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Archive for 2009



Calbuzz Sez: Happy Happy Ho Ho Ho

Friday, December 25th, 2009

On behalf of our Spiked Eggnog and Cooked Geese Department, here’s a bit of holiday cheer from our favorite yuletide poem, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” by the late Calbuzzer Emeritus Dylan Thomas.

Years and years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills, when we sang and wallowed all night and day in caves that smelt like Sunday afternoons in damp front farmhouse parlors and we chased, with the jawbones of deacons, the English and the bears, before the motor car, before the wheel, before the duchess-faced horse, when we rode the daft and happy hills bareback, it snowed and it snowed. But here a small boy says: “It snowed last year, too. I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea.”

“But that was not the same snow,” I say. “Our snow was not only shaken from whitewash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely white-ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like dumb, number thunderstorm of white, torn Christmas cards.”

All best wishes for the holiday from Calbuzz.

Stocking Stuffer: From eMeg Elf to Parking Rage

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

047-260Frankly, we don’t give a damn that the boys at Craigslist think Meg Whitman is a “monster,” cuz she’s the only candidate for governor classy enough to send us an eCard for the holidays.

eMeg’s holly jolly web message has all the essentials of the classic political jing-jing-a-ling greeting card: pine boughs on the mantle and a carefully positioned poinsettia, not to mention a bright red sweater direct from Mrs. Claus’’s closet.

That said, our Holiday Special Event Planning team has a few upgrade suggestions for her production crew. For starters, where’d they get the lighting guy – the night shift at Candlestick Park? He sure didn’t do the boss lady any favors by letting her forehead shine like the Christmas Star, or leaving the right side of her face in a shadow suitable for Darth Vader.

Starshine Roshell, the popular third wave feminist columnist and Calbuzz Health, Beauty and Girly Stuff Consultant, also notes that poor eMeg’s tired eyes look like she’s been doing hard time at Guatanamo.

“What, her makeup person never heard of frownies?” Starshine said.

All that aside, we greatly appreciate Meg including one of us (the coal-in-the-stocking guy is still pouting) on her holiday list, along with three or four million of her other closest friends.

Best wishes for the New Year – and let’s do dinner soon!

sayaahOpen and say ahhh: As Calbuzz spends countless hours in closed-door caucus hashing out our position on the Senate health care bill – Tastes Great! Less Filling! – the noisy debate between principled  progressives and hard-headed moderates pragmatists about whether the legislation would do more harm or good for the nation’s troubled health care system rages on.

Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association, offers a strong critique from the medical front lines for the former view here while the lefty Progressive Change Campaign Committee has put up a TV ad in Wisconsin attacking Obama as a sell-out on health care, in an effort to pressure liberal Senator Russ Feingold, who’s been critical of the bill, to oppose the measure.

All of which caused John Harwood’s head to explode.

Chief Washington Correspondent for CNBC, Harwood leveled a realpolitick blast at liberals that had some ‘60s veteran Calbuzzers breaking out the love beads and lip synching “Purple Haze.”

So much of the commentary that I’ve heard has been really idiotic. Liberals who want universal health care ought to be thanking Harry Reid for getting this done rather than talking about what’s inadequate in the bill. I’m not saying the bill is a good bill.

But if you’re a liberal and you want universal coverage in this country, and think that you can do better, that Harry Reid can do better than he’s done, that the White House can do better, they ought to lay off the hallucinogenic drugs because we’ve had a vivid demonstration of the limits of political possibilities on this issue.

Ohhhh…man…I took 500 mics and now I’m hearin’ weird shit on the electric television…

Ahem. An interesting under card debate to the main event is the question of how big a broken campaign promise is represented by Obama tossing the public option under the bus.

The Man himself claimed in a Washington Post interview that he “didn’t campaign on the public option.” But Sam Stein, Arianna’s resourceful political go-to-guy, did a super job of exhaustively examining the record on the issue, turning up a batch of pro-public option statements by Obama, along with a long string of reports reprising his support, which Big O’s  mouthpieces never pushed back on during the campaign.

One of the best things written on what the president’s performance on health care reveals about him, his beliefs and values, besides our own analysis of course, comes from Drew Westen, who’s big time underwhelmed:

What’s costing the president are three things: a laissez faire style of leadership that appears weak and removed to everyday Americans, a failure to articulate and defend any coherent ideological position on virtually anything, and a widespread perception that he cares more about special interests like bank, credit card, oil and coal, and health and pharmaceutical companies than he does about the people they are shafting.

Press Clips: The Ross Douthat Fan Club was once again agog this week when the Drew Pearson of the New Millenium managed to squeeze Pochahontas, Jedi Knights and Leszek Kolakowski into a 750-word riff on pantheism, the virgin birth and the works of Eckhart Tolle. On the seventh day, Ross rested.

Must-read of the week: The WashPost’s wide-ranging investigative feature on the Salahis, a tale of one obnoxious couple’s struggle to find fame, fortune and free dinners in Our Nation’s Capital. Worth the price of admission: The previously untold anecdote of how they caused a scene, when it came time for everyone to take their assigned seats at the famous state dinner, by faking they’d just learned of a family medical emergency.

Tiger Beat: It’s bad enough that Tiger Woods has lost his good name, his wife’s affections and millions in endorsements (not to mention his mom being really mad at him). Now he’s lost his column in Golf Digest. Having been fired from a few columns ourselves back in the day, we finallytrotsky found something that made us shed a tear for poor Elwick.

Today’s sign the end of civilization is near: Every gentlewoman of our acquaintance knows to check her purse for wallet, keys and ice pick before walking out the door, in the event she gets into a beef over a parking spot. Leon Trotsky call home!

Environmentalists: Why T-Ridge is a Bad Deal

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

oilrigsunsetToday Calbuzz posts a piece by three leading California environmentalists making their case against the Tranquillon Ridge offshore oil drilling project. The project, about which you can find some of our reporting and analysis here, here and here, has emerged as one of the most contentious environmental issues in the state, and is expected to remain the center of controversy next year. Environmental leaders Penny Elia, an Orange County coastal advocate; Fran Gibson, board president of Coastwalk California; and Mark Massara, director of the Sierra Club’s coastal programs, respond to Tuesday’s piece by attorney Linda Krop, who negotiated the proposed agreement with the Houston-based PXP oil company.

By Penny Elia, Fran Gibson and Mark Massara
Special to Calbuzz

The proposal by PXP for the first new off shore oil drilling in State waters in over 40 years has been touted as “an end to drilling off Santa Barbara”. Unfortunately, the hype is misleading and disingenuous at best.

The proposal will not end drilling because the so-called deal is not only not enforceable, it will set a precedent for new federal off shore oil drilling off Mendocino, and from Santa Barbara through the Southern California coast to La Jolla.  One reason this sounds so tempting is that the Environmental Defense Center, which signed a secret agreement with PXP, makes claims that are untrue.  The funds promised to the state over the next 14 years are not worth the risks. Here are the facts:

This project would set a precedent for new federal drilling

Allowing new drilling in state waters makes a statement it is okay to drill in federal waters because California considers financial contributions to its general fund a benefit that outweighs the risk to its coastline.  Lawmakers have said that approval of  new drilling in state waters will make it difficult to prevent new drilling in federal waters.

Allowing new drilling does not end drilling

It is perverse logic to say that allowing new drilling in T-Ridge will end drilling at T-Ridge early.  If this proposal is denied, NO drilling into T-Ridge will occur.  Other oil companies, with existing operations in state waters, are seeking to make PXP-like deals so they can expand their drilling.

Promised end dates on the project are  not enforceable

The State Attorney General and the State Lands Commission attorneys concluded the terms of the agreement that relate to the cessation of oil production were offshoreunenforceable.  The ability to enforce the end dates is hampered by such things as the ability of the federal government to exercise eminent domain, interference with the federal government’s right to use pipelines in interstate commerce and interference by the state with the contract between PXP and Minerals Management Service (MMS).  The state and Santa Barbara County could also opt out.

MMS has final say over the end date

Federal law requires MMS to extract all available oil.  MMS may agree to a termination of the PXP lease if PXP agrees to pay the federal government for any oil not extracted.  Such a requirement serves as an incentive for PXP to break its commitment.  Equally important, the ability to buy out of its lease does not prevent MMS from reselling the lease to another oil company.

EDC-PXP agreement is confidential and is NOT a settlement of a lawsuit

The confidetemp_logontial agreement between PXP and EDC is between private parties. If PXP decided to continue to drill it might, at best, result in the payment of damages to EDC but would be very unlikely to result in a requirement for PXP to cease operations, particularly if the State agreed it could continue.

There is no  requirement to remove the platforms

PXP/EDC claim this will result in shutting down operations from four platforms.  Even if the end dates were enforceable, PXP does not own three of the four platforms and there is no evidence their partners will cease operations (and pay the government penalties) as claimed.

The land deal is questionable

PXP’s submission to the lands commission says some of the land may have “insurmountable title issues”.  Because the agreement is confidential there is no ability to review the terms and conditions that run with the land or any  benefits of this. Who will hold title, how and when will the lands be conveyed,  what restrictions will be placed on the use of or future sale of the land how and by whom might it beoilspillsign managed?

More than 100 environmental groups oppose this project

In spite of what the oil industry would have you believe, offshore oil drilling is not safe.  A major spill could destroy our ocean, beaches, and coastal economy.  Spills happen on a regular basis. One-quarter of all oil spills in the past 44 years have occurred in the last decade.  Most recently, a spill in Australian waters  lasted 72 days, in spite of using the latest technology.  This spill had devastating impacts on marine life.

EDC claims that the overall risk for the PXP project is low because it will end drilling in 14 years.  This ignores that the greater the amount of oil being removed, the greater the likelihood of a spill with the chances of a spill  greatest in the early years.  These claims are contrary to every position EDC has taken in the past.  Innovation is good but it must be designed to work.

Fran Gibson

Fran Gibson

Mark Massara

Mark Massara

Why Some Enviros Back T-Ridge Oil Project

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

krop_lgToday and tomorrow, Calbuzz is posting pro and con arguments written by leading California environmentalists about the Tranquillon Ridge offshore oil drilling project. The project, about which you can find some of our reporting and analysis here, here and here, has emerged, along with AB32, as one of the two most contentious environmental issues in the state.  Expected to remain the focus of political controversy next year. the proposal has generated conflicts among some longtime allies in the environmental movement. Today’s piece is by Linda Krop, chief counsel for the Environmental Defense Center in Santa Barbara, who negotiated the proposed agreement with the Houston-based PXP oil company.

By Linda Krop
Special to Calbuzz

For over 30 years, the Environmental Defense Center has been among the state’s leading advocates in the battle to end oil drilling along our magnificent coast.  That’s why we’re so excited about the landmark agreement we negotiated on behalf of environmental groups in Santa Barbara County to phase out offshore oil production.

Like so many other issues misrepresented in today’s highly charged political climate, the Tranquillon Ridge proposal has been co-opted by some who seek to use it for their own political gain. That’s too bad because this agreement will finally bring an end to California offshore oil drilling.

Despite our efforts and successes along the way, there are still too many platforms drilling for oil off our coast. Pressure for more leasing abounds. In the 21st Century, we need to find new and innovative ways to solve old problems. With the Tranquillon Ridge agreement, we have found the way to do just that. That’s why this agreement is supported by a broad spectrum of groups — for whom coming together is a rare occurrence.

We recognize that there are nay-sayers and those who are nervous about any approach that falls short of removing all offshore oil drilling NOW.   But the reality is that no matter how much we want to pull these rigs from the ocean, we don’t have the legal authority or the support of any administration — Democrat or Republican — to achieve that goal.

So, we’ve found a way to get something through a negotiated agreement that we could not achieve in any other forum: an agreed termination date for four of the major oil rigs drilling off our shores. Currently these platforms operate without any end date, and can continue drilling for several more decades.

oil_platform

Under the agreement, three of the platforms would be shut down in nine years. The fourth platform would follow five years later. All related onshore processing facilities would be removed. In addition, hundreds of acres of onshore oil wells would be shut down.   And as a further bonus, the agreement requires PXP to reduce and offset all of its greenhouse gas emissions and provide approximately 4,000 acres of land to the public for permanent conservation. No new construction or facilities would be permitted.

This agreement is a total win-win for the environment. It will not only put an end to existing drilling operations, but will also provide the greatest protection against new federal leasing in California. The four platforms that will be shut down pose the biggest threat for new leasing along our coast because they can be used to access known reserves and are supported by existing infrastructure, making new drilling both attractive and economically profitable. Shutting down these platforms and removing the onshore facilities assures that they are not available for future oil leasing and development.

The signal this agreement will send is that California is serious about getting rid of offshore oil and willing to go the extra mile to make it happen. That’s why this agreement is endorsed by 20 major environmental groups in Santa Barbara County as well as our pro-environment County Supervisors, City Council members and Congresswoman Lois Capps.

The claim that such an agreement is not enforceable is misguided and wrong. While the Feds (through the Minerals Management Service, known as MMS) can fine a company for failing to continue production when there is still “profitable” oil in the ground (and thus royalties available to the government), a contract to end drilling (guaranteed under this agreement) is an enforceable contract.

It is not often that we have an opportunity to be creative and progressive in dealing with such a pressing issue facing the people of California. Rhetoric that suggests that we who support this agreement are somehow in favor of oil development is cynical and untrue, and does nothing to address the real issue of continued drilling off our shores.

goo_logo_3This agreement is an example of what we can do when people work together in an innovative way. While we on the environmental protection side have been able to win most of our battles, this approach gives us a way to end the war.

This is not an either-or situation to be pursued at the exclusion of additional approaches. An oil extraction tax, for example, is one way to help solve California’s budget woes, but it will do nothing to end offshore oil production. We need to have a variety of approaches to addressing our economic needs while protecting our environment. The proposal for an oil extraction tax can, and should, go hand in hand with a plan to stop oil drilling offshore.

We look forward to the opportunity to explain the benefits of this unique proposal, and address any concerns, should this matter be reconsidered by the State Lands Commission.

Linda Krop is Chief  Counsel of the Environmental Defense Center, a public interest law firm.  The EDC has led the fight against off-shore oil drilling for over 30 years. For more information about the Tranquillon Ridge plan,  you may visit the EDC website at www.EDCnet.org.

How Obama Punted Away Real Health Reform

Monday, December 21st, 2009

ObamaHealthCareUpdate: Today’s Calbuzzer comments reflect a contentious debate raging in the blogosphere about the virtues, or lack thereof, of the Senate bill. While Calbuzz is triangulating like crazy – it’s a lousy bill but pass it anyway ‘cuz somethin’s better than nothin’ – others are whacking deep into the weeds on this.

If you care to join them, here’s a guide to the best arguments string: Jane Hamsher, founder of Fire Dog Lake, posted 10 reasons why the Senate bill should be killed, and was promptly attacked by the Washpost’s Ezra Klein,world’s leading authority on practically everything. Then Jon Walker of FDL attacked Klein’s attack, and we give the final world to Nate Silver,the smartest person in the world, who attacked Walker’s attack of Klein’s attack of Hamsher.

———-

In a case of life imitating art, comic blogger Andy Borowitz provided the most accurate and trenchant commentary about the Democrat’s misadventure on health care reform, as he offered a look at  details of his own, newly unveiled,  “CompromiseCare™” program“:

– Under CompromiseCare™, people with no coverage will be allowed to keep their current plan.
– Medicare will be extended to 55-year-olds as soon as they turn 65…
– A patient will be considered “pre-existing” if he or she already exists…
– You’ll be free to choose between medications and heating fuel…
– You will be entitled to natural remedies, such as death
.

And so on. The Borowitz Plan would be a riot if it didn’t come to so close to the truth.

The sad fact is that Barack Obama’s wimp-out on his signature issue has resulted in a legislative end game defined by a default bill in the Senate that’s godawful. Riddled with half-measures, the bill is framed and defined by the institutionalized transfer of hundreds of billions of public dollars to the same, rapacious private insurance industry that shaped the dysfunctional system supposedly being transformed.

Even its worthwhile nods to reform – efforts to end the industry’s disgraceful practices on pre-existing conditions, rescissions and lifetime benefit caps – are largely dependent upon regulatory enforcement by the states, woefully over-matched by the legal firepower of insurance companies, as David Dayen  argues most persuasively at Fire Dog Lake.

So now, Obama will be left holding the bag on weak, compromise legislation repellent to Democratic advocates on the left and Republican opponents on the right.

Worse, a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows that less than one-third of Americans say that the stinky cheese that Obama now supports as “reform” is a good idea – a number that has steadily eroded since he jettisoned his support for the public option. Worse, more people, by 44-41%, say it would be better to do nothing than to pass the measures before Congress.

Yes we can!bidensmirk

The strongest argument for nose-holding passage of the health bill in its current form is made in a NYT op-ed by Vice President Joe Biden. But Biden’s take-whatever-we-can-get-and-declare-victory stance avoids the hard fact that the White House made one fundamental strategic error, followed by a series of tactical blunders.

Strategically, Mr. Smartypants Rahm Emanuel and the geniuses in the White House political shop should have counted noses at the start to determine if there was a threshold of support for a public option – which also should have called something more politically palatable, like “health insurance competition” or “consumer choice” – or an expansion of Medicare. If they couldn’t see a way to put the votes together, they should have taken on some other signature issue — jobs would have been a good one.

Instead:

–Obama frittered away his mandate. After stomping John McCain and leading the way to Democratic domination of both houses of congress, he retreated to a passive posture in which he uttered Yoda-like platitudes about reform while letting the food fight in congress shape the legislation.

–Obama quickly signaled the special interests were still in charge. About the only substantive moves by the White House were a) to dump, before they even got started, the progressive’s goal of a single payer system and b) to break his campaign promise of transparency by cutting an early, backroom deal to minimize the impact of any bill on the pharmaceutical industry.

–Obama shined on his political base in the name of pursuing “bipartisan” harmony with people whose only interest was sticking it to him. Back in August, when Obama began backing away from support for a public option, we warned that he was setting himself up for failure with his fetish Fairy_largefor fairy tale bipartisanship.

In the political fight of his life, Obama has been putting his energy and emphasis almost exclusively on the can’t-we-all-just-get along aspect of his message, in a desperate bid to pass a bill – any bill – that he can spin as an alleged victory, even if represents right-center policies and politics.

With Democrats in the rare position of controlling the White House and both houses of Congress, however, he needs to stop singing kumbaya and start busting some heads by fighting fiercely for the populist – and, yes, partisan – principles that led millions to support the progressive promises of his campaign. And that means taking on, not just the other party, but some of the obstructionist Senators in his own party…

Obama’s we’re-all-in-it-together action, in place of a principled fight, has simultaneously succeeded in emboldening his Republican enemies and alienating his progressive base, in the name of imaginary bipartisanship and placating the self-absorbed Lieberman-Nelson-Snowe “centrist” axis, whose members keep dumping on him from a great height for his trouble.

What’s even more troubling is the suspicion that Obama’s kumbaya strategy was timid by design, aimed at avoiding any effort to make real change in the status quo, viewing process as more important than  policy. As Rep. Anthony Wiener, the most articulate  champion of substantive health reform, told Politico:

This has been a fairly transactional presidency, and the president did nothing to insulate himself from the compromises — which were inevitable — by making it clear at the outset what his values were on some of these important issues. While being transactional may help you get through the days in Washington and get things on the scoreboard, it creates a weird disconnect that most people in the country don’t know what you want and don’t feel they should rally to your side.

In a pair of must-read pieces, here and here, Salon’s Glenn Greenwald makes the case that, after the massive Wall Street bail-outs, abdicating to Goldman Sachs and wimping out on credit card reform, Obama with health care has now fully revealed hiobamapostermself as a triangulating advocate of corporate power,  his soaring populist rhetoric be damned.

As was painfully predictable all along, the final bill will not have any form of public option, nor will it include the wildly popular expansion of Medicare coverage. Obama supporters are eager to depict the White House as nothing more than a helpless victim in all of this — the President so deeply wanted a more progressive bill but was sadly thwarted in his noble efforts by those inhumane, corrupt Congressional “centrists.”

Right. The evidence was overwhelming from the start that the White House was not only indifferent, but opposed, to the provisions most important to progressives. The administration is getting the bill which they, more or less, wanted from the start — the one that is a huge boon to the health insurance and pharmaceutical industry.

So whether by incompetence or design, the White House has left health reform advocates (boy is Ted Kennedy missed) with little choice but to support badly flawed legislation, an argument summed up in Biden’s op-ed: “I share the frustration of other progressives that the Senate bill does not include a public option. But I’ve been around a long time, and I know that in Washington big changes never emerge in perfect form.”

Not exactly change we can believe in.