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John Seiler,

December 5, 2012

[Publisher's Note:  As part of an ongoing effort to bring original, thoughtful commentary to you here at the FlashReport, I am pleased to present this column from FR friend John Seiler. - Flash]

If you are new to the FlashReport, please check out the main site and the acclaimed FlashReport Weblog on California politics.  

Assuming you still haven’t left California yet, or live somewhere else and are interested in political pathology, the book of the year is “Crazifornia: Tales from the Tarnished State,” by Laer Pearce. I’ve known Laer for the 25 years I’ve been reporting on California. As a public affairs consultant for more than three decades in Orange County, he’s had a front row seat to the once Golden State’s decomposition, helping his clients cope with the insanity.

Page after page details how America’s most beautiful and inventive state locked itself in a political asylum and threw away the key. He blames the state’s demise on what he calls the PEER Axis, for: Progressives, Environmentalists, Educators and Reporters. The axis exists, he says, to ensure a continuous flow of new Progressives into the system.

One of the many fascinating stories he uses to reveal California’s sorry state concerns the signs you read entering any public building in the state. When I first came to California in 1987, I read the sign the first time I saw it. I never have read one since. The signs warn about health hazards from chemicals in the building, and cites California Health & Safety Code Section 25249.5.

Back in 1987, I asked the guys at the Orange County Register editorial page, where I’ve written editorials for 25 years (now freelance), what was up. They explained the signs were imposed by Proposition 65, passed the year before by voters. Laer gives the down and dirty on what happened. And by dirt I don’t mean pollution. He writes that Hollywood celebrities toured the state promoting the initiative, including Michael J. Fox, Chevy Chase, Whoopi Goldberg and Jane Fonda, a few years after returning from Hanoi. The result was to be expected.

“Applying an incomplete understanding of the issue and its potential ramifications and a complete understanding of celebrity star power, 63 percent of the voters marked the ‘yes’ box,” Pearce writes. “Californians believe in propositions and their inherent right to tell the state what to do – even if it’s to make politically powerful trial lawyers richer than Mark Zuckerberg. It was the trial lawyers, after all, who had raised the money to qualify Prop. 65 for the ballot, and who funded the panicked ads that filled the state’s airwaves to drive up the ‘yes’ vote.”

All Prop. 65 did was enrich the trial lawyers – who soon after changed their name to the Consumer Attorneys of California – with the price paid by companies big and small that violated the ridiculous minutiae of the measure. The hundreds of millions of dollars lost killed jobs that could have been taken by some of the people who voted for Prop. 65, while adding to the state’s overall anti-jobs climate. Nobody’s health was improved one iota. (Thankfully, the trial lawyers were defeated this time around, as their Prop. 37 was soundly defeated.)

Where did California’s craziness originate? Maybe the incredible weather just attracts psychotics. Sensible people stay in Dubuque and prepare for winter. Laer has a better explanation: “California became Crazifornia when it was turned into a laboratory for liberals, a proving ground for environmental extremists and the Petri dish of hyperactive regulators. Much of its core-deep dysfunction began as liberal politicians handed the keys of the state over to unions that had gotten the politicians elected…. It’s the public employee unions that have the clout, granted to them by Jerry Brown, who gave them collective bargaining rights when he signed the Dills Act in 1977 during his first round as governor. He’s now in his second round, thanks to the strong union support that funded his 2010 campaign.”

Brown calls the union activists his “troops.” And the unions successfully led the charge in favor of his $8.5 billion Proposition 30 tax increase on the November ballot. But bulk of the $80 million spent opposing Prop. 30 has come from union coffers – which, we always should remember, are filled with dues grabbed from union members’ tax-funded paychecks.

And the government-worker unions were the major force against Proposition 32, which would have reduced their power by banning them from lifting political contributions directly from members’ paychecks. They contributed most of the $75 million pumped into the anti-32 campaign – that’s over $150 million spent by labor on two propositions alone, proof that some limitation of their power is necessary.

But the craziest story Laer has dug up concerns Brown himself. Jerry always has represented himself as a frugal, Zen governor. In the 1970s he drove an old Plymouth. Today he lives in a loft, not a governor’s mansion. But guess what Laer found? Brown is rich – filthy rich. Nothing wrong with that. Making a lot of money, or inheriting it, is a fine thing. Except if it’s blood money – which Brown’s is.

Based on forgotten research done in 1990 by columnist Dan Walters, Pearce found that Jerry’s father, Pat, became a lobbyist with a law firm after leaving the governor’s office in 1967. Pat Brown “was quickly introduced to the Indonesian general who had just overthrown the country’s post-colonial dictator, Sukarno. The generals were international pariahs, having killed somewhere between 500,000 and 2 million citizens in the process of seizing power.”

I would add that this bloodbath was depicted in the excellent movie, “The Year of Living Dangerously.”

Pearce continues, “Pat Brown’s job was to tote one of the junta’s generals around America, introducing him to big bankers, a job he excelled at, cobbling together a consortium of banks that lent the junta $12 billion…. The banks were interested in the immense Royal Dutch Shell petroleum holdings in Indonesia, which the Junta now controlled.”

At the time, Brown wasn’t just a former governor, but was touted as a potential presidential or vice-presidential candidate.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Inflation Calculator, $12 billion in 1967 would be worth $83 billion today. However, the price of a barrel of oil in 1967 was $3.12. Today it’s about $92.46. That’s 29.6 times greater. So, in oil terms, the $12 billion loan Pat Brown finagled would be worth $355 billion.

Pearce then explains how the junta returned the favor by giving Pat Brown (and later, Jerry) a cut from every barrel of Indonesian oil sold in the American market – and how that led Jerry Brown to ratchet up the state’s air quality regulations in order to keep Indonesia’s near monopoly on the California power plant fuel market intact. The victim of that move was Chevron, California’s largest private company – and the intriguing tale behind that bit of smarmy, self-serving politics is one I’ll leave for Laer to tell.

The Indonesians, by the way, dropped $70,000 into Jerry’s 1974 gubernatorial campaign. What an example of the typically Crazifornia mix of sanctimonious environmentalism with secret profits!

Remember that the next time Jerry, dropping a Latin phrase, moralizes about how his Jesuit training showed him how the rich should pay their “fair share” with a tax increase. His political career was advanced with higher energy prices paid by all Californians. And his own personal fortune is drenched in the blood of hundreds of thousands of dead Indonesian leftists. His petrodollars are colored crimson.

Only in Crazifornia.

(Full disclosure: I was hired to copy edit “Crazifornia.”)



John Seiler is managing editor of and a longtime editorial writer for The Orange County Register.


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