There Is An Election Tuesday!

Be sure to vote. The big statewide initiatives are 98 and 99. 98 appears to be another sneaky “eminent domain” proposition that “limits government” (remember to substitute the phrase “We, the People” when you hear a conservative talk about government) and contains stealth measures with long-term implications. It also gets rid of rent control and their literature uses emotional examples exaggerated from some local situation. I think that if there is a local problem with an overly-restrictive ordinance then maybe local government (We, the People, locally) should deal with it instead of a heavy-handed state-wide law.
Here are two entertaining No on 98 videos.

Republicans Pretending To Govern

A good op-ed appeared Saturday in the Boston Globe, America’s faux government. The writer discusses how many parts of our federal government seem to no longer be functioning.

They sent everybody home a long time ago, set timers to make the lights go on, and locked the doors. Government is so much more cost efficient if nobody actually does anything.

We read about drugs harming people while drug companies make huge profits — where was the Food and Drug Administration? We read about the Federal Aviation Administration asking the airlines to inspect themselves, and the airlines having to cancel so many flights because they didn’t,

Whoever is still pretending to work there must have made Employee of the Month.

Why is this happening?

So we’re now living in a Libertarian country, where the government doesn’t actually provide any services except defense. The problem? We’re paying taxes as if we live in a social democracy where the government provides all services except defense. They don’t need defense because they have found that if you stop teaching history in schools, people forget that you actually need it sometimes.
How can you tell that we are Libertarians now? Because business is not complaining all the time. When the government is actually showing up for work, business groups say that they are being Crushed By Overregulation. Choked by Bureaucracy. I haven’t heard a word of that in a long time, but it used to be the anthem of American business. OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, was on the news every night – truly, every night. When was the last time you heard of OSHA showing up for a surprise inspection?

Please go read the rest.
The column is written partially as humor, but the reality is there. We elected people who hate government to run our government, and look what has happened. They said regulations are bad, inspectors are intrusive and oversight should be “voluntary.” The have stopped the regulators and inspectors and overseers from regulating and inspecting and overseeing.
The last several years saw the libertarian dream realized. Government was largely shut down. And what happened? Did this experiment bring “liberty?” Did the working person prosper in an “ownership society?”
No, what happened was what all the reality-based, experienced, practical people said would happen if we implement a libertarian system: the corporations immediately filled the vacuum and began to enrich themselves at the public’s expense. And when Katrina came around, people were left on their own.
So what do we learn from this? I think it is important to remember that “the government” is not some “they” that just showed up from nowhere and “tells us what to do.” The government is US, you and me and the rest of us, organized together to help each other. And it is up to US to keep an eye on things, for each other. When we listen to smiling hucksters who offer easy answers using nice-sounding words we ought to be extra careful. Tax cuts have brought us mountains of debt. Government cutbacks have brought us bad roads, bad schools and really, really bad disaster relief. And deregulation has brought us a corporate state.
Taxes, services, regulation and oversight have all become bad words. But now that we have performed the libertarian experiment we can see the consequences of this kind of thinking. It turns out that taxes are an investment in our future. It turns out that government services are us taking care of each other. It turns out that regulations keep the marketplace playing field level, which allows to enjoy the benefits of innovating businesses. It turns out that oversight keeps our government honest. And it turns out that conservative disdain for all of these didn’t make government better, it made government worse.

Private Greed vs. Public Good

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.

Job Killers — Or Just More Fear?

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?

Budget Analyst Rips Lottery Borrowing Scheme

Yesterday I wrote that the Governor’s plan to borrow from future lottery revenues is a risky gamble — yet another scheme to put off the need to ask corporations and the wealthy to pay their fair share of taxes.
The Legislature’s budget analyst doesn’t like the scheme either. From Monday’s Sacramento Bee, Governor’s lottery plan could hurt school funding, analyst says,

The Legislature’s budget analyst on Monday called Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s lottery proposal “flawed” and warned lawmakers that money for public schools could fall short of current levels under the plan.
… Currently, lottery profits benefit public schools, from kindergarten to community colleges. Hill wrote that the Schwarzenegger administration made “overly optimistic” assumptions about the potential growth in lottery sales. She warned that public education funding “would fall well short of their current levels — perhaps by $5 billion over the next 12 years combined.”

Back to the drawing board.

Failure to Support Progressive Movement Dooms Another Organization

This is a guest post by Dr. Katherine Forrest, Co-Founder of the Commonweal Institute. It originally appeared at the Commonweal Institute Blog.
The Rockridge Institute wasn’t the only progressive infrastructure organization that folded this spring. Another was the Center for Policy Alternatives , which shut down in April, 2008, after having been around for 32 years. CPA provided policy ideas for state governments, published an annual collection of policy recommendations, and trained future legislators. Like Rockridge, CPA’s executive director, Tim McFeeley, stated in his final e-mailed message that a main reason for CPA’s demise was the lack of support for infrastructure organizations among progressives.
Dealing with the need for ongoing support for their political movement’s operations is a challenge that needs to be addressed successfully, regardless of whether modern “progressives” align themselves more closely with independents or liberals or any particular political party.
I know many people who call themselves progressive, and even more whose sentiments I would consider to be progressive. But VERY few recognize that ongoing support, year after year, not just at election time, will be needed to build and sustain a political movement that works for the things they care about. Fewer still act on that recognition.
This seems to be a blind spot for progressives. They exemplify two American traits–fixation on personality and lack of patience and perspective. Progressives keep looking for a messiah candidate who can lead them out of the wilderness, pumping their dollars into candidates and campaigns, while ignoring the need for continuing work on moving public opinion and building the progressive base between election cycles. Progressive funders, notably including many in large nonprofit foundations as well as individual political donors, tend to make grants for short-term efforts (seldom exceeding 2-3 years), after which they are eager to move on to some exciting new venture, rather than supporting long-term social change efforts that reasonably will take a decade or more to achieve.
Notably, some working with disadvantaged communities are talking about how to do fundraising to “resource the social justice movement.” We can only hope that movement awareness spreads to encompass other issue areas, instead of remaining limited to social justice. After all, we’re all in it together–across the board, people have economic, housing, legal, environmental, educational, medical, and transportation needs–and that list just scratches the surface.
A progressive movement is what we need, and that movement needs SUPPORT. Too bad it didn’t come in time to save Rockridge Institute and Center for Policy Alternatives.

Gambling On Budget – What If We Lose?

The headline article in Sunday’s San Jose Mercury News: A winning bet on lottery money for Schwarzenegger?

The article discusses ways to increase lottery sales so the Governor can borrow from future revenue to pay today’s bills. (And we get to pay huge investment bank fees for the privilege of borrowing our money from our future.)
The article does not discuss the consequences of the possible failure of this wild plan to base the state’s financial future on gambling revenue. If it fails we will still owe a huge amount of money to the big Wall Street firms, but will have even less revenue coming in to pay the additional interest and principal. We’re talking about the possibility of bankruptcy here, folks.
The article does not discuss the consequences of using marketing methods to push gambling to California’s low income citizens. We already know there is a gambling problem just from the amount of advertising that is being done today. Now lottery-pushers are talking about online betting, allowing use of credit cards so people can go into debt, and increased advertising. This can only lead to terrible victimization of people who are susceptible to gambling addiction.
Mostly, though, this Sunday headline article does not discuss realistic ideas for raising revenue to pay for the state’s schools, roads, police, firefighters, courts, health care facilities, DMV workers, environmental oversight and the rest of the absolutely necessary things that our state government does for us. These ideas include asking the wealthy to pay the same sales taxes when they buy yachts and jets that the rest of us pay when we buy clothing and cars and necessities, or asking the big corporations to pay realistic property taxes on commercial real estate, or asking the oil companies to pay something when they pump our oil out of the ground and sell it back to us, or closing some of the loopholes that allow big corporations and wealthy to escape paying their share of taxes.
Nope, instead of looking at realistic revenue ideas we’re all being distracted by this silly lottery scheme.

A Short Comment On The Governor’s Lottery Borrowing Plan

The Governor wants to borrow future lottery revenue to help pay this years bills.
If we pay this years bills with next year’s revenue, then there is that much less revenue next year to pay next year’s bills.
It’s time to realize that borrowing to pay future bills doesn’t work. This governor’s past borrowing is a big part of why we are in the mess we are in today. Now we owe the money we borrowed and the interest.
There are ways to solve this but they simply are going to have to involve asking the wealthy and corporations to pay their fair share. There is no way around it anymore.
Borrowing isn’t an answer, it’s just a way to cover the problem.

Free Markets?

A news story on Monday, McCain urges free-market principles to reduce global warming. Which”free-market principles” does McCain mean?

McCain’s major solution is to implement a cap-and-trade program on carbon-fuel emissions, like a similar program in the Clean Air Act that was used to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions that triggered acid rain.

Summary: the government sets a limit on how much CO2 companies will be allowed to emit. The government sets a fee for any emissions above that level. The government allows companies with emissions below that limit to sell “credits” to companies above the limit.
McCain describes this as a “free market” approach.
Conservatives always come up with nice-sounding ways to describe their ideas. They talk about “free markets.” “Free” sounds so good. Has a nice ring to it. But is there really such a thing?
In McCain’s example every single component of this market is defined, set up and regulated by government. But conservatives always say that government is the enemy of freedom and of markets. Do they not see the contradiction?
In fact, is there a market that is not defined, set up and regulated by government? Would markets even exist if there were no government? First, there is the money that is exchanged in a market. Unless we revert to a pure barter system where goods are exchanged money is entirely a creation of government. And it is entirely regulated by government. Next are the laws that, excuse the word, “govern” the market system. These laws are entirely a creation of government and it is government that enforces them and government that runs the courts that resolve disputes. And yes, these laws are “regulations.”
So when conservatives complain about “government” and “regulation” and advocate “free markets” what is it they are really saying? The best way to understand what they want is to look at what they do, not what they say. If we look closely at the results of those times when conservatives gain power we can see that they really seem to mean they will use the power of government to protect the wealthiest people and biggest corporations.
For example, conservatives in government have always defended the big energy companies against threats to use of their products. They oppose mass transit, alternative energy research, even requiring cars to get better gas mileage.
A closer look reveals that what they really stand for is a protection of the status quo, defending the rich and powerful against the rest of us.

This Week’s Kaiser Security Guard Strike and the Bigger Picture

This last week I worked with SEIU to help publicize a strike by security guards at Kaiser Permanente facilities in California. (That work was sponsored by SEIU, but this is not a sponsored post.)
The security guards at Kaiser facilities in California work for a company named Inter-Con Security, which then contracts with Kaiser. All other employees at Kaiser are unionized, and Kaiser is a responsible company with their employee relationships. And in other states like Oregon, the Kaiser security guards are unionized. But, for some reason, the security guards in California are not employees of Kaiser and the contractor, Inter-Con, is fighting unionization. In fact they are engaging in tactics that are not legal, including intimidation, interrogation of employees to find out who is trying to form the union, and other anti-union tactics. (It is legal to form a union and supposedly protected by law.) This week the guards went on strike to demand that these illegal tactics stop, and that laws against such tactics be enforced.
There are, of course, bigger issues in any strike and any drive to unionize. What it comes down to is that corporations are able to amass incredible power and wealth, while individuals on their own are not. So when individuals find themselves up against corporations they have little to no ability to stand up against this massed power and concentrated wealth. Employees are just one example of this dilemma. Most employees are not in a situation that makes it possible to ask for fair pay, benefits, sick pay, health insurance, etc.
Over time, though, workers learned that if they can organize into a single unit and act together they are able to fight back. This is known as organized labor, or unions. And by going on strike, shutting down the corporation’s ability to bring in the bucks, they gain leverage over the corporation and can improve their situation. This is, in fact, what brought America its middle class — weekends off, 40-hour workweeks, sick leave, vacations, pensions, raises, reasonable pay, etc. And, in fact, you can see that since the decline of the labor movement many of these benefits have been disappearing. We have been losing pensions and health care and raises, etc.
But it is not just employees who have a difficult time standing up against corporate power. Look at the vast power of the tobacco and oil industries to set the country’s priorities. As many as 3-400,000 Americans still die each year from cigarettes that were marketed to children who did not have the maturity to resist while addiction to tobacco is especially strong if it begins at an early age. Yet we are still unable to fight back against the horror this industry inflicts.
And the oil companies and coal are able to fight efforts to reign in their power. We are unable to get our government to fund sufficient alternatives to automobiles, like urban rail systems and other mass transit, or high-speed trains between cities. And alternatives to oil and coal energy generation like solar, wind and research into others are all stymied or severely underfunded even though we know entire, new job-creating industries could be launched.
Our hopes for one-person-one-vote ideas about democracy continue to suffer from the one-dollar-one-vote corporate assault. It is not clear what the eventual outcome of this battle will be.