Archive for 2010

Little Pulitzers: Myers, York, Collins, Skelton . . .

Saturday, January 16th, 2010

john-myers-158x225Hiding in Plain Sight: This week’s I.F. Stone all-I-did-was-read-the-documents award goes to the steady John Myers over at Capital Notes, for his report that Gerry Parsky’s famous Business Net Receipts Tax would result in a $10 billion decrease in state revenues. We probably missed other takes on this, but Myers for sure got the full import of the Assembly Rev and Tax hearing Wednesday, when he noted that the Leg Analyst’s take on the fiscal impact of the pet project of Arnold’s guy “may be the final nail in the coffin” for the Parsky hustle.

The report uses 2007 tax data in finding that the commission plan would lower personal income taxes by $13 billion and completely wipe out $28 billion in sales taxes and $8.7 billion in corporate taxes. The BNRT, says the LAO report, would bring in $39.2 billion… thus, a loss of $10. 2 billion.

High time someone put this dog with fleas out of its misery.

Hiding in Plain Sight II: Sameway kudos to Anthony York at Capitol Weekly and to Beekeeper Dan Walters, who both wrote in plain English what everbody in the world already knows – that the well-pleased-with-himself  “Collectanator’s” brilliant strategy of shaking his fist at Washington has absolutely no chance of shaking the feds down for the imaginary billions of dollars he phonied up to skate through his budget presentation last week.

How many more times will the bookers on “Meet the Press” fall for this guy’s act before they catch on to what a total blowhard he is?

chestertonEnough already: Tom Campbell’s endless farewell-to-the-governor’s race tour, which feels like it dragged on since he last ran for Senate, put us in mind of G.K. Chesterton, author of our all-time favorite quote about journalism:

Journalism largely consists of saying ‘Lord Jones is Dead’ to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive.

And speaking of whatever happened to what’s his name, we greatly enjoyed Capitol Weekly’s where-are-they-now feature on former Insurance Commissioner and GOP Golden Boy Chuck Quackenbush, hounded out of office by scandal just one step ahead of the posse and, it appears, was scared straight by the experience:

After his resignation, Quackenbush left California – he had lived in Rio Linda north of Sacramento – and moved to Hawaii. He also lived briefly in Ohio. In 2005, he moved to Lee County, Florida, which includes Fort Myers and Bonita Springs, and became a sheriff’s deputy –quackenbush first as a reserve deputy, then as a full-time law enforcement officer. Quackenbush also planned to become a helicopter pilot for the Lee County Sheriff’s Department.

The 55-year-old Quackenbush had largely avoided the public eye until 2008, when he shot and critically wounded a suspect in a domestic disturbance who allegedly was resisting arrest. Quackenbush was cleared of any wrongdoing.

At least he was in Florida.

All right-thinking people agree with us: Rant of the week honors to NYT’s Gail Collins, who let loose on the spectacle of a gaggle of comb-over U.S. Senators representing states with more pumas than people setting policy for the U.S., regardless of that whole pesky election thing, a Calbuzz pet peeve made manifest by the terminally annoying Kent Conrad.

People, think about what we went through to elect a new president — a year and a half of campaigning, three dozen debates, $1.6 billion in donations. Then the voters sent a clear, unmistakable message. Which can be totally ignored because of a parliamentary rule that allows the representatives of slightly more than 10 percent of the population to call the shots.

Why isn’t 90 percent of the country marching on the Capitol with teapots and funny hats, waving signs about the filibuster?

Sign us up.

You can’tnone_skelton_ be serious: Investigative punditry award yet again goes to the ever-reliable George Skelton, whose tone of pure bafflement about the views of Prop. 8 backers, regarding the shaky institution of marriage, was delightful:

The idea that marriages are first and foremost about baby-making-and-rearing was expressed by (pro-Prop 8 lawyer Charles) Cooper in October in an unsuccessful attempt to dismiss the suit filed by two same-sex couples against Prop. 8.

‘We say that the central and defining purpose of marriage is to channel naturally procreative sexual activity between men and women into stable, enduring unions for the sake of begetting, nurturing and raising the next generation,’ Cooper told U.S. Chief District Judge Vaughn R. Walker in San Francisco.

‘Well,’ the judge replied, ‘ the last marriage that I performed, Mr. Cooper, involved a groom who was 95 and the bride was 83. I did not demand that they prove that they intended to engage in procreative activity. Now, was I missing something?’

‘No, your honor.’

Uhh, so what are we doing in court, exactly?

jerryhandsMust-listen of the week: Mega-kudos to KGO radio’s Ed Baxter and Jennifer Jones for scoring a splendid sandbagging interview with Jerry Brown, in which Crusty let loose with all manner of truth-telling.

Brown, who was on the phone to talk about Prop. 8, went on a real tear when the morning news anchors slipped in some “as long as we have you” questions about the campaign for governor, opposition search and his planting of a negative story about S.F. Mayor Gavin Newsom.

“Some people pretend they don’t do that. But they hire their henchmen….and they whisper, whisper into the ear of the various reporters. And you find out that most of these reporters’ stories derive from the opposition campaign. That’s kind of the dirty little secret of the news media,” he told KGO.

“Most of the political news is dug up by the oppositon research teams and then handed over to the media, and then put out as though the journalist found it and it’s news. When it’s really just part of the ongoing war between the candidates,” he said. “If you’re not prepared for it, you gotta get out of it.”jennifer-love-hewitt-3

That’s what makes Brown so much fun as a candidate. Like he did in his irreverent interview with CNBC back in October – he’s unafraid to get caught up by conventional political and media bullshit. You can hear the whole thing at Thursday’s 8-9 am hour on KGO.

Today’s sign the end of civilization is near: Is that a disco ball in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

How Campbell’s Jump Changes Race for Governor

Friday, January 15th, 2010

senatereepsUsing our keen analytical skills, Calbuzz has definitively concluded that by entering the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, former Congressman Tom Campbell will:

— Help Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO, by pitting her against two career politicians or;
— Help Chuck DeVore, the conservative Assemblyman, by siphoning votes from moderates in Silicon Valley where Campbell and Fiorina share a base or;
— Neither. Or both.

boxershadesTrust us, anything you read at this point about Campbell’s impact on the GOP race for the right to challenge Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer is rank speculation. Campbell says his polling shows him leading followed by Hurricane Carly and Caveman DeVore. But until the Field Poll comes out with some hard data next week, political analysts and other hacks are flapping their gums. Some will be proved right and some wrong. But who cares? As Omar says, the game is the game.

On the other hand, Campbell’s departure from the GOP governor’s race should have a profound and more predictable impact, if not on initial standings (we’ll know more about that next week, too, because the Field Poll asked voters to name their second choice) then certainly on the tactics we’ll see in the near future.

Some people supporting Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner have wondered why the Commish hasn’t gone after former eBay CEO Meg Whitman with greater vigor (can anybody say “monster”?). Part of the reason was no doubt his campaign’s concern for allowing Campbell to profit from what you might call your “Checchi Effect.”

That’s what spurred Gray Davis to victory in the Democratic primary in 1998: when airline executive Al Checchi and U.S. Rep. Jane Harman spent millions attacking each other (with only some glancing shots at Davis), they both went down in the polls and the Grayhound squeaked through the gap.


Now that Campbell is out of the governor’s race –- and in anticipation, we’ve already seen Smokestack Steve go after Monoxide Meg on AB32, the climate change law —  we expect a tougher, louder and broader attack on Whitman from Poizner. In fact, if he doesn’t go after her soon, he’ll be risking allowing her to waltz away with the nomination.

Campbell’s withdrawal gives Poizner an opening right now. Freed from the calculus of a three-way race, The Commish can now frame the GOP campaign as a clear choice: Meg and Not Meg. Further, going one-on-one with Her Megness lessens the importance of gender, which benefitted her more as the only woman running against two stiff white guys (Barbara Boxer’s surprising win in her 1992 Democratic Senate primary against Mel Levine and the late Leo McCarthy is a good example of this dynamic).

The move by Campbell also benefits Poizner by allowing him to husband resources (he’s rich but as not as rich as she is), make clear decisions about who and how to attack and change up his positives and negatives at any given moment. Or as Calbuzzer Sun Tzu likes to say,  “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.

EGBrown3Jerry Brown could also benefit from the rebooted GOP race. In a normal three-way GOP race, a candidate with a lead in the polls like eMeg’s could stay positive about herself, ignore her opponents and begin to spend money attacking Brown as early as spring,  hoping to knock down his positives among independent voters. In a two-way race, however, this candidate would have to spend time fighting off her Republican adversary and wouldn’t spend scarce resources whacking the Democrat at the same time.

Of course, eMeg is no normal candidate, She’s a billionaire apparently willing to pour virtually unlimited personal funds into the campaign. She could — if she’s willing to spend many millions early — afford to run three tracks of advertising: one positive for herself, one negative against Poizner and one negative against Brown. She’d risk sending voters a mass of conflicting messages, but with laser targeting — also made possible by her vast resources — she just might be able to broadcast three different messages.

Of course, spending that much money could further burnish the notion that she’s a moneybags business mogul with no political experience who’s trying to buy the office of governor. But since she’s gonna get hit with that anyway, why not actually do it?

Campbell: Economy Will Eclipse Social Issues

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

TomCampbell3Tom Campbell argued to Calbuzz on Thursday that his liberal stands on social issues will be rendered moot in the U.S. Senate race because “economic issues have never been more dominant,”  making it likely he can win the Republican nomination.

It’s not that social issues aren’t important to California’s staunchly conservative GOP primary voters, said former Silicon Valley Rep. Campbell, who is pro-choice, pro-gay rights and relatively green on the environment. But, he said, “The economic issues eclipse the social issues in the current environment.”

With very conservative credentials on federal fiscal issues from his nine years in Congress, Campbell said he’s also well positioned to raise the $7-10 million he’ll need for a primary campaign against former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and Assemblycarlyrightman Chuck DeVore of Orange County.

Republican friends who wouldn’t give him money for the governor’s race, fearing that he could not financially compete with self-funded multi-millionaires Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner, are eager to contribute to his Senate campaign, he said.

He also told us that he has private polling, by Chariot Research, showing him with 31% followed by Fiorina at 15% and DeVore at 12%. (Calbuzz will withhold judgment about the veracity of those numbers until nexchuckdevore1t week’s Field Poll).

Campbell said he won’t run against Fiorina and DeVore – he’ll run against U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and the economic issues will help him unite the Republican Party. He noted that he barely lost the GOP nomination in 1992, by 2 percentage points, to Bruce Herschensohn, with the late Sonny Bono, a moderate, drawing 19% of the vote. In 2000, he won his party’s nomination.

If you want to see how Dudley is pitching himself to California’s right-wing, knuckle-dragging conservative primary voters, check out his fiscal tightwad guest post at Red County.)

cute-infant-face-1aCampbell had barely concluded his announcement Thursday when Hurricane Carly mouthpiece Julie Soderlund sent out a crisp 800 word memo titled “Not so fast Tom” charging that Campbell “presided over the largest year-over-year increase in state general fund spending to date,”  when he was Arnold’s Finance Director, and that his “version of a ‘balanced’ budget includes borrowing and does not include its impact on the state’s structural out-year deficit.”

Welcome to the Senate race Tom. Looks like iCarly wants to smother your nascent campaign in the crib.

Here’s Campbell’s video release:

AB32 Fight: Smokestack Steve vs. Monoxide Meg

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

smokestacksteve2Throughout our so-called careers, Calbuzz has been consistently entertained by our friend Richie Ross’s talent for concocting cut-to-the-bone epigrams about political campaigning.

“When you’re behind,” Richie once told us, amidst a race where he was running some now-forgotten dog, “always pick a fight.”

The formulation came to mind this week, as Smokestack Steve Poizner took out after Monoxide Meg Whitman, insisting to all who would listen that his position on the environment was waayyy worse than hers.

One day after our piece examining eMeg’s fierce opposition to California’s landmark AB32 climate change legislation (Coincidence? You be the judge) The Commish whacked her as an opportunistic, closet tree-hugger.


“Meg’s rhetoric on AB32 is again a sign of the two Meg Whitmans,” said Jarrod Agen, Poizner’s slasher-in-chief. “Campaign trail Meg is making claims that directly contradict her actions and Republican voters will not trust her.”

The me-too attack came as Poizner endorsed the so-called “California Jobs Initiative” being co-sponsored by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Paleolithic, and Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Sirloin. The measure, now being signature circulated, calls for suspension of AB32, until employment levels get back to where they were before it passed in 2006.

056-597But the endorsement was really just an excuse to remind GOP primary voters of eMeg’s eleemosynary contribution of $300K to the Environmental Defense Fund, a strong supporter of AB32, not long after the measure passed, as well as her gushy past praise for ex-Obama Green Czar Van Jones – “I’m a huge fan!” – whom she met on a save-the-earth cruise that also included Jimmy Carter, fercrineoutloud.

Pshaw, dismissively responded the volcanic Sarah Pompei, eMeg’s well-paid responder. Whitman, she said, don’t need no stinkin’ initiatives to crank up the thermostat on the world all by herself.

“The authority to suspend AB32 already exists and Meg is committed to using it on her first day as Governor,” Pompei said, adding that, “as a result of the struggling economy, Meg was the first candidate to call for a suspension of AB32 . . . If there was any possibility that Steve Poizner could be touting those same credentials, well then, he probably would be.”

And thank you for that.

On Monday we presented the case, and the polling to back it up, that a majority of Californians don’t see a huge conflict between environmental protection and economic growth. While Calbuzz is open to being proven wrong (in fact, we’ve made a pretty good living at it), we think racing to the bottom on pollution is strictly a GOP primary strategy that won’t sell in a general election.


Milk Carton Report: Phil Angelides, who had a charisma bypass before such surgery was fashionable, strode his way into the national spotlight Wednesday, as he opened as chairman the much-anticipated hearings of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.

“People are angry,” Angelides said, with the heads of the nation’s two largest banks and two biggest Wall Street firms sitting, under oath, before him.

They have a right to be. The fact that Wall Street is enjoying record profits and bonuses in the wake of receiving trillions of dollars in government assistance — while so many families are struggling to stay afloat — has only heightened the sense of confusion.

Not bad stuff for a guy who ran the worst campaign for the top spot since John D. Sloat didn’t cop a single vote. Given his financial bona fides as a former state Treasurer, not to mention his classic training at the hand of Angelo Tsakopoulos, Angelides ain’t a bad pick for the gig, which Speaker Nancy Pelosi helped him land.

It’s hard to imagine the commission coming up with much in the way of true reform, however, although the hearings do have some entertainment value. Best coverage we’ve seen is the live blog over at Huffpost  which also has a dandy piece co-authored by former N.Y. Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who managed to keep his pants on for the occasion.

halperinBeltway wisdom gone awry: There are few people in the political news business more obnoxious, self-referential and self-absorbed than ABC’s Mark Halperin, so we were delighted at Jason Linkins’ superb takedown of “Game Change,” the ’08 campaign account Halperin co-authored with John Heilemann, and which their fellow Beltway snobs are lapping up like melted Ben & Jerry’s.

Under the terrific hed “The Blackhearted Ethos of Game Change,” Linkins writes:

What you will get from this tome is the experience of being dragged through a great, teeming, gossipy Superfund-sized pile of shit, lovingly accumulated by two authors who have basically allowed anyone willing to offer nasty hearsay, trash-talk, or score-settling to dump away.

Calbuzz sez check it out

We’re from the press, we’re here to help: Kudos to Calitics for being first on the scene early Wednesday with a list of how-to-help contact info for the victims of the horrible earthquake in Haiti. Best bitchslap of the insufferable Pat Robertson: thank you Andy Borowitz for “Haiti? I Thought They Said ‘Hades'”

‘California Watch’ Seeks Dirt on Jerry’s Pardons

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

jerryblackout“California Watch,” the new, foundation-funded project of the Center for Investigative Reporting Journalism, bills itself as “an independent investigative reporting team, [that] exposes injustice, waste, mismanagement, wrongdoing, questionable practices, and corruption so that those responsible can be held to account and so the public can be armed with the information needed to debate solutions and spark change.”


Calbuzz is all for that.  And some of the early work produced by California Watch has been pretty good. But the latest offering by money and politics reporter Chase Davis isn’t new journalism at all, but old-fashioned, yellow journalism wrapped in a shiny new online package. It’s an abuse of a  technique called “crowd-sourcing,” threatening the very fine reputation that CIRJ enjoys, and all but guaranteeing its ill-conceived language will be used in a negative TV ad.

Let’s unwind this gnarly tale from the beginning.

On Monday, Calbuzz got an email from one of our sources asking us what we thought of the California Watch posts titled, “Jerry Brown pardoned more than 400 during two terms as governor” from Dec. 29 and another titled “Exclusive: Search more than 400 criminals pardoned by Jerry Brown” from Jan. 11.

When we checked them out – along with the comments from Davis in response to a reader – we were shocked.

“We want you to help us figure out what happened to them,” Davis wrote of the 403 people Brown pardoned.

california watchHere at California Watch, we’ve created a one-of-a-kind database of every pardoned criminal listed in Brown’s annual clemency reports to the state Legislature, which we obtained from the State Archives. You can search the database by the pardonee’s name, crime or county.”

“During his two terms in the governor’s office from 1975 to 1983, Jerry Brown granted clemency (sic) to more than 400 criminals who had been convicted of offenses ranging from petty theft to murder. Now that he is (presumably) running for governor again, we were curious: What happened to the people he set free (sic).

And on Jan. 11 he wrote:

Clemency can be a political minefield for former governors who aspire to higher office – or in Brown’s case, an encore. Just ask Mike Huckabee or Michael Dukakis. Pardons for minor offenses are also excellent ways to help out friends and political allies. Arthur Alarcon, executive clemency secretary under Jerry Brown’s father, former Gov. Pat Brown, and one of Jerry Brown’s judicial appointees, said in a 1988 oral-history interview that he was aware of several extradition cases made by Brown the Younger for political reasons, but did not elaborate.

It looked as if Davis had a theory about how Jerry Brown had operated in office and was asking for people to help him prove it. In addition, it appeared he had conflated pardons and clemency – which are not necessarily the same thing.

The initial evidence of confusion came from the Dec. 29 Davis post on pardons, which conflated clemency and pardons. In California, a pardon is an act of executive clemency. But clemency (as it’s commonly understood) can also include commutation of a current prison sentence or compassionate release from prison – cases where someone is literally “set free.”

All pardons are acts of clemency. But not all acts of clemency are pardons. In California, a pardon requires an ex-convict to be a law-abiding citizen for at least 10 years after being released from prison.

And  we went to the source to read Alarcon’s quote: he was talking about extradition – not pardons or clemency.willie horton

We were particularly disturbed by a comment Davis made in response to a reader who wondered if Davis was trying to, effectively if not willfully, lay the groundwork for another Willie Horton ad.

To which Davis replied, in part:

What I’m personally more interested in are pardons for minor offenses that were granted for political reasons. Cases like that shed light on Jerry Brown the politician, and how he made decisions the last time he was in the governor’s office.

Whoa! That’s some apriori bias, we thought.

Brown senior adviser Steve Glazer minced no words in talking to Calbuzz:

“This turns traditional journalism on its head.,” he said. “If you have a suspicion, you look into it. You don’t put out an unprovable smear and say, ‘Can anybody out there verify any of this stuff?’”

Before we lept to a conclusion, unlike others (we name no names), however, we thought we’d ask Davis to help us understand what he was trying to do. We wrote:

Dear Chase,

I’m kind of an old-school reporter who believes you usually don’t suggest someone might have done something wrong unless you have actual facts to demonstrate that he did something wrong.  But before Calbuzz comments on your Jerry Brown Pardon Database, I wonder if you could explain what your mission is with this project.

You said in one comment: “What I’m personally more interested in are pardons for minor offenses that were granted for political reasons. Cases like that shed light on Jerry Brown the politician, and how he made decisions the last time he was in the governor’s office.”

You also said:  “Pardons for minor offenses are also excellent ways to help out friends and political allies.”

Do you have any evidence to suggest any of this happened? (The oral history you noted referred specifically to extraditions, not clemencies or pardons.) We’d like to publish it, if it’s there. At the moment, however, it looks like by creating the data base and phishing for scandal you suggest there may have been wrongdoing. But do you have any facts to support this suspicion?

PS: I just saw in another place you wrote: “Now that he is (presumably) running for brown 74governor again, we were curious: What happened to the people he set free?” I don’t understand what that’s supposed to mean? People who have been pardoned have been out of prison for at least 10 years. How do they get set free with a pardon? If what you wanted to do was create a text line for a TV ad, you did it: “Center for Investigative Reporting Asks What Happened to the Convicts Jerry Brown Set Free?”

To which Davis replied:

Thanks for the note. First, to answer your question, no — we don’t have hard evidence that Jerry Brown did anything wrong, nor did I intend to suggest that we did. However, I think the nature and history of gubernatorial clemency suggests that the potential for abuse certainly exists. Edwin Edwards and Rod Blagojevich are two governors that immediately come to mind who have purportedly used clemency to help supporters, and I’m sure there are more. Ultimately, we tried to balance those facts in our decision about whether and how to run this project.

Long before we built this application, we discussed these issues at length. Some of our reporters took the same position you did and others took a view closer to mine, which was this: Done right, crowdsourcing can be a valuable journalistic tool. Opening up our these records to the public, and offering some guidance on what to look for, could help us flag interesting cases by allowing us to draw on the experience and institutional memory of the state’s politically engaged. We were conscious of the risks, which is why, for example, we aren’t displaying reader comments on the actual pardonees publicly.

Part of our mission here, as my boss Mark Katches likes to remind us, is to try new ways of doing investigative journalism. In this case, it’s opening up our process a lot sooner than we normally would. Sometimes we’ll succeed, sometimes we’ll bomb. For as controversial as it’s been, this experiment has actually gone pretty well in my view. We’ve gotten some great feedback about both the pardonees and the process from you and others. It’ll help us report a better story and improve projects like this down the line.

I hope that gives you some sense of what our intentions were. If the issue is the wording of my post, I can see your point of view. The idea was to suggest situations that readers might want to look for — not to imply that we had ironclad evidence Jerry Brown was helping his buddies.

But I can understand how someone could read it that way and will be conscious of that in the future. And you’re right about the statement implying that Brown set these people free. I’ve amended it in the application with a hat tip to you.

And he did change one sentence in his post to read: “What happened to the people he pardoned?” (Although it still followed a headline and lead graf conflating pardons and clemency.)

We told Davis that we would “respond in full in another venue, but just one note: If you’re going to write about this subject, get it right whether you’re talking about clemency or pardons. Your confusion suggests you have no clue what you’re doing.”

He replied:

I’m looking forward to seeing your response. The reports we drew from — entitled “Acts of Executive Clemency of California” — contain examples of pardons, commutations of sentence and reprieve. If I mixed those up in the post, that’s my fault. But the reports do contain examples of each, all bundled under the collective umbrella of ‘clemency.’

We didn’t even mention our concern that Davis had given no context to Brown’s pardons: How did they compare to other governors? What’s the process for a pardon? Has anyone ever suggested evidence of wrongdoing?

On Tuesday, after getting smacked around by some readers, Davis backtracked a bit, writing,  “Brown pardoned mostly small-time crooks,” that also noted (STILL conflating clemency and pardons):

“Since 1967, only Ronald Reagan granted clemency to more convicts than Brown, pardoning 575, according to a 2009 report published by the American Bar george-deukmejianAssociation. Brown pardoned 403 and also commuted one sentence. His successor, George Deukmejian, granted 328 pardons. Pete Wilson granted 13. Gray Davis issued none, and as far as we can tell, Arnold granted only three.

“Deukmejian was the last governor elected before Lee Atwater and Willy Horton (sic) famously made the “soft on crime” label more toxic than lead paint, and that culture shift might help explain the stark drop-off in pardons that began with Wilson.”

In their few months of operation, California Watch has produced some nice stuff – the Will Evans piece on the checkered history of some corporations receiving federal stimulus money, for example.

Chase Davis

Chase Davis

But this effort by Davis, a University of Missouri journalism grad who previously worked at The Des Moines Register and the Houston Chronicle, fercrineoutloud, shows a lack of background in recent California history, not to mention a respectful appreciation for the crucial responsibility of investigative reporting in a political campaign. With best wishes to CIRJ, we hope they clean this up fast.