April 2012

Vermont Was Third. Will California Be Next?

By Jonah Minkoff-Zern
Public Citizen

Vermont today became the third state to call for a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision.

Which state will be next? It could very well be California.

If the state approves AJR 22, introduced in January by Assemblymembers Bob Wieckowski and Michael Allen, California would be the fourth state in the union to back an amendment (Hawaii and New Mexico are the first two). The resolution calls for an amendment that would prevent corporations from being granted the same rights as individuals. It would help create fair elections, in which Congress could regulate all forms of campaign spending.

The resolution passed the Assembly in March by a 48-22 vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing will be held on May 1.

When Did Immigrants Become the Enemy?

By Andrew Lam
New America Media

Recently, in front a packed crowd at Duke University, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice regretted the failure of passing the comprehensive immigration reform act and the shift in Americans’ attitude toward immigrants.

Accepting and welcoming immigrants “has been at the core of our strength,” she said. “I don’t know when immigrants became the enemy.”

These days it is refreshing, if rare, to hear someone of Rice’s stature to speak on behalf of immigrants. Over the last few years the public discourse has been shrill and, if anything, media coverage seems to stoke anxiety to an unprecedented level.

Instead of a larger narrative on immigration—from culture to economics, from identity to history— what we have now is a public mindset of us versus them, and an overall anti immigrant climate that is both troubling and morally reprehensible.

America’s Difficult Love Story

Two of Earth Day’s Biggest Success Stories: Transportation and Energy Production

By Alan Kandel

For me, Earth Day is all about sustainability. With regard to getting our planet to a “greener” state, there have been many great advances. Two of the areas that have seen great progress have been in energy production and transportation. There, of course, have been great strides in other areas as well, but I am keeping transportation and energy production front and center in recognizing the year’s one day that draws national attention to, and awareness of, sustainability. That one day is Earth Day.

Transportation On The Move

The 1970s was an interesting time. When Earth Day was first established on April 22, 1970, I was a junior in high school. I doubt I gave Earth Day much thought then, that is, if I even knew about it at all. What I do remember is at age 17 the car I drove was no doubt far less fuel-efficient and far more polluting than the one I drive today. What I also vividly recall is that in 1971 the price of gasoline was 34 cents per gallon.

Assemblymember Hueso Honors Earth Day, Encourages Californians to Stay Green

In this week’s Democratic weekly radio address, Assemblymember Ben Hueso (D-San Diego) honors April 22nd as Earth Day—a day first recognized in 1970 in the beginning of the modern environmental movement—and discusses California’s leadership in environmentally-friendly legislation, technology and organizations. As a member of the Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife, Hueso encourages every Californian to keep our state healthy and clean for years to come.  

This week’s English address is 1:52.

This week’s Spanish address is 2:40.

Pot Regulation Bill Clears Assembly Panel

By Dan Aiello

After postponing a hearing for a week to ensure he had the votes needed, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano appeared before his own Assembly Committee on Public Safety to successfully shepherd AB 2312, the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Control Act, through the panel.

The legislation, which would create the first statewide regulatory framework for the medical marijuana industry in California, passed with a simple majority, 4-2. It now heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Ammiano introduced AB 2312 in response to a months-long federal crackdown on California medical marijuana dispensaries and some growers that began last fall. The bill's language addresses the concerns of the feds as expressed by U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California Melinda Haag, in a meeting she had with Ammiano earlier this year, as well as the recommendations of state Attorney General Kamala Harris.

New Report Suggests Best Approach to Invest Cap and Trade Revenue

By Kristin Eberhard
Natural Resources Defense Council

California’s safest option for guarding against lawsuits over how it spends the billions anticipated from its landmark cap-and-trade program is to channel the auction revenue toward reducing greenhouse gas pollution and furthering the goals of its Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32), according to a recent analysis.

The conclusion by the UCLA School of Law’s Emmett Center on Climate Change and Environment may put the brakes on some of the wide-ranging suggestions for using the state’s fee revenue.

CEO Pay and the 99%

By Tula Connell

The AFL-CIO has launched the 2012 Executive PayWatch site—now called CEO Pay and the 99%—which includes the most comprehensive data accessible on 2011 executive pay. All of the data available is searchable by industry, by state and by the top 100 highest-paid CEOs. Check it and help us share it widely.

CEO Pay and the 99% shows that a CEO of a company in the S&P 500 Index, on average, received $12.9 million in total compensation in 2011. That’s nearly a 14 percent raise over the previous year. And that’s on top of a 23 percent increase in 2010.

In stark contrast, the average wage for workers hovered at $34,000 in 2011. Median household income fell $3,700 over the past decade. And those who are employed received an average 2.8 percent raise—barely keeping up with inflation.

The new site also features data on:

Blame, Blacklisting, Death, and Destruction

By Linda Leu
Health Access California

A packed Assembly Health Committee agenda kicked off Tuesday with AB1461, the bill that would reform the individual health insurance market in accordance with the Affordable Care Act. Chairman Monning, the bill’s author, outlined the protections covered by the bill, including community rating (rather than rating based health status) and guaranteed issue and renewal.

Pennsylvania Doctors on Fracking: Our Lips Are Sealed

By Kathleen Peine

There’s something buried in a new Pennsylvania law and it’s every bit as toxic as the chemicals used to unearth natural gas through that process called fracking. Lurking in that law is a form of enforced ignorance.

And as Will Rogers said, “When ignorance gets started, it knows no bounds.”

In this law there is a provision that essentially gags physicians when they want to tell their patients what particular chemicals they have been exposed to, should they become ill from exposure to fracking chemicals. The doctors will be required to sign confidentiality agreements in order to find out the components in their quest to treat stricken individuals. The law is advanced as a protection of proprietary secrets……as if we’re talking about New Coke here.

Out of State Corporations Fighting to Keep Tax Loophole Are Top U.S. Tax Dodgers

By Judy Dugan
Consumer Watchdog

Three of the five global corporations behind a coalition aimed at protecting $1 billion a year in California tax loopholes are among the nation’s top tax evaders, said Consumer Watchdog. They are:

- International Paper Co., whose outlandish deductions and credits gained through Congressional earmarks left it with less-than-zero federal taxes on $198 million dollars in 2010 profit. The company’s refund of $249 million exceeded its profits.

- Procter and Gamble, described by Fortune Magazine as in a class with GE when it comes to tax manipulation. It structured more than $6 billion in sell-offs since 2002 to avoid billions in federal tax and hundreds of millions in state taxes.

CSU Faculty Return to Negotiations, Ready to Strike

By Kelly Goff
New America Media

As debt-saddled California faces increased budget cuts in the coming year, educators in the state’s largest public university system are poised to authorize a future strike, even as they agreed today to return to the negotiating table to discuss key issues in their labor dispute with the California State University.

Faculty within the CSU are preparing to take the next step in a long struggle for a new contract as they vote throughout the next two weeks on the possibility of a 23-campus rolling strike sometime in the future if the next steps in negotiations fail.

Members of the California State Faculty Association, which represents roughly 23,000 professors, lecturers, librarians, counselors and coaches who teach within the system, say they want a contract that addresses concerns over pay increases, academic freedom and the direction of the system.

How Labor Helped Win Marriage Equality in Maryland, Washington: What We Can Learn

By James Cersonsky

As a straight, black labor organizer, Ezekiel Jackson is not the conventional face of gay rights. But as a visible defender of queer justice to the non-queer population, Jackson was the ideal choice for the presidency of Marylanders for Marriage Equality, a coalition of progressive groups. Last month, MFME made Maryland the eighth state to legalize same-sex marriage, just two weeks after Washington became number seven.

“It wasn’t any struggle to get us on board,” Jackson says of his union, 1199, a local of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) representing some 400,000 healthcare workers throughout the northeast. “We took a leadership role in putting together the coalition.”

Senator Tony Strickland's Attack on Reusable Bags

By Jenesse Miller
California League of Conservation Voters

At first, I thought it was a bad April Fool's joke: A bill requiring warnings on all reusable bags?

Unfortunately, it's not a bad joke, but a very bad policy proposal. State Senator Tony Strickland has introduced a bill, SB 1106, that would require the following warning label on all reusable bags:

“WARNING: Reusable bags must be cleaned and disinfected between uses to prevent food cross contamination. Failure to do so can cause serious illness, cancer, or birth defects resulting from food-borne pathogens. Once used for other purposes, reusable bags should not be used for carrying groceries.”

Holy hyperbole! If I don't disinfect my reusable bag, I'll get cancer?!

Tax Day Thoughts...

By Anthony Wright
Health Access California

On tax day, we remember the saying by Oliver Wendell Holmes, that "taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society."

Today, we joined other Sacramento leaders in front of the Federal building, to protest a decidedly uncivilized proposal--to give significant tax breaks to the richest among us, to cut and undermine core health programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act.

Of course, we are referring to the "Ryan budget," the measure passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last week, with the support of several California Republican Congressmen, including Representative Dan Lungren.

Tribal Leaders Challenge Forest Service to Protect Native Women's Rights

By Dan Bacher

Members of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe from northern California on Monday challenged Randy Moore, U.S. Forest Service Regional Forester, at his Vallejo office to protect indigenous women from racial slurs and physical harm during coming of age ceremonies planned for this summer.

Caleen Sisk, Winnemem Chief and Spiritual Leader, and Tribal leaders met with Moore after members of the Winnemem, Yurok, Karuk, Hoopa Valley, Ohlone and other Tribes picketed outside the office for an hour.

The Elvis Index: Why the Rich Should Pay a Lot More On Tax Day

By Richard (RJ) Eskow

Let's face it. The subject of taxes intimidates a lot of people, and it can be an understandably touchy subject. So we won't inundate you with charts, graphs, and tables to tell you why the rich are getting away with murder on tax day. We've got something better for you on this Tax Day, just 24 hours after Republicans rejected the Buffett rule (a proposal which was sensible, if far too easy on the rich).

Instead of bogging you down with data, we offer you: The Elvis Index.

As we've noted before, Elvis had a manager named Col. Tom Parker - who, in the true huckster/promoter spirit, was neither a "Colonel" nor "Tom Parker." (He was a Dutch immigrant.) Col. Parker famously said back in the 1950s that ""I consider it my patriotic duty to keep Elvis up in the 90 percent tax bracket."

That’s An Idea! Raise the Minimum Wage

By David Dayen

In 2007, Democrats passed an increase in the minimum wage, and got George W. Bush to sign it by making it the scraps exchanged for more war funding. In the 2008 campaign, most of the Democratic candidates, including the eventual winner, expressed support for indexing the minimum wage to inflation, so it maintained its value in real dollars. But this never became a part of top-level Democratic legislating when they held both houses of Congress, and certainly not now, with Republicans in control of the House. Meanwhile, in this election season, Mitt Romney actually endorsed indexing the minimum wage to inflation, at least until his primary got a little dicey and he had to pull back.

“Heist” Chronicles Theft of American Dream

By Steven Mikulan
The Frying Pan

Heist, a new film by Frances Causey and Donald Goldmacher, joins the growing list of angry documentaries chronicling the destruction of America’s economy and its middle class by powerful corporate forces. Like Inside Job and just about any title in the Brave New Films catalog, Heist gets our blood boiling with its money-pile graphics and occasional glib comments exhaled by Wall Street fat cats. Call this genre the Cinema of Outrage.

Subtitled Who Stole the American Dream?, the film breaks away from the pack, however, by drilling deep to explain how we came to find ourselves on the verge of where Argentina was a dozen years ago. The film also eschews conspiracist viewpoints and refuses to offer up, say, Alan Greenspan or the Koch brothers as villainous piñatas for us to vicariously bash.

High-Speed Rail ‘Blended System’ Approach the Correct One

By Alan Kandel

California high-speed rail decision makers have got this correct. They are pushing ahead with what is being billed as the “blended system” approach to building high-speed rail in California. It also means building the entire 800-mile network in stages or phases.

The state HSR system is on track to start construction by early 2013, that is, of course, provided this summer state legislative approval comes. The segment between Merced and Palmdale is to be completed in ten years’ time meaning service through the Tehachapi Mountains will rail-link the Central Valley and southern California with viable—and faster—passenger rail service, something that hasn’t been available since before 1974, if not longer.

Coalition Launches Contest To Name "Mr. or Ms. 1% of California

By Dave Lagstein
Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment

While the majority of Californians continue to suffer from the economic crisis, big corporations and super-rich individuals are driving an agenda in our state to ensure the 1% prospers at the expense of the 99%.

The result has been an increased economic burden for working families that includes escalating costs of higher education and healthcare, fewer jobs, more foreclosures, depressed wages, and a deteriorating quality of life.