Archive for 2011

Assembly Secrecy: What Does Perez Have to Hide?

Saturday, September 3rd, 2011

Our favorite quote to emerge from the intramural flap over the Legislature’s secret spending records comes from John Vigna, chief flack for Speaker John Perez:

“All this reminds me of the woman with the Virginia ham under her arm, crying she has no bread,” he told the Pasadena Star-News.

We’re not really sure what the hell that means, but we are sure that referencing ham, bread, or any other foodstuff, is most appropriate in commenting on the Battle of Heavyweights between Speaker Perez and Assemblyman Anthony Portantino.

One other thing that’s certain about the clash: the biggest loser is Perez.

Every schoolchild by now knows the details of the silly spat over legislative perqs and partisan loyalty that set these Sumo-sized political warriors at each other. Frankly we don’t have a big problem with Perez punishing Portantino for taking a hike on the big budget vote by whacking his expenses for office and staff; Mr. Speaker, however, apparently made his Mr. Badass move without giving a great deal of thought to what the unintended consequences might be.

Now Portantino has performed a slick piece of political jujitsu, seizing the principled high ground by inviting the whole world to take a whiff of the stinky cheese that is of one of Sacramento’s oldest open scandals: the Legislature’s exemption of itself from open records and transparency laws and regulations that apply to every other state and local agency in California.

Let’s recap the clumsy moves Perez has made in an effort to wish away the important issue that Portantino, however inadvertently, has raised: 1) Resisting release of spending records until getting sued for access by the SacBee and the By God L.A. Times; 2) Releasing partial records, books cooked to cloak and confuse exactly how much of the public’s money is being spent for what and on whom in the Assembly; 3) Calculating in this exercise of obfuscation that Portantino is — We’re shocked! — the biggest spender in the house; 4) Dumping his rival’s bill to end the legislative open record exemption onto the remainder table for the rest of the session; 5) Appointing a double-really-super-special blue ribbon committee to study the whole problem until next year, hoping everyone will have forgotten about it by then.

Fat chance.


Press Clips: Are Obama, SF Giants Both Doomed?

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

As the SF Giants sink slowly in the West, the only team with worse-looking numbers is the re-election campaign of Barack Obama.

The G-men’s utter collapse in recent weeks (averaging only 3.3 runs a game for the season, they scored a grand total of 78 times in August – 78!) is mirrored by Obama’s polling plummet (with an aggregated 53-43  unfavorable/favorable job rating in the Real Clear Politics index, he now trails a hypothetical match-up against Rick Perry, 41-to-44).

And with the Blogosphere Boo Birds already writing off the Giants’ post-season hopes (“Stick a fork in ‘em”)  the Beltway’s conventional wisdom brokers agree there’s little hope of a a re-elect (“the most likely outcome next November is the defeat of President Obama in his campaign for reelection.  In fact, historical trends point towards a blowout”).

And yet . . .

Bandwagons and Bloomberg biographies: Just as Giants’ diehards (we name no names) express contempt for fair weather fans leaping off the bandwagon (“the pennant race doesn’t start until September”) so the dwindling ranks of Obama partisans insist there’s both plenty of time to pull out a victory on November 6, 2012 and a strong campaign case to be made.

Leading the uphill charge for this argument is Jonathan Alter, chief MSM apologist for the Administration. Alter, the author of a friendly Obama biography who’s now flinging words for wages at Bloomberg, ignited a Beltway flapdoodle with a recent post deconstructing the lines of attack against the president and responding that his guy did as well as anyone could have.

Like everyone else, I’ve got my list of Obama mistakes, from failing to break up the banks in early 2009 to neglecting to force a vote on ending the Bush tax cuts when the Democrats still controlled Congress. He shouldn’t have raised hopes with “Recovery Summer” and “Winning the Future” until the economy was more durable. I could go on.

But do these miscalculations really mean it’s time for him to go?

What, specifically, has he done wrong on policy? What, specifically, would you have done differently to create jobs? And what can any of the current Republican candidates offer that would be an improvement on the employment front?

Fuzzy’s piece – “You think Obama’s been a bad president? Prove it” –  set off a land rush business among pundits to do exactly that, a compendium of which provide a kind of  unified theory of what’s wrong with Obama.

Writing in Commentary, conservative opiner Peter Wehner proffered a damning “empirical, reality-based look at economic life” in the Age of Obama, previewing the Republican campaign:

In one sense, the answer to the Alter challenge is obvious: Obama has failed by his own standards. It’s the Obama administration, not the RNC, which said if his stimulus package was passed unemployment would not exceed 8 percent. It’s Obama who joked there weren’t as many “shovel-ready” jobs as he thought.

It’s Obama who promised to cut the deficit in half. It’s Obama who said if we passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the health care cost curve would go down rather than up. It’s Obama who promised us recovery and prosperity, hope and change. What we’ve gotten instead is the opposite.

Gluttons for either punishment or piling on, or those who are simply garden variety stat fetishists, are further advised to check out Louis Woodhill at Forbes.com, who’s talking GDP, CPI and BLS:

Executives are judged by results.  In terms of the economic results produced during the first 2.5 years of his first term, Obama is the worst president of the past 60 years.  Given that Alter himself would likely agree that there have been some bad presidents during the past 60 years, this makes Obama a bad president.

Our friend Mickey Kaus, the closest thing to a Blue Dog Democrat allowed to live in California, answers Alter with a superb Top 10 list which combines political, policy and process blunders that he says all but guarantee Obama will be a single-termer:

Excessively well-sourced Obama boosters are now channeling, not just White House spin but White House self-pity. Both Ezra Klein and Jonathan Alter wonder aloud why our intelligent, conscientious, well-meaning, data-driven President is taking a “pummeling.”   ”What could Obama have done?” (Klein) “What, specifically, has he done wrong .. .?” (Alter)

They’re kidding, right? There are plenty of things Obama could have done differently.

Would doing these 10 things have revived the economy? Who knows. Probably not. FDR didn’t really revive the economy either until World War II began, as Alter knows. But Obama would have shown leadership and creativity. He wouldn’t be both unsuccessful and disdained.

Crafty portsiders: Michael Tomasky, the Daily Beast’s liberal analyst, whose consistently good stuff has added him to our daily must-read list, reports some interesting polling information, illustrating how badly Obama’s appeasement of Republicans on the debt deal bombed with independents, to make a broader point about the ineptness of White House political strategists:

The fundamental problem appears to be the excessive fixation on Obama’s (forgive me for even using this word) “brand”—this “adult in the room” nonsense. Whenever I see those words in print anymore, usually in a background quote from a White House aide or a Democratic source trying gamely to be on-message, I hear strong and unsettling echoes of the 2008-vintage messianism. Does anyone buy this anymore, outside of what appears to be an increasingly bubble-ized White House? Those beloved independents certainly aren’t thinking of the president that way these days, and one doubts that even most of his supporters are.

It’s tough to dispute that, especially in light of how Obama’s erstwhile lefty boosters are disgusted, whether it’s unions  (“labor groups are planning to scale back their involvement with the Democratic Party in advance of the 2012 elections”), netroots progressives ( “It’s hard to see how we avoid a Tea-Party recession if the president who has the biggest megaphone in the country is not willing to speak clearly on the issue”), Democratic party careerists  (“the even-keeled president has got to be ‘a lot less keep-it-cool Calvin Coolidge and a lot more give-’em-hell Harry Truman’”) or sympathetic columnists  (“Obama hates to bring up the nasty fact that we have political parties, but very soon, he will have to point out that it is Republicans in Congress who are blocking his agenda”).

Even more ominously, the historian Michael Kazin, writing in the New Republic, tries to comfort Obama with assurance that he’s merely caught in a powerful, historic  wave which discredits or destroys all American presidents:

In Washington, on both left and right, a new piece of conventional wisdom is hardening into place: Barack Obama’s presidency is slowly collapsing under the burdens of a bad economy, a rudderless foreign policy, and confusion about how the man who once twinkled with charisma wants to change the country. Even if the president manages to get re-elected, his chance to “win the future,” pundits agree, is probably over. Such a descent is neither a remarkable nor an exceptional development in American politics, which might provide a bit of ironic comfort to Obama as he pedals around Martha’s Vineyard. In fact, the history of the modern presidency is replete with disappointment and failure.

As for our own view, we can’t get over how poorly Obama has been served by his own communications operation. Inherited debt, health care passed, stock market recovering, Bin Laden dead, Gadhafi deposed, Egypt and Tunisia liberated and yet Obama is always on the defensive and fighting on GOP turf.

Nothing gets framed to his advantage, Republicans outmaneuver him on every argument, surrogates seem unable to advocate on his behalf. What an amateur operation — especially compared to the 2008 campaign.

It ain’t over ’til it’s over: Despite the weight of negative fact and opinion (and we hold this fundamental truth of politics to be self-evident: the  conventional wisdom is always wrong), the esteemed political scientist and presidential campaign weatherman Allan Lichtman, who’s correctly forecast the outcome of every race since he invented his 13 “Keys to the White House,” predicts a no-sweat win for Obama.

Allan Lichtman, the American University professor whose election formula has correctly called every president since Ronald Reagan’s 1984 re-election, has a belated birthday present for Barack Obama: Rest easy, your re-election is in the bag.

“Even if I am being conservative, I don’t see how Obama can lose,” says Lichtman, the brains behind The Keys to the White House.

And while we’re at it, once the Giants open a can of wuppass on the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks, starting tonight, they’ll be right back in this thing. Take it to the bank.

P.S. On July 25, the day Obama met with the Giants in the White House, the team was in first place, four games ahead of the D-backs, with a record of 59-43, for a winning percentage of .578. As of this morning, they’re six games behind Arizona at 72-65, a winning percentage of .525. You could look it up.




Flash Advises GOP: Trade Biz Tax Break for Tax Cuts

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

At a time when California’s structure of governance is badly broken, it is our collective responsibility to find ways to make state politics work again. It is in that spirit that today we present a modest tax policy proposal from our favorite conservative, GOP blogger and apparatchik Jon Fleischman.

Let’s be blunt: Gov. Jerry Brown has had zero, zip, nada success in dealing directly with legislative Republicans; given that the latter consistently take their cues from Fleischman’s Flash Report, we figure, let’s cut out the middle men and let Brown hear directly from the guy who, along with his hero Grover Norquist, seems to be calling the Republican shots in Sacramento anyway.

And so we hope to do our small part to help end dysfunction in the Capitol, by providing this space for Flash and Gandalf to negotiate directly with each other. Calbuzz: California’s last honest broker.

By Jon Fleischman
Special to Calbuzz

Last week Gov. Jerry Brown introduced a so-called “job creation package” — the substance of which was to eliminate a current tax break called the “single sales factor” — which would score around a billion dollars of additional revenue to state coffers, which Brown then proposed be used to provide sales tax exemptions to manufacturers, and to politically attractive types of businesses — biotech, software, and clean energy.

The proposal was more or less declared dead on arrival as it requires a two-thirds vote of each legislative chamber to eliminate the single sales factor tax break (meaning Republican votes would be needed) and there is no appetite among GOPers to cut a major business tax break to redistribute those funds in the form of targeted tax breaks.

What exactly is the “single sales factor” deal?

It has to do with how to determine California taxable income for firms that also operate in other states. Prior to the break in question being enacted, these multi-state firms determined their amount of taxation based on a formula that considered the location of the firms’ sales, property and payroll. Now, starting this year firms will have the option to consider only their sales. Companies can choose either method of calculation, whichever costs them less.

That having been said, when Gov, Brown referred to the single sales factor break, he called it a, “perverse and outrageous tax incentive.”

While I generally favor the break as one that I think helps create economic growth, what I considered to be “perverse and outrageous” was the way about which this tax break become law.

Back in 2009, then Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger along with the then Republican leaders in the State Senate and Assembly gave their seal of approval on a state budget deal that saddled California families with the largest tax increase in state history — a two-year increase in the state’s income, sales and car taxes — and a reduction in the child tax credit.

It was a terrible deal that placed a terrible financial burden on California taxpayers in the midst of a recession. That’s the outrageous part.

The perverse part is that the same time that taxpayer protection groups like the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the National Tax Limitation Committee were pushing hard to stop this massive tax increase, many representatives of the “big business” community weighed in with their support of it — because buried in the budget plan was this single sales factor tax break.

To be blunt, these big corporate interests literally supported raising broad-based taxes on the people of the state in order to subsidize their niche tax break. Perverse doesn’t seem to adequately describe this Machiavellian maneuver.

I bring this up because while I agree that the “jobs plan” as proposed by Gov. Brown has not a single Republican vote, perhaps Gov. Brown should be approaching how he ends the “perverse and outrageous tax incentive” a different way.

Speaking for myself, as a conservative, I would be an enthusiastic supporter of a revenue neutral proposal that did away with the single sales factor choice, but replaced it with broad-based tax relief to those who bore the burden in the 2009 deal — so a billion dollar (or so) reduction in either the state sales tax, the income tax or the car tax.

This would undo, in part, the terrible wrong that took place back in 2009. And because it would be revenue neutral, it would not violate anyone’s pledge to oppose tax increases. If I am an enthusiastic supporter of this idea, then I am willing to bet that there are some conservative legislators who might find it attractive as well.

The final weeks of legislative session are known for putting together whiz-bang deals. Certainly this could be one of them. And given the low popularity of the state legislature, could it really hurt to end the session with a message that you provided broad-based tax relief?

Jon Fleischman, whom we have know since he was one of the leaders of Young American for Freedom who burned former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson in effigy for raising taxes, is editor and publisher of the conservative web site Flash Report.

Hump Day Grab Bag: God, Satan, STDs, Circumcision

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

We were going to take a day off today but there are some items zipping around the internets that we just couldn’t pass up.

Over in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Gov. Jerry Brown — sometimes known as the Silver Fox —  is reported to have accused some state legislators of holding “the notion that taxes are like some kind of sexually transmitted disease.”

What an insult! To people who actually have STDs – to have their condition compared to the minds of legislators. The report we read didn’t say whether the audience clapped.

Lord Knows: And then there was Michele Bachmann’s suggestion that God unleashed an earthquake and hurricane on Washington and the Eastern Seaboard in order to get peoples’ attention about bloated government. Said Bachmann to a campaign gathering in Florida:

“I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here?’ Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we’ve got to rein in the spending.”

She was just joking, her spokespeople said later. Ha, ha.

We were also struck by Andy Borowitz’s take on former Vice President Dick Cheney’s new book:

Cheney’s Book Features Foreword by Satan

NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report) – Publishing circles were abuzz today with the news that the new memoir by former Vice President Dick Cheney features a foreword by an unusual contributor: Satan.

In his introduction, the Prince of Darkness said he rarely reads political memoirs but made an exception in the case of Mr. Cheney “because we had worked so closely together in the past.”

When he began to read the Cheney manuscript, however, the Lord of Misrule said he was “surprised” by what he found.

“Quite honestly, I couldn’t put it down,” Satan wrote.  “It was almost like a book I would have written myself.”

And then there was a report from our old friend, KCBS reporter Doug Sovern on Twitter:

SovernNation Doug Sovern CA State Senate cuts short SF attempt to outlaw male circumcision, by unanimously okaying bill that bars local govts from passing such bans

To which we replied: Thanks for the tip.

To which Doug responded: Sorry, it was just a snippet.

Now we really are off for a nap.

Hot Rumor: Labor Scheme to Push Initiatives to Nov.

Monday, August 29th, 2011

Calbuzz has picked up rumblings that California union leaders, their consultants and loyal Democratic retainers are quietly planning to jam a bill through the Legislature before the end of the session that would push onto the November ballot any initiatives that have or would otherwise qualify for the June election.

The idea is to guarantee that measures like “paycheck protection,” which would ban use of automatically deducted union dues for political purposes; “reforms” that would slash public-employee pensions to 60%; a requirement for secret ballots to determine union representation; or mandatory state spending limits all would face a November – that is, a larger and more Democratic – electorate, rather than a smaller, more conservative June electorate (when Republicans may have a competitive presidential primary and Democrats won’t.)

We stipulate that we have no on-the-record sources. What we have is pieced together from speculation circulating about such a maneuver, or sources aware of some of the closed-door discussions now under way among labor leaders and perhaps a legislator or two. Also from a close reading of the California Constitution and Elections Code.

And it all makes sense.

“It’s the end of the session,” said one Democratic source, “and a lot of things could happen.”

The Constitutional rationale: The idea is that by majority vote – which the Democrats have in the Assembly and Senate – the Elections Code would be re-written (or clarified) to establish that the June primary, technically known as “voter-nominated primary election,” would not be designated as a “general” or “special statewide” election. This would mean initiatives would be clustered on the November “general election” ballot, according to one interpretation of the state constitution’s language about elections.

If such a measure were passed and Gov. Jerry Brown were to sign it, “It would be a step toward California being a public union banana republic,” said one outraged Sacramento Republican who had also heard about the scenario.

The California Constitution, as recently amended by the voters to include the “top-two” primary system (Prop. 14 in the June 2010 election) delineates the primary and general elections this way in Article 2, Section 5 (a):

A voter-nomination primary election shall be conducted to select the candidates for congressional and state elective offices in California. All voters may vote at a voter-nominated primary election for any candidate for congressional and state elective office without regard to the political party preference disclosed by the candidate or the voter, provided that the voter is otherwise qualified to vote for candidates for the office in question. The candidates who are the top two vote-getters at a voter-nominated primary election for a congressional or state elective office shall, regardless of party preference, compete in the ensuing general election. [emphasis added]

So you have two kinds of elections: a voter-nominated (or voter-nomination) primary election and a general election.

Article 2, Section 8 (c) of the California Constitution says once an initiative qualifies:

The Secretary of State shall then submit the measure at the next general election held at least 131 days after it qualifies or at any special statewide election held prior to that general election. The Governor may call a special statewide election for the measure. [emphasis added]

Thus, the Constitution creates a third type of election – the special statewide election – that may be called by the governor. Since use of the word “shall” is legalese for “must,” the SOS has two choices: put the initiative on the ballot at the next special statewide election or the next general election, whichever comes first.

Now, California Elections Code 324 (a) says:

“General election” means either of the following:
   (1) The election held throughout the state on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November in each even-numbered year.
   (2) Any statewide election held on a regular election date as specified in Section 1000.

And Section 1000 says:

The established election dates in each year are as follows:
   (a) The second Tuesday of April in each even-numbered year.
   (b) The first Tuesday after the first Monday in March of each odd-numbered year.
   (c) The first Tuesday after the first Monday in June in each year.
   (d) The first Tuesday after the first Monday in November of each year.
   (e) The first Tuesday in February of each year evenly divisible by the number four.

In addition, Section 1001 says:

Elections held in June and November of each even-numbered year and held the first Tuesday in February of each year evenly divisible by the number four are statewide elections and these dates are statewide election dates. [emphasis added]

These are a function of statute, depending on when the Legislature, in its infinite political wisdom, decides to hold primary elections. But according to the election code as it now stands, established “statewide election” dates in 2012 include February (2012/4=53), April, June and November.

The Elections Code also notes:

356.  “Special election” is an election, the specific time for the holding of which is not prescribed by law.
357. “Statewide election” is an election held throughout the state. [duh added]

The People United, etc.:  So what’s labor’s play gonna be? If our sources are correct, the group working up the deal is the Alliance for a Better California, including the CA Teachers Association, AFSCME, CA Professional Firefighters, CA School Employees Association, United Food & Commercial Workers, CA State Council of Service Employees, CA Federation of Teachers and the AFL-CIO.

They’ll likely get one of their Democratic allies – perhaps Sen. Loni Hancock of Oakland – to carry a bill or amend some other piece of legislation to alter the language of the Elections Code, which the Democrats can do with a majority vote.

Sneaky? Sure. Unethical? Maybe.

But faced with a handful of Republican legislators blocking majority rule and unwilling to compromise on anything, the Democrats are looking for whatever tools they can find to tilt the table their way. And oh yeah, elections have consequences, so nobody should be too surprised if the majority party uses a heavy hand.