Archive for 2014

Press Clips: Pussy Riot Meets Bob Costas’s Pink Eye

Friday, February 21st, 2014

postClickbait starts here: While our Sports Department’s Division of Slushy Snow and Curling Brooms has found many fascinating story lines to pursue during the Winter Olympics (Will Bode Miller cry more if Tonya Harding whacks his bum knee with a pipe?  How did Putin let double luge sneak into his anti-gay games? Do we really have to watch ice dancing, dear?) there frankly wasn’t much for political junkies to focus on – until the Cossacks showed up with the horse whips.

Oh sure, we’ve had the suspenseful narrative about the crippling conjunctivitis afflicting NBC host Bob Costas (memo to Matt Lauer: you’re wayyy too old to wear those skinny pants, dude); for political theater, however, nothing can top the spectacle of Putin’s thugs proving Pussy Riot’s critique of Russia by beating its members in public for the benefit of three billion viewers worldwide.

We already were much impressed with the seriousness of purpose of PR, even before two members of the performance art collective/punk band turned up on Colbert a few weeks back. But it wasn’t until we saw the Russian special police forces wailing on them in the streets of Sochi that their personal courage and passionate commitment became fully clear.

In the global media avalanche that followed – at post time, Google News reported 227 million links – it was no big surprise that Murdoch’s N.Y. Post won the gold for single copy, newsrack sales headline (see above), but it was left to the NYT, which finished behind the competition in the pander-meter rankings, to score an op-ed from Pussy Rioter Maria Alyokhina that clearly explained what all the fuss was about:

This week in Sochi, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, another member of Pussy Riot, and I were detained three times and then, on Wednesday, assaulted by Cossack militiamen with whips and pepper spray. Mr. Putin will teach you how to love the motherland…

Those who are writing about the Olympics and who are currently present at the Games should not fall into this forgetfulness, because it is fatal. When you talk about the Olympics — whether you like it or not — you are talking about Russia. For this is a country where people are arrested for waving umbrellas and little flags, where they are sent to penal colonies, like the environmental activist Evgeny Vitishko, for writing a slogan like “the forest is for everybody” on a governor’s fence, and where they may be sentenced to five or six years in prison for voicing their dissent against the status quo.

Cossacks? Horse whips? Really?

Leo-TolstoySurely only Tolstoy could do justice to the matter, we figured. Correctly, as it turned out, viz. “Anna Karenina,” Chapter 8:

“I would only make one condition,” pursued the old prince”…Let everyone who advocates war be enrolled in a special regiment of advance-guards, for the front of every storm, of every attack, to lead them all!’”

“But they’d run,” said Dolly, “they’d only be in the way.”

“Oh, if they ran away, then we’d have grape-shot or Cossacks with whips behind them,” said the prince.

“But that’s a joke, a poor one too, if you’ll excuse my saying so, prince,” said Sergey Ivanovitch.

A poor one, indeed.

Life in the incubator, Chapter 32: While Hearst Chronicle execs have the editorial workin’ stiffs hunkered down in their awesome and amazing discover-the-future incubator, the paper keeps getting its clock cleaned in coverage of the current biggest story in its own town.

This time, it’s a Financial Times (reg. required) scoop about Google buying a 35,000 square foot building at the foot of Potrero Hill, five minutes from the Chronicle building, to house some of its recently purchased start-ups (the building used to be owned by a, um,  newspaper and catalog printer. But we digress).

Google’s move is the latest example of the growing trend of Silicon Valley internet companies expanding their presence in the city of San Francisco. In an intense war for tech talent, companies are hoping to improve their appeal to new employees by allowing them to live and work in desirable areas of the city rather than make the hour-long commute to Silicon Valley towns such as Mountain View, Palo Alto and Cupertino. The city is particularly popular among consumer technology companies with Twitter, Square and Pinterest all headquartered here.

You don’t say.

Of course, the erstwhile Voice of the West came roaring back with an aggressive folo a “Chronicle News Services” brief, rewritten from the FT, (cough, cough) two days later. Sigh  Here’s the thing: It’s a swell and exemplary idea for Hearst to re-educate its troops about how to deliver the news digitally and on different platforms; but if there’s less substance to deliver, what’s the point?

hrabeOnce upon a time, there were fax machines.  Nice work by John Hrabe over at CalNewsroom, unearthing “Schnur Shots,” a snarky newsletter produced by Secretary of State wannabe Dan Schnur in a previous incarnation, back when he was still a humble mud wrestler and before he’d reinvented himself as an earnest and high-minded political reformer. Kudos, too, to Hrabe for his determination to treat Schnur like any other candidate, avoiding the yuck-yuck, back-slapping coverage of other ink-slingers who’ve leaned on Schnur as a deadline quote machine for decades.

Aqua Pura putter: No less a figure than the (all rise) Environmental Programs Director of the Golf Course Superintendent Association of America estimates that an 18-hole course on average needs about 20 million gallons of water a year. Which means that the two California desert courses that President Obama played over three days last weekend – Sunnylands in Palm Springs and Larry Ellison’s private, Porcupine Creek playground in Rancho Mirage – annually consume enough water to supply a family of four for more than 80 years.

This after Obama parachuted in Fresno for a few hours to roll up his sleeves and strike his best pose, gazing across some farmer’s cracked and bone-dry fallowed fields. Also: drought platitudes.

“Water has been seen as a zero-sum game: agriculture against urban, north against south,” he said. “We’re going to have to figure out how to play a different game…We can’t afford years of litigation and no real action.”

Now why didn’t we think of that?

“Now, water politics in California traditionally, I know, has been pretty easy,” Obama said, going for and getting a cheap laugh at a photo-op during his brief Fresno stop. “And I told the Governor I’m not going to wade into this because I want to get out of here alive on Valentine’s Day.”

Ha, ha, ha.

difidroneDifi drone update: Still no word from official agencies, five weeks after Senator Difi’s formal testimony about an astonishing personal confrontation with a manned drone she said crashed to earth. Now, at least, comes another independent-minded politico to make clear he understands the dread of being tracked by one of the flying buggers.

Ex wrestler and Minnesota gov Jesse Ventura told CNBC that he’s living at “an undisclosed location” in Mexico to avoid exactly the kind of airborne harassment that was aimed at our senior Senator.

“I’m off the grid. I move about with my TV show so that the drones can’t find me and you won’t know exactly where I am.”

Dianne-Jesse 2016!

Op-Ed: How a Prop. 13 Fairness Campaign Could Win

Monday, February 17th, 2014

Howard Jarvis_CalBuzzBy Chuck McFadden
Special to Calbuzz

As a political matter, Proposition 13 is sacred.  It’s been described by lazy reporters as the “Third Rail of California Politics” so often that you probably want to hurl every time you hear the phrase.

As a policy matter, however, Proposition 13 rests on a fundamental inequity: it provides a gaping, pro-corporate loophole that pushes the statewide burden for property onto single-family and other residential homeowners. As Calbuzz has reported, data from the Board of Equalization and county assessors proves that “in virtually every county in the state, the share of the property tax borne by residential property has increased since the passage of Prop 13 in 1978, while the share of the property tax borne by non-residential property has decreased.”

Forget fairness, though: If you want to start taxing business the same way you tax homeowners, you’ll have every chamber of commerce in the state and taxpayer groups come down on you like Chris Christie on a chocolate éclair.  Not that it would count for much, but the Republican Party would oppose any modification as well.  Unless you’re heavily into masochism, forget it.

But here’s a news flash, pessimists.  A Public Policy Institute of California poll has just found that almost 60 percent of likely voters favor changing the rules to tax business and homes the same way – i.e., a split roll system.  Even 43 percent of Republicans like the idea.

rick-perry2Combatting conservative cliches: The problem is many people simply don’t understand that Prop. 13 gives business the ability to legally evade higher property taxes by maintaining a fiction of continuing ownership while homeowners can’t. Ordinary folks get dinged, big time, when a house changes hands, which explains side-by-side houses with huge differences in their taxes. Any disinterested observer knows that’s weird.

A campaign to restore fairness to property taxation would have every mayor, city council member, county supervisor, school superintendent and teachers union on its side, falling asleep with visions of more police officers, more firemen, fewer potholes and junkets to Thailand.

But California’s reputation already ranks as the worst state in the union for business.  Wouldn’t changes to the tax system that makes business pay more in property taxes make it worse?  Not to worry.  No one pays much attention to Rick Perry.

A fairness campaign would face two major hurdles.  First, you have to wage an initiative campaign to get a Prop. 13 modification on the ballot; then, a second campaign to get the initiative approved by voters.  Prayer won’t work here.  Only realpolitik will.

perkinsProp. 13 for the 1%: Here’s how it could work: The biggest issue in national politics now is the absurd level of wealth distribution between the plutocrats and everyone else. That sets the stage to use the strategy that is the gold standard for today’s political campaigns:  Resentment.

The campaign overcomes pro-corporate bleating with a message that casts the election as a choice between the little guy and the one percent. A TV ad portrays a repulsive capitalist – Tom “Kristallnacht” Perkins comes to mind – morphed into a top hat and a diamond stickpin. His message: working people have it too good; he’s entitled to the riches that Prop. 13 give him, and talk of reducing homeowners’ taxes by changing the system is dangerous socialism. Another spot focuses on Jamie Dimon’s recent, disgraceful 74 percent raise — $20 million a year — at J. P. Morgan.

The connection between Dimon’s raise and Prop. 13 may be a bit indirect, but Little Guy vs. Big Guy works with voters every time; in this case, that message has the virtue of being true.

Where, however, would the millions needed to overcome the misleading ads of the other side come from? Not from good government groups.  They have the facts on their side, but they don’t have the money on their side.  And don’t count on presumed good-government advocate Jerry Brown.  When last heard from on the subject, he said he “welcomed the discussion.”  Whoopee.

The solution is to take advantage of an emerging tradition in California politics:  Find a progressive Silicon Valley tycoon. An idealistic billionaire.  There must be at least one or two left out there somewhere.

MonopolyManMoneybagUse the cash to hire a high-powered campaign management firm (The 132-page state constitution specifies that all California campaign management firms must be described in news stories as “high-powered,” with the exception of Meg Whitman’s 2010 handlers. It’s the law; but I digress) to run a class-warfare campaign on behalf of tax fairness.

Bottom line: Building a campaign on emotion rather than bone-dry statistics might make goo-goos and liberal idealists shudder – oh, dear, do the ends justify the means? – But it’s the best shot at correcting something that badly needs correcting in California.

TrailblazercoverChuck McFadden covered politics for The Associated Press in Sacramento. His biography of our very own governor, Trailblazer: A Biography of Jerry Brown is out from the University of California Press.