Deficit Problem Solved – Why Are We STILL Talking Cuts Instead Of Jobs?

California’s deficits are gone, and Republicans are furious. The national deficit problem is largely solved, too, and Republicans just don’t know what to do! Of course what we need to do is invest in modernizing our infrastructure, which will put people back to work and we will end up with a … wait for it … modernized, energy-efficient, 21st century infrastructure that will boost our economy.

Learn From California

In California Republicans caused the deficit with tax cuts and restrictions on democracy that prevented citizens from fixing problems. They blocked every attempt to help the economy and the state budgets, demanding only cuts — and more tax cuts for billionaires and corporations. But California’s citizens finally got them out of the way, elected Jerry Brown (again), elected a supermajority of Democrats, passed tax increases, and the budget is balanced and will be in surplus soon. Republicans can’t stand it. They have no more excuse to scream “crisis!” and call for cuts in the things California’s citizens do for each other and the state’s economy. Now alifornia is moving forward, and even building a high-speed rail system.

If this sounds strangely familiar there’s a national lesson to learn here.

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Warning – Deceptive Anti-Labor Ballot Initiative In California (Prop 32)

In California there is a dangerous, deceptive proposition on the ballot that promises to get “special interest” money out of our elections, and is being sold as a way to stop the flood of corporate money. But actually this proposition doesn’t stop corporate money at all — it only stops political activity by unions. If it passes this means that from now on only corporate money will fund California’s elections.
Here is how Prop 32 is being sold to the public: “Politicians take millions in campaign contributions from corporations and government unions and then vote the way those special interests tell them.”
Here is the trick: it bans use of money collected from the paychecks of union members. This pretty much means all union money is banned. But corporations do not use paycheck deductions to get the money they use! Only unions do! Then Prop 32 specifies that corporations can’t put money into elections, so here are the types of businesses that are exempted:

  • Business Super PACs set up by corporations to put money into elections
  • Independent expenditure committees set up by corporations to put money into elections
  • Companies that are not “corporations” including Limited Liability companies
  • Partnerships
  • Real estate trusts
  • Other businesses not specifically designated as “corporations” under the law’s definition.

And, to make matters even worse, Prop 32 prohibits “government contractors” from political activity. But it is worded to prohibit any government employee unions from political activity, because these unions have employment contracts with state or local governments.
While it very loosely defines corporations in a way that keeps business interests open to funding campaigns, here is how it defines unions:

“Labor union”” means any organization of any kind, or any agency or employee representation committee or plan, in which employees participate and which exists for the purpose, in whole or in part, of dealing with employers concerning grievances, labor disputes, wages, rates of pay, hours of employment, or conditions of work.

ANY organization that represents the interests of working people is banned from politics if this law passes. Think about that.

Guess Who Is Funding Prop 32

Guess who is funding this proposition? (Hint, as if you needed one: it’s the Koch Brothers, Karl Rove’s corporate front group, big corporations, and others.)
AFL-CIO: Kochs Send Millions to Silence California Workers with Prop. 32

Resources

AFL-CIO: California’s Prop. 32: How Does It Affect Union Members?
California Labor Federation page with information about Prop 32.
Stop the Special Exemptions Act
Rick Jacobs: Mitt + Koch = Prop 32 Ways to Buy CA,

The Kochs and Rove understand that if they can keep union money out of politics, they win hands down. If Prop32 passes in California, one-third of SEIUs political budget is gone, with sizeable chunks taken from the AFL-CIO and just about any other big national union you can think of.

Full text of Prop 32 here. Also at Ballotpedia.
This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
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Social Justice: AT&T Plows Over Tenants’ Rights to save their iPhone Business in Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley’s crown jewel, Palo Alto just got mowed down last evening by AT&T. To be specific AT&T effectively tied the hands of many of the City policymakers, and then plowed through the City Council and over 35 residents leaving their bodies scattered on the sidewalks in their wake. Using the big stick approach, they bullied and threatened action in the Federal court system if their addendum to their existing site permit was not approved; and the Council caved to the mighty sword sacrificing many of their downtown rental residents. Most troubling is that with these actions of passing this addendum for the mounting of two AT&T antennas on this residential building, this City Council may have set a precedent to severely limit tenants’ rights going forward in this particular city and longer term in the state. Commercial building owners may now have enlarged rights that grant them the ability to railroad their tenants with whatever side businesses they choose. If this decision by Palo Alto holds, California may be able to rewrite the Civil Codes that govern the rights granted to landlords by allowiing them to enter the premises far beyond the scope of maintenance and/or emergency. You see the only way to get to this balcony is by gaining access through the bedrooms of the residents.
Effectively this City Council has opened a hornet’s nest that may continue to sting them as this decision raises questions of social justice for over 40% of the City’s residents, of which over 70% are management or other professionals in the tech industry. We all know that we live in a society that is fraught with corporate collusion, fraud and bad behavior. Yet it is troubling to see this kind of reprehensible behavior in our own backyard without tacit consideration for the privacy, health and/or safety of the rental residents. Palo Alto is a city that is full of bright entrepreneurs willing to risk it all to create technologies that can change the world. Sadly, none of them signed up to give away their rights. Who would have thought that liberal Palo Alto, the place of big dreams, would sink to this level! Most importantly, what is to prevent other such activities that suggest some degree of collusion between the private and public sectors? Not much with this precedent setting action, huh? Will Palo Alto become a city that only protects their landed gentry? With this decision, they are certainly well on their way to solely protecting property owners over the serfs that rent.
Taking this further, can building owners throughout the City now run either brothels or daycare centers while residents are working during the day or evening? After all given this recently enacted City precedent – building owners now have the right to discount the objections of their tenants to cut whatever side deal that want. This means that building owners can engage in mixed use and side deals regardless of the vocal protests of their tenants. As outrageous as this may seem, this is the box that has been pried open with last evening’s decision and it may prove to a gift that keeps on giving. The young, the bright and the able may now choose to take their start-ups elsewhere and be treated far better in the short and longer term. Maybe there were bigger reasons that Facebook, the symbol of all that is good in Palo Alto, has chosen to jump ship and move to a neighboring city.
Note: This post will appear in other blogs.

The Storm That Created The “Rust Belt” Is Heading For Silicon Valley

This fall I was invited to cover the the Keep It Made In America Tour put on by the Alliance for American Manufacturing. I spent a week driving around Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, ejoying the fall colors and visiting small towns all along the way.
I live in Silicon Valley where in spite of the high unemployment — still 10.6% — it’s still pretty nice here, so the extent and especially breadth of the decline of so many cities and towns was a shock. Everywhere you go you see America’s infrastructure crumbling! Of course I know this has been going on, but when you actually come from somewhere that is still pretty nice and see it firsthand – and everywhere – you really see it.
As I drove around these states I saw pretty much the same thing in town after town. As you approach the town on the highway the first thing you encounter is what I will call the vulture circle that surrounds it. This is the circle of Wall Street-owned chains emulating the Wal-Mart model of sucking cash out of the area and sending it away to the wealthy elites who own … almost everything now. These are the national chains that are all the same in every town, all selling the same stuff, all made in China, all putting the local small businesses out of business.
As you drive into town the next thing you encounter is the circle of home equity extraction, with newer houses that have taken on big first and second Wall Street mortgages. These houses mostly look OK — except the foreclosures with the brown lawns and grass growing in the cracks in the driveway. This area has car dealers and strip malls that used to sell expensive cars or nice goods. These dealers and stores feasted on those “take money out of your house” refinancings or second mortgages. Now they have nail and hair salons or are just “for lease.”
As you get closer to the center of town you come to the areas of older houses, more of them boarded up than you want to see, with old, boarded-up stores on a few of the corners of the larger streets. Where there are still-occupied houses they have bars on the windows.
Finally you come to the old, crumbling downtown where there are many empty storefronts, some boarded, the lost dreams of the local small business-owners. Here and there you see, between the vacant lots, a few government buildings.
And then somewhere is what they always call “the old plant.” This is one or more closed-up, fenced-off, rusting old factories or mills. They are fenced off, with lots of broken windows, and maybe part of a building is falling down. This is where the people used to work but the jobs moved to Mexico or China.
Much of the country is like this now. So many of the older small towns, crumbling, the money sucked out by the Wall Street elite. The factories sold off, closed. The people can’t make a living, the towns can’t make a living, the country can’t make a living, the Wall Street elite making a killing.
You can see the process starting here in Silicon Valley, too. As you drive around this area you see that one of every four or five office or light-industrial buildings has an “Available” sign. The region has the same number of manufacturing jobs as it had when the “tech revolution” began. The rest have moved to China. We don’t make cell phones here. We don’t make flat-screen TVs here. We don’t make computers here. We certainly don’t make iPads here — even though Jobs is his name!
Even exclusive Palo Alto has empty storefronts on the main drag. (You know the economy is bad when the rug stores on University Avenue are actually going out of business!) It is even happening here. It will get worse.
In July Intel’s retired CEO and Chairman Andy Grove wrote an important opinion piece,
How to Make an American Job Before It’s Too Late, in which he warned,

Clearly, the great Silicon Valley innovation machine hasn’t been creating many jobs of late — unless you are counting Asia, where American technology companies have been adding jobs like mad for years.
[. . .] As time passed, wages and health-care costs rose in the U.S., and China opened up. American companies discovered they could have their manufacturing and even their engineering done cheaper overseas. When they did so, margins improved. Management was happy, and so were stockholders. Growth continued, even more profitably. But the job machine began sputtering.

Please take the time to read Grove’s entire piece.
The storm that created the rust belt is heading our way, and we need to pay attention. What will it take for American companies to create American jobs rather than jobs outside America?
This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

The Blink in the California Governor’s Race

Meg blinked for the first time in an almost flawless campaign. Until this week, it appeared that the GOP had successfully rolled out their new product — a conservative, ambitious businesswoman with a big check book. Her branding was effective and her television advertising brilliant. Political consultant Mike Murphy earned his money. Team Meg was launched, and they were relentless. Nothing really hampered or stuck to them until “the blink” — involving her domestic help in her Atherton hacienda (no pun intended).
To be blunt, Jerry Brown sure caught a big break this week. The race was in a dead heat with Brown moving slightly ahead, and many independents still on the sidelines. To be frank, Brown had virtually run an invisible campaign until right after Labor Day. Many Democrats thought he could afford the luxury of sitting on his laurels (maybe) because of his legacy. But the reality was that Meg could not and she had to spend early and often to create her brand. Many of feared that she a runaway train in hand-to-hand combat with the invisible man. Talk about a scary election for Democrats. It is one that will become a case study in politics and branding for years to come.
Well the wheel spun and the dice were thrown. Lady luck came down on Jerry this week. It’s kind of like watching Apple’s latest iPhone launch and their goof. The question is will Team Meg will have the staying power to sustain a frontal attack. Their campaign is now playing defense, and under fire that the candidate never saw coming. The domestic help issue is a big no-no. It has taken down many political candidates and appointments over the years. She probably did not understand the severity because if she had it would have been cleaned up. Let’s face it, Meg is a political virgin but her advisors are not. It remains to be seen how this potentially fatal crisis is handled by Team Meg. How will this react, and how will the Brown campaign handle itself? Dancing a jig on an open casket won’t cut it for them. Will Team Brown leverage the avalanche of earned media? Will they play well with social media? Or will they sit on the sidelines? It remains to be seen as this California soap opera continues to unfold.
This article posted to the Huffington Post earlier today.

What Conservatives Mean By “Freedom” and “Big Government”

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.
Many of us have wondered what conservatives mean by terms like “big government” and “freedom.” Today the vice chairman of the California Republican Party gives us a hint. In Constitution guarantees freedom, not a cushy life, published in the Rev. Moon’s Washington Times (do Christians know he’s writing there?), Thomas G. Del Beccaro writes,

   
Today, politicians literally speak of the “rights” of people as they attempt to guarantee a certain standard of living for their constituent-subjects. Of course, most recently, the federal government took on the role of guaranteeing that Americans had a minimum standard of health care because, to the government, it was a right – however unenumerated. 

Now, it would be one thing if a government could actually guarantee such standards of living, but it cannot. After all, before the Great Society was enacted to take on the War on Poverty, the government-measured poverty rate was 14 percent.The pre-Great Society federal budget was less than $130 billion.Since then, we have spent tens of trillions of dollars in good intentions and have a nearly $4 trillion budget, yet the poverty rate remains virtually the same 14 percent. 

 In the process, of course, we have diminished freedoms immeasurably – whether by forcing people to pay for those trillions or by being forced to be subject to government rules….

So “big government” means more rights for Americans, like the right to health care. And by “freedom” he means not being “forced” to help out other Americans. (Of course, the poverty rate was much lower before conservatives took over the government a few years back…) 

Conservatives opposed civil rights for women, minorities, and now gay people. They opposed and fought to the last against Social Security, Medicare, unions, public schools, libraries, parks, worker safety rules, food safety riles, consumer safety rules, bank regulation, even public health programs. These are the “cushy life” big-government programs he complains about. And by “freedom” he means not pitching in to pay for things like roads, bridges, education. 
Government is We, the People watching out for, empowering and protecting each other. It means WE make the decisions and “big government” means WE make decisions that help US. Think of the alternative to We, the People making the decisions and you will realize what opponents of government are pushing for. 
 Apparently conservatives want us all to be disposable economic units with no value beyond what we are able to consume and how much money we make for the wealthy few.

Bailing Out The Banks Changed The Way People Think

Tax-free municipal bonds are selling like crazy because they pay a very high yield. The thing is, they have a high yield because so many states and municipalities are on the edge of going broke, like California. If they go broke the bond holders are supposed to lose their money. But California’s bonds are assumed by buyers to have no risk because everyone believes the government will step in and bail the state out, like they did with the big banks.
From Lockyer Sells 25% More California Bonds Than Forecast

The state, whose budget deficits have left it with the lowest credit rating among U.S. states, raised $2.5 billion, paying a top yield of 5.65 percent on 30-year bonds.

5.65 percent tax-free, when money in a bank might pay you half a percent, taxable.
meanwhile California’s Republicans are working to force the state to go bankrupt, thereby forcing the federal government to come in and bail out the mess they leave behind.

Cost Of Tax Cuts Catching Up To Us

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
The following letter appears in today’s San Jose Mercury News:

State not geared up for high-speed rail
Is high-speed rail really the answer in California? I think not. I originally thought, great, let’s match Europe’s and Japan’s advanced transportation with our own high-speed trains.
However, California is not Europe or Japan. We do not have convenient trains and buses running everywhere you could possibly want to go in every city.
Consider that if you traveled from San Francisco to Los Angeles by high-speed train in 2½ hours, what do you do when you arrive? Catch a bus or light rail to your destination? Sorry, too inconvenient and time-consuming. Rent a car? Sorry, now you have lost the economy of train travel as well as the time savings.
Either alternative adds at least two hours to your trip making the time equivalent to driving.
I say, “no on high-speed rail.” Let’s save the money and reduce our debt in California!

Let it sink in what the writer is saying here: We should not even try to catch up to the rest of the world, because we have already fallen so far behind that it will cost too much. Instead let’s just try to pay off some of the accumulated debt.
The writer is bearing witness to the results of many years of tax cutting and cutbacks in our government. After the tax cutting started in the 70s and 80s we stopped maintaining the infrastructure, so now we do not have convenient trains or buses or mass transit to use after the high-speed rail reaches your destination. We instead accumulated debt.
So here we are. The consequences of decades of cutbacks are arriving. The rest of the world leaps ahead of us. China has nearly completed a network of 42 high-speed rail lines connecting the major cities, and we can’t even get one project off the ground.
It’s certainly not going to get any better until we start asking corporations and the wealthy to pitch in and pay back some of what they gained from the infrastructure that we built in California, back in the decades before they got tax cuts.
Click through to Speak Out California

$108 Million Income = NO State Taxes

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
Michael Hiltzik in the LA Times today,

To everyone who claims that our wealthiest citizens pay more than their fair share of income taxes and we should cut them a break because they’re the ones who, you know, create jobs in our economy, I have four words for you:
Frank and Jamie McCourt.
The McCourts, who own the Los Angeles Dodgers (so she says; he says he’s the owner and she’s not), jointly pocketed income totaling $108 million from 2004 through 2009, according to documents Jamie McCourt recently filed in the couple’s divorce case in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
On that sum, they paid zero federal and state income tax. Jamie suggests that some tax breaks will apply this year too.

The McCourts have eight houses.  Eight.  Houses.
California is laying off teachers, closing parks, etc. — killing the state — just to protect the wealthiest and biggest corporations from paying their fair share of taxes.  Millions of dollars in corporate contributions pay for the nasty smear campaigns — and all the lies about how the wealthy are “hurt” by taxes and will “leave the state” — all to protect THIS!
California needs to take a cold, hard look at the game-playing and the holes in our tax system that allow the rich to get away with paying less taxes than “the help” while at the same time we’re telling teachers we can’t afford to keep them teaching our kids.
And please, let’s stop all this nonsense about “they’ll just leave the state” if we try to make the wealthy and big corporations pay their fair share.
Click through to Speak Out California