I watched our so-called leaders, both elected and appointed officials, “tap out” on Democracy, submit to their corporate overlords, sell out their constituents, one after another, gladly, gleefully, smilingly, willfully, by a margin of 12 to 2. (City Council, 8 to 1, last night; Plannning Commission, 4 to 1, on Feb. 25). The lone dissenters, who stood with their neighbors, and against corporate greed and hegemony, if in futility, were first-term council member Karen Holman, and planning commissioner Arthur Keller.
The rest of them threw their neighbors under the bus. They are willing to sacrifice at least and especially two people, Michelle Kraus and Jeffrey Jones, top floor residents at 488 University Avenue, Hotel President, so as to not displease the corporate behemoth that is their master; who knows how many of the rest of us 59,000 they will sacrifice for the sake of their gadgets and consumerism, and their political ambitions (like to become the next Liz Kniss ); it’s also no coincidence that the bulk of these elected officials besides not being residentialist are also beholden to the leading local special interest; the top seven finishers in the 2009 City Council race all had close ties and ample backing from real estate interests –not to confuse the distinction between special interests and corporate creep.
To “tap out” is a term from submission wrestling wherein the combatant signals his or her submission by tapping the mat or saying “tap.” Metaphorically speaking, I watched our leaders signal their submission to the small army of corporate mouth-pieces well before the actual votes.
Tapping out is like Roberto Duran saying “no mas” rather than continuing in the ring so as not to end up like Duk Koo Kim against Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini. But in politics, I would much rather see my representatives battle on than submit so readily.
Even in the face of the so-called “Federal shot clock” (if you forgive the switch to basketball metaphors, from martial arts), wherein we were told that we would be sued in Federal Court if we didn’t submit fast enough, I would rather see Palo Alto conscientiously stand up to injustice rather than cave in so spinelessly. Indeed, I think we should instruct new city attorney Molly Stump to look into the ramifications of such civil disobedience.
The large telecommunications company at issue here, according to the Wall Street Journal, spent $15 million lobbying Congress in Washington, D.C. to set the stage for these local events. They’ve moved the goal posts and re-marked all the fields. In effect, they and their ilk have packed the courts, the FCC and Congress with a pro-corporate lobby that to my (admittedly provinicial, naive, jeremiad) view spells the end of democracy as, for example, it was taught at Gunn High for 20 years by Clay Leo. Do you recall the terms “of the people, for the people, by the people?” If so, you’re a dinosaur! It’s now “for the company, by the company.”
In 1819, Daniel Webster argued the rights of a small private college to defy the larger bullying local government, in the Dartmouth College case; Chief Justice Marshall’s ruling set the stage for what evolved into today’s corporate contract law, that crawled out of the muck. But in the ensuing 192 years, corporations have in effect become the new monarchies, a new Feudalism. Webster ironically enough ended doing more to help The Queen of England than he did for upstarts, activists and educators, who were his clients. (Today’s slick pols would not know Daniel Webster from Daniel Craig).
I spoke to Karen Holman and Gail Price after the previous council meeting and said I philosophically opposed the applicant’s petition on anti-trust and pro-democracy/anti-corporate grounds; they looked at me with relatively blank faces, and seemed to not know what I was talking about. (Coincidentally, the next day’s papers reported that the two leading phone companies, including our applicant had merged, triggering some anti-trust discussion).
A source in the Journal, Center for Responsive Politics aka OpenSecrets dot ORG tracks the role of corporate money in policy and said that the applicant was the leading lobbyist and the leading contributor to political campaigns. I also recall learning of an entity called POCLAD which tracks the encroachment of corporate influence into the public commons.
When I chatted with someone (one of the dozen or so well-paid partisans, for the industry) in the lobby of City Hall and explained my concern, a member of the their team basically taunted me, from behind. “‘Corporate power’?! Hmmph!” he said, mockingly; it reminded me of the “woofs” of playground basketball. I was half expecting an elbow to the gullet.
At first the sheer arrogance of the applicants was shocking. Then it reminded me of the 1951 Sci-Fi movie “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” These guys were like robots from the future, or superior life forms from a distant planet, telling us the new order: Resistance is futile! Submit now!
The rhetoric toned down slightly at the City Council public hearing, but it was dismaying to see the way each council member (save Holman) submitted so easily. I felt like a Butler basketball fan watching a nightmare of really bad, unprecedented ineptitude (in Clark Kellog’s words) in shooting. Butler was 12 for 64; like I said, we were 2 for 14 in terms of sticking up for the people.
Here is if not an actual transcript a poetically true version of the exchange between three-time Mayor Larry Klein and the chief outside counsel of the applicant, as I saw it at last night’s public hearing:
Klein: I’m a lawyer, too (TAP!), so I want to ask you about the term “quiet enjoyment.” A civil code in our state from the 1950s says tenants have some rights. We know that you spend millions on lobbying and close to billions on commercial brainwashing, so how do you get around what seems at surface to be believable and reasonable concerns from the affected residents, our neighbors?
Corporate Slickie: Indeed you have some quaint words on your side, “quiet enjoyment.” Imagine those words written in tiny plain font, in gray tones not black, on a little piece of paper. We wrap that paper in a scrumptious mix of sugar and flour, colored, baked: a fortune cookie! We then wrap the fortune cookie in plastic. We buy the cookies in bags of 50 count. There are 12 bags to a box, 40 boxes to a truck. We load the trucks into boxcars. Now picture this: I make $500 an hour, I wear nice suits, I pay $150 for my slick, not quite Jeff Bridges but not Mr. Smith from “The Matrix” either haircut, and though arrogant I am actually human: I have kids (at prep school, in Southern California). But my boss, my master, you do not, believe me, want to “F” with him!! (bang, bang — or air quotes). My boss, The Colossus, he eats the BOXCARS by enormous handfills, hand over fist, as much as he wants, whenever he wants, greedily, hungrily. He eats boxcars of cookies, I’ve described, cakes, dry goods, consumer devices, widgets — whatever you got — weapons, trees, I mean, lumber, packaging and all, steel containers, the entire boxcars. He then, um, poops it all out, a sea of poop bigger than a football field. Now you puny citizens and your “quiet enjoyment,” you have permission to sift silently through our soot, in search or your quaint and archaic values and principles, for now, until further notice.
I may be over-stating the case, but if so I will gladly eat my words.
edit to add, May 20, 2011: I posted a version of this on the website, as comments, of the Palo Alto Weekly, and a link back to here; I was reacting to the opinion piece authored by Leon Beauchman, who is the person I am referring to in paragraph 10, above, who “woofed” me in the lobby of City Hall. It turns out his is a former San Jose State basketball player! I said that El Palo Alto is beginning to look like a Christmas Tree in a Terry Gilliam or Philip K. Dick movie.