Let’s be clear about one thing before I go any further; if you are a person of color, a woman, or just someone interested in radical leftism, the internet is a perilous place for you to express your beliefs. The privilege created by white supremacy in contemporary American society allows for a demonstrable and entirely asymmetrical acceptance of extremity in political discourse. On one side there is the vast collection of weirdoes on the right, who can employ the subtly racist rhetoric of Lee Atwater without any real fear of reprisals. On the other side we have people like Brandeis Student Khadijah Lynch (‘16), who is now facing death threats after voicing moderate levels of frustration at systemic racism. Sadly the utopia of post-racial America is leaving much to be desired, and once again Brandeis is failing to uphold its own stated values.
The long and the short of this story (as it stands right now) is that Lynch, formerly an Undergraduate Representative of the African and African American Studies Department at Brandeis University (full disclosure I am a Brandeis AAAS graduate and was their graduation speaker in 2008), made a series of tweets regarding the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Her tweets, which are presently unavailable for public view in their full context (because Lynch is facing a deluge of threats and made her twitter private), were partially screenshotted and quoted out of context in a piece by another Brandeis Student Daniel Mael. Unfortunately for Lynch, Mael writes for one of the most obnoxious purveyors of right-wing hate speech on the internet: Ben Shapiro’s “Truth Revolt”. That access allowed to controversy to catch the attention of the rest of the conservative media, and Lynch has since resigned from her UDR position with the AAAS department, among a torrent of death/rape threats from the worst people on the Internet.
The response from the AAAS department regarding this controversy is also weak given the stakes raised by Mael’s publication. It reads less like the product of an organization designed to engender an academic discussion on the issues being raised, and instead it functions more as a myopic and boilerplate public relations device. The statement does a massive disservice to Khadijah (even if you entirely believe what Daniel Mael reported on its face), and it fails to properly establish the paradigm necessary for an outsider to truly understand what is going on at Brandeis or specifically within the AAAS community.
To get why the treatment of Khadijah by the Brandeis Administration is particularly awful, one must understand the essential nature of Brandeis Republicans. Daniel Mael, like Jack Abramoff before him, was a well-connected member of the young conservative movement by the time he arrived on campus. The national Republican movement trains these students specifically to be provocateurs at the famously liberal institution. Students like Mael then spend most of their time actively antagonizing everyone around them in the hopes of instigating some sort of reaction that will then play into the “conservatives are the really oppressed minority” cliché. In other words, time is a flat circle.
What has changed since I graduated in 2008 is the access that people like Mael have, not only to open social networks like Twitter, but to an established right wing blogosphere that can re-broadcast non-stories like Khadijah’s tweets into the hive mind of angry racist misanthropes across the country (10 years ago this would have been a two week story in the Hoot and the Justice). Mael’s employer, a blog called Truth Revolt (TR), is an example of a 2nd gen-blog within this movement. Ben “Genocidaire” Shapiro, the creator of TR (in conjunction with noted racist David Horowitz), hails directly from the eminent world of the famous dead fascist Andrew Breitbart. Shapiro and Breitbart are also each individually famous for their remarkably terrible reporting when doing character assassination stories. Shapiro specifically is the braintrust behind the “Friends of Hamas” fiasco, and Breitbart (in a situation potentially similar to the one with Khadijah) published a piece using out of context quotes from a speech by (then) USDA official Shirley Sherrod, in order to falsely make it appear as if she was advocating racism against white people. Breitbart’s estate is now engaged in a major lawsuit concerning that matter.
And the credibility issue doesn’t just end with Mael’s associations with the traditional Brandeis Republican antagonism machine, or the fetid swamps in what remains of the Breitbart empire. Mael also has a history of taking his contentious interactions with female Brandeis students into the public arena based on questionable (if not downright unethical) reporting. In April of this year, Mael used a connection at the infamously terrible Free Beacon website to blow up this argument he had with a female student (who is associated with J-Street) into the public view. In the piece Mael accusing the other student of really putrid anti-semitism, but supported his accounts with truly weak hearsay. This all begs the question as to why the Brandeis Administration isn’t doing more to protect students from a man who has twice used his burgeoning position in the media to target the well-being of people he disagrees with.
So on one hand you have a student who voiced understandable frustration with public response between the recent killings of unarmed people by the police and the violent deaths of two policemen over last weekend (by the way as the grandson of a Boston Police Officer I can say wholeheartedly that Lynch’s statements were not “anti-cop”). On the other hand you have another student who is recklessly looking to make a name for himself in the conservative media world by (once again) offering up a poorly reported story about his fellow Brandeisian to the most repugnant people imaginable. Only one of these students is a person of color, and only one of them has faced consequences for their public speech.
Never before has “Truth even unto its innermost parts” seemed like such a sarcastic phrase for our community to embrace
Earlier today Daily Beast reporter Olivia Nuzzi decided to engage in some half-assed trolling of the web by defending the awful union-busting car service Uber and their decision to jack up prices in response to a armed stand off in Sydney Australia. Nuzzi asked me to explain why I thought her piece sounded like the idiotic ramblings of the annoying libertarian in a first-year con law class. So in response to that request I’ve provided my quick analysis below.
NB: I’m an American attorney so I’m not going to begin to pretend that I know or understand how Australia chooses to treat Uber or their actions regarding surge pricing. Therefore I’m going to provide you analysis from an American perception.
As a cafe in Sydney, Australia came under siege by a hostage-taking gunman on Monday, those nearby attempted to flee the area. Many of them turned to the popular ride-sharing app Uber, causing the demand for cars to skyrocket and in turn, the company’s so-called “surge pricing” to go into effect, with fares rising to four times the usual rate. The backlash was immediate and aggressive. It was also aggressively wrong.
Literally every state in this country disagrees with you about what constitutes an illegal and unconscionable form of price gouging, but good start.
The fact that Uber allowed surge pricing during a hostage crisis may lead you to believe that the company doesn’t care about you, and you would be correct. But Uber does not have a responsibility to care about you. Uber is not a government entity, and it is not beholden to the general carless public during an unwelcome drizzle of rain or even a time of great distress.
Uber is a stripped down, regulation skirting fad company that is designed to get its original investors filthy rich before the government (rightfully) legislates it out of existence. In order for the company to be profitable it uses city roadways, state highways, and federally funded interstates- all of which means that the company’s actions are thoroughly within the jurisdiction of any of those levels of government regulation. The fact that Uber isn’t a “public entity” is an irrelevant issue in the face of the law.
I’m old enough to remember a time before Uber––about four years ago––when people somehow managed to get from point A to point B. It’s hard to believe it judging by how some react when they can’t magically summon a car with a few taps of their fingers, but Uber has only existed since 2009, when it was founded as UberCab in San Francisco. Its mobile app launched the following year, and since then it has rapidly expanded from the Golden City to hundreds of cities in 53 countries around the globe. Surge pricing was not unveiled until 2012.
Uber exists because of a general lack of enforcement within public agencies in charge of preventing economic abuses by corporations. In truth that company is frequently flouting laws regarding proper livery registration (which directly serve the public interest in making sure only qualified drivers are on the road), ADA requirements (disability advocates worked for years to ensure access for ALL passengers in Taxis only to see Uber fuck that right up), and Unionization efforts (people fucking died to unionize Taxi’s- an industry made up of large portion of new immigrants- and now all that work is for not). So to be succinct: this company is one massive lawsuit from being litigated into the graveyard of bad ideas from the neo-gilded age.
The premise of the program is simple supply-and-demand: when demand for cars increases and supply decreases, Uber’s algorithm inflates the fee for rides accordingly, which the company claims encourages more drivers to work, which puts more cars on the road when people are requesting them most.
This sort of algorithm is explicitly illegal for registered taxis and similar car services because it is fucking abhorrent to take advantage of a disaster like this (again if this is cool with you why isn’t the Home Depot allowed to jack up the price of plywood when a hurricane is approaching?). All Uber is doing is using a (hopefully) temporary blind spot in the law to enrich it’s putrid investors.
Surge pricing happens during rush hour and when it rains or snows; it happens on holidays like Halloween and New Year’s Eve; and it has happened during states of emergency like Hurricane Sandy in 2012, after which the New York Attorney General stood Uber down and made them agree not to hike up fares during natural disasters––and he was as wrong as any of Uber’s customers who complain about their inflated fares.
He “made them” do that because their actions violated a long-standing law put in place to protect consumers from awful practices like this. He wasn’t doing it to be a dick.
Agitated Uber passengers often respond to surge pricing by posting screen shots of their astronomical fare estimates or receipts to social media as a means of shaming the company.
Why do you hate capitalism? Bitching about horrible shit that companies do is an essential tactic of consumers to force non-governmental change.
During a blizzard in 2013, Jessica Seinfeld, wife of comedian Jerry Seinfeld, posted her $415 bill to Instagram with the caption, “UBER charge, during snowstorm (to drop one at Bar Mitzvah and one child at sleepover.) #OMG #neverforget #neveragain #real.” Recently a woman successfully crowdfunded to pay off a $360 trip taken on her 26th birthday.
Yes Jessica Seinfeld’s travails are entirely the same thing as people trying to escape a stand off with an armed and dangerous psychopath. Good hustle Olivia.
But Uber’s surges are not price gouging, as some have erroneously claimed.
Again how is this the case? All the elements to this illegal form of price manipulation (according to American law) were clearly demonstrated by their actions in Sydney.
Uber––which is actually not the only method of transportation on Earth, despite what it may seem like….
Those other forms are banned from price gouging by the way.
….warns passengers about the surge before it allows them to order a car, and if the surge is over two times the normal rate, the app forces users to type it in, just to make sure they really understand what they are getting themselves into.
Notice of price fixing is not a defense for the party engaged in it.
The person who said that this was “Marxian” is a moron.
Gawker sneered that Uber is “Ayn Rand’s favorite car service.”
This is true.
Uber responded to the PR nightmare by reversing the surge, refunding those affected, and doling out free rides. They shouldn’t have.
I’m going to assume you cited the background checks issue because you are disgusted by Uber’s intentional decision to disregard the safety of passengers so that they could avoid paying the extra costs associated with performing due diligence in hiring drivers. If that is the case…CONGRATS! You have successfully articulated a legitimate and well developed critique of why private corporation does not actually have unchecked discretion to do whatever the fuck they want in the pursuit of profits.
Now that we’ve established that assumption- why can’t you see how price gouging is a similar violation of the public interest? As Uber grows (by doing illegal shit) it will displace more regulated forms of transportation, thus forcing customers to abide by this disgusting form of gouging.
In his stand-up special Hilarious, Louis CK talks about this generation’s attitude of entitlement towards technology:
“I was on a plane once about a month ago, and they had high-speed wireless internet on the plane, and they had never done that before. They explained to us that we were like one of the first aircrafts. I opened up my laptop, and I’m online! I’m looking at YouTube and shit while we’re flying! And then it broke down, and the woman says, ‘I’m sorry, but we have to fix the internet, so it’s down for the rest of the flight.’ And the guy next to me goes, ‘this is fucking bullshit.’ Like dude, how does the world owe you something you didn’t know existed 30 seconds ago?”
Access to wifi only (arguably) amounts to an issue that has a substantial effect on interstate commerce, and therefore the powers of the government to make laws to require it are somewhat limited. The roadways that Uber uses on the other hand are subject to a broad swath regulation because Uber’s actions directly effect a “channel” of interstate commerce. Because of this direct effect, modern courts provide a significant level of “reasonably based” discretion to the state in their effort ensure equal and fair access for all. In other words the same legal reasoning that prevents segregation from existing are ALSO used to prevent price gouging.
How does the world owe you a private car, priced as you deem acceptable, that didn’t exist five years ago?
This is a non sequitur. People are asking that Uber be subject to the same laws that other car services must abide to in order to have the state’s permission (via a local licensing authority) to use publicly financed roadways.
If you don’t like Uber’s surge pricing, you are still welcome to travel by subway, cab, bus, camel, horse and carriage, or you can just fucking walk.
Please feel free to explain this to someone who doesn’t live in an area with reliable public transportation and would like to get home from their job/bar/friends house safely and legally.
If none of those options appeal to you, you might consider meandering over to a country with a different economic system.
Anarcho-Capitalism isn’t the economic system of this country (despite what the editors and investors of the Daily Beast might believe).
Five Proposals Local Activists Should Pursue To End Police Misconduct And Militarization After Ferguson
In 1992 I was a small child watching cartoons when Dan Rather suddenly interrupted to alert the country to the riots in LA. At the time I understandably had no concept about what was going on (I was living in Alabama), nor did I have an ability to comprehend what may have caused the uprising. However even then I felt that the response wasn’t entirely irrational. Today we look over the devastation “caused” by people who supposedly lack the moral clarity to “remain civil” in the face of a system that continues to give a full legal endorsement to killings motivated by white supremacy. Thus it is time to undeniably and defiantly assert that our political and judicial systems remain throughly infested with the virus of racism. However at the same time, recognizing the reality of this problem is an incomplete political awakening. If we truly do not want Michael Brown to have died in vain, it is time to forcefully push for a dramatic re-envisioning of what we desire our Police Departments to look and act like in the years ahead.
I used to work in the legislative department with the City of Long Beach, a “majority minority” locale with a political system that is structurally biased in favor of the whiter, higher-income suburbs. As a result of this arrangement (and an insanely powerful Police Union), public safety costs continue to fluctuate anywhere between 50 to 75 percent of the annual budget. This figure also does NOT include special allocations for extra (many times federally subsidized) appropriations for materials that the City Council more or less rubber stamps whenever they are put forth for a vote. Whenever this problem of the metastasizing Police budget comes up, labor groups largely defend the costs, as they are cognizant of the politically tenuous place that all public sector workers face in our Prop 13 strapped city. Meanwhile despite or perhaps because of record low crime rates (which I personally believe are achieved via the tried and true practice of “juking” the stats), the white suburbs of Long Beach are more than content with retaining our garrison state at the expense of any other form of community investment.
What I have described above is not in anyway a unique political reality. In fact across the US despite massive cuts to the public sector as a whole, the Police and other “first responders” retain a special ability to grow and solidify their place as the supreme concern for municipal constituencies. In fact in some places, including Ferguson, the Police are helping to assist cash-strapped local governments in collecting revenue through what are essentially regressive forms of taxation against people with no real means to properly defend themselves against this obvious form of discriminatory theft. Additionally with people of color losing their influence as a political block thanks to voter suppression, corruption amongst their local representatives, felony voting rights laws, and gerrymandered districts (etc), there is little hope for the ballot box to act as the ultimate solution to this problem.
You can see the problem of political regulatory capture locally in Long Beach. For example 9th District (and LBPOA endorsed) Councilman Rex Richardson can write & receive praise for a stirring letter relating his own experiences to Michael Brown, that never once mentions the role that the police had in Brown’s death, nor did Richardson offer any substantive reforms to our own very flawed Police Department. Yet that same councilman probably represents the best hope that activists have towards engendering some change for police policies.
So what do we do? Well being an eternal optimist I do see a few major sources for statutory reform to the police that can also function as very good points for political organizing. None of these proposals will end “steroidal over policing” overnight, but I think that effective and well financed campaigns in support of these goals could advance the overall agenda of disarmament, and a re-balancing of community interests over those of the Police Industrial Complex.
1. Local Hire Provisions For Police Officers
Essentially a law like this would require that police officers who are employed by a particular locality must also be full-time residents of that same place. In a perfect world I would require that Police Officers patrol the same neighborhoods where they live, but as local hire requirements are only tenuously constitutional I’ll settle for a civil service reform that upends the current idiotic system where Police Officers enter a city each day as essentially an occupying force. Bridging the gap between the community and its sworn protectors requires instilling a congenial familiarity that the present tactics of “cruise around in your patrol car until something happens” inherently avoids.
2. Independent And Empowered Civilian Police Review Boards
An elected official whom I used to work with once gave this assessment of Long Beach’s beleaguered citizen review board; “it is toothless and useless”. In my city the Police Department and City Manager cynically use the CPCC process, which according to the City Charter itself has no real punitive power over the cases it examines, to essentially whitewash any investigation into Police misconduct. Every local police authority must have a separate, independently appointed and overseen entity, with actual demonstrative and statutorily defined ways of punishing officers who are found to have abused their power or acted negligently in the field. If Michael Brown’s death has shown us anything it is that the current judicial system makes it next to impossible to even obtain an indictment for an officer because of the way in which the district attorney office and police department rely on each other to work.
3. Statutory Caps On Police Armaments
I saw a tweet (but sadly didn’t screenshot it) from Long Beach Councilman Roberto Uranga in August that expressed some concern over “police militarization”. Frankly I don’t know why every politician in the country, regardless of their ethnic or political background, isn’t jumping on this growing resentment over the Police and their toys. If you are a public cost-cutting Republican or a Progressive Socialist mad at decreased resources to the poor this is an easy issue to address. Black, brown, and white folks all have their own reasons for getting uncomfortable when we start seeing tanks rolling around in our neighborhoods. That said there is a powerful economic lobby behind this arms race, and the insidious way in which these expenses creep into local budgets rely on continued fear and/or complacency amongst average voters.
So if we are to reverse this trend we need to re-imagine what purpose our Police Departments serve. Are the Police essentially the local military wing of the state, serving the interests of whomever is in charge at the time with some varying degree of restraints depending on the circumstances? That description of our current reality might make people feel uncomfortable to acknowledge, but to blindly assert that people dressed for fighting ISIS exist to “protect and serve” is patently absurd.
Instead let’s take a cue from Firefighters, entities with a shared purpose that has radically changed from their original mission (fighting fires), to a more general raison d’être of responding to medical emergencies. Perhaps our we can require our Police to think less of their job revolving around their weapon, and focus more on their secondary role of being the first responders to incidents of domestic violence, the overuse of drugs and alcohol, and quality of life crimes. Police who see their jobs as “social workers with a badge” are far less likely to kill unarmed civilians, and we can engender this sort of conceptualization for their job ONLY IF their is a political will to do so.
4. Citizen Participation In City Attorney Races
The City of Long Beach has paid millions of dollars to families whom our Police Department improperly killed in the line of duty. We could have paid far less money, but our City Attorney (possibly at the behest of the LBPOA who endorsed him for re-election) decided to litigate instead of settling and admitting liability. And despite a record amount of money spent on this race in 2014, not that many people really seemed to care about who filled this incredibly important position. The result of this complacency should serve as a reminder that community activists, especially those who seek to influence public policy at the local level, of the need to bring a broad awareness of ALL positions of power to the voters in every cycle.
5. Body Cameras
This is the short-term, but potentially very powerful policy solution to this problem of officer-involved violence. Body cameras can be expensive and there is a legitimate privacy concern about creating yet another facet of our surveillance state, but like the effort to tape all police interrogations I can’t see a particularly powerful argument against using technology to force a new degree of openness and transparency between the police and the people they serve. Additionally the Police themselves are protected by these cameras when their actions are being unfairly misconstrued by an understandably upset criminal, and given the free-wheeling way in which Police Departments accept public money for new toys it could be relatively easy to make receiving more funds for men and materials conditional on adopting these devices at large.
These five proposals are just a sample of the major reforms that are necessary at the local level to prevent another tragic altercation like those between the Police and Mike Brown or Douglas Zerby. None of these proposals will immediately undo the “occupation” mindset of our Police, or stem the racially based fear that allows the political system to uphold this sort of violence against people of color. However with effective, well financed campaigns that address specific fixes like these, we can start the long overdue process of deescalating this war on the poor that has claimed way too many people in the last few years.
On the other hand If we are unwilling to pursue this new course of action, the alternative is to become comfortable with “Fergesons” occurring with an increased regularity and tenacity.
Last night I was walking near Bixby Park when a lady with a shopping cart asked to pet my dogs. I obliged and the lady proceeded to tell me that “I have one of my own, but he’s in ‘doggy jail’ after I got picked up on another unpaid ticket warrant”. I asked her what happened. “LBPD tells us not to sleep on the beach and to go to Rainbow Lagoon, and guess where all my tickets come from”. “Now I have to pay $100 to get him out of there”.
Given the already near-impossible task of raising that $100, I didn’t have the heart to tell her that she could get a ticket for panhandling in this city.
I know about the anti-homeless ticketing policies in Long Beach because I used to be in a position to at least recommend changes to a system that (by any objective view) is unconstitutional, non-sensical, and inhuman.
Forced evictions constitute gross violations of a range of internationally recognized human rights, including the human rights to adequate housing, food, water, health, education, work, security of the person, freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and freedom of movement.
A few months ago when I was working for the (now) Mayor of Long Beach, Robert Garcia, I was tasked to investigate the circumstances and policy implications behind an incident involving two volunteers from Mr. Garcia’s Mayoral campaign. These volunteers (who were also constituents of Robert’s city council seat), received tickets for feeding homeless people in a park adjacent to city hall. Specifically they were cited for distributing food without a license to do so; a health and safety measure that on its face is nondiscriminatory, but is being employed in a discriminatory manner (on the basis of wealth). Essentially we had a perfectly fine law, intended to be used to prevent unlicensed restaurants from creating a public health risk, being used instead to constructively evict homeless people from the city. I reported my findings to my Chief of Staff, but changes came to the ordinance in question, nor (to my knowledge) was any substantive change in policy implemented by the City Prosecutor or the LBPD.
With the recent arrest of Arnold Abbott, the 90 year old activist in Ft. Lauderdale who has continued to feed the local homeless population despite a new law restricting such activities, there is now a renewed focus on these pernicious and (frankly) evil laws that exist throughout cities in this county. And indeed even the Federal Government has taken notice of both the reasoning and effects of these local laws. But despite a 2012 Department of Justice Handbook (one that I personally made available to both Garcia and his replacement at District 1) recommending vast changes to ordinances against “illegal camping”, “food distribution”, and “panhandling”, there is little to no political will to change the system in place.
If anything things are getting worse for the homeless both nationwide and specifically inside of Long Beach. Instead of cities investing in a true “housing first” strategy to address the growing problem of extreme poverty in the wake of the financial crisis, city politicians and bureaucrats have largely taken the unbelievably cynical route of justifying massive cuts to social services on the basis of fiscal prudence, while simultaneously increasing anti-homeless citation efforts and building municipal infrastructure in a way to prevent access by the poor.
Politicians do this because they know that the homeless don’t vote, and that the people with property do not want to even see homeless people, much less interact with them in a public restroom, park, or library. Anti-camping laws are used to create uncertainty for the homeless over where they can safely leave their property or sleep. Access to safe restroom facilities and drinkable water are denied after dark or in their entirety (“we’re in a drought after all“). Asking for food or money, (the later of which can be done freely by children or by a charity without cause for worry) becomes “loitering” or “soliciting”, and can be citable by police. All of these offenses can either result in a detention on criminal charges or sizable fines (at a 10% interest rate in California) for the person subjected to them.
In the face of these regulations the message to homeless individuals from the community is abundantly clear: get out.
This sort of detestable treatment exists on a bipartisan basis. Ellen Degeneres donated $10,000 to the Santa Barbra’s Sheriffs office to fund a bicycle unit devoted to handing out these anti-homeless citations. Here in Long Beach the “Friends of the Bixby Park” provided the city with a $30,000 donation to install obnoxious, super-bright LED lights in the park that serve no purpose other than to make the area unusable as a sleeping space for the local homeless population. Friends of Bixby board member Claudia Schou is also on record as opposing the rehabilitation of a restroom in the park because “Most visitors do not use the restroom”. Schou’s claim is both hilariously untrue and demonstrative of her groups intent to create a space that is only accessible to people with a home (facts that make it truly scary how much the group has influenced the voting of 2nd District Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal as of late).
It should be obvious that these anti-homeless policies are; inherently discriminatory, counter to good public health practices, not in anyway fiscally prudent (our jails become de-facto public housing eventually), and exist only because local politicians are almost universally cowards. But the impetus for changing these laws isn’t just coming from activists and annoying bloggers like myself. The courts across the country in both blue and red states, are striking down these measures for a variety of different reasons. Church groups (like the one that reached out to Mayor Garcia) defeated a feeding bans in Dallas on the basis that the law represented an unlawful restriction on religious freedom. The ACLU used a similar tactic to force a Federal Judge to strike down Orlando’s ban. And here in California there is a continued effort to force the state to enact a “Homeless Bill of Rights” after the 9th Circuit went H.A.M. on the City of LA’s violation of homeless property rights and idiotic ban on sleeping in cars.
These cases are litigated by cities at a great expense to tax payers by cities that steadfastly defend these laws. Despite the fact that the ordinances in question plainly violate the US Constitution, the UN Charter on Human Rights, and any sense of common decency, legislators are cognizant about how voters like you and me (i.e. those with roofs over our heads) are uncomfortable co-existing in the same space as the homeless. As a society we want these people to be unseen and unheard, maybe because they disgust us, or perhaps because they serve as a tangible reminder that the only thing separating us from them is a few paychecks.
It is time for this situation to change.
Ending poverty in Long Beach was a central tenant in several of the municipal campaigns that took place in 2014, including that of Robert Garcia- who spoke at length about the difficult situation he faced as a child after his family moved to California from Peru. Providing adequate housing and services for the homeless will be difficult, and requires a long term commitment from our city stakeholders. However our Mayor and City Council have it within their sole discretion, especially with a new police chief, to end these anti-homeless policies and direct our public safety officials to re-engage with this segment of the Long Beach Community in a manner befitting a supposedly enlightened society like ours.
The lady from the park finished petting my dogs and thanked me. I wish I had a few dollars to give her, but sadly I’m unemployed at the moment; partly because I advocated for policies that would have made this woman’s life a little less despondent. I just hope a few moments of scratching my dog’s head made her feel better about sleeping in a city where people have treated her so unkindly.
Amongst the various governmental institutions in the City of Long Beach there is a commonly understood problem with transparency. Former City Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske made “Open Long Beach” the central tenant of her time in public service, as has perennial nutbag Bill Pearl of LB Report. Since re-locating to Long Beach, former LAPD Deputy Chief Steve Downing has carried on an incredibly important effort to force some accountability within our local police force through public records request. And most recently the city worker’s union, IAM 947, won a huge multi-million dollar victory against the City for unilaterally imposing a furlough (without proper negotiations or disclosures) in 2009.
Given this obvious problem with our public sector telling the complete truth to non-governmental stakeholders, you would think that our local news services would be all over this issue with the precision and tenacity of the post-Watergate press corps. Unfortunately you would be horribly mistaken in this assumption:
Last night—for the fourth month in a row—Long Beach City College (LBCC) Trustee Sunny Zia put forth a motion: to have a breakdown of all the expenditures that the board is approving.
Oh my is the LBCC board trying to pull a fast one on the public by hiding spending allocations? Umm not exactly…
Under LBCC’s Board of Trustees’ bylaws, purchase orders that are under $25K do not need to be itemized or elaborated upon; instead, they are grouped together and approved as a single line item. Zia’s issue is the fact that every month, these small purchase orders account for the vast majority of LBCC’s expenditures.
Of this month’s $1.9M in expenditures—which the Board approved last night, with Zia abstaining—$1.6M were unitemized purchase orders—about 80% of the expenditures for the month.
“None of this is itemized,” Zia said at the meeting. “For the past four months, I’ve been asking for this information and these appropriations are being spent. This is something that nobody on this board knows what they are, who this money goes to, what the sources of funds are and what items are being approved. I’ve abstained from voting on it because, frankly put, I need to know what I’m approving. Again, I’ve repeatedly asked for this information and for some reason, it is being kept from us.”
Removing the subtext of this entire article (which is: “Sunny Zia positions herself as a reformer in the hopes of running for city council soon”), the real issue here is that Ms. Zia doesn’t truly understand her position as a part-time trustee.
Simply put, a college trustee at any level is specifically NOT supposed to be making decisions regarding the individual appropriations of how much an institution spends on mechanical pencils or what not. Those sorts of minor judgements are delegated to the management and bureaucracy. This division of power is based on the accepted public interest in having our trustees devoted mainly to making determinations regarding the macro-economic issues and mission of the college. We do NOT want trustees wasting their time on becoming part-time micromanagers. If this sort of limited responsibility doesn’t suite Ms. Zia, she should have sought a different position before deciding to run last year.
Making matters worse in this clusterfuck of a story is the LB Post’s apparent (continued) comfort in re-printing press releases from the people they cover without much in the way of objective critical analysis. Where are the rather obvious questions regarding Zia’s reasons for pursing this particular issue? Where is Zia’s specific evidence of wrongdoing by the board?
To be fair the author did print this quote from Board Chair Jeff Kellogg:
“I gotta tell you, Trustee Zia, when you make an allegation toward me personally as a member of this board in conducting in unethical behavior, I take that very seriously,” Kellogg said. “I am insulted by that kind of comment […]. It is the policy of this board [to not itemize purchase orders under $25K]; it is how we do things. You have said you wanted to do this repeatedly and no other member of the board agrees with you. I gotta tell you, to make allegations of unethical behavior against this board is unfounded, it is inappropriate, and it is absolutely insulting […].”
This should have been the main point of the article. Zia is accusing her colleagues of unethical behavior in an incredibly reckless fashion. She has taken no time to understand either the purpose of her job or the mechanisms available to her to position, and she’s doing seemingly for personal political gain. It would be nice if our local press corps highlighted this obvious fact.