21
Sun, Jul

The Best Way Up for Minorities

NEW GEOGRAPHY--In presidential election years, it is natural to see our political leaders also as the brokers of our economic salvation. Some, such as columnist Harold Meyerson, long have embraced politics as a primary lever of upward mobility for minorities. He has positively contrasted the rise of Latino politicians in California, and particularly Los Angeles, with the relative dearth of top Latino office-holders in heavily Hispanic Texas. In Los Angeles, he notes, political activism represents the “biggest game in town” while, in Houston, he laments, politics takes second place to business interests and economic growth.

In examining the economic and social mobility of ethnic groups across the country, however, the politics-first strategy has shown limited effectiveness. Latinos, for example, have dramatically increased their elected representatives nationally since the 1990s, particularly in California. But both Latinos and African Americans continue to move to, and appear to do better in, the more free-market, politically conservative states, largely in the South.

Two Paths to Success

Throughout American history, immigrants and minorities have had two primary pathways to success. One, by using the political system, seeks to redirect resources to a particular group and also to protect it from majoritarian discrimination, something particularly necessary in the case of the formerly enslaved African Americans.

The other approach, generally less well-covered, has defined social uplift through such things as education, hard work and familial values. This path was embraced by early African American leaders such as Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey. Today, the most successful ethnic groups – Koreans, Middle Easterners, Jews, Greeks and Russians – demonstrate the validity of this method through high levels of both entrepreneurial and educational achievement.

How today’s racial minorities achieve upward mobility has never been more important. Today, Latinos, together with African Americans and Asians, constitute 43 percent of the combined population in the country’s 52 largest metropolitan areas, up from 35 percent in 2000. By 2050, ethnic minorities are expected to constitute close to a majority of the country’s population. As minorities become majorities, too much reliance on racial redress and wealth redistribution will put enormous stress on the economic system and social order.

Temptations of Politics

Conditions vary, and, for some groups, particularly the larger ones, temptation remains to turn growing numbers into political power. African Americans have employed their numbers and political solidarity to achieve considerable electoral success, particularly at the municipal level. The election of Barack Obama as president stands as the supreme achievement of the African American political community.

But has triumph at the top of the political pyramid translated into true gains at the grass-roots level? From 2007-13, African Americans have experienced a 9 percent drop in incomes, far worse than the 6 percent decline for the rest of the population. In 2013, African American unemployment remained twice that of whites, and, according to the Urban League, the black middle class has conceded many of the gains made over the past 30 years.Concentrated urban poverty – on the decline in the booming 1990s – now appears to be growing.

This contradicts the idea that politically achieved generous welfare and subsidy regimeshold the key to ethnic uplift. African Americans, in fact, often do worse in many of the cities – Detroit, Baltimore, Chicago – that have been exemplars of black political power and redistributionist politics.

Conditions are not much better in the generally more prosperous coastal glamour towns, where progressive racial politics remain sacrosanct.Black households in New York have incomes of roughly $43,000, about the same as much as much less-costly Atlanta, Raleigh, N.C., and major Texas cities.

One possible explanation lies in economic transitions – accelerated by tough regulations – that have seen the demise of higher-paying blue-collar jobs that provided opportunities in the past. The rapid shift to an economy centered around high-end business services and tech enterprises has left many behind. Silicon Valley’s African Americans and Hispanics make up roughly one-third of the population but are barely 5 percent of employees in top Silicon Valley firms.

The biggest beneficiaries of political success has not been working families but members of President Obama’s heavily African American inner circle, as well as politically adept cliques at the state and local level. Bourgeois African Americans in politics, the arts and media enjoy more influence than ever at the top, but the grass-roots level confronts street level crime, rising levels of black dissatisfaction and white resentment.

Where are things better?

In a recent study for the Center for Opportunity Urbanism (www.opportunityurbanism.org), demographer Wendell Cox and I tried to identify the U.S. locales with the best economic conditions for African Americans and other racial minorities. The surprising answer: the old Confederacy. In ranking our top 15 areas for African Americans – based on incomes, homeownership, migration patterns and entrepreneurial activity – 13 were in the South, while the others, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., are in historic border areas.

In the Great Migration, from 1910-70, 6 million African Americans moved from the South to the North, notably to Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Detroit, as well as to California. Now the migration pattern has changed dramatically. From 2000-13, the African American populations of Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C., Orlando, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Raleigh, N.C., Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla., and San Antonio grew by close to or above 40 percent, or higher, versus an average of 27 percent for the 52 metropolitan areas.

In contrast, the African American population actually dropped in five critically important large metros that once were beacons for black progress: San Francisco-Oakland, San Jose, Los Angeles, Chicago and Detroit.

Latinos at a crossroad

Like African Americans, Latinos also are moving to places with lower costs and greater opportunities. For Latinos, now the nation’s largest ethnic minority, nine of the top 13 places are cities wholly or partially within the old Confederacy. The majority of newcomers to the South, notes a recent Pew study, are classic first-wave immigrants: young, 57 percent foreign born and not well-educated. “You go where the opportunities are,” explains Mark Hugo Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, D.C.

The contrast is revealing between the two leading Latino megastates: hyperprogressive California and right-leaning Texas. The Lone Star state’s Latino population continues to grow rapidly, expanding since 2000 by 68 percent in Houston, 70 percent in Dallas-Fort Worth and 83 percent in Austin. In contrast, Los Angeles saw a relatively meager 15 percent Latino expansion.

The one place in California that has seen rapid Latino growth combined with the best economic performance is the most Texas-like region in the state: Riverside-San Bernardino, where the Latino population has expanded by 74 percent since 2000.

These migration figures reflect diverging realities. Start with a Latino poverty rate that, adjusted for cost of living, reaches more than 33 percent in California versus 22.7 percent in Texas. Using a host of key social indicators – marriage rate, church attendance and welfare dependency – Latinos also seem to do much better in the Lone Star State than here.

Surprisingly, the educational performance gap between Latino students and whites is much larger in California than in the nation, while significantly lower in Texas, which spends considerably less per pupil.

But perhaps the greatest distinction is found in housing. In cities like Houston, a majority of Latinos and some 40 percent of African Americans own their homes. Those rates are, on average, 25 percent to 30 percent lower in Los Angeles, as well as in deep-blue cities like New York, San Francisco and Boston.

Homeownership, like education, long has been critical to upward mobility. As a recent report by the liberal think tank Demos indicates, much of the “ethnic wealth gap” – white households with wealth more than 10 times their Latino or African American counterparts – comes from differing home ownership rates.

Lesson for minorities?

It may be tempting for minorities in California and other blue regions to continue demanding their “rights” and investing their hopes in transfer payments, housing subsidies, energy credits and affirmative action to improve their day-to-day lives. But this reliance likely won’t turn them into a new upwardly mobile middle class. To rise up, minorities need to demand economic and housing policies that don’t simply alleviate poverty but put more people on the road to overcoming it.

(Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com and Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is also executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available at Amazon and Telos Press. He is also author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.)

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016

S.O.S. Means ‘Save Our Sanity’

VOICES OF THE PEOPLE--A funny thing happened on the way to asking Angelenos to pay more taxes while watching the laws of physics, biology, and the City Charter:  they got desperate, felt cornered, and started to rebel. 

Certainly, the venerable efforts of Save Valley Village, and others like it, are being opposed by City Councilmembers who "understand" but disrespect their sentiments by continuously falling back on a "Downtown Group-Think" which justifies every possible excuse to overdevelop at the expense of the lives, environment, health and financial survival of honest, law-abiding City residents. 

Ditto for the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, backed by the same grassroots types who want to have more mobility, economic opportunity, and environmental laws supported by the City Council, but instead have to confront and oppose a City Council, Mayor, and Planning Department which prefers to break the law, change the law, and thwart the lives and wills of their tax-paying constituents. 

And did you hear about the awful (gasp!) organization backing the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, which merely requires a halt on overdevelopments (which, when they're brought before the courts and neighborhood councils, are routinely opposed and shut down) and an adherence to City Charter and its associated environmental laws and laws of democratic governance? 

It's that pesky, evil Aids Healthcare Foundation sponsoring the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative! 

And that evil, dangerous United Neighborhoods For Los Angeles - UN4LA which is pushing for it!   

Heaven forbid that smart development should be ... smart. 

Heaven forbid creating affordable housing should actually do it ... and not overdevelop with boatloads of high-priced, market-value projects with an already insufficient water and infrastructure to support what now exists in our City. 

Heaven forbid that those neighborhoods who really want to help the homeless, create more mobility through mass transit and appropriate transportation/planning measures, and ensure a livable environment should be empowered to actually do all that. 

And Heaven forbid that City Hall should allow those of us working ever more to keep what we have, while paying more and more for taxes and utility rates while getting less and less in return for them, should be allowed to economically survive instead of City leaders focusing on the profits of well-connected developers and a few small-but-connected special interests. 

It's pretty certain that the "true believers" and "density zombies" at Curbed LA and the like, will continue to work with the Mayor to pat us all collectively on the head, give a few tsk-tsk's, and tell us that all this sentiment is understandable but misguided, and make everything worse...and that we're all just a bunch of NIMBY's

It's also pretty certain that those of us who fought (and paid for, and are agonizing over paying more for) to create mass transit and upgrade our infrastructure, and are now being told to swallow ridiculous transit zones of 1/2-mile from train stations, monstrous overdevelopments that destroy and negatively change neighborhoods, and to give up our cars and commute 5-20 or more miles each day on our bicycles and buses... 

...while City leaders and only the wealthy and connected access work through their own cars... 

...will agonize over the decision to pay more for necessary transportation, or say "NO!" even to good transportation measures and its funding just to make a statement to City Hall. 

Finally, the question of taking back City Hall (which was the intent of Mayor Riordan and the Neighborhood Council Initiative) with the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative will also be on our minds if it gets enough signatures to make it on the November ballot. 

So we've got a "S.O.S." to save so much of what we hold dear, and to keep what we fought for while implementing appropriate and fair-minded change: 

1) Let's do what we can to ensure the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative gets on the November ballot 

2) Let's do what we can to ensure a "Measure R-2" for transportation funding on the November ballot, too. 

And let's see what a "S.O.S." can do as ordinary citizens scratch and claw their way to a City that truly represents the will of the citizenry.

 

(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee.  He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at  [email protected].   He also does regular commentary on the Mark Isler Radio Show on AM 870, and co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.) 

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016-01-11

Politics Before and After Term Limits: Two Different Worlds

EASTSIDER-Over the holidays, I started reminiscing about “back in the day,” something I used to hate in my 20’s when “old people” did it. However… 

I was thinking of a black union leader in LA named Walter Backstrom. He headed up the LA City Sanitation Workers Union for SEIU back in the day, and for some reason, he took a young union hothead under his wing. At the time, I was around twenty-six, working in Watts as a Social Worker and with the Social Workers Union – so proud of my UC Berkeley credentials. 

Both Sam Yorty and Tom Bradley were running for Mayor of the City of Los Angeles at the time. After we tired of passing endless resolutions to get out of the Vietnam War, we backed Tom Bradley. After all, he was black and everyone seemed to think he was cool. 

Bradley was cool, even though he was a high ranking police officer with tenuous actual ties to South Central LA. He was not universally perceived by the community as a nice guy. And Walter and Local 347 were backing Sam Yorty. 

Anyhow, we got to talking when I discovered some Yorty backers slapping some pretty nasty bumper stickers on cars in Watts, making it look like Bradley was a black radical.  Morally outraged, I asked Walter “how can this be?” I asked him, “how can you back a racist like Yorty?” I’ll always remember his reply. “Son,” he said, “Tom Bradley doesn’t need any more black support, but Sam Yorty does. I get paid to help my members.” 

Backstrom represented the trash collection workers. They had hard jobs and bad working conditions. They needed all the help they could get, especially from City Hall. 

Yorty went on to win, and I couldn’t help but notice that Local 347 got great contracts -- courtesy of Mayor Sam and wonderful access to City Hall. Walter Backstrom later went on to work for State Senator Bill Green and for Councilman Robert Farrell. We remained friends over the years. Local 347 always got good contracts for trash workers during those times. It was a lesson to me in the “good” RealPolitik

My takeaway is this:  Back then, the politicians were probably no cleaner than they are today, but the system had a network of relationships, built over time, that worked. No one wanted to do anything spectacularly stupid that would jeopardize those relationships -- with a few notable exceptions. It was a time for “grown-ups,” in the sense that everyone was clear about their stake in the game; your handshake really was your bond and most of the real political business got done over cocktails and food or in private meetings. 

In Sacramento, where I did some occasional lobbying work for my union, special interests maintained individual full-time hired lobbyists. The big unions ran tabs at all the bars in town and the eateries like Frank Fats, David’s Brass Rail, and Posey’s. They kept hotel tabs at places like The Senator. While I was there, I never saw a politician pick up a tab or a lobbyist embarrass a politician. Believe me, in the evenings, in the joints with large tables that included the political class and us hangers on, it was the same deal:  your word was your bond. And you didn’t talk or you never came back. 

In those heady, and sometimes corrupt, days in the City and the State, elected officials were basically in for life -- unless they got caught with their hand in the cookie jar or with a seriously underage companion in public.  

There were two plus sides to this system. First, this was a time of direct relationships between the special interests -- sometimes brokered through lobbyists, but often by direct one-on-one meetings. Those relationships lasted over decades. They imposed a degree of personal civility … boundaries that are nonexistent today. 

The other plus side was that everybody had a stake in the game. The politicians tended to gravitate into areas of expertise during their long political careers. Water issues, zoning, taxes, mental health -- you name it -- they found a niche of expertise; they and their staffs became experts.  And that expertise crossed party lines with regularity. Heck, they even read their bills! 

There were characters like Phil Burton and George Moscone and Willie Brown. There were great Republicans like George Milias and Bob Beverly. And they all worked together most of the time. And everyone in the game knew where the practical limits were. 

This worked for the players, even if the public was largely lost in space. The same held true for LA City Hall and the County of Los Angeles, although the County was seriously conservative and secretive compared to the rest of the jurisdictions I dealt with on a continuous basis. 

Then, after a lot of scandals, along came term limits. The thinking was that you couldn’t get an elected official out of office without a crowbar and this was close to true!  As a result, we got a new breed of folks who have no expertise in anything except getting elected to office and making a career out of moving up the rungs of the political ladder. Typically, this occurred at more expense and more to the detriment of the public than under the old system. Talk about unintended consequences!  And today, you still can’t get them out with a crowbar. 

These days, elected officials don’t even read most of the bills they author; votes are pretty much automatic, given the Democratic super majorities. Lost in this process is any pretense of subject matter expertise by these elected officials. It’s all about instant gratification. 

The only relationships that exist are the transitory cash ones between elected officials and the lobbyists, developers, and, yes, the unions who have ponied up the money to keep them in the game.  A handshake is good for a few weeks -- if you’re lucky -- and it’s all about what you are going to do for the incumbent now … now being defined as how what you want fits into their next office … public policy be damned. 

Just look at the LA City Council and the career paths of the majority of these elected officials. Public property, which is theoretically owned by the people of the City of Los Angeles and is held in trust by these public servants, is treated as markers in a monopoly game, while they bounce from job to job. 

My point is not to glamorize the old system or to bring back the good old days of a part-time California Legislature – even though you at least knew who bought who back then. 

I want to encourage some serious thought about how we govern, and how to go about modifying our existing system so that there is some incentive for elected officials to actually know something about the issues they casually shop. 

Land use issues are very complicated if you want to do more than simply sell your vote. Law enforcement issues are likewise very complicated. The second you drill down into the details and set up ‘filtering’ Commissions, it doesn’t seem to do a lot for either the communities we live in or the police themselves. 

The same is true of a host of issues. For instance, water management at the State level. This requires both knowledgeable elected officials who have subject matter expertise, either their own or that of their paid staffs. “Dialing for dollars,” as evidenced in our current system, is not what we need or want. 

So maybe, just maybe, we should take another look at term limits … and their implications.

 

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

Mobilizing Mothers: The History of “Mommy” Activists

HERE’S WHAT I KNOW-Author E.M. Forster once wrote, “I am sure that if the mothers of various nations could meet, there would be no more wars.” 

Although giving birth might not be a determining factor in the follow-through or even existence of activism, mothers have a longstanding tradition of mobilizing to get the job done. We joke about how a group of mothers can organize the logistics of running the soccer snack shack or a gift wrap drive that pays for those ELMO projectors in the classroom. These days, groups like Moms Demand Action, which has chapters in all fifty states, lobby members of Congress to push expanded background checks for guns. 

The President’s speech laying out the executive order to expand background checks for buyers and close the “gun show loophole” that exempts most small-sellers from keeping formal records of sale referenced the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook, from the introduction by Mark Barden, whose son Daniel was killed in the school mass shooting to the closing moments of the speech.

Sandy Hook was also a pivotal point for Shannon Watts, (photo above) an Indianapolis mother who started a Facebook page, “One Million Moms for Gun Control,” the day after the mass shooting. The page has grown into a nonpartisan advocacy group. The group’s “We Can End Gun Violence” video features President Obama as well as Julianne Moore, Spike Lee, Amy Schumer, and Michael J. Fox. Last fall just before the third anniversary of Sandy Hook, the organization’s Orange Walks around the country to “honor all the lives taken by gun violence in America and show just how determined we are to end it.” (Moms Demand Action)

The Indianapolis mother has become a leader in the movement to end gun violence, joined by supporters across the country who have started local or statewide chapters. How did Watts turn a personal mission into a national powerhouse?

Watts has stated that she modeled Moms Demand Action after Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD.) Since MADD was incorporated in 1980, the organization has evolved into one of the most influential grassroots-founded nonprofits in the U.S.

Like Moms Demand Action, MADD was founded by a mother. Candy Lightner took action after her 13-year old daughter was killed by a driver who had multiple records of arrest for intoxication and a hit-and-run drunk driving charge less than a week before the fatal accident. Today, drunk driving carries consequences but it hasn’t always been that way. At the time of Cari Lightner’s death, drunk driving was rarely prosecuted. Cari was one of 2,500 alcohol-related traffic fatalities that year in California when her mother lobbied Governor Jerry Brown to set up a task force on drunk driving. Lightner became the first member.

A year later, California had passed a law imposing minimum $375 fines for drunk drivers and mandatory sentences for repeat offenders. President Reagan tapped the California mother to serve on the National Commission on Drunk Driving. The commission recommended raising the drinking age to 21 and revoking licenses for repeat offenders. By 1984, the President had signed a law that reduced federal highway grants to states that had not raised the drinking age to 21 and all states had imposed stronger DUI laws. MADD had about 320 chapters and 600,000 volunteers throughout the country by 1985.

Although Lightner parted ways with the organization she started in 1985, MADD continued to impact DUI laws, waging a successful campaign to lower the national legal blood alcohol level (BAC) from 0.1 percent to 0.08. MADD’s lobbying efforts have led to numerous other laws and practices, including administrative license suspensions and ignition interlock laws. MADD continues to work towards their mission to “end drunk driving, help fight drug driving, support the victims of these violent crimes, and prevent underage drinking.”

E.M. Forster may have been right. If mothers like Candy Lightner and Shannon Watts can impact issues like DUI legislation and gun licensing, what other causes can be spearheaded by mothers who make a difference?

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

-cw

  

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

Power to the People Reaffirmed: CA Supreme Court Says Voters Can Weigh In on Citizens United

WAGING WAR ON BIG MONEY-When it ruled Monday that California lawmakers can ask for voters’ opinions on campaign-spending laws, the state Supreme Court underscored “that the ultimate power of our government is vested in the people,” Common Cause senior vice president Karen Hobert Flynn declared in the wake of the decision.

By upholding the legality of Proposition 49 -- which would ask voters whether Congress should propose an amendment overturning the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United   -- the court spoke “directly to the question we have faced since the Citizens United ruling,” Hobert Flynn continued. “Are we a democracy of, by, and for the people, or are we to be ruled by an elite, moneyed class, where the power of government rests in the hands of a few wealthy special interests?”

The San Jose Mercury News reported on the 6-1 decision:

The California Supreme Court on Monday for the most part upheld the state Legislature’s power to put nonbinding, advisory measures on the ballot -- allowing state politicians to essentially test the waters on issues with voters without actually enacting new laws. The justices left some questions unanswered as to how far the Legislature can go in using such measures in the future.

The unprecedented legal test stems from Proposition 49, a measure removed from the November 2014 ballot by the state’s high court that sought voter views on whether Congress should be asked to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial 2010 Citizens United ruling on unlimited independent campaign spending.

“Long-standing historical practice among the states demonstrates a common understanding that legislatures may formally consult with and seek nonbinding input from their constituents on matters relevant to the federal constitutional amendment process,” the ruling read in part.

“We see no evidence the drafters of the California Constitution intended to deprive the Legislature of a tool other state legislatures have long used to ensure they are truly speaking on behalf of their states in the federal constitutional amendment process,” Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar wrote for the state’s high court.

The development paves the way for the state legislature to put this issue before voters statewide in 2016. “I certainly expect it to be on the ballot one way or another,” Derek Cressman, who was the campaign manager for the proposition before it was removed from the ballot, told the LA Times. Hundreds of thousands of Californians also have spoken in support of an amendment through local advisory referenda, Common Cause points out.

A similar advisory referendum is slated to appear on the ballot this November in Arkansas. And in Washington state, backers of yet another initiative aimed at overturning Citizens United submitted 330,000 signatures to the secretary of state at the end of December -- more than enough to qualify the measure for the 2016 ballot.

“Coast-to-coast, Americans are determined to break the hold of big money donors on our politics,” said Hobert Flynn, “from city hall and the county courthouse to the national capitol and the White House.”

(Deirdre Fulton writes for Common Dreams … where this piece was first posted.) Photo: The Earl Warren Building in San Francisco -- Sanfranman59, licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons.  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 100

Pub: Dec 11, 2015

Diagnosing 2016 … Without a Crystal Ball

MY TURN-At the end of 2014, I wrote my “year-end” with a few disclaimers. I didn't write one for 2015 because I was literally unplugged -- on the high seas without internet connection! 

The first couple of days of withdrawal were painful, glancing at my digital appliances when nothing was there. Amazingly enough, by the third day it was only a minor inconvenience and for the rest of the fourteen days ... I really didn't care! I heartily recommend this "cold turkey" treatment to you all. It's amazing what one can do with the time not devoted to our digital addictions. 

I utilized my time well by riding a camel in Cabo San Lucas (an oxymoron if there ever was one, but have the picture to prove it,) went zip-lining in Costa Rica and, among other things, managed to read eight books. 

And, oh yes ... I pondered what I would write about for CityWatch. Now that I’m plugged in again, I have taken a look at what I wrote in 2014. I could have just re-run it here, but unfortunately, things in both the world and locally are worse. 

A macro look at the U.S. in 2014 showed the stock market, GNP, unemployment and healthcare coverage had accomplished great gains. We were better off than most of the other parts of the world. 

However, in 2015 we saw violence increase ten-fold -- finishing here in San Bernardino with a terrorist mass shooting. The stock market closed down 2% for the year...the worst loss since 2008. Unemployment did drop, but wages stagnated most of the year.  Interest rates were raised by .25% after almost a decade of no increases. Healthcare saw big jumps in pharmaceutical prices that forced premiums to rise; it’s still better than before the Affordable Care Act, but not as good as it could be.  

Los Angeles managed to cut its water consumption as dire predictions about El Nino starting in January came true. Our City Council talked a great game but accomplished very little. Crime increased significantly, although that could have been due to the fact that we received false statistics in prior years.  

The honeymoon with Mayor Garcetti is over and the actual living together has had some bumps. The Porter Ranch gas leak has uprooted and sickened thousands of families in the northern part of the San Fernando Valley and might not be fixed until March. And our other favorite utility to hate -- the DWP -- is focused on increasing rates, allegedly to rebuild our aging infrastructure. My CW colleague, Jack Humphreville, has detailed the DWP saga very well. Take a look back at his articles in CW. 

After five months of searching we still don't have a Superintendent of Education. The School Board assures us that we should have one by the end of the month. In the meantime, antagonism caused by the debate over public and charter schools continues to fester. 

At the end of last year, I also listed the baggage we were carrying into 2015. Let's see if any of that has gone from being “checked” to becoming a lighter carry on. 

Italics here are my 2015-2016 update: 

1)     Economic Inequity. The ramifications for this continued and growing gap between the top echelon and the rest of the working population could eventually destroy our way of life. Remember Marie Antoinette and her immortal “Let them eat cake?”  It is also a root cause for many of the other challenges we face. 

That hasn't changed to any great degree. Yes, minimum wage has gone up but one still can't live on a 40 hour a week minimum wage salary and feed a family. 

2)  The  Police Force in Minority Communities. Perception becomes a reality and the tension and resentment between the two in many communities must be altered.  There is blame on both sides. Where are the community leaders advocating for kids to stay in school, respect their teachers and each other and, probably most important, where is the parental influence? 

On the other side there is a huge gap between minority and white communities in both arrests and “stop and frisk.” That must change if we are to progress as a society. Are there bullies in the Police Force? Of course there are… as there are in all parts of our society. 

We saw even more of that this past year. Police-involved fatalities were too frequent. The City Council endorsed "body cameras" but Police Chief Beck decreed that in the case of police-involved incidents, the police officers would have access to the video BEFORE writing their reports. Also, the public would have to go through the courts in order to view the videos.  

Doesn't sound too transparent to me. 

3)  Education. I don’t know if the “Core” program is the answer, but with all of the smart people working in the educational sector, there have to be solutions. We as a society can’t afford to have an illiterate population. There are so many inspiring teachers involved in successful programs across the nation. Maybe using them to develop curriculum, instead of having administrators make the decisions, might be an answer. It couldn’t hurt! 

Higher education should be available to all and it shouldn’t be a strictly academic program. It means acquiring advanced training in those areas that the individual can master…whether it be plumbing or nuclear science. This helps grow our economy and makes life easier for all of us. 

"No child Left Behind" was allowed to fade away and new approaches are being discussed. It’s true that LA schools win academic decathlons, but there are still way too many dropouts as well as kids who can't read. 

4) World Conflicts. Personally, I don’t think the U.S. can solve the world’s problems. I also don’t think that we can remake the world in our own image. At the same time, we also CANNOT allow genocide to occur. So many people profess to have answers to all of the world’s conflicts, but I am not one of them! I do agree with some of the experts that what we are experiencing now is, sadly, the “new normal.” This is baggage that is not likely to be checked in my lifetime. 

It was a horribly violent year. We had the Paris Attacks, the immigration exodus, Saudi Arabia and Iran are now facing off, and in this first week of 2016, North Korea is boasting about its hydrogen bomb. If it can be made to fit on the end of a long range missile, it could hit the West Coast. 

Nowhere feels safe. For a week we were able to relax about a nuclear Iran when it agreed to some strong terms, but now that looks "iffy" even though they just got rid of 25,000 lbs. of uranium. 

We did restore relations with Cuba but Congress has not lifted the sanctions. 

5) Leadership. We as a nation do not encourage great leaders. By the time they are elected to leadership roles they have had to compromise on so many things. The combination of mediocrity and masses amounts of money is what wins elections. One may have a great message, but if there aren’t sufficient finances to get the message out…it does no good. Where will our future leaders come from? 

Reams have been written on this. We are the only country that starts an electoral campaign two years before the actual vote takes place. We and, unfortunately, the rest of the world have witnessed some of the most embarrassing and hateful rhetoric in modern history. Ironically, the only bright spot here is that we’ve seen evidence proving that it isn't the one who spends the most money who gets the most attention! 

My prediction is two-fold: This will either spur a huge turnout at the polls or, by the time November rolls around, a large percentage of the country will be so turned off they won't vote. 

Since “all politics is local,” last year, I listed the carryover baggage from 2014: 

City Pension growth

Earthquake Retrofitting

Water distribution and Conservation

Transportation Issues

Infrastructure Fixes

Uncompetitive Business Ordinances

Education Conflicts

Minority Community Police Conflicts

Apathetic Voters 

Add to that the homelessness problem and the plight of our Veterans and nothing has really changed. In many cases, it has gotten worse. 

Now the State is stepping in and this week we hear comments about the lack of a concise plan from Los Angeles. This I don't understand! The Mayor formed a crisis committee in June. We have some brilliant people in this City, who, if they were all locked in a room, could come up with some creative and practical ideas. Obviously our City government is not part of that group. 

I am sure you will let me know what else I should add to the list. 

Will we find solutions to all of this in 2016? Not a chance! We can only hope to make some progress, and I am more pessimistic about that than I was this time last year. 

Last year I said:  

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our Neighborhood Council System (NCs). I have been both an observer and an activist in this movement and have seen that its potential to help our City is still enormous. 

Neighborhood Councils face a real challenge going into the future. They are poised at a fork in the road…either rising to a higher, stronger position in the City or gradually dying out. The biggest weakness, in my opinion, is the lack of new leadership. There is no mechanism to encourage young people to participate. There are too many NCs in which the leadership rotates among the same group of people and for too many, it is a “power trip.” 

2016 is an election year for the NC's. Thirty-five out of the ninety-six have opted for online voting. It is a very good way to test the results and see if it would work for our citywide elections. 

There have been some positive changes at the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (EmpowerLA). They were able to increase staff. But, of course, without the thousands of volunteers, they would literally be out of business. 

On the other hand, I have a feeling that there are several City Councilmembers who are doing everything they can to undermine the influence of the Neighborhood Council system. They don't want their actions to be scrutinized by their constituents. However, they are up against a passionate and better organized group. Some of them will suffer the errors of their ways come the next election. 

I do want to express my appreciation to all of you who have allowed me to vent my frustrations and to those who have shared with me the positive things that everyday people do for their neighbors. I hope I have stirred the pot a little by discussing issues that affect all of us living in this imperfect but wonderful City. 

And, as always, my gratitude to CW Editor Ken Draper for his years of dedication to the betterment of Los Angeles, his vision and his relentless search for multiple opinions on the news. 

As always comments welcome.

 

(Denyse Selesnick is a CityWatch columnist. She is a former publisher/journalist/international event organizer. Denyse can be reached at: [email protected]) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections)

BOOK WATCH-Social progress occurs because liberal-minded reformers defeat conservative resistance.

That’s how slavery ended – and women gained the right to vote – and couples won a right to use birth control – and Social Security pensions were afforded to retirees – and labor was allowed to organize – and Prohibition was reversed – and blacks overcame Jim Crow segregation – and gay sex was decriminalized – and Medicare and Medicaid were established – and Sabbath “blue laws” were abolished – and censorship of movies and books ended – and health coverage was expanded under the Affordable Care Act – and pollution controls were enforced – and gays gained a right to marry – and many other humane advances occurred.

This week, Boston University religion professor Stephen Prothero will release his book Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections). He says conservatives often feel society shifting away from their cherished privileges and prejudices – for example; they feel “anxiety about the demise of the patriarchal family or Anglo-American dominance or ‘Christian America.’” Too late, they raise an outcry and fight a furious resistance, but the trend can’t be stopped.

“In almost every case since the founding of the republic,” Prothero wrote, “conservatives have fired the first shots in our culture wars. Equally often, liberals have won… [and] a liberal win becomes part of the new status quo and eventually fades from our collective memory. No conservative today wants to disenfranchise Mormons or outlaw five o’clock cocktails. So these victories no longer even appear to be ‘liberal.’ They are simply part of what it means to be an American.”

The professor added:

“America’s culture wars are won by liberals … Gays and lesbians get marriage. An ‘infidel’ (Jefferson) and then a ‘papist’ (Kennedy) get the White House. Nearly as predictably as night follows day, those who declare war on ‘infidels’ or Catholics or the sins of the 1920s or the abominations of the 1960s go down in defeat. Liberals win because they typically have the force of American traditions on their side, not least the force of the Bill of Rights itself, which on any fair reading protects the rights of minorities against the impositions of majorities. Liberals also win because the causes conservatives pick to rev up their supporters are, surprisingly, lost from the start.”

Prothero spotlights five religious-racial-moral battles in America to prove his point. The first battle was a showdown in the 1790s when conservative churchmen branded Thomas Jefferson a “howling atheist” in league with violent radicals of the French Revolution. The struggle involved dispute over whether America was “a Christian nation.”

Elections of 1796 and 1800 “turned into a cosmic battle between God and the devil, and America’s first culture war was on,” Prothero wrote. Alexander Hamilton called Jefferson “an atheist in religion and a fanatic in politics.” Amid the tumult, “conservatives scapegoated immigrants as ‘hordes of ruffians’ and ‘revolutionary vermin’” (somewhat like today’s Republican denunciations of Hispanics and Muslims).

In the end, Jefferson triumphed, and America became more inclusive of unorthodox people.

The second culture war involved a wave of violent “nativist” Protestant attacks on Catholics around America. In 1844, Catholic-Protestant hatred triggered a cannon battle in the streets of Philadelphia, killing dozens. Anti-Catholic riots and church burning ensued into the 1850s, spawning the “America for Americans” Know-Nothing Party, which won 75 seats in Congress in 1854. Gradually, hatred of Catholics receded, but Protestant prejudice lingered until Kennedy won the presidency in 1960.

The third culture war was hostility and violence toward Mormons and their polygamy practice. Latter-Day Saints founder Joseph Smith and his brother were murdered by an anti-Mormon mob in Illinois in 1844. Also, “Mormon leaders would be sued, jailed, beaten, stripped naked, tarred and feathered, and murdered,” the professor wrote. But this wave eventually faded.

The fourth culture war was Prohibition in the 1920s after evangelists and fundamentalists succeeded in banning alcohol. The struggle included conservative alarms over flappers, jazz, race-mixing, smoking, cosmetics, hair-bobbing, Sunday golf – and even evolution, as crystallized by the “Scopes Monkey Trial.” Government-enforced sobriety bred bootleggers, organized crime, and bribery of police and prosecutors. In the end, liberals won the right for Americans to drink if they wished. Conservative churches were defeated, and Prohibition ended.

The current culture war arose as a backlash against the tumultuous 1960s when young Americans loosed the sexual revolution and war-denouncing counterculture. Racial desegregation, women’s right to choose abortion, and the banning of government-led school prayer have further outraged conservatives. The right wing “[has seen] American society drifting away from them, erasing forms of culture they held dear.”

Over time, most Americans have accepted liberal victories, but today Tea Party hard-liners still sound right-wing trumpets. Will culture wars continue forever? Will progressives keep pushing for more personal freedoms? Dr. Prothero concludes:

Liberals can take comfort in the fact that they almost always win our cultural battles – that the arc of American cultural politics bends toward more liberty, not less.”

(James Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail and is provided to CityWatch by Peace Voice) 

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 3, 2016

Mayor Garcetti Looking to Compromise with NIMBYs on Anti-Development Ballot Measure

GUEST WORDS-Development has been booming in Los Angeles since the end of the Great Recession -- Angelenos need housing and developers are pumping out bigger and bigger mixed-users to take advantage of this. But not everyone is a fan. 

A ragtag group of Hollywood NIMBYs who call themselves the Coalition to Preserve LA believes the rapid development of Los Angeles is something along the lines of a "Manhattanization" of their beloved city, citing already-dense, development-crazy Hollywood as their exhibit A. Emboldened by their public fight with the Palladium Residences, (photo above) and frustrated by a lack of consistency in the city's zoning practices, the CPLA wants to put an end to the city's practice of using piecemeal amendments to city codes to allow real estate developers to build stuff not normally allowed by LA's extremely outdated zoning code.  To that end, the CPLA has proposed a ballot measure they call the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative that locks developers into iron-clad (and often outdated) density restrictions. 

On the flip side, City Hall is looking to build a lot of housing and fast to meet the needs of residents -- 100,000 units by 2021-- so this ballot measure is triggering fears of red tape that could stifle LA's ability to build its way out of an epic housing crunch. The fear of NIMBYs is real. According to the LA Daily News, Mayor Garcetti is hoping to meet with the CPLA to hammer out some kind of compromise before the initiative can make it on to the November ballot. 

The NII ballot measure would stop all amendments to the city's General Plan, increase oversight from city planning officials, and stop construction on all projects not in compliance with the city's General Plan for up to two years, until their impacts on the community could be reviewed. The CPLA believes this would put a stop to mega developments skirting the zoning codes through what they call "unlawful favoritism" from the city. (NIMBYs sued in the past to prevent a more modern update to the planning guidelines in Hollywood.) 

LA is rapidly approaching a point where outdated city planning guidelines clash with a modern metropolis that has outgrown the concept of sprawl. City officials, worried they could be handcuffed to antiquated zoning laws, are beginning to publicly voice their displeasure with the proposed initiative. 

Last month, Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell said the initiative was "bad for LA" and bad for the city's economy. Garcetti says he agrees with the initiative's "sentiment" of decreasing spot zoning and variances to the city code, but a ballot measure is not the way to accomplish the goal, adding that it would have "unintended consequences," such as rising rents and a decrease in available housing during a housing crisis.” The mayor would like to meet with the CPLA to discuss a compromise that would "get to the heart" of the CPLA's complaints without going to the voters in November. 

CPLA leader Michael Weinstein says he's willing to meet with the mayor, but doesn't show any signs of wavering in his push for the measure. He says in order for CPLA to agree to a compromise, the LA City Council would have to pass severe limits to the granting of exemptions, and commit to "doing a new general plan or community plan on a set timeline." Until then, the CPLA is going ahead with their ballot measure. They even have a PR campaign planned to help gather the 65,000 signatures needed to get on the ballot. And in the next few weeks, they will erect billboards pleading for LA to "Stop Manhattanwood." 

(Jeff Wattenhofer writes for Curbed LA, where this perspective was first posted.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

 

Mayor Offers LA’s Planning Director Job to the Boy Next Door

PLATKIN ON PLANNING--The simultaneous announcements from the Mayor’s Office that the current Director of City Planning, Michael LoGrande, has resigned, and his successor will be – pending confirmation -- Vince Bertoni, currently Pasadena’s Planning Director, speaks volumes.   

For one thing, there clearly was no national search for a new Director of Planning for the second largest city in the United States.  No job announcements in professional planning magazines.  No interviews of short-listed candidates before the City Planning Commission or the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee.  Just an uncharacteristically quick and decisive executive decision by Mayor Eric Garcetti.   

It indicates that LA now functions like a small town in which everyone knows each other since prior to Pasadena Vince Bertoni was a former Deputy Director of Planning in Los Angeles. City Hall no longer has an interest in tapping professional planning expertise from other metropolitan areas, such as Indianapolis (Cal Hamilton), New York City (Conn Howe), San Bernardino County (Ken Topping), or San Diego (Gail Goldberg).   

To be clear this lack of a national search is not because City Planning staff is so knowledgeable that there is no need to look elsewhere.  Rather, City Hall’s pro-development institutional culture is so in-grained that hiring professional planning from the outside could gum up the urban growth machine.  Better to tap a familiar face and hope that new Director of Planning can somehow placate two forces closely at odds with each other.  

On one side are the investors, contractors, realtors, and their ilk hard at work hustling permits and entitlements for everything from McMansions to skyscrapers.  

On the other side are the community groups that turn to publications like City Watch to make it clear that LA is in the midst of a speculative real estate bubble in which character, scale, environmental impacts, and infrastructure capacity barely factor into permitting decisions.  In fact, it is this “approve everything” attitude that gave rise to the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative that may have fueled Michael LoGrande’s unexpected departure. 

Presumably, the City Hall rumor mill will eventually leak the particulars of this revolving door, but until then speculation rules.  Did the City lose too many planning-related lawsuits, especially in Hollywood?  Did some City Hall insider not get the goods delivered in time?  Is the public being thrown a bone to undermine the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative?  At this point the public simply does not know, which is why rumors fly so easily. 

But regardless of the reasons, Vince Bertoni (photo left) clearly must have some mixed emotions about his new position.   He will inherit a department that is finally well staffed with over 400 employees, but the bulk of them are new hires because around 75 or more veteran planners left the Planning Department over the past decade through a golden hand shake or induced retirements.  

Their institutional memory and knowledge about planning and the particularities of Los Angeles walked out the door with them.  While the drive and ambition of recent hires can fill some of this vacuum, it also means that there will be avoidable mistakes and duplicated work. 

Since Vince Bertoni is a planning professional, he will quickly realize, if he does not already know it, that the planning function of LA City Planning is the runt of the litter.  Most of those 400 employees are dealing with zoning entitlements for specific projects, not planning Los Angeles.  Moreover, many of these entitlement projects require amendment to the General Plan, a clear indicator that market forces, not adopted plans, are shaping the Los Angeles of the future. 

The remedy for this situation is no easy task, and hundreds of zoning technicians cannot be quickly retooled to update, implement, and monitor the different elements of LA’s General Plan.  Only two of these elements are up-to-date:  Housing and Transportation (Mobility), and the latter is subject to a lawsuit.  One other optional element, Health, was recently adopted, but the other General Plan elements are seriously out-of-date and in need an urgent update.  

Foremost among those elements requiring an immediate update is the optional General Plan Framework Element.  It ties together the entire General Plan but is based on 1990 Census data.  It population forecast for 2010 overshot the 2010 census by nearly 500,000 people.   Another optional element, Infrastructure, dates back to the Calvin Hamilton era, and is now 50 years old. 

Furthermore, Los Angeles urgently needs two other optional General Plan elements.  One is Economic Development, a perennial issue in Los Angeles because employment levels have been stagnant for over two decades. 

The other optional element is Climate Change.  Many cities have already prepared a Climate Change Element, and the State of California has prepared detailed guidelines to assist cities in preparing this new element.  Instead, both Mayors Villaraigosa and Garcetti had their staff prepare Climate Action Plans.  In effect, the implementation program is there, but not the policies to guide and monitor it. 

In the case of the adopted General Plan elements, the situation is the reverse.  The policies are there, but their implementation is haphazard because there is no linkage whatsoever between the City’s planning process and its budgeting process, including the Capital Improvement Program.  Like each city Departments’ work program, they exist in parallel universes. 

Finally, all of the General Plan elements need to be carefully monitored, and the General Plan Framework mandates exactly what this monitoring entails.  But, the monitoring program does not exist, and City Planning has only produced one highly incomplete monitoring report in the past 16 years.  Public law suits have attempted to correct this enormous flaw, but the response of the Planning Department and the City Attorney was to fight the lawsuits, not to finally establish the monitoring program and produce the annual monitoring reports carefully delineated in the General Plan Framework. 

This tension between planning and zoning will not go away on its own in Los Angeles, and it is the job of a strong Director of Planning to make sure they are on an equal footing.  For this to happen, Vince Bertoni clearly has his work cutout for him.

 

(Dick Platkin is a former LA city planner who reports on planning issues for CityWatch.  He also serves on the boards of the Beverly Wilshire Homes Association and Planning Committee of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council. Please direct any comments or corrections to [email protected]. )

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

Not Another White Oscars

WHO WE ARE--The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, that’s the group that picks the Oscar nominees and winners, faces its first big test on January 14. That’s the day that it will announce who its members nominated for this year’s Academy Awards.

It’s a big test for a good reason. A year ago the Academy was publicly embarrassed, almost humiliated, by the avalanche of bad press, and threats from civil rights leaders to picket and boycott the awards ceremony, it got. It was under withering fire for having a near unbroken parade of white men and women troop to the stage to snare Oscars. It was the whitest Academy Awards in nearly two decades. It was so white that Award ceremony host Neil Patrick Harris (photo below) got grim faced laughs when he cracked, “Tonight we celebrate Hollywood’s best and whitest, sorry … brightest.”

The Hollywood industry shot callers did not want a repeat of that image fiasco. They solemnly promised to do everything in their power to do better with the Oscars. They promised to do due diligence in breaking up the clubby, chummy nearly all white, mostly male membership of the Academy. That meant encouraging more minorities in the industry to apply for membership.

They announced that they would launch a new initiative to get more minorities on the Academy staff. They would encourage the studios and independents to scour the woods for more black, Hispanic, Asian and female filmmakers and performers to bring into the industry establishment. They repeatedly pointed out that the film industry moguls meant business in their pledge to do more to break up the good ole’ white guy club. The proof of that offered to bolster their claim to do more to make a racial and gender make-over was that the Academy’s own president was an African-American woman.

The debate over what Hollywood should or shouldn’t do to make the film business more ethnically and gender representative of the country and the film-going audience has raged for decades. The paltry number of black, Hispanic, Asian screen performers, directors and behind the camera talent who has been nominated, let alone who have won Oscars, has been endlessly cited. The landmark 2002 Academy Awards in which blacks won the best actor and actress award, or the even more landmark 2005 Awards in which five out of the 20 nominations of black actors, now seems like ancient history. The Academy has sped backward since those heady days.

The push to get Hollywood to open its doors wide to minorities and women up and down the filmmaking food chain is not academic. Minority and women filmgoers yearly pony up tens of millions to help bolster the film business.

What’s presented on the big and little screen represents America’s cultural face of what the industry and the country is supposed to look like. It’s not just about a glitzy on screen image it’s about transforming an industry whose business is to entertains into a business that reflects and fairly represents its clientele, that’s the ticket buying public, and provides real opportunities for a part of that clientele to work and rise to the top in that industry.

This goes far beyond ladling out a statute on the podium to a handful of hand-picked select and elite film talent every year. Still, it’s the glitter and glamor of that ceremony and those awards that millions on ritual cue tune their TV sets into every year. They sit for hours watching, and along the way identify with and revel in the mirth, ecstasy and fantasy of the Oscar winners.

The Academy is, of course, from its words and promises and the embarrassment of a year ago, is well aware of the industry’s mass power and allure, and even its responsibility to literally put a better and different face on its business. The problem though is how to get those faces in its inner sanctum. 

It’s a high bar to scale. A prospective member has to be sponsored by two current members of the Academy. Or, they must have been nominated for an Oscar. There’s more. If they can get over that bar they have to pass muster by the Academy’s Board of Governors who have the final say so over who gets in. The Academy hasn’t given any indication that it will loosen its admission standards anytime soon, if ever. 

Hollywood’s business is what it has been from the day in 1929 when it held its first Academy Awards ceremony and that’s to entertain and not crusade for racial and gender diversity. That won’t change. But what can and should is the face of those who receive its awards for entertaining.

In 2015, all eyes watched an Oscars ceremony that was a mostly white guy’s show. All eyes will again be on the Oscars to see what’s changed. The message then is not another white Oscars.

 

(Earl Ofari Hutchinson is President of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable and an occasional contributor to CityWatch. For more of Hutchinson insight.) 

-cw

 

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CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

 

 

Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association: A Deceptive Attack on Organized Labor

VOICES--The United States Supreme Court will soon hear oral arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association (CTA), a lawsuit with major implications for the future of organized labor. While it purports to be about free speech rights, Friedrichs is actually a deceptive attack on unions. 

Many California public school teachers working in traditional school districts are CTA members by default. CTA collects dues from members, some of which are "chargeable" -- that is, applied to the costs of collective bargaining and classified as apolitical -- and the rest of which are "nonchargeable," or classified as political.

The plaintiffs in Friedrichs seek to overturn Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which in 1977 established that, while public sector unions could not require member contributions to nonchargeable spending, they could charge all employees for chargeable spending (activities related to "collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment purposes").

The plaintiffs' argument boils down to the following: All spending by the union is inherently political. Mandatory employee contributions to it thus constitute "compelled speech," which is generally prohibited by the first amendment. According to the plaintiffs, the Supreme Court was wrong in Abood when it asserted that the importance of promoting "labor peace" and preventing "free rides" justifies making chargeable dues mandatory.

This argument is deeply flawed on several levels. First, chargeable dues contributions are a condition of a specific type of employment -- they aren't "compelled" by any reasonable definition of the word. Teachers who dislike this employment condition are perfectly free to seek employment at a non-unionized school. Unless the plaintiffs consider all conditions of employment in any profession to be "compelled," which I doubt they do, they can't logically argue that chargeable dues contributions are.

Second, there are also numerous other circumstances in which some form of membership dues is required. I, for example, support very little of our government's defense spending, but I still have to pay the portion of my taxes that fund it. Or, as Gordon Lafer explains, consider that lawyers must pay mandatory fees to practice law and condominium owners are required to pay association fees.

Third, while the distinction between political and nonpolitical activity is undoubtedly fuzzy, we draw seemingly arbitrary lines between the two all the time. For example, many large corporations have lobbyists who fight against unions and labor standards, charitable arms that donate to organizations that undermine unions and labor standards, and managers who discourage unionization (both legally and illegally) at their stores -- each of these activities is overlapping and affects the public interest, but only the first is typically classified as political. For this reason, the plaintiffs' arguments, if accepted, could potentially invalidate a whole lot of other rules that differentiate political from nonpolitical activity.

Fourth, the prevention of free rides (when someone benefits from collective bargaining without paying for it) is a compelling justification for requiring dues from union members. Unions in states that have restricted collective bargaining are already reeling; in Wisconsin, for example, where Governor Scott Walker initiated an anti-union crusade in 2011, compensation has fallen by 10 percent for members of the Wisconsin State Employees' Union, while NEA membership in the state has fallen by a third and AFT membership by half. Allowing free rides and making it more difficult for unions to negotiate reduces the bargaining power -- and hence the likelihood of securing adequate compensation and good working conditions -- for all members.

The organization behind Friedrichs, the Center for Individual Rights, has strong ties to individuals and groups, like the Koch Brothers and ALEC, that routinely fight against workers' rights. This lawsuit is part of those efforts; it isn't actually about free speech or constructing sensible policy. Instead, it's about undermining organized labor and further diminishing union strength and worker bargaining power.

For wealthy interests who benefit when workers lose and those congenitally opposed to teachers unions, Friedrichs may thus be welcome. But those who care about workers' rights and are interested in the facts would do well to oppose it.

Note: A deeper dive into Friedrichs and a related lawsuit can be found here.   

(Ben Spielberg is 34Justice co-founder and blogger. This piece was posted first at Huffington Post

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2015

When California Sterilized 20,000 Citizens

WHO WE ARE--Not too long ago, more than 60,000 people were sterilized in the United States based on eugenic laws. Most of these operations were performed before the 1960s in institutions for the so-called “mentally ill” or “mentally deficient.” 

In the early 20th century across the country, medical superintendents, legislators, and social reformers affiliated with an emerging eugenics movement joined forces to put sterilization laws on the books. Such legislation was motivated by crude theories of human heredity that posited the wholesale inheritance of traits associated with a panoply of feared conditions such as criminality, feeblemindedness, and sexual deviance. 

Many sterilization advocates viewed reproductive surgery as a necessary public health intervention that would protect society from deleterious genes and the social and economic costs of managing “degenerate stock.” From today’s vantage point, compulsory sterilization looks patently like reproductive coercion and unethical medical practice.

At the time, however, sterilization both was countenanced by the U.S. Supreme Court (in the 1927 Buck v. Bell case) and supported by many scientists, reformers, and law-makers as one prong of a larger strategy to improve society by encouraging the reproduction of the “fit” and restricting the procreation of the “unfit.” In total, 32 U.S. states passed sterilization laws between 1907 and 1937, and surgeries reached their highest numbers in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Beginning in the 1970s, state legislatures began to repeal these laws, finding them antiquated and discriminatory, particularly towards people with disabilities.

Of the 60,000 sterilizations in the United States, California performed one-third, or 20,000, of them, making the Golden State the most aggressive sterilizer in the nation. Ten years ago, I published a book that explores the history of eugenics and sterilization in California, but I was frustrated that my research had yielded so little information about the state’s extensive sterilization program. I knew next to nothing about the thousands of Californians sterilized in institutions such as Sonoma (photo above), Mendocino, and Patton, all located in rural, remote parts of the state.

Who were these people? Why were they committed to institutions and then deprived of their reproductive autonomy? What was the demographic composition of those sterilized? Were certain groups of people disproportionately targeted? What about their families, interests, and lives, in and outside of the institution?

In 2007, I finally found crucial pieces of the historical puzzle. At the administrative offices of the state’s Department of Mental Health (now Department of State Hospitals), which had directed the state’s sterilization program decades earlier, a secretary pointed me to a standard-issue gray metal filing cabinet. Inside, I found a box with some microfilm reels. Squinting at the small dark font on the negative strips, I could make out the words “Sterilization Recommendation.”

In total, I located 19 microfilm reels containing thousands of documents dating from 1919 to 1952 (the most active years of sterilization), which had been preserved in the 1970s when the paper files were discarded. Several years ago, I was able to launch a project with a team of students and researchers at my institution, the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, to create a dataset that contains all these records in de-identified and coded form. Data entry has been a protracted and demanding process, taking nearly three years, but ultimately we created a dataset containing 19,995 patient records.

Our dataset reveals that those sterilized in state institutions often were young women pronounced promiscuous; the sons and daughters of Mexican, Italian, and Japanese immigrants, frequently with parents too destitute to care for them; and men and women who transgressed sexual norms.

Preliminary statistical analysis demonstrates that during the peak decade of operations from 1935 to 1944 Spanish-surnamed patients were 3.5 times more likely to be sterilized than patients in the general institutional population.

Laws that govern the use of medical records require that we redact personal information to protect patient privacy. Even though we will never be able to divulge the real names or precise circumstances of the 20,000 people sterilized in California, we can still see the ugly underside of medical paternalism and how authorities treated Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, immigrant groups, and people with disabilities and mental illnesses in 20th-century America.

Consider the following stories:

In 1943, a 15-year-old Mexican-American boy we will call Roberto was committed to the Sonoma State Home, an institution for the “feebleminded” in Northern California. Roberto’s journey to Sonoma began the previous year when he was picked up by the Santa Barbara Police for a string of infractions that included intoxication, a knife fight, and involvement with a “local gang of marauding Mexicans.” Citing his record of delinquency and “borderline” IQ score of 75, the officials at Sonoma recommended that Roberto be sterilized.

Roberto’s father adamantly, and unsuccessfully, opposed his son’s sterilization, and went so far as to secure a priest to protest the operation. Again and again, the records reveal that many Mexican-American families like Roberto’s resisted compulsory sterilization, seeking support from the Catholic Church, the Mexican Consulate, and legal aid societies. On occasion, family members were able to stop or forestall the operation; in most cases, however, medical superintendents would simply override such protestations and proceed with surgery.

Four years later, the relatives of Hortencia, a young African-American woman held in Pacific Colony in Spadra, California, contacted the NAACP to make a strong case against her sterilization. They halted the surgery with threats of high-profile legal action, even though this meant Hortencia was not permitted to leave the institution.

At the same time, we found that many parents and guardians consented to the sterilization of their loved ones. Silvia, a Mexican-American mother of a toddler, was 20 years old when she was placed in Pacific Colony in 1950. (photo above: image used in accordance with the California Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects Protocol ID 13-08-1310 and the University of Michigan Biomedical IRB HUM00084931.)  She was assessed with an “imbecile” IQ of 35 and reportedly had been raised in a violent home. Silvia’s mother ostensibly could not control her daughter and approved her sterilization.

Fifteen years earlier, Timothy, a white 25-year old placed in Stockton because of same-sex encounters since boyhood and a psychiatric diagnosis of “dementia praecox, hebephrenic type,” consented to his own reproductive surgery, perhaps because he knew that it was a potential ticket out of the facility or because he felt it would help him control his pathologized sexual desires.

In contrast, Mark, a white clergyman committed to Patton (a hospital for the “mentally ill”) for “dementia praecox, catatonic type,” wrote to officials in Sacramento in 1947 that he was “religiously opposed” to his own vasectomy. Records indicate that by speaking up for himself Mark persuaded authorities against the recommended vasectomy.

(Photo: Postcard c.1910s of Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino.)  Patton, Southern California’s primary mental hospital for many years, was the largest sterilizer of the mentally ill in California and second highest sterilizer overall in the state. 

Taken together, these experiences illuminate, often in poignant detail, an era when health officials controlled with impunity the reproductive bodies of people committed to institutions. Superintendents wielded great power and proceeded with little accountability, behaving in a fashion that today would be judged as wholly unprofessional, unethical, and potentially criminal. We hope our project can restore the dignity and individuality of people such as Roberto, Hortencia, and Mark, who were subjected to this kind of dehumanization.

This history remains relevant, considering a more contemporary episode of sterilization abuse, again in California’s public institutions. Although the state’s eugenic sterilization law was repealed in 1979, existing legislation provided leeway for operations in state prisons pursuant to a strict set of criteria. Between 2006 and 2010, 146 female inmates in two of California’s women’s prisons received tubal ligations that ran afoul of these criteria; at least three dozen of these unauthorized procedures directly violated the state’s own informed consent process.

The majority of these female inmates were first-time offenders, African-American or Latina. Echoing the rationale of the eugenicists who championed sterilization in the 1930s, the physician responsible for many of these operations blithely explained they would save the state a great deal of money “compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children -- as they procreated more.” In 2013, an intrepid journalist at the Center for Investigative Reporting broke this story and it eventually led to the passage of a bill banning sterilization in California state prisons.

These revelations demonstrate that, even in our age of bioethics and awareness of the wrongs of medical experimentation, we are not immune from the conditions that facilitated compulsory sterilization in the mid-20th century: lack of institutional oversight, presumptions that certain members of society are not “fit” to reproduce, and overzealous and biased physicians. The documents we found certainly contain historical lessons for the present and starkly remind us that we should never forget the past.

(Alexandra Minna Stern is professor of American culture, obstetrics and gynecology, women’s studies, and history at the University of Michigan. A new edition of her book Eugenic Nation: Faults and Frontiers of Better Breeding in America was published in December 2015. This piece first appeared on Zocalo Public Square.)   Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

Let’s Face It, California Is Nuts

GOLDEN STATE DEFIES COMMON SENSE--My fellow Californians, the state of our state is nuttier than ever.

In saying that, I do not meant to judge the sanity of individual Californians—to the contrary, national surveys show we have lower rates of mental illness than the country as a whole. And, to be clear, I am referring to more than the agricultural fact that our state’s almond and walnut production has increased even during this drought.

I know you will hear other, more conventional assessments of the state of things in the coming weeks. The beginning of a new year is the high season for our elected officials to offer addresses on how our state is faring—overviews of California’s cities and counties and school districts. Since these are good, if anxious, times, they will offer optimistic talk of state and local comebacks from recession and budget cuts, of digitally infused growth, of their plans for new programs. They will try to offer narratives that make sense of this place.

That is an understandable impulse, but we all know in our hearts there is no making sense of California.

For better and for worse, we are too nutty for that.

I offer my assessment of our essential nuttiness as a starting point for a year in which we will debate and cast votes on our taxes, our drug laws, our schools, our roads, our rails, our environment, our water, our future. As we figure things out, let us not lean too heavily on reason, or appeal too often to common sense.

After all, this has never been a particularly reasonable or sensible state—even as it has become one of the world’s wealthiest and most attractive places. Our nuttiness and our success stem from the same history: From its very beginnings, California has been reshaped so rapidly and often by so many different people from so many different places that only fools and columnists would dare generalize about the place.

So when things make no sense in the coming year, take comfort in the words of the writer and anarchist Edward Abbey: “There is science, logic, reason; there is thought verified by experience. And then there is California.”

We have been so singular for so long that California has become obsessed with singularity—and even afraid of “the singularity,” the idea that artificial intelligences will eventually surpass our own, and acquire a life of their own, thus dooming humanity. When Gov. Brown gives his own State of the State address, there likely will be a predictable list of California singular-status boasts: as a leader in renewable energy, in pursuing the nation’s only high-speed rail system, in protecting undocumented immigrants, in finding smarter ways to use water, in fighting climate change.

Such policies are to be celebrated. They also are the fruits of our perceived nuttiness—other states have rejected high-speed rail and immigrant protection and cap-and-trade for greenhouse gas emissions as irretrievably wacky ideas.

You won’t hear this month’s official speechmakers talk about the other half of the nut—the way our nuttiness can turn on itself.

Ours is a state of creative communities and people that we allow to be ruled from Sacramento via the most centralized regime of regulation and taxation in the United States.

California is home to more than 100 billionaires. It also has the highest percentage of its population living in poverty of any state in the country, according to statistics that control for cost of living and public assistance. Despite all those poor people, our leaders have pursued policies that add to the cost of living. And so we have the most expensive electricity, gas, water, and—most notoriously—housing. And do we build more? No—we are busy making it harder and more expensive to build additional housing.

We embrace freedom and restrict our liberties in the same breath, without realizing it. Californians are well on their way to legalizing marijuana—but good luck finding a place in the state where you can smoke it, or a cigarette. The state is pioneering technologies and rules for self-driving cars—even as we let our roads deteriorate into impassable messes.

We’ve led the way in expanding health insurance for poor people—nearly half of our children are now on Medi-Cal, California’s version of Medicaid—but at the same time, we’ve made it harder for people to see a doctor and get treatment. California desperately needs more college graduates—we’ll be short a million skilled workers by the middle of the next decade—so, naturally, we’ve been under-funding public higher education and limiting enrollment in our colleges.

Nothing is nuttier than California education policy. Our K-12 schools still aren’t funded at the national per-pupil average, but the state uses them as a piggybank, borrowing money from school districts in bad times. And even as the state has revamped its rainy day fund, it has prevented local school districts from saving money for a rainy day, potentially undermining their credit-worthiness. And California has led the way in restricting parents and the public from obtaining information on how schools are doing; the state has stopped issuing the Academic Performance Index, which rated schools, and has yet to replace it with any other measure.

We Californians also have a nutty weakness for empty and extravagant promises. We spend years on Elon Musk’s waiting lists for Teslas he never seems to deliver in the promised numbers. We invest billions in the trivial—how many online coupon companies and photo-sharing apps does one state need? And we overdo it. CalPERS thinks it can guarantee 6.5 percent investment returns (just a year after it said it could guarantee 7.5 percent). Our governments are still offering billions in retiree health care—without setting aside money to fund it—even in an age when Medicare and Obamacare should cover all.

This year, you’ll hear big talk about how we’ll reform our crazily complicated criminal justice and tax systems. We should reform, though we probably won’t. A place as nutty as this needs simpler rules, not 5,000 separate criminal provisions and over 400 penalty enhancements.

I could go on—take note that I’ve gone this far in a column about California nuttiness without once mentioning San Francisco—but what’s the point? While our nuttiness has its costs, California will survive. And we’ll cope, as we always do, by celebrating how crazily creative we are.

As Compton’s Kendrick Lamar will rap at this new year’s Grammys when he wins a boatload of awards, “We gon’ be alright. Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon’ be alright.”

 

(Joe Mathews is California & innovation editor for Zócalo Public Square, for which he writes the Connecting California column.)

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

California: Life in the Corporate State

GELFAND’S WORLD--How is the Affordable Care Act doing here in California? One recent newcomer to the system informs us that the state agency known as Covered California is doing just fine. It's only when you have to deal with the insurance company itself that things can get sticky. Perhaps sticky is too polite a word for it. Here is her story. 

The subject of our account spent a little more than a year working in another state. When she came back to California, it was coincidentally at a time that was the beginning of the open enrollment period. She called Covered California and was presented with a list of options. She chose to sign up with Healthnet. She dutifully made her first payment well in advance for a December 1 start date. All was fine, or so she thought. 

But all was not fine. For reasons known only to the insurance deities, Healthnet fumbled this particular ball. Instead of signing her up for the first of December as promised, she was signed up for January of 2016. This would have left her without health insurance for all of December. She discovered this mistake well before the first of December (and well after her payment cleared). Thus began the long and difficult process of trying to resolve the problem. 

Let me give you a hint. Healthnet never got the problem solved. 

Healthnet made lots of promises, but never actually got anything fixed. In looking over her notes, our customer found that she had talked to at least 17 people on at least 2 continents. Pretty much everybody she talked to said that her problem was fixable, but could not be fixed right then. The first several conversations, she was told that it would take 5 to 7 days, and then the mistake would be rectified. 

Several of those 5 to 7 day intervals ensued, but Healthnet never got her signed on for the December 1 start date. It was always listed as pending, or the fully paid premium was somehow still due. 

Here is what she discovered. The company mistakenly took the original payment for the 2015 coverage and applied it to coverage under a different account number that would only have started after the New Year. In further conversations with additional Healthnet representatives and eventually with Covered California, she found out that Healthnet was suffering from an administrative glitch that probably has affected a substantial number of would-be customers. She apparently was not the only person to have her insurance payment credited to the wrong month and the wrong account number. 

Each time she talked to Covered California, she got prompt and courteous service. Each time, she was told by staff that something about her application was still pending. Additional conversations with Healthnet representatives led to promises, including the assertion that her insurance card was in the mail. 

Yep, it was in the mail, as the old joke has it. It was in the mail in the same way that your check from the Euro Lottery scam is in the mail. 

Early in January, she received a card from a Healthnet return address with some kind of discount offer for a drugstore chain. But still no insurance card. 

When it got to be the year 2016, our intrepid consumer called Covered California one more time, and asked them to get her out of Healthnet and into a different company. By then, she had become assertive enough to ask that the change be accomplished that same day. Covered California had to do a supervisory override on some administrative rule, but they accomplished the requested task in that one phone call. 

In summary, the state of California has kept its pledge. Its service organization Covered California picks up the phone when you call, and real live people talk to you. They even do what they can to help. 

Here is a curious question: What advantage accrues to Healthnet in providing such lousy service? We might consider the answer, if there is one, by considering the possibilities. 

The first is the simplest. Maybe Healthnet is just being cheap. Maybe it's just saving a few bucks on customer service. It outsources as much as it can to overseas contractors, and only provides domestic representatives when customers get demanding. There are two effects stemming from this policy. The first is that the first representative the customer deals with can't just walk down the hall and talk to a higher ranking administrator. The representative is half a world away, and can only follow what is essentially a narrowly tailored script. 

The other problem is this: The first level representative does not have the tools or the authority to actually fix the problem. All he can do is pass the buck. Presumably that representative is just  typing the complaint into a computer and pushing the send key. Somebody who is somewhere else will have to solve the problem. 

That's presumably why the promises always involve that 5 to 7 day wait. It's not really a good faith promis. It's just a rote reply to each frustrated customer. 

The other advantage for the insurance company is that the customer doesn't actually get to make use of services during the waiting period. Prescriptions don't get covered, and doctor's appointments won't get made -- not unless the customer is willing to risk having to pay in cash at the front desk. 

It's not obvious which of these reasons is the true one. Maybe it's something else entirely. Maybe Healthnet was saving money on its computer support staff and has been suffering from some giant computer glitch. That could also explain this fiasco. Only if that were the case, wouldn't it be helpful for the company to explain the problem to its anxious customers? That would have been the obvious approach. 

The other possible explanation is that Healthnet is being difficult to new customers coming into the individual (rather than group) health insurance market. That gives Healthnet a slight advantage in ridding itself of people who are a little more statistically likely to have some preexisting condition. 

In any case, the company still has the money they received from this customer. It's money that was paid for coverage that was never actually received. 

Why aren't I surprised?

 

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

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

Nun Killed by Hit-and-Run Driver … or, Why the LAPD Needs to Step up Enforcement

JUST THE FACTS-Once again, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Traffic Division Detectives are asking for the public’s help in providing information that would lead to the identification and arrest of a suspect involved in a hit and run collision that killed an innocent pedestrian. 

According to the LAPD, on December 13, 2015, around 5:20pm, 70-year-old Sister Raquel Diaz (photo) was in the crosswalk at Winter Street and North Evergreen Avenue. A vehicle traveling southbound on North Evergreen Avenue struck Sister Diaz and continued southbound. The driver did not stop to render aid as required by law. Paramedics responded and transported the Catholic Nun to a local hospital in critical condition where she died a week later. The victim of this deadly hit and run was a Sister with the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese. She was the Director of Religious Education at the Church of Assumption on Blanchard Street and worked as a Sister helping others for more than fifty years. 

While the Los Angeles City Council recently amended the Los Angeles Administrative Code and created a Hit and Run Reward Program Trust Fund, making a reward of up to $25,000 available to community members who provide information leading to the offender's identification, apprehension, and conviction, the missing component is enforcement by the LAPD. 

In 2012, the LAPD implemented a controversial policy on impoundment of vehicles of unlicensed drivers. The Department created “Special Order 7” which limits circumstances under which officers may impound a vehicle being driven by a person lacking a driver’s license.

The Chief, with full support of the Police Commission, issued the order in 2012, based on a conclusion that a disproportionate number of vehicles being impounded for up to 30 days were driven by undocumented immigrants who needed those vehicles to get to and from work. At the time, state law did not permit persons in the country unlawfully to obtain driver’s licenses.  That state law has changed with the Assembly Bill 60 which now allows everyone, including undocumented immigrants to test and obtain a driver’s license.

This week, California Department of Motor Vehicles officials released Assembly Bill 60 statistics for the month of November, as well as totals since the program was implemented on January 2, 2015. The program has been very successful. In November alone, 26,000 AB 60 driver licenses were issued. And from January 2 to November 30, 574,000 AB 60 driver licenses have been issued. A license is not issued until the applicant proves identity and residency with qualifying documents or through secondary review, passes a written knowledge exam, and completes a behind-the-wheel drive exam.

Current Law

Current law states that if a driver is unable to produce a valid driver’s license on the demand of a peace officer enforcing the provisions of this code, “the vehicle shall be impounded regardless of ownership, unless the peace officer is reasonably able, by other means, to verify that the driver is properly licensed.” In addition, the law provides that where a driver is found to be unlicensed, a law enforcement officer may “immediately arrest that person and cause the removal and seizure of that vehicle.”

Under LAPD’s policy, however, a vehicle may not be impounded. That needs to change now that everyone is able to get a driver’s license, regardless of their immigration status. 

Legislative History

I was personally involved in the creation of the impound law when I was an LAPD motorcycle Sergeant in 1994, as a result of taking former Assemblymember Richard Katz on a ride-along.   

In 1994, the California legislature passed two bills allowing vehicle impoundment and forfeiture of vehicles operated by motorists driving while unlicensed or with a suspended license. The first bill, Senate Bill 1758, allowed peace officers to seize and impound for 30 days vehicles driven by a person whose license had been suspended or revoked, or by a person who had never been issued a license. Police could impound the vehicle whether the driver was the registered owner of the vehicle or not.  

The law that created the 30-day impound policy was drafted by Richard Katz who articulated the need for the public safety measure in a Los Angeles Times op-ed

Public Safety

Unlicensed drivers have either not proven they know how to operate a motor vehicle safely, or were previously licensed drivers who had their driving privileges revoked because of moving violations or DUI Violations. Allowing unlicensed drivers to have a vehicle returned to them or not impounding them at all which is currently occurring in the LAPD and only encourages unlicensed drivers to continue driving, increasing the danger for others on our roadways.

The LAPD and the LA City Council have acknowledged that we have a hit and run crisis. Hit and run accidents are four times the national average in Los Angeles. While nationally, 11 percent of all police reported crashes involve a hit-and-run collision, in Los Angeles, nearly 45 percent of all traffic collisions are due to hit-and-runs, according LAPD data that has been analyzed. On average, there are over 21,000 collisions that are hit-and-run in Los Angeles.

An AAA study found that one in five fatal crashes in Los Angeles involve an unlicensed driver. According to the LA Times, unlicensed drivers are a serious threat to public safety and contribute to the spike in hit-and-runs accidents. The AAA study showed that “excluding drivers who were incapacitated or killed and thus could not have fled, an estimated 32.4% of fatal-crash involved drivers who lacked a valid license left the scene of the crash; and an estimated 51.2% of all drivers who left the scene of a fatal crash lacked a valid license.”  

We have ample evidence that unlicensed drivers or people who do not bother to get their vehicles licensed are a threat to public safety.  Now that everyone, regardless of their immigration status can obtain a driver’s license, the City no longer needs a policy barring LAPD officers from impounding vehicles of drivers who never had a valid California license

We may never know if the person who hit and killed Sister Raquel Diaz was licensed or not. However, statistics indicate that the person was likely unlicensed. It is time for the LAPD to reexamine its enforcement policies to reduce crashes, serious injuries, and fatalities. The police are there to protect all of us. They need a policy that permits them to do their job of “Protecting and Serving” all the people of Los Angeles.

(Dennis P.  Zine is a 33 year member of the Los Angeles Police Department and former Vice-Chairman of the Elected Los Angeles City Charter Reform Commission, 12 year member of the Los Angeles City Council and current LAPD Reserve Officer. He writes Just the Facts for CityWatch. You can contact him at [email protected]) Photo at top: LA Times. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

Here’s How We Responded 50 Years Ago When a Black Militia Occupied a Government Building in California

THEN AND NOW--When armed militants seized a government building in Burns, Oregon, on Saturday, stating their willingness to "kill and be killed" and promising to stay for "years," the official response was cautious and restrained. Many onlookers wondered whether this would still be the case if the militants were people of color instead of white people.

If you're not familiar with the history of protest in the U.S., you might not know that the armed occupation of government buildings hasn't always been just for white guys. In fact, on May 2, 1967, a group of 30 Black Panthers walked into the California state Capitol building, toting rifles and shotguns and quickly garnering national headlines.

Just to be clear, there are a world of differences between the Black Panthers' demonstration and what's happening in Oregon now (although it is noteworthy that you have to go back to 1967 to find an example of something even remotely analogous). The two groups employed different tactics, fought for different causes and -- predictably -- elicited different reactions in vastly different places and times. But the 1967 incident serves as one example of the way Americans tend to respond to black protest -- which some say is always likely to be vastly different from the way Americans react when it's white people doing the protesting.

In October 1966, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale formed the Black Panther Party for Self Defense as a small community organization based in Oakland, California. Its members -- including the 30 people who would travel to Sacramento the following May -- believed that black Americans should exercise their constitutional right to defend themselves against an oppressive U.S. government. At the time, California lawmakers were trying to strip them of that right, and the Black Panthers wanted to tell the U.S., and the world, that they found this unacceptable.

Among other things, the Black Panthers' agenda involved taking up arms and patrolling their communities to protect against rampant racism in policing. And that's what they did in the first few months of the party's existence, carrying guns openly in compliance with California law, driving around their neighborhoods, observing arrests and other law enforcement activity -- effectively policing the police. Newton was even known for packing a law book alongside his rifle that he'd recite from when informing an officer that a civilian's rights were being violated.

The patrols weren't meant to encourage violence. The Panthers were committed to using force only if it was used against them, and at first, their mere presence appeared to be working as a check on abusive policing. But the Panthers' willful assertion of their rights -- like the day Newton reportedly stood up to a cop in front of a crowd of black onlookers -- was unacceptable to white authority figures who'd come to expect complete deference from black communities, and who were happy to use fear and force to extract it.

Don Mulford, a GOP assemblyman who represented Oakland, responded to the Black Panther police patrols in 1967 with a bill to strip Californians of the right to openly carry firearms. 

Nobody tried to stop the 30 Black Panthers -- 24 men and six women, carrying rifles, shotguns and revolvers -- as they walked through the doors of the state Capitol building on May 2 of that year. This was decades before Sept. 11 or the Oklahoma City bombing, and the protesters were, after all, legally allowed to have their weapons. They entered with their guns pointed at the ceiling. Behind them followed a horde of journalists they'd called to document the protest.

As the rest of the group waited nearby, six Panthers entered the assembly chamber, where they found lawmakers mid-session. Some legislators reportedly saw the protesters and took cover under desks. It was the last straw: Police finally ordered the protesters to leave the premises. The group maintained they were within their rights to be in the Capitol with their guns, but eventually they exited peacefully.

Outside, Seale delivered the Black Panther executive mandate before a crush of reporters. This section of remarks, reprinted in Hugh Pearson's The Shadow of the Pantherstill resonates today: 

"Black people have begged, prayed, petitioned, demonstrated, and everything else to get the racist power structure of America to right the wrongs which have historically been perpetuated against black people. All of these efforts have been answered by more repression, deceit and hypocrisy. As the aggression of the racist American government escalates in Vietnam, the police agencies of America escalate the oppression of black people throughout the ghettoes of America. Vicious police dogs, cattle prods, and increased patrols have become familiar sights in black communities. City Hall turns a deaf ear to the pleas of black people for relief from this increasing terror."

Shortly after Seale finished, police arrested the group on felony charges of conspiracy to disrupt a legislative session. Seale accused them of manufacturing "trumped up charges," but the protesters would later plead guilty to lesser misdemeanors.  

Mulford's legislation, which became known as the "Panthers Bill," passed with the support of the National Rifle Association, which apparently believed that the whole "good guy with a gun" thing didn't apply to black people. California Gov. Ronald Reagan (R), who would later campaign for president as a steadfast defender of the Second Amendment, signed the bill into law.

Although the May 2 demonstration failed to sway lawmakers into voting against the Mulford Act -- and may have even convinced some of them that such a measure was necessary -- it did succeed in making the Black Panthers front-page news. Headlines ran above evocative photos of armed black protesters, many wearing berets, bomber jackets and dark sunglasses, walking the halls of the California Capitol. And the American public's response to that imagery reflected a nation deeply divided on the issue of race.

On one hand, such a defiant demonstration of black power served as recruitment fodder for the Black Panther Party, which had previously only been operating in the Bay Area. It grew in size and influence, opening branches in a number of major cities, building a presence on college campuses and ultimately surging to as many as 5,000 members across 49 local chapters in 1969.

The party even attracted a number of radical-leaning white supporters -- many of whom were moved by the Black Panthers' lesser-remembered efforts, like free breakfasts for children in black neighborhoods, drug and alcohol abuse awareness courses, community health and consumer classes and a variety of other programs focused on the health and wellness of their communities.

But it was clear from the moment the Black Panthers stepped inside the California Capitol that the nuances of the protest, and of Seale's message, weren't going to be understood by much of white America. The local media's initial portrayal of the brief occupation as an "invasion" would lay the groundwork for the enduring narrative of the Black Panthers first and foremost as a militant anti-white movement.

In August 1967, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover took steps to ensure that public support for the Black Panthers would remain marginal. In a memorandum just months after the armed protest, he deemed the group a "black nationalist, hate-type organization" to be neutralized by COINTELPRO, a controversial initiative that notoriously skirted the law in its attempts to subvert any movement that Hoover saw as a potential source of civil disorder. A 2012 report further uncovered the extent of the agency's activity, revealing that an FBI informant had actually provided the Black Panthers with weapons and training as early as 1967.  

As the Panthers' profile grew in the months and years following the California Capitol protest, so too did their troubles -- something that many of the Panthers themselves regarded as no coincidence. Just two months after Hoover put the Black Panthers in his sights, Newton was arrested and convicted of killing Oakland police officer John Frey, a hotly contested development and the first in a series of major, nationwide controversies that engulfed the movement. (Newton ultimately served two years of his sentence before his conviction was overturned in a set of appeals.)

The strength of the Black Panthers ebbed and flowed in the years leading up to the organization's dissolution in 1982. The party struggled to find a balance between its well-intentioned community efforts and its reliance on firepower and occasional violence to bolster its hardened image. High-profile shootouts with police and arrests of members created further rifts in the group's leadership and helped cement the white establishment's depiction of Black Panthers as extremists.

Many white Americans couldn't get over their first impression of the Black Panthers. Coverage of the 1967 protest introduced them to the party, and the fear of black people exercising their rights in an empowered, intimidating fashion left its mark. To them, the Black Panthers were little more than a group of thugs unified behind militaristic trappings and a leftist political ideology. And to be fair, some members of the party were criminals not just in the minds of frightened white people.

The Black Panther protest in 1967 is not the "black version" of what's happening in Oregon right now. Those demonstrators entered the state Capitol lawfully, lodged their complaints against a piece of racially motivated legislation and then left without incident. But for those who see racial double standards at play in Oregon, the scope and severity of the 1967 response -- the way the Panthers' demonstration brought about panicked headlines, a prolonged FBI sabotage effort and support for gun control from the NRA, of all groups -- will serve as confirmation that race shapes the way the country reacts to protest.   

(Nick Wing is Senior Viral Editor at Huffington Post … where this retrospective was first posted.)

-cw

 

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CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

At 70, Baby Boomers Face a New Acid Test

HAPPY BIRTHDAY BOOMERS--On New Year’s Day, the first baby boomers will turn 70.

From Jan. 1, 1946, through the end of 1964, 76 million babies were born in the U.S., more humans than lived in this country in 1900.

With a little help from LSD and our friends, we’ve won a cultural and technological revolution.

But our earthly survival depends on beating the lethal cancer of corporate domination-and the outcome is in doubt.

The GIs coming back from World War II kicked Rosie the Riveter out of the factories and into the suburbs.

The GI Bill gave them cheap home loans and free college tuition, birthing one of the world’s great university systems and one of its best-educated workforces.

Millions of boomers entered those colleges in the early ’60s. They lit the torch for a cultural revolution. They also invented the personal computer and the Internet.

Pot and psychedelics were essential to both. (Timothy Leary-Photo above)

The cultural revolution began with race and gender. The movements demanding equality for black, Hispanic and female Americans is far from finished. But all have progressed many orders of magnitude since the first boomers were born.

The birth control pill opened the floodgates for sexual freedom. But except for socialist and feminist Emma Goldman in the 1910s, America had hosted virtually zero public dialogue about homosexuality-until the Stonewall riots of 1969. Gay activists were at last openly out, vocal and explicit. An astonishingly powerful, fast-paced movement has transformed the mainstream and media, where gay and interracial couples have become “no big deal” in record time.

In tandem has come the music. Rock ’n’ roll grew organically from the blues, ragtime, gospel, swing, bebop, and rhythm and blues. It rode the 1930s invention of the electric guitar. But it took a quantum leap in the ’60s as pot and LSD morphed the music of Jimi, Janis, Dylan, the Doors and especially the Beatles and their Sgt. Pepper. From Monterey to Woodstock, the Stones to the Dead, something happened to the pop/rock culture and we’re still not sure exactly what it was, but LSD and pot were at the bottom of it.

The media tried to drown it out with a tedious tsunami of endless psychobabble. In 1971, Richard Nixon launched his racist, anti-youth drug war, complete with 41 million arrests, aimed at crushing the civil rights and counterculture movements.

But something else was happening and we didn’t know what that was, either. In Northern California, around Stanford University and some early Silicon Valley startups, a transcendent band of uniquely stoned code warriors blew open the bravest new world of human interconnection. A million stoned rants about how we humans are “all of one mind” suddenly became tangible with the personal computer and the Internet, all miraculously linked.

Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs and a host of merry geeksters merged cannabis and psychedelics with music and activism (see John Markoff’s “What the Dormouse Said”) into a magical, digital mystery tour, a transcendent PC/Internet wave that we all now ride. Humankind has never known a more transformative amplification of consciousness and technology.

With it has come a revolution in green power. The silicon chip has yielded the silicon solar cell and the ability to turn the sun’s energy into electric current and amazingly efficient LED lighting. With them have come massive wind turbines with escalating efficiency and the power to envision a solartopian earth freed of the grid-to be totally electrified by cheap, sustainable, job-creating green energy that is owned and managed through a democratized network of small communities and stand-alone rooftops.

To that has been added a new level of mass transit (see the train systems in Europe, China, Japan) and the electric car-zero emission, low maintenance, increasingly affordable-with a conjoined revolution in mass-produced batteries ready to stretch our range and smooth the “intermittency” of renewable generation.

Would this all have been possible if LSD had not mimicked for a new American generation what peyote and other ritual substances did for our indigenous tribal (and matriarchal) ancestors so long before the whites came? Did that ancient prophecy really say a generation of whites would someday come with a Hopi-sounding name (“hippies”) to bring lasting peace?

More critical is to finally pay attention to the wisdom our indigenous forebears had to share about living in harmony with our Mother Earth.

And how to transcend the corporate cancer that’s killing us all.

In medical terms, we’re at a breakthrough moment. A mix of natural cures (like cannabis), balanced with carefully targeted DNA-based chemotherapies, stem cells and genetic therapy, have transformed the fight to survive. Stem cells in particular promise a wide range of treatments we can only barely envision.

My friend Peter Simon, one of our generation’s great photographers, has seen a new “boutique” chemotherapy (taken with cannabis suppositories) reduce his lung cancer by half. Another friend’s lung cancer has been defeated with new stem-cell therapy.

With new ideas being facilitated by the PC and shared on the Internet, saturation chemo and contempt for natural cures are being blown away by a radical new storm of holistic integrated treatments.

But the fight against the most lethal cancer of all seems seriously stuck. We have transformed our culture and our technology. But our politics have been metastasized by the lethal toxins of corporate cash.

Somehow our courts grant corporations human rights with no human responsibilities. Their DNA carries just one imperative—make money. If a corporation can make an extra buck by killing you and your family, it’s legally bound to do so. They can slash maintenance at your local nuclear power plants, melt them down, blow them up, exterminate you and your family with no liability to the corporate entity. Their profoundly anti-human ethos protects them from paying the human and planetary costs because they are immune. Yet they’re programmed to gouge out as much financial excess as possible for their unelected CEOs, no matter what happens to workers or the surrounding population or to the world in which we all live (but that they seem to be just visiting).

A corporation cannot sacrifice short-term profit for long-term environmental benefit. Greed is the absolute master of all the corporation does, with human and ecological consequences of zero concern except for public relations reasons, which fluctuate.

When a corporation does business, it expects to gouge you. When it crashes, it expects you to bail it out, with no penalties to those in charge (see the crash of 2007). When it demands global trade deals, it expects to negate the power of the human community.

If you wanted to design an economic/industrial entity more perfectly suited to eradicating human life and destroying our planet, you could hardly do better than the modern transnational corporation.

Our species at this time seems impotent to control this malignancy. We may have hugely transformed our views on race, feminism, sexuality, sexual preference, music, the arts, the environment, organic food, imperial war and much more; but the global corporation is the twisted, mean-spirited sociopath that turns all it touches to death itself.

By legal charter these malignant parasites cannot stop sucking the life force from all of us. Unopposed, they will persist until every possible ounce of profit can be extracted from our bodies, souls and planet, even as they hire armies of PR bloviators to make us believe that’s how “the system” must work: Fukushima is good for us. Smoking does not cause cancer. Aspartame will make you thin. Slave wages will make you free. Ignorance is strength.

And, above all, war is peace.

In response, a new world of music provides a fabulous soundtrack to accompany our class and culture war. We know how to love each other beyond race, gender, class and preference. We understand that the earth is one and we humans are neither separate nor superior.

What we don’t yet know is how to dethrone greed, how to strip from the corporate genetic code the power and proclivity to kill us all.

The real acid test of the baby boomers is to unite with those who’ve come before and since to rid our body politic of the power of money and the poisons it produces.

Feed your head, the dormouse said. And may the force be with us.

(Harvey Wasserman is an author. His “America at the Brink of Rebirth: The Organic Spiral of US History” is now available for your comments, in early draft, pre-publication form, at www.solartopia.org. He was born on the last day of 1945. Posted earlier at the excellent Truthdig

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 1

Pub: Jan 1, 2016

Here’s How ‘President’ Trump will Govern

URBAN PERSPECTIVE--There’s no shortage of chatter about GOP Presidential contender Donald Trump campaigning. But almost nothing has been said about how a “President” Trump would actually govern. 

While there’s no consensus that he could be elected in the general election, there is a consensus now that he has a real shot at winning the GOP nomination and making a real run for the White House. 

It’s based on these very real facts. Since he officially declared for the presidency last June except for one brief moment he’s consistently gapped every other GOP contender in poll ratings; no expected implosion has happened.

He has fired up a big swatch of the GOP base, conservatives, and white evangelicals, but more ominously he’s stirred passion and zealotry among millions of disaffected, alienated white blue collar workers. He’s been a rating’s, and thus a cash cow bonanza, for much of the media and a sound bite dream machine for newsrooms. They will continue to play up every Trump quip, dig, and inanity big time. This will further cement his name, reputation, and even appeal to millions.

Despite predictions that his backers will resoundingly shut down on him when they get in the voting booth in the primaries, there’s a good likelihood that many won’t.

The GOP presidential nominee needs 50 percent plus one of the 2,470 delegates to bag the nomination.  Party leaders gloat and nervously plot that Trump will crash and burn long before he gets anywhere close to that number. Maybe, but 11 states have winner take all primaries, ten states assign delegates proportionally, and 17 states use a caucus and convention to hand pick delegates.

With only Texas senator Ted Cruz and Florida Senator Marco Rubio flirting with double digit poll support, it’s no stretch to see Trump netting hundreds of committed delegates from more than a handful of states.

Though Trump has seemingly warred with the GOP establishment, the fight has been over mostly over his style, personality, and comportment, but not on the key issues from abortion and Planned Parenthood to the economy and foreign policy.

Take Trump’s rough edge off his bluster about these issues, and his stance on them is mostly in line with the party’s on these issues with some curious exceptions.

So the question that once seemed absolutely ludicrous to think, let alone ask, is now a question that can be seriously asked and … even to an extent answered. Just how would Trump govern?

There’s little reason to think Trump is suited to patient give and take negotiation and compromise to get his initiatives through Congress. His style is to bellow, bully, and harangue to get his way.

As for the issues, Trump has been on the political scene long enough to have enough of a paper trail to piece together from his statements in debates and interviews and speeches a fairly accurate picture of what he will say and do on the big ticket issues. Those issues are the budget, government spending, civil rights enforcement, the environment, crime control, the military and foreign policy. He’ll be totally hand’s off Wall Street and the banks on regulatory matters, slash corporate taxes to “0” percent, impose no cap and tax on big oil, and radically slash funding for the EPA and the Department of Education. But he’ll also cut funding for the Defense Department.

On civil rights and civil liberties, he accepts the Supreme Court decision in support of gay marriage, says he’s “fine” with affirmative action, and will enforce the laws on hate crimes. He’s disparaged the Black Lives Matter movement, but did acknowledge that black lives do matter.

He’ll let states decide what they’ll do about medical marijuana, legalizing marijuana, and the drug laws.

On the one hand, he derides climate change as a “hoax” but on the other acknowledges that there may be some need to take some action.

He repeats the GOP party line that the Affordable Care Act is a “disaster.” So, he will try to repeal and replace Obamacare.

He reminds all that he opposed the Iraq War, but will put boots on the ground against ISIS, take a hard line confrontational stance in confronting North Korea and Iran on their nuclear capacity.

On the signature issues that get him raves from millions, he’ll do everything to further erode labor unions, flatly oppose any minimum wage increase, try to wall off the borders, and crack down on Muslims coming and going in the country.

Trump hasn’t as yet laid down a specific blueprint for how he’ll work with Congressional Democrats or even Congressional Republicans, let alone foreign leaders, if elected, but there’s really no need to do that at this point. It would actually ham string his free-wheeling, shoot from the lip approach to campaigning. If anything the absence of such a blueprint adds to his take-no-prisoners, tough talking, rip the establishment, allure.

As for Trump’s hyped up, disgruntled, vengeful backers, they see all of this as the prescription for a new type of White House -- and better still, a change in the substance and style of governance. This would be nothing short of a monumental disaster and turn Washington into a home and away laughingstock. But in a political season of wide voter rage and discontent, too many, how Trump will actually govern is less important than that he will govern.

 

(Earl Ofari Hutchinson is President of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable and an occasional contributor to CityWatch.) 

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 97

Pub: Dec 1, 2015

California Women 2015: On the UP Escalator

HERE’S WHAT I KNOW-As we close out 2015, let’s take a look at how the history books (or more likely, Wikipedia) will view the past year for women. On the national stage, 2015 has been a year of rollbacks. State legislatures around the country have passed 57 bills restricting women’s right to choose, with at least a hundred more laws up for consideration in the New Year. (Photo: Anne Gust, California First Lady.)

One of President Obama’s first presidential acts was to sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law, easing the path for women to fight wage discrimination – yet women still make about 78 cents on the dollar (84 cents in California) compared to men with comparable jobs, even when adjusted for experience and education.

Of the remaining GOP candidates, many have an abysmal track record on equal pay, voting against, obstructing, and deriding equal pay legislation in their states. Chris Christie vetoed equal pay legislation in New Jersey numerous times, including a bill that would have required salary transparency for public contractors, referring to the legislation as “senseless bureaucracy.” Rand Paul not only voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act but compared the act to the Soviet Union’s Politboro and has criticized the idea of equal pay for women. Marco Rubio joined Paul in voting against the Paycheck Fairness Act, saying any equal pay legislation is “wasting time.” Ted Cruz joined his colleagues in voting against the act and derided it as a “show vote.” When questioned about the Paycheck Fairness Act, Jeb Bush wasn’t even sure what it was and has referred to the Equal Rights Movement as “kind of a retro subject.”

Despite the seeming downturn for issues impacting women, our state of California seems to be on the opposite side of the spectrum, passing numerous pieces of legislation signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on matters ranging from abortion to sexual assault on college campuses.

This year, the Governor signed the Reproductive FACT Act into law, requiring licensed healthcare facilities to post or distribute a notice stating, “California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including all FDA-approved methods of contraception, prenatal care, and abortion for eligible women,” along with contact information for local county social services. Unlicensed facilities must disseminate a notice that the facility is not licensed as a medical facility by the state of California. This law, which goes into effect January 1, ensures clinics provide accurate information and places some restrictions on crisis pregnancy centers that are known to use scare tactics and misinformation to dissuade clients from seeking abortions.

With regard to birth control access, a California law allowing pharmacists to prescribe birth control pills will go into effect in the New Year. Most health plans in the state are required to cover contraception, as well as counseling, follow-up, and voluntary sterilization. 

California also leads on the issue of equal pay. This year, Gov. Brown signed one of the toughest pay equity laws in the U.S. According to a U.S. Census Bureau report just this year, California women employed full time receive a median of 84 cents for every dollar received by our male counterparts. The California Fair Pay Act, supported by the California Chamber of Commerce and most GOP lawmakers, broadens federal and state laws requiring equal pay for the same job to include “substantially similar work,” even if titles differ or employees work at different sites. The law also prohibits employers from retaliating against workers who ask for or discuss wages. 

Two new laws will impact pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers. State universities can no longer mandate that female grad students take leaves of absence for pregnancy and those who do take leaves must be allowed to return in good standing. Larger airports in California must provide an area apart from restrooms for lactating mothers to express breast milk. 

Sexual assault has been a prominent issue this past year across the U.S. In California, new laws will impose a mandatory 180 days in jail for paroled sex offenders who fail to report for fitting with a GPS tracking device or who make the device inoperable. As of July this year, California college campuses are required to immediately inform law enforcement about sexual assaults reported on campus. The law also provides a chain of command for first response, collection and sharing of evidence, and privacy laws. An additional law requires colleges and universities in the state to adopt affirmative consent by both participants. 

California public schools will be required to publish the number of girls and boys who participate in each sport to demonstrate equal access to programs. 

Overall, California has a much better report card with regard to issues impacting women than most of the other 50 states and the nation as a whole. Although we have a way to go, women in California are ending 2015 on the up escalator.

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

-cw

  

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue

Pub: Jan 1, 2016

 

 

For America’s Veterans, the War Never Ends … Only, Now the Battle is with Their Own Government

ANOTHER YEAR OF SAMEOLD, SAMEOLD--As 2015 comes to a close, veterans are still on the “losing end” when it comes to healthcare, housing and Constitutional rights.

For decades, each new Administration has proclaimed a debt of gratitude to our veterans and promised supportive medical, education and housing assistance upon their return from war yet each administration has further complicated or ignored VA problems and made them even worse for veterans to navigate the continuing corrosion and corruption that never seems to “get fixed.”

When the new Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs Robert A. McDonald was confirmed by the US Senate and sworn into office in July 2014, he touted his experience as a CEO for a major company an asset for the VA. McDonald replaced General Eric Shinseki who resigned amid intense fire over allegations that some VA health care facilities across the nation, particularly Phoenix, AZ, were covering up excessive patient wait times for veterans, veterans' deaths and even secret waiting lists at VA hospitals across the country. 

McDonald laid out a 90-day plan to increase efficiency and improve care at the department.

In a press conference at the VA headquarters in D.C. in September 2014, McDonald promised, “to be transparent about the Department, vowing to do away with the hierarchy and make veterans the top priority.” Yet, a year later no one has been “done away with.” The quest to “weed out corruption” has not resulted in the termination of anyone’s employment but rather two demotions. Sharon Hellman, who is believed to have supervised the manipulation of veteran wait times in Phoenix, AZ a year ago, remains on paid leave with a salary of $170,000 per year, “pending investigation.” At that time, the VA Inspector General’s Report found deep problems and a “corrosive culture” throughout the national VA health system that extended far beyond Phoenix to over 69 facilities nationwide. 

The New York Times (NYT) reported just three months ago that veterans seeking health care from the VA often end up on waiting lists of a month or longer has increased over 50%.

At the largest VA care facility in the country, the West Los Angeles Veterans Administration (WLAVA) wait times still remain excessive. Thousands of veterans still wait six months to a year for appointments. Yet Congress is being told that wait times have drastically improved.

Billions of dollars are pumped into the VA yearly, yet nothing improves, and again, the VA faces a budget shortfall of nearly $3 billion dollars.

NYT reported the DVA “is considering furloughs, hiring freezes and other significant moves to reduce the gap” after McDonald assured Americans in 2014 that “the DVA has added more clinic hours, are recruiting additional staff, deploying mobile medical units, and having high-performing facilities share their best practices to help facilities all over the country rise to a higher level of improvement.” An even better question that deserves an honest answer is, “Where is all the money being spent?” Accountability is buried in bureaucracy.

In March 2009, President Barack Obama stood aside former Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, promising to end veteran homelessness in five years and pumped nearly $270 Million into programs aimed at addressing the problem. Millions of dollars were pumped into Housing and Urban Development agencies (HUD) for housing vouchers for veterans yet over six years later, thousands of veterans remain homeless in part, because of 2013 sequestration funding cuts, that in 2016 will purportedly restore only one third of the vouchers in the VASH program. Landlords have stopped taking HUD VASH vouchers because they are not worth enough to cover high rents in many cities- coupled with the presumed safety risks of renting to mentally ill veterans whose illnesses may be exacerbated by drugs and alcohol because they do not seek treatment.

Homeless veterans still remain, largely, at risk. In 2010, the DVA estimated that on any given night there were 76,000 homeless veterans sleeping on the streets. Those statistics were measured using data from the Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS) administrative database. The database only reflected the number of veterans who used emergency shelters or transitional housing during the 12-month period. Homeless veterans who did not utilize either were not included in the estimates. In warm climates, homeless simply sleep on the streets and rarely go into shelters. 

In 2015, the DVA says that estimation nears 50,000. Critics believe those estimates are extremely low because data used in compiling statistics was incomplete. 

In Los Angeles, estimates of homeless veterans over the past five years have varied greatly from 5000 to 20,000 and sometimes more. In the past year, homelessness rose 6% but no one knows exactly what number it rose from. 

In February 2015, the DVA detailed its plan to end veterans' homelessness in Los Angeles by 2016, pledging to build permanent and temporary housing on the 387-acre property at the West LA VA. For more than 15 years, “chest-bumping” politicians have spewed these same promises to veterans. It took years to renovate building 209 into 55 apartments with a price tag of over $20 M so it’s a good guess that 2016 will come and go before more housing for veterans is built on the West LAVA campus. 

Since former Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, released a 2009 report labeling veterans as “extremists” the VA has been actively reporting veteran’s names to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) database to prohibit veterans from owning, buying or selling firearms. The VA’s “guilty before proven innocent” scam has denied rights, without interference, for hundreds, perhaps thousands of veterans simply because they were injured during war.

In 2013 Senator Richard Burr attempted to pass legislation that would allow only individuals who were adjudicated by a judge if their illness or disability posed a threat either to themselves or others to be placed on the FBI’s NICS database. No one expected Congress to pass a bill would favor a veteran. 

Senator Chuck Grassley also showed great concern over arbitrary actions by the FBI and the VA. In a 2013 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder Grassley wrote, "The VA’s regulation appears to omit important findings and never reaches the question of whether a veteran is a danger to himself, herself, or others. 

“Thus, a VA determination that a veteran is “incompetent” to manage finances is insufficient to conclude that the veteran is “mentally defective” under the ATF’s standard that is codified in federal law," Grassley continued. "Furthermore, when a veteran receives a letter stating that the VA believes he is unable to manage his finances, that veteran now has the burden of proving that he is in fact competent to manage his benefit payments and does not need a fiduciary. 

“However, underlying the hearing is a real possibility that the right to firearms will be infringed. Therefore, in light of the liberty and property interests involved, placing the burden of proof on the veteran is highly suspect. Under similar circumstances, the burden is generally on the government.” 

It is, unequivocally, unsound and irrational thinking that sends our young men and women off to war and EXPECTS them to come home “whole.” Most veterans experience minor depression, minor PTSD, and even minor short-term memory loss when they return home but can still function- competently. 

No court would find them incompetent and strip them of their second amendment rights for such minor diagnoses unless they were proven to be a detriment to society.  

In some of these cases, the VA does not even offer reasons or evidence for such a Determination yet their names are arbitrarily added to the NICS database. Would it surprise you that OVER 99% of the names added by all authorized agencies came from the VA? 

VA determinations are not made by mental health professionals or adjudicated in a Court of law, but rather by a benefit administrator- a policy that is quite different than the rest of the population whose cases must be adjudicated in a Court of law. Veterans are not given a hearing before these determinations are made by the VA but can request a “hearing” after the fact or can file an appeal to dispute the VA’s findings. Guilty before proven innocent? 

The 14th Amendment of the US Constitution is very clear. “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” 

America, we need to demand “better treatment” for the men and women who put their lives on the line to keep this country safe. We owe them a debt of gratitude and they deserve nothing less than the benefits they were promised and equal protection under the law as all else are entitled to.

 

(Katharine Russ is an investigative reporter and a regular contributor to CityWatch. She can be reached at [email protected].)

-cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 1

Pub: Jan 1, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liar, Cheat, Thief Martin Shkreli: My Person of the Year

OTHER WORDS--It’s time — past time, really — to name the person of the year. (TIME Magazine does it. Why not me?)

There were many worthy candidates in 2015: the Pope, the Donald, and Luke Skywalker, to name just a few. But only one symbolized the spirit of the year.

I speak, of course, of Martin Shkreli.

For those of you with short-term memory problems, he’s the weasel/drug honcho who bought the rights to a life-saving drug that had been on the market for years, and immediately raised its $13.50-a-pill price to $750 — a 5,000 percent hike.

He said he’d use the extra money for research to develop a life-saving drug of his own, but nobody believed him. He was just doing what a long line of drug company executives do — gouge desperately sick people.

There’s nothing illegal about this, and it’s not even the worst example. Questcor Pharmaceuticals paid $100,000 for an existing drug that treated breathing problems in newborns and raised its price over a relatively short time from $40 a vial to $23,000. New cancer drugs often cost $10,000 a month or more.

Drug companies are allowed to charge whatever they can get away with, so long as they claim they’re using the profits to develop new drugs. They don’t have to actually do it. All they need to do is say that’s their intent. It’s the American way.

What sets Shkreli apart is that making a fortune by cheating people legally wasn’t enough for him. He fancied himself a financial wizard and set up a hedge fund scheme that allowed him to lie, cheat, and steal his way to another fortune. This one was illegal.

The whole thing finally caught up with the 32-year-old in December. The feds showed up and threw him in jail, from which he’s been released on $5 million bail.

Now I’m asking you: Does that make Shkreli the person of the year or what?

The only real surprise is that he isn’t running for president on the Republican ticket as the leader of the Stick-It-to-Sick-People caucus. I’m sure he’d be right up there with Donald Trump in the polls.

If I hadn’t picked Shkreli for this honor, I suppose I’d have been forced to choose the entire GOP slate of presidential candidates. What a hoot they are.

They’ve been fighting for the better part of a year now over who’s the toughest kid on the block.

No sooner does one of them come up with a mean proposal, like building a fence across the southern boundary of the United States to keep out Mexicans, then another says: “Oh yeah? I’d not only build a fence, I’d round up all the Mexicans here illegally and send them back where they came from.”

To which another will say: “I’d not only do all that, I’d make Mexico pay for the fence. Besides which, I wouldn’t let any Muslims in either.”

Which leads another to add, “I’d make the ones already here register and wear name tags.”

Apparently, all that tough talk wasn’t enough, because the last Republican “debate” sounded like a strategy meeting of Mafia warlords.

One of the candidates wanted to “carpet bomb” the terrorists. Another not only wanted to kill all the terrorists, he wanted to seek out their children and kill them too. Sort of a family plan.

All of them agreed that President Barack Obama wasn’t being tough enough and that any one of them would be tougher. At any moment I expected one of them to jump up and say, “Let’s go to the mattresses.”

For all that toughness, no one thought to say an unkind word about the role that unfettered gun ownership is playing in the serial massacres we keep experiencing. Or a kind word about attempts to slow down global warming before it kills us all.

And just think, we’ve got nearly a year to go before the election.

Happy New Year.

(Donald Kaul writes for OtherWords … where this column originated.)

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 1

Pub: Jan 1, 2016

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