Mayoral Race Polling, Pensions, and Plutocracy

by on January 27, 2014 · 1 comment

in Civil Rights, Economy, Election, Labor, San Diego, Under the Perfect Sun

yo voteBy Jim Miller

Last week a new poll by Public Policy Polling (PPP) funded by the Democratic Party came out that showed the race to become San Diego’s next mayor a dead heat with Alvarez at 46% and Faulconer just behind with 45%.

In another poll, Latino Decisions and the Latino Victory Project appraised Latino voters on the race and got radically different results than both the earlier Survey USA/UT-SD poll, a Republican Party poll , and the more recent PPP effort showing that Alvarez leads 75%-10% among Latino voters.

The Latino Decisions’ analysis argues that, “Rather than showing a 46-45 result, with more accurate Latino data the PPP poll would show Alvarez leading Faulconer by 5 to 6 points.” Thus their evaluation concludes that outreach to and mobilization of Latino voters could put Alvarez over the top.

This was followed by yet another Survey USA/UT-SD poll yesterday that did not follow the Latino Decisions model but still showed Faulconer up by only 5%, an eleven-point surge in support for Alvarez since their last survey. So by almost all accounts it’s a tight race as we head toward the finish line.

The bottom line is that turn out and ground game will determine this election. So, if you want a progressive mayor for San Diego, volunteer, vote, donate and we will win. If you sit it out, enjoy Mayor Faulconer and the return to business as usual in San Diego.

The Plot Against Pensions

pensionpigAnyone paying attention to the mayor’s race can’t miss the fact that Team Faulconer are continuing to demagogue on pensions while systematically misleading the public about the impact of Proposition B in order to promote their man as a reform hero out to bring money to your neighborhood without raising a single penny of new revenue. Of course this goes hand in hand with Faulconer’s deep contempt for workers, particularly when they are part of unions and are employed in the public sector.

In essence, the core of his campaign is to demonize unions as the source of all things bad in San Diego and the world in general as he ignores the role played by the “new fiscal populism” he espouses in causing the pension crisis that he just can’t stop talking about.

As Steve Erie, Vladimir Kogan, and Scott MacKenzie note in their illuminating but largely ignored book on San Diego’s political history and culture Paradise Plundered: Fiscal Crisis and Governance Failure in San Diego:

Contrary to claims made by conservative critics, we find little evidence that gross waste and budgetary excess were the primary causes of San Diego’s financial collapse. On the contrary, we show that, for decades, funding and service levels for most city services in San Diego have lagged behind other major California municipalities. Already underfunded before the pension scandal, San Diego’s public services continued to face further cuts as the fiscal crisis narrowed the options available to close the budget deficit.

But sadly, in San Diego, very little mind is paid to this historical fact as the evil “government unions” line is rarely questioned or countered by the media even if it is accompanied by gross falsehoods. That’s how the anti-union gospel is transformed into unquestioned hegemony. But to ignore the bigger picture context and frame the pension issue as if unions are the only interested party badly distorts reality.

Thus whether we are talking about the situation here in San Diego, the pension reform measure potentially headed toward the ballot at the statewide level here in California, or the pension debate on the national stage, little effort is made to question how the “pension crisis” narrative is constructed and by whom.

While I have long since given up on the mainstream media’s desire to report on the pension issue with any larger historical or political context, there is more to the story than is usually reported. And how the issue is framed does a lot to help determine how the public thinks about it.

The context that most consumers of local, statewide, and national media never get is what the end game is behind pension reform. What we usually do get is plenty of demonization of “overpaid” public employees and horror stories about the coming fiscal disaster that will ensue unless we gut the retirements of public servants.

This is not to say that there aren’t serious issues to address, but rather that the anti-pension chorus as currently constituted is singing a siren song that serves as a smokescreen for a larger political agenda that is most definitely not in the interests of the average American.

Simply put, the forces behind “pension reform” in San Diego, California, and the nation at large don’t want to “reform” pensions in order to save secure retirements for American workers, they would like to end them for everyone—just see the UT-San Diego’s utopian tract about “Fixing California” if you don’t believe me, and ask the UT-SD’s own workers how their employer is gutting their retirement security. And after that, the folks who are bringing you pension reform nationwide would like to take yet another shot at privatizing Social Security.

Recently, a report authored by investigative journalist David Sirota for the Institute for America’s Future outlined what is driving what they call “The Plot Against Pensions”. Some of their findings include:

  • Conservative activists are manufacturing the perception of a public pension crisis in order to both slash modest retiree benefits and preserve expensive corporate subsidies and tax breaks.
  • The amount states and cities spend on corporate subsidies and so-called tax expenditures is far more than the pension shortfalls they face. Yet, conservative activists and lawmakers are citing the pension shortfalls and not the subsidies as the cause of budget squeezes. They are then claiming that cutting retiree benefits is the solution rather than simply rolling back the more expensive tax breaks and subsidies.
  • The pension “reforms” being pushed by conservative activists would slash retirement income for many pensioners who are not part of the Social Security system. Additionally, the specific reforms they are pushing are often more expensive and risky for taxpayers than existing pension plans.
  • The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation are working together in states across the country to focus the debate over pensions primarily on slashing retiree benefits rather than on raising public revenues.
  • The Laura and John Arnold Foundation is run by conservative political operatives and funded by an Enron billionaire.
  • The current campaign to slash public pension benefits has relied on many of the same PR strategies as President Bush’s earlier campaign to privatize Social Security. In that sense, the campaign against public pensions is an exercise in perfecting methods that manufacture the perception of a crisis – and then result in cuts to guaranteed retirement income. If the state-based crusade against public pensions is successful, it will probably fuel a renewed effort to privatize Social Security.

So, keep in mind, once the pension busters are done screwing those fat cats driving garbage trucks, putting out fires, teaching your kids, and running the library, they are coming for you and your meager Social Security check. Once that’s gone you can rely on all the money you have saved for your retirement.

Oh wait—if you are like the majority of Americans nearing retirement age, you don’t have nearly enough or nothing at all in the bank or in your 401(k). Bummer, guess you should have been more frugal, more of a maker and less of a taker. Welcome to the race to the bottom in your golden years.

The Wages of Plutocracy

austerity_not-workingContrast this reality with the latest round of stunning facts about our current obscene level of economic inequality that show us that things are getting worse with 80% of Americans sharing only 7% of the total financial wealth. Yes, the richest 400 individuals in our country own more than three-fifths of America and took in more than enough money to fund the entire social safety net. In fact, 13 Americans made more than the entire budget for food stamps.

That might just be enough to get your blood boiling about the enshrined privilege of our nation’s historically bloated plutocracy . . . unless of course the pension busters can get you madder about public sector workers retiring with some dignity while you have nothing.

Yeah, that’s the ticket. Pit that last segment of American workers with retirement security against those who have lost it and convince them that they have more to gain by dragging their neighbors down into the hole that they’re in rather than raising everybody up by rethinking how we distribute the pie from the top down to solve what amounts to a coming national retirement crisis for the majority of Americans who don’t have enough to take care of themselves in their old age.

That’s how we get inequality and diminishing returns for all locally, nationally, and internationally. As the guy who takes care of the garden around my rental house recently told me during one of our political chats, “Yeah, sometimes I get jealous of those guys with good retirement checks, but if they took that away from them, what would it get me? Nothing, that’s what,” he said with a rueful laugh, “I’d still be working till I die.”

So it goes unless we change it.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

avatar Frances O'Neill Zimmerman January 27, 2014 at 2:30 pm

Great column. Send it to your friends and relations.

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