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Suppose a deeply depressed mayor of an insolvent city comes to psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and laments that he has had to cut back on fire and police services, close recreation centers, slash library hours, and defer maintenance in neighborhoods whose infrastructure was already rotting. The people hate him. But in the next breath, the mayor exults that he has made a secret arrangement so his bankrupt city can give $700 million to its professional football team. So the people now love him.

Would Freud have the mayor committed to an asylum? Or have the citizens committed?

Actually, this seeming lunacy can be described by a phenomenon that the late economist Milton Friedman used to point to: the concentration of benefit and the diffusion of cost. That is, the person who wants a handout has a lot to gain. But the people who oppose it will only lose a little bit over a long period.

This is San Diego’s problem. There are three big power groups. City employees want to protect their outsize pensions. So they will scream loudly and vote in heavy numbers. Twenty percent of football followers are raging fanatics. So the politicians know that the fans will make a lot of noise and vote in big numbers.

Third, the real estate establishment doles out money to the politicians and gets its way. The classic case may have been the Naval Training Center, which the federal government gave to San Diego. In 1997, a distinguished committee decided to choose among five developers, settling on a subsidiary of Miami’s Lennar Corporation, which had experience converting military bases. But local developer Corky McMillin showered money on local politicians and got the job. McMillin made lavish promises — but the final document was radically changed. Nobody read it. The place turned into a traffic-clogging housing center.

And there’s the Centre City Development Corporation (CCDC), which bullies the Redevelopment Agency (city council) to push projects downtown. “CCDC captures the redevelopment money for downtown,” says Steve Erie, professor of political science at the University of California San Diego. The latest caper, which Erie calls “shameful,” was a late-night, secretive deal in the legislature permitting Centre City to boost substantially the cap on tax-increment funding it can spend on downtown redevelopment. Reason: to finance a publicly funded stadium for the Chargers. “To keep the Chargers here, the money is coming right out of services, schools, and governments. No other California city has something like CCDC. It has outlived its usefulness.”

San Diego’s battle is “services versus subsidies for developers, services versus subsidies for pro sports, and services versus pension benefits,” says former city attorney Mike Aguirre.

The media are part of the pro sports problem, says Erik Bruvold of the National University System Institute for Policy Research. “I know there is supposed to be an iron curtain between business and editorial, [but] it takes an extraordinary [newspaper] owner to say that we won’t pimp for a team.”

“This city doesn’t have a watchdog for the public interest,” says Norma Damashek, past president of the League of Women Voters. San Francisco’s military base, the Presidio, was almost entirely turned over to the citizenry, and not business. San Diego’s Naval Training Center went to a developer. “San Francisco is a city that belongs to the people, not to the big interests, as in San Diego.”

So there you have it, Dr. Freud. A councilmember knows that going against the Chargers will lead to defeat at the polls. As will trying to impose sanity on pensions. And the councilmember thumbing his or her nose at real estate developers may run out of financial support quickly. The unions representing city workers will battle anyone trying to reform pensions. And construction unions always support downtown projects, including publicly subsidized sports palaces.

Is a political solution possible? Ideas are floating about. Mayor Jerry Sanders wants to eliminate pension plans for new employees and replace them with 401(k)-like savings plans. He calls the idea “radical,” but the private sector has been doing it for years. Councilmember Carl DeMaio offers a “Roadmap to Recovery” that would cut pension benefits, freeze pay, and slash retiree health-care benefits for current employees.

There are several problems with DeMaio’s plan. One is that it depends greatly on cooperation from city employees. Good luck with that. And much of DeMaio’s plan depends on achieving savings through managed competition, or having the private sector bid against the government on certain projects. “The benefits of managed competition are highly exaggerated,” says Erie. In particular, managed competition will only work in a city that has a good record of riding herd on contracts. San Diego’s record is dismal. The experience at the Naval Training Center suggests that these contracts will go to big political donors.

A commission headed by advertising executive Bob Nelson recommends charging consumers for trash pickup, selling corporate naming rights for such things as lifeguard towers, privatizing municipal airports and golf courses, increasing business taxes, and leasing the profitable Miramar Landfill.

“San Diego has the lowest business taxes of California cities,” says Erie. Raising them could bring almost $100 million a year. “But outsourcing golf courses and airports doesn’t fundamentally address the issue. We have systematically underfunded services relative to other California cities.”

There is some optimism. Aguirre notes that the business establishment was divided on the projected Proposition D tax increase. By opposing Proposition D, the Republican Party, Lincoln Club, and San Diego County Taxpayers Association turned on its normal allies, the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the mayor’s office. There are signs of a realization that, as Aguirre puts it, “If you destroy the city, what’s the point of building condos nobody can buy?”

Political activist Mel Shapiro is bullish on the workability of DeMaio’s plan: “I hate to say I admire a Republican, because I am a Democrat, but DeMaio is a bright guy,” says Shapiro.

But Damashek worries that community planning groups may be eliminated or emasculated. She is also concerned that a proposed conservancy running Balboa Park will lead to nearby hotels or other commercial enterprises. The process of redistricting the city for an added council seat may create an impenetrable conservative majority. “DeMaio and the mayor want to get certain things all taken care of before the City goes to bankruptcy court,” says Damashek.

“City employees can work 20 or 30 years, retire with 90 percent of their income, and live 30 more years. Those numbers don’t work,” but many councilmembers don’t understand that, says Bruvold. “I fear the current leadership is counting the days until the problems are on somebody else’s watch.”

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a2zresource Dec. 15, 2010 @ 10:24 a.m.

RE "San Diego’s battle is 'services versus subsidies for developers, services versus subsidies for pro sports, and services versus pension benefits,' says former city attorney Mike Aguirre":

This is actually an amazingly compact summary of what really ails San Diego, and it gains support as valid when one follows the money trail from campaign contributors to the civic leaders who are politically responsible for providing necessary services to residents of the City of San Diego.

We are not well served and from the look of the potholes in the streets and the ongoing overhead power line wildfire threat, have not been well served for years. For those who don't get the wildfire connection, see the City Council's 1970 electricity franchise ordinance involving SDG&E and its low 3% annual franchise fee compared to the public safety cost of being prepared for city-wide incineration in the third millennium.

http://www.sandiego.gov/undergrounding/pdf/sdgefranchiseagree.pdf

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Don Bauder Dec. 15, 2010 @ 11:42 a.m.

Precisely. If you are thinking about supporting a $700 million Chargers subsidy or the expansion of the convention center, just remind yourself that the cost is more potholes, continued neglect of the infrastructure and maintenance, worse schools, less fire and police protection, less money for the county, etc. Best, Don Bauder

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SurfPuppy619 Dec. 16, 2010 @ 5:31 p.m.

“City employees can work 20 or 30 years, retire with 90 percent of their income, and live 30 more years. Those numbers don’t work,” but many councilmembers don’t understand that, says Bruvold.

This is even a better summary.

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Don Bauder Dec. 16, 2010 @ 7:01 p.m.

Yes, excellent summary by Bruvold. Best, Don Bauder

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Founder Dec. 17, 2010 @ 7:36 a.m.

RE: "councilmembers don’t understand that"

I think they understand that really well,

since they are also on that GRAVY TRAIN...

+

They receive all the PERKS and raises that our Judges do!

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Visduh Dec. 16, 2010 @ 9 a.m.

I must quibble about Don's assertion that "twenty percent of football followers are raging fanatics." If only twenty percent of those who care about pro sports were totally ga-ga, society could deal with that. The percentage is much higher, and I'd say that it exceeds that amount of the entire citizenry. Each Sunday, for example, I marvel to see all the employees in Albertson's stores decked out in Charger jerseys. Sure, store management thinks that's good for business, but the employees must be OK with it--they are unionized and could refuse.

The thing I do not understand is the lack of media coverage of the reports that the Chargers are, in fact, leaving here and soon. There is now some mention, but the reaction is rather muted. One can only assume that the fans really cannot think what is to them the unthinkable. But once the Chargers are gone, pro football is gone from SD for good, and perhaps city government can begin to really concern itself with public safety, infrastructure and quality of life.

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Evelyn Dec. 16, 2010 @ 9:39 a.m.

I thinks fans are in denial that the Chargers might actually move... I wonder how many of the fanatics would still root for the Chargers though?

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Don Bauder Dec. 16, 2010 @ 12:02 p.m.

You may be right that the percentage of rabid fans is more than 20. This is a percentage that I have seen sports economists use, but it is a subjective matter. Who knows? What we do know is that too high a percentage of fans are insane, and that leads to political instability. As to why the mainstream media are avoiding the issue of the Chargers angling to leave, and trying to get a fancy stadium in San Diego as a backup if LA falls through, any psychiatrist can give you an analysis: it's called denial. Best, Don Bauder

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paul Dec. 16, 2010 @ 12:24 p.m.

I guess you first have to define "raging fanatic".

If every single person at a Chargers game this year was from the county and only went to one game, that would already be less than 20% (approx 17.4%) of the population.

Between the 50,000 or so season ticket holders, and the people outside of the county, I think it is safe to assume the actual percentage of San Diegans who attend a game is substantially lower, probably less than 10%.

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SurfPuppy619 Dec. 16, 2010 @ 5:34 p.m.

I guess you first have to define "raging fanatic".

======================

The % that are "raging fanatics" would be limtied to those that go to the AWAY games, which is miniscule- IMHO. Heck, even counting the home games the % is very small.

I am a Chargers fan, I love the team, same with the Padres-but they are not going to stick their fingers in my back pocket and steal from me.

I would bet my view covers the majority of the fans-hence not very many who are "raging fanatics". IMO anyway.

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tomjohnston Dec. 16, 2010 @ 6:38 p.m.

surfpuppy, how can someone who never watches football on tv or in person be a Chargers fan and love the team? I don't see how you reckon that one out.

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SurfPuppy619 Dec. 16, 2010 @ 11:06 p.m.

surfpuppy, how can someone who never watches football on tv or in person be a Chargers fan and love the team? I don't see how you reckon that one out.

================================

True-I don't watch Pro Football anymore, but the Chargers are OUR team, and I do love them, even if I do not attend games (only the rich can these days). I do watch them on TV when they air the games, if even for a quarter. I always watch the play off games.

I will say this, I did watch football many years ago, and when the Chargers beat the Pittsburgh Stealers in Pittsburgh to win the AFC Championship and a trip to the Superbowl, I went crazy!!! The Steelers on the San Diego 2 yard line with 8 seconds left and the Steelers last down to try to score a TD and WIN the game and go to the Superbowl, Neil O'Donnell takes the snap and drops back, O'Donnell passes into the end zone, middle linebacker Gibson steps up and bats the pass down into the turf-game over!!!!! Chargers win!!!!And this City went crazy. If you were not here in 95 when that happened then you cannot understand how happy and proud the civic pride was in this City-I can honestly say I have never seen this City so happy and ecstatic. It was a jubilant time, and likely will not be repeated in San Diego for decades.

I love the Padres too. I even loved the San Diego Sockers when they were here. I even was a fan of the San Diego Surf Dawgs!!!!

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Don Bauder Dec. 16, 2010 @ 7:05 p.m.

All those who attend games may not be utter fanatics and most of the utter fanatics may watch on TV rather than at the stadium. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Dec. 16, 2010 @ 12:08 p.m.

Reply to blueevey: I think what you suggest is part of the Chargers's strategy in attempting to get permission of other owners to move to LA. The Chargers will argue that the really devoted (fanatic) supporters will continue to follow the team on TV and perhaps go to LA for games. So the owners won't fear an uprising in San Diego. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Dec. 16, 2010 @ 7:09 p.m.

Response to SurfPuppy's 5:34 p.m. post: If you are not willing to let the Padres or Chargers pick your pocket, then you are not a raging fanatic. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Dec. 16, 2010 @ 7:11 p.m.

Response to tomjohnston's 6:38 p.m. post: I don't remember SP ever saying he didn't watch the Chargers on TV, but you may well be right. Best, Don Bauder

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SurfPuppy619 Dec. 16, 2010 @ 11:13 p.m.

I think one reason I watch little football these days is the negative view I have of the NFL and their carpet bagging scams. I was never like that until the Oakland Raiders left the Bay Area in 1982. I was such a die hard Raider fan it was unreal. But even when Al Davis dies, which wil be soon, I will NEVER go back to being a Raider fan. Ever. They violated my trust, loyalty and broke my heart when they dumped the Bay Area for Smell-A over the all mighty $$$$$$$.

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Don Bauder Dec. 17, 2010 @ 8:56 a.m.

C'mon, SP. You know that the almighty $$$$ is all that pro sports is about. Foolish fans think it's a game. It's strictly business -- a business that reeks of a smelly diaper. Best, Don Bauder

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Founder Dec. 17, 2010 @ 7:49 a.m.

I enjoy watching a great game that is closely matched and refereed fairly but I think in all my years in SD, I've only been to one game at Qualcomm and that is because I got a free ticket!

To me the Chargers illustrate everything that's wrong with Pro sports and their effect on the City that "HO$T$" them. I especially dislike the phony infomercials showing all the Players that "give back" to the Community! If I were making 10 MILLION a year, I'd really be giving to the Community, not just doing some photo shoots with kids.

The Charger ticket deal was bad enough and still makes me MAD but the Sander's back door deal for the new Guacamole Bowl ($D New Downtown Billion Dollar) Stadium deal using CCDC ReDev. money was the final straw for me... especially since the Chargers may move to LA while it is being built!

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drdebt Dec. 17, 2010 @ 8:51 a.m.

Don, I hope you had half as much fun writing those opening paragraphs as I did reading them!

  • As I get older it never ceases to amaze me that so many of those in positions of power will do anything to hold onto that power. I can't imagine politicians go into a campaign with the idea of screwing over their constituents if they win, but that's what most of them do. It must be peer pressure working its magic.

The fact that the US Congress has a 13% "approval" rating says that we don't live in a democracy, but that's not news, is it?

Keep up the good work and excellent writing.

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Don Bauder Dec. 17, 2010 @ 9:09 a.m.

The just-passed tax bill is an example of what you are talking about, drdebt. The preservation of the Bush tax cuts for the superrich -- opposed by most voters, according to the polls -- is an example of the pols, who are in the pockets of big business, flipping the bird at those who elected them. Best, Don Bauder

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SurfPuppy619 Dec. 17, 2010 @ 9:43 a.m.

The fact that the US Congress has a 13% "approval" rating says that we don't live in a democracy, but that's not news, is it?

===================== No, it is not, have you seen this video yet????

. http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/11321 .

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Don Bauder Dec. 17, 2010 @ 12:40 p.m.

As I've said before, Inside Job is a great movie. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Dec. 17, 2010 @ 9:06 a.m.

Response to Founder's 7:49 a.m. post: The City Attorney's office has done some pretty dumb things in past Chargers and Padres dealings, but even I doubt that it could be so dumb as to make a stadium deal with the Chargers that didn't lock them into staying for 20 years. Of course, when it got the stadium re-make in the 1990s, the team promised to stay for 20 years, but put loopholes in the contract and immediately began lobbying for a new stadium. (The city's legal dumbbells didn't even see the loopholes.) Even so, I find it hard to believe that San Diego could begin a stadium and the Bolts disappear in the middle of construction. But.... Best, Don Bauder

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SurfPuppy619 Dec. 17, 2010 @ 9:45 a.m.

(The city's legal dumbbells didn't even see the loopholes.)

Don, of course they saw them, they were put in there intentionally!

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Founder Dec. 17, 2010 @ 11:51 a.m.

I agree, loopholes are usually put into place to pacify the majority of folks that are knowledgable and or not "in" on the deal!

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Don Bauder Dec. 17, 2010 @ 12:43 p.m.

In the case of most loopholes, the lawyers for the fleeced party (in this case San Diego taxpayers) overlook the loopholes because they have been bribed or are being pressured by somebody above them. But in the case of both the Chargers and Padres contracts, I really think the lawyers on the city payroll were too dumb to see what was being snuck in the contract. But you may be right. It's a close call. Best, Don Bauder

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Founder Dec. 17, 2010 @ 3:33 p.m.

Either way, we all should have cried, "FOUL"...

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Founder Dec. 17, 2010 @ 12:10 p.m.

Just wait, you heard it here first!

Seriously, I would not put it past our current Leadership to do what is described above or anything else to feather their own beds!

If the Guacamole Bowl is somehow cancelled, I believe it will be because the deal is not sweet enough for all City the Leaders involved!

Now since Todd Gloria* has been elected to Chair the Council's Budget and Redevelopment Committees, anything is possible!

*See Todd's "Read my Blog" at http://www.sandiego.gov/citycouncil/cd3/

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Don Bauder Dec. 17, 2010 @ 12:46 p.m.

San Diegans should be suspicious of money being passed under the table in any land use deal. Land use deals represent around half of the decisions made by local city councils. Why do you think a politician will spend $300,000 to get elected to a job that pays $60,000 in salary? Best, Don Bauder

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concernedcitizen77 Dec. 17, 2010 @ 12:43 p.m.

Chargers fans who attend games should help pay for any stadium privately, leaving the over taxed rest of us out of it.

I do not have a "dog in the hunt"(aside from being an overburdened taxpayer like many others) and don't get me wrong, I respect those who are actually trying to fix the budget mess, but why have people not "vetted" De Maio and where he came from and how that relates to his so called "reform proposals"?!

From reports I have read, De Maio made a bunch of money getting "no bid contracts" from the Bush Administration from his days in DC.

De Maio sold old recycled ideas that have been around for decades such as privatizing government services and smaller government ect... sounds like it was stolen from Jerry Brown's 1970's playbook).

De Maio then used his Republican Party contacts to secure a few private sector contracts too. De Maio then sold his interest in those firms for millions of dollars to Republican Party operatives.

So basically, De Maio's "past success" may be a mirage based on his contacts in the Republican Party and business establishment.

Who is really backing this De Maio guy and what do they want??!! Will the private outsourcing of City work be "steered" or "directed" to whoever is backing De Maio?! (similar to the Naval Training Center deal going to insider Corky McMillan??!!)

Also, my research reveals to me that "privatizing" is overrated. It goes over well with us voters because it sounds good like "cutting taxes". But many governments have found that "adding a layer" of management seeking to make a profit off government services does not produce the savings that proponents claim in many areas since the private sector needs to make a profit and many of the functions cannot be done "on the cheap" if you want quality work done.

The County of San Diego has found that when internal departments competively bid agains the private sector, manytimes it is cheaper to keep the work "in house" at the County rather than privatize it.

Private sector firms wanting to make a profit and requiring employess with advanced degrees for many of these specialized contracts cannot pay competitive rates to highly skilled and educated with advanced degree employees and still make a profit.

Again, a few departments may be privatized (like gardening and maybe less skilled jobs) but De Maio and many others thinking that privatizing a vast majority of city services are the "majic beans" that will save the city from possible bankruptcy money may be in for a rude awakening.

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Don Bauder Dec. 17, 2010 @ 2:46 p.m.

The privatizing services concept only works in a city that has a good reputation in writing and riding herd on contracts. San Diego's record is not good at all. San Diego's history is rife with stories of political friends and contributors getting preferential treatment. Sunroad, McMillin -- the list goes on and on. I don't think managed competition would work well in San Diego. There is a lot of controversy on DeMaio. He is bright, energetic and ambitious. Is that sufficient? Best, Don Bauder

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Twister Dec. 18, 2010 @ 10:31 a.m.

In this culture of the hyperslogan, we need pithy sound bytes!

Stop welfare for the robber-rich!

(Repeat, repeat, and repeat, ad infinitum.)

What's rich enough?

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SurfPuppy619 Dec. 18, 2010 @ 11:49 a.m.

What's rich enough?

==========================

I have 3 basic levels of "rich".

1) Top 5% of income earning and compensation is what I would consider rich.

2) Top 1% the super rich.

3) Top 1/10th of the top 1% the filthy rich.

Almost all gov FF's today are in the top 5% of compensation nationwide-certainly in CA and the north east states. Cops are close behind if not in the top 5%.

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Don Bauder Dec. 18, 2010 @ 12:06 p.m.

I think "Stop Welfare for the Robber-Rich!" would make a great bumper sticker. Best, Don Bauder

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Twister Dec. 18, 2010 @ 10:35 a.m.

NOTE TO STAFF:

Look, I know you know what you're doing and how to do it, but as for me, I need an intuitive, user-driven interface (if that's the right terminology). My last post ended up in the wrong place in the step-down hierarchy, not where it might have been more relevant (subordinate to the first comment). Worse, it ended up subordinate to an irrelevant comment. Please, please make this system easier to follow.

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Don Bauder Dec. 18, 2010 @ 12:13 p.m.

Response to Twister: The Reader manager in charge of this is aware of the problem and working diligently on it. I agree that posts in the wrong place are annoying. Best, Don Bauder

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barryjantz Dec. 19, 2010 @ 10:04 a.m.

Great piece, Don...

Sunday San Diego: Of Milton Friedman, the Bolts, and Pimps http://www.flashreport.org/blog.php?postID=2010121910494634

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Don Bauder Dec. 19, 2010 @ 1:39 p.m.

I used to agree with just about everything Friedman said. I still agree with much that he said in his lifetime, but, for just one thing, the University of Chicago school is blind to how corrupt markets are. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Dec. 19, 2010 @ 1:35 p.m.

Response to crystalcove at 10:51 a.m. The best source would be the latest Forbes 400. You will get the richest in California. Best, Don Bauder

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Twister Dec. 19, 2010 @ 1:38 p.m.

Distractions, distractions, distractions.

While details are important, the important thing is the degree of relevance--and getting to the most important point as quickly as possible. More important is having a logically sequenced body of information that will hold up as a foundation for acting. But Most important is acting--according to priority and potential effectiveness and economy.

Do not fiddle whilst Rome burns!

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Don Bauder Dec. 19, 2010 @ 6:36 p.m.

Logically sequenced information that will hold up for acting? Taking action or acting on stage? Best, Don Bauder

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Founder Dec. 19, 2010 @ 3:36 p.m.

What we need is a Wiki-type leak of the big list!

Or someone knowledgeable should be able to provide it using the FOI act if they cannot find it some other way, after all these are Public employees!

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tomjohnston Dec. 19, 2010 @ 4:08 p.m.

Man, don't you even read the comments? It's now public information. You don't need an FOI. Just google state worker salaries. this might help for the Sac Bee http://www.sacbee.com/statepay/
or if you want the State Controllers Office try this http://sco.ca.gov/compensation_search.html

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Don Bauder Dec. 19, 2010 @ 6:39 p.m.

Should make good reading. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Dec. 19, 2010 @ 6:38 p.m.

Public employees but private information. Best, Don Bauder

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Twister Jan. 9, 2011 @ 9:13 p.m.

Re: By dbauder 9:04 p.m., Dec 18, 2010 (My suggestion for all future posts, to get around the defects of the "Reply" system, mimicking that clever DB, of course!)

In the Renaissance, Italian "citizens" left feces and foul notes at the foot of bad statues and other "public art" they didn't like. That's a good idea for lovers of real freedom everywhere, but we need a comprehensive, well-designed public kiosk (not, pray to God, modeled after these improvements) where people can do more than vent, but can actually be counted! We are divided and divided and divided--and what's more, we eat that up with a relish. We LOVE it!

Stamp out "Public-Meeting" frauds! Meet OUTSIDE the "meetings."

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Don Bauder Jan. 15, 2011 @ 8:32 p.m.

I like the Italian Renaissance approach to bad art. Have you every sung the barroom song "Sweet Violets?" One line is "Luciano the opera singer/ Sang Pagliacci at the Met/ Instead of tossing him roses, they threw him a bucket of ..... Sweet Violets.. etc." Best, Don Bauder

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