Archive for 2011

Le News dall’Italia; Mega-kudos to Hank Plante

Saturday, June 4th, 2011

FLORENCE — The Calbuzz Bureau of Cappuccino, Grappa and Proscuitto, always on the lookout for the local angle, didn’t catch Snooki’s crash here in the Medici stomping grounds, but did find protesters angry about cutbacks to the local polizia — another precursor to the kinds of protests we can expect in California if an all-cuts budget gets passed by the genisusi in Sacramento.

“We’re angry that the money for the police is not there,” one picketer (sorry, no cab drivers available) told us on the street outside a government office, where protesters were being interviewed for the local TV.

Just wait until the cops in Lodi and Montebello get slashed — we’re betting folks are going to take to the streets to complain. The only question will be who gets the blame. If the protests in Spain are any indication, it may be the “in” party that eats it — just because they’re there.

ROME — With Vice President Joe Biden here in the Italian capital for big meetings with various heads of state, especially the Russians, and to celebrate Italy’s big national holiday, your Calbuzz correspondents were right on the spot.

We were just a bit too busy checking out the water quality at the Trevi Fountain and the air quality at the Borghese Gallery to waste a lot of energy tracking Joe B (face it, if it’s something they send the vice to, how big a deal can it be?), but as you can plainly see, after leaving the Borghese estate, we did catch the important action as Joe’s motorcade went by.

AIDS 30 years later: For an old retired guy, our friend Hank Plante sure seems to be awfully busy. Plante churned out some terrific work, both in print and TV, on the 30th anniversary of the onset of the AIDS epidemic, starting with a Chron op-ed (it was the Old Chronicle that led the national reporting on the subject, thanks to  the incomparable Dr. Dave Perlman, the late Randy Shilts and, just as important, to Keith Power, their editor on much of the early stuff,  who never gets mentioned). Plante writes:

In Washington, the silence was just as deafening as it was in the national media.

I was there the night of May 31, 1987, when President Ronald Reagan gave his first speech about AIDS to a large public audience. His friend Elizabeth Taylor had urged him to finally speak out. The night of that speech, hearing Reagan say the word “AIDS” for the first time at such a forum, I made a note in my reporter’s notebook that at that moment 21,000 Americans had already died from the disease.

ICYMI, here’s the link to his 30-minute special for KPIX-TV, his old station, where he became the first TV reporter in the country covering the story; nice commentary near the end when Hank talks about what it was like to report on AIDS as an out gay man in the old days.

Calbuzz sez check it out.

We read this stuff so you don’t have to:

Why isn’t Paul Krugman Secretary of Treasury? 

More must-read stuff on pensions, from Mathews, Mendel and the SacBee’s op-ed page.

We’re kind of intrigued by Jon Huntsman, who’s probably doomed as a GOP presidential because he’s a grown-up.

Only Rick Perlstein would remember Hubert Humphrey’s birthday – his “Nixonland” remains the best volume about politics in the ’60s.

We can’t stand snarky columnists ourselves, but once in a while Milbank gets it right.

Jimmy Fallon – just because.

In life – and journalism – timing is everything.

A don’t miss update on reality denial.

Ruth Marcus is completely wrong about Power Point.

What’s a day without Jezebel?

Is there a better sports columnist than Bruce Jenkins?

Fishwrap: Arnold Weiner Meets Barbra Baldassare

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

Bottom line on the new PPIC poll: The most dysfunctional element of California’s dysfunctional government remains its dysfunctional voters.

As we keeping carping and caterwauling, the  You Can Have It All economic mythology, famously propounded by Ronald Reagan, so continues to beguile and enchant state voters that stubborn things like facts and reason just melt away:

As much as politicians, government geeks and bureaucrats — not to mention “the media” –  get blamed, deservedly, for the mess the state is in, there stands a mountain of evidence showing that the polarized partisan gridlock in Sacramento perfectly reflects the sentiments of the electorate.

The plain fact is that California’s litany of problems is underpinned by an everything-for-nothing ethic among voters that is both conflicted and contradictory.

This just in:

1-Nearly two-thirds of voters favor Krusty’s budget proposal; over half oppose what’s actually in the proposal.

2-Seven in 10 Californians say they’re willing to pay higher taxes to support K-12 education; big majorities oppose actual higher taxes.

3-Three of four voters really like the initiative system; 8 in 10 say it should be changed.

With his usual, hyperbolic language, PPIC polltaker Mark Baldassare offers this over-the-top opining:

Californians have favorable views of the governor’s revised budget plan and his special election ideas. Yet the fact that fewer than half support his tax and fee package raises questions about the outcome if the voters have their say.

Kudos to Walters and Myers, the only guys who got the lede right, as Big John ekes out Big Bad Dan in the Little Pulitzer competition, thanks to his way awesome hed: “Let us vote, watch us say no.”

Is that a Twitter in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me? We suspect the Beltway obsession with Rep. Anthony Weiner’s crotch shot tweet has more to do with their love of completely lame puns and double entendres than with their dirty raincoat, heh-heh-heh looky-loo lust for a cheesy sex scandal. Or not.

In our tireless effort to raise America’s level of civil discourse, we strongly recommend you forego reading anything about this matter except Julie Soderlund’s professional and high-minded opus on how Mr. Weenie violated every possible rule of political communications (h/t: Flash).

That said, after reading her piece, we were forced to email Ms. Julie with one key question: WTF are “chonies”?
Herself replies: “Underoos. :-)”
At least she didn’t tweet it.

Toldja! Kudos to Calbuzz pal and network morning show get Ann Louise Bardach for her prescient, now back in circulation 2004 Los Angeles Magazine piece – “Taming the hydra-headed carnivorous tabloid beast” – which threw an early warning flag on Arnold Schwarzscandal’s multiple love children while detailing the damning case of how Conan and his scary lawyers succeeded in squashing such reportage in the tabs.

There he goes again: All-Madden Newshound Team superstar Timm Herdt once again laps the field with his coverage of the soon-to-break story about the first-look new reapportionment plan.

This time, not-so-tiny Timm reports great hard gritty stuff about the violence the (all rise) California Citizen’s Redistricting Commission is about to do to his home turf of Ventura, an important harbinger of how the rest of Southern California will break down:

Citing the imperative of protecting minority voting rights in Monterey County, members of the Citizens Redistricting Commission on Wednesday said they see no choice but to carve up Ventura County as they piece together legislative districts farther down the Central Coast.

The options presented by their technical staff included Assembly districts that split both Oxnard and Thousand Oaks nearly in half.

Complete look at the preliminary new lines comes a week from today. Should be an interesting summer.

People who need people: For those who can never get enough about rich people’s real estate, this addendum to Calbuzz coverage of the newly simmering controversy over state ownership of Barbra Streisand’s Malibu Palace in the Park.

Turns out that  a year after Babs gifted the 22-acre property to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, she had Her People send an eyes-only angry letter to agency honcho Joe Edmiston, complaining that media reports about her donation claimed that the Funny Girl herself had “personally supervised the decoration of each of the houses at the ranch.”

Buried in the April 6, 1994 edition of the By God L.A. Times, a lovely little Myron Levin story with the way-cool headline “Letter Clears Streisand of Bad Taste in Home Decorating”:

Barbra Streisand took umbrage at reports she personally decorated the Malibu estate she gave the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy…

There have been several errors in media reports dealing with Barbra’s gift to the conservancy,” including the “statement that Barbra personally supervised the decoration of each of the houses at the ranch,” began the letter from Streisand business manager Susan Keenberg.

The Barwood House was decorated by ‘professionals’ when Barbra was in Europe, making the movie “Yentl” (released in 1983), Keenberg wrote. “She (Streisand) had virtually nothing to do with the selection of materials and colors for the Barwood House and was terribly distressed upon her return to California to find the house decorated in a manner that certainly was not consistent with her own good taste. In fact, the Barwood House had been built with the intention of using it as a place to do the film editing for ‘Yentl.’ When Barbra returned from Europe and saw the Barwood House, she was so shocked by the colors that she did not use the house for film editing or any other purpose,” Keenberg wrote.

“I am bringing all of this to your attention today as a preface to the following requests: 1. It is Barbra’s fervent hope that the Conservancy will cover the yellow and burgundy tiles in the living room with a rug. (A pale pink to match the walls would be a good color.) Barbra has always found these tiles to be very offensive and she cannot bear the thought of them being exposed to view by those who will be visiting the property. 2. Barbra is equally hopeful that you will paint the fireplace in the living room of the Barwood House one color.  She thinks it looks just awful the way it is right now.”

Eyes only memo to C.D.:  Great stuff in the clips.

Debtors prison: For those earnest and responsible citizens determined to fend off sleep, the better to pay close attention to the debate over the federal debt ceiling, don’t miss Gretchen Morgenson’s  useful information piece. And cue the sound effects man.

News that stays news: Scientists discovers fat guys sit down too much.

Brown Tackles State’s Streisand Parkland Scheme

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

Not content with angering Democrats over social welfare cuts and enraging Republicans over taxes in his effort to balance the budget, Jerry Brown now has injected himself into what surely must be the gnarliest local land use fight in California.

The battle over a state-owned, sylvan and secluded 22-acre celebrity property in Ramirez Canyon, nestled in the foothills above Malibu, pits rich liberal Democrat against rich liberal Democrat in an epic 18-year feud that’s quietly generated countless hours of hearings before state, regional and local agencies, left behind a massive and Byzantine public record replete with the three most feared words in the English language — Joint Powers Authority – and spun off uncounted zillions in legal fees for most of the blue-chip lawyers south of the Tehachapis.

Now into this political and legal tangle steps Governor Gandalf, determined to make a few bucks for the state by selling off the luxury property, which served the not-so-rustic getaway needs of the diva Barbra Streisand, before she donated it to the state in 1993.

That’s when the troubles began.

Ranger Joe, power broker: The current chapter started with Brown’s release of his May Revise budget plan. Among other things, it projected potential revenue from dumping what the Department of Finance calls “properties that serve no state programmatic need.”

The wily and resourceful Anthony York ably detailed the governor’s move in a Sunday piece that duly noted ex-governor Schwarzscandal’s failed similar attempt to sell a host of other properties.

As a political matter, the controversy provides a case study that not only illustrates the maddeningly minute complexities woven throughout the budget, but also demonstrates how each and every line item in the massive document apparently comes fully equipped with its own fierce band of special interest sponsors and rooters.

In the instant case, the special interest pleaders are made manifest in the considerable bulk of Joseph Edmiston, the bearded, rotund and politically connected $81,000 executive director of the state’s Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, a post to which he was first appointed in 1980 by – oh, the irony! – Governor Jerry Brown I.

Given to wearing Smokey the Bear hats and ranger uniforms, Edmiston proceeded from that puny base of operations over the following decades to acquire ever-more parkland and ever-more power, as he constructed a far-flung, interlocking network of  nine joint powers authorities, using ways and means so arrogant, aggressive, single-minded and, at times, ruthless, that he’s been compared to Robert Moses, the famed power broker who transformed New York City.

From a 2005 Los Angeles Magazine piece:

Joe Edmiston could well be the most powerful unelected official in California…

There is hardly a large, privately held parcel of rural land in Southern California that he doesn’t have his eye on…

The history of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy is Joe Edmiston’s history – he’s the only boss the organization has ever had. During that time he has brokered, threatened, cajoled, lobbied, networked, orchestrated, and generally outplanned, outthought and outfought anyone who has stood in the way of the acquisition, restoration, and opening to the public of 55,000 acres of once-private land.

Fire, flood and finances: The Streisand property, for which Edmiston took the keys back in 1993, is in many ways the crown jewel of his far-flung empire.

At the time, Herself decreed that her $15 million gift “is to provide a location and facilities for the establishment of the Streisand Center for Conservancy Studies,” and instructed that Edmiston’s crew “will plan and operate the Center as a place for advanced academic and applied studies directed towards solution of the most pressing conservation and natural ecosystem management problems, and will carefully evaluate all relevant issues related to its use, including vehicular access and impact on the neighboring community” (emphasis ours).

It wasn’t long, however, before Streisand’s former neighbors were up in arms at what Edmiston did with the property; the place was outfitted with swell executive offices, while the conservancy began conducting tours and offering the site for hire for weddings, fundraisers and other events with hundreds of guests.

The acreage is at the end of a narrow, winding one mile private road, only 13-feet wide in some places, pocked with speed bumps and passing over Ramirez Creek, which is impassable in times of heavy rain. Documents also show that it’s located in a designated “Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone,” with only one means of ingress and egress.

These natural conditions naturally led neighbors concerned about emergency evacuation at times of fire or flood to bend Streisand’s ear about demanding Edmiston knock off his plans for the property.

In 2000, during one of the innumerable and interminable hearings on the matter, Streisand sent a letter stating her belief that the conditions of her donation had been violated by the activities of the conservancy and removing her name from its operations.

Since the property was donated in 1993, the conservancy has decided to set up an administrative office on the property and have conducted events to help defray the costs of administration and upkeep of the property. My former neighbors have contacted me in the past to keep me apprised of their feelings and points of view…However, while the Center has historically carried my name, I have had no control over its ongoing activities and operations since the time the land was donated…

In summary, I am not in agreement with the proposed use of the land, my name will no longer be affiliated with the property, and I ask you to give every consideration to the concerns of my neighbors and the community.

Jerry vs. the status quo: Many legal bills and reams of testimony later, Edmiston and the conservancy are still hunkered down, enmeshed in ongoing litigation with some of the Malibu crowd.

Calculating the political and economic cost-benefit ratio, it will be instructive to see how willing Brown is to get tangled up on behalf of the public interest in the most complicated and longest-running dispute since Jarndyce and Jarndyce – and how much success he has with his sell-everything-including-the-fixtures real estate sideshow.

Which, according to Anthony York’s reporting, may not be too far:

State Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Bob Blumenfield (D-Woodland Hills), a former director of governmental affairs for the conservancy who used to work at the disputed property, said the governor’s plan would probably die in the Legislature. “It doesn’t make any sense,” he said.

On the other hand, Streisand herself suddenly resurfaced on Tuesday to give her blessing to Brown’s plan to sell the land. Who knows, maybe the whole thing’s just getting started. 

No Probe (Yet) On Arnold; Last Word on CD 36

Monday, May 30th, 2011

Lecher update: The office of Attorney General Kamala Harris will neither confirm nor deny that they’ve opened a “criminal inquiry” into tabloid allegations that ex-governor Arnold Schmucksnegger used state cops to facilitate his deviant behavior – but Calbuzz has learned that there is no inquiry, or investigation, or whatever else you want to call it, at what lawyers love to call “this point in time.”

One reason: no complaint about the matter has lodged with the DOJ. The only allegations have come from the National Enquirer and its web arm, Radar Online, reports that have been vehemently and categorically denied by Schwarzenegger, the CHP and the Hyatt Regency Sacramento, where his state-subsidized debauchery supposedly went down.

The Enquirer has stated that “multiple department sources” have told them a “criminal inquiry” is being conducted by the AG’s office; from all we hear, however, it’s not happening, at least not yet.

That said, be sure to read the intriguing comment from Calbuzzer Beatrice, here. And, in other news, a prominent celeb PR exec tells Big Hollywood that Arnold, um, won’t be back:

Before the scandal, his acting days as a leading man action hero were also largely going to be over because he is aging and was never a great actor to begin with. Now, since the scandal…look, last time I went to a movie theatre about half the people in there were women and I’m not exactly sure how this is going to play out with them.

The thing about Arnold is he likes himself A LOT, A LOT. I am told by people very close to him that he is so far out there that he actually believes that people think he did a good job as Governor.

Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but what a jerk.

How Bowen got beat: L.A. Weekly political writer Gene Maddaus offers his take on how Debra Bowen confounded the experts, finishing out of the money in the jungle primary round of the race to replace Jane Harman in the 36th Assembly District, eked out by Tea Party Republican Craig Huey:

The early expectation on the Republican side was that (Mike) Gin, (Patrick) Bobko and (Mike) Webb would split the Republican vote: Webb would get harder core conservatives, Gin would get moderates, but none of them would go anywhere in the end. Nobody ever heard of Huey before, and nobody expected him to drop $500K of his own money on the race — which is not the act of a rational man, considering his chances in the runoff.

Before the FEC reports came out, he was just one wacko among many. but then he filled up the mailboxes with right-wing red meat, and became the Republican front runner almost by default.

Also: Bowen ran a fairly limp campaign. She didn’t have enough money and didn’t do much with the money she did have. We were waiting for her to attack (Janice) Hahn, but she never did. They issued some press releases and e-blasts about Hahn taking money from downtown lobbyists, but they never put it on a mailer. And then Hahn attacked her with some predictable nonsense about taking oil money, and Bowen’s response was to issue a letter from the Sierra Club.

Obviously (Marcy Winograd) was a big factor as well. Without her in the race, Bowen probably would have finished first. Hahn made sure that Winograd was in the race, with that pledge for Israel. Bowen may have made a mistake by signing the pledge, because that guaranteed that Winograd would run.

It’s too bad, because Bowen vs. Hahn would have been far more interesting than Hahn vs. Huey.

Marta Evry over at Calitics also has an interesting take on the race. While you’re there, don’t miss the Oracle of Cruickshank’s excellent piece on the difference between Republican and Democratic coalitions.

Must reading: Whatever you think about public employee pension reform, check out this recent piece, by Calbuzz favorite Michael Hiltzik,   which does more to frame the debate in an honest broker way than anything we’ve read:

Here’s what we know for certain about the public pension crisis facing California: The obligations owed or promised to public workers are growing, and unsustainable.

Almost everything else said about public employees and their retirement packages is open to question, misleadingly simplified, or infected with ideology, partisanship or emotion.

One might ask if that matters, given the overwhelming weight of fact No. 1. The answer is yes, because we’ll never achieve an equitable and effective fix until we dispel the miasma of non-facts enveloping this highly fraught topic…

Unquestionably, state and local political leaders have been profligate with pensions, awarding workers improved benefits and post-employment health coverage — the value of the latter being perhaps the largest single difference between California retirement plans and those of federal and private workers. Some enhancements were awarded retroactively, which is an absolute sin in the pension biz.

Typically they were extracted by public-employee unions from Democratic administrations and legislatures, especially when the dot-com boom made the state budget look flush and the enhancements look free. Everyone pretended that the boom would last forever, including, shockingly, CalPERS actuaries — public bodies even were permitted to forgo contributions to the system during the fat years, which only made things worse when the market crashed. The pols perceived that public employees were a potent voting bloc, but of course one thing that makes them so is that so many other Californians sit on their duffs on election day. If you’re one of the nonvoting masses, you’re to blame for the pension fiasco too…

Finding a path through these brambles isn’t made easier by today’s craze for public-worker bashing, which is partially an artifact of the outrageous trend toward more income inequality in California and the U.S. alike. According to Franchise Tax Board figures, more than 70% of the $300-billion increase in total adjusted gross income of California taxpayers between 1987 and 2008 went to the wealthiest 10% of Californians. The middle 20%, our valiant middle class? They got 3%.

This is connected to such phenomena as the decline of collective bargaining in the private sector, increased job insecurity and the explosion of household debt. Government workers are seen by the average strapped taxpayer as insulated from these pressures (public employees don’t help themselves by engaging in scams like “spiking” their final years’ pay to pump up their pensions), but the resulting resentment is the ultimate class-war victory of the haves over the have-nots. Middle-class taxpayers grouse about the retirement deals of teachers and DMV clerks, while bankers and CEOs, whose compensation and tax breaks really deserve public obloquy, slink away scot-free.

Calbuzz sez check it out.