Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ezra Klein - What the tea party wants from the Constitution

Ezra Klein - What the tea party wants from the Constitution

UT Editorial: Nathan's Work an Example of Raw Leadership

SDUT: Raw Leadership
by Scott Maloni & Lorena Gonzalez

Approval ratings for incumbent elected officials are abysmally low. People are tired of politicians not getting anything done. They are tired of bitter partisanship, they are sick of platitudes and political posturing – they just want their elected leaders to do what’s right and to produce real results.

Recently, this political utopia actually happened.

Two weeks ago, when the state budget was passed, San Diego’s legislative delegation successfully eliminated the financial cap on redevelopment investment downtown. This was a monumental act that will be a great benefit for our region for decades to come.

This effort will mean tens of thousands of new jobs, an expanded tax base to support critical city services and a continued commitment to ensuring that San Diego has a vibrant urban core. With the cap lifted, we can complete hundreds of projects, including transit improvements, affordable housing, parks, environmental infrastructure and an expansion of our convention center, just to name a few. Importantly, this means that we can complete the economic revitalization of San Diego while creating good, local jobs for our county’s residents.

By all accounts, the region has come a long way. Downtown redevelopment has transformed an unsafe, seedy area into a flagship for the country. Crime has dropped, economic activity has increased and tourists come here from across the globe. It has been a success for many, but the job is not done.

The City Council recognized this fact, and most members expressed a desire to lift the cap, as long as certain community improvements and job-quality concerns were explored. They voted to spend $500,000-$1 million to undertake a lengthy study. Stakeholders from across the spectrum, including the unusual partners, labor and business, agreed. Lifting the cap, and having a community conversation about how the money would be spent, was a great thing for the San Diego region.

So what’s in it for San Diego taxpayers living in suburban neighborhoods? Plenty. Downtown redevelopment has been a tremendous success for taxpayers, turning a blighted area that used to be a drain on city resources into an economic engine creating revenues that benefit every neighborhood in the city. Lifting the cap will result in a net increase of at least a quarter of a billion dollars in general fund revenue over the next 30 years. These new funds can be spent on police, fire and neighborhood services throughout the city.

State law requires that 20 percent of all new property taxes from downtown be set aside for affordable housing, resulting in the development of an estimated 4,600 affordable-housing units that can be built citywide. And many local leaders have committed to pushing for even more of that money to spent on affordable housing.

Bottom line, expanding redevelopment investment will generate more tax revenue for San Diego, not less.

So why the sour grapes now? Most of the hue and cry over the process is coming from phony advocates of economic expansion who never intended to support lifting the cap, or from politicians who are staking out their run for another political office. These actors have now been smoked out.

Despite the misgivings and misunderstanding on the part of some local pundits, this legislation was not unprecedented. In fact, a similar action was taken last year for the city of Glendora.

San Diego County historically is a “donor county,” sending more tax revenue to Sacramento than is returned. But through raw political leadership, our bipartisan delegation, led by Assembly members Nathan Fletcher and Marty Block, came together and did the right thing. They put party politics aside in order to get San Diegans working once again.

In this instance, the people of San Diego actually got what they wanted – a real commitment for good local jobs and economic expansion. Their leaders put aside partisanship and figured out how to work the system to benefit the region’s taxpayers. They stopped posturing and did something – something that will have a lasting, positive impact throughout San Diego.

Our leaders worked within this system to get an extraordinarily positive result for our region.

We want elected officials who can actually get things done, despite the broken system.

We are lucky that Assembly member Fletcher and our bipartisan delegation, comprised of Sens. Christine Kehoe, Denise Ducheny, Dennis Hollingsworth and Mark Wyland and Assembly members Block, Mary Salas and Martin Garrick, came together. They put local jobs and economic development before partisanship.

Moving forward, our City Council, which has full control of the funds and redevelopment projects, has committed to a process that ensures public input before one dollar is spent. Now is the time to stop criticizing success and join the effort to make sure that good projects move forward and the people of San Diego get working again.

Maloni is chairman of the Downtown San Diego Partnership. Gonzalez is secretary-treasurer and CEO of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, AFL-CIO.

UT Editorial: Nathan's Work an Example of Raw Leadership

Hiding From Reality -

Hiding From Reality
Published: November 19, 2010

Wherever you choose to look — at the economy and jobs, the public schools, the budget deficits, the nonstop warfare overseas — you’ll see a country in sad shape. Standards of living are declining, and American parents increasingly believe that their children will inherit a very bad deal.

We’re in denial about the extent of the rot in the system, and the effort that would be required to turn things around. It will likely take many years, perhaps a decade or more, to get employment back to a level at which one could fairly say the economy is thriving.

Consider this startling information from the Pew Hispanic Center: in the year following the official end of the Great Recession in June 2009, foreign-born workers in the U.S. gained 656,000 jobs while native-born workers lost 1.2 million. But even as the hiring of immigrants picked up during that period, those same workers “experienced a sharp decline in earnings.”

What this shows is not that we should discriminate against foreign-born workers, but that the U.S. needs to develop a full-employment economy that provides jobs for all who want to work at pay that enables the workers and their families to enjoy a decent standard of living. In other words, a resurrection of the American dream.

Right now, nothing close to that is happening.

The human suffering in the years required to recover from the recession will continue to be immense. And that suffering will only be made worse if the nation embarks on a misguided crash program of deficit reduction that in the short term will undermine any recovery, and in the long term will make true deficit reduction that much harder to achieve.

The wreckage from the recession and the nation’s mindlessly destructive policies in the years leading up to the recession is all around us. We still don’t have the money to pay for the wars that we insist on fighting year after year. We have neither the will nor the common sense to either raise taxes to pay for the wars, or stop fighting them.

State and local governments, faced with fiscal nightmares, are reducing services, cutting their work forces, hacking away at health and pension benefits, and raising taxes and fees. So far it hasn’t been enough, so there is more carnage to come. In many cases, the austerity measures are punishing some of the most vulnerable people, including children, the sick and the disabled.

For all the talk about the need to improve the public schools and get rid of incompetent teachers, school systems around the country are being hammered with dreadful cutbacks and teachers are being let go in droves, not because they are incompetent, but strictly for budget reasons. There was a time when the United States understood the importance of educating its young people and led the way in compulsory public schooling. It also built the finest higher education system in the world. Now, although no one will admit it publicly, we’ve decided to go in another direction.

In New York City, for example, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s choice to run the public school system is Cathleen Black, a wealthy corporate executive with no background in education whose children attended expensive private schools. Mr. Bloomberg has asserted that Ms. Black’s management expertise will be a boon to the city’s public school children. But the truth is that Ms. Black, if she gets a necessary waiver for her new job, will be presiding over budget cuts that can only hurt the schools. As part of a proposed austerity budget, the mayor is planning to eliminate the jobs of thousands of public school teachers over the next two years. Take that, kids.

We’ve become a hapless, can’t-do society, and it’s, frankly, embarrassing. Public figures talk endlessly about “transformative changes” in public education, but the years go by and we see no such thing. Politicians across the spectrum insist that they are all about job creation while the employment situation in the real world remains beyond pathetic.

All we are good at is bulldozing money to the very wealthy. No wonder the country is in such a deep slide.

We don’t even seem to realize how deep a hole we’re in. If student test scores jumped a couple of points or the jobless rate fell by a point and half, the politicians and the news media would crow as if something great had been achieved. That’s how people behave when they’re in denial.

America will never get its act together until we recognize how much trouble we’re really in, and how much effort and shared sacrifice is needed to stop the decline. Only then will we be able to begin resuscitating the dream.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on November 20, 2010, on page A19 of the New York edition.

Hiding From Reality -

Two new rules will give Constitution a starring role in GOP-controlled House

Two new rules will give Constitution a starring role in GOP-controlled House Gallery
Tea party winners come to Washington
The 2010 election brought scores of tea party-backed candidates into Washington.

By Philip Rucker and Krissah Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, December 30, 2010; 12:35 AM

When Republicans take over the House next week, they will do something that apparently has never been done before in the chamber's 221-year history:

They will read the Constitution aloud.

And then they will require that every new bill contain a statement by the lawmaker who wrote it citing the constitutional authority to enact the proposed legislation.

Call it the tea party-ization of Congress.

"It appears that the Republicans have been listening," said Jeff Luecke, a sales supervisor and tea party organizer in Dubuque, Iowa. "We're so far away from our founding principles that, absolutely, this is the very, very tip of the iceberg. We need to talk about and learn about the Constitution daily."

These are two standout changes on a long list of new rules Republicans will institute in the House when they assume the majority on Jan. 5. After handing out pocket-size Constitutions at rallies, after studying the document article by article and after demanding that Washington return to its founding principles, tea party activists have something new to applaud. A pillar of their grass-roots movement will become a staple in the bureaucracy that governs Congress.

"On November 2nd, voters called for an end to reckless spending and a renewed commitment to the Constitution," said Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), a tea party favorite. "These new rules show that Republicans are serious about respecting the Constitution."

But the question being debated in legal and political circles off Capitol Hill is whether the constitutional rules are simply symbolic flourishes to satisfy an emboldened and watchful tea party base.

"I think it's entirely cosmetic," said Kevin Gutzman, a history professor at Western Connecticut State University who said he is a conservative libertarian and sympathizes with the tea party.

"This is the way the establishment handles grass-roots movements," he added. "They humor people who are not expert or not fully cognizant. And then once they've humored them and those people go away, it's right back to business as usual. It looks like this will be business as usual - except for the half-hour or however long it takes to read the Constitution out loud."

House Republican leaders announced dozens of new rules, including several measures designed to increase transparency in the legislative process. Committees will broadcast their hearings and mark-up sessions online, lawmaker attendance will be recorded for each committee hearing and the debt limit will no longer be automatically increased with each new budget resolution.

The reading of the Constitution will occur on Jan. 6, one day after the swearing in of Speaker-designate John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). The 4,543-word document, including all 27 amendments, could be read aloud in just 30 minutes. But the exercise probably will last longer.

Two new rules will give Constitution a starring role in GOP-controlled House

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Telemarketing troubles abound for charities

Telemarketing troubles abound for charities
By Mallory Fites | California Watch,
Friday, December 10, 2010 at 7:11 p.m.

When Attorney General Jerry Brown announced a major push against charity fundraising companies last year – saying some telemarketing firms had “shamelessly exploited the goodwill of decent citizens” – he focused on misleading sales pitches and the misuse of donor funds.

He was highlighting the extreme edge of a broader and persistent problem: Charities have a long history of hiring telemarketing firms that take most of the money raised as payment.

Records at the California Department of Justice show more than 200 nonprofits receiving 15 percent or less from the telemarketing firms they’ve hired to raise money. Instead, the vast majority of donations went to the fundraisers’ payroll and fees.

In total, the attorney general reported about 30 percent of California nonprofits received less than 15 percent from their fundraisers. The amount given to charities was about $156 million, or 44 percent of the $356 million raised by commercial fundraising firms in 2008.

The situation has been festering with little notice by the public or state authorities. California Watch was able to find several examples of charities operating with low returns from their commercial fundraisers for at least a decade.
“It’s like taking the food from a hungry person’s mouth,” Daniel Borochoff, president of American Institute of Philanthropy, which runs, said about high overhead of fundraising firms – a problem he’s been monitoring since the mid-1980s.

“There’s confusion because telemarketers mislead people by saying, ‘All of the money will go to the cause,’ “ Borochoff said, “when most of it goes to a charity account and then is given back to the commercial fundraiser.”

Commercial fundraisers argue that little revenue is better than no revenue. Jack Kinney, the fundraising director of Rambret Inc., a telemarketing commercial fundraiser, said, “When you’re on the good side making money, the percentage doesn’t matter.”

The commercial fundraisers offer guaranteed money, regardless of the percentage, Kinney said. The majority of expenses, Kinney said, “is to pay their people who do their fundraising, their biggest expense is to pay people who do it.”

San Fernando Police Officer’s Association used Rambret Inc. and in 2008 received 2.6 percent of what was collected. In 1997, the association received 7 percent of the total revenue from Rambret.

In another case, a charity called We Tip, based in Rancho Cucamonga, reported receiving only 11 percent of the money raised in its name by the telemarketing firm, R.E.W. & Associates. That was in 1997. More than a decade later, in 2008, the charity’s take had increased to about 15 percent.

We Tip, which has a robust website, bills itself “as an anonymous crime reporting resource for citizens, and a tool to aid law enforcement” and “a way for all citizens and students to turn their anger into action.” Officials at the nonprofit did not respond to calls from California Watch.

Not every firm simply has high overhead. Other firms are outright defrauding charities.

In 2009, Attorney General Brown in conjunction with the Federal Trade Commission filed eight lawsuits against 53 people, 17 telemarketers and 12 charities. This was part of a nationwide sweep called “Operation False Charity.” The cases were filed in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and San Mateo counties.

“These individuals shamelessly exploited the goodwill of decent citizens trying to help police, firefighters, and veterans … millions went to pay for aggressive telemarketing and bloated overhead – and in one case – to purchase a 30-foot sailboat,” Brown said in a statement.

Brown highlighted a settlement with The Association for Firefighters and Paramedics Inc., which billed itself as helping burn victims. Brown said there was a diversion of thousands of dollars to pay for meetings in resort communities, including a Caribbean cruise and trips to resorts.

In 2000, commercial fundraiser Kinship Communications generated $395,361 in revenue for the association and spent $355,815.53 on expenses, the majority on commission and salaries.

The association had misrepresented how and where the donating public’s contributions would be spent, according Brown’s office. Donors were told that between 80 to 100 percent of their donation would go to the association.

Brown sought to dissolve this charity and file a permanent injunction against the charity’s president, Michael Gamboa, to prohibit him from any future involvement with a California charity. Gamboa had earned $114,980 in salary, accounting for 4.37 percent of the generated expenses. He could not be reached for comment.

Many charities registered in California don’t use commercial fundraisers. The Desert Samaritans for the Elderly in the Coachella Valley, for one, reported 85 percent of the revenue generated from its commercial fundraiser. But even with that generous return, they now rely on private donations from individuals and corporations and local events like silent auctions.

“Telemarketers have such a bad reputation,” said Dena Bates, program director for the charity.

California Watch is a project of the independent, nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting in Berkeley

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Quote to Ponder

The true test of a leader is whether his followers will adhere to his cause from their own volition, enduring the most ardent hardships without being forced to do so, and remaining steadfast in the moments of greatest peril. (Xenophon)