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A Close-Up Look at Slow-Motion Democracy at Occupy LA

October 31st, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


This past Saturday night I became—albeit briefly— a voting member of Occupy LA’s Finance Committee.

I’d been to OLA’s City Hall camp site for a minute or two a couple of times before on my way elsewhere. But on Saturday, I decided all other commitments could wait. My neighbor, the talented journalist, Sam Slovick was spending at least a week in a tent with the Occupiers, uploading regular dispatches for LA Weekly, Huffington Post and Slate.

Heck, even the LA Times’ Steve Lopez spent the night in a tent on the City Hall lawn.

I figured the least I could do was to hang out for a late afternoon and evening.

When I first arrived, my dog in tow, I did what most reporters seem to do at the Occupy sites. I snagged people, snapped their photos, asked them who they were, why they were there, what they did with their days they weren’t out here Occupying. Among those I met were a number of school teachers, a massage therapist, a Marine and his two kids, a retired newspaper reporter, a nurse, a guy who said he used to work for Wells Fargo, but was between jobs, and a venture capitalist. (No, really. I took his card and Googled him when I got home.)

I tried to avoid those who seemed discernibly crazy or extremely high (although my overwhelmed white wolf dog, Lily, seemed to magnetize the latter).

I did talk to the guy with the Boobies Not Bombs sign, but just to complement him on the bright pink bra he was wearing on his head.

After these mini interviews, I wandered over to the Welcome tent, where Occupy LA’s needs list and its itemized weekly budget were posted. This week’s budget amounted to $7509.90, with the $4669 for Porta Potty rentals the largest line item by far. At the welcome tent, I wound up chatting to a high school biology and physics teacher named Jeff who worked at the campsite daily. “Between this and teaching, I’m not getting much sleep,” he said.

Just as I was about to leave and go back to interviewing, Jeff announced that OLA’s Finance Committee was about to have a meeting. Would I like to attend?

I would, I said.

The Finance Committee, which it turned out had just changed its name to the Resource Committee (people are extremely word-sensitive around here), met on the lawn across Main Street from City Hall Park.

About a dozen people of various ages and ethnicities sat in a circle. Among those attending in addition to Jeff the teacher was a 50-ish retired school teacher who said he was still was very active in the union, UTLA, a man who’d founded some LA charter schools, a young woman wearing a pink tutu, whose name and profession I didn’t catch, and several other bright-seeming 20-somethings, who, along with an older, bearded guy named Deacon, looked to be the veterans of the committee.

I hung back a bit, intending only to observe, but I was told that my attendance qualified me as a voting participant. So I moved into the circle too.

It appeared that the mission of the Resource Committee wasn’t so much to decide how money was spent, as it was to determine how OLA’s funds were handled. Once of the first orders of business was to remind everyone that they were NOT, repeat, NOT to promise reimbursements to anyone, that there was an orderly process for reimbursements that had to be followed. In fact, no expenditure at all over $50 could be made without the approval of the General Assembly, or the “GA,” which meant “a minimum turnaround of 24-hours.”

The GA is Occupy LA’s theoretically leaderless and notoriously unruly governing body comprised of anybody and everybody who happens to show up for the nightly 7:30 General Assembly meeting. Each of the Occupy groups around the country, LA included, has roughly the same organizational structure as Occupy Wall Street. The structure includes the GA, plus such organizational tools as the cluster of hand signals used by all Occupiers when votes are taken, and for a variety of other forms of communication during meetings and assemblies.

(The whole hand signal thing was skillfully parodied by John Oliver on a recent segment of The Daily Show. Since I’d seen the parody, I was thankfully already familiar, for example, with the waggly fingered jazz hands gesture that meant I approved of a motion, or wanted to express enthusiasm at something a speaker said. The finger waggling sounds utterly silly when I write about it, but felt curiously unsilly and nearly natural when I actually did my own waggling. Ditto for another gesture I picked up after noticing others using it, which meant I was kinda meh on an idea.)

It seemed the main business that the Resource Committee had to address on this night was where to actually keep the organizations’ money, meaning the cash that OLA collected in donations each day for the running of the camp and any of OLA’s other expenses. As it stood, the funds were being held in the individual bank accounts of four different people—which didn’t strike anybody as the safest of set-ups. Thus the primary business at hand was to figure out what to do instead, and then recommend that course of action to the GA—and hope to heaven that the unruly group passed it.

However to persuade even this far smaller group to pass a resolution proved to be a distinctly labor-intensive endeavor.

In past days there had evidently been some discussion about becoming a 501(c)3 non-profit, which was a nit-picky process that could take more than a year, at best, often longer. So, it was recommended that they’d be best served to do what most beginning organizations do, which is to have some other like-minded 501(c)3 umbrella the designation down to them.

This umbrella suggestion, however, had been previously brought up to the GA and roundly voted down. A young woman on the committee named Claire explained that New York’s Occupy Wall Streeters had done the umbrella thing and there was something about them getting their bank account frozen. (I have no idea if any part of this story is true. In any case, it was enough to rattle the GA.)

Back at the Committee, the non-profit umbrella was brought up again, along with some other strategies, all of which were deemed to require further research.

Finally, it was proposed that while a more permanent solution was found, the money should be removed from the four personal bank accounts and put in a safe deposit box.

Haggling over the pros and cons of using a safe deposit box, and who should have keys to said box, took of most of the rest of the time. Matters were not helped by a late arrival to the group who opined at some length that maybe OLA shouldn’t be renting safe deposit boxes from banks at all, since banks were in fact the enemy. I was heartened when, after about 15-seconds of his harangue, other members of the committee began politely but firmly using the “wrap-it-up” hand gesture.

At several points, the charter school guy, whose name was Bob and who was clearly a man who had run a lot of his own meetings, attempted to convince those gathered that they should not waste time on the safe deposit thingy, but immediately resolve to find a non-profit that would act as an umbrella, and then pitch the whole thing to the GA and make sure the matter got passed. “You need your money to be secure and accessible,” he said. “You need a permanent solution. And you need a solution that is going to make bigger donors feel comfortable. A safe deposit box isn’t going to make large donors comfortable, trust me.”

Everyone listened, then returned to the safe deposit box question.

The meeting had begun just after 6 p.m. By 7:15, he resolution to get a safe deposit box, was getting mostly waggled fingers. (Bob had by this time progressed from Meh, to waggle fingers.) But it also got one “hard block,” from the tutu girl. The dreaded hard block is more than a NO vote, it’s a veto, which is physically demonstrated by crossing one’s forearms and fists over one’s chest.

What followed was another nearly 45 minutes of discussion and an evolving set of confusing and, to my mind, mostly meaningless amendments to the original motion. (The details of and reasons for the amendments are far too labyrinthine to detail here.) Finally—and thankfully—-the safe deposit box measure passed with a unanimous waggle of fingers at 7:58 p.m.

It was also determined that there would be one more committee meeting about the issue on Monday then, after a few more details had been researched, the whole thing would be presented to the GA on Monday night, and a box would hopefully be acquired on Tuesday.

“Democracy is messy,” Jeff whispered to me, after the motion passed.

“I think this might be why the framers of the U.S. Constitution decided on a republic,” I whispered back.

Then, sensing I probably sounded old and churlish, I added, “Hey, birth of any kind is messy.”

“Yeah,” said Jeff, “but if this movement is to stay true, this is how we need to do it.”

After the committee meeting broke up, I listened in on the GA for a while, then decided to wend my way home. Lily the wolf dog and I were tired out by all this Occupying and Democratizing.

Yet, before I Ieft, I spoke again to Charter School Bob (whose actual name is Bob Vanech, and it turns out he does a lot more than charter schools). He told me he’d been coming to the Occupy site almost daily and had spent a bunch of time with the Demands Committee.

“The Demands Committee?”

“It’s the committee that decides what demands Occupy LA is going to make of the mayor, the City Council, and others,” said Bob. “And we’ve got on some great ones! They’ll be rolling out soon.”

So, yeah, the Occupy movement is, in many ways, organizationally unwieldy. Yet certain things are getting done. Hundreds of people are fed at the campsite every day, their basic needs provided for. On Friday night at the GA, one of the collective decisions was to send $500 of OLA’s funds to Occupy Oakland, just to show “solidarity.”

One bearded and charismatic 26-year-old, former medical student, who was on the Resource Committee, and who seemed to be on several of the other significant committees in the camp, admitted the 99 percent movement was very much in its infancy, and its insistence on everyone having a say in everything could be maddening. “But this is the movement I’ve waited for all my life,” he said.

Fine. But will it really sustain itself and grow? And, if so, with its glacially democratic process that sucks up such great gobs of time, will it accomplish anything of consequence?

These are wide open questions.

But still….one can’t help but feel that, despite the messiness something is happening.….

And, call me crazy, but I don’t think it’s going away.


SAM SLOVICK’S wonderful Occupy LA photo, video, narrative series may be found here.


NOTE: THERE’S NEWS ON THE JAIL ABUSE ISSUE. We’ll discuss that all tomorrow.

Posted in Economy, Occupy | 4 Comments »

Police Trash Occupy Oakland’s Camp, Crowd Gets Tear Gassed, Iraq Vet Hurt

October 26th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


This rough video taken by a protester gives an alarmingly visceral feeling—minus the choking
—of the chaos of the second round of tear gassing plus use of flash bang grenades* by Oakland Police when Occupy Oakland protesters amassed after the OWL encampment located at Frank Ogawa Plaza was destroyed by police early Tuesday morning.

*NOTE: There is now a dispute about whether the Flash Bangs were used. Oakland police say they were not in use.


UPDATE: IRAQI WAR VET HIT BY POLICE PROJECTILE AND REPORTEDLY IN CRITICAL CONDITION

The Guardian reports on this upsetting story about Scott Olson, who did two tours in Iraq and was now working for a software company and part of the group Veterans for Peace. He now has a fractured skull and brain swelling after allegedly being hit by a police projectile in one of Tuesday night’s incidents.

ABC News also has a report on Olson.


This video from KTUV shows the wide variety of protesters….then the warning from police…..then the firing.

Kristin J. Bender, Scott Johnson, Sean Maher, and Cecily Burt and Angela Woodall writing for the Oakland Tribune are following the story. The San Jose Mercury News has a newsy, cut down version of their reporting. The full coverage complete with interviews with protesters about why they joined OWL in Oakland is here.

A good series of images by J.P Dobrin here.

The New York Times also has a bunch of videos up here.

Mother Jones has a roundup of the day’s and night’s moments at Occupy Oakland—told in Tweets, photos and video.

Posted in Economy, Occupy | 4 Comments »

The Sanctity of Facebook Posts: A Constitutional Fight Brewing? …. and More

April 1st, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



SHOULD STATE BE ABLE TO DEMAND A JUROR’S FACEBOOK POSTS? CALIFORNIA SUPREMES WANT THE QUESTION CAREFULLY CONSIDERED

This one’s a doozey and is shaping up to be a Constitutional battle. On one side you have the right to privacy and freedom of expression, on the other hand you have the constitutional rights of the accused.

Here’s what the case is about as the Sac Bee reports it:

[A Sacramento juror named Arturo Ramirez] posted his online remarks in a gang-beating trial last year in which five men were convicted. Before the defendants were sentenced, defense lawyers found out about his Facebook postings.

Mostly, the writings chronicled the juror’s attendance at the trial in which he later served as foreman of the panel. At one point in his writings, Ramirez said he found the evidence “boring.”

Defense attorneys asked Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael P. Kenny to retrieve all of the juror’s postings to see if he was biased or if he was influenced by any of his Facebook friends.

Kenny on Feb. 4 ordered Ramirez to allow Facebook to make the postings available for a private review. Facebook had opposed releasing the postings on its own, citing federal computer privacy law….

Mike Wise, the lawyer for one of the defendants in the gang case, said it is critical for his side to see what Ramirez wrote to make sure the defense clients received a fair trial. Wise on Wednesday also welcomed the state Supreme Court decision.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to resolve the issue,” he said. “I think in the end, the constitutional rights of the accused will prevail over the privacy rights of the juror.

A new hearing on the matter is expected soon.


BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN WRITES LETTER TO THE EDITOR OF THE ASBURY PARK PRESS PRAISING STORY ABOUT HOW BUDGET CUTS ARE AFFECTING MANY OF THE POOR

To wit:

Thank you for your March 27 front-page story by Michael Symons, “As poverty rises, cuts target aid.” The article is one of the few that highlights the contradictions between a policy of large tax cuts, on the one hand, and cuts in services to those in the most dire conditions, on the other…..

And so on.

Nice to know that The Boss is paying attention to such things, as the US Congress doesn’t seem to be concerned.


BRONX ZOO EGYPTIAN COBRA FOUND AND RECAPTURED…. (NO WORD ON WHETHER THE SNAKE WILL HOST SNL)

Entertainment Weekly reports.

You may now breathe a ssssigh of relief. After escaping from a cage at the Bronx Zoo last week and going MIA, a venomous 24-inch Egyptian Cobra was found on Thursday by zoo staffers. Was it captured while slithering its way through Central Park? Catching a Knicks game at Madison Square Garden? Enjoying a quiet dinner at an Italian bistro in the Village? Nope. She was just coiled up in a dark corner of the reptile house, a mere 200 feet from her cage, and is now “resting comfortably and secure,” according to zoo officials. (Cue the singer from Survivor: The search is over/you were with me all the while…)

The snake, who insists she is a female (at least in her very popular Twitter incarnation), has launched a Facebook campaign to host Saturday Night Live.


THE QUESTION OF HUFF POST NOT PAYING ITS WRITERS ISN’T GOING AWAY

Author Michael Walker is the latest voice to question the Huffington Post’s no-pay policy for its freelance writers. The clip below is from his LA Times Op Ed.

Should stage owners who profit from the talent appearing on those stages be obliged to pay the talent in something other than exposure?

<strongTwo labor disputes over talent and compensation, three decades apart yet eerily similar, suggest the issue remains as vexing as ever.

The more recent concerns whether the Huffington Post should pay its non-staff writers and bloggers, who supply most of the popular website’s content for free. Arianna Huffington, who sold the site she cofounded to AOL in February for $315 million, has increasingly come under fire for not paying for most of the content she runs.

Last week the Newspaper Guild called on its 26,000 members to boycott the Huffington Post in support of a “virtual picket line” until a pay schedule for writers was established.

The core of Huffington’s justification for not paying is that the Huffington Post is a showcase for writers, and that exposure there leads to paying gigs and greater visibility. Huffington merely — and generously, by her estimation — provides the stage. Mario Ruiz, the Huffington Post’s spokesman, claims that contributors are happy to write for free because they “want to be heard by the largest possible audience and understand the value that that kind of visibility can bring.”

This was precisely the argument put forth 32 years ago by Mitzi Shore, the owner of L.A.’s Comedy Store, for not paying the comedians whose performances filled her club night after night…..

Posted in American artists, bears and alligators, Courts, Economy, Free Speech | 4 Comments »

Bringing Some Logic & Common Sense to the Deficit Wars

March 23rd, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



Bruce Schmiechen has just launched a new blog that is worth your time.
It is called The Titanic Sails at Dawn and it breaths much fresh air and sanity into the discussion about the American economy, the deficit and the politics surrounding both of the aforementioned.

Tuesday, for example, Schmiechen talks about why Elizabeth Warren is a capable watchdog for consumers and then he agrees with Paul Krugman about why she won’t get approved as consumer regulatory chief.

Schmiechen has also produced a “Common Sense” Guide to the Great Deficit Debate & Future of Our Economy, which you can download here.

(Winning Progressive is running the Guide as a multi-part series on their site so, If you wish, you can read it in bite-sized morsels. Part 1 is here.

The site has an unabashed progressive tilt, but one that may appeal to some of the libertarians among you as well.

Whatever your politics, it is a smart and informative site that aims to open up a logic-based discussion among us common folk on this economic mess we’re in—a mess that too many of our elected officials seem incapable of viewing through any lens save that of political gain or loss.

Posted in Economy | 1 Comment »

“Conservatives” and Prison Cost, Poisoned Prison Water, the Ruben Salazar Files…and More

February 23rd, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



NOW THAT SHERIFF BACA IS GOING TO RELEASE THE SALAZAR FILES TO REPORTERS AND SCHOLARS, AND THE OFFICE OF INDEPENDENT REVIEW REPORT IS IN, LA TIMES’ ROBERT LOPEZ EXPLAINS WHY THE BIG QUESTIONS ARE FAR FROM SETTLED

The LA Times Robert Lopez is writing a book about Ruben Salazar and he is one of those who has been pushing hard for the release of the Salazer files that have been held by the LA Sheriff’s Department for four decades.

On Tuesday, Lopez and KPCC’ Franks Stoltz were on the Larry Mantel Show talking about the case and what those boxes might and might not contain.


GROVER NORQUIST WANTS TO TALK PRISONS AND MONEY

I rarely find myself cheering for something Grover Norquist has written, but this Op Ed from the Orange County Register is dead on.

Conservatives pride themselves on relentlessly questioning government agencies: Is this program producing results? Do the results justify the cost? Can the project be done less expensively? These are typical conservative questions about education, pensions, health care and dozens of other government functions – except one: criminal justice.

The size and cost of America’s prisons has quadrupled in the past three decades. In states like California, the annual cost of incarceration is around $50,000 per inmate. When looking for reasons why California is going bankrupt, just multiply that figure by the 170,000 inmates that live in the state. Moreover, 34,000 California prisoners are serving life sentences as a result of the “three strikes” law, for which the state prison guards’ union lobbied intensely. Certainly, some violent criminals should be out after the first strike, but the law applies to many low-level, nonviolent offenders, too.

Criminal justice expenses continue to grow – even during a recession. For instance, Delaware’s Department of Corrections is seeking a 5 percent budget increase, while other agencies are desperately looking for ways to cut costs.

The costs of incarceration is worthwhile to the extent that it is the most cost-effective means of protecting the public; however, research indicates we have reached the point of diminishing returns.

Further, more prison spending provides less safety per dollar than other approaches…


PROP 36 IS THE LAW….BUT HAS NO MORE FUNDING (AND THIS IS A PROBLEM)

The Oakland Tribune has the story:

County officials who administer the state’s treatment-not-jail program for certain drug offenders are struggling with a lack of funding that’s not likely to improve, but advocates say ignoring the mandate simply isn’t an option.

Instead, officials are trying to figure out how they’ll continue to provide the same treatment without the money to pay for it.

Enacted by 61 percent of voters in November 2000 as Proposition 36, the law says first- and second-time nonviolent, simple drug possession offenders must be given the opportunity to receive substance-abuse treatment instead of jail time.

That “must” isn’t a suggestion; it would take another voter-approved ballot measure to undo it.

But Prop. 36 allocated $120 million per year for only five years, and as the state’s budget crisis worsened, the Legislature and governor declined to ante up. They set aside $108 million in 2008-09 but just $18 million in 2009-10, and then zeroed it out for this current fiscal year. Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal includes no money for it in 2011-12.

A $45 million infusion of federal economic stimulus funds in 2009 is now all but gone, and the coffers are empty.

So, it’s a mandate with no money, but a mandate nonetheless: Someone who’s eligible and demands treatment can’t just be sent to jail……


CALIFORNIA MOM ASKS FOR CLEAN WATER FOR PRISONS

It doesn’t seem like a whole lot to ask. Yeah, it’s prison. But nobody’s asking for bottled water, just running water that won’t actively poison you when you drink it.

Change.org has the details:

Blanca Gonzalez’s son spent years at California’s Kern Valley State Prison, where she says he was sickened by the foul water he was forced to drink – water that the state knows is contaminated with arsenic, a carcinogen that can cause serious skin damage and circulatory system problems. And she wanted to do something about it.

But where to start? For years California officials have been promising to fix the facility’s water problem – promising to provide its more than 5,000 inhabitants water that meets the standards of the EPA and World Health Organization. And for years they have failed to deliver, extending and then extending again their self-imposed deadlines for when they “anticipate” resolving the issue; indeed, just this year the supposed deadline for installing water treatment equipment has been extended from October 2011 to February 2012 – and then again to August 2012.

After reading an article last fall about Kern Valley State Prison’s dirty water, Gonzalez contacted your humble criminal justice editor here at Change.org, asking that I write more about the problem. And for weeks … well, I didn’t – hey, I’m a busy guy, alright? But after a few more friendly reminders, her persistence paid off. And now her campaign is drawing the attention of California’s top prison officials.

Since her petition was first featured here a few weeks ago, more than 2,100 people have joined Gonzalez and other mothers of sickened, incarcerated men in California in demanding that the state stop poisoning its prisoners with arsenic-laced water.


LIBYAN JOURNALIST VANISHES AFTER DEMONSTRATIONS BEGIN

The Committee to Protect Journalists has posted about the disappearance of Libyan journalist Atef al-Atrash,. His absence has many worried.

The Committee to Protect Journalists
is alarmed by the ongoing deterioration of conditions for the media in the Middle East, including the disappearance of Atef al-Atrash, a critical Libyan journalist, since anti-Qaddafi demonstrations began February 17. The Internet has been intermittently down since Saturday in the country, according to international news reports, and foreign journalists continue to be denied entry. Al-Jazeera’s signal in Libya remains jammed, according to the network. In Yemen, security forces confiscated the print run of an independent newspaper and at least one reporter was injured as demonstrations turned violent. And in Iraq, 50 gunmen reportedly shot up an independent television station while the staff of a local newspaper was forced to evacuate their offices.

The Libyan authorities and their supporters should know that violence against journalists reporting on political turmoil will not be tolerated,” said Robert Mahoney, CPJ’s deputy director. “We are concerned for the safety of all journalists, in particular Atef al-Atrash.”

Al-Atrash disappeared after reporting live on Al-Jazeera from demonstrations in Benghazi on Thursday, the network reported. He also reported that “several journalists” had been detained in the second largest city of Libya but did not provide names.


The painting above is Frank Romero’s 1986 work, the Death of Rubén Salazar. It is free of my usual…um…artwork, because I cannot possibly scribble on Frank Romero.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, Economy, parole policy, prison, prison policy | No Comments »

Wisconsin – A Line in the Sand: What The Nightwatchman Said

February 21st, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


And while you’re here, check the Libya updates on the WLA Twitter feed to the right.
Amazing.

Posted in Economy, unions | No Comments »

To Clueless UC Execs & Tyranical Fillibuster Fanatics: OH, SHUT UP!

January 4th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


REFORMING THE FILIBUSTERER

Hendrick Hertzberg at the New Yorker writes about the wild outside chance that the havoc-wreaking filibuster rules might possibly get reformed. (Please, please, please, let it be so!)

Here’s a clip:

Our two-year election cycle leaves little time for long-acting changes to ripen and be judged fairly. That basic structure has its pluses as well as its minuses, of course. Anyway, we’re stuck with it. But there’s one big obstacle—almost as big as the rest put together—that has no pluses whatsoever, and that we don’t have to be stuck with: the arsenal of senatorial death rays that goes by the quaint name of filibuster.

In the nineteenth century, filibusters were rarer than visible comets. For most of the twentieth, they were still rare—about as frequent as solar eclipses—and reserved for special occasions, such as killing civil-rights bills. Now they and their bastard offspring, the secret “holds” that allow a single senator to pigeonhole a bill or a nomination, are as common as sunsets—and as destructive as tsunamis. It is taken for granted that without the support of sixty of the hundred senators, the number needed to invoke “cloture,” nothing emerges from the Senate alive. The minority can’t quite rule, exactly, but it can, and does, use the rules to ruin. Even when something does get through, the marginal cost of that fifty-ninth or sixtieth vote is severe. In the absence of the filibuster, the health-care law would offer a public alternative to private insurance, the financial reform would be strong enough to close off the likelihood of another meltdown, and the very rich (and their heirs) would pay something closer to their fair share of taxes. Nearly two hundred qualified nominees for executive and judicial offices would be on the job instead of in limbo. And a climate-and-energy bill, a bill to require corporations to be open about their political spending, the DREAM Act, and dozens of other worthy measures—all of which passed the House and had majority support in the Senate—would now be the law of the land.


Read the rest.


DEAR UC EXECS: IN YOUR CASE, GREED IS DEFINITELY NOT GOOD

Should THE UC system’s executives be forced to renegotiate their retirement deal like the rest of UC employees? Or should they get the phenomenally cushy retirement package they were planning on, along with their nicely cushy salaries while everyone else takes hits and the students are asked to pay ever higher tuition fees?

Hmmm. Let’s see. Tough one. (NOT.)

On Monday, Patt Morrison had a show on the issue featuring Nanette Asimov, the reporter who broke the story for the SF Chron.

In addition, papers like the Sacramento Bee and the Press-Enterprise have written scathing editorials on the topic now that the execs have threatened to sue to get their inflated retirement $$.


THE GOVERNOR AND THE ESTEBAN NUNEZ CASE

I said Monday that I was glad that outgoing Gov. Schwarzenegger reduced the sentence for Fabian Nunez’s son, Esteban.

Today, I take that back.

There are young men and woman in prison who are doing 25 to life because they were present at age 14 or 15 or 16 when someone else committed a murder. Esteban Nunez was 19 when he and his friends picked a fight that left one young man dead, two others stabbed—and Nunez gets 7 years?

Maybe I’m missing something, but how does that work exactly?


Photo from Basetree.com.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, Economy, Education, National politics | 1 Comment »

City Controller Audits What LA Has Done With the Stimulous $$

September 16th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


Thursday, City Controller Wendy Greuel released findings on her audit
of how the City of Los Angeles has used its $111 million in stimulus dollars, otherwise known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds.

Specifically Wendy Greuel looked at how many jobs have been created by the two agencies who got the most funds.

What she found passes well beyond horrifying and enters the realm of profound laughability. (It’s either that, or one begins sobbing.)

For $111 million dollars we got ourselves….55 jobs.

No, wait, I take that back. We got 54.46 jobs.

This is from her press release:

DPW has received $70.65 million and created or retained 45.46 jobs, though they are expected to create 238 jobs overall (the fraction of a job created or retained correlates to the number of actual hours works).

LADOT has been awarded $40.8 million and created or retained 9 jobs, though they are expected to create 26 jobs overall.

Overall, the Departments have received $111 million in federal stimulus funds out of the $594 million the City has been awarded so far and created or retained 54.46 jobs.

With a 12 percent unemployment rate in the city, this is not encouraging.

The LA Times has done some further reporting on the subject and quotes the city’s CAO as saying loads of jobs have been created.

Here’s a clip:

The reports conclude that two agencies – Public Works and Transportation — have moved too slowly in spending the money, in part because of the time it takes to secure approval of government contracts. The two agencies plan to create or retain 264 jobs once all the money is spent, according to the reports.

Greuel said that with unemployment above 12%, city officials should move more urgently to spend the money and reduce red tape. “The process needs to be changed to make sure we get these projects out as quickly as possible,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa referred questions to City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, the top budget official. Santana would not comment on the audit but offered his own set of figures for stimulus spending citywide, which were sharply different from Greuel’s.

“I haven’t seen her numbers,” he said. “I can tell you what I do know, which is that, in what we’ve spent so far, those dollars created 936 jobs in the month of June. And we’ve only spent 13% of what we’ve received,” he said. Santana said his numbers apply to every agency in the city, not just the two examined by the controller.

Posted in City Controller, Economy | 2 Comments »

The Education/Prison Disparity – 2010 Version

May 5th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon



Okay, comparative cost time:

The state of California spends 35 percent of its budget, or nearly $50 billion, on its 900,000 students in K-12 education.

Even after all the budget cuts made this past year or two, California spends 11 percent of its budget, or $8.6 billion, on state prisons in order to house approximately 166,000 prisoners. That’s $52,363 per prisoner per year.

And we spend 5 percent of our state budget on higher education —not even half our prison bill.

Sacramento’s CBS affiliate, KBET, has a tidy little report in which it looks at the newest versions of all these depressing numbers.

In the course of the report, the KBET folks played my favorite teeth gnashing game, which is to compare the yearly price tag of keeping someone in an overcrowded lock-up, with the cost of sending a student to a top university, including tuition room and board.

Here’s what they found:

Compare the cost of housing a prison inmate in California–$52,363 —to room, board, and tuition for one year at a college or university. Some examples:

Stanford: $50,576

University of Pacific: $42,346

Sacramento State University: $14,916

University of Davis, California: $25,580

Of course, at the end of a nice four years at, say, the California Institute for Men at Chino, an inmate will have $200 “gate money,” and little or nothing in the way of new job or academic or skills, and his or her psychological health is likely to be worse, not better.

While at the end of four years at Stanford University, a student will have……well, a degree from Stanford—-plus, one hopes and assumes, a list of new skills and capabilities.

So why do prisons cost so much? It ain’t the amenities, folks. Guys in prison aren’t given adequate soap much less anything truly useful.

KBET reports that 35 percent of the per-year cost goes to staff, and 50 percent goes to “operations.”

(Interestingly, California inmates who were shipped out-of-state to facilities in places like Mississippi in order to relieve overcrowding here, said they liked the out-of-state facilities much better—even though those states spend less per inmate per year. I leave you to draw your own conclusions about those seemingly discrepant facts.)

Sadly, in a brand new display of penny-wise-and-pound-foolishness, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has just proposed cutting another $250 million out of neither staff nor operations costs but, instead out of the rehabilitation and educational programs budget. So whatever programs were in existence that might have helped a man or woman stay out of prison upon release, are about to be vaporized.

But, hey, that’s much easier than delving into the CCPOA’s overtime figures. (Regular readers will know by now that the CCPOA refers to the correctional officers’ union.)

Anyway, I thought you’d all want to be kept up to date on these cheery stats.

Aren’t you glad we had this little chat?


Posted in CDCR, Economy, Education, prison | 18 Comments »

FRIDAY: Gates RIP & Goldman-the-Vampire Squid

April 16th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

vampire-squid


CONTROVERSIAL LAPD CHIEF DARYL GATES DIES

He was the LAPD chief lots of us loved to hate, and was beloved by many of the rank and file. Whatever you thought of him, Gates affected Los Angeles in large ways. From his actions—or tragic lack thereof—following the Rodney King verdicts and his community-demonizing Big Blue Hammer policy, to his shaping of SWAT into an internationally respected model of the modern crisis management team, he left a mark.

For all my dislike of a list of his actions and policies, I find myself unexpectedly sorry that he’s gone.

The LA Times has a good obit.


GOLDMAN SACHS CHARGED WITH FRAUD BY THE SEC

I hope to heaven the previously spineless and incompetent SEC nails Goldmans’ sorry butt to as many legal walls as it can possibly find.

Yes, this news is causing the DOW to do something of a mini-cliff jump today. But these people—and many like them—knowingly and cynically put their own profits ahead of everything and the country has paid a terrible price. We are still paying it, as is evidenced by the newest California jobless figure, which has hit a new high at 12.5.

In short (literally), Goldman is being charged with creating a financial instrument, ABACUS 2007-AC1, at the request of a hedge fund manager, John Paulson, which sold a toxic group of mortgage-backed securities to investors while simultaneously placing big bets against that securities package, which Goldman and Paulson had selected specifically because of their strong likelihood of failure.

To get an overview of what the charges mean, read the NY Times article, the WSJ blog on a translation of the charges “for humans” and this WSJ report on one of the juicier Goldman emails to emerge today, plus my post from earlier this week about a nearly identical hedge fund strategy.

Here is the text of the SEC complaint.

Robert Khuzami, an SEC director of enforcement, has nicely summed up Goldman’s actions, the product was new and complex but the deception and conflicts old and simple.

Since obviously, this move by the SEC cannot help but aid the financial reform bill in congress, watch how, in the next ten minutes, if it hasn’t happened already, those opposed to financial reform will try to spin this SEC charge in some truly bizarre and creepy way.

[Gentlemen at Fox News, start your fact-free spin machines.]

In the meantime, read Stephen Gambel’s blog post over at Time Magazine in which Gamdel opines that the SEC news proves conclusively the rightness of Matt Taibbi’s 2009 contention that Goldman Sachs is actually….a VAMPIRE SQUID (wrapped around the face of humanity)!

(And, yes, in answer to your question, vampire squids are, by definition, social justice issues.)

Posted in Economy, finance, LAPD | 121 Comments »

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