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The voters are furious -- but are they madder at government or big business? That question could define the next political era
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ILLUSTRATION BY DANNY HELLMAN

And this fall, with two rich former CEOs spending their personal wealth to win two of California's top elected offices and energy companies pushing a measure to roll back California's efforts to combat global warming, there could be great opportunity in a narrative targeting those at the top of our economic system.

 

THE TOP AND THE BOTTOM

Some observers say that whatever their shared feelings about corporate scams, conservatives and liberals in the state are just too far apart, and that there's little hope for any substantive agreement. "People are becoming more polarized," said consultant David Latterman, who often works for downtown candidates and interests. "I think we're beyond compromise."

Allen Hoffenblum, a Los Angeles-based Republican strategist, agreed. "The voter are all mad, but they're mad at different things. I just don't see where they come together."

But Hightower, who has spent a lifetime in politics as a journalist, elected official, author, and commentator, has a different analysis.

"As I've rambled through life," he wrote in a recent essay, "I've observed that the true political spectrum in our society does not range from right to left, but from top to bottom. This is how America's economic and political systems really shake out, with each of us located somewhere up or down that spectrum, mostly down.

"Right to left is political theory; top to bottom is the reality we actually experience in our lives every day — and the vast majority of Americans know that they're not even within shouting distance of the moneyed powers that rule from the top of both systems, whether those elites call themselves conservatives or liberals."

In an interview, he told us he sees a lot of hope in the fractured and potentially explosive political ethos. "There's all this anger," he said. "People don't know what to do. And I think the one focus that makes sense is the arrogance and abuse of corporate executives."

In fact, Hightower pointed out, the teabaggers didn't start out as part of the Republican machinery. "Wall Street and the bailouts sparked the tea bag explosion," he said. It wasn't until big right-wing outfits like the Koch brothers, who own oil and timber interests and fund conservative think tanks, started quietly funding tea party rallies that the anti-corporate, anti-imperial edge came off that particular populist uprising.

"At first, the teabaggers didn't even know where the money was coming from," Hightower said. "You can't be mad at the teabaggers; we should have been out there organizing them first."

There's plenty of evidence that anger at big business is growing rapidly — and rivals the distrust of big government that has defined so much of American politics in the past 30 years. The bailouts were "the first time in a long time that people have been slapped in the face by collusion between big business and its Washington puppets," Hightower noted.

Then there's the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission. In January, a sharply divided court ruled 5-4 that corporations had the right to spend unlimited amounts of money supporting or opposing political candidates. Progressives were, of course, outraged — but conservatives were, too.

Polls show that more than 80 percent of Democrats think the decision should be overturned. So do 76 percent of Republicans. "This is a winner for our side," Hightower noted. "But our side's not doing anything about it."

Sure, President Obama denounced the ruling in his State of the Union speech and promised reform. But the bill the Democrats have offered in response does nothing to stop the flow of money; it would only increase disclosure requirements. And in response to furor from the National Rifle Association, it's been amended and is now so full of holes that it doesn't do much of anything.

Comments

There is some good analysis in this cover story, but Redmond/Jones seem to be saying that the solution is to elect Jerry Brown and more Democrats. Yet, here we are under Obama/Pelosi/Reid and the federal government is still driving this country off of a cliff.

If I would have told you guys in 2008 that a President Obama would be barring the media from covering a major oil spill in the Gulf, you would have sent me to crazy-town. Yet, the US Coast Guard (which reports directly to Obama) is blocking, harassing and intimidating journalists who attempt to document this catastrophe.

Pelosi? She can't even show up for the annual Pride Parade! Not like she has a taxpayer-funded private jet to shuttle her back to Washington DC or anything, right?

And what about SF? Democrats have controlled this town completely for decades, yet here we are with crime-ridden streets, a broken down transit system, sky-high housing costs, gentrification, crumbling schools, filthy sidewalks...

I've seen this movie before. I know how it ends, and it is not pretty.

We need real electoral reform and a multi-party system to make our government accountable to the people.Only then will we be able to stop fighting over scraps. Only then will our voices be heard.

Posted by Erika McDonald on Jul. 02, 2010 @ 2:55 pm

The People Want Taxes? I don't care what think tank you are quoting. I don't think you are right. Those who want those taxes won't send extra when they file unless coerced.

Posted by hudson on Jul. 02, 2010 @ 4:56 pm

If you want to really know why California has fallen to such low levels is simply because it has stopped being a state that offers any real opportunities- that is unless you're rich. The cost of housing is the single biggest issue in this state and somehow people in the media just don't seem to get it. People ( at least in California) are pissed off most about this issue. Frankly I don't really cars anymore because since I don't really feel like shelling out $500k for a small house, we're moving to Austin next year.

The article mentions that people want more taxes. Yes- I've seen quite a bit of this already. Hand-wringing parents who paid a pretty penny to live in an area of the Bay Area that has ( gasp) real, functioning public schools- something that about 95% of the country enjoys by default but yet here in super-gentrified yuppieville schools are in the toilet. Thus I've seen all sorts of crazy half-cooked ideas to "save the children!" with more parcel taxes, bake sales, and whatnot.

Guess what? NONE of the problems in this state are going to get fixed until the real problems are fixed first. The single biggest is Proposition 13. Ever since this law was passed the state has been on a one-way path towards fiscal destruction. What it all boils down to is that the cost of running a state as with everything else goes up over time. This is simple economics 101. Yet with Prop 13 you have this ridiculous tax structure where businesses and individual property owners get to pay 1975 era taxes on houses and businesses worth 10 times more than what they paid. In my East Bay neighborhood the average age is pushing 60. Most Bay Area towns are probably about the same. So thus therein lies the problem- inadequate funds due to a dwindling tax base.

The bottom line is this: Pass all the taxes you want. None of these will do any good because the foundation is rotten to start with. As long as prop 13 is active, the state's financial situation will only grow worse.

Again I don't really care because I am outta' here.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 03, 2010 @ 8:43 pm

Guest, I think you're right that Prop. 13 is at the core of the problems that we discussed in this article. And Hudson, you may be right that nobody likes paying taxes, but the polling we cited in the article indicates that people are more concerned now with essential services being slashed so deeply than they are with paying a big more in taxes.
Steven T. Jones

Posted by steven on Jul. 06, 2010 @ 3:51 pm

Which is worse big business or big government? They are one and the same. Republican, Democrat it really does not matter they are both reaching into the pocket of common everyday America to make themselves wealthier. I am not sure enough people are ready to look past the diatribe and dogma they have been taught to see beyond the curtain. This country has lost millions of jobs. We have allowed unbridled greed and demand for immediate profit to jeopardize stable corporations. Long term investments and growth plans have been replaced by immediate profit. What was called corporate raiding and destruction became a way of business in the 1990s and early 2000s. Wall street is no longer investing in the future but rather solely interested in making profits today.

We were sold the lie of "get a good education, find a good career, work hard, and you will be wealthy." The truth is go into debt for an education, become a wage slave or modern day indentured servant, and all of our innovation and ability will be used to make someone else rich. We have been convinced as workers that our contribution means little and we should accept the tokens traded to us for the hours of our lives. All this so we can buy and have stuff we do not really ever own. The truth is the ONLY thing we ever really own is the skill of our hands, the ideas in our minds, and the artistry of our abilities. Yet we allow that to be taken under the bondage of debt to provide wealth to our Masters and overlords.

I do not believe people are really ready to examine how deeply they have been duped. When they are willing to see the lies then maybe you can get them to understand. Until then the corporations, the haves, will continue to take from everyone else, the soon to be halve nots, through the manipulation of our government. SInce 1974 the productivity of the average American worker has doubled. The average income has stayed pretty close to the same. The disparity between what top 10% earn and the rest of us make has grown exponentially wider. The rich get richer. The rest of us are slowly losing ground.

That will be a hard pill for anyone to swallow. Fixing it will be a hard sale.

Posted by Dani Cailin on Jul. 29, 2010 @ 1:36 am

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