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Archive for 2010



Press Clips: Another Huge Award for Calbuzz

Friday, December 10th, 2010

Now that the Pulitzer Prize committee has finally decided to join the 21st century by opening their competition to all conceivable forms of digital reporting, it’s only a matter of time before Calbuzz captures the Big Enchilada for our Special Brand of Journalism.

In the meantime, we’ve copped yet another top honor from our peers to put on the mantle right next to our already impressive collection:  we learned this week that we’ve won the silver medal in the prestigious “Crunks” competition, which ranks the best of the best in the “Year in Media Errors and Corrections.”

The list is compiled by Columbia Journalism Review columnist Craig Silverman, the world’s leading authority on news industry screw-ups, who honored us for our May 11 item setting the record straight on a conversation with California Democratic Party chairman John Burton a few days before:

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.

Silverman had earlier written a piece examining the weighty journalistic issues at stake in our extremely responsible effort, if we do say so ourselves, to ensure the record of history is clear about Burton’s statement; although we were disappointed not to win first place, we had to admit that the top finishing Ottawa Citizen did some outstanding work with its entry:

The Ottawa Citizen and Southam News wish to apologize for our apology to Mark Steyn, published Oct. 22. In correcting the incorrect statements about Mr. Steyn published Oct. 15, we incorrectly published the incorrect correction. We accept and regret that our initial regrets were unacceptable and we apologize to Mr. Steyn for any distress caused by our previous apology.

“On behalf of the thousands of employees in the Calbuzz global family who work indefatigably every day to live up to our corporate motto – ‘Shooting the Wounded Since March 2009,’” our executive committee said in a press statement, “we accept this award with gratitude and, of course, deep humility.”

Perspective perspectives: Amid the madness of non-stop bloviation and serious heavy breathing generated by the knuckleheads who drive the 24/7 news cycle, it’s nice to know that there are some level-headed political reporters who still value the importance of context and perspective.

Case in point: the excellent assemblage of data by Talking Points Memo illustrating that, despite the opinions-every-second proclivities of Beltway geniuses, President Obama’s standing among voters is not much different at this point in his administration than that of all other presidents since JFK.

Ditto the New York Times, which took a step back from the firestorm of what-it-all-means political speculation about Obama’s tax deal with Republicans to examine its likely impact on the economy, concluding that it’s worth about 3 million new jobs.

And a tip o’ the hat also to Slate, for digging out the numbers that show that it is the red states, whose representatives are constantly whining about excessive spending, that benefit the most from federal largesse, at the expense of taxpayers in places like, oh say, California. Also to Dan Walters for reminding us that, despite the intractable economic and political problems wrapped up in the state’s chronic deficits, it’s a piddling amount viewed in the context of the size and scope of the California economy.

Presidential follies: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg this week reignited speculation about running for president as an independent by giving a high-profile speech decrying partisanship and proclaiming the need for pragmatic centrist politicians. Then he promptly tried to tamp it down by telling Katie Couric he isn’t planning to run.

But the Washpost’s estimable Dan Balz isn’t so sure, and has a nice scooplet reporting exactly what data points Team Bloomberg privately considers to be crucial in its calculations.

As we’ve noted previously, a serious Bloomberg candidacy raises the nightmare specter of a Sarah Palin presidency. Assuming she wins the GOP nomination, the electoral college could splinter in a three-way race, leaving the selection of the nation’s chief executive in the hands of the right-wing Republican House of Representatives. Shudder.

Wiki Laughs: While everyone else in the world seems to have a firm opinion about the out-on-the-edge ethical and journalistic issues raised by the Wikileaks dump of State Department documents, Calbuzz is still mulling the meaning and morals of the incident, although we’re totally with Naomi Wolf on the absurdity of at least one part of  l’affaire Assange.

Today’s sign the end of civilization is near: There’s actually a person who’s even more repulsive than Sarah Palin.

Obama’s Tax Deal: A High Risk, High Reward Play

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

At a tipping point in his presidency, Barack Obama has embraced a Republican-slanted deal on taxes that has enraged his Democratic allies and emboldened his GOP enemies, a high-risk bet aimed at buying time on the economy while portraying himself as the only grown-up in Washington.

At a time when his recent weak and ineffectual performance increasingly draws comparisons to Jimmy Carter, Obama abandoned a fundamental campaign promise, and a basic premise of Democratic politics, by bowing to GOP demands to extend George Bush’s low tax rates for the richest Americans.

His agreement to continue those rates, for at least two years, is at the core of a compromise he negotiated with Republicans that he argues will help create jobs. The plan also calls for continuing current income tax rates for all other taxpayers and an extension of unemployment insurance benefits,  among other features. .

His play infuriated liberal Democrats in Congress, and, in a surprise move aimed at regaining control of the debate, Obama took to the White House press room Tuesday for a hastily convened news conference. In it, he not only strongly defended his deal as a pragmatic compromise that will help middle class Americans struggling in the sagging economy but also defiantly bashed his own political base, which is attacking him for ducking a fight against intransigent Republicans and their determination to protect the fortunes of the wealthiest one percent of people in the nation.

Comparing liberal unhappiness with his tax measure to the left’s loud complaints about his health care compromise, Obama said:

People will have the satisfaction of having a purist position and no victories for the American people. And we will be able to feel good about ourselves and sanctimonious about how pure our intentions are and how tough we are, and in the meantime the American people are still seeing themselves not able to get health insurance because of a pre-existing condition, or not being able to pay their bills because their unemployment insurance ran out. That can’t be the measure of — of how we think about our public service. That can’t be the measure of what it means to be a Democrat.

Obama’s move, in the wake of huge Democratic congressional losses last month, is the most daring – and dangerous – piece of presidential triangulation since Bill Clinton and his toe-sucking erstwhile consultant Dick Morris forged a deal on welfare reform with Republicans after Democrats suffered a similar pasting in the 1994 mid-terms.

With national unemployment stubbornly stuck around 10 percent, and his own image sagging in polls, Obama’s gambit carries both considerable opportunities and huge risks for his presidency and, oh yeah, for the future of the economy. Here are some of the key political cross-currents:

Policy: Economically, the cost to the government of the proposed measure is staggering — about $900 billion over the next two years,  including about $120 billion for the high end tax reductions,  plus hundreds of billions more for extending lower rates for all other tax payers, along with expanded maximum unemployment benefits, a reduction in the employee contribution to the payroll tax and other changes.

But with the fragile economic recovery still sputtering, despite increases in corporate profits and other statistical signs of economic growth, Obama has agreed to what amounts to a second stimulus bill in hopes of spurring growth and creating jobs by the time of his re-election campaign in 2012.

Even if the measure succeeds in this way, however, the bottom line is that none of the elements of the compromise are paid for with either higher taxes or spending cuts. This means that the $900 billion will balloon the deficit even more, at a time when the Tea Party and other right-wing factions are clamoring for debt reduction as the highest priority for the government.

Annie Lowery over at Slate has an excellent take on these issues.

Politics: One political goal of Obama’s triangulation play is to win back the support of independent voters, who strongly supported him in 2008 but overwhelmingly fled to the Republicans in last month’s elections.

By challenging fellow Democrats over the bill, Obama signals independents that he puts results above party, even as he harshly criticizes Republicans for placing their own ideology over the economic welfare of Americans. Speaking of the GOP’s stance on the tax issue, he said:

I think it’s tempting not to negotiate with hostage takers, unless the hostage gets harmed, then people will question the wisdom of that strategy. In this case the hostage was the American people and I was not willing to see them get harmed.

Positioning: By giving short shrift to what he portrays as the partisan concerns of both parties, Obama hopes to send the message that his political values are at their core those of a pragmatist, a post-partisan technocrat whose only interest is in making government work and giving people their money’s worth for their taxes.

“This isn’t an abstract debate,” Obama said several times during his news conference:

I’m not here to play games with the American people or the health of our economy. My job is to do whatever I can to get this economy moving. My job is to do whatever I can to spur job creation. My job is to look out for middle-class families who are struggling right now to get by, and Americans who are out of work through no fault of their own.

By kicking the can down the road for two years on the debate about taxes for the wealthy, Obama could gain some additional advantage. Because the extension is only for two years, the issue will resurface at the height of the 2012 campaign, and the president is gambling that both the economy and his own political standing will have improved by then.

On Tuesday, he repeatedly pointed to the Senate’s failure last weekend to pass legislation, which he favors, that would have continued lower tax rates for 98 percent of Americans, but raised them for those with annual incomes above $250,000 in one defeated bill and $1 million in another. But at the same time, he insisted that most Americans agree with his position:

This is not a situation in which I have failed to persuade the American people of the rightness of our position. I know the polls — the polls are on our side on this.

It is this argument that so infuriates many Democrats. With public opinion strongly in favor of raising taxes on the rich, liberals would love to pick a fight with Republicans on the issue, daring them to block the extension of lower rates for 98 percent of Americans on behalf of protecting the top few percent.

They argue that one of a president’s most crucial jobs is to rally the public on behalf of his program, particularly when a majority of voters agree with him, and many Democrats view Obama’s unwillingness to do exactly that as shameful political cowardice.

“I am not arguing from a position of political weakness,” Obama insisted.

Well, actually…

The biggest problem for Obama may be that, political calculations aside, he has basically ceded the merits of the argument over taxes to the Republicans. After winning the presidency by campaigning against conservative, supply-side economic orthodoxy, he now enthusiastically is pushing a proposal that is based on precisely those policies.

If the tax package works, unemployment declines and the economy starts to surge, Republicans can rightfully argue that they were right all along on taxes; if it doesn’t work, Obama will be stuck with both a bad economy and a lot of very angry Democrats.

P.S. As a political matter, the most memorable scenes from Obama’s news conference came when he was denouncing fellow Democrats. It was clear from his words and his tone that he is still carrying a major grudge over liberal denunciations for not getting a public option included in the final health care bill:

You know, so this notion that somehow, you know, we are willing to compromise too much, reminds me of the debate that we had during health care. This is the public option debate all over again.

We finally get health care for all Americans, something that Democrats have been fighting for a hundred years, but because there was a provision in there that they didn’t get, that would have affected maybe a couple of million people, even though we got health insurance for 30 million people…that somehow that was a sign of weakness and compromise. If that’s the standard by which we are measuring success or core principles, then let’s face it: We will never get anything done.

Further reading: Check out Jill Lawrence’s strong piece at Politics Daily, where she argues that the president did a pretty good job with a lousy hand.

Joe Cerrell: One of the Great Good Guys in Politics

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

By Rick Orlov
Special to Calbuzz

In the end, it was one more party thrown by Joe Cerrell for more than 600 of his closest friends.

A memorial service saluting Cerrell, who was the first of the modern political consultants who grew up in an age when politics was fought with “rough elbows..but no rancor,” was held at Christ the King Roman Catholic Church in the Larchmont District near his office and home in Los Angeles.

Cerrell, 75, died last Friday of complications from pneumonia and tributes immediately came in from across the country.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, had a flag that flew over the Capitol sent to the family.

Cerrell was known for his annual Christmas party at the HMS Bounty, across from the Ambassador Hotel — an event that packed in friends, clients, politicians and reporters who had come in contact with Cerrell over the years. Rather than cancel this one last party, the family decided to go ahead with it as a tribute to Cerrell.

Cerrell was remembered for his love and commitment to his family — wife Lee and children Steve Bullock, Joe Jr. and Sharon — as well as to USC, the Catholic Church and the New York Yankees.

A native of New York City, his parents moved to Los Angeles when he was in high school and he enrolled and graduated from Los Angeles High School. From there, he went on to USC, where he would graduate and later return to as a professor. Cerrell was a key player in forming USC’s Unruh Institute of Politics.

He came to politics in 1958, forming a Democratic Club at USC, and coming to the attention of Jesse Unruh, who would go on to become Assembly speaker and name Cerrell executive officer of the California Democratic Party.

With Los Angeles hosting the 1960 Democratic National Convention, Cerrell began work in the campaign for former President John F. Kennedy and forged friendships and alliances with former President Lyndon Johnson and Sen. Hubert Humphrey, among others.

He would work on the gubernatorial campaign of then-Attorney General Pat Brown and, later for his son, Jerry.

As son Steve Bullock recalled, he began forming a network of contacts that would rival anything on Facebook or Twitter.

And, as son Joe Jr., recounted, his father told him to “always remember one thing about a person, so you can ask them about it later.”

Politicians representing the past and present of Los Angeles, California and the United States sent in their remembrances and regrets at not being able to attend the memorial. Assembly Speaker John Perez had the newly sworn-in Assembly adjourn in Cerrell’s honor.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, delayed his travel plans to Sacramento to attend the swearing-in ceremonies, to deliver the first eulogy in honor of Cerrell, calling him a “mentor, an adviser, a friend.” Villaraigosa, like many, recalled his frequent meetings with Cerrell from the days he was an organizer with UTLA.

“We would meet for breakfast at Pacific Dining Car…and I used to drink only hot water and cranberry juice,” Villaraigosa said. “He would say, ‘What is that? You have to eat a real breakfast.’ Today, I had breakfast.”

Most of all, Villaraigosa said, “Joe loved politics. He didn’t care if you were Democratic or Republican. He cared about people.”

Hal Dash, who is now chief executive at Cerrell and worked for him for more than 30 years, said Cerrell would have been pleased with the turnout at the memorial.

“I can picture him turning to (his wife) Lee and telling her to get the guest books to see who was here and who wasn’t,” Dash said.

Robert Meyers, who worked for Newsweek magazine, told a story familiar to many journalists.

He had just begun work for the magazine when he received a call from Cerrell.

“I didn’t know who he was,” Meyers said. “But he said he wanted to introduce himself and that if I needed any help on local, state or national politics, he was there.”

That began a lifelong friendship that spanned more than 40 years.

“He told me once he wanted to open an Italian-Jewish deli,” Meyers recalled. “I asked him if that was to honor his parents, because his mother was Jewish. No, he told me, he wanted to do it just to have a place named Kosher Nostra.”

Team eMeg Grabs the Green, Proves They’re Yellow

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Not since Vice President Dick Cheney hid out in the “secret” bunker under the old U.S. Naval Observatory following the attacks of 9/11 have we seen an act of political cowardice as brazen as the announced refusal by Meg Whitman’s lavishly paid loser consultants to show up at the upcoming post-election debriefing sponsored by the Institute of Governmental Studies at Berkeley.

Well, maybe that’s unfair to Cheney. He had an excuse: the military and Secret Service insisted on protecting the chain of command in the face of uncertainty.

But Henry Gomez, Mike Murphy, Rob Stutzman, Jeff Randle, Mitch Zak, Jilian Hasner, Tucker Bounds and Sarah Pompei have no such excuse. Especially our friend Murph, who was paid a $1 million signing bonus (masquerading as an investment in his film company) and $60,000 a month, plus what else we’ll know when the final financial report is released.

“I don’t think we’re going to go,” Stutzman told the L.A. Times. “It’s self-indulgent, by self-important scholars and journalists. It is what it is.”

No, this is what it is: the logical extension of eMeg’s infamous statement to her housekeeper, Nicky Diaz: “You don’t know me and I don’t know you.” Chickenshit, dismissive arrogance.

Since its inception after the 1990 campaign, IGS “has brought together the state’s politicos after each gubernatorial election,” wrote Ethan Rarick in the preface to the book on the 2006 conference. “At the center of the conference are the consultants and staff members who ran the major campaigns, but the event also draws the state’s most involved and observant pollsters, political journalists and political scientists. For two days, the Berkeley campus becomes the center of the state’s political universe, a hotbed of debate and discussion about California and its voters.

“The sessions – open to the public and on the record – are videotaped, and the transcript is then edited into a readable and cohesive form. Published as a book, the conference proceedings serve as the principal historical record of California gubernatorial campaigns.”

Never before has a major campaign failed to represent itself at the conference. Moreover, the 2010 governor’s race – with eMeg’s unprecedented spending (we expect it’ll tilt the scales at $180 million, when all is said and done) – cries out to be studied, dissected, analyzed and understood.

Gov.-elect Jerry Brown’s team will be there. That will be worthwhile. But truth be told, Steve Glazer, Sterling Clifford, Anne Gust Brown, Jim Moore, Joe Trippi and Krusty the General himself, all were pretty damn accessible and transparent during the campaign. If you had a question about strategy, tactics, intentions, fundraising, polling, whatever, they held back very little.

Maybe they’ll come clean about who called Whitman a “whore” for trading pension benefits for the support of police groups. (Although we guessed it was Anne and tried unsuccessfully to get her to break the news to us.) But we don’t expect to hear a lot of insider details that will alter how we saw their campaign unfold.

Team Whitman, on the other hand, was the most self-important, impenetrable political death star we’ve ever encountered in California politics. And that includes the fact that at least one of your Calbuzzers was frozen out in 1998 by the Al Checchi campaign altogether after writing the (unchallenged) history of his (mis)management of Northwest Airlines.

“It’s amazing to me that somebody [Murphy] would do five minutes on a national television program [Meet the Press] but won’t go back and forth with the California political writers,” said Democrat Roger Salazar, who managed the independent committee California Working Families for Jerry Brown. “Not showing up at one of the most respected forums in California politics is cowardly. You’d think that $60,000 a month would buy you some guts.”

Gomez has no history in California politics. He was eMeg’s lapdog at eBay and was her No. 1 horse whisperer during the race. But Murphy, the longtime strategist who put presidential would-be Lamar Alexander in a Pendleton back in 1996, was the chief political professional in the Armies of eMeg – the only one who had private time with Whitman in the backstage green rooms at all three debates, for example.

He’s not talking about his reasons for not showing up. Which leaves Stutzman as the next most senior strategist to comment. “There’s a lot of things people are going to ask that we’re never going to disclose — and that are none of their business,” he told the S.F. Chronicle the other day.

In other words: fuck you, you fucking fucks.

The Team Whitman principals deny they have non-disclosure agreements that are keeping them from discussing the internal workings of the campaign (although their agreements could require them to deny they exist). Which suggests their refusal really is just about cowardice and arrogance.

Frankly, we don’t get it. It would be in Team Whitman’s interest to justify their decisions and defend their performance. Otherwise, the journalists, scholars and politicos will have to depend on Whitman’s opponents and neutral analysts to explain:

– Why the best they could do — with unprecedented campaign resources, a raging pro-Republican year and a retread 72-year-old opponent – was 10 points more than GOP registration.
– What were their strategic and tactical goals at various points throughout the campaign? How did they craft their messages? What data did they rely on?
– Who knew what and when about Nicky Diaz? What was their initial plan to deal with Whitman’s lack of a voting history? Why did they decide not to emphasize her family?
– How did they intend to overcome the Democratic registration advantage? What did they think Brown’s greatest weaknesses were? Why could they never sustain a message about the issues? What was the effect of the independent expenditure campaigns against Whitman during the summer?
– Who made the decision to shield Whitman from California political writers? What happened to their much-vaunted voter-targeting strategy? How much of their media experimentation was just a test run for future clients? How come they couldn’t help any other Republican candidates?

These are just a few of the questions Team eMeg won’t be answering anytime soon. But Rarick, who runs the program at IGS, is holding out hope that the Whitman campaign will be represented.

“We would be delighted if Ms. Whitman wants to attend personally. I was surprised to see Rob Stutzman quoted on the Chronicle’s blog to the effect that Ms. Whitman was not consulted on the decision to skip the conference,” he told us in an email. “I think it is incumbent upon us to make every possible effort to allow the Whitman campaign to defend itself, and thus although candidates do not normally participate directly in this conference, we have reached out this morning and invited Ms. Whitman to attend personally and participate on the panels. We’d be delighted if she would like to attend.”

As for Calbuzz, we’d still like to have dinner with Meg.