March 2011

Remembering Cesar Chavez

By Caitlin Vega
California Labor Federation

The Napa I grew up in is probably not the place you've come to spend a long weekend winetasting. Real Napa, as we call it, is not glamorous or exclusive. In the old days, my dad says, "it used to be a place where poor kids could grow up in the country."  Today, even with the fancy restaurants and expensive tourist shops, Napa is still an agricultural town at heart, which means it is a farmworker community.

The wineries that have made Napa famous are also workplaces. The workers in the vineyards work long hours in freezing cold and sweltering heat. Most have no health care and no pension. Wages are low and workers are often paid piece rate.

Playing To Win

By Steve Smith
American Cancer Society

500,000 Americans die every year from cancer.

1,500 people pass away every day.

Cancer is about life and it is about death.

And because cancer is all about living or dying, I hate it with every ounce of my being and believe we need to do all we can do as quickly as we can do it to beat cancer -- and those who cause it like cigarette companies -- in order to save lives.

The California Cancer Research Act will save the lives of 104,000 people in California and stop 228,000 of our state's kids from ever smoking in the first place.

This is not a Democratic issue or a Republican issue -- this is an issue of life and death that the voters ought to decide -- and the sooner the better.

The clock is ticking on the 104,000 lives that could be saved and 228,000 kids that will never smoke.

Rhee Lashes Out After DC Testing Scandal Chips Away at Her Credibility

By David Dayen

If the world were as based on merit as Michelle Rhee and her cadres like to say they want to construct schools to operate, she would have no credibility left, and wouldn’t be able to reach by phone any of her rich friends bankrolling her reform agenda. Rhee responded to the serious allegations in USA Today about cheating on standardized tests at DC public schools with the typical approach of a guilty politician: questioning the motives of an opposition uninvolved in the investigation and refusing to engage with the issue.

“It isn’t surprising,” Rhee said in a statement Monday, “that the enemies of school reform once again are trying to argue that the Earth is flat and that there is no way test scores could have improved … unless someone cheated.”

CLCV Endorses Debra Bowen for Congress

By Mike Young
California League of Conservation Voters

When people think “California League of Conservation Voters” they focus on the words “California” and “conservation.” And rightfully so. First and foremost, CLCV is the political arm of the environment. For nearly four decades, we have worked tirelessly to seek out and endorse environmental champions and then fund and support their campaigns to help them get into office.  This has always been a primary part of our mission.

But every now and again we find a candidate who is not only an environmental champion but also demonstrates leadership in another critical piece of our mission: aiding voters. For the special election in Congressional District 36, we’re lucky to have found such a candidate, and it’s none other than Secretary of State Debra Bowen.

Time To Try Another Approach

By Hannah-Beth Jackson
Speak Out California

You've got to give Governor Brown major kudos for his patience and tenacity in trying to make a deal with the Legislature's Republicans. With the state facing a game-changing $26B budget gap, after already reducing general fund spending over the past several years by an estimated $14B, give or take a few billion, the state is at a precipice. Are we going to face the future with great ambition and vision or are we going to fall off a cliff and perhaps never recover our role in the nation and world as the place that "invents the future"?

Governor Ends Budget Talks With Legislative Republicans

By Marty Omoto
California Disability Community Action Network

After several weeks of negotiations, Governor Brown late yesterday afternoon in a press statement said that he was stopping budget talks with legislative Republicans and will “…focus my efforts on speaking directly to Californians and coming up with honest and real solutions to our budget crisis.”   

The news means that California’s budget crisis remains unresolved – and will likely get worse and could mean more spending cuts in order to make up for lost revenues if a special election to extend for five years temporary increases in certain taxes that are set to expire June 30th, is delayed until November.  Those temporary tax hikes were put in place in February 2009 as part of the 2009-2010 State Budget passed four months early that year.

From Obama to Brown, Democrats Negotiate on Republican Terms

By Randy Shaw
Beyond Chron

Having predicted when he took office that California Governor Jerry Brown would “aggressively push change,” it is puzzling to see him continue “negotiating” with Republican legislators over a state budget. Democrats passed Prop 25 on the November 2010 ballot precisely to prevent a small Republican minority from holding the state budget hostage. Democrats also could have gathered signatures for a special state election circumventing Republican approval. Instead, a Republican Party said to be “on the skids” has nevertheless succeeded in pushing the projected special election past June 7th and likely until November.

Shades of 2005? Millionaire Roger Niello's Sloppy Ballot Attack on Retirement Security

By Steven Maviglio

We're shocked, shocked to hear the news that former State Senator Roger Niello is aspiring to higher office, according to a report in the Sacramento Bee yesterday morning.

What else could be the motivation behind Neillo's attempt to inject himself into the discussion about retirement security for state employees?

A simple look at the ballot measure Niello filed last week shows that's written almost as sloppily as the 2005 attempt to gut retirement benefits for police and firefighters that was laughed off the ballot.

Niello’s initiative begins with a catalog of alleged pension shortcomings drawn from a factually slapdash and glaringly unobjective report by the state’s Little Hoover Commission that was roundly criticized by State Treasurer Bill Lockyer and legislators for being unlawful and unworkable.

Amtrak at 40: Credit Where Credit Is Due

By Alan Kandel

It used to be in the industrial age, build a railroad and they will come, from both hither and yon and in droves, no less. In the modern age, this declaration is no less true. Since the Baltimore&Ohio Railroad, the nation’s first common carrier railroad was chartered on February 28, 1827, comparatively speaking, the look and feel of railroading has changed little, though the locomotive power, rolling stock (railway conveyances) and track structure has evolved into what we have today and thus is far, far-improved.

Tens of Thousands March in Los Angeles to Demand Good Jobs and Stand with Wisconsin Workers

By Caroline O'Connor
LA County Federation of Labor

The people of Wisconsin ignited a fire inside working people and students across the U.S. and that fire has spread to Los Angeles.  On Saturday, March 26, more than 20,000 people took to the streets of downtown L.A. to demand good jobs and stand with workers in Wisconsin and other states who are fighting to protect collective bargaining. This was the largest action led by L.A. labor in recent history.

Carrying signs and banners to “Stop the War on Workers” and “Stand with Wisconsin Workers,” tens of thousands of construction workers, hotel workers, fire fighters, city, county, and state workers, truck drivers, grocery workers, telecommunications workers, nurses, homecare workers, farm workers, actors, musicians, camera operators, teachers, parents, students, faith leaders, immigrants, community members, and more filled the streets for more than a half mile.

California Budget Cuts at Odds With State’s New Alzheimer’s Plan

By Paul Kleyman
New America Media

Felipe Garcia, 79, looks up with a ready smile as his two-year-old granddaughter, Marina, orbits his shuffling legs—her mother Elena keeping a sharp eye on the toddler to avoid any mishaps around the family’s modest home in Silicon Valley. Elena says Marina doesn’t quite understand yet that her abuelo (grandpa) has Alzheimer’s disease and can’t concentrate on her for long periods of time.

Felipe, who migrated from Mexico in his youth, is among 5.5 million Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Of those cases, 588,000 are in California, a number that is expected to double by 2030. The number of Latinos and Asians living with the disease will triple during the same time period, according to a new state plan jointly released by the Alzheimer’s Association, California’s Health and Human Services Agency and the Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders Advisory Committee.

Cesar Chavez Knew Change Requires More than Chanting “Yes We Can”

By Randy Shaw
Beyond Chron

As Cesar Chavez is honored this week, his legacy offers a powerful reminder that achieving real change is difficult, and involves more than chanting “Yes We Can.” Two years after the 2008 election appeared to usher in a new progressive era, many activists are dispirited. Yet Chavez and those who got their start as UFW activists knew well how quickly politics could turn. Chavez began organizing farmworkers in 1962, as John Kennedy’s presidency stirred hope throughout the nation. But Kennedy was killed in 1963, Ronald Reagan was elected California’s Governor in 1966, and Richard Nixon won the White House in 1968; both Reagan and Nixon regularly faced cameras eating non-union grapes.

Will Big Tobacco Torpedo the Special Election?

By Eric Wooten

Whether the special election is in June or November, this much is clear: given the dire consequences of an “all cuts budget,” this is the most important election facing California Democrats since Arnold Schwarzenegger’s relentless attack on working families in 2005.

Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Republican Party spent an astounding $62 million on that disastrous 2005 special election, which covered four initiatives.

California GOP Legislative Wish List Targets Workers' Rights and Jobs

By Caitlin Vega
California Labor Federation

As Californians hold our collective breath hoping for a budget breakthrough, so far there's not a Republican vote to be found. GOP legislators won't support new revenue, they won't vote for the cuts they claim they want, and they won't close corporate tax breaks. Months of budget stalemate prompted Governor Brown to ask, "If they're not going to do anything, why even take a paycheck?"

Turns out, Republicans have had a few other things on their to-do list this month. The downside is that just about everything they want to do just makes life harder for working people in California.

GE Doesn't Pay Taxes -- Taxpayers Pay GE

By Dave Johnson

In 1983 NY hotel-chain-owning billionaire Leona Helmsley said, "We don't pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes..." As our country migrates from democracy to plutocracy, this more and more appears to be official policy. Again and again we see tax cuts for the wealthy few, tax breaks and subsidies for the big corporations that operate as fronts for those wealthy few, and budget cuts for the things We, the People (government) do to empower and protect each other. Just a few weeks ago we watched as an extension of the Bush tax cuts and a huge cut in the estate tax rate was pushed through. Now we watch as the discussion turns to cuts in Social Security and the rest of the so-called "safety net."

A Few Ways (Just a Few) To Fix The Initiative

By Peter Schrag

Among the hardiest perennials on the reform agenda of the liberal-left – and many centrist critics of California’s dysfunctional government as well -- is the state’s century-old initiative process.

Earlier this month, at the annual conference in Sacramento of Jean Ross’s California Budget Project, the issue was on the program again. The timing was perfect, but then it always is. Fixes are desperately needed.

It’s not an easy subject. By now even the harshest critics of the California initiative – and I’m one – have long given up the idea of just getting rid of it. Half the states manage well without it, and many are far better governed than we are. But California’s voters have been well taught to trust the initiative more than they trust their elected representatives in the Capitol.

Tax the Rich? Tax the Millionaires!

By Paul Hogarth
Beyond Chron

While President Obama capitulates to right-wing Republicans by extending tax cuts for the wealthy, some Democrats in Congress are pushing what is not only good policy – but smarter politics. Bernie Sanders in the Senate and Jan Schakowsky in the House have sponsored legislation to raise taxes on millionaires – rather than restoring the Clinton tax brackets for those making over $250,000.

100 Years Later, Lessons from the Triangle Fire Still Ring True

By Joan Lichterman

Friday marked the 100th anniversary of one of the worst preventable workplace tragedies in U.S. history- the Triangle shirtwaist factory fire. On March 25, 1911, some 146 workers — mostly immigrant women and girls as young as 14 — perished when a fire broke out in the New York City sweatshop. Because managers had locked a critical exit, many workers were trapped inside as they sought to flee the fire. Others jumped to their deaths as horrified onlookers watched.

This shameful event strengthened the garment workers union and galvanized social movements and reform. Many of the workplace standards and protections that we now take for granted rose from the ashes of that fire.

AIDS, LGBT Communities Mourn Death of Elizabeth Taylor

By Dan Aiello
California Progress Report

California and national AIDS organizations joined gay rights groups in mourning the death of film star Elizabeth Taylor, who died earlier this week at a Los Angeles hospital.

Taylor died March 23, 2011 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles from Congestive Heart Failure.  She was 79.

The two-time Academy Award winning actress starred in more than 50 films throughout a career that spanned seven decades.  But it was Taylor's early and very public efforts to fight AIDS, a battle she began in 1985 after losing friend and colleague Rock Hudson, which was being honored in the statements of sympathy being released by AIDS and equal rights organizations following the actress' death.

Californians for Clean Energy and Jobs Launches Effort to Boost Renewable Energy Jobs

By Tom Steyer
Californians for Clean Energy and Jobs

With turmoil and upheaval in the Middle East and with forces in Washington bent on turning back the energy clock, never has there been a more urgent need for California to provide leadership to the world on clean energy policies and technology -- especially as it relates to job creation and national security.

That’s why today we are announcing the rededication of Californians for Clean Energy and Jobs, the coalition that originally came together last year to fight and defeat Proposition 23 which sought to derail our future by indefinitely postponing California’s clean energy and clean air standards.