Krugman vs. Estonia
From the Scrapbook
Jun 18, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 38 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
Everything imaginable designed not to appeal to the average American voter is in evidence: The chic Manhattan venue, Wintour’s plummy British accent (“Mee-chelle Obama”) and condescending manner, the noblesse oblige of a place at the table for two people who can’t afford one. Indeed, it is difficult to decide which is worse: the spectacle of rich Democrats dining with two doyennes of High Fashion on behalf of the 99 percent, or the calculated insult to the poor slobs who would demean themselves for a seat at their table. (“After dinner, you and your guest are invited to join us at a private concert with Mariah Carey,” reads an email from the first lady.)
The Scrapbook can put this down to a certain tone deafness on the part of the notoriously imperious Anna Wintour—who, we assume, is now an American citizen and welcome to participate in the politics of her host country. But was it only four years ago that candidate Barack Obama was the quintessence of cool, attracting the allegiance of just about every celebrity known to the pages of US Weekly? There was will.i.am’s “Yes We Can” video, Little Stevie Wonder’s “Barack Obama” anthem, Oprah (“He is The One”) Winfrey, Madonna, General Colin (“He is a Transformational Figure”) Powell, Julia Roberts. It was as if a member of the Rat Pack had flown down from Vegas in his private jet to run for president.
And now this: a frankly frightening fashionista from Swinging London extending the hand of charity to some humble Democrat, a lottery for the privilege of watching her pick at her food. The Scrapbook seldom extrapolates big conclusions from little specimens, but if the Obama campaign thinks the Anna Wintour Lottery Video paves the road to victory, it’s in worse peril than we suspect.
California Taxpayers Revolt Again
Lost in the hubbub surrounding the war for Wisconsin was the news that San Diego and San Jose—the second and third largest cities in California, respectively—both voted in major public employee pension reforms last Tuesday. And even though the cities are Democratic bastions, the referenda passed with overwhelming majorities.
In sunny San Diego, where the city government is suffering from a $2.2 billion pension shortfall, 66 percent of voters approved a plan to replace guaranteed pensions for new hires with 401(k) plans (i.e., the standard retirement plan these days for private sector workers). The shift should save $950 million over the next 30 years.
In Silicon Valley’s San Jose, voters approved an even more drastic reform—and with even greater support. Seventy-one percent of voters came out in favor of a plan to move new hires to 401(k) plans, and to require current workers “to pay up to 16 percent of their salaries to keep their retirement plan or accept more modest benefits,” in the words of the Associated Press. The city will also now be able to temporarily suspend cost-of-living pension increases in the event of dire fiscal conditions.
“This is really important to our taxpayers,” said San Jose mayor Chuck Reed, a Democrat (a Democrat!), who backed the initiative. He’s not kidding. The San Jose Mercury News notes that the city expects a shortfall of more than $20 million in 2013 and that “a key deficit driver has been the yearly pension bill that has more than tripled from $73 million to $245 million in a decade, far outpacing the 20 percent revenue growth and gobbling more than a fifth of the city’s general fund.”
The results in mostly blue Wisconsin and on the Left Coast show that even Democrats are waking up to the urgent need to curb public sector benefits. San Diego County voted 54 percent for Obama in 2008; Santa Clara County, home to San Jose, went 70 percent for the president. Yet voters in both liberal redoubts have now overwhelmingly approved significant structural changes to public sector benefits.
Has California suddenly turned right? That’s doubtful, alas. But perhaps the left now realizes that doing something to rein in public sector benefits is essential if we are to maintain even rudimentary public services. Oh, and Golden State voters rejected a $1-per-pack tax hike on cigarettes. On, California!
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