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Notes Around California: March 11, 2013

March 11, 2013

A few articles worth reading from around the state today.

  • California poppy in the East Bay.

    California poppy in the East Bay.

    Inequality: Reporting from a tent city in San Jose, an AP article saying that poverty is spiking in the Bay Area in spite of the renewed success of tech companies and those that work for them. So much for a rising tide lifting all boats. This is further evidence of the continuing deterioration of the social contract underlying America’s post-war prosperity: if the wealthy can succeed while the middle-class declines, the non-wealthy have less and less of a reason to buy into the system. There are a variety of causes for this – outsourcing, offshore tax havens, declining union membership, tax cuts for the rich, innovation and automation- so it’s difficult to say exactly what should be done, but it is undeniable that the issue must be addressed. As a country, we’ll succeed together or fail alone. Or we’ll end up with two separate Americas, one for the wealthy and one for everyone else, which is my eyes is failure anyway. Watch this video on the disparity between Americans’ perceptions of inequality in our country, their beliefs on the ideal distribution of wealth, and the actual distribution of wealth. It’s pretty surprising.

  • Courts: California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye gave her State of the Judiciary speech before the Legislature this afternoon, emphasizing the necessity of restoring court funding cut in the budget crises of recent years. The cuts prevent the courts from providing proper services for low-income and indigent litigants, including appointed counsel, and force the courts to charge higher fees, further reducing access to justice. Of coures, no justice system is perfect. Still, if our commitment to equal protection of the law is to be honored, we must have a minimum level of access for all, regardless of wealth. Among all of our spending priorities in California, this should be near the top.
  • Fracking: The California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources will hold two hearings on new fracking regulations over the next week and a half, in Sacramento and Bakersfield. Despite the relative novelty of fracking as a national political topic, oil companies have been fracking in California for decades and argue  that California’s regulation are sufficient because they require high quality construction for wells. However, there are a variety of important issues outside of the quality of well construction, including wastewater disposal, disclosure of the chemicals used to allow public oversight, groundwater monitoring to catch leaks when they happen, GHG releases through methane leakage, and proper insurance for cleanup in the case of accidents. Especially with the newly economical Monterey shale formation, California’s regulators need to implement adequate regulations to prevent possible harm to our state’s environment. These hearings are the start of that process. For more, see NRDC’s Damon Nagami on legislative efforts to regulate fracking and suggested minimum regulations.
  • Healthcare: Jerry Brown and Democrats in the Legislature disagree on how much California should expand MediCal in light of Obamacare’s required extension. Democratic legislators want to take advantage of the full expansion, which would be fully federally funded for the first three years and 90% subsequently. Jerry Brown wants instead to enact a more modest proposal which would cover less low-income residents. The Legislative Analyst says that California could be on the hook for $300mil to $1.2bil in 2020 but still supports the legislators’ proposal because the benefits would outweigh the costs. While it’s reasonable that Jerry Brown is trying to practice fiscal restraint, I agree with the LA: when we underfund healthcare, the costs come back to haunt us as those without health insurance use public facilities such emergency rooms and ambulances for treatment that could have been avoided through adequate preventive care.
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