Mitt Romney

Dick Meister: Let’s count our blessings on Labor Day!


By Dick Meister

Dick Meister, former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century. Contact him through his website,, which includes more than 350 of his columns.

OK, it’s time to celebrate Labor Day, time to celebrate the labor movement that won a wide range of benefits for working people. That includes, of course, a paid day off on Labor Day and other holidays or extra pay for working on the holidays. But there’s much more than that. Much more.

We can also thank unions for:

* The eight-hour workday with meal and rest breaks.

* Forty-hour work weeks and three-day holiday weekends.

* Overtime pay and paid vacations, sick leave and maternity leave.

 * Major help in the enactment of anti-child labor law laws and increased public education funding.

* Medicare and retirement and disability benefits.

* Job security and other workers’ rights.

* A strong political voice for unions that helped enact Social Security, unemployment insurance, workers compensation, health and safety and minimum wage laws and has helped elect pro-worker office holders.

* Important help in the passage of key civil rights and civil liberties laws that have particularly helped political dissidents, women and minorities and military veterans.

Certainly not every worker enjoys all the union-backed benefits. But even the non-union workers who make up the vast majority of working people these days have many of the benefits. And, thanks to the efforts of unions, they have the opportunity to win all of the benefits.

You can be sure that on this Labor Day, as on all others, political candidates will have lots to say about unions.  You can expect, however, that not much will be heard from Republicans. Their usual ranting in behalf of their moneyed backers about the evils of “Big Labor” and “union bosses” will be muted, lest they offend potential blue-collar supporters. Democrats undoubtedly will voice their usual support for union members and workers generally, many sincerely, some simply in hopes of gaining blue-collar support.

Union opponents seem to forget that unions are democratic organizations, whose members generally have a strong voice in their unions’ activities.  Union officers are elected, after all, and so are answerable to their members.

Union positions on political candidates and issues, as well as financial contributions to candidates, are not dictated by union officers, despite what anti-union politicians assert. Union positions and union political spending are determined by the votes of union members, usually on the recommendations of their Committees on Political Education (COPE). Officers who don’t reflect their members’ position face replacement by membership vote.

Once, Labor Day meant big parades in cities nationwide. But no more. Although union numbers continue shrinking, unions are surely here to stay. They’ve fought their way into the Establishment. They still parade here and there, but no longer feel that parading is necessary to show their strength and importance.

Unions are much more likely to mark Labor Day with the political activity that has become as important to them as economic activity since their arrival into the ranks of the economically accepted.

Thus the Labor Day messages of union leaders will stress politics. That will largely include support for President Obama, despite union complaints that he has not worked hard enough to overcome congressional opposition to pro-labor reforms that he’s proposed or supported. From labor’s point-of-view, Obama is nevertheless very much preferable to Mitt Romney, just as most other Democrats are preferable to their Republican opponents.

Despite much opinion to the contrary, the union stress on politics, rather on winning broader public support for unionization, does not mean that all unions have reached a permanent, unshakeable position in society.

Nor does it mean that unions are not still fighting battles that are as almost as significant as those of the 1930s and 1940s that drew broad support from a public which sometimes frowns on unions, now that they have secured the strong position in society which the public helped them win.

Labor influence is not measured strictly by the number of union members, because of labor’s strong influence in politics and because the wages and conditions of unionized workers set the standard for all workers. Yet numbers are important, and unions generally have been struggling just to keep overall membership steady.

Currently, only about 12 percent of privately employed workers are unionized. But while their numbers have remained low, the figure for unionized public employees has grown to nearly 40 percent. That has put public employee unions in the vanguard of the labor movement, and given the movement new, badly needed strength, although also raising strong political opposition to public employee unions.

There are some fairly solid reasons for the decline in union membership overall, ironically including the unions’ loss of their position as underdogs, the widespread granting of union conditions to non-union workers and illegal employer interference in voting by workers on whether to unionize.

Perhaps the most important reason for the decline in union membership has been a fundamental change in the workforce. Once dominated by blue-collar production workers, it has come to be dominated by white-collar service workers. But organized labor sometimes has been slow to move into white-collar fields outside of public employment.

Labor Day should cause us to reflect on the great importance of the labor movement’s vital mission – its organizing of workers to win economic and political strength and helping elect pro-worker officeholders, its help in creating jobs and otherwise aiding the millions of Americans who remain unemployed or otherwise in economic distress.

So while you may not be able to see a parade on Labor Day, labor is still doing many other things well worth watching, and well worth supporting.

A footnote: Despite what the standard history books say, the first real Labor Day celebration was not held in New York City in 1882, but 14 years earlier right here in San Francisco. That was on February 21, 1868. Three thousand paraded the city’s streets by torchlight to mark enactment of the 8-hour-day law in California.

Happy Labor Day!

Dick Meister, former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century. Contact him through his website,, which includes more than 350 of his columns.

Dick Meister: Obama needs labor–again!


By Dick Meister

Dick Meister, former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century. Contact him through his website,, which includes more than 350 of his columns.

Organized labor, which played a major role in President Obama’s 2008 election campaign, thankfully has launched what seems certain to become an even greater and perhaps decisive effort in behalf of Obama’s re-election this year.

We should all be thankful for that, given the reactionary policies Mitt Romney and his Republican cohorts promise to put in place should they win, and the positive reforms Obama and the Democrats promise.

Four years ago, 250,000 AFL-CIO activists campaigned for Obama’s election. But the AFL-CIO says the number of union volunteers campaigning for Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress this year will reach at least 400,000, and be waged among union and non-union members alike.


That’s not an unrealistic expectation, considering what happened in 2008.  One-fifth of all voters that year were union members or in union households, and fully two-thirds of them supported Obama, and the ratio was even higher in so-called battleground states.

The AFL-CIO calculates that union volunteers knocked on some 10 million doors to make their pitch for Obama in 2008, handed out 27 million leaflets and mailed out 57 million more.  The number of union voters alone reached a record high of more than 3 million.

The AFL-CIO claims its campaign “made the difference in critical states.”  Maybe it did, maybe not. But it is clear that organized labor significantly influenced the vote everywhere – and undoubtedly will do so again.

The AFL-CIO is certainly not going to match the billions being spent on the campaigns of Romney and his big business allies. But labor has the ground troops that can and will spread the pro-Democratic and pro-labor message widely, however much unions are outspent.

It’s true enough that labor has been unhappy with Obama’s failure to deliver on many of the promises he made to unions during the 2008 campaign, primarily his failure to overcome Congressional opposition to pro-labor reforms he’s proposed or supported.

 But there’s no doubt Obama’s administration has been a pro-labor administration. Federal agencies dealing with collective bargaining, job safety and other labor matters have been labor-friendly, in sharp contrast to their clearly anti-labor positions under George Bush. What’s more, Obama has spoken out forcefully to the country in behalf of unions, their demands and their needs.

He’s urged passage of virtually every measure advocated by labor in Congress. That includes bills guaranteeing millions of Americans the right to unionization that has long been denied them, prohibiting employers from permanently replacing strikers, raising the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation so it would rise as the cost-of-living rises.  Bush rarely even uttered the word, “union, ” much less voiced any pro-union sentiments or support for such union-backed measures.

People on the political left continue to clamor for more from Obama, and they should. But they must realize he’s the best we can reasonably expect in today’s political and economic climate. Give him four more years and who knows?

Yes, Barack Obama is not Franklin Roosevelt.  But neither is he George Bush – nor Mitt Romney.

Dick Meister, former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century. Contact him through his website,, which includes more than 350 of his columns.

Calvin Trillin: Mitt Romney’s tax returns


Mitt Romney’s tax returns

Demands come from left and right.

Mitt Romney, though, says he’ll sit tight.

We’ve given you people enough,

Says Ann, sounding suddenly tough.

Conspiracy theories abound.

Mitt’s critics relentlessly pound.

Why go through this sort of ordeal?

What doesn’t Mitt want to reveal?


Some shelters far off from our shore?

Well, sure, but there has to be more.

And, really, we already know

His tax rate is terribly low.

Could some corporate losses have meant

That one year he paid not a cent?

What’s in there to make voters squeal?

What doesn’t Mitt want to reveal?


What deed was so sleazy that he’ll

So desperately try to conceal

Exposure with such stubborn zeal?

What fiddling did Romney feel

Should even a wealthy big wheel

Who feels some gray area’s appeal

Is slippery, just like an eel?

What doesn’t Mitt want to reveal?

 Calvin Trillin: Deadline Poet: The Nation 8/13/2012

The City College mission


By Alisa Messer

OPINION City College is a beacon for all San Franciscans, from immigrants and displaced workers to cash-strapped families seeking educational opportunities for their children. The largest community and junior college in America with more than 90,000 students, City College touches everyone in San Francisco.

Not long after pundits mocked Mitt Romney for encouraging Americans to get “as much education as they can afford,” City College of San Francisco was threatened with the loss of its accreditation — in large part because the school is going broke.

City College has faced been five straight years of drastic cuts in state funding — literally tens of millions of dollars. The result is over-flowing classes, employee furloughs, pay cuts, and givebacks, and shutting the doors on far to many students who are unable to get the classes they need.

CCSF has held on by its fingernails, seeking ways to continue to serve a broad range of student needs and maintain educational access during these challenging budgetary times.

But canceled summer sessions amount to tremendous hardships for students, and garage sales and other fundraising in the private sector cannot replace $40 million in lost state funds. So all of the college’s employees — from tutors to librarians to custodians and engineers and IT staff and biology professors to deans — have given back.

The accrediting commission isn’t taking aim at the quality of education City College provides. Instead, the report focuses on severe budget problems caused mostly by state cuts, and then makes some criticisms about political infighting and weak leadership in the school’s top ranks.

The crisis at City College is at the heart of a larger debate in America about access to opportunity. Education remains the most significant factor in social mobility, and we maintain domestic tranquility because most of our citizens embrace the idea they can improve their lot in life with education.

City College is living proof that the theory works — but it requires money, people, and a commitment to a broader mission. City College isn’t just San Francisco’s biggest school, it’s also the city’s largest provider of English-as-a-second-language (ESL) courses and its largest job training and placement agency. City College’s partnerships with San Francisco’s restaurant and hospitality sector and other industries are national models.

City College is using universal access to education as a powerful engine of economic recovery. While many suburban junior colleges focus on helping high school graduates make the transition to four-year colleges and universities, City College is also teaching immigrants English, helping welfare recipients transition to work, training those in recovery to help their peers through drug and alcohol counseling, and boosting the skills of unemployed and under-employed blue collar workers so they can win increasingly knowledge-intensive jobs.

CCSF’s leaders must craft a plan to balance the school’s budget and save its accreditation, and we will. We will find new revenue sources, including passing a parcel tax this November. We will maintain accessibility, educational quality, and our mission as a Community College, serving the entire San Francisco community with an essential and irreplaceable focus on low-income and underrepresented students for whom CCSF is the only option.

Perhaps we can even come out of this crisis with a college that is more affordable, accessible, high quality, democratic, and equal than ever.

Alisa Messer is an English teacher at City College and president of AFT 2121, which represents counselors, librarians, and instructors.

Corporations, people, money, and speech


On July 24, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors weighed in on a policy debate that’s become a powerful cause on the American left. By a unanimous vote, the supervisors placed on the November ballot a measure calling for a Constitutional amendment to end corporate personhood.

“We’re living in a time of trickle down economics and tax breaks for the rich,” Avalos said, later adding, “Big corporations [are] able to spend vast amounts of money” and have “the greatest influence on the outcome of elections.

“We need to look at our Constitution and have it amended so we aren’t looking at corporations as living, breathing people,” Avalos said.

That’s an immensely popular sentiment in this country, and it’s been stirred up by the US Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a ruling that has come to represent all of the evils of big-money politics rolled into one two-word phrase.

More than 80 percent of Americans say they want the decision overturned. Six states, including California, have passed resolutions calling for a Constitutional amendment. Occupy protesters have made it a big issue. Marge Baker, policy vice president for People for the American Way, wrote a Huffington Post piece calling the campaign “A Movement Moment.”

But while Citizens United is a great rallying point, the challenge here goes way beyond one court decision. Citizens United didn’t create corporate personhood. Repealing the decision won’t end the flow of money in politics — and a lot of First Amendment experts are exceptionally nervous about anything that seeks to mess with this central part of the Bill of Rights.

And for all the denunciation of Citizens United, the solution — drafting the actual language of a new Constitutional amendment — turns out to be more than a little tricky.


Citizens United v. FEC has a complicated history. In 2002, Congress passed the McCain-Feingold Act, which barred corporations and unions from funding “electioneering” activities in the period right before an election.

The right-wing group Citizens United complained that Michael Moore’s documentary Fahrenheit 911 was an attack on George W. Bush and intended to influence the 2004 election, and the courts dismissed that complaint, saying that there was no evidence the independent documentary was an illegal campaign contribution.

Citizens United then started making its own “documentaries,” including one in 2008 that many saw as a campaign commercial against Hillary Clinton. The FEC found that the video was, in fact, “electioneering,” and the case wound up at the Supreme Court.

The legal decision was complicated, but among other things, the court ruled that a ban on independent corporate spending on election campaigns was a violation of the First Amendment rights of those business entities.

That was amplified when Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney uttered his famous line, “corporations are people.”

But in reality, Citizens United alone hasn’t caused the tsunami of big money that’s poured into elections, including the 2012 campaigns. Much of the cash contaminating the presidential coffers this year comes not from corporations effected by the ruling but from individuals and private trusts that have been free to throw money around for decades.

“The flood of money is disgusting and corrupting,” Peter Scheer, director of the California First Amendment Coalition, told us. “But it isn’t coming from public corporations. It’s mostly wealthy people and private trusts, and they didn’t need Citizens United to do this.”

In fact, the groundwork for modern sleaze was set a long time ago, in 1976, when the Supreme Court ruled in Buckley v. Valeo that, in effect, money was speech — and that any rich individual could spend all he or she wanted running for office.

What the Supreme Court has done, though, is set the modern political tone for campaign finance — among other things, invalidating a Montana law that barred corporate contributions to campaigns. And in the majority ruling and the assenting opinions, the court made clear that it doesn’t think government has any role in leveling the campaign playing field — that it’s not the business of government to decide that the money and speech of rich people and big business is drowning out the opinions and speech of the rest of the populace.


So now that every decent-thinking human being in the United States agrees that there’s too much sleazy money in politics and that it’s not a good thing for government to be for sale to the highest bidder, the really interesting — and difficult — question comes up: What do we do about it?

There are a lot of competing answers to that question. And frankly, none of them are perfect.

That may be one reason why the ACLU is mostly on the sidelines. When I contacted the national office to ask if anyone wanted to talk about the efforts to overturn Citizens United, spokesperson Molly Kaplan sent me an email saying “we actually don’t have anyone available for this.”

But on its website, the organization — in a nuanced statement on campaign reform — notes: “Any rule that requires the government to determine what political speech is legitimate and how much political speech is appropriate is difficult to reconcile with the First Amendment.”

In an ACLU blog post, Laura Murphy, director of the group’s Legislative Office in Washington DC, argues that “a Constitutional amendment—specifically an amendment limiting the right to political speech—would fundamentally ‘break’ the Constitution and endanger civil rights and civil liberties for generations.”

But David Cobb, one of the organizers of Move To Amend, which is pushing a Constitutional amendment, told me that “the idea that spending money is sacred is part of the problem, the reason that we don’t have a functioning democracy.”

There are two central parts to the problem: The notion that corporations have the same rights to free speech as people, and the notion that money is speech. Eliminate the first — which is immensely popular — and you still allow the Meg Whitmans and Koch brothers of the world to pour their personal fortunes into seeking political office or promoting other candidates.

Eliminate the second and you open a huge can of worms.

“It would be a disaster, in my view,” Scheer said. “As a general principle, I’m frightened by the concept of tampering with the Constitution.”

Money may not equal free speech, but it’s hard to exercise the right to free speech in a political campaign without money. And there are broader impacts that might be hard to predict.

But Peter Schurman, one of the founders of and a leader in Free Speech for the People, told me that “it’s a false premise that money equals speech. The point is to get a level playing field.”


Move to Amend and Free Speech for People are promoting similar approaches, Constitutional amendments that, in fairly simple terms, would radically and forever alter American politics. Several members of Congress have offered Constitutional amendments that include similar language.

The Move to Amend proposal is the broadest and cleanest. It states: “The rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons only. Artificial entities, such as corporations, limited liability companies, and other entities, established by the laws of any State, the United States, or any foreign state shall have no rights under this Constitution and are subject to regulation by the People, through Federal, State, or local law.”

It goes on to say: “Federal, State and local government shall regulate, limit, or prohibit contributions and expenditures, including a candidate’s own contributions and expenditures, for the purpose of influencing in any way the election of any candidate for public office or any ballot measure.”

It also includes this statement: “Nothing contained in this amendment shall be construed to abridge the freedom of the press.”

Free Speech for the People is simpler. It only addresses the corporate speech issue: “People, person, or persons as used in this Constitution does not include corporations, limited liability companies or other corporate entities established by the laws of any state, the United States, or any foreign state, and such corporate entities are subject to such regulations as the people, through their elected state and federal representatives, deem reasonable and are otherwise consistent with the powers of Congress and the States under this Constitution.”

Cobb notes that the Move to Amend measure doesn’t say how political speech should be regulated; it just opens the door to that kind of lawmaking. “The question of how to protect the integrity of the electoral process is a political question, not a Constitutional question,” he said. In the end, there’s a huge issue here. The framers of the Constitution, their political consciousness forged in a battle against big and repressive government, feared as much as anything the notion of rulers controlling the rights of the people to speak, write, assemble, publish (oh, and carry firearms) freely. Corporate interests (with the possible exception of the British East India Company, which monopolized the tea trade) weren’t a major concern.

And First Amendment purists still recoil at the idea that government, at any level, could make decisions limiting or regulating political speech. I sympathize. It’s scary. But in 2012, it’s easy to argue that the power of big money and big business has far eclipsed the power of government, that for all practical purposes, the rich and their corporate creations are the government of the United States — and that the people, assembled and exercising the power envisioned under the Constitution, need to make rules to, yes, level the playing field. Not rashly, not in crazy ways, with full cognizance of the risks — but also with the recognition that the current situation is fundamentally unacceptable, and that the potential dangers of messing with the First Amendment have to be balanced with the very real dangers of doing nothing.

The British press: “Nowhere Man” and “Mitt the Twit”


I like one liners that make the point.

As Maureen Dowd put it in her Sunday (7/29/2012)  column in the New York Times  on “Mitt’s Olympic Meddle,”

“The alarming thing about Romney is that he has been running for president for  years, but he still doesn’t know how to read a room.”

Dick Meister: A sure path to economic health


By Dick Meister 

Guardian columnist Dick Meister is former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom. He has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century. Contact him through his website,, which includes more than 350 of his columns.

It’s way past time to raise the pitifully low federal minimum wage. That would provide badly needed help to the millions who are living in poverty or near-poverty at the current rate of $7.25 an hour, and would help all Americans by stimulating the sagging economy.

Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois are carrying bills that would set a new minimum of $10 an hour. They’re pressing hard – as they very well should – to get the general public and their allies in Congress to fully appreciate the widespread good that would come from helping some of the country’s neediest workers.

“We’ve bailed out banks, we’ve bailed out corporations, we’ve bailed out Wall Street, we’ve tried to create sound fundamentals in the economy,” Jackson noted. “Now it’s time to bail out working people who work hard every day and still make only $7.25. The only way to do that is to raise the minimum wage.”

It’s been five years since the minimum was last raised, from $5.15 an hour to the current level. States, cities and counties are allowed to set their own minimums, as long as they at least equal the federal rate, and 18 states and several cities and counties have enacted minimums greater than the federal rate. But even their rates are below what’s needed for a decent living.

About four million workers are now paid at or below the federal minimum and obviously need help if they are to escape poverty. Even those paid at the full minimum earn a mere $15,000 a year before taxes and other deductions.  They are among some 28 million workers whose earnings – and spending  – would immediately increase under the proposed bills.

Legislation to raise the minimum has been called for repeatedly in the years since the last raise in 2007, but has gained only relatively minimal support in Congress and the White House. President Obama pledged during his election campaign to get the rate increased to $9.50 an hour by 2011, but has taken no public action. Mitt Romney, Obama’s Republican opponent in his re-election campaign this year, has wavered. He once voiced support for a raise, but later said he opposed an increase.

Polls have clearly shown strong public support for a raise. That support is likely to grow significantly if the economic benefits that a raise would undoubtedly bring to all Americans can be clearly shown – and it can.

It’s simple: Raise the pay of working people, and as the workers buy more goods and services with their new earnings, the businesses that sell them will hire more people to provide what they want to buy with the extra money they’ve earned at a higher minimum wage.

The National Employment Law Project estimates that the increased consumer spending generated by the proposed raise would create the equivalent of more than 100,000 full-time jobs. Other estimates indicate that every dollar increase in wages for workers at the minimum creates more than $3,000 in new spending after a year.

And so the cycle goes, round and round:  More pay, more spending on goods and services, more hiring of people to provide them, more important government services and the taxes to support them, a healthier and wealthier economy.

Guardian columnist Dick Meister is former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom. He has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century. Contact him through his website,, which includes more than 350 of his columns.


Like an Eric Andre in a china shop


What’s to be anticipated when Adult Swim’s most degenerate program hits the road? On Monday night, a sold-out crowd filled the Rickshaw Stop, ready for just about anything short of a Mitt Romney endorsement.

A love letter to the Reddit-surfing, bong-ripping, Flying Lotus-bumping demographic, The Eric Andre Show stampedes through its weekly, 15-minute time-slot with reckless abandon and utter perversity, hanging onto its “talk-show” descriptor by a single Funyun. If Pete & Pete, Hype Williams, and Gary Busey invested in a sleazy public-access channel, transmitted from the bowels of Suave Ben’s house in Blue Velvet, The Eric Andre Show would be its flagship broadcast.

MF Doom’s Special Herbs played over the soundsystem as the doors opened, aptly reflecting the intoxicated, Bohemian crowd shuffling in. The show kicked off with three stand-up routines, starting with co-host and Andre-sidekick Hannibal Buress, followed by local comics Stroy Moyd and Chris Garcia.

Buress was by far the funniest, transitioning from scrambled eggs to Eddie Griffin without the slightest thread of contrivance. Moyd’s set, while mostly successful, was hindered by a sense of forced confrontation, while Garcia uncannily recalled every schtick-dependent, guitar-equipped comedian you’ve ever seen on Comedy Central at 1am.

After a short break, Andre stormed the stage impolitely and unapologetically, ketchup and mustard bottles in hand, dousing the feverish crowd in red and yellow corn-syrup sludge, with GWAR-like contempt for social etiquette. After plopping down behind his big-kahuna desk, Andre invited Buress on stage, trading quips like Letterman and Paul Shaffer all fucked up on Ween’s Scotchgard.

Despite its chaotic pretense, the show barreled forward with an astute sense of rhythm and timing, flipping between stand-up bits, video clips, live music from the delightfully inept house band, and fake celebrity appearances, in a fast-paced spectacle, tailor-made for the goldfish-like attention spans of Adult Swim’s viewership.

The audience was treated to guest appearances from Tatyana Ali (Will Smith’s little cousin from Fresh Prince, remember?) and a very fake Russell Brand. Counterfeit TV commercials were shown, the most memorable of which involved Andre, dressed as Ronald McDonald, slamming whiskey and sobbing uncontrollably. In the most gut-bustingly hilarious moment of the night, a clown of the childrens’-parties variety took the stage, fashioning balloon animals with Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose” playing seductively in the background.

After the unrestrained, brain-frying energy of Andre’s set, acclaimed Oakland hip-hop duo Main Attrakionz cooled things down beautifully with their balance between rugged, hard-boiled lyricism and luminous, electronic soundscapes. Taking the stage with great authority, Squadda B and Mondre delivered a steadily compelling set that, at a short-and-sweet 30 minutes, never overstayed its welcome.

Sauntering back onto Fell Street, with mustard-caked belongings, the audience was visibly gratified, and for good reason. Given the scarcity of live events that merge stand-up comedy, live hip-hop, and whatever the hell Eric Andre does, Monday night’s show was as satisfyingly complete as it was totally unpredictable.

Calvin Trillin: The Bain of Mitt Romney’s Existence


He’s running on all of his triumphs at Bain,

But some say the Democrats refrain

From saying Bain’s gain was at times inhumane

(Because of its strategy aiming to drain

A company’s treasure, no matter what pain

Is caused to the workers whom it won’t retain).

Yes, Bain did some good, its defenders explain:

Some pension funds shared in its capital gain.

So vulture’s a label for Mitt they disdain–

Though buzzard’s OK, and is just as germane.

Calvin Trillin, Deadline Poet, The Nation June 18, 2012



Restore Hetch Hetchy conjures corporate boogiemen


The campaign for a ballot measure that seeks to create a plan for tearing down the O’Shaughnessy Dam – San Francisco’s main source of clean water and power – and turning the Hetch Hetchy Valley into a tourist destination must be having a hard time collecting the 9,702 signatures it needs by July 9 because it is resorting to conjuring up unlikely boogiemen to win public sympathy.

Restore Hetch Hetchy just sent out a press release accusing opponents of the measure of preparing a “tobacco industry-style negative ad blitz” funded by venture capitalist Ron Conway and other corporate evildoers.

“Just like the tobacco industry’s big money confused so many people into opposing the Prop. 29 tobacco tax they initially supported, now we’re seeing corporate money flowing like a dirty river right into the coffers of what promises to be yet another nasty negative campaign,” said Mike Marshall, campaign director for the Yosemite Restoration Campaign, which his Restore Hetch Hetchy group is sponsoring.

It cites a statement made by the Bay Area Council – which they helpfully remind us includes “PG&E, Chevron, and Mitt Romney’s former company Bain & Co.” – that Conway has pledged $25,000 to the opposition campaign.

Where do I even begin to unravel this ridiculously hyperbolic and misleading appeal? Let’s start with the fact this has nothing to do with Big Tobacco, Big Oil, Big Capitalists, or Big Utilities. It isn’t corporations that are standing in the way of spending billions of dollars to tear down the dam and replace the lost power and water – it is just about every elected official in the region, from across the political spectrum, and any San Franciscan who has at least as much reason and sentimentality. As for PG&E, I’m sure the utility would just love to see San Francisco’s main source of electricity torn down, which would only expand its monopolistic control of our energy system.

Frankly, the misleading release reeks of desperation, and when I asked campaign consultant Jon Golinger whether the campaign is in trouble, he responded, “We are certainly quite clear this is a David versus Goliath situation, or whatever analogy you want to make.”

Okay, how about a Fantasy versus Reality situation? Or a Past versus Present situation? Or San Franciscans versus Dan Lungren, the right wing member of Congress who has been pushing to remove the dam supposedly because he loves Yosemite Valley so much and wants to create another one (or, more likely, because he wants to tweak the San Francisco liberals and get us fighting among ourselves over something pointless and distracting).

I’m sorry, but I just can’t get my head around the appeal of this idea, which the Sacramento Bee editorial writers actually won a Pulitzer Prize for conjuring up in 2004, certainly another sign of the modern decline in journalism standards. I get that legendary conservationist John Muir was right and this dam probably shouldn’t have been built, and that it might be kinda cool to have another beautiful valley to hike in once the sludge dries up over a few decades.

But when we can’t even find adequate funding for public transit, renewable energy sources, and the multitude of other things that really would help the environment – not to mention while we’re heading into an era when water supplies in the Sierras could be depleted by climate change – do we really want to spend billions of dollars to fetishize one valley and destroy the engineering marvel that is one of the best and most energy-efficient sources of urban water in the country?

Or am I just shilling for Big Tobacco and Mitt Romney because that’s how I see it?

A range of rage at Obama visit


Hundreds gathered in the financial district today as President Obama came through San Francisco for a brief visit, consisting of a high-priced fundraising lunch and no public events. A mostly silent crowd waited patiently to watch the president’s motorcade drive by this afternoon, first at 1 Market St and then at 456 California, before he went off to SFO. On the crowd’s sidelines, handfuls of dissenters from various groups held signs and spoke up with a diverse range of reasons for protesting the president.

On Market, the motorcade went past the Occupy SF campsite at 101 Market St, where a dozen protesters had gathered. Their signs and chants focused on the National Defense Authorization Act. Sections 1021 and 1022 of the act, which the president signed Dec. 31 2011, have been interpreted as allowing for indefinite detention of terrorism suspects in the United States without charge or trial.

National groups Code Pink and World Can’t Wait brought attention to what they called Obama’s war crimes. 

“Code Pink is asking Obama to kill the kill list,” said Nancy Mancias, an organizer with the womens’ peace organization, referring to a list of terror suspects targeted for US attacks that Obama personally oversees. “We want more transparency in the CIA drone program, and victim compensation to the families of those who have been killed in drone strikes.”

World Can’t Wait demonstrators emphasized that Guantanamo Bay detention facility is still open and housing almost 200 prisoners, despite President Obama signing an executive order to close it days after taking office.

For demonstrators from the Center for Biological Diversity and Greenpeace, it’s imperative that the president stop oil drilling in the Arctic.

“There are a couple small permits they still need to get, but Shell is ready to drill in the Arctic in July,” said Miyoko Sakashita, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. 

Sakashita said that drilling there could be dangerous for residents of the region, as well as polar bears, walruses and seals. 

“The conditions are terrible for drilling,” said Sakashita, citing low visibility and icy terrain. “If they can’t stop an oil spill in the gulf of Mexico, how will they stop it in the Arctic?” 

If these conditons do indeed lead to a disastrous oil spill, Greenpeace volunteers will be there first hand to witness it, as the group plans to send vessels of their own to monitor the operations.

Tea party protesters and Ron Paul supporters also came out to see the president. 

“It’s an issue of competence,” said Charles Cagnon, a protester who held a sign calling President Obama a “bad hire.”

“A president is our employee, not a king.”

But Cognan wasn’t too pleased with the competition either. 

“I was a Ron Paul kind of guy,” he said, “but I’ll take Romney. He’s level-headed and competent, and he likes arithmetic.”

“Obama doesn’t like arithmetic,” he continued, as evidenced, according to Cagnon, by the senate rejection of Obama’s budget May 16.

“Bush was terrible,” Cagnon added. “Romney is uninspiring.”

Cagnon and his group sported “Nobama” gear, Code Pink protesters came with signature pink clothing and signs, and a Greenpeace volunteer was dressed as “Frostpaw the polar bear.” Focused for the day on a common enemy of sorts, no conflicts arose between the divergent protest groups. For his part, Cagnon added that despite his right leanings, he loves KPFA radio, and that he believes the tea party has a distrust of government in common with Occupy.

“I’m just glad there’s people out there dissenting,” he said. “We need people like that.”

Are California taxes fair?


Let’s start with an assumption that I think most sane (non-libertarian, non-right-wing-GOP) people agree on: A tax system ought to be based on ability to pay, ought to avoid as much as possible special-interest breaks and should avoid the appearance and the reality of unfairness.

So as Jerry Brown tries to convince voters to approve his fall tax measure that’s part income taxes on the rich and part sales taxes on everyone, how does the state add up? The California Budget Project, which is one of my favorite organizations ever, has a couple of reports out that shed some light on why half of Brown’s plan — taxes on the millionaires — makes sense, and the other half of it doesn’t.

You can read the two reports here. Let’s start with who pays the taxes:

Measured as a share of family income, California’s lowest-income families pay the most in taxes.

Yes, many individual rich people pay more in terms of gross dollars — but when they’re done and the taxes are turned over to the government, the poor have very little left, and the rich have plenty. In fact, even with higher income tax rates, the wealthiest Californians only paid 7.4 percent of their incomes on state and local taxes. They poorest paid 10.2 percent.

Part of that comes from the inherently regressive nature of sales taxes. Part of it comes from the way different types of income are taxed (poor people don’t tend to have a lot of dividend or capital-gains income, which is taxed less than the income you earn from working all day at a job). But overall, the picture suggests that the income taxes on the wealthiest aren’t high enough.

For all those types who complain that high taxes are hurting the state’s business climate, the report shows that California is pretty close to the national median in overall taxes. But it also notes that corporate income has soared relative to personal income: Over the past decade, the total reported taxable income of corporations in the state rose 485 percent. Total personal income rose 24 percent. Meanwhile, corporate tax liability rose only 58 percent, while personal liability rose 42 percent.

The result: Individual working people are paying more of the tax burden and corporations are paying less. (Unless you agree with Mitt Romney that “corporations are people.”)

Now let’s turn to the fairness report. It has some of the same data, but puts it in context:

California’s tax system is modestly regressive … [which] results from the relatively large share of income that lower-income households pay in the form of sales and excise taxes [and] the fact that low- and middle-income households spend all, or nearly all, of their incomes on necessities, including on many goods that are subject to tax.

I’m voting for the tax measure in November because the state desperately needs new revenue. But I say that recognizing that Brown’s proposal won’t do much of anything to address the basic unfairness of the way California raises the money to pay for state services.



Green presidential candidate seeks to energize the disenfranchised


After participating in last weekend’s Green Party presidential debate against Roseanne Barr in San Francisco, which we cover in this week’s paper, frontrunner candidate Jill Stein stopped by the Bay Guardian office to chat about her hopes for progressive change in this tumultuous political year.

“The political-corporate establishment should not be given a pass in the voting booth,” the Massachusetts physician told us. “Four more years of Wall Street rule is what we get if you give them your vote.”

She ticked off a litany of bipartisan failures from the Democratic and Republican parties, from reforming Wall Street and narrowing the wealth gap to seriously addressing climate change and this country’s wasteful wars, and said people are fed up and want fundamental reforms.

“The rebellion is in full swing, you just don’t hear about it from the press,” she said. “With the exception of the Bay Guardian, we don’t have a press. We have an o-press and a re-press.”

This is Stein’s first run for national office, but she already faced off against presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney in the 2002 Massachusetts governor’s race, garnering just 3.5 percent of the vote but winning praise in the Boston Globe for her debate performance. She thinks both Romney and Obama are vulnerable this year, although she said, “I’m not holding my breath that we’re going to win, but I’m not running to lose.”

Her plan is to wage an aggressive grassroots and social media campaign to capitalize on the discontent most Americans feel with both major political parties, and to hopefully catch enough fire to reach 15 percent support in national polls, the threshold for getting into the presidential debates. “If we can get into the debates, we can really change things.”

To get there, Stein plans to reach out to a wide variety of groups on the left and across the spectrum, including supporters of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which she toured last year, visiting 25 encampments across the country, most of them populated by people wary of modern electoral politics.

“When I go to Occupy, I go to support them and not ask for their support,” Stein said, saying that she understood their belief that the electoral system is broken, but that it’s important to participate in it as part of a multi-pronged movement for social change that includes presidential politics. “Can we beat back the predator without have an organization? No, we need a party.”

She thinks the Green Party best represents the values of disenfranchised Americans and has the best vision for where this county needs to go, and she said, “We’re finding all kinds of networks are really getting energized and promoting us.”

Obama’s evolution


Other than a few Mitt Romney supporters, most of us view evolution as a wonderful biological mechanism to which we owe our supposed higher intelligence. So Obama’s “evolution” from a foe to a supporter of same-sex marriage deserves tremendous praise. But before we go all ga-ga over the president, let’s remember:

He didn’t evolve on his own. In this case, the evolution needed a push, from generations of LGBT activists and supporters, who put the issue in front of the world, made it a basic matter of civil and human rights, and forced Obama to realize that he could no longer duck and had to take a stand.

Remember FRD’s famous statement to activists? “Now you have to make me do it.” That’s what happened here. Obama made the political calculation, of course, and it’s a good one — energizing his base is more important than angering a bunch of people who weren’t going to vote for him anyway. But there’s more to it, and I think Paul Hogarth has the right line:

Biden’s statement may have been the final trigger, but the LGBT movement deserves the credit – despite the odds – to hold firm on getting the President to take this historic stance. And it’s a lesson that other progressive constituencies should take heart in, as we strive to make Barack Obama the President we hoped he would be.

Let’s also remember that this really started in San Francisco, with an act of what I like to call civic disobedience. At the time, a lot of critics said that Mayor Gavin Newsom was hurting the Democratic Party by making a move before the rest of the nation was ready for it. But what he did eight years ago was force the rest of the nation to get ready for it — and the subsequent legalization of gay unions in a growing number of states has shown America what the Boston Phoenix referred to as “the utter, mundane normality” of same-sex marriage.

We all knew this moment was coming. The demographics can’t be denied. Almost everyone younger than 30, and most people younger than 40, supports same-sex marriage. The country is changing — in this case, in a very positive way — and Obama was risking being on the wrong side of history. Even the Republicans seem to get that — they’re running away from this issue as fast as they can.

So now it’s likely that L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will have his way and the Democratic Party platform will have a same-sex marriage component. Romney will be on the defensive on a key social issue – a huge change from the past. The Supreme Court will be more likely to uphold Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision on Prop. 8 (yes, the high court is political and changes with the norms of society, sometimes slowly, but the president’s statement will have a clear impact.)

So this is huge — not just because of the impact but because of what it says about the power of progressive movements. Now let’s make the president raise taxes on the rich.



Obama’s mistake


By Gabriel Haaland and Laura Thomas

Last month, Obama came out swinging against medical marijuana in an interview, defended his raids of law-abiding clubs, and is currently positioning himself to the right of former President George Bush — despite the fact that nearly 75 percent of Americans support legalized medical marijuana.

In Northern California, Melinda Haag, Obama’s US Attorney for the Northern District of California, is resolutely determined to shut down medical marijuana access. Her district starts in the Bay Area and runs up the California coast to the Oregon border. Ironically, her district may have the strongest support in the entire country for medical marijuana, from voters, law enforcement, elected officials, businesses, and community members. Why is she so obsessed with shutting down the clubs? She claims that it’s because she is protecting the children of California. Really. So the next time someone is dying of cancer and they don’t have legal access to medical marijuana, we will be sure to remember that the children of California are safe. And let’s be clear: She is going after regulated clubs and the idea of a regulated industry — regulations that communities, sheriffs, Boards of Supervisors, and health departments have built.

Haag is targeting community leaders, such as Richard Lee, the chief promoter of California’s effort to legalize marijuana, and Oaksterdam, the area where most of the medical dispensaries are in Oakland. She also shut down Mendocino’s ground-breaking regulation of marijuana growers — literally driving past illegal grows to one recently inspected and certified by Mendocino sheriff’s deputies. She subpoenaed Department of Public Health records used to issue licenses for dispensaries here. She is going after dispensaries in San Francisco that are in full compliance with local and state law, merely because they are within an arbitrary distance from a school or park, even if the park is unused, or the school opened after the dispensary did.

Her actions are not protecting children from the harms of marijuana. She states that dispensaries attract crime, which is not proven by any evidence. What does cause crime is the black market, especially the black market for marijuana imported from Mexico, where 50,000 people have been lost in prohibition-related violence. The less people can produce, purchase, and consume marijuana grown here in California, the worse things get for Mexico. She also seems oddly concerned about the evils of capitalism, worried that people may be making a living from the medical marijuana industry. While we may not be the biggest fans of capitalism, we don’t think closing small businesses (or even large ones) in these economic times is a great idea. Haag’s actions have put thousands out of work and eliminated tax revenues for localities and the state. She’s using taxpayer resources to make the local economy a little bit worse. Thanks.

In San Francisco, elected officials including the mayor, the Board of Supervisors, the district attorney, the city attorney, Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, State Senator Mark Leno, the Democratic County Central Committee, and most recently, Democratic Congressional Leader Nancy Pelosi, have all spoken out against Obama’s efforts to undermine legal, regulated medical marijuana in California. The San Francisco Chronicle has run not one, but two editorials in the last month on the topic, plus a column from conservative columnist Deb Saunders. There have been rallies, protests, petitions, meetings, and letters asking her to stop going after medical marijuana.

What will it take to get Obama to wake up to the fact that his effort are not supported by three quarters of the country and that, in particular, Melinda Haag is obsessed with shutting down any regulated medical marijuana business? She is making things worse: leaving patients to the black market to find their medication, undermining law enforcement efforts to work with medical marijuana producers, and exacerbating the violence in Mexico.

But instead of reining her in, Obama is doubling down one of the most popular causes in America.. Medical marijuana is far more popular in the U. S. right now than Congress, the president, or Republican candidate Mitt Romney. The most serious moment at the Correspondents Dinner in Washington, DC last week was when comedian Jimmy Kimmel asked Obama point-blank why he was going after medical marijuana. None of it makes much sense. How much evidence is needed to convince Obama and Haag that their actions are creating harm, not eliminating it? How much evidence is needed that this is not what the voters and taxpayers want? What kind of data do they need that regulation reduces crime? How many patients need to tell their stories? What will it take to change her actions?

And when will Obama wake up to the fact that he is making a huge mistake? 

Gabriel Haaland is a member of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee. Laura Thomas works with the Drug Policy Alliance.

Calvin Trillin: Ron Paul, still standing


Ron Paul, Stll Standing

 Mitt’s opposite number is still in the race.

Paul has his supporters; he has his own base.

He has his own style, which is folksy, not canned.

Religion? He’s got one. His prophet’s Ayn Rand.

By Rand’s wacko theories he’s fervently gripped,

So he  won’t do the flip-flops. He long ago flipped.

Calvin Trillin, The Naton (5/14/2012

Guardian endorsements for June 5 election



As usual, California is irrelevant to the presidential primaries, except as a cash machine. The Republican Party has long since chosen its nominee; the Democratic outcome was never in doubt. So the state holds a June 5 primary that, on a national level, matters to nobody.

It’s no surprise that pundits expect turnout will be abysmally low. Except in the few Congressional districts where a high-profile primary is underway, there’s almost no news media coverage of the election.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some important races and issues (including the future of San Francisco’s Democratic Party) — and the lower the turnout, the more likely the outcome will lean conservative. The ballot isn’t long; it only takes a few minutes to vote. Don’t stay home June 5.

Our recommendations follow.



Sigh. Remember the hope? Remember the joy? Remember the dancing in the streets of the Mission as a happy city realized that the era of George Bush and The Gang was over? Remember the end of the war, and health-care reform, and fair economic policies?

Yeah, we remember, too. And we remember coming back to our senses when we realized that the first people at the table for the health-policy talks were the insurance industry lobbyists. And when more and more drones killed more and more civilian in Afghanistan, and the wars didn’t end and the country got deeper and deeper into debt.

Oh, and when Obama bailed out Wall Street — and refused to spend enough money to help the rest of us. And when his U.S. attorney decided to crack down on medical marijuana.

We could go on.

There’s no question: The first term of President Barack Obama has been a deep disappointment. And while we wish that his new pledge to tax the millionaires represented a change in outlook, the reality is that it’s most likely an election-year response to the popularity of the Occupy movement.

Last fall, when a few of the most progressive Democrats began talking about the need to challenge Obama in a primary, we had the same quick emotional reaction as many San Franciscans: Time to hold the guy accountable. Some prominent left types have vowed not to give money to the Obama campaign.

But let’s get back to reality. The last time a liberal group challenged an incumbent in a Democratic presidential primary, Senator Ted Kennedy wounded President Jimmy Carter enough to ensure the election of Ronald Reagan — and the begin of the horrible decline in the economy of the United States. We’re mad at Obama, too — but we’re realists enough to know that there is a difference between moderate and terrible, and that’s the choice we’re facing today.

The Republican Party is now entirely the party of the far right, so out of touch with reality that even Reagan would be shunned as too liberal. Mitt Romney, once the relatively centrist governor of Massachusetts, has been driven by Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum so deeply into crazyland that he’s never coming back. We appreciate Ron Paul’s attacks on military spending and the war on drugs, but he also opposes Medicare and Social Security and says that people who don’t have private health insurance should be allowed to die for lack of medical care.

No, this one’s easy. Obama has no opposition in the Democratic Primary, but for all our concerns about his policies, we have to start supporting his re-election now.



The Republicans in Washington didn’t even bother to field a serious candidate against the immensely well-funded Feinstein, who is seeking a fourth term. She’s a moderate Democrat, at best, was weak-to-terrible on the war, is hawkish on Pentagon spending (particularly Star Wars and the B-1 bomber), has supported more North Coast logging, and attempts to meddle in local politics with ridiculous ideas like promoting unknown Michael Breyer for District Five supervisor. She supported the Obama health-care bill but isn’t a fan of single-payer, referring to supporters of Medicare for all as “the far left.”

But she’s strong on choice and is embarrassing the GOP with her push for reauthorization of an expanded Violence Against Women Act. She’ll win handily against two token Republicans.



The Second District is a sprawling region stretching from the Oregon border to the Golden Gate Bridge, from the coast in as far as Trinity County. It’s home to the Marin suburbs, Sonoma and Mendocino wine country, the rough and rural Del Norte and the emerald triangle. There’s little doubt that a Democrat will represent the overwhelmingly liberal area that was for almost three decades the province of Lynn Woolsey, one of the most progressive members in Congress. The top two contenders are Norman Solomon, an author, columnist and media advocate, and Jared Huffman, a moderate member of the state Assembly from Marin.

Solomon’s not just a decent candidate — he represents a new approach to politics. He’s an antiwar crusader, journalist, and outsider who has never held elective office — but knows more about the (often corrupt) workings of Washington and the policy issues facing the nation than many Beltway experts. He’s talking about taxing Wall Street to create jobs on Main Street, about downsizing the Pentagon and promoting universal health care. He’s a worthy successor to Woolsey, and he deserves the support of every independent and progressive voter in the district.



Nancy Pelosi long ago stopped representing San Francisco (see: same-sex marriage) and began representing the national Democratic party and her colleagues in the House. She will never live down the privatization of the Presidio or her early support for the Iraq war, but she’s become a decent ally for Obama and if the Democrats retake the House, she’ll be setting the agenda for his second term. If the GOP stays in control, this may well be her last term.

Green Party member Barry Hermanson is challenging her, and in the old system, he’d be on the November ballot as the Green candidate. With open primaries (which are a bad idea for a lot of reasons) Hermanson needs support to finish second and keep Pelosi on her toes as we head into the fall.



This Berkeley and Oakland district is among the most left-leaning in the country, and its representative, Barbara Lee, is well suited to the job. Unlike Pelosi, Lee speaks for the voters of her district; she was the lone voice against the Middle East wars in the early days, and remains a staunch critic of these costly, bloody, open-ended foreign military entanglements. We’re happy to endorse her for another term.



Speier’s more of a Peninsula moderate than a San Francisco progressive, but she’s been strong on consumer privacy and veterans issues and has taken the lead on tightening federal rules on gas pipelines after Pacific Gas and Electric Company killed eight of her constituents. She has no credible opposition.



Mark Leno started his political career as a moderate member of the Board of Supervisors from 1998 to 2002. His high-profile legislative races — against Harry Britt for the Assembly in 2002 and against Carole Migden for the Senate in 2008 — were some of the most bitterly contested in recent history. And we often disagree with his election time endorsements, which tend toward more downtown-friendly candidates.

But Leno has won us over, time and again, with his bold progressive leadership in Sacramento and with his trailblazing approach to public policy. He is an inspiring leader who has consistently made us proud during his time in the Legislature. Leno was an early leader on the same-sex marriage issue, twice getting the Legislature to legalize same-sex unions (vetoed both times by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger). He has consistently supported a single-payer health care system and laid important groundwork that could eventually break the grip that insurance companies have on our health care system. And he has been a staunch defender of the medical marijuana patients and has repeatedly pushed to overturn the ban on industrial hemp production, work that could lead to an important new industry and further relaxation of this country wasteful war on drugs. We’re happy to endorse him for another term.



Ammiano is a legendary San Francisco politician with solid progressive values, unmatched courage and integrity, and a history of diligently and diplomatically working through tough issues to create ground-breaking legislation. We not only offer him our most enthusiastic endorsement — we wish that we could clone him and run him for a variety of public offices. Since his early days as an ally of Harvey Milk on gay rights issues to his creation of San Francisco’s universal health care system as a supervisor to his latest efforts to defend the rights of medical marijuana users, prison inmates, and undocumented immigrants, Ammiano has been a tireless advocate for those who lack political and economic power. As chair of Assembly Public Safety Committee, Ammiano has blocked many of the most reactionary tough-on-crime measures that have pushed our prison system to the breaking point, creating a more enlightened approach to criminal justice issues. We’re happy to have Ammiano expressing San Francisco’s values in the Capitol.



Once it became abundantly clear that Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting wasn’t going to get elected mayor, he started to set his eyes on the state Assembly. It’s an unusual choice in some ways — Ting makes a nice salary in a job that he’s doing well and that’s essentially his for life. Why would he want to make half as much money up in Sacramento in a job that he’ll be forced by term limits to leave after six years?

Ting’s answer: he’s ready for something new. We fear that a vacancy in his office would allow Mayor Ed Lee to appoint someone with less interest in tax equity (prior to Ting, the city suffered mightily under a string of political appointees in the Assessor’s Office), but we’re pleased to endorse him for the District 19 slot.

Ting has gone beyond the traditional bureaucratic, make-no-waves approach of some of his predecessors. He’s aggressively sought to collect property taxes from big institutions that are trying to escape paying (the Catholic Church, for example) and has taken a lead role in fighting foreclosures. He commissioned, on his own initiative, a report showing that a large percentage of the foreclosures in San Francisco involved some degree of fraud or improper paperwork, and while the district attorney is so far sitting on his hands, other city officials are moving to address the issue.

His big issue is tax reform, and he’s been one the very few assessors in the state to talk openly about the need to replace Prop. 13 with a split-role system that prevents the owners of commercial property from paying an ever-declining share of the tax burden. He wants to change the way the Legislature interprets Prop. 13 to close some of the egregious loopholes. It’s one of the most important issues facing the state, and Ting will arrive in Sacramento already an expert.

Ting’s only (mildly) serious opponent is Michael Breyer, son of Supreme Court Justice Breyer and a newcomer to local politics. Breyer’s only visible support is from the Building Owners and Managers Association, which dislikes Ting’s position on Prop. 13. Vote for Ting.


You can say a lot of things about Aaron Peskin, the former supervisor and retiring chair of the city’s Democratic Party, but the guy was an organizer. Four years ago, he put together a slate of candidates that wrenched control of the local party from the folks who call themselves “moderates” but who, on critical economic issues, are really better defined as conservative. Since then, the County Central Committee, which sets policy for the local party, has given its powerful endorsement mostly to progressive candidates and has taken progressive stands on almost all the ballot issues.

But the conservatives are fighting back — and with Peskin not seeking another term and a strong slate put together by the mayor’s allies seeking revenge, it’s entirely possible that the left will lose the party this year.

But there’s hope — in part because, as his parting gift, Peskin helped change state law to make the committee better reflect the Democratic voting population of the city. This year, 14 candidates will be elected from the East side of town, and 10 from the West.

We’ve chosen to endorse a full slate in each Assembly district. Although there are some candidates on the slate who aren’t as reliable as we might like, 24 will be elected, and we’re picking the 24 best.


John Avalos

David Campos

David Chiu

Petra DeJesus

Matt Dorsey

Chris Gembinsky

Gabriel Robert Haaland

Leslie Katz

Rafael Mandelman

Carole Migden

Justin Morgan

Leah Pimentel

Alix Rosenthal

Jamie Rafaela Wolfe



Mike Alonso

Wendy Aragon

Kevin Bard

Chuck Chan

Kelly Dwyer

Peter Lauterborn

Hene Kelly

Eric Mar

Trevor McNeil

Arlo Hale Smith

State ballot measures




Let us begin with a stipulation: We have always opposed legislative term limits, at every level of government. Term limits shift power to the executive branch, and, more insidiously, the lobbyists, who know the issues and the processes better than inexperienced legislators. The current system of term limits is a joke — a member of the state Assembly can serve only six years, which is barely enough time to learn the job, much less to handle the immense complexity of the state budget. Short-termers are more likely to seek quick fixes than structural reform. It’s one reason the state Legislatures is such a mess.

Prop. 28 won’t solve the problem entirely, but it’s a reasonable step. The measure would allow a legislator to serve a total of 12 years in office — in either the Assembly, the Senate, or a combination. So an Assembly member could serve six terms, a state Senator three terms. No more serving a stint in one house and then jumping to the other, since the term limits are cumulative, which is imperfect: A lot of members of the Assembly have gone on to notable Senate careers, and that shouldn’t be cut off.

Still, 12 years in the Assembly is enough time to become a professional at the job — and that’s a good thing. We don’t seek part-time brain surgeons and inexperienced airline pilots. Running California is complicated, and there’s nothing wrong with having people around who aren’t constantly learning on the job. Besides, these legislators still have to face elections; the voters can impose their own term limits, at any time.

Most of the good-government groups are supporting Prop. 28. Vote yes.




Seriously: Can you walk into the ballot box and oppose higher taxes on cigarettes to fund cancer research? Of course not. All of the leading medical groups, cancer-research groups, cancer-treatment groups and smoking-cessation groups in the state support Prop. 29, which was written by the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association.

We support it, too.

Yes, it’s a regressive tax — most smokers are in the lower-income brackets. Yes, it’s going to create a huge state fund making grants for research, and it will be hard to administer without some issues. But the barrage of ads opposing this are entirely funded by tobacco companies, which are worried about losing customers, particularly kids. A buck a pack may not dissuade adults who really want to smoke, but it’s enough to price a few more teens out of the market — and that’s only good news.

Don’t believe the big-tobacco hype. Vote yes on 29.

San Francisco ballot measures




A tough one: Recology’s monopoly control over all aspects of San Francisco’s waste disposal system should have been put out to competitive bid a long time ago. That’s the only way for the city to ensure customers are getting the best possible rates and that the company is paying a fair franchise fee to the city. But the solution before us, Proposition A, is badly flawed public policy.

The measure would amend the 1932 ordinance that gave Recology’s predecessor companies — which were bought up and consolidated into a single behemoth corporation — indefinite control over the city’s $220 million waste stream. Residential rates are set by a Rate Board controlled mostly by the mayor, commercial rates are unregulated, and the company doesn’t even have a contract with the city.

Last year, when Recology won the city’s landfill contract — which was put out to bid as the current contract with Waste Management Inc. and its Altamont landfill was expiring — Recology completed its local monopoly. At the time, Budget Analyst Harvey Rose, Sup. David Campos, and other officials and activists called for updating the ordinance and putting the various contracts out to competitive bid.

That effort was stalled and nearly scuttled, at least in part because of the teams of lobbyists Recology hired to put pressure on City Hall, leading activists Tony Kelley and retired Judge Quentin Kopp to write this measure. They deserve credit for taking on the issue when nobody else would and for forcing everyone in the city to wake up and take notice of a scandalous 70-year-old deal.

We freely admit that the measure has some significant flaws that could hurt the city’s trash collection and recycling efforts. It would split waste collection up into five contracts, an inefficient approach that could put more garbage trucks on the roads. No single company could control all five contracts. Each of those contracts would be for just five years, which makes the complicated bidding process far too frequent, costing city resources and hindering the companies’ ability to make long-term infrastructure investments.

It would require Recology to sell its transfer station, potentially moving the waste-sorting facility to Port property along the Bay. Putting the transfer station in public hands makes sense; moving it to the waterfront might not.

On the scale of corrupt monopolies, Recology isn’t Pacific Gas and Electric Co. It’s a worker-owned company and has been willing to work in partnership with the city to create one of the best recycling and waste diversion programs in the country. For better or worse, Recology controls a well-developed waste management infrastructure that this city relies on, functioning almost like a city department.

Still, it’s unacceptable to have a single outfit, however laudatory, control such a massive part of the city’s infrastructure without a competitive bid, a franchise fee, or so much as a contract. In theory, the company could simply stop collecting trash in some parts of the city, and San Francisco could do nothing about it.

As a matter of public policy, Prop. A could have been better written and certainly could, and should, have been discussed with a much-wider group, including labor. As a matter of real politics, it’s a messy proposal that at least raises the critical question: Should Recology have a no-bid, no contract monopoly? The answer to that is no.

Prop. A will almost certainly go down to defeat; Kopp and Kelly are all alone, have no real campaign or committee and just about everyone else in town opposes it. Our endorsement is a matter of principle, a signal that this longtime garbage deal has to end. If Recology will work with the city to come up with a contract and a bid process, then Prop. A will have done its job. If not, something better will be on the ballot in the future.

For now, vote yes on A.




In theory, city department heads ought to be given fair leeway to allocate resources and run their operations. In practice, San Francisco’s Department of Recreation and Parks has been on a privatization spree, looking for ways to sell or rent public open space and facilities as a way to balance an admittedly tight budget. Prop. B seeks to slow that down a bit, by establishing as city policy the premise that Coit Tower shouldn’t be used as a cash cow to host private parties.

The tower is one of the city’s most important landmarks and a link to its radical history — murals painted during the Depression, under the Works Progress Administration, depict local labor struggles. They’re in a bit of disrepair –but that hasn’t stopped Rec-Park from trying to bring in money by renting out the place for high-end events. In fact, the tower has been closed down to the public in the past year to allow wealthy patrons to host private parties. And the city has more of that in mind.

If the mayor and his department heads were acting in good faith to preserve the city’s public spaces — by raising taxes on big business and wealthy individuals to pay for the commons, instead of raising fees on the rest of us to use what our tax dollars have already paid for — this sort of ballot measure wouldn’t be necessary.

As it is, Prop. B is a policy statement, not an ordinance or Charter amendment. It’s written fairly broadly and won’t prevent the occasional private party at Coit Tower or prevent Rec-Park from managing its budget. Vote yes.


Calvin Trillin: The situation


So Mitt’s officially an Etch A Sketch,

And Rick says JFK’s speech made him retch.

Ron Paul’s a ditz, and Gingrich is a letch.

Though nets are flung as far as tthey will stretch,

There isn’t any white knight there to fetch.

Republicans thus sit around and kvetch.

Calvin Trillin: Deadline Poet: The Nation (4/16/2012)

Calvin Trillin: On not leaving the field


On not leaving the field

Ring-wingers who want to be heard

Note Newt’s place is solidly third.

But if right wing votes were combined,

The front-runner might fall behind.

So they say to Newt, “Won’t you go?”

And Newt, being Newt, answers no.


Newt’s ideological kin

Are dreading a moderate’s win.

They argue that it would advance

The cause if Newt gave Rick a chance

To face Mitt not in a duet.

And Newt, being Newt, still says nyet.


“When England was under the blitz,

Did Churchill say,

‘Let’s  call it quits’?”

Says Newt, That is not what you see

From statesmen like Churchill and me.”

“Oh, please, just this once, Newt, they say.

And Newt, being Newt, says, “No way.”

Calvin Trillin: Deadline Poet The Nation  4/9/2012

Calvin Trillin: Romney unconcerned about the poor


Romney says he’s not concerned about the poor

The remark about the poor immediately became catalogued in a growing list of awkward comments by Mr. Romney.” –The New York Times

His profile’s divine.

His shoes have a shine;

They’re almost as shined as his hair.

And voters ignore

That seeking Mitt’s core

Has failed because nothing is there.

So Mitt’s way ahead.

The pundits have said

That Newt might be almost kaput.

But Mitt still might lose

If he puts those shoes

Much more in his mouth with his foot.

Calvin Trillin: Deadline Poet  (The Nation, 2/27/2012)







SUPER EGO The last time I tried to make out with a cute boy who wasn’t my husband, he actually said, “OK, I’m going to stand over there now. But you’re a great dancer.” Smooth save, Cornelius J. McRejector. I mean, if I had any pride left to be wounded do you think I’d be standing here wearing pink Baby Phat bedazzled cutoff jeans, a sequined visor that reads “Party Bottom,” possum-brown Keds, and some totally offensive, insensitively appropriated Native American item, possibly a dreamcatcher nose ring? I don’t need you! I’m busy re-embracing irony.

Anyway, that whole tackiness is over, and the point is this: dancing. If it seems there are more wild Valentine’s themed parties than ever this year (check out our roundup in this issue), there are also, well, more parties in general, including choice ones such as below. Just like Lana del Ray’s top lip, there’s always enough nightlife to go around. So don’t let some piddly fear of rejection lock you in the closet with zombie Mitt Romney. Be the great dancer you are.



Wide-ranging party players Marco de la Vega, Gary Riviera, and Brian Furstman have launched the new Future Perfect weekly at Monarch with the intent to obliterate whatever few genre boundaries remain in dance music — no central feel, “just good, forward thinking, contemporary” music, de la Vega told me. That’s a tough trick: without a definable flavor for a crowd to hold onto, you need to sustain a wholly unique energy (drink specials help!) or rely on big guest names to draw people back. Future Perfect seems to be succeeding at both strategies. The party’s already hosted Cold Cave, Jokers of the Scene, and Nguzunguzu; the latest big name is beguilingly dark live duo Light Asylum, anchored by singer Shannon Funchess’ throaty vocals. Considering Light Asylum’s justifiable reputation as one of the most riveting live acts around, this party’s energy will keep building.

Thu/9, 9 p.m., $10–$15. Monarch, 101 Sixth St., SF.



SF’s cosmic jam legends Jeno and Garth brought down club Mighty’s roof when they played at their original party Wicked’s 20th anniversary last year. Now they’re celebrating the lucky seventh of the party that sees them both on decks at the same time, finishing each others’ musical sentences. Poetry for your feet, child, and not to be missed for anyone interested in DJ sets that color outside the lines. (I’m so excited, I’m mixing my metaphors.)

Fri/10, 8 p.m.-4 a.m., free before 11 p.m., $7 after. Mighty, 119 Utah, SF.



Rad dance sounds from India seemed in danger of fading from the SF club scene recently. The lively Bollyhood Cafe in the Mission closed. (The space was taken over by expanding Senegalese restaurant-nightclub Bissap Baobab, so all is not lost worldwise). Forward-thinking global bass collective Surya Dub had faded from local DJ decks, although member Kush Arora continued to release ass-kicking riddim tracks at a furious pace. And when I heard long-running monthly dance extravaganza Non Stop Bhangra was looking for a new home I totally got a Punjab sad. Luckily, Non Stop has now landed on second Saturdays at Public Works — last month’s launch included the return of the Surya Dub crew, even. Whirl away with the expert Dholrhythms dance crew to DJ Jimmy Love’s bhangra bangers and a truly diverse Bay Area crowd, now going afterhours. This month, DJ Rekha of NYCs raucous Basement Bhangra guests. (Check out my interview with her — full of some amazing tunes — here.)

Sat/11 and second Saturdays, 9 p.m.-3 a.m., $10 advance, $15. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF.


A part of our nightlife so huge, its decade celebration had to be split in two. Opel usually blows up the underground with tech house and drum and bass glory — founding member Syd Gris is responsible for the massive Lovevolution festival. But this above-board extravaganza at Mezzanine boasts Opel stalwart DJs Meat Katie, Dylan Rhymes, Syd, and Melyss downstairs, and a “looking back” room upstairs with longtime spinners Kramer, Ethan Miller, Dutch, and Spesh.

Sat/11, 9 p.m.-4 a.m., $20 advance. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF.



Some tasty undergroundish events have been popping up at 46 Minna lately — raising a few eyebrows, since 46 Minna is otherwise known to the mainstream bottle-service crowd as Harlot. A recent chat with one of my favorite DJs, Adnan Sharif of the Forward SF house collective, cleared up the mystery: the Harlot peeps want to draw a more adventurous crowd to their lovely space on non-weekend days. Rebranding’s fine with me, especially if it brings a four-hour set by Droog, the LA trio of expert house deconstructionists who fill their funky mindtrips with all kinds of electronic Easter eggs. This is the launch of Forward SF’s weekly Forward Sundays Sessions (with a fresh fruit buffet!). Adnan himself is opening up.

Sun/12, $10–$20, 6 p.m.-midnight. 46 Minna, SF.

What are people?


Protesters from the Occupy movement and beyond gathered in front of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Jan. 20, calling for the adoption of a 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution aimed at refuting the idea that corporations should have the same rights as people, a legal doctrine know as corporate personhood.

The event was part of a day of action at courthouses around the country, seeking to raise public awareness about the unfettered influence of corporate money in U.S. elections and draw attention to the second anniversary of the landmark corporate personhood decision by U.S. Supreme Court, Citizens United vs the Federal Elections Commission.

“We are here not to protest, not to petition, and not to plead, but to proclaim a truth that should be self evident, even to the Supreme Court: Corporations are not people; money is not speech,” said Abraham Entin, of North Bay Move To Amend, addressing a crowd gathered at the courthouse. “Corporations work very hard to convince us that we cannot do without them and the products they produce. They tell us they are too big to fail, and that our survival is dependent on their survival … Occupy has changed all that.”

In a contentious 5-4 ruling handed down on Jan. 21, 2010, the Citizens United case solidified the legal framework that bequeaths corporations the same rights under the Constitution as real, living, breathing, U.S. citizens, and by merit of their First Amendment rights as citizens bars any restrictions placed on a corporation’s ability to spend money to influence elections.

When Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney famously said on the campaign trail that “corporations are people, my friend, because corporations have people inside them,” he is reflecting the logic of the majority opinion in the Citizens United case. The court’s majority asserted that corporations are essentially an association of people and thus enjoy the same rights as individuals.

The court also claimed that it is impossible to distinguish between the corporate media outlets and other corporate speech, so all corporations should enjoy the free speech rights saved for the press. Furthermore, because journalists often have to spend money to achieve speech, money spent on messaging by all corporations represents protected speech.

Corporations, a relatively modern invention, aren’t actually discussed in the Constitution. But the notion of corporation personhood began around 1886 in the case of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. What Citizens United did was equate corporate money spent to influence elections with protected political speech, upending attempts at election reforms and gutting the McCain-Feingold Act of 2002 that regulated federal election campaigns.

That corporations act to corrupt our democratic systems for their own profit is not conspiracy, it’s simply a byproduct of what they are. Corporations are legally obligated to act to maximize their profits for the benefit of their shareholders, otherwise their board and corporate officers are considered negligent of their obligations to their shareholders’ financial interests. Unlike journalists, whose professional credo calls for fairness and acting in the public interest, corporations are designed to act in their own interests.

As Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the dissenting judges in Citizens United, “Corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their ‘personhood’ often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of ‘We the People’ by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.”

The resulting flood of corporate money into election campaigns since the court’s ruling is delivered through an aqueduct known as the Super PAC (political action committee). In the wake of Citizens United, election spending by Super PACs in the 2010 midterm elections exceeded $300 million dollars, more spending than the overall spending in the previous five midterm elections combined.

Unlike donations to campaigns, which so far remain regulated, Super PAC money is spent directly by the Super PAC, and can be spent attacking as well as supporting candidates, leading to fears that corporations can exert influence on incumbents before a re-election campaigns by threatening to spend money attacking them in the upcoming election cycle.

“Corporations are human creations, state creations, legal entities … There is no reason we cannot limit their spending,” said Carlos Villarreal, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild’s Bay Area chapter. “Nonprofit organizations are limited in their political spending. Churches and charitable organizations are also limited in their spending. So why not for-profit corporations?”

Perhaps no group knows more about government limits to free speech than participants of the Occupy movement. Elastic restrictions on individual free speech and freedom of association rights spelled out in the First Amendment, resting on alleged risks to health and public safety, have led to Occupy encampments across the nation being restricted and evicted, at times enforced by brutal police crackdowns.

The right of the government to restrict individual and group speech that officials believe represents a clear and present danger was established by the Supreme Court in the 1919 Schenck v United States case — the famous “don’t yell fire in a crowded theater” case. What is not widely known is that this case was a re-examination of the famous 1917 Espionage Act. The “crowded theater” was our nation’s entry into World War I, and those being jailed for “yelling fire” were labor organizers and pacifists expressing their opposition to our entry into the war.

Relying on Schenck, courts have consistently defended restrictions on individual free speech when there is a compelling interest to public safety, the so-called “clear and present danger” standard. Villarreal and the crowd gathered before the Ninth Circuit asserted that corporate influence in our democratic processes represents a clear and present danger to society. “There is no more compelling interest than protecting democracy,” said Villarreal.

Despite the apparent double standard, legal experts say the courts action in the Citizens United case leaves a constitutional amendment as the only avenue left for regulating corporate money in elections and ending corporate personhood, but the movement to take on that Herculean task has already begun.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) have introduced legislation proposing a 28th Amendment to the Constitution. While the language differs from another amendment presented by the group Move to Amend, it also takes aim at ending corporate personhood.

“Two years ago, the United States Supreme Court betrayed our Constitution and those who fought to ensure that its protections are enjoyed equally by all persons regardless of religion, race or gender, by engaging in an unabashed power-grab on behalf of corporate America,” Sanders wrote in a Jan. 20 Guardian(UK) column.

In Sanders’ home state of Vermont, the state Senate is also considering a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment against corporate personhood. A similar resolution, authored by Alix Rosenthal, was adopted by the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee during a special meeting on Jan. 21. There was just one dissenting vote, and DCCC members say they plan to push for the state party organization to also adopt the stance.

The hurdles set forth to amend the U.S. Constitution, outlined in Article V, are substantial. In order for an amendment to even be considered, a super majority of both houses of Congress must initiate the process, or two-thirds of states must call for the amendment. Proposed amendments passing this threshold are then adopted only after three-quarters of state legislatures ratify the proposed amendment. But that difficult road is one the protesters said they are ready to travel. “We are here on a rainy day with warm hearts and wet feet. We are the 100 percent, the humans. No corporation has every experienced the thrill of wet feet,” said Gangs of America author Ted Nace. “We are the fools who go out on a wet day to fix a broken world. Eighty percent of the public want to fix this. That means we are halfway to our goal. What remains is organization, mobilization.”

Occupy and the State of the Union


Have all of the Occupy actions made any difference? Gee — I wonder.

I wonder if a president who acted a year ago as if economic justice wasn’t even an issue in this country would have devoted a substantial part of his State of the Union speech to fairness in tax policy. I wonder if he would have said this:

Right now, we’re poised to spend nearly $1 trillion more on what was supposed to be a temporary tax break for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. Right now, because of loopholes and shelters in the tax code, a quarter of all millionaires pay lower tax rates than millions of middle-class households. Right now, Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary.

Do we want to keep these tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans? Or do we want to keep our investments in everything else –- like education and medical research; a strong military and care for our veterans?

Or this:

Tax reform should follow the Buffett Rule. If you make more than $1 million a year, you should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes. And my Republican friend Tom Coburn is right: Washington should stop subsidizing millionaires. In fact, if you’re earning a million dollars a year, you shouldn’t get special tax subsidies or deductions. On the other hand, if you make under $250,000 a year, like 98 percent of American families, your taxes shouldn’t go up. You’re the ones struggling with rising costs and stagnant wages. You’re the ones who need relief.

Now, you can call this class warfare all you want. But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense.

or this:

No American company should be able to avoid paying its fair share of taxes by moving jobs and profits overseas. From now on, every multinational company should have to pay a basic minimum tax.

Now: Not saying any of that is going to happen right away, or even that Obama will put tax reform at the top of the agenda. And changing the tax code to charge people like Mitt Romney 30 percent is nowhere near enough; in the 1960s, those people paid 80 percent of their marginal dollars in federal taxes. The Repubs in Congress won’t let any of this happen anyway.

But all of the major newspapers (which a year ago didn’t even know how to spell economic injustice) made his pitch for greater fairness in the economy the lead of their reports and all of the headlines talked about it. And when pollster Stan Greenberg tracked the responses of Democrats, Republicans and independents to the speech, the vast majority were pleased by and agreed with the commments that I cited above. That’s not just 80 percent of the Dems but 70 percent of the GOP voters.

The other thing Obama said — in indirectly — is that government is important. Beyond the flag-waving salute to the troops and the talk about the Navy Seals (Yay! We killed a guy! No arrest, no trial, just summary execution!), Obama was setting the tone for a debate over the role of the public sector in America. He talked about building the Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge and the interstate highway system. He talked about the importance of public support for research. That’s a direct contradiction to what the Republicans are saying about making government much smaller and less significant in people’s lives. I wonder what happens if the Republican candidate and Obama get out of the platitudes are actually have that discussion this fall.

Of course, he also said the solution to most business problems was tax cuts and incentives, which is not only GOP dogma but silly, since tax cuts for business almost never have the intendent effect. Tax penalties won’t keep companies from moving offshore (although I still support the idea), and tax cuts won’t bring them back.

It’s notable that Obama didn’t mention corporate personhood, which is going to be a huge part of the Occupy agenda this year. And that’s something that could actually change business behavior. Corporate charters are granted by the government — and with a few changes in law, could be revoked by the government, too. Screw your workers, cheat on taxes and move jobs to low-wage non-union areas where children work 14 hours a day making your products? Guess we’ll have to revoke your corporate charter. No more protection for personal liability for the owners and shareholders. Too bad.

And while his populist stuff struck a chord, the energy and environmental policy suggestions were just horrible. Yeah, I’m for ending tax breaks for oil companies — but opening up 75 percent of the potential offshore areas to drilling? Encouraging more natural gas drilling? Not much in the way of serious talk about investing a fraction of that money in renewables?

Oh, and I love this: Obama’s going to force natural gas drillers to “disclose the chemicals they use.” That’s going to keep us safe, yesiree. Thank you, mister driller, for telling me how your poisoning my water. Not that I can do anything about it, of course; you can keep right on going. But now, thanks to our bold president, I know about it.

Occupy the natural gas wells. I’m ready to go.