Archive for 2012

Press Clips: It’s (Way Past) Time for Pete Stark to Go

Friday, May 4th, 2012

All right-thinking people agree that Debra Saunders, the Chronicle’s token house conservative columnist, is woefully misguided on a vast number of political and policy issues. One thing she is not, however, is lacking in integrity.

So when U.S. Rep. Pete Stark this week falsely and recklessly accused her – in front of her boss — of violating the most basic standards of ethical journalism, it closed the case once and for all of just what a doddering old fool he’s become.

The 20-term East Bay congressman is now an utter embarrassment to himself and his constituents, and if he has a shred of dignity left, he should immediately withdraw from his re-election race, before his self-imposed humiliation gets even worse.

In the ugliest ed board meeting since Clint Reilly was carried out on a stretcher from the old Examiner, Stark a) mendaciously accused Saunders of donating money to primary opponent Eric Swalwell’s campaign; b) haplessly confused Solyndra, the scandal-wracked solar energy company, and Tesla, the electric car manufacturer, both in his district; c) continued backfilling on his earlier unscrupulous charge that Swalwell has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars in “bribes.” Video of the whole thing is here.

Of course, this represents just the latest in a decades-long pattern of outrageous behavior by Stark, ranging from his threat to throw a journalist out of a window to his browbeating exchange with a constituent in which he spoke of urinating on the man’s leg and his ad hominem attack on a colleague whom he called a “cocksucker.”

Never mind the episodes in which he gallantly referred to a female House member as a “whore” or described an African-American cabinet member as a “disgrace to his race,” among other classy outbursts.

To their everlasting discredit, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her Democratic colleagues have long enabled and tolerated the thuggish behavior of the “dean” of the Congressional delegation. Enough already.

Great fares to Dallas! It won’t be long before the afflict-the-afflicted, union-busting crowd starts waving around the latest issue of “Chief Executive” magazine pronouncing California the “worst” state in which to do business and heaping praise on the oh-so-enlightened policies in Texas.

This plaintive caterwauling doubtless will quickly be followed by thunderous denunciations of greedy public employees and onerous “job-killing” regulations like those intended to, you know, reduce levels of air pollution, toxic sludge in the soil and oil befouling beaches.

A smidgen of perspective on this one: we were shocked – shocked! – to find that the top 10 “business-friendly” states all happen to be run by Republican governors. Not to mention that the kind of one-percenter CEOs who cast their votes in the survey have many hundreds of millions of personal reasons to prefer the exploitation ethos of the Lone Star state; a new Economic Policy Institute study finds that CEO salaries spiked 725 percent in the three decades between 1978 and 2011, while the wages of average workers increased, um, 5.7 percent. This easy-to-read chart tells the story.

Yippie ki-yay!

Read of the week: Amid the MSM’s endless self-referential and self-congratulatory gushing over the White House Correspondents Dinner, we find ourselves agreeing with the National Review’s Jonah Goldberg, who nails the reverse snobbery of Beltway geniuses who love to label the event the “nerd prom.”

 Suddenly, we’re supposed to call the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner the “nerd prom.” Hundreds of media outlets have recycled that description.

 And, frankly, I find it offensive. George Clooney doesn’t go to “nerd proms.” Nor do Kim Kardashian and Lindsay Lohan. I’ve been to a half dozen correspondents’ dinners, and nerds were far less well represented than rent-seeking K Street sleazeballs, social-climbing poseurs, and power-hungry pols of all parties.

Not to put too fine a point on it.

Press Clips: Speaking of media hypocrisy, how about those big time tribunes of the First Amendment battling the FCC’s effort to require details of political ad spending at MSM outlets to be posted online? We demand transparency! Except for ourselves.

Amid the latest depressing data about print advertising dug out by our old friend Alan Mutter over at Reflections of a Newsosaur, Calbuzz was surprised and even briefly cheered at news that J-school types are still finding work. Fortunately, we quickly descended back into our default mood of grumpy geezer gloom.

How the White House put the kibosh on news of Obama’s trip to Afghanistan. (Hint: they lied).

Headline of the week: “Dinosaurs were Drained of blood by Gigantic Horror Fleas.”



Rove Fingerprints on Romney’s Attacks on Obama

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

Wayne Slater is a top-rank Texas political writer and co-author of “Bush’s Brain,” a book about the life and times of Republican uber-strategist Karl Rove.

In an interview several years ago with PBS’s “Frontline,” Slater described one of the most counter-intuitive, and most effective, hallmarks of the consultant George W. Bush called Turd Blossom: aggressive assaults on what appear to be his enemy’s greatest assets.

Most memorably manifest in 2004’s sleazy Bush IE attacks on John Kerry’s Vietnam service, Rove also employed the jujitsu play in the 1994 Texas governor’s race, using Ann Richards’ politics of fairness and tolerance to portray her as an anti-religious firebrand for gay rights, and in the 2000 GOP presidential primary, using surrogates shamefully to question John McCain’s patriotism during his years as a POW. According to Slater:

Very early on, Karl Rove did something that many other political operatives don’t do, and it’s really an element of why he’s a unique figure in American political life: He understands that while other people look for the weakness in an opponent and exploit that, Rove has long looked at the strength of an opponent…

It’s a pattern we’ve seen again and again and again…attack the strength of your opponent. If your opponent’s strength is his service in Vietnam , then attack that service by raising questions about whether it was all that noble…

Kama Sutra Spices: With Rove and his zillion-dollar American Crossroads IE taking a lead role in Mitt Romney’s bid to oust Barack Obama from the White House, it’s instructive that the first two skirmishes Mittens has chosen to engage on since securing the GOP nomination are the president’s greatest strengths: the bail-out of the auto industry and the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Not since Jesus whaled on the Pharisees about that whole mint, dill and cumin thing, of course, has there been such a supreme display of hypocrisy as Romney’s forays into those two issues.

In the last three years, Mittens has taken more positions than the Kama Sutra on the auto bail-out; as recently as the Michigan primary, he declared that the Administration’s demonstrably successful policy “was the wrong way to go.”

His signature statement on the issue was his New York Times op-ed piece, published just two weeks after Obama’s election in 2008, titled  “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”

So it’s difficult not to choke over the incredible gall displayed by chief Mittens mouthpiece Eric “Etch-a-Sketch” Fehrnstrom, who claimed this week that Obama only acted after ripping off Romney’s idea for saving GM and Chrysler:

“His position on the bailout was exactly what President Obama followed…The only economic success that President Obama has had is because he followed Mitt Romney’s advice.”

And for those keeping score at home: black is white, down is up and no is yes.

Obama, Carter and Osama: That bit of Phariseeism, of course, was nothing compared to the fuss the Romney-Rove axis has tried to raise with its incessant whining that Obama is “politicizing” the U.S. takeout of bin Laden by, you know, mentioning it.

Had it been Bush, or any other Republican president, who whacked Osama, of course, the halls of Congress would be piled high with bills proposing to erect a statue of him on Capitol Mall. Beyond the now-iconic “Mission Accomplished” Bush aircraft carrier strut, there’s also the small matter that W. used the kickoff of his 2004 re-elect as an occasion for dragging out all the 9/11 footage to contrast himself with the Democrats and to crow about his purported success in the War on Terror.

Especially loathsome was Romney’s claim the other day that sending the Navy Seals into Pakistan to capture or kill Osama was such an obvious decision that “even Jimmy Carter” would have done it. What foul sludge!

Let’s put aside Carter’s years of honorable duty as a Naval officer compared to Mitt spending his prime military service years bicycling through France in a blazer and tie; Carter took a huge (and ultimately debilitating) risk by sending Marine helicopters into Iran in 1980 to try to rescue American hostages. It was a tough call that took great courage — just like Obama’s decision, against the advice of many of his senior advisers and with only scant support from CIA intelligence, to send Seal Team Six into Abbottabad last May.

Oh, and are we now supposed to forget that in 2007, Romney said he would NOT go into Pakistan unilaterally to take out bin Laden and that Obama’s statement that he would do just that were “ill-timed” and “ill-considered?” Rack up another one for no means yes.

What infuriates the right wing is that they simply can’t stand seeing the other side doing exactly what they’ve done for years.

Muddying the waters: The merits of the case aside, however, what’s politically most troublesome for Obama is that Romney’s challenges on the two most unqualified successes of his first term somewhat undercuts them, as the Republicans seek to frame the bin Laden issue as a question of Obama’s alleged narcisisstic triumphalism and the auto bail-out as a matter of political plagiarism.

In both cases, Romney seeks to put Obama in the odd position of defending himself on his unquestioned accomplishments, doing so at a very early point in the general election campaign. It’s an argument the Republican candidate and his surrogates only have to wage, not necessarily win, in order to dilute somewhat the impact of Obama rightfully highlighting the most praiseworthy features of his record.

(Speaking of narcissism, we’re not sure what to make of lefty knucklehead Arianna Huffington’s attack on Obama’s Osama ad, except to note that the objection is raised by the person whose political savvy and strategic brilliance helped lead to the landslide election of Senator Michael Huffington).

As a practical matter, it’s hard to imagine Romney’s arguments moving the numbers much, especially among women, Latinos or younger voters, the three groups where he lags far behind Obama, not least because of some of the hard right-wing stances he took in the GOP primary season (which he now is trying to expurgate).

And despite the so-called “tie” between the two in national popularity polls, Romney still faces a very narrow Electoral College pathway in his bid to oust the incumbent, as the WashPost reported this week:

A detailed analysis of Romney’s various paths to the 270 electoral votes he would need to claim the presidency suggests he has a ceiling of somewhere right around 290 electoral votes. While Romney’s team would absolutely take a 290-electoral-vote victory, that means he has only 20 electoral votes to play with — a paper-thin margin for error.

Bottom line: One of the states on Romney’s knife edge is Michigan, where he’d like to at least erase the memory of his call to flush the American auto industry  down the toilet. In Virginia, North Carolina and Colorado — swing states with strong links to the military — he’d like to weaken Obama’s reputation as the guy who took out bin Laden.

Don’t be surprised if, along with criticizing Obama’s popularity as a matter of “celebrity,” the Armies of Romney attack Obama’s jump shot (“whatsamatta, he can’t dunk?”), his smile (just a cheesy grin that’s hiding something) and Michelle (why isn’t she home with those girls?). Anything that looks like a strength, Romney (using the Rovian playbook) will try to tear apart.

Your Calbuzz prediction? The play won’t work because Romney’s got Bush’s brain stuck in the wrong end of his anatomy.

Psst: Jerry Brown is Opposed to the Death Penalty

Monday, April 30th, 2012

Jerry Brown, who convinced his father the governor, in 1960 to temporarily spare the life of Red Light Bandit Caryl Chessman, and who joined a vigil to protest the execution of cop-killer Aaron Mitchell in 1967, said last week it’s a “good thing” that a measure has qualified for the November ballot seeking to outlaw the death penalty.

Brown wouldn’t tell reporters whether he’s for banning capital punishment or not. But you don’t have to be an expert in Teilhard de Chardin to understand that the governor would like never to be in a position to have to stay an execution.

As he promised during his campaign, Brown had not (yet) supplanted voters’ approval of the death penalty with his own longtime personal opposition. In fact, his office said last week — explaining his order to prison officials to explore using a single drug for lethal injections — “My administration is working to ensure that California’s laws on capital punishment are upheld and carried out in conformity with our statutes.”

Said Brown, borrowing from Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain “Death and taxes are things we can’t avoid, so it’s good that people get to weigh in occasionally.”

The governor – whose No. 1 priority is to win approval of a ballot measure to raise income and sales taxes to repair California’s bleeding budget – obviously doesn’t want to engage on another public front, especially not one of his own making.

He is, after all, a firm believer in tantum quantum – doing only what is required to accomplish one’s principal goal and maintaining a sense of Ignatian indifference toward other, non-essential means and goals.

Right-wing shifts: True, a boatload of conservative voices now oppose capital punishment – including “Ron Briggs, who ran the 1978 campaign for a successful ballot initiative that expanded the reach of California’s death penalty; Donald J. Heller, an ex-prosecutor who wrote the 1978 initiative; Jeanne Woodford, a former warden of San Quentin State Prison who oversaw four executions; and former L.A. County Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti, who said his experience as D.A. helped change his mind about the fairness of the system.”

But the history of California’s attraction to the death penalty, as documented by the Field Poll, suggests voters maintain their support:

Keep it End it





































On the other hand, the Field Poll found that this year, for the first time since the poll started asking the question 11 years ago, more voters say they would prefer that someone convicted of first-degree murder should serve life without the possibility of parole versus the death penalty – by a margin of 48-40%.

“There has been a change in attitude,” said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll. “Twenty-two years ago, the death penalty side argument prevailed by a large majority. Now voters are divided in their opinions on many statements, including the cost of death versus life in prison, does a life sentence actually guarantee they will stay in prison, whether innocent people are executed, and their views of how it is administered to the ethnic population.”

The KPFA tapes: One person whose attitude, we suspect, has not changed is Jerry Brown. His behavior – as attorney general and governor – suggest he accepts that certain pressures to enforce the will of the people go with the job. But what we know about Brown is that while his behavior might change, his underlying religious, philosophical and sociological views are pretty much as they’ve been for decades.

It was in 1996, for example, as recounted in the Berkeley Hills book “Dialogues,” that Brown recounts his own comments about capital punishment during radio interviews with Sister Helen Prejean, author of the book upon which the film “Dead Man Walking,” was based:

We are faced with the question of the death penalty nearly every time we vote, either in specific crime-related measures, or by candidates promoting their stand for or against capital punishment. This question is nothing less than the test of our humanity, of how we see ourselves and others, and how we define the role of the state.

Not much different than his outlook had been 36 years earlier when, in a story recounted by Roger Rapoport in “California Dreaming: The Political Odyssey of Pat & Jerry Brown.”

One of those most bothered by the moral issues involved in the Chessman case was a U.C. undergraduate named Jerry Brown. The student’s concern caused him to get on the phone twelve hours before the scheduled execution and ask his father to grant a reprieve and request that the legislature pass a two-year moratorium on capital punishment. “You’re not going to let Chessman die, are you? The ex-seminarian asked his father.

“There isn’t a chance in a thousand that the legislature would do it.”

“If you were a doctor and hand a chance to save a man’s life – one chance in a thousand – wouldn’t you do it?”

Pablo, Marlon and Steve: Pat Brown did grant the temporary reprieve and sought a moratorium. Despite lobbying by the likes of Albert Schweitzer, Pablo Casals, Aldous Huxley, Marlon Brando, Shirley McLaine and Steve Allen, the Senate Judiciary Committee defeated the death penalty moratorium by a vote of 8-7. Chessman died in the gas chamber at San Quentin.

Jerry Brown, too, would later face a crisis on the death penalty as governor when, in 1977, the legislature overturned his veto of a bill that sought to restore capital punishment in California. He also got to see the woman he’d appointed chief justice of the California Supreme Court – and who overturned every death penalty case that came before her – tossed off the bench in 1986 by a crushing 67-33% vote.

With 17 states already banning capital punishment, with no state able to demonstrate that the death penalty is equitably applied and with new research suggesting we have no idea, really, whether the death penalty deters anyone, California just might be poised to save billions and ban state-sponsored death. But don’t look to California’s First Objector to lead the charge.

At this stage in his life, Jerry Brown – who has been quite tough on other forms of crime issues – has no reason to hide his views on the death penalty. Save one: his dedication to the teaching of St. Ignatius, in particular “Age quod agis” – “Do what you are doing” – and “tantum quantum” — “so much as needed.”

Don’t expect any more.