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Archive for 2011



How Ace Inc. Aims to Ice Grand Inquisitor Issa

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Hopelessly hardcore California political junkies will recall the travail of the late Democratic Assemblyman Carmen Perino, who once suffered the indignity of witnessing his campaign manager’s arrest in a notorious murder-for-hire case in Stockton.

Reacting to the news of his key adviser being taken into custody in connection with a contract killing, Perino famously commented: “What he does on his own time is his own business.”

His off-the-cuff, see-no-evil comment came to mind this week, as Calbuzz mulled the matter of Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Unindicted, another cagey pol whose public career bears the stain of private scandal.

At the moment, Issa is the GOP’s It-Man, an erstwhile comic figure and back-bencher whose profile has remarkably and suddenly soared in his new role as the powerful chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

It’s a perch from which he’s proclaimed his plan to serve as Chief Inquisitor of the Obama Administration, launching at his whim investigations of what he told Rush Limbaugh is “one of the most corrupt Presidents in modern times.” And, by extension, to launch his own bid to be treated by the Beltway’s mediaocracy as a Serious Person to be reckoned with, to hear Kurt Bardella, his peach-fuzzed flack, tell it to the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza:

“My goal is very simple,” (Bardella) said. “I’m going to make Darrell Issa an actual political figure. I’m going to focus like a laser beam on the five hundred people here who care about this crap, and that’s it. We’ve been catering more to that audience, so Darrell can expand his sphere of influence here among people who track who’s up, who’s down, who wins, who loses. Then we can broaden that to something more tangible afterward.”

Such a modest young man.

Alas for the boss of the unfortunate Bardella, however, Issa’s ambitious self-reinvention and reclamation project faces a considerable political challenge, at least in his home state: overcoming his own biography.

From his expensive, but spectacularly failed, 1998 bid for the U.S. Senate to his short-lived 2003 pursuit of the governorship (after successfully bankrolling the recall of Gray Davis), the public memory of Issa in California bristles with words like “arrest,” “indictment,” “arson,” “concealed weapons” and “stolen cars.”

We admit that we’re hopelessly old-school about this kind of thing. Still, we can’t help but wonder at the wisdom of congressional Republicans investing their party’s mantle of moral authority in  a guy who took out a special, short-term, ginned-up fire insurance policy for his business, which mysteriously was burned down by a mysterious arsonist just a few mysterious weeks after.

Truth be told, Calbuzz has spent the last few, entertaining hours chuckling our way through the exhaustively and impeccably researched, 148 original source pages of “The Issa Files,” which documents in excruciating detail the evidence surrounding the 1982 fire that destroyed Issa’s Maple Heights, Ohio based (Go Mustangs!) company, the ashes from which arose his subsequent zillion dollar success in the car burglar alarm business.

As every schoolboy knows by now, the Issa volume was produced by a newly minted independent expenditure outfit called “Third Lantern” (see Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth), wrangled by Ace Smith, the redoubtable prince of the dark arts of campaign oppo research.

“As Congressman Issa begins his frivolous investigations, The Third Lantern will conduct our own examination of Mr. Issa’s behavior and prove he lacks credibility as a Congressional investigator,” our old friend Ace opined, in releasing the material. “The Third Lantern will release documents which will shed light on Mr. Issa’s history and demonstrate that he is solely motivated by partisan rancor of the lowest order.  Stay tuned while we investigate the reckless investigator and reveal the truths that he is so desperate to hide. “

As a politician, Issa has been trying for at least 15 years to escape the acrid stench of smoke and circumstance that links him to the episode. Astonishingly, he claimed to Lizza that he was shocked – shocked! – to hear tell that authorities in the Buckeye State considered the blaze to be arson:

Issa seemed unfamiliar with the insurance company’s fire analysis report concluding that the fire was arson, and said that, as far as he knew, it was officially declared accidental.

Ah, not so much.

For those with real jobs or other annoying responsibilities that keep them from  more amusing pursuits, here are some highlights from the Calbuzz Cliff’s Notes version of The Issa Files:

Page 18: Anonymous call received by local police or fire department sometime soon after fire:  “Unidentified caller said was deliberately set.”

Page 41: Local official reports that member of the Arson Bureau of the State Fire Marshal’s Office, says “his preliminary findings indicate arson,” and that another investigator “indicated possible arson because of low burn patterns.”

Page 45: Investigator relates conversation with insurance agent noting that Issa had just increased amount on his policy: “our Ins’d and his Ins’d increased their insurance coverage only 1 week before the fire.”

pp 47-8: Summary of the Maple Heights fire chief’s suspicions about the fire, including “All areas of (the building) was under automatic sprinkler grid except small area where fire originated.”

pp. 92-94: Fire Analysis concluded that “fire was of incendiary origin” because of “suspicious burn patterns,” and because “no accidental source of heating power was located at either of these two major areas of origin.”  Blue flames and heavy smoke both indicated presence of hydrocarbon accelerant.

Carmen Perino

Page 107: Insurance form shows that Issa increased insurance for the period August 19-September 18, 1982; the fire broke out in the early morning hours of September  7, 1982. The special policy covers 80% of loss.

As the New Yorker piece duly notes, much of the substance, if not the granular detail, of the ethical cloud that trails behind the Grand Inquisitor was brought to light by reporters like Lance Williams and Eric Lichtblau during Issa’s failed bids for statewide office in 1998 and 2003.

“Issa seemed tired of defending himself from these old stories,” Lizza reports.

We just bet he did.

Maddaus on CD 36: Liberal vs Liberal vs Ultra-Liberal

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

As Secretary of State Debra Bowen jumped into the race for the 36th Congressional District race and L.A. city council member Janice Hahn added Sen. Dianne Feinstein to her long list of establishment endorsers, we heard from political writer Gene Maddaus, who took issue with some key elements of the Calbuzz early line, published last week.

Maddaus, who covers politics for the LA Weekly, is all over the campaign to succeed the departing Rep. Jane Harman day-to-day. Among his other lead-the-pack coverage – here, here and here – he broke the news of Bowen’s entry Tuesday. Here’s his take on our take of the race.

Gene Maddaus
Special to Calbuzz

1. Janice Hahn is no moderate. Along with Jose Huizar and Richard Alarcon, she is one of the three most liberal members of the (quite liberal) LA City Council. She opposed gang injunctions. She backed a $30 million tax to pay for more gang intervention workers. She is among the most likely to defend city jobs as an end in themselves. She would be a moderate in Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, but not here.

2. The race isn’t so much about moderate vs. liberal — because Bowen and Hahn are both very liberal — as it is about a beer-track Democrat (Hahn) versus a wine-track Democrat (Bowen).

Bowen’s base is pro-choice, pro-consumer/trial lawyer, and pro-environment. Hahn’s base is labor labor labor, plus African-Americans. (That’s thanks to residual affection for Kenny Hahn, though, unfortunately for her, there aren’t many black voters in the 36th.)

If either of them is a moderate, it’s Bowen. She was a Republican in her misspent youth, and she had a reputation in the Assembly for bucking the party leadership. (Though that was probably out of necessity, since she represented a 50/50 district and the leadership was Willie Brown.)

3. The L.A. County Fed will back Hahn, and their support can be determinative in a low-turnout primary. UNITE HERE Local 11 (Maria-Elena’s old shop) endorsed Hahn last week, so the Fed can’t be far behind. Their turnout operation is justly feared/admired and union density is high in the Harbor area. Bowen’s hope would be that she can turn out wine-track Dems in the beach cities, where the Fed is less potent (ask Nick Karno in the 53rd AD) and that she can persuade independents and Republicans to back her in order to stop Hahn.

4. If anything, the jungle primary helps Bowen. Without it, Winograd and Bowen split the Westside liberal vote while Hahn has the Harbor/labor vote to herself. In the runoff, Hahn faces a token Republican. Advantage: Hahn. But with the jungle primary, Winograd gets kicked out after Round 1 and the Westside liberal vote consolidates behind Bowen. Advantage: Bowen. (Unless, of course, a Republican makes it through the runoff).

5. Both Hahn and Bowen are to the left of Harman, so now Winograd has to go even further left to maintain her brand. (Winograd’s questions for Bowen include: Will you visit Bradley Manning [the Wikileaks leaker] in solitary confinement?) A lot of that Winograd vote is anti-Harman. Not sure how seriously the electorate will take her this time around.

6. Harman said she’s resigning so the election can be consolidated with the special statewide vote on taxes. There’s a chance that this won’t cost the state any money, if a candidate gets 50% of the vote. If not, the runoff would be in August, when turnout is at its lowest and a good turnout operation is most important.

Harman also said that the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, where she’ll be taking over as executive director, approached her after the November election, because they didn’t like their first round of candidates to replace Lee Hamilton, the former Indiana congressman who’s retiring from the think tank.

The oil rig that wouldn’t die: Overlooked in much of the budget coverage that followed Kevin Yamamura’s scoop on the Legislative Analyst’s worst-case scenario report is the sudden resurfacing of the hugely contentious Tranquillon Ridge offshore oil drilling project.

Less than a year after ex-Governor Schwarzmuscle folded his long-sought effort to win approval of the Santa Barbara County coastal project, in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, analyst Mac Taylor tucked it into the new report his office prepared, which offers a detailed look at the kinds of cuts and other moves lawmakers would have to make if Governor Krusty doesn’t get his way on extending $12 billion in temporary tax hikes.

The T-Ridge project called for a new state oil lease – which would be the first since the 1969 Santa Barbara spill – authorizing the PXP oil company to drill into state waters from its existing Platform Irene facilities in federal water, more than three miles offshore from Vandenberg Air Force base.

Among a whole batch of bitter political conflicts, the proposal caused a civil war within the green community in Santa Barbara, where the environmental movement began; some, led by the Environmental Defense Center, backed the lease as part of a negotiated package they said would end future drilling in federal waters from Irene and three other platforms. Others, notably former S.B. Democratic Assemblyman Pedro Nava, said it would set a dangerous precedent that could open California’s coast to more drilling.

For Brown, the project, one of the few  budget moves in Taylor’s report that would generate new revenue, would represent a special quandary. A longtime foe of offshore drilling, Gandalf would be under pressure to back the plan, estimated to bring $100 million a year into the treasury, because of his call for shared sacrifice across the political spectrum.

“Friggin’ cats only have 9 lives,” Nava, who led the opposition to the plan in the Legislature, told Calbuzz. “This feels like at least a dozen.”

ICYMI: There’s a do-gooder move afoot to take down various video posts of the truly bizarre clip of CBS LA correspondent Serene Branson’s live report from the Grammys the other night, amid still unanswered medical questions about whether she had some kind of neurological malfunction on the air. Before it’s gone for ever, you can judge for yourself.

Texas Gov Shovels Cow Pies About California

Monday, February 14th, 2011

Rick Perry, the blow-dried blowhard  recently re-elected as the Republican governor of Texas, was back at it last week, trying to puff up his national political prestige by dumping all over California.

This loudmouth clodhopper loves to boast about his economic development “hunting trips,” which he falsely claims have led a stream of companies to flee the Golden State for the Lone Star State. In that vein, he told a Washington gathering that  “California businesses are going to keep relocating out of that state,” according to a Richard Dunham dispatch:

In a speech to the Texas State Society in Washington, he cited California’s tax burden, its fiscal mess and its failure to adopt tough tort reform as reasons why its businesses are leaving. Unlike California, he said, Texas offers businesses headquartered there “a stable platform.”

Talk about big hat, no cattle.

The anti-evolution theorist Perry, who harbors delusional dreams of living in the White House, likes to travel the country bragging on what he calls the “Texas Miracle.” In this political fantasy, the low-tax, low-service government of America’s reddest state fuels a mighty engine of recession-proof economic growth, in sharp contrast to the policies of the  bluest in the nation.

But as the Calbuzzers in our Southwest Region and Turquoise Jewelry String Tie Bureau like to say: “Never kick a cow chip on a hot day.”

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Beyond Tom Meyer’s splendid sum-up cartoon today, recent takedowns of Texas by prominent economic columnists, from the estimable Michael Hiltzik to the hysterical Paul Krugman have shown that, by a wide variety of measures, Perry’s miraculous narrative is a fabrication.

Because Texas has a two-year budget – and because it was propped up by billions in federal spending from the stimulus bill that Perry never tired of hypocritically trashing — he dissembled throughout his re-election campaign, bloviating about how his right-wing fiscal policies had put his state into surplus, while California wallowed in red ink (loyal readers will  also recall that Meg Whitman, who like Perry has but a passing acquaintance with the truth, often pointed to Texas as a model of how she would govern if she beat Jerry Brown. But we digress).

But when the bill came due, shortly after Perry’s inauguration, it turned out Texas faced a $25+ billion, two-year deficit (representing about the same percentage of its total budget as California’s), along with high unemployment, plus education and health care services among the lowest in the country. As Hiltzik puts it:

The bottom line is that fashioning fiscal policies strictly along low-tax lines doesn’t protect you from budget deficits or business slumps or make your residents necessarily happy or healthy…

While Texas Gov. Rick Perry sucked up to the tea party, declaring himself opposed to “government bailouts” and prattling about seceding from the union, he papered over his state’s budget gap with $6.4 billion in Recovery Act funds, including increased federal handouts for education and Medicaid. So when you, the California taxpayer, hear talk of the Texas Miracle, you should take pride in having helped pay for it.

As for those businesses that Perry has allegedly stolen for his state from California, well, as we say around the Calbuzz campfire, “You can put your boots in the oven but that don’t make ‘em biscuits.” The redoubtable Evan Halper reports:

Even Perry’s claims of companies that have decamped from California to lay down roots in Texas appear to be overblown. When the Austin American-Statesman looked into the Texas governor’s boast that there were 153 such companies in 2010, reporters found the claim included California firms that stayed put but maybe opened a Texas branch. The newspaper concluded that Perry’s figure was grossly inflated.

Perry’s staff said the governor was too busy to be interviewed in Austin last week. Media reports later revealed that he was on a five-day trip through California, which involved trying to coax companies east. His spokesman refused to name the companies.

We just bet he did.

Now when it comes to Texas, this ain’t our first rodeo. In fact, a mere 19 years ago (see photo evidence) your Calbuzzards conducted our own extensive, on-the-ground Actual Reporting about the state (key finding: no  coincidence it’s where air conditioning was invented).

So our well-considered bottom line on Perry and all his budget bushwah is this: Just because a chicken has wings don’t mean it can fly. And that ole boy thinks the sun comes up just to hear him crow. Anyways, he’s as fulla’ wind as a corn eatin’ horse.

Besides, we still live in California, and he’s still stuck in Texas.