January 2012

Will UCLA And a Professor Be Punished For Causing the Death Of a Lab Tech, Or Is UC Above The Law?

By Joan Lichterman

UC attorneys and spinmeisters are working overtime to defend the regents, UCLA, and a UCLA chemistry professor in Superior Court against felony charges for willfully violating workplace health and safety standards resulting in the death of a 23-year-old lab assistant. The arraignment is scheduled for Thursday, February 2, and safety advocates fear that a plea bargain will be entered at that time with an inappropriate sentence.

Preventing Foreclosures: It's Time For Banks To Pick Up The Tab

By Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), California Reinvestment Coalition (CRC), PICO California

Last week, Attorney General Kamala Harris once again refused to accept the terms of a $25 billion multistate settlement with the nation’s largest banks over their foreclosure practices. As a diverse coalition of community and faith-based groups, unions, students and progressive organizations, ReFund California commends Attorney General Harris for standing firm in her commitment to secure a strong settlement for the millions of families who have lost their homes due to the reckless conduct of the nation’s largest banks. Without a meaningful amount of principal reduction, transparency, and enforcement, the settlement was too weak for California. Attorney General Harris’s leadership on this issue, including launching her own investigation in California, no doubt contributed to the Obama Administration’s decision to launch a new federal mortgage investigation unit.

Gingrich vs. Romney: Who Should Progressives Root For?

By Paul Hogarth

For a partisan Democrat whose only concern is the re-election of President Obama, the choice is clear: Newt Gingrich would make a far weaker Republican opponent than Mitt Romney. But for progressives with an eye on the long haul, it’s less obvious who would be the more desirable GOP nominee in 2012. After winning the White House on a platform of “hope” and “change,” Barack Obama’s message for the Left in 2012 is “fear” – fear that right-wing extremists will undo the little progress that was made. Given the unappealing choices in front of us, the question is how to use the presidential race to shift public debate and hold politicians accountable. Gingrich could end up such a disastrous nominee that he sinks the whole G.O.P. ticket – and if that results in Democrats re-taking Congress, it may be the preferred scenario.

The 'Buffett Rule' in History's Grand Sweep

By Sam Pizzigati

President Obama has proposed a specific new minimum tax rate for millionaires. Should America's rich feel angry or relieved? We check the IRS tax data archives for an answer.

The most famous secretary in America works “just as hard” as her billionaire boss — according to her boss, investor Warren Buffett — but pays federal taxes at twice the rate her boss does.

Debbie Bosanek, America learned last week, has been working for billionaire Buffett since 1993. In 2010 she paid 35.8 percent of her income in federal income and payroll taxes. Buffett paid his federal taxes at a 17.4 percent rate.

Civil Rights Advocates Meet in L.A. to Discuss Voter Suppression Laws

By Jose Luis Sierra & Zaineb Mohammed
New America Media

Last week, at a press briefing co-hosted by New America Media (NAM) and Common Cause, civil rights lawyers and advocates representing California’s largest ethnic communities spoke of the need to work together to ensure that 2012 elections are open and accessible, in light of a rash of state laws that they say are being deliberately designed to suppress the vote of ethnic minorities and the poor.

Speakers at the briefing included legal experts from the Mexican American Legal Defense Education Fund (MALDEF), Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC), Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Common Cause.

Building a Blue-Green Coalition in California

By Marcy Winograd
Former Democratic Candidate for Congress

After the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act, with its codification of imprisonment without charge or trial, I could no longer register voters for the Democratic Party – even with the hope of involving new registrants in the California Democratic Party’s popular Progressive Caucus. If I could not ask someone to join the Democratic Party, I could not in good conscience stay in the party, even as an insurgent writing resolutions and platform planks to end our wars for oil.

Unfortunately, too many corporate Democrats, beholden to big-money donors or to a jobs sector dependent on militarism, vote for perpetual war and the surveillance state, replete with secret wiretaps, black hole prisons, and targeted assassinations. Far too many who are fearful or bought by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee vote for legislation that relegates Palestinians to second-class citizenship and threatens to take our country to the brink of an unthinkable war on Iran.

On Redistricting: The Court Gets It Half Right

By Peter Schrag

The California Supreme Court last Friday decisively rebuffed the Republican attack on the new state Senate maps drawn by California’s new independent Citizens Redistricting Commission. But the way it was done could invite as many future problems as it solved.

In so doing, Chief Justice Tani Cantil- Sakauye’s lengthy opinion in Vandermost v. Bowen was a perfect illustration of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter’s classic warning against courts wandering into the political thicket of the redistricting process.

In effect, while Friday’s unanimous decision kicked the Republicans out the door, at least for this year, it didn’t slam it against future attempts, even more frivolous ones, to manipulate a political process that the creation of the Commission was supposed to clean up.  

California Investigates Skin-Lighteners for Dangerous Mercury

By Ngoc Nguyen
New America Media

There could be a dark side to skin-lightening creams often found in stores that cater to ethnic communities.

Starting next week, California health officials will collect and test a sampling of skin-lightening products in the Bay Area for possible mercury contamination. Health officials launched the investigation in response to a spate of mercury poisoning cases linked to the tainted face creams that are made outside the United States.

A handful of cases emerged in the mid ‘90s, but it was a 2010 case involving a 39-year-old Latina and her family in Alameda County that spurred the state to action.

Coordinators of a health study found the East Bay resident with dangerously-high mercury levels, and notified state health officials.

Groundbreaking Political Advertising Disclosure Bill Moves to Assembly Floor

By Trent Lange
California Clean Money Campaign

Last week, the California Assembly Appropriations Committee voted AB 1148, the California DISCLOSE Act, to the Assembly floor for a full vote next Tuesday, January 31st.  Coming two days before the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s infamous Citizens United decision that unleashed unlimited anonymous spending on campaigns across the country, the vote moves forward a bill that would shine a spotlight on political spending so voters know who is behind the ads they’re seeing.

Over $235 million was spent on ballot measures in 2010, almost all of it by veiled actors hiding behind innocuous-sounding names that deliberately mislead voters about who is paying for them.  Independent expenditures have increased more than 6,000% since 2000.  It will come as no surprise that a recent study by the New York City Public Advocate showed that such anonymous spending groups are significantly more likely to fund negative advertisements.

California AG Harris Turned Down a Guaranteed 60% of the Foreclosure Fraud Deal

By David Dayen

Somebody really wants this foreclosure fraud settlement to go through. So much so that California was offered a sum to participate in the settlement sure to piss off the other 49 AGs across the country. Only California was guaranteed earmarked funds from the settlement. Earlier we heard they would get $8 billion out of the $25 billion pot, or 32% of the total (California has roughly 10% of the population). Now, Shahien Nasiripour says they were in line for $15 billion, or a whopping 60%.

California, home to the largest US property market, spurned an offer of roughly $15bn in lower monthly mortgage payments and reduced loan balances for its residents in talks to settle allegations of mortgage-related misdeeds by leading US banks.

To Drive or Not to Drive, That Is The Question: And The Correct Answer Is?

By Alan Kandel

It’s a very interesting juxtaposition: On the one hand, “According to the American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) January Transit Savings Report, individuals who ride public transportation instead of driving can save, on average, $816 dollars this month, and $9,790 annually. These savings are based on the cost of commuting by public transportation compared to the January 10, 2012 average national gas price ($3.34 per gallon- reported by AAA) and the national unreserved monthly parking rate.”

Waiver for NCLB the Right Choice for California

By Arun Ramanthan
The Education Trust—West

Around this time every year, millions of parents in California are working through the school enrollment process. Unfortunately, while many don’t have a choice regarding what school their child will attend, those who do often find their options bewildering.

My wife and I are both educators (her currently, me formerly). We know the education system well, and what qualities to look for in a school. Still, even we were confused when we moved from San Diego to Oakland and began looking at local public schools.

After months of research and hours spent talking about the pros and cons of schools, we filled out our “options” form with our top three school choices. In some ways, this final step was a leap of faith. The school we picked had low scores but we liked the Spanish immersion program and believed that the principal and teachers could turn it around.

Scoring the California Legislature: Who Stood With Consumers In 2011?

By Zack Kaldveer
Consumer Federation of California

The Consumer Federation of California (CFC) released its 2011 Scorecard for State lawmakers today. The scorecard rates legislators on their votes cast on key consumer rights bills, including banning the sale of expired baby food and over-the-counter medicine, establishing a universal, "Medicare for All" health insurance program, prohibiting a prospective employer from using consumer credit reports in the hiring process, authorizing the Department of Insurance or Department of Managed Health Care to approve, modify or reject proposed health insurance or HMO premium rate increases, banning toxic bisphenol A (BPA) above safe levels from containers of food and beverages intended for consumption by children age three or younger, requiring development of a new smolder resistance standard, and enabling California consumers to purchase furniture that is not filled with toxic flame retardant chemicals, among others.

Proposed Foreclosure Settlement Would Benefit Wall Street, Not Main Street

By Art Pulaski
California Labor Federation

This week, the U.S. Department of Housing and Development (HUD) and the Big Banks teamed up to propose a multi-state settlement to address the foreclosure crisis. But based on the terms described in numerous media reports, the deal appears to be a settlement for the banks, not a settlement for the middle class. The people of California need real relief, not a quick settlement that lets the banks off the hook.

How to Deny that Fish Need Water

By Kate Poole
Natural Resources Defense Council

I recently came across this checklist for global warming deniers on Michael Campana’s post:

  1. Deny global warming.
  2. After global warming is determined to be real, deny that it's human caused.
  3. After it is determined to be human caused, deny that it will be harmful.
  4. After it is shown that it will be harmful, claim that it's too expensive to stop.
  5. After it is shown that it will be more expensive *not* to stop, send a threat to a climate scientist.
  6. Engage some scientists who may have ‘street creds,’ but in another field.

Insert the words “Delta ecosystem collapse” for “global warming,” and you have the playbook of some of the biggest water users in California who are driven by a desire to continue profiting from an unsustainable level of water diversions from the Bay-Delta.

PPIC Poll Shows Large Information Gap

By Brian Leubitz

When the Republican realized that they could make some electoral gains from becoming the "Second Santa" with their tax cuts, they knew they were on to something. They didn't have to be the bad guys promoting spending cuts, and their tax cuts would somehow net just as much revenue because the magic "Laffer curve" would make everything better. And if it didn't work, well, the Democrats would have to cut spending and do the dirty work.

And, unsurprisingly, it worked. It has clearly worked in California, where Prop 13 and its anti-tax brethren have wreaked havoc on the state. For a few decades we were able to hide much of this through some huge bubbles and creative accounting, but that is a thing of the past. And so we have a huge deficit, a dysfunctional tax system, and a government that only allows cuts. What's a Republican to do to keep up his role as a second Santa?

The Obama State Of The Union: A Progressive View

By Robert Borosage
Institute for America’s Future

Last night in his State of the Union, President Obama presented himself as the champion of the American dream, or in his words, “the American promise” – “that if you worked hard, you could do well enough to raise a family, own a home, send your kids to college, and put a little away for retirement.” And the instrument of recovering that dream was clearly the need for smart, activist government.

Obama described what he considered necessary to revive the promise – and evoked America’s wistful desire for national unity by opening and closing the address by evoking the nation’s pride in its military. The speech was designed to set up the coming presidential campaign, drawing clear contrasts with Republicans, but the tone was more assured than combative. Here’s my take on what was in – and not in – the speech.

I. The Populist Moment Embraced

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Parity Bill Advances to Assembly Floor

By Marty Omoto

Legislation that would significantly increase coverage for mental health and substance abuse treatments that private health insurers and managed health care plans are currently required to provide under state and federal mental health parity laws, faces a key hurdle, as the bill comes up for a final vote on the Assembly floor as early as this coming Thursday (January 26) .  If AB 154, authored by Assemblymember Jim Beall Jr. (Democrat - San Jose, 24th Assembly District), passes the Assembly as expected, the bill then heads to the State Senate, where it faces likely more difficult prospects for passage in the Senate Health Committee.  

As Brown Removes Barriers For Economic Recovery, Neighboring States Offer Growth Management Lessons

By Dan Aiello
California Progress Report

As those who fight to preserve what is left of the Sacramento – San Joaquin Delta, the largest estuary on the Pacific Coast, from the persistent demands of water-wanting regions of California, it is worth noting that both Oregon and Washington - our northern neighbors - have long-managed a balance between economic and environmental concerns, an idea almost entirely foreign to Sacramento.

While in Oregon the Department of Transportation also acts as the Department of Growth Management, there exists no such California equivalent.  California’s water policy historically has been one of governance by reaction to a plethora of dire population growth predictions.

Bill To Label GE Fish Fails in California Legislature

By Dan Bacher

You would think that a simple bill requiring the labeling of Frankenfish would pass easily through the California Legislature.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the case, since Assemblymembers apparently beholden to the bioegineering and biotechnology industry voted last week against a bill, AB 88, that would have required that all genetically engineered (GE) fish sold in California contain clear and prominent labeling.

The legislation, authored by Assemblymember Jared Huffman (D-6), failed in the Assembly Appropriations Committee by a vote of 9-7. Assemblymembers Harkey, Calderon, Hall, Nielson, Norby, Solorio, Wagner, Campos and Donnelly voted no on the bill, while Fuentes, Bradford, Chesbro, Gatto, Hill, Ammiano and Mitchell voted yes.

Assemblymember Blumenfield, who voted for the bill last May, was out of the room during the vote.