Archive for 2009



Swap Meet: Google Text Ads Meet Health Care Riots

Saturday, August 8th, 2009

stevepointingAt least he’s not defensive: Thanks to the anonymity-please Calbuzzer who forwarded a Steve Poizner Google text ad encountered during a no-doubt vigorous session of web surfing. It reads, in full:

“Be Well Informed in 2010 – www.StevePoizner.com –Meg isn’t the only candidate. See the alternatives.”

To which the alert member of the Calbuzz Insider News Tip Team smartly opines: “A little defensive, don’t you think?”

Yes, we do, though it’s not hard to understand the frustration that led Team Poizner to post it. While the Insurance Commissioner has begun to make? himself accessible to the press and is offering substantive speeches and policy proposals on issues like water, Meg merrily captures national attention by doing little more than flashing her Cabbage Patch smile.

Latest example of eMeg’s duck-the-press strategy is freezing Calbuzz out of a “Lincoln Speaker Series” fundraiser tossed by the Santa Cruz County GOP, a move which likely has Honest Abe spinning in his grave.

“I’ll be sure to let you know when there’s another event in the area that will be open to media,” Whitman flack Sarah Pompei told us.

Hey thanks a bunch for your faux sincerity, Sarah, we’ll be sure to hold our breath. Sorry about that whole volcano thing, BTW.

Milton_FriedmanWhat would Milton do: Speaking of defensive, Joel Fox over at Fox and Hounds Daily risked dislocating a hip by leaping up and rushing forward to respond after Joe Matthews Mathews wrote a smart column on the same site suggesting that the late, iconic economist Milton Friedman would see the present need to amend Proposition 13.

“I think it is safe to say,” Fox wrote, with a bit of a protests-too-much tone, “that if Milton Friedman were asked today if he would vote for Proposition 13, his answer would be ‘yes.’”

The brainy Mathews isn’t so sure.

He recounted an interview he had with Friedman four years ago in which the great chrome dome said that Prop. 13 had turned out to be a “mixed bag.” Even though Uncle Milton supported the tax cut measure at the time it passed – even making a TV ad for it – he said in the interview that “it’s a bad tax measure because the property tax is the least bad tax there is” adding that it helped bring about an over-reliance on sales and income tax revenue.

Mathews’ otherwise thoughtful piece was badly flawed, however, by his gratuitous inclusion of the fact that he – Mathews, not Friedman – was just five years old when Prop. 13 passed in 1978. A bushel of big fat raspberries from the Calbuzz AARP and Geezer Auxiliary Division for that crack, pal.

Assembly’s Hidden Ball Trick: The By God L.A. Times finally caught up with Capitol Weekly’s Anthony York, who first reported last week on how the political geniuses in the Assembly expunged the official record of the big budget vote against Arnold’s offshore oil drilling proposal. True, the Times did broaden the story to talk about the mischievous practice of dumping vote tallies on other controversial legislation (leading widely-known media critics to suggest their newsroom still operates on its pre-digital principle: “it doesn’t matter if we write it last, as long as we write it long”). But it was left to the reliable Timm Herdt to actually report the damn vote on his blog for the Ventura County Star.

yudoff

Say it ain’t so Mark: Calbuzz has been second to none in bashing Senator Leland Yee for his preposterous notion to turn over governing authority of the UC system to the clown show of the Legislature. But even we have to admit that the Regents offered up a big fat argument in favor of the notion with their latest let-them-eat-cake move, awarding comfy raises and bonuses to top administrators at the same meeting that President Mark Yudof presented the board his plan to whack the salaries of every other UC employee through a mandated furlough policy. The relentless Nanette Asimov dug outchoi thu casino truc tuyen the story for the Chron.

A shameful spectacle: All Right Thinking People agree that the recent spate of thuggish shout-downs and near-riots at town hall meetings, convened to talk about health care by members of congress across the nation, are a pure and simple disgrace, orchestrated in part by the kind of vicious-minded reactionary consultants who doubtless find amusing the dangerous ranting of the lunatic Glenn Beck and the repulsive Michelle Malkin.

These Brown Shirt exhibitions of George Wallace throwback behavior fuel not-so-latent racism and visceral fear of the rapidly changing economy among white working class folks who scream with fury when asked about a public option for health care insurance one minute, then shout out huzzahs for Medicare the next.

Always solution oriented, Calbuzz has a small but substantive suggestion for lowering the volume: require attendees to show some form of identification at the door to prove they actually live in the congressional district where the town hall is being held.

Breathless anticipation: Only 305 days to the 2010 primary. Have a great weekend.

Press Clips: Why Is NPR in Thrall to Prince Gavin?

Friday, August 7th, 2009

newsom_2_JPGWe were floored to listen to Madeleine Brand’s nine-minute story on the California governor’s race on NPR on Tuesday. Not because that’s a huge amount of time to spend on the race — which it is — but because half the damn thing consisted of an interview with Gavin Newsom (she didn’t interview any other candidates).

The piece also included an interview with the Chron’s Carla Marinucci, whose comments were edited so her money quote cast the race exactly the way? Newsom and his strategist, Garry “Svengali” South, want to define it: as a “generational contest.” Whether Prince of Prides Newsom can succeed in cubbyholing Crusty the General Jerry Brown as a drooling geezer seems to Calbuzz a dubious proposition, at best.

What we found most interesting in the NPR piece was Newsom’s decision to underline strongly his claim to fame as the No. 1 advocate for gay marriage, after? downplaying it in recent months; when Calbuzz asked him about it in March, for example, he said, “People, from my perspective, have really moved on . . . The new realities of the economy are much more pressing in people’s minds.”

But on NPR, he not only embraced his role on the issue, but reveled in it. For the record, he said: “There are certain fundamental values that I hold dear and there are principles that I’ll fight for. I believe in equality. It’s not just a slogan; it’s not just rhetoric. Actually, I want to champion it, I want to fight for it. I’m someone who just doesn’t believe separate is equal . . . I won’t equivocate.”

burningpapersThe decline and fall of practically everything: Thanks to our friend Alan Mutter over at Reflections of a Newsosaur for pointing us to an excellent post at Content Bridges that provides the first quantitative analysis of the journalistic impact of all the financial cuts in the newspaper industry.

The site is operated by former Knight-Ridder guru Ken Doctor, who put together stats on the number of journalism jobs slashed by daily newspapers – 8,500 in the last two years alone – and reductions in pages devoted to news – an estimated half of the 40 percent decline in newsprint usage – to calculate a loss of 828,000 news stories a year, “neither written nor read,” as Doctor put it.

It’s easy enough to trash newspapers and those who run them, and Lord knows Calbuzz does our share, for being arrogant, out of touch and slow off the mark to adjust to the wacky world of the web. But 828,000 fewer stories means that people across the nation know a helluva’ lot less about what’s going on in city halls, cop shops, courtrooms, school boards and state capitals than they did just a few years ago. And that ain’t good for the public interest, no matter how clueless some newspaper editors may be.

P.S. The big buzz in the news industry this week was Aussie press baron Rupert Murdoch’s announcement that he intends to start charging readers for content on all web sites of his far-flung News Corp. empire.

difipencilNext up – podcasting with Dianne: Check your thesaurus for an antonym for “blogger,” and you’ll find a big picture of Dianne Feinstein; California’s straight-laced Senator is just about the purest antithesis imaginable of the pajamadin.

So Calbuzz was shocked the other day to find Difi joining the likes of Alec Baldwin, John Waters and Nora Ephron in Arianna’s lineup of celebrity bloggers over at the Huffington Post.

No doubt, Herself’s piece on warrantless wiretaps was Really Important but still: She managed in a single post to ?a) put everyone to sleep from the start by employing the dreaded historical lede –- 2 ? paragraphs worth of it; b) leave us scratching our heads about her central point by omitting the crucial nut graf, and c) churn out a thicket of verbiage as impenetrable as a Brillo pad, laced with bureaucratic Beltway-speak like this:

“Initially, the OLC based its opinion on the president’s inherent constitutional authorities as Commander-in-Chief. Subsequently, the OLC shifted its rationale to rely upon the Authorization for the Use of Military Force…”

Memo to Dianne: Don’t quit your day job.

mouthpiece

Not exactly “Frontline”: Class act kudos to Chris Cillizza of “The Fix,” for graciously extracting himself from “Mouthpiece Theatre,” the WashPost’s dreadful experiment in multi-media infotainment.

For the past several months, Cillizza served as sidekick to the spectacularly unfunny Post humor writer Dana Milbank in an online video schtick called “Mouthpiece Theatre” in which the two donned smoking jackets, wielded pipes and parodied political pundits, playing it for yuks, which were few and far between.

Last week, they keyed off Obama’s “beer summit” with Harvard Professor Henry Lewis Gates and the Cambridge cop who arrested him, assigning several dozen obscure brands of beers to various politicians; the creaky episode collapsed completely when they put up a photo of Hillary Clinton and Milbank suggested she should drink “Mad Bitch” beer, a crack that earned the players and their paper widespread condemnation in media, political and feminist circles.

Over at the Columbia Journalism Review’s site, Megan Barber wrote:

“One wonders how much of the Post staff’s time and resources were devoted to researching, writing, staging, shooting, and editing such an extraordinarily value-free contribution to the annals of political commentary.?Milbank and Cillizza are no Stewart/Colbert—they’re not even Letterman/O’Brien—not only because they’re simply not as funny, but because their status as (ostensibly) reporters means that they owe us more than lame-puns-for-the-sake-of-lame-puns, as per the typical humor of late-night TV.”

In a substantially lighter vein, comic Andy Cobb did a terrific You Tube send-up of the show

On Wednesday, media writer Howard Kurtz broke the news that the suits at the Post had pulled the plug on “Mouthpiece Theatre.” Cillizza, to his credit, made a clean breast of things on his blog.

The smug,? self-absorbed, fratboy Milbank also apologized in Kurtz’s piece, kinda, sorta but did so in a predictably self-serving way:

“It’s clear there was an audience for it out there, but not large enough to justify all the grief. My strength is in observational, in-the-field stuff, and that’s what I should do. I’m sorry about the reaction it’s caused but I think it’s important to experiment. The real risk to newspapers is not that they take too many risks, but that they don’t take enough risks.”

Calbuzz decoder ring translation: The little people just aren’t smart enough to appreciate my genius.

lingand leeLee and Ling and One Limp Neo-Con: Like all journalists, Calbuzz felt great concern about Euna Lee and Laura Ling and, back in June, offered space to Betty Medsger to advocate on their behalf. So we were delighted when former president Bill Clinton was able to bring them home from North Korea the other day. It was a wonderful exercise of personal diplomacy with the nutcase Kim Jong Il, who was most likely confused about whether he was posing for snaps with Clinton or Elvis, his one true hero.bolton Anyway, we were jazzed by the release of the two journos.

So when former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton immediately declared that the successful mission actually was “a classic case of rewarding bad behavior,” we just had to make a note — of what a complete dick this guy is.

Key Democrats Plan New Push for Oil Severance Tax

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

johngaramendiGov Lite John Garamendi and Assemblyman Pedro Nava tell Calbuzz they are preparing a new political offensive to push aggressively for a 9.9 percent per barrel severance tax on oil producers in California.

Having led the charge to defeat the governor’s proposal for a lease authorizing oil drilling in state waters off the coast of Santa Barbara, the two are seeking to harness the momentum built by the statewide coalition of environmental groups that quickly mobilized in that fight.nava

“The taxpayers have been giving their oil free to the oil companies for 100 years, and it’s time for the oil companies to start paying it back,” Garamendi, who’s running for congress, told us. “The environmental community, having rallied to defeat (Schwarzenegger’s offshore leasing plan) is very engaged on this.”

Nava, who’s seeking the Democratic nomination for attorney general, said in an interview that he is also working with environmental groups “invested in opposition to offshore drilling” as he puts together legislation for a severance tax to raise $1-1.5 billion a year.

“Do the math,” Nava told us. “The governor was willing to sell of the coast for $100 million – this would raise over $1 billion a year.”

Torrico-AlbertoA proposal to impose such a tax and earmark the money for higher education, by Assemblyman Alberto Torrico – who’s also running for attorney general – is pending in the Legislature. Nava said his bill would not restrict the use of new revenue within state government: “Earmarking the money divides people,” he said.

Because California is the only oil-producing state that does not impose a severance tax, such a proposal could gain political traction, at a time when Democrats insist they will not support further education and social welfare cuts after joining in passing a red-ink budget that slashed many programs.

Passing a tax increase would be an uphill fight because it requires a two-thirds vote in both houses. However, the public unpopularity of oil companies offers Democrats perhaps their best opportunity to pressure Republicans on a revenue-raising measure. Schwarzenegger at one point suggested an oil tax, but dropped the idea in the face of opposition by GOP lawmakers.

John Doherty, a legislative aide to Torrico, told us the assemblyman did not have the votes to get his proposal out of the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee earlier this year; Torrico plans to use the rest of the current legislative session to build support for passing it in 2010, he addedm a wide-open election year in which many legislators will be seeking statewide offices.

A 9.9 percent severance tax would generate about $1.4 billion a year with oil at $70 a barrel, according to the lieutenant governor. A barrel of crude oil was priced at $71.97 on Wednesday.

In the interview with Calbuzz, Garamendi also addressed three related issues, saying he:

-Expects the governor, having “set the stage for a new re-run,” to try again to push through the controversial Tranquillon Ridge project defeated in the Assembly after passing the Senate by one vote, perhaps when the Legislature reconvenes later this month.

-Plans at next week’s meeting of the State Lands Commission to hold a risk-assessment hearing to weigh the relative merits of drilling in state waters from offshore and onshore facilities: “Intuitively, drilling from the land, you’re not likely to spill in the ocean (while) drilling from the sea you’re likely to spill in the ocean,” he said, “We want a data base to determine the facts.” The issue is timely because Venoco Oil Co. is proposing an onshore slant drilling project in state waters off Santa Barbara, not far from the Tranquillon Ridge project.

-Dismisses speculation that if he (Garamendi) wins his congressional race, Schwarzenegger will be able to hand-pick a successor as lieutenant governor who would swing the balance of power on the lands commission in favor of authorizing an offshore lease. The governor’s nominee would have to be confirmed by the Democrat-dominated Legislature, three of whose members are already running for the post, he noted.

“There’s a lot of foolishness about this,” he said of speculation in Sacramento about such a scenario.

Polling on Offshore Drilling: Energy or Environment?

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

oilrigWhen the Public Policy Institute of California came out last week with its most recent data on public support for offshore oil drilling, there was a lot of gnashing of teeth and some name-calling among certain folks on the environmental left.

PPIC’s poll had found that for the second year in a row, a narrow majority of registered voters (51% in 2008 and 53% in 2009) said they favor allowing oil drilling off the California coast.

Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, for one, went nuts, attacking PPIC’s poll as worthless and biased, until the attorney general wannabe got hosed down and recalibrated his comments as a critique of the news media.

As we said then, Mark Baldassare of PPIC is an excellent pollster. He’s as unbiased as they come, interested only in gathering data that accurately reflect the public’s outlook on important issues. His survey methodology is first-rate (despite some reservations we have about how he handles cell phones), he has massive resources, a fair-minded approach to public policy research and pristine academic and professional credentials.

Which doesn’t mean his work is flawless. There are some reasons why PPIC’s measure on offshore oil drilling – even if it’s 100% accurate — may not reflect what California voters actually think about offshore oil drilling as an issue in state politics.

With its constellation of questions, PPIC is actually measuring what California voters think about a cluster of policies – asked in a series that is rotated randomly — designed “to address the country’s energy needs and reduce dependence on foreign oil sources.” These include: requiring automakers to significantly improve the fuel efficiency of cars sold in this country; building more nuclear power plants; increasing federal funding to develop wind, solar, and hydrogen technology, and allowing more oil drilling off the California coast.

In other words, offshore oil drilling is being examined primarily, not as an? environmental issue – which, in our view, is how most California voters approach it – but as a function of national energy policy.

Even in that context – and here’s where the enviros have an argument – proposing offshore oil drilling as a way to “address the country’s energy needs and reduce dependence on foreign oil sources” is a dubious proposition.

As Media Matters for America has previously documented, the Energy Department’s Annual Energy Outlook 2007 found “access to the Pacific, Atlantic, and eastern Gulf regions would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030. Leasing would begin no sooner than 2012, and production would not be expected to start before 2017.”

PPIC is not alone in posing offshore oil drilling as a matter of national energy policy. The esteemed Field Poll has done much the same, asking in July 2008, whether “oil companies should be allowed to drill more oil and gas wells in state tidelands along the California coast” as one of the policies for respondents to consider after this introduction:

“I’m going to read some proposals that have been made that attempt to deal with the rising cost of energy. For each, please tell me whether you agree or disagree.”

Interestingly, the Field Poll – which surveys registered voters and includes (at great expense) a large component of respondents who have only cell phones — asked that about the same time PPIC did last summer and came up with a mirrored response: 51% disagreed and 43% agreed – just about an identical flip-flop of the PPIC finding.

It’s unclear why Field and PPIC would have such different results on the offshore oil question. Sampling differences, especially of cell phone-only respondents, the cluster of policies in which offshore oil is included, question order, to name of few factors, could explain the difference. That’s a story for another day.

Despite Nava’s complaint, there’s good reason for both surveys to ask the offshore oil drilling question as they have – in order to track public opinion over time. The shift PPIC has found, for instance, especially among independent voters (since Democrats and Republicans have not changed much) is worth noting when looking at how the issue compares to other policy choices.

But as Baldassare acknowledged, it is possible that the set-up – crafted from national polling questions and designed to measure offshore drilling as a policy option among several others — is problematic in measuring support for offshore oil drilling as a distinctly California political issue.

So what is to be done? We hope that our good friends at PPIC and Field will, in some future poll, ask about offshore oil drilling as an environmental question or as a stand-alone question concerning California public policy to avoid confusion stemming from conflation with attitudes on gas prices or dependence on foreign oil.

Our gut-level suspicion is that a candidate who supports offshore oil drilling in a statewide race does so at his or her own peril. But some hard data would be valuable.

Must Read: Field Poll Look at CA Political Landscape

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

AR71W2A 30-year survey of polling data by the Field Institute shows that both major? parties have declined in support over the past three decades, and while the Democrats’ edge over Republicans has decreased, the most important political trend is the substantial growth in the number of independent voters.

Field also reports that while whites now represent less than half the state’s population, they still dominate the electorate, with non-Hispanic whites representing nearly two-thirds of voters. While Latinos have greatly increased their portion of the population – now 37 % – they vote in significantly lower numbers, making up only 21 percent of the electorate.

A must-read for political junkies, the new report provides a wealth of data offering an in-depth and in-detail view of how California’s demographic landscape has changed since 1978, when Jerry Brown last was governor and Proposition 13 won in a landslide. Compiled and analyzed by Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo and survey founder Merv “The Swami” Field, the report collects and collates data from several sources, including the firm’s most recent statewide surveys, including 9,257 registered voters, and its four state polls in 1978, with 4,072 respondents.

Among its many findings, the poll reports that:

-Once-majority whites are now a minority of the population in California – 43 percent compared to 69 percent in 1978 – but still dominate elections, representing 65 percent of the statewide electorate.

-Latinos are California’s fastest growing ethnic group – 37 percent of the current population, compared with 19 percent in 1978 – but their voter participation rate remains relatively low, representing only 21 percent of the overall electorate.

-Democrats have lost their status as a majority party – they now are 45 percent of registered voters compared to 57 percent 30 years ago – while Republicans have become an even smaller minority – 31 percent today versus 34 percent in 1978. At the same time, voters who decline to state a party preference have more than doubled as a portion of the electorate – growing to 20 percent from 8 percent.

Because the partisan gap between Democrats and Republicans has narrowed over the period measured – 14 percent from 22 percent – conservatives are likely to point to the report and argue that they are picking up strength in the state. The key question, however, is whether the expanding number of independents is more likely to vote the Democratic position on candidates or issues, or the Republican stance.

The answer to that may become clearer when Field releases the second part of its big poll analysis today, tracing changes in voter attitudes on specific issues over the past three decades.