Archive for the ‘US Economy’ Category



Press Clips: Another Huge Award for Calbuzz

Friday, December 10th, 2010

Now that the Pulitzer Prize committee has finally decided to join the 21st century by opening their competition to all conceivable forms of digital reporting, it’s only a matter of time before Calbuzz captures the Big Enchilada for our Special Brand of Journalism.

In the meantime, we’ve copped yet another top honor from our peers to put on the mantle right next to our already impressive collection:  we learned this week that we’ve won the silver medal in the prestigious “Crunks” competition, which ranks the best of the best in the “Year in Media Errors and Corrections.”

The list is compiled by Columbia Journalism Review columnist Craig Silverman, the world’s leading authority on news industry screw-ups, who honored us for our May 11 item setting the record straight on a conversation with California Democratic Party chairman John Burton a few days before:

In our Saturday post about the California Democratic Party’s ad attacking Meg Whitman but masquerading as an “issues ad,” we described the abrupt ending to our conversation with CDP Chairman John Burton. Through his spokesman, Burton on Monday complained that he had been misquoted. Burton says he didn’t say “Fuck you.” His actual words were, “Go fuck yourself.” Calbuzz regrets the error.

Silverman had earlier written a piece examining the weighty journalistic issues at stake in our extremely responsible effort, if we do say so ourselves, to ensure the record of history is clear about Burton’s statement; although we were disappointed not to win first place, we had to admit that the top finishing Ottawa Citizen did some outstanding work with its entry:

The Ottawa Citizen and Southam News wish to apologize for our apology to Mark Steyn, published Oct. 22. In correcting the incorrect statements about Mr. Steyn published Oct. 15, we incorrectly published the incorrect correction. We accept and regret that our initial regrets were unacceptable and we apologize to Mr. Steyn for any distress caused by our previous apology.

“On behalf of the thousands of employees in the Calbuzz global family who work indefatigably every day to live up to our corporate motto – ‘Shooting the Wounded Since March 2009,’” our executive committee said in a press statement, “we accept this award with gratitude and, of course, deep humility.”

Perspective perspectives: Amid the madness of non-stop bloviation and serious heavy breathing generated by the knuckleheads who drive the 24/7 news cycle, it’s nice to know that there are some level-headed political reporters who still value the importance of context and perspective.

Case in point: the excellent assemblage of data by Talking Points Memo illustrating that, despite the opinions-every-second proclivities of Beltway geniuses, President Obama’s standing among voters is not much different at this point in his administration than that of all other presidents since JFK.

Ditto the New York Times, which took a step back from the firestorm of what-it-all-means political speculation about Obama’s tax deal with Republicans to examine its likely impact on the economy, concluding that it’s worth about 3 million new jobs.

And a tip o’ the hat also to Slate, for digging out the numbers that show that it is the red states, whose representatives are constantly whining about excessive spending, that benefit the most from federal largesse, at the expense of taxpayers in places like, oh say, California. Also to Dan Walters for reminding us that, despite the intractable economic and political problems wrapped up in the state’s chronic deficits, it’s a piddling amount viewed in the context of the size and scope of the California economy.

Presidential follies: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg this week reignited speculation about running for president as an independent by giving a high-profile speech decrying partisanship and proclaiming the need for pragmatic centrist politicians. Then he promptly tried to tamp it down by telling Katie Couric he isn’t planning to run.

But the Washpost’s estimable Dan Balz isn’t so sure, and has a nice scooplet reporting exactly what data points Team Bloomberg privately considers to be crucial in its calculations.

As we’ve noted previously, a serious Bloomberg candidacy raises the nightmare specter of a Sarah Palin presidency. Assuming she wins the GOP nomination, the electoral college could splinter in a three-way race, leaving the selection of the nation’s chief executive in the hands of the right-wing Republican House of Representatives. Shudder.

Wiki Laughs: While everyone else in the world seems to have a firm opinion about the out-on-the-edge ethical and journalistic issues raised by the Wikileaks dump of State Department documents, Calbuzz is still mulling the meaning and morals of the incident, although we’re totally with Naomi Wolf on the absurdity of at least one part of  l’affaire Assange.

Today’s sign the end of civilization is near: There’s actually a person who’s even more repulsive than Sarah Palin.

Obama’s Tax Deal: A High Risk, High Reward Play

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

At a tipping point in his presidency, Barack Obama has embraced a Republican-slanted deal on taxes that has enraged his Democratic allies and emboldened his GOP enemies, a high-risk bet aimed at buying time on the economy while portraying himself as the only grown-up in Washington.

At a time when his recent weak and ineffectual performance increasingly draws comparisons to Jimmy Carter, Obama abandoned a fundamental campaign promise, and a basic premise of Democratic politics, by bowing to GOP demands to extend George Bush’s low tax rates for the richest Americans.

His agreement to continue those rates, for at least two years, is at the core of a compromise he negotiated with Republicans that he argues will help create jobs. The plan also calls for continuing current income tax rates for all other taxpayers and an extension of unemployment insurance benefits,  among other features. .

His play infuriated liberal Democrats in Congress, and, in a surprise move aimed at regaining control of the debate, Obama took to the White House press room Tuesday for a hastily convened news conference. In it, he not only strongly defended his deal as a pragmatic compromise that will help middle class Americans struggling in the sagging economy but also defiantly bashed his own political base, which is attacking him for ducking a fight against intransigent Republicans and their determination to protect the fortunes of the wealthiest one percent of people in the nation.

Comparing liberal unhappiness with his tax measure to the left’s loud complaints about his health care compromise, Obama said:

People will have the satisfaction of having a purist position and no victories for the American people. And we will be able to feel good about ourselves and sanctimonious about how pure our intentions are and how tough we are, and in the meantime the American people are still seeing themselves not able to get health insurance because of a pre-existing condition, or not being able to pay their bills because their unemployment insurance ran out. That can’t be the measure of — of how we think about our public service. That can’t be the measure of what it means to be a Democrat.

Obama’s move, in the wake of huge Democratic congressional losses last month, is the most daring – and dangerous – piece of presidential triangulation since Bill Clinton and his toe-sucking erstwhile consultant Dick Morris forged a deal on welfare reform with Republicans after Democrats suffered a similar pasting in the 1994 mid-terms.

With national unemployment stubbornly stuck around 10 percent, and his own image sagging in polls, Obama’s gambit carries both considerable opportunities and huge risks for his presidency and, oh yeah, for the future of the economy. Here are some of the key political cross-currents:

Policy: Economically, the cost to the government of the proposed measure is staggering — about $900 billion over the next two years,  including about $120 billion for the high end tax reductions,  plus hundreds of billions more for extending lower rates for all other tax payers, along with expanded maximum unemployment benefits, a reduction in the employee contribution to the payroll tax and other changes.

But with the fragile economic recovery still sputtering, despite increases in corporate profits and other statistical signs of economic growth, Obama has agreed to what amounts to a second stimulus bill in hopes of spurring growth and creating jobs by the time of his re-election campaign in 2012.

Even if the measure succeeds in this way, however, the bottom line is that none of the elements of the compromise are paid for with either higher taxes or spending cuts. This means that the $900 billion will balloon the deficit even more, at a time when the Tea Party and other right-wing factions are clamoring for debt reduction as the highest priority for the government.

Annie Lowery over at Slate has an excellent take on these issues.

Politics: One political goal of Obama’s triangulation play is to win back the support of independent voters, who strongly supported him in 2008 but overwhelmingly fled to the Republicans in last month’s elections.

By challenging fellow Democrats over the bill, Obama signals independents that he puts results above party, even as he harshly criticizes Republicans for placing their own ideology over the economic welfare of Americans. Speaking of the GOP’s stance on the tax issue, he said:

I think it’s tempting not to negotiate with hostage takers, unless the hostage gets harmed, then people will question the wisdom of that strategy. In this case the hostage was the American people and I was not willing to see them get harmed.

Positioning: By giving short shrift to what he portrays as the partisan concerns of both parties, Obama hopes to send the message that his political values are at their core those of a pragmatist, a post-partisan technocrat whose only interest is in making government work and giving people their money’s worth for their taxes.

“This isn’t an abstract debate,” Obama said several times during his news conference:

I’m not here to play games with the American people or the health of our economy. My job is to do whatever I can to get this economy moving. My job is to do whatever I can to spur job creation. My job is to look out for middle-class families who are struggling right now to get by, and Americans who are out of work through no fault of their own.

By kicking the can down the road for two years on the debate about taxes for the wealthy, Obama could gain some additional advantage. Because the extension is only for two years, the issue will resurface at the height of the 2012 campaign, and the president is gambling that both the economy and his own political standing will have improved by then.

On Tuesday, he repeatedly pointed to the Senate’s failure last weekend to pass legislation, which he favors, that would have continued lower tax rates for 98 percent of Americans, but raised them for those with annual incomes above $250,000 in one defeated bill and $1 million in another. But at the same time, he insisted that most Americans agree with his position:

This is not a situation in which I have failed to persuade the American people of the rightness of our position. I know the polls — the polls are on our side on this.

It is this argument that so infuriates many Democrats. With public opinion strongly in favor of raising taxes on the rich, liberals would love to pick a fight with Republicans on the issue, daring them to block the extension of lower rates for 98 percent of Americans on behalf of protecting the top few percent.

They argue that one of a president’s most crucial jobs is to rally the public on behalf of his program, particularly when a majority of voters agree with him, and many Democrats view Obama’s unwillingness to do exactly that as shameful political cowardice.

“I am not arguing from a position of political weakness,” Obama insisted.

Well, actually…

The biggest problem for Obama may be that, political calculations aside, he has basically ceded the merits of the argument over taxes to the Republicans. After winning the presidency by campaigning against conservative, supply-side economic orthodoxy, he now enthusiastically is pushing a proposal that is based on precisely those policies.

If the tax package works, unemployment declines and the economy starts to surge, Republicans can rightfully argue that they were right all along on taxes; if it doesn’t work, Obama will be stuck with both a bad economy and a lot of very angry Democrats.

P.S. As a political matter, the most memorable scenes from Obama’s news conference came when he was denouncing fellow Democrats. It was clear from his words and his tone that he is still carrying a major grudge over liberal denunciations for not getting a public option included in the final health care bill:

You know, so this notion that somehow, you know, we are willing to compromise too much, reminds me of the debate that we had during health care. This is the public option debate all over again.

We finally get health care for all Americans, something that Democrats have been fighting for a hundred years, but because there was a provision in there that they didn’t get, that would have affected maybe a couple of million people, even though we got health insurance for 30 million people…that somehow that was a sign of weakness and compromise. If that’s the standard by which we are measuring success or core principles, then let’s face it: We will never get anything done.

Further reading: Check out Jill Lawrence’s strong piece at Politics Daily, where she argues that the president did a pretty good job with a lousy hand.

Meyer on Arnold Fail; Obama Circles the Drain

Saturday, December 4th, 2010

The good news for Governor Schwarzmuscle this week is that he got off the best one-liner at the Sacramento Press Club’s Gridiron Gala: “I stand here before you as probably the second-most famous immigrant in California,” he told the audience of journos and political hacks. “The first is Meg Whitman’s maid.”

The bad news: The joke was pretty much the highlight of Arnold’s last four years.

Tom Meyer today details the final scene of mass destruction of the Terminator’s all-time worst movie – “Conan the Incompetent” – even as  Schwarzenegger keeps huffing and puffing a whirlwind of words on his own behalf, trying to gin up his alleged “legacy” in a desperate effort to declare victory as he leaves town with the Capitol in ruins.

The plain facts, however, are these: a) Schwarzenegger has utterly failed in leading California to a solution for its fiscal problems, the central promise of his election  in the historic 2003 recall, and is leaving things far worse than when he arrived; b) his job performance rating remains in the toilet, on a level with the recalled Gray Davis, as voters aren’t buying the phony shtick about what a swell job he’s done; c) he long ago lost any significant political influence in Sacramento, where both parties treat him as a joke.

In fairness, an attitude that occasionally descends upon us, the weight-lifting governor, whose biggest muscle always has seemed the genioglossus , has a few accomplishments: his play on public employee pension reform, while too little too late, is a good first step, his successful push for initiatives taking reapportionment  out of the hands of the Legislature is laudable, and may pay good government dividends down the road, and AB32’s climate change regulations are a signal achievement.

That said, his shameless pandering in rolling back the vehicle license fee blew a huge hole in the budget as soon as he took office, from which the state never recovered, his promise to “cut the state’s credit card” was a cruel joke, as interest on borrowing became the fastest-growing item in the budget, and his bone-headed play to put a reasonable spending cap initiative on the 2005 ballot along with three unrelated, largely partisan measures doomed his governorship just two years after it began.

When Schwarzenegger came into office, he made a solemn promise not to accept a salary as governor. In the end, he proved to be worth every penny.

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Incredible shrinking Obama: As a symbol of political weakness, it’s too soon to say whether Barack Obama getting bashed in the lip while playing hoops will become the functional equivalent of Jimmy Carter getting chased by a Killer Rabbit. What is clear that the president now looks so hapless and enfeebled that he’s on the verge of becoming a national joke.

With national Democrats in disarray and on the verge of a nervous breakdown, Obama seems completely unmoored, as the White House drifts politically amid a sea of ineptitude and bobs disconnected from the economic policy concerns of recession wracked Americans.

And all the while he just won’t stop droning in that annoying voice of clipped condescension and arrogance that he seems to think makes him sound authoritative. Calbuzz can just picture the out-of-work carpenter, sitting grimly over a draft in a Mission Street saloon, suddenly looking up and shouting, “Will you shut the fuck up!” to the image of a yammering Obama that flickers on the TV over the bar.

Even some of his most loyal defenders are looking for the exits:

But this week I have no blessed clue what the hell he’s up to. I’ve tried to look at this from every angle and each one leads me back to weak, weak, weak.

He’s following rules that no longer exist, pandering to voter attitudes that will have zero consequence in terms of both his approval numbers and his reelection chances. He’s completely off the rails — well beyond any notion of post-partisanship. In fact, if his intention has been to “change the way Washington does business,” he’s currently and epically failing because I simply can’t believe that the new and improved way is this way.

Within roughly 24 hours, President Obama preemptively capitulated to the Republicans and proposed an unabridged GOP idea — freezing federal worker salaries, then, almost as if on cue, the Senate Republicans put their unflinching childish obstructionism in writing and pledged to block everything unless the president extends the deficit-ballooning Bush tax rates. And in that mix, the Republicans blocked extensions of unemployment benefits. Twice.

The upshot? The president looks extraordinarily weak. Weaker than at any other time in his presidency. It probably didn’t help that he was literally beaten and bloodied when he announced the pay freeze, due to his weekend basketball fracas.

Of course the intention isn’t to appear weak. The intention is to appear magnanimous. The intention is to secure support from voters who buy into the ridiculous “both sides are the same” meme and who tell pollsters that they want more bipartisan cooperation, while incongruously voting for total gridlock and the potential of a government shutdown…

Unfortunately, however, bipartisan cooperation in this era has been entirely redefined to the point of virtual extinction. There’s no such thing as mutual cooperation between both parties. Modern bipartisanship is all about one party, the Democrats, flailing around and desperately struggling to appease the Republicans who return the favor by smacking the textbooks out of the president’s hands then kicking him in the ass while he picks up his crap off the floor — embarrassed and chuckling while muttering, “Oh, you guys.”

That character doesn’t look cooperative at all. He looks like a very smart and very serious… wimp.

Memo to Obama: Watch out for the wascally wabbit.

Sarah Palin takedown of the week: Don’t miss Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s superb essay drop kicking Half-Governor Whack Job’s no-nothing, breathtakingly presumptuous criticism of JFK’s famous speech on religion and politics.

Ironic Potheads, Obama Mojo MIA, EJ in the Zone

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Pot post-mortem: Who knew the most interesting, intriguing and ironic question of the entire election would turn out to be: WTF did North Coast potheads vote against Proposition 19?

Calbuzz kudos to Bob Salladay of California Watch for breaking it down in a nice piece that reports how the dope legalization measure lost big in weed-rich Humboldt and Mendocino counties, which mirrored the statewide vote of 53-to-46 against, while Trinity County smoked Prop. 19 in a 60-40 landslide.

Prop. 19 undoubtedly failed because some of the state’s largest counties voted against it, not sparsely populated areas in Northern California. But that’s not stopping supporters of the initiative from lashing out at pot producers in the so-called Golden Triangle. Here’s one comment that has been getting attention:

“Lets grab machetes and head up to Humboldt… Humboldt, your little community just pissed off a ton of people who are sick of paying your inflated crop prices!”

The arguments against Prop. 19 centered in part around the layers of regulatory oversight imposed by the initiative. Some worried about a provision restricting growing to a 25-square-foot plot of land, even though the initiative allowed for larger cultivation amounts approved by local authorities….

Many felt that asking pot growers to vote for Prop. 19 was like asking bootleggers to overturn Prohibition: Why would they give up such enormous, tax-free profits?

Bottom line: the free spirits who’ve built the market in California don’t want the damn government hassling them with taxes and regulations. In other words, they’re Republicans, as Calbuzzer cartoonist Tom Meyer aptly demonstrates today.

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P.S. Also check out John Hoeffel’s look-ahead political analysis which seems to point to the inevitability of legalization, perhaps as soon as 2012.

What ever happened to the guy we elected? As Democrats across the nation, at least those without the good sense to live in California, descend ever-further into a pit of political despair following the Republican wipeout, perhaps the most depressing development has been the total weenie act being performed by a self-pitying Barack Obama.

After a sulky, day-after press conference in which he more resembled a spoiled teenager stuck in detention than what you call your Leader of the Free World, Obama sunk to new depths in a sad sack appearance on “60 minutes.”

As Huffpost blogger and business executive coach Kathleen Reardon excellently reported:

I waited last night for the confident Democratic President of the United States to appear on 60 Minutes but he never quite arrived. In fact, the president who did arrive said when asked by Steve Kroft about his promise to change Washington:

“That’s one of the dangers of assuming power. And you know, when you’re campaigning, you, I think you’re liberated to say things without thinking about, ‘Okay, how am I gonna actually practically implement this.’”

What? Nah! He didn’t say that, did he?

Washpost columnist Gene Robinson took a broader and politically more  trenchant look at the president’s woe-is-me session with Kroft.

Obama was reasonable, analytical, professorial – but also uninspired and uninspiring. I’m just being honest, if not generous; when Kroft asked whatever happened to Obama’s “mojo,” the president gave the impression that he’s been wondering the same thing.

“Do you get discouraged? Are you discouraged now?” Kroft asked.

“I do get discouraged,” Obama replied, according to the transcript of the full interview. “I thought that the economy would have gotten better by now. You know, one of the things I think you understand – as president you’re held responsible for everything. But you don’t always have control of everything, right? And especially an economy this big. There are limited tools to encourage the kind of job growth that we need. But I have fundamental confidence in this country. I am constantly reminded that we have been through worse times than these, and we’ve always come out on top. And I’m positive that the same thing is going to happen this time. You know, there are going to be setbacks, and we may take two steps forward and one step back, but the trajectory of this country is always positive.”

Well, it may be unfair, but presidents aren’t allowed to be discouraged. They aren’t allowed to talk about the limitations of the job, or the fact that they are held accountable for everything from inclement weather to the lack of a championship playoff system in college football. Presidents are not permitted to acknowledge familiarity with the concept of “one step back.” And good things aren’t “going to happen,” in the presidential lexicon. They’re already happening.

We keep wondering when the Democrats will get serious about pointing out that the Republicans who went before them — like George Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger — have left behind them a path of utter devastation, from the national economy to a $25 billion California deficit. Wonder if Jerry Brown is studying what a weak-ass job President Obama has done making it clear that he’s had to clean up a pile of doggie doo left on his doorstep?

Meanwhile, truly masochistic erstwhile Obama fans won’t want to miss Politico’s take out on the president’s political perils (warning: do not attempt to read this if you are a Democrat taking Cymbalta, Effexor, Lexapro, Paxil, Prozac, Wellbutrin, Zoloft or suffer from suicidal ideation), although Jason Linkins helpfully lightens things a bit with a nice takedown of the piece’s extraordinary Beltway-centric perspective.

E.J to the rescue: Our old friend E.J. Dionne, who long ago set down the theoretical framework for Bill Clinton’s Third Way centrist politics, appears to have been taking an extra helping of progressive pills in recent weeks, as he’s been on a real roll with columns urging Democrats to stop whining and stiffen their spines.

After his world scooplet interview with Never Say Die Nancy Pelosi, his  smackdown of the post-election instant conventional wisdom industry and his lead-the-way analysis of some of the actual factual reasons behind the GOP House takeover, our boy outdid himself on Thursday with a terrific piece in which he picked the docile and doleful Dems up by the scruffs of their necks and tried to shake some sense into them.

Funny that when progressives win, they are told to moderate their hopes, but when conservatives win, progressives are told to retreat.

Worse, Democrats tend to internalize the views of their opponents. Already, some moderate Democrats are claiming that all would have been well if Obama had not tried to reform health care or “overreached” in other ways. Never mind that Obama’s biggest single mistake (beyond the administration’s projection that unemployment would peak around 8 percent) was giving in to Senate moderates and not demanding the much bigger stimulus plan a weak economy plainly needed.

In fact, moderate Democrats would do better calling attention to how extreme and out of touch the conservative program actually is. Moderates should be more offended than anyone that the GOP’s ideological obsessions (health-care repeal, tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation) have little connection to solving the country’s problems, particularly the economic difficulties in the electorally pivotal Midwest..

Give Republicans credit for this: They don’t chase the center, they try to move it. Democrats can play a loser’s game of scrambling after a center being pushed ever rightward. Or they can stand their ground and show how far their opponents are from moderate, problem-solving governance..

A working class hero is something to be: If, like us, you’ve been too busy with the Odyssey of eMeg to have caught The Onion’s recent series lampooning Joe Biden, NYT biz writer Jeremy Peters is on the spot, explaining the nuances of the counter-intuitive humor behind these very funny pieces, and pointing to the best examples.