Wednesday, 20 January 2010

The politics of the playground

Like many a political leader before him, the Mayor of Santa Cruz is learning that when it comes to tobacco, nothing you do is ever good enough to satisfy the prohibitionists.

As reported previously, Santa Cruz recently enforced an outdoor smoking ban to go along with its many other anti-smoking laws. Santa Cruz resident Ethan Epstein describes how 'comprehensive' these bans are:

In this bastion of “tolerance,” smoking has been banned throughout all indoor public spaces, outdoor dining areas, parks, beaches, and downtown thoroughfares. My (exorbitantly overpriced) apartment building has imposed a smoking ban that even covers private residences. 

I don’t smoke, but my girlfriend does, and she is forced to shiver in the bitter – for California – cold when she wants to light up. That smell wafting into your apartment is not cigarette smoke: it’s illiberalism and intolerance.

And what does the American Lung Association in California (ALAC) do to reward Santa Cruz's slavish devotion to the anti-smoking cause? It awards the city a 'D' in its Tobacco Report Card.

Treating this arbitary rating system with absurd high seriousness, ALAC spokesman Paul Knepprath said the city was oh-so-close to getting a 'C'.

Paul Knepprath, vice president for advocacy and health initiatives with the American Lung Association in California, said although Santa Cruz city code identifies "smoke" as a public nuisance, the wording isn't strong enough.

Knepprath said if the code specifically referred to second-hand tobacco smoke, it would have meant an additional bonus point, which after the errors were fixed, would raise the overall grade.

"That's how close it was," he said.

In other words, Santa Cruz could have only got a 'C' if its politicians lied and said that smoking outdoors posed a health risk to nonsmokers. There is, of course, no evidence for this.

What makes all this funnier, is that the Mayor has taken the news very badly indeed and has started throwing his toys out the pram. He scribbled an angry letter to the ALAC, saying...

"This is ridiculous and, frankly, it does not motivate me to press my City Council colleagues to take further action to reduce smoking: quite the reverse."  

Quite the reverse? You mean you're going to take action to increase smoking just because the ALAC hurt your feelings?

"I feel we are being abused and that the rating system is clearly a fraud and meaningless."

And Mayor Rotkin was still throwing a hissy-fit when the press caught up with him...

"Frankly, it makes me so angry I don't ever want to talk to these people again," he said in an interview.

Is this the level of school-yard politics we've be reduced to? Draconian laws being introduced to impress the bigger boys and then petulant name-calling when they don't get the pat on the head they feel they deserve?

I don't claim to be an expert on local politics in America, but aren't politicians supposed to be acting in the interests of their electorate rather than trying to to earn gold stars from out-of-town single-issue campaigners? Rotkin's reaction makes it pretty clear that climbing up a league table comes ahead of serving his electorate.

Rotkin himself is a rum fellow. He teaches 'Community Studies' at the University of California ("yes, I think I will have fries with that"). This includes an Introduction to Marxism, which I'm sure he teaches in a balanced and reasoned way, as you would expect from someone who edited The Socialist Review for ten years, describes himself as a "Marxist-Feminist" and lists his interests as...

Marxist theory, capitalist system, community power structure, institutional analysis, and affirmative action.

According to Discover the Networks:

Rotkin's ideals are outlined in his 1991 PhD thesis (entitled Class, Populism, and Progressive Politics: Santa Cruz, California 1970 - 1982), which describes his stealth strategy to implement socialism in the United States. A chapter from this thesis, titled "A Three-Part Strategy for Democratic Socialism," currently serves as an assigned reading for his "Introduction to Marxism" course. 

Part one of this strategy is Grassroots Organizing, which means finding groups with grievances against society and helping them to "wrest concessions," as he phrased it in his thesis. Borrowing from Saul Alinsky's tactics, Rotkin advocates hiding his true socialist agenda from the people he helps while "preparing the ground" for subsequent stages.

I don't wish to offend the good people of Santa Cruz who have elected him as Mayor four times, but from where I'm sitting this man sounds like an asshole.

And it gets better. Mayor Rotkin - who, let's say again, has banned smoking outdoors - is a board member of the American Civil Liberties Union. Is this guy for real, or what?

It's interesting to note that Santa Cruz's recent outdoor bans were brought in to curry favour with the ALAC after getting a 'D' last year.

The city received a "D" for 2008, which partially prompted the council to pass the ban on smoking along Pacific Avenue, West Cliff Drive, the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf and other public sites. The ordinance, which took effect in October, expanded earlier prohibitions against smoking in restaurants and in lines for movies and concerts.

All of which makes last year's debate over whether or not to bring in these bans look like a bit of a charade. Policy seems to be being dictated by unelected pressure groups rather than the council. The silver lining is that the ALAC seem to have gone too far this time and alienated the childish and self-absorbed politicians upon whom they rely. I predict Santa Cruz will be getting a 'C' sometime soon.

Thanks to Becky for the tip


JJ said...

I love reading stories like this. No amount of curry-favouring will ever placate the relentless zealots. Zealots know no bounds when it comes to slaking their thirst for further prohibitionist measures…they are on a roll and have been for several years, so don’t expect them to slacken the pace any time soon.

It’s amazing as well to hear Mayor Rotkin throwing a wobbly because he thought his spine-snapping political correctness had been enough. He of course is well aware what further measures would mean to decent honourable people being hounded in this way to the extent that he would be prepared to reverse direction…so he knows outdoor bans are wrong in the first place.

Mr Eugenides said...

Santa Cruz has long been at the forefront of potty ordances. This one, for example.

Tony Palazzolo said...

If I remember correctly, Santa Cruz was one of the first smoking bans (of current times) to have a smoking ban.

Maybe the Mayor should point out the grade given by charity raters to ALAC and the ACS. Both of those consistently grade among the worst of largest 100 charities.

Anonymous said...

I lived in Santa Cruz and can tell you first-hand that it is has for decades been over-run and controlled by fascist communists.

Rotkin is a fascist communist and so are the others sitting in control of the city and on county seats.

The place stinks like s**t when it comes to liberties.

It's like a police state of forced political correctness and the absolute WORST when it comes to human rights violations.

They can say otherwise, but truth is, Santa Cruz is one of the MOST illiberal fascist dictatorships existing on the planet, worse than North Korea.

And based on living in that county, that is the actual truth of what I observed. They've particularly hated smokers from early on, even in the 1980's.

It's the filthy rich working hard to keep out anyone not of their wealth and of anyone living there, making damn sure they obey their rich white masters - the smoking bans just another way of enforcing upper class hegemony - fascist communist puritans - the whole lot - while using the propaganda machine to paint the false picture of it being some lovely paradise.

I say boycott tourism to Santa Cruz, it's sister cities of Berkeley, San Francisco and the entire Bay Area - spend your tourist dollars someplace which values freedom and liberty - not spend it to go see how Hitler's form of control can still operate in the modern world.

Screw Santa Cruz. I hated the place then and I especially hate the place now that they've implemented Hitler's "final solution" on human rights and liberties.

The most hateful people on the face of the planet live in Santa Cruz.

Anonymous said...

Wow, brilliant article Chris.
What is the reward for getting "C".

Anon -Sounds like hell on earth, I have been boycotting any product that comes from there, "blossom Hill" wine was the start.

Becky Johnson said...

Mike Rotkin, the current mayor, despite his 'socialist, feminist' credentials caters to the merchant class more than anyone else. I've come up head to head with Mr. Rotkin many times over his anti-homeless policies, such as the SLEEPING BAN (MC 6.36.010 section a) which makes it illegal to sleep at night between the hours of 11PM and 8:30AM anywhere out of doors or in a vehicle. This in a City which has shelter space for 8% of its homeless population.

While the ACLU in Los Angeles eliminated a similar law through a judgement by the 9th circuit court of appeals, ROTKIN has obstructed any such effort in his home town.

The smoking ban here is not so much for health reasons, as it is crafted to remove homeless people from areas where tourists come frequently. Homeless people, due to their high-stress situation, tend to smoke tobacco more than the housed population.

What we have here in Santa Cruz are liberals who are adamantly opposed to policies by those who live at least 50 miles from Santa Cruz, but are socially repressive in their own backyard.

If is our prediction that the smoking ban is and will be selectively enforced against poor and homeless people.

Anonymous said...

If enacting some of the most draconian anti-smoking laws in the America earns a city a "D" on this fabricated report card, then what earns an "A+"?

If banning smoking in private homes and outdoor smoking bans means a "D", then it doesn't seem unreasonable to conclude that an "A+" might means lining up the smokers and putting a bullet in their head.

I don't mean to be needlessly hyperbolic, but what else can one conclude? I suppose a B- is having all of the smokers wear a scarlet letter about their necks, and and a B+ is throwing all of the smokers into jail.