Archive for 2014

Rewriting Gay History: The Honeymoon Is Over

Friday, April 18th, 2014

Gay_Marriage_cuteBy Hank Plante
Special to Calbuzz

Now that the history of the gay rights movement is being written, and with the battle over same sex marriage looking like a fait  accompli, there is another war brewing — over who gets credit for the win.

A new book and a new film on gay marriage clearly give the victory to two straight lawyers and one gay political operative who won last year’s Supreme Court case, which threw out California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, and which gutted the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

The author of that book and the producers of the film are all touting “exclusive access” to the legal team and plaintiffs, which should be your first clue into whose story is being told:  the people who provided the “exclusive access.”  But where does that leave  all the other activists who have been fighting for gay marriage for years, and even decades?

mcconaughey_dallas_buyers_clubThis scrubbing of history is similar to what happened in Matthew McConaughey’s AIDS film, “Dallas Buyers Club.”

Watching that movie you’d think that the battle for access to AIDS drugs was singlehandedly won by a straight redneck from Texas.  Forget the role of “Act Up,” the AIDS activists in every city and the scientists worldwide who demanded — and got — action.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise on Oscar night when McConaughey thanked himself during his acceptance speech, adding, “Because my hero is me.”

In this newest draft of gay history, the case of same-sex marriage, a new book by New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Jo Becker is being rolled out this weekend with a Times Magazine cover story headlined, “How the President Got To ‘I Do’” On Same-Sex Marriage.”

The book, called “Forcing the Spring:  Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality,” tells the now-familiar tale of gay political consultant Chad Griffin, backed by Hollywood’s Rob Reiner, forming a new group called the American Foundation for Equal Rights. They then brought together the legal dream team of liberal David Boies and conservative Ted Olson to challenge the constitutionality of Prop. 8.  The drama is helped by the fact that Boies and Olson were on opposite sides of the Bush v. Gore recount case in 2000.

There is good detail in the book, including the fact that while President Obama was “evolving” on the issue, he sought advice from former GOP Chairman Ken Mehlman over lunch at the White House.  (More drama:  Mehlman came-out as gay after leaving his GOP chairmanship.)

And, as if that isn’t enough irony to sell the story, the book reveals that the chief lawyer defending Prop. 8’s marriage ban, Charles Cooper, has a gay stepdaughter, and that Cooper and his wife are now helping plan the young woman’s marriage to her partner.

Andrew_Sullivan_croppedWhat history is missing: But it’s what’s not in the book that has riled influential gay journalists like Andrew Sullivan.

In his blog The Dish this week, Sullivan slams author Jo Becker’s “troubling travesty of gay history.”

He criticizes Becker for, among other things, writing that until Chad Griffin and Rob Reiner came along, gay marriage “had largely languished in obscurity.”

That comes as news to those of us who reported on the lines of gay and lesbian couples around San Francisco City Hall in 2004, when newly-elected Mayor Gavin Newsom decided to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Becker also ignores the three couples who sued the state of Hawaii to get married way back in 1990.

But what probably really got under Sullivan’s skin most was the book ignoring his own magazine cover story in 1989 laying out the conservative case for gay marriage.

Mary Bonauto at Same-Sex Marriage ForumThere is also no mention in the book of the lawyer who actually won the right to marry in Massachusetts in 2003, Mary Bonauto. Former Congressman Barney Frank has called Bonauto, “our Thurgood Marshall.”

Nor is credit given to the successes of other activists like gay rights attorney Evan Wolfson, who founded the group “Freedom to Marry” in 2001.

The politics behind the fight: But there was never any love lost between Chad Griffin’s American Foundation for Equal Rights and the more established LGBT rights groups like Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Equality California and the ACLU, all of whom worked on the gay marriage issue for years.

In fact, Griffin’s group sued to keep them from intervening in the Prop. 8 case, with Griffin writing to them, “You have unrelentingly and unequivocally acted to undermine this case even before it was filed.  In light of this it is inconceivable that you would zealously and effectively litigate this case if you were successful in intervening.”

Griffin’s reward was to be named head of the most powerful gay rights group, the Human Rights Campaign, with its 1.5 million members.

As for the upcoming film, it’s called “The Case Against 8.”  It is showing at film festivals now and will premiere on HBO on June 23rd.

The movie promises what the Hollywood Reporter calls “exclusive, behind-the-scenes access” to the lawyers and plaintiffs in the case.

“Exclusive access?”  That comes as a surprise to those of us who covered the case from day one, since we couldn’t get the lawyers and plaintiffs to stop talking even if we wanted to.

So why is it that relative newcomers on the gay marriage scene are being hailed as heroes who won the battle with little help from others in the past?  Sullivan attributes it to “access-journalism.”  Let the writer or filmmaker inside the tent and you can shape the tale.

HankPlante2Or better yet, consider the lesson of John Ford’s 1962 classic, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”  Jimmy Stewart gets the fame and credit for shooting Valance, even though John Wayne actually did it.  When Stewart tries to set the record straight, a reporter tells him, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

Sometimes the legend makes a better book or movie.

Hank Plante is an Emmy and Peabody-winning journalist who covered the Prop. 8 trial and the gay rights movement for KPIX TV/CBS 5 in San Francisco.  He is the Palm Springs Bureau Chief for Calbuzz.

Op Ed: A Modest Proposal For State Political Reform

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Senator-Hiram-W.-JohnsonBy Patrick Atwater
Special to Calbuzz

The Public Interest Research Group, the national Naderite network of grassroots think tanks, has just released “Following the Money,” a report that grades the efforts of all 50 states in providing taxpayers online access to government spending data.

California flunked.

Alas, Silicon Valley’s mother ship ranked dead last – along with Alaska and Idaho, and behind Mississippi, South Carolina and West Virginia — in making arcane but important public finance information, about matters like contracts, the purchase goods, services and other state expenditures, easily available and clearly understandable:

Every year, state governments spend tens of billions of dollars through contracts for goods and services, subsidies to encourage economic development, and other expenditures. Accountability and public scrutiny are necessary to ensure that the public can trust that state funds are well spent…

Over the past year, new states have opened the books on public spending and several states have adopted new practices to further expand citizens’ access to critical spending information. Many states, however, still have a long way to go to provide taxpayers with the information they need to ensure that government is spending their money effectively.

That would be us.

Ziggurat_BuildingAsking the wrong questions: Among other things, California’s dgs.ca.gov site loses major points for lack of searchability. It falls short on providing access to some very useful information like tax expenditure reports.

It’s also an abiding mystery why our public bureaucracies continue to offer only mammoth pdf documents rather than using the miracle that is the hyperlink.  Witness Wikipedia.  It too has oodles of information but unlike any CAFR or the BDCP or any other pretty, consultant-produced PDF, it has an amazing feature: it’s actually readable. So much for naïve dreaming.

As interesting and thorough as it may be, the PIRG analysis, however, is a case of mistaking the map for the territory.

For the 99.8% of Californians who don’t read state financials directly, the searchability of the Department of General Services website matters far less than the quality of the coverage in the Sacramento Bee.

And for the .2% of Californians who, out of professional interest or passion actually bother to dig into state government financials, a pretty search interface matters far less than simple machine readability; any analyst worth her salt will run her own numbers anyway, and any journalist who deserves the name will go beyond the numbers to dig into inside sources and figure out what’s really going on.

rooseveltDrilling down: More deeply, as the recent corruption saga of Leland Yee and Ron Calderon demonstrate, the real challenge is not spinach and broccoli website upgrades so much as dealing with the “invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people,” as Teddy Roosevelt put it.

Like TR, we live in an era of crony capitalism.  Similar to the transition from an agricultural to an industrial society, the information age has spawned massively wealthy corporations and rampant rent-seeking, as groups of all stripes scramble to preserve their share of a rapidly shifting economic pie.

This reality demands reform.  Yet the failures of campaign finance in a post-Citizen’s United world make that problem tricky, to put it mildly.  So how might we tackle this challenge at a structural level?

With that, here’s a not so modest proposal – let’s call it the initiative to restore truth, justice, and the American way.  It has three simple planks:

moneyfist1) $1,000 internet advertising voucher for every California voter courtesy of Google, Facebook and the other mega-platforms.  Tech types like to talk about how they’re building a more open society.  Why not help them put their money where their mouth is by creating this simple regulation? Every voter would be free to spend their advertising promoting a cause, candidate or message they support.  Or they can allocate their money to a group or individual of their choice.  It’d be no different than how cable companies have to donate airtime to public access channels – just at an individual level.  And unlike promising proposals like “patriot dollars,” “Zuck Bucks” would require negligible funds from the public purse.

2) Returning corporate purses to the people.  In order to spend money for political purposes in California, any corporation would need to “(A) describe the specific nature and total amount of expenditures proposed for political activities for the forthcoming fiscal year and (B) provide for a separate shareholder vote to authorize such proposed expenditures” (similar to the proposed federal Shareholder Protection Act).

3) Returning union purses to the people.  In order to spend money for political purposes in California, any union would need to get the advance authorization of its members.  This reform would prohibit the automatic deduction of union dues for political activity.

Such organizations – regardless what IRS code they’re incorporated in – are just legal fictions.  And their political spending should reflect the views of the actual people they claim to represent.

Voters are justifiably skeptical that “people like themselves” have a voice in our democracy.  These reforms would put money behind the votes of everyday Californians and help break the stranglehold that moneyed interests have on the state legislature.

patrickatwaterIt’s been said that campaign finance reform is like “trying to stop water from flowing downhill.”  Luckily, we’re Californians, and we have a long history of pioneering structures to move water from where it is to where it needs to be.

It’s equally important to remember what this reform won’t solve. Neither nifty technobucks nor transparency can solve the problem of evil in the human heart. But we can take pragmatic steps to move forward.

Political writer Patrick Atwater is an author, entrepreneur and frequent Calbuzz commentator who has a major jones for reforming California’s government. 

Why Anti-DiFi Spook Is An “Emotional” Martinet

Monday, April 14th, 2014

difistareMichael Hayden is a man’s man – yea, a Manly Man – a career Air Force officer, former CIA Director and lifelong, hardcore fan of the blue-collar Pittsburgh Steelers. Yet: Hayden is also a man of deep emotional feeling.

If that last phrase sounds familiar, it’s because that’s the precise language Hayden used recently in an attack against Senator Dianne Feinstein (carried out, surprise, surprise, on “Fox News”). It was aimed preemptively at a secret report, which DiFi’s been laboring over for years as chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, detailing the CIA’s use of torture during Hayden’s years as a top spy under George Waterboard Bush.

As every schoolchild knows, Feinstein’s behind-the-scenes battle with the CIA recently burst into public view, when she proclaimed publicly the report would ensure “an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation” would never happen again.

Hayden’s sexist response — “That sentence – that motivation for the report — may show deep, emotional feeling on the part of the senator, but I don’t think it leads you to an objective report” — has been hammered effectively, both by her colleagues and by the inestimable Cathy Decker.

haydenWhat has been less noted is that Hayden himself has a history of huffy, hissy-fit tossing, which a reasonable person (we name no names) could describe as “emotional.” This YouTube clip, for example, shows how Hayden, the father of the National Security Agency’s surveillance dragnet of  U.S. citizens, gets all peevish and surly when he’s challenged about the constitutionality of his pet project. An excerpt:

REPORTER: I’d like to stay on the same issue. And that has to do with the standard by which you use to target your wiretaps. I’m no lawyer, but my understanding is that the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution specifies that you must have probable cause to be able to do a search that does not violate an American’s right against unlawful searches and seizures.

HAYDEN: Actually, the Fourth Amendment actually protects all of us against unreasonable search and seizure. That’s what it says.

REPORTER: But the measure is probable cause, I believe.

HAYDEN: The amendment says unreasonable search and seizure.

REPORTER: But does it not say probable —


REPORTER: The court standard, the legal standard —

HAYDEN: The amendment says unreasonable search and seizure.

A couple of takeaways:

fourthamendment1-Hayden’s assertion that “if there’s any amendment to the Constitution that employees at the National Security Agency are familiar with, it’s the Fourth,” is laughable, given his claim that the amendment does not require the government to have “probable cause” before spying on Americans.

2-The whole exchange at the National Press Club in 2006 represents a reminder and a tidy summary of how the Bush, and now Obama, Administrations have invented a legal fiction to subvert and end-run Congressional strictures on NSA domestic spying. Thanks to Amy Goodman, the full transcript is here.

3-Trained observers may see small puffs of steam leaking out of Hayden’s ears, as the bumps on his head begin to percolate during Stage 1 of a volcanic eruption of his chrome dome. His whole affect is that of an authoritarian personality used to being obeyed, whose self-control starts to slip the moment his prerogative is questioned.

neverletemAnd another thing: Despite her doggedness on the CIA report, we’re not big fans of DiFi’s years of shilling and overall support for the Beltway Spook Community.

But describing her as “emotional” is just plain silly.

In our collective half-century plus covering politicians in California, we’ve seldom encountered one more repressed and tightly wound as the Senior Senator from California (George Deukmejian comes to mind, except we were there the day he cried on the floor of the state Senate while eulogizing the assassinated George Moscone).

There’s a good reason the author of the greatest Feinstein biography in the history of the publishing industry titled the book, “Never Let Them See You Cry,” (plenty of free parking). It’s drawn from a list of 10 rules for dames trying to make it in a bro’s world that Herself provided to a woman’s magazine when she was S.F.’s mayor.

Not to go all Freudian, but Feinstein’s public persona was forged in childhood, as the oldest of three girls, when she protected and stood up for her sisters against the abusive behavior of a mother who was not of sound mind, and liked her cocktails with an assortment of pills, a secret the prominent Goldman family kept well-hidden from public view:

Painfully discussing the long-hidden past, Dianne and her sisters all recall a childhood of almost constant anxiety and fear. “My mother was an abuser and a basher,” said (youngest daughter) Lynn, remembering the day (mother) Betty forced and held her head under water. “My first memory was of my mother trying to drown me in the bathtub. I was five, and my father pulled me out.” Her mother was “scary, distant and forbidding,” she added. “You never knew what was going to happen.”

difiearlyTight from the start: Never a movement feminist, Feinstein began to build her career at a time when it was rare for a woman to seek and be elected to office, let alone be in a position of power (whether in politics, business, medicine, law, journalism, or any other profession) and she prided herself on never displaying, at least in public, signs of emotion, as she adapted herself to traditionally male attitudes and behavior.

The example of her steeliness in the aftermath of the City Hall assassinations in 1978 has been well chronicled, but there are countless, more prosaic episodes that make the point, from the first days of her long climb up the political ladder:

Stanford coed Dianne Goldman walked into the Phi Delta fraternity house on the leafy campus known as ‘The Farm.’ She was running for vice president of the Associated Students, the college student council, and her strategy this spring evening in 1954 was to campaign in the fraternity houses at dinner-time, when she could address the male students in large groups.

As she began her standard earnest pitch about improving the effectiveness and efficiency of student government, she was met with the usual combination of heckling, indifference and snide comments from what she recalled as a “milling throng of insane humanity.” All of a sudden, a student stood up from a table and rushed her and before Dianne knew what was happening, hefted her slender frame over his shoulder.

To the cheers of his fellow scholars, the student hustled her down the hallway and dumped her into a shower, where she was quickly and unceremoniously drenched…

Her response to the episode foreshadowed her approach to politics for the next forty years; rather than protesting or making a fuss about the offensive behavior, she accepted the humiliation as part of the game and promptly returned to her campaign rounds. Then she won the election and got her revenge.

GoldenGateBridge-001Bottom line: In the Hayden matter, Feinstein typically “stopped short of characterizing Hayden’s comments as sexist,” MSNBC reported, “but she defended her report as “objective, based on fact, thoroughly footnoted, and I am certain it will stand on its own merits.”

Top Secret/Eyes Only Memo to Michael Hayden: Watch out for this one; confidential source reports she’s not pushing on this CIA memo because she’s “emotional.” Source says it’s because she’s “against torture.”

P.S. Some small-minded readers might accuse Calbuzz of hypocrisy in this matter and say, “Hey, men of Calbuzz, wait a minute, you yourself have indulged in chauvinistic rhetoric against Feinstein, describing her as “coy” and the “grand dame of California politics,” a “political window shopper” who performs the “dance of the seven veils” and conducts an “obsessive flirtation with the political spotlight” and is “older than the Golden Gate Bridge.”

To which we say: Well yeah, there is that. But let us be clear: as the fathers of five daughters and two grand-daughters and deep believers, personally and politically, in equal rights for women, we are compelled as journalists to call out Hayden’s brand of sexist cheap shot.

Besides, Dianne’s our turf. Off, spook, off.