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Archive for 2010



Swap Meet: Drugs, Money & the Underwear Bandit

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

Today Calbuzzard and Chief Editorial Pen Stabber Tom Meyer buzz kills the state Democratic party which, for reasons that remain hazy, made a hash of their chance last weekend to endorse the Prop. 19 initiative to legalize pot.

Following the half-baked example of Bill Clinton, members of the party’s executive committee wasted the political advice of chairman John Burton, who suggested their support would turn on the key cohort of younger voters.

Instead they honored the joint wishes of the Dem’s geezer headliners, would-be governor Jerry Brown and Senator Barbara Boxer, who found the idea a total bummer.

Call now while supplies last: Calbuzzers interested in owning a full color print of a Meyer cartoon can email Tom at tom@meyertoons.com .

Hits and misses: If there’s one thing that makes our blood boil, it’s the legions of adolescent journalists who find it amusing to make puerile jokes about the burning issues raised by Prop. 19.

That’s why we were delighted to learn that Slate has launched “Cash Crop,” a new blog focused on the serious business and political economy issues of marijuana, written by Bay Area journalist Dan Mitchell:

Over the past few months, whenever I’ve told people about my idea for a blog covering the business and political economy of marijuana, I’ve gotten one of two responses: They either said it was a great idea or they put on their best stoner accent and said something along the lines of “Ohhh, duuuuude. That sounds bitchin’.”

… the different responses highlight what I think could be a major challenge—making people realize that neither this blog nor the subject it covers is a lark or a joke. Though I will always try to make it fun, Cash Crop is a serious blog about a serious business.

How serious? Marijuana is one of the top cash crops in the United States (by some measures it is the top cash crop). So why is there so little coverage of this business, as a business? Consider that California is veritably peppered with medical-marijuana facilities, as other states increasingly are. Or consider that marijuana sales generate about $15 billion of revenue a year in California alone—twice as much as the state’s dairy industry.

eMeg’s not a candidate, she’s a trend: When last we saw NY Timesman Michael Luo, he was exposing the $1 million sweetheart deal Mike Murphy scored with the eMeg Empire; now comes Luo, with colleague Damien Cave, to offer the first quantitative analysis of the growing trend of zillionaires running for office:

Call it the Great Recession paradox. Even as voters express outrage at the insider culture of big bailouts and bonuses, their search for political saviors has led them to this: a growing crowd of über-rich candidates, comfortable in boardrooms and country clubs, spending a fortune to remake themselves into populist insurgents…

Through just the second quarter of the year, at least 42 House and Senate candidates — 7 Democrats and 35 Republicans — in 23 states had already donated $500,000 or more of their own money to their campaigns, according to the most recent data available from the Center for Responsive Politics. That list does not even include governors’ races, and the roster promises to grow as the campaign season progresses and spending escalates.

Impressive numbers at first glance, but consider: if each of the 49 congressional candidates cited as spending at least $500K of their own cash actually spent $1 million each, it would be only half of what Our Meg has already forked out on her own, for what communications director Tucker Bounds likes to call the “movement” backing her play for governor.

All power to the people!

Press Clips: Josh Richman deserves combat pay just for staying awake – but came back with all you need to know about the Prop. 23 debate.

Eric Alterman’s door stop piece on why we can’t have a progressive president is worth the two weeks it takes to read.

Who ducked the media first – the chickens or the Meg?

Wonder how David Brooks knows so much about narcissism?

Krauthammer does too!

Jon Meacham gets his swirl on: Why Newsweek is failing, Chapter 37.

Don’t try walking home drunk alert: surrealistic sidewalks.

Today’s sign the end of civilization is near: Oklahoma, OK!

Obama Pantsed, Lobby Exposed, Calbuzz Menaced

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

With a cast of thousands, it’s hard to decide exactly who’s the biggest loser in the sad and sorry saga of Shirley Sherrod.

For those who’ve been resting on Uranus the last few days, she’s the Department of Agriculture staffer who got briefly fired when the Obama Administration panicked after the vicious right-wing provocateur Andrew Breitbart posted a doctored video clip from a speech she gave to the NAACP.

In the cut up tape, she appeared to say she had given favored treatment to black farmers over whites; in fact, the point of her speech was to describe how an experience many years ago helped her  overcome her own bias and conclude that class, not race, is America’s crucial social marker.

Before that fact became abundantly clear, however, the Breitbart-to-Drudge-to-Fox-to-conservative blogosphere echo chamber succeeded, not only in stampeding most of the MSM into reporting on the phony tape as legitimate but also in intimidating the NAACP and Obama’s Secretary of Agriculture into falsely denouncing Sherrod.  As Calbuzzer Betty Medsger put it Thursday in a post-mortem email:

It’s about the gale force dangerous stupidity and injustice that can result when the mindless news judgment often caused by the 24-hour news cycle is mixed with the tendency of confidence-lacking liberals to fear extreme conservatives to the point of instantly asking how high they should jump.

Our vote for the biggest dumbo in the incident is Jim Messina, the White House deputy chief of staff who was dispensing high fives and attaboys at the staff meeting the morning after the firing, for the fine job of political rapid response they all performed in cynically tossing Sherrod under the bus.

The net effect of the actions of the self-infatuated political geniuses in the White House was a) to add even more weight to the increasingly inescapable conclusion that it’s amateur night on Team Barack and b) to wrest defeat from the jaws of victory by stomping all over the Administration’s story about passing financial reform legislation, the best news they’d had in weeks.

The best commentary churned out about the whole mess that we read came from Young Turk Cenk Uygur, who quite correctly compared Obama to the school kid who gives up his lunch money to the bully, and gets his pants tossed on top of the school bus in the bargain:

As we can all see now, when Fox says jump, the Obama administration asks how high? (Then jumps one inch less and considers it a progressive victory). Is there anyone Obama won’t fire or throw under the bus if Fox asks him to? What if they ask Obama to fire himself? Would he do it? Or would he just fire Biden and say he met them halfway?…

In Washington, Fox News is very important and you get judged by how quickly you handle the media maelstroms they create. That’s viewed as a barometer of how well you handle “bad news cycles.” So, the rest of the Washington press corps judges you by how quickly you drop to your knees to end the “bad news cycle.” Congratulations Obama administration, you’re now professionals!…

The only real damage that Fox can do is if they spread their poison to other news stations. That is why it’s so imperative to label them what they are — a conservative propaganda station (not that there’s anything wrong with that). They’re just not news. And they couldn’t have proved it any better than they did in this case. And what did the Obama administration do with this golden opportunity? They turned it into a massive loss. Who is fucking retarded now?

Here’s a transcript of what Sherrod actually said in her speech, courtesy of Joan Walsh at Slate.

The envelope please: Mega kudos to Karen de Sa of the Mercury News for a superb investigative series demonstrating and measuring the extent to which Sacramento lobbyists have been the biggest beneficiaries of term limits.

Methodically deconstructing the legislative session, de Sa disclosed that over one-third of the bills introduced in the Capitol originate with special interests and presented case-study reporting on how rookie lawmakers get sucked into the cycle of serving the whims of the Third House, then get rewarded with campaign contributions for their trouble.

It’s been an article of faith among pundits (we name no names) that with the 1990 term limits initiative, the lobbying corps supplanted the Legislature as the keeper of expertise and institutional knowledge at the Capitol. Now de Sa has firmly established the notion as fact.

Amid the constant stream of here-today-gone-tomorrow lawmakers obsessed with reaching for the next step of the political ladder, it’s easy to forget bygone days when when legislators  were around long enough – John Vasconcellos on the budget, Gary Hart on education and Peter Behr on the environment come to mind – to master the substance, complexities and nuances of public policy and how to pass it.

Complete with main bars, side bars, data bases and old school, got-the-reporter’s-back editorials, the entire Mercury News series can be accessed here.

Swimming with the sharks: No truth to the rumor being peddled by Flash Fleischman that eMeg finally agreed to meet Calbuzz for dinner if we agreed to swim out to her yacht.

Conservative Yakkers: eMeg “Lying” on Immigration

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

The ferocious pounding that high-profile conservative talk show hosts John and Ken delivered to Meg Whitman over the L.A. airwaves this week clearly shows that her blatant untruthiness isn’t playing any better on the right than it is on the left.

“If she’s going to lie to us during the engagement process then the hell with her,” said John Kobylt, one half of the dynamic duo featured on the “John and Ken Show.”

“Schwarzenegger did it after he was elected twice and then he screwed us over on taxes… She’s lying about immigration already.”

Broadcast with partner Ken Chiampou, the popular 2-7 p.m. weekday show on KFI-AM 640 is a loud megaphone for hardcore conservative views, and a Southern California touchstone for right-wing true believers. Mindful of offending the base of the party, Republican candidates of all stripes, including eMeg, covet the political blessing of the frequently entertaining, if ideologically reflexive, pair, who routinely savage GOP apostates by calling for their “heads on a pike.”

This week, their own heads exploded over the recent spectacle of Her Megness gussying herself up as some kind of moderate on immigration issues, mounting a lavish, Spanish language multi-media campaign to woo Latino voters with kissy poo noises after portraying herself in the GOP primary as the fiercest scourge of illegals since Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

John and Ken’s outrage over Whitman’s transparent, 180-degree pandering was the focus of verbal assaults from them and their radio callers this week, as they also festooned their home page with a huge “Stop the Pandering” headline above a call to action for listeners to contact the Whitman campaign and “tell her not to take your vote for granted and to stop pandering to the open borders crowd!”

Worse for Whitman, the pair sputtered their splenetic outrage on the evening newscast of mainstream KTLA-TV, where they also have a regular gig. In the episode, which the Brown campaign posted on its You Tube page the yakkers railed at eMeg for trumpeting her opposition to Prop. 187, for claiming in a Spanish language op-ed that she and Krusty are virtually identical on immigration – “Jerry Brown is for amnesty!” – and for running away from the tough stances she struck in competing for right-wing support against the vanquished Steve Poizner in the GOP primary. Said John:

She’s saying one thing in Spanish and the exact opposite in English…She is going to lose white, black and Asian votes and she’s going to lose a lot of conservative and independent votes, if she’s acting as if she’s two-faced, and she’s acting like she’s two-faced…You can’t believe the anger coming out of the phone lines.

Said Whitman spokeshuman Sarah Pompei:  “Meg is the best candidate for Californians who want to see the laws enforced and our borders secure.”

Up next: eMeg unveils new $2 million ad buy charging John and Ken, Calitics and the CNA are conspiring to stop her – She refuses to be stopped! – from letting California fail.

Three dot lounge: Interesting to note that Carly Fiorina’s sudden flip flop on unemployment insurance legislation in the Senate comes the same day a new Field Poll shows that 53 percent of her supporters – not to mention 71 percent of independents – agree with Roe v. Wade, which the Hurricane has promised to undo. Must be getting kinda’ lonely out there on the far right, despite what horse’s ass George Will sez about how mainstream she is…

You know you’re in trouble when the New York Times enlists recalled governor Gray Davis to give you advice on how to save your sinking presidency…News to us that you can still watch the great Watergate-era newspaper show “Lou Grant” in reruns. Where the hell are Rossi and Billy when you need ‘em?…Kudos to Coco Timesman Steve Harmon for flying the MSM flag  on calling eMeg to account for her Pinocchio prevarications.

Today’s sign the end of civilization is near: Major bust for minor blockbuster.

eMeg Asks: What Does Jerry Have to Hide?

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

In the summer silly season of California’s 1990 campaign for governor, a  strategist for Dianne Feinstein used to say that running against Pete Wilson  was like “getting up every morning and having somebody throw marbles in front of you” all day.

The description perfectly expressed the challenge of facing the aggressive, always-on-offense style of Republican Wilson’s camp, which worked assiduously to keep Democrat Difi constantly off balance before defeating her in November.

The phrase came to mind Tuesday with word that Meg Whitman’s campaign  has filed a Public Records Act request seeking reams of documents at the state Department of Justice, ostensibly to discover if Attorney General Jerry Brown has been nefariously using state employees or resources to advance his bid for governor against eMeg.

The request, formally made by Sacramento GOP oppo research consultant Mark Bogetich, came one day after Seema Metha did a feature in the L.A. Times, which examined the line that Brown must walk between his official duties and campaign activities; the piece presented no evidence that he’d crossed it, nefariously or otherwise.

Rising with its usual, over-inflated self-righteousness, the eMeg Empire nonetheless pointed to Mehta’s story to explain its PRA demand, a cheap head fake used to justify a smart political play.

The demand, which Brown’s office has 10 days to answer, is a tactical move to strew marbles in Krusty’s path, a distraction that interferes with his effort to gain some traction, let alone momentum, in at least three ways:

1-It pushes out the idea that Brown must be guilty of something – planting the suggestion that he’s committed some kind of official misconduct into both the campaign debate and the public consciousness (especially if Team Whitman throws some advertising dough behind it).

By putting Brown in the position of having to prove a negative, in a year when politicians are more subject than ever to perceptions of chicanery, it sets up a new line of attack over his character, at a time when his camp is trying to push a narrative that questions her personal integrity; as the money quote from eMeg spokeshuman Sarah Pompei announcing the PRA request  clearly shows, Whitman is already treating her so-far baseless suspicions as proven fact:

After 40 years in politics, Governor Brown appears to be someone who will try to take advantage of his incumbency, even if it costs taxpayers money. Voters deserve to know what they’re spending on Jerry Brown’s personal P.R. campaign.”

Deserve to know “what they’re spending,” not “whether they’re spending,” mind you.

2-It opens the possibility that the records search might actually reveal something embarrassing or, at least, something commonplace that can be twisted to seem embarrassing.

The PRA letter from Bogetich  is actually pretty mundane: asking for hiring and payroll records, calendars and travel expense sheets (have a blast reading those maintenance logs for state cars, man) for DOJ employees who work on communications matters. Given Brown’s experience in office, and the micromanaging he does over anything involving media, it’s unlikely there are any bombshells there, but, hey, a girl can always hope.

Whatever else the PRA demand does, it creates a tiresome, day job distraction for Brown, his professional staff and his Merry Band of campaigners to locate, pull, examine and assess thousands of pages of boring documents, all of it time not spent plotting and running against eMeg.

3-It’s a brush back pitch that serves to warn Brown that he needs to be extremely careful in wielding the most effective weapon of his el cheapo campaign – the constant free publicity he receives from weighing in on every high-profile case, from Anna Nicole Smith to the Grim Sleeper, and suing every populist target from investment firms to health care insurers.

In putting Brown into a defensive posture, the move seeks to transform his greatest strength into a potential liability and make it harder for Krusty to frame the election as a referendum on Meg – and easier for her to make it about him.

It’s worth noting that Bogetich markets his firm by offering “political vulnerability research” that “helps clients…de-position opponents.” Orwell would be proud.

It’s also telling that he’s part of a broader oppo research division within the mighty Empire: in describing the operation a few months ago, Politico quoted an inside source who made a point we keep harping on:

We believe that (Brown) hasn’t undergone the rigors of modern campaigning. He hasn’t run a competitive race at this level since the early eighties. It’s a different news cycle than he has experienced. He’s incredibly skilled and incredibly talented. But this is a new challenge for him.

Not to worry Gandolf fans: he’ll gets things cranked up on the fax, as soon as the typeball gets replaced on the Selectric.

P.S. Things could be worse for Democrats.

If they had nominated Gavin Newsom instead of Brown, they would have had to contend with “vulnerability research” Bogetich was doing a while back on the cost of the only-in-San Francisco “Healthy Penis” campaign. (Answer: $122,575).

In case you missed it: Slate’s mashup of Mel Gibson’s abusive phone calls to Oksana Grigorieva and the trailer for his movie, “What Women Want,” is a must-see. Fair warning: X-rated and strictly not for the easily offended.

Michael Jackson State Park: No Thriller for Locals

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

By William Etling
Special to Calbuzz

The two families braving 93 degree heat to visit the Neverland Ranch gate over the weekend were all in favor of making the late Michael Jackson’s estate near Santa Barbara a California State Park.

Peace-and-quiet-loving citizens in the neighborhood are not so blithe.

Nicolai, Birgitte, Lea, Jonas and Anton Bentzen came all the way from Denmark to see the place, and were a little bummed that only the guard shack is visible from the road.

Maria Martinez and nieces Gabriella, Denea, and Samantha live just up the road in Santa Maria, where Jackson was acquitted of molestation charges a few years ago.  “It’ll be great for the kids,” Maria said of the state park proposal.

A year after the ruckus surrounding the death of the King of Pop, the laid back residents of the Santa Ynez Valley had just begun to think they could turn their back on Neverland.

Then came the recent statement by Assemblyman Mike Davis, D-L.A., that the California Department of Parks and Recreation should look at taking over the property.   Davis, who said NAACP president Alice Huffman approached him with the idea, is poised to pursue the idea when lawmakers return from a month-long recess in August, a possibility that’s generated a round of head-shaking among locals.

The 2,676 acre estate is five miles from the tiny town of Los Olivos where Sideways was filmed, bordered by other large ranches and Midland, an exclusive prep school. The Los Padres National Forest is nearby.

The state park project would be in the district of Santa Barbara County Supervisor Doreen Farr, who said, “I think the idea is problematic in several respects because of the state’s fiscal woes, the lack of infrastructure locally to support it and what would probably be significant community opposition.”

Solvang mayor Jim Richardson said, “I like the idea of more tourists for Solvang, but I’m opposed to the traffic it would cause on Figueroa Mountain Road, and it would change the character of Los Olivos – that would be a sad day for the Valley.”

The Los Olivos Business Organization reprised the same objections they voiced last year at this time when fans called for a MJ museum:

We believe that a concept like this would be a significant detriment to the unique character and well being of our town, would not be good for the majority of businesses in our town, and would overwhelm our rural infrastructure.

This project would also jeopardize the Agricultural Zoning that keeps the wineries, horse ranches, and agricultural producers that our economy is based on viable. Like Michael Jackson, the majority of residents in the Santa Ynez Valley chose to live here for the tranquil settings and rural character that it provides.

Bob Field, spokesperson for Never!, a group formed to prevent a Graceland style attraction, said “Our position on the inappropriateness of any such development has not changed.”

One local who probably loves the idea is globetrotting investor Tom Barrack, who controls MJ’s former fantasy ranch through the private equity firm Colony Capital.  Barrack owned a ranch in this sleepy village even before he was a deputy under-secretary in the Department of the Interior in the Reagan administration in 1983.

Barrack converted the pop star’s amusement park area into a series of gardens and is renovating other parts of the estate, according to Bloomberg News. He says he’ll sell Neverland when the real estate market recovers, hopefully for more than $100 million. According to the Santa Barbara county recorder’s office, Colony paid $35 million in a joint venture with Jackson in November of 2008.

Fighting the local tide of frowns was Santa Ynez Valley Real Estate Company broker Allan Jones. He said, “Let the current owner do with it what he wants. I hope I sell it.”

Journalist and Calbuzzer William Etling has been prominently featured in national media reports about Michael Jackson and the late pop star’s Neverland estate. He has written more than 400 columns and articles about the Santa Ynez Valley, and is the author of Sideways in Neverland: Life in the Santa Ynez Valley.



But what about the hot tubs? Before Monday, the most attention that Washington Post feature writer Manuel Roig-Franzia ever attracted in his career came when his editor punched him in the face in the newsroom.

From now on, though, Roig-Franzia will also be known for penning the worst profile of Jerry Brown in history.

Given his latest accomplishment, it’s a little ironic that he got smacked in the puss by Pulitzer Prize-winning editor Henry Allen after defending a female colleague whom Allen had accused of writing “the second worst story” he’d ever seen. The fact that Roig-Franzia’s gallant defense of his colleague consisted of telling Allen “not to be such a cocksucker” injected a layer of moral ambiguity to the incident, however.

In any case, the 68-year old Allen has since taken a buyout from the paper, while the punked out Roig Franzia was allowed to continue plying his craft, a management decision which resulted in the unfortunate piece on Brown that the Post inexplicably chose to publish on Monday.

As a professional matter, it’s not easy to write a 2,532 word story that contains not a single shred of new information. Our man Manuel managed not only that trick, but also the feat of larding on every tired cliché about California and Brown in the process, starting with this dreckful lede:

Hate to break this to you: Time’s whizzing by. You’re getting older.
Need proof? Brace yourself.
Jerry Brown is 72 years old.

Stop the presses, Maude: Manuel Roig-Franzia’s performing his own special brand of journalism again!

Things went downhill after that.

Apparently Brown in his early days was an “endless summer wonder boy” and a “bliss-following political son who was soo California cool.” Also: he dated Linda Ronstadt, has an “abstract, slightly dazed portrait” hanging in the Capitol, practices yoga, is a notorious tightwad who rented an apartment instead of living in the governor’s mansion and – get this – was dubbed “Governor Moonbeam” by Mike Royko.

As for California, how about those whacky New Age Left Coasters!

Apparently it was once “the empire of the laid back,” but now when people here “talk about being underwater, they’re referring to their mortgages, not afternoon dips off Malibu,” even though the state “still has Google and the movies.”

Memo to Style section: Next time save the expense money for this guy to punch his ticket to California and let him write from the office. Trust us, you won’t notice the difference.