January 2014


An FDR Birthday Wish: Unapologetic FDRs for Tomorrow

By Richard Eskow

Yesterday, January 30, was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s birthday. In a week of mourning for Pete Seeger, that’s a good time to remember what Pete’s friend Woody Guthrie had to say in song about FDR: “This world was lucky to see him born.”

The White House website’s biography of Roosevelt says that, in a time of national crisis, “he restored our faith in ourselves.” That’s true, but it’s not the whole story. He restored our faith in government, and in government’s ability to serve as the expression of our best selves.

How California’s Growing Income Gap Affects Our Schools

By Peter Mathews

An American child’s chance of acquiring a quality education depends more on the parents’ income than on almost anything else, including ethnicity.

Because property taxes are a key source for K-12 funding, affluent districts have more to spend on education. Low-income districts don’t have the resources and facilities necessary to help most of their students achieve their potential. Governor Jerry Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula is a small step in the right direction. But even with it, the affluent Shoreline Unified School District in Marin County will spend around $18,000 per pupil, while less affluent Long Beach Unified will spend around $9,000. Lynwood Unified School District will spend even less. Money isn’t everything, but an adequate amount is necessary.

Someone Is Suing the Schools over Teacher Tenure

By Duane Campbell

Linda Deutsch of The Associated Press reported on January 26 in the Sacramento Bee that nine public school students are suing the state over laws on teacher tenure and seniority, which really means that the usual anti-union corporate machine has launched a new front in the war on teachers.

These students (or their parents) want to invalidate a series of current laws which protect teachers from political interference. Their campaign foci just happen to coincide with campaigns of a variety of the usual corporate suspects: Michellle Rhee, the Waltons, Students First, Democrats for Educational Reform, and other well financed political action committees.

The Buck Stops at the FCC

By Michael Copps

Since the DC Court threw out the Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet rules last week, “network neutrality” is a glaring problem that demands prompt action. The good news is that the solution is pretty simple. It doesn’t require a new telecommunications statute replete with time-consuming years of legislative horse-trading and special interest lobbying. All it requires is an FCC big enough to own up to its previous mistakes and courageous enough to put our communications future back on track. The solution: reclassify broadband as “telecommunications” under Title II of the Communications Act.

Pension Cutters Bet Against Prosperity

By Gary Cohn & Bill Raden

Last week’s announcements about 2013 earnings by California’s largest public pension funds suggest the agencies may be making significant progress in shaking off the lingering after-effects of the 2008 stock market crash.

The California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) said it rode a 25 percent run-up in stock prices to post a 16.2 percent gain for its 2013 portfolio — its best showing in a decade. For its part, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) reported an impressive 19.1 percent return on its 2013 investments, led by a 28 percent return on its stock holdings.

Soda Tax Myths: The Arkansas Argument

By Dana Woldow

California state Senator Bill Monning (D-Carmel) is once again trying to pass statewide legislation to add a penny per ounce tax on sugary drinks, to fund statewide childhood obesity prevention activities and programs. The media's response to Monning's proposed measure, no doubt fueled by beverage industry propaganda, provides a preview of what we can expect to see in February when San Francisco Supervisors introduce legislation to levy a 2 cents per ounce tax on distributors of soda and other sugary soft drinks.

An Alternative to Fracking & California's Drought Emergency

By Giulia C.S. Good Stefani

California is home to the popular-for-rafting Kern River, Big Sur sunsets, the endangered blunt-nosed leopard lizard, some of the world’s most important blue whale foraging habitat, strawberry valleys, rolling farms, cowboy towns, and big bustling cities. All of this is put at risk from the heavy industrial oil and gas extraction process called fracking.

CPUC Ignores Cell Phone Privacy

By Richard Holober

Consumer Federation of California

On January 16, 2014, the California Public Utilities Commission majority voted to bury their heads in the sand regarding cell phone privacy.

Commission President Mike Peevey and Commissioner Carla Peterman joined Commissioner Mark Ferron in voting 3-2 to approve Commissioner Ferron’s proposed decision denying the existence of any cell phone privacy concerns. Commissioners Catherine Sandoval and Mike Florio voted no, expressing their preference to approve an alternate proposed decision inked by Commissioner Sandoval. The Sandoval proposal would have acknowledged that privacy-invading smart phone technologies in use today are vastly different than those that existed in the copper wired world of 28 years ago, when the PUC last addressed telecom privacy.

California Can't Tunnel Its Way out of Drought Conditions

By Dan Bacher

On Tuesday, opponents of Governor Brown’s rush to build Peripheral Tunnels that would drain the Delta and doom salmon and other Pacific fisheries called the tunnels a flawed solution for a drought-plagued state. The experts criticized the tunnels as an outdated, inappropriate solution to California’s water challenges, one that would create no new water, be of no use in dry years, and drain $70 billion that could otherwise be spent on projects that create new water and increase regional water independence.

CFPB's New Rules Will Limit Abusive Mortgage Lending and Servicing

By Paulina Gonzalez and Kevin Stein

California Reinvestment Coalition

Last week, new rules created by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau went into effect to stop predatory mortgage lending and to implement common-sense requirements for loan servicing companies that process mortgage payments and who are supposed to assist homeowners who are facing foreclosure.

Groups to Foster Farms: Come Clean on Antibiotics

By Jonathan Kaplan

Natural Resources Defense Council

Foster Farms has been in the news lately because the company was linked to a Salmonella outbreak that sickened hundreds of people last year. Last week a plant was closed after USDA found cockroaches and sanitation problems. They’ve been quick to make promises about doing better, but so far we haven’t heard any explicit pledges to prevent the further spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Employers Can Take 'Personal Responsibility' For Poverty Wages

By Tina Dupuy

Brace yourself America—Republicans have discovered poverty!

Right here, right under their noses, 48 million Americans are, as Senator Marco Rubio puts it, “soon-to-haves.” Because nothing says you understand institutional and generational poverty like using corporate-ese to describe it.

Now that Republicans have acknowledged one-fifth of the wealthiest country in the world is impoverished, they’re debating whether this is a viable issue for them.

Can Chuck Reed's Pension-Cutting Campaign Get Off the Ground?

By Steve Mikulan

Late Monday afternoon California Attorney General Kamala Harris released the state’s official title and summary for the ballot initiative promoted by San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and others to reduce the retirement benefits of state and municipal workers. Harris’ wording had been anxiously awaited by Reed and his colleagues. In 2012 a different group of pension-cutters abandoned their measure, according to the Sacramento Bee, after they tested Harris’ summary and found it would make their measure radioactive at the polls.

California Legislators Call for Fracking Moratorium

By Dan Bacher

On January 7 nine California legislators sent a letter to Governor Jerry Brown asking that he issue an executive order to prohibit the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) within the Department of Conservation from allowing fracking in the state until health and environmental concerns are addressed.

Why HSR Is a Good Use of Cap-and-Trade Funds

By Robert Cruickshank

News that Governor Jerry Brown is planning to spend $250 million this year on high speed rail from cap-and-trade funds, presumably the floor for an annual amount of funding from that source, should be welcomed by California environmentalists and everyone concerned about climate change. But there are some strange criticisms being made:

Jobs or Inequality? That’s No Choice At All

By Richard Eskow

What’s the economic issue we should focus on – jobs, or inequality? An increasing number of people, including the President and New York’s new mayor, have suggested that inequality of wealth and opportunity is the defining issue of our time.

But some of the folks at the Washington Post’s “WonkBlog” are having none of it. First editor Ezra Klein declared that unemployment, not inequality, should be the left’s defining issue. That drew responses from the likes of Paul Krugman and Jared Bernstein (and yours truly, here).

Bright Future

A New Year and New Opportunity for Policy Reform in California

author Brian GoldsteinBy Brian Goldstein

Center for Juvenile & Criminal Justice

2013 proved to be a significant year for criminal and juvenile justice reform in California. Landmark legislation was passed in SB 260 (Hancock), allowing individuals to petition for a resentencing hearing after serving at least 15 years of a life sentence for an offense committed while a youth. The state also passed AB 218 (Dickinson) that addressed employment discrimination for justice-involved individuals. This policy provides formerly incarcerated individuals a second chance at success during reentry. With the beginning of 2014 just around the corner, it is important to reflect on these successes and the need for continued work in the New Year.