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Press Clips: Sartre & Beckett vs. Krusty & Hobbes

Friday, March 11th, 2011

Top Calbuzz executives assigned our Department of Belle-Lettres and Ersatz Erudition the most pressing, mission critical job of the week: finding a literary reference to best describe the California Doomsday Scenario.

As the on-again-off-again closed door negotiations between Pope Jerry and Republican Capitol bishoprics  kept flickering, it became clearer by the hour that if their talks collapsed, the state was headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.

If, as our sources insist, the governor simply won’t countenance a Democrat-only solution to get his tax extension plan on the ballot, the specter looming over Sacramento, should Republicans stiff him, is that he’ll next put forth a cuts-only fiscal plan, which his party’s lawmakers will never accept, leaving the whole shtunk exactly…nowhere…

And so: What story, what narrative, what metaphor can our fine-writing-done-cheap trolls employ to cut to the chase in labeling this dreadful state of affairs – and that also fits in the headline?

Due consideration, of course, was paid to Sartre’s “No Exit” (“Hell is other people”), to Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” (“Nothing to be done”) and, not least, “Ghostbusters II” (“Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling! 40 years of darkness! Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!”)

And then, amid much mulling, what you like to call your Jesuit-trained governor came up with the answer himself: Leviathan.

Krusty’s elegant bookish solution surfaced in a conversation with our friend George Skelton, who churned out the most enterprising budget story of the week. While others in the Sacramento press corps kept writing the same process story (we name no names -  there’d be too many) Skelton captured the Little Pulitzer for Best Political Commentary That Includes Food.

Scoring the first substantive interview with the governor since the inauguration, George covered all the bases: 1) finagling his way inside Jerry and Anne’s loft, 2) copping a free turkey and cheese sandwich (and crucially, working the food into the story; 3) winning some face time with Sutter. All that plus, characteristically, asking Brown the key question: what does the future hold in the not-unlikely event you can’t reach a compromise with the GOP?

Events will unfold like this, (Brown) predicts without hesitation, if the Legislature fails to muster the required two-thirds majority vote … “I put up an all-cuts budget” … Then the Democrats change [the all-cuts budget] and put in gimmicks. Then I veto it. Then everybody sits there until we run out of money. It’s not going to be a pretty sight. It’s like one-two: No tax, all cuts, gimmicky budget, veto, paralysis.”

“It’ll be a war of all against all,” Brown added.

Or, as we say around the newsroom: “Bellum omnium contra omnes.”

Enclosed by the temporal boundaries of space and time in his (print is dead) column, Skelton unfortunately lacked the breathing room to fully explicate Brown’s classical reference. No worries – that’s who we are and what we do.

Bellum omnium contra omnes,” as every school child knows, was coined by Thomas Hobbes in 1651, and is pretty much the only thing anyone ever remembers about reading “Leviathan” in Humanities I in freshman year:

In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

Now, we don’t necessarily subscribe to the Hobbesian notion that mankind — in the absence of a powerful central authority — is innately avaricious and self-destructive. But let’s face it: if California can’t get a budget, there will be blood.

Forces on the left will set out to soak the rich, slap taxes on oil drilling and services, split the property tax roll and give communities power to raise taxes with a majority vote. Forces on the right will seek to cap state spending, unravel collective bargaining rights of public employees, slash pensions, eliminate union shops and decimate social services and environmental regulations.

Non belle visus.

That said, Calbuzz does strongly agree with Hobbes on at least one key matter of the human condition:

All generous minds have a horror of what are commonly called ‘Facts.’ They are the brute beasts of the intellectual domain.

Amen, brother.

Furry little monster: Speaking of nasty, brutish and short, Grover Norquist turned up this week in the biggest grandstand play since Terrell Owens stole pom-poms from  cheerleaders for the 49ers.

In a less than dazzling display of political gamesmanship, GOP honcho Ron Nehring trumpeted a letter he’d addressed to Brown, which was scooped up by Costco Carla Marinucci, purporting to invite him to debate the anti-tax tyrant at next weekend’s Republican state convention.

Brown mouthpiece Gil Duran responded with just the right tone, offering to send the aforementioned Sutter to debate the Great Toad Man.

Left   unanswered and unassuaged, however, was Nehring’s pitiable lament that Governor Gandalf was behind a “variety of verbal attacks” heaped on Norquist, as editorialists, columnists and sensitive New Media Guys have recently called him out for threatening retribution to any GOP lawmakers who dare cast a vote allowing people who actually, you know, live in California, to decide the fate of Krusty’s tax plan.

Alarmed by Nehring’s allegation, our Department of Ethical Standards and Cheap Shot Journalism Prophylactics swiftly checked our clips and determined that our recent characterizations of the D.C. demagogue – “nihilist,” “extremist,” “Emperor Nero” – could in no way be construed as “verbal attacks.” Whew.

Recommended further reading: Politico examines a hint of a split between Norquist and some establishment right-wingmen, while Washpost whiz kid socialist Ezra Klein conducts a scrupulously fair Q&A with the porcine provocateur.

ICYMI: What can we say, we’re suckers for a doggie conga line.

Coming Up Next: Brokaw Takes on eMeg and Krusty

Monday, October 11th, 2010

First there was the Duel in Davis. Then the Fracas in Fresno. And now comes the Brokaw Brawl.

The former NBC News anchor will be the third conspicuous presence in the match-up on Tuesday at Dominican University between Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman. The substance, tone and texture of the debate will be entirely decided by Tom Brokaw who, despite having no intimate knowledge about the race for governor, has a facility for asking candidates questions that probe the thinking beneath their talking points.

For Gandalf, that should not be much of a problem: it doesn’t take much to get him to talk about the philosophical underpinnings of his political ideas. His only risk is letting loose a verbal arabesque that references G.K. Chesterton, St. Ignatius and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and leaves listeners asking, “WTF is he talking about?”

But we have no idea how eMeg will handle the challenge because as far as we know she’s never submitted to an interview where her political ontology has been revealed. She’s a smart woman with an accomplished business resume but she didn’t even vote for 28 years before she woke up one day and decided she just couldn’t let California fail.

In the 2008 presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McCain, Brokaw took time between questions from the audience and the interwebs to ask questions like:

– “Quick discussion: Is health care in America a privilege, a right, or a responsibility?”

– “Should we fund a Manhattan-like project that develops a nuclear bomb to deal with global energy and alternative energy or should we fund 100,000 garages across America, the kind of industry and innovation that developed Silicon Valley?”

– “Let’s see if we can establish tonight the Obama doctrine and the McCain doctrine for the use of United States combat forces in situations where there’s a humanitarian crisis, but it does not affect our national security.”

– “This requires only a yes or a no. Ronald Reagan famously said that the Soviet Union was the evil empire. Do you think that Russia under Vladimir Putin is an evil empire?”

Of course, a well-trained seal candidate can revert to talking points, even in the face of a thoughtful question. But at the risk of looking like a shallow evader – especially if the moderator or the opponent points out that he or she never answered the question.

Consider the possibilities. In a moving 2006 commencement address to Stanford’s undergraduates, Brokaw spoke of a world of perpetual contradictions, unintended consequences and unexpected realities, and he described how he admires most people who gave up comfort and convention to make a difference.

He said he could hobnob with elites anywhere in the world but that he never felt so intellectually alive as the time he heard a young nomadic tribesman in Mongolia describe riding his horse 20 miles through freezing temperatures just for the chance to vote.

Will he use the passion he has about commitment and participation to ask Whitman why she never voted for all those years? Or to ask Brown why, if he’s genuinely committed to democracy, doesn’t he advocate a majority vote for passing taxes?

Just because Brokaw is in charge, however, doesn’t mean the candidates won’t have their own debate strategies. Brown, believing he is leading in the polls, has no reason to attack and every reason to project himself as an elder statesman who does not have to wrestle in the dirt. Voters know he’s got what it takes to be governor; they just want to know he’ll keep his hands off their money.

But if Whitman believes she’s behind (as she apparently did going into the Univision debate), she will want to make Brown bleed and pressure him to make an error. She’ll want him on defense (which is not that hard if you attack his record). But as we’ve seen, Brown is a consummate counter-puncher and is not afraid of breaking the conventions of TV format if he has to. So if Whitman comes at him, it’s a move that carries risks, especially when her No. 1 challenge is to demonstrate that she has the skill, knowledge and temperament to be a governor.

In an interview with comrade Joe Garofoli of the Chronicle back in August, Brokaw, who said he won’t be a “patsy,” even though he has been following California politics from Montana. “The big issues obviously are spending and taxes and special interests and the referendum procedure. These are all critical issues for California,” he said. “The large issue for California is, ‘Are the golden years over?’ Or, is there a new era for California? And if there is, how do we get to it and bring everybody on board?”

Let’s hope he doesn’t ask vapid questions like that because he’ll just get the same drivel the candidates spew on the stump.

Tuesday’s debate may serve as a pivot point for the rest of the campaign. We’re not sure when Whitman will make her next move against Brown on TV:  Will it be before the debate or after? Will she put something up that she wants Brokaw to ask about, or will it be something she’d rather not have brought up in the debate?

Most consultants we’ve talked to in the past few days are predicting that Whitman will throw whatever’s left of the kitchen sink at Brown in the next weeks. Some think she’ll just hammer him further about taxes and spending – since the Armies of eMeg believe that’s his weak spot.

Others foresee nastier hits, perhaps something aimed at women tying the “whore” comment to Brown’s handling of his friend and aide Jacques Barzaghi (whom Brown belatedly fired long after he’d been charged with sexual harassment) and to his questioning, in 1995, the value of mammograms (a debate that is still going on in the medical world, btw).

As for the mammogram issue, a story which got fed  to Maggie Haberman of Politico in New York like cheap bait to a fish, we have two notes. First, this from the (All Bow Down) New York Times – an article noting that the usefulness of mammogram screening is still hotly debated in medical circles. And the quote of the week from Brown’s spokeshuman Sterling Clifford (or Clifford Sterling, if you prefer):

“Jerry Brown opposes cancer in all cases.”

Meyer Dings Bell, Carly Snarls & Snarks, Press Picks

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

Before the City of Bell (“promoting a healthy, balanced and moral lifestyle”)  became a global  symbol of greed, rapacity and plunder by scumbag public officials, the town was best known as the site of the heist of 55 Oscar statuettes from a loading dock on March 8, 2000.

Although three trucking company employees were sentenced to probation in the case, all of them pleaded “no contest,” and their professions of innocence at various points in the proceedings suggested to Some Observers – we name no names – that they were set up to take the fall for the caper, while the real culprits remained at large.

Today Tom Meyer, internationally renowned editorial cartoonist, fashion plate and world class Calbuzzer, tackles the lingering mystery of the case, and with uncanny Holmesian intuition, solves it at last.

Not available in stores: Calbuzzers interested in purchasing a full color print of a Meyer cartoon can email Tom at tom@meyertoons.

Don’t be a jerk: Shortly after Roger Simon returned to work at Politico last month after a dreadful illness, he wrote a lovely little column on the subject of civility, specifically the lack of it in politics, called “Impolite Pols Face Doom.”

Perhaps inspired by his experience in cheating death, Simon riffed on a recent survey showing people across the nation rank “politics and government” as the most uncivil arena in American life,  with 72 percent of those polled saying it’s more rude and disrespectful than talk radio and high school, at 59 percent, Hollywood at 56 percent and even blogs, at 51 percent, all perceived as bastions of greater civility than The Game.

“Listen up, you morons,” Simon began:

We, as a people, pay a price for the jerks among us: Nearly half of all Americans say they are “tuning out” of government and politics, 46 percent are tuning out of opinion pieces and editorials in the media, and 38 percent are tuning out of news coverage and reporting.

His piece, and others on the same subject, came to mind when we received the latest copy of “Boxer Bites,” a regular emailed attack feature of Carly Fiorina’s campaign for Senate, and decided that, in a campaign year when spending millions on the low road is just table stakes, Hurricane Carly hands down wins the prize for absolute pure nastiness.

We’ve certainly done our share of ripping Babs for her arrogance and sense of entitlement, true that, but still, there’s  something vaguely creepy about the unrelentingly toxic tone of the constant ad hominem attacks coming out of iCarly’s corner.

From the Mean Girls cattiness she accidentally revealed with her comments about Boxer’s hair, to the sophomoric sarcasm of “Boxer Bites” and her overall habit of making criticisms more personal than political, Fiorina’s attitudes and language echo the caustic corrosiveness of Sarah Palin, even as  they recall the personal viciousness with which Carly set about to smash the civility and respectfulness of the “H-P Way” corporate culture when she moved in as CEO. An excerpt from Friday’s eblast:

Perhaps it’s good that Barbara Boxer is visiting an employment-training center today. As a career politician who has been in elected office for more than three decades, the transition back into the real world is likely to be a rocky one. Boxer may very well need some job-skills training in order to find new employment after the people of California fire her on Election Day. (After all, bitter partisanship and election-year grandstanding aren’t exactly marketable job skills in the real world).

As you would know better than almost anyone, Carly.

Notes from the cutting room floor

A young and hotly talented political writer looks at the 15th SD race.

A nice and nicely restrained conservative takedown of Obama.

Memo to Meg: Washpost’s conventional wisdom on self-funders.

Tom Friedman watch: A mere eight uses of “I” in 800 word column.

The smartest meta political piece in a while on culture and ideology.

Why didn’t somebody warn us Obama has a David Brooks fetish?

What makes Dick Blum run?

The Girl with the Seriously Dead Author.

And speaking of civility

eMeg Asks: What Does Jerry Have to Hide?

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

In the summer silly season of California’s 1990 campaign for governor, a  strategist for Dianne Feinstein used to say that running against Pete Wilson  was like “getting up every morning and having somebody throw marbles in front of you” all day.

The description perfectly expressed the challenge of facing the aggressive, always-on-offense style of Republican Wilson’s camp, which worked assiduously to keep Democrat Difi constantly off balance before defeating her in November.

The phrase came to mind Tuesday with word that Meg Whitman’s campaign  has filed a Public Records Act request seeking reams of documents at the state Department of Justice, ostensibly to discover if Attorney General Jerry Brown has been nefariously using state employees or resources to advance his bid for governor against eMeg.

The request, formally made by Sacramento GOP oppo research consultant Mark Bogetich, came one day after Seema Metha did a feature in the L.A. Times, which examined the line that Brown must walk between his official duties and campaign activities; the piece presented no evidence that he’d crossed it, nefariously or otherwise.

Rising with its usual, over-inflated self-righteousness, the eMeg Empire nonetheless pointed to Mehta’s story to explain its PRA demand, a cheap head fake used to justify a smart political play.

The demand, which Brown’s office has 10 days to answer, is a tactical move to strew marbles in Krusty’s path, a distraction that interferes with his effort to gain some traction, let alone momentum, in at least three ways:

1-It pushes out the idea that Brown must be guilty of something – planting the suggestion that he’s committed some kind of official misconduct into both the campaign debate and the public consciousness (especially if Team Whitman throws some advertising dough behind it).

By putting Brown in the position of having to prove a negative, in a year when politicians are more subject than ever to perceptions of chicanery, it sets up a new line of attack over his character, at a time when his camp is trying to push a narrative that questions her personal integrity; as the money quote from eMeg spokeshuman Sarah Pompei announcing the PRA request  clearly shows, Whitman is already treating her so-far baseless suspicions as proven fact:

After 40 years in politics, Governor Brown appears to be someone who will try to take advantage of his incumbency, even if it costs taxpayers money. Voters deserve to know what they’re spending on Jerry Brown’s personal P.R. campaign.”

Deserve to know “what they’re spending,” not “whether they’re spending,” mind you.

2-It opens the possibility that the records search might actually reveal something embarrassing or, at least, something commonplace that can be twisted to seem embarrassing.

The PRA letter from Bogetich  is actually pretty mundane: asking for hiring and payroll records, calendars and travel expense sheets (have a blast reading those maintenance logs for state cars, man) for DOJ employees who work on communications matters. Given Brown’s experience in office, and the micromanaging he does over anything involving media, it’s unlikely there are any bombshells there, but, hey, a girl can always hope.

Whatever else the PRA demand does, it creates a tiresome, day job distraction for Brown, his professional staff and his Merry Band of campaigners to locate, pull, examine and assess thousands of pages of boring documents, all of it time not spent plotting and running against eMeg.

3-It’s a brush back pitch that serves to warn Brown that he needs to be extremely careful in wielding the most effective weapon of his el cheapo campaign – the constant free publicity he receives from weighing in on every high-profile case, from Anna Nicole Smith to the Grim Sleeper, and suing every populist target from investment firms to health care insurers.

In putting Brown into a defensive posture, the move seeks to transform his greatest strength into a potential liability and make it harder for Krusty to frame the election as a referendum on Meg – and easier for her to make it about him.

It’s worth noting that Bogetich markets his firm by offering “political vulnerability research” that “helps clients…de-position opponents.” Orwell would be proud.

It’s also telling that he’s part of a broader oppo research division within the mighty Empire: in describing the operation a few months ago, Politico quoted an inside source who made a point we keep harping on:

We believe that (Brown) hasn’t undergone the rigors of modern campaigning. He hasn’t run a competitive race at this level since the early eighties. It’s a different news cycle than he has experienced. He’s incredibly skilled and incredibly talented. But this is a new challenge for him.

Not to worry Gandolf fans: he’ll gets things cranked up on the fax, as soon as the typeball gets replaced on the Selectric.

P.S. Things could be worse for Democrats.

If they had nominated Gavin Newsom instead of Brown, they would have had to contend with “vulnerability research” Bogetich was doing a while back on the cost of the only-in-San Francisco “Healthy Penis” campaign. (Answer: $122,575).

In case you missed it: Slate’s mashup of Mel Gibson’s abusive phone calls to Oksana Grigorieva and the trailer for his movie, “What Women Want,” is a must-see. Fair warning: X-rated and strictly not for the easily offended.

Jerry Brown: Grasshopper or Lotus Flower?

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

Today, Calbuzzard cartoonist Tom Meyer provides a rare, behind-the-scenes peek inside the inner sanctum of the state Attorney General’s campaign headquarters, and finds the Democratic nominee for governor… sitting on his ass. With anxious Democrats from one end of the state to the other wetting the bed over Krusty the General’s Sun Tzu fight-by-indirection approach to the battle for governor (“He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious” ) to be disquieting, if not downright scary. Meyer reports that Brown is nothing if not focused. What exactly it is he’s focused on is another issue.

Just in time for Christmas! Calbuzzers interested in owning a full color print of a Meyer cartoon (suitable for framing) should email Tom at tom@meyertoons.com .

As the world of eMeg turns: It’s a close call whether Meg Whitman’s performance on the campaign trail this week bore more resemblance to a) one of those old Saturday Night Live skits where Chevy Chase falls down a flight of stairs, trips, knocks over a full banquet table and lands flat on his ass or b) Professor Irwin Corey explaining the meaning of life:

One of the things that you’ve got to understand is that we’ve got to develop a continuity in order to relate to exacerbate those whose curiosity has not been defended, yet the information given can no longer be used as allegoric because the defendant does not use the evidence which can be substantiated by…What was the question?

While endlessly entertaining for the California press corps, eMeg’s inability to keep straight what she said a day or two before, let alone the primary, about immigration or immigration or immigration or state worker furloughs put her at times in Sarah Palin territory, if not quite at the level of Michelle Bachmann.

Given eMeg’s proven inability to speak consistently, if not coherently, about major issues that you’d like to think she was catching on about by now, it’s no surprise that Calbuzz hears on the street that she’s doubling down on her current L.A. TV buys – putting her in the neighborhood of $1.2 million a week – a quick and nifty way to make sure voters hear what her handlers want her message to be, even if she’s not quite capable of saying it herself.

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!

P.S. We also hear that the next round of eMeg ads will include a batch of new positives. Concerned about the unfavorable image voters have of her, look for her well-paid and well-fed Svengalis to roll out the Meg Whitman Charm Offensive before long.

Anonymous sources always welcome here: A mere 28 months before the presidential election, coat holders for eMeg mentor Mitt Romney and potential rival Palin are already trading cheap insults under cover of anonymity granted them by national political reporters who just can’t wait to get things going.

It started when Time’s Mark Halperin quoted a couple of Romney advisers: “If she’s standing up there in a debate and the answers are more than 15 seconds long, she’s in trouble,” said one. “She’s not a serious human being,” chipped in another.

Then Politico joined the fray, quoting an unnamed Palin partisan returning fire. And Huffpost media writer Jason Linkins is the only reporter to date to notice the circle-within-circles absurdity of Politico’s sourcing of this blind quote:

“For Washington consultants to sit around and personally disparage the governor anonymously to reporters is unfortunate and counterproductive and frankly immature,” said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

As Linkins noted: “It’s as if words have no meaning at all.”

How many times do we have to tell you guys to hire a copy editor: Speaking of linguistic nullity, the Empire of eMeg struck again after the big California Nurses Association protest outside her Atherton spread, when a newly-anointed member of the Meg Whitman Nurses Advisory Committee snarled that “this partisan union is going to obscene lengths to win Jerry Brown’s third term,” and then concluded with this clunker, captured forever by the Coco Times:

“The CNA is shamelessly misrepresenting a respected profession for partisan political gain and it’s a shame.”

Shamefully, their shamelessness apparently still has a shame. For shame.