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NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS--Dear Council President Wesson and Board President Kevin James: We are writing you, as community advocates, to urge you to use your power to right a wrong that has tainted the City Council race in District 7 and threatens to undermine the public’s trust in city institutions.

The Board of Public Works was created to prevent the politicization of public works services, to ensure the city invests in public works projects according to residents’ needs, and to stay away from the corrosive influence of political machines, political campaigns and cronyism.

On Thursday, April 27, a person affiliated with Sylmar Graffiti Busters, a contractor with the Department of Public Works, was caught on security cameras trespassing onto private property in Sylmar (located at 13701 Sayre Street, 91342) and illegally removing campaign signs. The representative can be seen on video driving a Sylmar Graffiti Busters truck and wearing a vest like those worn by workers associated with this city contractor. In the video, the person walks onto private property through a gateway to remove signs that were legally placed there. The signs belonged to Karo Torossian, one of two candidates vying to become the next representative of Council District 7. As you know, the election is on May 16.

This breach of public trust was so blatant that CBS 2's David Goldstein investigated the misdeed and reported on it in a May 9 segment titled “Controversy Swirls Around Campaign-Sign Removals In LA City Council Race.”

We can reach no other logical conclusion than that this illegal act was perpetrated to benefit the campaign of Torossian’s opponent in the election, former Board of Public Works Commissioner Monica Rodriguez. Rodriguez has close ties with the organization in question and we have on good authority that she has met privately with their leaders and directors to discuss how they can help her campaign.

We hereby request an immediate investigation into this incident, and we demand answers on how the Board of Public Works plans to punish those involved in the misuse and misdirection of taxpayer dollars for private gain. Our communities already suffer by receiving an unfairly small share of city resources, which makes it all the more insulting to have beautification dollars being wasted on dirty campaign tricks to benefit a former Board Commissioner. This violation threatens to undermine our trust in city institutions and run contrary to the founding mission of the Board of Public Works.

We urge you to act quickly and do the right thing. This wasn’t a mistake. This wasn’t a fluke. It was a deliberate action taken to influence the outcome of an election. We would like a response in writing on or before Friday, May 12, detailing how you plan to address this matter. Please send it to chan@chanpai.com. 

(This letter, sent under the name ‘CD 7 Residents Against Corruption’, was signed by:  Chandra Prater, Abby Diamond, Hon. Patty Lopez, Dale Gibson, Doreen Przybyla, Pati Potter, Mary Ellen Eltgroth, and Alfredo Diaz)

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NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS--Maybe there really is no there here — not now — maybe there never was.

Did we just all fall in love with the irascible Venice of our dreams? We imagine ourselves as the unique one — the interesting — the doers — we bask in the idea that we are the vibrant happening town overflowing with artists, one-of-a-kind, seriously intent on cultivating the feeling of being in a real place.

We smugly look at the ‘others’ with sad eyes. They, who hold urgent meetings to deal with a cracked sidewalk. We, the noble ones, superior human beings determined not to be swallowed up in that ‘good life.’ No utopia for us here! We’re Venetians! We thrive on the internecine development fights occurring on a near daily basis.

We thrive on the latest outrage inflicted on us by the city. We beat our chests to get the LAPD to take a report about a mugging on ‘the coolest street in America.’ And, we remind you, some schmo just paid 8 million bucks for a tear-down. We can only guess that he thought it was worth the price of admission to drink the best wine, eat the best sushi, crow about the endless new restaurants selling one kind of faux food or another, and who gives a damn if he has to wait a couple of days for the LAPD to get an officer out here to take a police report.

Over there, where the sidewalks don’t have a crack, three cop cars respond at once to the most minor crime. The biggest story there is the guy with his RV parked on the driveway for months — who knows, maybe they Airbnb there too. But, we unique ones — we’re tough! We’re tolerant. We’re patient. We’re loyal. We take all comers. One moment we grouse about the kid sleeping on a shop’s front porch, the next, we are trying to figure out if his puppy is getting its shots.

Maybe that’s our secret. We are not a myth. You can throw anything at us—we deal with it all like conquering soldiers — we don’t quit. Just don’t make us live where all the houses are white and the roofs are red. We reject their architecture police. We crave the distinct place. The big idea! Where else will you find impromptu cocktail hours form on a Sunday afternoon where regulars migrate like they were magnetized — all living that idea that this place is real. In this crazy topsy-turvy world our craziness is almost charming. No matter how Aspen-like we are becoming, the kernel of uniqueness is alive. But we sure have to put up with a lot of **** to live this vibrant madness. We don’t want that groomed HOA controlled neighborhood here — don’t clean us or polish us!

Corner lots sell for 8 million, lofts rent for 40K — one creative marketing company is even renting two of them on the street now — hot dog trucks park illegally for days, the line is around the block for $5 ice cream scoops and $4 donuts. And yet, they come. They come because they feel alive and that’s why we are not a myth—where else can you say that?

We old Venice denizens just want the cops to show up when we call them… and the Rooster truck to take a hike.

(Marian Crostic and Elaine Spierer are Co-founders of ImagineVenice)

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NC BUDGET ADVOCATES--After the releases of the City o Los Angeles Budget Summery on April 20, 2017, we went out into the community to get their perspective on the city's Budget Proposal. But after speaking with several Angelenos, who had a lot say but did not know where to take their concerns I spoke to Gloria Gonzalez a senior resident of the Eastside of Los Angeles. We asked Gloria, What are your thoughts on the Mayor's third proposed Budget? 

"I see the city of Los Angeles make promises to help the residents and increase services in someway year after year but nothing ever gets done and we hear the excuses about lack of funding, etc. I have been a resident of Los Angeles for over 50 years and I have never seen the city in such a state of disarray. The homelessness situation is out of control and waiting in line at any grocery and/or retail store takes hours. The infrastructure of Los Angeles is just deteriorating and I wish the Mayor and City official would do more to increase the value of our city. Los Angeles is starting to look like a 3rd world country, I can't walk down the street without someone asking me for change, someone living on the street or a rogue street vendor trying to sell me something. Every year the Budget Summary mentions something about addressing these issues but nothing is ever done about it." 

Q: So what can the Budget Advocates do to make sure these issues are addressed? 

Whether it's the Budget Advocates or anyone else, someone needs to hold the city responsible for the current state of Los Angeles. Regardless of what is going on behind closed doors in meetings, on boards etc. The city just looks bad and somebody needs to be held accountable. 

I told Gloria to take her concerns to the city council meetings and her local neighborhood council meetings. Go to EmpowerLA to find out when neighborhood councils meet, go to LA City to see a calendar of public meetings where you can voice your concerns.

Be up to date on what's going on in LA … especially your community … and get your questions answered. 

Also check out your the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate meetings twice a month, the first Monday of the month at 7 PM in City Hall and the third Saturday of the month at 10 a.m. to discuss the City's Budget and the City’s finances. 

Make your voice heard! Get Involved! It’s why Neighborhood Councils were created and made a part of the City Charter.

 

(Adrienne Nicole Edwards is a member of the NC Budget Advocate Committee.)

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ENOUGH ALREADY--Neighborhood Councils are being asked by the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) to weigh in on the elections starting in 2018. This is necessitated by the City Clerk’s inability to conduct the NC elections in 2020, which requires a shift to odd numbered years starting with 2019. 

The choices being offered by DONE are: 

(1) Conduct the 2018 elections as scheduled. Board members elected would have a three year term. 

(2) Extend the current board term for one year and conduct the elections in 2019 

(3) Conduct the 2018 elections for a one year term and then have another election in 2019. 

Option Number 2 should not be considered. What publically elected official/governing body can vote to extend their term after an election? It is self-serving for NC Board Members to be asked to vote on their own term extension. The NC Stakeholders should be a major part of this decision. As Stakeholders, we feel totally disenfranchised by this unfair option. 

Options 1 or 3 are acceptable, as neither of them changes the rules after-the-fact. These should be the only options under consideration. 

Where is the Outreach to the Stakeholders? Shouldn’t they be engaged in the decision that affects the terms of their NC Board Members? When the Stakeholders voted in the 2016 election they were told it was for two year terms (with the exception of the few NCs with four year terms). 

The unspent NC funding allocations from 2016 (estimated at $2.4 million) should be carried over exclusively for the 2018 Election Outreach. This is a more meaningful use of these dollars, as it promotes more civic engagement on a local level. Outreach was always the primary purpose in the Charter for the use of the NC funding. It is time to get back to the basics. 

We respectfully urge that there be no extension of terms and funding allocations remain with the NCs for the 2018 Election Outreach.

 

(Judy Price Valley Glen community activist.  Lisa Sarkin Studio City community activist.)

 

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ROOS RUMINATIONS--Shame on you Los Angeles

The international movement admiring “strongmen” leaders which sanctions rhetorical, and sometimes even physical violence, has seen its latest expression in Los Angeles’ battle for public schools.

PERSPECTIVE--In a recent news release, State Treasurer John Chiang said:  “…the Governor and I are partnering on a fiscally prudent plan to buy down our pension debt using what Albert Einstein once called ‘the eighth wonder of the world,’ compound interest. ” 

It’s not Albert Einstein he should be crediting, but Bernie Madoff.

HIGHJACKING DEMOCRACY IN LA-Once Nick Melvoin joins the Los Angeles Unified School District board, he’s going to require all high school civics teachers to add a new lesson plan to their curriculum: “How To Buy An Election.” 

That’s what happened on Tuesday. Melvoin and his billionaire backers dramatically outspent school board president Steve Zimmer’s campaign, making the District 4 race the most expensive in LAUSD history. 

Political pundits will spend the next few days and weeks analyzing the Los Angeles school board election, examining exit polls, spilling lots of ink over how different demographic groups -- income, race, religious, union membership, gender, party affiliation, and others -- voted on Tuesday. 

But the real winner in the race was not Nick Melvoin, but Big Money. And the real loser was not Steve Zimmer, but democracy – and LA’s children. 

Melvoin’s backers -- particularly billionaires and multi-millionaires who donated directly to his campaign and to several front groups, especially the California Charter School Association (CCSA) -- outspent Zimmer’s campaign by $6.6 million to $2.7 million. Melvoin got 30,696 votes to Zimmer’s 22,766. In other words, Melvoin spent 71% of the money to get 57% of the vote. 

Here’s another way of looking at the election results: Melvoin spent $215 for each vote he received, while Zimmer spent only $121 per vote. 

There’s no doubt that if the Zimmer campaign had the same war-chest that Melvoin had, he would have been able to mount an even more formidable grassroots get-out-the-vote campaign and put more money into the TV and radio air war. Under those circumstances, it is likely that Zimmer would have prevailed. 

Billionaires, many of whom live far from Los Angeles, bought this election for Melvoin. Their money paid for non-stop TV and radio ads, as well as phone calls, mailers and newspaper ads (including a huge wrap-around ad on the front of Sunday’s LA Times.) Melvoin’s billionaire backers paid for 44 mailers and at least $1 million on negative TV ads against Zimmer.  

The so-called “Independent” campaign for Melvoin was funded by big oil, big tobacco, Walmart, Enron, and other out-of-town corporations and billionaires. They paid for Melvoin’s ugly, deceptive, and false attack ads against Zimmer, a former teacher and current school board president. Melvoin is so devoted to the corporate agenda for our schools that during the campaign he said that the school district needed a “hostile takeover.” 

Among the big donors behind Melvoin and the CCSA were members of the Walton family (Alice Walton, Jim Walton, and Carrie Walton Penner) ― heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune from Arkansas. Alice Walton (net worth: $36.9 billion), who lives in Texas, was one of the biggest funders behind Melvoin’s campaign. Other Melvoin and CCSA backers included Michael Bloomberg (net worth: $48.5 billion), the former New York City mayor; Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix (net worth: $1.9 billion), who lives in Santa Cruz;  Doris Fisher (net worth: $2.7 billion), co-founder of The Gap, who lives in San Francisco; Texas resident John Arnold (net worth: $2.9 billion), who made a fortune at Enron before the company collapsed, leaving its employees and stockholders in the lurch, then made another fortune as a hedge fund manager; Jeff Yass, who lives in the Philadelphia suburbs, and runs the Susquehanna group, a hedge fund; and Frank Baxter, former CEO of the global investment bank Jefferies and Company that specialized in “junk” bonds. 

What do the corporate moguls and billionaires want? And what did Steve Zimmer do to make them so upset? 

They want is to turn public schools into educational Wal-Marts run on the same corporate model. They want to expand charter schools that compete with each other and with public schools in an educational “market place.” (LA already has more charter schools than any other district in the country.) 

They want to evaluate teachers and students like they evaluate new products -- in this case, using the bottom-line of standardized test scores. Most teachers will tell you that over-emphasis on standardized testing turns the classroom into an assembly line, where teachers are pressured to “teach to the test,” and students are taught, robot-like, to define success as answering multiple-choice questions on tests. 

Not surprisingly, the billionaires want school employees -- teachers -- to do what they’re told, without having much of a voice in how their workplace functions or what is taught in the classroom. Rather than treat teachers like professionals, they view them as the out-sourced hired help. 

The corporate big-wigs are part of an effort that they and the media misleadingly call “school reform.” What they’re really after is not “reform” (improving our schools for the sake of students) but “privatization” (business control of public education.) They think public schools should be run like corporations, with teachers as compliant workers, students as products, and the school budget as a source of profitable contracts and subsidies for textbook companies, consultants, and others engaged in the big business of education. 

Like most reasonable educators and education analysts, Zimmer has questioned the efficacy of charter schools as a panacea. When the billionaires unveiled their secret plan to put half of LAUSD students into charter schools within eight years, Zimmer led the opposition. In contrast, Melvoin is a big backer of charter schools and a big critic of the teachers union.  

Now the billionaires and their charter school operators will have a majority on the school board. LA will become the epicenter of a major experiment in expanding charter schools – with the school children as the guinea pigs. 

Pundits will have a field day pontificating about the LAUSD election, but in the end it’s about how Big Money hijacked democracy in LA.

 

(Peter Dreier is professor of politics and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College and an occasional contributor to CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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LOOMING PENSION PAIN--The Jerry Brown administration last week released its revised May budget and, lo and behold, it has finally decided to (kind of, sort of) tackle the state’s massive and growing level of unfunded liabilities – i.e., the hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer-backed debt to fund retirement promises made to the state’s government employees. 

It’s best to curb our enthusiasm, however. The governor didn’t have much of a choice. This was the first state budget that is compliant with new accounting standards established by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board that requires states to more properly account for retiree medical and benefits beyond pensions. 

Because of those new standards and low investment returns, the state’s unfunded liabilities (including the University of California retirement system) soared by an astounding 22 percent since last year. But even this new estimate of $279 billion in liabilities is on the optimistic side. Some credible estimates pin California state and local governments’ pension liabilities at nearly $1 trillion, based on more realistic rate-of-return predictions. 

The pension system invites eyes-glazing-over debates about the size of the liability. That’s because debts are calculated on guesswork about future investment earnings. The California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) recently voted to lower its predicted rates from 7.5 percent a year to 7 percent. The lower the predicted rate, the higher the liabilities, which is why CalPERS and the state’s unions are so bullish on Wall Street. 

CalPERS’ latest investment returns were below 1 percent, but the agency insists there’s nothing to worry about and no need to do the unthinkable (reduce future benefit accruals for current employees.) That’s the same CalPERS, of course, that in 1999 assured the Legislature that a 50-percent retroactive pension increase wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime.  I suppose CalPERS was right. It didn’t cost a dime, although it did cost many billions of dollars. Their returns were then yielding 13.5 percent a year, and CalPERS figured the heyday would go on forever. 

The other reason to be skeptical of the Brown administration’s commitment to solving the problem can be found in the May revise itself. The budget “includes a one‑time $6 billion supplemental payment” to CalPERS, according to the Finance Department. “This action effectively doubles the state’s annual payment and will mitigate the impact of increasing pension contributions due to the state’s large unfunded liabilities.” 

Where is the extra $6 billion coming from in a budget that supposedly is so pinched that the governor recently signed a law raising annual transportation taxes by $5.2 billion? 

Simple. The state is borrowing the money to pre-pay some of its debt. “The additional $6 billion pension payment will be funded through a loan from the Surplus Money Investment Fund,” according to the budget summary. “Although the loan will incur interest costs (approximately $1 billion over the life of the loan,) actuarial calculations indicate that the additional pension payment will yield net savings of $11 billion over the next 20 years.” 

In other words, the state will be borrowing the money at fairly low interest rates and then investing the money and earning, it hopes, higher rates. The difference will help pay down some of those retirement debts. Even the well-known pension reformer, Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, lauded the administration for embracing that idea. 

But it’s something of a shell game. It should work out well, provided the markets do as well as the state expects. In doing this, however, the state is taking out new debt that will need to be repaid. There’s no free money here. A number of localities have embraced a similar strategy with pension-obligation bonds, which are a form of arbitrage, in which the government is borrowing money and betting on future market returns. 

This gimmick is similar to the one people will embrace in their personal lives. Are those credit-card debts crushing the family budget? Then borrow money from the home-equity line of credit at 5 percent and use it to pay down the 10-percent credit card loans. It makes sense, but it doesn’t deal with the real problem of excessive consumer spending. 

“This is the Band-Aid,” said Dan Pellissier, a former aide to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and well-known state pension reformer. “The surgery everyone is trying to avoid is on the California Rule – changing the benefits public employees receive in the future.” 

When it comes to pensions, everything comes back to that “rule,” which isn’t a rule but a series of court precedents going back to the 1950s. In the private sector, companies may reduce pension benefits for their employees in the future. An employee can be told that, starting tomorrow, she will accrue pension benefits at a lower rate. The California Rule mandates that public employees, by contrast, can never have their benefit levels reduced. 

That limits options for reform. In 2012, Gov. Brown signed into a law the Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act (PEPRA), which promised to address the pension-debt problem by primarily reducing benefits for newly hired employees. A reform that affects new hires will reduce contribution rates but won’t make an enormous difference until they start retiring. 

“Gov. Jerry Brown’s attempt at pension reform has failed,” opined Dan Borenstein, in a recent East Bay Times column. The reason: the rapidly growing pension debt. “The shortfall for California’s three statewide retirement systems has increased about 36 percent. Add in local pension systems and the total debt has reached at least $374 billion. That works out to about $29,000 per household.” 

CalPERS rebutted Borenstein by arguing that he “greatly oversimplifies and needlessly discounts the real impact that Governor Brown’s pension reform has had since it took effect in January 2013.” The pension fund insists, “PEPRA already is bending the pension cost curve – and will keep doing so with greater impact every year going forward.” 

Yet the growing liabilities and the administration’s latest budget plan suggest that whatever minimal cost savings PEPRA is achieving aren’t nearly enough. Of course, union-controlled CalPERS’ goal isn’t protecting taxpayers or the state general fund – it is to enhance the benefits of the state workers whose pensions it manages. 

As Calpensions explained, that $6 billion of borrowed money doubles the amount of general-fund dollars that the state is paying to deal with pension obligations. Meanwhile, as the state borrows money to pay that tab, it raises taxes to fund transportation. If Brown and the Legislature had trimmed pension costs, it would not have needed to raise gas taxes and the vehicle license fee. And the problem reverberates for local governments, too. 

The May revise also showcased the same old issue with the administration’s priorities. Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton noted that “Brown’s entertaining rhetoric itself made him sound, as usual, like a skinflint, a penny-pinching scold. But the introductory document could have been written by Bernie Sanders, if not Depression-era Socialist Upton Sinclair, the losing 1934 Democratic candidate for governor who ran on the slogan ‘End Poverty in California.’” 

The budget championed myriad big-spending programs, including higher pay for public employees. So the state has been spending like crazy, but can’t manage to deal with its pension problem – at least not without borrowing money to temporarily paper over its growing debt. 

All these games are about avoiding dealing with the obvious fact that California’s public-employee pensions are absurdly generous, filled with costly and anger-inducing features (spiking, double-dipping, liberal disability retirements, etc.) and unsustainable. 

In 2011, the state’s official watchdog agency, the Little Hoover Commission, argued to the governor that “Public agencies must have the flexibility and authority to freeze accrued pension benefits for current workers, and make changes to pension formulas going forward to protect state and local public employees and the public good.” Six years later, the governor is still just chipping away at the edges by embracing gimmicks.

 

(Steven Greenhut is a contributing editor to the California Policy Center, on whose website this piece originally appeared. He is Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at sgreenhut@rstreet.org.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

BELL VIEW--Once, during a jury trial, opposing counsel asked my witness – who was not my client – whether she had spoken to me prior to testifying. “Yes,” she answered. “And what did Mr. Bell tell you to say today?” 

There’s an old adage that an attorney should never ask a question in front of a jury that he doesn’t already know the answer to. We can’t always be that lucky – but I’m not exactly sure what this guy was fishing for with his question. Luckily for me, I wasn’t surprised when my witness smiled and said “He just told me to get up here and tell the truth.” 

Truth. We live in such strange times that we might be forgiven for believing that the concept of truth no longer has any meaning. But truth has a persistence, and any decent trial lawyer can tell you that nothing is scarier than the truth. As an advocate, the truth is the only thing I have to work with. I can spin it, shade it, bend it, and try to bury it in a blizzard of nonsense – but I can’t deny it. 

California has a jury instruction that reads “A witness false in one part of his or her testimony is to be distrusted in others.” That’s good advice. The lies of the president have begun to seep past the physical body of Donald Trump like a drop of ink on a wet napkin. 

Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway have been so stained by Trump’s lies that nothing they say has any meaning any more. HR McMaster, Mike Pence, and Rod Rosenstein have already started to feel the stain creep in around the edges of their reputations. (I’d say the same for Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell if they had any reputations worth sullying.) And it looks like a few million Americans might have to delete their Facebook profiles eventually lest their grandchildren find out the extent of their complicity. 

Enter James Comey – a former prosecutor – well aware of the power of the truth, he’s begun using it to build the brick wall against which this train of deception might crash. Trump has publicly called Comey a liar – but Comey appears to have put on his hazmat suit before he ever came within a hundred yards of the president. Comey tiptoed through the torture years of the Bush White House and walked out with a promotion. He’s not about to let a failed gameshow host get his wingtips dirty. 

I’ve predicted all along that this administration won’t last the full term. Lately, I’ve begun to doubt that prediction. We live in a world where which side you’re on determines how you look at reality. 

The truth doesn’t stand a chance in a lesser-of-two-evils world. But Trump has made it personal with Jim Comey, and he doesn’t look like a patsy to me. There’s probably a reason why FBI Directors are not routinely fired. 

James Comey made a few million enemies when he tipped the scales in the election. He did it because he was covering his own ass. Now Trump’s poking the same rattlesnake that took out Hillary Clinton. My money’s on the snake.

(David Bell is a writer, attorney, former president of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council and writes for CityWatch.)

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VETS VOICE--President Donald Trump supports America's troops. The troops, however, are more on the fence about their president.

That fact might not have been obvious during the presidential campaign, where Trump's unique brand of populism fared quite well with America's military veterans: According to exit polls from CNN, they voted for Trump two-to-one.

Then, on January 27th, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Trump signed a controversial executive order to enact a temporary travel ban against immigrants from Muslim-majority countries. The order made good on some of Trump's promises issued on the campaign trail. It also meant American troops would have to witness many of the very people who once provided them assistance on their missions in the Middle East—the very people whose lives may be in danger from bombings, death threats, poor medical access, or any number of other injustices—being barred from entering the United States.

Since the beginning of the election, a number of veterans have voiced their concerns with Trump and his "yellow ribbon patriotism." While Trump often claims to support the troops (as all presidents do), such assertions can ring hollow coming from a man who has openly disparaged both living veterans (Senator John McCain) and the families of the deceased (Humayun Khan) —especially when Trump never himself served in the military.

In an op-ed in Time, retired lieutenant colonel of the Marine Corps and presidential leadership scholar Justin Constantine wrote, "In a world of complex diplomatic relationships, nuclear weapons, competing national interests and deadly enemies, his [Trump's] inexperience could have severe consequences for our country."

"The ban is a horrifying betrayal of American ideals, our 'better angels,' to paraphrase President Lincoln."

Though veterans voted overwhelmingly for Trump, the results of a military poll conducted by the Military Times one month prior to the election shows that veterans were already skeptical of his stances. The poll found that, "Nearly 83 percent of those surveyed said they are dissatisfied with Clinton as the Democratic Party's pick to be president, and more than 65 percent said the same of Trump as the Republican nominee." In fact, a month before the election, only 40.5 percent of military veterans stated that they would vote for Trump, which can hardly be described as a landslide victory, or a reflection of strong support by the veteran community.

Now, for many veterans, this travel ban presents a frightening reality of life under the Trump administration—and a trespass against refugees' human rights. Two days after the ban was announced, Arabic translator and military historian Kirk Johnson tweeted about the travel ban and how it targets Iraqis and those who risked their lives to help American soldiers during the Iraq War, recounting how Americans allowed their Iraqi allies to be slaughtered after the war, instead of helping the Iraqi people immigrate to America.

"Those that helped us [in the Iraq War] were Christians, Muslims, Yazidis, atheists, you name it. They were our allies," Johnson wrote. "When they ran through gunfire to save our troops, they didn't think about such labels. These Iraqis believed in America. They loved our country. They lost their country as a result of the choice they made to help us."

Johnson goes on to illustrate how thousands of Iraqis lost their lives, homes, safety, and well-being, and made an enormous sacrifice in order to help American troops. In return, the first travel ban denied entry into the U.S. to those who had given us the most. In so doing, it damaged America's relationship with those seeking residence in the U.S.

Many of the veterans who stand in opposition to the ban have a story to tell.

Take Matthew Gallagher, [photo left] a former army captain who served in the Iraq War from 2005 to 2009. Since then, he has written a memoir and become an activist for the Veterans for American Ideals, a group that protects Muslim and refugee rights. "I think the ban is not only a horrifying betrayal of American ideals, our 'better angels,' to paraphrase President Lincoln; it also fails completely to attain its purpose, which is for better national security," Gallagher says. "We're already receiving reports that special operations units in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere have suffered losses of errant relationships to their allies because of how this ban is being received in the Middle East." 

For refugees and Iraqi translators who have risked their lives during the Iraq War, this ban ignores their contributions to this country. During the Iraq War, translators were the No. 1 target for Iraqi insurgents. Without the ability to communicate to local Iraqis, there would have been no way for Americans to gather local support.

Or take Sam Freeman,  an Iraqi refugee and current American citizen who spent seven years in Iraq as a linguist, cultural advisor, and liaison between the U.S. military and Iraqi civilians. "Generally, linguists are not issued weapons, and they look different [from American soldiers] so they stand out. I would be the most important person in our mission, and while the military does take care to make sure that I don't get killed, I was still the target person [for insurgents]," Freeman says. "While I'm lucky to say I made it, I have been pretty close, I've been injured."

Or Supriya Venkatesan, who saw firsthand how Iraqi translators and former refugees risked their lives during the Iraq War. She is a military veteran who served in Iraq for six years, and has gone on to become involved in Muslim and refugee rights by working with Syrian refugee advocacy groups and writing extensive, investigative journalism pieces on the horrific conditions that Syrians are currently experiencing at home, and their struggle to receive entry into the U.S.

What she's discovered since her time back in the states is that refugees like Sam not only feel an increased sense of duty and responsibility to the country that provided them with asylum, but refugees go on to become some of the most hard-working, ardent champions of the American dream.

"Based on my own experiences of working with the Muslims who are translators or linguists or survivors of war, there is something in them that makes them fight, and because of that they become extremely wonderful contributors to society," Venkatesan says. To Venkatesen, citizens from Muslim-majority countries who helped the U.S. in the Iraq War are our strongest allies, and to alienate them and prevent them from entry into our country is the ultimate affront.

Resettlement into the U.S. for refugees and for citizens applying for visas from the Middle East is a long and arduous process. On average, it takes at least a year and a half to two years for citizens of Iraq, Iran, or Afghanistan to acquire a visa into the U.S. "Extreme vetting" would add even more time to this process, putting the lives of refugees and citizens of the Middle East in further jeopardy.

Lee Hungerbeeler did two tours in Iraq, where he served as a battery commander. He believes that Iraqi interpreters played a significant role in helping the U.S. military in the Iraq War; however, Hungerbeeler does not feel that the travel ban targets Muslims, Iraqis, or will negatively affect our military's relationship with Iraq or the Middle East.

"I think that [Trump's team is] going about it the right way as long as [the ban is] followed as it's written. But the problem is we're relying on people to take care of it, and it's a fairly ambitious plan with a lot of moving parts."

While not all veterans agree on the problematic nature of the ban, many of those who disagree with it will not remain silenced. Since the ban was introduced, Gallagher wrote an op-ed about his opposition to it for the Boston Globe.  His piece was then read by Senator Elizabeth Warren on the U.S. Senate floor. As op-eds and activism by veterans continues to proliferate, and these soldiers share their stories of working with refugees in the Middle East, a different narrative is coming through: not all military veterans support this ban, or the actions of the president.

(Michelle Threadgould is a journalist who lives in Oakland, California, and covers the intersection between arts and culture and social justice for Pacific Standard magazine … where this report originated.)

-cw

 

 

MUELLER WELCOMED .. WITH CAUTION--While many welcome the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller to oversee the Russia probe as a "first step," observers warn that it is not enough to guarantee an independent, impartial investigation nor to tackle the range of possible misdeeds by President Donald Trump and his team.

Mueller's appointment, announced Wednesday by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, as special counsel to lead the investigation into possible ties between Russian election meddling and the 2016 Trump campaign was met with bipartisan applause. It comes as popular demand for an independent probe into an increasingly convoluted Russia investigation has reached nearly fever pitch.

Common Cause president Karen Hobert Flynn called it "a positive, necessary first step" and "proof that our democracy is resilient." American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) executive director Anthony Romero declared it "a critically necessary step given the conflicts of interest present at the Trump administration's highest levels."

(For his part, Trump called "it the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!")

However, those groups—in addition to a number of Democratic lawmakers—say that the appointment must be coupled with an independent commission, similar to the 9/11 commission, "to augment the efforts of the special prosecutor and follow the evidence wherever it leads," as Hobart put it. 

But others are warning that the appointment of the special counsel without such a commission may actually hobble truth-seeking.

As the Atlantic's David Frum wrote earlier this week, "such an appointment could well turn into a shield for wrongdoing."

He explained:

Of all the types of independent investigation that have been suggested, a special prosecutor is the most likely to disappear down rabbit holes—the least likely answer the questions that needed to be answered. A select committee of Congress or an independent commission of nonpartisan experts established by Congress can ask the broad question: What happened? A select committee or an independent commission can organize its inquiry according to priority, leaving the secondary and tertiary issues to the historians. A select committee or an independent commission is not barred from looking at events in earlier years statutes of limitations. A select committee or an independent commission seeks truth.

A special prosecutor, by contrast, seeks crimes. The criminal law is a heavy tool, and for that reason it is thickly encased in protections for accused persons. The most important protection from the point of view of the Trump-Russia matter is the rule of silence. A prosecutor investigating a crime can often discover non-criminal bad actions by the people he is investigating. If those bad actions do not amount to crimes, the prosecutor is supposed to look away.

Josh Marshall, published and editor of Talking Points Memo, similarly wrote Wednesday:

It is critical to understand that the most important details we need to know about the Russian disruption campaign and the Trump campaign's possible collusion with it may not be crimes. Indeed, I would say that the crimes we're likely to discover will likely be incidental or secondary to the broader actions and activities we're trying to uncover. Just hypothetically, what if Russia had a disruption campaign, Trump campaign officials gave winks and nods to nudge it forward but violated no laws? That’s hard to figure but by no means impossible. (Our criminal laws are not really designed for this set of facts.) The simple point is that the most important 'bad acts' may well not be crimes. That means not only is no one punished but far, far more important, we would never know what happened.

Digging into the details of the Department of Justice press statement, investigative journalist Marcy Wheeler cautioned that the scope of Mueller's investigation "is totally inadequate."

Following Wednesday's order, Wheeler wrote at her blog:

As I read this, it covers just the investigation into ties between the Russian government and people associated with Trump's campaign. Presumably, that includes Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort, and Carter Page, among others. 

But there are other aspects of the great swamp that is the Trump and Russia orbit that might not be included here. For example, would Manafort's corrupt deals with Ukrainian oligarchs be included? Would Flynn's discussions with Turkish officials, or Rudy Giuliani's attempt to excuse Turkey's violation of Iran sanctions? Would the garden variety money laundering on behalf of non-governmental Russian mobbed up businessmen be included, something that might affect Manafort, Jared Kushner, or Trump himself?

[...] Any one of those investigations might present strings that can be pulled, any one of which might lead to the unraveling of the central question: did Trump's associates coordinate with the Russian government to become President. Unless Mueller can serve to protect those other corners of the investigation from Trump's tampering, it would be easy to shut down any of them as they become productive.

(Lauren McCauley writes for Common Dreams  … where this perspective was first posted.)

-cw

SCHMO BIZ--“Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.” These are the opening words of long-time soap opera “Days of Our Lives”. They could just as well describe the story of President Donald Trump’s first months in office. Imagine what Netflix would make of the show we’ve all come to know as the short-lived (so far), but intense, drama of the Trump administration.

The TV Guide version would look something like this:

Episode 1: Donnie takes the oath of office cheered on by the biggest crowd ever at an inauguration. Or is it?

Episode 2: Donnie issues an executive order banning Muslims and gets into hot water with the men in black robes. Who do they think they are?

Episode 3: The “fake news” bunch pick on Kellyanne for sticking up for Donnie. Sean tries to help but just makes things worse.

Episode 4: People keep asking embarrassing questions about General Flynn and Donnie doesn’t like it.

Episode 5: Donnie tries helping his friend Paul kill Obamacare by repealing and “replacing” it, but the Freedom Caucus bullies spoil the fun.

Episode 6: It’s all in the family as Donnie gives everybody their own office. Stevie and Reince shoved out of the spotlight. Kellyanne disappears!

Episode 7: Donnie makes up with the Freedom Caucus and throws a party to celebrate a big win over Obamacare. Nobody tells him it’s not over yet.

Episode 8: “Out like Flynn” is the order of the day as Donnie is forced to deep six his buddy. Tweets fly as the tide of fake news rolls in.

Episode 9: James “Showboat” Comey makes trouble for Donnie because Flynn likes the Russians too much. Donnie reacts: “You’re fired!”

Episode 10: Sergey drops by and Donnie lets slip some gossip from Bibi. Oops!

Episode 11: Some guy Donnie never heard of hires a lawyer to investigate his campaign’s ties to the Russians (season one).

Will the show be cancelled or renewed? Stay tuned.

And come to think of it, maybe a more appropriate opening would be: 

“Submitted for your approval, one Donald J. Trump, orange-haired mogul recently elected president of the United States. He thinks he’s moved into the White House, but the truth is he’s just crossed over into …” 

Well, you know the rest.

 

(Doug Epperhart is a publisher, a long-time neighborhood council activist and has served on the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners. He is a contributor to CityWatch and can be reached at: Epperhart@cox.net

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LA WATCHDOG--The second most dangerous place in the City of Los Angeles is when you stand between cash and the City’s General Fund, even if the source of this revenue adversely impacts our neighborhoods and quality of life.  

This is the case with the City’s 14% Transient Occupancy Tax (the “hotel tax”) that is collected by Airbnb and other short term rental web sites (collectively, “Airbnb”) from their hosts who illegally rent their rooms, apartments, and houses for less than 30 days. 

We are not talking chump change for this recently discovered gold mine.  

For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2017, the City budgeted revenue of $5.8 million from Airbnb, up from zero in the previous year.  But lo and behold, the revised estimate is a whopping $27.5 million, a $21.7 million bump that aroused the financial wizards that occupy City Hall.  And for the upcoming fiscal year beginning July 1, 2017, the City is projecting a haul of $33.7 million, a 23% increase from the revised estimate. 

This implies that Airbnb hosts had revenues of $240 million, which, in turn, produced over $30 million of revenue for Airbnb. 

While Airbnb, its hosts, and the City each have a vested interest in maximizing revenue, this financial goal may run counter to the wishes of many Angelenos who believe that the in-and-out flow of transients disturbs their neighborhoods and compromises their safety, quality of life, and quiet enjoyment of their neighborhoods and apartment complexes.    

The hotel industry is also opposed to Airbnb because it represents a competitive threat, diverting revenue from their hotels by offering a low-cost alternative for tourists and the business community. 

The unions that represent hotel employees are also bent out of shape as they believe that the diversion of revenue from hotels will result in fewer union jobs and lower dues revenue to cover their overhead.  

The affordable housing and tenants’ rights advocates are also opposed to Airbnb because selected landlords are converting apartments to short-term rentals, depleting the supply and causing already high rents to increase.  This may force many displaced and already rent burdened tenants into even more over-crowded apartments or onto the harsh streets of LA.       

The budgeted revenue assumes that there will be no change in the existing policy. But the City Administrative Officer estimated that if the Airbnb hosts were limited to one property and if the annual number of nights booked is capped at 180, then revenue would drop from 46%, from $33.7 million to $18.2 million, a swing of $15.5 million.  

Several organizations such as Keep Neighborhoods First are proposing a 60-day cap that they argue will allow for true home sharing and preserve affordable housing by limiting the incentive for landlords to enter the short term rental market. But this cap may further reduce revenues for the City. 

The Planning and Land Use Management Committee chaired by Jose Huizar is expected to consider the Home Sharing Ordinance that will pit the financial interests of the City and Airbnb and its hosts against quality of life interests of homeowners and apartment renters, the hotel industry and their unions, and rent burdened tenants and their advocates.  

More than likely, the money grubbing Mayor and City Council will put on a show and express their concerns, but the result will be that the Garcetti and the City Council will sell us out and go with the dough.  

As a side note, overall revenues from the hotel tax are projected to increase by almost 7% to $282 million.  This represents almost 5% of General Fund revenue.  But this revenue estimate may be optimistic as international visitors, who spend more than twice as much as domestic tourists, may be turned off by the Trump Effect and the strong dollar. 

By the way, the most dangerous place in Los Angeles is when you are between the campaign war chests of our Elected Elite and cash campaign contributions from real estate developers, leaders of the City’s unions, and other self-serving ring kissers such as Airbnb.

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate.  He can be reached at:  lajack@gmail.com.)

-cw

LA WATCHDOG--On Tuesday, May 2, the 90-minute presentation, Back to Work to Fix LA, by the Coalition of LA City Unions to the Budget and Finance Committee of the Los Angeles City Council was not a discussion of the financial implications of achieving the goal of hiring 5,000 new civilian workers.  Rather, it is a follow up to the goals delineated in the “historic” 2015-18 labor contract and an outline of union demands for the upcoming labor negotiations for the contract that expires on June 30, 2018. 

While the goals of restoring public services, creating good jobs for Angelenos, and ensuring public safety are all laudable goals, how will the City be able to afford increasing the size of its civilian work force to 36,000 employees, the level before the City was hit by the Great Recession, from the current level of 31,000 workers? 

The Four-Year Budget Outlook that was prepared by the City Administrative Officer is projecting a budget deficit of $104 million for the year that begins on June 30, 2018 and a cumulative four-year deficit of almost $300 million.  

These shortfalls do not take into consideration an estimated $100 million increase in the annual required contribution to the City’s two pension plans associated with the lowering of the investment rate assumption to 7¼% from the overly optimistic rate of 7½%. 

[The projected rate of return for the City’s two pension plans is 6.2%, the rate of return projected by CalPERS, the country’s largest pension plan.  This implies that the annual required contributions based on the 7¼% assumption will short change the pension plans and result in an even greater unfunded pension liability.] 

Nor does the Outlook account for any increase is salaries and benefits that will come from a new labor contract with the civilian unions. This will probably add $50 to $75 million a year to the deficit. 

These extra cash expenses will increase the annual budget gap to $250 million in 2018-19 and the four-year cumulative deficit to almost $1.2 billion.  And this does not include any salary increases for the Police Department. 

The obvious conclusion is that the City cannot afford any raises to say nothing about expanding the size of its work force. 

There has also been no discussion about the efficiency (or inefficiency) of the City’s work force.  To the contrary, the civilian unions are trying to develop a monopoly over city services and contracts by making outsourcing even more difficult, even if independent contractors are more efficient. 

But it seems as if City Hall has not gotten the message from former New York Governor Mario Cuomo who said, “It’s not government’s obligation to provide services, but to see that they are provided.” 

This is not to say that you lay off City workers.  But a little “managed competition” between city work crews and private contractors will give us a better understanding of how efficiently(or inefficiently) our money is being spent. 

Despite the $1.2 billion increase in General Fund revenues, the spendthrifts that occupy City Hall have managed to perpetuate the Structural Deficit where the growth in labor costs exceeds the growth in tax revenues.  

While it may be difficult, Mayor Eric Garcetti, the Paul Krekorian (photo above) led Budget and Finance Committee, and the rest of the members of the Herb Wesson City Council must develop the political will to say NO to the demands of the campaign funding union leaders. 

We cannot afford any more budget busting contracts.

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate.  He can be reached at:  lajack@gmail.com.)

-cw

LA WATCHDOG--While the City’s General Fund revenues have increased by $1.24 billion (27%) over the last five years, why is the cash balance of City’s Reserve Fund projected to be $21 million below the policy goal of $289 million, an amount equal to 5% of General Fund revenue of $5.8 billion? 

But more to the point, why are the combined balances of the Reserve Fund and the Budget Stabilization Fund $215 million short of the $578 million policy goal (equal to 10% of General Fund revenue) recommended by the City Administrative Officer?  

Over the years, the CAO has been a broken record, stressing that the City maintain healthy and growing reserves because they are an important component supporting the City’s high investment grade bond ratings.  This is especially true given the City’s Structural Deficit (where the growth in personnel costs exceed the increases in revenues), the City’s massive unfunded pension and deferred maintenance liabilities, and the volatility of the Southern California economy. 

Underlying this deficit in the City’s reserves is the fact that City Hall has raided the Reserve Fund for $213 million over the last three years.  This is despite healthy increases in revenues.  As a result, the cash balance is projected to be $268 million on June 30, 2018, only 4.6% of General Fund revenue, the lowest level in years.  

But this estimate may be on the high side because the Reserve Fund may have to cover budget shortfalls for this fiscal year caused by lower than expected revenues and higher than anticipated legal settlements.  There may also be budget shortfalls for the upcoming fiscal year because of continuing legal liabilities that may exceed the projected budget of only $109 million.

City Hall was unable to divert funds from the Reserve Fund for the upcoming fiscal year because the cupboard was bare.  But that did not stop the financial wizards from diverting $75 million from the $95 million Budget Stabilization Fund. 

The City has funded the Budget Stabilization Fund with excess revenues from seven economy sensitive taxes: Property Taxes, Utilities Users’ Tax, Business Tax, Sales Tax, Transit Occupancy Tax, Documentary Transfer Tax, and Parking Users’ Tax.  Revenues are considered excess when they are more than 3.4% above the prior year’s budgeted revenues. 

But rather than devote the $75 million of excess revenues to the rainy day funds, City Hall allocated this cash to the Capital Improvement Expenditure Program, claiming these funds were devoted to one time capital expenditures.  But the Capital Improvement Expenditure Program is an integral part of every annual budget, not a bunch of one off expenditures as City Hall would like us to believe. 

In years of plenty, prudent stewards of our money would put excess cash into reserves so that we will have adequate resources when the lean years are upon us.  But the grasshoppers who occupy City Hall have not learned this basic lesson of life and finance as they continue their spendoholic ways and ignore the realities of our volatile Southern California economy. 

City Hall will more than likely issue $60 million of Judgment Obligation Bonds to help shore up the Reserve Fund.  But this is only an interim, ill conceived, debt financed maneuver. The real question is whether Mayor Garcetti, Budget and Finance Chair Paul Krekorian, and the rest of the Herb Wesson led City Council have the political will to do the right thing and sock away enough cash so we can endure the down economy. 

The odds say no way. 

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate.  He can be reached at:  lajack@gmail.com.)

-cw

 

Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council have convinced themselves that the proposed 2017-18 budget is a “fiscally responsible spending plan” that supports the Mayor’s Back to Basics priority goals of a safe, prosperous, livable, sustainable, and well run city looking to fulfill its destiny as a world class city. 

But the Los Angeles Times does not buy into Garcetti’s overly optimistic rhetoric, stating in an editorial that “the Mayor and the City Council need to GET REAL on the City’s finances” if they want LA to be a “progressive, transformed city.” 

[Los Angeles Times Editorial: Despite a surge in revenue, L.A. is still feeling the budget crunch

Underlying the Times’ reasoning is that although City revenues have increased by $1.2 billion since Garcetti became mayor, the “City is still stuck with an ongoing $200 million Structural Deficit” that requires “all kinds of budget gymnastics” to balance the budget, resulting in even more reductions in essential services to Angelenos. 

The Times also pointed out numerous budget vulnerabilities, ranging from fewer federal dollars, the legality of the $242 million Transfer Fee from the Department of Water and Power, more expensive labor contracts, significantly higher pension contributions, and another budget busting recession. 

Unfortunately for the next generations of Angelenos, Garcetti and the City Council are focused only on the present and have their heads in the sand when it comes to any discussion about the City’s financial future.  And understandably so as they will be long gone when the spaghetti and meatballs hit the fan. 

The City’s Four Year Budget Outlook anticipates a budget gap next year (2018-19) of $104 million and a cumulative budget gap of almost $300 million. But this does not include the impact of new labor contracts, increased contributions to its two pension plans, or any comprehensive plan to repair and maintain our lunar cratered streets, broken sidewalks, and the rest of our deteriorating infrastructure. 

Over the next four years, the City is expected to negotiate new labor contracts with the police, firefighters, and civilian unions that will cost an estimated $200 million a year by the end of the fourth year. 

If the City adopted a comprehensive plan to repair and maintain our streets and sidewalks, this $4 billion program will cost an estimated $250 million a year.  Alternatively, the City could continue to neglect our streets, but the ultimate cost would be considerably more than $4 billion.  

This does not include money needed for the City’s parks, urban forest, street lights, buildings and facilities, or its antiquated computer systems.  

The City is also underfunding its two pension plans as it is relying on an overly optimistic investment rate assumption of 7.5%, rather than 6.5% as recommended by knowledgeable investors, including Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway fame and fortune. But if the City used the more realistic rate of 6.5%, the City’s annual required contribution would increase by an estimated $400 million.  

Overall, these three adjustments would increase the annual deficit to over $800 million while the four-year cumulative deficit balloon to $3.4 billion. 

While some of these deficits may be offset by new sources of revenues such as the pot tax, a billboard tax, revenue resulting from the new gas tax, and the linkage fee, there is still a considerable gap that needs to be addressed. 

The Mayor and the City Council will ignore these findings.  After all, these financial wizards are the smartest people in the room.  But this is where the Los Angeles Times comes to our rescue by demanding that we have an open and transparent discussion about the City’s budget and its future obligations that have been ignored for years.  

For the sake of the next generations of Angelenos, it is time for the Mayor and the members of the City Council to GET REAL about the city’s precarious finances. 

 

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate.  He can be reached at:  lajack@gmail.com.)

RESISTANCE WATCH--One of Trump’s most horrendous campaign promises was to build a border wall — a divisive structure that will not keep us safe from harm nor create infrastructure to help our country fix crumbling roads and bridges.

There are countless examples of the failure of our nation’s outdated, underfunded infrastructure. Hurricane Katrina and the levees in New Orleans. Lead in the drinking water in Flint, Michigan. The crumbling Oroville dam and resulting evacuation in Northern California. These are all cases of critical structures that year after year are not properly funded in the federal budget.

Trump is either oblivious to or unmoved by the consequences of these catastrophic events on American lives as he remains fixated on the costly wall, even as his administration was forced to pull back the budget allotted for it to prevent a government shutdown

Resistance from Congress, and from grassroots efforts in cities and nationwide, is gaining momentum. Infrastructure aside, the symbolism of this wall deeply offends American values. It has increased racist anti-immigrant rhetoric and communicated to the entire world that people seeking refuge in America are not welcome here.

Here in Los Angeles in early May, my organization, Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), joined Los Angeles City Councilmember Gil Cedillo when he announced a motion requiring companies seeking contracts with the City to publicly disclose if they are also submitting contracting bids to build the controversial border wall. This proposal, which is the first of its kind, would also impose strict penalties and fines on any company who fails to disclose this required information.

The motion is aimed at ensuring transparency in the City’s contracting process. Nearly two out of three Angelenos are either immigrants or the children of immigrants who are a vital part of the City’s economic engine. Immigrants contribute billions of dollars in income and make up a significant percentage of both the workforce and business community.

Cedillo’s colleagues on the Los Angeles City Council agreed that residents deserve to know how public funding is spent, and whether or not they are supporting individuals or entities who are involved in the construction of a colossal barrier that is chilling and morally unacceptable to a majority of Angelenos.

Los Angeles labor groups have firmly supported the motion. Rusty Hicks, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, said, “Our message is fairly simple – no wall, no way, not now, not ever. Los Angeles will enshrine the values of respect and inclusion, and reject the false notion that we have to choose between a good job and the safety and well-being of our immigrant neighbors.

Nationally, the Partnership for Working Families (PWF), a national network of leading regional advocacy organizations, has pushed for companies to publicly disclose their affiliation with the border wall. PWF called on Berkshire Hathaway, the company with the largest capacity to provide bonding required for federal construction projects, to publicly commit not to insure the border wall or detention centers.

The pressure is working. Most recently, Zachry Federal Construction Corporation and Shimmick Construction Co. have pulled out of the border wall bidding process. That means that at least 13 companies, including seven of the largest 25 design-build firms, have said they are not bidding.

“It’s bad enough that Trump is focusing his energy on dividing families rather than rebuilding our country,” said Nikki Fortunato Bas, Executive Director of the Partnership for Working Families. “We’re demanding that companies stand up for what is right and refuse to profit off of this politics of hate.”

Whether in Los Angeles or nationally, labor and community leaders are fighting the same fight alongside immigrant rights and other social justice groups. Together, we are resisting, and we are rejecting the false notion that we must choose between jobs and the safety and well-being of our neighbors. We insist that immigrants are not only welcome here — they are critical to the success and the life of our communities and our nation’s economy — and we will never support the building of a border wall.

(Roxana Tynan is Executive Director of the Los Angeles Alliance for New Economy.)

-cw

RESISTANCE WATCH--Monday brought a victory for voting rights.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a lower court's decision that struck down North Carolina's controversial voter ID law. According to Dale Ho, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project, the development means "[a]n ugly chapter in voter suppression is finally closing."

A federal appeals court last year found that law, which shrunk the early voting period and stopped the practice of pre-registering teenagers in addition to the ID requirement, was racially discriminatory as it targeted "African Americans with almost surgical precision."

Now, Ho added, the law has met "its much-deserved demise."

The ACLU, along with other civil rights groups, had challenged the law, which was passed in the wake of the high court's decision in Shelby v. Holder. That decision was decried as having "sounded the death knell" for a key provision in the Voting Rights Act.

The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law also applauded the announcement, with its president and executive director, Kristen Clarke, saying it "now renders North Carolina's law null and void, and brings to close a long and protracted battle over a law deemed one of the most egregious voter suppression measures of its kind."

It also, according to Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, "tells the people of North Carolina and across the country that the right to vote unencumbered by expansive restrictions or by racist politicians or racist policies is fundamental, and that under the laws of the land, it will be upheld.”

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) took to Twitter to call it "a huge victory against sham voter ID laws written to suppress the vote."

"Next," she continued, "we must restore the #VotingRightsAct gutted by #SCOTUS."

(Andrea Germanos writes for the excellent Common Dreams … where this report originated.)

-cw

RESISTANCE WATCH--"Just when we thought all hope was lost, common sense prevailed today in the United States Congress," said Jessica Ennis, senior legislative representative with the environmental law organization Earthjustice.

That's because the Senate on Wednesday failed to pass a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution that would have killed an Obama-era Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rule that limits methane flaring from fossil fuel production on federal and tribal lands. 

"Methane is a potent contributor to climate change, and letting companies simply vent or flare methane in vast quantities from their operations on publicly-owned lands is foolhardy," explained Jeremy Martin, senior scientist with the Clean Vehicles Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). "That’s why it's so important that we protect common-sense standards, and why this resolution deserved a 'no' vote."

That vote was 49-51, with three Republicans—Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Jon McCain of Arizona—joining Democrats in voting "no." 

The House already voted to kill the rule, which environmental groups said amounted to "giving away a taxpayer-owned resource for free," and was thanks to the CRA, "a dirty trick that Congress can use to do the oil industry's bidding."

If the resolution had been successful in the Senate, it would have made making fossil fuel companies accountable for their pollution "nearly impossible," said UCS's Martin—"not only would it have overturned current rules, it would have blocked future administrations from setting standards."

Now, with that effort stopped, climate campaigners are cheering, though "[t]he fact that Congress even considered this giveaway to the oil industry is stunning," said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "We applaud the senators who stepped up to kill this resolution, ensuring that people will breath cleaner air and saving taxpayers millions of dollars."

According to Lukas Ross, Friends of the Earth's climate and energy campaigner, the vote marks a "victory against Trump's plan to hand our public lands to Big Oil [and] is a win for the American people. Reducing venting and flaring from oil wells will reduce emissions contributing to climate change and save public resources. Today the Senate proved it will not always rob taxpayers to line Big Oil's pockets," he continued.

Still, it's not the time for climate campaigners to put their guard down.

"While we have beaten back this attack on the BLM methane rule, we know that Trump and his Big Oil cronies are eyeing other avenues," Ross cautioned. "An earlier Executive Order already instructs [Interior Department] Secretary Zinke to examine how to give Big Oil an ever bigger share of our public lands. We will continue to fight against any efforts to endanger the future of our lands and our climate," he said.

(Andrea Germanos writes for the excellent Common Dreams  where this report was first posted.)

-cw

RESISTANCE WATCH-- “I’m now back to being an activist citizen and part of the resistance,” Hillary Clinton said on May 2 during a televised conversation with Christiane Amanpour at an event for Women for Women International. Clinton is identifying with the broad popular resistance that has mobilized against Donald Trump after the 2016 election, and she is not the only Democrat to do so. The party that failed to win either the Senate or the White House last November is positioning itself as the best bulwark against Trumpism. In March, newly elected Democratic National Chairman Tom Perez announced triumphantly: “We’re going to be the resistance to Donald Trump. ... We have the most important lever of power, the power of we, the most important word in a democracy.”

It is tempting to see the Democratic Party as the only way out of the Trumpocalypse. But let’s not be fooled. Before Clinton called herself part of the “resistance,” she was a self-proclaimed centrist and moderate.

American voters fell into three broad categories last November, the smallest of which voted for Trump (25.5 percent). Edging just a sliver ahead of him was Clinton with the second-largest number of voters (25.6 percent). Larger than either of those groups by far was the group that simply did not vote (46.9 percent). If the 1.7 percent of conservative voters who chose Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson had cast ballots for Trump instead, Clinton’s impressive-sounding popular vote margin of 3 million voters, which she touted proudly at the event with Amanpour this week, would have been eviscerated.

Clinton also stated unequivocally that had the election taken place before FBI Director James Comey publicized that the FBI was reviving its investigation into her emails, she would have certainly won the election. She cited pollster Nate Silver, who posited that Comey’s unorthodox statements had an impact on undecided voters in swing states. She also blamed WikiLeaks for leaking her campaign’s internal emails at inopportune times. But at no point did she explain why her vote margin against the worst, most clownish candidate in recent memory was so close that one bad allegation could ruin her chance at the White House. Nor did she refute the veracity of the leaked emails, which confirmed so many Americans’ view of her as corrupt and beholden to Wall Street.

It is likely true that Clinton would have been president today had tiny aberrations that occurred over the course her campaign not thrown her catastrophically off course. But her campaign should have been far more immune to such aberrations given her rival. If Clinton had been truer to the Democrats’ stated principles of progressivism and put forth a Bernie Sanders-like platform of economic justice with a strong critique of big banks and Wall Street, her poll numbers would likely have been higher than Trump’s, and the damaging revelations from Comey and WikiLeaks might not have made enough of a difference to cost her the election.

It is true that had Clinton become president, she would have made a much better “statesman,” conducting foreign policy like her Democratic predecessors—Barack Obama and her own husband—with a combination of diplomacy and merciless bombing justified through eloquent denouncements of terrorism. Speaking to Amanpour, she said with impressive maturity, “Negotiations are critical. But they’ve got to be part of a broader strategy, not just thrown out on a tweet one morning and say, ‘Hey, let’s get together and see if we can’t get along.’ ” Indeed, it would be unimaginable for Clinton to have used social media to sow confusion and chaos through impetuous tantrums, as does the current White House occupant. But would Clinton’s foreign policy have been terribly different than Trump’s as viewed from the war zones we have targeted? As if taking foreign policy advice from his former rival, Trump bombed Syrian government targets just hours after Clinton said about Bashar al Assad’s Syrian regime: “I really believe we should have and still should take out his airfields.”

While Clinton is examining what led to her loss, and a new book, “Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign,” co-authored by Amie Parnes and Jonathan Allen, has attempted to dig into the minutiae of the story, there is little examination of why the percentage of Americans who voted for Clinton was so close to the percentage of Americans who voted for Trump, or why even more Americans rejected both candidates. Many of us are scratching our heads at why there is so little regret among Trump voters 100 days into his presidency, as a new Washington Post/ABC News poll revealed. There is anecdotal evidence of regret among some Trump voters, but only 4 percent said they would back another candidate today. Meanwhile, according to the poll, a whopping 15 percent of Clinton voters regret backing her. Trump supporters trust their president, and no amount of news coverage exposing his lying, flip-flopping or blustering will persuade them to change their minds—because he has convinced them that the media perpetuates “fake news.”

A very small sample of Trump supporters explained to Vice News how they feel about the president after his first 100 days. What is most interesting about these responses is that some of them acknowledge Trump’s stumbling on the Affordable Care Act and actually back a single-payer system, with one person saying, “I want socialized health care.” With most Democrats having thrown their weight behind the Affordable Care Act instead of backing the hugely popular single-payer system, it is no wonder so many Americans stayed home on election day.

Trump voters also told Vice that they are happy Clinton is not president. One person went so far as to say, “I do not trust Trump,” but added, “What I can say is that I have absolutely no regrets voting for him over Hillary.”

The political dialogue over last November’s election remains important because it is crucial for those of us who want progressive change in this country to not fall into the Democratic Party trap once more and pour all our energy into electing its members. If the Democratic Party sucks up the energy of the resistance to Trump, we will be right back where we started last year. If the Democrats couldn’t beat Trump in 2016, they won’t beat the Republican Party in 2018, and they won’t beat Trump in 2020—unless they change their tune. The only way to get them to change is to force them to adopt progressive ideals in deed, not just in word. Clinton and Perez trying to tie themselves to the resistance is bad news for progressives. The resistance to Trump should not be tainted by establishment Democrats.

Since January the mass demonstrations, from the Women’s March to the May Day march, have shown an impressive opposition to Trump’s madness. Grass-roots organizing at Congressional town hall meetings have thus far helped keep the Republicans’ macabre vision of health care at bay. Unfortunately, there have been a disturbing number of people within the movement echoing Clinton’s line on “Russian interference” with the election as a way to explain why Trump is in office. We are desperate to understand why and how such a madman has hijacked our democracy, and a sordid tale of backroom corruption is much more seductive than the more mundane and discomforting explanation that Clinton was not good enough.

If Democratic Party members can simply sweep away all the real reasons why non-Democratic Party loyalists don’t trust them, they can continue to try to win elections without translating their stated ideals into policy, and most of the time they will lose as they have been doing. But that means that most of the time Republicans will win, to the detriment of all of us, not just the Democratic Party.

Clinton may want to consider herself part of the resistance. But we must resist the temptation to have her on our side. The resistance must reject Clinton, Clintonism and the establishment Democratic Party if it wants to truly undo the Trump presidency

(Sonali Kolhatkar is Co-Director of the Afghan Women's Mission and a political writer at TruthDig …where this piece was first posted.)

-cw

 

ANIMAL WATCH--Let's say you’ve discovered some mouse droppings, maybe even seen a mouse or rat scurrying by one night.  So you decide to get some rat poison and put it out confident the problem has been solved. The rat eats the poison and makes its way across the yard where it catches the eye of a cat, a hawk, an owl that move in to catch this easy prey because it has slowed down or is moving erratically.  Let's say the neighbor’s cat catches it, eats it.  A few days later the heartbroken neighbor is posting signs wondering where their cat has disappeared to while a distraught neighbor a few doors over is calling dead animal pick up for the cat lying under the bushes. 

This is not an unusual scenario.  Using poison to kill rodents creates a serious hazard to cats and local birds of prey. 

From PetMD – 

Strychnine is a very strong and dangerous poison that is often added to bait for killing rats, moles, gophers, and other rodents or unwanted predators. Having a very short duration of action, the clinical symptoms of strychnine poisoning typically appear within ten minutes to two hours after ingestion, resulting in sudden death.

Patients often will die due to spamming of the muscles involved in respiration, resulting in strangulation. Cats of all ages are equally susceptible to the adverse effects of strychnine.

The following are some of the symptoms of strychnine poisoning:

- Limb rigidity
- Stiff muscles
- Uncontrolled violent seizures (sometimes in response to bright lights or noise)
- Severe spasms leading to arching of the head, neck and back in extreme hyperextension (opisthotonus)
- Elevated heart rate
- High body temperature
- Breathing difficulties, inability to breathe,
- Vomiting

So how do we get rid of rats without creating lethal danger to our wonderful local cats, hawks and owls, all of whom provide the BEST way to kill rats and mice?  

First of all a message to all the kind people providing food to their local feral population, do NOT put food out and keep it out.  Put it out at specific times in the day and pick up whatever the cat doesn’t eat.  That food attracts other creatures as well. Cats will know when the food is coming especially if you call them every time. 

We also discourage the use of glue traps as it is a particularly cruel and inhumane, time consuming way to kill a rodent.  The mouse runs onto it, sticks, and is terrified while its struggles to escape. It will either die slowly of dehydration or starvation. The traps can rip off fur and skin while they struggle, and rodents have attempted to chew through their own limbs to get free. Other animals can get trapped on it as well. 

There is now a popular, new and effective trap that is being used by responsible residents. An electric trap. Small box with lure at back. Only mice and rats can fit in and are immediately zapped.  More humane and less messy than the old fashioned snap traps. Just Google electric rat traps. 

Here are some websites that give excellent instruction on ways to discourage rodents from visiting at all including the use peppermint oil - Add 20-30 drops of peppermint essential oil to each cotton ball and lay strategically around your home. Refresh every week or so, or whenever you notice the smell is fading.) Did you know rodents hate to cross aluminum foil? 

MORE INFO 

 

(Dianne Lawrence is a dog trainer and the publisher of The Neighborhood News. Reach her at: whatagooddogla.com/) 

-cw

ANIMAL WATCH-At the March 14 LA Animal Services Commission meeting, Brenda Barnette included in her GM Oral Report a short but very precise and lucid overview of the Animal Services’ widely publicized hearing held on March 1. This was the inquiry to determine whether two Pit Bull that killed a tiny Pomeranian and then inflicted injuries which may have resulted in, or contributed to, the death of the dog’s owner, Valentin Herrera, 76, should be declared “Dangerous Animals.” 

Barnette concluded with a clear and succinct statement: “Those dogs have been humanely euthanized.” 

She later told a CBS reporter that she may have been confused and claims she “misspoke.” However, Barnette was voluntarily summarizing one single event---not discussing a number of cases or under stress that might have muddied her memory. 

None of the Commissioners has experience in animal control, but they are thoroughly familiar with LA Municipal Code SEC. 53.18.5.  HEARING PROCEDURES AND LICENSE REVOCATIONS, since, with Commissioner Larry Gross presiding, they serve as the Appeals Board in Dangerous Animal and Barking Dog hearings and review these cases regularly. In fact, they had heard four such appeals that morning. 

But, with three attorneys present, not one asked about the euthanasia of the Pit Bulls prior to an appeal period. GM Barnette’s statement was delivered so unequivocally that no one raised the basic question to determine the right of LAAS to euthanize: “Did the owner relinquish the dogs?” 

On Monday, March 20, after my CityWatch article appeared, LA Killer Pit Bulls Euthanized…Are Dog Attacks Now an Epidemic?, which quoted Barnette’s statement, I received numerous communications from reliable sources that the Pit Bulls in the Lincoln Heights attack were very much alive and being held at North Central Animal Shelter awaiting the end of the owner’s appeal period on March 22. 

At 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, March 21, I electronically submitted a California Public Records Act Request (CPRA) to Commission President David Zaft and GM Brenda Barnette, asking for the records in their database regarding the status of these dogs. 

Very promptly, at 2:20 p.m. I received all requested material, and a surprise! An entry by a shelter supervisor at approximately 3:45 p.m. on March 20, states: 

“Administration has notified me that (Redacted name) is appealing DA 171117 NC and the determination that her dogs are “dangerous” (A1679513 AND A1679514). These dogs are to be held until the appeal is decided.

How could Brenda Barnette, who has more than six years as General Manager at one of the largest animal-control agencies in the U.S. and is the person who signs the decisions made at all Dangerous Animal hearings, forget there is an appeal period before allegedly dangerous dogs can be euthanized under law? 

Also, there were two Assistant General Managers, Louis Dedeaux and Dana Brown, in the room at that time. Either could have slipped a note to their boss or whispered in her ear that she “misspoke.”  (Asst. GM Louis Dedeaux has over 25 years in field and shelter experience at LA Animal Services and is the person who approves ALL animal euthanasias in City shelters.) Since neither of them corrected her, there was no reason for anyone present or those listening to the "On Air" broadcast to doubt Barnette’s word. 

ALARMING INFORMATION FROM KENNEL IMPOUND 

Here’s a little more information garnered from the Kennel Impound Cards: The two Pit Bulls involved in the February 2 attack on Mr. Herrera and his dog are named, “Rocky” (60 lbs.) and “Blue,” (83 lbs.) Both have a DOB of 02/03/2015. Neither is neutered or microchipped. There is no indication of dog licenses. Their physical condition does not indicate any negative findings but the description for each under OBJECTIVE FINDINGS, reads, “Patient will not allow full examination – SCARED.” A note for Rocky’s skin condition states: “MUZZLE SOILED W/BLOOD O/W OK.” 

When CBS spoke to the grandson of the victim, Valentin Herrera, he was upset that the owner is requesting return of these dogs. However, an expert opined that it is possible the decision to appeal has as much to do with limiting potential civil liability. Simply allowing the dogs to be euthanized could be interpreted as an admission that they are dangerous, he said. The owner may believe there is a possibility of overturning the ruling by the LAAS Hearing Examiner, either on an appeal to the Commission or by filing an action in Superior Court. 

If the owner prevails, it could mean the dogs will be released to her and returned to the Lincoln Heights location or merely moved to a location outside the city limits. 

THIS IS NOT THE FIRST TIME GM BARNETTE HAS “MISSPOKEN.” 

Brenda Barnette -- who had no animal control or law-enforcement experience when she was appointed to be LA City’s “Top Dog” by former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa -- has “misspoken” or “misinformed” on numerous occasions, with very costly results to taxpayers, animals and LAAS employees. 

Here are just a few of the published examples: 

Aug. 5, 2011 -- Guns, Ammunition Seized at L.A. Animal Shelters as Probe Expands  

Oct. 21, 2011 -- Phew! All of L.A. Animal Services' Guns Are Accounted For, Audit Finds.  

Feb. 14, 2012 – Six Animal Shelter Captains Benched Pending Vending Machine Contract Probe  

June 13, 2013 – Los Angeles Animal Services Captains Cleared   

Mar 18, 2013 – Los Angeles Animal Services' Brenda Barnette: 'No Night Care for Animals in City Shelters’   

Jul 3, 2013 – LA Animal Services’ GM Brenda Barnette Says Shelters Need Puppies  

Sept. 28, 2015 -- Memo to GM Barnette and LA Council: LA Animal Control Officers are at Risk  

July 23, 2017 -- LA Animal Services' Employee Mauled by Pit Bull ... Who Cares? 

SHOULD “MISMANAGEMENT” BE EXCUSED? 

Barnette’s annual salary is now over $230,000 (Comparatively, Governor Jerry Brown makes $190,100, and the Assembly Speaker and Senate President pro tem are each paid $119,734, according to the LA Times.)  

Shouldn’t we expect that she would not “misspeak” or “misinform” (without correction) on a matter as serious as Pit Bulls that are alleged to have killed a man and his dog? 

Should the Commission (or anyone else) believe her on other issues -- including her insistence that Los Angeles is almost “No Kill,” although streets in many areas are rife with stray dogs and cats and thousands of homeless animals are merely being transported to other cities/states or “fostered” without a permanent home? 

After more than six years, shouldn’t Barnette be expected to know the basic elements that are a regular part of her job? 

Barnette’s “mismanagement” has systematically devastated a vital public safety department and endangered her staff, the public and animals; but there have been no consequences. 

Is that because Barnette is automatically excused from “misspeaking” or “misinforming?” Or, is it because the political leadership of Los Angeles does not want to bring attention to its own rampant systemic manipulation of the truth?

 

(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of LA employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

ANIMAL WATCH-GM Brenda Barnette announced at the LA Animal Services’ Commission meeting on March 14, that the two Pit Bulls impounded after the tragic attack which killed Valentin Herrera, 76, and his small dog last month have been euthanized. 

Mr. Herrera and his 5-year-old Pomeranian were walking in the 2600 block of Lincoln Park Blvd. near his home on February 2, when two male Pit Bulls which had escaped from a nearby yard grabbed the tiny dog, "shredding his body like a piece of material,” according to a neighbor. An eyewitness said that the owner of the Pit Bulls saw the dogs attacking but took no action to stop them.

When he tried to save his best friend, Mr. Herrera was also attacked, suffering severe injuries to his head and arms. 

He underwent surgery but remained in a coma and never regained consciousness. According to a statement by a family member on their GoFundMe page to help with funeral expenses, "...after about 3 weeks of being in the hospital the doctors have told us that his brain is no longer functioning. The family and I have decided to let him go and rest, because we know he has been through so much."

Mr. Herrera died on February 28, just before a scheduled hearing on the attack by the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services on March 1.

Brenda Barnette told the Commission that because the hearing was so emotional for both the victim’s family members who attended and the owner of the Pit Bulls, reporters were allowed in the room but no cameras were permitted inside.

KABC reported that, although the owner of the dogs did not want to be on camera, “at the hearing he said he was on medication at the time and in shock.” 

A disabled woman, who claimed she lives on the same property as the owner of the Pit Bulls, previously told KABC  that “the dogs were her ‘security’… against intruders who invaded the yard to steal fruit from its trees.” An earlier report stated that the dogs were not licensed. 

Another resident of Lincoln Heights, Stephanie Grizelle, informed CBS that the same two Pit Bulls had killed her small therapy dog, Tulula, four days earlier, as her two young children watched. She added that both children required therapy. 

Valentin Herrera was a steelworker who came to Los Angeles from Jalisco, Mexico. He purchased the home in Lincoln Heights in 1996. His son, Luis, described his father as a strong, loving man and wonderful father. Mr. Herrera leaves behind his wife of more than 50 years, Anita, children and grandchildren, and a shaken and grieving community.

THE INDIRECT VICTIMS OF DOG ATTACKS 

Pit Bull attacks or other severe dog attacks, whether fatal or not, affect far more than the obvious victim. They impact neighbors and others who witness the grisly event or the aftermath. A family is often robbed of a parent, child, spouse, or animal companion. Even if the victims live, they may be permanently grossly disfigured and mentally traumatized -- unable to recover a previous lifestyle or continue a career. If a child is severely injured or killed, future hopes and dreams are lost forever. 

Additionally, the family of victim of a dog attack can often suddenly find themselves with overwhelming unexpected veterinary, medical and/or funeral bills.

ARE PIT BULL ATTACKS BECOMING EPIDEMIC? 

A prior CityWatch article about the attack on Valentin Herrera cited numerous recent local Pit Bull attacks, but this is not a problem unique to Los Angeles. 

Here are just a few of the many attacks reported across the country from December 2016 – March 2017: 

Woman undergoes surgery after attack by 2 pit bulls 

On March 16, 2017, a 63-year-old woman underwent surgery after she was attacked by two pit bulls in Pembroke, NC, according to the Red Springs Citizen. Both dogs were euthanized for rabies testing. The woman’s identity and condition were not yet disclosed because the case is also being handled as a “communicable disease investigation." 

Early during 2016 a pit bull attacked and killed a Lumberton child, the report said, prompting the city to adopt an ordinance targeting dogs deemed “vicious.” A Pembroke woman lost an arm after being attacked last year by a Pit Bull. 

Pit bull attack in Bensenville IL leaves man with 30 bite marks   

On March 13, 2017, Chris Kazmierczak, 22, was walking to his car with a friend in Bensenville, IL, when he said he heard something running up behind him. "...(I) turned around to see what it was and next thing I know the thing was on my arm," he told WGN-TV. He described the attacking dog as a white Pit Bull, wearing a collar. His friend was finally finally able to kick and pull the dog away, but Kazmierczak will need to undergo rabies treatment if the animal isn't found. 

Also, there is a gaping wound on his left arm and about 30 bite marks. Kazmierczak does construction for a living and said he won't be able to work with his hands for at least two months. 

Joliet’s Pit Bull Problems So Bad Police Dept Hires Dangerous Dog Officer  

Feb 22, 2017- Joliet will hire a part-time police officer whose sole job will be to follow-up on dangerous dog calls. Last year in July the city revealed that they had 11 dangerous dog hearings concerning 17 dog attacks in 7 months. The city admitted that most attacks were committed by pit bulls, but would not give exact numbers. In August, after that city report on dangerous dogs, another serious Pit Bull attack left a woman nearly dead.


Cape Cod, MA, records that Pit Bulls are top in dog bites  

So far this year, Yarmouth has seen at least three pit bull attacks on small dogs, one which led to the death of a 3-year-old terrier named Doc….the type of dog known as Pit Bull shows up more in reported attacks across the Cape than any other breed, according to the Cape Cod Times.

Between January 2016 and February 2017, Yarmouth logged 19 Pit Bull bites on dogs and people, according to data from the town's Board of Health. Not included was a recent incident in which a Pit Bull bit its owner, severing the top part of her finger when she tried to break up a fight between it and another Pit Bull, according to Yarmouth Deputy Police Chief Steven Xiarhos. 

Across the Cape during the same period, towns reported Pit Bull bites on humans and dogs 58 times. Pit bulls represented 12.6 percent of the breeds listed in the bite reports, but make up only 1.2 percent of the registered dogs on Cape Cod.  

Police Fatally Shoot Two Attacking Pit Bulls in Bushwick [NY] 

On March 11, 2017, police officers shot and killed two Pit Bulls that were mauling a man, according to the NYPost.com

NYPD reported that multiple officers rushed to an apartment near the corner of Hancock Street and Bushwick Avenue at roughly 10:30 p.m., where they found a 50-year-old man inside being attacked by the two dogs. The injured man, identified by the Post as Paul "Nitty" Davis, was rushed to Kings County Hospital.  

The dogs belonged to Devon Dixon, 26, a roommate of Davis, who said he had rescued them from a neighbor's yard after they had been abandoned, the Post notes.  Dixon recalled trying to beat the dogs back with a two-by-four board, but was unable to stop them until police arrived and shot both dogs. 

“But they had to, Nitty was losing a lot of blood," he told the Post

Pit Bull seriously injures four-year-old boy in Pocatello  

On Sunday, December 4, 2016, a four-year-old boy in Pocatello, Idaho, was attacked by a Pit Bull owned by his mother’s boyfriend, reports KIFI. The mother has custody of the child. 

The boy’s father explained that the “…attack damaged two of the boy's facial nerves, which control movements, like smiling. Other wounds damaged the spit glands, the upper lip and below one eye.” Surgery to repair the boy’s face took six and a half hours and more than 1,000 stitches, according to the father. He said the surgeon told him it was one of the worst cases he’d ever seen and they don’t know if his son would ever get back functionally and he will have a big scar. 

THE NATIONAL PIT BULL AWARENESS VICTIM page shows the faces and tells the stories of Pit Bull attack victims all over the country. The organization also provides the following statistics that show the increase in attacks: 

Pit bull attacks on humans in the U.S. have reached an epidemic level, increasing 773 percent from 2007-2014. In a 30-year study of dog attacks in Canada and the US, 3394 people were attacked by dogs in a fatal and disfiguring manner. 2,113 or 60% of the attacks were by pit bulls and pit bull mixes

FATAL PIT BULL ARCHIVES:   

From 2009 to 2016, the most recent 8-year period, pit bulls averaged 22.9 deaths per year, a 690% increase, according to U.S. Pit Bull Fatalities. 

Following are the listed attacks from June 2016 - Feb 2017: 

Valentine Herrera is the 508th American killed by a Pit Bull. 

  1. February 2017, Los Angeles County, CA
    Valentine Herrera, 76
    Fatal pit bull attack 
  1. January 2017, Fulton County, GA
    Logan Braatz, 6
    Fatal pit bull attack 
  1. December 2016, Cabell County, WV
    Isaiah Franklin, 6
    Fatal pit bull attack 
  1. October 2016, Staten Island, NY
    Daisie Bradshaw, 68
    Fatal dog attack involving pit bull(s) 
  1. September 2016, Shawnee County, KS
    Piper Dunbar, 2
    Fatal pit bull attack 
  1. August 2016, Jefferson County, CO
    Susan Shawl, 60
    Fatal pit bull attack 
  1. August 2016, Clark County, NV
    Derion Stevenson, 9
    Fatal pit bull attack 
  1. August 2016, Screven County, GA
    Michelle Wilcox, 30
    Fatal pit bull attack 
  1. July 2016, Honolulu County, HI
    Crisencio Aliado, 52
    Fatal pit bull attack 
  1. July 2016, Navajo County, AZ
    Kayden Begay, 3
    Fatal pit bull attack 
  1. July 2016, Wayne County, MI
    Elizabeth Rivera, 71
    Fatal pit bull attack 
  1. June 2016, Fresno County, CA
    Susie Kirby, < 1
    Fatal dog attack involving pit bull(s) 
  1. June 2016, Penobscot County, ME
    Hunter Bragg, 7
    Fatal pit bull attack 
  1. June 2016, San Joaquin County, CA
    Earl Stephens Jr., 43
    Fatal pit bull attack 

    (See more at U.S. Pit Bull Fatalities)

DogsBite.org provides Google State Map:  “California Fatal Pit Bull Attacks” 

 

(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of LA employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams. 

ANIMAL WATCH-Before Brenda Barnette was hired as General Manager of LA Animal Services in 2010, the mantra for the Department was, at all times, “officer, animal and public safety.” Whenever there was a major disaster such as a fire or an earthquake, Animal Control Officers were placed on alert at all city shelters -- whether of or not they were ultimately dispatched to the emergency scene. 

The Animal Services’ Emergency Response Coordinator (for many years the well-known and highly experienced Captain Karen Knipscheer), once notified that a fire/disaster command center had been set up, and aware that the focus of fire and police personnel is to stop destruction and evacuate humans, would either go to the location or send a representative to advise that LA Animal Services was available to help with any animal-related need. 

But, in the current LAAS “Department Emergency Plan,” it states that, The Department of Animal Services will send an Agency Representative (AR) to the Police [Fire/Los Angeles County Animal Care and Control] Incident Command Post “ONLY when requested…” (Emphasis added.) 

On Monday, May 23, at 2:20 pm, a fast-moving fire was reported near the 13000 block of Wheatland Avenue above Lake View Terrace and at the border of the Angeles National Forest. Hundreds of city, county and federal firefighters joined to protect the multi-jurisdictional area. Spotter planes and water-dropping helicopters helped battle the blaze, which burned a total of about 185 acres. 

On that day, prompt response, the level of preparedness and expertise, and the wind-direction blew the fire away from structures and into the National Forest; no evacuation was required. 

However, notably absent to those who worry about pets and other animals in these situations (Lake View Terrace and other Valley areas still have substantial equine communities) was any announcement that LA Animal Services was on standby in case the wind-blown fire changed its course and headed toward populated areas.

City fire Capt. Daniel Curry told KTLA.  “The fire spread very rapidly due to the steep terrain and the status of the fuels in the area.” The south end of the fire, closer to homes, was part of the containment line, he said. Special attention was given to protecting structures in the Little Tujunga Canyon Road to Big Tujunga Canyon Road areas "as a precaution," according to Los Angeles Fire Department’s Erik Scott.

Angelenos are aware that fire season is approaching and that the “Big One” may rock Los Angeles at any time, putting their homes instantly in danger. The City advises us to be prepared. That message also applies to pets and large animals who will need to leave disaster areas with their owners or to be evacuated by LA Animal Services and taken to safety. 

But, recent changes in the allocation of funds for LA Animal Services by the Mayor and City Council have resulted in a lack of resources that have been the stalwarts of safety for animals during past emergencies. City Hall doesn’t seem to care much. 

While the Council Budget & Finance Committee easily allotted $800,000 of taxpayer money for a Feral Cat/Trap-Neuter-Release/Relocate Report so that feral cats can be released to roam unimpeded on residential and commercial property throughout the city and be sterilized using City funds, it rejected a request for ten badly needed animal control trucks as part of the replacement of the dilapidated and unsafe LAAS fleet not replaced since 2000 and 2003. 

The current situation is that the Animal Services’ entire fleet of animal control trucks (animal collection vehicles) needs to be replaced immediately. Some can no longer be driven safely on the streets and officers state that, even when sent for repair, they seem to break down almost immediately. 

Dangerous enough under normal conditions, but should trucks that break down or suddenly not start, with failing brakes and doors that fly open (both on the passenger cab and animal compartments) be allowed behind fire lines? 

This lack of assistance by Animal Control Officers to pick up pets trapped in homes during a fire or disaster, or to catch frightened animals that have escaped, could leave beloved furry and feathered family members behind to die. 

The Department is expecting (after unconscionable delays) to hire 30 new animal control officers soon; however, if there aren’t enough vehicles, they will not be able to work in the field. Even with 13 anticipated new vehicles that are tentatively expected within ten months, this will be fraction of what is needed to replace the current decrepit fleet. 

Even now, animal control officers that could be helping injured and stray animals and doing humane investigations are reportedly sitting in the shelters because of a lack of vehicles. 

This should be no surprise to Councilman Paul Koretz. 

During a report to the Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee (chaired by Koretz) on September 16, 2015, at which Koretz feigned great concern about heat affecting animals in collection vehicles with inadequate ventilation or cooling, he was advised that the officers, animals and the public are endangered by the deterioration and poor mechanical condition of the fleet of collection trucks. General Services Fleet Director Richard Coulsen confirmed there are repeated breakdowns while officers are driving trucks which are “falling apart.” Koretz has never agendized this matter again. 

Coulsen announced at the May 24 LAAS Commission meeting that there is now authorization to order twenty-two trucks by the end of the 2016-17 fiscal year for another partial fleet replacement. Director of Field Operations Mark Salazar has subsequently recited a litany of fiascos occurring from LAAS designing totally unsuitable vehicles and then receiving new trucks that have such serious defects they have been returned to the manufacturer. In addition, he has noted the painfully slow process of upgrading vents on ten 2008 animal-rescue vans currently not in use because they lack an alternate air-circulation system. This left Commissioners and attendees obviously confused. 

After Salazar’s additional lengthy and convoluted excuses for all these mistakes, frustrated activist Michael Bell stated in public comment, “…I didn’t understand anything you said. It seemed one thing piled on another…this is just silliness.” He encouraged the Commission to “just get this done because it is obvious that General Services and Officer Salazar are not doing it.” 

With the current deficit in officers and equipment (the Department also has 33% less horse-hauling vehicles,) it is important for all small and large-animal owners to realize that, if a disaster hits, you may be on your own.

The following are some basic tips from experts for saving or safeguarding your pets and horses in a disaster. However, since each situation and animal is different, please talk with your neighbors, experts and community advisors and/or go on the Internet for a wide variety of information. (Plus, we invite any readers to leave comments to help.) 

Devise a disaster plan in advance, which includes -- but is not limited to -- these basics, and please microchip your pets and horses. 

SMALL ANIMALS: 

  1. Have a strong kennel/travel cage that can be securely latched ready for each pet.  (Keep it in a place easy to access quickly.) 
  2. Store or fill containers with enough water to sustain your pet for several days. 
  3. Have a tightly closed container filled with enough food for each pet (use the kind your pet regularly eats) for several da
  4. Keep a fresh supply of medications your pet takes (enough for several days).
  5. Have some toys/blankets familiar to the pet ready to take. 
  6. Practice placing your pet in a kennel/cage at least monthly, so that it is comfortable with the process.
    Rotate/replace food/water/meds every 3 to 6 months. 
  7. Have your pets’ licensing/microchip info handy to take, along with a photo of you with your animal(s). Keep contact information current on microchip and license.

LARGE ANIMALS: 

  1. Have a plentiful backup supply of water, and plenty of buckets available to take with you. 
  2. Halter/lead rope for every animal. (For smaller farm animals, keep transfer cages easily available.) 
  3. Training and practice. Make sure your animal loads in a trailer quickly and easily before an incident occurs. 
  4. Have an evacuation plan in place. Know where you expect to take your animal(s) and practice ahead of time. 
  5. Have special feed or medications set aside with easy access in an emergency. 
  6. Have your horses microchipped and update the contact information regularly
  7.  Have any licensing/other info ready to take with you, along with a photo of you with your    horse, showing any special markings on the animal.

                                                                       

(Animal activist Phyllis M. Daugherty writes for CityWatch and is a contributing writer to opposingviews.com.  She lives in Los Angeles.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-The post-inaugural Women’s March in Los Angeles brought over 750,000 participants, many of whom were women. The policies of the Trump administration, coupled with a renewed sense of “can-do” has led to an increase in grassroots activism throughout Los Angeles and beyond. The Women’s March LA Foundation committed to the national organization’s 10 Actions in 100 Days. One of those actions was the formation of Huddles, groups of neighbors, friends, or colleagues gathered for postcard, e-mail, and texting campaigns, to attend town hall meetings and marches, as well as other initiatives to make their voices heard. 

We might have suspected that, despite the disappointment many women felt when Trump took office that this organization and commitment to change would bring a new breed of Year of the Woman; but at some level, the progress of women in government, both in Los Angeles and on the national stage, has not followed suit. 

In California, we do have two female senators, following Kamala Harris’s election to the Boxer seat. However, despite Los Angeles’s status as a fairly progressive city, when Monica Rodriguez (photo above-center) edged Karo Torossian for the Council District 7 seat, capturing 52,9 percent of the vote, she became ONLY the second female member of Los Angeles City Council, joining Nury Martinez who represents the East Valley. Women and girls make up 51 percent of the city’s population but are underrepresented in the City Council. 

The underrepresentation of women office holders often results in policy repercussions. Certainly, male candidates may support legislation supporting women and families -- and characterizing such issues as “women’s issues” does us no favors. We are all impacted by policies that do not support families or women’s health issues. However, female office holders may present an additional focus on these issues. For example, Nury Martinez has committed herself to fighting human trafficking, establishing, along with LAPD Operations-Valley Bureau Deputy Chief Bob Green, the bureau’s Human Trafficking Task Force, for which she secured $1 million to fund through this year. 

The current status of female representation on the Los Angeles City Council is mirrored at the federal level where women were noticeably absent from Trump appointments, with the exception of Elaine Chao (Department of Transportation) and Betsy DeVos (Department of Education.) Women were also noticeably absent from the Senate Committee on Healthcare. The GOP’s initial healthcare package excluded many services for women, including pregnancy coverage as an “essential benefit.”

The path to increase representation at the city, state, and national levels must include support for female candidates, both in outreach and in campaign financing/fundraising. 

Groups such as She Should Run, a non-partisan project created in 2008 that has grown into a movement to inspire women to run for public office, and Emily’s List connect potential candidates with resources and organizations to forward their runs. 

By supporting these organizations, we can support a more gender-balanced government at every level, which is sound policy for all of us.

 

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

POLITICS--California Democrats on Friday kicked off their three-day convention with a "raucous start" in Sacramento, where a wave of single-payer advocates demanded the party work towards a system that makes healthcare a human right. 

The gathering comes amid growing momentum nationwide for a single-payer, or Medicare-for-All, healthcare system, and as the Republican's widely scorned American Healthcare Act (AHCA) is days away from receiving its potentially problematic Congressional Budget Office (CBO) assessment.

In a evening rally and march that went from the capitol to the Sacramento Convention Center, a crowd of nurses and other healthcare activists urged support for SB562—the advancing Healthy California Act—which would create a universal health system for Californians, and could "send a message" and "be a catalyst for the nation."

Here’s the CalBuzz version of what happened. 

Of the fight for single payer, RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association, which organized the action, thinks California Democrats "cannot be in denial anymore that this is a movement that can primary them."

DeMoro, who is also executive director of National Nurses United (NNU), took to Twitter to capture speeches at the rally and images of the sign-carrying marchers:

Their message, however, was not warmly received by California Democratic Party chairman John Burton.

In fact, he "had nothing but F-bombs and sarcasm for the protesters who disrupted the welcome reception of the California Democratic Convention Friday, calling for universal healthcare and chanting 'Hey hey, ho ho, corporate Dems have got to go,'" Bay Area News Group reported.

Video captured and posted to Twitter by Politico reporter David Siders shows Burton telling them to "shut the fuck up or go outside."

"Parade all you want, but unless we put it on the ballot or elect new Democrats you can walk up and down the street and people still aren't going to have decent healthcare. So let's get with it," the LA Times reports Burton as also saying.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez, who this year beat the NNU-backed Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) for the post, also spoke at the podium. He tried to inject some levity into the situation, comparing it to Thanksgiving dinner with extended family. He appealed to party members to seek unity, saying: "Donald Trump has to go. And that is why we must work together as Democrats."

The Sacramento Bee writes that "the throng advocating for a statewide publicly funded, universal health care system snaked down a staircase behind Perez, shouting down his calls for unity."

As for the outcome of the convention, Politico reports that it will "reverberate" nationwide:

With President Donald Trump in a tailspin and the Republican House majority appearing increasingly vulnerable, what happens here at the California Democratic Party state convention this weekend will reverberate across the map.

Featuring as many as seven vulnerable GOP-controlled House seats, this solidly blue state is key to flipping the House in 2018. But when more than 3,000 activists in the nation's largest Democratic Party gather this weekend in Sacramento to forge opposition strategy and choose new party leadership, the state party's internal squabbles will also be closely watched.

Iowans were also hoping to underscore the importance of a universal healthcare system over the weekend, with rallies in seven cities.

"It just shows how important it is for us to be putting out an alternate vision for what our future should be rather than just saying no all the time," said Chris Schwartz, a community organizer with Americans for Democratic Action Iowa.

(Andrea Germanos writes for Common Dreams … where this report was first posted.)

-cw

LA WATCHDOG--On Thursday, the Los Angeles City Council approved a “fiscally responsible” budget for the upcoming fiscal year beginning July 1, 2017 despite what they claimed were “challenging” economic times. But despite all the self-congratulatory speeches, the City’s budget is a train wreck as pension denier Paul Krekorian, the Chair of the Budget and Finance Committee, City Council President Herb Wesson, and Mayor Eric Garcetti continue to kick the budget can down our lunar cratered streets. 

CONNECTING CALIFORNIA--We have reached the high holy days of California’s budget season, as our governor and legislative leaders decide which programs will gain new life, and which will be sacrificed. And so our state government’s ministers have begun their ritual sermons on the dangers of overspending. (Photo: California’s Oroville Dam, the nation’s tallest.)

They are preaching nonsense. California’s real problem is underspending.

Go ahead and dismiss my claim as blasphemy. After so many years of budget crises and big deficits, Californians have adopted a budget theology grounded in self-flagellation, even though our recent budgets contain small surpluses. You can probably recite the catechism yourself: We’re still sinners who spend too much on state services! Far more than we take in! So save us, Non-Denominational Higher Power, from our profligate selves! Punish us with budget cuts or spending limits or a rainy day fund!

I’m sorry, but what our spending religion really needs is reformation.

And that requires genuine revelation. Our state’s tendency to produce big deficits is not caused by big spending. We have had big deficits because our state budget is based on volatile formulas that tend to expand deficits in unpredictable ways. In fact, California has long been on par with other states in expenditures per capita and in spending as a percentage of state GDP. Still, we cling to our budget religion and, fearing overspending, we take the cheaper path—which often costs the state more money in the long run.

The problems of underspending are most obvious when it comes to pension obligations. California governments and employees have long spent too little money on contributions to pension funds, which are underfunded. So, to try to catch up to our pension obligations, California taxpayers are having to make much bigger contributions now. And those catch-up contributions are leading to even more underspending on critical services, as money that should go to schools or health care or infrastructure is used to cover pensions.

The costliness of underspending is also the story behind rising public higher education costs in California. Over generations, the state has cut back its relative contribution to the University of California and California State University systems. This underspending has been made up for in part with ever-higher tuition fees for students. And, despite what you may read, the latest UC scandal is also about underspending; a state audit’s central allegation is that UC’s office of the president accumulated more than $100 million in funds that it wasn’t spending.

That scandal reveals a hypocrisy in our budget religion; overspending may be the stated enemy, but underspending gets you into far more trouble. The state parks department kept a secret reserve of unspent funds that became a major scandal in 2012. In California’s prisons, underspending led to an intervention by the federal courts, which ordered the state to spend more on its unconstitutionally overcrowded prisons and reduce its prison population.

Our state’s leaders understand the problem with underspending, but they haven’t been successful at explaining the problem, credibly, to the public. It also hasn’t helped that when state officials do need to spend big, they haven’t been very good at it.

Underspending also explains problems with our basic services. Studies have found that the state spends tens of billions less on schools than would be necessary to provide all Californians with an adequate education. And that underspending has real costs: California is not producing enough college graduates and skilled workers.

The state has made bold promises on child care and early childhood education that it hasn’t adequately funded, leaving citizens to pay for the rest. Child care now costs more than college tuition here. And housing costs more than just about anything, in part because we’ve spent so little on housing that we have a massive shortage, which forces Californians to pay housing prices more than twice the national average.

That the state has failed for generations to spend enough to build and maintain infrastructure is obvious in the degraded condition of roads, bridges, and waterways. The state’s failure to create strong enough spillways at Oroville Dam is forcing California to make hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of repairs and upgrades before the next rainy season.

Our state’s leaders understand the problem with underspending, but they haven’t been successful at explaining the problem, credibly, to the public. It also hasn’t helped that when state officials do need to spend big, they haven’t been very good at it. Examples include the new Bay Bridge, with its delays, cost overruns, and questions about the integrity of its steel rods, and the high-speed rail project, where spending and construction has been so slow that many people think the project will die.

In recent budgets, Gov. Jerry Brown and the legislature have sought to counter the state’s tendency to underspend now and pay later. They’ve made a great show of efforts to pay down debt. In his current budget proposal, Brown suggests making a large advance contribution to pensions now, in order to reduce liabilities later.

But that payment, unfortunately, is achieved in a questionable manner: by borrowing billions from a state special fund. As Stanford lecturer and former Schwarzenegger advisor David Crane wrote recently, since pension contributions get invested, that payment amounts to a “leveraged bet” on a stock market that Governor Brown himself has warned is overdue for a correction.

Brown has grown popular as a proselytizer of the credo that California can be managed on the cheap. That’s appealing dogma for a state whose people struggle with a very high cost of living.

But the realities of our state should remind us that successfully running California on the cheap is a fantasy that has curdled into a costly article of faith. And we parishioners are being stuck with the tab.

(Joe Mathews is Connecting California Columnist and Editor at Zócalo Public Square … where this column first appeared. Mathews is a Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

-cw

ANIMAL WATCH-Captain Jeff Perry of The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department announced on May 16, that they had confiscated 7,000 birds in the largest-ever seizure of fowl used for illegal cockfighting. 

The raid was a joint effort by major agencies that included the Sheriff’s Department, LA County Animal Care and Control, LA County District Attorney, Bureau of Investigation; Humane Society of the U.S., and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles (spcaLA.) 

On Monday, the Sheriff’s Department served a search warrant on an 80-acre property in the 29000 block of Jackson Street in Val Verde, a rural, unincorporated area of the Santa Clarita Valley. Approximately 100 personnel from the sheriff's office, along with over 50 officers and veterinary staff from animal control were involved. 

Mobile fighting rings, gaffs (curved knives which are attached to the roosters’ feet for fighting,) medications, syringes, steroids and other items were found and confiscated at the site -- all indicative of illegal cockfighting.   

The sheriff's video of the raid takes us through the scene, from arrival to the discovery of dead roosters thrown in a garbage bag. Numerous dogs are seen running loose and in kennels, and hens are caged with numerous chicks. Officials said many of the birds were sick. 

Eric Sakach, Senior Law Enforcement Specialist for The Humane Society of the United States, described how cockfighting often "goes hand-in-hand" with such other crimes as gambling, drug-dealing, illegal gun sales and murder. 

While this site has pits for fighting, Sakach said it appears to be primarily used for breeding and selling the birds, which can be "extremely lucrative." 

Officials estimated that the sales price of these animals would range from $50 to $1,500 each, meaning this seizure could result in a total loss to the bird owners (aka "cockers") of $350,000 to $10,500,000. 

Sakach said this location had been raided in 2007, when approximately 2,700 birds were seized, but it apparently started up again and expanded. 

Marcia Mayeda, Director of LA County Animal Care and Control, emphasized in a written statement: 

Cockfighting is a serious crime. Not only is it an abusive practice in which animals suffer greatly, but cockfighting birds have been found to carry diseases that pose a threat to public health and the poultry industry. Many other serious crimes occur at cockfighting operations, including the presence of illegal drugs and weapons, child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, and physical assaults. We urge residents to report any cockfighting activities, or locations where large numbers of roosters are housed, to their local animal law-enforcement agency. 

She confirmed that approximately 36 bird owners had relinquished their animals. All the dogs on the property were also relinquished and are receiving veterinary care and evaluation prior to being made available for adoption. 

Captain Perry said approximately ten people were initially detained, and the property owner has been identified and is the primary suspect in the case. The investigation is ongoing and the sheriff's department anticipates making more arrests. 

California law for cockfighting is multi-faceted -- addressing animal cruelty, training animals for the purpose of fighting, possession of implements, and being a spectator at an event. There is also an important prohibition against bringing a minor to a cockfight. 

Even if only convicted of misdemeanors, the financial penalties levied against the owner of a site for the cost of the investigation, seizure and care of the animals can be enormous and can become a lien against the property. 

Captain Perry urged anyone with information about any type of animal blood-sport activity to call their local law enforcement agency.  

Anyone with information about this current investigation, is asked to contact the Sheriff's Department Community Partnerships Bureau at 323-981-5300. Any illegal animal fighting can also be reported to "Crime Stoppers" at (800) 222-TIPS (8477) or any County law-enforcement agency. 

A SECOND COCKFIGHT BUST IN LOS ANGELES THIS WEEK 

The investigation of a location in the 13000 block of Telfair Ave. in Sylmar, prompted by complaints from neighbors of noise and offensive odors, caused members of the Los Angeles City Animal Cruelty Task Force (ACTF) to obtain a search warrant. This week they discovered 454 gamefowl in what appeared to be a training site for fighting cocks, an official confirmed.  

Most of the roosters discovered were mature and had been "altered" (a procedure called, "dubbing," which involves removing the comb, wattles and sometimes earlobes of roosters.) Only about 20 of the birds were hens, and there did not appear to be a breeding operation at this location, according to the report.  

The ACTF was formed in 2005 and is made up of LAPD officers and detectives, LA Animal Services Officers, and Deputy City Attorneys. 

A petition filed on the LAPD website indicated a hearing under Penal Code Section 599aa was set for Monday, May 15. The LA Superior Court also authorized the disposition of the gamefowl, which was carried out on Friday, May 19. It is illegal to own or maintain gamefowl within the city limits of Los Angeles, an ACTF representative advised.  

The owner of the property is reportedly facing numerous misdemeanor charges, including training animals for fighting, cockfighting, and owning/maintaining gamefowl within the City limits. 

LA CITY'S ONE-ROOSTER LIMIT    

The City of Los Angeles has a one-rooster limit, with other specific allowances, introduced by then-Councilmember Janice Hahn and adopted in 2008, (Sec. 53.71 LAMC). At that time 31 surrounding municipalities had completely banned roosters or placed severe restrictions on owning them, including requiring health inspections and special permits which could be revoked upon complaint. 

Prior to its passage, City Council offices and Animal Services reported receiving hundreds of calls per month about crowing roosters all over LA. 

Officers say the LA limit has dramatically decreased the number of complaints about crowing, sanitation and odor issues related to neighbors keeping numerous (often free-roaming) roosters, as well as curtailed the incidents of cockfighting. 

The ACTF advised that they investigate all reports of more than one rooster on a property or of suspected cockfighting, and "one-by-one is assuring that no such operation exists within the city limits." 

Another restriction that discourages keeping even one rooster is that most Angelenos living in residential or commercial zones cannot meet the distance requirements (LAMC Code Sec. 40.03), which requires a rooster or any fowl capable of crowing or making "like" noises to be cooped or otherwise humanely confined 100 feet from neighboring dwelling. This distance includes attached garages and means zero free roaming.  

IS LOS ANGELES WINNING THE BATTLE AGAINST COCKFIGHTING? 

Similar to dog-fighting, cockfighting is difficult for law enforcement to effectively address unless there is an event in progress when they arrive. Neighbors are afraid to report known or suspected cockfighters because of the violent nature of the sport and its aficionados. 

Cockfighting is not a cultural or ethnic issue. It is animal cruelty in a disturbing, perverse, public display of brutality. Participation for generations does not make it an acceptable or excusable tradition. These events commonly include drugs, guns and prostitution and are often linked to human trafficking and international crime rings. 

When cockfights are held in backyards or vacant lots, the worst members of society converge upon neighborhoods where children and innocent adults also become victims of noise, violence and exposure to criminals who would not otherwise be in the community. 

Cockfighting is now illegal in all 50 states, and California has strong, comprehensive laws to address it (see below.) Law-enforcement agencies in LA city and county have committed to winning this fight -- but they will need our help. 

If you suspect cockfighting (or other cruelty to animals) in the City of Los Angeles, call the Animal Cruelty Task Force at (213) 486-0450 or provide as much information as possible -- anonymously if necessary -- to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (1-800-222-8477.) 

CA Fighting-Animal Provisions Related to Cockfighting: 

                                                           

(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of LA employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

EDUCATION POLITICS-Recently there was a piece on local NPR affiliate KPCC about how the homeless population, which disproportionately suffers from untreated mentally illnesses, has exploded in recent years. This story was told without ever mentioning that the State of California emptied out most of the state’s mental institutions during the 1960s and 1970s, releasing those who knew their names and what day of the week it was, irrespective of whether they were profoundly mentally ill and in dire need of treatment. 

This was done to save money in the short-term so the State would not have to hospitalize the mentally ill and address their needs in a timely manner. This segment of the population did and does not have the political power to advocate on its own behalf. 

At the time, State courts, having an undisclosed conflict of interest, determined that profoundly mentally ill people had the "civil right" to be free...and homeless. The fact that the State of California saved a short-term fortune back then is coming back to haunt everybody a half century later with an even more massive homeless population. And often, the term “mentally ill” is not even mentioned in the context of today's news about the homeless problem. 

In brief, "news" regarding the homeless situation in the state is consistently presented without relevant historic facts and context. This is not an accident, but rather the conscious manipulation of the public to limit our options so that those in government and their corporate supporters -- who financially profit from this perverse system -- are never held accountable for prior improper actions, actions that could have been avoided if the democratic process had not been mismanaged. 

But it is not necessary to go back half a century to find other illustrations of how the public is manipulated by not being presented with all options before deciding how to take action on a given issue. In the recent LAUSD Board elections for the 4th District, the only two candidates with financial support were either from the for-profit charter industry (Melvoin) or the corrupt UTLA union leadership (Zimmer.) Neither candidate ever addressed the important issues facing public education. And neither offered any ideas on how to fix what has purposefully been allowed to go wrong in public education. 

Maybe this is why only 8% of the eligible voters bothered to vote in the LAUSD Board run-off elections. What's the purpose of voting when neither one of the candidates offers any hope for real change or ways to address the needs of the majority? 

What do you think would happen in this country, if there was a third option on the ballot every election day: the chance to choose “none of the above?”

 

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

-cw

SKID ROW POLITICS- In a stunning turn of events the City of Los Angeles’ Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) issued a shocking “final determination” in the highly controversial Skid Row Neighborhood Council subdivision election which led to three election challenges that were each upheld by an Election Challenge Review Panel convened by DONE itself.

(Photo above: General Jeff Page.) 

DONE completely threw out each of the Review Panel’s recommendations, which included initiating a 60-day investigation (to possibly uncover more evidence) followed by the possibility of an entirely new election, and instead decided to certify the election results as they stood on election day, with Skid Row’s hopes of creating a much-needed neighborhood council crushed by a mere 60 votes, 826-766. 

The election challenges arose from evidence of illegal online campaign propaganda which connected to the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council (DLANC) which, if found in violation, could have resulted in an overturned election. 

How did DONE come to this seemingly out-of-nowhere decision? Let’s examine the facts. 

On April 6, the Skid Row subdivision election took place. Any challenges had to be filed within 5 days. Skid Row representatives filed 5 official election challenges, of which two were dismissed in DONE’s initial review, leaving three valid challenges. 

On April 14, a letter was issued to Skid Row NC- Formation Committee leaders and in paragraph 7 it states “The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment reviewed the election challenges, and will be convening an Election Challenge Review Panel to resolve the pending challenges”. 

Just as two of the other challenges were dismissed rather quickly by DONE, if there wasn’t sufficient evidence in the remaining three challenges, why didn’t DONE dismiss those challenges also? 

In DONE’s “final determination” letter it states, “Per Section XII of the Subdivision Election Manual, the supporting documentation for election challenges MUST prove that the alleged challenges are not only valid, but would also have made a difference in the election results for the Election Challenge Panel to have the factual basis to uphold the challenges”. 

What DONE failed to include is the very next sentence- “Challenges without such supporting documentation will AUTOMATICALLY be rejected.” 

So, again, if DONE (who in their own words) stated they reviewed each of Skid Row’s challenges, why didn’t they AUTOMATICALLY dismiss all 5 Skid Row challenges from the beginning? Instead they wasted everyone’s time, money and energy only to ultimately toss out both the Review Panel’s recommendations and subsequently Skid Row’s challenges, then at the end of the process point to reasons that were already in their control when they first reviewed the documentation but also completely contradict DONE’s logic in their final determination. Were they hoping a “negative to Skid Row” Review Panel decision would’ve been to blame so DONE wouldn’t look like the bad guys? ...Oops! 

Further, during Skid Row’s presentation before the Review Panel on May 3rd, their Formation Committee Chair revealed that DONE’s metrics used to reach an “inconclusive” determination in their initial report to the Review Panel was flawed, thus causing an incorrect determination which DONE again mistakenly referred to in it’s “final determination” letter. 

To be specific, DONE compared a “Unite DTLA” e-mail to what they wrongfully claimed was a “second” Unite DTLA e-mail. But, in fact, the second e-mail was from “DTLA United”, which thereby automatically created different outcomes in DONE’s in-house investigation. 

Their inconclusive determination was strongly based on inaccurate metrics. And instead of getting it right the second time (for their “final determination”), they, again, somehow drew the very same conclusion based on the very same metrics. 

This suggests that either DONE didn’t bother to correct it’s previous mistakes or was simply too lazy to perform the necessary due diligence. This, then, suggests severe negligence and/or dereliction of duty. 

Even further, in DONE’s “final determination” letter, in the Inappropriate Remedy section, they stated the Review Panel’s “remedy of redoing the election is not appropriate for these challenges even if they were deemed to be valid”. 

The problem with this is DONE was at the hearing (General Manager and other high-ranking staff) as was the City Attorney’s office (highest-ranking neighborhood council division staff member), yet no City officials with extensive knowledge of this process stepped in to make sure that the Review Panel, who publicly deliberated right in front of the entire audience, reached at least one qualifying remedy for each of the three upheld challenges. 

This is even more evidence of negligence and/or dereliction of duty. Either said City officials simply stood by quietly (already knowing the preferred outcome they desired and anticipating it’s arrival soon thereafter) or were stunned “like deer caught in the headlights” at what the Review Panel was in the process of concluding as a result of their determined commitment to get this right to the best of their abilities. 

Throughout all of this, it should be noted that the Review Panel, selected individually by DONE, stayed focused and engaged for the entire 5-hour hearing, including listening to public comments from over 60 “concerned citizens”, the majority of which were pro-Skid Row NC- including members of other NC’s, Skid Row residents and volunteer supporters with professional expertise. 

While there are still “tons” more reasons to marvel at DONE’s position, this article closes with this- In DONE’s Subdivision Election Manual in the Challenge Remedy section, the first sentence states “If a challenge is found to be valid, remedies will be narrowly interpreted to affect ONLY the voters, candidates or seats affected.”

 

Not only did Skid Row have “a challenge which was found to be valid”, they had THREE of them! Then, DONE’s own language implies that there is a NARROW INTERPRETATION of the wideness of the scope and range for any and all remedies which are thereby limited to affect only the voters, candidates or seats affected. 

… And DONE went away from it’s own rules, regulations and procedures and hid behind their flawed findings and improper determinations. 

No surprise that the Skid Row Neighborhood Council Formation Committee is now seeking legal representation.

 

(General Jeff … Jeff Page … is a homelessness activist and leader in Downtown Los Angeles. Jeff’s views are his own.)

GELFAND’S WORLD--One person writing to the website Quora asks, "I love President Trump. Why don't people understand him?" Another questioner on the same site asks, "Why does CNN News lie about Trump?" It's all very strange. Those of us on the other side can't even keep up with the daily scandals, much less figure out why one-third of the country still supports the man. Why do they remain so loyal? 

Here are a few other such questions supplied by readers of the same site: 

Why do people think Donald Trump provides false statements, when they are actually true? 

Are there any news outlets that don't hate Trump? I’m not looking to cause controversy, I’m simply looking for some reliable (preferably non-biased) news outlets. I often find that the “credible” news outlets interpret his actions according to their own liberal bias. I don’t like conservative bias either, but news outlets tend to be mostly liberal. 

You've really got to wonder how Trump followers can hold to their slavish devotion, including the widespread misconception that the mainstream media somehow have a "liberal bias." What's biased about showing excerpts of Trump's latest speech? 

Perhaps there is an explanation, one in which we view Trump worship as akin to a neurotic fixation. How else to explain the continued support in the face of the hundreds of lies, the obvious mental laziness, the insensitivity to the real problems of real Americans? 

Perhaps there is an analogy in terms of mental problems. Think of alcoholics in recovery, who often say that they had to hit bottom before they were ready to attempt sobriety. Their symptom (drinking) is buttressed by all manner of psychological defenses. The condition goes on and on until the drinking causes so much pain in the person's life that withdrawal is seen as the only choice. 

Right now, Trump supporters are faced with an embarrassing situation, because the guy on their bumper stickers hasn't brought back the miners' jobs or negotiated improved trade agreements. Instead, he's committed one faux pas after another, yet they don't seem to be leaving him en masse. Here are some more comments from his supporters: 

Why do some Americans hate Trump when most of the people around the world seem to support him? 

Why is the western media anti-Trump? 

Will Democrats be mature and ask themselves if it's really worth impeaching Trump and hurting the country

Perhaps his biggest overreach as a politician came in his commencement address to the Coast Guard graduates. Graduation speeches can be corny or flattering, but you usually don't expect the invited speaker to wallow in self pity. When it comes to a military academy graduation, the least you can do is to avoid insulting the audience directly. Another fail. 

A hundred years ago, the budding field of psychoanalysis postulated that neurotic symptoms covered up deep conflicts. Since giving up on the symptoms (hysterical paralysis, say) would force the patient to deal with the underlying conflict, the patients would defend their symptoms desperately against therapeutic intervention. 

In the modern day, the old psychoanalytic approach is being modified by increasing knowledge about the brain and its chemistry. But perhaps that Freudian view of the mind, as much as it may no longer describe thought precisely, is a pretty good description for the current state of conservative politics. 

How else can you explain the slavish devotion to Donald Trump that is defended by his supporters against all fact, reason, and public display? Even the smallest level of intellectual honesty would demand a certain amount of disappointment. There must be a lot of emotional attachment to conservative thought among Trump voters. How else to explain the Quora questions listed above? 

Consider that the president just blabbed super secret material to the Russian ambassador (and it probably damaged the war against ISIS), that the president is using his office to make money using his hotel chain, and that presidential appointments are a complete freak show. How do you defend those scandals? 

In fact, we are caught up in a maelstrom where we have so many scandals that we can't keep up with them. In the past week alone, there have been at least three revelations that would have taken over the news for months in any previous administration. Referring to the former FBI chief as a "nutjob" is just one more data point in the Trump record.

It's long since time that liberals defend liberalism and go on the attack against the rants against media bias. We should ask why something is perceived to be biased when it is a simple statement of fact. And here's another one: Political correctness? Hell yes if we are simply responding to overt racism. It's time we all got on that train. 

In the meantime, we should be pointing out that continued defenses of Donald Trump as a leader or as a president are becoming more and more pathetic. How do you defend the indefensible? The explanation is that there must be a great deal of emotional need. Our political culture needs to move towards demanding real truth and real fairness, not the fake "balance" the right wing provides.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net

-cw

INFORMED COMMENT--Trump’s speech on Islam, written by notorious Islamophobe Stephen Miller, who used to organize Orwellian “Two Minutes Hate” sessions against Muslims at Duke, is just as bizarre as everything else Trump does. 

Miller-Trump imply, as has become common in right wing American discourse, that Muslims have a peculiar problem inasmuch as they produce terrorists. What do they think the Ku Klux Klan is? I estimate that people of European Christian heritage polished off as many as 100 million persons in the 20th century and that Muslims may have killed 2-3 million. 

Trump seems to think that pumping $110 bn in new shiny weapons into a volatile Middle East will lead to peace! If there is any sure correlate of war, it is massive purchases by one regional power of new armaments. You have to use them while you have the advantage or your rivals also acquire them.

Trump managed to insult Islamic civilization by implying that the pre-Islamic civilizations in the region were better:

“Egypt was a thriving center of learning and achievement thousands of years before other parts of the world. The wonders of Giza, Luxor and Alexandria are proud monuments to that ancient heritage. All over the world, people dream of walking through the ruins of Petra in Jordan. Iraq was the cradle of civilization and is a land of natural beauty.”

This is sheer Orientalism, an allegation that Pharaonic Egypt, Nabatean Jordan and Sumerian and Babylonian Iraq were great civilizations but that once Islam came, they went downhill. Miller-Trump do not know about al-Azhar University in Egypt being among the oldest in the world (George Makdisi argued it was *the* oldest). They don’t know about Harun al-Rashid’s House of Wisdom where Greek philosophy was debated in Arabic by the Abbasid caliph and his court sages at a time when Charlemagne was trying to learn to scratch out his name. They don’t know about the Abbasid invention of algebra or of Omar Khayyam’s use of geometry to solve algebraic equations. The only compliment they give Islamic civilization is that Dubai and Riyadh have skyscrapers, which is surely the blind spot of a Realtor.

Miller-Trump sweep up national resistance movements like Hamas and Hezbollah with al-Qaeda! Neither of these would exist if the Israelis hadn’t a) expelled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes in 1948 and then come after millions of their descendants and militarily occupied them in 1967 and b) if the Israelis had not launched a brutal war of aggression on Lebanon in 1982 and attempted to occupy permanently 10% of Lebanese territory. The Shiites of south Lebanon *liked* the Israelis before 1978. The 1982 invasion killed 10,000-20,000 people and involved indiscriminate artillery barrages and aerial bombing of Beirut, which Usama bin Laden alleged helped inspire him to destroy some American skyscrapers.

Designating Hezbollah a terrorist organization but not doing so to the armed Israeli squatters who routinely attack Palestinians in their own homes is typical of everything that is wrong with US policy in the region. Attacking civilians is always wrong (and is cowardly). But Hezbollah in 1984-2000 mainly attacked other soldiers, who were illegally occupying Lebanese Shiite land.

As for Yemen’s Houthis, they are not a creature of Iran, which has relatively little to do with them. They are rural Zaydi Shiites who resented Saudi attempts to proselytize them, marginalize them, and make them Wahhabis. You’ll never have peace in Yemen as long as you don’t recognize legitimate Zaydi interests.

For Trump to attack Iran, which just had a popular election where the electorate bucked the choice of the Leader, from Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy where the populace have no rights, is weird.

The American Right is deeply implicated in radicalizing Muslims. Afghan Islam was radicalized by the Reagan jihad against the Soviet Union. Eisenhower and Reagan both attempted to enlist Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism against Communism. Most Palestinians were secular or mainstream until the Israelis cultivated Hamas as an alternative to the PLO.

Trump wants to site a center for combating extremist ideology in Saudi Arabia! The Wahhabi form of Islam practiced in that country encourages extremist ideology! The Saudis took the practice of takfir or excommunicating Sunnis and Shiites to the next level. In the 19th century they even excommunicated the Ottoman Emperor!

If the Saudis want to combat extremism, they have to formally abjure this unfortunate heritage of Wahhabism and roundly condemn the unilateral branding of people as non-Muslim when they maintain that they are Muslims. (In the Sunni and Shiite mainstream, takfir or excommunication of a Muslim is rare and disapproved).

Contemporary radical extremism in the Muslim world is founded on a few basic principles:

  1. takfir or the excommunication of other Muslims for being insufficiently puritanical, anti-democratic, anti-Western, etc.
  2. exalting holy war or “jihad” as they understand the word (it does not mean holy war but merely struggle for the faith in the Qur’an) to a basic pillar of the religion.
  3. Willingness to commit suicide to blow other people up. Suicide is forbidden in mainstream Islam just as it is in Catholicism.

Saudi Arabia has to condemn all three– excommunication, the militarization of jihad, and homicidal self-sacrifice.

So Miller-Trump are barking up entirely the wrong tree here, as you would expect from completely ignorant people sticking their bare hands into about 50 bee hives.

Then they condemn Iranian intervention in Syria but don’t mention that Saudi Arabia backed the radical terrorist group Jaysh al-Islam that had genocide against Syria’s Shiites on their minds.  Nor do they admit that without Hezbollah, Homs would have fallen to al-Qaeda in Syria (which the US has tacitly supported; yes) and could have been used to cut off Damascus to resupply.

Any fair-minded and knowledgeable person in the Middle East would read this speech as a farrago of Orientalist prejudice against Muslims, coddling of Wahhabis, slamming of Shiites, and continued rank unfairness toward the Palestinians in favor of holding the Israelis completely blameless for their massive ethnic cleansing campaigns, which are ongoing.

That terrorism can be addressed by vague words and by failing to address the underlying social causes is a non-starter. That war and violence can be tamped down by unfairly taking one side in a sectarian struggle or by flooding massive new arsenals into the region are the pipedreams of bigots who cannot face their own bigotry.

(Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan and an occasional contributor to CityWatch. He has written extensively on modern Islamic movements in Egypt, the Persian Gulf and South Asia. This post originally ran on Juan Cole’s website.)

-cw

RAPE AND RACE POLITICS-In a calculated and cynical move, Bill Cosby -- a person who shamed poor black people for not “acting right” in front of white people; who chastised us on behalf of Whiteness; who made fun of our particular customs, our particular situations, and our particular names; who told us to stop using racism as an excuse for our condition — is now claiming that racism is behind all of the rape allegations against him.  And he’s claiming that to solidify the support of the very same black communities he spent a great deal of time berating. 

This is the definition of crafty. He knows our history and the history of the country. He knows that there is a horrific praxis amongst white people to falsely accuse black people of crimes we didn’t in no ways commit. There is a peculiar, sordid, and long-standing practice of white women falsely accusing black men of rape.  

Cosby is hoping to bank on this brutal history and use it as cover to cast doubt on his own crimes. I mourn that decision because of the confusion and chaos it will cause for black people who are actually innocent, who were actually falsely accused, whose innocence will be doubted even further because a clearly guilty person has misused a historical reality for his own benefit --  a historical reality he spent a good chunk of public speeches denying. 

And there is one huge detail that Cosby and others find themselves overlooking: not all of his victims are white women. 

There are a number of black women, including famous black women like Beverly Johnson, who have come forward with stories of being victimized by Cosby. 

Yes. We live in a country where we are innocent until proven guilty. And in a rape culture, rape is one of the hardest crimes to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. We are always looking to somehow blame the victim and absolve the rapist because consent is an abhorrent concept to the imperial mind; and this is, in all ways, an imperial nation. 

Please keep in mind that over 50 women have come forward. 

OVER. 50. 

If there’s more than 50 who came forward, the statistics say that there’s probably more than 100 who didn’t. Now isn’t the time to hold onto myths and symbols. Now isn’t the time to give in to unsubstantiated conspiracy theories. Now is the time to consider that Cosby’s sole black woman attorney quit, probably because she found her conscience. 

Now is not the time to be a fool. 

Now is the time to be a witness. 

(Son of Baldwin: To the tick-tock and you don’t stop. Writing for my life. And perhaps yours. Disturbing the peace in order to find it. No sleep ’til Crooklyn. Let’s get free. This piece originated in The Medium.com.)  Prepped for CityWatch buy Linda Abrams.

-cw

JUDICIAL CORRUPTION WATCH-As Ricky used to say to Lucy, “you’ve got a lot of splain’ to do.” So too does the California Commission on Judicial Performance. 

For the years 2009 through 2015, only one judge has been removed despite nearly 11,000 complaints. As regular readers know, in 2015, the federal court’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals complained that due to the behavior of California judges and justices, California courts have experienced an “epidemic of misconduct.” With an increasing number of complaints, averaging about 1,200 per year, the idea that over 10,000 people could be so far off mark that only one judge’s behavior was bad enough to merit removal is hard to accept. More investigation is required. 

Let’s Look at the Behavior of Some Judges over the Years. 

In 2010, the attorney for a Child Custody Evaluator appeared in Family Court to obtain an order compelling the father to cooperate in the evaluation in light of the evaluator’s suspicions that the father may have questionable conduct with his teenage daughter. The judge said that he would take the matter under submission and told the evaluator’s attorney that he could leave as the court discussed other issues not concerning the child custody evaluator with the attorneys for the divorcing parents. 

After the evaluator’s attorney had left, the judge spontaneously re-opened the issue raised by him and proceeded to fire him saying, it was not the evaluator’s business to delve into such matters and that he, the judge, would handle it the “old fashioned way,” i.e. the teenage girl would come to court and explain the situation to the judge. 

The judge then directed lawyers not to give any notice of ruling but that he would provide notice. Thus, the child custody evaluator did not know that he had been fired by the court and the judge prevented him from following up on the father’s conduct. Months later someone sent the child custody evaluator’s attorney a copy of the hearing transcript. While the evaluator’s attorney had been complaining that he had not received any order from the court, the presiding judge in the family court sent a hostile and intimidating letter. Subsequently it was clear that the presiding judge knew about the deception which was being perpetrated upon the child custody evaluation and the judge had stopped the investigation into the father’s behavior. 

Two years later, in 2012, the CJP wrote the evaluator’s attorney a letter saying, “The commission has considered the matter and taken an appropriate corrective action as to certain but not all of your allegations. Please be advised that this is the extent of the notice and disclosure allowed by rule 102(e) of the Rules of the Commission on Judicial Performance.” When the Private Admonitions for the year 2012 were consulted for this article, there is no fact pattern which fits the complaint. Thus, there had been no private reprimand. 

Since the CJP letter came in 2012, there was certainly plenty of time for the CJP to have included it in its description of 2012 cases. From the CJP files themselves, the logical conclusion is that the CJP lied to the complainant and in reality no private reprimand had been given for the judge’s re-opening the hearing and firing the child custody evaluator in order to protect the father from investigation. 

The CJP CYAs Itself by Adding the Following to its Website: 

“In order to maintain confidentiality, certain details of the cases have been omitted or obscured, making the summaries less informative than they otherwise might be, but because these summaries are intended in part to educate judges and the public and to assist judges in avoiding inappropriate conduct, the commission believes it is better to describe the conduct in abbreviated form than to omit the summaries altogether.” 

In other words, the CJP’s description of the basis of the wrongful behavior may be so vague and abbreviated, that the complainer cannot recognize his own complaint.  

CJP Allows Judges to Obstruct Justice by witness Intimidation. 

In another case dating back to 1995, the judge in a criminal case submitted a false but secret complaint to the state bar about an attorney who happened to be a witness in her court. Two weeks earlier, the District Attorney had threatened the attorney-witness that unless the witness committed perjury and testified exactly as the DA wanted some judge would get him. After it was discovered that it was the judge who had made the secret complaint (which had been worded to appear it had been made by the defendant) the CJP said that the judge had done nothing wrong in filing the false, secret complaint against the witness. The judge refused to recuse herself. 

This judge was the infamous Judge Jacqueline Connor who five years later in 2000 presided over the first trial of the Ramparts Officers and who reversed the jury convictions and acquitted them. She had previous involvement with one of the main witnesses, Officer Rafael Perez, and had reason to be angry with him. The public has no way to assess the reality behind the appearance. 

Serious Misconduct which the CJP Conceals. 

Based upon information from the data on the CJP website, there are a number of far more serious violations of both judicial ethics and law which the CJP Website ignores. 

Why do appellate court justices get to overrule trial court decisions when no one has appealed the trial court ruling? 

Why do judges and justices have the right to keep secret their ex parte communications from opposing counsel? 

Why do judges and justices get to change the facts in a case? 

Why do judges and justices get to manufacture evidence in a case? 

Why do judges and justices get to exclude attorneys from sidebars and hearings because the judges dislike the attorney for “refusing Jesus Christ?” 

Why do judges and justices get to make adverse rulings against parties because a given party’s attorney has been blacklisted for complaining about judicial misconduct? 

Why do judges and justices get to frame people for things which they did not do and then lock them up in jail for civil confinement? This practice is more widespread than previously believed and seems to be one of the prime methods the courts use to silence their critics. 

Why do judges get to ignore the fact that Prosecutors present falsified evidence? 

Why do judges get to ignore the fact that attorneys have presented perjured declarations? 

Why do appellate court justices get to communicate to trial court judges the decisions which they should make in cases? Does the use of the attorney for the superior court make the communication between the justices and the judges proper? 

Sources outside the CJP have no trouble finding these unacceptable behaviors, but the CJP seems to be blind. Or, could it be that the CJP and the judges retaliate against attorneys who make complaints. Only 3% of complaints come from attorneys, yet they are in the best position to recognize unethical conduct as opposed to an adverse decision. 

The CJP Encourages Misconduct. 

The more one looks into the Commission of Judicial Performance and the behavior of judges, one sees that the Ninth Circuit Judges understated the situation by saying that California judges and justices “turn a blind eye” to attorney misconduct. Not only do they condone and thereby encourage extreme attorney misconduct, but they themselves actively engage in outrageous behavior with impunity. 

While the various state court judges and justices can thank Justice Paul Turner for launching these series of articles, they should rest assured (or rest very uneasily) that so much additional credible information has already flowed in and the roster of miscreants has ballooned far beyond any expectation with information ranging from the San Francisco Bay Area down to San Diego. In the Internet days, reformers spread their data around the world with a few emails, forever placing the incriminating data beyond the power of the “bad boys” to retrieve and destroy. 

As the songwriters Gilman and Scott wrote (© Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC):     

“Bad boys, bad boys

Whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do

When they come for you?”

(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney and a CityWatch contributor. He can be reached at: Rickleeabrams@Gmail.com. Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

THE COHEN COLUMN-Did you ever wonder why Trump thinks he can get away with constantly changing his story, at the extreme peril of exposing the untruth of what he said a month or a even just a day before?

I have already predicted that Trump is going down. How quickly that will happen, and all our lives depend on the speed of that, is a critical function of how many of you speak out and demonstrate that
you are speaking out.

OK, it's not just that Trump lies about everything; it's that his lies are constantly shifting, constantly contradicting each other.

Consider this direct recent quote, his response  to a question from a FOX News talking head about what was behind his threatening tweet suggesting there might exist "tapes" to embarrass Comey, so Comey better keep his mouth shut.

"All I want is for Comey to be honest, and I hope he will be, and I'm sure he will be, I hope." 

Did everyone pick up on what just happened here?

Does Trump hope that Comey will be honest, or is he sure that Comey will be honest? Or is he just hoping? Which is it, actually?

The correct and chillingly accurate answer is: neither.

What Trump is, is an interactive liar. In classic con man style he is constantly calibrating, and recalibrating his lies in the moment to his audience of the moment, based on his calculation of what they are most likely to buy. 

He watches your eyes, gauges your reaction, and adjusts, which is to say he lies over and again. The instant you stop buying it he will say something completely different. Just as he likely always did in his business negotiations. How is having a businessman as President working out, America?

What the quote above demonstrates most clearly is that he dynamically "tests" lies, trying to find the optimum and most effective lie for the particular audience in real time.

It had been observed that there was a lot of improvisation in Trump's campaign speeches, "riffing" some called it. But what he primarily improvises is a false reality.

It has to be true…doesn't it? Didn't we just hear the crowd roar?

This is why his campaign promises were all immediately worthless on the spot, as worthless as a diploma from Trump University. It was never about anything else but making a sale in the moment, assuming there ever was a specific promise you could pin down, even in the moment.

Trump is a performance liar. The memory hole is the next instant away. It is 1984 on speed dial.

I never said what you remember, he constantly claims. Even if he just said it, you heard him wrong, the situation has changed, whatever. All videotape and audio recorded evidence to the contrary he calls "fake news." We believe he actually considers lying a form of entertainment.

is motto should be: “Why tell the truth when a lie would do just as well?”

He will pile on phony and insincere compliments, only to call you the world's worst, most stupid, loser, bad person in the next breath, the instant you don't bend to his will. This is what he did to former FBI Director James Comey in particular, back and forth, back and forth. First, Comey is courageous, then he is a disgrace, then he is courageous again, then a disgrace again, an endless cycle, rinse and repeat, ad nauseam. And in the end he will condemn you for the very thing he praised you for earlier -- as Comey himself has so rudely just discovered.

“If the G.O.P.’s surrender to candidate Trump made exhortations about Republicans’ duty to their country seem like so much pointless verbiage, now President Trump has managed to make exhortation seem unavoidable again.

He has done so, if several days’ worth of entirely credible leaks and revelations are to be believed, by demonstrating in a particularly egregious fashion why the question of “fitness” matters in the first place

The presidency is not just another office. It has become, for good and bad reasons, a seat of semi-monarchical political power, a fixed place on which unimaginable pressures are daily brought to bear. It is the final stopping point for decisions that can lead very swiftly to life or death for people the world over.”

Those who voted against him recognized, or at least suspected, all of this already.

Those who did vote for him must hear these words, and let us pray, for all of our sakes, while there is still time for them to save themselves, that these people are still capable of discerning truth. Or as one former Apprentice contestant said, “…these shows are constructed. They don't happen, nor do they portray actual reality. They are constructed reality." Just like Trump.

“Read the things that these people, members of his inner circle, his personally selected appointees, say daily through anonymous quotations to the press. (And I assure you they say worse off the record.) They have no respect for him, indeed they seem to palpitate with contempt for him, and to regard their mission as equivalent to being stewards for a syphilitic emperor.

It is not squishy New York Times conservatives who regard the president as a child, an intellectual void, a hopeless case, a threat to national security; it is people who are self-selected loyalists, who supported him in the campaign, who daily go to work for him. All this, in the fourth month of his administration.”

Forward this message to everyone else you know.
But first, food for thought from some Facebook friends. 

1) “Donald Trump should start every morning with a tweet about what he is doing that day to help working-class Americans,” said Republican strategist Alex Conant. “Instead, his morning tweets make it clear how much the Russia story is distracting him and his White House.” 

(2) In your opinion, is Trump largely to blame for the matters that have distracted us from the issues, or is it mainly someone else's fault. As I have thought about this, Trump was supposed to be this tough businessman. But his constant whining about how people are saying bad things about him, and blaming others (the fake news media, etc.), isn't the way tough guys should be acting. Whenever a problem arises, you deal with it like a grown up, and not like the younger child who complains that his older siblings are picking on him.

 

(Michael N. Cohen is a former board member of the Reseda Neighborhood Council, founding member of the LADWP Neighborhood Council Oversight Committee, founding member of LA Clean Sweep and occasional contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

TRUMP’S FAKE SCIENCE--Seven members of the House Committee on Science, Space & Technology have submitted a letter to President Donald Trump expressing concern over his use of dubious scientific sources and calling for him to appoint a director to the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

In the letter, which was signed and submitted on Thursday, the representatives—all Democrats—referenced a Politico story published Monday, "How Trump Gets His Fake News," as the impetus for their statements. The story alleged that Trump's deputy national security adviser, K.T. McFarland, had slipped the president two printouts of Time magazine covers—one, supposedly from the 1970s, predicting a coming ice age, and another, from 2008, about global warming—to convince him of media hypocrisy on the topic of global warming. The 1970s cover, Politico reported, was a fake and an Internet hoax. 

"Disseminating stories from dubious sources has been a recurring issue with your administration," the letter states. "You have a tool at your disposal in this regard, should you wish to make use of it, in the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) which, under your administration, has been left largely unstaffed and without a director."

The Office of Science and Technology Policy was originally created informally under President John F. Kennedy Jr. to advise the White House on policies pertaining to science and technology (at the time, that included the NASA Moon Mission). It was later officially established under the 1976 National Science and Technology Policy, Organization, and Priorities Act.

The letter's writers urged Trump to appoint a director whose views represent "the broader scientific community." Until the department is adequately staffed, it continued, "we fear that you will continue to be vulnerable to misinformation and fake news."

(Katie Kilkenny is an associate editor at Pacific Standard, where she covers culture both online and in print. This report was posted first at Pacific Standard.

-cw

GUEST WORDS--It's hard not being near the top of the political food chain. It's tough being white, proud, and so easily threatened by this:

As has been increasingly obvious, “Racial attitudes made a bigger difference in electing Trump than authoritarianism.” Part of that is the sense that growing ethnic and racial diversity is a threat to white supremacy and status. Not necessarily in the Klan sense, but in the societal privilege sense. “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression”: 

All this anger we see from people screaming “All Lives Matter”  in response to black protesters at rallies. All this anger we see from people insisting that their “religious freedom” is being infringed because a gay couple wants to get married. All these people angry about immigrants, angry about Muslims, angry about “Happy Holidays,” angry about not being able to say bigoted things without being called a bigot... 

A poll last week indicates nationwide attitudes are definitely shifting, just ever so slowly. Like when they threw the wheel on the Titanic hard over and she kept heading straight for the iceberg for what seemed like minutes before beginning to turn.

Pew Research reported last week:  

In 2015, 17% of all U.S. newlyweds had a spouse of a different race or ethnicity, marking more than a fivefold increase since 1967, when 3% of newlyweds were intermarried, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. In that year, the U.S. Supreme Court in the Loving v. Virginia case ruled that marriage across racial lines was legal throughout the country. Until this ruling, interracial marriages were forbidden in many states.

More broadly, one-in-ten married people in 2015 – not just those who recently married – had a spouse of a different race or ethnicity. This translates into 11 million people who were intermarried. The growth in intermarriage has coincided with shifting societal norms as Americans have become more accepting of marriages involving spouses of different races and ethnicities, even within their own families.

The most dramatic increases in intermarriage have occurred among black newlyweds. Since 1980, the share who married someone of a different race or ethnicity has more than tripled from 5% to 18%. White newlyweds, too, have experienced a rapid increase in intermarriage, with rates rising from 4% to 11%. However, despite this increase, they remain the least likely of all major racial or ethnic groups to marry someone of a different race or ethnicity. 

Furthermore (pg. 7): 

The decline in opposition to intermarriage in the longer term has been even more dramatic, a new Pew Research Center analysis of data from the General Social Survey has found. In 1990, 63% of nonblack adults surveyed said they would be very or somewhat opposed to a close relative marrying a black person; today the figure stands at 14%. Opposition to a close relative entering into an intermarriage with a spouse who is Hispanic or Asian has also declined markedly since 2000, when data regarding those groups first became available. The share of nonwhites saying they would oppose having a family member marry a white person has edged downward as well. 

Stormfront commenters were less sanguine about what that meant. One wrote,"... it just seems America is officially over. This WILL be a complete third world nation within thirty years. Absolutely finished." Strange, because when Obama became president and the T-party rose up, Ann Coulter declared "we don't have racism in America any more" like it was a good thing. Despite Pat Buchanan lamenting “The End of White America,” in Shelby v. Holder, Chief Justice John Roberts declared. “Our country has changed."

Ask black voters in North Carolina how much.

After calling for President Trump's impeachment, U.S. Rep. Al Green of Texas received racially tinged threats. He played a few voice mails for a town hall meeting Saturday: The seven-term Democrat told the crowd of about 100 people that he won't be deterred.

"We are not going to be intimidated," Green said Saturday. "We are not going to allow this to cause us to deviate from what we believe to be the right thing to do and that is to proceed with the impeachment of President Trump."

One male caller used a racial insult and threatened Green with "hanging from a tree" if he pursues impeachment. Another man left a message saying Green would be the one impeached after "a short trial" and then he would be hanged, according to the recording.

Green took to the House floor on Wednesday to say he believes Trump committed obstruction of justice and no one's above the law. 

The good news is their numbers are shrinking, but as Jesus said, bigots you have with you always. Or something.

(Tom Sullivan is a North Carolina-based writer who posts at Hullabaloo and Scrutiny Hooligans. A former columnist for the Asheville Citizen-Times, his posts have appeared at Crooks and Liars, Campaign for America's Future, Truthout.org, AlterNet, and TomPaine.org.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

DEATH WATCH--Before Ronald Bert Smith’s corpse grew cold – following his patently botched execution by lethal injection on December 8, 2016 – authorities in Alabama launched a campaign of obfuscation and misinformation about what happened to him. 

It began when Prison Commissioner Jeff Dunn, himself a witness to Smith’s execution, protested: “Early in the execution, Smith, with eyes closed, did cough but at no time during the execution was there observational evidence that he suffered.” 

Dunn not only doth protest too much, Dunn lied.  

Because if you credit the macabre and unambiguous accounts of the unbiased media witnesses in attendance – not only is there a great deal of “observational evidence” Smith suffered – the publicly available information suggests he suffered a painfully slow, torturous death. 

Kent Faulk, a reporter for Alabama’s largest media outlet (al.com) and a witness to previous state executions, appeared eerily pale and shaken as he questioned Dunn on camera immediately following Smith’s death. The next day, Faulk posted a piece titled, “Alabama Death Row inmate Ronald Bert Smith heaved, coughed for 13 minutes during execution”; it includes several chilling hallmarks of an execution gone wrong: 

During 13 minutes of the execution, from about 10:34 to 10:47, Smith appeared to be struggling for breath and heaved and coughed and clenched his left fist after apparently being administered the first drug in the three-drug combination. At times his left eye also appeared to be slightly open. A Department of Corrections captain performed two consciousness checks before they proceeded with administering the next two drugs to stop his breathing and heart. The consciousness tests consist of the corrections officer calling out Smith’s name, brushing his eyebrows back, and pinching him under his left arm. Smith continued to heave, gasp, and cough after the first test was performed at 10:37 p.m. and again at 10:47 p.m. After the second one, Smith’s right arm and hand moved. 

In “Witnessing death: AP reporters describe problem executions,” Kim Chandler, also a witness to Smith’s execution, described observing the exact same “observational evidence” as Faulk. Indeed, Chandler’s description of Smith’s execution only amplifies the constitutional concern it violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment; Chandler observed that while Smith’s chest was heaving, “he had regular loud coughing,” strong evidence he was not unconscious (and not insensate) when the excruciatingly painful lethal injection drugs were administered. 

In a sharply worded op-ed for the Washington Post on May 11, David Waisel, an associate professor of anesthesia at Harvard Medical School wrote, “[t]he drugs we use for executions can cause immense pain and suffering.” Specifically, Waisel opined that “[m]ounting evidence suggests that midazolam does not anesthetize inmates during executions, as shown by movement and difficulty breathing (each a sign that someone isn’t anesthetized) long after injection[.]” 

While Waisel’s column focused on Arkansas’ assembly line executions in April – in particular, the problematic execution of Kenneth Williams – his opinion is just as trenchant and ultimately damning for the future of constitutionally kosher executions in Alabama.  

Waisel concluded: (1) “When midazolam is used, executions predictably go awry;” (2) “[V]iolent and painful executions will continue as long as we attempt to use midazolam as an aesthetic; and (3) perhaps of greatest salience as Alabama charts its next course on capital punishment: “The state’s self-serving statements that [an] execution was flawless and proceeded according to plan do not make it so, especially when numerous eyewitnesses contradict the version of events the state is promoting.”     

At the end of October of last year, I wrote that Alabama’s Department of Corrections (ADOC) and Commissioner Dunn had duped me into believing that Alabama’s second-to-last execution – the lethal injection of Christopher Brooks on January 21, 2016 – had also gone “smoothly” and according to plan. (See “Alabama’s last execution may have burned a man alive”.) Using court filings by Brooks’ federal defenders that were buttressed by affidavits from expert medical witnesses, I accused Alabama, through the false representations of Commissioner Dunn, of “painting Mr. Brooks’ execution as a peaceful passing – like he just curled up in a comfy hammock and dozed off – never to wake again.”  

Outrageously, despite mountainous waves of “observational evidence” indicating Ronald Bert Smith’s execution was botched just as Brooks’ may have been, ADOC and Commissioner Dunn are in denial-and-hide-the-ball-mode again. 

As we careen closer to the nation’s and Alabama’s next execution – that of Tommy Arthur scheduled on May 25 – Dunn and ADOC are still pigheadedly denying the objective evidence observed by the seasoned, unbiased reporters that saw Smith die -- “observational evidence” Professor Waisel has since given undeniable and absolutely odious meaning to. 

Alabama courts are complicit in the cover-up. As reported by the Associated Press on May 16, Montgomery, Alabama Circuit Judge J.R. Gaines has ruled: “Alabama can keep secret its records from recent lethal injections, including documents about [the executions of Ronald Bert Smith and Christopher Brooks].” Arthur’s lawyers had argued for the release of ADOC logs and other records indicating Smith and Brooks may have been tortured noting, “[t]he people of Alabama have a right to know what their government is doing in their name, especially when it involves taking a life.” 

Rejecting this commonsense plea for knowledge and for decency, Judge Gaines wrote: “Any release of the execution logs would be detrimental to the best interests of the public.” 

Recently I urged “conscientious, justice-loving Alabamians” to demand that Alabama’s newly appointed Attorney General Steven Marshall “investigate and publicly address the circumstances of both [Ronald Bert] Smith and [Christopher] Brooks’ deaths.” I’m making that same plea again. But this time, instead of only Alabamians, I’m inviting all conscientious, justice-loving Americans and citizens of the world to join too.  

Demand that authorities in Alabama be honest and transparent about executions. Demand that death row inmates receive effective counsel and that they be treated fairly and humanely. Demand that torture be prohibited. And, until that can be assured, if it can ever be assured, demand that Governor Kay Ivey issue a moratorium on all executions going forward. Demand that Alabama comply with the state and federal constitutions.  

Don't ask for these things. Demand them.

 

(Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas … including CityWatch. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills. Follow him on Twitter @SteveCooperEsq.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS--In the four plus decades I have lived in Los Angeles, I’ve seen the huge impacts on our community -- both positive and negative – of liquor stores, markets, and other retail alcohol establishments. We have many responsible and conscientious business owners that sell alcohol. But not all sellers are in that group. 

Being able to manage how these businesses sell and serve alcohol is crucial, particularly considering the endless influx of more alcohol-related businesses into our crowded neighborhoods. 

There are currently over 900 applications for new alcohol licenses in the City of Los Angeles. The challenge here is that the city and the state rarely if ever deny alcohol license applications. The state cannot provide any real monitoring of problems stemming from these establishments and the city has recently shut the door on public input concerning the acceptable practices of these licensees.

Most of us in LA have felt alcohol’s impact in one way or another. 

No one enjoys having to step over someone who is passed-out on the sidewalk while en route to their morning coffee or their children’s afternoon theater performance. Nor do people like having their late night sleep ruined by loud music with folks screaming outside their window or seeing bunches of after-party red cups strewn throughout the neighborhood on a morning walk. 

For years, committed community members, including LAPD and neighborhood councils, have worked with new business operators, sometimes for months, to reach mutually agreed upon operating standards for alcohol sales, known as “alcohol-specific conditions.” This created a platform for dialogue between alcohol retailers and the community and a means of insuring a neighborhood’s quality of life. 

These conditions -- which for decades, through a public hearing process, were placed on alcohol permits to curtail problems such as late night nuisances and noise, loitering, or the sale of youth-attractive alcohol products -- are routine in cities throughout the state. 

Unfortunately, the City of Los Angeles has recently taken the position that alcohol-specific conditions are no longer permissible, which ultimately silences community input into how alcohol is sold and served locally. In addition to refusing these standards for new businesses, alcohol-related conditions already in place for established businesses are deemed “unenforceable” -- the city is essentially stripping them out.

This is nothing short of outrageous and completely unacceptable. It flies in the face of our democratic process and our rights as residents, business owners, and property owners. 

South Los Angeles residents have long protested the proliferation of liquor stores as well as the absence of healthful food and quality markets.

Downtown and Hollywood have some of the highest concentrations of bars, clubs, and other on-premise alcohol establishments along with the noise, nuisances, fighting, and crime that accompany it. The sale of single-serve containers to serial inebriates helps fuel the homelessness challenges in many parts of the city. 

Westside communities suffer from high concentrations of crowded bars and restaurants that send noisy, drunk patrons out to litter, urinate, and worse in the yards of nearby residents. 

Twelve of 15 Los Angeles City Council districts -- 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14 and 15 -- rank in the top tier for their incidence of three or more different alcohol-related harms -- violent crimes, vehicle crashes, deaths, emergency department visits, and hospitalizations, according to a recent County study. 

And alcohol-related problems pose hardships across LA. In fact, each year alcohol-related problems take approximately 2,800 lives in the county, accounting for approximately 80,000 years of potential life lost, and costing the county an estimated $10.3 billion a year. That’s $1,000 every year for every child and adult in the county! 

LA is one of the only cities in California that prohibits local conditions and this is extremely disempowering for our communities.

These conditions are in many cases our only protection from alcohol-related problems since we absolutely cannot rely on the state to manage those problems for us. 

To rectify the situation and restore our community voice in these important decisions, a “conditions motion” is circulating and gaining momentum across the city. The motion asks City Council to return to its former practice of allowing alcohol-specific conditions, and to cease stripping existing conditions. 

Conditions are good for businesses. Allowing the community to come to a consensus with a new business operator around key practices helps speed the “path to yes.” Getting critical community buy-in facilitates the successful establishment of new alcohol businesses. And when businesses negotiate conditions at the local level, they don’t have to renegotiate at the state level, which saves them time and money, and ultimately encourages more growth and development.

Recently the South Los Angeles Alliance of Neighborhood Councils (SLAANC) voted in favor of this motion. It also has the support of the Zapata-King Neighborhood Council, along with 15 other neighborhood and area councils, including the Westside Regional Alliance of Councils (WRAC), and nearly 20 public health agencies including Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, and alcohol industry watchdog, Alcohol Justice. This motion is critical to ensure that our community’s longstanding efforts to address alcohol problems are not dissolved. 

The Valley Alliance of Neighborhood Councils and other alliances will soon have an opportunity to support this motion. This way we can get the city to again start honoring these standards.  

I urge the VANC board and others to join with SLAANC and WRAC and all the other neighborhoods in standing up for our communities and businesses by supporting this motion. 

We deserve to have our voices heard again.

 

(Jean Frost is a long time resident of West Adams and chair of the Policy Committee for NANDC, the West Adams neighborhood council organization.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

RESISTANCE WATCH--Putting a fine point on the spin that President Donald Trump's trip to the Middle East has been a glowing, peace-dealing success, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross praised the fact that there were no protesters in Saudi Arabia—a nation where political dissonance is punishable by death. (Photo: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross)

Speaking to CNBC on Monday, Ross, who accompanied Trump on the weekend trip to Riyadh, said he found it "fascinating" that he did not see "a single hint of a protester anywhere there during the whole time we were there. Not one guy with a bad placard."

In turn, "Squawk Box" host Becky Quick pointed out "that might be—not necessarily because they don't have those feelings there—but because they control people and don't allow them to come and express their feelings the same way we do here."

"In theory, that could be true, but boy there was certainly no sign of it," Ross responded. "There was not a single effort at any incursion. There wasn't anything. The mood was a genuinely good mood."

He also noted that the Saudi security guards "all wanted to pose for a big photo op" before he left, after which they gifted him "two gigantic bushels of dates."

The remarks immediately caught the ear of Middle East experts and other observers.

Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in the Center for Middle East Policy, told CNBC afterwards that Saudi Arabia is among the "most repressive" of free speech in the Middle East, adding:  "Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy which forbids any political protest or any manifestation of dissent. It is also a police state that beheads opponents."

Others took to social media to highlight how outrageous Ross's statement was:

The New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait wrote, "Ross is a superficial man, inexperienced in foreign affairs, and easily manipulated by symbolism." However, Chait continued, "he also clearly looks at a society where, unlike the United States, he can sweep through his day without encountering any evidence of political discontent. And he sees in this something to admire."

This is in keeping with Trump, of whom Chait observed: "Rather than hypocritically overlook the authoritarianism of our allies, he actually admires it."

Similarly, the Washington Post's Philip Bump pointed out, "Few Americans have been as publicly vocal about their opposition to protests than Ross's boss, President Trump. One of his first tweets as president-elect and one of his first tweets as president both focused on disparaging protests against him."

Ross is the same administration official who described Trump's bombing of Syria as "after dinner entertainment."

(Lauren McCauley writes for Common Dreams [[commondreams.org]] … where this perspective originated.)

-cw

 

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