What is the Puzzle with Jerry Brown?

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
Why won’t Jerry Brown just announce that he is running for Governor?  Why won’t he campaign?  Why is he letting Meg Whitman get so far ahead of things in this campaign?  Does he just assume he has it “in the bag?”
I suspect that is exactly what he assumes.  My take on Brown is that Democrats who were around when he was Governor and later when he ran for President in 1992 are going to support him, many quite strongly, and they regularly let him know this.  I suspect it is hard for him to go anywhere without stopping to shake a hand and hear from someone who tells him what a great Governor he was, that his ideas on energy and the environment were so far ahead of their time, that he should have been elected President, etc.
So he probably feels a wind at his back wherever he goes.  This is for sure: the “moonbeam” things Brown was about like energy and the environment and unions have proven to be the right things.  I wrote about this almost a year ago,

He was called “Moonbeam” and mocked, but he was right, and we were right, and the country needs to come to terms with this so we can move on and finally DO right.
. . . 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.

The problem with this is that it really is 30 years later now.  This is 2010, and that pool of people just isn’t big enough by any means.  You have to be “a certain age” to even care.  He needs to find a way to reach out and be relevant to people who were not around when he was Governor or when he ran for President.
Does he realize this?  If he is not meeting a lot of the people to whom he just isn’t and who just don’t care, he might not be picking this up at all.  But it just is the case. He needs to start campaigning and saying things that are relevant to the 21st century of he is going to win this election.
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“But” Watch

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This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

“But” Watch is when you see Republican junior propagandists write letters to the editor, call radio stations, etc. and begin them with, “I’m a Democrat, but…”

Today we have this comment to the post: Senator Reid: Why Should We Help You Win Re-election? | California Progress Report,

I’m a Democrat, but I appreciate that we have an opponent party. It’s too bad that both parties cannot work more harmoniously together. Bi-partisan is a funny word the way it’s usually interpreted…when one party is in the majority, it says that bi-partisanship is for the other to roll over dead.   

If it were not for the Republicans, we would be in a worse financial mess than we are with “pork” gong hog wild.Of course, they did not to a very good job of balancing the budget when they were in power under Bush.

More and more “pork” comes to the surface everyday. E.g., BART wants billions to build a not-needed train to the Oakland airport. Or, Fremont wants $385,000 federal dollars to study how to use the about-to-be empty NUMMI plant. If the city fathers and city staff are not capable of doing that, then they should be voted out of office or fired.

It’s interesting the liberal media don’t use the word “pork” anymore; they use the cleaner word: “earmarks;” or , more recently “stimulus.” In any case, it’s all “pork.”

This is from a “Democrat”? Seriously, how many Democrats talk about “the liberal media?”  

And considering that Republican deregulation caused the financial crisis this line is astonishing: “If it were not for the Republicans, we would be in a worse financial mess than we are.”

Nice try.  Didn’t work.

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Low Taxes Destroy Our Small Businesses

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.
Remember last year when the Republicans laid out the price of a budget deal and it was a giant tax cut for the biggest corporations? So in the middle of a revenue crisis they forced … less revenue. Well, imagine that you are a struggling small or medium business in California, and the Republicans gave your nemesis even more power to crush you.

Corporate taxes are on profits. So a tax cut means that the more profitable companies pay back less to the government for their use of the roads, schools, police and fire protection.  The very infrastructure that supports new businesses is weakened.

Meanwhile, smaller businesses that are struggling don’t pay corporate taxes, so tax cuts do nothing for them. And small businesses that make modest profits only pay modest taxes, and don’t care.

On the other hand, the giant monopolistic corporations that are chewing up small businesses, destroying local and regional retailers, take those tax cuts and use them to turn themselves into even better small-business-destroying machines.

For example, the giant Wal-Marts are destroying local and regional retailers.  But it is the Wal-Marts, not the local and regional retailers that are the beneficiaries of tax cuts.  This is why the “usual suspects” who get their campaign funds from the giant companies, and work with lobbyists for the largest corporations are the same ones who always advocate corporate tax cuts.

Businesses Need Customers Not Tax Cuts.

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Lessons for CA From Massachusetts

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
The Republican candidate won the special election in Massachusetts to replace Senator Kennedy, giving them 41 Senate votes. Senate Republicans have filibustered every single bill this year, and this clinches their ability to block the President’s agenda. If this sounds familiar to Californians, it’s because in California the Republican minority is able to block budgets, and we have seen the results.
There are lots of sophisticated explanations for the election’s outcome, mostly involving people being upset at particulars of the health care bill. But I don’t really think that the people who voted for the Republican candidate were all that well informed about differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill, the “public option,” or other intricacies of in-progress legislation.
Instead, when looking for the reasons people voted this way, I think we should take the Republican candidate’s word for it. On his website he says it is for the following reasons:

At his September 12 announcement of candidacy for the U.S. Senate, Senator Brown articulated a core set of beliefs that guide his thinking

  • Government is too big and that the federal stimulus bill made government bigger instead of creating jobs
  • Taxes are too high and are going higher if Congress continues with its out-of-control spending
  • The historic amount of debt we are passing on to our children and grandchildren is immoral
  • Power concentrated in the hands of one political party, as it is here in Massachusetts, leads to bad government and poor decisions
  • A strong military and vigorous homeland defense will protect our interests and security around the world and at home
  • All Americans deserve health care, but we shouldn’t have to create a new government insurance program to provide it

Here’s the thing. Most of the assumptions underlying these statements are simply wrong – factually incorrect. They have been pounded out by a corporate/conservative misinformation machine that just makes stuff out and puts it out there on TV, the radio, email forwarding and every other channel they can find.
But the facts are that the federal stimulus didn’t “make government bigger,” the “out-of-control spending” occurred under the previous Republican president, we spend more on military than every other country in the world combined – and it is the largest government spending program contributing to the debt, and the health care reform specifically doesn’t create a government insurance program (it should) and saves money rather than increase spending.
The Right has a message machine that has been repeating misinformation and getting away with it, because:
1) The leadership of the other party has let them get away with it.
2) There is no comparable megaphone with which to refute the misinformation.
The same is true here in California, and we may be heading for similar election turnovers. Republicans repeat things that simply are not true, but there is lack of leadership from elected democrats and almost no megaphone with which to counter the untruths. The example we regularly bring up here is the assertion, repeated over and over, that businesses and rich people leave California because of taxes and regulations.  Of courase this just isn’t true, but is formulated in a way that sounds like it could be true if you just don’t think about it, and leads to large corporations having even more power over our lives and the wealthy having an even greater share of all income and wealth.
Of course, people and businesses that do leave the state do so because of the high cost of living, which is the result of so many poeple wanting to live here. It just costs more to live in a nicer place.And as I wrote last week, it is a nicer place because of the government and the public structures that We, the People built. In other words, California is a nicer place because of those regulations and taxes!
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CA Cons Still Trying To Live Off What We Built In The 60s & 70s

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

Lots of people want to live in California.  This is a good thing.  Conservatives try to portray this as a bad thing.  Let me explain.
George Will repeats the conservative narrative that people and companies leave California because of taxes and regulations. He writes,
It took years for liberalism’s redistributive itch to create an income tax so steeply progressive that it prompts the flight from the state of wealth-creators: “Between 1990 and 2007,” Voegeli writes, “some 3.4 million more Americans moved from California to one of the other 49 states than moved to California from another state.”
Actually, any people and companies that move from California do it because the cost of living is so much higher and that is because it is a desirable place to live.  California was the envy of the rest of the country through most of the 20th century.  The best state government in the country used our taxes to build the best public structures — the schools, colleges, roads, courts, water systems, etc. that attracted the innovative industries and the economy prospered even more.
What conservative propagandists like Will leave out is that so many people want to live here because of what the taxes and regulations created.  These public structures are what attracted so many people and businesses that the cost of living here went up.  They are trying to make people think this is a bad thing, and are trying to make people think the government and the public structures it builds are the problem rather than the source of our prosperity.  In essence they want to sell off what We, the People built and keep the proceeds for themselves.
The social contract used to be that We, the People built up the infrastructure of “public structures” like the legal system, schools, roads, water system, etc.  And this is what enabled businesses to prosper.  Then the businesses and people who did well paid back by pitching in with the proceeds to keep that system of public structures up to date.
It worked.  California built up the best schools and colleges, etc. so places like Silicon Valley and biotech grew up and thrived, and the state became a great place to live, attracting so many people and industries.  But this infrastructure was taken for granted.  Because this system was so solid and well-maintained people were able to start deferring maintenance, cutting everything, etc so that the big corporations and wealthy could have their taxes cut.  (Yes, the middle class got a bit of that through Prop 13 but even that primarily benefited commercial property.)
In essence the state has been living off of the past savings account of infrastructure that was built up in the 60s and 70s.  But now we’re in 2010 with a 70′s system. The schools are near the bottom in the country and the college and university system has been gutted.
We’re STILL just getting by on living off of the last of what we built up in the 60s and 70s, but that is at an end now and the savings account is exhausted.  It is time to start to rebuild the infrastructure we used to be so proud of.  It is time to ask the wealthy and corporations that are here because of what the taxes and regulations built to pitch in again and start to rebuild that savings account of public structures and infrastructure.

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What “Cut Taxes And Cut Spending” Means For You

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
You hear it over and over again from California conservatives, “Cut taxes and cut spending,” and “government spending is too high.”
So what does this mean to YOU? How does this affect your life?
Simple answer, cutting spending means that your schools, roads, police and fire protection, lines at the DMV, parks, environment, food safety inspections, services to help small businesses and courts all deteriorate. It means that it costs more – much more – for you to send your kids to college. That is what “cut government spending” means.
And in spite of what you think, their promise of cutting taxes rarely means your taxes. There is a huge concentration of income and wealth at the very top, which means that tax cuts really mostly benefit the very, very wealthy. Even the well-known Prop 13, thought of as helping homeowners, shifted the tax burden from the corporate owners of commercial property to middle class citizens. From, Corporate loopholes make Prop. 13 crippling for state:

Thirty years ago, commercial property owners contributed 59 percent of property tax revenues and residential property owners contributed 41 percent. Today, we see a virtual flip: commercial property owners contributed just 43 percent of property taxes in 2008, while residential property owners contributed 57 percent.

Another thing you constantly hear are calls to cut the number of government employees and their benefits. If you think about it, layoffs and pay cuts for government workers (teachers, police, firefighters, road workers, etc.) translates into increasing pressure to cut your own wages as well, plus it means fewer customers for California’s small businesses, fewer teachers in our schools, increased crime rates, etc. Cutting their benefits means that your own benefits come under pressure as well.
Conservatives promising that cutting taxes and spending are good for you have held sway for the last few decades. They are always promising that tax cuts will make things better for regular people. But they haven’t gotten better. The real tax burden keeps shifting further and further away from the wealthy and powerful and onto the backs of the middle class. Meanwhile the things that our government does for us are reduced and reduced, so life gets harder.
The lesson to learn is: glowing promises of a free lunch usually mean that you are the lunch.

Businesses Need Customers Not Tax Cuts

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.
A letter in the San Jose Mercury News the other day expresses the misguided but oft-repeated Republican “spin” that tax cuts and deregulation “create jobs”.  As usual it bears little resemblance to the truth.

   
Create jobs by helping business
The two ways government can affect the job market are by spending on projects through borrowing or by reducing the tax burden on families and businesses. If it borrows, it causes another tax through inflation and interest expenses that will go on forever. If it reduces taxes and regulations, the loss in revenue will be far less than the amount the Democrats are planning to spend, and without any interest.
You create jobs by making it easier for businesses to hire people through reductions in taxes and regulations, such as a tax break for every person they hire and retain. You don’t make it harder for them by raising their expenses. Let’s do what worked in the past.

The writer is correct about the tax through interest expenses that is the result of borrowing, but incorrect about the effect of tax cuts.  In fact, it is tax cuts that have caused so much borrowing without helping the economy.  Here is what is wrong about the idea that tax cuts create jobs: 
  1. Businesses hire the employees they need to hire to meet demand. If demand is low no amount of tax cuts can induce a business to hire people. Why hire and pay people to have them just sit around?
  2. The way to get more customers into the businesses – i.e. to create demand – is to get more money circulating in the pockets of regular people. Cutting taxes for the already well-to-do doesn’t accomplish this.  The way to do this is with government policies that increase wages and reduce working hours, like how raising the minimum wage and mandating 40-hour weeks and weekends off helped create America’s middle class. Helping regular people is good for business. 
  3. The writer says we should do what has worked in the past. The fact is that the economy has always done better when the tax rates on the wealthy and corporations were highest. Just look it up. The reason for this is that our economic system when left to itself always becomes a low-age, everything-to-the-top system, because the wealthiest always game the system to get the most for themselves. The way to fix that is to apply regulations to prevent this, and high taxes at the top so the government can implement policies that raise the wages of the rest of the public. This is how we got out of the depression after the huge concentration of wealth that built up until 1929.
  4. Taxes are not an “expense.”  Businesses pay taxes on the profits (revenue minus expenses) — so the businesses that need help don’t need tax cuts, they need customers.  It doesn’t make sense to try to help businesses that are not doing well by giving even more money to their profitable competitors.  We should be using that money to instead help the businesses that need the help.  Helping the already well-to-do is bad for business.
There are no examples in history of deregulation and tax cuts creating a better economy, but plenty of these steps creating worse economies. And before you say it, Reagan’s tax cuts were followed immediately by huge tax increases, and still led to the tremendous borrowing and interest payments that the writer is worried about. And to make matters worse, Reagan’s deregulation almost led to economic collapse twice – first with the Savings and Loan crisis, and then with the recent financial crisis. 
To fix California’s economy we need to ask the wealthy and corporations to start contributing their share again, and use that money to educate our students, rebuild our infrastructure and bring back the kind of state that created and attracted the semiconductor and electronics and biochem and other industries. This all occurred when taxes were high, not low.
The only economy that is ever helped by tax cuts is the economy of the Cayman Islands, where many of the rich store their hoards of cash. 

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Will CA Dems Vote Next Year?

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.
In last week’s post progressive voters on strike? Santa Barbara blogger Retired UC Santa Barbara Professor of sociology and renowned social activist, Richard Flacks looks at recent polls showing Democratic voters to be unenthusiastic about voting while Republican voters are highly motivated. Professor Flacks writes,

These numbers tell us that the Democrats are going to lose the elections in 2010, but the underlying data are even more disturbing. They show that the heart of Obama;s support base is not planning to vote next year.
. . . The same sort of disillusionment pervades the ranks of liberal and progressive activists. Each week we can add new instances of administration betrayal of our hopes. The latest include the handling of the Honduras coup (defying near unanimity in the rest of the
hemisphere), and the continuation of Bush policies on the land mine treaty. The escalation of the war dwarfs all these other failures.

This is not President Obama’s fault, necessarily,

I’ve said in this space that it’s the structure of power in America rather than Obama’s weakness of will that accounts for the growing feeling that the chances for progressive reform are slipping away.

Professor Flacks’ post looks at a national poll, the “base” sense of betrayal is on national issues, and President Obama is not from California, but there is no reason to believe California Democrats are any more enthused More likely less so.  California Democrats who do pay attention see Democrats in Sacramento caving over and over again to the demands of an extremist Republican minority, while those not paying attention see generally that nothing good is happening and government is doing very little for them.
What might come along to raise democratic enthusiasm and encourage them to vote?  Jerry Brown running for Governor? With the statements he’s been making, don’t bet that Democrats are going to be enthusiastic about Jerry Brown as their standard-bearer either.
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Sen. Feinstein Demands Social Security Cuts

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.
California Senator Dianne Feinstein has joined a group of Senators threatening to allow the nation to default on its debt unless a commission to “fast track” cuts to Social Security is created. 

Talking Points Memo describes what is going on,

Moderate and conservative Democrats want to empower an outside entitlement commission to reshape major domestic spending programs like Medicare and Social Security, and they’re threatening a truly nuclear option to get their way. If Congress does not create this commission, they say, they will vote against must-pass legislation to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, which would trigger a default, and, perhaps, economic calamity.

“I will not vote for raising the debt limit without a vehicle to handle this,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) told McClatchy. “This is our moment.”

About this commission,

As proposed, it would hand a significant amount of Congressional authority over entitlement programs to an outside body. That body would make recommendations that Congress would have to vote on, up or down–no filibusters.
That’s a bridge way too far for liberals, who see the commission as a backdoor approach to gutting Social Security.

Here’s the problem.  Many people believe that there is a problem with Social Security – that it is “going broke.”  But the fact is that Social Security has a huge reserve in the bank.  Social Security runs a huge surplus, and that surplus has been added to this reserve every year for decades.  Social Security will continue running a surplus until at least 2017, and can then draw on that trust fund to make up any shortfalls for at least the next 30-40 years.

Ah, but where is that trust fund?  According to a recent Washington Post story, 

The Treasury Department has for decades borrowed money from the Social Security trust fund to finance government operations. If it is no longer able to do so, it could be forced to borrow an additional $700 billion over the next decade from China, Japan and other investors. And at some point, perhaps as early as 2017, according to the CBO, the Treasury would have to start repaying the billions it has borrowed from the trust fund over the past 25 years, driving the nation further into debt or forcing Congress to raise taxes.

So there is the problem in a nutshell. They spent it. They spent it on tax cuts for the rich, and now that people are retiring and want that money, Senator Feinstein and the others don’t want to raise taxes on the rich to pay back what was borrowed from the nation’s retirement account.

This is the same as the situation in California. They cut taxes and made up the shortfall with various gimmicks, until the gimmicks ran out.  So now that the bill is due the protectors of the wealthiest talk about “spending” – which is government coming through for the people – as the area to cut, instead of turning to the people who received all the benefits of the earlier actions.

Senator Feinstein, keep your hands off of my — and everyone else’s — retirement account.  You borrowed that money, now pay it back.  Don’t think you can solve this problem by asking me to accept less than what I was promised because you handed that money out to the wealthy.  The people who got it should be the ones paying it back, not the people it was taken from.  You already took money from the taxpayers to bail out the wealthiest, don’t do it again.

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Act Like Democrats

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.
There are a few lessons to take away from last night’s elections. The main one is that Democrats should act like Democrats if they want Democrats to show up and vote. Low-turnout elections are base elections: you have to turn out your base or you will lose.
Virginia: The Democrat didn’t act like a Democrat and Democrats didn’t show up and vote. Deeds told people he was against having a public option in the health care reform bill! He went so far as to say that he would take Virginia out of the public option! So why would any Democrats want to show up and vote for that? Meanwhile the Republican comes out of the Pat Robertson religious-right machine, and they did show up and vote.
New York: Democrats won a seat that has been Republican for over 100 years. The far-right takeover of the Republicans is an opportunity. Democrats should be working in every single district in the country because no “solid” Republican seat is safe anymore.
New Jersey: Independents voted Republican and Dems didn’t turn out. I have no idea yet why this happened and need to see the exit polling. The Democrat previously had been Chairman of Goldman Sachs, and that may well have been a significant factor.
Maine: This was a terrible disappointment. The national Democratic Party didn’t help. The OFA organization didn’t help and even asked their members in Maine to come to New Jersey. Democrats had best not expect any fundraising success from LGBT after this.
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TWO Great Progressive Blog Sites AND A Great CA Site

Take a look at the Campaign for America’s Future blog, Blog for Our Future. There is a LOT there. Bookmark it.
Also, there is great thought-provoking stuff at the Commonweal Institute blog, Uncommon Denominator. Bookmark that, too.
And take a look at the names of the poeople posting at both of these sites – you’ll be surprised.
Finally, if you are in California you will want to check out the Speak Out California site!

Modern Governoring

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.
What does it mean to be a “governor?” What does it mean to “govern?”
In the news, the Governor has threatened to veto 700 bills in an attempt to force the legislature to do his bidding on water policy.
700 important items all held hostage, trying to stampede and scare the legislature to do something in a hurry, while terrible scare stories circulate on talk radio and throughout corporate media. Does this sound like a familiar tactic?
Water policy is complicated because over many decades wealthy real estate developers bought permission to build huge swaths of housing in dry area, so water needed and needs to be piped in from  … somewhere else. And huge agricultural interests make a lot of money using water that used to be heavily subsidized, meaning the people paid for the water and a few wealthy corporate interests pocketed the profits.
At the same time there is less water to go around.  We have had three years of below-average rainfall, which is possibly a permanent condition because of climate change (which Republicans deny is happening). And the destruction of the environment and fisheries and groundwater caused by past bad practices is catching up, so hard choices must be made.  Does our government protect the people, the environment, corporate profits?
So on one side of this we have giant corporations and the short-term profits they suck out of our communities and state, and of people who are where they are after being lured there for the sake of those short-term profits, and who eat the way they do because government had been “persuaded” (paid) to subsidize the water for the sake of those short-term profits.  People need water to drink even if they do live in a desert and need to eat and have gotten used to food that costs less because the water has been subsidized. (But maybe they don’t need to water their driveways and nice lawns.)
On the other side we have the long-term interests of most of the people and of the environment.  See if you can guess which side the Republicans and the Governor are on?
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