March 2013


Digital Grab: Corporate Power Has Seized the Internet

By Norman Solomon

If your daily routine took you from one homegrown organic garden to another, bypassing vast fields choked with pesticides, you might feel pretty good about the current state of agriculture.

If your daily routine takes you from one noncommercial progressive website to another, you might feel pretty good about the current state of the Internet.

But while mass media have supplied endless raptures about a digital revolution, corporate power has seized the Internet - and the anti-democratic grip is tightening every day.

Sen. Jerry Hill Announces New Legislation to Reform Flawed "Enterprise Zone" Corporate Tax Giveaway

By Rebecca Band

Imagine a system that gives companies enormous tax breaks for firing workers - and then forces those jobless workers to pay for those tax breaks themselves.

It might sound outrageous, but in California, that's the reality. Just ask Joan Beighley, who worked at VWR in Brisbane for 14 years before her job was eliminated when her employer decided to take advantage of the state's wasteful "enterprise zone" (EZ) corporate tax giveaway program. Thanks to this flawed program, VWR is able to collect up to $37,000 for each worker the company fired and replaced when they shut down their Brisbane facility and relocated to Visalia - even though no new jobs were created, and the jobs in Visalia pay a fraction of what the Brisbane workers earned for the same work.

Prop 8 Likely to Be Repealed Narrowly; Court to Hear DOMA Today

By Paul Hogarth

It is never wise to predict U.S. Supreme Court decisions on oral arguments, or else Obamacare would have been repealed. Based on the Justices' line of questioning, however, it appears that they will overrule Proposition 8 - but on narrow grounds that will only affect California. The Justices spent a significant chunk of time on "standing," but they will likely consider the Prop 8 supporters as proper litigants. But Justices Anthony Kennedy and John Roberts had clear problems with finding a "right" to same-sex marriage that would apply nationwide - and the "nine-state" compromise was widely panned. I predict they will rule Prop 8 unconstitutional by applying the Romer precedent and sustaining the Ninth Circuit decision, i.e., Prop 8 was unique because it "took away" a right that same-sex couples already had.

Pacific Coast Forage Fish Protection Strongest in the World

By D.B. Pleschner

Some people have the wrong impression regarding the Pacific Fishery Management Council's upcoming decision - on April 9 - to adopt the Pacific Coast Fishery Ecosystem Plan (FEP).

It's been implied that there is rampant overfishing of forage species - like sardines. The FEP will supposedly address this issue by reducing catch limits on these fish in order to maintain a food source for bigger species like salmon and albacore.

However, this simply isn't true.

The Council authorized development of the FEP to "enhance the Council's species-specific management programs with more ecosystem science, broader ecosystem considerations and management policies that coordinate Council management across its Fishery Management Plans (FMPs) and the California Current Ecosystem (CCE)."

Five New Reasons Not to Buy Matzah at Walmart

By Danny Feingold

If you're like me, right now you may be scrambling to stock up on all of your Passover essentials. So what if I told you that you could get 12 boxes of matzah - more than enough to cover the eight days and nights of breadless revelry - for just over $40 bucks?

Ah, but there's a catch: You'll have to buy this miracle matzah pak at Walmart. Moral dilemma? You bet.

Last year I provided a short list of reasons you might want to think twice about a Walmart matzah binge. I wish I could report that Walmart had cleaned up its act since then, but alas, the world's largest retailer has racked up a series of alleged corporate crimes and indiscretions that would make a pharaoh blush.

The Atrophied Conscience of Apartheid America

By Mark Naison

Little by little, we have created an apartheid nation, a place where a profound spatial and moral divisions separate the lives of the privileged and the unfortunate. The boundaries are not strictly racial - though those on the lower side of the divide are overwhelmingly people of color - nor are they marked by gates and walls and fences. Rather, they are enforced by a complex set of codes followed by law enforcement authorities who have acquired immense power to assure public safety since the imposition of the War on Drugs and the War on Terror, powers that have effectively prevented the poor from doing anything to prevent their marginalization, and which have given wealthy elites virtually immunity from threats to their well being coming either from political action, mass protest or street crime.

Why Isn't There a War on Easter?

By Tina Dupuy

Why haven't these clever secularists tried to take over Easter just like they've allegedly hijacked Christmas? What's taking them so long?

Bill O'Reilly deciphered the secret scheme to de-Christian Christmas. On his Christmastime program last year he said, "I absolutely agree 100 percent that the diminishment of Christianity is the target and Christmas is the vehicle because the secularists know the opposition to their agenda - legalized drugs is in that as well - comes primarily from the Judeo-Christian traditionalist people."

Legislature Moves Health Bills Forward with Bipartisan Support

By Linda Leu

Tuesday, the Assembly Health Committee met in regular session to consider a bill that would close a loophole in the Affordable Care Act, affirming the Legislature's commitment to improving upon the federal law.

Dr. Richard Pan's bill, AB314, addresses a loophole in the Affordable Care Act that exempts self-funded student plans from some of the important consumer protections of federal health reform. Notably, there is no prohibition on annual or lifetime benefit caps, meaning students that have high health care costs could see their insurance "run out" once the plan has paid a certain dollar amount toward their care.

Dolores Huerta to Be Inducted into California Hall of Fame

By Duane Campbell

On March 20, 2013, Dolores Huerta will be inducted into the California Hall of Fame for her lifelong contributions to labor and community leadership. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.

Huerta has contributed to movements for union rights and social justice since the founding - along with Cesar Chaves, Philip Vera Cruz and others - of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union and continues through her current work in supporting union democracy, civic engagement and empowerment of women and youth in disadvantaged communities. The creation of the UFW changed the nature of labor organizing in the Southwest and contributed significantly to the growth of Latino politics in the U.S.

The Tea Party's Last Stand

By Victoria DeFrancesco Soto

It was a fierce battle. One that the Texan underdogs knew they would likely not survive let alone emerge from victorious. But the men who were holed up in the Alamo, led by William Travis, Davy Crocket, and Jim Bowie, took a stand for a cause they believed in regardless of the consequences.

The battle at the Alamo took place 177 years ago this week. And coincidentally, on its anniversary another group of men took their last stand on the floor of the U.S. Senate. A band led by Tea Party Senators battled to filibuster John Brennan's confirmation to serve as CIA director. There were no muskets or knives involved; instead it was a battle that relied on candy bars and strategic sips of water.

CHSRA Board Approves Blended Plan, Bond Sales

By Robert Cruickshank

The California High Speed Rail Authority board met Monday and took action on two rather significant items.

First, the board voted to approve the Memorandum of Understanding with Caltrain that allows the "blended plan" to move forward. Approval had been delayed earlier this month when Lynn Schenk voiced her concern that the "blended plan" wasn't workable and fell short of the Prop 1A guidelines. Other longtime HSR supporters welcomed the MOU and the "blended plan":

Fixing the Economy's Real Problem

By Robert Reich

"Our biggest problems over the next ten years are not deficits," the President told House Republicans Wednesday, according to those who attended the meeting.

The President needs to deliver the same message to the public, loudly and clearly. The biggest problems we face are unemployment, stagnant wages, slow growth, and widening inequality - not deficits. The major goal must be to get jobs and wages back, not balance the budget.

Paul Ryan's budget plan - essentially, the House Republican plan - is designed to lure the White House and Democrats, and the American public, into a debate over how to balance the federal budget in ten years, not over whether it's worth doing.

The American Dream: A Conspiracy Fact

By Tina Dupuy

I've been assured my in-laws don't read my column. However, because of their mix of shame, guilt and blame, I'll be vague on some details. They've fallen on hard times. No one wants to talk about it, let alone have it written about and syndicated.

But I think their story is illustrative:

My in-laws live in a generic suburb of modest mid-century tract homes in the middle of strip mall sprawl. They have a well-attended lawn; two mid-range cars in the driveway, a loyal Lab mix sleeping on the porch. They both worked in middle management in not-important-enough-to-name small businesses tangentially related to serving the housing industry for over 20 years each. They paid off their mortgage. Their son, my husband, was the first in their family to attend college. During the housing boom they looked at the massive amount their small three-bedroom home was worth and opted not to partake in the equity, but knew it meant they were secure. The future was bright.

In short: They were living every part of the real American Dream. Not the grandiose one where we're all millionaires or soon-to-be millionaires. The one where we all have a job, a home and our kids are better off than we were. My in-laws had that.

Lawmakers Pressed for Better Patient Safety, but Californians Must Demand Change

By Jamie Court

There aren't too many great days for patient safety in state capitols, where the medical establishment tends to rule the roost through the power of its political giving and tentacles. But Monday was a great day for patient safety in Sacramento, when powerful testimony reminded legislators of the human cost of inaction.

Unions, Environmental Groups and Tribal Leaders Join Together to Defend CEQA

By Steve Smith

Yesterday, a growing coalition of labor unions, environmental groups and tribes made clear that protecting the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), our state's landmark environmental protection law, is essential to California's future.

Wealthy developers and corporate special interests have attacked CEQA as a hindrance to job creation, and are pushing to "reform" (i.e. gut) the law. But the facts just don't support their claims. At an event on the steps of the Capitol Tuesday morning, the Labor Management Cooperation Trust released a report that finds that since CEQA became law in 1970, California's manufacturing output, construction activity, per capita GDP and housing (relative to population) all grew as fast or faster than the other 49 states.

Diminishing Returns: Where Have All the Voters Gone?

By Rev. Jim Conn

Let the hand-wringing begin! In last week's primary election, just over 16 percent of Los Angeles voters turned out at the polls, less than four years ago, which was less than the election before that, which was less than the election before that - and on and on. In Southern California municipalities - big city or small - elections draw about 20 percent of the vote. This is a problem in a democracy.

Peripheral Tunnel Plan Will Hurt Trinity River Also

By Dan Bacher

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels not only threatens the Chinook salmon, steelhead and other fish species of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, but also the fish and communities of the Trinity River, the largest tributary of the Klamath River.

Legislature Passes Historic Medi-Cal Expansion Bills

By Linda Leu

"We are in an Extraordinary Session because we must do extraordinary things to move the state forward," said Assemblymember Mariko Yamada in her testimony in support of ABX1 1 (Speaker Perez), the bill to expand and streamline the Medi-Cal program. The bill enjoyed spirited debate before passing off the Assembly Floor today with a 53-22 vote.

Budget Sequestration Cuts and California Schools

By Lisa Schiff

A friend of mine emailed me last fall incredibly worried about the impact of potential sequestration cuts on schools and students across the country. He was a long-time Washington D.C.-based public education advocate, so I was simultaneously unshaken and unnerved by his concern. Sequestration seemed like a D.C.-based fear, so unlikely to actually happen given the blowback that would surely come from such imprecise cuts. But my friend's many years of fighting for resources for children's education meant that I couldn't really ignore his concerns, and so his words remained a low-level worry until March 1st, when I had to concede that he'd been right all along.

High Speed Rail: Relief for California's "Mega-Commuters"

By Robert Cruickshank

New data from the US Census Bureau has found that Northern California has the largest proportion of "mega-commuters" in the country - defined as morning commutes of at least 50 miles and 90 minutes. The numbers aren't huge - 2% of workers in the Bay Area core are mega-commuters - but it is a clear sign that something is not working in Northern California.