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Editors Notes

Editor’s Notes



Former Mayor Willie Brown says that choosing a person of color for a leadership position should be a progressive value. Board of Supervisors President David Chiu says the new mayor, Ed Lee, is a progressive. Several supervisors and other political observers say the six-vote progressive majority on the board is gone.

And nobody really talks about what that word means.

Progressive is a term with a long political vintage, but it’s changed (as has the political context) since the 1920s. (Progressives these days aren’t into Prohibition.) So I’m going to take a few minutes to try to sort this out.

I used to tell John Burton, the former state senator, that a progressive was a liberal who didn’t like real estate developers. But that was in the 1980s, when the Democratic Party in town was funded by Walter Shorenstein and other developers who were happy to be part of the party of Dianne Feinstein, happy to be liberals on some social issues (Shorenstein insisted that the Chamber of Commerce hire and promote more women), and happy to promote liberal candidates like John and Phil Burton for state and national office — as long as they didn’t mess with the gargantuan money machine that was high-rise office development in San Francisco.

But these days it’s not all about real estate; it’s that the level of economic inequality in the United States has risen to levels unseen since the late 1920s. So I sat down on a Saturday night when the kids went to bed(yeah, this is my social life) and made a list of what I think represent the core values of a modern American progressive. It’s a short list, and I’m sure there’s stuff I’ve left off, but it seems like a place to start.

This isn’t a litmus test list (we’ve endorsed plenty of people who don’t agree with everything on it). It’s not a purity test, it’s not a dogma, it’s not the rules of entry into any political party … it’s just a definition. My personal definition.

Because words don’t mean anything if they don’t mean anything, and progressive has become so much of a part of the San Francisco political dialogue that it’s starting to mean nothing.

For the record: when I use the word "progressive," I’m talking about people who believe:
1. That civil rights and civil liberties need to be protected for everyone, even the most unpopular people in the world. We’re for same-sex marriage, of course, and for sanctuary city and protections for immigrants who may not have documentation. We’re also in favor of basic rights for prisoners, we’re against the death penalty, and we think that even suspected terrorists should have the right to due process of law.
2. That essential public services — water, electricity, health care, broadband — should be controlled by the public, not by private corporations. That means public power and single-payer government run health insurance.
3. That the most central problem facing the city, the state, and the nation today is the dramatic upward shift of wealth and income and the resulting economic inequality. We believe that government at every level — including local government right here in San Francisco — should do everything possible to reduce that inequality. That means taxing high incomes, redistributing wealth, and using that money for public services (education, for example) that tend to help people achieve a stable middle-class lifestyle. We believe that San Francisco is a rich city, with a lot of rich people, and that if the state and federal government won’t try to tax them to pay for local services, the city should.
4. That private money has no place in elections or public policy. We support a total ban on private campaign contributions, for politicians and ballot measures, and support public financing for all elections. Corruption — even the appearance of corruption — taints the entire public sector and helps the fans of privatization, and progressives especially need to understand that.
5. That the right to private property needs to be tempered by the needs of society. That means you can’t just put up a highrise building anywhere you want in San Francisco, of course, but it also means that the rights of tenants to have stable places for themselves and their families to live is more important than the rights of landlords to maximize return on their property. That’s why we support strict environmental protections, even when they hurt private interests, and why be believe in rent control, including rent control on vacant property, and eviction protections and restrictions on condo conversions. We think community matters more than wealth, and that poor people have a place in San Francisco too — and if the wealthier classes have to have less so the city can have socioeconomic diversity, that’s a small price to pay. We believe that public space belongs to the public and shouldn’t be handed over to private interests. We believe that everyone, including homeless people, has the right to use public space.
6. That there are almost no circumstances where the government should do anything in secret.
7. That progressive elected officials should use their resources and political capital to help elect other progressives — and should recognize that sometimes the movement is more important that personal ambitions.

I don’t know if Ed Lee fits my definition of a progressive. He hasn’t taken a public position on any major issues in 20 years. We won’t know until we see his budget plans and learn whether he thinks the city should follow Gavin Newsom’s approach of avoiding tax increases and simply cutting services again. We won’t know until he decides what to tell the new police chief about enforcing the sit-lie law. We won’t know until we see whether he keeps Newsom’s staff in place or brings in some senior people with progressive values.
I agree that having an Asian mayor in San Francisco is a very big deal, a historic moment — and as Lee takes over, I will be waiting, and hoping, to be surprised.

Editor’s Notes



Social inequality is morally wrong, politically dumb, and economically unsustainable. It also makes you fat.


There’s a book by two British epidemiologists that argues the physical and mental health case for economic equality — and it’s full of great stuff. It’s a year old, but I read a nice analysis of it in Nicholas Kristof’s column in the Jan. 2 New York Times. Kristof notes that Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, both British epidemiologists, cited vast and growing evidence that societies with greater equality are in general more healthy. And by that they mean not only that those societies have less crime and violence; the people who live with greater equality actually have less heart disease, mental illness, and obesity.

The book is called The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger. A lot of it’s kind of touchy-feeley, but in the end, they come to a scientific conclusion: “The relationships between inequality and poor health and social problems are too strong to be attributable to chance.”

The two scientists also take on one of the great taboos of modern economics. They argue that growth isn’t necessarily good, that the standard goal of every official government policy in every major nation in the world — capitalist, socialist, or communist — over at least the past half-century, has been based on a flawed assumption.

There aren’t even that many progressives in this country who want to challenge the idea that the economy needs to grow to solve problems like unemployment and poverty. Sim Van Der Ryn, the visionary planner and architect, once told me that it makes no sense to have “a perpetually adolescent economy.” But in most polite company, that’s heresy.

But our new governor, who once employed Van Der Ryn as the director of the Office of Appropriate Technology, has a few heretical cells in his Jesuit-trained brain. And while I don’t expect him to turn the state’s growth frenzy on its head, he ought to be willing to think about this:

The solution to California’s problems may lie more with redistributing the pie than with making it larger.

I’m not arguing that we should abandon growth, particularly at a time of high unemployment. But keep in mind: corporate profits are already up, both here and nationwide — but the big companies are hoarding their cash and not hiring. Banks are making money again — but they’re not lending it out. We’re in a different sort of recovery here, one that may, for the moment, be structurally jobless. During the deep recession, businesses figured out how to survive with fewer employees, and they’re not about to start expanding the payroll.

And of course, the public sector has done nothing but shrink, and there’s little talk of anything but more shrinking.

So maybe the only way we’re going to get out of this is to inject more money into the economy, not by borrowing but by sending some of the idle wealth at the top back down to the level where it might become production. It might make us all a lot healthier. Because it turns out that you don’t have to eat the rich; just tax them.

Editor’s Notes



Art Agnos spent six terms in the California Assembly and four years as mayor; he doesn’t need my political advice. But I gave it to him anyway the last time I saw him, when he expressed an interest in serving out the remainder of Gavin Newsom’s term.

Agnos and I were not close when he was running San Francisco; the Guardian supported him strongly for the job, but we were quickly disillusioned, not just by his nearly instant sellout to Pacific Gas and Electric Co., but by his apparent disdain for public process. But now he’s retired, and living on Potrero Hill near the Guardian office, and I see him on the streets when I’m going to buy lunch at Hazel’s and he’s walking his dog, and we have pleasant chats about politics. He’s mellowed. At 72, he seems to have a bit more perspective on what he did right — and wrong.

At any rate, when he told me that he’d be willing to serve as a caretaker mayor — and I got a sense that he’d actually like to do it — I told him this: you can’t just talk to me and a few supervisors. You want to be mayor of San Francisco, even for 11 months, you have to go out and talk to the people who spend their lives trying to make this a better place. The same goes for Ed Harrington, Mike Hennessey, and anyone else who wants the job.

Here’s the odd thing about the next mayor: For better or for worse, the person who takes over whenever Newsom finally decides to go to Sacramento will be directly accountable only six supervisors (or seven or eight, in the unlikely event that anyone gets that kind of majority). If the interim mayor is really a caretaker and never seeks reelection, it’s possible that the voters and the activist groups that define San Francisco won’t be part of the next administration’s political calculus.

And that would be a mistake.

The progressive movement in San Francisco is much stronger and more organized than it was when Agnos first ran for mayor in 1987. And if the progressive majority on the board chooses a mayor, there will be high expectations — not just for policy, but for openness and inclusiveness. After being shut out for seven years, a whole lot of people are going to want to be able to walk into the Mayor’s Office and feel welcome.

And that process starts now.

There are all kinds of arcane state laws that limit the ability of the current or incoming supervisors to campaign for the mayor’s job. But we already know who they are — they’ve been campaigning and meeting with groups and constituents regularly over the past couple of years. Not so with the outside candidates.

What mix of new revenue and cuts would Harrington seek to balance the budget? How would Hennessey address pension reform? Where’s Agnos on implementing community choice aggregation? I’m not the only one who wants to know.

There’s this ethos among these guys that it’s unseemly to be trying too hard to get the job, that it’s better to sit back and be asked — and part of that is the reality that it’s going to suck trying to balance the city’s books, and it won’t be a fun 11 months, and some of them would just as soon not bother. But there’s no shame in wanting to be mayor, or interim mayor. If you want it, say so — and tell us all what you’d do.

I’m moderating a Harvey Milk Club panel discussion Jan. 3 and all the prospective candidates are invited. The least any potential mayor can do is show up and answer questions.

Editor’s Notes



When the talk comes around to budget politics these days — and these days, nobody in politics can talk about much else — there’s a pretty consistent line out there, from the mainstream left to the far right, and it goes like this:

Public employees have been riding high on great pay and benefits, and they’re going to have to accept that those days are over. We can do it nicely, and negotiate and all, but the people who work for the city and the state are getting a haircut. Pension reform. Health care premium hikes. Two-tiered wage systems. Sorry, folks — there’s no other choice.

And I understand the feeling. There are plenty of unemployed people out there who aren’t happy that they’re still paying taxes to support generous pay and health benefits for workers who are consistently maligned as lazy. There are small business owners who can barely afford minimally adequate health insurance for themselves and their employees. There are underpaid private-sector workers who get jealous when they hear what you make over at City Hall.

I get it, and in terms of political reality, public-sector pensions, pay, and benefits are going to have to be part of any budget resolution in Sacramento or San Francisco.

But let me say something else.

In the past 30 years, while public-sector unions were getting organized, becoming a political force and negotiating decent pay and benefits, the United States economy was shifting radically, in a way that we hadn’t seen since the turn of the Century. From Reagan on through Bush I, Clinton and Bush II, powerful forces in Washington launched a class war in this country, one that has as many victims as most of the traditional wars we’ve fought in the past century. The winners have been a small number of people and businesses that have grown impossibly rich — by taking money away from everyone else.

And they aren’t getting any cuts. In fact, their pay, pensions, benefits, and wealth aren’t even on the table. Which is profoundly unfair.

Of the 400 richest people in America (according to Forbes), 80 live in California. Their combined new worth is $231.8 billion — about 10 times the size of the state’s budget deficit. If they gave up just a modest amount of the benefits they get from living in this state and this country (and yes, the rich got that way in part because of the benefits they get from living here), we wouldn’t have a budget crisis at all.

The people who declared this war were smart enough to figure out how to divide the opposition, to turn us against each other. That’s why they keep winning.

Editor’s Notes



In the grand scheme of things — the $400 million budget deficit, the pending selection of a new mayor, that sort of thing — the eviction of the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council Recycling Center doesn’t sound like an earthshaking issue. The San Francisco Chronicle’s C.W. Nevius (who is pretty much on the wrong side of everything these days) proclaimed last week that it was just a little neighborhood tiff, nothing to do with the soul of the city.

But it annoys me as much as anything that’s happened this fall — and it says a lot about the way Gavin Newsom governs San Francisco and explains why so many of us will be so happy when he leaves town.

Let me come right out and say it: the HANC eviction is class warfare. It’s not about the appropriate use of park land or the need for a community garden. It’s about the fact that the mayor doesn’t like poor people trundling through an upscale part of town with shopping carts full of recycling.

Let me quote what Rebecca Bowe wrote in a blog post at sfbg.com:

“In its current function, the HANC Recycling Center is empowering to many different kinds of people. Most aren’t homeless. Tough-as-nails Asian grandmas show up with bags full of cans that they can exchange for some extra spending money. Urban gardeners purchase native plants in hopes of pleasing native insects and birds. People on fixed incomes get a small financial boost by turning in recyclables.

“A small number of HANC Recycling Center patrons do sleep outside. In order to earn small amounts of cash for things like food, many of them have to go digging around in garbage cans, which is gross and humiliating. Why would someone paw through the garbage for hours, battling bees and germs, and then haul smelly bottles uphill in a shopping cart just to make a few bucks? My guess is that it’s to ward off desperation. They make their own work and they get to eat.”

Let me focus on that last sentence for a second. As my friend Tiny at Poor Magazine likes to point out, being poor or homeless is a lot of work. Collecting cans, cashing them in, finding a way to survive on that minuscule income … it’s not easy. It takes as much effort and as many hours as most traditional full-time occupations.

But Newsom doesn’t want poor people in his city. He doesn’t want anyone bothering the wealthy. And he doesn’t care about facts or the public sentiment.

City residents — those folks Nevius and Newsom love to celebrate — showed up in large numbers at the Recreation and Park Commission to oppose the closure. There’s no logic to it at all; the center pays rent and creates jobs. The community gardens will cost money — and in the shade (where the center is located), it will be hard to grow much produce.

But never mind: Newsom got what he wanted. A city that will spend millions in public money on yacht races while making life on the streets that much meaner. Good riddance, Gav.

Editor’s notes



The New York Times, the old established voice of the liberal media elite, ran a piece on Sunday looking for answers to the nation’s persistent economic crisis. Reporter David Segal interviewed prominent economists on the left and right — the likes of John H. Cochrane at the University of Chicago, James K. Galbraith at the University of Texas, even Gar Alperowitz at the University of Maryland, who’s kind of (God help us) a socialist.

The right-wingers talked about the need to cut government, the left-wingers talked about community co-ops and green technology, and all sides agreed that the situation was dire and would probably get worse. But nobody even mentioned wealth inequality.

It’s kind of mind-boggling. It’s as if the entire subject is off the table, taboo, something that doesn’t get discussed in the company of polite economists. And that’s just crazy.

Look: the 400 richest Americans today have combined assets of about $1.5 trillion. Raise that number to 5,000 and you can about double the total wealth. This is a very rich country; our prospects aren’t bleak at all. With a bit of enlightened public policy, we could profoundly improve the economic situation in just a few months.

I have no PhD. I barely escaped Wesleyan University with an economics degree in 1980, squeaking out a D in my last class by promising the (very conservative) professor that if he failed me, I’d be back next year. But it doesn’t take econometric wizardry to add up the figures. They go like this: A one-time 20 percent wealth tax on the 5,000 richest Americans — including many people who have pledged to give away half their wealth anyway — would generate about $600 billion. Nobody would miss any meals; no families would lose their homes, or even their second or third homes, or their personal jets. Expand the pool a little and you could easily reach $1 trillion.

With that money, you could immediately create 7 million jobs (at an average of $50,000 a year) and fund them for three years. That would cut the unemployment rate in half. What would those people do? Plenty. They could rebuild the country’s roads and highways and bridges, and build high-speed rail systems, and work in health care clinics, and teach art and music and writing, and clean up environmental messes … there’s loads of work in this country. And even with a modest estimate of the economic multiplier, those 7 million public sector jobs would create another 3 million private sector jobs, and all of a sudden, the country’s booming again. And a lot of those people who were hired by the government could now transition to private business. (And those very rich people would do well in the boom, as they always do, and might even make most of their money back.)

Raise taxes on the top 5 percent of the nation’s wage earners and corporations and you would generate enough money to keep the program going until the private economy could pick up the slack. Then eliminate the Social Security tax on the first $25,000 of income and expand it to cover all income up to $250,000 and suddenly — a huge incentive for small businesses to hire new workers and a stable retirement system for the next two generations.

It’s not that hard. It’s not a socialist revolution. Nobody really gets hurt, and a lot of people benefit. I mean, it seems to me that it ought to be part of the discussion. Maybe that’s why I was such a lousy economics student.


Editor’s notes



The pollsters like to call it the Santa Claus effect, and we’ve seen it over and over in surveys of California voters in the past few months. I think of it more as some sort of deep political pathology, a schizophrenia combined with delusions that underlies the state’s inability to get anything done.

Here’s what the data shows:

California voters don’t want cuts to higher education; in fact, they want to see more money spent on the University of California system, the California State University system, and local community colleges. They don’t want cuts to K-12 education either. Nor do they want to shut down state parks, release prisoners early, close public hospitals, stop building high-speed rail, reduce state support of local government … or do anything else that would save a significant amount of money.

And they don’t want tax increases.

If you ask people how they think the state should balance the budget, they talk about cutting waste — even though the current Republican governor admits there’s not that much waste left to cut.

I could spend hours talking about how we got here, how decades of corruption and bad governmental priorities soured people so much on the public sector that they don’t believe the state can be trusted to spend their money properly. But part of the issue is that the news media (which love to find a little waste here and there to trumpet) are very bad at presenting the choices.

Nobody in Sacramento’s going to do anything serious about the budget until Jerry Brown takes office; that’s just how it is. So this psycho-financial nightmare is going to fall in his lap — and I wonder sometimes if he ought to force us all to make the choices we want to avoid.

Maybe Brown ought to call a special election in February or March and put two — and exactly two — measures before the voters. Both would balance the state budget. One would do it almost entirely with cuts, and those cuts would be clearly defined: public schools would shut down all over the state. Class size would rise to 40 or more kids. UC would close half its campuses and admit half the number of qualified students it does today. At least 100,000 prisoners would be released as several prison are mothballed. The entire state park system would be shuttered. And that’s just the start. Consumer protection agencies would be abolished, public health devastated — there wouldn’t be a single thing that Californians take for granted that would survive.

Because that’s what a cuts-only, no borrowing budget would look like.

The other proposition would save those services by closing tax loopholes that benefit big business and raising income taxes on the wealthiest people in the state. Brown would have to travel up and down the state and make it clear: these are the choices we face. You can’t solve a $20 billion budget crisis without either tearing the state apart or raising taxes.

No more ducking. No more pretending. No more looking around for Santa Claus. Make the choice, folks: accept new taxes on a small percentage of the population, or give up on the state.

It’s a scary thought, but it may have to come to that.


Editor’s Notes



Imagine if the next mayor of San Francisco was chosen in public. I don’t mean the supervisors voting in public — they’ll have to do that at some point anyway. I mean the various possible candidates going through a process that allows the public to see who’s on the short list — and where those candidates are on the issues.

Sup. John Avalos, with the backing of his colleagues Chris Daly and David Campos, have started the process by suggesting that the board nominate candidates, soon. The idea, Avalos says, is to get a new mayor chosen early so that person can start on the transition process and get up to speed on leading the city.

But there are further steps here. When the supervisors nominate candidates for less significant offices, the Rules Committee holds a hearing and discusses the nominees. What if the supervisors, meeting as a Committee of the Whole, nominated, say, a half-dozen people for the job of interim mayor — then asked each candidate to appear before the group and answer questions?

The voters just overwhelmingly approved a charter amendment that will require the next mayor to appear at a board meeting once a month. There’s no reason the candidates shouldn’t do the same.

The supervisors have every right to ask someone who wants to be mayor what his or her position is on a long list of policy issues. And the pubic has every right to hear the responses.

I know, I know — the candidates would hate it. Standing in front of 11 people, from Chris Daly to Sean Elsbernd, and submitting to the mother of all job interviews would be unpleasant, perhaps unsettling. Some of the top contenders might bow out at the prospect.

But let’s be serious: In a normal campaign, the voters get to see candidates for mayor speak, take stands on issues, and engage in debates. I can’t see the supervisors choosing a new mayor on good faith alone (well, I’d take Tom Ammiano on good faith, but he doesn’t want the job). And if there aren’t any public discussions or interviews, then the only screening process is going to happen privately, with individual board members contacting individual candidates and (most likely) cutting deals.

I think it’s perfectly fair to say to the potential candidates: You want to be mayor of San Francisco? Spend an hour making the case for yourself and fielding questions from the people who are about to hire you. And let the rest of us watch.

Editor’s Notes



Here’s what really scares me about Republicans in Washington: they don’t want the economy to get better.

I’m not just saying that they’re wrong on the issues, or that their prescriptions — tax cuts for the rich, fewer regulations for big business, privatization of health care and Social Security — will only make things worse. I’m saying that, right now, in November 2010, the GOP leaders want continued high unemployment. They want Americans to suffer. They want conditions to get worse and worse — because all they really care about right now is defeating Barack Obama in 2012. And they know and I know and everyone else knows that if the economy improves, he’ll be a two-term president.

I’m not the only one who sees this open conspiracy. Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has been Twittering about it, and bloggers have been floating it out, but the mainstream news media doesn’t’ seem to want to take the risk of saying what’s right in front of everyone’s face: Republicans are lying, outright. They’ve campaigned on the promise that their ideas and agenda will put America back to work — but they know that’s not true. What the agenda is going to be is obstruction.

The Democrats have never done that, at least not in recent history. Oh, they fought W. on all sorts of policy issues, but they never tried to make sure that the country collapsed. That’s a big difference between the two parties, and it comes down to a basic question: How many people are you willing to hurt, how much suffering are you willing to promote, just to get back in power??

I’ve been talking to a lot of political activists, elected officials, and outside agitators of late about the next president of the Board of Supervisors (with all that implies) and I keep hearing the same name: David Campos.

Campos has been one of the great success stories of the class of 2008, an effective legislator who can work with just about everyone. He’s a solid progressive, but with a gentle personality — someone who sticks to his principles but doesn’t pick personal fights. I don’t know how he puts together six votes, but he might surprise us.

I’m writing this the day before the election and it comes out the day after, by which time Jerry brown will be the governor-elect, Barbara Boxer will have won another Senate term, and the Giants will be holding their World Series victory parade. You read it here last.

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

Jane Reilly, a candidate for supervisor in District Two, came in to talk to us last week, and before we got around to interrogating her about tax policy, she told us a bit about her background. And while she was describing all of her (considerable) qualifications for the job, she noted that she’s done a lot of good work in the community and is "passionate about volunteerism."

Reilly’s a nice person, and (like a lot of wealthy people) she means well, so I didn’t get all Marxist on her and say that volunteerism is a bourgeois concept. And I know, poor people volunteer too, and it’s a wonderful thing that so many people do so much for so many, thousands of points of light and all that. It’s great, I really mean it.

But I’m also getting fucking sick of volunteerism and charity.

Because it’s not only an incomplete solution to our worst social problems — it also diverts attention from the full solutions.

Warren Buffett, the multibillionaire, is getting a lot of press attention and lavish praise for his pledge to give half of his fortune to charity. He’s got Larry Ellison and David Rockefeller and Ted Turner and a bunch of others to join him. How grand.

Meanwhile, most of these people have been paying a fraction of the tax burden that falls on the middle class (what’s left of it) and getting more and more wealthy from Reagan-, Bush-, Clinton-, and Bush II–era tax breaks.

The richest 5,000 Americans now own more than the poorest 160 million, combined. Millions are out of work while the nation’s infrastructure crumbles. The connection between those problems is clear and direct: since 1980, the U.S. government has stopped trying to redistribute the wealth of the superrich in ways that create jobs and economic opportunities for everyone else.

No amount of charity will change that (especially since "charity" includes gifts to extrawealthy institutions like Harvard University and the Getty Museum). No amount of volunteerism will lift huge masses out of poverty. There’s only one institution that can do that — government — and one effective way to make it work: progressive and redistributive taxation.

My new hero is a woman named Jill Heavenrich, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The New York Times published a letter from her on Sept. 20, which reads:

I’m 81. I don’t have to worry about losing my home. I know I’ll never go hungry.

I can help my grandchildren go to college. I can give to causes I believe in.

Why am I not being taxed more? Why was I told to go out and shop after 9/11? Why wasn’t I asked to help pay for two wars in which brave young men and women are dying? The question remains for me: ‘It’s my country. I love it. Where is my responsibility to help the only way I can with my taxes?’

That’s not charity. That’s reality.

Editor’s Notes



On Sept. 16, supporters of Proposition B, the pension reform measure that would also reduce health care benefits for the children of city workers, held a fundraiser at Le Méridien Hotel — which is one of the hotels on the union boycott list. That was a bad idea, and it put Public Defender Jeff Adachi, the sponsor of Prop. B, in a difficult bind. His proposition, his fundraiser — and he had to cross a picket line to get in the door. So did former mayor Willie Brown, who was one of the fundraiser’s feature guests.

Labor people were furious about the two Democrats crossing the line. Labor Council Executive Director Tim Paulson told Guardian City Editor Steven T. Jones that the move was "outrageous." At the very least, it’s highly unusual in this labor town.

And I thought of something else unusual: Brown, who among other things is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist, was helping host a political fundraiser. That’s interesting because just a few weeks earlier, the conservative San Francisco Coalition for Responsible Growth invited the Chron’s C.W. Nevius to speak at a fundraising event — and when the SF Appeal reported on it, Chron management told Nevius that wasn’t allowed.

What’s the difference? One columnist can do fundraisers and one can’t? When I asked Chron Editor Ward Bushee, he referred me to a Matier and Ross column, which included a quote on the matter from Managing Editor Steve Proctor:

"When we gave him a column, we never had any illusion he would cease to be involved in politics. I think the readers of the Chronicle understand that."
So it’s one standard for Willie, another for everyone else. Just like old times.

Editor’s Notes



We’ve been doing a lot of reporting on Steve Moss, a candidate for supervisor in District 10 who lived in District 8 when he filed his initial election papers and launched his campaign. Moss, who owns a residential building on Liberty Street near Dolores Park, insists he is now a full-time resident of Potrero Hill, renting a nice place at 18th and Vermont — and that he moved in long before the legal deadline for declaring an official candidacy.

It’s actually not a high standard — city law says you only have to live in a district for 30 days prior to the filing deadline. And since Moss is hardly the only candidate to make a relatively recent relocation, it’s worth asking the question: how important is long-time residence to a candidate for district supervisor — and how long is long enough?

I’ve always supported district elections, in part — and this is critically important — because you can win in a district without raising a huge amount of money. When the universe of voters you’re trying to reach numbers around 30,000, you don’t need $500,000. You can knock on doors, go to neighborhood forums, mobilize volunteers for a get-out-the-vote operation, and get elected with the kind of money you can raise in a real grassroots campaign. That means downtown, the landlords, the developers, and big business interests don’t carry the day, the way they did when the board was elected at-large.

But the other goal of district elections was to ensure that every part of town got represented on the board — and to bring legitimate activists with roots in a community to the table. That means people who have more than a passing interest in where they live.

The first few times around, it wasn’t much of an issue — with the obvious exception of Ed Jew, and the possible exception of Michela Alioto-Pier, everyone who has been elected so far under the district system ran from a neighborhood where he or she had be living, and doing community work, for years.

But this time, people have been venue-shopping. I heard a lot of potential candidates over the past year talk about moving into one district or another to run, and I think we’ll see more of it in the future. It can get tricky; Moss, for example, owns the Potrero View newspaper and lived in D-10 for years, then moved out and bought a place near Dolores Park. When he decided to run for supervisor, he moved back. At least he has some history and ties to the community — but I don’t think there’s a lot of dispute over the fact that he moved back to run for office, and that if he hadn’t decided to run, he’d still be living on Liberty Street.

Jane Kim, president of the School Board, moved into District 6 about a year and a half ago — about the same time she started talking about running for supervisor from that district. Again: perfectly legal — although her ties to the neighborhood and to neighborhood activism aren’t anywhere near as strong as some of the other candidates in the race.

We’re going to have to watch this, carefully — and the 30-day requirement is clearly too weak. You should have to live in a district for at least a year before you can file even exploratory papers — and every neighborhood questionnaire should ask candidates to list every address they’ve lived in for the past five years. That might slow down the shopping a bit.

Editor’s Notes



California politics starts early. The campaigns in this state were underway long before the traditional Labor Day launch of the fall campaign season. Except for Jerry Brown, who only in the past week has started acting like a candidate for governor of the most populous state in the nation.

And that’s not a mistake.

Here’s how I’m seeing things shape up at what is more accurately described as a midpoint in the campaign season:

Jerry Brown’s starting to hit back. The once and maybe future governor has much of the state’s political class mystified; with Meg Whitman blanketing the airwaves, promoting herself and whacking away at him, why has he waited so long to fight back? Actually, it’s a calculated strategy, Jerry’s version of the old Muhammed Ali rope-a-dope. He knew he couldn’t match Whitman blow for blow — and he also suspected that at a certain point, she’d start to punch herself out. It’s been working: after spending more than $100 million, Whitman hasn’t cracked 45 percent in the polls. And some polls now show that the more people view her ads, the less they like her.

So now Jerry Brown appears — a 72-year-old career politician who’s going to look like a fresh face. And all he has to do is knock her back a little and the race is his.

Barbara Boxer’s nailed Carly Fiorina where she’s most vulnerable. Boxer’s got incumbency trouble — that is, everyone’s sick of incumbents. But she has an opponent who has something even worse — a record of sending jobs offshore while collecting $100 million for herself. Boxer hammered that point home in the first and only Senate debate — and I can see that clip appearing in TV ads all fall.

And I hate to say it, but those two campaigns are going to eat up all the statewide campaign oxygen between now and November. Between those four candidates, we’ll see upwards of $120 million in TV spending — and the rest of the campaigns probably won’t even be able to buy much time in major markets.

That could be good for Gavin Newsom and Kamala Harris. They’re Democrats in a state where Democrats way outnumber Republicans, and Republicans only win when they make a strong case that the Democrat sucks. Whitman can try to do that, and so can Fiorina, but even if they had the money, I don’t see Abel Maldonado or Steve Cooley, the GOP candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general, getting their messages heard in the cacophony that will be the top of the ticket.

So maybe Whitman is not only hurting herself with her excessive spending. Maybe she’s hurting the rest of the party, too. Not that she cares.

Editor’s Notes



The rich are getting screwed in the United States today. And that’s not a statement from Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, or the remnants of George W. Bush’s brain. It’s coming from mainstream, even liberal economists, who have looked at the hard numbers around the battle over the expiration of the Bush tax cuts.

See, if you consider anyone who makes more than $250,000 a year "rich," then they’re due to lose the income-tax break they got under Bush. And they can afford to pay higher taxes, and most of them are doing fine, despite the complaints about the cost of private schools these days.

But they’re still getting screwed. Because, as James Surowiecki noted in the Aug. 16 issue of The New Yorker, ordinary, garden-variety rich people haven’t seen a lot of income growth in the past decade. They aren’t gaining much more than the middle class. The money in this country isn’t going to the rich any more. It’s not even going to the very rich, say, the people who make more than $500,000 a year, or even $1 million a year.

No, the extraordinary income growth in this country has been going to the very, very rich, the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent —the 5,600 families who now have more wealth than the bottom 120 million. And, as Surowiecki points out, those very, very, exceedingly filthy rich pay the same tax rates as the people who earn $250,000 a year.

The New York Times ran an interesting report Aug. 29 on the looming problems of crumbling old infrastructure in the United States — dams that are well beyond their designed life, levees that are crumbling, subway switching stations designed and built in the 1920s. Millions of people can’t find jobs and the government can’t afford to pay for the work that desperately needs to be done. The economic policies of the past decade have sucked all the money out of society — and given it to a tiny number of people who live like ancient feudal royalty.

That’s what we’ve achieved in this country of late. I don’t know why this isn’t the biggest — or the only — issue in the fall campaigns.

Editor’s Notes



Every once in a while, The New York Times Magazine drops a profound and staggeringly important bit of information into a slot that typically reserved for softer articles. So I read at least the first few paragraphs of everything — and on Aug. 22 the opening essay by Judith Warner made a point that ought to be the center of the national debate on the Bush tax cuts, the value of philanthropy, and the direction of economic policy in a lingering recession.

Warner was struck, as I was (see Editor’s Notes, Aug. 18) by the massive praise heaped on Bill Gates and Warren Buffet for their vows to donate half their wealth to charity. "After all," she noted, "what better illustration could there be of the great social good that wealthy people can do when the government lets them keep their hard-earned dollars to spend as they please?"

Yet it turns out that Gates and Buffet are very much the exception. It’s odd and counterintuitive, but the truth is that most rich people give less of their money to charity than most poor people. Upper-class people, studies show, are much less compassionate toward others and more likely to be selfish with their money.

"This compassion deficit," she wrote, "is perhaps not so surprising in a society that for decades has seen the experiential gap between the well-off and the poor (or even the middle class) significantly widen."

In other words: we already know that cutting taxes on the rich hurts the economy, makes the deficit worse, and does little or nothing to improve the lot of others. Trickle-down economics has been widely proven a fraud.

But the new evidence shows that letting the very wealthy decide how the wealth of society should be divided doesn’t work well either. For one thing, very little of the charity coming from the rich goes to the poor; those tax write-off donations tend to wind up helping big cultural institutions or successful universities — and those gifts, Warner notes, "come with the not-inconsequential payoff of enhancing the donor’s status among his or her peers."

More important, it’s a public policy failure. You can’t trust the rich to make the right decisions about where the nation’s resources should go; that’s why we have elections, open government hearings, political debates. And that’s why that big, bad word "taxation" — taking the money from the rich and giving it out the way the representatives of the rest of us decide is best — is actually a far more efficient and fair way to go.

Editor’s Notes



I suppose I should be thrilled that 40 of the richest people in the United States have agreed to give away half their money before they die. Actually, it kind of makes me sick.

The concept is called the Giving Pledge, and Bill Gates and Warren Buffet started it. The two have been on the phones this summer, dialing up other really, really rich people and asking them to sign on. I’ve got nothing against Gates and Buffet (well, Gates has always been into world domination, so that’s a problem, but Buffet seems a decent sort for a billionaire). In fact, Buffet has promised to give away 99 percent of his $47 billion, which would leave him and his heirs with just a paltry $470 million.

Even that much money fits into New York Mayor (and billionaire) Michael Bloomberg’s entirely accurate statement: “The reality of great wealth is that you can’t spend it and you can’t take it with you.”

That’s the thing: You can’t spend that much money, and you can’t take it with you, and the United States used to be the kind of country that disdained inherited monarchy. Bloomberg says he wants his kids to have to work for a living, which is nice, although even after he gives away half his wealth, none of them are likely to miss any meals or have trouble paying the rent. His children, and their children, and their children, will all be able to afford to go to good schools and colleges, even if the public education system in America completely collapses for lack of adequate funding.

The irony is that, for the most part, these exceptionally rich people who feel so good about giving their money to charities of their choosing (which then honor them with awards and testimonials and dinners) oppose the notion of raising taxes on high incomes.

The problem with charity is that it won’t ever really reduce the gap between the rich and the poor in this country. The only way you do that is with aggressive, effective government action: by taxing the great wealth when it comes in (as income) and when it goes out (as estates) — and then, through a democratic process involving elected representatives, deciding where the money should go.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is wonderful, I guess, but it won’t provide mental health care for homeless people in San Francisco. That’s a government job. It also won’t ensure that every kid in America gets quality preschool, good teachers, schools that aren’t falling apart, and access to a college education. That’s what we pay taxes for.

But wait a minute. There’s never enough money for these things, because we keep cutting taxes on the rich. Instead, these guys can give money to their own pet projects — and pay no taxes at all. It’s charity! It’s a tax write-off!

I wanna throw up.

Editor’s Notes



I just got back from a short trip to Canada, the land of government health care and tight bank regulations, where business is booming. From my hotel room in downtown Toronto, I could see construction cranes everywhere. The Globe and Mail had a fascinating report on a construction company manager in Winnipeg who was learning the language of the Cree tribe and creating a new apprenticeship program for First Nations people — in large part because he was facing a serious labor shortage.

Yeah, that’s right: in Canada, they can’t find enough construction workers to fill all the jobs. And there’s a good reason (which has nothing to do with zoning or taxes or fees on developers): The banks in our neighboring country to the north have always been more tightly regulated, so they didn’t have the same meltdown we saw here in the USA.

Then I came back and read that Meg Whitman, candidate for governor of California, wants to eliminate the capital gains tax in the state. I like the Huffington Post headline: "Meg Whitman tax plan: she stops paying hers."

There are two types of people in the world, the rich and the rest of us, and the rich quite often don’t work for a living. Whitman, for example, doesn’t have a day job. She pays the bills with the money she makes by investing the billion dollars or so that she racked up working at eBay.

Actually, she probably doesn’t invest much of it herself these days; she hires someone else to do that. Which means she doesn’t do anything at all to earn the money that comes in each week.

That income is called capital gains — and the HuffPo estimates that she’s bringing in enough that she’d probably owe the state about $4 million a year in taxes at current rates. If she gets elected, and manages to repeal the capital gain tax, she won’t pay any taxes on that money at all.

Which means the state will be even more broke — or that the rest of us suckers, who actually go to work every morning, will have to pay more to make up for it.

I suppose next she’ll want to deregulate the banks.

Editor’s Notes



Broken windows can be replaced, and in two weeks, they will be. Stolen merchandise can be replaced, and it will be. But who’s going to replace this justice system that got looted? What insurance policy takes care of that?

Davey D Cook, Hard Knock Radio, KPFA, July 9

I’m not going to argue with the jury that convicted Johannes Mehserle of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Oscar Grant. I didn’t sit through the entire trial; I didn’t hear all of the testimony; I didn’t get the judge’s instructions on the law. I know it looks a lot like murder when you take a gun and shoot someone in the back, but the law requires intent, and the jury clearly believed — based on the evidence presented at trial — that the white officer made a mistake and never wanted to kill the young black man.

Based on the evidence I’ve seen — the videotape of the shooting, which, like many Bay Area residents, I’ve watched dozens of times— Mehserle had plenty of opportunity to back off, to recognize that he was about to fire a weapon at a man who was already on the ground and under police control. And remember: a Taser can also be lethal.

But the jury didn’t see evidence of murder, and voluntary manslaughter is a strange amalgam that’s very hard to fit with this case. If the judge sentences Mehserle to something close to the maximum (14 years), then some form of justice will have been done.

I say some form because it’s impossible to talk about this case without talking about race.

If Oscar Grant had been a white guy — even a drunk, belligerent, obnoxious white guy — I don’t think he ever would have been shot. The cops deal with annoying white people all the time, and they don’t get beat up, shot, or abused anywhere nearly as often as black people. That’s just reality.

Well-trained police officers working for professional law enforcement agencies are taught to be sensitive to race issues. They’re also taught how to make sure not to confuse a pistol with a Taser. It doesn’t always work — anyone who follows the criminal justice system knows that racism is very much a part of life. (And, of course, the BART police force is not a professional operation, and its officers aren’t well trained.)

If Mehserle had been a black kid from Hunters Point who was involved in a shooting death — even if he didn’t pull the trigger, even if he never meant to kill anyone — he’d be going to prison for a long, long time. The very fact that people are discussing the possibility of probation or a short sentence for Mehserle is a statement about the unfairness of our justice system.

And that’s not going to get fixed in two weeks. *

Editor’s Notes



I’m a pension-reform advocate. I think the current system is not only bad public policy, but that it’s not sustainable in the long run. But I’m not convinced that the plan proposed by Public Defender Jeff Adachi is good public policy, either — and I’m not convinced that it works in the long run.

Adachi wants to mandate that city employees pay between 9 percent and 10 percent of their salaries into the city pension fund. He also wants to make employees pay more for dependent health care. He points out that the changes would save the city around $170 million a year.

But what he’s proposing is an across-the-board pay cut for city employees — on top of the cuts they’ve already taken in the past several budget cycles — and that’s a dangerous thing to do in a recession.

Think about it. That $170 million is money that city workers won’t be spending buying food, clothes, movie tickets, restaurant meals, or any of the thousands of other things that can help get the economy going again. It won’t be a fair pay cut, either. The clerk who makes $40,000 a year will get a $4,000 cut, leaving him or her with just $36,000, while the senior manager who makes $150,000 a year will get hit with the same 10 percent cut, leaving him or her with $135,000 a year. In one case, it’s the difference between making rent and not; in the other, it’s cutting out some discretionary spending. Even the Internal Revenue Service doesn’t operate on that principle.

There’s a larger point here, too. I hear from Adachi, and from many others, that when the city is broke, when the pension system can’t meet its obligations, then everyone has to give back. Everyone has to take a haircut. Everyone has to share the pain.

But as Robert Cruickshank pointed out on the Calitics blog recently, public employees, and poor people, and middle-class private sector workers, and people who need public services, and kids who go to public schools, and college students … they’ve been giving back for years. The rich, the big corporations, the people and institutions that have fared so well under the Bush-era tax cuts … they haven’t given back a dime.

It’s true that there’s pension abuse, the vast majority of it in the management and public safety areas. There are cops who make too much money anyway, get pay bumps right before they retire, and walk away with 90 percent of their artificially inflated salaries — for life. I could see capping pensions for each pay grade, and I could see requiring people who make more than $100,000 a year to contribute more to their pension funds.

But I think it has to be done in combination with new revenue. It has to be done in combination with an acknowledgment that in this budget crisis, some parts of our city, some parts of our society, aren’t hurting at all, and are refusing to help out with anyone else’s pain. We simply are not sharing the burden equally. And until we can start to change that, I’m not so thrilled with blaming the middle-class city workers for the local budget problem.

Editor’s Notes



Jane Kim, the San Francisco school board president running for supervisor in District 6, has a tough question to answer. When there’s already a solid progressive in the race, Debra Walker, someone who has lived in the district for years and agrees with Kim on almost all the key issues, why is Kim running?

She gave a hint at her campaign kickoff June 24 on how she’s going to portray herself: "I’m not part of anyone’s machine, and I’m certainly not part of anyone’s master plan." It’s an attractive statement — nobody likes machine politics — and the idea that she’s an independent candidate makes her all the more appealing.

Except that it also says something about the progressive movement in San Francisco — and that’s a little disturbing. Because no matter how you try to spin it, when you say you aren’t part of anyone’s machine, you’re implying that maybe your opponents are.

Let me take a step back here, because this is important stuff. There’s a fine line between an effective, organized political coalition that can actually win elections and a political machine, which stifles political innovation and grassroots candidates. And in part it’s about motivation.

When Willie Brown ran San Francisco, it was all about Willie Brown. I’ve never believed the guy had much of an ideology or that any political cause really mattered to him; he loved power, he knew how to use it and he didn’t want to give it up. That was the bottom line.

Now that he’s pretty much out of the picture — although he was at Kim’s party, he’s not a factor anymore — there’s a very different power balance in this city. There’s nobody at City Hall (or in Sacramento, or Washington, or downtown, or anywhere else) who has machine-style control of local politics.

There are people who can build coalitions that work — Aaron Peskin, for example, did exceptionally well with putting together a campaign to elect progressive Democratic County Central Committee elections. And there are people who would love to be power brokers.

But I’ve been around politics here a long time, and I can tell you: Aaron Peskin doesn’t have a machine. Neither does Mark Leno, or Gavin Newsom, or Tom Ammiano, or David Chiu, or anyone else. Thanks in part to district elections, there aren’t many call-up votes on the Board of Supervisors these days. In fact, the left in San Francisco is famously unable to agree on much of anything half the time. Note, for example, the fact that Chiu — often called a Peskin ally — is not supporting Peskin’s candidate in D-6. He’s with Jane Kim.

The thing is, unlike the players in a typical political machine, most of the progressives care about issues. It’s about a shared ideology more than it’s about power. That’s a hugely important difference.

The way the mainstream media has it, the San Francisco left is either fatally fractured and can’t do anything — or it’s becoming a machine. For the moment — a great moment — neither is true. Let’s all keep that in mind. Because when we beat each other up with words like "machine," we undermine the whole progressive movement.

Bad way to start a campaign.

Editor’s Notes



The official theme for Pride this year is “40 and Fabulous.” So let’s all grab an organic cocktail and strap ourselves in for a good ol’-fashioned midlife crisis!

Some of us have already had some practice. Many gays long ago traded in cracked and hectoring first wife Madonna for trophy floozy Lady Gaga, raced around town in those sleek Miata MX-5 convertibles, and reached for the HyperGain. (Don’t get me started on lesbians and Justin Bieber here.)

But for queers of a more radical bent, it’s an opportunity to take stock of the past and wonder about the future — despite the fact that 40 is the new 20, at least in online marketing campaigns. Branding, darling, branding.

Or maybe that’s boring. Yes, we could lament the commercialization of Pride and kvetch that all our resources have been poured into trying to secure property rights through state-sanctioned social contracts and the chance to invade the wrong country, causing the unnecessary deaths of thousands. We could be awestruck by the amazing power and inspiration of our queer youth, despite the fact that hundreds of them become homeless every year. We could honor and celebrate the heroism of our elders, even while they’re pushed to the margins and out of their apartments.

But doing all that means sitting on our collective asses. Isn’t the whole point of a midlife crisis to change everything before it’s too late? Maybe, due to political expediency and because it makes us more acceptable to society, we’ve allowed queerness to become defined as something we are, rather than something we do. I’m not saying many of us aren’t born “that way” (or denying the social legitimacy that fact, apparently, confers). But what the hell are we doing? Fine. We’re fabulous. Now let’s fix things.


Editor’s Notes



I went through the house the other day and sorted out all the old toys my kids never play with any more. They’re 8 and 11 now, so they’ve outgrown a lot of stuff. Some of it went to Goodwill, some of it went to friends who have younger children, some of it went out on the sidewalk with a “free” sign — and still, there was a pile left over.

Broken plastic. Shit nobody wants. Can’t be recycled. It went in the trash.

And now, as Sarah Phelan reports in this issue, it’s probably sitting in a landfill across the bay, taking up space and waiting a couple thousand years until it becomes the archeological remnants of our civilization. Stuff from the ancient world is valuable because it’s fragile, and there’s not much left; our society is leaving an excellent record. That plastic will never decompose.

And now two private companies are fighting for the right to pile up my trash in a landfill, either at Altamont or in Yuba County. It’s a high-stakes battle; there’s a lot of money in garbage. And it’s a little disturbing to realize that in San Francisco, the entire process of collecting, recycling, composting, and dumping our solid waste stream is controlled by private companies.

What if we actually succeed in reducing our waste stream to zero? What if we reach the point where we’re buying less, tossing less, reducing the 1,800 tons of crap that flows into landfills from SF every day? Isn’t that what we ought to be doing? And what interest does a private landfill owner, who makes money from my kids’ broken toys, have in seeing the flow of detritus — and thus the flow of money — cut off?

I’m not arguing that we municipalize the trash system (not today, anyway; let’s do electric power, cable TV, and Internet first). But while she was working on the story, Phelan kept telling me that the city ought to look at keeping all the trash in town. If you could see that horrible mountain of crap right out your window, maybe you wouldn’t throw so much of it away.

She was kidding, of course. Sort of.

Editor’s Notes



What’s the real price of a gallon of gas? Think about it — because it’s not $3.12, which is what I paid the last time I filled my tank. See, that price didn’t include the gulf oil spill.

Americans use about 130 billion gallons of gas a year. When all is said and done, the cash cost of cleaning up the spill and repairing the economic damage to the coastlines of several states is probably going to exceed $20 billion, whether BP pays it all or not (Florida alone could lose $10 billion a year in tourism if its Gulf Coast beaches are fouled.) That’s an additional 15 cents a gallon. Add in the long-term economic damages, and the incalculable environmental damages, and you’d have to kick up the price another dollar. Which doesn’t even begin to account for the costs of global climate change, the poisoning of the Niger basin, the destruction of large parts of the Amazon, and all the other damage that oil drilling does. Gas is pretty pricey; we just don’t pay for it at the pump.

So it’s infuriating to see Matier and Ross in the June 7 Chronicle saying that electricity from the city’s community choice aggregation program will be more expensive than what we pay now to Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (see editorial).

Sticker prices are a lie. That cheap plastic stuff from Walmart costs third world kids their childhood. The price of non-organic strawberries at Safeway doesn’t include the damage pesticides do to the soil, the damage water diversions do to the delta and the fisheries — or the damage nonunion farm workers suffer in the fields.

Economists have all kinds of words for this — externalities, spillover costs — but when I hear that coal energy and Walmart toys are cheaper, the only one I can think of is: bullshit.

Editor’s Notes



When I first heard that Arne Duncan, who hails from the charter-schools-are-great side of the educational spectrum, was going to be President Obama’s secretary of education, I figured: that’s too bad. But after all these years of Republicans, how bad can it be?

Well, pretty bad.

Duncan has discovered that he has a powerful tool to use to force some really terrible "reforms" onto school districts and states that really don’t want them. And he’s using it in a way that’s almost cruel.

See, every public school district in urban America is hurting right now. Everyone needs money; everyone’s desperate. Teachers are getting pink slips, schools are closing, class sizes are growing, programs are getting cut … and school boards and superintendents are reduced to begging for spare change to buy chalk and pencils.

And along comes Secretary Duncan with billions of dollars in grants, scraps of food for starving people — and all you have to do to get some of it is adopt an agenda that blames the problems of the education system on the teachers.

Get rid of teacher seniority. Get rid of tenure. Link teacher pay to student performance, as measured by standardized tests. Approve more charter schools (which suck money out of the public school system). Just do those things and you can compete in the beauty contest called "Race to the Top" — and maybe you’ll get some cash.

The New York Times Magazine had a fascinating story on this May 21. The writer, Steven Brill, marveled at how successful Duncan had been leveraging a fairly small amount of money into the most profound changes in educational policy this country has seen in 30 years. That’s because these days, school districts will do almost anything to keep the doors open.

But the problem is that the federal grants will run out, and some day the economy will recover, and maybe we’ll come to our senses and realize that government at every level should properly fund education — and the damage of the Duncan reforms will be done.

I can’t blame the SFUSD, which just agreed to apply for Race to the Top money, for seeking cash everywhere. And the SFUSD application doesn’t promise anywhere near what Duncan wants, so we won’t win anyway. But at some point, somebody’s got to say: this is a bad way to run the public schools.