I watched the televised debate between Governor Jerry Brown and Republican challenger Neel Kashkari with interest. Just the other day, an Indian friend had pointed out that Kashkari had voluntarily become homeless in order to study poverty.
“It must be a publicity stunt,” I said. “When you have millions, it is easy to become homeless for a week.”
Kashkari’s bizarre photo-op notwithstanding, his position on poverty, I have since discovered, consists of the same stale clichés that every GOP politician since Ronald Reagan has being parroting. He alleges that rising taxes have caused increasing poverty, for example. There are so many problems with his argument that I do not know where to begin. First of all, after adjusting for inflation, tax rates have fallen, not risen, since 1980. Secondly, even though taxes rates have declined significantly for high income earners, rates for people at the poverty level, who make about $22,000 a year, changed only slightly, from 20.2 percent in 1980 to 19.4 percent in 2010. This change could not really explain the huge increases in poverty levels during the same period. An argument could in fact be made that decreasing tax rates for rich people are responsible for rising poverty levels in California.
In fact, poverty has risen in America not because of the mythical tax increase, but because of decimation of manufacturing jobs due to globalization, dismantling of social safety nets such as affordable healthcare, and rising disparity in incomes.
Like every Republican politician, Kashkari oppose a hike in minimum wage. Why? The same reason that every Republican including Paul Ryan does, namely, it will affect economic growth. Apparently, after staying in Fresno homeless shelter, he still believes that paying workers more than $7.50 per hour, an amount on which no human being can survive in America, will harm the economy.
So what is his solution to poverty? Education. Kashkari seems to believe that if every one of our working class people got a college degree, we will have no poverty. But wait a minute. Will we still not need people to flip hamburgers? Or will we staff those jobs only with illegals who will conveniently not report their income? Kashkari’s position makes no sense. In every society, some menial workers will be necessary no matter how prosperous it might be and such workers will need a decent wage to live on. Or does he expect such menial jobs to be staffed by college students? But not all workers can go to college, either because they have children or other obligations or because they lack the academic aptitude. Besides, many college students do not want such jobs.
On education, the centerpiece of Kashkari’s campaign, the candidate makes some valid recommendations such as giving school districts more control. However, Jerry Brown proposes similar policies, in addition to putting all of the increased tax revenues into schools. Kashkari’s other recipe for improving education is the tired proposal of giving vouchers to students, which essentially amount to subsidies for private religious institutions.
His jobs plan also repeats the hackneyed GOP positions such as business tax breaks, fracking, getting rid of regulation, etc.
One of the most frightening aspects of Kashkari’s stab at Governorship is his opposition to Obamacare. He will not dismantle the law, he says, admittedly because it would be political suicide and also because the Supreme Court has signed off on it. Instead, he says he will “fix it” in unspecified ways or “replace it” if it cannot be changed. So, essentially, his position is no different from that of the Tea Party, which also opposes any public healthcare system without proposing substantive options.
Kashkari opposes the bullet train, a ban on “single use” plastic bags, as well as environmental regulation. These positions seem products, not of a brilliant mind, but pages out of a dog eared Republican playbook. Traveling across Europe recently, I was impressed by the millions of Europeans who use trains every year. SNCF, the French railway company, even provides you with an estimate of the tons of carbon dioxide you save every time you make a journey. Let us not forget that once upon a time, objections similar to the ones Kashkari raises against the bullet train were also raised over the cost of the BART system, yet, today, without it, SF Bay Area traffic will come to a complete stand still.
California today has the ambitious goal of producing 33% of its electricity with renewable energy. In spite of legal challenges, California also remains on track to implement a carbon trading plan. Kashkari, on the other hand, takes the knee-jerk GOP position that these measures hurt business. Since the Governor appoints leaders to the Air Resources Board and the California Public Utilities Commission, voters should only vote for Kashkari if they wish to return to the GOP era of “Let the Market Decide,” which led to the electricity crisis and the brownouts in California in 2000. If they want to save the planet, they should go with Jerry Brown.
It is ironic that Kashkari, who opposes affirmative action, is milking his status as a minority candidate.
In spite of the fact that our image-oriented media declared Kashkari the debate winner, let us not forget that he is the guy who worked for Goldman Sachs, perhaps bringing about the financial collapse, only to step in later, to save us. Can we trust him with our future?
Sarita Sarvate (www.saritasarvate.com) has published commentaries for New America Media, KQED FM, San Jose Mercury News, the Oakland Tribune, and many nationwide publications.