Archive for 2011

Dems’ Whack Job on Reps Needs More Omerta

Friday, May 6th, 2011

If there’s one thing we can’t stand in politics, it’s a display of fake umbrage.

As far as Calbuzz is concerned, pretending to take grievous offense at the not-very-grievous words or actions of a political foe — and doing so with an affected or exaggerated tone of earnestness — ranks right up there with a World Cup competitor grabbing his crotch and screaming in false agony after incidental contact, or an NBA player sprawling on the floor after a little elbow love tap inside the paint.

Therefore, we were seriously underwhelmed when anti-government extremist Jon Coupal, who long ago  mastered the low art of faux umbrage fundraising, put on a frightful show of phony moaning and groaning over at Flashreport. In response to Democratic discussions of axing state spending in Republican districts, to get even for the GOP’s hold-our-breath-’til-we-turn-blue stance on the budget, the late Howard Jarvis’s favorite towel boy filed a post called “Capone Would Be Proud.”

Today, two Sacramento politicians have come up with a new approach to the old extortion game. In the updated version of the protection racket, those being extorted aren’t just shopkeepers, but everyday working people and their families, and those selling protection, Senate Pro Tem Darrell “The Enforcer” Steinberg and state Treasurer Bill “Leg Breaker” Lockyer may not be wearing fedoras, but they are nearly as menacing as the old gangsters. The threat? If you don’t make a payoff by agreeing to higher taxes, you will be targeted with the loss of state services.


Coupal’s fainting couch collapse in reaction to the Steinyer (Lockberg?) here’s-your-no-taxes-budget-right-here-pal plan would be hugely laughable if it wasn’t so intellectually dishonest. At a time when he and other right-wing mucky-mucks keep hurling vile threats at Republican lawmakers who show any sign of independence (not to mention rational thought) on the budget, hearing him squeal and wilt like a blushing Victorian virgin at the sight of a little hardball is insufferable.

(Click on cartoon for a larger version)

An oath of silence: Coupal does get one thing right, though: If the Dems are serious about the notion of shorting Republican districts in the budget (which as a practical matter shouldn’t be all that difficult, given the new majority vote rule for approving a spending plan) they really need to put a lot more la cosa nostra into the effort.

That means not only acting with uncharacteristic, it’s-strictly-business ruthlessness (esp. Steinberg, whose concern for the feelings of others often makes him seem like an Esalen hot tub counselor, circa 1969), but also refraining from talking about what it is they’re going to do to the Reps.

Let’s review our recent wet work history: When Tony Soprano whacked Big Pussy Bonpensiero, did he let him know before inviting him onto the Stugots? When Michael Corelone had Sal Tessio taken out, did he call a press conference to announce the traitor had a date with piano wire? When Tuddy Cicero shot Tommy in the face in “Goodfellas,” so his mother couldn’t have an open casket, did he give Henry and Jimmy a heads-up?

No, no and no.

So Bugsy Steiny and Three-Finger Bill: if you want to punish Republicans just do it and stop talking about it. It’s politically safer – and far more fearfully effective — to let  Senator Bob “Menopause” Dutton just suddenly discover that Redlands Community College has been zeroed out of the education budget rather than flapping your gums, waving your arms and  taking out a damn ad in the Sac Bee to explain what you’re doing.

A lesson in Mafia management: Example: When New York crime boss John Gotti used the ole I-got-a-guy-who-knows-a-guy-who-knows-a-guy technique to whack some other guy, he played it waayyy close to the chest in discussing the matter with Bosco “The Yugo” Randonvich:

GOTTI: Did you take care of that thing?
BOSCO: The thing at the club? Or the thing on 12th?
GOTTI: No, the thing at Rocco’s.
BOSCO: Oh, that thing. Fugetaboutit. It’s done. Just the way yo
u ask.

Likewise, this FBI-taped Gotti discussion with mobster Carlo Tramonti, in which the Dapper Don could plausibly say he was merely conversing about his  hemorrhoids:

GOTTI: Remember that pain in my ass I was telling you about? I need it taken care of.
TRAMONTI: No problem Boss. I gotta guy.
GOTTI: What guy?
TRAMONTI: The guy Frankie The Hunch used.
GOTTI: Right, right. Frankie said he was a goodfella. Set it up.

The Senator from Abottabad: In other words, if editorial cartoonists like our Tom Meyer – not to mention political thugs like Coupal — are going to compare you to the bad guys on the “Untouchables,” you might as well do it right.

So if and when a new state budget passes with $13 billion of new cuts in Republican-only districts, this is the only conversation that the Democratic authors of the idea should be having:

LOCKYER: Did you take care of that thing I asked you about?
STEINBERG: What thing? The one thing or that other thing?
LOCKYER: The one thing at the place.
STEINBERG: You talking about the first thing or the second thing?
LOCKYER: What second thing?
STEINBERG: I only know one second thing.
LOCKYER: Did you talk to the guy?
STEINBERG: What guy?
LOCKYER: The guy with the thing!
STEINBERG: What thing?
LOCKYER: What are you talking about?
STEINBERG: How should I know?

Secret Calbuzz Memo: Quayle is Key to the Budget

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

In our long-running effort to make sense of the self-cancelling political views of Californians, the Calbuzz Department of Public Attitude Deciphering and Paradoxical Enigmas  has turned for fresh insight to an unlikely analyst: former Vice President Dan Quayle.

Long before Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman and Donald Trump, the nation’s 44th vice president pioneered the politics of buffoonery, so he seems superbly qualified to explain the nonsensical opinions of California voters, whose breathtaking ignorance about state government enables the belief that they are entitled to a splendid array of public services virtually for free. And indeed, while combing the countless volumes of stupid Quayle quotes assembled by internet scholars – here here and here for example – we stumbled upon les mots justes, compounded by Hoosier Danny during the 1988 campaign:

“Votes are like trees, if you are trying to build a forest,” Quayle said. “If you have more trees than you have forests, then at that point the pollsters will probably say you will win.”

We sure as hell can’t argue with that.

For us, Quayle’s trenchant observation makes as much sense as anything else in trying to describe the current state of affairs in Sacramento, where the out-of-ideas intellectual exhaustion of a Democratic governor and the toxic recklessness of the Republican minority have combined with the all-about-me bleatings of economic special interests and the two-headed contradictions of an ill-informed, passive electorate to shape a desultory existential crisis, in which the very notion of democratic governance is called into question.

While the yeoman-like Dan Walters appears to be the last person left in the Capitol still capable of rational thought about a short-term way out of the morass, our own Tom Meyer today imagines a more chilling vision of the future, as the long-term, real-world implications of our something-for-nothing electorate take hold in the public schools.

click cartoon for a larger view.

Skewed and screwy: John Myers superbly summed up the skewed and screwy battle field on which school kids, teachers and education programs are at once the most important players and the biggest pawns, Riffing on the recent PPIC poll results on Governor Brown’s budget proposal, Myers writes:

The poll also seemed to confirm the suspicion that education leaders are a victim of their own success at mitigating, as much as possible, previous budget cuts. Only 35% of parents surveyed said their child’s school has been “affected a lot” by recent cuts; a combined 60% said those cuts had impacted things either somewhat (41%) or not at all (19%). In other words: where’s the crisis?

Therein lies a key challenge for Governor Brown and legislative leaders: getting voters — should the issue of taxes ever make it to the ballot — to see the idea of additional cuts as devastating rather than inconvenient. After all, PPIC also found that 52% of those surveyed believe California K-12 spending is at or above the national average, thus suggesting there are probably a number folks who think there’s room to cut. In truth, though, California actually ranks near the bottom of states in per pupil spending.

But here again, the poll suggests a path for the governor and his supporters to follow — again, should an election come to pass: 65% of likely voters say they’d be “very concerned” about laying off teachers.

That’s exactly the case made so far by the California Teachers Association in ads broadcast on TV stations around the state. Of course, fewer people (52%) felt the same sense of concern about bigger classes, an idea unpopular with teachers. And in an unrelated question, 69% said that a teacher’s salary should be “very” or “somewhat” tied to student achievement.

The issue of class size points out a limitation — perhaps, even, a danger — in governing by polling. How does one square the fact that only 52% of respondents would be “very concerned” about larger class sizes… yet 77% said eliminating K-3 class size reduction programs is a “bad idea?” Does that mean they’d limit it to bigger classes for older kids? Or can an idea be “bad” but also necessary?

That’s the kind of question that makes our head hurt. Really bad. And why we’re reduced to looking to great minds like Dan Quayle for answers.

P.S. The question of Class Size Reduction raised by Myers’ take on PPIC, while mostly peripheral to the overall deficit fight, is a prime example of the maddening complexity of politics vs. policy debates strewn throughout the budget battle. Peter Schrag and the Bay Citizen’s Jen Gollan churned out two good, if conflicting, takes on the subject this week.

ICYMI: Stewart on the Obama Gets Osama saga was the alpha takeout on the subject although Jimmy Fallon’s Trump whining about the president interrupting “Celebrity Apprentice” was a close second, as Colbert finished a distant third.

After Winning It All, CA Dems are Still Fit to be Tied

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

SACRAMENTO — California’s Democrats turned back the Republican red wave that swept across the country last November, returning Barbara Boxer to the U.S. Senate, winning all of their Congressional and state Senate seats, picking up a spot in the Assembly and capturing all of the statewide constitutional offices, including bringing Jerry Brown back for a third term as governor.

And they’re pissed off.

They’re furious that labor unions are under attack from Madison to Costa Mesa. They’re angry that Republicans in Congress are threatening Medicare and a woman’s right to choose. They’re enraged about tax breaks for the wealthy, subsidies for oil companies, assaults on the environment, injustice for immigrants. And they’re especially irate that the minority party in Sacramento has forced their majority-party legislators to approve $12.5 billion in cuts with no concessions that would allow passage of a state budget.

Welcome to the California Democratic Party state convention, where the common world view holds that all men are good looking, all women are strong and all children are above average.

Despite the prospect that there would be absolutely no news produced last weekend, the Calbuzz Division of Truth, Justice and Self-Flagellation was dispatched to Sacramento to take the pulse of the Democrats. We can report: they are alive, seething and, although they didn’t get to hear from the governor they elected because he was recovering from an operation to remove a skin cancer, pretty darn pleased with themselves.

“I don’t know about you but I’m tired of playing defense,” said Attorney General Kamala Harris in the best speech we heard all weekend. “I say it’s time to play offense.”

What they plan to do about their ire is not altogether certain. One thing they won’t do, Assembly Speaker John Perez told the delegates: “We are not going to do their dirty work for them. We are not going to pass an all-cuts budget.”

Perez and many others throughout the Sacramento Convention Center pledged that they would be working in the open primary system to elect Democrats in what are now Republican legislative districts, seeking a two-thirds majority that would help what Perez called the GOP’s “proud march toward irrelevance.”

As Treasurer Bill Lockyer put it, ridiculing Republicans for refusing to lift a finger to help close state’s remaining $15.4 billion deficit: “It’s time you did your job and help the poorest in your own communities . . . If your district is 60 percent Latino and you represent white business elites and tea party activists, we’re coming after you!”

How to Handle the Budget? Everybody has a different theory about the budget impasse: one senior official believes a short-term deal with a spending cap and triggers in case further cuts are needed could do the trick. Eric Bauman, vice chairman of the party, thinks there are two votes in the Assembly at least for the right deal. State Board of Eek member Betty Yee (who’s planning to run for Controller in 2012) thinks Republicans are starting to crack.

Party Chairman John Burton, after suggesting (facetiously) in a pre-convention interview that maybe Jerry ought to shoot a Republican as a warning to others, wonders if maybe they could be motivated by targeting cuts for certain Republican districts.

Since Burton actually served and led in the Legislature, his view on the situation was worth probing, so Calbuzz asked him what he thinks of the Republicans’ behavior:

“I think it’s stupid. But if it works out in the end, people won’t remember it. If basically there has to be an all cuts budget when people realize what they’ve done, then it’s going to hurt them very much,” he said.

“I don’t know if there’s a way for Democrats to pass a budget zeroing out Modesto junior college for the Berryhill boys or something… I think the whole concept of their wanting to do something but not knowing how to do it just makes them look bad.”

The Republicans he dealt with “knew how to make a deal. We never had this much of a problem. But I think at that time with that membership they clearly would have voted to put something on the ballot. They might not have voted for the taxes, but they would have voted to put it on the ballot.”

Do you think the majority of Republican actually wants to govern? Calbuzz asked.

“It doesn’t seem like it. I don’t think they know how to govern. The problem is a lot of them have never been in city councils or supervisors. I have no idea what the hell it is, they’re all scared to death. You’d think the ghost of Tommy McClintock is there scaring them or something.”

“It’s kind of hardball but you’ve got to be creative because the state’s just going to hell. If they go to an all cuts budget it ain’t gonna be good for the state …(Dems) went more than half way and I think the problem is that you always assume good faith on the part of the Republicans and there is none there.”

Battle of the Would Be Governors: When the office of governor opens up (in 2014 or 2018) Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Kamala Harris are pretty much assured to be contenders. So it’s never too early to start taking note of how they handle themselves when they’re working the chairpeople, activists, committee members and volunteers who attend state party conventions.

Our take: Harris won the hall, with a Saturday morning red-meat speech but Newsom won the party players with well-organized, strategically planned events.

One caveat: Harris’s consultant, Brian Brokaw, threw cold water on the notion that there even was a contest. “I have to reject the premise of your comparison,” he told us. “What you saw at the convention were two very popular figures with very bright futures ahead of them on a thank-you tour with the folks who worked hard to elect them last year.  And from our perspective it was mission accomplished.”

Well, maybe that was the AG’s only goal, but with consultant Jason Kinney working feverishly on his behalf, Newsom had some broader goals. On Thursday, when the county chairs were in town early, Newsom sponsored a dinner for them at the Capitol Garage. He and UFW icon Dolores Huerta were keynote speakers at the progressives’ “Take Back Red California” dinner on Friday, and Newsom sponsored a continental Labor Breakfast Saturday morning that drew about 150 labor leaders and delegates.

He also threw the best big-scale party, “Gavin and Gavin Unplugged” (featuring himself and rocker Gavin DeGraw), presented by the California Teachers Association, California Federation of Teachers and the California Faculty Association. They even served up free “Double Gavins” for the hundreds who squeezed into the District 30 disco – a blue, sickly sweet mixture of vodka, Curaçao and Sprite.

Newsom’s speech to the delegation on Saturday was no barn burner. It was a workmanlike discussion of the need for California to develop a plan for jobs and economic growth – tasks he has taken on as Brown’s Lite Gov.

Using statistics from the Earth Policy Institute,  Newsom detailed how many jobs could be created by $1 billion investment in various alternative sources: coal (868); nuclear (1,016); solar thermal (2,274); wind: (3,347); retrofitting buildings (6,750).

“The Democratic Party cannot cede jobs to the Republican. We will not do that. They’ve got an agenda but they don’t have a plan,” Newsom said. He said he’s working with the Brown administration to develop a plan in the next 100 days for jobs in biotech, nanotech, life science, technology and manufacturing, along with an export strategy, trade strategy, and ideas for partnerships with China, India and Brazil. “Folks hired us to do a job, not just to be in power,” he said.

He did not shake the hall. But Harris did.

Besides visiting caucuses, as all the constitutionals did, Harris’s one serious party foray was to the elegant, invitation only affair (best small party) put on by the California Correctional Peace Officers Association and organized by CCPOA senior advisor Michael Flores.

They loved the AG, gushed over her, all but threw rose petals at her feet, perhaps to see if they could get in her good graces after endorsing her opponent, LA District Attorney Steve Cooley, whom she beat by about six votes on the strength of Jerry Brown’s top-of-the-ticket wake. Harris, said CCPOA president Mike Jimenez is “a friend to the poor, underprivileged, law enforcement, the environment and the enemy of injustice.” Her short speech to them was an air kiss: many words signifying little.

But the next day, when she took the podium in the convention hall, she rocked.

“Together we showed that you don’t have to run from your convictions to run for elected office.” (She forgot to mention that it helps if the candidate for governor is pulling big numbers over his Republican opponent, but we quibble.) “Together we challenged those old false choices: that false choice that you’re either soft on crime or tough on crime. Instead we said and we challenged that it was time to be smart on crime…”

After having obliquely insulted Brown when she first took office by suggesting that she was going to make things right in the AG’s office (just as Brown was on his way out the door toward the governor’s office), Harris lavished praise on Brown before the delegates.

“I see Jerry Brown spending hour upon hour in painstaking pursuit of a reasonable budget compromise,” she said. “Jerry Brown is trying to save our schools, protect public safety and put our state on a sustainable fiscal path. California Democrats – there is nothing more important than helping Jerry Brown stop an extreme minority from preventing progress in our Golden State.”

Her best stuff was her passionate reference to just about every Democratic Party hot button issue – global warming, marriage equality, immigration, defense of the middle class and especially labor rights.

“It is time to recognize that from Madison to Sacramento to Washington, D.C., and back, we are having a debate in this country that is frankly outrageous,” she said. “We are having a debate about first principles. Can we seriously be debating a question as fundamental as a right to organize and bargain collectively?”

It’s outrageous to try to make teachers the enemy, threaten to take away a woman’s right to choose, she said. The GOP has unleashed “an assault on the middle class and hardworking people in this country… I don’t know about you but I’m tired of playing defense. I say it’s time to play offense.”

Lady Difi talks tough: Normally not one to take shots across the aisle, Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s words, if not her delivery, were some of the sharpest language we’ve heard from her in a long while – at least since she made it clear to the people of San Francisco that she didn’t care who they were sleeping with as long as they were in bed by 10 p.m.

“What I see in Washington now is really the most difficult environment I’ve ever seen in American politics,” she said. “It’s made harder still because the far right wing and the Tea Party have entered into the political arena with a singular mission to cut government so it cannot serve our people. This is the fundamental challenge we face today.

“In the five months since Republicans have taken control of the House they’ve tried to systematically disassemble the American dream,” she said, pointing to the environment, investments in education and infrastructure, health care reform and Medicare.

“The majority party in today’s House of Representatives is more radical, more hostile to working people, more determined to undermine the Democratic president than the Gingrich Congress in 1995,” Feinstein said.

“The Tea Party has no plans for job creation and economic recovery what they have is a radical, ideological agenda to dismantle the social and economic safety net of our country. Their solution to our fiscal challenges is to shift the burden of debt reduction onto seniors, students, middle and low-income families. And we have to stop them.”

Facing re-election in 2012, Feinstein was clearly laying down suppressing fire as a warning to challengers that even at 77, she is capable of lighting up the opposition on popular issues. When she wants to.

Costco Carla gets props: The SF Chron reporter who once scooped up Meg Whitman’s book from a big box store before it was supposed to be available wound up in a huge shit storm with the White House, which didn’t like her posting a Shaky Hands video of a mild protest at an Obama dinner in which she was in the press pool. Someone at the White House threatened to kick the Chronicle out of future press pools (although she broke no rule) and then denied that’s what they’d done. Which got the Chron’s ed board fired up to accuse the WH of lying which landed the whole story on the front page of the Drudge Report which caused Chairman Burton to visit Marinucci in the Chronicle/Calbuzz skybox at the convention seeking an autograph. Not to mention all the other attagirls she got from reporters and delegates and consultants who had heard about the dust-up.

Burton’s finest moment: Even before the story had made Drudge, Burton ridiculed whoever it was at the WH who got all upset and defensive because someone who’d paid $78,000 (it was actually $76,000, but who’s counting?) to get into a fundraiser had shouted at the president. If someone would pay that kind of money to get into one of his fundraisers, he said, “They can come in and insult me, just not my mother or my wife or my daughter or any of her kids. They can take a dump in my salad.”