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Archive for 2009



Stanford Movement: “Boot Condi for War Crimes”

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

US-CONDOLEEZZA RICEAbout 150 protest veterans, who led the fight 40 years ago to dislodge Stanford University from the War in Vietnam, on Sunday called on Stanford to sever relations with former Provost Condoleezza Rice, arguing that she committed war crimes while on leave as Secretary of State.

They understand it’s a long shot: Stanford relishes having a former Secretary of State on the faculty and is unlikely to conclude, as a Faculty Advisory Board would have to, that while on leave, Rice engaged in false statements, misrepresentation of sources and a pattern of egregious intellectual dishonesty. Unless, of course, Rice is actually prosecuted for overseeing and approving of torture – which would require the Obama administration and/or Congress to hold Bush administration officials responsible for breaking the law.

Whether this happens or not, the anti-war left wants Rice to go. As longtime campus peace activist Rachelle Marshall put it at a panel discussion on Saturday: “Stanford is harboring a war criminal.”

The former students, faculty and outside agitators who gathered at Stanford this weekend were celebrating the 40th anniversary of the April 3rd Movement, in which a nine-day take-over of the Applied Electronics Laboratory and ensuing street protests brought an end to secret military research at Stanford.

That movement began in October 1968, when many of those now attending the reunion had nailed a document on the door of the trustees’ office demanding that Stanford “halt all military and economic projects and operations concerned with Southeast Asia.”

Recalling that moment, the veterans on Sunday delivered a petition from “Stanford Say No to War” that stated: “Our former Provost, current Political Science Professor, and Hoover Institution Senior Fellow, Condoleezza Rice, should be held accountable for any serious violations of the law (including ratified treaties, statutes and/or the U.S. Constitution) through investigation and, if the facts warrant, prosecution by appropriate legal authorities.”

A3M leader Marjorie Cohn, now president of the National Lawyers’ Guild, said, “By nailing this petition to the door of the president’s office, we are telling Stanford that the university should not have war criminals on its faculty. There is prima facie evidence that Rice approved torture and misled the country into the Iraq war. Stanford has an obligation to investigate those charges.”

Rice didn’t help herself when she was asked, at an earlier meeting with students, whether waterboarding is torture:

“The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our obligations, legal obligations, under the Convention Against Torture,” she replied. “So that’s — and by the way, I didn’t authorize anything. I conveyed the authorization of the administration to the agency . . .By definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Conventions Against Torture.”

As widely noted, her statement echoed Richard Nixon’s circular, self-referential Watergate logic: “When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.” You can see the whole Rice exchange here.

Note: Calbuzzer Phil Trounstine was a member of A3M and participant in the 2009 reunion.

The Calbuzz Dustbin of History: Jerry’s Disappearing Plymouth

Saturday, May 2nd, 2009

img_2051Annals of Jerry Brown, Chapter 36: The sudden reappearance of Jerry Brown’s famed 1974 Plymouth at his reception during the state Democratic convention recalled an episode of abiding mystery involving his iconic auto.

It happened on April 17, 1980, 29 years almost to the day before the car’s cameo at Brown’s party last week; the Plymouth suddenly disappeared from the Capitol, shortly after Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to seize it, following a legal dispute that involved eight hundred bucks in unpaid medical bills.

The shaggy car story actually began in August 1979, when then-Gov. Brown vetoed $390,000 worth of small claims against the state that had been approved by the state Board of Control and the Legislature. Among them was a bill for $808 for un-reimbursed MediCal expenses, filed by Barton Memorial Hospital in South Lake Tahoe three years before.

Stiffed by Brown, the hospital went to court in El Dorado County and won a judgment for the money, giving them the “right to attach tangible property” owned by the state of California.

“I couldn’t think of any property more tangible than the governor’s Plymouth,” hospital administrator Ron Newton told a reporter at the time.

But someone from the local sheriff’s office leaked word that deputies were on their way to arrest the car, which was spotted leaving the building’s underground garage just before the lawmen arrived. The governor himself had an alibi: he was in L.A. that day, tooling around in a second, state-owned Plymouth, and bureaucrats from a host of agencies proceeded to engage in round of finger pointing about who was responsible for producing Moonbeam Plymouth I.

The kerfuffle ended up back in court – more work for lawyers! – and the intriguing mystery of who drove it away, one step ahead of the posse, remained unsolved. Brown, now California’s Top Lawman, presided over a reception last Saturday promoting his bid for a second turn as governor, where the Outlaw Plymouth sat on brazen display in the driveway of the historic Governor’s Mansion, its greatest secret still intact.

Epilogue: Brown suffered a bit of karmic justice this week, when someone stole two tires from his hybrid in Oakland.

What Happens If (When) Budget Props Go Down

Friday, May 1st, 2009

By Greg Lucas, Calbuzz Capitol Bureau

arnoldshotupThe state’s budget plot sickens.

April income tax and corporate tax collections fell nearly $2 billion short of expectations – and voters seem poised to reject three key propositions on the May 19 special election ballot, adding $5.8 billion to an already serious problem.

Given the sorry state of the state’s economy, the gap between revenue and spending commitments is only going to get bigger – the consensus being double digit billions for the foreseeable future. So what will Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Democrat majority Legislature do on the morning of May 20, assuming current polling trends hold?

First will come the mandatory, flat-footed dance macabre: Rounds of obligatory teeth-gnashing and garment-rending over how draconian spending cuts will devastate the most vulnerable among us – that would be the Democrats — and, from the other guys, how hard-working Californians will be crippled by stealing more of their livelihood through higher taxes to feather the nests of soul-less bureaucrats.

Then what will really happen?

There are basically only three ways to balance a budget – increase revenues, decrease spending or a combination of both. A combination of both would seem the most rationale strategy – but don’t look for that to happen.

In February, Democrats were able to lure a handful of Republicans into voting for a budget that temporarily increased taxes by more than $12 billion, including a 1-cent boost in the sales tax that took effect April 1. Those tax increases will be in place for this and next fiscal year, even if Prop. 1A, which would extend the taxes two more years, loses on May 19.

The price tag charged by GOP senator Abel Maldonado for his vote – in the dead of night – included allowing a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment to allow open primaries; getting rid of an increase in the gas tax in the budget; and placing Prop. 1F on the May 19 ballot prohibiting lawmakers from receiving salary raises in ugly budget years.

Because Democrats blithely paid his ransom, they effectively set a new floor. Now, similarly minded vote-traders will raise the extortion bar far higher. High enough that even Democrats eager to strike a deal, any deal, may find the price too dear.

Some Republicans, like several members of the Assembly, voted for the budget without any political quid pro quos, earning the ire of their party and, in two instances, recall attempts. Senate Republican leader Dave Cogdill of Fresno lost his post when a majority of his caucus opposed the taxes he had negotiated in the budget. They replaced him with Dennis Hollingsworth of Murrieta who has repeatedly voiced his refusal to lend Republican support to any further tax increases.

The GOP governor has gotten over his pledge not to increase taxes but legislative Republicans simply don’t fear or even respect him and would be more likely to do the opposite of whatever he says – just as, in most cases, they have already.

So if the chances of Republicans voting again to jack up taxes are slim to none – and slim left town – that means even further ratcheting down of state spending. So where would the cuts fall?

Mostly on public schools. The budget signed by Schwarzenegger in February gives schools 43 percent of the state’s $92 billion general fund. Like Willie Sutton, who robbed banks because that’s where the money was, budget cutters turn first to the biggest ticket item, irrespective of numerous speeches by lawmakers and the governor about education’s importance.

Second biggest call on general fund revenues is health and human services programs like welfare and Medi-Cal, the state’s health care program for the poor. Those programs comprise 34 percent of general fund spending for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Higher education is 13 percent; prisons are 11 percent.

Democrats are not eager to cut further into state spending – some $15.7 billion was axed in the current budget. Their leadership has also been snubbed by some of their most generous givers – public employee unions who were angered by this year’s spending cuts.

So, as they have in the past, Democrats likely will try to close some of the budget gap through “fees” which can be approved by majority vote, rather than general taxes, which require two-thirds.

The Hail Mary play would be what the Democrats threatened to do in December – pass a “revenue-neutral” majority-vote budget that cuts out the ability of the GOP to influence it.

Cities and counties fear that, as it has in past fiscal crises like 1991, the state will transfer some of its responsibilities to reduce state expenditures. This time, though, cities and counties worry all that will come their way will be responsibilities and no cash to pay for them.

If passage of this most recent budget – and the previous one, which set a record for tardiness – are any indication, rigid Republican lawmakers, unfettered by a governor capable of reining them in, are going to hold what Willie Brown calls the “whip hand” until California ditches its two-thirds vote requirement.

Greg Lucas is a Sacramento-based political writer who covered state government for the San Francisco Chronicle. He blogs about the people, policies and plots of the Capitol at www.californiascapitol.com.

Friday Fishwrap: No Name Steve, Rose Garden Meg, Me Too Tom

Friday, May 1st, 2009

three-amigos2
Desperados: At some point, almost every political campaign descends into a debate about debates: A trailing candidate publicly calls on her rival to agree to a series of, oh say, 13 or 14 debates over the weekend, because “the voters deserve to understand the important differences between us on key issues.” At which point the front-runner condescendingly demurs, saying what the voters really want is to “hear directly from both of us, without the 30-second sound bites of commercials.” It’s a traditional piece of political kabuki theatre that usually pops up in the final days or weeks of a race, when a contest is all but decided.

So it was a bit surprising Thursday to see the three Republican contenders for governor suddenly don [mixed metaphor alert: we're very multicultural here at Calbuzz] kimonos and kumadori to begin enacting the debate over debates ritual, 404 freaking days before the primary election.

Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, performing Act I, released a letter brimming with civic sanctity that called on rivals Meg Whitman and Tom Campbell to join him in two debates about the May 19 ballot propositions: “Such debates represent the political process at its best.”

Former everything Campbell nearly broke a leg running onto the stage for Act II, in which he accepted the invitation: “California voters deserve to know where the candidates stand not just on these measures, but what they propose as a realistic solution to our budget crisis if they oppose them – especially Proposition 1A.”.

But former eBay CEO Whitman, bringing conflict and climax to Act III, dismissed Poizner’s invite with a sneer: “We smell desperation,” Whitman mouthpiece Rob Stutzman told Calbuzz. “The cheap and stupid stunts are suggesting that (Poizner) is taking his place in the polls seriously — as also-ran.”

At which point Poizner flack Kevin Spillane played for a curtain call: “So the Whitman campaign is now confirming they believe public debates on issues by gubernatorial candidates are cheap and stupid stunts,” he told us. “That also confirms their view of the California electorate. Apparently voters should just shut up and be grateful Meg Whitman is blessing us with her candidacy for Governor.”

[Can you tell Calbuzz just loves this stuff?]

As a practical matter, the Poizner-Whitman family feud is all about tactics, not substance, as the two of them agree on three of the five budget props; the big difference on the props lies between the two of them and Campbell.

The bottom line: All three of the Reps are desperate, at least mildly, in his or her own way: Poizner, to raise his public profile by aggressively setting the pace of the race, and Campbell, for any kind of attention to overcome his financial handicap against the two Richie Riches. As for Whitman, she’s starting to seem rather desperate to avoid uncontrolled public exposure entirely, not the kind of behavior you normally see in your candidates for governor.

[PS: Since posting we noticed that our colleague Jon Fleischman over at Flashreport has offered to moderate a debate on Prop 1A with Whitman and Poizner against Campbell and Schwarzenegger: nice promotional idea Jon!]

Gavin’s Potemkin Party: S.F. Mayor Gavin Newsom scored plentygavinwave of positive ink for last weekend’s big block party in Sacramento, ostensibly hosted by the California College Democrats, which featured Wyclef Jean and “honored” the Democrat wannabe governor.

But the high cost, high tech, high production value of the event seemed a tad, well, high end, for a bunch of college kids, no matter how entitled:

Scene: Interior cluttered college dorm room where an attractive couple are conversing while listening to their Ipods, texting and sipping vente non-fat caramel macchiatos:

Elliot (Shia La Beouf): Gee, Brianna, I really feel like honoring Gavin Newsom – but what the heck can we do?

Brianna (Mischa Barton): Oh…My…God! We could so put on a show!!

So Calbuzz padded off to learn who actually put the thing together. The press release trumpeting the event was unusual in that it had no contact phone numbers; when we checked the listed web site – www.blockpartyforcaliforniasfuture.com – it was a shell that was registered by TCR Studios of West Sacramento. That turned out to be one of the IT shops used by Jason Kinney of California Strategies, the premiere engulf and devour Capitol consulting firm.

Kinney, who coincidentally rounded up corporate contributions for the bash, and who happens to be a close ally of Gavin Newsom’s, directed our questions to Claremont McKenna College student Nick Warshaw, the president of CCD. Warshaw said he was in on all the decision-making, but acknowledged that Kinney or his people handled the permits, staging, sound, video, bands, security, you know, stuff like that.

Beyond the widespread media bounce, Newsom ended up with the name, address, phone number, email address, and Facebook and Twitter data from about 3,000 young Democrats and others who signed up for free tickets to the Wyclef concert.

So was it a Newsom event, with CCD as the beard, set up so everyone would think the “honored” Newsom is the darling of young people? Or was it a CCD event, organized with a big assist from Newsom allies? Or is that a distinction without a difference?

Boxer Prebellion: Calbuzz is impressed boxer1that Sen. Barbara Boxer, anticipating a challenge from former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, has nailed down three Silicon Valley mega-names as backers: Safra Catz, President and CFO of Oracle; John Chambers, Chairman and CEO of Cisco Systems; and John Doerr, partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

The trio agreed to serve as co-chairs of the new Technology Leaders for Boxer committee. Lining up Chambers, especially, reminds us of Bill Clinton’s move in 1992, when he snared John Young — Fiorina’s predecessor at HP. When Republican business leaders like Chambers support the Republican candidate, it’s dog bites man; when they back a Democrat, that’s man bites dog.

Leon Air, Newest Carrier in the West: Catch the details of how CIA Chief Leon Panetta gets charter treatment commuting from Monterey to Langley here. (more…)

What Specter’s Defection Means for California Republicans

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

arlenleft

Exhibit A for why the California Repo Party is doomed to minority status, at least for now: state GOP chairman Ron Nehring’s cut-off-your-nose declaration rejoicing in Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter’s decision to become a Democrat.

Nehring’s statement, issued Tuesday, shows that while CRP likes to declare itself a Ronald Reagan big-tent party, it’s actually captive to a red-meat, hard-right, conservative wing which demands ideological purity from its candidates before allowing them to represent the GOP in general elections.

Put aside Nehring’s insipid statement that Specter’s big switch from the R to the D column was “a poll-driven decision based purely on selfish interests.”

(OMG, you mean there’s politics in the Senate? OF COURSE, Specter’s decision was political: this is not a man known for unyielding principle. [Recall that Specter was the Warren Commission staff member who famously tried to explain away physical evidence in the JFK assassination with the “magic bullet” theory.] So he jumped when the right-wing jihadists, in the person of Club for Growth leader Pat Toomey, had him in their sights in the Pa. Senate GOP primary).

Stipulating his decision was poll-driven doesn’t negate the enormity of Specter’s crossover or what it says about the Republican Party nationally and – as Nehring clearly explains – in California.

“The Republican Party didn’t leave Arlen Specter. Arlen Specter left the Republican Party some time ago,” Mr. Chairman said in his statement. “Arlen Specter decided on his own – no one forced him – to violate core Republican principles by voting for the wasteful $787 billion stimulus bill while every single House Republican, including California’s entire Republican delegation, voted with taxpayers in opposition instead.”

Warming to his task he added, “We’re extremely proud of our Republican members of Congress from California for consistently standing with taxpayers while Arlen Specter was busy implementing Barbara Boxer’s agenda.”

Here’s the problem with his logic: for six of the last eight years, the Republicans in Congress were the ones rolling up record deficits behind record government spending. None of the puristas among the skunk Specter crowd seemed too worried about excessive government spending when they held power.

As a political matter, the Reagan and beyond-era Republican Party was organized around three key core issues:

– Fiscal conservatism. The GOP’s low-tax, low-spending policies lost the second half of that equation, first in the Bush I, read-my-lips era, and then in the two terms of Bush II, where tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, coupled with massive spending on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, simply defied the law of gravity. And whether cause and effect or not, the fallout following eight years of tax cuts coupled with more spending – the global credit crunch, the collapse of the banking business and the routing of the stock market – have convinced the majority of Americans who support Obama’s fiscal policies that more Keynes and less Arthur Laffer is in order, at least for now.

– National security. The September 11 attacks gave Republicans new purchase on the issue of national security, which had been slipping away since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall. But W’s adventurous war in Iraq, which increased the ranks of Islamic fundamentalist terrorists rather than reducing them, the stalemate in Afghanistan and the instability in nuclear Pakistan reframed the issue, so that Americans seem ready to give Obama’s diplomacy-first policies a chance.

– Cultural issues. The anti-abortion, anti-gay rights, anti-gun control evangelical Christian wing of the Republican Party is virtually its only remaining core constituency. Besides reducing the GOP nationally to what is now essentially a Southern regional party, the moral certainty – i.e. intolerance of opposing views — of this Republican bloc seems to have become the fundamental dynamic now driving its politics.

Hence, the happy huzzahs from the Limbaugh-Hannity-Michael Steele set who applaud Specter’s defection, as if losing prominent party members holds the key to growing the party and returning it to majority status.

Nowhere in the country is there greater “devaluation of diversity,” as Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, called it in a Wednesday NYT op-ed than within the California GOP. As she argues: “Ideological purity is not the ticket back to the promised land of governing majorities.”

There would be no room for Arlen Specter in the California Republican Party, just as there is no room, really, for former U.S. Rep. Tom Campbell, who keeps tilting at windmills in his indefatigable efforts to win a statewide nomination.

It remains to be seen if the state GOP will allow itself to embrace former eBay CEO Meg Whitman and/or Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, Silicon Valley business moderates. Both are — shhh – pro-choice.

Oddly, the 2010 governor’s race could prove a turning point for the GOP: If no knuckle-dragging conservative candidate emerges to challenge two Silicon Valley Zschauists, perhaps the GOP will be forced to choose between candidates who might actually have a chance in a general election against a Democrat.

This won’t be because the party has signaled its readiness to accept the Arlen Specters of the world. It’ll be because Grand Old Party had no choice.

We’re just sayin’.