Archive for the ‘California Politics’ Category

Ophidia in Herba: Thoughts On Gov. Snake Wrangler

Monday, April 20th, 2015

jerrybrownkillsrattlerThe last we checked, Jerry Brown had 3,563 likes, 218 shares and scores of comments on the Facebook photo he proudly posted on Saturday of himself overpowering a snake.

A cross between American Gothic and Genesis 3:14, the picture apparently was snapped at Governor Gandalf’s spread up in Colusa County, where the stick he wielded to nail the unfortunate rattler probably doubles as a dowsing rod to scare up some scarce water.

Over on Brown’s FB page, the key concern among his digital friends was if he killed or merely trapped the critter.

Others viewed the image as a sign he should seek the presidency, while many more seized the chance to make utterly obvious and predictable jokes equating the serpent with the GOP. Ha, ha.

A Derrida style deconstruction: Shallow and trivial by nature, Calbuzz at first glance did not zoom in on the weighty symbolism of Brown’s macho man-vs-nature posture. however; rather we were more struck by how he, um, costumed himself for the rigors of the outdoors.

That shirt, for starters. Brown’s look calls to mind the famous photo of Richard Nixon strolling the beach in black wingtips: surely Gandalf was the only one of Colusa’s 21,419 denizens to awaken on a weekend morning and think, “You know what would look so good for a day spent tramping my rugged, rural estate? A blue oxford button-down, that’s what! Slip the smartphone in my breast pocket and I’m good to go.” (Secret memo to Anne: is that bay window at Brown’s belly a six-pack, or should you start buying his shirts a half-size bigger?)

PortraitThe governor’s thick-soled hiking shoes seem sensible enough, if brand new, but the less said about his choice of trousers the better: being the skinflint he is, we’re betting he took advantage of a J. C. Penney two-for-one offer on Cherokee Unisex Drawstring Pants, $15 the pair.

And then, of course, that hat. From afar it appears to be a 30 UPF BugsAway Magellan’s model. Prudent enough, given Brown’s past brush with skin cancer. While it heeds travel tip conventional wisdom (“our hair provides some protection against UV rays, so if you have full head of thick hair you can get away with wearing lighter sun hats; those with less, or no hair, need to take more care in the sun…”) sadly, it also recalls P.J. O’Rourke’s famous men’s fashion dictum:

A hat should be taken off when you greet a lady and left off for the rest of your life. Nothing looks more stupid than a hat.

So there’s that.

What others say: We were going to sponsor a caption contest on this, but then realized Brown’s FB friends have  pretty much plowed that ground. Here are the Top 10 comments on the photo from his page.

10- Get it, Sutter! – Ruth Knapp Vallejos

9- If you kill it, you’re a dick. – Eric Smith

8- I am calling photo shop on this. – Don Johnson

7- I hope you didn’t kill it…It had no plans to cause harm…Unlike Nestle and Fracking … Kill them…By all means. – Elizabeth McNally

6- New belt? – Vicente Matute Berganza

5- Love you Moonbeam. – Maria Luna

4- Plant hemp. Research and read what Washington and Jefferson said about this precious plant. Rain will come. – Deborah Sylvester

3-Where’s Anne, she ran in the house? I know I would of. – Joanne Valdivia

2-Straight gangsta. – Judas Ramirez

1-I hear it tastes like chicken. – Elizabeth Flynn

julia-louis-dreyfus-300x400The heart of the matter: As every school child knows, “Veep” is the greatest entertainment about politics and government since our late pal Rollin Post played himself as a debate moderator, upstaging Robert Redford in “The Candidate.”

The script for the HBO Sunday night series, now in its fourth season, is beyond superb, the ensemble acting is killer and Julia Louis-Dreyfus playing Vice-President (now President) Selina Meyer is the nonpareil Queen of Comedy.

So our Department of Fine Arts, Crossover Entertainment and Post-Sopranos TV Criticism was delighted to read, and to point our readers enthusiastically towards, an excellent New York Times Magazine piece on the program in which Sam Anderson, among other things, insightfully and incisively delineates the terrain which all political reporters worthy of the calling work tirelessly to describe:

The show draws most of its comic energy from the disjunction between public and private — the threshold, which a politician must cross hundreds of times every day, from reality to image: from the insecure, petty, foul-mouthed, power-hungry, private person to the bulletproof, platitudinous, smiling public figure. Selina pivots constantly between these two worlds.

Wish we’d said that.

Press Clips: Everything that’s wrong with journalism today – this.

Op-Ed: Why Unions Back Bonilla Over Glazer

Saturday, April 18th, 2015

susanbonillaBy Mike Durant
Special to Calbuzz

Much has been written about campaign spending in the East Bay’s 7th  State Senate district race, from the record-breaking $1.1 million that L.A. businessman Bill Bloomfield,  a big-time contributor to top Republicans, has given to Steve Glazer’s campaign or union-supported Independent Expenditure committee efforts to elect Susan Bonilla.

As Calbuzz noted last week, however, voters seeking clear-cut distinctions between the two Democrats need not look too far. There are significant differences in the policy positions, backgrounds, and accomplishments between the two rivals.

steveglazer1Bipartisan Bonilla: Experience is one reason labor backs Bonilla. A former high school English teacher, she has built a reputation in the Capitol as a workhorse who tackles tough issues. Susan has teamed up with Gov. Jerry Brown on a landmark restructuring of the state’s local education funding formula, and won bipartisan praise for her handling of the “Uber” bill last year as chair of the Assembly’s Business and Professions Committee.

Glazer talks about working both sides of the aisle, but Bonilla, the former mayor of Concord, has done it. Many of her bills – on education, health care and the environment – have won bipartisan support. She has worked to help balance the budget, put a Rainy Day fund in place and pass the Prop. 1 water bond.

She not only has been endorsed by Democrats like Congressman Eric Swalwell, Attorney General Kamala Harris and Congressman Mark DeSaulnier, but also won the backing of Republican Contra Costa District Attorney Mark Peterson, the sheriffs of Alameda and Contra County counties and several rank-and-file police groups. She also appeals to moderate Republican women and independents.

Although California Republican Chairman Jim Brulte recently called Glazer a “pro-tax liberal Democrat,” he actually burned Democrats by endorsing conservative Republican Assembly member Catharine Baker last year, put a Tea Party political consultant on his campaign payroll and accepted a $1,000 contribution from the creator of the Harry & Louise anti-health care ad

breadandbutterBread and butter issues: On policy, organized labor sees many reasons for Democrats to favor Bonilla over Glazer.

On income inequality, Glazer has refused to support an increase in the minimum wage, a bread-and-butter Democratic issue supported by Bonilla, not to mention President Obama and Gov. Brown.

When Glazer was asked about the minimum wage at a candidate forum last year, he replied that, “Most of these jobs are being provided by small business people in our communities. I think you should talk to them. I think they’ll tell you things aren’t so grand,” hardly what we expect from someone running as a Democrat anywhere, especially in one of the wealthier enclaves of California.

Glazer also has angered environmentalists by suggesting that he’d push for unspecified major changes in the state’s landmark California Environmental Quality Act (better known as CEQA). By contrast, Bonilla, scored 81 percent on the California League of Conservation Voters scorecard.

On fiscal issues, Glazer says he would not support extension of  Prop 30, which has helped to balance the state budget. His website offers only consultant-speak for the state’s budget challenges: “I will work to see we live within our means and avoid new state tax burdens.”

Republicans shouldn’t be fooled: Although Glazer now calls himself a “fiscal conservative,” Republicans also have reason not to trust him: the Los Angeles Times called him the “mastermind” behind the largest tax increase in California history just three years ago. (Editor’s note: this is a terrible restaurant – the food stinks and the portions are too small!)

Republicans also should know he worked against conservative interests by trying to keep Rose Bird on the California Supreme Court and also favors gun control.

Do these positions on both sides of the political fence make Glazer a “centrist” – or an opportunist?

mikedurantBill Clinton, Jerry Brown and Dianne Feinstein are all moderate Democrats. But none has crossed labor like Steve Glazer. He is pushing policies that damage the middle class and reflect the California Chamber of Commerce‘s agenda. His victory would signal that there is not much difference between Democrats and Republicans on economic issues. That is precisely what corporate interests want in California.

Mike Durant is a Senior Deputy Sheriff with Santa Barbara County Sheriffs Department and President of the Police Officers Research Association of California.

Why Flip-Flopping Rand Paul Hasn’t Got a Prayer

Monday, April 13th, 2015

randpaul1By Dick Polman
From NewsWorks.org

I’m loath to make predictions, because, in politics, you never know. Nevertheless, here I go:

Rand Paul’s prospects of ever being president are on a par with the Phillies’ odds of winning the pennant. If he somehow makes it to the Oval Office, I will personally climb Mt. Everest and chisel his curly locks into the rocks.

Last week he joined Ted Cruz on the growing Republican roster of doomed losers. I say this not because he’d be anathema to the general electorate — although that’s certainly true, given his libertarian philosophical hostility to civil rights laws and all kinds of federal help — but because he won’t get the GOP nomination in the first place.

blowing in the windBlowin’ in the wind The big reason is that he comes off like a lightweight blown by the wind.

Paul rose to prominence as a rare Republican skeptic of military interventionism, but lately he has tried to “evolve,” to make himself more palatable to the party’s predominant hawks. Problem is, the hawks don’t believe him; they think he’s just a flip-flopping phony. Meanwhile, many of his original supporters are ticked off; they think he has abandoned his principles. Here’s libertarian activist Justin Raimondo: “For the life of me, I can’t figure out what he really believes – where he really stands, especially when it comes to foreign policy.”

Raimondo got that right. Paul already has a rhetorical record that is Romneyesque.

In 2011, as a newbie senator, he said he wanted to “eliminate foreign aid to Israel,” so that Israel could “support itself without the heavy hand of U.S. interests.” But a Republican who seeks the presidential nomination cannot afford to say such a thing, lest he incur the wrath of neoconservatives and Sheldon Adelson. So, in 2014, Paul insisted that he had never argued for the elimination of foreign aid to Israel: “I haven’t really proposed that in the past” and “I haven’t proposed targeting or eliminating any aid to Israel.”

iran_7Iran is (is not) a threat In 2007, while defending his father Ron, he criticized the neoconservatives as warmongers. He said that he was “against the Iran war, the one that hasn’t started yet.” He said that “Iran is not a threat.” But this month, he insisted that Iran is a threat and that “any deal must make clear that Iran cannot acquire a nuclear weapon.”

Indeed, back in January he advocated for diplomacy with Iran – and mocked the GOP’s war lobby: “Are you ready to send ground troops into Iran? Are you ready to bomb them?….I’m a big fan of trying to exert and trying the diplomatic option as long as we can. If it fails, I will vote to resume sanctions and I would vote to have new sanctions. But if you do it in the middle of negotiations, you’re ruining it.” Then, two months later, he signed Tom Cotton’s Iran letter, which was a blatant bid to ruin the negotiations.

There’s more. In June 2014, he argued in a Wall Street Journal guest column that we shouldn’t fight ISIS: “Why should we choose a side, and if we do, who are we really helping?” Then, within months, he swiveled his stance and proposed that Congress declare war on ISIS. And he opposed airstrikes on ISIS until he reversed himself.

No foreign wars? He used to rebuke America for “unlimited involvement in foreign wars.” But last October he said that “America cannot disengage from the world,” and that despite the pitfalls of being involved, “ultimately we must be willing and able to defend our country and our interests.”

So he ends up satisfying nobody. His libertarian base (which isn’t big enough to win the delegate-rich primaries) thinks he’s trimming his principles, and traditional party hawks distrust his trimmings.

In fact, the hawks are already attacking Paul in an ad that’s slated to air starting today in the early GOP primary states. The ad’s sponsor, the Foundation for a Secure and Prosperous America dickpolman (one of those outside groups that isn’t required to disclose donors) features an old Paul quote about Iran: “You know, it’s ridiculous to think they are a threat to our national security.”

It strains credulity to believe that a guy who looks wobbly on interventionism can win the GOP nod. Blowing with the wind is a loser. Republicans learned that with Mitt Romney.

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


Op-Ed: Republicans, We Need a New Platform

Friday, April 10th, 2015

sadelephantcropBy David Naggar
Special to Calbuzz

On election day, many Californians are more concerned with jobs, the economy and healthcare than they are with gay marriage, abortion or immigration. Yet the perception of the Republican Party as the anti-Party is a burden Republican-identified candidates carry with them.

Many of California’s voters view Republicans as anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-minority, anti-gay, anti-environment and so on. Fair or not, perception becomes reality. Because of this overhanging burden, many Californians will simply not listen to a Republican candidate on any topic, no matter what the candidate actually stands for. It’s as if Republican candidates aren’t invited to a job interview, which, of course, precludes any hope of receiving a job offer.

In practice, the refusal to interview Republican candidates by so many voters in California means this: They do not consider voting for the Republican over the Democrat when reviewing a ballot that has two lesser-known candidates. They vote for the D by default. This is why, as Republicans, we lose more of California’s districts than we win, year after year, in favorable and unfavorable environments.

Altering Popular Views How can this perception be changed?

teapartyhatConsider the California Republican Party platform that will be adopted in advance of the 2016 election. Many Party leaders believe the platform serves little purpose because few people other than GOP convention delegates ever look at it. Party leaders treat the adoption of a platform as a process to be managed – to keep the current Party activists happy, while avoiding intra-party fights and bruised egos. The text of the platform itself is secondary. It is not written with the outside world in mind. Republican candidates never read the platform, never endorse the platform, and never run on the platform.

Yet the platform does surface from time to time. And invariably when it surfaces, the platform reinforces voters’ negative perception of the Republican Party and Republican identified candidates. Recently, the State GOP overwhelmingly recognized the LGBT Republican organization, Log Cabin Republicans, as an official affiliate of the Party. The next day, reporters throughout the State pointed out that recognition was in stark contrast to the official California GOP platform that denies the LGBT community equality on series of issues.

Even if the platform was invisible to the media, or shortened to a single page of feel-good platitudes, that wouldn’t change how Republican candidates are perceived in the eyes of voters. The perceptions exist. They must be transformed.

Rewrite the Platform I believe a well-crafted platform could serve as a pivotal document that promotes the California Republican Party. A fresh platform could serve as the resumé that leads voters to interview down-ticket Republicans rather than simply dismissing Republicans without an interview, without a hearing.

equalopportunityIn that spirit, I have offered California Party leaders a draft platform. The purpose of the draft is to start a conversation and find consensus within the Party. Ultimately, the larger purpose is to connect the Republican message to voters. For example, in the plank entitled Equal Opportunity For All, the Republican philosophy of individual liberty and equality of opportunity is explained.

Simply stating that we support equal opportunity isn’t enough. An explanation is necessary because many voters have come to see our position of a color-blind society as code to hide racism. Overcoming this negative perception is a necessary precondition to earning Republican candidates an interview with these voters.

This draft also contains two noteworthy planks on which consensus is yet to be solidified in the Republican Party: The Family & Marriage plank and the The Right To Life/Abortion plank.

The Family & Marriage plank attempts to balance the rights of religious institutions and individuals to refrain from recognizing same-sex marriage, against the right of LGBT individuals to pursue happiness, and to have their marriages civilly recognized by the State.

abortion-debate-1The Right To Life/Abortion plank affirms the consensus Party position that there are too many abortions in the U.S. and calls for the reduction of abortions through pro-active means. Yet the plank also incorporates the majority view among California’s Republicans – whether they are personally pro-life or pro-choice – “that the difficult and painful decision to have an abortion in the first months of pregnancy is best left as a private personal and family matter.

Other planks speak to the topics of immigration, education, healthcare, jobs, the environment, private property rights, collective bargaining and the right to bear arms. The entire draft platform can be found here. Please have a look, and let me know what you think at dnaggar@gmail.com.

In the end, we need Californians to take a fresh look at the Party that stands for the ideals of personal freedom and wants to limit government intrusion in people’s daily lives. One way to do this is to draft a California Republican Party Platform meant to be read outside the halls of GOP conventions – our resumé – one that helps our candidates get invited to voters’ interviews – to be heard.

David Naggar is an attorney and investor in the San Francisco Bay Area. Mr. Naggar is the author of The Music Business (Explained in Plain English), Sharing the Middle East, and You, God & The Universe.

Op-Ed: Drought Management Needs Data Science

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

a leaking tap on whiteBy Patrick Atwater
Special to Calbuzz

Gov. Jerry Brown just instituted mandatory rationing for the first time in the state’s history.  We’re in unprecedented territory, and this drought demands the “pioneering spirit” the governor has invoked again and again.

For starters, California needs to starting collecting and using data about its water in a manner more “pioneering” of the digital 21st century than the industrial 19th.

Consider a fundamental task with which the governor charged the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB): gathering basic information on water usage and actions, in order to help improve conservation efforts by local water utilities throughout the state.

The board has been collecting urban and agricultural water usage data since late last year; incredibly, most of the conservation actions are recorded in the form of machine illegible text comments, rather than as a detailed categorization of public outreach, water rate changes, and rebates like the $100+ million the Metropolitan Water District is spending to tear out laws in southern California.

Data Matters That matters, because there’s a wealth of information already contained in those comments – including 15 districts using apps — that doesn’t make it into the official summary statistics and graphs (You can see my (ugly) text parse counting the utilities that mention an “app” and my deeper dive into the SWRCB data in all its gory detail here).

There’s also basic information from other departments that doesn’t get synthesized with the ongoing usage data collection.  The Department of Water Resources (DWR) oversaw urban utilities setting water usage reduction targets for 2015 and 2020 off of long term historical water usage – far more robust than the year-over-year SWRCB usage comparisons.

So finding this sort of thing an enjoyable afternoon adventure, my friend Varun and I mashed up those two data sources to create an interactive dashboard of a geographic map side-by-side with a time series of how much utilities are over or under their 2015 targets.

The broader issue: Last year, the Delta Stewardship Council convened a wide range of California’s water data best and brightest and articulated a key barrier: “Spreadsheets are circulated with calculations performed manually, producing unnecessary cost, opaque processes, and additional risk of error.” Translation: using Excel for everything. (It’s a useful tool but not a database folks!)

droughtThe drought demands more from us. Consider some basic questions that will be critical in managing California’s water supplies.

– What’s the average price of water charged in California?  How has that changed in the last month?  In this day and age, why can’t that question be a simple database query rather than a five+ figure survey billed out to some overpriced consulting firm that doesn’t even gather a comprehensive dataset?

– What conservation actions are working and where?  The SWRCB data on mandatory restrictions is a start, although we really need to standardize those machine illegible comments on public education and rebates.

– How does the effectiveness of those actions vary across income, education, geography and other key characteristics?  What’s the best way to reach different demographics?  Maybe some groups respond better to a mailer showing how much water their neighbor uses and others like to be engaged digitally.

No Need to Reinvent the Wheel None of this is new. It’s what tech companies like Facebook do to spam you with ads or Obama’s famous data driven campaigns did to personalize outreach.  Why shouldn’t we aspire to the same level of technical excellence in dealing with the drought?

That will require integrating data collected by California’s many, many government agencies that deal with the drought and getting beyond the tribal turf battles that too often stymie progress.  Hopefully the governor’s leadership and the realities we face will be enough to shake stodgy bureaucracies out of complacency.

There’s a distinct possibility this drought won’t just go on for another year but could be the start of a new normal.  Or more accurately the reversion to the historical mean (the 20th century was abnormally wet, even before you start talking about what climate change means for the future).  Faced with that distinct possibility, we need all the water efficiency we can get.


Again we’re in uncharted territory. Data science might sound like something out of propeller-head geekdom, and asking public utilities with turf conflicts to share data might seem idealistic.  Yet ultimately that’s what just what needs to be done.  So let’s find a way to do it.

patrickatwaterSince his comeback as governor in 2010, Jerry Brown has talked repeatedly about how our public challenges demand California’s famous pioneering spirit and “show us how we depend on one another and how we have to work together.” That’s never been more true than today with the drought.

Let’s have the courage to administer the governor’s directive to the level of excellence California deserves.

Political writer Patrick Atwater is an author, entrepreneur and frequent Calbuzz commentator. He is a graduate student the Center for Urban Science and Progress.