CITYWATCH TODAY

Grid List

SECURITY POLITICS-The reason Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security lines across the country have become excruciatingly long is because TSA is not opening and staffing all of its screening checkpoints.  

The TSA has directed resources and personnel away from screening to non-screening functions including behavior detection officers (BDO), the Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) program and passenger screening canine teams. 

In order to immediately reduce overall wait time for travelers, TSA must redeploy its non-screening resources-none of which have been proven effective and all of which cost exorbitant monies-and personnel back to the screening checkpoint so that all lanes are open and fully staffed ahead of the busy summer travel season.  

"On a daily basis, only a handful of the screening checkpoints at a terminal are open while the remaining checkpoints are closed," said Marshall McClain, a canine police officer at LAX, President of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association and a co-founder of American Alliance of Airport Police Officers (AAAPO). 

"Passengers will be shocked with empty checkpoints in lines that last over an hour and a half-causing missed planes and extreme frustration.  They are wondering what the problem is.  TSA has the ability to staff these closed checkpoints but they are diverting resources and personnel to things like BDO, VIPR and passenger screening canines -programs that have shown to not enhance security, waste taxpayer dollars and take away from the TSA's core function of screening.  

"By opening and staffing all available screening checkpoints with non-screening BDO, VIPR and TSA canine personnel, wait lines could be significantly reduced.  In order to fortify security at the screening area, the TSA should simply abide by the law that's already on the books that requires an airport police officer be stationed at the screening checkpoint but should provide added flexibility and allow the officer to be within 300 feet of the checkpoint and do away with the blanket waiver to the law that the TSA Administrator can issue." 

Recent calls by those with a bully pulpit, but without the understanding of how the process works, assert that TSA's passenger-screening canines reduce wait times and improve security.  As the on-the-ground law enforcement officers, many of whom are canine handlers, that patrol some of the country's busiest airports, AAAPO police officers have seen no evidence to support this claim-we have seen quite the opposite, as has the American public and Congress.    

The stated purpose of TSA's passenger-screening canines, or vapor wake dogs, are to detect explosives but they have an extremely high rate of false-positives that result in secondary screening of these individuals which ultimately delays screening wait lines even further and requires the use of additional TSA resources.  TSA's passenger screening canine teams do not have a high degree of detection accuracy and have never positively identified explosives on a traveler.  They may look good but they are only a dog and pony show which jeopardizes safety.  Furthermore, the dog's nose goes "blind" within half an hour.  

When a TSA passenger-screening canine alerts to explosives on a passenger (which have all been false-positives to date), TSA protocol calls for that individual to continue through the crowded screening checkpoint so that TSA can conduct secondary screening. Logistically, allowing a person who is suspected of having explosive material on their body to continue through the screening area jeopardizes the safety of surrounding passengers, particularly as they are clogging up the lines and causing a chokehold with more people to potentially injure if they do indeed have explosives.  More time is lost because secondary screening involves more TSA resources.  It is a lose, lose, lose scenario. 

"The argument has been made that TSA's passenger screening canines can allow passengers to go through the screening process with shoes, belts and coats," said Frank Conti, a canine police officer and First Vice President of the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association.  

"However, this does NOTHING to improve security at airports since these TSA canines are consistently yielding false positives-this process is scary and only provides a false sense of security.  Law enforcement canine teams, who have the underlying police training to immediately identify the level of a threat and respond accordingly-by isolating the suspect-and have the capability to mitigate the problem before it reaches a sterile area and/or plane, should instead be used to fortify screening at airports." 

"There is no doubt that screening wait times will surge this summer and that responsibility lies firmly with TSA," said Paul Nunziato, President of the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association and co-founder of the AAAPO. 

"Over the last several years, the TSA wasted billions of dollars and has done nothing to promote safety.  The result has been that TSA has stopped focusing on its primary goal of screening and began programs such as BOD, VIPR and canines to 'spend all the money Congress gave them,' according to former TSA Administrator John Pistole.  

“TSA should screen passengers and luggage and put their money and manpower into doing this to the best of their capabilities.  They've taken their eye off the ball and we are seeing the consequences.  Right now it's just an inconvenience-soon it could be a nightmare scenario where a real threat gets through to a plane-and no one wants that to happen.  

“It is beyond clear to any traveler that all TSA needs to do is fully staff all screening lanes at terminals.  This is absolutely something they can do if they take their canine team, BDO and VIPR people and put them at the checkpoint-yes, it really is that simple."

 

(Jasmyne Cannick is a Los Angeles activist and writer and handles communications for LAAPOA.)

SPORTS POLITICS--Another lawsuit has emerged in the aftermath of the NFL's decision to move the Rams franchise from St. Louis to Los Angeles.     

Inglewood's former budget manager accused city officials of juggling the books to paint an inaccurately rosy picture of city finances to help persuade the NFL to move the Rams there, and of firing her when she blew the whistle.   

SHOCKING STUDY--In 2007, about a year before the economy crashed, the Gallup Poll found that 28 percent of Americans had at some point worried about becoming homeless.

It’s worse today. A new UCLA study found 31 percent of county residents worried about becoming homeless. Even among people earning between $90,000 and $120,000, 1 in 4 were afraid they would one day live on the street.

The fear is a symptom of a stagnant economy. If people felt confident that they would always be able to find a job, some kind of job to pay the bills, everybody would be sleeping better at night. Instead, there is widespread anxiety that unemployment could be imminent, devastating, and at an ever-younger age, permanent.

When economic stagnation is the problem, a tax increase is not the solution. Higher taxes drain away resources needed for growth and job creation. Beleaguered businesses shrink, close or leave. Poverty spreads like water on a marble floor.

So it’s particularly depressing to see the city and county of Los Angeles plotting to raise taxes in the name of helping the homeless.

Mayor Eric Garcetti’s proposed $8.75 billion budget includes a pledge of $138 million to help get homeless people into affordable housing, but the future of Garcetti’s 10-year, $2 billion plan to house the homeless depends on persuading voters to approve a higher sales tax, more borrowing, or a new transfer tax on real estate transactions. None of those proposals reached 50 percent approval in a recent poll conducted for the city. They’d need a two-thirds vote to pass.

L.A. County’s proposed budget would spend $100 million to help the homeless, about one-fifth of what county officials say is needed. A poll on how to pay for it found 76 percent support for a half-percent tax increase on income over $1 million, about 67 percent support for a half-percent increase in the sales tax or a 15 percent sales tax on marijuana, and 47 percent approval for a $49 parcel tax added to property tax bills.

But can the problem of homelessness be solved with higher taxes?

There is reason to doubt it.

The Skid Row Housing Trust recently opened an affordable housing development to serve homeless veterans. “The Six” provides 52 units of permanent supportive housing, but it cost $16.7 million, about $321,000 per unit.

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority says 46,874 people in L.A. County are without a roof over their heads. To house each of them in a place like “The Six” would cost $15 billion.

Suppose we paid it. Would Los Angeles then be free of homeless encampments? Would the sidewalks be clear for pedestrians? Would red lights be just red lights, and not a 30-second Dickens novel?

Not likely, thanks to the federal courts.

In 2003, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the city of Los Angeles over enforcement of a section of the city code that allowed police to arrest people for sleeping on the street. The city lost. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Constitution “prohibits the city from punishing involuntary sitting, lying or sleeping on public sidewalks that is an unavoidable consequence of being human and homeless without shelter in the City of Los Angeles.”

The courts have also protected panhandling, calling it a First Amendment right. Last year, cities in Maine and Illinois were told they could not ban panhandling on the medians at intersections or in a busy downtown area.

So Los Angeles taxpayers could spend twice the city’s annual budget on housing the homeless and still have no legal way to stop a new wave of people from replacing them on the streets.

Homelessness is not one problem and it doesn’t have one solution, unless you’re a politician searching through polling data for a way to get voters to support another tax increase. Nobody likes homeless encampments? Bingo!

What’s needed in Los Angeles is a comprehensive effort to improve the business climate so people can find good jobs or run small businesses profitably. Every government policy that burdens businesses or consumers with higher costs reduces hiring, deepens poverty and puts more people at risk of living in vehicles, shelters or tents.

Sadly, our elected officials think of businesses not as engines of economic well-being, but as cash registers to be robbed by government do-gooders. They would rather have their picture taken in a homeless shelter than get out of the way and let people earn a living.

That should keep everybody up at night.

(Susan Shelley is an author, former television associate producer and twice a Republican candidate for the California Assembly. This piece was posted most recently at Fox and Hounds.) 

-cw

 

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-This past week, I was honored to be invited to a meeting of some of the core members of Save Valley Village, a group that has been laser-focused on ensuring neighborhood integrity and fair development. Each member is facing his or her own battles, including invasive demolition of houses or buildings in their backyards or steps away from their own homes. (Photo above: demolition of Marilyn Monroe house in Valley Village.) The support and advice the members shared with each other touched me. This is at the heart of democracy and what makes our country great. It’s easy to feel disillusioned and that we have no power when it feels like politicians in Washington, Sacramento, and City Hall rubber stamp the needs of special interests while ignoring the average voter. But activists like the folks at Save Valley Village and other groups we are profiling are proof that this doesn’t have to be the case. 

At the heart of the agenda was a rather obscure definition of “major remodel,” buried in a 1991 memo for a non-conforming project. It seems developers and contractors have been taking advantage of this loophole, submitting the wrong permits that promise to save existing houses and instead tear down the structures, saving just a couple of two by fours and nails. 

One member explained how the city eases the path for developers. The zoning administrator can give bonuses and enforcement is discretionary at best. When neighbors have called to complain that builders are “breaking laws and mandates, Building and Safety makes excuses that they’re understaffed.” 

In one case, the yard of a home next to a project was flooded and developed mold. The neighbor called 311 but the employee refused to take a report. “As per Krekorian’s MO, the developer demolished without a permit. There was to be a cultural hearing the very next day,” said the frustrated member. Although Vince Bertoni, former head of Pasadena’s Planning and Community Development Department, has replaced Michael LoGrande as planning director, little seems to have changed. 

The rash of demolitions in Valley Village and nearby areas has led to environmental concerns, a loss of oak trees and historic properties, as well as rental evictions, a dearth of affordable housing units and increased traffic, all concerns for Save Valley Village residents who were preparing for a public hearing to address the Horace Heidt Estates apartments’ proposed expansion on Magnolia and Hazeltine. 

Another project addressed was the Hermitage/Weddington project. Per Save Valley Village, Urban-Blox (Raffi Shirinian, David Dual) has decided to move forward with the planning project. 

A 21-year resident is in litigation with property owners because “their grandson tried to sell the property to developers behind her back, aware that the owners had an agreement to sell to her.” The resident “has lived, run, and breathed this property and was very close to the original owner who had built it.” 

The developers now propose to remove a public street, demolish a single family home with guest house, a rent-controlled triplex, and another five units in one of the first buildings that was developed in 1934. The ensuing project would also destroy over three dozen trees. 

Community members attended the first public hearing on March 29 in opposition. Save Valley Village turned in over 200 pages of evidence of non-compliance, requiring the developers to do a full EIR. They also turned in piles of letters in opposition from the community, historians, naturalists, arbor consultants, non-profits and “all kinds of public voices.” Each of the hearing attendees signed a pink sheet that promised delivery of a letter of determination, listing the time frame for appeal. Once that date has passed, there’s no chance for appeal. 

As of last week, not a single resident has received a letter of determination, which the city claims to have mailed. In fact, not a single resident even received notice of the initial March hearing. Save Valley Village is unable to file appeals as of yet without sending a representative to the department of planning, which is charging for copies on top of making it difficult to access the information. 

“We lost three buildings down the street, a total of 19 rent-controlled units, because nothing was posted anywhere. The city has refused to show us records and made it impossible to appeal the project,” shares a disgruntled member. “They have also destroyed 14 trees, which had bird nests in them. Birds are still circling where their home was. Urban-Blox has never actually built anything. They work with a guy named Steve Nazemmi who is in a dozen or so projects in Valley Village that he has demolished.” 

Although these skirmishes against developers seem to pop up like gophers or moles -- uphill battles with lack of transparency from developers, the city’s Planning Department and the Building and Safety departments -- Save Valley Village and other groups around the city are dedicated to continuing to protect neighborhoods and the quality of life in our city.



(Beth Cone Kramer is a successful Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.) Photo: LA Daily News. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

VOICE FOR OUR VETS--Brentwood School, the private elitist school for children of the wealthy and powerful ($37,000 tuition) has made national news that exposes its underlying racist attitude. Here are two examples: 

Brentwood School holds a privileged lease for its 25-acre athletic complex on Veterans VA property that was deeded exclusively as a National Home for disabled and homelessness Veterans.  Los Angeles is our nation's capital for homeless Veterans while Brentwood School's lease was adjudicated in Federal Court to be "unauthorized by law and therefore void." 

The VA, along with Brentwood School, appealed the Judgment.  VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald met privately behind closed doors with two of his personal wealthy and powerful friends -- Bobby Shriver and Ron Olson -- both are attorneys and neither are Veterans, and they unilaterally agreed to vacate the Judgment with a counterfeit settlement agreement that promised to end Veteran homelessness by the end of December 31, 2015.  

Los Angeles is still our nation's capital for homeless Veterans and Skid Row is the capital for all homeless in Los Angeles with more than 90% being Black, that includes countless war-injured and impoverished U.S. Military Veterans that need to be housed and cared for on this land instead of Brentwood School's athletic complex, UCLA's baseball diamond, City of Los Angeles's "rent free" public dog park, etc. 

While the federal judgment was fraudulently vacated, Brentwood School has plans to expand its athletic complex instead of being evicted.  Now the School has been embarrassingly exposed for student's racist assault on Blacks and the Los Angeles VA is complicit in all of this. 

Bobby Shriver has a very serious conflict-of-interest as he has children that attend Brentwood School and he must be banned from any participation of any nature on Los Angeles VA property. 

The VA police have special privileges to use the Brentwood School athletic complex while all Veterans in general are prohibited from entering on property deeded in their exclusive behalf, and there's a so-called "sharing agreement."  

This is disgracefully corrupt and Mr. McDonald along with Ann Brown, executive director of the Los Angeles VA, must resign or be fired posthaste. 

The most corrupt VA in the nation continues to get more corrupt, and now it allows racist tenants on VA property with a "sharing agreement" that has been adjudicated "unauthorized by law and therefore void." 

These same corrupt co-conspirators continue to ignore their responsibility and promise to end Veteran homelessness in Los Angeles. 

Speak up and demand CHANGE at the Los Angeles VA. 

God Bless America and the Veterans Revolution!

(Robert Rosebrock is Director of The Veterans Revolution, Captain of the Old Veterans Guard, and Director of We the Veterans … and a occasional contributor to CityWatch)

-cw

 

TALKIN’ TRASH--It was only Tuesday but it was shaping up to be another great week in LA. The transformational LA happening, CicLAvia Southeast Cities was on the books, having blessed Huntington Park, Walnut Park, Southgate, Florence-Firestone, Lynwood and Watts, with its boundless energy and the joy of ten miles of car-free streets. 

Like earlier CicLAvias, this one introduced thousands of Angelenos to neighborhoods many knew nothing about -- other than the evening news’ caricature of drug- and crime-infested areas unsafe at any time of day. 

And the beat goes on with Metro’s Expo Line opening to Santa Monica this Friday. 

At times like this, everything seems so possible in the capital of the Best Coast. 

So why is it so hard for the City of Los Angeles to take care of the little things like picking up the trash?

Last week I took a walk from my apartment near Olympic and Western in Koreatown north through the neighborhood and East Hollywood to Sunset Blvd and Normandie and back again. What I saw wasn’t pretty. In the years that I have lived in Koreatown I can’t believe the things I have seen people do with their trash. 

The rodent-infested homeless encampment under the 101 near Monroe at Normandie is emblematic of our problem. But heaps of trash and discarded furniture on Hobart, Harvard, Ardmore, Kingsley and other area streets also attest to our utter failure to conquer what should be a relatively modest challenge for City Hall. 

I love, and regularly use, MyLA 311, the City’s excellent free app for reporting bulky item pickup and other services. And it works well. But clearly, not everyone is using the simple app. 

Nor should they have to. L.A. Sanitation is out and about, or should be, all of the time. Why should Sanitation workers wait for a call that may never come telling them that some bonehead has left his transmission on the curb? If you see something, say (and DO) something should apply to LASanitation as well as transit riders and airline passengers. 

Like dogs, too many Angelenos seem to use their rubbish to mark their territory. Too many of us throw our beer cans, bottles, diapers, condoms, butts and worse out the windows of our cars and trucks onto the street. Or maybe they just open the door, dump out their trash and drive away. Or not. How do I know? I’ve witnessed it again and again. 

If only there were a special place in hell for people who don’t know how to treat Mother Earth. Are the schools in LA and in all U.S. cities and other countries we Angelenos come from really so bad that they don’t teach students to put trash in bins and not on the streets? It’s a miracle that the polluters haven’t yet killed off all of our flora and fauna with the oozing motor oil and car parts they leave behind after the lube job at Joe’s Curbside Auto Repair. 

Where is LA Sanitation, Code Enforcement and the LAPD when these “people” are dumping their auto parts and construction debris on our streets and the empty lot across the street? 

I know the dumping in KTown by locals and visitors pales in comparison to what the fracking and coal companies are doing to the world on a daily basis, but it still sucks. 

Sure, keeping our city clean is a partnership and the public has a big role to play. But it’s also a basic city service and if the government can’t take care of the little stuff like litter, how can it expect us to have any confidence in its management of the real challenges like jobs, the economy, schools, policing, homeless services, transit and infrastructure? 

I like our gifted, committed Mayor and many members of the City Council. But don’t they see what I see every day out my window? Don’t they believe in sanctioning illegal dumping and enforcing the law? Don’t they believe in accountability at LA.Sanitation? And when will we see those promised regularly serviced trash and recycling bins on our streets? 

Cleanstat, the Bureau of Sanitation’s cleanliness scoring of every street in the City (they drove all of LA’s public streets and alleys) is a work of art; but our streets aren’t. 

Now is the time to get out and pick up the trash. Garbage collection and enforcement can change our landscape and mother knows we need to. 

According to the Cleanstat website, Los Angeles is leading the way as the only big city in the U.S. conducting a regular cleanliness assessment of every city street. 

Assessments are nice, but I don’t need no stinkin’ assessment. I can smell it.

 

(Joel Epstein is a senior advisor to companies, law firms, foundations and public initiatives on communications strategy, corporate social responsibility (CSR), recruiting and outreach. He is a contributor to CityWatch and can be contacted at joel.epstein@gmail.com. Follow Joel Epstein on Twitter: www.twitter.com/thejoelepstein.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

EDITOR’S PICK--Congratulations, college graduates! As you enter the next phase of life, you and your parents should be proud of your achievements.

But, I’m sorry to say, they’ve come at a price: The system is trying to squeeze you harder than any previous generation.

Many baby boomers, perhaps including your parents, benefited from a time when higher education was seen as a shared social responsibility. Between 1945 and 1975, tens of millions of them graduated from college with little or no debt.

But now, tens of millions of you are graduating with astounding levels of debt.

This year, seven in 10 graduating seniors borrowed for their educations. Their average debt is now over $37,000 — the highest figure for any class ever.

Already, some 43 percent of borrowers — together owing $200 billion — have either stopped making payments or are behind on their student loans. Millions are in default.

This debt casts a long shadow on the finances of graduates. During the last quarter of 2015 alone, the Education Department moved to garnish $176 million in wages.

There’s no economic benefit to this system whatsoever. Indebted students delay starting families and buying houses, experience compounding economic distress, and are less inclined to take entrepreneurial risks.

One driver of the change from your parents’ generation has been tax cuts for the wealthy, which have led to cuts in higher education budgets. Forty-seven states now spend less per student on higher education than they did before the 2008 economic recession.

In effect, we’re shifting tax obligations away from multi-millionaires and onto states and middle-income taxpayers. And that’s led colleges to rely on higher tuition costs and fees.

In 2005, for instance, Congress stopped sharing revenue from the estate tax — a levy on inherited wealth exclusively paid by multi-million dollar estates — with the states. Most state legislatures failed to replace it at the state level, costing them billions in revenue over the last decade.

In fact, the 32 states that let their estate taxes expire are foregoing between $3 to $6 billion a year, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates. The resulting tax benefits have gone entirely to multi-millionaires and billionaires — and contributed to tuition increases.

For example, California used to raise almost $1 billion a year in revenue from its state-level estate tax. Now that figure is down to zero. And since 2008, average tuition has increased over $3,500 at four-year public colleges and universities in the state.

Florida, meanwhile, lost $700 million a year — and raised tuition nearly $2,500. Michigan lost $155 million a year and hiked average tuition $2,200.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Washington State went the opposite route.

Washington taxes wealthy estates and dedicates the $150 million it raises each year to an education legacy trust account, which supports K-12 education and the state’s community college system. Other states should follow this model, and students and parents should take the lead in demanding it.

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said at a Philadelphia town hall that there’s one thing he’s 100 percent certain about.

If millions of young people stood up and said they’re “sick and tired of leaving college $30,000, $50,000, $70,000 in debt, that they want public colleges and universities tuition-free,” he predicted, “that is exactly what would happen.”

Sanders is right: Imagine a political movement made up of the 40 million households that currently hold $1.2 trillion in debt.

If we stood up and pressed for policies to eliminate millionaire tax breaks and dedicate the revenue to debt-free education, it would change the face of America.

Graduates, let’s get to work.

(Chuck Collins directs the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies. Provided CityWatch by OtherWords.org.

-cw

EDITOR’S PICK--During the past academic year, an upsurge of student activism, a movement of millennials, has swept campuses across the country and attracted the attention of the media. From coast to coast, from the Ivy League to state universities to small liberal arts colleges, a wave of student activism has focused on stopping climate change, promoting a living wage, fighting mass incarceration practices, supporting immigrant rights, and of course campaigning for Bernie Sanders.

Both the media and the schools that have been the targets of some of these protests have seized upon certain aspects of the upsurge for criticism or praise, while ignoring others. Commentators, pundits, and reporters have frequently trivialized and mocked the passion of the students and the ways in which it has been directed, even as universities have tried to appropriate it by promoting what some have called “neoliberal multiculturalism.” Think of this as a way, in particular, of taming the power of the present demands for racial justice and absorbing them into an increasingly market-oriented system of higher education.

In some of their most dramatic actions, students of color, inspired in part by the Black Lives Matter movement, have challenged the racial climate at their schools. In the process, they have launched a wave of campus activism, including sit-ins, hunger strikes, demonstrations, and petitions, as well as emotional, in-your-face demands of various sorts. One national coalition of student organizations, the Black Liberation Collective, has called for the percentage of black students and faculty on campus to approximate that of blacks in the society. It has also called for free tuition for black and Native American students, and demanded that schools divest from private prison corporations. Other student demands for racial justice have included promoting a living wage for college employees, reducing administrative salaries, lowering tuitions and fees, increasing financial aid, and reforming the practices of campus police. These are not, however, the issues that have generally attracted the attention either of media commentators or the colleges themselves.

Instead, the spotlight has been on student demands for cultural changes at their institutions that focus on deep-seated assumptions about whiteness, sexuality, and ability. At some universities, students have personalized these demands, insisting on the removal of specific faculty members and administrators. Emphasizing a politics of what they call “recognition,” they have also demanded that significant on-campus figures issue public apologies or acknowledge that “black lives matter.” Some want universities to implement in-class “trigger warnings” when difficult material is being presented and to create “safe spaces” for marginalized students as a sanctuary from the daily struggle with the mainstream culture. By seizing upon and responding to these (and only these) student demands, university administrators around the country are attempting to domesticate and appropriate this new wave of activism.

In the meantime, right-wing commentators have depicted students as coddled, entitled, and enemies of free speech. The libertarian right has launched a broad media critique of the current wave of student activism. Commentators have been quick to dismiss student protesters as over-sensitive and entitled purveyors of “academic victimology.” They lament the “coddling of the American mind.” The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf has termed students “misguided” in their protests against racist language, ideas, and assumptions, their targeting of “microaggression” (that is, unconscious offensive comments) and insensitivity, and their sometimes highly personal attacksagainst those they accuse. One of the most vocal critics of the new campus politics, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, argues that such rampant “liberalism” and “political correctness” violate academic freedom and freedom of speech. (In this, they are in accord with the liberal American Civil Liberties Union. Free speech advocates Daphne Patai and the ACLU’s Harvey Silvergate, for example, bemoan a new diversity requirement at the University of Massachusetts for its “politicization of education.”)

In a response that, under the circumstances, might at first seem surprising, college administrators have been been remarkably open to some of these student demands -- often the very ones derided by the right. In this way, the commentators and the administrators have tended to shine a bright light on what is both personal and symbolic in the new politics of the student protesters, while ignoring or downplaying their more structural and economically challenging desires and demands.

The Neoliberal University

University administrators have been particularly amenable to student demands that fit with current trends in higher education. Today’s neoliberal university is increasingly facing market pressures like loss of state funding, privatization, rising tuition, and student debt, while promoting a business model that emphasizes the managerial control of faculty through constant “assessment,” emphasis on “accountability,” and rewards for “efficiency.” Meanwhile, in a society in which labor unions are constantly being weakened, the higher education labor force is similarly being -- in the term of the moment -- “flexibilized” through the weakening of tenure, that once ironclad guarantee of professorial lifetime employment, and the increased use of temporary adjunct faculty.

In this context, universities are scrambling to accommodate student activism for racial justice by incorporating the more individualized and personal side of it into increasingly depoliticized cultural studies programs and business-friendly, market-oriented academic ways of thinking. Not surprisingly, how today’s students frame their demands often reflects the environment in which they are being raised and educated. Postmodern theory, an approach which still reigns in so many liberal arts programs, encourages textual analysis that reveals hidden assumptions encoded in words; psychology has popularized the importance of individual trauma; and the neoliberal ideologythat has come to permeate so many schools emphasizes individual behavior as the most important agent for social change. Add together these three strands of thought, now deeply embedded in a college education, and injustice becomes a matter of the wrongs individuals inflict on others at a deeply personal level. Deemphasized are the policies and structures that are built into how society (and the university) works.

For this reason, while schools have downplayed or ignored student demands for changes in admissions, tuition, union rights, pay scales, and management prerogatives, they have jumped into the heated debate the student movement has launched over “microaggressions” -- pervasive, stereotypical remarks that assume whiteness as a norm and exoticize people of color, while taking for granted the white nature of institutions of higher learning. As part of the present wave of protest, students of color have, for instance, highlighted their daily experiences of casual and everyday racism -- statements or questions like “where are you from?” (when the answer is: the same place you’re from) or “as a [fill in the blank], how do you feel about...” Student protests against such comments, especially when they are made by professors or school administrators, and the mindsets that go with them are precisely what the right is apt to dismiss as political correctness run wild and university administrations are embracing as the essence of the present on-campus movement.

At Yale, the Intercultural Affairs Committee advised students to avoid racially offensive Halloween costumes. When a faculty member and resident house adviser circulated an email critiquing the paternalism of such an administrative mandate, student protests erupted calling for her removal. While Yale declined to remove her from her post as a house adviser, she stepped down from her teaching position. At Emory, students protested the “pain” they experienced at seeing “Trump 2016” graffiti on campus, and the university president assured them that he “heard [their] message... about values regarding diversity and respect that clash with Emory’s own.” Administrators are scrambling to implement new diversity initiatives and on-campus training programs -- and hiring expensive private consulting firms to help them do so.

At the University of Missouri, the president and chancellor both resigned in the face of student protests including a hunger strike and a football team game boycott in the wake of racial incidents on campus including public racist slurs and symbols. So did the dean of students at Claremont McKenna College (CMC), when protest erupted over her reference to students (implicitly of color) who “don’t fit our CMC mold.”

Historian and activist Robin Kelley suggests that today’s protests, even as they “push for measures that would make campuses more hospitable to students of color: greater diversity, inclusion, safety, and affordability,” operate under a contradictory logic that is seldom articulated. To what extent, he wonders, does the student goal of “leaning in” and creating more spaces for people of color at the top of an unequal and unjust social order clash with the urge of the same protesters to challenge that unjust social order?

Kelley argues that the language of “trauma” and mental health that has come to dominate campuses also works to individualize and depoliticize the very idea of racial oppression. The words “trauma, PTSD, micro-aggression, and triggers,” he points out, “have virtually replaced oppression, repression, and subjugation.” He explains that, “while trauma can be an entrance into activism, it is not in itself a destination and may even trick activists into adopting the language of the neoliberal institutions they are at pains to reject.” This is why, he adds, for university administrators, diversity and cultural competency initiatives have become go-to solutions that “shift race from the public sphere into the psyche” and strip the present round of demonstrations of some of their power.

Cultural Politics and Inequality

In recent years, cultural, or identity, politics has certainly challenged the ways that Marxist and other old and new left organizations of the past managed to ignore, or even help reproduce, racial and gender inequalities. It has questioned the value of class-only or class-first analysis on subjects as wide-ranging as the Cuban Revolution -- did it successfully address racial inequality as it redistributed resources to the poor, or did it repress black identity by privileging class analysis? -- and the Bernie Sanders campaign -- will his social programs aimed at reducing economic inequality alleviate racial inequality by helping the poor, or will his class-based project leave the issue of racial inequality in the lurch? In other words, the question of whether a political project aimed at attacking the structures of economic inequality can also advance racial and gender equality is crucial to today’s campus politics.

Put another way, the question is: How political is the personal? Political scientist Adolph Reed argues that if class is left out, race politics on campus becomes “the politics of the left-wing of neoliberalism.” As he puts it, race-first politics of the sort being pushed today by university administrators promotes a “moral economy... in which 1% of the population controlled 90% of the resources could be just, provided that roughly 12% of the 1% were black, 12% were Latino, 50% were women, and whatever the appropriate proportions were LGBT people.”

The student movement that has swept across the nation has challenged colleges and universities on the basics of their way of (quite literally) doing business. The question for these institutions now is: Can student demands largely be tamed and embedded inside an administration-sanctioned agenda that in no way undermines how schools now operate in the world?

Feminist theorist Nancy Fraser has shown how feminist ideas of a previous generation were successfully “recuperated by neoliberalism” -- that is, how they were repurposed as rationales for greater inequality. “Feminist ideas that once formed part of a radical worldview,” she argues, are now “increasingly expressed in individualist terms.” Feminist demands for workplace access and equal pay have, for example, been used to undermine worker gains for a “family wage,” while a feminist emphasis on gender equality has similarly been used on campus to divert attention from growing class inequality.

Student demands for racial justice risk being absorbed into a comparable framework. University administrators have found many ways to use student demands for racial justice to strengthen their business model and so the micro-management of faculty. In one case seized upon by free-speech libertarians, the Brandeis administration placed an assistant provost in a classroom to monitor a professor after students accused him of using the word “wetback” in a Latin American politics class. More commonly, universities employ a plethora of consulting firms and create new administrative positions to manage “diversity” and “inclusion.” Workshops and training sessions proliferate, as do “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings.” Such a vision of “diversity” is then promoted as a means to prepare students to compete in the “global marketplace.”

There are even deeper ways in which a diversity agenda aligns with neoliberal politics. Literary theorist Walter Benn Michaels argues, for example, that diversity can give a veneer of social justice to ideas about market competition and meritocracy that in reality promote inequality. “The rule in neoliberal economies is that the difference between the rich and the poor gets wider rather than shrinks -- but that no culture should be treated invidiously,” he explains. “It’s basically OK if economic differences widen as long as the increasingly successful elites come to look like the increasingly unsuccessful non-elites. So the model of social justice is not that the rich don’t make as much and the poor make more, the model of social justice is that the rich make whatever they make, but an appropriate percentage of them are minorities or women.” Or as Forbes Magazine put it, “Businesses need to vastly increase their ability to sense new opportunities, develop creative solutions, and move on them with much greater speed. The only way to accomplish these changes is through a revamped workplace culture that embraces diversity so that sensing, creativity, and speed are all vastly improved.”

Clearly, university administrators prefer student demands that can be coopted or absorbed into their current business model. Allowing the prevailing culture to define the parameters of their protest has left the burgeoning Millennial Movement in a precarious position. The more that students -- with the support of college and university administrations -- accept the individualized cultural path to social change while forgoing the possibility of anything greater than cosmetic changes to prevailing hierarchies, on campus and beyond, the more they face ridicule from those on the right who present them as fragile, coddled, privileged whiners.

Still, this young, vibrant movement has momentum and will continue to evolve. In this time of great social and political flux, it’s possible that its many constituencies -- fighting for racial justice, economic justice, and climate justice -- will use their growing clout to build on recent victories, no matter how limited.

Keep an eye on college campuses. The battle for the soul of American higher education being fought there today is going to matter for the wider world tomorrow. Whether that future will be defined by a culture of trigger warnings and safe spaces or by democratized education and radical efforts to fight inequality may be won or lost in the shadow of the Ivory Tower. The Millennial Movement matters. Our future is in their hands.

(Aviva Chomsky is professor of history and coordinator of Latin American studies at Salem State University in Massachusetts and a TomDispatchregular. Her most recent book is Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal. 

 

Tags: 

JUST SAYIN’--To what extent is the popularity of Donald Trump linked to generations of Americans being purposefully undereducated in what remains a de facto segregated and inherently inferior public school system. Has this public non-education system been designed to assure that the vast majority of this country's population never reaches their intellectual potential, where they might actually have the ability to challenge those in power? Does the candidacy of a Donald Trump count on the fact that those in power will continue to delude themselves with the notion that two plus two must equal four, even if it is clearly no longer the case for the now uneducated majority of our population that chooses to deny it and support Trump. 

Unfettered by logic or the rational processes that a first-rate public education might have given them, all this majority of Americans know or sense is that they have been systematically screwed by corporate agendized government policies that remain the same irrespective of whether they are carried out by the Democrat or Republican elites. 

So now these folks surrogate in the person of Donald Trump comes along with clearly irrational and simplistic ideas purposefully tailored to appeal to the uneducated now majority that has been so long systematically degraded by what remains the unaccountable and self-dealing power elite. For anybody who bothered to look, Trump's power derives from his putting into words the rage that those who support him feel, but don't have the education to understand. 

Trump's carefully constructed candidacy is not an accident, but rather the melding of the fantasy world of The Apprentice- where this exploited majority has sought refuge from their objectively intolerable daily existent- and the present reality of Donald Trump as presumptive Republican presidential candidate with a good shot at winning, if those in power keep attacking him without offering any viable alternative. 

Like the Greek mythology story of Antaeus, who only got stronger when Hercules fought and slammed him into his mother the earth goddess Gaia, Trump will only get stronger in the eyes of his long marginalized supporters if those in opposition just keep attacking him without offering any substantive redress of their grievances. 

And yet, all the terrified and corrupt supposedly rational masters of the American political system continue to do is unleash a never ending and exaggerated corporate media attack on Trump without having the insight to understand that such an attack will not only be discounted by the masses supporting Trump, but will actually be seen by them as Trump's vindication in getting a response and engagement from those in power who never paid them any attention. 

Add to this Trump's understanding that his politically incorrect positions on race, gender, and other hot button issues are actually more in tune with the reality of the real world that the majority of men and women live in. This unfair daily reality that people are at least tacitly forced to accept gives Trump a more realistic appearance than some idealized equitable reality cited by a Hillary Clinton, which remains somehow inexplicably unattained after all these years- except in an election year. The making of a national holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King rings hollow, when we take notice of just how divided our country still remains. 

People who support Trump might be ignorant, but they are not stupid when it comes to knowing that by every indicator of well-being women, minorities, the working class, the middle class, and the elderly are worse off today with no chance of improvement as long as the Republicrats stay in power without any accountability. All Trump does is express and exploit the disparities of opportunity and wealth between his supporters and those in power. One might say he is the only rich guy that is listening to them. 

Clearly the candidacy and some of the proposals of Bernie Sanders to create an equitable public education system, a single-payer healthcare system, and an FDR-like New Deal to revitalize the crumbling infrastructure of this country would go a long way to meaningfully undermining Trump's exasperated base. But Bernie Sanders has never been a serious candidate...or at least that's what the corporate controlled mainstream media keeps telling us.

 

(Leonard Isenberg is a Los Angeles observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He was a second generation teacher at LAUSD and blogs at perdaily.com. Leonard can be reached at Lenny@perdaily.com)

-cw

 

EDITOR’S PICK-- An unexpected medical bill or a dip in the stock market would be all it took to send two-thirds of Americans into financial distress, according to a new poll that finds lingering lack of confidence in the U.S. economy. 

Despite reports of falling unemployment, growing wages, and rising consumer confidence, a full 57 percent of respondents to the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey describe the national economy as poor. Only 22 percent of people say the economy has mostly or completely recovered from the Great Recession.

And while 66 percent of Americans describe their current financial situation as "good"—suggesting they are able to pay their regular bills, go out to eat more, and think about buying a new car or house—the picture is decidedly "precarious," as the Associated Press puts it.

"Even though there are signs that the economy has improved in recent years, a lot of people are not feeling that the recovery has reached them,” said Trevor Tompson, director of The AP-NORC Center. "There is evidence of optimism among the more affluent, but two-thirds of Americans would have trouble immediately paying an unanticipated bill of $1,000."

Indeed, according to the AP, "these financial difficulties span all income levels":

Seventy-five percent of people in households making less than $50,000 a year would have difficulty coming up with $1,000 to cover an unexpected bill. But when income rose to between $50,000 and $100,000, the difficulty decreased only modestly to 67 percent.

Even for the country's wealthiest 20 percent — households making more than $100,000 a year — 38 percent say they would have at least some difficulty coming up with $1,000.

"The more we learn about the balance sheets of Americans, it becomes quite alarming," Caroline Ratcliffe, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute focusing on poverty and emergency savings issues, told the AP.

What's more, most employed Americans have not seen a salary increase in recent years; less than a third have confidence they would be able to find equal or better employment if they left their current position; and few workers expect to have enough savings to retire on their own timetable.

"It's just real shaky right now," said Dorothy Mszanski, 60, a former steelworker who had to retire on disability, to the AP. "It's like nobody can figure out what to do."

The People's Budget, released earlier this year by the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), spoke directly to this unease, aiming to fix "an economy that, for too long, has failed to provide the opportunities American families need to get ahead."

"Despite their skills and work ethic," the CPC said in a statement at the time, "most American workers and families are so financially strapped from increasing income inequality that their paychecks barely cover basic necessities."

In its analysis of the proposal, the Economic Policy Institute declared: "The People’s Budget aims to improve the economic well-being of low- and middle-income families by finally closing the persistent jobs gap that has plagued the U.S. economy since the Great Recession began."

(Deirdre Fulton writes for Common Dreams  … where this piece first appeared.)

-cw

SPORTS POLITICS--That’s béisbol. In English or Spanish, that’s baseball, the hallowed institution that serves to remind us of the way we were in those innocent days when George Halas’ Chicago Bears were the Decatur Staleys, named after the local corn-processing magnate in the little Illinois town, population 43,818.

Times have changed in sports and life, but the brawl between the Texas Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays suggests how slowly change happens in our national pastime. 

Underlying the feud between the teams was a bat flip by Toronto’s Jose Bautista after his three-run homer in the deciding Game 5 of the 2015 American League Division series, a grandiloquent gesture—more so because it was in the postseason on national TV—that was either iconic or will live forever in baseball infamy.

Underlying that is the ongoing and only occasionally acknowledged rift between U.S. and Latino players.

This brawl started between two Latinos only because Rougned Odor, a Venezuelan, was in the path of Bautista, a Dominican, who was hit by a pitch likely ordered up by Texas manager Jeff Bannister, who waited until Bautista’s last at-bat in the teams’ last regular season meeting to get even for last fall’s bat flip. 

The bad feelings with the longstanding Latino-Anglo divide, however, go a lot further back than last fall.

Baseball takes great pride in its history of integration. After decades of being for whites only, the league now presents itself as a social pioneer with an annual Jackie Robinson Day in which everyone dons his No. 42.

Meanwhile, baseball takes little or no cognizance of its current problem.

The problem isn’t that Latinos are being barred. On the contrary, with most Latinos signed outside the draft process, giving the game a steady stream of cheap, dirt-poor, hungry, blue-chip prospects, there are more of them—29 percent of the major league players in 2016.

Acceptance is something else. Latinos are living in a time like African-Americans did in the 1950s and 1960s—after Robinson’s arrival, but before everyone realized there was no other way—and the Red Sox became the last to integrate, with infielder Pumpsie Green in 1959.

What’s in people’s hearts changes at its own pace, and in baseball, it’s a slow one.

Robinson retired in 1956 after the Dodgers, who had been praised as liberal pioneers, traded him to their archrival, the Giants.

Viable as Robinson was commercially—he was hired as a vice president by Chock full o’Nuts—he had no place in baseball until becoming a part-time Montreal Expos broadcaster in 1972.

You can argue whether the divide between U.S. and Latino players is racial or cultural, but there’s no doubt that it’s there.

As chronicled by Matt McCarthy, a pitcher in the Angels system, in his 2009 book, “Odd Man Out,” Latinos dominated on the field and went their own way off it.

“Separate but equal,” was how [teammate] Blake Allen described the team dynamic to me. ... “You’ve got your Dominicans and you’ve got everybody else. You don’t want anything to do with the Dominicans. They’re loud, they have no respect for nobody and for God’s sake, don’t ever go in the shower when they in there.”

The team was in fact divided between the Dominicans (a catchall phrase for Hispanic players) and those of us from the United States. There were a dozen Dominicans on our team from Venezuela, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Panama and, yes, the Dominican Republic. And Blake was right. They were loud and didn’t speak English.

Just 17 or 18 years old, many had been snatched out of poverty within the last year and signed to lucrative six-figure contracts. Wearing large smiles, larger gold chains and designer sunglasses, they seemed to be playing life with Monopoly money. ...

“But I tell ya what [Allen told McCarthy], in every goddamn town we go to this year, the Dominicans will have fat white girls waiting for them.”

Anonymous as McCarthy was—his 2002 season in Provo, Utah, was his only one in organized professional baseball, after which he graduated from Harvard Medical School—his story was too nitty-gritty to go down easily with the powers that be.

The New York Times noted McCarthy’s manifold errors of fact, noting that he quotes “people stating incorrect facts about their own lives and tells detailed (and mostly unflattering) stories about teammates who were in fact not on his team at the time.”

The Times went on to ask the publisher, Viking Press, and Sports Illustrated, which ran an excerpt, about its fact-checking lapses.

Nevertheless, as far as the big picture—the disturbing accounts of prejudice—is concerned, the Times article didn’t deal with McCarthy’s credibility or lack thereof.

Actually, the Anglo-Latino divide McCarthy cited dovetails with other accounts.

In a 2014 piece for Bleacher Report, Dirk Hayhurst, who pitched briefly in the majors and was hired as an in-house correspondent by the Blue Jays, quoted an elderly scout, noting, “This team has too many Latinos on it to win. Get too many of them together on a club and they take over.”

You could have heard that one about Latinos in baseball 50 years before.

In 1960, Look Magazine did a cover story about the Giants, the Blue Jays of their day with all their African-American (Willie Mays, Willie McCovey) and Latino (Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda, Felipe Alou, Matty Alou) stars. The handsome Cepeda, known as the Baby Bull, was on the cover, naked from the waist up.

The story, however, was anything but a puff piece. In it, manager Alvin Dark said Cepeda wasn’t the team player that Mays was, claiming Harvey Kuenn and Jim Davenport were more important to the team than Cepeda was.

The deeply religious Dark once stated that God didn’t create everyone equal, insisting that He “gave every race and ethnic group special attributes.”

No manager would dare say such things now. But it’s not necessarily progress, just political correctness.

A 2015 USA Today study showed that 87 percent of the bench-clearing brawls of the previous five seasons started between players of different ethnic backgrounds. Of those, Anglo-Latino square-offs accounted for 66 percent.

Bud Norris, a Padres pitcher—and an Anglo—told USA Today’s Jorge Ortiz that the numbers weren’t coincidental.

“This is America’s game,” Norris said. “This is America’s pastime, and over the last 10-15 years, we’ve seen a very big world influence in this game, which we as a union and as players appreciate. We’re opening this game to everyone that can play. However, if you’re going to come into our country and make our American dollars, you need to respect a game that has been here for over a hundred years, and I think sometimes that can be misconstrued. There are some players that have antics, that have done things over the years that we don’t necessarily agree with.

“I understand you want to say it’s a cultural thing or an upbringing thing. But by the time you get to the big leagues, you better have a pretty good understanding of what this league is and how long it’s been around.”

If this fire has smoldered for decades, Bautista’s bat flip was like hooking up a gasoline pipeline to it.

Hidebound intolerance came out of the shadows in reaction, taking the form of a defense of the game’s cultural norms.

“Bautista is a f—-ing disgrace to the game,” Goose Gossage, the ’80s reliever with the menacing Fu Manchu moustache, told ESPN in March at the Yankees’ camp where he was an instructor.

“He’s embarrassing to all the Latin players, whoever played before him. Throwing his bat and acting like a fool, like all those guys in Toronto. Yoenis Cespedes [of the Mets], same thing.”

Showing how deep feelings ran, Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt, a traditionalist but one a good deal calmer than Gossage, said it showed “flagrant disrespect for the game.”

Gossage, an equal-opportunity hater, also ripped Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred.

“The game is becoming a freaking joke because of the nerds who are running it,” said Gossage. “I’ll tell you what has happened, these guys played rotisserie baseball at Harvard or wherever the f—- they went, and they thought they figured the f—-ing game out. They don’t know s—-.”

You may notice there’s a lot of anger in baseball, which asserts itself in defense of The Code, an all-but-biblical summary of what a player can’t do without “Disrespecting the Game,” and what happens if he does.

To encapsulate it:

If you’re winning by a lot, you had better not do anything to upset the other team, like stealing a base or even taking too big a swing, let alone getting a big hit in a close game and making the opponent feel even worse by celebrating the wrong way.

The whole thing is a joke. Everyone talks as if Moses came down from Mount Sinai with The Code engraved on stone tablets.

Unfortunately, no two teams can agree on what The Code is from day to day, leading to beaucoup disagreements in the form of brawls, beanballs, near beanballs, takeout slides, et al.

Players don’t talk about a code in the National Football League and the National Hockey League, which are more violent, or the National Basketball Association, where huge players could do major damage to each other if so inclined.

NBA players used to brawl, but do so no longer, barred by then-commissioner David Stern after the 2004 Auburn Hills riot. As much as fans in all sports like a little discreet violence, the NBA has gotten on nicely without it.

If that’s the enlightened approach, baseball differs by 180 degrees.

Bautista’s flip triggered such an outcry, commissioner Manfred was obliged to comment.

Manfred, a graduate of Harvard Law like those other nerds Gossage cited, noted:

“If I were a player I wouldn’t do that. What [Bautista] did did not offend me. It was a very, very exciting moment at a point in time of great excitement for that particular franchise, one that hadn’t been a great team for a long time. You know, it’s one of those moments that happens, and it’s exciting, people liked it, and probably on balance, it’s good for the game.”

Unfortunately for Manfred, there isn’t much he can do, even if he wanted to. The baseball commissioner is the weakest of the four commissioners in the major U.S. leagues. The game has been run at the pleasure of the players’ union since then-commissioner Bud Selig called its bluff and had to cancel the 1994 World Series.

Not that it takes much to touch off a spark among baseball players who tend to be angry and, when crossed, menacing.

Having covered all four major sports, I thought of my time on baseball as sport journalism’s version of Hunter Thompson going out to cover the Hell’s Angels.

Despite their immense size, NFL players are well mannered in comparison, members of a rigidly hierarchical system. NBA players are flashy and a delight, with no problem if rivals show off to their heart’s content. NHL players are as unpretentious as your next-door neighbor.

Happily for baseball, that suggests its problems with Latinos are, indeed, cultural rather than racial. If there were no Latinos in the game, the Anglos would just get mad about something else, as they did when Ty Cobb was honing his spikes long before players of color arrived.

Unhappily for baseball, the rift is deeply cultural, attitudinal and, in the absence of acknowledgment that the game has a problem, not going away.

(Mark Heisler is a former NBA at large reporter for the LA Times and Tribune chain. He blogs at truthdig.com where this article was first posted. Check out TruthDig.com for other writers and thinkers, Robert Scheer, Chris Hedges, Amy Goodman, Bill Boyarsky among them.)
-cw

 

 

 

GUEST WORDS--Because advertising is a barometer that often accurately measures America’s psychological atmosphere, attention must be paid to this: From May 23 through the presidential election, Budweiser beer will bear a different name. Eager to do its bit to make America great again, the brewer will replace the name “Budweiser” with “America” on its 12-ounce bottles and cans. 

The Financial Times says this is “a bid to capitalize on U.S. election fever.” (Before the Chicago Cubs bestrode the world like a colossus, T-shirts proclaimed “Cubs Fever: Catch it — and die.”) A beer bottle metaphysician at the brewer of soon-to-be America says, “We are embarking on what should be the most patriotic summer that this generation has ever seen.” This refers to the once-in-a-generation, light-the-sparklers opportunity to choose between two presidential candidates roundly disliked by American majorities. It is enough to drive one to drink something stronger than beer. 

Budweiser’s name change is part of an advertising campaign featuring the slogan “America is in your hands.” The brewer says this will “remind people … to embrace the optimism upon which the country was first built.” So, between now and Nov. 8, whenever you belly up to a bar, do your patriot duty by ordering a foamy mug of America. Nothing says “It’s morning in an America that is back and standing tall” quite like beer cans festooned with Americana by Anheuser-Busch InBev, a firm based in Leuven, Belgium, and run by a Brazilian. 

The beer brands most familiar to Americans — Budweiser, Miller, Coors — are foreign-owned. Want to win a round of cold Americans this summer? Wager that no one in the saloon can identify the American-owned brewer with the largest market share and say what that share is. The answer is: D.G. Yuengling & Son with just 1.4 percent of the market, slightly more than Boston Beer Co., which makes the Sam Adams brand. 

Years ago, historian Daniel Boorstin said that whereas Europeans went to market to get what they want, Americans go to discover what they want. Nowadays the market comes to customers everywhere via ubiquitous advertising, precious little of which is designed to create desires for new products. 

Beer commercials are not supposed to make viewers thirsty or to prompt them to buy beer rather than Buicks. Rather, the commercials’ primary purpose is to defend and expand a brand’s market share. They do this by giving particular beers distinctive personalities. By doing so, they stroke consumers’ psyches, drawing beer drinkers into what Boorstin called “consumption communities.” Consumers are moved to covet a product less for its intrinsic qualities than its manufactured meaning. Advertising does this by reducing its information content and increasing its emotional appeals. 

Budweiser is the “king of beers” — we know it is because Budweiser says it is — but will not be saying so during this advertising campaign. The slogan will be replaced by “E Pluribus Unum.” This is Latin for “Perhaps a gusher of patriotic kitsch will stanch the leakage of our market share to pestilential craft breweries.” 

America has more than 4,000 craft breweries. Most American adults — 235 million of them — live within 10 miles of a local brewery. And more than 40 percent of Americans 21-to-27 have never tasted Budweiser. They prefer craft beers (a craft brewer ships no more than 6 million barrels a year; Budweiser shipped 16 million in 2013, down from 50 million in 1988), which perhaps explains Budweiser’s current weirdly truculent commercials, such as this: “Proudly a macro beer. It’s not brewed to be fussed over. … It’s brewed for drinking, not dissecting. … Beer brewed the hard way. 

Let them sip their pumpkin peach ale.” And this: “Not small. Not sipped. Not soft. Not a fruit cup. Not imported.” Not cheerful. 

Last year, craft brewers, which are increasing at a rate of almost two a day, won 12.8 percent of the $105.9 billion beer market. And 2015 was the sixth consecutive year, and the 12th time in 15 years, in which beer’s portion of the nation’s alcohol revenue declined as more Americans drink cocktails like the characters on “Mad Men.” 

If, however, these aspiring Don Drapers hoist an America, they will have in their hands bottles and cans adorned with snippets of American Scripture — the Pledge of Allegiance, “The Star Spangled Banner” and “America the Beautiful.” The psalmist said that joy cometh in the morning. Fat lot the psalmist knew. Joy cometh in the evening when you crack a cold can of America and anticipate the thrills of the looming “patriotic summer.” Go ahead. It’s 5 o’clock somewhere.

 

(George Will is a national political columnist. His work appears regularly at Freedoms Back  … as did this piece.)

-cw

LA WATCHDOG--The reform and restructuring of the governance and operations of the our Department of Water and Power is intended to make our utility more nimble and efficient so that it is better able to address the increasing complex operational, organizational, technological, management, financial, and regulatory challenges it faces and will continue to face in a rapidly changing and increasingly complex environment.  At the same time, our engineering focused DWP must earn the trust, confidence, and respect of its 1.5 million Ratepayers by developing into a more customer centric and efficient enterprise.  

There are three areas of reform that have been discussed at multiple meetings throughout the City: 1) a more independent Board of Commissioners designed to limit the interference from the City Council and the Mayor, 2) improved contracting and procurement policies to eliminate overly burdensome overhead and layers of bureaucracy and red tape, and 3) the establishment of a DWP Human Resources Department for the Department’s 9,000 employees, separate and distinct from the City’s slow moving Personnel Department and City’s cumbersome civil service regulations. 

While there has been considerable discussion about the three areas of reform, there has been no meaningful discussion of the Transfer Fee/Tax because of the class action litigation alleging that this fee/tax is illegal because it violates Proposition 26 (the Supermajority Vote to Pass new Taxes and Fees) that was approved by California voters in 2010.  However, Councilmember Felipe Fuentes suggested that the Transfer Fee/Tax, which provided $267 million to the City’s coffers this year, be capped at its 2010 level of $221 million.  

On the other hand, a better idea would be to ask the voters to phase out the Transfer Fee/Tax over a 10 year period and waive the repayment of the $1.5 billion of illegal transfers made since 2011.  But to win over the voters, City Hall must be willing to reform its budget policies by agreeing to place on the ballot for our approval or rejection a charter amendment that will require the City to Live Within Its Means.** 

There also appears to an appetite by City Hall to hit up the Ratepayers to support other initiatives that are not part of the core mission of the Department. 

At Tuesday’s meeting of the City Council, Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, Chair of the Arts, Parks, and River Committee, proposed that DWP (read Ratepayers) subsidize the utility bill of the Department of Recreation and Parks to the tune of $20 million a year.  Mayor Garcetti also proposed to lower the rates for the Los Angeles Unified School District, DWP’s largest customer. 

While Recreation and Parks and LAUSD provide important public services, the Ratepayers should not be required to foot a portion of their utility bill.  This is not our responsibility.  Rather, these poorly managed government entities should feel the pain of the full impact of the recent $1 billion rate increase, just as we Ratepayers are forced to do. 

There are also others on the City Council and in the environmental community who are pushing the One Water agenda which would essentially put Ratepayers on the hook for financing a good chunk of the City’s $8 billion stormwater and urban runoff plan over the next 20 years.   This would deprive Angelenos of the right to approve or reject this massive project.   

There are others who want to expand the Department’s green agenda for the Power System without giving any consideration to the impact on the Ratepayers.  As it is, we are going to be hit with a $1 billion rate increase over the next 5 years plus another $150 million in new DWP related taxes.    

City Council President Herb Wesson has taken DWP reform under his wing, conducting a number of open meetings of the Rules Committee which he chairs.  He has also indicated that he intends to meet with labor and environmental groups, hopefully in open and transparent sessions where the public will be able to listen in and participate.  

We have yet to see any definitive ballot language.  This is disturbing since the ballot language needs to be determined within a month in order to be on the November ballot.  And as we all know, the devil is in the details, especially when it involves the politicians and their cronies who occupy City Hall. 

The reform and restructure of our Department of Water and Power will be a tough sell to the voters who do not trust or respect DWP and City Hall.  Rather than trying to do too much which will only complicate any ballot measure, the City Council and the Mayor (who has yet to come forward with any definitive thoughts) are strongly advised to follow the old KISS adage: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

+++

** The “Live Within Its Means” charter amendment, if approved by the voters, will require the City to develop and adhere to a Five Year Financial Plan; to pass two year balanced budgets based on Generally Accepted Accounting Principles; to benchmark the efficiency of its operations; to fully fund its pension plans within twenty years; to implement a twenty year plan to repair and maintain our streets, sidewalks, and the rest of our infrastructure; and to establish a fully funded Office of Transparency and Accountability to oversee the City’s finances and operations.

+++

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at:  lajack@gmail.com.)

-cw

 

LA WATCHDOG & POLL--More than likely, our Los Angeles Times will have a new owner as Gannett, the publisher of USA Today and the largest newspaper publisher in the country, has offered to buy Tribune, the owner of The Times and the Chicago Tribune, in an all cash deal for $15 a share, double the price of Tribune’s stock prior to the publication of Gannett’s initial offer of $12.25 a share on April 25.  

While Tribune’s newly installed, self-centered management and clueless directors may resist this very generous offer, most investors will be standing in line to sell their shares at this bonkers price.  At the same time, while Gannett is not an eleemosynary institution, our Los Angeles Times will be better off being free of Chicago based Tribune which has mismanaged The Times ever since Tribune acquired Times Mirror Corporation, the owner of our hometown paper, in 2000 for over $8 billion (including debt). 

It has been downhill ever since for The Times as the ivory tower know-it-alls from Chicago, armed with their MBAs and little else, dictated policy and cut costs, resulting in a LA Times that lost touch with Angelenos.  In 2007, the financial wizards that were running Tribune concocted a complicated leveraged buyout deal led by Sam Zell, a real estate magnate with a questionable reputation, which left Tribune with $13 billion in debt.  A year later, in December of 2008, an overleveraged Tribune filed for bankruptcy.  

Tribune emerged from a contentious bankruptcy in December of 2012, controlled by vulture capitalists whose wheeling and dealing resulted in the August of 2014 tax free spinoff of the Tribune Publishing, a newspaper company with dim prospects and almost $400 million in debt, from Tribune Media, a very profitable broadcasting company.  

At around the same time, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation and Gannett spun off their newspaper assets into publicly traded, debt free companies that were better able to transition from print publications to a more competitive digital world.  

About the only good news was that Tribune appointed Austin Beutner as Publisher of The Times in August of 2014.  His vision was local, to focus on the City, the County, and Southern California which included the synergistic acquisition of the San Diego Union Tribune.  But Beutner was canned in September of 2015 by Jack Griffin, Tribune’s power hungry CEO, who was unwilling to invest in local content or in developing a strong digital product. 

Beutner and other Angelenos made a run at returning The Times to local ownership, but they were rebuffed by Griffin and the Tribune Board of Directors. 

The LA Times needs a new owner, do you agree?
  • Votes: (0%)
  • Votes: (0%)
  • Votes: (0%)
  • Votes: (0%)
Total Votes:
First Vote:
Last Vote:
 

In February, 2016, Jack Griffin and the Tribune sold 5.2 million shares to Michael Ferro, a Chicago internet entrepreneur, for $8.50 a share.  This $44 million investment resulted in Ferro owning 16% of the Company.  Less than three weeks later, he canned Jack Griffin and took control of Tribune.  

[Note: If Ferro sells his shares at $15, he will have a profit of $34 million, a return on investment of 75% in less than 6 months.] 

Since Ferro seized control of Tribune, he attended the Oscars, snagging tickets meant for the news staff, and blew the synergistic acquisitions of the Orange County Register and the Press Enterprise in Riverside because he was the smartest guy in the room and was unwilling to listen to experienced advisors who knew how to navigate the antitrust issues.  

This transaction makes sense for Gannett, even if it is a high price given the poor business outlook for the newspaper industry.  Gannett, a publisher of daily newspapers for the most part in small and midsized markets, will acquire the papers in LA and Chicago, two of the three largest markets in the country, as well as papers serving Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, Baltimore, and Hartford.  

We need strong local coverage, because without it, “we’re gonna have corruption at a level we never experienced,” according to Bob Schieffer, the trusted TV journalist who was the moderator of Face the Nation (CBS) for 23 years.  And we all know that we cannot trust City Hall whose occupiers and their cronies are more than willing to sell us out to the real estate speculators and developers and the leaders of the City’s unions.  

We need to make a deal with Gannett, that in return for subscribing to the paper and its web site and supporting its advertisers, it will provide us with strong local coverage.  This support may also involve setting up charitable entities to sponsor journalists covering the City and its proprietary departments (DWP, LAX, and the Port), the County, LAUSD, our failing infrastructure, and underfunded pension plans. 

We need a vibrant Los Angeles Times, one with an institutional memory, properly staffed with inquiring journalists who are willing to spend the time protecting our interests from predatory politicians who have no respect for our wallets.  At the same time, the Times needs our support and our money. 

While we may not agree with The Times on all issues, the paper has helped defeat ballot measures that would have nicked us for billions.  These include its opposition to Measure B, Mayor Villaraigosa’s 2009 solar plan that was a payback for IBEW Union Bo$$ d’Arcy’s generous campaign contributions, or the ill-conceived effort in 2013 to increase our sales tax by a half cent to a mind boggling 9½%. 

Put another way, a few bucks here and there for The Times will save us billions if the Mayor, City Hall, and the newly constituted Board of Supervisors were to have its way.

 

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at:  lajack@gmail.com.)

-cw

LA WATCHDOG--Our Mayor’s pet project is the revitalization of an 11 mile segment of the Los Angeles River, stretching from Griffith Park to Downtown Los Angeles.  And what is not to like about new open recreational space in the park poor City of Los Angeles other than the not so minor fact that our cash strapped City needs to pony up more than $1 billion over the next ten to twenty years to pay for its share of this $1.4 billion river revitalization project. 

This is considerably more than the $500 million that was originally advertised as our City’s share.  Unfortunately, a more detailed analysis showed the total cost ballooning from an estimated $1 billion to $1.4 billion at the same time that the US Army Corps of Engineers cut its contribution from $500 million to $200 to $300 million.

At this time, our City and its leaders do not have a plan to finance this the ambitious infrastructure project.  Rather, it is scrounging for money, financing bits and pieces from here and there.

For example, buried in the City’s 440 page budget, there is one mention – a line item - for the $60 million purchase of the Taylor Yard G2 parcel that is owned by the Union Pacific Railroad Company.  This river fronting, 40 acre rectangular parcel that lies between the River and the State’s Rio de Los Angeles Park in Cypress Park is considered vital to the rehabilitation of the River.

While this purchase will be financed with debt (and possibly with the proceeds of bond offerings or State grants), is this the best use of the City’s scarce financial resources or debt capacity?  Or should this money be used to finance the repair of our streets and sidewalks, the redo of Pershing Square, the expansion of the Convention Center, or housing for the homeless?

The City has also managed to convince the Metropolitan Transit Authority to set aside $425 million for a 51 mile bike path along the length of the River, from its headwaters in Canoga Park all the way to Long Beach.  But this $8 million a mile earmark for the Mayor’s pet project is over the top excessive, leading one to speculate how many other pet projects will be financed by Metro’s proposed half cent increase in our sales tax to 9½%.    

The City is also considering the establishment of an Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District (“EFID”) that will allow the City to skim off its portion of the increased tax revenues from a boat load of high end real estate developments that border the River and the surrounding communities, much like the old Community Redevelopment Agency that was viewed by many as a corrupt political organization. These EFID funds will then be reinvested in the local community, most likely for streets and transportation projects to serve the more densely populated area that is not served by mass transit. 

But these non-affordable developments are not subject to a long range plan that respects the existing communities and neighborhoods.  Rather, it is the Wild West, a land grab by rapacious real estate speculators. 

Before the City proceeds with the $60 purchase and problematic remediation of the 40 acre Taylor Yard G2 parcel from the Union Pacific, the Mayor and the City Council need to have an open and transparent conversation about whether this expenditure is the best use of our cash strapped City’s scarce resources. 

The City also needs to devote the resources to develop a well thought out, long range plan for the Los Angeles River.  This includes identifying the sources for over $1 billion in cash needed to complete this important initiative.  Most importantly, this plan must respect the surrounding communities who are well aware of the impacts of unplanned development throughout the City where campaign funding real estate speculators have successfully manipulated the Mayor and the members of the City Council.

 

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at:  lajack@gmail.com.)

-cw

LA WATCHDOG--At its meeting on Tuesday, May 3, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors instructed its Department of Parks and Recreation “to report back to the Board on June 21, 2016 with a final draft of the Park and Recreation Funding Measure so that the Board may consider its adoption and placement on the November 8 ballot.”  

But the likelihood of this proposed ballot measure that would raise between $200 and $300 million to fund the repair, operation, and creation of parks throughout the County being approved by the two-thirds of the voters is unlikely unless it undergoes major revisions.  And even then, it will a tough slog given all the competing tax measures that are expected to be on the November and March ballots. 

The Supervisors are considering a parcel tax of 3 to 5 cents on each of the 6.4 billion square feet of developed real estate in the County.  At 3 cents a square foot, this would produce revenues of almost $200 million a year for the Los Angeles County Regional Parks and Open Space District, a jump of 150% from the $80 million received in 2015.  This 3 cent levy would also increase based on the Consumer Price Index while the total haul would benefit from the growth in the developed real estate.

Over the 35 year life of this tax, the total revenue is projected to be in excess of $15 billion. 

But slamming the taxpayers with a 150% increase in the parks parcel tax is not going to be very popular with the voting public.  

One alternative would be to have the County put its money where its mouth is as the Supervisors have been very eloquent about the vital importance of parks and open space.  This plan will involve a hefty 25% bump in the parcel tax from $80 million to $100 million (1.5 cents per square foot or $42 for each of the 2.4 million parcels) accompanied by an annual $100 million contribution from the County’s $22 billion General Fund to its Regional Parks and Open Space District.  At the same time, the County will also be required to allocate adequate resources to its Department of Parks and Recreation. 

Another hot button issue is the allocation of this pot of gold by the Supervisors.  According to the carefully orchestrated Needs Assessment Report, a disproportionate amount of the money will be directed to “under parked’ urban areas of the County.  However, this will result in pushback from suburban voters and open space advocates who believe they will not be getting their fair share.  This may result in many voters rejecting this ballot measure. 

As such, the Supervisors will need to disclose the allocation of funds in the ballot measure that balances the goals of urban dwellers, suburban taxpayers, and open space advocates.  

The Supervisors will also need to provide independent oversight of the Regional Park and Open Space District and the Department of Parks and Recreation by establishing a Citizens Oversight Advisory Board that has the resources to conduct an objective, critical, and constructive review and analysis of the operations, finances, and management of these two entities.  This is critically important now that the fiscally prudent Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina have been replaced by two Supervisors not necessary known to be respectful of our wallets.   

This ballot measure already starts out with one strike against it as two-thirds of the voters did not approve Proposition P, a modest $50 million parks parcel tax to replace an expiring parcel tax, in November of 2014.  

This ballot measure has also received a second strike from “voter fatigue” as our tolerance will be exhausted by City and County tax initiatives totaling $1.8 billion over the next year or two. Think Metro, Stormwater, Homelessness (both City and County), Streets and Sidewalks, DWP, and Parks.  And this not include any new State taxes.  

These assaults on our wallets are the equivalent of a 37% hike in our real estate taxes or a three cent bump in our sales tax to 12%. 

If the Supervisors decide to proceed with this Parks Parcel Tax, it must be carefully orchestrated where the County limits the impact on property owners and steps up to the plate and contributes 50% of the needed funds.  At the same time, the City and the County will need to disclose their long term plans to increase our taxes and demonstrate that they are using our money efficiently and in our best interests.  

Otherwise, it’s three strikes and you’re out, game over for not only the Parks Parcel Tax, but for Metro’s proposed half cent increase in our sales tax that will cost us $120 billion over the next 40 years.

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at:  lajack@gmail.com.)

-cw

 

LA WATCHDOG--On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will discuss a $200 to $300 million parcel tax to fund the repair, operation, and creation of parks throughout the County.

LA WATCHDOG--While the combined budgets for the City Council and the Mayor are projected to be $100 million next year, will Paul Krekorian, the Chair of the City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee, conduct an open and transparent discussion of the individual line items of each budget so that Angelenos will have a better understanding as to how and where their money is being spent? 

For example, there has not been an open and transparent discussion about the Councilmembers’ discretionary funds that are reputed to haul in over $20 million a year, money that could be used to repair our streets or fund a portion of the City’s homeless initiative.  

Sources of cash for these slush funds include the Street Furniture Fund (advertising revenues from bus shelters), Oil Pipeline Franchise Fees, the Real Property Trust Fund (50% of the sale of surplus property in a Council District), and AB 1290 Funds (tax increment funds associated with the dissolution of the corrupt Community Redevelopment Agency).  There are also fees from Lopez Canyon Landfill, Sunshine Canyon Landfill, and the Central LA Recycling and Transfer Station that never see the light of day. 

Where the discretionary cash goes is also not very transparent unless you are willing to hire a team of forensic accountants.  Reportedly, Councilmembers use a portion of these slush funds to fund members of their bloated staffs. 

There are discrepancies between the number of positions listed in the budget for the Mayor (94) and the City Council (108) and internal rosters, telephone directories, and web sites which indicate over 450 employees.  Naturally, this gives rise to the question of how are all these staffers being paid and what is the source of the cash to fund the extra salaries, pensions, and benefits.  

This headcount does not include numerous City employees who are on “loan” to the Mayor’s office to work on special projects and initiatives or the many employees throughout the City who are on call to answer the many time consuming inquiries from the offices of the Mayor and the Councilmembers. 

The Mayor’s budget also includes a line item of $36 million for Non-Departmental Allocations that comprises two-thirds of his $54 million fully loaded budget.  But there are no details about how and where this money will be spent in the over 1,700 pages covering the budget.  

Nor is there any information about how last year’s $38 million of Non-Departmental Allocations was disbursed.  

The City Council has also budgeted $6 million for Non-Departmental Allocations.  While this represents only an eighth of its $47 million budget, again there is no information on where this cash is going.  

Tellingly, the budgets for the City Council and the Mayor were the only departments that did not have the Supporting Data that outlines the distribution of 2016-17 total cost of their programs.  This includes pensions and human resource benefits (equal 30% of total salaries for the combined departments) and other departmental expenses.  

The unwillingness of the Budget and Finance Committee to demand transparency from the Mayor and its own City Council is justification as to why the City should implement the recommendation of the LA 2020 Commission to establish an independent Office of Transparency and Accountability to oversee the finances of our cash strapped City, whose elected officials appear to be allergic to the sunshine demanded by skeptical Angelenos. 

●●●

The Budget and Finance Committee should also consider another recommendation of the LA 2020 Commission by creating a Committee on Retirement Security to review and analyze the City’s two underfunded pension plans, especially in light of the projected $101 million deficit in 2020 caused by an increase of over $180 million in pension contributions, wiping out the $68 million surplus that was projected last year. 

 

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at:  lajack@gmail.com.)

-cw

 

Advertisement

Weather

Los Angeles United States Mostly Cloud (day), 63 °F
Current Conditions
Sunrise: 5:43 am   |   Sunset: 7:58 pm
73%     4.0 mph     34.067 bar
Forecast
Sun Low: 60 °F High: 71 °F
Mon Low: 60 °F High: 72 °F
Tue Low: 60 °F High: 72 °F
Wed Low: 61 °F High: 77 °F
Thu Low: 62 °F High: 79 °F
Fri Low: 64 °F High: 79 °F
Sat Low: 64 °F High: 79 °F
Sun Low: 64 °F High: 77 °F
Mon Low: 63 °F High: 75 °F
Tue Low: 64 °F High: 76 °F

 

CW FEATURES

Grid List

LADWP Rates Video