Mountain Views News     Logo: MVNews     Saturday, July 27, 2013

MVNews this week:  Page 16

leFt turN/rIGHt turN/oPINoN Mountain Views News Saturday, July 27, 2013 16 leFt turN/rIGHt turN/oPINoN Mountain Views News Saturday, July 27, 2013 16 
PublISHer/ edItor 
Susan Henderson 
CIty edItor 
Dean Lee 
eaSt Valley edItor 
Joan Schmidt 
buSINeSS edItor 
LaQuetta Shamblee 
SeNIor CommuNItyedItor 
Pat Birdsall 
Patricia Colonello 
John Aveny 
Chris Leclerc 
Bob Eklund 
Howard HaysPaul CarpenterStuart Tolchin 
Kim Clymer-KelleyChristopher NyergesPeter Dills 
Hail Hamilton 
Rich Johnson 
Chris Bertrand 
Ron Carter 
Rev. James SnyderBobby EldridgeMary CarneyKatie HopkinsDeanne Davis 
Despina ArouzmanGreg WellbornDr. John Talevich 
Ben Show 
Sean KaydenJasmine Kelsey Williams 
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HoWard Hays as I See It 

“Those who imagine that a politician would make a better figurehead 
than a hereditary monarch might perhaps make the acquaintance of 
more politicians.” - Margaret Thatcher 

It was hard to miss the royal news last week. Yes, after twenty years on 
the throne, Belgian King Albert II abdicated, citing ill health, with his 
son Philippe taking over. An Oxford-trained fighter pilot, the new king 
got his MA in Political Science at Stanford. 

Okay, there’s that other royal news. Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands 

turned the throne over to her son Willem-Alexander, a Dutch Navy vet 

who’s into water management issues. He’s also into doing “normal” stuff without the atten

dant publicity, as he recently ran the NYC Marathon under a pseudonym. 

Over here, the President and Attorney General of the United States, and tens of thousands 
of citizens, have publicly cited their own personal experiences as evidence that racism is 
alive, festering and stoked in our country; while Fox News assures us they’re wrong. Republicans 
in Congress proclaim their determination to bring our government to a halt in 
order to rescind the Affordable Care Act and voucher-ize Medicare. The headline this past 
week, though, is the royal baby in London. To that, I can’t add much beyond the comment 
on CNN that the Duchess Catherine had “really ticked the right boxes”, and the network’s 
“Royal Contributor” Victoria Arbiter’s characterization of the Duchess’ having given birth 
to a boy as “brilliant”. 

We have a bemused fascination with royalty as quaint anachronism – entertaining yet distinctly 
at odds with our national DNA. At his first inauguration, President Washington 
was addressed as “His High Mightiness, the President of the United States and Protector of 
their Liberties”. He agreed with James Madison and Congress, though, that it smacked of 
monarchy – and had it shortened to “Mr. President”. Washington declined to run for a third 
term not because of doubts of being re-elected, but for fear of establishing something akin 
to royal perpetual rule. 

We’ve prided ourselves as a nation devoid of the class systems characteristic of monarchies; 
with ambition, ability and hard work counting for more than the station into which one is 
born. Recent studies, however, show we lag behind other countries in opportunities for 
upward mobility – including those maintaining traditions of royalty. 

A 2006 Swedish study showed that in Great Britain, 30% of men born into the bottom fifth 
of household incomes will stay there. In Denmark, it’s only 25%. In the U.S., it’s 42%. As for 
getting rich, 12% of British men born into the bottom fifth managed to rise to the top fifth 
in income. In Denmark, it’s 14%. In the U.S., it’s only 8%. Research from the Pew Trusts 
shows that for men and women in the U.S. born into either the bottom fifth or top fifth in 
household income, nearly two-thirds will stay where they started out. 

A joint Harvard / UC Berkeley study released earlier this month shows pronounced differences 
in upward mobility not among countries, but among different regions in our own. If 
you’re born into affluence, chances are you’ll stay there no matter where you live. The difference 
is with those coming from poverty or the middle-class – for whom chances of bettering 
themselves depend on where they come from. 

Chances of being able to provide your kids a higher standard of living than what you’d had 
growing up are slimmest in the Southeast and industrial Midwest. They’re highest in the 
Northeast, Great Plains and the West. It’s not just a matter of coming from a rich or poor 
city. Seattle and Atlanta have similar average incomes, yet a poor kid from Seattle has as 
much chance of growing up to do well financially as does a middle-class kid from Atlanta. 

The researchers identified four factors which make a difference: one is the prevalence of 
mixed-income neighborhoods, where low-income households aren’t isolated in separate 
enclaves of their own. Segregated communities are one reason Atlanta lags behind the national 
norm. Another factor is two-parent households. There’s the importance of quality elementary 
and high schools. Fourth is the degree of community involvement in civic affairs. 

Common characteristics of nations offering the greatest opportunity for upward mobility 
are mirrored by those in regions of our own country where there’s the greatest likelihood 
of getting ahead. There’s the recognition of a quality education being a public investment 
in the future, rather than something reserved for the affluent. There’s universal access to 
healthcare, including family planning. Unions are strong and workers’ rights are protected. 
The emphasis is on keeping kids out of the justice system, rather than increasing rates of 
incarceration. As to that most basic “involvement in civic affairs”, voting is encouraged, 
rather than suppressed. 

The recent study, though, shows that as a nation we still have a long way to go. A third of 
those born into the wealthiest 1% were pulling in $100,000 incomes by the age of thirty. For 
those from the bottom half, it’s 1 in 25. 

Thoughts of monarchies of old conjure up images of privileged elites bestowing favors among 
themselves, at the expense of their subjects. Five years ago, Congress readily approved $700 
billion to bail out the financial behemoths that tanked our economy. Today, $18.5 billion 
to rescue Detroit is unthinkable. Retirement funds and healthcare for thousands of Detroit 
workers and their families must be sacrificed to satisfy Wall Street bondholders. 

Our own royal elite, those Fortune 500 CEOs, according to Bloomberg are now making 204 
times the pay of the average worker; up from 120-to-1 in 2000, 42-to-1 in 1980 and 20-to-1 
in 1950. The CIA Factbook shows income inequality in the U.S. to be on a par with that in 
Uganda and the Ivory Coast; worse than in Pakistan and Ethiopia. 

European nations have retained the remnants of royalty while evolving into egalitarian, progressive 
societies. We’ve gone in the other direction; founded on the rejection of royalty, but 
we seem to have forgotten why. 

Stuart Tolchin..........on LIFE

CaN We maKe SometHING Go 
aWay by Not talKING about It? 

Well, I’m back from a week vacation staying with my wife’s 
friends in Cape Cod. It was quite a trip and it allowed me to see a 

whole segment of undiversified White People escaping record heats 

by immersing themselves in the lakes, ponds and bay of Cape Cod. I 
tried to do the same but somehow became repeatedly bitten by some 
green-headed mosquitoes that sucked blood.

Already in this first paragraph I have mentioned things that could 
easily be omitted. First let’s talk about the undiversified White People. Why do I have 
to make a big deal about this? Probably Sierra Madre has about the same percentage of 
White People as Cape Cod so why bother talking about it? One reason, I guess, is the 
beauty and the large expanse of Cape Cod. It was so hot and yet all these White People 

looked so happy and prosperous that it just didn’t seem fair. There they were, three andfour generations of them, frolicking in the water and speaking with their weird accents 
and acting as if they owned the world; maybe they still do?

If my wife reads this (she just walked behind me) she would say—Mr. Provocative 

–you always have to poke, poke, poke. (In fact she just said it.) Why can’t I just leave 
well enough alone and enjoy what I can enjoy and shut up about what I don’t enjoy? I 
had the experience of talking to someone while in the water, probably out of earshot of 
my wife, and still hearing what I imagined to be her thoughts in my head. Why can’t you 
keep your opinions to yourself, which leads to the question if whether or not I should 
keep my opinions to myself?

Let me give you an example. My wife’s friend’s daughter has an internship at one of 

the local Courthouses and my wife, her friend, and I wandered over to the historic mainCourtroom to watch the proceedings. Contrary to my experience in Los Angeles County, 
almost every person in the Courtroom seemed to be Caucasian. The male lawyers were 
exquisitely dressed with well-manicured beards while the female lawyers were generally 
younger and less carefully dressed. (Later it was explained to me by our friend’s 
daughter that the males were generally quasi-retired, living on Cape Cod and picking 
up Court Appointments whenever they could, while the females were generally recent 
graduates starting out with a completely different mentality. (Note: observation plus 
information can lead to possible understanding.) Anyway, one of the Defendants was a 
well-dressed, light-skinned, Dominican man. The Judge addressed him by commenting 
on his appearance and ethnicity and then said, “I’m sure you want to make a good 

appearance before the Court, Mr.----, but I don’t think standing there chewing your cud 

is the best way to do it.” The Defendant didn’t understand the term “cud” and the Judge 

clarified by saying’ “chewing your cud LIKE A COW in front of this Court. You’re not 

a cow, are you?”

Leaving the Courtroom my wife and her friend remarked upon how stupid the 

Defendant was chewing gum when he went before the Court. “How could anyone be so 

inappropriate?” For some reason their remarks really got under my skin. I maintained 

that the Judge, a red-faced old Irishman, simply took that opportunity to humiliate a 

defenseless Defendant just for the fun of it. I have seen Judges do this kind of thing for

years. Maybe it’s a way of keeping control, or setting some sort of example, or maybe 

the Judges are just trying to keep themselves awake. The thing that I hate, I guess, is thatmost people automatically side with the person in authority - you know the old “might 
makes right”. I think it’s important for people to think about who they see as the good 
guy and who they see as the bad guy. In fact, one of my very favorite things is to discuss 
and try to analyze interactions like this. I don’t do it, at least I don’t think I do it, just 
to argue and cause trouble. I do it because I think it is connected to something big and 
important - something like right and wrong or good and evil. I believe there is a great 
decline in the amount of respect that people give to one another. Increasingly we have

become disinterested in discussing our positions. Instead we generally find ourselves 

in one camp or another and generally keep our opinions to ourselves and maintain our 
private fantasies about what the world is like.

I completely applaud President Obama’s recent speech wherein he confided to the 
world that, even in 2013, it ain’t easy to be a Black Man and, contrary to what people 

would like to believe, racism still exists. If America is going maintain its position in the 
world we have to objectively face our problems regarding racism, income distribution, 
education, and the overall misuse of resources. Another thing that must change is the 
habitual holding on of opinions and attitudes that are no longer “appropriate” in today’s 
world. We all need to evolve. 

lIGHt at tHe eNd oF tHe 
detroIt tuNNel

 Detroit’s bankruptcy filing is perhaps the most important 
fiscal event in the last several years. It isn’t just a local or 
Michigan issue, and it isn’t just another city – like San 
Bernardino, Stockton. Detroit is the largest city to ever 
declare bankruptcy. How it emerges from that bankruptcy 
will greatly affect Americans from east to west and north to 

 Now, at the same time so much national attention is being 
focused on Detroit, there is still a lot of confusion about 
exactly what happened in this once Emerald City. Detroit, after all, represented the 
automotive age, America’s industrial might and burgeoning middle class economic 
growth. Detroit was Motor City and the home of much of the industrial strength 
that allowed us to win WWII. How could such a city fall so far from its perch?

Very bad political management is the easy answer, but the more detailed and 
important answer is a case study in the vicious cycle that grips many American 
cities today. Detroit is only a few months ahead of Chicago, Philadelphia, Oakland 
and our own Los Angeles. It’s important that we understand what happened.

 Detroit, like many other cities, maintained a pension plan for public workers. 
The political leaders engaged in a long pattern of granting increases in pension 
benefits to public workers in return for substantial political contributions from 
the unions representing those same public workers. It was, and is, a classic 
case of conflict of interest, but unlike contributions from corporate sources, 
the mainstream press didn’t raise any eyebrows, let alone any alarms about the 
arrangement. Compounding the problem is the fact that granting an increase in 
pension benefits didn’t immediately hit the city’s budget. You see, a pension benefit 
is a promise to pay a future benefit. Sometimes that promise doesn’t have to be 
honored for 20 years or more. 

Consider the case of a young 30-something public worker. If his pension benefit 
is increased by 10%, his salary does not go up today by 10%. The city’s budget is 
not impacted today. But when that worker retires in 30 years or so, the amount 
of money the city has to pay him has been increased by 10% for every year of his 
retirement. The average American lives 20 years after his or her retirement date, 
so a 10% increase represents a substantial amount of money. But – and politicians 
figured this out pretty quickly – taxes don’t need to be raised to meet that new, 
larger obligation when the increase is granted. No, the increase in taxes will occur 
way down the line – on someone else’s watch. The amount of the obligation owed 
to public workers is calculated each year, and the closer the city gets to retirement 
age, the more the city has to contribute into the pension plan in order to meet the 

 To meet these rising contribution requirements, Detroit has for years been 
gutting basic services and increasing taxes. Almost 70% of the city’s parks have 
been closed since 2008. Almost 50% of the street lights don’t work. The police 
force has been reduced by 40% over the last ten years. At the same time, residents 
have seen their tax burden increase markedly. They pay the highest income and 
property taxes in the state. Business taxes were doubled not too long ago.

 Not surprisingly – at least not if you understand basic economics – the residents 
and the businesses that could afford to leave the city have done so. Those that can 
afford to leave are typically the ones who pay the highest taxes. As rates have gone 
up, population and business count have gone down, as have tax revenues. The 
problem of unrealistic public employee pension benefits was magnified. 

 Today, the problem has come to a head. There aren’t enough remaining services 
to be cut and there aren’t enough people and businesses left who could be taxed 
enough to meet the obligations of the pension promises made. Bankruptcy was 
the only answer. Bankruptcy allows a city (the borrower) to renegotiate all debt 
obligations, including pension obligations. Public employee unions are challenging 
the constitutionality of municipal bankruptcy because they know that Chicago, 
Philadelphia, Oakland and Los Angeles are collectively next in line. Public 
employee unions are also arguing for a federal bailout, but all that would do is force 
others to pay for the profligacy of Detroit’s managers. If a bailout were granted, 
it would represent the 21st Century version of taxation without representation. 
Neither you nor I were allowed to vote in Detroit elections, and yet, if a federal 
bailout is granted, then our taxes would go up without us ever having had the 
opportunity to vote on the issue.

 If a bailout is allowed, the day of reckoning will only be postponed a little longer, 
but it will be spread to affect more Americans. Many of the cities mentioned above 
have approached their public union leaders to negotiate reasonable reductions in 
the unsustainable benefits which have been promised. So long as there is a chance 
the Feds might come to the rescue, there is no incentive for any union leader to 
negotiate. Only the reality that this charade cannot be perpetuated any longer will 
force real change in a corrupt system. This has been a long time coming, and many 
economists have warned of its inevitability. As hard as it will be, bankruptcy and 
renegotiation will be the best thing for Detroit and the rest of the nation. Clearing 
out this fiscal mess and ridding the system of conflicts of interest represent a bright 
light in an otherwise long dark tunnel. 

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