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Archive for 2010



Meyer: eMeg’s Oleaginous Coating of Filthy Lucre

Saturday, May 15th, 2010

Champion cartoonist and Calbuzzer Tom Meyer today presents Peewee Pete Wilson in a cameo role as the BP of California politics, desperately seeking a clean-up solution for the Goldman Sachs-sullied  campaign of his protege, Meg Whitman.

The problem for eMeg is that having dug into the public position that she’d done nothing wrong — when, while CEO of eBay, she took initial public offerings of stock at a friends-and-family price from Goldman and then sold those shares for a personal profit — she’s now stuck with the stain of the issue.

Which, of course, is far from the only challenge for Our Meg these days.

At the risk of seeming solipsistic — so unlike us! — it’s pretty clear that all her problems started with eMeg’s ill-advised decision to blow off the standing gracious dinner invitation from Calbuzz (8+ months and counting!)

Or maybe it just seems that way because of the spate of recent stories tracing her troubles to the arrogant belief that she could run a campaign for governor in a fabulously constructed bubble, a bubble-brained idea aimed at shutting out the political press, for which she was ringingly called out by the reliable John Diaz this week, while being nicely dinged by the gaggle over at Newsweek. “I control my media,” indeed.

Jean Ross: “The Battle for California’s Future”

Friday, May 14th, 2010

Today the Governor will release his final “May Revision” – the document that updates budget estimates and policy proposals.

Release of the May Revision traditionally signals the end of spring training and the shift of budget season into high gear. And as much as we might have hoped otherwise, we’re not surprised by Schwarzenegger flack Aaron McLear’s statement that the May Revision would include no tax increases and “absolutely terrible cuts.”

Since January, much of the smoke from the smoke and mirrors “solutions” proposed by the Governor has dissipated. The state is likely to receive $3 billion to $5 billion in federal funds – but not the $7 billion unrealistically assumed by the Governor in January.

The state has won some legal challenges to past budget-balancing actions, but lost others. Unrealistic hopes that strong April tax collections would ease pressures on the budget have also dissipated, and the harsh reality of the state’s fiscal situation has begun to emerge from the Capitol fog.

We generally try to avoid hyperbole, but this year, it is fair to say that the battle over the budget that will soon begin is nothing short of a battle for California’s future.

Our public institutions and structures are battered, some near the breaking point.

Per student spending in California’s public schools has fallen so deeply as a result of recent budget cuts that we now trail the rest of the country by a greater margin than at any point in the last 40 years. Student fees have more than doubled in less than a decade in the California State University and University of California systems and more increases are in store, while 2009-10 budget cuts closed the door to the CSU and UC for nearly 20,000 students.

Cash assistance grants have been cut to 1989 levels and purchase half what they did 20 years ago at a time when one out of every seven mothers in the labor market finds herself without work.

While a litany of budget facts can be mind-numbing, they are also informative. The state is on track to spend $18 billion less this year than it did just two years ago – yet an almost identical gap remains. Just how large is that gap? Almost exactly equal to what the state spends annually for prisons and all higher education from community colleges to the UC and CSU and student aid.

By taking revenues off the table, the Governor places California firmly on a fast track race to the bottom. The glory days of California’s past were the direct result of investments in public structures from schools to transportation and health care. The state has not, and cannot, compete in a global economy with a workforce made up of individuals who were homeless or lacked health care as children and who were turned away from college as young adults.

By taking revenues off the table, the Governor also ignores one of the two major causes of California’s current budget crisis.

While the still-pervasive impact of the economic downturn is certainly the primary source of our current fiscal woes, over the longer term, a systematic erosion of state revenues – the $10 billion plus annual cost of tax cuts enacted over the past 15 years – ensures that the state faces bad budget times even when the economy is strong.

This last point bears mentioning, since the Legislature kicked off this year’s budget battles by digging an even deeper hole, approving hundreds of millions of dollars of new tax breaks on top of the billions of dollars of tax cuts enacted as part of the 2008 and 2009 budget agreements. All of which brings to mind the cover art from an old New Yorker in which artist Edward Sorel reserves the deepest ring of hell for “politicians who promised to cut taxes and balance the budget.”

There will be no happy ending to this year’s story.

The problem is too big and the options available just too few. However, there can be a better ending than the one promised by the Governor’s spokesperson. Craft the inevitable spending cuts so that they preserve the core capacity of the structures and policies that have served California well in the past.

Start the state on the path towards doing what it should and must do right: building a healthy future and providing a safety net for those who need one when all else fails. Go back to Washington, again, hand-in-hand with governors and lawmakers from around the country to make the point that prominent economists have made: state and local budget cuts threaten to derail an already fragile economic recovery.

Finally, the Legislature should admit that it made a mistake and roll back recent dark of night tax cuts. Lawmakers should also close loopholes in the sales tax that reward businesses that don’t create a single job in California and allow resource extractors to go untaxed.

So as the battle begins, the question remains: if this is a battle for California’s future, who’s going to fight for the future?

Jean Ross is the executive director of the California Budget Project, a Sacramento-based non-profit research group.

Gov Race to Bottom, Scotus Gay Watch, Press Clips

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Steve Poizner, pouring another $2.5 million into his campaign for the Republican nomination for governor, unloads another new ad on eMeg Whitman today, this one attacking her for failing to vote for nearly three decades.

“For 28 years, Meg Whitman didn’t vote. Not once,” the ad says. “She didn’t vote for Ronald Reagan, George Bush, or Pete Wilson, for 28 years. Meg Whitman says she’s for Prop. 13, but over 100 times she could have voted against higher taxes and more spending, and she didn’t vote.”

Here’s what The Commish is up to (after spending about $22 million of his own money): a two-track negative campaign against Whitman.

Track One is ideological – the Tom McClintock and immigration ads, hammering Whitman for being too “liberal.”

Track Two is a character attack – the “Vulture” ad on Goldman Sachs and now an ad about how she wasn’t even a voter for most of her adult life.

Poizner’s message: Not only is Whitman bad on the issues but she’s a bad person.

None of which tells voters why they should vote for Poizner. And, of course, Whitman’s got plenty of hits on him on the air (especially after sticking another $5 million into the race, bringing her total to a staggering $64 million).

In fact, her latest, charging that he “supported partial birth abortion” manages to hammer Poizner on two tracks at once: not only is he too liberal, but he’s wicked to boot.

It’s a race to the bottom, sports fans.

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay: This whole Elena Kagan is-she-or-isn’t-she thing was giving us a big headache –  even before the Wall Street Journal suggested on the front page Obama’s new Supreme Court nominee  might be a switch hitter.

To recap: CBS News embarrassed itself big time last month, when its web site blithely ran a piece from Ben Domenech, a discredited, third-rate conservative blogger, declaring that Solicitor General Kagan would be the first gay justice were she appointed and confirmed. CBS pulled the post down, after the White House objected that the claim was a lie and Giant of Journalism Domenech acknowledged that he was only, you know, speculating about whether she was gay.

The issue disappeared briefly, then resurfaced when the president actually nominated Kagan this week. Ever since, there has been a rash of stories on the subject.

One of the stranger is Politico’s round-up of Friends of Elena to swear that she’s not gay; that one of these FOEs is Eliot Spitzer, the sex-crazed former New York governor, who rather mysteriously testified that “I did not go out with her, but other guys did…I don’t think it is my place to say more,” only added to our head scratching over the piece.

Now comes the Wall Street Journal, channeling the New York Post, its sister Murdoch paper, to run a big ole two column, page one photo of Kagan playing softball back in the day, which  photo promptly led some gay rights leaders to complain that the Journal’s Innuendo Editor was trying to signal, wink-wink-nudge-nudge, that Kagan is a lesbian because, after all, what other kind of woman would play softball, all of which led to much  brow furrowing and wool gathering from the big brains over at the Columbia Journalism Review.

Hence our aforementioned headache, arising from the fact that not a single one of these yarns raises the key questions: 1) Why is everyone from Obama to Happy Hooker Friend Spitzer acting like it would be some terrible scandal if Kagan were gay and 2) who the hell cares anyway?

The narrative line hasn’t been a total loss for us though: MLB.com’s Mark Newman did a terrific piece in which he asked a bunch of Mets and Nats players to analyze Kagan’s batting stance. Lots of thoughtful clubhouse debate about whether the bat’s too far from the hitting zone, but for our money Nationals closer Matt Capps offered the most trenchant comment:

It looks like she’s choking up there and she’s locked down, so it looks like she’s going to give you an aggressive fight — which is probably a good thing in the position she’s going to be in.

Press Clips: Must read of the week is LA Timesmen Evan Halper and Jack Dolan’s defining piece on eMeg’s business and financial dealings…We  don’t always agree with Robert Cruickshank’s political analysis, but it’s for sure the Oracle is a very smart fella and serious guy who works hard at making sense of where California is and where it’s going…After reading Connie Brucker’s New Yorker profile of Haim Saban, we finally understood why  the   L.A. Media tycoon is throwing millions at the effort to roll back reapportionment reform in California, the better to protect West Side reps Henry Waxman and Howard Berman…The Zev Chafets takeout on San Antonio mayor Julian Castro is a wonderfully told tale of the most important Latino pol we’d never heard of.

I’m sorry sir, but your AK-47 has to go in the overhead: The silliest issue of the entire campaign season is the loud objection of GOP wannabe Senator Carly Fiorina to restricting gun sales to people on the anti-terror fly list because it would infringe on their Second Amendment rights, as Joe Mathews makes perfectly clear here.

The Secret Ads eMeg & Steve Don’t Want You to See

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

As Meg Whitman lobbed yet another stink bomb at Steve Poizner, Calbuzz rang up our friend Bill Carrick, the noted long distance runner who moonlights as a Democratic media consultant, to ask what he thinks of the escalating air war between eMeg and the Commish.

“I’ve had the alarming revelation that we have two dangerous left-wingers running in the Republican primary for governor,” he said. “I can barely sleep at night.”

With Carrick’s blinding insight fresh in our minds, we contacted sources close to our imagination to discover the secret plans of both campaigns for the final month of the race. Here’s how we see things playing out:

May 14 – Poizner launches a tough new weekend attack on immigration:

There are five million, border busting illegal immigrants in California.
Over half work at Meg Whitman’s house.

eMeg counter-punches hard:

Like goat meat in your tacos?
Then you’ll love Steve Poizner as governor.

May 18 – With three weeks left before the primary, Whitman consultant Mike Murphy rolls out a daring new theme, hammering Meg’s rival with a big swing on cultural values:

Left-winger Steve Poizner: Ever seen him in the same room as Castro?

After a quickly assembled, two-hour emergency focus group, Team Steve media strategist Stuart Stephens pulls an all-nighter producing a new spot to answer the assault:

Meg Whitman: The frappuccino-sucking, NPR-supporting, Bernie Sanders-loving, Lacoste-wearing East Coast elitist who Californians just can’t trust.

May 25 – eMeg’s tracking poll shows Steve still vulnerable on abortion, and her advisers take a huge gamble in airing a positive spot:

Meg Whitman has ALWAYS believed in the Immaculate Conception. The waffling Steve Poizner? Not so much.

Armed with fresh poll data micro-analyzing micro-targeted questions on the pro-life issue, Camp Poizner doubles down on their negative track:

Know what commie Meg Whitman and the Red Chinese have in common?
Just Google “same sex abortion” on your home computer.

June 1 – One week before the election, both candidates return to the bread-and-butter issue of taxes in making their closing arguments, as the Commish unveils a bold Prop. 13 message:

Ever wonder why Meg Whitman won’t tell us who killed Howard Jarvis? Hmmmm

eMeg fires back fiercely:

There’s only one big-spending corrupt Republican insider who wants to drive  old folks from their homes and pick the carrion from the bones of our seniors: Say hello to Steve Poizner, grandma.

I’m Meg Whitman, and I approved this message.

June 9 - Final returns show that Whitman and Poizner win only 12 votes apiece, as most Republicans stay home and those who don’t cast write-in ballots for the late Evelle Younger.

A few hours later, Arnold Schwarzenegger issues an executive order proclaiming himself Governor for Life, announcing the move in a brief statement: “I’m baaack.”

Let Checchi be Checchi: When we saw that former Northwest Airlines co-chairman and 1998 candidate for governor Al Checchi has resurfaced at the San Francisco Chronicle, and read with interest his essay on political reform posted on Carla Marinucci’s blog, we couldn’t resist tweaking Al, who had written:

Only the national media has (sic) the infrastructure and reach to provide a national forum for catalyzing change. There is a unique opportunity for a media outlet to provide that forum, assume a leadership position within and for the industry, and provide a vital service to the American people and the country.

So we asked him: What are you going to do about it? Here’s his reply:

If I were younger, I would buy CNN and repurpose it.

1.  Provide the public a source of comprehensive, independent, and unbiased information about the substance of the critical issues that we face and the range of policy options available to address them.

2.  Employ public polling and new media to gauge public opinion and use the network to amplify the general public’s position on the issues to facilitate the building of national consensus.

3.  Provide similarly unbiased information to the public about the experience, character, qualifications, and positions of the people who stand for public office to improve the calibre of people to whom we cede political power.

In other words, I would get back to the basics of a comprehensive journalism that informs, educates, and provides a vital and constructive service to a Democratic society.

Since I am no longer young, I must content myself with half a loaf and try to develop programming and persuade a major media outlet to broadcast it.

Thanks, Al. No one ever called us “a major media outlet” before.

P.S. Checchi’s best one liner re. Meg Whitman’s business experience as a credential for governor:  She’s just  “a marketing person who ran an electronic auction house.”

With Apologies to TMZ


4 Weeks to Go: True Lies, New Poll, Burton Redux

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

Franklin Roosevelt famously said that, “Repetition does not transform a lie into a truth.” But then, he didn’t live long enough to see California’s 2010 Republican primary for governor.

Battering each other on the airwaves with one month to go before the election, GOP wannabe govs Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner seem far more determined to prove the wisdom of the words of V.I. Lenin:  “A lie told often enough becomes the truth.”

In recent weeks Stevie Wonder has stretched the truth in attacking eMeg on issues from health care to immigration, while she has simply flat-out lied about his budget stewardship at the Department of Insurance budget and distorted his stance on Prop. 13 .

As a political matter, Michael Rothfeld rightly noted in the LAT that the large number of demonstrably untrue charges flying in the race may be traced to the fact that Poizner and Whitman are both basically moderates, furiously reinventing themselves  as hard-core conservatives  (for the record Rothfeld also reported that, “Although both campaigns exaggerate, Whitman’s ads appear to stretch the truth more”).

As a journalistic matter, what’s most intriguing about the fusillades of falsehoods is that neither candidate has suffered sanctions for her or his prevarications – a sad state of affairs just 20 years after California political writers thought they had invented a weapon to overcome such campaign conduct, and to keep the world safe for truth, justice and the American way.

It was in the 1990 Democratic primary for governor that the state’s major newspapers all began to hold campaigns accountable for assertions they made in TV ads, by running some form or other of “truth box” which fact-checked the text and images of ads, especially negative ones, against the record. (The name was always a misnomer: mainstream journalists are trained to report facts, not to determine truth, a much harder challenge.)

Hailed as a breakthrough in campaign reporting by no less a figure than the WashPost’s David Broder, then the unquestioned and widely acclaimed grand poobah of Beltway punditry, the truth box for a short time seemed to hold the promise of raising the level of political advertising; at the very least it required consultants, in those pre-internet days, to fax – fax! – to gimlet-eyed reporters hundreds of pages of supporting documentation each time they rolled out a new spot.

Today, campaigns still go through the motions of citing source material for ad claims, but the rigor of the journalistic exercise has greatly withered away, due not only to the sharp decline in influence of newspapers, but also to huge cutbacks in resources suffered throughout the industry, which have made the serious commitment of reporting hours and news hole space needed to ferret out the complexities of fact and falsity in TV spots something of an unaffordable luxury  in many newsrooms.

In the Whitman-Poizner race, the Sacbee’s substantive and sustained “Ad Watch” effort, thanks largely to the labors of Capitol bureau chief Amy Chance, has been an outlier to this trend.

In the end, whatever moral authority the journalistic truth box might have wielded was always doomed to be overwhelmed by the persuasive powers of repetition and emotional appeal inherent in television advertising. As Democratic media consultant Bill Carrick put it: “Campaigns are all repeat offenders – everybody does it all the time and nobody pays a price for it.”

How Close is that Shave?

We’re not big fans of SurveyUSA because no matter what their alleged record is, it’s a robotic call system with some serious methodological drawbacks that some of the most prestigious pollsters in the country find unacceptable.

But a lot of TV stations use these guys because they’re relatively cheap (and their final results seem magically to come close to the outcome), so their data gets into the political bloodstream. Thus is the latest poll of 548 likely Republican primary voters that shows Meg Whitman ahead of Steve Poizner by just 2 percentage points – 39-37% — with a margin of error of +/- 4.3%.

The poll – commissioned by KABC-TV Los Angeles, KPIX-TV San Francisco, KGTV-TV San Diego and KFSN-TV Fresno – had the race at 22 points just 18 days ago, with Whitman leading 49-27%. Do we think there was a 20-point swing in 18 days? Or do we think the poll is a bit wild? Right.

What we do think is that the trend is what matters. All the polling we’ve seen and heard about shows that the GOP governor’s race has tightened. And if the SurveyUSA crosstabs are to be believed, Poizner has picked up among downscale Palinista Republicans: he leads 42-25% in the Central Valley; 34-32% among voters with incomes under $50,000; he’s got the conservatives 41-38% and the men 41-37%. These are the folks we talked about Monday who just might be affected by Whitman’s connections to Goldman Sachs.

From The Department of Corrections

In our Saturday post about the California Democratic Party’s ad attacking Meg Whitman but masquerading as an “issues ad,” we described the abrupt ending to our conversation with CDP Chairman John Burton. Through his spokesman, Burton on Monday complained that he had been misquoted. Burton says he didn’t say “Fuck you.” His actual words were, “Go fuck yourself.”  Calbuzz regrets the error.