Tag: Solyndra

Flap’s California Morning Collection: October 20, 2011

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The California Aqueduct

The California Legislature is not in session.

Today, GOP Presidential candidate and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann is in California speaking and undoubtedly fundraising.

Fresh off the Republican debate earlier this week in Nevada, presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann makes a foray into blue-state country for a talk at the Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco.

The Minnesota congresswoman’s subject? “The Revival of American Competitiveness.”

“Bachmann will present her views on pro-business economic policies that will allow private-sector businesses to compete in the global market while addressing the need for job-skill retraining, innovation, comprehensive tax reform and reduction of regulations that threaten jobs,” the Commonwealth Club’s website says.

On to today’s headlines:

California birthrate lowest since Great Depression, state data show

California’s birthrate tumbled last year to its lowest point since the Great Depression, new state figures show, yet another indication that the difficult economy is reshaping everyday life.
California families are looking at their personal finances, their job security, their prospects for the future – and increasingly deciding now is not the time to have a baby.

Marriages are down, foreclosures are up, job openings are scarce and kids are expensive. The average cost of raising a child from birth to age 18 is about $225,000, federal data show.

“A lot of the people I see say, ‘One (child) is enough: It’s all I can afford,’ ” said Anna Peak, owner of Babies & Beyond, a children’s-goods store in the Land Park section of Sacramento.
Other, more permanent changes also are taking place. The children of immigrants are having fewer kids than their parents did. The population as a whole is getting older. Couples are waiting longer to start families.

Because of those patterns, the state will see strikingly low birthrates for the rest of the decade, said John Malson, acting chief of the state Department of Finance’s demographic research unit.

After 15 years, a breathing space in statewide elections

California is experiencing what once was a familiar hiatus between elections – a traditional 20-month span between the November general election and the next primary election in June of the following even-numbered year.

The last statewide election was November 2010 and the next primary is June 2012. The last time there was such a gap was from November 1996 to June 1998.

But it’s not a period of tranquility – redistricting has seen to that. For termed-out lawmakers the options are difficult, but incumbents aren’t having an easy ride either.

And it hasn’t been easy on consultants — especially Republican consultants – who rely on political campaigns to pay their bills, noted one strategist.

“I think this is an unprecedented time for a lot of consultants, especially Republican consultants,” said Tim Hart of Sacramento-based Premier Strategies, a campaign strategy firm whose clientele include GOP candidates. “It is a difficult time. We’ve gone through something of a metamorphosis because of Whitman spending $174 million and still not winning. That impacted a lot of donors in California, making it more difficult to raise money,” said Hart in a telephone interview from Guatemala.

Hart was in Guatemala with former California Republican Party Chair Ron Nehring to handle the Nov. 6 campaign for a presidential candidate.

I’ve talked to a lot of guys – consultants, designers, website guys – and everybody is hurting. They all talk frequently about what is next and that it’s been tough on everybody.”

The decennial redrawing of political districts in California – this time handled by an independent, voter-approved commission – has turned the election map into musical chairs in the Legislature and in Congress, pitting incumbents against each other and forcing others to move to new districts.

“How do you run for Senate or Assembly if you don’t know yet who’s running for Congress? How do you look at other seats until you know where the Congressional seats are?” said political strategist Matt Ross, a former staffer for the Senate GOP caucus.

“The big question is what they will be doing during the 20 months,” he said. “With the redistricting and the top-two primary, it’s going to change how you fight, it’s a different dynamic. I’ve never seen an election like this.”

Doctors’ stance on pot is sick

Let’s get this straight: The California doctors lobby believes that marijuana has questionable value as medicine. Pot users risk damage to body and brain. But the drug should be legalized?

In case you missed it, the California Medical Assn. last Friday officially recommended the legalization and regulation of weed.

t comes as the California marijuana industry is gearing up for another legalization effort next year at the ballot box.

“There simply isn’t the scientific evidence to understand the benefits and risks of medical cannabis,” a CMA news release quoted Dr. Paul Phinney of Sacramento, the organization’s board chairman.

“We need to regulate cannabis so that we know what we’re recommending to our patients. Currently, medical and recreational cannabis have no mandatory labeling standards of concentration or purity. First we’ve got to legalize it so that we can properly study and regulate it.”

Whatever happened to studying a drug first to determine its benefits and risks, then deciding whether it’s safe enough to legalize? I couldn’t get a satisfactory answer. But the CMA thesis is that marijuana research is inhibited because the federal government classifies pot in the same illegal category as heroin and LSD.

The CMA Board of Trustees adopted the “legalize pot” position on behalf of the association’s 35,000 physician members. Its action was based on a 14-page “white paper.”

“It really should be called the Cannabis Medical Assn.,” says Covina Police Chief Kim Raney, vice president of the California Police Chiefs Assn. “It’s probably one of the most irresponsible, disgraceful position papers I’ve ever read.”

What raised my eyebrows was a repeat of the old canard about how locking up stoners eats up too much tax money.

The CMA report lamented “the diversion of limited economic resources to penal system costs and away from the other more socially desirable uses such as funding healthcare, education, transportation, etc.”

That’s a stretcher, at least in California.

Our prisons aren’t exactly bulging with people who were sent there for growing or selling grass, let alone ingesting it. Fewer than 1% of the inmates have been sentenced for marijuana or hashish crimes of any sort, according to state prison data.

They total 1,325 out of 164,156. If you do the math — each prisoner costing nearly $50,000 a year — it isn’t chump change: around $66million. But it’s hardly noticeable in a $10-billion prison budget.

“With all the strains on our resources, going after small levels of marijuana possession is not a priority,” says Scott Thorpe, chief executive of the California District Attorneys Assn. “To go to prison for a drug offense, it’s going to be very, very, very rare that it’s for a first offense. Any drug.”

The CMA report notes that in the last decade there have been a dozen U.S. clinical trials and more than 20 studies worldwide investigating the therapeutic benefits of pot smoking. “Current data have shown that the medical indications for cannabis are very limited,” the report says.

“Cannabis may be effective for the treatment of pain, nausea, anorexia and other conditions, but the literature on this subject is inadequate … and cannabis side effects may not be tolerated.”

OK, still, if someone feels the healing need for marijuana, it can legally be acquired in California.

Solyndra Tax Break Not Going Away

State Treasurer Bill Lockyer told lawmakers Wednesday that he continued to support a law that grants large tax breaks to alternative-energy companies — even though the bankrupt solar-panel manufacturer Solyndra was its first and largest recipient.

Solyndra was granted a $34.5 million subsidy under SB 71, a 2010 law championed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that exempts alternative energy companies from paying taxes on purchases of new manufacturing equipment.

Lockyer’s statements marked a departure from the stance he took last month. After The Bay Citizen revealed Solyndra’s tax break, which the state granted without scrutinizing the company’s finances, Lockyer called for a moratorium on issuing additional subsidies under the law, saying, “[W]e owe it to taxpayers to see if there is more we can do to make sure we don’t give their money to companies headed for a fall.”

But on Wednesday, he told a joint hearing of two state Senate committees that SB 71 is a “wise and needed law” that incentivizes green-energy manufacturing and serves as “a model for how tax expenditure statutes ought to be written.”

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Flap’s California Morning Collection September 21, 2011

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Santa Ines Mission, California

The California Legislature is not in session and Governor Jerry Brown is continuing to sign or veto bills passed more than a week ago. The deadline for action on the legislation is October 9.

Governor Jerry Brown today is concentrating on the shift of some state prison inmates to the county jails.

California is less than two weeks away from shifting some state prison inmates into county jails, and Gov. Jerry Brown talks to hundreds of law enforcement and government officials this morning about that very subject.

Capitol denizens call this move “public safety realignment.” It’s described in this Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation website as “historic legislation that will enable California to close the revolving door of low-level inmates cycling in and out of state prisons.”

Counties are about to take responsibility for custody, treatment and supervision of offenders convicted of specific non-violent, non-serious and non-sex crimes. The shift starts Oct. 1.

Brown will give the keynote address at 10 a.m. at the one-day conference, which runs all day at the Sacramento Convention Center. His remarks will be webcast live on the governor’s website.

On to today’s California headlines:

Poll finds even Republicans would switch initiatives to November election

Republican legislators in Sacramento are crying foul over an eleventh-hour push to limit future initiatives to November general elections.

But the idea behind the union-backed legislation doesn’t seem so bad to a majority of GOP voters, according to a new Field Poll.

Registered Republicans supported the proposed change by a 15-point margin, 52 percent to 37 percent. Overall, 56 percent of voters back the proposal, which was approved by the Legislature and is now awaiting action by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown.

Democrats supporting Senate Bill 202 argued that putting initiatives up for a vote in higher-turnout general elections would ensure that more Californians have a say in the measures that impact their lives.

Republicans accused Democrats of jamming through a change to the initiative process that would benefit their own political aims, including delaying a union-opposed measure expected to qualify for the June 2012 primary election. That election should hold more interest for GOP voters, who will choose a presidential candidate to face President Barack Obama.

Despite the potential political impacts, Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo said average voters aren’t tuned in to the maneuvering behind the last-minute legislation. To them, the idea of considering initiatives in the election they are more likely to vote in “sounds reasonable,” he said.

Divided Views About the Internet Sales Tax Law and a possible Referendum to Overturn it

By a 51% to 40% margin voters think it is bad policy to not charge a sales tax for merchandise purchased online when the same item purchased at a local retail outlet would be assessed this tax.

However, Californians are divided on the merits of the new legislation aimed at requiring large online retailers based out of state to begin collecting sales taxes on such purchases. Forty-seven percent of voters favor the new law, while 46% are opposed.

When asked how they would vote on a possible referendum to overturn the law, voters are similarly divided. If such a referendum were to qualify for the ballot, 49% say they would vote to overturn
the law, while 44% would vote to keep it in place.

There are big partisan differences on these matters. Majorities of Democrats think it is bad policy for out-of-state online retailers to not be charging sales taxes and support the new law to require
them to do so. If a referendum seeking to overturn the law were to qualify for the ballot, they would vote to keep the law by a five to four margin.

On the other hand, Republicans hold divided views about whether charging sales taxes for online purchases is a good policy but oppose the new law requiring online retailers based outside the state
to do so. And, by a 56% to 28% margin, they would vote to overturn the new law should a referendum about this qualify for the ballot.

Dianne Feinstein donates $5 million of own money to her campaign

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who is up for reelection in 2012, will put $5 million of her own money into her race, the latest sign that a mega-fraud case involving a top Democratic campaign treasurer is roiling California politics.

Feinstein, first elected to the Senate in 1992, raised more than $5 million for her reelection campaign as of June 30, according to a Federal Election Commission report.

But that was before Kinde Durkee, a top Democratic political consultant who served as the treasurer for dozens of Democratic political committees and campaigns throughout the state, was accused by the Justice Department of improperly diverting more than $670,000 from the campaign account of a California state assemblyman.

Durkee also worked as Feinstein’s treasurer for two decades. And Feinstein now fears that part, or even all, of her reelection fund was improperly redirected by Durkee to personal accounts that Durkee controlled. Durkee has been accused by Justice of mail fraud after allegedly using hundreds of thousands of dollars of campaign funds to cover business and personal expenses, including American Express bills and payments for her mother’s nursing home.

Darrell Issa to probe government loan programs after Solyndra collapse

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said that he plans to launch an investigation into government loan programs, in response to the implosion of solar equipment maker Solyndra, which got a $535-million federal loan guarantee in 2009.

Solyndra was the first recipient of a loan guarantee under a program authorized by the Bush administration in 2005 and beefed up under President Obama’s stimulus act.  But in the last few weeks, the company has shuttered its operations, laid off nearly all of its 1,100 workers and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Energy Department’s Inspector General have launched investigations of the company, raiding its offices in Fremont, Calif., and the homes of their executives. The Treasury Department is looking into the role one of its units — the Federal Financing Bank — played in the debacle. In the end, the bank lent Solyndra $527 million.

Congressional Republicans pounced on the scandal, asserting that the program did not perform the necessary due diligence for the Solyndra guarantee. They have alleged that the lax oversight may have been due to the fact that the largest investor in Solyndra has ties to an Obama donor,George Kaiser.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee has held a hearing on Solyndra in which administration officials testified, and plans to hold another on Friday, which Solyndra’s top executives are expected to attend. Kaiser denies that he ever spoke to the administration about the Solyndra loan guarantee.

Enjoy your morning!

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