Santa Barbara Politics, Media & Culture

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Ah, Those Troubling Facts

So, Travis Factswrong takes on the daunting climb of Great Mount Bloggy in his most recent Sunday rant. We can only link to the page because Doc Searl's blog has a permalink available, I'm assuming, only because he is subscriber. Hit it Travis!
Where are the great S.B. blogs?
Voice of Travis Armstrong
(sheesh! what an ego! - cannon)

There's a debate in media circles of what to make of the trend of people keeping journals on Web sites. Are bloggers a breed of citizen journalists or just people with a computer and Internet access who rant day in and out?
There's a debate in blogging circles about what to make of editorial page editors who also publish their own opinion columns in print and on the Web. Are they actually journalists, or just hacks who rant -- and publish other rants -- day in and day out?

One of my former bosses drew blogger wrath when he pointed out that these writers aren't disinterested observers, but readers believe them because what's blogged conforms to the political points of view of those looking at the sites.

"It is an increasing burden," Dennis Ryerson, now editor of the Indianapolis Star, told Editor & Publisher magazine. "It hurts because now anyone can publish on the Web. You have people who are politically aligned raising questions about our standards, but there is no attention given to their standards."
One of my blogger friends pointed out that like us, so-called editors like Wendy McCaw and Travis Armstrong of the Santa Barbara News-Press have points of view that color their coverage and distort the news, often conforming to the political views of both their customers, advertisers, friends and social circles. "It is an increasing burden," said one well-connected wealthy editor. "It hurts because now anyone can publish their criticisms of a mainstream publication without having to go through our editorial page editors first to get their damn letters published! They ask irritating questions about our political affiliations and economic motivations, yet they it do it in their spare time, for free, just because they give a shit!"

I think it would be great if blogs became a challenge to journalists in Santa Barbara. It's all the better to have more people interested in public life in Santa Barbara and civilly debating ideas through varying outlets.
I think it would be great if blogs became a challenge to journalists in Santa Barbara, unless they actually challenged us, and that would be really, really bad.

But in scanning the Internet last week, I grew disappointed that the blog phenomena hasn't really taken off in Santa Barbara. The county Democratic Central Committee has one that could become an interesting read if some of the party higher-ups, rather than the hangers-on, begin contributing. Right now, it's mostly postings by the News-Press-obsessed Dan Ancona, the committee's media guy.
I mean, they haven't had a fresh post in a month, and one post on the main page was critical of my paper! Those crazy bastards! The OBSESSION!

Did I miss some great Santa Barbara blogs during my Web surf? The ones I've seen so far are like Fox News, all opinion and reacting but no reporting. They just tell people what they want to hear. E-mail the Web addresses of other blogs to me at Travis Armstrong is the editorial page editor of the News-Press.
Okay then. Travis, buddy, blogs are not meant to generate news, but sometimes they do. We, as stated here are media and political commentators and watchdogs -- and yes, that means watching you. It seems to me that we are far more "obsessed" with the SBN-P than Heeyah -- shit, they barely ever post anything. But guess what? You are the only daily in SB and that ain't gonna change, probably ever. If we are watching the media, we are watching you, surprise, surprise.

Travis, I don't really know if you found BlogaBarbara before you wrote that OpEd, but I do love this quote: "The ones I've seen so far are like Fox News, all opinion and reacting but no reporting." You mean, kinda like your column and editorials and commentary in the News-Opress? Are you riled that a li'l ol' blog, like ours or some other, with our tiny readership, is elbowing into your punditry turf? But this is where it really gets thick. After all that preaching and dismissing and FOX News comparing, Travis writes this, next item, same column:

It's amusing to watch the angst over the leak of Mayor Marty Blum's closed-session remarks about the police raises, as if leaks never have occurred before. City Hall tattletales are nothing new.

Remember the leak about closed-door talks on a possible Target Store on city land -- leaks meant to hurt De Facto Mayor Iya Falcone?
And he calls us, if indeed he meant us, reactionary and sensationalistic? As he proceeds to do so himself? Calling Acona a peon and Falcone the De-Facto Mayor, essentially spitting in the current Mayor's face? Nice.

It is notable that Travis never lets his readers know of what blogs he speaks (except for the yawning Dems) so said readers can decide for themselves. Not to frett! Travis has made up your mind! I must note that Sara sent him and e-mail, and he never addressed the only item at BlogaBarbara that actually is news: the fact -- yes, fact -- the SB News-Press is the only major Central Coastal daily that does not have access to it's online content for free. (NOTE: for more analysis on this, see Doc Searl's weblog).

We are not journalists, and our credentials aren't the issue -- yours are. Do I need to be more than a simple citizen to make a comment at a City Council meeting, or to state my opinion in a coffee shop? Like I'm their constituent, I am your customer. This is not Travis' great big sandbox and we are just visiting. Like I said, I guess he's just pissed that there is another kid on the block willing to take him on with an opinion or two or eight. Guess what Travis? I'm Cannon Presidio, and I'm ready and willing to be that kid. And by the way, thanks for the big spike in traffic here at BlogaBarbara!

Hey hey, we're just telling people what they wanna hear, right?

Monday, April 11, 2005

Iyatollah Follies

Nick Welsh at the SB Indy has probably the best take on "LeakGate" to date. My comments on the bolded sections follow after The Poodle:
The political fallout from last week's City Council stink fest is still so toxic that Santa Barbara's Geiger counters haven't stopped clicking. Far from putting the Funk back in the dysfunction, this nasty, and absolutely gratuitous, showdown between the police union, Mayor Marty Blum, and councilmember Iya Falcone demonstrated that where politics and money are concerned, nothing is merely "business" - everything is intensely personal. In the meantime, all parties managed to make themselves look seriously bad. On the surface, the fight was about a proposed five-percent pay increase for the city cops. Going into last week's meeting, the police had five votes solidly sewn up. In closed session, Mayor Marty, who is running for reelection, and soon to be termed-out Dan Secord were the only two dissenters, arguing the raise was too big given the city's structural deficit of $2.5 million. In other words, the cops had it in the bag and they should have left it at that. And oftentimes, when the council members come out from behind such closed-door deliberations, the dissenters put their differences aside and vote with the council majority in an effort to present a united front. That's probably what would have happened last Tuesday had someone - and I'm betting diamonds to donuts it was Falcone - not leaked the mayor's position to Sgt. Mike McGrew of the police union, who then relayed it to political consultant Richard Cochrane, who then reportedly leaked it to the News-Press. For good measure, McGrew - who has quietly emerged as the single most powerful un-elected politician on the South Coast - emailed his members en masse, warning them that he expected Mayor Marty to dis the cops at Tuesday's meeting and asked them to show up in force. They did just that. And just in case anyone missed the point, McGrew was quoted in the News-Press as saying that if Blum didn't vote right, the police union was going to take her out. When you're the 8,000 pound gorilla, you don't need to pound your chest. In fact, you ought not to. In this case, McGrew backed Blum into an untenable corner, forcing her to cave in and lose face or cross the police union.

As a cop, McGrew is precisely the guy you want to see when some scimitar-wielding whack-job runs down State Street on a Saturday afternoon. Or when an aging Eastern European immigrant armed with a .50-caliber handgun shoots his insurance agent and then threatens a police officer. McGrew is not so much big as he is massively built, and with his bulging arms and sad eyes, he conveys a potent mix of raw power and inner sorrow. Among prosecutors, McGrew's word is not just good - it's golden. But his power and intensity cut both ways. Yes, it was McGrew's testimony a few years back that helped bring down his superior officer, Captain Greg Stock, who had a good shot at becoming chief. But it was also the seething anger McGrew displayed on the witness stand that convinced a Santa Barbara jury more than anything else that the police department was indeed a hostile work environment for the two women officers suing the department for sex discrimination. As a result, the jury awarded those women a couple million bucks, then an unheard-of amount for Santa Barbara's notoriously stingy juries. Politically, the Police Officers Association - which McGrew heads - has always been extremely influential. In recent years, the POA has spent about $45,000 per City Council race, far more than any other organization around. But if the cops spend a lot of dough, they make sure they control where it goes, giving very little directly to the candidates themselves. Instead, they buy radio ads, TV ads - often starring McGrew - bulk mailings, and polling services on behalf of their favorites. Typically, that translates to about $12,000 a candidate. And when you consider that it costs about $40,000 to wage a credible council campaign these days, that ain't chicken feed. Perhaps even more important than the cash itself, the cops walk precincts - door to door - on behalf of the candidates they support. The police's political influence achieved new critical mass with the election of Falcone, the Ginger Rogers to McGrew's Fred Astaire. On the council, the cops could have found no more passionate an advocate than Falcone, a tough, shrewd, and obviously ambitious operator sometimes referred to as "the Iyatollah" for her warm, fuzzy backroom manner.

Whether the cops deserved, or City Hall could afford, the five-percent bump remains open to debate. But the police made it clear from the beginning there was nothing to talk about. They would get the same five percent the firefighters just got, or they'd "do battle." Behind closed doors, Blum - herself the former head of the teachers' union - consistently worried about the city's finances. She wanted the cops to get a raise, just not so big. The firefighters needed more, she argued, because their pay was seriously lagging behind what firefighters in comparable communities got. The same, however, cannot be said for the city cops. (The firefighters, by the way, are now furious the cops got so much, and the lesson they've learned is that might plus money equals right.) McGrew wasn't buying it, and last Tuesday, he went eyeball-to-eyeball, toe-to-toe with the Mayor in the council chambers. Standing at the podium like a great wounded bear, McGrew publicly blasted Marty as an insincere political coward hiding behind a smokescreen of lame logic. Somehow, he managed to inject his son's recent and tragic fight with cancer into the debate, as if that has any bearing on how much cops should get paid. In rebuttal, I fully expected Marty to rip off her blouse and show the scars from her recent double mastectomy. To her credit, she resisted the impulse. Throughout her tenure, Marty's been susceptible to outbursts of foot-in-mouth disease at the worst possible moments, and just after last Tuesday's meeting, she described for the News-Press how she felt afraid and intimidated by all the cops "packing guns" crowding the pews before her. That's exactly the wrong thing to say about the men and women who risk their lives every day to make Santa Barbara so safe that not one murder was committed here last year. For anyone looking for a reason to be offended by the mayor, Marty just answered their prayers. Sometimes, you just need to stuff a sock in it. The same could be said for McGrew, however. Lest anyone accuse him of being a gracious winner, McGrew announced that the POA would be looking for candidates to run against Marty for mayor this November. Even Falcone, who wants to be mayor in the worst possible way, begged off, acknowledging such a contest would be destructive to the community.
So let's see...first of all, It seems that Nick's account is probably the most thorough from what I've seen, but The Iyatollah? Now that had me choking on my bran muffin! A couple of points...

When the cops pick a fight they have already won, and throw around phrases like "do battle" and "take her out" it must seem a little spooky when a bunch of cops show up at council in a blaze of guns. However, I think Blum probably meant the comment more tongue in cheek, for she certainly isn't the wimp the Monster McGrew describes -- heck, she fought breast cancer and took on the POA, hardly the sign of a wimp!!! A wimp would be what she was if she hadn't stood up to them. I mean, how in the heck could Blum benefit from this fight? Anyway, I think her comments were more like "I do declare! What huge guns they have! I'm a'twitter!" But of course, it doesn't sound that way in print at Gotcha McPress.

If indeed it was The Iyatollah that leaked the info, it's nice to see her take on some water after launching this boat. I mean really, will her fellow council members ever trust her again? Have fun, Foulcone.

And McGrew? Ah yes -- him. Well, if the winning lawsuit mentioned above is any example, he better watch it. It's a lofty perch from which to fall, and in my experience nothing falls quicker than a sore winner.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

What is the sound of one beach closing?

Since the News-Press has long since given up running the disclaimer that they should be running every time they talk about the Coastal Commission, BlogaBarbara will:

While reading this editorial, please keep in mind that News-Press owner Wendy McCaw lost a series of bitter and expensive (even by mega millionaire standards) legal battles with the Coastal Commission when she tried to privatize the beach adjacent to her sprawling 25 acre Hope Ranch estate. The News-Press respects its readers enough to provide them with this information, so that they can decide for themselves as to whether our suggestion that Clearly Evil Coastal Commissioners should have their budgets slashed and then be put in stocks on De La Guerra Plaza and pummeled with fresh local abalone is really motivated by our clear-eyed defense of the public interest, or by, you know, something else.

It's really 25 acres, according to a 2002 piece in the New Yawk Times. A couple of city blocks, all to herself! The line they always take is that access doesn't matter. The little people can pack themselves onto the downtown beaches, right?

Fooey! I'm sure there are some wonderful writings out there about the importance of access, the importance to the human soul of being able to go places. John Muir must've written about this. But it's just plain common sense: people are just plain more likely to value and want permanent protections for a resource they have access to than one that's behind a gate that they don't have the keys to. Anyway, who cares? We're talking about people going for walks at sunset and maybe the occasional dip in the ocean, not drive-by SUVs, giant bonfires, herds of drunk city college kids or setting up oil drilling gear.

In other words, if a beach closes on the coastline but there's no one there to visit it, does it matter?

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Travis' Surprise

Travis FactsWrong's article today deserves a quick review:
Two big questionslinger after the City Council voted 5-2 to give a 5 percent pay raise to Santa Barbara police officers. What will city officials do so that over the next four years they don't dip into disaster and other reserves to pay for this and other scheduled wage hikes?

And secondly, what's Mayor Marty Blum's future?

She, and Councilman Dr. Dan Secord, wanted smaller raises.

You can believe the mayor did it out of concern for city finances.

Or you can believe that she had little to lose politically by standing up to the Police Officers Association. Earlier missteps by Mrs. Blum meant that the labor organization wouldn't have endorsed her in the November election anyway. In favoring lower raises, she even could gain politically because some voters would appreciate this fiscal stewardship.
I'm not so sure of this take -- if the Slugger would have voted for the raise, she likely would have gotten the endorsement. The Police Officer's Association is traditionally a one issue organization.

Then there's another take.

Consider the testimony of the president of the Police Officers Association at Tuesday's meeting.

He said: "Last night I got an e-mail from the mayor. Basically it expressed anger towards myself and towards other officers of the Police Officers Association, and in that e-mail it said, 'I probably would have voted for your raise before, but now I have to defend myself,' and that comment was directed not towards the four-year worst-case budget scenario that was presented to the News-Press. It was said because of a personal issue."

My thought after hearing this was, "Oh, there goes the mayor again sending off rash e-mails."

Our mayor is a hasty e-mailer, and readers over the years have forwarded to me her off-putting electronic messages.
Both FactsWrong and Monster McGrew have personal beefs with the Mayor -- at least he admits it here. Still, what reads below does not sound angry -- I'm not sure where McGrew got that. As for FactsWrong's examples...I think a lot of us might agree with the Mayor on that one...

She's aimed some of her missives at my head, in attempts to have the News-Press silence this column or take other action. In one e-mail sent to the paper's top management last year, the mayor wrote: "Travis' column borders on 'out of it.' He is out of touch with the community, and I believe he is a detriment to the

I may be out of touch in saying this, but the mayor has grown in her job over the last 15 months.

And I want to believe that she challenged the police association out of a real concern for the overall financial health of the city. Yet when I see and hear about her emails, I can't help but continue to believe that sometimes grudges and impulsiveness also are what inform her official actions to a certain degree.

In this case, though, I'll stick up for the mayor. Here are some other excerpts from the mayor's e-mail to the police association:

"This year the discussions behind closed doors were leaked to Richard Cochrane who let folks in the public know about my closed session remarks. This came back to me, and it was not OK. This is not only bad for the council because the council should feel comfortable in closed sessions, but also this type of leak has undermined the process. I am no longer comfortable. After nine years. In addition, I find myself having to explain myself in front of the TV cameras, the POA in public session, and the news reporters, all at the council meeting. ...

"Had there been no leaks, I probably would have voted for the raise, going along with the majority of the council, but now I have to defend myself. I am greatly saddened by all of this. It has kept me awake at night for the first time in my elected career."

Much of the mayor's explanation sounds well thought out to me. I used to think Marty Blum absolutely didn't merit another term. But now, under fire, perhaps she's
done coasting.
FactsWrong actually giving lukewarm support? This is a first -- stay tuned for this evolving saga of fiscal responsibility and the politics of entitlemment...