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Archive for 2014



Carrie Mathison & Difi Meet Mr. Beef & Paulie Walnuts

Friday, January 17th, 2014

difidrone There were those who were surprised when Dianne Feinstein revealed at a Senate hearing this week that a mysterious drone allegedly tracked her to her S.F. Presidio Terrace mansion.

We were not among them.

As every school child knows, Difi since her early days in politics has responded with alacrity, vigilance and ferocity when her public life spills over too far into her private. When labor types mounted a picket line at her house in 1975 to protest her actions as a city supervisor, for example, she vowed that, “If any harm comes to my family, I will come at you like a tiger.” A year later, when anarchist underground groups targeted her, she promised not “to give in to a threat in any way,” and started packing a .38 in her purse.

Serious stuff, as is the fact that these days the Senior Senator from California, now chair of the Intelligence Committee, presumably possesses plenty of national security information that, you know…

spy-vs-spyBut still.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein says she once found a drone peeking into the window of her home — the kind of cautionary tale she wants lawmakers to consider as they look at allowing commercial drone use…

Feinstein said she encountered the flying robot while a demonstration was taking place outside her house. She said she went to the window to peek out — and “there was a drone right there at the window looking out at me.” She held her hand inches from her face to indicate how close it was: “Obviously the pilot of the drone had some surprise because the drone wheeled around and crashed, so I felt a little good about that,” she said.

Ahem. A moment to collect our thoughts.

feinstein pinkPink elephants for the 21st century. Neither Feinstein nor her staff offered further details about the, um, aircraft surveilling her splendid neighborhood. And while we certainly agree with her view that the U.S. should go slow on licensing drones for commercial use, we find persuasive this excellent report and video posting by Philip Bump on the Atlantic Wire, suggesting the purported drone was actually a, um, little pink helicopter purchased on Amazon.

 Quite probably, it was a small toy helicopter flown by protesters from Code Pink — in which case it may not be the nightmare scenario one might fear…Looking at her! This is a terrifying new world, indeed.

Next up: Difi spots Russian commando frogmen creeping out of the sea at Pier 40 while dining at Delancey Street Restaurant with John Burton.

“Emergency! Everybody to get from street!”

christiefatchanceOnly 714 days until election: If all the words used in reporting on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s political payback scandal were laid end-to-end, they still wouldn’t circle his waist.

But with the first media feeding frenzy of the 2016 presidential race continuing to generate countless millions of sentences, journalistic circumnavigation of the porcine politician’s gut may yet be accomplished. Especially now that Governor Zaftig has taken on a personal trainer to help trim his tummy.

As every sentient Calbuzzer surely knows, Christie’s standing as the closest thing Republicans have to a presidential front-runner is now imperiled by the Paulie Walnuts-style knucklehead scheme in which top members of the big man’s staff orchestrated the worst traffic jam in the history of man to punish the Democratic mayor of the charming burg of Ft. Lee for failing to endorse Mr. Beef’s re-election campaign. Or something. (Ed note: can we get some more words in that first sentence?)

Setting aside for a moment the political implications of this entertainment, the broader significance of the scandal lies in celebrating the excellent job performed by a local news hens and hounds in digging out and driving the story.

Partial as we are to tabs, we gazed approvingly, nay longingly, at the wood headlines set forth by the editors of the New York Post and Daily News on successive days when the story burned brightest. It’s hard to pick only one favorite but “Fat Chance Now, Chris” seemed the most analytical of the bunch, dumping all over Balloon Man’s presidential chances in a mere four words.

therecordWhy newspapers still matter: There can be no doubt, however, that it is The Record, popularly known as the Bergen Record, that demonstrated for all to see the abiding importance and enduring value of a local paper that takes seriously its watchdog mission.

If it weren’t for the dogged local press corps, Christie would still be ridiculing this story, attacking the legislators investigating it and persuading most of the national press to dismiss it.

The first reporting on the scandal was by the local traffic columnist in The Record, John Cichowski. The week of the traffic tie-ups, Cichowski was already calling bullpucky on the Port Authority line that some sort of “study” was to blame.

He pointed to political retribution as a more likely explanation. A steady stream of local reporting followed until, ultimately, Shawn Boburg’s scoop last Wednesday in The Record: the governor’s deputy chief of staff e-mailing Wildstein, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”

On the newsroom side, the key to the Record’s terrific reporting was its relentless, hard nose push for public record access against political and bureaucratic obstacles, as the Poynter Institute noted. On the management side, what’s notable is how a newspaper owner committed to local news and trusting of its editorial management can make the paper matter in a powerful way, even at a time of diminishing resources.

Bottom line: The Record nearly melted its servers with record-shattering online traffic thanks to old-school journalism, not “novel” social media scams, or photos of Kim and Kanye:

By the end of the day, the site had logged about 700,000 unique viewers, up from a typical day of 250,000 uniques, and at the time a record for the paper.

christiebossThugs, bullies and crooks: The Daily News summed up the choices we’re left to mull over, after watching Christie’s mea non culpa over the closing of the George Washington Bridge by his staff and transit appointees:

“In the best possible light,” the NYDN wrote, “New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie built a top staff of lying thugs who threatened lives and safety to serve his political ends. If not, Christie is a lying thug himself.”

Whether it was retribution for a mayor’s refusal to endorse him for re-election, or some other reason, matters little in the tiny world beyond Manhattan and Jersey. What’s clear to everyone: just as Richard Nixon affirmed the opposite when he said, “I am not a crook,” so did Christie make the case against himself when he insisted, “I am not a bully.”

Likewise, his faux self-flagellating “mistakes were clearly made” description of events which was, as our old friend Bill Schneider cleverly noted, spoken in the “past exonerative” – a passive denial of responsibility as employed by Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, to name a few.

Christie, whose appetite for adulation is exceeded only by his gluttonous ego, didn’t even bother to question his now-former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, who wrote the infamous “time for some traffic problems” email. To which, Christie’s high-school pal and Port Authority appointee David Wildstein replied, “Got it.”

william-taft-tubWhether Christie can win the Republican nomination for president in 2016 has been always open to serious doubt, given that the GOP knuckle-draggers who decide these things made people like Michelle Bachman and Herman Cain their frontrunners a various times.

But now he’s branded himself as either a lying bully or a hapless incompetent – pick your poison – and obviated the nagging vision of having to pull William Howard Taft’s oversized bathtub out of storage.

Calbuzz gets results: Jerry Brown made clear this week there’s no way he’s running for president, exactly as we forecast three weeks ago, when the goofy notion first surfaced.

Book it: Take the Niners and the points.

Right Rallies Against Transgender Bathroom Access

Monday, January 13th, 2014

transgenderBy Chuck McFadden
Special to Calbuzz

Yes, it has come to this.

Republicans in California have come up with a new way to get their voters to the polls in what appears to be an otherwise somnolent 2014:  Get them excited about which restrooms transgender students should be allowed to use.

“Right has hopes up for a new hot issue,” proclaimed the San Francisco Chronicle on January 6.  “Transgender-student fight seen as energizing the base.”

Higher taxes?  Lower taxes?  Fracking?  Huge tunnels to move water around the Delta?  High-speed rail?  Never mind.  Let’s energize the base with something elemental.

The right is hoping to get an initiative on the November ballot that would upend the “School Success and Opportunity Act,” signed into law in October by Gov. Jerry Brown.  It allows students to use restrooms and locker rooms in accord with their own gender self-identity.

bi-magazineIf a student is born with apparent male physical characteristics, for instance, but consistently and exclusively feels female internally, the student would be allowed to use the girls’ restroom.  San Francisco and Los Angeles school districts have had similar rules for years.

The Privacy for All Students campaign wants no part of it.  They say, disparagingly, that the new law allows students to use “… intimate school facilities such as showers, rest rooms and locker rooms based on their so-called gender identity and not their actual sex.”  The California Republican Party wants to overturn the law as well.  They see an initiative fight as useful for firing up right-wingers who might otherwise be discouraged and lethargic.

“This could get voters who wouldn’t get out on other issues, but will for this,” said Karen England, a conservative activist who is co-chair of the initiative effort.

It may be a new issue that is far afield from what used to be the customary arena of political battle, but it’s part of a time-honored California political tactic:  Get your folks riled up about something, see if you can get it on the ballot via an initiative of some sort, and then pray that your concerned citizens will swarm to the polls to do the “right” thing — and vote for your guy while they’re at it.

huckabeeEngland and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee both say they’re worried that horny high school boys will simply declare themselves transgender so they can shower with the girls.

“How long have guys been trying to get into the girls bathroom?” England asked the Chronicle’s estimable Joe Garofoli.  “Now they just have to assert that they were the opposite gender and they get access.”

Huckabee told a conservative audience last October that if the law had been in effect when he was in high school, “… I’m pretty sure that every boy in my high school would have suddenly felt that he was just a little more comfortable showering with the girls, no matter how uncomfortable the girls might have been with it.”

The fact that Huckabee, a Fox News commentator, has already weighed in increases speculation that the issue might go national, adding another chapter to the nation’s ongoing culture wars.  It would not be the first time the California led the way to Sodom, in the view of cultural conservatives across the nation who deplore “San Francisco values.”

mcfaddenAnd so it goes.  Whether England and her allies will ultimately be successful in getting their initiative on the ballot is an open question.  They need at least 555,236 valid signatures. (It appeared last week that the initial drive to qualify a measure had fallen short or maybe not.)

One thing is for sure:  For those among us who fret that California has been settling into a boring trough of conventional politics, help is on the way.

Chuck McFadden covered politics for The Associated Press in Sacramento. His biography of our very own governor, Trailblazer: A Biography of Jerry Brown is out from the University of California Press. Read here for more on the transgender teen pictured above.