Let’s review some background events. In 2006, City College was told by the Accreditation Commission for Community and Junior Colleges to develop effective planning, implement better evaluation of student outcomes, improve its financial stability, plan for facilities maintenance, and update its outdated technology. In 2012, the ACCJC’s evaluation of City College found insufficient resolution of the laundry list of problems, and threatened removal of accreditation if problems were not resolved by 2014.
By 2016 it is clear the college’s decision is to kill the messenger rather than heed the message. Fury unleashed, CCSF obtained “stabilization funds” from the California state legislators, encouraged a law suit filed by the City Attorney preventing the ACCJC from taking any action to remove the college’s accreditation, filed a complaint against the ACCJC with the federal Department of Education, mobilized students and staff “protesters,” convinced voters in 2012 to pass a $79 per parcel tax which would expire in 2021 to “save City College,” and banded with the other California community colleges to find a way to replace the ACCJC with some other accrediting body.
Meanwhile strange developments continue. The San Francisco Chronicle in December of 2015 reported that “City College of San Francisco has spent thousands of dollars on fancy restaurants and international and cross-country travel for two top administrators — often with no record of what the expenses were for.” The 2015 – 2016 budget was approved showing a 1.6% decrease in expenditures from 2010 – 2011, although enrollment has decreased by 25% since 2012. In March 2016, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution to make San Francisco City College “free” to students living or working at least part time in the City.
So, here is what we have: A resolution to make City College free contingent on the passage in November of a real estate transfer tax proposal, a proposal to increase and extend the CCSF parcel tax, financial stability not much better than in 2006, college staff and students not much inclined to heed the ACCJC, and another ACCJC accreditation review coming up in February 2017. It would be interesting to place some bets.
Here is a snapshot of how dramatically enrollment has decreased at City College of San Francisco:
Voters should be able to elect representatives who can be trusted with basic and efficient management of a city. However, what we see in our local government is relentless bickering, one-upmanship, catering to special interests in constant pursuit of campaign funding, addiction to taxing and spending, grabbing of “set asides” from every sector, formation of committees to oversee committees, and City management by three-feet long ballots.
Voter initiatives are a kind of right to petition voters (not government) for the redress of grievances; they are citizens’ protection against the possibility of an unresponsive or irresponsible government. Legislative proposals need to be on the ballot for representatives to receive voter permission to increase taxation or change some basic structure of local government. What do we see in the November 2016 ballot instead? We see City government being unable to decide something as basic as who should take care of street trees! We see inefficiency and discontent revealed in the trend toward an increasing number of oversight and “advocate” committees. We see law upon law being proposed to fix laws that did not work in the past; such as 8 proposals to fund “affordable” housing, after decades of restrictive zoning and billions in tax breaks showered on technology companies.
There is only one solution that might work in anchoring a government adrift in indecision: Vote NO on just about everything.
(Graphics courtesy of zRants)
A most interesting tax proposal on the November 2016 ballot is the “soda tax,” once again resurrected after voters killed it in 2014. Although the legal text of Proposition V, Tax on Distributing Sugar-Sweetened Beverages, contains eight pages devoted to “sugary drinks,” there is no guarantee that such a tax ends up affecting the consumption of sugary drinks. The tax is a distribution tax, not a retail tax like the cigarette tax or the alcohol tax. That means your grocer pays the tax on the sugary drinks, and then passes the cost onto you in whatever manner is most advantageous.
The other five or so pages of Proposition V’s text is devoted to the establishment of a 16-member “Sugary Drinks Distributor Tax Advisory Committee,” charged with making recommendations to the Mayor and the Board of the Supervisors as to the effectiveness of the tax. Thankfully, the committee members will not be monetarily compensated; however, “..members in Seats 4, 5, 7, I 0, II, I2. I3, and I4 who are City employees may receive their respective City salaries for time spent working on the Advisory Committee.”
Unfortunately, determining the effectiveness of such a tax on the consumption of sugary drinks is not that easy. Over the last few days, the media has been trumpeting “a study” that claimed a 21% decrease in the consumption of sugary drinks in Berkeley since a tax similar to that proposed under Proposition V was established in 2015. The study in question was published on August 23, 2016, in the American Journal of Public health. It was led by Jennifer Falbe, a researcher at the Berkeley-based Nutrition Policy Institute, and consisted of “a beverage frequency questionnaire” administered to participants.
The obvious challenge in the study is isolating the tax increase as the actual cause of a drop in consumption. The announcement of the study’s results in the U.C. Berkeley New says, “One limitation of the Berkeley study, according to the researchers, was that it could not tease out whether the decline in consumption was related to the increased cost of sugary drinks, increased awareness of the health dangers of sugary drinks, or a combination of both.”
Should this proposal pass, we might end up paying more for our groceries, paying for teachers who are sitting in the Sugary Drink Distributor Tax Advisory Committee instead of in their classrooms, and paying the intangible price of government interfering once again with what we choose to do.
Speaking about a proposed sugary-dinks tax in Philadelphia, intended to pay for a preschool program, Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said, “I do not support Mayor Kenney’s plan to pay for this program with a regressive grocery tax that would disproportionately affect low-income and middle-class Americans.”
Those glossy ads inundating our mailboxes, funded by the American Beverage Association, calling this tax a “grocery tax” are correct after all.
An even more unflattering view of Robber Barons comes from Edmund Optiz, “So far were they from wanting a genuinely free market economy that they bought up senators and paid off judges in order to stifle competition. They did not want a government that would let them alone; they wanted a government they could use.”
Today’s most visible titans are not of industry but of information. Just as the Robber Barons transformed America from rural to industrial, the “silicon sultans,” as The Economist calls them, transformed America from industrial to digital. Mouse clicks can help you complete your GED or your doctoral thesis, find a job, acquaint you with all the paintings of Vermeer, or help you win an election (just ask Trump) – a revolution as significant as any the barons of old could devise. “Both relied on the relentless logic of economies of scale,” says The Economist, and the result “in both cases, is an unparalleled concentration of power. A century ago the barons had a lock on transportation and energy. Today Google and Apple between them provide 90% of smartphone operating systems.”
However, that is where the similarities end, since today holding sway requires no more than using the information channels created by the very same silicon sultans. No need for any nefarious behavior. The Economist article mentions the prospectus of fwd.us, a group founded by silicon sultans that believes the tech industry will become “one of the most powerful political forces..”..”we control massive distribution channels, both as companies and as individuals.”
The good news is silicon sultans made many distribution channels available to anyone. If you agree with a proposal, great! If you are skeptical, fact check. If you do not agree at all, start an easy off-the-shelf website, a Facebook Page, a Twitter account, a Reddit account, and post every chance you get. The playing field is not as lumpy as some might whine about. The democracy is not as helpless.
Picture: The Robber Barons by Mark Zug. Google N.C. Wyeth “Carpetbaggers” to enjoy this illustration even more. Informative Internet browsing courtesy of today’s Robber Barons.
However, the presidential candidates are not of main concern, since it matters not who is President. In Assange’s view what matters is the environment around any particular President. Is the press able and capable to investigate and report malfeasance? Are there individuals and groups paying attention to what is going on, and crying foul when things do not seem right? Is the economy healthy?
The ability of individuals and groups to hold government power in check depends on how much information circulates freely and unaltered. That is why Assange said he considers the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to be the key to all the other Amendments. We need to know in order to act. Thus, unholy alliances between government and corporate giants are today of special concern, since today’s behemoths are our means of communication.
Communication is essential in exposing secrecy, untruths, influence peddling, as well as malfeasance and criminality. Equally essential are individuals willing to risk life, limb, and freedom to provide unaltered information. Assange mentioned with affection his many information contributors. He had special words on behalf of Chelsea Manning, whose only act was to “communicate truthful information to the public.”