November 2012

Climate Change: Mad Weather, Insane Policies

By Rev. Jim Conn

Despite the conventional wisdom that Southern California only has one season, some wag suggested it does indeed have four: Fires, floods, earthquakes and riots. So far this year we've had none of those, for which I am grateful, and I hope our luck holds.

I say luck because Los Angeles County leads the state in fire risk. Of the million homes in California in high-risk fire areas, half are in our county. Seven of the 10 most expensive fires in the U.S. since 1990 have been in California, and insurers paid some $5 billion in wildfire claims in 2003, 2007 and 2008.

White House Makes Aggressive Opening Bid in Fiscal Slope Negotiations

By David Dayen

In the context of doing a deficit reduction deal at all, this is an extremely strong bid that Tim Geithner delivered to John Boehner today. Now we know why Boehner whined and cried all afternoon. Let's walk through it.

House Republicans said on Thursday that Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner presented the House speaker, John A. Boehner, a detailed proposal to avert the year-end fiscal crisis with $1.6 trillion in tax increases over 10 years, an immediate new round of stimulus spending, home mortgage refinancing and a permanent end to Congressional control over statutory borrowing limits.

Post-election, Push for Changes in Education Policy

By Lisa Schiff

Re-electing President Obama may have felt like a huge accomplishment, but it was really just the beginning of the work to come. With the rather low-key confirmation that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will be continuing on into the second term, the President gave the clear signal that federal education policies and strategies will remain essentially the same, meaning a continued emphasis on competitive grants, further support for privatization via charter schools, and a focus on formulaic assessment of students, teachers and the overall quality and outcomes of our educational system. Arne Duncan was a troubling choice from the outset and his actions as Secretary proved those worries to be well-founded. In other words, we have nothing to be excited about and much to be gravely concerned over.

Reject the Fiscal Cliff and the Grand Bargain

By Duane Campbell

The Sacramento Bee editorial board started in the right direction in their editorial of November 26, 2012 by calling for small steps to avoid the "fiscal cliff". Then, strangely, they list small steps that only call for compromise as advocated by the Republican-austerity side. While unemployment remains high and economic growth slow, we do not need more austerity. If you want some small steps, President Obama suggested that we extend the Bush era tax reductions for the bottom 98% of earners. This is a proposal that almost everyone agrees with - or at least say they agree with. Then, we can disagree over the 2%, and work out a compromise.

The Upcoming Battle over Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid

By Jackie Tortora

Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid aren't just numbers on a budget line, they're vital family protection lifelines for working people.

As many as 55.4 million Americans across the United States receive monthly Social Security checks, including 8.6 million workers with disabilities and 4.4 million children. A total of 48.7 million Americans get their health care coverage from Medicare and 64.4 million Americans get their health care coverage from Medicaid, including 29.8 million children and 4.2 million seniors.

Lincoln, Health Reform, and the Hard Work of Politics

By Anthony Wright

The new movie Lincoln, remarkable in so many ways, is not primarily about Civil War re-enactments, an unlikely election campaign, or a shocking assassination, but about the more mundane work of politics, policy, and passing legislation.

If nothing else, it reminds those of us who work in politics that merely being right is often not enough to make progress. There is perhaps no more clear-cut moral issue than the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. But passing the amendment took power and persuasion, personality and perseverance.

For California Prison Realignment Hype, Scary Tales Deserve Skepticism

By Mike Males and Barry Krisberg

Over the last 30 years, California has created an oversized, overcrowded prison system entailing billions of dollars in taxpayer expense, endless safety and health crises, a dismal record of rehabilitation, and increasingly proscriptive court orders to regulate almost all aspects of prison operations.

One major reason for this crisis is that a number of counties were over-relying on the state system by sending thousands of lower-level property and drug offenders to prison. California's legislature and governor had no choice but to cut prisoner numbers. They mandated that counties, as of October 1, 2011, could no longer send offenders to state prison unless they were convicted of serious, violent, or sex crimes.

After Black Friday's Day of Action, What's Next for Wal-Mart?

By John Logan

So the day of action at Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, has passed ­ at least for the time being. And it turned out to be much larger than the company's executives in Bentonville had predicted or care to admit.

Thousands of Wal-Mart workers and their allies protested for better wages, affordable healthcare benefits, full-time jobs and an end to management retaliation for speaking out in at least 100 cities, including in Dallas and Lancaster, Texas, Miami and Kenosha, Wisconsin, and several other locations not know for their activism. Although the final tally will not be clear for some time, "open-source" actions of some kind took place at Wal-Mart stores in 46 different states across the nation, with major demonstrations in California, Washington, New York and Massachusetts.

California's Looming Transportation Funding Crisis

By Robert Cruickshank

The passage of Prop 30 has stopped the bleeding at California's K-12 schools, at least for the time being. The $6 billion in revenues it raises won't fully backfill the nearly $10 billion in cuts made to K-12 education since 2008, nor will it restore the huge funding cuts made to the community college, CSU and UC systems in that same time. But it's a start.

Transportation funding faces a crisis too. It has been slashed over that same amount of time, and even before that, revenues weren't keeping pace with basic road maintenance needs nor were they sufficient to fund the level of mass transit that the state desperately needs. Years of reckless tax cuts had led to cuts in these important programs and transportation services, leaving California vulnerable to the impact of rising gas prices while existing infrastructure deteriorates.

"Shared Sacrifice" at Hostess and Walmart That Isn't

By Julie Driscoll

As a proud union family - my husband has been a Teamster for almost 30 years - I put my boots on the ground for four weekends in Wisconsin, for a couple of protests in Lansing, Michigan, and for every pro-union rally that popped up in Chicago.

Two things stand out in recent days: Hostess closing its doors, and Wal-Mart's Black Friday worker strike. Hostess is a union shop, Wal-Mart is not (yet). But in both cases, CEOs are (or, at least in the case of Hostess, were) raking in the dough, while workers struggled, granted concessions, and gave up benefits and pay raises. Worker security was sacrificed on the altar of CEO mega-millions, and even mega-billions.

I'm sick of it.

Labor Unions Show Solidarity with Walmart Workers

By David Dayen

We can now see why the imminent Walmart strikes on Black Friday have spooked the company.

Walmart has engaged in a two-prong PR strategy, dismissing the strikes as being carried out by a small faction of its 1.4 million associates, while also seeking National Labor Relations Board relief to block the strikes as illegal union-based activity. The thinking here is that the strikes have gained in strength over the month of October, with wildcat walkouts ongoing at both stores and warehouses, and that they want to nip this in the bud. In the Internet age, actions like this hold the potential for going viral.

Stop Obsessing About the Budget Deficit

By Robert Reich

I wish President Obama and the Democrats would explain to the nation that the federal budget deficit isn't the nation's major economic problem and deficit reduction shouldn't be our major goal. Our problem is lack of good jobs and sufficient growth, and our goal must be to revive both.

Deficit reduction leads us in the opposite direction - away from jobs and growth. The reason the "fiscal cliff" is dangerous (and, yes, I know - it's not really a "cliff" but more like a hill) is because it's too much deficit reduction, too quickly. It would suck too much demand out of the economy.

Union-Made Thanksgiving Shopping List

By Jackie Tortora

As you prepare to head to the grocery store to pick up your Thanksgiving dinner ingredients, double check your shopping list to make sure your Turkey Day fixin's are all union made in America. Check out some highlights from the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor's resource site, Labor 411. Here are some of the best union-made Thanksgiving eats and tools from the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM), Machinists (IAM), United Steelworkers (USW) and United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW).

Restaurant Chains' Obamacare Gripes Are Really About Shortchanging Workers

By Anthony Wright

Since the election, we've heard of fast food and chain restaurant owners protesting the continued implementation of Obamacare, and the costs of having to provide health coverage to their workers. Some have threatened to cut worker hours, or add a surcharge to their meals.

Some of these claims have been walked back once they got media scrutiny, as owners of Denny's or Papa John's or Applebee's have to defend the dubious figures that they initially present. Even Jon Stewart could see their math didn't quite add up.

But the revolt of the chain restaurant owners is real - they have a business model that depends on low-wage workers with no benefits, leaving the cost of care for those workers to themselves, their families, and in many cases, the taxpayer.

Walton Family Foundation Sunk $71.4 Million into Greenwashing Schemes

By Dan Bacher

Much recent media attention has focused on Walmart's announcement that it is canceling Thanksgiving plans for many of its employees. These workers will now have to work on the holiday as the retail giant kicks off its holiday sale at 8 PM on Thanksgiving Day, rather than waiting until midnight on "Black Friday."

Election 2012 Could Mean a Brighter Future for Education

By Lisa Schiff

California's public education community has been breathing sighs of relief following the results of last week's voting extravaganza. Not even considering the historic re-election of President Barak Obama and the related repudiation of the Republican Party's effort to further restrict our civic and social rights, the results for California were immense. For our public schools, the most critical result was the passage of Proposition 30, which through leveraging a sales tax increase and raising income taxes on the wealthy will raise revenues to the General Fund and stop the automatic budget cuts to all levels of public education that were set to be enacted come January if Proposition 30 had not passed.

It's Official: California Submits Blueprint for New Health Benefit Exchange

By Linda Leu

With last week's election result ensuring the continued implementation of the historic Affordable Care Act, the board of the newly-named "Covered California" Health Benefit Exchange met Wednesday to finalize its start-up operations and roll-out over the next two years.

Covered California will be the new marketplace under the Affordable Care Act to help California families and small businesses shop for health insurance and get subsidies to make such coverage affordable. The expansion of coverage through Medi-Cal and Covered California to millions of Californians starts January 1, 2014, with an "open enrollment" period to sign people up in the third-quarter of 2013.

Raley's-Nob Hill Workers Return to the Job After Waging Historic Strike

By Danielle Tipton
California Labor Federation

Raley's and Nob Hill workers returned to their jobs Tuesday after a nine-day historic strike. Thanks to the solidarity and strength of the workers, activists and boycotting shoppers, the UFCW Local 5 and Local 8 were able to reach a tentative agreement with Raley's-Nob Hill management preserving health care for all workers, including retirees. This settlement now goes on to the workers for ratification.

Ron Lind, President, UFCW 5 and Jacque Loveall, President, UFCW 8:

Pelosi to Stay on as House Minority Leader

By David Dayen

Backed by a larger caucus, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will stay on in the post for another two years. She made the announcement this morning before gathered press. Nobody will challenge her for the Democratic leadership position.

Google Gets Antitrust Ultimatum from FTC

By John M. Simpson

Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz has given Google what Bloomberg News Service describes as an ultimatum to settle the agency's antitrust investigation in the next few days or face a lawsuit.

Citing unidentified sources, Bloomberg reporter Sara Forden on Monday wrote:

"Google has been in discussions with the agency for about two weeks and hasn’t put any remedy proposals on the table, said the people, who declined to be identified because the negotiations are private."