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Why California Politics Is Different from the Rest of the Country

February 20, 2013 in Blogs

By Don Hazen, Alyssa Figueroa, AlterNet



What’s happening politically in California — the big state that used to be ahead of the curve in terms of innovation — may foreshadow a brighter future for liberal ideas, union growth and people power than many have predicted. California may be back to lead the way, after decades of shrinking budgets and cuts to education.

In the latest national bad news for unions, recent data from the Bureau of Labor statistics showed that the total number of union members fell by 400,000 last year, making the percentage of workers in unions 11.3 percent nationwide — the lowest level since 1916.

In stark contrast, California added 100,000 union jobs last year. Why is the state bucking the trend? One reason is the intense level of grassroots organizing by groups like California Calls, the statewide alliance of local organizations working to expand the electorate, which has led to successful initiatives – the first eliminated the California law that required a two-thirds majority to pass the annual budget, which gave a small number of Republicans the ability to hold up the entire process. Then in 2012, the highly unlikely happened: The State voted in support of Proposition 30, which raised taxes in the state, primarily on the wealthy, ending years of deadlock in Sacramento, and huge budget cuts.

Now in California there is a two-thirds supermajority of Democrats in both houses of the state legislature, along with Democratic governor Jerry Brown. Meanwhile, in normally blue states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan, there is currently full Republican control of state government.

Another factor contributing to California’s union success is foresight. Anthony Thigpenn, the chair of California Calls, explained: “The Social Service Employees Union (SEIU) understood a decade ago that low-wage workers could be organized effectively in California, and the increase of union jobs in the state is in part due to their early work.”

California is also not going the way of other states in attacking unions. As Kent Wong, director of the USC Los Angeles Labor Center, said: “The voters in this state passed Prop. 30, which raised taxes to reinvest millions of dollars to public education. That …read more
Source: ALTERNET

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Monsanto Likely to Score Supreme Court Win with Far-Reaching Benefits for Corporate Farming

February 20, 2013 in Blogs

By Jill Richardson, AlterNet




On Feb. 19, 2013, the Supreme Court heard yet another Monsanto case. (And yet again, Justice Clarence Thomas, former lawyer for Monsanto, did not recuse himself.) This time around, it was Monsanto vs. Vernon Hugh Bowman, an Indiana soybean and wheat farmer.

The issue in question is a familiar one for those who follow the issue of genetically engineered seeds. Each buyer of Monsanto's patented seeds must sign a “Technology Agreement” and pay a technology fee. In the case of soybeans, soybeans themselves are seeds. A farmer who plants Monsanto’s patented soybean seeds will grow a crop of soybeans, which are themselves also seeds. The Technology Agreement prohibits the farmer from saving and replanting those seeds. It also forbids the buyer from doing research on Monsanto’s patented seeds.

In some cases, Monsanto licenses its genetically engineered seeds to other seed companies, like Pioneer (owned by DuPont). When a farmer buys Pioneer seeds with Monsanto patented genes in them, he pays one price for the seeds themselves – and that money goes to Pioneer – and a second fee, the Technology Fee, to Monsanto. The technology fee pays for Monsanto’s patented genes.

Because of the Technology Agreement and the patent on Monsanto’s genes, a farmer who saves and replants these seeds can be sued. Previously, Monsanto has filed 136 patent infringement lawsuits against 400 farmers and 53 small farm businesses. Monsanto has won 70 of these lawsuits, winning damages totaling more than $23 million.

There is almost no way to obtain Monsanto’s patented genes without paying for them via a Technology Fee and signing a Technology Agreement. But Bowman found one.

Instead of going to a seed dealer to buy seeds, Bowman went to his local grain elevator and bought some soybeans. These soybeans were a mishmash of every variety every farmer in his area grew and sold to the elevator. Some were Roundup Ready, meaning that they were genetically engineered to withstand Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup. Some were not. Different varieties within the mix mature at different rates and produce different yields. By any account, they were not terribly useful as seeds. But they were cheap.

The elevator was not selling its soybeans as …read more
Source: ALTERNET

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Michael Moore: How My Friend and Current Oscar Nominee Was Held and Threatened with Deportation at LAX

February 20, 2013 in Blogs

By Michael Moore, AlterNet




 

Tuesday night was the Motion Picture Academy-sponsored dinner in Beverly Hills honoring the directors and producers of this year's five nominated films for Best Documentary. The dinner was an occasional tradition my wife and I started six years ago when we took our fellow nominees (we were nominated for 'Sicko') out for a meal to get to know each other. The Academy liked the idea, so this year it is holding dinners during Oscar Week for each of the separate branches' Oscar nominees.

Thus, last night, as an elected Governor of the Documentary Branch, I and my fellow Governors – Michael Apted and Rob Epstein – were co-hosting the nominee dinner for the documentary filmmakers. But one of the nominated directors was not there – Emad Burnat, the co-director of the Oscar-nominated '5 Broken Cameras.' This exceptional, award-winning movie about how Emad's village in the West Bank used non-violence to oppose the Israeli's government's decision to build a wall straight through their farms and village – only to see (and capture on camera) Israeli soldiers shooting unarmed Palestinian civilians – had become the first Palestinian documentary ever to be nominated by the Academy.

While we awaited Emad's arrival from the airport – he and his family had already spent nearly six hours at an Israeli checkpoint as he was attempting to drive to Amman to catch their plane – I received an urgent text from Emad, written to me from a holding pen at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

Here is what it said, in somewhat broken English:

“Urgent – I am in the air port la they need more information why I come here 

Invitation or some thing 

Can you help they will send us back 

If you late 

Emad”

I quickly texted him back and told him that help was on the way. He wrote back to say Immigration and Customs was holding him, his wife, Soraya, and their 8-year old son (and “star” of the movie) Gibreel in a detention room at LAX. He said they would not believe him when he told them he was an Oscar-nominated director on his way to this Sunday's Oscars and to the events in LA leading up to the …read more
Source: ALTERNET

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Coming Sequester Cuts Will Make Most of Americans' Lives Worse -– And People Are Mobilizing

February 20, 2013 in Blogs

By Dave Johnson, Blog for Our Future




 

In just over a week the government is probably going to enter full-scale austerity. Republicans are refusing to end tax loopholes for big corporations and billionaires, choosing to let the “sequester” occur instead. Unless something changes, and soon, $1.2 trillion in cuts to defense and domestic spending begin to kick in. This will hit jobs, growth, and above all it will hit real people.

Starting today, real people started pushing back through a series of more than 100 events that were scheduled in 23 states around the country. They are sponsored by a coalition that includes national labor groups, Americans for Tax Fairness and Health Care for America Now. (You can see a list of events at AmericaWantsToWork.org or 99Uniting.org.)

The events come on the heels of our own campaign to send messages to members of Congress:

Disarm the Austerity Bomb. Stop the Sequester.

Actual People

This “sequester” resulted from one more of those Republican hostage-taking crises. They took the debt-ceiling hostage in an attempt to force cuts in spite of polls showing that We, the People wanted taxes raised on the wealthy and no cuts in essential things government does for people. As part of the deal to release the hostages they demanded that this looming “sequester” be set up, to bring pressure on Congress to gut other parts of the budget.

People feel squeezed, and rely on essential government services, because 40% Of Americans Now Make Less Than 1968 Minimum Wage. That’s right, the linked post explains that if the 1968 minimum wage had increased along with gains in productivity, the minimum wage would be $16.50 an hour today. Between that, the continuing effects of the recent Great Recession, the decline of union bargaining power, and the “austerity” cuts that have already been forced on us by Republicans people are already stretched to the limit. And now this.

The effect of these things on actual people has not been a part of the national budget discussion for quite a while. After all, by definition in a democracy all government spending is things We, the People decide to do to make our lives better. But also by definition in a plutocracy the things We, the People want just …read more
Source: ALTERNET

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Sen. Paul Announces Taxpayer Savings at Louisville Press Conference

February 20, 2013 in Politics & Elections

WASHINGTON, D.C. – At a press conference today in Louisville, Sen. Rand Paul announced that he will be returning $600,000 to the United States Treasury – money unspent from his official operating budget. The total amount being returned is more than 20 percent of Sen. Paul’s original office budget. Sen. Paul returned $500,000 to the Treasury last year, contributing to the $1.1 million in money unspent from his operating budget since he took office.
‘I ran to stop the reckless spending, and I pledged to the people of Kentucky that I would work to keep their hard-earned money out of the hands of Washington bureaucrats whose irresponsible spending has threatened our country’s economic health,’ Sen. Paul said. At the press conference, Sen. Paul presented taxpayers with an over-sized check for $600,000, representing the money being returned to the Treasury.
Sen. Paul will also introduce legislation this year incentivizing federal employees to identify and eliminate wasteful programs in their respective agencies.

###
…read more
Source: RAND PAUL

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Mississippi Finally 'Officially' Banned Slavery — But It's Alive and Well in America and the Rest of the World

February 20, 2013 in Blogs

By Laura Gottesdiener, AlterNet




In a major step forward, Mississippi banned slavery this week! This type of definite legislative action is ostensibly the type of thing to be excited about in an era of unprecedented political foot-dragging, so congratulations Mississippi for finally ratifying the Thirteenth Amendment. Sure, the state is a little behind the curve on this one, given that the nation is a full 148 years past the official end of slavery (more on that, in a second). But Mississippi isn’t the only state that took awhile to warm up to the idea that people shouldn't own, sell, beat and rape other people in a nation that is largely (and perhaps falsely) recognized as one of the most civilized in the world. 

Delaware waited until the turn of the twentieth century to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, while Kentucky waited another three-quarters of a century, finally ratifying the legislation in 1976. That left Mississippi the last holdout state until it ratified the amendment in 1995. But this leap forward in Mississippi history didn’t become official until earlier this week, mostly because the state forgot to tell anyone–particularly the U.S. archivist–about its 1995 ratification. After a few Mississippians saw Lincoln, they noticed online that their own state wasn’t actually part of this historic ratification, and thus this week’s action.

A lot of people are pretty excited that Mississippi has decided to join the rest of the nation in outlawing human bondage. But in these celebrations, we seem to have forgotten one thing: Modern-day slavery is still a thriving industry, both in Mississippi and in the rest of the nation.

In fact, Mississippi is something of regional slave transportation hub, according to the state’s special assistant attorney general Heather Wagner, who explains that the easy highway access to nearby major cities and the Gulf Coast ports make the state a trafficking corridor. The state recently passed rules requiring longer prison sentences for people caught enslaving and trafficking humans, such as the two Mississippi men who were recently indicted for selling or buying of children after being caught with a video that shows them enslaving and raping a girl about three years old.

To …read more
Source: ALTERNET

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Take the Public-Private Road to Efficiency

February 20, 2013 in Economics

By Chris Edwards

Chris Edwards

In his State of the Union address, President Obama laid out an array of new spending proposals, including a $50 billion plan for highways, bridges and other projects. He wants to attract “private capital” for the plan, but the problem is that federal planners would remain in control of the allocations.

America’s transportation facilities need to be continually repaired and rebuilt, but decisions about where and when should not be made in Washington. Outside of the United States, the global trend is to partly or fully privatize infrastructure, which not only attracts private capital but ensures that it goes toward high-return projects. In many cases, infrastructure companies can raise private funds, construct new bridges or highway lanes, and charge drivers directly for their use. In the U.S., state governments play an important role, but taxpayers don’t need the federal government trying to micromanage it.

Historically, infrastructure in America was frequently provided by the private sector. In the 19th century, more than 2,000 turnpike companies built thousands of miles of toll roads. The great majority of America’s vast railroad system was built without federal subsidies, and most urban rail and bus services were originally private.

American highways and bridges need repair. So does the way government approaches the job.”

The 20th-century takeover of private infrastructure by governments (in the U.S. and abroad) pushed up costs and reduced innovation. Fortunately, some governments have started to reverse course. Hundreds of billions of dollars of railways, highways, seaports, airports and other assets have been partly or fully privatized in Europe, Latin America and elsewhere, but America lags behind.

Partial privatization through public-private partnerships has become a major source of infrastructure investment in Canada and Australia, among other countries. Such partnerships improve on traditional government contracting by shifting elements of funding, management, maintenance, operations and financial risks to private businesses.

With public-private partnerships and full privatization, investment is less likely to flow to uneconomical projects that are chosen for political or ideological reasons. Private infrastructure is also more likely than government projects to be completed on-time and on-budget.

The newsletter “Public Works Financing” reports that only one of the top 38 global firms doing transportation privatization is U.S.-based (Fluor, FLR -1.66% with headquarters in Irving, Texas). Of the guide’s 726 private and public-private projects from all around the world, just 28 are in the U.S.

Nonetheless, some U.S. states have moved ahead with private infrastructure. Several projects …read more
Source: OP-EDS

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Obama's Minimum Wage Hike: A Case of Zombie Economics

February 20, 2013 in Economics

By James A. Dorn

James A. Dorn

President Obama’s proposal to increase the federal minimum wage is a case of what Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman calls “zombie economic ideas.” According to Krugman, “a zombie idea is a proposition that has been thoroughly refuted by analysis and evidence, and should be dead—but won’t stay dead because it serves a political purpose, appeals to prejudices, or both.” In his New York Times column,”Rubio and the Zombies,” Krugman does not attack the minimum wage, but he should.

A fundamental law of economics—the law of demand—states that when the price of anything (including labor) increases, the quantity demanded will decrease, assuming other things affecting demand remain unchanged. In the case of labor, this means as the price of labor (the wage rate) increases, the number of jobs will decrease, other things constant. Moreover, the decrease in employment will be greater in the long run than in the short run, as employers shift to labor-saving methods of production.

Of course, other things seldom stay constant in the real world, so the law of demand is sometimes difficult to test. But just as when the wind blows a leaf upward, the law of gravity remains intact, so too with the law of demand. Public policy should be based on sound economics, not on politically popular myths.

The United States needs to abolish the minimum wage, not increase it.”

Numerous studies have shown that when the real minimum wage is pushed above the prevailing market wage for unskilled workers, jobs are lost and others never created. The government can promise a higher wage rate, but if a worker loses her job, her income (hourly wage x hours worked) will be zero.

President Obama is practicing zombie economics when he ignores the law of demand and promises to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9, so that “no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty.” He believes that “this single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families.” If so, why not increase the federal minimum to $100 an hour and abolish poverty?

Earlier work by Princeton economists David Card and Alan Krueger (now the chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers) purported to show that modest increases in the minimum wage don’t necessarily decrease employment and may even have a positive impact on jobs for low-skilled workers. Their use of …read more
Source: OP-EDS

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5 Times Police Killed People with Mental Disabilities

February 20, 2013 in Blogs

By Laura Gottesdiener, AlterNet




The case of a young man with Down syndrome who was asphyxiated while in police custody last week has spiraled into a shocking national news story–yet another police scandal coming just on the heels of suspicions that LAPD plotted to burn Dorner alive. The tragedy began when 26-year-old Minnesota resident Robert Saylor was reluctant to leave a movie theater, prompting employees to call the police. Without stopping to learn from Saylor’s aide that he had Down syndrome, the police handcuffed him and restrained him on the ground until he died of asphyxiation

The case, which has been ruled a homicide, has sparked outrage and fear among parents and allies of those with developmental disabilities, as well as those with mental illness. Yet, this is far from the first time that the police of state officials have mishandled interactions with those with disabilities, with tragic results. As the Center for Public Representation writes, there are “significant patterns in police killings of people with psychiatric disabilities.”

Below are only a few of the recent cases. An investigative article in the Portland Press Herald put it even more bluntly, writing, “A few times each week, across the United States, police shoot and kill mentally ill people in complicated, often incredible circumstances.”

1. 15-year-old autistic child tasered by police in Iowa 

In Johnston, Iowa, police used a stun gun multiple times against a 15-year-old autistic teenager last spring. While this story made headlines because of the child’s age, the use of tasers against developmentally disabled or mentally ill people is quite common. A year-long investigation of the police department in Portland found that tasers are often used and abused–particularly against people with developmental disabilities or mental illnesses. As the Seattle Times writes, “The investigation singled out stun-gun use, saying officers frequently discharged them without justification or used them too many times on a given suspect.”

2. Mute man beaten to death by police in Toronto

In 2011 in Toronto, the police killed a 45-year-old mute man for not answering their questions. Charlie McGillivary had sustained brain injuries that left …read more
Source: ALTERNET

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Mark Thornton Discusses Spielberg’s Lincoln Movie and the Civil War

February 20, 2013 in Economics

By Daniel J. Sanchez

Mark Thornton was interviewed yesterday by Gary Franchi on Next News Network’s WHDT World News Program, which has a potential TV and internet audience of over 8 million viewers.

…read more
Source: MISES INSTITUTE