December 2011


Pictures 2011

By Steve Mikulan

As the year winds down to its bang-or-whimper end, here are a few images that linger in the mind’s eye.

Photo: UFCWSouthern California’s Economy was spared a beating when 62,000 grocery employees belonging to the United Food and Commercial Workers union won a fair three-year contract from three major supermarket chains without having to go on strike.

Attorney General Issues Letter to Lawmakers on Medical Marijuana

By Dan Aiello

Just a week after Assemblyman Tom Ammiano met with the U.S. attorney's office to discuss federal raids on California's medical marijuana dispensaries and growers, California's attorney general has issued a letter to the state's top lawmakers warning that attempts to pass statewide regulation of marijuana must not impede upon the will of the people or further provoke the wrath of the federal government.

"We have started a conversation," Ammiano, an openly gay San Francisco Democrat, told the Bay Area Reporter of his meeting with Melinda Haag, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California.

New Year, New Opportunities for Reform

By Selena Teji and Emily Luhrs
Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

California’s budget crisis may sweep in the state’s most drastic juvenile justice reforms as early as January 2012. Gov. Jerry Brown’s latest budget measure involves implementation of “trigger cuts” on January 1st which will affect virtually every facet of social services in the state.

For juvenile justice, this includes requiring counties to pay more of their tab for housing their most serious and violent offenders in the state’s Department of Juvenile Facilities (DJF). Currently it costs the state taxpayer approximately $200,000 per year to house a youth in the ineffective and irreparable state system, while counties have contributed only minimally to the cost.  Under the triggers, the counties will be responsible for $125,000 of this cost per youth, or they can recall their youths and serve them locally.

Notable Death of the Year: RIP Austerity Economics, 1921-2011

By Richard (RJ) Eskow

This is the time of year when we're reminded of all the famous people who died over the last twelve months, a list which includes two of my favorite guitar players (Hubert Sumlin and Cornell Dupree). But there were also some notable non-human deaths in 2011, especially in the world of economic policy.

One of those deaths should have completely altered the political debate in Washington. The name of the deceased was "Austerity Economics," and it was first glimpsed in a 1921 paper by conservative economist Frank Wright. Austerity died of natural causes brought on by prolonged exposure to reality.

But the debate in Washington didn't change nearly enough after its passing. In the nation's capital, dead things still rule the night.

Why Austerity?

Federal District Court Judge Blocks 10% Medi-Cal Rate Cut For Pharmacies

By Marty Omoto
California Disability Community Action Network

US District Court Judge Christina Snyder in Los Angeles issued an order yesterday blocking any implementation of the 10% rate reduction to Medi-Cal pharmacies in a case brought by the Medicaid Defense Fund based in Novato on behalf of Medi-Cal recipients, Medi-Cal pharmacy providers and advocacy organizations. The 10% Medi-Cal rate reduction to most "fee for service" providers was proposed last January by the Brown Administration and passed by the Legislature on March 16th and signed into law on March 24th by the Governor as one of the early pieces of the 2011-2012 State Budget.

The preliminary injunction issued by the judge represents a major victory for persons with disabilities, mental health needs, the blind and low income seniors and families, and Medi-Cal pharmacy providers across the State and another legal setback for the Brown Administration.

Legislative Fix Needed To Stop Waste of Millions Earmarked For Severe Mental Illness

By Mary Ann Bernard
mentalillnesspolicy.org

California continues to ignore the dangerous mentally ill, while squandering millions in mental health dollars earmarked for “severe mental illness” on the worried well, whose voices are much louder in local politics.

Despite the rash of assaults and homicides committed by dangerous patients  at Napa State Hospital—the most recent just last month—the current proposed budget will produce more murders and assaults by lowering state hospital staff ratios to save money.  Meanwhile, the misnamed Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission (“MHSOAC”) soldiers on, apparently unaffected by the impending demise of Department of Mental Health (“DMH”), or the state budget crunch.

A Better Way For High-Speed Rail Fresno to Bakersfield?

By Alan Kandel

For California high-speed rail, 2012 is a pivotal year. This is when construction of a 130-mile portion of Phase 1 is slated to begin. While I may not totally concur with the Central San Joaquin Valley alignment(s) agreed upon (both north and south of Fresno), I do, however, support the project overall due to its need. And the reason for my alignment preference(s) have more to do with the relative complexity of building along the proposed trajectories than with any thing else.

Fresno-to-Bakersfield

I will limit my comments to Fresno-to-Bakersfield because the hybrid Union Pacific/Highway 99 and Burlington Northern Santa Fe routing has been selected by the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board as the preferred routing between Fresno and Merced.

LA County Jails Consistently Imprisoning the Wrong People

By David Dayen

Here in my backyard of sunny (sorry!) Los Angeles, our county sheriff is suffering through the worst performance record in the country outside of noted racist Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County, Arizona. First, Sheriff Lee Baca had to endure credible allegations of mistreatment of prisoners in county lockups. Now, he has a new scandal on his hands:

Hundreds of people have been wrongly imprisoned inside the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department jails in recent years, with some spending weeks behind bars before authorities realized those arrested were mistaken for wanted criminals, a Times investigation has found.

“Tax Holiday” News Coverage Misses Democrats’ Social Security Breach

By Paul Kleyman
New America Media

Democratic leaders and the White House are congratulating themselves for their tax-holiday victory—but only until the Feb. 29 leap-of-faith day--over GOP hardliners. But the payroll tax holiday, like most vacations, will have its bill to pay.

The national media have been playing the bipartisan shuffle in terms of Democratic stimulus versus GOP stinginess. But such major media as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have largely abrogated their responsibility to report another viewpoint that multiple progressive experts and commentators have argued for since the essentially Republic tax-cut idea was put forward and accepted last year by the Obama White House.

Delta Smelt Population Improves As Canal Plans Ramp Up

By Dan Bacher

The abundance of endangered Delta smelt, an indicator species that demonstrates the health of the imperiled Bay-Delta ecosystem, was greater in 2011 than it has been any year since 2001.

Yet state fishery biologists note that population remains a small fraction of historical abundance. "The improvement is likely due in large part to higher than usual Delta outflow which resulted in more and better habitat," according to Marty Gingras, DFG fishery biologist, in a press release on December 23.

The high flows resulted in keeping the Delta smelt away from the state and federal pumping facilities in the South Delta, where millions of Sacramento splittail and other fish were killed this year. Only 51 Delta smelt were "salvaged" in the pumping facilities that export water to southern California water agencies and corporate growers on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley in 2011.

ProPublica Redistricting Report: GOP Manipulation They Missed in Orange County

By Chris Prevatt

Last week, ProPublica released an investigative report entitled How Democrats Fooled California’s Redistricting Commission. In their story reporters, Olga Pierce and Jeff Larson, alleged that Democratic elected officials, in particular the California Congressional delegation, manipulated the redistricting process. In a press release California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton said; “The article charging California Democrats with manipulating California’s Redistricting Commission is pure fantasy.” His comments to the San Francisco Chronicle were less censured and in character calling the report;

 “complete bulls..t, an absolute f..king fabrication.”

Jury Nullification: An Important Tool Against Drug War Injustices?

By Tony Newman
Drug Policy Alliance

Should juries vote "not guilty" on low-level marijuana charges to send a message about our country's insane marijuana arrest policy? Paul Butler, former federal prosecutor and law professor at George Washington University made a powerful argument for jury nullification in an op-ed in yesterday's New York Times.

Jury nullification is a constitutional doctrine that allows juries to acquit defendants who are technically guilty, but who don't deserve punishment. Butler explained that juries have the right and power to use jury nullification to protest unjust laws.

The Great California Mess: It’s 80 Initiatives Deep

By Peter Schrag

A lot of Sacramento’s wise heads are warning that if more than one of the half dozen or so tax proposals now being circulated for next November’s California ballot actually get there, exasperated voters till throw up their hands and vote them all down.

The onus for clearing the field has been hung on Gov. Jerry Brown, whose own plan – a combination of increases in high-bracket income taxes and across the board sales taxes – is given the best chance of passing.

But what few have noticed, and may be even more important as a measure of the mess we’re in, is that those tax plans are part of a larger glut of some 75 would-be ballot measures that have been cleared for circulation or are waiting at the attorney general’s office for title and summary, so they too can join the crowd that’s already on the streets. 

Shorter Mercury News: California Doesn’t Need Jobs

By Robert Cruickshank

California’s current unemployment rate is 11.3%. That’s still a far higher level than the state has seen in decades – and it has been sustained at around that level for at least two years.

California faces nothing less than a severe jobs crisis. That doesn’t mean any old job is a good job. But when you have an opportunity to create tens of thousands of jobs per year while building sustainable infrastructure that can save money and spur new growth for the rest of the century, you would be crazy to dismiss it. California didn’t dismiss those opportunities during the Great Depression, building dams and bridges that put people to work immediately and still help create economic value 75 years later.

Grover Norquist: Portrait of a One Percenter

By Steven Mikulan

Even when he loses, Grover Norquist wins. This is one of the unsettling conclusions to be drawn from Peter Dreier and Donald Cohen’s December 20 feature, “Grover Norquist’s Real Game: Shifting Power and Wealth to the 1 Percent,” posted on Truthout.org.

Their richly detailed portrait of the founder of Americans for Tax Reform shows Norquist as not simply a more highly evolved version of Howard Jarvis, the California anti-tax zealot who bequeathed us the nightmare known as Proposition 13. Indeed, as Dreier and Cohen state, Norquist is not really a conservative genuinely interested in smaller government or tax reform, but the hired arsonist of big business. Although highly secretive about who pays his rent, Norquist has flacked or lobbied for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Big Tobacco and the gambling industry, to name a few of his benefactors.

Forgetting the Iraq War

By Andrew Lam
New America Media

American wars used to end decisively. When Americans came back from defeating the Germans after World War II, there were ticker-tape parades. When the last U.S. helicopter lifted off from Saigon, Vietnam on April 30, 1975, the image seared deep into the American psyche; it spelled an ignominious end.

For the first time in its history, America had been defeated. Its ally, South Vietnam, fell to communist hands. Several generations grappled with their nation’s foreign policies and the meaning of such “hell in a small place,” reexamining their role in the war, whether as participants and supporters, or dissenters and protesters. Vietnam changed the nation’s outlook on the world and its place in it. Since then we have been trying to kick the Vietnam syndrome. We have been searching for victory.

Fast forward to Dec 15, 2011.

Brown Administration Implementing $623 Million Medi-Cal Provider Reductions

By Marty Omoto
California Disability Action Network
 
The Department of Health Care Services under the Brown Administration announced Friday that it is moving forward in implementing reductions in Medi-Cal provider payments of up to 10% that could total over $623 million in State general funds, that was authorized in the 2011-2012 State Budget.  The implementation of the reduction comes as the State faces still another huge budget deficit, projected at nearly $13 billion by the end of the 2012-2013 State Budget year unless the Governor and Legislature takes action to address it either through additional massive spending cuts or imposing new revenues - or a combination of both and other solutions.   
 

More California Counties Set To Expand Coverage in January

By Anthony Wright
Health Access California

Over 35 California counties will be expanding health coverage to tens of thousands of Californians on January 1, under new federal approval granted yesterday.

Ten large urban counties had already launched health expansions in July 2011. Just-released data show that now over 225,000 Californians are enrolled in these county-based Low-Income Health Programs (LIHPs), which are matched by new federal funds under the Affordable Care Act, and the state's new "bridge to reform" Medicaid waiver.

No Two Ways About It: High Speed Rail Will Create Jobs for California

By Jim Earp
California Alliance for Jobs

At a time when construction unemployment in California is higher than 25%, building High Speed Rail will, without question, create much-needed jobs throughout the state.

From carpenters to engineers, laborers to truck drivers, warehouse workers to metal workers, electricians to plumbers, and restaurants, retail and lodging, building and supporting a 500+ mile rail system will put people to work.

That $335 Million BofA Settlement: The Good, The Bad, And The Very Ugly

By Richard (RJ) Eskow

The Obama Administration announced a $335 million settlement deal with Bank of America to settle charges of discriminatory lending practices. Here is, in ascending order of importance, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Justice Department deserves praise for responding to illegal bank behavior more aggressively than it's done in the past. So does the Occupy movement, and so do the many Americans who have expressed their outrage over the lack of prosecutions and sweetheart bank deals. Without them it's unlikely we'd be seeing a deal like this at all.

But while the Justice Department has taken a first step, the proposed agreement seems designed to do only the bare minimum its framers hoped would be needed to quell public outrage. While it will be sold as bold and decisive, it's not. In fact, this deal perpetuates some of the worst failings of past settlements the governments made with big banks.