Parsky Comm. Shocker – Exxon Director Proposes Offshore Drilling!

The Commission on the 21st Century Economy, known as the “Parsky Commission” and COTCE is supposed to be figuring out how to reform the state’s tax structure.  Back when the commission was announced Brian at Calitics wrote that he was hopeful that the Republican domination of the commission would lead to some solutions that were both sensible and that Republicans could vote for.  In Gerald Parsky, Bush acolyte, to head tax commission he wrote,

For some background, Parsky is the former chair of George W. Bush’s California campaigns in 2000 and 2004.

[. . .] As a Republican with a strong background supporting Bush and McCain,
Parsky will presumably have a better shot at convincing some of the
Republican legislators of the importance of some of these reforms. 
. . .  He’s
raised millions of dollars for Republican candidates, so if money
counts, and it does, he should have the ear of the GOP legislators.  In
many ways we need a prominent Republican voice on this commission, the
Republicans need cover from a big-time money guy who has a track record
on the GOP private sector trickle-down mumbo jumbo.

But no, instead the commission has floated one proposal after another designed to shift taxes from the wealthy and corporations to the rest of us.  There is the flat tax, for example, which lowers taxes at the top and pays for it by raising taxes on the rest of us.  There is the idea to get rid of taxes on corporations.  Etc., Etc.  The sensible idea of a pollution tax has been sidelined.

In Trying to Hide More Tax Breaks for the Wealthy, Hannah-Beth Jackson writes,

In that spirit, what is the first thing Parsky recommends? As the first
order of business, he proposes a flat tax which will blow another $14
Billion hole in the state’s already reeling general fund. But given his
decision that one of the criteria of this commission is “revenue
neutrality,” … somebody or
something must pick up the slack. So in the tradition of the Bush tax
cuts, where virtually all the benefits went to the wealthiest 1% of
Americans, Mr. Parsky would have the rest of us paying more.

Then, yesterday, out of the blue, a different idea was introduced: expand offshore oil drilling.  This idea came from (surprise of surprises) Michael Boskin, who is on the Board of Exxon!

Calbuzz has been following this.  From Slimy Parsky Oil Play and a Yorba Linda Lecher

The recommendation came as a shock, not only because the offshore
issue was only casually discussed during the commission’s months of
hearings, but also because it deepened the atmosphere of secrecy and
sleight-of-hand in which Parsky assembled the agenda for the panel’s
final, crucial meeting. …

The proposal for more offshore drilling seems to have worked its way
onto the commission’s plate at least in part at the request of
conservative Hoover Institution economist Michael Boskin, who also sits
on the board of Exxon Mobil.

So here we go again.  Another last-minute, shock-doctrine attack, this time on the environment, this time enriching oil companies.  note that the idea does not include asking the oil companies topay for the oil they take from us and sell back to us.  Calbuzz,

The recommendation, sure to draw the ire of environmentalists and
coastal legislators, pointedly does not suggest imposing a new
severance tax on oil companies. California is the only oil-producing
state that does not have such a tax, which is being pushed in the
legislature by several members of the Assembly, including Assemblymen
Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, and Alberto Torrico, D-Fremont.

BTW: There’s no frigging way the agenda and agenda packet was ready
early enough for the public to have legal notice. Not that Parsky seems
to give a rat’s butt.

Brian at Calitics in yesterday’s Parsky adds Oil Drilling to His Recommendation, writes,

How oil drilling got into a so-called tax commission shouldn’t be a
surprise when there was a faux transparency.  The website laid out a
slew of emails and written conversations, but apparently Parsky and his
cronies were working on something else entirely.

This is not the process that gets to determine whether we will
set up oil rigs off of the entirety of our coast line.  That is an
entirely seperate conversation, and frankly Mr. Parsky, I don’t care
one iota what you think about that.  Not that I really much cared about
what you thought about our revenue system either at this point, but
this was not your assigned task and frankly none of your business.

It’s nice to see that ExxonMobil has its dirty hooves in just
about political conversation where it can possibly make a buck. But if
ever anybody thought that the Parsky Plan had any credibility as any
sort of unbiased scheme, well, that can just about be written off right
about now.

Even though this is health care week we need people to make some noise about this.  Hannah-Beth writes,

The way Mr. Parsky is running the show, his welfare for the wealthy and
questionable corporate giveaways are all he wants to consider. He
thinks he is running out the clock with his wealthy cronies way ahead,
but we can let him know that feathering the beds of the wealthy at the
expense of the middle class and the neediest of us is so not going to happen.

To help let them know this isn’t where we want the
state to go, please send your comments to the public comment section of
the COTCE website at comment@cotce.ca.gov and ask that your comments be posted.

Tell them NO to reducing the personal income tax on the wealthy and NO
to their hide-the-ball efforts to push through a proposal without the
necessary public debate. These issues are too important to the future
of our state to be handled so secretively and so obviously in favor of
the rich at the expense of the rest of the people of California.

Also, send a quick email to our legislative leaders Darryl Steinberg at Senator.Steinberg@senate.ca.gov  and Karen Bass at speaker.bass@assembly.ca.gov  will help put pressure on the Commission to back off these outrageous approaches to our state’s difficult tax situation and force greater transparency in what they’re doing.

California Government Is Good People But The System Is Designed To Fail

I was in Sacramento for some meetings this week, and have a few thoughts and observations.

The first is the most important. The people in and around our government are good, dedicated people who are doing those jobs because they care and want to do the right thing.  You don’t make big money in public service.  In the last few decades a government job meant less pay than a comparable “private” sector job and a number of working-environment hassles, like the extra procedures (paperwork and bureaucracy) that are required in public positions to involve transparency and accountability.  And, of course, they have to put up with the Republican-inspired abuse of people who work for the government.  So give these people a break and assume good faith.

After decades of budget cutting our government is universally strapped
for resources and it makes for a difficult workday.  The things people
went into public service to accomplish are being stripped out from
under them by the state’s structured-to-fail system (see below).  I
hope the Bush years trigger some serious thinking about what things
would be like without a government, because we are getting close to
that possibility.

The state government is now structurally designed to fail — and this latest budget deal compounds the problem.  This situation was created on purpose by anti-government ideologues, usually corporate-funded.  Thus really is a choice between government by the people or government by a wealthy few who happen to be in control of large corporations.  To them government is “in the way” of making money.  Government means food and safety inspectors so people don’t get sick and workers don’t get hurt, and protecting workers and the public costs them profits.  Government means regulations stopping them from dumping stuff in the water or air and properly disposing of waste costs them money.  Government means regulations that make them pay back customers who are overcharges.  Government means regulations requiring delivering goods and services that were promised.  SO you can see why the hate government and regulation — they keep them from just taking your money and giving nothing back! 

So they have used the power that comes from their access to corporate resources to set up a state system that is giving them what they want.  They pay petition-gatherers to get anti-government initiatives on the ballot, and then they flood the TV and radio with lying ads that trick people into voting against their own interests — and here we are.

Here are just a few of our designed-to-fail structural problems: 

  • Term limits mean that thinking must be short term, and encourages passing problems along instead of solving them, because then the problems will be “not on my watch.” People who are effective in their jobs are forced out, and voters who want to keep them there are prevented from doing so.
  • The campaign-finance system puts corporate-backed candidates in office by necessitating big money to win elections.  And corporations, designed to amass resources, are perfect vehicles for pushing the interests of the few who control them. 
  • The two-thirds budget requirement means that a few anti-government extremists are able to sabotage the process, keeping any budget from passing and shutting down the state.
  • The disappearance of political reporting in California media means the state’s citizens are uninformed about what is going on.  The corporate-owned media concentrates on sitcoms and what Britney is wearing, and does not let the people find out what government is about.

These are just some of the structural problems, and the system is. of course, structurally designed to keep us from fixing them.  The only way we are going to address this is to get lots and lots of people involved.  The election of Barack Obama tells us this is possible but I despair at amount of work that will have to be done to accomplish it.   

California Leading On Environment … Most Of Us Anyway

Take a look at the California Climate Change Portal.

This website contains information on the impacts of climate change on California and the state’s policies relating to global warming. It is also the home for the the California Climate Change Center, a “virtual” research and information website operated by the California Energy Commission through its Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) Program.

California Attorney General Brown recently announced the state will sue to block a huge Nestle bottled-water plant unless its effects on global warming are evaluated. Why bottled water? A recent Huffington Post piece by Diane Frances, Bottled Water: The Height of Stupidity talks about the bottled-water scam,

Bottled water is a joke, one of the biggest consumer and taxpayer ripoffs ever. I applaud California’s Attorney General Jerry Brown who said recently that he will sue to block a proposed water-bottling operation in Northern California by Nestle.
. . . Not only do society and the environment pay an unfair price for this consumer hoax, but consumers are being hoodwinked. They are paying from 300 to 3,000 times more than the cost of tap water without any benefit.
. . . The water is usually not superior to “city” water or tap water, and is merely a big branding hoax by soda makers. In some cases, this “designer” water is drawn from tap water and labeled for suckers to buy as though it is a superior product.
. . . One expert estimated that the amount of petroleum — used to make the bottles, transport, refrigerate, collect and bury them — would fill one-third of each bottle.
These plastic bottles are creating landfill problems worldwide, and are washing up on beautiful beaches around the planet.

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California Fire Smoke Map

We have been having some degree of smoke cover here in the San Francisco Bay area for some time, and today it is particularly bad. I have found a map of smoke coverage for all of California and even Nevada that calculates the coverage at the time you click the map. I can’t seem to embed this map, but it is worth clicking through — especially if you live in one of the affected areas. Here it is:
WunderMap Interactive Radar & Weather Stations : Wunderground Preview Site

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?

Conservation – A Call To Action

The U.S. House will be considering the National Landscape Conservation System Act next week. This act will permanently recognize a conservation system that protects 26-million acres of our West’s wildest lands. This includes California’s Pacific Crest Trail.
This video, “Hidden Treasures of the American West,” explains:

You can take action by visiting The Wilderness Society’s Action page at: http://action.wilderness.org/campaign/nlcs_general

Yes, but how do they do it with a straight face?

The fact that the U.S. EPA refused to grant California a waiver so we can initiate our own air emissions standards is really no surprise to anyone who has watched this administration ignore science, our legal system, common sense and the Constitution. Whether waterboarding, abstinence only education, refusing to fund “No Child Left Behind”, illegally issuing wire taps without court order, or refusing to honor validly issued subpoena from Congress (to name only a very few of this administration’s scofflaw attitude), it is the audacity and mendacity that is so astonishing. It makes one wonder whether the right-wing extremist P.R. firms have a class in how to lie with a straight face, perhaps calling it something like “How stupid do we think the American people really are?”
The chutzpah is endless—with the President today in his own press conference exemplifying it with astonishing ease. But the lack of embarassment or apology is what really takes the cake. And when EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson claimed that the reason for the waiver denials is that and I quote here: “The Bush administration is moving forward with a clear national solution, not a confusing patchwork of state rules.” , that really takes the cake.
A clear national solution??? Nothing clear about said solution. Nothing national about it. And in fact, no solution identified either. Besides which, Bush doesn’t even believe in global warming. Is it a “national solution” of denial or just plain old deception that this administration is trying to foist on a not-so-unsuspecting public?

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Things CAN Change!

One reason so many people in California and around the country “tune out” and don’t participate in our own government is they believe that creating change is beyond their control. It often seems that things are locked in by powerful, wealthy interests with regular people locked out of the process. This feeling of loss of control has been established by many disappointments over the years.
There are experiments in “learned helplessness” in which rats are unable to control when they are given shocks. Eventually they just lie down and give up.

For example, rats that have been exposed to shocks that they cannot control often become strikingly passive when later placed in new traumatic situations. They appear numb to the new trauma as if they have “given up.” Alternatively, they also become especially fearful of environments where they experience similar traumas and will try to avoid such situations.

Does this sound like you, or people you know? Or maybe way too much of the state and country?
Take heart, for things CAN change! In Australia’s last election the people threw out the bad-on-the-environment conservative government and brought in a government that promises to immediately sign the Kyoto anti-global-warming agreement to reduce carbon emissions.
And look who the new government is placing in charge of its environmental policies! Former Midnight Oil rocker Garrett named Australia’s environment minister,

Peter Garrett – the towering, baldheaded former singer of the disbanded Australian rock group Midnight Oil – continued his long, strange tour from pop star to politician Thursday when he was named Australia’s environment minister.
With his wild dancing and strident voice, Garrett was one of Australia’s most recognizable singers until his band broke up in 2002, after belting out politically charged hits for more than 25 years.
Garrett founded Midnight Oil when he was a law student in 1973, but the semi-punk rock group did not achieve global fame until its 1987 track “Beds are Burning” – a protest song about Aboriginal land rights in Australia.

And so, to celebrate, here is something we can all “tune in” to:
Midnight Oil, Beds are Burning:

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Too often closing the barn door too late

Clearly human nature is want to ignore the obvious until it strikes us in the face, or in the ocean in the present case. Why we aren’t willing to be sufficiently pro-active and take preventative measures in the face of imminent or likely disaster is a mystery on the one hand and yet an inevitability on the other. Or so it seems.
Take the oil spill in the San Francisco Bay on November 7, 2007—just over a week ago. We know that oil spills can and do have devastating impacts on wildlife, ocean eco-systems and local economies. We know, too, that much can be done to prevent or at least signficantly reduce the possibility of catastrophic consequences of oil spills. An obvious preventative measure is to require tankers to be double-hulled, or require the use of tugboats to help them traverse difficult passage-ways, like the San Francisco Bay during heavy fog. Another is to require our emergency response agencies be well-trained and well-equipped with the most up-to-date equipment to respond in case protective measures fail. Of course, this also requires a willingness to make an investment of resources.
In today’s California, the notion of coughing up the bucks to protect against disasters or provide the resources to rapidly contain them if they do occur, is just not politically feasible. And heaven forbid we call upon those massive ships or the even more massive oil industry to pay sufficient fees to assure their product doesn’t pollute our previous shores. But, when disaster strikes–by fire, by flood or by oil, we expect those resources to magically appear. We complain when aircraft shows up late to make water drops or when equipment to contain oil seepage isn’t available or deployed quickly or when there just aren’t enough people or machines available to do the job.
The consequences, of course, can be devastating….and the ultimate damage much more expensive than the costs of protecting ourselves in advance. Prevention is always worth a pound of cure, but if prevention keeps the problem from happening, we tend to believe that there wasn’t a problem to begin with—so why spend the money in the first place? Or is it, sadly, the sage observation by great songwriter Joni Mitchell that “you don’t know what you’ve got til its gone…”?

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The “Job Killer” Soundbite

During my tenure in the California legislature, I found it somewhat humorous that every bill calling for greater corporate accountability and responsibility to the health and well-being of the public or workers was called “a job killer”by the California Chamber of Commerce. This appellation was almost always not only overly simplistic, but wildly dishonest and inaccurate. When I brought a bill to require that we consider the health impacts on women and children of various chemicals and compounds when we establsih acceptable health standards, and not just consider the impacts on the average 6 foot 175 pound male, the bill was attacked as being a “job killer”.
The first time I heard this, I thought the accuser was just kidding. But then I realized that the allegation came from a package of “talking points” handed out by the California Chamber of Commerce as part of their propoganda campaign to defeat any measures that would otherwise regulate their big business bosses. How in the world could you otherwise justify defeating a measure designed to protect the health of our people, and especially our children?

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