November 2007 Archives

Things CAN Change!

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One reason so many people in California and around the country "tune out" and don't participate in our own government is they believe that creating change is beyond their control. It often seems that things are locked in by powerful, wealthy interests with regular people locked out of the process. This feeling of loss of control has been established by many disappointments over the years.

There are experiments in "learned helplessness" in which rats are unable to control when they are given shocks. Eventually they just lie down and give up.

For example, rats that have been exposed to shocks that they cannot control often become strikingly passive when later placed in new traumatic situations. They appear numb to the new trauma as if they have "given up." Alternatively, they also become especially fearful of environments where they experience similar traumas and will try to avoid such situations.
Does this sound like you, or people you know? Or maybe way too much of the state and country?

Take heart, for things CAN change! In Australia's last election the people threw out the bad-on-the-environment conservative government and brought in a government that promises to immediately sign the Kyoto anti-global-warming agreement to reduce carbon emissions.

And look who the new government is placing in charge of its environmental policies! Former Midnight Oil rocker Garrett named Australia's environment minister,

Peter Garrett - the towering, baldheaded former singer of the disbanded Australian rock group Midnight Oil - continued his long, strange tour from pop star to politician Thursday when he was named Australia's environment minister.

With his wild dancing and strident voice, Garrett was one of Australia's most recognizable singers until his band broke up in 2002, after belting out politically charged hits for more than 25 years.

Garrett founded Midnight Oil when he was a law student in 1973, but the semi-punk rock group did not achieve global fame until its 1987 track "Beds are Burning" - a protest song about Aboriginal land rights in Australia.

And so, to celebrate, here is something we can all "tune in" to:

Midnight Oil, Beds are Burning:


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Exploring California's Budget

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Our budget reflects our values. So where do we spend our money? How many Californians even know? I didn't know so I decided to find out.

I quickly discovered that learning about the California budget is not an easy process. It is complicated, with General Funds, Special Funds and Bond Funds. And there are the Governor's Proposed Budget, the Governor's Revised Budget and the Budget as Enacted.

So for the next few Tuesdays I am going to explore California's budget. Following is a table summarizing the state's enacted 2007-2008 budget:

2008 Update This information was taken off the web, so the links are changed to point to the Governor's proposed budget. The items in the chart are still the 2007 enacted numbers.

Enacted Budget Detail

The following table presents enacted fiscal year positions and expenditures for each agency area. These totals are comprised of State funds which include General Fund, special funds, and selected bond funds. These totals do not include federal funds, other non-governmental cost funds, or reimbursements.

State Agencies 2007-08
Positions
General
Fund*
Special
Funds*
Bond
Funds*
Total
State Funds*
K thru 12 Education 2,919.7 $41,341,014 $93,003 $3,989,977 $45,423,994
Higher Education 120,419.1 11,979,841 42,065 2,956,637 14,978,543
Health and Human Services 32,955.5 29,718,647 8,129,655 158,377 38,006,679
Corrections and Rehabilitation 66,627.4 9,836,311 22,091 - 9,858,402
Business, Transportation & Housing 44,224.0 1,567,294 8,639,757 3,078,326 13,285,377
Resources 16,557.0 1,674,007 2,060,448 1,789,017 5,523,472
Environmental Protection 4,812.0 90,449 1,045,855 695,993 1,832,297
State and Consumer Services 16,019.6 576,862 806,178 23,886 1,406,926
Labor and Workforce Development 11,492.5 103,375 320,840 - 424,215
General Government 13,343.0 1,578,892 6,008,163 952,337 8,539,392
Legislative, Judicial, and Executive 16,396.9 3,791,501 2,045,002 427,275 6,263,778
TOTALS 345,766.7 $102,258,193 $29,213,057 $14,071,825 $145,543,075

* Dollars in thousands

However arrived at (and I'm sure we'll get to that) the current budget priorities of the people of California (our values) break down in broad categories in the following priority: (dollars in thousands)

1) K-12 Education $45,423,994
2) Health and Human Services $38,006,679
3) Higher Education $14,978,543
4) Business, Transportation & Housing $13,285,377
5) Corrections and Rehabilitation $9,858,402
6) General Government $8,539,392
7) Legislative, Judicial, and Executive $6,263,778
8) Resources $5,523,472
9) Environmental Protection $1,832,297
10) State and Consumer Services $1,406,926
11) Labor and Workforce Development $424,215

You can click on each category i the chart to see how it breaks down. For example, Health and Human Services breaks down into:

Health & Human Services Agency, Secy
State Council-Developmental Disabilities
Emergency Medical Services Authority
Statewide Health Planning & Development
Department of Aging
Commission on Aging
California Senior Legislature
Department of Alcohol & Drug Programs
Children & Families Commission
Department of Health Care Services
Department of Public Health
California Medical Assistance Commission
Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board
Department of Developmental Services
Department of Mental Health
Dept of Community Services & Development
Department of Rehabilitation
State Independent Living Council
Department of Child Support Services
Department of Social Services
State-Local Realignment
General Obligation Bonds-H&HS

Next week we'll begin exploring some of the mysteries of Bond Funds, Special Funds, and my personal big question - how much of our tax money is spend paying interest on the borrowing that has been taking place.


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A weekly update on the goings-on in Sacramento

For the week ending November 24, 2007


Key bills and issues we've been following during the

Past week and beyond


In keeping with the spirit of the week, we can safely say that this one was a turkey for the legislature as well. Sacramento came up with an egg on the water bonds issue as there is no time left for any meaningful measure to be passed during this "Special" legislative session in order for it to be placed on the February, 2008 ballot for approval by the people. Although Senate leader, Don Perata has been working hard to reach agreement with the Governor, the deal seems to be hitting a stumbling block over who is going to oversee the distribution of funds for dam projects that would comprise about $3 billion of the bond funding. The Dems want to be able to oversee the spending on an annual basis, but the Reps want the funding to be continuous because they think that the former may try to pull the dam dollars needed for the concrete to implement their vision of appropriate water policy. For the Dems and their environmental supporters, the goal is groundwater storage, recycling and conservation. Although Perata compromised on this issue, the stalemate continues and thus the February '08 ballot deadline has passed.

For more on this story, check out the Sac Bee article here.
For even more analysis, check out Bill Cavala's column for the California Progress Report here.

Meanwhile, the healthcare measure continues to see the dogged determination of the Speaker, Fabian Nunez, who insists that a deal can be reached with the Governor that will have logic as well as political legs. He is planning to call for a vote possibly this coming week, but all the concessions and twists necessary to fit this square peg into a round hole aren't viewed by many as having much of a chance of passing or working, if such a miracle were to happen.


Bringing on the lawsuits to protect the public

The real action this week, such as it was, really comes out of the judicial side where a number of lawsuits were filed to attempt to address some critical issues that call for judicial intervention either because big businesses are over-reaching or the government isn't doing its job to regulate and enforce existing laws.

From the Secretary of State to former Governor Moonbeam, (now middle-of-the-road Mr.Mainstream) Attorney General Jerry Brown, the courthouse saw its work load increase from these Constitutional offices during the past week.

Secretary of State Deb Bowen, ever vigilant over the fraudulent touch-screen debacle of a number of companies serving up questionable products, has filed a lawsuit seeking $15 million in damages from a company which sold unauthorized systems to five California counties, alleging they had not sought the required certification necessary to qualify their equipment for use in California.

Attorney General Brown brought a suit this week against 20 leading toymakers and retailers, including Mattel and Toys R Us for the lead content in products being sold to our children.

Environmental organizations have also gotten into the fray by suing the federal government over toxic pollution caused by a fleet of mothballed warships floating near the continually-challenged San Francisco Bay. Under the terms of the complaint, the Natural Resources Defense Center (NRDC) and the San Francisco Baykeeper allege that the U.S. Maritime Administration has violated both state and federal environmental regulations by allowing dozens of decaying and rotting ships to linger well past the Congressional deadline set for their removal.

Another lawsuit was filed this week by education advocates against the State of California alleging the state has shortchanged school districts by $1 billion of required programs (mandates) it has either underpaid or failed to pay at all. With the state continuing to go in the red by the month, the timing on this lawsuit couldn't be much worse.

Of course, the car manufacturers and dealers have their own deep pockets to challenge the laws that the legislature and people want, so they don't want to be left out of the litigation frenzy (except when it comes to the public suing them). Yup, they've sued to overturn California's landmark greenhouse gas legislation of 2002. (By way of disclosure, the undersigned proudly co-authored this important piece of legislation.) The measure, as passed, authorizes the state to establish limits as to the amount of greenhouse gas emissions permitted by motor vehicles. The car manufacturers and dealers are claiming that the law is an attempt to require higher gas mileage (which is strictly a federal government responsibility for which states have no jurisdiction). The experts seem to feel the lawsuit won't hold muster based upon the recent Supreme Court decision that held that regulating air pollutants is not in conflict with the exclusive federal power to regulate fuel economy. However this one may turn out, it again shows the importance of keeping the courthouse doors open for everyone- rich or poor, right or wrong.


The economic forecast continues to cast a dark shadow on the state

The fallout from the sub-prime housing market collapse continues to unfold. The Legislative Analyst continues to issue warnings about the steep drop in tax revenues coming into the state and the fallout will continue for months to come. Although we're not quite sure where this will all land, we know the perils of this downturn are likely to be extensive. For more on the implications, check out the SacBee article here.

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 to support our work in keeping California's progressive voice strong!

As promised, Speak Out California will be taking a close and careful look at the significant number of ballot initiatives as they are introduced for the 2008 election year. There will be a number of them that qualify as the money to gather signatures continues to be factored in as just a cost of doing business. With California becoming the testing ground for all sorts of controversial ideas, our commitment to direct democracy through the initiative process continues to encourage special interest groups and multi-millionaires to play in our sandbox. Many of these ideas are contrary to the best interest of the people of our state and we at Speak Out California will continue to speak out against those policies that do not serve our communities.

And now for the rest of our weekly update...


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At the weblog Angry Bear last week, they presented some graphs in a post titled, Tax Rates and Growth Rates, Some Graphs. Go take a look.

The first graphs shows marginal income tax rates over time, and the third shows real GDP per capita, both starting in the 1950s.

As you look at these graphs, it seems that the periods of higher real per-capita growth coincide with the higher tax rates. Both graphs appear to have higher numbers on the left side, and the numbers drop as you move over to the right side. In other words, as the tax rates dropped since the 50's, so did economic growth.

This is the opposite of the "conventional wisdom" that people have come to believe. But it's just plain what happened - no way around it. And, to top it off, remember that FDR raised taxes on the rich, and then we started coming out of the depression. You can look those charts up as well.

For some recent validation of this observation -- that higher taxes coincide with higher economic growth -- remember what happened after the notorious 1993 tax increases on the very rich. After those tax increases we all shared an incredible decade of economic growth and shared prosperity. (Even the rich who paid more taxes.) The national budget was balanced and we reven started paying off the huge debt that had accumulated. Then, following the 2001 tax cuts which primarily went to the very rich growth rates have not been so hot, and regular people actually feel more pinched, not less. And the country has had to borrow an incredible amount of money - which will have serious consequences in the future.

So what could be happening here? Conservatives like to say that taxes hurt the economy. That they "take money out of the economy." But is this really what happens?

If the money is "taken out"of the economy, where does it go? Isn't this a perverse view of what government is, to think it is so separate from the people that it isn't even part of the economy? Perhaps this is wishful thinking on the part of anti-government conservatives, but in reality the government puts the tax money back into the economy by paying teachers, building roads, etc.

Conservatives say that taxes are a "cost" to businesses, forcing them to raise prices. But taxes are on profits, which are calculated after costs. And if a company is doing well enough to be profitable enough to be paying taxes, why would they want to raise prices and discourage customers?

Conservatives also say that higher taxes remove the incentive to work. But don't you think it is more likely people would work harder to make up the difference?

In California we also had a wave of tax cutting, as well as bringing in rules making it very difficult to increase taxes when needed -- even when most of the public wants to. California used to have the very best schools and colleges in the country, the best roads, agraculture infrastructure, and so many things we were proud of. But since the wave of tax-cutting all of these have been cut back to minimal levels, and the state is still forced to borrow like there is no tomorrow.

I learned in school that science is supposed to be descriptive, not prescriptive. In other words, real science describes what really happens. Conservative economics seems to be about "if only people would do so-and-so, such-and-such would happen." The trouble is, people don't, and it doesn't.


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A weekly update on the goings-on in Sacramento

For the week ending November 17, 2007


Key bills and issues we've been following during the

Past week and beyond


Last week we observed that the Special Session was clearly losing momentum and oxygen. Although it certainly doesn't have the vigor or energy of the regular legislative session, it appears to have staying-power beyond what we anticipated. Ever slowly and ploddingly, the beat goes on. This week, the water bill seems to have been revived (after we all but pronounced it dead) and the health care measure being touted by the Democrats in the Assembly has now seen another iteration which has been approved by the Assembly Health Committee, even though its chances of passing are slim at best. While some may say little is going on, it is impossible to deny the fact that the leadership continues to push ahead, somewhat reminiscent of the "Little Engine That Could" as it fought its way up the mountain to the top.

We posit that the effort to accomplish something is fueled by a desire to show some productivity before the fury of the February election and the battle over Prop 93, the term-limits/extension initiative. While this may very well be the motivation, the fact remains that the legislature is forging ahead with an admirable dogged determination.

On the health care side, the Assembly heard and passed out of committee a revised measure that considers a number of the Governor's suggested ideas, like reducing the contributions required by employers. However its ultimate passage remains problematic at best as neither the Reps nor the Governor have signaled their agreement. And with the ominous news about the economy becoming more apparent and pessimistic, we can only wonder if major policy changes of this magnitude can emerge under such a difficult economic prognostication. The Governor, of course remains all smiles and optimism, but that positive thinking won't get us out of the economic mess created by the national policies of the Bush administration or the irresponsible policies of the sub-prime mortgage industry that have brought our economy to a halt.


The dismal economic forecast weighs into the debate

By now, most Californians are aware that we're in for a financial shakedown (if not meltdown) in the economy. While not necessarily the doing of California or its policies, the housing downturn, coupled with the ever-increasing price-gouging we're seeing at the gas pump, is wreaking havoc on our middle-class. The result is that all facets of the economy have slowed down dramatically. Added to this is the Writer's Strike in Hollywood and the obvious fiscal train wreck in the state's budget becoming more apparent.

There is at least a glimmer of good news amongst all this economic carnage. The writers and producers have agreed to start up negotiations right after the Thanksgiving holiday. But with dozens of productions dark, the loss of income has got to be taking its toll on California's huge entertainment industry which means there little being generated in the way of income or tax receipts for the state, based upon that income.

The bad news, so deftly presented by California's outstanding Legislative Analyst, Elizabeth Hill, confirms that the state expects to see a shortfall in tax receipts over the next fiscal year of almost $10 billion. As we reported last week, the governor has already called upon the state's agencies to start cutting at least 10% from their budget. It is important to note that this doesn't take into account the fallout from the fires in our state this past September, the economic costs associated with fighting them or the loss of economic activity as a result. Translated: things are likely to get worse before they get better. For more on this economic bad news, click here for the LA Times article or here for the SacBee story.

We have also been following the work of the legislature in order to unravel the reasons behind the devastating and totally avoidable oil spill in the Bay Area last week that leaked 58,000 gallons of filthy, low-grade bunker fuel into its waters. While it has emerged that the cause was human error, the results have led legislators, headed by Natural Resources Chair Loni Hancock, to call for serious measures to protect against future disasters of this nature. Among the ideas to quickly come forward is a measure to require the placement of bunker fuel inside the ships, and not carried along side behind the hull.

On the federal level, a new debate and discussion has begun over the problem associated with single-hulled ships, one of the primary culprits in major oil spills throughout the years. For a good discussion of this issue, click here for the Mercury News story.

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 to support our work in keeping California's progressive voice strong!


And now for the week's goings-on:


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Clearly human nature is want to ignore the obvious until it strikes us in the face, or in the ocean in the present case. Why we aren't willing to be sufficiently pro-active and take preventative measures in the face of imminent or likely disaster is a mystery on the one hand and yet an inevitability on the other. Or so it seems.

Take the oil spill in the San Francisco Bay on November 7, 2007---just over a week ago. We know that oil spills can and do have devastating impacts on wildlife, ocean eco-systems and local economies. We know, too, that much can be done to prevent or at least signficantly reduce the possibility of catastrophic consequences of oil spills. An obvious preventative measure is to require tankers to be double-hulled, or require the use of tugboats to help them traverse difficult passage-ways, like the San Francisco Bay during heavy fog. Another is to require our emergency response agencies be well-trained and well-equipped with the most up-to-date equipment to respond in case protective measures fail. Of course, this also requires a willingness to make an investment of resources.

In today's California, the notion of coughing up the bucks to protect against disasters or provide the resources to rapidly contain them if they do occur, is just not politically feasible. And heaven forbid we call upon those massive ships or the even more massive oil industry to pay sufficient fees to assure their product doesn't pollute our previous shores. But, when disaster strikes--by fire, by flood or by oil, we expect those resources to magically appear. We complain when aircraft shows up late to make water drops or when equipment to contain oil seepage isn't available or deployed quickly or when there just aren't enough people or machines available to do the job.

The consequences, of course, can be devastating....and the ultimate damage much more expensive than the costs of protecting ourselves in advance. Prevention is always worth a pound of cure, but if prevention keeps the problem from happening, we tend to believe that there wasn't a problem to begin with---so why spend the money in the first place? Or is it, sadly, the sage observation by great songwriter Joni Mitchell that "you don't know what you've got til its gone..."?


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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.


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A weekly update on the goings-on in Sacramento

For the week ending November 10, 2007


Key bills and issues we've been following during the

Past week and beyond



Although there isn't much frenzy in Sacramento these days, the Special Session is still technically in play. The healthcare portion of the session seems to have undergone some lifesaving procedures and has a faint, but nevertheless, distinguishable heartbeat. While the water reform proposals have ended with only water-under-the-bridge, the legislature is desperate to salvage something significant this year so they can enter the February primary election season (which also includes Prop 93, the term limits/extension initiative) claiming some substantial accomplishment. Without a major reform to tout after this legislative year, the public will never agree to give this crop of legislators any additional time in office, or so the conventional wisdom (such as it is) goes.

But the real news that set Sacramento reeling this week was the budget. Given the downturn in the housing industry, due to the disastrous sub-prime market that was obviously destined to collapse, the Governor announced that the budget deficit for the coming year had grown from an anticipated $4 billion to a whopping $10 billion short-fall. When the red ink gets that large, the only real expectation for the coming year is cuts and reductions in existing services, not expansion. Bad news and dark clouds will follow.

In spite of this fiscal challenge, the ever-optimistic governor has promised to pass a major health care bill that will require all Californians to have health insurance. Although more and more people are recognizing this as a boondoggle for the insurance industry that plays no role in providing needed health care, the cost of the program will require at least an additional $14 billion to fund. No one is quite sure how this squares with our fiscal crisis, but the Governor continues to bang this drum regardless.


What else is happening in California while Sacramento treads water?

Two other significant events occurred this week that are not directly related to Sacramento but deserve mentioning. The first is the Writers Strike that has serious economic consequences to the state's economy. With at least a dozen prime-time TV shows dark and dozens of other creative productions stopped because of the strike, thousands of people are now out-of-work.

Both the Governor and L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa are calling for a quick solution to the strike, but the producers won't even consider talks until the Writers Guild sends its members back to work. The Guild has made it clear its members are serious about seeking some piece of the internet and digitalized products they help create. The corporate big wigs say this is a non-starter so the impasse looks ominous.

For more on this story, check out the first article and the second from the LA Times.


The second story that has serious consequences to the state's economy and critical eco-system as well, was the completely avoidable oil spill in the Bay Area that leaked 58,000 gallons of bunker-fuel into the San Francisco Bay. Today's LA Times quotes what may be the understatement of the year by the Coast Guard's top dog in California. In summing up the problem (the ship hit a support on the base of a SF-Bay Bridge tower rupturing two fuel tanks holding the heavy and filthy bunker fuel that spilled into the Channel) Rear Admiral Craig Bone stated, "They were skilled enough individuals on board this ship. They didn't carry out their mission correctly." One can only wonder how much they pay these heavyweights for their brilliant deductive reasoning.

The result of this mess, is that hundreds of birds and wildlife are at risk; most of this fuel will not be recovered and the commercial and sport crabbing season will be closed. The costs of this negligence will be enormous and the only question is who will pay for it. Hopefully whoever owns the ship will have to do so, but the costs and the devastation are never fully recovered after this type of disaster.

For more on this story, see the sfgate article here
or go to this LA Times story.


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 to support our work in keeping California's progressive voice strong!


And now for the week's goings-on:


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With the national economy set to go in the toilet (if Wall Street is a good indicator), the state of California once again faces a budget crisis in the billions of dollars. But this time we won't be hearing the naysayers blame Governor Schwarzenegger, as they did Gray Davis, when the national economy hit the skids back then.

This time we do recognize that the problem doesn't fall just at the feet of one person--it is the failed policies of an administration that insists on privatizing everything it can and letting the profiteers take as much as they can get their hands on until they're caught.

In this case, though, the fault lies with a variety of folks---starting with the Friends of Dick Cheney, the oilees who continue to jack up the price of gas at the pump so their profits can remain in the stratosphere as working famillies have less and less disposable income as a result.

Or take the housing boom. If there was ever a house of cards, this was it: Encouraging people to borrow, borrow, borrow---either for their downpayments, mortgages, or second mortgages on property at interest rates that fluctuate. And how they've fluctuated. Now, people who bought homes they couldn't afford, or who were propping up this fragile economy by borrowing against their homes, see it all coming home to roost--complete with foreclosure documents and pink slips.

And the prognosticators are warning that California is in for a big hit because of it all: the failing housing market, bad credit consequences, job instability and just a good old but hearty down-turn in the American market because of ridiculous economic policies advanced by the Bush Administration.


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Things that Everyone Knows

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Tim "Pumpkin Head" Russert said this Monday on the Hardball show:

"Everyone knows Social Security as it's constructed is not going to be in the same place it's gonna be for the next generation."

He means that Social Security will have to be somehow restructured. Chris "Tweety" Matthews piped in to say:

"It's a bad Ponzi scheme at this point, yeah."

They went on to talk about politicians needing to make "tough choices." "Tough choices" in this context usually means cutting promised retirement benefits instead of restoring the money that was taken from the Social Security Trust Fund and used for tax cuts. Never mind that Social Security has sufficient funds invested in its Trust Fund to cover almost any projected shortfall -- tax cuts and corporate welfare mean government is going to have trouble finding the money it owes to its citizens. So to head off the idea of getting the money from where the money went, the moneyed interests have launched a campaign to make people think this is somehow Social Security's problem -- the ones owed the money -- instead of the problem of the ones who got the money.

Why does "everyone know" that Social Security will need to be restructured? Because it has been repeated so often that people believe it is true. Something that "everyone knows" is also called "conventional wisdom." Once something becomes "conventional wisdom" it is extraordinarily difficult to shake people from believing it, true or not.

This is done because on Election Day it doesn't matter if something is actually true, it only matters what people think is true. This is the basis of the divide between the "reality-based community" and those who believe "we can create our own reality." (It is instructive to follow the link and learn where those terms originated. )


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A weekly update on the goings-on in Sacramento


For the week ending November 3, 2007


Key bills and issues we've been following during the

Past week and beyond



This is usually a pretty quiet time in Sacramento. While this situation remains pretty much the case, the slowly dying Special Session still remains. With the big battle over water ending in a stalemate, the debate over health care reform showed a glimmer of activity this week as the Assembly Health Committee held a full-blown hearing on the Governor's health care proposal. There wasn't any progress to speak of, although the Speaker, Fabian Nunez pledged to keep working to reach a compromise. Unfortunately, few in Sacramento believe either side will make necessary concessions to make that happen.

When times are slow, polls become more interesting-at least to those political wonks who are otherwise suffering withdrawal from relative inactivity. This week was no different as the well-respected Public Policy Institute of California came out this week with the latest on several fronts. Among these are whether the people feel California is moving in the right direction or not (which is just another way of asking whether people are optimistic and hopeful about their future) and how the Governor would fare should he decide to take on Senator Barbara Boxer in 2010 for the U.S. Senate. As you can see, a lot of inside baseball here, especially since even the baseball season is finally over.

The ballot measures for 2008 are again coming to life, especially since right-wing Congressman Darrell Issa, who brought us the Davis Recall in 2003, has announced he will bankroll the return of the Electoral College measure. For those who thought this blatant right-wing power grab was dead, this measure will split California's electoral votes from a winner-takes-all to a split of electoral votes by Congressional District. Translated, this would likely give the Republican candidate 20 electoral votes---or the size of Ohio or Florida. Since the Republicans haven't won California in years, this is as good as giving them a 40 vote turnaround in the Electoral College, enough so the conventional wisdom holds, to steal the election for the Republicans. And since it is felt that Rudy Guliani is the one most likely to benefit from this ploy, and there are many dirty footprints leading to his door on this measure, the Dems are howling. All this makes for good copy, of course, and keeps the political junkies busy during an otherwise slow period before the election cycle kicks in. Of course, this year, the election cycle seems to have started months ago and seems to be in overdrive already.

With so much bad press recently for Speaker Fabian Nunez's spending habits, the Term-Limits/Extension measure Prop. 93 appears to be sliding out of favor dramatically with California's likely voters. Added to the woes of current members hoping to extend their terms in office is the announcement by billionaire State Insurance Commissioner, Steve Poizner, that he will help bankroll the opposition to the measure. Even though the supporters of the measure have a substantial war chest, this measure looks like it may go down with a big thud.

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

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And now for the week's goings-on:


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I remember as a youngster believing that the President and the government would protect us from harmful things---like gas fumes at the pump and toys that broke off and could hurt babies and little children. Of course, I was quite young at the time, not even at double digits, the country was much more naive and Dwight Eisenhower was president. This was obviously a long time ago!

But I took the notion seriously that government had a moral and constitutional responsibility to protect the public and keep us from harms way---whether it be from enemies to our shores, criminals threatening our personal peace and safety or just known bad things being cast upon us by those who didn't care about our well-being.

It turns out I, too, was very naive, and had a misplaced sense of what the government, at least in times of Ike,considered to be its responsibilities. But as our country has moved on, the role of government to protect us as consumers and as individuals has evolved. Particularly in the 1970's, and somewhat ironically, under both Republican and Democratic presidents, the role of the EPA, the Consumer Protection Agency and other publicly concerned entities took a front-and-center position in helping protect our nation and our natural resources. After all, it was Richard Nixon who signed the Clean Water Act (although it was pushed heavily by the democratically controlled congress). To his credit, he also oversaw the first Environmental Protection Agency, committed to protecting our environmental health.

Fast-forward to today and we see a stark contrast between a national commitment to protect the public and an adminstration which has blatantly and shamelessly pronounced that the public health and consumer safety are of no concern to it. That seems to be the message of this week's extraordinary conduct of one Nancy A. Nord, the acting chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.


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This page is an archive of entries from November 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

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