Monday, November 23, 2009

At Berkeley, Leftists And Unions Unwittingly Face Off

When I read in the paper that Friday that students had occupied a building down at UC Berkeley, I just had to have a look for myself.

I drove down to campus that evening, with the sound of media helicopters roaring in the air. It took a few minutes to walk from my parking spot to the epicenter of the protests, but when I got there I could tell the trip had not been in vain.

There, I saw a phalanx of riot police surrounding Wheeler Hall and the main library. Across a small barrier from the cops stood maybe 200 protesters shouting various slogans -- things like "Whose university? Our university!"

I walked all the way around the buildings to see that cops were positioned at every entrance to block the protesters. At one point, I saw an army of about 100 cops double-time it down the street to the east of the surrounded buildings. Their march looked every bit like a military maneuver.

As I followed behind this phalanx of cops, I started counting, and I telephoned a friend to get a bit of information. You see, I was much more interested in how much this police presence cost than in the protest itself. I knew -- as everyone did -- that the protest was a complete waste of time.

My friend informed me that, including benefits, an overtime police officer typically receives about $150 per hour of service. My quick count of the cop column totaled 100 officers. That means this little army cost the government about $15,000 per hour.

My first thought was that I would be very happy to join their little army for that kind of compensation. Who wouldn't? There was no meaningful probability that the protest would become violent.

From what I could discern, the protesters don't like the fact that the regents voted to increase student fees. They also seemed very upset that several unionized workers might lose their jobs -- I saw specific signs in support of janitors and "those making under $40k."

I wonder if the protesters ever considered that the very reason for the state's reduction in contributions to the school is unionized employees like those the protesters support. And, to make matters worse, the worst offenders are the men and women who were standing across the barriers from them -- the police officers.

As a matter of fact, every dollar of overtime these protesters caused to be expended on the police came -- in one way or another -- directly from the same pot of money which would have gone to fund the university.

I tend to agree with part of the protesters' platform. Higher education -- and by "higher" I mean places like Berkeley, not Cal State Dominguez Hills -- is an extremely important priority, as it helps produce the technological advances which improve our lives.

However, the combination of this reasonable position with Leftist aims like "protecting union employees" leaves the protesters' position hopelessly befuddled.

You can't have it both ways. California has spent and spent and spent on ridiculous pension plans for its government/union employees. The state has bankrupted itself paying for cops and firemen, for the incarcerated, the poor and for education for the bottom rung of society.

And for what?

Here, at UC Berkeley, the absurdity of such spending comes home to roost. We as a society are investing heavily in our most useless citizens while underfunding institutions which are the keys to moving the human race forward.

So, as usual, I was left thinking to myself that both sides of the protest had it all wrong. The protesters don't really understand the nature of the situation -- or they just don't care. And the cops absolutely don't care. They're just glad to be getting that overtime check.

Both sides do have one thing in common -- they'd love to see higher taxes to pay for everything they want without cutting anything. Unfortunately, that seems to be the current plan across the land.

Higher taxes seem like a great idea until you realize several truths:

  1. The need of those at the bottom of the income spectrum is limitless, and no amount of taxes will ever be enough.

  2. Higher taxation drives out those with skills and high IQs, a process which is already well underway in California.

  3. Raising taxes just delays the inevitable discussion of what investments society should and should not be making.

In my opinion, it's simple. Cut funding for the poor and the stupid, and increase funding for places like UC Berkeley. A rising tide lifts all boats.

A sinking tide brings -- well, you get the picture -- Obamanomics.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Next Reichstag Fire

By Mark Ross, Contributing Writer

It was a risky political stunt that allowed the Nazi Party to consolidate its grip on the German nation.

The sad truth is that Hitler was elected democratically. The Nazis took advantage of a weakness in the Weimar constitution that allowed proportionate representation.

After an election, the seats in the Reichstag were distributed among candidates of most if not all of the various parties based on the percentages of the votes tallied. Fringe, screwball political movements got their feet in the door this way. Ironically, this is how Israel works.

The Nazis had incrementally worked their way up to having  plurality after the election of 1932. But that wasn’t good enough. In the campaign Hitler had promised, “An end to politics.” They were compelled to eliminate all opposition in order for their agenda of German reconstruction to take place.

Hence the Reichstag fire. On February 27, 1933, a mysterious arson gutted the German parliament. The loudest voices blamed Communists and their ilk (non-Nazis). Hitler swiftly moved to arrest and imprison all political opponents, and thus the way was clear for complete domination and the promised end to politics.

The American Left (a.k.a. Democrats) has taken over the national government. As a consequence they are being righteously creamed in the court of public opinion. Nothing would help them more in their quest to consolidate power than for the next two national elections to be canceled.

Even during the Civil War we held national elections, but then there was less of a political imperative for the party in power to stifle metastasizing dissent. What the Democrats could use is some kind of “event” that would allow them to declare an extraordinary national emergency -- the modern equivalent of the Reichstag Fire.

What kind of event? That’s a toughie. The domestic terror attack on the Oklahoma City Federal Building comes to mind. It would be easy to blame right wingers in the absence of tangible evidence. I’m sure Mr. Holder, the Attorney General, would be happy to help.

Plausibility for such a scheme rests on the fact that so many among us have already been stampeded by a fanciful hoax concerning vague trends in the weather.

Recently, while chatting with a friend about domestic politics he concluded that we are in a new civil war, though without guns.

Wars, however, go well beyond yelling, screaming, marching with placards and making evocative speeches. Should this be true -- and trends continue -- then some day the gloves will really start to come off.

What then? A precursor to our last Civil War was John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859. Just a thought.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

New Parking Meter Failed? Good Luck Getting A Refund

If one of Oakland's new parking meters steals your cash, you'd better be prepared to litigate to get your money back.

A couple weeks back, I dutifully put my money into the meter and pressed the button to receive a receipt. The meter made some clicking sounds, but nothing came out.

I pushed the cancel button in an effort to get my money back, but it was too late. The meter wrongly believed it had dispensed a ticket.

My immediate solution was to go down the street and use another meter. That one worked, but I had now spent eight dollars for my two hours of parking.

I returned to the first meter. There's a phone number printed on them in case there are problems. I called the number from my cellphone and left my information on the voice mail system that responded.

A week later, I had heard nothing, so I called again, and again. In total I left four messages. I then tried calling the main switchboard to try and get through to whomever is responsible for broken meters. I made some progress, but Oakland's bureaucracy quickly used up the time I was willing to spend on such a minor amount of money.

Four dollars may not sound like much, but this situation is reminiscent of the property-tax issue I blogged about several weeks back. Essentially, the city insists year after year on illegally charging me for Measure Y on a vacant lot.

On Measure Y, at least the city responds to phone calls, but they make it as difficult as they can to get a refund -- requiring taxpayers to mail a signed form every year. They then require you to be available for the city to inspect the lot to make sure it's vacant. Don't they keep records of these kinds of things?

I know I shouldn't be surprised. Oakland's government is clearly set up as a mechanism to extract as much money as possible from taxpayers and funnel it to the politically connected. No one seriously argues that Oakland's government is not corrupt.

As with most of Oakland's civic services, this kind of behavior simply discourages people from having anything to do with the city. It's just like the schools, the roads, the parks and everything else a reasonable family could care about. The best strategy is to avoid Oakland altogether: use private schools, bike in Piedmont and visit parks east of the tunnel.

I also think these new meters are an idiotic "innovation." I have no problem with paying for parking. In fact, I support meters as they prevent all the spots from being taken -- ignoring for the moment the fact that Oakland's thousands of disabled-placard fraudsters ruin even this objective.

As an Oakland resident, I'd be much more interested in some sort of device like the one I use when I cross the Bay Bridge. I could simply attach it to my windshield and push a button on it each time I want to consume 15 minutes of parking. Then it would count down just like an ordinary meter.

I could charge it up online, and meter readers could use some sort of electronic device to sync it up whenever they come by my car. This would also ensure that the device hasn't been hacked.

For that matter, such a device could be used region-wide. It could replace the rolls of quarters I still use in parts of the East Bay and the tag I have hanging from my rear-view mirror for Bart.

Of course, we all know the sad history of such types of systems. TransLink serves as a warning to anyone considering something similar.

And, opponents would counter, how would those visiting from out of town park? This is exactly the same argument that has kept toll-takers standing at most of the lanes on the area's bridges, making traffic conditions worse and decreasing area drivers' incentive to get FasTrak.

In truth, if one implemented a region-wide system, such a concern would be minimized, and all a driver would need to do is purchase some sort of pre-paid card prior to parking in the Bay Area. Such a card could even be printed off the Internet, exactly like a Southwest boarding pass.

There are actually two issues standing in the way of this kind of innovation. The first is corruption/stupidity -- the city government only wants to buy products which require zero creativity and that provide as much as a kickback as possible.

The other issue is one common to government at all levels: fear. The politician's primary goal is to continue to be reelected. As such, it makes no sense to support an innovative solution that could prove game-changing. It's far better to focus on the incremental and the safe.

And that's what we get in Oakland -- the safest possible solution.

Except when it comes to public safety, of course. Be realistic!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Like Most Liberals, Dullums Cheats On His Taxes

What do you call it when someone makes a career out of lambasting others for not paying "their fair share," then turns around and refuses to pay his own taxes when he becomes wealthy?

The word "hypocrite" comes to mind, but somehow it seems too weak to describe the sort of malevolence we're talking about here. No, I think this level of cognitive dissonance rises to the level of sociopathy, mixed with a morsel of mental retardation -- we are talking about Ron Dullums after all.

So it goes in Oakland, where we have been treated this week to the delicious irony of a "leader" who demonstrates that fiscal incompetence is both a personal as well as a professional trait.

Yes, Dullums and his wife apparently owe $239k in back taxes, and they have refused to pay for so long that the IRS has placed liens against their property.

While there have been a few muted calls for Dullums to resign, I've been surprised by the lack of vigor in the condemnation of this state of affairs. I expect such things from the likes of J Douglas Allen-Taylor -- who at this moment is probably working on an opinion piece for the Daily Planet explaining how Dullums is actually a hero for purposefully not paying his taxes to teach us a lesson about the risks of disobeying the government.

But I was surprised to see the following gem in a column by Chip Johnson, with whom I often agree: "Anyone can make a mistake, and if that's all this is, then no harm, no foul."

Underpaying by $239k a mistake? Sure, I could imagine such a thing for the likes of Bill Gates. But Dullums is not Bill Gates, a fact which is amply demonstrated by his inability to pay the money once the IRS notified him that he owed it.

Judging from Dullums' nouveau-riche demeanor, I'd guess he's spent every penny he's made for some time -- a trait he shares, not surprisingly, with the city he "runs."

Still, such a high tax bill indicates that Dullums earned more than a million dollars during some recent span of his "career." The notion that someone earning so much lacked the common sense or common decency to either buy a copy of TurboTax or hire a competent accountant is just embarrassing. What a pathetic, selfish little fool we have for a mayor.

That's not even mentioning other items from Johnson's piece which, though probably common knowledge, were news to me.

Apparently Dullums received a $60k salary boost from that of our previous mayor. For what? If you ask me, Dullums should return 100% of his salary and beat himself about the face every night for a week on Channel 10 as penance for his treatment of Oakland. Certainly the notion that we pay Dullums more than we paid Jerry Brown is an obvious farce.

Dullums required a driver as well? This one makes more sense, I guess, for a man who obviously would have difficulty reading traffic signs.

Some have suggested that Dullums resign, but such a move would be a mistake. I don't know who would fill his slot, but I have a bad feeling it would be Jane Brunner, which wouldn't be any better. Certainly, a Dullums resignation might provide someone equally bad with the advantage of incumbency.

So I say just let the man finish his term and fade away. Soon enough the 2010 campaign will begin in earnest, and Dullums will no longer be relevant.

I'd like to hear the Leftist defense of the repeated cases of liberal tax dodging that have been in the press in the past year. The most reasonable argument would probably be to say that everyone does it.

In my experience, this seems to be the case. I've found that a person's propensity to avoid taxes has little to do with his location on the political spectrum.

It's not surprising to me that all people would have an equal desire to safeguard their assets against the government. But from the perspective of a liberal, this position is more difficult to defend. Time and again liberals have told me that they support increased taxation because one group or another "needs" the "resources" that they can obtain no other way.

If that is the case, then how can a liberal square tax avoidance with his political beliefs?

In my opinion, the answer is simply that, like most people, liberals place a higher importance on their own well-being than that of society at large. In other words, they are just as "selfish" as the conservatives they assail.

The difference is that liberals take the intellectually dishonest position that they want "everyone else" to pay for the programs that they support. In contrast, conservatives admit to their own selfishness but then strive to treat everyone equally by reducing the burden on all.

And so it is that when you read about Dullums refusing to pay his taxes, what really should come to mind is the old liberal maxim: "When it comes to money, do as I say and not as I do."

Or the old Dullums maxim: "If you're going to use the public resources, you need the public benefit."

Yes you do, Ron. Yes you do. Driver and all.