Archive for 2009

Newsom and the Elvis Primary Meet Izzy’s Stones

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

clinton-elvisWhen we read Steve Harmon’s very nice piece about the “paucity of large donations from San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s fundraiser headlined by former President Bill Clinton,” we thought, “Uh-oh,” Elvis didn’t come through.

And when we saw Garry South’s explanation that “The Clinton event, being at 5 p.m. on a workday Monday in downtown L.A., was not designed to be the sort of sit-down gala that brings in millions,”  we thought that was just a weasely excuse for an excuse.

After all, this wasn’t some little West Side cocktail party with Howard Berman or Henry Waxman. This was the by God FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES who was in town to endorse Newsom and raise him a big chuck of change – or so we thought.

With good reason: It was the ABC News scoop on the endorsement — leaked by the Newsom campaign — that had breathlessly announced:  “Clinton’s trip to California next month is expected to include an event in predominantly Latino East Los Angeles as well as a high-dollar fundraiser.” (emphasis ours)

So if Bubba could only bring in a few $5,000 checks and if, in the month after announcing his endorsement, Newsom raised about $168,417 compared to $427,700 for Democratic rival Jerry Brown, well maybe this endorsement deal isn’t delivering much juju and South was just trying to spin it away.

Or maybe not. Apparently, the best Newsom could do was grab Clinton for the cocktail hour where most of the contributions were going to be less than $5,000. So whatever they came up with is gravy, South said, and mostly what the Clinton endorsement and visit did for Newsom was bolster his bona fides.

“Clinton’s endorsement is not going to put us even with Jerry Brown on the money front,” South said. “It was never going to. But it’s opened up a lot of doors for us, especially out of state.” What’s the main value of winning the Elvis Primary? “It’s given credibility to the candidate and the campaign that we did not have before.”

Said Steve Glazer, Crusty the General’s spokesman: “My mistake. We thought a fundraiser was actually a fundraiser.”

And one other thing: when Calbuzz deconstructed Gavin’s online ad last week, we noted that it was unclear about whether he wanted to lower the two-thirds vote requirement to make it easier to pass a budget or to raise taxes.

South insists it was all spelled out in the ad, the script of which said:

“This is the race that will shake the system, that will change the state constitution,
that will lower the 2/3 majority, that will pass the budget, that will fund the schools,
that will create the jobs, that will provide the health care, that will treat the millions of Californians, that will join the race, that will shake the system, that will change the state constitution, that will lower the 2/3 majority, that will pass the budget…”

Calbuzz read each of the items to be separate and discrete: this is the race that will shake the system; this is the race that will lower the 2/3 majority; this is the race that will pass the budget . . . etc., etc., etc. The ad did not say: “This is the race that will lower the 2/3 majority to pass the state budget.” We found it fuzzy, at best.

South insists Calbuzz missed the point and, besides, is just stupid. Apparently, we were supposed to read the Newsom ad like this:

“There was an old woman who swallowed a cow. I don’t know how she swallowed a cow! She swallowed the cow to catch the goat. She swallowed the goat to catch the dog. She swallowed the dog to catch the cat. She swallowed the cat to catch the bird. She swallowed the bird to catch the spider, that wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her. She swallowed the spider to catch the fly. I don’t know why she swallowed the fly. Perhaps she’ll die.”

We criticize ourselves severely, Garry.


Grease the skids: The legislative battle over offshore oil drilling is quiet for the moment, but don’t be surprised if it suddenly surfaces in Gov. Schwarzmuscle’s upcoming special session on taxes.

The session is being convened ostensibly to consider the doomed and dog-ass Parsky Commission report on tax reform, which basically recommends getting those pesky poor people to start paying their fair share; however, some lawmakers may use it as an opening to take up other matters related to state revenues.

Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, told us it would be appropriate to raise the issue of a 10 percent severance tax on California oil producers, an idea he’s been pushing for months, during a special session called to discuss tax revenue; he also said he won’t be surprised if backers of the governor’s twice defeated plan to grant a state lease to the PXP oil company for drilling from Platform Irene, in federal waters off the coast of his district, try to resurrect the plan once again.

Nava also has been involved in below-the-radar sniping with Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin & Associates, who conducted a recent statewide poll for PXP. The company eblasted a happy-face memo claiming that the survey showed widespread voter support for the plan; at which point Nava went nuts and issued what became of 20 press releases attacking the poll’s methodology and demanding PXP release all the questions, findings and cross-tabs.

After Nava wrote an op-ed about in a Santa Barbara paper, Maullin fired back with a letter to the editor saying the assemblyman was “clearly off base characterizing (the survey) as self-serving and intended to manipulate public opinion.”

“People have come to us for 28 years because we have high standards that render trustworthy results,” Maullin sniffed, without a hint of defensiveness. “In short we make a living by listening accurately to others.”

Sez Nava: “How threatened does Fairbank etc. feel, that they have to come after the local Assemblymember? It looks to me that the polling guys are beginning to act like Emperors without any clothes…If I can pull the veil off the industry with a few questions-my, my-what else do they have to hide ?”

In other oily news: A little-noticed L.A. Times yarn reports that a new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report recommends “drastically” reducing efforts to expand offshore oil and gas drilling because of possible threats to marine life.

The federal government’s top ocean scientists recommend “establishing buffer zones around the Southern California Ecological Preserve off Santa Barbara. In addition, it suggests that its broader recommendations, such as taking greater account of drilling’s effects on marine life, could affect potential lease sales off California.”

stone200R.I.P. Izzy: We’re not much for anniversary stories, but 2009 marks 20 years since the passing of I.F. Stone, the patron saint of Calbuzz.

Over at Op Ed News, blogger Stephen Lendman offers a nice, complete profile of our hero, that describes and explains how and why the great muckraker got blacklisted, becoming what Stone called “a former person” for his lefty political views and afflict-the-comfortable journalistic methods.

Stone was a regular on Meet the Press for about three years, until he suddenly got dumped in 1949. His crime? Grilling the president of the American Medical Associaton on national TV about why his group opposed single payer health care, according to Lendman’s cite of “American Radical,” the doorstop Stone biography by D.D. Guttenplan.

In his preface, Guttenplan described the fateful December 12, 1949 moment when Stone went from prominence to a non-person in American politics and his profession. It was during an interchange with the AMA’s Dr. Morris Fishbein on Meet the Press, an ardent foe of universal single-payer health insurance he denounced as “socialistic.” Quoting Stone, Guttenplan wrote:

“Dr. Fishbein, let’s get nice and rough. In view of his advocacy of compulsory health insurance, do you regard Mr. Harry Truman as a card-carrying communist, or just a deluded fellow-traveler?”

After that, he slowly vanished, was never again on Meet the Press, couldn’t get his passport renewed after a year in Paris as foreign correspondent for the Compass, and when it closed in 1952 was blacklisted as a reporter. As he put it at age 40: “I feel for the moment like a ghost.”

The more things change…

White House & The Wire: Omar Schools Obama

Monday, October 19th, 2009

omarlittleProgressive Democrats whose energy and enthusiasm were the primary fuel for Barack Obama’s triumphant campaign are growing increasingly restive at his uncertain performance on crucial issues.

From liberal West Coast precincts to the op-ed pages of the New York Times, Obama’s base is pointedly questioning the stiffness of his political spine and the strength of his personal convictions:

Those Obama fans who are disappointed keep looking for explanations. Is he too impressed by the elite he met in Cambridge, too eager to split the difference between left and right, too willing to compromise? As he pursues legislation, why does he keep deferring to others — whether to his party’s Congressional leaders or the Congressional Budget Office or to this month’s acting president, Olympia Snowe? Why doesn’t he ever draw a line in the sand? What’s with all this squishy need for a “bipartisan solution?”

This state of affairs poses a serious risk to Democrats in the 2010 mid-term elections and to Obama’s second term prospects as well. In searching for an explanation for what’s gone so wrong so quickly, Calbuzz recalled an interview from  early in the 2008 primary season; asked to name his favorite TV show, he said it was “The Wire,” adding that his favorite character was Omar Little.


HBO’s five season, Dickensian look at street life in Baltimore, The Wire was unarguably the greatest television series in history.  Obama’s comments about it, while only briefly noticed at the time, spoke volumes about the message he was sending about what kind of president he would be – and his failure to honor that message explains the disappointment so many supporters now feel.

Obama’s politically surprising endorsement of the raw and violent series seemed  evidence of his image as an unconventionally cool politician of soaring intelligence, and his embrace of Omar was notable for what it said about his own values. A shotgun-wielding, black, gay stick-up man, Omar was a sociopath to be sure, but a remarkably ethical one,  who only robbed predatory drug dealers and remained unfailingly true to his convictions:

“Omar is loved because he is meaner, funnier, cooler and braver than any other character you’ve ever seen on TV. He is unpredictable, complicated and brilliantly strange. Amid all the the show’s vicious drug dealers, corrupt politicians and compromised cops, Omar is the only figure who adheres to a strict, if perverse, moral code.”

obama_omar300For the Balmer cognoscenti, Obama’s recognition of the moral values of this anti-hero raised already high expectations that he would be a fearless, confident and unfailingly principled leader. So far, he has fallen far short of those expectations.

As president, Obama to date has only rarely displayed a morally certain strength of character. On issues from Afghanistan to gays in the military and Wall Street bail-outs, he has vacillated, caved into the status quo and exhibited an over eagerness to compromise and please, a stance that has gotten him routinely rolled and punked. Omar would not approve.

As Congress begins its epic endgame on health care, and Obama faces tough decisions on a host of other matters, we’ve unearthed some memorable Omar quotes to remind him why voters sent him to the White House:

“The game’s out there and it’s play or get played.”

Omar’s definition of how things work on the streets is useful advice for the president: From his first day in office, Obama extended his hand in the name of bipartisanship, only to be bitch-slapped by Republicans for his trouble.

It’s way past time for him to start channeling his inner Harry Truman and expose the just-say-no GOP crowd as the know-nothing obstructionists they are. His mealy-mouthed appeasement of a tyrannical minority, who get up every morning thinking about how to destroy and delegitimize him is not  “change we can believe in” but a simple case of political weakness.

“Money ain’t got no owners, only spenders.”

Obama backed away from his promise to take on economic special interests the moment he appointed as Treasury Secretary the repulsive Timothy Geithner, who immediately began shoveling hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to his banking pals, as middle and working class jobs disappeared at warp speed.

The spectacles of Goldman Sachs setting aside more than $15 billion in bonuses for its executives, in part for helping to reboot the bubble-bursting business of derivative sales, and of Wall Street insiders giddy at the Dow’s return to 10,000 offer a stark contrast to the despair of recession and unemployment that has spread through states across the nation and dug its claws deep into California.

“A man got to have a code.”

Nowhere is Obama’s turn-tail retreat more evident than in his dithering handling of health care reform.

He has passively stood aloof from the proceedings, blankly watching the scheming and back-scratching of a Congress more interested in sucking up to special interests than providing universal, affordable coverage, and lamely awaiting the latest pronouncement from President Olympia Snowe.

Rather than clearly making the case for a public option, and signaling his bottom line support for a key campaign promise, Obama has clothed his stance on health care in gauzy rhetoric while making unprincipled concessions to the pharmaceutical industry and violating his vow of a transparent process.

“Omar don’t omarscare.”

Advocates of equal rights for gay people represented a significant part of Obama’s progressive coalition.

Attracted by his clear and unequivocal promises to end the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy and the repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, they’ve seen that his actions don’t match his words. His timidity in making the case for civil rights enables and empowers Glenn Beck right-wing homophobes and rednecks, who become more emboldened day-by-day.

“How you expect to run with the wolves at night when you spend all day sparring with the puppies?”

While Obama has deservedly won huzzahs abroad for his grand speeches about  America’s re-engagement with the world, his foreign policy remains a confusing muddle of half-measures that lacks coherence and consistency.

The extended White House debate about Af-Pak policy seems more attuned to domestic political calibration than a clear-eyed rethinking of America’s security interests (“You been so busy being devious you done messed around and got yourself caught in a web,” Omar memorably told one too-clever-by-half drug dealer ).

His kowtowing to the Chinese government by refusing to meet the Dali Lama displayed a shameful and cowardly turning away from an icon of freedom that would disgust the fearless Omar (“It ain’t what you takin’, it’s who you takin’ from, ya feel me?”).  And his failure to stand up to Iran’s barbaric murder and torture of dissidents shows how easily he backs down (unlike Omar, who didn’t give bullies a second chance: “Boy, you got me confused with someone who repeats himself.”)

“When you doin’ it as long as I have, you do it on your name.

Despite his early setbacks and stumbles, Obama like Omar, still carries a gold-standard reputation as a singular figure, as reflected in his surprise Nobel Peace Prize. But his image as a transformative leader is sure to fall short if he is unwilling to summon the courage to act as boldly as he talks. Oh, indeed.