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Sound and Fury

More than a month after California's budget was due, Gov. Terminator and the High Sheriffs of the Legislature have bravely and boldly confronted, wrestled and struggled with the meanest of policy issues raised by the state's fiscal crisis and accomplished, uh, exactly nothing.

The ultimate DBI, and a sure cure for insomnia, the state budget mess has unfolded with all the oleaginous oozing of a Greka oil spill, much as this astonishingly prescient prequel analysis suggested two months ago.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the mini-drama has been the governor's Hamlet act: Who knew Harry Trasker could play such a boffo neurotic Dane? After dumping his let's-auction-off-the-lottery plan on the Legislature's doorstep, Arnold beat feet out of the Capitol like a guilty man abandoning a newborn, the better to make a triumphant round of appearances on Sunday talk shows, alternately trashing the energy policy of his party's presidential nominee and modestly nominating himself for a future cabinet post.

The upshot of the governor's disappearing act was that the so-called "Big Five" budget talks shriveled to the "Big Four," with only the partisan leaders from each house sitting down to reason together in a full and frank exchange of views that ensured no progress could possibly be made. Lo and behold, a month after the close door budget meets began, the governator returned to the scene of the crime this week, in an effort to resuscitate his lottery proposal and make sure he wouldn't get all the blame for the current budget failure.

The good Lord and the editor willing, I'll have a complete update on the budget situation in next week's print edition of the Independent, and explain why some insiders think a deal could come shortly after August 1.

Now that Jerry Brown is limbering up to run for governor again, aging survivors of the Governor Moonbeam era were amused this week to find that one of the most contentious issues of his first turn at the wheel the dreadfully named Peripheral Canal has resurfaced.

The estimable Public Policy Institute of California released an exceptional, in-depth report that concluded the once-polarizing Canal is, in fact, the best method to meet the twin goals of transporting water from Northern California to South while offering protections for the fragile ecosystem of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Rivers Delta.

Back in 1982, when Brown was governor and stylish members of the Capitol Press Corps sported wide lapels, geometric ties and Frye boots (I name no names), California was what you like to call ripped asunder during a failed statewide campaign for the canal, which added to the heavy baggage Mr. Mattress on the Floor, a canal booster, carried from office and into a brief political exile, in which he sidled up to Mother Teresa, among other activities. But I digress.

Now the PPIC report, which you can download here, argues that a scaled-down peripheral canal is the solution of choice for California's long-running water wars. For a political writer, the best thing about the return of the canal debate is a fresh opportunity to trot out the best hoary quote ever attributed to Mark Twain that he never said but should have: "Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting over."

Media H20:The most resourceful reporting on the PPIC study came from Tamara Keith of KQED-FM in San Francisco. Her detailed and nuanced on-the-scene piece is here.

She'll always be a 10 in Capitol Letters: Bo Derek, the Santa Ynez Valley's favorite GOP and animal rights activist, was named by the governor to the California Horse Racing Board this week. Speaking of feeling old, next year will be the 30th anniversary of "10," the romantic comedy that brought Derek to stardom and earned her a Golden Globes nomination.

Lots of good stuff in the Field Poll this week, including some intriguing findings about how Californians are reacting to high gas prices. Those surveyed now support building more nuclear plants and liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities; somewhat ominously, the percentage of those opposing offshore oil drilling has shrunk to 51-to-43, the narrowest margin since Merv "The Swami" Field started asking the question back in 1990.

The poll also found that Proposition 8, a proposed constitutional amendment that seeks to undo the state Supreme Court's ruling upholding the right of gay people to marry, is now losing, by a ratio of 51-to-42 percent.

All the fuss over the New Yorker's now-famous cover depicting Barack Obama and his wife as terrorists obscured the magazine's epic-length, well-worth-reading piece about the Democratic contender's political history in Chicago. The frightful frown that his campaign put on about the cover also generated the week's best mass email, featuring jokes about Obama of which he personally approves. With thanks to Clarence Darrow, who sent it along, here they are:

Saying he is "sympathetic to late night comedians' struggle to find jokes to make about me," Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill) today issued a list of official campaign-approved Barack Obama jokes. The five jokes, which Sen. Obama said he is making available to all comedians free of charge, are as follows:

Barack Obama and a kangaroo pull up to a gas station. The gas station attendant takes one look at the kangaroo and says, "You know, we don't get many kangaroos here." Barack Obama replies, "At these prices, I'm not surprised. That's why we need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil."

A traveling salesman knocks on the door of a farmhouse, and much to his surprise, Barack Obama answers the door. The salesman says, "I was expecting the farmer's daughter." Barack Obama replies, "She's not here. The farm was foreclosed on because of subprime loans that are making a mockery of the American Dream."

A horse walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Why the long face?" Barack Obama replies, "His jockey just lost his health insurance, which should be the right of all Americans."

Q: What's black and white and red all over?
Barack Obama: The New Yorker magazine, which should be embarrassed after publishing such a tasteless and offensive cover, which I reject and denounce.

A Christian, a Jew and Barack Obama are in a rowboat in the middle of the ocean. Barack Obama says, "This joke isn't going to work because there's no Muslim in this boat."

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