Archive for 2009

Clips: Paul Scores, Lockyer Ducks, Dodgers Choke

Saturday, October 24th, 2009

capitolupsidedownIn a move akin to insurance firms taking on the task of reforming health care, the Legislature this week tackled the intractable issue of how to repair California’s hideously dysfunctional government, a story simply too absurd to be framed by the dozey forms of conventional Capitol reporting.

Amid a torrent of tiresome dispatches detailing the doings of the Orwellian-titled Select Committees on Improving State Government, Dan Walters was, as usual, ahead of the pack. Disdaining all the earnest talk, testimony and goo-goo nostrums about term limits, redistricting and campaign finance reform, the Big Fella offered a step-back, big-picture piece that was one-part David McCullough historic sweep and one-part Samuel Beckett existential hopelessness:

The much-vaunted checks and balances of the American system, designed by the nation’s founders who had revolted against a king and feared centralized power, create stasis in a society with as many rival factions as California has.

What may have worked in post-colonial, mono-cultural America doesn’t work very well in a postindustrial, multicultural state such as California, especially since we’ve added even more hurdles to decision-making, such as ballot measures and two-thirds votes.

With the relentlessness of daily deadlines smothering any pencil press effort to shed fresh light on a subject of such stultifying complexity and magnitude, it was left to Mark Paul, our favorite pundit at the New America Foundation, to offer a different take on the deadly reform issue.


Paul has a talent for presenting California Big Think stuff in an easily accessible and always readable way; over at Capitol Weekly, he offered some clear and creative insights on the subject of California’s collapse – a crisp 748-word analysis, framed by twin conceits of political schizophrenia as diagnosed by an alien come to earth.

On one hand, he would see a system of single-member legislative districts elected by plurality, a system well known to restrict representation to the two major parties, exaggerate the majority party’s strength, empower the ideological bases in each party, and render the votes of millions of Californians essentially moot in most legislative elections. The system’s driving principle? Create a majority and let it rule.

On the other hand, he would see, superimposed upon the first system, a second political system: a constitutional web of rules requiring supermajority legislative agreement about the very subjects, spending and taxes, over which the the parties and the electorate are most polarized. The driving principle of this second system? Do nothing important without broad consensus. The collision of these two contradictory governing principles– one majoritarian, one consensus– has produced gridlock, rising debt, and deep public disgust.

And then on the third hand…he would see that, in response to gridlock, voters have repeatedly used the initiative process, another majoritarian institution, to override the consensus principle, which was itself put in place to check the majority-rule principle. This political schizophrenia has led to all the expected symptoms in California, including apathy, delusions, disordered thinking, and the kind of citizen anger that marked the May special election. California doesn’t work because it can’t work.

Good stuff, bro.

But where was he when we needed him: Treasurer Bill Lockyer bill-lockyeremerged as the unquestioned star of the legislature’s big reform hearing, offering a welcome dose of candor, mixed with a strong shot of No Exit despair, that no doubt skyrocketed his Google rating in a single afternoon.

While Walters was content to skim the cream of Lockyer’s money quotes (“We’re part of a system that was designed not to work…You are the captive of this environment, and I don’t see any way out” – Good God, man, step back from the ledge!) our old pal Greg Lucas showed he hasn’t lost his knack for public service journalism by offering fans of California’s Capitol an admiring and extended look at Lockyer’s greatest hits.

It ‘s worth noting that veteran solon watcher Lucas headlined his post “Why isn’t this man California’s next governor,” a speculative notion that Calbuzz raised and floated several months ago, to the sound of resounding silence. With a proven ability to win statewide elections, and a nice comfy wad of campaign cash in the bank, Lockyer seemed well positioned to jump into the Democratic field back when it was still wide-open; his failure to do so led us to conclude he was simply intimidated by back-in-the-day memories of tangling with Jerry Brown.

carly_fiorina_630xWe’re counting the days: Lisa Vorderbrueggen, last spotted trying to substitute Chinese takeout for pizza as Election Night dinner fare,  reports over at Political Blotter that Hurricane Carly Fiorina is promising an “important announcement” in, um, Pleasanton on Nov. 6.

Be still our beating hearts – only 14 days to go! – what’s iCarly’s big secret?

Our bet is that she’s chosen Pleasanton to be the surprise recipient of a big free shipment of HP office equipment originally slated for Tehran.

Short takesmanny-ramirez-blog: With the Calbuzz National Affairs Desk decimated by budget cuts, we’re delighted to have Lou Cannon’s take on the closely watched upcoming elections for governor in New Jersey and Virginia…

Three pounds of crap in a two pound bag award to Politico’s Kenneth P Vogel for trying to sustain an analysis comparing Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Balloon Boy dad Richard Heene…

The Calbuzz Major League Baseball, Teeball and Ultimate Frisbee Desk was, of course, heart-broken to see the Dodgers’ world-class chokers cough it up to the Phillies in the National League Championship Series, but was somewhat assuaged by Bill Plashke’s superb commentary in the By God LA Times about Manny Ramirez taking an early shower during his team’s total collapse in the 9th inning of Game 4. Wait ’til next year.

Jerry-CNBC Replay Meets Chron-Times Dust-up

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

023-185After Jerry Brown smacked around money honey Michelle Caruso-Cabrera on national TV Wednesday, the vapid CNBC yakker took to her blog to try to win the argument post facto, kinda like a sloppy drunk  mumbling imaginary “I should have told him” lines to herself after getting 86ed from a saloon for acting the fool. Alas, all Ms. Michelle did was dig herself in deeper.

In trying to pooh-pooh the scope of AG Brown’s lawsuit against State Street Bank, she merely proved her incompetence by using a fallacious calculation of damages (based on California’s entire population instead of the much smaller number of actual plaintiffs enrolled in state pension plans).

In reflexively and aggressively defending the bank by portraying Brown’s motivation as totally political, she underscored the condescending contempt that Wall Street hotshots and those paid to kiss their butts for a living have for the rest of us hoi polloi types.

And by invoking as a proper role model for Brown the former New York AG Eliot Spitzer, driven from office by a scandal involving his kink for boning hookers while clad only in executive, knee-length socks, she revealed herself as one of the more dim-witted alums of Wellesley, a fine university, except for its student body’s popular weekend tradition of piling aboard the “Fuck Truck.”

With Crusty twisting the knife by posting his own Huffpost blog, he came away from the incident a clear winner, looking like a champion of the little guy standing up to financial service scumbags, despite the suspicions of some of our friends on the left that it’s more of a pose than a passion.

dragonflippedThe second biggest media kerfuffle of the week came about when Chronsman Phil Bronstein, the Abe Mellinkoff of the new millennium, all but accused the New York Times of plagiarism by noting the similarities between the anecdotal lede of a recent story in his paper and that of a feature featured in the Times’ much-ballyhooed new Bay Area section, which is aimed at eating the remaining crumbs of the Chronicle’s lunch.

Whereupon the nimble and resourceful SF Weekly quickly noted that the Chron lede he cited itself bore a striking resemblance to that of a Long Beach Post-Telegram story published days before.  This was quickly followed by a brushback blog from (all rise) the Times associate managing editor for standards, Philip B. Corbett, who declared Bronstein’s bitch to be “ridiculous.” El Macho, studiously ignoring the Long Beach-Chronicle connection, riposted by harrumphing that he expected more from the Times.

Then he resumed channeling the late Mellinkoff, a longtime High Sheriff of the Chronicle newsroom who, in the twilight of a storied career, was shunted off to write an ed-page column, which longtime rival Bill German  famously declared should always end with the phrase “Solution Tomorrow.”


Speaking of self-referential columnists: Calbuzz kudos to Dan Weintraub, longtime opiner at the B-who’s bailed to launch a new web site (brave man) focused on health care, and to write a Sunday column for the NYT’s aforementioned Bay Area pages. But what’s with the self important farewell piece? We counted no less than 25 uses of the word “I,” along with 14 references to “my,” in the piece, an enough-about-me-what-do-you-think-of-me, self-satisfied summing up of what a splendid fellow is Dan Weintraub. Did we mention he  practically invented the Internets?

“While that change has been difficult for the newspaper industry’s business model, I’ve been a big supporter of the Internet as a way for us to better connect with our readers. With my editors’ support, I’ve tried to be a pioneer in the field, and now, to their chagrin, I am taking what I’ve learned and leaving to do my own thing.”

Trust us, Dan, they’ll get over it.


Don’t spill that seed: All right thinking Calbuzzers — even the gnostic monads among us — know quite well that the “Omega Seed” refers to the universal and ultimate encapsulation of all the information-learning generated by evolutionary development, a fascinating idea developed by Paolo Soleri and his Arcosanti Project.

Now the Omega Seed has surfaced in the governor’s race, as A-list political reporters recall Brown asking Soleri about the idea, in one of a series of interviews with innovative thinkers he conducted years ago that form the spine of his ’90s era book “Dialogues.”

With anti-Brown political oppo types (we name no names) just now mischievously sowing the field of Campaign ’10 with seeds of ridicule about the General’s, um, iconoclastic past, artifacts like his book and transcripts of his old KPFA radio shows are suddenly – mysteriously! –   turning up in blogs and the columns of California’s finest newspapers, as purported evidence of the strangeness and wackiness of “Moonbeam” Brown.

But here’s the beauty part: As with the Omega Seed notion, the kaleidoscopic “wacky” ideas that have fascinated Brown over the past four decades almost always show themselves to be genuinely interesting, intriguing and even important, and the spectacle of political hacks, insiders and scribes laughing uproariously at them just proves anew what a shallow bunch of anti-intellectual nitwits we are.

Today’s sign that the end of civilization is near (click on the photo): sweatlodge

Gavin’s Issues, eMeg’s Double Play, Poizner’s PPT

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

020-965The Calbuzz Division of  Wonkery and Ennui listened in Wednesday evening as San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom answered questions from Calitics whiz kid Brian Leubitz and others in an on-line town hall – a format in which Newsom was able to demonstrate  the breadth and depth of  his knowledge on issues.

You name it – Prince Gavin has thought about it and has something to say: constitutional convention, health care, Prop. 13, redistricting, sales taxes, economic development, workforce training, higher education, etc., etc. etc. and especially – his top, key, special, most important priority: “to make California the No. 1 green economy – not as a consumer but as a producer.”

Yes he speaks in run-on sentences with constant stream-of-consciousness asides to himself and his listeners commenting on what he just said or is about to say with just a wisp of “aren’t you glad I’m here to tell you about this” in every utterance. But you gotta give Newsom credit: He knows his stuff.

And he’s not afraid to take stands on issues – unlike Crusty the General Jerry Brown who is laying in the weeds until he has to come out – on everything from tax policy to spending to political reform. (The link for the video is here.)

Like any smart pol, Newsom tries to finesse certain kinds of issues as in: “Let’s not accept the parameters that we have to tax or we have to cut.” But he’s willing to advocate that in a constitutional convention – which he wholeheartedly endorses — Prop. 13 (at least for industrial and commercial property) and Prop. 98 should be on the table but gay marriage and other social issues should not be.

He calls himself a pro-business, pro-jobs Democrat, but he also advocates adopting an oil-severance tax, increasing the tobacco tax and restoring the vehicle license fee (which under Gov. Schwartzmuscle has blown a $27-billion hole in the budget.).

Fifty minutes into the discussion, Newsom was asked to respond to Meg Whitman’s pledge to overturn AB 32 – the California Global Warming Solutions Act – and he used the question to attack Brown, complaining that he has to speak out against Whitman because he’s got no Democratic opponent to debate.

Despite his one little whiny moment, the Calitics Town Hall was one of those campaign events that give voters a chance to get a real feel for a candidate – well, a cyber feel anyway. Good questions and strong answers. Too bad only 426 people tuned in*.  At that rate, a guy would have to do about 37,000 of these things to reach the California electorate. Just kidding…It’s all good exposure.

* That’s what Brian told us Wednesday evening.  On Thursday, Lisa McIntire of the Newsom campaign said:  “According to Ustream, we had 5,452 unique viewers and 8,803 total viewers.”

mrs-potato-head1Chicken eMeg ducks and covers again: Ms. AWOL Whitman, who couldn’t be bothered to vote for most of her adult life, now finds candidate debates, that other creaky staple of the democratic system, tres, tres outré as well.

Thus Her Megness will be washing her hair or grooming her horse or something equally important next Wednesday, when GOP rivals Steve Poizner and Tom Campbell face off at Chapman Brandman University to debate the sorry state of California’s finances. Having invited the GOP contenders for governor via Twitter, organizers figure why stop now: Friday’s the last day to tweet your questions for the candidates at #cadebate.


eMeg’s profile in courage: On the other hand, as editorial writers never tire of saying, Calbuzz kudos to Whitman for not trying to paint the corners in pitching her pro-choice stance in an interview with Jon Fleischman over at Flashreport.

Fleischman and, doubtless, many of his readers are staunchly pro-life, but eMeg didn’t flinch, even arguing on behalf of public financing of abortions for poor women in the exchange with Flash, who also deserves credit for running the piece even though it strikes at the heart of his world view.

poizner 3Hear, hear Commissioner Laffer: As long as we’re getting all misty and handing out plaudits for political cojones, a shout-out to Poizner for filling in details of his plan to slash taxes across the board and cut spending another 10 percent. Whatever you think of Poizner’s proposal, and Calbuzz is pretty dubious about this whole Laffer Curve thing, the man definitely ain’t trying to cheap out the specifics.

After being accused at the Republican convention of not having done his homework on the bottom line effects of his tax cuts, the Commish unloosed a 3,995 word opening statement (you could look it up) on the economic impacts of his proposal in a conference call with reporters this week, followed by a full Power Point presentation posted on his web site.

If GOP voters actually care about what their candidates want to do as governor, not to mention who has thought seriously about this stuff and who hasn’t, eMeg will run a distant third to Poizner and Campbell, who released his own door stop budget plan a few months back,

Yes we have no bananas: To the surprise of no one,  state schools chief Jack O’Connell made it official this week that he’s not running for governor

Over at California Progress Report, Bill Cavala, elder statesman of the Capitol Consultant Corps, bemoans O’Connell’s no-go as a symptom of a failed campaign finance system, but to us it looked like a simple case of not enough want-to; the plain fact is, Handsome Jack had a notable lack of what you call your fire in the belly.

Must read of the week: Tony Quinn, who is to reapportionment what Yo Yo Ma is to the cello, has a swell piece at Fox and Hounds that offers a smart sneak peek at the 2011 redistricting fight, in which he foresees Dems picking up a congressional seat even as California may stand to lose one.

Take the cash and let the credit go: Thanks to the miracle of the internets, and the mighty labors of The Hotline, we can report not so exclusively that Barbara Boxer is sitting on $6.35 million cash in the bank as of Sept. 30, while GOP Senate wannabe Chuck DeVore has juuuust a teeny bit less, with $144,733 en banc.  It’ll be a while before we have any idea how much Carly Fiorina is prepared to spend. No jokes here: our condolences to Fiorina for the loss of her 35-year-old  step-daughter Lori Ann.

Arnold: Aid for Rape Victims Costs Too Much

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

arnold and mariaBy Susan Rose
Special to Calbuzz

As the governor’s wife, Maria Shriver, attracted national media attention for a new report aimed at helping working women balance jobs and family, Gov. Schwarzenegger himself was busy vetoing legislation to help secure justice for women who are victims of sexual assault.

The vetoed bill would have required local jurisdictions to report annually to the California Department of Justice the number of rape kits in police storage facilities, and whether they have been tested or destroyed. By requiring agencies to keep track of evidence, it would make them accountable to victims of rape; the measure, AB 1017 by Pasadena Democratic Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, won easy approval in both houses.

Rape kits are used to gather medical evidence necessary to prosecute alleged rapists. The collection of DNA is an invasive process often lasting many hours, but it can help identify attackers as well as provide matches to other criminals in existing databases. A backlog of untested kits means that prosecution may not occur and rapists remain free. In the meantime, rape victims are often kept uninformed about the status of their case and so feel victimized twice.

For over a year, Human Rights Watch staff and volunteers in Los Angeles researched the rape kit backlog to determine the exact number of untested kits. In March they released a report, “Testing Justice,” that documented more than 12,000 untested kits in city and county storage facilities.

An effort led by volunteers who advocated for funding and LA City Controller Laura Chick, who is now California Inspector General and who conducted an audit of the LAPD, generated news coverage to put pressure on elected officials who finally stepped up. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Third District Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky negotiated more funding for technical staff, to reduce the backlog and to sustain the effort.

The Governor’s veto statement of AB 1017 “acknowledged the need to ensure that rape kits are 274-Schwarzenegger-knifeanalyzed and processed in a timely manner.” In contrast to L.A. officials, however, his concern about cost outweighed his regard for the right to justice of victims of rape.

It is cruelly ironic that the veto came at the same time Shriver was attracting national attention for “The Women’s Nation,” the widely covered report encouraging government and employers to increase support for working women who must balance jobs and family.

Despite Shriver’s political agenda, and amid a raft of budget cuts affecting women and children – including $16 million from domestic violence programs and $50 million from Healthy Families – the rape kit veto underscored the message that women in California count for less in the Schwarzenegger regime.

Susan Rose served two terms on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors and is currently Vice-Chair of the Santa Barbara Human Rights Committee.

LMAO: Attorney General Jerry Brown Punks CNBC

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

019-525It’s not every day you see a state attorney general hold a blank piece of white paper in front of his face during a nationally televised interview and tell the reporters they can cut off the interview if they don’t want to cover the story. But then again, Jerry Brown isn’t like most attorneys general, let alone most human beings.

Brown was asked to go on CNBC Tuesday to talk about the $200 million fraud case ($56 million plus penalties) his Department of Justice had just filed against State Street Bank, and the talking heads and headettes on the business news network got more than they bargained for.

In addition to giving State Street an opportunity to respond to the charges even before the charges were aired, the network embarrassed itself by trying to bitch-slap Brown. When Michelle Caruso-Cabrera put on a snarky, cynical, world-weary reporter act and accused Crusty of flogging the case for political gain, Brown didn’t hesitate a second, breaking the fourth wall and refusing to be caught by the convention of a live national interview.

“OK, first of all, if you don’t want the interview, shut it off,” Brown said, “It was your idea, so that’s pretty silly. You feed off this just like any other media outlet.” Moreover, he added — knocking Ms Caruso-Cabrera back on her heels — “It’s kind of symptomatic of the insensitivity and the arrogance of the Eastern financial elite that you would say, ‘Oh, $56 million, why don’t you suck it up and forget it?'”

Then, when nitwit Dennis Kneale — who appeared to be making snide asides while Brown was talking — asked Brown if the whistle-blower who brought the case to the AG’s office was paid to bring it, Brown took no prisoners:

“What are you guys doing? Are you pimping for the defendant in this case? I can’t believe it.”

This is what makes Jerry Brown one of the most compelling and interesting political figures in the country. He is totally unafraid to break through the bounds of convention, and won’t let himself get caught in a double bind. You gotta love it. Check it out for yourself: