While California Dreams- Weekly Update Vol.1 No. 6

A weekly update on the goings-on in Sacramento
For the week ending July 14, 2007
Key bills and issues we’ve been following during the past week and beyond
Budget Countdown Day 14 and still no budget in sight. With time starting to pressure for action, the war of words is heating up, although it doesn’t appear that beyond the temperature in Sacramento, much else is percolating. For a more detailed analysis, check out our weblog entry here.
In order to stir the pot, or maybe even get the Reps off-the-dime, the Speaker has indicated he’ll be putting the budget up for a vote next week-an old ploy to flush out the opposition and make them account to the public for their unwillingness to negotiate a resolution. During this year, in particular, they’ve been unwilling to publicly identify the cuts they’ve apparently presented to the Dems. IN SECRET, sounding more and more like their Bush administration leaders in Washington who think they can do everything in secret as well. But this is California, where we love our sunshine!
For more on this story, check out the Sac Bee editorial here.
On other fronts, there have been a number of highlights (or low-lights, depending on your perspective). The Environment faired pretty well, with global warming and air pollution bills moving forward. Health care was a mixed bag with Universal Healthcare still on the table, the compromise approach of AB 8 continues to move as the leaders of both houses are keeping the pressure on. Unfortunately, though, the very important stop-gap measure by Assemblymember Dave Jones was defeated by an incredible push by the health-denial industry so efforts to force providers to justify further increases in premiums will have to wait another day (actually another year, at least—absent a miracle or two).
This was also the week that the spay-neuter bill met its demise and the talk of nuclear power reared its questionable head in the political arena, yet again.
So, here’s the story:
Health care for all?- and other more modest proposals:
With Senator Kuehl’s SB 840, the true reform measure of the year having advanced another step last week, this week highlighted the lesser but still reform-minded bill, AB 8 which is authored by Senate Leader Perata and Assembly Speaker Nunez. After 2 hours and 50 or so witnesses later, the measure passed on a party-line (no surprise there). The bill is being touted as a landmark bill that will overhaul our state’s $186 Billion health care system. In doing so, it would extend medical insurance coverage to 3.4 million working Californians by requiring employers without health plans to pay a 7.5% payroll tax to buy insurance for all its workers. Employees would be required to put in 4.5% of their income as a match. Of course, when all is said and done, it still keeps the insurance industry alive and well and taking out lots of money that would otherwise go to provide health care, not health insurance. But until we’re willing to buck up and create a Medicare-for-all type program, this has some legs and hopefully some benefit to the millions of Californians without any health insurance or access to adequate health care. This one will end up in a “Conference” where the Gov. will put forward his still orphaned plan. Not surprisingly, no Reps. will support any of these discussions. It’s the same old song—just another “job-killer” with the current Republican leadership demonstrating, sadly, that it is only interested in protecting its big corporate owners/donors.
As mentioned above, Assemblymember Dave Jones’ AB 1554, known as “The Insurance Company Accountability Bill” came up for a vote in the Senate Judiciary committee on Wednesday, July 11th. Although an important consumer protection bill, two key Dems refused to vote for this measure that would allow the for-profit insurance industry to continue charging its current rates, but require they justify any rate increases and get permission from an oversight agency before doing so. Again, no Reps. would consider challenging their big corporate donors, so that’s a given they voted “no.” This is all, sadly, just another example of the power of money when it comes to deciding whether to protect the big boys or the People. With no Reps anywhere in sight, unless the Dems stay together, good policy will continue to falter.
This one might have to go to an Initiative as it models another important insurance reform measure that did back in 1988—and which now sees rate regulation with the giant auto insurance industry. For more on this discussion and a couple interesting studies that just came out this week on the impacts of health care reform, click here.
The Environment has a good week, with Global Warming and implementation of AB 32 bills moving forward.
Sometimes good things come out of bad. With Schwarzenegger reeling from his manipulations of the State’s Air Resources Board (CARB) work on global warming regulations, suddenly greater scrutiny is being placed on the finer points of putting together the tools necessary to make this all more than just a PR play by the Gov.
With attention now clearly drawn to the Senate’s Democratic bill package of legislation focusing on climate change and its effects on California, Senators Kehoe, Lowenthal and Simitian were able to move forward their bills to improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and coordinate state planning for climate change. Frank Russo has a good summary of the successes on his California Progress Report of July 10,2007 here.
SB 412- The LNG Market Assessment Act by Senator Joe Simitian
For those of us closely watching the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) debate closely, an important measure continues to wind its way gingerly through the legislative process.
SB 412 would require the California Energy Commission (CEC) to prepare an assessment of the LNG market in California to determine whether all the hoopla and corporate enthusiasm for building more LNG here is actually warranted. With a number of very enthusiastic energy companies ready to start building terminals and other infrastructure as soon as the state gives them the OK, the question yet to be answered is whether we need them at all. Seems like a reasonable preliminary question, but companies like PG&E and Mitsubishi, among others would rather make the claims, build the facilities and not bother with that fundamental question.
Given environmental and public safety concerns, it would seem most prudent—and logical to know whether we should even be investing in such projects in the first place. There are health and safety concerns that go along with building these massive plants, so before going all out, how about answering that question first? Seems like a good, solid and responsible notion. Let’s see how it goes from here.
The Rest of the Story
The Governor signs the Indian Slot machine deals:

Should be interesting to see if the promise of billions ($13.4- 22.4 billion to be exact), coming into state coffers over the next 25 years actually materializes
I’m not a gambler, so I’ll leave that bet to those who are, but I wouldn’t put a whole lot of money on it, either. In addition, the Unions are threatening to run an Initiative blocking the tribes’ casino expansion plans because the deals don’t provide worker protections for hotel, casino and hospitality workers.
Spay/neuter bill dies in the Senate:
With an estimated 20,000 letters and emails from both sides, this bill generated more public engagement than any other bill so far this year. Added to the drama was the star power that each side used to support its position. Those in support of this mandatory program (complete with large fine for failure to spay/neuter ones pets) brought in Bob Barker from The Price Is Right to present their position. (I can’t help but wonder if his name had anything to do with his selection?. After all, there are lots of Animal Rights folks in the entertainment industry?. Why select a guy with the name “Barker”?)
Not to be outdone, the anti-mandatory spay/neuter folks countered with none other than Lassie herself (or at least the 9th generation of same). My favorite photo of the year in Sacramento is here where Lassie is caught yawning while sitting at the Senate hearing where she was on display. Out the mouths of babes?and dogs!

Possible Initiatives for 2008

Last week we offered a “heads up” on a new initiative dealing with eminent domain—which allows the government to seize (and compensate) for taking property for legitimate public purposes.
This week the Assembly Republicans are talking about putting up an initiative that will lead to restarting the nuclear power industry. They’re out trying to get signatures to remove the bans against most nuclear power construction that have been in place in this state for decades. Using a very fancy and somewhat misleading caption ( that shouldn’t be much of a surprise) they’re calling it the “California Zero CO2 Emissions Electrical Generation Act of 2008.” Behind this fancy name is an effort to start building more nuclear power plants. Of course, not much has changed in terms of problems with these plants and generating nuclear energy. Sure they’re non-carbon producing, but we still haven’t figured out how to safely get rid of the nuclear waste they create and what a nice target they present for possible terrorists and other evil-doers!
Under the guise of stopping global warming, they’re hoping to hoodwink us into repeating the folly. We’ll keep a careful look at this one as well.
Our blogging offerings for the week
During the past week, we’ve offered some interesting blogposts dealing with:
What’s Happened to the California Dream?
Are Charter Schools the Answer?
The Budget Stalemate-Week Two
To read and comment on these entries, just go to: www.speakoutca.org/weblog/
We’ll continue looking at these and other issues as the legislature continues taking up bills and slogging its way through the budget morass with an intractable opposition party that has a mantra but few ideas to help overcome the impasse. We welcome your comments and suggestions and hope you will send this newsletter to your friends and other like-minded progressives. Urge them to sign up to Speak Out California and keep the progressive voice alive!
Until next week,
Hannah-Beth Jackson and the Speak Out California Team

Budget stalemate–Week Two

We’ve been counting down(or should I say up) the days since the State’s budget was due. It really doesn’t matter whether you start from June 15th or July 1st because it rarely comes in on time, regardless of the date you pick. While it is always easiest for the public to focus on the simple fact that the budget is late rather than why, it’s about time we looked at the why so maybe we can start fixing the fundamental problems that make this yearly exercise so exercising to the public.
Unlike the almost whimsical reports of spay/neuter issues that have aroused the extraordinary passions on both sides of that issue,(will Lassie or Bob Barker from the Price is Right prevail?) it’s hard to get people to focus on the more mundane aspects of why we have this annual food-fight when it comes to getting our financial house in order. Let’s start with the fundamental problem that exists in California and those two other large and complex states–Rhode Island and Alabama: It requires two-thirds of the legislature to approve a budget. Until one of the two parties in this state grows big enough to take over 2/3’s of each of the legislative houses, this will continue to be the fundamental roadblock to an on-time budget.

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Are Charter Schools the Answer?

This is the 9th entry in a continuing series on the status of public education in California today. Speak Out California’s own Jackie Goldberg has been involved in the public school system for close to 40 years-as teacher, LA Unified Schoool Board Member, LA City Council Member, State Assemblymember and Chair of the Assembly Committee on Education.
To see the other stories and analysis she has done, just go to our Weblog, scroll down the left-hand side of the page and click on the “Public Education” category.
We welcome your comments and responses as Speak Out California tries to provide Californians with honest discussion and appraisal of what is good and bad in the largest public school system in the Country. With so many challenges ahead, we hope you will let us know your thoughts on the subject as well.

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What Happened to the California Dream?

What Happened to the California Dream?- By Dave Johnson
How long have people been making fun of us left-coast tree-hugging, frisbee-tossing, granola-crunching, animal-loving, tofu-eating, yoga-practicing, peacenik eco-nuts?
The thing is, people are starting to realize that all of these ridiculed things are good for us— and for the country and the planet. They are the right choices.
Sure, everyone had a good laugh. But it’s a few years later now and the consequences of years of bad choices are catching up. People who mocked tofu-eaters and Frisbee-tossers are realizing they don’t want to be fat and out of shape–some are even dying of heart attacks and diabetes. Granola and tofu are good for you, especially compared to the fast food, meat and white breat that were being eaten in their stead.
And what about the eco-nuts? They aren’t looking all that nutty today, are they? The people who laughed about tree-hugging econ-nuts are spending $60 to fill their gas tanks and worryng about their coastal property values declining as the water rises. Meanwhile Californians are driving hybrids in proportions greater than the rest of the country. Who is laughing now?

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While California Dreams- Weekly Update Vol.1 No. 5

A weekly update on the goings-on in Sacramento
For the week ending July 7, 2007
Key bills and issues we’ve been following during the
past week and beyond
Budget Countdown Day 7 and still no budget in sight. In fact, there haven’t been any meetings of the Big Five, at least that have been made public and you know they’d be doing major photo ops. showing the Big Boys strutting down the hallway smiling if they were. So, with lots of anxious vendors and state workers hoping for some success before their next pay checks are due,
Here are some of the highlights:
Health care for all?- and other more modest proposals:
SB 840 Senator Kuehl’s Health Care for All
Having passed the Senate, this measure had its first opportunity in the Assembly where it was heard and passed by the Assembly Health Committee, predictably on party lines. Seems the Reps (and the Gov.) are too tied at the hip with the Insurance Industry to break ranks and support what the majority of Californians want by way of health care.
Nonetheless, Michael Moore’s Sicko which had its US premier in Sacramento just a few weeks ago, to much fan-fare and buzz, is creating quite a stir in the political world as the public is demanding reforms to America’s healthcare system. Moore has successfully raised the issue and the question “Why is a country that spends more on healthcare than any other nation in the world unable to take care of its sick?”
The word is that Senator Kuehl’s SB 840 will be approved by both houses and head to the Governor’s desk again where he has said he will veto the measure again. He will continue with the same right-wing mantra (and industry developed rhetoric) that is designed to inflame and mislead the public. The real question, of course, is why should the private, for-profit insurance industry be taking 30% of every insurance premium dollar when the government can make sure everyone has health care for about 10%-like it does with the highly successful Medicare and Veterans healthcare programs? Of course, we know why…because the Insurance industry is among the Gov’s and the Republicans chief campaign contributors. But the public is ready to pounce so we’ll keep an eye on this.
In addition, Assemblymember Dave Jones’ AB 1554, the insurance company accountability bill comes up for a vote in the Senate Health Committee on Wednesday, July 11th. AB 1554 still allows the for-profit insurance industry to continue to charge at its current rates, but will require they justify any rate increases and get permission from an oversight agency before doing so. Obviously, this idea has engendered the wrath of the health insurance industry. They do not want to be regulated and certainly don’t want the kind of oversight the public created with auto insurance back in 1988 with Proposition 103. So expect lots of backroom arm-twisting on this as it works its way through the process.
AB 8—the recently merged measure of Senator Perata and Speaker Nunez is also set for hearing this coming week. Although this measure doesn’t make the structural changes necessary to achieve real reform, it does attempt to compromise with the Gov. who insists that the insurance industry remain a big profit-player in this game. It is also in this bill that the Governor is most likely to have a say at the end of the day, since it is likely to head to a “Conference Committee” where Schwarzenegger can put his highly paid staff to work. With the power of the leaders of both houses behind it, this bill will continue moving forward.
Global Warming and implementation of AB 32.
And speaking of his highly paid staff, it seems that they’ve been quite meddlesome recently. As we reported last week (See While California Dreams- Volume 1 Issue 4), the firing of the head of the California Air Resources Board (“CARB”) created a real P.R. nightmare for our putative “Green” governor. While circling the globe hyping himself as the One who has tamed the Global Warming crisis, it turns out that he’s been trying to backdoor the highly suspect “cap-and-trade” concept rather than seriously reduce greenhouse gas emissions through strict regulation.
This past week, in a rare Friday gathering, the Committee on Natural Resources held a hearing to determine whether the allegations of potentially illegal and improper meddling by the Governor’s staff were accurate. Of note, only Dems. were in attendance (the Reps had all gone home, probably for their regular Friday morning golf games). While requesting that his top aides (the ones accused of the meddling) appear, the Gov. sent a couple underlings who have no first-hand knowledge of anything, including where Arnold’s smoking tent is located. In fact, they weren’t even from the Governor’s office. This nose-thumbing by Arnold prompted both the Speaker and Natural Resource Chair Loni Hancock to threaten issuing subpoenas to get Susan Kennedy and Dan Donmeyer, the alleged culprits to testify under oath to find out if they were attempting to pressure the Board and like the members of the Bush cabal, trying to substitute politics for science. No decision yet, but the whole thing has created a black-eye for the Governor.
Trying to invoke damage control, he quickly announced the appointment of long-time environmentalist Mary Nichols as the new head of the CARB.
With impressive credentials ranging from service to the Clinton, Brown and Davis adminstrations, there is little doubt that she is qualified to direct this important work. The major question is whether the Governor will let her and the other board members do their job instead of continuing to interfere and micro-manage the agencies work in setting serious and effective regulations to reduce global warming as mandated by AB 32.
For more on this, see the Sac Bee story at: http://www.sacbee.com/111/story/261050.html and Frank Russo’s post at
http://www.californiaprogressreport.com/
Eminent Domain issues coming back
In the November, 2006 election, a sneaky and regressive measure was placed on the ballot by a notorious right-wing Billionaire named Howard Rich. He’s a developer who lives in New York but has been trying to affect what happens in our state (and many others) for several years. Last year it was Proposition 90, an initiative he funded which would have destroyed many of our environmental protections and zoning laws by requiring the government to compensate just about anyone for not being able to build just about anything anywhere they wanted. For example, if someone bought a corner lot or a piece of open-space land in a residential area and wanted to put in a smelting plant, but zoning laws prohibited such, the government would have to pay them for the lost benefits of that endeavor. Crazy you say. Yup. And he’ll be back with this effort, although with a somewhat watered-down next year. Watch for it being sponsored by the Jarvis Taxpayers Association and coming to you in the June, 2008 election, when no one will be watching.
With the key primary election having been moved to February 2008 for the Presidential race, the less compelling (but still important) legislative races will be relegated to what will be perceived by the public as a minor election but one where potentially policy-altering measures will be passed as Initiatives while the public is asleep at the wheel. This one is an unabashed right-wing power grab so expect a lot of out-of-state money to come into California from Howard Roth and his ilk. What they can’t do through the front door to eviscerate land use and environmental protections, they’ll try to accomplish with their multi-millions of developer dollars while we aren’t paying attention. This is the down-side of moving our Presidential primary to February.
To try to limit its impact, however, Assemblymember Hector De La Torres introduced ABA 8, a constitutional amendment that would avoid the few instances of abuse that can occur under existing law. His measure would prohibit government exercise of its power of eminent domain to seize owner-occupied residential units by cities and redevelopment agencies. But eminent domain, when applied as intended, is a valuable tool for local jurisdictions to clean up blighted areas and generate commerce and economic development.
This measure requires a two-thirds vote. Unfortunately, a few extremists on the Republican side are bullying their colleagues into holding a party line in opposition to this compromise,thereby reducing the likelihood of it passing. But this is an important, although somewhat unexciting topic so we’ll be following it closely as it moves through the legislature and onto the ballot-one way or another.
The Rest of the Story
Our blogging offerings for the week
During the past week, we’ve had several diverse blogposts dealing with:
Speaking plainly- a look at the recurring language debate over English only
Happy Birthday to our once and future America- quotes that embody the promise
of a just and grand vision for our country
Has the US officially reinstated racism in our schools? Jackie Goldberg deconstructs the Supreme Court decision weakening/overturning Brown v. Board of Education
An Inspired Week for Conservatives- a look at the extreme right turn of the Supreme Court
To read and comment on these entries, just go to: www.speakoutca.org/weblog/
We’ll continue looking at these and other issues as the legislature continues taking up bills and slogging its way through the budget morass with an intractable opposition party that has a mantra but few ideas to help overcome the impasse. We welcome your comments and suggestions and hope you will send this newsletter to your friends and other like-minded progressives. Urge them to sign up to Speak Out California and keep the progressive voice alive!
Until next week,
Hannah-Beth Jackson and the Speak Out California Team

Speaking plainly

Recently Governor Schwarzenegger rekindled the English-only debate while speaking to a group of Spanish-language news-media. In his remarks, he suggested that the Spanish-speaking community turn off those very T.V. stations hosting him and focus on listening to English only networks and reading English language newspapers. While pretty gutsy to challenge the reason for being of the group tho which you’ve been invited to speak, Schwarzenegger’s propensity for indelicately putting his foot in his mouth on the controversial English vs. Spanish debate stirs up strong emotions on all sides of the issue. Nonetheless, it IS a discussion worth having as it tends to divide us in ways that make it difficult, if not impossible, to unite around the things that we have in common.

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Happy Birthday to our once and future America

In celebration of our nation’s birthday—with its vision and grandeur, we offer up some reminders of the greatness of spirit and dignity that inspired the grandest experiment in the history of humankind—self-rule, Democracy.
Long may it reign….and may it return to our shores quickly. Here are some of the inspired words of great American leaders over the course of the republic. Although certainly not a definitive list, these words and concepts have particular relevance today.
“Those who give up essential freedom to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety”
Benjamin Franklin
“All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.” Thomas Jefferson
” The only thing we have to fear is fear itself- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Franklin Delano Roosevelt
“The test of our progress is not whether we add to the abundance of those who have much. It is whether we provide enough to those who have little. Franklin Delano Roosevelt
“…and so, my fellow Americans, Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. John F. Kennedy
” I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.” Thomas Jefferson
…..Is life so dear, or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me Liberty, or give me death! Patrick Henry
“We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Preamble to the Constitution of the United States
” Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States
” The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights
“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” Abraham Lincoln
” With Malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.”
Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address
Happy Birthday America

Has the U.S.Supreme Court officially reinstated racism in our schools?

This past week has been a woefully sorry one for the rights of the American people. The neocons have gained total control of the Supreme Court and are gleefully and unquestionably overturning the hard-fought gains of the past seventy-plus years. Many of us saw this coming but can only wish, sadly, that we had been wrong.
This court has thrown judicial precedent out the window. Both John Roberts and Samuel Alito obviously lied about their commitment to it when they testified before the Senate of the United States, but it seems lying and cheating and commuting sentences of convicted criminals is all within the Bush playbook. Such arrogance now extends to Bush’s court and seems to continue unabated. This past week it was civil rights, consumer rights and first-amendment rights of individuals all paying the price of this lawless and reckless administration’s blind allegiance to a corporate ideology. But the most stunning of all is the rejection of one of the pillars of our society over the past 50 years—that segregation in education is, as a matter of fact and law, unequal. Not anymore.
We asked Speak Out California’s own Jackie Goldberg to take a look at the right-wing spin on this decision—that we don’t need such legal protections any longer; that Brown v. Board of Education is passe and irrelevent to today’s world and that destroying its mandate is not a big deal. Of course it’s a big deal and Jackie pulls no punches in dissecting the neocon attempt to downplay the significance of this offensive and dishonest opinion by the Court.Here is her response to an opinion piece that ran last week in the New York Times by one Juan Williams:

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An Inspired Week For Conservatives

From The Courage Campaign

This was a big week for conservatives.  The immigration bill, while flawed, would have been a step in the right direction for fixing a system that forces more than 12 million people in America to live in the shadows.  Conservatives in the US Senate succeeded in killing that bill, which means that there won't be any meaningful immigration reform until 2009.  Then, the Supreme Court showed its new, solid conservative colors with 3 (three!) blockbuster conservative rulings.  One decision gave corporations all kinds of free speech guarantees in election campaigns.  Another ruling issued the same day limited the free speech rights of student protestors.  And the third 5-4 conservative court decision rolled back the clock on racial equality all the way back to the 1950's.  So, perhaps inspired by the conservative movement's stunning successes in Washington, conservative Republicans in Sacramento dug in their heels and refused to allow a budget to pass the Assembly before start of the new fiscal year on July 1.

Democrats in Sacramento had a budget ready to go – one with painful cuts in important services like education.  For example, fees at California universities would see no relief in the Democratic budget, and a planned boost of $400 million for K-12 schools also didn't make the cut.  Traffic a problem in your part of California?  The Democrats trimmed more than half a billion dollars for transit projects in an attempt to keep state spending at reasonable levels.  All this wasn't nearly enough for Assembly Republicans, though – they want even deeper cuts.

I'm left scratching my head.  Aren't we living in one of the wealthiest states in the wealthiest country in the world?  Why do we need to so deeply cut such essential programs as K-12 education?  There must be some way that California can do better.

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