The system was kind of kept confidential from everybody in the public. A lot of people do have a problem with the eye in the sky, the Big Brother, so in order to mitigate any of those kinds of complaints, we basically kept it pretty hush-hush.
This incredible admission amounts to: The people would hate to know how we’re violating their rights - so we just didn’t tell them.
Ultimately, that’s the basis for most state secrets. Here, LASD didn’t want us to know how extensively they are spying on citizens and the military technology being deployed on the unwitting public they ostensibly serve.
Per Ed Krayewski:
Via Techdirt comes the story of the newest toys acquired by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD), former war-zone tech that allows “wide area surveillance.” Camera systems are attached to civilian airplanes and can capture 10,000 times the area of a police chopper. The system is provided by a company called Persistent Surveillance Systems that got it start, where else, designing wares for the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Police are excited about having the power to spy from the air in real time, recording video to play back later in order to track the movement of residents in places like Compton. Cops also knew, though, that this new ability of theirs might not play well with the public they still theoretically work for. …
You know who else had a problem with being monitored? The Los Angeles Police Department, whose officers destroyed equipment attached to their police cars that would record (audio only!) their interactions with residents. The LASD itself, meanwhile, was the recent target of a federal investigation after trying to hide an informant that was going to testify to corruption and excessive force at the department.
Can someone explain to me why Los Angeles needs two police forces?
A couple of weeks ago, I put up a post looking at the main problem with relying on video from video cameras mounted to police officers and to the dashboards of their squad cars — there have been a number of police misconduct cases in which video has gone missing, or in which cameras have malfunctioned at critical times.
It doesn’t matter how potentially beneficial the technology is if the cops using it are going to undermine its transparency value, and if police agencies and courts don’t subsequently hold those cops accountable.
Currently, the Los Angeles Police Department is experimenting with body cameras for its police officers. It’s a good step toward more transparency. But it’s critical that the department has and maintains the public trust. The citizens of L.A. need to know that the video from these cameras will be there not only to exonerate good cops accused of wrongdoing, but also to implicate bad cops. If cops can simply turn off their cameras at will, or if incriminating video can be destroyed without consequence, the cameras become tools of corruption, not of transparency.
To that end, this is a troubling sign:
Los Angeles police officers tampered with voice recording equipment in dozens of patrol cars in an effort to avoid being monitored while on duty, according to records and interviews.
An inspection by Los Angeles Police Department investigators found about half of the estimated 80 cars in one South L.A. patrol division were missing antennas, which help capture what officers say in the field. The antennas in at least 10 more cars in nearby divisions had also been removed …
A federal judge last year formally ended more than a decade of close monitoring of the LAPD by the U.S. Department of Justice. The judge agreed to lift the oversight, in part, after city and police leaders made assurances that the LAPD had adequate safeguards, such as the cameras, in place to monitor itself …
The cameras, which turn on automatically whenever an officer activates the car’s emergency lights and sirens or can be activated manually, are used to record traffic stops and other encounters that occur in front of the vehicle. Officers also wear small transmitters on their belts that relay their voices back to the antennas in the patrol car. Regardless of whether they are in front of the camera, officers’ voices can be recorded hundreds of yards away from the car, said Sgt. Dan Gomez, a department expert on the recording devices …
Worse, LAPD brass knew about the problem, took no disciplinary action and kept it under wraps.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and other top officials learned of the problem last summer but chose not to investigate which officers were responsible. Rather, the officials issued warnings against continued meddling and put checks in place to account for antennas at the start and end of each patrol shift.
Members of the Police Commission, which oversees the department, were not briefed about the problem until months later. In interviews with The Times, some commissioners said they were alarmed by the officers’ attempts to conceal what occurred in the field, as well as the failure of department officials to come forward when the problem first came to light.
“On an issue like this, we need to be brought in right away,” commission President Steve Soboroff said. “This equipment is for the protection of the public and of the officers. To have people who don’t like the rules to take it upon themselves to do something like this is very troubling.”
Seems like another argument for the “Missing Video Presumption.” Or I guess in this case, the “Missing Audio Presumption.”
Police officers generally insist that they are the biggest fans of being recorded. A PoliceOne explainer on how cops can beat a lawsuit that I’ve highlighted before stresses the important of having footage of an incident that may later be called into question. Video evidence, police instructor Richard Weinblatt wrote, “should actually be welcomed, as the majority of officers do what they are supposed to do and thus will be cleared by the video from any allegations of wrongdoing.”
What does it say then that members of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) have reportedly tampered with audio recording equipment? Nearly half the recording antennas in one division, the Southeast, actually went missing. Ars Technica explains:The antennas, which are mounted onto individual patrol cars, receive recorded audio captured from an officer’s belt-worn transmitter. The transmitter is designed to capture an officer’s voice and transmit the recording to the car itself for storage. The voice recorders are part of a video camera system that is mounted in a front-facing camera on the patrol car. Both elements are activated any time the car’s emergency lights and sirens are turned on, but they can also be activated manually.
The Los Angeles Times reports that LAPD chief Charlie Beck found out about the issue last summer but chose not to try to track down the vandal cops. Instead, according to theTimes, the department issued general warnings that cops should not “meddle” with the equipment. The Police Commission, an oversight body, blew the whistles on the apparent malfeasance this week, but Beck denied any wrongdoing, claiming that his failure to notify the Police Commission about the problem earlier was simply “unintentional.”
The lack of interest in identifying the officers who effectively destroyed city equipment certainly contributes to the impression that police officers in the U.S. are not held responsible for wrongdoing. A recent Reason-Rupe poll found nearly half of respondents agreeing that cops weren’t generally held accountable for their actions. The poll also found a whopping 88 percent of respondents supporting the recording of police officers in public.
Recording cops also makes informed skepticism and criticism of police actions more possible. Police in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for example, shot a homeless camper in an incident caught on a helmet cam. That footage helped spark protests in a city that has one of the deadliest police departments in the country.
That right is protected in many states—Illlinois’ Supreme Court recently overturned the country’s most draconian anti-recording law—but even in those places, police have been known to disregard the law and target those who legally record them anyway. Such an incident recently cost the City of Baltimore $250,000. The city didn’t have to accept responsibility for the officers’ actions, and the officers were not fired for breaking the law. Instead, as usual, they’ll get more “training.”
If you or I are doing a bad job, we can generally be fired. Certain procedures might have to be followed; a cause might have to be proved. But most of us work with the incentive that if we do a bad enough job, we’ll be let go.
It’s different for public school teachers in California (and for many teachers elsewhere). If they can manage to not utterly disgrace themselves in the first year and a half of working, they get locked in to “permanent employment” status.
If their performance later becomes so disgraceful that the “permanent employment” status could be overridden, the process of trying to firing them is so annoying, expensive, and time consuming that their bosses often don’t bother. And when teachers have to be laid off for financial reasons, it doesn’t matter how good they are, they’ll get canned before someone who has any seniority over them, no matter how bad these other teachers are, due to the state’s “last in, first out” (LIFO) rules for teachers.
These policies make it difficult and expensive to fire teachers and make the teacher body as a whole in California public schools of lower quality than it would otherwise be. Do those problems with quality and expense constitute a violation of California students’ constitutional rights to an education? Court proceedings in California Superior Court in Los Angeles County, in the case of Vergara v. California, may settle that question.
Nine public school students, with the support of the educational rights activist group Students Matter (funded by optical telecommunications systems millionaire David Welch) filed suit in May 2012 against California and several of its educational agencies. As the students’ lawyers stated in a court filing opposed to the defendants’ (failed) motion for summary judgment, the rules they are challenging “prevent California’s school districts from providing even a minimally acceptable education to some of California’s most vulnerable students because they effectively prohibit school districts from prioritizing, or meaningfully considering, the interests of their students when making critical teacher employment decisions.”
And this next part is important: “As a direct result…school districts are forced to place failing teachers—those who are often well known to be either unable or unwilling to perform their jobs in even a minimally satisfactory manner—in classrooms where they perform miserably year after year in teaching California’s students. Students taught by these grossly ineffective teachers are missing out on half or more of the learning that students taught by average teachers receive in a school year, leaving them far behind their peers and placing the quality of the rest of their lives in jeopardy.”
The student-plaintiffs range in age from eight to 17, including boys and girls, white, black, and Hispanic. Most of them expressed in declarations to the court either bad experiences with bad teachers and/or having great teachers pushed out for lack of seniority. While the plaintiffs did not choose to sue any teachers unions, two of them, the California Teachers Association (CTA) and the California Federation of Teachers, pushed their way into the case as “intervenors,” claiming their interests were at stake.
In the past decade, the plaintiffs said in a press release, only 91 teachers have been successfully dismissed in the state, and most of those were for “egregious conduct,” with only 19 booted for unsatisfactory educational performance. This would make California’s teachers a miraculously effective and competent set of workers if the numbers reflected reality rather than their extraordinary political power. They’ve scuttled past attempts to institute databases that would help monitor student academic performances and link it to teachers’ performances, and even attempts to make it easier to fire teachers accused of sexual abuse.
After three failed attempts to get the Vergara case killed on the part of the defendants, the trial began [in late January] in front of Judge Rolf Michael Treu, who will decide the case without a jury. (Whichever side loses will undoubtedly appeal up to the California Supreme Court.) Among the lawyers for the students is the team that helped overthrow California’s ban on same sex marriage at the federal Supreme Court in Hollingworth v. Perry, former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson and Theodore Boutros.
The hiring and firing rules for teachers are a result of some unparalleled political power; while teachers unions have complained about the suit being funded by a politically interested millionaire, the CTA is the biggest, richest political force in the state, spending in the ‘00s more than $211 million on political giving and lobbying—nearly twice the amount of the nearest competitor in political influence, the Service Employees International Union. …
John Deasy, the superintendent of the L.A. Unified School District, has testified for the plaintiffs in the trial, lamenting an average cost of $350,000 and an occasional time period of 10 years to get rid of a crummy teacher. The result, Deasy says, does indeed damage students’ ability to get an equal or quality education.
Basically, by lying.
I have been pushing back on claims that California’s economy is fine and awesome and should be used as a model for other states’ recoveries. California is doing better these days than five years ago; but so are most states. However, it’s sheer bullshit to say that the state doesn’t still have huge, dire economic issues, and Gov. Jerry Brown, like previous California governors, is concealing the problems with accounting tricks.
So the next time anybody insists that California’s problems are “fixed” or suggests that Brown’s handling of the state’s fiscal crisis should be a model for other states, drop some knowledge on them, courtesy of David Crane at Bloomberg View. He explains how Brown (and other governors) is able to trick journalists into thinking the state of the state is better than it really is:
They avoided scrutiny thanks to an accounting method known as “cash-based budgeting,” which recognizes expenses only when cash changes hands and treats any cash received, even borrowed cash, as revenue. That’s how New Jersey Governor Chris Christie “balanced” New Jersey’s budget in 2010: by simply pushing a $3 billion pension payment from one year into the next.
Similarly, Brown is using cash-based budgeting to underreport the cost of an employee benefit—retiree health care—by $3 billion. The governor could have chosen to report the expense at its full size, but to do that under cash-based budgeting, he would have had to actually contribute $3 billion in cash to a retiree health-care trust fund.
That’s exactly what governors are supposed to do. Retiree health-care expenses, like pensions, are supposed to be pre-funded in order to protect future generations from having to pick up an earlier generation’s costs. But Brown chose not to do so, making his budget look rosier than it is. This shortchanges future generations, which will have less money for their own services because they will have to pay off the skipped costs.
Brown is also ignoring a $3 billion in required payments to the state teacher pension fund, so really there’s $6 billion in payments unaccounted for by the state’s budget. But thanks to these games, it’s not counted as debt. And not paying it helps avoid putting the state back into a spending deficit, and the lack of a deficit is what folks are pointing to when they insist California has recovered. Crane notes:
Even though California teacher pensions—and therefore that debt—are guaranteed by the state, for accounting purposes the state treats that obligation as off its balance sheet, as if it’s not on the hook. When the trust fund runs out of money, the debt will total more than $600 billion.
Crane concludes by pointing out how badly California is leeching off its citizenry. Despite getting more money from taxpayers than ever, the taxpayers themselves are getting crap out of it:
Just as California’s budget wasn’t fixed in 2000 or 2007, it isn’t fixed in 2014. In fact, even though revenue, taxes and fees are higher now than they were the last time California reported a balanced budget, in 2007, state spending on most state services is lower. Spending on welfare, universities, courts and parks is down more than 20 percent because spending on employee salaries, pensions, retiree health care, debt service and Medicaid is up more than 20 percent.
And even with that huge increase in spending on its own workers, there’s still billions of dollars in debt that’s unaccounted for.
How long can this state survive swindling its residents like this?
As noted in a rare angry rant from back in 2010, I saw the writing on the wall (it didn’t take much prognosticating prowess to predict, as I did, further pension and entitlement expansions, the tax increases of 2012, and continued record unemployment) and I hoped - as I still do - that when the inevitable request/demand for the federal government to bail out California comes that the people in all of the other states get mad enough to not let that happen.
Do you want to be the Nancy Drew of Venice Beach? Well, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) has a deal for you. The law enforcement agency announced last week the launch of a program to get civilians to crowdsource the county’s surveillance.
LASD has since November been working with tech companies Amazon, SendUs, and CitizenGlobal to develop the Large Emergency Event Digital Information Repository or “LEEDIR,” where people can upload images or video from crime scenes.
At a press conference at the time, then-Sheriff Lee Baca recalled the Boston Bombing. “Law enforcement requested the public to send pictures and video…to the FBI to assist in their investigation. Thousands of valuable pictures and video were sent, however it overwhelmed the service,” he said, and that LASD’s private sector partners were building LEEDIR to overcome this kind of challenge.
With the service ready to go, Commander Scott Edson said last Thursday, “This is a great opportunity for the public who really wants to catch those guys as badly as any law enforcement agency wants to catch them.”
According to Southern California Public Radio, the department’s “disaster and recovery response teams” will also utilize LEEDIR.
To be fair, embracing civilian surveillance seems inevitable, given the proliferation cellphones cameras, as well as pragmatic, since it’s more reliable than eye witnesses (and sometimes even valuable for catching abusive police.)
However, the LASD’s first call to action—not for an earthquake rescue or hunting down terrorists, but finding more underage drinkers to arrest from a wild party last week at a college campus—may be indicative of the way law enforcement will typically use LEEDIR.
At BoingBoing Xeni Jardin warns that “large citizen protests like Occupy Wall Street” could become targets for previously impossible levels of surveillance.
Techdirt's Tim Cushing adds that contrary to official claims, “there’s no real way to submit anything anonymously. You aren’t required to input your name, but the app itself demands access to GPS data and any other communications-related metadata is likely hoovered up by LEEDIR when images and video are uploaded.”
And, while the technology itself is totally neutral, the LASD isn’t. They’ve got a scandalous record that should make anyone wary, and numerous law enforcement agencies have been caught misusing and abusing their access to civilians’ data.
Here’s one story that’s illustrative of a larger issue.
Read this news blurb, from the local ABC affiliate, carefully.
A 24-year-old man was killed in a deputy-involved shooting in West Hollywood Monday. An investigation is underway.
Authorities responded to an assault with a deadly weapon call in the 900 block of Palm Avenue at 9:29 p.m. When deputies arrived at the apartment, they were confronted by two men who were leaving the residence.
"The men aggressed the deputies," police said in a press release, and a deputy-involved shooting occurred.
Inside the apartment, deputies found two other men fighting, and one of the men was choking the other. Deputies were able to stop the fight and detain the men.
All four men were taken to a local hospital, where one of the men was declared dead from a gunshot wound. His name has not been released.
The three other men were treated for stab wounds and are in stable condition.
Authorities say a knife was recovered at the scene.
No deputies were injured in the incident. The shooting remains under investigation.
That’s the entirety that was posted.
Note the man who was “declared dead from a gunshot wound.” Did the blurb tell you who shot him? The use of the phrase “assault with a deadly weapon” instead of what specific weapon being used left that ambiguous. The actual call that came in was “assault with a deadly weapon, man with a knife.” Why not mention the knife if to give the impression of something deadlier or to leave open the possibility that the man was shot by the someone else or to make the shooting seem more justified? And since the two men who were leaving the residence “confronted” and “aggressed” the police, per this blurb, the implication was that the officers were merely defending themselves.
Here’s the story from a different source that has a little more - though not much more - specificity:
A 24-year-old man was shot to death in a confrontation with Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies at a West Hollywood building where a knife fight had taken place, authorities said today.
Three other men were hospitalized in stable condition with stab wounds in connection with the same incident at an apartment building in the 900 block of Palm Avenue, said sheriff’s Deputy Lillian Peck.
Peck said deputies responding to a call of an assault with a knife around 9:30 p.m. Monday were confronted by two men as they approached the apartment. A fight inside the apartment spilled outside and drew in the two responding deputies, added Deputy Crystal Hernandez.
The deputy-involved shooting occurred during that confrontation, and the 24-year-old suspect later died at a hospital, Peck said. It was not disclosed whether one or both deputies opened fire.
A large knife was discovered at the scene, and investigations are continuing, she said.
Here we learn that it was, indeed, the cops who killed the man. But we know nothing else.
A 24-year-old man was shot and killed Monday night by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies who were responding to reports of an assault with a deadly weapon at a West Hollywood apartment complex, authorities said.
The shooting occurred about 9:30 p.m. as deputies approached the apartment building in the 900 block of Palm Avenue and two men came outside and “lunged” at the deputies, said Deputy Crystal Hernandez.
The deputies shot and killed the 24-year-old but did not hit the other man, according to a statement issued by the Sheriff’s Department.
Moments later, the statement said, the deputies heard a scuffle going on inside an apartment, found one man choking another and broke up the conflict.
The two men fighting inside, as well as the surviving man outside, had all been stabbed, authorities said. All three men are expected to survive, they said.
A large knife was found at the scene, authorities said.
Detectives continue to investigate the incidents, officials said. The identity of the man shot by deputies was not immediately available.
Note again, the similarly vague information and how the details of the killed man “are not available.”
These were the first three links that pop up on a Google News search for this story, so it’s not like I’m cherry-picking here.
Well, I was informed of this through a friend of mine who lives in a building next to where this incident took place.
The initial confrontation was of one man attacking two others with a knife. Apparently, this was a result of a break-up or lover’s quarrel turned bloody.
The unidentified man who was killed was John Winkler (who was actually 30-years-old, not 24). Winkler arrived home to hear his neighbor in distress, and rushed to help him.
One of the bloodied victims was able to escape and Winkler was helping him flee. When the victim and Winkler barged out of the doors to the building, the heavily armed officers who were about to enter the building assumed that the unarmed Winkler was the killer and shot him dead.
To repeat: the police shot and killed an unarmed man who was helping a stabbing victim.
At the very least, this is gross negligence and incompetence on the part of police. It is inexcusable. Their profession - their very existence as better-armed state agents funded through coercion and with a monopoly on force - is justified precisely for properly and safely dealing with “high-stress, life-and-death” situations just like this.
But the compliant media does what it always does: it simply parrots the “official” (as in, police) account of events. They withhold information and fail to ask important questions.
And when further details are later known, they still diligently report the police’s version of events.
In this report from a much smaller newspaper, we can read far more details on the incident; but like the first blurb, the police’s allegation that an unarmed Winkler was “lunging” at the victim is passed along as if true (they wrote “lunged” in quotes - not “allegedly lunged,” not “appeared to lunge,” not “seemed to lunge, per statements by the deputies”). Why would an unarmed man be “lunging” at a man he was trying to save? And yet, no efforts to question the police’s version of events is made. Here’s the ABC affiliate’s follow-up piece that notes the cops “mistakenly killed an innocent man,” but no one asks why the police initially claimed that the bloody stabbing victim and the unarmed good samaritan “aggressed the deputies” since it is painfully clear that such an allegation was a complete fabrication.
And the lack of accountability will not stop there. We can be assured that (1) an internal investigation will clear all officers involved and (2) if there is a law suit, the department and the relevant government agencies will simply settle with taxpayer money. Per usual.
When will people stop defending the police and start holding them accountable?
When the details of the charges levied against Democratic California State Sen. Leland Yee were released, all eyes zeroed in on the gun-trafficking accusations. It made sense to do so—Yee was a notable advocate for tougher gun control, and yet he stands accused of offering assistance in smuggling guns and heavy weapons from a violent group in the Philippines to the United States. This wasn’t just a little bit of hypocrisy, like catching Michelle Obama eating a Big Mac. Yee actually introduced gun control legislation in Sacramento. It was like watching a pack of nuns rob a homeless shelter.
There was more against Yee than the gun charges though. He stands accused of more conventional legislative corruption, charged with taking money in exchange for access or support. Buried at the end of the 137-page FBI report (which led to arrests of 25 others besides Lee in a sting against organized crime in San Francisco) was an undercover effort to snag Yee that doesn’t highlight a crime so much as how the sausage of legislation is made, particularly laws that protect crony capitalists.
An FBI agent posed as a person involved in the medical marijuana industry in Arizona. He had meetings with Yee (and a consultant accused of assisting in the laundering of donations to Yee), claiming he wanted to become a major player in the medical marijuana community in California—the “Anheuser-Busch” of medical marijuana, in fact. To do so, he wanted to get legislation passed in California that would make it harder for competition to exist. He was willing to give Yee money for his campaign for secretary of state in order to push for a law requiring medical marijuana dispensaries to have a doctor on staff. The report noted the agent telling Yee “If state legislation set high barriers for entry, such as requiring a medical doctor on staff, that would make it more difficult for small operators to open a business.”
The details of conversations between Yee, Keith Jackson (the consultant) and the undercover FBI operatives about medical marijuana legislation take up the final 13 pages of the report. Yee accepted a little over $20,000 in donations in an odd dance where Yee repeatedly worried about pay-to-play accusations, pushing the agent away from giving him money directly, yet also complained about the guy not giving the campaign enough money. If anything, reading 13 pages of these carefully laundered arrangements highlights the absurdity of the way speech is censored when it intersects with campaigning, Yee reminding at one point that donations cannot be linked to any “items, bills or amendments.”
But, of course, the idea that businesses (and often individuals) give money to help political campaigns entirely because they support the candidate and not because the candidate will implement policies that favor said businesses (and individuals) is silly nonsense and everybody knows it. In every city, in every state, and in the federal government, there are thousands upon thousands of laws and regulations designed to do exactly what our pretend medical marijuana dispensary owner asked—control who may engage in trade legally and under which terms.
Are we expected to believe that Utah regulators just decided on their own that people must spend huge amounts of time and money getting a license to braid hair? Does anybody at all actually believe that state and municipal efforts to block ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft have anything to do with safety and absolutely nothing to protect entrenched taxi company interests? Does anybody believe it’s just a coincidence that the renewable energy companies that spent the most money lobbying the Department of Energy got the most loans?
Of course everybody knows this, but some people seem to draw the wrong conclusion. At the Los Angeles Times, editorial cartoonist David Horsey attempts to pivot Lee’s corruption to a complaint about “dark money” (with all his examples coming from the right and the Koch brothers, of course—no mention of California’s powerful unions). He argues:
Apparently, they would rather voters not know that those nice-sounding, “pro-liberty” nonprofits are really a front for absurdly rich businessmen who want to kill healthcare expansion, environmental protection, fair-wage campaigns and workers’ rights.
And nobody has gotten rich off being on the other side of any of these issues, right? The “healthcare expansion” wasn’t essentially written by insurance companies or anything like that. Environmental protection laws aren’t used by unions to intimidate developers into expensive labor agreements in order to avoid messy, expensive lawsuits based off minute details of environmental impact reports. “Fair wage” campaigns aren’t used exactly the same way the legislation proposed by the FBI agent in Yee’s case would have been—to make it harder for small businesses to operate legally. Horsey deliberately sees only the outcomes of government regulations that he wants to see—no unintended (or secret) consequences here!
Horsey has the problem exactly backward. It’s not the power of rich people corrupting the government. The government is corrupt exactly because it’s so powerful. The ability of the state to control commerce, to make exorbitant demands upon people attempting to engage in business, the ability to shut businesses down and even threaten people with jail creates the environment—even the incentive—for the rich and powerful to bend government regulations into their favor. If they don’t, then somebody else will, and may well use the power of the state to try to put them out of business. When the rich go to war in America, government bureaucrats serve as their foot soldiers. Uber doesn’t have the option not to lobby various governments for regulatory relief. The alternative is to go out of business, because of the government.
A person cannot credibly argue against the influence of money in government without acknowledging the problem of the power of government. It is not a coincidence that spending on influencing the outcome of elections has increased as the government grows more and more powerful. It is a direct relationship. It’s the economics of government. You can’t get the money out of government until you get the power out of government.
Related: Who is Holding Us Back?:
So long as there are centers of power, those with means will aim to wield that power or work it in their favor. And there’s no greater power than the state’s monopoly on force. The state, therefore, will always serve the interests of the connected few above the masses.
If government cannot impose taxes or offer tax breaks, impose tariffs or offer subsidies, impose regulations or offer liability protections, impose fees and licensing or offer interest-free loans, impose wage and price controls or offer bailouts - then what good is it for a corporation [or the rich] to control the government?
Because, of course he does.
Why should taking money on the side deny a public employee a taxpayer-subsidized retirement? It won’t in Los Angeles, at least for now. Samuel In, a Los Angeles building inspector, was convicted and sent to prison for two and a half years for taking bribes. But he will keep his $72,000 annual pension. As the Los Angeles Times notes, this is because of city regulations:
Two years ago, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a measure requiring public employees convicted of a felony to give up retirement benefits earned during the period when their crimes were committed.
But the forfeiture requirement doesn’t apply to Los Angeles because it is governed by the City Council under a voter-approved charter, and the City Council manages its own pension systems.
I think that state rule regarding convicted public employees is just about the only part of Brown’s modest pension reforms that is not being challenged by unions.
TheTimes mentions that council-member Mitchell Englander would support legislation forcing Los Angeles employees to give up their pensions if they’re convicted of felony corruption crimes. In’s attorney countered that his client had “earned” his pension through his years of service to the city.
That’s another good argument for shifting public employees out of pensions and into 401(k)-style defined contribution programs. As it stands, taxpayers are on the hook to make up the difference when In’s pension doesn’t perform as guaranteed. In a defined contribution program, the taxpayers’ obligations to In are front-loaded in the city’s contributions while he is still employed. Once In (or any other worker) is no longer a city employee, these obligations end. In a sense, both sides “win.” In gets to keep what he’s earned, regardless of his crimes, but the taxpayers are not on the hook for any additional money for his retirement.
There’s a reason pensions only exist in the government sector where things are paid for through threat of violence. California’s pensions and retirement liabilities reach over $220 billion. Definitionally unsustainable.
As reported in a Washington Examiner editorial on April 4th, the American Federation of Teachers – that’s “teachers union” in plain English – has circulated a pamphlet that:
“Calls on pension fund trustees to drop any investment managers that are tainted by connection to free-market nonprofits. They also want those same trustees to force any potential new managers to have to disclose any donations they may have made to the groups on AFT’s blacklist.”
That the AFT can circulate a document like this without generating an uproar in the media reflects a monstrous and tragic double-standard. Money supporting “free-market non-profits” is tainted, which – not entirely logically – also taints any analysis they may produce, or policies they may advocate. But the money supporting public sector unions, involuntarily and automatically taken from their paychecks, ultimately funded by taxpayers, is pristine. Whatever analysis or policies they come up with, including “blacklists,” are beyond criticism.
What the AFT just did may be more explicit than usual, but it’s nothing new. In states like California, politically dominated by public sector unions, almost no businessperson or financial professional is going to identify themselves as supporting a free-market candidate or free-market nonprofit that dares criticize public sector unions or question the sustainability of public sector pensions. They risk retaliatory legislation, official harassment, strikes or “slowdowns,” character assassination, sit-ins and other orchestrated protests, shareholder revolts and boycotts. And if they represent a sufficient threat, their partners, customers, investors and vendors will get similar treatment.
In the financial community, as AFT’s document verifies, union critics stand to lose their biggest customers – the government agencies who come to them to underwrite bonds, and the pension funds whose investments fuel their fees and commissions. Just in California, billions are at stake every year.
Since the American Federation of Teachers fired this latest salvo against the free market, here are a few facts about CalSTRS, the California State Teachers Retirement System:
Three of the nine current CalSTRS board members are union officials: The Chairperson of CalSTRS, Dana Dillon, “has been active in the California Teachers Association for more than 26 years… and was recently elected to the board of directors.” Their Vice Chair, Harry M. Keiley, is “chair of the California Teachers Association Political Involvement Committee.” Another board director, Sharon Hendricks, “also serves as president of the American Federation of Teachers, local 1521 chapter at Los Angeles City College.”
Most of the remaining six active CalSTRS board members are beholden to unions: Tom Torlakson serves while also serving as California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, an office he was elected to with substantial support from public sector unions. Two more board members come from the financial community; Paul Rosenstiel from a municipal bond investment bank, Thomas Unterman from a venture capital firm. Three other members come from government, Michael Cohen from the California Dept. of Finance, John Chiang, the State Controller, and Bill Lockyer, the State Treasurer.
Would it be more than reckless speculation to say the unions have four votes locked, and only need one of the other five in any given decision they make? And who is going to support Lockyer or Chiang if they run for another political office if they cross the unions? The financial community? Unlikely, given the pressure they’re under from the unions.
At this point the reader may be reminded that without reform, without tough, responsible decisions, public sector pension funds are going to crash, and when they do they’re going to take down with them entire cities and states, if not the global economy. The obliteration of defined benefits will be a mere footnote.
CalSTRS pays hundreds of millions each year to financial professionals: Take a look at page 83 of CalSTRS Annual Report for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2013, under the bland heading of “Other Supplemental Information.” Here’s what’s on the table for the financial community, every year, from a fund that only represents about 30% of the public sector pension fund assets under management in California: Administrative expenses, $139 million (page 84). Investment expenses including management fees, advisors, consultants, research services, risk management systems, trading systems, etc., $310 million (pages 85-88). Don’t forget “Global Equity Broker Commissions” whose payees include the infamous Goldman Sachs, $25 million (page 104).
CalSTRS invests in companies and financial instruments they supposedly detest: Skip along in the CalSTRS Annual Report to page 101 and take a look at their “largest equity holdings.” They include Exxon Mobil Corp at the #1 position, and Chevron Crop at #5. Go back to page 45 to see where CalSTRS has $22billionin “Private Equity Investments.” How many Wall Street wolves fatten themselves on that rather substantial hunk of fresh meat?
What more does it take to make clear there is a phony war going on between public sector unions and the financial community? This isn’t an ideological battle, it’s an intramural struggle for dominance between two groups who are both elitist and privileged, who need each other far more than they need taxpayers.
“Dark money,” or money that doesn’t pass the “smell test,” seems to be a favored meme of public sector unions these days. Especially if that money is used to fund challenges to their interests, hence, a new “blacklist.” But why does public sector union money, sourced involuntarily, falling into their accounts automatically by the millions and billions, emanating directly from taxpayers, used to intimidate opponents, fund political campaigns and academic studies, organize activist groups, and feed Wall Street financiers, get a pass?
They’re seriously shameless. It’s become so incredibly blatant, one has to be willing to not see the deep corruption.
Another disturbing video has surfaced of a cop brutalizing a child at school.
A Santa Ana School Police Department officer is at the center of controversy after a concerned citizen, Elvia Fernández, filmed him putting a crying young boy in a chokehold.
In the clip, we see a man at the park yelling “You’re choking him” at an officer as a motionless boy screams “Help me! Help me!” Even though it was filmed in portrait and from a distance on a smartphone, the video clearly captures a cop lying on top of a sobbing child, whose tiny arms are prone on the ground. The cop’s arm is around the boy’s neck, as he yells “Stop fighting me,” only to have the boy scream in pain, “I’m not fighting you!”
According to OC Weekly, Elvia Fernández, said the kid looked to be around 10; his wails and pleas definitely peg him as a prepubescent. Fernández tried calming the kid down in a mix of English and Spanish, telling him,“No te muevas”,“Relájate”, and“Aquí estamos nosotros”–”Don’t move”, “Relax,” and “We’re here.”
At which point the cop yells, “Stop speaking Spanish!”
It’s hard to tell how much “brutalizing” is actually taking place, since the cop repeatedly barks orders to keep witnesses from getting too close.
Toward the end of the video, we see another cop hurry on to the scene. For a brief moment, we hope she’s one of those “good cops” we’re always reminded about that are the alleged majority even though sightings are as elusive as to be cryptozoological… but, unsurprisingly, her role seems to simply be to obscure the action from the cameras.
For people unfamiliar with how water works in California and the American west, they might conclude that this is a case of the government forcibly taking water form the farmers and handing it over to the environmentalists for their pet projects. This is, however, completely untrue. The first thing to know is that there is no functioning market in water in California, and there are no market prices. Virtually all water in California and the American West is controlled by, distributed by, and “priced” by government agencies. This system of water socialism (described by Bill Anderson here, and yours truly here) is what rules the allocation of water in the West, and by extension, it rules any industry or endeavor that requires water. Thus agriculture is a socialized industry in the West, where the main input for the industry, water, is allocated along socialistic lines. There is no market pricing, because the pricing is done in a way to benefit powerful political interests.
In many Western states, still including California, although cities are quickly eroding their power, the growers are very powerful lobbies who have for the past 70 years enjoyed the benefits of extremely cheap, subsidized water. They do not own the water, and so when one of the farmers commented on the delta smelt situation and said “We are not interested in welfare; we want water” he was being unintentionally funny. Cheap water for Central Valley farmers, who are growing food in a desert, and who only get water thanks to massive taxpayer-funded public works, is a major form of welfare for them.
So, it would be naive in the extreme to frame this story, as the conservatives have, as some sort of battle between the poor, beleaguered farmer who is having “his” water taken away, and the usurper environmentalists.
Indeed, the water situation is just the latest chapter in a long history of using government to pick winners and losers in California and the west using the allocation of water as a weapon.
The conservatives who have declared the farmers to be the rightful owners of the water are simply ignoring the history of river water along the West coast.
Long forgotten is the fact that once upon a time, there were massive fisheries of salmon along the West coast that supported large numbers of canneries, fishing villages, industrial fishing operations, and all the usual support economies that go along with any industry.
Those industries are all massively reduced now, not because of global warming or overfishing or some other environmentalist bogeyman, but because the fisheries were ruined by governments. The governments that dammed up hundreds of rivers long the west coast, and thus destroyed the salmon and steelhead trout breeding grounds, did so with the enthusiastic support and lobbying of the growers who now are whining about some water actually being allowed to flow out into the ocean.
Whole industries were destroyed at the behest of the growers and cities that wanted water storage for their favored interests. This is not limited to the west coast of course. The Colorado River delta at the Sea of Cortez was once a huge estuary where many native communities of fishermen thrived. The fishing industries there are now all also destroyed. They were destroyed so that American farmers can grow pecans (native to humid Mississippi) in scorchingly dry Phoenix.
All of this change came not due to shifts in the marketplace or the will of consumers. On the contrary, the fisheries provided extremely cheap protein to million of people for many, many years. There was huge demand for the industry. No, these industries were eviscerated because of decisions by governments and special interests. It was simply decided, for political reasons, that damming up the rivers and drying up the deltas was better than allowing the rivers to flow.
It is also a fact that without massive amounts of government capital, these dams would have never been built. The infrastructure of water storage and damming was only ever possible thanks to governmental central planning and taxation. Would irrigation still exist were it not for the governmental meddling in water? Certainly it would. Irrigation farming predates government dams. But the scale of government projects is much, much larger, and has far greater impact on the surrounding geography.
Once might counter that the fishing industries were also the beneficiaries of government largesse because the government-owned rivers were being used by the fishing industries to breed their fish. That’s certainly true as well.
So the question we should be asking ourselves is: “Which group has the right to take control of the rivers? Farmers or Fishermen? Or environmentalists? All want the “publicly” owned water for their own purposes. The answer is that none should be using politics so seize control of water. Ownership of the rivers, instead, should be decentralized, privatized, and the water should be sold to the highest bidder.
In contrast, I can tell you that sending in the government to centrally plan the whole affair, as has been done, is decidedly not the correct answer. This is of course the answer the conservatives are fine with, however. For them, the fact that the government one day went in and decided that growers are to be the winners, and the fisheries are to be the losers, is a-okay. For anyone who is actually concerned about finding free-market solutions, however, it’s all just more central planning.
As Kathryn Muratore recently noted, there is no easy answer here, thanks to 70 years of water socialism. Nevertheless, there’s no time like the present, and the best way to end drought is to establish a functioning system of prices and water ownership in the west. The farmers, the cities, and the politicians will cry bloody murder and complain that nothing can work in the West except the established system of prior-appropriation water rights. That system, however, we know has failed. History has shown that it requires government central planning, and is nothing more than water socialism, and is thus unsustainable.
Can other systems work? Perhaps a modified riparian system? We won’t know any time soon, because the farmers and politicians will cling to their precious status quo of “cheap” water for those who write the biggest checks, not for water, but for political influence.
A politician honored for his gun control efforts is arrested for attempted arms smuggling. He held press conferences denouncing violent video games and helped pass legislation in California prohibiting sales of such games to minors. And yet, secretly, he was living the life of a Grand Theft Auto character.
The downfall of Calif. State Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco should be an utterly captivating, fascinating story, and the national media should be sinking its teeth into the details. I joked when Yee was first arrested about how he is destined to be parodied in Grand Theft Auto. That was before the FBI’s report was even released. Now, I’m convinced the report could be the outline for an entire Grand Theft Auto installment (have they set a game in a parody of San Francisco yet?). Yee’s story of corruption, attempted gun-running and accusations of vote-selling (an undercover FBI agent posing as a medical marijuana clinic owner wanted him to support legislation introducing new barriers to entry for potential competition) is actually just a small part of a larger story about the crime scene in San Francisco. Beyond Lee’s role, the whole story (pdf) is full of drug transactions, stolen booze fencing, a home invasion by apparently Mexican gangsters, what appears to be counterfeit credit cards supplied by a Russian hacker, and more. It has everything. There’s even a money-laundering scene that takes place inside a massage parlor. It’s part FBI report, part Hollywood pitch.
And yet, it has not captured as much national media attention as one might think. Not long after the story came out, every Republican I follow on Twitter was noting how stories about Yee’s arrest were burying the fact that he’s a Democrat. I’m not particularly interested in an argument over which party is more corrupt. In the Corruption Olympics, each party is full of stellar athletes whose gold medals were paid for by taxpayers, manufactured by a company with cozy ties to both parties, and cost 300 percent more than they would in the private market. Nevertheless, given the media coverage of every time a conservative Republican politician on the state level says something dumb or controversial, it is worth noting. Today Glenn Harlan “Instapundit” Reynolds is calling out CNN at USA Today for failing to follow the story:
[O]utside of local media like San Francisco magazine, the coverage was surprisingly muted.The New York Times buried the story as a one-paragraph Associated Press report on page A21, with the bland dog-bites-man headline, “California: State Senator Accused of Corruption.” This even though Yee was suspended, along with two others, from the California state senate in light of the indictment.
CNN, home (also until last week) of Piers Morgan, whom Yee had praised for his anti-gun activism, didn’t report the story at all. When prodded by viewers, the network snarked that it doesn’t do state senators. Which is odd, because searching the name of my own state senator, Stacey Campfield, turns up a page of results, involving criticisms of him for saying something “extreme”. Meanwhile, CNN found time to bash Wisconsin state senator and supporter of Gov. Scott Walker, Randy Hopper over marital problems.
But there’s a difference. They’re Republicans. When Republicans do things that embarrass their party, the national media are happy to take note, even if they’re mere state senators. But when Democrats like Yee get busted for actual felonies, and pretty dramatic ones at that, the press suddenly isn’t interested.
We’ve seen this before, of course: Washington Post reporter Sarah Kliff dismissed the horrific Kermit Gosnell trial as a “local crime story”, even as the press was going crazy covering another equally local crime story, the George Zimmerman trial. Likewise, another state senator, Texas’ Wendy Davis, got national attention when she filibustered an abortion bill, a story that fit conveniently with the “war on women” theme used by Democrats.
Read more here. A search of Yee’s name on CNN brings up nothing past the year 2011. The most recent story is about California banning shark fins, and Yee is quoted with concerns that the ban targets Chinese-Americans.
Partisanship is as stupid as it is predictable.
In 2006, the Brady Campaign named Leland Yee [on their] Gun Violence Prevention Honor Roll. Perhaps they should have done a background check first.
In 2006, the Brady Campaign named Leland Yee [on their] Gun Violence Prevention Honor Roll.
Perhaps they should have done a background check first.
As a reminder: Leland Yee is the California democrat state senator who pushed heavily for gun control, and who was recently charged with corruption and involvement in mob-related illegal gun-trafficking.