September 2011

Death. And Law & Order.

By James Clark
ACLU of Southern California

From its synth-jazz theme song to its cheesy dialogue to the sage counsel of S. Epatha Merkerson, I love Law and Order. But the best part of Law and Order is the satisfying finality that every episode brings. No matter the verdict, Jack McCoy and the gang always get a cathartic sense of closure after they solve a case.

Unfortunately, real trials aren’t so satisfying — especially when the death penalty is on the table.

Will Supreme Court Blow Another Hole in the Initiative Process?

By Paul Hogarth

Yesterday, the California Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the federal Prop 8 case – after the Ninth Circuit punted to them the question as to whether private right-wing advocates who put Prop 8 on the ballot have standing, under the California Constitution, to appeal Judge Walker’s decision. Because Attorney General Kamala Harris has declined to appeal, it’s an open question as to whether Prop 8 proponents – who were allowed to intervene in the January 2010 federal trial – can now appeal to the Ninth Circuit. If they can’t, the trial decision will stand – and gay couples could finally marry in California.

Banned Pesticide Use Remains High in CA Strawberry Fields

By Ngoc Nguyen

In some of California’s top strawberry-growing counties, levels of banned methyl bromide remain nearly as high as they were a decade ago, despite a mandated phaseout, according to an analysis by New America Media.

The fumigant was supposed to have been phased out completely by 2005, under a global pact to halt the thinning of the earth’s protective ozone layer. But in 2009, the latest year for which data is available, more than 5 million pounds of the pesticide were still in use, down just 50 percent from 2000.

A limited amount of methyl bromide is allowed for use in instances where no alternative exists, through a “critical use exemption,” determined by treaty members in a three-year process and administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Strawberry growers in California are among the groups that can apply for an exemption.

Gay Marriage: Back in Court Again

By Peter Schrag

Before it’s all over, the battles over single sex marriage in California, now focused on Proposition 8, may enrich as many lawyers and take the time of as many judges as almost any legal issue in the state’s history.

Last week, the two sides fought it out before federal judge James Ware in San Francisco about release of videotapes of the trial last year that led to U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker’s sweeping ruling that Proposition 8 violates the equal protection guarantees of the U.S. constitution.

The original sponsors of Proposition 8, the gay marriage ban that voters passed in 2008, want to block the release of those tapes; the defenders of gay marriage, along with many media organizations, want them made available. In June, the Proposition 8 proponents also tried to have Walker’s decision overturned on the ground that he was gay and thus couldn’t be impartial. Ware quickly rejected that attempt.

‘Houston, San Joaquin Valley Has A Problem": Cars Causing Smog

By Alan Kandel

In California, or more precisely the San Joaquin Valley, our problem isn’t droughts, hurricanes or floods; it’s smog – at least right now it is. Beginning this year assessed will be an annual $29 million penalty, the money presumably going to help clean this smog up. San Joaquin Valley motorists will have to pay an extra $12 added to what would be our usual registration fees. Is this fair? The penalty may be justified, but the fact that Valley motorists are on the hook for this expense may not be. And here is why.

UFW March on the Capitol for Fair Treatment for Farm Workers

By Duane Campbell

Over 3000 UFW farm workers and their supporters marched on the California Capitol in Sacramento on Sept. 4 insisting on Fair Treatment for Farm workers Now. The march began August 23 in Madera. The march was organized by the United Farm Workers to reach Sacramento on Labor Day weekend. Marchers  are pushing for the enactment of the Fair Treatment for Farm Workers Act and the right to be paid overtime after eight hours. 

As the farm workers reached the capitol an apparent agreement was reached among legislators to pass improvements of the existing Agricultural Labor Relations Act. Gov. Jerry Brown and pro farm worker legislators have struck a deal to give state regulators new powers that could help agriculture workers unionize.

An Opportunity We Can't Afford To Miss

By Jakada Imani
The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights

We've heard it before - "the green economy is here" and "green jobs are on the way!" At the Ella Baker Center, we put time, energy, and money into building training programs and promoting the idea of the "new," green economy. Just a few years later, the economy crashed and green jobs became fewer and farther between than anticipated.

Now, more than ever, jobs of any kind are hard to find. But a weak economy doesn't make the bad air any less harmful, or the energy bills we pay any more affordable. In a sustainable, healthy economy, people shouldn't have to settle for grey jobs. Fortunately, Jerry Brown has a plan to fight unemployment and put more Californians to work fixing up houses and apartments to reduce energy consumption- the renewal and reform of the Public Goods Charge.

Don't Erase People With Disabilities From Our History Books

By Katie Laackmann
River City High School

For me and other youth with disabilities, the “back to school” season has special significance this year.  Over the summer, our state legislature passed a bill that will finally require California public schools to include the history of the disability rights movement in social studies and history lessons and on July 14, Governor Brown signed it into law.  

In 2010, youth with disabilities led the effort to establish the second week in October as Disability History Week and on the heels of that victory, SB 48 (Leno), the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act will now ensure that our peers in K-12 schools learn about the contributions people with disabilities have made in our country.   

California Supreme Court Hears Prop 8 Case

By Shannon Minter, Esq.
National Center for Lesbian Rights

On Tuesday, the California Supreme Court will hear arguments on an important question of California law that has arisen in Perry v. Brown, the ongoing federal challenge to Proposition 8, a 2008 ballot measure that stripped the ability to marry from same-sex couples in California.

The Court must decide whether California law allows the sponsors of Prop 8 to force an appeal in Perry v. Brown—even though the California Attorney General agrees that Prop 8 is unconstitutional. To understand why Tuesday’s hearing is significant, it is helpful to look back on the history of marriage equality in California.

  • May 2008—The California Supreme Court ruled that California’s laws barring same-sex couples from marriage violated California’s Constitution. In the following months, more than 18,000 same-sex couples married in California.

Regulatory Reform Key to Getting Californians Back to Work

By Assemblymember Steven Bradford

SACRAMENTO – In this Democratic weekly address, Assemblymember Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) highlights regulatory reform legislation put forward by Assembly Democrats to address job creation and economic development — the two most critical issues facing California. Bradford points to his bill that requires state agencies to consider the impact of regulations on businesses while improving the health and safety of the public and the environment while also touching on Speaker John A. Pérez’s efforts to create the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development. Bradford lauds the bill as an important step to “establish long-term economic goals and strategies, as well as specific and effective services to California’s businesses both large and small.” Bradford reiterates that “there is no greater priority right now than getting Californians back to work and getting our economy on the right track,” and makes it clear that Assembly Democrats remain committed to that task.

This Labor Day, Let’s Unite to Fight for the Middle Class

By Art Pulaski
California Labor Federation

There’s a threat to America’s economic future that’s so overlooked it’s gone almost unnoticed amid the endless debate over the debt ceiling and federal spending: massive income inequality.

This Labor Day, the gap that separates the very wealthy from the rest of us is as wide as it was in the Great Depression. Since the economic collapse of 2008, workers have suffered through joblessness, home foreclosures, reduced wages and benefits and a sustained assault on our right to collectively bargain. Did you notice that corporate profits are soaring and Wall Street bankers are receiving fatter bonuses than ever? And we wonder why our middle class is disappearing before our eyes.

Why the State Assembly Should Reject SB 923 (De Leon)

By Robert Weinmann

SB 923 (DELEON) is reportedly devised to correct a payment gap to primary treating physicians (PTPs). This bill would mandate increased pay for PTPs by lowering payments currently made to specialists and by redistributing the money to the PTPs. It would accomplish this task by replacing the current Office Medical Fee Schedule with a Medicare fee schedule. However, careful reading of the bill does not show that the bill would be obliged to increase PTP reimbursement.

Study: Kids Who Get out of Class Do Better in Class

By Viji Sundaram
New America Media

SAN FRANCISCO -- In the New York City elementary school where Sara Shenkan-Rich used to work a few years ago, students squabbled over petty things, bullied each other, were restless in class and showed high levels of stress.

But at the Sherman Elementary School in San Francisco’s Marina District where she is the principal, kids go though the day with a purpose, stay focused while learning the 3 Rs and resolve conflicts with the age-old hand game of rock-paper-scissors.

You wouldn’t think that about half of them are enrolled in the school’s free lunch program for disadvantaged children.

New research by the Department of Pediatrics at the University of California in San Francisco (UCSF) shows that children who spend some time outside the classroom during the school day do better in class academically, socially and emotionally. The research findings were published in the August issue of the Journal of School Health.

A Fair Mortgage Program Can Boost The Economy, Create Millions Of Jobs, And Shrink The Federal Deficit

By Richard (RJ) Eskow

Remember The Music Man? That's the musical where a con man tricks an entire town's parents into buying musical instruments they don't need by promising to teach music to their kids. Then he skips town. Only when he makes good on his promises is he forgiven by the town and rewarded with true love.

If today's America was that town they'd have written the Music Man a fat check and promised not to prosecute him. They'd even let him complain to the local newspaper about being called a "con man," the way JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon complained to the New York Times about criticism of bankers.

As for those bilked parents and their disappointed kids, Americans in government and the media would undoubtedly say "Serves 'em right."

Problem ...

AB 52: Disappointed But Not Defeated

By Anthony Wright
Health Access

Perhaps the most lobbied bill not just in health care but in the whole legislature, AB52 (Feuer) would allow state regulators to reject unjustified rate hikes by health insurance companies. It was a common sense consumer protection that was widely supported by the public, and by a broad coalition of consumer, community, and constituency groups.

Assemblymember Feuer, the author of Assembly Bill 52, announced yesterday that he was parking the measure. Despite an outpouring of strong support from small business, working families and consumers throughout California, the bill has hit a temporary roadblock in the Senate. Right now, not enough Senators are prepared to vote for any form of health insurance rate regulation. Until a majority of the Senate supports giving the state authority to reject excessive health insurance increases, millions of Californians will continue to pay unreasonable rates or not be able to afford to go to the doctor at all.

The State of Jobs on Labor Day 2011

By Sylvia Allegretto, PhD

This Labor Day, two months after the second anniversary of our economic “recovery”, it seems appropriate to assess how job markets are faring in the United States and California. It is informative to note that the official dating committee of recessions, the National Bureau of Economic Research, evaluates several different economic indices when assessing the beginning and ending dates of recessions— job growth or loss is just one of those—which is why many workers are surprised that the recession already ended. But officially it has. By the National Bureau’s reckoning, the recession lasted from December 2007 to June 2009.

CEOs Rewarded for Tax Dodging Gymnastics

By Chuck Collins

As the Super Congress eyes trillions in budget cuts that will undermine the quality of life for most Americans, here's a stunning fact to contemplate: Twenty-five hugely profitable U.S. companies paid their CEOs more last year than they paid Uncle Sam in taxes.

In other words, the more CEOs dodge their civic responsibilities, the more lavishly they're paid. That's the key finding of a new Institute for Policy Studies report, Massive CEO Rewards for Tax Dodging, which I co-authored.  

These artful dodgers include the CEOs of Verizon, Boeing, Honeywell, General Electric, International Paper, Prudential, eBay, Bank of New York Mellon, Ford, Motorola, Qwest Communications, Dow Chemical, and Stanley Black and Decker. Their average annual compensation totaled $16.7 million, well above last year's average of $10.8 million for the CEOs of S&P 500 companies.

Meet The New American Sweatshop

By Robert Greenwald
Brave New Films Foundation

The professional carwash industry is a $23 billion enterprise, one which more and more Americans make use of every year. If you visited a carwash lately – which judging by the latest industry report you probably have or will in the near future – you may have noticed the fast and arduous labor of carwash workers. You have seen that even in the most extreme heat or cold weather, carwash workers are hard at it – focusing on every nook and cranny of your vehicle. What you probably missed – as is the case in many carwashes across the country – is that this work is accompanied by obscene labor abuses, health hazardous conditions, employer exploitation and intimidation. Carwash workers are the face of the new American sweatshop.

Perry's Iowa Remarks Reveal Republican Strategy on Social Security

By Daniel Marans
Campaign for America's Future

The media have portrayed Governor Rick Perry’s description of Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme” at a recent Iowa campaign event as the latest extreme statement of an unconventionally candid, conservative presidential candidate. But Perry’s full remarks reveal just as much about the Republican Party’s strategy for cutting Social Security as they do about Perry himself.