Quack and spin

Chucka culpa: It was good to see our old friend Chuck Quackenbush back in the news last week. Of course, it would be better to see this guy in prison, or being flogged on the steps of the Capitol, but Bites will have to settle for once again seeing the Quackenbush name smeared with condemning ink.

The occasion for rehashing the Quackster’s dastardly deeds was the release of the California State Auditor report on the Department of Insurance, which concluded that Chuckie was a bad, bad boy.

Tossing a few more evidentiary logs on the bonfire of accusations that drove Quackenbush from his post as insurance commissioner over the summer, Auditor Elaine Howle said Chuckie “abused his authority” by letting insurance companies pay their way out of regulatory punishment.

New Insurance Commissioner Harry W. Low responded to the report with mea culpas—or rather, chucka culpas—promising to close “very serious gaps in the Department’s internal management and control systems.”

The report was immediately praised by Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who is still conducting the criminal investigation that could turn the man once described as the “best-looking politician in Sacramento” into the most popular piece of ass on the cellblock.

It’s just too bad there will be no sanctions for Quackenbush’s biggest enablers, the voters who elected him twice, despite widely publicized information that he was the insurance industry’s boy.

Wise up, people! There is a reason certain interests support certain politicians, especially politicians who can shield them from government scrutiny. So pay attention, make the connections and don’t be suckers again Nov. 7.

IWC’s BFD: Speaking of rigged political games, the Industrial Welfare Commission this week threw a bone to the poorest California workers, bumping the state’s minimum wage up by 50 cents per year, so it will hit a whopping $6.75 an hour in 2002.

For the slow or the conservative, that “whopping” crack was sarcasm. As in, how do politicians expect people to live in the most expensive state in the nation on less than seven bucks an hour? And why aren’t we willing to share our state’s phenomenal prosperity with the people who really need it?

The IWC vote was unanimous, demonstrating the deceptive brand of “compromise” demanded by Gov. Gray Davis, who appointed the commissioners. How nice and neat that both the labor and management representatives voted for a new minimum wage, ain’t it?

Yet Bites sees through the charade. Davis and his centrist ilk are all about feasting with big business while tossing table scraps to labor. And with the labor movement hopelessly fragmented, and unions laser-focused on their members’ needs, nobody with any clout is fighting very hard for the little guy.

The only significant labor support for a living wage came from the California Federation of Labor, which urged the IWC to adopt a wage closer to $8 an hour, which would take the inflation-adjusted wage back to where it was before beginning its slide 30 years ago.

But with this week’s vote, Davis gets to say he’s helping workers, labor gets to claim a victory, and employers can seem like they gave a little. Meanwhile, life still sucks for the people flipping our burgers or picking our vegetables.

Round and round: What do the previous two items have in common? They are each excellent examples of how the public gets manipulated in this cursed age of public relations and political spin.

Seeking to get the inside skinny on modern propaganda techniques, Bites last week sent a spy to cover a meeting of the Sacramento Public Relations Association on “The Art of Political Spin.” Bites planned to pull back the curtain to show you the mischievous men pulling the levers of the great and powerful Oz.

Yet the Bites operative was quickly uncovered as a spy by the suspicious spinmeisters, and the tell-all turned into just a live version of Sunday morning pundit-blathering. Max Besler did a dandy job of talking about this political season and how the undecideds and uninspireds would start lukewarming up, but there was no insider stuff on spin. The other invited speaker, Sal Russo, didn’t even show up, obviously tipped off to Bites’ inquiring presence.

As one political wag said that day, "It was more like the ‘Art of Stonewalling.' " Which is what the powers-that-be resort to when we aren’t buying their "Quackenbush wants to help consumers" or "some wage increase is better than none" crap. Just be thankful, dizzy readers, that you have Bites to stop the spin and clear your head.