April 2014


Diesel Truck Pollution: The Truth is Lost in the Fumes

By Diane Bailey

A couple things about diesel truck pollution: there’s still a lot of it in California, truck drivers are suffering from it, and most truck owners oppose rolling back the statewide truck clean-up rule. These facts have been obscured by all the fumes emanating from a tiny but vocal minority of trucktivists who want to do away with the Air Resources Board measure curbing diesel pollution from trucks. Tomorrow, ARB will consider allowing some additional delays to their statewide diesel truck and bus rule adopted six years ago.

Common Core, New Funding Formula Get High Marks

By PPIC

Most Californians favor two historic changes under way in K–12 education: implementation of new English and math standards and a new funding formula that gives school districts increased flexibility over spending and provides extra money for disadvantaged students.

At the same time, most Californians are concerned about whether teachers are prepared to implement the new standards, called the Common Core State Standards. And many residents lack confidence that local districts will make wise use of the money allotted to them in the new Local Control Funding Formula.

These are among the key findings of a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

Supreme Court Weighs Unions' Future

By Kokayi Kwa Jitahidi

Springtime is typically emblematic of the birth and growth of new life forms. However, in 2014 this time of year could become a moment of death for the labor movement as we have come to know it.

In the coming weeks the United States Supreme Court will render a decision in the case of Harris v. Quinn that could paralyze labor’s ability to organize workers throughout the country. Despite its major implications, the case remains largely absent from our mainstream discourse or even within discussions among progressive allies.

Are Teacher Evaluations Education Reform's Biggest Bust?

By Jeff Bryant

Would you like your job performance judged by a 5-year-old?

That's a relevant question for public school teachers in Hawaii, where the state's new teacher evaluation system attributes 10 percent of their job performance rating on what children as young as 5 years old think.

Although 10 percent may not seem like a whole lot, in a metric based evaluation system where harsh judgments of "effective" versus "needs improvement" can swing either way based on a point or two, 100 percent can be 100 percent of the reason for a bad grade.

But the child's portion is not the sole problem Hawaiian teachers are having with their new evaluation system, which will ultimately affect their pay and can subject them to penalties as severe as termination.

The Toxic Denial Department

By Liza Tucker

Consumer Watchdog

What is a polluter’s shill to do when trying to save a client hundreds of millions of dollars in cleanup costs? Well, one tactic is to manipulate the public living near the site of a partial nuclear meltdown into believing that nothing at one of the most polluted sites in California can hurt them. And hint that maybe, just maybe, this well-documented partial meltdown never happened in the first place.

Secretary John Laird, Ocean 'Protector'

By Dan Bacher

On Monday John Laird, Secretary for Natural Resources and Chair of the California Ocean Protection Council, sent a memo to the "California Ocean and Coastal Community" discussing recent letters on the federal FY15 budget that he sent to three Congressional appropriation committees.

CEO Pay Hits 'Insane Level'

By Mike Hall

AFL-CIO

It’s good to be a CEO, at least paywise. According to the 2014 AFL-CIO Executive PayWatch, released today, it’s 331 times better to be a CEO than an average worker. PayWatch finds that the average CEO of an S&P 500 company pocketed $11.7 million in 2013, while the average worker earned $35,293. The gap between CEOs and minimum wage workers is more than twice as wide—774 times.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said that PayWatch:

The Surprising Truth Behind Tax Day: Where Your Taxes Go

By Robin Claremont

If you groan about Tax Day, you’re certainly not alone.

But what if Tax Day was something we could be proud of as members of a democracy? Would you feel differently about paying taxes if you knew they were going to support public services that you, your family, and your community rely on – such as public safety, roads and bridges, schools, health care, social services, and national parks?

Millions of Americans file their federal income tax returns on April 15 each year with no idea what the government actually does with all that money.

Discriminatory Insurer Practices Jeopardize Access to Medication

By Liz Helms

California Chronic Care Coalition

California health insurance plans are jeopardizing patient health by moving vital medications to so-called “specialty tiers,” which place the cost of treatment beyond the reach of most patients and which may be illegal under both California and federal discrimination laws.

Rather than paying a fixed copayment, Californians whose medications are placed on specialty tiers are often forced to pay coinsurance – or a percentage of the total cost of the drugs – which can mean hundreds or even thousands of dollars per month in out-of-pocket costs for a single medication.

Texas HSR Could Face Same Challenges as California HSR

By Robert Cruickshank

In recent days there’s been a spate of posts and articles touting the Texas high speed rail project as a better approach than the California project. Some of this is undoubtedly the California-Texas rivalry at work, but it’s also fueled by the routine misunderstanding in the media about the nature of California HSR’s problems. Those problems exist solely because opponents of California HSR found powerful allies in the Congressional Republicans, and have been able to block future funding and create a cascading set of problems that stem from that denial.

Senate Committee Approves Fracking Moratorium Bill

By Dan Bacher

The California Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water on April 8 passed SB 1132, legislation that will place a moratorium on fracking (hydraulic fracturing) and well stimulation until the state fully studies the impact of the oil extraction on California's air and water quality, public health and economy.

The bill, authored by Senator Holly Mitchell and Senator Mark Leno, will next be considered by the Senate Environmental Quality Committee on April 30, 2014.

The Rise of Income Inequality

By Rev. Jim Conn

About seven years ago I was at my first meeting of an education advisory board, staring out the window at the panoramic view of the Santa Monica Mountains, when a fellow sidled up and began making casual conversation. We exchanged a few pleasantries, when he leaned in to tell me in a confidential hush that he had a $34,000 tax problem. Taken aback, I first thought, How odd that he should share such a thing — and figured maybe he wanted sympathy.

Then it occurred to me that his tax problem was more than half what I had made altogether that year, so I said, “If you have that big a problem, you must have the resources to deal with it.” He backed away and never spoke to me again at that meeting, or at any thereafter.

10 Reasons Millennials Should Be Wary of Rand Paul's Libertarianism

By Richard Eskow

Republican Senator Rand Paul has been making a big play for millennials lately, most notably by taking his civil liberties pitch to colleges around the country. Paul has got the right idea when he says his party must “evolve, adapt or die” (although I think the first two are virtually the same thing). Katie Glueck of Politico wrote that “The Kentucky senator drew a largely friendly reception at the University of California-Berkeley as he skewered the intelligence community.”

California Officials Concerned Over Oil and Rail Industry Secrecy

By Diane Bailey

Natural Resources Defense Council

One thing about these industries - when the oil and rail barons get together, tidy profits are sure to be made. But at whose expense? And if the latest mile long oil by rail collaboration has nothing to hide, why won’t they tell the public what is in the rail tanker cars, where they’re going and how often they’ll be passing through town?

Why Americans Resist Universal Healthcare

By Claude Fischer

It’s 1974. Richard Nixon resigns the presidency; Barbara Streisand is singing, “The Way We Were” all over the radio (that music-playing thing before the internet); and you can buy a hand calculator that can only add, subtract, multiply, and divide for, in today’s currency, $100. Someone asks you: Here are three pretty radical ideas – which do you think is likely to happen first, if ever?

Epic 500 Year Drought Exacerbated and Exaggerated by Water Officials

By Patrick Porgans

Water officials’ and scientists’ claims that the Golden State is in the grips of an epic 500 year drought is not supported by the facts. Government documents show back in January that this year’s drought was not the worst in 500 years.

“We are on track for having the worst drought in 500 years,” said B. Lynn Ingram, Paleoclimatologist, professor of earth and planetary sciences at the University of California, Berkeley. That story was released on January 30. Although an effort was made to reach Ingram to ascertain the scientific data to support her contention, she has yet to respond.

Why Statistical Bigotry Is Just Bigotry

By Mike Males

Center for Juvenile & Criminal Justice

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Chip Johnson’s March 28 column rationalized the fact that 62% of the Oakland Police Department’s traffic stops involve African Americans (just 28% of the city’s population) because blacks commit the overwhelming majority of the city’s serious crime. This latest example of penalizing “driving while black” is a classic case of what I call statistical bigotry.

Search for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 Reveals Garbage Pollution Problem in the Ocean

By Leila Monroe

Natural Resources Defense Council

In the desperate search for clues about the fate of missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, information about a global environmental issue has unexpectedly come to light. Multiple times in the past week, search and rescue teams have been disappointed when debris spotted from the air or satellite has turned out to be “ordinary garbage.”

Feinstein, Congressmen Request More Delta Water for Corporate Agribusiness

By Dan Bacher

Senator Dianne Feinstein and six San Joaquin Valley Congressmen on March 27 sent a letter to Interior Secretary Jewell and Commerce Secretary Pritzker requesting more Delta water for San Joaquin Valley corporate agribusiness interests, claiming that water exports wouldn't harm endangered Central Valley Chinook salmon, Delta smelt and other fish species.

"We are writing to urge you to immediately evaluate the operating criteria that govern the Central Valley Project (CVP) and the State Water Project (SWP) so that actions can be taken as soon as possible to capture the maximum amount of water from this week's storm in California," said Feinstein and Representatives Ken Calvert, Jim Costa, Jeff Denham, Kevin McCarthy, Devin Nunes and David Valadao.