By Doug Porter
I attended Voice of San Diego’s Politifest on Saturday, held at Liberty Station. It was a gorgeous San Diego morning for what was dubbed a ‘civic festival.’ Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari and Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins were invited to strut their stuff.
Politifest is in the tradition of the days when grand public rallies were held to support candidates and causes–with a little bit of the 60’s teach-in thrown in for good measure. The main difference is that this annual event doesn’t have a cause beyond civic involvement.
There weren’t a whole lot of people there–once you accounted for all those participating in some fashion–but those that did attend were the kind of people who take their policy seriously. Alternately it could be called it Wonkfest; or Politicon (with craft beer! and food trucks!). The nerd in me was glad they do this.
Organizations large and small from around the region staffed booths, passed out literature, collected signatures on petitions and hoped to make a few converts to their causes. There were smaller workshops throughout the day. There was music. There were kids places. And there was plenty of sunshine.
Kicking off the day on the main stage was a conversation between VOSD’s Scott Lewis and Neel Kashkari.
The former treasury official/entrepreneur spend nearly $2 million of his own money to eke out a primary victory in June over Assemblyman Tim Donnelly in one of the lowest turnout elections in state history.
Tea Party favorite Donnelly represented the rear guard of the party; the we’re-more-American-than-you-
From the San Francisco Chronicle:
But in his largely one-man campaign, Donnelly himself was responsible for some of the most damaging headlines. A post on Donnelly’s Facebook page that suggested that Kashkari, a Hindu, supported Islamic Shariah law drew widespread condemnation.
And after a newspaper dug up a 2006 speech to anti-illegal-immigration Minutemen in which he referred approvingly to the number of Mexicans killed at the Alamo, Donnelly was anything but apologetic, saying, “People will respect you if you stick to your guns.”
Kashkari would like voters to believe he’s the future of the party. He stands apart from Republican orthodoxy on social issues. He’s a self-made man, the child of immigrants. He even voted for Barack Obama (once in 2008). Words like “opportunity” and “education” frame his speeches.
While no sane political analyst gives the GOP candidate a shot of beating Gov. Jerry Brown in the November election, I thought listening to Kashkari’s spiel in front of a technically non-partisan crowd would prove informative. From my point of view his positions on social issues like same sex marriage were irrelevant; of course any candidate seriously running for office in California is going to at least acknowledge the change in societal acceptance.
The Fresno Follies
Host Scott Lewis went right to the heart of the matter: Kashkari’s recent YouTube event featuring the candidate roaming the streets of Fresno posing as a homeless guy.
The GOP candidate rolled out his standard attempt at framing the issue. It was just about verbatim from his Wall Street Journal article about the experience:
“I went to dozens of businesses in search of work but wasn’t able to get any. In seven days, I didn’t see a single ‘Help Wanted’ sign, but I did see plenty of signs that fast-food outlets now accept food stamps.”
We were told the answer to California’s woes was JOBS, lots of them. This was his great revelation, coming to him almost as if was a vision, at the end of his days among the downtrodden. Riiight.
Kashkari’s longing for a poster offering jobs did nothing but prove just how disconnected from reality he is. (Does he know that “Help Wanted” signs in the service industry are not considered to be a good business practice? Did anybody in the media ever ask that question? The answer is no.)
His ignorance of reality aside, he’s a slick one. Throughout the Politifest interview he’d answer questions by quickly building a case based on twisted, false or unprovable assumptions, leading to his “common sense solution.” I’d love to run his spiel in slo-mo and make the candidate stop after each of his “facts.”
Asked about the realities of trying to get by on sub-living wage pay, Kashkari was quick to tout North Dakota, where McDonald’s workers get $15 an hour.
Yes indeedy, North-by-God-Dakota. It must be some kind of economic paradise, to hear him tell it. He talked it up three times…. if we only got rid of those pesky environmental regulations and let business have free reign, California would blossom…Just like North Dakota.
Good Times, Not So Much
North Dakota is in the midst of an oil boom, brought on by the fact that prices over $100 a barrel make using high pressure extraction (fracking) from shale profitable. They’re in the “drill,baby, drill mode.”
And a few years down the road, when things go to “pump, baby, pump” only 2 out of 120 jobs currently filled will remain.
Pipelines carrying waste product from fracking sites are only voluntarily inspected; one million gallons of waste leaked out over two weeks last month near a reservoir that supplies drinking water to the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. The official response was to encourage the public to report damage from leaks when they see it.
In Kashkari’s North Dakota paradise, people can just disappear off the street and the police, under-manned and underpaid, are helpless to do anything.
From the New York Times:
Last year, a study by officials in Montana and North Dakota found that crime had risen by 32 percent since 2005 in communities at the center of the boom. In Watford City, N.D., where mile-long chains of tractor-trailers stack up at the town’s main traffic light, arrests increased 565 percent during that time. In Roosevelt County in Montana, arrests were up 855 percent, and the sheriff, Freedom Crawford, said his jail was so full that he was ticketing and releasing offenders for minor crimes like disorderly conduct.
The Man Camps
Sexually transmitted disease, assaults and even sexual slavery are facts of life in the “Man-Camps” of North Dakota, the “free market” solution of RVs and trailers brought in by oil companies to house their workers.
From a Lakota Country Times story, with former Rosebud Sioux Tribe Police Chief Grace Her Many Horses:
“Sexual assaults on the male population has increased by 75% in that area,” she continued. That kind of statistic makes maximum security prisons look like the minor league. “One of the things we ran into while working up there was a 15 year old boy had gone missing. He was found in one of the Man Camps with one of the oil workers. They were passing him around from trailer to trailer.”
He went there looking for a job and was hired by individuals within the Man Camp to do light cleaning in and around their personal areas. The young teenager was forced into sex slavery. It’s the kind of thing you hear about in the ghettos of third world countries; not in the quiet and remote countryside.
The victims aren’t just males but females too. Everyone has heard by now of the missing school teacher that was kidnapped as she was out jogging, repeatedly sexually assaulted, and murdered near one of these Man Camps. The age of the Man Camp victims varies. The assailants are not necessarily looking for male and female adults. They are also going after little girls.
Grace Her Many Horse recalls one specific instance where “We found a crying, naked, four year old girl running down one of the roads right outside of the Man Camp. She had been sexually assaulted.
In Kashkari’s North Dakota paradise, those McDonald’s workers making $15 an hour still can’t afford rent, which has more than quadrupled in recent years. And they don’t qualify for government assistance because they make too much money. The housing shortage is so severe that Williston, ND, located in the center of the economic growth, currently ranks as the most expensive city in the United States in which to rent a property.
It’s the Wild Effin’ West
And worker protection in Neel Kashkari’s North Dakota paradise? Meh.
From a Mother Jones article focusing on a young truck driver who survived a brutal accident with a speeding freight train:
Job growth in the oil and gas industry has tripled since 2007, according to data from the North Dakota Petroleum Council (NDPC). But workers’ compensation claims have soared almost sixfold among the state’s oil and gas truckers and have more than quadrupled among its gas and oil workers as a whole.
Those figures only account for the people who actually file workers’ comp claims. Many injured workers are encouraged not to. Lawyer Dan Fleck, whose Wyoming firm has represented thousands of injured oil workers in its 60 years, says companies often create a “culture of safety” by offering rewards for low injury rates. “There became a huge push to not report so people can get their stupid jean jackets,” Fleck says. “Those are ways of manipulating injury rates in a way that’s really disingenuous.” The result, especially in states like North Dakota, where companies are allowed to compensate workers directly for their injuries: “It’s the Wild Fucking West out there right now.”
Three years before his encounter with the train, Ethan Ritter crushed two vertebrae working at a gas plant. A coworker told him to “quit being a pussy,” but doctors ordered him to stop working, so he did. His employer quietly covered his salary for a year. “When you report something up here to workman’s comp,” Ritter says, “there’s a lot of companies that look at your accident record, and if you have X amount of accidents they’re not gonna let your company work for them.”
Don’t Mind the Cancer
Finally we have the health and environmental costs of Neel Kashkari’s North Dakota paradise. While the toxic effects of fracking have yet to be quantified (not enough people have died yet to satisfy industry apologists), we do know historically speaking that the dirty carbon extraction industry has always been bad news for human beings and the environment.
From PR Watch:
Not only has the chemical cocktail inserted into the ground been shown to contaminate groundwater and drinking water, but fracking fluid also picks up toxins on its trip down to the bedrock and back up again that had previously been safely locked away underground.
Chemicals linked to cancer are present in nearly all of the steps of extraction — in the fracking fluids, the release of radioactive and other hazardous materials from the shale, and in transportation and drilling related air pollution and contaminated water disposal.
Some reports indicate that more than 25 percent of the chemicals used in natural gas operations have been linked to cancer or mutations, although companies like Haliburton have lobbied hard to keep the public in the dark about the exact formula of fracking fluids. According to the U.S. Committee on Energy and Commerce, fracking companies used 95 products containing 13 different known and suspected carcinogens between 2005 and 2009 as part of the fracking fluid that is injected in the ground. These include naphthalene, benzene, and acrylamide. Benzene, which the U.S. EPA has classified as a Group A, human carcinogen, is released in the fracking process through air pollution and in the water contaminated by the drilling process. The Institute of Medicine released a report in December 2011 that links breast cancer to exposure to benzene.
Up to thirty-seven percent of chemicals in fracking fluids have been identified as endocrine-disruptors — chemicals that have potential adverse developmental and reproductive effects. According to the U.S. EPA, exposure to these types of chemicals has also been implicated in breast cancer.
At the Core of His Vision
North Dakota is what it is, but it will never be a vision for California can or should become. Maybe we should take up a collection for Mr. Kashkari to go walk the streets of Watford City. I’m sure he’ll get a job; let’s hear about what happens after he starts work.
To those who believe there is anything “New” about Kashkari’s economic programs, I’d like to point out the laissez-faire economics at their core has a well-documented history of being used as a device for sorting the worthy and unworthy amongst the poorer classes. Economist blogger Robert Neilson, in debunking the theory that the Great Famine of Ireland was a genocidal conspiracy, described it as “Laissez faire turned into Leave them to die.”
(See Scally, The End of Hidden Ireland: Rebellion, Famine, and Emigration for how British Protestants applied these theories to their Irish ‘problem.’)
What Kashkari and his fellow New Republicans (including Carl DeMaio) are offering is an oppressive economic program stripped of its overt racist and class trappings and dressed up with words like “opportunity.”
In their alternative universe the invisible hand of the market will do the dirty work ridding society of it’s less-than-desirables. If starvation or segregation is unacceptable in a modern society, then cancer will do just fine, thank you.
Oh, and the weather sucks in North Dakota. The average winter low temperature is in the neighborhood of zero degrees.
PS-North Dakota does have one thing going for it that Kashkari ought to plug: A State-owned bank.
PPS-I’d write about Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins appearance at Politifest, but I keep getting lost in her word cloud.
On This Day: 1884 – Federal troops drove some 1,200 jobless workers from Washington D.C. Led by unemployed activist Charles “Hobo” Kelley, the group’s “soldiers” include young journalist Jack London and William Haywood, a young miner-cowboy called “Big Bill” 1969 – Diana Ross invited 350 guests to a Beverly Hills club to see the newest Motown act, The Jackson 5. 1984 – President Ronald Reagan was preparing for his weekly radio broadcast when, during testing of the microphone, the President said of the Soviet Union, “My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you that I just signed legislation that would outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”
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Thanks for that excellent look at the Man Camp byproduct of that state’s fracking affair and your writing should be brought to Toni Atkins’ attention, too.
John Lawrence says
North Dakota’s public bank should be replicated all over the nation. That and Alaska’s sovereign wealth fund which gives every Alaskan a yearly check in compensation for the oil drilled out of the state. These programs benefit average citizens by building up their non-labor wealth which is the antidote for middle class inequality: let the middle class (and the poor) share in the wealth of the nation and not just make their living off of labor. Check out Public assets allow the economy to produce great wealth that’s not shared
Dorothy Lee says
You didn’t say how carefully, or fully, or if even at all, Lewis challenged Kashkari’s simplistic spiel. I get the impression Lewis did pretty much what he always does, which isn’t much. North Dakota’s current horrible reality is well-documented and shouldn’t have been something that any media person would allow to be glossed and held up as an example of America at its best. But the really depressing thing is that Kashkari knew that he could get away with it with Lewis, and with the type of people who showed up to observe and listen.
I heard local news reports estimate a Politifest crowd of about 1000; that would include the vendors, businesses, and other participants. In Hillcrest on the same weekend, more than 100,000 people attended CityFest.
Maybe next year VOSD should change the name to Politi-Con.
Anna Daniels says
Dorothy–I’m with you. I cannot imagine why Kashkari was even invited, except as click bait. He doesn’t have a snow ball’s chance in hell against Brown. We wonder how fringe elements on the right have been able to establish themselves in congress, state legislatures and local school boards. The media has been more than willing to provide them with a platform. You know- fair and balanced.