Archive for 2017

Independence Day: Calbuzz Takes a Sabbatical

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

trumpcrazyOn Donald Trump’s Inauguration Day, the headline over our take was not only ominous and apocalyptic but, in all modesty, both spot on and damned prophetic, too:

“Jan. 20, 2017: The Madness Is About to Get Real.”

Whatever lies, jive and tripe ooze from the filthy mouth of Donald J. Trump at today’s Inauguration, the plain fact is this: the U.S. is about to embark upon a destructive, dangerous and chilling new era led by a mentally illignorant and authoritarian kleptocrat.

Truth be told, few of the countless zillions of words that have been published, posted, podcast, broadcast, tweeted and Instagrammed since about the 46% 45th president’s first 150 deranged days have, in reality, advanced the ball much.

Of course, the Washington Post and New York Times have each done extraordinary work in digging out in depth and detail some of the treacherous corruption, doltish recklessness and grotesque money-grubbing that now controls the White House (starting with the indispensable “Trump’s Lies” and the Post’s running database of mendacity), not to mention the Ayn Rand crazies in Congress.


And a few sharp analysts have been admirably and astonishingly indefatigable in laboring to apply restrained reason and rational perspective in framing, again and again and again, the poisonous behavior and words of the Bull Goose Loony, such as Ezra Klein, who’s just published a superb summary of how Trump has bathed the nation in reeking toxicity, which should be published on the front page of every U.S. newspaper on the Fourth of July.

We are diminished when our president has little respect for the institutions and norms that have protected our country. Trump has done his best to sow doubt about the legitimacy of America’s electoral system, of its civil servants, of its courts, and of its media. He has created an enemies list to explain away his failures and misdeeds — in his telling, he is beset by “so-called judges,” the deep state, illegal voters, and fake news.

Given Trump’s relentless domination of the political world and deadline-every-second news cycle, we’ve curtailed our own analysis and commentary about all this, however, because a) we’ve run out of adjectives for “repulsive” and “loathsome”; b) grandkids and golf; c) giving free rein to uninhibited outrage is physically dangerous to the well-being of a couple of geezers with two cancers, one spleen, an open-heart and a batch of other surgeries between us.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but over the past few years, we were far ahead of the curve on stuff like the Death of Truth, Trump’s crippling narcissistic personality disorder, the salience of a pathway to citizenship for immigrants, the Death of Compromise, California’s post-Trump political exceptionalism and other important concepts, and so find ourselves exasperated when these ideas suddenly occur to Beltway bloviators as if they were original thoughts.

In his essay, Klein notes that, “to consistently engage with Trump is to be diminished by him.”

Exactly correct. So we’ve decided to put Calbuzz on cruise control for a time uncertain.

We’ll still post a few pieces from elsewhere that we find compelling; and odds are we won’t be able to keep ourselves from leaping back into the mix even before the 2018 campaigns get cranked up. We’ve already done our civic duty in publishing extended interviews with all the major candidates for governor, save one coward who’s too much of a weenie to handle us (see below).

In the meantime, we’ll drop by with our usual blinding insights, as time, medical appointments and the appearance of inspiration allow.

A few parting thots:

gavinlookrightCandy-ass Gavin: We’re astonished, if not surprised, that Prince Gavin Newsom, the front-runner in governor’s-race polling, is too much of a scaredy-cat wimp and cowardly wuss to answer a few basic questions about the state and what he would do as governor, as every other serious contender has – shout-out to Antonio, Delaine, John and Tom (not to mention Jerry Brown when he was preparing to run back in 2009).

His overpaid coat carriers at Ace Smith’s SCN Strategies (who double as consultants to Sen. Kamala Harris) have hilariously tried to explain why they won’t let their clients talk to us.

On October 10, 2016, after Harris’s debate with former U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, SCN’s Sean Clegg wrote:

I noticed no byline on your debate story. I just have to say you guys do a poor job concealing your misogyny. What shallow crap. Good thing your blog hasn’t been relevant since 2010.  Will be advising all my clients thusly! [Note: Calbuzz has never used bylines except for our guest contributors.]

And on May 8, 2017, when we were trying to get Newsom on the phone for an interview before the California Democratic Party convention, SCN’s Dan Newman wrote:

I say this not on behalf of any of my colleagues or clients, but personally I would be reluctant to facilitate any interview because I find your blog’s occasionally savvy insight and wit tarnished by mean-spirited cynicism. This isn’t partisan or personal — you needlessly demean my friends and foes, clients and competitors, with schoolyard taunting and petty name-calling. I’m certainly guilty of doing the same thing on occasion over the last two decades, but as I get older while wandering through the Trumpocalypse, I find this approach increasingly distasteful and unproductive.

chicken-011Poor babies.

Gavin’s refusal to sit down with Calbuzz — as enforced by his vaunted brain trusters — demonstrates something worse than cowardice: it’s a signal of his weakness of character and his willingness to hide from critics and questioners that ought to serve as a warning to serious political reporters, donors and activists that Newsom does not have the stones to govern California.

difistareWhither Dianne. For two years, we’ve never softened our confidence that (all rise) the Senior Senator from California would seek re-election in 2018, which now has become conventional wisdom. Sure, she’s lost a few feet off the fastball, but she remains the toughest, most experienced and valuable asset that Democrats in California, not to mention the nation, have amid the horror show in Washington.

Run, Dianne, run.

kamalaharrisKamala for President. Really?

Weeks before the imperious Queen Kamala took office – relying as she does on bad advice from the craven whisperers around her — we warned that this shallow narcissist would start looking in the mirror and seeing a future president.

Old-school political reporters used to say there are two kinds of pols: work horses and show horses. Take a wild guess which of California’s two U.S. Senators is which.

While it’s true that her recent smart, aggressive and gone-viral questioning of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was rudely interrupted because, well, she’s a black woman, the bottom line on Harris is this: (with apologies to Gertrude Stein and the fine people of Oakland) There’s not much there there. Nor does it help her cause that her long-ago lover, former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, has openly suggested she wouldn’t be where she is today if it weren’t for him. (“We had been very close” — wink-wink, nudge-nudge — Brown wrote in a kissy-kissy Chronicle column two weeks ago.)

Once she’s represented California for a couple of terms and can show some policy and political chops, Harris may well be someone to take seriously. But for now she’s just the flavor of the week among the big brains in the Beltway.

calbuzzartSpraining elbows patting ourselves on the back: 
We started Calbuzz back in 2009, 1,273 posts ago, specifically because we wanted to contribute to the conversation about the 2010 campaign for governor; in our 70-odd (sometimes very odd) collective years of covering politics at every level, nothing has ever been as much fun as covering a California governor’s race.

And frankly, given the meat-ax cuts that had been inflicted on serious political reporting at every major state media organization, we also saw a market opportunity, which paid off quickly in the form of an influential readership and enough ad dollars to finance our jones for rampaging through state party conventions and other political grip-and-grope opportunities.

The political media environment, we’re pleased to say, has changed, on a number of fronts: the return of Cathy Decker, the steadiness of Mark Barabak and George Skelton and the emergence of stars like Seema Mehta, John Myers and Phil Willon, plus future MVP Javier Panzar at the By God L.A. Times; the hatching of the high-energy collaboration of Carla Marinucci and David Siders at Politico’s California report; the birth of CalMatters under the enlightened leadership of Dave Lesher, not to mention the arrival of the SacBee’s Chris Cadelago and some excellent new political reporters who came and went, like the indefatigable Shane Goldmacher, Chase Davis and Torey Van Oot, who were snatched up by media back East. We’d also be remiss not to note that the plucky efforts of Joe Garafoli and John Wildermuth to overcome Chron management’s foolish hostility towards political reporting also helps beef up California’s press corps, and made covering and following state campaigns fun again.

We like to flatter ourselves by thinking that we helped play a role in the rejuvenation of California political reporting by coming off the bench after our “retirements” and investing several hundred thousand words in kvetching, critiquing and press clipping on the subject.

Don’t forget to write.

SB 10 Would Rightly End the Cash Bail System

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

black-man-prisonBy George Lakoff
Special to Calbuzz

Imagine losing days, weeks, or months of your life rotting in a jail cell even though, in the United States, you’re supposed to be presumed innocent unless proven guilty.

Such unjust imprisonment should never happen in a free nation. Yet it is the reality for hundreds of thousands of Americans today. Unsurprisingly, many of them are poor people of color who can’t afford to pay excessive bail fees.

They are imprisoned because the current bail system is out of control. It deprives people of their freedom for no reason other than their inability to pay. This violates freedom and poses an unconstitutional threat to our rights as citizens.

declarationHappiness not property The Declaration of Independence counts “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” among our “inalienable rights” as Americans. It’s important to remember that the original phrase from John Locke put it differently, as “life, liberty, and property.” But America’s Founding Fathers modified this phrase for a very specific and important reason – because they didn’t believe freedom should be tied to wealth and property ownership.

Back then, African Americans were deprived of their human rights and considered property under the heinously immoral institution of slavery. But times have changed, and all Americans are now guaranteed the same rights and freedoms, regardless of ability to pay.

It’s time for the bail industry to catch up with the modern world. It’s time for a big change in the bail system. In California, Senate Bill 10 would upend the cash bail system that keeps so many people locked up unjustly. It’s more than a sensible reform of a broken system – it’s a moral imperative.

mlkjailFreedom not wealth The bail system is based on the deeply un-American idea that your freedom should depend on your wealth. It’s shameful that such a system has survived into the 21st century, and must be abolished at once. How many innocent people are languishing in a jail cell today for the sole reason that they can’t buy their freedom?

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

We cannot tolerate a system in which innocent people languish in our local jails because they cannot afford to pay the bail. The idea that your freedom should be determined by your ability to pay violates the freedom of every American.

SB 10 is a chance for California to lead the way on righting this injustice and restoring the freedom of every American.

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (http://cnms.berkeley.edu).

Trump Thought He Had a Guy . . . He Didn’t

Monday, June 12th, 2017

trumptimecoverBy Dick Polman

James Comey’s sworn Senate testimony basically confirms what anyone with a smidgen of mental cognition has known since day one — that Donald Trump is a toxic narcissist whose animal instinct is to breach America’s institutional restraints and enforce personal fealty in the manner of a lawless mob boss.

It’s all there in Comey’s meticulous statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee about his interactions with Trump. At minimum, it’s a damning indictment of Trump’s character (or lack thereof). At its worst, it’s a road map for Trump’s removal. In the words of Philip Allen Lacovara, a former deputy U.S. solicitor general and counsel to the Watergate special prosecutors, “Any experienced prosecutor would see these facts as establishing a prima facie case of obstruction of justice.”

comeynewProtective notes The FBI is tasked with being an independent agency; Trump, one week into his sordid reign, sought to strip that independence and reduce Comey to the role of lickspittle. As Comey recalled (relying on the notes he made at the time), the one-on-one dinner with Trump on Jan. 27 was “an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship. That concerned me greatly, given the FBI’s traditionally independent status in the executive branch.”

(By the way, with respect to Comey’s contemporaneous note-taking: He told the committee that he never did that after speaking with President Bush, and never did that after speaking with President Obama. But this guy was different. He decided to take notes because of “the person I was interacting with…the nature of the person…I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting.” It’s an historic moment when a high-ranking career public servant publicly calls the president of the United States a liar.)

kisstheringKiss the ring Anyway, at that January dinner, he tried to explain to Trump “why it was so important that the FBI and the Department of Justice be independent of the White House” — Civics 101, to anyone who knows anything about American checks and balances — but, alas, it didn’t work. Trump simply morphed into Don Coreleone (“I need loyalty, I expect loyalty”), and said again, near the end of the dinner, “I need loyalty.”

Having set the terms (or having deluded himself into believing that he’d set the terms), Trump followed up on Feb. 14. He told Comey that he wanted the FBI to stop its criminal investigation of paid Russian propagandist Michael Flynn (“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go”). Comey promised nothing. On March 30, Trump phoned Comey and asked what Comey could do to “lift the cloud” of the Russian probe. Comey again demurred. On April 11, Trump phoned again, and asked Comey to tell the public that Trump wasn’t personally being investigated. Comey said that he himself couldn’t say it, but that Trump’s request was being routed through proper channels.

petethekillerThat thing… Whereupon Trump said, “I have been very loyal to you, very loyal. We had that thing, you know.” Comey now recalls, “I did not reply, or ask him what he meant by ‘that thing.’” (Comey needs to watch the film “Goodfellas,” especially the scene when a loyal thug nicknamed Pete the Killer tells Henry Hill, “Hey, I took care of that thing for ya.”)

But Comey repeatedly refused to play the loyal toady. As he says in his testimony, referring to Trump’s attempts to interfere with the Russia probe, “it was important to infect the investigative team.” But Comey paid the price for resisting infection. He was summarily fired. And after lying for a few days about why Comey was fired, Trump told Lester Holt of NBC News — and, subsequently, some Russians visiting the Oval Office — that the firing was indeed done to ease the Russia probe.

Lacovara, the ex-counsel to the Watergate special prosecutors, connects the dots: “Comey’s statement lays out a case against the president that consists of a tidy pattern, beginning with the demand for loyalty, the threat to terminate Comey’s job, the repeated requests to turn off the investigation into Flynn and the final infliction of career punishment for failing to succumb to the president’s requests, all followed by the president’s own concession about his motive.” That’s obstruction of justice, which, according to the federal statutes, requires “corrupt intent.”

deniroOf course he didn’t “order” Comey Naturally, that’s not how the senatorial Trumpkins see things. They don’t connect the dots; they just grasp at straws. At one point during the hearing today, Idaho’s Jim Risch said it was no big deal that Trump wanted to kill the Flynn probe – because Trump didn’t specifically order Comey to kill it, he just said he hoped that Comey would let it go.

Risch: “He did not direct you to let it go?”

Comey: “Not in his words, no.”

Risch: “Again those words are not an order? He said ‘I hope.’”

Comey: “I took it as a direction. This is the president of the United States. I took it as a direction.”

Republicans on the committee kept asking: If Trump was abusing your independence so badly, why didn’t you stand up to him more forcefully? Which was a hilarious line of inquiry, given the fact that most Republicans have been cowering in a fetal position for the better part of a year, saying and doing nothing about Trump’s serial lies, conflicts of interest, and abuses of power.

Trump’s lawyer, and most Republicans, are actually telling themselves that Comey’s testimony exonerates the Leader. They’re highlighting the part where Comey says Trump wasn’t personally under investigation (as of March, anyway), but ignoring the part where Comey says he refused to say so publicly because Trump might be targeted in the future. Indeed, if Trump wasn’t a target before, he’s likely to be a target now; Comey told the committee that he’s “sure” that special counsel Robert Mueller is looking at Trump for possible obstruction of justice.

Most importantly, Trump’s dwindling defenders are ignoring the overall thrust of Comey’s remarks — the fact that a tinpot autocrat thinks personal loyalty trumps loyalty to the U.S. Constitution.

dickpolmanBasically, it was the word of a boy scout, who took contemporaneous notes, against the word of a demonstrably serial liar. For the sake of this nation, let’s hope the Comey episode can hasten the latter’s departure.

Dick Polman, former political writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, blogs at  www.newsworks.org, where this column originally appeared.


Californians Love Medicare for All – Just Not the Bill

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

medicareforallA majority of Californians favors a Medicare for All approach to health insurance coverage. Until they’re asked to pay for it.

That’s the finding of a new statewide survey released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California.

According to the survey, 65% of adults favor “having guaranteed health coverage in which all Californians would get their insurance though a single state government health plan” – in other words, a state equivalent of Medicare extended to everyone.

But approval drops to 42% if it means raising taxes – which almost certainly would be required in some form.

Whether an increase in taxes would be offset by lowering or eliminating health insurance premiums is yet uncertain. Senate Bill 562 by Democratic Sens. Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens and Tony Atkins of San Diego – which would adopt the “single payer” approach — has no clear financing mechanism thus far.

medical careOf course it’s popular…The attraction of Medicare for All (MFA) is obvious: it’s aimed at providing guaranteed medical care, not insurance or access to insurance, to everyone. How a single state – even one as large as California – could afford to make it work is less clear.

The partisan and ideological divide on the issue is stark. Democrats favor MFA 75-18%, with 59% still in favor if it means raising taxes. Liberals support the idea 81-15%, with 62% support even if taxes must be raised.

Republicans, on the other hand, oppose MFA 66-28%. Interestingly conservatives slightly favor the idea 49-46%, but their support drops to 23% if taxes have to be raised.

Independents like MFA 64-32%, but their support drops to 44% if taxes have to be increased. Likewise, moderates favor the approach 62-31%, until taxes are involved when their support drops to 37%.

Latinos are especially sensitive to the impact of raising taxes to pay for health care: they favor the single-payer approach 75-21% generally, their support drops to 41% if the system is paid for by raising taxes. That’s about the same proportion of whites – 42% — who support MFA if taxes are raised to pay for it.

What the survey suggests is that before there is strong support for Medicare for All in California, advocates of the idea have to convince many more people that paying for the system with tax increases would be offset by decreases in insurance and other medical care expenses.

spy-vs-spyMore results Some few other notable findings in the PPIC survey include:

– Half of all adults worry a lot (30%) or some (21%) that people they know could be deported with increased enforcement by the Trump administration. Most Latinos (59%) say they worry a lot.

– Nearly six in 10 (58%) of Californians say they think the Russian government tried to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election and nearly half (47%) say members of the Trump campaign intentionally helped Russian efforts.

– President Trump’s approval rating has slumped to 27%, down from 30% in January and 31% in March. However, a big majority of Republicans (74%) approve of Trump, compared to huge majorities of Democrats (88%) and independents (70%) who disapprove. (In a recent Gallup weekly tracking poll, 38% of adults nationwide approve of Trump.)

PPIC surveyed 1,707 California adult residents from May 12-22, including 1,107 interviewed on cell phones and 600 interviewed on landline telephones. The margin of error is ±3.2 percent at the 95 percent confidence level for the total unweighted sample.

Complete results of the PPIC survey may be found at here.

CA Democrats Shape Their Future This Weekend

Friday, May 19th, 2017

baumanellisBy Steve Maviglio
Special to Calbuzz
With a Few Notes

Between attending the “Nasty Women and Bad Hombres” and “Fueling the Resistance” hospitality suites, the 3,300 delegates pulling their bumper-sticker decorated Priuses into Sacramento this weekend for the California Democratic Party convention will be in engaged in a sharply contested battle over the future of the party on multiple fronts that could have widespread implications for the 2018 statewide elections, and perhaps even national efforts to win back the House and Senate.

The much-loved and much-cursing CDP Chairman John Burton and his top-flight operations team have been adept at striking a balance between party pragmatists and purists. The proof of their success is in their electoral legacy: Democrats have topped the eight million mark in registered voters, swept the state’s top offices, hold a super-majority in the Legislature, and are organizationally and financially strong – a stark contrast to the national Democratic Party, whose new chairman Tom Perez, will address the California jamboree on Saturday.

But that apparently isn’t enough for some. Consider this eye-rolling assessment of the state’s Democrats in the LA Times  by Bernie Sanders supporter Joey Aszterbaum of Hemet, “It’s the party of Arnold Schwarzenegger Democrats.”

Aszterbaum is not atypical of many of the delegates. Small wonder then that the state’s most popular elected officials, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Gov. Jerry Brown (who is attending a family reunion we’re told), decided to skip the convention.

Yet despite their absence, there will be plenty of theater.

Here’s what to watch:

burtoncropElection for Chief Cat Herder –Long-time CDP Vice-Chair and LA Democratic Party Chair Eric Bauman is in a battle with upstart Kimberly Ellis in a race that will control the party’s apparatus. That’s a bigger deal than it might seem; campaign finance laws have made political parties the major drivers of coordinated campaigns, legislative races, and even initiative campaigns. Bauman has the support of nearly every elected leader and legislator, key unions, and has spent the last four years visiting Democratic clubs in the remote corners of the state. Ellis, despite her firm backing of Hillary Clinton for president, has gained traction from some Sanders supporters. The vote is expected to be close. And remember: this isn’t a secret ballot. Anything can happen.

(Editor’s Note: Delegates will have to decide whether they want their party’s resources and energies managed by a professional who has risen through the ranks and dedicated his life to electing Democrats. Or not. Let’s hope they make a smart choice — which Lite Gov. Gavin Newsom failed to do by endorsing BOTH candidates. Sheesh.)

Anti-Trump Applause-O-Meter – Our CDP drinking game? Taking a swig anytime mentions impeachment (bummer Auntie Maxine won’t be in the house). We’d use a lower threshold of condemnation but we’d probably be drunk after Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg’s introductory remarks. (Note: Watch, between shots, and listen to see if anyone has a plan for a “Sister District” program of recruiting volunteers from blue Congressional districts to work to elect Democrats in neighboring red districts.)

schiffThe Man of the Moment – The Sacramento Bee described Congressman Adam Schiff as perhaps “Trump’s biggest nemesis.”  Watch to see how much (Note: if any) red meat the understated Schiff, who typically avoids partisan bashing, throws to party activists at the Saturday night dinner.

Musical Chairs – Will Senate President Pro Tem Kevin DeLeon run for Governor? Will Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones throw in the towel in his race for AG and switch to a more winnable LG race? Will Tom Steyer donate time and energy into being a candidate instead of pouring millions into voter registration and initiatives? Look for this convention to answer some of those questions.

Gubernatorial Warm Up –  The convention will be the first test of strength for Horseshoe wannabes. LG Newsom is the darling of the lefties who dominate the convention. But perhaps more interesting will be the performance of the other candidates. Will Treasurer John Chiang deliver a barn-burning speech? (Note: That would be truly astonishing.) Will Antonio Villaraigosa have a Sister Souljah moment by reveling in the results of Tuesday’s LA School Board elections and make a passionate pitch for charter schools and education reform? Will Delaine Eastin get more than a polite response? We shall see.

The X Factor – Newly-appointed Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has been leading the state’s legal charge against Trump, is a virtual unknown to most delegates. The rising star will need to make an impressive splash at the convention to deter a challenge from his expected challenger, tenacious Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones.

New Kids on the Block – With Gov. Brown (79), Sen. Feinstein (83), and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (77) in the dusk of their political service, the convention is the place for new stars to shine. My money is on Sen. Kamala Harris to rock the house, hoping to fuel speculation that she should be taken seriously for a White House bid in 2020. (Insert Calbuzz eye roll here) Also, pay attention to the speeches and organizational strength of a few others who want to climb the electoral ladder, including Controller Betty Yee, Secretary of State Alex Padilla, and BOE Member Fiona Ma.

Calbuzz, pulled away by family commitments, will not be covering the convention or even hosting our infamous Hackenflack Dinner. Thanks for this advance from our old friend Steve Maviglio, a Democratic consultant and former press secretary for Gov. Gray Davis.