Archive for 2015

Press Clips: Willie’s World Takes Turn for the Worse

Friday, September 11th, 2015

willie3(Updates below) A San Francisco political insider forwarded an ICYMI copy of a Wall Street Journal scoop this week that detailed a new case of Willie Brown sleaze, and appended this question to the email: “Wonder how he’ll wiggle out of this one?”

The answer could not have been easier: “By clearing himself in his column,” we wrote back, “that runs in the NEWS PAGES of the Hearst Chronicle.” Cap letters ours.

What’s the story: At post time, the Chron had yet to acknowledge the juicy WSJ story, which quotes documents from a legal file involving a domestic violence case against one Gurbaksh Chahal, a rich, self-important Silicon Valley scumbag who apparently enjoys beating up women.

It seems that Chahal, aka “G,” implored venture capitalist Steve Westly — former state Controller and current wannabe’ governor — to help him out of a legal jam, after he was charged with 45 felony counts for allegedly hitting and kicking his girlfriend 117 times in half-an-hour. Westly, Journal sleuth Jeff Elder reported, was motivated to help in order to protect a $100 million planned IPO in which both stood to make a killing.

No fool he, Westly naturally sent his rich and repulsive pal Willie’s way, suggesting Mr. Fixit was well-positioned to help:

gurbaksh-chahal-clickagentsVenture capitalist and one-time California state controller Steve Westly, who joined RadiumOne’s board in November 2013, suggested in a Dec. 3, 2013 email to Mr. Chahal that lawyer Willie Brown, former San Francisco mayor and State Assembly speaker, “believes that he can help you.”

Mr. Westly, who is considering a second run for governor, wrote that Mr. Brown knows the district attorney and “may be able to ‘back him off,’” adding that Mr. Brown is a “very good deal broker.”

Six days later, in an email with the subject line “Willie Brown,” Mr. Chahal wrote to Mr. Westly: “Just met him. Wants $1 million if he can make this go away. Just gave him a $250K retainer. If you meet him tomorrow. Apply some pressure on him to make this go away in 2013.”

Mr. Westly responded: “Wow. That’s pricey, but probably worth it if he can make it happen. I suspect he will pull out all the stops to get this done.”

Nice client, Willie.

Pop quiz: There’s much more to the story, but for Press Clips purposes, that’s the gist of it (the WSJ piece is here if you can navigate past the subscription wall, while good overviews from SF Business Times and SFist are here and here if you can’t).

Our question is: where will Chron readers find Brown’s comments on the matter?

A) in context in a news story;

B) in “Willie’s World,” Brown’s own ballyhooed Sunday column.

C) nowhere.

Based on a recent case study, your best bet is B).

shrimpboytatoosFor that’s exactly where the journalistic geniuses at the tweeting incubator formerly known as The Voice of the West allowed Brown to address another recent yarn about corruption in which his name surfaced.

In the tangled affair known in this space as the Shrimp Boy Scandal, Chron reporters Bob Egelko and Emily Green reported, in an excellent, if complicated Page 1 story, about new documents filed in the case; the story said that a city commissioner, allegedly implicated in funneling bribes, told an undercover FBI agent that San Francisco was a “pay to play” city and that she had learned her trade from none other than Willie Brown.

In another conversation reported in the court filings, Jones told the agent she wanted a $10,000 commitment and said, “You pay to play here. … We are the best at this game … better than New York.”

Apparently referring to [S.F. Mayor Ed} Lee, Jones said, “He is a moderate, business-focused mayor. He was pretty much trained and developed by Willie Brown and the same as myself, and we were trained to get the job done.”

No comment from Brown about the assertion followed, however. That came the next day, when Chronicle editors blithely allowed Brown himself to address it – and knock down any suggestion that it might be true — in “Willie’s World,” his Sunday column in the news columns of the paper.

Denying that he’d ever even discussed the subject of campaign contributions with the commissioner – heaven forbid! – Brown wrote that, upon reading the Saturday story, “I could only chuckle.”

Ha, ha, you old rascal you.

No ethics for old men: You don’t have to doubt the veracity of Brown’s account to believe that his perspective belonged in the original news story where he was mentioned, so that readers could weigh and judge for themselves his comments in their full context – not in the self-serving, self-referential clown show that is his Sunday column.

Let’s review: San Francisco’s leading power broker, a lawyer who doesn’t disclose his clients to readers or editors but commands $1 million fees from millionaires to make ugly criminal charges “go away,” a lobbyist so brazen he used his Chronicle column picture to register with the city — gets the news pages handed over to him to laugh off his well-earned reputation for shameless, scheming and guileful behavior while shouting from the rooftops that he’s got the Chronicle in his pocket.

chroniclepageFormer Hearst Chron editor Ward Bushee, who originally brought Brown in to write the column, set down the company line several years ago, when he said that “Willie is…not bound by the (Chronicle’s) ethics policy.” Or anyone else’s either, for that matter.

As loyal Calbuzzers know, we’ve long ragged on this issue, which violates the most basic values and standards of journalism, while sacrificing the collective integrity of the news staff to the personal and financial agenda of one powerful influence peddler. Sad to say, Fifth and Mission rank and filers are troubled by the arrangement with Brown, but fear the bosses’ retribution for saying so.

Bottom line: The most thoughtful piece on the subject, published in the Columbia Journalism Review, was written by veteran editor John Mecklin, who worked for a time in San Francisco.

I have my own opinion on Brown’s column, and it’s a simpler one: I think the Chronicle’s decision to give Brown a column is just plain wrong, by any assessment based on standard notions of journalistic ethics. If readers are to trust newspapers, the people who write regularly for them need to avoid creating doubt about their credibility; particularly, they need to assure readers of their disinterest in the financial implications of the activities they cover—or to clearly disclose conflicts they do have. Willie Brown’s persona is based on the notion that he is absolutely in the game, a real player in the high-dollar dealings of government. As it stands now, readers have no reliable way to tell whether Brown might be or might not be a player in any governmental or political endeavor that he—or other Chronicle journalists—describe. In that regard, in my view, Brown’s column undercuts the entire paper’s credibility.

Amen, brother.

(Update Friday 8:38 am: SF Gate has now posted an edited version of the SF Business Insider story, not a staff-written piece, on the Chahal affair. It reports that Brown could not be reached for comment; strange that the Chron couldn’t reach their own columnist).

(Update Saturday 10:41 am: SFGate Chron has now published a move-along-nothing-to-see-here version of the WSJ story in the form of a Matier and Ross column that is a straight rewrite of the Elder piece, except for its strong pro-Willie perspective and a couple of self-serving Wilie quotes — it seems poor Mr. Chahal had a “desperate need” for legal representation and the public spirit-minded former mayor gallantly lent his servicesgleaned from Phil Matier’s own interview with the Human Hot Air Balloon on KGO yesterday. If your head is spinning on our old friend Phil’s multi-platform roles in this saga, stay tuned for tomorrow, to see if Willie’s World, ghost-written by the ubiquitous Matier, contains even more details about the heroic role the great man played in this immorality play.

Meanwhile, for those keeping score at home, the resourceful Elder’s latest blog post on KGO’s Matier-Willie tete-a-tete, may be found here.)

(Update Sunday 3:10 pm: Calbuzz gets results:”Willie’s World,” a Brown-Matier Production, ran in the print edition of the Hearst Chron today, but the great man had not a word to say about the Chahal scandal. It was a clear cave-in to Calbuzz, while also an effort to distort the results of our multiple choice quiz, above; in retrospect, of course we should have included the Matier and Ross column as possibility d) of where Willie’s comments would appear. His Willieness got a nice ride in the M&R piece with this as the, um, money quote: “Brown had an interesting explanation for why he took on such an apparently distasteful client. He told us Friday that ‘$1 million was the fee that I hoped (Chahal) could not pay. I did not want to deal with a client that had 45 counts of domestic violence, but he said, ‘All right.’ ” Poor Willie, Chahal left him no choice but to represent the scumbag).


Op-Ed: Dems Should Dump New Motor Voter Bill

Wednesday, September 9th, 2015

i dont voteBy Bob Mulholland
Special to Calbuzz

(The conventional wisdom among Sacramento Democrats is that Assembly Bill 1461, to register automatically anyone who obtains or renews a driver’s license, is a terrific idea to enfranchise millions and address California’s disgraceful voter turnout.

To our great surprise, Bob Mulholland, Democratic National Committee member, dedicated career operative and true believer, argues that the conventional wisdom is wrong. This is a version of a letter he sent on Tuesday to Secretary of State Alex Padilla and others, who trumpet the legislation as a great reform).

I join many others in opposition to AB 1461, which would force people onto the voter registration rolls – without their permission.

I started registering Democrats (pre-postcard, implemented July 1, 1976) when citizens could not register themselves. We used a county-provided booklet (8.5 X 14″) with carbon paper.  The turnout in the presidential election in November 1972 (age 18-21 could vote for the first time) was 82.1% in California and it was 81.5% in November 1976, but 1976 had 458,748 fewer voters. The enthusiasm of the youth vote had already dropped.

Poll-tax1The history of the world: Over the last 100 years, governments have made significant improvements in the voter registration and voting process in California. The most important:

1. The XIX Amendment (1920) “granting” the right to vote to women.

2. All Native Americans were finally, with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, given the right to vote.  After WWII, 25,000 Native American veterans were denied the right to vote in some states.

3. The XXVI Amendment passed (1971) lowering the age to vote to 18.

4. In 1972, the deadline to register to vote was reduced from 54 days to 30 days.

5. In 1975, the deadline was reduced to 29 days (Mondays).

6. On July 1, 1976, pre-postage paid voter registration cards went into effect.

18CanVote17. Gov. Jerry Brown (yes, the same Brown) signed legislation (implemented in 1978), to allow registered voters to vote by mail without needing a reason, such as traveling, being sick, etc.

8. Motor Voter became effective in California on June 19, 1995, after a court battle with Republican Gov. Pete Wilson who blocked it. This put a box on all government forms whereby a citizen could voluntarily register to vote.

9. Gov. Gray Davis signed legislation (Speaker Hertzberg’s bill) in 2000 reducing the deadline to register to vote to 15 days.

10. Gov. Davis also signed legislation in 2000, which allowed any voter to sign up as a Permanent Absentee Voter (PAV).  Both Republican Governors George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson previously vetoed such measures.

11.One of the best changes, giving full access to registering to vote, came when Secretary of State Debra Bowen updating the SOS website in the fall of 2012, allowing nearly a million people to register to vote. Registration increased a net of 1,092,271 from June to November 2012.  But in 2008 the net change was even greater at 1,180,304. The 2008 presidential election was more interesting than the 2012 election. The 2008 turnout was 79.4% vs. only 72.4% in 2012.

12. The Student Voter Registration Act of 2003

13. Now we are moving to limited Election Day registration.

All these changes have made the registering/voting process more user-friendly.  In 2014, the turnouts in both June (25.2%) and in November (42.2%) were the lowest ever in California.

Key point: These dismal turnouts had nothing to do with the registration process.

aliUnintended consequences loom: If AB 1461 had already been implemented, the November turnout would have been in the 30s. And none of these changes forced a citizen onto the voter registration files, without their permission.

In Kentucky, a county clerk refused to issue marriage certificates to gay couples.  We are aghast once again, like in the 1960s, to see clerks not following the law. Would the California Legislature consider a bill to marry all non-married co-habituating gay couples, without their permission, but give them 21 days to notify the government that they want to be divorced?

Eminent domain allows governments, through a legal process, to take ownership of private property (with just reimbursement) for the public good. That makes sense to most people. What I and many others find disturbing is that the Legislature is moving a bill to force a citizen to be registered to vote, as if a person was just eminent domain! Australia forces people to vote and they get fined, if they don’t vote — a terrible idea.

The language in this bill that states, if a person is ineligible to vote, but is registered to vote due to this legislation, and do vote, they will not be held legally accountable.

Murphy’s Law ensures there will be such people who get such notices from the government and will vote. Then the stories will go from newspaper front pages to across the country. The angle will be that California is not only welcoming undocumented immigrants but they are allowing them to vote.

Egg on everyone’s face, and it will used by some legislatures to advocate more stringent measures to block more people from voting.

padillaBottom line: There are many reasons, why citizens do not want to register to vote: they don’t like any of us; English is their second language; they are struggling with our low minimum wage; they are stretched with two jobs and kids, they mistakenly believe it means jury duty, etc.

I have been involved in politics for more than 40 years, including 19 years with the California Democratic Party doing campaigns, conventions and media.

Our joint work over the decades was to open the process up but never to use government power to force someone into the voting process.

Memo to MSM Bloviators: Get a Clue About Polling

Monday, September 7th, 2015

wossamottauThe Iowa caucuses are about five months away and the 2016 presidential election is almost a year and two months away and yet not a day goes by without another poll being released – NBC/Marist, Survey USA, Florida Times Union, Fox/Morris News, Monmouth, PPP, Loras College, Quinnipiac, ABC, CBS, CNN, NYT, WashPo. We’re expecting one soon from Wossamotta U.

And every day, TV motor-mouths, so-called analysts and some huckster candidates breathlessly explain the importance of these findings, virtually none of them understanding (or caring) who was polled; how they were surveyed; whether the margin of error is two, five or 10 percent or if there even is a margin of error (which internet polls don’t have), and most importantly, whether the pollsters have an agenda or even a clue.

Always Trust Calbuzz Given their desperate 24-hour scramble for fresh “content,” we don’t expect the mainstream media or the online alternate outlets to adopt serious standards about polls or intellectual honesty in reporting them. But as loyal readers know, you can rely on Calbuzz to shed some light from time to time.

Consider the so-called poll that Sir Donald of Trump continues to cite, “proving” that he’s doing just fine among Hispanics.

jorgeramosEven before he kicked Univision anchor Jorge Ramos, the Walter Cronkite of Spanish-language TV, out of his press conference – “Go back to Univision” – Latinos had no use for Trump.

“The Hispanics love me,” Trump continues to insist. But this is a grandiose function of his narcissistic personality disorder, not an actual grasp of the facts.

A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll (a genuine, professionally-run survey) found that 81 percent of Hispanic voters had an unfavorable opinion of Trump, compared to just 13 percent who viewed him favorably. (Attention MSM: “Hispanics” includes more than the handful of Hispanic Republicans Trump imagines constitute the Latino universe.)

“Pay no attention to those losers,” Trump would argue. Besides the thousands of Hispanics who have worked for him over the years – who love him so dearly – Exhibit A in Trump’s contention that he’s in great shape with Latinos is a poll of Nevada voters by Gravis Marketing, done for the One America News Network, which is dedicated in its own words to “providing a platform for independent and conservative ideas.”

We Probe So You Don’t Have To: Seeking to get more detail about this poll, at least half of us had a pleasant conversation with Charles Herring, the boss at OANN, about the Nevada poll. We were encouraged to submit our questions in writing so that Chuck could get with his pollsters at Gravis and get back to us.

We sent a number of questions to Herring via the email address he provided and never heard back. Which is not surprising because, based on the scant information OANN has released about the poll, Trump’s claim to have support of Hispanics in Nevada is utter nonsense.

Exploding head_0fca5According to OANN, the automated telephone poll (alarm bells here!) included 1,276 respondents, of whom 1,039 self-identified as primary participants (which would be an astonishing, i.e. unbelievable, 81% participation rate) of whom 623 said they were Republicans and 416 said they were Democrats (an unrealistic 60-40% split in favor of Republicans, but who’s quibbling?).

Elsewhere, OANN said 16% of the respondents were Hispanic. But whether that’s 16% of the total sample, of the primary participants or the Republican primary participants is not made clear. Our Department of Abacus Operators and Public Opinion Pulse Feelers would be shocked if 16% of the Republican primary participants were Hispanic, but who knows?

Even if we give Gravis and OANN the benefit of our towering doubt, and 16% of the 623 Republican participants were Hispanics, that would be about 100. And if Trump had 31% among Hispanics – as the survey alleges – that would be 31 voters. (But the margin of error on that 31% would be about 9 percentage points, plus or minus.)

In other words, given the information at hand, the best we can say is that Trump is, as usual, blowing thick clouds of smelly gas when he says he’s leading among Hispanics in Nevada. He MIGHT be leading among the tiny number of Hispanic Republicans who plan to participate in the primary. But we don’t even know that for sure.

Again, Calbuzz tried to get OANN to more fully explain their results. Here’s a few of the questions for which we got no response:

Among the 623 GOP primary participants, what was the racial breakdown? % white, % Latino, %  black, % other? Also, the same for the 416 Democratic primary participants?

What was the breakdown by race of the GOP primary contest?

What was the breakdown by race in the general election match-up between Clinton and Trump among all voters?

Bottom Line: The next time you hear Trump say he’s popular among Hispanics, the proper response is a Bronx cheer. And when you hear TV blow-drys tell you that Joe Biden runs better than Hillary Clinton against Trump or Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, ask yourself: does the person telling me this have any idea what he or she is talking about?