Victory over alcopops, liquor industry targeting of teens

Never doubt that you, as a Speak Outer, are having a positive impact. Further proof: the recent victory over the purveyors of booze, who have been foisting colorful sugary, fruity drinks, laced with distilled spirits, on our youth.
The drinks, known as “alcopops,” include popular brands like Smirnoff Ice, Seagram’s Coolers, Bacardi Silver and Mike’s Hard Lemonade. The liquor industry wants kids to develop a drinking habit linked to their corporate brand, then graduate to increasingly harder–and more expensive–booze. So they diabolically concocted a way to make liquor–which normally tastes yucky to kids—appeal to young palates.
Teenagers themselves scored a huge win Tuesday when the state Board of Equalization voted 3-2 to treat the flavored malt beverages as distilled spirits, rather than beer, for tax purposes. Democratic BOE Board Members John Chiang, Judy Chu, and Betty Yee voted for the tax increase. Republican BOE members, who have received hefty contributions from the alcohol and brewery industries as well as convenience stores that profit from selling alcopops, voted no.
A large coalition of teenagers, parents, the PTA, religious and faith-based groups, the Girl Scouts, and health and safety advocates supported the tax change. The increased taxes, from 20 cents per gallon to $3.30 per gallon, will increase the tax on a single 12-oz. bottle of alcopops from 2 cents to 31 cents. Experts predict that the increased taxes will restrict availability by limiting where the alcopops are sold and also shrink the market, since teens tend to be very price-sensitive shoppers. In turn, reduced access to the sugary drinks will prevent teen pregnancies, alcoholism, injuries, violence, and deaths linked to drinking.
The decision makes California the second state, after Maine, to reclassify alcopops as distilled spirits.
At critical moments, when BOE Board Members Chu, Chiang, and Yee were running for office, and faced scurrilous attacks funded by the tobacco and liquor industries, Speak Out exposed their hidden agenda and kept you up to date on the money trail. By clicking onto Speak Out’s website, you got up-to-date info that helped make the candidates’ records and priorities clear, and helped make this sweet victory possible.
Kudos to BOE Board Members John Chiang, Judy Chu, and Betty Yee for standing up for REAL family values!
More info about alcopops can be found at the website for the Marin Institute, at

Historic vote: California voters needed NOW to help raise fuel economy, curb global warming

Will California lead the way to curbing global warming and making the US less dependent on foreign oil? Or will we be held hostage by the dinosaurs in Detroit and Big Oil and Coal? A historic showdown is imminent in Congress. The time to make your voice heard is NOW.
For the first time in a decade, the U.S. Senate has voted to improve motor vehicle fuel economy, saving consumers at the pump and also reducing harmful pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions. But the House is closely divided, with the auto, coal, and oil industries attempting to derail the momentum from the Senate victory. This is a critical moment for the environment, consumers, and the nation.
The burning question: Will enough lawmakers from California vote AYE for H.R. 1506, the Fuel Economy Reform Act of 2007, to offset the NO votes from members of states dominated by the auto, coal, and oil interests? H.R. 1506 will raise fuel economy 10 miles per gallon over the next 10 years, to 35 mpg, and 4% every year afterward. These gains in fuel economy are achievable and long overdue. Any added costs for the vehicles will be offset by savings at the pump. Oh, and did we mention that we also help save the planet?
While California has the most to gain from raising fuel economy standards, both in decreased pollution and in savings on fuel costs, some California lawmakers are wavering, thanks to a barrage of phone calls and faxes–not to mention campaign contributions— from auto, coal, and oil interests. Those lawmakers are seriously out of step with public opinion. Yet another poll, recently conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California, shows overwhelming support among Californians for increasing fuel economy standards and addressing global warming. This should be a no-brainer, but some wavering lawmakers need to hear from more of us to realize they are going to be held accountable for this vote–by the public.
How can you make your voice heard at this critical time for California, our nation, and our planet?
Call wavering lawmakers and let them know you care about the planet. Urge them to vote for H.R. 1506 when Speaker Pelosi and the authors, Representatives Markey and Platts, bring the bill to the House floor.
Here’s who to call TODAY:
U.S. Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno)
DC office: 202-225-3341
Fresno office: 559-495-1620
U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield)
DC office: 202-225-2915
Bakersfield office: 661-327-3611
U.S. Rep. Jane Harman (D-El Segundo, Wilmington)
DC office: 202-225-8220
El Segundo office: 310-643-3636
U.S. Rep. Joe Baca (D-San Bernardino)
DC office: 202-225-6161
San Bernardino office: 909-885-2222
U.S. Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Solana Beach)
DC office: 202-225-0508
Solana Beach office: 858-350-1150
Mary Bono (R-Palm Springs)
DC office: 202-225-5330
Palm Springs office: 760-320-1076
Spread the word among your family and friends. The calls you make now will be among the most important you will ever make.
Thank you for speaking up, California!!

Are You Contributing to Republicans When You Buy a Car?

What do you look for in a car? Safety? Fuel economy? Comfort? Affordability? How about whether you are inadvertently making a campaign contribution to the Republican party?
Auto dealers are among the most aggressive contributors to the Republican party and Republican candidates. Compared to other industries, they are among the most lopsided in their giving. During the 2000 election cycle, 96% of the auto industry’s soft money went to the GOP.
In addition, some of the largest auto dealers are among the Bush Pioneers, who raised many millions for Bush’s election and re-election campaigns. According to Automotive News, auto dealers played an active role in funneling a whopping $150 million to the Bush-Cheney campaign. Dealers also crowed about the pivotal role they played in the battleground state of Ohio.
How do auto dealers make so much money they can afford to write those big checks? To extract the last possible dime from even the most wary customers, auto dealers commonly engage in highly sophisticated scams like “loan packing,” auto salvage fraud, dealer “markups” of interest rates, “yo-yo” financing, high-pressure sales tactics, and other forms of predatory practices.
How can you avoid making a inadvertent contribution to the Bushites? Next time you buy a car, consider buying a used car from an individual. By eliminating the middle man (yes, the biggest auto dealers are almost exclusively white and male), you can save a bundle–and also avoid contributing to the auto dealers’ political agenda.
Nationally, auto dealers’ top legislative priority is elimination of the estate tax. They have also invested vast sums in opposing improved fuel economy standards. (Global warming? Forgetaboutiit. Gotta hype those Expeditions, Escalades, and Hummers.) They are hugely active in pushing to eliminate longstanding state and federal consumer protections. They have a long history of opposing safety advances including shoulder harnesses to protect kids in the back seat, air bags, safety glass, side impact protection, public information about crash tests, and disclosure of vehicles’ likelihood of flipping over in a crash. To top it all off, they are increasingly inserting mandatory arbitration clauses into their contracts–forcing you to give up your constitutional rights when you buy a car from them.
When you go somewhere other than a dealership to buy, you are not only saving money, and withholding funds from the GOP, you are also preserving your constitutional rights–and helping save the planet.
Just make sure you aren’t buying from a curbstoner—an unlicensed dealer. Google “curbstoner” to find out how to avoid them too.

Killer cars flooding into CA

As if life in California weren’t exciting enough, we are getting dumped on by unscrupulous insurers and auto dealers who profit from the illicit trafficking in total loss vehicles, including hurricane flood cars. Yup, that cute red number your teenager finds so alluring may be a killer car that swam with the fishes.
Remember the 500,000 flood cars that we all saw on TV, submerged up to their rooftops in the wake of hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma? Experts warned everyone to look out for them, since they are basically rotting from the inside out, and are totally unreliable.
According to the former president of the National Automobile Dealers Association, a lot of them were headed to auto auctions in–yes, you guessed it–California. The auctions advertise them on the internet and sell them to the highest bidders–typically, unscrupulous auto dealers who hose them down and spiff them up, to disguise the fact they are worthless, hazardous junkers. Then they sell them to unsuspecting used car buyers, usually for the going Blue Book price.
It’s illegal, of course, but enforcement to curb the frauds is extremely lax, and the profit margins are staggering. An unscrupulous dealer can nab a flood car at auction for $3,000, spend $1000 to power wash it and replace the upholstery, then turn around and sell it for $12,000. They don’t usually offer discounts, because that would arouse suspicion among potential buyers. It would also reduce their ill-gotten gains.
California, the nation’s largest auto market, is famous worldwide as a dumping ground for hazardous junkers. According to the DMV, a whopping 2.5 million vehicles that were totalled in crashes, floods, or other disasters are being driven on our roads. Look around you—even if you don’t own one, you may be killed or injured by one of the clunkers when the axle falls apart, the steering goes wacko, the brakes fail, or it stalls out in traffic.
Auto insurers and dealers have cleverly devised ways to profit from the frauds involving killer flood cars. When insurers total a car, it is rarely destroyed. Instead, they send totalled autos to auctions known as “salvage pools,.” which are basically an arm of the insurance industry. Insurers get a cut of the take at the auction. When the junkers are sold for fraudulent purposes, they command a higher price, enabling insurers to recoup more of their losses or even turn a profit.
Consumer groups and CA Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner backed legislation to prohibit the sales of totalled hurricane flood cars in CA. But insurers like State Farm, Geico, Farmers, Allstate, and auto dealers killed the bill. It was SB 498, authored by Senator Jenny Oropeza. No Republican senator would vote for it, since it was opposed by some of their biggest contributors. While most democratic senators supported it, a handful of so-called “moderate” democratic senators who usually side with business interests blocked its passage.
keep an eye out for toxic flood cars that are contaminated with bacteria, mold, and mildew, have air bags that may not inflate in a crash, and electronic systems that are madly corroding away. Even if you don’t buy one, you or your family could end up riding in one. If you happen across a flood car, get in touch with CARS. We’re working to protect American families from flood cars, including testifying before Congress , working to get laws passed to prohibit dumping flood cars back into the market in the first place, and doing interviews with national news media.
More info about why flood cars are so hazardous in posted on our website, at:
Rosemary Shahan
Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety

Global Warming Action Alert

Auto manufacturers and dealers are trying to kill the single most important bill in Sacramento to reduce greenhouse gas emissions spewed into the air night and day by the leading culprits — motor vehicles. You would think this bill would be a no-brainer for any lawmaker who wants to keep his or her legislative district above water. But that would be to underestimate the ability of the auto Neanderthals to obfuscate.
The bill is up for a key vote next Wednesday or Thursday, so now is the time for those of us who are rather fond of life on our planet to take action. Call your Assemblymember and urge him/her to vote yes on AB 493.
The author is Assemblymember Ira Ruskin (D-Redwood City). If enacted, AB 493 will accelerate the availability of affordable low-emissions vehicles. Since the Bushites are in global warming denial, it falls to the states to act. Once again, California will be leading the way, but only if we win.
How it works is simple: AB 493 will add a surcharge onto the worst gas-guzzlers, and use the funds to provide rebates for gas-sippers. This will make lower emissions vehicles more affordable for moderate and low income consumers who also care about the environment. Each category of vehicle, including pickups and SUVs, will include models with either no surcharge or a rebate, preserving consumer choice. So if you want a minivan for your family, you can get, say, a Honda Odyssey at no extra charge. But if you hanker for a Hummer, be prepared to pay extra to cover the cost to the rest of the world for polluting our atmosphere.
AB 493 is supported by a long list of pro-environment, pro-consumer organizations. You can read more about it at the author’s website. To find your state Assemblymember, visit the website for the CA Assembly’s site here:
CA State Assembly
and click on “Find my district.” Plug in your address, and up pops the contact information for your state Assemblymember. Call and urge him or her to stand up to the auto interests and vote in favor of AB 493!

Presidential candidates woo us–but will the honeymoon last?

Leading democratic presidential contenders will hit the hustings in San Diego this weekend, vying for votes and trolling for support from conventioneers. The accelerated presidential primary calendar will give California more influence over who is nominated, but it also favors those who amass the most in campaign contributions, so they can get their message out in multiple media markets at once.
All the more reason why those of us who hunger for change in Washington need to be on our toes, researching the candidates and their positions, and choosing wisely. We need to look beyond the race for dollars, get involved and active earlier, and make sure that whoever earns the nomination has a real depth of support and staying power.
What can you do to help ensure a progressive candidate wins?
Participate in town hall meetings. Volunteer in campaigns. Walk precincts, write letters to the editor, spread the word to friends and neighbors, put up signs, slap a bumper sticker on your own car, staff a table at your local farmer’s market, leaflet at a favorite sporting event, contribute online, and/or join up with friends to do phone banking.
You don’t need reminding how high the stakes are. You are already more then motivated. Just get out there and do it.
As Joan Blades of has printed on one of her favorite T-shirts, “Politics is NOT a spectator sport!”

Wither campaign finance reform in California?

Burning question: Is campaign finance dead in CA, or should we revisit that issue? Why do you think that Prop 89 was defeated by such a wide margin? Was it simply because our side of the Great Divide was vastly outspent? Because of the way it was drafted? Because of the low turnout and lack of competitive races to get people excited about the election? Or….?

Who will buy the LA Times?

California’s largest newspaper, the LA Times, is up for grabs. Progressives have a huge stake in the goings-on at the Times, where the the current owner, the conservative Chicago-based Tribune empire, plans severe cuts among some of the nation’s premier political and public policy reporters. The Tribune has already axed courageous and highly respected editor Dean Baquet, who refused to be a party to the bloodbath. Not coincidentally, they did the dastardly deed while the election story dominated the news, or it would have been Page One statewide. As it is, the story is still making headlines nationally.
Several billionaires are bidding for the LA Times, among them Eli Broad and Ron Burkle (who may be ticked at the Times because they exposed his agenda of getting a special bill passed to keep certain public court filings secret–at a time when he was involved in a messy divorce where his assets were a major issue. Such a measure was widely perceived as disadvantaging women.) Of course, one has to suspect their motives may be less about preserving journalistic integrity than meddling with the news to impose their slant.
Question: Is it productive to cancel your subscription to the LA Times in protest? Or does that simply play into their hands by making it less expensive and easier to acquire? What should progressives do?

Whose government is it, anyway?

Dear Progressive California Voter:
Chances are you stopped paying attention to the barrage of increasingly shrill ads on TV a long time ago, and are making up your mind based on far more reliable information. You’ve studied the sample ballot and checked out Speak Out California’s Voter Guide, and the various candidate and initiative websites. You’ve discussed issues with your friends and mulled things over.
Now it’s time to get out there and vote. And encourage your like-minded friends to get to the polls. Better yet, get in touch with campaigns you are supporting, and spend a couple hours between now and Tuesday night helping with turnout.
This is an election for the history books. War and Peace. Global warming. The future of our state’s schools, roads, and infrastructure. Races that will decide the direction of our state, and whether we move forward or continue to be exploited by the powerful special interests that dominate in Sacramento and Washington.
The Bush-Rove machine claims they have every California voter’s private preferences and shopping habits sliced and diced, and are targeting their voters like you wouldn’t believe. Don’t let them drown us out.
Wake up next Wednesday morning knowing you had a hand in saving our planet and reclaming the precious vestiges of our democracy. As Ben Franklin said, the Founders gave us a democracy–if we can keep it.

Schwarzenegger veto bad news for environment, families, taxpayers

In a move that raises serious doubts about whether Governor Schwarzenegger intends the new laws he trumpets to have any teeth, the Governor vetoed legislation sponsored by California’s Attorney General Bill Lockyer that would have kept the playing field level when our state’s top cop tackles corporations that violate California’s laws. Schwarzenegger’s veto is also a slap at taxpayers, who foot the bill for curbing illicit activities, and should be able to recoup those expenditures when the lawbreakers are caught and the People of California win in court.
The stakes for our state are enormous. If you visit Attorney General Lockyer’s website, you’ll see case after case where he won billions of dollars in refunds for California consumers, forced polluters to cease spewing toxins into our air or dumping them into our water, stopped tobacco companies from handing out free cigarettes to kids, curbed securities frauds perpetrated on stockholders and employees, cleaned up phony charities that ripped off donors, reined in lumber companies from decimating protected forests, and enforced hard-fought civil rights laws.

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