Clean Power, the CIA, Hedge Funds … and are we really punishing the rich?
By Tim Redmond
FEBRUARY 9, 2015 – Question Time, the brilliant creation of former Sup. Chris Daly, has been pretty badly watered down.
The original idea was to force the mayor to appear before the Board of Supervisors once a month for a productive – and free-ranging – policy discussion. But then-Sup. David Chiu, as board president, negotiated the implementation rules with the Mayor’s Office, and the chief executive was fully protected from any real debate: The supes have to submit questions in advance, the mayor’s staff writes a response in advance, and the mayor simply reads the equivalent of a press release to the board.
If London Breed wants to make her mark as the new prez, she ought to change that: The idea, which the voters approved, was that the mayor – without his aides, without written responses to prepared questions – would have to debate and defend his policies, in public, with the supervisors free to ask anything they want. She can rewrite the rules to say: No written questions in advance. No written responses. The mayor ought to be able to show up and take a few questions and handle the discussion. If not, the voters ought to know that.
At any rate, I almost always go – because sometimes the questions are interesting, and because the mayor has to walk from the board chambers down the hall to his office, and along the way us pesky reporters get to do what the supes can’t – ask free questions, and follow up, and actually engage the mayor.
So this week, on Tuesday/10, the mayor will appear, and two supervisors submitted questions. They’re both about CleanPowerSF. Eric Mar and John Avalos want to know if the mayor is serious about pursuing, and putting resources, into a program that will allow the city to compete with Pacific Gas and Electric Co.
My question: Are you willing, Mr. Mayor, to say now, in public, that you will oppose any efforts by PG&E or its union, the IBEW, to undermine CleanPowerSF? There is no compromise, no consensus on this one; whose side are you on?
The mayor appears at the Board Chambers at City Hall, 2pm. Don’t get there later or you’ll miss it; Mayor Lee is pretty much always on time.
You want to know what the CIA is up to, has been up to, and is going to be up to? There’s a chance to hear from two experts this week. Peter Dale Scott, whose new book is The American Deep State, will join David Talbot, whose latest — The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles and the Rise of America’s Secret Government – hits the shelves this fall – will talk about the CIA vs. Democracy. Daniel Ellsberg will be making a guest appearance.
Presented by Green Arcade Books Wed/11, at 7 pm at the McRoskey Mattress Factory, 1687 Market Street (at Gough) in San Francisco. Admission: $5.
The fire at 22nd and Mission caused more than a short-term displacement: Many of the families will be priced out of San Francisco. There is no insurance coverage for the fact that rents are insane, no protection for people who not only lost everything they own (including passports and critical immigration documents) but also lost the ability to afford a new place. Many of the tenants had been living in rent-controlled units for more than 20 years.
The good news is that supporters have raised more than $160,000 to help them out. The goal is $200K; you can donate here, now. You can also call Airbnb customer service at 415-800-5959 or email email@example.com and ask if the company will underwrite “sharing” space for the displaced people.
Oh, and my other question for the mayor on Tuesday: What’s he going to do to make sure that the apartments are rebuilt as quickly as possible, so the original tenants get to move back in at their original rents?
I read the New York Times this weekend, and apparently Hillary Clinton is worried about her economic platform. She knows that a lot of her husband’s measures – welfare reform, Nafta – were unpopular with core Democrats, and she’s talking to Robert Reich. But:
Behind many of these proposals is a philosophy, endorsed by Mrs. Clinton’s closest economic advisers and often referred to as inclusive capitalism, that contends that a majority of Americans do not want to punish the rich; they just want to feel that they, too, have a chance to succeed. It also calls for corporations to put less emphasis on short-term profits that increase shareholder value and to invest more in employees, the environment and communities.
Wait: Punish the rich? Seriously? The rich have gotten where they are today, and economic inequality has become a major national problem, entirely because we have given so much to the rich. It’s no coincidence that the tax cuts and favorable treatment of corporations and investment vehicles that started under Reagan and continued with Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II and haven’t abated under Obama have, as a matter of consequence and policy, ensured that 100 percent of the economic gains of the US economy in the past 20 years have gone to the 1 percent.
You can’t fix this level of income inequality in this economy just by offering “opportunity” and a “level playing field.” You have to ask the 1 percent to contribute their fair share – which means they have to pay a lot more in taxes than they do today.
Why is the entire burden of economic inequality falling on the poor and middle class who have to “pull themselves up?” We didn’t start this class war; it was imposed on us. And now it’s time for a little honesty:
Any real platform for economic equality has to work both ways: Encourage opportunity, but also demand that the rich share more. Remember, in the post-War era, when the US economy was booming and the middle class growing and prosperity actually getting shared, the top marginal tax rate was at least 70 percent. That’s about double what it is today.
Asking the richest Americans to pay more isn’t punishment; it’s an acknowledgement that the economy doesn’t work well when a few have so much and so many have so little.
BTW: Nice of Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, to donate $75 million to SF General. If they were paying their fair share of taxes, they wouldn’t need to donate – that money would be available anyway. But more interesting: Who suddenly decided that we’re going the name the public hospital after them? Doesn’t that have to go to a vote of the Health Commission or the supes? Nothing against the Facebook founded, but the vast majority of the billion-dollar rebuild of SF general was paid for by the local taxpayers, who approved a bond act that is covered by property taxes.
Why not the “SF taxpayers General Hospital?” We gave more than ten times what the Zuckerbergs did.
And speaking of great wealth: The San Francisco Retirement Board is going to meet Wednesday/11 to decide whether to invest worker pension money in hedge funds. The last time this came up, pretty much every retired union member in the room opposed the idea: Hedge funds, they say, charge high fees and can bring in high returns, but are also high risk.
All of this is happening, of course, because city officials have tried to make easy decisions: Instead of fully funding retirement benefits, they have assumed in the past that the stock market would keep rising – and when it collapsed, everyone panicked.
Now the retirement system is being forced to get a high rate of return (to keep the city’s pension contributions low), and that’s a recipe for … well, a fight over hedge funds.
Public comment is at 1pm. 1145 Market, 6th floor.