Updating the February 2008 Voter Guide

Dear Readers:
For the last three years, Speak Out California has been analyzing the key issues and initiatives Californians are asked to vote on during both regular and special election cycles. Last week we launched our fourth Voter Guide to assist progressive voters in considering their choices on measures ranging from school funding to expanding Indian Gaming.
Speak Out California has not taken a position on any of these ballot measures because we find that none of them advance real progressive values or policy. But we believe it is important for Californians to have a clear and unbought look at what each of them will do and not do. No money influences our discussion, no money buys our analysis. That’s why we’ve been California’s number one progressive voter guide for the past three years and why we continue to be the source of honest and untainted information that progressives throughout the state rely on in casting their important votes.
Since we posted our Voter Guide last week, there have been additional endorsements from various sources that we include on that guide. In particular, the L.A. Times has come out on all the initiatives so we have updated our guide to include their recommendations. Keeping in mind that they are only one of several papers we believe voters should consider, we want to make sure that, as a progressive, you have all the various opinions available to you in making your choices.
Please feel free to share our guide with your friends, colleagues and other like-minded progressives. It is critical to the democratic process that we have a well-informed electorate so we are able to ensure that our values and priorities translate into reality through our political process.
Election Day is less than two weeks away. Make sure you vote….and that your vote is well-thought out. After all, it’s all about our future and our vision.
The 2008 Primary Election SOCA Voter Guide

Big Money an “Insurmountable Opposition” to Democracy in California

Why is it so hard to get things done for the people of California? The front page of Friday’s San Jose Mercury News has a story that points out one of the problems: the “insurmountable” influence of big, moneyed interests.
From the story, Analysis: Tobacco tax could doom plan for health overhaul:

… A new cigarette tax would be tantamount to a declaration of war on Big Tobacco, which last year spent more than $65 million to defeat a $2.60-a-pack tax on the California ballot and just this week easily turned back an attempt in Oregon to raise tobacco taxes.
… Any attempt to overhaul health care is bound to invite opposition, given the huge financial stakes in the system. The tobacco tax idea is an example of the difficult balance that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democrats are struggling to strike at the negotiating table: achieving meaningful reform without triggering insurmountable opposition.
The challenge is amplified by the fact that any health care proposal is certain to end up on the ballot, where interest groups can spend tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars to defeat it.

This analysis is saying what we all know to be true: an industry group is able to mount “insurmountable opposition” to “meaningful reform” because they are able to use large amounts of money to influence the public’s understanding of issues, and regular citizens just are not able to do the same.
For one thing, industry front-groups are able to pay people to gather signatures to get ballot initiatives qualified. Regular people ha ve to get up early on weekend to go to farmers’ markets, stay up late to stand in front of theaters, and connect with similarly-motivated, like-minded people across the state to coordinate the effort. This is a very difficult thing to do. But with enough money, just outsource the effort to a signature-gathering firm. (And paying on a per-signature basis encourages fraud.)
After the initiative qualifies for the ballot the industry groups can afford to endlessly repeat advertisements that say whatever is needed — true or false — to sway public opinion. This takes really big money — amounts that regular people have great difficulty raising. And making matters worse, more and more it seems that concentrated corporate ownership of media outlets causes only a corporate-favoring viewpoint to be presented to the public. So regular people can’t count on the news media to fairly inform the public of both sides of an issue. (If you think the corporate side of the issue is not dominant, ask yourself when was the last time you heard about the benefits of union membership from a TV or radio broadcast or in a newspaper.)
We all know it’s true. The question is what are we going to do about it? And if we do try to change the situation, will we face “insurmountable opposition” to our efforts?
We need to get corporate money completely out of California’s political process. And to accomplish this we need to teach our fellow citizens to resist the endless onslaught of advertisements with their carefully-formulated slogans that tell people not to believe their own lyin’ eyes.

While California Dreams- Weekly Update Vol.1 No. 18

A weekly update on the goings-on in Sacramento
For the week ending October 6, 2007

Key bills and issues we’ve been following during the
Past week and beyond
Well, the traveling legislators are back at work in Sacramento, but the Governor went to China when they returned.
“Dam, dam, dam” insists the GOP in ultimatums to the Dems. on the Water Bond- tough stance threatens to derail a water bond for February.
“Nyet, no, nunca, never” are the GOP responses to both the Governor’s and the Dem. leadership Health Plan legislation- tough stance threatens to derail any progress in Special Session on Healthcare reform.
And with just seven days remaining to sign or veto more than 600 bills, the Governor takes action on only three bills this entire week! But first…
We here at Speak Out California hope to be able to keep you up-to-date on all of this and any signings or vetoes by the Governor in the weeks and months ahead, so
If you like the work we’ve been doing at Speak Out California, with our regular weekly updates which provide inside commentary and analysis on what is going on in our state capital, we hope you’ll support our work by making a contribution to Speak Out California. To contribute, just click here for our website so we can keep providing this unique and important perspective on our state and its future.
At Speak Out California we provide the facts and the commentary that keeps you informed on what is really happening in our state. We don’t accept any advertising or corporate sponsorships, so you know that we are not beholden to any group or special interest. Our commitment is simply to provide uncompromising reporting and analysis of what is happening in our state from the progressive perspective.
If you can pledge $10, $25, $50 a month, or send us a one-time contribution, we can continue to keep you in-the-know and keep the progressive voice alive and growing in California.
Just click here for our website (https://secure.ga3.org/01/donatetospeakoutca) to support our work in keeping California’s progressive voice strong!

And now, for the week’s goings-on:

Continue reading

What do working women and their families want?

This coming Sunday marks the 87th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote.To mark that auspicious occasion, Speak Out California has asked the Legislative Women’s Caucus chair, 1st District Assemblymember Patty Berg (D-Eureka), to fill us in on what the 34 women of the legislature have established as their top priority for the year. This is her report.

Continue reading

Victory over alcopops, liquor industry targeting of teens

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

Making Real the Promise

Take Back America crashed out of the gates this morning with an outstanding series of aggressively positive messages from some of the outstanding movement leaders. Bob Borosage, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, MoveOn super activist Eli Parisier, Drum Major Institute chief Andrea Batiste Schlesinger and Rep. Schakowsky unleashed a series of barn burners. I’m not sure I can think of a session with a better matchup between crowd energy and great speakers that knew just the right tone to hit. And you didn’t have to fly to Washington and shell out mad hotel money to see it:

Continue reading

Privatizing California

One of the “GREAT LIES” the neo-cons and free-marketeers have advanced and perpetuated with a surprising degree of success has been the notion that the private sector can do it better than the public sector. They don’t bother to distinguish what “it” is, but it actually doesn’t matter to them. “It” is intended to include every form of human endeavor, from academia to zoos, from energy to prisons and on-and-on. Of course, these folks don’t give a damn about providing services and programs that actually help people or benefit society as a whole. Their unabashed mantra is: “If there’s money to make, the private sector will be there to meet the demand.”
While that might be all well-and-good in some areas, the fact still remains (and sadly so), that the single driving incentive for the private sector is money and money alone. Fortunately, there are a few socially responsible companies who see the importance of combining profit with purpose, and perhaps more stepping up as our world warms beyond repair and starvation and genocide seem to be plaguing the planet. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of companies are drvien by one single principle: PROFIT. That profit leads to pay-back in the millions to CEO’s for whatever time and effort they put in to increasing that “profit” regardless of its impact on the environment, its employees or the communities in which it operates.

Continue reading

Healthcare moves to center stage

Now that the Governor has milked his green credentials for as much as the public and media will bear, he’s finally come back to the state he’s supposed to be overseeing. With his media exploitations overshadowed by the tragedy in Virginia and the meltdown of the country’s chief law enforcement officer in a web of poorly concealed prevarication, Arnold isn’t front page news anymore so he’s folded his circus tents and headed back to the state that calls him Governor, for better or worse.
For those of us who think his leaving the state to those with more commitment to it and less to their own personal glory and aggrandizement is a good thing, there is sadness or at least melancholy that he’s back. For those who think he should try to help mold the state he claims to serve, his return is vitally important to move important issues forward.
And for those who are following the health care debate, the Governor is a quixotic presence in the whole discussion. He has been expounding on his vision for “universal health care” (although his plan doesn’t cover everyone, as the phrase “universal” would require). As touted throughout the country this past week, his plan would cover all California’s 6.5 million uninsured. It would do so by requiring doctors, hospitals, health plans, individuals, employers and the government to contribute into the system or suffer risk of tax penalties. Whatever his proposal ultimately entails, it doesn’t even have an author and so isn’t even in legislative form. In other words, as a legislative reality, it is a figment of his large and oversized imagination. Or so one would think.

Continue reading

Getting hammered by the “right” (that isn’t)

The amazing right-wing spin machine continues its insidiously dishonest but effective ways spinning and deceiving the American people on just what is happening on all levels of political and social debate. As a student of politics and as a recovering lawyer, I have always respected and valued the power of the word and its ability to persuade and activate. The Right has certainly understood this, but I must confess that I’m a little worried about our side’s understanding of the importance of the message and its delivery.
Unfortunately for our side of the issues, the Right seems to be trumping us again. They’re in sync on their talking points as they try to discredit the anti-war movement, now calling our patriotic opposition “the slow bleed” opposition, assuming that this will rally the American people against our vocal dissent whereas the prior effort to demean opposition using the label “cut and run” didn’t cut it at all. They’re in full swing attacking our Presidential candidates, giving a pass to the lunatic antics of Rudolph Guliani and the “flip-flopping” (all over themselves) by McCain and Romney (who supported reproductive choice before he was against it). At the same time, they’re trying to smear Hillary and Barack, make a religious issue out of two bloggers affiliated with John Edwards campaign and otherwise trying to create controversy and misdirection when the issues are clearly who has the better vision of America and who can make it happen.
It is quite amazing how effectively the right-wing has been able to co-opt so much of our message, persuade good and decent people that their message of corporate exploitation and incompetent militarism is the American Way.
It is clearly just the opposite, yet the sound-bites and talking points continue to “bleed” out from all corners of the media–Fox (Dis)News, CNN, radio talk shows, newspaper columns (sadly)from the New York Times and Washington Post to right-wing blogs. They shout louder and longer than we can or do and as such, have far too many average, under-informed people believing the lies and the spin. After all, we try to talk truth to power. The Right doesn’t care about truth, they only care about power–and have been very effective at using their political infrastructure to control the debate and suppress the truth.
I was reminded about this again this weekend after watching Robert Greenwald’s masterful expose
“Out-foxed” with some friends who had never seen the video. They could only shake their heads and ask the inevitable and obvious question, “so where is the progressive infrastructure to combat this?”

Continue reading