October 1, 2012

Warning - Deceptive Anti-Labor Ballot Initiative In California (Prop 32)

In California there is a dangerous, deceptive proposition on the ballot that promises to get "special interest" money out of our elections, and is being sold as a way to stop the flood of corporate money. But actually this proposition doesn't stop corporate money at all -- it only stops political activity by unions. If it passes this means that from now on only corporate money will fund California's elections.

Here is how Prop 32 is being sold to the public: "Politicians take millions in campaign contributions from corporations and government unions and then vote the way those special interests tell them."

Here is the trick: it bans use of money collected from the paychecks of union members. This pretty much means all union money is banned. But corporations do not use paycheck deductions to get the money they use! Only unions do! Then Prop 32 specifies that corporations can't put money into elections, so here are the types of businesses that are exempted:

  • Business Super PACs set up by corporations to put money into elections
  • Independent expenditure committees set up by corporations to put money into elections
  • Companies that are not "corporations" including Limited Liability companies
  • Partnerships
  • Real estate trusts
  • Other businesses not specifically designated as "corporations" under the law's definition.

And, to make matters even worse, Prop 32 prohibits "government contractors" from political activity. But it is worded to prohibit any government employee unions from political activity, because these unions have employment contracts with state or local governments.

While it very loosely defines corporations in a way that keeps business interests open to funding campaigns, here is how it defines unions:

"Labor union"” means any organization of any kind, or any agency or employee representation committee or plan, in which employees participate and which exists for the purpose, in whole or in part, of dealing with employers concerning grievances, labor disputes, wages, rates of pay, hours of employment, or conditions of work.

ANY organization that represents the interests of working people is banned from politics if this law passes. Think about that.

Guess Who Is Funding Prop 32

Guess who is funding this proposition? (Hint, as if you needed one: it's the Koch Brothers, Karl Rove's corporate front group, big corporations, and others.)

AFL-CIO: Kochs Send Millions to Silence California Workers with Prop. 32


AFL-CIO: California’s Prop. 32: How Does It Affect Union Members?

California Labor Federation page with information about Prop 32.

Stop the Special Exemptions Act

Rick Jacobs: Mitt + Koch = Prop 32 Ways to Buy CA,

The Kochs and Rove understand that if they can keep union money out of politics, they win hands down. If Prop32 passes in California, one-third of SEIUs political budget is gone, with sizeable chunks taken from the AFL-CIO and just about any other big national union you can think of.

Full text of Prop 32 here. Also at Ballotpedia.

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.

Sign up here for the CAF daily summary

Posted by Dave Johnson at 3:09 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

April 5, 2011

Social Justice: AT&T Plows Over Tenants’ Rights to save their iPhone Business in Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley’s crown jewel, Palo Alto just got mowed down last evening by AT&T. To be specific AT&T effectively tied the hands of many of the City policymakers, and then plowed through the City Council and over 35 residents leaving their bodies scattered on the sidewalks in their wake. Using the big stick approach, they bullied and threatened action in the Federal court system if their addendum to their existing site permit was not approved; and the Council caved to the mighty sword sacrificing many of their downtown rental residents. Most troubling is that with these actions of passing this addendum for the mounting of two AT&T antennas on this residential building, this City Council may have set a precedent to severely limit tenants’ rights going forward in this particular city and longer term in the state. Commercial building owners may now have enlarged rights that grant them the ability to railroad their tenants with whatever side businesses they choose. If this decision by Palo Alto holds, California may be able to rewrite the Civil Codes that govern the rights granted to landlords by allowiing them to enter the premises far beyond the scope of maintenance and/or emergency. You see the only way to get to this balcony is by gaining access through the bedrooms of the residents.

Effectively this City Council has opened a hornet’s nest that may continue to sting them as this decision raises questions of social justice for over 40% of the City’s residents, of which over 70% are management or other professionals in the tech industry. We all know that we live in a society that is fraught with corporate collusion, fraud and bad behavior. Yet it is troubling to see this kind of reprehensible behavior in our own backyard without tacit consideration for the privacy, health and/or safety of the rental residents. Palo Alto is a city that is full of bright entrepreneurs willing to risk it all to create technologies that can change the world. Sadly, none of them signed up to give away their rights. Who would have thought that liberal Palo Alto, the place of big dreams, would sink to this level! Most importantly, what is to prevent other such activities that suggest some degree of collusion between the private and public sectors? Not much with this precedent setting action, huh? Will Palo Alto become a city that only protects their landed gentry? With this decision, they are certainly well on their way to solely protecting property owners over the serfs that rent.

Taking this further, can building owners throughout the City now run either brothels or daycare centers while residents are working during the day or evening? After all given this recently enacted City precedent – building owners now have the right to discount the objections of their tenants to cut whatever side deal that want. This means that building owners can engage in mixed use and side deals regardless of the vocal protests of their tenants. As outrageous as this may seem, this is the box that has been pried open with last evening’s decision and it may prove to a gift that keeps on giving. The young, the bright and the able may now choose to take their start-ups elsewhere and be treated far better in the short and longer term. Maybe there were bigger reasons that Facebook, the symbol of all that is good in Palo Alto, has chosen to jump ship and move to a neighboring city.

Note: This post will appear in other blogs.

Posted by Michelle at 1:50 PM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

December 8, 2010

The Storm That Created The "Rust Belt" Is Heading For Silicon Valley

This fall I was invited to cover the the Keep It Made In America Tour put on by the Alliance for American Manufacturing. I spent a week driving around Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, ejoying the fall colors and visiting small towns all along the way.

I live in Silicon Valley where in spite of the high unemployment -- still 10.6% -- it's still pretty nice here, so the extent and especially breadth of the decline of so many cities and towns was a shock. Everywhere you go you see America's infrastructure crumbling! Of course I know this has been going on, but when you actually come from somewhere that is still pretty nice and see it firsthand - and everywhere - you really see it.

As I drove around these states I saw pretty much the same thing in town after town. As you approach the town on the highway the first thing you encounter is what I will call the vulture circle that surrounds it. This is the circle of Wall Street-owned chains emulating the Wal-Mart model of sucking cash out of the area and sending it away to the wealthy elites who own ... almost everything now. These are the national chains that are all the same in every town, all selling the same stuff, all made in China, all putting the local small businesses out of business.

As you drive into town the next thing you encounter is the circle of home equity extraction, with newer houses that have taken on big first and second Wall Street mortgages. These houses mostly look OK -- except the foreclosures with the brown lawns and grass growing in the cracks in the driveway. This area has car dealers and strip malls that used to sell expensive cars or nice goods. These dealers and stores feasted on those "take money out of your house" refinancings or second mortgages. Now they have nail and hair salons or are just "for lease."

As you get closer to the center of town you come to the areas of older houses, more of them boarded up than you want to see, with old, boarded-up stores on a few of the corners of the larger streets. Where there are still-occupied houses they have bars on the windows.

Finally you come to the old, crumbling downtown where there are many empty storefronts, some boarded, the lost dreams of the local small business-owners. Here and there you see, between the vacant lots, a few government buildings.

And then somewhere is what they always call "the old plant." This is one or more closed-up, fenced-off, rusting old factories or mills. They are fenced off, with lots of broken windows, and maybe part of a building is falling down. This is where the people used to work but the jobs moved to Mexico or China.

Much of the country is like this now. So many of the older small towns, crumbling, the money sucked out by the Wall Street elite. The factories sold off, closed. The people can't make a living, the towns can't make a living, the country can't make a living, the Wall Street elite making a killing.

You can see the process starting here in Silicon Valley, too. As you drive around this area you see that one of every four or five office or light-industrial buildings has an "Available" sign. The region has the same number of manufacturing jobs as it had when the "tech revolution" began. The rest have moved to China. We don't make cell phones here. We don't make flat-screen TVs here. We don't make computers here. We certainly don't make iPads here -- even though Jobs is his name!

Even exclusive Palo Alto has empty storefronts on the main drag. (You know the economy is bad when the rug stores on University Avenue are actually going out of business!) It is even happening here. It will get worse.

In July Intel's retired CEO and Chairman Andy Grove wrote an important opinion piece,
How to Make an American Job Before It's Too Late, in which he warned,

Clearly, the great Silicon Valley innovation machine hasn't been creating many jobs of late -- unless you are counting Asia, where American technology companies have been adding jobs like mad for years.

[. . .] As time passed, wages and health-care costs rose in the U.S., and China opened up. American companies discovered they could have their manufacturing and even their engineering done cheaper overseas. When they did so, margins improved. Management was happy, and so were stockholders. Growth continued, even more profitably. But the job machine began sputtering.

Please take the time to read Grove's entire piece.

The storm that created the rust belt is heading our way, and we need to pay attention. What will it take for American companies to create American jobs rather than jobs outside America?

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 2:48 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

October 19, 2010

Absolutely MUST-SEE Ad

You have to see this ad. How close is it to the Republicans in your own state?

Sometimes it sounds like they are reading from a script, because they are.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 11:19 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

September 30, 2010

The Blink in the California Governor's Race

Meg blinked for the first time in an almost flawless campaign. Until this week, it appeared that the GOP had successfully rolled out their new product -- a conservative, ambitious businesswoman with a big check book. Her branding was effective and her television advertising brilliant. Political consultant Mike Murphy earned his money. Team Meg was launched, and they were relentless. Nothing really hampered or stuck to them until "the blink" -- involving her domestic help in her Atherton hacienda (no pun intended).

To be blunt, Jerry Brown sure caught a big break this week. The race was in a dead heat with Brown moving slightly ahead, and many independents still on the sidelines. To be frank, Brown had virtually run an invisible campaign until right after Labor Day. Many Democrats thought he could afford the luxury of sitting on his laurels (maybe) because of his legacy. But the reality was that Meg could not and she had to spend early and often to create her brand. Many of feared that she a runaway train in hand-to-hand combat with the invisible man. Talk about a scary election for Democrats. It is one that will become a case study in politics and branding for years to come.

Well the wheel spun and the dice were thrown. Lady luck came down on Jerry this week. It's kind of like watching Apple's latest iPhone launch and their goof. The question is will Team Meg will have the staying power to sustain a frontal attack. Their campaign is now playing defense, and under fire that the candidate never saw coming. The domestic help issue is a big no-no. It has taken down many political candidates and appointments over the years. She probably did not understand the severity because if she had it would have been cleaned up. Let's face it, Meg is a political virgin but her advisors are not. It remains to be seen how this potentially fatal crisis is handled by Team Meg. How will this react, and how will the Brown campaign handle itself? Dancing a jig on an open casket won't cut it for them. Will Team Brown leverage the avalanche of earned media? Will they play well with social media? Or will they sit on the sidelines? It remains to be seen as this California soap opera continues to unfold.

This article posted to the Huffington Post earlier today.

Posted by Michelle at 7:05 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

April 16, 2010

What Conservatives Mean By "Freedom" and "Big Government"

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.
Many of us have wondered what conservatives mean by terms like "big government" and "freedom." Today the vice chairman of the California Republican Party gives us a hint. In Constitution guarantees freedom, not a cushy life, published in the Rev. Moon's Washington Times (do Christians know he's writing there?), Thomas G. Del Beccaro writes,

Today, politicians literally speak of the "rights" of people as they attempt to guarantee a certain standard of living for their constituent-subjects. Of course, most recently, the federal government took on the role of guaranteeing that Americans had a minimum standard of health care because, to the government, it was a right - however unenumerated. 
Now, it would be one thing if a government could actually guarantee such standards of living, but it cannot. After all, before the Great Society was enacted to take on the War on Poverty, the government-measured poverty rate was 14 percent.The pre-Great Society federal budget was less than $130 billion.Since then, we have spent tens of trillions of dollars in good intentions and have a nearly $4 trillion budget, yet the poverty rate remains virtually the same 14 percent. 
 In the process, of course, we have diminished freedoms immeasurably - whether by forcing people to pay for those trillions or by being forced to be subject to government rules....

So "big government" means more rights for Americans, like the right to health care. And by "freedom" he means not being "forced" to help out other Americans. (Of course, the poverty rate was much lower before conservatives took over the government a few years back...) 

Conservatives opposed civil rights for women, minorities, and now gay people. They opposed and fought to the last against Social Security, Medicare, unions, public schools, libraries, parks, worker safety rules, food safety riles, consumer safety rules, bank regulation, even public health programs. These are the "cushy life" big-government programs he complains about. And by "freedom" he means not pitching in to pay for things like roads, bridges, education. 

Government is We, the People watching out for, empowering and protecting each other. It means WE make the decisions and "big government" means WE make decisions that help US. Think of the alternative to We, the People making the decisions and you will realize what opponents of government are pushing for. 

 Apparently conservatives want us all to be disposable economic units with no value beyond what we are able to consume and how much money we make for the wealthy few.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 1:44 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

April 3, 2010


Take a look at this: Leadership, not Politics | Peter Schurman for Governor

Posted by Dave Johnson at 3:19 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

March 12, 2010

Bailing Out The Banks Changed The Way People Think

Tax-free municipal bonds are selling like crazy because they pay a very high yield. The thing is, they have a high yield because so many states and municipalities are on the edge of going broke, like California. If they go broke the bond holders are supposed to lose their money. But California's bonds are assumed by buyers to have no risk because everyone believes the government will step in and bail the state out, like they did with the big banks.

From Lockyer Sells 25% More California Bonds Than Forecast

The state, whose budget deficits have left it with the lowest credit rating among U.S. states, raised $2.5 billion, paying a top yield of 5.65 percent on 30-year bonds.

5.65 percent tax-free, when money in a bank might pay you half a percent, taxable.

meanwhile California's Republicans are working to force the state to go bankrupt, thereby forcing the federal government to come in and bail out the mess they leave behind.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 10:38 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

March 9, 2010

Cost Of Tax Cuts Catching Up To Us

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

The following letter appears in today's San Jose Mercury News:

State not geared up for high-speed rail

Is high-speed rail really the answer in California? I think not. I originally thought, great, let's match Europe's and Japan's advanced transportation with our own high-speed trains.

However, California is not Europe or Japan. We do not have convenient trains and buses running everywhere you could possibly want to go in every city.

Consider that if you traveled from San Francisco to Los Angeles by high-speed train in 2½ hours, what do you do when you arrive? Catch a bus or light rail to your destination? Sorry, too inconvenient and time-consuming. Rent a car? Sorry, now you have lost the economy of train travel as well as the time savings.

Either alternative adds at least two hours to your trip making the time equivalent to driving.

I say, "no on high-speed rail." Let's save the money and reduce our debt in California!

Let it sink in what the writer is saying here: We should not even try to catch up to the rest of the world, because we have already fallen so far behind that it will cost too much. Instead let's just try to pay off some of the accumulated debt.

The writer is bearing witness to the results of many years of tax cutting and cutbacks in our government. After the tax cutting started in the 70s and 80s we stopped maintaining the infrastructure, so now we do not have convenient trains or buses or mass transit to use after the high-speed rail reaches your destination. We instead accumulated debt.

So here we are. The consequences of decades of cutbacks are arriving. The rest of the world leaps ahead of us. China has nearly completed a network of 42 high-speed rail lines connecting the major cities, and we can't even get one project off the ground.

It's certainly not going to get any better until we start asking corporations and the wealthy to pitch in and pay back some of what they gained from the infrastructure that we built in California, back in the decades before they got tax cuts.

Click through to Speak Out California

Posted by Dave Johnson at 6:03 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

February 24, 2010

$108 Million Income = NO State Taxes

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

Michael Hiltzik in the LA Times today,

To everyone who claims that our wealthiest citizens pay more than their fair share of income taxes and we should cut them a break because they're the ones who, you know, create jobs in our economy, I have four words for you:

Frank and Jamie McCourt.

The McCourts, who own the Los Angeles Dodgers (so she says; he says he's the owner and she's not), jointly pocketed income totaling $108 million from 2004 through 2009, according to documents Jamie McCourt recently filed in the couple's divorce case in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

On that sum, they paid zero federal and state income tax. Jamie suggests that some tax breaks will apply this year too.

The McCourts have eight houses.  Eight.  Houses.

California is laying off teachers, closing parks, etc. -- killing the state -- just to protect the wealthiest and biggest corporations from paying their fair share of taxes.  Millions of dollars in corporate contributions pay for the nasty smear campaigns -- and all the lies about how the wealthy are "hurt" by taxes and will "leave the state" -- all to protect THIS!

California needs to take a cold, hard look at the game-playing and the holes in our tax system that allow the rich to get away with paying less taxes than "the help" while at the same time we're telling teachers we can't afford to keep them teaching our kids.

And please, let's stop all this nonsense about "they'll just leave the state" if we try to make the wealthy and big corporations pay their fair share.

Click through to Speak Out California

Posted by Dave Johnson at 2:36 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

February 23, 2010

California Closed

GO HERE: Meg Whitman's California

Posted by Dave Johnson at 5:18 PM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

What is the Puzzle with Jerry Brown?

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

Why won't Jerry Brown just announce that he is running for Governor?  Why won't he campaign?  Why is he letting Meg Whitman get so far ahead of things in this campaign?  Does he just assume he has it "in the bag?"

I suspect that is exactly what he assumes.  My take on Brown is that Democrats who were around when he was Governor and later when he ran for President in 1992 are going to support him, many quite strongly, and they regularly let him know this.  I suspect it is hard for him to go anywhere without stopping to shake a hand and hear from someone who tells him what a great Governor he was, that his ideas on energy and the environment were so far ahead of their time, that he should have been elected President, etc.

So he probably feels a wind at his back wherever he goes.  This is for sure: the "moonbeam" things Brown was about like energy and the environment and unions have proven to be the right things.  I wrote about this almost a year ago,

He was called "Moonbeam" and mocked, but he was right, and we were right, and the country needs to come to terms with this so we can move on and finally DO right.

. . . It is 30 years later and the country needs to get past that mocking of the people who were right. But the mocking and obstruction by entrenched interests are still in the way of letting us move on and do the things we need to do for the economy, the country, and the planet.

The problem with this is that it really is 30 years later now.  This is 2010, and that pool of people just isn't big enough by any means.  You have to be "a certain age" to even care.  He needs to find a way to reach out and be relevant to people who were not around when he was Governor or when he ran for President.

Does he realize this?  If he is not meeting a lot of the people to whom he just isn't and who just don't care, he might not be picking this up at all.  But it just is the case. He needs to start campaigning and saying things that are relevant to the 21st century of he is going to win this election.

Click through to Speak Out California

Posted by Dave Johnson at 12:59 PM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

February 11, 2010

"But" Watch

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

"But" Watch is when you see Republican junior propagandists write letters to the editor, call radio stations, etc. and begin them with, "I'm a Democrat, but..."

Today we have this comment to the post: Senator Reid: Why Should We Help You Win Re-election? | California Progress Report,

I'm a Democrat, but I appreciate that we have an opponent party. It's too bad that both parties cannot work more harmoniously together. Bi-partisan is a funny word the way it's usually interpreted...when one party is in the majority, it says that bi-partisanship is for the other to roll over dead.   

If it were not for the Republicans, we would be in a worse financial mess than we are with "pork" gong hog wild.Of course, they did not to a very good job of balancing the budget when they were in power under Bush.

More and more "pork" comes to the surface everyday. E.g., BART wants billions to build a not-needed train to the Oakland airport. Or, Fremont wants $385,000 federal dollars to study how to use the about-to-be empty NUMMI plant. If the city fathers and city staff are not capable of doing that, then they should be voted out of office or fired.

It's interesting the liberal media don't use the word "pork" anymore; they use the cleaner word: "earmarks;" or , more recently "stimulus." In any case, it's all "pork."

This is from a "Democrat"? Seriously, how many Democrats talk about "the liberal media?"  

And considering that Republican deregulation caused the financial crisis this line is astonishing: "If it were not for the Republicans, we would be in a worse financial mess than we are."

Nice try.  Didn't work.

Click through to Speak Out California.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 4:06 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

February 4, 2010

Low Taxes Destroy Our Small Businesses

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

Remember last year when the Republicans laid out the price of a budget deal and it was a giant tax cut for the biggest corporations? So in the middle of a revenue crisis they forced ... less revenue. Well, imagine that you are a struggling small or medium business in California, and the Republicans gave your nemesis even more power to crush you.

Corporate taxes are on profits. So a tax cut means that the more profitable companies pay back less to the government for their use of the roads, schools, police and fire protection.  The very infrastructure that supports new businesses is weakened.

Meanwhile, smaller businesses that are struggling don't pay corporate taxes, so tax cuts do nothing for them. And small businesses that make modest profits only pay modest taxes, and don't care.

On the other hand, the giant monopolistic corporations that are chewing up small businesses, destroying local and regional retailers, take those tax cuts and use them to turn themselves into even better small-business-destroying machines.

For example, the giant Wal-Marts are destroying local and regional retailers.  But it is the Wal-Marts, not the local and regional retailers that are the beneficiaries of tax cuts.  This is why the "usual suspects" who get their campaign funds from the giant companies, and work with lobbyists for the largest corporations are the same ones who always advocate corporate tax cuts.

Businesses Need Customers Not Tax Cuts.

Click through to Speak Out California.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 11:15 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

January 19, 2010

Lessons for CA From Massachusetts

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

The Republican candidate won the special election in Massachusetts to replace Senator Kennedy, giving them 41 Senate votes. Senate Republicans have filibustered every single bill this year, and this clinches their ability to block the President's agenda. If this sounds familiar to Californians, it's because in California the Republican minority is able to block budgets, and we have seen the results.

There are lots of sophisticated explanations for the election's outcome, mostly involving people being upset at particulars of the health care bill. But I don't really think that the people who voted for the Republican candidate were all that well informed about differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill, the "public option," or other intricacies of in-progress legislation.

Instead, when looking for the reasons people voted this way, I think we should take the Republican candidate's word for it. On his website he says it is for the following reasons:

At his September 12 announcement of candidacy for the U.S. Senate, Senator Brown articulated a core set of beliefs that guide his thinking
  • Government is too big and that the federal stimulus bill made government bigger instead of creating jobs
  • Taxes are too high and are going higher if Congress continues with its out-of-control spending
  • The historic amount of debt we are passing on to our children and grandchildren is immoral
  • Power concentrated in the hands of one political party, as it is here in Massachusetts, leads to bad government and poor decisions
  • A strong military and vigorous homeland defense will protect our interests and security around the world and at home
  • All Americans deserve health care, but we shouldn't have to create a new government insurance program to provide it
Here's the thing. Most of the assumptions underlying these statements are simply wrong - factually incorrect. They have been pounded out by a corporate/conservative misinformation machine that just makes stuff out and puts it out there on TV, the radio, email forwarding and every other channel they can find.

But the facts are that the federal stimulus didn't "make government bigger," the "out-of-control spending" occurred under the previous Republican president, we spend more on military than every other country in the world combined - and it is the largest government spending program contributing to the debt, and the health care reform specifically doesn't create a government insurance program (it should) and saves money rather than increase spending.

The Right has a message machine that has been repeating misinformation and getting away with it, because:
1) The leadership of the other party has let them get away with it.
2) There is no comparable megaphone with which to refute the misinformation.

The same is true here in California, and we may be heading for similar election turnovers. Republicans repeat things that simply are not true, but there is lack of leadership from elected democrats and almost no megaphone with which to counter the untruths. The example we regularly bring up here is the assertion, repeated over and over, that businesses and rich people leave California because of taxes and regulations.  Of courase this just isn't true, but is formulated in a way that sounds like it could be true if you just don't think about it, and leads to large corporations having even more power over our lives and the wealthy having an even greater share of all income and wealth.

Of course, people and businesses that do leave the state do so because of the high cost of living, which is the result of so many poeple wanting to live here. It just costs more to live in a nicer place.And as I wrote last week, it is a nicer place because of the government and the public structures that We, the People built. In other words, California is a nicer place because of those regulations and taxes!

Click through to Speak Out California

Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:54 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

January 13, 2010

CA Cons Still Trying To Live Off What We Built In The 60s & 70s

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

Lots of people want to live in California.  This is a good thing.  Conservatives try to portray this as a bad thing.  Let me explain.
George Will repeats the conservative narrative that people and companies leave California because of taxes and regulations. He writes,

It took years for liberalism's redistributive itch to create an income tax so steeply progressive that it prompts the flight from the state of wealth-creators: "Between 1990 and 2007," Voegeli writes, "some 3.4 million more Americans moved from California to one of the other 49 states than moved to California from another state."

Actually, any people and companies that move from California do it because the cost of living is so much higher and that is because it is a desirable place to live.  California was the envy of the rest of the country through most of the 20th century.  The best state government in the country used our taxes to build the best public structures -- the schools, colleges, roads, courts, water systems, etc. that attracted the innovative industries and the economy prospered even more.

What conservative propagandists like Will leave out is that so many people want to live here because of what the taxes and regulations created.  These public structures are what attracted so many people and businesses that the cost of living here went up.  They are trying to make people think this is a bad thing, and are trying to make people think the government and the public structures it builds are the problem rather than the source of our prosperity.  In essence they want to sell off what We, the People built and keep the proceeds for themselves.

The social contract used to be that We, the People built up the infrastructure of "public structures" like the legal system, schools, roads, water system, etc.  And this is what enabled businesses to prosper.  Then the businesses and people who did well paid back by pitching in with the proceeds to keep that system of public structures up to date.

It worked.  California built up the best schools and colleges, etc. so places like Silicon Valley and biotech grew up and thrived, and the state became a great place to live, attracting so many people and industries.  But this infrastructure was taken for granted.  Because this system was so solid and well-maintained people were able to start deferring maintenance, cutting everything, etc so that the big corporations and wealthy could have their taxes cut.  (Yes, the middle class got a bit of that through Prop 13 but even that primarily benefited commercial property.)

In essence the state has been living off of the past savings account of infrastructure that was built up in the 60s and 70s.  But now we're in 2010 with a 70's system. The schools are near the bottom in the country and the college and university system has been gutted.

We're STILL just getting by on living off of the last of what we built up in the 60s and 70s, but that is at an end now and the savings account is exhausted.  It is time to start to rebuild the infrastructure we used to be so proud of.  It is time to ask the wealthy and corporations that are here because of what the taxes and regulations built to pitch in again and start to rebuild that savings account of public structures and infrastructure.

Click through to Speak Out California!

Posted by Dave Johnson at 12:12 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

January 2, 2010

What "Cut Taxes And Cut Spending" Means For You

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

You hear it over and over again from California conservatives, "Cut taxes and cut spending," and "government spending is too high."

So what does this mean to YOU? How does this affect your life?

Simple answer, cutting spending means that your schools, roads, police and fire protection, lines at the DMV, parks, environment, food safety inspections, services to help small businesses and courts all deteriorate. It means that it costs more - much more - for you to send your kids to college. That is what "cut government spending" means.

And in spite of what you think, their promise of cutting taxes rarely means your taxes. There is a huge concentration of income and wealth at the very top, which means that tax cuts really mostly benefit the very, very wealthy. Even the well-known Prop 13, thought of as helping homeowners, shifted the tax burden from the corporate owners of commercial property to middle class citizens. From, Corporate loopholes make Prop. 13 crippling for state:

Thirty years ago, commercial property owners contributed 59 percent of property tax revenues and residential property owners contributed 41 percent. Today, we see a virtual flip: commercial property owners contributed just 43 percent of property taxes in 2008, while residential property owners contributed 57 percent.

Another thing you constantly hear are calls to cut the number of government employees and their benefits. If you think about it, layoffs and pay cuts for government workers (teachers, police, firefighters, road workers, etc.) translates into increasing pressure to cut your own wages as well, plus it means fewer customers for California's small businesses, fewer teachers in our schools, increased crime rates, etc. Cutting their benefits means that your own benefits come under pressure as well.

Conservatives promising that cutting taxes and spending are good for you have held sway for the last few decades. They are always promising that tax cuts will make things better for regular people. But they haven't gotten better. The real tax burden keeps shifting further and further away from the wealthy and powerful and onto the backs of the middle class. Meanwhile the things that our government does for us are reduced and reduced, so life gets harder.

The lesson to learn is: glowing promises of a free lunch usually mean that you are the lunch.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 10:02 AM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

December 17, 2009

Businesses Need Customers Not Tax Cuts

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

A letter in the San Jose Mercury News the other day expresses the misguided but oft-repeated Republican "spin" that tax cuts and deregulation "create jobs".  As usual it bears little resemblance to the truth.

Create jobs by helping business
The two ways government can affect the job market are by spending on projects through borrowing or by reducing the tax burden on families and businesses. If it borrows, it causes another tax through inflation and interest expenses that will go on forever. If it reduces taxes and regulations, the loss in revenue will be far less than the amount the Democrats are planning to spend, and without any interest.

You create jobs by making it easier for businesses to hire people through reductions in taxes and regulations, such as a tax break for every person they hire and retain. You don't make it harder for them by raising their expenses. Let's do what worked in the past.

The writer is correct about the tax through interest expenses that is the result of borrowing, but incorrect about the effect of tax cuts.  In fact, it is tax cuts that have caused so much borrowing without helping the economy.  Here is what is wrong about the idea that tax cuts create jobs: 

  1. Businesses hire the employees they need to hire to meet demand. If demand is low no amount of tax cuts can induce a business to hire people. Why hire and pay people to have them just sit around?
  2. The way to get more customers into the businesses - i.e. to create demand - is to get more money circulating in the pockets of regular people. Cutting taxes for the already well-to-do doesn't accomplish this.  The way to do this is with government policies that increase wages and reduce working hours, like how raising the minimum wage and mandating 40-hour weeks and weekends off helped create America's middle class. Helping regular people is good for business. 
  3. The writer says we should do what has worked in the past. The fact is that the economy has always done better when the tax rates on the wealthy and corporations were highest. Just look it up. The reason for this is that our economic system when left to itself always becomes a low-age, everything-to-the-top system, because the wealthiest always game the system to get the most for themselves. The way to fix that is to apply regulations to prevent this, and high taxes at the top so the government can implement policies that raise the wages of the rest of the public. This is how we got out of the depression after the huge concentration of wealth that built up until 1929.
  4. Taxes are not an "expense."  Businesses pay taxes on the profits (revenue minus expenses) -- so the businesses that need help don't need tax cuts, they need customers.  It doesn't make sense to try to help businesses that are not doing well by giving even more money to their profitable competitors.  We should be using that money to instead help the businesses that need the help.  Helping the already well-to-do is bad for business.
There are no examples in history of deregulation and tax cuts creating a better economy, but plenty of these steps creating worse economies. And before you say it, Reagan's tax cuts were followed immediately by huge tax increases, and still led to the tremendous borrowing and interest payments that the writer is worried about. And to make matters worse, Reagan's deregulation almost led to economic collapse twice - first with the Savings and Loan crisis, and then with the recent financial crisis. 

To fix California's economy we need to ask the wealthy and corporations to start contributing their share again, and use that money to educate our students, rebuild our infrastructure and bring back the kind of state that created and attracted the semiconductor and electronics and biochem and other industries. This all occurred when taxes were high, not low.

The only economy that is ever helped by tax cuts is the economy of the Cayman Islands, where many of the rich store their hoards of cash. 

Click through to Speak Out California.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 6:27 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

December 9, 2009

Will CA Dems Vote Next Year?

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

In last week's post progressive voters on strike? Santa Barbara blogger Retired UC Santa Barbara Professor of sociology and renowned social activist, Richard Flacks looks at recent polls showing Democratic voters to be unenthusiastic about voting while Republican voters are highly motivated. Professor Flacks writes,

These numbers tell us that the Democrats are going to lose the elections in 2010, but the underlying data are even more disturbing. They show that the heart of Obama;s support base is not planning to vote next year.

. . . The same sort of disillusionment pervades the ranks of liberal and progressive activists. Each week we can add new instances of administration betrayal of our hopes. The latest include the handling of the Honduras coup (defying near unanimity in the rest of the
hemisphere), and the continuation of Bush policies on the land mine treaty. The escalation of the war dwarfs all these other failures.

This is not President Obama's fault, necessarily,
I've said in this space that it's the structure of power in America rather than Obama's weakness of will that accounts for the growing feeling that the chances for progressive reform are slipping away.

Professor Flacks' post looks at a national poll, the "base" sense of betrayal is on national issues, and President Obama is not from California, but there is no reason to believe California Democrats are any more enthused More likely less so.  California Democrats who do pay attention see Democrats in Sacramento caving over and over again to the demands of an extremist Republican minority, while those not paying attention see generally that nothing good is happening and government is doing very little for them.

What might come along to raise democratic enthusiasm and encourage them to vote?  Jerry Brown running for Governor? With the statements he's been making, don't bet that Democrats are going to be enthusiastic about Jerry Brown as their standard-bearer either.

Click through to Speak Out California.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:39 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

December 2, 2009

Sen. Feinstein Demands Social Security Cuts

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

California Senator Dianne Feinstein has joined a group of Senators threatening to allow the nation to default on its debt unless a commission to "fast track" cuts to Social Security is created. 

Talking Points Memo describes what is going on,

Moderate and conservative Democrats want to empower an outside entitlement commission to reshape major domestic spending programs like Medicare and Social Security, and they're threatening a truly nuclear option to get their way. If Congress does not create this commission, they say, they will vote against must-pass legislation to raise the nation's debt ceiling, which would trigger a default, and, perhaps, economic calamity.

"I will not vote for raising the debt limit without a vehicle to handle this," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) told McClatchy. "This is our moment."

About this commission,

As proposed, it would hand a significant amount of Congressional authority over entitlement programs to an outside body. That body would make recommendations that Congress would have to vote on, up or down--no filibusters.

That's a bridge way too far for liberals, who see the commission as a backdoor approach to gutting Social Security.

Here's the problem.  Many people believe that there is a problem with Social Security - that it is "going broke."  But the fact is that Social Security has a huge reserve in the bank.  Social Security runs a huge surplus, and that surplus has been added to this reserve every year for decades.  Social Security will continue running a surplus until at least 2017, and can then draw on that trust fund to make up any shortfalls for at least the next 30-40 years.

Ah, but where is that trust fund?  According to a recent Washington Post story, 

The Treasury Department has for decades borrowed money from the Social Security trust fund to finance government operations. If it is no longer able to do so, it could be forced to borrow an additional $700 billion over the next decade from China, Japan and other investors. And at some point, perhaps as early as 2017, according to the CBO, the Treasury would have to start repaying the billions it has borrowed from the trust fund over the past 25 years, driving the nation further into debt or forcing Congress to raise taxes.

So there is the problem in a nutshell. They spent it. They spent it on tax cuts for the rich, and now that people are retiring and want that money, Senator Feinstein and the others don't want to raise taxes on the rich to pay back what was borrowed from the nation's retirement account.

This is the same as the situation in California. They cut taxes and made up the shortfall with various gimmicks, until the gimmicks ran out.  So now that the bill is due the protectors of the wealthiest talk about "spending" - which is government coming through for the people - as the area to cut, instead of turning to the people who received all the benefits of the earlier actions.

Senator Feinstein, keep your hands off of my -- and everyone else's -- retirement account.  You borrowed that money, now pay it back.  Don't think you can solve this problem by asking me to accept less than what I was promised because you handed that money out to the wealthy.  The people who got it should be the ones paying it back, not the people it was taken from.  You already took money from the taxpayers to bail out the wealthiest, don't do it again.

Click through to Speak Out California.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 3:25 PM | Comments (2) | Link Cosmos

November 4, 2009

Act Like Democrats

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

There are a few lessons to take away from last night's elections. The main one is that Democrats should act like Democrats if they want Democrats to show up and vote. Low-turnout elections are base elections: you have to turn out your base or you will lose.

Virginia: The Democrat didn't act like a Democrat and Democrats didn't show up and vote. Deeds told people he was against having a public option in the health care reform bill! He went so far as to say that he would take Virginia out of the public option! So why would any Democrats want to show up and vote for that? Meanwhile the Republican comes out of the Pat Robertson religious-right machine, and they did show up and vote.

New York: Democrats won a seat that has been Republican for over 100 years. The far-right takeover of the Republicans is an opportunity. Democrats should be working in every single district in the country because no "solid" Republican seat is safe anymore.

New Jersey: Independents voted Republican and Dems didn't turn out. I have no idea yet why this happened and need to see the exit polling. The Democrat previously had been Chairman of Goldman Sachs, and that may well have been a significant factor.

Maine: This was a terrible disappointment. The national Democratic Party didn't help. The OFA organization didn't help and even asked their members in Maine to come to New Jersey. Democrats had best not expect any fundraising success from LGBT after this.

Click through to Speak Out California.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 10:05 AM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

October 19, 2009

TWO Great Progressive Blog Sites AND A Great CA Site

Take a look at the Campaign for America's Future blog, Blog for Our Future. There is a LOT there. Bookmark it.

Also, there is great thought-provoking stuff at the Commonweal Institute blog, Uncommon Denominator. Bookmark that, too.

And take a look at the names of the poeople posting at both of these sites - you'll be surprised.

Finally, if you are in California you will want to check out the Speak Out California site!

Posted by Dave Johnson at 12:29 PM | Comments (2) | Link Cosmos

October 9, 2009

Modern Governoring

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

What does it mean to be a "governor?" What does it mean to "govern?"

In the news, the Governor has threatened to veto 700 bills in an attempt to force the legislature to do his bidding on water policy.

700 important items all held hostage, trying to stampede and scare the legislature to do something in a hurry, while terrible scare stories circulate on talk radio and throughout corporate media. Does this sound like a familiar tactic?

Water policy is complicated because over many decades wealthy real estate developers bought permission to build huge swaths of housing in dry area, so water needed and needs to be piped in from  ... somewhere else. And huge agricultural interests make a lot of money using water that used to be heavily subsidized, meaning the people paid for the water and a few wealthy corporate interests pocketed the profits.

At the same time there is less water to go around.  We have had three years of below-average rainfall, which is possibly a permanent condition because of climate change (which Republicans deny is happening). And the destruction of the environment and fisheries and groundwater caused by past bad practices is catching up, so hard choices must be made.  Does our government protect the people, the environment, corporate profits?

So on one side of this we have giant corporations and the short-term profits they suck out of our communities and state, and of people who are where they are after being lured there for the sake of those short-term profits, and who eat the way they do because government had been "persuaded" (paid) to subsidize the water for the sake of those short-term profits.  People need water to drink even if they do live in a desert and need to eat and have gotten used to food that costs less because the water has been subsidized. (But maybe they don't need to water their driveways and nice lawns.)

On the other side we have the long-term interests of most of the people and of the environment.  See if you can guess which side the Republicans and the Governor are on?

Click through to Speak Out California

Posted by Dave Johnson at 12:37 PM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

September 25, 2009

Wild, Wild Conservative Claims - Here We Go Again

Dave Johnson, Speak Out California

A "study" called Cost of State Regulations on California Small Business Study makes some wild, wild claims!  From the summary,

The study finds that the total cost of [business]regulation to the State of California is $492.994 billion which is almost five times the State's general fund budget, and almost a third of the State's gross product. The cost of regulation results in an employment loss of 3.8 million jobs which is a tenth of the State's population.
Scary. Wild. Mostly, though, just unbelievable. I wonder who paid for the study?

KQED's Capital Notes blog tracked down some of the sources of the wild, wild claims.

The authors previously released a study wildly, wildly claiming that California's AB32 climate change legislation will cost California's small businesses $182 billion a year and cost 1.1 million jobs. I wonder who paid for that study?

For this "regulations" report they relied data from on a Forbes Magazine report listing California as a bad state in which to do business. The Forbes report relies on data from the Pacific Research Institute.

This reminded me that the Pacific Research Institute released a 2007 "study" making the wild, wild claim that allowing people to sue companies that harm them costs $865 billion per year. I wonder who paid for this study?

David Dayen writes about this at Calitics,

Basically, regulations take your wives, enslave your children, throw your ice cream on the ground, and write "loser" on your chest in sun tan lotion when you fall asleep at the beach. It's amazing how in line this study is with standard conservative tropes about onerous regulations and big government. I wonder why that is?

I think I'll do a "study" that makes a claim that conservative "studies" cost us more than $12 trillion a year. The trouble is, who would pay me to write it?

Click through to Speak Out California

Posted by Dave Johnson at 1:30 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

September 21, 2009

Governor's Tax Commission -- Why Help The Already Wealthy??

Dave Johnson, Speak Out California

The Governor's tax commission - called COTCE - is proposing a "flat tax."  Peter Schrag begins his LA Times op-ed today, A flat-wrong flatter-tax plan, by writing,

The most obvious thing about the big, complicated tax reform scheme that will go to the Legislature this week is that millionaires would save an average of $109,000 a year.
Exactly. When you understand your mission as helping the wealthy, as COTCE everything about this commission makes it appear they have done (the plan also eliminates the corporate income tax), what does that say about what is in store for the rest of us?

Hannah-Beth Jackson pointed this out the other day, in COTCE Parsky Commission: Even More Tax Breaks for the Wealthy,

Contact the Governor, Senate President Pro tem Darrell Steinberg and Speaker Karen Bass and tell them:


What we need is a tax system that is fair, places the most responsibility on those who have the most so that all Californians have the opportunity to get the best education possible; be safe in their homes, schools and on the streets; are able to access quality, affordable healthcare and live a life of dignity and respect, regardless of their financial circumstances.

Urge the Legislature to take up a tax reform package that incorporates the ideas and principles recommended to the COTCE Commission (which were thrown aside by Parsky and his wealthy cronies) but which would make the system fairer, promote jobs, protect the environment and reflect a 21st Century economy.

For information on contacting state elected officials click here.

Let's do what she suggested!  For information on contacting state elected officials click here.

Click through to Speak Out California

Posted by Dave Johnson at 12:02 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

September 11, 2009

CA Parsky Comm. Shocker - Exxon Director Proposes Offshore Drilling!

Dave Johnson, Speak Out California

The Commission on the 21st Century Economy, known as the "Parsky Commission" and COTCE is supposed to be figuring out how to reform the state's tax structure. Back when the commission was announced Brian at Calitics wrote that he was hopeful that the Republican domination of the commission would lead to some solutions that were both sensible and that Republicans could vote for.  In Gerald Parsky, Bush acolyte, to head tax commission he wrote,

For some background, Parsky is the former chair of George W. Bush's California campaigns in 2000 and 2004.

[. . .] As a Republican with a strong background supporting Bush and McCain, Parsky will presumably have a better shot at convincing some of the Republican legislators of the importance of some of these reforms. He's raised millions of dollars for Republican candidates, so if money counts, and it does, he should have the ear of the GOP legislators. In many ways we need a prominent Republican voice on this commission, the Republicans need cover from a big-time money guy who has a track record on the GOP private sector trickle-down mumbo jumbo.

But no, instead the commission has floated one proposal after another designed to shift taxes from the wealthy and corporations to the rest of us.  There is the flat tax, for example, which lowers taxes at the top and pays for it by raising taxes on the rest of us.  There is the idea to get rid of taxes on corporations. Etc., Etc. The sensible idea of a pollution tax has been sidelined.

In Trying to Hide More Tax Breaks for the Wealthy, Hannah-Beth Jackson writes,

In that spirit, what is the first thing Parsky recommends? As the first order of business, he proposes a flat tax which will blow another $14 Billion hole in the state's already reeling general fund. But given his decision that one of the criteria of this commission is "revenue neutrality," ... somebody or something must pick up the slack. So in the tradition of the Bush tax cuts, where virtually all the benefits went to the wealthiest 1% of
Americans, Mr. Parsky would have the rest of us paying more.

Then, yesterday, out of the blue, a different idea was introduced: expand offshore oil drilling. This idea came from (surprise of surprises) Michael Boskin, who is on the Board of Exxon!

Calbuzz has been following this. From Slimy Parsky Oil Play and a Yorba Linda Lecher

The recommendation came as a shock, not only because the offshore issue was only casually discussed during the commission's months of hearings, but also because it deepened the atmosphere of secrecy and sleight-of-hand in which Parsky assembled the agenda for the panel's
final, crucial meeting. ...

The proposal for more offshore drilling seems to have worked its way onto the commission's plate at least in part at the request of conservative Hoover Institution economist Michael Boskin, who also sits on the board of Exxon Mobil.

So here we go again. Another last-minute, shock-doctrine attack, this time on the environment, this time enriching oil companies.  note that the idea does not include asking the oil companies topay for the oil they take from us and sell back to us.  Calbuzz,

The recommendation, sure to draw the ire of environmentalists and coastal legislators, pointedly does not suggest imposing a new severance tax on oil companies. California is the only oil-producing state that does not have such a tax, which is being pushed in the legislature by several members of the Assembly, including Assemblymen Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, and Alberto Torrico, D-Fremont.

BTW: There's no frigging way the agenda and agenda packet was ready early enough for the public to have legal notice. Not that Parsky seems to give a rat's butt.

Brian at Calitics in yesterday's Parsky adds Oil Drilling to His Recommendation, writes,
How oil drilling got into a so-called tax commission shouldn't be a
surprise when there was a faux transparency. The website laid out a slew of emails and written conversations, but apparently Parsky and his cronies were working on something else entirely.

This is not the process that gets to determine whether we will set up oil rigs off of the entirety of our coast line. That is an entirely seperate conversation, and frankly Mr. Parsky, I don't care one iota what you think about that.  Not that I really much cared about what you thought about our revenue system either at this point, but this was not your assigned task and frankly none of your business.

It's nice to see that ExxonMobil has its dirty hooves in just about political conversation where it can possibly make a buck. But if ever anybody thought that the Parsky Plan had any credibility as any sort of unbiased scheme, well, that can just about be written off right about now.

Even though this is health care week we need people to make some noise about this. Hannah-Beth writes,
The way Mr. Parsky is running the show, his welfare for the wealthy and questionable corporate giveaways are all he wants to consider. He thinks he is running out the clock with his wealthy cronies way ahead, but we can let him know that feathering the beds of the wealthy at the expense of the middle class and the neediest of us is so not going to happen.

To help let them know this isn't where we want the state to go, please send your comments to the public comment section of the COTCE website at comment@cotce.ca.gov and ask that your comments be posted.

Tell them NO to reducing the personal income tax on the wealthy and NO to their hide-the-ball efforts to push through a proposal without the necessary public debate. These issues are too important to the future of our state to be handled so secretively and so obviously in favor of the rich at the expense of the rest of the people of California.

Also, send a quick email to our legislative leaders Darryl Steinberg at Senator.Steinberg@senate.ca.gov  and Karen Bass at speaker.bass@assembly.ca.gov  will help put pressure on the Commission to back off these outrageous approaches to our state's difficult tax situation and force greater transparency in what they're doing.

Click through to Speak Out California

Posted by Dave Johnson at 3:02 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

September 2, 2009

Republican Infrastructure

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

Why are Republicans so successful, even though they only have a tiny minority representation in our state government?  Read on.

An invitation was sent for the upcoming California Republican Party Convention, which will be September 25-27 at the Rennaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa in Indian Wells, outside of Palm Springs.

Nestled at the base of the majestic Santa Rosa Mountains in the exclusive community of Indian Wells, the luxurious Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa is the desert's finest oasis. Offering unparalleled service and all the amenities of a world-class resort, Esmeralda invites you to indulge your every whim.

[. . .] Spa Esmeralda is designed to nourish your soul. Marble floors, glass corridors and the sounds of a trickling stone fountain greet you. From that moment on, a transformation begins to take place.

Gaze at the alluring desert landscape from the tranquil Spa Garden and soothe away the day's stress under a therapeutic waterfall spa. This is Spa Esmeralda. This is Paradise.

  • Spa with lush garden
  • Golf Club House
  • Lounge with live entertainment
  • Room Service
  • 36-Holes of Championship Golf
  • 3 swimming pools & Pool Bar
  • Fitness Center
  • Tennis
  • Concierge
  • In-room movies
  • Complimentary in-room coffee
  • Complimentary newspaper
  • Restaurants
Nice!  Where do they park their yachts in the desert, though?

I noted on the web page, "Special Thanks to San Manuel Band of Mission Indians for their generous support of the California Republican Party and the fall convention." Sponsorship is solicited on the following terms:

$100,000 Official Convention Title Sponsorship
For organizations seeking maximum exposure and opportunities to network with Republican candidates for Governor, Congress and State Legislature, this Title Sponsorship opportunity is ideal, providing exclusive benefits. Title sponsorship of the California Republican Party's fall Convention is limited to one partner with a speaking opportunity during the convention and a customized sponsorship marketing plan tailored to your needs which will include ... Private meeting with all top state party leaders during convention.
There are also $50,000, $25,000 and $15,000 opportunities.

I especially was interested in The Workshops At The '09 CRP Fall Convention, which are put on by various people including:
  • David Kralik, Silicon Valley Representative for Newt Gingrich's American Solutions 
  • David Avella, Executive Director of GOPAC
  • Philip R Hinderberger: Senior V-P & Govt. Affairs Counsel, NORCAL Mutual Insurance Company
  • Larry Greenfield, The Reagan Legacy Foundation
  • Mackenzie Eaglen, Research Fellow for National Security Studies, Heritage Foundation
Some background on some of the above:
  • If you don't know, a Senior V-P & Govt. Affairs Counsel is a LOBBYIST.
  • The Ronald Reagan Legacy Project was formed in 1997 as a project of Americans for Tax Reform - Grover Norquist's organization.  According to SourceWatch: "Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) is ostensibly a group that pushes for lower taxes. It has close ties to the Republican Party and has frequently allied itself with the tobacco industry."
  • Heritage Foundation is the premier right-wing, anti-government "think tank" located in Washington, DC.
So this is a luxury event, sponsored by corporations, with workshops from elements of the conservative infrastructure.  These are organizations that are supposed to be non-partisan, are often funded with tax-deductible contributions, exist outside of the party structure, but in this case are closely bound with the party itself.

These third-party groups lay the groundwork for elections by bombarding the public with corporate-funded messaging that is almost always anti-government and anti-tax, advocating the corporations replace government in our national and state decisionmaking.  Grover Norquist is famous for saying he wants to make the government "small enough that it can be drowned in a bathtub" and this is why his organization has demanded that office-seekers sign a pledge to oppose taxes in all forms.  They believe in "defunding" government, so that it cannot effectively regulate corporations. 

After enough of this drumbeat of anti-government propaganda, with no response from people who believe in demcoracy and community, the public doesn't have much choice but to believe the only voices they hear, and turn against government and the taxes that support democracy.  

This third-party infrastructure is why conservatives have been so effective at strangling government in California.  It is funded by corporations and every Republican has take "the pledge."  The corporations pump hundreds of thousands of dollars into our elections to put just enough of them over the top to keep the state from functioning. 

What we need is a progressive infrastructure of organizations that reach the public and explain progressive policies, creating acceptance of progressive values and demand for progressive solutions that help everyone, not just a select, wealthy few.

Click through to Speak Out California

Posted by Dave Johnson at 4:31 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

August 5, 2009

California Needs To Reform More Than Just The Budget

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

How do you reconcile a conservative philosophy that says government is bad and taxes should be cut, and at the same time advocates policies that put lots and lots of people in jail for all kinds of things?  Well, you can't.

The original idea for California's Three Strikes law was sound: most violence is committed by a very few people and if you can identify and imprison those people, you can make the rest of us much, much safer.  But the conservatives managed to turn this sound idea into an initiative that invites prosecutors to decide to prosecute people under this law for any serious crime, violent or not, and technical or not, as long as they have two priors.  So people who, for example, committed a crime as a child, then "copped a plea" to avoid risking a serious conviction thirty years prior, can now be sent to prison for life.

As a result, today California has more than 170,000 people in prisons designed to hold about half as many.  One out of every five prisoners in California is serving a life sentence.  In California defendants have received, for example, a life sentence for stealing a piece of pizza, a life sentence for stealing three tracksuits, a life sentence for stealing a 50-cent pack of doughnuts, a life sentence for possessing .03 grams of drugs, a life sentence for stalking and a life sentence for stealing golf clubs. But when you put so many people in prisons that have their budgets cut year after year what you can't get is sufficient medical care or sufficient living space.

So a federal court has taken a look at California's policies of putting more and more people into jail for longer and longer sentences for more and more things, while at the same time cutting budgets for medical care.  The court found that this constitutes "cruel and unusual" punishment.  From the article,

"California's prison system is operating at 190 percent of its design capacity of 79,828 inmates, and the judges said the state must devise an inmate reduction plan within 45 days, after which a remedial order will be issued.

. . . "The convergence of tough-on-crime policies and an unwillingness to expend the necessary funds to support the population growth has brought California's prisons to the breaking point," the judges said."
At Calitics David Dayen writes,

This is a policy failure driven by a political failure, a cowardly series of actions that arises from a broken system of government. ... politicians have played on people's fears for 30 years and, faced with the tragedy they created, delayed and procrastinated until it became so torturous that the courts had to step in.  From the three-strikes law to the 1,000 sentencing laws passed by the Legislature, all increasing sentences, nobody comes out looking good in this failure of leadership.
Given the fiscal mess our state is in now is the time for appropriate reform of all institutions.  Let's make it right, let's make it work and let's make it just.  That is a progressive approach.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 3:18 PM | Comments (4) | Link Cosmos

July 21, 2009

Make CA Republicans Own This Budget Deal

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

So they reached a budget deal.  The gap was closed entirely with cuts to essential service, schools, health care, etc.  Democrats had to cave out of fear that elderly people literally would not have oxygen tanks.

And to add insult to injury, instead of paying for the oil they take from the state the oil companies receive waivers to allow them to drill offshore!  In the last deficit-fix deal big corporations got a huge tax cut and now oil companies get more of our oil for free. And we will suffer more pollution of our coasts. (It's pretty clear from deals like these who is in control of the Republican caucus. The citizens get services taken away, the big corporations get perks that increase the deficits.)

This is a Republican budget deal, entirely on their terms.
  Make them own it.

Here is how you make them own it: Make them vote for it.

Before any Democrat votes for this deal, every single Republican has to vote yes. When the voting start, just sit there.  Wait.  And then when the Republicans have all voted, ONLY THEN should Democrats start voting, but not before. 

If we are going to have to live with a budget forced on us by Republicans and oil companies, then the Republicans have to show up and vote for it.

Click through to Speak Out California.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 12:20 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

July 16, 2009

Tracking Republican Myth That Business Are Leaving Because Of Taxes

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

I looked around and found that "businesses are leaving the state because of taxes" is one of those drumbeats that the corporate conservatives are using.  (Also, FYI the wealthy are leaving, too, parking their yachts in Salt Lake I guess.)

I wrote about this myth the other day, basically you pay taxes on profits and you certainly don't pack up and leave profits behind.  I wrote,

Oh, one more thing for the slower-thinking Republicans out there: profits are a good thing, not a bad thing.  And when you are making a profit the last thing you do is pack up your business and leave behind the circumstances that enabled making that profit.

So I looked around for "businesses are leaving the state" articles.  Here are a few:

A Republican member of the Assembly writes, Governmental Restrictions, High Taxes Driving Businesses & Jobs Out Of California.

Oops, the example company didn't leave, it started in Nevada, and it wasn't because of taxes it was because they wanted "freedom" to dump toxins into the environment.

Businesses and wealthy individuals flee state because of taxes.

Oops this is another company that started in Nevada.  This time it was an income tax avoidance scheme where Californians set up the company in Nevada - but still live here. So it's a PO box, not employees, etc.
This one quotes a Republican Party official,

"The high cost of living that continues to force Californians out of state should serve as a powerful reminder of the effect high taxes are having on our society," said Ron Nehring, the Republican state party chairman.
But doesn't give any examples, and in fact shows how California has very favorable business conditions, credits, and is the only state that doesn't ask oil companies to pay for the oil they take.

California's High Taxes and Burdensome Regulations Drive People and Businesses Away -- scary title, lots of scary words, but no examples of businesses actually leaving the state.

Another Company Leaving California because of High Taxes, Regulations  - Oops, this one is leaving the state because they want to pollute the air, not because of taxes.  Nice title, though. Scary.

We went through a flurry of this a few years ago, too.  Did any leave then? Let's see what we can find.

Companies Can't Leave CA Fast Enough - A title insurer left the state.  The 2003 article doesn't explain why but mentions retail energy rates.  Remember Enron, Bush, all that?

California proves too costly for departing businesses,

Coast Converters is spending $800,000 to move to Las Vegas, but the Los Angeles plastic bag manufacturer will save enough on workers' compensation, electricity and other costs to recover that in less than a year, CEO Mitchell Greif says.

"It's really an unfair business practice to allow companies to move to Nevada and sell into California," Greif says. "But I'm doing it."

Nope, not taxes.  And how do you like living in the desert, Mitchell?  Another 2003 electricity-costs thing.  You want deregulation?  Deregulating energy costs worked out great, no?

Nation's Business.  Oops, the headlines are misleading, they are leaving because of costs.  Yes, it costs more to live here because people are coming here, not leaving.  Also,

... 10 percent of the 90 Southern California companies responding said they
"definitely" plan to move some or all operations from California within a year, and an additional 13 percent said they would "probably" do so.

OOPS, this one is from 1993, before the huge business boom.  Sorry.  I guess all the businesses left California.  Oh, wait...

Wait, here are some more articles:

New York's Taxes Send People and Businesses Out Of State -- Maybe they're coming here.

Are Millionaires Leaving Maryland to Escape Higher Taxes? -- Maybe they are passing California's millionaires going the other way.

Leaving Oregon, and its taxes, behind

Executives say firms may leave state if computer services levy is not repealed (Maryland)

Poll shows many mull leaving state (Buffalo)

NY's High Taxes Drive Small Business Away, Too

I guess all the businesses are leaving ALL the states!

Click through to Speak Out California

Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:05 PM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

July 14, 2009

Republican Myth: Businesses Leave California Because Of Taxes

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

Republicans like to claim that businesses leave California because of having to pay taxes.

I used to own and run a business, and I have some news for Republicans: Businesses only pay taxes on profits. You don't pay taxes unless you are making a profit. Paying taxes means you are making a profit. Making a profit is a good thing, and California businesses pay a small percentage of the profits to the state to help cover the expenses that enabled you to make that profit.

I'm not sure how many different ways I can say it. You pay taxes after you make a profit. At the end of the year you add up your revenue and you subtract your expenses and other deductions and then you know what your profit is.

Oh, one more thing for the slower-thinking Republicans out there: profits are a good thing, not a bad thing. And when you are making a profit the last thing you do is pack up your business and leave behind the circumstances that enabled making that profit.

I understand that Republicans hate government and are enraged by the idea of actually giving something back to the community to help pay for the roads, bridges, courts, police and fire protection, educated citizenry and the other parts of the state's infrastructure that created the environment that led to the ability to make a profit. Yes, they hate that. I understand.

But the fact is that businesses do not pack up and leave when they are making profits. So if Republicans want to trick people into supporting tax cuts for the big companies that shelled out so much cash put them in office they really do need to come up with better stories than trying to claim that businesses pack up and leave the state because they are making too much profit.

Click through to Speak Out California

Posted by Dave Johnson at 1:47 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

July 8, 2009

CA Voters Kept In Dark About Budget

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

Today's San Jose Mercury News has a front-page story, California leaders in no hurry to break budget impasse. From the story,

Despite plunging tax revenues, Wall Street's unwillingness to loan the state money and billions of dollars worth of IOUs hitting mailboxes, California's leaders are displaying a seeming lack of urgency to close the state's $26.3 billion deficit.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders blew past a supposedly ironclad June 30 deadline to pass a new budget...

Blew past? The legislature did pass a budget fix last week, but the Governor vetoed it! This choice by the Governor led to the state needing to issue IOUs.

To their credit (I guess) the San Jose paper hinted at the veto in an editorial a week ago, Governor didn't need to push state over the edge, writing,

In rejecting a stopgap fix for the budget on Tuesday, the governor and GOP leaders have accelerated a budget meltdown that pushes the state deeper into debt."

Talking to people involved, I pick up a sense that passing a budget fix after the Governor said he would veto it was pointless, so not worth mentioning. But isn't that for the voters to decide?  Many would say that passing the fix, especially at the last minute after all negotiations had failed and the state was going over the cliff was the responsible thing to do, also known as governing. This put a budget fix on the table and available for use to avoid the calamity and cost of IOUs, rating downgrades, etc. The Governor had a clear choice at that point, and chose to take the state over the cliff.  The voters should have been told, not kept in the dark that the Governor made that choice.

Meanwhile, the other side still refuses to offer up any plan of their own, still insisting that the Democrats fix the budget entirely with cuts to services that the public needs and take the blame for that.  They refuse to allow any plan that asks oil or tobacco companies to pitch in. They claim the wealthy will "leave the state" if asked to pitch in an additional $40 a week. They make up stories about companies leaving the state (but can't name any). But it is not reported that the Republicans refuse to offer a plan or engage in serious negotiations. It is as if the Republicans are expected to not be serious, so it's not worth reporting that they aren't serious. The voters should have been told.

The system of democracy depends on the voters being informed so they can apply pressure as needed and remove officeholders who are not doing what the voters want them to do.  But none of this works if the citizens have no way of learning simple facts, like that the legislature did govern responsibly and pass a budget fix, which the Governor vetoed. The voters should have been told.

Click through to Speak Out California.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 3:34 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

June 30, 2009

California Suspicion

Here is what I suspect. It's obvious that Republicans are shutting the state down on purpose. I suspect they have a plan ready, and will launch a full-scale "shock doctrine" "solution" to the problem, along with a full-on PR campaign blaming Democrats, "spending" (meaning benefits and services to citizens who are not rich) and government in general (democracy) for the problem.

The "solution" will likely include a flat tax (giving a huge tax cut to millionaires while raising them for the rest of us), probable cutting or even eliminating corporate taxes, maybe school vouchers or just eliminating public schools to some degree, etc.

So let's see. This is not an accident it is a plan.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 10:57 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

Does the Public Think Politicians Are Crying Wolf (Again)?

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

A recent large headline in the San Jose Mercury News got me thinking.  The headline was, "A dire warning from the Governor". (Online headline is different from the morning's print headline.)   From the story, "Schwarzenegger said ... his threat ... is necessary to prod lawmakers into swift action."

I have to admit that even I rolled my eyes when I saw that -- even though I understand how serious the problem is. And this led me to think that maybe there is a "crying wolf" factor at work here.  This has been going on now or a long time. 

A few months ago the crisis was reaching a breaking point, dire warnings were issued, and most importantly the public was starting to pay attention.  This triggered the leadership in Sacramento to do what I think was the worst possible thing: they came up with the fluffy budget compromise that "solved" the crisis and resulted in the failed May 19 Special Election.  I believe the compromise was a mistake that broke the tension and led people to believe that the "crisis" was over, so they tuned back out. 

I think the "chicken little" aspect of the whole affair kept people away from the polls in droves.

I am not faulting the Governor and other state leaders for headlines like thos and other warnings because the crisis is real.  Our leaders all need to do whatever it takes to get people to pay attention, to realize this budget crisis is real and that everything that can be cut has been cut, that they really are going to have to let people out of prisons and close parks and still will run out of money anyway.  Bankruptcy and all of its consequences looms.  For real.  The public has to get involved and do their job in this democracy.

But I can understand why most Californians have tuned out.  I think part of this budget problem is that it has become the norm to use drama and fear to prod others into action.  And not just with the budget.  There are so many terrible problems hitting us from so many directions.  The economy really did collapse, and we may be on the edge of another Great Depression.  For real.  This has been a headline swarm for months.  Swine flu is real, but is not as lethal as it first appeared it could be.  This was the headline swarm a few weeks ago.  And of course Global Warming is real, and serious.  It has been a headline swarm for years.  

Those are real and serious problems.  But at the same time there are so many manipulative, well-funded and sophisticated PR campaigns, usually from corporate interests, that use fear and/or other manipulation.  Remember the headlines warning aobut possible terrorist smallpox attacks?  Remember being told that Iraq was on the verge of hitting us with nuclear weapons?   Remember duct tape

So people just do not know who to trust and necessarily are becoming immune to drama.

California's big media outlets could do a better job of explaining the real problems facing the state, beginning by dispelling the idea that the state is just wasting taxpayer money and everything can be solved with a few painless budget cuts.  They need to do this in a serious, respectful way, with comprehensive investigative reporting.  If print media won't do that, they should close their doors -- they aren't doing their jobs and aren't helping anyone anymore so they should let their advertisers support a medium that helps democracy rather than hinders it.  If broadcast media can't do that, they should relinquish their broadcast licenses to others who will.

The poor, elderly and disabled have already suffered the cuts.  They understand that this is for real.  So maybe we need the crisis to hit home so (middle class) people can also understand that it is for real - this time.  

Click through to Speak Out California.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 3:38 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

June 17, 2009

Schwarzenegger's Talk Was Cheap

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

Governor Schwarzenegger has talked about the need to act responsibly and pass a budget.

So the legislature is trying to do just that.  According to the Sacramento Bee,

"... the Legislature's joint budget conference committee, on a party-line vote, adopted a plan that included about $2 billion in new oil production and cigarette taxes to help bridge a $24 billion budget gap."
So what is the Governor's response to a balanced approach to fixing the budget?

"Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he wouldn't sign a plan that was balanced with tax increases."
He will shut down the state, close the schools, lay off thousands of workers, because the legislature balances the cuts with small tax increases on tobacco and oil companies.

This is known as "dancing with the ones who brung ya."  The Republicans get elected with millions of dollars from big corporations, and that is who they answer to.  They will close schools, lay off police and firefighters, and keep elderly people from getting needed medical care or oxygen tanks delivered, just to protect the cash that is flowing to a few very large corporations.  From the referenced post,

If you look at the independent expenditure reports for the 2008 California election you'll see a massive amount of last-minute money. ...you learn that this money came from corporations like Arkansas' Wal-Mart, Blue Cross of Ohio (Ohio?), Reliant Energy, major real estate companies, and from other PACs.

... huge amounts of money coming from large corporations like Philip Morris, ATT, Chevron, Safeway, Sempra Energy, Verizon, big insurance companies, big pharmaceutical companies, big real estate companies ... and other conduits like the Chamber of Commerce.

But think about this: it isn't "corporations" who are doing this.  Corporations are just abstract concepts, really nothing more than a bundle of legal contracts and enabling laws. It is people -- a few specific people.  When you hear that a corporations did something, it wasn't Bob in Sales or Alice in Accounts Receivable who made decisions that affect your life like this, it was really a few people at the top who have control of the resources of that corporation.  The things they do are intended to benefit them personally, not to benefit the company.  This is why so many companies are destroyed while the executives get rich and then leave a mess behind.  Corporations are not the problem, it is the use of corporate resources to influence government that is the problem.

And this time, while we try to solve a budget problem that looks like it could shut down the state, it is a really big problem.

Click through to Speak Out California

Posted by Dave Johnson at 6:53 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

June 10, 2009

CA Budget - Where Is The Public?

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

As the state's budget woes grow it is increasingly difficult to gauge what the public wants (or even understands.)  The information channels are stuffed with corporate/conservative propaganda and astroturf like the "tea parties" but there is little comprehensive, accurate and truly objective information available to help the public understand what is happening.  For example, few stories about the budget explain that a minority of only 1/3 of the legislature is blocking the passage of a budget, or that a budget was passed by the legislature in January and was vetoed by the Governor.  Few stories explain the extent of budget cuts the state has already made.

The uninformed public isn't helping solve this.  Turnout for the special election was only about 28 percent of our 17.1 million registered voters, which is about 20% of the 23,385,819 eligible voters.  So the election didn't tell us what about 80% of our citizens want to do.  It did show that a solid majority of 20% of us didn't want those particular ballot initiatives. But what does this mean?  While 31% of Los Angeles County voters were for proposition 1a, just this last November 68% voted for the Measure R sales tax increase. This corresponds with other gauges of the meaning of the special election.  So the special election provides little guidance for policymakers.

An April Field Poll of Californians showed that Californians are against raising taxes and against cutting school budgets, health care and higher education.  Should we conclude from this that they are just in favor of bankruptcy?  Before we conclude bankruptcy is what people really want, we need some polling to see if people understand what it would mean to their own lives.  For example, do pepole understand the economic effect from laying off all of the state employees, teachers, etc., closing down the schools, colleges and universities, hospitals, prisons, and stopping all the firefighting and police services that people expect.  Are they really in favor of this, or do they just not understand what they are asking for?

Meanwhile, the poll found that 74% approve of increasing taxes on millionaires, and 56% favor legalizing and taxing millionaires marijuana.  So maybe there is some guidance from that.

These figures on taxes are supported by an April 15 Gallup poll finding that 48% of Americans think they are
paying the proper amount of taxes, but 60% believe the wealthy are
under-taxed (and "23 percent think they pay their fair share, and 13
percent feel that they are overburdened").

The SEIU has just released a TV ad which they will be spending $1 million to run, along with a new website, CommonSenseForCA.org. They are asking for a balanced approach to fixing the budget, not just through cuts but also with new revenue.  Here is the ad, and please visit the website

Let us know what you think.

Click through to Speak Out California.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 11:14 PM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

May 28, 2009

California Election Results -- What The Public Wants

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

Did the results of the special election on the budget propositions really show that the public is against taxes and government, as the Republicans claim?  Recent polling looked at the reasons the propositions failed.  Polls are a useful way to understand what people really thing because they take a scientific sample, actually asking the voters what they think, instead of just repeating something that Republicans just say.  Let's see what the voters give as their reasons for opposing the propositions.  From the polling:

  • 74% of voters polled thought the election was just a gimmick, not an actual fix for California's budget problems.
  • 70% of the voters polled said the legislature is a captive of special interests (possibly because people are learning that the "budget deal" that they came up with in the middle of this emergency included a huge tax cut for large, multi-state corporations.)
  • In a budget battle dominated by Republican demands for spending cuts instead of asking the rich and corporations to pay their fair share only 19% of voters polled said that Californians are being asked to share the pain equally. 
  • And to drive that point home, only 29% of voters polled said that the budget should be balanced only with spending cuts.  According to the polling "even among 'No' voters, less than half (46%) say the government should rely entirely on spending cuts with no tax increases."
In summary, voters resented that the legislature is held captive by the 2/3 rule, and want them to address that instead of coming up with short-term gimmicks to get through another year while making things even worse later.

Additionally, and completely contrary to anti-tax and anti-government claims, the polling showed "broad support for new revenue streams."  According to the polling report, the public supports:

  • Increasing taxes on alcoholic beverages (75% support)
  • Increasing taxes on tobacco (74% support)
  • Imposing an oil extraction tax on oil companies just like every other oil producing state (73% support)
  • Closing the loophole that allows corporations to avoid reassessment of the value of new property they purchase (63% support)
  • Increasing the top bracket of the state income tax from nine point three percent to 10 percent for families with taxable income over $272,000 a year and to eleven percent for families with taxable incomes over $544,000 a year (63% support)
  • Prohibiting corporations from using tax credits to offset more than fifty percent of the taxes they owe (59% support)
The corporate right has to spin last week's special election as an anti-tax vote.  What else can they do?  But, as usual, their spin goes completely the other way from the facts.

Let's put them to the test.  The corporate right claims that this election showed that the public is solidly against government and taxes.  If they really believe that, how about reinstating majority rule in California, instead of requiring a 2/3 vote to pass budgets and taxes? 

Since they claim that the public is solidly against taxes, will they also support a straight up-or-down vote on taxes?  Of course not.  The public is not with them and they know it. This is just a ruse to continue destroying our great state and our democratic process.

Click through to Speak Out California.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 2:34 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

May 26, 2009

Are California Voters 'Anti-Government?'

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California. In the op-ed piece titled, "A rising anti-government tide," Republican leader Newt Gingrich wrote last week about California's special election,
"This vote is the second great signal that the American people are getting fed up with corrupt politicians, arrogant bureaucrats, greedy interests and incompetent, destructive government."
For those unfamiliar with the history of Newt Gingrich here is a quick lesson in what you are hearing.  Newt Gingrich is a father of Republican nasty-talk.  In 1990 Gingrich introduced a memo titled, "Language: A Key Mechanism of Control," advising Republicans to use certain words over and over, always describing opponents as "destructive," "incompetent," "greedy," etc., and always describe Republicans as "humane," "fair," "principled," etc.  Please go read the memo and see for yourself.  Gingrich's advice was to just insult and insult and be nasty dirty up the discourse, and you will win elections.  And, of course, that is what they did and they did win elections - for a while.  They are still nasty and just insult and insult, but they haven't been winning elections. 

So, knowing that, take anything Gingrich says with a grain of salt.  (Never mind that Gingrich is also known for committing adultery in a car in the parking garage of the U.S. Capital, with a much-younger Congressional aide while he was Speaker of the House, during the Republican effort to impeach President Clinton for adultery!)  And ask yourself why any supposedly respectable news outlet would give him a platform to do the damage that he does.  
But back to the subject-at-hand, whether voters really, as Gingrich claims, expressed an "anti-government" message last week?  Does Gingrich have his facts right?  Let's check a fact. Gingrich wrote, "This model of high-tax, big-spending inefficiency has already driven thousands of successful Californians out of the state..." But everyone who actually knows anything about California knows that the reason people leave the state is because of high real-estate prices.  And the reason they are high is because so many people want to live here.  Of course, the implication (because it coincides with another Republican talking point) is that businesses leave the state because of taxes.  Studies that look at actual facts show this isn't true, either.  Brian Leubitz on Friday wrote about this at Calitics,
"He [Gingrich] highlights the Yacht Party theme that all these businesses are leaving California...except that they aren't. As noted by the CA Budget Project blog, the PPIC has shown that this really isn't true. PPIC event went so far as to say, in a report, that "it is important to be wary of anecdotal evidence of businesses fleeing the state to support arguments that California has an economic climate hostile to business.""
Can any readers name even a single business that has left California because of taxes?  If so, leave a comment.

Next: A look at the polls.  Click through to Speak Out California.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 10:46 AM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

May 21, 2009

Don't Forget The Governor Vetoed A Budget That Passed

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

As we face this state budget crisis, we would like to remind people that it didn't have to be this way. The Democrats in California's legislature tried to do the responsible thing to keep the state running and head this off, and passed a good budget in January. The Republicans and the Governor instead wanted to create a crisis and force the state into bankruptcy.

From January, Schwarzenegger vetoes budget bills,

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this afternoon vetoed the Democratic plan to reduce the budget deficit by $18 billion and will urge lawmakers to use his January proposal as a template for implementing midyear cuts...

The move forces leaders to start over in their efforts to close a budget deficit estimated at $40 billion over the next 18 months. It jettisons -- for now -- what Democrats hailed as "the only game in town" -- because it included tax increases approved without Republican votes.

Schwarzenegger rejects latest budget proposal,

Democratic leaders sent Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger an $18 billion deficit-cutting package on Tuesday, a plan he quickly vetoed as anti-tax groups filed a lawsuit to stop it.

The activity came amid the Legislature's third special session since the November election to deal with California's worsening budget deficit, projected at $42 billion over the next 18 months.

For some reason, it has been forgotten that this budget would have solved this problem and avoided the May 19 election and resulting chaos. But the anti-tax extremists blocked it because they don't want government to work, they want it to shut down. It is a strategy they are following because it keeps their base active and brings them corporate donations. They do not believe in government, they have said so, and they have all signed a pledge to that effect.

The Democrats should be strategic as well as responsible and pass this budget again. This time if the Governor vetoes it or the anti-tax extremists take it to court they will be doing so while people's own schools are forced to lay of teachers, and their own police departments are being forced to reduce patrols. It won't be hypothetical, it will be happening in their neighborhoods and their cities. The public will be able to see for themselves who is trying to keep the state running, who is trying to keep their schools open, and who is trying to shut the state down. And if it goes to court they will be forced to ask why we do not have majority rule in California, how there can be a law allowing a small number of extremists to block everything.

Click through to Speak Out California.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 8:28 PM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

May 19, 2009

Back From Working At The Polls

Being a poll worker is a long and rewarding day. I had to be at my precinct - a half-hour drive - at 6am. Set up the polling place and the machines, do the paperwork, and open the polls at 7am.

Close the polls at 8pm. Then take down everything, reconcile the ballot count -- unvoted ballots from the morning, provisionals, spoiled ballots, machine count, etc...

The vote has gone overwhelmingly against the propositions. The comments from voters that I overheard were always about how the legislature wasn't doing its job and they resented it. i didn't hear a single comment about taxes.

This was not a vote against taxes. It was a vote against legislative dysfunction, secrecy, and structural ungovernability.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 10:01 PM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

May 5, 2009

Do Businesses Leave California Because Of Taxes?

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

There is a myth that businesses and people are leaving California in droves because of taxes.  A recent example is George Will, in California as Liberalism's Laboratory, writing as part of an anti-tax column,

For four consecutive years, more Americans have moved out of California than have moved in. California's business costs are more than 20 percent higher than the average state's.
Notice the obfuscation.  Will cites "costs" and the thrust of his column implies that he means taxes are forcing this exodus.  But the costs that cause businesses to leave California are the high real estate prices, not taxes.  This higher cost of owning and renting in California is, of course, because more people want to live here than other places.

A December LA Times story, More are moving out of California than in, made clear the reasons for the exodus,

The outflow -- last seen during the economic and social struggles of the 1990s -- started when it became too expensive for most people to buy homes in the state, and has kept going throughout the bust with the loss of so many jobs.

[. . .] "This was the epicenter of the housing meltdown," said John Husing of Economics & Politics Inc., a regional economic research firm.

"People started leaving California because of housing prices - particularly younger couples that just couldn't afford to buy a house."

The Public Policy Institute of California studied California job losses in 2007 and released, Are California's Companies Shifting Their Employment to Other States?,
... Given that this shift was sharpest during the economic boom of the late 1990s, it cannot be attributed to business climate problems unless one is willing to argue that the business climate was worse during that period, which strikes us as implausible.
One thing to understand is that taxes are not a cost, because taxes are calculated after the end of the year, all costs are subtracted before calculating the profit, and only profits are taxed.  Salaries and other business expenses are deducted before profits are calculated. Companies that are not making money are not taxed at all. 

Actually there is a tax problem affecting businesses here.  The effect of Prop 13 on commercial real estate gives a tremendous disadvantage to new businesses - the very entities that provide most new jobs.  Commercial property held for a long time has a much lower tax rate, providing advantages over innovative new companies.

Another tax problem (data from California Budget Project) is that the poorest fifth of California's households earn and average of $11,100 a year and pay 11.7% of their income in taxes, while the wealthiest 1 percent bring in an average of $1.6 million and pay only 7.1% of their income in taxes. 

Looking past the surface hysterics there is something disturbing about the implications of this conservative-corporate threat to move companies rather than pay taxes. What does the threat say about their perception of the relationship between the people and the corporations?  After all, who is supposed to be in charge here?

Corporations are creations of our government and We, the People created them to benefit US.  (Why else would we have created them -- to harm us?)  Our laws enable their existence in the first place, our courts enforce the contracts and settle disputes, our police and firefighters protect them, they deliver their goods on our roads, and we educate and train their employees.

We created these entities, and gave them rules.  And now they are telling us that if we ask them to share the gains with us, they will throw a tantrum, pack up and leave?  It sounds like it is time for We, the People to put our foot down and explain the rules: We tell you what to do, not the other way around.     

Click through to Speak Out California and leave a comment.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 3:00 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

May 1, 2009

What Sen. Spector's Party Switch Tells California Voters

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

Pennsylvania Republican Senator Arlen ("Single-Bullet") Specter switched from the Republican to the Democratic Party this week.  Rush Limbaugh reacted to this news by welcoming Specter's departure, and added, "take McCain with you."

Specter left because the extremist wing of the Republican Party -- the ones who listen to and agree with Rush Limbaugh and will tolerate absolutely no compromise of any kind from the most extreme conservative positions -- have taken over and are driving others out. This rightmost element, who call themselves the only "real Republicans" have a special name for people like Arlen Specter and John McCain.  They call them "RINOs."  RINO stands for "Republican In Name Only" and refers to Republicans who are not conservative enough to meet approval of the absolutists.  (What is conservative enough?  Half of Texas Republicans want Texas to secede from the United States.)

Arlen Specter is hardly a liberal.  He has a solidly conservative voting record, (after switching parties he voted against President Obama's budget), but not conservative enough for the hard core purists.  John McCain won the ire of this element for not supporting torture.

The Limbaugh branch of the party have been working to drive moderate-right members like Specter and McCain out, and are increasingly successful.  Maine Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe, another target of this element, warned that,

"being a Republican moderate sometimes feels like being a cast member of 'Survivor' -- you are presented with multiple challenges, and you often get the distinct feeling that you're no longer welcome in the tribe."
This demonstrates just how far the Republican Party has moved from its roots.  They have drifted so far away from their mission that even their last Presidential candidate is being urged to leave the party!  They have drifted so far from their mission that the "party of Lincoln" has a solid contingent supporting having their states secede from the Union!

This hard-core extremism is also being demonstrated in California, where not a single Repubilcan will vote for a budget -- any budget -- because their strategy for the state is to "let it go into bankruptcy, let it go off a cliff, we need to prove a point."  The reason that crazy-sounding line has quotation marks around it is because it is a quote.  It is also the definition of extremism.  And, combined with the 2/3 rule that lets them block budgets, it is the reason California is becoming ungovernable.

Roberts and Trounstine at Calbuzz write that, "the California Republican Party is doomed to minority status" by this extremism.  For example, California Republican Party chairman Ron Nehring said of Specter's defection,
"The Republican Party didn't leave Arlen Specter. Arlen Specter left the Republican Party some time ago," Mr. Chairman said in his statement. "Arlen Specter decided on his own - no one forced him - to violate core Republican principles by voting for the wasteful $787 billion stimulus bill while every single House Republican, including California's entire Republican delegation, voted with taxpayers in opposition instead."
In other words, it violates Republican principles to vote to help the people.  The "taxpayers" they "support" are their wealthy and corporate campaign donors.  And, they add, it doesn't make sense for Party leaders to "applaud Specter's defection, as if losing prominent party members holds the key
to growing the party and returning it to majority status."

Why they are wrong:  The hard-core conservative values these people support are "limited government, free markets and personal responsibility."  But what is this government that they want to limit?  Abraham Lincoln, another RINO, famously said that our American government is "of the people, by the people and for the people."  So today's Republicans want to limit the people's ability to make decisions (government by the people) and instead hand this ability over to "the market" (ruled by big corporations.)  They want to replace a country where we watch out for and take care of each other (government for the people) with a system where we are all left on our own at the mercy of these corporations -- which they call "personal responsibility." 

There is an alternative to the extremist right's approach.  Progressive values and policies are better for people.  Instead of limiting our government progressives believe that the people should have more power to make the decisions that affect all of us.  Instead of a one-dollar-one-vote "market" approach to decision-making, progressives believe in one-person-one-vote equality where people are on an equal footing, with an equal right to benefit from our common resources. 

Progressives believe in a community-based, democratic approach to deciding how we should run our state and country.  We're here for each other, not just for ourselves.

So let's welcome all those disenfranchised Republicans into our tent. We're big enough and tolerant enough of differing opinions, so long as the best interests of the people are at heart. I think they'll like being part of a true democracy where the people come first.

P.S. See Assemblymember Nancy Skinner's invitation to Republicans.

Click through to Speak Out California and leave a comment.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:08 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

April 28, 2009

A Dialog On California State Spending

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

Over at Calitics there is an interesting diary from 'zeroh8' asking "Why Are We Spending So Much More?"  zeroh8 looked at the changes over the last ten years in how the state spends money.  The result, according to the diary, is a per-capita increase of $1088 as follows:

California Government Department
2007-08 less 1997-98 Per Capita Spending

Criminal Justice $185
General Government $14
Health $265
Higher Education $109
K-12 Education $399
Resources & Environmental Protection $27
Social Services $59
Transportation $30
Total $1,088 

Robert Cruikshank commented that the appearance of an education spending increase is an illusion, (sadly California still ranks 47th in education spending-per-pupil)

Much of the "increase" in K-12 funds is illusory. When Arnold cut the VLF in 2003 that money had to be backfilled by the state. That backfilling is listed on the books as "spending" and so it appears as a huge "spending increase" when in fact it is no such thing. Schools didn't actually get more money. It's an accounting trick.

Robert is pointing out that this appearance of a large increase in education spending is actually just replacing spending that was already there, but that was cut from local budgets when Governor Schwarzenegger cut the Vehicle License Fee, so the state had to make up (backfill) the loss.  The state is spending more because local governments are spending less, but the total hasn't increased.  Lesson: you have to look at the whole picture including local budgets to see the whole story because the state has to step in when local governments lose their funding sources.

Health care spending increases are certainly not isolated to California state government.  This is the health care crisis that is eating up government, business and family budgets around the country.  So far We, the People, in our wisdom, had avoided the kind of "socialized medicine" that the rest of the world has, which means we spend vastly more for health care with vastly worse results.  There is little California can do about it, except to further deny health care to people.  Is that the kind of people we will decide to be? 

Then there is that huge increase in criminal justice (prison) spending.  Was that necessary?  Well, we decided to pass laws that put people in prison for life for stealing a pizza or for years for smoking a joint.  And in the last few decades we have cut education spending, which to some extent has necessitated the increases in prison spending, because we know where that inevitably leads,

"18-to-24-year-old male high school dropouts have an incarceration rate 31 times that of males who graduated from a four-year college"      
We're seeing the health care crisis eating the state budget, and the problem of the prison costs.  Part of our problems today are because yesterday we were "penny wise and pound foolish," saving some money by cutting education only to spend it on prisons (and who knows how many other ways) later.  Along with foolish tax cuts like cutting the VLF, and cutting property taxes for big corporations, and instead borrowing which has led to huge interest payments, those are the spending problems that brought about the budget crisis and that keep our government from being able to spend more on things We, the People need.

About those choices:  zeroh8 did a ton of research because no California citizen would know any of this from sources available to most of us.  The corporate media is not explaining the state budget and the functions of government to the public.  The example of the state making up local revenue losses in order to save our schools is a great example -- instead it is just presented to people that the state is "spending even more".

So what is the point of this exercise? To give the people the facts, not the phony sound-bites designed to further anger people against government and rail even further about having to pay taxes to fund the programs and services. The goal of the conservatives is to simply unfund government, thus making "We the People" powerless against the big moneyed interests -- the people who brought you the sub-prime fiasco, the Wall Street boondogles, the Haliburton no-bid contracts and the Blackwater mercenaries.  As long as the bucks are flowing, what do they care if government can't do its job.... what do they care about long lines at the DMV, wildfires that burn down communities, gangs that take over our streets and oh, yes......swine flu epidemics that kill millions?  They can just fly away in their private jets or sail away on their yachts -- that California won't tax.

Click through to Speak Out California and leave a comment.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 3:35 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

April 26, 2009

On Jerry Brown’s Campaign For California Governor

He was called “Moonbeam” and mocked, but he was right, and we were right, and the country needs to come to terms with this this so we can move on and finally DO right.

Jerry Brown was Governor of California from 1975 to 1983. He was a symbol of “the 60’s” even though it was the 70's, because he came from the times, cared about the issues of the times, spoke the language of the times and governed for the people, from the times. He opposed the Vietnam war. He talked about protecting the environment and conserving energy and providing education and "Buddhist economics." He fought corporate power and sued large corporations, particularly in the area of campaign finance. He was right.

For taking these positions Jerry was called "Moonbeam" and mocked for advocating things that we now all understand were correct and necessary. It is 30 years later and the country needs to get past that mocking of the people who were right. But the mocking and obstruction by entrenched interests are still in the way of letting us move on and do the things we need to do for the economy, the country, and the planet.

Now Jerry is again running for Governor of California and I think this is important to our current national conversation at a time when we must come to terms with the reasons that we have waited 30 years to start doing something about major problems. Jerry’s campaign will force a conversation that will clarify for the country that the "dirty hippies" were right, that we need to learn to ignore the mocking that is a primary weapon of the corporate right, that we need to take care of the planet, that we need to take care of each other, that we need to be in charge of the corporations, not the other way around.

In his speech to the California Democratic Convention he talked about how 30 years ago he changed California's energy policies, and how the result has been that California has barely increased its energy use since while the rest of the country has. He talk about a number of things like this, but what most resonated with me was when he talked about how we educate kids. The current emphasis on testing is stifling the creativity of kids. He says we need to bring back education that stimulates creativity. Wow -- how long since I have heard "60's" talk that's so right?! Talk that recognizes our humanity and says that we are not just cogs in a corporate machine. Who talks about these things today?

A few years ago, when Jerry was running for Attorney General, I wrote,

I've loved Jerry Brown since his 1992 campaign for President. During that campaign he proposed boosting the economy and helping the energy/pollution/Middle East problem with a national program to hire unemployed people to retrofit buildings to be energy efficient. Imagine if we had done that! So now 13 years later we have the Apollo Alliance but Jerry doesn't seem to get much credit for being so far ahead on this.

A few years before that I wrote,

In the 1992 campaign Jerry Brown made a suggestion that I haven't forgotten. He suggested putting the unemployed to work retrofitting buildings and homes to be energy efficient. It requires an up-front investment but it returns a more efficient economy (everyone paying less for energy) and national energy independence as a foreign policy bonus. Meanwhile all those unemployed people are getting and spending paychecks, boosting the economy. It helps everyone but the oil companies. Oh. I guess not, then.
I don’t know right now if Brown can or should win and this is not an endorsement. But I think this is a conversation that we all need to have and learn from.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 8:03 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

April 25, 2009

CA Dem Convention

I'm at the California Democratic Convention and the great Barbara Boxer is speaking. (She received more votes than any other candidate for the U.S. Senate in history.) She talked about how MANY filibusters the Republicans have held this year to block bills. Of course, if you read the corporate press you woldn't know there had been even one. An informed citizenry is essential to democracy and we tossed that out a few decades ago.

This just came across on Twitter: @sfbriancl Jack O'Connell on stage. Great policies. has the famed Gray Davis charisma.


Posted by Dave Johnson at 11:16 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

April 23, 2009

Public Still Trusts Corporations More Than Self-Government

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

Marketing works.  But we already knew that.  Big business has been marketing the idea that corporations making decisions for us is better than having government run by the people.  And a lot of people have bought into that idea.

But is it really better to be government by corporations?  In February I wrote,

After decades of anti-government speeches claiming that government holds back business, government takes money out of the economy and government is less efficient than corporations, people came to believe that, as Ronald Reagan famously said, "Government is the problem, not the solution."  This led to deregulation and budget cutbacks in all areas including education and infrastructure. 

If you think about it, government really is what We, the People want it to be.  In a democracy we jointly make decisions about the best way to manage our affairs.  So saying that corporations do things better is really an anti-democracy message.  What they are saying is that organizations run by a few wealthy elites telling everyone else what to do, with the benefits of everyone's work mostly going to those few at the top, is a better way to manage society than to have everyone making the decisions and sharing in the results.

Just for fun, here is the video from that post again:

Here is more proof that marketing works:  A recent Gallup Poll of public trust of government vs corporations found that the public still would rather be governed by big corporations than by themselves.

Gallup's recent update of its long-standing trend question on whether big business, big labor, or big government will be the biggest threat to the country in the future finds Americans still viewing big government as the most serious threat. However, compared to Gallup's last pre-financial-crisis measurement in December 2006, more now see big business and fewer see big government as the greater threat.
Gallup's results, graphically:


Marketing works.  Especially when it is repeated over and over for decades, unopposed.  This blog reaches a moderate audience, but the message that government by the people is a good thing needs to reach people who don't hear it very often, and only hear the marketed anti-government, anti-democracy message that is spread by the corporations.  Did you know that Speak Out California also provides speakers to talk to local groups across California and do radio and TV interviews discussing the benefits of government and democracy? Please contact us at info@speakoutca.org to schedule a speaker for your event.

Click through to Speak Out California and leave a comment.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 12:11 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

April 21, 2009

Don't Blame Me, I Didn't Vote For Anything

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

The Republicans in Sacramento refused to vote for any budget, saying each budget didn't cut spending enough, while also refusing to specify what items they wanted to cut and by how much.  The result was that the Democrats in the legislature had to vote to dramatically cut the school budget -- along with everything else the state does.  And then after the legislature came up with those cuts, the Republicans voted against them, too

Now citizens are weighing in expressing their anger over these massive budget cuts, and the same Republicans are sending letters saying "don't blame me, I didn't vote for the cuts."  A recent letter to constituents from State Senator Tony Strickland is most likely a standardized "boilerplate" budget statement that has been provided to Republicans to send out.  Let's see if we can translate it into English:
As your Senator, I voted against the budget and the education cuts included in the proposal.  To answer your questions, I would like to share my reasons for opposing the budget and education cuts as well as why the Legislature decreased spending on K-14 education. 
Translation: don't blame me for budget cuts, I voted against them.  I voted against everything you don't like, and will claim to support everything you did like.  Whatever it was.  I can do that because I didn't vote for anything.
In order to ease the impact of the funding decreases, the budget has granted local educational agencies unprecedented funding flexibility, which is the authority to move state funding for most categorical (special-purpose, such as principal training, English learner programs, and the arts) programs to supporting the highest locally-determined priorities through 2010-2011.  The spending flexibility should provide local agencies significant relief during this economic downturn.  However, if the agencies abuse the funding, then they have missed the opportunity to demonstrate that local communities are superior to managing their education funds than the bureaucrats in Sacramento. 

Sorry, I can't figure out what this means.  Leave a comment if you can figure out what it says.
I will continue to support protecting education and providing local communities the flexibility to determine how to invest in their children.  Please be assured I will continue to oppose cuts to education because the state's greatest asset - our children - will be the future workforce essential in reviving our economy.  Thank you, again, for contacting my office and sharing your concerns.  It is citizens like you who make the difference.
Translation: While voting against every budget, and being against any form of revenues -- especially if they would be collected from the large corporations that funded my campaign -- I now claim to support not cutting the education budget. 

This is an interesting strategy: Just vote against everything, and leave it to the responsible people to come up with ways to get around this obstruction.  And then, when citizens are angry about the huge mess this creates, send them letters saying you supported whatever spending they wanted, and that's why you voted against everything.  Meanwhile, you collect your state paycheck, and receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in corporate "contributions."  Nice work, if you can get it.

This is a dilemma for responsible legislators.  When you face an extremist group with just enough votes to block everything, how can you keep the kids in schools, provide oxygen tanks and other necessities to the elderly, provide police and fire protection and continue other essential government services?  When the state's major media just won't inform the public of the facts and makes this budget standoff seem as though government is little more than children squabbling over some cookies, with "both sides" refusing to compromise, the state slides toward becoming ungovernable.

What you you do about this?  There will be a ballot initiative tp roll back the rule that any revenue increases require a 2/3 majority to pass.  This initiative is currently named Restore Majority Rule, and you can visit the early website at ca.restoremajorityrule.com. Please sign up to help pass this initiative, and tell your legislators, friends and family that you support this change.

Visit Speak Out California and leave a comment.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 11:20 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

April 14, 2009

A Warning About The Tea Parties

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

A number of people I have spoken with are planning to attend a "tea party" tomorrow, so I thought it might be a good idea to write about this. They are not what they claim to be. They are not "spontaneous" or "grassroots." They are another corporate-funded campaign to trick people into supporting more cut taxes for the rich.

The idea is supposed to have started on February 19, when Rick Santelli of CNBC "spontaneously" complained about plans (click link for video) to help people avoid foreclosure, saying this is the government "subsidizing the loser's mortgages." Santelli called for organizing a "Chicago tea party" against helping people pay their mortgages. But investigators starting finding clues that the on-air rant was not spontaneous, and signs that the campaign was organized by the right-wing, corporate-funded Freedomworks . According to a March 2 New York Times story,

"Mr. Santelli's televised commentary appeared spontaneous to viewers. However, the Internet domain name ChicagoTeaParty.com was registered in August 2008 -- well before his commentary -- but not used until afterwards."

The events have been widely promoted by corporate-funded conservative PR professionals who specialize in "astroturf." This is a term for the use of money to create an appearance of widespread "grassroots" support. Currently the corporate-funded conservative lobbying groups Freedomworks and Americans for Prosperity, are organizing the events and conservative media including talk radio and FOX News are widely promoting them. Support appears to be coming from Koch Industries, the largest privately-owned company in the country. According to the Think Progress blog post, Spontaneous Uprising? Corporate Lobbyists Helping To Orchestrate Radical Anti-Obama Tea Party Protests,

"This type of corporate 'astroturfing' is nothing new to either organization. While working to promote Social Security privatization, Freedom Works was caught planting one of its operatives as a "single mom" to ask questions to President Bush in a town hall on the subject. Last year, the Wall Street Journal exposed Freedom Works for similarly building "amateur-looking" websites to promote the lobbying interests of Dick Armey ...

Americans for Prosperity is run by Tim Phillips, [a] former partner in the lobbying firm Century Strategies. The group is funded by Koch family foundations -- a family whose wealth is derived from the oil industry. Indeed Americans for Prosperity has coordinated pro-drilling 'grassroots' events around the country."

The "tea parties" are promoted as a "grassroots uprising" against "high taxes." Tea stands for "Taxes Enough Already." However, 95% of Americans will received a tax cut in the next year if the upcoming Obama budget passes. Only Americans with incomes above $250,000 will receive a small tax increase -- and even then their taxes will be much lower than almost any time in the last 80 or so years. This increase on the top incomes will help pay for some of the Republican-caused economic damage as well as reduce the budget deficits that the country has faced ever since the same income group received tax cuts after George W. Bush was elected. (This is similar to the tax increase in first Clinton budget that led to the great economy of the 1990s and large budget surpluses.)

The other complaint from tea party organizers is that President Obama is "spending too much." The increased spending in the stimulus package and upcoming budget funds education, unemployment checks, efforts to ward off foreclosures and other programs designed to help bring us out of the recession and provide jobs. These are programs that benefit regular people instead of big corporations and the rich.

So regular people who go to these corporate-organized tea parties are asking the government to undo their own tax cuts and reduce their own government services in order to keep taxes low for the very rich. I wonder if people have really thought this through?

Visit Speak Out California and leave a comment.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 6:34 PM | Comments (11) | Link Cosmos

April 9, 2009

Forbes List Of Highest-Taxed States Lists California

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

Forbes List Of Highest-Taxed States Lists California -- Not.

The Forbes list of states that tax their citizens the most is out!  And California ranks ... well, California isn't even on the list.

Forbes: Where Americans Are Taxed Most:
10. Pennsylvania (not California)
9. Wyoming (not California)
8. Washington (not California)
7. Massachusetts (not California)
6. New York (not California)
5. New Jersey (not California)
4. Minnesota (not California)
3. Connecticut (not California)
2. Hawaii (not California)

Drum roll ....

... keep scrolling ...

--- And the winner is ...

1. Vermont (NOT CALIFORNIA!)

So yesterday I'm driving and KGO radio has a show about the "tax revolt" that is "taking place all over California," with people rising up and having "tea parties" to protest the "incredibly high taxes" in California.  Here is KGO's program listing:

2 PM - Growing Anti-Tax Revolt in California? And What About Prop 13?

Taking inspiration from a landmark 1970s tax revolt, a determined group of activists say the moment is right for another voter uprising in California, where recession-battered residents have been hit with the highest income and sales tax rates in the nation. And like Proposition 13, the 1978 ballot measure that transformed the state's political landscape and ignited tax-reform movements nationwide, they see the next backlash coming not from either major political party, but from the people. How real is the latest anti-tax sentiment and has Prop 13 run it's course?
Guest: John Coupal, president Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

Mr. Coupal was on the show to say that California is the highest-taxing state, and state taxes should be lower, and the government wastes all the money it takes in, and can't be trusted, and is too big.  He talked about how other states get by with lower taxes while providing better services than California. He said, for example, that there is no income tax at all in Texas -- without mentioning that Texas taxes oil taken out of the ground while California doesn't.  He said that California spends more on schools than any other state, and called for "school choice" -- which is getting rid of public schools and only having education for those who can afford it.

He said a lot of things that turn out not to be factual if you look into them.  But you can't bother be factual and argue for lower taxes and spending.  As Dave Dayen points out at Calitics,

"Right now we're at the bottom of per capita spending in almost every major category - 44th in health care, 47th in per-pupil education spending, dead last in highway spending and 46th in capital investment among all states."   
But here's the thing.  HE was on the radio, telling Californians that we are the highest-taxing and spending more on schools, etc. than any other state.  And the other side was not on the radio telling Californians the truth.  So he wins. 

Californians don't really have much choice except to believe the anti-tax, anti-government, pro-corporate arguments because they are not hearing anything else

This was just one radio show of the hundreds of radio shows every month that repeat this message.  And the newspapers repeat it.  And the TV shows repeat it.  And there are even public speakers, funded to go from civic group to civic group around the state to repeat this message!

Why is it that he was on the radio and the other side was not?  Because there are so few "other side" organizations for radio stations to call on, funded, with people trained and ready to talk on the radio and TV, write columns, speak to public groups, and generally make the case that government serves a purpose, roads and schools and public safety and are beneficial and that democracy is better than rule by corporations.  Corporations are enabled by our laws to amass incredible sums of money with little oversight, and are using some of that money to influence the state's policies, always to further reduce oversight and amass ever greater power.  That money leaks out of the corporations and into the political system, while pro-democracy organizations have few sources of funding.  

The result is that the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is very well funded and is widely quoted in the media. Organization that makes the case for government and democracy are not.  And democracy in California is the loser.  So if we think we're going to be able to persuade Californians to overturn the 2/3 vote requirement for a budget or to increase taxes, we're going to have to come out swinging... At the moment, we don't even have a batter at the plate.

Please leave a comment at Speak Out California.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 1:49 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

April 2, 2009

We Need To Tell The Public, Too

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

Here is something that you and I know to be true: progressive values and policies are better for people than conservative values and policies.

Progressives believe that we're all in this together and the community taking care of each other ends up working out better for everyone. History also shows that this is how it turns out, every time. Conservatives believe people should be on their own, in constant dog-eat-dog competition, with everyone looking out for themselves and only themselves. History shows that this approach leads to disaster, every time.

You and I know this. But the pubic-at-large doesn't know our side of this argument, because we aren't telling them. While conservatives market their philosophy through every conceivable information channel there is very little outreach explaining the progressive side. When you turn on the radio or the TV or read the newspapers you just don't see or hear about the benefits of a progressive approach. So the public-at-large is only hearing one side of the story -- the conservative side -- and they are hearing that side loudly and often.

It so happens that marketing works, and polls show that the conservative marketing campaign brings results. A 2007 Rasmussen poll, for example found that "41% of the voters think of themselves as conservative when it comes to the issues of taxes, government spending and the regulation of private business while 41% consider themselves to be moderates and 12% say they are liberal." A 2008 Battleground poll found that 59% of Americans consider themselves to be somewhat or very conservative and 36% say they are somewhat or very liberal.

So how do we reach the public? We have to identify target audiences, build the channels that reach them, and talking the cultural language of each target group. Yes, this is marketing talk. And to accomplish this we need to build organizations that do this work. Marketing works, and marketing science has evolved to become very effective. Companies understand this and do it. Conservatives understand this and do it. Progressives need to understand this and do it.

Here is a key, key point and I want to stress it: This is not about election-oriented organizations. This is about a long-term effort to change underlying public understanding and appreciation of progressive values. This requires a different kind of approach and a different kind of organizational structure than winning each next election. Election outcomes will certainly result from such an effort. In fact, with a public that is pre-disposed to be want progressive candidates and policies instead of conservative ones, elections will be dramatically and lastingly affected. This is why conservatives have built up a network of think tanks and advocacy organizations -- hundreds of them -- designed to change underlying public attitudes. And this is why those polls I cites show they have had such great success.

At my personal blog I wrote a July, 2007 post titled, While Progressives Talk To Each Other, Conservatives Talk To The Public. That post ended with,

Progressives need to start reaching the general public with the truth as well as each other. We need to start working together to fund and build the organizational infrastructure to develop and test messaging, then coordinate the use of messaging, train speakers, employ pundits, develop media channels, etc.

Now, two years later we're still largely talking to each other, especially here in California. But there are some improvements nationally. An organizational "progressive infrastructure" is growing up a bit, with the Center for American Progress, Media Matters and other organizations starting to show some strength.

But in California very little is getting done along these lines. The Courage Campaign (go sign up) is one great organization and is gaining strength, boasting an email list of 400-700,000. But even this is only about 2% of our population, and their netroots audience is predisposed to support progressive policies. What they are doing is hugely important and a huge start. But it is one organization when we need dozens, all funded and operating as different components of a cohesive progressive infrastructure. We need think tanks employing scores of experts to conduct the necessary research and come up with and test and refine the policies, wording and strategies to take the progressive message to the rest of the state. We need to develop communication channels that reach into every single geographic and cultural community. We need to train hundreds of public speakers that talk to every single group. We need to develop relationships with interest organizations including hunting, sporting, creative arts, technology, and other kinds of clubs. We need to get the writers reaching out of the blogs and into the newspapers and magazines and on television and radio.

California Progress Report is a site that rounds up California political news, from a progressive perspective. Frank Russo left to take a staff position in the Assembly, and the site is now operated by the Consumer Federation of California Foundation. This is an important component of infrastructure, but CFC is looking for funding to maintain and expand it.

Calitics is California's premier progressive community blog -- and you should get an account there, join the community and add your two cents. And you should take note of that "Donate" button in its right column.

And, speaking of donating, please sign up for Speak Out California's e-mail list. And click here to donate and help us stay online. It is your donations that keep us and all of these organizations in operation to help reach out and work to bring progressive policies to California!

Leave a comment and let me know which organizations, etc. I missed.

California is a big, big state and changing public attitudes is a big, big job. Conservatives launched their persuasion effort almost 40 years ago. Isn't it time we got started?

Click through to Speak Out California

Posted by Dave Johnson at 3:00 PM | Comments (2) | Link Cosmos

March 31, 2009

Teachers Fired To Pay For Huge Corporate Tax Cut -- Why?

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

I've been asking around and it seems that most Californians don't know that the budget deal that fires so many teachers also has a huge tax cut just for big, multi-state and multi-national corporations.

But it's true. Last month's budget deal that fires teachers, cuts essential government services, and guts the investments that bring future economic benefits also has a huge tax cut for the largest of corporations. While this part of the deal has been kept pretty quiet, the LA Times had a story, Business the big winner in California budget plan. From the story,

The average Californian's taxes would shoot up five different ways in the state budget blueprint that lawmakers hope to vote on this weekend. But the bipartisan plan for wiping out the state's giant deficit isn't so bad for large corporations, many of which would receive a permanent windfall.

About $1 billion in corporate tax breaks -- directed mostly at multi-state and multinational companies -- is tucked into the proposal.

But wait, won't a big corporate tax cut cause companies to come to California, creating jobs? No, they are already here and it will drive them away, because it is paid for by firing teachers.

A study by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California, released in 2005, found that most companies decide where to locate based not on tax breaks but on factors such as the availability of a highly educated workforce. California's proposed plan would cut spending on higher education by hundreds of millions of dollars.

So how did this happen? This was part of the deal to get a few Republican votes. And why did the Republicans want this so bad? Because they understood who really elected them.

If you look at the independent expenditure reports for the 2008 California election you'll see a massive amount of last-minute money. For example, in the 19th Senate District, a political action committee (PAC) named "Californians for Jobs and Education" put almost $1 million into just one race: $570,653 into defeating Democrat Hannah-Beth Jackson, and another $373,778 to help elect her opponent, Republican Tony Strickland. When you look this group up on ElectionTrack you learn that this money came from corporations like Arkansas' Wal-Mart, Blue Cross of Ohio (Ohio?), Reliant Energy, major real estate companies, and from other PACs.

Now it gets interesting. Many of the contributions to that PAC came from other PACs, especially one called Jobs Pac. When you track down Jobs PAC you find that it is a conduit for huge, huge amounts of money coming from large corporations like Philip Morris, ATT, Chevron, Safeway, Sempra Energy, Verizon, big insurance companies, big pharmaceutical companies, big real estate companies ... and other conduits like the Chamber of Commerce.

Why did these huge corporations put so much money into California state elections? Because we let them, and because of the return on investment they receive from tax cuts like the one that is forcing us to fire so many of our teachers.

There is a key lesson to learn from this. When it comes time to choose, that is when you can really see who is for or against something -- where their priorities really are. And in this case, when push came to shove, in the end who did the conservatives come through for? The large corporations. They danced with the ones that brung them.

Click through to Speak Out California

Posted by Dave Johnson at 8:03 AM | Comments (2) | Link Cosmos

March 27, 2009

Put Up Or Shut Up, Please

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

There was a positive response to the idea from last week's post, No Schools For You, that suggested,

"If an Assembly or Senate representative demanded cuts to schools, fire, etc. then the schools, fire, etc. in that representative's district receive the entire cut! This would be an honest application of representative democracy, allowing the citizens of an area to be governed according to their wishes without it affecting all of the citizens in the state."

Seriously, the leaders of the Assembly and Senate should make the few Republican holdouts an offer: if they think government services to the state's citizens are such a bad idea they should stop insisting on so much spending in their districts! They say that government spending is a problem, why can't they take those Republican governors who are refusing to accept any stimulus money as role models and refuse any state spending in their districts. Their constituents can then show their overwhelming support for the anti-government ideology that their elected representatives espouse.

Several years ago, then-Senator Phil Gramm of Texas - a Republican - was one of the loudest to complain and complain about spending and "pork" and "earmarks" in the federal budget. What is called "pork" and "earmarks" are special appropriations of funds by the Congress for specific projects in specific districts: a museum, science lab, agricultural study or bridge that is badly needed is funded by our government. This is what Republicans call "pork" -- government doing things that citizens need. Well the biggest, most expensive project in the country at the time was the Superconducting Super Collider, a massive physics lab being built under the ground in Texas, employing hundreds and keeping many construction businesses going. Well, when it came time to cut some spending the Congress took Senator Gramm at his word and killed the project.

So I think that it would be a very good idea to ask the Republican anti-tax ideologues to put up or shut up. Give them the opportunity to put their (take away the) money where their mouths are. If you want spending cuts, let us cut all the spending in your districts -- or please shut up.

Your thoughts? Leave a comment.

Click through to Speak Out California.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 1:34 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

March 17, 2009

No Schools For You

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

Here is an idea for solving California's budget crisis.

What if the California legislature temporarily budgeted for districts according to the wishes of the district's legislators. If an Assembly or Senate representative demanded cuts to schools, fire, etc. then the schools, fire, etc. in that representative's district receive the entire cut! This would be an honest application of representative democracy, allowing the citizens of an area to be governed according to their wishes without it affecting all of the citizens in the state.

Wait, you say, why should only certain districts be punished with cuts? Why should only a few citizens shoulder the burden of balancing the budget through cuts? The answer is because those are the people who elected the extremist minority who are forcing the cuts, while refusing to ask the rich to pay their fair share and actually cutting taxes for huge corporations. (Yes, the budget "solution" included a huge tax cut for the Wal-Marts and Exxons.)

With this plan the residents of Santa Clarita (the right-wing bastion of northwest LA County) could get their wish to have no schools, police, road maintenance, firefighters, etc. while the residents of San Francisco could keep their government services. And the residents of both areas would have what they want.

Or, at least, they would have the opportunity to understand just who they elected.

Click through to Speak Out California

Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:37 AM | Comments (3) | Link Cosmos

March 13, 2009

California's Budget: Republican Class War Against Working and Middle Class Families, Part II

California Budget Bites has a more detailed rundown of who is most impacted by the tax increases included in the recently passed California state budget... and guess what? The less money you make, the bigger the additional piece of flesh your state government now demands of you. In fact, the bottom fifth wind up paying twice as much of their income as the top 1%. Twice as much.

It is a crying shame that the Democratic Party permitted this farce of a budget to pass (the impact of which will weigh most heavily on those least able to deal with it), and even more of a crying shame that they permitted the tax increases to fall most heavily on those who could least afford it. Of course, the fact that the Republican Party is bound and determined to put the interests of the wealthiest Americans ahead of working and middle class folks (even at the cost of taking the state to the brink of insolvency) doesn't help.

We need budget reform (eliminating the archaic 2/3rds majority requirement to pass a budget), and we need authentic electoral reform (aka Instant Run-Off Voting and multi-member districts with Proportional Representation).

Posted by Thomas Leavitt at 1:11 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

March 12, 2009

California Government Is Good People But The System Is Designed To Fail

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

I was in Sacramento for some meetings this week, and have a few thoughts and observations.

The first is the most important. The people in and around our government are good, dedicated people who are doing those jobs because they care and want to do the right thing. You don't make big money in public service. In the last few decades a government job meant less pay than a comparable "private" sector job and a number of working-environment hassles, like the extra procedures (paperwork and bureaucracy) that are required in public positions to involve transparency and accountability. And, of course, they have to put up with the Republican-inspired abuse of people who work for the government. So give these people a break and assume good faith.

After decades of budget cutting our government is universally strapped for resources and it makes for a difficult workday. The things people went into public service to accomplish are being stripped out from under them by the state's structured-to-fail system (see below). I hope the Bush years trigger some serious thinking about what things would be like without a government, because we are getting close to that possibility.

The state government is now structurally designed to fail -- and this latest budget deal compounds the problem. This situation was created on purpose by anti-government ideologues, usually corporate-funded. Thus really is a choice between government by the people or government by a wealthy few who happen to be in control of large corporations. To them government is "in the way" of making money. Government means food and safety inspectors so people don't get sick and workers don't get hurt, and protecting workers and the public costs them profits. Government means regulations stopping them from dumping stuff in the water or air and properly disposing of waste costs them money. Government means regulations that make them pay back customers who are overcharges. Government means regulations requiring delivering goods and services that were promised. SO you can see why the hate government and regulation -- they keep them from just taking your money and giving nothing back!

So they have used the power that comes from their access to corporate resources to set up a state system that is giving them what they want. They pay petition-gatherers to get anti-government initiatives on the ballot, and then they flood the TV and radio with lying ads that trick people into voting against their own interests -- and here we are.

Here are just a few of our designed-to-fail structural problems:

  • Term limits mean that thinking must be short term, and encourages passing problems along instead of solving them, because then the problems will be "not on my watch." People who are effective in their jobs are forced out, and voters who want to keep them there are prevented from doing so.
  • The campaign-finance system puts corporate-backed candidates in office by necessitating big money to win elections. And corporations, designed to amass resources, are perfect vehicles for pushing the interests of the few who control them.
  • The two-thirds budget requirement means that a few anti-government extremists are able to sabotage the process, keeping any budget from passing and shutting down the state.
  • The disappearance of political reporting in California media means the state's citizens are uninformed about what is going on. The corporate-owned media concentrates on sitcoms and what Britney is wearing, and does not let the people find out what government is about.

    These are just some of the structural problems, and the system is. of course, structurally designed to keep us from fixing them. The only way we are going to address this is to get lots and lots of people involved. The election of Barack Obama tells us this is possible but I despair at amount of work that will have to be done to accomplish it.

    Click through to Speak Out California

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 11:33 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

    March 6, 2009

    Corporate Tax Trickery

    This post first appeared at Speak Out California.

    Here we go again with the "corporate taxes are passed along to the consumer" lie. Instead of telling the public about harm to the public interest from budget cuts, teacher layoffs, privatizing public resources, police cutbacks, etc., instead we hear about how taxing the rich is a terrible thing.

    What am I talking about? See The Tax Foundation - Tax Foundation TV, Radio Ads Show That Corporate Income Taxes Cost the Average American Household $3,190. They have a couple of ads their corporate funders are paying them to run.

    And of course there is the usual scholarly proof that we should all give ever more money to the corporate rich,

    "Research from the Congressional Budget Office shows that in a global economy where capital is highly mobile but workers can't easily move abroad, workers end up bearing the brunt of corporate taxes. In 2007, Economist William Randolph found that 70 percent of corporate tax burdens fall on employees through lower wages and productivity, while the remaining 30 percent fall on company shareholders."

    Taxes are not a cost that can be "passed on to the customer." Taxes are calculated as a percentage of profits, after all costs are figured in. A well-run business charges the most it can get for its product or service. If the business has competitors it has to price its product or service in some relationship to competing products or services. Were a business to add to to prices to cover taxes this would increase the price above what had been determined to be the optimal price! If a company were able to raise prices to cover taxes the it would mean the company was previously negligent in not pricing as high as the market would bear.

    And if the company was negligent, then increasing prices to cover taxes would increase profits, which would increase taxes, which would require an additional price increase, which would increase profits which would increase taxes. Etc. - you get the picture. It's a silly idea.

    In the same way, a properly-run business has as many employees as it needs. When profitability caused them to apy taxes, it means they employed the correct number of people to realize that profit, and certainly are not going to lay someone off because they made a profit that was taxed.

    But one step further on this. A corporation itself is neutral on taxes. After all, a corporation is just a bundle of contracts, and doesn't really have interests any more than a chair has interests. It is the owners who have interests and it is a good idea to think about any "passing on" involving corporate taxes is that it can lower the amount of money that is "passed on" to those people at the top of the economic ladder. Realizing this changes the way the brain understands the problem here. The fundamental question then becomes WHO is benefiting from our economy, and our legal infrastructure that creates and protects corporations. It really is about which people are getting the cash, and seen in this light, this idea of lowering or elimminating corporate taxes takes on a new meaning.

    This ad plays on public misunderstanding of taxes - a misunderstanding previously created by the same crowd. (Similar to the idea that if you earn a penny over $250K all of your earnings are taxed at the higher rate.) So it is like a further step in a strategy of creating increasing ignorance, so that you can further harvest the public... (Why can't WE think in terms of multi-stage strategies, but to instead increase public understanding and appreciation of democracy?)

    So, when will we start hearing about the harm caused to the public interest by reduced taxes on corporations and the rich causing us to lay off teachers, cut police and firefighters, defer infrastructure maintenance, etc.? When do we hear about how this hurts, instead of always about how taxes hurt the rich?
    Click through to Speak Out California

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:10 PM | Comments (2) | Link Cosmos

    February 19, 2009

    The California Budget Agreement

    Dave Johnson, Speak Out California

    California finally passed a budget. It is a bad budget, cutting essential services, borrowing a tremendous amount, selling our lottery revenues and giving a huge tax break to big out-of-state companies. Each of these came from demands by the very, very few Republicans who agreed to vote for the budget at all will, of course, just get us through another year while making it ever more difficult to pass future budgets.

    California's 2/3 requirement means that a few corporate-funded extremists can hold the rest of us hostage. So they had to make a terrible deal to get the three Republican votes required by the 2/3 rule, or else lay of tens of thousands and stop paying California's bills. We the People of California were all held hostage to that threat.

    The resulting deal was that if We, the People want schools, police, firefighters, roads & bridges, courts, all the things our government does for us, we had to agree to tax breaks for the big multinational corporations that kick in so much money to help elect the anti-government extremists. So the big companies - the kind that come in and crush local California businesses - get a big tax break while the rest of us have our taxes raised. Oh, and the oil companies can continue to take our oil out of the ground for free and then sell it back to us.

    Here are some reactions around the California netroots:

    David Dayen at Calitics,

    "The cuts are going to be really, really bad: 10% across the board for education, huge cuts for public transit operations, health care, etc. The new revenues basically fill in the loss of revenue from massive unemployment.

    [. . .] The "single sales factor apportionment," which is the massive business tax cut, doesn't kick in until FY2011, predictably and conveniently after Gov. Schwarzenegger is out of office and it will be someone else's problem to make up the revenue! It's almost like somebody planned it that way!"

    Richard Holober at Consumer Federation of California,

    "The deal reported today does not call on all California taxpayers to share in the sacrifice. Working Californians will face billions in higher sales tax and income tax rates. But businesses win about one billion dollars in new tax breaks. $700 million in corporate tax cuts result from a recalculation of how California taxes the profits of big multinational corporations. According to the Senate Analysis, the windfall to multinational corporations, and the revenue loss to California will eventually grow to $1.5 billion."

    Robert Cruickshank at the Courage Campaign blog,

    "The only way out, and the first reform that we must undertake - the tree blocking the tracks, the door that opens the path to all other reforms - is eliminating the 2/3 rule that gives conservatives veto power over the state and turns the majority Democrats into a minority party on fiscal matters. It's been talked about frequently on Calitics and in what remains of the media's coverage of state politics. So it seemed time for an in-depth discussion of the issue and the prospects for restoring majority rule to California."

    David M. Greenwald at California Progress Report,

    "Many Democrats and political observers fear that Maldonado strong-arming the legislature may set a bad precedent for future attempts at getting a budget on time."

    So here we are. Our structural problems have enabled extremists to increase ... our structural problems. We are one more step down the road to intentional ungovernability.

    Over the next several months, we who love this state must act to fix this. We must get rid of this 2/3 budget-vote requirement that allows extremists to hold us hostage. An initiative changing the 2/3 vote requirement is long-overdue but we'll need the support of every forward-thinking voter to make it happen. Let's work together to ensure that it does.

    Click through to Speak Out California

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 3:48 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

    February 16, 2009

    CA's Budget Problem Is Paragraph 10

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

    Today's San Jose Mercury News front page story is about California's budget problem: that they are still one vote short. But Californians reading the story are not told why one more vote is required, not are they told who it is required from -- until the 10th paragraph. The 10th paragraph reads,

    The votes were there in the Assembly. But in the Senate, only two Republican senators were prepared to buck party orthodoxy and vote to raise taxes. Three were needed.

    Even in this 10th paragraph readers are not informed that every Democrat is voting for the budget.

    Before this paragraph, readers are told that "lawmakers" cannot agree and that "the deal still was held hostage by the thinnest of margins." But there is nothing telling them who or why.

    The reason this is such a problem is that the people of California need this information, to help them play their part in the functioning of our state government. The voters need to know who to hold accountable or they will not make their wishes known through calls to their Assemblymember's or Senator's office. And they can't make informed decisions at election time.

    This is typical of stories about the budget impasse -- across the state the major newspapers, radio and TV stations are not giving the voters the information they need in order to participate in their government. The result is that the state is becoming ungovernable -- and going broke.

    So let's be clear about what is happening here. California's elected Republicans have all signed a "no-new-taxes" pledge with Grover Norquist's organization. (He's the guy who says the plan is to make government small enough to "drown in a bathtub.") So now they see the budget crisis as an opportunity to force mass layoffs of state employees and reductions in support for people who need things like state-supplied oxygen tanks. They call that "reducing government." And even with all the budget cuts that the Democrats have all voted for, they still will not vote to pass a budget. They want more, and then more, and then they want the state government to go away.

    This is ideology. They repeat an ideological mantra that will ruin the state. And they say this is their goal -- to get rid of government. They say government is bad. They say government spending is bad. They say taxes are bad. They say corporations are good. Ideology.

    California can not continue to fund our schools, universities, roads, public safety, firefighters, health services, services to the poor, blind and elderly, provide funding for local government, etc. without additional revenues. Do the Mat (George Skelton, LA Times):

    It's Republican dogma in the Capitol that to vote for a tax increase is "career-ending." Even if true -- and there's evidence both ways -- so what?

    These are folks, after all, who sermonize against making politics a career, publicly pretend to worship term limits and preach the virtues of private enterprise. You'd think they'd be eager to return to the private sector. Yet, they're afraid to risk losing out on their next political job.

    Another item not reported is that the Republicans demanded a huge tax cut for large corporations -- the very kind that are killing off California's smaller independent, job-creating businesses.

    And they still won't vote for the budget. And the public still doesn't have a chance to learn what is going on here.

    Click through to Speak Out California

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 11:08 AM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

    February 12, 2009

    California Readers

    If you live in California you should check in at Calitics California Politics Blog every day.

    And, of course, check in at Speak Out California every day. Please sign up for their email list.

    ALSO be sure to do the same at the Courage Campaign!

    Send this post to your California friends and family.

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 1:56 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

    February 3, 2009

    Something Good On CA Budget Mess?

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

    There is some good news on the prospects of getting a budget in California. Eleven California newspapers including Sunday's San Jose Mercury News carried a near-unprecedented front-page editorial titled, Outrageous budget fiasco has shamed California, calling out the Republicans for not participating in the budget process, saying,

    "... [M]ost of the blame for the immediate crisis falls on Republicans in the Legislature, who this past summer -- to a person -- signed a pledge to not raise taxes. ... Democrats and the Republican governor have offered significant compromise, but GOP lawmakers cling to ideological purity -- schools, health care and other essential responsibilities be damned."

    The reason this is good news is that this is a sign that California's media may be beginning to explain to the public that there is indeed a bad actor in this fight. Until now the public has been hearing from the media a simplistic "they're fighting like children in Sacramento" or "both sides refuse to compromise." Nothing could be further from the truth.

    The fact is that the Democrats have voted for cut after cut, and have tried and tried to reach a compromise. They are trying to govern the state. But every single elected Republican signed a pledge with a Washington, DC anti-government organization -- the one that said they want to "drown the government in a bathtub" -- promising to vote against any budget that increases state revenues in any way. They took what they call "the pledge" and have refused to budge and refused to compromise in any way.

    California's major media is finally, finally starting to bring these facts to the public, which means that the public will begin to apply the pressure that is needed in a democracy to move the Republicans and get them to participate in the budget and governing process.

    And in the longer term, this information means the public will be able to decide whether they really do want to elect people who hate government -- and who take vows to defund government -- into positions of responsibility for managing the government.

    If we cannot get an increase in revenues California's economy will be in real trouble. On a national level Rush Limbaugh says he "wants Obama to fail" and in California the far right is driving failure as well. We need responsible information sources to reach California's voters with honest information.

    Click through to Speak Out California.

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 3:55 PM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

    January 29, 2009

    Our Businesses Thrive On The Infrastructure We Built

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

    The key to California's successful business environment are education and infrastructure. It is not an accident that our semiconductor and computer and Internet industries, and biotechnology and pharmaceutical and genetic engineering and our other world-class competitive industries developed in California instead of in "low tax" states like Mississippi and Alabama. These industries thrived here because of our well-educated people and our modern, well-maintained infrastructure.

    There has been a dramatic wealth-building return on our investment in education and infrastructure. Investors could count on California as a good place to start and grow a business, and it has paid off.

    But how much would it cost if businesses had to pay fair market value for use of the infrastructure that We, the People built? What would it cost if companies had to pay the full education cost every time they hire someone who was educated at a California public school or state college or university?

    What would it cost if companies had to pay to be provided with police and fire protection? Should companies pay a fee to have the police investigate, catch the perpetrators, and then put them through the criminal justice system?

    What would it cost if companies had to pay fair value to use our roads and air- and seaports.

    What would it cost if companies had to pay for access to the legal system that We, the People set up. We passed the laws and paid for the courts. We set up the entire legal structure.

    We, the People pay to regulate (and apparently bail out) the banking and financial system. What would it cost if businesses had to pay us for setting up this system that (used to) keeps our money sound?

    This is what government and taxes are for. We, the People built up California's comprehensive physical, legal, cultural, education and societal infrastructure. Businesses rely on that infrastructure, and we want them to thrive. This benefits us all. Many, many people became wealthy by betting on California as a great place to do business, and we are proud of that. Now it is tome to give something back.

    Building and maintaining that infrastructure does cost money, and that is where taxes come in. For several years California has been cutting taxes and cutting back on our investment in education and infrastructure. Businesses cannot continue to thrive as they have if we continue along this path. We have reached a point where the tax-cutting has brought our state's education spending to the second-lowest per-pupil of all the states! We have been and are deferring maintenance on roads and other infrastructure. We are cutting back on all essential services and we still have a $40 billion budget shortfall!

    Our companies are getting a good deal. If we charged fees that were based on the actual value of the service that the infrastructure provides businesses would have to pay much, much more than any level of increased taxes companies and wealthy individuals might be asked to pay to help California meet the budget shortfall. The businesses and individuals who thrived because of the infrastructure we built need to contribute to the future by agreeing to pay taxes to help invest in rebuilding that infrastructure.

    The payoff is clear. As I wrote above, there is a reason that Silicon Valley and genetic engineering and other wealth-creating industries developed in states like California and Massachusetts instead of "low tax" states like Mississippi and Alabama.

    Click through to Speak Out California.

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:04 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

    January 15, 2009

    California - The State Of The State Is Ungovernable

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

    "People are asking if California is governable." Governor Schwarzenegger said in the State of the State address today that California faces insolvency within weeks. He said there is more gridlock in Sacramento than on our roads, if that is possible.

    The governor gave a very short speech, saying there is no sense talking about education or infrastructure or water or anything else as long as we have this huge $42 billion deficit.

    But the fact remains that the state's requirement that 2/3 budget-approval requirement means that the state is, in effect, ungovernable. A few anti-government extremists are able to continue to block the budget, refusing to compromise or even negotiate, demanding that the state lay off tens of thousands of workers, slash medical help for the elderly, slash police protection and firefighting capability, slash funding for courts, raise class sizes to 40 or 50 students, stop repairing roads and levees and everything else the state government does.

    David Greenwald writes at California Progress Report wrote, in State of the People is Grim: More Budget Cuts Are Exactly the Wrong Prescription,

    "Budget cuts totaling $16 billion over the last three years have already had severe consequences for the people of California. And the Governor's proposed 09-10 budget would further harm California families and our economy with an additional $17 billion in cuts to schools, health care, homecare, and state services."

    Leading up to the speech, David Dayen at Calitics wrote, in The State Of The State Is, Well, You Know, "Typically he has done this speech to coincide with the evening news. This year he's trying to hide it."

    We at Speak Out California want to invite readers to come up with some solutions for the budget mess. We are working on some ideas for a prize for the best ideas.

    Click through to Speak Out California.

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 11:47 AM | Comments (5) | Link Cosmos

    January 6, 2009

    What Are Tax Brackets?

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

    In 2009 California is going to have to confront and settle a number of budget issues that we have been putting off for decades. We have been putting off so many necessary decisions -- deferring maintenance of our infrastructure, pushing pain into the future by borrowing, setting aside the needs of our people by cutting school, police, fire and other budgets, and practicing almost every form of avoidance of reality that we could find.

    Well, the karma is coming back on us, all the chickens have come home to roost, we are getting what we gave and we are going to pay for our sins. (Please leave more cliches in the comments.)

    The number one budget issues that has to be confronted is taxation.

    So, let's talk taxes, beginning with the basics. I have found that many people don't really understand how taxes work so I want to write a bit about that here. One reason for the lack of understanding of taxes is that there has been quite a bit of deliberate misinformation. By confusing people, the very wealthy and corporate interests have been able to trick people into letting them avoid paying their fair share. Instead we either take on ourselves the bulk of the burden of paying for democracy, or just borrow and put that burden on our children.

    One thing that I have found many people do not quite understand is the concept of tax brackets.

    Tax brackets

    A "progressive" tax is one where the tax rate increases as income increases. A progressive tax structure consists of brackets. You pay a certain tax rate on income up to the next bracket. After that bracket is reached, a higher tax rate applies to income that is earned that is above that amount. Let's say that you pay 5% on income below $10,000 and 7% on income above $10,000. So if you make exactly $10,000 of income the tax is $500. At $10,100 the tax is still that $500 on the amount below $10,000 and $7 on the additional $100, for a total of $507. The key point is that only the amount in the new bracket is taxed at the higher rate.

    Many people believe that once you reach a higher bracket you pay the higher tax rate on all the income that falls below that bracket amount as well. I have actually talked to people who think they need to "get their income into a lower bracket" to avoid paying a higher tax rate, because they think that a higher tax rate would apply to all of the income they earned.

    Using the example of the earlier paragraph, many people believe that you would pay $707, not $507, on income of $10,100, assuming that the entire $10,100 is taxed at a 7% rate because the total income is above $10,000. This incorrect belief is one result of anti-tax arguments. It is also the basis of many tax-avoidance schemes.

    So, to repeat: If you enter a higher tax bracket, you only pay the higher tax rate on the amount of income you earn that is in the new tax bracket, not on all of your income.

    Come join the discussion at Speak Out California

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:27 AM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

    December 23, 2008

    Why California Can't Pass A Budget

    Dave Johnson, Speak Out California

    Sunday's CBS show 60 Minutes featured our own Governor Schwarzenegger! One of the things said on the show was the following,

    "The governor proposed to close that budget deficit half with tax increases and half with budget cuts. Republicans and Democrats opposed him."

    This is why California does not have a budget.

    I don't mean that we do not have a budget because "Republicans and Democrats" oppose the Governor, won't compromise, won't "meet half way," etc. or that "Democrats won't agree to cut spending" as most of the public is told. I mean that we do not have a budget because the public is told that this is the reason. If the public understood the real reasons that we do not have a budget, representative government would work and the citizens would apply the necessary pressure to bring about the passage of a budget.

    It is simply a fact that the reason we do not have a budget is that a small number of extremists are blocking the passage of a budget and are doing so because they can. They have voted against every budget compromise offered. They have been able to get away with this because the public believes that both sides are refusing to compromise. The Democrats have agreed to cuts and have moved more than half way. The Republicans refuse to move at all.

    Our news outlets are not meeting their responsibility to keep the public informed. This failure is contributing to our state's inability to govern itself.

    And by the way, we at Speak Out California wish you a Happy Holiday Season!

    Click through to Speak Out California

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 4:08 PM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

    December 16, 2008

    California Republicans Admit Taxes Needed - Still Refuse To Allow Them

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

    California Republicans finally, finally submitted what they claim is a plan to attack the budget deficits, detailing specifics of the cuts they are demanding. The plan they submitted only cuts the deficit in half, thereby admitting (but not admitting) the urgent need to raise taxes to cover the other half of the deficit.

    The Republican plan guts public schools, community colleges, Medi-Cal, transit, mental health and many other programs. And yet it still leaves half of the deficit in place. So it isn't really a "plan" at all. It is just one more extremist demand that we gut public schools.

    A phrase like "guts schools and programs" becomes abstract when it is heard often enough. So what does this mean to the average Californian? What kind of education will children receive as we push to 40 or more students per classroom? Will they be safe if the district cannot afford crossing guards or buses? Will any of us be safe after police and firefighters are cut back? Do we go another decade without improving mass transit or even repairing roads and bridges? Will epidemics spread as health care is cut back? What about three-hour lines at the DMV? And what happens to people's ability to train for jobs when community colleges are cut way back?

    The Republicans demand that we sacrifice the education of an entire generation of school-aged Californians, so that a few wealthy people and corporations can become even wealthier! Their benefactors are covered -- with their kids are in $20,000-a-year private academies. But what will this do to the economic future of the rest of this generation, and to the future of California? They don't care.

    This process as it has unfolded over so many years has shown us that California is ungovernable until we remove the current 2/3-requirement system that allows a small group of extremists to hold the state hostage.

    Click through to Speak Out California.

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 4:06 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

    December 11, 2008

    Stunning New Budget Demands From California's Republicans

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

    Tuesday I wrote that Republicans were demanding mass layoffs of public employees -- during a recession. And they are getting away with it because the state's corporate-owned media outlets are not explaining to the public what is going on.

    The history of how we got to this point of budget stalemate is that Republicans in the legislature have blocked every single budget and gone back on their own Governor and every negotiated compromise, demanding that all budget shortfalls be solved by laying off teachers, construction workers, DMV workers, firefighters, etc. And through the whole process they have refused to offer any plan for the cuts they demand. But this is explained to the voters as a problem caused by "both sides" or "the legislature" or "refusing to work together" or to "reach a compromise" or "pointing fingers." Some even manage to blame the Democrats for not completely caving in to every single demand! The result is that effective public pressure does not develop to get this solved.

    Now, rather than compromise and work with the Democrats and the Governor, they have come up with a new list of demands, on top of their previous demands. And this list is really something:

    "Democrats have to capitulate to GOP demands for the 8-hour work day, meal breaks, looser environmental regulations, permanent budget cuts and a stiff spending cap, among other things.

    Then, and only then, will Republicans come to the table to discuss -- but not necessarily agree to -- new taxes"

    Even if Democrats agree to all of the new demands, then the Republicans demand that we "sell state property!" Note that the entire list of new demands involves more tax cuts for businesses, revoking labor laws, removing environmental protections, removing worker and consumer safety regulations, making a very few wealthy people richer through lower pay for working people, etc. They even want to get rid of meal breaks and overtime pay for employees! These demands have nothing to do with helping regular Californians get through the day, they are about making things harder and less safe for us, just to make a few people ever richer. These stunning new demands have nothing to do with the budget.

    This is an attempt to apply the 2/3 requirement to remove existing laws that have been in place for years, agreed to by majority votes of the Legislature, signed by the Governor, that are now established (and well-accepted) practices of the state.

    In an interesting observation, David Dayen at Calitics asks if these demands possibly violate Section 86 of the California Penal Code. Take a look at his argument.

    One thing for sure, this is not the time for Democrats to cave in to extortion like this. This extortion comes because Democrats have enabled the power to do this by trying to work with the other party to fairly govern the state and compromising in the face of these tactics in the past. But these are not negotiations with an opposition that is interested in governing, so this time Democrats have to put their foot down and protect Californians and protect our form of government. WE elected them and WE made them a majority for a reason. WE want our government to function, not to be hijacked to serve only the interests of a wealthy few.

    Click through to Speak Out California

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 3:24 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

    December 9, 2008

    California Republicans Demand Mass Layoffs

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

    How do California's Republicans think California should solve the state's budget crisis, which results from people being laid off and losing their houses? They are demanding nothing less than mass layoffs of state employees.

    Every single budget compromise that has been negotiated has been rejected by the Republicans. They say there is one, and only one, budget solution they will vote for: mass layoffs of state employees and contractors. They want the state's teachers fired, construction employees fired, firefighters fired, DMV workers fired, medical workers fired and mass firings from the rest of the state's departments. And when they are done with that they demand cutbacks in medical care for the elderly, disabled, blind, and everyone else.

    How are they getting away with this? Why aren't these few members of the legislature being recalled by enraged citizens? Part of the problem is the way this is being presented to those citizens by the information sources. The issue is presented as "the Legislature" and "politicians" who "won't compromise" as if "both sides" are at fault. They report on the people who are working hard to solve the state's problems as if they are squabbling children and the public takes away the idea that government is a distant unsavory game that should be avoided. Take this Merced Sun-Star headline, for instance: "Our View: Governor, Democrats and Republicans need to compromise." The editorial begins,

    "As California's financial troubles intensify daily, leading Democrats continue to blame Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for failing to win Republican votes for a budget solution.

    . . . Democrats will have to offer concessions if they want their counterparts to compromise on tax hikes. So far, Democrats have failed to make even the most reasonable of concessions to save California from insolvency."

    The editorial just misinforms the public about what is going on! Repeatedly the Democrats have compromised, giving up more and more, but the Republicans have refused to compromise in any way. They just say, "No taxes" and that is that. THIRTEEN paragraphs down, the second to last paragraph, begins,

    "To be fair, Democrats in the last special session made some real concessions -- agreeing to $8.1 billion in cuts to state programs -- in their elusive search for a budget deal."

    Oh, really, to "be fair" they mention this, in spite of the headline and the rest of the editorial, any members of the public who are still reading can learn that the Democrats have offered BILLIONS in cuts to state programs to try to get the Republicans to move even an inch away from demanding mass layoffs.

    California will remain ungovernable and will slip further into economic distress as long as a small minority is able to block budgets, and as long as the public's sources of information continue to mislead.

    Click through to Speak Out California

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 10:37 AM | Comments (3) | Link Cosmos

    December 3, 2008

    California's 2/3 Requirement Hobbles Democracy

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

    In Santa Clara County they want to extend Bay Area Rapid Transit down to San Jose. To fund this they put Measure B, a 1/8 cent sales tax, on the ballot. In California all tax measures must pass by a 2/'3 margin and on Election Day the voters approved Measure B by a 2/3 margin.

    That would be the end of it, except the vote was very close to exactly 2/3. For several days it looked as though the measure would fail because it reached a few votes short of exactly 66.66% but when the last ballot was counted the result was 66.78% in favor. So in the face of a 2/3 vote by the people, a group sued to block certification pending a recount. Yes, with 2/3 of the public voting for this, a group sued to stop it!

    My observation is that this demonstrates something important about the "anti-tax" forces in our state. Their intent is to hobble our democracy and thwart the will of the people. It is time for us to take back democracy and return majority vote to tax measures!

    It is nearly impossible to get 2/3 for anything, ever, in an election. Clearly this 2/3 requirement is about hobbling democracy, not protecting rights. The public wanted to bring BART to San Jose. A remarkable 2/3 voted for this, yet a group sues based on the count being close to exactly 2/3. And in our state legislature the budget process has completely broken down as a 1/3 minority blocks every budget, every compromise and every last attempt to pass sensible measures to run our state! We are now in a "Fiscal Emergency," cutting back our schools and laying people off during a recession. This is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing and of what the public wants, but there is no choice because we are hobbled by rules that anti-government extremists managed to sneak past misinformed voters decades ago.

    We must get rid of the 2/3 requirement. It is time. Democracy and good government are back in fashion so let's get on with it!

    (By the way, California's Secretary of State ruled that the law says automatic recounts occur when the vote count is very close to 50/50. Since the vote count was 2/3 the law does not apply even though the election was close. A judge ruled Tuesday that the attempt to block Measure B came too late.

    Click through to Speak Out California

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 7:43 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

    September 24, 2008

    The "Pass The Buck" Budget

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

    After months of playing "chicken" the yearly California budget compromise ritual once again passes the buck to the next year.  Everyone breathes a sigh of relief that the "stalemate" is over.

    But the problems aren't solved at all, they're worse.  Next year this will happen again but because of this year and previous years' so-called "solutions" it will be that much harder to agree on a budget.  So if you thought this year was bad...

    Friday Dan Walters, in, Revised state budget is still a sham, wrote that the budget,

    ...remains a stopgap budget filled with accounting gimmicks and questionable "spending cuts" and "revenues" - and still leaves the state's fiscal house in great disorder. It makes little, if any, headway on closing what those in the Capitol call the "structural deficit" - the chronic gap between revenues and spending that was plaguing the state even before its economy went into the tank.

    and wrote yesterday,

    They violated every principle of fiscal responsibility by conjuring up billions of dollars in sham revenues -- basically money borrowed from corporate and personal taxpayers that would have to be paid back later -- to cover a huge deficit so they could blow town.
    Senate President pro Tempore Don Perata (D-Oakland) said,
    "I have agreed with the Governor to make some tweaks to the budget we sent him. I'm not proud of this budget - it just kicks the can down the road. But the reality is, Democrats agreed to nearly $10 billion in tough cuts while the Governor could not get a single Republican vote for the $5 billion in new revenue we need to close this gap and solve the problem."
    That's right, once again a small minority was able to get their way by refusing to participate in normal, civil,, give-and-take negotiation.  They are able to do this because the public doesn't really know what is happening in Sacramento, only that no budget is passing.  So therefore it must be everyone's fault equally -- even if it isn't.

    Click through to Speak Out California

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 5:02 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

    September 15, 2008

    The Press Is Fogging The Reason For The Budget Stalemate

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

    Friday morning's San Francisco Chronicle story, Legislature's approval rating at a record low, illustrates why California's budget impasse continues. From the article,

    "Democrats and the minority Republicans have hunkered down, with neither side willing to make the compromises needed to put together a budget plan that can garner the required two-thirds support."
    The budget problem is that reporting like this keeps the public from understanding what is happening in Sacramento.

    Here is what is happening with the budget:

    • The Democrats have offered plan after plan, accepting deep budget cuts, some borrowing and offering various ways to raise revenue.

    • The Governor has offered a plan, with deep budget cuts, borrowing, and a temporarysales tax increase.

    • The Republicans have refused to compromise, refusing any budget that raises any revenue at all, not even asking the extremely wealthy to pay the same sales taxes that the rest of us have to pay.

    It is just that simple. The Republicans have been blocking the budget and they are getting away with it because the press refuses to report that the Republicans are blocking the budget. If the press reported this simple fact public pressure would build and the Republicans would have to yield.

    Update - A comment on the possible budget "compromise": It just kicks the can down the road by delaying dealing with our problems. It doesn't fix anything, and cuts essential services from the people who need government most. In fact it just makes it much, much harder to solve the problem in the next budget because it steals revenue from next year.

    Click through to Speak Out California

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 10:33 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

    September 11, 2008

    California's Conservatives Want To Get What They DON'T Pay For

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

    California's elected Republicans continue to block any and all efforts to pass a budget, because any honest budget must ask the wealthy and big corporations to pay their fair share. Even the Governor's extremely modest one cent sales tax increase was too much for them.

    So let's talk about paying a fair share. David Sirota has a good column today at the Campaign for America's Future blog, The Aristocrats, Part II - Starring George Will. In the column Sirota writes about wealthy Republicans who complain when regular people get decent pay for performing services that benefit ... guess who ... wealthy Republicans. Sirota writes,

    In a column about underfinanced municipal pension systems today, Will expresses deep anger that veteran police, firefighters and municipal workers eventually get paid well for their services. In one California town on San Francisco Bay, Will tells us that - gasp! - "after just five years, all police and firefighters are guaranteed lifetime health benefits." The horror.

    Such salaries and benefits, of course, are part of a bargain: Enticing people to turn down the high-paying private-sector job and instead run into burning buildings (firefighters), do the dangerous work of apprehending criminals (police), disposing of sewage (garbage collectors) and administrating all the other services that conservatives pretend aren't necessary (municipal workers) requires, well, an enticement - namely, the promise that making such a public-minded choice will result in decent and stable pay and benefits.

    When you accept a public sector job, that's the bargain: In exchange for being willing to do a tough job and accepting that you won't have the chance to make hundreds of millions dollars like a corporate CEO, you are rewarded with the chance - if you play by the rules - to make a pretty good living.

    Yes, there is a BARGAIN at work here. We, the People have built a system that has been working pretty darn well for the rich. We built a system of roads, schools, courts, police departments and firefighters. We built up a system of laws. We work in the factories and offices.

    So we built the system and the rules, and we enforce the rules, and it works out pretty darn well to make a few people really rich. But when we then ask for something BACK -- pensions, health care, even worker safety laws -- that is just too much. Never mind the bargain, the social compact that was in place. Asking for a penny sales tax increase or asking the wealthiest to pay the same sales taxes as the rest of us when they buy a yacht or jet, well NO that is just TOO much to ask! So they block the budget.

    Sirota continues,

    That is, conservatives want to renege on the bargain - forgetting the old adage that you get what you pay for, and you don't get what you don't pay for.

    The hypocrisy of this logic is obvious when you consider that the Right rarely - if ever - complains about, say, executives ripping off shareholders and harming companies' fiscal health.

    So there you have it. California's elected Republicans want it all, but don't want us to ask the corporations and wealthy individuals who finance their campaigns to help PAY for it all.

    P.S. Adding insult to injury, the column in which conservative George Will complains that firefighters don't deserve health insurance and pensions was written to run on September 11. Some of us remember the incredible bravery and sacrifice of New York's firefighters and how it demonstrated the importance of the physical, legal and services infrastructure that We, the People built.

    Join the discussion at Dave Johnson, Speak Out California

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 8:57 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

    August 21, 2008

    Governor Schwarzenegger v.s. "Republican Right-Wing Talk"

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

    Not content with blocking the budget, the right is going after the Republican Governor for trying to govern. See Schwarzenegger engages in talk-show tussle,

    Schwarzenegger tried to defend new taxes as necessary because the state was still paying off debts incurred by predecessor Gov. Gray Davis. But the hosts pressed further and suggested that Schwarzenegger abandoned his original mission of fixing the state's fiscal situation in order to pursue environmental goals.

    That seemed to upset the governor, who maintained that his environmental policies had nothing to do with the state budget.

    "This is absolutely absurd what you're saying right now," Schwarzenegger said. "....You're living in the Stone Age if you think that the environmental issue has anything to do with the budget or the declining economy worldwide."

    "Don't lie to the people," Schwarzenegger added. "That's all I can tell you, don't lie to the people. Don't pull wool over their eyes. It's nonsense Republican right-wing talk."

    That prompted the "anesthesia" joke. Schwarzenegger underwent anesthesia Saturday when he had arthroscopic surgery to repair cartilage in his right knee.

    In fact the state is paying off debts incurred by Governor Schwarzenegger, but at least he is trying to move the far-right Republicans off of their "no taxes under any circumstances" ideology. The Governor is trying to govern and should get credit for that, even if it is governing from the right. The far-right that is the rest of the state's Republican Party apparently doesn't want government at all, especially not government-by-the-people. There are lots of people. They want a one-dollar-one-vote approach favored by corporations and the rich who have lots of dollars.

    Please click through to Speak Out California

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 8:04 AM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

    August 19, 2008

    Where’s California's Budget? Who Is Obstructing?

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

    One more attempt to get a state budget in place collapsed -- blocked by the Republicans because it included tax increases. Republicans insist that the budget be balanced with billions and billions of dollars in cuts in our schools and fire protection and the other things most of us want our state to do.

    I would bet that most of California's public doesn't know what is going on with our budget. They only know that there isn't one, and that this is causing problems. It makes people angry, and causes them to lose faith in government.

    People know that government employees are being forced to take pay cuts, and many are being laid off. But they really do not know why.

    Yesterday's budget vote was 45-30. The public doesn't understand that this means that there were forty-five votes FOR the budget and only thirty votes against, and this is why it failed. They don't understand that because it does not make sense. But because of a trick that the Republicans were able to play on the public the rules are that it takes a two-thirds vote to pass a budget. So an overwhelming vote of 45-30 FOR the budget means that the budget does NOT pass!

    Every Republican in the state has taken a vow not to raise taxes on wealthy corporations or massively wealthy individuals. They won't vote to require people who buy yachts or private jets to pay the same sales taxes that the rest of us pay when we buy cars. They refuse to ask oil companies to pay fees when they take our oil out of the ground and sell it to us. (Maybe they understand that such a vote will dry up their campaign funding...)

    News stories about the latest budget collapse:

    San Jose News:

    Although the $105.2 billion budget blueprint garnered a majority vote, 45-30, it fell short of the two-thirds supermajority that California's constitution requires to pass a budget.

    . . . The vote "shows clearly that we're not going to vote for taxes," said Assembly Republican leader Mike Villines, R-Fresno.

    Wall Street Journal:
    "We're fundamentally saying 'no tax increases,'" said Mike Villines, the Assembly Republican leader.

    They will require workers to take pay cuts and layoffs. They will cut our school budgets. They will cut transportation, the DMV, road repair, law enforcement, prisons, fire protection. But they will not ask wealthy corporations or extremely wealthy individuals to pitch in.

    And here is why: by and large California's public doesn't know this. They are not being informed that this is entirely because a small minority of Republicans refuse to represent the public's interests, choosing to represent the wealthy corporations and wealthiest few people.

    In fact, the public likely believes that it is the Democrats who are keeping the budget from being passed. If you Google the word Democrat with the word obstruction and you get about 600,000 results. This is a national result, but it reflects the same strategy in use in California. Republicans spent years accusing Democrats of being "obstructionist" when they were not, as a strategy to pressure them to pass Republican-/corporate-oriented bills. Now, after blocking almost everything that the nation's Congress is doing, the Republicans are campaigning saying that the Democrats in Congress aren't passing anything! Meanwhile a new Drum Major Institute polls shows that 72% of middle-class Americans can't name a single bill passed by Congress in the last two years that benefited them or their families! (Minimum wage increase, stimulus package, college more affordable, SCHIP...)

    Less than two in five (38%) middle-class respondents to the Drum Major Institute's new poll say they live comfortably. One-third (34%) say they meet their basic expenses each month with just a little left over for extras, while one-quarter (26%) of middle-class adults would say they just meet their basic expenses (17%) or have trouble meeting their basic expenses each month (9%). And, economy and jobs tops their concerns. They are pessimistic about the direction of the economy. They think it's more likely that Brangelina will celebrate their 25th anniversary than gas prices returning to $3 a gallon.

    But they do not understand WHY. They don't make the connection between the corporate-controlled Republican party and what is happening to the country.

    How do Republicans get away with this? How are they able to get the public to think so many things that are not true? The Republicans have a vast "noise machine" that tells the public things that are not true. (Remember how they were able to convince so many people that Iraq had attacked us on 9/11?) It costs a lot of money to have a noise machine like this, but they get the money from the very corporations and wealthy individuals whose interests they are representing. So it works for them.

    Plain and simple, they are bale to reach the public and tell them stuff, and get the public to believe it. The use of overwhelming repetition is the tactic. I use the word “stuff” here with meaning: it’s just stuff they want the public to believe, with no grounding in reality. They do it, and here we are. Nationally the debt is approaching TEN TRILLION DOLLARS and they are still able to get the public to think taxes are bad. In California they are able to force layoffs and school cuts while refusing to make the ultra-rich pay even the same taxes the rest of us pay.

    Please click through to Speak Out California an leave a comment with suggestions on how to fight this.

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 5:19 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

    August 14, 2008

    California Leading On Environment ... Most Of Us Anyway

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

    Take a look at the California Climate Change Portal.

    This website contains information on the impacts of climate change on California and the state's policies relating to global warming. It is also the home for the the California Climate Change Center, a "virtual" research and information website operated by the California Energy Commission through its Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) Program.

    California Attorney General Brown recently announced the state will sue to block a huge Nestle bottled-water plant unless its effects on global warming are evaluated. Why bottled water? A recent Huffington Post piece by Diane Frances, Bottled Water: The Height of Stupidity talks about the bottled-water scam,

    Bottled water is a joke, one of the biggest consumer and taxpayer ripoffs ever. I applaud California's Attorney General Jerry Brown who said recently that he will sue to block a proposed water-bottling operation in Northern California by Nestle.

    . . . Not only do society and the environment pay an unfair price for this consumer hoax, but consumers are being hoodwinked. They are paying from 300 to 3,000 times more than the cost of tap water without any benefit.

    . . . The water is usually not superior to "city" water or tap water, and is merely a big branding hoax by soda makers. In some cases, this "designer" water is drawn from tap water and labeled for suckers to buy as though it is a superior product.

    . . . One expert estimated that the amount of petroleum -- used to make the bottles, transport, refrigerate, collect and bury them -- would fill one-third of each bottle.

    These plastic bottles are creating landfill problems worldwide, and are washing up on beautiful beaches around the planet.

    The state is also suing the Bush Environmental Lobbyist Protection Agency over its refusal to allow California to regular greenhouse gas emissions.

    California will sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for "wantonly" ignoring its duty to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from ships, aircraft, and construction and agricultural equipment...

    The lawsuit follows two similar ones this year by California in conjunction with other states on car and truck emissions and ozone pollution.

    "Ships, aircraft and industrial equipment burn huge quantities of fossil fuel, causing greenhouse gas pollution, yet President (George W.) Bush stalls with one bureaucratic dodge after another," said Brown...

    The state's legislature and courts are also leading in land use decisions. California Court Rules Land-Use Decisions Must Address Global Warming,
    ...a California court has rejected a proposal to build a controversial luxury resort and golf course, because the project's environmental study failed to analyze the project's greenhouse gas emissions.

    . . . "The court affirmed what the California legislature made clear: that global warming must be addressed in land-use decisions,"...

    In 2007 California passed Senate Bill 97, which affirms the requirement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from land-use decisions. In June 2008 California also provided technical guidance on how to properly calculate and reduce greenhouse gases. The California Environmental Quality Act requirements are in addition to the requirements of the California Global Warming Solutions Act and the governor's June 2005 Executive Order, which aims to reduce emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

    Our labor unions are also supporting these efforts. California Labor Unions Support Global Warming Solutions: Green Jobs Seen as Future,
    In California, building and construction trades unions have long promoted energy efficiency measures like retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency for their promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions AND create high quality jobs.

    . . . A recent op-ed published in the San Francisco Chronicle articulates California labor unions’ general principles when it comes to global warming legislation. In the op-ed, Art Pulaski, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the California Labor Federation, and Ken Jacobs, Chair of the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, call for the California Air Resources Board to pay more attention to the key role California’s workers will play in restructuring the state’s economy to reduce its carbon footprint, and the impact this change will have on them.

    Even our buildings are going green: California adopts nation’s first statewide green building code,

    On July 17, the California Building Standards Commission announced the unanimous adoption of the nation’s first statewide "green" building code. The code is a direct result of the Governor's direction to the Commission and will lead to improved energy efficiency and reduced water consumption in all new construction throughout the state, while also reducing the carbon footprint of every new structure in California.

    "Once again California is leading the nation and the world in emissions reductions and finding new ways to expand our climate change efforts," said Commission Chair Rosario Marin.

    . . . These new statewide standards will result in significant improvements in water usage for both commercial and residential plumbing fixtures and target a 50 percent landscape water conservation reduction. They also push builders to reduce energy use of their structures by 15 percent more than today’s current standards. They also push builders to reduce energy use of their structures by 15 percent more than today’s current standards.

    California remains a leader on protecting our environment. Well ... most of us, anyway. But some of us just can't get along...

    Last year: Legislative Republicans Flunk Environment 101, League of Conservation Voters Says in 2007 Environmental Scorecard,

    In fact, while Assembly and Senate Democrats averaged a commendable 94% and 89% respectively, Assembly and Senate Republicans averaged an embarrassingly low 5% and 9% respectively.

    From May: Protecting Our Air and Atmosphere Against Republican Rollbacks in California,
    Remember last year’s budget debacle?

    California’s legislative Republicans held up the budget for more than a month as they tried to roll back environmental protections – and as everyday Californians rolled their eyes at the lack of leadership they showed.

    Now, they’re at it again. They’ve already said they plan to postpone implementation of California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, roll back diesel pollution reductions and undermine the 8-hour work day.

    From June: California Republicans Leveraging to Delay Emissions Caps,
    A minority of Republican state legislators in California are trying to use their leverage in approving a past-due state budget to force a roll-back of the state's greenhouse gas emissions caps, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.
    July: California Republican Party: Drilling Now Can Lower Oil Prices Today

    Oh well. If you want a clean environment for your kids, you know what you have to do.
    Click through to Speak Out California

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:24 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

    August 11, 2008

    Stop Sarah's Law -- California Proposition 4

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

    The religious right is at it again, with another ballot measure intended to divide Californians and prevent women from making their own choices about their own bodies and lives. This time it is Proposition 4 -- "Sarah's Law" -- the old "parental notification" initiative that bans the termination of a pregnancy in a minor unless their parents are notified 48 hours ahead of time.

    The same initiative has been rejected by California voters twice for good reason. Yes, this is the third time in three years. So the state -- We, the People, the taxpayers -- runs the expense of another ballot initiative.

    So this time they have named the parental notification initiative "Sarah's Law" after Sarah of the Bible -- a fictitious name being used for a real woman who died in Texas in 1994 from an infection caused by a torn cervix. Prop 4 proponents claim that "Sarah" would have been saved if Prop 4 had been in effect there. Now it turns out that Prop 4 would not have applied. So this new rationale for the previously-rejected law -- that Prop 4 would save the lives of minors, entirely based on one 1994 case -- is false. Obviously helping young women is not the point of this law. Below I will talk about how this will actually endanger their health and lives.

    First, though, an Aug. 2 LA Times story explains: 'Sarah's Law' would not have applied to 'Sarah,' acknowledge backers of the abortion-notification measure,

    Backers of a ballot measure that would require parents to be notified before an abortion is performed on a minor acknowledged Friday that the 15-year-old on which "Sarah's Law" is based had a child and was in a common-law marriage before she died of complications from an abortion in 1994.

    [. . .] Proposition 4 would amend the California constitution to prohibit abortion for unemancipated minors until 48 hours after a physician notifies the minor's parent or legal guardian. State voters have twice rejected similar measures.

    At first glance it might seem like a good idea to require minors to notify parents before they can terminate a pregnancy. Unfortunately the reality of people's lives does not always match up with the ideal families of 1960s TV shows. There are very serious reasons that a young woman might not want to tell parents about a pregnancy. These can involve abuse, incest and fear. In these cases requiring parental notification can bring about serious consequences. It can also cause the young woman to turn to unsafe alternatives.

    There can even be very bad reasons where the young woman really should tell the parents. But a law like this also endangers a foolish, unwise young woman's health because it can cause her to to to an illegal, unlicensed, unsafe practitioner, or even try something herself. People do not always do the best and wisest thing. Foolish and unwise young people even more so.

    History and experience have taught society that having a safe and legal place to turn for help is the best way to protect our young women. When a young woman is pregnant and does not want to be and there are no safe procedures available she might out of desperation turn to unsafe alternatives. When pregnancy termination was illegal it didn't mean women did not terminate pregnancies, it meant they did so at very high risk to their health. Terrible consequences were not uncommon. This is why the right's justification for Sarah's Law, and the false story behind it, is such an abomination. They are trying to take away these safe procedures with false stories that this will protect young women. It is safe and legal procedures that protect women who decide to choose to terminate a pregnancy.

    Click through to Speak Out California

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 1:39 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    August 4, 2008

    Labor in California

    Here is a video from the California Labor Federation: California Labor- We Did, We Can and We WILL:

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 10:47 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    August 1, 2008

    Republican Budget Choices

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

    Yesterday Governor Schwarzenegger ordered 10,000 state government employees laid off and ordered the wages of 200,000 more cut down to the bare minimum allowed by law.

    This is 210,000 people who will not be keeping up with their mortgages or car payments or attending "back-to-school" sales. This is thousands of local retailers that will see a sales decrease. This is how many foreclosures and car repossessions. What will this do to our own jobs and housing prices?

    This is 210,000 families disrupted.

    Why is this happening? Because the Republicans refuse to make wealthy yacht and private plane buyers pay the same sales taxes the rest of us pay. This is happening because the Republicans refuse to make the oil companies pay us for our oil as they take it out of the ground. (Yes, even as oil companies post the largest ever profits of any companies in the history of the world.) The citizens of Alaska not only don't pay state taxes, they receive a check every year, because their state government asked the oil companies to pay to take their oil. In California the Republicans in state government apparently think they were elected to represent the interests of oil companies, not the public.

    Republicans like to say that taxes "take money out of the economy" but the Governor's actions yesterday show exactly the opposite: laying off workers and cutting their wages takes money out of the economy. In fact taxes drive the state's economy by building the infrastructure that enable economic growth. The California state government is police and fire protection and schools and roads and courts and all of those are the engines of economic growth. Taxes fund the services that people want like shorter lines at the DMV and libraries and did I mention schools? These layoffs and wage cuts just illustrate what I wrote a while back about how tax cuts make us poor.

    This is the Republican choice -- giving the very wealthiest even more money at the expense of regular working people.

    Click through to Speak Out California.

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 11:13 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    July 15, 2008

    Immigration Questions

    This post originally appeared at, Speak Out California.

    I want to ask some questions about how to handle our issue of undocumented immigrants. There is very little disagreement that our borders have become unacceptably porous and that we’ve got to change the way we secure them. That being said, how we approach solving the problem of the large number of people who are here already? The debate needs to be a practical and rational one rather than emotional and reactive so we can achieve sound and effective solutions.

    Let’s start by asking some practical questions. Some people use the terminology of "illegal" immigrants because the people in question have overstayed a visa (45%) or even crossed the border without passing through immigration and customs. As a result of this terminology -- "illegal" -- people react more strongly than they might if different words were used or if they had time to consider fully all of the ramifications of this issue.

    Suppose -- just suppose -- the people who advocate harsh treatment of non-citizens are successful in their efforts, and our government starts an effort to locate and deport them. How do we identify who is here without authorization? This is a practical question.

    Americans are not required to "carry papers." We do not have checkpoints, and inside of the country we do not have to prove that we are traveling with proper authorization. We certainly do not have to prove that we are citizens. Many of us could never even locate the documentation necessary to prove citizenship if we were, in fact, required to prove it.

    So if we are going to identify people who have overstayed visas, etc. how do we go about it?

    This is a simple and serious question that I hope can be discussed here. Please leave a comment with your ideas.

    I’ll deal with the next set of questions in my next post.

    Ckick through to Speak Out California to join our discussion there.

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 2:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    July 11, 2008

    California Fire Smoke Map

    We have been having some degree of smoke cover here in the San Francisco Bay area for some time, and today it is particularly bad. I have asthma so I'm using the puffer... and haven't been running except once for a two or three weeks.

    I have found a map of smoke coverage for all of California and even Nevada that calculates the coverage at the time you click the map. I can't seem to embed this map, but it is worth clicking through -- especially if you live in one of the affected areas. Here it is:

    WunderMap Interactive Radar & Weather Stations : Wunderground Preview Site

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 8:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    July 2, 2008

    The Governor's Lottery Scheme - Bottom of the Barrel?

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

    Is California's lottery becoming just one more subsidy for the rich?

    When We, the People of California agreed to have a state lottery it was to pay for extra education for our children on top of the existing education budget. It was not supposed to make up for other budget cuts for schools, it was supposed to be extra money to improve the educational system.

    This has ... migrated. The lottery under the Governor's new borrowing plan may be fast becoming one more gimmick to avoid taxing the rich and big corporations. (Not to mention paying out millions upon millions in debt interest for years and years to those with the means to loan the state these billions.)

    The California Budget Project has a new report, Borrowing Against the Future: Are Lottery Bonds the Best Way To Close the Budget Gap? (PDF file) It is well worth taking a look at. They say the numbers don't add up, the lottery can't deliver the needed revenue, the scheme makes it even harder to fix the budget in the future, will have a high interest rate, and has numerous other problems. On a conference call Tuesday with jean Ross, one of the report's authors, I also learned that the cost over time of borrowing this money will be between $41.5 and $50 billion -- way too high. The lottery is largely played by low-income people so efforts to drive up lottery purchases increases their burden and will likely come at a cost of other purchases, thereby sacrificing sales tax revenue to the state.

    That there are so many things wrong with this latest borrowing scheme might be a good sign. It might, just might mean that the Republicans are scraping the very bottom of their barrel of anti-government and tax-avoidance gimmicks. After this wild scheme collapses maybe, just maybe they'll come to their senses.

    Click through to Speak Out California

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 11:36 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    June 23, 2008

    Speak Out California Is Back Up And Running!

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

    One day your website is yours, and the next day it is someone else's. Organizations, businesses and regular people are at the mercy of a confusing deregulated system.

    A little over a week ago the Speak Out California website suddenly disappeared, and viewers instead saw a website full of advertisements.

    We had no way of even knowing what had happened. It was just a surprise. One day typing "speakoutca.org" into a web browser took viewers to our website, the next day it took viewers to an ad site that someone else managed.

    Some of us are more sophisticated and internet-savvy than most citizens so we were eventually able to track down some information. I'm not going into details here, except to say that no one at Speak Out California received any notice that this was going to happen. It took several days to even track down where the domain name (this is what internet addresses like speakoutca.org are called) had been registered, who had registered it, and contact info for the registrar. Then it took several more days to restore the domain name to us and get it working again.

    Here's the thing: the only way we were able to get this name back and get the site operating again is because some of us are much more internet-connected than most people. Most people would have no idea where to even start to look for information and help solving a problem like this.

    This is certainly not an uncommon problem. My wife had a business named Dancing Woman Designs with a website at dancingwomandesigns.com, and then one day she didn't. She received no notice, nothing. It was just there one day and gone the next and if she wanted it back it was going to cost her. It was going to cost her a lot. And so she doesn't have dancingwomandesigns.com anymore and that address takes you to an ad site. A whole business that took years to get going and build is history now. It was wiped out in a minute because someone was able to get the web name.

    A larger business is more likely to have the resources to hire the necessary experts to fight something like this. But it can be an expensive proposition and it can take time.

    This is the difference between regulation and deregulation. Regulations protect regular people. Deregulation enables and protects scammers, schemers, and cons. The Internet is largely unregulated and is full of scammers, schemers and cons. Most of the businesses and organizations on the internet are good, honest, credible and legitimate but regular people are also left completely at the mercy of numerous cons, scams, schemes and rip-offs and the burden is on us to find a way to tell the difference.

    We got Speak Out California back up and running. It only took us a week and a little money. But we are sophisticated, internet-savvy and connected -- and lucky. Hmm ... maybe some new legislation is warranted.

    Click through to Speak Out California

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 11:12 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    June 11, 2008

    Cut That OTHER Spending!

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

    For decades people have been hearing that government "spends too much." They have been hearing that it's spending cuts that we need, not tax increases. They've been hearing that most of the government's money is spent on "waste, fraud and abuse." They've been hearing that it mostly goes to welfare, for people who won't work and sit around all day. They've been hearing that taxes are too high, the highest in the world, the liberals who run the world only want to tax and spend, etc. And no one has been reaching the public with the facts.

    And after decades of this here is a surprise: people think the government spends too much, that we need spending cuts not taxes, that the money goes to waste, fraud and abuse -- and welfare and stuff like that. Who would have thought?

    But ask for specifics like, "What specifically would you cut and by how much?" and you'll get a blank stare. Try that question on a conservative politician some time and you'll get the same blank stare. (Usually accompanied by an exercise commonly known as "the run-around.")

    OK, occasionally when an elected official is faced with no choice but to cut or raise taxes you'll get an answer. We saw this recently when the Governor spelled out drastic cuts in schools and other government services -- the actual stuff that our taxes pay for. The public didn't like that one bit. They want that "other" spending to be cut instead. (Of course, the Governor also came up with that weird scheme to borrow from next year's lottery revenue. So what happens next year when we have to pay the bills and don't even have the lottery revenue because that went to this year's budget??? What do we borrow on then?)

    Things might be changing. The public might slowly be coming around to understanding that taxes really do need to be raised -- at least as far as a temporary sales tax increase. The Public Policy Institute of California recently released the results of a survey titled Californians and Their Government. (The full PDF is here.) According to the summary,

    Solid majorities of residents (58%) and likely voters (62%) oppose the governor’s plan to raise revenue by borrowing from future lottery earnings, but majorities of residents (54%) and likely voters (57%) favor a temporary increase in the state sales tax if the lottery plan fails.
    And, according to the press release,
    The potential temporary sales tax increase is the only tax increase included in the governor’s revised budget. Asked whether they believe tax increases should be part of his plan, residents are split (48% yes, 46% no), although the percentage favoring tax increases has risen sharply since December (30%). [emphasis added]
    Of course, this doesn't get the budget solved. It's a start but as for real-world solutions today, the public still isn't ready to face facts. This may be because no one has dared explain that there isn't really some "other" spending yet to be cut. Also from the press release:
    Californians fail budget math quiz — Page 12
    When asked which area gets the biggest share of state spending, only 20 percent of residents correctly identified K-12 education. Asked where the biggest chunk of revenue comes from, only 32 percent give the correct answer: personal income tax.
    Let me leave you with a few suggestions for helping solve the budget mess:

    Proposition 13, an initiative that was sold as keeping little old ladies on fixed incomes in their homes, cut both residential and commercial property taxes. How about bringing commercial property taxes back to market rates?

    Oil companies don't pay a "severance fee" when they pump our oil out of the ground to sell back to us. How about they pay for the oil before they sell it back to us?

    How about we ask the wealthy to pay sales taxes - the same sales taxes that the rest of us have to pay - when they buy yachts and airplanes? And how about we ask the wealthy to pay their fair share of other taxes as well?

    If you are talking to friends and family about the budget, point out that when Governor Schwarzenegger -- who solved previous budget problems by borrowing -- tried to balance the budget without raising any taxes he had to cut schools, health care, parks and much more, and still find ways to borrow. He is a Republican, not a "tax and spend" liberal, so if there were ways to cut "other" spending he would have done that.

    There is no other spending to cut because it takes money to rin a government and provide the services we want and need. "The line at the DMV" is an example because if you cut DMV spending the line you hate just gets longer.

    Take a look at the Next 10 site and consider how you would revise the budget.

    Click through to Speak Out California

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 6:32 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    May 22, 2008

    Private Greed vs. Public Good

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

    As I wrote the other day, the California Chamber of Commerce has come out with their annual list of "job-killer" bills. The list only targets bills by Democrats, and the bills are all acts that would help the people of California by improving the environment, worker wage and safety, public health, etc.

    The California Chamber of commerce is a lobbying association. They represent their members: businesses, many of which are large corporations. This is about private greed vs. the public good. The Chamber's job is to convince the legislature to pass laws that enrich the owners of the corporations that fund them. Nothing more, nothing less.

    If that involves convincing the public of something, then they do that. Hence the label "job killer."

    But the companies represented by the Chamber are the real job killers. They outsource jobs to other countries. They lay people off when they calculate it will maximize their profits. They employ as many people as needed to maximize the income to and wealth of their owners. Nothing more, nothing less.

    The very idea that the Chamber of Commerce would care if something is a "job killer" is ludicrous when you understand their function. They are a lobbying association that represents the interests of companies that eliminate as many jobs as they want to, at their discretion, and then use some of the money that would have been paid in salaries to pay the Chamber to convince us to support their interests -- and the rest of it to enrich themselves, which is their primary interest.

    That is how corporations work in the modern, "free-market" world that we find ourselves in since the Reagan era. Not for the public benefit, not necessarily even for the company's benefit, but for the financial benefit of the executives and (some of) the owners of the company.

    Private greed vs. public good. Nothing more, nothing less.

    So there isn't really an argument about whether the "job-killer" bills on this year’s list really do or do not "kill jobs." That is not the point of the label. Instead it is up to us to understand who we are hearing from. If we get caught up in arguing about whether these bills create more jobs than they might cost, we’re missing the point. Their arguments are propaganda with no basis in reality, designed to do nothing more than sway opinion. The point of the "job-killer" label is to make people afraid for their jobs, not to actually argue that these bills will or will not actually "kill" any jobs.

    For example, a bill to require energy efficiency in new housing construction obviously creates many new jobs in the new, innovative "green" industries. But such a bill might lower the profits that go into the pockets of the executives and owners of some of the companies that the California Chamber of Commerce represents. (The LA Times on Wednesday said the Chamber’s agenda "seems dominated by development and energy interests".) And, again, it is irrelevant whether the bill might or might not really cost jobs in some of those companies. The Chamber doesn't care. That is not their function.

    The use of the label "job killers" is about scaring the public. Nothing more, nothing less. It is about fear. It is about creating a climate in which people who are afraid for their jobs will go along with measures designed to enrich the owners of the companies that the Chamber -- a lobbying association -- represents.

    So please don't be fooled. Don't be swayed by propaganda designed to make you afraid. As I wrote above, it is up to us to understand who we are hearing from.

    Click through to Speak Out California

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 11:04 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    May 20, 2008

    Job Killers -- Or Just More Fear?

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

    The California Chamber of Commerce has released its annual list of what it calls "job-killer bills."

    Why is it that the Chamber's job-killer bills hit-list seems to only target Democrats? Not a single targeted bill belongs to a Republican. "Bad bills", like those designed to protect public health, climate concerns or consumer rights legislation, are all authored by Democrats. The chamber has always been a lobbying organization, but it has gotten so bad that the Chamber seems to have devolved into little more than just one more fear-mongering Republican Party front group.

    The "job killers" on this list are any laws that protect consumers, reduce energy use, require worker protections or anything else that might hinder a very few corporate executives from reeling in another several-hundred-million dollars a year. The jobs that are "killed" are those of lobbyists for the energy industry.

    The first group on the "job killer" list is bills that ask for any kind of energy or water conservation or environmental standards for new housing construction. For example, AB 1085. The bill describes itself as undating,

    "building design and construction standards and energy conservation standards for new residential and nonresidential buildings to reduce wasteful, uneconomic, inefficient, or unnecessary consumption of energy."
    But the Chamber's job-killer list says this
    Substantially increases the cost of housing and development in California by implementing significant energy efficiency measures
    Now, think about this -- if it costs less to heat and cool your house, this saves you money. If you want to add energy-saving technology like solar electric or water-heating on your house this creates good jobs. Maybe Exxon won't benefit as much from this as the new, upcoming solar industry, but heck, the solar companies aren't coughing up the big bucks and providing the good jobs to the Chamber of Commerce's lobbyists!

    The next group of "job killers" is "workplace mandates" like paid sick leave for employees, disability pay for on-the-job injuries or providing California’s citizens with health insurance.

    Ah yes, the money businesses pay out to provide sick leave and disability pay for those pesky employees "kills jobs." They could hire so many more people if they didn't have to actually pay them and keep them from getting injured! This is one of the oldest arguments in the books. Slaves are always cheaper. But why do we have an economy if not to provide US with good jobs and other benefits? Do we have an economy so a very few corporate CEOs get all the money and benefits, or do we have an economy so the people can also get good pay and benefits and safe working conditions? The evidence (this, for example) is clear that good wages and benefits do not hurt jobs or the economy.

    Then there are “economic development barriers” like asking online retailers to collect the same sales taxes that you local business owner collects, asking the wealthy to help pay for our schools, raising fire standards in high-risk fire areas and protecting our environment. I guess the online retailers must be paying the Chamber more this year than the retailers who have to actually rent storefronts and pay wages in your town. I can't think of any other reason why SOME retailers should collect sales taxes and others should be exempt. Doesn't this change the playing field waaayyy in favor of online retailers and harm the prospects of businesses that actually set up in our local communities? God forbid we ask them to help pay for our schools and police and fire protection!

    This “job killer” list is nothing more than the use of fear to scare us into allowing a few rich corporations to have their way. By saying that protecting workers or the environment might "cost jobs" they are trying to make us afraid to ask these big corporations to live up to their responsibilities to our communities. How long will we let these lobbyists make us afraid?

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 11:37 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    May 10, 2008

    Kaiser Security Guard Strike

    This week I wrote about the Kaiser Permanente / Inter-Con Security Security Guard strike.

    The post Security Guards Striking for the Right to Have Our Laws Enforced discussed why the guards are striking. They are employees of Inter-Con Security, Inc., which contracts services to Kaiser Permanente facilities in California. This company (not Kaiser) is trying to stop the guards from forming a union and the guards are striking to ask that laws allowing union organizing be enforced.

    In Why They (And You) Need A Union a comparison with unionized security guards at Kaiser facilities in other states demonstrated the difference that forming a union can make to workers everywhere.

    The post Unions: Sticking Together to Fight Corporate Power discussed how individuals are unable to stand up against the immense power and wealth that corporations are able to accumulate. Over time workers learned that by organizing into unions they were able to also build enough power to fight back and demand fair compensation and benefits for their work.

    Outside of the blogs there was remarkably little coverage of this strike. Here is a roundup of some of the other coverage:

    This is a good story online at Urban Mecca, Three-Day Strike by Hundreds of Security Officers at Kaiser Hospitals,

    "The public needs to know that the security officers responsible for making Kaiser hospitals safe and protecting vulnerable patients are being denied our fundamental civil rights. Inter-Con freely uses intimidation, spying and retaliation to harass its workers," said Shauna Carnero, a security officer in Hayward.

    The strike, which began May 6 and included major rallies outside Kaiser medical centers in Oakland, Sacramento and Los Angeles, followed numerous federal complaints that workers have filed with the National Labor Relations Board in recent weeks charging Inter-Con with unfair labor practices over the past two years.

    The Pasadena Star-News had Kaiser guards strike,
    Hospital security guards went on strike statewide Thursday, citing poor working conditions and lack of health coverage.

    About 200 Southern California employees of Inter-Con Security, which is contracted by Kaiser Permanente to provide security guards, joined their Northern California counterparts who have been on strike since Tuesday, Service Employees International Union officials said.

    [. . .] Security guards have little legal recourse when they are denied the right to organize, an SEIU attorney said. A loophole in the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 gives security guards only one method of forming a union.

    While most employees have the option of holding an election to bring in a union, security guards can only organize if their employers agree to recognize the union, said attorney Orrin Baird.

    "It's sort of out-dated," Baird said. "If they were not guards they could file a petition with the (National Labor Relations Board) and then they would have to have an election."

    While a few local TV stations carried news about the strike, there was a near-blackout of coverage in the corporate media. WHy do you think that is?

    Please visit StandForSecurity.org.

    I am proud to be helping SEIU spread the word about this strike. sfs-234x60-animated-v2

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 3:09 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    May 9, 2008

    Unions: Sticking Together to Fight Corporate Power

    I have been writing about the strike by California Kaiser Permanente security guards working for contractor Inter-Con Security, who are demanding that laws be enforced and their rights be honored.

    SEIU sent out a press release on the situation, titled, Workers With No Healthcare Protecting Kaiser Facilities, Security Contractor May Be Misleading California's Largest Healthcare Provider. In summary, the security guards at Kaiser are supposed to be provided with individual healthcare after working for 90 days, but it turns out that many are not. The security contractor Inter-Con Security has found a way around the promise: they classify workers as "on-call" instead of permanent.

    As more and more workers report that Inter-Con is keeping workers on temporary or "on-call" status for months or years, it's still unclear whether Inter-Con is misleading Kaiser or if Kaiser is simply turning a blind eye to these tactics which short-change workers.

    And their families are not provided with health insurance at all. The security guards -- paid as little as $10.40 an hour -- are supposed to buy it. The result is that 41% of the officers who responded to a survey cannot. And without paid sick days they cannot afford to take the time off to see a doctor anyway.

    So here we are with a company finding ways around a promise by changing the classification of the workers to "on-call." This points out yet one more problem of workplaces that do not have unions. How many people are classified as "temporary" or "contractors"? This is one of the bigger scams that is going on these days. One reason companies do this is because if someone is not an employee the employer doesn't have to pay their share of the Social Security payroll tax. (There are other reasons as well, including avoiding paying promised benefits.)

    How do you know if you should be called an employee or an independent contractor? For a quick guideline, let's go to the IRS. They say that by-and-large you are an employee,

    if the organization can control what will be done and how it will be done. This is so even if the organization gives the employee freedom of action. What matters is that the organization has the right to control the details of how the services are performed.

    Yet most of us see examples of people in this situation who are called "temporary workers" or "contractors" all the time.

    Companies are not supposed to do this to us, but here's the thing: What can you do about it? You and I are individuals, alone. But corporations have the ability to amass immense power and wealth and influence. You and I as individuals must stand alone against this power and wealth. What can you or I or anyone else do on our own? The average person in our society has very little ability to stand up against this kind of power and wealth.

    Over time people discovered that there are some things they can do that will work. One of these has been to form unions. By joining together the workers in a company can amass some power of their own. The company needs the workers in order to function so the workers -- if they stick together -- have the ability to make the corporation obey employee/employer laws, provide decent pay, and all the other benefits that the unions have brought us. This is why they are also call "organized labor." By organizing into a union and sticking together people have the ability to demand respect and compensation for their work.

    This is what the security guards at Kaiser are trying to do. This is what you should do.

    I encourage you to visit StandForSecurity.org.

    I am proud to be helping SEIU spread the word about this strike. sfs-234x60-animated-v2

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 6:14 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    May 7, 2008

    Why They (And You) Need A Union

    Yesterday I wrote about the security guards who are striking at Kaiser Permanente because their contractor-employer is engaging in illegal tactics while trying to block them from forming a union. The guards work for Inter-Con Security Inc., which is contracted by Kaiser to provide security services.

    You can read articles with details about what happened with the strike yesterday here and here. (There is close to zero coverage of this strike in newspapers. But you wouldn't expect a corporate-owned media to provide information about labor, now would you?)

    Please visit the site Stand for Security for background and details about the security guards' fight to form a union.

    While this strike is about violations of workers' rights, there are very good reasons for their three-year effort to form a union.

    In Oregon, the state just north of California, Kaiser Permanente security guards are employed by Kaiser, not by a contractor. They are unionized and here is a short chart of just some of the difference this makes.

    In-House Union (ILWU)
    Kaiser Security Officers
    Inter-Con Officers at Kaiser
    Wages$15 - $18 per hour
    (Oregon has a much lower
    cost of living)
    As little as $10.40 per hour
    Raises$.70 - $1.45/hour annually,

    depending on seniority

    (Guaranteed in writing!)
    No schedule, no guarantee
    Free Family Health CareYESNO
    Health Insurance Elegibility20 hours worked“Full-time”, which for many

    officers means 1-2 years of

    working 40 hours a week before

    qualifying for health insurance.
    Bereavement Pay3 days paid time offnone
    Sick Leave1.6 hours per pay period

    (Time accrues)
    Jury DutyPaid off as needednone
    Grievance ProcedureYESnone
    Shift Differential$.90/hour evenings
    $1.25/hour nights

    This chart is an example of the difference that a union makes. The column on the left -- the one with better pay, health care, sick days, pension and other benefits -- is the workers who are in a union. The column on the right is these security guards. So this is why these security guards have been fighting for three years to join a union. The employer, Inter-Con Security won't even give sick days! For people working in hospitals! What are these workers supposed to do? And they won't even pay when the workers have jury duty! (Shouldn't a company be concerned about the greater public good, like a court system that works?)

    But this chart is also representative of other workplaces, showing the difference that forming a union can make for other workers. How else are workers going to get back their rights, get health care, get pensions, and get paid? If you see a better idea out there, please let us all know because this strike and the things happening to these security guards shows that it is very very difficult to form a union. In today's environment where workers are afraid of employers moving their jobs overseas - or even just laying them off and telling everyone else to work harder - and then giving their pay out as raises to the executives and multi-million-dollar bonuses to the CEO, this is a very brave action to take.

    On top of that, the Republican government has stacked the labor Department and the National Labor Relations Board to side with the big corporations. So it is even harder to form a union than ever. Which is, of course, why wages are stagnating and CEO pay is off the charts.

    This is why these workers are striking -- to demand that their civil rights be honored and to demand that their right to form a union be honored. These security guards are placing everything on the line -- and doing this for all of us. If they win this fight, all of us are a step further toward our rights being honored, and toward our own jobs paying more and giving benefits.

    I am proud to be helping SEIU spread the word about this strike. sfs-234x60-animated-v2.gif

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 8:20 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    May 6, 2008

    Security Guards Striking for the Right to Have Our Laws Enforced (updated)

    There is a three-day strike starting today at Kaiser Permanente hospitals in California. 1800 security guards are striking for three days in an "unfair labor practice" action. This strike is not against Kaiser and is not to ask for money or benefits; it is not even to form a union in the first place. This strike is just to ask that our laws please be enforced. This may be a lot to ask for in today's corporate-dominated system, but they’re asking for it anyway.

    Here is some background:

    Rather than directly employ security guards Kaiser contracts with a company called Inter-Con Security Systems, Inc. Inter-Con hires and manages the security guards for Kaiser, paying them very little and giving them few benefits - not even sick leave. So these security guards, even though they work at Kaiser, (some for many years), are paid far less than other security guards at Kaiser facilities in other states, and receive few benefits. Kaiser is one of the more responsible, unionized companies for its workers, which makes this situation even worse for these workers.

    These security guards have been trying to form a union for three years and Inter-Con is trying to stop them. It is legal to form a union but Inter-Con has violated civil rights by "threatening, intimidating, and spying on workers who were trying to form a union for better conditions" and that is illegal.

    "…They’re pulling us aside to ask us who is going to picket or strike, who’s a union supporter,” said Angelito Morales, an Inter-Con officer at Kaiser Union City Medical Center, near the Hayward facility.
    That's illegal. Many other occurrences of i9llegal anti-union practices led the security guards to file a complaint with the (Bush) National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) alleging that Inter-Con managers have:
    * Ordered employees to inform management when individuals at the job site were engaging in union activities.

    * Interrogated employees, asking them to disclose the names of individuals who intend to engage in union activities.

    * Spied on employees, photographing and/or otherwise recording employees as they participated in union activities such as picketing.

    * Interrogated at least one worker about planned strike activities, asking whether or not the worker was planning on participating in the strike.

    * Promised workers improved benefits (healthcare), to deter them from engaging in further union activities.

    All of these are against the rules, but the NLRB has not acted.

    Please visit Stand For Security, SEIU's website covering this strike and the security guards' fight to form a union.

    Don’t get caught up in arguments about whether it is a good thing or a bad thing for employees to go on strike for money or benefits. That is not what this strike is about. This strike is about asking that laws be enforced, so the security guards can go about the legal business of forming a union to represent their interests.

    These are the only workers at Kaiser -- subcontracted or not -- who do not have a union. Janitors and others are subcontracted but have unions. And being in a union makes a huge difference. For example, these are the only Kaiser workers without paid family health care. Inter-Con employees must be full time to get any health coverage, while other Kaiser workers get it for working part time. (And of course Inter-Con has lots of ways to make sure employees don't get classified as full-time, like having an "on-call" status that doesn't count.)

    They don't even have paid sick leave. These security guards have to restrain patients, work in the psychiatric ward, etc., and some have been attacked, but they do not even get sick pay! And, of course, there is a dramatic pay difference between these Inter-Con contractors and the other Kaiser employees and contractors.

    Rather than turn this into a comprehensive, 12-page essay I'm goign to write more over the next several days, as this strike unfolds. For now, please visit Stand For Security, SEIU's website about this situation.

    I am proud to be helping SEIU spread the word about this strike. sfs-234x60-animated-v2.gif

    Update - Construction workers building a wing at the strike3.jpg

    strike.jpg strike1.jpg strike2.jpg

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 6:18 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    April 25, 2008

    The Middle Class Squeeze Is A Result Of LOW Taxes

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

    It is a popular misconception that taxes add to the squeeze on the middle class. But it isn't tax increases that have squeezed the middle class, it's tax cuts. It may be hard to believe (after so many years of constant anti-tax rhetoric) but here is why.

    The middle class IS squeezed these days. There are pressures and long hours at work, long commutes, health insurance costs, housing costs, food and gas prices rising, and wages are not keeping up -- they haven't been for a long time. But it is not a coincidence that the middle-class squeeze began at the same time as the corporate-funded anti-government, tax-cutting fervor. In fact a good case can be made that many of the reasons the middle class feels squeezed are the result of pressures brought about almost entirely FROM the effects of tax CUTS and cutbacks in government services, regulations and enforcement that went along with the tax cuts.

    There are direct and indirect relationships. One example of a direct relationship is the dramatic rise in the cost of a college education. Sending kids to college has become extremely expensive. And this places a very hard squeeze on parents who want their children to get a degree. But here in California tuition was very, very low before Proposition 13. Tax cuts directly led to this squeeze on the middle class. (And remember, most of the property taxes that were cut were on business property.)

    Indirect results include rising energy prices from cutbacks in government R&D and subsidies for oil alternatives as well as longer commutes as the government cuts back on transit solutions like buses, trains and roadbuilding or improvements. Health care costs continue to rise because of government inaction and deregulation -- the result of the anti-government sentiment encouraged as part of the the anti-tax campaign. And insurance costs rise while coverage is reduced or even denied as the government cuts back on regulation and enforcement. (My wife is the one who brings in the health insurance for our family. Every year she gets a raise, but every year the amount taken out of her check to cover her portion of the health insurance payment goes up by more than her raise, and her take-home pay is lower. So more squeeze.)

    Other areas where the anti-government, anti-tax campaign has increased pressure on the average person is at work. Anyone that works for a corporation is feeling the extra pressures there. As government of, by and for the people declines corporate power fills the vacuum.

    And there are so many more areas where we are squeezed by this increasing dominance of corporations in our lives. As government -- the power of We, the People -- diminishes, the corporations swoop in to pick us clean. How many examples of corporate power coming to dominate over people power can you think of?

    Click through to Speak Out California

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 7:32 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    April 20, 2008

    A Key Race - CA SD-19, Hannah-Beth Jackson

    In California Hannah-Beth Jackson is running for the State Senate. This is a key race because this is the Senate seat that could flip from Republican to Democrat, finally giving the Dems a 2/3 majority and enabling them to finally pass budgets.

    Her website is: Meet Hannah-Beth

    Hannah-Beth is a former member of the California State Assembly who founded Speak Out California, where I post once or twice a week, and the Institute for the Renewal of the California Dream (which does not yet have a website) where I am a Senior Fellow. This should tell you that she is a solid progressive, concerned with advancing democracy, community, and the mutual prosperity of all Californians instead of the benefits of our work and investment being funneled to the corporations and wealthy. So she has my endorsement and I hope she can earn yours.

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 11:30 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    April 17, 2008

    Tax Cuts make Us Poor

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

    Some years ago the corporate-funded anti-tax, anti-government advocates paid their way to become the dominant voice in our civil discourse. They said there was a magic, simple formula that would lead to shared prosperity. All we had to do was cut taxes, and everyone would have more money.

    Everyone wants to have more money so this sounded wonderful. It is always a seductive argument to tell people that you have a magic formula that can make things better for them. One example is machines that create as much energy as they use -- or more. A common myth is that doctors are conspiring to hide the cure for cancer because it would put them out of business. Another is that there is a formula that turns water into gasoline -- or lead into gold.

    "Just cut taxes, and we will all have more money." "Taxes take money out of the economy." "It's your money and you should decide how to spend it."

    "But," some people asked, "where will the money come from to pay for our roads and schools and all the things that have made us so prosperous?" The seductive response from the tax-cutters was that government is an anonymous, incompetent, inefficient "them" that spends too much money that we could all have in our pockets, and if we just cut out waste everything would be all right. Just cut the waste.

    The thing was, whenever one tried to pin them down on specifics of this waste they would never really explain where all that fat really was that they were going to cut -- at least not in quantities sufficient to match their tax cuts. Don't worry, put us in power, cut the taxes, and it will all sort itself out.

    So eventually we fell for it and cut taxes and put the anti-government people in power. When we noticed that their tax cuts went mostly for corporations and the very rich, they said don’t worry, the money would trickle down to the rest of us. So we quieted down and waited for the magic to happen. When we noticed that the corporations and wealthy were getting richer and richer while we were losing our pensions and health insurance and jobs, they said don't worry, tax cuts make us richer. We still didn't understand that you and I and the regular people of California were not part of their "us" that would get richer.

    The fact is the public officials that We, the People had elected had done competent jobs and there just wasn’t really much waste to cut. Why would there be? The people that we had elected had been good managers of our money. Democracy and accountability require open, transparent processes that the corporate anti-government, anti-tax advocates labeled as "inefficient bureaucracy." That was the waste they had been talking about - the oversight and transparency of good government! Our elected officials had put these systems in place and they had made sure there was no waste -- it was a myth.

    Our government had been humming along, paving the roads, educating our children and investing in projects that led to modern wonders like the Internet. And we had been enjoying the resulting prosperity. California had the best public schools, colleges and universities in the country. We had the best roads, courts, parks, libraries, health care system, water projects and most innovative and open government and this investment had led to a thriving economic ecosystem.

    So instead of cutting imaginary waste we started cutting out this engine of prosperity. We cut the schools and the road maintenance and everything else. The education system started getting worse and the roads and other infrastructure started deteriorating. California fell from first to near the bottom on many scales. Companies started leaving the state because of the deteriorating infrastructure and lower education levels.

    Then when cutting our own services wasn't enough we borrowed money to cover those tax cuts and pay for what government was left. We borrowed and borrowed and borrowed. We were just like the homeowner who refinanced every year as prices went up it seemed like the gravy train would run forever.

    Today the borrowing is catching up with us. As so many homeowners are learning to their dismay: borrowing means payments. And borrowing more means larger payments. In California the payments on our borrowing just happen to be pretty close to the amount of our budget shortfall. The same is true of the federal government.

    Now we approach a day of reckoning for our tax cuts. The bill has to be paid, and the people who received the big tax cuts are pointing the finger at you and me. We can continue to cut out government and lay people off. We can continue to cram more and more children into classrooms with fewer and fewer teachers. We can have longer and longer lines at the DMV. We can close parks. We can have fewer police patrols and fire stations and ambulances and health and safety inspectors. We can just get poorer and poorer.

    Or, we can start to close loopholes like the one that lets wealthy people avoid sales taxes on yachts and private jets while the rest of us pay sales taxes on everything we purchase. We can start to close loopholes like the one that lets oil companies pump our oil out of the ground without paying us and then sell our oil to us. We can start to raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations who prosper because of the roads and financial and legal system we built, and whose taxes were cut leading to this mess. They need to stop simply taking and start paying their fair share. We can do these things and start to restore the thriving economic ecosystem we once had.

    Click through to Speak Out California

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 12:26 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    April 15, 2008

    Tax Internet Sales -- Just Like Local Stores

    This post was originally written for Speak Out California

    Have you ever bought something online, had a problem, and tried to reach the company's customer support line? Could you even find a phone number to call? If there was a phone number to call did you reach a phone tree or a person? Were you on hold for a long time? If you ever did reach a human, was the person in the United States or did they at least speak English (or Spanish) clearly enough to be able to help you?

    A local store employs people in your town, boosting the local economy. The local store either owns or pays rent for their space, which means they pay local taxes to support police and fire services and schools, etc. The local store has people who can help you when you have a problem.

    But buying something from your local store usually costs a bit more. This is because they pay to have actual employees to help you, pay rent, pay to maintain a building, etc. And, finally, the goods cost a bit more because you have to pay sales taxes when you shop at your local store.

    The state of California, in its wisdom, has chosen to provide a huge tax subsidy to anonymous internet businesses, at the expense of your local retailers. You pay sales taxes locally, but not online.

    Shouldn't it be the other way around? Shouldn't the state want to promote local stores, local employment, local police and fire services, local schools and a prosperous local economy? Shouldn't the state be promoting a thriving local economic ecosystem? Instead the state provides a huge competitive advantage to anonymous internet businesses.

    With a huge budget deficit, with the Governor calling for 10% across-the-board cuts in your children's schools, police patrols, fire protection, parks, and all the other things our state government does for us, the state still hands the anonymous internet businesses a huge competitive advantage over our local retailers by letting them no charge sales taxes.

    You owe it to yourself and your local community to find out if YOUR Assemblymember or Senator supports a requirement that internet companies charge the same sales taxes as your local businesses charge.

    Click through to Speak Out California.

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 12:31 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    March 25, 2008

    Conservatives Opposed To Rule Of Law, Our Constitution And Good Education

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

    Conservative leader and former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich writes about the California court ruling that children - even home-schooled children - must be educated by credentialed teachers, saying it is an example of "Judicial Supremacy." In his article he quotes a Wall Street Journal editorial calling the ruling a "strange new chapter" in the "annals of judicial imperialism." Later in the piece he writes,

    The decision represents yet another case of a special interest -- in this case, the education unions and bureaucracy -- using the courts to get what they can't get through the popular vote.

    This is yet another example of judicial supremacy: Rule by an out-of-control judiciary rather than the will of the people. It joins court rulings such as the removal of "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance on a long list of usurpations of the freedom and self-determination of the American people.

    Lets take a moment to examine what Gingrich is really complaining about here.

    Here's how the American system of law and justice is supposed to work: We have a Constitution and we have laws that we are all supposed to follow by mutual agreement. And we have in place a judicial system for interpreting our Constitution and laws, again by mutual agreement. So when there is a dispute we take that dispute to the courts, and the judges rule according to the Constitution and laws. And then we agree to follow their rulings.

    Newt Gingrich and the conservatives complain that this is "Judicial Supremacy" and "judicial imperialism." Wow, this sounds pretty bad! But look at the meaning of these negative-sounding words. Isn't "Judicial Supremacy" really just another way of saying that we agree to follow "rule of law?" When Gingrich uses language that casts a negative frame on the concept, isn't he undermining public respect for the rule of law? Gingrich and other conservatives are happy enough with our American system when it works in their favor but when it rules against their agenda they launch another anti-government screed.

    This post is not written in opposition to home or private schooling, but to point out the importance to all of us that we all operate under the same set of agreed-upon rules. At least in California, another agreed-upon rule is that our children should receive the best possible education. Article 9 of our California Constitution states that a good education is "essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people." The wording at the beginning of Article 9 is as follows:

    A general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people, the Legislature shall encourage by all suitable means the promotion of intellectual, scientific, moral, and agricultural improvement.
    To this end Article 9 describes how California will manage a system of free, public schools. And Article 9 makes it clear that to this end our children deserve qualified, "credentialed" teachers.

    Once again, We, the People of California have decided that a good education is "essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people." This is what we want. Just what is it that Gingrich and other conservatives want instead if it doesn't involve qualified teachers providing education to our state's children?

    Click to continue.

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 2:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    March 13, 2008

    Oil Tax Defeated, School Budget To Be Cut -- What You Can Do

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

    Tuesday's post began,

    In Dubai, people get free housing, free medical care, AND $5,000 per month. The people of Dubai share in the country's oil wealth.

    In Alaska, people not only do not pay state taxes, the state government writes every state resident a check every year. The people of the state of Alaska share in the state's oil wealth.

    But in California the big oil companies get to pump our oil from the ground for free, and then sell it back to us. Right now these oil companies are reaping the highest profits of any industry ever in history, making a few people immensely wealthy, and are not giving back any of this wealth to We, the People of California!

    Our state's budget reflects our priorities and our values. So I wrote that We, the People of California should ask big oil companies to give back some of the immense wealth they are generating for themselves with our oil, so we can fully fund our California schools. I honestly did not know that Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez was about to introduce a bill to do just that. Well, he did, along with a windfall oil profits tax, and this is what happened:

    The bill, which required a two-thirds vote to pass, was defeated on the Assembly floor after Republicans refused to vote for the new taxes.
    These are choices, and the people of California need to understand that a choice was made yesterday to continue to be the only state that allows oil companies to pump our oil and not pay anything for it. And instead of asking the rich oil companies to give back a bit they want to cut the school budget by another 10%.

    Republicans said the bill was a publicity stunt, saying Democrats know that no taxes can pass as long as there is a rule allowing just a few Republicans to block the will of the vast majority. They mocked the effort as an "oil drill."

    "I think this truly is a political drill on the eve of the layoff notices that will go out all across the state and on the eve of (the legislative) spring break when we will be at home in our districts talking to our constituents," Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine, said during the Assembly floor debate that lasted about three hours.
    But do the people of California understand this? Do they realize that just a few votes can allow oil companies to get their oil free, while their children face ever-worsening schools? We need more "publicity stunts" to help them understand the different values and priorities that are being reflected. Politics and life are all about our priorities, not just our choices. What is more important to our people: rich oil companies or well-educated kids?

    A choice is being made here, priorities and values are being expressed: cut our schools by 10% rather than ask rich oil companies to give back just a bit. Say it over and over, and then do something about it. Write to your legislators and demand they ask the wealthiest to start giving back a bit.

    And remember, this is an election year. This is the time when citizens can do something about it when their legislators are not responding. This is the time that you can remove legislators who give wealthy oil companies tax breaks while cutting school budgets. You can volunteer to work in election campaigns, and go from door to door in their districts, letting voters know that their legislator made a choice and voted to cut school budgets while giving tax breaks to oil companies.

    Help spread the word!

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 10:51 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    March 11, 2008

    Choices on Taking and Giving Back

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

    In Dubai, people get free housing, free medical care, AND $5,000 per month. The people of Dubai share in the country’s oil wealth.

    In Alaska, people not only do not pay state taxes, the state government writes every state resident a check every year. The people of the state of Alaska share in the state’s oil wealth.

    Approx. 12 percent of America's oil production comes from California. As I write this oil sells for $108.14 per barrel. In 2005 the oil companies were pumping oil out of our state at a rate of approx 230 million barrels each year. Oil company revenues and profits are the highest ever from any companies in the history of the world, ever. Did I mention "highest" and "ever"?

    But the people of our state, in our wisdom, have decided that instead of asking the oil companies to give back a bit, we will instead give them our oil. Give them. And then we buy it back to put in our cars, etc. Yes, we, the people of the state of California have made the choice to give away our oil to greatly enrich a select few. (And this post is not even a discussion of the dozens of other ways that we have made the choice to allow the few wealthiest among us to avoid giving back by paying taxes.)

    Today in California we are facing a budget shortfall. And instead of asking oil companies and others to give back a bit we are on the verge of deciding instead to cut our school budget. Again. This time by 10%. We are on the verge of deciding to cut health care. Again. And courts, police, and every other state service by 10%, again, rather than ask oil companies and others to give back from what they take from the state.

    The way we solve this budget shortfall is a choice we make. Our choice. Our choices reflect our values and priorities. And we all make these choices whether we think we do or not. If you don't vote, you are choosing. If you vote for someone because you would like to have a beer with him or her, you are choosing. If you choose to vote for candidates who tell you there is "waste, fraud and abuse" and then after they have been in office for decades, continue to claim there is "waste, fraud and abuse," you are choosing. If you choose to let your government borrow and borrow, you are choosing. You will have to pay that back with interest later, of course, but you are choosing.

    And if you choose to let your state give our oil away to wealthy corporations so they can sell it to you and get even wealthier you are choosing to make up that potential tax revenue yourself, through cuts in your children's education and health care and law enforcement, or maybe through increased taxes in the future, but one way or another you are choosing.

    What are our priorities? Further tax relief to the wealthiest corporations, or educate our children? Here you are on the verge of choosing to cut your schools by another 10%. Is that the choice you want to make?

    There is something else you can choose to do today. You can choose to write to your legislators and let them know what your choice really is. You can choose to talk to your family and friends and explain these choices and ask them to write to their legislators as well.

    Click here to find out how to contact your California legislators. If you so choose.

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 4:28 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    March 5, 2008

    A Line In The Sand -- Stop Cutting School Budgets

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

    Governor Schwarzenegger has declared a “fiscal emergency” and is asking the legislature to solve the problem entirely with budget cuts. He has asked for 10% “across-the-board” cuts which at first glance seems to sound fair, but really means avoiding decisions about what budget items are the most important. It means cutting schools 10%. And law enforcement. And medical care. (Of course, they can't cut the interest owed on Governor Schwarzenegger's past borrowing.)

    And more than that -- much, much more than that -- it is a trick that leaves out the fact that the state is not collecting needed tax revenue because of loopholes that let big corporations and the wealthy off the hook while the rest of us make up the difference.

    It’s time to draw a line in the sand and demand that our state government not cut the budget for our children's education any more.

    Isn't there a lot of "fat" in the budget, just waiting to be cut? Most people think so. But think about this -- every time the state has a shortfall they cut spending, saying they are cutting out the "fat." As a result, in the decades since Proposition 13 passed they have trimmed and trimmed and trimmed, and we now are long past the point where there is anything left to cut. In fact, today California schools have the lowest number of administrators per student of any state. Our schools have squeezed and squeezed and dropped programs and forgone pay raises and they can’t operate any more efficiently.

    I was listening to a radio show the other night, someone from the San Francisco schools said this budget cut could mean they have to have 61 students per classroom.

    But the Republicans in the legislature won't let us talk about taxes -- not even the yacht tax loophole. You and I have to pay sales taxes but people who buy yachts and private jets do not. They keep California as the only state that won't tax the oil companies for the oil they pump out from our state. They won't find a way to make commercial property owners pay market-rate property taxes.

    The Governor and a Republican minority in the Assembly and Senate are still willing to block all alternatives to cutting teachers and health care and roads and parks and those things that We, the People call our government.

    So it is time to draw a line in the sand. No more cuts. It is time to ask the corporations and wealthy to start giving back some of the incredible wealth they have made off of the physical, legal and financial infrastructure that We, the People of California put in place that enabled their gains in the first place.

    Here are steps you can take to help fight back:

    First, join us. Click this link and join Speak Out California. This way we can keep you up to date on our activities, including our activities to help keep our schools funded.

    Next, start Speaking Out yourself, writing letters to the editor and contacting your legislators, demanding that the state enact alternatives to budget cuts, like closing tax loopholes and making wealthy people pay the same sales taxes that the rest of us pay.

    The California Teachers Association provides a web page that helps you find the correct contact information for your state legislators. Please write to your legislators.

    The Education Coalition has a website with facts to help you make your points. Give them a visit, too.

    And finally, this is Speak Out California's fundraising month. Help us out so we can continue the work we are doing. Help us keep the progressive voice alive.

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 5:11 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    February 27, 2008

    Reflections On Corporations

    This post first appeared at Speak Out California

    How is it that corporations have the rights that individuals do, but not the responsibilities?

    Let's reflect on what a corporation is. A business is formed by a few people. The business asks the government for a corporate charter, pays a fee, and is then this special entity called a corporation with special rights granted by the government.

    Under our laws, corporations are fictional persons with certain rights. They can own assets, employ agents and engage in contracts just like people. But unlike you or me they have special benefits including limited liability and unlimited life.

    Corporations enjoy limited liability -- if you or I commit a crime, injure someone, go bankrupt or get sued we're in big trouble and have to suffer the consequences. But this is not what happens to the owners of corporations. Their liability is limited and if their corporation is involved in any of these things they can just fly away in their private jets. In some jurisdictions corporate officers and directors are even shielded from liability for criminal acts the corporation commits.

    Corporations have unlimited life -- which means the entity continues beyond any individual. The assets owned by a corporation can stay and grow in that corporation, and be controlled by its owners perpetually. So the corporation is able to amass significant assets and resources.

    A corporation is not taxed the same as individuals. In most case they pay much lower taxes, the dividends they pay their owners are taxed at lower rates, as are the capital gains. In fact there are many circumstances where corporations do not have to pay taxes at all! So the burden of paying for the roads and schools (and wars) falls on the rest of us.

    Corporations are able to compel large numbers of people -- employees, contractors, other corporations and other paid entities -- to do certain things. They can even tell people what to wear, how to wear their hair, even to wear makeup or not.

    These special rights help corporations build up tremendous resources and power far beyond the ability of any individual in our society. So individuals finding themselves up against corporations face tremendous disadvantages. Many of the mechanisms for mitigating this disparity, including unions, the right to sue, taxes, even government regulation, have been reduced as a result of corporate-funded lobbying, ballot initiatives or other efforts. The ability to amass tremendous assets and power enables the people at the top of corporations to have great influence over our government and the laws it makes -- even to the point of granting them ever greater rights and benefits and tax cuts -- helping them to amass even greater assets, resources and power.

    Corporations make decisions in ways that are very different from how We, the People of America and California make our community decisions through our governments. In our government all decisions and spending are participatory and transparent, meaning all of us can vote for representatives and can watch or otherwise look at how decisions are made and understand where all money is spent. In California it is even illegal for a city council committee to meet in secret. This is certainly not how things are done with corporations. (By the way, this is why some people say corporations are "more efficient"-- they do not have the procedures for the degree of transparency and accountability that governments and other public entities require.)

    Question -- are these differences between public and corporate accountability and transparency compatible with our understanding of democracy? What about the ability of corporations to influence how our government regulates corporations? Keep in mind that corporations are nothing more than the creation of our laws. So discussing questions like these is essential to the maintenance of that democracy.

    Click to continue

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 8:23 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    February 19, 2008

    Tax And Budget Priorities: Schools No, Yachts Yes

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

    Do you know about the California yacht tax loophole? Here is how it works: Regular people like you and me have to pay sales taxes on the things we buy, even on big items like cars. We even have to pay these taxes if we buy outside of the state. (Technically that is called a "use" tax.)

    But California has a special tax loophole just for the things rich people buy. That's right, if you buy a big yacht, airplane or "luxury recreation vehicle," you don't have to pay sales tax. The way this loophole works is, you buy it outside the state, hold it there for three months, and then you have a sales-tax-free yacht.

    Summary: Regular people pay sales taxes, rich people don't have to.

    Last week there was a budget battle in Sacramento that resulted in a number of cuts that will have a big impact on regular Californians. But the Republicans held firm and blocked attempts to do away with the tax loophole that lets rich people get out of paying the taxes that the rest of us have to pay.

    From Saturday's San Jose Mercury News, Cuts hit schools, social services, MORE TRIMS LIKELY; GOP BLOCKS YACHT-TAX BILL,

    "... lawmakers Friday chopped more than $2 billion from state programs, with schools, social services and health care providers that serve the poor taking the biggest hits."
    That's right, more than $500 million was chopped from our schools! Meanwhile,
    "Republican lawmakers in the Assembly voted down a proposal to close a loophole in the so-called "yacht tax," which allows people who buy yachts or planes to store them out of state for three months to avoid state use taxes."
    Summary (in case you missed the point): Regular people pay sales taxes, rich people don't have to.

    At California Progress Report, Frank Russo explains, "The California Senate passed a repeal of a loophole that allows the multimillionaire purchasers of yachts and private planes from paying a sales or use tax." But the Assembly failed to pass this because of "the opposition of most elected Republicans."

    Just to short-circuit the usual arguments about taxes, Frank Russo notes that the Legislative Analyst's Office looked into this and found no change in yacht and plane sales from times when the tax is collected to times when it is not.

    As Russo explains, the fight over closing this loophole occurred just after "... medical, dental services, and other programs for children were cut and cost of living increases delayed for the blind, aged, and disabled poor who qualify for Social Security."

    Here is what I want to know: Why in the world are the Republicans so confident that they can get away with this?

    It is generally understood that the average citizen has been fed enough unanswered anti-tax and anti-government propaganda that they reflexively oppose taxes. (The operative word there is "unanswered.") But this is a very different thing. This is a special exclusion, just for rich people, that one way or another has to be made up for by the rest of us! Why aren't the people of California more upset about this?

    The only conclusion I can reach is that the Republicans understand that regular people are not going to find out about this! And they may well be correct. Yes, the story was in a few newspapers, but really, who reads newspapers? This is not how large numbers of regular people get their information about politics in California. They get some of it from TV news, but I really fear that most people in California get their information about the issues facing the state from ads that run during prime-time television shows. And I think that conservatives understand this, while progressives/liberals do not quite "get it."

    For example, if regular people were accurately informed about California issue, then people would understand that most of the factors that were used as justifications for recalling Governor Gray Davis are today almost the same with Governor Schwarzenegger. One big difference I see is that the energy companies are not running an ad campaign blaming Governor Schwarzenegger for anything, they way they ran ads blaming Governor Davis for the energy-company-created energy shortage back then.

    So, in summary, again, this is about regular people having to pay sales taxes that rich people don't have to. And it is about Republicans being confident that the public isn't going to find out.

    Click to continue.

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 3:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    February 12, 2008

    Political Suicide

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

    Conventional wisdom considers it political suicide for a candidate to talk about the need to raise taxes so the state can pay its bills -- especially if it involves reforming Proposition 13.

    Much of the public thinks that government "spends too much" and that much of the state's budget goes to "waste, fraud and abuse."

    Much of the pubic also thinks that the primary beneficiaries of Prop. 13 were little old ladies who otherwise would lose their homes to increasing property taxes.

    Reality, rarely consulted, understands things very differently.

    California faces another budget crisis. The Governor proposes solving the problem with budget cuts.

    California's budget pays teachers, fights crime, maintains roads and bridges and other necessary activities. There simply is no room for cuts to balance the budget. In fact, budget cuts just make following year shortfalls worse. If you lay off teachers they aren't paying taxes. If you don't fix roads the economy gets worse. In the long term, if you don't educate kids employers move jobs to states and countries that do. And, of course, it is always a really bad idea to cut back on police and courts -- especially after years and years of cuts in education.

    Budget cuts don't work, so how about the modern solution to budget problems? I mean, of course, just borrowing the needed money. But Governor Schwarzenegger proved that the state can't borrow its way out of budget crunches: A major reason for this year's budget problems is the interest owed on Schwarzenegger's past easy fixes of issuing bonds.

    The reality is that the budget cannot be fixed with budget cuts or more borrowing. We need to increase taxes. We need to start by reforming Proposition 13, raising corporate taxes, closing tax loopholes and taxing oil that is pumped from the ground. If we decide to do these things we might find that we not only fix California's budget problems for good, we might even be able to lower income taxes.

    Reality also shows that the major beneficiaries of Proposition 13 were not little old ladies but large commercial real estate holders. It would be so easy to put a "little old lady" exception into property tax rules so they are not forced from their homes. But it would be political suicide to even discuss reforming Proposition 13 because of the power of the large commercial real estate owners. They want their tax break and don't care if the whole state goes broke and everyone else suffers. They are able to put a lot more money into the election process than regular people. That is why it is political suicide to talk about raising property taxes.

    Why is it political suicide for a candidate to propose ways to fix problems, but not political suicide to cause them or make them worse?

    Click to continue.

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 12:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    February 5, 2008

    Primary Election Day Thoughts

    This post appeared today at Speak Out California

    It’s primary election day in California. Don't let yourself forget to vote, and check our voter guide to help you figure out what those initiatives are about.

    Here is a scary thought: People who are just old enough to vote for the first time in this election were ten years old when the 2000 election brought George Bush to the White House, and likely don’t remember much from before that.

    They certainly don't remember California before Proposition 13 cut taxes, back when we had great roads and schools and colleges. They don't remember that there was a debate over whether the people should be allowed to decide how much to tax ourselves. Instead we now have a requirement that 2/3 of voters approve taxes - a level that can almost never be met.

    They don't remember California before term limits. Proposition 93 is just a tweaking of the term limits rules, and there is no discussion over the merits of term limits generally. Young people don't know that there was a debate over the idea that people should be allowed to decide for themselves if they want to return their own representatives to office.

    Last week I was caught in traffic so I couldn’t get home in time to watch the Clinton-Obama debate. I scanned the radio and not one single AM or FM station was carrying it. (Oddly one station was carrying an older Republican Presidential candidate debate.) FM was a sea of really bad commercial music, ads, and a few good Spanish music stations. AM was a sea of right-wing opinion, and ads. And then more ads.

    I remember when it was considered a duty of a broadcaster to inform and serve the public. It was unimaginable that a candidate debate was not available. In exchange for licenses to use OUR radio spectrum for commercial purposes the broadcast companies agreed to serve the public interest. They would limit the number of ads and devote a large percentage of programming to documentaries, news and other information that served democracy. It was understood that WE owned the resource, and WE set the terms for commercialization of that resource. Imagine!

    Yes, We, the People used to set the terms for licenses to commercialize the public resources. Now it's the other way around - the corporations give us credit ratings.

    It seems like such an old debate over ideas like these. But younger people they have never heard these debates and likely don't even know there even was debate over these ideas. They don't know about a time when the people were considered to be the owners of the state's and country's resources.

    If they ever did get an opportunity to hear about these debates they might even think it is a good idea for the public to make decisions. (Hint.)

    Click to continue.

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:42 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    January 20, 2008

    EPA Refuses To Say WHY It Denied California Emission Waiver

    EPA won't give details on denying emissions waiver,

    Invoking executive privilege, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency refused to provide lawmakers Friday with a full explanation of why it rejected California's greenhouse gas regulations.

    . . . The refusal to provide a full explanation is the latest twist in a congressional investigation into why the EPA denied California permission to impose what would have been the country's toughest greenhouse gas standards on cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles.

    In denying the waiver last month, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson told Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that the federal government is implementing a national fuel efficiency standard.

    Johnson's decision spurred congressional investigations and a legal challenge this month by California and 15 other states.

    But we know why they did it. They did it because the oil companies are paying the Republican Party. DUH!

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 1:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    January 19, 2008

    It Is Time to Undo Past Tax Cuts

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

    California faces a large budget deficit, and the Governor has declared an emergency. The Governor has proposed "across-the-board" spending cuts -- which means cutting all state services by an equal amount.

    This inability to prioritize the importance of any particular spending cuts should be taken as a de facto declaration that there is no waste or unimportant spending left to cut -- that all spending is equally crucial. Driving home this point, the Governor is asking for the release onto the streets of prisoners.

    If we don't want prisoners released onto our streets the legislature must raise revenue.

    The first place to look is toward taxes and fees that were cut when times were good. The vehicle license fee is the most obvious place to start. A letter-writer in today’s San Francisco Chronicle makes this point:

    "When Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor, he immediately repealed the increase in vehicle registration fee that Gov. Gray Davis had used to help close the budget gap. This returned money to the pockets of Californians with cars (I received a check for $1) and took $4 billion from our state's budget. This is roughly the amount he now wants to cut from our public education. … It is hard for me to feel empathy for people who complain about a 1.5 percent tax increase on their $100,000 car when there are families that will lose their ability to have a home if these cuts go through."
    We should examine the record from past tax cuts. Have they helped or harmed us?

    The record shows that tax cuts actually harm state economies and finances. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in a 2005 report titled, TAX CUTS AND CONSEQUENCES: The States That Cut Taxes the Most During the 1990s Have Suffered Lately found that tax-cutting states actually performed worse fiscally and economically than other states. From the sumary:

    Those big tax cuts do not seem to have contributed to state fiscal and economic health. In fact, when the economy began to weaken in 2001 and states fell into a fiscal crisis, those big tax-cutting states generally faced larger fiscal problems, and had worse economic performance, than other states that had been more cautious about tax cuts.
    Since these cuts were clearly a bad idea it is time to repeal them.

    Beyond this, we should learn from this emergency. What happened to us that we got talked into cutting taxes at the top while cutting services in the middle?

    Click to continue

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 2:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    January 15, 2008

    Hillary's Victory

    A guest post by Bettina Duval of the California List

    Senator Hillary Clinton's victory in New Hampshire was the first time in our history that a woman won a presidential primary*. Her win was a momentous achievement that the early suffragettes could only dream of. It was a triumph for all women – a giant step forward in the drive for equality.

    The nation's political attention has wrongly focused on why Senator Clinton won New Hampshire. The most important fact, that she is the first woman ever to win a primary, has been lost. Does it matter that Hillary Clinton won the primary – YES. Senator Clinton's victory cannot be brushed aside with political positioning or media downplay. Make no mistake, it was an historic moment.

    As the founder of the CALIFORNIA LIST, an organization dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women to California state government, I have dedicated my life to building the pipe-line of future leaders and helping support Democratic women running for office. When a woman becomes a candidate she brings a different voice to the conversation and valuable diversity to the political process. She will inevitably face challenges because of her gender. After all, it took more than 40 years for California women to gain the right to vote. In 1911 when suffrage finally passed in California, it did so by fewer than 3,600 votes – an average of one vote per precinct!!! Women's rights have been born out of struggle not privilege.

    In 1994, the year of the woman, the number of elected female Democratic officials in California was at an all time high. Twenty per cent, or 24 out of 120 elected officials, were women. Today we have only 16 elected Democratic women, over 30% less than ten years ago. In California we lose 2 or three elected women per election. It's the slow drip process. Elected women and candidates are in decline – a frightening trend that must be reversed.

    The full impact of Hillary Clinton's win in New Hampshire on her run for President is as yet undefined, but I hope it will at the very least encourage more women to run for office. Seeing a Democratic woman governor in California is a dream. When Hillary Clinton won the primary she moved us closer to that goal.

    Women need to run and win on every level of the political pipeline, from the local school board to the presidency. Their voice is critical to the balance of decision-making and the future of our state, our country and our world. Reversing the decline in the number of women candidates and office-holders, not only in California but across the country, is essential to the health of our political process.

    I see it as our moral opportunity as well as our moral obligation to continue the fight for individual liberty. It is my belief in Democracy – a Democracy that is made stronger by diversity – that motivates me to encourage you to applaud Hillary Clinton for her achievement.

    * - It has been pointed out at DailyKos that Shirley Chisholm win the 1972 New Jersey.

    Posted by Guest at 2:22 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    A Budget Shock Attack

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

    California is said to be having a budget "crisis." Last week the Governor signed an emergency proclamation forcing the legislature to meet and act on the budget within forty-five days.

    "Crisis" and "emergency" are serious words, and the public is upset about hearing them. This is, of course, the intent of those using the words -- to get the public upset and demanding action. When people are shocked and worried they will accept solutions that might not be what they would accept if they had time to think, consider all reasonable alternatives and weigh all the consequences. In an "emergency" the public just wants the problem solved. (This is a "Shock Doctrine" approach.)

    So having created a crisis atmosphere the Governor is asking for "across the board" cuts in state government spending. This is a tactic that let's him avoid specifying any particular cuts. The reason the Governor does not want to specify any particular spending cuts is because people will realize that such cuts are not a good idea.

    Asking for cuts "across the board" sounds so fair. But not specifying also means not prioritizing. By setting no priorities for spending cuts the Governor is saying that one area of spending matters to him no more than another.

    Let's be clear about what the Governor is doing. He is cutting police and other law enforcement and public safety. He is cutting schools -- when California already is 43rd in spending per pupil. He is letting prisoners out onto the streets. He is cutting disaster assistance. He is letting roads and bridges deteriorate. That is what government spending is -- and we are who it is for.

    Each and every thing the Governor is asking to cut is important to all of us, the people of California. We, the people need and want what the state spends its money on. We need our police and public safety departments. We want our children educated in good schools. It is rare to find a person who claims that the state "spends too much" who can tell you just what we, the people of the state actually spend our money on. (Try it yourself - see if you can get specifics from anyone who claims that the state spends "too much.") That is why the Governor is calling for "across-the-board" spending cuts and not specifying where he thinks cuts should be made.

    Meanwhile the Governor is not presenting the public with alternatives to spending cuts. There ARE alternatives, but they are only going to be part of the process if people pay attention to what is going on. Here are just a few examples of alternatives that should be considered:

    Alternative: Restore the vehicle license fee. This would bring back $5 billion that we, the people should be collecting and using.

    Alternative: Tax oil as it is taken out of the ground. The oil belongs to the people of California but we don't ask companies to pay us when they pump it. A California oil-severance tax would go a long way toward helping solve our budget problems. Alaska, for example, has no income tax, and in fact the state instead sends a check to citizens each year because they understand that the oil is a common resource and tax the companies that pump it out of the ground.

    Alternative: Impose a surtax on upper incomes to balance the budget and pay off the bonds. Consider that the reason some people receive so much more income is because the infrastructure we Californians have built and the benefits that we the taxpayers have granted to corporations helps build prosperity. And one effect of having very high incomes is that they have large amounts of disposable income with which to pay taxes and still have plenty left over. This money can also be used to pay off the bonds that the Governor has issued to avoid making touch choices in the past. Currently we pay approx. $4 billion each year toward interest on these bonds. Paying down these bonds and reduces these interest payments and THAT is a spending cut we all want to happen.

    Click to continue.

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 10:04 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    January 9, 2008

    Do Taxes Drive The Economy?

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

    Do taxes drive California's economy?

    The governor says California is in a budget crisis. He says we need to cut the state's spending "across-the-board," and the Republicans insist that tax increases and other alternatives are off the table. The media largely seem to be going along with taking discussion of alternatives off the table, and consequently Democrats are too intimidated to bring them up.

    But what they are missing is that taxes drive the economy.

    Tax-cut proponents say that increasing taxes on the wealthy "takes money out of the economy." I wonder where they think the money goes? Do they think it just goes up into the air and disappears?

    They don't seem to -- or pretend not to -- understand that taxes come right back into the economy. It is taxes that pay the salaries of teachers and police officers and that build and maintain our roads. Then that money circulates from those teachers and construction workers to support our stores and movie theaters and restaurants and to buy homes and cars.

    What would the effect be of a cut? In California there are approx. 308,000 teachers. The Governor is proposing a 10% "across-the-board" tax cut. Imagine the economic consequences if this cut means laying off 10% of those teachers -- 30,000 people? This is not the precise plan but it illustrates that spending cuts do not help the economy of California. In fact it is spending cuts, not tax cuts that "take money out of the economy."

    And anyway we want what our taxes buy us! We want our teachers and firefighters and roads and courts and water & sewer systems. Cuts are not what we want.

    Borrowing more money is not the solution, either. One result of the conservative tax-cutting fever of recent years has been massive borrowing at the state and especially the federal level. But people have not been told that borrowing is in reality a spending increase because we have to pay interest on that debt. California is spending $4 billion this year to pay interest on bonds and that is spending that cannot be cut. That is a lot of spending, and we would not have such a serious deficit if we did not have to pay out that $4 billion.

    So the solution to the budget shortfall has to include all the tools in our toolbox. First, we have to close tax loopholes. We need to restore the vehicle license fee (which the Governor calls a tax). Then we need an oil-severance tax - we are the only state in the country that drills oil that doesn't have one! And we have to stop being a "donor state" to the federal government. We send over $50 billion to the feds that we do not get back for programs or services.

    Finally, we need tax increases on corporate profits and the wealthy. Here is why: tax money is used to build the very things that ensure our prosperity. It is used to build the economy that enables some of us to become very wealthy and stay that way. Our tax-supported legal system enables and protects businesses and investors. Our tax-supported economic infrastructure defines and regulates the financial system under which investment occurs to build these businesses. Taxes built the physical infrastructure (like schools and roads) that helps us all in ways that everyone understands. But taxes also built and support the legal and economic infrastructure that is crucial for economic growth as well. The Anderson Forecast states that the two keys to a successful economy are infrastructure and education, and that is tax dollars. Entrepreneurs and businesses look for those qualities when determining where to set up shop.

    In other words, the wealthy and businesses have benefitted the most from government investment and they have the most money as a result, so they should be contributing the most. And middle-class taxpayers are currently being hammered by a different kind of oil tax -- huge increases in gas prices at the pump while the oil companies are recording the most profits by any companies ever. And because of previous spending cuts, the middle class, and particularly our students, are experiencing increases in fees such as college tuition while the benefits of the taxes they pay are going disproportionately to the wealthy.

    Of course taxing the very wealthy and corporations might very well take some money out of the Cayman Islands' or other tax-haven economies, bringing it back to California. (One building in the Cayman Islands is the business address of more than a thousand American corporations.) And increasing taxes on the wealthiest might even cause someone to have to buy a slightly smaller yacht or private jet in order to be used to pay a few hundred teachers or firefighters.

    Click to continue

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:12 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    December 19, 2007

    2013 Is Too Late for California

    Yesterday: Senate Approves $70 Billion For Iraq-Afghanistan. Earlier this week: Fiscal emergency for California

    According to the National Priorities Project, the Iraq War has so far cost California $57,777,700,000

    Do you see the connection?

    Some of our candidates say they will keep combat troops in Iraq until 2013. The actions of the Congress since the 2006 election proves that we need to pin them down now, before the election. No more benefit of the doubt. We need a clear, indisputable mandate to end the Iraq war in this election. It is costing us too much. It is killing and injuring people, creating a massive number of refugees, forcing people to turn against America, and destroying our financial underpinnings.


    Posted by Dave Johnson at 11:15 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    Fighting An "Emergency" With One Hand Tied Behind Our Backs

    Originally for Speak Out California

    Our ongoing Speak Out California series on the California budget is interrupted by an "emergency." With California state budget deficit projections rising from $10 billion to $14 billion the Governor plans to declare a budget "emergency," saying he might propose "slashing" the state's budget by 10% "across the board."

    But doesn't a budget involve spending and revenues? Why is the Governor tying one hand behind our backs? Why is the Governor only proposing that the people who are in a position to really need our government's help be the ones who must sacrifice in this "emergency?"

    I'll begin with some background for those readers who don't spend their days scouring California budget news. According to Saturday's San Jose Mercury News story, Fiscal emergency for California,

    Facing a projected $14 billion budget deficit, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday said he will declare a fiscal emergency, which will allow the governor and lawmakers to cut spending more quickly and also sets the stage for slashing state services and programs - perhaps by as much as 10 percent.

    Who will be most affected by these cuts? The rich? The powerful? What do you think the odds of that are? According to the San Jose Mercury News story,
    Much of California's general fund budget, which totals $102 billion for the 2007-08 fiscal year that began July 1, is designated for education, transportation and other uses. Therefore, cuts often fall disproportionately on social services and the poor, elderly and disabled residents who rely on them.

    But in an "emergency" why would the Governor make a pre-emptive announcement that takes half of the state's budget options off the table? A budget consists of spending and revenues. Yet the Governor proposes to solve the problem entirely by cutting government services like education, social services and law enforcement, and is not even discussing raising taxes. Shouldn't half of the solutions toolkit warrant half of the discussion?

    This one-sided debate on budget priorities is gaining attention. A Dec. 9 Los Angeles Times op-ed, Why won't The Times talk tax hikes?, by Robert Cruickshank, a political science teacher, addressed this unbalanced approach, writing, "There are ways for the governor to balance the budget without cutting spending." Questioning a one-sided approach to solving budget problems, he continued,

    Here's the problem. The politics of the budget crisis are in large part shaped by media coverage. When the state's largest and most influential paper focuses on spending -- while largely ignoring the revenue side -- in budget articles, it implies that the solution to the budget crisis is slashing spending rather than raising taxes. That's not balanced journalism.

    Citing several pieces that discussed cutting spending but not raising taxes, Cruickshank wrote,
    To its credit, The Times, in a Nov. 9 editorial titled "Red-ink realism," correctly noted that Schwarzenegger is partly to blame for the budget mess by lowering the vehicle-license fee. But rather than call for tax increases -- or even just a study of possible new sources of revenue -- to pay for locked-in or new spending, the editorial offered up the bromide that California needs bold, courageous leadership to solve the budget problem.

    This debate is not just happening in California. A recent New York Times op-ed by Robert Frank, Reshaping the Debate on Raising Taxes, addressed how a reluctance to discuss taxes affects the country. Frank wrote,
    POWERFUL anti-tax rhetoric has made legislators at every level of government afraid to talk publicly about a need to raise taxes. The constituents of the few who dare speak are typically bombarded with attack ads that go something like this: "It's your money, but your esteemed senator thinks the bureaucrats in Washington know how to spend it more wisely than you do."

    Because of our inability to talk sensibly about taxes, the United States has been sliding toward second-class status in the world economy. ...

    And California is well along the path to second-class status as well. All we need to do is visit our schools or drive on our roads to see what the drumbeat of anti-tax, budget-cutting propaganda brings us.

    It is tricks like declaring an "emergency" while taking half of the possible solution off the table, while at the same time our newspapers and other information sources refuse to inform the public of all of the ways that budget problems can be addressed, that got us where they are. This is not a sustainable path. The day must come when the budget just breaks down: when there is nothing left to cut, the interest paid on all the bonds catches up to us, and we wake up to see that our California Dream was sold off to the lowest bidder. It is better that we wake up now and reclaim the dream, asking those who have benefited most from the state we built to contribute their share.

    Click to continue.

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 11:12 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    December 12, 2007

    The Line at the DMV

    Originally posted at Speak Out California.

    Two previous posts explored the outline of the California state budget, and the process by which the budget is developed and passed into law. But these overviews don't directly touch most Californians in their daily lives. To begin to connect the budget and the budget process with the concerns of regular Californians let's look at one department that almost every adult in California encounters regularly: the dreaded Department of Motor Vehicles, commonly known as the DMV.

    According to the DMV website, the department:

    ...registers vehicles in California and licenses their drivers. This amounts to about 33 million vehicles registered and approximately 23 million licensed drivers.

    Other major DMV functions include:

    • Recording ownership (certificate of title) of the vehicles DMV registers
    • Maintaining driving records (accidents and convictions) of licensed drivers
    • Issuing identification cards for individuals
    • Registering and recording ownership of vessels
    • Licensing and regulating driving and traffic violator schools and their instructors
    • Licensing and regulating vehicle manufacturers, transporters, dealers, distributors, vehicle salespeople, and dismantlers
    • Administering the Financial Responsibility Law
    • Investigating consumer complaints
    • Maintaining records in accordance with the law
    • Collects approximately $6.5 billion in revenues annually
    That's a lot. To accomplish this for the state's population of 36,457,549 (2006 census bureau estimate), with 23,270,087 licensed drivers and 4,248,807 ID cardholders (2006) The total budget is $903 MILLION (proposed, 2007-2008) with 8,280 employees.

    While this sounds like a lot of money and people, this amounts to only approx. $33 and only .0003 employees per license/ ID card. How much service can you expect from three ten-thousandths of an employee?

    The DMV is a symbol of state government to most people -- and not often a positive one. Few people have good things to say about the DMV, and by and large this boils down to the need to show up at the office and stand in a line, fill out forms, and regularly pay fees.

    Few people understand that one of the reasons for the lines is that the DMV just doesn't have enough people working there - just three ten-thousandths of a person for each license or ID cardholder. When 27.5 million people are demanding services from 8,280 employees, lines can indeed get long.

    But even under these constraints, they find ways to manage as well as they have. In fact, according to the Governor's Budget Document, "Over the past two years, the DMV has reduced field office wait times in the largest offices from nearly one hour to 20 minutes and reduced customer telephone wait times by more than 50 percent." These lines were decreased because the Governor committed to additional funding (demonstrating the direct relationship between funding and good service to the public.)

    We frequently hear that government spending must be cut, but few places bring home the impact of government spending cuts as directly as the experience of a visit to the DMV. In our example the DMV is a symbol of the state government, and the experience of the DMV is the experience of underfunded schools, roads that need maintenance and services that are approaching a breaking point. Spending can only be cut so far.

    Click to continue.

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 10:03 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    October 24, 2007

    California Fires - Where is the National Guard?

    Gov. Bill Richardson asks, Daily Kos: Where is the National Guard?,

    Today, we all extend our sympathies and prayers to those devastated by the wildfires in California. Millions of Americans are impacted by this natural disaster.

    ... It is a sad irony that yesterday, the very day I sent fire crews to California, 300 more New Mexico National Guard members were sent to Iraq. Just when we need them most at home, more of our brave men and women, true public servants, are sent away to a war we cannot win.

    [...] Today, as the fires rage, California has National Guard men, women, and critical equipment thousands of miles away in Iraq.

    They need to come home. We need them here.

    This has gone on long enough. When a national disaster hits, our states depend on the National Guard. Right now, President Bush is robbing Peter to pay Paul to continue his disastrous adventure in Iraq, and when tragedy hits us here at home, Americans are stuck with the bill. This cannot continue.

    Bush won't end this war. Congress must. And they must end it now.

    ... Join my call at www.getourtroopsout.com to push Congress to begin ending this war now. Not in January, not next spring, not next year - now.

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 5:04 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    October 19, 2007

    California Newsladder Preview

    I'm working with a project that will be launch in a few weeks, called California Newsladder. California Newsladder is a news aggregator for progressive California blogs and news sites.

    It is running now, so go take a look. Here is what it is about: If you have signed up, you can add links to stories that you think are important or interesting. If you click a link you can read the entire story at the site where it came from.

    You can also recommend links that you see there. As the stories are recommended they climb up the ladder. After Newsladder's launch, each day the top ten stories be sent to legislators and their aides, reporters and editors and TV and radio stations around the state. This will help expand the reach of progressive blogs and news sites like California Progress Report and Calitics.

    California Newsladder is part of the system that also has Burma Newsladder and some new sites coming up.

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 5:27 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    September 10, 2007

    Tort Reform

    I came across some interesting "tort reform" laws in various states. It seems several state governments understand their job as protecting wealthy corporations from citizens, not the other way around. As I read this list:

    In several states it is illegal to sue fast food companies if their products harm your health, give you diabetes, etc.

    In Colorado it is against the law to sue a ski resort.

    In California it is illegal to sue a tobacco company.

    Florida you can’t sue a store if a powered shopping cart injures you.

    In Indiana medical malpractice awards are limited to $1.25 million even if the resulting required medical care costs more.

    In Kansas punitive damages when a corporation injures you are limited to your annual income, regardless of what the corporation did or how much money they made from the actions that harmed you.

    In Maryland, if a corporation kills a member of your family, they don’t have to pay more than $500,000. In Wisconsin it is $350,000 if an adult was killed.

    In Mississippi the amount you can claim in damages if a corporation harms a member of your family is limited to your net worth when injured.

    In South Carolina you can’t sue a skating rink operator.

    In Utah doctors can refuse to treat a patient unless the patient agrees in advance not to sue them.

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:27 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

    September 8, 2007

    California's Next Governor

    I attended the Santa Clara County Annual Democratic Dinner tonite. One of the speakers was California Controller John Chiang. I did not know anything about Chiang before I saw him speak, and had never heard him speak. I don't know about the next governor's race here, and don't know who is thinking of running.

    But now I have head of John Chiang. This guy is one of us, and he was on fire. Everybody should start paying attention to this guy. He's great. He's there to protect the people of California - ALL of us. He talked about corporate domination, global warming and energy, gay rights, Asians, and everyone. This guy is GOOD.

    So keep an eye on John Chiang. I'm excited. I hope he runs for Governor.

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 10:05 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos