Thursday, March 29, 2007

Circuit City Screws Young Workers

Today I was outraged by this article on the front page of the Daily News. Circuit City is laying off 3,400 workers for the crime of being paid too high a salary. According to the article, after 10 weeks these same workers (one interviewed makes $15 an hour) will be offered their jobs back at minimum wage.

This goes way beyond the pale. These are skilled workers, knowledgeble about the products and brands offered in the store, who will now be replaced by unskilled no-nothings who barely know how to work the cash register. Let's be clear: the reason these workers were well paid is that they were loyal to their company and did their jobs well. Now these predominantly young twenty-somethings -many of whom are paying for college with these jobs - are being thanked for their loyalty and service with a pink slip.

Circuit City explains these layoffs in the article:

"We're taking a number of aggressive actions to improve our cost and expense structure," Philip Schoonover, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Circuit City Stores Inc., said in a written statement.

Here the workers describe their emotions after being laid off:
"This store has probably lost all its good salespeople," (Richard) O'Neal said. "This morning we were all really pissed, but now I laugh about it. What can you do?"
I'll tell you what you can do... In the next 24 hours SFVYD's Executive Board will be voting to advocate a boycott of Circuit City until the company offers their employees back their positions at their previous salaries. Until that happens, we'll be urging consumers young and old all over the country to buy their HDTV's, DVD Players, and Ipods from stores that are friendlier to young employees, like Costco.

I will also be inviting our sister organizations such as LACYD, Stonewall YDs, and our statewide org CYD to join in this boycott.

Stay tuned, and please, spread the word!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Action Alert - Senate Voting on Withdrawal Timetable

Democrats in Congress excercised the power of the purse on Friday when they attached a timetable for withdrawal to the latest Iraq funding bill. This move could force the President into an uncomfortable corner: approving the withdrawal timetable that the American public overwhelmingly supports, or vetoing the spending bill for his own war. The passage of this bill is a critical step to getting out of Iraq, and highlighting the key differences between the parties going into the 2008 election.

First, however, the Senate needs to pass this bill with the withdrawal timetable intact. That's where you come in - voting on this bill could come as early as tomorrow. Please take the time today to write your Senator and request that they support the withdrawal timetable provision.

Here's the contact info:

Senator Dianne Feinstein
Phone: (202) 224-3841
Fax: (202) 228-3954
E-mail link

Senator Barbara Boxer
Phone: (213) 894-5000
Fax: (213) 894-5042
E-mail link

Don't wait - contact them today!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Elizabeth's Battle

I wanted to write to wish all the best to Elizabeth Edwards and her family today. Two of my Grandparents battled cancer for several years - a difficult experience for all of us - and yet, also a time during which they accomplished remarkable things. I remember especially my Grandmother's spirited advocacy on behalf of single-payer health care, in a period when no one would have blamed her for taking it easy and letting others do the heavy lifting.

Which is to say, I have the greatest esteem for Ms. Edwards' decision to carry on campaigning with her husband, and her determined optimism in the face of this disappointing news. Our family and countless others send her well wishes today, in the hopes we may lend her strength in the years to come.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Dean of the GOP?

Help me out on this...

Remember in 2004 when everyone said Howard Dean was "unelectable" because 1) He supported gay civil unions, 2) He disagreed with the majority of the country on Iraq, and 3) He was prone to making embarassing public statements?

So how is it that as of today, this guy is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination?

D'ya suppose the religious right wants to scream?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Guest Post: Controlling the Spin on Rent Control

Editor's Note: The following post was submitted by SFVYD member Brian Davis. SFVYD welcomes guest posters on our blog.

I like to end my arguments with simple thoughts: Against gay marriage or abortion? Don't have one. Against gays serving openly in the military? Most of our allies, who fight side by side with us in most modern military excursions, allow gays to serve, meaning American troops are already serving with open gays. Opposed to rent control because landlords can barely turn a profit? Than don't become a landlord.

I work for an organization that focuses on tenants’ rights and habitability. Our goal is to combat homelessness by keeping people in their homes and keeping those homes livable. We don't get much recognition but this week we did. The Los Angeles Times ran an article about Los Angeles' most prolific eviction attorney. Our agency was featured.

One of the major themes of the article is how the attorney, Dennis Block, is a crusader for the oppressed: property owners. It is true that a good number of property owners are small business people, many of whom are immigrants, trying to squeak out of living. But in Los Angeles, many properties are owned or managed by HUGE corporations. There are also many ethical, compassionate landlords that treat their tenants fairly and with dignity. There are also many that are blatant criminals who value profit over the health and safety of their tenants.

Rent control is often vilified by these property owners because of the limits it places on raising rents and how it allows tenants to maintain their housing below market rates. This is rare. It happens when a renter lives in a property for a very long time. Most renters, especially in a city of migrant labor like Los Angeles, are highly mobile. It's anectdotal but since 2000 I've lived in 7 places. In some cases, a tenant finds a place they like and stays there for extended periods of time. Unfortunately, the landlord loses out because as the market rate increases, he's limited by the imposed restrictions of rent control. Dennis Block feels his pain:

"I think my position is righteous," he said. "The average landlord is not a rich individual…. Under rent control, unlike any other business on planet Earth, a landlord is being ordered to support other individuals totally at his own costs. This is not fair."
The landlord is not being "ordered" to do anything. The landlord chose that field and must agree to the terms of it. I am a SCUBA instructor on weekends. I am a good, safe instructor, and I don't anticipate any of my students ever having an accident but the corrupt SCUBA industrial complex orders me to have liability insurance. Of course, if I don't want to incur the insurance cost, I guess I do have the freedom to not be a SCUBA instructor.

Block argues that the city's rent-stabilization laws keep him in business by creating conditions in which some landlords cannot make a profit, and in some cases can't even make their mortgage payments, unless they evict their tenants and replace them with people who can pay the market rate.

Apparently, landlords are the worst business people in the world! They can't even make their mortgage payments? Lord, have mercy.

Let's put my Bachelor's degree in Business Administration to work here: I want to become a landlord. I will need to buy a building. I will most likely need to take out a mortgage. Before taking out the mortgage, I should look at who currently lives in the building. How much rent do they pay? How much do I think I will be bringing in each month? Now, let's make sure I can turn a profit. I can? Good, I'll take out the mortgage and buy the building. What's this? It seems I'll bring in $30,000 a month in rents, but I'll spend about $5,000 a month on some maintenance and utilities. And my mortgage is going to run $23,000 a month. Wow, that's not much money for me. Maybe I'll become a baker. Or a shepherd. (Forgive me; I just started reading the Alchemist.)

We needn't use the line that landlords can't feed their families any more. Dennis Block should change it to, "Landlords can't feed their families at Spago any more."

Rent control is not about lost money out of the pocket of the landlord, it's about the dissatisfaction with the opportunity lost to make more money. If I have a tenant who pays $500 each month, but the market rate in the neighborhood is $800 each month, then I am losing $300 in potential income. Not real income. Provided I wasn't an idiot when I bought the building, I knew I could make some money with the rents at the current level. Now with the housing market stretched so thin, without rent control I could make so much more. Unfortunately, these are the rules. I guess I won't make the $300, but don't be fooled into thinking that is money out of my pocket. It's not.

Rent control helps keep families in their homes; that's the reality. Without rent control, in a housing market like we currently have, it would be near impossible for many renters to budget properly and keep a roof over their head. The costs on our communities would be crippling. Parents would need to yank their kids in and out of schools, increasing the costs to taxpayers with poor results. Employers would struggle to keep good employees in their jobs and attract highly qualified candidates. Neighborhoods would be unstable, hindering quality of life and potentially affecting problems like crime and gangs. Renters would have less money to spend on groceries, clothing, and, yes, even recreation. And only landlords and lawyers would be better off.

Early Feb Primary Chance To Support Two Good Reforms

As has been reported in various places, one of the likely reasons for legislators' support of an early '08 primary is the opportunity to place measures on the ballot supporting longer term limits and independent redistricting. If longer term limits pass in February, that gives incumbent candidates enough time to file for reelection by the March deadline.

The reporting of this deal is mostly negative, but I see this as an opportunity to pass two badly-needed reforms. Unlike many partisans, I fully support both longer term limits and independent redistricting.

Term limits have done some good in California. They've allowed a more diverse crop of legislators to take office, with more minorities and women walking the halls of Sacramento. A legislature that more closely mirrors California's population benefits everybody, and term limits opened doors for that to happen.

But ultimately California's short term limits (8 years for Senators, 6 years for Assemblymembers) have done more harm than good. As legislators are forced to retire, the institutional knowledge they've built up over time is lost, as are the inter-party relationships they've fostered. New legislators come in with the best of intentions, but soon find themselves hindered by a lack of experienced mentors and historical context. Consequently they depend much more on lobbyists for information about unfamiliar issues, and party leadership to tell them what to do. Knowing they have to run for another office in just a few years makes them all the more dependent on monied special interests and strict party loyalty.

Defenders of term limits claim that shorter time in Sacramento means legislators will be less "politicized." This is obviously untrue, as public servants are now forced to campaign for their next job when they should be focusing on the one they have. Term limit fans are also fond of calling candidates "greedy" for wanting to serve longer in office. This is ridiculous on its face - are you greedy for wanting to continue a job you enjoy and are good at?

Most every legislator hates term limits, but many of them oppose independent redistricting. Currently, California's legislative districts are drawn by the Legislature itself. And wouldn't you know it - in the most recent 2000 redistricting, the districts were drawn to protect incumbents from competition. Democratic districts were drawn around Dem legislators, and ditto for the GOP areas. Take a look at California's Assembly Districts and you'll see what I mean.

The legislature also broke longtime tradition in 2000 by failing to split each Senate District into exactly two Assembly Districts. This has created great confusion for voters, who are both unable to figure out whose District they're in, and create meaningful coalitions to pressure their local electeds.

Independent redistricting would take the power to draw the lines out of the hands of the legislature. Personally, I'm skeptical that it would create less partisan districts (Californians are naturally grouped into Democratic and GOP areas of the state) - nevertheless, the conflict of interest of legislators drawing their own lines is too much to stomach.

What's most important to me, however, is that Democrats keep a promise they made two years ago. In the 2005 special election, I campaigned with other Democrats against a proposition that would have required new districts to be drawn by an independent panel *immediately*. That was a bad idea, because the census figures for the state were 6 years out of date. During the campaign, however, Democratic leadership promised that if Californians rejected Prop 77, they would pass a better independent redistricting proposal through the legislature. Last year they had an opportunity with a good bill by Senator Allen Lowenthal. Unfortunately that bill failed. If Democrats don't make good on their promise, we won't be able to make similar arguments about bad propositions in the future.

Quite often in California, propositions address a legitimate issue in a faulty fashion. We need to be able to trust our legislature to solve problems in a better way when they ask us to reject a bad proposition. The independent redistricting debate is really about whether we can trust our government to do the right thing.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

What Does California's Early Primary Mean For YDs?

It's official - California has moved its primary back to February 5 in an attempt to regain some influence in choosing the nominees.

As a longtime advocate of The American Plan For Presidential Primaries, I'm skeptical that this move will really increase California's clout. California won't be alone in moving our primary; it seems like every state is jumping up to February to get a piece of the action next year. That makes Iowa and New Hampshire *more* important, not less. And this insanely front-loaded schedule just favors the usual big-money, high name ID candidates. The best we can hope for is that everyone will be so disgusted with the "Me-first!" game this year that they'll support wholesale change in 2012.

That being said, there's no reason why Young Democrats shouldn't take advantage of California's jump in '08. Increased attention on California means more young voters will feel like they have a say in the process. We need to do everything possible to capture those young voters and introduce them to Democratic club activities while we have their attention. That means stepping up our mixer events, club visibility, and - everyone's favorite - voter registration drives. I'm proud to say that the '04 election got me involved in Young Democratic politics. It could be that our future club President is out there right now, eager to get involved but unaware of SFVYD. Our job in the next year will be to catch potential club members and keep them involved in years to come.

Mayor's New Valley Liason Is A YD

As reported in this morning's Daily News, SFVYD-Member Yolanda Fuentes has been appointed by Mayor Villaraigosa to head his Valley office. Ms. Fuentes is a Commissioner on the Board of Public Works and a longtime supporter of our club. Congratulations Yolanda, and props to our Mayor for naming a Young Democrat to this important position!

Friday, March 9, 2007

Welcome to SFYVD's new Blog!

As part of our website redesign, we have created a new weblog to share news, stories, and gossip with our SFVYD members. This is a great place to find the latest news about the club, upcoming events, and commentary about YD issues.

A blog is nothing without current content, so please feel free to submit items to be posted! We'll do our best to keep this space updated with the latest news. Feel free to post comments below, unless you are an online gambling site, in which case please take your business elsewhere.