Not My Priorities

Please take a look at Not My Priorities. This is a great idea, clear, simple, understandable.
From the site,

NotMyPriorities.org is an effort to enable every person in America to see a pie chart that our representatives in congress approved. I have shown the Not My Priorities pie chart to thousands of people and can count on one hand how many have disagreed. Even Republicans say that the pie chart does not represent their priorities!

A Dialog On California State Spending

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.
Over at Calitics there is an interesting diary from ‘zeroh8′ asking “Why Are We Spending So Much More?”  zeroh8 looked at the changes over the last ten years in how the state spends money.  The result, according to the diary, is a per-capita increase of $1088 as follows:

California Government Department
2007-08 less 1997-98 Per Capita Spending

Criminal Justice $185
General Government $14
Health $265
Higher
Education $109
K-12 Education $399
Resources & Environmental
Protection $27
Social Services $59
Transportation $30
Total $1,088 

Robert Cruikshank commented that the appearance of an education spending increase is an illusion, (sadly California still ranks 47th in education spending-per-pupil)

Much of the “increase” in K-12 funds is illusory. When Arnold cut the VLF in
2003 that money had to be backfilled by the state. That backfilling is listed on
the books as “spending” and so it appears as a huge “spending increase” when in
fact it is no such thing. Schools didn’t actually get more money. It’s an
accounting trick.

Robert is pointing out that this appearance of a large increase in education spending is actually just replacing spending that was already there, but that was cut from local budgets when Governor Schwarzenegger cut the Vehicle License Fee, so the state had to make up (backfill) the loss.  The state is spending more because local governments are spending less, but the total hasn’t increased.  Lesson: you have to look at the whole picture including local budgets to see the whole story because the state has to step in when local governments lose their funding sources.

Health care spending increases are certainly not isolated to California state government.  This is the health care crisis that is eating up government, business and family budgets around the country.  So far We, the People, in our wisdom, had avoided the kind of “socialized medicine” that the rest of the world has, which means we spend vastly more for health care with vastly worse results.  There is little California can do about it, except to further deny health care to people.  Is that the kind of people we will decide to be? 

Then there is that huge increase in criminal justice (prison) spending.  Was that necessary?  Well, we decided to pass laws that put people in prison for life for stealing a pizza or for years for smoking a joint.  And in the last few decades we have cut education spending, which to some extent has necessitated the increases in prison spending, because we know where that inevitably leads,

“18-to-24-year-old male high school dropouts have an incarceration rate 31 times
that of males who graduated from a four-year college”      

We’re seeing the health care crisis eating the state budget, and the problem of the prison costs.  Part of our problems today are because yesterday we were “penny wise
and pound foolish,” saving some money by cutting education only to
spend it on prisons (and who knows how many other ways) later.  Along with foolish tax cuts like cutting the VLF, and cutting property taxes for big corporations, and instead borrowing which has led to huge interest payments, those are the spending problems that brought about the budget crisis and that keep our government from being able to spend more on things We, the People need.

About those choices:  zeroh8 did a ton of research because no California citizen would know any of this from sources available to most of us.  The corporate media is not explaining the state budget and the functions of government to the public.  The example of the state making up local revenue losses in order to save our schools is a great example — instead it is just presented to people that the state is “spending even more”.

So what is the point of this exercise? To give the people the facts, not the phony sound-bites designed to further anger people against government and rail even further about having to pay taxes to fund the programs and services. The goal of the conservatives is to simply unfund government, thus making “We the People” powerless against the big moneyed interests — the people who brought you the sub-prime fiasco, the Wall Street boondogles, the Haliburton no-bid contracts and the Blackwater mercenaries.  As long as the bucks are flowing, what do they care if government can’t do its job…. what do they care about long lines at the DMV, wildfires that burn down communities, gangs that take over our streets and oh, yes……swine flu epidemics that kill millions?  They can just fly away in their private jets or sail away on their yachts — that California won’t tax.
Click through to Speak Out California and leave a comment.

Do We Still Have A Two-Tiered Justice System?

m4s0n501

Earlier I commented on the case of Rep. Harman. Anyone else caught with this appearance of a crime would be investigated by the Justice Department, and maybe prosecuted if the investigation showed reason to do so. I can understand that the Bush admin, the way they operated, may have discovered an opportunity to exchange letting her off the hook for getting her help (also known as blackmail) but is the Obama Justice Dept. investigating these allegations against Harman? (As well as the allegation that the Bush Justice Dept didn’t?) If not, why not?
The other day the story in the press was that President decided not to let the Justice Dept. investigate and maybe prosecute people in the CIA. I hope this is not the case, because this would be inappropriate political interference with the Justice Dept. If a crime is committed it must be investigated and, if warranted, prosecuted – no matter who is involved and no matter whether the President likes it or not. That is how rule of law works.
It is my hope that we are returning to rule of law, and the Justice Dept is back to properly doing its job without political interference, and is investigating the allegations that the Bush admin tortured people, and is investigating whether to prosecute Rep. Harman.
If not, we have just swapped one politicized Justice Dept. for another. And we continue to have a country where some people are above the law and the rest of us are beneath it.

On The Swine Flu

The “swine flu” H1N1 virus is a potential pandemic flu that started in Mexico and is spreading. Pandemics, meaning influenza epidemics in multiple countries, happen every 20 years or so, and we are overdue. Flu pandemics are very serious. The Spanish Flu of 1918-19 had an estimated mortality rate of 2.5% and killed between 20 and 40 million people. The Hong Kong flu of 1968 had a lower death rate, killing 33,800 in the United States and 1 million worldwide.
The reason flu pandemics happen is that the influenza virus constantly mutates. Every year the new flu viruses are usually only a little bit different from the prior year, so even though we may get sick, some of us have some immunity and the existing antibodies (from earlier times we had flu or a flu vaccine) provide some protection. Public health organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) track the emergence of new viruses and usually have time to prepare the yearly vaccines. So usually the new flu strains don’t hit as many people, and therefore fewer sick people are spreading it, and most people aren’t getting sick to the point where death is a possibility.
But sometimes there is a major genetic shift, in which a flu virus appears that contains pieces from bird and/or swine influenza viruses as well a human virus. Humans have no immunity to this new virus. So the flu sweeps through the population, and those who get it get much sicker. The new Mexican swine flu virus contains a mixture of genetic material from swine, bird, and human influenza viruses.
These influenza epidemics can sometimes be very, very serious, like that 1918 Spanish flu. The recent “Bird Flu” human fatalities appeared to be over 60% , but it appears that the “bird flu” (avian influenza) was not easily transmitted from one human to another. However, if there is another small modification in the bird flu virus such that it acquired the ability to be easily spread between people, the result could be beyond catostrophic — like the plague years. That is why bird flu was so much in the news. SARS (the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which was caused by a non-influenza type virus, killed 17% of humans it infected, but the epidemic was stopped before it spread widely. This new Mexican swine flu seems to be killing about 10% of the people it has sickened in Mexico, if the numbers are correct, but there is no way to know accurately yet.
Usually, influenza is more serious in the elderly and the very young, whose immune systems are weakers. However, pandemic flus, which are caused by novel new flu virus strains, are more deadly in stronger people (like young adults) than in the very old or very young, because it causes their stronger immune systems to overreact, called a “cytokine storm” — a major release of infection-fighting substances in the body that can, in large quantities, cause serious damage. This extreme immune reaction is what makes pandemic flu so serious, and is the reason it strikes so much harder in healthy young people. It appears that this new Mexican flu is killing young adults–people of the right age–which is another sign it could be dangerous. On the other hand, there have been no fatalities yet in the United States, which is a promising sign. It may mean there is some factor involved in the cases in Mexico that aggravated the disease, that wasn’t present in the US cases. Or it may mean that the flu spreading in the US is somehow different.
Note, when I search for “swine flu” on Google News I get lots of stories about how “the scare” is “affecting the markets.” It’s like how they cover movies, not according to whether they are any good, but how much money they make each weekend. So the major media mindset is still more concerned with money than people.

In Congress Instead Of In Jail?

A member of Congress was caught working with (suspected) foreign espionage agents,

According to three former national security officials, Harman was heard promising the suspected Israeli agent that she would intervene with the Bush administration to try to get the espionage charges against the AIPAC officials reduced to lesser felonies.
The suspected Israeli agent in exchange promised to lobby Pelosi to give Harman the chairmanship of the Intelligence committee if the Democrats took control of Congress after the 2006 elections.

Why hasn’t this member of Congress been prosecuted? She was caught in a quid-pro-quo with foreign agents, who were attempting to plant a compromised person into a high position where she could pass intelligence to them.
Yes, I know. The story came out that the Bush administration blackmailed her into supporting their policies or they would reveal what she was caught doing. Fine, but that was then.
Now that we know the story, should she be prosecuted? Obviously she needs to resign her seat, but my question is why isn’t she being prosecuted?
We seem to have a two-tiered system of laws now, where some crimes are prosecuted, some are not, some countries are allowed to spy on us and get away with it when caught and others are not, and the President gets to decide which laws will be enforced and which will not.

A Market For Selling Organs

I’ve been noticing that the usual suspects on the right have been pushing to remove regulations on organ donations, and allow “the market” to rule. So we can be more like the slums of India, I guess.
Here is an example of this,

The establishment of a transparent, public market to permit the sale of organs from live donors will transform organ procurement from a lengthy, stressful, medically damaging waiting game into a safer, more efficient, routine, life-saving process. Such a market would have both economic and moral merit; it would deliver more and better organs at less cost than alternative options, and will result in more lives saved.

The right has largely become a pay-to-play operation, so this might mean that some really, really rich person somewhere is on a waiting list for a kidney…
Expect to see more of this.

Your Tax Dollars At Work

Banks of America is using bailout money — your money — to fire US workers and hire workers in India.
They’re also using your bailout money to “lobby” (pay people in) the government to let them continue to do anything they want with … your money.
Why do we let corporations use money to influence government policies and public opinion? Does that really make any sense? OF COURSE they will use that ability to change policies and opinion to benefit a wealthy few at the expense of the rest of us. What else would a corporation do? A democracy should never allow this camel’s nose into the tent. It inevitably leads to the camel sleeping in the tent with the rest of us outside.

Swine Flu – Republicans STILL Creating Catastrophe

We face a potential swine flu pandemic, and we do not have the people in place in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that we need. Why not? The Republicans are blocking confirmation of Obama’s nominee, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.
Why are they blocking this nomination? Because Gov. Sebelius won’t approve Kansas Republican bills to block abortion even if the abortion will save the mother’s life. They say she is “an enemy of the unborn,” because she thinks doctors should be able to save the mother’s life.
So as you worry about this possible flu pandemic, think about why your governement is not yet fully up and running to do its part and protect us. As we saw when hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, government-hating Republicans destroyed our ability to respond to emergencies, and instead set up a system where contracts were awarded to cronies who collected the cash but never delivered the services. And now they continue to block our government’s ability to protect us, because they think that a mother’s life is not as important as a fetus.
The Senate should vote to confirm Sebelius tomorrow, no excuses.
UpdateThe Republicans fought hard and got all of the money for pandemic flu preparedness taken out of the stimulus package. Quick, before it is taken down, here is Republican Senator Collins’ website bragging that she led the fight to remove “$780 million for pandemic-flu preparedness” from the stimulus package! And here is Karl Rove, with talking points attacking the stimulus package spending on “$462 million for the Centers for Disease Control, and $900 million for pandemic flu preparations.”
More here.

On Jerry Brown’s Campaign For California Governor

He was called “Moonbeam” and mocked, but he was right, and we were right, and the country needs to come to terms with this this so we can move on and finally DO right.
Jerry Brown was Governor of California from 1975 to 1983. He was a symbol of “the 60’s” even though it was the 70’s, because he came from the times, cared about the issues of the times, spoke the language of the times and governed for the people, from the times. He opposed the Vietnam war. He talked about protecting the environment and conserving energy and providing education and “Buddhist economics.” He fought corporate power and sued large corporations, particularly in the area of campaign finance. He was right.
For taking these positions Jerry was called “Moonbeam” and mocked for advocating things that we now all understand were correct and necessary. It is 30 years later and the country needs to get past that mocking of the people who were right. But the mocking and obstruction by entrenched interests are still in the way of letting us move on and do the things we need to do for the economy, the country, and the planet.
Now Jerry is again running for Governor of California and I think this is important to our current national conversation at a time when we must come to terms with the reasons that we have waited 30 years to start doing something about major problems. Jerry’s campaign will force a conversation that will clarify for the country that the “dirty hippies” were right, that we need to learn to ignore the mocking that is a primary weapon of the corporate right, that we need to take care of the planet, that we need to take care of each other, that we need to be in charge of the corporations, not the other way around.
In his speech to the California Democratic Convention he talked about how 30 years ago he changed California’s energy policies, and how the result has been that California has barely increased its energy use since while the rest of the country has. He talk about a number of things like this, but what most resonated with me was when he talked about how we educate kids. The current emphasis on testing is stifling the creativity of kids. He says we need to bring back education that stimulates creativity. Wow — how long since I have heard “60’s” talk that’s so right?! Talk that recognizes our humanity and says that we are not just cogs in a corporate machine. Who talks about these things today?
A few years ago, when Jerry was running for Attorney General, I wrote,

I’ve loved Jerry Brown since his 1992 campaign for President. During that campaign he proposed boosting the economy and helping the energy/pollution/Middle East problem with a national program to hire unemployed people to retrofit buildings to be energy efficient. Imagine if we had done that! So now 13 years later we have the Apollo Alliance but Jerry doesn’t seem to get much credit for being so far ahead on this.

A few years before that I wrote,

In the 1992 campaign Jerry Brown made a suggestion that I haven’t forgotten. He suggested putting the unemployed to work retrofitting buildings and homes to be energy efficient. It requires an up-front investment but it returns a more efficient economy (everyone paying less for energy) and national energy independence as a foreign policy bonus. Meanwhile all those unemployed people are getting and spending paychecks, boosting the economy. It helps everyone but the oil companies. Oh. I guess not, then.

I don’t know right now if Brown can or should win and this is not an endorsement. But I think this is a conversation that we all need to have and learn from.