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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Money talks. The Rams walk.

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

"Apparently," Tisch said.

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

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

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

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

This is business, and this is America.

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






Vol 14 Issue 5

Pub: Jan 18, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Vol 14 Issue 5

Pub: Jan 15, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Vol 13 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Vol 14 Issue 5

Pub: Jan 15, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Vol 14 Issue 5

Pub: Jan 15, 2016

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