Archive for 2011

Bachmann Thugs Block Off-Shore Oil Question

Saturday, September 17th, 2011

LOS ANGELES — Calbuzz is preparing its full report on the California Republican Convention for Monday, but our tender feelings were so wounded Friday night by Michele Bachmann’s jack-booted thugs – who prevented us from asking her a serious question – that we felt we couldn’t delay telling our readers about it, and letting you know what you can do to protest. .

In her speech to a delegate dinner, Rep. Bachman, who entered to a booming Elvis cover of Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land,” made it clear that she’s for oil drilling just about anywhere there’s a pool of black gold available.

“We have billions and billions of barrels of oil here in the United States — in the Atlantic, in the Pacific, in the Gulf region, the Bakken oil field [in North Dakota],” Bachmann said. “I’ve been up to ANWAR [in the Alaska wilderness]. I’ve seen. This is one of the most perfect places to drill. Drill! Why not. We’ve got it.”

Which begged the question, “So would you push for offshore oil drilling on the coast of California?” – a hot issue for any candidate presuming to campaign here.

So we and other reporters – many of whom wanted to ask the same question – moved to the front of the room when Bachmann left the stage, and tried to ask her about it. But Bachmann’s press Nazi, Alice Stewart, and three beefy security guys physically prevented Calbuzz from posing the question. (If you’re outraged, you can tell Ms. Stewart.)

The inevitable conclusion to be drawn; after her screw-up in Florida, where she advocated drilling in the Everglades, Bachmann’s people didn’t want her to step in it again. So they did whatever they had to to keep the candidate from actually hearing or responding to an actual question.

So, Calbuzzers, we are left with this: “in the Atlantic, in the Pacific…” means one thing – drill wherever, including off the California coast.

GOP Convention Preview: Dem Cash Scandal Notes

Friday, September 16th, 2011

Rejecting the sage advice Calbuzz offered them, GOP presidential candidates Rick Perry and Mitt Romney have basically told the hundreds of dedicated activists of the California Republican Party, who will convene in Los Angeles today through the weekend, “You are irrelevant, meaningless and worthless.”

Romney, who has a seaside mansion just down the road in La Jolla and who will be doing three fat dollar fundraisers in California on Friday, and Perry, who just did a series of Golden State cash grabbers, have opted to skip the state GOP convention, leaving the field to Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul (oy).

They appear to have concluded that the Republican nominee will have been chosen by next June, when California holds its presidential primary, and therefore there’s no need to recruit and fire up grass roots conservatives. That’s the only way to interpret their decision because if the state’s 172 GOP delegates are still in play next June, neither campaign is likely to have enough money to seriously advertise on TV in California’s hugely expensive media markets.

According to the latest Field Poll, Romney leads Perry 28-20% among Republican voters statewide, but among the activist crowd, Tea Party identifiers and born-again Christians, Perry leads Romney 33-23% and 28-19%. By not showing up, both candidates are sticking fingers in the eyes of those potential volunteers.

We can understand why Romney might be a little gun shy since he’s getting California advice and counsel from former eBay CEO Meg Whitman. She got skewered at a couple of California GOP conventions during her 2010 campaign for governor. “Mitt, don’t even think about getting mixed up with those loons,” Whitman told Romney, according to sources close to our imagination.

But Perry is missing a bet. He’s just the kind of gun-loving, God-fearing, abortion-banning, tax-hating, tough-talking candidate California Republican Party conventioneers adore. Instead of lining up support, he’s flipping them the bird.

Of course, part of the reason the big boys may want to stay away is news that a group of GOP moderates – incorporating some of the advice Calbuzz has freely proffered – are seeking to tone down some of the explicit arch-conservative language in the California GOP platform, in hopes of appealing to a broader swath of voters.

According to a handy spreadsheet put together by our knuckle-dragging friend Jon Fleischman – who vehemently opposes the proposal – the new platform would remove a specific call for withholding government benefits to illegals, remove specific support for two-thirds votes on tax measures, wipe out platform language relating to allowing concealed weapons and ending waiting periods for gun purchases, remove mention of support for “English only” laws, take out support for three-strikes laws, wipe out specific anti-abortion language and much, much more.

As the AP’s Michael Blood describes the proposal:

“A proposed rewrite of the California Republican Party platform retreats from opposition to same-sex adoption, domestic partner benefits and child custody, avoids any mention of overturning Roe v. Wade and drops a demand to end virtually all federal and state benefits for illegal immigrants.”

Calbuzz, of course, is agnostic about the Republican Party platform which nobody but a handful of political proctologists pay much attention to. Except that it’s always useful to ask candidates for high office if they agree with the GOP plank that asserts that life  begins at conception and ends at natural death, opposes all abortions and calls for overturning Roe v. Wade.

Why is this worth asking? Because no candidate at the top of the ticket – for president, U.S.  Senate or governor – who is not pro-choice has won in California since 1988.

Looks like the platform debate won’t really be decided until next year, but it will be gearing up this weekend. And the entire Calbuzz National Affairs and Emmy Watching Bureau will be there to tell you what happened.

Kunta Kinte meets Durward Kirby: Nice work by Old Chronicler Carolyn Lochhead hosing down Politico’s breathless story about Senator Difi having her $5 million re-election campaign fund “wiped out” by the widening scandal involving Democratic accountant Durward Kirby  Kunta Kinte Kinde Durkee.

As the Senior Senator from California was coming off the Senate floor the other day, Politico ambushed her with a question about the mess. Herself, apparently afflicted by one of her occasional episodes of logorrheic shoot-from-the-hip disease (see: Ejaculations, premature) blurted out, “I was wiped out too.” To her credit, she instantly added the rather important phrase, “we don’t know how much.”

To their discredit, Politico has little use for nuance and subtlety, and so rushed out – Win the morning! – with a misleading hed (“Feinstein: ‘Wiped Out’ by Scandal”) that probably generated a few extra page views but did absolutely nothing to clarify this complicated and murky story.

So Lochhead got stuck with cleaning up Politico’s mess, with a clear explainer beneath a headline that was unquestionably more boring (“Dianne Feinstein campaign: no idea how much money is missing”) but also, you know, accurate:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s $5.2 million re-election war chest may or may not be “wiped out” by trusted, and now arrested, treasurer Kinde Durkee, as the senior California Democrat has implied.

Politico skinned back the next day, employing the cheap old MSM trick of sneaking a correction (or “clarification” as they doubtless would have it) in the 1,2,3,4,5 – sixth paragraph of a snooze analysis that was considerably less electrifying than their original yarn:

Democratic Reps. Loretta Sanchez and Susan Davis and the Los Angeles County Democratic Party have already announced that they’ve lost hundreds of thousands of dollars to Durkee’s allegedly long-running illegal activities.  Sen. Dianne Feinstein is afraid that her $5 million-plus campaign fund may have been “wiped out,” although her aides say they’re not sure how much may be missing (emphasis ours).

(Slight digression: Debra Saunders points out in a brief but lucid blog post – <Confidential Carrot Top memo: maybe write short all the time?> – that Costco Carla Marinucci has been sniffing around suspicious Durkee activities since at least 2007, when she linked the firm to a shady operation called Californians for Obama.  She later followed up with a story noting that Durkee’s company had made at least $10K from the outfit. With our impeccable news judgment, Calbuzz doubtless would have trumpeted both of those stories, sparing everyone all the current angst, but unfortunately we weren’t in business yet).

The bottom line: Durkee apparently operated about 400 separate accounts, both political and corporate, using an unknown number of Bernie Madoff-style transactions to allegedly move money all over, through and in between them.

The accounts are now frozen, and it’s going to take a battalion of forensic accountants to untangle the mess, and determine what was stolen, what was shuffled around, how much is left and where it all resides.

As far we can tell, the only pol whose losses so far have been confirmed  is Assemblyman Jose Solorio, who’s named in the criminal complaint against Durkee. It’s unclear how long the untangling will take, however, so it seems prudent, to say the least, for any candidate or committee with a Durkee account to start refreshing the campaign treasury pronto.

Whether they’re “wiped out” or not.



Playing to a Hall Full of Extremists is a Loser Strategy

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

A friend once told us a story about his 9-year-old son, who had one question after watching a TV news clip of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy speaking to a Labor Day rally. Said the boy: “Why is that man yelling at me?”

Which calls to mind the distinction, apparently lost on some Republican candidates for president, between speaking to the hall and speaking to people outside of the hall.

What we witnessed at Monday night’s  Tea Party debate in Florida was a parade of candidates – notably Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann — who were playing to the hundreds of blood-thirsty, slash-and-burn Tea Partiers in the hall at the expense of the millions of centrist, moderate, even quiet conservative voters who were watching on TV.

Who were the people in the hall? Well, at one debate they applauded the news that Texas had executed 234 people and at another they cheered the idea of allowing a hypothetical 30-year-old man with no health insurance die for lack of treatment. These, we submit, are not the sentiments of your typical American voter. We doubt we’ll see a Rick Perry TV commercial proclaiming:

He executed hundreds of criminals and he’d let the uninsured die. He’ll put an end to Social Security, eliminate environmental regulations and protect tax breaks for the wealthy. Rick Perry – costs a lot more than 5 grand to bribe this ole boy.

‘Let the states do it’: On the other hand, give Perry credit for sticking to his guns on allowing illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at Texas colleges and universities. Although it made the Tea Partiers unhappy, he didn’t back away from that one like he tried to on his executive order requiring state immunization of young girls against cervical cancer.

On the third hand, check out the New York Times’ fact check on his assertions about Social Security, including this nugget:

At the debate, Mr. Perry said Social Security had to be fixed so that “our children actually know that there’s going to be a retirement program there for them.”

But in the past, as Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, correctly pointed out, Mr. Perry has repeatedly suggested that Social Security, which pays benefits to 56 million Americans, is undesirable, and that it may even be unconstitutional.

In “Fed Up” (Little, Brown and Company, 2010), Mr. Perry wrote that “by any measure, Social Security is a failure.” He described it as “a crumbling monument to the failure of the New Deal, in stark contrast to the mythical notion of salvation to which it has wrongly been attached for too long, all at the expense of respect for the Constitution and limited government.” Promoting the book on MSNBC last November, Mr. Perry asked: “Why is the federal government even in the pension program or the health care delivery program? Let the states do it.”

Hips and hot buttons: While Perry was playing to the partisans in the hall, Romney appears to have made a strategic decision to speak to the larger and more diverse TV audience.

In style and substance, the two approaches reflect broader divisions within the GOP about ideology and the best strategy for defeating President Obama next November.

Perry, since his recent, meteoric entry into the race, has quickly emerged as a Tea Party favorite: a full-throated advocate of their cut-taxes-slash-spending agenda, he also is a vocal social conservative on issues like gay marriage, and strikes a fiery, combative, shoot-from-the-hip campaign stance.

Romney, whose early lead in polls was quickly overtaken by Perry, also embraces Tea Party positions on taxes and spending, but his sharp focus on fixing the economy eschews hot button cultural issues, and his style is far more low-key.

Who woulda thunk that Social Security would emerge as a fault line in a GOP presidential primary?

But it has. While Perry bashes the 70-year old government pension system as a “fraudulent” “Ponzi scheme” that steals money from younger workers for retirees; Romney has pounced on the comments, supporting some reforms to Social Security, but portraying Perry as an extremist who is unelectable against Obama.

Not exactly Mr. Mainstream: As a practical matter, the intense exchange over Social Security is disproportionate to problems with the system. Far from insolvent, it is fully funded until 2037; a projected shortfall, driven by retirements among the massive Baby Boom generation, could be addressed through a number of reforms that have been identified, from adjusting benefits based on overall income, to raising the retirement age.

Perry’s stated idea – which he’s now desperately trying to walk back — that we should work to dismantle the federal program underpinning a social safety net built in the decades since the New Deal, is a decidedly radical notion. And a loser.

As Talking Points Memo noted:

Public Policy Polling (D) released their latest national poll on Tuesday, and it seems that calling Social Security a “Ponzi sceme” has not been particularly productive for Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Only 20 percent of voters nationally agree with that sentiment, against 70 percent who do not. Just to drive the point home, 82 percent don’t agree with ending the popular entitlement program, versus 12 who do. The results mirror a CNN poll on the issue, which showed that 72 percent thought Perry’s comments on Social Security were “not accurate.”

Crony capitalism: Perry’s other big problem – for which Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum ripped into him, doing Romney’s wet work — is his executive order mandating use of a vaccine against HPV, a common sexually transmitted infection that causes genital warts and, in women, can lead to cervical cancer.

The Washington Post offers a good peek at Perry’s ties to Merck, the drug company that makes the vaccine – ties that Bachmann suggested could have been the real reason why Perry issued his must-vaccinate order.

Despite his debate assertion that Merck gave him just $5,000, the Post reports:

Perry’s gubernatorial campaign, for example, received nearly $30,000 from the drug maker since 2000, most of it prior to his decision in 2007 to order young girls to obtain Merck’s vaccine against the human papillomavirus, or HPV.

Merck has also given more than $355,000 in donations to the Republican Governors Association since 2006, which was the year that Perry began to play a prominent role in the Washington-based group, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

Perry served as chairman of the RGA in 2008 and again this year until he decided to run for president. The group also ranks among Perry’s biggest donors, giving the Texas governor’s campaign at least $4 million over the past five years, according to Texans for Public Justice.

Of course, it’s still way early in the GOP contest. At this juncture, however, it looks like a two-man race: Perry vs Romney, with Bachmann and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas hanging on the fringes.

But it’s clear that the Republican Party is at a crossroads and which path they take will determine whether President Obama coasts to victory in November or has a serious fight on his hands.

Talking outside the hall: BTW, the best example we can conjure of how a candidate who plays outside the hall is smarter than one who plays inside the hall occurred at the California Democratic Party convention in 1990, when Dianne Feinstein, in a contested primary against Attorney Gen. John Van de Kamp, proclaimed her support for the death penalty.

As brilliantly recounted in the seminal work, “Never Let Them See You Cry,” now available at flea markets and church rummage sales everywhere:

As soon as she uttered the words “death penalty,” delegates began a chorus of boos and jeers that cascaded throughout the Sacramento convention center. TV news coverage of the convention played up the spectacle of Dianne being booed by her own party — which played right into her hands.

“Bless you, bless you,” media adviser Hank Morris said, standing at the press table as the Democrats lustily booed his candidate. “They booed, exactly as they were supposed to.”

Soon after, Morris and [Bill] Carrick had crafted a new 30-second spot out of the episode, which was duly recorded by a video crew the duo had the foresight to have on hand, and aired it to demonstrate Feinstein’s roughness and independence.



Why Brown Should Sign Initiatives Bill; Perry’s Lies

Monday, September 12th, 2011

Alert Calbuzzers will not be surprised to learn that at 1 a.m. Saturday, the Legislature approved a bill assuring that statewide initiatives will henceforth be voted on in November general elections – when turnout is largest – and no longer at June elections, even if that’s the next regularly scheduled statewide election after the measure qualifies.

Masquerading as a good government reform, SB 202, by Sen. Loni Hancock of Oakland, was a power play by labor unions and the Democrats to allow the greatest number of voters to have a crack at ballot measures that often have major, long-term consequences for the state.

Exactly as we predicted, the bill was jammed through at the last minute by majority votes in both houses of the Legislature. There would have been virtually no awareness or discussion of the issue except that Calbuzz (and FlashReport, followed by others) wrote about it nearly two weeks before the deed was done.

It’s not how the system should work, but it is how the system does work. Moreover, it’s the right thing to do and Gov. Jerry Brown should sign it.

Why? Because a) elections have consequences, b) Republicans have proved themselves unwilling to actually participate in governing and c) it’s better that big changes in the law and Constitution should be voted on by the widest possible electorate.

“SB 202 simply affirms that the California Constitution is right when it says initiatives should be voted on in general elections,” Speaker John Pérez said. “We have had instances where far reaching proposals that affect all Californians are determined in the lowest turnout elections. We have a chance to fix that, and I’m not willing to choose complacency over the Constitution.”

“The legislation would also bring California in line with 18 out of 24 other initiative states that do not allow initiatives to be placed on primary or special election ballots because of low-voter turnout in these elections,” the Speaker’s office added in a written statement.

None of that is really why labor and the Democrats want this done. It’s because they don’t want things like paycheck protection and spending caps and pension restrictions placed on a ballot where there’s a lower turnout, which means a higher proportion of older, conservative and Republican voters.

It’s lovely that there’s a goo-goo patina on the deal. The reformers who argue that big measures should be voted on by the most voters will get a thrill up their legs. Isn’t that special?

But let’s be serious: This is about the majority party exercising its power to accomplish their goals. Which is a hell of a lot better than the minority party using its power to keep the majority from governing.

Do the right thing Jerry: sign the bill.

Coyote Ugly: It was Mark Twain who famously declared that “there are three kinds of lies – lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Texas Governor Rick Perry, just weeks after jumping into the Republican presidential race, took little time in touching all the bases.

For starters, while Perry’s account of killing a coyote while running  has quickly become part of his political mythology, it appears that this self-serving saga of man-confronts-beast-on-the-jogging track is taller than any tale Mr. Clemens ever spun.

Carol Flake Chapman, a veteran Texas reporter who knows whereof she speaks, closely examines the crucial details of Perry’s story in a 2,200 word deconstruction at Daily Beast and shows that it just doesn’t pass the smell test.

Chapman, who used to belong to the same running club as Perry, and also competed against him in shooting contests, brings the skepticism to the task that AP reporter Jim Vertuno, to whom the governor first peddled the yarn, did not, thus enabling Ranger Rick to spread his urban cowboy image across the nation.

There is no evidence, beyond Perry’s claim, that the incident happened at all, let alone the way he spun it; no witnesses, no report filed by the governor’s security detail, no corpus Canis latrans.

Perry claims that he happened to be packing his pistol that morning because he was afraid of snakes, and that it came in handy when the coyote in question “laser-locked” its attention on his daughter’s Labrador Retriever. He told the reporter that after “hollering” at the coyote and charging it, he proceeded to send it “where coyotes go” with just one laser-guided shot.

Presumably that would be coyote never-never land. Laser-like focus is no match, apparently, for the right firearm accessory. But however many times I try to rerun this scenario in my head, it just doesn’t make any sense, gun-wise or coyote-wise. And I’m not alone in that conclusion. There’s something about this story that just doesn’t smell right to folks who know something about guns, snakes, and coyotes.

Damn lies: Stretching, even fabricating, the truth about what is a relatively harmless matter (except for the allegedly unfortunate purported coyote), of course doesn’t make Perry much different from countless other politicians who embellish their reputations with self-admiring anecdotes.

But if he’s willing to fib about a small thing, it’s not hard to imagine him lying about more important matters, like economic conditions in the Lone Star state, which he never tires of bragging on as some kind of economic utopia.

Au contraire, Dallas Morning News columnist Tod Robberson, wrote shortly after last week’s GOP presidential debate:

When Rick Perry tells Mitt Romney that “we” created more jobs in Texas in the last three months than Romney created in four years in Massachusetts, that only tells part of the story. Flip inside your Dallas Morning News today, and you’ll see one of the big items Perry conveniently forgot to mention in last night’s debate. Under Rick Perry, “we” have created more hungry people in Texas than 49 other states.

Texas ranks only behind Mississippi among states with the highest percentages of food-insecure households from 2008-2010. Nearly 19 percent of Texas households couldn’t get enough food to meet their needs during that period, according to a new report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Massachusetts ranks way at the bottom of the list, with only around 10 percent food insecurity.

If Texas has all the jobs, why are so many people going around hungry, Mr. Perry? Maybe that’s one of the questions Mitt Romney needs to ask his opponent the next time they debate.

Damn lying statistics: Perry relishes torturing the numbers to support his over-the-top claims about what a swell job he’s done boosting employment.

In part, Perry’s triumphalism on the subject is like the rooster taking credit for the sunrise (“The notion that Texas’ recent performance is due to some unusually favorable business climate is absurd,” said James K. Galbraith, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin), an argument Romney made during the debate.

Beyond that, however, there’s his dishonest use of stats in comparing Texas under his leadership to every other state in the union. (The Austin American-Statesman “PolitFact” feature does an excellent job of tracking the ever-changing iterations of Perry’s boasts about “creating jobs” ).

Two outside experts said the governor’s…claim overstates the Texas share of jobs created nationally.

Michael Brandl, a senior lecturer at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business, said the commission’s method of calculating the percentage wasn’t correct. By excluding all states with net job losses — regardless of any job gains in those states — the Texas share of total new jobs in the U.S. was overblown, even “laughable,” he said.

“To say it’s misleading is to be kind,” Brandi said. “It’s just not true.”

Memo to our California Republican friends: Caveat emptor.

Last word on 9/11: ICYMI, here is one of the most thoughtful counter-intuitive stories we’ve ever read about the cultural implications of the attacks.