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Here’s to 2010: The Top 10 Stories of the Year

Friday, December 31st, 2010

As Tom Meyer presents his right brain look back at the political detritus of 2010, the left progressive brain types in our Department of Belles-Lettres and Fine Writing Done Cheap wish you all the best for a new decade with this update of our annual New Year’s column:

The hoariest cliché in the news business – besides  Where Are They Now, the Irrelevant Anniversary yarn and frying an egg on the sidewalk during a heat wave – is the end-of-year Top 10 list.

And at Calbuzz, we’re nothing if not hoary clichés. Or maybe clichéd whores. Whatever.

As you find yourself face down in a bowl of gelatinous guacamole on New Year’s morn, trying to remember why you’re wearing rubber underwear and Raider wrist bands, here’s some bathroom reading, the Calbuzz Top 10 stories of the year, a 2011 primer for those who got drunk and missed 2010.

(Click the cartoon  for a larger image)

GOP awakens the sleeping giant. From Steve Poizner’s demagoguery on illegal immigration  to Meg Whitman’s serial mishandling of her own housekeeper scandal, Republicans worked overtime in the 2010 campaigns to alienate Latino voters throughout California. In the end, their no-path-to-citizenship kow-towing to the right-wing  proved an utter disaster, as Democrats reaped big totals among the state’s increasingly crucial electoral bloc, which represented nearly one in four votes on election day.

eMeg’s secret diary. When a slow news day spurred our fervid imaginations to post a spoof version of Meg Whitman’s private thoughts, we had no way of knowing that it would become a case study of life in imitation of art. But her real-life treatment of the help, coupled with her corner-cutting business ethics and rules-don’t apply to me campaign style combined to transform the race for governor into a referendum on her character, which voters decided they didn’t much like.

The triumph of St. Ignatius. When a national political reporter asked Jerry Brown early in the campaign how he would deal with eMeg’s mega-bucks spending, the governor drew deeply upon his Catholic  education and sniffed that he would respond with “Ignatian indifference.” His subsequent decision  to essentially ignore Whitman’s summer-long assault on him, along with the aid of some independent expenditure advertising by labor allies, made Saint Iggie look like a genius as Krusty wrote yet another new chapter in the half-century saga of his political evolution.

Scientists measure standard quantum limit of money. Along with the rest of the political world, Calbuzz watched in endless fascination as Her Megness shattered all previous records for a self-funded candidate; desperate for a metaphor to help measure its ultimate impact, we turned to the field of theoretical physics. When the deal went down, Herself forked out more than $200K every 24 hours for every day she was in the race, and the only ones who had much to show for it were the vast legions of consultants and hangers-on who took her to the cleaners.

California’s got the blues. In a mid-term election when national Republicans opened an extra-large can of wupass on Democrats, contrary Golden State voters proved solid gold for the party of donkeys and jackasses. Amid waves of wise and well-intentioned advice on what they might do differently, state GOPers decided to double down on idiocy as they shunned candidates who might actually be electable and turned Senate wannabe Carly Fiorina into an angry, snarling parody of a right-winger mouthing political stands more befitting the state of Utah and proving anew  that ideology is more important to Californians than gender.

Truth, no consequences. After death panels, the birther movement and the consistently sensational ratings of Fox News, we shouldn’t have been surprised that California’s airwaves filled to bursting with misrepresentations, half-truths and lies. Naifs that we are, it took a while to understand that we were witnessing nothing less than the death of truth in politics.

Don’t let the door hit you in the ass. There were few better examples of the truth-is-always-fungible politics than Governor Schwarzmuscle’s endless exertions aimed at portraying his years in office as an era of splendid success. In case you missed our in-depth one-word analysis of his record – FAIL – you can find more dispassionate and detailed, but no less damning, takes on the matter here, and here.

Tree huggers ascendant. Amid 12+ % unemployment in the state, some cynical smokestack types tried to reignite the economic growth vs.  environmental protection conflict. California voters not only saw through the either-or argument on climate change but also broke off their brief flirtation with offshore oil drilling after the Earth Day Deepwater Horizon disaster led Arnold to abandon his ill-laid plans to award the first state lease in more than 40 years.

Reform on life support. Amid a trove of smart proposals for political, governance and budget reform,  all the good ideas went exactly nowhere. Fueled by corporate cynicism, the contradictory views of voters and the steady transformation of democracy into a plutocracy the forces of the status quo won out yet again.

ABC: Always Believe Calbuzz. Reporting more than 3 million page views in 2010, an analysis by our Department of Weights and Measures advises that along with the heavily-hyphenated-meat-and-potatoes-sizzle-and-steak-cheeseburger-and-fries-day-in-day-out political coverage our readers look for, loyal Calbuzzers also count on our special-brand-of-journalism-you-won’t-find-it-anywhere-but-here-world-exclusive scoops, whether it’s the inside story of Jerry Brown’s secret eyebrow makeover, prize winning reporting on John Burton’s foul mouth or world-class forecasting on Major League Baseball (Giants win!).

With all best wishes for a happy and safe amateur night celebration, we thank you all for reading. See you in 2011.

LAT/USC Poll: Climate Change Bites eMeg’s Backside

Monday, October 25th, 2010

Long ago, Calbuzz suggested that Meg Whitman made a strategic blunder during the Republican primary when, in an effort to look conservative enough to beat Steve Poizner, she came out swinging against AB 32, California’s pioneering greenhouse-gas reduction law. Our point was simple: she had alienated independent and moderate voters who tilt the balance of power in California because, for them, protecting the environment is an important cause.

Whitman tried to soften her outspoken objections to AB32 as a job killer by meekly coming out (after much dithering and poll-taking, we suspect) against Prop. 23 – the Texas oil-company sponsored measure to essentially kill AB32. But the gambit didn’t work.

According to the LATimes/USC survey, which finds Brown leading Whitman 52-39% among likely voters, Prop. 23 is losing 32-48%. And there is, USC Political Science Professor Jane Junn tells the Calbuzz Green Eyeshade Division, a significant correlation (.37) between a vote on the measure and a vote preference for Jerry Brown. We can’t say for certain whether the dog is wagging the tail or if the tail is wagging the dog, but look at this:

Of voters supporting Prop. 23 – that is, who want to kill the state’s climate change law – 32% are voting for Brown and 57% are for Whitman. But among those opposed to Prop. 23 – the much larger group that would retain the law — 69% are for Brown and 25% are for Whitman. An opponent of Prop. 23 is nearly three times more likely to vote for Brown than for Whitman.

Likewise, among Whitman voters, Prop. 23 is winning 46-31%. But among the much larger group of Brown voters, Prop. 23 is losing by a crushing 20-64%. A Brown voter is more than three times more likely to vote against Prop. 23 than for it.

The only voters in favor of Prop. 23 are Republicans (43-34%), conservatives (51-29%) and those Whitman voters. Every other major demographic bloc is opposed to the measure, with independents (29-55%) and moderates (24-53%) looking a lot like Democrats (23-58%) and liberals (15-73%) on the issue.

Prop. 19, which would legalize marijuana for personal use, appears to be going down in flames, training now 39-51% in the LAT/USC survey. The only people for it are Democrats (51-41%), Independents (48-37%), liberals (66-27%) and – lo and behold – Brown voters (52-42%). Of course, younger voters favor the measure more than older voters, but there aren’t enough of them to affect the outcome.

Too bad for Brown. Those who favor the measure prefer Brown over Whitman 66-25% while those opposed to Prop 19 favor Whitman 50-41% over Brown. “Dope Smokers for Jerry”  hasn’t yet gotten off the ground, despite Democratic Party Chairman John Burton’s prediction that pot would be the key to Democratic victory. Maybe that’s partly due to the fact that the Attorney General opposes the measure.

The LAT/USC survey also finds Prop. 25, which would lower the threshold for passing the state budget to a majority from two-thirds, is well ahead – 58-28%. That’s almost certainly due to the add-ons like denying legislators their pay and per diem every day a budget is late. But no matter, it appears in strong shape – winning in every demographic category, including a slight lead among Republicans and conservatives.

BTW, according to Professor Junn, Prop. 25 also correlates significantly with a vote for Brown (.35) as does Prop. 19 (.28). We just can’t say for certain which is the driver and which is along for the ride.

The Democratic firm Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner and the Republican firm American Viewpoint conducted the poll for the Los Angeles Times and the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, calling landlines and cellphones Oct. 13-20.  A random sample of 1,501 California registered voters were called, including an oversample of Latino respondents for a total of 460 Latino interviews. The survey identified 922 likely voters for whom the margin of error is +/- 3.2%. The margin of error for Latinos is +/- 4.6%.

To be included in the likely voter sample, respondents must have voted in 2006 and 2008, said they were “almost certain” or “probably” going to vote in 2010 and rated their enthusiasm about voting as 5 or higher on a 10-point scale. Those who registered since the 2008 election were included if they met the enthusiasm standard and said they are “almost certain” to vote this time around. Likely voters also included those said they have already have voted by mail — about 7% of voters surveyed.

PS: For an important update on how California voters regard immigration, see Cathy Decker’s article in the ByGodLATimes. For the Times report on the propositions, click here.

Q: Will Jerry’s Mea Culpa Hose Down Bill? A: Yes

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Update 1:15 pm: In a statement to the LA Times, Bill Clinton today endorsed Jerry Brown for governor saying he and Brown had patched up their differences from the 1992 presidential race and that Meg Whitman’s using his attack on Brown is misleading.

“I strongly support Jerry Brown for governor because I believe he was a fine mayor of Oakland, he’s been a very good attorney general, and he would be an excellent governor at a time when California needs his creativity and fiscal prudence,” Clinton said in a statement to the Times. If Clinton mentioned what he thought of Brown’s previous two terms as governor, it was not reported.

“Clinton agreed that the [Whitman] ad was misleading, and said his claim was based on an erroneous report,” the Times reported. And they quoted Clinton further saying: “Moreover, the tough campaign we fought 18 years ago is not relevant to the choice facing Californians today. Jerry and I put that behind us a long time ago.”

Clinton also endorsed Gavin Newsom for lieutenant governor “because of his strong support for Hillary in the 2008 primary season and because of his impressive record of innovation and accomplishment.”

Later on Tuesday, Brown issued the following statement:

“I am deeply honored to have been endorsed by former President Bill Clinton, who, after his accomplishment-rich presidency, continues to demonstrate his commitment to bettering our state, our nation, and our world, each and every day.”

For the record, the headline on this piece, before we saw the Times posting (congrats to Seema Meta who had it up online at 12:27 pm) read: “Will Jerry’s Mea Culpa Be Enough to Hose Down Bill?”

Our report as originally posted:

Calbuzz hears that right up to the moment on Sunday when Jerry Brown lost his marbles and his self control and went negative on Bill Clinton Krusty was really, really, really close to a deal for the  popular former president to do something very helpful for Brown’s campaign for governor.

Despite the bad blood between these two monumental egos, Clinton apparently had been persuaded – likely with assists from California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton and San Francisco Mayor and Lite Gov candidate Gavin Newsom – that defeating Meg Whitman and electing Democrats should be Clinton’s priority.

Even if it meant helping Brown, whose self-important primary challenge was a relentless thorn in Clinton’s  side during the 1992 presidential campaign; the memorable primary battle between the two resurfaced last week, when Team Whitman made Clinton the start of a new ad using an 18-year-old presidential debate clip where Bill says Jerry is a taxer and a liar — based on a CNN report which the original author now admits was wrong.

But something about Clinton seems to turn Brown into a raving lunatic and so on Sunday, in a couple of cheap, throwaway lines, he insulted Clinton as a liar and dredged up the Monica Lewinsky affair by quipping:  “I did not have taxes with this state.” How stupid is that? Anyway – That’s our job!

It’s also worth noting that the Calbuzz archive will prove that we had already warned him that everything is on the record in the 21st Century which he, in his digital dotage, seemed to have forgotten, or maybe never knew.

Recognizing that Brown had stepped in a pile of his own…making, his campaign called a quickie  press conference on Monday to try to clean up the mess. “Bill Clinton was an excellent president. It was wrong for me to joke about an incident from many years ago, and I’m sorry . . . I’ve made my share of mistakes, and my inappropriate joke about President Clinton is one of them. But from me you’ll always get the truth.”*

Whether his mea maxima culpa will be enough to assuage Clinton, we can’t predict. Better, we thought, Brown should have flown to New York, put on a blue dress, assumed the penitential position and . . . begged Clinton for forgiveness.

Brown’s people say he called Clinton and got as far as the senior staffer they’ve been talking to about Clinton’s participation in the California campaign.  Apparently, Brown doesn’t have the juice to get a call through to Clinton himself.  How sad is that? Still, Brown’s peeps say, plans for Clinton to campaign in California (for  Barbara Boxer, for Brown, for the ticket or all of the above, we don’t know) are still a go.

If Clinton does  lift a finger to help Brown it will be because he is, despite everything, a hard-nosed political pragmatist who, for a lot of reasons, doesn’t want a billionaire female Republican governor of California hovering over national politics for the next eight years. (Can you say President Hillary Clinton? Reapportionment? Meet the Press? )

And because he wants to help Boxer, a longtime ally whose daughter Nicole was married to Hillary’s brother Tony Rodham from 1994-2000. Also, Clinton would want to help Newsom, who was a prominent supporter of Hillary’s in the 2008 presidential campaign.

Meanwhile, Team Whitman — gloating over the great reviews their ad is getting –  ignores the fact that Brooks Jackson, the former CNN reporter on whom Clinton was relying when he made his charge against Brown, has since acknowledged he was wrong. Instead, they’re clinging to Jackson’s argument that his report was essentially “valid.”

“As I said then, rising taxes in Brown’s early years helped bring about a tax revolt. It came in the form of Proposition 13” Jackson wrote. But in this context, that’s misleading. Those “rising taxes” were the result of inflation in the housing market – not Brown’s tax policies. By trying now to make it look like his original report had merit, Jackson has given Whitman an excuse to perpetuate her lie.

Yes, Brown vehemently opposed Proposition 13 – as did eMeg campaign chairman Pete Wilson and most other people in public office. And once it was passed, he implemented it with relish and allowed state spending to increase, spending down a big surplus, to make up for billions in funding lost by cities, counties and schools.

Despite that, Brown’s spending as governor – adjusted for inflation and population, as economists do when comparing dollars in and out over time – were actually lower than his predecessor, Ronald Reagan. The Associated Press has a story detailing that fact.

As if any of these facts matter.

*Inquiring Jesuits want to know: Brown’s comments about Clinton on Sunday – and his effort on Monday to wave them off as a joke – got us thinking about Michael Kinsley’s famous formulation that “a ‘gaffe’ is the opposite of a lie – it’s when a politician tells the truth.”

Putting aside the Lewinsky portion of Brown’s bonehead remarks, it seems to us that the more serious part of his statement on Sunday came when he said, “I mean Clinton’s a nice guy, but who ever said he always told the truth?”  Those words call into question the former president’s fundamental honesty.

Brown never directly addressed that comment during his damage control press conference, when he apologized only for his “inappropriate joke.”

Instead, Brown simply concluded by saying, “But from me you’ll always get the truth.”

Which raises the question: Was Brown “always” telling the truth on Sunday, when he said that Clinton had problems telling the truth? Or was that just a gaffe?

Swap Meet: Drugs, Money & the Underwear Bandit

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

Today Calbuzzard and Chief Editorial Pen Stabber Tom Meyer buzz kills the state Democratic party which, for reasons that remain hazy, made a hash of their chance last weekend to endorse the Prop. 19 initiative to legalize pot.

Following the half-baked example of Bill Clinton, members of the party’s executive committee wasted the political advice of chairman John Burton, who suggested their support would turn on the key cohort of younger voters.

Instead they honored the joint wishes of the Dem’s geezer headliners, would-be governor Jerry Brown and Senator Barbara Boxer, who found the idea a total bummer.

Call now while supplies last: Calbuzzers interested in owning a full color print of a Meyer cartoon can email Tom at tom@meyertoons.com .

Hits and misses: If there’s one thing that makes our blood boil, it’s the legions of adolescent journalists who find it amusing to make puerile jokes about the burning issues raised by Prop. 19.

That’s why we were delighted to learn that Slate has launched “Cash Crop,” a new blog focused on the serious business and political economy issues of marijuana, written by Bay Area journalist Dan Mitchell:

Over the past few months, whenever I’ve told people about my idea for a blog covering the business and political economy of marijuana, I’ve gotten one of two responses: They either said it was a great idea or they put on their best stoner accent and said something along the lines of “Ohhh, duuuuude. That sounds bitchin’.”

… the different responses highlight what I think could be a major challenge—making people realize that neither this blog nor the subject it covers is a lark or a joke. Though I will always try to make it fun, Cash Crop is a serious blog about a serious business.

How serious? Marijuana is one of the top cash crops in the United States (by some measures it is the top cash crop). So why is there so little coverage of this business, as a business? Consider that California is veritably peppered with medical-marijuana facilities, as other states increasingly are. Or consider that marijuana sales generate about $15 billion of revenue a year in California alone—twice as much as the state’s dairy industry.

eMeg’s not a candidate, she’s a trend: When last we saw NY Timesman Michael Luo, he was exposing the $1 million sweetheart deal Mike Murphy scored with the eMeg Empire; now comes Luo, with colleague Damien Cave, to offer the first quantitative analysis of the growing trend of zillionaires running for office:

Call it the Great Recession paradox. Even as voters express outrage at the insider culture of big bailouts and bonuses, their search for political saviors has led them to this: a growing crowd of über-rich candidates, comfortable in boardrooms and country clubs, spending a fortune to remake themselves into populist insurgents…

Through just the second quarter of the year, at least 42 House and Senate candidates — 7 Democrats and 35 Republicans — in 23 states had already donated $500,000 or more of their own money to their campaigns, according to the most recent data available from the Center for Responsive Politics. That list does not even include governors’ races, and the roster promises to grow as the campaign season progresses and spending escalates.

Impressive numbers at first glance, but consider: if each of the 49 congressional candidates cited as spending at least $500K of their own cash actually spent $1 million each, it would be only half of what Our Meg has already forked out on her own, for what communications director Tucker Bounds likes to call the “movement” backing her play for governor.

All power to the people!

Press Clips: Josh Richman deserves combat pay just for staying awake – but came back with all you need to know about the Prop. 23 debate.

Eric Alterman’s door stop piece on why we can’t have a progressive president is worth the two weeks it takes to read.

Who ducked the media first – the chickens or the Meg?

Wonder how David Brooks knows so much about narcissism?

Krauthammer does too!

Jon Meacham gets his swirl on: Why Newsweek is failing, Chapter 37.

Don’t try walking home drunk alert: surrealistic sidewalks.

Today’s sign the end of civilization is near: Oklahoma, OK!

Wrap: Megablunder; Offshore Blues; Free Mickey!

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

The Calbuzz Department of Handicapping and Short Jockeys has been pretty darn impressed with how few major mistakes Team eMeg has made thus far in her maiden voyage into big-time California politics.

With a couple of exceptions.

Blunder #1, as we’ve noted before, was Whitman’s stand against AB32, California’s historic measure to control greenhouse gasses. It was unnecessary in the Republican primary and will pose a problem for her among moderates and independents in the general election.

And now comes Blunder #2: Whitman’s call last week to build more prisons, to be paid for by cutting other programs. We saw the story, by Torey Van Oot in the Sacramento B Minus but didn’t see any follow-up, which was odd, given what a huge strategic screw-up this was on Meg’s part.

“Whitman, who opposes raising taxes and wants to reduce the state work force, declined to identify a specific funding source for the costly new facilities, saying instead that cash could be freed up by cutting other areas of government,” Van Oot reported.

It didn’t take Attorney General Jerry Brown long to see that Meg had drawn a line dividing prisons on the one hand and schools on the other.  Crusty jumped right in where any good Democrat would be – on the side of schools.

Brown called Whitman’s plan to build prisons while reducing spending “snake-oil math.” Moreover, he said, “It is a gross misrepresentation to say you’re going to cut taxes, you’re going to somehow build more prisons and you’re not going to cut (education and other) spending.

“When you build more prisons, that costs money, then you put people in it, that costs money, then you have to build more hospital beds … it’s gigantic.”

Don’t say Calbuzz didn’t give you a heads-up that a dichotomy between schools and prisons – with Jerry on one side and Meg on the other – will be a major line of attack when Brown gets around to engaging Whitman one-on-one.

We’re just sayin’.

Let Mickey Speak! You don’t have to agree with Mickey Kaus, the pioneer political blogger and rabble-rousing Democrat who has declared himself a candidate for U.S. Senate, to believe the guy ought to have a chance to speak at the California Democratic Party state convention in a couple of weeks.

But he’s not on the official list of approved speakers Party Chairman John Burton has deemed viable to seek the party’s nomination.

Of course, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer is the incumbent. She’s beloved within the Democratic Party. And she’s going to win the nomination. But Kaus is a serious political thinker who argues 1) the Democratic Party’s approach to immigration is essentially an open-border policy that is unfair to native-born, low-income workers and 2) the party is so beholden to big unions — especially the California Teachers Association — that it has conceded its positions on virtually every issue to what’s best for the preservation of the unions, not necessarily for California’s schools or its working class.

“I have no beef with Barbara Boxer. I’ve voted for her twice,” said Kaus. “I’m not running against Boxer as a person. If she wins, I’ll support her.” But, he argues, Boxer has the wrong stand on his two critical issues and so he’s challenging her.

“If I can just reach half the people who agree with me, I’ll do shockingly well,” he said, pointing for inspiration to Ron Unz’s run against Gov. Pete Wilson in  1994, when he won 34% of the Republican primary vote.

“It seems odd that John Burton can just scratch me off the list,” Kaus said of the CDP chairman. “He’s a little like Ahmed Chalabi in Iraq.”

See, that’s another reason — besides the fact that he’s a blog hero — that Kaus should be allowed to speak: he’s entertaining. Which is a lot more than we can say for most of the characters who will be hogging the microphone at the convention.

Offshore Obama: The president’s Sister Souljah play on expanding offshore oil drilling, at least off the coasts of red states,  won’t change the debate over Governor Schwarzmuscle’s push for the Tranquillon Ridge project in Santa Barbara (the defining piece on the issue is here ): Arnold will keep trying to resurrect it, and both sides in the enviro feud over its virtues will claim that Obama’s new policy confirms their position is the correct one.

Green backers of the plan, to allow the PXP energy company a state lease to drill from an existing platform in federal waters, can properly argue that the Administration’s decision not to allow new drilling off California removes, at least for now, the specter of the Minerals Management Service awarding new federal drilling rights for the site, after the current lease expires.

That issue has been central to the debate about whether an agreement with PXP, negotiated by the Environmental Defense Center, has enforceable “end dates” for drilling.

However, opponents of the project can now rightfully claim that last year’s vociferous campaign against T-Ridge by much of the state’s environmental community was partly responsible for the hands-off California policy, by sending a clear and strong political signal to Obama that he’d be touching a very hot stove in California if he even suggested expanded drilling here.

If Schwarzenegger now gets his way on T-Ridge, it will re-open the door for drill-baby-drill types to point to the new state lease as evidence that expanded drilling off the coast is still politically tenable.

Calbuzz bottom line: Advantage opponents.