Stop me if you've heard this one before. A governor, two Democratic legislative leaders, and two Republican leaders walk into a bar to discuss the budget crisis and ... what? You say that joke's played out? That the punch line is always something about how they fight and fight while the deficit gets worse and worse? Fooled you, smart guy. This year, they ain't even talking.
That's right. The 2010-11 budget crisis is more than sixty days old, with nary an end in sight. Sometime this week, the state of California is expected to start issuing IOUs in lieu of payments once more. Most years, the governor and the rest of the "Big Five" would be huddling in a smoky room somewhere, arguing about line items and taxes and amortizing debt payments. But this year, they've decided not to bother. Arnold Schwarzenegger has only called one meeting of the Big Five, and it lasted about an hour. Sacramento watchers claim that the leaders of both parties intend to simply present their competing plans on the floor of the Senate and Assembly, watch them fail to get a two-thirds majority, and tell the voters all about how the other side is so intransigent. As abrogations of leadership go, this one really gets a gold star.
To put this crisis in proper perspective, the Associated Press reports that the crisis will wind up cutting $13 million from the Oakland school district's child care budget, or 73 percent of the total funds. Which means seven child care centers are slated to shut down. Which means some 500 children get to discover the magical world of Oakland's mean streets.
On the other hand, Cal's doing just peachy. Last week, UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau announced that this year, the campus budget will be enough in the black for him to start expanding classes and hiring new faculty once again. Seems last year's crisis prompted Cal's wealthier alumni to bump up their donations. And raising tuition by 32 percent didn't hurt. So if you're one of the students whose parents can afford it, Berkeley's back in business.
Fun on Mount Diablo
Speaking of schools, which district's superintendent likes to go golfing and drinking on the dime of an oil company that's about to get a multimillion-dollar contract from him? Why, that would be Steven Lawrence of the Mount Diablo Unified School District. According to an excellent piece by Contra Costa Times reporter Matt Krupnick, Lawrence, who was planning to hand Chevron a $70 million gig to build the district's solar energy infrastructure, took three of his friends on a golf outing at Lake Tahoe's Incline Village, where Chevron muckety-muck Jim Davis has a membership and can get them in for free. In addition, Chevron officials had a grand time picking up the tab for Lawrence at Oliveto's one bacchanalian night.
This would be the same Steve Lawrence who neglected to tell voters that the $348 million bond measure that financed the solar contract would actually cost $1.87 billion when you factored in the interest. And this would be the same Chevron whose employees got caught partying with the very Interior Department officials responsible for handing out contracts for oil development on federal lands. Hey, when a business plan works, why screw with it?
And speaking of Mount Diablo, guess which mountain caught fire last week? A brushfire broke out on the East Bay peak, consuming 375 acres before fire marshals got it under control. That didn't stop Steve Meagher, a 47-year-old physical therapist from Orinda, from celebrating his birthday by riding his unicycle 12 miles to the peak over the weekend. You take your happy stories everywhere you can find 'em.
So there's this old Burlington Coat Factory in lower Manhattan. And some imams want to build an Islamic cultural center there, where members can swim laps in the pool, bow toward Mecca once in a while, and dance a secret victory jig to memories of 9/11. Wait, that's not right. Who gave us that idea?
All around the country, anti-Muslim sentiment is growing in the run-up to the November elections. Last weekend, someone set fire to construction equipment set aside to build a mosque in Tennessee. A proposed mosque in Temecula has been met with protests, in which people were encouraged to bring dogs on the theory that they would offend Muslims. And in Sacramento, someone scrawled nasty sentiments on a pig and left it at an Islamic center.
So it's more than a little heartening to see that last week, local Muslim educators Hatem Bazian and Hamza Yusuf Hanson opened Zaytuna College, which will be the first accredited four-year Islamic liberal arts college in America. So far, Zaytuna has just fifteen students and three majors (Islamic law, theology, and Arabic language), and is renting classroom space from a Berkeley Baptist seminary. At a time when Bosnian refugees, of all people, can't open an Islamic center in Michigan without people calling for their blood, it redounds to Berkeley's credit that Zaytuna is less controversial than weekend brunches at the Thai temple.
BART officials estimate that fallout from the Oscar Grant shooting cost the agency $6 million in lawsuits, riot control, police training, and other expenses. ... Attorneys general from seventeen states signed a letter calling on Craigslist to shut down its adult services section, claiming that the section is a barely disguised venue for prostitutes and johns to hook up. ... The airports of Oakland and San Jose have the distinction of being among the five favorite places for random people to shine laser pointers at incoming planes. ... Citing financial irregularities, the national Planned Parenthood group has severed ties with Planned Parenthood Golden Gate, a local network of women's health clinics. ... And Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory scientists announced a project to study why microbes in the Gulf of Mexico love to feast on oil, thereby significantly reducing the impact of this summer's BP spill.