Mitt Romney

The great divide


FILM Whatever the wisdom of Obama’s strategy for Syria, public response has made it clear that most Americans no longer want the US to meddle in foreign affairs — at least not if it costs money and might embroil our troops in another endless, winless imbroglio. This is a little flummoxing, since not so long ago we gave another president a free pass to invade countries for far more dubious reasons, and are still paying the price for those rubber stamps in many, many ways a decade later.

So why the turnabout? It’s pretty simple. Not only is 9/11 an increasingly distant memory rather than a recent open wound inviting retaliatory action (no matter how reckless or misguided), but the economic downturn has shifted Americans’ attitude toward (an even bigger than usual case of) “The hell with other people’s problems, what about me?” For good or ill, there is no injustice we feel more keenly, or care about more deeply, than that we suffer ourselves.

Yet the explanations proffered as to what happened to make us so enraged (and broke) are utterly contradictory. We’re still the richest country on Earth — richer than ever, in fact — so why do so few citizens feel that fact even remotely relates to their everyday reality?

Jacob Kornbluth’s Inequality for All is the latest and certainly not the last documentary to explore why the American Dream is increasingly out of touch with everyday reality, and how the definition of “middle class” somehow morphed from “comfortable” to “struggling, endangered, and hanging by a thread.” This lively overview has an ace up its sleeve in the form of the director’s friend, collaborator, and principal interviewee Robert Reich — the former Clinton-era secretary of labor, prolific author, political pundit, and UC Berkeley professor of Public Policy. Whether he’s holding forth on TV, going one-on-one with Kornbluth’s camera, talking to disgruntled working class laborers, or engaging students in his Wealth and Poverty class, Inequality is basically a resourcefully illustrated Reich lecture — as the press notes put it, “an Inconvenient Truth for the economy.”

Fortunately, the diminutive Reich is a natural comedian (he’s spent a life honing self-deprecatory height jokes) as well as a superbly cogent communicator, turning yet another summary of how the system has fucked almost everybody (excluding the one percent) into the one you might most want to recommend to the bewildered folks back home. He’s sugar on the pill, making it easier to swallow so much horrible news.

Reich takes us through the gamut of horrible figures: how the US now has the most unequal distribution of wealth among all developed nations (by far); how as adjusted for inflation the average male makes less than he did in 1978 while the average “person at the top” makes two-and-a-half times more (over $1 million annually as opposed to just under $400,000); how general productivity, profits, and costs of living have continued to rise since then, while 99-percenter wages flatlined; how eerily the stats on 1928 and 2007 mirror each other, in terms of peak wealth concentration and unregulated financial-sector speculation. (We all know what happened in 1929 and 2008: ka-boom, or rather, ka-bust.)

Contradicting the “trickle-down theory,” Reich stresses that the very, very wealthy can’t spend enough to uphold their share of a US whose well-being is now 70 percent dependent on consumer purchases — it behooves everyone for that money to be spread around more evenly, because “What makes an economy stable is a strong middle class.” (He also makes the point that contrary to even common liberal wisdom, globalization hasn’t significantly reduced the number of American jobs — only the amount that they pay.)

There are man-and-woman-on-the-street interviews — not just with those on the losing end of this equation, but with one company-owning Richie Rich who freely admits current tax rates, loopholes, and so on mean people like him pull far less than their fair weight society, job creators or no. (On the other hand there’s Mitt Romney, who shifts the silver spoon to the side of his mouth long enough to decry the “envy” and “class warfare” behind all income-inequality debate.)

We also hear from the usual chorus of reactionary hysterics, like the Fox yobbo who swears Reich surely must “secretly worship Karl Marx” to hold the opinions he does. Doesn’t he realize that all government is bad, and all things free market inherently good? Never mind that the “Great Prosperity” — America’s economic golden age from 1947 to 1977 — was precisely the time that unions were strongest, the middle-class flourished, the rich were taxed up the wazoo (and seldom complained about it, at least publicly), and the government kept close watch on Wall Street and corporate hijinks. That so many have come to accept an economic logic blatantly opposing everything that made that period prosperous for almost everyone testifies to decades of brilliant conservative propaganda.

Now we live in an era where duly employed (even doubly employed) people see their homes foreclosed upon, and higher education is a crippling financial burden many can afford only at the price of possibly lifelong debt. Yet we’re told that minimum wage laws are for crybabies and upward mobility remains a matter of, y’know, really wanting it.

Having seen all this coming a long way off (he admits by the end of his post under old college buddy Clinton, “I became a true pain in the ass” to anyone who’d listen), Reich prefers not to say “I told you so” but “Here’s what you can do” — despite Citizens United and other developments that have drastically reduced citizens’ influence on public policy. Depressing as much of what he says is, he’s such a mensch that hearing him say it here is still pretty enjoyable. *


INEQUALITY FOR ALL opens Fri/27 in San Francisco.

Chatting up Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas

Chances are, you probably have the Daily Kos blog open on one of your browser tabs right now. The fiercely progressive blog and community hub showcasing an array of liberal activists and organizers has been at the forefront of a number 21st political battles. Markos Moulitsas, founder and publisher of Daily Kos, started Netroots (then known as YearlyKos) as a way to bring an online community together in a shared physical space. Eight years later, Moulitsas attends as a “private citizen.” When I caught sight of him at the conference, I approached him for a conversation on how the conference has changed over the years, the relationship between liberals and Obama, and his take on current voter demographics.

SFBG: What’s your been your experience at Netroots Nation 2013?

Moulitsas: What’s been different than previous ones is, it’s kind of lot younger. There seems to be a sort of a new generation of network activists. And so, we have this new generation of activists that’s emerging, which is to me is kind of cool. Because any movement cannot sustain itself without youth, that new blood and … the skills they’re bringing to the table — this intimate knowledge of social networks — are skills that I can definitely benefit from, and some of these young guys can actually benefit from some of the wisdom that old-timers have.

How has the conference progressed since the first one in 2006?

You know what was amazing about that conference, is that it was organized by the community. I didn’t organize it, it was the community that decided that they wanted to meet in person and then they made it happen. It was truly volunteer and amateur-driven, from day one, but it didn’t feel like an amateur conference. So they accomplished kind of the impossible just by sheer will and desire to make this happen, and so what I would say is … this is going to grow into something much further beyond the Daily Kos community.

What do you say to liberals who are disillusioned and cynical about Obama and other Democratic Party leaders?

You know, change is incremental. It always is in the political realm. A lot of that disappointment with him really stems from the fact that we have a shitty Congress. A lot of that had nothing to do with the shitty Congress. We’re not going to get everything we want and we could never get everything we want. We’ve got to keep creating that space, politically, for people to do so. Obama couldn’t be pro-gay marriage his first term, until the very, very, very end of his first term, when finally the political space has been created, where he could be a better progressive. So to me, that’s what it’s all about, is to continue to create that space and move the American public. I mean, the American public is already there. It’s getting them to realize they’re actually more liberal than they think they are.

It’s making sure that growth demographics that are very democratic are engaged politically, not taken granted but make sure that African Americans, Latino, Asians are engaged politically because there are going to be key components of our future majorities in the direction our nation takes. Conservatives really began their movement, building their movement in 1964, after the Barry Goldwater defeat. From the point, it took them 16 years to win the White house with Ronald Regan. It took him 30 years to win Congress in 1994 with the Newt Gingrich revolution.

But while the Democratic Party has moved left on issues like pot and gay marriage, a lot of people are saying the neoliberals have taken over the Democratic Party.

I actually think some of the most excitement coming from the Democratic Party are people like Elizabeth Warren, who are actually more progressive on economic issues than any democrat I’ve seen on the scene long time.

Do you think the emerging “Democratic Majority” has arrived?

Obama lost the white vote. The white votes were 75 percent of the electorate 2012. Mitt Romney won them 59-39 and Obama didn’t hit 40 percent with white voters. If the election were held in 2016, nothing else changes, same percentages, instead of winning by 5 votes, Obama would win by 9 points. So, not only is it here, but it’s growing at an incredible pace. Right now the only way Republicans can win elections is if our voters stay home. That’s a problem, because our core voters are also the least performing of voters – young people, African-Americans, Latinos, and single women have the worst turnout rates, particularly in midterm elections. 

Disillusionment, “Everyman,” and Netroots Nation

For nearly the entire Caltrain ride to down San Jose last Thursday morning, my thoughts were fully consumed by the subject of liberal disillusionment and cynicism. I pondered the question, “How much progress have the things that liberals care about made since the start of the new millennium?”

The issue of gay rights was the only glimmer of hope I could conjure up. Since 2000, income inequality has increased astronomically, the military-industrial complex grows unabated, the drug war continues to destroy millions of lives, women are having to protest the same idiotic conservatives policies their mothers protested, we are realizing the tangible repercussions of climate change, the Citizens United ruling and Republicans have become the John Birch Party and Democrats, by and large, have become identical to the Republicans of 30 years ago.

And while it may be true that progressives were responsible for electing the first black president, the Obama Administration has, for the most part, ignored, shunned, and at times insulted progressives. If Obama governed like a progressive, he would have jailed Wall Street executives for their roles in the financial crisis and HSBC bankers for laundering terrorist and drug cartel money, he would have rejected the Keystone pipeline in resounding fashion, he would have fought harder for a public option, he would have ended or at least decreased the surveillance state, and he wouldn’t be prosecuting medical pot dispensaries with extreme vigor.

Like a lot of the other media there, I came in search of demoralized liberals and to see if the Democratic Party leaders and other notable figures in attendance would feel the brunt of this dismay.

Unsurprisingly, the boogeyman of John Boehner, the Koch Brothers, and other rightwing caricatures were paraded out in order to stomp out any reservations you may have had about the president. One of the most notable lines of the conference was Howard Dean’s unfunny salvo of how the president isn’t perfect, “but it sure beats having Bain Capital, oops, I mean Mitt Romney in the White House!”

When our Rep. Nancy Pelosi was booed for saying that Edward Snowden should be prosecuted for his leaks, she tried shouting over the jeers by repeatedly saying that Obama’s second term was not Bush’s fourth. Then she tried to calm the crowd down (in a twist of irony, a man named Marc Peckel was kicked out for voicing objection to a police state), saying she welcomed the booing and debate about privacy. But would we be having this debate now, if it weren’t for Snowden’s leaks?

I attempted to ask Rep. Pelosi some follow-up questions as she exited the building (flanked by numerous aides and security) but oddly enough, my shouts of “I’m with the San Francisco Bay Guardian!” didn’t faze her one bit.

From the dozens of interviews I conducted with a wide range of attendees, the overall consensus seemed to be that Obama, his administration and other Democratic Party leaders are still on their side – though a good number of my interviewees expressed profound disappointment that the president hasn’t been liberal enough. One healthcare organizer from Chicago said he was immensely dissatisfied by Obamacare, but believes that it’s right the step toward implementing universal healthcare.

Obama’s most visible critic for the three days was a man who goes by the name Stan Everyman, who came on behalf of the San Jose Peace & Justice Center and carried a sign everywhere he went that read “OBAMA=CHENEY”. Everyman, who fervently believes that “Netroots is firmly under control of the Democratic party,” saw the conference as an opportunity to connect with other progressives who have gripes with Obama. The majority of reactions to his sign were positive, he said, but he did wind up engaging in some mild confrontations with what he calls “Democrat loyalists.” He was aghast when he encountered someone who came to Netroots on behalf of a liberal dating service, saying, “she didn’t mind if her emails and calls were tapped and didn’t care if there were helicopters hovering over her house as long as it caught the terrorists.” and when it did elicit a reaction, did nothing more than get a thumbs up or an eye-roll.

Meanwhile, some Democratic figures urged progressives to pressure elected leaders as much as possible. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota representative and co-chair of the progressive caucus, stated: “If people who came before us got discouraged because things were hard, we’d still have slavery, have no right to collective bargaining, the air quality would be horrible. The problem isn’t that you’re not involved and you didn’t get what you wanted, the problem is that you got to stay involved.”

When I countered that a big reason behind liberal disillusionment was that our own guy didn’t come through for us, Ellison’s responded, “Let me say this, never ever organize around a personality – even if it’s an awesome personality like Obama’s. Organize around the principles that guide you. Somewhere along the way we stopped saying ‘yes we can’ and started saying ‘yes he can,’ and when he didn’t do certain things we want, we got discouraged. What personality does the Tea Party coalesce around? None! They coalesce around, ‘we hate government, we love guns’ and ‘if you’re not quite like us, you’re not all right.’ So the progressive movement should coalesce around generosity, inclusion, fairness, sustainability, and leaders need to live up to that, and if they do, they’re good, and if they don’t, they’re not. But it shouldn’t be a personality-driven thing.”

If you want change, you have to keep on keeping on, no matter. Sure, town halls, letter campaigns, and protests are great ways to engage your politicians and in democracy, but when you got to go to work or tend to your family, six-figure lobbyists walk through the halls of Congress retracting whatever impact the people’s efforts made. Politicians want us to give them the political will to do what’s right even though we elected them to do what’s right. I don’t naively believe politicians are perfect and that they’re our friends and that we can sit back and relax after we pull the voting lever. However I do have a problem with “I’ll fight for you!” during the campaign season and “Fight for me!” during the legislative sessions. The latter due to this being a non-election year, was the unofficial theme of Netroots Nation 2013, which also possessed a palpable feeling that the reason why many of the big names showed up was to throw the progressive wing a bone and quell whatever qualms they have.

I do admit that Netroots, in the past, has resulted in a concrete impact (namely, helping to get Obama elected and being instrumental in manufacturing a 21st century online campaign apparatus). However, the chances that it will be able to pull Hillary Clinton—who’s just as hawkish as Dianne Feinstein— to the left beyond the duration of the conference are lower than the probability of Obama appointing Angela Davis as his Chief of Staff. A piece on a couple days ago reported that progressives are open to a Clinton run, which should come as no surprise to given how good the left is at reconciling their beliefs with that of their leaders.

So between now and NN14 (which is in Detroit), when the Democratic Leadership will come begging for the left’s help to return the Speakership crown back to Pelosi, pretty much everything the left holds dear will wallow in purgatory or regress to hell. But cheer up: At least Bain Capital isn’t president!




Wednesday 19

Discussion: Latinos and the criminal justice system Eric Quezada Center, 518 Valencia, SF. 7-8pm, free. Join SF Public Defender Jeff Adachi, Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, Criminal Justice Network for youth program manager Roselyn Berry, and Haywood Burns of the Institute for Juvenile Justice, Fairness and Equity for a frank discussion on how the Latino community is affected by systemic aspects of the criminal justice system. The discussion will cover immigrant offenders, the city’s Sanctuary City policy, restorative justice, and juvenile crime. Moderated by Mike Alonso. Sponsored by the SF Latino Democratic Club.

Author Jonathan Alter on Obama — and his enemies St. John’s Presbyterian Church, 2727 College, Berk. $12 advance., (800) 838-3006 This event features the author of The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies, a book that portrays the president at an historic moment. Alter offers “fresh details about the Koch brothers, Grover Norquist, and the online haters who suffer from ‘Obama Derangement Syndrome,'” according to the KPFA announcement. “He portrays the Obama analytics geeks working out of ‘The Cave’ and the man who secretly videotaped Mitt Romney’s infamous comments on the ’47 percent.'” This is a benefit for KPFA.


Thursday 20

Screening of ‘War on Whistleblowers: Free Press & the National Security State’ Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists’ Hall, 1924 Cedar, Berk. 7-9pm, $5–$10 suggested donation. A timely screening of a documentary featuring four stories of whistleblowers who took action because they wanted to expose government corruption, misconduct or wrongdoing. Sponsored by the BFUU Social Justice Ctee as part of our Conscientious Projector Series for the 99% For more, visit


Both sides DON’T do it


As someone with a lot of friends and contacts in the real world and on the Net, I hear pretty much every opinion under the sun. From die-hard Communist all the way to equally didactic (and tellingly similar) Objectivist, I get it all day every day. 

Lots of interesting stuff. And it’s no secret where my head is at on most things. I’ll listen to pretty much anything with one major exception–this odd idea that “both sides do it“, that right and left are equally to blame for the gridlock in DC and the animosity elsewhere.

The basis for this thinking, I assume, is Newtonian. For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. If it isn’t physics, it’s metaphysics best expressed by the Byrds’ biblically-derived second #1 hit song, that there’s a time and purpose for everything.

But there isn’t. Politics isn’t physics and left and right aren’t identical yet opposite, which would have to be the case for this proposition to be true. The psychology of the authoritarian vesus that of the anti-establishmentarian is completely dissimilar. If one side sees everything as black and white and a struggle where it’s good vs evil (and they’re the good guys) 100% of the time and the other side believes in nuance, degree of intensity, reason and logic based on evidence, both sides don’t do it. Yes–both sides are engaged in politics. But if one side “makes shit up and then sues for the right to do it legally” and the other is “if it isn’t factual, lose it”, then both sides don’t do it.

Filmmaker Michael Moore expressed it best when talking about his 2007 movie, “Sicko”. Every fact in that film was picked over by fine-toothed comb because he knew that any fuck up would be blasted over our “liberal media” 24/7. Contrast that to the soon to be retired from Congress Michele Bachmann or 2012 GOP candidate Mitt Romney who lied so much that it became impossible to keep up with them. And yet, until her recent campaign finance troubles, Bachmann was rarely if ever called to task in her hometown paper and with Romney, his unending string of fibs actually endeared him to his supporters!

If “both sides do it”, explain this remarkable bit of Anti-Americanism?

Because ”lying for the “cause” is, in the mind of the American Rightist, acceptable, because the cause is a holy war for the “soul of America”. Odd that the same people that lobby for the posting of the 10 Commandments everywhere seem to forget #9, the “false witness” one. 

People on the left lie, too. There is no doubt of that, all people lie to a degree. But claiming that one side’s crapola is identical to the other is like saying that “Red Sox 12, Yankees 2” is a tie, because, after all, both teams scored runs, so they’re equal. Nope, were that so, the score would be 7-7. But that’s math. Which doesn’t lie. And as such, is pesky.

(It has to be said that the people that claim “both sides do it” in correspondance with me are always right-leaning. I think they’re have trouble letting go, but they’re getting there). 

Adlai Stevenson, failed candidate for president said it better than I or anyone else can: I have been thinking that I would make a proposition to my Republican friends… that if they will stop telling lies about the Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them. 

That was 61 years ago. If he could only see us now. 




Prostitution and Mitt Romney


Four and a half years ago, San Francisco had the chance to make history as well as eliminate a major social problem. Measure K would have eliminated the prosecution of sex workers in the city. Sensible, sane and prudent, this ballot initiative would have finally given some legal recourse to one of the city’s biggest underground businesses. Because it is sex-based, however, hysteria ruled the day and the measure was defeated.

The arguments against it are the same arguments one hears when one discusses recreational drug legalization. That if legal, street walkers would spring up like so many weeds on heels in every neighborhood and that pimps and hookers would flock to San Francisco en masse. Never mind that the exact opposite would have been the result–no longer in the shadows and with their business legitimate, sex workers could part ways with the parasitical pimps without recourse and also if legal, a “red light district” could exist anywhere (I opt for City Hall myself, as it has been home to courtesans for centuries now). Lost tax revenues reclaimed, better public health for the workers and clients and a win for all.

One would think in the supposed progressive and free-thinking capital of America, this would have been a slam dunk. It lost resoundingly. Which proves that for all of San Francisco’s bluster, at heart it is a provincial city filled with a lot of sexually uneasy residents. That our next door neighbor, the generally “red” Nevada has had legalized prostitution for years speaks volumes about what “liberals” really believe. “Not in my backyard” times ten. Prostitution is called “the world’s oldest profession” and yet it is rarely legal anywhere–why?

As human beings are one of only a few species to have sex for pleasure, you’d think we’d clearly admit same. And that sex between consenting adults is already legal anyway, why does it become illegal when money is involved (unless filmed and sold)? These are incontrovertible facts. I suspect that the real reason prostitution is illegal and has been for eons is that it empowers women at the expense of men (the male escort being about 1/10th as popular as the female, sexual ratios being what they are). A woman that can negotiate the price for her “favors” directly now has some say in her destiny. Yes, it would probably be better for her physical and mental health if she chose another line of work, but in a capitalist system where money talks, a 300 dollar an hour escort is higher up on the ladder than a nine dollar an hour barrista. A couple of grand a day and a person whose educational and class background placed them at the lowest rung on the ladder now has say–it’s the same reason that gambling and drug dealing are decried by moralists. Folks with no options are now equal to the privileged at birth and that upsets the so called “natural order of things”. So, they have to be denigrated.

I got to thinking about that paradigm and realized that in reality, a hooker is part of a much more honest profession than someone that runs or ran an equity capital group. Namely Willard “Mitt” Romney. When a john makes contact with an escort or sexworker, they negotiate a fixed price for a certain act or acts. Upon consumation (or at some time during or before), payment. Both sides happy. Compare that to Mr. Romney’s manner of acquiring businesses. Putting 10% down, leveraging the other 90% as tax free debt larded onto the acquired entity and then tacking on enormous fees paid to backers. Usually what happens with these companies is massive layoffs and often bankruptcies. One side very unhappy. Yet this perfectly legal version of a Mafia bustout is applauded by Wall Street–the same Wall Street that poo-poos sex workers as a moral scourge (while utilizing their services).

Taking advantage of the human tic of discomfort when it comes to acknowledging the sex drive has kept the church alive for centuries and jackasses like William Donahue and L Brent Bozell in cash. Simply recognizing biological normalcy would end a lot of misery. Next time this comes up, be sane San Francisco, be sane.

Calvin Trillin: Mitt Romney explains why he lost


Obama was clever as clever could be;

To targeted groups he gave gifts that were free:

Say, healthcare for free until age 26, 

And free contraceptives (for sex just for kicks).

Debates in the primaries left our team bruised

From harsh accusations the White House then used.

Whatever the reason for losing might be,

Of one thing I’m sure: it could not have been me.

I’m perfect.

Calvin Trillin. Deadline Poet. (12/10/2012 The Nation)



W. Kamau Bell returns triumphant to the Bay, needs burrito


Attention burrito vendors of the Mission, there is a sale to be made at the arrivals gate of SFO this weekend when newly-minted TV star W. Kamau Bell makes his triumphant return to the city in which he spent 15 years honing his comedic chops. He is aching for a Mission burrito like this city is aching for a more efficient MUNI system.

Culinary yearnings aside, this Sunday Bell headlines a standup show at the Fillmore as part of his “Kamau Mau Uprising” tour. The tour’s moniker should come as no surprise to those who are familiar with Bell’s politically progressive, acerbic wit.

These days, that category includes more people than ever. Earlier this year Bell ditched left our lovely 49-square-mile patch for Gotham when he was offered his own TV show on FX (Thursdays at 11:30pm). And it looks like he’ll be spending more time back east — said show Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell just got picked up for a second season that will start January 17.

In the inaugural season of Totally Biased, Bell and his crew of writers have covered a lot of ground, exploring the differences between Sikhs and Sheiks, sweet potato and pumpkin pies. They’ve made a fake PSA telling men to stay home and watch porn on Election Day instead of vote, and watched presidential election returns with the Brooklyn Young Republicans (some of whom are not, it turns out, are not so young.)

Now that both he and President Obama will be back in 2013, Bell looks forward to holding our Commander in Chief to task. Right before the Thanksgiving Break, and just hours after finding out his show got renewed, the self-proclaimed “billionth most famous person in the history of New York” took some time to chat with the Guardian about his homecoming, and on what makes a San Francisco comedian different from those from NY, LA, or Boston. Plus, on whether he’ll ever drop a “hella” on Totally Biased.

SFBG: In the past you’ve referred to Totally Biased executive producer Chris Rock as the “foul-mouthed Yoda.” How far along have you come in your Jedi training?

Assuming that this is the original prequel, I would say I’m probably halfway through the first movie. Although Yoda wasn’t in the first movie, so I’m screwing up my nerd status, but I’m at the very beginning of the Jedi training, if it’s Empire Strikes Back, I’m at the point where I lifted the thing out and then I got scared.

SFBG: What’s Mr. Rock’s involvement in the show? Is he more hands-on or hands-off?

WKB: I just talked to him and he literally said, “I’m around if you need me, call me.” He’s as available as we need him and he jokes that’s he’s on sabbatical from show business because he has no projects right now. He comes to all the tapings, but then again he also wants this to be my show so he allows me to use him as much or as little as I want to. Overall, I’ve used him a lot less than people thought I would.

SFBG: Would you say that your show is in competition with The Colbert Report and Daily Show?

WKB: Not really, but I would say that they’re a standard that we’re measuring ourselves against. You know, I’m just the new guy who likes “Hey guys can I hang out!” We’re certainly aiming for a lot of the same people, but I think that by the nature of Totally Biased we’re also reaching a group of way different people.

SFBG: Do you ever plan on saying hella during the show?

WKB: Here’s the thing, by the time I moved to San Francisco, I knew if I started saying hella, people from Chicago would think I had lost my mind. On the back of the set, we have these designs and there are a couple of Bay Area shout-outs and that’s the closest I’ll get to saying hella on air.

SFBG: How did your stand-up show Ending Racism in a Hour prep you for Totally Biased?

WKB: When I wrote that show, the idea behind it was: what kind of show would I write if I was famous? I would have a screen, I would have a computer, I would talk about the world, I would talk about racism all the time, and I would be very topical.

So I did Ending Racism the way I would do it if I had a TV show and through lots of luck and hard work I ended up with Totally Biased. I know for sure that I would not have gotten Totally Biased if I had just done stand up. And by the time Chris saw me at the UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade) Theatre in New York, I had already been doing for about three or four years.

SFBG: Do you have writers from the Bay?

WKB: Janine Brito, Kevin Avery, Kevin Kataoka, and Nato Green.

SFBG: What’s the history of your relationships with them?

WKB: I used to do “Siskel & Negro” with Kevin Avery, who’s from San Jose, on Live 105 back in the day and I met him right when I moved out to San Francisco. We did a lot of shows together, we were writing partners and almost got hired to do a D.L. Hughley show for CNN.

Kevin Kataoka is originally from Oakland and I met him when I first moved to San Francisco, in the SF comedy scene. He actually introduced me to Chuck Scolar who’s an executive producer of the show, and he’s the guy who introduced me to Chris Rock.

I’ve said many times that Janine is my comedy daughter, who’s this little hipster, half Cuban, all lesbian. I met Nato on the scene about six or seven years ago, so I had already been on the scene by the time I had met Nato and Janine.

Myself, Nato, Janine, and at one point Hari Kondabolu (fellow TB writer) had a three-headed standup comedy monster called “Laughter Against the Machine” that we started in the Bay Area and the New Parish in Oakland was the home base for that show. We’re currently working on a documentary about going on the road last year to various political hotspots in America.

SFBG: What’s your take on the SF comedy scene?

WKB: The thing about San Francisco is that it always has had a good reputation as a good comedy city. Ever since Mort Sahl stepped on stage at The Hungry i in the ‘50s San Francisco has had a great reputation as a comedy town. Even though we’re not the biggest city, all the greats come through San Francisco.

I remember seeing [Dave] Chappelle when I moved to town, and he was already packing the club despite not being nationally famous. This is was big because this was before the Internet took hold. He was already a legend and I remember one night when he was stage and he said yeah I just finished filming this movie and it’s all about weed! I saw him go to the next level when he got his own show, and so San Francisco is a great city for developing comedic talent.

If you come up in the San Francisco comedy scene, clubs like The Punchline and Cobb’s are loyal to local talent if you show loyalty to them. You will work with the best in the business. I’ve heard that New York comics say that San Francisco comics know more headliners and have more personal relationships with headliners than New York comics do because San Francisco comics hang out a lot before and after shows, whereas in New York everyone is always running to the next thing. The city is known for having good comedians but there’s not a style called “San Francisco comedian.” You can pick out a Boston, New York, or LA comedian but you can’t really pick out a San Francisco comedian.

SFBG: How does it feel to headline a show at The Fillmore?

WKB: In some sense that’s bigger than getting a TV show [laughs] when they said that I was going to play The Fillmore, I thought “wait a minute! It’s too soon!” And time will tell if it is too soon. It’s just weird to me that it’s happening now. I think a lot of it is because I’ve built up a name in the Bay Area.

SFBG: Will you have time to stop by your old spots?

WKB: I’ll have a chance to visit my old spots and look at the “did that really happen?!” look on people’s faces.

SFBG: What are places and things you miss the most about the Bay Area?

WKB: The one thing overall that both my wife — who’s from Monterrey — and I miss most is that the style of living in Northern California is so easy. When I think about my time in San Francisco, even walking outside my house, it feels like a baby bird being born. When I think about New York, every time I walk out of my house, I feel like a paratrooper jumping out of a plane. And there are definitely five or six Mission burritos in my future because New York does not understand how burritos work.

I also want to go back to The Punchline on a Sunday night where all of it really started for me. That place is my mecca. I just need to go there and walk around the stage seven times and really reflect on all that is happening. And oh! I’ll be probably ride the N-Judah and visit my old block of Ninth and Irving.

SFBG: I know you just found out about the second season but now that the election is over and your boy is back for a second term what direction do you think the show will be taking?

WKB: My career and act has followed Obama’s presidency and a lot of comics say it would have been better if Mitt Romney had won and I’m like noooooo this black president thing has worked out for me nicely. And the great thing about Romney being gone is that now we can actually talk about Obama from a more critical angle. Now we can talk about how Obama is not a great president, we can talk about Guantanamo and immigration. I don’t just want to be a cheerleader.

The Kamau Mau Uprising

Sun/9, 8pm, $29.50

The Fillmore 

1805 Geary, SF

Vote early and often


The most expensive, ugliest, longest and most money-dominated election in my memory is finally winding down, and unless something really weird happens, Obama’s going to win another term. It’s likely the Democrats will control the Senate and the GOP will retain a narrow edge in the house, meaning four more years of gridlock (and possibly the end of Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s career).

But the real message will be the role of big money — not just ordinary big money, but billionaire money — in California and San Francisco elections.

The state ballot has become a billionaire playground, with four of the ten initiatives created, written, put on the ballot and funded by stinking rich individuals who have their own personal and political agendas. In San Francisco, billionaires Ron Conway and Thomas Coates are trying to buy the District 5 election. An Arizona group linked to the Koch brothers is trying to shut down Prop. 30 (and leave the state in fiscal disaster).

And I’ve never seen as much real-estate money go into one supervisorial district.

We know both presidential campaigns are billion-dollar operations, and a lot of the same bad money is going into each of them. But on the local level, it’s a very different situation. There’s a concerted campaign here to drive progressives out of local office and install people more friendly to landlords and developers — at a time when the city’s going to be facing the greatest displacement pressure since the first dot-com boom. You don’t see the Association of Realtors putting hundreds of thousands of dollars into local races very often; there’s an opportunity here and they see it and they want to weaken tenant protections so they can make more money.

One of the best arguments in favor of district elections is that money doesn’t necessarily buy electoral success. In a district with roughly 30,000 voters, it’s possible to practice old-fashioned grassroots retail politics, to win by knocking on doors and going to house parties and meeting people. It’s not all about TV ads. And if that holds up with this election, Sup. Eric Mar — with a far superior field operation — will survive the blistering assault he’s under in District 1. If David Lee — who has taken the Mitt Romney approach and refused to speak to reporters (they might ask him a question or two about his inaccurate campaign dirt) — wins, it will be the greatest blow to democracy in San Francisco that we’ve seen in years.

On the other hand, if the D1 voters reject all that money and sleaze and Mar wins — and if the District 5 voters reject the billionaire money and someone other than London Breed wins — San Francisco will be sending a profound message: We don’t want your dirty money here, and our votes are not for sale.

Polls are open until 8. Vote early and often.

Romney has lost. Unless ….


Polls aren’t perfect, but a lot of polls that come to the same conclusion are rarely wrong, at least not by much, and all the polling data suggests that in the critical swing states, Mitt Romney is SOL. Sure, the GOP camp is keeping up hope, but everyone knows that the odds are heavily in favor of the re-election of Barack Obama. In the spring of 2010, I bet on the Giants winning the World Series at 20-1 (nice payoff, that one), but I wouldn’t even take those odds on Romney today.

And since Hurricane Sandy has left Ohio and Pennsylvania relatively intact (no massive poll closures for lack of electrict power), and the voter-suppression laws have been put on hold by the courts, there’s really nothing game-changing available to Romney’s gang of crooks — except this.

I’m with the Wonkette folks — I don’t typically buy into the voting-machines-are-rigged-by-secret-Bain-operatives kinds of theories. But we all know the 2000 election was stolen, and I’m pretty sure that Willie Brown and his appointed elections chief, Tammy Haygood, did something fishy (maybe very fishy, judging by ballot boxes floating in the Bay) to prevent a public-power measure from passing in 2001. And we know that the voter ID laws were carefully designed to keep African Americans, Latinos, seniors and students away from the polls this fall. And we know that Romney’s backers are among the most powerful and secretive people in the world; if there really were groups like the Bilderbergs and the Masons running the world, Romney wouldn’t be allowed in the back rooms (too dumb) but his big-money allies would be there.

Could it be possible that somebody in Romneyland is going to try to pull a modern-day version of the hanging-chad caper?

We’d be fools not to think it’s on the agenda. Doesn’t mean they can pull it off (and seriously, if the president of the United States doesn’t have people who can monitor and put a check on this shit, then he doesn’t deserve the title). But if some of those swing states suddenly go all Florida, 2000 on us and start showing up red on the electoral map, it won’t be because of Obama’s college transcripts.

So go ahead, trolls, tell me how nuts I am. You’re probably right; everything’s going to be Just Fine.

Hurricane Sandy and climate change


I guess it’s no surprise that most of the news media coverage of Hurricane Sandy was focused on the immediate — when you have six million people without power and transit systems paralyzed and at least 38 deaths, you deal with that stuff first. There will be plenty of time later to talk about causes and preparadness and what to do next time.

But I expected a little more mainstream coverage of the clear and obvious fact that this storm — and the many more severe storms that are likely to follow in places that aren’t used to seeing this type of weather — is the result of climate change caused by humans. 

The scientists — at least, all but the looney ones — are not in denial. The oceans are warmer than they were 20 years ago, and the warm water extends farther north. Warmer oceans mean more, and stornger, hurricanes:

Scientists have long taken a similarly cautious stance, but more are starting to drop the caveat and link climate change directly to intense storms and other extreme weather events, such as the warm 2012 winter in the eastern U.S. and the frigid one in Europe at the same time.

There have been three presidential debates. Both candidates have suspended campaigning because of Sandy. Mitt Romney’s out collecting cans of food that the Red Cross doesn’t want.But at no point in this campaign has climate change been a serious issue.

Maybe people will start paying attention now. Maybe a $20 billion hit to the heavily populated East Coast areas where the heart of the nation’s banking and politics business are will wake up the White House and Congress. Because this ship has sailed — the damage already done is serious and can’t easily be repaired. And preventing serious from becoming catastrophic is now our only option, and we’re running out of time.

Most of Manhattan and Long Island is less than two feet about sea level. Unless you’re going to build massive dikes around both of them, those places are going to be worse off than south Florida in a few years. Sandy was a Category 1 when it hit the Jersey shore; in a few years, that region is going to be dealing with Category 3 and 4 storms and the flooding will be devastating.

Can we please talk about this?

Guess who pornographers are voting for in November


Surprise! It’s Obama, by a whopping 55 percentage point differential.

Porn PR conglomerator Xbiz conducted the poll of adult filmmakers (details are hazy regarding when and by what method the poll was administered), whose results says that only 13 percent of the XXX-ers asked would be voting for Mitt Romney, compared to Obama’s 68 percent.

The news here being that 13 percent of pornographers would vote for a guy who signed an anti-porn pledge and appears to be deadset on curtailing access to adult material by the “promotion of parental software controls” and “strict enforcement of our nation’s obscenity laws.”

Said Morality in the Media president Patrick Trueman in a press release, “the porn industry is flourishing because the Obama Administration has given it a green light to distribute hardcore porn to every man, woman, and child in America.

[h/t Morality in the Media (scary ones!)]

Is Obama in trouble?


There’s no doubt that Mitt Romney got a nice, juicy bounce from the first presidential debate. There’s no doubt that President Obama’s performance was so bad that even his friends call it a world-class fuckup.

Is it time to seriously start believing that if we don’t all get our shit together, we could be looking at this?

Well, yes and no.

Yes in the sense that momentum is a huge deal in a presidential race — the more it appears Obama might lose, the more money pours into the Romney camp and the more Romney partisans get active and the more the reluctant right that never really trusted him starts to perk up. The Obama folks hope the opposite happens — that fear will motivate a lot of progressives who’ve been pissed at the president to get back into the game.

But let’s remember — the winner in November will not be the one who finished first in the Gallup poll. This is not a national election. It’s a state-by-state election, for better or for worse, and the polling we ought to be looking at is in the swing states. And so far — even in the days right after the debae, when Romney was seeing the most dramatic improvement — the swing states are looking okay. Not great, but not a disaster.:

In what were the worst polling days for the president all cycle, the GOP’s hack pollster Rasmussen found Nevada tied 47-47, Obama up in Iowa 49-47, Obama up in Colorado 49-48, and Obama up in Ohio 50-49. He also found Romney up 49-47 in Florida and 49-48 in Virginia. PPP found Obama winning Virginia 50-47 and Wisconsin 49-47. Ann Selzer, one of the best pollsters in the biz, found Obama leading in Colorado 47-43.

Yes, the polls in Texas show even more support for Romney, and Obama’s support in California has softened a little, but that’s irrelevant — the only way the solid-color states are shifting columns is if something really cataclysmic happens.

Fox News thinks Romney has already won — but check out the popular vote v. the electoral vote rundown here. Romney’s got a nearly 50-50 chance of winning the popular vote — but his odds of winning the election are stil below 30 percent.

Just for fun, check out the second map here, which shows a plausible scenario for a deah heat, a tie that would be broken by the House of Representatives. Plausible, but pretty unlikely.

So don’t file your application for Canadian residency yet; Obama needs to fight back a little more and realize that this isn’t a time for nonpartisanship, but he’s still the odds-on favorite to win.


Much ado about nudity


There was no public outcry when Pedro Villamore, a 44-year-old homeless gay man, was found dead in a doorway in the 500 block of Castro Street last December, a couple of weeks before Christmas and across the street from the holiday tree that the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro puts up every year to welcome big spenders into the neighborhood.

MUMC, which in years past opposed three homeless queer youth shelters and a free meals program at a local gay church, did not decry the fact that a member of our community died on the street — and where were the city’s homeless outreach teams? Nor did any of the residents of the neighborhood express any concern that others who have a problem with methamphetamine, the area’s drug of choice, might meet a similar fate — and shouldn’t the community be doing something about it?

Of course, if he had been one of the nudists who hang out naked in the Castro these days Villamore would’ve found himself on the front-page of Bay Area Reporter, the city’s gay weekly, while he was still alive. Not to mention the target of diatribes from the SF Chronicle’s chronically right-wing columnist C.W. Nevius.  

Sadly enough, a neighborhood that once stood for sexual and personal freedom has succumbed to anti-nudism hysteria, even to the point of echoing Anita Bryant’s old rallying cry, “Save the children!”

Hysteria it is, of epic proportions. Some Castro residents and MUMC merchants actually persuaded their elected official, Supervisor Scott Wiener, to introduce anti-nudism legislation because a few naked men prance around the hood au natural, even sometimes sporting (horrors!) cock rings on their dicks. In a neighborhood where there’s no dearth of cock rings or any other sex toy, not to mention every variety of gay porn imaginable, and where guys walk around bars in underwear, residents don’t want public nudity. Huh? The neighborhood’s historic live-and-let-live attitude has obviously gone the way of Halloween and being able to walk into Pink Saturday without being scanned by a metal detector.

Has gay marriage and the freedom to “be all that you can be” in the military afflicted residents of the Castro with assimilation fever? What’s next — fundraising parties for Mitt Romney or a Castro chapter of the Moral Majority?

In a community that, according to a recent Williams Institute study, is rampant with poverty and suffers a serious lack of full-time employment for transgender people (75%, according to a report from this paper and the Transgender Law Center), not to mention a major drug and alcohol problem that makes gay men easy targets for muggings as they leave the bars at night, you’d think that public nudity would the last thing on anyone’s mind.  

People with AIDS continue to be pushed out of apartments in the Castro so that landlords and realtors can make tons of dough and LGBT seniors are forced to live with little economic or social support, regular cuts to services and benefits, and discrimination and isolation in nursing care facilities.

Yet from the volume of letters in the BAR and the number of calls Wiener says he’s received, you’d think that public nudity is the biggest problem in the world.

Pedro Villamore might disagree with that.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca has been a queer activist for the past 42 years, and a Castro resident for 20. He is editor of Smash the Church, Smash the State: the early years of gay liberation (City Lights).

Endorsements 2012: San Francisco propositions





The scathing accreditation report by the Western Association of Schools talks about governance problems at the San Francisco Community College District — a legitimate matter of concern. But most of what threatens the future of City College is a lack of money.

Check out the accreditation letter; it’s on the City College website. Much of what it says is that the school is trying to do too much with limited resources. There aren’t enough administrators; that’s because, facing 20 percent cuts to its operating budget, the college board decided to save front-line teaching jobs. Student support services are lacking; that’s because the district can barely afford to keep enough classes going to meet the needs of some 90,000 students. On the bigger picture, WASC and the state want City College to close campuses and concentrate on a core mission of offering two-year degrees and preparing students to transfer to four-year institutions. That’s because the state has refused to fund education at an adequate level, and there’s not enough money to both function as a traditional junior college and serve as the training center for San Francisco’s tech, hospitality and health-care industry, provide English as a second language classes to immigrants and offer new job skills and rehabilitation to the workforce of the future.

It’s fair to say that WASC would have found some problems at City College no matter what the financial situation (and we’ve found more — the nepotism and corruption under past boards has been atrocious). But the only way out of this mess is either to radically scale back the school’s mission — or to increase its resources. We support the latter alternative.

Prop. A is a modest parcel tax — $79 dollars a year on each property lot in the city. Parcel taxes are inherently unfair — a small house in Hunters Point pays as much as a mansion in Pacific Heights or a $500 million downtown office building. But that’s the result of Prop. 13, which leaves the city very few ways to raise taxes on real property. In the hierarchy of progressive tax options, parcel taxes are better than sales taxes. And the vast majority of San Francisco homeowners and commercial property owners get a huge benefit from Prop. 13; a $6 a month additional levy is hardly a killer.

The $16 million this tax would raise annually for the district isn’t enough to make up for the $25 million a year in state budget cuts. But at least the district would be able to make reasonable decisions about preserving most of its mission. This is one of the most important measures on the ballot; vote yes.




There are two questions facing the voters: Does the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department need money to fix up badly decrepit, sometimes unsafe facilities, and build out new park areas, particularly in underserved neighborhoods? Has the current administration of the department so badly mismanaged Rec-Park, so radically undermined the basic concept of public access to public space, so utterly alienated neighborhoods and communities all over the city, that it shouldn’t be trusted with another penny?

And if your answer to both is yes, how the hell do you vote on Prop. B?

It’s a tough one for us. The Guardian has never, in 46 years, opposed a general obligation bond for anything except jail or prisons. Investing in public infrastructure is a good thing; if anything, the cautious folks at City Hall, who refuse to put new bonds on the ballot until old ones are paid off, are too cautious about it. Spending public money (paid by increased property taxes in a city where at least 90 percent of real estate is way under taxed thanks to Prop. 13) creates jobs. It’s an economic stimulus. It adds to the value of the city’s resources. In this case, it fixes up parks. All of that is good; it’s hard to find a credible case against it.

Except that for the past few years, under the administrations of Mayors Gavin Newsom and Ed Lee and the trusteeship of Rec-Park Directors Jared Blumenfeld and Phil Ginsburg, the city has gone 100 percent the wrong way. Parks are supposed to be public resources, open to all; instead, the department has begun charging fees for what used to be free, has been turning public facilities over to private interests (at times kicking the public out), and has generally looked at the commons as a source of revenue. It’s a horrible precedent. It makes us sick.

Ginsburg told us that he’s had no choice — deep budget cuts have forced him to look for money wherever he can find it, even if that means privatizing the parks. But Ginsburg also admitted to us that, even as chief of staff under Newsom, he never once came forward to push for higher taxes on the wealthy, never once suggested that progressive revenue sources might be an option. Nor did any of the hacks on the Rec-Park Commission. Instead, they’ve been busy spending tens of thousands of dollars on an insane legal battle to evict the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council’s recycling center — entirely because rich people in the Haight don’t want poor people coming through their elite neighborhood to cash in bottles and cans for a little money.

So now we’re supposed to cough up another $195 million to enable more of this?

Well, yes. We’re not happy to be endorsing Prop. B, but the bottom line is simple: The bond money will go for things that need to be done. There are, quite literally, parks in the city where kids are playing in unsafe and toxic conditions. There are rec centers that are pretty close to falling apart. Those improvements will last 50 years, well beyond the tenure of this mayor of Rec-Park director. For the long-term future of the park system, Prop. B makes sense.

If the measure fails, it may send Lee and Ginsburg a message. The fact that so many neighborhood leaders are opposing it has already been a signal — one that so far Ginsburg has ignored. We’re going Yes on B, with all due reservations. But this commission has to go, and the sooner the supervisors can craft a charter amendment to give the board a majority of the appointments to the panel the better.+




This measure is about who gets to live in San Francisco and what kind of city this will be in 20 years. If we leave it up to market forces and the desires of developers, about 85 percent of the housing built in San Francisco will be affordable only by the rich, meaning the working class will be forced to live outside the city, clogging regional roadways and transit systems and draining San Francisco of its cultural diversity and vibrancy. And that process has been accelerated in recent years by the latest tech bubble, which city leaders have decided to subsidize with tax breaks, causing rents and home prices to skyrocket.

Mayor Ed Lee deserves credit for proposing this Housing Trust Fund to help offset some of that impact, even if it falls way short of the need identified in the city’s Housing Element, which calls for 60 percent of new housing construction to be affordable to prevent gentrification. We’re also not thrilled that Prop. C actually reduces the percentage of housing that developers must offer below market rates and prevents that 12 percent level from later being increased, that it devotes too much money to home ownership assistance at the expense of the renters who comprise the vast majority of city residents, and that it depends on the passage of Prop.E and would take $15 million from the increased business taxes from that measure, rather than restoring years of cuts to General Fund programs.

But Prop. C was a hard-won compromise, with the affordable housing folks at the table, and they got most of what they wanted. (Even the 12 percent has a long list of exceptions and thus won’t apply to a lot of new market-rate housing.) And it has more chance of actually passing than previous efforts that were opposed by the business community and Mayor’s Office. This measure would commit the city to spending $1.5 billion on affordable housing projects over the next 30 years, with an initial $20 million annual contribution steadily growing to more than $50 million annually by 2024, authorizing and funding the construction of 30,000 new rental units throughout the city. With the loss of redevelopment funds that were devoted to affordable housing, San Francisco is a city at risk, and passage of Prop. C is vital to ensuring that we all have a chance of remaining here. Vote yes.




There’s a lot of odd stuff in the San Francisco City Charter, and one of the twists is that two offices — the city attorney and the treasurer — are elected in an off-year when there’s nothing else on the ballot. There’s a quaint kind of charm to that, and some limited value — the city attorney is one of the most powerful officials in local government, and that race could get lost in an election where the mayor, sheriff, and district attorney are all on the ballot.

But seriously: The off-year elections have lower turnout, and cost the city money, and it’s pretty ridiculous that San Francisco still does it this way. The entire Board of Supervisors supports Prop. D. So do we. Vote yes.




Over the past five years, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu estimates, San Francisco has cut about $1.5 billion from General Fund programs. It’s been bloody, nasty, awful. The budget reductions have thrown severely ill psych patients out of General Hospital and onto the streets. They’ve forced the Recreation and Parks Department to charge money for the use of public space. They’ve undermined everything from community policing to Muni maintenance.

And now, as the economy starts to stabilize a bit, the mayor wants to change the way businesses are taxed — and bring an additional $28.5 million into city coffers.

That’s right — we’ve cut $1.5 billion, and we’re raising taxes by $28.5 million. That’s less than 2 percent. It’s insane, it’s inexcusable, it’s utterly the wrong way to run a city in 2012. It might as well be Mitt Romney making the decision — 98 percent cuts, 2 percent tax hikes.

Nevertheless, that’s where we are today — and it’s sad to say this is an improvement from where the tax discussion started. At first, Mayor Lee didn’t want any tax increase at all; progressive leaders had to struggle to convince him to allow even a pittance in additional revenue.

The basic issue on the table is how San Francisco taxes businesses. Until the late 1990s, the city had a relatively rational system — businesses paid about 1.5 percent of their payroll or gross receipts, whichever was higher. Then 52 big corporations, including PG&E, Chevron, Bechtel, and the Gap, sued, arguing that the gross receipts part of the program was unfair. The supervisors caved in to the legal threat and repeal that part of the tax system — costing the city about $30 million a year. Oh, but then tech companies — which have high payrolls but often, at least at first, low gross receipts — didn’t want the payroll tax. The same players who opposed the other tax now called for its return, arguing that taxing payroll hurts job growth (which is untrue and unfounded, but this kind of dogma doesn’t get challenged in the press). So, after much discussion and debate, and legitimate community input, the supervisors unanimously approved Prop. E — which raises a little more money, but not even as much as the corporate lawsuit in the 1990s set the city back. It’s not a bad tax, better than the one we have now — it brings thousands of companies the previously paid no tax at all into the mix (sadly, some of them small businesses). It’s somewhat progressive — companies with higher receipts pay a higher rate. We can’t argue against it — the city will be better off under Prop. E than it is today. But we have to look around our battered, broke-ass city, shake our poor bewildered heads and say: Is this really the best San Francisco can do? Sure, vote yes on E. And ask yourself why one of the most liberal cities in America still lets Republican economic theory drive its tax policy.




Reasonable people can disagree about whether San Francisco should have ever dammed the Tuolumne River in 1923, flooding the Hetch Hetchy Valley and creating an engineering marvel that has provided the city with a reliable source of renewable electricity and some of the best urban drinking water in the world ever since. The project broke the heart of famed naturalist John Muir and has caused generations since then to pine for the restoration of a valley that Muir saw as a twin to his beloved nearby Yosemite Valley.

But at a time when this country can’t find the resources to seriously address global warming (which will likely dry up the Sierra Nevada watershed at some point in the future), our deteriorating infrastructure, and myriad other pressing problems, it seems insane to even consider spending billions of dollars to drain this reservoir, restore the valley, and find replacement sources of clean water and power.

You can’t argue with the basic facts: There is no way San Francisco could replace all the water that comes in from Hetch Hetchy without relying on the already-fragile Delta. The dam also provides 1.7 billion kilowatt hours a year of electric power, enough to meet the needs of more than 400,000 homes. That power now runs everything from the lights at City Hall to Muni, at a cost of near zero. The city would lose 42 percent of its energy generation if the dam went away.

Besides, the dam was, and is, the lynchpin of what’s supposed to be a municipal power system in the city. As San Francisco, with Clean Power SF, moves ever close to public power, it’s insane to take away this critical element of any future system.

On its face, the measure merely requires the city to do an $8 million study of the proposal and then hold a binding vote in 2016 that would commit the city to a project estimated by the Controller’s Office to cost somewhere between $3 billion and $10 billion. Yet to even entertain that possibility would be a huge waste of time and money.

Prop. F is being pushed by a combination of wishful (although largely well-meaning) sentimentalists and disingenuous conservatives like Dan Lungren who simply want to fuck with San Francisco, but it’s being opposed by just about every public official in the city. Vote this down and let’s focus our attention on dealing with real environmental and social problems.




If San Francisco voters pass Prop. G, it won’t put any law into effect. It’s simply a policy statement that sends a message: Corporations are not people, and it’s time for the federal government to tackle the overwhelming and deeply troubling control that wealthy corporations have over American politics.

Prop. G declares that money is not speech and that limits on political spending improve democratic processes. It urges a reversal of the notorious Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission Supreme Court decision.

A constitutional amendment, and any legal messing with free speech, has serious potential problems. If corporations are limited from spending money on politics, could the same apply to unions or nonprofits? Could such an amendment be used to stop a community organization from spending money to print flyers with political opinions?

But it’s a discussion that the nation needs to have, and Prop. G is a modest start. Vote yes.

Endorsements 2012: State and national races


National races



You couldn’t drive down Valencia Street on the evening of Nov. 4, 2008. You couldn’t get through the intersection of 18th and Castro, either. All over the east side of the city, people celebrating the election of Barack Obama and the end of the Bush era launched improptu parties, dancing and singing in the streets, while the cops stood by, smiling. It was the only presidential election in modern history that create such an upwelling of joy on the American left — and while we were a bit more jaded and cautious about celebrating, it was hard not to feel a sense of hope.

That all started to change about a month after the inauguration, when word got out that the big insurance companies were invited to be at the table, discussing health-care reform — and the progressive consumer advocates were not. From that point on, it was clear that the “change” he promised wasn’t going to be a fundamental shift in how power works in Washington.

Obama didn’t even consider a single-payer option. He hasn’t shut down Guantanamo Bay. He hasn’t cut the Pentagon budget. He hasn’t pulled the US out of the unwinnable mess in Afghanistan. He’s been a huge disappointment on progressive tax and economic issues. It wasn’t until late this summer, when he realized he was facing a major enthusiasm gap, that he even agreed to endorse same-sex marriage.

But it’s easy to trash an incumbent president, particularly one who foolishly thought he could get bipartisan support for reforms and instead wound up with a hostile Republican Congress. The truth is, Obama has accomplished a fair amount, given the obstacles he faced. He got a health-care reform bill, weak and imperfect as it was, passed into law, something Democrats have tried and failed at since the era of FDR. The stimulus, weak and limited as it was, clearly prevented the recession from becoming another great depression. His two Supreme Court appointments have been excellent.

And the guy he’s running against is a disaster on the scale of G.W. Bush.

Mitt Romney can’t even tell the truth about himself. He’s proven to be such a creature of the far-right wing of the Republican Party that it’s an embarrassment. A moderate Republican former governor of Massachusetts could have made a credible run for the White House — but Romney has essentially disavowed everything decent that he did in his last elective office, has said one dumb thing after another, and would be on track to be one of the worse presidents in history.

We get it: Obama let us down. But there’s a real choice here, and it’s an easy one. We’ll happily give a shout out to Jill Stein, the candidate of the Green Party, who is talking the way the Democrats ought to be talking, about a Green New Deal that recognizes that the richest nation in the history of the world can and should be doing radically better on employment, health care, the environment, and economic justice. And since Obama’s going to win California by a sizable majority anyway, a protest vote for Stein probably won’t do any harm.

But the next four years will be a critical time for the nation, and Obama is at least pushing in the direction of reality, sanity and hope. We endorsed him with enthusiasm four year ago; we’re endorsing him with clear-eyed reality in 2012.



Ugh. Not a pleasant choice here. Elizabeth Emken is pretty much your standard right-wing-nut Republican out of Danville, a fan of reducing government, cutting regulations, and repealing Obamacare. Feinstein, who’s already served four terms, is a conservative Democrat who loves developers, big business, and the death penalty, is hawkish on defense, and has used her clout locally to push for all the wrong candidates and all the wrong things. She can’t even keep her word: After Willie Brown complained that London Breed was saying mean things about him, Feinstein pulled her endorsement of Breed for District 5 supervisor.

It’s astonishing that, in a year when the state Democratic Party is aligned behind Proposition 34, which would replace the death penalty with life without parole, Feinstein can’t find it in herself to back away from her decades-long support of capital punishment. She’s not much better on medical marijuana. And she famously complained when then-mayor Gavin Newsom pushed same-sex marriage to the forefront, saying America wasn’t ready to give LGBT couples the same rights as straight people.

But as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Feinstein was pretty good about investigating CIA torture and continues to call for the closure of Guantanamo Bay. She’s always been rock solid on abortion rights and at least decent, if not strong, on environmental issues.

It’s important for the Democrats to retain the Senate, and Feinstein might as well be unopposed. She turns 80 next year, so it’s likely this will be her last term.



The real question on the minds of everyone in local politics is what will happen if the Democrats don’t retake the House and Pelosi has to face two more years in the minority. Will she serve out her term? Will her Democratic colleagues decide they want new leadership? The inside scuttle is that Pelosi has no intention of stepping down, but a long list of local politicians is looking at the once-in-a-lifetime chance to run for a Congressional seat, and it’s going to happen relatively soon; Pelosi is 72.

We’ve never been happy with Rep. Pelosi, who used the money and clout of the old Burton machine to come out of nowhere to beat progressive gay supervisor Harry Britt for the seat in 1986. Her signature local achievement is the bill that created the first privatized national park in the nation’s history (the Presidio), which now is home to a giant office complex built by filmmaker George Lucas with the benefit of a $60 million tax break. She long ago stopped representing San Francisco, making her move toward Congressional leadership by moving firmly to the center.

But as speaker of the House, she was a strong ally for President Obama and helped move the health-care bill forward. It’s critical to the success of the Obama administration that the Democrats retake the house and Pelosi resumes the role of speaker.



Barbara Lee represents Berkeley and Oakland in a way Nancy Pelosi doesn’t represent San Francisco. She’s been a strong, sometimes lonely voice against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a leader in the House Progressive Caucus. While Democrats up to and including the president talk about tax cuts for businesses, Lee has been pushing a fair minimum wage, higher taxes on the wealthy, and an end to subsidies for the oil industry. While Oakland Mayor Jean Quan was struggling with Occupy, and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee was moving to evict the protesters, Barbara Lee was strongly voicing her support for the movement, standing with the activists, and talking about wealth inequality. We’re proud to endorse her for another term.



Speier’s an improvement on her predecessor, Tom Lantos, who was a hawk and terrible on Middle East policy. Speier’s a moderate, as you’d expect in this Peninsula seat, but she’s taken the lead on consumer privacy issues (as she did in the state Legislature) and will get re-elected easily. She’s an effective member of a Bay Area delegation that helps keep the House sane, so we’ll endorse her for another term.

State candidates



Tom Ammiano’s the perfect person to represent San Francisco values in Sacramento. He helped sparked and define this city’s progressive movement back in the 1970s as a gay teacher marching alongside with Harvey Milk. In 1999, his unprecedented write-in mayoral campaign woke progressives up from some bad years and ushered in a decade with a progressive majority on the Board of Supervisors that approved landmark legislation such as the universal healthcare program Ammiano created. In the Assembly, he worked to create a regulatory system for medical marijuana and chairs the powerful Public Safety Committee, where he has stopped the flow of mindless tough-on-crime measures that have overflowed our prisons and overburdened our budgets. This is Ammiano’s final term in the Legislature, but we hope it’s not the end of his role in local politics.



Phil Ting could be assessor of San Francisco, with a nice salary, for the rest of his life if that’s what he wanted to do. He’s done a good job in an office typically populated with make-no-waves political hacks — he went after the Catholic Church when that large institution tried to avoid paying taxes on property transfers. He’s been outspoken on foreclosures and commissioned, on his own initiative, a study showing that a large percentage of local foreclosures involved at least some degree of fraud or improper paperwork.

But Ting is prepared to take a big cut in pay and accept a term-limited future for the challenge of moving into a higher-profile political position. And he’s the right person to represent this westside district.

Ting’s not a radical leftist, but he is willing to talk about tax reform, particularly about the inequities of Prop. 13. He’s carrying the message to homeowners that they’re shouldering a larger part of the burden while commercial properties pay less. He wants to change some of the loopholes in how Prop. 13 is interpreted to help local government collect more money.

It would be nice to have a progressive-minded tax expert in the Legislature, and we’re glad Ting is the front-runner. He’s facing a serious, well-funded onslaught from Michael Breyer, the son of Supreme Court Justice Breyer, who has no political experience or credentials for office and is running a right-wing campaign emphasizing “old-style San Francisco values.”

Not pretty. Vote for Ting.



Mark Leno wasn’t always in the Guardian’s camp, and we don’t always agree with his election season endorsements, but he’s been a rock-solid representative in Sacramento and he has earned our respect and our endorsement.

It isn’t just how he votes, which we consistently agree with. Leno has been willing to take on the tough fights, the ones that need to be fought, and shown the tenacity to come out on top in the Legislature, even if he’s ahead of his time. Leno twice got the Legislature to legalize same-sex marriage, he has repeatedly gotten that body to legalize industrial hemp production, and he’s twice passed legislation that would give San Francisco voters the right to set a local vehicle license fees higher than the state’s and use that money for local programs (which the governor finally signed). He’s also been laying an important foundation for creating a single-payer healthcare system and he played an important role in the CleanPowerSF program that San Francisco will implement next year. Leno will easily be re-elected to another term in the Senate and we look forward to his next move (Leno for mayor, 2015?)





San Francisco has been well represented on the BART Board by Radulovich, a smart and forward-thinking urbanist who understands the important role transit plays in the Bay Area. Radulovich has played leadership roles in developing a plan that aims to double the percentage of cyclists using the system, improving the accessibility of many stations to those with limited mobility, pushing through an admittedly imperfect civilian oversight agency for the BART Police, hiring a new head administrator who is more responsive to community concerns, and maintaining the efficiency of an aging system with the highest ridership levels in its history. With a day job serving as executive director of the nonprofit Livable City, Radulovich helped create Sunday Streets and other initiatives that improve our public spaces and make San Francisco a more inviting place to be. And by continuing to provide a guiding vision for a BART system that continues to improve its connections to every corner of the Bay Area, his vision of urbanism is helping to permeate communities throughout the region



This sprawling district includes part of southeast San Francisco and extends all the way up the I-80 corridor to the Carquinez Bridge. The incumbent, San Franciscan Lynette Sweet, has been a major disappointment. She’s inaccessible, offers few new ideas, and was slow to recognize (much less deal with) the trigger-happy BART Police who until recently had no civilian oversight. Time for a change.

Three candidates are challenging Sweet, all of them from the East Bay (which makes a certain amount of sense — only 17 percent of the district’s population is in San Francisco). Our choice is Zachary Mallett, whose training in urban planning and understanding of the transit system makes up for his lack of political experience.

Mallett’s a graduate of Stanford and UC Berkelely (masters in urban planning with a transportation emphasis) who has taken the time to study what’s working and what isn’t working at BART. Some of his ideas sound a bit off at first — he wants, for example, to raise the cost of subsidized BART rides offered to Muni pass holders — but when you look a the numbers, and who is subsidizing who, it actually makes some sense. He talks intelligently about the roles that the various regional transit systems play and while he’s a bit more moderate than us, particularly on fiscal issues, he’s the best alternative to Sweet.

The rich, the poor and the state of SF


The latest Forbes 400 is out, the list of the richest Americans, and a record number (according to my annual record-keeping) now live in San Francisco. This is a city with 18 people on the top-billionaires list — and since the list cuts off at $1.1 billion, there are a lot of really, really rich San Franciscans who didn’t quite make it this year. School Board candidate Sam Rodriguez told us his research shows that there are 80,000 millionaires in the city, meaning one in ten San Franciscans is worth a cool mil, and while some of that is just homeowners who bought 20 years ago and now have property worth $1 million — and I haven’t verified his data anyway — it’s hard to argue that this is anything but a very wealthy city.

(It also has, according to Forbes, the second-hippest neighborhood in the nation, and that would be the Mission, which is reaching that fully-gentrified stage where nobody young can afford to live there anymore so it won’t be hip much longer.)

The list comes out at the same time that figures show nearly 7 million Californians are living in poverty, and household income for most people has been stagnant — at best — for more than a decade.

It was a great year for the top 400, though — their median income was up rather dramatically. It seems that, whatever Mitt Romney may say in public or in private, the Obama administration hasn’t been bad at all for the 1 percent.

I keep asking, and I know it’s tiresome, but: Why, in a city with 18 billionaires, do we still have to clear out homeless encampments?

Why are the public schools holding (literally) bake sales to buy paper and pencils? Why have we cut the number of acute psychiatric care beds at SF General from 40 to 10? If San Francisco can’t even talk about taxing the billionaires, is there any hope for the rest of the country?

FYI, here’s The SF 18 (complied by Anna Sterling):

    Riley Bechtel
    $2.9 B
    Chairman and CEO, Bechtel Corp.
    Stephen Bechtel, Jr.
    $2.9 B
    Former Chairman, Bechtel Corp.
    Doris Fisher
    $2.9 B
    Cofounder, Gap
    Dustin Moskovitz
    $2.7 B
    CEO, Asana
    Ray Dolby
    $2.4 B
    Founder and director emeritus, Dolby Laboratories
    John Fisher
    $2.3 B
    President, Pisces, Inc.
    William Randolph Hearst, III
    $2.3 B
    Source of Wealth: Hearst Corp
    Marc Benioff
    $2.2 B
    Chairman and CEO,
    James Coulter
    $2.1 B
    Source of Wealth: Leveraged buyouts, Self-made
    Gordon Getty
    $2 B
    President and Chairman, Ann & Gordon Getty Foundation
    Phoebe Hearst Cooke
    $1.9 B
    Source of Wealth: Hearst Corp
    Michael Moritz
    $1.9 B
    Partner, Sequoia Capital
    John Pritzker
    $1.8 B
    Source of Wealth: Hotels, investments
    Robert Fisher
    $1.7 B
    Director, Gap
    William Fisher
    $1.7 B
    Director, Gap
    Peter Thiel
    $1.4 B
    Partner, Founders Fund
    Thomas Steyer
    $1.3 B
    Founder & Co-Senior Managing Partner, Farallon Capital Management
    Jack Dorsey
    $1.1 B
    CEO, Square, Inc.




The Dems open with a contrast


You couldn’t have scripted it better (and that’s what it was, carefully scripted). The contrast between the mayor of San Antonio, Julian Castro, grandson of immigrants, child of a working-class family, and the first lady, Michelle Obama, daughter of a disabled blue-collar public employee, teling their life stories just reminded everyone about the life of that other candidate. Yeah, the one who told students to borrow money from their parents to start a business.

Castro was good because of who he is, and he’s a fine speaker, and the HuffPo  thinks he’s been vaulted into the national spotlight, but this wasn’t a speech that’s going to change anyone’s life. Not like the keynote eight years ago. It was good campaign speech, some nice slaps at the Republicans, and a good line: The GOP wants to take back America — back to what and to when?

But Michelle Obama stole the show. I was listening in the car with my daughter, on the way home from her gymnastics class, and Viv — who generally tolerates nothing on the radio except Katy Perry and Lady Gaga and Kesha and J. Lo and like that — was actually quiet for a few minutes, and at one point asked me the same question I was asking myself:

Why isn’t she the president?

But she isn’t and her husband is, and we all have a lot of issues with him, and I’m not here to defend this administration. But the stark contrasts between the candidates and the conventions can’t be ignored. Davey D, who’s doing an awesome job of covering both conventions, talked about walking around the RNC and not seeing any black people (Colorlines looked carefully and found exactly 89) and from his perspective (and he’s certainly not a Democratic synchophant) the DNC was worlds away.

By most accounts, Mitt Romney didn’t get much bounce from his nomination speech, but most accounts — that is, the national polls — mean very little at this point. The next election will be won or lost in about six swing states, and the GOP clearly thinks it will be a “base” election, that there are enough right-wing types in those states to make the difference if they’re motivated. I don’t know if Obama can say or do anything that will change that.

But for those handful of undecided voters, most of whom are not rich, the Dems have a tailored message. And so far, it’s working well.


Louis Dunn: Clint and Mitt


Louis Dunn, longtime Guardian cartoonist, comments on the entry of Clint Eastwood into prime time television before Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech at the 2012 Republican National Convention. Click on the art to view the full poster.

Follow the jump to watch Clint’s 12-minute improv “speech.”