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.

Solving California’s Budget Problems Without Taxes

Over at the blog Calitics, Paul Rosenberg has some “thinking outsides the box” ideas for ways that we can solve California’s budget problems without asking corporations and the wealthy to contribute their fair share of taxes. These really are worth looking at.
Since it is obviously important that the burden of financing the state be kept off of the corporations and wealthy, and instead fall on seniors, students and the sick, Rosenberg lays out several ideas, including:
1) Forcing students to donate blood weekly.
2) Forcing children to work,

However, if we’ve learned anything from the last few years of budget woes, it’s that we need to diversify our sources of revenue. Translated into policy terms this means that instead of relying entirely on children’s blood, we should rely on their sweat and tears as well. In a word: child labor.

3) Using a lottery to choose who we can force to donate organs.
Go read. Paul comes up with some good ideas for how we can increase the burden on our poorest so that the wealthy and corporations continue to be spared from having to pay their fair share.

Use Rebates To Help California Schools

I received this in my email today from a friend I trust:

hey everyone!
sorry for the mass email. but some things just call for them. so the other night, karen and i were sitting around wondering what to spend our tax rebate on: big screen tv? that new touchscreen phone? a trip to mexico to drink pina coladas? we decided to set up a site (which we threw up in a night so cut us some slack):
http://stimulateminds.org
to encourage people to use their tax rebates (or portions of them) to stimulate the minds of the future. we just find it kind of sad that our public schools are so lacking in supplies… teachers are requesting such basic seeming needs: crayons, chairs, dictionaries, etc. and often end up paying for them themselves! not to mention that California is cutting more than $4.5 billion from k-12 education and this alone month they’ve laid off over 10,000 teachers. they have cut art classes, music classes, and even p.e.! in a state as wealthy and progressive as California, this feels kind of embarrassing. luckily Californians are caring and always ready to step up when asked.
anyway, i thought you may be interested in checking it out, and telling people about it! if you get a chance, digg, reddit it, blog about it, facebook it, and pass it on!
thanks for your time everyone

So click through to Stimulated Minds.

Is The Corporate Media Deciding This Election For Us?

Are you following the election coverage? Here are some recent stories: The media pounds candidate Hillary Clinton to release her tax forms, because the public has a right to know. And she does release her and her husband’s returns, going back a decade. The media trumpets how much income they have been receiving, how rich they are, and drills down into details. If you follow the news, it is inescapable. At the same time candidate John McCain releases only partial forms that show all assets are now in his wife’s name, and he won’t release his wife’s tax returns. The media is mostly silent on this; most of the public has little opportunity to learn of this.
Another story: Candidate McCain won’t release his medical records. Again from the media there is mostly silence; most of the public has little opportunity to learn of this.
And here is the big story: Unless you have been in a coma you know that for several weeks video clips of statements by Barack Obama’s former minister have been aired nearly 24 hours a day on the news shows, especially on FOX News. These clips are considered scary by certain demographic groups who are not familiar with the speaking patterns of black ministers
Interestingly, at the same time as this “Obama’s minister” story is saturating the news there is another Presidential candidate with a “scary minister” problem of his own. But the news media is not providing the public with any information at all about the things this minister has said. In this case the Presidential candidate is John McCain and the minister is John Hagee. This minister has issued statements condemning Jews, is described as “virulently anti-Catholic,” and says that 9/11 and Katrina are examples of God punishing America. Yet John McCain sought out this minister’s endorsement and insists that he is “proud” to have received it.
While saturating the airwaves with scary video clips of Obama’s scary minister the corporate media is providing the public with almost no information about McCain’s. In the article, The McCain-Hagee Connection, the Columbia Journalism Review asks, “Why is the press ignoring this hate-monger?
Why, indeed?
A well-functioning democracy depends on an informed public. There is no question that the public deserves to know these things about Senators Clinton and Obama. The information in the examples cited here could and should have an effect on the election, because the public will weigh these factors into their voting decisions. But the public also needs the information about Senator McCain, presented with equal emphasis. And clearly this isn’t happening.
So with nearly identical stories — a relationship with a minister who makes scary and hateful statements — the corporate media chooses to present the information about only one to the public, and does so in a way that is guaranteed to scare the … excuse me … bejeesus out of everyone. The other is given a pass and a free ride, and the public is left without the information it needs to make an informed choice.
Why is this happening? Here is some background on our media:
In the United States the broadcast media used to be required by law to serve “the public interest” ahead of profits. Use of OUR airwaves was licensed out to private interests that were allowed to use them to profit to a limited extent in exchange for providing the public with information and news. We did this because it served our interests and those of our democracy.
The rules allowed very limited commercialization of this public resource. For example, in exchange for the license to make a profit from the use of the public airwaves the companies were required to provide educational content for children, news coverage, documentaries, arts and other public interest content. And by law the information had to be objective and balanced.
At certain times of the day the companies could then present commercialized content. But even then the commercialization was to be limited. They were limited in how much time during a show could be used for commercial advertisements — and the shows themselves were not allowed to be commercialized. There were even restrictions on what the commercial advertisements could say. Public benefit was the priority, commercial profits were limited.
It was an exchange – they get to make some money using our resource, and we get news and information that educates us and strengthens our democracy. Why else would we have allowed private companies access to our airwaves, but to serve the public?
This changed. In the early 1980s the Reagan administration unilaterally dropped the requirements that broadcast media serve the public interest and these companies promptly stopped serving the public interest and started serving their own corporate interests. As happens with any for-profit corporate interest commercialization became the only use of our public airwaves.
Shocked by this seizure of a public resource for corporate commercial interests the Congress immediately voted to restore the public benefit requirements, but Reagan vetoed this. Then, under President George H.W. Bush the Congress again voted to restore the public benefit requirements, and this was again vetoed. Under President Clinton the requirement was against brought before the Congress and again a majority voted to restore placing the priority on public benefit but Senate Republicans filibustered and blocked the bill.
So today there is no requirement that our mass media serve the public interest. Instead the only interests that are served are private, corporate interests and the only information the public receives through these outlets is information that benefits the corporations that control them.
Is this why we are seeing such dramatic disparities in the way information about the candidates is presented to the public? Should we be surprised?
Control of our information sources is now in the hands of corporations with no requirement that they serve the interests of democracy. So shouldn’t we expect that corporate interests are placed ahead of the public interest? If for-profit enterprises control the information the public receives then why wouldn’t they promote candidates who would be more favorable to their commercial interests?
Let me provide a clear example of how this affects all of us: When was the last time you saw or heard on a corporate outlet information about the benefits of joining a union? Of course you haven’t, and you wouldn’t expect to. And, in the years since the requirement that the broadcasters serve the public interest by providing balanced information, we have seen a dramatic decline in the percent of the workforce that is unionized. At the same time we have seen a dramatic increase in commercialization of everything, and in the power of corporations over the decision-making of our government.
What else should we expect?

The Middle Class Squeeze Is A Result Of LOW Taxes

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?

Why Building Progressive Infrastructure Matters So Much

On the same day that Barack Obama raised one million dollars in one minute for his campaign George Lakoff’s Rockridge Institute announced that they will be closing their doors.
In the comments at the OpenLeft blog post, The Rockridge Era Ends, Paul Rosenberg wrote,

As If We Needed Any More Proof That Democrats STILL Don’t Get It!
This is really terrible news–not just because of the loss of Rockridge, as if that wasn’t bad enough, but because it shows so clearly that there is NO recognition of the need to build progressive infrastructure.
Just look at how many millions have been raised by the Presidential campaigns this cycle. And just a tiny fraction of it could have not just kept Rockridge afloat, but DOUBLED it in size. …

I want to say this about that:
Donating a dollar to a progressive infrastructure organization like Speak Out California today is like giving ten dollars to EACH progressive candidate in every local, state and nation race this November, two years later, and every election following.
Let me explain what I mean. Progressive infrastructure organizations like Speak Out California and Commonweal Institute and information outlets like California Progress Report and Calitics are working to help the public understand and appreciate what progressives are about. By explaining the benefits of a progressive approach they help build public acceptance of and demand for progressive policies and candidates — across the board. As more people understand why progressive solutions benefit them more than conservative proposals, they develop a lasting positive identification with the progressive “brand.” Then later, during the election cycle, they vote for progressive candidates — across the board.
This is how the conservatives have been so successful. They work year-round to convince people to identify as conservatives. (You’ve probably complained or heard people complain that that have managed to turn “liberal” into a bad word in people’s minds.) When election time comes around it’s as though all that their candidates have to do is point at the opponent and shout “liberal” to win. They ride a wave of nationally-advanced propaganda convincing people to support “tort reform” or “tax relief.” This has been going on for years, so at election time everything is laid out for them on a silver platter, with the public prepared and primed.
Progressive candidates, on the other hand, are generally on their own, starting from scratch for each election. Their general campaign begins in the late summer or fall, they have to decide what “issues” to run on, they have to develop a message from scratch, by themselves, and then they have to reach their voters from scratch. And they have to do all of this on their own in just a few months. No wonder conservatives, even with their awful “you’re on your own” philosophy, have managed to do so well and gain so much traction.
This is why building up a national progressive advocacy infrastructure would leverage all of those campaign donations and help us build a sustainable progressive majority. A few dollars to progressive advocacy organizations on any given TODAY builds long-term support for every progressive candidate on any given TOMORROW. It provides leverage — lowering the need for massive election-cycle funding.
The demise of Rockridge Institute demonstrates that the Democratic Party donor base hasn’t yet gotten that message. Instead, masses of money have to be raised for candidates at the very last minute — for example a million dollars in one minute, the day before the big Pennsylvania primary. And almost all of that money will just literally go up in the air to pay for TV ads that leave nothing behind to show for the money. They don’t build the brand, they don’t tell people about the benefits of progressive ideas, they don’t help other candidates… But almost nothing for the Rockridges and Speak Out California’s and Commonweal Institutes.
Please think about donating to help build a solid progressive infrastructure of organizations that will work year-round to help the public understand why progressive policies and candidate are better for them than the conservative solutions. This will help build a sustainable progressive majority in America. Please help these organizations grow. It’s about building a progressive ecosystem that benefits all of us.

Tax Cuts Make Us Poor

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.

Tax Internet Sales — Just Like Local Stores

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.