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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Propaganda in the mail 

We’re addressing propaganda techniques in Costa Mesa politics again today. This example is a little less blatant than those we've discussed before, but it’s no less propaganda just because it’s more subtle.

Today’s example is an attempt to convince by arousing emotion – which is propaganda – by John Stephens. His recent candidate mailer illustrates well the propaganda techniques of quoting out of context, and citing an authority who actually says something different.

The WSJ says in part

His mailer quotes a bit of a 19 July Wall Street Journal article:The Wall Street Journal reports that the ‘last three large California cities planning to seek bankruptcy protection are ‘so-called charter cities . (which). . ‘may be at the root of their problems.’ I agree.”

But the rest of the article explains

But the rest of that article – “the rest of the story” – is discussed well by Bruce Ross* in the (Redding) Record Searchlight shortly after the WSJ article appeared (boldface for emphasis is mine):

Nothing about a charter in itself leads to financial debacles, of course. But what Stockton, San Bernardino, Vallejo and Compton (which is broke and exploring bankruptcy) all share is charter provisions that have made it more difficult to manage cities efficiently. . . Read the Journal  for the details, but fundamentally they're all pro-labor provisions -- mandatory binding arbitration, prohibitions on contracting out city work, automatic salary increases to match neighboring cities.

That little piece fool you?

So, charters written with Union input and written to allow wages of Council members and labor groups to grow unseen may have contributed to the bankruptcy of those cities. This is, clearly, not what is implied by Stephens’ mailer. The mailer implies that WSJ reports that charters lead cities to bankruptcy.

In fact the article suggests the opposite: that charters developed with Labor-favoring provisions may have contributed to the bankruptcies.

Apples and oranges, anyway

Their charters were very different from Costa Mesa’s proposed Charter. However, a piece of the article was clipped to appear an authoritative statement by a prestigious newspaper attributing dangers to charters -- and our Charter by implication. Honesty and integrity aren't necessary in propaganda.

Mr. Stephens goes on to say, “We must stop this Charter Proposal.” He favors a charter that’s written differently – with Big Labor input, surely, since the local AFL-CIO enthusiastically endorses him while vehemently opposing the proposed Charter.

Can we re-write it to be like Stockton's?

What are the facts? Our proposed Charter requires voter approval for all significant changes to wages and benefits, and does not contain the sections shared by Stockton, San Bernardino, Vallejo, and Compton. Perhaps if Stephens were to write a “new and improved” charter with “stakeholder” input . . . especially from AFL-CIO, it would have all of those “labor supported” provisions that helped Stockton et al. to go broke.

Bad for them, OK for us

While we’re discussing misleading positions (or maybe hypocrisy), think about this: Stephens, as well as Genis and Weitzberg, have screamed loudly against “no bid” contracts, right? Yet they support incumbents for the Sanitation District which hasn't allowed a bid for the County trash contract since 1944. And the incumbent candidates, who have repelled all recent attempts at forcing bidding for the contract, endorse them for City Council!

Jack Wu wrote an excellent discussion – or perhaps expose’ – of this in Sunday’s Daily Pilot. He includes the rationalizations by candidates Stephens and Weitzberg (Genis didn't answer so she couldn't be confronted about her support). 

He notes that Newport Coast pays just under $11 per unit for trash hauling, while Costa Mesa currently pays just under $20 per unit for the same services. And it gets worse! Wu’s clear, direct writing and efficient use of words helps make this a good read – I recommend it highly: Jack Wu's Article

Charter analysis coming

Costa Mesans 4 Responsible Government have kindly detailed their criticisms of the Charter on a link from their site, and it includes the text of the Charter proposal found on the City’s website:

So, I’ll go through their comments and the sections that offend them in future blogs to see if I can find some legitimate complaints and identify which arguments are designed to sway opinion by manipulating emotion – propaganda. That should be less boring than analyzing every single section in print.

After all, the Charter specifies keeping our current rules, laws, and procedures except for some exclusions of Big Labor influence from bidding and job sanctity (and from a couple of other, pretty minor, areas) when only Costa Mesa money is involved. Period.

A little confusing in defining right and wrong -- needs a thorough study

My initial look at their concerns was confusing: for some provisions, they complain that the matter is covered by regulation or by state law. But they are also upset that some provisions that are covered by regulation or state law aren't addressed in the Charter.

I’ll get a clearer summary of their complaints in future blogs.

*Bruce Ross is the editorial page editor of Redding’s Record Searchlight.

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