April 2012

Will May Day Protests Rejuvenate the Occupy Movement?

By Randy Shaw

From April 9-15, thousands of Occupy activists got direct action training in preparation for the “99% Spring.” The goal is recapturing Occupy’s momentum, with a greater focus on targeting specific corporate wrongdoing. But getting large turnouts may not be easy. On April 24, expected massive protests at San Francisco’s Wells Fargo shareholder meeting drew only roughly 1,000 people. The upcoming May 1st protests becomes the first nationwide test of Occupy’s current strength and growth potential. Large turnouts would confirm Occupy’s rejuvenation, reaffirming the movement's success in defining the nation’s problems. Such turnouts could also help Occupy's efforts to broaden its base, essential for a movement whose growth requires more than mobilizing existing activists.

State of Immigrants

By Peter Schrag

University of Southern California demographer Dowell Myers has spent much of the past ten years trying to show his fellow Californians how much their future depends on immigrants and their children.

At the heart of that message is the simple fact that as the boomer generation retires in the next couple of decades, the majority of the labor force will be first or second generation immigrants. There is no one else to fill the jobs, pay for the Social Security and Medicare of those retirees, no one to buy their homes.

Thou Shalt Not Frack Thy Neighbor’s Land

By Beth Gunston
California League of Conservation Voters

It’s only been in the last couple of years that Californians began hearing about fracking, and few of us thought that it was even happening in our state. Fracking – shorthand for hydraulic fracturing – is a method that is used to extract natural gas and oil deeply trapped below shale deposits. A process that has been in use for decades, fracking requires vast amounts of water laden with a concoction of chemicals to be pumped under high pressure to blast through shale and push up trapped gas. Well, it turns out that California has been getting fracked for years in areas including Los Angeles, Ventura, Monterey, Santa Barbara, and Kern Counties.

Exiled From Arizona, Immigrant Begins Anew in California

By Sugriel Reyes
New America Media

She sits in her room, absorbed in a book of homemade natural remedies. Her petite frame is lost in a wooden twin-size bed that sits amid a monstrous pile of clothes, books, shoes, blankets, pillows, towels and makeup her teenage niece refers to as her side of the room.

Reading is what Claudia spends most of her time doing. Living on the outskirts of Los Angeles and without a car, it is hard to get around. She takes the bus to work, a small clothing boutique in Pasadena that gives her 10 hours a week. The little money she makes, she saves, in hopes of one day affording her own apartment.

Workers Memorial Day: A Time to Honor the Fallen, Protect the Injured and Prevent Future Fatalities

By Mitch Seaman
California Labor Federation

Every year on April 28th, working families nationwide gather to commemorate Workers Memorial Day and honor those who’ve lost their lives to work-related injury. The occasion commits every one of us to prevent additional fatalities and minimize workplace injuries -- and always call on others to do the same. April 28th also presents us, as workers, with a unique opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices we make and to renew the fight for the safety and respect we deserve at work.

In 2010, over 300 Californians lost their lives in work-related accidents, and about 6,500 died from chronic workplace exposure to chemicals and other toxins. Workers throughout every industry sector are affected, and potentially deadly hazards persist in every workplace.

Obama Administration Releases Final Regulation For New Medicaid Program Called "Community First Choice Option"

By Marty Omoto
California Disability Community Action Network

Yesterday the Obama Administration announced the release of the long awaited final federal regulations for a new Medicaid program, called the “Community First Choice Option” that will provide states who apply, with a higher federal match to fund community-based programs services and supports for person with disabilities and seniors who would otherwise be placed in a nursing home or similar facility. The announcement was made by the US Department of Health and Human Services earlier today. The regulations were first issued as proposed rules over a year ago for public comment.

To view the 304 page final federal rule, click on this link to the Federal Register website:  http://www.ofr.gov/OFRUpload/OFRData/2012-10294_PI.pdf

Wall Street-Inflated Student Debt Bubble Hits $1 Trillion; Debtors Rally for Relief

By Sarah Jaffe

You could call it a bubble, but it's more like a ball and chain. Bubbles are, after all, light and airy.

The collective weight of American student debt is now over $1 trillion, and that weight is a drag not just on those paying the debt, but on our entire economy. It's hard to calculate exactly, because the lenders are notoriously unwilling to hand over their data, and with students defaulting at ever-higher rates, interest rates and fees are always changing, adding constantly to the weight of the burden college graduates (and those who didn't graduate but still have to pay off the loans they took out in more hopeful times) carry.

Social Security’s Imminent Demise Greatly Exaggerated in Mainstream Headlines

By Paul Kleyman
New America Media

To read this week’s mainstream headlines on the new Social Security Trustees Report, you’d think the barriers to our retirement future were higher than Fenway Park’s vaunted Green Monster. What the report actually shows, however, is that the nation’s retirement system is, more precisely, as durable as Boston’s vaunted emerald wall, which was celebrated for its 100th anniversary last week.

Factual reporting on the staying power of government programs, though, doesn’t drive much website traffic. On Monday, the PBS News Hour headed an online page for the debate they aired about the report, “Social Security Slated to Run Dry in 2033, Trustees Warn.”

Bill Requiring Peripheral Canal Cost-Benefit Analysis Clears Committee

By Dan Bacher

In a major win for Delta advocates, the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee on April 24 voted 10 to 2 to approve legislation requiring an independent cost-benefit analysis before committing the public to pay tens of billions of dollars to build a peripheral canal or tunnel to divert more Delta water.

A coalition of consumer, environmental and fishing groups and Delta cities and counties backed the legislation, AB 2421 (B. Berryhill), while agribusiness groups, the California Chamber of Commerce and southern California water agencies opposed the bill.

Assembly Members Jared Huffman (D), Bill Berryhill (R), Bob Blumenfield (D), Nora Campos (D), Paul Fong (D), Beth Gaines (R), Das Williams (D), Roger Hernández (D), Ben Hueso (D) and Mariko Yamada (D) voted yes, while Ricardo Lara (D) and Linda Halderman (R) voted no. Brian W. Jones (R) didn't vote.

Coordinated Care Key To Saving Health Care For Seniors

By Gary Passmore
Congress of California Seniors

Rising health care costs and the downturn in the economy have meant disaster for California's seniors, resulting in huge budget cuts to health care programs that serve our vulnerable population.

As reported in the Mercury News last week, Gov. Jerry Brown has attempted to stop the bleeding by proposing to restructure state health care programs for the poor. His plan represents an opportunity for California to deliver more care for the dollar through better coordinated, more effective care.

However, we believe his plan must be improved upon by investing in the tools seniors need to proactively manage our health and maintaining our choices when it comes to directing our care.

The Costly Kings: What Sacramento's NBA Franchise Has Cost California's Capital City

By Dan Aiello

When Greg Lukenbill and other investors bought the Kansas City Kings NBA franchise in the early 1980's it wasn't for the love of the game.

Lukenbill, a Sacramento developer who had purchased cheap flood plain acreage in the Natomas basin, wanted to develop his property in the same suburban sprawl fashion as East of the downtown. But Sacramento's last citizen mayor, Anne Rudin, who believed in a strong downtown city core and despised the disjointed tract developments of Los Angeles and San Jose, had attained a majority of council members who agreed with her, that Natomas' flood plain status precluded the area from development.

"Maybe all NBA owners should be charged with unsportsman-like conduct."

Worried About School Funding, Most Favor Tax Increase—For the Rich

By the Public Policy Institute of California

California’s likely voters favor raising the state income taxes of the wealthiest state residents to provide more money for public schools, but most oppose increasing the state sales tax for this purpose. These are among the key findings of a statewide survey on K–12 education released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

The survey finds that 65 percent of likely voters favor raising the top rate of state income tax paid by the wealthiest Californians (34% oppose). By contrast, 46 percent support raising the state sales tax (52% oppose). Temporary increases in both of these taxes are components of Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed November ballot initiative to deal with the state’s multibillion-dollar budget gap.

Budget Countdown: Three, Two, One, Impact (On California's Most Vulnerable)

By Wilma Chan
Alameda County Supervisor, Third District

Imagine that you are a single mother with two children and the Governor has issued you a budget challenge: live off of $392 each month. Imagine paying for food, housing, and daily living expenses. Imagine paying for child care. Imagine paying for transportation to attend mandatory job training. Imagine balancing all these responsibilities while trying to get back to work in a tough economy. Could you do it?

Walmart Bribery Bombshell: Case Could Cost Company Billions

By Steven Mikulan
The Frying Pan

Over the past week retail giant Walmart has squirmed in the unflattering news spotlight. There was a wave of stories about one of Walmart’s Thai shrimp distributors treating its workers as little more than captive laborers, and another barrage of pieces focused on  corporations dropping their affiliations with the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council even as Walmart holds onto its ALEC membership card.

Walmart’s biggest black eye, however, came from a blockbuster weekend New York Times story outlining how the head of the retailer’s Mexican operations spent $24 million bribing officials in that country to fast-track its expansion there. Worse, the company tried to squelch an internal probe into the allegations.

The Tragic Consequences of an Employer’s Broken Promise

By Michael D. Sorkin
United Media Guild

Robert Douglas collapsed and died while he was about to let his two mixed-breed dogs out the back door of his modest brick home in St. Louis. Two days later, on Dec. 16, relatives found his body on the kitchen floor. He was 59.

Robert had cared for his two rescued dogs, and he had done the same for his friends and colleagues at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where he had worked for nearly 40 years. He was to the newsroom as Radar was to “M*A*S*H”: the guy we went to when we needed help.

Robert made sure we got what we needed to do our jobs, especially when the bosses said we couldn’t.

Occupy, The 99% Spring, And The New Age of Direct Action

By Mark Engler
Foreign Policy In Focus

Over the past several weeks, a broad coalition of progressive organizations—including National People's Action (NPA), ColorOfChange, the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), MoveOn.org, the New Bottom Line, environmental groups like Greenpeace and 350.org, and major unions such as SEIU and the United Auto Workers—has undertaken a far-reaching effort to train tens of thousands of people in nonviolent direct action. They have called the campaign the 99% Spring.

The Middle Class Hasn't Disappeared. It's Just Sliding Toward the Bottom

By Paul Buchheit

It used to be that the average American resided halfway between two extremes:Today, 400 individuals have as much wealth as an entire HALF of America.

  • Steven Schwarzman's home was being partially replicated in a Park Avenue hall for his gala $5 million 60th birthday party. The guest of honor's full-length portrait greeted the invitees as they proceeded past rows of orchids and palm trees to the dining area, where they feasted on lobster, filet mignon, baked Alaska, and the finest of wines. Martin Short provided the laughs, and the music came compliments of Marvin Hamlisch, Patti LaBelle, and Rod Stewart.

The Case for Phased Juvenile Justice Realignment in California

By Brian Goldstein
Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice

California is embarking on an ambitious and deep-rooted reform of its corrections system, an effort that has come to be known as realignment. Gov. Jerry Brown’s main aims in this undertaking is to reduce dramatically high costs, as well as overcrowding and recidivism rates by transferring non-serious adult offenders and parolees from the state to the counties.

But concurrent to this effort, many reform-minded criminal justice advocates also propose a full devolution of the state juvenile system to local counties. Full juvenile realignment is a historic opportunity to end a failed system, while addressing county-level discrepancies in sentencing and services. California’s 58 counties already manage much of the juvenile system, including total responsibility for supervising probation.

Social Security and Medicare: Behind the Numbers and the Spin

By Richard (RJ) Eskow

Here are some headlines you won't see after the government releases new figures on Social Security and Medicare later today:

"Social Security Trust Fund Even Larger Than It Was Last Year"
"Growing Wealth Inequity Will Lead to Social Security Imbalance Later This Century"
"For-Profit Healthcare Poses Threat to Medicare, Federal Deficit, and Overall Economy in Coming Decades"
"Public Consensus Grows For Taxing Wealthy to Restore Long-Term Entitlement Imbalance"

Instead here's what we've already seen:

"Aging workforce strains Social Security, Medicare"

That headline's completely wrong, and yet it's been repeated in dozens of different news outlets (sometimes with minor variations) as they run an improved, but still misleading, news story on Social Security and Medicare from Stephen Ohlemacher at the Associated Press.

Zoning The Poor Out of Good Schools

By Peter Schrag

Most of us have long known that in places like Oakland and Berkeley, and probably in a lot of other cities as well, the easiest way to predict a school’s test scores is by the altitude of the building.

The higher up the school, the more likely it will be in an affluent neighborhood. The schools in the flats, where the poor people live would almost inevitably have lower scores.

The same, of course, is true for the gaps between a lot of inner cities and the suburbs that were created for the people who wanted to escape from them. Realtors have known it for years and traded on it. I’ve been in suburbs – near Austin, Texas, for example -- where Realtor billboards advertised the official state ratings of the neighborhood school. School test scores have long been at least a rough guide to the real estate market.