Archive for the ‘Celebrities’ Category



Fraud at Polls: Palin, Nicky, eMeg Meet DWTS & JFK

Friday, November 19th, 2010

Press Clips: This week’s coveted Dorothy Kilgallen Investigative Gossip Award goes to Jezebel’s Tracie Egan Morrissey for uncovering the scandal of  Sarah Palin’s vote scam on behalf of daughter Bristol’s candidacy on “Dancing With the Stars.”

Along with much of the blogosphere, the Calbuzz Department of Popular Culture Trends and Mortifying Guilty Pleasures erupted with outrage on Tuesday, when Palin the Younger made it into this season’s DWTS finals, while pop singer Brandy got the boot.

Bristol’s lumbering terpsichorean exertions recall nothing so much as one of those tutu-clad dancing baby hippos from “Fantasia” – and we mean that in the nicest possible way.

Nevertheless, she has been kept on the show week after week, while far more talented and appealing, third-rank “celebrity” dancers have been cut. Despite consistently getting the lowest scores from the show’s panel of professional judges, she’s survived because of a weekly barrage of phoned and texted votes from among DWTS’s audience of 20 million viewers.

From the start, all right thinking people agreed there was something fishy about the whole thing, amid widespread suggestions that Sarah Palin was somehow gaming the system on behalf of her offspring, through the use of her Tea Party network of acolytes and sycophants. But it was all just speculation – until Jezebel finally nailed down the truth, which seems to be the biggest case of ballot fraud since Mayor Daley delivered the cemetery vote for JFK.

While Bristol Palin denies any Tea Party conspiracy theories, there’s no denying that conservatives have been pushing for votes for Bristol, using blogs and Twitter to start a movement. But what isn’t widely known is the evidence—via message board comments on some conservative sites—that this mobilization involves fixing this (albeit meaningless) election through a technical snafu on ABC’s website, which allows Palin’s supporters to cast an infinite number of email votes.

Scouring Tea Party and Sarah fan sites, the resourceful Morrissey quickly discovered mountains of proof about the plot, which was organized and dubbed “Operation Bristol” by Palin political hacks, sprinkled among the comments left by the witless TPers themselves:

“Here’s a hint: They don’t have to be VALID email addresses to register them with ABC.com, there is apparently no validation process. The just have to be formatted like a valid email address, and you must use a valid zip code and a birthdate that makes you old enough to vote. I’m voting like a democrat, all night long…”

“No, it doesn’t have to be a valid email address – I had one of my anonymous ones XXX@yahoo.com that I used, and then just did the sign-up process all over again with XXX1@yahoo.com and it worked.”

“Got my 80 votes in online…took 2 hours. I am beat”

“I only got 42 in, I have some catching up to do!”

“Lord have mercy, I voted for 3 hours online! I got 300 in.”

Well and good, but what, we hear some regular readers asking, is the political significance of this kerfuffle to me, a member in good standing of the Calbuzz Cognoscenti? Just this: In a week when Sarah Palin declared that she can beat President Obama in 2012,  the incident speaks volumes about the character and qualifications of the erstwhile half-governor of Alaska, in at least three ways:

1-Palin freely countenances lying, cheating and fraud to get what she wants, despite her constant caterwauling about the corruption of Democrats and ridiculous self-portrayal as a reformer.

2-The Palinistas’ blind determination to make Bristol a winner, despite her obvious lack of ability, reflects the world view of Sarah and her followers, which embraces know-nothing anti-intellectualism and rejects meritocracy in favor of personal prejudice.

3-The “Operation Bristol” campaign displays a malevolent, us-against-them manicheism, as when pro-Palin commenters, not content to boost their gal, also feel compelled to smear and trash Jennifer Grey, the graceful and talented front-runner on the show, as a “Hollywood elite,” even as Bristol herself portrays anyone who opposes her as a “hater” and offers less than  half-hearted apologies for the homophobic ravings of her charming sister, Willow.

Shame on you, John McCain, for unleashing this  whack job on America.

For the record: Calbuzz wishes to make perfectly clear that we disassociate ourselves completely from the actions of Steven Cowan, the 67-year old Wisconsin man who blasted his TV with a shotgun after watching Tuesday’s DWTS. We would never shoot our TV, at the risk of missing an episode of “Detroit 187,” but instead would aim at the nearest table lamp or kitchen appliance.

You just can’t find good help: Nice work by Chronicler Carla Marinucci for her comprehensive, multi-platform, follow-up coverage of eMeg Whitman’s former housekeeper getting the last word in their politically charged dispute over back wages, and mega-kudos to the Sacbee’s Susan Ferris for digging into the tantalizing, still-unanswered question of how eMeg maid Nicky Diaz found her way to media-savvy Gloria Allred.

As Ferris reports, leaders of the California Nurses Association refused to deny that they played the key role in the behind-the-scenes Nicky machinations that helped torpedo Whitman’s campaign, and that now have led to working class heroine status for Diaz herself. Regardless, there is no question that the CNA emerged as one of the biggest winners of the 2012 campaign, as Jim Carlton of the Wall Street Journal ably reports.

And while we’re on the subject, Joe Mathews is just wrong, wrong, wrong with his Fox and Hounds argument that the Nicky revelations would have sunk eMeg whenever they came.

As a political matter, by surfacing the story herself the summer before, Meg not only would have pre-empted the matter by timing it early enough so it would be old news by the time the campaign started for real, but also could have finessed a big negative into a positive, but saying something like: “My own personal experience really brought home to me the complicated human and emotional issues involved in this problem, which is an important reason why as governor I will do my best to help find effective solutions to illegal immigration, which affects so many Californians in so many ways.”

Instead eMeg decided to try to cover up the whole mess and, when it inevitably came to light, tried the modified, limited-hangout route before deciding that Nicky should just be deported. The rest is history.

BTW: Just about every other news outlet that covered the Allred-Diaz appearance before the labor board in San Jose (where Mr. Whitman, aka Dr. Griff Harsh, agreed to pony up $5,500 in back pay to Nicky) had posts up online about the happenings before the, ahem, San Jose Mercury Snooze. Just sayin’.

Just because: South Koreans love them some Santa-clad penguins.

Today’s sign the end of civilization is near: Calbuzz to use “sentiment analysis” to gauge value of using more “dancing baby hippos” references in future posts.

eMeg Jumps NASCAR, Carly IEd, Meyer’s Latest

Saturday, February 20th, 2010

In the greatest tactical move since Hannibal whup-assed the Romans, Meg Whitman has stolen a march on Steve Poizner, copping an invite to fly the flag a day early at this weekend’s NASCAR racing in Fontana.

With Poizner set to ride in the pace car at the start of tomorrow’s Sprint Cup Auto Club 500, eMeg will wield the green flag for tonight’s NASCAR Nationwide Series Stater Brothers 300, with a field of drivers that includes auto racing buzz queen Danica Patrick.

“Sunday will be the only time Steve Poizner leads a race all year,” snarked Team Whitman spokeshuman, the volcanic Sara Pompei.

Although the Saturday night race is the AAA equivalent to Sunday’s Major League event, eMeg’s late entry into the NASCAR panderstakes came as a surprise that may take some of the steam out of the appearance by The Commish.

Bottom line: When Calbuzz speaks, the campaigns listen.

P.S. eMeg’s sudden agreement Friday to participate in a second debate with Poizner, this one to be broadcast May 2 on the electric television, may also help to blunt Poizner’s effort to foment trouble with a peasants-with-pitchforks petition demanding the two to face off at the March 13 GOP convention.

On the other hand, it kinda undercuts the “Hey, Hey, Steve, Steve, Get Out of My Race” line that the Armies of eMeg have been broadcasting to agree to join him in a debate in May. Talk about your mixed messages.

Negative Exposure for Hurricane Carly: The latest independent expenditure committee to surface in California — in the wake of the two aimed at boosting Jerry Brown for governor –  is “CarlyExposed.com,” an operation by the Lantern Project, a labor-funded political organization that waged a campaign against now-former Republican U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.

“The first aim of the Lantern Project’s work in California is to make sure as many voters as possible are exposed to the facts about Carly Fiorina,” says Julie Buckner, a Los Angeles political strategist working with The Lantern Project. “It is absolutely our goal to help Californians understand that Carly is nothing like the innovative, problem-solving high-tech whiz kid she portrays herself to be, and to blunt misleading information conveyed to voters by Carly’s slick and well-financed campaign committee.”

At the moment, Buckner acknowledged, Carlyexposed is just a web site, a media plan and a fund-raising plan. But Buckner, an experienced political operative in Los Angeles (who also runs InYoga Center which fronts for her Laurel Canyon Media Group out back), and partner Celia Fischer expect to have a thriving anti-Carly operation running soon.

A preview: On the site is a video clip from a report by Mark Matthews of KGO-TV showing that Fiorina was for taxing internet sales before she was against it.

Buckner, Fischer and their liberal labor allies are strong supporters of Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer who, according to sources, is more worried about a challenge from Fiorina (because she is a woman with some appeal to independent voters), than she is about Assemblyman Chuck DeVore or former U.S. Rep. Tom Campbell. Thus the focus on Fiorina.

“On the occasion of Barbara Boxer formally getting into this race, it comes as no surprise that her public employee union allies would use a shady 527 organization to falsely attack Carly,” said Fiorina spokeswoman Julie Soderlund. “Carly is clearly the candidate Boxer would least like to face in the general election because she knows Carly can beat her and will hold her accountable for her failed record.”

Whether Fiorina represents the greatest threat to Boxer, however, is arguable. Because he’s pro-choice, pro-gay rights and pro-environment, Campbell might well represent an even greater threat to Boxer in a general election. Helping knock out Fiorina in the primary could backfire on Boxer’s allies in the fall. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Tom Meyer today offers perspective on the, um, PR problem facing the spinners for Blue Cross Anthem, after the company imposed 39 percent health insurance rate increases for California customers.

In a weird week filled with political meltdowns and corporate furors, the Blue Cross controversy  was just one of many challenges facing highly-paid professional liars, who did their collective best to draw happy faces on dreadful situations.

Here’s the Calbuzz Top 10 quotes of the week.

I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated. What I did was not acceptable.
–Tiger Woods, master of understatement and major jackass

It’s not a secret that she has a medical condition for which she’s being treated. That condition does not affect her ability to do her job as a senator. But it can make her irritable, and when she’s irritable, she lets it be known.
–David Miller, press secretary to state Senator Pat Wiggins, D-Santa Rosa, challenging Tiger on spin, after his boss went nuclear at a hearing when a staffer forgot to refill a water pitcher.

History shows that great companies learn from their mistakes.
–Toyota USA president and CEO Jim Lentz, getting a little ahead of himself, in a full-page ad seeking to stop the bleeding as consumer confidence in his company plummets.

I was thinking tonight, I was trying to figure out that if I did announce, what the hell would I say?
–Jerry Brown, offering insight into why he’s running for governor, in a widely panned speech in San Francisco.

On a personal level I am glad that (Jerry Brown) has married. As I watched him awkwardly dance in the 1980’s with a songstress late at night at Eilish’s Bar, I gave his social development little chance. The subsequent growth may indicate some Brown progress.
–Former Congressman and current Calbuzz commentator Ernie Konnyu on how well Brown is not only aging, but maturing too.

If a Customer cannot comfortably lower the armrest and infringes on a portion of another seat, a Customer seated adjacent would be very uncomfortable and a timely exit from the aircraft in the event of an emergency might be compromised if we allow a cramped, restricted seating arrangement.
–A spokeswoman for Southwest Airlines, dancing as fast as she can, after the airline was criticized for booting 340-pound director Kevin Smith off a flight for being too fat.

So, what I’m trying to do is run a smart, strategic campaign. We’re trying to get our message out.
–Republican wannabe Governor Meg Whitman moments before fleeing into the night to avoid answering questions from reporters at an appearance in Lafayette.

I was stupid and careless and fucked up and thought [the copy from the Wall Street Journal) was my own stuff, or it somehow slipped in there.
–Fired NYT business reporter Zachary Kouwe, setting a world record for prevarication to avoid taking responsibility for being a plagiarist.

If the Olympic champion doesn’t know how to jump a quad, I don’t know. Now it’s not men’s figure skating. It’s dancing. Maybe figure skating needs a new name.
–Dethroned Olympics skating champion and roundhouse jerk Yevgeny Plushenko trash talking American Evan Lysacek’s victory performance for not including a quadruple jump.

You know, I don’t live here.
–Jacques Barzaghi, international man of mystery and banished and disgraced former Jerry Brown aide caught lurking around Oakland by the Chronicle’s Chip Johnson.

Costco Carla & Lady Gaga Meet PiWi & The Flash

Friday, February 12th, 2010

Knockdown of the Week: A big alleged story in the governor’s race bounding across the blogosphere this week had Meg Whitman pulling  behind-the-scenes strings that supposedly yanked Tom Campbell out of the governor’s race and into the Republican Senate primary campaign.

But while certain members of the pajama-clad, tin-foil hat brigade spun dark conspiracy theories, Chronicler Carla Marinucci did a bit of what you might call your old-fashioned shoe leather reporting: yes, she actually called Campbell on the telephone and asked him about it.

At which point, not only did Dudley Do Right categorically deny the purported story, but also his campaign put out a statement from super-Sacto consultant Bob White, a key, unindicted co-conspirator in the alleged Whitman plot, which dumped several hundred more gallons of ice water on the paranoiac yarn.

Costco Carla’s knockdown left Julie Soderlund, campaign manager for Carly Fiorina, Campbell’s leading GOP rival, looking silly. Soderlund earlier sent out a heavy breathing e-blast trying to advance the uncorroborated blog report that portrayed Campbell as doing everything but lurking around Dealey Plaza with an open umbrella:

What did Tom Campbell know and when did he know it?
What conversations did he have with the Whitman campaign/Whitman’s supporters?
Was there some sort of quid pro quo in this situation?
And, last but certainly not least, what was he promised for jumping out of the Governor’s race?

Puh-leeze. Putting aside the fact that California voters have zero interest in this  inside baseball narrative, rushing out with a bunch of unsubstantiated, stop-the-presses innuendo simply reinforces the widening perception of Demon Sheep Carly as a flake, especially coming on the same day she dug herself a nice big hole on the issue of California declaring bankruptcy, which required emergency clarification spin from the campaign.

Steve Poizner’s campaign looked only slightly less foolish, in also rushing to judgment on the Col. Mustard-with-the-candlestick-in-the-conservatory story line.  Memo to Commish: You got your 15 minutes attacking eMeg over the now-infamous Mike Murphy email so give this line of attack a rest, man.

He calls ‘em as he seez ‘em and he always call ‘em Right: This week’s Nestor Chylak Award for first-rate umpiring goes to Jon “The Flash” Fleischman for his on-the-money essay calling on all the candidates for governor and Senate — he names no names, Meg Whitman — to debate at the upcoming Republican state convention:

This election cycle we have candidates running for major statewide offices that have no history in politics – and therefore no specific way to judge exactly what they will do…

If you are a major candidate for the GOP nomination for Governor, and you’ve not yet agreed to participate in a debate at the Republican convention, the time to do so is now.  Show your support of, and respect for hard-working GOP volunteers (not to mention the other 39 million people in California -ed.) by appearing before them with your sleeves rolled up, ready to take whatever questions should be posited [at] the event.

All this, and he used the word “posited” in a sentence, too. Calbuzz sez check it out.

Virtual Steve vs. Virtual Meg: Just can’t wait to see eMeg and The Commish go nose-to-nose over who hates the Delta smelt more? Calbuzz Online Video Political Cartoon Consultant Don Ringe previews the GOP smackdown here. Spoiler alert: Watch for eMeg’s sucker punch at the end.

If he agrees with Calbuzz, he must be right: Former state controller and Democratic big stick Steve Westly, an eMeg eBay colleague in a past life, argues at Green Tech Media that the Great Woman’s rabid opposition to the AB32 greenhouse gas legislation is not only bad policy but bad politics as well. Whitman’s promise to suspend AB32 on her first day in office, according to the erstwhile Democratic contender for governor:

…would be a stunning step in the wrong direction. Most of the people I know throughout Silicon Valley realize that to be a colossal mistake. This is the highest growth job segment. This state’s job engine for the future is in clean technology. It is one of the key reasons you will see a Democratic governor in 2010.

As we’ve noted previously, her Smokestack Meg play may play well in a Republican primary, but it’s a loser as a general election strategy.

Oh, wait, we’re already in the general election campaign, according to Whitman campaign chairman Pete “PiWi” Wilson, who claims in a this-just-in eMeg eblast:

Jerry Brown and his allies are beginning the General Election today. We must respond…It is now very clear that the entire Republican Party must unite behind Meg’s campaign. We have an outstanding party standard bearer. Since last summer, Meg has led among GOP voters in every independent poll by enormous margins, and those same polls show that she is the strongest Republican candidate against Jerry Brown.

We must unite. Meg and our campaign team are beginning the General Election today, and we are not wasting time.

Geez, who’s gonna tell Poizner? I know, let’s get Murphy to do it!

Life in imitation of art: Loyal Calbuzzers will recall that not long ago, we offered a learned discourse on the theory of political reporting known as Dull But Important, with a glimpse at the fictional magazine of the genre known as “DBI.” Imagine our surprise to learn that the eggheads and chrome domes at UC Bezerkely have broken the frame and are actually producing DBI for real.

Today’s sign the end of civilization is near: Lady Gaga – she’s just like you and me.


How Poiz Can Win: Go NASCAR on eMeg’s Elitism

Monday, February 8th, 2010

Since jillionaire eMeg Whitman is the only person in California politics who could make multi-millionaire Steve “The Commish” Poizner look like a beggar with a tin cup, it’s time for Steverino to lose the Silicon Valley blue blazer and loafers look and go all NASCAR on her Megness.

Our Department of Shallow Perception and Appearance Manipulation – interested in assuring a competitive GOP primary so that Calbuzz has something to write about — has worked up a memo to Team Poizner that we humbly suggest bears considerable attention.

Although he’s 30 points behind now, The Commish can make up ground by pouring several million into TV ads that show him winning hearts and motivating the minds of legions of culturally conservative Hannity Republicans and O’Reilly independents who are equally fed up with liberal arugula Obamaism and eMeg’s brand of horsey, Van Jones, Town and Country elitism.

To: Steve Poizner
From: Calbuzz Department of SPAM
Re: Death to Weenieness

Now that it’s been proved that an obscure politician can win high office just by driving a GMC Canyon pickup and playing Everyman against an arrogant, high-handed, entitled opponent (see Brown, Sen. Scott)  it’s time for you to get a “Built Tough” Ford F-150. Some Playboy mud flaps with little  silhouette naked ladies and a gun rack would be nice; a 12-gauge would be a special touch. You should put Tanner, your Golden Retriever, in the back. Also a bumper sticker: We recommend the classic “Fortuna’s Got It,” for the North Coast redneck vote.

Moreover, we note that The Whitman Trust is now being advised by Mike Murphy, who so successfully put former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander in a red and black flannel shirt in the 1996 presidential race. “It’s a declaration of political freedom,” Murphy said when he unveiled his candidate in the shirt. “The political thing to wear is the standard blue suit. But Lamar is a different kind of candidate. . . . It was a great day for symbolism.” Let’s take a lead from Murph.

Enough of the campaigning in the drawing rooms of Sacramento, Los Angeles and (gasp) San Francisco, it’s time to get out with the real people: You need to do more hand-shaking outside of Home Depot, Walmart and Target, with stops over in the Food Court for a shake and some fries. (Note to Obvious: You film this and put it in TV ads.) Lose the Chardonnay and the extended pinkie and start wrapping a fist around a long-necked Bud. The jeans and shirt in the web page photo are pretty good (obviously a pro dressed you for that shot). But now that we’re in the thick of it, we suggest a John Deere ball cap as a standard accessory.

You’ve got that black belt in Shotokan karate, but you need to talk about it as mixed martial arts – which is hotter right now – and we’d like to see you (and your film crew) attend some World Wrestling Entertainment events like the Road to Wrestlemania, presented by WWE Raw in the evening on March 14 at the Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield. What a perfect way to come out of the state GOP convention, by showing you roll with your peeps.

Speaking of campaign events, you can show off the New and Improved Steve at the Auto Club 500, Feb. 21, at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. This is a genuine NASCAR Sprint Cup event, a place where you can work the crowd. (Note: DO NOT get introduced or ride in a pace car – you WILL be booed. It’s mandatory for NASCAR fans to boo any politician who holds himself out as some sort of icon.) But you can’t spend too much time in Fontana, Indio and Culver City, mingling and shaking hands at events with real people, as opposed to those phony staged happenings where eMeg hangs out with pre-selected Republicans who are only interested in sniffing her spectator pumps.

BTW: We say go NASCAR, not Tea Party, ’cause you can attract the same crowd without spoiling yourself for the general election if you go cultural instead of ideological in your Working Class Hero mode. Which is why you should be listening to music on your iPhone and if anyone asks, it’s Springsteen – the perfect working class artist who appeals to Republicans and independents without pissing off Democrats (because he is one). Practice saying this: “I know it’s  old fashioned, but ‘Born in the USA’ is still my favorite song of all time.”

It’s time to find the right endorsers and we’ve got the perfect guy: the amply-tattooed Jesse James, host of “Monster Garage” and Sandra Bullock’s husband. You’ll get extra special love from the Secret Order of Republican Women Who Hate Meg because Jesse is embroiled in a custody battle with a porn star (who isn’t these days?) — Janine Lindemulder, his ex –- over their 6-year-old daughter, Sunny. A benefit of nabbing Jesse: You might get Sandra, too.

You should let the voters know that while there’s a soft spot in your heart for the Giants and the 49ers because they’re close to your home, deep down you’re a fan of the Raiders and the Angels. When Stanford plays Cal, you root for Berkeley; when USC and UCLA go at it, you’re for the public school.

Finally, forget about those old fashioned, dead tree operations like the Sacramento Bee, San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News and Los Angeles Times. That’s a waste of time.  Spend more time with Car & Driver, Field & Stream, Ladies Home Journal and Penthouse and be sure to stay in touch with  ear-to-the-ground operations like Calbuzz. These guys have their finger in the California socket.

Clips: Rachel, Jaimee & Kalika Meet Ed Mendel

Friday, December 4th, 2009

rachel uchitelPersonally, I’d use a lob wedge, Elin: Obsessed with Rachel Uchitel (right), Jaimee Grubbs and Kalika Moquin, the entire staff of the Calbuzz Department of Celebrity Gawking and Guilty Pleasures has been severely reprimanded for spending far too much time hanging out at TMZ, Radar Online and usmagazine.com this week, following every twist, turn and sext message in the Tiger Woods School of Professional Driving saga.

With that in mind, this week’s coveted Little Pulitzer Investigative Punditry award goes to Charles P. Pierce, whose sharp Esquire essay on the situation not only raises some actual intriguing social issues, but also is simply the best thing written about the case.

…when Tiger ran his Escalade over a hydrant and into a tree, and his reputation squarely into a ditch, he then produced a cover story that smacked of implausibility, when it didn’t smack of utter science fiction. Listening to Tiger explain how he’d managed to hit two stationary objects within thirty yards of his driveway — and how his plucky wife pulled him from his non-burning vehicle by smashing the back window with a golf club — was like listening to Peter Lorre telling Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, ‘I certainly wish you would have invented a more reasonable story. I felt distinctly like an idiot repeating it.’

Like virtually every politician in America (Barney Frank comes to mind as a notable exception) Woods has worked tirelessly to construct an idealized image of himself and to control as closely as possible the way he is portrayed in the media. And just like every politician who missteps into scandal, he now is paying a steep price for falling from grace, a cultural narrative that Pierce, who got bashed by Team Tiger when he wrote some unflattering things a decade ago, gets just right:

But the more impenetrable Tiger’s cocoon was, the more fragile it became. It was increasingly vulnerable to anything that happened that was out of the control of the people who built and sustained it, and the events of last week certainly qualify. Now he’s got one of those major Media Things on his hands, and there is nothing that he, nor IMG, nor the clinging sponsors, nor anyone else can do about it. He is going to be everyone’s breakfast for the foreseeable future…And he’s going to be some kind of punch line for the most of the rest of his public career.

Old guycalperss win again: Mega-kudos to our old friend Ed Mendel, who carries off this week’s prize for Investigative Blogging for his recent splendid scoop, disclosing how the California Public Employees Retirement System lost $1 billion in a blind faith purchase of goofy investments which turned out to be backed by subprime mortgages and other risky assets.

Mendel and Calbuzz are both so old that we met when he worked for the Sacramento Union, the first newspaper west of the Mississippi fercrineoutloud. A 30-year veteran foot soldier in the war of words, he’s  reinvented himself online as the state’s most dogged reporter regularly covering CalPERS and CalSTRS, which have two of the world’s biggest investment portfolios, along with 80 other public employee pension funds.

His latest excloo, explaining how fund execs fell for exotic financial instruments called “structured investment vehicles,” is a reminder that California’s  enormous public pension systems have long been inadequately covered, when covered at all; despite the billions at stake, the story’s historically proven just too complicated and filled with too many numbers to hold the interest of your average High-Powered News Executive.

Amid the continuing collapse of California’s finances, however, untangling the system’s byzantine structures and multi-layered scams is not only an increasingly important political yarn but also a terrific example of throwback public interest journalism, making Mendel’s site a must read.

leonard_downie_140x140

The future starts here: Media junkies in need of a new doorstop, or with a spare eight or nine hours on their hands, are well advised to check out “The Reconstruction of American Journalism,” the 15,766 word opus by Washpost suit Len Downie and journalism egghead Michael Schudson, in the current issue of Columbia Journalism Review.

Despite its arid tone, the piece does a swell job of describing and defining the seismically disrupted news and information landscape of today. The yarn  comprehensively catalogues and analyzes virtually every major business model and experimental form of journalistic enterprise swirling in the Wild West new media world, concluding with a list of recommendations to nurture and sustain what the writers dub “accountability journalism.”

What is under threat is independent reporting that provides information, investigation, analysis and community knowledge, particularly in the coverage of local affairs. Reporting the news means telling citizens what they would not otherwise know. ‘It’s so simple it sounds stupid at first, but when you think about it, it is our fundamental advantage,’ says Tim McGuire, a former editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. ‘We’ve got to tell people stuff they don’t know.’

The CJR piece suffers from one big flaw: a foreshortened, MSM gatekeeper perspective that looks more to the past than the future for solutions, mistaking the map for the territory. Jan Schaffer, director of American University’s Institute for Interactive Journalism, sums the problem up in one of several critiques of the report smartly offered in the same issue:

If we really want to reconstruct American journalism, we need to look at more than the supply side; we need to explore the demand side, too. We need to start paying attention to the trail of clues in the new-media ecosystem and follow those ‘breadcrumbs.’ What ailing industry would look for a fix that only thinks of ‘us,’ the news suppliers, and not ‘them,’ the news consumers? I don’t hear from any of those consumers in this report.

Still, the Downie-Schudson collaboration offers a first-rate overview pulling together all the crucial strands of what’s happening in the post-newspaper, post-network news report world of journalism. You can find it here.

Why toraboraladenRumsfeld is a bigger weenie than you even thought: After Obama’s big speech on Afghanistan the other night, the insufferable Donald Rumsfeld started whining that the president had unfairly trashed him by describing how the former Defense Secretary in December 2001 shined on urgent requests for more troops to help capture or kill Osama Bin Laden, when the U.S. had him cornered in a rugged area of the eastern White Mountains known as Tora Bora.

Thanks to the Chron’s trusty Carolyn Lochhead, who pointed to a just-released Senate Foreign Relations Committee report about the incident,  however, the full scope of the blunder by Rumsfeld and top commander General Tommy Franks becomes clear.

When Gary Berntsen, the senior CIA paramilitary commander on the scene, went to Major General Dell Dailey, commander of U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan to plead for the troops, he was flatly turned down “on orders from Franks at U.S. Central Command Headquarters,” according to the report, “Tora Bora revisited: How we failed to get bin Laden and why it matters today.”

Dailey refused to deploy U.S. troops, explaining that he feared alienating Afghan allies.

“I don’t give a damn about offending our allies,” Bernsten shouted. “I only care about eliminating al Qaeda and delivering bin Laden’s head in a box.”

Dailey said that the military’s position was firm and Bernsten replied, “Screw that.”

Whatever you think of Obama’s just-announced policy on the Af-Pak war, the report is a well-written, extraordinary narrative that goes a long way to explaining why we’re still mired in Afghanistan eight years later.

Diane.von.Ferstenberg.2005

Well they’ve got to be at least half right: Our pal Carla Marinucci made us green with envy once again with her blog post reporting all the A-list names – Jeffrey and Marilyn Katzenberg, Kate Capshaw and Stephen Spielberg, Peter Morton, Chet and Janice Pipkin, Rob Reiner, Stewart and Lynda Resnick, David Geffen, Wallis Annenberg, Sebastian Paul and Marybelle Musco, Stephen Bing, Larry Ellison, Diane Von Furstenberg, yada yada yada – who pitched in big bucks to Jerry Brown’s (shhh) campaign for governor at his big Brentwood fundraiser last month.

But we were kinda’ baffled when she reported in the same piece that the funder had raised Crusty only $700K in November, which seemed rather low. Then came Carla’s Chronicle colleagues (we love the smell of alliteration in the morning), Phil Matier and Andy Ross, who reported a few days later that the AG had raised $1.65 million for the month.  Figuring there’s no one left on the copy desk to reconcile such matters at the paper these days, we did our own actual reporting and came up with $1,577,700, giving the nod to M&R on this one.

Mlingleaholo Fail: The Calbuzz Maui bureau is more than a little miffed at our former colleague Greg Lucas, who spoiled our world exclusive about the budget woes of Hawaii’s state government with his own scoop on this crucial, pressing national story over at California’s Capitol.

Just when we were poised to deduct the total cost of our Napili Bay junket  by cobbling together a quick and dirty post buttressed by a couple of stats  ripped off from the Honolulu Advertiser, here comes Lucas, who gets an actual copy of Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle’s budget message, beating us to the punch by writing off his own trip to Kaui a couple weeks earlier.

Mele kalikimaka to you too, bruddah.