Guardian Editorial

Guardian endorsements

139

OUR CLEAN SLATE VOTERS GUIDE TO TAKE TO THE POLLS IS HERE.

 

Editor’s Note: Election endorsements have been a long and proud part of the Guardian’s 48-year history of covering politics in San Francisco, the greater Bay Area, and at the state level. In low-turnout elections like the one we’re expecting in June, your vote counts more than usual, and we hope our endorsements and explanations help you make the best decisions.

 

GOVERNOR: JERRY BROWN

There is much for progressives to criticize in Jerry Brown’s latest stint as governor of California. He has stubbornly resisted complying with federal court orders to substantially reduce the state’s prison population, as well as shielding the system from needed journalistic scrutiny and reforms of solitary confinement policies that amount to torture. Brown has also refused to ban or limit fracking in California, despite the danger it poses to groundwater and climate change, irritating environmentalists and fellow Democrats. Even Brown’s great accomplishment of winning passage for the Prop. 30 tax package, which eased the state back from financial collapse, sunsets too early and shouldn’t have included a regressive sales tax increase. Much more needs to be done to address growing wealth disparities and restore economic and educational opportunity for all Californians.

For these reasons and others, it’s tempting to endorse one of Brown’s progressive challenges: Green Party candidate Luis Rodriguez or Peace and Freedom Party candidate Cindy Sheehan (see “Left out,” April 23). We were particularly impressed by Rodriguez, an inspiring leader who is seeking to bring more Latinos and other marginalized constituencies into the progressive fold, a goal we share and want to support however we can.

But on balance, we decided to give Brown our endorsement in recognition of his role in quickly turning around this troubled state after the disastrous administration of Arnold Schwarzenegger — and in the hope that his strong leadership will lead to even greater improvement over his next term. While we don’t agree with all of his stands, we admire the courage, independence, and vision that Brown brings to this important office. Whether he is supporting the California High-Speed Rail Project against various attacks, calling for state residents to live in greater harmony with the natural world during the current drought, or refusing to shrink from the challenges posed by global warming, Jerry Brown is the leader that California needs at this critical time.

 

LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR: GAVIN NEWSOM

Gavin Newsom was mayor of San Francisco before he ascended to the position of Lieutenant Governor, and we at the Bay Guardian had a strained relationship with his administration, to put it mildly. We disagreed with his fiscally conservative policies and tendency to align himself with corporate power brokers over neighborhood coalitions. As lieutenant governor, Newsom is tasked with little — besides stepping into the role of governor, should he be called upon to do so — but has nevertheless made some worthwhile contributions.

Consider his stance on drug policy reform: “Once and for all, it’s time we realize that the war on drugs is nothing more than a war on communities of color and on the poor,” he recently told a crowd at the Democratic Party convention in Los Angeles. “It is fundamentally time for drug policies that recognize and respect the full dignity of human beings. We can’t wait.” In his capacity as a member of the UC Board of Regents, Newsom recently voted against a higher executive compensation package for a top-level administrator, breaking from the pack to align with financially pinched university students. In Sacramento, Newsom seems to come off as more “San Francisco” than in his mayoral days, and we’re endorsing him against a weak field of challengers.

 

SECRETARY OF STATE: DEREK CRESSMAN

Although the latest Field Poll shows that he has only single-digit support and is unlikely to make the November runoff, we’re endorsing Derek Cressman for Secretary of State. As a longtime advocate for removing the corrupting influence of money from politics through his work with Common Cause, Cressman has identified campaign finance reform as the important first step toward making the political system more responsive to people’s needs. As Secretary of State, Cressman would be in a position to ensure greater transparency in our political system.

We also like Alex Padilla, a liberal Democrat who has been an effective member of the California Senate. We’ll be happy to endorse Padilla in November if he ends up in a runoff with Republican Pete Peterson, as the current polling seems to indicate is likely. But for now, we’re endorsing Cressman — and the idea that campaign finance reform needs to be a top issue in a state and country that are letting wealthy individuals and corporations have disproportionate influence over what is supposed to be a democracy.

 

CONTROLLER: BETTY YEE

The pay-to-play politics of Leland Yee and two other California Democrats has smeared the Assembly. Amid the growls of impropriety, a report by the Center for Investigative Reporting has painted Speaker of the Assembly John Perez, a leading candidate for Controller, with a similar brush. CIR revealed Perez raised money from special interest groups to charities his lover favored, a lover later sued for racketeering and fraud.

Betty Yee represents an opportunity for a fresh start. On the state’s Board of Equalization she turned down campaign donations from tobacco interests, a possible conflict of interest. She also fought for tax equity between same-sex couples. The Controller is tasked with keeping watch on and disbursing state funds, a position we trust much more to Yee’s careful approach than Perez’s questionable history. Vote for Yee.

 

TREASURER: JOHN CHIANG

While serving as California’s elected Controller, John Chiang displayed his courage and independence by refusing to sign off on budgetary tricks used by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and some legislative leaders, insisting on a level of honesty that protected current and future Californians. During those difficult years — as California teetered on the brink of bankruptcy, paralyzed by partisan brinksmanship each budget season, written off as a failed state by the national media — Chiang and retiring Treasurer Bill Lockyer were somehow able to keep the state functioning and paying its bills.

While many politicians claim they’ll help balance the budget by identifying waste and corruption, Chiang actually did so, identifying $6 billion by his estimate that was made available for more productive purposes. Now, Chiang wants to continue bringing fiscal stability to this volatile state and he has our support.

 

ATTORNEY GENERAL: KAMALA HARRIS

Kamala Harris has kept the promise she made four years ago to bring San Francisco values into the Attorney General’s Office, focusing on the interests of everyday Californians over powerful vested interests. That includes strengthening consumer and privacy protections, pushing social programs to reduce criminal recidivism rather than the tough-on-crime approach that has ballooned our prison population, reaching an $18 billion settlement with the big banks and mortgage lenders to help keep people in their homes, and helping to implement the Affordable Care Act and the legalization of same-sex marriage in the state.

Harris has maintained her opposition to the death penalty even though that has hurt her in the statewide race, and she brings to the office an important perspective as the first woman and first African American ever to serve as the state’s top law enforcement officer. While there is much more work to be done in countering the power of wealthy individuals and corporations and giving the average Californian a stronger voice in our legal system, Harris has our support.

 

INSURANCE COMMISSIONER: DAVE JONES

We’ve been following Dave Jones’s legislative career since his days on the Sacramento City Council and through his terms in the California Legislature, and we’ve always appreciated his autonomy and progressive values. He launched into his role as Insurance Commissioner four years ago with an emergency regulation requiring health insurance companies to use no more than 20 percent of premiums on profits and administrative costs, and he has continued to do what he can to hold down health insurance rates, including implementing the various components of the Affordable Care Act.

More recently, Jones held hearings looking at whether Uber, Lyft, and other transportation network companies are adequately insured to protect both their drivers and the general public, concluding that these companies need to self-insure or otherwise expand the coverage over their business. It was a bold and important move to regulate a wealthy and prosperous new industry. Jones deserves credit for taking on the issue and he has earned our endorsement.

 

SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS: TOM TORLAKSON

This race is a critical one, as incumbent Tom Torlakson faces a strong challenge from the charter school cheerleader Marshall Tuck. An investment banker and Harvard alum, Tuck is backed by well-heeled business and technology interests pushing for the privatization of our schools. Tech and entertainment companies are pushing charter schools heavily as they wait in the wings for lucrative education supply contracts, for which charter schools may open the doors. And don’t let Waiting for Superman fool you, charter schools’ successful test score numbers are often achieved by pushing out underperforming special needs and economically disadvantaged students.

As national education advocate Diane Ravitch wrote in her blog, “If Tuck wins, the privatization movement will gain a major stronghold.” California ranks 48th in the nation in education spending, a situation we can thank Prop. 13 for. We’d like to see Torlakson advocate for more K-12 school dollars, but for now, he’s the best choice.

 

BOARD OF EQUALIZATION: FIONA MA

Fiona Ma was never our favorite member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and in the California Legislature, she has seemed more interested in party politics and leadership than moving legislation that is important to San Francisco. There are a few exceptions, such as her attempts last year to require more employers to offer paid sick days and to limit prescription drug co-payments. But she also notoriously tried to ban raves at public venues in 2010, a reactionary bill that was rejected as overly broad.

But the California Board of Equalization might just be a better fit for Ma than the Legislature. She’s a certified public accountant and would bring that financial expertise to the state’s main taxing body, and we hope she continues in the tradition of her BOE predecessor Betty Yee in ensuring the state remains fair but tough in how it collects taxes.

 

ASSEMBLY, DISTRICT 17: DAVID CAMPOS

The race to replace progressive hero Tom Ammiano in the California Assembly is helping to define this important political moment in San Francisco. It’s a contest between the pragmatic neoliberal politics of Board of Supervisors President David Chiu and the populist progressive politics of Sup. David Campos, whom Ammiano endorsed to succeed him.

It’s a fight for the soul of San Francisco, a struggle to define the values we want to project into the world, and, for us at the Bay Guardian, the choice is clear. David Campos is the candidate that we trust to uphold San Francisco’s progressive values in a state that desperately needs that principled influence.

Chiu emphasizes how the two candidates have agreed on about 98 percent of their votes, and he argues that his effectiveness at moving big legislation and forging compromises makes him the most qualified to represent us in Sacramento. Indeed, Chiu is a skilled legislator with a sharp mind, and if “getting things done” — the prime directive espoused by both Chiu and Mayor Ed Lee — was our main criterion, he would probably get our endorsement.

But when you look at the agenda that Chiu and his allies at City Hall have pursued since he came to power — elected as a progressive before pivoting to become a pro-business moderate — we wish that he had been a little less effective. The landlords, tech titans, Realtors, and Chamber of Commerce have been calling the shots in this city, overheating the local economy in a way that has caused rapid displacement and gentrification.

“Effective for whom? That’s what’s important,” Campos told us during his endorsement interview, noting that, “Most people in San Francisco have been left behind and out of that prosperity.”

Campos has been a clear and consistent supporter of tenants, workers, immigrants, small businesses, environmentalists — the vast majority of San Franciscans, despite their lack of power in City Hall. Chiu will sometimes do right by these groups, but usually only after being pushed to do so by grassroots organizing and lobbying efforts.

Campos correctly points out that such lobbying is more difficult in Sacramento, with its higher stakes and wider range of competing interests, than it is on the local level. Chiu’s focus on always trying to find a compromise often plays into the hands of wealthy interests, who sometimes just need to be fought and stopped.

We have faith in Campos and his progressive values, and we believe he will skillfully carry on the work of Ammiano — who is both an uncompromising progressive and an effective legislator — in representing San Francisco’s values in Sacramento.

 

ASSEMBLY, DISTRICT 19: PHIL TING

Incumbent Phil Ting doesn’t have any challengers in this election, but he probably would have won our support anyway. After proving himself as San Francisco’s Assessor, taking a strong stance against corporate landowners and even the Catholic Church on property assessments, Ting won a tough race against conservative businessman Michael Breyer to win his Assembly seat.

Since then, he’s been a reliable vote for legislation supported by most San Franciscans, and he’s sponsoring some good bills that break new ground, including his current AB 1193, which would make it easier to build cycletracks, or bike lanes physically separated from cars, all over the state. He also called a much-needed Assembly committee hearing in November calling out BART for its lax safety culture, and we hope he continues to push for reforms at that agency.

 

PROPOSITION 41: YES

Over a decade ago, Californians voted to use hundreds of millions of our dollars to create the CalVet Home and Farm Loan Program to help veterans purchase housing. But a reduction in federal home loan dollars, the housing crisis, and a plummeting economy hurt the program.

Prop. 41 would repurpose $600 million of those bond funds and raise new money to create affordable housing rental units for some of California’s 15,000 homeless veterans. This would cost Californians $50 million a year, which, as proponents remind us, is one-tenth of 1 percent of the state budget. Why let hundreds of millions of dollars languish unused? We need to reprioritize this money to make good on our unfulfilled promises to homeless veterans.

 

PROPOSITION 42: YES

This one’s important. Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown sought to gut the California Public Records Act by making it optional for government agencies to comply with many of the requirements built into this important transparency law. The CPRA and the Ralph M. Brown Act require government agencies to make records of their activities available for public scrutiny, and to provide for adequate notice of public meetings. Had the bill weakening these laws not been defeated, it would have removed an important defense against shadowy government dealings, leaving ordinary citizens and journalists in the dark.

Prop. 42 is a bid to eliminate any future threats against California’s important government transparency laws, by expressly requiring local government agencies — including cities, counties, and school districts — to comply with all aspects of the CPRA and the Brown Act. It also seeks to prevent local agencies from denying public records requests based on cost, by eliminating the state’s responsibility to reimburse local agencies for cost compliance (the state has repeatedly failed to do so, and local bureaucracies have used this as an excuse not to comply).

 

SF’S PROPOSITION A: YES

Prop. A is a $400 million general obligation bond measure that would cover seismic retrofits and improvements to the city’s emergency infrastructure, including upgrades to the city’s Emergency Firefighting Water System, neighborhood police and fire stations, a new facility for the Medical Examiner, and seismically secure new structures to house the police crime lab and motorcycle unit.

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to place Prop. A on the ballot, and a two-thirds majority vote is needed for it to pass. Given that San Franciscans can expect to be hit by a major earthquake in the years to come, upgrading emergency infrastructure, especially the high-pressure water system that will aid the Fire Department in the event of a major blaze, is a high priority.

 

SF’S PROPOSITION B: YES

As we report in this issue (see “Two views of the waterfront”), San Francisco’s waterfront is a valuable place targeted by some ambitious development schemes. That’s a good thing, particularly given the need that the Port of San Francisco has for money to renovate or remove crumbling piers, but it needs to be carefully regulated to maximize public benefits and minimize private profit-taking.

Unfortunately, the Mayor’s Office and its appointees at the Port of San Francisco have proven themselves unwilling to be tough negotiators on behalf of the people. That has caused deep-pocketed, politically connected developers to ignore the Waterfront Land Use Plan and propose projects that are out-of-scale for the waterfront, property that San Francisco is entrusted to manage for the benefit of all Californians.

All Prop. B does is require voter approval when projects exceed existing height limits. It doesn’t kill those projects, it just forces developers to justify new towers on the waterfront by providing ample public benefits, restoring a balance that has been lost. San Francisco’s waterfront is prime real estate, and there are only a few big parcels left that can be leveraged to meet the needs of the Port and the city. Requiring the biggest ones to be approved by voters is the best way to ensure the city — all its residents, not just the politicians and power brokers — is getting the best deals possible.

 

SF SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE: DANIEL FLORES

Daniel Flores has an impressive list of endorsers, including the Democratic, Republican, and Green parties of San Francisco — a rare trifecta of political party support. But don’t hold the GOP nod against Flores, who was raised in the Excelsior by parents who immigrated from El Salvador and who interned with La Raza Centro Legal while going to McGeorge School of Law. And he did serve in the Marines for six years, which could explain the broad range of support for him.

Flores is a courtroom litigator with experience in big firms and his own practice, representing clients ranging from business people to tenants fighting against their landlords. Flores told us that he wants to ensure those without much money are treated fairly in court, an important goal we support. We also liked Kimberly Williams and hope she ends up on the bench someday, but in this race, Flores is the clear choice.

 

CONGRESS, DISTRICT 12: NANCY PELOSI

This was a hard decision for us this year. Everyone knows that Pelosi will win this race handily, but in past races we’ve endorsed third party challengers or even refused to endorse anyone more often than we’ve given Pelosi our support. While Pelosi gets vilified by conservatives as the quintessential San Francisco liberal, she’s actually way too moderate for our tastes.

Over her 21 years in Congress, she has presided over economic policies that have consolidated wealth in ever fewer hands and dismantled the social safety net, environmental policies that have ignored global warming and fed our over-reliance on the private automobile, and military policies that expanded the war machine and overreaching surveillance state, despite her insider’s role on the House Intelligence Committee.

Three of her opponents — Democrat David Peterson, Green Barry Hermanson, and fiery local progressive activist Frank Lara of the Peace and Freedom Party — are all much better on the issues that we care about, and we urge our readers to consider voting for one of them if they just can’t stomach casting a ballot for Pelosi. In particular, Hermanson has raised important criticisms of just how out of whack our federal budget priorities are. We also respect the work Lara has done on antiwar and transit justice issues in San Francisco, and we think he could have a bright political future.

But we’ve decided to endorse Pelosi in this election for one main reason: We want the Democrats to retake the House of Representatives this year and for Pelosi to once again become Speaker of the House. The Republican Party in this country, particularly the Tea Party loyalists in the House, is practicing a dangerous and disgusting brand of political extremism that needs to be stopped and repudiated. They would rather shut the government down or keep it hopelessly hobbled by low tax rates than help it become an effective tool for helping us address the urgent problems that our country faces. Pelosi and the Democrats aren’t perfect, but at least they’re reasonable grown-ups and we’d love to see what they’d do if they were returned to power. So Nancy Pelosi has our support in 2014.

 

CONGRESS, DISTRICT 13: BARBARA LEE

Barbara Lee has been one of our heroes since 2001, when she was the only member of Congress to vote against the Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Terrorists, braving the flag-waving nationalism that followed the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon to warn that such an overly broad declaration of war was dangerous to our national interests. She endured death threats and harsh condemnation for that principled stand, but she was both courageous and correct, with our military overreach still causing problems for this country, both practical and moral.

Lee has been a clear and consistent voice for progressive values in the Congress for 16 years, chairing both the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Progressive Caucus, taking stands against capital punishment and the Iraq War, supporting access to abortions and tougher regulation of Wall Street, and generally representing Oakland and the greater Bay Area well in Washington DC. She has our enthusiastic support.

 

CONGRESS, DISTRICT 14: JACKIE SPEIER

Jackie Speier has given her life to public service — almost literally in 1978 when she was an aide to then-Rep. Leo Ryan and survived the airstrip shootings that triggered the massacre at Jonestown — and she has earned our ongoing support. Speier has continued the consumer protection work she started in the California Legislature, sponsoring bills in Congress aimed at protecting online privacy. She has also been a strong advocate for increasing federal funding to public transit in the Bay Area, particularly to Muni and for the electricification of Caltrain, an important prelude to the California High-Speed Rail Project. In the wake of the deadly natural gas explosion in San Bruno, Speier has pushed for tough penalties on Pacific Gas & Electric and expanded pipeline safety programs. She has been a strong advocate of women’s issues, including highlighting the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses and in the military, seeking greater protections, institutional accountability, and recourse for victims. More recently, Speier has become a key ally in the fight to save City College of San Francisco, taking on the federal accreditation process and seeking reforms. Speier is a courageous public servant who deserves your vote.

The future of Piers 30-32

5

EDITORIAL

It was good news for San Francisco when the Golden State Warriors withdrew a proposal to build a new arena on Piers 30-32 and to instead build it on private land in Mission Bay, sparing city residents a costly and divisive fight sullied by millions of dollars in political advocacy and propaganda.

The new location near the intersection of 16th and Third streets is still close enough to the water to provide picturesque images for network television, but without sparking concerns about the city’s stewardship of coastal land held in trust for the people of California. The new site will have better public access once the Central Subway is completed, and it could help encourage the teardown of Interstate 280 and its conversion into a multi-modal boulevard like Octavia, a good idea the city is now studying.

Best of all, this provides a golden opportunity for the city and the Port of San Francisco to launch a truly public process for how to use Pier 30-32, the largest remaining open stretch of the central waterfront, as well as the adjacent Seawall Lot 330. Rather than simply reacting to big ideas hatched behind closed doors, the public could take part in a truly democratic process to proactively shape this high-profile public property.

Admittedly, there are challenges to overcome, starting with the high cost of demolishing these aging piers, so it’s likely that the valuable Seawall Lot 330 will be part of the equation, with its pure profit potential used to help pay for whatever happens to the piers. But how that balancing act is done would be for the public to decide.

Should we open up that stretch of waterfront by not replacing the piers, or replacing it with a much smaller pier? Could it become an artificial wetland that is both pretty and ecologically beneficial in an era of rising seas? Would we accept a luxury condo tower on the seawall lot to help pay for this new open space? Or maybe the city would want to float a bond and seek grants to help remove this bay fill and keep the seawall lot to a more limited and public-interest use?

These are the kinds of honest and direct questions San Francisco should be asking its citizens. The waterfront is an invaluable resource, and it shouldn’t be treated as merely a liability because the Port needs money. The same goes for Seawall Lot 351 that was part of the 8 Washington project that voters rejected, as well as Seawall Lot 337 that is part of the Giants proposal at Pier 48.

The views of the people of San Francisco shouldn’t be afterthought to be avoided, as opponents of Proposition B seem to believe, but a creative resource that could help shape the San Francisco of tomorrow.

 

Hold BART accountable for deaths

1

EDITORIAL

Bay Area Rapid Transit made a deadly miscalculation last year — one that built on years of reckless decisions to value efficiency over safety — and nobody was ever held accountable. That’s not acceptable for a public agency, and it’s time for the people who made these decisions and the elected officials who enabled them to come clean and make amends.

Last year’s contentious contract negotiations between BART management and employees was marked by an ugly union-bashing media strategy and dangerous brinksmanship that forced two strikes. During the second strike in October, two BART workers were killed by a train operated by someone management was training to run replacement service to break the unions.

Whether that driver’s inexperience directly caused the deaths is still being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board, but we do know that this tragedy was a direct result of the “simple approval process” that made these workers responsible for their own safety even though they couldn’t see or hear a train coming with enough time to safely get out of the way.

California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health has been battling with BART for years to change this dangerous procedure that had killed workers before, but BART chose to aggressively litigate the mandate at every turn instead doing the right thing, finally acceding after these latest avoidable deaths.

DOSH last week concluded its investigation of the October deaths, finding BART guilty of “willful/serious” safety violations and leveling the maximum fine allowed by law, a mere $210,000. Civil wrongful death settlements are likely to reach into the millions of dollars, and the NTSB could soon bring more punishment down on BART.

But real accountability begins at home. This reckless management strategy should be an issue in every one of this year’s reelection races for BART’s Board of Directors, each of whom are culpable and none of whom have challenged the decisions by General Manager Grace Crunican and Assistant Manager of Operations Paul Oversier in any serious public way.

This arrogant agency has abused the public trust and been hostile to reasonable public oversight, whether that involves its trigger-happy Police Department or its callous disregard for the safety of workers and riders, something its unions have been calling out for many years.

The California Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment unveiled damning evidence of BART’s lax safety culture during a hearing in November, and it’s time for the Legislature to follow up and give DOSH the authority and funding it needs to hold BART and other serial safety violators accountable.

Voters should also consider replacing current elected directors this fall (we’ll offer our endorsements then), giving special consideration to those who want to clean house and change a management culture that is hostile to safety and its workers.

Time for a carbon tax

5

EDITORIAL

For this week’s Green Issue, our cover story (“Save the world, work less”) looks at how our economic system is accelerating climate change, proposing that we slow down and work less. It’s a fun little thought experiment that revives an important goal that has somehow been forgotten in modern political discourse.

But there’s another solution that attacks the global warming problem more directly and immediately, one that is compatible with our modern capitalist framework and which could and should be adopted now. It’s time to institute a carbon tax, which would place a price on greenhouse gas emissions and help to curb them.

California Senate President Darrell Steinberg made waves in February when he proposed replacing key parts of California’s cap-and-trade program with a carbon tax and using two-thirds of that money for tax rebates to Californians making $75,000 per year and less to offset the higher cost of gasoline, utility bills, and other areas affected by the tax, and one-third to improve public transit.

The logic behind the proposal is unassailable: If we want to control greenhouse gases, tax the burning of the molecule that creates them. A carbon tax is a far better and more direct means of addressing climate change than California’s new cap-and-trade system, an overly complex half-measure that can be gamed or used to excuse unacceptable forms of pollution.

Of course, a range of capital interests and other powerful players lined up to oppose Steinberg’s proposal, leading the pundits to declare it dead. So his Senate Bill 1156 was modified this week to allocate revenues from the cap-and-trade auction, which could total $5 billion annually, to specific needs: 30 percent to public transit, 40 percent to affordable housing and sustainable communities, 10 percent to complete streets programs (bike lanes), and 20 percent to the California High-Speed Rail Project.

Those are good priorities and we support them all, but we’re disappointed to see Steinberg shrink from a fight that was worth having. The country needs a carbon tax if we’re going to meet our obligation to help mitigate a problem that Americans have created more than anyone else in the world on a per-capita basis. This is our mess and we need to play a big role in cleaning it up, rather than passing that obligation onto poor countries and future generations.

Taxes are a time-honored tool to regulating behaviors and providing for the common good. A carbon tax would finally make users pay the full cost of their choices, such as driving a car or traveling by airplane, thus encouraging less carbon-intensive lifestyles. If this state can’t implement a carbon tax. the federal government should.

 

Rising tide of plutocracy

21

EDITORIAL The pace of life under late capitalism seems to be speeding up these days, and so too have the bad news developments and warnings of impending doom come at a more rapid clip, at least according to the headlines over the last couple weeks.

First it was a report from the US Commerce Department showing that corporate profits are at the highest level in 85 years while employee compensation is at its lower level in 65 years. After-tax corporate profits are now 10 percent of gross domestic product (a record high) as a result of the effective corporate tax rate (figuring in loopholes) of 20.5 percent, the lowest tax rates since 1929, not coincidentally when the Great Depression began.

Then came the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, striking a more urgent tone than the four preceding reports as it documents the threats already unfolding and the major social upheaval to come. And then we were hit with the US Supreme Court’s 5-4 McCutcheon vs FEC decision, which “eviscerates our nation’s campaign finance laws,” as Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in his dissent, striking down aggregate contribution caps and giving even more political power to those with the most economic power.

So wealthy individuals and corporations are hoarding more of the nation’s resources than ever before, and now they’ll be able to spend even more of it to influence and corrupt our already broken political system, weakening its ability to take on big challenges such as addressing global warming because the solutions — including slowing down economic activity (we’ll have more on that in next week’s issue) and helping poor countries deal with rising seas and social instability — require resources from the greedy rich. Call it self-perpetuating plutocracy, with life as we know it on planet Earth at stake.

Meanwhile, on the local front, a Tenants Together study of the economic displacement now underway in San Francisco found it is mostly real estate speculators who are evicting renters using the Ellis Act, a state law ostensibly designed for letting property owners eventually get out of the rental business. Instead, the report’s analysis of eviction data since the Ellis Act was adopted in 1985 showed that 51 percent of Ellis evictions occurred within a year of the property changing hands, 68 percent within five years of new ownership, and 30 percent of Ellis evictions came from serial evictors — all told, displacing 10,000 San Francisco tenants, mostly from rent-controlled housing.

Prohibiting Ellis evictions for the first five years — which is part of Sen. Mark Leno’s SB 1439, which had its first hearing this week — is a good idea that will help. But it also feels a bit like sticking a finger in the hole of a crumbling dike, when what we really need is a strong, new, progressive seawall to protect us against the rising tide of plutocracy, or rule by the rich, and its myriad ravages.

SF’s culture of corruption

12

EDITORIAL The extent of the charges in the criminal complaint against Sen. Leland Yee, political consultant Keith Jackson, and others are shocking and sensational: international arms trafficking, drug dealing, money laundering, cavorting with organized crime figures, murder for hire. But the basic allegation that Yee and Jackson practiced a corrupt, transactional kind of politics wasn’t surprising to anyone who knew how they operated.

What’s worse, they were simply a more extreme — and now, thanks to FBI wiretaps and undercover agents, a better documented — example of the political corruption that is endemic to San Francisco and some other high-stakes American cities. The city of St. Francis gets sold out to the highest bidders everyday, by politicians who value wealthy constituents over the vast majority of us who are just trying to get by — and over the interests of city finances and governance.

Part of the problem is inherent in our money-driven political system, in which politicians are constantly hustling for cash from people who want things from them. Politicians deny they take actions with political contributions in mind, but well-heeled capital and labor interests don’t spend millions of dollars on contributions out of the goodness of their hearts. These are business transactions.

We wholeheartedly support the call Senate President Darrell Steinberg made for fundamental political reform during the March 28 vote to suspend Yee and two of his allegedly corrupt colleagues. These cases aren’t aberrations, they are indicative of how power get wielded when it’s based on wealth. That’s the reality that has gotten even uglier since the Citizens United decision equated money with political speech and upped the ante for would-be public servants.

But much of the problem is particular to San Francisco, where cozy relationships between politicians and corporate interests are often feted in plain view. Former Mayor Willie Brown — a lawyer and unregistered lobbyist who won’t reveal his huge corporate client list despite having an influential weekly column in the San Francisco Chronicle — helped install his longtime City Hall functionary Ed Lee into Room 200 to guard against anyone asking too much of the rich and powerful. Yee and Lee represented rival Chinatown economic factions, both wanting to use the power of the Mayor’s Office for their interests.

In his March 22 column, Brown once again repeated a joke he’s used before, that the “e” in email stands for “evidence,” which is really only funny in a sick political culture that celebrates slick rule-breakers. And it was from Brown that Lee learned it was acceptable to brazenly give tax breaks and regulatory passes to the tech companies that his top fundraiser, venture capitalist Ron Conway, are invested in.

Megadeveloper Lennar Urban used its wealth and political connections to take control of San Francisco’s biggest tracts of undeveloped and underdeveloped land, including Hunters and Candlestick points and Treasure Island, paying off community groups and hiring Jackson and other political henchmen to get the job done.

In fact, the FBI complaint says Jackson was working on behalf of that project when he approached accused Chinatown gangster Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow for support, leading to their alleged involvement in a string of wild criminal conspiracies. Meanwhile, Chow was getting public commendations from San Francisco-based politicians including Lee, Yee, Gavin Newsom, Dianne Feinstein, Fiona Ma, and even Tom Ammiano. Chow courted political legitimacy the same way politicians seek cash, and mainstream media outlets were happy to play along.

Throughout his political career, Yee has carried water for Pacific Gas & Electric, perhaps the most corrupting contributor to political campaigns in the city’s history. PG&E’s influence at City Hall had thankfully waned in recent years as a result of overreach and deadly criminal negligence, until Lee and his appointees last year killed CleanPowerSF (see “Challenge Mayor Lee and his lies,” 9/17/13) on a pretext so thin it could only be gift to PG&E.

In many ways, San Francisco hasn’t changed. It’s still the old Barbary Coast, ruled by capitalist thugs and corrupt politicians, only with glossy modern spin created by armies of well-paid political consultants. But we all deserve better.

Yee and Jackson should go to prison if there’s even a slice of truth to the allegations against them. And maybe they’ll cut deals and take other political figures down with them, giving us more of a peek behind the curtain of political power. But it’s up to all of us to break the close ties between economic and political power and begin to restore the democratic power of everyday people.

Feinstein, Pelosi, and NSA/CIA spying

1

EDITORIAL

Two of the most powerful members of Congress — Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Nancy Pelosi — are from San Francisco. They’ve each spent much of their long tenures in Congress serving on the Intelligence Committees in their respective houses, overseeing the increasingly overreaching surveillance state. And they’re now in positions to do something significant to rein in the National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency, if they can move from statements of outrage to actions of courage.

Feinstein is at the center of the latest national security controversy, criticizing the CIA for spying on her Senate Intelligence Committee staffers as they researched legislation to expose and rein in the CIA’s interrogation and torture policies. Apparently, Feinstein doesn’t like being subjected to the same kind of blanket NSA surveillance that she’s been defending, so perhaps this is a welcome lesson for her.

Pelosi was also in a key oversight position when this illegal wiretapping by the federal government began under then-President George W. Bush, something we and others called her out for at the time (see “Pelosi knew about warrantless spying,” 1/25/06).

Pelosi’s defense then was “I objected in writing” when she was briefed on the federal government’s overreaching surveillance operation, something that falls far short of what we would expect from someone who regularly get vilified by conservatives as epitomizing San Francisco’s liberal values.

Now is the time for San Francisco’s most powerful congressional representatives to represent our values, and those of the rest of civilized world that has condemned US surveillance programs that violate international law and cultivate backdoors and other weaknesses in this country’s critical cybersecurity infrastructure.

Feinstein should introduce bipartisan legislation, possibly co-sponsored with Sen. Rand Paul, a libertarian Republican who also has expressed concerns about the security state, to repeal the USA Patriot Act, the post-9/11 bill that gave vague license to many of the current excesses.

Pelosi and Feinstein should also pressure President Barack Obama to accept all or most of the 46 important reforms recommended by his commission on government surveillance, even if starts a fight that costs party unity in the short term.

“In our view, the current storage by the government of bulk metadata creates potential risks to public trust, personal privacy, and civil liberty,” the commission wrote in its report to Obama, which was released in mid-December.

Obama has already expressed concerns about the Democratic Party losing ground in this year’s mid-term election because of apathy among Democratic voters, but a bold break from the imperial presidency of the Bush era could be exactly what the party needs to fire up the base.

Yet more important than such political considerations, it’s simply the right thing to do, and something that Feinstein, Pelosi, and the Bay Area’s other congressional representatives should be vigorously pushing.

Lee must pay for his promises

19

EDITORIAL

Mayor Ed Lee has made a lot of promises to San Franciscans, but he has been unwilling to pay for them with money from the city or his wealthy backers, transforming these statements in hollow political platitudes — or, less charitably, calculated lies meant to mask the true state of the city.

Lee pledged to build 30,000 units of new housing — a third of it affordable to those with moderate incomes and below — by 2020. By that same year, Lee set the goal of increasing bicycling to 20 percent of all vehicle trips in the City. Lee also directed city departments to develop strategies for reducing pedestrian deaths by 50 percent by 2021. And so Muni’s aging fleet can keep up with population growth, Lee’s SF2030 Transportation Task Force said the transportation system needs a $10 billion capital investment over the next 15 years, a target Lee endorsed.

These were all admirable goals, and in each case, city agencies studied the problems and developed detailed strategies for getting there. And in each case, Mayor Lee chose to fund just small fractions of what the city would need to make his promises come true.

Actually, the housing problem is still being studied, but nobody thinks this goal will be met — as even the pro-development San Francisco Business Times said in a recent editorial — particularly given how the Mayor’s Office structured the business tax reform and Affordable Housing Fund ballot measures in 2012, with giveaways to developers and favored economic sectors, such as tech.

Lee’s WalkFirst program would need $240 million to meet his modest goals — far more to actually realize the VisionZero goal of eliminating all pedestrian deaths, which Lee said he supports — and the Mayor’s Office has only pledged $17 million in funding. The cycling goals would take more than $500 million, not the $30 million currently pledged. Even with approval of the two transportation ballot measure proposed for this fall, and those planned for future years, that only gets the city about a third of the way to meeting San Francisco’s future transportation needs.

Meanwhile, a downtown SF congestion pricing charge that has been studied using federal funds — which would reduce traffic and pedestrian deaths while raising $80 million annually — is being ignored by Lee, as is the once-promising idea of downtown transit assessment districts. Lee is refusing to seek the city’s share of the tremendous wealth now be generated in this city.

As a result, Lee is making promises that he knows he won’t deliver on. And last week, in the five-year budget projection his office is required to issue, we all saw the results of Lee’s economic policies: growing budget deficits for this booming city. Next year’s $67 million deficit is projected to balloon to $340 million by 2017-18. Mr. Mayor, “getting things done” requires more than just words, it requires the political courage to make your promises comes true.

Higher wages and tenants’ rights, for the win

10

As we document in this week’s cover story, a citywide coalition has sprung up to fight for tenants’ rights in the face of mounting evictions and soaring rents, and momentum on this issue is steadily growing.

But that isn’t the only sign of a newly invigorated movement that’s beginning to count its victories and advance forward on behalf of tenants, workers, and thousands of San Franciscans who are less focused on turning a quick profit and more concerned with bringing about positive change. Last week brought several high notes on this front.

Citywide legislation that will limit discriminatory practices by employers and housing providers by reforming background check policies won initial approval at the Feb. 4 San Francisco Board of Supervisors meeting.

Introduced by Sup. Jane Kim, the Fair Chance Act is part of a “ban the box” movement, backed by local grassroots organizations that came together to champion the rights of individuals who’ve encountered barriers to improving their lives due to past convictions that have left them with a permanent stigma.

At the meeting, Kim mentioned a woman who’d been told she “need not apply” for a job working as a cook — because of a simple shoplifting conviction from when she was in high school. The ordinance will require certain employers and housing providers to refrain from criminal history checks until after an initial job interview, and would make certain kinds of information off-limits, such as arrests that never resulted in a conviction.

Meanwhile, an initiative to curb height limits on waterfront development amassed enough signatures last week to qualify for the June ballot. That effort grew out of a successful referendum last November against the 8 Washington project, a key pushback where San Francisco voters rejected luxury condominiums at the ballot.

The Chinese Progressive Association and Jobs With Justice held a celebration last week to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the passage of the city’s minimum wage ordinance.

While it remains the highest in the nation, San Francisco’s 2014 minimum wage of $10.74 an hour still isn’t enough to make ends meet, so allies of low-wage workers are launching the Campaign for a Fair Economy to push for a higher minimum wage at the ballot and to implement a higher wage standard for major retailers and chain stores.

There remains much to rail against, to be sure. A Craigslist ad for a $10,500-per-month two-bedroom apartment in the Mission generated a barrage of angry commentary from those who read it as doomsday for the historically Latino area, especially since the tone-deaf author used the word caliente to describe the neighborhood.

But the start of 2014 has already delivered some promising victories for progressives, and many have their sights set on even greater horizons.

 

Guns, gods, and government

20

EDITORIAL Humans tend to believe that we’re smarter than we really are. It’s a problem that can be exacerbated by concentrations of wealth and technological expertise, which can cause some people to believe they have an almost God-like power to manifest solutions to any challenge they confront, particularly when they have lots of money to throw at the problem.

But that’s really just hubris. It’s the story of Icarus striving for the sun and falling back to Earth when his technology failed him. Knowing our limits and feeling a sense of humility and social responsibility are the first steps toward dealing honestly with problems we face. And last week, we were reminded again of this reality by venture capitalist Ron Conway, the libertarian-leaning power broker who has taken a paternalistic hold on the city (see “The Plutocrat,” 11/27/12).

Being a newspaper that has always believed in gun control, we share Conway’s newfound desire to reduce gun violence, a cause he suddenly adopted after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary school in December 2012. Conway and his Smart Tech Foundation last week unveiled some early designs for high-tech guns that only work in the hands of their owners, and which will notify those owners when someone has moved them.

“Let’s use innovation to bring about gun safety. Let’s not rely on Washington,” Conway told the San Francisco Examiner, which put the story on its Jan. 29 cover.

There are many levels of ridiculousness to Conway’s belief that his gizmos can do more to reduce gun violence than even modest federal regulation of the more than 300 million guns in this country. After all, guns are designed to inflict violence, and just 3 percent of gun deaths are accidental shootings (62 percent are suicides and 35 percent are homicides). Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza used guns from his home that he’d been taught to use by his mother, who ended up being his first victim, so it seems unlikely Conway’s guns would have changed that outcome.

When reporter Jonah Owen Lamb asked Conway how his technology differed from widely available trigger locks, he compared them to the iPhone, which invented a new market for its product. So the answer to gun violence is creating a new market for a new generation of guns that only their wealthy owners can fire?

While we’re not huge fans of the Second Amendment — the one that conservatives like Conway consider sacrosanct — we do understand that it was written to give the masses tools to resist wealthy and powerful oppressors. That includes people like Conway, fellow venture capitalist Thomas Perkins (whose comparison of progressive activists to Nazis has been lighting the Internet), and the Establishment politicians whom they sponsor.

Guys, society doesn’t need your gizmos, libertarian ideals, or hubris to address the most vexing challenges we face, from gun violence to global warming to creating a modern transportation infrastructure. We just need some of the obscene wealth you’ve been hoarding.

 

What “Google bus” really means

79

EDITORIAL In recent years, “Google bus” has become a term that encompasses more than just the shuttles that one corporation uses to transport its workers from San Francisco down to the Silicon Valley. It has taken on a symbolic meaning representing the technology sector’s desire to shield itself from the infrastructure, values, and responsibilities that most citizens choose to share.

These are the very things that motivate many of us to live here, finding that community spirit in such a beautiful, world-class city. More than just the great restaurants and bars, its vistas and artistic offerings, San Francisco represents an experiment in modern urbanism and cultural development.

It is this collision and collusion of disparate yet public-spirited cultures that gave birth to the region’s great economic and social movements, from gay rights and environmentalism to groundbreaking academic research and the creation of the Internet economy.

The antithesis of this idea of creative collaboration is to consider San Francisco just 49 square miles of valuable real estate, to be used and developed as the highest bidder sees fit, as some tech titans seem to believe. It’s ironic that an industry based on creating online communities would place so little value on engaging with its physical community.

The proposed $1 per bus stop use, and $50 per docking that new exclusive Google ferry is paying, is a privatization of public space that barely covers the city’s costs. The tech industry should be doing much more just to counteract its negative impacts on the city’s economy, let alone actually being good corporate citizens of this region.

A new report called for by the Mayor’s Office says Muni needs a $10 billion investment over the next 15 years just to maintain current service levels. A big chunk of that should come from the wealthy corporations in our community through a downtown transit assessment district and higher fees on Silicon Valley companies that are using us as a bedroom community.

San Francisco writer Rebecca Solnit has been developing a critique of the Google bus since her initial shot last February in the London Review of Books, answering a subsequent techie/enviro criticism published in Grist with a Jan. 7 article in Guernica called “Resisting Monoculture.”

“And thus come the well-paid engineers to San Francisco, and thus go the longtime activists, idealists, artists, teachers, plumbers, all the less-well-paid people,” she writes, citing surveys that the buses allow Silicon Valley workers to live in San Francisco when they otherwise wouldn’t.

That’s the issue. The only thing green about Google buses are the piles of money their riders and their bosses are keeping from the city we all share. Segregated buses have never been a good idea, but if these companies insist on them, that should come with a higher price tag.

 

Start the mayor’s race now

4

EDITORIAL

We hope you enjoyed last week’s cover package, “The Rise of Candidate X,” a parable about politics and the media in San Francisco. While it was clearly a fantastical tale, it also had a serious underlying message that we would like to discuss more directly here. Bold actions are needed to save San Francisco. It will take a broad-based coalition to keep the city open to all, and that movement can and should morph into a progressive campaign for the Mayor’s Office, starting now.

While 22 months seems like an eternity in electoral politics, and it is, any serious campaign to unseat Mayor Ed Lee — with all the institutional and financial support lined up behind him — will need to begin soon. Maybe that doesn’t even need to involve the candidate yet, but the constellation of progressive constituencies needs to coordinate their efforts to create a comprehensive vision for the city, one radical enough to really challenge the status quo, and a roadmap for getting there.

It’s exciting to see the resurgence of progressive politics in the city over the last six months, with effective organizing and actions by tenant, immigrant rights, affordable housing, anti-corporate, labor, economic justice, LGBT, environmental, transit, and other progressive groups.

Already, they’ve started to coordinate their actions and messaging, as we saw with the coalition that made housing rights a centerpiece of the annual Milk-Moscone Memorial March. Next, we’d like to see progressive transportation and affordable housing activists bridge their differences, stop fighting each other for funding within the current zero-sum game of city budgets, and fully support a broad progressive agenda that seeks new resources for those urgent needs and others.

Yet City Hall is out of touch with the growing populist outrage over trends and policies that favor wealthy corporations and individuals, at the expense of this city’s diversity, health, and real economic vitality (which comes from promoting and protecting small businesses, not using local corporate welfare to subsidize Wall Street). The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce recently gave this Board of Supervisors its highest-ever ranking on its annual “Paychecks and Pink Slips” ratings, which is surely a sign that City Hall is becoming more sympathetic to the interests of business elites than that of the average city resident.

This has to change, and it won’t be enough to focus on citizens’ initiatives or this year’s supervisorial races, which provide few opportunities to really change the political dynamics under the dome. We need to support and strengthen the resurgent progressive movement in this city and set its sights on Room 200, with enough time to develop and promote an inclusive agenda.

San Francisco has a strong-mayor form of government, a power that has been effectively and repeatedly wielded on behalf of already-powerful constituents by Mayor Ed Lee and his pro-downtown predecessors. Lee has used it to veto Board of Supervisors’ actions protecting tenants, workers, and immigrants; and the commissions he controls have rubber-stamped development projects without adequate public benefits and blocked the CleanPowerSF program, despite its approval by a veto-proof board majority.

Maybe Mayor Lee will rediscover his roots as a tenant lawyer, or he will heed the prevailing political winds now blowing through the city. Or maybe he’ll never cross the powerful economic interests who put him in office. But we do know that the only way to get the Mayor’s Office to pursue real progressive reforms is for a strong progressive movement to seek that office.

New York City, which faces socioeconomic challenges similar to San Francisco’s, has exciting potential right now because of the election of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who waged a long and difficult campaign based on progressive ideals and issues. By contrast, San Francisco seems stuck in the anachronistic view that catering to capitalists will somehow serve the masses.

The Mayor’s Office has been a potent force for blocking progressive reforms over the last 20 years. Now is the time to place that office in service of the people.

 

Tech leaders must engage their critics

33

EDITORIAL It’s time for San Franciscans to have a public conversation about who we are, what we value, and where we’re headed. In the increasingly charged and polarized political climate surrounding economic displacement, the rising populist furor needs to be honestly and seriously addressed by this city’s major stakeholders.

Whether or not the technology industry that is overheating the city’s economy is to blame for the current eviction crisis and hyper-gentrification, it’s undeniable that industry and it’s leaders need to help solve this problem. They are rolling in money in right now, including tens of millions of dollars in city tax breaks, and they need to offer more than token gestures to help offset their impacts.

As we were finalizing stories for this issue on Dec. 9, the Guardian newsroom was roiled by our rollercoaster coverage of a protest blockade against a Google bus, which has become a symbol for the insulated and out-of-touch nouveau-riche techies in the emerging narrative of two San Franciscos.

Our video of an apparent Google-buser shouting at protesters “if you can’t afford it, it’s time for you to leave” went viral and burned up the Internet (and our servers) even as we discovered and reported that he was actually a protester doing some impromptu street theater.

But there was a reason why his comments resonated, and it’s the same reason why The New York Times and other major media outlets have been doing a series of stories on San Francisco and the problems we’re having balancing economic development with economic security, diversity, infrastructure needs, and other urban imperatives.

Rents have increased more than 20 percent this year, the glut of new housing coming online now is mostly unaffordable to current residents, even that new construction has done little to slow real estate speculators from cannibalizing rent-controlled apartments, and the only end in sight to this trend is a bursting of the dot-com bubble, which would cause its own hardships.

We need this city’s political leaders to convene a summit meeting on this problem, and Mayor Ed Lee and his neoliberal allies need to bring tech leaders to the table and impress upon them that they must engage with their critics in a meaningful way and be prepared to share some of their wealth with San Franciscans. Not only is the future of the city at stake, so is its present, because the housing justice movement won’t be ignored any longer. The good news is that San Francisco has a golden opportunity to test whether democracy can help solve the worst aspects of modern capitalism, offering an example to others if we succeed. But if our political leaders don’t create good faith avenues for meaningful reforms, San Francisco may offer a far messier and more contentious lesson.

A new holiday tradition: workers’ rights

9

The holiday season has officially started, and if you’re any kind of American, you know what that means. Hordes of wild-eyed shoppers have descended upon us.

If early morning stampedes at chain retailers and other hallmarks of the Black Friday phenomenon seem like a peculiar tradition, recent offshoots of the trend may prove even more bizarre. One is business’ attempt to claim other Thanksgiving week calendar slots as holiday-shopping bonanzas in their own right. Cyber Monday is the busiest online shopping day of the year, we’re told, while a growing number of intrepid early-birds skipped out on Turkey Day altogether to go bargain hunting on the woefully titled “Brown Thursday.”

Then there are the growing ranks of cynics who’ve found creative ways to critique in-your-face consumerism as a cultural deficiency, a sort of anti-Black Friday tradition. There’s Buy Nothing Day, an alt standby appealing to the conscience of the thoughtful consumer.

The web-based Black Friday Death Count (www.blackfridaydeathcount.com), documenting six years of violent incidents stemming from holiday shopping frenzies, reads like a stark condemnation of petty greed. Viral YouTube videos of squabbling gift buyers, meanwhile, suggest that a mass audience of Internet viewers is reaching for the popcorn and taking it all in, perhaps with the glee of blood-sport spectators.

Yet a different aspect of Black Friday 2013 deserves a second look. This year, low-wage employees who generally make Black Friday profits possible got louder in their demands for better working conditions.

Look at Walmart. It’s the nation’s largest employer, but its employees earn notoriously low wages — a fact highlighted by Black Friday protests staged outside Walmart stores nationwide, including in the Bay Area. For low-wage retail workers who can barely make ends meet let alone leave gift-wrapped digital devices under the tree, momentum seems to be building. The National Labor Relations Board recently announced its intention to pursue complaints against Walmart for illegally threatening and firing employees who participated in last year’s Black Friday protests.

Further up the supply chain, the Port of Oakland saw a work stoppage from a group of truckers last week who have fallen into dire straits financially. Classified as owner-operators instead of employees and therefore unable to unionize, many face potential job loss because they can’t afford engine retrofits needed to comply with new environmental regulations. The timing of their quasi-strike, just as container ships were coming into port with cargo destined for Black Friday sales shelves, was no coincidence.

All of which begs the question: If Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Buy Nothing Day can all be incorporated as modern American traditions that directly follow Thanksgiving, why not claim a slice of the pie as well for workers putting themselves at risk in the name of better conditions? If these struggles are effective, it will be one more thing to give thanks for.

 

We give thanks

0

EDITORIAL We offer a lot of criticism here on the Guardian’s editorial page, which is probably inescapable given the obvious failures of our political and economic systems to address the needs of the people and the planet and to uphold the progressive values that the Guardian and much of the Bay Area supports. We have so much potential, and it’s sometimes maddening when we fall short of realizing it.

So, this week, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, we’re going to put a positive spin on the civic scene and talk about some of the things that we’re thankful for.

We’re thankful to live in such a beautiful, vibrant place. San Francisco is one of the greatest cities in the world, both physically and culturally. And we’re thrice blessed to have Marin County and the East Bay — particularly the progressive and diverse cities of Oakland and Berkeley — just a short bridge ride away. Layer on top of that the nearby Sierras, Sonoma County, and the coastline from Point Reyes down to Santa Cruz and this is perhaps the best region on the planet.

We’re thankful to have a functional, modern transportation system that offers plenty of good alternatives to the automobile. While there’s certainly room for improvement, BART is an amazing transit system that closes the gap among the Bay Area’s many diverse communities, while Muni does a good job at ferrying huge numbers of people around this bustling city. Caltrain is a great link down the peninsula and we’re super excited to see it electrified and that transportation officials are working hard to connect downtown San Francisco to downtown Los Angeles with a long overdue high speed rail line. And we love how San Franciscans have embraced bicycles as an important everyday transportation option.

We’re thankful that so many smart, interesting, creative people have been drawn to San Francisco and its environs. This is home to recognized global leaders in pursuits ranging from technological innovation to progressive and environmental organizing and advocacy. We’re proud of the political initiatives hatched here in the Bay Area, from marriage equality to criminal justice reform. We have a cornucopia of artists and musicians tucked into every little nook of the city, from the stage of Slim’s to the studios of surreal Hunters Point Shipyard. And the locals here cook up some of the world’s best culinary offerings, from a plethora of fancy restaurants to quickie taquerias to surprisingly bountiful food trucks.

And we’re really thankful for you, the person reading these words. The Guardian has been around since 1966 because of the support of our readers, our advertisers, and our community, and we’re grateful that you’ve all given us the opportunity to offer the news, views, and reviews that are helping to shape this wonderful place. Happy Thanksgiving.

 

Single-payer is the cure

168

EDITORIAL We’re sorry to see all the problems surrounding President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which has made some important improvements to the country’s healthcare system, such as helping those with preexisting conditions get coverage and preventing those who do have coverage from being arbitrarily dropped. Given a break from being exploited by the insurance industry, there’s no way this country’s citizens will want to go back to how things were.

But the convoluted Obamacare system was a foreseeable mess, one that is now causing unnecessary anxiety across the country and bringing right-wing extremists back from the political dead as the mid-term elections approach. Republicans may not be correct when they trumpet the old system as the best on the world, but their criticisms of Obamacare are already finding increasing resonance, and we haven’t even gotten to the point yet where it will be illegal not to have health insurance.

It doesn’t make sense to leave something as important as our healthcare system in the hands of for-profit corporations with the incentive to drive up costs. The New York Times has done some excellent work this year showing how US residents pay astronomically more for every procedure and drug than citizens of other countries. We should have all been suspicious when the insurance industry cooperated with enacting Obamacare and helped preclude a public option, leaving us with the insurance exchanges that have been so problematic.

There’s really only one remedy to this country’s ailing healthcare system, which we said at the time that Obamacare was being passed and we’ll repeat again now that there’s even more evidence supporting our position: We need socialized medicine in this country.

Conservatives who read that assertion are probably shaking their heads in disbelief right now, believing that Obamacare’s shortcomings prove that government can’t run a healthcare system. And the inexcusable technical problems with the federal healthcare.gov website and its related state exchanges unfortunately reinforce that view. But they’re wrong, and the single-payer advocates have been right all along, noting among other things that the government runs Medicare well and with far lower overhead than insurance companies.

The problems with Obamacare are similar to the problems it sought to address, and they stem from the fact that an insurance-based model is a terrible way to run a healthcare system. It’s too expensive and does too little to hold down medical costs, it’s confusing and stressful to people who are already wrestling with disease or injury, and it unjustly creates different standards of care for the rich and poor.

Socialized medicine — or a single-payer system, administered by either government or a private contractor, but paid for automatically through our taxes — works well in just about every other industrialized country, most of which are far less expensive and yet have better healthcare outcomes. A single-payer system could utilize the existing healthcare infrastructure, it would simply change how we pay for it and bring much-needed price controls and regulatory oversight.

Think about it: Healthcare coverage is something that every citizen needs in equal measure. We all need the right to see a doctor when we’re sick or injured. None of us should have to gamble with our health by weighing the cost of various monthly insurance premiums against our likelihood of ending up in the hospital. And it really shouldn’t be up to struggling small businesses to pay expensive health insurance premiums for their employees, even though that’s really the only way to make the fatally flawed insurance model work.

There’s infighting among congressional Democrats now about whether to roll back parts of Obamacare, such as hospital subsidies and whether to let people remain on minimal catastrophic coverage plans, and all that will do it upset the careful balance the plan tried to achieve to hold down long-term costs.

For now, we need to apply whatever bandages needed to stop the bleeding and limp the flawed Obamacare along for a little while. But we also need to immediately start the difficult work of transitioning to a socialized medicine system.

 

Reduce California’s prison population

67

EDITORIAL California must reduce its prison population — as federal judges have been ordering for years to address severe overcrowding and substandard health care — and it should use this opportunity to completely reform its approach to criminal justice.

Instead, Gov. Jerry Brown has chosen to fight this reasonable directive, exporting thousands more of our inmates to other states and propping up the unseemly private prison industry in the process by signing a $28.5 million contract with Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America.

Last month, the federal judges overseeing California’s prison downsizing once again extended their Dec. 31 deadline for the state to cut its 134,000-person prison population by another 9,600 inmates, pushing it back to Feb. 24 while the state and lawyers for the prisoners try to negotiate a deal. An update on the status of negotiations is due Nov. 18.

We urge Gov. Brown to follow the lead of his fellow Bay Area Democrats in choosing a more enlightened path forward. Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-SF), who chairs the Assembly Public Safety Committee, has convened several recent hearings looking at alternatives to incarceration, including one on Nov. 13 focused on diversion and sentencing.

“I’m hoping to come up with a sentencing reform bill out of this hearing,” Ammiano told the Guardian, expressing hopes that Californians are ready to move past the fear-based escalation of sentences that pandering politicians pushed throughout the ’90s, continuing the progress the state has already made on reforming Three Strikes and some drug laws. Sen. Mark Leno has also provided important leadership on these issues.

There’s no justification for California to have among the highest incarceration rates in the world, four times the European average, and we should embrace the mandate to reduce our prison population with everything from sentencing reform to addressing poverty, police and prosecutorial bias, early childhood education, and other social and economic justice issues.

Closely related to reducing our prison population, at least in term of dropping the “get tough” attitudes that undermine our compassionate and humanity, is treating those we do incarcerate more humanely.

Ammiano and Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Oakland) helped end this summer’s prisoner hunger strike by holding a hearing on improving conditions in the prisons, including the possibility of abolishing cruel solitary confinement practices, as the United Nations recommends and even Mississippi has managed to do. And we think abolition of capital punishment should remain an important near-term goal.

Brown isn’t the most progressive on criminal justice issues, following in an unfortunate tradition of Democratic governors who fear being called soft on crime. But Ammiano sees hopeful signs of potential progress, and he has our support. Now is the time to move California’s criminal justice system into the 21st century.