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Archive for 2010



Meyer Dings Bell, Carly Snarls & Snarks, Press Picks

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

Before the City of Bell (“promoting a healthy, balanced and moral lifestyle”)  became a global  symbol of greed, rapacity and plunder by scumbag public officials, the town was best known as the site of the heist of 55 Oscar statuettes from a loading dock on March 8, 2000.

Although three trucking company employees were sentenced to probation in the case, all of them pleaded “no contest,” and their professions of innocence at various points in the proceedings suggested to Some Observers – we name no names – that they were set up to take the fall for the caper, while the real culprits remained at large.

Today Tom Meyer, internationally renowned editorial cartoonist, fashion plate and world class Calbuzzer, tackles the lingering mystery of the case, and with uncanny Holmesian intuition, solves it at last.

Not available in stores: Calbuzzers interested in purchasing a full color print of a Meyer cartoon can email Tom at tom@meyertoons.

Don’t be a jerk: Shortly after Roger Simon returned to work at Politico last month after a dreadful illness, he wrote a lovely little column on the subject of civility, specifically the lack of it in politics, called “Impolite Pols Face Doom.”

Perhaps inspired by his experience in cheating death, Simon riffed on a recent survey showing people across the nation rank “politics and government” as the most uncivil arena in American life,  with 72 percent of those polled saying it’s more rude and disrespectful than talk radio and high school, at 59 percent, Hollywood at 56 percent and even blogs, at 51 percent, all perceived as bastions of greater civility than The Game.

“Listen up, you morons,” Simon began:

We, as a people, pay a price for the jerks among us: Nearly half of all Americans say they are “tuning out” of government and politics, 46 percent are tuning out of opinion pieces and editorials in the media, and 38 percent are tuning out of news coverage and reporting.

His piece, and others on the same subject, came to mind when we received the latest copy of “Boxer Bites,” a regular emailed attack feature of Carly Fiorina’s campaign for Senate, and decided that, in a campaign year when spending millions on the low road is just table stakes, Hurricane Carly hands down wins the prize for absolute pure nastiness.

We’ve certainly done our share of ripping Babs for her arrogance and sense of entitlement, true that, but still, there’s  something vaguely creepy about the unrelentingly toxic tone of the constant ad hominem attacks coming out of iCarly’s corner.

From the Mean Girls cattiness she accidentally revealed with her comments about Boxer’s hair, to the sophomoric sarcasm of “Boxer Bites” and her overall habit of making criticisms more personal than political, Fiorina’s attitudes and language echo the caustic corrosiveness of Sarah Palin, even as  they recall the personal viciousness with which Carly set about to smash the civility and respectfulness of the “H-P Way” corporate culture when she moved in as CEO. An excerpt from Friday’s eblast:

Perhaps it’s good that Barbara Boxer is visiting an employment-training center today. As a career politician who has been in elected office for more than three decades, the transition back into the real world is likely to be a rocky one. Boxer may very well need some job-skills training in order to find new employment after the people of California fire her on Election Day. (After all, bitter partisanship and election-year grandstanding aren’t exactly marketable job skills in the real world).

As you would know better than almost anyone, Carly.

Notes from the cutting room floor

A young and hotly talented political writer looks at the 15th SD race.

A nice and nicely restrained conservative takedown of Obama.

Memo to Meg: Washpost’s conventional wisdom on self-funders.

Tom Friedman watch: A mere eight uses of “I” in 800 word column.

The smartest meta political piece in a while on culture and ideology.

Why didn’t somebody warn us Obama has a David Brooks fetish?

What makes Dick Blum run?

The Girl with the Seriously Dead Author.

And speaking of civility

Press Clips: Windbags, War & WikiLeaks

Friday, July 30th, 2010

It didn’t take long for the Beltway’s windbag geniuses to prove anew how brilliant they are, by devising instant conventional wisdom about the unprecedented dump of classified Afghanistan war documents by the double-secret online cult called WikiLeaks.

From the condescending Anne Applebaum (“these documents just don’t matter that much”)  to the first class blowhard Doyle McManus (“The most surprising thing about WikiLeaks’ released trove of officially secret documents is how few surprises it contains”)  and the tiresome Richard Cohen (“the news…is that there is no news at all”)  the message was nearly unanimous from the opinion shapers who spend their days mainlining self-importance: Evvveryone worth knowing already knew all this.

Except…everyone didn’t.

Call us disconnected from the One True Reality of Washington, D.C., but we missed the prime time presidential addresses when Bush and Obama looked straight into the camera and said: “We’ve poured $876 gazillion down a rat hole and all we got show for it is a hyena pack of back-stabbing double dealing so-called allies, an uncounted number of massacred civilians and our own, deeply bruised well-kicked asses.”

Among the allegedly elite East Coast journos who populate cable TV like termites, only the level-headed Jim Fallows, a true insider with an outsider’s mind, had the common sense God gave him to opine that  “information that may be old news to insiders may seem a revelation to the broader public.”

Media massages: We don’t claim to understand the complexities and nuances of AfPak  policy, but the Calbuzz Department of Pioneering New Technologies and Sensitive New Age Guys does know a world-class media story when we see one, and the startling coup pulled off by Julian Assange, the Mr. Weirdo Orville Schell lookalike who runs WikiLeaks  (Rafti Khatchadourian’s New Yorker profile remains the defining piece about him) was extraordinary, game-changing and historic.

Not only did Assange imagine and build an unheard-of digital and security infrastructure to solicit, obtain  and channel a steady stream of official and corporate secrets offered up by conscience-stricken whistleblowers around the globe, but, in the instant case, he enlisted the managements and resources of three of the leading  MSM operations in the world to help.

If that’s not some kind of milestone of what you like to call your still-emerging radical transformation of the global news business, well then, Dr. P.J. Hackenflack ain’t from Vienna.

Amid the reams of dead tree and puny-minded analysis, NYU’s Jay Rosen, our favorite Big Think Media Guy, seemed best to grasp the sweeping scope and implications of the event:

If you go to the WikiLeaks Twitter profile, next to “location” it says: “Everywhere.” Which is one of the most striking things about it: the world’s first stateless news organization. I can’t think of any prior examples of that…WikiLeaks is organized so that if the crackdown comes in one country, the servers can be switched on in another. This is meant to put it beyond the reach of any government or legal system. That’s what so odd about the White House crying, “They didn’t even contact us!”

Appealing to national traditions of fair play in the conduct of news reporting misunderstands what WikiLeaks is about: the release of information without regard for national interest. In media history up to now, the press is free to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the laws of a given nation protect it. But WikiLeaks is able to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the logic of the Internet permits it. This is new. Just as the Internet has no terrestrial address or central office, neither does WikiLeaks.

Whew. Pass the smelling salts, please, it’s the fainting couch for us.

Silver lining dep’t: Happy to say, all was not a lost cause this week amid the teeming ranks of opinion mongers resident in Our Nation’s Capital.

In truth,  it appeared at times that someone had spiked the coffee in the op-ed offices of the WashPost, where scribblers Ruth Marcus and E.J. Dionne put on a clinic about the logic and rhetoric of expression, with a couple of finely crafted columns of high political import that put the Applebaum/Cohen ilk to shame.

Both pieces came in the wake of the stomach-churning Brietbart/Sherrod scandal. Although neither focused on the particulars of that matter, both  seemed somehow birthed by the industry-wide whirlwind of  post-mortem self-critical navel gazing, which resulted in solemn declarations of renewal and re-commitment to the kind of upright truth-telling that was soiled by the sordid episode, as if the writers had had a bellyful of punditry parsing, mushy language and false equivalencies, and decided simply to announce that the Emperor had no clothes.

First up was Marcus. Tackling the issue of whether the Bush tax cuts should be extended, she noted that Republicans always make exactly the same argument, whether the federal government has a surplus or a deficit, whether the economy is growing or sinking and regardless of the facts. Offering a neat, quick stroke sketch of GOP cant, she had us saying, “we wish we’d said that.”

The modern Republican argument about taxes seems to boil down to two principles, both misguided: Taxes can be reduced, but they can never be allowed to go up. And whatever level taxes are at, they are too high.

Next came our old friend E.J., unburdening himself in a well-reported column called “The Politics of Stupidity,” in which he bashed the absurdities of the U.S. Senate, surgically dispatched pig-headed arguments about the stimulus and worked the same rich vein of tax policy as Marcus, beginning with a contrast between the fact-based tax-and-cuts deficit strategy of British P.M. David Cameron and “the fairy tale of supply-side economics (which) insists that taxes are always too high, especially on the rich.”

The simple truth is that the wealthy in the United States — the people who have made almost all the income gains in recent years — are undertaxed compared with everyone else.

Consider two reports from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. One, issued last month, highlighted findings from the Congressional Budget Office showing that “the gaps in after-tax income between the richest 1 percent of Americans and the middle and poorest fifths of the country more than tripled between 1979 and 2007″…

The other, from February, used Internal Revenue Service data to show that the effective federal income tax rate for the 400 taxpayers with the very highest incomes declined by nearly half in just over a decade, even as their pre-tax incomes have grown five times larger.

The study found that the top 400 households “paid 16.6 percent of their income in federal individual income taxes in 2007, down from 30 percent in 1995.” We are talking here about truly rich people: Using 2007 dollars, it took an adjusted gross income of at least $35 million to get into the top 400 in 1992, and $139 million in 2007.

The notion that when we are fighting two wars, we’re not supposed to consider raising taxes on such Americans is one sign of a country that’s no longer serious…

What say you, Meg and Carly?

Today’s sign civilization is getting better all the time: Man’s best friend.

PPIC: Voters Oppose Offshore Oil & AB 32 Rollback

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

By large margins, California’s likely voters oppose expanded offshore oil drilling and believe that enforcement of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions law will create more jobs – not kill them – a new Public Policy Institute of California poll shows.

Public attitudes are polarized between Democrats and Republicans on the two high-profile environmental issues but, significantly, the crucial swing blocs of independent and moderate voters both oppose the GOP position by 2-to-1.

With tight races both for governor – where PPIC shows Jerry Brown ahead of Meg Whitman 37-to-34% with 23 % undecided -  and for U.S. Senator – where Barbara Boxer leads Carly Fiorina 39-to-34%, with 22% undecided – the poll points to key political opportunities for the front-running Democrats to differentiate themselves from their Republican rivals.

Given the registration advantage of Democrats in statewide elections, PPIC President and CEO Mark Baldassare told Calbuzz, the poll’s findings on the views of independents, particularly on the jobs vs. greenhouse gas regulation debate, are “hugely significant.”

“The ‘more jobs versus fewer jobs’ debate will be a center of discussion this fall with the effort to suspend AB 32,” Baldassare said. “It poses a real challenge for Republicans to explain why they believe differently” than most voters.

Climate change and jobs: As a political matter, the findings on AB 32 — California’s landmark legislation to regulate emissions — offer the clearest look yet at the state political landscape surrounding the issue of climate change, at a time when debate on the matter is growing more vocal.

Conservative Republicans, joined by several large coal and oil companies, have qualified Proposition 23 for the November ballot. The initiative would suspend enforcement of AB 32 unless and until unemployment fell to 5.5 percent in the state; AB 32 requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

With the state unemployment rate now at 12.5 percent, supporters of the measure argue that the greenhouse gas law is an environmental “job killer” that California cannot economically afford. But the recession has had little effect on changing the public’s favorable opinion about AB 32, according to the poll, which shows likely voters:

1-Favor AB 32 overall by 61-to-28 percent; while Democrats support it 80-10 and Republicans oppose it 49-39, independents support the law 73-16%.

2-Think California should make its own policies, separate from the federal government, by 56-38%, with Democrats backing that position 63-to-30% and independents by 60-to-30%, as Republicans say California should not have its own climate change policy, 50-43%.

3-Believe that global warming is a very or somewhat serious threat to the economy and quality of life in the state by 63-to-35%; Democrats perceive it as a serious problem, 86-12% while Republicans do not find it so, 55-41% and independents express serious concern 77-to-22%.

For the 2010 campaigns, however, the most important numbers on the climate change issue show that likely voters, for now at least, are rejecting the central argument of the conservatives and industry groups spearheading the Prop. 23 effort, namely that tough greenhouse gas emissions regulation is a “job killer” making the recession worse.

In fact, a large plurality of likely voters believe that state global warming legislation will increase employment. While PPIC did not poll the ballot language of AB Prop. 23, because the final version was not available when they were in the field, researchers did ask about the jobs argument:

Do you think that California doing things to reduce global warming in the future would cause there to be more jobs for people around the state, would cause there to be fewer jobs, or wouldn’t affect the number of jobs for people around the state?

The result: By 43-28, likely voters said it would mean more jobs, not fewer; Democrats took that stance 57-14%, while Republicans said it would mean fewer jobs, 43-to-24%.

Swing voters agreed with the Democrats: Independents said global warming measures would mean more jobs rather than fewer, 50-to-25%, while moderates agreed, 49-to-20%.

Offshore oil drilling: In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon calamity in the Gulf of Mexico, the poll showed a dramatic swing in attitudes about offshore oil drilling in California.

After many years in which state voters strongly opposed expanded drilling off the coast, sentiment began to swing in favor two years ago, when gas prices spiked.

In 2009,  when asked their view about more drilling off the coast “to address the country’s energy needs and reduce dependence on foreign oil,” likely voters favored drilling 55-to-41%. But in the new survey, likely voters oppose drilling 59-to-37%, a huge swing of 36 points.

“After consistently opposing more offshore oil drilling, residents began to waver as gas prices increased,” Baldassare said. “But events in the Gulf appear to have renewed opposition to more drilling here.”

What it all means: As a practical matter, the PPIC poll represents especially bad news for GOP Senate candidate Fiorina.

She has positioned herself on the far right on a host of issues, including her call for expanded drilling off the coast of California, and her support for Proposition 23, coupled with her mocking of Boxer’s oft-expressed concern about climate change (Fiorina calls it a fixation on the weather) and her questioning of the science of global warming.

With 41% of likely voters saying the candidates’ views on the environment are very important, compared to 21% who say they are not too important, Boxer leads Fiorina overall, 39-to-34%. Each candidate has very strong backing from her own party but Boxer leads among independents 35-29%.

In the governor’s race, Whitman has switched her position on offshore drilling several times and, most recently, opposes it, while Brown consistently has been against.

In courting right-wing voters in the GOP primary, Whitman said she would suspend AB 32 for at least one year, while Brown has been adamantly against relaxing it.

It’s significant that Whitman has not yet taken a position on Prop. 23 and, given her flip flops and flexibility on other issues, it would not surprising to see her come out against it yet. Our guess: she’ll say she’s got a better plan and Prop. 23 goes too far. This, of course, would raise new questions about her opportunism and commitment on the issue by both sides of the debate.

The PPIC findings are based on telephone (landline and cell) surveys of 2,502 Californians, conducted July 6-20, in English, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese and Korean. The margin of error for the sub-sample of 1,321 likely voters is plus or minus 2.7 percent.

You can access the complete poll here.

Humpday: Bell Chimes for Krusty, eMeg in 2016!

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

Back when George Stephanopoulos was peddling his memoir of life in the Clinton White House, he often began his stock talk to audiences with a classic joke premised on him defining the word “politics,” which went something like this:

“It derives from the Greek root ‘poli,’ meaning ‘the many,’” he’d say, then pause a beat. “And the word ‘tics,’ meaning, “blood sucking parasites.’”

Given this Calbuzzian weltanschauung, George would naturally be our top pick to interview Meg Whitman for “Good Morning America,” far better suited than the rest of the steel-bellied airheads who populate the network airwaves at that time of day. And when he faced off for a 4:33 sit-down with Her Megness early Tuesday, he did a pretty good job of asking a few tough questions within the patty cake parameters of the GMA genre.

Unfortunately for any viewer who hoped to learn something new or authentic about eMeg, she also performed well, slipping, sliding and dodging throughout, as she stayed relentlessly on her straight jacketed message and tediously stuck to her tiresome talking points.

For Calbuzz, the highlight came when Stephanopoulos asked her if she wanted to run for president, the first time we’re aware that any national type raised the issue since we warned the world to keep an eye on the burgeoning Our Meg in 2016 campaign.

Sorry to say, he loosely worded his question so to give the slippery eMeg an easy out, as she instantly chuckled the phoniest laugh since 1950, when LFN made its debut on the pioneering Hank McCune show.

GS: You win in November, you’re automatically at the top of the Republican party list, not only in California., but the country. Ever thought about running for president?

MW: No (big burst of head tossed back fake hilarity). I am here to run California. I want to fix California. Where goes California goes the country.

“Where goes California goes the country”? Really?

Calbuzz sez: Not exactly what you call your Shermanesque statement. Keep those “Meg 2016” buttons – they could be worth big bucks on eBay.

More on Meg in the morning:

1-eMeg first tried to duck the question of whether she supports congressional Republicans in pushing to extend the Bush tax cuts; when George S.interrupted her filibuster – “Let me get back to my question” – she promptly threw in with the Laffer Curve crowd: “I do.”

In between, she served her usual fog of gibberish about “targeted tax cuts” in California, a mumbo jumbo mashup she uses to disguise a supply side agenda of gifting corporations and billionaires like herself, as the superb financial writer Michael Hiltzik made clear in Sunday’s LAT.

2-Stephanopoulos asked an excellent question about the well-deserved dismal public image of corporate executives, but failed to follow up, letting eMeg off the hook for her own sleazy history of  dealings with Goldman Sachs and Craig’s List, not to mention her manhandling of a subordinate press aide at eBay.

GS: Why should the public trust business leaders any more than politicians? These days they see all of the shenanigans on Wall Street and there’s just as much distrust of the business world today as there is of politicians.

MW: I would tell people to look at my eBay experience, blah, blah, blah…

3-Interesting visual: In his lead-in to eMeg, GS said, “We continue our series of interview with new faces on the political scene,” over a graphic display of newcomers that included wannabe California Senator Carly Fiorina, South Carolina GOP gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley, Tea Party Kentucky Senate nominee Rand Paul and…Jerry Brown.  “New face on the political scene”? No way. Way! Chalk up one for Gandolf.

The Bell tolls for thee: In a sudden burst of energy,  Brown this week showed off his consummate skill as a political ambulance chaser, breaking all land speed records to dive into the middle of the story surrounding the widening scandal of gold-plated salaries and benefits local officials paid themselves in the small Southland city of Bell.

Wearing his Attorney General hat, Krusty immediately launched an investigation of the rancid mess, uncovered through first-rate enterprise reporting by the By God L.A. Times, managing in one swell foop to a) garner reams of free media attention in what is Topic A in L.A.; b) thumb his nose at eMeg who keeps insisting she’s shocked – shocked! – at the notion of an attorney general getting political benefit from the exercise of his official duties and c) find a strong pony to ride in the campaign contest to exploit  outrage over public employee pay and benies, without offending his allies in labor.

Debate over debates: We’re feeling a bit confused over Tuesday’s exchange of fire over debates in the governor’s race, as eMeg said she was challenging Krusty to three, and he responded that he’d already challenged her to 10 so she owed him an answer on three, but one of those she accepted was not in the original 10, so yadayadayada.

We’ll leave the untangling of all this to others. All we know is that Our Meg snubbed the gracious  Calbuzz/Flashreport/Calitics invite for an historic Blogosphere Debate, which Brown earlier accepted. As the late Calbuzz Joseph Marie Eugene Sue was fond of saying:
“La vengeance se mange très-bien froide.”

Chris Finnie: Missing the Point About the Grassroots

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

By Chris Finnie
Special to Calbuzz

Calbuzz recently highlighted a link to Talking Points Memo, headlined “Meg Whitman Copies Obama Playbook,” in which writer Christina Bellantoni argues that eMeg’s $150 million campaign for governor is effectively cloning the president’s 2008 operation.

Sorry boys, but Christina’s clueless.

Whitman may be trying to duplicate some of the tactics of Obama’s game plan – appealing to Latino voters in Spanish, targeting young professionals and spending a lot of money (none of it, notably, raised from the grassroots as Obama’s was).

But like so many other politicians before her, she is missing the essence of the matter: she doesn’t have an emotional connection to voters. And that makes all the difference

Where’s the passion?

Before Obama, the new Internet Age, from-the- ground-up campaign was pioneered by Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential race. Political pundits were agog at his online organizing and fundraising; suddenly every candidate wanted Meetup groups and web organizing tools.

But they were often disappointed with the results, because they mistook the map for the territory.

I volunteered with both the 2004 Dean campaign and the 2008 Obama campaign. In both, many of the volunteers felt passionate about the candidate and connected with the other volunteers we worked with. Both campaigns did a great job of fostering those connections. And they persist to this day.

The Obama campaign did a masterful job of using technology, not as an end in itself, but to harness and organize this grassroots fervor. When I worked phone banks in Boulder Creek, California, the communication from Chicago was always quick and seamless. And the personal acknowledgements to volunteers were frequent and effective.

California Rep. Maxine Waters, D-L.A., highlighted this point at the state Democratic convention in April. Speaking to grassroots activists at the annual “Red to Blue” fundraising dinner to support Democratic candidates in Republican strongholds in California, Waters said campaign strategy is too often all about money, specifically the money that campaign consultants make on media buys.

She said that as long as the primary way consultants make money is by buying media, candidates will be increasingly distant from voters, and office holders isolated from the people they represent.

Harkening back to the days of real town hall meetings, Waters spoke of the passion generated when candidates meet in storefronts with local volunteers who walk and phone for them – not as a staged media event, but as a central part of their campaigns.

What Whitman lacks

Meg Whitman may have as many paid staff members on her communications team as the Obama campaign fielded in all 50 states. But I doubt she’ll attract many people to sit in a neighbor’s living room and make phone calls to support her.

She will continue to burn through vast amounts of money on media buys but never achieve the grassroots support Obama was able to mobilize.

She will not have anyone like the woman in Florida who rented an office and recruited volunteers, then presented the whole thing to the Obama campaign when they finally made it to her state.

The Whitman campaign may boast of having volunteers, but they’re little more than a prop. The plain fact is that there is no space in her corporate-style marketing campaign for personal communication or authentic interactions with the candidate. Heck, she won’t even talk to the media. As Rep. Waters told us, this approach will increasingly isolate her from the people she needs to reach.

Whitman also will not gain that support because California voters simply don’t like her. Not even the Republicans, which the Field Poll numbers show clearly.

Sure, they’re willing to let her try to buy the election; the party is grateful that she’s spending her money, and not theirs. But she doesn’t have a message that grabs anybody and nearly all of what she’s proposing has been tried by Schwarzenegger and hasn’t worked.

Most importantly, she has no emotional connection to voters.

Unfortunately for us Democrats, Jerry Brown’s campaign has been nearly as lackadaisical in building grassroots support, and is just beginning to reach out to volunteers.

John Laird = Obama Playbook

As Brown begins to do this, he would be well advised to look to the effort of former Assemblyman John Laird, who’s running in the special election race for the coastal 15th state Senate district.

Laird has volunteers setting up phone banks for him on their own all over the state. Community groups that came together through Organizing for America groups are making calls, as are statewide volunteers from Democracy for America.

Groups all over the state are organizing themselves, or working as a group to support Laird’s bid, because they feel passionately about his progressive ideas and having him in the Senate to enact them.

Republican Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee may have more money, with millions from big oil and insurance companies, and a big assist from Whitman, but Laird has the sort of people-powered campaign every politician should hope for.

Chris Finnie sits on the Santa Cruz County Democratic Central Committee, serves as a delegate to the California Democratic Party, and is a member of the CDP Organizational Development Committee. She became a political activist in the Howard Dean campaign in 2004 and has since served on campaign staffs with Cegelis for Congress and McNerney for Congress. She also volunteered in the Obama campaign in 2008, and has acted as a volunteer consultant with several other campaigns. She ran for chair of the California Democratic Party in 2009 as what Calbuzz called the “bran muffin” candidate. In her spare time, Chris works as a freelance marketing copywriter.