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Archive for the ‘California Economy’ Category



Press Clips: Sartre & Beckett vs. Krusty & Hobbes

Friday, March 11th, 2011

Top Calbuzz executives assigned our Department of Belle-Lettres and Ersatz Erudition the most pressing, mission critical job of the week: finding a literary reference to best describe the California Doomsday Scenario.

As the on-again-off-again closed door negotiations between Pope Jerry and Republican Capitol bishoprics  kept flickering, it became clearer by the hour that if their talks collapsed, the state was headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.

If, as our sources insist, the governor simply won’t countenance a Democrat-only solution to get his tax extension plan on the ballot, the specter looming over Sacramento, should Republicans stiff him, is that he’ll next put forth a cuts-only fiscal plan, which his party’s lawmakers will never accept, leaving the whole shtunk exactly…nowhere…

And so: What story, what narrative, what metaphor can our fine-writing-done-cheap trolls employ to cut to the chase in labeling this dreadful state of affairs – and that also fits in the headline?

Due consideration, of course, was paid to Sartre’s “No Exit” (“Hell is other people”), to Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” (“Nothing to be done”) and, not least, “Ghostbusters II” (“Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling! 40 years of darkness! Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!”)

And then, amid much mulling, what you like to call your Jesuit-trained governor came up with the answer himself: Leviathan.

Krusty’s elegant bookish solution surfaced in a conversation with our friend George Skelton, who churned out the most enterprising budget story of the week. While others in the Sacramento press corps kept writing the same process story (we name no names –  there’d be too many) Skelton captured the Little Pulitzer for Best Political Commentary That Includes Food.

Scoring the first substantive interview with the governor since the inauguration, George covered all the bases: 1) finagling his way inside Jerry and Anne’s loft, 2) copping a free turkey and cheese sandwich (and crucially, working the food into the story; 3) winning some face time with Sutter. All that plus, characteristically, asking Brown the key question: what does the future hold in the not-unlikely event you can’t reach a compromise with the GOP?

Events will unfold like this, (Brown) predicts without hesitation, if the Legislature fails to muster the required two-thirds majority vote … “I put up an all-cuts budget” … Then the Democrats change [the all-cuts budget] and put in gimmicks. Then I veto it. Then everybody sits there until we run out of money. It’s not going to be a pretty sight. It’s like one-two: No tax, all cuts, gimmicky budget, veto, paralysis.”

“It’ll be a war of all against all,” Brown added.

Or, as we say around the newsroom: “Bellum omnium contra omnes.”

Enclosed by the temporal boundaries of space and time in his (print is dead) column, Skelton unfortunately lacked the breathing room to fully explicate Brown’s classical reference. No worries – that’s who we are and what we do.

Bellum omnium contra omnes,” as every school child knows, was coined by Thomas Hobbes in 1651, and is pretty much the only thing anyone ever remembers about reading “Leviathan” in Humanities I in freshman year:

In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

Now, we don’t necessarily subscribe to the Hobbesian notion that mankind — in the absence of a powerful central authority — is innately avaricious and self-destructive. But let’s face it: if California can’t get a budget, there will be blood.

Forces on the left will set out to soak the rich, slap taxes on oil drilling and services, split the property tax roll and give communities power to raise taxes with a majority vote. Forces on the right will seek to cap state spending, unravel collective bargaining rights of public employees, slash pensions, eliminate union shops and decimate social services and environmental regulations.

Non belle visus.

That said, Calbuzz does strongly agree with Hobbes on at least one key matter of the human condition:

All generous minds have a horror of what are commonly called ‘Facts.’ They are the brute beasts of the intellectual domain.

Amen, brother.

Furry little monster: Speaking of nasty, brutish and short, Grover Norquist turned up this week in the biggest grandstand play since Terrell Owens stole pom-poms from  cheerleaders for the 49ers.

In a less than dazzling display of political gamesmanship, GOP honcho Ron Nehring trumpeted a letter he’d addressed to Brown, which was scooped up by Costco Carla Marinucci, purporting to invite him to debate the anti-tax tyrant at next weekend’s Republican state convention.

Brown mouthpiece Gil Duran responded with just the right tone, offering to send the aforementioned Sutter to debate the Great Toad Man.

Left   unanswered and unassuaged, however, was Nehring’s pitiable lament that Governor Gandalf was behind a “variety of verbal attacks” heaped on Norquist, as editorialists, columnists and sensitive New Media Guys have recently called him out for threatening retribution to any GOP lawmakers who dare cast a vote allowing people who actually, you know, live in California, to decide the fate of Krusty’s tax plan.

Alarmed by Nehring’s allegation, our Department of Ethical Standards and Cheap Shot Journalism Prophylactics swiftly checked our clips and determined that our recent characterizations of the D.C. demagogue – “nihilist,” “extremist,” “Emperor Nero” – could in no way be construed as “verbal attacks.” Whew.

Recommended further reading: Politico examines a hint of a split between Norquist and some establishment right-wingmen, while Washpost whiz kid socialist Ezra Klein conducts a scrupulously fair Q&A with the porcine provocateur.

ICYMI: What can we say, we’re suckers for a doggie conga line.

The Death and Possible Re-Birth of Negotiation

Monday, March 7th, 2011

Whether or not the dozen California Republican legislators (more than enough for a minyan!) who have refused to join the politically suicidal Taxpayers Caucus are all modern day Pharisees, Gov. Jerry Brown was not far off the mark comparing them to Nicodemus ben Gurion, the prominent Jewish elder who is said to have met with Jesus under cover of night to avoid the risk of ostracism.*

“I’m not going to blow their cover,” Brown said of the individuals he’s been meeting with – those who have declined to drink the Kool Aid being dispensed by the Grover Norquist-inspired Ostrich Phalanx and henchmen, like our pal Jon Fleischman.

The small band of savvy Republicans appear to get that a) they are in a position to extract at least some of their cherished goals in exchange for merely voting to put Brown’s tax extensions on the June ballot and b) their old world is rapidly changing, because of the new rules of redistricting and the top-two primary system, so they can’t afford to stand in the doorway and block up the hall.

As Rob Stutzman, the Republican strategist who advised Meg Whitman’s campaign for governor, put it: “They have more leverage than they’ve had at any time arguably over the last decade.” But then guys like Stutzman and Jim Brulte, the former legislative leader, are old-school pols who believe, like Ronald Reagan did, that you negotiate to reach agreement and that agreement – i.e. governance — is a good thing.

At a time when “compromise” has been stricken from the actions and vocabulary of Tea Partiers in Washington and the intransigent governor of Wisconsin (except as a pejorative to attack those who disagree with their rigid stances), the efforts to strike a deal by a handful of GOP legislators in Sacramento is a smart and responsible move, both as policy and as politics.

By bucking the unrelenting pressure of no-compromise apparatchiks and no-tax ideologues in their party’s extremist wing, these Republicans – like Sam Blakeslee, Anthony Cannella, Bill Tom Berryhill, and Bob Huff, to name a few — have set the stage for a political counter-narrative to the bitter union-busting drama being played out in Madison, and the looming threat of a federal government shut-down by Congress under Weeper of the House John Boehner.

If the GOP’s Responsible Caucus can wring enough legislative concessions from Brown to justify the intraparty flak they’ll take for helping him pass the key element of his plan – a statewide vote on extending $12 billion in temporary higher taxes and fees – they also will have a dealt a major blow to the politics of deadlock that have dominated California for a generation.

Urging them on – with visions of business-friendly reforms dancing in their heads – are groups like the Bay Area Council, Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and even the California Chamber.

It should be noted, by the way, that Brown’s problem is not just with Republicans. Forces on the Democratic left are extremely upset about the massive spending cuts Brown has already extracted and, if the Republicans seeking a deal overplay their hand and some interest group – the California Teachers Association, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, Service Employees International Union, or any other – decides to oppose whatever deal Brown negotiates, the whole thing could explode.

A way out — our sources are betting — is at best a 50-50 proposition.

As Steve Glazer, Brown’s senior adviser told Calbuzz over the weekend: “We’re sitting on bar stools in a foot of gasoline and everybody’s got a match.”

The ossification of Sacramento was created by a battery of political circumstances, including some so-called “reforms,” that together had the unintended consequence of bogging down the Capitol in the gridlock of polarization and partisanship. The key ingredients in hardening the political cement are 1) diminished party registration 2) non-competitive elections and 3) term limits.

Add to these closed primaries, campaign contribution limits that don’t apply to interest groups and a cable-driven coarsening of political dialogue and you have a recipe for impasse. That’s how we arrived at a situation where negotiation is seen as collaboration and compromise is regarded as capitulation.

Ironically, the sudden willingness of at least a few members of the minority to consider compromise, negotiation and deal-making to be useful and acceptable tools, in place of the just-say-no obstructionism that has long marked the GOP position, may itself have been triggered by two new reforms: a new, non-partisan citizens commission that is redistricting the state and a new “top-two” primary system are both designed to encourage more moderate politics; they may be working even before they’ve fully taken effect.

“With open primaries in redistricted seats in a presidential election all the old rules are out the door,” said Brulte.

Diminished party registration, wherein moderates and those with loose party affiliations have registered in ever greater numbers as Decline to State (independent of a party), has meant that those who still vote in their party primaries are the most ideological, the most partisan and the most intractable voters in any particular political jurisdiction.

In October 1994, Democrats had 49% of registration, Republicans 37% and DTS 10%. In October 2010, Democrats were 44%, Republicans 31% and DTS 20%. Who left the Democratic and Republican parties (or chose not to join them)? Moderates who didn’t want to be part of the left and right wings of the electorate.

So those who won their party primaries – and thus those eventually elected to the Assembly and state Senate – reflected (and shaped) the ideological cast of their districts.  Legislators who refuse to negotiate toward an agreement are, in many cases, perfectly reflecting the narrow electorate – in existing districts — who sent them to Sacramento. It’s the hard core who’s voting.

Non-competitive seats, partially a function of gerrymandering and partly a function of living patterns of the California population, have ensured the election, re-election, and re-re-election of the same voices and interests year in and year out.

One liberal may replace another; one conservative may follow a predecessor, but the ideological shape and tone and color remains the same. The general election means little in most cases because all the action is during the primary. If an incumbent – or a candidate who appears to be an incumbent because he or she served in a different office – is in the race, you can all but forget about it.

Few seats are actually competitive and where they are, it’s almost always just in the race to see who gets to represent the party in November.

Term limits have a compounded negative effect. On the one hand, they drive those just elected to spend ever greater amounts of time planning for their re-election and advancement to another seat in a different house. On the other hand, they leave Sacramento with a neophyte corps of legislators who have no institutional knowledge, no long-term commitment, no real power base in their own communities and less knowledge than the permanent legislative staff and the army of lobbyists who are always on the case.

Moreover, leadership is a joke: it’s almost impossible to enforce caucus discipline, it’s increasingly difficult to speak with one voice for either party, “leaders” are in place long enough to get a cup of coffee and replaced before they’ve found the secret drawer in the big desk or learned the name of the janitor who empties their trash can.

Coupled with campaign contribution limitations that don’t apply to interest groups, term limits mean that instead of the special interests needing the lawmaker, it’s the other way around – legislators need the special interests more than the pleaders need them.

And Now for Something
Completely Different

The handful of GOP legislators who are quietly (secretly) negotiating with Gov. Brown just may get this: by the end of August, the non-partisan redistricting of California legislative boundaries should be completed and the next round of elections will not involve party primaries but a top-two system of electing candidates.

We may even see big labor begin to play a role in what used to be Republican districts. Sources tell Calbuzz there’s talk in the labor community about spending in districts where particular legislators have made it a point to work against their interests.

Candidates who are identified as obstructionist or worse, responsible for massive teacher layoffs, shorter school years, public safety cutbacks, closed state parks, etc., are going to have one hell of a time picking up enough moderate and independent votes to keep their offices. They will NOT be running in tailored districts and they won’t have a free shot at a party position.

You gotta wonder how smart it is to rely on right-wing operators, who ask, like FlashReport’s Fleischman, if “The CalChamber is Ready to Betray Taxpayers Again?” As a Republican, just exactly what is your base if you can’t include the Chamber of Commerce?

No wonder Flash and his cronies on the right are hoping at the GOP convention to change the Republican Party’s rules to give central committees the power to dub candidates official GOP standard bearers. That may their only weapon and frankly, we’re not sure, even if they can adopt this Soviet Rule, that it would do the trick for their people.

As Steve Harmon of the Contra Costa Times so ably noted, the notion that Republicans who voted for tax hikes under Gov. Arnold Schwarzmuscle were driven from office is mostly bunk. “Of the six Republicans who voted for taxes (in 2009), only one later went on to defeat in a Republican primary. Two captured GOP nominations in statewide contests, another was elected to a county post and two others dropped out of politics.”

And that was before redistricting and the top-two primary system. And before Brown, who was allowed to dispense his vows of poverty and chastity in order to leave the seminary, offered dispensation to any Republicans who signed the GOP anti-tax pledge.

* It was to Nicodemus, as reported in the Gospel of John (3:16), that Jesus, after saying that man must be reborn in faith, offered this central concept: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

The GOP, Issa and Gadhafi’s Zenga Zenga Remix

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

The minoritarian tyrants holding hostage a deal on California’s budget seem keenly intent on squandering their best chance in a generation of exercising some actual power over state fiscal policy.

At a time when Gov. Jerry Brown is aggressively courting GOP support for his budget plan, most of the Capitol’s Republicans have decided that it’s a better play to hold their breath ‘til they turn blue than it is to extract substantive policy concessions from Brown, in exchange for a couple of votes on a process issue.

The GOP’s cuckoo caucus keeps pushing away the governor, proclaiming to the heavens their absolute, no joke, thoroughly unlimited and utterly unconditional opposition to new taxes.

Yeah, well, except…nobody’s asking them to support more taxes.

All Brown wants is backing for a procedural move to put before voters the question of whether or not to extend some temporary tax and fee hikes approved in 2009. For that, the trading window is open for the very kinds of conservative policy changes – Fix pensions! Cap spending! Ease regulations! All the surf and turf you can eat for $9.99! – that Party of Lincoln types have been wetting the bed over for years.

Once again, slowly: no one is asking any Republican to be for higher taxes.

Nothing (nada, nichts, rien) whatsoever stands in the way of GOP warriors barnstorming the state from San Ysidro to Yreka, Coachella to Pt. Concepcion, preaching hellfire and brimstone about the unspeakable, godforsaken horrors that surely will rain down on California if the Vehicle License Fee does not revert from 1.15 to 0.65 percent come July 1.

What we keep failing to understand is, given their oft-expressed certainty that they speak for “the people of California” on tax matters, why are Republicans so fearful of making their case to voters?

As a political matter, the head-in-the-sand crowd has not exactly attracted a tidal wave of support for their stance, as the clock keeps ticking towards the March 10 deadline for a deal. There’s grumbling among  responsible business types about the kiddy korps tactics of the GOP leadership, much eye-rolling by some senior party strategists and even a stray warning flag hoisted by our favorite, reliably righty pundit.

Chronicle carrot top conservative columnist Debra J. Saunders, who’s the closest thing to a right-winger permitted to cross the San Francisco city and county line, on Tuesday issued a caveat-conditioned call for her brethren and sistren to put the sucker on the ballot:

The truly conservative move is to negotiate concessions — preferably pension reform or a spending cap — because it’s time to settle the tax-versus-cuts argument once and for all…

Brown has told Californians that if they want this level of government, then they have to pay for it: “I think we have to meet the moment of truth now.”

Truth is: (a) He needs to give Republicans something in exchange for having their heads put on sticks. (b) Voters aren’t likely to vote for his tax package without real reforms. And without real reform, failure is more than an option.

But, hey, if the Reps won’t even listen to their own, we say the hell with sweet reason: As a gang of unscrupulous political polemicists, we’re thinking we’ll  drop all this rational argument stuff in favor of propounding some seriously jaundiced and dogmatic rhetorical parallels between a) the inexorable budget absolutists in Sacramento and b) the despotic kleptocrats  being serially deposed across the Arab world.

On second thought, nah. As Richard Nixon famously said,  it would be wrong, that’s for sure.

We’ll let Meyer do it instead.

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Score one for Paul Revere: Much chuckling and good cheer among the hard-bitten political types  over at Third Lantern, the Democratic hack community’s guerrilla oppo research unit assembled to throw brickbats at California Representative Darrell Issa, the Grand Inquisitor of Congress.

The Ice Man just suffered a major embarrassment when he was forced to can his supposedly brilliant 27-year old press secretary for inexplicably piping e-mails from other reporters to our old friend Mark Leibovich, who’s on leave from the New York Times while researching a book on the incestuous culture of Washington.

If you’re not sure why it was a bad idea for the now-departed, Icarus-wannabe Kurt Bardella to do such a thing, just imagine the ump tipping off hitters on the dog-ass Dodgers about what pitch Timmy Lincecum was going to throw next. If that doesn’t work for you, check out everything you’d ever want to know about the story over at Politico, which started flogging this yarn about seven seconds after they apparently learned that at least one of the reporters with compromised email worked for them.

Let’s be clear about one thing, however: Leibo did absolutely nothing wrong in this matter. He’s a principled and top-rank journalist whose job entails gathering as much useful information as possible from his sources. If one of them turns out to be a major knucklehead, that would not be his problem. (Oh, and BTW, turns out Politico itself filed a Freedom of Information request in 2009 seeking correspondence between government officials in numerous federal agencies and a huge number of other news organizations. How do you spell “hypocrisy?”)

That said, here are a few, extremely sympathetic words for Bardella and Issa from Dan Newman of the aforementioned Third Lantern hit team:

“The fish rots from the head, and clearly Darrell Issa has put together a team that shares his ethically challenged approach to business and politics. BTW – did the Congressman put a box with a gun on Kurt’s desk?” Newman emailed us, with a link to a 1998 L.A. Times story:

One of Issa’s first tasks as the new boss was to remove an executive named Jack Frantz.

According to Frantz, Issa came into his office, placed a small box on the desk and opened it. Inside, he said, was a gun.

“He just showed it to me and said ‘You know what this is?’ ” Frantz said.

Issa invited Frantz to hold the gun at one point and told him he had learned about guns and explosives during his military days, Frantz said. Because he was about to be fired, Frantz said he saw it as “pure intimidation.”

The bookkeeper, Brasdovich, also recalled Issa having a gun at the company that day. “It was pretty terrifying,” she said.

Issa confirmed that he wanted to remove Frantz–who years later was convicted in a telemarketing scheme–because he failed to collect outstanding bills.

But, as for having a gun, Issa said, “Shots were never fired. If I asked Jack to leave, then I think I had every right to ask Jack to leave. . . . I don’t recall [having a gun]. I really don’t. I don’t think I ever pulled a gun on anyone in my life.”

Shots were never fired! God, we love this business.

ICYMI: We have doughboy bodies, too, so how come we can’t get hot Hollywood babes like Jimmy Kimmel?

ICYMI 2: The Gadhafi (spell it however you want)i zenga zenga hip hop remix is sweeping the world. Here’s another Zenga mix (thanks to Tony Seton).

Tulchin: Voters Back Legal, Regulated Online Poker

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

By Ben Tulchin
Special to Calbuzz

In his State of the State address, Gov. Jerry Brown asked for alternative solutions to California’s budget crisis and one solution is already in the works – Senate Bill 40 by State Sen. Lou Correa, to legalize and regulate online poker.

This bill would generate millions of dollars in revenue and create thousands of jobs in California, which will help balance the state’s budget and prevent deeper cuts to essential services.  So how do California voters feel about this proposal?

They strongly support it, according to a recent poll of 600 likely California voters by Tulchin Research.  The good news for the governor and lawmakers in Sacramento is that the people have strong and clear opinions on the matter:

— 66% of Californians, including strong majorities of Democrats (71%), Decline-to-State voters (68%) and Republicans (58%), support regulating and taxing the profits of online poker.

— By a margin of 65-5%, voters want California-based operators (as opposed to out-of-state operators) in charge of the gaming operations.  This number climbs to 76-3% when California operators are compared to off-shore companies.

— 76% of Californians believe California’s trusted gaming partners – those already licensed in the state – should be the ones eligible to operate online poker as opposed to 13% who believe the process should be open to any company.

— Perhaps most significantly, 84% of voters want California to regulate online poker as opposed to nationalized online gaming.

Correa’s SB 40 is predicated upon three key principles:

1. Create a long-term revenue stream for California.
2. Ensure that the jobs created from online poker revenues become California jobs.
3. There must be appropriate regulations to ensure that kids can’t play and those who are eligible and do play, do so without fear of fraud or identity theft.

With such strong public support and the governor and the Legislature eager for new sources of revenue, you’d think it would be a no-brainer for our elected officials in Sacramento to support SB 40 to regulate online poker.

Alas, things in Sacramento are never that simple as there are currently two online gambling bills: the aforementioned SB 40 by Sen. Correa and SB 45 authored by Sen. Rod Wright.

If public opinion is important – and if you heard any part of the governor’s State of the State you’ll know it is (and, as a pollster, I sure hope it is) — then the Legislature and governor should get behind SB 40.  Voters support Correa’s vision for online poker and see it as a way to keep California jobs and revenues in the state.

How many jobs, how much revenue are we talking about?  According to former California Finance Director Tim Gage, online poker could generate $1 billion over the next decade and create 1,100 new jobs in a variety of industry sectors.

News reports indicate Gov. Brown is open to Internet gambling. “I don’t think it can be stopped,” Brown said last year. “If it can’t be, then there ought to be some way that the state can derive some tax revenue from that.”

The Correa bill would ensure that the benefits of regulated online poker remain in California helping to create jobs and balance the state budget.  Even better, voters like its provisions.

Ben Tulchin is founder and president of Tulchin Research, a polling and strategic consulting firm in San Francisco.

Press Clips: Corgis, Mermaids & Buffalo Beasts

Friday, February 25th, 2011

This just in: At this hour, the Calbuzz Little Pulitzer Jury is meeting in closed-door, emergency executive  session, intensely discussing how to sort out the impact on this year’s journalism awards of Carla Marinucci’s game-changer, global exclusive interview with Jerry Brown’s dog.

As the world now knows, Costco Carla not only obtained the first sit-lie-rollover face-to-face with Sutter, the stylish and charming Welsh Corgi recently named California’s First Dog, but also somehow obtained permission to walk the dog around the Capitol.

The key  issue in the hush-hush meeting of the LP prize panel is this: While Marinucci’s incredible, multi-platform storytelling feat makes her the clear front-runner for this year’s Blair Witch Award for cinema verite enterprise journalism (25K daily circulation category), should she be DQ-ed for not reporting a crucial bit of historic context?

To her credit, with the glaring exception of the phrase “era of bi-pawtisanship,” the latter-day Lois Lane produced her canine chronicle with a minimum of bad dog puns (alas, the same cannot be said of Debra J. Saunders, who provided the print-only version of the big event).

Nevertheless, senior Calbuzzers on the jury expressed concerns about her assertion that the comatose display of full underside nudity, provided by the passive pooch while under questioning, marked “the first time…a subject has fallen asleep DURING an interview.”

Maybe so, several judges acknowledged, then quickly countered that the veteran news hen failed to mention a famous and relevant journalism case study of how a California REPORTER once fell asleep during an interview.

Sources recalled that, in the summer of 1990, when Your Calbuzzards were bitter rivals and fierce competitors, both were granted interviews on the same day with Pete Wilson, then the Republican nominee for governor, in the lobby of the San Jose Fairmont Hotel.

After the pair nearly came to blows over who would go first, a coin flip decided the matter; moments later, an astonishing scene unfolded, as the go-first ink slinger (we name no names) nodded, drowsed and then fell completely asleep during Wilson’s protracted answer to a question about land use planning.

“The combination of Pete’s extraordinarily tedious monotone and his amazing ability to never pause for breath has an overwhelming somnolent neurological effect,” the nonplussed newshound said in his defense. “It’s truly hypnotic.”

Will Marinucci’s omission of this media milestone doom her chances with the contest judges? We’re standing by to bring you the news of their decision in the case as soon as we get it. Back to you, Brian.

The not-so-little mermaid: Mega-kudos to Timm Herdt for a fine yarn highlighting the hypocrisy of local officials who won’t stop caterwauling about Brown’s move to shut down redevelopment agencies, shouting to the heavens that it’s an outrageous violation of Proposition 22.

That measure, for those who were still drunk from celebrating the Giants championship and missed election day, was aimed at blocking Sacramento from grabbing money from cities and counties to paper over the state deficit. Local officials now fighting Brown on the redevelopment issue insistently invoke Prop. 22, with the same level of fervor (and logic) Tea Partiers use when they triumphantly note that the Constitution doesn’t specifically give  Congress the right to pass laws about cell phones.

As the wily Herdt notes, however, Brown is simply using the same argument that Prop. 22 boosters themselves used to sell voters on the initiative:

Last fall, the League of California Cities, which spent $2.5 million to promote a ballot initiative, argued forcefully that property taxes should be used only to pay for essential public services…

In the 463 words of the cities’ ballot argument in favor of Proposition 22, “911 service” is mentioned five times, “fire protection” four times, “police service” four times and “senior services” twice. “Redevelopment” — which pays for none of those things — was mentioned not at all…

To argue that voters gave a mandate to protecting redevelopment is dishonest and silly.

Putting redevelopment into their initiative was an overreach on the cities’ part, and one that now complicates any possible compromise that would allow redevelopment agencies to continue while also turning over a greater portion of their tax revenue to be spent on basic government services.

As we posited this week, with unusually measured restraint (“Strident, indeed. Hysterical, overwrought and hyperbolic, too. Seldom have we witnessed such widespread, collective urban self-centeredness coupled with apparent disregard for the social fabric”), redevelopment types are simply on the wrong side of history on this one.

As Tom Meyer demonstrates today, making manifest a splendid column by our friend George Skelton, the self-righteousness of the statewide urban developer-political hack nexus is too much to bear when you start to look at what some of these latter-day Phidias types are actually building.

Dive Bar features what is billed as the largest nightclub aquarium in the world. That’s impressive, sort of. But is a mermaid bar — any bar — really what tax money should be spent on when governments are struggling to keep their heads above water?

Maybe laid-off teachers can land jobs as mermaids.

“Not everything that dives in the water is a mermaid,” goes a Russian proverb. True dat; sometimes it’s just taxpayers taking a bath.

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Dumbo and the Beast: Corgis notwithstanding, for pure, unadulterated buzz this week, it’s impossible to top the effort of Ian Murphy, editor of the Buffalo, N.Y.-based site The Beast. Murphy’s cojones enormes, world-class quick-wittedness and beyond-Beckett sense of the absurd yielded him the biggest phony story scoop since Orson Welles led the aliens in invading New Jersey.

His pantsing and punking of the repulsive Wisconsin governor Scott Walker,  who along with his senior staff totally fell for Murphy’s low-rent imitation of oligarch David Koch, was not only an all-time, real-time prank, but also a white-bright laser beam that instantly illuminated the high stakes political dynamic playing out in the Badger State.

That said, one thing it wasn’t was journalism, at least as practiced in the U.S. for the last hundred years or so. Although the Society of Professional Journalists aimed a scalding screed at Murphy, citing chapter and verse of how he’d violated every ethical tenet in the book, what their bashing demonstrated more than anything is the vast distance between the venerable ethics, standards and values of the MSM and the warp-drive universe of the internets. Not to mention the utter futility of codifying any standards whatsoever for the drive-by, Mad Max online frontier that extend beyond self-policing.

Let’s review: the SPJ calls Murphy’s hijinks “underhanded,” “inflammatory,” and “inexcusable” – this aimed at a guy who advertises The Beast as “the world’s only website,” features on the home page a sad image of a starving kid urging readers to “donate now” to help the editors buy drugs, and features in his list of sponsors a pharmaceutical cure for those who suffer from “Oldness.” Talk about ships passing in the night.

So journalism, it’s not. High-end new media theater? Way.