Friday, August 28, 2009

The Old Radical

By Mark Ross, Contributing Writer

I used to have a friend who was very politically involved, as an Anarchist.

He was a Wobbly -- a dues paying member of the International Workers of the World, the IWW. History books call them an anarcho-syndicalist labor organization. He was radicalized in the Army during the Korean War, as an enlisted Army Intelligence operative. When the war ended he joined the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA).

When I knew him he was a typesetter and I was a printer. He lived in a modest abode with wife and daughter in North Oakland, just below the Berkeley line. He and his wife were New Yorkers who had moved west.

When they married, Paul Krasner (of Realist fame) conducted the ceremony. He got into graphic arts in the CPUSA to help spread the word. He quit the CPUSA because of Stalin’s ruthlessness, and more fundamentally because of his resistance to authoritarian structures and joined the Wobblies, a membership he continued for the rest of his life.

During much of the time I knew him I was vice chairman of the Alameda County Libertarian Party. I used to stop by to visit, and we would talk politics.

He called Libertarians “White Anarchists” as compared to Black Anarchists, such as himself.

Black Anarchists are populists, antagonistic to corporate institutions. White Anarchist Libertarians are free enterprisers who trust individual sovereignty regardless of structure.

There was once an Anarchist gathering in San Francisco. It was really some kind of adolescent anti-globalist mob that demanded more government intervention in peoples’ problems. He couldn’t stop laughing.

Severe times stimulate political radicalism. We are at the beginning of the latest wave, and conservatives are at the leading edge. It is my opinion that the tipping point has already been reached, and the plethora of tax increases and Orwellian attempts at micromanaging our lives is antagonizing the public against a government establishment that is putting itself first before the people for whose benefit it ostensibly exists.

What next? Unless elections are suspended due to the “national emergency,” a referendum on the public’s relationship to the government will be held next year.

I typically expect ambiguous results. Vut there’s plenty of time to build a watershed. My calculation is that changing people’s minds (beyond what actual circumstances are doing) involves the slaughtering of sacred cows.

A clichéd defense too often used by big government types (a.k.a. “state-ists”) is that people want the services that government offers, but they’re reluctant to pay for them. The truth is that most services were invented for marginalized constituencies so they could be politically manipulated come election time, but there’s seldom much of any necessity or broad support for these sacred cows.

The recent slashing of the California budget has left many in politics scared to death: what if the sharp decrease in government spending goes largely unnoticed among the electorate?

The activist media will, of course, trot out carefully selected “victims” of fiscal responsibility, but we’re already tired of such obvious stunts.

The most sacred of all cows is government-run education. Immunity from competitive forces has led to declining performance in basic requirements. In plain English (for those of you who went to government schools), they’re doing a crappy job of teaching children.

There’s no magic pill that government schools can swallow that will change this. The only reason we still let the government run the schools is that they alone have the power to tax and thus dislocate the money stream from the client-provider interface.

We are currently watching the government attempt to complete the same dislocation in health care. It's a classic example of reach exceeding grasp.

School vouchers represent a workable compromise between education reform and the government’s power to provide the money stream. It merely adds competition, both for faculty and students.

Critics wonder where poor people will go to have their children educated -- only because the critics have no imagination (and habitually think poor people must be stupid). Everybody gets the same voucher. Many private schools do better work with less money than government schools.

The critics also contend that not all private schools are good. That is both in the eyes of the beholders and subject to the influences of competition. And it implies that consumers can’t be trusted to consume properly and require the assistance of a preponderance of bureaucrats to steer them straight.

Competition works for colleges. Public and private institutions compete directly with each other for students and faculty.

The final liberal whine about vouchers is that government schools are mandated to perform services to the community that private schools don’t do.

But most of these mandates are inhibitors to the educational process, such as mainstreaming “special needs” students at tremendous expense while never relieving them of their special needs. Some special needs students can be mainstreamed -- others cannot.

They’re individuals just like the rest of us. With vouchers, ambitious entrepreneurs can target under-served types of students and benefit both their own bottom line and the students and their families.

One time, when I was visiting my Black Anarchist friend he gave me some really big news: He had just been elected president of the Wobblies. He didn’t even know he was a candidate.

Also, he had just been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Now you see why I’ve referred to him in the past tense. But I know that he would agree with vouchers as stated in this essay because he was an old radical.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Run Ron Run

By Mark Ross, Contribuing Writer

Is it me… or does anyone else think that it’s sort of curious that mayoral candidates are lining up in Oakland… as if the incumbent has announced his retirement… which he hasn’t? Talk about foregone conclusions.

Another question: Is Don Perata the man to save Oakland?

Or, is he going to do for Oakland what he has already done for California… get termed out just as the enterprise goes off a financial cliff. Oh, that’s right… Oakland is already off the cliff.

Here’s a rephrase: Does Don Perata have any financial talent whatsoever? He’s a prodigious fund raiser. So prodigious in fact that the FBI found him extremely interesting… that is until Democrats took over the Department of Justice. In practice, however, prodigious fund raising tends to be connected with profligate spending. Not a good sign.

Back to Ronald V. Dellums. Why would I or anybody suggest that he continue his breathtakingly inept tenure as Oakland’s chief executive? I really don’t want him in the job… I never have. I want to stir the pot.

Oakland and environs are the sole political property of the left-wing Democrat establishment. Period. They are at war with common sense.

To improve the competitive advantage of common sense it is best to divide the enemy into as many disparate factions as is possible. Dellums has a loyal constituency -- who knows why -- that represents votes that would be torn away from Perata, Quan, DeLaFuente, Hans Reiser, whoever.
A good reason for the lack of success of conservative political agendas is that conservatives just aren’t as ruthless as the neo-Marxists. Maybe that should change.

Just to further befuddle the point… I tend to subscribe to the Groucho (not Karl) Marx philosophy. He said “I’d never join a club that would have me as a member.”

I paraphrase: I’m reluctant to vote for a candidate who would actually want to win an election. William F. Buckley once ran for mayor of New York City. A reporter asked him what would be the first thing he would do if elected. “Demand a recount” was his answer.

A partial explanation for the expanding chaos of public sector institutions is the selection process that empowers the decision makers. The presidency is the most obvious example. We have invested way too much power in a single mortal being. Only the most driven, megalomaniacal control freak would seek such a punishing situation.

Ronald V. Dellums and Oakland are microcosmic analogs of this problem. Dellums’ perceived failure as mayor has been enhanced by his complete lack of executive experience.

The voters assumed that success as a member of congress (who never drafted any significant legislation) would easily translate into mayoral success. Lions of the Left have some kind of mysterious talent for making things work -- so they think.

(Matier & Ross just wrote that Dizzy Debbie Edgerly, in her suit against Oakland, claimed that Dellums’ wife, Cynthia, wanted Debbie to use city funds to pay the Dellums’ PG&E bill for May of 2008. The bill was $1,600. Now that’s a carbon footprint that would make even Sasquatch blush.)

Chip Johnson, a few years ago, wrote in the Chronicle that a significant impediment to running Oakland is the whole menagerie of agenda pushers. You have your tenants’ rights pimps, public employee unions, tree huggers, illegal alien huggers, vagrant huggers, public safety advocates, paroled felon huggers, medicinal pot merchants, developers and open space huggers. I’m sure I left many out, but brevity is the soul of something.

Why Dellums ever wanted to be mayor remains a mystery. He could have made a lot more money arranging government grants for the likes of the Black Muslim Bakery. But the lure of conspicuous public eminence was too strong to resist.

Should it come to pass that the various “progressive” cliques that monopolize our local political processes start warring with each other, in a way more severe and littered with casualties than in the past, then a focused campaign for common sense would have a better shot at coming in ahead of the pack.

Divide and conquer. Annnnnnnnd, a Dellums candidacy for re-election would be a major plus in this direction.

Run Ron Run! It’s got a ring to it. So, let’s start an ad hoc “Re-elect Ron Dellums Committee.” Nothing official… just a reason for the old man’s political hormones to start flowing again. Who needs comedians when our alleged “leaders” are even bigger buffoons.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Rational Vs. Irrational Discrimination

This week's edition of the Berkeley Daily Planet really was chock full of commentaries on racism (all from the predictable point of view), so I thought I'd continue with the same theme today.

The Daily Planet published an opinion piece by Cecil Brown entitled "Racial Profiling and Swimming While Black." I encourage you to read it, but the gist of it is that Brown, a Black UC Berkeley professor, was hassled by the police at the UC swimming pool apparently because some other Black guy had earlier caused trouble at the pool.

Someone called the cops mistakenly thinking Prof. Brown was the troublemaker. This was obviously very embarrassing and troubling for the Prof. Brown.

Prof. Brown then decided the police were racists who hated Black people, so he wrote a rap song about the experience.

Now I'd like to tell you a story from my own past. I'm white.

When I was about 20 years old, I was in my home town, back from college for spring break or some such, and I decided to drive with two friends down to the bowling alley. I was your typical college kid -- ratty looking hair, ratty looking car, ratty looking clothes.

On the way, I was driving a little too fast and a police officer pulled me over. This was on a major street in a small town, so there were lots of onlookers.

The cop came to the window and asked for my license, registration and insurance. I reached over to the glove box to get the latter two items.

When I opened the glove box, I realized there was a problem. You see, this car wasn't so hot, and I found myself needing often to adjust the idle screw, which was located in a sort of well in the engine. The only way you could turn it was with a thin metal object, like a long screwdriver.

But being the stupid college kid I was, I used to use a long, sharp knife to do the job. Don't ask me why -- I just did. And, I kept that knife in the glove compartment.

The officer saw the knife. He then drew his gun, ordered me out of the car and forced me and my passengers (both white men) to lie face down on the pavement for about 15 minutes. A small crowd gathered and watched as that officer and one other searched our car.

Though they found nothing, the officers hassled us for another 15 minutes, more or less telling us to watch our backs. They confiscated the knife, wrote me a ticket and drove off. The entire ordeal was humiliating, and there's no doubt that many of the onlookers wrongly concluded that we were criminals or miscreants of some sort.

Now, I am 100 percent certain that a big part of how those officers reacted was because the car was full of young males who looked ratty. If you think about it, this is very common. Young men frequently receive more "attention" from the police than anyone else.

Had I instead been a 60-year-old Asian woman, I'm sure the reaction would have been quite different. The cop might have been surprised to see the knife, and he might have told me not to touch it. But he would not have put me on the ground and searched my car like that.

Following Prof. Brown's logic, I guess I should have conclude that police are anti-youth sexists. For some reason, they just hate young men and have it in for them.

But you see, that's not what's really going on there. What's really going on is the police officer knows that young men commit disproportionately more crimes than middle-aged women. So, he stereotyped me based on his experience and acted accordingly.

Should I be mad at the police officer for doing this?

Of course not. I should be mad at all the other young men running around committing crimes and attacking police officers. If they stopped doing that, I would not have been treated as I was.

The same thing applies in Prof. Brown's case. First off, he obviously matched the description of the person who was causing problems at the swimming pool. This is regrettable, frustrating and humiliating, but it is not racism.

And, I feel pretty confident that when the cops entered that area, they were not particularly excited about having to hassle Prof. Brown, specifically because they knew going in that they would be accused of racism, whether the man they hassled was the suspect or not.

Beyond the specific matter of Prof. Brown matching a description, there is this question of racial profiling.

Just as my police officer knew I posed more of a threat to him than a middle-aged woman, police know that Blacks are more likely to hurt them than whites. If you consider this unjustifiable bias, then you also must consider it sexist for a cop to be more careful around men than women. And it's "ageist" to worry more about the young than the old.

In truth, when someone in Prof. Brown's situation faces a cop who seems to be taking unnecessary precautions, he should not blame the cop. He should blame the other people who look like him who have forced the cop to behave like that.

There are obviously limits to how far one can and should advance this argument. All are entitled to due process of law, and the police should not stray from police procedure.

But, like all things in human affairs, police procedure prescribes a range of actions the cop can take in a given situation, and it is not unreasonable for the cop to move toward the "safer" end of that range when dealing with a person who -- by appearances alone -- the cop knows is more likely to pose a threat.

I have one other thing to say on this matter. I think people who make arguments like the one advanced by Prof. Brown are part of the problem, not the solution. The more people demand the police ignore bad behavior, the less social pressure is put on those who perpetrate the bad behavior.

If people like Prof. Brown instead stood up and directed their ire toward those whose bad behavior pushes the police to behave as they do, perhaps that bad behavior would become increasingly taboo. Shunning and shame can work wonders in a culture.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Race, Race, Race 24 x 7

I guess this might come as a surprise to Black people, but in my experience white men spend essentially zero time thinking about race and race relations. It's just a total non-issue.

A reasonable response to this fact might be something like, "It's easy to say you don't think about something when it isn't a big problem in your life."

Such a response makes a lot of sense. For example, few people spend a lot of time thinking about getting a particular illness until it directly affects them. But, to a person with cancer, illness literally becomes an immediate life-and-death issue.

On the other hand, living in a place like Oakland forces every one of us to subconsciously deal with race every day.

Like many cities, Oakland is virtually color-coded. It's a largely segregated city, with Black regions in the West and East of the city,  Hispanic areas on down International Blvd, etc.

Anyone who looks at the statistics knows the risk of being victimized by crime is also a color-coded situation. I remember reading somewhere that, if a Black and non-Black man pass each other on the street, the Black man has 1/500 the probability of being assaulted by the non-Black as vice-versa.

Knowing facts like these, it would be irrational for a white man to ignore race when walking around Oakland.

Still, there is a big difference between a cognizance of race in potentially dangerous situations and having a worldview that says your race is the key defining characteristic in your life. The former is an ongoing background process akin to avoiding being burned by a stove. The latter seems much more omnipresent in people's minds.

And, it''s this latter view, combined with extreme racial sensitivity among guilt-ridden non-minorities, which makes the East Bay such a strange place to live.

In the 10 years that I've lived in Oakland, I actually think this state of affairs has served only to move my gut instincts in a more racist, not less racist direction.

So many people here are so quick to find the racial explanation for everything they see that I no longer have any patience for such arguments. And, being constantly confronted by this "us-versus-them" mentality makes it hard not to view yourself as part of your own racial "team" -- an attitude that pushes one inexorably away from viewing people as fundamentally equal.

The thing that brought this topic to mind today was J Douglas Allen-Taylor's latest article in the Berkeley Daily Planet.

Incidentally, Allen-Taylor's article appeared above a house advertisement for how the Daily Planet embraces free speech and all different viewpoints. This is very funny to me, since it's so obviously that they censor conservative viewpoints. The East Bay does have conservatives. Maybe the Daily Planet would do better if they asked a couple of us to write for their paper.

But I digress. Allen-Taylor's article discusses the "African-American/progressive coalition" which drafted Ron Dellums into running for mayor of Oakland. He talks about Councilmember Jean Quan as having an "Asian American" base of financial contributors.

Just for fun, I started using Google to do image searches for the list of people Allen-Taylor discussed in his article. Pretty much every single person he said clearly good things about is Black -- Ron Dellums, Barbara Lee, Sandré Swanson, Keith Carson and new police chief Anthony Batts. Allen-Taylor seems more skeptical of Quan, and he doesn't seem to like Phil Tagami (who doesn't look Black to me), Gilda Gonzales and Ignacio De La Fuente.

Now, to be fair, Allen-Taylor is largely reporting the views of others in this piece, so this tendency probably has less to do with him and more to do with the "African-American/progressive coalition" he's describing.

But, I've called him on this question of race bias in the past, and he has more or less admitted it when it comes to his support of Dellums. My recollection is that he argued that there's nothing wrong with one Black guy supporting another. Of course, I'm sure Allen-Taylor would write a pretty unflattering column about me if I said my plan in 2010 was to vote for "the white guy."

Some people might make an argument of the sort that says, "when you're a hammer, everything you see looks like a nail." So, if you're Al Sharpton, you're going to frame everything in racial terms, because that's what you do every day.

I guess that makes sense, but then it makes me wonder why people feel like it's beneficial to them to view life through this lens. It's not like nuclear physicists feel the need to analogize all their social interactions to neutron collisions or some such silliness.

No, I think it's more likely that people frame their thinking this way because they get something out of it. For leaders, I think it gives them access to a set of unwavering, bordering on unthinking, supporters. Such was the case last November when Blacks voted 95%+ for Obama. In Political Science, a 55%-45% victory is considered a landslide. To my knowledge, they don't have a word for a 95%-5% victory. Such results are usually only seen in banana republics.

The rank and file must get something out of it too. Perhaps it's some sense of belonging, or maybe the concept of racial identification is seductive because of its simplicity.

But, in truth, when a set of people spends so much time talking about race, they themselves are the ones who lose out. There are more compelling and interesting things in life to be dealt with. Skin color is not one of them. It just isn't.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

School Scores Out; Response Predictable

The state released results today from the annual student achievement tests. As has been the case for the past few years, the gap between Hispanic/Black students and everyone else failed to narrow significantly.

And, as in prior years, the educational establishment decries the situation as "unacceptable" and racist, but then all the solutions that it offers will accomplish nothing.

I won't recount the test scores for our area; interested readers can look these up for themselves.

I still think it's pretty interesting that the state segregates the test results by race at all -- such data doesn't seem particularly actionable.

Oh wait. Did I say "segregated?" I meant "separated," of course. But now that I think of it, looking at the data also suggests a de facto segregation. For example, Piedmont High, smack in the middle of the East Bay, has about 2 or 3 Black students per grade. That compares with hundreds of Black students per grade in most schools all around Piedmont.

I constantly find this state of affairs bizarre. I realize the legal reasons for it, but it remains pretty strange that civil rights advocates who vigorously oppose any kind of magnet school or voucher program in Oakland are just fine with allowing wealthy whites and Asians to move to Piedmont to escape the bad Oakland schools.

In any event, California education bureaucrat Jack O'Connell claims that the educational gap is because of lack of funding (surprise) and the fact that minorities are less likely to attend preschool. That latter claim has been completely debunked elsewhere -- the benefits of preschool are a consequence of having parents who care, not a consequence of anything the preschool does for students.

The funding claim is also bogus -- it's a well-worn teachers' union claim that I'm not going to spend time debunking here. Suffice it to say it has been demonstrated that increases in teacher salary and decreases in class size do not correlate with higher student achievement.

What does appear to help minority yout is applying different educational methodologies. The Wall Street Journal has reported several times on schools in New York and Washington, DC which have achieved stunning levels of success.

The school day lasts considerably longer at these schools, and they use the extra time focus on the student's entire life -- teaching them how to behave properly in civilized society, how to study, etc. In essence, they take the place of the students' missing or disfunctional family environments.

Accomplishing all this with limited funding generally requires independence from the government apparatus, and it requires getting more done with the same amount of money.

Unfortunately, both of these methodologies run afoul of the teachers' union. The union's sole goal is to get as much money for its members for as little work as possible. And they do that job well.

So, in spite of these schools' proven success, the unions are constantly trying to shut them down.

This, then, puts the lie to the government's announcements about the school test scores. All they really want to do is prime the voters for raising teacher salaries. And, what better way than for O'Connell to announce that the current situation is racist and requires massive new preschool expenditures as a solution.

Don't be fooled by this. While there are certainly many individual teachers in the public system who care deeply about their students, in the bureaucracy and in the union, no one cares about student achievement. In fact, they'd rather it remain tepid to justify continued pointless increases in spending.

If not, then why won't they copy the successful methods from the East Coast?

And, by the way, why do we even have a teachers' union? Are there teachers somewhere being abused by the government? And, how is it that so many people fall for televised ads implying that that the union wants what's best for kids? Shouldn't anyone with an IQ over 70 be able to see that the union's best interests are exactly opposite those of the students?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Thank God They're Mexicans

By Mark Ross, Contributing Writer

I’ve never been a serious hawk on the immigration issue. However, I side with the right on two important aspects: We need to control our borders in order to maintain our national identity. And, the immigrants who come here through proper channels need to become Americans… not remain as foreigners in enclaves.

My mother told the story of her mother who had no English. Her sister, Aunt Sadie, told her to go into the store and point at what she wanted. When she was finished she was to say “Dod’l do.” I knew grandma as someone who spoke English… but with an accent. All of my grandparents were immigrants. Thomas Sowell, in Ethnic America, said that silent movies were ideal for the America of the 1890s to 1920s. The audiences often had limited English and were better entertained by the histrionic gesticulation typical of the genre. The Warner Brothers got their start running a nickelodeon and their Mamma played the piano for the sound track.

A major fallacy is that America was built on the backs of cheap labor. Our economic juggernaut was built, instead, on capital. Machines are continually being developed to reduce the cost and improve the quality of productive tasks. The United Farm Workers once staged a major protest at UC Davis because they were developing technologies to reduce the human drudgery involved in farming. I’m not big on drudgery. The less of it the better. Migrant workers come to our agricultural areas because they work so cheaply that technology is not a suitable replacement. In some cases it’s borderline. Should some cockamamie union try to push up the labor cost… the steam hammer will replace John Henry.

What Americans don’t appreciate about the infiltration of our nation by people from the South… is that Europe has an even bigger problem with Arabs and Turks. Personally, I’d much rather have Mexicans.

The Arabs and Turks swarming over Europe are the products of an economic diaspora, just like the Mexicans and Central Americans coming into the United States. The difference between the two situations is that Mexicans are much, much more like the rest of Americans than are the Moslems who are radically changing the demographics of Europe.

A critique I could lodge against the political aspect of Mexican migration into the U.S. concerns the irredentist scheme to reclaim California and perhaps other border states as being rightly Mexican property. This is typified by the La Raza organization to which our latest Supreme Court nominee is alleged to belong. Most Mexicans don’t give a rat’s patootie for this notion… just the leftist, college indoctrinated “community activists.” But, perhaps a thumbnail historical recital can help put the contemporary situation into perspective:

Mexico was the administrative center for all of Spanish America. California was very difficult for the Spanish to administer because of its remoteness. To reach California by sea… from Spain or Vera Cruz was extremely difficult. By land… well, the same. It was easier to reach China. As a result, there were never more than a few Spanish/Mexican inhabitants of California (Harper‘s Monthly in 1876, put the number at about 3,000).
Meanwhile, Spanish strategists were alarmed at the possibility of Russian encroachment heading south from Alaska. A Spanish general named Galvez (for whom Galveston, Texas is named) enlisted an ambitious Franciscan named Junipero Serra to build a string of missions along the Pacific coast to serve as outposts of Spanish empire… and to block any Russian expansion into Spanish territory. The Ruskies got as far down the coast as Fort Ross in Sonoma County. Beyond which was “mission country.”

In more modern times, immigration from Mexico into the U.S. started anew during the Mexican Civil War, ca. 1910. Along with chips and salsa they brought marijuana… without which there may never have been a “Jazz Age.”

That was sort of towards the tail end of the great immigration period in American history. At various times Tsarist Russia and Australia were competing with us for fugitive Europeans. After a while we were no longer “under populated.” Immigration quotas were put in place… but all along, with a nod and a wink, we’ve kept Mexico from boiling over by absorbing their wealth creation shortfall. They’re better at creating people than they are at creating wealth. It doesn’t have to be. Mexico is oil rich and it’s bicoastal… like us. These are terrific commercial and strategic qualities.

But Mexico is deteriorating. It’s always been corrupt… but now chiefs of police are being assassinated routinely. Off-duty police are doing kidnappings for ransom. Revolutionaries from old movies are seizing towns like Chiapas. The middle class is hunkering down into guarded enclaves. I’d leave.

America has always had a vested interest in a stable Mexico. But sacrificing our national identity is too high a price to pay. Allowing unfettered “off the books” immigration is not a long term solution… it reinforces the corruption and chaos that is pushing the people across the border.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bart Should Fire Them All And Start Over

Word came out today that the union which represents the Bart's station agents and train operators plans to strike starting at midnight on Sunday.

This comes after the union's negotiators concluded an agreement with Bart management, which the union's membership proceeded to vote down by a three-to-one margin.

All the reporting I've seen suggests this strike could last some time, since it's unclear who management should even contact to advance negotiations. Union menbers obviously don't have any faith in their own negotiating team, so I guess they'll have to select new negotiators.

A long Bart shutdown does no one any good, including the workers who are striking. As we saw after the strike 10 years ago, some riders are likely to abandon Bart, because they will find better ways to commute. Other riders will choose other options just out of spite.

In the meantime, it's important to remember that the workers who turned down the contract offer are those with the worst ratio of pay to skills. Bart's station agents and drivers are the highest paid in the country.

And, what they do requires virtually no training. The trains are virtually automated -- and have a history of crashes when drivers switch them into manual mode. The station agents are largely there just to say "no" to customers, and in any case their customer service role is not hard to teach.

When I call these folks overpaid, I'm not making an idle point. These Bart employees make high double-digit salaries, when benefits are included. Some make over $100k, milking their seniority and

Beyond the pay issues, there are the ridiculous work rules detailed at Bart management's website -- One example is a rule preventing Bart from asking station agents to work at stations more than a certain distance apart during any given week. Such rules cost the system money and are completely absurd considering the agents can literally ride the train they're supposed to be helping manage to get to their assignments.

I can understand paying a premium for the people who service and repair the trains. Bart uses a lot of non-standard equipment, so there's an important element of institutional memory to protect there.

But the station agents and train drivers just don't add that much value. Faced with a strike caused by these folks, it's time for Bart management to consider firing all of them and starting over with non-union workers.

Admittedly, such an approach will take some time for training, but I doubt the training time would exceed by much the time it will take to renegotiate with the union. More importantly, eliminating the union provides management a clean slate to reduce pay and benefits to reasonable levels.

I'm sure there are people out there with skills similar to those required to perform these two jobs. In the short term, Bart can find a couple dozen of these folks, train them quickly and get a few of the core stations up and running -- West Oakland and Embarcadero at a minimum. That way, we can avoid the scenario where people can't make it into the city for their jobs.

Unfortunately, I expect Bart's management and directors to view this strike as mostly a political problem. As such, they are unlikely to fire the union workers, since our area is full of Leftist wackos who will support a union even as it chokes the lifeblood out of our transit infrastructure -- an ironic situation when you consider that most Leftists are all for commuter trains.

This strike is going to create a difficult situation for people who work in the private sector. It's also going to discourage people about the future of public transit in the area, which can only be bad for the East Bay, which relies on Bart to take commuters into the city.

What's worse, it's not going to buy the union members anything. The reality is their contracts are completely unsustainable. The best they can hope for is some sort of temporary bone funded by a fare or tax increase.

But the public is losing patience with public-employee unions. Eventually that is going to translate into much tougher negotiating stances. Perhaps this strike will be the beginning of the end for these folks, but I'm not counting on it.

The right solution for Bart is the simplest one. Take a page out of the Reagan playbook and fire every one of these workers.