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Posts Tagged ‘LA Times’



Jerry’s Challenge, Tony V’s Play, Arianna’s Aura

Monday, December 13th, 2010

Gov.-elect Jerry Brown’s Budget Teach-In last week in Sacramento was refreshing in its openness — with Brown and other presenters warning that the state’s budget shortfall is now estimated at about $28 billion between now and July 2012. No smoke. No mirrors. Just cold ugly facts.

But the gathering at Memorial Auditorium only took about 12 seconds to demonstrate anew that the fundamental conflict in Sacramento will not be solved by gathering everyone in a room together, sitting around the fireplace and singing kumbaya. Collegiality and civility certainly have been in short supply among the locusts fine men and women California voters have sent to the capital on their behalf.  But the principal contradiction is not a matter of congeniality — it remains political and ideological.

Most of the Democrats, and all of their leaders, believe the state’s budget shortfall is a revenue problem. They think taxes aren’t properly distributed and that solutions will be found by increasing revenues.

Most of the Republicans, and all of their leaders, believe the state’s budget shortfall is a spending problem. They think cutting unnecessary and overly generous state spending is the road to salvation.

KQED’s John Myers outlined the conflict nicely last week under the headline: “Jerry, Meet Gridlock; Gridlock, Jerry.”

Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger did no better — and some would argue a lot worse — than his Democratic predecessor, Gray Davis, at placing California on a firm financial footing. As he skips town, he leaves behind a huge mess that former-and-future Gov. Brown now must try to clean up.

Rumors abound that Jerry is planning to craft an austere budget which he will use as Exhibit A to obtain from voters some sort of temporary tax increase in June, or perhaps even a measure granting voters in cities, counties and school districts the authority to raise taxes with a majority vote or at least something less than two-thirds.

That would certainly return decision-making to local communities, “closer to the people” as he said in his campaign commercials. This of course could only succeed if Republicans and conservatives did not wage war against it. Which brings us back to the principal contradiction, which is a matter of ideology not civility.

To a cartoonist, like our Tom Meyer, it’s all a huge pile of garbage that’s been left behind by the previous administration and Legislature.  It’s hard to argue with that.


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What does Tony V want (don’t ask the LAT): Not since M.C. Escher has there been such a perfect image of bizarre and inescapable bureaucracy as the By God Los Angeles Times displayed over the past week in its  mishandling of an important political story involving hometown mayor Tony Villaraigosa.

Villaraigosa was in Sacramento on Tuesday to deliver the opening speech of the big conference on the state’s future sponsored by the Public Policy Institute of California, which drew about 600 political and policy types, including the likes of such national names as Judy Woodruff, Van Jones and Dan Balz of the Washpost.

Despite an early morning speaking slot that preceded the day’s first panel, focused on education, Tony V promptly made news: Villaraigosa, whose labor organizing and Sacramento political careers featured fierce advocacy for teacher unions, surprised his weed whacking audience by issuing a harsh denunciation of those very unions:

What is stopping us from changing direction?

Why, for so long, have we allowed denial and indifference to defeat action? I do not raise this question lightly, and I do not come to my conclusion from a lack of experience. I was a legislative advocate for the California Teachers Association, and I was a union organizer for United Teachers of Los Angeles. From the time I entered the California State Assembly and became Speaker, to my tenure as Mayor of Los Angeles, I have fought to fund and reform California’s public schools.

Over the past five years, while partnering with students, parents and non-profits, business groups, higher education, charter organizations, school district leadership, elected board members and teachers, there has been one, unwavering roadblock to reform: UTLA union leadership. While not the biggest problem facing our schools, they have consistently been the most powerful defenders of the status quo…Regrettably, they have yet to join us as we have forged ahead with a reform agenda.

Tony V’s deliberately provocative comments, coming from California’s most prominent Latino politician, not to mention a lifelong union goon, were a big deal, voiced at a time when teacher unions are increasingly embattled by national education reform efforts, starting in the White House.

And that’s how the matter was treated – by almost everyone except Hizzoner’s hometown paper.

Within minutes, David Sanchez, president of the California Teachers Association, had fired back at the mayor during a panel discussion that followed his speech. The relentless Jack Chang filed a post about the conflict on the Bee’s Capitol Alert blog not long after, as did the invaluable John Fensterwald on his state education blog .

By the next morning the reform-minded Joe Mathews had characterized Villaraigosa’s remarks as “the most significant speech given by a California politician this year,” and a variety of broadcast and wire reports, along with several newspaper editorials strongly supporting the mayor’s sentiments, were circulating.

And amid all the urgent buzz over the next two days, the L.A. Times produced . . . radio silence.

Not a word from any beat, anywhere on its far-flung editorial depth chart, which is rivaled only by the forces that gathered for the invasion of Normandy for organizational complexity and resources.

Our motto: if it’s news, it’s news to us.

Finally, on Friday morning, Times editors managed to clue their readers into what their mayor had been up to that week. A double byline story by Patrick McDonnell, who writes about labor, and City Hall reporter David Zahniser,  which also included reporting by Teresa Watanabe and Jason Song of the education desk, finally caught up with the news – a full 72 hours after Villaraigosa spoke.

“I knew it would cause a firestorm,” Villaraigosa said in an interview Thursday, two days after the speech.

This just in: Big firestorm slowly heading toward L.A.

In the end, it was left to Cathy Decker,  the paper’s ever reliable state politics editor, to clean up the elephantine mess with a Sunday thumbsucker that addressed the key question puzzling Calbuzz readers: WTF is Tony V up to?

“For a Democratic politician who is presumed to have ambitions once he is termed out of office in 2013, Villaraigosa’s moves were intriguing,” Decker wrote.

To those more Machiavellian in nature — say, the entire political establishment — other possibilities came to mind: Villaraigosa was angling for an Obama administration job. He was declaring independence from party positions and powers in preparation for a future statewide run. Or he was trying to redefine his mayoralty in a way that could reap benefits down the line, were he to decide to exercise options one or two….

Part of the difficulty in divining what Villaraigosa was trying to accomplish last week is the parallel difficulty in figuring out where he might be going.

Decker seemed to hit upon the nut of the matter when she noted that, regardless of Tony V’s secret aspirations, he needs to bump up his profile, now, to avoid being generationally squeezed out, between California’s Democratic Geezer Trio and its cool new Dynamic Duo:

When he first ran for mayor in 2001, Villaraigosa was seen as one of the Democratic Party’s up-and-comers. Now the senior Democrats — Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and Gov.-elect Jerry Brown — are in their 70s. Villaraigosa will be pushing 60 when the next big race occurs — Feinstein’s Senate seat is up in 2012, though she has said she plans to run again. Catching up with the mayor is a younger group of Democrats, personified by the incoming lieutenant governor and attorney general, Gavin Newsom and Kamala Harris. Both are in their 40s.

For upward momentum, or just a legacy, Villaraigosa has to make good on his basic pledges: to lower crime, improve schools and increase jobs. Crime has been down, but joblessness is high. Voters can cut mayors slack during national downturns, but no such slack is likely when it comes to the state of the schools. Villaraigosa himself said years ago that voters should “absolutely” hold him responsible for reforming schools, and unless he can convince voters that the unions are to blame, they are likely to hold him to it.

Today’s sign the end of civilization is near: Remind us again why she gets to be on “Meet the Press”?

Brown Hustling to Stem Damage from Whoregate

Saturday, October 9th, 2010

The made-for-the-tabloids fracas triggered by an unidentified associate of Jerry Brown’s who called Meg Whitman a “whore” demonstrates a fundamental dynamic of California’s campaign for governor: it’s Krusty’s race to lose, and he’s entirely capable of doing just that.

At a time when Team eMeg was clearly on the defensive, having stumbled badly in their handling of disclosures about her employment of an illegal immigrant, the incredibly stupid, unforced error by Team Jerry provides Republican Whitman a gift-horse opportunity to slow the momentum his campaign had begun to build and to stay within striking distance of the Democratic front-runner. [For a good time, click on Miss Adelaide above]

As a policy matter, the point Brown’s aide sought to make about Whitman — during a free-wheeling strategy discussion that was embarrassingly revealed after Krusty failed to ring off a call to the L.A. police union and the private conversation was captured on the organization’s voicemail — was well-taken:

While eMeg likes to cast herself as a reformer taking on the political status quo, it was she, not Brown, who cut a sweetheart deal with the cops to exempt them from her proposal to roll back pension benefits for public employees, in exchange for the endorsement of the union. This may undercut Whitman’s ability to use the slander effectively: if she brings it up, her quid pro quo with the cops comes to light. As Steve Lopez of the By God L.A. Times put it Friday: Whitman is not a whore, but a hypocrite.

As a political matter, however, the substantive issue was largely overshadowed by the ruckus over the Brown adviser’s choice of language.

In a race between two male candidates, referring to your rival as a “whore” who does the bidding of special interests would be unlikely to attract much attention. In a race against a woman, however, the characterization sounds sexist and demeaning, regardless that it was spoken in a supposedly private conversation and twisted out of context by Whitman and her allies.

While the cable and chat shows on TV fed on the story like sharks on fresh meat on Friday, the impact of the insult when broadcast is weakened because they routinely bleep the word “whore.”

However, appearances and perception matter hugely because one of the central arguments of Brown’s campaign is that  “character matters.” Even if there’s little evidence that the incident will move voters, it surely has the capacity to sully Brown’s image.

Mindful of the potential political impact, Krusty on Friday quickly rolled out the endorsement of the California chapter of the National Organization for Women. Even leaders of that solidly pro-Democrat group, however, finessed their comments to acknowledge the insult implicit in the offending word.

“It’s an inappropriate use of sexist language,” NOW president Patty Bellasalma told Calbuzz, when we asked if there would a political backlash among women voters, “but it’s not an inappropriate characterization of what Meg Whitman did…She carved out a two tier system and accepted 100% police pensions in order to get their endorsement and a $450,000 independent expenditure.”

Bellasalma insisted to us that NOW’s endorsement was made “a few days ago,” adding that “we didn’t run around and get an endorsement in response to the news.” But she acknowledged that, “the timing is obviously somewhat advantageous to the Brown campaign and we’re in favor of that.”

Brown, like Democrats across the state, counts on a significant gender gap to deliver a strong majority of female voters. In an effort to cut this advantage, however, the Whitman camp immediately seized on the comment to portray Brown as disdainful of women in general.

“The use of the term ‘whore’ is an insult to both Meg Whitman and to the women of California,” said eMeg spokeshuman Sarah Pompei. “This is an appalling and unforgivable smear against Meg Whitman. At the very least Mr. Brown tacitly approved this despicable slur and he himself may have used the term at least once on this recording.”

For their part, Krusty’s allies and spinners insist the controversy will not have lasting impact.

“Women are a pretty intelligent electorate,” Ballasalma said. “Women vote on the substance, not on political tag lines.” Democratic pollster Paul Maslin, who is unaffiliated with the Brown campaign, was more blunt: “Whore schmore,” he said, predicting no substantial effect on voters.

Beyond the gender question, however, this is clearly a distraction for Brown’s campaign and allowed the Whitman camp to change the subject from the issue that has dominated the campaign for the past two weeks: her employment for nine years of an undocumented worker named Nicky Diaz, who has publicly denounced the Republican for treating her “like garbage.”

Also, anyone who listens to the tape of the call (which the police union fed to the LA Times) cannot help but be struck by the frat house tone and texture of the discussion among Brown’s top advisers, whose voices and arguments are a cacophony of  churlish crosstalk.

While this may be of interest only to political junkies and insiders, it also reinforces the perception of Brown’s overall lack of discipline, coming after he was forced to clean up two previous loose-lipped, foot-shooting episodes.

A few months ago, he compared Whitman’s campaign to the Nazi propaganda machine of Joseph Goebbels, drawing criticism from some Jewish groups; later, he snarked publicly about Bill Clinton’s honesty and sexual dalliances, at a time when top Democrats were negotiating for the ex-president to endorse Brown.

Sterling Clifford, Brown’s spokeshuman, said the atmosphere inside the Brown campaign is no different than any other political office he worked in: “You shouldn’t take a weird recording as an indication of what life is like in our office.”

Brown allies also argued that while the illegal immigrant saga reinforced an existing narrative about Whitman as a super-wealthy business executive isolated from the concerns of ordinary people, the “whore” controversy underscores no story line except Gandalf’s continuing ineptitude with technology and inability to use the damn phone properly.

Pompei of the Whitman campaign did not respond to a request for additional comments.

The Death of Truth II; Meg’s Big Decision; Bill 4 Jerry

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

You see an ad on TV in which a candidate or someone else says flatly, “______ (my opponent) raised taxes.” And you say to yourself, “Gee, that must be true or they wouldn’t allow it on TV.”

Wrong. Under the Federal Communications Act, which governs broadcast stations (because the airwaves, allegedly at least, belong to the people), candidates may lie with impunity.

In fact, the law “requires broadcasters who run candidate ads to show them uncensored, even if the broadcasters believe their content to be offensive or false,” as Brooks Jackson, explained in the best primer on the issue on the web.

Ironically, that’s the same Brooks Jackson, formerly of CNN, whose erroneous report is the evidence Bill Clinton is referring to in the Meg Whitman ad that falsely accuses Jerry Brown of raising taxes when he was governor. (Clinton, btw, has since denounced the ad.)

The First Amendment, which we all remember says “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech,” makes it really difficult for anyone to craft legislation allowing any third party to adjudicate what is and is not “true” or “factual” in political speech.

All a candidate has to do is show a picture in the ad of himself or herself and have a statement saying he or she approved the ad. And they can lie away, which they often do. (For further discussion of this phenomenon see “The Death of Truth: eMeg and the Politics of Lying.”)

Which is why, according to Brown’s mouth organ The Sterling of Clifford, “Most people assume what they see in political ads is not true. People see a commercial and they go to whatever news source they trust to confirm or reject what they just heard.”

This is not the same in commercial speech, which is where the confusion comes in.

Ford cannot run an ad saying its latest car will get 100 miles to the gallon if that’s not a fact. If a commercial product makes a claim that’s not substantiated by facts or is not a subjective observation like “It’s Amazing!” then the ad can be censored by the TV station or network and the sponsor may be liable for damages.

A candidate’s right to lie in commercials, however, does not necessarily extend to political committees and other political players besides candidates themselves. That’s because when broadcast stations run ads from committees making charges, they may be held liable if the person skewered decides to sue for libel or slander.

Now, for a public figure to win a libel or slander suit is really, really, really hard because he or she has to show that the person or entity being sued knew the facts were wrong and broadcast them anyway with malicious intention. The standard is deliberately difficult for public figures in order to encourage robust public debate without fear of being charged with false defamation.

So, Calbuzzers, when you see an ad on TV, check to see who paid for it at the end. If it was put up by a candidate, no one had to say whether it was true or not before it was broadcast. That’s why newspapers, online sites, radio and TV reporters pay attention to what’s in those political ads. They’re the only ones who can tell you whether they’re based on truth or falsehood.

Department of Dumb Ideas: Regular readers of Calbuzz know that we have nothing but respect and affection for our friend George Skelton at the ByGodLA Times (he’s got even more institutional memory than we do!). But his piece arguing that Jerry Brown should pledge to serve only one term suggested that George is desperately seeking fresh material about the current state of politics, even if he has to resort to what he knows is a bonehead idea. Which, he acknowledged by saying: “I don’t know of anyone else who thinks it’s a good idea.” You got that right, George. Unless Krusty — should he happen to beat eMeg — wants to start out his third term as the lamest duck ever to sit in the horseshoe’s back office.

Yes, no, maybe so: Meg Whitman kept bobbing and weaving on Proposition 23 Monday, telling the Sacramento Bee editorial board she was pretty sure she’d be making her stance on the most high-profile measure on the November ballot clear any day now.

When asked about Proposition 23, which would suspend the state’s global warming law AB 32, Whitman said she would release a list of her proposition positions at the end of this week or at the start of next week.

Or maybe whenever the eMeg Empire marketing department gets around to telling her what she thinks.

Whitman has been all over the lot on the out-of-state-oil-company-financed measure, aimed at blocking California’s landmark legislation; she’s variously bashed AB32 as “a job killer,” said she favored suspending it for one year instead of indefinitely and just completely dithered on the matter, as she did with the Bee ed board.

A few hours before her latest procrastination, Brown, who opposes Prop. 23, stepped up the pressure on eMeg at a campaign stop with green industry types at a SoCal solar company:

Meg Whitman wants to have it both ways. She wants credit for supporting the environment and green jobs, but she won’t do what is necessary to support this vital industry. We need a governor who will do what is right, not a governor who doesn’t know what is right.

When she finally does get around to taking a position, we’ll be surprised if Whitman comes out in favor of Prop. 23.

Despite efforts to pressure her from the right she simply has nothing to gain by backing the measure. The election between her and Brown will be decided among independents, who strongly favor AB32; sure, the right-wingers will be grumpy if she doesn’t support their who-really-knows-if-global-warming-is really-real  proposal, but what else are they going to do – write in Chuck DeVore?

Bill Brushes Off Jerry’s Gaffe: In an interview with Yahoo! News and the Huffington Post, Bubba said all’s good between him and Jerry Brown and that he understands why the old man made his stupid joke about not having taxes with this state. Also: “Unbelievable,” Clinton said. “Meg Whitman made me a household face again and my younger self, too, which I’m very grateful for.”

Brown’s New Ads: Gandalf Strikes Back at eMegoth

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

Our first reaction upon seeing Jerry Brown’s new 15-second ad-lets was to have our attorneys, Dewey, Cheatem & Howe,  draft a sharply worded cease and desist letter complaining about his rip-off of our Pinocchi-Meg icon:

Dear Attorney General Brown,

We are the proprietors of all copyright in an artistic work entitled “Calbuzz” and have reserved all rights in said work. It has come to our attention that your work entitled “15 second campaign ad” is substantially similar to our copyrighted work. Permission was neither asked nor granted to reproduce our work and your work therefore constitutes infringement of our rights.

Before paying our shysters the eight-hundred-twenty-five bucks they wanted for writing the thing, however, we conducted a wide-ranging, 10-minute investigation of the internets which revealed we weren’t exactly the first to come up with this whole nasal erection thing.

The Real Deal

The use of Pinocchio in political ads dates back at least to the 1988 New Jersey governor’s race, when both candidates put up an ad morphing the other into the little wooden boy, and it’s been put to considerable use since then in races from Georgia to Wisconsin and all points in between (not to mention serving as the visual premise for the WaPo fact checker feature, online sales of Bill Clinton watches and Irish bread and the subject of at least one very nasty corporate lawsuit).

At the moment, however, Brown is much less interested in whether his new ads are terribly original (one fresh touch: the little hat flying onto eMeg’s head) than in whether they do the job for which they’re intended: stop the bleeding, some of it self-inflicted, he suffered in the first major media clash  of the governor’s race.

Brown went up on Labor Day with a pretty mediocre positive spot idealizing his record in his first turn as governor. Whatever else it did, the ad left eMeg a big opening for a counter-punch, which she delivered in the form of the now famous Bubba-disses-Jerry 30-second spot that’s been the sole focus of the campaign since last Friday.

Having now secured Clinton’s endorsement (if only after his empty-both-barrels-into-the-feet weekend performance) Brown with his bookend spots now seeks to  a) contain whatever residual damage was caused by Meg’s most recent attack, and b) move voters’ attention off his centuries-long record and  back to examining eMeg’s integrity and bona fides for the job.

As a political matter, it’s the right play but a strictly tactical move. The larger problem for Brown remains two-fold.

First, the campaign needs to position him as a future-oriented candidate who’s living, more or less, in the here and now, instead of some historic geezer who exists in grainy old black and white footage from the days when Walter Mondale was a strapping youth.

So far, voters have mostly heard about what Brown did back in the Jimmy Carter era, this at a time when half of California’s population wasn’t even born until the end of Reagan’s second term.

Second, Brown needs to find a sustained way of making Whitman seem too threatening to voters who are shopping for change at a time when recession grips California and the state’s government is utterly dysfunctional.

So far Whitman has done a better job of portraying Brown as tired-old more-of-the-same labor hack than he has done of painting her as a corporate tool who wants to go to Sacramento to screw the middle class and benefit her cronies in the board room. These are the competing narratives that define the ground on which the election will be won or lost.

What was he thinking, Chapter II: Amid all the coverage in recent days of Brown’s Lewinsky meltdown, Steve Harmon reported some interesting stuff that no one else had.

Harmon interviewed Calbuzzer cowboy libertarian Patrick Dorinson, who used to work for Brown back in the day, when Gandalf was chairman of the state Democratic party, and who offered some personal insights about why Krusty decided to indulge his logorrhea with some nitwit one-liners about Clinton.

Brown, he said, “starts to get that flow of consciousness going, which can be good in that you get what he wants to tell you. The problem is he doesn’t know when to stop.”

Dorinson said he thought Brown’s line  — “I did not have taxes with this state” — was “clever. It was a very interesting twist of a phrase if you look at it from a satirist’s or blogger’s point of view. But you’re not running for chief blogger. Once you make a mistake like that, it’s hard to pull back.

“Sometimes he thinks what he says is funny to him and the circle he’s with. But you’re in the middle of a battle when people’s opinions are being formed.”

That sounds pretty close to it.

Media Cowardice: Let’s assume, for the moment, that the California Teachers Association ad that says Meg Whitman would cut education funding by $7 billion is wrong. It’s a made-up number the CTA cooked, based on comments Whitman has made about how much she’d cut the budget.

It’s a matter of conjecture, really. But one that cuts so sharply into voters’ perceptions that Whitman has pulled out all the stops to get the ad off the air – threatening to sue stations for libel and slander. “The spot is a lie,” wrote Whitman campaign attorney Thomas W. Hiltachk. “As you know, your station can be held liable for slanderous or libelous statements made by a non-candidate sponsor of political advertising.”

This is ridiculous. Whitman is a public figure so libeling or slandering her is really difficult and last time we checked, even the CTA has the right to buy an ad broadcasting its opinion, even if it defames Whitman.

Of course, Whitman’s ad saying Jerry Brown raised taxes is just as “demonstrably false” (to use the Whitman campaign’s words) as they believe the CTA ad is. Are they pulling down their ad? No way.

What’s outrageous is that, according to the LA Times, “Time Warner and Comcast cable, and broadcast stations (LA), KNTV(SF), KABC (LA), KTTV (LA) have pulled the ads from the air. A number of other stations are also considering pulling the ads.”

What gutless, two-faced, chicken-livered yellow bellies. If all you have to do is assert that an ad is “demonstrably false,” half the political ads in America would never be allowed to air.

Apparently Meg will push around anybody she can, and her eagerness to use her millions to bully news organizations with the best lawyers money can buy seems like just the latest glimpse of a troublesome personality that thinks shoving underlings around her office is business as usual.

Next move: Watch for Brown’s lawyers to threaten to sue broadcast stations that carry any ad that says he raised taxes. The California Department of Finance has proved this is not true, so why not use eMeg’s tactics?

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?