February 2013


Three-Quarters of Progressive Caucus Not Taking a Stand Against Cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid

By Norman Solomon

For the social compact of the United States, most of the Congressional Progressive Caucus has gone missing.

While still on the caucus roster, three-quarters of the 70-member caucus seem lost in political smog. Those 54 members of the Progressive Caucus haven’t signed the current letter that makes a vital commitment: “we will vote against any and every cut to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits - including raising the retirement age or cutting the cost of living adjustments that our constituents earned and need.”

Covered California Builds a Narrow Bridge

By Linda Leu

The Board of Covered California, California's new health benefit exchange system created in compliance with the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA), met Tuesday in Sacramento. The board and stakeholders in attendance heard a variety of reports on the progress of implementation. According to the countdown on the newly launched website, Covered California is 307 days away from providing quality affordable coverage to Californians.

Sequestration Cuts Threaten California's Comeback

By Steve Smith

It's been a good start to the year for California. We lead the nation in job creation. Our budget is balanced. Unemployment is dropping. Prop 30 stopped devastating cuts to our schools. While we still have a lot of work to dig out from the recession caused by Wall St. greed and excess, there's no question that California is enjoying a major comeback.

But the California comeback could be short-lived if Republicans in Washington, D.C. continue this insane game they are playing with the so-called "sequestration" cuts. These automatic spending cuts would sap $500 million in federal funding from California putting priorities like education, health care and public safety at risk. The cuts could cost California 225,000 jobs.

Four New Bills Introduced to Improve Treatment for Mentally Ill in California

By DJ Jaffe

Bills Clarify MHSA Funds Can Be Used For Laura's Law and Make Other Improvements

California has two major laws that were specifically enacted to help persons with the most serious mental illnesses: Laura's Law and the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA). Neither has worked as promised and on February 22, 2013, four new bills were introduced to fix them.

Showdown Fatigue

By Robert Reich

We're one week away from a massive cut in federal spending - cuts that will hurt millions of lower-income Americans who'll lose nutrition assistance, housing, and money for their schools, among other things; that will furlough or lay off millions of government employees, reduce inspections of the nation's meat and poultry and pharmaceuticals and workplaces, eliminate the jobs of hundreds of thousands of people working for government contractors, and, according to Leon Panetta and other military leaders, seriously compromise the nation's defenses.

Darrell Steinberg to Unveil CEQA Reform Bill

By Robert Cruickshank

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said Thursday that he intends to propose a bill today that would reform the California Environmental Quality Act.

The proposal is co-authored by Senator Michael Rubio, but it has also been shaped by the blue-green alliance of unions and environmentalists who have joined forces to oppose bad reform:

"There will be an outline of a bill with detail intent," Steinberg said in an interview with The Chronicle editorial board Thursday. Or, as his press secretary Rhys Williams explained, what comes out Friday "will signal the intent of where the law wants to go."

With FDA Approval Near, "Frankenfish" Opposed by Tribal, Environmental Groups

By Dan Bacher

Caleen Sisk, Chief and Spiritual Leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, said the Tribe strongly opposes the tentative approval of genetically engineered salmon by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

"Salmon is in our traditional stories, songs and dances," said Sisk. "We must stay pure to exist in the ancient circle connecting our tribal customs to salmon. The Winnemem Wintu have a right to protect salmon, and certainly NOT allow them to be genetically modified in any way. They must not have their genes and DNA subject to exploring ideas."

Assembly Health Committee Passes Medi-Cal Expansion

By Linda Leu

Yesterday, the state Assembly Health Committee held its first hearing of the Special Session on health reform. Tuesday's hearing focused only on the proposed legislation related to Medi-Cal expansion.

The Committee heard a presentation from Ken Jacobs of the UC Berkeley Labor Center on the impact that Medi-Cal expansion will have on the state. Jacobs presented data about the up to 1.4 million Californians who are likely to enroll in Medi-Cal by 2019. Some of these individuals will be newly eligible for the program due to expansions from the Affordable Care Act, while others are already eligible for the program but are not currently enrolled.

Environmentalists Decry "Poor" Notification of First Fracking Hearing in L.A.

By Dan Aiello

In a letter to Governor Jerry Brown Jr.'s supervisor of oil and gas at California's Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), Kassie Siegel, director of the Climate Law Institute protested what she sees as a circumvention of the intent, if not the technical requirement, of California's transparency rules on public hearings.

Siegel's organization was just one of a number of environmental groups who were disappointed in the state agency's efforts to engage the public on the issue of fracking's impact on California's groundwater, aquifers, agriculture production and fragile coastline.

The first public hearing on the administration's hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, regulations in California is scheduled for February 19, 2013 in Los Angeles.

How Trying to Get Rid of Bad Teachers Has Demoralized Our Best

By Mark Naison

Every time I have a discussion with someone who claims to be passionately committed to improving schools, they bring up the subject of the "bad teacher." They see public schools as zones of cultural and economic stagnation in an otherwise dynamic society, saddled with a smug and incompetent teaching force that prevents schools from playing their assigned roles of creating a competitive global workforce and elevating people out of poverty.

Of Biblical Proportions: Inequality and Poverty Wages

By Rev. Jim Conn

My friend pastors a vibrant congregation in the Mid-City area of Los Angeles. Her people reflect the neighborhood and the church worships in both Spanish and English. In a conversation this week I asked her how her folks were doing. Her voice dropped, and she shook her head. "There are no jobs," she said, "and the ones who work can only get part-time hours." With dismay, she said, "I don't know how they are making it."

Covered California Introduces Standard Plans

By Anthony Wright

On Wednesday, February 13, Covered California unveiled a new website, its new social media presence and, in particular, the new benefit designs that this marketplace will offer in 2014 under the Affordable Care Act to help California consumers get coverage more easily and affordably.

California has led the way in realizing the promise of "Obamacare" - being first to set up such an exchange where consumers will be able to conveniently shop for quality, affordable health insurance that meets federal guidelines and where many people will be able to receive subsidies (100% federally subsidized) to help pay for coverage.

Foreclosures Drop 75% Following Passage of Homeowners Bill of Rights

By Rebecca Band

This time last year, hundreds of California families were losing their homes to foreclosure every day. 700,000 families were on the brink of foreclosure, and one-third were underwater in their mortgages, due in large part to shady lending practices that Big Banks employed to rob families of their homes.

But a lot can change in a year, and a new report released this week has found the number of foreclosures in California has dropped dramatically.

"No Confidence" State Will Protect Californians from Fracking, Senators Told

By Dan Aiello

At a joint committee hearing yesterday to discuss the administration's proposed oil and gas regulations to monitor a method of extraction known as fracking, California senators were told by one Ventura County supervisor that the state's lack of leadership, control, preparedness and monitoring have led to "a crisis in confidence at all levels of government" among local officials and the state's residents.

What Would Ideal CEQA Reform Look Like?

By Robert Cruickshank

There's been a lot of discussion in recent weeks about various proposals to reform the California Environmental Quality Act. But the most interesting proposals are those that have been around the longest.

I first delved into CEQA back in 2009 when covering an article that argued CEQA could be the biggest obstacle to California high speed rail. At the time, I touted a 2006 study by the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association - SPUR - titled Fixing the California Environmental Quality Act. SPUR's approach was to follow the successful model of Oregon, where for over 40 years sprawl has been effectively if not totally limited in favor of light rail and infill development. SPUR's goal was to promote greater urban density through smart, holistic planning processes. CEQA is primarily designed as a tool to block bad projects but does nothing to encourage good projects, which is what we need.

The State of the Union: Mr. President, Time to Focus on the Economy

By Robert Reich

If you're sitting in the well of the House when a president gives a State of the Union address (as I've had the privilege of doing five times), the hardest part is on the knees. You're required to stand and applaud every applause line, which means, if you're in the cabinet or an elected official of the president's party, an extraordinary amount of standing and sitting.

But for a president himself, the State of the Union provides a unique opportunity to focus the entire nation's attention on the central issue you want the nation to help you take action on.

President Obama has been focusing his (and therefore America's) attention on immigration, guns, and the environment. All are important. But in my view none of these should be the central theme of his address Tuesday evening.

Welcome to the Golden Age of Arms Dealing

By Tina Dupuy

In 2004, the families of eight gunshot victims sued the manufacturer and dealer of the Bushmaster XM-15 used in the DC Sniper rampage for negligence. They won. The New York Times reported, "Under the terms of the settlement, Bushmaster Firearms Inc. of Windham, Maine, the gun's maker, will pay $550,000 to the victims' families; Bull's Eye Shooter Supply of Tacoma, Washington, the gun dealer, will pay $2 million."

What about the families from the Amish schoolhouse shootings? Virginia Tech? The 2007 Northern Illinois University shooting? The Gabby Giffords shooting in Tucson? The Carson City, Nevada IHOP massacre in 2011? The Aurora Theater shooting? Or the parents of the first-graders gunned down in Newtown?

Restore the Delta Opposes Both Twin and Single Tunnel Proposals

By Dan Bacher

Restore the Delta (RTD) opposes both Governor Jerry Brown's plan to build two peripheral tunnels and a separate proposal to build a single peripheral tunnel backed by several environmental NGOs, business groups and water agencies, according to RTD's executive director Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla.

"We oppose the rush to build a project that would exterminate salmon runs, destroy sustainable family farms and saddle taxpayers with tens of billions in debt, mainly to benefit a small number of huge corporate agribusinesses on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley," said Barrigan-Parrilla.

She said Governor Brown's Peripheral Tunnel proposal is "fatally flawed."

After Delay, Ammiano Arrives Today at Pelican Bay

By Dan Aiello

After more than two months delay, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-SF), Chair of the Assembly Committee on Public Safety, arrives today at one of California's Maximum Security correctional facilities to see for himself the progress the State's prison system is making to address concerns of judges and reform advocates for the care of incarcerated Californians.

Earlier this year Ammiano likened California's 33 prisons to "Gladiator Academies," where Californians incarcerated for homelessness, victimless crimes like drug possession and those with mental illness must choose between "being victimized or victimizing others."

Delta Whopper: How Big Water Spins the Science on Water Policy

By Zeke Grader

Fishermen are my constituents - I work with them every day. And when you hang around fishermen, you hear a lot of fish stories. Sometimes, of course, you hear some real whoppers, yarns that stretch the credulity of even the most trusting soul. But nothing I've heard on the docks can match the whoppers that originate from Sacramento.

Perhaps the most egregious falsehood comes courtesy of Big Water - the state's largest water districts and agencies, including Kern County, the Westlands Water District and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.