California Leading the Assault, Cutting the Bottom Rungs from the Escape Ladder

Massive austerity measures approved by California Legislature

By Dan Conway
27 July 2009

The California Assembly approved a series of 31 separate bills Friday to close the state’s $26 billion budget shortfall through drastic cuts in social programs and education. The vote comes after a bipartisan agreement between state Democrats and governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to resolve the budget crisis on the backs of the working class.

It is widely expected that despite the latest agreement, the state’s fiscal woes will deepen. California’s official unemployment rate is expected to rise during the remainder of 2009 and currently stands at 11.6 percent, the sixth largest in the nation.

Steve Levy, economist at the Center for the Continuing Study of California Economy, stated, “Next year’s budget will start with a very large shortfall even if there’s a good recovery.” He also cautioned that the state will face continued hardship once federal stimulus funds run out.

Democratic state senate president Darrell Steinberg, for his part, said after last Thursday’s vote, “I have no illusions that we may be back [to address the deficit].”

Approximately 60 percent of the budget reductions are being made to core state services, while the remainder will be delivered by raiding local government funds and through accounting maneuvers, including the deferral of state employee paychecks by one day in order to delay deficits until fiscal year 2010-2011.

The largest portion of the budget reductions includes $8.1 billion in cuts to public education. Of this sum, $6.1 billion will be taken from K-12 education and community colleges, and $2 billion will be taken from higher education. California elementary and high school students will now rank last in the country in per pupil spending

In response to the higher education cuts, the California Faculty Association representing 22,000 faculty members at the California State University system, voted by a 54 percent majority to mandate that faculty members take two unpaid furlough days each month, while the California State University Employees Union approved a similar furlough agreement earlier in the week. Additionally, the system has reduced enrollment by 40,000 students. It has also raised student fees by 20 percent and reduced course offerings. Students and parents are essentially being asked to pay a great deal more for a great deal less.

About $1.3 billion in cuts have been made to the state’s Medi-Cal program, which provides health care to low-income families. Half a million will be cut from the state’s welfare program, and $124 million from an insurance program for children.

Another $1.3 billion was taken from state workers through a mandatory three unpaid furlough days a month, which amounts to a net 15 percent pay cut per worker. There is also a distinct possibility that state workers will be asked to take an additional fourth and fifth unpaid furlough day each month, resulting in a total loss of pay of 25 percent.

In addition to the closure of state offices in accordance with the furlough days, it is widely expected that state infrastructure will be severely affected. Potholes and even traffic lights may go un-repaired. Most recently, a hazardous chemical spill in San Luis Obispo was not cleaned for a full ten hours due to the unavailability of Department of Transportation workers.

Local infrastructure will also be devastated by $2 billion in forced borrowing from local governments to the state. These funds will not be repaid until 2012, if at all. As a result, needed repairs to bridges and roads will be postponed until funding is procured.

The state will also take $1.7 billion from local redevelopment agencies, devastating urban communities in particular.

A further $1.7 billion in new revenue will also be achieved by requiring taxpayers who make quarterly-estimated tax payments to make larger payments in the first two quarters, and $600 million will also be received from increased income tax withholdings from paychecks.

The sale of a portion of the State Compensation Insurance Fund will yield $1 billion. This is effectively the beginning of the privatization of workers compensation insurance.

Two provisions-one on offshore drilling and another on requisition of local funds-failed to pass the Assembly. The governor has indicated that he will respond to the resulting budget gap by using his veto power to enforce further cuts in social spending.

As far as the state’s issuance of registered warrants (IOU’s) is concerned, state controller John Chiang has reported that the state will continue to issue the warrants in lieu of actual cash payments. Most large banks, including Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, stopped accepting the IOUs on July 10, despite each already being the recipients of tens of billions of dollars of taxpayer money.

The issuance of the IOU’s was a result of the fact that the state could not sell short term loans, or what it calls Revenue Anticipation Notes, to outside investors. The situation was exacerbated by the Obama administration, which flatly refused to underwrite the notes.

The state’s bond ratings were reduced to near junk status by Fitch and Moody’s rating services, placing further pressure on the state to reach a solution to the budget crisis in the interests of Wall Street investors. Despite the fact that the desired solution was achieved, the ratings agencies have not yet upgraded the state’s credit rating.

The budget crisis reveals in stark terms the class character of American society, and in particular the role of the Democratic Party and the media. At a state level, the Democratic Party has fully supported the principle that the budget crisis must be solved on the backs of the working class.

Recent columns in the Los Angeles Times by Steve Lopez have sought to blame the current crisis in California education on a handful of so-called bad teachers, as if the $20 billion funding cut during the past year alone is of negligible importance. In a recent column, Lopez gave support to a reactionary organization called “Parent Revolution,” a group that aims to issue threats to form charter schools when public schools in their district don’t perform to their expectations. His article finished with a call to “Storm the gates and take no prisoners.”

The Obama administration has pushed charter schools and other right-wing proposals on education, while standing by as California has implemented its crippling cuts in public education.

As a result of these cuts, more than 40,000 teachers and staff will not be returning to their jobs this September, meaning that the remaining teachers will face excessively large class sizes and in many cases will be forced to teach subjects that they are unqualified to teach.

The budget crisis continues to reveal the desire of the American ruling elite to transform class relations within states across the country, dismantling whatever remains of the social safety net along with vital resources and infrastructure.

The Socialist Equality Party will be holding a meeting on Saturday, August 1 in South Pasadena, California to address the crisis and build a conscious movement in the working class in opposition to it. We urge all workers, student youth and intellectuals to attend this important event. Click here for more information.

This author also recommends:

Oppose budget cuts in California! Defend jobs and education! Unite workers behind a socialist program!
[13 July 2009]

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Teachable moments require willing learners

Teachable moments require willing learners

by Robert Jensen

Honoring President Obama’s request that the controversy involving a black Harvard University professor and a white Cambridge police officer become “a teachable moment,” here’s my contribution to an old lesson that we white people tend to be slow to learn.

In lectures about the United States’ system of white supremacy and the privileges that white people have in that system, I have sometimes told a story about being stopped by police in Austin, TX.

I was driving home in a dilapidated old Volkswagen Beetle on a busy street, late at night after a long day at work. I was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, feeling rather cranky and looking rather raggedy. Eager to get home, I saw the yellow light and gunned it. Next I saw the flashing red lights of a police car.

I turned off onto a dark side street and dug in my wallet for my license. Just as the officer got to my car, I was opening the glove compartment to get the vehicle registration when out popped a small knife I keep for emergencies. I looked at the knife, looked at the white officer, and wondered what he would say.

“Sir, would you mind if I held that knife while we talked?” he asked politely. I handed him the knife and my documents, and he walked back to his car. When he returned he handed me those documents, along with a ticket, and my knife, without comment. “Please drive safely,” he said. And safely I drove home.

When I told that story to illustrate white privilege, I asked people of color in the room what they imagined might have happened to them in such a situation. The black and Latino men, especially, laughed. “Do you mean before or after I’m on the ground with a gun at my head?” one of them said.

My point was not that every cop is out to harass or brutalize every person of color, but that people of color could never be sure a routine traffic stop would play out routinely. I could be reasonably sure that, barring unusual circumstances, such a stop would be uneventful. Even when the knife popped out, I didn’t feel at risk.

I was feeling proud of myself for making this point to the mainly white audience, when I saw a hand go up. I called on the young black man, assuming he would endorse my analysis.

“You really don’t get it, do you?” he said. “You think your privilege started when the cop came up to the car and saw you were white. Has it ever occurred to you that when you turned onto a dark side street you were taking your privilege for granted?”

My first response was to explain: I had been on a busy street and turned to avoid blocking traffic. I was trying to be considerate of other drivers, I said.

“I know why you did it. My point is that I would never turn onto an unlit street with a cop behind me,” the young man said. “I would have pulled over and blocked traffic. I’m not going to take myself out of public view with a cop.”

My next response was to feel appropriately foolish for my unwarranted self-righteousness, and then to be grateful to the man for using that teachable moment.

He wasn’t suggesting that I be ashamed of myself, only that I recognize the burden he carries in the world that I don’t. The story was one more example of the privilege that comes with being a member of the dominant group in an unjust hierarchical system. It’s the same lesson men should learn about the sexual violence women face. Heterosexuals should learn it about the condemnation that lesbians and gays endure. The wealthy should learn it about the insecurity that poor and working people cope with. U.S. citizens should learn it about the fear of arbitrary authority that haunts immigrants no matter what their status.

I still tell that story when I lecture, now emphasizing that the man’s comments had reminded me no one with privilege ever fully “gets it.” It doesn’t mean we whites — or men, or heterosexuals, or the well off, or citizens — are consigned to perpetual stupidity, but rather that we should never think we have it all figured out.

In this allegedly “post-racial” era, these teachable moments are an important reminder that white supremacy is woven deeply into the fabric of this country. A system as perverse and pervasive as white racism — in all its forms, conscious and unconscious, brutal and subtle, personal and institutional — will not end simply because we appoint black professors or elect a black president.

In this moment, we white folks should ask ourselves, after so many teachable moments, why we still have so much to learn.

US bails out India from Balochistan wrangle

US bails out India from Balochistan wrangle

Chidanand Rajghatta, TNN

WASHINGTON: Pakistan has not provided any evidence to the United States of India’s

involvement in the insurgency in Balochistan, and Washington attaches no credibility to Islamabad’s charges in this regard, a top US official has indicated.

The US view on Pakistan’s allegation came during a briefing by the Obama administration’s Af-Pak envoy Richard Holbrooke, who, while acknowledging that Pakistan brought up the subject during his recent visit to the country, told Washington’s foreign press corps, “I would be misleading if I said it didn’t come up, but the narrow answer to your question (has Pakistan given you any credible evidence of India’s involvement?) is no.”

Holbrooke’s terse response to the Balochistan wrangle —  the latest between India and Pakistan — broadly squares with the assertion in New Delhi that while Pakistan has raised the issue of India’s alleged involvement in the region, it has offered no evidence, even as it falsely propagates in the Pakistani media that it has give a dossier to New Delhi in this regard. The Pakistani press is full of dark conspiracies of Indian intelligence involvement in the province, an inference to which New Delhi credulously allowed Islamabad to incorporate in a joint statement at Sharm-el-Sheikh.
The US has now, in effect, bailed out New Delhi. Holbrooke has previously rubbished Pakistan’s charges about alleged Indian provocations from its consulates in Afghanistan, saying he had no reason to believe Islamabad’s charges, and Pakistan would do well to examine its own internal problems. Other officials too have said Pakistan is merely trying to externalize a serious internal crisis while evading responsibility to crack down on home-grown terrorism.

In fact, Holbrooke’s briefing following his latest visit to the region was notable for its dire tone with regard to Pakistan, a country which he characterized as “facing a staggering number of front-page story problems at one time.” Describing Washington’s efforts to stamp out terrorists in Pakistan frontier province, Holbrooke said it “hard to imagine a more dangerous area on the face of the earth today than an area which contains al-Qaida, Pakistani Taliban, Afghan Taliban, two and a half million refugees. It’s just extraordinary how difficult it is.”

The US envoy also trashed speculation about a rift with India that led to the reported cancellation of his visit to New Delhi with an extraordinary revelation. “You know, if there’s a rift between me and India, it would be the first rift between me and India since I was seven years old. You know, India was the first country in the world I was ever aware of. I have a very special feeling for it,” Holbrooke said.

Such expression of personal affection for countries is seldom expressed by US officials and is certain to rankle Pakistan, which is already sour about a perceived American tilt towards India over the last decade. Holbrooke went on to clarify that the only reason he scrubbed the New Delhi leg of his visit was because three of the four Indian interlocutors he engaged with were all going to be out of town. He would be going back in mid August, “within the limits of Indian independence (day).”

IMF Offers to Deepen Third World Debt

The Cheap High is Never as Good the Second Time!

IMF offers new loans to low-income countries

31. July 2009. | 07:12

Source: EMportal, Washington File

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced a package of measures aimed at providing loans of up to $17 billion over five years to low-income countries that have been hit hardest by the global economic crisis.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced a package of measures aimed at providing loans of up to $17 billion over five years to low-income countries that have been hit hardest by the global economic crisis.

“This is an unprecedented scaling up of IMF support for the poorest countries, in sub-Saharan Africa and all over the world,” IMF Managing-Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn said July 29 in Washington. The Group of 20 (G20) nations asked the IMF to respond to the global financial crisis, he added, and this is part of that effort.

The resources — which include funds generated by the planned sale of IMF gold — are expected to increase IMF lending up to $17 billion through 2014, including up to $8 billion over the next two years, the fund said.

The IMF said there would be no interest payments through the end of 2011 for loans to low-income members and lower interest rates on a permanent basis after that. “A new set of lending instruments will underpin this increased support,” the fund said.

While the current economic crisis began in the advanced Western economies, its most visible impact has been on emerging-market countries, the fund said. A third wave of the crisis has threatened the economic achievements of the last decade for many low-income countries.

As part of its response, the IMF more than doubled its financial assistance to low-income countries. New lending to low-income countries through mid-July reached $2.9 billion compared with $1.5 billion for all of 2008. Supporting this effort further, the IMF will double average loan-access limits for the poorest nations.

“All this represents a historic effort by the fund to help the world’s poor,” Strauss-Kahn said. And there will be greater emphasis in IMF-supported programs on poverty reduction and growth objectives, which will include targets to safeguard social and other priority spending, he added.

“We are responding with a historic set of actions in terms of support for the world’s poor. The new resources and new means of delivering them should help prevent millions of people from falling into poverty,” Strauss-Kahn said.

The G20, composed of advanced and emerging economies, met in London in early April, and will meet again in Pittsburgh on September 24–25.

Pak Navy gets F-22P frigate from China


Pak Navy gets F-22P frigate from China

KARACHI: The first F-22P Frigate was handed over to the Pakistan Navy in a ceremony at Hudong Zhonghua Shipyard in Shanghai on Thursday.

According to an ISPR (Navy) press release, the ceremony was followed by commissioning of the ship, in which Pakistani flag was hoisted on the ship.

Officials from the navies of both countries attended the event. Naval Chief Noman Bashir told the audience that with the passage of time ties between Pakistan and China had grown deeper.

Bashir said Pakistan was proud of its close association with China, adding that this unique relationship had no parallel elsewhere in the world.

The vessel is equipped with state-of-the-art weaponry and sensors and also carries a Z9EC helicopter. Earlier, while welcoming the guests at the event, Chief Naval Overseer Commodore Mahmoodur Rehman said the successful culmination of the project was the result of efforts and competence of the officials involved. app