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Press Clips: Mammoths, Mittens and Morain

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

Back in the days when wooly mammoths were denying the theory of climate change, doctors endorsed Lucky Strikes, and a news cycle lasted 12 hours, the late great columnist Arthur Hoppe devised a surefire method for dealing with complaints from readers.

“I’m very sorry ma’am,” Old Chronicler Hoppe would mellifluously intone, the moment he heard a caller start to caterwaul about something he’d written. “We’re going to have to cancel your subscription.” Click.

The time when journalists could scornfully disdain their audience has long since passed, of course, in a century when the Wild West, worldwide web makes everyone her or his own news hen or hound, and the consumer, not the producer, has the upper hand in the information exchange game.

Yet those underpaid working stiffs still laboring for wages in the barren vineyards of daily journalism (and whose news organizations lack the kind of erudite and eloquent readership commentariat to be found at Calbuzz) must be forgiven for thinking longingly of Hoppesque halcyon days each time they have to bite their tongues as ignorant derision, foul-mouthed abuse and other crudities of the online mob greet a well-wrought and reasoned piece of their professional prose.

And so today, in honor of the day-in-day-out self-discipline exercised by members of the ever-shrinking MSM in an ever-expanding non-MSM universe, our prestigious Little Pulitzer Committee presents the Art Hoppe “Tell Me If This Sounds Like a Phone Hanging Up” Award for Saintly Patience and Professional Forbearance to Dan Morain, ace op-edder and editorial writer for the SacBee.

Morain and the Bilderberg Group: Morain has been repeatedly, sometimes savagely, flamed in recent weeks, subjected to a series of coarse, cloddish, lowbred and loutish attacks in response to his opinion pages Actual Reporting.

Most recently, it was a profile of Steve Schmidt, dramatic foil of Sarah Palin in the HBO docudrama “Game Change.” that drew the ire of the flat earth crowd, many of them brain surgeons and rocket scientists who frequent Conservatives4Palin, which had posted several thuggish attacks (“Steve, you’re quite the punk”) against the Sacto-based consultant that Morain cited in his piece.

“I guess the gay community supports one another – strongly,” one scholar commented on his piece, capturing the overall clever tone of several hundred responders. “The only other addition to your article would have been a bold ‘BARF ALERT’ in the header.”

Days before, Morain editorials on childhood vaccinations and L.A. Mayor Tony V. drew similar yahoo throngs perfecting the craft of web-based projectile vomiting; it was a column last month, about a proposed initiative to require labeling of genetically modified foods that is sponsored by an Illinois snake oil salesman “osteopath and entrepreneur,” which generated the greatest outpouring of bellowing and braying, however. So great was the bedlam that his boss, Stuart Leavenworth, took to print to recount the affair and stand up for his guy:

The Organic Consumers Association – a Minnesota-based group whose political arm has given $95,000 to the initiative – put Morain’s photo on its website and labeled him as a “minion of Monsanto,” a leading manufacturer of GMOs. The Web page then urged followers to inundate The Bee with responses, which they did.

Some of the messages were reasoned and impassioned rebuttals to Morain’s column, which we welcome. Many others simply echoed the talking points of the OCA – that Morain had been bought off by the biotech industry and should be fired or silenced. Others were even worse.

“I hope you get cancer you corporate sellout scumbag,” wrote one Mercola supporter, named Dan.

“You will be punished in many ways, by eating, writing, and lack of knowledge of the Bilderberg Group who wants to kill all of us including you,” wrote another person, named Carol.

Sheesh. Confirming the wisdom of the judges who honored him with The Hoppe, Morain delivered a characteristically short and stolid acceptance speech:

“Part of the deal, I guess.”

Sketchy etchings: Perhaps the most astonishing thing about the 48-hour Etch-a-Sketch feeding frenzy triggered by Mitt Romney’s chief nitwit spokesman is that the question of who actually invented the damn thing remains an unsettled issue. (Our money’s on the Italian guy).

Beyond that, what seems most striking is how many among the rarefied pundit class are basically missing the point.

Sure, comparing your candidate to an Etch a Sketch calls attention to his political record as a serial flip-flopper and right-wing poseur. But that brand of analysis, while displaying a tremendous instinct for the obvious, simply skims the surface: The whole Hall of Fame for Toys flapdoodle resonates for existential reasons that are far more fundamental, and far more dangerous for Mittens. To wit:

1-The guy’s got no base. Besides Ann and the kids, his 1% buy-out pals and the Mormon church (more below), who is really invested in Romney’s presidential effort, or has any connection that goes beyond the operational?

Think of any other presidential-level politician who faced a media firestorm in recent years – Clinton with Gennifer, Bush with the DUI,  McCain with his lobbyist love interest, Palin with her entire life, Clinton with the draft, Kerry with the Swiftboaters, Obama with Rev. Wright, Clinton with Monica – and every one had a chorus of hardcore boosters and lifers who pushed back in the press. Not our Mittens, as First Read correctly notes:

This is what happens when you don’t have a solid base of support that can serve as a cocoon of protection during the toughest of times. Successful presidential candidates had grassroots supporters rushing to their defense, even in the toughest of political times. Romney — right now — doesn’t have this. In fact, it was notable during yesterday’s “Etch A Sketch” controversy that we didn’t see many prominent conservatives railing against media bias or unfairness. Instead, they were either standing on the sidelines or piling on. And that’s a problem for Romney.

2-The guy has no guts. To us, the most telling anecdote about what kind of person Romney is comes from “The Real Romney,” the biography by Boston Globers Michael Kranish and Scott Helman. At one point, they describe the events that led to the creation of Bain Capital, the company where Mitt got the experience he assures us is all he needs to fix the economy in a jiffy. At the time, his boss, Bill Bain, wanted him to leave his comfy consulting gig and boldly branch out on behalf of the team:

And so Bain made his pitch: Up to that point, Bain & Company could watch its clients prosper only from a distance, taking handsome fees but not directly sharing in profits. Bain’s epiphany was that he would create a new enterprise that would invest in companies and share in their growth, rather than just advise them.

Starting almost immediately, Bain proposed, Romney would become the head of a new company to be called Bain Capital. With seed money from Bill Bain and other partners at the consulting firm, Bain Capital would raise tens of millions of dollars, invest in start-ups and troubled businesses, apply Bain’s brand of management advice, and then resell the revitalized companies or sell their shares to the public at a profit. It sounded exciting, daring, new. It would be Romney’s first chance to run his own firm and, potentially, to make a killing. It was an offer few young men in a hurry could refuse.

Yet Romney stunned his boss by doing just that. He explained to Bain that he didn’t want to risk his position, earnings, and reputation on an experiment. He found the offer appealing but didn’t want to make the decision in a “light or flippant manner.” So Bain sweetened the pot. He guaranteed that if the experiment failed Romney would get his old job and salary back, plus any raises he would have earned during his absence. Still, Romney worried about the impact on his reputation if he proved unable to do the job. Again the pot was sweetened. Bain promised that, if necessary, he would craft a cover story saying that Romney’s return to Bain & Company was needed due to his value as a consultant. “So,” Bain explained, “there was no professional or financial risk.” This time Romney said yes.

There you have it. Born with a silver spoon in his mouth, Mitt wants – no, demands – that life forever after be delivered on a silver platter, and pronto – no risk, no worry, no chance of failure, no sleepless nights. Just like, you know, the rest of us.

3-The guy’s afraid of who he is. Besides money and his family, the most important thing in Romney’s life is the Mormon Church, but he’s in the closet about it. In his failed 2008 bid, Romney gave one speech about his religion, a pile of platitudes that used the word “Mormon” once and shed exactly no light on the implications of what he believes and why.

Mormonism has been at the center of his life, from his grandfather’s historic role in the church to his own multimillion dollar tithings. Putting aside the fact that his wife’s family was not allowed to attend the couple’s wedding ceremony in the church, along with all the secret and secretive practices of LDS, the crucial fact is that voters have no information about how being Mormon informs and shapes his views on contemporary public policy issues, from Prop. 8 to race relations. From Frank Rich’s terrific piece on this:

In Romneyland, Mormonism is the religion that dare not speak its name. Which leaves him unable to talk about the very subject he seems to care about most, a lifelong source of spiritual, familial, and intellectual sustenance. We’re used to politicians who camouflage their real views about issues, or who practice fraud in their backroom financial and political deal-making, but this is something else. Romney’s very public persona feels like a hoax because it has been so elaborately contrived to keep his core identity under wraps.

The questions are not theological. Nor are they about polygamy, the scandalous credo that earlier Romneys practiced even after the church banned it in 1890. Rather, the questions are about the Mormon church’s political actions during Mitt Romney’s lifetime—and about what role Romney, as both a leader and major donor, might have played or is still playing in those actions. To ask these questions is not to be a religious bigot but to vet a candidate for the nation’s highest job. Given how often Romney himself cites his faith as a defining force in his life, voters have a right to know what role he played when his faith intersected with the secular lives of his fellow citizens.

Next up: Mitt looks in the mirror and sees no reflection.

Reading list: For those who’ve been vacationing on Saturn since January, here’s everything you need to know about the GOP race in five easy-to-read graphics.

Timm Herdt is the big dog on California’s most interesting congressional race.

God bless George Skelton.

The Bee’s got the political equivalent of the Final Four tourney bracket.

Chief Wahoo Club special: How can you lose when Carlos Baerga endorses you?

Read of the week: How Russia’s Paris Hilton became a working class hero:

During the first years of Mr. Putin’s presidency, Ms. Sobchak made herself into an avatar of Moscow’s over-the-top, oil-fueled high life. She dated millionaires, posed topless for Playboy and lustily embraced the materialism of the age, making no attempt to hide her distaste for the poverty of ordinary Russians…

At some point last year, that changed. In October, she turned a video camera on Vasily G. Yakemenko, the minister of youth affairs, in an exorbitantly expensive Moscow restaurant, noting in her starlet’s purr that while socialites were expected to drink Champagne at $45 a glass, government officials were a different story.

The video became a sensation. Mr. Yakemenko’s spokeswoman called Ms. Sobchak a “cheap prostitute,” and she began to clash with television executives over her desire to interview opposition figures like the blogger Aleksei Navalny.

Complications ensue.

Op Ed: On Exec Pay, GOP Blows a Chance to Matter

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

By John Hrabe
Special to Calbuzz

This morning, the California Senate Education Committee will defeat a good government bill designed to rein in the outrageous executive compensation at the state’s public colleges. SB 967 by Democratic State Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco, would prohibit raises for Cal State University’s top administrators during bad budget years or within two years of a student fee hike.

Here’s how the committee vote will go down: Republicans will support the bill. Democrats will oppose it. Then  Democrats will pass SB 952, a weak and ineffectual cap proposed by Democrat Elaine Alquist of Santa Clara. Her bill guarantees 10 percent pay hikes for top executives in perpetuity while allowing Senate Democrats to send out self-congratulatory press releases about fighting for students and teachers.
[Image by Shutterstock]

Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, a member of the committee, promises that Republicans will support Yee’s bill. “This will make trustees think twice about raising student fees or tuition because it would limit executive compensation,” he said. “It would also stop the practice of building up the value for college presidents and chancellors by capping the amount they can pay.”

Sure, Democrats will defeat Yee’s bill and pass Alquist’s hollow PR gambit. But, Republicans also deserve some of the blame for the bill’s defeat. GOP Senators should have championed Yee’s bill earlier in the process, signed up the entire caucus as co-authors and made it a central component of their March message. They didn’t because that idea never crossed their minds. Republican legislators don’t know how to win.

Republicans are fighting for relevancy in California. Prop. 14, unfavorable redistricting and bad fundraising make it likely that the GOP will drop below one third in the State Senate after the November election. If Republicans have any chance of pulling off upsets in November, or remaining relevant after that, they need to drop the culture of losing, form some odd political coalitions and wholeheartedly endorse Democratic mavericks when they propose good ideas in line with their ideology.

Opportunity to Split the Left

What are two of the most common complaints of the Occupy Wall Street Movement? Executive compensation and student loan debt. Cal State executive compensation, or high salaries for public employees, is a rare issue in which Republican ideology actually aligns with the Occupy Wall Street movement. Over the last few weeks, student Occupy groups at San Francisco State and Cal State LA have targeted campus administrations for raising tuition while simultaneously awarding pay raises for administrators. It would have been easy for Republicans to encourage student frustration. If nothing else, it would have kept some Occupiers away from protesting Republican private enterprises for a few days.

And it wasn’t just the Occupy crowd and a few fringe student groups protesting against college presidents’ pay. The California Faculty Association has been one of the most vocal critics of the administration’s high salaries.

“The Chancellor needs to get his priorities straight. Our nation is in a time of crisis, our youth face a doubtful future. Educators, especially those at the top of our public university, need to focus on our mission to advance the people of California. It’s time for those at the top to act like educators in the service of the public,” said CFA President Lillian Taiz in an August 2011 press release. “Furthermore, it is simply repugnant to hear the Chancellor cry poor about well-to-do executives having to sell a home at a loss and seeing their pensions capped at a mere $240,000 per year while tens of thousands of students are losing their opportunity to climb into the middle class.”

Why didn’t the Senate Republican Caucus host a press conference with the California Faculty Association? Maybe Republicans just couldn’t get over their ideological disagreements or personal contempt for unions and Occupiers. Maybe.

The more likely explanation: Republican legislators are so wrapped up in their minority status that they don’t know how to win. When I asked one GOP Assembly office to respond to a recent report that the Chancellor’s Office had hidden $200,000 in compensation for Cal State LA President James Rosser, the press flak fired back, “I’m not totally sure what you want a comment on.” Meanwhile, another GOP press aide expressed the helpless attitude of “What do you want us to do, we’re in the minority.”

Think about the irony, the party of personal responsibility, agency and pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps complains that they are helpless to do anything in Sacramento?  What Republican legislators should do is follow the lead of Sen. Yee and Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, who have proven how to be effective critics of government spending.

Both Yee and Portantino sent a letter on March 13 demanding the CSU Chancellor to disclose the total compensation of all 23 campus presidents. Yee’s office aggressively courted every Senator on the committee for support of SB 967, both Republican and Democrat. This bill is headed for defeat, but Yee’s legislative track record is impressive. Last year, he was successful with SB 8, a bill that requires college foundations to comply with the Public Records Act. If you search Yee’s website, you’ll get a few hundred hits on the phrase executive compensation.

Then, there’s Portantino, who took on his own party leadership to force the public disclosure of the Assembly’s spending records. Portantino was “in the minority” when it came to that fight, but he didn’t play the “I’m helpless card.” It’s much easier for Republicans to wait to see the winning side and then issue a press release.

Here’s another frustrating piece of news for the Republican base: GOP legislators’ lackluster approach on this issue has weakened their position in the looming tax fight. Cal State’s top administrators have no problem taking more money from taxpayers to pay for their excessive salaries. They’re ready to turn the student groups, Occupiers and faculty into effective activists for the tax increase measure. “The California State University system plans to close spring admissions at most campuses next year, and deep enrollment cuts are planned if voters reject Gov. Jerry Brown’s measure to raise taxes, a top school official said Monday,” reads the opening line in of a March 19 Associated Press report. Bureaucrats play the game better than legislative Republicans.

Democrats Defend Higher Ed’s 1%

Republican legislators failed to lead, but Democrats’ opposition to Yee’s compensation cap is inexplicable. I thought the Democratic Party supported public education, stood for teachers and hated income inequality. Cal State’s top brass are the 1% in higher education, earning upwards of $600,000 per year in total compensation. Cal State presidents receive $72,000 in annual housing and car allowances, more than the annual salaries of 3,888 professors. It takes the combined tuition of 106 SFSU students to pay the annual compensation of President Robert Corrigan.

And the Cal State Board of Trustees wants to pay college presidents even more. “I’m just sorry we can’t pay them more because of the policy we adopted,” CSU Trustee Roberta Achtenberg said at yesterday’s meeting, the LA Times reported. At that meeting, the Trustees approved pay increases for the two new college presidents at Fullerton and East Bay. The pay raises come the same week that the Cal State Chancellor’s Office announced plans to close spring admissions at most campuses and reduce enrollment by 25,000 students because of budget cuts.

Politically, it’s also a head-scratcher why Democrats are defending higher education’s administrative elite. Cal State officials have blamed the Democratic legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown for their ongoing tuition hikes. Last month, when asked to justify why any government employee should make more than the governor or the Assembly Speaker, Claudia Keith, CSU’s Assistant Vice Chancellor of Public Affairs, replied “I doubt any legislator has to have a Ph.D. or Ed.D., 20-plus years of experience, and are required to raise a million dollars a week toward a fundraising campaign for an institution.” You can decide for yourself if that was a thinly veiled attack on the high-ranking legislator who never finished his bachelor’s degree at Cal.

Gov. Brown hasn’t been spared CSU’s wrath either. Back in August, outgoing San Francisco State University president Corrigan told the Bay Citizen that Brown “doesn’t seem to appreciate high-quality education in California.” Cal State’s press office didn’t mince words last summer with its press release announcing the 12 percent fee hike. It blamed Brown by the release’s second word. “Following Governor Brown’s signing of a final budget that cuts state funding for the California State University by $650 million for 2011-12, the CSU Board of Trustees took action today to increase tuition by an additional 12 percent — or $294 per semester for full-time undergraduates — effective in the fall,” according to the July 12 press release.

Go back and check the archives. Cal State fawned over Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as he took an axe to Cal State’s budget. In its first press release of 2009, as the system braced for more budget cuts, it was all about austerity. “The magnitude of the state’s budget crisis continues to grow, along with the uncertainty of the future fiscal picture,” said CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed.  “We are instituting these cost saving measures knowing that the state’s fiscal situation worsens each day.” It’s “the state’s” budget crisis during the Arnold era, but Gov. Brown’s fault for the current round of tuition hikes.

John Hrabe regularly contributes to CalWatchdog.com and the OC Register editorial pages. You can read more about his ongoing investigation into Cal State’s executive compensation scandal at his website, johnhrabe.com.

Fox News Poll on Latinos Offers GOP Fair Warning

Monday, March 19th, 2012

Loyal Calbuzz readers know we have hammered on immigration – and especially the issue of a pathway to citizenship — time and time and time again. We’ve cited polls by Pew, PPIC, Field and even one by Republicans Marty Wilson and Bob Moore in which one-third of Latino voters said they would never vote for a Republican.

But we are shocked – pleasantly we might add – to be able to add to this list of surveys a poll of 1,200 likely Latino voters done Feb. 10-25 by Latin Insights for, of all clients, Fox News.

We don’t know how Latin Insights picked their likely voters, we don’t know anything about their telephone methodology, their sampling or their weighting, and we don’t have access to their data set or complete crosstabs. But the results are so at odds with the broad sentiments of the survey’s sponsor that they merit serious analysis.

The electoral top lines of this survey have been reported by Fox and others: among Latinos, President Obama’s approval is 73%, including 66% on health care, 58% on the economy and 45% on immigration. He beats Mitt Romney 70-14%, Rick Santorum 69-14% and Newt Gingrich 72-14%.

Some 51% of likely Latino voters say they’re conservative and 39% say they’re liberal. But they rate the Democratic Party 65-21% favorable and the Republican Party 60-25% unfavorable. Seven in 10 Latino likely voters identify with the Democratic Party and just 16% with the Republican Party.

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They say they trust the Democrats more than the Republicans to do a better job on immigration policies 64-11%; support small business owners 64-12%; represent the view of Latinos 63-12%; help Latinos achieve the American Dream 60-10%; respect traditional values 55-16% and create good-paying jobs 53-16%.

Right facts, wrong conclusion: Immigration is cited as the most important issue by just 12% of voters, following the economy and jobs at 49% and education and health care at 15% each. About 56% say open borders would hurt the country, but 81% say undocumented workers expand the economy and 51% say the country’s immigration policy is too strict.

It’s that Latinos, like others, rate the economy and jobs as the top issue (along with the high proportion of Latinos who say they’re conservative), that gets Republicans all confused. That, they argue, means all we have to do is show them that we’re better for them on the issue they care about the most, and they’ll vote for us.

Wrong.

Here are the strongest numbers in the Fox News survey:

– Do you think undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States when they were children should be eligible to legalize their status if they attend college or serve in the military? Yes: 90%; No: 7%; Don’t know: 3%

–  In general, do you favor or oppose providing undocumented immigrants currently in the United States a path to citizenship? Favor: 85%; Oppose: 10%; Don’t know 5%

The Republican Party’s failure to adapt to the demographic realities of the United States and to accommodate the changing population with an immigration policy that affords dignity and hope to Latinos is not a new issue.

Wisest of GOP wise men: In November, it will have been 15 years since Stu Spencer, the most important adviser and manager of Ronald Reagan’s political ascendancy, wrote a memo titled “Wake-up Call for GOP,” in which he warned: “We are dramatically losing market share of the fastest growing segment of the electorate . . . The stakes are too high for us to act like political ostriches and ignore the challenges we face.”

But by allowing themselves to be horse-whipped by anti-immigrant border fanatics, GOP elders have failed – year in and year out – to take a stand in primary elections that does not doom them in the general election. Which is exactly what is happening this year to Romney, Santorum and Gingrich.

No, immigration is not the most important issue to Latino voters, as we have noted over and over again. But by taking the stands they have — against the Dream Act and a pathway to citizenship, by supporting a requirement that would-be voters produce photo ID to prove US citizenship (opposed 72-23%) and by calling for a crack-down on illegal immigration when more than half of Latino voters say US policy is too strict now – Republicans are indeed political ostriches. And Latinos don’t care what they have to say about the “important” issues.

Mittens hearts eMeg: If he winds up, as we long ago predicted he might, campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination in California, the Mitt Romney who has said he would veto the Dream Act and who advocates “self-deportation,” might morph again on the issue of immigration. If he wants to have any hope among Latinos in the general election, that is.

But if – like his political protégé Meg Whitman did in the 2010 governor’s race – he believes he has to play to the right-wing base of the GOP, Romney may double down on self-deportation and killing the Dream Act.

Which is one of the reasons he’ll never be president.