The Blotter is going on vacation… sorta.

I’m on the cusp of what I believe to be my first two-week vacation in a decade, which means there won’t be so many posts from now through Jan. 5; I’m not leaving town, though, and I’m guessing there’ll be at least a few choice tidbits I won’t be able to resist sharing.

And although I feel like I’m stepping out while there’s a lot going on, I’m quite sure the state budget, the economy and everything else will be in just as much of a mess when I get back.

So, readers, best wishes for a safe, happy and healthy holiday season, and here’s hoping 2009 brings our state and nation more prosperous, stable times.


Does Schwarzenegger’s veto rationale hold up?

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is holding a news conference in Fresno right now “to highlight the economic ramifications of the legislature’s failure to pass a real budget solution that would create jobs and provide mortgage relief.” Yesterday, he vowed to veto bills sent to him by the Legislature which would’ve narrowed the state’s staggering budget gap by about 18 billion.

“By exploiting a legal loophole over the definition of taxes vs. fees, Democrats had hoped to sidestep the state’s two-thirds majority hurdle for raising taxes,” my colleague Mike Zapler put it in his article today. “But the part of the package that offended the governor most did not involve the end-run on taxes; instead, Schwarzenegger said the proposal did not go far enough to trim spending and stimulate the economy.”

The governor yesterday accused the Legislature of “playing games.” Hmmm.

“I think the governor is sort of disrespecting the difficulty that both the Senate Pro Tem and the Speaker have had within their caucuses holding together a coalition of agreement over some very difficult choices,” Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda, told me this morning.

Like many Democrats, he said, he wasn’t entirely comfortable with provisions to expedite California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) reviews to speed up infrastructure construction projects, or with the $2.5 billion in education cuts (though it’s better than the Republicans “draconian $10 billion cut,” he noted).

So this plan “was extremely difficult to put together,” Swanson said, and the governor has some nerve trying to “push this package further to his liking and still have confidence that leadership can still hold its caucuses together without the governor bringing any votes to the table.”

And this wasn’t meant to be a complete fix, Swanson noted – only a stop-gap measure to keep the state’s cash flow moving, with negotiations to continue over the remaining $28 billion gap. If Schwarzenegger vetoes this, he said, the governor will just have to come back not only with a timely counterproposal, but also with a larger package that addresses the whole problem plus three Republican Assembly votes and two Republican state Senate votes.

“He’s playing Russian roulette with the lives of so many working people in the state of California and California’s economy itself,” Swanson warned. “I really think this is a legacy moment from the governor.”

Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, noted in a statement the bills sent to the governor “did $3 billion worth of bond acceleration to get job-creating infrastructure projects moving for transportation, drought relief, park restoration and green technologies;” Swanson had noted to me that every billion in infrastructure spending creates an estimated 18,000 jobs.

But California’s Pooled Money Investment Board has just pulled the plug on 2,000 transportation projects in the state because of the state’s cash crisis, which can’t be solved without a balanced budget in place.

“California’s Treasurer warned today that there would be further dire consequences from Wall Street if Governor Schwarzenegger threw away the solutions passed by the legislature. I am surprised that warning alone didn’t give the governor pause enough to thoughtfully consider bills that haven’t even reached his desk yet,” Bass said. “The governor’s haste is a waste of $18 billion in solutions that could have helped with our cash crisis and our budget deficit. The governor claims he wants to negotiate but then says things must be exactly as he wants. That is astonishing given the crisis we face. We are now waiting anxiously to see what the next step will be from a governor who has consistently been unable to produce even a single vote for a single budget solution.”

And state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said Democrats acted responsibly when nobody else has been willing to do so, and while “it would be easy to fire back at the Governor for his insults,” he remains “damn proud of what the Legislature did today.”

The California Employment Development Department this morning announced that the state’s unemployment rate rose to 8.4 percent in November, up from 8.2 percent in October and well above November’s national rate of 6.7 percent. Schwarzenegger quickly issued a statement saying this “reinforces the need for the state legislature to pass a real budget solution that includes aggressive economic stimulus — because we must do everything in our power to help Californians affected by the economic downturn get back to work. I’ve said countless times that any budget plan sent to my desk must include real stimulus that creates jobs, keeps Californians in their homes and provides strong, long-term recovery solutions for our state’s diverse economy.”

Yet it seems part of a solution was sent to him yesterday, and he turned his back on it. So who’s playing games?

UPDATE @ 12:02 P.M. FRIDAY: “It would be absolutely impossible to create jobs in 2009 from infrastructure projects with what they sent us,” Schwarzenegger spokesman Matt David insisted to me just now. “What they replaced CEQA with was more stringent and more burdensome than CEQA.”

“On public-private partnerships, the same thing – they added a line that would’ve led to countless, endless lawsuits over public-private partnerships and made it impossible to expedite any of these state projects,” he added. “They absolutely refused to eliminate any state holidays, even though state workers have 14 holidays – which is, I would guess, more than any private citizen in California gets. They left $300 million in CalWORKs cuts that the governor asked for on the table. They left about $800 million in cuts on the table when it comes to dealing with state workforce, and over $100 million in IHSS (In-Home Supportive Services) cuts.”

I asked him about the fact that Legislative Democrats already agreed to deep cuts to break this summer’s budget deadlock in September, and have agreed to more since, without any meaningful movement from Republicans. He maintained that “a fair package from the Democrats can’t be to increase the amount of revenues in taxes and fees, reduce the amount of cuts and water down the economic stimulus the governor is asking for and do nothing for mortgage relief. That’s unacceptable to the governor.”


McNerney asks Shinseki to save Livermore VA

Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, sent a letter today to retired U.S. Army Gen. Eric Shinseki, President-elect Obama’s nominee to serve as Secretary of Veterans Affairs, asking him to revisit his predecessors’ decisions to close the VA hospital facility in Livermore.

“The decision was made in spite of the fact that the Livermore VA serves more than 100,000 local veterans and is situated less than fifteen miles from Parks Reserve Forces Training Area (Camp Parks),” McNerney wrote. “Camp Parks serves the training needs of more than 20,000 Army Reserve and California National Guard soldiers. The National Guard also has pending plans to expand its presence at Camp Parks. Many of these soldiers and their families have permanently settled in the region and find the Livermore campus to be a convenient and necessary resource upon their return to civilian life. Moreover, in FY2006, the Livermore VAMC served 11,433 inpatients and outpatients, had 55,973 outpatient encounters, 470 nursing home admissions, and racked up 35,831 bed days of care.”

McNerney encouraged Shinseki to consider using Livermore as a site for expanded Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and major-depression treatment, given the “peaceful, serene setting”. House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman Bob Filner, D-San Diego, also favors keeping Livermore open, he noted.

“The process of phasing out the Livermore facility has ground to a standstill and virtually no action has been taken since Secretary Jim Nicholson left office,” McNerney wrote. “I have no doubt that you will confront this issue head on and will work tirelessly on behalf of our nation’s veterans. Once you are settled in your new post I would very much like to arrange a meeting to discuss the Livermore facility.”


Comments from, kudos for Steve Chu

Here’s what the East Bay’s own Steve Chu, Nobel laureate in physics and director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, had to say yesterday after President-elect Barack Obama nominated him to serve as Secretary of Energy:

And here’s what a few of our lawmakers had to say about him.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland: “I commend President-elect Obama on his excellent choice to lead our country in the battle against global warming and on the path to energy innovation. Steven Chu has been a leader in the development of renewable and carbon-neutral sources of energy in my district at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and he will bring a wealth of ideas and ingenuity to Washington. Once again, President-Elect Obama has demonstrated his commitment to make America a cleaner, greener country.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco: “Californians are particularly proud of the selection of Nobel physics laureate Steven Chu as our next Secretary of Energy and the first Asian-American to hold this prestigious post. Dr. Chu brings the facts and strong persuasive skills to the energy and climate debate, as well as a track record working with the private sector to find market-driven solutions.”

Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton: “I am very excited that Dr. Chu is being nominated to serve as Secretary of Energy. During his tenure at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Dr. Chu has pushed for research into biofuels and solar technology and he is dedicated to finding solutions for our nation’s energy problems. Dr. Chu understands the important role scientific research plays in solving our energy problems. And it is refreshing that someone with real science and energy experience is being named to the post. As a former wind-energy engineer, I am confident that Dr. Chu will effectively use his knowledge to reshape our country’s approach to energy, away from fossil fuels and dependence on foreign oil and towards clean, renewable, domestically-produced energy. We face tough energy challenges in the years ahead. But we also have a real opportunity to address those challenges by making a concerted effort to focus on new energy technology, which will help create hundreds of thousands of stable, family-wage jobs. Dr. Chu understands this. As a newly appointed member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, I look forward to working with Dr. Chu on moving our nation’s energy policy forward.”


CodePINK’s solidarity with the shoe-thrower

There’s never a wrong time for street theater against the war, as far as CodePINK is concerned, and so the activists who blockaded and protested downtown Berkeley’s U.S. Marine Corps recruiting station for all that time will be back outside the station at 8 a.m. tomorrow, Wednesday, Dec. 17, in a show of ow solidarity with Iraqi journalist Muntader al-Zaidi, who threw his shoes at President George W. Bush during a press conference Sunday in Baghdad.

(Didja see how fast Bush ducked? Not bad for a 62-year-old who’s used to having a room full of trained professionals throw themselves in front of him at the first sign of trouble. And, by the way, I can understand how al-Zaidi could have a chance to launch the first loafer, but shouldn’t someone have gotten to him before the second?)

ANYway, CodePINK activists are calling for his immediate release without charges; they even want Bush to intervene on his behalf. (Yes, good luck with that, let me know how it goes.) They’ll march around the recruiting station at 64 Shattuck Square holding their shoes aloft, then line them up for a dramatic tableau; it’s meant not only to show support for al-Zaidi’s act of civil disobedience, but also to represent Iraqis killed, tortured, maimed and U.S. soldiers who’ve died in Iraq, the news release says.

“It’s outrageous that al-Zaidi could get two years in prison for insulting George Bush, when Bush is directly responsible for the deaths of 1.5 million Iraqis and 4,200 U.S. troops, and 5 million displaced Iraqis,” said CodePINK cofounder Medea Benjamin. “The one who should be in jail is George Bush, and he should be charged with war crimes.”