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Peter Dreier’s Top 25 Progressive Victories of 2012

Peter Dreier

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Photo: Tony Zinnanti

Progressives are rarely satisfied. It is part of our political DNA. There’s so much injustice in the world, it’s sometimes hard to feel that we’re making progress. But as Chinese philosopher Laozi reminded us, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

As I document in my book, The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame, the radical ideas of one generation are often the common sense of the next generation. One hundred years ago, ideas like Social Security, the minimum wage and women’s suffrage were considered radical. Fifty years ago, most African-Americans in the South couldn’t vote, few women were welcome in politics and many professions, and all but a handful of gays and lesbians were locked in the closet. In other words, if we take a long view, we can see that things do often change for the better, sometimes in big leaps, but usually in incremental stages.

Many progressives equate the word “compromise” with “sell-out,” but the strategic question is whether compromises are dead ends or stepping stones to further progress. In their book Organizing for Social Change, Kim Bobo, Steve Max and Jackie Kendall contend that activism is successful if it (1) wins real improvements in people’s lives, (2) gives people a sense of their own power and (3) changes the structure of power so that people begin the next phase of movement-building with greater leverage.

So let’s look back at 2012 and see if we can recognize 25 victories – elections, ballot measures, court rulings, legislation and new waves of mobilization – that meet those three criteria.

1. 99 to 1. In September 2011, a handful of activists took over Zuccotti Park in New York, and then the movement spread to every city in the country. Although Occupy Wall Street was forced after a few months to disperse physically, its ideas have continued to resonate with the American public, including its slogan casting America’s economic divide as the 1% versus the 99%. Throughout 2012, the Occupy movement changed the nation’s conversation at dinner tables, workplaces and newsrooms. It helped frame the political debate in both the Republican and Democratic primaries by focusing public and media attention on the widening disparities of income, wealth and power. Even in the GOP primaries, Mitt Romney’s opponents attacked him as a job-killing corporate plutocrat. Democrats took advantage of the changing mood to focus attention on corporate power and the billionaires behind the tea party and the new right-wing super-PACs. Politicians and the mainstream media now consistently refer to the richest 1%, often highlighting the class warfare waged by the super-rich. Language matters. This impressive linguistic ju-jitsu has helped reframe our national conversation over taxes, the distribution of wealth and income and campaign finance.

2. LGBT Equality. Polls show that a majority of Americans now support same-sex marriage or civil unions, and that those under 40 overwhelmingly support marriage equality. Public opinion has changed dramatically in a short period, suggesting that conservatives will soon no longer be able to use homophobia as a “wedge” issue in elections. These trends pushed President Obama to publicly endorse marriage equality in 2012. And, for the first time ever, a majority of voters approved same-sex marriage ballot measures. They did it in Maine, Washington and Maryland, and in Minnesota, voters defeated a conservative-sponsored ballot measure to ban same-sex marriage. A federal appellate court ruled that California’s Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, and two federal courts ruled against the Defense of Marriage Act. Wisconsin voters elected the nation’s first out-of-the-closet lesbian to the US Senate, Tammy Baldwin. Voters also elected a record six openly gay and lesbian candidates to the House: incumbents Jared Polis (D-Colorado) and David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island) and newcomers Sean Patrick Maloney (D-New York), Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin), Mark Takano (D-California), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona).

3. Living Wages. Voters in Albuquerque, Long Beach and San Jose passed ballot measures that will raise the minimum wage for workers in those cities. Albuquerque’s citywide minimum wage will rise from $7.50 to $8.50 per hour in January 2013 and will automatically adjust in future years with inflation. The Long Beach ballot measure raises the minimum wage for hotel workers in that tourist city to $13 per hour and guarantees hotel workers five paid sick days per year. In San Jose, the minimum wage will increase from $8 per hour – the current minimum wage in California – to $10 per hour and will adjust automatically in future years to keep pace with the rising cost of living. The San Jose campaign was triggered by students at San Jose State University as part of a class research project. Nationwide, public opinion polls show that Americans believe that the federal minimum wage should be adjusted so that full-time workers don’t earn poverty-level pay. That would mean a minimum wage over $10 an hour – comparable to what it was (in terms of purchasing power) in 1968.

4. ObamaCare Survives. Despite relentless partisan attacks in Congress and the courts since it was passed in 2010, the Affordable Care Act has taken its rightful place alongside Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security as one of the pillars of the nation’s social safety net. The US Supreme Court upheld the law as constitutional, and four months later Obama was re-elected, ensuring that the law would be implemented on schedule during his second term. Now the administration must continue to educate the public about the many provisions of the law, a challenge highlighted by polls showing that many Americans know little about what they gained. The ACA stops insurance companies from denying coverage to people because they have health conditions, allows children to remain on a parent’s insurance plan until age 26 and requires insurers to cover the costs of contraception without a copayment. While some progressive advocates argue that the nation should have adopted a single-payer health care system rather than ObamaCare, other progressives and most people in the health care community see it as a bold step in the right direction. As Americans get used to the law and fully recognize and utilize its life-saving benefits, the likelihood will grow that the nation will move toward a more efficient, less costly single-payer system. Meanwhile, both Medicare and Medicaid – which together cover more than 100 million Americans – have survived sustained attacks by the Republicans to eliminate the programs as we know them and dismantle America’s system of social insurance and health security.

5. Progressives Protect Choice. Conservatives’ attempts to limit women’s reproductive freedom met with stiff opposition. Efforts to enact so called “personhood” laws (which define personhood from the moment of fertilization and ban all abortions) failed in all 11 states in which these laws were proposed. If enacted, these laws could even have banned in-vitro fertilization and some birth control methods. Led by Planned Parenthood, coalitions of health professionals, faith groups and women’s organizations challenged these conservative efforts to pass the personhood laws through state legislatures and through ballot measures in Arkansas, Colorado, California, Florida, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon and Virginia. These progressive victories come on the heels of similar success in Mississippi in 2011. In Florida, voters defeated, by 55 percent to 45 percent, the conservative-initiated Amendment 6, which would have denied insurance coverage for abortion services and removed from the state constitution a woman’s right to reproductive “privacy,” thus weakening the state court’s ability to block potential abortion restrictions such as mandatory ultrasound laws or gestational bans on abortion. In 2012, the Senate unanimously passed an amendment to the defense authorization bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), that would allow the military’s health insurance plan to cover the cost of abortion for servicewomen and military dependents who are survivors of rape and incest.

6. Occupy Our Homes. With 12 million homeowners still “under water” and several million families a year still losing their homes to foreclosure, community organizers around the country mobilized a significant campaign to hold Wall Street banks accountable for the damage they created through predatory lending, financial speculation and fraud. In dozens of cities, homeowners “occupied” their homes with the support of neighbors and allies and stymied banks and local sheriffs who wanted to evict them for foreclosure. Pressured by local groups, many of them affiliated with the Home Defenders League and Occupy Our Homes networks, a number of cities, including Seattle, Oakland and Los Angeles, adopted “responsible banking” laws meant to hold banks accountable to meet community needs and laws to force banks to pay for the cost of maintaining foreclosed vacant properties that blight neighborhoods. A grassroots campaign by the ReFund California coalition persuaded the California legislature to pass, and Gov. Jerry Brown to sign, a “Homeowners Bill of Rights,” which prohibits a number of unfair bank practices that have needlessly forced thousands of Californians into foreclosure. For example, it restricts dual-track foreclosures, where a lender forecloses on a borrower despite being in discussions over a loan modification to save the home, imposes civil penalties on fraudulently signed mortgage documents and allows homeowners to sue banks for fraudulent mortgage practices. Pressured by activists, and led by progressive attorneys general Eric Schneiderman of New York and Kamala Harris of California, five major banks agreed to a $26 billion multistate settlement over foreclosure abuses. In January, President Obama appointed Richard Cordray as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the centerpiece of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, to regulate the abusive business practices of credit card companies, mortgage lenders and payday lenders. In November, Massachusetts voters elected Elizabeth Warren, the agency’s original architect, despite her being targeted by the bank lobby as their top priority for defeat. A few weeks later, she was named to the Senate banking committee, which oversees the financial industry. In his State of the Union address, Obama announced the creation of a federal-state task force to investigate and prosecute misconduct by lenders that triggered the financial crisis by selling risky residential mortgage-backed securities. Schneiderman, a task force cochair, has already sued J.P. Morgan Chase and Credit Suisse for deceiving investors and is likely to bring other banks to court, which could lead to tens of billions dollars more in bank fines that could help homeowners. Growing grassroots pressure also led the Obama administration to agree to fire acting Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Ed DeMarco, who opposed the White House’s support for a plan to allow Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to reduce mortgage principal for “underwater” homeowners, which would bring their mortgages in line with current home values and reduce their monthly mortgage payments, giving them more money to spend on other economic activities. Financial reform activists want the administration to require banks to renegotiate “underwater” mortgages, but getting rid of DeMarco is an important step in that direction.

7. Beating the GOP’s Voter Suppression Campaign. Thanks to an aggressive effort to educate voters, stir up controversy and take the issue to court, progressive activists beat back the Republican Party’s efforts to reduce the turnout of young voters, African Americans and Latinos in November’s elections. According to a comprehensive report by the think tank Demos, the result was a backlash against the GOP’s heavy-handed tactics to intimidate voters and suppress the turnout of Democratic-leaning constituencies that included making robocalls that misleadingly told targeted voters that the Election Day had been changed, enacting voter identification laws and, in Ohio, limiting early voting hours. But activists fought back successfully, motivating voters angered by the GOP’s skullduggery. Voting rights groups blocked 10 voter suppression laws in court. Using the GOP’s strategy against them, progressives and Democrats motivated people to vote. As a result, turnout among young, black and Hispanic voters actually increased as a share of the electorate compared with 2008, and, in many states, turnout rates jumped as well.

8. Expanding Same-Day Voter Registration. Add California to the list of states that allow voters to register and vote on election day – a victory for democracy. In September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill allowing Californians to register to vote up to and including Election Day. (The current deadline is 15 days before an election). Common Cause, which sponsored the measure and shepherded it through the state legislature, says it could boost voter rolls by an estimated 8 percent. Republicans opposed the bill, warning about the potential of widespread voter fraud, even though there’s no evidence of fraud in the eight other states – Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Wyoming – that already have election day registration laws. States with such laws generally have higher levels of voter turnout, especially among low-income and young voters.

9. We’re Getting Greener All the Time. In Los Angeles, a coalition of unions, environmentalists and public health activists (including the Teamsters, the National Resources Defense Council and the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy) persuaded the mayor and city council to adopt their “Don’t Waste LA” plan, an historic reform of the city’s commercial waste system that will require waste companies to get a city permit to haul trash from businesses and apartment buildings, improve working conditions for garbage haulers, dramatically expand recycling and create thousands of green jobs. The victory builds on the same blue-green coalition that over the past several years waged a successful campaign to clean up pollution at the dirty Los Angeles port and improve working conditions for the port’s truck drivers. Nationwide protests, including civil disobedience at the White House, pressured the Obama administration to delay – and perhaps to stop – construction of the 1700 Keystone XL pipeline connecting oil sand mines in Alberta, Canada, to refineries in the Texas Gulf Coast. Despite the administration’s waffle on the pipeline project, it adopted two significant new environmental regulations – tightening air quality standards for fine particulate matter and doubling vehicle fuel efficiency standards to 54.5 miles-per-gallon by 2025 (which will save Americans $1.7 trillion at the gas pump) and dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In June, a federal appellate court ruled that the EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, a move that corporate America had opposed.

10. Walmart Workers on the March. The first-ever strike by Walmart workers that began in October in a few California stores spread to over 100 cities around the country by the day after Thanksgiving, the nation’s biggest shopping day. Tens of thousands of consumers, community activists and union members demonstrated their support in rallies and some acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, drawing widespread media attention. The United Food and Commercial Workers helped catalyze the protest, sponsored by Our Walmart, a network of the big box store’s employees. Around the country and around the world, Walmart, the world’s largest private employer, is increasingly on the defensive as its corporate practices come to light – not only paying poverty-level wages but also putting profits above worker safety by contracting with dangerous sweatshops in Bangladesh (where 112 workers died in a factory fire) and elsewhere to make its clothes and toys, bribing Mexican officials to expand its retail empire and selling more guns and ammunition than any other retailer in the United States.

11. Fast-Food and Domestic Workers Gain Momentum. The past year, 2012, is likely to be seen as the year that the labor movement developed new strategies and made significant headway in organizing low-wage workers, not only those who toil for the behemoth Walmart, but also domestic workers and workers in the fast-food industry. In October, workers at McDonalds, Burger King and other fast-food chains in New York City staged a walkout to demand better pay and the right to unionize. Viewing these food-chain workers as a large and growing sector of exploited workers, the Service Employees International Union and New York Communities for Change joined forces to help coordinate the walkouts. Like farmworkers, most of America’s 1.8 million domestic workers – nannies, housekeepers, and caregivers – are not covered by federal wage, overtime, union-organizing, and other labor laws. Many toil 12 to 15 hours a day and get paid less than $200 per week. The first-ever study of this invisible workforce, released in November by the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), a national network of groups in 17 cities and 11 states, found that 23 percent of domestic workers made less than their state’s minimum wage (which must be at least $7.25 an hour). Among live-in workers, 67 percent earned below the minimum wage, 65 percent had no health insurance, about 82 percent had no paid sick days and 25 percent said their jobs made it impossible to get five hours of uninterrupted sleep. Thanks to the NDWA, New York State passed the first Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in 2010. Last year the California legislature adopted a similar measure, but Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it in October. The activists plan to regroup and push for the bill this year in California and several other states.

12. Unions beat Proposition 32 in California. In California, labor unions helped bring out more than 40,000 volunteers and defeated the deceptive anti-union corporate power grab, Proposition 32, by a landslide 57 percent to 43 percent. Conservative forces had tried and failed three times before to persuade California voters to support a “paycheck protection” measure that would keep unions from using their members’ dues money to support candidates and ballot questions. This time, the measure’s backers – including wealthy GOP activist Charles Munger and a shadowy group linked to Karl Rove and the Koch Brothers – dressed it up as campaign finance reform, but California voters weren’t buying it, thanks to a massive voter turnout effort by labor unions and their allies.

13. Progressive Tax Reform Makes Progress. The same coalition that waged the successful campaign to defeat Proposition 32 also mounted a grassroots effort on behalf of Proposition 30, the progressive income and sales tax measure to fund California’s schools. The outcome – a 54 percent to 46 percent victory – bucked a long trend of voters rejecting higher taxes to pay for public services. Nationwide, support is growing for the so-called “Robin Hood” tax – formally called the Financial Transaction Tax – a small fee on large Wall Street transactions of currencies, bonds and shares, designed to discourage risky trades on Wall Street and to hold big banks accountable for the hardship they caused and the outrageous pay and bonuses they gave to top executives in the wake of the worst financial crisis since the Depression. The National Nurses Union is one of more than 65 organizations leading this campaign that would raise billions of dollars for health care, housing, jobs and education.

14. Dreamers Win Immigration Reform. By keeping up pressure on the White House, including meetings and direct action, United We Dream – a movement of immigrant youth, with support from immigrant rights and faith groups – pushed President Obama in June to announce his support for a policy to offer DREAM Act eligible immigrant youth protection from deportation and temporary legal status. Under the program, young undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children can receive two-year deportation deferrals and work permits. After Obama made that commitment, Dream Act activists hit the streets to register and mobilize Latino and Asian voters. Already, more than 300,000 young immigrants have applied and over 53,000 have received deferrals.

15. Student Activists Gain Ground. Don’t believe the cynics and naysayers who fret about student apathy. In addition to the Dreamers movement for immigration reform, America’s campuses are bursting with activism on a variety of issues. United Students Against Sweatshops coordinates campaigns on hundreds of campuses, including pushing colleges to do business with responsible, pro-union clothing producers such as the Alta Gracia factory in the Dominican Republic, supporting efforts by campus workers to improve pay and win union recognition and pressuring universities to sever contracts with companies that mistreat workers. In late 2012, student-led campaigns to get colleges and universities to divest from the fossil fuel industry spread to almost 200 campuses. Hampshire College and Unity College have already purged their endowments from fossil fuels. At Harvard, 72 percent of students endorsed a resolution supporting divestment. Students at many other colleges have persuaded their administrations to explore divestment.

16. Not-So-Smart ALEC. For many years, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right-wing network of corporations and state legislators, has operated under the radar, drafting “model” laws that promote gun ownership (including “stand your ground” laws), weaken unions, limit voting rights, encourage the privatization of education (such as school vouchers and charter schools) and weaken regulations that protect consumers, workers and the environment from corporate abuse. Last year the Center for Media and Democracy, along with Color of Change, waged a remarkable campaign to bring ALEC out of the shadows, identifying the corporations and billionaires that fund it. Progressive media outlets like The Nation publicized the expose’, then the mainstream media jumped on the story. Embarrassed by the publicity, many of ALEC’s corporate funders – 42 so far, including Walmart, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Coca Cola, Pepsi, McDonald’s, Amazon, Proctor & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, MillerCoors, Dell, General Motors and General Electric – have withdrawn from the organization.

17. Voters Elect a More Diverse and Progressive Senate and House. Americans not only re-elected America’s first African-American president, they also re-elected several of the most progressive Senators (including Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sherrod Brown of Ohio) and put four new progressives – Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii (the first female Asian American Senator) – in the upper chamber. Two female Democrats – Hirono and Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota – replaced males who decided to retire. All Democratic incumbent female senators up for re-election this year won, including Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Dianne Feinstein of California and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. As a result, 20 women – a record – will now serve in the Senate. Another milestone: In New Hampshire, women now hold every key office including Senators Kelly Ayotte (a Republican) and Jeanne Shaheen (Democrat), newly-elected Gov. Maggie Hassan (a Democrat) and Democrats Carol Shea-Porter and Ann McLane Kuster, who wrested New Hampshire’s two House seats from incumbent Republicans. These victories guaranteed there would be no Republican Senate with an opportunity to appoint justices to the Supreme Court who would have overturned Roe v Wade. Democrats running for the House bested their Republican rivals in the overall popular vote total. Combining the totals for all 435 House races, Democrats won 1,362,351 more votes than Republicans. Democratic House candidates earned 49.15 percent of the popular vote, while Republicans earned only 48.03 percent. So how did Republicans win a majority of the seats? Because of gerrymandering by Republican-controlled states. Although Republicans outnumber Democrats 234 to 201 in the House, there are more progressive Democrats. For the first time, a majority of House Democrats will be women, people of color or both. The ranks of the House progressives will expand, welcoming newcomers (or returning members following a hiatus) Alan Grayson (Fla.), Jared Huffman (Calif.), Dan Kildee (Minn.), Kuster (NH), Grace Meng (NY), Patrick Murphy (Fla.), Rick Nolan (Minn.), Mark Pocan (Wis.), Raul Ruiz (Calif.), Carol Shea-Porter (NH), Mark Takano (Calif.), Hakeem Jeffries (NY), and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.). Meanwhile, several of the most lunatic right-wing Tea Party Republicans – including Allen West (Fla.), Chip Cravaack (Minn.), Bobby Schilling (Ill.), Roscoe Bartlett (Md.), Ann-Marie Buerkle (NY), Francisco Canseco (Tex.), and Joe Walsh (Ill.) – lost their House seats. Even Michelle Bachmann, founder of the House Tea Party caucus, had to fight hard to keep her seat representing Twin Cities suburbs. She edged out her Democratic opponent, businessman Jim Graves, by just 4,207 votes, or a little over 1 percent of the 357,035 votes cast in Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District. Bachmann outspent Graves $22.4 million to $2.2 million, an 11-to-1 margin, making it the most expensive House race. In other words, Bachmann spent $124 for each vote she received compared to Graves’ $13 per vote.

18. Local Progress. Progressive candidates won victories in hundreds of local and state races around the country. Among them was Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, whom voters re-elected in November for a second two-year term with 58 percent of the vote. A month later, Shumlin, a progressive Democrat who supports single-payer health insurance, was elected chair of the Democratic Governors Association. In Worcester, Mass., Mary Keefe, a veteran community organizer with the Pleasant Street Neighborhood Network Center and a leader of Worcester Interfaith, was elected to the state legislature, with the support of unions and community groups, on a platform of supporting progressive tax increases to stop draconian budget cuts and fund human services. In conservative San Diego, voters elected progressive Bob Filner – a former Freedom Rider (he spent two months in a Mississippi jail for defying segregation laws), college professor, school board, city council member and 10-term Congressman (and a founding member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus) – to be the city’s first Democratic mayor since 1992 and only its second since 1971. In Tallahassee, Fla., voters elected 33-year old Andrew Gillum to his third four-year term on the city commission with over 70 percent of the vote. Despite his youth, Gillum is a veteran civil rights and voting rights activist. As a college student, he helped organized a huge march on Tallahassee to protest Gov. Jeb Bush’s executive order to abolish affirmative action in state university admissions and state contracting. In addition to his position on the city commission, he serves as national director of the Young Elected Officials Network, a project of People for the American Way. In mid-November, left-leaning elected officials from 32 municipalities (including Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Hartford, Milwaukee, Mobile, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle) met in Washington, DC, to form Local Progress, a network of progressive municipal officials designed to share policy and strategy ideas. They elected Seattle City Council member Nick Licata – who sponsored the city’s paid sick-leave law, among other progressive accomplishments – as chair.

19. Mobilizing the Union Vote. Although union members represent only 11 percent of all American workers, they comprised 18 percent of voters in the November election – higher in key swing states where unions targeted their resources. Union members were not only more likely than non-union workers to vote, they also were more likely to knock on doors, make phone calls and participate in other grassroots campaign activities. More than any other constituency, union members comprise the ground troops for progressive candidates and causes. An analysis of exit polls by Guy Molyneaux of Hart Research Associates also reveals that unions played an important role in offsetting key demographic and social factors that often push voters to support Republicans. For example, 65 percent of union members, compared with 47 percent of nonunion voters, supported Obama. Among union men, 61 percent voted for Obama, compared with only 40 percent of nonunion men. A whopping 72 percent of union women (compared with 53 percent of nonunion women) voted for Obama. Union membership often trumped racial prejudice. Fifty-five percent of white male union members went for Obama compared with only 31 percent of white males who don’t belong to unions. Similarly, 65 percent of white women in unions preferred Obama, compared with only 39 percent of nonunion white women. Obama didn’t expect to get many votes among white evangelicals, but union membership made a significant difference in how these religious Christians voted. Obama won the votes of 35 percent white evangelicals who were also union members, but only 16 percent of white evangelicals who had no union affiliation. Even among Latinos, union membership was significant in influencing their vote; 80 percent of unionized Latinos voted for Obama but only 70 percent of nonunion Latinos did so.

20. Hurricane Sandy Revealed Support for Big Government, Even by Republicans. Big disasters, such as the 9/11 bombing of the World Trade Center, earthquakes, hurricanes and plane crashes often remind Americans, even Republican politicians, why they need government – and government employees. Disasters like Hurricane Sandy often bring out the best in the American people, including the spirit of volunteerism and compassion. But they also bring out the hypocrisy of GOP politicians, who love to attack “big government,” unless it’s for corporate subsidies, military spending or disaster relief. Exhibit No. 1 is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has made his reputation as a budget-slashing, tax-cutting bully. In his keynote speech at the Republican convention in August, Christie touted his record of attacking New Jersey’s public employees in New Jersey. Democrats, Christie said, think that Americans “need to be coddled by big government.” Republicans, in contrast, are willing to make the “hard choices” to “cut federal spending and fundamentally reduce the size of government.” But three months later, as soon as Hurricane Sandy swept through the Garden State, destroying cities and towns along its Atlantic coast, Christie was understandably first in line with a cup in his hand, begging President Obama for federal aid and hugging Obama for the cameras. Conservative Congressman Peter King (R-NY) raised such holy hell when Congress failed to authorize $60 billion to aid Sandy’s victims, primarily in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, that Speaker John Boehner agreed to schedule a vote by January 15.

21. Chicago Teachers Win Their Strike. Like their counterparts around the country, Chicago’s teachers have taken a beating over the past few years, as conservative billionaires and corporate foundations push their agenda of privatizing public education with vouchers, charter schools, over-reliance on standardized tests and business-style management that seeks to denigrate and punish teachers rather than collaborate with them. Finally, in September, 29,000 Chicago teachers went on strike to challenge the corporate vision. Although the seven-day strike certainly inconvenienced many parents, the Chicago Teachers Union won the battle for public opinion by framing its demands as concerns for smaller class sizes, more up-to-date textbooks and air conditioning in classrooms. They stood up to the bullying of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who consistently denigrated teachers and promote a corporate agenda of school privatization and business-style management, trying to weaken the teachers’ voices in school matters. As CTU’s feisty president Karen Lewis reminded Chicagoans, the strike wasn’t just about higher wages but also about the distribution of resources. “This education crisis is real, especially if you are Black or Brown in Chicago,” she explained. “They want to privatize public education and further disrupt our neighborhoods. There is an attack on public institutions, many of which serve low-income and working-class families. “The union won modest pay increases and some protection from district layoffs and firings, but also won a commitment to hire 600 new teachers in art, music and other ‘enrichment’ courses and got the school district to promise to hire more counselors, supply textbooks by the first day of school and include a parent representative on a class-size review committee. The union’s efforts helped build a coalition of parents, teachers and community activists that will continue to battle for better schools.

22. Challenging Citizens United. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010 – equating money with free speech – unleashed a flood of money from billionaires and corporations, much of it through hard-to-trace “super-PACs” and so-called “social welfare” organizations. In the wake of that ruling, Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock defended his state’s Corrupt Practices Act, which banned corporate campaign funds, all the way to the Supreme Court. The court overturned the Montana law 5 to 4, undermining the ability of states and cities to restrict corporations from trying to buy elections. Although Bullock lost that fight, Montanans admired his populist ideals and elected him governor in November. That same day, Montana voters also supported Initiative I-166, which endorsed a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, by a 74.8 percent margin. In Colorado, voters endorsed a similar ballot initiative, Proposition 65, with 73.8 percent of the vote. Voters in more than 120 cities and towns in Oregon, Colorado, Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, Massachusetts and California passed similar measures. Public opinion polls show that Americans overwhelmingly oppose Citizens United and believe that corporations, and corporate money, have too much influence in politics.

23. Beating the Billionaires. The US Chamber of Commerce, other big business lobby groups, and a strange assortment of right-wing billionaires (including the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson), poured or directed outrageous sums of money to help Romney and other conservative Republican candidates, but more often than not wound up losing. According to the Sunlight Foundation, outside groups spent more than $1.3 billion on independent expenditures to influence the outcome of the November elections, but had a terrible “return” on their investment. Much of the business and billionaire war chest was filtered through Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, which spent $104 million in election campaigns and had a 1.29 percent success rate. Its sister organization, Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, also orchestrated by Rove, spent $70.7 million and had a 14.4 percent success rate. The US Chamber of Commerce spent $32.6 million for a success rate of 6.9 percent. The American Future Fund, run by the Koch brothers, spent $23.9 million but backed a winner in only 5.6 percent of the races. The National Rifle Association’s Political Victory Fund spent $11.8 million and had a tiny success rate of 0.83 percent – and that was before the NRA embarrassed itself with its call to post armed guards at public schools after 20 children and six adults were killed by a military-style assault weapon at an elementary school in Connecticut in December.

24. Killing the Death Penalty. The United States may be gradually moving toward joining every other democratic society in abolishing the death penalty. In 2012, Connecticut became the fifth state in the past five years to abolish the death penalty. Of the 33 states that still have the death penalty on their books, 13 haven’t executed anyone for at least five years. Nine states executed death-row inmates last year, but three quarters of the 43 executions took place in just four states: Texas (15), and Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma (each with six). Thanks to the Innocence Project and other advocates, a growing number of Americans recognize that the death penalty doesn’t deter crime. Death row is disproportionately comprised of poor and African Americans, an indication of the racial and class bias of our criminal justice system. The system is also arbitrary and prone to egregious mistakes. Since 1973, 142 death-row inmates have been freed after being exonerated with DNA evidence. As The New York Times recently editorialized in favor of ending the death penalty, the “justifications for a cruel and uncivilized punishment have been seriously undermined by a growing group of judges, prosecutors, scholars and others involved in criminal justice, conservatives and liberals alike.”

25. Muzzling the NRA. In 2011 (the most recent year for these figures) there were 15,953 murders in the United States and 11,101 (30 a day) were caused by firearms. Suicides and unintentional shootings account for another 20,000 deaths by guns each year. Many more people are injured – some seriously and permanently – by gun violence, disproportionately poor African Americans living in inner cities. At least seven mass killings occurred in 2012 – six died at an Oak Creek, Wis., Sikh temple when a white supremacist went on a rampage in August; four were killed in an Atlanta day spa in February; five were killed at a Seattle coffee shop in May; six died at a Minneapolis sign company in September; seven were gunned down at an Oakland religious college in April; and 12 were killed and 58 wounded in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater in July. But it may have required a mass shooting in a small suburban town in Connecticut – which killed 20 children and six adults – to make the epidemic of gun violence a national priority. The number of American households that own guns has actually declined in recent decades, from almost 50 percent in 1973 to just over 32 percent 2010. Less than five percent of gun owners are NRA members – probably concentrated among the 20 percent of gun owners who possess about 65 percent of the nation’s guns. And polls show that even before the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre, most gun owners – even most NRA members – wanted stronger gun controls, including background checks on gun buyers and restrictions on the sale of military-style assault weapons. After the Connecticut killings, public opinion was even more favorable toward tough gun laws. The tragedy galvanized a broad coalition of faith groups, unions, community organizations, medical professionals, law enforcement officials and big-city mayors. They quickly brought people together for prayer vigils and rallies. But soon they will have to put pressure on Congress and shine a spotlight on the gun manufacturers, their Wall Street investors and gun retailers like Walmart (which sells 13 percent of all Bushmaster assault rifles) that profit from the proliferation of deadly assault weapons. Senator Diane Feinstein pledged to file strong legislation in 2013 and hold hearings that could provide a dramatic forum for advocates of tougher gun laws – including the survivors of gun violence, the families of victims, and gun owners who believe in sensible reforms – to tell their stories. The growing outrage against senseless gun deaths may finally translate into a sustained movement that can do battle with the NRA.

Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission.

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Video: Police Killings Rise Nationally

According to the Washington Post ‘s “Fatal Force” report, 995 people were shot dead by police officers in 2018.

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Reviewed: A DIY Guide for “The Magicial Resistance”

A new book offers practical tips on how to organize — and cast spells — for equality and the environment.

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Witchcraft Activism, A Toolkit for Magical Activism, David Salisbury. Weiser Books. Releases March 1.

Religion and politics have gone hand in hand at least from the time of Hammurabi’s Code. Though we are guaranteed separation of church and state in the United States, many a prayer has been uttered for political gain. Any and all religions make no bones about their desire to influence social events and governmental organizations using their own methods and views of the Divine, whether it’s the Catholic Workers marching for the rights of the poor, Baptist churches rallying for the right of the unborn — or witches casting spells to protect the environment.


At a time when many people feel helpless, ceremonial magic places power firmly in the hands of people who want to see positive change for the future.


While mainstream faithful said their prayers, conservative chaos magicians invoked Pepe the Frog to aid the 2016 elections. Since then, sorcerers of all stripes and more than few faithful in the Abrahamic faiths have been very publicly throwing down to counteract what they perceive as harmful acts by the current administration.

David Salisbury’s Witchcraft Activism is a smart, direct guide to incorporating activism into your witchcraft practice, or experimenting in your activism by adding a little extra whammy. An experienced, long-time activist and well-respected pagan practitioner, Salisbury lays out a guide for activism that incorporates strategy, defense, offense, victory and loss with spiritual tools and magical methods drawn from Western European folk magic traditions.

He begins with setting intention and leads us to getting off the couch and carrying out an action, be it letter writing, participating in marches, attending city council meetings or lobbying — each with certain magical additions to aid in success. Salisbury also gives results based on his actions incorporating magic and suggests a variety of means for different scenarios. Concentration, visualization and focus are stressed as tools, with the addition of sigils, herbs and incantations.

Spiritual actions range from the simple to the complex. Whether meditating before a meeting, doing a divination for suggested actions, writing out a petition and placing it under a candle or using advanced magical practices like egregores, the acts suggested by Salisbury increase dedication to our causes and shift perspective, creating space for new ideas, for relief from burnout and for refocusing on goals.

Over 1.5 million in the United States identify as Pagan or Wiccan in a 2014 Pew Research Center poll—and that’s not counting those witches, sorcerers and others who do not identify in those categories. The numbers of magical practitioners have risen steadily over the decades, perhaps because organized religions may not offer a sense of personal connection, of gnosis, or may have goals that are in opposition to participants’. At a time when many people feel helpless, witchcraft, ceremonial magic and folk/indigenous faiths place power firmly in the hands of people who want to see positive change for the future.

Don’t believe in magic? Give Salisbury’s methods a try and see what happens. You may be surprised, success is your proof. Just stay away from the Goetia!


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The Tests Facing California’s New Governor

Gavin Newsom now leads the state with the nation’s biggest economy and largest population — and one riven by economic inequality. What will be his most important challenges?

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Gavin Newsom inherits a state that should be any governor’s dream: A California that is the cradle of the tech revolution and brims with prosperity, a one-party state with supermajorities in both chambers for Newsom’s Democrats. But there are clouds darkening the horizon: Daily prophecies tell of coming economic storms; legislative initiatives taken on behalf of immigrants, retirement security and the stemming of global warming are increasingly thwarted by a bellicose White House. And that Democratic Party monopoly in Sacramento masks a deepening ideological fault line dividing pro-business moderates and progressives – the latter of which have largely chafed for the last 16 years under the thrifty administrations of Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and are eager to burst out with far-reaching (if pricey) legislation.

Then, there are memories of three high-riding liberal governors (Pat and Jerry Brown, and Gray Davis) whose programs or careers were derailed by resentful taxpayers. There are more recent memories, too: Of an impulsive, hard-partying San Francisco mayor whose blunted ambitions led him to spend eight years in the ceremonial wilderness of the lieutenant governor’s office. Newsom is said to have matured into a more circumspect, pragmatic politician, although some of the old doubts were fanned back to life by an unflattering New Yorker profile that appeared shortly before his landslide victory November 6.

Perhaps overriding all these auguries is the undeniable fact that despite its enviable economy, its abundance of billionaires-in-residence and laudable array of social services, California still has the highest poverty rate in the U.S., nearly half of its children live in poverty or near-poverty, and merely finding an affordable place to live has become an existential challenge for many. These and similar factors superimpose on the state another kind of fault line, that of economic inequality. Most of the new governor’s time will be spent wrangling crises that spring from this disparity. Which is why the following Capital & Main stories primarily focus on the inequality that separates so many Californians from one another.

Affordable Housing, by Jessica Goodheart.
Single-Payer Health Care, by Gabriel Thompson.

Climate Change and Big Oil, by Judith Lewis Mernit.
Inequality Interviews with Manuel Pastor, Ann Huff Stevens and David Grusky.

Early Childhood Education, by Bill Raden.
Inequality in California: Six Takeaways.


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Betomania & Other Tales: 2018 in Review

Capital & Main looks back at the year through 10 stories.

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Photo courtesy of Inter-American Dialogue

1. Beto vs. Democrats: Texas Lawmaker Frequently Voted to Help Trump and GOP

David Sirota: How a rising Democratic star undermined his own party’s efforts to halt the GOP agenda.

Co-published by The Guardian and Newsweek 

Photo: Crockodile


 

2. The Tests Facing California’s New Governor 

Jessica Goodheart, Bill Raden, Judith Lewis Mernit and Gabriel Thompson: California’s economy is now the fifth-largest in the world, but  merely finding an affordable place to live has become an existential challenge for many.

Co-published by Newsweek

 


 

3. Debt of a Salesman: Why the Cost of Living Is Making Retirement a Mirage

Eric Pape: At 62, Bill Ware works as many as 14 hours a day just to make ends meet. Saving for retirement simply isn’t an option.

Co-published by Fast Company

 

Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles. (Photo: Jfc4me)


 

4. Is a New Toxic Danger Threatening California?

Dan Ross: PFAS compounds have been linked in humans to cancers and hormonal disruption, as well as developmental, reproductive and immune system problems.

 


 

5. Los Angeles Renters Fight Back to Keep Their Pets — and Homes

Carol Mithers: Evoking a previously unenforced “no pet” clause is a good way for property owners to push out low-rent tenants in a gentrifying area. Frequently such evictions aren’t legal, but tenants can’t insist on rights if they don’t know they have them. And that’s where attorney Dianne Prado comes in.

Co-published by Beyond Chron

 

Photo courtesy of Downtown Dog Rescue


 

6. Energy Giants Choose Nuclear Option in Election’s Biggest Fight Over Fossil Fuel

David Sirota and Chase Woodruff: Fallout from Colorado’s Amendment 74 could land on all states’ efforts to curb pollution and climate change.

Co-published by Westword

 

Photo: Getty Images


 

7. How California Public Employees Are Unknowingly Funding an Anti-Rent Control Fight

David Sirota and Andrew Perez: One of the largest donors to the Prop. 10 opposition is the private equity giant Blackstone. The move has been described as the equivalent of mutual fund executives taking money out of customers’ accounts to make political contributions.

Co-published by The Guardian and MapLight

 

Blackstone’s Stephen Schwarzman. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)


 

8. Homeland Security Kicks the Ladder from Under Immigrants Seeking Green Cards

Robin Urevich: Immigrants who use Medi-Cal, food stamps, housing assistance or Medicare prescription drug subsidies could be barred from obtaining green cards or visa extensions under a proposed rule from the Trump administration.

Co-published by American Prospect

 

Photo by Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images


 

9. The Lies That Should Have Sunk Kavanaugh

Bill Raden: Behind six of the main lies Kavanaugh was accused of telling under oath, plus the insights of congressional committee veterans and a former federal prosecutor who have examined Kavanaugh’s September 27 testimony.

Co-published by Newsweek

 

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images


 

10. Is Tesla a Promise or a Problem for Rebuilding the Middle Class?

Jessica Goodheart: Elon Musk’s labor intransigence could upend a decades-old social contract between employers and workers.

Co-published by Fast Company

 

Photo: Cindy Chew


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Beto vs. Democrats: Texas Lawmaker Frequently Voted to Help Trump and GOP

Co-published by The Guardian and Newsweek
How Beto O’Rourke, a potential Democratic candidate for president, has undermined his own party’s efforts to halt the GOP agenda.

David Sirota

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Beto O'Rourke photo courtesy of Inter-American Dialogue.

A rising Democratic star has voted for GOP bills that Trump critics say have aided big banks, undercut the fight against climate change and supported the president’s anti-immigrant agenda.


Co-published by The Guardian and Newsweek

Following Beto O’Rourke’s spirited run for the U.S. Senate, powerful voices in the Democratic Party establishment have touted the outgoing Texas congressman as a 2020 presidential candidate who, as the party’s standard-bearer, would offer a vision of America contrasting against that of Republicans. However, a Capital & Main review of congressional votes shows that even as O’Rourke has represented one of the most Democratic congressional districts in the entire country, he has in many instances undermined his own party’s efforts to halt the GOP agenda, frequently voting against the majority of House Democrats in support of Republican bills and Trump administration positions.

Capital & Main reviewed the 167 votes O’Rourke has cast in opposition to the majority of his own party in the House during his six-year tenure in Congress. Many of those votes were not progressive dissents alongside other left-leaning lawmakers but were instead votes to help pass Republican-sponsored legislation. In many cases, Democratic lawmakers said that those measures were designed to help corporate interests dismantle Obama administration programs and regulations.


O’Rourke’s votes for Republican tax, trade, health care, crime- and immigration-related legislation underscore his membership in the pro-business New Democrat Coalition.


Amid persistently high economic inequality and a climate change crisis, O’Rourke has voted for GOP bills that his fellow Democratic lawmakers said reinforced Republicans’ tax agenda, chipped away at the Affordable Care Act, weakened Wall Street regulations, boosted the fossil fuel industry and bolstered Trump’s immigration policy. Consumer, environmental, public health and civil rights organizations have cast legislation backed by O’Rourke as aiding big banks, undermining the fight against climate change and supporting Trump’s anti-immigrant program. During the previous administration, President Barack Obama’s White House issued statements slamming two GOP bills backed by the 46-year-old Democratic legislator.

O’Rourke’s votes for Republican tax, trade, health care, criminal justice and immigration-related legislation not only defied his national party, but also at times put him at odds even with a majority of Texas Democratic lawmakers in Congress. Such votes underscore his membership in the New Democrat Coalition, the faction of House Democrats most closely aligned with business interests. 

Photo: Crockodile/Flickr

O’Rourke did not respond to Capital & Main’s questions about his votes.

The possibility of an O’Rourke presidential candidacy has been boosted in recent weeks by former Obama aides and fundraisers, as well as by Third Way — a finance-industry funded think tank that previously made headlines deriding Democratic U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren. He has also been lauded by former Hillary Clinton aide Neera Tanden of the Center for American Progress — a Democratic think tank whose officials recently slammed Republican tax and immigration legislation that O’Rourke voted for. Much of the party elite’s support for an O’Rourke candidacy has not mentioned his policy record or agenda.

In the last two years, O’Rourke was among the top fifth of all lawmakers voting against the majority of his party. FiveThirtyEight has calculated that in that same time period, O’Rourke has voted for the Trump administration position on legislation roughly 30 percent of the time. The website said that is above what analysts predict would come from a legislator representing a district as Democratic as O’Rourke’s. For comparison, O’Rourke’s congressional district votes more Democratic than most districts in Massachusetts, according to the Cook Political Report.

Each vote reviewed below was one in which O’Rourke broke from the majority of legislators in his own party.

Consumer Protection

Since its creation in 2010, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been under relentless assault by Republicans, who have sought to help the financial industry limit its authority. At times, they have found an ally in O’Rourke.


Echoing the GOP’s line of attack on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Texas Democrat faulted the agency for a “lack of openness.”


In one instance, the Texas Democrat helped the GOP challenge the agency’s efforts to combat discriminatory lending practices. At issue was a 2013 CFPB bulletin asserting its “authority to pursue auto lenders whose policies harm consumers through unlawful discrimination.” The agency said, “Research indicates that markup practices may lead to African Americans and Hispanics being charged higher markups than other, similarly situated, white consumers.”

The move — and a subsequent CFPB enforcement action against a major auto lender — sent a shockwave through the financial industry. Republicans issued a report criticizing the rule, and in 2015 introduced legislation to repeal it. Civil rights groups such as the NAACP opposed the GOP measure and House Democrats said it was designed to halt “recent actions to root out discriminatory practices among auto lenders.”

Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton, a former chairwoman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said in a congressional floor speech that the Republican legislation would limit regulators’ “ability to protect consumers from racial discrimination in the auto lending market and give auto dealers a leg up in charging higher interest rates.” The Obama White House issued an official statement of administration policy, saying it strongly opposed the Republican bill, because the CFPB guidance at issue would “ensure customers are not charged disproportionately higher prices for auto loans because of their race, color, religion or other characteristics that should have no bearing on loan decisions.”

O’Rourke nonetheless officially co-sponsored the bill and voted for it. Echoing the GOP’s line of attack on the CFPB, the Democrat faulted the agency for a “lack of openness,” which he asserted had created “uncertainty, criticism of the CFPB’s conclusions, and has made loans more expensive to borrowers.” While O’Rourke later voted against using the Congressional Review Act to kill the CFPB’s regulation, the original bill he voted for set the stage for the GOP to repeal it under Trump.

Also in 2015, O’Rourke voted for a separate Republican bill that Democratic legislators said was designed to delay a CFPB regulation and weaken lending disclosure protections for home mortgage borrowers. California Rep. Maxine Waters, the senior Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, said the bill would make it harder for consumers to sue lenders when they have been misled, which represented “a drastic departure from current law” under the longstanding Truth In Lending Act.

The Obama administration agreed, issuing a veto threat declaring that the GOP bill aimed to “unnecessarily delay implementation of important consumer protections designed to eradicate opaque lending practices that contribute to risky mortgages, hurt homeowners by removing the private right of action for violations, and undercut the Nation’s financial stability.”

A day after that veto threat, the bill passed with the support of O’Rourke, who said, “I believe it is a practical, short-term compromise that will provide long-term benefits to consumers in the United States.” He argued that the GOP legislation would allow regulators to “continue working with banks to ensure that they are ready to fully comply with the law” and was designed to guarantee that “consumers applying for home mortgages are given all the information they need.”

In addition to votes on CFPB-related issues, O’Rourke has also occasionally sided with Republicans on food labeling laws.

In 2015, for instance, he was one of 66 Democrats who voted for a Republican bill “to repeal country of origin labeling requirements with respect to beef, pork, and chicken,” according to the bill’s text. In the legislation’s committee report, the GOP asserted that the bill was necessary to avoid retaliation from other trading partner countries. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, argued that lawmakers “should not let a few meatpacking companies use trade disputes as an excuse to gut important consumer protections and the rights of farmers in this country…our people deserve a right to know where their food is produced and where it comes from.”

The next year, Republicans brought forward a bill that Democrats said would undermine provisions in the Affordable Care Act requiring restaurants to disclose nutritional information. Public health groups such as the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association asked Democrats to oppose the bill, and O’Rourke’s fellow Texas Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee gave a floor speech asserting that it would “reduce the likelihood that consumers will receive clear and consistent calorie information at chain food service establishments.”

O’Rourke was one of only 33 Democrats to vote for it.

Fossil Fuels/Energy

During his Senate race, O’Rourke was lauded for his rhetoric about the threat of climate change. In Congress, he has questioned the safety of natural gas fracking, and he gets high ratings from the League of Conservation Voters.


O’Rourke helped Republicans vote down Democratic legislation to restrict the federal government from taking steps that could open up parts of the eastern Gulf of Mexico to offshore drilling.


But while climate scientists say policymakers must halt new fossil fuel exploration, O’Rourke has pushed back against the notion that the world must decide between carbon emissions and clean energy. Instead, he has insisted that “we can reject the false choice between oil and gas and renewable energy.” Meanwhile, he has cast key votes with Republicans to boost the fossil fuel industry whose carbon emissions are at the root of the crisis.

For instance, O’Rourke was one of only a handful of House Democrats who twice voted for Republican bills to lift the 40-year-old oil export ban.

During the legislative debate over lifting the ban, the Democrats’ committee report argued that “the extreme approach taken by this bill not only repeals current crude export restrictions, but also ensures that no export restrictions – for any reason – could be implemented or enforced in the future.” The Democratic report, authored by House Commerce Committee ranking Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., added that “the vaguely drafted provisions of the bill could have potentially vast consequences for consumers, the environment and climate change, and national security.”

Gulf of Mexico, 2010: BP oil spill. (Photo: DVIDSHUB)

That argument proved to be convincing to many Texas Democrats. On one of the votes, 5 out of 11 Texas Democratic lawmakers opposed the bill. On the other vote, seven Texas Democrats opposed the bill, with O’Rourke among only three who supported it. O’Rourke’s 2018 Senate campaign website boasts that “Beto voted to repeal the Crude Oil Export Ban to support our economy and national security.”

Passage of the O’Rourke-backed legislation was followed by a tripling of petroleum exports. With the export ban lifted, a recent report from the International Energy Agency projected that the United States will be exporting five million barrels of oil a day by 2023 — all while scientists warn of catastrophic effects of carbon emissions.

At the same time, O’Rourke helped Republicans vote down Democratic legislation to prevent drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and he backed a separate GOP bill to speed up natural gas exports, which Pallone argued would “exacerbate climate change by encouraging more fossil fuel extraction.”

He also supported GOP legislation that Democrats said was constructed to protect the utility industry. That bill was introduced the year before the recent California wildfires renewed questions about utility liability. At the time, Republicans said the measure was designed “to ensure reliable electricity service and reduce the risk of fires and fire hazards caused by inadequate vegetation management” in areas where power lines cross federal lands.

Repeating charges made by Democrats in the bill’s committee report, Arizona Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva said during the floor debate: “The bill waives liability for companies that start forest fires or cause other damage. This is nonsense and shifts an incredible burden and risk onto American taxpayers.”

O’Rourke was one of 69 Democrats to support the bill, which passed.

Immigration & Criminal Justice

In representing the border city of El Paso, O’Rourke has been an outspoken advocate for immigration reform. In recent days he has used his platform to call for public pressure on the Trump administration to shut down an immigrant detention center in Tornillo, Texas and he made headlines slamming the Trump administration’s overall immigration policy. His Senate campaign website said he wants to “pass the DREAM Act and ensure that undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children, known as ‘Dreamers,’ find a permanent home and citizenship in the U.S.” It also declared that he wants to “end the militarization of our immigration enforcement system.”

However, he was one of a group of Democrats who broke party ranks to support Republican legislation to waive requirements for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents and job applicants to take polygraph tests — a proposal that was part of the Trump administration’s plan to assemble a deportation force.

Photo: Josh Denmark

Polygraph tests have been part of CBP’s efforts to confront the corruption and misconduct that have plagued the agency in recent years. A 2012 Government Accountability Office report found that between 2005 and 2012, “144 current or former CBP employees were arrested or indicted for corruption-related activities.” The report noted that CBP uses polygraph tests as part of employment background checks “to mitigate the risk of employee corruption and misconduct” — and it recommended that the agency consider expanding the tests. The report specifically noted that CBP internal affairs officials were expressing “concerns about the suitability of the officers and agents hired during [employment] surges because most of these officers and agents did not take a polygraph examination.”

In April of 2017, the Trump administration issued a memo pushing for authority to waive the polygraph tests in order to expedite the hiring of thousands of new CBP agents. Critics immediately raised red flags — the American Immigration Lawyers Association said it was a plan “to water down hiring standards.” Tom Jawetz, the Center for American Progress’ Vice President for Immigration, told Univision that “many agents brought on beforehand who had not gone through a polygraph were cooperating with cartels and subject to corruption.” James Tomsheck, the CBP’s former head of internal affairs, called the idea of waivers “preposterous” in light of what the polygraph tests had been finding.

Compared to other law-enforcement agencies, “a larger number of people failed the exam, but the admissions of the applicants who failed the exam were hair-raising,” Tomsheck told The Nation. “The most shocking, frankly terrifying, were the many applicants who admitted that they were infiltrators. That they actually worked for a drug-trafficking organization and had for some period of time. They had been directed to apply for the job solely for the purpose of feeding information back to the criminal organization they worked with.”

Two days after the Trump administration’s memo, Republicans introduced legislation to allow the polygraph tests to be waived. The bill — which did not even get a committee hearing — was authored by Arizona Republican Rep. Martha McSally, an immigration hardliner and supporter of a border wall. During the floor debate, she described the measure as a necessary step to “provide CBP with immediate relief so they are able to quickly, yet judiciously, hire officers and agents.”

Democrats adamantly objected. New Mexico Democratic Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham — the chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus — said “eliminating the critical polygraph requirements for certain CBP applicants only undermines our Nation’s safety, given this agency’s historic connection to organized crime, drug cartels, and corruption.” She asserted that “no other federal law enforcement agency in the country—not the FBI, DEA, ATF, or Secret Service—makes any exceptions to their polygraph exam.”

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., declared: “Anyone who votes for this bill is voting to support and implement Donald Trump’s views on immigration, his desire to militarize our southern border, and his fantasy of a mass deportation force. You cannot spin it any other way. If we want to lower the standards for screening and hiring CBP officers, eliminate checks that could help weed out candidates with criminal histories or criminal intentions, and water down the integrity of this important national security source, this bill is for you.”

O’Rourke opted to join Republicans in voting for the bill, which passed. In a statement after the vote, he echoed McSally’s rationale for the legislation, asserting that to address staffing shortfalls, the bill was necessary to “help speed up the hiring process and provide the CBP Commissioner additional authorities to recruit and hire quality CBP officers and Border Patrol agents.”


O’Rourke joined Republicans to pass legislation making the attempted murder of a law enforcement officer punishable by death.


During the same two-month stretch, O’Rourke also broke ranks from the majority of his party in supporting another GOP measure on law enforcement — legislation that, according to GovTrack, would “add the killing or attempted killing [of] a law enforcement officer to the list of aggravating factors in federal death penalty cases.”

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said the bill was “an unnecessary and misguided attempt to politicize the unfortunate deaths of law enforcement officers and could ultimately exacerbate existing tension between law enforcement and the communities they serve, especially African Americans.”

Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., argued that it would change the fundamental threshold for capital punishment by “impos[ing] a death penalty for attempted murder.” He declared: “I am not aware that we have in the law, anywhere, a death penalty for an attempted crime; and here, we are establishing a death penalty for an attempt, an unsuccessful attempt.”

O’Rourke was one of 48 Democrats to join Republicans in supporting the legislation, which passed.

Regulating Wall Street

Since the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, Republicans and bank lobbyists have been waging a campaign to whittle away the landmark Dodd-Frank legislation that instituted modest financial regulations designed to ward off another crisis. O’Rourke has a somewhat mixed record on financial issues, according to the financial watchdog group Americans for Financial Reform (AFR). At times he has voted with Democrats to protect existing regulations. Still, he has also frequently aided the GOP in some of its efforts, casting six votes for bills that Democrats say were designed to help bank lobbyists deregulate Wall Street.


In 2014 and 2018 O’Rourke cast votes for GOP bills that weakened the “Volcker Rule,” which aims to prevent financial firms from using depositors’ savings for their own speculative trading.


For instance, in 2014 and 2018 O’Rourke cast votes for GOP bills that included provisions weakening the so-called Volcker Rule, which aims to prevent financial firms from using depositors’ savings for their own speculative trading.

AFR sent a letter to lawmakers warning that the 2014 bill “contains a number of potentially significant deregulatory measures.” Among the most problematic provisions, said the group, were those that “would deregulate international derivatives markets”; “would greatly weaken the CFTC’s ability to protect against” inappropriate transactions; and “cut off the ability of the SEC to include needed investor protection measures as part of their regulatory efforts.” The letter warned that the bill’s “weakening of the Volcker Rule can be expected mainly to benefit large Wall Street banks that wish to find an end run around proprietary trading restrictions.”

In the debate over the 2018 bill, Democratic lawmakers on the House Financial Services Committee noted that the legislation was “the latest attempt to weaken the Volcker Rule, a cornerstone of Wall Street reform enacted in the wake of the financial crisis.”

Also in 2017 and 2018:

– O’Rourke voted for GOP legislation that Democrats said would empower financial institutions to shield themselves from bank examiners. House Democrats on the Financial Services Committee described the bill as one trying to “postpone material supervisory determinations by the bank’s regulator” and “make it more likely that megabanks would be able to escape or delay accountability for egregious violations of federal laws protecting consumers and the economy.” AFR begged lawmakers to oppose it, saying: “The impact of this legislation in weakening bank supervision would be especially great at the nation’s largest banks. Its effect would be to substantially increase the risk of systemic problems, and of unfair and predatory treatment of consumers.”

– O’Rourke voted for a package of Republican bills that Democrats said would reduce independent audits of corporations, deregulate stock exchanges and restrict regulators’ ability to monitor high-frequency trading. The legislation followed a series of “flash crashes” that sent stock prices tumbling and that prompted new rules from the Securities and Exchange Commission. Less than two years before the GOP legislation, former Democratic U.S. Sen. Ted Kaufman warned that unless regulators strengthened their oversight, the economy was vulnerable to a repeat of the flash crashes. O’Rourke supported the GOP bill, even though Rep. Waters pointed out that the GOP legislation “would ease the ability of high frequency traders to manipulate the stock markets undetected [and] encourage a regulatory race-to-the-bottom at our nation’s stock exchanges.”

– O’Rourke voted for a Republican bill to permit larger number of bank holding companies to take on more debt. In a sentiment echoed by House Democrats, AFR noted that the policy would allow larger banks to “more easily acquire smaller community banks, reducing the number of independent community banks.”


O’Rourke voted for a Republican bill to weaken requirements for financial firms to inform customers that their personal information is being shared with third-party corporations.


– O’Rourke voted for a Republican bill to weaken requirements for financial firms to inform customers that their personal information is being shared with third-party corporations. The vote on the deregulatory legislation — which was backed by Wall Street lobbying groups — came only weeks after Equifax exposed millions of Americans’ personal information to hackers. Republicans argued that the bill was necessary to reduce “the regulatory burden upon, particularly, our struggling community financial institutions, our community banks, and credit unions.”

Democrats on the Financial Services Committee urged a “no” vote, arguing that the bill “would eliminate meaningful, clear disclosures to consumers about their privacy rights, including their ability to opt-out from having their information sold to unaffiliated third party companies.”

Trade

In 2015, congressional Democrats, labor unions, environmental groups and consumer organizations were frantically trying to block a Republican measure to pass Trade Promotion Authority, which provides presidents more unilateral power to negotiate trade deals, with less input from Congress.


In 2015, Beto broke ranks with unions and environmentalists by voting to pass the Trade Promotion Authority, which provides presidents more unilateral power to negotiate trade deals.


The measure — backed by a powerful corporate lobby — was particularly fraught because it was seen as a prerequisite for the Trans Pacific Partnership. That proposed 12-nation trade deal had become a source of national debate, because — among other things — it included controversial provisions to empower foreign corporations to use international tribunals to overturn local, state and federal laws.

During the floor debate, the opposition was led by Rep. Sander Levin, D-MI, who argued that a “yes” vote meant “saying ‘fine’ to giving private investors in growing numbers the ability to choose an unregulated arbitration panel instead of a well-established judicial system in order to overturn local or national health or environmental regulations.”

Rep. Nydia Velasquez, D-N.Y., similarly argued that “we are being asked to vote for an agreement that will cost jobs, undermine environmental protections, and erode workers’ rights, all in the name of so-called free trade.” The vote, she said, “comes down to a simple question: Are you going to side with Wall Street, large corporations, and their lobbyists, or will you stand with working families in your district?”

In the end, the opposition was not enough — TPA passed twice by razor-thin margins. Once again O’Rourke broke ranks with House Democrats and most of the Texas Democratic delegation to cast crucial votes to pass the GOP bill.

In the aftermath, O’Rourke — who has also been a promoter of the North American Free Trade Agreement — refused to concede that his vote was a sign of support for the TPP.

“My vote for TPA is not a vote for TPP and does not give the President the authority to commit this country to TPP,” he said in a statement at the time. “In fact, if the President fails to meet the ambitious objectives defined in TPA, I will vote against TPP.”

Health Care

Along with legislation to fully repeal large portions of the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, Republicans have also mounted a death-by-a-thousands-cuts strategy against the landmark legislation. O’Rourke has been a supporter of improving Obamacare, expanding Medicaid and adding a public option to compete with private insurance. In three instances, though, he broke with the majority of House Democrats to help Republicans, and in one instance, he backed a GOP bill Democrats said was designed to prop up the Trump administration’s attempts to replace Obamacare.

The ACA established the Independent Payment Advisory Board to recommend ways to reduce Medicare spending. In the words of its chief proponent, former Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., the board “was created to protect Medicare for seniors – by improving the quality of Medicare services and by extending the life of Medicare for years to come.”


O’Rourke defied his party and twice voted to kill the Independent Payment Advisory Board, after Sarah Palin cited it as proof that the Affordable Care Act was creating “death panels.”


According to the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the language creating the board prohibited it from proposing rationing, reduced benefits, higher premiums or restricted eligibility. Despite those safeguards, Republicans led by former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin soon pointed to the board as proof that Democrats were aiming to create “death panels.” In a 2010 Wall Street Journal op-ed, Palin asserted that the board would create “‘death panel’-like rationing” that makes “bureaucrats, not medical professionals, the ultimate arbiters of what types of treatment will (and especially will not) be reimbursed under Medicare.”

As that mythology spread throughout conservative media, Republicans in 2015 and 2017 brought up legislation to stoke those fears and eliminate the board.

Representing Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., wrote in the bill report that the legislation was part of “Republicans’ piecemeal attempt to dismantle the health reform.”

O’Rourke defied his party and twice voted with Republicans to kill the board. He also officially co-sponsored both measures. He additionally broke with his party by voting for a separate Republican measure to require more reporting about health exchange enrollment. Pallone, the New Jersey Democrat, cast the legislation as an effort to drown federal officials in unnecessary paperwork and “impede the efforts of the administration to implement the Affordable Care Act.”

A few years later, when Republicans were pushing to replace the ACA with Trump’s American Health Care Act (AHCA), O’Rourke voted for Republican legislation to provide special tax credits for COBRA benefits — an initiative that Democrats said was part of the larger Trump scheme to kill off the ACA and eliminate protections for Americans with preexisting conditions.

“The AHCA would allow insurers to charge older Americans up to five times more than they charge younger Americans,” Neal said during the floor debate. “The tax credits in [the bill] would not make COBRA coverage any more affordable for the American people. In addition, it could potentially weaken the risk pool coverage because it would encourage older and sicker workers to remain on COBRA that could hurt small businesses. This is simply a backdoor way for States to discriminate against existing conditions.”

Taxes

In 2017, O’Rourke joined his party in voting against President Donald Trump’s tax cut package, which delivered big benefits to corporations and the wealthy. His Senate campaign website cited deficit concerns about those tax cuts’ cost.


O’Rourke again broke ranks with House Democrats — and the Texas Democratic delegation — to vote for GOP tax cuts.


But that was not the end of the story for Republicans. Within months, they began pressing a new package of tax cuts that Democratic groups, such as the Center for American Progress, deemed the “Tax Scam 2.” One piece of that package was a proposal that a critical Los Angeles Times editorial said “would carve out a new tax shelter for start-up businesses.”

As Democrats sought to present a unified front against the new GOP tax cuts, O’Rourke broke ranks with House Democrats — and most of the Texas Democratic delegation — to vote for the GOP legislation. He supported the initiative, even though the Congressional Budget Office warned that the bill would expand the deficit.


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Politics & Government

The Governor and the Oil Lobbyist: Report Blasts Jerry Brown’s Friendship With Lucie Gikovich

Co-Published by Fast Company
How much influence has a former Jerry Brown staffer-turned-lobbyist had over the governor?

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A report calls on incoming governor Gavin Newsom to investigate a lobbyist’s efforts in California.


 

Co-Published by Fast Company

Lucie Gikovich, a longtime friend and former member of California Governor Jerry Brown’s staff, repeatedly lobbied his office on behalf of a group of oil and gas companies that won major concessions from the governor on important state legislation, according to a report released today by a New York-based non-profit organization.

Gikovich’s decades-long friendship with Brown has previously been reported by the Sacramento Bee, including the fact that he stays at her home while on official business in Washington, DC. But her oil and gas industry ties have not received attention prior to this report, according to report author Derek Seidman, a research analyst with the Public Accountability Initiative, which is funded by foundations and the American Federation of Teachers.


Lucie Gikovich, her business partner and firm have donated $114,500 to Brown’s campaigns over the years.


“She’s someone that Brown clearly completely trusts and yet is being extremely well paid by her clients to lobby on behalf of their interests,” said Seidman, whose report is titled The California Oil Veto: The Lobbyist Behind Governor Jerry Brown’s Concessions to Big Oil. Gikovich, who works with the D.C.-based Crane Group, has lobbied Brown’s office on behalf of corporate clients for a range of industries since 2011. Gikovich, her business partner and firm have donated $114,500 to Brown’s campaigns over the years.

For her part, Gikovich denies having an outsized influence on Brown and minimizes her role in legislation that the report says she influenced. “Governor Brown, more than anyone I know, makes up his own mind after hearing from all sides and carefully analyzing all aspects of the issues,” she wrote in an email. “He makes his decisions on the merits, regardless of his relationships with those involved.”

Evan Westrup, a spokesperson for the Governor, added a few choice words about the then-unpublished report, when it was described to him in an email. “This report is about as factual – and substantive – as a tweet from Donald Trump,” said Westrup. “The governor had no knowledge that any of these companies were her clients, but even if he did, it would’ve made no difference. On these bills – and the thousands of others that have crossed his desk – the focus has always been on what’s best for California, which is why the state’s record of climate action is unmatched in the Western world.”


Phillips 66, one of Gikovich’s clients, has paid her $937,500 in fees and retainers to lobby the governor’s office and state regulatory boards since 2012.


The Public Accountability Initiative’s report builds on a longstanding critique of the California governor who, many environmentalists claim, has been too cozy with Big Oil interests in spite of his reputation as a national leader in combating global climate change and reducing demand for fossil fuels in the state. The report also calls on incoming governor Gavin Newsom to investigate Gikovich’s lobbying efforts in California and to “sever the state’s ties to Gikovich.”

One of Gikovich’s clients, the oil refinery operator Phillips 66, has paid her $937,500 in fees and retainers to lobby the governor’s office and various state regulatory boards since 2012. She was the Houston-based firm’s highest paid lobbyist in California, according to the report.

Gikovich served as a top aide to Brown during his first two terms as governor and he hired her as his federal lobbyist when he was mayor of Oakland, a job that earned her $780,000 from 2001 to 2007, according to the report. She also served as Brown’s press secretary during his failed 1982 run for the U.S. Senate. As governor, Brown has included her in trade delegations to China and Mexico.

Brown reportedly stayed with Gikovich in her Washington D.C. home in 2013, at the time she was lobbying on behalf of Phillips 66 and Halliburton, and other corporate clients. Such hospitality might not violate ethics laws if the stay “is related to another purpose unconnected with the lobbyist’s professional activities,” according to the state’s ethics rules at the time.

“I find it hard to believe that they would’ve not talked about any official business but no one can know for certain, of course,” says Seidman, whose report says those visits may constitute a “possible violation of ethics rules.”

The visits were “all personal, not business” and evidence of Brown’s frugality as well as his desire to visit with friends, according to Gikovich’s email.

Gikovich’s client during the battle over two bills to extend California’s landmark climate program, known as cap-and-trade, was Phillips 66, which operates oil refineries in Santa Maria and Rodeo. The package that the governor signed last year included major concessions to the oil industry and split the environmental community, with mainstream environmentalists supporting the compromise and environmental justice groups turning against it.

Gikovich said that her work on the cap-and-trade program—for which she reportedly was paid $105,000 in 2017—was mostly confined to monitoring the legislation. “There was no contact with the Governor personally on these issues,” she wrote.

In 2013, Gikovich also reported lobbying Brown’s office on behalf of Houston-based Halliburton, the oilfield services giant, on a proposed senate bill sponsored by then-Democratic State Senator Fran Pavley that regulated hydraulic fracturing—”fracking”—an oil extraction method that brings with it the risks of drinking water contamination and of inducing earthquakes, as well as air pollution.

That bill lost the support of environmentalists after the oil industry lobbied to amend it to allow fracking to continue while the process was being studied, as High Country News reported at the time. Westrup countered via email that “prior to this bill, there was no integrated, comprehensive regulatory oversight of this production stimulation method, which has been used in California for more than 30 years.”

Gikovich wrote that the Crane Group “had a small subcontract” to provide strategic advice to Halliburton and that she “never spoke even once to the Governor or staff on their issues, including fracking.”

The report also credits Gikovich with playing a key role in advocating for the Southern California Gas Company after its Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility sprung a massive methane leak in 2015, causing the evacuation of thousands of nearby residents. She lobbied Brown’s office on behalf of the utility in opposition of a bill that would have granted disaster victims more latitude in litigation against the company. In an email, she said that she submitted a lengthy policy memo, but did not speak to Brown or his staff.

Brown nixed the bill, writing that “nothing has been shown to indicate that current law is insufficient to holding polluters accountable.”

“It seems pretty clear that Gikovich’s lobbying of his office correlated really closely with his veto of this,” said Seidman.


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Big Pharma Bankrolled Pro-Trump Group As Trump Pushed Pharma Tax Cut

In 2017 the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America gave $2.5 million to America First Policies Inc. — a major dark money group supporting President Donald Trump’s political and economic agenda.

David Sirota

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The major dark money group supporting President Donald Trump’s political and economic agenda raked in millions of dollars directly from the pharmaceutical industry’s main lobbying group — at the same time Trump backed off his position on a major drug issue and promoted a tax plan that was a windfall for the industry.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America gave $2.5 million to America First Policies in 2017, according to IRS documents. America First Policies was formed by former Trump advisers in 2017 and proudly touts itself as a pro-Trump organization. The PhRMA money represented more than 10 percent of America First Policies’ revenues in 2017, according to the group’s own IRS filings.

The IRS documents were obtained by MapLight, a nonpartisan group that tracks the influence of money in politics.

While campaigning for president, Trump pledged to take action to generally reduce drug prices and to allow Medicare to negotiate lower prices for prescription medications. He then appointed a former pharmaceutical executive to run the Department of Health and Human Services, and slammed the Medicare negotiation concept after a meeting with pharmaceutical executives.

“I’ll oppose anything that makes it harder for smaller, younger companies to take the risk of bringing their product to a vibrantly competitive market,” Trump said. “That includes price-fixing by the biggest dog in the market, Medicare.”

While Trump has moved to allow limited negotiation in some parts of Medicare, he has rejected the larger policy he campaigned on, leaving it out of his prescription drug proposal released earlier this year.

Trump also passed a tax cut that benefited the pharmaceutical industry, but that has not corresponded with a drop in prescription drug prices. America First Policies launched an ad campaign to promote those tax cuts, and spent the end of the 2018 campaign promoting them. PhRMA also gave $1.5 million to the American Action Network, which aired an ad campaign in support of the tax-cut legislation.


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Education

Will New York Fund Amazon Subsidies or Student Debt Relief?

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo made headlines begging Amazon to site its second headquarters in the state. Now, however, prominent Democrats in the state Senate and Assembly have slammed the idea of offering taxpayer subsidies to the retail giant.

David Sirota

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Long Island City photo by King of Hearts

Co-published by Splinter

Elections have consequences, and they may have particularly immediate consequences for billionaire Jeff Bezos, as newly empowered New York Democrats appear to be positioning themselves to try to block new state subsidies for Amazon, now that the online retailing titan has chosen New York City and Northern Virginia as new headquarters locations.

A day before last week’s midterm elections, when Amazon’s choice was still up in the air, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo made headlines begging Amazon to site its second headquarters in the state. “I’ll change my name to Amazon Cuomo if that’s what it takes,” said Cuomo, as reports surfaced about Amazon potentially moving in to Long Island City.

The next day, though, Democrats won control of the state Assembly and state Senate. Now, prominent Democrats in those chambers have slammed the idea of New York offering taxpayer subsidies to Amazon. And one lawmaker wants the legislature to decide between giving Amazon taxpayer largesse or addressing the state’s student debt crisis.

Democratic Assemblyman Ron Kim announced that he will introduce legislation to slash New York’s economic development subsidies and use the money to buy up and cancel student debt — a move he said would provide a bigger boost to the state’s economy. The legislation, says Kim, would halt any Cuomo administration offer of taxpayer money to Amazon, which could reap up to $1 billion in tax incentives if it moves to Long Island City. The deal is a goodie bag for Amazon: It includes everything from a $325 million cash grant to a promise that taxpayers will help secure a helipad for Amazon executives.

“Giving Jeff Bezos hundreds of millions of dollars is an immoral waste of taxpayers’ money when it’s crystal clear that the money would create more jobs and more economic growth when it is used to relieve student debt,” said Kim, who recently published an op-ed with law professor Zephyr Teachout criticizing the Amazon deal. “Giving Amazon this type of corporate welfare is no different, if not worse, than Donald Trump giving trillions in corporate tax breaks at the federal level. There’s no correlation between healthy, sustainable job creation and corporate giveaways. If we used this money to cancel distressed student debt instead, there would be immediate positive GDP growth, job creation and impactful social-economic returns.”

New York has the most expensive set of corporate subsidy programs in the country, and a report by the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research found that such subsidies “are not cost-effective, with either no statistically significant effects or large costs per job created.” Kim noted that in 2015 alone, New York gave out more than $8 billion in corporate incentives. He pointed to a recent study by the Levy Institute that found cancelling student debt would result “in an increase in real GDP [and] a decrease in the average unemployment rate.”

In New York, student debt has ballooned. A 2016 report by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office found that “the delinquency rate among New York student loan borrowers rose by more than a third over the past decade while average borrower balances in the State increased by nearly 48 percent, to $32,200.” A memo outlining Kim’s bill says the legislation would empower New York officials to “exercise their eminent domain powers to buy, cancel, and/or monetize the state’s out of control student debt,” which the memo says totals more than $82 billion.

Kim’s move followed criticism of a possible Amazon deal by Senator Michael Gianaris, who led Democrats’ successful effort to win control of the chamber, and who is expected to be in one of the Senate’s top jobs.

“Offering massive corporate welfare from scarce public resources to one of the wealthiest corporations in the world at a time of great need in our state is just wrong,” Gianaris and City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, both of whom represent Long Island City, said in a press release. “The burden should not be on the 99 percent to prove we are worthy of the one percent’s presence in our communities, but rather on Amazon to prove it would be a responsible corporate neighbor.”


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2018 Election Results

7 Takeaways from California’s Elections

Two of the biggest shockers happened in Los Angeles and Orange counties, in races that have historically drawn the most conservative voters: sheriff and district attorney.

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Official voting results are weeks away from getting verified for the 2018 general election, but big, historic trends are already emerging: some old, some new, some bad — and a lot of Blue.


1. Real estate interests prove again that they’re some of the evilest people in California history

The people who helped to bring to the Golden State housing covenants, redlining, Proposition 13, the overturning of the Rumford Fair Housing Act, McMansions in canyons that always burn and so much more housing nastiness were on the wrong side of history again this election cycle. They spent at least $74 million to demonize Proposition 10—which would only allow municipalities the right to consider rent control—to the point where even renters felt it was a nefarious plot to destroy property values and bankrupt elderly landlords. Unsurprisingly, Prop. 10 lost by a nearly two-thirds majority, and real estate special-interests groups will spend even more if another such measure ever goes statewide again.

2. The Democrats’ next big battleground will be the Central Valley

Most of the Dems’ millions were spent on flipping Orange County blue, but as I wrote for the Los Angeles Times recently, the Democrats can learn a lot for 2020 by what’s happening in the Central Valley. There, Latino candidates have climbed the political ladder from school board seats to a majority of the Valley’s state Assembly and state Senate seats, flipping two of the latter with Latinas (Anna Caballero in the 12th, Melissa Hurtado in the 14th) on Tuesday. What they yet don’t have is one of the congressional seats held by the region’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: David Valadao, Jeff Denham, Kevin McCarthy and Devin Nunes, all whom won their races this time around (although Denham is still sweating his out). Expect the Dems to groom some rising stars for 2020—and expect them to mine data from the Valley about how to attract rural voters.

3. People in Southern California mistrust law enforcement more than ever before

Two of the biggest shockers happened around elected positions that have historically drawn the most conservative voters: sheriff and district attorney. In Orange County, Supervisor Todd Spitzer handily beat 20-year incumbent DA Tony Rackauckas, who has been dogged by a jailhouse snitch scandal for years. But even more surprising was the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s race, where Jim McConnell—supported by virtually the entire L.A. political class—lost to former deputy Alex Villanueva. Villanueva will be the first Democratic sheriff in more than 100 years.

4. Los Alamitos is now unofficially Southern California’s City of Hate

The tiny northwest Orange County town made news earlier this year when the city council decided to pass an ordinance protesting California’s sanctuary state law. The councilman who pushed that resolution, Warren Kusumoto, was reelected this week. But also winning a seat was former councilmember Dean Grose, who made national headlines in 2009 when he emailed a racist cartoon of a watermelon patch growing outside the Obama White House.

5. AIDS Healthcare Foundation needs to stop wasting money on propositions

The nonprofit giant spent over $23 million on the Yes on 10 battle, two years after spending $4.5 million on Proposition 60 to mandate condoms on adult films sets in California and more than $14 million on Proposition 61 to regulate prescription drugs bought by the state. Last year, it spent $5.5 million on Measure S, an anti-development ordinance in Los Angeles. All that money went to nothing, as each measure lost handily. Maybe AIDS Healthcare Foundation head Michael Weinstein should’ve spent that $47 million on services?

6. The California GOP’s last, best hope are Asians

The party has long been dead in the state, but a glimmer of hope has emerged for it in Orange County. Asian-American Republicans there now hold one congressional and state Senate seat, two state Assembly spots, three of the five chairs on the Board of Supervisors, and multiple school board and city council positions. And the new mayor of Anaheim, Orange County’s largest city, is Indian-American Harry Sidhu. Leave it to Orange County to get minorities to side with the Party of Trump!

7. With five of seven congressional seats now Democrat, this ain’t your dad’s Orange County anymore

It’s not even your Orange County. A brave new OC awaits all of us, indeed….


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Why Was Climate Change Omitted From Colorado’s Debate Over Fracking?

Co-published by Westword
The total absence of climate change discussion in Colorado’s 2018 election was striking, considering the state’s intensified floods, droughts and wildfires.

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Illustration: Nicolás Zúñiga

Over eight debates between gubernatorial candidates Jared Polis and Walker Stapleton, Colorado’s press corps mustered just three questions about climate change.


 

Co-published by Westword

It is no overstatement to say that Colorado’s Proposition 112 and Amendment 74 were two of the most significant and far-reaching climate change measures in America’s entire midterm election. But don’t blame yourself if you didn’t know that. While the initiatives sparked a pitched battle about the fossil fuel industry just as scientists were issuing a dire warning about climate change, that term — “climate change” — was largely absent from the state’s political conversation in 2018, even though some local officials say climate change could cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in the near future.


While Colorado’s oil and gas industry was asserting that burning carbon-emitting fracked gas is “helping to reduce carbon emissions,” it sponsored an anonymous website attacking journalists who report on energy and climate issues.


Oil and gas corporations spent roughly $40 million to oppose 112, which would have mandated larger distances between fossil fuel extraction sites and schools, hospitals and residential neighborhoods, and likely restricted some fossil fuel development. Some of that money also went into promoting 74, which would have empowered those same oil and gas companies to sue towns that try to restrict drilling and fracking. While the industry offered a smorgasbord of arguments in its campaign — it would defund schools, it would kill jobs, etc. — those criticisms were all based on one central premise: that the setbacks measure would allegedly ban all new oil and gas exploration.

Had climate change been a central topic of conversation, that assertion could have boomeranged on the industry — proponents could have argued that an all-out ban was in fact urgently needed in light of a recent United Nations report warning of a full-fledged dystopia if new fossil fuel development is not halted. And they might have found a receptive audience: Recent polling from the University of Colorado has shown that 70 percent of Coloradans say they are at least somewhat concerned about climate change — and that survey was done before a summer of climate-change-intensified wildfires.


Even though Prop. 112 was not a total ban on fossil fuel extraction, at least a few national voices noted that it represented an important front in the climate change battle.


However, the Colorado press corps barely mentioned climate change in its coverage of the fight, and groups pushing the proposition never made climate change a central argument in their campaign.

An analysis by Media Matters found that out of 12 Colorado newspaper editorials about 112, just one — that of the Boulder Daily Camera, which endorsed the measure — even mentioned climate change. News coverage of 112 focused alternately on the health and environmental hazards highlighted by activists and industry doomsaying about its economic and budgetary implications, but reporting on fossil fuel-related carbon emissions and their contribution to climate change was almost nonexistent.

That was true not only of the fight over 112, but of the state’s wider political discourse. Over eight debates between governor-elect Jared Polis and opponent Walker Stapleton, the Colorado press corps mustered just three questions about climate change, accounting for less than 10 minutes of discussion during eight and a half hours of debate.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association was sponsoring an anonymous website attacking journalists who report on energy and climate issues. And as a backup measure to defang any potential climate arguments, the industry also ramped up its production of promotional PR asserting that burning carbon-emitting fracked gas is “helping to reduce carbon emissions,” as COGA insists. That assertion relies on the public never realizing that it’s only true in comparison to burning coal, but not actually true overall: Natural gas is a fossil fuel, so carbon is emitted when it is burned — no matter what COGA tries to insinuate.


The defeat of an explicitly climate-related ballot measure in Washington State suggests that many voters are not willing to support even modest efforts to frontally address climate change.


That context, though, is rarely noted in a political arena that has long been dominated by armies of fossil fuel lobbyists and millions of dollars of fossil fuel campaign spending. This year, much of that money was spent on ads designed to narrow the debate to one primarily about jobs and economic impact, thereby precluding 112 campaigners from broadening the conversation to one about the climate change dangers of fossil fuel extraction. Colorado Rising, the group behind Proposition 112, was boxed into making arguments only about better protecting the public health and safety of those living near fracking rigs, and to defensively insist that the measure wasn’t an actual ban.

In a media environment that was already erasing climate change from the conversation, there was no space for them to more straightforwardly argue that dramatic reductions in fossil fuel extraction are necessary to address climate change.

“What the polling is showing is that if people are really convinced that it’s an outright ban, they aren’t going to vote for it,” Colorado Rising’s Anne Lee Foster told Capital & Main when asked why climate change wasn’t a more prominent part of the campaign. “It’s not about what the actual percentage [ban] is, it’s proving that they have been blowing this out of proportion the whole time.”

At times, 112’s proponents ended up publicly asserting that the measure would not significantly reduce fossil fuel extraction at all, even as climate scientists argue that’s exactly what’s necessary.

“The oil and gas folks out there will still be able to do their thing,” said Mark Williams, a former Democratic congressional candidate, at a Longmont town hall where he promoted 112. “My concern is you have all these operators that are out there that are trying to make a quick buck, [but] Colorado does not have strong enough regulations.”

There’s no guarantee 112 would have been more successful had the proponents tried to focus the fight on climate change; the oil and gas industry’s success in defeating an explicitly climate-related ballot measure in Washington State suggests that many voters are not willing to support even modest efforts to frontally address climate change.

However, the total absence of the issue in Colorado’s 2018 election was striking, considering not only the IPCC report, but also the state’s own specific struggles with the effects of climate change. After all, leading scientists say that climate change is already intensifying Colorado’s floods, droughts and wildfires. And although COGA has demanded that “natural gas must be part of the climate change conversation,” many of those scientists disagree.

“There is more than enough carbon in the world’s already developed, operating oil, gas, and coal fields globally to exceed 2°C,” wrote a group of 26 climate scientists in a July letter to California Governor Jerry Brown, urging him to immediately halt the approval of all new oil and gas drilling. “There is simply no room in the carbon budget for any new fossil fuel extraction.”

“Absolutely no new fossil fuel developments. None,” said climate scientist Will Steffen, when asked earlier this year what the U.S. needs to do to help avoid global catastrophe. “That means no new coal mines, no new oil wells, no new gas fields, no new unconventional gas fracking. Nothing new.”

This is why even though 112 was not a total ban on fossil fuel extraction, at least a few national voices noted that its potential to somewhat reduce that extraction represented an important front in the climate change battle.

In a guest column for the Denver Post, former NASA scientist James Hansen encouraged Coloradans to vote for 112 because it would “help prevent climate change by making oil and gas harder to access.” Senator Bernie Sanders, who has called for a nationwide ban on fracking, also endorsed the measure on climate-related grounds. And toward the end of the campaign, 350.org founder Bill McKibben promoted the measure as part of his organization’s nationwide push to combat climate change.

But by that point, the industry’s PR machine was already skilled at suppressing any discussion of climate change and transforming every 112 argument into economic alarmism. An editorial in oil magnate Phil Anschutz’s Colorado Springs Gazette was emblematic: In attacking McKibben, it didn’t even bother to mention climate change, much less address his substantive argument.

Instead, its headline simply screamed, “Out-of-stater comes to kill Colorado jobs.”


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