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The Only School Nurse in Congress Talks Health Care

Saturday, September 12th, 2009

loiscappsRep. Lois Capps, whose 23rd District includes portions of San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, first won office in 1998 after a special election to succeed her late husband, Walter H. Capps. A former school nurse, she has passed legislation to address the national nursing shortage, improve mental health services and provide Medicare coverage to patients suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease. A supporter of a public option for health insurance, she gave a Five Questions interview to Calbuzz correspondent Susan Rose shortly before President Obama’s speech on health care reform to Congress this week.

1. What are the chances of getting a health care reform program passed this year?

We will pass health insurance reform this year. It’s no easy task; if it was, we’d have done it years ago. But we will get legislation enacted this year.

2. In the Energy and Commerce committee, you voted for HR 3200, which has a public health option component. Some progressives have argued that doing health care reform without a public option isn’t worth doing – do you support that stance?

I believe the public option is the best way for us to enact meaningful health insurance reform because it is a tool we can use to give Americans greater choice in health care and keep costs down. I voted for the bill that passed the Energy and Commerce Committee (and) also expect to vote for a bill on the House floor that includes a strong public option. I talked to the Speaker about this recently and she told me that she expects the bill to pass the House with a strong public health option. I’m not going to sign a pledge or box myself in at this early stage but I certainly think the best way to increase the number of folks with coverage and lower costs for everyone is a public health insurance option.

3.The health reform debate has included a discussion of health co-ops as an alternative to a public option. What are the strengths and weaknesses of this approach?

Co-ops are problematic. They haven’t been used as widely. I am skeptical about their effectiveness as a stand alone solution to escalating health insurance costs and the many other barriers to care currently presented by private health insurance companies. Co-ops could exist side by side with the public option. But I think a robust public option would be the most effective way to make premiums affordable and ensure everyone has coverage.

4. You have held three town hall meetings and held other events on health care in your district. Disrupted town hall meetings have been called “astroturf” protests by Speaker Pelosi. Do you think these protesters accurately reflect public opinion about health care reform?

I do think most of my constituents share my view that our health insurance system is broken and we need reform now. It seems like a lot of the loudest protests against health insurance reform that we’ve seen around the country have been organized by individuals or groups committed to protecting the status quo or trying to damage President Obama.

Health care is an important issue to everyone and it’s understandable that there is a lot of emotion on this issue especially given the blatant misinformation campaign about the bill. It’s a real shame that so much of the argument against common sense reform is about scaring people – like the so-called “death panels” or this business about the government supposedly “taking over health care.” Meanwhile, families with coverage can see it vanish with the loss of a job or an unexpected illness or accident. I believe that most Americans, and most of my constituents, do want change and the groups who have been most vocal in disrupting town halls and similar events are in the minority.

5. How has your professional experience as a nurse guided your approach?

I know too well from my experience working as a school nurse what it means for a child and/or their family to go without health coverage. That’s why my number one priority was ensuring that all Americans have access to quality, affordable health insurance as part of this legislation. I also know that we have a serious shortage of nurses and physicians who can provide critical primary care services. That’s why I worked to ensure that our health reform legislation included important incentives to increase the number of doctors, nurses and other allied health professionals providing primary and preventive care, particularly in medically underserved communities.

9/11 Fishwrap: iCarly, Prince Gavin, Happy Goo-Goos

Friday, September 11th, 2009

carlyfistCarly of Arabia: Here at Calbuzz, our Department of Erudition’s Division of Bibliographic Resources and Recreational Imbibing maintains one of the world’s most extensive databases of news and information sources.

So it was that we happened to peruse some archival reports of AME Info, the widely-known and widely-respected provider of business information in and about the Middle East. Wherein we once again were beset by questions about what former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina knew, and when she knew it, about HP conducting business with Iran, despite a U.S. ban on trade with that, um, controversial nation.

Loyal readers will recall our kudos to Mike Zapler of the San Jose Mercury News, who recently reported on how H-P used a Middle East distributor called Redington Gulf to sell “hundreds of millions of dollars worth of printers and other products” to Iran during the leadership tenure of Fiorina, who has launched a bid to capture the Republican nomination for Barbara Boxer’s U.S. Senate seat. In his piece, a spokeswoman stated that Fiorina was “unaware of any sales to Iran during her time at the company.”

Yet smack in the middle of Hurricane Carly’s 1999-2005 stint as CEO, on Oct. 5, 2003, AME Info reported that Redington Gulf had become H-P’s first Mideast distributor to surpass $100 million in transactions through its offices in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, “Iran and Egypt.”

“The seeds of the Redington/Hewlett-Packard relationship in the Middle East were sowed six years ago for one market – Iran – and one product group,” the story says (itals ours). “Today it boasts of covering the entire region and across multiple product groups and support services.”

redingtonThe piece even includes a happy photo of five smiling fellas – identified as “the management of Redington Gulf FZE and seniors from HP” – joining hands to cut a cake in celebration of “this milestone achievement.” And some milestone it was: HP in 2003 named Redington their “Wholesaler of the Year,” according to the distributor’s web site.

But Beth Miller, speaking for Fiorina’s nascent campaign, insisted that HP was “not doing business in Iran at all” while the wannabe Senator was CEO.

“To her knowledge, during her tenure, HP never did business in Iran, and fully complied with all U.S. sanctions and laws,” Miller told Calbuzz. She also cited recent comments by Redington CEO Raj Shankar, also reported by AME Info (take that CB!), stating that his company sells HP printers and supplies to “approved Iranian customers” – who aren’t in Iran.

“Redington Gulf does not engage in any commercial activity in Iran,” Shankar said. “The company does not conduct sales, stocking or import activities inside Iran, nor does it transact payments from any customer or bank in Iran. The business model is such that Redington does not take the product physically to Iran. Redington fulfills those products (in United Arab Emirates), and it is then for the customer to take the product into Iran and engage in local commerce.”

Bottom line: When Fiorina formally enters the race later this year, we foresee rampant curiosity about HP’s 2003 “Wholesaler of the Year.”

[After-the-fact credit note: Although it was suggested to us by someone else before he used it, David Dayen over at Calitics was the first writer we know of to deploy the label  "iCarly".]

Two faces of reform: Good-government reformers will take one look at the new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California and squeal with delight about the finding that 58% of likely voters say it would be a good idea to have a split roll property tax system – in which commercial properties gets taxed at current market value, instead of  being limited in the same way as residential property, which has been the case since the passage of Proposition 13.

And the goo-goos will likely also get a thrill up their legs about the 54% who like the idea of replacing the two-thirds vote requirement with a 55-percent majority rule for the legislature to pass a state budget.

They may even get goose bumps about the 48% of voters who’d support replacing the two-thirds vote requirement with a 55-percent majority standard to pass local special taxes.

But before falling into a total swoon, these good folks should duly note that the same statewide survey found: 58% of likely voters say Proposition 13 is still a good thing; 64% still favor term limits; 65% would limit annual state spending increases; and 55% say laws passed by initiative are probably better than those passed by the legislature and governor.

In other words, California voters like the idea of major changes, but when it comes to actually making changes – don’t bet the house.

gavindash

Two faces of Gavin: SF Mayor Gavin Newsom was sharp as a tack in an interview about his campaign for governor on KCRA’s “Which Way LA” Thursday.

With host Warren Olney flinging tough questions, Prince Gavin showed he can handle serious subjects in crisp sound bites – laying out the key constitutional revisions he’d like to see, his top priorities as governor, where he’d look for new revenue (tobacco tax, oil severance tax and vehicle license fees) and why he believes he was right to lead the way in standing up for gay marriage.

It’s clear that by routinely taking questions from the public and reporters  (as opposed to, oh say, Meg Whitman, just to pick a name out of the air) Newsom has honed his campaign skills. As Calbuzz told Olney on his post-interview segment, Newsom’s political problem is not one  of presentation; rather, he needs to convince enough donors that he’s a smart investment to put together the resources to run a serious campaign. And that’s a tough sell because Attorney General Jerry Brown – who’s about 20 points ahead of Newsom in serious polling — is especially popular with older voters. And about 68% of the June 2010 primary electorate is expected to be 50 and older.

But we gotta say – he gives good interview.

gavinpensiveOn the other hand: SF Weekly presents a decidedly unflattering portrait of Newsom in the Calbuzz Must-Read of the Week. Pulling more than its share of the local media’s load of responsibility for enlightening the rest of us about Prince Gavin, the paper published a terrific 4,622-word profile by Ashley Harrell, who interviewed boatloads of former advisers, consultants and supporters:

“Seek out the political operatives who once worked closely with Newsom, and you’ll find that a number have soured on the mayor. Ask them why, and you’ll be bombarded with his alleged character flaws. Among them: ‘thin-skinned,’ ‘disloyal,’ ‘friendless,’ ‘joyless,’ ‘Machiavellian,’ ‘craven,’ and ‘empty.’ One will tell you that Eric Jaye was ‘the best-paid babysitter in California.’ Several will diagnose Newsom with an acute case of narcissism.

“‘He’s probably the worst mayor in modern history,’ said Jack Davis, a strategist who has worked on the mayoral campaigns of Newsom, Willie Brown, and Frank Jordan. ‘I pity this poor state if lightning should strike and this cad becomes governor amidst the problems that the state has. He’d have a nervous breakdown. There’s no there there.’”

Must read II: The indefatigable Mark Z. Barabak offered up a considerably brisker profile of Newsom that, in a series of deft strokes, also cut to the core of what bothers lots of folks in San Francisco about their mayor – and explains why Brown runs ahead of Prince Gavin in SF.

“Still, to a striking degree, some of Newsom’s biggest backers — in civic groups and policy circles, among political activists and campaign donors — have in the last few years become some of the mayor’s sharpest critics. In a series of interviews, they expressed disappointment and accused Newsom, in words oft-repeated, of focusing more on self-aggrandizement and personal publicity than solving the city’s problems.

‘Once he’s said it and it’s printed in the newspapers, it’s done in his mind,’ said Jim Ross, a political consultant who ran Newsom’s 2003 campaign for mayor. ‘Then it’s on to the next big announcement.’”

This just in – U.S. land mass growing exponentially: A headline on the Huffpost home page last week read thusly: “Hundreds of states shut down to save money.”

Slimy Parsky Oil Play and a Yorba Linda Lecher

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

waynepunchAs we first reported late Wednesday, tax reform commission Chairman Gerald Parsky sucker-punched at least some members of his panel by sending them an unexpected, last-minute recommendation to generate “tens of billions of dollars” of new revenue by vastly expanding offshore oil drilling in state waters.

Also in the last-minute materials was the final proposal for a nearly-flat (two-tier) personal income tax  that would give a massive tax cut to the richest California taxpayers and a teensy-weensy slice to the poorest taxpayers. Coupled with the knuckle-dragging business net receipts tax, the Parsky proposals are about as regressive as musclebound Gov. Schwarzblunder and his diminutive, cigar-sucking sidekick Susan Kennedy could ask for.

But at least commissioners and the public knew that was coming.  The revival of Schwarzenegger’s proposal (which we understand was the brainchild of his economics guru David Crane) to gain approval of the twice-defeated Tranquillon Ridge offshore oil project as a tax-revenue scheme — now that was a nasty surprise.

“There are several economic reasons for permitting new oil leases,” reads the oil-drilling recommendation, to be considered by the commission today, when it meets to craft a final proposal to send to the governor and Legislature. “Unlike all other revenue sources, the oil companies, which would make these new royalty payments, have requested the ability to do so. Revenues from this source would create no economic distortions, and the economic activity being taxes could not migrate elsewhere.”

The recommendation came as a shock, not only because the offshore issue was only casually discussed during the commission’s months of hearings, but also because it deepened the atmosphere of secrecy and sleight-of-hand in which Parsky assembled the agenda for the panel’s final, crucial meeting. As a political matter, such an expansion of offshore drilling would also directly conflict with decades of state policy, in which environmental protection of coastal waters and beaches have trumped economic issues, resulting in a long-held moratorium on new leases.

The proposal for more offshore drilling seems to have worked its way onto the commission’s plate at least in part at the request of conservative Hoover Institution economist Michael Boskin, who also sits on the board of Exxon Mobil.

The commission’s analysis cites a State Lands Commission study estimating that there are 1.635 billion barrels of “recoverable oil on state lands that are not currently under lease.” The U.S. Minerals Management Services, which controls leasing and drilling on federal lands beyond three miles from shore, projects an additional 10.1 billion barrels that remain “undiscovered but is technically recoverable.”

Current royalties paid by oil companies on a small number of existing, small state leases vary from 16.7 percent to 55 percent of the revenues they generate, which altogether yield about $400 million for the state.

“If the ban (on new leases) were lifted,” the recommendation says, “it could make available the 1.63 billion barrels (and) California would receive a share of revenue from new leases on federal lands off of the state’s coast.”

“Over time, the state could receive as much as $34 billion in royalty revenues from new leases in California waters, assuming oil trades on average $70 per barrel and the average royalty rate is 30 percent.”

The recommendation, sure to draw the ire of environmentalists and coastal legislators, pointedly does not suggest imposing a new severance tax on oil companies. California is the only oil-producing state that does not have such a tax, which is being pushed in the legislature by several members of the Assembly, including Assemblymen Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, and Alberto Torrico, D-Fremont.

BTW: There’s no frigging way the agenda and agenda packet was ready early enough for the public to have legal notice. Not that Parsky seems to give a rat’s butt.

duvall

Eternal Filthiness of the Adulterous  Mind: To be honest, Calbuzz had never heard of (now) ex-Assemblyman Mike Duvall, a Republican from Yorba Linda, until Wednesday morning. But after this and this , and his resignation a few hours later, it’s hard to imagine there’s anyone left on the planet who hasn’t heard of him now. Seriously, you just know that in, oh say, Guinea Bissau or the Republic of Nauru or on Chuuk Island, guys were walking up to their friends all day and saying, “Mike Duvall,” and then both of them would fall down in the street and laugh uncontrollably.

We’ll leave it to others to draw the great moral lessons implicit in the NFW tale of a dumbass holy roller, family values, fat lying tub of goo who brags over an open mike about cheating with kinky sex, not only on his wife but also on his mistress, in favor of noting that no matter what he does or where he goes the rest of his life, Mike Duvall will be a walking double entendre:

Take for example, this lede on a recent Capitol Weekly piece about him:

“If you want to know what issues are important to Assemblyman Mike Duvall, R-Brea, just look at what he did the other weekend.”

Or this from his soon-to-be shut down web site:

“In February 2009 Assemblyman Duvall was named “Legislator of the Year for 2008″ by the California Attractions and Parks Association for his opposition to Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposed ‘fun tax.’”

You also gotta wonder whether Chapman University wants its plaque back:

“Chapman University awarded Duvall the Ethics in America Award in 2000 for his ‘demonstration of the highest standards of ethical integrity.’”

And finally this: The hearing room where Duvall let his potty mouth run wild is festooned with a large color portrait of the late, great Jesse Unruh, a man of great appetites who famously said of lobbyists, “If you can’t take their money, drink their liquor, fuck their women, and then come in here the next day and vote against them, you don’t belong here.”

Of course, that was in the days before women were lobbyists.

PS: Get this, from Duvall’s web site:  “I want to make it clear that my decision to resign is in no way an admission that I had an affair or affairs. My offense was engaging in inappropriate story-telling and I regret my language and choice of words. The resulting media coverage was proving to be an unneeded distraction to my colleagues and I resigned in the hope that my decision would allow them to return to the business of the state.”

Got it.

Parsky Aimin’ to Bushwhack His Tax Reform Panel

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

johnwayne[3:45 pm update] Whoa there!  We just got sent a document titled “Revenues From Development of California Oil Reserves” which is not on the agenda, is not in the proposed tax package and is not on the commission’s web site. It doesn’t say who it came from although it is likely the result of a request by commissioner Michael Boskin of Hoover Institution and — note this — a member of the board of Exxon Mobil (psst was this disclosed?).

It begins:

Proposal: The state should permit additional offshore oil leases, under strict environmental safeguards, with royalty revenues going to a reserve fund to be used for specific limited purposes.

Rationale: The development of additional oil resources would expand the domestic oil supply, while providing tens of billion of dollars of revenue to the state over a number of years.

[3 pm update below] Gerald Parsky, the Republican bigwig appointed by the governor to run the Commission on the 21st Century Economy, has broken his promise to have proposed legislation available for public review 72 hours before the commission meets Thursday in LA.

The materials weren’t even available 48 hours before Thursday’s 11 a.m. meeting. [UPDATE: A batch of documents, including some draft legislation, were posted on the commission's site and sent to fellow commissioners at about 12:20 pm on Wednesday -- less than 24 hours before the meeting where commissioners are expected to consider completely restructuring California's taxes.] So what does that mean — besides being a violation of the Brown Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act? It means Parsky is planning to do exactly what Calbuzz warned against: after leadin’ the commission down a box canyon, he’s aimin’ to bushwhack ‘em.

Hey pilgrim — you don’t get to propose a wholesale restructuring of the California tax code without giving the public – and your fellow commissioners — a chance to study the proposals. Who do you think you are — some arrogant, Nixonian gasbag who can run roughshod over the rest of us?

Here’s a more reasoned — less angry — critique by Timm Herdt in the Ventura County Star.

Wal-Mart & Obama: Unlikely Allies in Health Reform

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

lichtensteinBy Evan Wagstaff
Special to Calbuzz

As President Obama prepares to deliver a crucial speech on health care reform to Congress tonight, he has found a surprising ally in his bid to expand medical insurance to all Americans: retail giant Wal-Mart.

On June 30, Wal-Mart joined the liberal research group, Center for American Progress, and the Service Employees International Union in issuing a public letter to the White House that called for a “pay or play” plan, requiring businesses either to pay $750 per employee per year for government health care coverage or to offer an insurance plan through the company.

Wal-Mart’s unlikely alliance with liberal groups in pushing for a controversial employer mandate for health care plan was in part a conciliatory move to placate consumers in California, according to UCSB history professor Nelson Lichtenstein, who has published a new book about the company.

“Wal-Mart isn’t in danger of going bankrupt, but it wants to expand into coastal California,” Lichtenstein said. “Wal-Mart knows it has a problem there.”

But company spokesman Greg Rossiter said the plan simply reflects the company’s good business sense, citing a letter cosigned by Wal-Mart CEO Mike Duke noting that as much as $244 billion is lost from the U.S. economy every year due to sick time taken by uninsured Americans.

“We’re focused on efforts to reform the country’s health care system,” Rossiter said. “It’s costing all of us a great deal of money. All of the projections are for increasing costs.”

Wal-Mart’s support for the principle of universal coverage for workers appears at odds with the reputation of the company with a reputation for keeping prices low and profit margins high at the expense of workers, who have frequently and bitterly complained about wages and working conditions.

Lichtenstein’s new book, “The Retail Revolution: How Wal-Mart Created awal mart book Brave New World of Business” details the growth of Wal-Mart, from its beginnings to its gradual expansion into Canada and Mexico, a history plagued by questionable business practices and accusations of employee abuse.

He told Calbuzz that Wal-Mart has been “stymied” in its attempts to enter the retail market in large areas of California. While the retailer operates a number of stores in the Central Valley, they have been unable to establish “supercenters” in densely populated urban areas like Los Angeles and San Francisco.

According to Lichtenstein, Wal-Mart’s surveys have shown that 10 percent of people say they don’t shop at the retailer for political reasons, and such opposition to Wal-Mart’s practices has made it difficult to expand into the highly profitable urban areas of the Golden State.

The endorsement of expanded health care insurance is part of a concerted effort to clean up the company’s image, a trend that began in December 2008 when Wal-Mart resolved 63 standing lawsuits in 42 different states to avoid possible federal intervention. Although the company does not need positive press to survive, Lichtenstein said that a better image would encourage business in areas like California.

“California is a cockpit of opposition to Wal-Mart’s expansion into urban America,” Lichtenstein said. “California has a well-unionized grocery sector; the unions fought Wal-Mart and won.”

While Wal-Mart’s decision to back an employer mandate plan is viewed favorably by progressives, the conservative National Retail Federation (NRF) called the employer mandate proposal a “tax on jobs.” The NRF is the nation’s largest retail trade association, but does not include Wal-Mart. According to organization’s web site, NRF Senior Vice President for Government Relations Steve Pfister said that an employer mandate would worsen the recession.

“We can think of few more dangerous steps to take in the middle of our present recession,” Pfister said. “We need to add new jobs, not exacerbate the near double-digit unemployment numbers. We cannot afford to have new and existing jobs priced out of our collective reach because of mandated health coverage.”

Lichtenstein noted that although Wal-Mart made a significant gesture in its endorsement, nothing will change if Congress cannot pass health care reform legislation. If no action is taken, Wal-Mart associates will have to make do with what Lichtenstein called “phony health insurance” with large deductibles and coverage caps.

walmart-logo“If an Obama plan passes, Wal-Mart would brag about helping to put it through,” he said. “If nothing happens in Congress, Wal-Mart goes back to its old way of doing things and that’s the end of it.”

Obama’s speech will be broadcast on most network and cable news channels at 5 p.m.

Calbuzz intern Evan Wagstaff is Opinion Editor of UCSB’s Daily Nexus.