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Archive for 2009



Weekend Swap Meet: Taxes, Death & Sarah Palin

Saturday, August 1st, 2009

carbontaxA bump for Keeley: One largely overlooked finding in news coverage of this week’s much-discussed PPIC poll was evidence of strong statewide support for a pollution tax on carbon-based fuels.

As a political matter, the finding is significant because the California Commission on the 21st Century Economy – aka the Parsky Commission - is considering such a levy as part of a package of liberal proposals, as the group works towards a formal recommendation for reforming state tax policy.

In the poll, 56 percent of those surveyed said they support a carbon tax, with 35 percent opposed. Democrats – 73-to-20 percent – and independents – 52-to-39 percent – both back the idea, while Republicans oppose it 60-to-33 percent.

The carbon tax question was one in a series that PPIC asked to test public attitudes about global warming. Six in 10 Californians believe that the effects of global warming have already begun, while 75 percent say immediate steps are needed to counter its effects.

The poll-takers also asked whether people favor a “cap and trade” system of regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Although Californians also favor such a plan, they do with only a plurality of 49-to-40 percent, with both Democrats and independents backing it by smaller margins than the carbon tax; Republicans oppose it, but like it slightly more than the carbon tax.

fred keeley_0102A tax on carbon-based fuels is one element of a plan for overhauling the state’s tax system that has been presented to the Parsky Commission by Santa Cruz County Treasurer Fred Keeley, a former Assemblyman, who leads the commission’s liberal faction. Keeley’s proposal calls for the “pollution tax” to move inversely with the price of crude oil, in order to put a floor under the price of gasoline.

“As proposed, the fuel tax will help to stabilize state revenues and reduce volatility by providing a steady source of revenue,” Keeley said in a presentation to fellow commissioners. “By supporting the clean energy and transportation industry, which many investors view as the next growth industry, this proposed tax reform will advance California’s role as a leader in the clean energy sector.”

(Memo to Fred: Hey, clean out your cell phone voice mail, man – how are we supposed to get a fresh quote?)

milton-friedman

Shock doctrine: threat or menace? Calbuzz bets that Tom Campbell, the Dudley Do-Right of  California politics, is the only candidate in America to issue a press release in which he gets all misty on the occasion of the, uh, third anniversary of the death of Milton Friedman.

“This Friday would have been Milton Friedman’s 97th birthday,” Campbell announced to the state’s political press corps, many of whose members, remarkably, might have remained otherwise oblivious to the occasion (we name no names). “He passed away in November, 2006, vibrant and insightful to the very end of his life.”

Ah, Milton, we hardly know ye’.

Nothing if not terminally earnest, the Republican wannabe’ governor recounted his long, personal history with the hard line conservative economist, who served as Campbell’s faculty adviser at the University of Chicago, before finally getting around to the political pandering: “On his birthday, it is an appropriate moment…to take a warning from his life’s work about current attempts to inject government regulation more and more into our country’s economy.”

Indeed.

Coincidentally, a very different view of the late Professor Friedman was propounded yesterday by state labor leader Willie Pelote over at California Progress Report.

“…economic shock therapy is based on the theories of University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman, who strongly believed that governments should play no role in the economic sphere other than to protect the rights of property owners…(S)ocieties in which these policies have been enacted are generally characterized by increased poverty, an ever widening gap between rich and poor, and a widespread host of social and economic problems most commonly associated with Third World countries.”

Boy, we just can’t wait for that constitutional convention to Bring Us All Together.

SarahPalinWavingGoodbyePalin Redux: As Politico was reporting Friday that Sarah Palin has decided to stiff  the Simi Valley Republican Women by backing out of her previously announced speech at the Reagan Library (Palin let them know via Facebook), Calbuzz was still trying to get our heads around the erstwhile Alaska’s governor farewell address.

To us, she mostly sounded like your teenager, who wrecks the family car, then insists you should loan it to her again because if she thought she was going to wreck twice, would she even ask?

“It is because I love Alaska this much, sir, that I feel it is my duty to avoid the unproductive, typical, politics-as-usual, lame-duck session in one’s last year in office. How does that benefit you? With this decision now, I will be able to fight even harder for you, for what is right and for truth.”

What…evvverrr…

Press Clips: Fun Facts & Fine Kerfuffles

Friday, July 31st, 2009

mbaldassareWelcome to the NFL: Torey Van Oot, the rookie California blogger hired by the Bee to juice up its online “Capitol Alert” (which has flagged considerably since the departure for the L.A. Times of the indefatigable Shane Goldmacher) set off a fine kerfuffle Thursday over polling, politics and the smash-mouth issue of offshore oil drilling in California.

Van Oot put up an early morning post about the new PPIC poll’s finding that a majority of Californians now favor offshore oil drilling. The item included an attack on the institute’s survey methodology by anti-drilling Assemblyman Pedro Nava, who called the results “completely worthless” and opined that “PPIC should find another line of work, if this is the best they can do.”

For those who know PPIC president Mark Baldassare (along with the Field Poll’s Mark torey22DiCamillo) as one of the smartest, most trustworthy and thoughtful pollsters in the nation, Nava’s wild man act was an hysteric, over-the-top, shoot-the-messenger rip job that ignored the rather important facts that a) PPIC has been asking the same question since 2003 and b) there’s undeniable evidence throughout their data that a significant shift in public opinion on the offshore issue has taken place (primarily among independents).

The piece was notable for one other reason: it carried not a word from Baldassare, or anyone at PPIC, responding to Nava’s charges, although he  directly assailed the professionalism and competence of the San Francisco-based outfit.

A few hours later, apparently after Baldassare and the Bee Blogger had a full and frank exchange of views, Van Oot posted an update that included a 243-word response from the pollster, which looked like a billboard slapped up on the page, setting the record straight about his methodology:

“At the end of the day, we feel it’s our obligation to as accurately as possible reflect the opinions of all Californians in our polling, so particularly on controversial issues like this one, we take special care to use national survey questions and repeat questions over time to give us a sense of whether opinions are changing,” he concluded.

A feperry white 2w hours after that, Nava issued a press release walking back his direct criticism of PPIC. Transforming himself into a journalism critic, he instead insisted that the media had “misled” the public by writing too narrowly about the offshore drilling question instead of taking a broader approach to other data about environmental issues that “should have been the focus of yesterday’s stories.”

Yo! Perry White! Here’s a tip from the political desk: When you’re in a hole, first stop digging.

World’s First Legislator: The Handbook of Political Writing Cliches requires that all stories about California’s budget include at least one use of the phrase “draconian cuts,” as confirmed by a random check of recent budget yarns in the Bee-minus, the Chron and the By God L.A. Times, as well a quick Google search of “draconian cuts California budget” (126,000 hits).

Ever desperate for a fresh angle, Calbuzz assigned our highly trained and highly paid Department of Evolutionary Linguistics to get to the bottom of this hoary phrase. A wide-ranging investigation, including an in-depth check of Wikipedia, revealed that it derives, neither from Harry Potter pal Draco Malfoy nor Star Wars Imperial Knight Antares Draco, but rather from the uni-named Draco, credited as “the first legislator of ancient Athens.”

Besides his more or less direct responsibility for the free cars, per diem payments and fulltime salaries for part-time work afforded today’s California lawmakers, Mr. Draco also laid down the first written constitution, a rather harsh collection of laws that required debtors to be forced into slavery and called for capital punishment for even minor offenses.

Draco, according to Plutarch, “when asked why he had fixed the punishment of death for most offences, answered that he considered these lesser crimes to deserve it, and that he had no greater punishment for more important ones.”

Ouch.

Eventually karmic justice caught up with Draco, who reportedly died after a demagogic performance at the Aeginetan theatre, when his supporters, in a traditional sign of approval,  “threw so many hats and shirts and cloaks on his head that he suffocated, and was buried in that selfsame theatre.”

Now there’s an idea for a ballot initiative to rein in the Legislature.

More fun facts about language: Calbuzz’s political correctness antennae stood straight up when the redoubtable David Dayen over at Calitics referred to our most recent budget rant, not once but thrice, as “shrill.”

Now while it’s true that the members of the Calbuzz Executive Content Production Team are not technically, well, of the female persuasion, we have been around long enough to know that calling someone “shrill” is just asking to be denounced by sensitive souls, such as ourselves, for some type of “phobia” or “ism.”

But now comes Dayen, graciously concealing his smirk at our utter lack of hipness, to disclose that “shrill” represents a compliment in what you call your online blogging community, high praise for cutting to the bone instead of mealy-mouthing an issue, as explained here.

So little time, so much to learn.

How to fix California: A prolific sort, Dayen churned out an excellent thumb-sucker on a California constitutional convention, one of a pair of intriguing posts this week that highlight the vast ideological divide over the ways and means needed to fix the state.

Chris Reed over at Politicker offered the second, a brisk policy prescription for the excessive spending and trough-feeding public employees whom he perceives as the fundamental cause of the Mess in Sacramento, a package which includes a tight spending cap, pension reform and restrictions on political donations by unions.To Dayen, though, the problem is much more one of structure: “Right now, we have a progressive legislature and a conservative system, which frustrates efforts at accountability.”

And there it is, spectator sports fans: two looks at the dysfunction of state government from opposite ends of the telescope, a case study of the political chasm a con con will have to confront and bridge.

Lou_Cannon-175Must reads of the week: For those looking for one piece on California’s woe that puts it all together, Lou Cannon offers up a smart and stylish overview on Politics Daily that shows why he’s a Hall of Fame political writer…Nice scooplet by Anthony York at Capitol Weekly, who reports that the final vote on last week’s defeat of Arnold’s offshore oil drilling proposal mysteriously disappeared from the official record of the Assembly….Finally, Kevin Roderick, the City of Angels bard who never sleeps, dashed off this very Calbuzz kind of item that demonstrates the true power and importance of links:

Best city for deli: L.A.?

From the Jewish Journal’s food blog, posted by editor Rob Eshman:

‘I just got a peek inside David Sax’s new book, “Save the Deli,“ due out Oct. 19, and can report that it is official: L.A. is the best deli city in America.

Bite that, New York….’”

Arnold’s Offshore Oil Drill Project Not Dead Yet

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

offshoreA new statewide poll reports that a sizeable majority of likely voters now favors  expanded offshore oil drilling in California, a finding likely to fuel renewed efforts to approve the just-defeated Tranquillon Ridge project .

A PPIC survey released late Wednesday  shows that 55 percent of likely voters support more oil drilling off the coast, compared to 41 percent who oppose it. Among all adults, the gap is narrower — 51-to-43 percent in favor — although this is the second year in a row that PPIC found majority backing for more drilling, which previously was a long-settled issue in the state.

The new data comes as executives of the Houston-based oil company PXP vow to continue pressing for approval of a state lease for the controversial project off the coast of Santa Barbara, which was defeated in the Assembly last week after passing the senate by one vote.

An Administration spokesman also said the governor remains enthusiastic about the proposal – and hopes to get another chance to sign it into law.

“The fact that the Legislature did not approve it does not in any way lessen the Administration’s support for the project,” Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer told Calbuzz. “Nor does it in any way lessen the fiscal and environmental benefits to the state, which we hope the Legislature will re-examine.”

In the context of the budget battle, the basic media narrative that emerged from last week’s dust-up framed the Tranquillon Ridge vote, with its potential revenues for the state, as a simple yea-or-nay referendum on offshore drilling. In fact, the policy issues at stake are more nuanced and complex, given that the rejected legislation has its roots in a negotiated 2008 agreement between PXP and a large group of Santa Barbara environmentalists ; they enthusiastically backed a new state lease –- for slant drilling off an existing oil platform in federal waters — as a pathway to ending some drilling off their coast permanently.

The Politics

As a political matter, the unsettled conflict over the project is significant for several key reasons:

– In California, the fight over Tranquillon Ridge reflects a shifting political landscape, as recession-mired residents appear to be recalibrating the balance between long-held, pro-environmental values and economic growth and energy  costs. The PPIC poll found that public support for policies to improve the environment “has dropped a notch,” in the words of poll-taker Mark Baldassare, on a host of issues, including climate change and air quality, with wide partisan differences in each case.

– Across the nation, the fight over the PXP project is being watched as a possible precedent-setter, at a time when the Obama Administration is conducting a review of the government’s five-year drilling plan for the outer continental shelf. The issue is particularly germane in Florida where U.S. Senators from Alaska and Louisiana are trying to remove prohibitions against drilling in a wide swath of coastal waters.

– In Sacramento, the issue is filled with palace intrigue, because environmentalists who negotiated the agreement with PXP hope eventually to bring it back to the State Lands Commission for reconsideration. The commission defeated it on a 2-to-1 vote last January, with Lt. Governor John Garamendi leading the opposition; with Garamendi now running for a House seat in the 10th Congressional District, insiders are spinning scenarios in which Schwarzenegger might appoint Garamendi’s replacement, swinging the balance of power on the commission in support of the project.

What’s Next

PXP oil company executives have spent millions on some of the top lobbying talent in Sacramento, including Darius Anderson, good pal of  Schwarzenegger chief of staff Susan Kennedy, according to a nice weekend piece by the Bee’s Kevin Yamamura that examined how the Third House influenced the budget deal.

PXP executives made it clear immediately after the project was voted down in the Assembly that they plan to keep pushing: “PXP is committed to continue working with California’s elected and appointed leaders on a potential agreement for the T-Ridge project to build on the momentum generated by the (Schwarzenegger) Administration’s and Senate’s bipartisan support,” PXP vice president Steve Rusch said in a statement released Sunday.

The project could return in several venues. Speaker Karen Bass said in a statement after the budget vote that the project “could be reconsidered in August.” Although Bass’s press office failed to return calls seeking clarification about exactly what this meant, it is possible the project could return in a standalone bill. With state revenues continuing to plunge, the project might also be resurrected yet again if the governor and Legislature have to craft another deficit cutting package in the fall or winter.

And as leaders of Santa Barbara’s Environmental Defense Center work to address the problems with the project cited by the State Lands Commission in January – specifically the enforceability of PXP promises to permanently end offshore drilling on four federal platforms in exchange for the state lease – the possibility that Schwarzenegger could name a replacement for Garamendi would be crucial.

“This ain’t over,” Attorney General hopeful and Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, who led the charge against the project, told us.  “Round two is coming up.”

Weed Whacking with PPIC

Foes of offshore drilling no doubt will try to minimize the importance of the new poll’s basic finding –- that all adults surveyed favor expanded drilling by 51-to-43 percent –- which is essentially unchanged from last year, when a slim majority of Californians –- 51-to-45 percent –- favored more drilling, albeit for the first time in PPIC polling history.

But if you, uh, drill down into the data, there are some troubling trends for coastal oil foes.

For starters, among likely voters, which is to say the most politically engaged Californians, the majority of those who favor more drilling is significantly larger – 55-to-41 percent – than among all adults. In this group, the pro-drilling view has grown substantially stronger in one year; in 2008, likely voters told PPIC they favored more drilling by 51-to-45. This represents a net pick up of eight percentage points for the drill baby drill team in just one year.

Breaking the likely voter numbers down along partisan lines shows that the polarized views of Democrats and Republicans on the subject are essentially unchanged: 34 percent of Democrats now favor more drilling (compared to 32 percent last year) while 81 percent of Republicans are now in favor (compared to 80 percent in 2008).

But there has been a dramatic switch in attitudes among independent voters:

– In 2008, independents opposed more drilling by a ratio of 53-to-43 percent, with four percent having no opinion.

– In 2009, independent likely voters now say they favor more offshore drilling, by 55-to-42 percent, a net swing of 23 points in favor of the oil companies’ position.

–Jerry Roberts and Phil Trounstine

Author: Why Obama Should End ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Nathaniel Frank mugBy Evan Wagstaff
Special to Calbuzz

President Obama would do well politically to simply repeal the controversial “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy for gays in the military, rather than continuing his efforts to finesse the issue, the author of a new history of the policy tells Calbuzz.

As a candidate, Obama vowed he would end the Clinton-era policy, which prevents openly gay people from serving in the armed forces. As president, however, Obama has upset gay rights groups by not moving forcibly to fulfill his promise, suggesting that it is the responsibility of Congress to act first.

Nathaniel Frank, author of the recently published “Unfriendly Fire,” said the administration’s effort to “buy itself some wiggle room” merely prolongs the debate without a realistic possibility of convincing anyone who opposes Obama on the issue to change their mind. Frank is a senior research fellow at  UC Santa Barbara’s Palm Center, which has produced the most authoritative studies of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

“I think that addressing this issue will prompt opposition from a predictable cast of characters, members from socially conservative groups who have been hollering about this issue for decades and didn’t support Obama in the first place,” Frank said.

“We now have anywhere between 60 and 80 percent of the public in favor of repeal, and these polls included majorities of Republicans, conservatives, and church goers,” he added. “For a popular president like Obama, who was elected on a mandate for change and campaigned on a promise to end this policy, that would serve him better than the delay and defeat Clinton faced.”

Since its establishment in 1998, UCSB’s Palm Center has been regarded as a key source of information and research about the DADT policy and its effects, delivering briefings for several military organizations cited on the center’s website. Most recently, the center released a study in May which said the president could end the policy with an executive order.

Since then, however, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said that the Pentagon would attempt through administrative action to make DADT “more flexible until the law is changed,” throwing the onus of overturning the policy on the Congress. Obama echoed that view in a recent interview on CNN.

The history of DADT extends back to 1981 when a full ban on homosexual service personnel was instituted by the Department of Defense.  In 1993, President Clinton commissioned a six-month study to investigate the effects of a potential repeal of the 1981 directive, but met with criticism from his Joint Chiefs of Staff and members of Congress, among other groups. What emerged was the compromise: “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue” aimed at allowing closeted homosexuals to serve, but requiring dismissal if  evidence of homosexual conduct surfaced. This 1993 White House briefing shows that even top administration officials had difficulty describing the policy they were implementing.

Since then, nearly 13,000 gay service members have been dismissed under DADT, including a handful of invaluable Arabic translators.  These factors have prompted a reexamination of the issue.  Frank said that he believes the wording Secretary Gates chose in his statement could only indicate an eventual repeal of the 16 year old policy.

“It is interesting wording,” Frank said.  “Most people know that the White House changed its website from ‘repeal the policy’ to ‘change to policy.’  It’s trying to buy itself some wiggle room, but I don’t know what change would mean in any long term way other than repeal.  Gates and Obama are looking for a way to change the way the law is applied.  In the case of the gay ban, any cracks in Humpty Dumpty are the beginning of the end.”

How other nation’s militaries handle it: The Associated Press recently published an article detailing the policies for openly gay personnel in comparable militaries around the world. It shows that some of our most prominent Western allies have maintained a policy of open service for at least a decade and have suffered no detriment either politically or logistically.

Britain, the only major partner in George W. Bush’s “Coalition of the Willing,” lifted their gay service ban in 1999, a decision embraced by then-Prime Minister Tony Blair.  Australia’s servicemen and women marched beside peers and even a general in Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade, after nearly 17 years of being allowed to serve in their country’s military.  Even Israel, protected by one of the most embattled militaries in the world, has allowed openly gay service since 1993.

Calbuzz asked Frank what was behind the difference between these and U.S. policies:

“The Christian right was the single most important variable in ensuring in 1993 that we didn’t have reform,” Frank said. “I don’t think there’s a comparable political constituency in any other westernized country.  Israel has a conservative right but it hasn’t made homosexuality its cause célèbre.

“The Christian right advised their political advisors to say [openly gay service] would underminevane the military because the national security frame would sell better.  In addition to the moral and religious concerns which are unique to us, there is a large population here which is uncomfortable with homosexuality.”

Calbuzz intern Evan Wagstaff is Opinion Editor of The Daily Nexus newspaper at UCSB.

Newsom Hunkers Down: Jaye Books, South Rises

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

ericjaye2When Calbuzz heard from the enterprising Phil Matier and Andy Ross that Eric Jaye, Gavin Newsom’s longtime senior political adviser, was quitting his Prince’s campaign for governor because of “a fundamental difference” (his words) with strategist Garry South, we weren’t bowled over with surprise.

It’s not that South is a control freak; in fact, he’s perfectly capable of working collaboratively and cooperatively with campaign managers and other candidate handlers.

But Jaye to date in the campaign had Newsom heavily focused on using and trumpeting his use of online social network tools, both for organizing and for fundraising and South  is simply not, by nature,  a Twitter-Facebook-kind of guy.gary_south

The last political consultant to elect a Democrat governor of the state, the Duke of Darkness is a bare-knuckles, in-your-face, shoe-leather, hand-to-hand combat veteran who has two main tasks: 1) Get his candidate to raise a ship load of money and 2) Needle, badger and tweak primary rival Jerry Brown at every turn.

Jaye and South were both doing their best to handle the split-up professionally, and with as little inside vitriol splashing on Newsom as possible. We tried to bait South into talking but he refused to engage.

But as Calbuzz sees it, Newsom’s decision to dump the guy who’s been with him from the beginning of his career, in favor of the guy who has actually won a tough Democratic primary and two governor’s races –- not to mention taking out number of millionaire opponents — suggests Newsom is choosing to forego the all-tweet-all-the-time strategy in favor of a little throwback hardball.

As we noted July 2 , while Brown is sitting on more than $7 million (without actually announcing his candidacy), Newsom has raised just $2.8 million and has only $1.1 million in the bank, despite his legions of Twitter and Facebook fans.

Jaye apparently felt that Newsom could use his online profile to pull an Obama, who shattered all known fundraising records in his presidential bid with a major assist from the web. Fair enough, but that notion ignores the fact that before he was Lord of the Internets, Obama was an old school Chicago pol, with guys like David Axelrod locking him up to dial for dollars and running him through countless fundraisers so that in the year before the election he outraised Hillary Clinton the old fashioned way.

That’s what Newsom must to do to become more than a San Francisco boutique candidate. Brown’s long record and saturation name ID, for better or worse, presents a formidable obstacle for a rookie candidate, and Newsom needs to find a way to gain a financial and tactical edge on General Jerry.

(Aside: We were reminded of the decision made by former Gov. Pete Wilson in September 1995 when he picked Craig Fuller, an old Bush Sr. hand, to manage his presidential campaign over George Gorton, his friend and campaign strategist for 25 years. Gorton had never run a national campaign.)

Democratic primaries are all about capturing the party’s left-wing, and over at Calitics, our liberal friends fretted that losing Jaye, with his back-to-the-roots connection to Newsom and his progressive politics, is worrisome for the San Francisco mayor’s chances.

“South has a history with the radical moderates over at the Democratic Leadership Council, and that’s how he won with Davis,” wrote the estimable Brian Leubitz. “He talked ToughOnCrime ™, business, and all that jive. And it won him the 1998 election.

“But California is in a very different place today than it was then. If Garry South is going to be running Newsom’s campaign, he’ll have to update his strategy. It didn’t work with Steve Westly, and it won’t fare much better now.”

This is fuzzy thinking. Newsom’s first challenge is to beat Brown in a Democratic primary. So why in that context, would South even try to position Newsom to the right of the Attorney General?

Newsom and South are going to have to run a two track campaign: extolling the alleged wonders of San Francisco while ripping Brown’s record — as a governor, mayor, attorney general, state party chairman and the other 173 offices he’s held –- up one side and down the other. This is what South knows how to do, and is very, very good at. And it’s the pathway that Newsom has now chosen as his longtime friend and adviser leaves the field.

– By Jerry Roberts and Phil Trounstine