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Daniel Weintraub

California Insider

A Weblog by
Sacramento Bee Columnist Daniel Weintraub

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« July 2005 | | September 2005 »
August 31, 2005

Questioning the API

I found this critique of California's Academic Performance Index pretty convincing. I have never understood why we have to have scores of 600 or 700 on an 800-point scale based on a formula that nobody can figure out rather than simply reporting how many kids are performing at grade level in each subject.

Posted by dweintraub at 3:50 PM



SAT update

If I am reading this chart correctly, about 40 percent of California's college-bound seniors are non-Hispanic white. Another 22 percent are Asian, 18 percent Mexican or Mexican-American (plus another 6 percent other Latino) and 7 percent black. That seems like a diversity success story to me, and not one we hear much about.

Posted by dweintraub at 3:47 PM



Lift teams

The California Nurses Association makes a good case for why "lift teams" or better equipment would help reduce back injuries among hospital nurses. I am not sure they make as good a case for why that means the Legislature should pass and the governor should sign this bill to put the state in the business of regulating how and when nurses lift patients.

Posted by dweintraub at 3:37 PM



College hopefuls

Amid all the talk of an America increasingly lacking economic mobility, we sometimes forget that tremendous strides are being made in some areas. Here is one example, from today's Christian Science Monitor story on recent SAT scores:

A demographic breakdown of test-takers also gives a snapshot of the changing face of college hopefuls. This year's class of SAT takers includes both the highest level of minorities (38 percent) and first-generation college students (36 percent). Fifty-eight percent of first-generation college students are women - a trend that held across ethnic lines.

I wonder what those numbers are in California.

Posted by dweintraub at 12:06 PM



If you want it, we'll make you pay

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has just learned a good lesson in legislative relations: never declare anything your "top priority." If you do, the other side will immediately seek to leverage your desires against you. That's what is happening with the gov's "million solar roofs" initiative, which he last week said was at the top of his to-do list for the end of the legislative session. Now the Democrats have added amendments that he finds unacceptable, prompting the governor's press secretary to say he will veto his own proposal if it reaches his desk in its current form.

Here is my column on the subject from Tuesday and here is a Bee news story today with updated information today.

Posted by dweintraub at 9:44 AM



August 30, 2005

The gov and the mayor

Here is a link to audio of the governor and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa discussing their meeting today.

Posted by dweintraub at 3:00 PM



New census numbers on income, poverty

The US Census Bureau has released its annual report on income, poverty and health insurance coverage in the United States. No significant changes reported for California in any of those categories. Nationally, poverty inched up, and incomes and health insurance coverage were flat. There are actually two reports. The Current Population Survey, which is best for national numbers, is here, and the more detailed American Community Survey is here. The press release is here.

Posted by dweintraub at 8:00 AM



August 29, 2005

Hewitt and Rutten

Radio host and blogger Hugh Hewitt gets more than a few calls from journalists wanting to interview him (especially with his friend John Roberts having been nominated to the Supreme Court). His new policy is to grant the requests only if the journalist agrees to do it on the air. LA Times columnist Tim Rutten took the bait. The interview aired today, and Hewitt has posted a transcript here. It's a long conversation, but it's very interesting if you are following the evolution of newspapers, talk radio and new media. Rutten's column, about a recent dip in talk radio audiences, is here.

Posted by dweintraub at 4:01 PM



Green, or only greenish?

This LA Times story quotes environmentalists complaining about Gov. Schwarzenegger's recent appointments to regulatory posts, suggesting he is bending over backward to please business interests.

This Sacramento Bee story, meanwhile, describes a crackdown on farm pesticide abuse led in part by the gov's hand-picked regulator, a former Farm Bureau lobbyist who is now pushing a "zero-tolerance" policy on pesticide exposure violations.

Posted by dweintraub at 7:56 AM



August 28, 2005

'Splitting the baby'

Here is the latest on White House attempts to draft a new immigration plan.

Posted by dweintraub at 7:37 AM



August 26, 2005

My poll's better than yours

Seeking to counter the latest PPIC poll full of bad news for the governor, Schwarzenegger's team has circulated this memo claiming that he's doing just fine. The internal polling, the report says, shows Schwarzenegger with a narrowly positive approval rating and a far better rating than the Legislature. Take away Bay Area liberals, and he's doing quite well. Unfortunately for the governor, the Bay Area is scheduled to participate in the Nov. 8 election along with the rest of the state.

You can find the PPIC poll here.

And my take on it in my Thursday column here.

Posted by dweintraub at 9:43 AM



August 24, 2005

Who's watching the watchdog?

Deep in this long LA Times story on corporations donating to nonprofits that benefit the governor is this little tidbit:

"[State Treasurer Phil] Angelides... reported soliciting $35,000 from two unions in March to support the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a prominent Schwarzenegger critic."

The FTCR has long jealously guarded information about its financial supporters, even as it insists that everyone else in the political world disclose theirs. If, as this report suggests, the foundation is getting support from unions at the behest of one of the state's top Democrats, it looks as if they can say goodbye to any claim of being an independent voice for consumers, not to mention taxpayers.

Posted by dweintraub at 2:33 PM



TNR on tenure

The New Republic weighs in on Schwarzenegger's teacher tenure reform, Proposition 74.

Posted by dweintraub at 1:30 PM



August 23, 2005

Charter school funding

The Fordham Institute releases a new study that says charter schools, on average, get 22 percent less funding than traditional public schools in the districts that surround them.

Posted by dweintraub at 11:34 AM



Heads or tails

I think Arnold Kling is right about the growth of the Long Tail in American politics. I am not so sure he is right about where it might lead us.

Posted by dweintraub at 8:23 AM



August 22, 2005

To your health

Five health care policy experts at Stanford give brief assessments of the problems in health care finance today, and potential solutions.

Posted by dweintraub at 1:42 PM



Pledge time

The state Senate has passed and sent to the governor AB 866, which would add gay-bashing to the list of banned items on a fair campaign practices pledge that California candidates are given the opportunity to sign. The bill would add sexual orientation to a list that already includes race, sex, religion, national origin, physical health status or age. The bill now goes to the governor.

Posted by dweintraub at 1:09 PM



August 19, 2005

Talks run out of time

The end of the negotiations between the governor and legislative leaders came with a whimper, as a conference call concluded late Thursday. Both sides said the talks came close to a deal before running out of time. We'll have to wait and see if this is the first time a secretary of state's ballot deadline really is the deadline.

Posted by dweintraub at 7:41 AM



August 18, 2005

Deadline Schmedline

Aides to Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez have put out a statement this afternoon arguing that tonight's deadline for agreeing on measures to go on the Nov. 8 ballot is flexible, and perhaps there are still 8 days or so for the governor and legislators to agree on a compromise slate of ballot proposals. They also provide this text of a quote Nunez gave earlier today to a television news service on the status of the negotiations:

"People said today’s the deadline, but there’s still room here. We still think (we have) seven or eight more days to do this. We’re going to talk to Secretary of State McPherson to see how much time is left. There’s no question there’s good will on both sides to try and reach an agreement. I don’t know if we reach an agreement. I’ve expressed my skepticism in the past. I don’t think we shut the door tight at midnight tonight. I think there’s still a little room. We do have some more time here.”

Posted by dweintraub at 4:26 PM



FEC waives limits for ballot fight

The Federal Elections Commission voted Thursday to let lawmakers raise unlimited amounts of money to fight Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan to take the job of drawing district lines out of the hands of the Legislature. The decision was spurred by a request from Reps. Howard Berman, a Democrat, and John Doolittle, a Republican, two partisan foes who typically are at odds but have come together on this issue. Here is a story on the decision.

Posted by dweintraub at 2:26 PM



August 17, 2005

Public wi-fi

I am an Internet junkie and I love my wi-fi, but I think plans like this one to blanket cities with subsidized, government-run wireless networks are foolhardy. The technology moves so fast that any public network would probably be obsolete before it was completed. The city couldn't afford to keep updating it, and couldn't afford to let the private sector step in and replace it. Bad idea.

Posted by dweintraub at 11:36 AM



Some company for our misery

The Rocky Mountain News is doing a series on Colorado's imploding public pension fund. Here is part four, with links to the others.

Posted by dweintraub at 10:28 AM



August 16, 2005

Health insurance coverage, over time

The UCLA Center for Health Policy Research is out with a report today on the uninsured in California.

The center says that 6.6 million, or 21 percent of non-elderly Californians, were without health insurance for all or part of 2003, the latest year for which numbers are available.

That's not good. But for some context, consider that the same center reported that in 1998, 7.7 million Californians, or 24.4 percent of the non-elderly population, was uninsured.

Over a span of time during which the state's population grew by more than 3 million people, mostly immigrants and their children, the number of uninsured actually declined. Seems like modestly good news to me.

Posted by dweintraub at 10:04 AM



August 15, 2005

Why deregulate?

A Nobel laureate writes about the right way to deregulate electricity, and why it's still a good idea.

An excerpt:

Suppose half the wires capacity cost is due to only six hours of peak demand--the peak capacity being idle for 18 hours. Then those consuming power during one-quarter of the day should be charged for half of the capital cost of the wires. Such pricing is not only "fair," it conveys the right incentives for capital utilization. This principle is why hotel rates are so much higher at seasonal peaks. It's the peak renters that have required investors to build all the extra room capacity. Off-season renters are not the ones straining capacity and are charged less. Competition naturally discovers this and prices reflect the opportunity cost of new capacity, not the irrelevant historical cost of the infrastructure.

It could pay a high-rise office-building owner to install a gas micro turbine for peaking energy, or install motion-sensitive light switches in all the offices, if in addition to the energy savings he could get a wires-charge rebate due to his reduced dependence on the grid which would accommodate growth without new investment. The fact that he cannot benefit tells you how regulation blocks innovation. We badly need changes in the local regulation of the wires that reward customers if they reduce their dependence on the grid.


Posted by dweintraub at 4:13 PM



Test scores released

The latest California public school test scores are out, and it looks like continued, steady if not dramatic progress. You can find the news release and a link to the scores here.

Posted by dweintraub at 12:02 PM



Too much information?

The New York Times is alarmed because people are taking more responsibility for their own health care. Joining the new intellectual movement raising questions about the amount of choices available in modern society, The Times weighs in on health care, and says modern patients are overwhelmed by the options they now have and the power they have to make choices about the course of their own medical treatment.

This is silly. Yes, for patients who choose to do research and participate in medical decisions, the process can be stressful. But the reward is being part of the decision-making and engaged in saving your own life. Having never been seriously ill in the earlier era, or helped a loved one facing a serious illness back then, I can only imagine the feeling of helplessness that came with having to put your life in the hands of a doctor with no way of knowing if he really knew what he was doing.

In the following excerpt, the Times describes the transformation, which sounds great.

Until the late 1960's, patients perceived doctors, then almost exclusively white men, as unassailable figures of authority. They knew best. But during the social and cultural upheaval that ushered in the women's rights, civil rights and consumers' rights movements, the paternalistic authority of the physician became deeply suspect. Women fought to join the conversation. Challenging the mystification of medicine, the Boston Women's Health Book Collective published "Our Bodies, Ourselves," a landmark guide. Women changed conventional wisdom about the prevalence of hospital deliveries, hysterectomies and mastectomies.

With the introduction of Medicaid and Medicare in 1965, health care began to be seen as a right, not a privilege. Patients repositioned themselves as consumers of health care, entitled to as much information as possible. Support groups sought to empower patients with booklets and questions for doctors.

In response, many patients became insatiable consumers of medical information. In a New York Times/CBS News poll of 1,111 adults in February, 44 percent of patients who received a diagnosis sought additional information about their treatment from sources others than their physicians, including the Internet, friends and relatives, and other doctors.

Sound good? Don't be fooled. Read the whole piece to find out why all of this is somehow bad news.

Posted by dweintraub at 6:47 AM



August 12, 2005

Prop. 77 returned to ballot, for good

The state Supreme Court has intervened in the Prop. 77 case, restoring the measure to the ballot and announcing plans to review the issue again after the election.

UPDATE: Here is an AP story on the decision.

UPDATE: Here is a pdf file of the court's order.

UPDATE: Nunez compares the decision to Florida 2000:

“I am disappointed at this political decision by Chief Justice George and three members of the Court to allow a flawed initiative to appear on the ballot. The court’s decision is reminiscent of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Florida election. It shows why a small group of unaccountable, politically-appointed judges should not be given the sole power to determine who represents Californians."

Posted by dweintraub at 5:18 PM



Note to Cindy Sheehan

Mohammed at Iraq the Model posts an open letter to Cindy Sheehan, giving his best shot at answering her questions about why her soldier son died in Iraq. An excerpt:

We cried out of joy the day your son and his comrades freed us from the hands of the devil and we went to the streets not believing that the nightmare is over.
We practiced our freedom first by kicking and burning the statues and portraits of the hateful idol who stole 35 years from the life of a nation.
For the first time air smelled that beautiful, that was the smell of freedom.

The mothers went to break the bars of cells looking for the ones they lost 5, 12 or 20 years ago and other women went to dig the land with their bare hand searching for a few bones they can hold in their arms after they couldn't hold them when they belonged to a living person.

I recall seeing a woman on TV two years ago, she was digging through the dirt with her hands. There was no definite grave in there as the whole place was one large grave but she seemed willing to dig the whole place looking for her two brothers who disappeared from earth 24 years ago when they were dragged from their colleges to a chamber of hell.

Her tears mixed with the dirt of the grave and there were journalists asking her about what her brothers did wrong and she was screaming "I don't know, I don't know. They were only college students. They didn't murder anyone, they didn't steal, and they didn't hurt anyone in their lives. All I want to know is the place of their grave".

Why was this woman chosen to lose her dear ones? Why you? Why did a million women have to go through the same pain?

Posted by dweintraub at 3:06 PM



Hush money?

A tabloid publisher wooing Arnold Schwarzenegger for a business deal paid $20,000 to a woman to sign a confidentiality agreement about an alleged affair she had with the actor and then-candidate, the LA Times reports today. The publisher, American Media, later signed a multi-million-dollar deal with Schwarzenegger to be executive editor of two body building magazines and help promote the business. The story is here.

Posted by dweintraub at 8:13 AM



August 11, 2005

Jam-packed and sprawling

Here's a good read from the Washington Post with a counter-intuitive twist: the suburbs of Los Angeles are the most densely populated communities in the nation, with 25 percent more people per square mile than New York.

Posted by dweintraub at 8:40 AM



Summer thoughts

George Skelton has been gazing at Lake Tahoe and connecting the dots among the president, the governor and raw sewage.

Posted by dweintraub at 8:33 AM



August 10, 2005

Prop. 77 supporters petition Supremes

Rick Hasen reports that the Prop. 77 supporters have appealed to the Supreme Court, and he has posted a copy of their petition.

Posted by dweintraub at 3:21 PM



It's (not) Only Rock 'n Roll

ArnoldWatch tries a little too hard in this item to skewer the gov with song titles, but they do have a newsy little tidbit: Schwarzenegger is inviting supporters to join him in a box at the Rolling Stones kick-off concert in Boston Aug. 21. For only $100,000 a piece.

Posted by dweintraub at 12:15 PM



August 9, 2005

Prop. 77 ruling

The attorney general's office advises that a ruling is imminent in the Prop. 77 case and that the judgment is in favor of the AG's office, keeping 77 off the Nov. 8 ballot. Details to come.

UPDATE: The ruling was 2-1, with Scotland dissenting. Here is the pdf file.

SECOND UPDATE: Rick Hasen weighs in here.

Posted by dweintraub at 2:05 PM



$3 billion question

State schools Supt. Jack O’Connell and the California Teachers Assn. announced today that they are suing the state and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for failing to fully fund the Prop. 98 guarantee. The suit is based on the agreement that the governor and the education coalition reached in December, 2003. The agreement allowed the state to give the schools $2 billion less than Prop. 98 required for the 2004-05 fiscal year. After the agreement was made, however, the Prop. 98 guarantee grew, to the point that the state would have had to contribute another $3.1 billion over two years to keep pace with that agreement.

The legal question will be: exactly what is the current minimum level guaranteed by the constitution? O’Connell and the CTA believe the guarantee is whatever it would have been if Prop. 98 had not been suspended for the 04-05 year, minus the $2 billion the education coalition agreed to forgo. The governor – and by implication the Legislature, since lawmakers approved this year’s budget – believe that the guarantee was permanently lowered once Prop. 98 was suspended in 2004. That appears to be the position of the legislative analyst as well, since that office has reported that the current budget actually gives the schools more than Prop. 98 requires.


Posted by dweintraub at 11:34 AM



August 8, 2005

Work comp rates down 27 percent

Workers comp insurance companies filing new rates since the 2003 and 2004 reforms were adopted have cut their prices by an average of 27 percent, including a 14.6 percent reduction in rates filed since July 1, according to Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi. The commish said, however, that those reductions still “lag far behind” the reduction in the cost of claims during that same period and are below the 36.5 percent reduction in the “pure premium” that Garamendi has recommended. His news release and a link to a chart are here.

Posted by dweintraub at 2:55 PM



August 5, 2005

'Stop thinking like a lawyer'

3dca_court.jpg
3rd District Court of Appeal (court photo)

The 3rd District Court hearing today on Proposition 77 was a feast for political and legal junkies – though it probably would have put any normal person to sleep. The parlor game, of course, was trying to predict how the three-judge panel might rule, based on their questioning of the attorneys for both sides. The consensus of observers I talked to was that it was anywhere from a coin-flip to a slam dunk for the anti-77 forces.

The justices were Arthur Scotland, the presiding judge of the court and a Deukmejian appointee; Coleman Blease, a Jerry Brown appointee; and M. Kathleen Butz, who was elevated to the appeals court bench by Gray Davis in October 2003 – just days before he was recalled by the voters.

Blease was clearly partial to the attorney general’s case that the measure should be thrown off the ballot. Either that or he is the world’s best practitioner of the “devil’s advocate” technique. He peppered attorney Dan Kolkey with questions and statements suggesting that the proponent’s error – submitting one version of their measure to the attorney general for review while circulating a slightly different measure to the voters for signatures -- was an egregious breach of state law. He cited section after section of the elections code that were violated, rejected Kolkey’s assertion that the differences were immaterial, and probed the circumstances and timing of the proponents’ handling of the knowledge that they had screwed up. His bottom line seemed to be that the Prop. 77 forces made a stupid, preventable mistake and then covered it up, and probably shouldn’t be rewarded with a spot for their proposal on the ballot.

Scotland was a little bit harder to read, but not much. Before Kolkey could even begin the justice generously asked him why the court should not simply apply last month’s Supreme Court decision on Proposition 80, where the high court reversed Scotland and two other justices who had just struck that measure from the ballot. The supremes opined that in almost every case a measure that’s been qualified for the ballot should go on the ballot and disputes should be decided later. Scotland noted that Kolkey hadn’t cited the brand new decision in his brief, but he still wanted to know why it wouldn’t apply here. Kolkey’s response: by all means, go for it.

As they settled into the arguments, Scotland was more even-handed, asking tough questions of both sides. But he had the quote of the day when he asked Vickie Whitney, the deputy attorney general arguing the case for Bill Lockyer, to “stop thinking like a lawyer” and put herself in the shoes of the “average voter” looking at the discrepancy in this case.

“Don’t you honestly think,” Scotland asked, “that the voter would say, ‘What’s the big deal?’”

Whitney, of course, said no, that the average voter would care, because of the damage to the integrity of the initiative process that would occur if the measure were allowed to go forward after the rules for submitting initiatives were ignored.

But Scotland kept pressing. He opened a hole in Whitney's (and Lockyer’s) logic when he pressed her to explain her position that this was a very simple case of somebody breaking the rules. The AG’s written brief had argued that the doctrine of “substantial compliance” (translation: close enough for government work) didn’t apply here and that there was no need to even evaluate the differences between the two versions of the measure to decide if they were significant. Their argument: once you establish that there were two measures, you don’t need to go any further. Whitney acknowledged that this might sound like a “radical” view but added: “There has to be certainty in the law.”

Scotland didn’t sound convinced. He asked Whitney if the same “bright line” would exist if one “but” was changed to “however” or a comma was put where a semi-colon should be. Such a position, he said, would be not only radical but “non-sensical.” At that point she backed off and allowed that such minor errors might not be cause for striking a measure from the ballot. At which the justice declared that those minor errors could never be evaluated if the bright line Whitney was advocating were the law of the land. And he noted that there is ample Supreme Court precedent for jumping that line, giving deference to the initiative process and trying to determine if the law was followed enough to let a measure go forward, even if errors were made.

Butz.jpg
Justice Butz. Swing vote?

The third justice, Butz, asked only a couple of questions and gave no hint of how she might rule. But one of her queries went right to the heart of the matter. She asked Kolkey for his definition for the doctrine of “substantial compliance” that he insisted be followed in this case, for what test he would apply to decide if a “close enough” standard had been met. His answer: if the reason for the statutes was accomplished even though there were violations, then they have been substantially complied with. And in this case, since the ballot title and summary were accurate, and every voter who signed the petitions had a chance to read the document as proposed, then the reasons for submitting an exact copy for review were accomplished.

“No voter was misled,” Kolkey said.

Scotland concluded by wringing his hands over the matter, saying that he had spent a lot of time already researching the issue and “This is not an easy call.” He promised that the court would rule as soon as possible and suggested that Tuesday morning was his target for issuing a decision.

Either way, the case seems almost certain to be appealed to the Supreme Court.


Posted by dweintraub at 2:37 PM



August 4, 2005

CTA backs off, again

The CTA says it has the signatures to qualify a ballot measure to raise business property taxes. The union says its polling shows that the measure would pass. And we all know they have the money to wage a pretty strong campaign. But today the CTA announced that it is pulling the plug on the idea of raising property taxes, for the second time in about 15 months. Instead, it is combining with the California Business Property Association and other groups in search of an education-business consensus on better management -- and funding -- for the schools. If nothing else, this will leave the CTAfree to spend its entire political budget fighting the union dues initiative.

Posted by dweintraub at 1:51 PM



August 3, 2005

Don't sweat it

A San Jose State University professor argues here that boycotting companies that produce their goods in sweat shops will hurt the people the policy is designed to help.

Posted by dweintraub at 5:33 PM



Consumer-driven health care

Here is a link to Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi's new report on health insurance in California. It takes major aim at consumer-driven health plans, which he says are part of the problem of rising costs, not part of the solution. I disagree. There's not much evidence that these plans are catering only to the "healthy and wealthy" as critics often say. And there is plenty of evidence that the health care cost spiral began about the time we started turning our health care purchase decisions over to third parties. I hope as Garamendi explores this issue he keeps and open mind and maybe even reconsiders his current position.

Posted by dweintraub at 4:55 PM



August 2, 2005

Election law items

Rick Hasen has two more interesting items, one here on a legislative counsel analysis re cancelling the special, and another here, about the ballot label and summary prepared by Lockyer's office for the version of Proposition 77 that was circulated to the voters. As Hasen notes, the new version is almost identical to the analysis summary prepared for the version of the initiative that was submitted to the AG's office for review. Granted these are shorter versions of the full summary that would have appeared on the petitions, but their similarity would seem to play into the sponsors' argument that the differences in the versions were not significant.

Posted by dweintraub at 3:39 PM



August 1, 2005

Is Roberts a toady?

This story from the Chronicle seems like a very fair and accurate discussion of the importance of Justice Roberts' opinion in the case of California's "hapless toad."

Posted by dweintraub at 2:28 PM



Teacher tenure

Mark Shapiro, who writes as the Irascible Professor, has a thoughtful piece here on Proposition 74, the governor's teacher tenure initiative.

Posted by dweintraub at 2:27 PM



Summary coming for Prop. 77

Rick Hasen reports that the 3rd District Court of Appeal has ordered Lockyer to prepare a ballot title and summary for the version of Prop. 77 that was circulated to the voters.

Posted by dweintraub at 2:27 PM



 
 

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