Diary of a Mad County

MONDAY, March 3: Measure V is upheld, sustaining the right of the people to democratically elect their leaders. This is good news for ultraconservative Bill Campbell, elected to fill the seat vacated by duffer Todd Spitzer, who left to join the Assembly, and bad news for President George W. Bush, who, you'll recall, lost the 2000 election. . . . Speaking of recalls, Measure V was dreamed up by Spitzer to ensure a Republican would roll into the office he was leaving—a kind of political 69—and not someone appointed by Governor/Rotting Carcass/Democrat Gray Davis. So far, Campbell has distinguished himself by being the guy who, in the midst of the worst budget crisis in county history, suggested taking time out to applaud Bush's handling of a war that will cost untold billions. There's your democracy, America; now suck on it.

Kennedy: Now 75 percent lighter
Photo by James Bunoan

TUESDAY, March 4: As they gather this morning in the budgetary abattoir that has become the Board of Supervisors, the knives are out. Cuts are coming, ugly cuts, cuts to care for the elderly and protection for children. Low-income housing? Sorry. Health services? Whaaa? Jim Silva—"Woody" to friends and tutors—recommends cutting the entire $437,000 budget for the Human Relations Commission (HRC), which does things such as offer services to vets and seniors and funds a hate-crime-prevention network. Listening as Silva phonetically sounds out his desires is Rusty Kennedy, HRC's executive director. Kennedy doesn't have a lot of time at the moment, since he's due at a press conference in Yorba Linda for Rashid Alam, who was nearly killed two weeks before by some 20 people who shouted racial epithets while beating him with golf clubs and stabbing him with screwdrivers. Kennedy says his commission—if it still exists—has seen its greatest spike in hate since the Sept. 11 attacks, most directed at Arab-Americans. It's for this reason that everyone from OC Sheriff Mike Carona to Bishop Soto to numerous educators, clergy and college presidents have asked the supes to spare the commission, which apparently doesn't impress Silva, who is more concerned with nailing that long "O" sound. . . . Amazingly, the HRC survives, albeit it with 75 percent less county funding. The commission is spared due to the efforts of one super who speaks up for its good works. Ladies and gentlemen, Bill Campbell! "The proposal to eliminate the commission really demoralized a lot of our people," Kennedy tells me. "I think the olive branch Supervisor Campbell extended means cuts, but that we'll maintain a public Human Relations Commission, and I think that's going to lift some spirits around here."

WEDNESDAY, March 5 (Ash Wednesday): On this day of penance, let us review: if you wear a T-shirt that says "Peace on Earth" in Albany, New York, you get arrested. If you steal golf clubs in California, you get 25-to-life. If you still have the chemical weapons we sold you but no way to deliver them, you get war. If you're a paranoid, rogue state with nuclear missiles 3,000 miles from American soil—Alaska counts—you get, um, a stern, kinda, warning, kinda. . . . In the same week that a man in Albany is arrested for wearing a T-shirt with "Peace" on it, the United States Supreme Court upholds California's Three Strikes law, ruling that giving a man 25-to-life for shoplifting golf clubs is not cruel and unusual punishment. Gray Davis, who knows neither cruel nor unusual nor any other discernable human feeling, rushes to the right—as is his wont—and gushes that he supports the decision since people who commit one crime "are generally guilty of many more crimes." Generally. So why even bother with trials? You can tell by just looking at 'em, you know, generally. The same way Davis generally screwed us when it came to the energy companies or civil rights or the environment. Will someone please tell the governor that he is never, ever, EVER getting elected to another office in California. (I would have thought he would have gotten the message when he barely beat the pressboard with glasses the Republicans ran against him last year.) Still, he does have the one advantage now of being able to act out of principle instead of political expedience, which is what he has been doing for five years, and it has made him as unpopular as the guy who invented San Franciscans.

THURSDAY, March 8: The LA Times puts it best: "Orange County's budget chief this week outlined a bleak future filled with funding cuts and disappearing services—and then announced his retirement." The bad-news budget guy is county CFO Gary Burton, who had the good sense to predict a budget crisis four years ago and the bad sense to do nothing about it. Speaking to the Weekly in 1999, Burton said the county would run red ink in 2002-03 but incomprehensibly denied that deficit would have anything to do with the county's kill-the-poor bankruptcy-recovery plan—a plan that cut social and environmental programs in order to send $90 million per year to Wall Street firms holding Orange County bankruptcy loans. There's poetry in the $90 million figure: to meet the current budget crisis, county supervisors made additional budget cuts of—hello!—$90 million. Burton's abrupt resignation had a rats-abandoning-ship stink about it when you recall his 1999 Strategic Financial Plan also predicted a second, worse budget meltdown in 2005. Start saving those nickels and dimes.

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