Rants & Raves for the Week of February 7th, 2011
Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich has a new way of dealing with people who take a stand for what they believe in – it’s called jail. In a major shift in city policy, he is seeking jail time for dozens of peaceful protesters, including students and veterans calling for educational opportunities and union members seeking help for laid off janitors. Previous prosecutors had treated the protest-related violations as infractions, but Trutanich wants the protesters to spend up to one year in county jail. Not only does this approach threaten our free speech rights, it also wastes city and county resources when we can least afford it. As LA City Councilman Ed Reyes put it: “We should be incarcerating those who are truly public threats as opposed to students who are raising their voices out of passion for a cause.”
We've all heard the line. What welfare recipients need is to become self-sufficient, to be pushed into jobs and off the welfare rolls. That's why our welfare program (CalWORKS) is time limited and promotes welfare-to-work. But a new report just found that 53 percent of welfare recipients in California are kids. Not only does that mean we have way too many kids living in poverty, but it also means that our current welfare policy doesn't even make sense given who the welfare recipients are. In other words, we are failing to meet -or even understand-the needs of the most vulnerable kids in our state.
The definition of a parasite is a person who lives at the expense of others without making any useful contribution or return. Parasite pretty accurately describes the consultants roaming the halls of the Capitol this week lobbying to save the Enterprise Zone program. Governor Brown proposed eliminating the failed Enterprise Zone tax credits for a budget savings of $924 million. Almost immediately consultants and their corporate lobbyists sprang into action to save the cash cow program they’ve been sucking the life out of for years. The Enterprise Zone program spends taxpayer money with the goal of job creation and economic development. But these consultants troll the Zones for businesses to get tax credits for workers they’ve already hired, or who no longer work there – and then they take a cut of the tax savings that are supposed to create jobs. These consultants are parasites and they’re sucking our state dry. It’s time to eliminate the Enterprise Zone program.
The all-Republican Board of Supervisors in Orange County this week voted to prohibit the county’s public health plan, CalOptima, from participating in the newly formed state Health Benefits Exchange. What that means is that CalOptima, with their 402,000 covered lives, cannot join with other county health plans to form a “public option” to compete with private insurers when the Exchange opens in 2014. The Exchange will serve an estimated 3-7 million Californians and is predicted to drive down premium costs through a competitive bidding process. And public plans could compete too. The presence of public plans will make private insurers have to compete on price and quality, and increase the value for consumers. But not if Republicans have their way.
Congressional Republicans have been taking a lot of heat lately for ignoring their campaign promises to create jobs, but let’s be fair. They’re not just ignoring unemployment, they’re actively fighting to keep unemployed workers away from new jobs. On Tuesday, House Republican leadership refused to allow a vote to renew enhanced Trade Adjustment Assistance—federally funded job training benefits to workers whose jobs have been sent overseas.. The program’s extension expires tomorrow, so absent immediate action, tens of thousands of out-of-work Americans who lost their jobs to other countries will this weekend suddenly find themselves cut off from new careers. The party of No, it turns out, isn’t above saying No to their own campaign promises.
Do you think the US Chamber of Commerce has cleaned up its act, what with a personal visit from the President and some recent signs of conciliation? Think again, says ThinkProgress, a blog of the think tank Center for American Progress. ThinkProgress revealed yesterday that Chamber officials have hired a shadowy collective of “private security firms” to discredit critics and, as usual, attack unions, but this is no ordinary corporate-backed smear campaign. According to confidential memos exposed ThinkProgress, these firms actually recommend a campaign where false documents are leaked to Chamber opponents in an attempt to undermine their credibility—assuming groups like SEIU and ThinkProgress would take the bait and publicize false evidence of wrongdoing. This latest scheme goes to show the Chamber still has a long way to go to restore its own credibility.
You know how the PTA holds bake sales as school fundraisers? Well, Governor Schwarzenegger had the same idea, except instead of cupcakes, he put state owned buildings up for sale in order to balance the budget. Yes, for bargain basement prices you too could own the Ronald Reagan State Building, or one of 10 other buildings. And you’d turn a nice profit since the state would lease back the properties from you over the next few decades. Luckily, Governor Brown put a stop to the short-sighted sale of valuable state buildings this week. He walked away from the sale rightfully calling it “a gigantic loan with interest payments that equal … over 10% every year.” Good thing Meg Whitman didn’t win the governor’s race, or the whole state would be for sale on eBay!
We all know we need labor law reform to give workers a real right to organize. But even under current law, there is more we can do to protect workers’ rights. The National Labor Relations Board has proposed new rules to require employers to post information about workers’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act, including the right to organize free from employer interference. Since most employers hold captive audience meetings to oppose union drives and unions don't have equal access to workers, this regulation would at least ensure that workers understand they have protected rights and know who to call if those rights are violated. Please take a moment to let the NLRB know that you support these regulations.
Do you have the “right to get sick?” Workers in San Francisco won that right four years ago when voters overwhelming approved a city-wide Paid Sick Days Ordinance—the first of its kind in the nation. All workers, no matter where they work, won the right to take a paid sick day for themselves or to care for a family member. Though many businesses initially opposed the law, a new study the Institute for Women’s Policy Research shows that four years later two-thirds of San Francisco employers support the law. Good for workers, good for business!
Since big banks crashed the economy in 2007, California has lost 1.4 million jobs—leaving millions jobless through no fault of their own. No, that’s nothing to rave about. But when the economic crisis hit, the state safety net kicked into high gear to give the unemployed a lifeline. California paid out a staggering $22.9 billion in unemployment benefits in 2010. That may seem like a huge number, but the benefit to the state is even greater. Moody’s Analytics estimates that every additional $1.00 spent on unemployment benefits in California puts $1.56 right back into the economy. So for each of those $22.9 billion, local business is getting a shot in the arm, since the unemployed spend their money in the economy rather than hoarding it like the big banks are doing.