Who Do We Shoot? A Paycheck Away from Poor in America’s Finest City

by on October 24, 2011 · 14 comments

in Economy, Election, Politics, San Diego, Under the Perfect Sun

Recently, Clare Crawford of the Center on Policy Initiatives noted that, “Even three full-time minimum wage jobs don’t make enough to make ends meet in San Diego County.” Crawford was responding to the release of a report by the Insight Center for Community Economic Development that documented how it now costs a family of three nearly $63,000 to make ends meet in San Diego.

This is according to the 2011 California Family Self-Sufficiency Standard and the grim news is that more than one million San Diegans are living in households earning less than that threshold.  That’s close to a third of all San Diegans, much higher than the fifteen percent of San Diegans who fall under the official poverty line.

As the Insight Center’s report notes, “The Self- Sufficiency Standard provides county-specific costs for housing, food, and health care, as well as costs associated with work including transportation, child care, and taxes. The Self-Sufficiency Standard is a more accurate calculation of income adequacy than other measures of economic well-being, such as the Federal Poverty Level.”  Thus, much like the official unemployment numbers that dramatically underestimate the number of unemployed, the official poverty rate ignores what it really takes for people to make a decent living.

And if we consider the fact that many more of us are uncomfortably near that margin, we start getting a very different image of the city than the one we see on the local news.  Indeed, as the gap between the rich and the poor has grown, the middle class has shrunk and social mobility has decreased, even here in America’s Finest City.  But the invisibility of that fact in our media and politics is a kind of quiet violence.  It’s what helps keep the current hegemony going.  If you conceal the fact that most of us are much closer (maybe just a paycheck away) to the poor than we are to the rich, it makes easier to shield the obscenely privileged elite that has profited greatly at our expense.

Before Occupy Wall Street stole the national spotlight, Americans had been blaming all the wrong people—unions, immigrants, government workers, the poor—everybody but the folks who actually caused the economic crisis.  It’s always easier to blame the guy who lives across the street, it seems, so we direct our fire at each other rather than aiming up at the real culprits.

All this makes me think of the scene in the Grapes of Wrath where the tenant farmer comes out to confront another guy on a tractor who is just about to roll over his house. The farmer levels his gun at the driver, who tells him it’s not his fault, that he is just working for his boss who answers to the bank in town who answers to other folks back east who answer to a system that is out of everyone’s control.

The monster is not a man but a system that makes it nearly impossible for ordinary folks to know “who to shoot,” as the farmer puts it. So we aim down (at the poor or the weak or the children) because we can’t comprehend how to grapple with our faceless masters, those who have greatly benefited while most of us have suffered during this economic crisis—the corporations who get tax breaks while we keep paying, the rich people who never seem to pay even when their economic behavior verges on the criminal.

This has been the miracle of the Tea Party movement that has harnessed the same sort of populist anger that back in the ’30s helped create the CIO and the New Deal. Today, some of the folks with the pitchforks are pushing in the other direction, however, hollering for policies that will benefit those who are most responsible for the economic crisis—budget cuts, more tax cuts, less government, less regulation and weakened unions.

It’s the anti-New Deal era in many ways, and in the Golden State we are pink slipping teachers, cutting aid to the most-needy, and downsizing our expectations for the future in the service of the notion that if we just shrink government, somehow the economy will work better for all of us. It’s a perverse irony, but, for some, a new social Darwinism is the God’s truth.

If one good thing comes out of the Occupation of America, I hope it is a reawakening to the realities of class and economic inequality.  It’s only when we understand that wealth has been radically redistributed upward, that we can have an accurate cognitive map of power at the national and local level.

Maybe people are starting to get a clue and figuring out “who to shoot.”  If it’s Wall Street and its allies at the international and national level, where do we aim here at home in San Diego?

Perhaps you can only be duped into blaming your sanitation workers, librarians, and firefighters for all things evil for so long.  The real power in San Diego doesn’t lie with these working and middle class folks or with any other “special interests” other than the corporate welfare hogs that have consistently milked our municipal cow for their pet projects.  As I pointed out in my recent review of Paradise Plundered: Fiscal Crisis and Governance Failures in San Diego, the authors thoroughly document how, “San Diego’s political and business elite have done a fantastic job of ‘using pubic resources to maximize private profit’ with little to no oversight from our ‘shadow governments’ and local media who they accuse of  ‘largely representing downtown business interests.’”

And no one embodies the lust for privatization and social Darwinist economics better than Carl DeMaio whose agenda, as I illustrated earlier this year in my “Wisconsin of the West” columns, “is connected to a larger, nationwide web of think tanks whose decades-long intellectual assault on unions, the public sector, and even the very notion of government is now bearing fruit from Wisconsin to California.”

If DeMaio or any of his Republican allies win the mayor’s race, we are in for Wisconsin style austerity in San Diego.  Don’t let the smiling face of Nathan Fletcher or the milder manner of Bonnie Dumanis fool you either.  The Right as a whole is no friend of affordable public services.  Hence it is crucial to understand that, as I noted, “while some on the local right might be happy to oppose cuts in some services when it serves their political interests, don’t let that take your eye off the ball.  Anyone who wants to go anywhere in the contemporary Republican Party, can’t stand by any public service for too long—especially if he or she can find a private enterprise to run it ‘more efficiently.’  OB library and/or Balboa Park brought to you by company X can’t be too far down the line.”

So the mayoral race here in San Diego between DeMaio et al and Bob Filner is really about something bigger.  As I concluded in the “Wisconsin of the West” series: “the battle to save unions, nationally and here in San Diego, is really, at its heart, a battle to save the middle class.  If you side with Carl DeMaio and his ilk, you side with plutocracy, growing inequality, and a weaker middle class. As the old song says, ‘Whose side are you on,’ San Diego?  Are you with fear and envy or hope and solidarity?”

I know there will be readers of this column who will disdain the focus on the partisan politics of our broken system, but, in this case, they really matter. Yes, one mayor’s race won’t bring down the system, but it will have a tangible effect on real peoples lives.  You can keep up direct action, maintain skepticism, and vote at the same time.  The perfect need not be the enemy of the good.

If the early polls are indicative, it will be a race between DeMaio, the pure product of the right wing, corporate-funded think tanks and Filner, a man who began his career as a Freedom Rider, going to jail for civil rights.  DeMaio wouldn’t even show up at a forum held by community activists and labor, while Filner said he was “inspired” by the Occupy Wall Street movement and wants to get rid of San Diego’s shadow government by disbanding the Center City Development Corporation.  He also wants to solve the pension crisis without throwing workers under the bus and use the savings to fund public services. He wants to make it a central goal of the city to eliminate homelessness and create a working port to provide good jobs.  The choice could not be starker.

Let’s hope that some of the energy coming out of OWS will seep into our race for mayor and change the frame of the debate.  Bob Filner is not our political messiah by any stretch of the imagination, but, if elected, he would be the most progressive mayor in the history of San Diego and his victory would be a big defeat for the San Diego’s own plutocrats.  And then . . . the struggle will continue.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

doug porter October 24, 2011 at 11:49 am

And if arrogance towards public workers wasn’t enough, DeMaio’s also apparently decided he can win this election by campaigning almost exclusively north of interstate 8. (Check out his campaign site events! The locales are so white they may as well put a sheet on it and call them a Klan meetings.) That way he won’t have to face any of the “poors” or the non-white neighborhoods of our city.


Nathaniel Greene October 24, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Armed revolution.


Paul Hitchings October 24, 2011 at 12:40 pm


Do you think you are building a better America by making a generalization that people that are “so white” are more likely to have an affiliation with the Ku Klux Klan?

We can have a conversation about human services, politics and the future of San Diego, or we can bring it all back to rich vs. poor and “whites vs. minorities.

The fact is, everyone in San Diego will be affected by changes made by our future leaders regardless of their social status.

I am offering free videos to business owners, students and any other American trying to build a better America.

What are you doing to buildabatteramerica.org?


imominous October 24, 2011 at 12:42 pm

“Who to shoot?”

How about a mayor who, ignoring the people, is still trying to figure out how to ram an expensive football stadium down San Diego’s collective throat. Watching the manipulation of the stadium issue go from a stadium to an “entertainment district” encompassing the Convention Center…it’s just awesome. Like watching a bucket of hagfish make slime.

If San Diegans want the status quo to continue, allowing the looting of our region at the expense of the people who actually live here, the mayor’s race offers the perfect choice.

I’m afraid that the locals who consider themselves conservative will ignore the issues and make another stunningly bad choice for mayor. Despite all our colleges and universities, San Diego voters repeatedly cast their ballots toward people who perpetuate the problems plaguing our city.


Goatskull October 24, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Keep in mind that the majority of students at the colleges and universities here are not from SD, and most of them will eventually leave SD at some point after graduation. The other thing is, education doesn’t necessarily equate to how a person votes.


glenn allen October 24, 2011 at 1:09 pm

Let’s keep real, ok? Can’t you see that both sides are lying to us in order to advance their agenda.
It really comes down to an oligarchy, rule by a few elites, and a republic, rule of law. Neither one is perfect but if I have to choose, I’ll choose a republic, which is the rule of law not a mob or a few rich people, or no rule at all. Unless you want to go for communism or socialism, both those have worked realllllly well. You ready to give up more of what you have so that I can have more? Then send me the check!
Each side is being financed by big money from somewhere. Lippman said-“If you cannot control people through force of arms then you must manufacture their consent. ” How do you do that? It takes a lot of cash to buy peoples opinion.
I am an independent liberal democratic republican, the IDLR, I sit on the fence and see who wins then exploit them to make a profit! Either way it is a win for me. I made a ton selling Obama stickers, just like I did selling GW Bush T shirts. Which side am I on ? MINE.
Who gives a crap about national identity, sovereign nations , rule of law, the constitution, bill of rights or any of that? Those are all archaic antiquated ideas , just like religion. It’s about money and nothing else. The grabbing hand grabs all it can , every thing counts in large amounts.
Why not have one big world corp that puts profit before everything else? It is the way things are and will continue to be because money buys power and influence.
It is simple really, We are broke, we pissed the money away and now we have to ante up or get out of the game. There is no free lunch. If your not sure who to shoot, it’s usually the people who are shooting at you.
Sadly, it will be the side with the most money or the biggest guns that wins. Always has and always will be. Right or left they don’t care and it doesn’t matter because both sides are pawns in a game that can’t be won by writing articles in some rag paper or occupying a park.
There will be another civil war and I can’t wait, I’ll make a killing in the black market. Am I part of the problem, hell yes, I am! But let’s just see who comes out on top. Greed or Good intentions. Good luck, your going to need it.


Andrew D. Reiff October 24, 2011 at 1:22 pm

Who to Shoot, Jim?
You’re a good writer, I agree with what you are saying, but as far as shooting, it’s your foot that you’ve solidly targeted.

Who To Shoot? It’s a stupid and dangerous provocation in the age of Gabrielle Gifford. Getting attention from a headline is a journalistic tradition but you have exhibited a tasteless way to employ it.

Jim, I hope you do not see this as nit picking, though I’m bugged over it. And I hope you continue the good work that you do.

As H.G. Wells said, “The first man to raise a fist is the man who has run out of ideas.” Amend that to include the man who has run out of ideas will adopt the most stupid headline he reads online.


Arthur Salm October 24, 2011 at 5:01 pm

First, to Andrew J. Reiff: Actually, it IS nitpicking: Jim first referenced a classic scene in “Grapes of Wrath,” then put “Who to shoot?” in quotes, which clearly labels it hyperbole for effect.

But to extend (at some risk!) Jim’s hyperbole, through OWS+ people are finally figuring out who to shoot. (Sorry: “shoot”) If you can get people to stop and think, and listen, and maybe read just a little bit, they’ll learn that librarians, teachers, trash collectors, janitors, landscapers, maintenance workers, and other public employees aren’t the problem here. The problem is corporations voraciously exploiting our largely unregulated free-enterprise system. Under capitalism, some people will inevitably accumulate more wealth than others. Thus it has always been; all well and … all well and okay, anyway. But once people gain wealth they gain power, and they begin to game the system, to tilt the board further and further, until damn near all the riches are funneled to fewer and fewer people. To make it work, the rich and powerful gin up the increasingly irresponsible media to demonize those who still retain the hard-won benefits (gained mostly thanks to unions, directly or indirectly) that secured the middle class: “You don’t get a pension or decent health care — why should HE”? So we turn on each other instead of on them. Setting the middle class against the lower middle class and the poor is an old game with a long, successful history, but maybe, now, the game is up.


La Playa Heritage October 24, 2011 at 5:37 pm

Congressman Filner wants to get rid of CCDC and make them pay the full $228 million they stole in Federal CDBG funds.

In comparison, Fletcher sold out the poor and Homeless through the midnight elimination of the CCDC Cap, in order to not increase Affordable Housing set-aside from the current 20 percent to 30 percent minimum, and target housing for the Homeless and very poor.


12/07/10 The TRUE story behind raising the CCDC cap.
by Pat Flannery


Councilman Carl DeMaio is the only person from City Hall that has challenged CCDC regarding Homeless issues, and the midnight elimination of the CCDC Cap.




malcolm migacz October 25, 2011 at 12:24 pm

I believe that the tractor operator should have been shot. The operator is still a part of the problem. In that he works for the bank. He has been corrupted and his idea that it’s the big cats that are out of control should have been his motivation not to to operate that tractor.


JMW October 26, 2011 at 1:26 pm

Who do we shoot?
I think it might be better if, at least for the foreseeable future, we planned not to shoot anyone; never can tell when the definitions might change.
Still, even if shooting someone isn’t a goal, the question remains: Who is responsible for the inequity and the injustices which it has bred and that are evident in our society today?
My ruminations on the subject have led to some conclusions similar to some of those expressed in previous comments.
Those with political power (whatever the system) tend to enrich themselves, those with money characteristically successfully invest in keeping as much of it as possible, and money is used to influence society’s perceptions, hence “decisions.”
In addition, this top-loaded system and top-heavy system uses the children of the poor (by a wide margin) to fight its wars; nothing new there. Then, this system waves a flag and says, “Aren’t we great!” Well, I’m having trouble getting enthusiastic.
Since World War II, the wars do not seem to the layman to have been fought for persuasive reasons. Wars, you know, make dead people; quite a few usually.
Today, I do want to ask that question, “Who do we …,” but it would just lead me in the wrong direction, so I won’t.
But I will ask Glenn Allen: Are you serious? A plant? Take that either way.


glenn allen October 26, 2011 at 7:25 pm

Serious as hell. I am one of the poor children who fought your wars, the son of a poor child who fought your wars. Our freedom and culture was built on the backs and the blood of the poor. We use them as our lubricant for our killing machines and the excuse for all our sins. Itis the same the whole world over, you know it is a bloody shame, it is the rich what get’s the credit and the poor that get’s the blame.
Look we have been playing a game of “f**K your buddy”for a looooooong time. We the people, are commodities in a global market that we embraced heart and soul and can’t exist without it. You can’t have extreme wealth without extreme poverty.
We could form resilient communities, grow our own food,empower people to be self reliant and self sufficient because there is sufficient abundance for all of us yet we won’t. We spend our money on toys and games like children. We treat our pets better than some humans.
We are blinded by the media. enslaved by our bosses, oppressed by our government and we put bumper stickers on our cars to speak our beliefs hoping that’ll show the bastards.
We are fat, lazy selfish childish culture that has become a plague upon both our houses, We long to be a corporate whore and worship their brand names like our gods.
All life is trampled down by our greed and we don’t stop to think we might need a little love and piece of mind. It is one for one and all for nobody, everyone plays alone and like dogs we beg for the bones.
You really think there is a peaceful solution to all this? There will a lot of blood spilled to match the blood on our hands. We the people, stood by like sheep and let it happen, watched it remotely on TV.
We can no longer hide from our greed, lust, and inhumanity to man. If you want to survive your going to have to get tough and ruthless. None of us are innocent and only have ourselves to blame.
Serious? you bet I am! A plant? Nope. I am only on my side and plan to survive at any cost. Count on it brothers and sisters. Which side are you on?
There’s a battle outside and it is raging, it will soon shake your windows and rattle your walls. The times they are a-changing.


JMW October 27, 2011 at 2:35 am

So am I, a veteran that is. What I think is that violence makes violence. Can’t go that way. Whether meaningful change can be accomplished peacefully, I don’t know. There are precedents, though, and one thing is certain: if we who want change endorse violence, then there will be violence. That’s not a step to seriously contemplate except in the most dire circumstances, and it is one to which everyone who chooses it would have to be committed. You seem to be all over the map; one time you’re an ardent capitalist, the next you’re quoting Dylan and raging about wrongs. Which is it?


Obbop November 19, 2011 at 11:49 am

There will never be any meaningful change within the USA, especially economic change with the ever-upward stream of the national wealth into but a few hands and to corporate USA, unless a military coup led by honorable loyal-to-the-USA and ALL the citizens within officer corps and a large cadre of their troops, sailors, etc. forces the various entrenched systems, bureaucracies and multitude of governments from local to federal to change.

Voting does not and will not create meaningful change.

Many reasons for that requiring too much conveying of why that is so.

Of this I am convinced.

It took decades of reading, living life, etc. AND casting aside some of the implanted indoctrination by the most effective propaganda systems ever created that is designed to enforce the status quo so profitable to the small minority of people and institutions (corporate USA etc.) for me to come to the realization that ONLY a military coup can alter the USA.

Civilian insurrection or revolution is extremely unlikely to have any effect in either alter the existing systems or creating an effective new one.

I truly fear the USA is doomed to fall/fail.

The “house is divided.”

The upper-crust will have their oligarchy.

We, the People face a bleak future.

Of course, merely one Disgruntled Old Coot’s Opinion huddled within a shanty atop the Ozark Plateau over yonder ‘cross the holler on the other side of the ridge where Ma is cookin’ up a tassel of ‘possum stew in her store-bought BIG iron kettle to feed Me and her and our herd of younguns and those other varmints we’re not quite sure who they belong to but they gotta’ be fed and our younguns’ will disappear for a few days and somebody feeds them so I suppose it all equals out in the long run.

The county revnooer wanted 80 dollars more property tax this year despite the shanty prices falling and wages dropping and jobs disappearing.

Good think the morel mushroom harvest was good thisn’ year so i can pay the local feds their bribe to have a shelter needed for mere survival.

Is taxing what is needed to keep a human alive morally right?

How do ye city slickers think ’bout that?

$380 hard-to-get Union greenbacks for a run-down shanty. Mighty sad.

Round these parts during the War of Northern Aggression none of our past kin or their neighbors owned or even necessarily believed in that slavery stuff. It hurt us’n folks from getting work over yonder in the low-lands!!!

We fought the invaders to keep BIG government outta’ our lives and the folks hereabouts doing’ that thar Occupy/99 per center stuff seems to be wantin’ today’s BIG government and bizness to be gettin’ offn’ our backs.

Ma’s finished that stew and there’s some taters floatin’ in thar’ and I be lovin’ taters and I gotta’ beat that pile of younguns and smack a few within’ my stick so Pa can get a BIG bowl of vittles.

Good luck to thee and ye with thine fightin’ the feds and Zeke and Jebediah fron the tother’ side of the holler say “Howdy, y’all” and to mosey on back fer’ a visit.


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