Saturday, July 07, 2007

Schwarzenegger, A Hypocrite, Helps Polluters

The L.A. Times hasn't been playing the story as prominently as deserved, but allegations that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his aides, while pretending to be crusaders against global warming, have, in fact, been protecting industrial interests by reining in the Air Resources Board, are of the highest importance.

They show what should have been evident with Schwarzenegger a long time ago: He is an unscrupulous and hypocritical man who says one thing and does another. And this is by no means an occasional fault on his part.

What has happened here is that Schwarzenegger and his even more corrupt aides, Executive Secretary Susan Kennedy and Cabinet Secretary Dan Dunmoyer, couldn't get the Air Resources Board chairman, Robert F. Sawyer, to give the governor's campaign contributors breaks against stringent enforcement. So, Sawyer was finally fired.

But, unfortunately for the governor and his senior staff members, and fortunately for the electorate, Sawyer was no shrinking violet. When the governor insisted that he had gotten rid of Sawyer because he was not doing a good enough job, Sawyer quickly made it known he was canned for doing too sincere a job at enforcing the air pollution laws.

Now, the Democrats in the Legislature, looking for a way to take down the governor a peg, after all this talk he's been doing about what a wonderful environmentalist he is, have summoned everyone to testify, and the stink from the dirty laundry might be considerable.

Of course, Kennedy and Dunmoyer don't want to testify. They sent a flunky to make excuses on their behalf. But the legislators aren't buying it. Our legislators might be creatures of the lobbyists themselves, but they are not too stupid to refuse to take partisan advantage.

I've talked in this blog about Kennedy and Dunmoyer before. When Kennedy was on the Public Utilities Commission she assiduously worked, not for the people of California, but for the public utilities she was supposed to regulate. She is a big time server of special interests. As for Dunmoyer, he was the leading lobbyist for the insurance industry in Sacramento, before he went to work for the governor, and has, in his present job, continued to serve all kinds of special interests.

Neither Kennedy nor Dunmoyer would have been hired by Schwarzenegger had he not known they would do anything he asked to shiv the public interest.

Such naive publications as Time magazine have recently given the governor all kinds of publicity for being a good guy on pollution, global warming and general independence. Quite simply, they have been taken in. Time, in particular, these days is often taken in.

Now, scrambling to avoid a scandal, Schwarzenegger has named Mary Nichols, a perceived environmentalist who has held positions in both the Jerry Brown and Grey Davis administrations, to head the Air Quality Board.

But Nichols has over the years proved herself not to be all that strong a public official. She can easily be rolled over, as she has been in the past, and will be again.

In the meantime, we're told in Evan Halper's story in the Times this morning (below the fold on the first page of the California section) that Catherine Witherspoon, a 22-year-staff member of the Air Quality Board, is also testifying, that the advice of the governor's office was consistently, "Slow down. Do less Go easier on industry.' Nothing was off-limits. We'd even get calls during our regulatory hearings with specific instructions on what to do." She has quit her post as executive director of the board.

This is not the first time Schwarzenegger has tried to soften the regulatory approach of a board vital to the state's health and safety. He and his aides went so far as to threaten to abolish the Seismic Safety Commission when it showed itself dedicated to seismic safety.

So, let's not hear any more of this talk about how independent and public spirited Schwarzenegger is. He's no more public spirited now than he has ever been. Which is to say, not much.

--

A story in the L.A. Times Business section yesterday raises questions whether Sam Zell's deal for ownership of the Tribune Co. will actually be consummated. The writer, Jim Puzzanghera, suggests that souring economic conditions, the fall in Tribune stock prices, or an unwillingness on the part of the Bush Administration to grant a new waiver of regulations against owning newspapers and tv outlets in the same media market, could yet abort the deal.

If the purchase by Sam Zell does not go through, I wonder, what would happen then? Could the L.A. Times still be sold to Ron Burkle or David Geffen?

The fall in Tribune stock price back to the $29 level certainly reflects a view on the part of stockholders that the deal may be in jeopardy. Already the inept Tribune CEO, Dennis FitzSimons, has put so much into stock buybacks that the company's debt has soared, putting more pressure on it at a time when revenues have been sliding. FitzSimons and his coterie of unskillful subordinates, including David Hiller and James O'Shea at the L.A. Times, should have been removed long ago. Now, their screwups are intensifying and Zell, apparently, is not yet in charge.

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