Throwing Women Under the Bus: Health Care Reform? -NOT!

This past week, America’s women were, yet
again, thrown under the bus. Make no mistake about it; this health care bill
eradicates years of effort, blood and lives lost by brave physicians and
health care providers, to take this nation back to the dark ages of back alleys,
dead mothers and orphaned children. At the very last hour, the House leadership acquiesced in a
provision to the great Health Care Reform bill that takes away access to abortion
coverage for millions of women, despite the fact that the majority of health
insurance policies currently provide that coverage.
The spin machines are hailing this as a great
victory for Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats but in reality it is a black day for America’s
hard-fought battle for reproductive freedom.
While politics is a nasty game on a good day,
there are certain principles that those who believe in equality cannot
sacrifice. Reproductive choice is one of them. Those who oppose the use of
public funds to pay for abortion services had already won a victory in June when
pro-choice Representative Lois Capps agreed to introduce, as a stop-gap measure the Hyde amendment which has, for years, prohibited federal funds from being
used to pay for abortion services.
Representative Capps believed that this would be the line in the sand against further erosion of abortion rights in America.
The Stupak amendment (and I will refrain from the
obvious here) goes much further than this: It denies poor and middle-class women
access to abortion services when they purchase their own insurance with their
own money yet qualify for a partial subsidy.
Stupak also denies abortion services to women who seek (now
mandatory) coverage through the “public option” (such as it is).
While the pundits and democratic leadership
celebrate their great victory, we must rally every woman and man in this state
and nation who believe that our daughters, sisters and mothers deserve the
ultimate freedom of deciding whether, when and with whom to have children. We
have fought too long and too hard to exercise our constitutionally protected right to
reproductive choice to lose it now to the hands of political expediency and
lunatic fringe politics.

The fight moves to the Senate where Senate leader
Harry Reid and other anti-choice men hold the key to the future of every woman
of child-bearing years. Without the option of insurance coverage for abortions,
women will effectively be denied their fundamental right to control their own
destinies. Of course, what good is a right without the ability to exercise

Will we be back to the butchers and back alleys
because women can’t afford to pay for the right to exercise their fundamental
freedoms and even if they can, those freedoms have been denied to them? Well,
that’s what the “Stupak” amendment does.

The bottom line here is that we
cannot allow this to stand. President Obama has committed to removing this
blatant violation of womens fundamental rights from the final bill that he
plans to sign. It is incumbent upon every person who believes in freedom of
choice, womens equal rights and the Constitution of this country to step up and
do something.

What to do? Write a letter to the President of
the United States and demand that he fight for us; send a letter to your
Senators and demand that they do the same.
What is it we want, we demand?
What else can we do?
Write a check to an organization that will bring
the battle to the hallowed and hollow walls of Congress, should this measure
remain in the Senate version. There is a way to beat this, and we must all stand
together to do so.
We’ll be doing an action-alert on this shortly. In
the meantime, contact your Senators and Congressmembers and tell them your vote
for them is dependent upon their protecting reproductive freedom. Too many lives
depend upon it.
We can no longer acquiesce and be silent.

Wild, Wild Conservative Claims – Here We Go Again

A “study” called Cost of State Regulations on California Small Business Study makes some wild, wild claims!  From the summary,

The study finds that the total cost of [business]regulation to the
State of California is $492.994 billion which is almost five times the
State’s general fund budget, and almost a third of the State’s gross
product. The cost of regulation results in an employment loss of 3.8
million jobs which is a tenth of the State’s population.

Scary.  Wild.  Mostly, though, just unbelievable.  I wonder who paid for the study?

KQED’s Capital Notes blog tracked down some of the sources of the wild, wild claims.

The authors previously released a study wildly, wildly claiming that California’s AB32 climate change legislation will cost California’s small businesses $182 billion a year and cost 1.1 million jobs.  I wonder who paid for that study? 

For this “regulations” report they relied data from on a Forbes Magazine report listing California as a bad state in which to do business.  The Forbes report relies on data from the Pacific Research Institute.

This reminded me that the Pacific Research Institute released a 2007 “study” making the wild, wild claim that allowing people to sue companies that harm them costs $865 billion per year.  I wonder who paid for this study?

David Dayen writes about this at Calitics,

Basically, regulations take your wives, enslave your children, throw
your ice cream on the ground, and write “loser” on your chest in sun
tan lotion when you fall asleep at the beach.  It’s amazing how in line
this study is with standard conservative tropes about onerous
regulations and big government.  I wonder why that is?

I think I’ll do a “study” that makes a claim that conservative “studies” cost us more than $12 trillion a year.  The trouble is, who would pay me to write it?

Trying to Hide More Tax Breaks for the Wealthy

When Assembly Speaker Karen Bass announced she was going to create a special committee to consider reforming the tax structure in California, the Governor decided that he would beat her to the punch and announced, with his typical over-the-top braggadocio, that he was setting up a special commission to do so. In typical hyperbole he named it the Commission on the 21st Century Economy. It currently operates under the acronym COTCE.

The Governor announced the Commission would be comprised
of fourteen people. He decided that he would pick seven, including the Chair, and the Legislature would select the other seven.  The Governor selected Gerald Parsky to chair this important work. Parsky is a right-winger who is reputed to be charming, nonetheless. Of course, his idea of open and frank discussions about how to change the “volatile” tax system is to give tax breaks to big corporations and his wealthy buddies, and make the middle and lower classes pick up the difference.

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,” meaning we’re not going to do anything to expand very badly needed state revenues when times get better, 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. Since such an idea is outrageously unfair, most of the experts assumed Mr. Parsky was proposing this transfer from rich to poor as an opening salvo which he would then graciously remove from the table in lieu of other potentially unreasonable and untested measures. But with the audacity of right-wing politicians today, Mr. Parsky continue to push this idea— as if the billions and billions of cuts California has just made to its educational system and safety net weren’t enough.

To add to the unfairness, this Commission, which came with
great fanfare that it would be open, non-partisan and even seek consensus in its decision-making, has yet to post its report. This has been a consistent play by Parsky from the beginning of this Commission’s tenure earlier this year.

The materials are rarely been provided in advance even to
the Commissioners, let alone the public. Why does this matter? Well, it’s supposed to meet tomorrow, Thursday, September 10, 2009, to consider the numerous recommendations (some of which actually have merit but haven’t been given any consideration) and vote on a plan to send to the Legislature. Mr. Parsky and the Governor want us to change the tax structure in California without even 24 hours to consider what it is ultimately recommending to the Legislature be done. Meanwhile the right-wing “naysayers” on the health care bill are upset that they’ve only had several months to consider the various proposals that the U.S. Congress has put
forth on that issue!

What we can do now:

It is important to expose this fraud NOW. The Governor is putting lots of pressure on the legislature to consider tax reform. He’s called a “special session” of the Legislature to implement the “recommendations” in the next few weeks.— whatever they may be. While there is a desperate need to reform the way California generates income to assure it can provide the necessary programs and services the public demands, there has been inadequate opportunity to consider the various proposals and options that have come from many different perspectives. 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 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.

While the Commission has a number of items on-the-table worthy of further reporting, the first thing that must be done to assure our
future is to throw out any notion that we should reduce the responsibilities of
the wealthiest among us to pay their fair share. That time is now.

For more on this important but terribly under-reported issue, go to:

Progressive Want Good Pay, Benefits For People

In the news: Schwarzenegger eyes revamp of California’s pension programs

[Gov.] Schwarzenegger wants legislation creating a two-tier system that would
deliver lower benefits to newly hired public employees — not only state
workers but firefighters, police officers, teachers, and other
local-government employees.

Along with proposed cutbacks in retiree health benefits, Schwarzenegger
says, the plan would save $90 billion over the next 30 years.

California’s conservatives complain that our public employees
are paid too well and have really good health care and pension benefits.

Progressives say that the POINT of progressive policies is for people to get
better pay, health care, benefits, and pensions. 

Conclusion: If you don’t want to have good pay, good health care and a good
retirement plan then go ahead and vote for conservatives.

Tax reform needs sunshine

While most of the country, including California,
is immersed in the highly controversial health care debate, we here in California
are facing our own very significant debate on key reforms that will impact everyone in the State for years to come.

 In addition to talk about a Constitutional Convention to
attack our clearly antiquated and unworkable system of governance, including the 2/3 vote for a
budget and term-limits, we are facing an equally dramatic set of issues as a
result of a commission set up to revise the tax system in our state. Ostensibly
to assure fairness and reduce volatility so we can better get through the bad times, the Commission for the 21st
Century Economy (also known as COTCE) is at work to develop a set of
proposals that the Governor wants the Legislature to vote on at a Special Session he has called for September, shortly after it adjourns for the year.

Just a few problems with this, though. The Commission is
heavily weighted with the Governor’s business-friendly folks who are seemingly desperate
to help their wealthy cohorts avoid their fair share of taxes. Indeed, among
the proposals by the Parsky faction of the Commission (Parsky is the Chair appointed by Governor Schwarzenegger), is
a “flat tax” which is an estimated $7 Billion give-away to the wealthiest
Californians, with the burden of that giveaway falling on the middle-class and
the poorest among us. In addition, the Commission’s corporate friends want to do away with all
corporate taxes and instead impose a “Business Nets Receipts Tax” also known as
the BNRT, which is a complicated and dangerously untested hybrid of a European
approach to taxation.

 These proposals are the business community’s and
Schwarzenegger’s dream wish-list.  But
the progressives on the Commission, headed by former Assemblymember Fred
Keeley,  have stepped forward with a
proposal that makes a lot more sense and is considered by all but the most
extreme anti-tax, anti-government forces, to be a very moderate proposal,. To the consternation of many solid progressives,  it even contains a spending cap. The Republican members should be loving it and jumping at the chance to compromise in order to include this as part of  a “consensus” proposal, which is the mandate of the Commission.

 Among the elements of the Keeley report is proposal to revisit real estate taxes and examine the unequal commercial property  protections that have hurt local governments for the past thirty years, preventing them from having the resources to do their jobs. Keeley also recommends retaining  the
current progressive income tax system so that the wealthiest, who have the most
money, pay the most in taxes. While still allowing them to keep the majority of
their wealth, this provides, quite logically, that those who have the most
should pay the most.


The progressive’s plan also calls for a carbon/pollution
tax. With everyone from William Clay Ford, Jr, chairman and CEO of Ford Motor
Co. to columnists Thomas Friedman and Charles Krauthammer (among many others),
calling for increasing petroleum fuel taxes, or creating an oil price floor,
the time to put this on the table and make it part of a serious and honest discussion is now.


There are several more innovative concepts involved,
including a determination of how these ideas will impact local tax revenues and
thus services. It’s interesting stuff for policy and tax wonks, but the
implications for every Californian make the discussion an important one.  For more on this proposal and the work that
the COTCE is doing, check out their very extensive website at:


But for those with less than a dissertation’s amount of time
available, the issue right now is whether Parsky and his business corporate-focused agenda will allow a meaningful discussion of the alternative Keeley plan to see the light of day. Although Chairman Parsky publicly promised to do so at the July 16th
meeting, acknowledging his responsibility to try to build consensus,  he has yet to set forth the very important process by which his
proposal and the alternative proposals will be evaluated. To date, he’s ignored
requests by Stephen Levy of the Center for Continuing Study of the California
Economy out of Stanford University
to explain the process and methodology to be used to evaluate the disparate proposals. Parsky has also refused to address the demand for
transparency in this process or even acknowledge a memo from one of his
Republican Commissioners, Becky Morgan, who wrote the Commissioners on August 5th
urging the Commission to take the request for openness and transparency very

 While Parsky has been touting his heavily business-weighted reforms, he has refused to let anyone see how he has gotten to his conclusions that his idea is the better one or that the Keeley plan is a lesser one. We know that statistics can say anything you want them to if you control the process. And Parsky is doing just that. It’s a Star Chamber claiming to be sun-light.

For those  who have lost all trust in this governor’s ability to run this state, this further refusal by his appointed chair to consider other
points of view is just another in a long list of efforts to help the
multi-national corporations to the detriment of the hard-working people who live here. If the proposals the Governor’s representative has recommended are so wonderful, then let’s see the
real proof that the numbers and data haven’t been manipulated to look like
Bernie Madoff’s phony balance sheet. If the Keeley proposals aren’t valid, then let’s
see the factual basis for dismissing them.


Without this transparency and honesty in the process, the
COTCE will be yet another failed  opportunity to help fix the mess in California. A process weighted toward corporate greed is not what we deserve or need in California right now. This disappointment falls
directly at the Governor and his appointed Chair’s feet. No excuses, Mr.
Parsky. If you’re really committed to consensus, transparency and honesty in this critical debate, and in achieving real and constructive reform, it’s time to  “tear down that wall” of secrecy and let the sun shine in.   

California Needs To Reform More Than Just The Budget

How do you reconcile a conservative philosophy that says government is bad and taxes should be cut, and at the same time advocates policies that put lots and lots of people in jail for all kinds of things?  Well, you can’t.

The original idea for California’s Three Strikes law was sound: most
violence is committed by a very few people and if you can identify and
imprison those people, you can make the rest of us much, much safer.  But
the conservatives managed to turn this sound idea into an initiative
that invites prosecutors to decide to prosecute people under this law for any
serious crime, violent or not, and technical or not, as long as they have two priors.  So people who, for example, committed a
crime as a child, then “copped a plea” to avoid risking a serious conviction thirty years
prior, can now be sent to prison for life.

As a result, today California has more than 170,000 people in prisons designed to hold about half as many.  One out of every five prisoners in California is serving a life sentence.  In California defendants have received, for example, a life sentence for stealing a piece of pizza, a life sentence for stealing three tracksuits, a life sentence for stealing a 50-cent pack of doughnuts, a life sentence for possessing .03 grams of drugs, a life sentence for stalking and a life sentence for stealing golf clubs. But when you put so many people in prisons that have their budgets cut year after year what you can’t get is sufficient medical care or sufficient living space.

So a federal court has taken a look at California’s policies of putting
more and more people into jail for longer and longer sentences for more
and more things, while at the same time cutting budgets for medical
care.  The court found that this constitutes “cruel and unusual” punishment.  From the article,

“California’s prison system is operating at 190 percent of its design capacity of
79,828 inmates, and the judges said the state must devise an inmate
reduction plan within 45 days, after which a remedial order will be

. . . “The convergence of tough-on-crime policies and an unwillingness to expend the necessary funds to support the population growth has brought California’s prisons to the breaking point,” the judges said.”

At Calitics David Dayen writes,

This is a policy failure driven by a political failure, a cowardly
series of actions that arises from a broken system of government. … politicians have played on people’s fears for 30 years and, faced with
the tragedy they created, delayed and procrastinated until it became so
torturous that the courts had to step in.  From the three-strikes law
to the 1,000 sentencing laws passed by the Legislature, all increasing
sentences, nobody comes out looking good in this failure of leadership.

Given the fiscal mess our state is in now is the time for appropriate reform of all institutions.  Let’s make it right, let’s make it work and let’s make it just.  That is a progressive approach.

News From California Progress Report

There is news from the California Progress Report:  The California Progress Report Will Have a New Publisher and Editor–Frank Russo to Become Chief of Staff to Assemblymember Nancy Skinner.  From the post,

Good Sunday morning, readers of the California Progress Report. I
have major news–and although it is strange to write about oneself in a
headline in the third person, I am in transition, and so is the
California Progress Report.

On December 1, when the new California legislature is sworn in and
after Assemblymember Nancy Skinner takes the oath of office, I will
officially become her chief of staff. This will be my third trip
working under the Capitol dome in Sacramento–having worked in the 70’s
fresh out of law school as Administrative Assistant to an
Assemblymember and in the 80’s as Legal Counsel to the Speaker of the
Assembly where I reviewed the work of the Judiciary and Public Safety
Committees among other matters.

. . . I also have the good fortune to announce that a California nonprofit
organization will be shepherding the California Progress Report from
being published, edited, and written by me to a consortium of different
organizations who see the value of having a daily reporting of
California state news and opinion in this age of the decline of the
established media. We will have more details about that coming out
during the week.

Congratulations to Frank.

The Governor’s Lottery Scheme – Bottom of the Barrel?

Is California’s lottery becoming just one more subsidy for the rich?
When We, the People of California agreed to have a state lottery it was to pay for extra education for our children on top of the existing education budget. It was not supposed to make up for other budget cuts for schools, it was supposed to be extra money to improve the educational system.
This has … migrated. The lottery under the Governor’s new borrowing plan may be fast becoming one more gimmick to avoid taxing the rich and big corporations. (Not to mention paying out millions upon millions in debt interest for years and years to those with the means to loan the state these billions.)
The California Budget Project has a new report, Borrowing Against the Future: Are Lottery Bonds the Best Way To Close the Budget Gap? (PDF file) It is well worth taking a look at. They say the numbers don’t add up, the lottery can’t deliver the needed revenue, the scheme makes it even harder to fix the budget in the future, will have a high interest rate, and has numerous other problems. On a conference call Tuesday with jean Ross, one of the report’s authors, I also learned that the cost over time of borrowing this money will be between $41.5 and $50 billion — way too high. The lottery is largely played by low-income people so efforts to drive up lottery purchases increases their burden and will likely come at a cost of other purchases, thereby sacrificing sales tax revenue to the state.
That there are so many things wrong with this latest borrowing scheme might be a good sign. It might, just might mean that the Republicans are scraping the very bottom of their barrel of anti-government and tax-avoidance gimmicks. After this wild scheme collapses maybe, just maybe they’ll come to their senses.

Hillary’s Victory Speech in Puerto Rico

Because of various circumstances I ended up about 15-20 feet from Hillary Clinton as she gave her victory speech after winning the Puerto Rico primary. I am here for the SEIU convention, and learned that her event was across a bridge from the hotel I was at for a meeting with SEIU officials. (More on that in another post.) So I took a walk (man, it is humid here) and was able to enter as a member of the press.
As a member of the press I was able to enter the ballroom before the event. This was not a victory party where supporters are celebrating and then the candidate shows up to speak. This was more like a TV set where the candidate gives a speech to cameras. There were bleachers behind the podium, and room for a few people in front of the candidate. But this was entirely about setting up the speech for national TV. I am not saying this is good or bad, it just was what it was.
That said, it was secondarily an event for campaign workers to see the candidate and be part of the speech. First they filled the bleachers behind the podium. I can testify that this was not a carefully selected crowd, with demographics set up to look good — because someone asked ME if I wanted to be up there! So this was not about photogenic, or looking like a special demographic. It might have been about making babies cry and serious viewers vow never to watch TV again.
I’m out of time now, will write more later. Hillary doesn’t appear to be leaving the race by ANY means. Lots of energy and enthusiasm at this event. A very good speech making good points.
Here is the podium with the bleachers:
This shows what I mean this being a TV event, not a ballroom full of people celebrating:
I loved this Clinton As Evita poster that I have been seeing here:
Here is Hillary making a point:

Free Markets?

A news story on Monday, McCain urges free-market principles to reduce global warming. Which”free-market principles” does McCain mean?

McCain’s major solution is to implement a cap-and-trade program on carbon-fuel emissions, like a similar program in the Clean Air Act that was used to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions that triggered acid rain.

Summary: the government sets a limit on how much CO2 companies will be allowed to emit. The government sets a fee for any emissions above that level. The government allows companies with emissions below that limit to sell “credits” to companies above the limit.
McCain describes this as a “free market” approach.
Conservatives always come up with nice-sounding ways to describe their ideas. They talk about “free markets.” “Free” sounds so good. Has a nice ring to it. But is there really such a thing?
In McCain’s example every single component of this market is defined, set up and regulated by government. But conservatives always say that government is the enemy of freedom and of markets. Do they not see the contradiction?
In fact, is there a market that is not defined, set up and regulated by government? Would markets even exist if there were no government? First, there is the money that is exchanged in a market. Unless we revert to a pure barter system where goods are exchanged money is entirely a creation of government. And it is entirely regulated by government. Next are the laws that, excuse the word, “govern” the market system. These laws are entirely a creation of government and it is government that enforces them and government that runs the courts that resolve disputes. And yes, these laws are “regulations.”
So when conservatives complain about “government” and “regulation” and advocate “free markets” what is it they are really saying? The best way to understand what they want is to look at what they do, not what they say. If we look closely at the results of those times when conservatives gain power we can see that they really seem to mean they will use the power of government to protect the wealthiest people and biggest corporations.
For example, conservatives in government have always defended the big energy companies against threats to use of their products. They oppose mass transit, alternative energy research, even requiring cars to get better gas mileage.
A closer look reveals that what they really stand for is a protection of the status quo, defending the rich and powerful against the rest of us.