into even more of a headline-grabbing farce.  It is also a distraction from what should be the real three issues:

1)  What are the structural problems with California's political system that make passing a budget such an intractable process, and how can we reform these?

2)  What responsibilities do we have, as people and as members of a shared community, to each other and to those with relatively less power (the elderly, the young, the poor, the sick, the socially marginalised, those living on the economic brink, etc)?

3)  What do we need to do, in terms of budgeting, spending, etc, to realise those responsibilities?

What any use of Proposition 58 amounts to (because presumably that is Chiang’s justification for judging the Democrats’ budget un-balanced) within our current political framework is an endorsement of the right-wing attack that Republicans have been mounting on our social and economic infrastructure and safety nets.  Because, given the Republican Party’s power to obstruct the state’s revenue flow at the same time that voters call for high-quality education, effective environmental regulations, an innovate energy sector and a conscionable social welfare system, what Proposition 58 does is order a damaging cuts-oriented budget. 

Chiang has been praised for executing the will of the people, commentators operating under the misguided assumption that he is enforcing the proposition passed last year which docks lawmakers’ pay if they fail to pass a budget on time.  But is in this erroneous reading of events that Chiang’s populist opportunism really comes to the surface.  The proposition passed last November made no mention of a balanced budget.  Chiang is relying on older legal provisions, and although he has been Controller since January of 2007, he has never before chosen to take any kind of legal action on the question of the budget.

Why action now and not then?  Because the brand of California’s politicians is severely deflated (fairly or not—much responsibility lies with ill-informed voters), and Chiang is eager to take advantage of the moment to restore a little lustre to his own, perhaps with his eye on a higher office.  But his personal popularity comes at a high price: if he had his way, we would pass a budget that takes a wrecking ball to our education system and our social infrastructure.  [According to an informal NPR poll, I’m amongst a meagre 2.8% who wouldn’t call Chiang a ‘hero’ for docking legislators’ pay!]

I understand why people are frustrated by the inability of California’s politicians to put out a timely and balanced budget.  What I do not understand, however, is the persistent ignorance that allows people, year after year, to mis-assign blame for this situation, and to fail to see that it is our state’s political structure which makes this.  The combination of an extremist Republican Party, Minority Rule, the standard division of powers between legislature and executive and the proposition system mean that legislators don’t actually have anything like total control of the budgetary process.

I strongly suspect that if Jerry Brown had not vetoed the budget, Chiang would have let it stand, allowed analysts and legislators to iron out mathematical errors and inconsistencies, and gone forward from there.  But he is instead grovelling before a testy and un-informed electorate, at the very moment when politicians should be trying to clarify the budgetary process to the public, so that people understand their role in creating this mess.

Through Proposition 13, voters have denied the state what was long its most significant and stable revenue source for years.  Through votes on a range of projects which would necessitate spending, voters have called on legislators to invest in transportation and energy projects.  Through their backing of Minority Rule, which requires a two-thirds vote to pass any revenue increases, voters have guaranteed that the ever more right-wing state Republican Party will, with its 34-38% of legislators, be able to hold up budgets indefinitely. 

I suspect that Chiang’s move was motivated more by concern for his own political future than for the social and economic future of our state, and I fear that his actions will have damaging repercussions. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Obama's immorality on Afghanistan

On Wednesday of this week, President Obama is set to make an announcement about the beginning of the drawdown of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. 

He will undoubtedly take care to couch the move in language that will appeal to both sides of the debate: he will assure those of us who are deeply troubled by the un-ending commitment to waging a bloody, wasteful and pointless war that this is the start of a process of ending the conflict; and he will guarantee those who see the War on Terror, the Long War, the Fight Against Radical Islam, etc, as central to our national security that this is in no way a withdrawal, and that the U.S. will not waver in its commitment to winning the war.

Obama’s Afghanistan policy is one utterly devoid of principle.  It’s not about fighting for any specific view of the future of Afghanistan (and it shouldn’t be—people need to make their won call about their future), because we’re involved in negotiations with the Taliban.  It can’t be about national security, because we have actually seen an uptick in ‘terrorist’ activities and attacks since 9/11.  It has become about two things: the vindication of our warmongering generals and Obama’s poll numbers.

That Obama knows he won’t win the 2012 race based on ideas or agenda is already clear.  Thus his obscene and morally reprehensible effort to raise a billion dollars in the course of that campaign.  But he will be hard put to rally the progressive supporters whose wallets and shoe-leather won him first the Democratic nomination and then the presidency in 2008 given his failure to re-orient the debate about the role of government and public institutions in our economic and social lives, his argument that civil rights should be decided at the state level (because that worked out well before?), and his commitment to the war in Afghanistan, our continued and escalated presence in Iraq, Yemen and Pakistan, and our involvement in Libya.

Nor has he been able to bring the kind of fresh thinking into his administration that he promised.  The people running our economy are those who plunged it into recession before his election, the military industrial complex ranges ever farther afield and exerts ever more control over our economy and policies, and the people making foreign policy calls exhibit an appalling ignorance of the historical background to our present troubles and a criminal disinterest in performing a serious re-think of our policies.

During every moment at which a sharp break from the past was required, Obama has capitulated, and fallen back on the tried-and-failed methods that have ruined our economic framework, our social community and our security.  And his announcement about Afghanistan will be no different.  Some are calling for a withdrawal of over half of our troops—not enough, I would say, but far, far better than any of the scenarios Obama is likely to propose. 

Now, the President who inveighed against “Dumb Wars” is waging the stupidest of them all for the shallowest of reasons.  And he is in serious danger of being politically out-flanked by Republicans.  Ron Paul has called for an outright withdrawal of all troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.  Other Republicans are parsing their positions.

Today, former-Utah Governor Jon Huntsman entered the race.  Huntsman is one of a dying breed of ‘reasonable’ Republicans.  I don’t care for many of his political positions, his financial backing of George W Bush, his pandering references to Reagan or his own hewing to formulaic remedies for social and economic ills.  But he is in danger of introducing a degree of sanity to the otherwise lunacy-ridden primary, with his pronouncements on the need to roll back our military commitments abroad, his self described “comfort” with a healthcare mandate, support of civil unions as well as the science behind climate change, etc.

But Huntsman is not averse to policy U-turns, embraces only a mildly-watered down version of the free market approach of his fellow Republicans, and is certainly not a stranger to uttering absurd homilies.  On Afghanistan: “It’s a tribal state, and it always will be”.  This kind of vacuous statement obviously ignores the extent to which Afghanistan, as we know it today, is a product of over a century of armed foreign intervention and manipulation, and has never been allowed the chance to actively determine its future.

At the end of the day, there is no difference between Obama and the majority of Republicans on the question of his wars, and where there is, it is where some Republicans are expressing (politically expedient?) doubt.  We have yet to see an approach from Obama or the more rational of the Republican candidates that begins to seriously end the series of wars that have crippled our economy any take a daily toll on military and civilian lives in a half-dozen countries around the world.  What we desperately need is an anti-war movement to put serious pressure on these people to end our damaging wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, and our ill-advised interventions in Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and the more secretive security operations elsewhere.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Saint Jerry takes California for a ride

It’s taken me a while, but I’ve finally figured out who George Skelton (LA Times columnist) reminds me of.  Michael White, the Guardian’s preening, self-satisfied, “commonsense” political columnist, who wastes more column inches than you could shake a stick at defending the political, social and economic status quo.

Skelton’s analysis is often spot on, but he has a not-insignificant blind spot where Governor Jerry Brown is concerned.  His latest: “An honest state budget still eludes Gov. Jerry Brown, but he has acquired one priceless commodity: a reputation for consistency.  Conviction and commitment.  Says what he means, means what he says.  That’s an invaluable asset for a political leader.  It tends to make him believable, credible, respected”.

The first part of that I can follow, to a certain extent at least.  Californians shouldn’t be surprised at the appalling lack of leadership Brown has given where the principles that should underlie the construction of a state budget are concerned.  His campaign in 2010 made clear that there is scarcely a progressive bone in the man’s body, and that he sees his role as that of a manager rather than a pro-active leader.

Now the first problem with Skelton’s analysis is that Brown hasn’t been as clear as he suggests.  Last week he promised to look very closely at the Democrats’ budget.  If he had been really clear about his dedication to vetoing any of their proposals out of hand, he would have warned them not to waste their time in trying to deal seriously with California’s budget difficulties.  But, in a shallow political move, he led them along before scrambling back from the brink to regain his ill-gotten political capital by siding with Republicans in calling for more cuts to education, social services, employee rights and environmental regulation.

Skelton praises Brown for “vetoing a gimmicky budget”.  But this is praise that ill fits the man who, during his first eight-year tenure as governor, perfected the depressing art of gesture politics, such that many Democrats today think of ‘Brown Mark I’ as a progressive, when in fact he led disinvestment from public services, the ham-stringing of the state’s ability to raise revenue, and had, as his moving principle, the idea that governance by inaction was an effective strategy.

The fabled blue Plymouth and Southwest flights aside, Brown’s absurd campaign promise last fall that there would be no new taxes without the increases being put to Californians at the ballot box was nothing if not a gimmick to get him through November, with nary a thought to what such a promise would mean for the future.

But the worst comes last.  In a rhetorical stab at the Democratic-dominated (but not controlled) legislature, Skelton asks, “Why should a Democratic governor’s philosophical commitment be held in higher regard than a Republican legislator’s?”

This is my biggest problem with Brown: there isn’t, so far as I can see, any philosophy at work besides political self-preservation.  He’s fallen into the trap so cleverly set by the Republican Party and its neoliberal allies in the business and financial worlds, of treating a budget as the be-all-end-all of the political process.  Instead of stepping back and asking, “What are our values and what are the fundamental things that we, as a people, need to provide to each other?” and then working to find solutions that get us where we need—morally and socially—to be, Brown is caught up in scrambling to adjust our morals, our society and our culture around a budget, as though it were something sacred. 

I think that for Skelton and others to talk about “Brown’s burden of consistency” is not only inaccurate.  It is to entirely miss the point, which is that Brown, in common with the leaders of the state Republican Party, is holding the social and economic fabric of our state, and the well being of its inhabitants, hostage to a budget.  And that when Brown goes to the negotiating table, it is without any discernible set of principles other than that the budget must be balanced within the confines of our absurd political system whatever the costs are to Californians. 

Skelton and other Brown fans should think a little bit longer and harder about what they are cheer-leading for.