Archive for the ‘Reform’ Category



Stewart’s Apt Critique; Jerry, Meg Final Barnstorms

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

Comic Jon Stewart provided some of the clearest thinking of this bizarre election season about the militant ignorism abroad in the land, speaking near the end of the fervently non-partisan Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington on Saturday.

“We live in hard times not end times,” he said, as Calbuzz couch potatoes (waiting for the first pitch in game three of the World Series) bestirred ourselves to take copious notes on Stewart’s implicit critique of the apocalypse-now voices of religious evangelism who argue that God’s wrath is the cause of AIDS, hurricanes and earthquakes.

“If we amplify everything we hear nothing . . . The press is our immune system: if it overreacts to everything we get sicker — and perhaps eczema,” he said, a knock at the 24/7 news cycle fear mongers whose quest for ratings renders them unable to modulate how seriously to treat any story, whether it’s a missing co-ed in Aruba, trapped miners in Chile or the war in Afghanistan.

“Most Americans don’t live their lives solely as Democrats, Republicans, liberals or conservatives,” Stewart said, arguing for civility in our political discourse. “Americans live their lives more as people that are just a little bit late for something they have to do. Often something they do not want to do. But they do it.”

And he warned those who expect too much too soon that real change takes time: “Sometimes, the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the promised land. Sometimes, it’s just New Jersey .”

Here’s an on-the-scene report from Calbuzz Washington Correspondent Mackenzie Weinger:

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear brought thousands of people to Washington, D.C.’s Mall – but did it bring the funny?

With just days before the election, the comedians’ three-hour rally aimed to infuse a bit of “reasonableness” back into political discourse, without ever mentioning the midterms or encouraging people to go out and vote. Rally attendee estimates ranged from Comedy Central’s 250,000 to Stewart’s reasonable guess of 10 million, and the event featured a variety of musical acts and comedic bits. But it also featured poorly placed jumbo screens, an ineffective sound system and some seriously dull moments from the stage.

The biggest entertainment of the day came from the crowd, many of whom dressed up and hoisted signs declaring themselves for “Team Fear” or calling for politicians to “Man-ner Up.”

Following a far-too long opening set featuring The Roots and John Legend, Mythbusters stars Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage took the stage. The bit was a total dud, with the crowd lackadaisically participating in their “experiments,” including jumping and laughing on cue.

Things picked up once Stewart rolled onto the stage and introduced one of the more impressive moments of the afternoon, a group of four U.S. troops singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Colbert arrived in typically ridiculous fashion, emulating the Chilean miners as he was pulled up from his “fear bunker.”

The rest of the rally featured a mishmash of comedy and music, as Ozzy Osbbourne and Yusuf Islam played their competing songs, “Crazy Train” and “Peace Train” before The O’Jays brought the two together with their classic, “Love Train.”

The rally’s mishmash wasn’t always successful, however, and the poor sound system didn’t help matters. Rally-goers frequently broke up the event by yelling “Louder! Louder!” to no avail. Stewart and Colbert’s mock-debate went on too long, but a delightful moment came when Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar waltzed on the stage while the two were talking about fearing Muslims. Stewart: “There are a lot of Muslim people you might like.”

After handing out Medals for Reasonableness and Fear and hearing from a smattering of musical acts, including Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow, Stewart wrapped up the event by turning serious. “The truth is, we work together to get things done every damn day. The only place we don’t is here, or on cable TV — but Americans don’t live here or on cable TV.”

Stewart and Colbert also used the event to critique the media and played multiple clips of pundits sniping at each other. “The country’s 24-hour politico-pundit-perpetual-panic conflictinator did not cause our problems,” Stewart said. “but its existence makes solving them that much harder.”

The rally ended right on cue, and people trailed off the Mall at 3 p.m. to crowd the streets, bars and metro stops of D.C. -30-

Meanwhile, out on the campaign trail, Jerry Brown kicked off a three-day flyaround at his headquarters in Oakland where SacBMinus reporter David Siders reported that Brown lost his train of thought while talking about jobs and the economy.

“I don’t like to say the same old, same old,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I’m always getting off script. Some candidates feel very secure with messaged discipline. I get very bored with that, because to me life is a continuing discovery.”

Later, he said, “OK, I think I’ll stop there because I might say something I might regret.”

The Armies of eMeg quickly jumped on the item and sent it out to reporters with delight, suggesting that Old Man Brown had lost his marbles even before his campaign drive had even begun.

Meg Whitman Herself started off her own barnstorm in Costa Mesa asking Orange County supporters, “We’ve got the chance to make some history here don’t we?”  after driving up the the event in her green “Take Back Sacramento Express” bus.

“We have the chance to put a proven job creator in office for the first time in many, many years. We have the chance to create real change in Sacramento,” Seema Mehta of the ByGodLATimes reported. “We’re going to take back California for our children and our grandchildren. You know what else we have a chance to do? Put the first woman governor in California in office.”

Unless the polls that say she’s way behind Brown among women, Latinos and independents turn out to be correct. In which case, the only history she’ll make is having run the most expensive losing campaign for governor of all time.

After Oakland, Brown was scheduled to rally the troops in Stockton, Merced, Fresno and Bakersfield; on Sunday he planned stops in Eureka, Chico, Sacramento and Riverside; and on Monday rallies in San Diego, Los Angeles, Salinas and Oakland.

Whitman’s Saturday schedule took in Costa Mesa, Vista, Sacramento and Cupertino; on Sunday she was scheduled for Burbank and Santa Barbara, and on Monday she’s due to visit Woodland Hills, Santa Ana, San Diego and Temecula.

Press Clips: A Confederacy of Punches

Friday, April 30th, 2010

All Goldman all the time: Putting aside the New York Post’s instant classic cover hed, the week’s best commentary on the Goldman Sachs mess (California division) is a new web ad from Steve Poizner’s campaign featuring a nice mashup of TV blow drys reading eMeg-ties-to-Wall Street stories.

Combining quick cuts of newspaper quotes with excerpts from Whitman’s shifting explanations about her stock spinning, the piece from Team Commish delivers a 1:52 flurry of punches to eMeg’s patrician nose, all set to the strains of a stock, investigative-type remix score called “Caught Red-Handed.”

We’re scratching our heads, however, over the short clip of Joe Mathews, our favorite Mr. Cranky Pants blogger, telling KNBC-TV why Goldman Sachs matters to the governor’s race, just one day before he wagged his finger at the silliness of the governor’s race hubbub over…Goldman Sachs. No truth to the rumor that the unsafest spot to stand in California is between Mathews and a TV camera. . . . To be “fair,” we note, after Joe complained in a comment below, that after explaining why Whitman was furiously spinning the issue back on Brown and Poizner he apparently also told KNBC that he’s not convinced the Goldman issue will affect the outcome of the governor’s race and that he thinks solving the state’s budget woes is a more relevant issue.  So there.

Traders to their country: Euro-econ blogger Georges Ugeux offered a demystifying take on the whole matter that concludes Goldman isn’t really an investment bank at all. After watching this week’s parade of arrogant traders condescending to the Senate Banking Committee Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations wrote:

What became completely obvious for all the world to see is that Goldman Sachs is a hedge fund dressed up like a client business and that they are absolutely not interested in clients except to use them as screen for their own proprietary trading activities. As a hedge fund, Goldman Sachs is just a group of astute risk managers, brilliant market strategists who managed during the crisis to weather the storm. Their claim that they were not “directional” in their proprietary or principal business was absolutely disingenuous. .

Another G-S must-read: Gretchen Morgenson’s bottom-line take on what’s wrong with the financial regulation “reform“ legislation before the Congress:

Unfortunately, the leading proposals would do little to cure the epidemic unleashed on American taxpayers by the lords of finance and their bailout partners. The central problem is that neither the Senate nor House bills would chop down big banks to a more manageable and less threatening size. The bills also don’t eliminate the prospect of future bailouts of interconnected and powerful companies.

Too big to fail is alive and well, alas. Indeed several aspects of the legislative proposals sanction and codify the special status conferred on institutions that are seen as systemically important. Instead of reducing the number of behemoth firms assigned this special status, the bills would encourage smaller companies to grow large and dangerous so that they, too, could have a seat at the bailout buffet.

At least he’s for literacy: Scoop of the Week honors to Capitol Weekly’s Malcolm Maclachlan whose Actual Reporting dug down deeply on the mysterious question of how “Mount Pleasant,” Poizner’s besieged memoir about teaching in a San Jose high school, managed to hit #5 on the New York Times best seller list.

Exactly what role Team Poizner played in pushing the tome up the list has been one his handlers have assiduously ducked for weeks, up to and including their refusal to discuss the matter at all with Cap Weekly.

Although he doesn’t come up with a definitive answer on how the author managed to soar briefly (it tanked after one week)  to the commercial  heights occupied by slightly better known literary lights as Michael Lewis and Mitch Albom, the resourceful Maclachlan uncovers a host of intriguing clues, including the below-the-radar  maneuverings by a couple of Southern California book marketing companies, and a spate of folks still head-scratching  over how and why the book appeared in their mail boxes.

More evidence may be forthcoming when Poizner files his Q2 campaign expense and contribution reports in a few months, but Malcolm meanwhile suggests that buying enough copies of his own book to become a “best-selling author” wouldn’t exactly break the bank for the wannbe guv:

Poizner certainly has the wealth, having sold his last company for $1 billion. If he paid the $11.69 asking price on Amazon, not counting shipping, 5,000 copies would set him back $58,450, or about 1/1,000th of what Whitman has put into her own campaign.

Book notes: If you haven’t heard it, believe all the hype about Ira Glass’s takedown of Poizner and “Mount Pleasant” on PRI’s “This American Life” last weekend. In our 121 years on the planet, we’ve never listened to such a skillful, subtle and surgically precise evisceration of a pol. The tape is here and the transcript here.

Crusty’s lucha con el lenguaje: Conservative radio yakker and Calbuzz blogroller Eric Hogue also scored a sweet little scooplet with his report that Jerry Brown’s campaign had no Spanish-speaking representative to offer when Univision called to find a surrogate to face off in a televised debate with one from eMeg’s camp.

That’s right – Jerry Brown has no Spanish speaking member on his gubernatorial campaign team. One wonders how he is “communicating with the base of the Latino worker in California” if he has a language barrier.

“We haven’t filled that position yet,” a Brown spokesperson said weakly.

Team Crusty finally scared up the reliable Tenoch Flores, the communications director for the state Democratic party, to face off against the redoubtable Hector Barajas from Megland, but the incident is a flat-out  embarrassment for a candidate who has been known to brag on his connections to Cesar Chavez and appointment of the first Latino supreme court justice.

As a political matter, it’s also the first glaring example of why Brown’s skinflint, who-needs-consultants operation could prove costly against the Armada of eMeg (or The Platoons of Poizner, for that matter).

Yikes, the end of civilization really is near!

Cal Forward Fee Proposal Meets Our Hawaiian Eye

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

When last we checked on California Forward’s reform proposals we saw them drifting in some Legislative backwater. But friends tell us there may still be breath in some of the proposals and the one Calbuzz thinks is most likely to be a sleeper relates — you guessed it — to whether it takes a majority or two-thirds to approve of fees.

As we noted in our last look at this damn thing, SCA 19, Cal Forward’s omnibus reform bill,  includes a provision that says:

any bill that imposes a fee shall be passed by not less than two-thirds of all Members elected to each of the two houses of the Legislature if revenue from the fee would be used to fund a program, service, or activity that was previously funded by revenue from a tax that is repealed or reduced in the same fiscal year or in a prior fiscal year.”

Jim Mayer and Fred Silva of Cal Forward said this would apply only in some specific and rare cases and would not undercut the Legislature’s ability to raise fees in most cases by majority vote.  We said we thought the measure would affect the Legislature’s power on fees because (quoting us) “every program, service and activity is funded by ‘revenue from a tax,’ and so, any place where the Legislature wanted to subvent tax funds with fee funds would require a two-thirds vote.”

Comes now someone who, unlike Calbuzz, actually understands the budget — Jean Ross, executive director of the California Budget Project, who tells us: “The language is so broad that it appears to require a two-thirds vote to impose or increase a fee that goes to any program that receives support from the General Fund.

“That would include CalFire, community college fees, everything that receives even a dime of state general purpose funding, or a dime of revenue from a tax that has been cut at any time in the state’s history.”

Oops. Another reason — along with the elimination of the two-thirds vote on the budget (which we like, BTW) — that Cal Forward’s package of proposals is ready for the fork.

Now this: Check out CBP’s latest, a detailed report on who pays taxes in California, which sh.ould come in handy the next time some candidate starts claiming the state has the highest taxes in the nation

This just in: Our Honolulu Bureau’s Big Waves and Little Drink Umbrellas Desk reports that Aloha State airwaves are crackling with ads from candidates in a May 22 congressional race, which threatens to become the latest special election nightmare for Democrats and the White House.

With the Scott Brown special election stunner still top of mind, Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s troops are facing the real possibility of losing their long-held grip on the state’s First District seat because of an all-party ballot, which makes the top vote-getter the new representative without a run-off, coupled with an all-politics-is-local internecine brawl between two Hawaii Democrats.

The scenario was set up when longtime Rep. Neil Abercrombie resigned in December to run for governor, to replace outgoing Republican Linda Lingle (who’s having big problems of her own ) amid a California-style budget mess. The Democratic Establishment, in the persons of U.S. Senators Daniels Akaka and Inouye, quickly lined up behind state senator Colleen Hanabusa, a reliable legislative hack who’s now running as a “partner” of President Obama, who won the district in his home state with 70 percent of the vote in 2008.

But Ed Case, a moderate and former Democrat House member, also jumped into the contest, raising the specter that Republican Charles Djou, a Honolulu city councilman, may split the seam and capture the seat amid the D’s feuding. Case is casting himself as an outsider by running against Washington insiders and, Mai Tai sources say, would run likely run stronger against Djou in a one-on-one matchup because of his appeal to independent voters.

But Case broke the play-nice rules of Hawaii politics by challenging Akaka in the 2006 Senate primary and payback is a bitch; the Asian-American Action Fund, strong backers of the two U.S. Senators, has warned off any national Dems of a mind to get behind Case by noting that 60 percent of the voters are of Asian descent, a not-so-subtle shot aimed at helping Hanabusa and dissing the white guy.

Gleeful Republicans meanwhile are nationalizing the race, and uniting behind Djou, a smart and boyish looking moderate with a nice-looking young  family who’s campaigning as a small-government entrepreneurial types. GOP presidential hopefuls Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney have both weighed in on the contest, contributing money to Djou and portraying him as a scourge of “Obamacare, a costly stimulus bill and cap and trade legislation.”

And Mahalo for that.

Brown at Google: The Value of Being Random

Monday, April 12th, 2010

We were innocently sitting in the front row the other day, listening to Attorney General Jerry Brown’s “fireside chat” (sans hearth or fire) with Google CEO Eric Schmidt, when Brown demonstrated once again why he is the most intriguing  character in California, and perhaps American, politics.

And why – if he can reach enough of them – he is capable of making  himself popular with the well-educated, middle-of-the-road, moderate, non-partisan, younger and middle-age voters who are the fulcrum of electoral victory in California.

Asked by Schmidt – whose questions were as smart and penetrating as any experienced political writer could ask – whether his “progressive” ideas from the 1970s and ‘80s are still relevant, Brown pointed to his interest then and now in renewable energy sources.

“At that time, we were talking about solar hot water. Now we’re talking about solar photovoltaic. But it’s the same thing — the introduction of new ideas,” he said.

“California is a state of imagination. And imagination is what we need to get out of the bind. We need to change the design. We need to introduce new ideas, and, quite frankly, I’ve always been interested in the creative mind.”

He then mentioned a teacher he’d once had, whom he later appointed as a regent of the University of California, and who had inscribed for Brown in one of his books, “The new comes out of the random.”

“The new comes out of the random,” Brown repeated with a smile. “I’ve been thinking a lot about that. Some people think I’m a little random. But unless you’re open to possibilities, you rarely come up with something new. If you are rigidly programmed, if you’re managing what is, you can’t create what really needs to be.”

Brown’s reference, Calbuzz learned later, was to “Mind and Nature,” by Gregory Bateson, the brilliant British anthropologist and systems theoretician (and former husband of anthropologist Margaret Mead), whom Brown, then 40, put on the Board of Regents at age 74 in 1978, where he served until his death in 1980.

“The immediate task of this book is to construct a picture of how the world is joined together in its mental aspects,” Bateson wrote in 1979 in “Mind and Nature.”

How do ideas, information, steps of logical or pragmatic consistency, and the like fit together? How is logic, the classical procedure for making chains of ideas, related to an outside world of things and creatures, parts and wholes? Do ideas really occur in chains, or is this lineal (see Glossary) structure imposed on them by scholars and philosophers? How is the world of logic, which eschews “circular argument,” related to a world in which circular trains of causation are the rule rather than the exception?

As if to prove Bateson’s theory of “circular trains of causation,” Brown described an important evolution in his thinking about the value of legislation.

Noting that he had “started a law called the Political Reform Act of 1974,” he later had the experience, as mayor of Oakland, of finding that “there was one of the provisions that would have stopped me from promoting economic growth.

“So I went to court and actually had part of the law that I wrote invalidated,” he said. “I think it’s a very salutary experience to both make laws and unmake them all in the same lifetime. Because, you see, every law has unintended consequences.”

To which, he later added:

Another thing I didn’t appreciate as governor, — ‘cause each governor signs about 800 to 1,000 new laws a year — and when you pass a law, somebody’s got to enforce that darned thing. It isn’t just “Do good.” It’s, “If you don’t do good, you can get sued and go to jail or pay a tax.”

And as attorney general, my office is often called upon to enforce these laws.
And businesses run afoul of many of them. And there’s just tens of thousands of ‘thou shalt not.’ And the density and the reach of the invasive, minute prescriptions is breathtaking. I’ve developed a very healthy distaste for legislation.

Now, with Jerry Brown one never knows (do one?) whether what he says will have any relationship to what he will do.

He ran for president not long after winning the chairmanship of the California Democratic Party; he decided to run for governor after telling people he wouldn’t leave his post as Attorney General. He was against Proposition 13 before he was for it. In one presidential campaign he wouldn’t take contributions over $100 because taking more was a sure sign of corruption; today he’s tapping every fat-cat donor he can find, hoping to have enough to compete against Meg Whitman’s multi-millions.

With Brown, certain commitments are elastic. Or as he told Calbuzz in March: “Adaptation is the essence of evolution. And those who don’t adapt go extinct.”

Still, Brown’s suggestion that he’s learned something about the unintended consequences of legislation has a certain verisimilitude or what Steven Colbert might call truthiness.

In part, that’s because Brown has shaped and observed California politics over so many years that he has an incredibly long (some might say long-in-the-tooth) view.

Asked by Schmidt to discuss the impact of Proposition 13, Brown, who re-iterated his pledge to support no new taxes unless the people vote for them, offered this compelling narrative:

Yeah, Prop. 13 passed in ’78. By the way, it attracted the highest turnout ever for a state primary election. And since that time, almost right afterwards, one ballot measure after another constraining the governor, the legislature, setting down more and more precise rules on how things need to be done

So what you have here is, you have a chess game of government with fewer and fewer moves. And that is driven by the frustration. So people have a widespread disgust at the mechanism of representation. So people then put on the ballot, often special interests, some attractive-sounding measure. And people vote for it.

But the more they embed the system with these constraints, the more difficult it is to perform, and the performance declines, and people want more and more initiatives to correct it. So we’re in a cycle, a rather destructive cycle. And to get out of that, first of all, we need to get beyond that.

And I think the way we need to get beyond it is to make the governing process more transparent, to make the key elements of government, the education, higher and K-12, the prison system, the water, the energy, the roads, the medical care, make those key elements transparent, accessible, understandable so people know, what are their tax dollars going for, what is it doing, and where are the areas where we can modify.

And, quite frankly, I think I can conduct that kind of transparent process that will reconnect the citizenry to their own government, something that I think has very much been lost in recent years.

Who knows if Brown has the skill, the focus, the commitment to actually break that “destructive cycle?” But he absolutely understands a key factor in rendering California ungovernable. Can he convince voters that he can both manage what is and create what needs to be? That’s no random question.

Keeley: California Forward Not Dead, Still Kicking

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

By Fred Keeley
Special to Calbuzz

I come to praise California Forward, not to bury it.

Actually, I have no real issue with Calbuzz’s micro-reporting on the narrow point of whether or not California Forward’s efforts to have the legislature and governor place a real budget process reform measure on the November ballot, will be successful.

I do have an issue with Calbuzz using that as the measure of California Forward’s overall effectiveness in the broader area of fixing California’s broken tools for governance in the 21st Century.

As many of your readers know, California Forward was founded a couple of years ago with the support of a hand-full of large California foundations who had grown exasperated by the rapid decline of California’s governance capacity.

Whether the issue was and is education, environmental protection, healthy economy, human services, or any of the other major issues facing our state, California seems to have become mostly incapable of making progress.

Obviously, there are exceptions, with the most notable being AB 32, the state’s landmark and comprehensive global climate change statute. For the most part, and regardless of the state’s economic condition, Sacramento has become a place where good ideas seem to go to die.

California Forward, a bi-partisan (or, some would argue, a non-partisan) organization came into existence to deeply examine what is broken in California’s systems of governance, and to build support for thoughtful, best-practices reforms. It has been known from the start that many of the solutions are likely to take a few years to achieve, while some may be able to be adopted more quickly.

In 2008, California Forward joined other “Goo Goos” such as the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and AARP, to sponsor the statewide ballot measure that took the decadal redistricting of legislative lines out of the hands of legislators, and put it in the hands of an independent commission.

That effort is underway now, and there are those who want to see it succeed, and others who are attempting to smother it in the crib. Regardless, it is one of the reforms that many who look at California’s governance tools believe needs exactly this reform.

For a couple of years, California Forward has worked both inside and outside Sacramento to develop a set of “best practices” reforms of California’s perennially late and “not worth waiting for” budget-making system. The California Forward package includes two-year budgeting, budgeting by objectives, mandatory oversight of the governor’s implementation of the budget by the legislature, and other items used by many, many states that are considered well managed.

The clear 600-pound gorilla in the budget reform room is the majority vote. California Forward is recommending that the existing two-thirds vote to adopt the budget be replaced by a simple majority vote provision in the state constitution. This would put California in the same place as 47 of the 50 states who have just such a provision. This change would NOT change the current requirement to obtain a 2/3rd’s vote to raise taxes.

Other issues on our agenda include term limit reform, initiative reform, and campaign financing. Each will take more time to develop into a broadly-supported reform.

I have read with interest your obituary of Repair California, the folks who wanted to get a Constitutional Convention to the ballot. I have also read your pieces on other budget reform efforts, such as that by Professor Lakoff at the University of California Berkeley.

I hasten to add that I respect both efforts, as it is critically important for as many voices and ideas as possible to be in the mix if ideas to fix California’s broken governance tools.

California Forward is, however, different. We are taking a multi-year, multi-subject approach to solving our vexing governance problems. We are very likely to have to take a few laps around many tracks to get all of this done, but we will get it done. California should accept nothing less.

To accomplish that, California Forward is undertaking an unprecedented civic engagement project. What I like to call the California Conversation. This project, which has been approved by California Forward’s board of directors and is deep into the design stage, is an attempt to have a conversation with literally millions of Californians regarding the state of governance in California, and what can be done to fix it.

This, too, is likely to take time to do it right — and to make changes that will provide lasting improvements.