Thursday, June 30, 2011

CA Lawmakers: Kill the Poor, Disabled and Elderly So We Can Get Paid

California Gov. Jerry Brown has signed the state’s new budget, just in the nick of time so that lawmakers can finally get paid. Under the new budget, which cuts around $15 billion from social services, poor people will get less medical care and welfare, fewer services will be available for disabled people, state parks will close and students at the UC and CSU university systems will see their tuitions skyrocket.

The new budget passed because there were no new taxes, old taxes were allowed to wear out, Dems and Reps looked the other way as a bit of financial hocus pocus was scattered about, and the remaining deficit was pushed onto the backs of the state’s most vulnerable and politically marginalized residents. Specifically, the tax extensions that Gov. Brown so dearly wanted extended have been allowed to end, reducing sales tax from 8.25 to 7.25% and slashing the vehicle license fee (vlf) by 50%. The San Francisco Chronicle suggests that this will benefit the average Californian by $1,000 per year. However, for those with beaters or no cars at all, the slashing of the VLF will be negligible, whereas for those with Hummers, Caddies, Porsches and fancier vehicles, the decreased VLF will save them hundreds. Similarly, the savings from a declining sales tax will be much greater for big ticket items that the wealthy can afford, and meaningless for those who spend primarily on food and medicine. Thus, the middle class and wealthy will save some money, while the poor and working classes will save very little on the deal.

Meanwhile, the $83 per month average savings will result in havoc and death for poor people in the state. For example, under the new budget, people on Medi-Cal will be limited to only 7 doctor visits per year and, for the first time ever they will have co-pays for hospital and emergency room visits and medications, the Chronicle reports, thus dissuading them from seeking necessary or urgent care. The adult day health program, which serves 37,000 people, will be eliminated, forcing thousands into nursing homes. The In-Home Supportive Services program, which serves 436,000 seniors, disabled and blind residents, providing meals and hygiene, will also be slashed, reducing their home assistance by 16.5 hours per month, the Chronicle reports. Welfare recipients will be cut off after four years. The department that oversees services for people with developmental disabilities will lose $577 million this year, on top of $700 million two years ago. The CSU and UC systems will lose $650 million each, bringing tuition to over $12,000 per year at UC schools, and up to nearly $6,000 per year at CSUs.
Even for the cynical, selfish and greedy, these cuts are far worse than they would seem on paper. Many of the cuts to healthcare, for example, will result in the loss of federal matching funds, thus doubling their negative impact. Furthermore, billions of dollars of federal stimulus funds that boosted Medi-Cal are set to run out tomorrow. According to the Chronicle, the stimulus funds added an additional 12% to the matching funds, so that for every 50 cents California spent on Medi-Cal, the feds chipped in another 62 cents.  People without health services tend to ignore treatable and chronic conditions until they need emergency services, which results in thousands of preventable deaths and ends up costing tax payers far more in the long run.

Today In Labor History—June 30

June 30, 1839 – Cinque led a successful slave revolt on the ship Amistad.

June 30, 1885 – The Chicago Streetcar Strike began on this day and continued through July 7.

June 30, 1912 – A Modern School, modeled after the ones started by Francisco Ferer in Spain, was created by the Grupo Luz in Mexico City.

June 30 1918Eugene Debs was arrested in Cleveland for interfering with army and navy recruiting.

June 30, 1922 – One million railway shop men struck.
(All from the Daily Bleed)

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Reagan Blames Segregation For Failing Schools

On this day in 1983, President Reagan said that one cause of the decline in public education was the effort to comply with court-ordered desegregation.

Today In Labor History—June 29

Michael Schwab
June 29, 1898 – Michael Schwab, who was convicted for the Haymarket bombing, died from tuberculosis, having been pardoned and released from prison just a few months prior.

June 29, 1919 – Striking meat-workers in Townsville, Queensland, Australia clashed with police. Nine people were wounded in an exchange of gunshots.

June 29, 1936 – Jesus Pallares, founder of the 8,000-member coal miners union, Liga Obrera de Habla Esanola, was deported from the U.S. as an "undesirable alien." One hundred miners were arrested during the 1934 La Liga strike against the Gallup American Company in New Mexico.

June 29, 1941 – Stokely Carmichael (1941-1998), founder of the U.S. civil rights group the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Emigrated to the United States.

June 29, 1983 – President Reagan said that one cause of the decline in public education was the effort to comply with court-ordered desegregation.
(All from the Daily Bleed)

Perfect Storm: Climate Change Meets Nuclear Disaster

Image by fsgm
While public concern over the multiple nuclear meltdowns at Fukushima Daichi, in Japan, have all but disappeared, there have been several serious nuclear threats much closer to home. Wild fires in the Southwest have forced the shutdown of the Los Alamos Nuclear Weapons Lab in New Mexico for several days now. According to Democracy Now, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety reported that the fire has come within 3.5 miles of a dump site storing 30,000 55-gallon drums of plutonium-contaminated waste in fabric tents above ground, and within a mile of the lab itself. Los Alamos is the main nuclear weapons lab in the country, and produces nuclear warheads.

While it is difficult to prove that the current fires are a direct result of climate change, as the Southwest is prone to fires at this time of year, it is clear that increasing global temperatures and changing weather patterns, especially droughts and heat waves, will increase the quantity and severity of wildfire events in general, thus making events like this much more common and serious. Even normal, seasonal fires place a tremendous strain on resources and emergency services, which is only exacerbated by the cutbacks and downsizing that has accompanied state budget crises. Consider how incompetent the federal and local responses were to the hurricane Katrina disaster.

The fire approaching the Los Alamos nuclear facility is not the only possible climate change-induced near-nuclear disaster this season. In Fort Calhoun, Nebraska, a berm protecting a nuclear power plant collapsed due to flooding, allowing waters from the Missouri river to reach containment buildings and transformers, forcing a shutdown of the plant, ABC News reported this week. The plant has been down since April, due to heavy rains and flooding in the Midwest and is located only 20 miles from Omaha, the state’s largest city. The Cooper Nuclear Power Station 85 miles downriver may face a similar fate, according to Democracy Now.

The flooding has devastated huge swaths of the Midwest. In North Dakota, the situation has been described as “apocalyptic,” which should give pause to anyone living near a nuclear facility. If spring rain can cause “apocalyptic” flooding, then nuclear disasters are not only inevitable, but impending, and the only sane response is to shut down all nuclear power plants and seek much safer storage facilities for the remaining wastes. Shockingly, the opposite is occurring. President Obama is not only considering an expansion of nuclear energy in the U.S., he has been pushing for an expansion of the nuclear weapons program, with a new $6 billion plutonium manufacturing center being built at Los Alamos, according to Democracy Now. Another plant of similar size is being built at the Oakridge, Tennessee facility, and another is planned for Kansas City. These plants will produce nuclear warheads for submarines, missiles and bombers.
Image by quapon

Meanwhile, the Fukushima disaster is far from over. The company running the plants has finally admitted that three of its reactors are still in meltdown, Daily Censored reports, while Democracy Now says that the Japanese authorities are now revealing that 15 tons of radioactive water have leaked into the ground and that people living 25 miles away have been contaminated with radioactive cesium and iodine. Significantly elevated levels of radioactivity have been found in milk and produce in Japan. However, slightly elevated levels have also been found in California and Arizona. Very little has been reported on the effects on fish. Considering that some fish migrate long distances and that they or their prey could be feeding in waters near the Fukushima disaster, the safety of local fish supplies should also be of concern.

CA Charters Under Attack? Let’s Hope So!

Image by skippyjon
The right wing and pro-charter web educational clearinghouse Media Bullpen thinks charters are under attack in California, that their precious freedoms are being suppressed and their necessarily positive innovations stymied. They also think that Emily Alpert ‘s piece in the Voice of San Diego is too hyperbolic. Yet Alpert does not question the unproven presumptions that increased “freedoms” and innovation are necessary or beneficial to students, nor the equally unproven assertion that bureaucracies limit the effectiveness of traditional public schools. She doesn’t even suggest that charters are bad or need to go. What she does do is summarize the potential implications of the numerous new state bills being proposed in California that would more strictly regulate charter schools.

According to Alpert, the new laws have been inspired by the numerous recent charter school scandals, like the cheating scandal at LA’s Crescendo schools; the fact that many charters have lackluster test scores and segregationist admission policies; and even their union busting practices. The new bills have focused on the following:
  • Capping the number of charter schools that can function in the state.
  • Preventing charter schools from giving preference to some students over others during admission, except when siblings already go to the same school.
  • Requiring paid sick leave and holidays for employees who do not teach.
  • Extending a conflict-of-interest code to charter schools boards.
  • Requiring charter schools to create safety plans and be equipped with two-way communication devices.
  • Letting school districts deny charters to individuals and organizations that have had problems running charter schools in the past
  • Setting audit standards for charter schools.
  • Allowing school districts to deny charters if it could harm the district financially.

The claim that schools need less bureaucracy and rules and greater freedom is the same bogus argument used to support deregulation of banking and industry. It has nothing at all to do with improving learning outcomes for students (or making life better for consumers), but to increase profits for entrepreneurs and CEOs. While there are certainly some rules that are redundant, outdated, unnecessary or stupid, the goal of the rules is to ensure that schools are run safely and effectively and that they provide equity in services and quality. One way they do this is through oversight and monitoring by parents, teachers and communities, something that is reduced or eliminated by many charter schools. The profit motive makes the needs and interests of children secondary and subservient to the needs and interests of investors. It also drives charter schools to oppose unions and labor rights for their employees. As important as quality schools are, they should not come on the backs of underpaid and overworked employees.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Today in Labor History—June 28, 2011

June 28, 1816 –Luddites attacked the Heathcoat and Boden's Mill at Loughborough, smashing 53 frames worth £6,000. Troops were sent in. Six Luddites were executed. The attack was part of a general revival of violence and sabotage of machinery following a bad harvest. At this same time, 'Swing' riots erupted in the countryside as a protest against low wages, unemployment & the Game Laws.

June 28, 1905 -- The mutinous crew of the battleship "Potemkin" entered the port of Odessa, which had been taken by revolutionaries. Workers' Councils formed.

June 28, 1914 – Austria's Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated by the Serbian anarchist Gavrilo Princip, whose attentat was said to have set off World War I, which killed between 5 and 10 million soldiers.

June 28, 1916 – 50,000 workers staged a one day protest strike against the trial of Karl Leibnecht.

June 28, 1956 – 100,000 workers struck in Poznañ, Poland, shouting "Bread & Freedom. The protests were violently suppressed, with at least 67 workers killed. The government sends 10,000 soldiers to the city. The next day, another 70 would be killed, 700 would be arrested, and hundreds more would be wounded.

June 28, 1969 – Gay activists demonstrated in Sheridan Square and in front of the Stonewall Inn, where a riot occurred at 3 am earlier this morning when police raided the bar. Demonstrators were confronted by NYC Tactical Police.
(All from the Daily Bleed)