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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2015

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

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

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

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

The professor added:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 3, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider the following stories:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

-cw

 

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CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Italics here are my 2015-2016 update: 

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

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

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

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

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

Doesn't sound too transparent to me. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

City Pension growth

Earthquake Retrofitting

Water distribution and Conservation

Transportation Issues

Infrastructure Fixes

Uncompetitive Business Ordinances

Education Conflicts

Minority Community Police Conflicts

Apathetic Voters 

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

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

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

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

Last year I said:  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always comments welcome.

 

(Denyse Selesnick is a CityWatch columnist. She is a former publisher/journalist/international event organizer. Denyse can be reached at: Denyse@CityWatchLA.com) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

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