Fast start

Famished: Feasts are relative. While Bites spent Thanksgiving shoveling down enough turkey and trimmings to feed a small African village for a month, the nibbles that Susan Moloney took on T-day were truly gluttonous compared with her caloric intake during the last two months.

Moloney, as you may remember (“Fasting for Protection,” SN&R News, November 21), had been at the Capitol on a liquid-only hunger strike to protest the state’s failure to protect old-growth forests despite Gray Davis’ 1998 campaign pledge to do so.

Administration officials alternately ignored or were hostile to Moloney’s tactics, but, just before Thanksgiving, senators John Burton and Sheila Kuehl convinced Moloney to end the strike. They promised to “hold a hearing when the Senate convenes in January to determine what the state can and should do to guarantee adequate protections for our old-growth trees,” as Burton wrote in a letter to Kuehl, who chairs the Senate Natural Resources and Wildlife Committee.

Who knows whether Burton was motivated more by his November 26 meeting with Moloney or by a desire not to have an emaciated near-corpse on the front porch during this week’s official swearing-in ceremony.

’Tis the season: Yep, that’s right, the legislators are back in town, so keep a hand on your wallets, folks, because these guys are looking for whatever cash they can scrounge up to do away with this super-sized budget deficit. Monday’s kickoff normally would have been followed by a month-long break, but the budget battles are beginning early this year.

Davis was expected to fire the first volley this Friday by proposing the first $5 billion in program cuts and revenue increases; the Legislature will start batting it around on Monday, December 9, when the special budget session convenes.

Still, this week’s ceremonial start featured the usual fluff, with lots of smiles and proud families in tow and expressions of high hopes. Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson even took his oath of office from one-time (and maybe future?) Capitol powerhouse Willie Brown. Ah, the pageantry. Or perhaps just the calm before the storm.

Bold partisan lines are being drawn over the looming budgets, with Republicans refusing to increase taxes and Democrats vowing not to balance this budget with cuts to services that help the poor. Wesson even quoted James Brown to define his emphasis on economic equity: “I don’t want nobody to give me nothing. Open up the door and I’ll get it myself.”

Bold and listless: Just as last week’s issue was hitting the streets, with this column mentioning the delayed implementation of the state’s “Do Not Call” list (for consumers to get telemarketers off their backs), the Attorney General’s Office announced an ironic crackdown.

The office won a restraining order against California Consumer Center, whose telemarketers were calling consumers to tell them they could get on the “Do Not Call” list for the low, low price of $12. The center had nothing to do with the list, which, when it is established next year, will cost consumers $5 to join.

“This court order will stop these con artists from stealing people’s money by stealing the government’s identity,” Attorney General Bill Lockyer said.

Similar scams also have been reported on the federal level, with telemarketing con artists playing on the very irritation they create to take your cash. This free market we have sure can get expensive.

Poll position: Even with the big budget hole, there are some budding efforts to clamp down on some free-market manifestations run amok. This week, Senator Jackie Speier claimed the easy-to-remember bill numbers Senate Bill 1 for her third try at a consumer-privacy measure and Senate Bill 2 for a universal health-care measure.

Kuehl also plans to go after the health-insurance industry aggressively, and Senator Joe Dunn, who chaired hearings that probed energy-market manipulations, plans to introduce a get-tough measure hitting power producers.

Ideological divisions deepened with the last election, meaning we’ll see more such attempts at fundamental change this session. Whether they can make it to and past the governor’s desk remains to be seen.