Weasels and frogs

Guns and butter: Though sympathy for Team Bush has never been Bites’ strong suit, even we were beginning to feel sorry for National Economic Council head Stephen Friedman during his visit to Sacramento last Thursday. Formerly a director of the Concord Coalition, a bipartisan group that opposes federal deficits, Friedman now finds himself in the unenviable position of going out on the road to shill for a Bush tax-cut scheme guaranteed to drive the country further into debt.

Speaking at a Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Friedman—also a former head of Goldman Sachs, Fannie Mae and Wal-Mart—still seemed to be reconciling his earlier reputation for deficit phobia with his current role as chief deficit salesman. “The president of the United States, who is a very direct man, cares quite a bit about the deficit,” Friedman insisted. It’s just that “homeland security and national security are higher priorities at this point in time.”

And they will continue to be—if Bush has his way—at least until after the next election. The problem is that even conservatives have started questioning the wisdom of administration strategies. One audience member, while expressing support for traditional Republican values, worried that “the people who are actually going to pay for this are the next generation.” But from Friedman’s lofty view, it’s all chump change. “When I got to Washington, I was constantly being corrected because I’d think somebody was talking about millions, and they’d say, ‘No, billions.’ And in some cases, I’d say, ‘Billions,’ and they’d say, ‘Trillions.’ So, the numbers are vast.”

Friedman’s appearance was a prelude to the Metro Chamber’s upcoming Cap to Cap trip, in which Sacramento leaders storm Washington, D.C. Friedman said he “would be remiss after a career on Wall Street” not to encourage the “305 highly talented business and government leaders going to Washington to lobby” to take advantage of the opportunity to put in a good word for the Bush tax plan now before Congress. “That,” he said, “is the glory of being a citizen in this great country.”

A very special weasel: Even people who genuinely like Gray Davis, if you were to gather them all around your computer screen, probably would get some laughs out of Ken Umbach’s Web site, www.capitolweasel.com. A former policy wonk for the California Research Bureau, Umbach is a miserable cartoonist but not at all bad when it comes to political satire. Happily, The Adventures of the Capitol Weasel—Umbach’s sendup of Lady Gray’s The Adventures of Capitol Kitty kiddie book—uses clip art to illustrate the story of a Very Special Weasel who plays with his friends in Capitol Park and worries about the great issues facing the animals of California. A registered Republican, Umbach is naturally more critical of those animals who’ve dug their burrows on the left side of Capitol Park than the right, but that doesn’t stop him from taking a shot at Bill Simon, “the New and Untested Weasel [who] turned out to have been dropped on his head as a baby and had made friends with some undesirable animals.”

Salute the frog: If Senator Rico Oller didn’t seem so much like an overgrown Opie from Andy Griffith’s Mayberry, Bites would have been tempted to single out his sponsorship of an annual State Capitol Frog Jump on May 5 as one more example of legislative folly in a time of fiscal crisis. But now, Oller’s office sends word that Capitol security guards are being denied their God-given right to wear his promotional frog pins on their lapels. Oller’s little critters—which come complete with red, white and blue ribbons—have resulted in a ban on lapel pins of any kind. Happily, guards who want to wear flags soon will be issued standardized flag pins, but no frog ones. Meanwhile, Oller’s communications director, Bill Bird, is excitedly spreading the rumor that the whole problem was “some anti-American employee within the speaker’s office [who] found the American flag colors to be offensive.” Every Mayberry has its Barney Fife.