January 12, 2001

Letters to the Editor -- El Foro Publico

NAFTA for the Americas going forward unchallenged

In the seven years since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), it has proven itself to a failed experiment, with real wages declining even as workers' productivity rises, environmental and public health conditions slipping in the border region, the transformation of our trade surplus with Mexico to a trade deficit for the first time ever, and our federal regulations being dismantled at taxpayer expense thanks to "investor-to-state" provisions that allow corporations to sue our government directly. Yet I hear nothing from the media or in political debates about the ongoing neotiations for its expansion under the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). This "NAFTA for the Americas," if allowed to go forward unchallenged, will only extend this disastrous legacy throughout the western hemisphere!

Perhaps the reason that no one has heard of it is because the negotiations are being conducted in secret. Furthermore, only Congress has the right to set terms for treaty negotiations of this type. Yet these haven been going on for nearly five years, and the Administration has done nothing to brief Congress on the FTAA, much less obtain authority to negotiate in the first place.

"NAFTA for the Americas" will be complete in the next three years. It's disturbing that these important negotiations have reached an advanced stage without the knowledge of citizens and elected officials. It's high time that the American people demanded that Congress get involved, and to put the negotiations on hold until we find out what's going on behind those closed doors.

Cathy O'Leary
San Diego

An Open Letter to Gray Davis

Californians up and down the state have panicked for the last few months at the thought of seeing even larger electricity bills. Members of ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), the nation's largest organization of low and moderate-income people, have been particularly concerned about the effect that it is going to have in on low-income working families across the state.

Our cost of living has gone through the roof as housing costs have increased as much as 30% in some parts of the state. Families are having a difficult time making ends meet. We simply cannot afford an increase in our utility bills and even the PUC-approved 9% is going to be tough on many families. We are concerned that our elected officials understand not only the crisis that our utilities are in, but the crisis in which low and moderate income families across the state are going to find themselves in if rates are bumped up to satisfy the Wall Street analysts, stockholders, and California utility companies.

On Monday, we tuned in to your State of the State address at the Capitol. We applauded the proposals presented: a fund of $250 million to help Californians reduce their energy use; $4 million for investigation of possible racketeering; regulations that restrict the withholding of power from the grid; the increase of state control over electricity production. All of the proposals, we feel, will be steps towards solving our energy catastrophe.

But when the speech ended, not one of us had heard what we wanted to hear: No bailouts, no rate increases.

We're still waiting to find out who is going to be saddled with the utilities' multi-billion dollar debts in the long run. The rate increase approved last week is only a temporary one, meaning that the exemption of low-income families is also temporary; we are still waiting to see if utilities debts are going to be paid for at the expense of low-income Californians.

California utilities embraced the deregulation legislation that has caused this tragic experiment. And since deregulation came with promises of lower rates for consumers, most of us jumped on the deregulation bandwagon too. Instead of lower rates, however, the price tag of deregulation keeps getting bigger and bigger. And now PG&E and Southern California Edison are pleading for consumers to foot the bill.

While no one wants the blackouts the PG&E and Southern California Edison claim would be inevitable if rates do not increase, we cannot be expected to pick up the tab. It may be true that PG&E and Southern California Edison are strapped for cash. But so are we.

Yvonne Vasquez
San Jose ACRON

Future teacher believes financial support is neccessary!

The current interest in California's teachers is encouraging. The amount of schooling this profession requires is a tremendous financial burden on our state's teachers. Coupling the low pay scale with expensive continued education is simply not an alluring package.

Currently, I am in college to become a teacher. I am constantly inundated with teachers warning me to change my major. Many of my fellow students have changed their major because of the ever changing requirements placed by the state. These new requirements always demand more out of pocket expense for education.

To become a teacher one must earn their Bachelors degree, pass two types of testing (CBEST & RICA), enter a nine month credituling program, and work in the class room without pay. After all of these hoops are jumped through a beginning teacher, finally, begins his/her career. However, they can look foreword to beginning their new career while completing an additional 30 units of college course work that has been deemed the "fifth year."

Up and coming teachers often do not realize that in order to reach top pay in their profession another 48 units, roughly 10 more classes and thousands of dollars, is required. These additional 10 classes are, of course, after the fifth year requirements have been completed. Another slap in the prospective teachers' wallets is paying $40 to take the
CBEST and $140 to take the RICA.

A final blow to those strong enough to endure these demands is when one learns that none of the additional classes required for your fifth year, or the additional 10 classes to earn your pay increases can be applied toward earning one's Masters.

Frankly, I have just about talked myself out of pursuing a teaching career. I don't mind the additional education required -I love learning. Nonetheless, if Governor Davis wants to retain teachers he should consider picking up the cost of the continued education that is forced onto California's teachers.

If the state of California wants teachers to always be learning -GREAT. However, the state of California needs to pay for it. This financial support can be in the way of higher pay or covering the cost of the on going education.

Again, I am a student who desires to be a teacher more than anything. I cannot say I will be the best teacher California has ever seen, but I will always be trying to be. Nonetheless, if financial support is not supplied in some way to offset the required education after my Bachelors. . .well I may get my Bachelors in another field.

Mike McCarthy
Bakersfield, CA

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