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Archive for 2011



WTF is Kamala Doing Playing Around with the NFL?

Sunday, July 24th, 2011

With National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell and players association executive director DeMaurice Smith just inches away from a final deal establishing the league’s financial framework for the next decade, who should suddenly start jumping up and down on the sidelines? California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

WTF? you wonder. As did we, when we learned about Harris’ move, not from one of the hundreds of self-congratulatory emails that she sends out every day, but from a mention in the New York Times. Not the Los Angeles Times or any paper with a local NFL team like the San Francisco Chronicle, San Diego Union Tribune or Oakland Tribune.

On a day when the rest of the internet was focused on the death of Amy Winehouse, our readers can rest assured that our Department of Professional Sports Economics and Illegal Use of the Hands was grubbing around for items in the 27th graf of MSM stories.

Here’s what the NYT reported:

On Friday, the California attorney general’s office issued subpoenas seeking documents from the N.F.L. and the players association for an investigation into potential antitrust violations that may have resulted from the lockout. The goal: an injunction to stop the lockout, if negotiations do not soon result in a settlement that would restart the game. The attorney general’s office contends that California could soon suffer economic harm because the San Diego Chargers play a preseason game at home on Aug. 11, and if that game is canceled because of the lockout, it could jeopardize income and jobs related to the game.

“These are tough times,” the attorney general, Kamala D. Harris, said in a statement. “The people who will really be locked out are the stadium workers and small businesses who rely on N.F.L. games for their livelihood.”

The decision to issue the subpoenas came after the N.F.L. canceled the Hall of Fame Game, scheduled for Aug. 7, on Thursday.

“We will cooperate fully,” the players association spokesman George Atallah said.

The league said it had not yet seen the subpoena.

So if the league hadn’t seen the subpoena and no California newspaper had the item, how did the Times get it? Duh. How do you spell “leak?”

But what’s the Empress of River City doing, sticking her nose into a volatile negotiation in the final seconds of the game? Surely she’s not figuring that if a deal gets inked this coming week, that she’ll get credit for having goosed the process along. Really?

Titian Tressed Temptress Tanks Tainted Tabloid!

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

On Saturday afternoon, July 9, as the shell-shocked staff of the “News of the World” put together the last-ever edition of that storied British tabloid, their  boss was at the hairdresser, having her famous carrot top tended.

That ill-timed indulgence of Fleet Street editrix Rebekah Brooks cinched her standing as the most vivid, if not vile, symbol of the ever-widening scandal that’s shaken the empire of media despot Rupert Murdoch and, oh yeah, the  British government.

One journo at the now-departed News of the World recalled the day:

“We were all pulling together under the most traumatic and devastating circumstances and mustering all the dignity we could and Rebekah was two floors down in the hairdressers getting her hair done. She had it opened especially. That just says it all,” said a senior executive.

For media and political junkies, the Murdoch meltdown, an epic tale of  corruption, criminal behavior and sleaze within a nexus of powerful press, police and government high-fliers, is perhaps the most compelling  spectacle since big Dick Nixon assured the nation he was not a crook.

(Those who got soused on Independence Day and have been sleeping since are required to report to detention for remedial reading, including this, this, this and this. Please show your work).

For those obsessed with the story, and for whom schadenfreude is the most delicious guilty pleasure — we name no names — the happiest aspect of the matter is watching the swift downfall of a loathsome pack of craven, self-entitled, pampered and privileged prigs.

Among the cast of ass-kissing courtiers to the Great Satan Murdoch, no character getting her comeuppance within this media morality play is more intriguing than the 43-year old Brooks.

So it’s hardly a surprise that the British tabs (coincidentally known as “red tops” for those with colored nameplates) have saved the most histrionic, hyperbolic and lurid language in their lexicon of sensationalism to describe the fire-haired siren of the piece.

In the last few days alone, tabs that compete with those published by Murdoch’s News International have variously referred to Brooks as a “Titian-tressed,” “pre-Raphaelite” “flame-haired Medusa lookalike,” dubbing her “The Witch of Wapping” (for the London neighborhood housing Murdoch’s operations) and “Ginger Spite” (after the redheaded Geri Halliwell of the lip syncing Spice Girls).

Male privilege and volcanic coiffures: Our Department of Fourth Wave Feminism and Camille Paglia Canon Studies has, of course, sensitized our entire staff to the chauvinist underpinnings of the sexist behavior that flows from the male pig-dominated Fleet Street culture that is solely responsible for the unfairly targeted, incessant focus on the glamorous Ms. Brooks. So naturally, it makes our blood boil to read such swill as this:

As a firestorm – (Prime Minister David) Cameron’s word – engulfed her papers she said as little as possible and so become a red-haired icon to which commentators could wittily attach ancient male terrors of the femme fatale. She was compared to Morgan le Fay, the evil half-sister of King Arthur. The Arthurian romances were beloved of Victoria painters, and Brooks’ hair is so exactly like the volcanic coiffures in pairings by the Pre-Raphaelites that not only do Arthurian allusions resonate – check out Rossetti’s painting The Holy Grail — but it looks as if she consciously sets out to look Pre-Raphaelite. Is she an art lover? Well, it’s said that Rupert Murdoch gave her a Lowry for her 40th birthday.

If not a witch like Morgan le Fay, perhaps Brooks resembles a wicked character from some Victorian novel – the Telegraph called her “one of the great adventuresses of the age”, writing on a Trollope high. But, of course, she is not a mythic femme fatale. She is, like all people dragged against their will into the brutal light of media attention, a human being hunted by the pack.

In this context, it’s to be expected that inky wretches assigned to produce instant news profiles of Brooks quickly found evidence that in her rapid professional rise she encountered and overcome precisely the type of workplace bias and harassment to be expected in the bastions of male privilege that are the newsrooms of London:

“There was quite a lot of willy waving, to put it mildly, but she soldiered on,” says Sue Evison, the head of media at Touchstone Media, who left the Sun in 2006 after 19 years. Evison recalls that Wade’s first year as editor of the paper in 2003 was also difficult. “There was an air of misogyny about the place. She endured it.”

(Memo to self: save and recall phrase “willy waving” for future use).

A red top’s red top: The recent chain of astonishing events erupted on July 4, when a dogged reporter named Nick Davies disclosed in the Guardian that during the time Brooks was chief editor of the News of the World, staff members hacked into the cell phone of a missing 13-year old girl named Milly Dowler, who was later found murdered. The story set off a firestorm of outrage that just keeps rising amid ongoing revelations.

Besides Murdoch himself, Brooks has emerged as the high profile player with the largest curiosity quotient in the saga (at press time, a Google search of “Rebekah Brooks” yielded 14 million results) not only because of the meme of her spectacular rise and fall within Murdoch’s magic kingdom, but also because of, well, you know, her hair.

No less a figure than the Pulitzer Prize winning critic Robin Givhan, now laboring for the Daily Beast (the second must-read on the story, right after the Guardian) wove a splendid, 1,000-word pseudo-psycho-social analysis on the subject, a one-part Rapunzel, one-part Rumpelstiltskin tale of the profound meaning to be gleaned from the head and hair products of the Biblicaly-named news hen and Debra Saunders lookalike.

Brooks arrived for her questioning (in the House of Commons) dressed soberly in navy with a demure little heart-shaped charm dangling from a necklace. Her hair hung thick and loose below her shoulders like a dense tangle of vines. It was free and unruly; it was hair that had been released from any need to be controlled and tidy…

Hair like hers is a great asset to have in a room crowded with famous and powerful folks. It makes one immediately memorable without having to utter a single word. It isn’t sexy hair that brushes seductively against the shoulders and it isn’t that gloriously girlish hair in which each long ringlet is carefully cultivated. Instead, it’s a spray of self-conscious indifference…

So perhaps, in her own way, Brooks was attempting to defy presumptions, rise above the cultural rules and style herself according to her own sensibilities. But that’s a pretty brazen thing to do when Parliament is on your case for defying laws, ethics, and common decency.

Brooks’ hair was a distraction because it was a ballsy rebuke of our expectations governing how people on the defensive are supposed to tread. There was no suggestion of humility, timidity, or caution. There was no attempt to disappear into doleful anonymity.

That was look-at-me hair—stare at me, remember me. Me, me, me.

Of that, there can be no doubt. 

Going, going, gone. By week’s end — after the News of the World had been shuttered, the two top cops of Scotland Yard had resigned, Murdoch had abandoned his bid to take control of the largest pay-TV broadcaster in the United Kingdom and (pause for breath) Brooks had been canned and then arrested — her hair had gone global: Red hair was massively trending on Murdoch’s home turf of Australia; countless comics concocted elaborate parodies on the subject, and Givans wannabes  tossed off derivative hair pieces with the speed of a buzz cut:

No one is claiming that Brooks’ hair cast a spell over Rupert Murdoch for all those years.

Nor are they suggesting that the mysterious power wielded by a frothy mass of in-your-face russet curls tells the untold story behind one of the greatest scandals of our times. Because that would be silly.

But what if it’s true? There’s a missing link in this story. And it’s the magic of the power barnet. Brooks’ hairdryer is the smoking gun.

To be sure.

It must be said, then, in the immortal words of Jeeves, the most famous character created by the great British writer P.G. Wodehouse: “Red hair, sir, in my opinion, is dangerous.”

Why Early GOP Attack on Rep. Lois Capps Matters

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

It’s no accident that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge made a high-profile stop in Santa Barbara on their recent trip to the state, given the burg’s standing as your run-of-the-mill, middle-class California community.

With a median annual household income of $86.8 billion, some of the most valuable real estate on the planet and the nickname “American Riviera,” S.B. offered the royals an up-close-and-personal look at the everyday, average concerns of average Californians, like a shortage of polo pony housing, the soaring costs of plastic surgery and chronic problems in finding good help.

It is just for this reason that Calbuzz located our Southern California headquarters in the town, a decision that goes a long way in explaining our unerring ability to keep our finger squarely on the pulse of ordinary, Main Street, mainstream Golden State voters.*

The latest evidence of the area’s special status as a benchmark in state politics is being viewed on TVs around the region this week, as a Karl Rove-backed, secretly financed, Citizens United-enabled,  “independent” campaign group launched a broadcast and cable attack on veteran Democratic Representative Lois Capps.

Who shot JFK? Accusing Capps of “reckless spending,” Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies blames the seven-term congresswoman for the national debt, the recession and everything else but the Kennedy assassination. The attack comes in a 30-second ad, now running in personalized form in the districts of nine other Democratic House incumbents across the nation whom Republicans perceive as vulnerable, as well as in states of a half-dozen Senators with a “D” after their names who face re-election next year.

The group made a fairly serious buy for the spot – about 800 points is what we hear — far more than another negative ad aimed at Capps that aired briefly a few weeks ago. That spot, which appeared only on local Fox News channels, was produced by the National Republican Congressional Committee and accused Capps of wanting to “decimate Medicare,” because she voted for Obama’s health care legislation.

Both ads were largely discredited by non-partisan fact checks – here and here. However, by squeezing Capps in a pincer movement – she’s dismantling government health care for seniors at the same time she’s spending them into the poor house – their sudden appearance, more than 15 months before the election, at the very least has had Bill Carrick, the congresswoman’s longtime consultant, scrambling to respond.

Carrick quickly posted a web-only ad that jiu-jitsued the Medicare charge  by calling out Capps’ two most likely GOP challengers – Abel Maldonado and Tea Party favorite Tom Watson, who lost to her last time out – by demanding they make clear their stances on the Ryan plan. That is the Republican’s proposal to transform Medicare into a voucher program (Watson enthusiastically endorses Ryan; Maldo didn’t respond to a request for comment on it).

As for the Crossroads/Rove spending ad, Carrick says that “Central Coast voters don’t need any help from Karl Rove or his Washington cronies in telling them how to vote.”

Which doesn’t mean Turd Blossom won’t offer.

Here come the bullets. Beyond the claims and counter-claims, however, the extremely early volley of campaign ads in the Capps district is significant in underlining three key features of the 2012 political landscape:

Redistricting. The aggressiveness with which Republicans have gone after the 73-year old Capps reflects the belief that they can run much more competitively against her in a redrawn district than in her old, gerrymandered seat, a far-flung stretch of California which reapportionment reformers derided as “the ribbon of shame.”

In her current 23rd district, Capps enjoys a 19-point advantage of registered Democrats over Republican voters (47-28 percent); with new lines proposed by the citizens redistricting commission,  Democrats would have only a 39-35 percent edge. And Latinos, among whom Capps runs well, would represent just 35 percent of the new district’s population, compared to 50 percent now, according to an analysis prepared for us by redistricting whiz Eric McGhee over at PPIC.

Citizens United. The latest attack on Capps is part of an overall $20 million Rove/Crossroads effort to soften up vulnerable Democrats. The  anonymity guaranteed to donors to such committees, thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizen United decision, ensures they will be a huge and hugely powerful weapon in campaigns across the nation.

“We’re going to see more and more of this, where campaigns are conducted by D.C. groups,” Carrick told the Sacbee’s Michael Doyle. “It’s not just going to be Lois Capps; it’s going to be everybody.”

Medicare. It’s telling that the first shot fired at Capps by the GOP’s national congressional committee whacked her on Medicare from the left. National Republicans are terrified of the impact on their House incumbents of voting for the Ryan plan, which every national poll shows is extremely unpopular among voters of all stripes.

While the Ryan bill could give Democrats an extremely effective line of attack, it is also possible that Obama may effectively surrender the issue by reaching a compromise on the debt limit with congressional Republicans that includes changes to Medicare that the GOP could say are similar to those in Ryan’s plan.

*P.S. In all seriousness, Santa Barbara County, if not the city of Santa Barbara, does provide a useful marker offering a clear and compact look at the state’s major political division: Coastal and Inland California.

The south part of S.B. county, like coastal California, votes strongly Democratic and liberal; by contrast, political attitudes in the north half of the county, led by the city of Santa Maria (now more populous than the city of Santa Barbara) are far more conservative, both for partisan candidates, and on issues like agriculture, environment, immigration and oil drilling, mirroring voter tendencies in the Central Valley and the Inland Empire.

So polarized are the views between the two areas — as confirmed by vote analyses of a host of elections over the past decade – that conservatives have made repeated efforts to split the county in two.

Meyer: How the ‘No Teacher Left Behind’ Bill Works

Monday, July 18th, 2011

Far be it from Calbuzz to suggest that the California Teachers Association was the invisible hand in writing the provision in the state budget, passed by the Sacramento Democrats alone, that effectively prevents local school districts from laying off teachers when they make financial cutbacks.

Why would anyone suspect that the union that supplies  legislators’ campaign air supplies has that kind of outsized influence in the Legislature? That would be cynicism of the worst sort, right?

But according to Michael Hulsizer, chief deputy for governmental affairs in the Kern County Office of Education, as reported by John Fensterwald, in approving AB 114, a budget trailer bill, legislators “did things that tie hands of school district boards, superintendents, and county superintendents that provide oversight of budgets. They limit officials at local levels to respond to the same risks they acknowledge exist through midyear cuts.”

We leave it to our editorial cartoonist, Tom Meyer, to demonstrate what it all means.

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And just for the record: Calbuzz has never hacked into anyone’s voice mail, nor have we bribed any cops. Yet.