Saturday, April 25, 2009

California Democrats in Disarray! -- UPDATE

As I write this the California State Democratic is in convention in Sacramento and the dominant political party in this so-called big "Blue" state are in disarray over the budget debate, the upcoming special elections and next years wide-open governor's race. As the Sacramento Bee correctly observed:

The California Democratic Party didn't expect such troubles. Not with Barack Obama winning California in November by the biggest margin by a Democrat since FDR in 1936. Not with state Republicans turning on one another in a circular firing squad.

On Sunday, the Dems are scheduled to vote on whether or not to endorse the special election budget initiatives. Most of the state's legislative leadership favors passage, but the leading candidates for governor and the powerful unions, that provide most of the grassroots for California's otherwise pathetically feeble Democratic field organization are divided. Phil Giarrizzo, a Democratic consultant and former union leader who helped organize the campaign to defeat Governor Schwarzenegger's 2005 power grab, told the Bee: "If the administration's goal was to break up the coalition that defeated them in 2005, they couldn't have done it better."

* * * UPDATE * * *
Los Angeles Times, April 26, 2009
State Democrats Decline to Endorse 3 of 6 Ballot Measures

Quote of the from San Francisco State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano on the State Democratic Convention:

"The dysfunctional meets the disenfranchised."

Can the California Green Party, the largest and one of the strongest state Green Parties, rise to the challenge and capitalize on the Dems' disarray in 2010?

San Diego Union-Tribune, Friday, April 24, 2009
Democratic Leader Seeks Unity Amid Budget Angst
by Judy Lin

SACRAMENTO — The leader of the California Democratic Party on Friday urged unity in the face of divisive budget-related questions facing voters next month, reasoning that resolving the state's financial crisis will help Democratic candidates for office next year.

Party Chairman Art Torres, who is retiring after 13 years at the party's helm, said the party will not oppose any of the six propositions on the May 19 special election ballot. That stance will draw a clear distinction with the state GOP, which voted last weekend to oppose all of them.

In trying to avoid a fracture during its annual convention this weekend in Sacramento, Torres said the party could remain neutral on some of the propositions. The party needs to make its best case to voters if it wants to wrest the governor's seat back from Republicans in 2010, as well as defend U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer's re-election bid, he said.

A fight that divides the party internally over how best to deal with California's budget problems will not help, he said.

. . .

SACRAMENTO — The leader of the California Democratic Party on Friday urged unity in the face of divisive budget-related questions facing voters next month, reasoning that resolving the state's financial crisis will help Democratic candidates for office next year.

Party Chairman Art Torres, who is retiring after 13 years at the party's helm, said the party will not oppose any of the six propositions on the May 19 special election ballot. That stance will draw a clear distinction with the state GOP, which voted last weekend to oppose all of them.

In trying to avoid a fracture during its annual convention this weekend in Sacramento, Torres said the party could remain neutral on some of the propositions. The party needs to make its best case to voters if it wants to wrest the governor's seat back from Republicans in 2010, as well as defend U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer's re-election bid, he said.

A fight that divides the party internally over how best to deal with California's budget problems will not help, he said.

. . .

California's ongoing financial challenges and the higher taxes already implemented under this year's budget agreement are shaping as a 2010 campaign theme. Two of the leading Republican candidates for governor, former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman and state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, oppose the tax increases.

"Everyone knows that the state's higher taxes and burdensome regulatory structure directly contribute to California's below-average economic performance," California GOP Chairman Ron Nehring said Friday. "And you'll see in 2010 a competition between Republican solutions versus higher taxes and more of the same from Democrats, regardless of the nominees."

The California Teachers Association, among the most well-funded of the state's interest groups, has endorsed all six propositions. That includes Proposition 1B, which would repay schools more than $9 billion.
. . .

Angst over the budget issues comes as the state's Democrats are riding high from a surge in voter registration and a strong lineup of gubernatorial hopefuls.

Two of the potential gubernatorial candidates, Attorney General Jerry Brown and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, are supporting the full package of ballot measures.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who announced his formal bid earlier this week, said he reluctantly supports propositions 1A and 1B, but opposes the other measures.
. . .

* * *

San Francisco Chronicle, Saturday, April 25, 2009
Jerry Brown Back on Top After Scorning Dems
by Carla Marinucci

State Attorney General Jerry Brown enters the state Democratic convention today favored to be the party's next candidate for governor - but the irony of that development is not lost on Democrats who remember when Brown quit the party a decade ago after sharply criticizing Democratic leaders before the very same audience.

. . .

And he has taken a far more conciliatory tone with his party in recent years than the Jerry Brown who addressed the 1996 Democratic state convention.

"People were stunned; you could have heard a pin drop," said Roberta Lewis, a Democratic central committee delegate from Woodland Hills (Los Angeles County), who remembers how Brown, during what was intended as a tribute to his late father, Gov. Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, raised eyebrows by lambasting party leadership.

At the podium, Brown was sharply critical of President Bill Clinton and U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein over their support of what he called a "fascistic" and "phony" anti-terrorism bill.

"He was entitled to his opinion, but he wasn't entitled to lecture us and storm off," said Lewis, who was so upset at Brown's attack that "I turned my back to him" in protest as he left the hall.

Less than two years later, Brown left the Democratic Party - and would later admit to voting for Ralph Nader for president in 2000.

* * *

San Jose Mercury News, April 26, 2009
Gavin Newsom's Flaw? He's Smug
by Scott Herhold

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's announcement last week that he was running for governor had all the trappings of a generational shift — simultaneous declarations on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, an appeal to "fresh, innovative solutions," a not-so-subtle riff on the message President Barack Obama employed on the campaign trail in 2008.

If you think politics is just about the "how" or the "what" of a message, however, you make a mistake. It's primarily about the "who.'' After viewing his YouTube broadcast ( a dozen times, I think Newsom has done us a favor in helping guide our votes: He's shown himself to be smug.

. . .

By this, I don't mean to say I disagree with Newsom's message. God knows the state of California is in a world of hurt. I have no problem with a platform of green jobs, preventive health care and equality for everyone (read: gay marriage).

You could argue that Newsom's claims that San Francisco has a "sound fiscal policy" are overblown in the face of the city's pending $438 million deficit. But I'll leave that to his opponents. To me, the language falls within the bounds of acceptable political hyperbole.

. . .

It wasn't Newsom's ideas that bothered me. It was the tone of his YouTube broadcast, the dismissive shake of the head. The smugness started from the beginning, with testimonials to the city's good works from people in Spanish, Chinese and English.

"Well, there's no stronger way for me to say it myself," Newsom breaks in. "I'm a candidate for governor of California because I know we can do better."

The implication: We're cooler than you are. We're younger, hipper, smarter. . .

* * * UPDATE * * *

Los Angeles Times, April 26, 2009
State Democrats Decline to Endorse 3 of 6 Ballot Measures
by Michael Finnegan

Reporting from Sacramento — Efforts by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders to win voter approval of six budget measures on the May 19 ballot grew more difficult Sunday when a sharply split state Democratic Party declined to back three of them.

The mixed verdict by more than 1,200 delegates to a state party convention came after a nasty floor fight over the grim menu of proposed solutions to California's severe budget crisis.

"We've got all kinds of divisions," Art Pulaski, leader of the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, said of the fractures among unions that drove the party's internal rift. "It's not unusual for us."

Republicans, too, are split on Propositions 1A through 1F. The state Republican Party has broken with Schwarzenegger, its standard-bearer, and begun fighting the measures.

Taken together, the muddled messages from California's two major parties threaten to fuel the sort of voter confusion that often spells doom for complicated ballot measures.

The propositions stem from a byzantine deal that lawmakers struck with Schwarzenegger in February to break the political impasse over closing a $42-billion budget shortfall that put California on the brink of insolvency.

On Sunday, the Democrats rejected recommendations from their party's legislative leaders to support Propositions 1A, 1D and 1E, staying neutral instead. The party endorsed Propositions 1B, 1C and 1F.

Proposition 1A, the most contentious among Democrats, would create a state spending cap and rainy-day reserve -- steps pushed by Republicans -- while extending billions in new tax increases for up to two years.

"Help us get to the other side of this crisis," state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento, one of the plan's brokers, urged fellow Democrats. "Help us to get to a place where we can reinvest in education and healthcare."

Extending the tax hikes would produce $16 billion for future budgets, he said, and a companion measure, Proposition 1B, would restore $9.3 billion in school cuts starting in 2011. Proposition 1B, backed by the powerful California Teachers Assn., will take effect only if 1A passes.

But Willie L. Pelote Sr., political and legislative director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees' California chapter, countered Steinberg by bellowing across the vast convention hall that the party must "stand against Republican tyranny" by voting down Proposition 1A.

"Proposition 1A is the most dangerous thing I've ever seen," hollered Pelote, who represents thousands of public employees who fear that a spending cap would put their jobs in jeopardy.

Both sides wielded teachers to beseech delegates to vote their way on 1A, lest classrooms face devastating cuts. Both also argued that their opponents were playing into Republican hands.

When the delegate vote on 1A fell just shy of the 60% needed for an endorsement, Steinberg, improbably, said he was happy with the result. "I consider it a convincing victory," he said of the loss.

More heated exchanges took place over Propositions 1D, which would free for other purposes more than $600 million now dedicated to children's programs, and 1E, which would do the same with more than $225 million in mental health care money.

Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro of Arcata said the mental health programs were worthwhile. But when voters approved Proposition 63, the 2004 measure that raised income taxes on the wealthy to pay for the programs, they did not anticipate "the worst budget crisis in the history of the state since the Great Depression," he said.

An emotional retort came from Anne Zerrien-Lee, a Highland Park teacher who said her 39-year-old son was schizophrenic. She told delegates that Proposition 1E would "kill people who are now receiving treatment."

"My baby is a flesh and blood baby," she said. "And I don't want him thrown under the train."

Of the measures that won the party's support, 1C would borrow $5 billion against future lottery revenue to generate quick cash to narrow the budget gap, and 1F would deny lawmakers and statewide elected officials pay raises in years when the state is running a deficit.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Blogging is not journalism... most of the time.

Every once in a while I get reminded of the fact that blogging is not journalism. At least it does not rise to that level most of the time. There are exceptions, Chris and Sheril at Intersection, dengre at DailyKos. But too often bloggers only grab something, repeat it, possibly provided their own interpretation… generally political. What they don't do is to ask some very basic questions, beginning with "Does this story make sense?". It it doesn't, they re-interpret it until it does.

Such was the case with the story that has been making the rounds headlined "1,500 farmers commit mass suicide in India." It seemed to be everywhere. I first found it at Green Change, referring back to a story in the Belfast, IR Telegraph. After commenting on the story… in which I accepted it at face value… I decided to check it out in more depth. The truth turned out to be even more interesting than the original story.

I was very surprised when I did a google search on "Indian Farmers Mass Suicide". The story was all over the place… mostly in American sources and mostly those that consider themselves to be progressive. Alternet, Huffington Post, Common Dreams, IndyBay, Democratic Underground. There were more, but you get the picture... but even Free Republic repeated the Belfast Telegraph story and they are hardly "progressive".

I looked for the story in Indian source news and did not find it. It should have been a sign of something wrong. All of the Indian news today was focused on the elections and in particular, the death of a number of police and election workers in the State of Chhattisgarh, the same state where the suicides were supposed to take place. So, it was not enough new to push aside the election and the attacks by "Maoist rebels".

Then, I dropped the word "mass" from my search and still had a hard time finding an Indians source, but when I did I began to uncover the truth. It was a story in DownToEarth, Science and Environment Online. In this, freelance journalist Shubhranshu Choudhary went to Chhattisgarh and did what all good journalists do. He talked to people, asked questions, read reports and completed all of that before deciding what the story was going to be.
Nawagarh in Durg district of Chhattisgarh is a small place by all standards. As in all small places here too everyone knows everybody and it was not difficult to find a local journalist as soon as we reached Nawagarh. We were looking for help to investigate the story of a farmer’s suicide in Chhattisgarh. A simple enquiry at a local paan shop on the roadside got us the address and directions to the most famous journalist in town.
What Choudhary found was that Indian newspapers did not consider the deaths of a few farmers to be a story. There was no mass suicide... not 1500 all at one time. But, there were about 4 suicides per day.
“The figure is not just for this year. Chhattisgarh remains at the top of the list every year since its inception. 1,593 farmers committed suicide in the state last year according to the data provided by state police to the National Crime Records Bureau,” I said. It means four farmers die every day by committing suicide and in the tally, Durg is just behind Raipur, which tops the list amongst the districts of Chhattisgarh.
Choudhary concluded…
Suicide is a complex issue and needs deeper investigation. A journalistic enquiry can only provide pointers to this problem—to draw attention of the people who are in a position to study the matter in detail and take appropriate action.

But will anyone heed the pointers? Not only Chief Minister Raman Singh but the opposition Congress also does not see any farmers’ suicide in the state. Some members of the farmers’ wing of the Congress party tried unsuccessfully to include the subject in the Congress manifesto for the last assembly election.

A high-profile Congress leader told me righteously, “We also visit the villages. We do not see any farmer committing suicide. So how can we include the issue in the manifesto?”

Maybe the reason no one can see is because no rich farmer is committing suicide.

So, what did I learn other than that the problems of the poor are not the problems of all.

The original story, for all of the sensationalism of the use of the term "mass suicide" in the headline, got some things right and missed others. Like farming everywhere, the results are affected by the weather. The Telegraph's reporter cited a falling water table. This, in a State that averages 1.4 meters of rain per year. I also found a similar story that involved crop loss from flooding and the ensuing suicide of the farmer.

When everyone can publish whatever they want, then the onus is on every reader to make sure that they have the latest, most effective, bullshit detector.

Malcolm X for Private Schools?

"We want freedom by any means necessary."

Was El Haji Malik El Shabazz (a.k.a. Malcolm X, the most famous Black Nationalist in the United States in the last half century) a Republican-Conservative advocate for private schools?

Sound ridiculous? Read on.

Nothing gets me in “hot water” with some of my fellow African-American activist brothers and sisters like my public, unapologetic rejection of 40-year-old “Black Power” clich├ęs from the 1960s. I lived through the 1960s. As a nave Howard University freshman I witnessed the rebellion in Washington, D.C. when Martin Luther King was assassinated in April 1968. Forty-one years later in, of all places, that very same Washington, D.C., the liberating "Black Power" slogans of my youth have become tools for conservatives.

Browsing The Washington Post web site, I noticed an Op-Ed by a former Democratic mayor and a former city councilman illustrating abuse of Malcolm's oft-quoted line about "any means necessary" better than anything I could have dreamed up. See below Malcolm X, of all people, being trotted out on behalf of the District's controversial school voucher program.

Published by The Washington Post, Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Education, By Any Means
By Anthony A. Williams and Kevin P. Chavous

"We want freedom by any means necessary."

When Malcolm X uttered those words in June 1964, a chill traveled down the spine of America. The phrase signaled a change in the tone and tenor of the civil rights movement. It was understood that those fighting for equality and justice were willing to do anything to achieve those rights. Malcolm's words made clear that tedious, incremental steps toward freedom for African Americans were unacceptable and would not be tolerated. "By any means necessary" represented a crossroads in the civil rights movement.

Our nation faces a similar crossroads today regarding education reform. Ensuring that every American child receives equal access to high-quality education represents our last civil rights struggle. By any objective measure, the educational offerings we provide for our children, particularly children of color, do them a disservice.
. . .

The reality of our children's deficits demands much more than we have given them. Platitudes, well-crafted speeches and the latest three-to-five-year reform plan aren't good enough. We must find ways to educate every child now, by any means necessary.

It was that spirit that led us, as elected officials of the District in 2003, to promote the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. The program, which provides scholarships for low-income children to attend private schools, is part of the three-sector initiative that annually provides $50 million in federal funding to the District for education purposes.

. . .

I could not help but laugh out loud when I read this sophistry. Some of my most passionately nationalist friends in the Green Party Black Caucus are active members of the DC Statehood Green Party. Section IX.2 of the DC party platform categorically states:

Public schools should not be: · Privatized · Made to compete with private schools through government-funded vouchers · Used for military recruitment (e.g., through JROTC) · Used as places to advertise corporate products or sell junk food to students

What do my DC nationalist comrades think about this?

Was El Haji Malik El Shabazz a Goldwater Republican in 1964? I don't think so.

* * *

In recent decades, the Republican-Conservative clique succeeded in demonizing public schools, public school teachers, and teacher unions. Unions faithfully lend knee-jerk support for all Democrats and devote a lot of money and energy to electing more Democrats even though these cowardly Clinton-era DINOs do nothing to counter the anti-teachers crusade. Indeed, the “bipartisan” consensus seems to be that inner-city public schools are where the hard-earned tax dollars of "People Like Us" are “wasted” on the pathological children of "Those People."

As I write this, California is facing a complicated May 19th referendum to "borrow from Peter to pay Paul" as part of our permanent "crisis" over the state budget. Once again, a lot of well-meaning progressive Greens are carrying water for the Democratic Party Establishment. Thus, for example, one of our strong Los Angeles Greens recently posted without comment a statement on a Green E-List by the California Teachers Association:

"Vote YES on May 19. Vote for jobs, for teachers, for schools, for social services"
. . . Blah! Blah! Blah!

I, myself, am firmly convinced that independent progressives, including Greens routinely condemned by "liberals" as "crazy" and beyond the pale, should NOT do the "dirty work" that arrogant, smug, urban Democrats are unwilling to do for themselves. If all these teachers unions always support these bad Democrats, that's Prima facia evidence that something is wrong with union leadership, too.

Similarly, I am even more convinced that independent progressive Blacks and Latinos (that is, persons of African and Latin American descent who really favor Green change and not the ones using "nationalist" slogans to hide their deep-seated social and economic conservatism) should NOT advance the conservative agenda of the likes of Anthony Williams.

El Haji Malik El Shabazz: may eternal peace be unto him. This is not 1964. It's 2009 and time to make our own Green slogans.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Is there a sea change in MSM?

I am beginning to sense that there is a sea change in the manner in which main stream media covers the global warming story. Sometimes, they get it right. Other times, they get it right wing. But increasingly the story is gaining prominence and in a manner that surprised me.

This is a long story, so click Read more! for the whole thing.

Maybe it began with the way that George Will embarrassed himself with his series of columns on global warming. To begin with, he did not even get the facts right. When the facts did not fit his ideology, he just made them up&ehllip; or quoted sources that have been discredited for years. It began with his February 15, 2009 column in the Washington Post, Dark Green Doomsayers

This particular column unleashed a flurry of controversy, most of it aimed at Will's apparently intentional invention of facts to fit the occasion. That led to Climate Science in A Tornado and Climate Change's Dim Bulbs, both of which only made made him look worse.

In an effort to curtail the criticism, the editors of the Washington Post took the unusual step of correcting the facts of the first Will column, initially in a news story and later in an editorial.

Besides writing for the Washington Post, and being syndicated in a wide selection of newspapers, Will is also a regular participant on This Week with George Stephanopoulos on ABC. I even wrote to ABC News that I would no longer watch any show on which George Will appeared. Thus, I missed this following exchange between Stephanopoulos and House Minority Leader, John Bonehead Boehner. I can only say that he embarrassed himself even more than did George Will.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me ask you then about energy. We showed your statement on the president's decision through the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases. Also, you've come out against the president's proposal to cap-and-trade carbon emissions.

So what is the Republican answer to climate change? Is it a problem? Do you have a plan to address it?

BOEHNER: George, we believe that our -- all of the above energy strategy from last year continues to be the right approach on energy. That we ought to make sure that we have new sources of energy, green energy, but we need nuclear energy, we need other types of alternatives, and, yes, we need American-made oil and gas.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But that doesn't do anything when it comes to emissions, sir.

BOEHNER: When it comes to the issue of climate change, George, it's pretty clear that if we don't work with other industrialized nations around the world, what's going to happen is that we're going to ship millions of American jobs overseas. We have to deal with this in a responsible way.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So what is the responsible way? That's my question. What is the Republican plan to deal with carbon emissions, which every major scientific organization has said is contributing to climate change?

BOEHNER: George, the idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical. Every time we exhale, we exhale carbon dioxide. Every cow in the world, you know, when they do what they do, you've got more carbon dioxide. And so I think it's clear...

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you don't believe that greenhouse gases are a problem in creating climate change?

BOEHNER: ... we've had climate change over the last 100 years -- listen, it's clear we've had change in our climate. The question is how much does man have to do with it, and what is the proper way to deal with this? We can't do it alone as one nation. If we got India, China and other industrialized countries not working with us, all we're going to do is ship millions of American jobs overseas.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But it sounds like from what you're saying that you don't believe that Republicans need to come up with a plan to control carbon emissions? You're suggesting it's not that big of a problem, even though the scientific consensus is that it has contributed to the climate change.

BOEHNER: I think it is -- I think it is an issue. The question is, what is the proper answer and the responsible answer?

STEPHANOPOULOS: And what is the answer? That's what I'm trying to get at.

BOEHNER: George, I think everyone in America is looking for the proper answer. We don't want to raise taxes, $1.5 to $2 trillion like the administration is proposing, and we don't want to ship millions of American jobs overseas. And so we've got to find ways to work toward this solution to this problem without risking the future for our kids and grandkids.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you are committed to coming up with a plan?

BOEHNER: I think you'll see a plan from us. Just like you've seen a plan from us on the stimulus bill and a better plan on the budget.
It should be expected, given that tomorrow is Earth Day, but both ABC New and NBC Nightly News have interesting stories that have to deal with the changing climate

ABC began with the following on GMA Weekend in which they connect our worsening water situation to global warming. The highlight statement? "Energy industry takes 39% of the fresh water used in the US." That one statistic illustrates that our resource use is as screwed up as is our realestate / investment system. Those who cry loudest for more water are the same Congressmen who oppose taking on revising our energy system.

NBC's Nightly News actually calls their segment, Sea Change. It began over the weekend with a segment on over fishing. The continue with a week long series on Our Oceans, Our Planet & Our Future: NBC Nightly News examines the impact we have on the Earth's oceans. Again, it will address the manner in which global warming is changing the chemistry, and thus the biology, of our oceans.

If there is a thread that runs through all of these stories, it is the fact that our ecology is very complex. It is filled with connections that are just beginning to understand… that increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere allows the oceans to absorb more, becoming more acid, leading to the death of many coral reefs.

This is fundamental ecology and it is a message that the Green Party has had since it's founding. We took one more small step this weekend, as the Steering Committee of the Green Party of the United States signed on to a petition to cut all federal subsidies to nuclear power. That won't make the news. It should not be news that the Green Party is really green.

Let's just hope that the this level of coverage will continue until the public gets the message.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

More gives us less

I used to believe that increased coverage of global warming in the main stream media would help turn the tide of public opinion. I smiled when I heard Brian Williams introduce a segment of the Nightly News with the phrase "Clean coal is an oxymoron."

I am no longer so optimistic. While the local Fox affiliate, KTVU (Oakland, CA) runs intelligent stories on global warming, they are not making an impression on the public. In fact, the number of people who think that global warming is linked to the actions of man is dropping, day by day with most believing that the warming we see is just part of the natural cycle of climate. These non-professional deniers seem to look at every down turn in the weather, every day that is not a record high temperature, as being further proof of their position.

When the scientific consensus about global warming is almost unanimous, when the major debates are about who to do to mitigate the problem, the only explanation for many is that the scientists are only saying what they say because that is the way to get grant money. In other words, that science has become so politicized that facts have become a matter for political rather than scientific discussion.

I am not sure how we turn this around because climate activism is itself a sort of proof of the notion that it is a political discussion rather than a scientific one. The Green Party should be foremost in offering solutions to the most serious problem we face as society, but we too, have not found the right way to do it. I hope some of you have a good suggestion.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

UC Centers and a Sustainable Economy

Buried in the various campuses of the vast University of California System are a plethora of Centers of one type or another. Rarely are they visible to the public through the news. Maybe they are only recognized by other Center-ists and a few seem to exist only to enhance the c.v. of the Executive Director.

These Centers are capable of producing new ideas and new ways of looking a current problems. I follow the blogging of Matthew E. Kahn, Professor of Economics at UCLA's Institute of the Environment. The advantage of Centers like IOE is that they can together expertise from a range of disciplines to address a given task. The cross fertilization of ideas is considered a plus and restructuring even office locations tends to destroy it.

It was through Kahn's post today that I was introduced to Gary Dymski and the Center for Sustainable Suburban Development at UC Riverside. I had always thought that Sustainable Suburban Development was an Oxymoron. However, where there is rampant sub-urban development, it pays to study it.

More to the point of this, Kahn posted the contents of a UCLA newspaper article on a lecture / discussion between Dymski and UCLA Economist Robert Brenner that explained their ideas as to why the U.S. economy is in a free fall.
The roots of the crisis, however, lie in the creation of a shadow banking system that began in the decades leading to the 1970s. With the end of the U.S.-sponsored Bretton Woods initiative, which created the International Monetary Fund and established the postwar global economic order in 1944, American banks were in deep trouble because of increased competition and high interest rates.
Click Read more! to the entire report.

Economists explain why U.S. economy is in free fall

Inflated real estate prices trigger a subprime lending crisis leading to the collapse of banks and a global recession. That, broadly speaking, is how our current financial crisis occurred. But just how did we get into this mess — and can we really spend our way out of it?

A recent discussion between two noted economists, UCLA’s Robert Brenner and UC Riverside’s Gary Dymski, shed valuable light on the underlying causes of the worst economic slump since the Great Depression and the challenges for recovery. Titled “Economic Meltdown: Causes and Consequences,” the March 9 public event was hosted by the Center for Social Theory and Comparative History, with the Center for European and Eurasian Studies as a cosponsor.

Three narratives, not mutually exclusive, have been shaping understanding of the subprime crisis, said Dymski, an economics professor at UC Riverside and the director of the UC Center at Sacramento, which promotes the policy-research efforts of the UC community and provides policy advice to California’s decision-makers.

“The first narrative is this idea that there’s something wrong with borrowers who got into subprime loans and an overextension of the housing market,” said Dymski. The second narrative alludes to the “greed and overreach of megabanks,” and the third refers to the well-known theme of “U.S. profligacy coming to roost.”

The roots of the crisis, however, lie in the creation of a shadow banking system that began in the decades leading to the 1970s. With the end of the U.S.-sponsored Bretton Woods initiative, which created the International Monetary Fund and established the postwar global economic order in 1944, American banks were in deep trouble because of increased competition and high interest rates. “Their well-off customers were flying to money market mutual funds and other instruments, and they were losing their blue chip customers,” Dymski explained.

While the banks managed to maintain their viability as credit-making and holding institutions, the savings and loans system was in jeopardy, Dymski
Gary Dymskinoted. As a result, the banks tried to reinvent themselves by creating the mortgage-backed securities system, which guaranteed loans and placed limits on the interest carried by borrowers. “These mortgages were as safe as houses and were backed by pension funds and securities funds that, in a time of global crisis, looked like a very safe bet because in the end everyone understood that Uncle Sam stood behind these protocols,” explained Dymski, adding that this market became the biggest in the world by the end of the 1980s, and eventually a safe haven for capital fleeing the Latin American and Asian financial crises of the 1990s.

“Subprime loans were seen as a necessity because house prices were rising and, in some cases, incomes were falling,” Dymski said, adding that about half the loans were made with zero down payment. But by the time the subprime crisis hit, the growth of mortgages exceeded the growth in national GDP, undermining the entire economic system.

“Another component was racial inequality and its march from exclusion to exploitation,” said Dymski, referring to federal laws passed in the 1970s in response to the civil rights movement’s demand for extending credit to low-income minority groups that had historically been denied loans, especially to buy homes.

“A term was coined in geography — financial exclusion — and banks wanted to get into the lower-end [remittances] market and payday loans, debit cards and subprime loans,” said Dymski, adding that the subprime lending market became a “business in the ’hood.” In fact, by 1998, one-third of all mortgage loans were being made to African Americans and a fifth to Latinos and other lower-income communities, resulting in a dramatic 900 percent growth in this business from 1993 to 1999, he said.

Indeed, the collapse of Wall Street, where the troubles began, has dealt a devastating blow to the global system. “But, from Fed chair Ben Bernanke, former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to Timothy Geithner on down, economists have, with few exceptions, denied the need to look beyond finance to diagnose the catastrophe,” said Brenner, director of the UCLA’s Center for Social Theory and Comparative History and a noted authority on economic history. “They insist, even now, the real economy is strong, the so-called fundamentals beyond question.”

In reality, “advanced capitalist economies have been experiencing steadily declining economic vitality over the past three decades, business cycle by business cycle, right into the present, with the important exception of the bubble years of the second half of the 1990s,” said Brenner, whose 2006 book, “The Economics of Global Turbulence,” was hailed by the New York Times as “the best financial history of the period yet.”

The basic source of the crisis is low-priced manufacturing goods and the “systemwide fall and failure to recover the rate of profit” by U.S. corporations, a development that, from 2000 to 2007, was accompanied by virtually no increase in either employment or real GDP or wages, Brenner said. The major reason for this decline, he explained, is a persistent overcapacity in global manufacturing, especially since the 1950s and 1960s, when one manufacturing power after another entered the world economy and produced the same goods that were already being produced by the earlier developers — only cheaper.

“Historically, problems of profitability were dispersed by the least productive firms falling by the wayside, leaving strong firms to pave the way for a new boom,” Brenner said. “But this outcome was prevented throughout the postwar period, especially from the late 60s to the early 70s, by ever-greater borrowing, public and private, sponsored by the government.”

So, what to make of the Obama administration’s deficit-financed stimulus package aimed at reviving the global economy? Given the dire economic climate, consumers are saving rather than spending — if they aren’t also paying off debts — and companies would be “crazy to invest,” assuming banks gave them credit in the first place, said Brenner.

In any case, there’s a “huge irony — a paradox” in trying to revive a global economic system that continues to rely on an indebted nation like the U.S. as the “buyer of last resort,” said Brenner, adding: “This is one of the key underlying problems in the development of the world economy.”

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The calming thought of all

That coursing on, whate'er men's speculations,
Amid the changing schools, theologies, philosophies,
Amid the bawling presentations new and old,
The round earth's silent vital laws, facts, modes continue.

- Walt Whitman from Sands at Seventy.

Now I am nearing Seventy and have learned to appreciate what Whitman said. Earth does not care about what we think, or how we vote, or even if we vote. It only reacts according to what we do and that just may be our undoing.

Would someone read a little Whitman to Sen Inhofe.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Winnemem Wintu fight continues

I received an interesting press release this weekend. The Winnemem Wuntu tribe has scheduled a War Dance and is filing suit in Federal Court to protect their ancestral lands, threatened anew by plans to raise the level of Shasta Lake. It was the construction of Shasta Dam that flooded their land originally without any compensation. This is more than an issue of racial justice, it is yet another battle in the California Water Wars.
War Dance begins in the evening on the Sacramento River.
Full press release by clicking "Read more!"

Tribal War Dance and March
Next Steps in Winnemem Wintu Tribe’s Journey to Justice

Ceremonies Initiate Federal Lawsuit on behalf of Tribe

Who: The Winnemem Wintu Tribe, a traditional California Tribe.

The Winnemem have been fighting for years to sustain their culture and address generations of broken promises by the federal government.

What: War Dance, March and press conference from Sacramento River to the State Capitol.

Winnemem war dancers and tribal leaders will perform a traditional ceremonial War Dance next to the Sacramento River and will then march to the State Capitol building. The March and War Dance initiate the federal lawsuit the Tribe is filing, asking for compensation for damages done by federal land management policies, including the construction of the Shasta Dam.

Schedule of events:

Sunday, April 19th: War Dance begins at 6:00 PM on Sacramento River at the site of the proposed California Indian Heritage Center, across the river from Discovery Park on the west side of the confluence of Sacramento and American Rivers: On Levee Road, off Marina Way from Lighthouse Dr, West Sacramento.

Monday, April 20th: Ceremony and address by Tribal leaders. California Indian Heritage Center site, Levee Rd, West Sacramento

10:00 AM March from Sacramento River to State Capitol, from Levee Road to Capitol

Press Conference with Tribal leaders and community members

12:00 Noon to 1 PM State Capitol Location 27 West side of capitol building

More Information:

The Winnemem Wintu Tribe is filing a lawsuit against Department of The Interior; Department of Agriculture; United States Forest Service; Bureau of Reclamation; Bureau of Indian Affairs; Bureau of Land Management; Ken Salazar, Secretary of The Interior; Assistant Secretary for Water and Science; Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks in The Department of Agriculture; and Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture asking for redress for decades of injustices and harm related to federal land management policies which have destroyed Winnemem cultural practices and sacred places.

The Winnemem began a journey to justice in 2004 with a War Dance at Shasta Dam. Today we continue that journey with another War Dance and this lawsuit. Our people are a traditional people, steeped in our culture and traditional lifeways, who have continued our cultural practices throughout the written history of the state of California. With this lawsuit and War Dance, we continue our journey to ensure our basic quality of life and freedom to maintain our traditions and culture.

Winnemem Wintu Tribe
14840 bear mountain road • Redding, CA • 96003
Phone: 530-275-2737 • Fax: 530-275-4193

Monday, April 06, 2009

It is the worst of times.

In a post today at Climate Progress,Bill Becker announced that the Presidential Climate Action Project is closing down. It has, to some extent, completed what it started out to do and that is to provide advice and guidance on climate policy for the new president, who ever it might have been. Since it turned out to be Obama, the might have felt that their job was done.

If you think that is so, then we need to start a whole series of new projects.

Becker listed a number of accomplishments wrapped in Dickensian analogies of a tale of two climates. Then, came the following eye opener:
It’s the worst of times because they are heavily outnumbered in the climate wars on Capitol Hill. As has been widely reported in recent weeks, there are more than 2,300 lobbyists working the climate issue in Congress, a 300 percent increase over the past five years. Only one in eight of them represents the green side of the climate issue.
If you want to understand why politicians are so slow to act on climate, you have only to count the lobbyists. If you want to understand why so many voters are in denial, you have only to look at the manner in which the American Petroleum Institute operates. It is difficult to watch any amount of television news without seeing one of their Ads, nearly all of which are misleading at best and often designed to make us all stupid. Then, they are not just in Washington, but also in 27 state capitals.

Just consider the ad where they claim we have enough oil and gas for home heating for 60 years. Well, what then? Maybe the are counting on global warming to obviate the need for home heating.

Is it any wonder that we are losing the information war on climate change? This, even as some of the mainstream media is turning around. Tonight on NBC's Nightly News, Anne Thompson covered the collapse of an ice bridge in Antarctica. Thompson concludes the we are in "a situation made worse by man made global warming that now needs a man made solution."

Greens need to take every advantage on Earth Day to take the message of climate change to the streets, to hold sit-ins at our congressional offices, to do mass phone calls to all of our representatives and senators.

It is only our planet. We may not get to live in it, but our children and grandchildren deserve better than they are going to get.