Sunday, May 17, 2009

Hope and Loss

I don't remember who spoke at my commencement - either of them. My best friend's girlfriend was valedictorian, which was a total shock at the time as I had never even noticed that she was all that smart. I might have fallen asleep from complete exhaustion at my grad school graduation. I hope for this next (last?) one, I'm well-rested and old enough to appreciate whatever stellar scholar, statesman, or activist (!) is chosen to impart wisdom on my not so new steps out into a not so new world. That one is still a few years away. As a faculty member, I teared up on more than one occasion at the small, College of Architecture ceremonies where the full faculty and student body march together into the salon space of our building, and we let go of the hands we have held so tightly (see the blog entry three weeks ago) and reward their unique skills and often flamboyant personalities with big name and beautiful book awards. The Randy Beavers award has always been a personal favorite, awarded (if I remember correctly) to the graduating senior who lives life to the fullest and exhibits some form of computer savviness. Almost inevitably, that award is given unanimously and with little debate. The Randy Beavers winners are quirky visionaries - odd, energetic, funky, some would say dancing to the beat of their own drummer, but they sparkle.

Today Barack Obama received an honorary degree and gave the commencement address for the graduating class of 2009 at Notre Dame University. It was controversial for a pro-choice President to be given such a dual honor at a Catholic University. It was controversial, and brilliant. Brilliant for Notre Dame, sure, because they are a University first, a place of learning and a center of knowledge whose faculty and graduates most certainly want to be a part of national debate on important issues. But what was truly brilliant was the speech itself or, rather, the event itself. Today issues of women's rights, reproductive freedom, prevention and wellness, humor, humility and educated options took center stage and close-mindedness, narrow visions, cynicism and condemning rhetoric were rebuked. Today our President recognized the opportunity, like he does on occasion, to take often litigious animosities and daylight them on common ground. There are objectives we can all agree on, he said, and for those where we do not, let us all have the decency and maturity to conduct intelligent and informed debate at the common table of humanity. His is a world free of extremists, and I want to live in that world.

Though Obama received a standing ovation on entry to the ceremony and loud support for his pro-active stance to reduce unwanted pregnancy and support stem cell research, several key figures in Notre Dame administration refused to attend. Notre Dame President Emeritus Theodore Hesburgh was shown regularly on camera with a face blank of any expression (this may or may not have been intentional or negative, but the guy was most definitely not clapping). Obama referred to "Father Ted's" accomplishments several times in his speech, but the most moving was the last. As this date marks the 55th anniversary of the Supreme Court's landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision that integrated our schools, Obama recalled the Civil Rights Committee appointed by President Eisenhower that influenced the 1964 legislation. Father Ted was on that committee. From Obama's speech:

And years later, President Eisenhower asked Father Ted how on Earth he was able to broker an agreement between men of such different backgrounds and beliefs. And Father Ted simply said that during their first dinner in Wisconsin, they discovered they were all fishermen. And so he quickly readied a boat for a twilight trip out on the lake. They fished, and they talked, and they changed the course of history.

The fished, and they talked, and they changed the course of history. It's the telling as much as the tale, is it not? Remember that next time you find yourself arguing with an unreasonable zealot.

For those who don't see the world our way, Obama said, that's alright. That's alright, he said, as an abortion protester screamed out during his speech; we do not shy away from discomfort. And we do not do things easily. To me, those are the most significant diversions from the path of the eight years prior. Mediocrity is easy. Sarcasm and cynicism are easy. Compromise for the sake of compromise is easy. Laziness is the path of least resistance. What isn't easy is getting it right, doing the work. What isn't easy is demanding the best case scenario, the best quality, the fairest option, the most thorough information, and an outcome that is good, not just good enough.

In California, we have an election this coming Tuesday. It's astonishing the difference between the values inherent in Obama's speech and those latent in the California initiatives. It's not a big election, so it's not content that I'm comparing so much as approach. As you may or may not know, California is going bankrupt and its legislators submitted their annual budget months and months beyond the official mandatory deadline. This alone led to a financial crisis as government-paid employees were forced to take unpaid days off and reduced pay to help ride out the unknown conclusions. When a budget was finally delivered, California found itself deep in a bad financial hole.

Propositions 1A-F that we will be voting on this coming Tuesday are supposed to help fill in some of that hole. I'm no economic or government expert, but in reading my ballot and my 63 page voter reference guide, my conclusion is that the California legislators are lazy, baffled, and ineffective. This is obviously not news to some, but even a glance at the quick reference guide shows the absolute absurdity of the current measures. Try this one: Voting Yes on 1C means both that "Lottery payments to educational institutions would end, and the state General Fund would increase its payments to education to make up for the loss of those lottery funds" and "Prop 1C guarantees schools get the same level of lottery funding as they do now." These two sentences are in the same column of the same government-produced voter education guide. The summary in the back tells us that it's this very General Fund that is facing a $40 billion shortfall over the two year span from 2008 - 2010. So, if 1C is approved, do schools get the same level of lottery funding they do now, or do they get replacement funding from the already bankrupt General Fund? Both? Neither? Nothing?

Each of these propositions seems to be some form of complicated shell game, where money is borrowed from the future, moved from here to there, and those who lose out are the educators, the children of the poor, and the mentally ill. An LA Weekly article quotes Paul Goodwin, a researcher on how this ballot is being received, as calling it "paralyzing-confusing". Yes, and then some. Again quoting the voter information guide:

"The 2009-10 budget depends on access to about $6 billion related to three propositions on this ballot - $5 billion by borrowing from future lottery profits (Proposition C), up to $608 million by redirecting dedicated childhood development funds to help the General Fund (Proposition 1D), and about $230 million by redirecting dedicated mental health funds to help the General Fund (proposition 1E)".

If these are not passed, "the Legislature and the Governor probably would need to agree to billions of dollars of additional spending cuts, tax increases, and/or other budgetary solutions to bring the budget back into balance. It is unknown what these alternative actions would be, as they would be determined after this election." Probably?

Oh, and it goes on: "Even with the adoption of the 2009-2010 budget package and assuming that all of the propositions on this ballot pass, it is expected that the state would face multibillion-dollar budget shortfalls in the coming years.... Consequently, based on current projections, the state will need to adopt billions of dollars in additional spending reductions, tax increases, or other solutions..."

So, the options are this - we can, on Tuesday, say it's okay to cut K-12 educational spending, children's services, mental health services, and simultaneously raise taxes OR we can refuse to grant consent to our 'leaders' irresponsible treatment of our most vulnerable, most marginalized, and most at-risk and demand that they go back to the drawing board and seek options that are not mediocre, lazy, and abusive.

In light of all that, 1F we should all approve. This initiative prevents pay raises for our legislators in budget deficit years. My gosh, how generous.

For more information, give it your own shot at

Bonus photo of Notre Dame architecture graduates with building models on their mortar boards a la Beaux Arts Ball:


lcsamuels said...

This is from the UCLA Chancellor, Gene Block. He and the Board of Regents seem to see a yes vote as a viable band-aid. Additional links are at the end for more information.

To the Campus Community:

Last Thursday, Governor Schwarzenegger released two scenarios for the 2009-10 state budget. University of California President Mark Yudof has said that the scenarios outlined by the governor “would have serious consequences for the level and quality of service provided by the University of California system to students and taxpayers.” I share President Yudof’s great concern.

The two scenarios are based on whether California voters approve Propositions 1A through 1E in tomorrow’s special election.

In light of the seriousness of the vote and its tremendous implications for state funding for the University of California and UCLA, I again want to remind all registered voters to learn about the ballot measures and vote in this important election.

Proposition 1A would continue temporary tax increases for two years. If approved, it could result in approximately $16 billion in additional revenue for the state’s general fund between 2010-11 and 2012-13. The UC Board of Regents has endorsed Proposition 1A, saying that its passage would enhance UC’s ability to secure more adequate state support for its core mission in the future by helping the state to stabilize its financial picture.

California has already reduced funding to the UC by $115 million. If the ballot measures are approved, the university would face an additional cut of $125 million. However, if ballot measures fail, state funding for UC could be cut an additional $81 million, for a total reduction of $321 million.

The impact upon UC and UCLA will ultimately depend on further decisions made by the state legislature and the governor. In addition, the impact of budget cuts on UCLA’s academic program will be affected by actions taken by the UC Office of the President and the UC Regents.

I am greatly concerned about the potential impact on our ability to serve our students, faculty, staff and community. I believe that the best course of action is to continue our efforts to reduce costs and our planning for a likely reduction of 5 percent in state funding for the 2009-10 fiscal year.

California ballot measures are often complex, but it is critical that you understand the positive and negative implications of the propositions to be decided tomorrow. Whatever your feelings about the ballot measures, please vote tomorrow, and please encourage your friends, family and neighbors to do so.

You will find helpful information at the following Web sites:

UC Regents’ view on Proposition 1A —

President Yudof’s statement about state budget scenarios —

California Secretary of State —


Gene D. Block

lcsamuels said...

From an email forwarded to me by some 'cause of the week' readers:

On Tuesday, May 19, our State has a special election with six important propositions on the ballot, Propositions 1A-1F.

We encourage you to join us in support of Props 1A-1F for the sake of our schools, access to health care, the environment, children, seniors, working families and our underserved communities. It is vital to the future of our shared agenda in California.

Because of an arcane rule that gives Republicans veto power over our state budget, we have already been forced to make drastic cuts to vital state programs such as health care, education and environmental protection.

If these measures do not pass, the right-wing hardliners are determined to “starve” state government by slashing schools, health care and hard-fought social and environmental protections will only be encouraged.

Propositions 1A-1F will ratify more than $30 billion in new taxes and other revenues that will help stabilize our budget so we can avoid having to make even more painful cuts in the future. These revenues are a significant concession that progressives were able to demand as part of this year’s budget, and we cannot allow these funds to come off the books.

These measures will also ensure that education is adequately funded and create an important long-term reserve fund, so when we have future budget shortfalls, major cuts can be prevented.

These aren’t perfect solutions, but they are the only viable solutions on the table. Unlike some of the right-wing budget measures that have on previous ballots, none of the initiatives will restrain our core values. The fight for single-payer health care will continue. Improving public education will still be attainable, increased environmental protections will move forward and alleviating poverty will remain a top priority. And, of course, history’s long and overdue march toward marriage equality will continue to accelerate.

Being progressive and being fiscally responsible are not mutually exclusive. We must support these budget measures because, if they fail, we will be forced to make even deeper cuts and we will be continually focused on resolving the budget rather than advancing a progressive agenda for this state.

Please join us in supporting Props 1A-1F.


Senator Mark Leno, Chair
3rd Senate District

Senator Christine Kehoe
39th Senate District

Assembly member Tom Ammiano
13th Assembly District

Assembly member John A. PĂ©rez
46th Assembly District

lcsamuels said...

This morning on KPCC was devoted to covering the ballot initiatives, including a long conversation regarding 1F, the 'no pay raise in deficit years' initiative. The guest opposing the passage of 1F was claiming it is merely a smokescreen of shallow accountability hiding much bigger and more egregious actions. What the conversation reinforced is the dysfunctionality of this current process. Check out the coverage and Arnold's sales pitch at

lcsamuels said...

forwarded from reader email:

President Obama brought into context some of the most important domestic issues of our time "in the lions' den" with grace, flexibility, and some humility. Our country is so fortunate to have such leadership at any time in our history! The graduates were told that this is a tough year to be in the job market and they were encouraged to devote themselves to the plights of others. I hope they understand that they have the opportunity under this president to really improve this country's infrastructure and help build tomorrow's bright future. Bill

lcsamuels said...

The Strategy Center (home of the Bus Riders Union) says this:

lcsamuels said...

Sent to me via email:

The bus riders union is comically knee-jerk and unthoughtful. As a bus commuter, I completely disavow them. Their alternative proposals, while perhaps utopian on some level, are completely impractical and really entirely unrelated to the issues at hand. Yes, we’d like to judiciously and thoughtfully reduce tax breaks to corporations, but that’s not the issue on the current ballot. Prop 1B from 2006, which designates fund for transportation improvement, was voted for by California voters because they want to improve our transportation initiative. This isn’t a choice between the current ballot initiatives and the former Prop 1B—that passed, it’s done! That is itself a deceptive false choice. To oppose these initiatives only avoids our problems, deepens the budget crisis and ultimately hurts our state. We've got to get our budget under control and support education funding. Please support the proposals!!!