Archive for 2011

Kim Kardashian Meets Jean Quan and Karl Marx

Friday, November 4th, 2011

We confess that the Calbuzz Cultural Trend Analysis and Kim Kardashian Watch Team never quite understood the whole Instant Runoff Voting thing, either theoretically or mechanically. And as we’ve looked agape at the 24/7 fail that is Oakland Mayor Jean Quan in recent days, we’ve fervently hoped it doesn’t come to a burg near us anytime soon.

Quan, of course, is the Democratic hack who became Oaktown’s chief executive last year by virtue of a) finishing 11,000 votes behind our old friend Don Perata and b) collecting enough 13th round ballots, five golden rings and a partridge in a pear tree to emerge victorious, long after all right-thinking people had padded off in their jammies, foolishly thinking the election was over.

In any case, Mayor Q-ball has now managed, in near-record time, to transform herself into a global laughingstock with her human boomerang-style mishandling of the Occupy Oakland protests: “Her message was this,” Old Chronicle Oakland columnist Chip Johnson understated after the city’s first OO riot, “She had nothing to do with anything that upset anyone. “

Quan’s fine leadership was again on full display in the early hours of Thursday, when yet another violent, full-blown free-for-all broke out on the streets of her fair city. The only saving grace for the mayor this time out was that even bigger morons than herself, if you can imagine that, joined the latest fray.

These would be the sociopathic tweakers and punks who engaged in what the Responsible Anarchist Community likes to call Black Bloc protest tactics. Their witless actions as unpaid provocateurs (they’re apparently too dumb to get paid by the cops for acting out) hijacked much of the news coverage of what was otherwise a pretty cool day of protest in the East Bay, in the process handing Fox News and the Michelle Malkins of the world some dandy images with which to attempt to discredit the entire 99% movement.

What would Bakunin say? Judging from a sampling of comments on several lefty sites favored by Occupy activists, the thoughtful window smashing, trash-burning and rock throwing of the boys and girls in the black hoodies wasn’t all that popular with folks who are involved for less, um, nihilistic reasons, as in this thread from The Unrepetant Marxist.

But the fucking black bloc only does their bullshit when the masses are mobilized, thus allowing the bourgeois press to write about all the “violence” and turn the criminal into the victim, and the victim into the criminal. These scumbags are parasites…

 I was at the general strike yesterday and while you may call them black-bloc, they were not agent provocateurs in my opinion. While I would not be surprised to find out that some are employed by the State apparatus, I talked to many and found them to be merely what might be called vulgar Marxists. I’m not sure the black bloc is much more than self-styled anarchists influenced more by Crass, than Marx or Bakunin. That said, the police were more than happy to let things accelerate in order to justify more heavy-handed tactics and got what they wanted by 1am when the contingent took the Traveler’s Aid building… In the end, they are more muddled-headed thrill seekers more than anything…

Have you read the two posts over at Jacobin on anarcho-liberalism? Part II is up today. It’s easy to see Naomi Klein as a fashionable “anarcho-liberal,” but I’m not sure about the black bloc? Didn’t they start in the 80s well before the Seattle’99/Adbusters incarnation of hipster localist “lifestylization” anarchism? Or were they just a decade early to that scene? Also, have you written anywhere of the street battles between the KKE and the anarchists in Greece? I’d be curious to know your take on a hyper-Stalinist Communist Party combating violent anarchists bent on killing communists. Do you take a side? Is there anything to learn from that mess?

OK, we’re not sure what that last one means either.

What is to be done: All this by way of limbering up to ask a key question about the Occupy movement: WTF happens next?

The venerable Jon Carroll, the Jamie Moyer of daily columnists, did some yeoman  wool-gathering on the subject in a pair of Little Pulitzer-worthy investigative punditry columns this week, here and here.

But the Occupy movement is, I think, a larger and more permanent part of the American political landscape than just the sit-ins and the marches. The seed has been planted, and we don’t know who planted it. But the idea that something is rotten in society and it has to do with income inequality – well, that idea has higher approval ratings than any candidate for president…

 There is a constituency here, people who have lost their homes or their jobs or life savings because of a system designed to make them suckers. They have experienced a profound loss of faith, and that is what will still be true come spring. I don’t think this thing is going away anytime soon.

Yes. And so.

Here are three things we know for sure:

1-Rather astonishingly, the OWS movement has succeeded in less than two months in raising the nation’s consciousness, and moving onto its agenda, the ugly issue of what to do with a dysfunctional political system, fueled and sustained by big corporate and Wall Street money, that aids and abets a Third World-rank inequality gap among its citizens. In truth, it’s hard to imagine, six or even three months ago, the New York Times playing on Page 1 a CBO study about wealth inequality, or a top rank Washpost pundit opining thusly:

In particular, growing inequalities of wealth and income – which should have been a central issue in American politics for at least a decade – are finally at the heart of our discourse. We are, at last, discussing the social and economic costs of concentrating more resources in the hands of the top sliver of our society.

2-The serial violence recently involving Occupy Oakland remains an outlier among protests nationally, and has more to do with a few knuckleheads who believe Xbox to be the real world, and a local culture of aggressive street protest that has simmered there since the 2009 slaying of Oscar Grant (now the namesake of the OO encampment), than with any such trend more broadly shaping OWS.

3-The OWS’s cutesy finger wiggling and human microphone schtick has become a so-10 minutes ago bore; All the yammering about creating a humanizing “process” mistakes the map for the territory, and carries way too many echoes of some strands of the mid-’60s SDS emphasis on “participatory democracy” as the key to building a swell, bright new future for everyone, shortly before that movement was  jointly devoured by Progressive Labor Party apparatchiks and Weathermen.

Bottom line: At the risk of knowing that something’s happening here, but we don’t know what it is,  Calbuzz sez:  With or without leaders, drum circles or dehumanizing hierarchal social structures, the OWS people need to get out of their tents and organize a cohesive united front with a set of general principles and, yes, heaven help us, a pragmatic political agenda.

How the Plutocrats Are Different from You and Me

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

Just in time for the holiday shopping season, the inestimable California Budget Project weighs in with a terrific new study detailing the full measure of the economic domination of California’s wealthiest 1%.

To the surprise of no one, the state’s widening wealth gap mirrors the same long-term trend in the nation as a whole, as reported last week by the Congressional Budget Office.

The new report, “A Generation of Widening Inequality,” is just the latest piece of a growing mountain of evidence that demonstrates the growing concentration of wealth in the U.S, in the hands of a micro-minority of the uber-rich:

The average income of California’s top 1 percent was 33 times the average income of the middle fifth of Californians – about $35,000 – in 2009. This means the average Californian in the top 1 percent earned in eight workdays what the average middle-income Californian earned in a year.

As a political matter, the report is certain to fuel the passions driving the “99%” movement in the state, at a time when the inequality issue is becoming more central to the 2012 political debate.

As a practical matter, it is worth recalling that inequality is much more than a moral or ethical issue, although it is certainly that; as leading economists have noted, the nation’s vast financial disparity is a huge obstacle to growth, with an increasingly impoverished middle class having little disposable income for consumer spending, as Robert Reich notes:

The economy is in trouble because so much income and wealth have been going to the top that the rest us no longer have the purchasing power to buy the goods and services we would produce at or near full employment.

Mega-kudos to Alissa: Current economic conditions may also preview widespread social unrest, with the “Occupy (Name of Your Town Goes Here)” adventure perhaps a harbinger of much more to come. In a year when chronic unemployment and economic frustration have roiled plutocratic and kleptocratic governments elsewhere, the distribution of wealth in the U.S. increasingly resembles that of an underdeveloped nation. From the CBP report:

The U.S. has an income gap wider than all other wealthy industrialized nations, and according to the CIA World Factbook – which includes data on 136 countries – the U.S. has the 39th most unequal distribution of income, ranking between Jamaica and Cameroon.

While CBP’s findings won’t shock anyone who hasn’t been napping since Houston Flournoy was running for governor, author Alissa Anderson did a first-rate job of analyzing and presenting the report’s reams of 1987-2009 data with acuity and clarity, and along the way crafted some nice characterizations of the numbers that go well beyond stat-speak to tell an old story in compelling new ways, viz:

The incomes of California’s wealthy stand in stark contrast to the more than 6 million Californians living in poverty. California’s millionaires, who account for just 0.2 percent of taxpayers, had combined incomes of $104 billion in 2009, which is 11 times the income needed to lift every single Californian out of poverty.

Cameroon here we come.

Raising Cain: It is the 19th Century American writer Elbert Hubbard who is credited with being first to define an editor as “a person employed by a newspaper, whose business it is to separate the wheat from the chaff, and to see that the chaff is printed. “

Elbert’s old  adage came to mind this week as we whiled away a few minutes of pool time counting bylines on Beltway yarns about the Herb Cain sexual harassment scandal.

First up was Politico, which broke the story on Sunday. Its four name byline was unusual, if not excessive, but after all it was their oppo-research dump scoop, so what the hell.

Having been skunked, the MSM swiftly turned the full force of their superior numbers to the matter: By Tuesday, the NYT’s catch-up team included at least seven reporters, with their main Page 1 story featuring a double signer and five other names in a credit box, along with assorted other bylines on web stuff.

Small potatoes for the Washpost, which also ran a double byline main bar, but identified seven other reporters and a researcher in their credit box. More: the Post also featured op-ed pieces on the Cain matter by five staff columnists.

Five columnists? Really?

Hey, we enjoy a good political kinda-sorta sex scandal as much as the next guys, but amid all the endless caterwauling about “declining resources” in newsrooms, was “Herman Cain: Mighty King of the National Restaurant Association” really worth the time and effort of at least 13 staff members – at a conservative back-of-the-envelope wild ass guessestimate of something north of $1.5 million in salary and benefits per day (not counting assignment, news, copy or masthead editors, let alone assorted webheads, photographers and page designers)?

We’re just askin’.

Next up: The Post airdrops a battalion over Minnesota to get to the bottom of rumors Michele Bachmann used a fake id to buy Boone’s Farm apple wine in high school.

Bottom line: Whether or not Herman Cain actually sexually harassed two women in the 1990s is uncertain (although it could probably get cleared up if the woman who wants to speak out is allowed to). But here’s what’s crystal clear: Herman Cain –- or as the loathsome Ann Coulter calls him, one of “our blacks” — is a liar.

Cain knew he’d been accused of sexual harassment and that there’d been a financial settlement to make it go away. But he denied knowing anything about the messy affair until his lying could no longer stand.

Maybe Andy Borowitz has it right: the scandal is the first indication that Cain is qualified to be a politician.



Why Labor Is Nuts to Fight Brown on Pensions

Monday, October 31st, 2011

Let’s stipulate that public employee pension costs are not the fundamental cause of California’s financial problems. We can even accept the argument from the union-backed Californians for Retirement Security that “the average public pension in California is $26,000-a-year,” that “three-quarters of CalPERS retirees collect $36,000 or less” and that “public pensions equal just 3% percent of California’s budget.”

But public employee unions and their Democratic sock puppets in the Legislature are kidding themselves if they think they don’t have a political problem anyway. Whatever portion of California’s fiscal failings is a function of public employee pensions – and no one is arguing that it’s zero percent – labor leaders and their cronies need to convince the vast voting public that they are part of the solution, not the source of the problem.

Which is why, as a political matter – and clearly, Calbuzz is far, far better equipped to discuss the politics than the policy — the unions and their legislative allies are nuts to take a hard line against Gov. Jerry Brown’s opening gambit on pension reform.

You want policy analysis? Read our pal Dan Borenstein in the Contra Costa Times who says, “Brown’s new pension reform plan signals he’s serious about restoring fiscal sanity to public employee retirement systems, but it lacks critical details and doesn’t stop the transfer of hundreds of billions of dollars of debt to our children.”

You want details, read this nifty outline by Jon Ortiz of the SacBeeMinus. Or read Anthony York and Michael Mishak in the ByGodLATimes for a compendium of reactions.

But if you want to see an ostrich response, check out this from Dave Low, chairman of Californians for Retirement Security:

“We are disappointed that the governor is proposing pension changes that will undermine retirement security for public employees. It is unfortunate that he has proposed to increase the retirement age, shift greater costs to workers and impose a hybrid plan on new employees, when public employees already have agreed to hundreds of millions of dollars in pension concessions at the state and local level.”

Impactful profundity: No it’s not “unfortunate” that Brown has proposed these changes. In fact, Big Labor ought to be damn glad the governor is seeking to maintain and not gut public employee pensions. What they don’t seem to get is what Steve Harmon and John Woolfolk of the San Jose MurkyNews picked up on when Brown unveiled his proposals.

“Brown suggested that, as they react to his pension proposal, Democrats in the Legislature should think about their broader political goals, such as winning voter approval of tax increases in November 2012,” they wrote.

“It’ll be up to the Legislature to rise above the pressures and enact real pension reform, particularly if they’re desirous of having a favorable reaction on the part of the electorate,” Brown said. “November could have some very profoundly impactful measures on the ballot. I’d say the Legislature is well-advised to take this very seriously and get it all enacted and get it on the ballot in November when there will be other things on it that they’re quite interested in.”

And that’s the central point in all of this. Calbuzz would argue that most, if not all, of California’s financial woes, not to say its social injustices, would be eliminated by addressing the inequality of Proposition 13’s application to commercial and industrial property; the lack of an oil-severance tax; a shift of sales taxes toward services; a return to pre-Schwarzenegger-level vehicle license fees, an increased income tax on millionaires and an end to the single sales factor break.

But if any of these measures are to have a chance of survival, the public has to be convinced that public employee pensions are not cause of what ails us. And to win that argument, public employee unions need to show they’re willing to participate in solving California’s long-term financial health – whether or not they’re the cause of the problem.

Bottom line: Perhaps, as Borenstein argues, Brown has not gone far enough. But he has laid out a set of proposals that, taken together, begin to address the public employee pension issue without attacking state workers or wiping out the concept of defined benefits and the rights of public employees.

That should be a starting point for constructive engagement – not a battle cry to the trenches.