September 16, 2016
So today I opened my email to the usual flood of pleas from candidates and causes, most of which I support. It’s annoying, but I guess they need our money to keep on keeping on with whatever it is that they do.
However. On almost a daily basis I’ve been getting a begging letter from or on behalf of one Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, better known as Daily Kos. He and his staff are asking for contributions to fund a new site focused on elections, a spin-off from their very popular aggregation of mostly pseudonymous rants from self-identified progressives. Like the main Daily Kos site, this new one seems to be ad-heavy (“3 Ways To Stop Dementia--Learn the 3 simple habits that can stop dementia dead in its tracks").
With a claimed 10 million unique hits the Kos enterprise is big business. Today he’s asking each reader to give him a dollar, which would be a cool $10 million if they do.
All of this is fine. The Daily Kos founder, like Tom Lehrer’s Old Dope Peddler, is “doing well by doing good.” And why shouldn’t he?
But when national figures like Markos wrap themselves in the progressive banner, it’s a good idea to check out who they really are when they’re at home.
So when I saw Kos’s recent comments on local news site Berkeleyside, deriding neighbors who spoke up at Berkeley’s Zoning Adjustments Board opposing expansion of a Honda repair shop into a historic retail building in a residential area, I was, shall we say, “shocked”. (Actually, not so much, because he’s done this before.)
Some samples from his comments on that story:
“There are a bunch of repair shops just south of Ashby, a couple of blocks from here. There's nothing in that neighborhood's character that precludes this sort of use, but NIMBYs will be NIMBYs in Berkeley…Their hysteria is ridiculous…[Re complaints that existing dealerships park display autos on sidewalks:] Public parking is public parking. Why wouldn't Volvo be allowed to park there? [Re complaints that the project threatens a historic structure:] Too late. Any Mountain [the current tenant] destroyed that 'rich history' already, since apparently a building's history is determined by 1) some old tenant, and 2) a current tenant that is not the old tenant…Then again, this does speak to Berkeley's rich historical pedigree. Rome has the Coliseum. Athens has the Parthenon. Berkeley has [t]he place that once housed a supermarket!”
What kind of progressive moves into a neighborhood (he lives just a few blocks away) and trashes his new neighbors?
Some more ugly stuff there:
“So what if developers see downtown Berkeley as a cash cow? Who built the existing buildings in Berkeley, non-profit benevolent altruistic charities? People build stuff because 1) there's demand, and 2) money can be made. There's nothing inherently bad about that. In fact, that's why just about everything in this country is made, period.”
And about the homeless in downtown Berkeley:
“Where is this right to sit down wherever the hell you please enumerated? I'm curious! There's a park a block over if someone needs a place to chill. Me, I'm looking forward to being able to walk the area with my kids without having to step over human excrement, or having a barely constrained pit bull snapping at them.”
And he’s asking us progressives to send him money? Sorry, Kos, you’re not a nice guy.
The South Shattuck neighborhood in question is not a fancy one. Its small homes in the Flats, many multi-family, many owned by older people who bought them years ago before Berkeley was invaded by the lifestyles of the rich and famous. And yes, there was also an ageist comment on that thread, not from Kos but by someone who agreed with him: “Why are there so many grumpy retirees with nothing better to do in this city?”
Exhibiting this kind of disdain for ordinary people who take an interest in what happens in their neighborhoods is exactly the kind of thing that swells the Trump ranks. If a self-styled progressive like Markos Moulitsas takes the side of a major multi-national corporation like Honda against people who don’t want more automobiles near their homes (not just homeowners but also tenants) it’s no wonder some of the aggrieved are tempted by false prophets like Trump.
Let’s remember that he’s the councilmember who voted to pay out a half-million dollars of public funds as a sweetener for the newly hired Berkeley police chief’s private house (not in a Flatlands neighborhood, may we say, but in the plushier Hills) and then allowed his own real estate company to broker the purchase for a nice commission. Way to profit from public service, Cap!
Reich was a prominent Berni-bro, eager to denounce Hillary (and Bill, reportedly his former classmate at Oxford) for as long as he could get away with it. But Bernie Sanders has endorsed Jesse Arreguin for Mayor of Berkeley, probably because Jesse endorsed him in the California presidential primary.
I looked all around the Internet, but could find no record that Capitelli had ever endorsed Sanders (though I left a message on the councilman’s machine, and maybe he’ll call back to contradict me.)
Arreguin is one of only 100 local candidates to get this accolade from ol’ Bern. As far as I can determine, most of Bernie’s endorsees were local leaders who supported him in the primary. (Full disclosure: another one is my son-in-law Chris Krohn, who is running for the Santa Cruz city council, and who worked hard for Sanders in June.)
Robert Reich has been on the wrong side of local history ever since he scored the prestigious slot of Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Richard Blum Center for Developing Economies. In furtherance of these fancy jobs, he has moved here, for at least part of the year, and has been busily sucking up to those in power, like Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates.
On the big topics, Reich’s a clever and powerful writer. It’s a mystery to me why he doesn’t practice what he preaches when it comes to local controversies. Here’s a quote:
“If nothing is done to counter present trends, the major fault line in American politics will no longer be between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. It will be between the 'establishment'—political insiders, power brokers, the heads of American business, Wall Street, and the mainstream media—and an increasingly mad-as-hell populace determined to 'take back America' from them.”
Yet Berkeley Councilmember Laurie Capitelli and his mentor Mayor Tom Bates are exactly the establishment described by this analysis. They are the quintessential political insiders, the power brokers in a city increasingly threatened by speculative developers coming in with big money to profit from the building boom. And like Sanders and Reich, they’re Old White Guys. (I know, Some of My Best Friends Are too, but still…)
Councilmember Arreguin, on the other hand, is a young Latino, the son of farmworkers, who has consistently sponsored progressive programs on the council and stood up for those being displaced by the city’s gentrification.
In a complicated switcheroo on another progressive goal, Capitelli first opposed Arreguin’s minimum wage proposal at city council, which was then put on the November ballot by petition. Then he joined the council majority in putting a much weaker version on the November ballot to compete with it. THEN he ginned up a third proposal to supplant both ballot propositions and asked for a special city council meeting to pass it. THEN he didn’t show up for the meeting he himself had requested, which we only heard about via a downtown business association press release. And finally, he persuaded the council, in another special meeting, to pass a “compromise” ordinance, which unlike a ballot proposition could be repealed by a subsequent council vote. And THEN he told us schlemiels to vote no on both ballot measures. Slippery, right?
Berkeley is increasingly being invaded not only by rich international investors but by global and national celebrities like Moulitsas and Reich, who have identified the city as a trendy happenin’ place to live. People like this who’ve moved around a lot seem to have trouble understanding what contributes to what’s sometimes called a sense of place.
As defined by the Geography Dictionary:
“Either the intrinsic character of a place, or the meaning people give to it, but, more often, a mixture of both. Some places are distinctive through their physical appearance, like the Old Man of Hoy; others are distinctive, but have value attached to them, like the white cliffs of Dover.”
Berkeley has been distinguished both for its unique architecture and for what’s happened here. For example, the interesting Moderne building, which Honda proposes to take over for its repair shop, was once was a theater that hosted the first reading of Howl.
Yes, Markos, it’s part of “Berkeley's rich historical pedigree” which you so deride. Too bad you’re too tone-deaf to appreciate it.
And Professor Reich, if your endorsees, Bates, Capitelli and their ilk, are eventually successful in giving away the city’s remaining development sites for ugly boxes marketed by out-of-town Real Estate Investment Trusts as luxury apartments, we will have lost both our diverse residents and our sense of place.
More Kos: “Real democracy is at the polls, not the people who show up at arcane meetings.” Well, no, speaking out at meetings counts for lot too.
My high school’s motto was “Actions speak louder than words.” Being a true progressive means more than just loudly claiming you are one when you have a platform on the internet. As a famous New Yorker once said, "Eighty percent of success is showing up."
When you don’t show up you don’t make much progress. For the record, I’ve never seen either Kos or Reich at a Berkeley City Council meeting, and that’s not a good thing.
P.S. An eagle-eyed reader has spotted, in the latest Capitelli press release, the news that (SURPRISE) Markos Moulitsas Zuniga has also endorsed Capitelli, the big developers' main guy. Birds of a feather flock together.