Schrag, Peter


Peter Schrag, whose exclusive weekly column appears every Monday in the California Progress Report, is the former editorial page editor and columnist of the Sacramento Bee. He is the author of Paradise Lost: California’s Experience, America’s Future and California: America’s High Stakes Experiment. His new book, Not Fit for Our Society: Nativism, Eugenics, Immigration is now on sale.

The New Polls: Plumbing Gridlock

By Peter Schrag

If you want to know why California is stuck in budgetary gridlock and confusion, you just have to look at the latest set of polls. Three were issued in the last few weeks, two of them based on surveys taken since the November 2 election. Two contradict each other; one in effect contradicts itself.

But don’t blame the pollsters – or the politicians for that matter. It’s the voters who are ambivalent, stuck in denial and often ignorant of what the state spends most of its money on, and how. As always, in their priorities for cutting the deficit, now estimated at $25 billion in the next 20 months, and maybe a lot more, the voters far prefer spending cuts to tax increases. And as usual, if tax increases are unavoidable, tax somebody else.

California’s Fiscal Insanity: Another Reminder

By Peter Schrag

So whodunit?

There’s nothing surprising in the latest budget deficit projection from the Legislative Analyst’s Office -- $25 billion, in case you missed it, over some two years. Even the receding governor and legislators who cooked the current year’s budget couldn’t have believed the fiscal fantasies they worked into the mix.

To get through the current year’s budget problems, they relied on yet another set of temporary fiddles and fudges -- sales of state buildings and other assets; federal stimulus money, short-term tax increases -- all of which were only good for a year or two and are now expiring.

Sticking it to the Schools Suck Industry

By Peter Schrag

John Mockler has rarely been timid in his opinions about education policy. But he’s never been more in-your-face than in his blasts at what he’s been calling “the California Schools Suck Industry” and the “statistical pornography” of the business groups, foundations, politicians and journalists who are its principal members.

Late last month, in a teleconference run by Steve Rees and his School Wise Press, he went at it again, contending, with a fusillade of numbers, that California schools were doing a lot better than most of us were being told. They were not categorically failing, were not deeply flawed, and that anyone who claimed otherwise was peddling “drivel.”

The Paranoid Style of Politics

By Peter Schrag

One of the very few memorable statements ever attributed to Calvin Coolidge was uttered in response to a report he’d received that he was being double-crossed in Congress.” There’s lots of sons of bitches in this country,” he supposedly said. “They’re entitled to their representation.”

Something similar comes to mind about fools and idiots at the end of this political season. Rarely has a national election been so studded not just with the usual knaves and hypocrites, but with candidates so eager to flaunt their ignorance and disdain for reason, and so apparently successful with voters in doing it.

The Feds, Proposition 19 and Our Crazy Drug Laws

By Peter Schrag

By last week, it was nearly certain that Proposition 19, the California initiative seeking to legalize the possession and recreational use of small quantities of marijuana, would be voted down.

Nonetheless, Attorney General Eric Holder jumped into the debate with a warning letter which, if it accomplished anything, it was to underscore again the contradictions, futility and sheer stupidity of the nation’s existing marijuana laws and, more generally, the failures of the costly four-decade-long “War on Drugs.”

No matter how Californians vote on the marijuana initiative, Holder wrote to a group of former Drug Enforcement Administration officers, the feds would continue to “vigorously enforce the (Controlled Substances Act) against those individuals and organizations that possess, manufacture or distribute marijuana for recreational use, even if such activities are permitted under state law.”

Campaign 2010: The Big Things That Didn’t Get Debated

By Peter Schrag

Anyone looking for clues to the state’s future direction in this year’s gubernatorial debates – much less in the rest of the two major candidates’ campaigns – was more likely to find grim irony than signs of leadership.  

Abetted by the media’s ubiquitous preference for flash over substance, Tuesday’s final debate spent more time parsing the nuances of the word “whore” than the intricacies of the economy or the ongoing Mississippification of California.

Just a few days after the legislature and governor approved a “budget” that accomplished nothing but transfer the state’s chronic fiscal problems to the next governor, the debate Tuesday saw the two candidates assiduously avoid anything that resembled a real confrontation with the state’s fundamental fiscal and governmental problems.

Will the Courts Soon Drive Illegal Aliens Out of Our Public Colleges?

By Peter Schrag

It’s always risky to read judicial tea leaves, but judging from last week’s oral arguments before the California Supreme Court, a majority of the justices may uphold the state law granting illegal immigrant graduates of California high schools in-state tuition at the state’s public colleges and universities. A decision is due within 90 days.

But it’s a shaky case, no matter how defensible the policy, and chances are that when it gets to the unfailingly conservative U.S. Supreme Court, the law will be overturned in a flash.  That would be a sad outcome, not only for the hundreds of thousands of students involved,  both in California and in the nine other states that have similar tuition policies, but for the economy and, more generally, for civil society at large.

Meg Whitman’s Illegal Maid: A “Vast Carelessness’”

By Peter Schrag

The gods of irony might have scripted it. After a year of statements that she would be “tough as nails” on illegal aliens and the people who employed them, Meg Whitman got caught with one. Nicky Diaz Santillan, now a 31-year-old mother, had for nine years cleaned house for Whitman and her neurosurgeon husband Griffith Harsh. 

That the catcher was Los Angeles celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred added a little extra spice for the media, but didn’t change the story or the clumsiness of Whitman’s responses. 

This was a diversion from the serious issues of the campaign, a dirty political trick, Whitman complained during last week’s dueling press conferences, even as she kept digging herself in deeper.

Tea Party in California? Been There, Done That

By Peter Schrag

The New York Times sent me and a few others an intriguing question the other day – actually two questions: “Why hasn't Tea Party politics been as prominent in California this election season as it has been elsewhere in the country? What is driving voters and politics in California this year?”

The questions were to be the subject of the Times’ daily on-line opinion forum “Room for Debate.” Why wasn’t the Tea Party movement hitting the Golden State -- long famous for kooks and nuts and for all manner of over-the-top populism -- as much it was hitting many others?

The answer – much of it – lay in the question itself. In fact California, and the California Republican Party particularly, had been subjected to the tea party process long before there was such a label in contemporary politics.

The Whitman Campaign: Do We Now Trust Women Too Much?

By Peter Schrag

Meg Whitman’s handlers probably didn’t expect the semi-tough questions she received in her appearance at the San Francisco headquarters of Yelp, conventionally described as a social networking and search website, a sort of on-line Zagat that reviews everything from beauticians to night life and financial services.

Maybe they expected that fellow-Silicon Valley people would extend some professional courtesy to the ex-queen of eBay, a business not so different from their own. Because Yelp was started by people who’d worked at PayPal, a big chunk of which is now owned by eBay, you could even call them cousins.  

Probably the toughest question at the Yelp meeting, by now widely cited elsewhere, was why Whitman continued to run a TV ad quoting Bill Clinton (relying on an ancient CNN report) that accuses Jerry Brown of raising taxes when he was governor, even after both Clinton and the CNN reporter acknowledged that they’d been wrong.