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Sleazy California Democratd on Health Reform February 6, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in California, Democracy, Health.
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Roger’s note: this is an excerpt from an email I received from activist.thepen@gmail.com.  It describes the machinations of the California Democratic Party in appearing to support a single payer health insurance plan while at the same time behind the scenes doing everything it can to ensure that it DOESN’T come to pass.  In the seven years I spend on the Toronto municipal council, I saw this kind of hypocrisy in action time and time again.  What they did in California is a classical example of this tactic, and the pen activists captured it perfectly and are to be congratulated for the exposé.  And one more example of why electoral politics (as opposed to taking to the streets) is for the most part futile.

As you know, if you have been a participant of this distribution list for a while, we have been valiantly advocating for a single payer health care system for many years. Such a bill (SB 840) was passed by both chambers of the CA state legislature in 2006, but the bill was vetoed by Governor Maid Molester (Schwarzenegger).
At the time we TRIED to get the Democratic nominee Phil Angelides (who had previously claimed to support single payer) to do an action to demand that Arnold sign the bill. It would have been a great campaign issue for him, but he was too chicken hearted or corrupt himself (your choice) to do it, and he lost by 30 points or something like that.

The same bill passed in 2008 and was vetoed again.

Now fast forward the clock to last week, when single payer
(renumbered SB 810) was again in front of the CA Senate, but now with a Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, who would be expected to sign the bill. All of a sudden four Democratic senators refused to even vote at all. That’s right, folks, they ABSTAINED, which is being in the room for the vote and refusing to cast a vote one way or another. At least three of these abstainers had voted “Yes” for single payer the last time.
So we cranked out a targeted action aimed only at these turncoat abstainers and have good information they got LOTS of phone calls for them to reconsider. But reconsideration never happened. So what’s really going on here? Here’s what the sponsor of the bill, Mark Leno, said on the Thom Hartmann show when gently challenged on why previous supporters were now abstaining.
“Arnold Schwartzeneggar was always going to veto the bill, so if one
had an interest in not ruffling the feathers of the insurance industry, the possibility is to vote for it with the wink of the eye that it’s not going anywhere anyway.”
In Greek mythology, Tantalus as his eternal punishment was cursed to stand in a pool of water underneath a fruit tree with low hanging branches always just out of reach, with the water always receding before he could take a drink. THAT is the very image of what the
Democratic party has become for the interests of the people who consider themselves constituents. It’s all a scam, folks, just one great, big, giant, honking scam.
This is essentially the same thing that happened in 2010 with that phony baloney health care bill, with a bottom line of nothing but pig grease for the medical insurance corporations. After lulling people
along for almost a year with the promise of a “public option”, itself a feeble impersonation of single payer, they refused to even allow a vote on it. In the end, having been forced to pass the bill using a reconciliation gimmick requiring only 51 votes, and 51 Democratic senators on record as supporting the so-called public option, they simply REFUSED to bring it up for a vote, even though they had the votes to do.
And the worst thing about it is that even the so-called good guys are in on it. Mark Leno, the sponsor of SB 810, KNOWS it will never pass, that the vote will always be manipulated so it falls just short in some way. The only reason for him to bring the bill up at all is to CON his own constituents into thinking he’s on their side, otherwise he would be vociferously calling out these abstainer traitors, not accidentally spilling the beans as he did. It’s nothing but a cynical PR stunt, and they are ALL in on it. No matter how many Democrats we vote for, till the end of all eternity, they will always find some way to fail to pass single payer health care.

Unions and America fit together like … Legos September 5, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Labor.
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An author’s message to her grandson: If we don’t love and support the
working men and women of this country, we are in deep trouble. 

 

Writer Anne Lamott hopes to convey a message to her grandson: If America doesn't love and support labor unions, America is in deep trouble.Writer Anne Lamott hopes to convey a message to her
grandson: If America doesn’t love and support labor unions, America is in deep
trouble.
//
By Anne LamottSeptember 5,
2011

I love unions. I love them in the same way I love libraries and redwood groves. They are like churches: sacred. They are what make
this country great. So, besides taking my 2-year-old grandson, Jax, to a library
or to a park with redwoods almost every day, I have also helped him to get to
know a community of union workers. A year ago, I got a huge box of medium-size
Lego blocks and figurines, and we have been holding rallies ever since. Power to the People.
And while we’re at it, Solidarity Forever.

I don’t have the time or space
to introduce you to each of these union workers, but let me just mention a
few.

There’s Mavis, a blond Molly Ivins type and the leader of the
International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union, and Al, a longshoreman. There are
two matching zookeepers who are older, and brothers, born to the same green
plastic mother (at a hospital where the nurses
are proud union members). There is Phil, the sailor, of Seafarers International;
Libby, who belongs to the California Federation of Teachers; and her wife,
Deirdre, who is a Teamster. Sydney, who dresses like a jungle explorer in a
safari jacket and helmet, is a union rep, working on behalf of all workers to
keep unions strong.

Everyone loves Sydney: He is one of those exquisitely
decent, old-fashioned working-class guys who made this country great. Jax and I
often build him a low platform and podium of Lego blocks from which he talks to
other workers about the fight for workers’ rights, telling them to never give
up, and reminding them that the pendulum always swings back toward fairness and
equality.

I have taught Jax all the old union songs that my parents
taught me — “Joe Hill,” “We Shall
Not Be Moved,” “John Henry,” “Bread and Roses.” So sometimes as we play, we also
sing: “Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us
roses.”

For good measure, I sometimes play him “La Marseillaise” on the
kazoo, and he plays along on a bongo drum.

Why do I do this? Because I
believe that if you don’t love and support the working men and women of this
country, you are in deep trouble. You are going to get a terrible seat in
heaven. Probably a patio chair, with plastic lattice bands, the kind that leave
fat welts on the back of your thighs when you stand up.

Are you hearing
that, politicians? I wasn’t going to name names, but I’m still not over being
appalled with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s attacks on unions. Remember his compulsive
trash-talking about nurses and teachers? Nurses and teachers, for God’s sake!
Could he possibly think that God shares his bad opinion of them? Of course not.
It was almost funny to watch him bullying them and their unions. It made me ask
myself something I used to wonder constantly about Dick
Cheney
: Hasn’t this guy ever heard the word “karma”?

I guess it is a
plank of the Christian right to be anti-union now. But remember, there are still
a lot of us in the Christian left, and we don’t feel that way. When I was
growing up, everyone I knew was pro-union, just like everyone used public
libraries and everyone in California was proud of the public education system
and loved the state’s natural beauty. People would fight and rally and protest
and donate to help preserve it.

Then Ronald
Reagan
came along, and having seen one redwood, he had seen them all, and it
was pretty much a straight line from there to Arnold’s shaking his mighty broom
at us as he trash-talked the nurses and teachers.

I understand why
politicians want to see labor as the cause of most of our societal and economic
problems. It takes the focus off the banks, the corporations, the
military-industrial complex. But public school teachers? I guess they really are
sort of greedy and grabby — not to mention rich. Especially those greedy-grabby
public school special ed teachers. My younger brother is one of them, and boy,
is he raking it in. Talk about take, take, take.

My grandson and I just
about went crazy watching the unions protest in Wisconsin in the spring. “Those
are our people!” I shouted to the television, although neither of us actually
has a job. He joined the chorus, in his native Latvian. We clapped, and ate
Cheetos, and danced and put all the workers together on the green Lego base
plate. Our pride was contagious: My two union dogs milled around, licking us
enthusiastically and levitating Cheetos right out of the baby’s
fists.

The whole world will be bombarding my grandson with messages about
individual and personal success aimed at teaching him to love the almighty buck,
but I want my grandchild to grow up in a family that loves labor, as I did. And
I want him to know that when workers’ rights or libraries or redwood groves are
threatened, it’s incumbent on us to show up with our kazoos and
bongos.

Otherwise, I tell him, this country is doomed. And then I add,
“But not on our watch, right, dude?” and he claps and cheers.

Anne
Lamott’s latest book is the novel “Imperfect Birds.”

//

Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times

Another Reason for the California Employee Free Choice Act June 3, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, California, Labor.
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Cesar Chavez

Supposedly we have the water available, we have the shade available, we have bathrooms available but dare not use them for fear of being fired. It was as if we had none at all.
– Rigoberto Ramirez, Blueberry worker

We’ve shared stories with you about farm workers who’ve had no water to drink. This week we want to tell you about workers who do have water, but don’t have the opportunity to drink it because of the pressure put on them by the companies they work for. Please read their stories and then take action to help them by sending Gov. Schwarzenegger and your legislators an e-mail today.

The following is from a May 26th complaint the UFW filed on behalf of workers at Munger Farms, where 3 farm labor contractors employ more than 40 crews and 1,000 workers to harvest blueberries. Pickers are working hourly, but have a huge quota of 5 boxes a day–which forces them to work through their breaks, not drink water or go to the bathroom for fear of losing their jobs. This is not an imaginary fear. It happened to about 60 workers on May 26. The workers were promised 3 days of work. They were fired after one day before they even had the chance to acclimatize themselves to the brutal pace demanded. Here is the story of an experienced blueberry picker, Guillermo Cruz:

We started working at 8 am and we were asked to pick 5 boxes of blueberries for the day which is a total of 65 pounds of blueberries. I did everything that I could to meet the quota. Company supervisors were constantly on top of us and yelling at us if we dropped any blueberries on the ground which made us very nervous and confused on what to do. Workers could not afford to go to drink water or even go to the restroom because of the tremendous fear of losing their jobs. Some workers even worked through their lunch breaks to try to meet the quota. The company would not even allow us to take our third break. Many workers were running and going as fast as they could to try to meet the goal. I was one of the few that was able to make 4 boxes and could not understand why I would be fired if I had done everything in my power to meet the quota. The time we worked we saw crews of 60 workers going and coming because of the tremendous pressure to meet the quota and the company was firing workers every day.

This is not the only incident. On May 26, the UFW filed charges on behalf of Giumarra vineyard worker Francisco Farfan. Francisco was suspended and sent home for the day after the foreman said Francisco had gone too many times to drink water. He was keeping up with the workload demanded. It was hotter than 100 degrees that day. Francisco believes he was suspended for taking safety measures that did not impede his work performance and to which he is legally entitled.

Two days later the UFW also filed charges on behalf of vineyard workers at Sunrise Agriculture. Again, the about 100 workers there did have water. The problem was they were not allowed to drink the water unless they were on an official break (10 minutes every 4 hrs) or at lunch. These workers also did not have shade to protect them from the sun and were not trained in heat safety as required by law.

Such incidents show that workers need the ability to speak up without being afraid of losing their jobs. It’s why SB789 CA Employee Free Choice Act for Farm Workers is so vital. This bill will make it easier for farm workers to organize, speak up to improve working conditions and help enforce the laws that CA’s government cannot enforce. SB789 passed the CA state senate and will next be heard in the assembly and then go to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Schwarzenegger to Terminate Welfare in California May 25, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in California.
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Arnold-Schwarzenegger-The-Terminator_thumb
 
GOVERNOR PLANS TO COMPLETELY ELIMINATE WELFARE FOR FAMILIES

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is proposing to completely eliminate the state’s welfare program for families, medical insurance for low-income children and Cal Grants cash assistance to college and university students.

The proposals to sharply scale back the assistance that California provides to its neediest residents came in testimony by the administration this afternoon at a joint legislative budget committee hearing. It followed comments by the governor earlier today that he would be withdrawing a proposal to help balance the budget with billions of dollars of borrowing and replacing it with program reductions.

The proposals would completely reshape the state’s social service network, transforming California from one of the country’s most generous states to one of the most tightfisted. The proposals are intended to help close a budget deficit estimated at $21.3 billion.

source: LA TIMES

Name Change Won’t Alter Resources Agency’s Dark Mission February 10, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in California, Environment.
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06 February 2009The Resources Agency on January 1 adopted a new name, the California “Natural” Resources Agency, to give the agency a more “green” veneer. Unfortunately, nothing has changed at the agency that has presided over the collapse of the state’s salmon, steelhead and other fish populations.

    A press release from the agency in late December claimed that the name change was adopted to “better reflect its mission.”

    “Since 1961, the Resources Agency has been responsible for the safeguarding and stewardship of California’s precious natural resources,” according to the release. “From water and wildlife management and conservation to wildland fire protection, energy, ocean and coastal policy, land stewardship, climate change adaptation, sustainable living, and the promotion of outdoor recreation, the agency oversees most all of the state’s functions designed to protect California’s natural resources.”

    In July, Gov. Arnold “Fish Terminator” Schwarzenegger signed Senate Bill 1464 (Maldonado) authorizing the Resources Agency to change its name. “The new Agency logo will remain largely the same and the change will be phased in gradually as new supplies are ordered,” the release stated. “In this way there will be little or no cost to the Agency or any of its departments, boards or commissions save for any replacement costs that would normally be incurred.”

    California’s Natural Resources Agency is responsible for the state’s natural resource policies, programs and activities. It has 17,000 employees and oversees 25 departments, commissions, boards and conservancies, including the Department of Fish and Game, Department of Water Resources, CALFED Bay-Delta Program, California Conservation Corps, Department of Boating and Waterways, Department of Conservation, Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and Department of Parks and Recreation.

    However, wouldn’t it be more appropriate for the Resources Agency to adopt a name that truly reflects its REAL primary mission? Based on my years covering California fisheries, this mission appears to be engineering the collapse of Central Valley salmon fisheries, driving the California Delta’s pelagic fish populations to the edge of extinction, building a peripheral canal, constructing more dams, slashing funds for salmon and steelhead restoration, and instituting massive closures of public trust fisheries throughout the state’s ocean waters.

    Considering all of this, wouldn’t “the Natural Destruction Agency” be a more appropriate name for the agency? Other potential names for the agency could be “Bureau of Corporate Greenwashing,” “Raping of Natural Resources Agency,” “No More Natural Resources Agency,” “The Fish Termination Agency,” or the “Water Exports Agency.” Readers of my articles have also suggested the “Final Legislative Usurpation of Significant Habitats, FLUSH,” and “The Death Star” as more appropriate names for this agency with such a legacy of environmental destruction behind it.

    More recently, Karuk Tribe Vice Chair Leaf Hillman proposed that the name of one of the agency’s member departments, the Department of Fish and Game (DFG), be changed more accurately to reflect its “mission” after DFG Director Donald Koch rejected a petition by the Tribe, California Trout and Friends of the North Fork to restrict suction dredge gold mining in order to protect salmon and steelhead populations. “I guess DFG really stands for Department of Frontier Greed,” Hillman quipped.

    While the name of the agency has changed, pelagic (open water) fish populations of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta continue to collapse. There is nothing “natural” about this unprecedented and catastrophic species decline.

    The delta smelt population has declined to its lowest level ever, according to the latest data from the DFG’s fall midwater trawl survey. The DFG studies the health of these populations by compiling an “index” – a relative measure of abundance. The index declined to 23 in fall 2008, down from the previous low level of 28 in fall 2009.

    American shad also reached a record low level in 2008. The index was 271, compared to 533 in 2007 and 9,360 in 2003. Threadfin shad also declined to a record low population level, down to 450 from 3,177 in 2007.

    The Sacramento splittail, a native minnow, declined to the lowest-ever level this fall. In fact, no splittail were observed in the fall survey, while only one fish was documented the previous autumn.

    Only the striped bass and longfin smelt showed an increase, though the population levels are still precariously low. The striper index rose to 220 in 2008 from 82 in 2007, both alarmingly low numbers. In contrast, the index was 9,500 in 1971, when the population was still healthy before the fish-killing state and federal pumps went into full operation. The longfin smelt abundance index rose from a record low of 13 in fall 2007 to 113 this fall. By comparison, the index was 6,654 in 1998.

    These fish populations have declined to unprecedented low population levels because of the deplorable water and fishery management policies of the California “Natural” Resources Agency under the Schwarzenegger administration, combined with extremely bad management by the federal government. State and federal fishery biologists have pinpointed three major causes of the fishery decline – increased water exports, toxics and invasive species. More recently, increases in ammonia discharges from sewage treatment plants have been cited by scientists as a possible factor.

    Record water export levels occurred in 2003 (6.3 million acre-feet, or MAF), 2004 (6.1 MAF), 2005 (6.5 MAF) and 2006 (6.3 MAF). Exports averaged 4.6 MAF annually between 1990 and 1999 and increased to an average of 6 MAF between 2000 and 2007, a rise of almost 30 percent, according to the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.

    The crisis in Delta fisheries will not be solved by changing the agency’s name – or taking more water out of the Delta through the peripheral canal proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Department of Water Resources, Sen. Diane Feinstein and the Nature Conservancy as a “solution” to the Delta’s problems. The canal and more dams that Schwarzenegger and Mike Chrisman, resources secretary, are campaigning for will only exacerbate the imperiled status of these fish populations, driving them over the precipice of extinction.

    The only way the Resources Agency can live up to its new “natural” name is to abandon the mad campaign for a peripheral canal and more dams, mandate water conservation by corporate agribusiness, adopt tough agricultural water pollution standards and require the retirement of toxic selenium-filled soil in the Westlands Water District.

»


Dan Bacher is a local activist and an editor of The Fish Sniffer, “The No. 1 newspaper in the world dedicated entirely to fishermen.”

by: Dan Bacher, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Resistance to Housing Foreclosures Spread Across the Land January 24, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
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www.truthout.org

23 January 2009

by: Ben Ehrenreich, The Nation

 

  Community-based movements to halt the flood of foreclosures have been building across the country. And they’re not the usual suspects.

    “This is a crowd that won’t scatter,” James Steele wrote in the pages of The Nation some seventy-five years ago. Early one morning in July 1933, the police had evicted John Sparanga and his family from a home on Cleveland’s east side. Sparanga had lost his job and fallen behind on mortgage payments. The bank had foreclosed. A grassroots “home defense” organization, which had managed to forestall the eviction on three occasions, put out the call, and 10,000 people — mainly working-class immigrants from Southern and Central Europe — soon gathered, withstanding wave after wave of police tear gas, clubbings and bullets, “vowing not to leave until John Sparanga [was] back in his home.”

    “The small home-owners of the United States are organizing,” Steele concluded, “tardily perhaps, but none the less surely.” It wasn’t just homeowners — three months earlier the governor of Iowa had called out the National Guard after farmers stormed a courthouse and threatened to hang the judge if he didn’t stop issuing foreclosures. They left him in a ditch, bruised but alive. By the end of the 1930s, farmers’ and home-owners’ struggles had pushed the legislatures of no fewer than twenty-seven states to pass moratoriums on foreclosures.

    The crowds appear to be gathering again — far more quietly this time but hardly tentatively. Community-based movements to halt the flood of foreclosures have been building across the country. They turned out in Cleveland once again in October, when a coalition of grassroots housing groups rallied outside the Cuyahoga County courthouse, calling for a foreclosure freeze and constructing a mock graveyard of Styrofoam headstones bearing the names of local communities decimated by the housing crisis. (They did not, unfortunately, stop the more than 1,000 foreclosure filings in the county the following month.) In Boston the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America began protesting in front of Countrywide Financial offices in October 2007. Within weeks, Countrywide had agreed to work with the group to renegotiate loans. In Philadelphia ACORN and other community organizations helped to pressure the city council to order the county sheriff to halt foreclosure auctions this past March. Philadelphia has since implemented a program mandating “conciliation conferences” between defaulting homeowners and lenders. ACORN organizers say the program has a 78 percent success rate at keeping people in their homes. One activist group in Miami has taken a more direct approach to the crisis, housing homeless families in abandoned bank-owned homes without waiting for government permission.

    It’s unlikely, though, that any of these activists will be able to relax soon. Other than calling for a ninety-day freeze on foreclosures — which, given that loan negotiations can take many months to work out, would almost certainly be inadequate — President Obama has been consistently vague about his plans to address the foreclosure crisis. He has indicated his support for a $24 billion program proposed in November by FDIC chair Sheila Bair, which would offer banks incentives to renegotiate loans, aiming to reduce mortgage payments to 31 percent of homeowners’ monthly income. Obama’s economic team has since worked with House Financial Services Committee chair Barney Frank on a bill that would require that between $40 billion and $100 billion of what’s left in the bailout package be spent on an unspecified foreclosure mitigation program. It would be left to Obama’s Treasury Department to design that program. But Frank’s and Bair’s proposed plans are voluntary. Banks that choose not to accept federal assistance won’t have to renegotiate a single loan.

    Community organizers, however, aren’t sitting around waiting for banks to come to the table. Nowhere have they had more cause to keep busy than in California, home to a quarter of the 3.2 million foreclosures filed in the country last year. The collapse of the state’s hyperinflated real estate market has left as many as 27 percent of mortgage holders owing more on their homes than the properties are worth; California’s foreclosure rate is more than twice the national average. From San Diego to Stockton, in churches, union halls and community centers, angry homeowners have been organizing to freeze foreclosures and impose a systematic modification of home loans.

    The crisis has produced some unlikely activists. Faith Bautista didn’t start out as a rabble-rouser. A small, energetic and stubbornly cheerful woman, she has run a tiny nonprofit called the Mabuhay Alliance since 2004. Until recently, it functioned as an all-purpose minority small-business association. With a staff of six working out of a mini-mall office behind an auto parts store in an industrial section of San Diego, the Mabuhay Alliance served a largely Filipino community (mabuhay translates roughly from Tagalog as viva!) offering, among other services, free income-tax preparation, microloans and counseling for first-time homeowners.

    It was through the latter program that Bautista heard the first rumblings of the mortgage meltdown, which would ultimately bring down Wall Street’s most powerful financial firms. Southern California’s development boom hadn’t yet begun to ebb in late 2006, but, Bautista says, “people were already calling us and asking what was going to happen. They were clearly going to default.”

    The community Mabuhay serves — about 40 percent Filipino, the remainder Latino, African-American and other Asians — was hit particularly hard. Throughout the housing boom, immigrant and minority borrowers were disproportionately issued high-priced subprime loans, even when they qualified for less expensive, fixed-rate mortgages. One study by the California Reinvestment Coalition found that African-American and Latino borrowers were nearly four times as likely as whites to receive high-cost mortgages. Bautista had an adjustable-rate mortgage on the home she bought in 2004. Her monthly payments soon leapt to $6,000. It took her nine months, she says, and a personal meeting with the CEO of the bank that held her mortgage, to renegotiate the loan. It quickly became obvious to her that fighting the banks on an individual basis would be inadequate to the scale of the crisis — only an organized battle for systematic changes would help keep people in their homes.

    In the early months of 2007, as the first of the subprime lenders began to declare bankruptcy, Bautista started contacting major lenders, asking them to stop foreclosures and take part in a “massive loan-modification program” — dropping interest rates, writing down principals and donating executive bonuses to a fund for borrowers at risk of default. If lenders shared responsibility for the crisis, she calculated, homeowners shouldn’t bear the full brunt of the suffering. Not surprisingly, she laughs, “they didn’t want to talk to us.”

    That summer, with the help of the Greenlining Institute, a Berkeley-based research and advocacy group that works on racial equality issues, she was able to arrange a meeting with Countrywide co-founder and CEO Angelo Mozilo. At the time, almost one-fourth of Countrywide’s subprime loans were delinquent. The meeting, Bautista says, was fruitless: “Eyes are closed, ears are closed.” Over the next few months, she met three more times with Countrywide management, getting nowhere. “They didn’t want to admit they were doing anything wrong.”

    Elected officials appeared equally blind to the extent of the problem. Countrywide’s stock had plummeted, but the influence of the nation’s largest mortgage lender still ran deep. Mozilo’s so-called Friends of Angelo program had cut favorable deals on loans to his highly placed acquaintances, including Christopher Dodd and Kent Conrad, chairs of the Senate banking and budget committees, respectively. And Countrywide, along with other top mortgage lenders and industry associations, spent tens of millions of dollars lobbying Congress and gave millions more in campaign contributions. By mid-October 2007, the government’s only response to the foreclosure crisis had been the creation of the Hope Now alliance, a voluntary mortgage-industry coalition that established a telephone hot line to aid homeowners in altering the terms of their mortgages. But, critics say, the program has done little more than design repayment plans that in many cases actually increased borrowers’ monthly payments. “I call it Hope Not,” quips Bautista.

    At the state level, things weren’t much better. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger brokered a nonbinding agreement in which Countrywide and other lenders volunteered to extend the introductory low interest rates on some adjustable-rate mortgages. It only deferred disaster and did nothing for those who were already in default. Meanwhile, new foreclosure records were being broken every month.

    The day before Thanksgiving, the Mabuhay Alliance, joined by the Mexican-American Political Alliance, staged a protest in front of Countrywide’s San Diego office. They attempted to hand-deliver a turkey to Mozilo, who, not counting stock options, would be paid $22 million in 2007, down from $42 million in 2006. Once again, the doors were locked. Only about fifty people showed up that day, but the protest got enough press to have a powerful symbolic effect. “No one was willing to take on Mozilo in California,” says Greenlining’s Robert Gnaizda. “He held enormous power. And [Bautista] took him on. She forced the financial industry to pay attention.”

    The next week, Bautista and Gnaizda went to Washington and met with Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke and FDIC chair Sheila Bair, asking for a freeze on foreclosures and wholesale relief for mortgage holders. Bair was receptive, Bautista says. Bernanke was not. Eight months later, when the FDIC took over IndyMac, Bair immediately suspended foreclosures. “Now they’re willing to do it,” Bautista shrugs. If they’d acted earlier, she says, “all those people who were foreclosed wouldn’t have been foreclosed.”

    In December, a few weeks after the Countrywide protest, she and Gnaizda wangled a meeting with California Attorney General Jerry Brown, asking him to sue Countrywide for defrauding borrowers. He wasn’t interested, Bautista says. The following June, a few days before Bank of America bought out the crippled lender, Brown finally filed suit against Mozilo and Countrywide. Gnaizda explains the delay: “Countrywide was not weak in December.”

    In the meantime, all the major loan providers in the country have agreed to work with Mabuhay to modify individual loans. This means, Bautista says, that Mabuhay can help about twenty people a week. She is far from satisfied. Despite the hundreds of billions of dollars given to the financial industry, no federal or state government has provided any substantive relief to the people hit the hardest by the mortgage crisis — the ones who are losing their homes. “You gotta start from the bottom and go up,” Bautista says. “If you start at the top, then at the bottom you get crumbs. You get nothing.”

    In December Mabuhay sponsored a “foreclosure clinic” at a community college in the San Francisco Bay Area city of Vallejo, which despite its small size — its population is about 112,000 — boasted the tenth-highest foreclosure rate in the country at the time. About 150 anxious homeowners showed up, clutching thick folders of financial documents, waiting to speak with mortgage counselors. Their stories were painfully similar: one couple was struggling to pay an interest rate of 16 percent; another was unable to make $4,300 monthly payments and owed $630,000 on a home worth $370,000; another, in their mid-60s, had resigned themselves to losing the home in which they’d lived for twenty-three years and spending their retirement in a motor home.

    Standing beside Bautista at the front of the auditorium, Gnaizda did his best to channel the crowd’s frustration into action. “Ten million families are facing foreclosure right now,” he said. “Change is not going to come about because President Obama wants it to. He is not going to act unless you hold his feet to the fire.”

    Gnaizda was not alone in that conclusion: other grassroots efforts to stop foreclosures have been sprouting up all over California. In metropolitan Los Angeles and Oakland, groups like ACORN had already established an effective infrastructure to organize low-income homeowners. A list of community demands that came out of a December 2007 ACORN-sponsored meeting at an Oakland senior center became the basis for a July state law requiring banks to warn homeowners thirty days before filing a notice of default. The law is credited with dramatically lowering foreclosure rates in California for two months after it took effect. (Predictably, foreclosure rates resumed their northward climb after that.)

    More recently, ACORN has been pushing the adoption of the program the group helped pioneer in Philadelphia, a mandatory mediation process that forces lenders to negotiate with homeowners before filing a judgment of default. “If they can’t figure this out in Sacramento,” says ACORN’s Austin King, “they’re not trying.”

    Much of the local organizing on the issue, though, has not come from the usual activist suspects. Circumstances have forced groups that usually practice more staid forms of engagement into the fray, particularly in the former industrial towns just beyond the urban fringe, which have been among those hit hardest by the economic collapse. The antiforeclosure movement in Antioch, about thirty-five miles east of Vallejo, began with ten people forming an organizing committee at a local Catholic church. “We just heard dozens and dozens of stories of people struggling to keep their homes, of people losing their homes. They couldn’t get any of the banks to respond or even speak to them,” says Adam Kruggel, executive director of Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO). Two hundred and fifty people showed up at the group’s first meeting on the issue. “We sort of deputized ourselves,” Kruggel says. “The government wasn’t regulating the banks, so we were going to embarrass them in public.”

    The strategy worked. CCISCO protested in front of several Antioch bank branches in May. Lenders soon began returning the group’s phone calls and agreeing to renegotiate their members’ loans. But the Bush administration’s bailout plan generated enough anger that, Kruggel says, “we realized we needed to work on a local and national level. For less than what [the Treasury] gave Wells Fargo, they could create a loan-modification program that could save a million and a half families their homes.” CCISCO began coordinating with similar efforts one county over in Stockton and halfway across the country in Kansas City, and the group sent a lobbying delegation to Washington. It’s asking for a six-month freeze on foreclosures and a cap on mortgage payments at 34 percent of family income. “Any bank that got any bailout money needs to do systematic loan modifications,” Kruggel says. “We’re not going to wait for the Obama administration.”

    Craig Robbins, who directs ACORN’s foreclosure campaign, echoes Kruggel’s sentiment: “We’re excited about some of the things Obama has been saying, but there’s got to be tremendous pressure for a real, comprehensive federal solution.” Taking cues from Depression-era antiforeclosure movements, ACORN activists began disrupting foreclosure sales at courthouses across the country in Januaary. “We’re looking to throw a wrench in the foreclosure machinery,” says Robbins, adding that ACORN is planning to organize “rapid defense teams” ready to turn out crowds on short notice to prevent evictions. Until that happens, it might help to remember that the crowd of thousands that came to the Sparanga family’s defense in Cleveland didn’t gather until four years into the Depression. This one has just begun.

    ———

    Ben Ehrenreich, a journalist and novelist based in Los Angeles, is the author of The Suitors.

A Less Perfect Union: Gay Marriage and the Subversion of the Republic October 25, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in California.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
2 comments

Scott Tucker, Truthdig, October 24, 2008

On May 15 the California Supreme Court ruled, in a 4-to-3 decision, that legal marriage in this state should no longer be reserved for heterosexuals. Six of the seven judges on that court were appointed by Republican governors, with the lone Democrat voting with the majority in this case. According to an estimate by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, more than 10,000 gay and lesbian couples have married since the first legal same-sex marriages on June 16.

In response, opponents lost no time placing Proposition 8 on the Nov. 4 ballot. Proposition 8, if passed, would change the state constitution so that marriage would be legally defined as being between a man and a woman, and thus would eliminate the existing right of same-sex couples to marry. This does not mean that the marriages of same-sex couples already legally enacted will be automatically null and void if Proposition 8 passes. On the contrary, these marriages are now legal facts on the ground, which will figure in class-action lawsuits and future court cases as the nationwide legislative battle over same-sex marriages and civil unions unfolds.

Current polls suggest a very close call on this issue in the Nov. 4 voting. The Mormon Church is pumping millions of dollars into television ads supporting Proposition 8. According to The Wall Street Journal, “Between 30% to 40 % of the $25.5 million in donations raised as of last week by the ‘Yes’ campaign has come from the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.”

The coalition supporting the Yes on 8 campaign goes beyond the Mormon Church, of course. Conservative Catholics, including the Knights of Columbus, have donated more than $1 million. Focus on the Family (an evangelical group headed by James Dobson), an Orthodox Jewish group based in New York City, the National Organization for Marriage, the American Family Foundation, and various Baptist, Sikh and Muslim groups, as well as many Republicans, all have contributed heavily as well. A leading African-American cleric, Apostle Frederick K.C. Price of the Crenshaw Christian Center in Los Angeles, was joined on Oct. 20 by 50 African-American and Latino clerics in supporting Proposition 8. The press release of this last group noted these organizational ties and funding sources: “Paid for by ProtectMarriage.com—Yes on 8, a project of California Renewal. Major funding by Knights of Columbus, National Organization for Marriage California Committee and Focus on the Family.”

For more than 30 years, right-wing conservatives have rallied a base of supporters made up heavily of white evangelicals and have waged many winning campaigns by using the ready ammunition of so-called wedge issues. Since the 1970s, the religious right has made moral crusades against abortion, homosexuality and pornography into political litmus tests for Republican candidates. They have also made direct appeals to cultural conservatives across party lines, including evangelical Christians of all races. So the power of moral conviction on the far right had a real crossover effect on the Democratic Party.

In this fight, gay people have notable allies, including some wealthy people in business and entertainment. But no movement for social justice can build a strong foundation upon such a thin upper crust. That’s why the solidarity of some labor unions has been so welcome. The California Teachers Union Issues PAC has contributed $2 million, and the Service Employees International Union donated $500,000. The California Nurses Association is strongly opposed to Proposition 8. David Sanchez, president of the California Teachers Association, has stated, “For us, it’s a civil rights issue.” Since the right wing is running TV ads claiming that the rights of schoolchildren and parents would be violated by Proposition 8, the voices and faces of parents, students and teachers who oppose this proposition might have been featured effectively in TV and community newspaper ads as well. This would have required greater communication between organized labor and parent and student groups, and the staffs of No on 8 and Equality California.

There is a much larger and starker problem with the Democratic Party. If Proposition 8 wins, the political illusions of many gay people must be part of the public accounting. Likewise, elected Democrats gone AWOL will deserve consequences at the polls. Career Democrats with extraordinary wealth have made some donations to groups opposing Proposition 8, but they have been stingy in spending real political capital for this cause.

Sens. Barack Obama and Joe Biden rarely mention gay people except when speaking directly to small audiences of gay and gay-friendly donors. The issue of gay marriage is one they prefer to avoid. All the more reason we might expect the top elected Democrats of California to take up this fight in earnest. But in fact, the career Democrats, with the important exception of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, have dealt with Proposition 8 only in smaller and safer side conversations, and not in strong public messages. This is true both in California and in Congress.

The No on 8 coalition includes many reliable liberal groups and individuals, but as of Oct. 24, no television ad featuring the leading Democrats of California has brought the No on 8 message to the general public. No political courage was required for U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein to tell a gay magazine, “I believe we should uphold the ability of our friends, neighbors, and coworkers who are gay and lesbian to enter into the contract of marriage.” This message would have more reach and power if Feinstein dared to use the megaphone of the mass media. U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer has not campaigned aggressively against Proposition 8 either, and has also not yet appeared in any television ad.

Likewise, the political capital that Rep. Nancy Pelosi has spent on this issue is spare change, but many Democrats will give her a “pragmatic” pass precisely because she is speaker of the House. A perverse logic operates in this case. If Pelosi refuses to wield congressional power in a fair fight against imperial adventures and war budgets; if she rules impeachment out of order and sidelines Rep. Dennis Kucinich and other dissenters in her own party; if she goes along to get along with the corporate oligarchy … then why should anyone expect her to risk a political bruise in defense of gay marriage?

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