Monday, November 21, 2011

The billionaire's beauty and barber shop tax proposal

Hmmmmmm. How do we get these weird political things in California???

Apparently we could see an initiative proposal from a 50-year-old foreign-born billionaire investment banker that, if approved by the voters, would collect a service tax on beauty and barber shop charges while giving a tax breaks to international corporations and billionaires.

And according to A Blueprint to Renew California: Report and Recommendations Presented by the Think Long Committee for California, we should create a "non-partisan" and "independent" Citizens Council for Government Accountability to further overload us with opinions, made up of nine members appointed by the Governor, two appointed by the Senate Rules Committee, two appointed by the Speaker of the Assembly from (one each from the state's two largest political parties) and the Governor's Director of Finance, plus the elected State Treasurer, State Controller, and Attorney General. This would be a non-partisan group???

The proposal comes from a Committee under the umbrella of the Nicolas Berggruen Institute, chaired by the Paris-born international investment banker Nicolas Berggruen, who wants to submit an initiative to the voters. He's made a $20 million commitment to jump start an initiative campaign.

According to a Washington Post Bloomberg profile published two weeks ago:

At the poolside restaurant of the Hotel Cipriani in Venice, the billionaire investor glances at the lunchtime crowd drifting over from their sun loungers. He fidgets. Polishing off a cappuccino, he suggests we move....

Berggruen, 50, lives his whole life this way, always on the move, as he seeks out companies to buy, from Berlin to Bangalore to Brisbane. For the past decade, the dual American and German citizen has had no fixed home address. He roams the world on his Gulfstream IV jet, living out of five-star hotels. Most of the time, he carries only a small tote bag containing clothes and his BlackBerry.

If you think the story is slanted, here's who he thinks he is from the Institute's web site.

How does this stuff happen? Would anyone read it if I and 16 friends and relatives drew up an Alternative Blueprint to Renew California? I think I could find $20 to help put it on the ballot.

Monday, November 14, 2011

WE ARE THE MANY - A song for the OCCUPY movement and for 2011-12



The video is from Makana's web site at Vimeo. Makana represents the next step, a song for the Occupy movement in the tradition of Joe Hill, to Woody Guthrie, to Pete Seeger, and to Bob Dylan.

From a top news story today:
A popular Hawaiian recording artist turned a top-security dinner of Pacific Rim leaders hosted by President Barack Obama into a subtle protest with a song in support of the "Occupy" movement.

Makana, who goes by one name, was enlisted to play a luau, or Hawaiian feast, Saturday night for leaders assembled in Obama's birthplace Honolulu for an annual summit that is formulating plans for a Pacific free-trade pact.

But in the midst of the dinner on the resort strip Waikiki Beach, he pulled open his jacket to reveal a T-shirt that read "Occupy with Aloha," using the Hawaiian word whose various meanings include love and peace. He then sang a marathon version of his new song "We Are The Many."
Here are the lyrics:
We Are The Many

Ye come here, gather 'round the stage
The time has come for us to voice our rage
Against the ones who've trapped us in a cage
To steal from us the value of our wage

From underneath the vestiture of law
The lobbyists at Washington do gnaw
At liberty, the bureaucrats guffaw
And until they are purged, we won't withdraw

We'll occupy the streets
We'll occupy the courts
We'll occupy the offices of you
Till you do
The bidding of the many, not the few

Our nation was built upon the right
Of every person to improve their plight
But laws of this Republic they rewrite
And now a few own everything in sight

They own it free of liability
They own, but they are not like you and me
Their influence dictates legality
And until they are stopped we are not free

We'll occupy the streets
We'll occupy the courts
We'll occupy the offices of you
Till you do
The bidding of the many, not the few

You enforce your monopolies with guns
While sacrificing our daughters and sons
But certain things belong to everyone
Your thievery has left the people none

So take heed of our notice to redress
We have little to lose, we must confess
Your empty words do leave us unimpressed
A growing number join us in protest

We occupy the streets
We occupy the courts
We occupy the offices of you
Till you do
The bidding of the many, not the few

You can't divide us into sides
And from our gaze, you cannot hide
Denial serves to amplify
And our allegiance you can't buy

Our government is not for sale
The banks do not deserve a bail
We will not reward those who fail
We will not move till we prevail

We'll occupy the streets
We'll occupy the courts
We'll occupy the offices of you
Till you do
The bidding of the many, not the few

We'll occupy the streets
We'll occupy the courts
We'll occupy the offices of you
Till you do
The bidding of the many, not the few

We are the many
You are the few

You can download the mp3 version here.

AND through the web sites listed below, you can interact with the movement:

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Chinese cars, Moonbeam, and California's budget plan collapse

Today The Sacramento Bee sent out two of it's "Capitol Alert" stories. The first is headlined Controller John Chiang says California has $1.5 billion cash gap.

Actually, the headline is misleading. The story says:
California has fallen $1.5 billion behind in revenues through the first four months of the fiscal year, according to state Controller John Chiang....

The state also faced spending pressures through the first four months of the year. Chiang reported that California spent $1.7 billion more than budget writers expected.

So the cash gap actually totals $3.2 billion a third of the way through the budget year.

This is no big surprise because as I noted in a June post, I expect revenues alone will be $10-$12 billion short of the adopted budget estimate at the end of the fiscal year in June 2012.

One would expect that Governor Jerry "Moonbeam" Brown would be hunkered down at his desk with his finance people trying to understand the budget situation. But no.

From the other Capitol Alert we are informed:
Gov. Jerry Brown, meanwhile, is talking green at noon as electric vehicle firm CODA officially opens its global headquarters in Los Angeles.

CODA makes all-electric cars named, appropriately enough, CODA, which you can view online at the company's website or its Westfield Century City store in Los Angeles. The base price, including destination charge, runs $45,795, according to the online calculator. Range is estimated at 150 miles.

Oh wow, Moonbeam is down there promoting a California startup electric car manufacturer, right? Well, actually, wrong, but writers at The Bee publish news releases. They apparently aren't familiar with new fangled stuff like Google and Wikipedia. Because....

From Google they would have been taken to a story that explains:
CODA Automotive is teaming up with Great Wall Motor Company to develop EVs, a collaboration that will involve integrating the Californian firm's EV propulsion system with the vehicle platforms of Great Wall.

And if they had gone to Wikipedia they would have told us:
Great Wall Motor Company Limited is a Chinese automobile manufacturer formed in 1976. The company is named after the Great Wall of China. As of 2010 it is China's largest SUV producer.

2010 production capacity is estimated at 500,000 units/year...

So if the Bee reporter, Micaela Massimino, had spent an extra 15 minutes sitting on her butt in front of her computer doing some research rather than pasting in a news release, what she could have told us is that CODA is kinda like Apple, only much smaller. They design stuff, they don't hire workers and build it. Moonbeam is down there promoting a Chinese car manufacturing operation - yeah, electric, but Chinese.

But hey, Moonbeam is being really cool and green and getting great news coverage as a promoter of China's green economy, while the fake state budget put together during the brief period he tried doing his job isn't working.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Solar Powered Soup Kitchens

The title to this post pretty much says it all about Governor Jerry "Moonbeam" Brown and President Barack "Avatar" Obama.

Both have been sufficiently removed from reality by political ambition that we would expect them to actually favor grant programs to provide solar power to soup kitchens while pondering signing off on cuts in funding for meat.

Reality is the story headlined Most of the unemployed no longer receive benefits explaining:
The jobs crisis has left so many people out of work for so long that most of America's unemployed are no longer receiving unemployment benefits.

Early last year, 75 percent were receiving checks. The figure is now 48 percent — a shift that points to a growing crisis of long-term unemployment. Nearly one-third of America's 14 million unemployed have had no job for a year or more.

...Their options include food stamps or other social programs. Nearly 46 million people received food stamps in August, a record total. That figure could grow as more people lose unemployment benefits.
Even if there are people "gaming" the system, these numbers clearly tell us a serious problem is developing.

By the time you add in those who have never drawn unemployment such as unemployed recent high school and college graduates (and drop outs), we are allowing a huge expansion of the number of our people who are poor by late 20th Century American standards.

Two things are certain.

First, green industry is not going to fix the problem of employment in California no matter how much people might want it to be the universal solution for everything:

Second, despite the machinations of Moonbeam's Administration, the California State Budget will be seriously out of balance by June.

The Great California Slump is not going to be fixed by creating solar powered soup kitchens. (Yes, there is such a thing - see Sun powers Tucson soup kitchen.)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

What the *&%# happened in Oakland? Jerry Brown, of course.

When the Occupy Wall Street movement spread across the U.S., one of its biggest subsidiaries was in Oakland. Two weeks of peaceful protest activities took place there. On October 25, Occupy Oakland protesters found themselves facing police firing gas canisters. One Iraq War veteran was left in critical condition with a head injury.

On The Daily Show, Jon Stewart asked "What the [expletive deleted] happened in Oakland?"

Like all such occurrences, all kinds of explanations will be offered and someone or several someones will ultimately be blamed.

For consideration, I'd like to offer reports of a sequence of events that occurred in the three months prior, followed by a review of events that occurred in 1999-2003.

From a Thursday, August 11, item:
Oakland police chief Anthony Batts is pressuring the city to funnel more resources into the dwindling department, following Monday's shooting death of 3-year-old Carlos Nava.

At a news conference Thursday announcing the arrest of alleged shooter Lawrence Denard, Batts expressed frustration with city leaders for not prioritizing law enforcement. He made references to the city's opposition to gang injunctions and curfews for teens.

“Monday, August 8 at 1:12 p.m. should be the rallying cry for this city to turn itself around,” Batts said at the news conference.

“Enough with excuses, enough with not doing the right thing, enough with not addressing injunctions, not wanting to do curfews, enough with not taking hard stances,” he said. “Because enough life has been lost.”
Pretty strong stuff from a police chief. Symptoms of a problem?

From an LA Times item, Tuesday, October 11:
Oakland Police Chief Anthony W. Batts, who clashed with Mayor Jean Quan and the City Council over staffing and resources amid a rise in violent crime, announced his resignation Tuesday in a letter to Police Department employees.

Batts, who joined the department in 2009 after being recruited away from Long Beach by then-Mayor Ronald V. Dellums, did not say why he was leaving or what he planned to do next.

In his resignation letter, the chief said he believed when taking the job that he was answering “the call for a reform-minded chief; a leader with a focus on community policing and high professional standards.

“I was told Oakland residents were looking for a strong, visible leader to engage the community and reduce violent crime,” he said. “My goal was to help rebuild a once proud, professional department, geared toward crime reduction and community service.”

But, Batts continued, “I found myself with limited control, but full accountability. The landscape has changed radically over the past two years and with new and different challenges.”

Quan took office in January. She and many council members have largely opposed such crime-fighting measures as a youth curfew and gang injunctions. The City Council met last week to consider those measures and an anti-loitering law; Quan cast a tie-breaking vote to send the measures back to committee.
From another item Tuesday, October 11:
After serving two years as Oakland police chief, Anthony Batts has decided to step down. In an email obtained by the Oakland Tribune, Batts praised officers for their excellent service, despite their limited resources and lack of appreciation. He wrote, “Rather than a chief managing a diverse department of law enforcement professionals making the streets of Oakland safe, I found myself with limited control, but full accountability.”

In March of last year, Batts sat down with KALW’s Holly Kernan to discuss some of the challenges that he faced...
ANTHONY BATTS: I think the systems within the police department are severely broken because of budgetary constraints and other issues that have come up. However, I think we have a lot of excellent employees here, a lot of people who have a great deal of pride, and a lot of people who have good ideas to do different things differently. And I think they’re just looking for a change. I think inside the police organization, the employees are looking for a change, the media is looking for a change, the business people are looking for a change, and the normal residents are looking for a change.
From a Thursday, October 13, item:
Assistant Police Chief Howard Jordan on Thursday was again named to serve as interim chief in Oakland, just days after a report said the beleaguered department is not meeting federally mandated reforms stemming from a decade-old police corruption scandal.

Jordan, a 23-year veteran on the force, was sworn in by Mayor Jean Quan to take over immediately for outgoing Chief Anthony Batts, who resigned Tuesday, citing frustration about having limited control over decision-making.

In a City hall meeting room jammed with leaders, residents and rank-and-file members of the department, Jordan said he looked forward to the challenges ahead.

"The term `interim' will not apply to my decisions," Jordan said. "This is a time for us to move forward, to look to the future."

Jordan takes over amid a rising violent crime rate; after the City Council recently tabled three crime-fighting initiatives; and a judge threatened to put the department under federal control because it has not yet met the terms of the corruption settlement in 2003.

"Howard Jordan is the best person and most prepared to become the chief of police," Quan said. "He's prepared to work forward in a way probably nobody else in the force is."
From a Friday, October 14, item:
If the city's past performance in meeting tax and bond pledges is a guide, officials certainly couldn't use it as campaign advertising.

The most notable example is Measure Y, a 2004 parcel tax measure that assured voters that $20 million annually would be spent to hire and pay the salaries of 63 additional officers and fund public safety programs. It came with a 10-year, iron-clad guarantee that the city would maintain a minimum police force of 802 officers.

Seven years and more than $100 million in taxpayer funds later, where are they? By the department's own count, Oakland has 651 sworn officers.

When you consider things from that point of view, I guess former Police Chief Anthony Batts wasn't the only person in Oakland that municipal government let down.

...So in the space of a little more than two weeks, Oakland's elected officials have stalled three public safety measures, lost a popular and credible police chief and now come to residents to ask for public safety funding - again. There is a definite disconnect in the communications system between Oakland residents and most of the city's elected leaders.
Now, of course there is no direct correlation between what happened 11 days later on October 25.

But if you have any doubts about the underlying problem in Oakland, consider this November 1 item:
The Oakland police union released a statement today saying its officers are confused about Mayor Jean Quan's stance on the Occupy Oakland encampment and what they are being asked to do for Wednesday's citywide general strike.

A legion of Oakland officers and those from 17 outside agencies were asked to remove the Occupy Oakland campers early Oct. 25 from Frank Ogawa Plaza outside City Hall, but Quan allowed protesters to return starting the next day, the union's "open letter to the citizens of Oakland" noted. The encampment is now about as large as before the police sweep.

"We, too, are the 99 percent fighting for better working conditions, fair treatment and the ability to provide a living for our children and families," the Oakland Police Officers' Association statement said. "We are severely understaffed with many city beats remaining unprotected by police during the day and evening hours.

"As your police officers, we are confused."
And this item:
According to the letter, City Hall has left officers baffled about what the city's real stance is on Occupy Oakland and everything that goes along with it, including the tent city at the steps of City Hall and the strike itself, which is expected to draw thousands of people downtown Wednesday for a general strike.

"To add to the confusion, the administration issued a memo on Friday to all City workers in support of the 'Stop Work' strike scheduled for Wednesday, giving all employees, except for police officers, permission to take the day off," the OPOA letter read.

"That's hundreds of City workers encouraged to take off work to participate in the protest against 'the establishment.' But aren't the Mayor and her Administration part of the establishment they are paying City employees to protest? Is it the City's intention to have City employees on both sides of a skirmish line?"

The letter also announced that the entire police force is being called on to work Wednesday, and that the police shutdown of the first Occupy camp on Oct. 25, and staffing the subsequent 1,000-person protest, cost the city more than $1 million.
Are you beginning to get the idea yet? You might ask why is a federal court threatening to take over the Oakland Police Department? Funny you should ask ... and you should.

In February 2003 the City of Oakland agreed to pay nearly $11 million and implement police reforms to settle federal civil rights lawsuits brought by more than 100 people after prosecutors had to dismiss about 90 criminal cases. It all had to do with a few police officers (called the "Riders" working the night shift in one of Oakland's roughest neighborhoods and under pressure from the business community embarrassed by the skyrocketing murder rate - sure the residents were unhappy too but they don't count in Oakland politics) who were charged with beating suspects, wrongfully accusing them of crimes, planting drugs and covering it all up by falsifying police reports.

From 1999 to 2007 the Mayor of Oakland was none other than Governor Jerry "Moonbeam" Brown who at the time ran for office as an independent "having left the Democratic Party, blasting what he called the 'deeply corrupted' two-party system."

Continuing from Wikipedia:
Prior to taking office, Brown campaigned to get the approval of the electorate to convert Oakland's weak mayor political structure, which structured the mayor as chairman of the city council and official greeter, to a strong mayor structure, where the mayor would act as chief executive over the nonpolitical city manager and thus the various city departments, and break tie votes on the Oakland City Council.
What happened was that, true to his nickname, Brown ended up creating neither a strong mayor city government nor a council-manager form, but a weird form I guess he thought was creative but left no one responsible for overall administration.

Ironically, in the overwhelmingly minority city, the political left had hoped for some of progressive politics from Brown, but found Brown "more interested in downtown redevelopment and economic growth."

As one writer noted in 2003:
Two decades after signing Prop. 13 into state law as Governor, Jerry Brown mounted a successful campaign for Mayor of Oakland. The Bay Area housing market was hot at the height of the Dot.com boom, and the former governor promised to “redevelop” the downtown area so that it would be “more livable” for all of the outsiders flocking to the region.

Once elected, Brown unveiled his “10K Initiative” to attract 10,000 new high-income residents to Oakland by redeveloping 7 cluster areas in and around Downtown. Of course, such a plan required evicting the current residents of those cluster areas, and Brown diligently set about his work of “Jerryfication.”

Under Prop. 13, property is taxed at a fixed rate, and assessed at the market value at the time of the purchase. The only way for a city to get more tax dollars out of a property is for the property to be sold when its market value is higher. This is the motive for Brown’s agenda of evicting old Oakland residents in favor of newer ones.

Brown then entered into a five-year contract with the federal government that would allow the city to take over control of properties seized by the feds, and used this contract to create a mobile police command center to harass Oaklanders into submission (or run them out of town). This, as the infamous “Riders” were making headlines with a high-profile police corruption scandal.
So, John Stewart and anyone else who might really care, what happened in Oakland is Jerry Brown.

Were the events of October 25, 2011, the inevitable result of Jerry Brown assuming the office of Mayor of Oakland in 1999? Of course not. But he left Oakland in such a mess it was inevitable that something sad would happen.

Regardless of what really happens or what is perceived to be happening while he is in office, Jerry Brown is the perfect example of an effective image-manipulating politician who gets elected over and over again because people, particularly reporters, "like him" based on that image.

In 1975 he took office as Governor. He did it so badly that in three years, 1978, Proposition 13 was passed by the voters. But they still let him serve another five years. In 1999 he took office as Mayor of Oakland. He did it so badly that in four years, 2003, a federal judge ordered the reform of the Oakland Police Department. But Oakland voters let him serve another four years.

It's easy to sympathize when the Oakland cops say: "We, too, are the 99 percent fighting for better working conditions, fair treatment and the ability to provide a living for our children and families."

To bad they live here in California where the politician who created their current local government problems is again Governor, a politician who has no apparent empathy for the 99%, a politician who has no understanding of what makes government work well but does understand how to the make the system work for him, a politician who by the time he again leaves the Office of Governor will have overseen the destruction of everything his father worked for to benefit the 99%.