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Fri, Apr

Assessing The Obama Presidency: Has He Really Changed America?

EDITOR’S PICK-Is Barack Obama a transformational president? That was his ambition: to be more, as he put it, like Ronald Reagan than Bill Clinton, to launch a new era, not simply tack to the prevailing winds of the old. 

Not surprisingly, in his final year in office, the issue is contested. Liberals like New York Times op-ed columnist Paul Krugman hail Obama as “one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history.” Conservatives scorn his administration as a “socialist” interlude in a conservative time. On the left, many like professor Cornel West are disappointed, seeing Obama as a “counterfeit” progressive who failed to seize a historic opportunity for progressive change. 

What makes a president transformational? The first African-American president is inherently historic. Obama’s cheerleaders tick off his big accomplishments, as well: health care reform; the 2009 fiscal stimulus that helped save the economy; more than 14 million jobs created in a record stretch of 70 months of growth; progressive tax reforms; progress on climate change; the nuclear deal with Iran; the move to normalize relations with Cuba, and more.

Skeptics note that his era may be called the “Long Depression” rather than the “Great Recession.” They say the Obama administration brought us worsening inequality; stagnant incomes; bigger banks; greater big-money corruption of U.S. politics and governance; decaying public infrastructure; accelerating catastrophic climate change; and the United States mired in endless wars, facing off against Russia and China and draining its coffers trying to police the world.

The presidents widely celebrated as transformational — William McKinley, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Reagan — all got big things done. But no president — even Roosevelt with his four terms — can be expected to realize a complete reform agenda. Real reforms are necessary but not sufficient to be a transformational president: He has to change the course of the nation.

That requires not only new policies but also framing and winning the ideological argument. It requires not only winning the presidency, but also helping to forge an enduring majority coalition that can sustain the era.

Obama is the first Democratic president to be elected and re-elected with a majority of the popular vote since Roosevelt. He both personifies and has helped to forge a new and growing majority coalition for progressive reform. Pollster Stan Greenberg has dubbed this coalition of millennials, people of color and single women the “rising American electorate.” Political analyst Bill Schneider calls it the “new America.”  

In Greenberg’s book, “America Ascendant: A Revolutionary Nation’s Path to Addressing Its Deepest Problems and Leading the 21st Century,” he estimates that the rising American electorate will constitute 54 percent of the electorate in 2016 (63 percent if you include “seculars,” those with no religious practice.) And the two-thirds of those that show up at the polls will likely vote for the Democratic presidential nominee.

Yet the scope, durability and thrust of this coalition are still uncertain. Under Obama, the Democrats have lost control of the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives. Republicans have gained 913 state-legislative seats since 2010, control 30 state-legislative chambers and rule virtually unchallenged in states across the South, Great Plains and Rocky Mountains.

The turnout of the new America coalition plummeted in the midterm elections. It remains to be seen whether the next Democratic presidential nominee can bring them to the polls as successfully as Obama did. No progressive reform era can flourish if the White House is an isolated island amid a sea of reaction.

A transformational president has to infuse his majority coalition with a clear direction. By framing the ideological argument, he or she must help Americans understand how they got in the fix they are in and what must be done to get them out of it. The measure of ideological victory isn’t simply that Democratic officeholders, activists and voters understand and enlist, but also that the opposing party finds it must adjust to the new arguments to survive.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower could succeed Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman — but only by embracing Social Security and the New Deal economic reforms. Clinton succeeded Reagan and George H.W. Bush — but felt it necessary to declare the era of big government over. Clinton joined Congress in deregulating finance and corporations and repealing welfare as it was practiced. He ushered in aera of mass incarceration by launching a tough “war on crime.” 

Obama’s record in the ideological debate is mixed. On his watch, the “wedge issues” that once strongly favored Republicans — gay marriage, crime, guns and even abortion — began to favor Democrats. When the White House glowed rainbow to celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court’s acceptance of gay marriage, it symbolized a Democratic Party confident that its social liberalism is on the march.

Still, gay activists, Black Lives Matter and Latino organizers would argue that Obama has been a laggard, rather than a leader, on their concerns. But there is no question that his victory symbolized and accelerated the changes, and he has responded when movements opened up the political space.

On economic policy, both Obama celebrators and detractors argue that he has extended the power of the state more than any president since Lyndon B. Johnson and his Great Society. Obama’s list is indeed impressive: an unprecedented economic stimulus; rescue of the auto industry; use of executive authority to address climate change; banking re-regulation, and 17 million more Americans with health care insurance because of the Affordable Care Act. He raised tax rates on the wealthy by largely letting the top-end George W. Bush tax cuts expire.

But at the beginning of his administration, in the middle of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, Obama was essentially AWOL in the ideological debate. He consciously chose not to “litigate the past.” He did not grasp the moment to educate the public on how the United States got into such a mess; he didn’t explain the economic fundamentals and the need for a bold reform agenda.

Obama’s signature appeal, he believed, was being above partisan divides. Promising to “change the culture of Washington,” he insisted that he could bring the country together to find common ground. His economic stimulus, however, was weakened dramatically when he accepted Republican tax cuts in a vain effort to win bipartisan support.

He undercut his argument for more public investment to get the U.S. economy out of the crisis by arguing, only a few months after his stimulus bill passed, that government must “tighten its belt.” He assembled the risible Simpson-Bowles commission to focus national attention on deficit reduction.

Later, Obama nearly signed a wrong-headed “grand bargain” with Republicans that would have cut Social Security and Medicare in the cause of deficit reduction. He was saved, however, by Republican aversion to any form of tax hike. Conservatives’ austerity policies continued to erode public investment in areas vital to America’s future. And public opinion grew ever more skeptical of government’s competence.

Obama’s Wall Street and fiscal reforms were similarly compromised. Dodd-Frank left banking more concentrated than ever, and no major banker went to jail for what the FBI called the “epidemic of fraud” that contributed to the housing bust. He continued ruinous corporate-defined free-trade policies.

His healthcare reform, declared radical by the GOP, was modeled on a Heritage Foundation proposal adopted by Mitt Romney when he was Massachusetts governor. Obama refused to take on the drug companies over their exorbitant pricing, and he would not support a public healthcare option that might have put real checks on insurance-company abuses.

Though Obama spoke out against the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates to corporate money in U.S. elections, he spent little political capital trying to curb money in politics. In fact, his decision to forego public financing in his 2008 presidential campaign essentially marked the end of that reform effort. 

Obama’s first-term floundering fueled a revolt on his political left. Occupy Wall Street spread across the nation with its indictment of the 1 percent, which put inequality at the center of the U.S. public debate. The Elizabeth Warren-Bernie Sanders progressive/liberal wing of the Democratic Party exposed how the rich “rigged the rules,” spotlighted the Obama administration’s revolving door to Wall Street and demanded tougher reform. The Congressional Progressive Caucus laid out a budget that combined bold — and long overdue — public investments with progressive tax reforms.

In the run-up to his 2012 re-election campaign, Obama embraced some of these themes, particularly income inequality. Now, as any hope of bipartisan cooperation has faded, he has been bolder at using his executive authority and more willing to use his “bully pulpit” in the cause of reform. But the task of interpreting the moment, explaining it and winning the public debate remains unfinished.

His failure of vision is even more apparent in foreign policy. Obama won the 2008 Democratic nomination due, to a significant degree, to public dismay about the war in Iraq, which Hillary Clinton, his opponent, had voted for. He clearly hoped to extricate the United States from the wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan and bring the inflated war on terror into perspective.

Yet he again chose not to litigate the past. He failed to offer a different vision and global strategy. His troop surge in Afghanistan turned out to be a trap. He reluctantly intervened in Libya and Syria. Though he withdrew troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, he expanded the use of drones. He allowed neo-conservatives to drag him into raising tensions with Russia, even while beginning to confront the Chinese in the South China Sea.

U.S. Special Forces were active in more than 100 countries in 2015. If anything, Obama has expanded, rather than limited, the national-security claims of executive prerogative and extended surveillance and secrecy. The nuclear agreement with Iran and the easing of relations with Cuba hint at a different course. But one swallow does not make the spring.

No one president, even after two terms, can consolidate a new era. Obama’s successor will significantly affect history’s judgment of his presidency. If a Republican is elected president with a Republican-controlled Congress, Obama may well be seen as having lost the argument for reform. If a Democrat is elected, it will be left to him or her to interpret the moment for Americans, and to engage them in a bold reform agenda.

That Clinton has found it necessary to compete with Sanders by putting forth more activist and populist positions consolidates the thrust of the party. If a Democrat is elected president and successfully drives more reform, Obama will properly be judged as setting the stage for it. But if he or she is unsuccessful because of an obstructionist Congress, timid vision, economic woes or foreign calamities, Obama’s successor could end up discrediting progressive reform before it had the opportunity to fully take hold.

Zhou Enlai was once asked what he thought about the French Revolution. He reportedly replied, “Too soon to tell.”

Will Obama be considered a transformational president? Far too soon to tell.

(Robert L. Borosage is the founder and president of the Institute for America’s Future and co-director of its sister organization, the Campaign for America’s Future. This piece was originally posted at …first appeared in Our Future.) Photo: Official White House by Pete Souza (President Obama is seen from the Rose Garden walking through the Oval Office.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

 

Editor’s Pick: Republican Elites Surrender to Trump

Late Thursday night, National Review, the storied conservative magazine founded by William F. Buckley, published an issue denouncing Donald Tr ump.

“Trump is a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones,” the editors wrote. “Donald Trump is a menace to American conservatism who would take the work of generations and trample it underfoot in behalf of a populism as heedless and crude as the Donald himself.”

Dana Milbank writes about political theater in the nation’s capital. He joined the Post as a political reporter in 2000. View Archive

The Republican National Committee reacted swiftly — immediately revoking the permission it had given National Review to host a Republican presidential debate next month. “Tonight, a top official with the RNC called me to say that National Review was being disinvited,” the magazine’s publisher wrote online. “The reason: Our ‘Against Trump’ editorial.”

That soft flapping sound you hear is the Grand Old Party waving the flag of surrender to Trump. Party elites — what’s left of the now-derided “establishment” — are acquiescing to the once inconceivable: that a xenophobic and bigoted showman is now the face of the Republican Party and of American conservatism. (Read the rest.

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California Wants Right to Oppose Citizens United Act … Court Decision Opens That Door

WHO CALLS THE SHOTS-The California State Legislature has filed a petition for rehearing in Howard Jarvis Taxpayers v. Padilla, asking the Court to restore Proposition 49, the Overturn Citizens United Act, to the ballot. 

Back in July 2014, the state legislature had enacted Senate Bill 1272, which would place an advisory question on the November ballot to solicit views of California voters on whether to amend the U.S. Constitution to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC 

Shortly after, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association (HJTA) began a fight to remove the proposition from the 2014 ballot, arguing that the legislature had exceeded its authority. In August of that year, the California Supreme Court ordered the Secretary of State to remove the measure from the ballot, pending full briefing and argument. Justice Goodwin Liu wrote a concurring opinion that advisory measures like Proposition 49 are incompatible with the system of representative democracy. 

On January 4 of this year, the CA Supreme Court ruled 6 to 1 in HJTA v. Padilla that the proposition is valid under the California Constitution, reversing the California Supreme Court’s August 2014 decision with the suggestion that the legislature pass a new bill. 

According to a September 2015 Bloomberg poll, approximately 80 percent of Americans polled expressed disagreement with the Citizens United ruling. The disapproval was bipartisan with a slightly higher percentage of Democrats than Republicans. Why, then, would the HFTA take steps to remove the proposition from the ballot? 

Opposition seems to rest in the advisory nature of the proposition. Advisory propositions are rare. In fact, only three advisory propositions have ever appeared on California ballots. What Prop 49 aimed to do was to allow California voters to instruct Congress and the Legislature to pass and ratify a constitutional amendment to limit campaign spending and establish that only human beings (and not corporations) enjoy constitutional rights. 

Should the proposition pass, neither the Congress nor the CA Legislature would be legally bound to follow the lead of California voters, a point that did not rest well with the conservative-leaning HJTA. 

Proponents of the proposition, however, are pleased with the latest decision. “The Court didn’t finish the job with its ruling on HJTA v. Padilla,” comments Michele Sutter, Money Out Voters In (MOVI) co-founder, the lead supporter of the Overturn Citizens United Act. “This rehearing will allow them the opportunity to do justice for the 18 million California voters the Court has now disenfranchised twice. Californians have earned the right to vote to overturn Citizens United. If the Court hadn’t intervened to remove the legislature’s perfectly legal ballot measure, something the Court has never done before, we’d have voted on Prop 49 in 2014.” 

To date, sixteen states and more than 650 cities and towns across the country have called on their representatives to support such an amendment. In 2012, voters in Montana and Colorado passed similar ballot initiatives by 75 percent. Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.,) who suspended his campaign in December, have called for an amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision. 

 “As presidential candidates race to raise money for their campaign coffers, the need to limit the influence of extremely wealthy and corporate donors in our elections is clearer than ever,” says Emily Rusch, Executive Director of CALPIRG. “At the urging of their constituents, the legislature put Prop 49 on the ballot back in 2014, and we are counting on the legislature to do whatever it takes to hold a vote on the 2016 ballot.” 

While Prop 49 (or a similar proposition) is not a legal mandate, the expressed support of voters at the ballot is a strong signal that American citizens are disgruntled with politics as usual and support meaningful campaign finance reform. 

“Justice is delayed but it will not be denied. The Legislature can count on an upswell of We the People who will demand that a voter instruction be placed on the 2016 ballot that tells Congress to pass a Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizens United,” says Kathay Feng, Common Cause CA. 

Background on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission 

In a 2010 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court passed the Citizens United decision 5-4, which ruled that unlimited campaign contributions by corporations were protected under the First Amendment Freedom of Speech clause, thereby rejecting campaign spending limits. Citizens United, a nonprofit corporation, had produced a film about a candidate seeking a party’s nomination in the next Presidential election. Corporations and unions were prohibited by law from funding speech expressly advocating “electioneering communication,” public, cable, or satellite broadcasts made within thirty days of the primary election that clearly identified a candidate for federal office. Citizens United brought the case before the Court to ask for a declaratory judgement so the group would not be subject to civil or criminal penalties for broadcasting their film.

 

(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles-based writer and CityWatch contributor.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

  

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 7

Pub: Jan 22, 2016

California Taking On ExxonMobil … for Climate Cover-Up

EXXON NOT NEW TO SERIOUS SCANDAL--California's attorney general has joined New York state in investigating Exxon Mobil's decades-long climate change cover-up, probing what it knew about global warming, as well as what—and when—the oil giant disclosed to its shareholders and the public, according to the LA Times on Wednesday.  

According to "a person close to the investigation," the office of Attorney General Kamala Harris is looking into "whether Exxon Mobil Corp. repeatedly lied to the public and its shareholders about the risk to its business from climate change—and whether such actions could amount to securities fraud and violations of environmental laws," the Times writes. 

Reporting in the fall of 2015 revealed that Exxon scientists and management knew since the late 1970s that the company's product was helping drive catastrophic global warming, and responded by spending millions to disseminate disinformation and fund climate denial campaigns. Environmentalist and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben has described it as "the most consequential lie in human history."

Climate justice groups, along with several current and former U.S. lawmakers and presidential candidates, have called for a Department of Justice investigation into "what Exxon knew."

And in November, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman catapulted 'Exxon Knew' into "the category of truly serious scandals," as McKibben put it, by issuing the corporation an 18-page subpoena seeking four decades of documents, research findings, and communications related to climate change.

"New York has taken the first step, now other Attorneys General should follow suit to protect the rights of the American people against big polluters from lying to them about climate change and its impacts on our communities," Greenpeace USA executive director Annie Leonard said at the time.

It seems Harris has heeded that call. While the Times reports that it "is unclear what approach Harris intends to take in California's investigation," it adds that her office is "casting a wide net and looking at a variety of issues, according to the person familiar with the matter."

Union of Concerned Scientists president Ken Kimmel, meanwhile, praised the development as "the latest in a growing movement to uncover the truth, supported by members of Congress, presidential candidates, a former Department of Justice attorney, and more than 60 leaders of major environmental, social justice and Indigenous people’s organizations."

The news comes on the heels of a unanimous vote last week by the Los Angeles County Democratic Party—California’s largest Democratic organization—to pass a resolution urging Harris "to investigate Exxon Mobil and fellow fossil fuel companies for potential breaches of California law based on their 1970s-era research into the science of climate change, then pouring millions into manufacturing doubt and denial of climate science."

U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), who has led the charge for Exxon probes, told the Times he hopes the decision by Harris, representing a state with the eighth-largest economy in the world, will prompt other states and the Justice Department to investigate.

"I think this action will be taken very seriously by Exxon Mobil," Lieu said.

McKibben echoed Lieu's hope in a statement on Wednesday. "California’s action means that the world's eighth largest economy is now probing the world's richest fossil fuel company for lying about the greatest problem the planet ever faced," he said. "I'd say this means this scandal isn't going away."

"With the climate changing at the pace it is," he added, "we can't afford for the Department of Justice and Loretta Lynch to dawdle."

Meanwhile, earlier this week, a group of ExxonMobil shareholders urged the corporation to detail the resilience of its business model to climate change.

"The unprecedented Paris agreement to rein in global warming may significantly affect Exxon’s operations," New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, who is Trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund, said in a statement.

"As shareholders, we want to know that Exxon is doing what is needed to prepare for a future with lower carbon emissions," DeNapoli continued. "The future success of the company, and its investors, requires Exxon to assess how it will perform as the world changes."

(Deirdre Fulton writes for Common Dreams … where this report was first posted.)

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 7

Pub: Jan 22, 2016

Ontario Airport Returns to Local Control – It’s About Time!

A TRANSPORTATION WIN-WIN-Control of Ontario Airport is set to return to local hands this summer – finally! This is significant and it is good. It’s good for the regional economy of the Inland Empire. It’s good for the City of Los Angeles, operationally and fiscally. 

Offloading ONT allows LAWA to focus on LAX singularly (well, also Van Nuys). With solid assurances in place protecting the 215 existing workers at the Ontario Airport, the transfer is good for airport workers specifically, and generally, for all workers. Ironically, both historically and politically, the deal fulfills the 2006 Hahn “Regionalization” accord assuring the people of Westchester that LA would spread all that airport pain around. 

The people of Ontario and the communities of the entire Inland Region that runs from East Los Angeles County into San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, have long supported and encouraged the development and expansion of the Ontario Airport -- pretty much ever since its earliest days as Latimer Field in 1923. 

At CA Fwd’s recent conference in Ontario, “A Roadmap to Shared Prosperity,” speakers including Assemblymember Cheryl Brown (AD 47, San Bernardino) celebrated the positive impact that local control of the Ontario Airport will have on the local economy. “Think about all the jobs,” said Brown. 

Support for Ontario’s fight for local control is deep and long-standing. “More than 130 governments, elected officials, business and civic organizations, and newspaper editorial boards in four counties have endorsed local control for ONT,” the City of Ontario wrote, announcing the filing of its 2013 lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles. Citing a 42% decline in air traffic between 2007 and 2013 as evidence of LAWA’s mismanagement and inattention to the medium-hub facility, the filing asserted that the City of Los Angeles cannot control ONT “for all of eternity.” 

In the end, responsible, persistent and passionate local government officials -- champions like Ontario Mayor pro Tem and President of the OIAA, Alan D. Wapner -- acknowledged the ability of the Riverside/San Bernardino labor community to find common ground with sane local business organizations. With actual support from the people of the Inland Empire and not just the flying public, they all came together and won, resolving years and years of acrimony and conflict, much to the benefit of all. 

“It’s the return of a regional asset to regional control,” noted Cindy Roth, Chief Executive Officer of the Greater Riverside Chambers of Commerce. “The real issue is the economic impact this has had on the … region... It’s something we all support." 

The terms of the deal are good for the City of Los Angeles and for the new Ontario International Airport Authority (OIAA), created by a joint-powers agreement between the City of Ontario and San Bernardino County to run the airport. 

“In August, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti coyly gave two figures with regard to the actual amount of money Ontario would fork over to finalize the transfer, saying that Ontario newspapers could call it a $150 million deal and that Los Angeles newspapers could refer to it as a $260 million transaction,” reported the San Bernardino Sentinel. 

Specifically, Ontario pays $30 million from reserves, assumes $60 million in debt, and makes payments of $50 million over five years plus $70 million in the final five years.

LAWA transfers $40 million from Ontario’s unrestricted cash accounts and – voila! – 1967 and 1985 agreements that gave Los Angeles control over the Ontario Airport are finis! 

Note that in 2011 the City of Los Angeles turned down a confidential offer to purchase the airport for $50 million with an assumption of $71 million in bond debt and another $125 million for passenger facilities charges -- at a time when the City could have really used the money. 

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti now calls the agreement “a step forward for Ontario, the entire Inland Empire, for Los Angeles, and for the region of Southern California as Los Angeles has reached a tentative agreement to transfer Ontario Airport back to the people of this city.” 

“When we come together we can do big things, and this is at least as big as what we did up in Owens Valley,” said Mayor Garcetti. 

Councilmember Joe Buscaino (CD 15), who represents the City of Los Angeles at SCAG  (Southern California Association of Governments) and the League of California Cities, said, “Returning Ontario International back to the Inland Empire will allow the newly formed Ontario International Airport Authority to develop strategies that expand service in one of the fastest growing regions of the state.” 

“It will also “allow Los Angeles World Airports to be laser-focused on modernizing LAX and creating a better passenger experience for its 70 million annual passengers,” Buscaino added. 

In 2007, ONT flew 7.2 million passengers; in 2014 that number was 4.1 million. Just imagine what that statistic means for the life and family of an airport custodian earning $37,000 -- a good job, all things considered – who was faced with a transfer to LAX, living in Rancho Cucamonga. Those were the dark years of city service. 

But the Inland Empire is an expansive, hopeful place, a region that welcomes growth, goods, and all that comes with it. Brett Snyder, aviation expert and former airline executive, urges Inland Empire travelers to use ONT: 

“Airlines don’t care what people say, they care what people do,” he said. “Fly from your airport, it’s the best thing to do as it gains independence.” (Brett Snyder runs the website The Cranky Flier.   

Kelly J. Fredericks, P.E., A.A.E., named on January 20, 2016 as the Ontario International Airport Authority’s first CEO, arriving with 33 years of aviation experience, looks forward with the ebullience of the region: 

"I am impressed by everything happening in the Inland Empire. The transformation of Ontario International Airport is the most intriguing and exciting development project I can imagine. I have never seen such commitment and support demonstrated by a community towards a key transportation hub, and such a spirit of collaboration to optimize its economic benefit."

 

(Julie Butcher is a retired union leader, enjoying Riverside and her first grandchild.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

-cw

  

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 7

Pub: Jan 22, 2016

Petition Tennis, Anyone?

FRIDAY MORNING MEMO--As you know from last week’s post, a handful of disaffected residents of NELA set up a semi-secret online petition asking Jos&ecaute; Huizar to rip out the bike lanes on York Boulevard, listing a number of alleged effects they have had on the community—none of which they actually brought about. In case you missed that post, you can read it here. It includes rebuttals of the points the petitioners listed as bike-lane-generated malevolence.   

What’s particularly interesting, and what exposes the profound ignorance in which our opponents operate, is that they asked for the bike lanes to be removed, but not the road diet. So removing the bike lanes would not add any traffic lanes back onto York.

Of course, adding traffic lanes would only cause more traffic, as the experience of the last eighty years has shown. Even CalTrans—CalTrans!—now acknowledges that sad if counterintuitive fact.   And the billions wasted on the Sepulveda Pass widening, which only made traffic worse, simply undergird the futility of equating more lanes with faster traffic. 

So, an enterprising and enlightened member of the community put up a counter-petition asking Huizar to keep the bike lanes. As of this writing, it has been graced by 709 signatures, well over twice as many as the leadfoot lunatics’ sneering demand.

If you haven’t yet signed on to support the bike lanes on York (which have reduced collisions while enrichening local businesses), you still have a chance to do so here. Please note in the comments section whether you live, work, or spend money in Highland Park, and, if you will, what particular benefit you gain from the bike lanes on York.  

And be civil: leave the snarling to the Neanderthals. They may be scary, but their time has passed.

(Richard Risemberg is a writer. His current professional activities are centered on sustainable development and lifestyle. This column was posted first at Flying Pigeon.)  Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams. 

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 7

Pub: Jan 22, 2016

 

 

Stains on Brown’s Legacy - San Onofre, San Bruno and Now … Aliso Canyon in Porter Ranch

TOO LITTLE TOO LATE-Gray Davis never saw it coming. He didn’t realize until it was too late that the public would blame him for his ineffective action against deregulated electricity pirates like Enron that hijacked the state. That’s why Davis never took the advice of consumer advocates to use his power of eminent domain and seize sabotaged power plants during the phony electricity crisis to turn the power back on.   

Does Jerry Brown see that the stink from the growing natural gas leak in Aliso Canyon and other utility scandals could also be the cloud that tarnishes his legacy after four terms of having voters’ favor?  

It’s a volatile situation for Brown when you look at the evidence of his Administration’s environmental failure in the three of the state’s most populous regions: LA’s Leak, San Diego’s ratepayer scandal over the closing of the San Onofre Nuclear power plant, and the 2010 San Bruno gas explosion. 

Exhibit A: Porter Ranch and Aliso Canyon 

The Leak roiling the LA area is now California's single largest source of planet-warming pollution and it was no isolated accident. 

It was the result of too little regulatory oversight of Southern California Gas and other oil and gas excavators. That falls squarely on Brown, whose administration is responsible for well safety. 

Brown’s antipathy to regulation of all kinds, including health and safety, is well known. The public first started paying attention in February of 2015 when it learned that Brown’s oil and gas regulator turned a blind eye to frackers’ injecting toxic wastewater into federally protected drinking water aquifers in Kern Country.   

The contamination, like The Leak, was a direct result of a Brown Administration culture of penalizing regulators who crack down on health safety in the oil and gas industry. 

In 2011, Brown fired two top regulators who raised grave concerns about the oil and gas industry's underground injection activities, and the state has known for years that aging natural gas infrastructure was a disaster waiting to happen. But the governor's administration failed even to require safety plans and other measures that would have helped prevent this disaster. 

As the Associated Press reported: “California's top oil and gas regulators repeatedly warned Gov. Jerry Brown's senior aides in 2011 that the governor's orders to override key safeguards in granting oil industry permits would violate state and federal laws protecting the state's groundwater from contamination, one of the former officials has testified. 

“Brown fired the regulators on Nov. 3, 2011, one day after what the fired official says was a final order from the governor to bypass safety provisions of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act in granting permits to oil companies for oilfield injection wells. Brown later boasted publicly that the dismissals led to a speed-up of oilfield permitting.” 

In 2012, Brown bragged to a Sacramento crowd: 

“The oil rigs are moving in Kern County. We want to use our resources … our sun and all the other sources of power. It’s not going to be easy. There’s going to be screw-ups. There’s going to be bankruptcies. There’ll be indictments, and there’ll be deaths. But we’re going to keep going.” 

Brown has repeatedly shown this arrogant antipathy toward regulation, what he would call “red tape.” But the right red tape can avoid the yellow hazard tape in places like Porter Ranch, where the resulting failure to inspect and upgrade pipes is a continuation of the same lax Brown Administration policies at the same agency -- the Department of Conservation's Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR). 

The regulators fired in 2011, Derek Chernow, Acting Director at the Department of Conservation, and DOGGR supervisor Elena Miller, simply dared to repeatedly warn Brown that oil drilling would harm the state’s groundwater, echoing a warning already issued by the EPA. The East Bay Express has the sordid details 

More recently, Brown fired DOGGR supervisor Steve Bohlen on Dec. 8, 2015 when Brown was in Paris for global warming talks. The dismissal was probably not about “Mapgate,” the recent scandal where Brown had DOGGR map his family ranch for oil and gas, as most presumed, but more about Porter Ranch. At least that’s what was told to Capitol Watchdog.  Brown was apparently embarrassed that Southern California Gas’s shoddy maintenance at the facility is to blame for the leak, and the fact that the amount of the potent greenhouse gas, methane, leaking into the atmosphere was equivalent to one quarter of the state’s methane emissions from all sources.  

Despite So Cal Gas's recent prediction the leak would likely be closed by the end of February, the largest methane leak in California history has the potential to go on a lot longer, if the well-head blows out, and containment becomes infeasible, which is possible according to a recent LA Times report.  Such a development would clarify that The Leak is the most visible result of shoddy maintenance and lack of state oil industry oversight that has plagued Brown’s administration. 

Lots of questions need to be raised about DOGGR oversight of the collapsed pipe. If it was out of use for a prolonged period, should the leaking well have been stuffed with cement and capped off?  If it was still active, why wasn’t it maintained? (The latest theory is that the well was structurally flawed and over-utilized for unorthodox gas injections that pushed its safety limits right before The Leak.) In either case, the questions will be raised, if not by regulators who now have nowhere to hide, and then by trial lawyers circling Aliso Canyon to make it into the next Erin Brockovich movie. 

While DOGGR is responsible for well safety, the PUC is responsible for oversight of the utility in charge, Southern California Gas. Brown’s stamp on this PUC has been so indelible that some allege he runs it out of the Governor’s office. 

The PUC and Brown will soon face new questions about an expansion of natural gas storage capacity in Aliso Canyon that the PUC and Brown Administration have shepherded. The plan approved last summer, which includes a supersized compressor set to begin operation in the second half of 2016, was supposed to increase natural gas storage in Aliso by 50 percent by increasing the amount of pressure used to inject it.  It would feed new Southern California Edison natural gas fired generating plants authorized by the PUC. 

The PUC, under the guidance of Brown’s hand-picked chief, Michael Picker, has approved this conscious strategy of rushing to increase the amount of natural gas stored in Aliso Canyon.  

The idea is to replace the loss of electricity from San Onofre after its closure with generating capacity in the LA basin through a combination of natural gas-fired electricity generation, battery storage, energy efficiency, and renewables to meet demand through 2021. Ironically, this will increase, not decrease, greenhouse gas emissions. (You can read here a recently completed PUC proceeding granting approval for natural gas expansion in Aliso for Southern California Gas to add storage and for Southern California Edison to add generating capacity.) 

The problem with the project is that by increasing pressure in the natural gas reservoir that feeds many unclosed, unmaintained pipes, the higher pressure could break down more wells. Adding pressure to the reserve is unsafe unless every pipe is retrofitted first. Otherwise the pressure in the reserve could pop another pipe. 

Now that The Leak has put the dangers of the compressed natural gas reserve on the map, residents will probably chain themselves to the gates of the new project rather than let it go forward. The PUC, knowing its historical indifference to communities opposing its plans, is likely to go forward even if it means calling out the state’s National Guard to maintain order. The standoff could have all the makings of a Brown Legacy buster.    

The natural gas expansion will turn the spotlight onto the Governor. That could reveal an unflattering history of his fealty to the state’s public utilities, including Southern Gas and its parent SEMPRA, where Brown’s sister Kathleen sits on the board and is chair of the board’s health and safety committee. Some say Kathleen was given the job because of her brother’s loyalty to the utility.   

Did brother and sister ever communicate about The Leak? Given all the litigation, the question is bound to be asked and answered in discovery and a deposition where the Governor’s usual executive privilege probably won’t protect him. 

The cronyism in energy policy under Brown that contributed to The Leak is part of a bigger problem with a statewide shadow falling across Brown’s reputation.

 

(Jamie Court is an award-winning and nationally recognized consumer advocate. He is president of Consumer Watchdog, which has offices in Washington, DC and Los Angeles.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 7

Pub: Jan 22, 2016 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Case for Inclusivity: Race-based Conversations in Higher Education

GUEST WORDS-Sitting in my psychology class at the University of California Berkeley, I felt my hands clam up and my body tense as my professor initiated a conversation about the White Student Unions that have recently popped up on Facebook over the past few months. 

Many of these WSUs are in fact fictitious groups designed to troll human rights campaigns, most notably, Black Lives Matter. Still, my professor felt that a conversation about what a White Student Union could mean in the context of race and academia would be helpful for our class.

As one of the few African-American students in the room, I felt a weight that many People of Color can relate to. It is a heaviness comprised of both dread and a deep understanding that within these types of discussion, students of color have to explain and validate our lived experiences to classmates with whom we feel a deep cultural dissonance.

It is important to note that the class in which I sat was quite literally about how racism is scientifically proven to have profound negative psychological and physiological effects on marginalized groups. And yet, with this knowledge readily accessible to them, White students in my class ceaselessly supplied reason after reason for why they felt unsafe on the UC Berkeley campus.

This lack of safety, in turn, was the reason White students in my class said they needed a space wherein they could organize. Inexplicably, my professor, a pioneer of race-based psychological research, propelled a discussion that sympathized with the needs of White students, while foregoing his responsibility to acknowledge that he had created an unsafe space for students of color.

If we look at the historical context of why African-Americans need to organize, of why Black students need a safe space, the evidence is endless.

Having heard enough, I stood up to address the 300-student lecture, "Whiteness organizes for the benefits of Whiteness," I said. I then named the FHA, the KKK, even amusement park franchises such as Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm as examples of systems that were/are predicated upon maintaining and protecting the normalization of White-centered organizing and representation.

"If we look at the historical context of why African-Americans need to organize, of why Black students need a safe space, the evidence is endless. From redlining, to police brutality, to the Tuskegee airman, injustice against Black bodies is endless. Within a classroom of higher education you all fail to see the truth that has been set before you in countless lectures by our professor, and for that, I am deeply saddened."

I then walked out of my lecture, with 300 sets of eyes on me to the sound of my heartbeat pounding through my chest, and just slightly excited because the Scandal season finale was coming on that day.

As a student who tirelessly and rightfully earned her way into UC Berkeley, I refuse to allow classrooms to feel unsafe for me or any other students of color. What I truly love about this moment in my life was my professor's response. He contacted me after class, and he and I were able to go get coffee after the lecture. I appreciate how he was completely open to a discussion as to why the trajectory of that conversation was inappropriate, inadvertently oppressive, and incredibly unsafe for all people of color in the room.

I am humbled that I was able to discuss what I felt was a moment of injustice and to divulge those feelings in a healthy and productive manner. Many students of color who experience micro-aggressions in the classroom generally do not have such opportunities. I was also contacted by myriad of other students after the lecture who found my statement affirming and encouraging.

That moment in time has lead me into many fulfilling projects such as creating and facilitating race-based social justice programming for undergraduates. I created this programming in order to help students and professors alike effectively enter into conversations about social justice that are both affirming to people of color and open to teaching dominant group members how to develop in their knowledge of racial marginalization.

I am blessed that this negative moment in my life was able to become a place of empowerment for me. I am honored that I was able to voice my discontent and challenge the injustice in the room.

I write this to all students of color who may feel disheartened in their classrooms. You are not alone. I stand with you on this journey to claim your humanity and the validity of your experiences in places of learning that may devalue your worth.

(Ciarra Jones is a senior at UC Berkeley, a McNair Scholar, and an Honors Thesis Candidate. This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


-cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 7

Pub: Jan 22, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yosemite: Corporate Tiff Threatens Family Memories … Yellowstone could be Renamed Aramark

GELFAND’S WORLD--A tiff between competing corporations threatens the multigenerational cherished memories of families. At least for my family it does. We remember going to Camp Curry and having breakfast at the Ahwahnee Hotel. We remember spending New Year's Eve at the Wawona Lodge as 1999 turned into 2000. We remember seeing a bear cub looking through our window. The traditional names are in danger now that the Delaware North Corporation will be replaced by Aramark as the concessionaire. There is a remarkably ironic twist to this story, but it doesn't make it any nicer. 

Yosemite had its origins as a protected area starting in the administration of Abraham Lincoln. It officially became a national park in 1890. Those of you who went to the campfire talks at Camp Curry (later renamed Curry Village) probably heard this story. Those of us of a certain age remember the fire fall, which consisted of hot embers being pushed over the edge of Glacier Point, half a mile above our heads, creating the red hot image of a waterfall. The Park Service eventually abandoned this ritual as being incompatible with the idea of nature preservation, but lots of people retain the memory. 

For most of its history, Yosemite National Park had its food and lodging services run by a company that originated in 1899. It was called the Yosemite Park & Curry Co. The idea of an organization that wrangled horses while running campgrounds and a cafeteria, and had done so for the better part of a century, was impressive. 

And then we watched that other ritual of the 1980s and '90s. The homegrown Curry company sold its assets to MCA. And then the new owner got bought by a Japanese corporation, Matsushita. This provoked a new round of American fretting over the ongoing sale of our assets to foreign buyers. The Secretary of the Interior decided that our landmark national park should be run by an American company. 

Thus the advent of the Delaware North corporation on the National Park scene. They came as the result of an attempt to preserve something. At one level, it was just national pride. On another level, it might be argued, it was the notion of preserving the national honor, character, and integrity. 

Surely this attempt at preservation included the saving of traditional words and names. I mean, you wouldn't expect the towns of Lexington and Concord to be forced to call themselves differently due to a dispute between two corporations. 

But now, the Delaware North Corporation, which won the concessions contract after Curry/MCA/Matsushita was forced out in the early 1990s, is itself being forced out by the newly awarded concessionaire, Aramark corporation. 

And that's the crux of the matter. Delaware North claims that in its sale of all Yosemite assets to Aramark (something required of each successive owner since Matsushita), it has valuable additional holdings, those being the names of some of its properties. Thus for the Ahwahnee, the name itself is being treated as a multimillion dollar asset. Somehow, the term Yosemite National Park seems to have been trademarked with hardly anyone noticing. 

The names of the Wawona, the Yosemite Lodge, and the Badger Pass ski complex are being treated as intellectual property, and Delaware North claims its right to compensation on the order of $50 million, give or take. Apparently it didn't make enough money over the past couple of decades and now requires more. 

The Park Service considered the conflict and has now decided that the issue will be made moot. Each of the hotel locations, Curry Village, and the ski area will now be named something different. 

The best description of the situation comes from Kevin Drum of the Mother Jones website, who has written two pieces. The first article is, as Drum concedes, a bit extreme, but it does manage to point out that the Ahwahnee will now be called the Majestic Yosemite Hotel, and Curry Village will be called Half Dome Village. The Wawona is scheduled to become Big Trees Lodge. 

Drum has a little fun with the travesty: "Coming soon: Yellowstone National Park will be renamed Majestic Geysers Park. Redwood National Park will become Incredible Trees Park. And Everglades National Park will become Big Swampy Park." 

Drum followed up with a second article which walked the first one back a bit. To summarize, the whole conflict is in reality a contract dispute between two corporations. Delaware North thinks it is entitled to more compensation than the Park Service and the new concessionaire are willing to allow. 

Although I appreciate Kevin's careful reporting, I would like to suggest one element of the controversy that is being downplayed. It's the attitude of the Park Service. The United States government should have shown a little more spine, and told the litigants that the names in question are a heritage of the American people and are not to be messed with. 

I'd also like to think that earlier generations of Park Service leadership wouldn't have been such wimps. I can remember talking with the Park Service's Yosemite Superintendant about 25 years ago. I argued that Yosemite is a special place, and his reply was, "It is a special place." It was clear that he, his colleagues, and numerous organizations dedicated to preservation would be working to protect it. And that preservation should include names that are remembered fondly by hundreds of thousands of people. 

There is the additional effect, not inconsequential, that these proposed name changes would make us look stupid and craven in foreign nations. Shall the Eiffel Tower be renamed, and under what circumstances? The question is ludicrous. 

I would hope that the Park Service was just being a little thoughtless and shortsighted, will rethink its position, and will push for a quick resolution. And then win. 

In discussing this story with some friends, it was pointed out to me that thousands of couples have chosen to be married in Yosemite Valley. The federal judges who have presided over the little courthouse at the base of Yosemite Falls have also managed to marry a lot of people on trails and along the Merced River and up on towering crags these many years. Think of what those couples must be thinking now that the name of Yosemite National Park, the location written on their marriage certificates, is claimed to be the trademarked property of an eastern corporation. As one such person said to me, with just a bit of tongue in cheek, "WE'RE NOT MARRIED!" What must it be like for those couples? We have to preserve the sanctity of those marriages. This should be the one thing that conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats can agree on. 

Addendum 

January 17, the date of this writing, is the 22nd anniversary of the Northridge earthquake and the 19th anniversary of the death of a friend by gunfire. Both events are worthy of serious thought.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on culture and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected]

-cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 6

Pub: Jan 19, 2016

Ultra-Rich 'Philanthrocapitalist' Class Undermining Global Democracy: Report

WHEN DOING GOOD ISN’T--From Warren Buffett to Bill Gates, it is no secret that the ultra-rich philanthropist class has an over-sized influence in shaping global politics and policies.

And a study (pdf) just out from the Global Policy Forum, an international watchdog group, makes the case that powerful philanthropic foundations—under the control of wealthy individuals—are actively undermining governments and inappropriately setting the agenda for international bodies like the United Nations.

The top 27 largest foundations together possess assets of over $360 billion, notes the study, authored by Jens Martens and Karolin Seitz. Nineteen of those foundations are based in the United States and, across the board, they are expanding their influence over the global south. And in so doing, they are undermining democracy and local sovereignty.

Notably, foundation spending on global development is skyrocketing, jumping from $3 billion per year over a decade ago to $10 billion today. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation leads the way, giving $2.6 billion in 2012, the report notes. In addition, the Gates Foundation is the largest non-state funder of the World Health Organization.

Meanwhile, many of the wealthiest people on the planet are individually jumping into the fray, with 137 billionaires from 14 countries last year pledging large sums to philanthropy. Some among them, like former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, have been criticized for abusing their power and influence in pursuit of questionable policies.

"If these and more ultra rich fulfill their pledges, many billions of dollars will be made available for charitable purposes," the authors argue. "It must be noted, however, that the increase in philanthropic giving is just the other side of the coin of growing inequality between rich and poor."

As political scientist Gary Olson argued Friday in Common Dreams, "Just to be clear, some Big Philanthropists have done some good work. However, as Peter Buffet (Warren Buffet's son) has argued, philanthropy is largely about letting billionaires feel better about themselves, a form of 'conscience laundering' that simultaneously functions to 'keep the existing system of inequality in place...' by shaping the culture.  

What's more, the report warns, "The influence of large foundations in shaping the global development agenda, including health, food, nutrition, and agriculture...raises a number of concerns in terms of how it is affecting governments and the UN development system."

The risks of "philanthrocapitalism" are manifold, the researchers argue, including: "fragmentation and weakening of global governance"; "unstable financing"; and "lack of monitoring and accountability mechanisms."

"What is the impact of framing the problems and defining development solutions by applying the business logic of profit-making institutions to philanthropic activities, for instance by results-based management or the focus on technological quick-win solutions in the sectors of health and agriculture?" the report poses.

A close look at the forces at work within the groups controlling the cash flow reveals numerous causes for concern.

"Through their multiple channels of influence, the Rockefeller and Gates foundations have been very successful in promoting their market-based and bio-medical approaches towards global health challenges in the research and health policy community—and beyond," the authors state.

Moreover, the report continues, "there is a revolving door between the Gates Foundation and pharmaceutical corporations. Many of the Foundation's staff had held positions at pharmaceutical companies such as Merck, GSK, Novartis,  Bayer HealthCare Services and Sanofi Pasteur."

Looking at agriculture and farming, meanwhile, the Gates Foundation is undermining self-determination and local solutions in measurable ways.

"The vast majority of the Gates Foundation's agricultural development grants focus on Africa," the report notes. "However, over 80 percent of the U.S. $669 million to NGOs went to organizations based in the U.S. and Europe, with only 4 percent going to Africa-based NGOs. Similarly, of the U.S. $678 million grants to universities and research centers, 79 percent went to grantees in the U.S. and Europe and only 12 percent to recipients in Africa."

Both the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations have been slammed by international grassroots groups, including the global peasant movement La Via Campesina, for their international role in exporting big agricultural models, privatizing food policies, and expanding the power of companies like Monsanto.

(Sarah Lazare writes for the excellent Common Dreams …where this piece was first posted.)

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 6

Pub: Jan 19, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Oscars Are So White That Spike Lee Refuses To Attend

OSCAR POLITICS--As controversy continues to boil regarding the Oscars' all-white acting nominees, Spike Lee has said he will not attend next month's awards. The outspoken director posted a photo of Martin Luther King Jr. to Instagram on Monday morning, along with a lengthy caption condemning Hollywood executives with the "'green light' vote" who do not bring minority-centered stories to the big screen.

"The truth is we ain't in those rooms and until minorities are, the Oscar nominees will remain lilly [sic] white," Lee wrote, using capital letters to start each word.

#OscarsSoWhite...    Again. I Would Like To Thank President Cheryl Boone Isaacs And The Board Of Governors Of The Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts And Sciences For Awarding Me an Honorary Oscar This Past November. I Am Most Appreciative.

However My Wife, Mrs. Tonya Lewis Lee And I Will Not Be Attending The Oscar Ceremony This Coming February. We Cannot Support It And Mean No Disrespect To My Friends, Host Chris Rock and Producer Reggie Hudlin, President Isaacs And The Academy. But, How Is It Possible For The 2nd Consecutive Year All 20 Contenders Under The Actor Category Are White? And Let's Not Even Get Into The Other Branches. 40 White Actors In 2 Years And No Flava At All. We Can't Act?! WTF!!

It's No Coincidence I'm Writing This As We Celebrate The 30th Anniversary Of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's Birthday. Dr. King Said "There Comes A Time When One Must Take A Position That Is Neither Safe, Nor Politic, Nor Popular But He Must Take It Because Conscience Tells Him It's Right".

For Too Many Years When The Oscars Nominations Are Revealed, My Office Phone Rings Off The Hook With The Media Asking Me My Opinion About The Lack Of African-Americans And This Year Was No Different. For Once, (Maybe) I Would Like The Media To Ask All The White Nominees And Studio Heads How They Feel About Another All White Ballot. If Someone Has Addressed This And I Missed It Then I Stand Mistaken.

As I See It, The Academy Awards Is Not Where The "Real" Battle Is. It's In The Executive Office Of The Hollywood Studios And TV And Cable Networks. This Is Where The Gate Keepers Decide What Gets Made And What Gets Jettisoned To "Turnaround" Or Scrap Heap. This Is What's Important. The Gate Keepers. Those With "The Green Light" Vote.

As The Great Actor Leslie Odom Jr. Sings And Dances In The Game Changing Broadway Musical HAMILTON, "I WANNA BE IN THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENS". People, The Truth Is We Ain't In Those Rooms And Until Minorities Are, The Oscar Nominees Will Remain Lilly White. (Cont'd)

This year's ballot is the second consecutive set of Oscar nominees that feature no people of color. Some have argued there were no minorities worthy of nominations, another sign that studios haven't green-lit enough diverse projects. Yet it's hard to argue that not a single person of color deserved a spot when the list looks like this: Idris Elba ("Beasts of No Nation"), Samuel L. Jackson ("The Hateful Eight"), Michael B. Jordan ("Creed"), Tessa Thompson ("Creed"), Mya Taylor ("Tangerine"), Benicio Del Toro ("Sicario"), Oscar Isaac ("Ex Machina") and Will Smith ("Concussion"). Each saw significant Oscar buzz throughout awards season, yet came up short when the nominations were announced last week. Lee's movie, "Chi-Raq," also yielded a worthy performance from Teyonah Parris.

Lee is a two-time Oscar nominee, having earned a Best Original Screenplay recognition for 1989's "Do the Right Thing" and a Best Documentary Feature nod for 1997's "4 Little Girls." He was also awarded an honorary Oscar in November, using the opportunity to again address the industry's diversity gap.  

“It’s easier to be president of the United States as a black person than be head of a studio," Lee said at the annual Governor Awards. "Honest.”

(Matthew Jacobs is film reporter for Huffington Post … where this piece first appeared.)

-cw

 

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CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 6

Pub: Jan 19, 2016

Hey, Donald Trump, Wake up and Smell the Turkish Coffee: I’m Throwing My Fez in the Ring

OTHER WORDS-Most presidential candidates, with the glaring exception of Donald Trump, say Islam is no enemy of the United States. I agree wholeheartedly. And how could there be a better way to prove that point than for a Muslim cartoonist to lead this great nation? 

That’s why I’m stepping up again. I want to be your prez in a fez. 

People always ask me: “Mr. Bendib, where’s the beef?” and — more importantly — “is the beef Halal?” (Kosher, for Muslims.) What would a Bendib presidency deliver, my fellow Americans?

I’m so glad you asked. Here’s the heart of my presidential platform: 

Foreign policy: Why stop at turning swords into ploughshares? Box cutters, machetes, Ginsu knives — I’d turn all sharp cutting implements into organic food-cultivating instruments. 

Pork barrel spending: As a self-respecting Muslim, you can guess how I feel about pork. 

Education: We need pens, not guns; books, not bombs; and math instruction, not mass destruction. 

Making war vs. making love: As your president, I’d ban all wars and make love mandatory. To those who lust for ever more military conquests, I’d simply repeat that love conquers all. 

Military overreach: As your commander-in-chief, I’d shut down the hundreds of overseas military bases we possess around the world and turn them into marijuana dispensaries. During the Great Depression, Herbert Hoover promised “a chicken in every pot.” I’d guarantee a little “pot in every kitchen.” 

Nuclear proliferation: Instead of threatening to bomb Iran if it breaks the nuclear deal, I’d shame the Islamic Republic into voluntarily abandoning its nuclear ambitions forever. How? Leading by example, I’d demand the dismantlement of all nuclear weapons everywhere — starting with the world’s largest arsenal, our very own. 

The environment: I’d do everything in my power to save the planet’s magnificent biodiversity and preserve all the animal species and all the plants…except for nuclear plants. I’d rid our country of all nukes. Green power to the people, I say. How about slapping more solar panels and wind turbines on those carbon-guzzling Trump Towers while we’re at it? 

Economic justice: Why throw Bernie Madoff in prison for stealing from the rich while allowing billions in bonuses for those who steal from the 99 percent? I’d pardon Madoff and ask him to keep up the good work. I might even appoint him treasury secretary. 

Immigration: I’d throw the gates open. Instead of Wall Street speculators moving our jobs and money across borders, people would be free to come and go as they please — including some of the Syrian huddled masses yearning to breathe free. I’d build bridges instead of walls, paying for them in dollars instead of pesos. Let’s let friendship trump paranoia. 

Right-wing demagogues seem to forget the positive contributions Muslims have made to Western civilization over the past 14 centuries. Do you know who introduced coffee to the Western world? If you said the Arabs of Yemen and the Muslims of Turkey, you’re right. 

Imagine how unproductive America would be today without its daily cup of Arabica. Donald Trump, it’s time for you to wake up, smell the coffee, and stand down. 

President John F. Kennedy didn’t bring the Vatican into the White House, as initially feared during his 1960 campaign. Likewise, I wouldn’t bring Mecca into the Oval Office. To paraphrase a great president before me, “The only thing we have to fear is the fear of Islam itself.” 

God bless America and as-salaamu alaikum — may peace be with you.

(OtherWords cartoonist, artist, and radio host Khalil Bendib lives in Berkeley, California. Since he was born in Paris, he’s not technically eligible to run for president.)

(Khalil Bendib is OtherWords’ editorial cartoonist, an artist, and the author or co-author of several books, including the widely translated graphic novel Zahra’s Paradise. He was born in Paris as a refugee of Algeria’s war of independence and grew up in Morocco and Algeria. He lives in Berkeley, California. Column provided CityWatch by OtherWords.org) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw  

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 5

Pub: Jan 15, 2016

Bernie Sanders Is Digging Into a Vein of Anger over Healthcare

TRUTHDIG-Obamacare is leaving millions in serious financial pain, pointing up the need for universal health care -- Medicare for all. That’s Sen. Bernie Sanders’ position, and it is a crucial difference between him and Hillary Clinton, his chief rival for the Democratic nomination for the presidency. 

Reiterating one of his major themes Saturday, Sanders told a Putting Families First forum in Des Moines, Iowa, “What this campaign is about is ending the disgrace of the United States being the only major country not to provide healthcare to all people as a right.” 

Clinton, who did not join Sanders and fellow candidate Martin O’Malley at the forum, has offered a considerably more limited plan. She would fix the Affordable Care Act rather than replace it with Medicare for all. She would limit what patients pay for doctor visits and prescription drugs and repeal the law’s planned tax on high-cost, employer-sponsored insurance. And she would try to stop excessive insurance rate increases and limit drug price increases. 

These would just be fixes to a system scathingly described this way by Robert Pear of The New York Times: “For many families, the Affordable Care Act has not made healthcare affordable.” 

A recent study by the New York Times and the Kaiser Family Foundation shows how Obamacare falls short of rescuing Americans from the nagging medical insecurity the act was supposed to have ended. 

On the plus side, Obamacare has made health insurance available to millions who were previously denied it, such as those with pre-existing conditions or freelancers, small-business people and those who found themselves without insurance after losing a job and being confronted by few choices and astronomical rates. Insurance is purchased through an online marketplace -- an exchange -- with subsidies for those with lower incomes. The poor can buy insurance through Medicaid in the 31 states that have agreed to accept federal funding through Obamacare. A total of 16.4 million people have gained coverage under Obamacare. In addition, millions more have health insurance through employers or with policies purchased individually. 

But the survey by the Times and the Kaiser Foundation showed great weakness in this complex system, which is pretty much run by the insurance industry. 

The survey consisted of in-depth interviews of 1,204 adults ages 18 to 64 who said that they or someone in their household had problems paying or were unable to pay medical bills in the previous 12 months. 

Confusing insurance company networks have thrust patients into the hands of physicians and other caregivers who are “out of network,” so patients are only partly covered or not covered at all. Policies with low premiums can impose high deductibles and payments. Despite the goals of Obamacare, people find it confusing to shop for policies or to sign up. 

The survey showed that “problems related to unaffordable medical bills and medical debt are prevalent, affecting roughly 1 in 4 non-elderly adults in the United States. Certain groups are more vulnerable, including individuals and families with lower incomes and limited financial assets, people with chronic medical conditions and disabilities, the uninsured, and people insured by plans with high deductibles.” Also hurt are “people … [with] higher incomes, who are insured, or who are otherwise in good health and then experience unexpected health problems.” 

“Of those who were insured when the bills were incurred, three-quarters … say that their share of the medical cost was more than they could afford,” the report said. 

The survey found about seven in 10 of those interviewed reported cutting back or delaying vacations or major household purchases, as well as reducing spending on food, clothing and basic household items. About six in 10 said they used up all or most of their savings in order to pay medical bills. 

These are more than dry figures for policy wonks who study healthcare. They help explain the anger simmering in the country, as well as numbers that show the discouraged unemployed dropping out of the workforce while income gains go mainly to the top earners. 

Sanders is campaigning for an end to this. He’s doing it in a blunt, forthright way that appeals to Democrats tired of an economic system stacked against them. His message, uncluttered with Clinton-like ambiguities, seems to be resonating in the states of the first two contests: Iowa, where caucuses will be held Feb. 1, and New Hampshire, which has a Feb. 9 primary. Clinton, in the latest polling, is leading Sanders slightly in Iowa and trailing him in New Hampshire. 

These numbers were pumping up the dozen or so volunteers making phone calls for Sanders in a Hollywood studio built in 1916 by Mack Sennett, the pioneer director of slapstick comedies. I watched in the big barn of a soundstage as the volunteers phoned people in Iowa, determining whether they were potential Sanders voters and then pitching those who were. Laptops connected to Sanders’ headquarters in Vermont, provided the numbers and dialed them. This scene was repeated in other places in the country. 

The way the volunteers stuck with it on a Sunday afternoon was impressive. Sanders is on to something, connecting with the anger in a positive way, as opposed to Donald Trump’s foul negativism. 

Sanders has been every bit a match for the overly cautious Hillary Clinton -- maybe enough of a match to beat her in Iowa, New Hampshire and elsewhere. 

(Bill Boyarsky is a columnist for Truthdig, the Jewish Journal, and LA Observed. This piece was posted first at Truthdig.com)  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

  

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 5

Pub: Jan 15, 2016

Fame: Can We Separate Bowie’s Legacy from His Troubling Past?

HERE’S WHAT I KNOW-When rock icon David Bowie died Sunday night following an 18-month battle with cancer, celebs blew up the Twittersphere and just about everyone of a certain age, myself included, posted YouTube links to Space Oddity or Modern Love with such magnitude of tribute that I don’t remember seeing since the death of George Harrison or maybe Michael Jackson. 

Bowie was no doubt a trailblazer in his music and his style. When a friend asked why so many seemed grief-stricken by his passing, I shared I suspected the loss of those who gave us the soundtrack of our youth reminds us of our own mortality.

As with most celeb obits, the accolades were quickly followed by the seamy B-side of fame. Back in the seventies when Bowie was pushing convention with his glittery rock, Sunset Strip’s Rainbow Bar & Grill, the Whiskey, and Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco were the playground of not only luminaries like Bowie and Jimmy Page but also adolescent 12-16 year olds who had garnered some fame of their own as Baby Groupies.

The seventies perhaps epitomized Sex, Drugs, Rock ‘n Roll with endless supplies of coke, Quaaludes, and sex partners. This was before HIV and TMZ. Handlers, club managers, and the staff at the Continental Hyatt looked the other way when rock stars and their entourage threw TVs out the window or held orgies with preteens. And the well-established narrative included Bowie, along with a host of other rock stars.

In a November Thrillist interview, Lori Mattix spilled details in I Lost My Virginity to David Bowie: Confessions of a Seventies Groupie. At 15, Mattix was just one of the Baby Groupies who frequented clubs on the Strip while the closest their peers got to a rock star was in a poster on their bedroom walls. Although the age of consent in California has been 18 since 1970, Mattix says she didn’t consider herself as underage.

“I was a model. I was in love. That time my life was so much fun. It was a period in which everything seemed possible. There was no AIDS and the potential consequences seemed to be light. Nobody was afraid of winding up on YouTube or TMZ. Now people are terrified. You can’t even walk out the door without being photographed. It has become a different world.”

Should we look at the past through the filter of heavily drugged rockers who likely saw these adolescents as a perk of fame? Bowie was open about his drug use, telling Cameron Crowe in a 1975 interview, “I’ve had short flirtations with smack and things but it was only for the mystery and the enigma. I like fast drugs. I hate anything that slows me down.”

Of course, drug use doesn’t lead to sex with minors but excesses of any sort were essential to the seventies brand of hedonism. More than a few comment threads about Bowie’s engagement with the Baby Groupies are peppered with “Those were different times.” Still, handlers knew enough to try to keep this behind closed doors.

Others brush off concerns about the age of consent by addressing the groupies’ willingness. After all, what teen wouldn’t swoon from the attention of a musician, whether Sinatra, one of the Beatles, or One Direction.

Legally, enthusiasm or flirtation in a mini-dress doesn’t absolve one from the boundaries of consent. Nor does a haze induced by a binge of coke, ‘ludes,’ or fifths of vodka.

Can we isolate the behaviors from talent? We likely consider that question every time we watch a Woody Allen or Roman Polanski film or listen to just about any track from the seventies.

Rebecca Hains, associate professor of media studies at Salem State University, wrote following Bowie’s death, “Calling out artists’ (alleged) abuse of others doesn’t necessarily negate the cultural value of their bodies of work.”

Perhaps we can continue to appreciate an artist’s oeuvre while remembering the abuses as a cautionary tale.

(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles-based writer and CityWatch contributor.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

  

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 5

Pub: Jan 15, 2016

RIP, St. Louis Rams: A Tough Lesson in the Business of Pro Sports

UPON FURTHER REVIEW--If, as Calvin Coolidge long ago declared, the business of America is business, then there are few businesses more American than the National Football League.

And as with any American business, it can be cold and cruel.

Tuesday was a day for the business of business, the league's 32 owners, a collection of the nation's wealthiest and most powerful entities, approved the plan of Stan Kroenke to move his St. Louis Rams to a palatial stadium he will build on an old horse track in Inglewood, Calif.

It sends the Rams back to Los Angeles, the city they ditched 21 years ago on another day that was bitter or sweet depending on your zip code.

The NFL also gave the San Diego Chargers a year to work out a deal to join the Rams, get a new stadium built back home or go to Plan C, whatever that might entail. If the Chargers don't move to L.A., then the Oakland Raiders will have a shot. The NFL will give each franchise $100 million if they choose to build a stadium in their current towns. The Chargers/Raiders proposed stadium in Carson, Calif., is dead.

Time will tell for those franchises and those communities and those fans bases. For Chargers fans, this tense nightmare continues, a desperation chance to keep the team, yet with the depressing reality that they are working with an owner, Dean Spanos, who would've left them dead and buried if he hadn't lost a knife fight of high-stakes politics.

Spanos can join the Rams in Inglewood, but he'll forfeit the NFL's $100 million pledge and pay out a $550 million relocation fee. Besides, the building is being built by Kroenke, and with each day that goes by the Rams will strengthen their position as the area's top team by wrapping up the best sponsors and partners and most devoted fans. That cements the reality that they'll be the NFL version of the favored Lakers and the Chargers/Raiders will be the second-class Clippers.

Tuesday really was a victory out of Kroenke's wildest dreams.

Meanwhile, it's over for the folks in St. Louis, who are left feeling the worst loss imaginable for a sports fan: abandonment and betrayal, a realization they are just powerless pawns, if even that much.

There is no tomorrow, no next game, no next season when the moving vans come. There is just anger and pointed fingers and shaken fists and faded sweatshirts they feel like fools for wearing in the first place.

Kroenke had the right to make the move. Don't get confused on that. The business of business has been good for this country.

And for two decades Los Angeles sat available for anyone to make the NFL happen. A collection of business titans and powerful politicians tried and failed. With multi-billions of dollars behind him and experience as both a real estate developer and a global sports owner, Kroenke cracked the code.

He acquired nearly 300 acres near LAX, has the money to put $1.86 billion – at least – into a stadium, retail and housing development that will be help transform the area. The centerpiece will be a glass-roofed stadium that can seat capacities of 100,000, capable of hosting not just two NFL tenants, but Final Fours, mega concerts, political conventions, Super Bowls, Olympics, World Cups and everything else.

As a businessman, Kroenke makes things happen. The new place will likely usurp Jerry Jones' AT&T Stadium as the nation's premiere stadium-sized venue. It's long overdue for Southern California. From the broad view, it all makes sense. It all seems smart.

This does nothing for those left behind in Missouri, the ones who loudly and loyally supported the Rams, who embraced the franchise, who made it part of their lives and now are told no one cares. The ones who didn't do anything other than what the team asked them to do back in the 1990s – prove that St. Louis was a viable NFL market.

Kroenke grew up in tiny Mora, Mo., attended the University of Missouri and, along with wife, Ann Walton, Kroenke raised their children in Columbia despite outrageous fortune. He was, ironically, brought into the deal as a local minority owner to the L.A.-based Georgia Frontiere, who inherited the team from the fifth of her six husbands.

Frontiere died in 2008. Kroenke took full ownership, and now it's the local guy who is sending them back to L.A., just one more kick in the shins for the fans who understandably feel betrayed by everyone from Kroenke to local politicians, to the system, to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

The argument that a multibillionaire has the right to take what felt like a community institution, even if it never really was, so he can make even more money goes only so far when you're explaining to your kid why it's done and gone.

The Rams will play the next three seasons at the L.A. Coliseum as their stadium is built. Within moments of the vote, NFL.com changed the team name to Los Angeles Rams.

That's how pro sports work, and that's what fans should remember the next time they are marketed to as being part of a "[insert team name] Nation," or told they are the greatest in the world. Everything is negotiable. Loyalty has a price. If an owner can make an extra buck somewhere else, there isn't much anyone can do to stop it.

In 1995, St. Louis spent $280 million in public money on a new stadium, guaranteed $20 million in profits for season tickets and held a raucous downtown rally where thousands chanted "Georgia! Georgia!"

Only Tuesday they could only call into talk radio and rant.

Of all the relocation candidates, St. Louis did the most to keep its team, pledging $400 million in public funds and clearing all sorts of hurdles for a new dome stadium. It didn't matter. Oakland did the least – essentially nothing – yet the Raiders are likely staying put … at least for now.

None of it is "fair." None of it ever was supposed to be, though.

The NFL has detailed and arcane bylaws and processes and committees and so forth. Those are mostly worthless. A panel of owners who analyzed dueling stadium bids voted 5-1 in favor the Chargers/Raiders plan in Carson, Calif. That was ignored.

There is no rhyme to it, no flow, no process to follow. Spanos felt confident he had the necessary nine franchises to block the Rams' plan, only enough of them bailed during a secret ballot. In the end, Kroenke had the most money and the most know-how and all along it was fairly easy to predict that the rest of the league wasn't going to turn its back on that.

Money talks. The Rams walk.

"St. Louis is just out of luck?" Giants co-owner Steve Tisch was asked by reporters after the vote.

"Apparently," Tisch said.

Where once Missourians cheered for the Californian who brought the Rams to them, now Californians will cheer the Missourian who brought them back.

St. Louis will be left trying to lure the Raiders, or maybe even the Chargers, or who knows who is next. The hunted will be back to being the hunter.

Round and round it goes, too many cities desperate for a team, too many fans willing to beg, and the NFL barons cheerily playing musical chairs to sweeten pots.

The regular guy doesn't matter, and never has. It's a bad, brutal day, but no one who matters cares.

This is business, and this is America.

(Dan Wetzel is an author, screenwriter, and national columnist for Yahoo Sports and Yahoo.com … where this column was first posted.)

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 5

Pub: Jan 18, 2016

There’s No Place Like Home: Gun Violence, Homelessness, a New Civil Consciousness

AT LENGTH-On the very same day that President Barack Obama grew emotional as he made a passionate call for a national “sense of urgency” to limit gun violence nationwide, the California Legislature passed a $2 billion package to “Prevent and Address Homelessness” in communities within the state. 

This happened during the same week armed men broke into the desolate headquarters of a federally owned wildlife refuge in Oregon and refused to leave, “until the government stops its tyranny.” 

What a week of contrasts to start off the New Year.

I was left asking what took the president so long in taking executive action on gun control; the state legislature to act on homelessness? And just what does Ammon Bundy and his anti-government group, Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, really want?

It’s easy to get cranial whiplash following mainstream reporting of events without any sort of historical context. Why should this year start any differently?

The common thread that connects these three events is that they are attempts to redress long-term, one might say chronic, problems that have been with us forever it seems.

America’s long and storied relationship with guns was established more than 200 years ago with the first shot that was fired at Concord, Connecticut marking the beginning of the American colonies’ uprising against the tyranny of British rule. These colonists, our ancestors, were called “terrorists” as they fought using guerrilla warfare tactics against the regimented lines of the red coats.

We still celebrate our heritage, if not the tradition of resistance against repression in our history, whether it’s the American Revolution, the 1791 Whiskey Rebellion or the War of 1812. Even now, every sporting event begins with a performance of the “Star Spangled Banner.” The line, “The bombs bursting in air…” is not just a patriotic metaphor, it’s a national conviction in opposition to tyranny, whether foreign or domestic.

I could write this entire column on the American love affair with guns going all the way back to duel between Vice President Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton (he’s the guy on your $10 bill), in which Hamilton was fatally shot.

The Sandy Hook shooting is what moved Obama to decisively act, without the support of a Republican Congress. The rural uprising in southeast Oregon stands out as the counterpoint to the president’s message. This is a political conundrum that at present seems intractable.

The homeless issue on the other hand seems equally insolvable, yet the grassroots uprising for curing this complicated and chronic epidemic has some new resolve.

Getting our state legislators to act, to pass a $2 billion bond, to do anything at all to deal with a social crisis is astounding at the very least. It does show what can happen when people of good will, social consciousness and political support can accomplish when inspired and motivated.

Yet, the money is just one part of a much bigger problem.

I cannot believe that in a nation that can build the biggest dams to stave off droughts, bend rivers to provide waters to semi-arid regions like Los Angeles, and that has the capacity to place a man on the moon, cannot solve homelessness or control the kinds of senseless massacres we’ve seen across this great land.

What I do see as a possible cure to all of this is a new form of “civility” beginning to rise up against the nativist incivility that has from time to time gripped this nation out of fear of “the others”—particularly in the wake of the shootings in San Bernardino.

What I see is a sense of community that embraces people—neighbor to neighbor—across previous boundaries of race, class and religion. That, at its heart, has more to do with a very American creed of life, liberty and justice for all.

This, I believe, is in the very core of our national consciousness and, in the end, will serve us far better than having a militarized state where everyone has to carry a gun and thousands are left without homes.

(James Preston Allen is the Publisher of Random Lengths News, the Los Angeles Harbor Area's only independent newspaper. He is also a guest columnist for the California Courts Monitor and is the author of "Silence Is Not Democracy- Don't listen to that man with the white cap--he might say something that you agree with!" He was elected to the presidency of the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council in 2014 and has been engaged in the civic affairs of CD 15 for more than 35 years. More of Allen … and other views and news at: randomlengthsnews.com )  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw  

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016 

US Congress Should Wake Up to the California Political Model

THE GOLDEN STATE--The $171 billion budget proposal released this week by California Gov. Jerry Brown shows how politics can work well in a state with the 8th largest economy in the world. It also offers a clear contrast to the political dysfunction in the budget process in Washington. Long derided for its "fruit-and-nuts" politics, California is leading the way in envisioning a political system that can actually get things done. 

The key to Brown's budget is that it addresses the most pressing needs of California's citizens, from homelessness and education to needed infrastructure improvements, at the same time setting aside a substantial "rainy day fund" to prepare for future economic downturns. While not everybody is happy with the budget and it will clearly by tinkered with -- Democrats want more social spending and Republicans don't like the tax proposals -- it represents governance built on compromise and common sense.

Most importantly, it seeks to restore the trust of the public in the ability of government to set priorities and accomplish realistic goals. Unlike some state governments that are paralyzed by ideology and political polarization, blue-state California has found a more moderate, pragmatic path to governance. Social wedge issues have largely been put aside, with greater focus on the well-being of the citizenry and the health of the economy.

While Gov. Brown's tough and experienced leadership is part of the successful equation, there have been important structural and strategic changes to the political system that laid the groundwork for success. In 2012, the state moved to an "open" primary process for elections. Instead of a handful of activist Democrats or Republicans choosing the nominees in their own primary elections in safe districts, any voter can now vote in the primary. The general election in November is then between the top two vote getters, even if they are from the same party.

In practical terms, these means that candidates must seek votes from all voters -- Democrats, Republicans and independents. So even in a safe Democratic district, for example, a candidate can win by getting more votes from Republicans and independents. Candidates with views that appeal only to the Democratic base may lose if they don't get some votes from non-Democratic voters. The same is true in Republican districts where a candidate appeals only to his or her base. The result is that more moderate candidates are elected on both sides of the aisle -- candidates that more accurately reflect the views of the broader electorate.

Even though both the legislative and executive branches in California are controlled by Democrats, the government has avoided much of the ideological posturing that occurs in other states, particularly those dominated by Republicans. While this is in part due to the open primary system, it is also a result of a more moderate position taken by Republicans in the California legislature. For the most part, California Republicans steer clear of social issues and focus on fiscal responsibility and efficient government. In those areas, the Republicans have found occasional allies in both the governor and moderate Democratic legislators.

The Brown budget is also noteworthy in a couple of other respects. First, it sets clear priorities rather than being a jumble of allotments to special interests or political causes. It adds money for education and health services, but also for corrections and transportation, while it actually reduces spending for environmental protection, one of Brown's pet causes. It also extends a tax on health insurance companies, but sets aside $2 billion for the rainy-day fund. Democrats want more spending on social services instead of the fund set-aside, while Republicans are generally unhappy with the tax proposal. When everybody is a little unhappy, it's probably a sign of good government.

Compare the example of California's reformed political system with the dysfunction in Washington and in many other states. California demonstrates that total victory over the opposing political party or ideology is not only unrealistic, but it is undesirable. Government works best when it sets clear, practical priorities that meet the needs of the broader citizenry. Ideology is never a good guide for government, which is at best a messy, trial-and-error endeavor. If our national government could look to the example of California, we'd all be better off.

(Hoyt Hilsman is an award-winning author, journalist and former candidate for Congress. He has written films and television shows for the major studios and networks. This column was posted earlier at HuffingtonPost.com

-cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016

 

 

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