ECONOMIC GOBBLDY GOOK-File these under "for the greater good": worker rights, immigrant rights, and rights of "the little guy.” And then file these under "selfish, regressive, and mean": taxpayer rights, citizens’ rights, and homeowner rights. 

Because what's yours is really mine. And because what you thought you earned really isn’t. Because the Government really is on your side, right...particularly in "progressive states" like California? 

It's safe to say that just about everyone is working harder, and most everyone seems to be getting increasingly less for what is worked for...with the exception of a connected few. For those who still give a damn about that thing called "American History”, there was once an era between 1860-1890 called "The Gilded Age" where the labor force grew but income inequality exploded...and the common American's lot was miserable. 

We are now in a Second Gilded Age, but with a potential twist. Income inequality is again a huge problem, but while grassroots and governmental involvement is up (as it was during the First Gilded Age), it is almost impossible to know if those claiming to defend the average worker and American citizen is truly on the worker/citizen's side. 

1) It's no secret that the highest paid are rapidly outstripping the ability of the average worker to get ahead, too, but governmental interference to "help the little guy" may not help that "little guy" at all. 

It's safe to say that the average worker deserves a raise, but it's also safe to say that it’s uncertain to what extent the $15/hour figure will give some folks raises and other folks pink slips. Even left-leaning economists claim that such a dramatic leap upwards, as seen in California and New York, has significant uncertainty and risks associated with it. 

Do we have some horribly Scrooge-like-employers who need to cough up more for their employees? Certainly! But is it accurate to label all small businesses "Scrooge-like"?  And what about those workers who have worked harder than others already, and will watch these others get a raise without that extra effort? 

Furthermore, are the businesses that we rely on for our economic survival getting their own taxes and governmental fees reduced so that they afford these hikes without jacking up their retail costs...and inflation, to boot? 

And are both the businesses and workers in California and other major "progressive" states getting their utility and local/state taxes reduced (or at least stabilized) so that those getting a raise can keep and/or spend their increased wages on what they want? 

So increased wages are overdue...but a formula of tying employer/higher-income-earner wages to the wages of the lowest workers -- as "socialist" as that might sound...is just as overdue with respect to ensuring that a rising tide truly will lift all sails. 

2) The issues surrounding workers' rights might not be a problem if states like California and others actually enforced its immigration laws, thereby empowering workers' wage hikes through supply/demand ratios. 

You remember that whole "supply/demand" thing, right?  It's basic economics -- the smaller the supply, the greater the demand...and vice versa. 

So by rewarding the low-wage workers born here by keeping their numbers stable, employers seeking workers would be forced to pay their workers more. In contrast, by flooding the market with low-income labor from outside countries or regions, California and the federal government trashes and thrashes the average low-income worker's ability to get better pay (or even respect) from their employers -- particularly African-American and Latino workers, based on the relative statistics. 

Whether you call them "illegal immigrants", "undocumented immigrants", or even "folks who magically showed up here", the ability of any employer or lobby to flood the market with cheap labor -- even and especially with governmental oversight (or lack thereof) -- shreds the ability of the average worker (who, unlike their bosses, are trying to play by the rules) to keep up and get ahead. 

But that minimum wage hike erases the ability of employers to undermine the workers anymore, right? 

Wanna bet? 

Wanna bet that there won't be a new rush of "undocumented immigrants" paid under-the-table, or even a new rush of native-born workers paid under-the-table, in order to "help out the workers" or to "protect immigrants' dignity"? 

And whether it's Disney or Silicon Valley, wanna bet that reptilian and compassionless employers and governmental enablers won't find ways to flood the market with skilled workers from other nations and other regions to undermine those workers' salaries and benefits, as well? 

And wanna bet that -- somehow, some way -- all this will be sold as wonderful, kind methods of balancing our budgets while only two groups of people (the very wealthy and those with guaranteed government pensions) will have an ensured future? 

3) The proof is in the pudding: Do states like California protect their residents, or do they force the law-abiding and hard-working ones to just...leave? 

Immigration, even illegal immigration, in absorbable numbers was and is and will not ever be the problem. Ditto with workers' rights. What is the problem is the willingness (or lack thereof) of businesses and resident families to absorb the costs of new additions to our pool of residents. It's no secret that -- throughout the state -- large and powerful developers want you and me to pay for the economic and environmental burdens of their projects. 

Well, ditto for unscrupulous employers and for families who turn a deaf ear to their hard-working, exhausted, and tapped out neighbors. They also want you and me to pay for their businesses and families. Are these businesses and families sponsoring and paying for the employment, tax, health, education, and social services of their workers and "immigrant" friends and relatives, native-born or not, legal or not? Forget that! Let someone else pay for your imposed burden. That used to be the law...but no longer. 

And what happens when the state conveniently forgets that California taxpayers pay for, and expect their children to benefit from, the University of California and California State University systems? We get more out-of-state students, ignoring the screams of California families whose hard-working honors students can't get in. 

And when the nerds, the eggheads, the boring folks raise up that California "pension liability" thing that's now risen to $140 billion and counting, with retired state workers costing more than current state workers…then they are diminished, marginalized and otherwise demonized as anti-police, anti-teacher, anti-firefighter, and downright evil people! 

So what are Californians to do? Particularly those who (along with their parents) built the California infrastructure and educational system of the 1950's, 60’s and 70’s? Leave and go to states like Texas, to be more specific. 

So to summarize: Our cities, our counties, and our state really want to help the little guy, right? Maybe some of them do...but probably most of them don't. However, their lies and misinformation get the job done, right? 

So if the little guy is being helped so much...then why is he screaming so loudly in pain?


(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at  [email protected]. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


THIS IS WHAT I KNOW--2015 was the most brutal year ever for Californians hoping to score a spot in the Bruin Class of 2019. Of close to 58,000 who applied, only 9,351 gained admittance to UCLA, which works out to an admit rate of about 16 percent. At Berkeley, the acceptance rate hovered around 19 percent. To put things in perspective, UCLA rejected more applicants than Harvard, Princeton, and Yale combined. (To be fair, UCLA gets four to five times more applicants than the three Ivy’s.)

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BORDER CONTROL REFORM-A panel of law enforcement experts has warned that U.S. Customs and Border Protection must undertake a long list of reforms to eliminate the risk of endemic corruption and reduce the “unlawful and unconstitutional” use of lethal force to a rarity. 

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GUEST COMMENTARY- It’s sad that for today’s Californians, no amount of rain or snow will be enough to end our state’s chronic water shortfall. Not only does existing lack of storage limit our ability to capture precipitation that falls in California, it also makes it impossible to correctly manage our water supply, now and in the future. 

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LA MATTERS--Water is our most precious resource — and, as the 2016 World Economic Forum Global Risks Report makes clear, water crises, failure of climate adaptation and loss of ecosystem services are major concerns to our global society. To take advantage of water’s benefits while minimizing its risks, city governments need to recreate a naturally-oriented water cycle while contributing to the amenity of the city by bringing water management and green infrastructure together – an idea known as Blue-Green Cities

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GELFAND’S WORLD--The Channel 2 News opened the other night with a teaser showing a full screen portrait of Robert De Niro, suggesting either a big story or a middling scandal. In the way of television, things were of course over-hyped but it wasn't until nearly a half hour later that viewers got any details at all. 

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EDITOR’S PICK--Violence against American Muslims is growing faster than at any time since 9/11, with assaults on Muslim individuals and their places of worship having tripled since the Paris and San Bernardino terror attacks. A NY Times article published last December cites several examples, which include shootings and vandalism. According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), last year set a record for the highest number of incidents targeting U.S. Mosques. As a result of this violence, Muslims across the country, including women and children, have conveyed to the public that they genuinely fear for their safety and security. 

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HERE’S WHAT I KNOW-On the heels of a rash of recent sexual conduct allegations at UC Berkeley, UC President Janet Napolitano has announced new steps to closely monitor the university’s response, following opposition from many in the UC Berkeley community who feel the administration has been light-handed in its sanctions against prominent faculty members accused of sexually harassing students and staff. 

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EDITOR’S PICK--The right wing is carping that President Obama is “downplaying” the dangers of Daesh (ISIL, ISIS) in the wake of the Paris and Brussels attacks on soft targets.  But whipping up hysteria about the threat of terrorism is a racket that mainly benefits security firms and arms manufacturers. 

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CONNECTING CALIFORNNIA-Wherever you live in California, your county probably doesn’t fit you. In mountainous and rural areas, your county may be too small to do the big things you need; 24 of the 58 California counties have populations under 140,000, the number of people who live in my hometown of Pasadena. Yet in inland exurbs, your county is so sprawling that it can take more than three hours to get to the county seat; San Bernardino County is twice as big as the state of Massachusetts.

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ENVIRONMENT POLITICS-While the media distract us with the shinier attractions of the presidential-candidate road shows, the dirty work of politics continues in the shadows. I do not mean to diminish the importance of who gets elected or even nominated, but the secret and behind-the-scenes work often makes for decisions that change public policy in favor of the rich and powerful. Those shifts impact our lives in a big way, as two recent examples in California illustrate. 

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GUEST COMMENTARY--Last week, yet another high-profile scandal involving mismanagement rocked the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and this week I introduced Senate Bill 1141, which would launch a pilot program shifting road funds and maintenance duties from Caltrans to county governments. 

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EDITOR’S PICK--A lot of sensible people think the idea of Trump’s Wall is crazy. Maybe that’s because they aren’t blessed with Trump’s Brain. 

The brain is an essential part of Donald Trump’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. He cited it on “Morning Joe” recently when asked the identity of his foreign policy advisers. “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain,” he said. “My primary consultant is myself, and I have a good instinct for this stuff.” 

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FAILED LIBERALISM-Bernie Sanders’ political corpse in the presidential race is still warm, but some of his prominent liberal supporters already are urging us to flee to Hillary Clinton. Sanders, who knows the game is up, will soon become the Democrats’ pied piper. 

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EDITOR’S PICK--One mild fall evening, two deputies with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s gang unit headed into the streets of Carson, California, where palm trees are tagged with gang graffiti and street signs in some neighborhoods are turned around or removed to confuse outsiders.

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[After eight debates and countless speeches, Secretary Clinton has repeatedly shared her views on Wall Street, trade and job creation. Once we parse through the focus group-tested lines, we can find clues about how she relates to the financial sector and the power it wields over our economy.

The real story will be revealed only if she releases the transcripts from the three speeches she gave to Goldman Sachs for which she was paid $675,000. Her unwillingness to do so strongly suggests she has something to hide. What did she really say? Here's a reconstruction.]

Dear Friends,

Thank you so much for this opportunity to address you. I hope it contributes in some way to helping to heal divisions and build a brighter future for all Americans.

We should all be very proud of the public servants you have provided for our great nation:

Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin [applause],
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson [applause],
Senator Jon Corzine [applause],
Chicago Mayor and Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel [applause]

These great men, along with many others from Goldman Sachs, have served our country proudly. They brought to government the financial and management skills honed at Goldman Sachs --skills that help our nation provide global leadership in finance, trade and economy development. We are all deeply indebted to you for that.

Let us speak frankly. This has been a very difficult period for our country and for the global economy. Financial excesses, promoted both by government inaction and by too much risk taken on by Wall Street, put our economy in jeopardy. Through careful regulations we've now removed those risks from our robust financial system and are growing steadily once again.

In our hour of need, the federal government provided badly needed capital to shore up our core financial institutions. Some derisively call it a bailout. I see it as an excellent investment. And now you've returned every penny... with interest. Well done! [applause]

Of course, Dodd-Frank is not perfect. I know that you are working hard with the administration to iron out the rough spots. That's a vital and necessary part of the process to make sure these new rules do not create unintended consequences that could interfere with the smooth running of our financial markets. We have to be sure that we don't inappropriately regulate derivative markets which are so vital for insuring risk. And we have to be certain that the increased capital requirements do not hinder lending to businesses large and small.

But, as you know very well, this legislation is important because it sends a signal to an uneasy American public that the economy is sound and heading in the right direction.

I realize there are some strident voices out there who want to extract revenge on Wall Street -- even to "occupy it." [laughter]

I can assure you I am not one of them. [applause]

No one sector of our economy should be ever be vilified. Childish taunts and slogans whether coming from the far left or the far right are entirely unproductive. Wall Street is fundamentally sound and our economy needs your skills and hard work.

I can assure you that as I seek ways to continue in public service, I will always help our country understand the vital role you play. We need to be in constant dialogue to make sure our financial markets and institutions are the finest in the world.

Furthermore, it is important for the American people to understand that we can't turn the clock back to re-instate outmoded policies like Glass-Steagall. This is not the 1930s. Breaking up the big banks is a nice slogan but totally inappropriate as American financial institutions compete with large integrated banks and financial firms from around the world.

Not only is big not inherently bad, but big is necessary in our globalized economy. [applause]

Similarly, we need to stay away from foolish new constraints like financial transaction taxes that would only drive investors away from our markets. Such ill advised "taxes of revenge" will move money away from our well-regulated markets and into market structures around the globe that are far more ;prone to irregularities. In the end such taxes will introduce more inefficiencies into our markets and make the global financial system far more volatile.

I also believe government and financial leaders need to work together to open up global markets for our financial industry. As Secretary of State, I've traveled to more than 100 countries. I know well how other nations support their key industries. We need to do the same. [applause]

This includes negotiating free trade agreements that level the playing field for American financial institutions. We need to reduce the unfair barriers to entry that you face as you try to provide products to restricted markets. The TPP, which I helped to push forward, is particularly important in opening up markets for U.S. financial services in the Far East.

Let me be candid about how we can move forward together. I am very interested in finding ways to continue to serve my country as I did as your Senator, and as Secretary of State. In the coming months we will be launching an exploratory committee to test the waters for a possible national campaign for the presidency.

To succeed I will need your support. I will need your creativity about how to expand economic growth and opportunity in our country. I will need help in crafting new policies and proposals to reduce financial risk, while providing our country with the capital and financial services it needs.

As we have done since I represented New York in the Senate, we will find ways to work together for the sake of our country. You are so much a part of what makes our financial system the soundest in the world. It will be an honor to work with you again.

Thank you for this warm reception and the public service you provide to our great nation. [standing ovation]

(Les Leopold, the director of the Labor Institute in New York is working with unions, worker centers and community organization to build a national economics educational campaign. His latest book, Runaway Inequality: An Activist's Guide to Economic Justice  (Oct 2015), is a text for that effort. All proceeds go to support this educational campaign. This piece was posted most recently at Huffington Post


GELFAND’S WORLD--An internet acquaintance asks, "What would Bernie do at the Democratic convention if he is close, but Hillary has the delegate majority?" Would he try for some major concession on the platform, or ask for speaking time, or what? I responded that if he asks for speaking time, but also asks for a chair to go with his speech, that would be the time to worry. 

In a more serious vein, I think it's time for all us Sanders supporters to talk turkey about this country's immediate future, by which I mean don't anyone do another Nader in this election. There is another way of putting the argument, which is what the rest of this column is about. 

I think people react positively to Sanders because he is a truth teller. He doesn't seem to be running through all the political calculations in his head when being asked a question, but instead answers based on his internal compass -- for example, his answer to one of the questions in the first Democratic presidential debate. His campaign had gotten into a little trouble over his staffers accessing the Democratic Party computer files. When asked whether he owed Hillary Clinton an apology, he didn't hedge. He just said that he did owe her an apology. He then extended the apology to his own supporters. 

We used to refer to this kind of person as a straight shooter. 

He also doesn't seem to worry a lot about carrying the label Democratic Socialist. That's significant, because avoiding being called a socialist is among the highest of priorities for pretty much every other American politician. Bernie just goes with it. 

We have good reason to support Bernie Sanders as a candidate and to vote for him in the primary. That's our privilege. At the same time, we have to acknowledge that our votes are most likely going to be symbolic statements at best. Hillary Clinton can coast to the nomination by taking about 40 percent of the remaining votes. Does anybody think that Sanders can run up a two-thirds majority in California or New Jersey? Seems unlikely to me. 

So we might rephrase the original question by asking what us voters and Bernie should do together, assuming that Hillary Clinton will go into the convention with about two-thirds of the available delegates. I am going to make the working assumption that Bernie is, indeed, an honest man and that he wants to do what is best for the country. It follows that the Sanders wing of the party should support the Clinton candidacy. That also includes us Decline to State voters and Greens who vote for Democrats. That much goes almost without saying, although there are a few folks out there who are saying that they will never vote for Hillary no matter who is running against her. 

For the rest of us who don't want to have to live through a Trump presidency and would very much like to see an end to Mitch McConnell's reign of error in the U.S. Senate, there is more to the equation than passively supporting the next member of the Clinton dynasty. 

If Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have any sense at all, they will create a smooth transition towards ensuring Democratic victories in both the presidency and the Senate this year. The alternative is a Supreme Court appointment that replaces Justice Scalia with someone even worse. Must we endure another 20 or 30 years of ultra-conservative control of the Supreme Court? Does anyone even need to consider this question? We need to recover those Senate seats and hold onto the oval office. 

What does all this entail? 

The first and most important element does not require that Bernie Sanders drop out of the race. He can continue to campaign and win additional states and a few hundred more delegates. But he has to remember, as does Hillary, that they have to avoid doing damage to each others' credibility as leaders. She is going to need him in the general election, and for this to be effective, he can't be tarnished. They can continue to disagree on a few small items, and make clear their differences on trade agreements (getting narrower even as we speak), but Bernie has to recognize that there is going to come a time when he endorses Hillary. 

It has to be more than the weak sort of endorsement that we are seeing among the Republican dropouts. Bernie has to make clear that he wholeheartedly supports Democratic control of the White House and the Senate, and that he is keeping his fingers crossed about control of the House too. 

One remaining question is when the swerve on Bernie's part will begin. I'm guessing that it will be in mid-April or early May, even if both candidates officially remain in the campaign through the final primaries in June. If Hillary locks up the majority of elected delegates (leaving out the so-called superdelegates) by sometime in April or early May, then once again, we Californians will be left out of the primary process rather than being controlling agents. It seems to me that the last time the California primary was controlling was 1968, and even then it didn't work out. 

The other question -- the one that will obsess the pundits for the next couple of months -- is what Bernie himself should do. I offer my humble thoughts. First, the fact that Bernie will be endorsing Hillary does not mean that he has suddenly forgotten his principles or even his positions on specific issues. I think that Bernie, in keeping with his well established persona, should give a speech in which he points out not only the positions he has in common with Hillary, but also the positions in which they have differed. This won't hurt Hillary. To the contrary, it will demonstrate to voters that an honest man can admit that there are specific differences in the minutiae, while strongly supporting her candidacy. This could potentially be Bernie's speech at the Democratic convention. 

Bernie should also make a commitment to campaigning vigorously for the presidential ticket and for Democratic senatorial candidates. If his influence can swing a couple of House seats, better still. 

I have a small piece of advice to our next president as well. The Republicans have made mockery of the system by their persistent threats to shut down the government. The Democrats in the congress haven't handled this wonderfully well. The answer to such threats is for the Democrats to say, If we have to have the governmental shutdown, then let's have it right now at the beginning of the term. If and when the Republicans decide that they really do have to compromise on a few things, then we will talk. In the meanwhile, a lot of red states will be feeling the pain just as much, if not more so, then the blue states. 

This isn't a lot different from what Ronald Reagan said when he became governor of California. It would be a sign of strength, and (as discussed here previously), would cause voters in the more conservative congressional districts to demand that their elected congressmen learn to compromise. Their paychecks will depend on it. 

By the way, here are a couple of items that the Republicans will have to give in on if they want to get their side of the government back up and running: the expeditious appointment of Supreme Court justices and the support for Planned Parenthood. 

The alternative to the end of Republican game playing is that some big payrolls at southern military bases and government installations will get frozen. The rest of us had to put up with the governmental shutdown when Ted Cruz and his cronies forced the issue the last time. Let them feel similar pain if they want to test President Clinton's will. 

In other words, the threat of a shutdown can just as easily come from Hillary as it can come from the other side. Budget items that support red state economies should be put on the table right alongside of Hillary's judicial nominations, realistic action against global warming, and the social safety net. 


Sometimes I feel all alone in continuing to complain about the undue influence of Iowa and New Hampshire in picking presidential candidates. But there are a couple of bright spots. The first is that Iowa Republicans are now getting good at picking candidates who go on to disaster in the rest of the primaries. Cruz will most likely join Santorum and Huckabee in the loser category. 

The more interesting observation is one that I've been making for at least two decades: To get elected president (not counting popular incumbents running for reelection), you have to finish exactly second in the New Hampshire primary. We might just restate this by pointing out that winning the New Hampshire primary is the kiss of death for any candidate, just as winning the Iowa caucuses is the kiss of death for Republicans. We can with some confidence predict that New Hampshire is likely to become an irrelevance in future presidential seasons.


(Bob Gelfand writes on culture, science, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected]

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