Oct 012010
Image by The Wolf via Flickr

The Tuesday debate between Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman illuminated the drastic contrast between the two candidates. It was a classic battle of public servant versus business tycoon. The two combatants presented diametrically opposing views on most topics, but nowhere was the contrast more stark than in their divergent commitment to honesty.

To his credit, Jerry Brown shared his beliefs and priorities in a direct and sincere manner. It’s unlikely that he won over any supporters with his eloquence or flawless articulation, as he did spend a fair amount of time sputtering and at times trailed off into incomplete thoughts. But all things considered, it’s hard to see how viewers who hadn’t already made up their minds would not be at least somewhat captivated by his frankness.

The current Attorney General spoke on both his past record and his plans for the future with openness and candor. When asked about his personal pension, currently due to be over $78,000, he replied that at age 72, he was “the best pension buy California has ever seen,” and he added that should he win in November, the buy would get even better. And at only 20 minutes into the debate, Brown was just getting warmed up with a personable style that would show throughout the event.

Brown’s absence of guile even touched the sharp edge of fumbling when asked why Californians should trust his commitment to the state in light of his past flirtations with the presidency. The former 3-time presidential candidate’s response was a candid “Age! You know if I was younger, I’d run again.” But Brown didn’t leave it there. Instead, he continued, “Now I have a wife, so I’m home at night and don’t try to close the bars in Sacramento.” Endearing? Possibly. Foot in his mouth? At least a couple toes. Honest? There is no doubt.

Most of the debate proceeded in similar fashion, with Brown often shooting from the hip and Whitman being more scripted and sticking to her talking points. But the real fulcrum for revealing their individual veracity came on a question from a college student asking Brown if he would roll back UC and CSU fee hikes from recent years. Brown’s response was “Not my first year, not with a $19 billion deficit. We have to get real here.” His answer was certainly not what the student wanted to hear, but it may have very well been music to the ears of those who want real solutions.

When the same question was posed to Whitman, the former eBay CEO seemed to forget about the state’s deficit and spoke instead of her plans to add $1 billion to higher education. She did take the time to elaborate on the topic, revealing that she would get the money from cuts in welfare, but failed to explain why she wouldn’t apply the savings to the budget shortfall. She also failed to be honest about the situation with welfare in California.

Whitman’s spin on the welfare issue is indicative of her general attitude toward the truth. California’s welfare state being a talking point of her campaign, she reiterated her “facts” on the matter at the debate. The situation according to Whitman is that the welfare problem in California is so bad that there are five times more welfare cases than in New York but only double the population. This really does reflect a problem, only the problem is with Ms. Whitman’s penchant for skewed “facts” and wild spin.

California’s population is indeed roughly twice as large as New York’s, but that’s about the full extent to which Whitman’s “facts” and the truth actually coincide. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are a whopping 1.4 million recipients of welfare in California and only 389,586 in New York, for a ratio of 3.6:1. Still significantly higher than the corresponding population ratio but not the 5x multiplier pushed by Whitman. The truth is that Whitman’s deception is based upon completely ignoring New York’s separate state welfare program (SSP) and looking solely at their TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) recipients — a completely disingenuous comparison, since the combined TANF/SSP totals are what impacts the state budget.

And Whitman’s skewing of the caseload numbers doesn’t even begin to convey the degree of her dishonesty. Misinformation Meg relies on the New York welfare comparison to frame a picture of an out of control California government and the dire need for fiscal reform. She uses a distorted caseload number to make her point but oddly never mentions expenditures. Why? Because based on the most recent data available, New York spent nearly as much on public welfare as California. The 2008 totals were $33.4 million compared to $35 million. New York’s per capita expense was $1,710, and California’s a comparatively meager $955.

This much focus on Whitman’s distortion of the welfare story may seem a bit much. If it was an isolated instance, it could appropriately be overlooked, but such is not the case. The truth is that Queen Meg’s deception has been evidenced consistently throughout her campaign. Her ads openly attack Jerry Brown on his record as governor, lying about his records on taxes and jobs. She pretends to be factual on his record as mayor of Oakland but instead presents a fictitious tale of slander. She lies about state spending, talks out of both sides of her mouth on immigration, posits fallacious nonsense about tax cuts and job creation, spins some seriously illegitimate yarns on California’s business situation and does it all with conviction and a smile.

Politicians in general are not known for their truthfulness, so maybe Meg Whitman has just come down with a serious case of politi-deception-itus. Whatever the case, the Red Queen seems completely unable to curtail her deceit and refrain from perverting the truth. When it comes to Whitman, the old joke seems to fit like a glove: how do you tell when Meg Whitman is lying? That’s right — just look and see if her lips are moving.

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Sep 302010

Tuesday night Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman met for the first time in a political debate at U.C. Davis. Immediately thereafter, pundits and bloggers far and wide started offering their opinions on the outcome. Although, since there really was no clear winner, the pundit’s opinions are rather irrelevant. Fortunately for Californians, winner or not, there was clear direction.

The two candidates vying for the office of Governor of California presented near polar opposite positions and proposals for how they would govern. Jerry Brown touted his long career in politics and his extensive experience working with government. Meg Whitman positioned herself as a political outsider well suited to effect change. Both spoke to their concern over the state budget and jobs, but each shared drastically different approaches on how they would deal with the issues.

Jerry Brown talked about cutting red tape, focusing on green technology and protecting education. Meg Whitman also said she would cut bureaucracy, but focused on her plan to cut taxes for the rich, suspend environmental regulations and was largely silent on K-12 education. Both candidates were light on details, which can be expected in a debate, but neither left any doubt as to the approach they will take as governor.

The Brown plan to address the budget will begin with bringing representatives from all state agencies together to discuss how 15% to 20% can be cut from operations. Brown stated that he knows the inner workings of Sacramento and will lead the way with an 18% reduction for the governor’s office. He also cited the need for a state salary commission to address compensation issues.

Whitman offered no details on how she would reduce state spending, other than cuts to welfare and state jobs, but repeatedly made references to how she would bring Silicon Valley managerial expertise to Sacramento. This sounds good at first blush, although one might be left wondering how said “expertise” might fit in a government environment. The tech center’s claim to fame doesn’t stem from legendary efficiency or frugality but rather from high pay, 100% paid healthcare, and happy employees. Does she plan on bringing Google style cuisine and open pet policies to state offices? Perhaps eBay’s de-stressing and meditation rooms will help reduce costs?

When asked about the issue of escalating state pension costs, which have increased from 12% of total spending to 13.9% over the past decade and continue to grow, Brown reminded voters that he pushed for a 2-tier system back in 1982, and that when he left office, retirement was calculated based on a 3-year salary average, not the present single highest year. The former governor stated clearly that retirement ages would have to go up.

Ms. Whitman responded to the same question by first attacking Brown’s ability to address pensions while receiving campaign donations from employee unions. When asked again what she would do, her response was to raise the retirement age from 55 to 65 and implement a “401K type” system to replace the current defined benefits. When pushed for how she would make this happen, she said that she would try to negotiate. But then taking one from Arnold’s failed playbook, she suggested that a ballot initiative would serve as her backup plan.

The candidates displayed vastly different styles, with Brown being the much more personable and Whitman seeming canned and rehearsed, but the true contrast was even more evident on the topic of jobs. Brown proposed a continued focus on investment in the green sector, claiming that California was once the leader in renewable energy and can be again. He talked about building out the grid, and when pushed on jobs outside of green, spoke to the cumulative effects of roofing and other energy-based retrofits, which would fuel construction jobs — the place where California is hurting the worst.

According to Meg Whitman, jobs are her main focus. But her plan is vintage Bush — the president with the worst job creation record in modern history. The former head of eBay claims that her plan will create 2 million jobs, yet its single most significant proposal is a cut in capital gains tax. The cut would take as much as $10.8 billion from state revenues, of which, according to Brown, 82% would be pocketed by people making over $500,000. Both economic theory and historical record refute Whitman’s claim that such a move will have any significant effect on job creation.

The entire debate went back and forth in a similar manner, with Brown relying on his record, and Whitman taking every opportunity to defame it. Brown repeatedly asserted that Whitman is the best friend of the rich, and Whitman fought back that Brown was married to employee unions. Other distinctions were made including Brown’s support of a path to legalization for illegal immigrants and Whitman’s opposition, but the real dividing line was drawn along the traditional Democrat/Republican positions.

In the end, other than reinforcing concerns regarding Queen Meg’s continued proclivity for half-truth and distortion, the debate should have solidified existing voter opinion on the two candidates. All Californians know that jobs and the budget are our most important concerns, so the decision will likely depend on who appears more capable of addressing the issues.

Come November, voters must decide between a very pro-business, champion of the wealthy who still purports to believe in trickle-down economics, or a career politician with an excellent record for fiscal conservatism and a commitment to advance California’s leadership in renewable energy and green technology. The choice couldn’t be more clear.

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Sep 162010
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Image via Wikipedia

Are the offices of elected officials in America really up for sale? Apparently Meg Whitman believes so. With 48 days left in the auction for the office of Governor of California, billionaire Whitman raised her bid by another $15 million. Her personal total now at $119 million, Queen Meg has set a new all-time record for personal contribution in an American election campaign.

Some people might consider it unhealthy to have a process that allows candidates to contribute without limit to their personal election campaign. Objections asserting that a candidate should be elected based upon their record and policies, not the size of their bank account, are certainly valid. But that’s not the way things work in 21st Century American politics, where corporations are people, facts are optional, and elections are decided by who has the better television ads and sound bites.

For her money, Meg Whitman has assembled a media blitz of attack ads aimed at discrediting her opponent. Attacking both Jerry Brown’s record as mayor of Oakland and governor of California, her campaign has managed to saturate television and radio with an unrelenting barrage of half-truths, distortions, and outright lies.

Fortunately for Meg, lying may be unethical, but it’s not illegal. From her early ad that attempted to illegitimately associate Jerry Brown’s record as mayor with the debacle of misappropriation and graft in Bell, California, to her ridiculously mistitled The Facts: Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, a video ad that was virtually fact-free, to her most recent perversions of truth regarding Brown’s time as governor, Whitman has rivaled her contribution record with a performance destined for the liar’s hall of fame.

In Whitman’s seventh attack ad against Brown, she attempts to defame his position on taxes as governor by showing footage of former president, Bill Clinton, during their contentious 1992 Democratic presidential primary battle. In the video, Clinton asserts that Brown had raised taxes as governor — a claim that Clinton has since refuted. As it turns out, the former president’s statement was based on information presented by Brooks Jackson, of CNN, who now openly admits that his data was in error. The Whitman campaign, to their continuing discredit, was made aware of the issue but chose to retain the ad.

Another current Whitman ad, allegedly reporting the “facts” about Jerry Brown, apparently relies on the same erroneous reports of California taxes under Brown, claiming that he supported $7 billion in increases. The truth is that taxes fell under Brown, from an average 6.89% to 6.56%. The ad also claims that Brown was against Prop-13, which he was — because it artificially fixed rates and set a requirement for a two-thirds majority in both state houses to increase any tax. Brown wasn’t against the tax cut, and in fact had tried to get a cut through the legislature that was blocked by Republicans in an election year tactic. The truth is that Prop-13 was a poorly designed 389 word initiative that amended the State Constitution, drained the budget surplus, gutted education and benefitted business far more than the average Californian.

Unsatisfied with distortions only on Brown’s record on taxation, the Whitman ad is facetiously named, “Job Killer.” The job portion of the video starts with the claim that California’s unemployment rate “nearly doubled to 11%” under Brown. The truth is that it did go over 11% in late 1982, when the national rate had climbed to 10.8% because of the recession. But Whitman’s claim that the rate doubled is pure fiction.

According to Whitman’s own website, the unemployment rate before Brown took office was 7.3%, which would equate to only a 50% increase. And the fact is that unemployment started climbing before Jerry Brown took office, with the state losing 140,000 jobs between 11/74 and 3/75 because of the oil crisis and the end of the Viet Nam war. Official records only go back to 1976, when the rate was at 9.3%, and the reason it was higher when Brown left office, even though the state had 1.9 million new jobs created during his tenure, is because of a nagging recession and a growing population. The truth is that Jerry Brown had the best job record of the State’s past five governors.

Election campaigns being what they are, public offices are effectively sold today, but that doesn’t mean that once aware, voters should allow it to happen. There is no other case in American history where it was so obvious that a candidate was trying to buy an office and would stop at nothing in order to get elected. Meg Whitman has spent millions of her own money to inundate California voters with false information. She believes that her veracity is immaterial so long as she can saturate the media. California voters need to ask themselves if this lack of good character is what they really want in a governor.

Meg Whitman cares as much about the truth as she does the good people of the State of California. If she is able to lie and buy her way into the governor’s office, she will most assuredly fight for her fellow elite and bring them prosperity at the cost of the working people of California. Queen Meg believes in tax cuts for the rich and the outsourcing of jobs. Her dubious plan to address unemployment is nothing more than vintage trickle down, and her plan for education as substantive as her “facts” about Jerry Brown. The people of this state need to send Ms. Whitman back into retirement, because if they don’t, they’ll all be seeing red when the Red Queen is done.

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