April 2013


An Alternative to Austerity? Thousands Say "Tax Wall Street"

By Chuck Idelson
National Nurses United

They came, they danced, they marched, 2,000 people spirited and strong, Robin Hood's merry band of men and women, through the streets of Washington April 20.

Ending up astride a prominent government building, christened with a new name and a naming ceremony. No more U.S. Treasury, now, the banner declared, "The U.S. Treasury. A Citigroup Subsidiary. Jack Lew, Inc., CEO."

"We could end AIDS, reverse climate change, fund jobs and health care. Who do you work for Secretary Lew?" asked Jennifer Flynn, managing director of Health GAP (Global Action Project). "You work for the people, not Wall Street."

Showdown on California Fracking Moratorium Set for Monday

By Dan Aiello

A key committee vote on legislation calling for a halt to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in California that would effectively stop out of state oil companies from reaching California's vast Monterey Shale deposit is set for Monday in Sacramento.

The stakes could not be higher for the oil and gas industry as environmentalists embark on their latest David versus Goliath struggle over California's environment before the Assembly's Natural Resources Committee April 29th.

Michelle Rhee, Once More, Fast and Loose with the Truth

By Joshua Pechthalt

"When will the Teflon wear off?" is a question many have asked about Michelle Rhee, self-proclaimed public school advocate, but in practice, tip of the spear for the school privatization industry.

According to the L.A. Times last month, Rhee's claim that her children attend public school proved "misleading" at best. This is consistent with her challenged relationship with telling the truth in general. Overseeing a staff of 120 on a lavish budget funded by anti-public education billionaires and their foundations, Rhee talks like a progressive but walks like a disciple of Ayn Rand and free market competition.

Proposed "Water Tunnels" a Death Sentence for the Bay Delta

By Bill Jennings

For over a quarter of a century I've labored in the trenches of the water rights and water quality processes trying to protect it. We have a broad suite of laws protecting the Bay Delta - among them: the state constitution; water code; public trust doctrine; state and federal endangered species, water quality and environmental review acts; fish and wildlife code; and the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA) to mention a few. Yet the biological tapestry of this estuary is collapsing. And the agencies that have violated and failed to enforce these laws over three decades are now bringing you the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP).

Despite Governor's Comment, CEQA Reform Moving Forward This Year

By Robert Cruickshank

Last week Governor Jerry Brown proclaimed efforts to reform the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to be dead for this legislative session. But Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg disagreed, declaring CEQA reform not dead yet and that it is in fact moving forward in this session:

A day after Gov. Jerry Brown said overhauling California's environmental laws was unlikely this year, the leader of the state Senate said Wednesday the effort is very much alive in the Legislature and he thinks it can be accomplished by year's end.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said his bill to streamline the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is moving forward and he looks forward to talking to Brown now that the governor has returned from a trade mission in China.

"The Legislature is hard at work on CEQA reform," Steinberg told reporters. "As soon as the governor gets back, I'm going to sit down with him and go over specific provisions of the bill."

Don't Blame Obama for Gun Control Defeat

By Randy Shaw

NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd has never liked Barack Obama, so it was fitting that she blamed him for the Senate's failure to break a GOP-led filibuster on gun control bills. According to Dowd, Obama "doesn't know how to work the system" and "still has not learned how to govern." But while Obama's lack of political skill still bedevils supporters, he did "work the system" to pass gun control.

Brown Administration Official Claims "Delta Can't Be Saved"

By Dan Bacher

Recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, Indian tribal leaders, family farmers, environmentalists, Delta residents and many elected officials strongly oppose the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build peripheral tunnels diverting water out of the Delta, because they say it will lead to the extinction of Central Valley salmon, steelhead and other fish species. Natural Resources Secretary John Laird and Governor Jerry Brown have constantly portrayed the BDCP as a visionary effort based on "science" to accomplish the "co-equal goals" of "ecosystem restoration" and "water supply reliability."

"Science has and will continue to drive a holistic resolution securing our water supply and substantially restoring the Delta's lost habitat," said Laird on March 28.

However, a Brown administration official recently admitted that the Bay Delta Conservation Plan has nothing to do with saving the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the estuary that salmon, steelhead, sturgeon, Delta smelt, striped bass and a host of other species depend on for survival.

Rhee's Credibility Questioned as High-Stakes Testing is Exposed Again

By Lisa Schiff

Last week, high-stakes testing queen Michelle Rhee, was exposed. Thanks to the impressive investigative work of reporter John Merrow, the final dots have been connected making it clear that when Rhee was superintendent of Washington D.C.'s public schools, serious levels of cheating were occurring spurred on by the unrealistic pressure she put on principals and that she was fully aware of what was happening. This news comes on the heels of the Atlanta Public School cheating scandal in which the principals and teachers acted together to change students' test answers in order to improve standardized test scores under the pressure of threats by that district's superintendent, Beverly Hall.

Senate Health Bill Could End Medical Bankruptcy in California

By Linda Leu

Wednesday afternoon, the California Senate Health Committee passed SB639 (Hernandez), which implements many provisions of the Affordable Care Act that will help ensure consumers will be able to purchase affordable coverage. This includes the limiting of out-of-pocket expenses, aligning plans by value, and standardizing plan benefits, both within and external to the state health exchange marketplace.

Cracking the School-to-Prison Pipeline

By Anthony Asadullah Samad

There has been another raging discussion taking place over the past couple months, that of the school-to-prison pipeline. How many different ways can we say that the absence of investment in America's intellectual capital causes - even promotes - devastating social consequences? And how many different ways can we assess the racial consequences of misapplied forms of social control? No, there are no more "whites only" or "colored only" signs, which causes society to suggest that we are a more racially homogenous society. Yes, we do come together on some levels today. But the most common way in which we come together is on anti-intellectual levels.

Creating Community, One Vote at a Time

By Steve Hochstadt

I've been thinking a lot about community lately. My involvement in my local elections has led to hundreds of conversations with people about our community - what the problems are, how to improve them, how the city should be run. But more important than the way we vote or even whom we vote for is the role the whole community plays in our local affairs.

Every once in a while, we all get to vote. Voting is one of the most important foundations of our democracy. Our ability to select our political managers, at the local, state, and national levels, and to vote them out of office the next time, puts ultimate power in the hands of the people.

Why Labels on Genetically Engineered Foods Won't Cost Consumers a Dime

By Zack Kaldveer and Ronnie Cummins

Organic Consumers Association

The biotech industry, led by Monsanto, will soon descend on the state of Washington to try their best to defeat I-522, a citizens' ballot initiative to require mandatory labeling of foods that contain genetically engineered (GE) ingredients. Voters should prepare themselves for an onslaught of discredited talking points, nonsensical red herrings, and outright lies designed to convince voters that they shouldn't have the right to know what's in the food they eat.

Why School Test Resistance May Be About to Sweep the Nation

By Mark Naison

When people decide to resist unjust policies that have overwhelming support and for which there are few antecedents in their lifetime, mass movements do not erupt overnight. They are often inspired by the accumulation of individual acts of protest, taken at great risk.

One of the best examples of this is the lunch counter sit-ins during the Civil Rights movement, which began when four black college students in Greensboro, North Carolina, decided to challenge segregation in their downtown business district, sparking a movement in scores of cities that eventually encompassed more than 35,000 protesters and led to the creation of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee(SNCC).

Keystone Pipeline: Canadian Profits, American Woes

By Rev. Jim Conn

With a trumpet blast from the sources of conventional wisdom, the Keystone XL pipeline charged through the news sources last month. When the State Department released its positive environmental report that is seen as clearing the way for a pipe full of Canadian oil slurry to run through the heartland of America to the refineries of Houston, the pundits lined up to salute. They said the XL would add to American oil independence. They said it would bring jobs. They said it would never cause any of those silly problems the environmentalists were bothered about.

What Senators Saw at the U.S.-Mexico Border

By Michael Dear

Four U.S. Senators came to visit the Arizona border. Hosted by John McCain, Republican of Arizona, they were members of the so-called 'Gang of 8' - a bipartisan group currently drafting proposals for comprehensive immigration reform.

During their visit, the senators reportedly witnessed a migrant trying to scale the border wall before being apprehended by authorities. Such drama! (And such a coincidence...)

But being on the line does provoke fresh insights. "You can read and you can study and you can talk but until you see things it doesn't become reality," said Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, who was touring the border for the first time.

Major CEQA Reform Stalled, But Steinberg Promises Changes

By Robert Cruickshank

In the wake of Senator Michael Rubio's surprise resignation in February, major reforms to the California Environmental Quality Act appear to be stalled:

Joel Fox, chairman of the Small Business Action Committee, said, "The stars were in line, but have been knocked out of alignment."

But Rubio may have seen the writing on the wall as far back as last fall, when his last-minute effort at taking on CEQA was quashed by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, who insisted that any fixes to the premier environmental law wouldn't happen in the dark of night under the Capitol dome.

April Is the Cruelest Month As the Economy Crawls Along

By Robert Reich

Bad news on the economy. It added only 88,000 jobs in March - the slowest pace of job growth in nine months.

While the jobless rate fell to 7.6 percent, much of the drop was due to the labor force shrinking by almost a half million people. If you're not looking for work, you're not counted as unemployed.

That means the percentage of working-age Americans either with a job or looking for one dropped to 63.3 percent - its lowest level since 1979.

The direction isn't encouraging. The pace of job growth this year is slower than its pace last year.

What's going on? The simple fact is companies won't hire if consumers aren't buying enough to justify the new hires. And consumers don't have enough money, or credit, or confidence to buy enough.

Reshaping Education: New Opportunities for Teachers Unions

By Lisa Schiff

In the midst of a protracted assault on public education, teachers unions have in front of them a tremendous opportunity. The need for strong leadership asserting child-centric approaches to education has never been greater - teachers and their unions can seize this moment to break the mold of the traditional union and expand that organization's legitimate sphere of action to formally include the very structure and quality of students' learning experiences.

The historic purpose of a union to protect and advocate for its members is no less relevant today than it was in years past, but within the world of public education that mission alone is insufficiently ambitious, both for teachers and their students. The conditions of work are critical, but the nature of that work is equally so.

Assembly Health Committee Moves Consumer Bills Forward

By Linda Leu

While we all anxiously await the transformational changes of the Affordable Care Act, California legislators are also moving forward several important bills that will improve the health care system for consumers (Health Access is supporting list of such bills this year). The Assembly Health Committee met Tuesday to consider a number of these bills in the regular legislative session (not on the accelerated Special Session schedule) that impact health care consumers.

Fixing California's Mass Incarceration Mess

By Dick Price

As California grapples with a prison system so broken that the U.S. Supreme Court has mandated reductions in the number of prisoners it holds, the three-part "Smart Justice: Rethinking Public Safety in California" discussion begun this past week at the University of Southern California is examining both consequences and possible solutions to the state's mass incarceration mess.