Delta Stewardship Council Adopts Plan Despite Massive Opposition

By Dan Bacher

In spite of overwhelming opposition from environmentalists, fishermen, family farmers, elected officials and the majority of Californians, the Delta Stewardship Council (DSC) on Thursday, May 16 unanimously adopted what it described as a "comprehensive management plan" for the Delta.

The Council also certified the final Programmatic Environmental Impact Report (PEIR), despite opposition to the report from every single person who spoke during the public comment period, ranging from Delta farmers to a representative of the Metropolitan Water District. In addition, the Council adopted regulations that will implement the policies of the Delta Plan.

Governor's "May Revise" on Health Care: Progress, but with Continued Cuts

By Anthony Wright

Governor Jerry Brown announced his May Revision of the California State Budget on Tuesday, declaring for the first time in decades a multi-year balanced budget. In his brief remarks unveiling the proposal, the Governor highlighted planned investments in education, as promised in the campaign for Proposition 30 last fall, as well as the work to implement the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA).

In the May revision of the budget, Governor Brown moves towards a resolution for a timely Medi-Cal expansion as required under the Affordable Care Act. But the budget seeks a greater than 75 percent cut to county safety net funds, and would continue cuts to Medi-Cal provider rates and Denti-Cal.

FEMA Plans Clear-Cutting 85,000 Berkeley and Oakland Trees

By Randy Shaw

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is moving to chop down 22,000 trees in Berkeley's historic Strawberry and Claremont Canyons and over 60,000 more in Oakland. This destructive plan is rapidly moving forward with little publicity, and FEMA cleverly scheduled its three public meetings for mid and late May while UC Berkeley students were in finals or gone for the summer.

Paying the Debt of War

By Rev. Jim Conn

Some 53 percent of Americans say that the second Iraq war was a mistake. A recent Los Angeles Times article asked if the war brought change for the better. But no one asks what that war cost this country. The first trillion dollars we spent on it was only a down payment on what experts have estimated to be probably two trillion or more that we will spend over the next few decades to take care of America's wounded and maimed. Our taxes provide care for those veterans, but both parties regularly propose cutting the Department of Veterans Affairs as a quick fix to balance the federal budget.

State Commissioner Cracks Down on Employers for Labor Law Violations

By Mitch Seaman

No one wins when employers break labor laws, but whenever California's star Labor Commissioner Julie Su announces the latest round of enforcement actions, it sure feels like a victory.

Case in point: This week, Commissioner Su hit three of the worst violators with over $1.8 million in backpay and penalty assessments for stealing employees' wages, defrauding the workers' comp system and willfully breaking a variety of other workforce protection laws.

Statewide Tour to Close the "Walmart Loophole" Kicks Off in West Sacramento

By Steve Smith

Walmart shoppers probably didn't expect to be greeted Friday morning at 5 AM by a lively group of taxpayers protesting the "Walmart Loophole," which allows large companies like Walmart to avoid their responsibilities to pay their fair share for their workers' health care. But that's exactly what they encountered in West Sacramento.

About 30 demonstrators launched a statewide tour aimed at educating shoppers and the media about Walmart's practice of paying its workers so little that they are pushed into taxpayer-funded programs like Medi-Cal. The group also handed out information about AB 880 (Gomez), which would mandate that the state's largest and most profitable companies pay their fair share when their workers end up on taxpayer-funded Medi-Cal.

Pharmacist Kickbacks Put California Patient Health at Risk

By Hollaine Hopkins

Health care cost containment is a critical issue facing every participant in the health care system. Efforts to contain costs, however, appear to have given rise to dangerous financial arrangements between health insurers and pharmacists that may be jeopardizing the health of California patients.

A loophole in California law allows your health insurer to give a financial kickback to your pharmacist every time the pharmacist switches your medication to older, cheaper, non-chemically equivalent drugs from those originally prescribed by your doctor, even without your knowledge.

Building Transportation Infrastructure in a Broken Political System

By Robert Cruickshank

Over at his blog, Alon Levy has an interesting post calling for more democracy in the planning and authorization of transportation infrastructure. Levy points to Switzerland as an example of a political system where transportation projects are routinely put to a referendum and the results are generally positive. He contrasts that with the California high speed rail project, which he argues was the product of a flawed political process:

I've begun to believe that California's original sin with its HSR project is that it refused to do the same. Prop 1A was a referendum for what was billed as one third of the cost, $10 billion. In reality it was $9 billion and $1 billion in extra funds for connecting local transit; in year of expenditure dollars the estimated budget then was $43 billion, so barely a fifth of the project's cost was voted on. The HSR Authority planned on getting the rest of the money from federal funding and private-sector funding. Prop 1A even required a 1:1 match from an external source, so confident the Authority was that it would get extra money.

"Other People's Children": The Corollary of Bad Policy

By Mark Naison

For some time, I have argued that School Reform is the most destructive bi-partisan initiative we have suffered in the United States since the Vietnam War, a policy which has, and will continue to inspire mass movements to limit the damage it inflicts through universal testing of the nation's children, and the humiliation and micro-management of the nation's teachers.

Some have argued, correctly, that people have not lost their lives as a result of School Reform even when schools are closed, teachers are fired, communities destabilized, instruction has been reduced to test prep, and young people's minds have been reduced to mush by relentless testing. That is certainly true. But one thing does seem similar. Both produced PTSD.

The Hollowing Out of Government

Robert ReichBy Robert Reich

The West Texas chemical and fertilizer plant where at least 15 were killed and more than 200 injured a few weeks ago hadn't been fully inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration since 1985. (A partial inspection in 2011 had resulted in $5,250 in fines.)

OSHA and its state partners have a total of 2,200 inspectors charged with ensuring the safety of more than 8 million workplaces employing 130 million workers. That comes to about one inspector for every 59,000 American workers.

There's no way it can do its job with so few resources, but OSHA has been systematically hollowed out for the years under Republican administrations and congresses that have despised the agency since its inception.