All posts by hbj

Follow The Money — It’s All About The Self-Interest

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

Much is finally being written about the money behind the candidates as well as the initiatives these days. Finally I say because money buys word-smithing and that buys people’s hearts and minds. Not that the ideas propelling the candidates and ballot measures couldn’t do that on their merits, but it’s the money that motivates these self-serving people/corporations. Money pays for the glib sound-bites that become the message and the PR firms that then shape the opinions and alas, the votes of an often unsuspecting electorate.

With all the money being poured into our elections this year, and the misdirection of the voters, it is not hard to understand that the Republicans are poised to recoup most, if not all of their lost gains from the 2008 election that catapulted Barack Obama and the Democrats into power. What IS hard to understand, is how the American people are looking to these very same people, with the very same ideas that put our communities, our state, our nation and even the world on the brink of economic disaster.

I was confounded again today, listening to Mitt Romney, of all people, disparaging the Democrats view of economics; if Romney and his buddies had had their way, the world would have collapsed into depression after the Bush policies of less oversight, greater private enterprise without accountability and all the other disastrous approaches to prosperity and opportunity that accompanied the Gingrich, Bush and Cheney years. One disaster after another:

  • Iraq
  • Wall Street
  • Housing collapse
  • High unemployment
  • Out-sourcing jobs to China and Asia
  • Huge deficits
  • Afghanistan
  • Guantanemo and the loss of civil liberties.

The list truly goes on and on, yet with the incredible chutzpah of arrogant, wealthy, deceitful, expediency-driven people like Mitt and the Koch brothers, we’re seeing the resurrection of the failed policies that President Obama so aptly expressed as the “guys who drove the car into the ditch”. As he pointed out, now they’re asking for the keys back. What the President was slow in realizing (or maybe does now), is that there may be enough Americans willing to do just that!

Back to the Koch Boys ……. these multi-gazillionaires born into extraordinary privilege, with no moral compass, have dumped millions into California for purposes of realizing their libertarian, polluting, anti-worker dispositions to assure that their climate threatening, dirty air creating industries continue to pollute our air and risk the future of our health and our planet. They’ve found a willing ally, it seems, in Carly Fiorina—who probably wishes she could be them—if only she knew how.  (See Fiorina’s billionaire backers in today’s LA Times.)

While a recent study named Koch Industries one of the top 10 air polluters in the United States, and they have been cited by organizations that monitor employment practices as “m>one of the most ruthless exporters of American manufacturing jobs to foreign countries”, Carly earned the distinction of being one of the country’s top twenty WORST CEO’s of all time. So they do have a lot in common–and are in sync on both opposing our critically important model air-quality legislation which also creates hundreds of thousands of green jobs for Californians (many of which have already begun) and in off-shoring American jobs.

It is important in politics to go beyond the rhetoric to who is funding what and why. Once the fluff and hype is dissected, the real story of a ballot measure or candidate’s expected behavior can be identified. With all the polling, focus-groups and testing of “messages”, the public tends to be inundated with language designed to bamboozle, not educate. This makes following the money trail all the more important.

In the case of the Koch Brothers, their millions have been funding the “tea party” and major Republican candidates nationwide. They’ve also put millions into Yes on Prop 23, along with two Texas oil companies that believe they should be able to force us to breathe dirty air.

While truth has never been of concern to the Libertarian, filthy air producing Koch boys (I will not make any comment about any possible racism or bigotry they may have inherited from their father who was one of the original members of the John Birch Society), they have gotten solidly behind Carly and Prop 23. Those facts, alone, should be enough to make sure we say NO to both Fiorina and Prop. 23. While they may have tons of money, once you follow it, you see that it leads straight into a self-serving stew of pollution and greed.

We can do better— a lot better!

Earth to California Voters: We have created a train wreck!

This post originated at Speak Out California.

The latest poll shows that Arnold Schwarzenegger now holds the embarassing distinction of having the same 22% favorability rate as Gray Davis had when Davis became the first Governor in modern-day California to be recalled by an angry electorate.
Of course the public is angry again and for good reason: we’re at a 12.3% unemployment rate; we have one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country; the Republicans in the legislature continue to demand that we cut the taxes of fat-cat corporations and the well-heeled oil industry and yet demand more from hard-working Californians, while providing us with less.
We’re looking at a billionaire who thinks she’s Queen and thinks she’s equipped to “govern” the state. This is the same person who failed to vote for two decades and has, during this campaign, done more flip-flops than Arnold can do push-ups.
We’ve got a $19.3 Billion deficit that can’t be filled by getting rid of “fraud, waste and abuse” because  there isn’t enough “fraud waste and abuse” to fill a thimble of the state’s deficit. E-Meg wants us to think that, because she presided over a very successful business we should elect her to run the state of California. But increasing profits isn’t what a state government is supposed to do.  The goal of business is profit. We all know that—and if not, just check out Goldman-Sachs which says by making all this money, it’s doing “the lords work.” The role of government is to provide for its people. If we can tighten our belts and give more services for the dollar, that’s great, but the way to judge the success of government is by how well we educate our children, how well we protect our communities and how well we plan and build for the future.
There is no question that Queen Meg is not equipped or prepared to govern our state. That being said, the problem goes well beyond who we decide to have at the controls of the train. The problem is rather the train itself and the tracks upon which it rides
George Skelton observes in the L.A. Times that the problems we are facing don’t totally fall at the feet of the governor—although there is plenty of blame to go around on that score. The problem is an obvious one: California’s system of governance is a mess. It doesn’t work because it is a hodgepodge of stops and starts that don’t mesh, don’t allow majority rule and don’t really require that anyone take responsibility for what they’re doing in Sacramento. Applying the train analogy, we’ve got old and different kinds of rails to ride upon that don’t go in a straight line, aren’t even the same and dead-end all along the route.
I’m no fan of Queen Meg, Meg Whitless, or whatever other cute and probably accurate nicknames are out there which describe her cluelessness and imperial notion of governance. She is clearly unqualified to try to govern the largest state in the nation. But even if she were qualified, had voted over the last 20plus years (which horrorfyingly she has not), the state is simply ungovernable in its present configuration. Period.
Those who have studied or have any experience with state government know that it has been immobilized by several initiatives. Each of them may have had, in their day, a well-intended purpose, but put together they create an alphabet soup of dysfunction. They bump into each other, force the train to stop and turn circles when the train should be moving forward.
What is interesting is that no one knows this better than Jerry Brown. Perhaps that is why he’s speaking more in global concepts than popular but empty promises of cleaning up government or as our now very unpopular governor was accustomed to saying before he became such, “I’m going to blow up the boxes.”  Hmmmmm.
Let’s be clear on what the problems are and not what the right-wing spin machines have so effectively, albeit dishonestly claimed to be the reasons for our state’s deteriorating quality-of-life:
1- We have a revenue problem. It was created by so-called “free market” policies promoted by the Republicans and epitomized by the Bush Administration’s deregulation of just about everything—from the banks and financial institutions (the Goldman-Sachs syndrome) to the de facto deregulation of the oil industry (thanks to MMS’s cozy relationship with the oilies) to giving additional tax-breaks here in California to big monopolies that promised and delivered absolutely nothing in exchange. We have reduced taxes on the wealthiest among us and refused to create a more level-playing field for our young people who ask only the same opportunities that the prior generations had to work hard and live the California Dream.
2- We’re both the most and least democratic state in the country. We require a 2/3 vote of the legislature to pass a budget and a 2/3 vote to increase taxes. No other state does this; no other state is chronically late in getting their fiscal house in order every year. At the same time, we have given the people greater access to direct democracy than most other states through the creation of the initiative and referendum process. (See number 4 below)
3- Term-limits means we expect the least-experienced people to run the most diverse and complex state in the country. We are running the 8th largest economy in the world with inexperienced, short-term leaders. Term limits has been a disaster for good government. Ask Dems and Reps alike (at least those Reps who care about government and making sure it works, whether they think it should come in Extra Large or Small). We foolishly think that we’re punishing the politicians by limiting the length of time they can serve. In fact, what we’re doing is short-changing ourselves.
4- Money, not the people, are controlling public policy. The unique system of direct democracy has given way to big businesses buying their way onto the ballot. Just ask why was there a constitutional amendment on the ballot which would have given PG&E greater monopolistic control than it already has in its service areas (which represent the majority of the state)?
Who are these people who are now challenging the bipartisan global warming measure that will open up California as the leader—in jobs and technology for creation of an alternative energy industry to lead the country and world away from dirty, dangerous fossil fuels? They are four major TEXAS-BASED OIL companies. It is clear that when Hiram Johnson proposed the initiative as a way to insure that the people would be able to trump the power of the railroads (that were controlling the legislature in the early 1900’s), the last thing he dreamed would be that those same greed-driven, monopolistic entities would be taking control of the state yet again,buying their way onto the ballot and then spending millions to mislead the public as to their intentions.
Of course, adding to the corporate take-over of democracy, both in California and the nation is the outrageous U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United. In one fell swoop, this biased, “free-market” cabal has all but assured right-wing monopolies will control the future of elections and electoral politics for years to come.
All that being said, there is one thing that is clear: If we want to get California back on track, we certainly don’t want the party of NO to be in charge. We’ve seen what they’ve done nationally—and what kind of pollution, dysfunction and economic destruction they bring when we give them the power to do so. Look no farther than the Gulf of Mexico and Wall Street for starters. The right-wing that has taken over a once moderate, but business-leaning party, hates government (unless they’re running it) and doesn’t care if they take the state or country down with them as long as they regain control. That’s not democracy and that’s not what we, the people, are entitled to receive. 
We need to fix the system and thus the train tracks before we expect to turn this train around. Unless and until we do that, we’re going to see our beloved California continue its journey into the abyss and wonder why it happened.
This crisis is well-beyond any individual candidate and any single election. We’ve got to wake up to the mess that has befallen the rules of government in California. We, the people, want and deserve good schools, good roads, clean air and water, safe streets and economic opportunity. Until we straighten out how we run this state, we’re not going to get what we need for a brighter tomorrow. Time is running out.

No Rest for the Weary Electorate

This piece originated at Speak Out California.

While California takes the summer off, the wealthy use their extraordinary wealth to undermine the state’s future.

While grills all over California are still smoldering under the weight of July 4th hot dogs, burgers and maybe a veggie-burger or two, those with unlimited resources (and who most likely grilled steaks instead), continue their barrage on the senses of Golden State residents.

With all that money, there’s no need to respect the notion that these are the “dog days” of summer, when those lucky enough to have jobs try to sneak in a restful vacation or two with their families and friends and those who are out-of-work try to find some, or if not at least find solace in the fact that summer tends to be slow in the work-place anyway. But for E-Meg and the big oil companies, this is no time to let the rest of us relax.

With four major Texas-based oil companies putting in the few millions necessary to qualify Prop. 23 on the ballot, we can expect a summer filled with more lies and misinformation about what AB 32, the law that will move us to develop an alternative energy economy, is going to do to the state. To the oilies, it represents a commitment to move from their dirty, fossil-based fuel driven economy to something more sustainable and protective of the environment (you can include the ocean in that, as we continue to watch in horror as the Gulf of Mexico absorbs millions of gallons of the dirty, toxic and deathly gunk every day).

Of course, what’s not to like in that idea? Well, the claim (made without any justification or factual data to support it—but what else is new?) is that it will raise the price of oil and be a drag on our state’s already suffering economy. You know, another “job-killer” bill.

For thinking people, this reasoning is pure nonsense. Fortunately, according to a new poll that came out today, most Californians reject this nonsense and realize forcing us to move to renewable energy resources could and would put California right in the middle of a changing, vibrant and profitable new energy economy. For more information on the report, check out Cal Buzz here.

And then there’s E-Meg, the multi-billionaire who wants to buy the Governorship on her way to trying to buy the Presidency of the United States. Now, while I’m all for women aspiring and reaching the highest office in the land, (and I am, indeed), E-Meg has no experience and up until fairly recently no interest in government or its workings. But that’s the least of it. For those of us who have been in both public service and private enterprise, there is one thing that is clear. One is analog and the other digital. You can’t run business like and government and you can’t run government like a business. Why? Because the purpose of business is profit. The purpose of government is to provide for the public good.

We saw that up close and personal with Ahnold. He came in as an “outsider” with a great story of financial success (even as a mediocre actor, but that’s for another day). No one can argue that Meg has had enormous success as well (even though much of it is integrally linked to her relationship with Goldman Sachs). And no one can argue that she’s put together an extraordinary political campaign machine–probably the best that $90 million (and counting every minute) can buy. She’s got the sound-bites down, controls her press conferences with impressive precision and has well-choreographed ads up on all the right stations and programs, etc. She has attacked her opponent with great gusto and creativity—-unfazed by the fact that most of her criticisms are totally distorted, if not downright lies. We know, however, that she will stop at nothing to make her case—just look at the way she ran to the far-right to beat Steve Poizner in the primary.

It will be interesting to see her race back to the “middle”, which she is already trying to do with the Latino community. She’s spent a small fortune so far buying time on Spanish-speaking media trying to convince this population that she’s supportive, even though the hated former-governor Pete Wilson (Mr. Prop.118) was (and still is?) her campaign chairman.

Her politics aside, the problem is: With all her money and clever advertising and posturing, she doesn’t have a clue how to GOVERN. We do know she knows how to bully—as illustrated by a small incident that only cost her a couple hundred-thousand dollars. Just chump change for her. Just wait til she’s in Sacramento if she wins. What’s she going to do–challenge the legislature to a shoving match? Challenge the cities and counties and public safety groups and public interest groups to a duel?

Governing calls for compromise, for respect for the other branches of government. It calls for thoughtful discussion. This is not a monarchy where the richest get to tell everyone else what to do-and how to think. No sound-bite in the world is going to suddenly move everything in your direction in a democracy. Willing it to be doesn’t make it happen. Governing is an intricate, subtle, and wisdom driven calling. If you don’t have the skills and experience, you’re going to flop. And the last thing this state needs at this point is another inexperienced, arrogant, unprepared rich person who has no idea what they’re doing. Just look at the present governor if you have any doubts.

Throwing Women Under the Bus: Healthcare Reform? -NOT!

Hannah-Beth Jackson, Speak Out California

This past week, America’s women were, yet again, thrown under the bus. Make no mistake about it; this healthcare bill eradicates years of effort, blood and lives lost by brave physicians and healthcare 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 Healthcare 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.

While the spin machines are hailing this as a great victory for Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats, 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 that 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 long and 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 it?

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’t, 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 women’s fundamental rights from the final bill that he plans to sign. It is incumbent upon every person who believes in freedom of choice, women’s 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.

Visit us at Speak Out California!

COTCE Parsky Commission: Even More Tax Breaks for the Wealthy

Hannah-Beth Jackson, Speak Out California

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, the Governor and his cronies pull another one on the people of California. While the economy created by the Bush “free-marketeers” has sent the country on an economic free-fall; while California sees its unemployment rate hit over 11% and while the number of Californians that have seen their incomes fall below the federal poverty level has increased to over 20% of the population, a report approved by a Governor’s commission is recommending that we give a $14 Billion tax break to the wealthiest Californians.

The COTCE Commission (about which we’ve been blogging for the past few weeks) came up with its report Monday, September 14th. With unmitigated gall and indifference to the plight of California’s hard working yet struggling middle-class and minimum-wage earners, multi-millionaire and Chair, Gerald Parsky has pushed through a set of proposals that will result in a boondoggle for the rich and an increase in burden to the rest of us. Added to this insulting charade, Parsky has snuck into the series of recommendations, a last minute play by Commissioner and right-wing think tanker, Michael Boskin, a proposal that calls for opening up the coast for new oil leases. And by the way, Mr. Boskin serves on the Board of Exxon/Mobil, something he has failed to disclose while making this last-minute end-run around the Commissions own rules. (Of course, with Parsky in cahoots, the rules have only applied to the progressive proposals which Parsky and buddies have buried).

For more on this disgraceful waste of taxpayer money, see CalBuzz series on this Commission including the article by Jean Ross’ in Monday’s Cal Buzz.

It’s time to fight back. These “recommendations”  were supposed to be in the form of a consensus report. However, Parsky and company dropped that idea like a lead balloon when they realized that the progressives weren’t about to agree to yet another giveaway to the rich while California’s education, infra-structure, health care, public safety and human safety-nets have been torn to shreds by more and more tax breaks to the rich and loopholes to multi-national corporations. So when all bets were off, Parsky decided to go for the gold (although he himself is reputed to be worth hundreds of millions himself) and produce a lop-sided set of proposals that would only keep a corpse from laughing at their outlandishness.

This report shouldn’t see the light-of-day and should be relegated to the trash heap where it belongs. But the Governor is going to try to may hay with it so it’s up to us, the people of California, upon whom the burden of giving away yet more to those who have the most already, must rise up. Taxes are supposed to be about fairness and investment in the programs and services that benefit the community.

Contact the Governor, Senate President Pro tem Darrell Steinberg and Speaker Karen Bass and tell them:


What we need is a tax system that is fair, places the most responsibility on those who have the most so that all Californians have the opportunity to get the best education possible; be safe in their homes, schools and on the streets; are able to access quality, affordable healthcare and live a life of dignity and respect, regardless of their financial circumstances.

Urge the Legislature to take up a tax reform package that incorporates the ideas and principles recommended to the COTCE Commission (which were thrown aside by Parsky and his wealthy cronies) but which would make the system fairer, promote jobs, protect the environment and reflect a  21st Century economy.

For information on contacting state elected officials click here.

Let’s take back our state and create a future that is fair to ALL Californians, not just the wealthy.

Click through to Speak Out California

The end of an era

Hannah-Beth Jackson, Speak Out California

With the passing of Senator Edward M. Kennedy early Wednesday morning, we have come to the official end of an extraordinary era and family legacy. There are still many of us left who cut our political teeth on the Kennedy’s– listening to the newly elected, handsome young man with the appalling Boston accent (this is not intended as an insult, I’m from Boston myself) call us to service to our country. We also remember his younger brother, Bobby trying to pick up the mantle during the turbulent days of the Viet Nam War and asking why we can’t live our dreams We had remaining within our midst for many decades the youngest of 11 children “Teddy” who ended up carrying the torch of an ill-fated family Now even he is gone and we are left to mourn the passing of one family’s response to the call to public service.

One cannot ignore in the mix, the less visible but equally committed Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who passed away only a few short weeks ago. Her work in establishing the Special Olympics was no less notable in its impact on the lives of thousands of families around the world.

Teddy Kennedy was a large and boisterous man. He was passionate, he was eccentric and he was imperfect. A scar on his legacy will be that horrible summer’s night in his beloved Hyannis when he drove off a bridge that took the life of a young woman and left him forever with a blot on his work. Nonetheless, and with that being said, it is his powerful and positive legacy that we should and must remember of him and his life’s work championing the cause of the needy and the poor among us.

A wonderful vignette is circulating on you-tube that captures his passion in a speech to a group about the importance of universal healthcare. Classic Teddy. Passionate. Personal. Genuinely heartfelt. No observor can hear or see him without agreeing that he truly cared, understood the need for better healthcare and felt the pain he had endured himself, having survived a terrible plane crash that killed two others and with family medical crises that stalked his children for years.



Growing up in Boston in the 60’s, I remember watching his debate against another great political Boston family, the McCormicks. I remember so vividly watching our black and white T.V. when his adversary, Edward McCormick taunted the 30 year old youngest of 11 Kennedy kids by saying, ” I’ll bet if your name were Edward Moore, and not Edward Moore Kennedy, you wouldn’t even be here tonight”. Teddy was clearly annoyed, but kept his cool and responded, again with that heavy Boston accent, about the purpose and value of public service.

While the Kennedy’s out-dueled the McCormicks on this one, and Teddy entered the U.S. Senate, that bitterness never hampered Teddy in his effort to be a great Senator. He had an Irishman’s love of the bitters and a good story. He had an enormous love of his children and a hearty meal.

I had the good fortune of serving as an intern in his office when he was the Majority Whip. At the same time, he was dealing with the cancer of his eldest son and the terrible asthma problems of his youngest, Patrick. He had lost his remaining two older brothers in the intervening years and  had become the father figure to their families and their broods.

Ted Kennedy was clearly a child of privilege and wealth. He is reputed to never have carried any money with him so that his staff would always make sure they had real currency with them when staffing him. He was approachable and funny, with a quick wit and humorous tale to tell at the drop of a hat. 

His office was a gallery of family pictures of sparklingly handsome, toothy people almost always photographed in the out-of-doors, playing football, sailing and skiing and smiling. It was almost hard to believe that this very same family had suffered so much at the hands of assassins and war. (Eldest of the clan was Joe Kennedy Jr. who died as a fighter pilot in World War Two and Joe Srs. first hope for a Catholic President).

I heard Senator Kennedy give many speeches over the course of his career. He had that incredible Kennedy charisma, with those sparkling blue eyes and as he got older, that mane of stunning white hair. He mellowed, especially after marrying his wife and now widow, Vicki in 1992 and seemed to settle into his role as America’s elder statesman. He had found his niche, was comfortable with it and his life and with the opportunity to lead the Senate’s liberals as its spokesman and champion.

In spite of all the tragedy in his life, Edward Moore Kennedy never abandoned the little guy, never gave up the fight for equal dignity for all people and never forgot how his life of privilege compelled him and his family, to seek to make life a little better for everyone else.  It is a legacy we will do well to remember and keep the hope alive.

Click through to Speak Out California

Tax Reform Needs Sunshine

Hannah-Beth Jackson, Speak Out California

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 seriously.

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.    

Lost: One Moral Compass

Hannah-Beth Jackson, Speak Out California

During my first term in the California Legislature back in 1998, I was reminded regularly that the state budget is a moral document, setting forth the priorities and values of its people. If what we are seeing today is such a set of priorities, we have clearly lost our moral compass.

Passing out pink slips to our teachers while giving tax-breaks to multi-national corporations sets a sad standard in the annals of decency and short-sightedness. What is more important than our children and their future? Apparently to the right-wing Republicans who have taken a pledge against balancing the budget thoughtfully and fairly and who forced yet another such  boondoggle before agreeing to the February, 2009 budget,it is seeing to it that their big corporate donors (the real special interests in our state) get even more from California while giving nothing in return.

At the same time our governor boasts that he’s so cool with what’s happening that he is spending his evenings in his jacuzzi with his 8 inch stogie while people in wheel chairs are being arrested outside his office because they’re asking  for simply enough to maintain a level of human dignity while they fight to survive each day.  Yet, this apparently doesn’t offend enough that the media has barely mentioned the Governor’s directive to arrest these folks while he embarasses us all with his cigars and indulgences. It is shameful. Our lack of indignation is shameful, too. Where is our moral compass?

While in Washington D.C. recently, I went to the wonderful FDR Memorial, located within a stone’s throw of the Jefferson Memorial. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a man who set this country on a path of compassion and greatness with his effort to give every American the opportunity to live with dignity. One is reminded of this throughout his Memorial.

During a time not too different from today, he gave us hope and challenged us not to succumb to fear.His was a vision of possibility, dignity and kindness combined with the greatness to see that vision become a reality. His moral compass should have set the tone not just for several generations of Americans,  but for all generations when he said,

The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little

Today, all we hear about is how we are taxed too much; that we have to do without; that we have to give big corporations more so they create jobs (a totally false premise since so much of their profit goes to greedy executives or to create jobs in other countries); that we should cut education, healthcare, close our parks, reduce services that protect our natural resources and protect our environment and public health, etc. The list goes on and on, but for those who have either forgotten the admonition of Franklin Roosevelt or the role of government to provide for the common good, it’s simply and ONLY about the money and shrinking government so it can no longer function.

While there is certainly a good argument that government cannot be all things to all people and that it must respond to the economic circumstances of the times, the Governor and the anti-government right-wing that has far too much influence in California (because of the 2/3 vote requirement for a budget) have taken this too far. To be OK with giving to those who have the most at the expense of those who have the least and even to the middle-class struggling to stay afloat means we have forgotten who we are as a people.

It is time to start talking about investing in our people and our future and regain our moral compass. And it should start with the Governor getting out of his jacuzzi and listening to those in steel chairs who are asking for simple dignity. Or better yet, he should remember the words of the man who governed from a steel-chair and did so with great compassion and success. That’s real leadership.

Click through to Speak Out California