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JUST IN TIME! Two days after California’s election, the Post takes apart its state budget:


SCRIPTING MATTHEWS: Just in time! Two days after the election ends, the Washington Post now gets around to examining that California state budget! Surely, today’s headline is meant as a tongue-in-cheek quip about the media’s failure to cover this topic (“For Schwarzenegger, Time to Make the Numbers Add Up”). But at any rate, two days after the election ends, the Post’s Dale Russakoff begins to examine the problem the new gov will face:

RUSSAKOFF: On paper, California faces an $8 billion deficit in its upcoming budget, which could grow to at least $12 billion because of a signature Schwarzenegger campaign promise to eliminate an unpopular car tax worth $4 billion of revenue a year. Schwarzenegger has not explained how he would close the budget gap.
Although Schwarzenegger has said that he won’t raise taxes, “he has identified no uncomfortable spending reductions,” Russakoff notes, “and forswore cuts in education…That would leave $45 billion of programs in the state general fund from which to cut $12 billion—which budget analysts in both parties say is statistically impossible.” Really? Schwarzenegger promised something impossible? So it would seem, to read this piece. Indeed, Russakoff even quotes a major player suggesting that taxes will likely be raised. He quotes Martin Anderson, “a Hoover Institution fellow who is close to Schwarzenegger’s fiscal team:”
RUSSAKOFF: Anderson acknowledged that [Schwarzenegger’s] audit [of the state budget] also could show that there is no way out without tax increases.

“They’ll move heaven and Earth to keep that from happening,” said Anderson, “but they haven’t ruled anything out.”

They haven’t ruled anything out? Who knew? But oh, the clowning of your “press corps!” Two days after the election ends, the Washington Post lays it all out.

But when the mainstream press corps sits on its hands, propagandists script your discourse. While the mainstream press wrote its thigh-rubbing profiles of stripper hopefuls and poor Gary Coleman, the propagandists who rule your lives were getting their bogus facts into the discourse. How many people understand the California state budget? On this morning’s Post op-ed page, Harold Meyerson writes from L. A., explaining the way the discourse was shaped by “the populist right—the talk radio hosts, the local Limbaughs:”

MEYERSON: They seized on the bill legalizing driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants and on the tripling of car taxes. Of course, if Republicans in the legislature had been willing to raise taxes on the rich, such regressive measures as the car tax and the tuition increases at public colleges and universities would have been unnecessary. But you were likelier to pick up a working knowledge of quantum mechanics on talk radio than you were to learn of the GOP’s role in the state’s fiscal crisis. Instead, you learned that the state’s business climate was the worst in the nation, which it’s not, that taxes were the highest in the land, which they’re not, and that the state has a $38 billion deficit, which it doesn’t.
No, California doesn’t face a “$38 billion deficit,” although its budget situation is still a muddle and a mess. Indeed, George Will, on today’s Post op-ed page, notes that Schwarzenegger’s promise to repeal the car tax hike will “promptly increase by 50 percent a deficit already at $8 billion.” That’s the same figure—$8 billion—that Russakoff used to describe the deficit. Indeed, even the Arnold-loving Washington Times uses the figure on this morning’s front page, while offering a slightly more friendly assessment. “He has yet to get specific about his plans for the state, which is staggering under a budget deficit estimated from $8 billion to $20 billion,” the Times says.

Even the Times could only stretch the “estimate” up to 20. But Meyerson’s column describes what happens when your mainstream “press corps” refuses to play its steward role in your discourse. While the press corps clowned and played, telling all on Mary Carey, the pseudo-con spinners who rule your discourse kept flogging that “$38 billion.” It felt good to keep using that very-large number, and so the spinners kept throwing it out. Result? There was CBS’ Harry Smith using the number this past Monday morning (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/8/03). That’s right—when the mainstream press corps slumbers and plays, the spinners’ “facts” get treated as law. Indeed, Arnold’s cable campaign manager also used the false figure on Monday. Rubbing his thigh with his usual glee, Chris Matthews used the phony fact too:

MATTHEWS (10/6/03): This governor has a $38 billion deficit. Why would any voter think he could get rid of it later when he hasn’t been able to get rid of it before?
Of course, Davis had “gotten rid of it before,” lowering the figure from 38 down to 8. But how thoroughly clueless is Hardball’s Chris Matthews? As late as last night, he was still presenting the bogus figure to one of Schwarzenegger’s official chiefs, congressman David Dreier:
MATTHEWS (10/8/03): Let me ask you about the mathematics, just to get to my point again. [Schwarzenegger] is going to inherit the day he takes office, whether it be a couple weeks from now or a month from now, a $38 billion deficit. He wants to get rid of the car tax, which is a revenue source right now in the protected budget. He says no new taxes except in an emergency. He wants to fund his after-school program. How in the world do you deal with that situation and square all of those numbers, and still balance the budget?
Needless to say, Dreier didn’t correct Matthews’ error. How could he? As late as Monday night, Schwarzenegger flack Karen Hanretty had been peddling the bogus fact right there on Hardball. Why, you could almost say that Chris had been “Hanrettized” as he agreed to push the phony fact too.

Did use of that one bogus fact change this race? We know of no reason to think so. But just take a look at the shape of your discourse. Two days after the election ends, the Washington Post lays out the facts—and right up through election day, Smith and Matthews, paid millions a year, were repeating the Schwarzenegger camp’s bogus facts. They’re lazy; inept; in some cases, corrupt; but more than anything, your millionaire pundits couldn’t care less about your discourse and interests. What is the actual shape of your discourse? While your mainstream “press corps” slumbers and plays, those half-witted, “populist” talk-show hosts keep scripting the terms of your corrupted debate. Tomorrow, we’ll see how stupid it actually gets when incompetents like Smith and Matthews keep power.

DUH: On yesterday’s Inside Politics, Judy Woodruff interviewed California state comptroller Steve Westly. Westly said that “the challenge for us is to put partisan differences aside, to roll up the sleeves, and to start putting California's fiscal house back in order:”

WOODRUFF: Well, how do you do that? I mean, the state had an enormous deficit in the last fiscal year. That’s been reduced somewhat. But you already have the incoming governor saying he’s going to roll back the car tax. That’s going to create an even larger deficit. How do you address these tough problems?

WESTLY: Let me just give you some sense of scope. First, we had a $38 billion budget deficit. I want to give the legislature some credit. They’ve cut that back to the point where we now have an ongoing structural deficit of what we anticipate this year will be in the $8 billion range. But we’ve also used a lot of the easy solutions and fixes, so that tough discussion now is going to be, how do we deal with the ongoing $8 billion structural gap? We’re all eager to see what the governor puts forward in the budget that he'll have to send to the printers, just 70 days from now.

According even to Martin Anderson, Schwarzenegger may not be able to do that without raising taxes. But when major pundits lack even the most basic knowledge, are you surprised at the lack of serious discussion that characterized the Golden State race? By the way, here was Schwarzenegger flack Karen Hanretty dissembling on Hardball Monday night:
HANRETTY: Look, the voters are concerned about the state of the economy in California. That is exactly why nearly two million people, voters in California signed these recall petitions. They're tired of the car tax. They're tired of a $38 billion budget deficit. Jobs are leaving California. Small businesses are suffering in the state of California because of over-regulation, workers comp, you name it.


HANRETTY: Those are the issues that are really affecting voters right now.

“Right,” her dumb-ass host meekly said. Amazing, isn’t it? America’s discourse is simply a joke. And Matthews gets millions to direct it. (Tomorrow: Our favorite Hanretty moment, as Greta Van Susteren takes her on.)

TODAY’S QUIZ: How big is California’s annual budget? You know—the one that faces the $8 billion deficit? Guess what, readers? Because you read the mainstream “press,” you almost surely don’t know! Comical, isn’t it? Almost no one can state the size of the budget. But almost everyone can state the size of the phony deficit—the deficit that doesn’t exist.

FACTS DON’T MATTER: In a spin-driven press corps, facts don’t matter. Where do “facts” come from? Here’s Bob Novak, up to old tricks on this morning’s Post op-ed page. But at least no agents will be killed:

NOVAK: Apart from mourning the loss of the governor’s office, Democrats have to consider the angry, bitter and ultimately failed campaign. Predictably, Davis was, in the last week, calling for criminal prosecution of Schwarzenegger based on mainly anonymous accusations of sexual misbehavior on which the one-year statute of limitations had expired.
Mainly anonymous? Of the 15 allegations in the Los Angeles Times’ three main reports, only five were anonymous. But “mainly anonymous” was Schwarzenegger spin, and there it is in this morning’s Post. Can these clowning clowns get any fact straight? Lazy, inept—but invited to parties—the press corps’ overpaid, pampered poodles keep making a joke of your discourse.

TOMORROW: How stupid does it get? Let us show you.