Archive for 2014

Press Clips: No Punditry For Old Men

Friday, October 10th, 2014

RedistrictingReturn of the Little Pulitzers: Scooplet of the Week honors to David G. Savage, who drilled down on the details of a case just accepted by the U.S. Supreme Court to report that California’s much-praised independent redistricting commission may be at risk.

SCOTUS, which seized power in a 2000 coup d’état agreed to hear a case involving a similar commission in Arizona, will decide whether state legislatures have exclusive power over drawing lines for congressional districts – regardless of a vote of the people, such as the 2008 approval by California voters of Proposition 11, which established the California Citizens Redistricting Commission.

Washington attorney Paul Clement, representing Arizona’s Republican-controlled Legislature, said voters’ decision in 2000 to put the redistricting power in the hands of a citizens commission was a “radical measure. ” The Legislature, he said, “is quite literally cut out of the process completely.”


weinbergThe People United, or something: Proving anew that there are no bad stories, only bad reporters, old pal Carol Pogash showed how much can be done with a humble anniversary assignment by churning out a splendid feature marking the half-century commemoration of the Free Speech Movement in Bezerkely.

Featuring an interview with Jack Weinberg, who spent 32 hours in the back of an obstructed police car as demonstrators protested his arrest for handing out leaflets about the civil rights movement, the Pogash piece was a stylish yarn displaying her characteristic fine eye for telling detail: the 1964 protesters “politely removed their shoes — to avoid scratching the vehicle — before climbing to the roof of the patrol car”; the 300 or 400 who showed up to mark this week’s anniversary (“about half of them seemed to have been among the hundreds of students in the 1960s who were perceived as revolutionaries and troublemakers”) numbered far less than the 700 arrested in the original demo; the editor of the Daily Cal informed Pogash that while there may be less activism on campus today, “students are very passionate about animal rights, green energy, niche issues.’”

One nagging, unanswered question:  how, exactly, did Weinberg and the arresting officers handle waste management issues during his cop car imprisonment? (Update: A loyal reader notes that Jon Carroll provided at least a partial answer in a previous column on the subject).

megsmugeMeg, we hardly knew ‘ya: Not long after her Hindenburg-like performance in the 2010 governor’s race, Meg Whitman told us how odd and perplexing she had found the odd and perplexing customs of campaigning for office in California; we explained to her that the process was “very tribal.”

“It’s not my tribe,” she sniffed. Indeed.

So we were cheered to read how safely and securely cocooned ole’ eMeg now is among her own people (who apparently include the business press) via a kissy-poo feature by Timesman Quentin Hardy about her latest moves at H-P (“it appears that Ms. Whitman has found that vision”). There was one redeeming graf in the piece:

Ms. Whitman was equally focused on measurement during her gubernatorial campaign. An aide who worked with her there said Ms. Whitman obsessed about her poll numbers and wanted to personally lead fund-raising efforts, a level of micromanagement that campaign officials tried to discourage.

Bottom line: instead of all that obsessing and micromanaging, Your Megness, you’d have been better off just having dinner with Calbuzz.

hayden2Is that a Tomahawk in your pocket or are you just glad to see me? When last spotted in Calbuzz, former high-powered military officer, spook and major tool Michael Hayden was spouting sexist slurs at our favorite Senior Senator from California.

Now comes Hayden to put those selfsame macho insecurity chops to better use, this time splendidly labeling Barack Obama’s we piss-on-you-from-a-great-height airborne military strategy against ISIS exactly for what it is:

“The reliance on air power has all of the attraction of casual sex: It seems to offer gratification but with very little commitment,” said retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of both the CIA and the National Security Agency. “We need to be wary of a strategy that puts emphasis on air power and air power alone.”

Pretty good line, even for a prig like Hayden.

Syrian pay-to-play: Amid growing signs that General Asshat is probably right, and that Obama’s Mideast adventurism will haunt us for a long time, we’re on the lookout for fine journalism to help demystify a millennia-old mess that has all the clarity of a graffiti-splattered M.C. Escher print. Best bet for visual learners: the Washpost’s nice take on the nine best graphic representations of Mideast alliances.

And for the cynically inclined, there’s this from Foreign Policy:

On Sept. 17, the House of Representatives granted President Barack Obama’s request to arm rebel groups in Syria by a vote of 273 to 156…

I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but I do wonder whether the arms industry put its thumb on the scale. Even a short involvement in Syria will be exceedingly profitable; the first round of air strikes this week reportedly cost $79 million, more than India’s mission to Mars. To “train and equip appropriately vetted elements of the Syrian opposition,” as the amendment voted on by the House states, could cost much more, perhaps as much as $500 million.

So the arms industry had a lot on the line in Roll Call Vote 507. In the end, it passed easily. But those who voted for the amendment may have been much more beholden to the industry than those who did not. On average, the “Yea” voters had received more than $36,000 in contributions from the defense sector during the last campaign cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The “Nay” voters had taken only about $22,000.

We’re not ones for conspiracy theories, either.

The purest form of flattery: Mega-kudos to Josh Richman and the Bay Area News Group for posting a piece Thursday about  Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Honda’s habit of claiming credit for legislation and funding for which he was, at best, marginally responsible. But wait – didn’t we read all that somewhere before? Hmm.

mikeharrisMike Harris, R.I.P. We were saddened to learn this week of the passing of Mike Harris, a great, old school gentleman reporter and veteran S.F. Chronicler. He was 92.

Whether they know it or not, and we sadly suspect many of them do not, every news hound and hen in California owes a huge debt to Mike, whose 1950s reporting led directly to the state’s open meeting Brown Act, a tale well told in Harris obits by Dave Perlman, Mike’s longtime pre-Hearst Chronicle friend and colleague, and Nels Johnson of the Marin I-J.

A few personal memories: the disappointed dad grimace he’d flash at a rookie reporter when  an infelicitous phrase made it into one of our stories in the morning paper (to this day, references to a campaign “kickoff” are banned in Calbuzz thanks to Harris), or his look of total, doe-eyed panic the morning a mischievous publisher came in early to hide Mike’s chair and the contents of his desk, tormenting him into believing he’d suddenly been sacked. Most of all, however, Harris’s encyclopedic erudition about…everything… which he was never shy about demonstrating.

When a future Calbuzzer served with Harris on the Chron editorial page, he was our go-to guy for foreign visitors; new diplomats posted to San Francisco routinely made a formal call on the paper, for reasons that never were clear. The practice consistently left us at a loss for semi-intelligent conversation starters, and our welcoming remarks typically lurched between, “So, how long you in town for?” and “What’s the weather like in Azerbaijan?”

Not so Harris, who seemed to spend his evenings poring over the Rand McNally World Atlas, J.M. Roberts’ The History of the World and Herodotus in the Greek. 

Memorably, he once bailed us out as we dithered for an ice-breaker with a newly assigned representative of the newly independent nation of Slovenia;  “Hey, how ‘bout those Niners?” was our first thought, when Mike saved the day by piping up to recall his World War II days navigating with the Army Air Corps over the Balkans, rhapsodizing over several interesting geophysical features he noticed from the air. Take that, Janko!

That’s -30-


Khanna Fights Uphill as Honda Flogs Phony ‘Bi’ Cred

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

khannahondaIn his one and only debate with Democratic challenger Ro Khanna the other night,  U.S. Rep Mike Honda, D-San Jose, reeled off a variety of high-dollar items he claims to have delivered and, despite evidence to the contrary, argued that he’s really the kind of bi-partisan representative Silicon Valley really likes.

Linking himself to the hyper-partisan Republican thug from San Diego, Honda said, “Darrell Issa and myself, we passed the Data Bill, the Data Act, that requires the government agencies to tell people where their dollars are spent, how much it is and to be transparent about it.”

bullsassThis, Calbuzz must report more in sadness than in anger, is, um, bullshit. Like a lot of the claims of a guy who’s passed just one bill in seven terms in Congress.

Because Honda’s claim sounded so bizarre when we heard it, Calbuzz launched an exhaustive and wide-ranging ten-minute internet investigation at Congress.gov and found that the original co-sponsor of Issa’s Digital Accountability and Transparency Act was U.S. Rep. Elija Cummings, D-MD, when the bill was introduced on May 21, 2013.

Apparently feeling refreshed after six months of deep sleep, Honda signed on as the 10th co-sponsor on November 11, 2013 – the same day the bill was passed in the House on a voice vote of 338-1. The same day!

Yet there was Honda, in a televised debate, claiming that he and buxom bosom buddy Issa had passed that data bill, whatever its name was. Just like he – single-handedly? – got $900 million for BART and a U.S. Patent Office and a lot of other stuff that surely Congresswomen Anna Eshoo and Zoe Lofgren had nothing to do with.

Slow-moving dysfunction: But we digress. A bit more on the not-exactly-Lincoln-Douglas debate between Honda and Khanna: the first challenge for Khanna, a 38-year-old lawyer and former Obama Commerce Department official, is to make the case that Honda, 73, should be ousted.

Right out of the gate, Khanna made his argument, but without insulting Honda, a popular, avuncular fixture in local politics.

Briefly replying to the actual question he was thrown – “That is the question of our time – income inequality” — Khanna quickly pivoted to his real mission in the debate, using Congress as a metaphor for Honda himself:

hondasleepingWe need real solutions on education and jobs, he said, but “Congress seems to have no real leadership or ideas and it’s stuck in the past, dysfunctional, slow-moving. So tonight I ask, imagine if we had a new standard. Imagine if our elected officials were as hard-working and entrepreneurial as the people in this district. That’s the change we need. That’s the new Congress we need. And that’s why I aspire to represent this area in the United States Congress.”

That’s his argument in a nutshell: Honda is stuck in the past, dysfunctional and slow-moving; I’m hard-working and entrepreneurial, just like people in Silicon Valley.

But without being nasty about it.

A total lack of ZZZs: At first glance, Honda held his own. Most importantly, he didn’t fall asleep nor did he make any bone-head statements. While he did a lovely job of recounting his personal history as a kid who got rounded up with other Japanese during World War II in an effort to portray the Man of Experience, however, he offered no vision of what he would like to accomplish — other than return to Congress for another term.

“I’m not burnt out; I’ve got a lot of gas in this tank — and I’m not even a hybrid,” Honda said, summing up his appeal, in an apparently planned one-liner that got wide circulation in day-after coverage of the debate.

Honda looked his worst when trying to brush away the ethics scandal that hit his office after it was revealed, by Metro Silicon Valley, that his chief of staff, Jennifer Van der Heide, consulted with Honda’s political staff in inviting potential campaign donors to a State Department round-table that Honda was co-hosting at Santa Clara University.

Leading into the topic, Honda was stupidly asked if he’s ethical. (What’s he gonna’ say, “No, you got me there, I’m actually a scum sucking weasel?”

“I am a very ethical person,” Honda said bravely. And then (looking intermittently at what appeared to be notes he was not allowed to have) he went on to make word salad:

Honda-VenderHeide-Campaign-772x350These are real people we’re talking about and I want to be sure they’re going to be taken care of but they have to also answer to the issues. And so those who’ve worked for me and work with me currently and in the past, they understand where that line is and anything beyond that is a personnel matter so I’d like not to discuss the personnel part. But I will say this, the high ethical standards for my staff has been reiterated and has been made clear, the expectation of my policy goes beyond the legal boundaries and the legal expectations but my chief of staff did not meet those expectations and she misstepped and I was disappointed in it but she’s apologized publicly and to me that this won’t happen again. And so I think that this kind of a situation needs to be acknowledged, dealt with and all of the legal complaints that surrounding this I think this should be moved forward and let that process take its place and I’ll be perfectly willing to cooperate in any way I can to see the end of this.

So there’s that.

It’s all about Mike: The thing is, however, that Van der Heide didn’t apologize to people in the district, she apologized to Honda.

“The congressman expects that official staff who want to volunteer on his campaign do so on their own time, and without utilizing the resources of the office,” she said. “In this instance, while I was on my own time and not using official resources, I fell short of the congressman’s expectations and the example I try to set for the office. I have apologized to the congressman for my oversight.”

Moreover, an apology (and, btw, Honda has never apologized to the district, either) isn’t really the issue. The issue is what kind of leader keeps a chief of staff who has, at the very least, created the appearance of a pay-to-play atmosphere in his district office? It’s a personnel matter? Sounds like an old, cheesy county supervisor side-shuffle.

underdogHolding office vs. using the office: On a variety of issues, Honda and Khanna are both liberal Democrats, so Silicon Valley is not going to have a congressman who will vote in sharp opposition to widespread sentiment, no matter who wins this election. And odds remain in Honda’s favor. Incumbent congress members rarely lose. Absent serious money to push his argument, Khanna is a decided underdog.

But he has made a strong enough case to convince the editorial pages of the San Jose Mercury News and the San Francisco Chronicle, neither of which are flame-throwers. And his endorsement list of high-tech leaders in Silicon Valley is not chopped liver. Khanna promises not to be a place-holder member of Congress — like several in the California delegation.

It’s an argument, as he made it in Monday’s debate, that’s tough to refute:

“It’s not enough in this district, which is the heart of innovation, to just be a vote or to just go to Congress. What we need is someone who’s going to lead the national debate.”

This just in: At post time, we were told about a new mailer Honda has just sent out, claiming — as he did in the debate — that “he also secured $8.6 billion this year for early childhood education programs across the country.” Trouble is, that’s all the funding for Headstart for the entire country that was approved by the Appropriations Committee of which he’s just a minority member. And he wasn’t even a co-sponsor of the bill.

Editor’s note: In an earlier version, Calbuzz misstated Mike Honda’s age. He is 73, not 78. Calbuzz apologizes for the error.