Speak Out California Statement on the California Supreme Court Ruling Upholding Proposition 8
The California Supreme Court has upheld Proposition 8, a ballot initiative that denies a specified group of our citizens the same rights as other Californians are allowed.
It is unfortunate that instead of being in the forefront of civil and human rights California is now in the position of denying a core human right to a selected group.
We are pleased that the Court allowed 18,000 couples whose decision to make a life commitment to each other to keep that right, but this apparently one-time-offer is no longer available to others who wish to have the same rights as all other Californians. This has happened because of a misguided and deceptively misleading religiously-based ballot initiative that was financed by big money from out of state and the intolerance of other well-funded organizations.
This is not over. The next step is to bring the matter back to the people. This time we need to dispel the fears and hatred that drove Prop. 8 by making it clear that it is a fundamental issue of human dignity for people to have the right to choose a life partner.
We at Speak Out California look forward to participating in that effort and in finally allowing all people the right to marry in the state of California, as many other states have now recognized as a fundamental right and a matter of simple human decency. Please click here to join our ranks at Speak Out California, and please join the Courage Campaign’s Fearless efforts to organize the fight to bring equal rights to all Californians, and visit http://www.couragecampaign.org/1million.
In addition, please join the Meet in the Middle for Equality rally in Fresno, Saturday May 30, 1:00pm at City Hall.
Here is the Courage Campaign “Fidelity” video:
Please read the following statements by California and national leaders on this unfortunate decision: (We will continue to post statements through the day.)
One more attempt to get a state budget in place collapsed — blocked by the Republicans because it included tax increases. Republicans insist that the budget be balanced with billions and billions of dollars in cuts in our schools and fire protection and the other things most of us want our state to do.
I would bet that most of California’s public doesn’t know what is going on with our budget. They only know that there isn’t one, and that this is causing problems. It makes people angry, and causes them to lose faith in government.
People know that government employees are being forced to take pay cuts, and many are being laid off. But they really do not know why.
Yesterday’s budget vote was 45-30. The public doesn’t understand that this means that there were forty-five votes FOR the budget and only thirty votes against, and this is why it failed. They don’t understand that because it does not make sense. But because of a trick that the Republicans were able to play on the public the rules are that it takes a two-thirds vote to pass a budget. So an overwhelming vote of 45-30 FOR the budget means that the budget does NOT pass!
Every Republican in the state has taken a vow not to raise taxes on wealthy corporations or massively wealthy individuals. They won’t vote to require people who buy yachts or private jets to pay the same sales taxes that the rest of us pay when we buy cars. They refuse to ask oil companies to pay fees when they take our oil out of the ground and sell it to us. (Maybe they understand that such a vote will dry up their campaign funding…)
News stories about the latest budget collapse: San Jose News:
Although the $105.2 billion budget blueprint garnered a majority vote, 45-30, it fell short of the two-thirds supermajority that California’s constitution requires to pass a budget.
. . . The vote “shows clearly that we’re not going to vote for taxes,” said Assembly Republican leader Mike Villines, R-Fresno.
“We’re fundamentally saying ‘no tax increases,'” said Mike Villines, the Assembly Republican leader.
They will require workers to take pay cuts and layoffs. They will cut our school budgets. They will cut transportation, the DMV, road repair, law enforcement, prisons, fire protection. But they will not ask wealthy corporations or extremely wealthy individuals to pitch in.
And here is why: by and large California’s public doesn’t know this. They are not being informed that this is entirely because a small minority of Republicans refuse to represent the public’s interests, choosing to represent the wealthy corporations and wealthiest few people.
In fact, the public likely believes that it is the Democrats who are keeping the budget from being passed. If you Google the word Democrat with the word obstruction and you get about 600,000 results. This is a national result, but it reflects the same strategy in use in California. Republicans spent years accusing Democrats of being “obstructionist” when they were not, as a strategy to pressure them to pass Republican-/corporate-oriented bills. Now, after blocking almost everything that the nation’s Congress is doing, the Republicans are campaigning saying that the Democrats in Congress aren’t passing anything! Meanwhile a new Drum Major Institute polls shows that 72% of middle-class Americans can’t name a single bill passed by Congress in the last two years that benefited them or their families! (Minimum wage increase, stimulus package, college more affordable, SCHIP…)
Less than two in five (38%) middle-class respondents to the Drum Major Institute’s new poll say they live comfortably. One-third (34%) say they meet their basic expenses each month with just a little left over for extras, while one-quarter (26%) of middle-class adults would say they just meet their basic expenses (17%) or have trouble meeting their basic expenses each month (9%). And, economy and jobs tops their concerns. They are pessimistic about the direction of the economy. They think it’s more likely that Brangelina will celebrate their 25th anniversary than gas prices returning to $3 a gallon.
But they do not understand WHY. They don’t make the connection between the corporate-controlled Republican party and what is happening to the country.
How do Republicans get away with this? How are they able to get the public to think so many things that are not true? The Republicans have a vast “noise machine” that tells the public things that are not true. (Remember how they were able to convince so many people that Iraq had attacked us on 9/11?) It costs a lot of money to have a noise machine like this, but they get the money from the very corporations and wealthy individuals whose interests they are representing. So it works for them.
Plain and simple, they are bale to reach the public and tell them stuff, and get the public to believe it. The use of overwhelming repetition is the tactic. I use the word “stuff” here with meaning: it’s just stuff they want the public to believe, with no grounding in reality. They do it, and here we are. Nationally the debt is approaching TEN TRILLION DOLLARS and they are still able to get the public to think taxes are bad. In California they are able to force layoffs and school cuts while refusing to make the ultra-rich pay even the same taxes the rest of us pay. Please leave comments with suggestions on how to fight this.
The religious right is at it again, with another ballot measure intended to divide Californians and prevent women from making their own choices about their own bodies and lives. This time it is Proposition 4 — “Sarah’s Law” — the old “parental notification” initiative that bans the termination of a pregnancy in a minor unless their parents are notified 48 hours ahead of time.
The same initiative has been rejected by California voters twice for good reason. Yes, this is the third time in three years. So the state — We, the People, the taxpayers — runs the expense of another ballot initiative.
So this time they have named the parental notification initiative “Sarah’s Law” after Sarah of the Bible — a fictitious name being used for a real woman who died in Texas in 1994 from an infection caused by a torn cervix. Prop 4 proponents claim that “Sarah” would have been saved if Prop 4 had been in effect there. Now it turns out that Prop 4 would not have applied. So this new rationale for the previously-rejected law — that Prop 4 would save the lives of minors, entirely based on one 1994 case — is false. Obviously helping young women is not the point of this law. Below I will talk about how this will actually endanger their health and lives.
First, though, an Aug. 2 LA Times story explains: ‘Sarah’s Law’ would not have applied to ‘Sarah,’ acknowledge backers of the abortion-notification measure,
Backers of a ballot measure that would require parents to be notified before an abortion is performed on a minor acknowledged Friday that the 15-year-old on which “Sarah’s Law” is based had a child and was in a common-law marriage before she died of complications from an abortion in 1994.
[. . .] Proposition 4 would amend the California constitution to prohibit abortion for unemancipated minors until 48 hours after a physician notifies the minor’s parent or legal guardian. State voters have twice rejected similar measures.
At first glance it might seem like a good idea to require minors to notify parents before they can terminate a pregnancy. Unfortunately the reality of people’s lives does not always match up with the ideal families of 1960s TV shows. There are very serious reasons that a young woman might not want to tell parents about a pregnancy. These can involve abuse, incest and fear. In these cases requiring parental notification can bring about serious consequences. It can also cause the young woman to turn to unsafe alternatives.
There can even be very bad reasons where the young woman really should tell the parents. But a law like this also endangers a foolish, unwise young woman’s health because it can cause her to to to an illegal, unlicensed, unsafe practitioner, or even try something herself. People do not always do the best and wisest thing. Foolish and unwise young people even more so.
History and experience have taught society that having a safe and legal place to turn for help is the best way to protect our young women. When a young woman is pregnant and does not want to be and there are no safe procedures available she might out of desperation turn to unsafe alternatives. When pregnancy termination was illegal it didn’t mean women did not terminate pregnancies, it meant they did so at very high risk to their health. Terrible consequences were not uncommon. This is why the right’s justification for Sarah’s Law, and the false story behind it, is such an abomination. They are trying to take away these safe procedures with false stories that this will protect young women. It is safe and legal procedures that protect women who decide to choose to terminate a pregnancy.
I have been looking at the issue of computerized voting machine security for several years, and want to write about it today.
Many people have pointed out that there are a number of problems with the new touch-screen voting machines. They fear that these machines can be used to rig an election. Others feel more confident about the machines because they are “hi-tech” and computerized and make voting easier.
Computer experts warn that the machines cannot be trusted. Meanwhile, I have a relative who believes that computers can’t make mistakes, so these machines will guarantee accurate vote counting.
I can give you my position on these machines in just a few words: “Prove it.” Here is what I mean: The standard for trusting the results of an election should be based on what an average citizen can believe about the election results. If the election system that you set up is able to prove to an average citizen that the election results are accurate, then you have the right system in place. Elections are about average citizens making decisions and trusting the results, not about being told by people in positions of authority what has been decided and who our leaders will be. The whole “trust me” thing hasn’t worked out so well in the past so people came up with “prove it” systems so everyone could see for themselves how the elections turned out.
Yes, I have an election system in mind that meets the “prove it” requirement. It’s simple. I say that it simply doesn’t matter what kind of machine (or no machine at all) is used in the voting booth or to count the votes later, as long as the voter can put a printed ballot in a ballot box. (The voter, of course, is expected to look over the printed ballot to be sure it has the right candidates and ballot measures marked. Just like with the old pen or punch card systems.)
Everyone understands printed ballots with marks on them, and putting the ballot into a ballot box. Time-honored methods for holding secure “prove it” elections with ballots have been worked out. At the start of the election day you check the ballot box to be sure it is empty. Each voter gets one ballot, marks it, and puts it in the box. At the end of the day the ballots are counted and the total is reported. Etc. I work in elections and I know the system well. It can be trusted.
If we use touch-screen computers as input devices to help the voter mark the ballot, all the better. This helps prevent mistakes like those in Florida in 2000. When the voter is ready the machine prints out a ballot with clear markings of the voter’s choices. After the machine prints that ballot it doesn’t matter if the machine has been hacked or is just making mistakes because you look at the ballot before putting it into the ballot box. And it doesn’t matter how the count is reported because once you have a printed record of each voter’s intentions, you can count them by hand if necessary. The voters or a trusted representative can watch the counting.
There is one safeguard that I think is very important. You must randomly test the reported vote counts against the paper ballots they are said to represent. And I am very strict about this part. If the count is off by even a single vote it means something is wrong with the counting system and the entire election needs to be counted by hand!
The controversy about touch-screen voting machines started because they do not use printed ballots that can prove the election’s results to the average person! The machines come from private companies. Some of these prohibit anyone – even election officials – from knowing how they count the votes. There is no way at all to check whether the machines are reporting correct results. It is a matter of trusting these companies and not of proving to the average voter that the results can be trusted. We are just supposed to trust that the companies are telling us who won the elections! Remember what I said about being told by people in positions of authority what has been decided and who our leaders will be?
If these machines make mistakes or just break down, there is no way to figure out who really won the election. And if someone is able to rig the machines to change the vote counts, there is no way to know that, either. History tells us that this is a concern. People have gone to great lengths to rig even local elections. So with the huge stakes in today’s election — trillions of dollars and wars — we certainly should understand that highly-skilled and well-funded attempts to dictate election results are likely to occur.
There are a number of ideas for making voting machines more reliable and harder to hack into and change results. One idea is that the public should be able to examine — and experts allowed to repair and improve — the source code for the programs used in the machines. This is called “open source” and the Open Voting Consortium has done a lot of great work in this area. (Send them some a few $$ to help their effort.) Open-source systems will help make the machines more reliable and easier to use and will reduce the chances that someone can try to rig an election. This is a great approach, but in the end it fails the “prove it” test. The average person doesn’t understand the complicated programming involved. And there is no way to prove that the open-source code is the code that is actually running in every single voting machine on election day.
Other ideas involve elaborate security to test and guard the machines. This again fails the “prove it” test. Unless average people can see for themselves that the results are accurate, no security is sufficient.
I say that the system I describe above — involving a paper ballot that the voter can check and put in a ballot box — makes the reliability and security of any voting machines themselves less important because you can “prove it” by counting those paper ballots. You can test a sample of ballots against the reported counts, making it useless to try to hack the voting or counting machines themselves.
California’s Secretary of State Debra Bowen understands these issues and is working hard to make sure that our state’s elections are safe, fair and provable. Let’s hope that the rest of the states can catch up to California.
One day your website is yours, and the next day it is someone else’s. Organizations, businesses and regular people are at the mercy of a confusing deregulated system.
A little over a week ago the Speak Out California website suddenly disappeared, and viewers instead saw a website full of advertisements.
We had no way of even knowing what had happened. It was just a surprise. One day typing “speakoutca.org” into a web browser took viewers to our website, the next day it took viewers to an ad site that someone else managed.
Some of us are more sophisticated and internet-savvy than most citizens so we were eventually able to track down some information. I’m not going into details here, except to say that no one at Speak Out California received any notice that this was going to happen. It took several days to even track down where the domain name (this is what internet addresses like speakoutca.org are called) had been registered, who had registered it, and contact info for the registrar. Then it took several more days to restore the domain name to us and get it working again.
Here’s the thing: the only way we were able to get this name back and get the site operating again is because some of us are much more internet-connected than most people. Most people would have no idea where to even start to look for information and help solving a problem like this.
This is certainly not an uncommon problem. My wife had a business named Dancing Woman Designs with a website at dancingwomandesigns.com, and then one day she didn’t. She received no notice, nothing. It was just there one day and gone the next and if she wanted it back it was going to cost her. It was going to cost her a lot. And so she doesn’t have dancingwomandesigns.com anymore and that address takes you to an ad site. A whole business that took years to get going and build is history now. It was wiped out in a minute because someone was able to get the web name.
A larger business is more likely to have the resources to hire the necessary experts to fight something like this. But it can be an expensive proposition and it can take time.
This is the difference between regulation and deregulation. Regulations protect regular people. Deregulation enables and protects scammers, schemers, and cons. The Internet is largely unregulated and is full of scammers, schemers and cons. Most of the businesses and organizations on the internet are good, honest, credible and legitimate but regular people are also left completely at the mercy of numerous cons, scams, schemes and rip-offs and the burden is on us to find a way to tell the difference.
We got Speak Out California back up and running. It only took us a week and a little money. But we are sophisticated, internet-savvy and connected — and lucky. Hmm … maybe some new legislation is warranted.
This is a guest post by Dr. Katherine Forrest, Co-Founder of the Commonweal Institute. It originally appeared at the Commonweal Institute Blog.
The Rockridge Institute wasn’t the only progressive infrastructure organization that folded this spring. Another was the Center for Policy Alternatives , which shut down in April, 2008, after having been around for 32 years. CPA provided policy ideas for state governments, published an annual collection of policy recommendations, and trained future legislators. Like Rockridge, CPA’s executive director, Tim McFeeley, stated in his final e-mailed message that a main reason for CPA’s demise was the lack of support for infrastructure organizations among progressives.
Dealing with the need for ongoing support for their political movement’s operations is a challenge that needs to be addressed successfully, regardless of whether modern “progressives” align themselves more closely with independents or liberals or any particular political party.
I know many people who call themselves progressive, and even more whose sentiments I would consider to be progressive. But VERY few recognize that ongoing support, year after year, not just at election time, will be needed to build and sustain a political movement that works for the things they care about. Fewer still act on that recognition.
This seems to be a blind spot for progressives. They exemplify two American traits–fixation on personality and lack of patience and perspective. Progressives keep looking for a messiah candidate who can lead them out of the wilderness, pumping their dollars into candidates and campaigns, while ignoring the need for continuing work on moving public opinion and building the progressive base between election cycles. Progressive funders, notably including many in large nonprofit foundations as well as individual political donors, tend to make grants for short-term efforts (seldom exceeding 2-3 years), after which they are eager to move on to some exciting new venture, rather than supporting long-term social change efforts that reasonably will take a decade or more to achieve.
Notably, some working with disadvantaged communities are talking about how to do fundraising to “resource the social justice movement.” We can only hope that movement awareness spreads to encompass other issue areas, instead of remaining limited to social justice. After all, we’re all in it together–across the board, people have economic, housing, legal, environmental, educational, medical, and transportation needs–and that list just scratches the surface.
A progressive movement is what we need, and that movement needs SUPPORT. Too bad it didn’t come in time to save Rockridge Institute and Center for Policy Alternatives.
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.
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.
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.
You hear a lot in the news about big corporate lawsuits. If you closely followed this week’s business news, for example, you may have read about a jury ruling that Microsoft has to pay Alcatel-Lucent $367.4 million for violating patents. Imagine the money that must have gone into lawyers, research and experts — even the copying bill must have been enormous. And these cases take months to hear.
There were also court rulings about the drug Prevacid, another covering dialysis machines, and many, many others.
All of them big-money corporate cases with millions, even billions of dollars at stake. These big companies have the money to take these cases to court.
But what if you or I need to go to court? Are we on an equal footing?
A recent issue of The Progressive States Network’s newsletter, Stateside Dispatch, says,
According to Access to Justice: Opening the Courtroom Door [PDF file] by the Brennan Center, federal funding for legal services in real dollars has declined dramatically over the last twenty-five years. In 2004, federally-funded programs turned away at least one person seeking help for each person served, leading to approximately one million cases per year being turned away due to lack of funding.
In fact, the Brennan Center report states that “most low-income individuals cannot obtain counsel to represent them in civil matters.” On top of that, government-funded legal aid services are now by-and-large prohibited from helping people when they are harmed by corporations.
What do you do if you are a regular person injured by a product, or denied a job because of your age, or defrauded out of money, or any of things that can happen to people? It used to be that a law firm might take the case based on a contingency fee, where they receive a percentage of any award resulting from your case. But more and more these fees are restricted or awards are “capped.” So attorneys cannot afford to take your case. Even if you can find an attorney willing to take your case “pro bono” there is still the cost of research, depositions, expert witnesses, etc. to consider.
Is this fair? Is there anything more fundamental to our American concept of democracy than equal justice? Access to the courthouse is an example of democracy leveling the playing field and providing fairness. But we no longer have equal access. And this means we no longer have fairness. So what can we do about this? First, we need to restore our own understanding of democracy and our individual stake in its preservation. We must all recognize that equal justice is a fundamental requirement of a democratic society. One reason this country was founded was to level the playing field between the rich and the poor. So we all need to demand equal treatment under the law.
In California we must demand a rollback of the “tort reform” measures that have taken away equal access to the courts and removed a regular person’s ability to fight back when harmed by a big company. We must either remove the award “caps” and limits on attorney fees or implement a system of government funding for attorneys who represent regular people. Is there an alternative to these approaches that levels the playing field and lets regular people stand a chance against the big money of corporations and the wealthy? If there is I don’t see it.