August 2011

Governor Signs Senator Simitian’s Identity Theft Prevention Bill

By Richard Holober
Consumer Federation of California

Persistence paid off for Senator Joe Simitian. Governor Jerry Brown just signed Simitian’s Senate Bill 24, which will arm consumers with information to help prevent identity theft. In 2008, 2009 and 2010, Senator Simitian placed three previous versions of his security breach notification bill on the desk of former Governor Schwarzenegger, only to encounter vetoes.

If you are one of the many Californians who had your confidential information compromised in a security breach, you most likely found out by receiving a letter in the mail. After reading it, you were probably quite upset, but confused about what you should do about it. SB 24 will help consumers make sense of these notices, and help arm us to stop identity theft.

PG&E’s Success in Washington Led to Failure in San Bruno

By Donald Cohen
Cry Wolf Project

Federal investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the horrific gas pipeline explosion that killed 8 people in the Bay Area city of San Bruno was the result of a “litany of failures” by Pacific Gas and Electric.

Investigators charged PG&E with " poor record-keeping, inadequate inspection programs, and an integrity management program without integrity." According to internal PG&E documents and emails released in the investigation, PG&E had ample warning that the gas lines welds may have had dangerous flaws.

An Open Letter to Governor Jerry Brown on International Overdose Awareness Day

By Meghan Ralston
Drug Policy Alliance

Dear Governor Brown,

No other state in the country endures as many annual deaths from accidental drug overdose as California. In sheer numbers of lives lost, California bears the tragic, and embarrassing, distinction of being “number one.” Today is International Overdose Awareness Day and I’m hoping this is the day you will commit to leading us out of this needless tragedy.

Don’t Mess With … Nuance: Rick Perry, No Stranger to California Republicans

By William Bradley

Texas Governor Rick Perry is the flavor of the month in the Republican presidential nomination. Depending on which political gurus you want to listen to, Perry’s candidacy will be just that, a flavor of the month imploding once his blustery persona and extreme views are subjected to closer inspection; or, alternatively, the unassailable front-runner, uniquely palatable to both social and economic conservatives within the GOP.

However his presidential candidacy turns out, he has already had a big impact on the brave new world of the Republican Party, in California as well as across the country.

The new era in California politics first came into sharp focus in September 2007. That’s when Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, having won re-election by a 17-point landslide margin 10 months earlier, decided to level with his fellow Republicans at their state party convention outside Palm Springs.

On Jobs, Tell It Like It Is

By Robert Borosage

Washington is waiting for President Obama. Next week, the president has scheduled a big speech to propose new measures to create jobs and get the economy going. Reports are that the administration still has not decided whether to put forth a politically bold plan or propose measures that might pass the Republican Congress.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka had it right when he told the president: "Do not look at what is possible -- look at what is necessary... If you only propose what you think they'll [the Republican Congress] accept, they control the agenda."

10 Things Martin Luther King, Jr. Taught Us About Today's Struggles

By Richard (RJ) Eskow

A lot of people in the media are so afraid of offending anyone that they can't even tell the truth about the man whose memorial is being unveiled this weekend in Washington. Their coverage could give you the impression that the purpose of Martin Luther King, Jr's life was simply to make everybody in this country feel good about themselves. So once again we're presenting ten quotes that represent Dr. King as he truly was -- the kind of brave and visionary leader we so badly need today.

Ending the Republican Gerrymander of California

By Robert Cruickshank

I'll admit it, I wasn't a fan of the redistricting commission when it was proposed. I opposed Prop 11 in 2008, the initiative that created the commission; opposed Prop 20 in 2010, the initiative that extended the commission's jurisdiction to Congressional seats; and supported Prop 27 that same year, which would have abolished the commission entirely.

What explained my stance? The arguments that commission supporters made struck me as absurd and not reflective of reality. Backers claimed that the commission would create a bunch of purple districts across the state, giving voters choices and somehow forcing politicians to work together.

Brown Appoints Chuck Bonham as New DFG Director

By Dan Bacher

Governor Jerry Brown has appointed Charlton “Chuck” Bonham, 43, of Albany, as director of the California Department of Fish and Game

Bonham has served in multiple positions at Trout Unlimited, a national trout advocacy organization, since 2000, including California director and senior attorney, according to a August 26 news release from Governor Jerry Brown's Office.

He was an instructor and trip leader for the Nantahala Outdoor Center from 1994 to 1997 and was a small business development agent for the United States Peace Corp in Senegal, West Africa from 1991 to 1993.

Bonham was not available for comment at press time, but representatives of recreational and commercial fishing groups praised his appointment by Brown.

If Valley Air Pollution Spikes Aren’t A Wake-Up Call To Stem Problem, What Is?

By Alan Kandel

It is a known fact in the San Joaquin Valley, 80 percent of all air pollution comes from transportation, which means the remainder comes from stationary sources. All of last week except for Sunday in Fresno and Sunday and Monday this week, a bad-air alert has been issued. The air quality index for Monday this week is 147 placing it in the upper portion of the “Unhealthy for sensitive groups” range and just three points shy of the lower limits of the “Unhealthy (for everyone)” range.

It is one thing to know where toxins in our air come from. It is yet another to know what happens to the airborne toxins once they arrive. And it is another still to take corrective measures to try to stem the problem.

Bill Lockyer, Our Honest Broker

By Peter Schrag

For a man who’s spent some forty years in public office, California Treasurer Bill Lockyer has a reputation for uncommon political candor. Last week, in delivering a nuanced diagnosis of California’s fiscal mess at PPIC, the Public Policy Institute for California, Lockyer did nothing to undercut his reputation.

  • There were already interest groups at work in Sacramento, he said, trying to “untrigger the trigger” that was written into the 2011-12 budget law that would automatically cut spending in health and education if the state’s revenues fell short of what the budget projected.

Breaking The Vicious Circle of Oil

By David Dayen

Kevin Drum has a very important piece that shows us the predicament of the oil-fueled society we’ve constructed over the past several years. The story is basically this. Oil production is static, if not falling, and emerging markets are increasing and broadening their wealth, leading more and more Chinese and Indians and Indonesians and Brazilians to desire a higher standard of living. Invariably this means oil demand goes up.

Time For A 1988-Style Voter Revolt

By Doug Heller
Consumer Watchdog

Insurance companies, the legislature and recent court rulings have all turned against consumers, much like they had in 1988, when California voters struck back with the toughest insurance reform in America: Proposition 103.

By 2014, all of us will be required to buy health insurance or face tax penalties. The problem is that health insurance companies can charge whatever they like and raise premiums at will in California. This is the same scenario that drivers faced in 1988 when mandatory auto insurance laws forced drivers to pay for policies many couldn't afford. Voters then required auto insurers to pay drivers a 20% refund and to get permission before they ever raised rates again.

Will the 2012 Political Campaign be the Most Violent in This Countries History??

By: Donald W. Tucker
Former Secret Service Agent

America is entering into a political season that will probably have the candidates slugging it out for this Office, with no holds barred. The 2012 election will be like no previous political encounter because of the current climate of vitiosity, hate and anger exhibited by the different political factions and their followers.

This country has never witnessed such prejudiced hostility and animosity being generated in the name of political ideology in the last two years. Congressmen being spit on, Californian Republican politician sending out pictures of the President depicting his mother and Dad as older chimpanzees holding a baby with the Presidents face, as a baby Chimp. This only feeds into the weaknesses of people who will believe anything if it strengthens their hatred towards a person who is different them.

Release the Prop. 8 Tapes

By Shannon Price Minter, Esq.
National Center for Lesbian Rights Legal Director

On August 29, 2011, U.S. District Court Judge James Ware will hear arguments about whether to unseal the video recordings of the historic trial in Perry v. Brown, the federal court challenge to Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that stripped the freedom to marry from same-sex couples in California. After a three-week trial in January 2010, now-retired Chief District Judge Vaughan Walker issued a decision in August 2010, holding that Prop 8 was based on anti-gay animus and blatantly violated the equality guarantees of the federal Constitution. That ruling has been on hold while the proponents of Prop 8 appeal Judge Walker’s ruling.

Rate Regulation And Other Key Health Reform Bills Head to Final Floor Votes

By Anthony Wright
Health Access

Important California legislation to improve our health system for the future and implement the new federal health law are headed to final floor votes, after passing key Appropriations Committees in both the Assembly and Senate.

The California Senate passed high-profile, heavily-debated bills like AB52(Feuer), on rate regulation, so consumers are protected from unjustified rate hikes. Other bills that advanced included crucial consumer protections for Californians, from a reorganization and expansion of consumer assistance for California patients, to the streamlining of eligibility and enrollment systems so that Californians get the coverage they want and need. Another bill would limit the amount of our premium dollar that goes to administration and profit, rather than patient care.

Nurses to Press Congress September 1st to Tax Wall Street to Heal America

By Malinda Markowitz, RN

As Congress and the White House continue to push an agenda of more deep cuts in spending at a time an economic crisis that is spinning out of control, registered nurses across the country will converge on some 60 Congress members in their local district offices September 1  to demand new priorities that help Main Street, not Wall Street.

RNs will hold soup kitchens, food drives, community speak outs, street theater, and other actions to call on legislators, Republicans and Democrats alike, to sign a pledge to “support a Wall Street transaction tax that will raise sufficient revenue to make Wall Street pay for the devastation it has caused on Main Street.”  In many locales we will be joined by many community and labor activists.

What That Exposé of the Fed's Secret Bailout Told Us ... And What It Didn't

By Richard (RJ) Eskow

We've just learned about the Federal Reserve's extraordinary secret bailout of the country's big banks. We now know that the TARP bailout program was only the tip of the iceberg, and that financial institutions received a total of $1.2 trillion in loans and other funds while the rest of the country was left to struggle for economic survival.

We also know that, despite all that "we got our money back" rhetoric, these loans represent a cash giveaway to the banks that totals up to tens of billions of dollars - while homeowners and student loan borrowers continue to struggle.

Here's what we now know about this secret bailout, thanks to a Bloomberg report, along with what we already knew - and what we still don't know:

Protecting the Rights of Pregnant Women

By Vibhuti Mehra
Labor Project for Working Families

It’s October 20, 2009. My lab results have just confirmed the news that my husband and I have been eagerly waiting to hear. I am pregnant. I am excited. I am overjoyed. I am nervous. I am anxious. My mind and body are gearing up to experience a plethora of emotions and sensations that will last for nine months and beyond. The first trimester goes without incident. We have just started announcing the news to family and friends. And then unexpectedly, four months into my pregnancy, I experience bleeding. Memories of a past miscarriage take over the joyous experience. I am fearful. My ob-gyn advises reducing my workload and taking it easy till things settle back into rhythm. I call my workplace and without much ado, my supervisor and I settle on a work-from-home arrangement till all is well.

Health Insurance Rate Regulation Approved By Key Senate Committee

By Richard Holober
Consumer Federation of California

AB 52 (Feuer) won passage in the Senate Appropriations Committee this morning on a 6-3 party line vote. Democrats on the committee voted Aye and Republicans voted No. The bill would give state regulators authority to approve or reject health insurance and HMO premium rate increases.

Facial Recognition: A Top Privacy Issue of Our Time

By Amber Yoo
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse

Facial recognition technology – especially as the technology becomes more sophisticated – may be one of the gravest privacy threats of our time. It has the potential to remove the anonymity Americans expect in crowds and most public places. There are the obvious “chilling effects” it could have on political demonstrations and speech, concerns being monitored by civil liberties advocates like the ACLU, EPIC, and EFF. However, this technology will also very likely be used in greater capacity in the commercial sector to further target consumers for advertising and discriminatory pricing purposes.