Archive for 2009

Poizner Swings at eMeg: 1 Hit, 1 Miss

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

steve-poiznerIn the below-the-radar race for the GOP nomination,  Steve Poizner keeps chipping away at the central premise of Meg Whitman’s campaign for governor, aiming low-intensity but sustained sniper fire at her much-ballyhooed business acumen.

The Poison Commissioner in recent days threw two new shots at eMeg’s stewardship of eBay, one that landed crisply and the other a poorly advised boomerang.

The first came in an interview with Fortune magazine, one of eMeg’s favorite venues (n-e-e-e-i-i-i-g-g-h-h!) in which he contrasted his Silicon Valley success story of engineering portable GPS systems with his rival’s creation of an online market for peddling Beanie Babies.

In a sharp two-track political attack, Poizner smoothly and simultaneously promoted his own business bona fides as a serious-minded entrepreneur while dismissing her private sector experience as little more than marketing department fluff:

megauction“My competitor [has] extensive great experience in marketing and branding at Disney and Hasbro and eBay and other places,” he said. “And you know, a lot of people who are interested in the idea that California needs to be rebranded or marketed in a better way, will find Meg a very appealing choice.

“In my case, if people will find my candidacy to be the right choice, if they are looking for the state not to be rebranded, but to be rebuilt. So people are looking for that kind of entrepreneurial engineering horsepower to actually rebuild the state of California then I’ll be their choice.”

A few days later, however, Poizner’s campaign misfired by e-blasting a You Tube clipjimcramer of CNBC’s “Mad Money,” in which Jim Cramer defended the performance of eBay’s new CEO on grounds he inherited a company from Whitman that was “falling apart.”

Jim Cramer? Really?

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Cramer was a no-account TV clown even before Jon Stewart famously pantsed him in a segment of “The Daily Show” that went viral across the blogosphere for several weeks. Using Cramer as a third-party validator for your campaign is like being endorsed by Alfred E. Newman or Carrot Top.


Help Free Euna Lee and Laura Ling

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

lingand leeCalbuzz is not given to campaigning or advocating.  But we got a letter the other day we want to pass along from our friend Betty Medsger, a writer and journalism education consultant based in New York, who is a former Washington Post reporter and founder of the Center for the Integration and Improvement of Journalism at San Francisco State University. Here’s what Betty wrote:

Until now, journalists, politicians and human rights activists – people who could have been expected to strongly plead for justice for Euna Lee and Laura Ling, the two American journalists who were imprisoned March 17 by the North Korean government and who have just been sentenced to 12 years of hard labor – have been rather silent.

Given the unpredictable qualities of North Korea leaders, it was assumed by many that silence was the preferred strategy in dealing with this humanitarian crisis. Even their employer – Current TV of San Francisco, which is partly owned by Al Gore – has been silent about the terrible plight of these journalists.

Silence didn’t work. It is clear now that voices are needed on behalf of  Euna and Laura.
Please get in touch with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and tell her the 3 a.m. phone call is ringing in her State Department office and that she needs to answer it with her strong will and determination.

Get in touch with your senator and congressional representative. Urge them to convince the Obama administration to engage in direct negotiations with North Korea for the release and return of these two young women. If you agree, please urge them to disengage this humanitarian case from other serious disputes our government has with North Korea. Urge them to demand that the Secretary of State or an emissary go to North Korea and conduct direct negotiations on behalf of Laura and Euna.

Get in touch with Al Gore. If you know anyone related to the Swedish government, encourage them – as a nation that already engages directly with North Korea – to be a more forceful advocate on behalf of Laura and Euna.

Much time has passed. Silence seldom is helpful, even – perhaps especially – when dealing with strange dictators. Please help break the silence and let North Korea know, through your representatives and anyone else you may know in a position of influence, that the injustice perpetrated against these journalists should end.

Many thanks,

Links with more information about this case are here and here.

Friday Fishwrap: Sex, Gossip & Taxes

Friday, June 12th, 2009

karenbassIt’s on: Back before the Earth cooled, Capitol lore held that nobody got serious about the budget until the temperature in Sacramento hit 100 degrees. It’s tougher to apply the rule these days, when budget fights span the seasons, but even at that, it’s clear that with highs in the mid-70s  forecast for days to come, the 2009 budget battle is only starting to get cranked up.

An important blow was struck Thursday, however, when Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner of Berkeley summoned a motley collection of bloggers and online journo types onto a conference call for the purpose of announcing their plan to push for new “revenues” and “fees” – what less diplomatic folks might call “higher taxes” – in the face of Governor Arnold’s growing intransigence against anything other than cuts.

“We’re hoping we’ll maintain our sanity,” Bass said, by way of introduction.

Beyond the talking point of the day – “We are going to do everything we can to protect the safety net” — Bass and Skinner (great name for a sporting goods store, BTW) were pretty elusive about exactly what revenue proposals they plan to put forth, except to say they expect to push legislation that they will argue requires only a majority vote, rather than two-thirds, referring inquiring minds to the web sites of the California Tax Reform Association and AFCSME for further insight into their, um, thinking on the issue.

As a political matter, the details of any plans the Assembly Dems may or may not hatch are less important than the fact they floated the notion on the same day that Gov. Conan reverted to full Barbarian mode, thus setting up what our old friend Groucho Marx would call “a fundamental contradiction” that all but ensures the fight is going 15 rounds.

“What we need to do,” the loincloth-clad governor told the L.A. Times ed board, “is just to basically cut off all the funding and just let them have a taste of what it is like when the state comes to a shutdown — grinding halt.”

Talk about creating an atmosphere of compromise.

Bass Gas: Speaking on the speaker phone, Madame Speaker also baffled bloggers by predicting that if the budget fight isn’t settled quickly, “the state would essentially default” and “an entity could come in and take over the budget process and do the cuts.”


Bass had fled the room by the time someone asked what exactly this “entity” might be, leaving her unfortunate press aide to try to clean up the mess by assuring one and all that her boss was, ha, ha,  speaking only hypothetically about a “doomsday scenario” that, ha, ha, would surely never come to pass because the budget will be approved in a spirit of comity and fellowship, etc. etc.

The most likely explanation is that Bass was pointing to the not-all-that-far-fetched possibility that the budget mess could end up being adjudicated by a federal judge, a scenario Tom Campbell explained considerably more clearly last week in a Calbuzz interview.

sunnemcpeakDark Horses for Courses: The Sunne McPeak for Governor boomlet set off by a Chron blog post by Carla Marinucci lasted little more than a day, until the resourceful Lisa Vorderbrueggen knocked it down on her Coco Times blog by talking to the short-lived candidate herself.

“If I ever decided to take leave of my mind and do something like that, I’ll come see you for counseling,” McPeak said, a terrific line that made Calbuzz wish she would get in the race, if only to lighten things among the dour male trio now forming the field. The McPeak rumor got a lot of cred primarily because there’s plenty of room for a moderate Democrat, not to mention a woman, in the current liberal field.

Now that Sunne speculation has been eclipsed, we hear that at least one prominent California Democrat is importuning Treasurer Bill Lockyer to jump in. Lockyer could occupy some of the same space as McPeak (actually the wide-bodied treasurer would take up a helluva’ lot more of it) and, interstingly, has been raising his profile in recent days. Coincidence? You be the judge.

Which reminds us: Lockyer is living proof of the futility of term limits in attempting to drive “career politicians” from office. He’d already put in 17 years in the Legislature, and was a second-tier poster boy for those pushing the idea, when term limits passed in 1990, but he’s  since managed to extend his Sacramento career by another 19 years, simply by nimbly and constantly positioning himself to hop to a new office.

danielle_steel_spotlight[1]Danielle Decker: If this whole journalism doesn’t work out for our friend Cathy Decker at the L.A. Times, she’s got a great future as a writer of romance novels, as she demonstrated in her, uh, close examination of the role of sex scandals in the governor’s race.

“The actress wife of San Francisco’s mayor has a bikini portrait on her website too, as well as a bunch of what once would have been described as come-hither shots. In one she is lying in a wispy, negligee-like dress on a sheet; in another she is topless, with a scarf trailing across her breasts.”

Calbuzz feels a thrill going up our leg.

Decker’s bottom line was that Newsom and Villaraigosa’s zipper problems won’t amount to zip in the campaign, but she hurried past an important nuance distinguishing the two:

Calbuzz sez that in politics, cheating on your wife, as Antonio did, is scummy; but cheating on your campaign manager with his wife? That’s beyond the pale.

— By Roberts and Trounstine

How to Save Millions On Elections

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

gautam-dutta2tedlieu1Let’s be blunt: Calbuzz has an abiding self-interest in elections – the more elections, the greater the pressing need for blindingly insightful political analysis, gossip, speculation and cheap shots. Even we, however, have a hard time defending the exorbitant costs of  the constant round of special elections triggered by musical chairs politics of California. With our interest in all manner of political reform, Calbuzz today offered space to the New America Foundation to discuss a modest proposal for electoral reform that  could save millions.

By Gautum Dutta and Ted Lieu
Special to Calbuzz

California faces a crater-size, $24 billion deficit – and we’re about to throw away millions more on three elections we don’t need. But here’s the good news: If we adopt Instant Runoff Voting, or IRV, for special elections, we can save that amount and more.

With IRV, taxpayers could save nearly $2 million July 14 (fittingly, Bastille Day).

On May 19, barely 18 percent of voters participated in a special election to replace Hilda Solis, who gave up her 32nd Congressional District seat to become labor secretary. Eight Democrats, three Republicans and one Libertarian ran in this contentious race.

Although she finished first, Judy Chu did not win outright because she fell short of a majority (50 percent plus one). The race now goes to a July 14 runoff election – but it won’t be between the top two finishers, who were both Democrats. Instead, the top Democrat (Chu) will square off against the top Republican (who placed fourth with 10 percent of the vote) and the top Libertarian (who barely mustered 1 percent).

Three things are certain in this race. First, Chu is the odds-on favorite in this overwhelmingly Democratic district. (Last year, 68 percent of its voters chose Barack Obama for president.) Second, taxpayers face a steep tab for this election. According to the Los Angeles County Clerk/Registrar Recorder, it will cost taxpayers over $1.5 million.

Finally, a minuscule number of fatigued voters (perhaps as low as 7 percent) will show up for the July 14 runoff. While the voters stay home, the taxpayers’ tab goes up: The cost of administering the runoff will approach a staggering $100 per voter.

Fortunately, there’s a better way to conduct special elections to fill vacancies. Using IRV would allow us to elect majority winners using one election, instead of two.

Under IRV, voters get to rank their choices (1, 2, 3).  If your first choice cannot win, your vote automatically goes to your second (i.e., runoff) choice. It’s like conducting a runoff election, but in a single election.

The recent special runoff was no isolated case. In fact, a whopping seven of California’s past 11 special elections for federal or state office have gone on to runoffs. In all of those elections, the top candidate from the majority party has always won the runoff.

These “special” elections have exacted a heavy fiscal toll. In the past two years, $9.3 million has been spent in Southern California alone on special elections. Of that amount, more than $3.6 million was spent on special runoff elections (including the upcoming July 14 Congressional runoff).

What’s more, this cascade of vacancy elections will continue unabated. By year’s end, voters in Ladera Heights will have been asked to vote a total of five times! In the fall, we’ll have races to replace Assemblyman Curren Price (now state senator-elect) and Rep. Ellen Tauscher (Obama’s nominee for undersecretary of state). The tab to us taxpayers? More than $5 million.

IRV has already been adopted by San Francisco, Oakland, Minneapolis, Memphis and Santa Fe. In addition, Arkansas, Illinois and Louisiana currently use IRV for overseas voters. Recently, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors held its first hearing on IRV. What’s more, the cities of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Pasadena are seriously considering IRV.

A number of leaders and civic groups have endorsed IRV, including Obama, Sen. John McCain, California Controller John Chiang, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, Los Angeles City Attorney-elect Carmen Trutanich, the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, Los Angeles League of Women Voters, California Common Cause, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, Asian American Action Fund and Southwest Voter Registration Education Project.

As part of the governor’s proposed budget solutions after the May 19 statewide budget election, he should include using IRV, as it would save critical funds and chip away at our dire $24 billion shortfall.

Let’s do away with our multimillion-dollar election madness. Let’s adopt IRV – and fill vacancies by electing majority winners in a single special election.

Gautam Dutta is Deputy Director for New America Foundation’s Political Reform Program. Ted W. Lieu is a California Assemblymember (53rd District).

How Oil Scandal Shaped State Politics

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

crude-politicsThe current political brawl over offshore oil drilling between the State Lands Commission and Governor Arnold’s Department of Finance has historic roots in a Depression-era scandal that helped shape today’s energy politics in California.

The Commission and the Finance Department have clashed in recent weeks over the governor’s push to resurrect a proposed lease for drilling off the coast of Santa Barbara. The Commission rejected the plan in January, but the Department of Finance this week released draft legislation to overturn that decision and give authority over the disputed lease to the Schwarzenegger administration.

Ironically, the State Lands Commission was created in 1938 precisely to take away from the Department of Finance the power over oil drilling on public lands, in the wake of a bribery and kickback scandal that helped bring down the administration of Republican Frank Merriam at the hands of Democratic reformer Culbert Olson.

“Olson accused Merriam of having let the Department of Finance…become ‘the agency of private interests,” according to “Crude Politics,” a UC Press history of state oil policy by Paul Sabin. “The…scandal and the investigator’s report on legislative corruption, both in 1938, opened a window on internal administrative and legislative corruption in Sacramento.”

Among other things, the book recounts how oil companies seeking leases on state land were told to “go see Rosie,” a reference to Merriam’s chief political consultant, Joe Rosenthal, while famed lobbyist Artie Samish meanwhile doled out slush fund cash to lawmakers backing the Finance Department’s plays on behalf of Standard Oil and other companies.

The scheme unraveled in 1938, when Samish was arrested for refusing to testify at a grand jury looking into allegations that Department of Finance executives held up oil companies for stock, cash, kickbacks and nepotism, in exchange for the rights to drill on state oil tidelands and sites offshore Southern California.

“Vast Tideland Oil Fraud,” screamed the Chronicle on August 14, 1938, disclosing details of the scandal that eventually capped a decade in which oil politics dominated the Capitol and the courts.

At issue in Olson’s victory over Merriam was the charge that oil companies, not the public treasury, were receiving maximum benefit from oil drilling on state lands. Over the next decades, the politics of the issue changed dramatically, so that the central concern became conservation of beaches and tidelands, not financial exploitation of the minerals beneath them.

The current controversy over the Tranquillon Ridge project reflects that political framework – alas, it has no exciting charges of bribery and corruption, at least to date – as Lands Commission chairman and Lite Gov. John Garamendi is accusing Schwarzenegger’s Department of Finance of trading long-term environmental protection for short-term economic gain. Led by chief deputy director Tom Sheehy, the finance department insists the deal would benefit both the environment and the budget.