Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

Category: Unemployment Levels

Jobs: This is what passes for a recovery? [Ted Rall cartoon]

California-Job-Market
There are even more crappier jobs than last year for recent college graduates in California and around the United States. This is what passes for a recovery?

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Photo: Ted Rall cartoon. Credit: For The Times

For jobs, look to Sacramento [Ted Rall cartoon]

Jobs-Cartoon
Political expert Allan Hoffenblum believes several seats will soon open in the Assembly and state Senate and California's U.S. House delegation, reports PolitiCal's Jean Merl. Hoffenblum is predicting "one of the largest turnover of seats in California history."

What this says to cartoonist Ted Rall: Jobs, jobs, jobs. And not just jobs, but jobs with a great salary and a per diem as a perk. Of course, it would mean spending time in Sacramento and having to pay for your own lunch, but: jobs!

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--Alexandra Le Tellier

Cartoon: Ted Rall / For The Times

Mitt Romney's taxes, and our mean streets

Danny Pierce
What is this, Kick a Person When They're Down Month?

First we had the case of a serial killer preying on homeless people in Orange County. Four men were killed before police apprehended and charged a suspect.

Then on Tuesday came the odd story of Pinkberry co-founder Young Lee, who in June allegedly used a tire iron to beat a transient who had asked him for money.

This follows the sad case this week of a Los Angeles woman who was arrested on suspicion of offering sexual favors  in exchange for Chicken McNuggets at a McDonald's drive-through.

Sure, terrible things happen every day, and not just in Los Angeles. But doesn't it seem that the mean streets are getting meaner?

Part of the reason, of course, is that the social safety net is -- well, I guess the polite term is that it's "fraying."

You know: We can't afford to do as much; we're taxed to death in California; businesses are fleeing.

But do you want to really educate yourself about California's fiscal situation? Then go read my colleague George Skelton's terrific column, "Voters need facts, not myths."

After you've read that, go to another story in The Times, "Homeless make up growing number of California welfare recipients."  Read how assistance to people struggling to work and feed and house their families has been cut from $560 a month three years ago to $490 now, with more cuts likely.

Finally, go read the story on Mitt Romney and his taxes.   

Asked Tuesday in South Carolina, the Republican presidential candidate acknowledged that his tax rate is about 15%. 

Which is about half what the average American earning $60,000 a year with no deductions is taxed at.  (Romney earns a bit more than $60,000; his wealth is estimated to be at least $250 million.)

The top tax rate is 35%. Romney has said he'd like to cut that to 25%. 

And after reading those stories, answer this question:

If Romney becomes president, how much meaner do you think our streets will become?

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 --Paul Whitefield

Photo: Danny Pierce, 56, sits in the Santa Ana Civic Center area. Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

Boeing's free-market move is going to cost Kansas big-time

Boeing workers in Kansas
So, tired of high taxes? Want to see big federal budget cuts?

Congratulations. You're getting your wish. 

And you just cost 2,160 people in Kansas their jobs.

That's because Boeing Co., bracing for cuts in the defense budget over the coming decade, decided that "we're not in Kansas anymore, Toto," announcing Wednesday that it will close its facility in Wichita.

A plant that it's operated just since, oh, the 1920s.

And that's not all of the job losses. As The Times reported:  

Add those to the 900 jobs at its sprawling Long Beach plant, where it builds C-17 cargo jets. In June, Lockheed Martin Corp. announced that it was cutting about 1,500 positions across its aeronautics business, including jobs in California. In August, Northrop Grumman Corp. said it was cutting 500 jobs in its aerospace division, which is spread throughout the Southland.

Also, it could get worse:

The $450 billion in cuts through 2021 is what the Pentagon and White House agreed on last summer, but there are nagging worries in the aerospace industry that Congress will cut an additional $500 billion.

In such a scenario, the Aerospace Industries Assn. estimated, 1 million jobs of all kinds would be lost nationwide, 126,000 of which would be in California.

Great. Welcome to "living within our means," which means you don't necessarily have any means to live with.

You can argue that cutting the defense budget has to be done, but those are some nice, well-paying jobs that are being lost. Jobs that the local Wal-Mart probably won't match. 

Though the workers can always pull up stakes and move, right? Plenty of jobs in Texas, I guess.

The decision is also a lesson for pro-business politicians. As the story says:

Before Wednesday's announcement, workers at Boeing's Wichita plant had planned on decades of work modifying 767 jets into flying gas stations for the nation's fleet of bomber and fighter jets. Boeing won a high-profile contest last February against European Aeronautic Defense & Space Co. to build aerial refueling tankers for the Air Force.

At the time, the company pledged 7,500 jobs to Kansas. Boeing's Wednesday announcement "outraged" Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.).

Which is somewhat ironic. Wasn't it Republicans who were "outraged" last year after the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against Boeing accusing it of establishing a nonunion production line in South Carolina in retaliation against union workers in Washington state for past strikes?

As The Times reported:  

The NLRB’s complaint against Boeing drew a steady stream of complaints from GOP presidential candidates and South Carolina business leaders, who accused the Obama administration of being anti-business and argued that the NLRB would cost the state new jobs.

And even after the complaint was dropped, Republicans wouldn't let it go:

GOP candidate Jon Huntsman also weighed in: "The NLRB decision is a victory in a battle that should have never been fought," Huntsman said. "Their action against Boeing in South Carolina was an unprecedented attempt to interfere in the free market, and an attempt to politicize companies' decisions as how and where they create jobs."

All I can say is, go ask Sen. Moran and the people of Kansas how they like that free market now.

I suppose the real lesson, though, is that we can't have our cake and eat it too. You can't shrink government without cutting jobs. And those job cuts won't be just in the newly demonized public sector.

Sure, the private sector may eventually pick up the slack.

But "eventually" won't come soon enough for a lot of Americans.

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Photo: Boeing employees in Wichita, Kan. Credit: Travis Heying / Associated Press

Men at the market: It's a lost cause

Grocery shopping men
Hey guys, wanna get together and go grocery shopping?

Didn't think so.  But according to The Times, more men are doing exactly that

Seems that the trend of men doing the grocery shopping has been growing for years, but then the recession put more men out of work, leaving them at home to handle domestic chores.

Sorry, I'm not buying it.

Now, I don't really have a lot of formal research to back me up on this.  

What I do have is "man's intuition" -- you know, the same thing men use to find their way when they are lost, or when they need a birthday gift for their wives/girlfriends, or when they want to lay down a few bucks on the Packers vs. Steelers in the Super Bowl.

It's not that I've never been grocery shopping.  Of course I have. Here's how it works:

My wife gives me a list of what to get.  I go to the store and wander the aisles. I see many of my favorite things: Cheetos, English tea cookies, Whoppers, Diet Coke. None of those are on the list.  I get them anyway. 

Then I find that I've lost the list somewhere in the store.  So I buy what I think was on it.

When I get home, my wife says: "Where are the eggs?"

And it's back to the store for the eggs.

The Times' story says some stores are creating "man aisles" to make it easier on guys.

This isn't new. There's always been a man aisle.  That's where the magazines are.  We used to stand there and read Road & Track or Hot Rod while our moms or sisters or girlfriends or wives shopped. 

Sadly, now it's mostly magazines with stuff about Kim Kardashian, and who wants to read about some poor guy getting dumped before the gifts have been unwrapped? (Maybe he refused to do the grocery shopping?)

Anyway, I also have anecdotal evidence to refute this man-grocery-shopping myth. And you can try this  yourself.

Next Mother's Day, go to the market, early.  Watch carefully.  Hundreds of husbands, some with kids in tow, will be wandering the aisles, seeking ingredients to make their wives breakfast in bed.

If they are lucky, the dads will have daughters.   They'll know where the stuff is.

Otherwise, it's ugly.  By the time they finish shopping, you can forget breakfast. 

How about a nice brunch in bed, honey?

You want to know what else happens when men grocery shop? Check out this excerpt from The Times' story:

On the food side, Barry Calpino, vice president of breakthrough innovation at Kraft Foods Inc., said the company selected several products to market to men in 2011, with solid results. The Northfield, Ill., company developed, packaged and marketed MiO, bottles of liquid flavor droplets to make water more enticing.

"Guys, when it comes to shopping and cooking, they love to customize and add their own personal touch," Calpino said, adding that the interest also extends to beverages.

That's right.  We like to buy stuff to make water "more enticing."  And we "love to customize."

So, working women of America, when you get home tonight, be sure to compliment your man on the "enticing" water and the "customized" cheeseburgers. (I think Cheez Whiz is even better than that silly sliced stuff, don't you, honey? 

Who knows.  Maybe we'll at least solve the obesity problem.

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--Paul Whitefield

Photo: A man shops at a discount grocery store in Reading, Pa., in October. Credit: Spencer Platt / Getty Images

The San Francisco solution: To improve the economy, pay workers more

Palio D'Asti restaurant

Did you catch the latest bit of insanity out of San Francisco? Effective Jan. 1, Baghdad by the Bay's minimum wage will climb to $10.24 an hour.

So long, San Francisco. That little earthquake in 1906 was nothing compared with what this will do to your city. Might as well shut down those cute cable cars. Maybe you can find someone to buy that nice bridge. Too bad, too: Just when the 49ers are starting to win again, and the Giants are better than the Dodgers.

What's that you say? It's not the end? From The Times' story Tuesday:

San Francisco's minimum wage has climbed steadily since voters in 2003 approved a local initiative mandating an annual increase in the minimum wage using a formula tied to inflation. In recent years, the city has also required many employers to provide their workers with health benefits and all employers to offer paid sick time.

Critics have derided the mandates as anti-business job killers. But San Francisco's economy has proved resilient. The city's unemployment rate was 7.8% in November, well below the 11.3% statewide rate. Over the last year, the San Francisco metropolitan area, which includes parts of neighboring San Mateo and Marin counties, created 3,900 new jobs, mostly in bars and restaurants within the city of San Francisco, according to the California Employment Development Department.

We've been told lately that the only way to get the economy back on track is to cut, cut, cut -- workers and their pay and their benefits. Oh, and cut, cut, cut -- taxes for the wealthy, the so-called job creators.

But maybe there's something in the water in San Francisco: Better wages, better benefits -- and new jobs?

Of course, not everyone is happy:

"It makes these jobs so high-paying that they disappear," said Daniel Scherotter, executive chef and owner of Palio D'Asti, an Italian restaurant in the downtown financial district. "It's hurting the people it's trying to help."

As a result, Scherotter said he cut his kitchen staff by eight people in the last five years and shifted pastry production outside the city limits.

I understand what Scherotter is saying. He's got a business to run.

But he's wrong, and here's why. 

Call it America's dilemma: Consumers complain that everything costs too much, and they've seen their wages stagnate or their jobs disappear. With unemployment high and consumers not spending as much, businesses look to reduce costs -- usually labor costs.

But that formula just doesn't cut it.

For this country to work, people have to work. And that work has to pay enough for people to live on. Even at $10.24 an hour, that's $21,299.20 a year annually for a full-time worker. (Provided they don't take any time off, of course.)

If, as Scherotter says, the economics of running a restaurant require that workers be paid less than $10.24 an hour, then perhaps it's the business model that's broken.

Well-paid workers become free-spending consumers. Free-spending consumers fuel the economy. A better economy breeds more jobs.

Who knows, maybe San Francisco is on to something. And it might just work better than cutting the taxes of all those job creators.

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Photo: San Francisco's Palio D'Asti restaurant. Credit: Eric Risberg / Associated Press

To the 8.6% who remain jobless: Hire yourself

Get Hired
Good news: The jobless rate fell to 8.6% in November. That’s the lowest it’s been since March 2009, writes Times reporter Don Lee.

Bad news: The 40,000 troops headed home from Iraq this month and will add to the number of people searching for jobs. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates has urged Americans to express their gratitude to our troops by hiring them when they get home, even if it’s just to mow lawns or assist in other household chores.

But what’s 40,000 compared to the 26.9 million people who’re already un- and under- employed? In a recent Op-Ed, sociologist David B. Grusky wrote:

Although we should, of course, care deeply about returning Iraq war veterans, we ought not to think for a moment that adding 40,000 workers to the job-seeking pool will break the back of the economy. It's already broken. The nation is laboring under the weight of a reserve army of nearly 27 million women and men who don't have a full-time job, but most surely want one. […]

While we should do everything we can to assist the reentry of the 40,000 veterans, our simple accounting exercise suggests that those who fixate on this latest round of labor force entrants have no idea how deep our labor market problems really are.

One such job-seeker shared his frustration on our discussion board:

I was a strength and conditioning coach for 20 years with a MS in Kinesiology, former Olympic coach, with certifications and tons of experience. I applied at every job opening in the nation for about 1 1/2 years, about 100 applications, I couldn't even get an interview for a university assistant coaching job. I had to do something, so I changed careers, I got my teaching credential in Science and have been interviewing non-stop, but with no experience I have been unable to land even a substitute teaching job. I have 3 college degrees and have been out of work for 2 1/2 years, my savings is running out and I don't see things getting better in the near future. For those of you out there that coldly state that these OWSers should just get a job and stop complaining. I say that there are many out there just like me wanting to work ready to work, with a significant amount of education and yet the jobs are just not there!

--TheSearcher

You can blame Obama. Or Wall Street. Or robots. Or old(er) people for not retiring. Or, say some others on our discussion board, take the problem into your hands.

In a recent Op-Ed by William Deresiewicz in the New York Times, he argued that the business plan was the great art form of our generation.

Here's what I see around me, in the city and the culture: food carts, 20-somethings selling wallets made from recycled plastic bags, boutique pickle companies, techie start-ups, Kickstarter, urban-farming supply stores and bottled water that wants to save the planet.

Today's ideal social form is not the commune or the movement or even the individual creator as such; it's the small business. […]

The small business is the idealized social form of our time. Our culture hero is not the artist or reformer, not the saint or scientist, but the entrepreneur. (Think of Steve Jobs, our new deity.) Autonomy, adventure, imagination: entrepreneurship comprehends all this and more for us. The characteristic art form of our age may be the business plan.

He calls it the “millennial affect.” Perhaps there’s a broader peg to this idea of taking one’s employment into one’s own hands. Call it the “survivalist affect.”

“There is very little discussion of self-employment when discussing the unemployment rate and its cure, writes reader keninsd. “The additional opportunities that small business start ups represent can bring income and financial security to those who would otherwise not consider using their talent and experience to build equity for themselves, their families and communities.”

Reader MichaelPeninsula adds: "[A]merica has to get real about creating way to induce small business creation resulting in jobs. One of the best ways to do this is by creating a Universal Health Care Plan for all Americans. Doing so would unleash the many capable Americans willing to create small businesses and hire. It would also create a more competitive national workforce for goods and services on a Global Market.”

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--Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Job-seekers attend a career fair in Overland Park, Kan., Thursday. The unemployment rate fell last month to its lowest level in more than 2 1/2 years, as employers stepped up hiring in response to the slowly improving economy. Credit: Charlie Riedel / Associated Press

Don't let that robot steal your job

Robots
As Internet junkies and smartphone addicts know all too well, technology has changed the way we connect with people -- for better and for worse. We may be out with our friends, for instance, but really more engaged with the person we're texting with across the country.

As technology continues to change our behavior, questions arise: Are we losing our ability to be present,  to connect with what's in front of us? Tech innovator and Webby Awards founder Tiffany Shlain explores these questions in her new documentary "Connected." In an interview with Op-Ed columnist Patt Morrison, Shlain said we've arrived at a stage where "everyone feels they need to be more conscious of is just being plugged in all the time." She elaborates:

I'm connected to people in beautiful ways through technology -- like my mother-in-law. I'm constantly sending her videos of [her grandchildren's] cute little moments she misses in Pennsylvania. I can stay more connected with my family; I'm up to date with my friends, and that's very powerful.

Any technology -- I could tell you three really great things about it and three really bad things about it. I think we just need to be having a conversation [about the] fact that everyone's moving so quickly.

It's nothing I'm proud of, but there was an eight-year period that I smoked. Now I look back and think, "Oh my God, I can't believe I smoked in that situation -- when I woke up, or on a plane. That's so horrible." I wonder whether we're going to look back on this period and say the same thing about the way we're using technology.

For Shlain, here's the true gift that today's technology provides:

The big concern when the written word was invented was that people would lose their memory, and we certainly have lost a lot of oral tradition and culture, but we've gained so much with the written word. I believe we are in a transition period [to] a new way of understanding and sharing information. Our brains can only grow so big, so we hooked up into the computer.

One of my favorite stories about Einstein is that he was being interviewed, and at the end the reporter said, "If I have any follow-up questions, can I call you?" And Einstein went over to the bookcase and looked up his phone number [in a phone book] and gave it to the reporter. And the reporter said, "You're the smartest man in the 20th century -- how do you not know your own phone number?" And he said, "Vy fill my mind with such useless information if I know vere I can find it?" Was that why he was able to come up with the theory of relativity -- he wasn't filling his mind with useless information?

So our children come up with new ideas we can't even imagine because they're not trying to hold onto all this information. When I was in school, the person who memorized the most facts was the smartest person in the class. Now it's going to be all about re-contextualizing ideas and recombining ideas.

It's that spirit of innovation that may just revive our economy. In two separate pieces about technology's impact on the economy -- one in our Editorial pages, the other in the New York Times -- the writers come to similar conclusions: As computers and robots replace humans in the workforce, it's become increasingly vital for people to learn skills that technology can enhance but not replace.

Here's Adam Davidson in the New York Times:

Picture the advertising agency in "Mad Men," and think about the abundance of people who were hired to do jobs that are now handled electronically by small machines. Countless secretaries were replaced by word processing, voice mail, e-mail and scheduling software; accounting staff by Excel; people in the art department by desktop design programs. This is also true of trades like plumbing and carpentry, in which new technologies replaced a bunch of people who most likely stood around helping measure things and making sure everything worked correctly.

As a result, the people whose jobs remained valuable in that "Mad Men" office were then freed up to do more valuable things. A talented art director could produce more work more quickly with InDesign. A bright accountant could spend more time thinking of new ways to make and save money, rather than spending endless hours punching numbers into an adding machine. Global trade works much the same way. It's horrible news for a textile factory worker in North Carolina, but it may be great for a fashion designer in New York.

A general guideline these days is that people are rewarded when they can do things that take trained judgment and skill -- things, in other words, that can't be done by computers or lower-wage workers in other countries.

Here's our editorial board:

Computers still aren't very good at creative tasks, such as generating ideas or finding ways to apply lessons from one experience in a totally different context. But [at the recent Techonomyconference] in Tucson, [MIT economist Andrew] McAfee asserted that "the list of things humans are demonstrably better at than computers is shrinking pretty dramatically." [Fellow MIT economist Erik] Brynjolfsson observed that about 60% of U.S. workers perform "information processing tasks," and "it's hard to think of any of those that won't be profoundly affected and possibly eliminated by these technologies."

At the same time, the ability of computers to make humans more productive is growing exponentially. Jeffrey Katzenberg, chief executive of DreamWorks Animation, said at the conference that an expert animator can create only about 3 seconds' worth of a movie in a week because of the many hours spent waiting for computers to render the images in 3D. With the next generation of computers, he said, those workers will be able to animate and apply effects in real time, creating scenes 50 to 70 times as fast.

That's astounding, and it's great for DreamWorks and its animators, who can turn ideas into movies faster. The challenge for the United States -- and every other country -- is helping more people to take advantage of that leap in power rather than being left behind by it. The same could be said of any technology-fueled change in society, including the advent of commercial farming and the industrial revolution. What's different this time, Brynjolfsson and McAfee say, is that the changes brought about by the new technology are happening much, much faster.

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--Alexandra Le Tellier

Illustration by Randy Enos / For the Times

Holiday shoppers, don't forget the pepper spray

UC Davis pepper spraying

You just can't go anywhere these days without being pepper sprayed.

First it was student protesters at UC Davis;  then Black Friday shoppers at a Wal-Mart in Porter Ranch.

Forget open-carry gun laws.  It's time for everyone to arm themselves with pepper spray.

I mean, who hasn't felt a little nervous standing with 16 items in a 15-item express lane at the supermarket?  Is the blue-haired lady behind you packing?  Is the guy with a 12-pack of Bud gonna wait, or waste your eyes?

And those Carl's Jr. drive-thoughs -- that's certainly no place to be caught without pepper spray when there are six cars behind you and your special-order double-bacon-cheeseburger (hold the cheese and onion rings, please) is taking a bit too long to whip up.

You think I'm exaggerating, but the lady in Porter Ranch reportedly went all UC-Davis-campus-cop on fellow shoppers just to nab a cheap Xbox.  Imagine if she were hungry.

Personally, I blame the whole trend on two things:  the Occupy movement, and rappers and booze.

The Occupy folks are at fault because they've made everyone aware of just how bad off most Americans are today. And you know what happens when people get desperate.

Take this Black Friday horror story from a Best Buy in Torrance:

Gisela Avila, 24, had spent the night wrapped in blankets in a lawn chair, not far from the parking lot, where portable toilets were set up. She said that instead of working on a Spanish paper due Monday, she had been waiting in line since Wednesday.

She said she had her eye on a 42-inch Sharp LCD high-definition television for $199, marked down from $499, to replace her current 15-inch TV.

See -- newly aware thanks to the Occupy movement that it's all pointless anyway (and undoubtedly terrified of being pepper sprayed like fellow students), Avila has abandoned her studies in favor of television (but a nice new one, at least).

Who knows how many other Avilas are out there, suffering from pre-traumatic pepper-spray stress syndrome?

Fine, you say. But what's any of this have to do with rappers and booze?

Well, as The Times reported Friday:

Pitbull, like his contemporaries Sean "Diddy" Combs, Ludacris, Snoop Dogg and many others …  instead of just making references to the products they enjoy, [are] rapping about products they're selling.

And the problem with that?  Like the pepper-spraying of students and shoppers, trouble follows as surely as "tonic" follows "gin."

Artist-identified drinks are so much a part of club culture now that they are even causing beefs. In an online video released Oct. 1 that quickly went viral, Combs was seen cursing and throwing ice at a Grey Goose-drinking club-goer at a packed nightclub, angry that the partyer wasn't drinking his brand, Ciroc.

If rich rappers can't control their tempers -- hey, Occupy folks, I'm pretty sure those guys are part of the 1% now, right? -- what hope is there for the rest of us?  I mean sure, it was ice that time, but who's kidding who -- you think it won't be pepper spray the next time?

So here's my advice:  If you're a protesting student, don't sit down. Also, study more, and watch TV less. Oh, and shop online, but forget the Xbox. Try a book instead. (Also, if you're in a club and Diddy is there, drink what he's drinking.)

And get your pepper spray today, just in case. 

But maybe buy it somewhere besides a Wal-Mart.

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--Paul Whitefield

Photo: Video footage shows officers dousing seated protesters with pepper spray. Credit: Thomas K. Fowler / Associated Press

D.C. adopts California's meat-cleaver approach to budgeting

Sen. Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington

So the "stupor committee" failed.  Surprise.

Democrats wouldn't budge on cuts to social programs without tax hikes. Republicans wouldn't budge on raising taxes. Voila: A no-budge(t) collapse.

Where have we seen this before?

Oh, right: California's Legislature.

The "super committee" was supposed to make the hard choices that Congress couldn't.  The nation's future was at risk, our political leaders warned.  This time it's serious. We can't kick this can down the road any more.

Oh yes we can.  Heck, we've been kicking this can down the road in California for years.

Remember all the brinkmanship during Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration?  How many times did we hear that we had to get our fiscal house in order?  How many times did someone say "it's now or never"?

But it wasn't.  And it isn't. 

California did what Washington is about to do:  Take the meat-cleaver approach.

Our state budget  calls for automatic cuts if revenues don't come in at a certain level.  And guess what? Revenues aren't keeping up.

So the cuts are coming -– but only to stuff we don't need, like schools. That allows the politicians to point fingers -– while the arms and legs of our kids' futures are being lopped off.

It works so well, Washington has basically agreed to do the same thing:  The super committee couldn't come up with a plan, so automatic spending cuts will kick in.

But wait, there's more: Things are so messed up that, because the committee failed, the average American may see a tax increase of nearly $1,000 in January.  Oh, and unemployment benefits for about 2 million people may run out. (Not to worry, though: The Bush tax cuts for the wealthy are safe!)

Good plan.  Thanks, Congress -– now that's leadership.

Still, there's one bit of  good news for California. At least we won't be the butt of all those jokes about how screwed up our state has become.

Because now the whole country will be as screwed up as we are.

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--Paul Whitefield

Photo: Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) is co-chair of the congressional "super committee." Credit: Win McNamee / Getty Images

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