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Archive for 2009



Dustbin of History: When Labor Day Mattered to Pols

Sunday, September 6th, 2009

happy-labor-dayBack when dinosaurs roamed the earth, trade unionists in the state celebrated Labor Day in a big way, and the biggest bash was always the Central Labor Council picnic at the Alameda County Fair Grounds.

At a time when trade unions represented more than 50 percent of the nation’s workforce, and before “the labor beat” at newspapers became a quaint relic, like manual typewriters and hot lead type, politicians would flock to the picnic to court the favor of the rank and file and union leaders alike.

Thirty years before Democratic senior statesman Bill Cavala nostalgically recalled that annual scene, in this 2007 essay, a 39-year old Gov. Jerry Brown made the rounds of the picnic on Labor Day, along with a host of other pols, including a young and lean assemblyman named Bill Lockyer.

jerry brown 1977Amid signs of the times displayed by workers, carrying such messages as “Boycott Coors Beer,” “Don’t Buy Salem-Vantage non-union cigarettes” and “Union carpenters make better studs,” Brown thundered an anti-free trade message to a crowd of about 3,000 on Sept. 5, 1977.

“We take capital accumulated by the sweat of American labor and export it to foreign sweatshops and then import it to compete with our own goods,” he said. “For those multinational corporations that don’t want economic justice for workers, let’s tell them to keep their products out of California and out of the United States.”

Brown’s dare-to-struggle-dare-to-win protectionist views, which reached full flower in his 1992 “We the People” campaign for president, have evolved and grown murkier since then. What’s more intriguing to recall about that long-ago holiday celebrating American workers, however, is how many of the issues of the day remain salient in 2009.

For example, Brown told a future Calbuzzer following him around that day that he favored labor’s top priority — national legislation to speed up the process of union representation elections — a precursor of the “card check” measure now stalled in Congress that is a primary goal for labor three decades later.

Then, as now, Brown trumpeted his creation of the Agricultural Labor Relations Board as a signal event proving his support for unions; in 1977, just as in 2009, the Bay Area Transit District was beset by labor problems that had moved to the brink of a strike (the governor declined to comment, calling it a “a local problem”); Brown back then forecast that solar power would become not only an important source of energy, but also of jobs, a position that draws fewer smirks and eye-rolling from reporters today than back in the day.

In the years since, organized labor’s influence in the economy has steadily declined, with less than 20 percent of the workforce now represented by unions. One big caveat:  two unions in particular, the California Teachers Association (CTA) and the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) continue to exert outsized influence in California through their strangle-hold on legislative Democrats.

Still, this year’s Labor Day message in California, by labor federation chief Art Pulaski is a sober one:Pulaski4

“This Labor Day one in three workers will be stuck on the job, many toiling for too little pay and fewer benefits like health care and retirement benefits. The irony of workers having to go to work on a day that honors them is symptomatic of the overarching problems facing our state.”

Happy Labor Day, even if you’re stuck at work.

For the record: None of the candidates for governor* had a Labor Day public  appearance.

*Does not include Meg Whitman, whose secretive, paranoid campaign did not respond to inquiries about her schedule.

Swap Meet: Greasy Poll, eMeg Patrol, GOPer Trolls

Saturday, September 5th, 2009

oilrigMargin of error: The oil company based in Houston that is trying to win a lease for drilling in state waters off the coast of Santa Barbara is e-blasting an alleged summary of poll results about the controversial project, providing a case study of how scientific public opinion surveys can be manipulated for political purposes.

Days after Calbuzz examined the misuse of polling data, both on our site and in the L.A. Times, Plains Exploration & Production Co. (PXP) is circulating a memo titled “Highlights from Statewide Poll,” which claims – surprise, surprise — that two-thirds of California votpxpers favor their proposed Tranquillon Ridge project. The sheet consists of a series of bullet points, all of them purporting to show statewide support for the project among some genus or species of Californian.

PXP said the survey was done by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin & Associates — a polling firm for which we have high regard but which does a lot of work for advocates and candidates with clear-cut agendas. Our request for the oil company to send us the actual survey results, questions and cross-tabs was unsuccessful, as were those of Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, Pedro-Navawho’s led the legislative fight to defeat the project last month.

Nava is putting out a daily press release demanding PXP cough up the data, and sarcastically asking if they asked a series of slanted questions that would favor the anti-drilling position: “I intend to ask a question every day until I get some answers,” Nava told us. “It’s obvious they don’t intend to release it – they intend to continue to mislead us.” Calbuzz sez: Free the Secret PXP Poll – and All Political Prisoners!

blakesless

Oleaginous update: The proposal to authorize the T-Ridge lease, which was earlier rejected by the State Lands Commission, has been resurrected by Assembly minority leader Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, Nava told us, using a “gut and amend” maneuver to dump the substance of an energy bill and insert the PXP project language previously voted down in the Assembly.

Lots of subplots on this one, including the fact that fingers were pointed at Blakeslee  last month when Capitol Weekly disclosed that the Assembly vote on the PXP measure had been expunged from the record. Blakeslee, who denied it, nonetheless sure had a motive: he represents a coastal area but voted in favor of the lease. If he, as expected, goes after the Senate seat now held by Abel Maldonado, who opposed the offshore project, he’d represent even more coastal constituents.

Calbuzz has a hunch that the endgame of all of this will be a PXP-sponsored ballot initiative seeking to circumvent the Legislature and win voter approval for T-Ridge. The strategy would run some risk, however, as it could also trigger support for proposals to impose a severance tax on companies extracting oil in California, the only state that doesn’t have such a levy.

megyoutubeSteve (doesn’t) Heart eMeg: Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, whose team rolls out an average of 316 press releases a day bashing GOP guv rival Meg Whitman, may finally have gained some traction with one of his attacks.  It’s a You Tube spoof of the “Love Boat” which skewers Her Megness for some gushy comments she made about Van Jones, the former Oakland lefty who’s become Obama’s green jobs adviser – and is now in the free-fire zone over at Fox News.

If you haven’t seen the video, it’s pretty damn funny and you can watch it here. Chronicler Joe Garofoli has the play-by-play of the Stevie Wonder-eMeg exchange on the issue here, including Team Whitman’s Friday statement, which tries to make the whole thing go away. The defensive tone, the length and detail of it, however, shows that Poizner has stung her by highlighting associations with lefties for the edification of conservative GOP voters. Only 276 days until the primary!

More on eMeg: Whitman’s 493-second encounter with reporters in Santa Barbara Tuesday  smoked out some interesting new nuggets (block that metaphor!) about her views on key issues, demonstrating why it actually matters that All Right-Thinking Journos in California keep pressing her campaign for interviews, avails and accessibility.  Examples:

1-When Calbuzz asked her about offshore oil drilling, she disclosed that she’s changed her position since the beginning of the campaign:

“I would say that when I started this process, I was against offshore oil drilling and then I began to understand deeply the new technology that is available to extract oil from existing wells – slant drilling and other things and I think we ought to look at this very carefully because there’s no question that the resources off the coast of California and other parts of the country can help us reduce our dependence on foreign oil…I don’t think it’s sending a bad (environmental) signal. You have to look at the situation in which we find ourselves…We have to say times have changed and we’ve got to look at this again.”

2-When Susan Rose, Calbuzz correspondent on women’s issues, asked her about abortion rights, eMeg filled in some blanks, both on her position and on her perspective of how it may affect her among pro-life GOP voters:

“I am pro choice…I’m not for late term abortion or partial birth abortion and I did vote ‘yes’ on the parental notification proposition that went on the ballot. And I don’t want to take choice away from women…(Her position) will help in some sectors and it will not be helpful in others… (P)eople will know my positions on the social issues and if they are single issue voters and I don’t agree, they won’t be for me but hopefully they will put the whole package together and say ‘got it.’”

3-When Mark Mason (CB handle: “Planet Santa Barbara”) asked why voters would think she’d do a better job than Arnold Schwarzenegger, who made similar promises, she expounded on the differences between them:

“The governor has done a number of good things. Workman’s compensation…I’m a fan of Proposition 11, the redistricting (measure) but I will say that the results – unemployment, infrastructure, the health of the economy, are not good and the governor has to be accountable for the results…The biggest difference …is my business experience.”

McCain_Meg_art_400_20080610122428

eMeg fun factoids: She’s a Leo and the youngest of three kids (which explains a lot, as all astrological students of birth order know); her mother served four years with the Red Cross in New Guinea during WWII (“she knew where the need was greatest”); she was a high school jock (tennis, swimming, soccer); Princeton ’73 (fourth class in history with women in it); came to California when her neurosurgeon husband had to choose between Harvard and UCSF for a residency (“your mother lives in Boston, we should go to California”); her favorite Hasbro toy while working there was Mr. Potato Head (NOT  Barney or Teletubbies, she pointed out).

But what about the little guy? In recent months Jerry Brown has been putting on a clinic on how to align his public duties as Attorney General with his political aspiration to be governor again, getting his fingerprints on  high-profile cases from Anna Nicole to Michael, all the while attacking international drug rings, sleazy investment firms and consumer scams of every persuasion –- not to mention pushing to include climate-change impact statements as a requirement for new developments.

govjerrybrownNow Brown is taking aim at the mother lode of populist outrage, launching an investigation of Health Management Organizations, in which he promises to probe how HMOs “review and pay insurance claims submitted by doctors, hospitals and other medical providers” amid reports that the state’s top five insurance provides are denying nearly 40 percent of claims.

“These high denial rates suggest a system that is dysfunctional (ed. note – ya think?),” Brown said in statement put out by the AG’s press office, “and the public is entitled to know whether wrongful business practices are involved.” Cue it up, Omar: “In-DEED.”

Three-dot Republicanism: Here’s how Whitman is playing among right-wingersTonyStricklandBball

Latest sign that the quixotic crusade to ban independent, decline-to-state voters from GOP primaries is in trouble comes from Sen. Tony Strickland, R-Moorpark. Taliban Tony is the real, hardcore deal, a drown-it-in-the-bathtub movement conservative who made his bones playing Ronald Reagan in his 4th grade class debate in 1980  and came up through the ranks serving as squire to Skinflint Tom McClintock;  Timm Herdt reports that Strickland turned thumbs down on the no-indies rule, which can’t be good news foken-khachigian-copyr Flashreporter Jon Fleischman, sponsor of the plan…

Hell freezes over: Ken Khachigian, the squish-squishing senior statesman of California Republicanism, caught giving advice to Barack Obama.

Have a great weekend.

Press Clips: And Now, the Calbuzz “Little Pulitzers”

Friday, September 4th, 2009

leomccarthyChecking Arnold’s respirations: The late, great Speaker Leo Tarcissus McCarthy, who also served three terms as Lieutenant Governor, used to joke, sort of, that his chief duty was to get up in the morning, make sure the governor was still breathing, then go back to bed.

With incumbent Lite Gov John Garamendi apparently headed for Congress after skunking the field in the 10th CD special the other night, speculation abounds about who the Terminator might pick to replace him (of which the weirdest is the strange-bedfellow suggestion by state Demo chair John Burton that Republican and ex-L.A. Mayor Dick Riordan would make a fine seat-warmer).

For our money, however, the estimable Joe Mathews is on the right track, in this piece excavated from the files of Fox & Hounds, to wit: Does California really need a lieutenant governor? The 30 employees of the office are no doubt Fine People and Great Americans, and the $3 million they cost is a decidedly modest amount, but bottom line? How much would taxpayers really suffer from cutting back our delegation to the Shanghai Wine and Cheese Exposition ?

suehortonThree Dot Awards: This week’s Calbuzz “Little Pulitzer” prize for High-Impact Performance goes to Sue Horton, indefatigable editor of the op-ed page at the By God L.A. Times, who scooped the world by landing a piece by online TV journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee, their first since being released from captivity in North Korea…

Best of  Show for the week’s political reporting goes to Merc Newsman Mike Zapler for his sharp piece on how Hewlett-Packard peddled millions of dollars of electronics to Iran, in violation of U.S. trade policy, under the fine leadership of Hurricane Carly Fiorina…

nancy

Top Honors in the investigative category go to the Contra Costa Times for compiling and publishing a data base with the salaries of 134,000 public employees in the Bay Area, including a whopping $876,831 paid to one Nancy Farber for running the tiny Washington Township public health care district in southern Alameda County; turns out the district employs four of the top 10 salaried folks in the survey. Talk about your Cadillac health care – now there’s the place you wanna get sick.  Or hired.

And the coveted “If It’s News, It’s News to Us” prize to the Sacto B-, for waking up from a long and snuggly nap to breathlessly report that Steve Westly “unequivocally” isn’t running for governor, more than two weeks after the Calbuzz knock down of that silly rumor peddled by Willie Brown in the, um, news pages of the Chron. This just in to the Bee: World War II Unequivocally Over!

george_lakoffAnd another thing, Barack: We’re drowning in blog posts offering earnest, unctuous and cheap, bad advice to the president about what he should, shouldn’t, did and didn’t do in selling health care reform to the nation. As he prepares to deliver a crucial speech on the subject at a special joint session of Congress next week, one of the few pieces worth perusing comes from George Lakoff, noted  Bezerkley chrome dome and author of several books on how language shapes perception. The piece by Lakoff, who’s the (all rise) Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at Cal, is even longer than his title, but well worth the effort.

Homer_British_Museum

Context on context: David Dayen, world’s most prolific blogger, takes a brief time-out from accepting online journalism awards to message from his perch at Calitics that he’s certain we misstated the context of now-infamous comments by Bert Stead, self-proclaimed “right-wing terrorist” at Rep. Wally Herger’s town hall meeting. Says the Dayen of Delphi:

“The right-wing terrorist” comment is a ‘vamp’ – but on a report delivered by the Department of Homeland Security back in April on right-wing terrorism, which conservatives howled about and eventually forced a retraction. Because conservative extremists have never resorted to violence to make their political points (Holocaust museum, Jim Adkisson in Tennessee, Tim McVeigh). Conservatives have been wearing the label as a badge of honor since April. Here’s a site that started in May. ”

So noted.

Parsky Tax Panel: Headed for a Box Canyon?

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

parskyGerald Parsky, chairman of the bi-partisan panel tasked by the governor to propose reforms for California’s tax structure, has pledged that his group’s complex proposals will be available in draft bill form for public consumption 72 hours before the commission’s next meeting on Sept. 10.

This would be a big improvement, because most of the complex items discussed by the Commission on the 21st Century Economy so far have not been spelled out in detail or offered for adequate public review before meetings.

“We are seeking to craft legislation to reflect the recommendations the commission puts forward,” Parsky told Calbuzz. But, he cautioned, “We’re not here to take the place of the Legislature,” and expects that if the commission proposes any actual laws that the Assembly and Senate would deal with them through normal channels, including committee hearings.

If however, you want any idea what the commission is going to propose – good luck. You can check out the two-pager Parsky likes to refer to here, where all you’re going to find is a PowerPoint presentation with items like:

Personal Income Tax (PIT)
– Simplified Rate Structure (two brackets)
– Standard Deduction
– Itemized Deductions for mortgage interest, charitable giving, property taxes
Note: a condition to the proposal regarding PIT is that all AGI brackets, as shown in our last presentation , will receive a reduction in taxes. If this objective cannot be achieved with two brackets, consideration will be given to other alternative structures

All righty then.

The so-called “Blue Plan,” put forward by some of the Democrats (blues) on the commission to counter the “Red Plan,” put forward by some of the Republicans (reds), is deader than a doornail. However, a proposed “pollution tax” is still under consideration along with a split-roll property tax. But some big guns have come out against both of these elements. And they’re not too crazy about the business net receipts tax – one of the Red Plan’s love children.

Parsky and some of the governor’s appointees want to eliminate the corporate income tax, flatten the personal income tax and generally tilt California’s very progressive tax structure away from its reliance – they say, over-reliance — on the wealthy. Most of the liberals on the commission would go along with some of these kinds of changes – like reducing capital gains taxes – but only in exchange for balancing elements that would not benefit the rich at the expense of the middle-class.

The liberals bolted, for example, when after promising a plan that would be fair to all income levels, Parsky’s team offered a proposal that would dramatically raise personal income taxes on the poor and middle-class while reducing them for the wealthy.

There’s also been some grumbling about the meetings-after-the-meetings Parsky tends to hold, wherein he dismisses the public and the press and then huddles with commissioners to work out the real details. “How are we going to handle this going forward?” we’re told he asked fellow commissioners and staff, after the public and media were ushered away last Friday in Los Angeles.

Now, at least, Parsky has pledged to have actual, detailed, legislation ready for public review before the Sept. 10 meeting. A fancy PowerPoint presentation won’t do. The Legislature doesn’t vote on outlines, it votes on bills. And if Parsky wants his commission to propose boxcanyonambush-275laws, then that’s what has to be on the table.

Increasingly, however, we’re afraid the Parsky Commission is looking like another big fat Schwarzenegger waste of time and resources. Or as one member of the group said of Parsky: “He’s led the commission down a box canyon.”

Calbuzz just doesn’t want to see the public get bushwhacked.

Stop the Presses: eMeg Speaks, Sort of…

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

megCalbuzz caught one of Meg Whitman’s hothouse flower political performances Tuesday and, we have to admit, she’s pretty good in a controlled setting before a small, safe audience.

Preaching to the choir, she delivered a well-honed, crisp and occasionally funny monologue (many of her jokes seem to feature her neurosurgeon husband, who allegedly likes to say, “It’s not brain surgery”) to a mostly Republican crowd of about 120 at a muffin and fruit salad breakfast in Santa Barbara, the very epicenter of California politics.

Although Her Megness once again stiffed Calbuzz on our primordial, sit-down interview request, our constant caterwauling about her inaccessibility may be paying incremental dividends, as she consented afterward to answer questions from reporters for 8 minutes and 13 seconds (our Department of Measureables and MBOs makes that 2 minutes and 3.25 seconds for each of the four scribes on hand). Then she blasted off to her next event in a gray Chevy Tahoe (shortly after extolling the virtues of green energy).

Enough with the sucking up.

The thrust of her schtick, which stayed relentlessly on a boost-business-bash-government message, is a kind of Neo-Checchism, in which she made the case for her candidacy by extolling her virtues as a business executive, promising to bring her gimlet-eyed, bottom line attitudes and experience to bear on state government, viz:

“I bring 30 years of business experience to managing state government and I will tell you my core belief is we have to run this a bit more like a business.”

“First and foremost I have run a very large organization with $8 billion in revenues and 15,000 employees and I’ve done that for many years, and I’ve also created jobs.

“We have to run (state government) like a business, because there’s no question that we are driving businesses out of California, and we have a government we can no longer afford.”

As a political matter: Putting aside for the moment the existential issue that government is, distinctly, not a business –- i.e. not established for the purposes of making a profit; producing goods and services in response to market demands; or serving only those with the ability to pay for the service it does provide –  Whitman’s campaign positioning as the business candidate faces three big challenges:

1-The business of citizenship. As we’ve noted Californians have long been immune to the charms of wealthy private business types who consider the governorship to be an entry level job (see Governors Ron Unz, Al  Checchi, Bill Simon, etc.), doubly so when a candidate has failed to perform the most basic duty of citizenship; thanks to Chronicler Carla Marinucci, we know that Whitman has a spotty voting record, failing to register until 2002, missing over half the elections since (including the 2003 recall) and not signing up as a Republican until 2007.

2-The business of business. Checchi, who spent millions of his own fortune in a failed bid for the Democratic nomination in 1998, also showed how past business practices and decisions can ensnare a corporate executive candidate.

To cite just two examples of circumstances which invite the press and eMeg’s rivals to ask if this is the kind of financial expertise she’ll bring to Sacramento:

a) As CEO she hailed as a great coup her engineering of eBay’s acquisition of the online calling service Skype. The New York Times on Tuesday described it as “one of the worst technology transactions of the decade,” in reporting that eBay is about to sell Skype at a substantial loss.

b) Back in the halcyon dot-com days, as the B- has reported, she also “attracted controversy and criticism for accepting exclusive opportunities to invest in initial public stock offerings,” a practice that “led to a shareholder lawsuit against Whitman and others (and) also exposed Whitman to the national political scene when her investment drew a public thrashing by Congress.”

3-The boardroom business. While sticking to non-threatening, controlled venues, Whitman keeps ducking substantive interviews with serious California political media and debates with her rivals. The latest: her avoidance of the big Silicon Valley Leadership Group’s confab later this month which every candidate for governor except her has agreed to attend. Our friend Joe Garafoli also reports that KGO is having trouble dealing with her in their effort to put on a radio debate. This follows her earlier no-show at a Sacramento debate including GOP foes Steve Poizner and Tom Campbell, and her refusal to commit to another Republican event organized by Chapman University.

“We will certainly find time to debate between now and the primary, trust me,” she assured reporters when asked about this on Tuesday.

But being on the defensive about such an issue at this early stage of the campaign makes her look, well, afraid to venture outside her campaign cocoon, and suggests a sense of entitlement more befitting a penthouse boardroom maven than an elected official in the public arena.

As a policy matter: In her spiel, Whitman revealed an intriguing understanding of how government works. Asked directly how she can be effective in the swamp of Sacramento, eMeg claimed that she – unlike, oh say, all those stiffs who have preceded her – will use “all the levers you have as governor.” To wit:

1-Appointments. For starters, she talked about a “big infusion of the private sector into the government” and said that in selecting the 4,000 state employees under her purview she will get “exactly the right people in the right job.”

Well, actually not. There’s the small matter of attracting private sector talent – from Florida, Texas and elsewhere, she vowed – for public wages (we’ll also guess that all that far-flung talent just dying to move to River City will find California’s relocation benefits not quite up to eBay standards). Not to mention the power of the (Democratic) Legislature to torpedo or stall many of her star power appointments, or the thorny problem of trying to staff up an administration on the fly; as Obama is finding out, getting your team in place on the field while the clock is inexorably ticking is trickier than it looks.

2-Veto power. eMeg thundered about how she’ll whip the Legislature into shape: “You have to let the Legislature know what you will and will not put up with,” she said Tuesday. “You have to veto consistently so that they know what you will sign and what you won’t.” Bad dog! No peeing on the rug! Don’t ever do that again!

Excuse us, Your All-Mighty Megness, but every one of those 120 characters in what you might call your co-equal branch of government has his or her own narrow interests and constituency, and structurally none of them has much reason to fear you or your rolled up newspaper.

3-Ballot initiatives. Whitman called “the proposition process” a “double-edged sword” that needs fixing. The “pacing and sequencing of propositions is incredibly important,” she said, adding:  “I think you can only do one at a time.” Really? And the governor controls this how, exactly?

4-Leadership. Being governor, she said, is the “ultimate test of leadership and conviction” for which she is well suited because she’s “tough as nails” and has “a spine of steel.” She added: “If you have a huge need to be liked and to be popular all the time, this is not the job.”

The Calbuzz Aha Moment: Elections, it turns out, are not popularity contests. Why hasn’t anyone thought of that before?