September 2012

Is Bay Area Transit Stagnating Under the Weight of Oppressive Zoning Codes?

By Robert Cruickshank

I've seen Matt Yglesias's post on Los Angeles's transit expansion get passed around a lot online recently. It seems as if everybody's writing their "omg L.A. is building huge amounts of transit!" post, and that's great, it helps sustain momentum for more rail and shifts the view of L.A. away from being car-dependent. Maybe that can even help build support for Measure J, which would fund more rail in L.A.

For me, the story of rail expansion in L.A. is a familiar one. What I found interesting and different about Yglesias's post was its subtext that L.A. is doing much more than the Bay Area when it comes to transit expansion. Yglesias was writing about L.A., but his eyes were focused further north:

AB 2530: California Must Stop Shackling Pregnant Women

By Carolyn Sufrin, MD, MA

Late one night, I was helping a woman deliver her baby at a hospital in Pennsylvania. It was a familiar delivery room scene—except that the mother-to-be was shackled to the bed.

She was incarcerated at a nearby prison, and though I had no idea what got her there, I had some idea that the pangs of labor and the epidural's numbing effects precluded the need for restraints. I saw signs of fetal distress, and worried about the metal chains if we needed to do an emergency cesarean section. Thankfully, she pushed her baby out, and I placed the baby into mom's one unshackled arm.

I now practice as an obstetrician-gynecologist at the San Francisco County Jail and at San Francisco General Hospital, where jailed pregnant women deliver their babies.

AB 369: Governor Brown Should Stand with Californians Battling Silent Epidemic of Chronic Pain

By Wesley Mizutani

Scientific breakthroughs have revolutionized the treatment of chronic pain. As a result, a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis is no longer accompanied by the expectation of progressive disability that would lead to a wheelchair.

Some California health insurers, however, have enacted policies that imperil the precious gains made by the medical community against the silent epidemic of chronic pain. Governor Brown now has an opportunity to stop them.

According to the U.S. Institute of Medicine, approximately 100 million people in the United States are affected by chronic pain every year, which is more than the number of Americans who are affected by cancer, heart disease and diabetes combined. Pain costs this country $635 billion yearly in medical treatment expenses and lost productivity.

When Democrats Troll for Republican Votes

By Dante Atkins

When Proposition 14 passed some time ago, it was unavoidable that some races in substantially Democratic districts would end up featuring two Democrats advancing to the general election. In addition to forcing Democrats to spend money fighting each other through the November election, the backers of Proposition 14 created another problem for progressives in California: the inevitable fact that some Democrats, especially those with less Democratic support, would start trying to appeal to Republicans in the hopes of getting enough centrist and conservative votes to beat their Democratic opponents.

Koch Brothers' Spending Exposes the Real Agenda Behind Prop 32

By Steve Smith

To many, the billionaire Koch Brothers are the embodiment of a problem that plagues our electoral system in an era of Citizens United: big money from anonymous sources manipulating elections. The Kochs web of Super PACs and front groups are expected to spend $400 million on elections this year alone to promote their anti-worker, big corporate agenda. The Kochs are known for many things, but "campaign finance reform" sure isn't one of them. In fact, most observers point to the Kochs' free-wheeling campaign spending through shadowy front groups as THE REASON we need real reform.

Republican Increase in Visas to Foreign Graduates at US Schools Comes with Reduction in Other Legal Immigration Programs

By David Dayen

In one of their last acts before going home to campaign, House Republicans have passed a bill that will increase the level of high-skill immigrants allowed to stay in the country. It would expand by 55,000 the visas granted to foreign graduates of US colleges and universities in what are known as the STEM disciplines: science, technology, engineering and math. This fits with a key part of Mitt Romney's immigration agenda, which he expressed in a roundtable on Univision last week. He said that any diploma to a foreign student for a high-skill field like this "should come with a green card."

Countdown to California's New Health Benefit Exchange

By Linda Leu

A couple of weekends ago, the California Health Benefit Exchange was the focus of a front page New York Times article (one where Health Access Director Anthony Wright got "Quote of the Day"). The article featured a big photo of many allies and coalition members lining up to testify at the Exchange Board meetings - lines that were repeated at the Board meeting this past week in Sacramento.

First, the Board heard reports from Exchange staff that have been making significant progress in implementation. Highlights of these reports include:

Prop 33: Mercury Insurance's Lemon is a Tough Sell

By Richard Holober
Consumer Federation of California

Mercury Insurance has just about the worst customer satisfaction ratings in the auto insurance industry. And its billionaire chairman, George Joseph, is spending a fortune on Proposition 33 to make it easier to manipulate the marketplace and cherry pick the customers it wants, while raising rates for millions of Californians, including motorists with perfect driving records.

This isn't the company's first attempt to rig the insurance market in its favor. In 2010, Mercury spent $16 million on Proposition 17, but voters said no. Prop 33 on the November ballot is a re-run of Prop 17, with a modest facelift.

When Will Daylight Come to the California Coast?

By Robert Cruickshank

For years now local governments along the Central Coast, aided by passenger rail advocates, have been working to bring daily local rail service back to their communities. While the Coast Starlight does serve Salinas, Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo, and though the Pacific Surfliner serves other local stops from SLO southward, there's still no daily scheduled rail service from SF to LA via the coast. Aside from Salinas, cities between Gilroy and Paso Robles have no rail service of any kind. And that in turn means no connection to the high speed rail system at Gilroy and again in the LA area, no connecting service and no funneling passengers to the bullet trains.

New Study: Lowering Business Taxes May Actually Be Harmful

By Sara Flocks

It seems like only yesterday that Texas Governor Rick Perry was bragging about his "hunting trips" to California to steal companies and jobs away from our state. That was at the same time that a delegation of California’s Republican state legislators (and Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom) traveled to Texas to learn why that state had the alleged edge over California on job creation and economic growth.

If Proposition 32 Passes: A Not-So-Green Golden State

By Matthew Fleischer

How different would California look with Proposition 32's passage? To imagine, it's not necessary to focus on a Golden State without the legacy of its unions, but rather to think of a California in which only the rich and powerful have a say in Sacramento and in the polling booth.

"It will have a devastating effect," says John Logan, director of Labor Studies at San Francisco State University, of Prop. 32's impact. "California would be transformed as a state."

On environmental issues alone, Prop. 32 stands to roll back decades of progress in making California a global leader in green policy-making.

Governor Brown Should Veto Google's Driverless Car Bill

By John M. Simpson

California Governor Jerry Brown should veto a bill that allows Google's driverless cars on the highway, because it does not provide adequate privacy protections for users of the new technology. SB 1298, authored by Sen. Alex Padilla, was passed unanimously by the Senate. However, as explained in Consumer Watchdog's letter to the Governor, SB 1298 is completely insufficient. It gives the user no control over what data will be gathered and how the information will be used.

Despite California's High Rate of Uninsured, Signs of Hope

By Anthony Wright

Recently, the U.S. Census released its new numbers from 2011 on income, poverty, and health insurance. Among the findings:

  • In 2011, the percentage of people without health insurance decreased to 15.7 percent from 16.3 percent in 2010. The number of uninsured people decreased to 48.6 million, down from 50.0 million in 2010.
  • The number of people with health insurance increased to 260.2 million in 2011 from 256.6 million in 2010, as did the percentage of people with health insurance (84.3 percent in 2011, 83.7 percent in 2010).
  • California has the greatest number of uninsured, with 7.256 million uninsured, or 19.6% of the population over the last two years.
  • Californians are more likely to be uninsured than residents of all but a few other states. And as a result of being uninsured, Californians live sicker, die younger, and are more likely to be one emergency away from financial ruin. This data shows that, more than ever, California needs to aggressively take advantage of the new benefits of the Affordable Care Act, because our health system and our residents need all the help we can get.

Massive Tumors in Rats Fed Monsanto's Genetically Engineered Corn

By Gary Ruskin

The results are in from the first-ever peer-reviewed long-term health study of genetically engineered food – and they are worrying. For two years, researchers fed rats a diet of genetically engineered corn that is common in the US food supply, and found massive mammary tumors, kidney and liver damage, and premature death. The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal, Food and Chemical Toxicology.

CHSRA Releases Agriculture White Papers

By Robert Cruickshank

At a recent board meeting of the California High Speed Rail Authority, an Agricultural Working Group brought together by the CHSRA released a series of white papers examining agricultural impacts in the Central Valley.

Overall, the papers found that high speed rail will not negatively impact agriculture in the Central Valley, including farms near the tracks. The papers are detailed and each is worth reading. A short summary of the key findings form each:

California TRUST Act Awaits Governor's Signature

By Michele Waslin

The California TRUST Act (AB 1081) has now passed both houses of the state’s legislature and is awaiting Governor Jerry Brown's signature. Passage of the California TRUST Act would be an important step toward mitigating the harmful impact of the Secure Communities Program (S-Comm). Immigrant advocates from across the country are calling on Gov. Brown to sign the bill into law.

Getting Healthy at Work: Who Do You Trust?

By Carl Finamore

Around 150 million Americans drag themselves out of bed each day and show up for work. You get your first cup of coffee, chit-chat a bit, punch in, and settle in for a long day on the job. But don't get too settled, because you might be asked to answer a few questions about your family medical history, your sexual orientation, and your use of tobacco, drugs, and alcohol. You also might be asked to take a blood test, have your cholesterol and blood pressure recorded, and get your body mass index checked. Only a few years ago, such probing, pricking, and pinching would only occur in the privacy of a doctor's office, but now these procedures are becoming more commonly prescribed in over half of American workplaces. And such "wellness" programs are growing rapidly.

The Growing Opposition to Prop 31

By Anthony Wright

At Health Access California, we were pleased to see the Sacramento Bee editorialize in opposition to Proposition 31 recently. Health Access California regretfully opposes Prop 31. We know better than most that our budget process and governance structure needs reform, but Prop 31 would in fact make the problems worse.

We've posted on our website our one-pager on why Prop 31 is bad for California's health, and our reasons are similar to the Bee's list:

Another $195K from Billionaire Chairman in Effort to Raise Rates on California Drivers

By Carmen Balber

George Joseph, Mercury insurance company's billionaire chairman who is backing Proposition 33, gave $195,000 to a nonprofit group recently as part of the campaign's effort to hide from voters that the initiative was written and funded by the insurance industry. Proposition 33 will allow insurance companies to charge good drivers more just because they had a break in their insurance coverage, even if they did not have a car and were not driving.

Household Income: Slip Slidin' Away

By Sylvia Allegretto

Recently, the U.S. Census Bureau released its annual report on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage for 2011. Data from the report represents the second full year of economic recovery (which official started in June 2009). From the top line statistics, poverty held steady at 15% (46.2 million people) and the number of people without health insurance coverage declined from 50 million in 2010 to 48.6 million in 2011. The big changes were with regard to income as illustrated in the figure.