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PENSION REFORM-A pair of potential ballot initiatives written to overhaul California’s public pensions could face a rough road, according to a new poll. 

The results from a Capital & Main-David Binder Research poll of 500 likely voters shows that if the election were held today, the numbers of those voting for the measures and those against them appear to be dead even. Those numbers are not what pension-reduction advocates had hoped for going into the 2016 election cycle. 

Drafted by former Democratic San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and former Republican San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio, the so-called Voter Empowerment Initiative, and its sibling, the Government Pension Cap Act, received their official summary language (though not their official titles) from the state attorney general last week. Low numbers and lack of support among DeMaio’s fellow Republicans had already forced the pair to abandon a previous effort, the Voter Empowerment Act, last August. But the new polling data don’t hold the bulletproof voter support for either proposal that Reed has said he is counting on.  

The first measure, which would move new state and local employees from traditional defined benefit pensions into 401(k)-style retirement savings plans, tested at 42 percent in support and 42 percent opposed; its sibling measure, which would cap the amount of money government employers could pay for most new hires’ retirement benefits at no more than 11 percent of wages, or a maximum of 13 percent for public safety workers, found 40 percent support and 40 percent opposed. The poll, conducted between December 10-13, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent. 

Last week Reed told the Sacramento Bee that one of the measures would need to test at least at 60 percent to withstand the erosion expected in a heated campaign and to attract the roughly $2 million to $3 million needed for a three-month signature collection drive. After qualifying, the effort would need another $25 million to run a statewide campaign. 

“Generally an even split at this early stage does not bode well for an initiative,” said Floyd Feeney, a professor at the University of California Davis School of Law, in an email to Capital & Main. “Initiatives as a group tend to lose support as the battle progresses. This is a tendency, however, and not an ironclad rule. Money also counts.” Feeney has written two books on ballot initiatives and served as legal advisor to the Speaker’s Commission on the California Initiative Process in 2000-01. 

Veteran Republican political consultant Mike Madrid, of the Sacramento-based Grassroots Lab, said the pension-ballot poll’s dead-heat numbers aren’t impossible to surmount but will present daunting challenges for those seeking to reduce pensions. Especially in a 2016 election cycle that already includes a presidential race, a U.S. Senate seat up for grabs, and a ballot that could have as many as 20 other initiatives. 

“What you’ve got is this mushy middle that can be moved with money and argument in either direction,” he said. “People are going to be sick of campaign ads by about early October. When there’s that many political messages coming at you, the voters just tune out. Unless it’s something like legalizing marijuana, or ending the death penalty or porn actors having to wear condoms.” 

Opponents of the proposals, chiefly within organized labor, have expressed confidence that they would be able to erode support for the measures further if a campaign were to proceed. Last April political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, when asked about Reed and DeMaio’s Voter Empowerment Act, told Capital & Main, “There is an axiom in politics: It is the group whose rights are threatened that generally comes out to vote, no matter the group. And with unions, they do it every election. And they’ve got money and they’ve got organization.”

 

(Dan Braun works with unions, social justice groups and others engaged in creative change campaigns. He lives and drums in Echo Park, Los Angeles. Bill Raden is a Los Angeles writer. This was first posted at Capital & Main. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 -cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 102

Pub: Dec 18, 2015

OTHER WORDS-The holiday season is a time for nostalgia. We watch It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story, engage in time-honored traditions, and even sing songs about sleighs and sleigh bells. 

Honestly, when was the last time you rode in a sleigh?

I’ve eaten a roasted chestnut (purchased on the streets of Chicago, so I don’t know if there was an open fire involved in the roasting process), but I haven’t gone for a single sleigh ride in my whole life. 

Donald Trump’s campaign slogan — “Make America Great Again” — plays on this idea of some imagined time in the past when things were better, simpler, than they are now. But The Donald isn’t the only one who evokes this mythical past. 

On the other side of the aisle, Democrats often wax poetic about the strong middle class of the era that followed World War II, or about the social safety net President Franklin Delano Roosevelt put in place before that. 

And it’s true: America did accomplish great things in the past. But I fundamentally disagree that our better days are behind us. 

This notion of a lost Norman Rockwell America is an illusion. 

It’s easy to buy into this trope if you’re an older white man, because perhaps those really were your good old days. The post-war years in which America had a “strong middle class” were the days of a strong white middle class. 

If you’re African American, looking back to the 1950s means looking back to the days of lynching, Jim Crow, and legalized discrimination. How can that inspire nostalgia? 

In the South before the Civil Rights movement, it was open season on African Americans, with white terrorists lynching whomever they chose with impunity. And to secure the white racist vote for his New Deal programs, FDR excluded farm workers and domestic workers from basic wage and work protections. Back then, those segments of the labor force were largely black. 

There were problems in the North too. Housing discrimination against blacks was federal policy — not just a simple, organic process of “white flight.” Policies like redlining systematically denied African Americans wealth, which still harms their families and communities today. 

Nor was life peachy for women in this time.

This was the era that spurred the feminist Betty Friedan to write about “the problem that has no name.” She torpedoed the presumption that all American women ought to rejoice that their roles as cooks, house cleaners, and baby machines were now made easier with modern conveniences. 

No doubt modern women are grateful they’re no longer expected to greet their husbands with a warm meal, a cocktail, and a come-hither look when they come home from a long day of work. 

Trump’s “Make America Great Again” sloganeering — combined with his anti-Muslim, anti-black, and anti-Mexican rhetoric — makes it apparent that he and his followers don’t see the ugly parts of our nation’s past as problematic. But it’s wrong to whitewash history. 

Surely, America isn’t perfect today. We haven’t solved our problems with racism (Donald Trump is Exhibit A) and women still earn less than men. We’ve also got the specters of mass shootings, terrorism, and the climate crisis to boot. 

Yet the answer to our troubles isn’t returning to an imagined, better past. It’s finding our way to a more perfect future. As Bill Clinton said two decades ago, “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.”

 

(Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. This column was provided CityWatch by OtherWords.org.)  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 -cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 102

Pub: Dec 18, 2015

INSIDER REPORT-The distinct smell of natural gas penetrates homes for miles around the leaking Aliso Canyon natural gas “storage facility.” By storage facility we mean an abandoned oil well drilled in 1955 that So Cal Gas decided to fill with pressurized natural gas. But to describe this as a leak is akin to calling the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico a leak.

Since October, Aliso Canyon has been hemorrhaging 50,000 kgs of natural gas into the air of Porter Ranch. Think BP oil spill with natural gas in a residential neighborhood and you start to understand that this, the worst gas leak in California history is a bonafide un-natural disaster. Lest you think that is hyperbole, renowned environmental advocate Erin Brockovich recently penned an article entitled, “Porter Ranch gas leak a catastrophe not seen since BP oil spill.”

This past week, seven weeks after the leak was confirmed, and after seeing attendance plummet, teachers getting sick, and visits to the nurses office skyrocket, CastleBay Lane Charter School and Porter Ranch Community School were ordered closed by the Los Angeles School Board. The 1100 students and staff will now be relocated to schools in Winnetka and Northridge respectively. “Porter Ranch will be a ghost town soon,” said a dejected Ankana Jitsomwung La Salle, whose son Chance is among the children suffering health effects and has been relocated.

As this crisis deepens, the community and elected leaders are beginning to ask, “Where has Gov. Brown been?” His office has been conspicuously silent.

“In this chaotic crisis, one of the most disruptive environmental and community catastrophic events of our time, we need our Governor to speak up, speak out, and bring the full force of his office to help the families impacted,” said LA City Councilmember Mitchell Englander. Englander has attended several town hall meetings in the area and the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council meeting on the issue. Each meeting brought overflow crowds to venues that could hold well over 1,000 people. 

As this crisis deepens one has to wonder when this nightmare for Porter Ranch residents will end, and when our Governor, who declared a State of Emergency in San Bernadino due to the terrorist attack, will step up and help the thousands who are waiting to evacuate the poison entering their homes from the Aliso Canyon catastrophe.

 

(Jim Alger is a long-time political activist. He is perhaps best known for spearheading the ‘pushback’ effort that culminated in the MOU Agreement between Los Angeles neighborhood councils and the Department of Water and Power. )

–cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 103

Pub: Dec 22, 2015

GUEST WORDS--10. An abject apology from Donald Trump for being a Birther; anti-immigrant; a builder of buildings that look like big Dunhill cigarette lighters; the world's most punishing source of Green Cards for women who marry him to get one; daring to rate women as no longer Tens when he himself has never been a One; going bankrupt multiple times in order to stick other people with his bad-judgment debt; pretending he ever hit a home run when actually, he was born on Third Base -- and oh, yes, setting the hair weave industry all the way back to Rogaine.

9. If Trump doesn't apologize, I wish us all the gift of remembering that Hitler was democratically elected -- in a low voter turnout.

8. I would like state legislatures to stop building prisons with money that once went to universities, thus keeping way too many people in prison and way too many people in lifetime debt. This would not happen if Americans gave ourselves the gift of knowing and caring who our state legislators are.

7. I'm glad we've begun to raise our daughters more like our sons -- but it will never work until we raise our sons more like our daughters.

6. I want people to know that the great gift of Black Lives Matter was created by 3 young black women: Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors -- and that has led to 3 great organizing guidelines:

  1. Lead with love
  2. Low ego, high impact
  3. Move at the speed of trust

Gives you faith in the future, doesn't it?

5. I want Uber to stop charging for the weather -- nobody, not even airlines, charge for the weather! -- and I want Uber to stop refusing the disabled, and now, with 30,000 unregulated Uber cars in New York City, driving wheelchair accessible taxis out of business. Don't let Uber become uber alles.

4. I would like us all to send a nice Christmas thank you to President Obama -- for surviving ultra-right-wingers who, if they had cancer, and Obama had the cure, wouldn't accept it.

3. I want any young men who buy a gun to be treated like young women who seek an abortion. Think about it: a mandatory 48-hours waiting period, written permission from a parent or a judge, a note from a doctor proving that he understands what he is about to do, time spent watching a video on individual and mass murders, traveling hundreds of miles at his own expense to the nearest gun shop, and walking through protestors holding photos of loved ones killed by guns, protestors who call him a murderer.

After all, it makes more sense to do this for young men seeking guns than for young women seeking an abortion. No young woman needing reproductive freedom has ever murdered a roomful of strangers.

(This riff is not mine, it's on the Internet -- I thank whoever gave us all this present.)

2. I want the three magical women of BETTY to have everything they need to spread the BETTY Effect around the world. They are such a gift. They organize with music and by their own irresistible examples.  

1. Finally, I want to make it to 100 -- because I don't want to leave, I love it here. You in this room are the biggest gift of all.

(Gloria Steinem is an American feminist, journalist, and social and political activist who became nationally recognized as a leader and spokeswoman for the feminist movement in the late 1960s and early 70s.)

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 102

Pub: Dec 18, 2015

 

PERSPECTIVE-Russian premier Vladimir Putin recently lavished praise on Donald Trump.

It came as no surprise to most.  Loose cannons stick together.

There are some looser than these two, but I would be hard-pressed to name a more dangerous duo with the potential of controlling the two mightiest military powers in the world.

In a way, it does not seem logical for Putin to warm up to Trump.  Trump’s tough talk about making our rivals fear us should create tension between Russia and the US, especially when the former desires to reclaim its old glory.  Both nations would seem to be on a collision course with both of them in power.

So what is the nascent bond between them all about?

Plain and simple – hatred of President Obama.

Policies built on hate never end well.  Just look at  Germany in World War 2.

Perhaps only Bernie Sanders or Dr. Ben Carson would make an equally disturbing pairing with Vlad the Sociopath. The two of them rank near the top of the most-clueless-in-foreign-policy poll with the Donald. 

There is a difference, though.  Carson and Sanders are passive-clueless.  That is, they would tend to not take decisive action in the international arena when  necessary.  Trump is active-clueless.  He would take action when none was called for. Either way, the results would not be pretty.

However, it’s a moot point.

None of the three will earn their party’s nomination.

They will continue to make noise, though, until either the money runs out or the public tires of them.

And Vlad will still find himself isolated and without a buddy.

(Paul Hatfield is a CPA and serves as President of the Valley Village Homeowners Association. He blogs atVillage to Villageand contributes toCityWatch.The views presented are those of Mr. Hatfield and his alone. They should not be construed to represent the opinions of the VVHA or the residents of Valley Village, individually or as a group. He can be reached at: phinnoho@aol.com.)

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 103

Pub: Dec 22, 2015

TRUTHDIG-Update: On Friday the Sanders campaign sued the Democratic National Committee, demanding that it restore the campaign’s access to key information on voters. Then, on Saturday, it announced that the committee agreed to do so.  The DNC denied the information to Sanders after learning that his campaign had accessed a master list without authorization.

Bernie Sanders’ strong, progressive and inspirational message is just right for a nation afflicted by poverty and a shrinking middle class. Yet he is having trouble breaking through mass-media disinterest in his candidacy and its obsession with Donald Trump.

“We just came out of the worst economic downturn in the modern history of this country, since the Great Depression,” Sanders said at a forum Sunday in Iowa, a state where Sanders, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley are competing in a Feb. 1 caucus.

According to RealClearPolitics.com, he went on to say at the Cedar Rapids event: “Millions of people lost their jobs, millions of people lost their homes, and millions of people lost their life savings. Today in America, you have a middle class which is disappearing. You have in some cases … life expectancy going down, massive despair. Is that reflected on television? Is the reality, the pain of America, reflected on television? The struggle people are making?

“Half of people 55 years of age or older have zero savings for retirement. Got that? You’re 57 years old, you got nothing in the bank. How do you think you’re feeling? You’re scared to death. See that on television? CNN? NBC? ABC? … Not so much. We are a country where millions of people are in despair. Black, white, brown. They want to see a reflection of their life, of their reality, in media, and in many respects, they are not. And then they say, ‘Who the hell is talking about me? Who knows about my life? Why should I vote? No one cares—no one even knows what’s going on in my life.’ So media becomes an important part of the reality of America, and I think we need some big changes there.”

Not even the televised debates are helping Sanders. He and O’Malley say that the Democratic National Committee’s debate schedule, by staging the events on Saturday nights, deliberately favors front-runner Clinton by reducing viewership—people usually want to go out that night rather than watch a political debate. The Democratic debate broadcast Nov. 14 on CBS was watched by 8.5 million people,  compared with the 18 million who saw Tuesday night’s Republican debate on CNN.

“When will Americans hear from our Party?” O’Malley tweeted. Sanders urged his followers to sign petitions to the committee calling for more debates, saying, “I know, and you know, that the best chance for this country is discussing the issues that matter. Republicans aren’t going to do it, so we need more Democratic debates—more than the four scheduled by the DNC before the Iowa caucuses. And I know that if Secretary Clinton wants more debates, we’ll get them.”

The next debate, the third, is scheduled for Saturday night on ABC.

The lack of television exposure for the Vermont senator makes grass-roots voter contact tremendously important. And Sanders’ effort to make that contact was damaged, at least temporarily, when the Democratic National Committee suspended his campaign’s access to its national voter database. 

The campaign was denied the data after members of its staff accessed a master list of voters, including the Clinton campaign’s, according to The Washington Post, which broke the story.

The list contains names of voters, their demographic and political backgrounds, their computer and media watching patterns and other information used by campaigns to contact and woo potential supporters.

All the Democratic campaigns have access to it, but a computer firewall is supposed to prevent campaigns from obtaining rivals’ data. The firewall apparently broke down while the company managing the master file was installing a software patch.

Without access to the database, Sanders volunteers will be handicapped in contacting voters before the Iowa and New Hampshire contests. The Sanders campaign has fired one data staffer, and the DNC has told the campaign that it will not be allowed access to the data until it provides an explanation of what happened as well as assurances that it has destroyed all the Clinton data it obtained, the Post said. At a press conference Friday, Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver denounced the DNC for what he called a “heavy-handed attempt to undermine our campaign.”

Despite his infrequent television appearances, Sanders is still very much in the race, polls at this early stage indicate. In New Hampshire, the RealClearPolitics average of polls has him ahead of Clinton 48 percent to 43 percent, with O’Malley receiving 4 percent. The latest Iowa Poll by the Des Moines Register shows Clinton leading Sanders 48 percent to 39 percent. As the paper put it, “Clinton is building her lead among Iowa Democrats, but rival Bernie Sanders hasn’t faded.” Clinton leads with 64 percent of older Iowans surveyed, and Sanders is supported by 58 percent of those 45 and younger.

Keep in mind that these polls are too early to be definitive. The furious campaigning after Christmas and New Year’s could change the numbers, just as happened in 2008, when Clinton finished third in the Iowa caucus and then beat the Iowa winner, Barack Obama, in the New Hampshire primary before eventually losing the nomination.

The Iowa survey shows the importance of young voters to the Sanders campaign. I’ve contacted several, using the roster of College Students for Bernie, which has organizations on campuses around the country.

One of the thoughtful email replies I received came from Ben Packer, 20, a computer science major at Dartmouth.

“In general we’ve seen an explosion of self-organized groups for Bernie for every constituency group imaginable, and College Students for Bernie is one of those—part of a general process where people wake up, look around, and connect with others who are doing the same,” he said.

“What makes College Students for Bernie unique is that chapters are developing at the various schools—our job has been to connect the chapters to each other and to the campaign, so that as the campaign develops and moves through each state they are greeted by an already organized small army of volunteers.

“Many chapters are also building coalitions and co-hosting events with other activist and politically oriented groups on campus as well as local non-collegiate groups (unions, etc)—a process we generally encourage. This is the part that excites me the most because of its role in the longevity of the movement, cross issue solidarity, and a broad political education.”

He said students are working on phone banks and doing other chores to identify potential Sanders supporters. “I’m told the college network is collectively making some 8,000 weekly calls,” he said. In New Hampshire, students will contact likely voters and register people at venues such as farmers’ markets.

“As for the issues that resonate with college students, it’s obviously hard for me to generalize—the easy answer is generational economics: we’re in the midst of a student debt crisis, and current students anticipate that burden and fear how it will force them to modify their desired career path—youth underemployment is high, and the overall economic outlook for how we will integrate into the workforce is not positive,” Packer said.

“For many students, and for me, it’s less tangible—Bernie is sort of our last hope for a political system that … we’re jaded and disaffected with, combined with a strong sense of urgency around climate inaction, increasingly visible police brutality and escalating poverty.

“Many of us were taught in middle and high school that America had [an] admirable … functioning, democratic system, and some of us believed it too. Most of us have never really seen it though—with gridlock, legalized corruption, layers of manufactured fakeness and propaganda—the call for a political revolution is the only thing that could keep us from slipping into total political apathy.”

Justen Teguh, public relations director of Tritons for Bernie at the University of California, San Diego, told me of phone-banking and doing other voter contacting work, as well as traveling to Nevada to campaign for Sanders for the Feb. 20 caucus there.

“In regards to our feelings about Bernie, we’re still just as excited for him as we were before,” Teguh said. “Some of us may be even more excited, if that’s at all possible. Many of us have been and are still fed up with the status quo, and Bernie has only gotten better in challenging perceptions that Americans haven’t had challenged in the past. We’re ready to push for a Bernie win in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, the Democratic nomination, and eventually, the presidency.”

I talked by phone with Burt Cohen, a former New Hampshire state Senate Democratic leader who now hosts the twice-weekly podcast “Keeping Democracy Alive.” 

“He has young people,” Cohen, a veteran of New Hampshire Democratic politics, said of Sanders.

“I’ve never seen young people [so] turned on.” Cohen also noted that New Hampshire’s largest union, the 11,000 member New Hampshire branch of the Service Employees International Union, has endorsed Sanders, who is talking of victory in the general election. “If we can win in Iowa, and if we can win in New Hampshire, we have a real path toward victory, to pulling off one of the major political upsets in the history of our country,” Sanders said recently at a forum in New Hampshire, NationalJournal.com reported.

If Sanders accomplishes that, it truly will be an upset for a man written off by the high priests of media and subjected to what amounts to a television blackout. He’ll be entitled to a hearty last laugh.

 

(Bill Boyarsky is a columnist for Truthdig, the Jewish Journal, and LA Observed. This piece was posted first at Truthdig.com) Photo: AP. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

  

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 103

Pub: Dec 22, 2015

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