In a Raucous Country, Our Sense of Unity Has Often Emerged Through Conflict

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Americans of wildly disparate backgrounds have managed to find common ground over the course of the country’s history. But the process of cohering has been haphazard, raucous, messy and cruel, said distinguished scholars at a Zócalo/National Steinbeck Center event.

The panel discussion—titled “Did Americans Ever Get Along?” and held before a full house at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California—took as its starting point the essay “E Pluribus Unum,” by the Nobel laureate and author John Steinbeck, from his 1966 collection America and the Americans

Zócalo founder and publisher Gregory Rodriguez, who served as the event’s moderator, kicked off the conversation by reading three sections of that piece, including the following:

From the first we have treated our minorities abominably, the way the old boys do the new kids in school. All that was required to release this mechanism of oppression and sadism was that the newcomers be meek, poor, weak in numbers, and unprotected—although it helped if their skin, hair, eyes were different and if they spoke some language other than English or worshiped in some church other than Protestant… It occurs to me that this very cruelty toward newcomers might go far to explain the speed with which the ethnic and national strangers merged with the Americans.

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Junk the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Plan

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Bravo to the Los Angeles Times editorial writers for coming down against  the one-sided proposal on how to teach California students “ethnic studies.” The Times editorial follows by a few days an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by Williamson M. Evers, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, which hit the proposal equally as hard.

It is not the idea of ethnic studies the writers were opposed to but rather the curriculum model created by the “Model Curriculum Advisory Committee” appointed by the State Board of Education.  As the Times points out, this model curriculum is made up of “an impenetrable melange of academic jargon and politically correct pronouncements.”

Both columns advise that comments on the curriculum draft must be in by August 15. Here’s a better idea. Junk the proposal and start over.

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“Citizens Vote” Initiatives Are a Huge Opportunity for Those Who Believe In Immigrant Rights

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

In Florida and other states, Trumpians and others are pursuing ballot initiatives that say voting is only for citizens.

In so doing, they are merely ratifying the current reality. Of course, these initiatives aren’t about reality. They are about ratifying the president’s bigoted and bogus fantasies that non-citizens are voting everywhere, and especially in California.

So far, those who support immigrant rights and voting rights are not talking much about these measures. They are viewed as a phony political ploy to juice pro-Trump turnout.

I think that view is too cautious. The “Citizens Vote” initiatives represent a huge opening to flip the narrative against the Trumpians, and to expand voting rights so that we might have universal suffrage in this country.

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Derailing the bullet train

Dan Walters
Columnist, CALmatters

A decade ago, shortly after California voters narrowly approved a $9.95 billion bond issue to finance a statewide bullet train system, an official involved in early planning for the project confided a dirty little secret.

While a 200-mile-per-hour bullet train was the sizzle sold to voters, he told me, the unspoken motive was getting more money to expand commuter transit services in the San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California without having to directly ask voters.

The bond issue set aside $950 million for such auxiliary transit systems on the theory that they would feed passengers into a bullet train system.

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Steyer Strategy Has a Plus Side

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Tom Steyer missed the first two rounds of the presidential debates because he entered the race late. Many pundits decreed that Steyer, a California billionaire activist, jumped into the presidential contest too late. But that strategy could pay off if Steyer manages to make the next debates while the forest of candidates is cleared of dead wood.

While 20 candidates were working the hustings searching for votes, Steyer was not engaged as a candidate but remained visible because of his major TV buys to support impeachment of President Trump. 

Many of the lesser-known candidates used the debates to raise their profiles. While Steyer also needs to be introduced to the great mass of voters who often don’t pay attention to politics until an election gets close, he’s done some of that introduction work through his Trump impeachment campaign.

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The Ugly Lessons of California’s Longest-Serving Federal Judge

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Let’s not rejoice at Manuel Real’s death. But his passing offers some good news: California’s most troublesome federal judge is off the bench.

While federal judges are appointed for life, the fact that it required death to retire Real is a scandal that survives him. The 53-year career of Real—the nation’s longest-serving active judge—offers ugly lessons about character, impunity, and the impotence of our political and legal leaders.    

If those first two paragraphs seem harsh, it may because you read the ludicrously glowing obituaries following Real’s death this summer. The New York Times, L.A. Times, Associated Press and legal publications portrayed his career as that of a judicial giant. Appointed to the bench by LBJ in 1966, Real courageously ordered the desegregation of the Pasadena schools in the early ‘70s, and blocked President Trump’s efforts to strip funds from local police departments that don’t cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. 

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The Most Important Political Appointment In 2019

David Crane and Don Boyd
Contributors to Fox and Hounds Daily.

Later this year an organization little known outside green-eyeshade circles will make a decision that could profoundly change what state and local governments tell us about their ability to provide public services for taxes residents can afford.

That decision is who should chair GASB, the organization that sets accounting standards for state and local governments. A bad decision would lead to seven more years of allowing state and local governments to say their books are balanced even if done with gimmicks and legerdemain. A good decision would be the first step to accurate financial statements.

The decisionmaker is the Financial Accounting Foundation, the nonprofit parent of GASB and its sister organization FASB, which sets private sector accounting standards. Late this year FAF trustees will select the next GASB chair, who is the only full-time GASB board member and sets the agenda for the other six members.

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Some worry California Citizens Redistricting Commission lacks diversity in applicant pool

Chris Reed
San Diego Union Tribune editorial writer and former host of KOGO Radio’s “Top Story” weeknight news talk show

Despite requests from more than 20 civic groups that she keep recruiting applicants for the California Citizens Redistricting Commission past the present Aug. 9 deadline, state Auditor Elaine Howle doesn’t appear to believe it is necessary. 

Last week, California Common Cause, the California NAACP and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials were among the organizations that asked that the deadline be moved to Sept. 30. They cited statistics showing that whites were heavily overrepresented in the first 7,500 applicants, that Latinos and Asian Americans were heavily underrepresented, and that women were somewhat underrepresented.

“California voters only get one shot every 10 years to draw the lines that shape our future,” their letter to Howle said. “We, the people, want a chance to make a real impact for our families, neighborhood and state.”

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Two Major California Problems are Linked

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Wildfires have become a major concern in California after a series of fires took lives and ripped up the landscape in Northern and Southern California over the last year. The danger of more devastating fires is increased in the coming fire season. Homelessness has also been a growing scourge on the Golden State and many of its residents. Homeless encampments in brush areas adds to the threat of more fires. Relieving the homelessness problem could lessen fire danger to a degree. 

Governor Gavin Newsom is preparing to confront the wildfire threat. 

His budget includes $1 billion for emergency response and equipment including firefighting helicopters and tankers. He pushed and signed AB 1054

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Bernie Gives Split Roll the Kiss of Death

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

If the “split roll” tax initiative didn’t have enough problems, it now has another: the support of Bernie Sanders.

The backing of Senator Sanders is the kiss of death for California ballot initiatives. Bernie supported expanded rent control in 2018 and limits on drug prices in 2016. Both measures were flawed, and went down to defeat.

Indeed, Sanders’ support may be a pretty indication of when a progressive measures goes too far for this progressive state. And he’s likely to keep his streak alive with split roll on the ballot next year.

The split roll takes out a small piece of Prop 13, which remains a political Third Rail. The idea is to split the tax rolls—so that commercial property doesn’t end up taxed at a level lower than that of residential.

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