Archive for 2011

Friday Rapture: Sarah & Oprah Vs. Arnold & Harvey

Friday, May 27th, 2011

Foreseeing the future: Freely flinging metaphors about the Rapture, earthquakes, tsunamis and other apocalyptic, cataclysmic stuff, VC favorite son Timm Herdt brought an appropriately large volume of heavy breathing  to his analysis of the impending release of the Citizens Redistricting Commission’s first draft maps on June 10 — aka “the day when the realization fully hits the political class that a decade of safe, partisan-protected politics has come to an end.”

Amen to that, brother, but here’s the key question from Calbuzz: will the shock of seeing what new, non-gerrymandered districts look like (Hey, where did all those Latinos come from?) convince at least a few Republican sheep legislators to exchange their dead-ender fealty to Grover Norquist for a deal cut with Governor Gandalf by the budget deadline five days later? More: has this been Krusty’s double-secret plan from Day One? All will be revealed on Judgment Day.

Flash Monster: As Norquist lurched through the Capitol this week, in a manly effort to stiffen the spines of his legislative Grover-bots, we were both: a) sorely disappointed that no member of the press corps proved rude enough to dredge up his too-soon-forgotten links to convicted felon lobbyist Jack Abramoff and b) hugely entertained by watching our pal Jon Fleischman gaze with Nancy Reagan doe-like adoration while allegedly “interviewing” his hero.

Jeez, Flash asked us tougher questions when he inquired about the quality of press room food at last year’s U.S. Senate debate. Mike Wallace he ain’t.

Are there no prisons? Amid the reams of commentary about the U.S. Supreme Court’s order that California ease prison overcrowding, only Joe Mathews seems to have read deep enough into the decision to find  that Justice Anthony Kennedy not only spanked the state for its penology policies, but more broadly trashed it for being ungovernable. No word yet on whether Mathews and Mark Paul slipped a copy of “California Crackup” to Kennedy in advance of his ruling.

Also notable was George Skelton’s excellent take, which began when the L.A. Timesman serially referenced Andrew Jackson, Dred Scott, Cherokee Indians, Orval Faubus and Justice John Marshall, among others; his extended rant for a moment made us fear that the Sage of Sacramento had finally taken leave of his senses, before he tied it all together with a trenchant conclusion: “The conservatives’ twin mantras of lower taxes and tougher sentencing finally have been exposed as hopelessly contradictory.”

Well, there is that.

Feel the Hyatt Touch: We admit our eyesight ain’t what it used to be, but in the 8 million times we’ve stayed at the Hyatt Regency Sacramento, the only “scantily clad” women we recall strolling through the lobby were handsome matrons waddling to the elevator from the outdoor pool.

So we remain unpersuaded by stories from the National Enquirer and its web arm, Radar Online,  stating that the cretinous  Arnold Schwarzenegger, while pretending to be serving as governor of California, had CHP officers escort skimpy-costumed ladies from a service entrance to his hotel suite, then take them out “through the hotel’s main entrance” after he’d had his way with them.

It’s not that Meathead wouldn’t think such a Hound Dog Clinton move was a swell idea, of course. Rather, it’s that: a) we have a higher opinion of the CHP than that; b) the Enquirer report hangs the whole thing on the hotel’s alleged former “chief of security,” whom the Hyatt seems never to have heard of,  and c) they seem a trifle shaky on their basic understanding of state law enforcement,  for example, describing the Attorney General’s office as “a branch” of the Department of Justice.

Still, the supermarket tab is sticking to its story, and even raised the stakes in a folo that claimed AG Kamala Harris is conducting a “criminal inquiry” of the matter. We could not confirm that assertion, which they attributed to “multiple department sources,” nor could the indefatigable Carla Marinucci, whose coverage of the allegations characteristically has been more energetic than her MSM colleagues.

If Arnold did in fact use taxpayer resources in furtherance of his own depravity, a question which  Democratic Party vice chair Eric Bauman raised the day the scandal broke, what quickly has devolved into a prurient story about Schmucksnegger’s putrid personal behavior would, of course, instantly be re-elevated to a matter of actual public interest.

Given the Enquirer’s track record on this stuff – see Edwards, John – it’s premature to rule it out; at this juncture, however, mark us down as  skeptical.

Why Brown needs more help, Chapter 27: Nice little gotcha’ by the online site Gay Politics, which takes issue with the accuracy of the governor’s “Harvey Milk Day” proclamation.

But whoever wrote Brown’s proclamation got history wrong in the section that reads, “In 1977, Harvey Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, becoming the first openly gay man in the history of the United States to be elected to public office.”

Milk was actually the fifth out candidate elected to public office in the U.S., and the third openly gay man.  His victory in 1977 was preceded by the election of the following openly gay and lesbian candidates:

1st – Kathy Kozachenko (Ann Arbor, Mich., City Council)
2nd – Elaine Noble (Massachusetts House of Representatives)
3rd – Jim Yeadon (Madison, Wis., City Council)
4th – Allan Spear (Minnesota State Senate)

Oh well, it’s the thought that counts.

How can we miss you if you won’t go away: Not since Francisco Franco has anyone had a farewell tour as long as Oprah Winfrey, whose 25 years on the air have by now been eclipsed by her endless good-bye.

Despite our hard-earned reputations as Sensitive New Age Guys, we conscientiously avoided the whole thing because of the inescapable ubiquity of media slobbering over the bon voyage, along with its treacly, slightly creepy, tone of Joel Osteen-type self-love Christianity.

Still it’s nice to know that if our offspring’s offspring ever look at us wide-eyed and ask, “Grandpa, what did you do when Oprah was going off the air? we can quickly refer to Jezebel’s all-you-need-to-know live blog of the 4,562nd show, or haul out our $11.99 copy of Oprah’s 148-page commemorative “bookazine.” Is this a great country or what?

All the news that fits: We’ve been paging through “Blind Allegiance” the new 382-page rip job on Sarah Palin by Frank Bailey, her ex-Alaska chief gofer and enforcer, which is based on his culling of 50,000 emails from the 2005-09 period of his sycophantic service to her.

Mildly amusing, the book is worth picking up for the schadenfreude-inclined who have a couple hours to spare and a) need further evidence that Palin’s a vicious, vindictive, money-grubbing psycho witch or b) can never get enough evidence that she’s a vicious, vindictive, etc. etc.

Minor slights, many of which would have withered under their inconsequentiality, became magnified obsessions that made governing the state of Alaska a lesser priority. An opponent uttering a statement Sarah regarded as an attack demanded retribution and, if possible, the destruction of that person’s reputation.


Nevertheless,  the Calbuzz First Law of Politics – the conventional wisdom is always wrong – all but ensures that Palin will jump into the race for the Republican presidential nomination, given that the Beltway Big Brains wrote her off months ago.

No sooner had the case against Palin been made again, then came word that she’s making a high-profile promotional bus tour this weekend, even as the current crop of Palinista Frank Baileys prepare to sanctify St. Sarah in a new documentary to premiere in, of all places, Iowa.

Blogs & Polls: A Chaotic, Untamed Frontier

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Due to our expanding global reach and unfailingly blinding insights, Calbuzz is inundated with invitations to share our unconventional wisdom with  organizations in the business of politics and policy (also: plumbing fixtures and pet care products, if the money’s right).

Alas, our disciplined commitment to 18 holes a day and long naps in the afternoon make it possible for us to accept only a tiny number of such requests, one of which was the recent 66th Annual Conference of the American Association for Public Opinion Research.

On a typically dreadful day in Phoenix (“Poor air quality is expected in the Valley again today due to the heat and sunshine,” advised weather person Sarah Walters, pictured below) we joined California-based public opinion experts Susan Pinkus and Mark Dicamillo, along with several other polling honchos, to discuss and dissect “The Proliferation of Polling in the 2010 California Governor’s Race.”

Here’s our presentation, as prepared for delivery by our  Department of Survey Research and Abacus Repair for Calbuzzard Phil Trounstine (handsome, limited edition leather-bound copies available for $3,500  cashier’s check or money order, plenty of free parking):

A Chaotic, Untamed Frontier

The problem with the use of polling by bloggers, web sites, news aggregators and others in the online world is, that in most corners of cyberspace, polls are not the reasoned, scientific measurement of public opinion that social scientists envision – they are just one more piece of content.

In the online world (and we’re not talking here about sites connected with legacy media like the New York Times, Washington Post, NBC News or PBS) the filtering process that once was carried out by professionals trained in newsgathering tradecraft no longer exists.

Instead, there’s a chaotic, untamed frontier in which the landscape includes everything from meticulous researchers to ideological gunslingers, from thoughtful analysts to ranters and ravers. The internet includes the good, the bad, the ugly and everything in between.

So your carefully designed, two-year survey into the lingering effects of immigration from France becomes “Frogs in America Not Jumping for Joy” at pollywog.com.

One minute it’s up on the Web and suddenly, poof, it’s gone, down the page and/or into Google and Yahoo archives in the blink of an eye. Thousands or perhaps hundreds of thousands of people may have clicked on the story and read through it for a minute or so. Who knows whether the write-up accurately reported the data? Certainly neither the margin of statistical error, the methodology nor any other AAPOR-sanctioned factoid was likely reported.

A Culture of Immediacy: Ironically, from a consumer’s point of view, that’s the best case-scenario: where a legitimate, thorough, unbiased survey researcher releases a serious, methodologically sound study which is duly digested and reported.

It’s bad enough for the reporting of survey research that few, if any, web site denizens have the foggiest notion of how to read or interpret a survey. What’s worse is that survey researchers with an agenda – political, commercial, ideological, whatever – are pretty much in the driver’s seat on the web.

Our information universe is now what Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism call the “culture of immediacy,” in which power has been shifted away from journalists to sources of information they rely on to fill airtime and web pages.

In what they call the “journalism of assertion,” where news sources – like pollsters – “are in a position to dictate the terms of use” of the information they are peddling.

In our “culture of immediacy,” Kovach and Rosenstiel write in their new book “Blur,” there is something nearly akin to a physical law: “Speed, in news, is the enemy of accuracy. The less time one has to produce something, the more errors it will contain.”

When you’re editing and publishing a fast-paced political news and analysis web site like Calbuzz, it’s vital to know what polling you can trust and what polling you have to take with a huge hunk of salt. Otherwise, you’re in danger of passing along to your readers what we’ve dubbed “crapchurn.”

This is especially true if you’re sensitive to the effects of polling on political races.

With more than a combined 60 years’ experience covering California politics, my partner and I understand that political polling can help shape the field of contestants, dramatically impact fundraising, color public opinion about who’s viable and who’s not, and seriously effect a campaign’s dynamics, strategy and tactics. Of course, modern campaigns do a lot of their own polling, but publicly released surveys can be just as important in all these ways.

The key criteria: Your average citizen – even sophisticated citizens – generally don’t know the difference between a Rasmussen or Survey USA poll and a survey produced by the Field Poll or the Los Angeles Times and USC. Sadly, it seems, plenty of our colleagues in cyberspace have no clue about the difference, either.

That’s why, back in October 2009, we explained the key information we wanted to know about any poll:

– Who paid for the poll and why was it done?
– Who did the poll?
– How was the poll conducted?– How many people were interviewed and what’s the margin of sampling error?
–  How were those people chosen? (Probability or non-probability sample? Random sampling? Non-random method?)
– What area or what group were people chosen from? (That is, what was the population being represented?)
– When were the interviews conducted?
– How were the interviews conducted?
– What questions were asked? Were they clearly worded, balanced and unbiased?
– What order were the questions asked in? Could an earlier question influence the answer of a later question that is central to your story or the conclusions drawn?
– Are the results based on the answers of all the people interviewed, or only a subset? If a subset, how many?
– Were the data weighted, and if so, to what?

I cannot tell you how many times, during the 2010 governor’s race in California, Calbuzz threw cold water on snapshot, IVR (interactive voice response) polls or interest-group surveys that raced through the blogosphere breathlessly saying so-and-so was now ahead when, in fact, the quote-unquote survey being cited was utter hogwash.

Give us a break: We are fairly unflinching about separating good polling from agenda-driven polling. This is especially true of polls that use IVR, ignore cell-phone-onlys and constantly fiddle with the partisan composition of their sample. For example, here’s what we wrote in September 2010 about one such survey:

“Here’s all you need to know: the new Rasmussen poll has Whitman beating Brown among liberals 62-35%. That’s absurd. At the same time a poll from CNN, done by Opinion Research Corp., has … liberals voting for Brown 80-16%, which sounds about right.

“Rasmussen also has Whitman beating Brown 62-31% among voters 65 and older, compared to the CNN poll which has Brown over Whitman 50-47% in the same age group. Another stupid Rasmussen result.

“Mark our words: when it gets down to the wire, and reputable pollsters have weighed in with serious results from legitimate polling, outfits like Rasmussen and Survey USA will post surveys right on the money. However they get there.”

Soon after, by the way, Rasmussen tweaked the partisan make-up of its sample, going from a 2-point Democrat-over-Republican spread to a 6-point spread and came out with a survey showing Brown ahead of Whitman 50-44%.  (Of course, this was after Pew Research had reported that automated polling without cell phones produced a 4-to-6 point Republican bias).

Nevertheless, Rasmussen never could get away from its apparent GOP bias and on October 29 – nine days before the election — declared the race a “tossup,” with Brown leading Whitman 49-45%. The final, by the way, was Brown 54, Whitman 41, so Rasmussen was both 5 points low for Brown and 4 points high for Whitman.

But my point is not to demonstrate how flawed Rasmussen surveys are. Nate Silver, Mark Blumenthal, Mark DiCamillo and others far more erudite and scholarly than I can handle that.

He’s up! He’s down! Oh, never mind: The problem is that too many writers and publishers on the web are simply feeding these kinds of faulty surveys through to their readers because they so desperately need new content, they’ll publish damn near anything.

Take, for example, the Huffington Post, where the results of a Public Policy Polling survey were reported just the other day under the headline “Trump , Collapses in Republican Primary Poll.”

We learned that Donald Trump was now drawing just 8 percent of the potential Republican primary vote, down from 26 percent in PPP’s previous survey in April.

What we know from Huffington Post is that PPP is a Democratic firm and that the poll was conducted between May 5 and May 8 among 610 “usual” Republican primary voters using automated telephone technology and has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

If you follow the hyperlink from the story to PPP’s release, there was no more information about how voters were sampled, where they were located, how they were contacted (except we know it was some sort of telephonic instrument) or how “usual” Republican primary voters were identified. We do find this note:

This poll was not paid for or authorized by any campaign or political organization. PPP surveys are conducted through automated telephone interviews. PPP is a Democratic polling company, but polling expert Nate Silver of the New York Times found that its surveys in 2010 actually exhibited a slight bias toward Republican candidates.

In other words, they’re partisan and biased, but not in their own interest. That’s supposed to reassure us that their polling can be trusted. And we only found that out if we clicked on the hyperlink and read through PPP’s release.

Take a blogger to lunch: Few web sites have on staff anyone who understands the difference between random digit dialing, voter lists and IVR. They have little interest or time to understand how likely voters were identified in a survey. They have only the vaguest notion of margin or error, question order or weighting.

In short, the chances that any web story written about your legitimate survey is unlikely to include this kind of information. You may be able to get some of this included if you speak to the actual human being who will be writing up the survey, but at least make sure you include all of that on the release the story links to.

We can’t expect online news sites to put information into their stories that explains methodology. But online web sites that report on surveys should be encouraged at least to link to your release in which these kinds of questions are answered.

My advice – take a blogger to lunch. They’re poor and be happy for the free meal. Explain a bit about what makes a poll reliable and what should set alarm bells ringing. And when they run surveys that you suspect are faulty, comment on their sites. Your comments will live on in cyberspace along with the original story and just might help future readers separate the wheat from the chaff.

Spain’s Glimpse of Our Future: State Park Secrets

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

BARCELONA — This just in: The Calbuzz Department of Global Affairs, Tapas y Rioja Division, is on the ground covering the raucous scene surrounding the Spanish local elections — in pursuit of a glimpse of California’s future should Sacramento’s Democrats and Republicans fail to agree on a state budget.

Amid cacophonous banging of pots and pans, thousands of students, workers, families and especially unemployed folks crammed into Placa de Catalunya, protesting the incompetence of the central government and the massive unemployment rate that has put 45% of the young people in Spain out of work.

White flowers and white face signify a preference for the white vote — a statement that neither the parties of the left or right are worth a damn when it comes to managing the economy and public affairs.*

As explained by a handy copy of the New York Times, demands include “improving the judiciary, ending political corruption and overhauling Spain’s electoral structure, notably by ending the system in which candidates are selected internally by the parties before an election rather than chosen directly by voters.”

People we spoke to in Barcelona — sounding just like those you might find in Los Banos or Encinitas — said they’re frustrated by the failure of politicians in both parties to take seriously the needs of average citizens. Thus far, the protests have remained noisy but peaceful. But you can feel an explosive tension just below the surface of people nearly at the end of their rope.

Are you listening Sacramento?

(Top photo credit: Senora Deborita Williams Trounstina, Calbuzz Catalonia Correspondent)

Channeling John Muir, sort of: Here at Calbuzz, we define “getting outdoors” as dining al fresco, a “vigorous hike” as strolling from the hotel lobby to the cab stand and “roughing it” as watching a Giants game from outside a luxury box.

Not surprisingly, it was all a bit confusing when Governor Gandalf announced last week that he is “closing” 70 state parks. Not having much experience with the whole trails-and-woods thing, we wondered what that looked like in real life: Will the governor dispatch the National Guard to set up pastoral perimeters? Set coyotes and bears loose on day pass trespassers? Erect invisible protective shields with Gardol to repel visitors?

So we called on Paul Rogers, Natural Resources and Environment Writer for the San Jose Mercury News, for help. The smartest fella’ we know about your fauna, flora, fur and feather issues, Paul was fresh off the assignment of explaining to his readers what Krusty’s move means for Henry J. Coe State Park and was kind enough to respond to our dumb question: How, exactly, do you “close” a state park?

Good question.  The answer decides on which of the 70 parks we are looking at. Think three levels: easy, moderate and nearly impossible.

Easy: It will/would be easy for the state to close some of the parks on the list. For places like the state mining museum, Santa Cruz Mission and Governor’s Mansion, all they have to do is lock the door and put up a closed sign, then lay off the staff or reassign them to other park units, laying off people there with less seniority.

Moderate: For places like Coe, they can padlock the gates on the entrance roads and parking lots. In some places, where there is only one way in, and the entrance road is fairly long, that will discourage most people. They can also shut off the water and electricity at the campsites and padlock the bathrooms.

If somebody wants to climb over the gate or come in through a side trail, they’ll have no way to stop them. This would mostly be folks hiking and on mountain bikes. As I pointed out in my story, parks folks are privately worried about vandalism, trespassers starting fires that could spread to nearby private property, people poaching with guns, and armed Mexican drug cartels growing even more pot in the larger parks than they are already growing.

Many of the visitors, however, would be kept out, because getting in would involve a fairly strenuous activity, and there are other places to hike or ride bikes that will remain open. Families who camp in these places aren’t likely to carry all their ice chests, camping stoves, tents, etc, over a locked gate and walk half a mile to pitch a tent in a place with no water or bathrooms. College kids on mountain bikes are likely to jump the fence, but if they wreck on a trail and break their collar bone, there won’t be anyone to find them.

With an eye to this, Brown signed AB95 in March, which absolved the state of any liability for people who get hurt in state parks that are closed.

Nearly impossible: There are some places on the list that seem impossible to me to close. Twin Lakes State Beach is one of them. As you know, that’s the beach just south of the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor. It is visited by hundreds of thousands of people a year and directly abuts a public road and two neighborhoods. It charges no entrance fee. There are no gates to padlock.

Is State Parks going to post rangers and lifeguards on the beaches and write tickets to anyone who walks on the sand? I can’t imagine how they could do that and still achieve the savings they claim from this plan.

In the end, many of these parks weren’t being patrolled all that well now. As the Coe story notes, there are only 2 rangers there full time, and many functions are being done by volunteers. But at least the rangers are trained peace officers, with EMT training, guns, four wheel drive vehicles and radios.

Although State Parks says such rangers will be making regular checks at shuttered parks in each region, it’s unclear how extensive those will be, what they will cost, and what the consequences will be, if any, for people caught ‘trespassing.’

Far be it from Calbuzz to suggest the park closure announcement is a cynical move by Gandalf to get middle class types – i.e. voters – to make a fuss with GOP legislators to get on board with his tax extension. But it sure sounds to us like a helluva’ lot of work to save a measly $10-20 million.

Paul’s latest on the issue is here. As for keeping parks open, this may help.

ICYMI: Speaking of glimpses of California’s future, check out this way cool racing crash. Is that Governor Krusty on the Number 91 bike?

* One of the young women in our lead photo, Carla Alabern, emailed us after our post to say, in part:

We DO critic the current system and we DO feel that non of the alternatives on which we may vote does represent us. But the aim of the action “Paint your face” is not to suggest to anyone how to vote! The aim is to express and to channel the feeling of frustration and outrage created by the false democracy in which we live, and to inspire the public to action.

The initiative “Paint your face!”  was created by the Barcelona based independent theater group “ProyectA “  as a daily action to support the movement of change that is now happening in our county. Past the elections of the 22 of May, the action continues and is taking place every evening at 19h in Plaza Catalonia, Barcelona. The participation is open to the public.