Engaging the Powers, Part I: Five Worldviews

[Cross-posted over at Street Prophets]
In his recent widely-discussed Call to Renewal speech, Senator Barack Obama dropped a throwaway reference to “powers and principalities”…

I believed and still believe in the power of the African-American religious tradition to spur social change, a power made real by some of the leaders here today. Because of its past, the black church understands in an intimate way the Biblical call to feed the hungry and cloth the naked and challenge powers and principalities.

This phrase may be unfamiliar, but it was deeply resonant for me because of a book that had a huge impact on both my own personal spirituality and my understanding of this historic-political moment, Walter Wink’s 1992 Engaging the Powers. This is one of those books that you come across that just seems like it needs to be out there more. I’ve recommended it countless times, even bought copies of it for folks, but it is a heavy, serious read, grand in scope and meticulous in its details. There are 77 pages of footnotes and 9 single-spaced, 3 columned pages of biblical citations alone.
Because of this – and because I believe this book offers a progressive historical narrative that our movement is starving for…

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Update on Cal State University impasse

The California State University Board of Trustees announced this week that it would be giving 28 of it’s highest paid executives a 4% increase in compensation while at the same time students were told they could be seeing a 10% increase in tuition in the fall. These same high-paid administrators,led by Chancellor Charles Reed, continue to be at impasse with their faculty and its negotiating arm, the California Faculty Assoication, (CFA) which is seeking a contract that increases the salaries and benefits of its members.
Many state legislators have objected to giving these 6-figure executives yet another pay increase, given that both CSU faculty and students are feeling a financial squeeze at the same time. This is the second pay raise for the top adminstrators in less than two years, having received an average 14% pay hike in mid-2005 (complete with increased car and housing allowance)
Speak Out California Board Member and Assistant Professor R. Stanley Oden has been providing regular updates to Speak Out California’s readers and submits this latest update-complete with proposed faculty and student action so that those who wish to lend their support for this effort may do so.

As it has been reported previously by Speak Out California, the California Faculty Association which represents California State University faculty, counselors, and coaches is stepping up its Spring Campaign to get the CSU administration back to the bargaining table and negotiate a fair and equitable contract for the CFA. The CFA faculty over the past two weeks and for several more weeks at each campus will be holding rallies, informational pickets and campus meetings with faculty members. The purpose is to inform CSU faculty, students and the public at-large that the CSU administration has voted to give salary increases to administrators and outrageous severance packages costing California taxpayers millions of dollars while CSU faculty is faced with a paltry salary offer from the CSU administration. Additionally, CSU students are now faced with a fee increase of 10% promoted by the Governor, who ran on a promise that he would not seek to raise fees. Students are organizing against this fee increase and are joining forces with the CFA faculty to bring equity and fairness to educational funding for the CSU. It is reported that student leaders from the CSU system are meeting to map out their campaign opposing a 10 percent undergraduate fee increase for the 2007-08 school year. “Our policy states that we oppose any fee increases”, said Nadir Vissanjy, a student at Sonoma State University who chairs the California State Student Association.
This CFA is encouraging the public to support the CFA and CSU students. Informational picketing will be held at CSU Sacramento at the school entrances on Monday, January 29th beginning at 7:30 a.m. Other campus actions include: Picketing at San Jose State, January 31st, and San Francisco State. February 7th. All of the CFA chapters are holding strike related activities including strike meetings, phonebanking, and teach-ins.
The contract negotiations are at an impasse. Mediation between both sides failed to produce any settlement and the next step is fact-finding with both sides seeking a fact-finder to lay out their positions. The CFA does not hold out much hope from this process and fully expect the CSU administration to impose its contract offer on the CFA. The CFA members will start holding strike vote meetings sometime after the expected imposition of the CSU offer. At that point the CFA is prepared to begin rolling strikes throughout the CSU system.
We encourage all Californians to write their local state legislators and demand that the CSU negotiate fairly and equitably with the CFA. The CSU is a major economic engine of California. The CSU is where working class Californians goes to receive their college degrees and then become productive, creative workers at all professions and at all levels in the state. Join with the faculty and students to protest the lack of a decent contract for faculty and to rescind the fee increases proposed by the governor.
Professor Oden serves on the faculty at Cal. State University, Sacramento

Roe v. Wade- What it means today

Speak Out California asked Incoming Chair of the Legislative Women’s Caucus, Assemblymember Patty Berg, to share with us her thoughts on the significance of Roe v. Wade. Assemblymember Berg represents the first Assembly District. She is a long-time advocate for women’s health and the author of last session’s Compassionate Choice measure that would allow dying individuals to do so with respect and control over this most personal choice. She takes the gavel for her one year term from the current Chair,Senator Christine Kehoe at the end of this month.

As we contemplate the 34th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, it is worth
remembering that this landmark ruling is about so much more than
reproductive freedom. In a way, the mechanics of reproduction are the
least important part of what the ruling represents. The crucial thing to
remember, the thing worth celebrating, is the principle articulated in Roe is
that women do not need to seek permission or approval to exercise control
and freedom over their own bodies, and, thus, take control over their own
For young women today, it may be hard to imagine why we needed a court
ruling to make this clear. And, really, in a way it is wonderful that
they may not instinctively understand the full import of this change. It is
wonderful because it means young women are growing up in a freer
and better nation than the one inhabited by their mothers and grandmothers.
I believe it is unfortunate and misguided when opponents talk about Roe v.
Wade as a pro-abortion ruling. They completely miss the reality that the
ruling represents a pro-woman ruling. And perhaps it’s time that we
move beyond even that somewhat limited construct to appreciate Roe as a
pro-individual ruling. Clearly Roe stands for the proposition that certain
rights cannot be curtailed by the state.
As we are celebrating the universal truths inherent in this ruling, we
still have to protect the very specific details of it. We must always
resist any efforts that would turn back the clock and force women
to again take desperate measures when facing an unwanted pregnancy.
Thousands of women died during the era of illegal abortions and we cannot let
this become the reality of our country’s policies ever again.
I, like many of you, will always defend Roe v. Wade
both for the specific rights it expresses, and the universal
rights of freedom and privacy on which it is based.
We must always ensure that women can make their personal choice and that
they have the resources needed to make that decision. At the same time,
we need sensible policies in place for women to protect against unwanted
pregnancy including increasing the availability
of contraception in our nation and the world. We must fully
fund family planning services and provide them for all women.
Young women, in particular, should also be educated about their bodies.
I helped develop a K-12 curriculum in Humboldt County to do this very
thing. Empowering young women to make the right choices is the most
powerful tool we can give them. And the most powerful message for women
and men should always be that every child be a wanted and planned for
And that is the lasting effect of Roe v. Wade: empowerment of the
individual. And for that, I am so grateful to Roe v. Wade.
Assemblywoman Patty Berg
Incoming Chair of the Legislative Women’s Caucus

Roe v Wade- reproductive freedom 34 years later

This is the first of a two-part series on the critically important civil rights ruling that has allowed women to realize our right to freedom and privacy in our country. Because of the decision in Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court on January 22nd, 1973, women have been able to control when and with whom to bear a child. In today’s article, we will focus primarily on the history of Roe and its erosion over the past 34 years, led by an ever-right turning Supreme Court, culminating in the Bush court that exists today.
Monday, January 22nd marks the 34th anniversary of Roe v. Wade which has been for generations of women our Emancipation Proclamation. Under the historic Supreme Court ruling in 1973 women now have a constitutionally protected right, under the umbrella of the rights of liberty and privacy, to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. The Court said that the U.S. Constitution’s right of privacy “is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy”(Roe v. Wade, 1973). To reach this conclusion, the court drew on a series of case law that established that the government does not have the right to interfere with personal decisions regarding birth-control, procreation and other aspects of marriage and family life.
Instead of ending the debate, however, this assertion and confirmation of women having the freedom and right to decide our reproductive destiny became the flash-point for a political movement that, hopefully, is losing its political influence. It is, of course, naive and foolish to think that Roe will no longer be threatened and is not at risk in the U.S. Supreme Court or various states in our country. To the contrary. With the spineless response of the United States Senate to the appointment of Samuel Alito (leaving John Roberts and his confirmation as the Chief Justice out of the equation just for purposes of discussion), we will see an already threatened Roe further undermined within the next few months or years—absent a miracle). Without so much as a public commitment to preserving Roe, Alito and the neo-conservative judges who have been trying to overturn Roe since their elevation to the highest court in the land—led by Anton Scalia with Clarence Thomas in tow– may now have that opportunity. Of course, the Court won’t admit it’s intention to do just that, but after the Casey v. Pennsylvania decision in 1992, Roe is pretty much a shell of its former self. Under that ruling, numerous hurdles have been imposed on women, thus reducing accessibility to abortions, primarily for our neediest and most under-served women.

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Effectiveness, evolution and vision

Bob Salladay responds to my earlier post:

I happily come from a leftist-hippy family (see photo of my wood-fired hot tub – it’s semi-liberal), so I know from where progressives are speaking. But I am struck by how progressives feel the California Democratic Party establishment doesn’t represent their views.

Getting our sallow on at the AD13
meeting. Click the pic for more.

He then goes through a perfectly reasonable laundry list of things that California Democrats have accomplished or taken great strides towards: LGBTQ marriage equality, global warming standards, minimum wage increases, and health care. These are are all great and it’s true, seeing them in one place makes me proud to live here. But ideology, especially in the most basic “laundry list” sense, isn’t our beef with the state party and it never has been, as he notes:

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Politics under the radar screen

Thank you to the more than 1500 who responded to our action-alert opposing the appointment of Rachelle Chong to the California Public Utlilities Commission which is the agency that is responsible for setting regulations and overseeing California’s public utilities -(the electricity and telecommunications industries). The response to the governor’s attempt to put an industry representative on the important regulatory agency designed to watchdog these huge industries was fantastic! The groundswell created forced the State Senate to openly acknowledge the governor’s commitment to allowing industry to essentially regulate itself. Although hard-ball politics intervened and forced the approval of this appointee, the Governor and Senate now know that we will continue to watch and object as this administration tries to dismantle important consumer protections designed to protect the public against corporate over-reaching and greed.
We asked Lenny Goldberg, a longtime and committed progressive expert and lobbyist in Sacramento to give Speak Out California his comments on the process. Here is his response:

Senate remiss in failing to reject anti-consumer commissioner
The approval of Rachelle Chong as PUC commissioner gives us perhaps the worst example of what the “post-partisan” era is going to mean.
As the legislative advocate for the consumer group TURN, The Utility Reform Network, it was easy to demonstrate that every position she had taken on the commission was anti-consumer. As Commissioner Geoff Brown (whose term is now expiring) said, “I have never seen her take a single position, however small, adverse to the large incumbent telecommunication carriers.”
But confirmations take place as well on the basis of personal qualities. And in this case, after using highly questionable tactics at the PUC on behalf of ATT, she misled the Senate about what she had done. That in itself should have been sufficient to reject her. It’s very clear that the pressure of the Governor’s office, combined with behind-the-scenes lobbying by virtually every major utility, was more than enough to get the job done.
The substance of her positions have been anti-consumer from day one. She was part of the process which repealed the telecommunications bill of rights, which would have provided such things as the right of recission of a cellphone contract if the phone doesn’t work at your home; the requirement for clear disclosures of terms and conditions, including in other languages; the ability to cancel a contract if the cellphone company changes the terms, and other basic protections. Instead, she wrote a letter to the Federal Communications Commission asking them to pre-empt California on cellphone regulation (which would apply federal law that doesn’t carry these protections).
She then pushed through major telecommunications de-regulation, rejecting all claims that the major carriers still have monopoly power. Consumers have already received notices that charges for virtually all services will go up unless they buy more expensive bundles. Only the cost of basic wire-line service is protected for two years, and that is only because TURN got a rate freeze in the cable franchise bill in the Legislature. Not only are ATT and Verizon de-regulated, they no longer even have to provide information to the commission about the results of this wholesale deregulation.
On the cable franchise issue, which allow for statewide franchises under jurisdiction of the PUC, the Legislature required a variety of anti-discrimination and public access provisions. But her order at the Commission grants the franchises to the telecommunications companies first and asks questions later, if at all. It is highly questionable whether build-out requirements, which require equal access to new networks in low-income areas, will ever be enforced.
The most egregious incident stemmed from the fact that she added last-minute language, which had not been reviewed, to the telephone deregulation decision which eliminated marketing restrictions that were required of ATT because of a long historical pattern of marketing abuses. When challenged on this act, she claimed that the language was inadvertent, but faced with the opportunity twice to reject ATT’s claims that they were now free of the restrictions, she failed to reverse the action. She then told the Senate that she had not intended to provide ATT relief, then said that ATT was not given relief, and then said that she “misspoke.” But she still has not reversed the actions which allow ATT to continue their aggressive and abusive marketing practices.
As Geoff Brown said, “Her advocacy has been so extreme at points that it has overwhelmed fact, law and common sense…She should not be confirmed because she is by temperament and commitment unwilling to see her role on the commission as that of a disinterested judge or juror.”
On behalf of TURN, we extend our thanks to Speakout California members who wrote against her confirmation. Unfortunately, the combined power of the special interests and the Governor’s office strong-arming, kept any real Senate opposition at bay.
Interestingly, the same day Republicans in the Senate rejected the confirmation of Joe Nunez of the CTA to the State Board of Education, on the grounds of “conflict of interest”. We hear that the next appointment to the PUC, to replace the pro-consumer Brown, will be an ATT executive. Will the Senate Democrats consider that a conflict of interest and vote down that nomination? Stay tuned. And please, stay active. Consumer activists have an incredible amount of power that must be exercised against the powerful special interests arrayed against us. We must remember that we only have strength when citizens speak out.
Lenny Goldberg lobbies for progressive non-profit and consumer organizations in Sacramento.

Sallow Depressives on the march

Bob Salladay gets charming with the party activists yesterday:

For both parties, the honor of delegate status normally attracts sallow depressives who enjoy debating meaningless bylaws more than, say, interacting with human beings. In politically manic places such as San Francisco, people actually campaign and spend money to get the awful job.

Mr Salladay writes here as a spectator. It’s fine to poke fun and god knows a lot of bloggers (including me, I’m sure) need it, but it’s important to get the story right, too. And in this case, Mr Salladay (uncharacteristically) misses it. The degree of new energy being aimed at the party in this state over the past few weeks is unprecedented, even while it’s a clear and linear continuation of processes that have been happening for at least four years now…

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The gleam in the Governor’s eye

During the debate with Phil Angelides, one of the Governor’s “hey look, I’m a movie star, I can say whatever I want up here” lines was accusing Mr Angelides of getting a “gleam in his eye” when he talked about taxes.
What gives the Governor the gleam, though, is the spending. On some level this is great: pro-civilization Republicans are unfortunately few and far between. But at some point, the Governor has to square his love of spending with some thinking about who is going to pay for all this stuff. He simply can not keep putting everything on the credit card. If you missed the State of the State address last night, the Gov has an incredibly fancy website up where you can go for the details.
There is broad agreement across left and right on this. The FlashReport’s Jon Fleischman agrees

I opposed the Infrastructure Bonds on last November’s ballot because I felt that with a state budget of well over $100 billion, the Governor and legislators should be making a large, very real annual contribution towards infrastructure in current dollars (and not just by committing a fraction of the budget towards bond repayment).

Speak Out California did not oppose the bonds because it’s blindingly obvious that the future prosperity of our state requires them. Ditto for what the Governor calls his “Strategic Research and Innovation Initiative” – investing in the future of this state is the definition of a wise investment. But we made the case then and continue to believe that this spending must be coupled with a realistic assessment of the state’s revenue picture. We still have a structural deficit (which could get much worse over the next few years as the housing slowdown kicks in) and we still have a essentially a flat to slightly regressive tax distribution. Until those problems are fixed, the legislature should act to keep the Governor away from the credit cards.
Also, the Governor went zero for two on our health care principles. More on that soon.

The impending Schwarzenegger health care disaster

The big news this week is going to be the release of the Governor’s health care plan. Ordinarily, giving the Governor a shot and seeing what he comes up with would be the right thing to do, but you read it here first: this is going to be an unmitigated disaster.
This is a complex topic, but from my perspective there are two simple principles that any health care plan has to adhere to to have any hope of success. One is easy, and one is difficult:

First, get employers out of the loop. This should be the easy one: there isn’t a single employer in the United States that honestly wants to be in whatever business they are in AND in the health care provider business. This system barely made sense when it first started, and given the changes that have happened in the economy since then, it makes no sense whatsoever now.

There are two primary sources of political capital that are going to power reform in this area: the very high level of ambient citizen disgust, and – if someone makes the case to them – small and large businesses whose competetiveness is being harmed by the current system. Every last drop of political capital from both sources is going to be necessary to put the second and much more difficult principle into effect, which is:

Second, housebreak the insurance companies. They may need to be removed from the system entirely. It’s possible that any for-profit entity where providing care is a cost subtracted from the bottom line is simply never going to successfully provide care.

But maybe they can. I can imagine a system where cleanly regulated insurance companies do add value, by helping contain costs both on the demand side (through promoting wellness) and on the supply side (by being a countervailing power to the service providers) And given the political reality of where we’re at, making them go away completely isn’t going to happen soon. So regulating them, giving the marketplace some basic ground rules like stopping the cherrypicking of healthy customers, would be a great start.
Why the Governor is structurally incapable of getting this right is on the flip…

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