Archive for 2011

Fishwrap: Carly & Dee Dee Meet Tony & John

Friday, July 15th, 2011

News that the National Republican Senatorial Committee has appointed Carly Fiorina, the articulate and widely-reviled former Hewlett Packard CEO, as their latest vice-chairperson (i.e. fund-raiser), had to have sent national Democrats into convulsive giggles.

“I’m pleased to welcome my friend Carly Fiorina to the NRSC team, where her many business and civic achievements will make her an invaluable leader and fundraiser during this critical election cycle,” said NRSC Chairman Sen. John Cornyn of Texas. “I look forward to working with Carly to elect strong Republican Senators who will finally put a stop to President Obama’s failed tax-and-spend agenda, and instead promote the economic growth and job creation Americans so badly need.”

“Carly Fiorina laid off thousands and outsourced good American jobs overseas, but that didn’t stop national Republicans from investing millions in her campaign, which she lost by double digits, or hiring her today,” replied the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “Republicans are not only working to protect tax breaks for millionaires, but they’re also finding them jobs.”

You gotta love the irony in sending Hurricane Carly out as the symbol of job creation and economic growth — she who vigorously defended shipping thousands of HP jobs abroad and who allied herself so thoroughly with the Tea Party that she found herself far to the right of mainstream California voters. How else do you lose to Barbara “Rosa Luxemburg” Boxer?

The NRSC thought they had a winner with Fiorina when they recruited her to run against Babs. And she did raise $16 million. But as fund-raising sidekick to Utah’s Sen. Orrin Hatch, it’s hard to imagine that an unlikable political dilettante who lost to Boxer — even if she was CEO of a major corporation — will do much for the GOP outside of its reliable base.

Next up: Jerry Brown hires Frank McCourt as consultant for Department of Finance.

Press Clips: Long before Dee Dee Myers became famous, back in the dinosaur swamp days when she was assistant press secretary for the Walter Mondale campaign in California and later flacking Dianne Feinstein for governor and spinning sweet lies about Frank Jordan’s alleged qualifications to be mayor of San Francisco, the Calbuzz Talent Scouting and Many Thanks to All the Little People Who Helped Me on the Way Up Platitudes Department recognized her uncommon aptitude and flair for the hardball skills and subtle arts of practical politics.

Who knew she was a policy genius too?

Proof positive that this is so arrives in the form of her most recent essay over at Politico, a reflection on political class warfare in America, which not only is thoughtful, insightful and well-reported but, most crucially, agrees entirely with our own view on the subject, which therefore makes it the hands-down winner of the Little Pulitzer for Investigative Punditry.

Myers, who secured her future as a gold star member of the Beltway chattering class with adept White House press secretary service for Bubba, provides the clear and factual basis of her argument – irrefutable, at least to those who, unlike Norquist-Fleischman Republicans,  live in what you might call fact-based reality – high up in her yarn:

This is the conversation conservatives don’t want to have.

It’s indisputable that the gap between the rich and everyone else in this country has grown dramatically. The top 1 percent of Americans now take home nearly a quarter of all income and control more than 40 percent of the country’s wealth — roughly the same amount as the bottom 90 percent.

It’s also indisputable that that gap has gotten far bigger in the past 25 years. In the past decade alone, the wealthiest percentile has seen its income grow by a robust 17 percent, while the middle class has seen its real income fall.

What could possibly account for such gross distortions? Are the superwealthy really that much smarter and productive than the rest of us? Are the organic veggies and hormone-free meat that affluent parents feed their children paying off?

Or could it be something else?

How about the tax structure? The 400 Americans with the highest adjusted gross income saw their effective tax rates plummet from 30 percent in 1995 to 17 percent in 2007.

That’s not according to some left-wing think tank. It comes from a recent cover story in Bloomberg BusinessWeek.

Old news, perhaps (except to that tiny portion of the population that inexplicably does not begin its reading day here) but Dee Dee goes on to  condense all the gravitas and data of the matter into an easy-to-remember and easy-on-the-ears turn of phrase.

So the dirty little secret is that the pool man, who’s making $30,000 a year, is subsidizing the million-dollar mortgage for the family whose pool he cleans. No wonder people want to get rid of tax breaks for corporate jets.

Too bad there’s not a Democratic president to make use of such populist poetry.

Remap follies: We were downright annoyed when we heard the (all rise) California Citizens Redistricting Commission had decided just to blow off the last few innings of the process they themselves devised for redrawing the state’s political maps .

Wussup with that, we thought, whatever happened to transparency and sticking to your promises?

We grew even more concerned when our friend Tony Quinn ripped the commission’s controversial decision not to release a second version of their new maps. While it’s true that Quinn’s frequent complaints about the commission are laden with a more-than-healthy dose of narrow self-interest, he nontheless did set forth a tough-minded indictment.

But even as the droids and druids of the state GOP started moving to follow Quinn’s recommendation “to move redistricting to an impartial judiciary,” by threatening a lawsuit against the commission, we were suddenly brought back to our senses by the level-headed analysis aimed at the whole mess by John Wildermuth, the very soul of common sense.

Not surprisingly, the commission has had plenty of bumps in the road, many of them highlighted, if not arranged, by Democratic and Republican partisans, who have a vested interest in derailing any non-partisan redistricting effort.

Still, the commission held well-attended hearings across the state, put out a set of draft maps for public review in June and then held another round of statewide meetings to hear the inevitable complaints about those proposed district lines. Now they’re racing the clock to deal with those concerns and meet the August deadline for the final maps.

While folks, especially those who find their ox gored, can always complain there wasn’t enough public comment, no one can argue that the public wasn’t more involved in the process this time than they ever were when the Legislature was drawing the maps…

Voters passed Prop. 11 in 2008 because they wanted the political lines for the next decade drawn by ordinary people who were thinking of California first, not politicians concerned with what’s best for their friends, their party or their next job.

The jury’s still out on how that’s going to work out. But if the measure of success is coming up with something better than the Legislature turned out a decade ago, that bar is set none too high.

Calbuzz sez: Amen to that.

Outrage of the week: Sentimental suckers that we are for the pastoral romance of baseball, the smell of new-mown grass, and the thwock of bat on ball, we were delighted with Derek Jeter’s one-for-the-ages 5-for-5 day in achieving his 3,000th hit.

Then came this mess, which is almost enough to turn us into libertarians.

P.S. Speaking of America’s Pastime, we’re still pissed that Pete Rose, who had 4,256 hits in 24 seasons, was not a) kicked out of baseball and then b) installed in the Hall of Fame).

Why ‘Compromise’ Has Become Such a Dirty Word

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, delegates from large and small states engaged in a fierce struggle over how Congress should be constituted. Big states favored representation by population; little states thought each ought to have the same number of representatives. It was the Great Compromise that created our bicameral system in which the House is represented by population, reapportioned after every decennial census, and the Senate is comprised of two representatives from each state.

To the Founding Fathers – who had an actual claim to the concept of a Tea Party – compromise was not a dirty word; it was the essence of governance. Without principled compromise as a result of robust debate, Delaware and New Jersey might still be at each others’ throats. Thank you to the boys from Connecticut, Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth.

Which brings us to the sorry situation we face today, in California and Washington in particular, in which leaders of the Republican Party are so terrified and intimidated by the noisy anti-tax absolutists in their know-nothing right wing that they are incapable of principled compromise. Even when flexibility would yield them pension reforms, spending controls, entitlement reductions, long-term fiscal stability and more, the Republicans would rather cut off their noses to spite their faces.

We’ve been harping on the Death of Compromise since September of last year (here, here and here) – long before Gov. Jerry Brown and President Barack Obama, both of whom are anything but true-blue, unbending liberals, ran up against the immovable object that is the ultra-orthodox, anti-tax jihad.

So were delighted to see pundits like David Brooks, Eugene Robinson and Harold Meyerson and political writers like Dan Balz, now shining a bright light on the perversion of our politics by those who can’t take yes for an answer.

Brooks, whom we generally find a finger-wagging smarm, must really be worried about his darling GOP because he pulled out the stops in an attempt to get them back on track.

If the Republican Party were a normal party, it would take advantage of this amazing moment. It is being offered the deal of the century: trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for a few hundred billion dollars of revenue increases.

But we can have no confidence that the Republicans will seize this opportunity. That’s because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.

The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch in order to cut government by a foot, they will say no. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch to cut government by a yard, they will still say no . . .

The members of this movement have no sense of moral decency. A nation makes a sacred pledge to pay the money back when it borrows money. But the members of this movement talk blandly of default and are willing to stain their nation’s honor. . .

If the debt ceiling talks fail, independent voters will see that Democrats were willing to compromise but Republicans were not. If responsible Republicans don’t take control, independents will conclude that Republican fanaticism caused this default. They will conclude that Republicans are not fit to govern.

And they will be right.

Robinson, one of the Washington Post’s liberal voices, took dead aim at another issue that drives Calbuzz crazy – false equivalency.

Washington has many lazy habits, and one of the worst is a reflexive tendency to see equivalence where none exists. Hence the nonsense, being peddled by politicians and commentators who should know better, that “both sides” are equally at fault in the deadlocked talks over the debt ceiling.

This is patently false. The truth is that Democrats have made clear they are open to a compromise deal on budget cuts and revenue increases. Republicans have made clear they are not. . .

. . . the “both sides are to blame” narrative somehow gained currency after [House Speaker John] Boehner announced Saturday that House Republicans would not support any increase in revenue, period. A false equivalence was drawn between the absolute Republican rejection of “revenue-positive” tax reform and the less-than-absolute Democratic opposition to “benefit cuts” in Medicare and Social Security.

The bogus story line is that the radical right-wing base of the GOP and the radical left-wing base of the Democratic Party are equally to blame for sinking the deal.

What underlies the disintegration of politicians’ ability to forge consensus is a set of popular attitudes in certain quarters that sees compromise as weakness, an evangelical rigidity that holds taxes above all else as the Great Evil.

The partisan differences on this – which we noted back in September 2010 – are every bit as powerful today.

According to a new survey by the Economist and YouGov, Americans are nearly evenly split on whether they prefer a congressperson who compromises to get things done or one who sticks to his or her principles, no matter what. It’s 53% for compromise, 47% against.

While the survey was of a web-based panel (not a method we think much of), it’s not all that far off a real survey done by Pew Research Center last September, that found about half (49%) of Americans say they most admire political leaders who stick to their positions without compromising, while slightly fewer (42%) say that they most admire political leaders who make compromises with people they disagree with.

But what both surveys found was that Democrats and independents like compromise in politics in order to get things done, Republicans (and Pew found especially those who identify with the Tea Party) don’t want compromise.

In the new Economist/YouGov survey, Democrats split 68-32% in favor of compromise, independents were 55-45% in favor and Republicans were 66-34% against compromise.

Likewise, liberals favored compromise 76-24%, moderates in favor 60-40% but conservatives against 69-31%. No other demographic was as powerful except perhaps education, where those with a high school or less education were against compromise 52-48%, while college graduates were in favor of compromise 64-36%.

The notions that taxes are the end-all-be-all evil in the world, and that compromise means capitulation, are rooted in the black-and-white thinking of the conservative Christian movement (on issues like abortion, prayer in school, gay marriage, etc.) and conservative talk radio, where Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and their ilk demonize any politician who would consider reaching consensus as a traitor who sleeps with the enemy.

Forget about the fact that it was George Bush and Dick Cheney who ran up the national debt, arguing that deficits don’t matter, while fighting two wars and cutting taxes for the wealthy without charging anyone for the privilege. Forget about the fact that most of the great advances in self-governance – from the U.S. Constitution itself to Medicare and Social Security – were the result of principled compromise. None of that matters.

What will matter is if the United States defaults on its international obligations, if middle class families in California cannot afford to send their children to college, if public schools degenerate into holding cells, if prisons explode, if roads deteriorate, if state parks close. These kinds of things will actually matter to average citizens.

And when they figure out – if they do – that it was because one side in Sacramento and Washington refused to bargain, rejected great opportunities for meaningful agreement and stood in the corner with their ears covered yelling “No! No! No!” then perhaps they will exact their political revenge.

We can only hope.

CD36: Hahn Should Survive Huey’s Tea Party Frenzy

Monday, July 11th, 2011

By Gene Maddaus
Special to Calbuzz

By all rights, Janice Hahn should run away with Tuesday’s Congressional special election. Democrats have an 18-point registration advantage in the 36th District, and she’s facing a virtually unknown challenger in Republican Craig Huey.

But she’s also facing a substantial enthusiasm gap, which has brought Huey within striking distance of an upset. Huey is a Tea Party guy with a 30-year background in direct marketing, and he’s employing all the tricks of the trade in his campaign.

As a result, his supporters seem to be more motivated — more riled up — than Hahn’s — which is important in a super-low-turnout, mid-summer special election. But  it’s still not clear there’s enough of them to overcome Hahn’s overwhelming registration advantage.

The campaign bears a resemblance to last year’s race in the 53rd Assembly District, which overlaps with the coastal portion of CD-36. Betsy Butler, an establishment Democrat, faced off against a no-name Tea Party opponent, Nathan Mintz, in a district with a 12-point Democratic advantage. Mintz was written off early but gave her a good run for it, losing by just 7 points.

It was by no means an uplifting or resounding victory for Butler, but she got it done, and that’s probably what Hahn will do in CD-36. She’ll win ugly.

Of course, Huey surprised everybody by beating Debra Bowen in the primary and making it into the runoff, so you don’t want to discount the possibility of an upset. It’s unlikely, but not impossible.

The race has already defied expectations by not being boring. An independent group launched “the most offensive political ad of all time” — a viral video that portrayed Hahn as a stripper giving cash to gang members. It was racist, sexist, and irresistible, racking up several hundred thousand views on YouTube and drawing denunciation and condemnation from just about everyone (including Huey).

Huey, meanwhile, has made good copy in his own right. His direct mail business has promoted all sorts of shady investment schemes and bogus nutritional supplements. His company website (cdmginc.com), which for some reason is still online, is a gold mine of sleazy direct marketing techniques — such as, “motivate with fear” and tips on how to “disarm the skepticism” of old people.

My personal favorite was the “Obama Crisis Kit,” which leveraged fear of Obama to sell a gold mining penny stock. One of his campaign issues, oddly enough, is “nutritional freedom” — which he apparently defines as the right to make whatever health claim you want on behalf of snake oil remedies without interference from the “government bureaucrats” at the FDA. He’s the kind of guy that consumer protection regulations are written to impede.

Huey, for his part, has described Hahn as a career politician and a product of the downtown L.A. political machine, and he’s not wrong about that. Love her or hate her, Hahn is a union tool who has taken gobs of money from downtown lobbyists.

She’s a good fit for her home base of San Pedro and Wilmington, but she’s not the ideal candidate for the more affluent, coastal precincts, which prefer their Democrats a little wonkier. Those are the Bowen supporters, and it’s worth noting that Bowen has not endorsed Hahn. (She’s got an excuse — as Secretary of State she doesn’t want to seem biased — but if she had made the runoff presumably she would have had no trouble endorsing herself.)

So, in any special election, it comes down to turnout. The L.A. County Federation of Labor can presumably be relied upon to deliver San Pedro — which is chock full of longshoremen — but it doesn’t have the same clout in the Venice-to-Redondo Beach corridor.

Hahn’s campaign has been trying to rile those folks up by focusing on abortion. That’s an issue that helped get Bowen and Jane Harman elected 20 years ago, and we’ll see if it still has the same salience.

Huey has something like 7,000 lawn signs out there, and he’s been all over conservative talk radio. Certainly there is some worry in the Hahn camp. If she loses she should immediately retire from politics and take up fly fishing or something.

And if Huey loses, expect him to be back in 2012 with a redrawn district that will include his home base on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

Gene Maddaus covers politics for the LA Weekly

Late update: A poll by Daily Kos and SEIU found Hahn leading Huey 52-44%. We can’t vouch for the survey, but if you want to check it out, you can find it here.