By Doug Porter
Welcome to the Memorial Day Edition of the Starting Line. Our lead story in today’s review of the news comes from Sunday’s New York Times, focusing on California’s budget problems.
Over the past decade or so this kind of reporting would have focused on state budget deficits and spending cuts and the internecine warfare going on in our State, which would inevitably include forecasts of bankruptcy, economic chaos and predictions that these problems were destined to spread to other states.
This time the story was different. A $1.2 billion surplus predicted by Gov. Jerry Brown may grow to $4.4 billion if the estimate of the Legislature’s independent financial analyst turns out to be correct. And the question now is how best to use these revenues for the future.
The era of complete gridlock in the California legislature is over, at least for now, as Republicans have found themselves boxed into corner, commanding too few votes to make their ‘party of NO’ strategy relevant. An improving economy—no thanks to Congressional Republicans in Washington—along with a capital gains windfall and the impact of Proposition 30 all play into the State’s improving financial picture.
From the NY Times account:
The disagreement in California is between members of the same party. Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, the chairman of the Budget Committee, disputed Mr. Brown’s projection of the extra revenue.
“The only way the governor can possibly come up with his numbers is if you assume the worst on every single variable,” he said. “That’s just not going to happen.”
“We’ve made some brutal cuts,” Mr. Blumenfield said. “There’s a lot of pain that’s been spread across California, and we can’t ignore that. But we have to be smart. We have finally clawed our way to stability, and we’re not going to squander it.”
Memorial Day Tributes and Tribulations
Former Senate majority leader, WWII veteran and GOP presidential candidate in 1996 Bob Dole has an op-ed in today’s Washington Posttalking about the seamy side of charitable groups that claim to be helping veterans. Money quote:
…there are groups like the impressively named American Veterans Relief Foundation, a prime target of congressional investigators in 2007-08 hearings. The foundation raised $3.6 million, of which less than 1 percent went to assist vets. It was an extreme case, to be sure, but not a unique one. Those hearings raised awareness of the problem without offering a legislative solution. A Donors Bill of Rights could, for example, require that prospective contributors be told upfront how much of their gift will support a charity’s stated mission. Think of it as consumer protection for charitable donors. Enactment isn’t likely, however, as courts up to and including the Supreme Court have frowned on fundraising regulations as potential violations of the First Amendment.
Nothing is scummier in my mind than groups seeking to exploit people’s gratitude for the sacrifices made by military service people. As you think of those sacrifices today, keep in mind Dole’s advice:
If you’re contacted by fundraisers, be prepared to ask some questions in return. Confirm the organization’s tax-exempt status. Find out how much of your gift will go to the intended recipient and how much to administration or fundraising. Better yet, ask the group to put its appeal in writing and then review its financial stats and spending record on Web sites such as Charity Navigator. As Ronald Reagan said in a different context: Trust but verify. Check them out before you write a check.
Patriotic Puffery at the Fishwrap
Given the impact of the military in San Diego, you would expect that the UT-San Diego would go all-out for Memorial Day. And they did not disappoint in the Sunday paper. Lacking any high-profile veterans in the top tiers of management, the task fell to #1 Manchester minion John Lynch to paint an empathetic portrait of the Real Americans at the newspaper.
Readers of Sunday’s edition were subjected to a lengthy treatise on the patriotic values of the paper’s ownership, build around an account of a 2004 voyage to Iraq by Papa Doug, Lynch and an entourage that included a couple of cheerleaders.
Hoping to boost ‘goodwill’ and cement the image of their radio venture, the Mighty 1090 as ‘San Diego’s exclusive sports radio station, home of the Padres and radio home for San Diego’s military’, the saga of Manchester’ mission to the battlefront is played out in exquisite detail. (TMI alert!)
We get to share fabulous insights like the fact that Lynch is too corpulent to fit into the largest size of military body armor. And how they spent a night of tossing and turning and numerous visits to the malodorous hole in the floor of their room after they landed in Iraq.
At least the cheerleaders were popular with the troops.
A Surprise Ending at the Supreme Court?
We’re just about a month away from hearing the Supreme Court’s ruling on a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Proposition 8, which bans same sex marriage in California. The outcome of that case, according to an account in today’s Los Angeles Times, might not provide any closure on the matter.
Lawyers leading the fight for gay marriage in California have been quietly preparing state officials for the possibility the U.S. Supreme Court might dismiss the case on a technicality next month without deciding the fate of Proposition 8.
The justices could decide that the sponsors of the ballot measure outlawing same-sex marriage had no legal right, or standing, to defend it in federal court. That would end the case in Washington, but it is not clear what it would mean for California.
If state officials declared Proposition 8 dead, relying on U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker’s 2010 ruling against the measure, same-sex weddings could commence within weeks or months. Or there could be another legal fight over the reach of Walker‘s ruling.
It looks to me like the only way out of this mess will be to revisit the issue at the ballot box. And with the Mormon Church (which provided much of the funding and ground game for Prop 8) out of the business of opposing same sex unions, this is an obvious answer.
Immigration Reform Rally on Thursday
Citizens demanding comprehensive immigration reform will be meeting up Thursday evening (May 30) at the west side of the County Administration Building for a rally starting at 7pm. For more information go here.
Speakers will include Enrique Morones (Border Angels), Bob Filner (Mayor of San Diego), Nathan Fletcher (San Diegans United for Commonsense Immigration Reform) and Richard Barrera, SDSDU School Board and San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council.
Another Obamacare Surprise
It’s not been a good week for purveyors of ObamaScare doom and gloom. First word comes out that the oft-predicted dramatic hikes in healthcare insurance premiums are not happening. Now Thomas Friedman, writing in the New York Times, says the economic impact looks to be even more positive than predicted.
The combination of Obamacare regulations, incentives in the recovery act for doctors and hospitals to shift to electronic records and the releasing of mountains of data held by the Department of Health and Human Services is creating a new marketplace and platform for innovation — a health care Silicon Valley — that has the potential to create better outcomes at lower costs by changing how health data are stored, shared and mined. It’s a new industry.
Obamacare is based on the notion that a main reason we pay so much more than any other industrial nation for health care, without better results, is because the incentive structure in our system is wrong. Doctors and hospitals are paid primarily for procedures and tests, not health outcomes. The goal of the health care law is to flip this fee-for-services system (which some insurance companies are emulating) to one where the government pays doctors and hospitals to keep Medicare patients healthy and the services they do render are reimbursed more for their value than volume.
To do this, though, doctors and hospitals need instant access to data about patients — diagnoses, medications, test results, procedures and potential gaps in care that need to be addressed. As long as this information was stuffed into manila folders in doctors’ offices and hospitals, and not turned into electronic records, it was difficult to execute these kinds of analyses. That is changing. According to the Obama administration, thanks to incentives in the recovery act there has been nearly a tripling since 2008 of electronic records installed by office-based physicians, and a quadrupling by hospitals.
And here’s Paul Krugman in today’s New York Times making the same point:
Still, here’s what it seems is about to happen: millions of Americans will suddenly gain health coverage, and millions more will feel much more secure knowing that such coverage is available if they lose their jobs or suffer other misfortunes. Only a relative handful of people will be hurt at all. And as contrasts emerge between the experience of states like California that are making the most of the new policy and that of states like Texas whose politicians are doing their best to undermine it, the sheer meanspiritedness of the Obamacare opponents will become ever more obvious.
So yes, it does look as if there’s an Obamacare shock coming: the shock of learning that a public program designed to help a lot of people can, strange to say, end up helping a lot of people — especially when government officials actually try to make it work.
Monsanto Demonstration Coverage
Needless to say, there wasn’t much coverage of the world-wide protests against the Industrial Agriculture Behemoth. I have another story up here at SDFP with lots of photos from San Diego and around the world.
Check Out the SDFree Press Calendar
Thanks to the efforts of Brent Beltrán, the San Diego Free Press now has an on-line calendar of events. You can see events in the arts, performances and political gatherings of every persuasion by clicking on the ‘Calendar’ Tab at the top of the page. To get your event listed, drop us a line: firstname.lastname@example.org
On This Day: 1647 – Achsah Young, a resident of Windsor, CT, was executed for being a witch. It was the first recorded American execution of a “witch.” 1937 – The Golden Gate Bridge was opened to pedestrian traffic. 1964 – Eleven boys were suspended at a Coventry, England, school for having a hair style like Mick Jagger.
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