I have long believed that in order to get elected to public office Berkeley, you have to have delusions of grandeur. The Berkeley city council is now considering how many marijuana stores to license. Most council mayors, including the mayor, support capping the number at 32, but that is opposed by the Berkeley Cannabis Commission, which wants a much higher number on the grounds that limiting the number of marijuana stores in Berkeley to 32 would ‘stifle innovation.” To put this into perspective, Berkeley has 1 Trader Joe’s, 2 Target stores, 3 Safeways, 6 Starbucks, 6 Walgreens, and 11 ice cream and frozen yogurt stores. All these stores added together still doesn’t get you up to 32. The idea of 32 marijuana stores in a city the size of Berkeley is insane.
Executing Drug Dealers? On the other side of drug madness, President Trump is proposing executing drug dealers, citing southeast Asian countries, where such executions are common. Trump isn’t the only politician advocating executing drug dealers, but this idea overlooks the fact that most Americans who are addicted to opiates don’t get their drugs on the black market. In movies and TV shows, addicts usually get their drugs from sleazy criminals working for the Mafia or a Mexican drug cartel, but the reality is that most opioid addicts in the United States get their drugs at Walgreens or CVS with prescriptions. Unfortunately, there are a lot of doctors and dentists in this country who dole out prescriptions for opiates like they were Tic Tacs. I am sure that those doctors and dentists are not the people who President Trump is talking about executing. About 5% of the world’s population live in the United States, but we consume 80% of the world’s opiates. We are not going to get control over our nation’s opioid epidemic until the government makes it much, much harder for doctors to prescribe these drugs.
30 years ago, there were no huge homeless encampments in Berkeley, Oakland, or San Francisco. Now, thousands of people live in them, and they are getting bigger all the time. A lot of people are baffled by this, but the explanation seems obvious to me. The number of extremely poor people in the U.S. has exploded over the past 30 years. The real inflation-adjusted income of the average American has been declining since the 1970s. The minimum wage adjusted for inflation has fallen by over 25% since 1970. For reasons that I don’t understand, very few people make a mental connection between the declining income of poor and middle class Americans and the rise in homelessness.
In 1960, the largest private employer in the United States was General Motors. The average non-managerial employee at GM made $25.00 an hour, adjusted for inflation. Like most unionized industrial workers of the time, GM employees also got a generous fringe benefits package.
Today, in 2017, the largest private employer in the United States is Walmart. The average non-managerial employee at Walmart makes $9.15 an hour, and with relatively few fringe benefits.
When I see people working at Starbucks and Walgreens here in Berkeley, I sometimes wonder: “Where do these people live?” These people make $11 to $14 an hour, and a 1 bedroom apartment in Berkeley costs $2,000 to $3,000 a month. So where do these people live? In a city where the average 1 bedroom apartment costs over $2,000 a month, where can a person who makes $13 an hour live besides a tent, a friend’s garage, or the back seat of a car? What I can’t understand is why so few politicians and TV commentators see any connection at all between rising poverty and rising homelessness. The connection seems very obvious to me. What am I missing?
$70 TO GET INTO YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK?
Here’s an example of how the lives of poor people are becoming even poorer in America. Our national parks were intended to be places that anyone could go to. The poor as well as the rich could visit a national park. Things were different in Europe, where the most beautiful places and scenic vistas were made royal estates, available only to aristocrats and their friends. Last week, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that the price of admission to Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Glacier, Yellowstone, and many other national parks will be going up from $25 now to $70 next year. This story didn’t get a lot of publicity, but I think it should have. For a lot of people, $70 is a lot of money. $70 is more than a whole day’s take-home pay for somebody working at minimum wage. Obviously, far fewer poor people will be able to go to a national park once it costs $70 to get in. I think that’s sad. Don’t you?