Archive for 2011

Press Clips: Steamy, Shocking Stevenson Scandals!

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

“An editor,” Adlai Stevenson famously said, “is someone who separates the wheat from the chaff – and then prints the chaff.”

In a week when our own Department of Sound Editorial Judgment and Cheesy SEO Gimmicks was unhealthily focused on Waity Katy-Big Willie wedding fever, Obama’s snoozzzefest appearance at Facebook and Charlie Sheen’s long overdue entry into the birther controversy, here’s a look at the top  stories that got stuck in the thresher:

1-Myths about U.S. taxes. Must-read of the week is the hard-hitting takeout on federal taxes by David Cay Johnson, the former New York Times reporter who won a Pulitzer in 2001 for his reporting on such matters.

Johnston left the MSM in 2008 in favor of more, um, honest work, and this authoritative and detailed dismantling of the loopy, 30-year old theory of tax cut supply side economics, which congressional Republicans once again are trumpeting as the easy answer to all of life’s problem, is the toughest policy takedown since Dr. Pierre Louis put the kibosh on using leeches to treat pneumonia:

For three decades, we have conducted a massive economic experiment, testing a theory known as supply-side economics…

You would think that whether this grand experiment worked would be settled after three decades. You would think the practitioners of the dismal science of economics would…pronounce a verdict, the way Galileo and Copernicus did when they showed that geocentrism was a fantasy…But economics is not like that. It is not like physics with its laws and arithmetic with its absolute values.

Tax policy is something the Framers left to politics. And in politics, the facts often matter less then who has the biggest bullhorn.

The report got precious little pick-up, no doubt because it was distributed by the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, giving the MSM a perfect (to them) reason to ignore it; Johnston, however, is a very serious guy, and his fact-upon-fact-upon-fact reporting offered overwhelming evidence that the supply side economic growth fantasy has done little but shift the tax burden from the rich onto working people.

2-Paul Ryan gets booed. Some of our conservative ideologue friends have recently been bashing us for harping on the fact that American democracy is morphing into oligarchy, and we confess that we have been recently guilty of over-reliance on, you know, facts rather than opinions on the matter.

But if anybody doubts that the extraordinary concentration of wealth in the hands of a tiny cohort of the uber rich is fast becoming a mainstream issue, check out this video, as Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the genius behind the GOP’s budget plan, gets booed and hooted by his own constituents for his claim that the 1 percenters are paying their fair share.

3-Both debt plans are goofy. We’re not much for on-the-one-hand-this-on-the-other-hand-that reporting, but Washpost financial columnist Robert Samuelson does a swell job of explaining why neither of the long-term debt plans put forth by Ryan and by President Obama represent serious economic policy.

In the Great Budget Debate, Democrats and Republicans are closer than you might think. Neither is proposing a balanced budget anytime soon; both peddle soothing myths to convince supporters that they’re upholding either “liberal” or “conservative” values….

We won’t make much progress until (a) Democrats concede that spending control requires genuine cuts in Social Security and Medicare, which now total $1.3 trillion annually and represent 35 percent of federal outlays;  and (b) Republicans acknowledge that, even after significant spending cuts, tax increases will be needed to balance the budget. Last week, there was little sign of either. ..

What we have instead is a public relations war. Both parties propound brands of wishful thinking designed to make it seem that they’re accomplishing more than they are.

4-Donald Trump: Of course, I’m an excellent driver. Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump (now there’s a phrase we never thought we’d write) is confounding the pundits by employing the evermore popular “death of truth” strategy of saying whatever the hell he wants without regard to, uh, the real world. The producers of “Hardball” put together a terrific mash-up that makes clear how he gets away with it. (PS: Calbuzz bets he won’t actually mount a real campaign.)

5-What the Standard & and Poor’s move means. Much hysteria and rending of garments, not to mention new record amounts of political spin, followed the S&P’s warning that the U.S. could lose its highest sovereign credit rating if Washington doesn’t get adopt a serious long-term debt policy (see #3).

For of those of you, like us, who think “Triple A” refers to the Fresno Grizzlies, Kathleen Pender, the Chron’s triple smart money columnist, makes it all perfectly clear with an old school Q&A.

6-Schwarzenegger stricken with logorrhea. As if there was much doubt, it’s becoming clearer all the time that Susan Kennedy was the brains, such as they were, behind the Schwarzmuscle Administration. Now that there’s no one around to make him stop flopping his gums, the playacting former governor keeps digging himself in deeper by yammering on about his scandalous behavior on his way out the door, reducing the prison sentence of the son of former Speaker Fabian Nunez in the stabbing death of a college student.

First off, Herr Orange Hair feigned boredom and emitted a sarcastic snore when a reporter asked him about the matter, and then he sought to defend himself by admitting that he did it for the excellent reason that Nunez Sr. is a pal of his.

“I feel good about the decision …. I happen to know the kid really well. I don’t apologize about it,” said Schwarzenegger, who noted in his commutation order that Esteban Nuñez, 21, did not deliver the fatal wound that led to Santos’ death. “There’s criticism out there. I think it’s just because of our working relationship and all that. It maybe was kind of saying, ‘That’s why he did it.’ Well, hello! I mean, of course you help a friend.”

What a no-class jerk.

7-Say it ain’t so, Meg. Our close personal friend Failed Republican candidate for governor Meg Whitman dealt a serious dash to our hopes for a 2012 Dream Cage Match, when she told Politico she’s “definitely not” making a run against Senator Difi next year.

That said, eMeg definitely did leave the door ajar for a future campaign, offering Fox a mealy-mouthed “I doubt it” when they asked her if she’d run for office again. Mores’ the pity, since it finally dawned on Her Megness  what a huge blunder she made in botching the immigration issue.

8- Pot’s not green. Lawrence Berkeley National Lab researcher Evan Mills reports that indoor marijuana production accounts for 1% of the entire electricity consumption of the U.S. or about $5 billion a year.

While 1% may not seem like a lot, the report claims that smoking one single Cannabis joint is equivalent to running a 100-watt light bulb for 17 hours. That Cannabis cigarette carries two pounds of CO2 emissions.

According to the report:

Each four-by-four-foot production module doubles the electricity use of an average U.S. home and triples that of an average California home. The added electricity use is equivalent to running about 30 refrigerators. Processed Cannabis results in 3000-times its weight in emissions. For off-grid production, it requires 70 gallons of diesel fuel to produce one indoor Cannabis plant, or 140 gallons with smaller, less-efficient gasoline generators.

Save the Earth – smoke seeds and stems!

9-Memo to Joel Fox: Corporate apologists and anti-tax jihadists just love to cite business climate rankings and indices that show California compares poorly with other states when measuring productivity, taxes, regulation and other costs of doing business – even though California continues to grow at or above the national average in terms of employment, wages and output. How can that be? Researchers at the Public Policy Institute of California wondered. Here’s what they found:

Business climate indexes that focus on productivity exhibit essentially no relationship to economic growth. In contrast, some of the indexes that focus on taxes and costs demonstrate a clear relationship with employment growth and, to a lesser extent, wage and Gross State Product growth . . .

But factors beyond the control of policy—for instance, a state’s weather, population density, and industry mix—demonstrate a stronger relationship with economic growth than the measures included even in the tax-and-cost-focused indexes…

The clearest policy recommendations resulting from this study would be for California to examine its welfare and transfer policies, with an eye toward reducing work disincentives, and to simplify corporate taxation by better aligning the state tax with the federal corporate tax and by reducing credits and other non-uniform treatment of corporate income. These features—not the overall tax rate or the overall size of government—demonstrate the strongest relationship with economic growth in our analysis.

Now about that split roll tax assessment…

10-Girl makes cool animal sounds. What can we say – we’re simply in awe. H/T Jezebel.

Belva Davis, Barry Goldwater, Tea Partiers and Race

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

On the second night of the 1964 Republican National Convention, a wannabe radio reporter named Belva Davis sat in the nosebleed seats of San Francisco’s sweltering Cow Palace covering her first big story, an historic and raucous event that scared the hell out of her.

Today, the 78-year old Davis is in her sixth decade of working as a California broadcast journalist, an extraordinary career that has earned her national acclaim and countless awards since she became the first African-American woman in the West ever hired as a TV news reporter.

But on Tuesday, July 14, 1964, the day before the GOP confab would nominate U.S.  Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona for president, she was a young and callow radio traffic manager who’d accompanied Louis Freeman, news director of a small black station in Oakland, who’d talked his way into a couple of convention spectator passes.

Politically, it was an extraordinary night, as the moderate and conservative wings of the GOP bitterly clashed and split over the Goldwater faction’s platform, an event that still echoes today. Personally, it was for Davis an astonishing spectacle of anger, chaos and racism that she never forgot.

In her terrific new memoir, “Never in My Wildest Dreams: A Black Woman’s Life in Journalism,” she recounts what happened shortly after 10 p.m., when liberal New York governor Nelson Rockefeller was drowned out by screaming Goldwater delegates while urging passage of a platform amendment to condemn the Ku Klux Klan and the John Birch Society:

While the Goldwater organization tried to keep its delegates in check on the floor, snarling Goldwater fans in the galleries around us were off the leash. The mood turned unmistakably menacing…

Suddenly Louis and I heard a voice yell, “Hey, look at those two up there!” The accuser pointed us out, and several spectators swarmed beneath us. “Hey niggers!” they yelled. “What the hell are you niggers doing in here?’”

I could feel the hair rising on the back of my neck as I looked into faces turned scarlet and sweaty by heat and hostility. Louis, in suit and tie and perpetually dignified, turned to me and said with all the nonchalance he could muster, “Well, I think that’s enough for today.” Methodically we began wrapping up our equipment into suitcases.

As we began our descent down the ramps of the Cow Palace, a self-appointed posse dangled over the railings, taunting. “Niggers!” “Get out of here, boy!” “You too, nigger bitch!” “Go on, get out!” “I’m gonna kill your ass!”

I stared straight ahead, putting one foot in front of the other like a soldier who would not be deterred from a mission. The throng began tossing garbage at us: wadded up convention programs, mustard-soaked hot dogs, half-eaten Snickers bars. My goal was to appear deceptively serene, mastering the mask of dispassion I had perfected since childhood to steel myself against any insults the outside world hurled my way.

Then a glass soda bottle whizzed within inches of my skull. I heard it whack against the concrete and shatter. I didn’t look back, but I glanced sideways at Louis and felt my lower lip began to quiver. He was determined we would give our tormentors no satisfaction.

“If you start to cry,” he muttered, “I’ll break your leg.”

Belva’s story: The self-possession, courage and stoicism Davis displayed that night would guide her through a wearying series of professional, political and personal obstacles as she built her singular career.

As ambitious, energetic and determined as she was, however, it’s hard to imagine someone with more strikes against them: Born to a 14-year old in rural Louisiana during the Depression, abused as a child and raised by relatives in Oakland, she clawed her way into the white male-dominated news industry, climbing her way up despite the most unlikely of profiles: black, female, short of stature, equipped with a soft  voice and no college degree, for years herself a single mother.

Early on, she worked as a DJ at a Bay Area station that specialized in white pop music, where she was chastised by her boss for sneaking a Miles Davis  cut on the air late at night; the same manager also told her to try to sound more like “who you really are” – i.e. more black – so he’d get public props for hiring her; when she applied for her first TV job in San Francisco, she was told, “I’m sorry, but we’re just not hiring any Negresses.”

“I really bought the American story,” Belva told us. “I lived the American story.”

Her memoir, written with political journalist Vicki Haddock, is both a personal narrative and a modern political history of the Bay Area, California and, at times, the nation.

From ducking bullets and tear gas during street riots in Berkeley and being spat upon by Ku Klux Klan members at a demonstration she covered in Georgia, her story is filled with tales of some of the biggest news stories of the past half-century, from the AIDS epidemic, the civil rights movement and San Francisco’s City Hall assassinations, to one-on-one interviews with, among others, Muhammad Ali, Fidel Castro and the Rev. Jim Jones.

As a woman and an African-American, Davis said she always felt the pressures of blazing a trail for others. She constantly worked to master her emotions, in order to present the public face of the consummate professional newswoman – confident, imperturbable and scrupulously objective. Inside, she was afflicted by hurts and humiliations, fears and anxieties that she could never let show.

“I spent a whole lifetime being very careful of how I crafted every comment,” she told us. “I locked it up. Until I released it in this book.”

GOP ’64 and the Tea Party: Curiosity piqued by Belva’s recollections of that famous convention, Calbuzz set about tracking down the GOP platform over which long-lost Republican liberals and Goldwater conservatives clashed. Lo and behold, thanks to the UCSB American Presidency Project, what we found was an 8,740 word document that nearly 50 years later might serve as a manifesto for today’s Tea Party Republicans.

Attacking Democrats as “Federal extremists,” who have “enslaved” and “seek to master” ordinary Americans, the platform vowed , among other things, that Republicans would make deficit reduction their highest economic priority, oppose the “compulsory Democratic scheme” of Medicare and roll back actions of the Kennedy-Johnson Administration that “violently thrust Federal power into the free market.”

A week after the convention, Time magazine described it this way:

As carefully and deliberately as an architect planning a skyscraper, the Republican Convention drew its 1964 platform design to the political and philosophical specifications of Barry Goldwater…It struck out against costly, deficit-creating federal paternalism in a way that went well beyond the 1960 Republican platform.

It approved a platform of conservatism in the word’s dictionary sense, promising tightfisted fiscal policy, deploring pervasive federal influence, and urging local action to deal with local problems. Foreign-policy planks have a distinctive hard-line look about them… Principal planks:

GOVERNMENT SPENDING. Charging that Democrats have “burdened this nation with four unbalanced budgets in a row,” the platform promises “a reduction of not less than $5 billion in the present level of spending” and “an end to chronic deficit financing.” The 1960 Republican platform, in contrast, made no promise of a spending cut, even acknowledged the desirability of deficit spending in time of “economic adversity.”

TAXES. In order that “each individual may keep more of his earnings,” the G.O.P. pledges a removal of wartime federal excise taxes on such items as jewelry, cosmetics and luggage. Moreover, it promises further reduction in individual and corporate tax rates as “fiscal discipline is restored.” …

MEDICARE. Unlike the 1960 platform, the plank summarily rejects a medical-aid plan financed and administered through social security. The G.O.P. favors “full coverage of all medical and hospital costs of needy elderly people, financed by general revenues through broader implementation of federal-state plans, rather than the compulsory Democratic scheme covering only a small percentage of such costs for everyone regardless of need.”

Republicans and race: Debate over what the platform should say about civil rights set the stage for the outburst of racism that Belva Davis experienced at the convention (her recall is, if anything, understated: e.g. see Jackie Robinson’s account of how blacks were treated at the event).

Although Goldwater had voted in the Senate against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the convention approved a plank promising “full implementation and faithful execution” of that then-recent legislation.

Passage came, however, after “nearly 70 percent of the convention delegates, acting on (Goldwater’s) campaign’s instructions, had voted down a platform plank affirming the constitutionality” of the measure, according to a reconstruction in Smithsonian magazine,  and only in conjunction with a platform statement opposing affirmative action – described as “federally-sponsored ‘inverse discrimination’” – in hiring and the use of busing to achieve school desegregation.

While today’s Tea Party leaders (including the consultants making millions from the deal) do their best to avoid engaging over such divisive social issues, Belva Davis, like other African-Americans, traces the intensity and ferocity of the movement’s opposition to America’s first black president  “not (to) Obama’s ability to do the job, but because of his race.”

As evidence of the role that race still plays in conservative politics, Davis cited the Tea Party’s embrace of “birthers,” the slurs and spittle hurled by activists at Representatives and civil rights leaders John Lewis and James Clyburn at health care bill protests, and the recent email depicting Obama as a chimpanzee that was sent out by Tea Partier and Orange County Republican Central Committee member Marilyn Davenport.

(To his credit, newly elected Republican state chairman Tom Del Beccaro put out a statement “denouncing” the Davenport email. Unfortunately, almost anyone who read it would have no idea what he was talking about: rather than naming Davenport, he referred vaguely to a “committee member” and instead of clearly stating the matter, he opaquely mentioned “the actions in question”).

“Things haven’t changed – it’s not even veiled,” Davis said when asked about the racially offensive email. “I really thought my grandchildren would not have to endure those kinds of hurts.”

Calbuzz Op-Ed: Why CA Should Tax Online Sales

Monday, April 18th, 2011

By Alissa Anderson
and Jean Ross
Special to Calbuzz

On this “Tax Day” and throughout the year, millions of Californians do their part to sustain the schools, health care, public safety, and other foundations of a healthy state. But projections show today’s collection will come up at least $1 billion short of what is due because most Californians won’t add the sales tax they owe on online purchases to the bottom of their California income tax form. With the state once again facing tough budget times, these dollars could go a long way to close our gaping budget gap.

Most Californians may not realize that if a retailer fails to collect the sales tax due on a book, a pair of shoes, or other purchase made online, the purchaser still owes the tax. This requirement is nothing new – it’s been part of state law since 1935. The hitch comes in trying to collect the tax. In fact, only 1 percent of those who buy online from out-of-state companies like Amazon.com currently pay the taxes due. As online sales soar, they also take a big, and growing, bite out of the state’s revenue collection.

Some online merchants have structured their businesses explicitly around tax avoidance – locating in small, low, or no sales tax states – while refusing to cooperate with state tax officials trying to collect what’s due. These sellers under price local “brick-and-mortar” stores and California-based online firms by betting consumers will never pay the tax, and hurt the local economies they support. California businesses lost an estimated $4.1 billion in sales to online retailers in 2010, costing jobs and pulling dollars out of local communities, a trend that continues to grow.

While US Supreme Court rulings prevent states from requiring businesses that operate entirely outside their borders to collect taxes owed, California does have a number of options available to boost compliance, help close the budget gap, and level the playing field for hometown businesses. The urgency of the situation and complexity of tax avoidance strategies used by online sellers demands a multi-pronged attack aimed at shifting the responsibility for collecting taxes owed from purchasers to sellers – similar to requirements imposed on in-state businesses.

Sen. Loni Hancock

First, lawmakers should give state tax officials clear direction to pursue any and all avenues to require out-of-state sellers to collect taxes owed, following precedent established by states such as Minnesota and Virginia. Currently before the Legislature, SB 234 – authored by State Senator Loni Hancock and sponsored by Betty Yee, a member of the state’s elected tax agency – would provide this framework. This approach would allow California to tailor its approach to rapidly evolving technology and law.

Lawmakers should also direct tax officials to aggressively pursue retailers that use complex corporate structures to avoid collecting amounts owed. An Amazon subsidiary, for example, develops its wildly popular Kindle in Silicon Valley while its corporate parent dodges responsibility to collect sales taxes from California-based customers. Assemblymember Chuck Calderon’s AB 155 would clarify this responsibility.

A third approach – AB 153 by Assemblymember Nancy Skinner – modeled on New York law, clarifies that out-of-state firms that use California-based “affiliates” for marketing purposes are responsible for collecting sales taxes on products sold to Californians.

Together, these efforts represent a comprehensive approach needed to counter efforts from Amazon and other companies to protect a business model that shortchanges the state and hurts homegrown businesses. California should join states from Texas to New York and take comprehensive and aggressive action. By taking our rightful role as leader as the nation’s largest market state, the Golden State can pave the way to a national solution.

Alissa Anderson is deputy director and Jean Ross is executive director of the California Budget Project, a nonpartisan fiscal and policy research group in Sacramento.