Archive for 2009

Swap Meet: eMeg of Oz Meets Craig, Scott & Inga

Saturday, December 12th, 2009

megsmugRants and raves: Amid a shortage of MSM reporting about the epic legal battle between eBay and Craigslist, political junkies wanting to track Meg Whitman’s role in the messy litigation can rely on Jerry DiColo’s coverage in the Wall Street Journal.

Unlike a batch of niche sites covering the eMeg vs. Craig Newmark online titan cage match staged back in Delaware, DiColo does a fine job of fulfilling the basic duty of journalism, to make the complex clear. For starters, his  stuff doesn’t read like it’s been translated from the Swedish, and he does nice work  boiling down the dry-as-dust issues involved in a suit that’s all about, heaven help us, corporate governance. (Punishment gluttons who just can’t get enough should check in on Corporate Counsel while total hardcore types can catch the live webcast at Courtroom View TV – who says we have no life?)

As a political matter, however, the one and only issue at stake is what the trial and testimony offer in the way of insight and evidence about the integrity of the corporate record of Whitman, who proved to be somewhat veracity challenged in the recent set-to about her voting failures.

With eMeg pointing to her CEO experience as  her prime qualification to be governor, her words and actions in eBay’s acquisition of 28 percent of Craiglist, and the messy falling out that followed, will be closely examined by her political rivals. Based on this week’s testimony by Newmark, whose idealistic, Golden Rule values define the online classified company’s brand, it’s a fair bet eMeg’s campaign won’t be micro-targeting the craiglists voting bloc (no worries – there are only 50 million users a day in the U.S. ).

Reporting on Newmark’s appearance on the stand, DiColo wrote:craig

Mr. Newmark said former eBay Chief Executive Meg Whitman assured him that eBay was content not to try and gain control of Craigslist during a “courtship period” of three years.

“eBay told us that we were ‘the play’ in classifieds, the definite article indicating exclusivity,” Mr. Newmark said. During a meeting in 2004, Ms. Whitman, he said, told him, “that they would be comfortable with a courtship period, where eBay would be completely happy with 28%.”

“eBay, specifically Meg Whitman, made commitments, and broke them,” Mr. Newmark said.

Huh. Maybe she is ready to be governor.

Meg Whitman Dinner Watch, Day 100: As Calbuzz waits patiently if expectantly by the phone for eMeg’s call to join her for dinner, we’re always eager for that thrilling shiver of schadenfreude we get each time we hear about Her Megness stiffing other members of the media too.

So we were surprised to learn only belatedly of how Whitman put the screws to conservative talk jocks Inga Barks and Scott Cox, who host a  show on KERN-AM in Bakersfield. It seems that Queen Midas refused to grant them permission to speak to her unless she was provided questions in advance and allowed to pre-tape the interview.

ingaDuring a live interview with GOP  rival Steve Poizner, who dropped by the studio a few weeks back while in town to speak to Bakersfield’s Chamber of Commerce, the two yakkers spilled the beans about eMeg’s shyness, after a few warm-up yuks about how much dough she is pouring into radio ads.

Cox: And you need to spend a lot more money advertising on this station, I just want to put that in there one more time. Meg is way outspending you here at American General Media. You can’t have that. It’s détente man, the race is on.
Barks: There you go. All right.
Poizner: Well fortunately you are all giving me equal access here. So thank you very much.
Barks: I give her equal access, but it has to be pre-arranged, they have to know the questions, and–
Cox: She doesn’t want to talk to me at all.wizard-of-oz-w24
Barks: –it has to be pre-recorded. She won’t take calls.

I AM THE GREAT AND POWERFUL eMEG! (Pay no attention to that woman behind the curtain).

You can check the You Tube version here

Press Clips: We’re bummed as hell at the news that Editor and Publisher, the bible of news about newspapers, is folding. In recent years E&P has been aggressive, smart and scoopy in covering the demise of the industry and, let’s face it, where else will you find the story about 56 papers in 45 countries joining together to run the same editorial about climate change on the same day?

Why voters hate Sacramento, Chapter 871: The ridiculous spectacle played out this week over “Race to the Top” legislation, aimed at getting $700 million from the feds for education, had little to do with schools and Jennifers Clownsstudents, and much to do with special interest Capitol palace intrigue completely disconnected from the real lives of real people. Amid an endless stream of booorrrring MSM process stories and a package of press releases from Speaker Karen Bass big enough to choke a horse, Dan Walters cut to the chase, exposing the whole fuss as nothing but a clown show staged by Assembly Democrats dancing to the tune called by the CTA.

Talk about your hat tricks: The Calbuzz Ross Douthat Fan Club went crazy this week when our favorite MSM conservative columnist pulled off an extraordinary feat, by getting the Treaty of Lisbon, polygamy in Sweden and the word “dhimmitude” all into one piece. It’s Milla’ Time!

Today’s sign the end of civilization is near: If you keep using that internets, you’ll go blind and get warts on your hands.

Boyarsky’s Latest: How LAT Invented L.A.

Friday, December 11th, 2009

boyarsky 5Former L.A. Times City Editor Bill Boyarsky has written a new book telling the extraordinary story of how that newspaper and its owners shaped the history of Southern California – and it’s terrific.

In “Inventing L.A.:  The Chandlers and Their Times” Boyarsky weaves a compelling narrative through a collection of several hundred photographs, many of them gallery quality, pulled together by Peter Jones, a filmmaker who produced a PBS documentary of the same title.

“The likeness of the first publisher, General Otis, made him appear fierce,” Boyarsky writes, recalling his first day at the paper in 1970, and his first view of the bust in the lobby of founder Harrison Gray Otis, who spawned the Chandler clan that dominated the Times and the region for more than a century.

From that day until I retired in 2001, I never looked at his bust without otis01h3thinking how much I’d have hated to have to ask this man for a raise. His steely determination and Harry Chandler’s cunning and business skill – combined with a vision they shared – helped transform L.A. from a dusty frontier town to a huge metropolis that extends far beyond the city boundaries into the vast area of the Southland. Norman (Chandler) made the paper into a profitable enterprise. His son, Otis, made the Los Angeles Times a great newspaper that was even more profitable.”

Calbuzz caught up with Boyarsky the other night at a Borders book signing in Goleta. He told us that much of the research for the book was based upon volumes of previously unpublished source material, including oral histories by Chandler family members, that had been assembled by Jones.

photo000006ChandlerHarryFor much of its history, the Times “was not only a right-wing rag, it was a boring right-wing rag,” Boyarsky said. “The whole paper was a publicity machine for L.A.-oriented promotional projects.”

It wasn’t until Otis Chandler became publisher in 1960 that the Times escaped its legacy of bias and boosterism and began to focus on journalistic excellence:  “Otis made it a great paper,” he said, “and it was a great paper.”

An old school newspaperman who made his bones working the night police beat at the Oakland Tribune in the 1950’s, Boyarsky was hired onto the Times in 1970 by then-City Editor Bill Thomas, straight from a picket line in a strike against AP, for whom he’d gone to work in Sacramento.  Boyarsky devoted the next three decades to a storied career at the paper, where, among other things, he covered politics, wrote a city column and became a kick-ass city editor before walking away in 2001 with three team Pulitzers in his pocket.

One was for the 1997 North Hollywood shoot-out, in which two bank robbers triggered a long and deadly gun battle with LAPD officers, whose firepower was overmatched by the fully automatic weapons and body armor of the criminals. All you need to know about Boyarsky is that when he heard a bulletin about the incident on his car radio while heading into work, he immediately diverted and drove straight to the scene.

The new book is his sixth, including one co-authored with his wife, Nancy. Framed by the stories of the Chandler family’s four publishers, it tells the  img_nixon2parallel tales of the paper and the region, from water and land grabs, racism, political and police corruption to fanatical anti-union crusades, the murderous 1910 bombing of the Times building and Otis Chandler’s drive to redeem the past by turning the Times into a world class paper – at least until rival family members seized control.

Chandler’s surprise resignation as publisher in 1980 signaled the start of a  chain of events that eventually led to the sale of the Times to the Tribune Co. which later sold to real estate mogul Sam Zell, whose troubled ownership has now put the company into bankruptcy

In the mid-’90s, the board installed as the paper’s top executive Mark Willes, a cereal industry executive who got his journalism training at General Mills, and who brought embarrassment and scandal to the paper with his determination to “tear down the wall” between the newsroom and business operations. Willes and his protégé, publisher Kathryn Downing, did a deal in 1999 with Staples Center to share advertising revenue from a special issue of the paper’s magazine about the center’s opening that was produced by the editorial department, unaware of the secret agreement.

When the newsroom staff revolted, the departed Otis Chandler called Boyarsky on the city desk and asked him to read a message to the staff: “I delivered the message, much to the chagrin of my bosses,” Boyarsky recalls.

Otis_1960s_LATAs reported in “Inventing L.A.,” Chandler’s words are worth recounting:

To the employees of the Los Angeles Times, particularly of the editorial department because they have been so abused and misused…[by] the downsizing of the Times…the shrinking of the Times in terms of employees…the ill-advised steps that have been taken by current management….breaking down barriers, the traditional wall between editorial and the business departments.

My heart is heavy, my emotions are indescribable because I am afraid I am witnessing now a period in time in the history of this paper that is beyond description…I applaud the efforts of individual reporters who have spoken openly at their recent meeting with Kathryn Downing, and I also heartily endorse the letter that was presented to [Editor} Michael Parks on November 2 which calls for a full and impartial publishing of all of the events that led up to the Staples controversy.

If a newspaper, even a great newspaper like the Los Angeles Times, loses credibility with its community, with its readers, with its advertisers, with its shareholders, that is probably the most serious circumstance that I can possibly think of. Respect and credibility of a newspaper is irreplaceable. Sometimes it never can be restored no matter what steps might be taken in terms of apology by the publisher, apology by the head of Times Mirror or whatever post-event strategies might be developed in the hopes of putting the pieces back together.cover

When I think back through the history…of this great newspaper…I realize how fragile and irreplaceable public trust in a newspaper is. This public trust and faith in a newspaper by its employees, its readers, the community, is dearer to me than life itself.


“Inventing L.A.” is available from Angel City Press or at Amazon.

Jerry Brown Meets Sgt. York & Flavor Flav

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

brown 74Forget Jayson Blair’s flagrant plagiarism and Judy Miller’s tireless flacking for the Iraq war in the news pages. The New York Times has now committed its most hideously glaring factual error in recent memory, if not the history of the world: it misstated the model of Jerry Brown’s famous ride from his first term as governor.

As every California school child knows, Brown in his first days in office in 1975 sent powerful signals about his frugality, first by choosing to live in a rented apartment instead of the governor’s mansion and, most famously, by rejecting an executive limo in favor of a 1974 blue Plymouth.

Yet the so-called newspaper of record, on Sunday’s A1 no less,  got the whole thing bollixed up in describing Brown within a piece about former governors in four states who are seeking to return to the office they once held. Here’s Times reporter Jennifer Steinhauer on the subject:

A third, Jerry Brown of California, has traded in his groovy blue Valiant that he drove as governor for a Toyota Camry hybrid, which thieves recently removed the wheels from.

“Groovy?” “Blue Valiant”? Really? Apparently The Times no longer publishes stories that copy editors remove the errors from.

For the record, Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr.’s state auto was a powder blue 1974 Plymouth Satellite, a 150 hp, 318 cu. in. V8 (list price $3,342). The  Valiant was Chrysler’s Plymouth division play in thejerry-brown-plymouth-car_425-x-283 compact class and manufactured from 1960 to 1976; the Satellite, unveiled as the  top model in the mid-size Belvedere line in 1965, was produced until 1975.

No wonder newspapers are going out of business.

Yo, wussup washpost? Making its bid to capture the prize for the second most moronic mistake of the year, the Washington Post ran this correction on Dec. 3:

A Nov. 26 article in the District edition of Local Living incorrectly said a Public Enemy song declared 9/11 a joke. The song refers to 911, the emergency phone number.

jpg_flavor-flav-newswire-400a111606The article in question was headlined “A note of hope from voices of experience – Public Enemy reaches out to homeless youth in D.C.” In it, local reporter Akeya Dickson reported about Flavor Flav, Chuck D and  posse touring a homeless shelter to raise awareness of the problem, then playing a concert to benefit the district’s  Sasha Bruce House:

Public Enemy has earned notoriety with more than 20 years of politically charged music about fighting the power, challenging racism and declaring that 9/11 was a joke.

Well, actually not. As Jason Linkins reported in his “Eat the Press” column:

The important distinction between “911” and “9/11” could have been made a number of different ways — by either listening to the song, or reading the title of the song or simply noting that the song “911 Is A Joke” was on an album released on May 26, 1990.chuckd

To his credit, Linkins did not put the last words of that sentence IN CAPITAL LETTERS. For the record (again!) the lyric in question is:

So get up, get, get get down
911 is a joke in yo town
Get up, get, get, get down
Late 911 wears the late crown

Ow, ow 911 is a joke

In more ways than one.

Is that a puppet in your sock or are you just glad to see me? Inside Baseball Alert: For Calbuzz, the big kerfuffle over Steve Poizner campaign cash finding its way into the wallet of a conservative blogger who spent his days writing posts that gushed praise for Steve Poizner raises one very fundamental question:

You mean people get paid for blogging?

york_moviestillA quick refresher for those who got drunk and slept through the day: Chip Hanlon, CEO of the right-wing blog Red County, put up a post Wednesday informing his readers that he has banned from the site the blogger formerly known as Sgt. York (who in real life is Placer County GOP activist Aaron Park). Hanlon, it seems, belatedly discovered that the Sarge was receiving payments from a consultant called Steve Frank who was himself receiving payments from Team Poizner; Sarge, it seems, neglected to mention this sort of significant, um, fiduciary relationship to Hanlon.

Complications ensued.

For more on the facts of the case, see posts by Joe Garofoli and Martin Wisckol. Here’s our take:

1-We just love this whole Orange County Republican rat-fucking political culture and the steady stream of sleazy soap operas it produces.

2- HT to Hanlon for canning Sgt. York and disclosing the matter to his readers. At a time when ethical blogging is too often an oxymoron, it’s nice to see somebody step up to defend his credibility.

3-Team Poizner’s response which amounts to  “everybody does it and 1smellfishbesides, we didn’t know anything about it” doesn’t pass the smell test.

4-Hanlon’s secondary claim that Poizner’s camp froze him out and ignored his requests for e-mailed campaign info is over the top, as this would mark the first time in the history of American politics such a thing happened.

5-There are not enough facts in evidence for us to adjudicate the bitter exchange between Hanlon and Poizner flack Jarrod Agen about whether the site is in the tank for eMeg because she buys a lot of advertising. Did we mention we’re not getting paid?

6-The whole dispute returns us to some broader issues we raised a while back about using partisan web sites as third party validators in campaign material:

In other words, does the singular fact that something is published on a web site, any web site, qualify that information to be employed by a serious contender leveling a serious charge in a big statewide race?

If it is, what is to prevent candidates from using campaign cut-outs, perhaps clad in pajamas and tin foil hats, from posting all manner of web-based vitriol beneath all manner of screamer headlines, and then featuring those posts in TV attack ads as evidence that neutral parties think ill thoughts about their rival?

Roseanne_RoseannadannaWhere, exactly, is the line to be drawn? Or is the very notion of a line self-incriminating evidence of discredited MSM-style thinking?

As Roseanne Roseannadanna famously said, “You sure do ask a lot of stupid questions.”

Today’s sign the end of civilization is near: The Silicon Valley Insider reveals hidden secrets of AOL bloggers.

GOP Civil War Update: Carly, Chuck, Sarah, Dick

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

carly_fiorina1The good news for Carly Fiorina is that she was picked to give the Republican’s nationally broadcast response to President Obama’s weekly radio address.

The bad news is that she was picked by national Republicans.

At a time when Tea Party populist conservatives are aggressively challenging GOP establishment types around the nation, the enthusiastic support for her primary Senate campaign by top Republicans like Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, who tapped her for last Saturday’s radio gig, is both a blessing and a curse.

For backers of Hurricane Carly’s right-wing rival, Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, the move by McConnell was just more evidence that GOP Beltway poobahs are out of touch with the anger, energy and passion of the anti-Obama, anti-government, anti-health care reform, anti-abortion, anti-immigrant, anti-gay rights true believer movement.

“The NRSC has not learned its lesson. The Republican establishment has not learned its lesson,” the popular conservative blogger and DeVore supporter Erick Erickson wrote at RedState.com after Fiorina’s appearance, which was sponsored by the National Republican Senatorial Committee . “Where the establishment goes, we should all be worried. Just as they led us from 55 seats to 40 seats in the Senate and just as they are leading us off a cliff in the Senate through failed messaging tactics, the establishment is going to lead us off a cliff in 2010.”devore

As Calbuzz has reported, the Fiorina-DeVore conflict for the right to challenge Senator Barbara Boxer is the clearest manifestation in California of the Republican’s internal strife, which surfaced in a big way in a special congressional election in New York and now is playing out in statewide primary campaigns in Florida and Texas.

The Tea Party movement first appeared in anti-tax demonstrations across the country on April 15, grew louder  in summertime town hall protests against health care reform and has sustained the birther movement accusing Obama of not being an American citizen. While  conventional wisdom has held that the expected support of Tea Partiers for Republican candidates would be a key factor in helping the GOP rack up major gains in the 2010 mid-term congressional elections, there are a number of signs that grassroots right wingers are growing restive with the national party.

For starters, right-wing diva and presidential wannabe Sarah Palin, who has assiduously courted the populist conservative crusaders, has started making noises about breaking away from the Republican party. Palin told conservative talk show host Lars Larson this week that she is leaving the door open for a third party presidential bid in 2012, implicitly warning GOP leaders to start paying Tea Partiers more mind: “If the Republican party gets back to that [conservative] base, I think our party is going to be stronger and there’s not going to be a need for a third party, but I’ll play that by ear in these coming months, coming years,” she said.

palin winkFor national Republicans, such a scenario triggers memories of 1992, when Ross Perot’s third party bid, founded on a deficit hawk, anti-government spending platform,  effectively cost President George Bush I a second term and put Bill Clinton in the White House. While still somewhat far-fetched, the Palin third party notion comes amid other evidence of GOP internal strife.

Most notable is a new Rasmussen poll reporting that “running under the Tea Party brand may be better in congressional races than being a Republican.” While we’ve taken issue with Rasmussen on some questions of methodology their new survey is the first, fun-with-numbers snapshot that seeks to quantify the  strength of the grassroots effort.

The poll asked responders to assume that the group was organized as a new political party*, then posed a three-way generic ballot test. In a one-day, random dialing survey of 1,000 undefined “likely voters” across the nation, Rasmussen found that the Democrat candidate favored by 36%, with the hypothetical Tea Partier coming in second at 23%, the Republican bringing up the rear at 18% and the rest undecided (without the Tea Party in the mix, the poll found a generic GOP candidate leading the Democrat 43-to-39).

One other nugget from the survey for political junkies to ponder, keeping in mind that the rap on Rasmussen is that their polls tend to have a pro-Republican bent: “73% of Republican voters believe their leaders in Washington are out of touch with the party base.”

How much difference all this ultimately makes in the challenge to Fiorina by DeVore, a Tea Party favorite, remains to be seen, of course. iCarly must still be considered the favorite, despite recent polls showing the two tied, because of her expected considerable advantage in money.

But grassroots right-wing advocates show no sign of relaxing their push to attack ideologically armeychallenged colleagues in the Republican party. Tea Party founder Dick Armey recently  proposed a 10-point litmus test for GOP candidates, which will be debated at the Republican National Committee meeting early next year, and which makes  even some very conservative commentators shudder, including the estimable Eric Hogue.

I agree that we, as conservative members of the Republican Party, have been lied to, teased and ignored by wound-up political professionals, but I am not sure that incorporating a litmus test is the way to go…

This desperate litmus test is self-defeating, and frankly, a little disturbing. The test is anti-Republican, both in construct and in ethic. Republicans are about freedom, not about toeing some party line under threat of expulsion. If you want top-down authority from your political party, go be a Democrat…or a Communist.

Not to put too fine a point on it.

*Rasmussen included this disclaimer in reporting on the Tea Party poll: “For this survey, the respondents were asked to assume that the Tea Party movement organized as a new political party. In practical terms, it is unlikely that a true third-party option would perform as well as the polling data indicates. The rules of the election process – written by Republicans and Democrats – provide substantial advantages for the two established major parties. The more conventional route in the United States is for a potential third-party force to overtake one of the existing parties.”

13: What Reform Plans Would & Wouldn’t Do

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

JarvisFinal-200Our three-day series of guest op-eds about major proposals for political reform last week here, here and here, generated a wave of thoughtful Calbuzzer comments, many focused on Prop. 13.

Several progressives expressed concern that neither the set of initiatives put forth by California Forward, nor the constitutional convention package sponsored by Repair California, would amend the Prop. 13 framework on taxation in a way that would allow dramatic political change.

The issue was raised most directly by Calbuzzer “David” who wrote:

The heart of the state’s dysfunction is the ability of simple majorities of voters to impose supermajority requirements in perpetuity. For instance, Prop 13’s 2/3 requirement on taxes was itself imposed by less than a 2/3 majority. Any “constitutional reform” which leaves this atrocity in place is not a true reform, but simply rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Since the current con-con proposals explicitly prohibit changing the 2/3 rule, they are yet another waste of time for a state that is rapidly running out of it.

Amid considerable debate and discussion on the site, however, a key difference emerged between the two sets of reforms:

The ballot measures submitted by California Forward would specifically  prohibit changing the Prop. 13 requirement for a two-thirds vote needed to raise taxes, either in the Legislature or locally. But the convention agenda outlined in the Repair California initiative expressly would allow delegates to study and, if they saw fit, to propose to voters a reduction of the supermajority requirement.

Alert Calbuzzer Adrian Covert was the first to call attention to this little-calbuzzernoticed element of the convention initiatives. Covert, who blogs over at pacificvs.com wrote:

The Constitutional Convention proposals…specifically put all vote thresholds on the table. By voting in favor of a convention, voters will in-fact be giving convention delegates a clear mandate to do so.

The guy’s right on a very important point.

The concon package includes two proposed initiatives; the first seeks voter authorization to convene a convention, while the second broadly defines the issues to be considered by the delegates. In the second initiative, Section 83130 (a) (3) states that the convention is authorized to address:

Spending and Budgeting, including the budget process and related requirements, the term and balancing of a budget, voting thresholds, mandated spending and ways to increase fiscal accountability and efficiency.

In other words, the convention could, if it so chose, propose an amendment to alter the two-thirds rules on raising taxes. This reading of the measure was confirmed for us by Clint Reilly, who’s running the Repair California campaign. The group is a political spin-off of the Bay Area Council, whose CEO, Jim Wunderman, got the convention idea started.

To be clear, this is the only element of Prop. 13 that would be in play in either reform package. The convention specifically cannot deal with the Prop. 13 system for determining property taxes:

Section 83130 (b) The convention may also propose to change any statutory provision directly related to the proposed constitutional revision or amendment. The revision, any amendment, or any related statutory provision proposed by the convention may not include new language, or alter existing language, that (1) directly imposes or reduces any taxes or fees; (2) sets the frequency at which real property is assessed or re-assessed; or (3) defines “change in ownership” as it relates to any tax or fee . . .

con_conWhen we first read this, it seemed to us that it left room to allow convention delegates to propose amending Prop 13 to put in place a split roll system, which would assess commercial property at a different (higher) rate than residential.

We thought the language on this was unclear so we interviewed Steve Miller of Hanson Bridgett who drafted the section. He told us it was worded to keep the convention from taking up the split roll.  So that’s the word from the horse’s mouth.

Bottom line: As written, neither of the major reform packages aimed at the 2010 ballot leave much room for changing Prop. 13, but the constitutional convention leaves the door open for one major amendment that could have widespread political impact.