California Needs Fairness Doctrine

Roy Ulrich of the California Tax Reform Association and Richard Holober of the Consumer Federation of California have written an important op-ed on the need to restore the Fairness Doctrine. They argue that the unlimited funds that big corporations can throw at California’s ballot initiatives — props 16 (the “PGE Initiative”) and 17 (the “Mercury Insurance Initiative”) in particular — are stifling the ability of opponents of these measures to be heard.
From their op-ed,titled California Needs The FCC To Restore The Fairness Doctrine,

Neither was able to get the legislature to do their bidding, so they hired political consultants, paid millions of dollars to gather signatures, and proceeded to put these self-serving measures on the ballot. Now, they are flooding the airwaves with well-crafted bunk.
… a core principle of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech is the ventilation and airing of opposing points of view.
There can be little doubt that the effect of broadcasters’ refusal to provide under-funded campaigns free response time since the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine for ballot measures in 1992 has been to increase the amount of one-sided information voters receive before entering the voting booth. This is hardly the kind of open and free debate the framers of our Constitution had in mind when they wrote the First Amendment.

It is time to restore the Fairness Doctrine so the non-wealthy can reach the public too.

14 Ways A 90 Percent Top Tax Rate Fixes Our Economy And Our Country

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.

A return to Eisenhower-era 90% top tax rates helps fix our economy in several ways:

1) It makes it take longer to end up with a fortune. In fact it makes peoplebuild and earn a fortune, instead of shooting for quick windfalls. This forces long-term thinking and planning instead of short-term scheming and scamming. If grabbing everything in sight and running doesn’t pay off anymore, you have to change your strategy.

2) It gets rid of the quick-buck-scheme business model. Making people take a longer-term approach to building rather than grabbing a fortune will help reattach businesses to communities by reinforcing interdependence between businesses and their surrounding communities. When it takes owners and executives years to build up a fortune they need solid companies that are around for a long time. This requires the surrounding public infrastructure of roads, schools, police, fire, courts, etc., to be in good shape to provide long-term support for the enterprise. You also want your company to build a solid reputation for serving its customers rather than cheapening the product, pursuing quick-buck scams, cutting customer service, etc. The current Wall Street/private equity business model oflooting companies, leaving behind an empty shell, unemployed workers anda surrounding community in devastation will no longer be a viable business strategy.

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What Conservatives Mean By “Freedom” and “Big Government”

Many of us have wondered what conservatives mean by terms like “big government” and “freedom.” Today the vice chairman of the California Republican Party gives us a hint. In Constitution guarantees freedom, not a cushy life, published in the Rev. Moon’s Washington Times (do Christians know he’s writing there?), Thomas G. Del Beccaro writes,


Today, politicians literally speak of the “rights” of people as they attempt to guarantee a certain standard of living for their constituent-subjects. Of course, most recently, the federal government took on the role of guaranteeing that Americans had a minimum standard of health care because, to the government, it was a right – however unenumerated. 

Now, it would be one thing if a government could actually guarantee such standards of living, but it cannot. After all, before the Great Society was enacted to take on the War on Poverty, the government-measured poverty rate was 14 percent.The pre-Great Society federal budget was less than $130 billion.Since then, we have spent tens of trillions of dollars in good intentions and have a nearly $4 trillion budget, yet the poverty rate remains virtually the same 14 percent. 

 In the process, of course, we have diminished freedoms immeasurably – whether by forcing people to pay for those trillions or by being forced to be subject to government rules….

So “big government” means more rights for Americans, like the right to health care. And by “freedom” he means not being “forced” to help out other Americans. (Of course, the poverty rate was much lower before conservatives took over the government a few years back…) 

Conservatives opposed civil rights for women, minorities, and now gay people. They opposed and fought to the last against Social Security, Medicare, unions, public schools, libraries, parks, worker safety rules, food safety riles, consumer safety rules, bank regulation, even public health programs. These are the “cushy life” big-government programs he complains about. And by “freedom” he means not pitching in to pay for things like roads, bridges, education. 
Government is We, the People watching out for, empowering and protecting each other. It means WE make the decisions and “big government” means WE make decisions that help US. Think of the alternative to We, the People making the decisions and you will realize what opponents of government are pushing for. 
 Apparently conservatives want us all to be disposable economic units with no value beyond what we are able to consume and how much money we make for the wealthy few.

Getting Solar Energy Stimulus Spending Right In California

This guest post is by Natasha Chart of Campaign for America’s Future.  The post first appeared at the Blog For OurFuture.

Thanks to $24 million in stimulus funding, Solar Power, Inc., a company that manufactures solar panels in China to install in the US is exploring opening a solar panel manufacturing plant in Sacramento, CA, to go along with a 10 megawatt solar power installation in the area.

There are no timelines for the projects, but Solar Power chairman and CEO, Steve Kircher seems optimistic. In a press release, he said, “Expanding our manufacturing base to California will significantly enhance our ability to meet growing demand for our solar system development expertise and our top-ranked solar panels across the U.S.”

While it’s great to get results like this from the stimulus, passing a clean energy bill at the federal level, for all the inherent problems, would create a lot more of the same. I expect that in the long run, the expansion of investments in clean energy will be more useful for reducing carbon emissions than many other, more direct attempts to regulate carbon. The reason I think that is because it will begin creating positive incentives that tie people’s livelihoods to the clean energy economy, which is a much-needed shift in the political dynamic that will ease the way towards necessary future reforms.

As David Roberts continues to point out so lucidly, shifting behavior and understanding incentives is probably the most important task of building a clean energy economy.

Fortunately, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, seems to be of a roughly overlapping opinion about the importance of the job incentive:

… Similarly, in the energy sector we need to retool the existing generation and distribution networks with cleaner forms of generation, open markets to innovators who will build power lines that lose fewer electrons and connect new sources of clean power to users, and reward investors for installing more efficient ways of using electricity. Creating the right framework for our communications networks led investors to commit about $850 billion to rebuild those networks. With the right set of policies, it is reasonable expect a similar explosion of private sector investment in the energy sector. This will result in consumers paying less for heating, cooling and lighting, and America’s energy sector will be firmly based on abundant, cheap and clean fuels. Nothing will pull innovation into the energy sector more than wind farms demanding better storage technology, solar farms demanding better ways of capturing and converting sunlight into electricity, and appliances and electric vehicles that can talk to the grid if it is smart enough.

There are other areas of the economy where Americans can and should find new jobs. In the energy sector we not only will need millions of employees, but we also know that those millions will help us achieve independence from foreign oil and an end to the pollution of the environment from carbon emissions. The trifecta of huge employment, national security, and protection of the environment is a winning ticket for America. …

And by “America”, Markey thankfully seems to mean all the Americans who need jobs, and a lot more jobs, quickly, because young and older, most people have to work for a living and don’t care how the stock market is doing.

So, more like this, please.

Did Bush Leave Us Bankrupt, Corrupt, Ungovernable?

This appeared first at Open Left, but I wonder if it applies to California as well? Is it already too late for California?  Have the conservatives done so much damage that the state is just bankrupt and ungovernable?

When you sell the farm, the farm’s gone.

Is it already too late for America?  I’m starting to think that the anti-tax, anti-government conservative movement that started in the mid-70s, elected Reagan and led to the terrible Bush Presidency may have effectively destroyed the country, leaving it bankrupt, corrupt,ungovernable, ruled by a wealthy elite — and we’re only now just starting to realize it.   To cover tax cuts we stopped maintaining the infrastructure and started borrowing.  To satisfy their  hatred of government we increasingly stripped away rule of law, regulation, and belief in one-person-one-vote.  We are seeing the consequences of all of that coming back to roost now.

Reagan left us with massive debt and ever-increasing interest payments. Bush left us with $1.3 trillion deficits and a destroyed economy that would force further increases in the borrowing for years – to be blamed on Obama.  The “free marketers” gave away our manufacturing base that will take decades and massive capital investment to recover.  Obama can try, but it may just be too late to do anything about the borrowing.  We need massive investment in jobs and infrastructure, and a national economic/industrial plan.  But, with their own Reagan/Bush debt as ammunition, conservative ideologues continue to block every effort at investment to get out of the mess we are in.

The conservatives destroyed the regulatory structure of the government.  They removed the inspectors, administrators, regulators and replaced them with corrupt cronies.

The conservatives killed off, contracted out or sold off – “privatized” – so much of our in-common resources and heritage of public structures.  Water systems, oil and mineral leases, government functions, elements of the military, etc.

The conservatives destroyed the rule of law, leaving behind public perception of rule by cronyism, favoritism and mob.

The conservatives destroyed public understanding of democracy, leaving behind a one-dollar-one-vote system that their Supreme Court just formalized, along with a corporate media that works to keep people uninformed.  And to make matters worse, now the telecoms can argue before Federalist Society judges that their “speech rights” are violated by rules making them carry labor and progressive websites over the internet lines they control.  And forget about the idea of them ever letting anti-corporate-rule candidates raise money on “their” internet.

I hate to reference Friedman but this from last week has been sticking in my mind.  He says the world is looking at the mess in the US and is turning away from democracy as a result.

[Foreigners] look at America and see a president elected by a solid majority, coming into office riding a wave of optimism, controlling both the House and the Senate. Yet, a year later, he can’t win passage of his top legislative priority: health care.

“Our two-party political system is broken just when everything needs major repair, not minor repair,” said … who is attending the forum. “I am talking about health care, infrastructure, education, energy. We are the ones who need a Marshall Plan now.”

Indeed, speaking of phrases I’ve never heard here before, another goes like this: “Is the ‘Beijing Consensus’ replacing the ‘Washington Consensus?’ ” Washington Consensus is a term coined after the cold war for the free-market, pro-trade and globalization policies promoted by America. … developing countries everywhere are looking “for a recipe for faster growth and greater stability than that offered by the now tattered ‘Washington Consensus’ of open markets, floating currencies and free elections.” And as they do, “there is growing talk about a ‘Beijing Consensus.’ “

The Beijing Consensus, … is a “Confucian-Communist-Capitalist” hybrid under the umbrella of a one-party state, with a lot of government guidance, strictly controlled capital markets and an authoritarian decision-making process that is capable of making tough choices and long-term investments, without having to heed daily public polls.

It is too late to recover?  

Accountability is a first step.  If the current administration would hold the corrupt actors accountable, maybe we could begin to restore governance.  And the public would know who to blame for what has happened to us, enabling them to support policies that will get us out of this.  But so far they won’t.  If they won’t even investigate torture and illegally invading a country why should we expect any accountability for the financial collapse, corrupt government contracts, bribery, embezzlement, corruption and other crimes of the Bush era?

More equitable distribution of the fruits of our economy is another step.  Our system worked so much better back when the top tax rate was 90%.  The returns from our investment in infrastructure were more widely shared.  And back when it took many years to build a fortune businesses had an interdependence with their communities.  Executives needed the schools and roads and other public structures functioning well. They needed long-range business and community planning.  But just imagine trying to do something about the concentration of wealth today.

So where do we go from here.  Is democracy over?  Is rule of law a thing of the past?  Is predatory monopoly control by the largest corporations the way things are and will be?  Does the world now move to governance by a wealthy elite?

Or is the winter and the rain and the snow just getting to me?

What are your thoughts?

Oregon Voters Raise Taxes On Wealthy and Corporations

Voters in Oregon passed tax increases on corporations and the wealthy.  This was in spite of well-funded corporate campaigns against the measures.
Measure 66 raises tax rates on individuals who earn more than $125,000 and couples with incomes greater than $250,000. Measure 67 increases business taxes. Fifty-four percent of voters had approved both measures with more than 80 percent of the vote counted late Tuesday.
At Calitics Robert Cruichshank writes, Oregon Voters Deliver Game-Changing Victory,
The opposition ran a well-funded campaign, led by Nike, Columbia Sportswear, and other big businesses. They were joined by Ari Fleischer’s FreedomWorks and the libertarian publisher of the Oregonian, who used to be at the Orange County Register before it went belly-up. Together they ran a campaign arguing that the tax increases would worsen unemployment. But 55% of voters have rejected that, and instead showed that when a truly progressive campaign is waged, the right-wingers can be beaten. Even on taxes.
… Their message was deeply progressive:

These reforms protect nearly $1 billion in vital services like education, health care and public safety. These funds preserve class sizes, save jobs for teachers, provide seniors with in-home care, and provide health care for thousands of Oregonians through the Oregon Health Plan. In this time of economic crisis, we must protect those who have been hit the hardest – seniors, children and the unemployed – without putting more of a burden on the middle class.

It’s a message that works nationally. And it’s a message that’ll work here in California. Voters don’t like seeing their neighborhood schools close, or mass layoffs of teachers, or ending care for the disabled, or kicking kids off of health care. They don’t want it, and are willing to raise taxes to prevent it.

The important lesson to learn is that the public wants government: good schools and roads and courts and police and fire protection.  And the public understands that building solid public structures is the key investment in future prosperity.
California leaders can now feel free to lead and understand that the public is behind them if they raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations in order to find needed state government programs.

Lessons From Massachusetts

The Republican candidate won the special election in Massachusetts to replace Senator Kennedy, giving them 41 votes.  The Republicans have filibustered every single bill this year, and this clinches their ability to block the President’s agenda.  If this sounds familiar to Californians, it’s because in California the Republican minority is able to block budgets, and we have seen the results.

There are lots of sophisticated explanations for the election’s outcome, mostly involving people being upset at particulars of the health care bill.  But I don’t really think that the people who voted for the Repubican candidate were all that well informed about differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill, the “public option,” or other intricacies of in-progress legislation.  
Instead, when looking for the reasons people voted this way, I think we should take the Republican candidate’s word for it.  On his website he says it is for the following reasons:

At his September 12 announcement of candidacy for the U.S. Senate, Senator Brown articulated a core set of beliefs that guide his thinking.

  • Government is too big and that the federal stimulus bill made government bigger instead of creating jobs
  • Taxes are too high and are going higher if Congress continues with its out-of-control spending
  • The historic amount of debt we are passing on to our children and grandchildren is immoral
  • Power concentrated in the hands of one political party, as it is here in Massachusetts, leads to bad government and poor decisions
  • A strong military and vigorous homeland defense will protect our interests and security around the world and at home
  • All Americans deserve health care, but we shouldn’t have to create a new government insurance program to provide it

Here’s the thing.  Most of the assumptions underlying these statements are simply wrong – factually incorrect.  They have been pounded out by a corporate/conservative misinformation machine that just makes stuff out and puts it out there on TV, the radio, email forwarding and every other channel they can find.  
But the facts are that the federal stimulus didn’t “make government bigger,” the “out-of-control spending” occurred under the previous Republican president, we spend more on military than every other country in the world combined – and it is the largest government spending program and contributing to the debt, and the health care reform specifically doesn’t create a government insurance program (it should) and saves money rather than increase spending.
The Right has a message machine that has been repeating misinformation and getting away with it, because: 
1) The leadership of the other party has let them get away with it.
2) There is no comparable megaphone with which to refute the misinformation.
The same is true here in California, and we may be heading for similar election turnovers.  Republicans repeat things that simply are not true, but there is lack of leadership from elected democrats and almost no megaphone with which to counter the untruths. The example we regularly bring up here is the assertion, repeated over and over, that businesses and rich people leave California because of taxes and regulations.  Of courase this just isn’t true, but is formulated in a way that sounds like it could be true if you just don’t think about it, and leads to large corporations having even more power over our lives and the wealthy having an even greater share of all income and wealth.
Of course, people and businesses that do leave the state do so because of the high cost of living, which is the result of so many poeple wanting to live here.  It just costs more to live in a nicer place.  And as I wrote last week, it is a nicer place because of the government and the public structures that We, the People built.  In other words, California is a nicer place because of those regulations and taxes!

What “Cut Taxes And Cut Spending” Means For You

You hear it over and over again from California conservatives, “Cut taxes and cut spending,” and “government spending is too high.”

So what does this mean to YOU? How does this affect your life?

Simple answer, cutting spending means that your schools, roads, police and fire protection, lines at the DMV, parks, environment, food safety inspections, services to help small businesses and courts all deteriorate. It means that it costs more – much more – for you to send your kids to college. That is what “cut government spending” means.

And in spite of what you think, their promise of cutting taxes rarely means your taxes. There is a huge concentration of income and wealth at the very top, which means that tax cuts really mostly benefit the very, very wealthy. Even the well-known Prop 13, thought of as helping homeowners, shifted the tax burden from the corporate owners of commercial property to middle class citizens. From, Corporate loopholes make Prop. 13 crippling for state:

Thirty years ago, commercial property owners contributed 59 percent of property tax revenues and residential property owners contributed 41 percent. Today, we see a virtual flip: commercial property owners contributed just 43 percent of property taxes in 2008, while residential property owners contributed 57 percent.

Another thing you constantly hear are calls to cut the number of government employees and their benefits. If you think about it, layoffs and pay cuts for government workers (teachers, police, firefighters, road workers, etc.) translates into increasing pressure to cut your own wages as well, plus it means fewer customers for California’s small businesses, fewer teachers in our schools, increased crime rates, etc. Cutting their benefits means that your own benefits come under pressure as well.

Conservatives promising that cutting taxes and spending are good for you have held sway for the last few decades. They are always promising that tax cuts will make things better for regular people. But they haven’t gotten better. The real tax burden keeps shifting further and further away from the wealthy and powerful and onto the backs of the middle class. Meanwhile the things that our government does for us are reduced and reduced, so life gets harder.

The lesson to learn is: glowing promises of a free lunch usually mean that you are the lunch.

USA Can’t Get Health Care, CA Can’t Get Budget — Same Reason

The country is trying to pass health care reform but a single Senator is able to block the popular “public option” and “Medicare buy-in” plans, because he says it is wrong to let the public have any choice besides for-profit companies.  Actually it is one Senator plus the entire Republican caucus – but we already understood that they do the bidding of the big corporations that fund them. The rule of the Senate allow minorities to thwart the will of the people and block bills.

An NBC/WSJ poll that came out yesterday showed that 45% of the public found it unacceptable that the public option was removed, and 42% acceptable, but 58% wanted the Medicare buy-in and only 32% didn’t.  But never mind, both of those are out because of one Senator (joining all the Republicans.)  This is a clear example of democracy thwarted.

In California we can’t pass a budget or tax corporations or the wealthy to pay for our schools, colleges and universities, reads, etc. for the very same reason.  Our legislature is structures to that a minority can thwart the will of the people.  It requires a 2/3 vote to pass a budget or raise revenue.  And we have a minority that is funded by the big corporations, with one corproate PAC funded by Wal-Mart, Blue Cross of Ohio (?), Reliant Energy and others putting almost $1 million of into just one race last year.

It is time to trust the people and change the system in Washington and the system in Sacramento. It is time for majority rule.


Why America needs to go back to taxing the wealthy

(This article originally appeared in the San Jose Mercury News)

America has always been a place where a person could get rich, it used
to be that you got rich a bit more slowly, and everyone benefited in
the process. This is because we used to have very high tax rates at the

A person could do very well, but income that came in above a
certain level was highly taxed and used to pay for the teachers,
police, courts and roads that enabled businesses to thrive. Just how
high were taxes? During America’s “golden years” of 1951-1963, tax
rates were over 90 percent on income over $400,000. Then through the
1960s and 70s, they were 70 percent on income above $200,000.

had many beneficial results — especially for the people who paid higher
taxes. Back then, government could afford to invest in programs that
improved everyone’s standard of living, including health, knowledge and
technology, all without borrowing. History recalls these as the years
we created and grew our prosperous middle class, built our public
universities, conducted our economy-changing scientific research and
developed a culture of thriving entrepreneurial businesses.

when it took time to make a fortune, business people had to rely on the
health of the greater community to nurture their own enterprises. They
had to think and act long-term. They had to carefully build solid
businesses that satisfied their customers. They had to hold on to
workers because their experience was valuable.

Meanwhile, the roads and bridges used by their trucks
were kept in repair, our schools provided excellent education to their
potential employees, and our courts were well funded to properly
enforce contracts. Businesses and communities depended on each other to
do well.

But once top tax rates were lowered, vast personal
fortunes could be realized from a single quick deal. This created
incentives for people to engage in activities that we can now see
helped make our country a worse, and less prosperous, place.

became predatory, caring little for the community because executives
planned to get rich quick and leave soon. Short-term business models
that cut employees to the bone and took advantage of customers began to
make sense.

Because of reductions in tax revenue, we cut spending
on schools and infrastructure. Yet even with all these cuts, our
federal government had to borrow to make up a shortfall. Now we have a
massive debt that costs us hundreds of billions in interest each year.

businesses’ interdependence with the community went out the window, it
became more profitable to outsource or sell off our manufacturing
capacity. Then, as communities fell apart, those few who benefited from
such business practices could just fly away in their private jets. The
greater community was of no use to them except as a crop to be

We can see the effects of this quick-buck, short-term
thinking all around us today. Our roads and bridges and schools are
falling apart. The experiment in low taxes has nearly destroyed our
economy, too, and may yet if we don’t stop borrowing instead of asking
the wealthy to pitch in.

So it is time to change the formula. It
is time to make our businesses part of our communities again. The way
to do this is to continue to help people become wealthy — just a bit
more slowly, please, and bring us all along. Bring back the top tax
rates of our golden years so we can all enjoy the benefits of our
economy again.