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Archive for 2009



Jerry Retreats, Wally Fumbles, Bruce Cashes In

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

jerryseminaryHoly Cow! We cried, when we read in the Times of London that Jerry Brown “said that he will retreat to a monastery over the next few weeks to ‘consider my options and what it would mean for me, my family and the state of California.’”

While we knew, of course, that Jerry took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience while he was at the Sacred Heart Novitiate from 1956-1960, it was news to us that he was still hanging with the monks.

As it turns out, however, Brown spends a day or two every now and then at the Abbey of New Clairveaux, a Trappist-Cistercian Monastery in Vina which offers accommodations for visitors.  The Abby’s website explains:

retreat_r4_c1“A guest, whether he or she remains but for a few hours or makes a private retreat of several days, can expect to experience a degree of silence and solitude, separation from the world’s busyness [sic] and distractions, and the daily monastic rhythm between communal and personal prayer, and work. This often makes possible a more effective movement into the interior of one’s heart.”

Hmmm. You don’t imagine a British paper, wanting to make Brown sound quirky and odd, oversold the whole “retreat” deal, do you? So we asked Crusty about it ourselves.

“It’s a place I’ve been to many times,” Brown said, noting that he’ll likely go for a day or two. “I’m not ready to make a decision (about running for governor) until I’ve thought this through and all the consequences that flow from it.”

Calbuzz is outraged –- outraged we say! – that a political figure would spend time “thinking” about whether he wants to run for office. What next? Reading the bills? Active listening? The mind boggles.

Retreat Update: We are informed by the SF Chronicle’s Carla “Whirling Dervish” Marinucci that it was she, not the Sunday Times, which first reported Jerry Brown’s planned foray to a monastery.


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Wally Herger

A not-so-great American: Since his long-ago days in the Assembly, Rep. Wally Herger has been a genial, no-account cipher who represents more cows than people and whose greatest political value is as an argument for term limits. So it’s hard to imagine a less likely figure to ignite a national controversy over terrorism and the limits of the First Amendment.

But as the whole world now knows, Herger did exactly that during one of those annoyingly titled “town hall meetings” about health care in his district. In his 15 minutes of You Tube fame, Herger responded “Amen, God bless you, there’s a great American,” after a constituent named Bert Stead had delivered an anti-government screed including the statement that he – Stead – is a “proud right-wing terrorist.” (On Monday, he said he meant to say “extremist,” not “terrorist.”)

At which point the hysterical left, led by the increasingly over-bearing Keith Olbermann, went nuts, accusing Herger and the Republican party of aiding and abetting enemies of America while also managing to turn the whole thing into a political fundraising bonanza.

As all erudite Calbuzzers know, Webster defines “unctuous” as “characterized by affected, exaggerated or insincere earnestness,” and the D’s reaction to the Herger video must be judged as a case of extreme unction.

They knew, or should have known, that Stead’s comment — intended or not — was a vamp on a recent statement by Indiana congressman Baron Hill – a Democrat – who was the first to throw around the T word, when he told the Post’s Peter Slevin why he wouldn’t hold a public meeting about health care: “What I don’t want to do is create an opportunity for the people who are political terrorists to blow up the meeting and not try to answer thoughtful questions.”

But when has context ever mattered in the politics of unctuousness?

That said, the Dems do have a legitimate beef in complaining about the massive double standard with which the O’Reilly-Limbaugh-Hannity right-wing sleaze machine deals with such matters: One can only imagine the phony outrage with which they would greet such a comment by a liberal Democrat – let alone what they would have done with footage of guys carrying guns, fercrineoutloud, to an event featuring President W.

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Bruce Malkenhorst

Remember this name: With the latest projections of state deficits far, far into the future it seems clear that regardless of the issue du jour in Sacramento – Early release of felons! Water! Offshore oil! – the core issue of the 2010 campaign for governor must surely be the sorry-ass state of the state’s finances.

Woe to the political consultants working on the race, who make more money than Calbuzz, if you can imagine that. Where in the world are they to find vivid symbols and sound bites to package into powerful emotional messages that sum up the demagoguery of their candidates in such a complicated, confusing and boring policy issue?

No worries – that’s why God made Bruce Malkenhorst.

Malkenhorst is the former administrator of Vernon, Ca, the smallest city in Southern California, who has a pension of $499,674.84, ranking him number one on the list of nearly 5,000 CalPERS retirees who get more than $100,000 a year. (He’s also been indicted for embezzling city funds, but that’s a story for another day).

With reporters and anti-tax groups around the state filing blizzards of public records requests to divulge the names of those cashing in on the pension Big Casino – look here, here and here for a few examples – the issue of sweetheart retirement packages represents pure gold for campaign message mongers trying to harness free-floating voter outrage at government.

Dr. H predicts: 2010’s most popular drinking game – man up every time you hear the name “Malkenhorst.”

mark twain

Mark Twain

Oh, never mind: It was just a few weeks ago that parched Central Valley denizens and wildfire weary Southern Californians were cheered by predictions that meteorologists were projecting a drenching El Nino fall and winter. Now comes weather egghead Bill Patzert to call the whole thing off.

Never ones to pass up un cliché juste, Calbuzz at this point in the item was prepared to chuckle warmly and recall that Mark Twain said, “Everyone talks about the weather but no one does anything about it.” Unfortunately, as with many famous things Mark Twain said, he didn’t say it. So we’re calling that off too.

Just Because ‘Survey Says…’ Don’t Make It So

Monday, August 31st, 2009

This article was also published today in the Los Angeles Times.

gavinjerry

Daily Kos, the influential liberal web site, recently released a poll they commissioned that found that San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom was just nine points behind Attorney General Jerry Brown in the Democratic primary race for governor.

Within minutes, the San Francisco Chronicle posted a blog item saying the poll showed  the race was “narrowing,” comparing it to a June survey, conducted by a different company, which gave Brown a 20-point lead over Newsom. The item was quickly picked up and posted by Rough & Tumble, California’s premier political news aggregator. Then it was reported and re-blasted by The Fix at the Washington Post, one of the top political sites in the country. Within 12 hours, this characterization of California’s race for governor became received wisdom.

There was only one problem with this wisdom: it was wrong.

The incident illustrates how political misinformation and misinterpretation can be more viral than the truth in the Internet News Age, as reporting on polls pulses through the electronic highway, launched by news organizations with little time to evaluate and sift the quality of research. In recent weeks, a series of California political surveys have produced a cacophony of often conflicting analysis, opinion and reporting that served to confuse readers and distort political perceptions.

For example, comparing and measuring the Daily Kos poll, conducted by Research 2000, against the previous poll – done with a completely different methodology by Moore Methods Research of Sacramento – created a false equivalency. In fact, a recent follow-up poll by poll director James Moore, who has long experience in California, found that, far from tightening, Brown’s lead over Newsom has grown to 29 percentage points.

A poll’s methodology – including the sample size, method of selection and phrasing of questions– is crucial. The Kos survey, for example, used random digit dialing to reach California adults. To identify them as “likely voters,” pollsters asked respondents several questions, including whether they considered themselves Democrats or Republicans. But  identifying 600 likely voters didn’t provide the number of Democrats and Republicans statistically necessary to measure the primaries, so pollsters called more people until they had 400 self-identified Republicans and 400-self-identified Democrats. Then, as they put it, “Quotas were assigned to reflect the voter registration of distribution by county.”

After this statistical slicing and dicing, the survey produced a final sample of alleged likely voters that included 18% under age 30 and 19% age 60 and older. But according to a real-world screen of likely voters — based on actual voting histories — the June 2010  primary electorate is expected to include about 6% people under 30 and 38% people over 60.

These issues alone would be enough to distort the state of the Brown-Newsom race. But will any of them surface when the next reporter Googles the California governor’s race, looking for standings? Not a chance. Why does it matter? Because misreporting of  polls  allows campaign spinners not only to boost or suppress candidate fundraising, but also to manipulate news coverage frame campaign narratives and shape public perceptions.

The Kos poll is far from an isolated incident, as misreading and misinterpretation of survey research have become endemic on the Web. Consider the following:

A recent poll by the widely-respected Public Policy Institute of California, for example, reported that 53% of registered voters now favor more drilling off the California coast, a finding trumpeted by supporters of the policy. But respondents were asked their view on drilling as one of several approaches “to address the country’s energy needs and reduce dependence on foreign oil sources,” a question — as Calbuzz explained — likely to elicit a much different response than one about the environmental impacts of drilling.

A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll reported that only 43% of those surveyed supported a “public option” for health care reform – an apparently dramatic swing from its previous poll, which found 76% support for the policy. Upon closer examination, though, it turned out pollsters in the first survey asked people if they wanted the “choice” of a public option. In the later poll, they omitted the key word “choice,” asking simply whether respondents favored a public option. When Survey USA a short time later used the original language, 77% of respondents said they favored the public option, confirming the finding in the first NBC/WSJ survey.

Some political analysts, citing an increase in the number and proportion of “independent” voters who decline to affiliate with a major party, have argued that California is becoming a post-partisan “purple state.” But the recent release of 30 years of surveys by the Field Poll showed how wrong this analysis is. On a host of ideologically divisive issues, like abortion rights and same-sex marriage, independents have much the same attitudes as Democrats, keeping California a very blue state.

As established news organizations increasingly cut costs, first-rate, independent, non-partisan polling is becoming scarcer. So polling stories should be viewed by readers– and voters– with great skepticism, and news outlets should use greater care in analyzing and disseminating survey data. Reducing political views to a number does not necessarily make them scientific. Caveat emptor.