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Californians March into the Heartland
David Bacon, The Nation
As the March for California’s Future left Bakersfield, marchers trudged past almond trees just breaking into their spring blooms. From Shafter and Wasco across dozens of miles to the west, white and pink petals have turned the ground rosy, while branches overhead are dusted with the delicate green of new leaves.
The San Joaquin Valley’s width–over seventy-five miles at its widest point–is even more impressive than its length, as it stretches several hundred miles from the Tehachapi Mountains in the south overlooking Bakersfield to the delta of the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers in the north. In the heart of that delta lies Sacramento, the state’s capital and the marchers’ goal.
This immense space is filled with almond orchards, grape vineyards, dairies, and alfalfa and cotton fields. A myriad of crops, grown on a huge industrial scale, make obvious the historical source of the state’s wealth. For almost two centuries, that wealth has located California’s political center here. The conservatism of the valley’s political and economic establishment has been the main obstacle to the growth of progressive politics, which long ago shaped the coastal metropolises of San Francisco and Los Angeles. For decades growers succeeded in preventing rural industrialization, for fear it would bring unions and higher wages. Even mass housing was discouraged, until the corporations that own the land realized that the profits of development rivaled those of grapes and pears.
The March for California’s Future is challenging that power, and the stranglehold it still exerts over the state. Holding the budget hostage while California unemployment tops 12 percent, growers and their political allies here have slashed the funding for schools and social service. Now teachers, homecare workers and those who depend on public services are walking into the growers’ front yard, defying the past.
When cotton was king and thousands of workers were still needed to bring in the harvest, immigrants and Dust Bowl refugees rose in rebellion in 1933. The Associated Farmers kept the valley under virtual martial law, while growers gunned down strikers in front of the sheriffs’ station in Pixley, a town along the march’s route. In the ’60s the United Farm Workers was born in another town on the marchers’ way–Delano. The UFW’s most implacable enemies were always here–the San Joaquin grape growers, and the politicians who protected their crops, their water, their cheap labor and their profits.
Valley Republicans are still mounting the watchtowers along that same wall of protection. Two brothers, Tom and Bill Berryhill, represent adjacent districts in the state assembly. Tom, a fourth-generation farmer, lives in Modesto, home of the Gallo wine empire. Bill, who represents Ceres, sits on the board of the Allied Grape Growers. Both inherited their membership in the political class here from their father, legendary Republican legislator Clare Berryhill.
Today Valley Republicans are a primary obstacle to the passage of a budget that would continue to fund basic services for Californians, especially schools and healthcare. The state has a requirement that two-thirds of the legislature approve any budget. Even more important, any tax increase takes a two-thirds vote as well. So even though urban Democrats have had a majority for years in both chambers, a solid Republican block can keep the state in a continual economic crisis until Democrats agree to slash spending. With huge deficits from declining tax revenues, and a recession boosting state unemployment to over 10 percent, converting a budgetary crisis into a political one is not difficult…
(17 March 2010)
US House approves sweeping healthcare overhaul
John Whitesides and Donna Smith, The Independent
The US House of Representatives gave final approval to a sweeping healthcare overhaul today, expanding insurance coverage to nearly all Americans and handing President Barack Obama a landmark victory.
On a late-night 219-212 vote, House Democrats approved the most dramatic health policy changes in four decades. The vote sends the bill, already passed by the Senate, to Obama to sign into law.
The overhaul will extend health coverage to 32 million Americans, expand the government health plan for the poor, impose new taxes on the wealthy and bar insurance practices such as refusing to cover people with pre-existing medical conditions.
The healthcare revamp, Obama’s top domestic priority, would usher in the biggest changes in the $2.5 trillion US healthcare system since the 1965 creation of the government-run Medicare health program for the elderly and disabled.
It would require most Americans to have health coverage, give subsidies to help lower-income workers pay for coverage and create state-based exchanges where the uninsured can compare and shop for plans.
Major provisions such as the exchanges and subsidies would not kick in until 2014, but many of the insurance reforms like barring companies from dropping coverage for the sick will begin in the first year…
(22 March 2010)
Fear Strikes Out
New York Times, Paul Krugman
The day before Sunday’s health care vote, President Obama gave an unscripted talk to House Democrats. Near the end, he spoke about why his party should pass reform: “Every once in a while a moment comes where you have a chance to vindicate all those best hopes that you had about yourself, about this country, where you have a chance to make good on those promises that you made … And this is the time to make true on that promise. We are not bound to win, but we are bound to be true. We are not bound to succeed, but we are bound to let whatever light we have shine.”
And on the other side, here’s what Newt Gingrich, the Republican former speaker of the House — a man celebrated by many in his party as an intellectual leader — had to say: If Democrats pass health reform, “They will have destroyed their party much as Lyndon Johnson shattered the Democratic Party for 40 years” by passing civil rights legislation.
I’d argue that Mr. Gingrich is wrong about that: proposals to guarantee health insurance are often controversial before they go into effect — Ronald Reagan famously argued that Medicare would mean the end of American freedom — but always popular once enacted.
But that’s not the point I want to make today. Instead, I want you to consider the contrast: on one side, the closing argument was an appeal to our better angels, urging politicians to do what is right, even if it hurts their careers; on the other side, callous cynicism. Think about what it means to condemn health reform by comparing it to the Civil Rights Act. Who in modern America would say that L.B.J. did the wrong thing by pushing for racial equality? (Actually, we know who: the people at the Tea Party protest who hurled racial epithets at Democratic members of Congress on the eve of the vote.)
And that cynicism has been the hallmark of the whole campaign against reform.
Yes, a few conservative policy intellectuals, after making a show of thinking hard about the issues, claimed to be disturbed by reform’s fiscal implications (but were strangely unmoved by the clean bill of fiscal health from the Congressional Budget Office) or to want stronger action on costs (even though this reform does more to tackle health care costs than any previous legislation). For the most part, however, opponents of reform didn’t even pretend to engage with the reality either of the existing health care system or of the moderate, centrist plan — very close in outline to the reform Mitt Romney introduced in Massachusetts — that Democrats were proposing.
Instead, the emotional core of opposition to reform was blatant fear-mongering, unconstrained either by the facts or by any sense of decency.
It wasn’t just the death panel smear. It was racial hate-mongering, like a piece in Investor’s Business Daily declaring that health reform is “affirmative action on steroids, deciding everything from who becomes a doctor to who gets treatment on the basis of skin color.” It was wild claims about abortion funding. It was the insistence that there is something tyrannical about giving young working Americans the assurance that health care will be available when they need it, an assurance that older Americans have enjoyed ever since Lyndon Johnson — whom Mr. Gingrich considers a failed president — pushed Medicare through over the howls of conservatives…
(21 March 2010)