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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

2012-06-27 "Bill regulating state's medical marijuana industry delayed" by Linda Leff from "Associated Press"
SAN FRANCISCO — California's medical marijuana industry and critics who contend it has become a cover for illegal drug dealing will have to wait at least another year for the state to set up a system for licensing and regulating pot shops and growers.
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano on Monday pulled his bill that would have established an appointed board to vet and oversee medical marijuana businesses. The delay will allow a Senate committee that deals with professional licenses to do research and hold a public hearing on the issue while preventing the measure from being killed.
AB2312 narrowly passed the Assembly last month, but Ammiano said it was unlikely the Senate Committee on Business, Professions and Economic Development would have endorsed it or that Gov. Jerry Brown would have signed the legislation if it made it out of the Legislature.
Instead, he and committee chairman Sen. Curren Price, D-Los Angrles, agreed to give senators time to evaluate and possibly amend Ammiano's proposal once the current legislative session ends. The San Francisco Democrat says he hopes to introduce a reworked version of the bill next year.
"I want the votes and I want the governor to sign this thing," he said. "It's still in play. We have some success under our belt and the best thing is the committee itself will now partner with me, they will help shepherd this."
The measure that Ammiano shelved was modeled after a ballot initiative that medical marijuana advocates crafted last winter after the four federal prosecutors based in California launched a coordinated crackdown on dispensaries and growers they maintained were making huge profits selling pot to people who are not sick.
Ammiano and others, including state Attorney General Kamala Harris, had argued that the state's medical marijuana industry, which operates with virtually no oversight, would be less tempting a target if California could show it was doing its part to weed out pot shops that made no effort to comply with the state's liberal medical marijuana laws.
The framework Ammiano proposed would have required marijuana dispensaries, growers, delivery services and manufacturers of pot products to register with the state. It also would have compelled cities and counties to authorize one dispensary for every 50,000 residents unless officials secured voter approval to ban them.
To get the measure through the Assembly, where it squeaked by with the minimum 41 votes, the assemblyman agreed to amend it so city councils or boards of supervisors could implement bans on their own, as lawmakers in more than 170 California jurisdictions already have done. He also agreed to lift a cap on the taxes local governments could charge medical marijuana businesses.
The changes cost the bill support with medical marijuana advocates, who now are just as glad to have the statewide regulatory scheme put on hold, Americans for Safe Access spokesman Kris Hermes said Tuesday.
"In a sense, a lot of progress has been made, but we are also happy to go back to the drawing board to make sure we are all on the same page in terms of who this bill is supposed to help," Hermes said.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

2012-01-26 "California’s state of hunger; Voices from the frontlines of the battle against food scarcity in California" by Sasha Abramsky
A decade ago, Tammy Jaime lost everything to drugs. She her husband spent through their savings, lost their home and car, and ended up in the mountainous, rural far north of California, begging for food for their children.
But that’s not why Jaime struggles to feed her kids today. These days, Jaime, 39, is sober, enrolled in college, and working part-time for Cisco Headstart where she earns $12 an hour. It’s the most money she has ever made, far above the minimum wage. But routinely, as the month draws to a close, she and her husband run out of funds, not least because when somebody in the family falls sick, they end up with high medical bills.
“We live from paycheck to paycheck,” said Jaime. “Once in a while we see a movie. We don’t eat out very much. We don’t have TV. … Yes, next week is payday. But then, you know what, my check is gone the next day, because it’s all lined up for bills.”
For Billye and George McPherson, an octogenarian couple with 14 great-grandkids, who have long run the Siskiyou County food pantry that Jaime used to frequent, hunger is now a permanent companion for many friends and neighbors.
“When we were younger,” explained George McPherson, “and we had moved up here from the Bay Area, we had some really hard times raising our family. … So we understand what it is to be hungry.”
These days, the families who come to the McPherson’s pantry number about 350 out of a total local population of a couple thousand.
“One of the things that I’ll never forget is this [50-year-old] lady came in. … She needed food,” said McPherson. “When we gave her her box, she looked in it, and she saw toilet paper. And she said, ‘Oh, toilet paper,’ and she broke into tears. That just shows you how grateful these people are for everything you can do for them.”
Many of these men and women have jobs, but the jobs pay low wages—many far lower than the hourly rate paid to Jaime—and competition for them is fierce in the current economic climate. For these Californians, said Billye McPherson sadly, all too often “the month is longer than the money.” A week or two out from the next paycheck, they turn up on pantry lines, looking for boxes of food to tide them over until they have money in their bank accounts once more.

Hunger’s numbers -
Four-plus years into the worst financial, housing and unemployment crisis to hit the country since the Great Depression, America’s hunger numbers continue to climb. Forty-six million people are enrolled in food-stamp programs; they receive benefits that average $133.80 per month per individual, and $283.65 for a household. Millions more, based on their income numbers, ought to be so enrolled, but for many reasons aren’t. Additional millions don’t qualify for food stamps, but the part-time, low-wage work that they can find in practice doesn’t pay enough to cover all their bills. Like Tammy Jaime, they juggle expenses, and, in the process, frequently end up with insufficient money to buy enough food for themselves and their children.
While California doesn’t have the highest rate of poverty or hunger in the country, its raw hunger and food insecurity numbers are stunning simply by virtue of its size. Yes, the state with the largest population in the country has the second highest number of food-stamp enrollees (Texas holds the dubious distinction of having the highest), with more than 3.8 million residents on its CalFresh program. Of these, 1.39 million are children.
California would, however, have far more food-stamp recipients if it did even a remotely decent job at reaching out to those poor enough to qualify for the federally funded program. As it is, while some states successfully enroll upwards of 90 percent of food-insecure households, more than half of all Californians who should be covered by food stamps remain outside of that part of the safety net. That translates to nearly 4 million hungry Californians going without basic food assistance from the government. To survive, these men, women and children are reliant either on the largesse of local charities, churches and food pantries, or they are simply missing meals to stretch their meager food dollars as long as possible.
“California’s about the bottom of the barrel,” said California Food Policy Advocates executive director Ken Hecht, of the low food-stamp-enrollment rate. Hecht’s organization published a report in 2010, titled Lost Dollars, Empty Plates, which concluded that approximately 3.6 million Californians who qualify for food stamps are nevertheless not enrolled—thus sacrificing federally funded benefits worth a total of more than $4.8 billion annually. Since food-stamp expenditures circulate rapidly through the economy, the CFPA researchers calculated that the total cost to the California economy of these unclaimed benefits was a staggering $8.68 billion.
Last year, hunger advocates from around the state convened in Sacramento to highlight the urgency of the problem. Members of Hunger Action Los Angeles showed up at the Capitol carrying cardboard cut-out figures, on each of which was glued a paper plate on which was printed out hunger data, generated by the California Health Interview Survey, from individual counties. Whichever part of the state one chose to focus on, the numbers were dismal.
In Los Angeles County, there were nearly 1.13 million “food insecure” adults in 2009, the most recent year for which such CHIS data exists, most of them insecure because they were not enrolled in the food stamp program. In Riverside County, the number was close to 250,000. San Diego had 210,000, Sacramento 126,000, Santa Clara 96,000. In Alameda, there were 169,000 adults in this category. Even in eminently middle-class counties, the numbers were high: Sonoma came in with 51,000 food-insecure adults; Yolo with 16,000.
Cumulatively, the survey found that statewide, even after the expansion in food-stamp usage since the start of the recession, 3.7 million Californian adults were struggling to put food on the table in 2009, up from 2.8 million just two years previously.

California, meet your hungry -
Hunger in 21st-century America transcends stereotypes: It might be portrayed by a food line snaking through a dirt-poor neighborhood in a dilapidated inner city, an image redolent of Great Depression-era photographs by chroniclers such as Dorothea Lange. But at this point, it’s just as likely to be embodied by somebody like Marcy Glickman, who for most of her life was upper-middle class, a denizen of L.A.’s fashionable west side, but who has recently been brought low by medical bills following her husband’s illness and death, and her own disability.
“I’ve had [a Mercedes-Benz car], we could travel, we could buy nice things, jewelry. … We lived a great life. Great medical coverage. Children in private schools. Then, all of a sudden, it changed, because of illness. … My husband had cancer. Those bills are horrendous. It’s the nightmare that you’d never, never want. One day, you’re high on the hill. The next day … you’re a part of those that don’t have.”
Hunger is also the face and voice of Graciela R., who lives in the hardscrabble L.A. suburb of Silmar. The 50-year-old mother of two used to scrape by with jobs in laundromats, but she has been unemployed since the start of the recession. Where she and her husband once brought in nearly $2,000 a month, today they squeak by on the $700 a month that her husband earns repairing windows in cars. How much money does she have? “The $3 in my purse,” she answered in Spanish. And laughed, as if to say, “What can you do?”
For food, the family of four lives on the food stamps that one of her two children is eligible for, and food boxes given out by the community group Meet Each Need With Dignity, in the nearby town of Pacoima, as well as neighborhood churches. She and her husband sometimes miss meals to make sure that their children have enough to eat.
Hunger is also the face of Matthew Joseph, a middle-aged steel worker and church deacon, brought to the edge of destitution by Stockton’s collapsed housing market combined with a long spell of unemployment in the first years of the recession. “You realize that everything you’ve worked for can be gone, completely gone,” said Joseph, as he recounts his struggle to keep his home and to put food on the table for his wife and himself. “I had to start looking for things in my lifestyle where I could say, ‘We can’t do this any longer.’ I was always looking to say, ‘What can I get out of this meal? What can I make that will last me not just a meal but two meals?’ I need to be able to thin everything; thin what we’re doing in life, what we’re doing for our house. Where do I come up with money for food, PG&E, garbage and everything else?”
At his church, Joseph was struck “by the amount of people at Christmas or Thanksgiving not looking for presents, but just looking for food. I hear these stories at the cathedral day in and day out.”
This changing face of hunger became particularly noticeable in 2008, recalls Blake Young, executive director of the Sacramento Food Bank, as he details demographic shifts in his clientele in recent years. Throughout 2009 and most of 2010 the total numbers of food bank clients—men, women and children who can be seen lining city blocks on mornings that the banks and pantries distribute free food—continued to grow. And even after the total numbers stabilized, the number of “ex-middle-income, first-time visitors has gone through the roof,” Young noted. “And it’s growing every day.”

There must be food -
Yet, for all of the “food insecurity” in California, actual hunger would be far more extensive without government programs in place to tackle the problem; or were those programs replaced by block grants, as an increasing number of Republican politicians are advocating.
Food stamps are the one part of the social safety net that, for those enrolled, still works really well. The program keeps users from hunger, being available to all legal residents who are at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty line—though individual states can determine what value of assets, such as cars, applicants are allowed to hang on to. It is counter-cyclical—the availability and usage of food-stamp benefits increasing during recessions, with the federal government currently bankrolling the program to the tune of approximately $65 billion per year—and can help to keep local economies afloat during downtimes, and it is flexible enough to deal with the needs of individuals and families in a multitude of ways. The benefits are given to clients via the EBT card, which means that once the messiness of enrolment is over, the delivery of services is actually pretty efficient. And, unlike the old paper vouchers, modern EBT benefits are hard to sell, thus eliminating, or at least much reducing, black markets around their usage, and making sure the benefits get spent properly on food—especially food for children.
That’s one reason that the GOP attacks against food stamps in recent months, by Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum on the presidential campaign trail, and by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)—who proposed replacing food stamps with capped block grants to the states—haven’t resonated all that well.
People in America don’t like welfare programs in the abstract, but when it comes to specifics, food stamps and other nutritional programs actually enjoy pretty high levels of support. Polling data quoted by the Food Research and Action Center shows that nearly 90 percent of Americans believe that “those who are unable to earn enough money for food should be helped by others”; in 2003, the Alliance to End Hunger found that seven in 10 voters say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who proposed cuts to the school-lunch program and found that 63 percent of voters would be less likely to vote for a politician who proposed cutting food stamps.
But while there are many success stories associated with the country’s federally funded anti-hunger programs, the states responsible for administering these benefits vary tremendously in how they enroll people and how they access the federal dollars. And on this front, the Golden State does very badly. Despite years of efforts, only about half of eligible Californians receive the benefits. In many counties, that number is actually far less than 50 percent.
In the six counties of the Sacramento region alone, more than 110,000 residents eligible for food stamps go without. The benefits lost by these people equal more than a quarter of a billion dollars per year.
Analysts blame the low-enrollment percentage on an array of factors: first among these was that, until a recent reform, Assembly Bill 6, kicked in January 1, California was one of only three states to fingerprint food-stamp applicants, placing both a stigma and a fear of law enforcement and immigration authorities in the way of access to the program.
That requirement was changed, in a rare display of legislative bipartisanship in Sacramento, after years of prodding by President Barack Obama’s United States Department of Agriculture officials responsible for administering food stamps. Both in D.C. and at the department’s regional offices in Oakland, USDA personnel held numerous meetings with state officials, sent out letters to key legislators, and otherwise made it clear that they wanted to see reform.
At the same time, A.B. 6 also set in place a timeline for ending, over the next two years, several other bureaucratic obstacles to easy enrollment. Currently, California mandates that recipients apply for re-enrollment four times a year, subjecting them to a cumbersome means test that frequently deters applicants; A.B. 6 reduces the returning applications to twice a year. Also, the state insists that applicants apply, in person, at food-stamp offices, which produces a strong disincentive for the working poor to apply: after all, if applying means turning up during work hours and thus losing hourly wages, or even forfeiting a job, why bother to apply? A.B. 6 allows for telephone interviews and online applications.
At the same time, the federal Affordable Care Act gives the newly created state health insurance exchanges boards the option of setting up systems that would automatically enroll into the food-stamp program applicants who successfully enroll in Medicaid. California’s board is likely to go for this option. The rationale, here, is that a dollar spent on helping people eat well saves many dollars in health costs down the road.
Finally, following passage of Jim Beall’s Assembly Bill 69, California will also soon allow low-income elderly residents to access food stamps more easily when they enroll in Social Security, in an attempt to end a pattern of extraordinarily low CalFresh participation among this portion of the population.
Hunger advocates hope that the effect of this series of changes will be dramatically increased enrollment levels in CalFresh over the next few years, and a corresponding decrease in levels of food insecurity in California.

The public-health ingredient -
In addition to the state changing the ways in which residents can access food stamps, many localities are also getting creative on the nutrition front. Programs such as The Veggie Voucher Program, funded by local food networks and foundations, are pushing recipients to eat healthier foods, leveraging their federal food stamps with matching funds for clients to spend specifically on fruits and vegetables in select farmers markets around the state.
“If you are consuming your fruits and vegetables on a daily basis, it’ll prevent you from getting sick,” explained Maribel Diaz, a CalFresh recipient since she lost her job, and currently a part-time worker with Hunger Action Los Angeles. “It’s very important to have access to fruits and vegetables.”
More broadly on the public-health front, many of the state’s large food banks are moving away from a reliance on USDA surplus and grocery-store contributions—mainly carbohydrates and canned goods—and toward privately donated and bought fruits and vegetables. Some, like the Sacramento Food Bank, are also inaugurating large demonstration farms from which their clients can harvest produce.
This is, nutritional specialists have long argued, a critical public-health ingredient in the food equations of the moment, given the challenges of low-income obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes; and given, also, the large number of regions (including in south Sacramento, Del Paso Heights and north Sacramento) that have significant shortages in the numbers of stores offering fresh produce at affordable prices. “Access to fresh food via either grocery store or farmers market—a large portion of the low-income population don’t have access,” explained Blake Young.
In addition to The Veggie Voucher Program, that piggybacks off of CalFresh, local school districts such as Compton Unified, with endemic poverty rates, are experimenting with Classroom Breakfast, seeking to raise breakfast-enrollment levels to the same levels as those of free-lunch programs. Again, the assumption is that hungry kids—who might not be able to get to school early enough to access breakfast in the cafeteria before classes begin—can’t learn to their full potential, whereas well-fed kids are better able to concentrate on their academic responsibilities, thus allowing them to use education to break cycles of poverty.
The family of 18-year-old high-school senior Uriel R., who attends a school in the East Los Angeles suburb of Pomona, was recently evicted from its home. As a result, the large family—siblings, parents and grandparents—was split up; his sisters now live elsewhere. Uriel lives in a small apartment with his mother, who finds occasional work cleaning homes, and who routinely struggles to feed her family. The student said, “My mom only cooks on Monday, so I expect a hot meal on Mondays. Sometimes it’s just eggs and cheese. From Tuesdays all the way to Sunday we don’t have hot meals; we just eat whatever’s left in the fridge.”
A smart student, with ambitions to attend college, Uriel has slid into depression as his family’s economic situation has worsened. He sits outside a lot. He often cries. The American Dream, he declaims angrily, means nothing to him anymore. “The weekends,” he said, “I just eat soup or quesadillas. I don’t eat breakfast in the mornings.”
When Compton moved its breakfast program into the classroom to try to tackle the kind of hunger that Uriel describes, the number of children accessing meals increased by 250 percent—from 98,353 in September 2010, to 238,716 a year later.

Scale of emergency -
For all the good work being done on the hunger front in California, the scale of the crisis remains daunting.
Despite her access to Veggie Vouchers and CalFresh, for Maribel Diaz and her three sons, the sense of dislocation following the family’s slide into poverty remains acute. “I’m hoping that there is a way out of this, that everything starts getting better. But right now, I feel like I’m stuck, there’s no way to go, right or left. … Poverty to me means not having access to a normal life. Not having access to go to a movie. Not having access when my kids need shoes or clothing. If it wasn’t for the CalFresh program, we would have no access to food. If it wasn’t for those programs out there helping us, I’d basically be a homeless person. ”
For Marcy Glickman, that sense of dislocation has been just as profound. These days, with her income having been reduced from $10,000 a month to $1,000. Glickman has lost her house to foreclosure, her car to the repo man. She now lives in a small apartment, relying on monthly disability checks and on a network of food charities to put enough food on her table. “I started collecting coupons for groceries. … We ended up having to get food stamps. At first, I felt embarrassed, but after a while, I realized, ‘At least we’re eating.’”
These stories are unfortunately all too common these days, said Jessica Jones of the Los Angeles Food Bank. “We get stories like that almost all the time,” she explained. “The people who did everything right and had the rug pulled out from under them. And the people who were already struggling are struggling even more. When I first started [working at the food bank] in December 2008, we served 39 million pounds of food. In 2010, we did 62 million pounds of food. The number of people we serve has gone up by 73 percent since the recession started.”
2012-01-26 "State Senate hits stalemate on universal healthcare for California"
State lawmakers deadlocked Thursday over a controversial measure that would provide universal healthcare in California.
In a vote in which some Democrats did not participate, the measure received only 19 of the 21 votes needed for passage in the Senate, but it was put over for another possible vote next week.
[Updated, 12:55 p.m. Jan. 26: Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said later Thursday that the bill will "probably not" make it out of the Legislature by a deadline next week.
The proposed legislation is a vehicle "to raise the visibility of the issue," Steinberg said. "I don't think that there is any reasonable prospect that in the short term a 'Medicare for All' bill will be signed in the country or in California. But that doesn't mean it's not important."]
Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) noted that some people have argued there is no need for state legislation because the federal government has already approved an affordable healthcare system to begin in 2014.
But Leno said states are allowed to provide greater healthcare under that system, and that California should act because the courts are considering lawsuits to overturn the federal plan.
Leno said SB 810 is needed because healthcare premiums have increased five times the rate of inflation in the last decade and 12 million Californians went without coverage during some time last year.
"Clearly, the current system is not working for businesses, for employers, for employees, for families," he said.
Sen. Tony Strickland of Moorpark was part of the mostly Republican bloc that opposed the measure, which he said would create a large, inefficient bureaucracy.
"Clearly, if you want the compassion of the IRS and the efficiency of the DMV doing your healthcare, this bill is for you," Strickland said during floor debate on the measure.

Friday, January 20, 2012

2012-01-19 "Death Valley students face loss of lifeline; California has pulled funding for school transportation for the rest of this fiscal year and may eliminate it entirely next year. In Death Valley, where some students have a two-hour round trip, the cut is 'catastrophic.'" by Teresa Watanabe from "Los Angeles Times"

Reporting from Death Valley -- As the day's first light streaks pink across the sky, a yellow school bus appears on a lonely road leading to an Indian village in Death Valley National Park. The bus rumbles past desert mesquite and ocher mountains to pick up Marlee RedWolf Rave for one of the longest school bus rides in California.
 It is 6:54 a.m. Marlee, a 14-year-old with raven hair and red nail polish, climbs aboard. She is one of nine students who spend more than two hours riding this bus 120 miles every school day to and from the Furnace Creek area to their school in Shoshone.
 The long distance and light passenger load make this bus ride exorbitantly expensive. The Death Valley Unified School District spends about $3,500 a year for each of its 60 students on home-to-school transportation — compared with about $26 per student in more densely populated districts, according to data compiled by the California School Boards Assn.
 So when Gov. Jerry Brown announced that lagging state revenue would require eliminating all school transportation funding for the rest of this fiscal year, it hit this tiny school district harder than just about any other in California. Death Valley Supt. Jim Copeland calls the cut, which took effect Jan. 1, "catastrophic."
 For students like Marlee, the issue goes way beyond dollars and cents. The bus is her lifeline from the desolation of the desert to a wider world of teachers and friends, school sports and art projects and academic stimulation.
 "School is the highlight of my life, and we can't get to school without the buses," Marlee said after a recent morning ride.
 Educators statewide have decried the busing cuts as particularly unfair to small and rural districts that shoulder disproportionately high transportation costs. They are scrambling to reverse the move with legal action, letter-writing campaigns and legislative lobbying. Some are arguing that if cuts have to be made, they should be distributed equitably across the state.
 The Small School Districts' Assn. is advising its 330 members to consider transportation fees and independent study for far-flung students.
 State funding is based on each district's transportation costs. Districts in rural mountain counties such as Tuolumne and Mariposa, and in such desert communities as Inyo, are losing $200 or more per student.
 Those in densely populated urban and suburban counties such as Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside will lose $50 or less. Los Angeles Unified, the largest school system in the state, is taking a hit of $59 per student.
 Because Brown acted in the middle of the school year, districts got half the state funding they were counting on. Next year, they'll get nothing: Brown has proposed wiping out the entire $619-million school transportation program. Without state funding, districts would have to find the money elsewhere or stop busing their students.
 "Home-to-school transportation is about the worst place to cut because it hits districts so differently," said Dennis Meyers of the school boards group, which is considering joining a lawsuit filed last month by L.A. Unified against the reductions. "It's a killer for some districts."
 Southern Humboldt Unified recently sent layoff notices to all 14 transportation department employees. The district spends about $1,780 a year per student transporting 650 of them in 11 buses over 200,000 miles of rugged mountain roads, Supt. Jim Stewart said.
 Without relief, he said, the district will run a skeleton program next year for physically disabled students who are guaranteed busing under federal law and for a limited number of others. Parents may have to carpool or buy public bus passes, he said.
 That won't work for most families in Death Valley, where 85% of the students come from low-income households, Copeland says.
 For Marlee, no bus means no school. Her single mother, Deb Watterson, who is also a Death Valley school board member, hasn't had a steady job since 2004, when she was paid through a federal grant to monitor wells on her Timbisha Shoshone tribal land.
 Watterson said she suffers from several health problems, survives on welfare and food stamps and could never afford the $5-a-gallon gas to make the round trip every day herself. Sometimes, she said, she can't afford the gas to make monthly board meetings.
 Home schooling is also out. The family has no computer or Internet access, and Watterson, 53, said she feels unqualified to teach her daughter because she never finished high school herself.
 In this distant outpost, where only about 10 families live in the Indian village and 24 others were counted in the 2010 census for Furnace Creek, tutors are few and far between.
 Watterson would never consider putting her daughter in boarding school. The idea stirs ugly images of the well-documented beatings and other abuse inflicted on Native American children in some Christian boarding schools, Watterson said.
 Moving closer to school is out of the question; she can't afford to pay rent. The family's compact two-bedroom home, decorated with Indian quilts and art, is fully paid for.
 In any case, Watterson said, she never intends to leave the land of her ancestors again. An interlude in Des Moines before Marlee was born depressed her — the concrete buildings, the pollution and noise, the crime. "I felt like I was choking to death," she said.
 She missed the vast beauty of her tribal homeland — the desert blooms and splash of starlight, the yowl of coyotes piercing an otherwise silent night. Shortly after Marlee was born, she returned to Death Valley.
 "This is our land — all of it," said Watterson, sweeping her arm across the desert vista as she and Marlee sat outside with Batman, their dog. "I'm never leaving Timbisha again."
 Other Death Valley families are considering their options. Barb and Paul Taylor say they may move to Texas with their son, 11-year-old Zachary. They both have steady work at a Furnace Creek restaurant but say the drive to school would cost them $1,000 a month in gas — wiping out much of their disposable income — and conflict with their work hours.
 They can afford a computer and Internet service, should home schooling be their only option, but say they would not want that for their son.
 "School is about more than learning; it's the only time Zach can socialize with other kids," his mother said.
 Paul Taylor said the transportation cuts amount to discrimination.
 "The poor won't have an opportunity to educate their kids, and this is the only chance they have to get out of poverty," he said. "They'll be forced to use welfare and cost the state more in the long run."
 In Death Valley, the $210,000 transportation budget is one-sixth of the district's $1.2-million operating budget, a far higher proportion than in more compact districts. Copeland said he will use the district's reserve funds to maintain bus service for the rest of the school year, at a cost of $105,000.
 But there won't be any money left to pay for busing next year, he said. That's why Copeland has discussed layoffs or pay cuts with some of his 22 employees. He has contacted his state legislative representatives about trying to restore Death Valley's state funding.
 Copeland also supports Brown's proposed ballot measure to raise money for schools through tax increases, although the nonpartisan state legislative analyst has said the taxes could bring in much less than the governor is counting on.
 At least for now, the buses are still rolling.
 On a recent afternoon at Death Valley High School, Marlee chats with a classmate as she works on an art project about a rare trip away from the desert to San Diego. The students wonder whether there will be enough money to bus the track team to meets; if not, there may be no track this year.
 The school has already pulled out of a basketball and volleyball league because the games were as far as seven hours away by bus and required overnight stays. Instead, Copeland is trying to arrange games with schools "close to home," which means within a two-hour drive.
 At 2:30 p.m., Marlee, Zachary and seven classmates board the bus for the long ride home. Most of them sleep. Zachary listens to Usher and Bruno Mars on his iPod Nano, puzzles over math homework and stares out the window.
 On good days, there is something new to see: thick blankets of fog and mist, maybe some road kill, maybe a red-tailed hawk. Mostly, it is a long, boring trip.
 But the students can't imagine life without it.
 "Without the bus," Marlee said, "I would die."

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

2012-01-17 "The Great Dispensary Freeze of 2012" by David Downs from "East Bay Express" newspaper
San Francisco, the hotbed of marijuana law reform, has frozen medical cannabis dispensary permitting this winter as the City — and dozens of others across the state — nervously await a decision by the California Supreme Court on the very legality of such permits.
Nine groups that are seeking permits to open new San Francisco clubs — mostly in the Mission — have been caught in limbo, the Department of Public Health told Legalization Nation. San Francisco currently has 26 permitted dispensaries. However, an October decision by California's Second District Court of Appeals, in the case of Pack v. Superior Court, states that local regulations — such as permits and fees — are preempted by federal drug law.
California cities and counties can either help Uncle Sam prosecute the Drug War or stand idly by, the appeals court found. But local jurisdictions can't actively contravene federal law with medical marijuana distribution permits, fees, and mandates for lab testing.
As a result, progressive cities with dispensary regulations have paused their programs, cities and counties opposed to medical marijuana are using Pack to ban all clubs, and unregulated clubs now have legal cover to open without any rules. The city of Long Beach is planning an appeal, and the California Supreme Court has until February 8 to decide to either hear it or let the appellate decision stand. Their decision will be pivotal, lawyers say.
If Pack stands, “we have an out-of-control industry we could not effectively regulate,” said Bob Shannon, Long Beach's city attorney. “It's a totally unacceptable set of circumstances, at least for us.”
Shannon said his office will go to the Long Beach City Council January 17 and request a ban on all dispensaries until the Pack appeal is settled. There are about sixty dispensaries in Long Beach — and no one has a permit under the city's spring 2010 ordinance, which called for a lottery system and steep fees to determine which operators could stay open. It also mandated safety testing.
Long Beach dispensary operator Ryan Pack, represented by attorney Matt Pappas, sued Long Beach over its permit program in September of 2010. Pappas argued that the federal Drug War preempts localities from picking winners for pot permits. Astonishingly, the appellate court upheld the interpretation in October, prompting Long Beach's appeal to the state Supreme Court.
The American Civil Liberties Union, several cities, and national marijuana patient lobby Americans for Safe Access have denounced the appellate court's decision and asked the Supreme Court to wipe out its existence by de-publishing it. Pack stymies regulation and leads to bans that prevent safe access, they say. Three other California appellate courts have ruled to the contrary on issues of federal preemption, critics note.
Shannon agrees. “The law on this issue is chaotic, and has not been consistently applied,” he said.
Los Angeles City Attorney Asha Greenberg seemed exasperated. “With Pack we can't regulate, we can't control what kind of quality products people are getting when it comes to things people eat, pesticides, potency, any of that.” Los Angeles is also mulling a ban again.
Seven-year old delivery-only dispensary The Green Cross has been applying for a permit to open a physical location at 4218 Mission in San Francisco for a year. Manager Caren Woodson said the city put her permit hearing on hold in November, citing the Pack case. She called the situation “unfortunate” and awaits the Supreme Court's decision.
Five other groups are seeking permits on Mission. The popular dispensary The Green Door is seeking a second location on Lombard Street.
Northern California dispensary developer Debby Goldsberry said cities and counties quickly used Pack as an excuse to ban dispensaries. “Right now is the worst time to pursue a city permit almost anywhere. Pack has had a big effect. A lot of cities are just waiting it out at this point. Some big change is coming if Pack stands.”
However, some cities are advancing: Oakland intends to permit four groups to open new dispensaries by the month's end, and in December, the City of Richmond permitted its first three dispensaries, said city attorney Mary Renfro.
Cities might be able to re-word their permitting schemes to survive preemption, Pack notes. Arturo Sanchez, assistant to the city administrator in Oakland, indicated it could take three weeks to four months for the city to rewrite its ordinances around Pack, if it's upheld.
The San Francisco City Attorney's office stated in an email, “If the Supreme Court does not grant review, the City Attorney's Office will work with the City to address SF's conformance with this decision.”
But Shannon said rewording ordinances to comply with Pack is too hard. It would mean switching from a system of “permits” to something like a “certificate of non-disallowal”.
“It doesn't make any sense,” Shannon said.
Oakland lawyer and dispensary permit applicant Robert Raich expects the Supreme Court to de-publish Pack. The high court has a history of upholding state law in the face of federal preemption challenges, he said.
“It was wrongly decided and it will be de-published or review will be granted," Raich said. "Eventually the state Supreme Court will reverse it."
Still, the Pack decision exposes the fault line running through the national terrain of marijuana law.
“We've known for some time that [regulation] isn't consistent with federal law,” Shannon said. “Unfortunately Long Beach just got put at the front of the class.”

Pending San Francisco medical cannabis dispensary applications as of 11/10/11
The Green Cross — 4218 Mission St.
Bay Area Compassion Health Care Center, Inc — 2139 Taraval St.
Tree-Med, Inc — 5234 Mission St.
Mission Organics Center — 5258 Mission St.
Mission Herbal Care — 3139 Mission St.
Grassroots — 952 Mission St.
To be determined — 101 Jessie St. (70 2nd St.)
Axis of Love — 1260 Mission St.
Happy Days — 100 Sickles Ave.
Cambon Connoiseur Cooperative — 33 Cambon Dr.
Bay Area Medicinal Facility — 17 Halleck St.
JM Collective — 471 Jessie St.
Green Door — 2414 Lombard St.

Permitted San Francisco medical cannabis dispensaries
Market St. Cooperative — 1884 Market St.
Re-leaf Herbal — 1284 Mission St.
Med Thrive Co-op — 933 Mission St.
1944 Ocean Collective — 1944 Ocean Ave.
Bernal Heights Collective — 33 29th St.
Sanctuary — 669 O'Farrell St.
San Francisco Med Cannabis Clinic — 122 10th St.
The Vapor Room — 607A Haight St.
The Divinity Tree — 958 Geary St.
Emmaylns — 1597 Howard St., Ste A
Good Fellows Cannabis Club — 473 Haight St.
Green Cross — 230 11th St.
The Green Door — 843 Howard St.
Hemp Center (aka Patient Place) — 4811 Geary Blvd.
Hope Net Co-Op — 22 9th St.
Ketama Collective — 14 Valencia St.
Love Shack — 502 14th St
Grass Roots — 1077 Post St.
B.A.C.H. — 1545 Ocean Ave.
Mr. Nice Guy — 174 Valencia St.
BASA — 1328 Grove St.
Valencia Street Caregivers — 208 Valencia St.
SPARC — 1256-1258 Mission St.
Igzactly Health Center — 527 Howard St.
Shambala Healing Center - 2441 Mission St.
The Apothecary — 2095 Market St.
 — San Francisco Department of Public Health

Saturday, January 14, 2012

2012-01-14 "California Leads Nation in Unaccredited Schools, and Enforcement Is Lax" by JENNIFER GOLLAN from "New York Times"
Dibyendu Malakar needed a graduate business degree to advance his career, but he was working full time and could not afford $100,000 or more for a two-year M.B.A. program at Berkeley, Stanford or another accredited business school. So Mr. Malakar enrolled at Frederick Taylor University, an unaccredited school in Moraga.
 Because Frederick Taylor is listed in California as a state-approved school, he said, “I thought, ‘It can’t be completely bogus.’ ” In fact, he got his M.B.A. via the Internet in just a year, for less than $5,000.
 That may not have been quite the bargain it seemed to be, though. “I did not realize that it did not carry the same weight as Berkeley or Stanford,” said Mr. Malakar, who emigrated from India. “But it was not a complete waste.” Mr. Malakar said his M.B.A. helped him get a job as director of product management at a software company in Cupertino.
 Shakila Marando, a 33-year-old doula from El Cerrito, is seeking a bachelor’s degree in management from Frederick Taylor. Although she has been a student for nearly a year, she has never spoken to a teacher, she said. “They e-mail you a package of reading materials to read with a multiple-choice exam that is open book,” said Ms. Marando, who is from Tanzania. “For me, it is very convenient and I can work full time and read a little bit on the side. It is pretty easy.”
 For Mr. Malakar, Ms. Marando and hundreds of students like them, it matters little that Frederick Taylor has no library or dorms; or that some states, including California, Michigan and Oregon, refuse to hire its graduates for many civil service jobs; or that its degrees are worthless for most professional licenses or teaching certificates.
 Education experts say California leads the nation in unaccredited schools. Frederick Taylor is one of nearly 1,000 unaccredited or questionably accredited colleges and vocational schools that have been operating in the state without regular inspections or evaluations of educational quality, which is required under a state law that has rarely been enforced. State approval is basically a license to operate. Accreditation comes from national or regional agencies that review curriculums and educational standards.
 “There are a lot of schools that beg the question ‘What exactly is going on in California?’ ” said Eyal Ben Cohen, managing director of Accredibase Limited, a company based in London that monitors diploma mills. “California has very weak oversight procedures as far as allowing an institution to operate within its borders. An institution within California can obtain a license very easily.”
 Based in a cramped office on the second floor of a nondescript office building in Moraga, Frederick Taylor is run by Mansour S. Saki and Zhilla Nayeri Saki. Mr. Saki’s own curriculum vitae lists a Ph.D. from the C.S.M. Institute of Graduate Studies, which forfeited its accreditation in 2004.
 Zhilla Nayeri Saki lists a doctorate in business administration from the same institution. Both are listed among Frederick Taylor’s six-person faculty, along with the couple’s 32-year-old daughter, Maryam S. Boller.
 Selling diplomas over the Internet is a thriving business. The Sakis live in Orinda in a three- bedroom home with an assessed value of $1.1 million, according to property records.
 The California Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education is responsible for overseeing schools like Frederick Taylor, which was named for a late-19th-century management consultant. But in interviews, state officials conceded that many unaccredited schools had operated with state approval for decades without regular inspections. Frederick Taylor initially received approval to award degrees in 1994, but state records do not show that it was ever inspected.
 In October, state officials renewed the school’s application to operate, again without a visit.
 “They received approval because the eight-page application that they filled out was in compliance with the law,” said Russ Heimerich, a spokesman for the state Department of Consumer Affairs, which oversees the postsecondary education bureau.
 Frederick Taylor charges $5,212 for a bachelor’s degree or a master’s in business administration. The academic requirements are less stringent than those at accredited universities. Full-time M.B.A. students at the University of California’s Haas School of Business at Berkeley, for example, must complete 51 semester units of course work. Frederick Taylor requires 32 units.
 In a brief interview recently, Mr. Saki defended his school’s quality but said he had no plans to apply for accreditation from an organization recognized by the United States Department of Education.
 “Licensing organizations and the civil service department in Michigan are entitled to set their own selection policies,” Mr. Saki said in a subsequent e-mail. “For some reasons, they have decided to disallow graduates of state-approved schools to join their organizations.”
 Two people who were listed as faculty members on Frederick Taylor’s Web site and its course catalog said they no longer worked there when they were contacted by phone.
 One of them, Pamela Berkman, a production manager at John Wiley & Sons, was listed as a faculty member but said she had not taught at the school for at least five years. Robert Deer, who teaches marketing and business courses in Florida, said he was hired to teach at Frederick Taylor about a year ago but had not been contacted to teach a class.
 “I would not have applied for the job if I had known they were unaccredited,” Mr. Deer said.
 Mr. Deer’s and Ms. Berkman’s names disappeared from the faculty list soon after a reporter contacted them about the school.
 Mr. Saki said his school had as many as 500 students, many from Europe, Asia or Africa. He declined to elaborate on how foreign students were recruited or how many American students were enrolled.
 A branch of Frederick Taylor University, called Frederick Taylor International University, joined with recruiters based in India, China and other countries to enroll students, most of them from abroad. After officials in Hawaii found the school had failed to notify students that it was unaccredited, and falsely claimed it was licensed by the state, among other state violations, the school was closed in 2001 and ordered to pay a $35,000 fine.
 California regulators say they concern themselves only with whether schools abide by California law, in keeping their promises to students.
 “The only thing we can go by is what they have been doing in California,” Mr. Heimerich, the consumer affairs spokesman, said. “If they are compliant with California law, then what standing do we have to take any action against them?”
 Given the state’s history of lax oversight, it now faces the enormous challenge of completing roughly 1,300 compliance inspections by its stated goal of fall 2013.
 “The former staff had more of a consultant role,” said Joanne Wenzel, the deputy bureau chief of the Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education. “Now we are trying to bring them into compliance to regulate them” and make sure they follow state laws. “There weren’t a lot of teeth in the old law. We have moved away from that in the new law. We’ve gone to a consumer protection stance.”

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

2012-01-11 "California Teachers Take On Jerry Brown; The Working Class Begins to Fight Back" by BILL LEUMER and ANN ROBERTSON
Ann Robertson is a Lecturer at San Francisco State University and a member of the California Faculty Association.
Bill Leumer is a member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 853 (ret.). They can be contacted
After decades of losing ground and feeling helpless, working people are beginning to fight back. This development has emerged in part because the Occupy Wall Street movement has thrown a national spotlight on the growing inequalities in wealth and the mainstream politicians who have enabled this trend to continue for decades. The Occupy Wall Street movement drew the obvious conclusion: meaningful change will happen, not by endless waiting for the politicians to act, but by working people relying on themselves and acting collectively.
The ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union) in the Longview, Washington area, for example, has announced that it will put up a fight to resist the union-busting maneuvers of EGT Development, which is reneging on a previous agreement to use ILWU workers. The union has put out a “Call to Action,” appealing to all working people to come to their aid in order to stop EGT Development from loading grain without the ILWU workers. The union leaders rightfully argue that the EGT effort to shift the work away from the ILWU workers is an attack on all working people, because the ILWU is one of the strongest unions in the country, it has engaged in job actions in support of working people throughout the country and the world, and there was a previous agreement that these were ILWU jobs.
Meanwhile in California the battle lines are forming around a different issue: competing ballot measures that would increase the state’s revenue by raising taxes.
After public education suffered debilitating cuts during the past 5 years, the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) has valiantly stood up and proposed a measure that would raise taxes on people making more than $1 million by 3 percent and those making more than $2 million by 5 percent. The money raised would be earmarked for public education and vital social services, and there would be no expiration date on this tax increase, if it passes.
Governor Jerry Brown’s proposal stands on the other side of the class divide. He is supporting a measure that would increase taxes on people who make more than $250,000 by 1 percent and those making over $500,000 by 2 percent. But he has also included an increase in the sales tax by one-half cent, and the entire tax package includes an expiration date of 2016. The money has not been earmarked for public education or vital social services.
While Brown’s proposal might seem to have a progressive component by raising taxes on the wealthy, he in fact is doing everything he can to protect the rich. The California Democratic Party, of which Jerry Brown is a leading member, has gone on record favoring raising taxes on everyone but the richest 1 percent (San Francisco Chronicle, August 4, 2010). But Brown is also well aware of strong public sentiment (over 60 percent) in favor of raising taxes on the rich and equally strong public opposition to additional cuts to education. According to the San Jose Mercury News, Brown conceded that an increase in the sales tax was not popular, but he included it because “I thought we ought to have a balanced program.” (December 16, 2011).
With a stubborn budget deficit and polls wildly favoring increased taxes on the rich, Brown was compelled to propose increasing their taxes. But his tax proposal represents the most minimal concession to popular sentiment. If it passes, the wealthy would suffer a miniscule increase in their taxes, but only temporarily because of the expiration date packed into the proposal. The increase in the sales tax — the most insidious part of Brown’s proposal — is fundamentally regressive, meaning that it would constitute a heavier burden on the poorest members of society and the lightest burden on the wealthiest.
Brown’s description of his tax measure as “a balanced program” is surely disingenuous. Between 1978 and 2008 the incomes of the wealthiest 1 percent of Californians grew 81 percent while the income of the bottom 20 percent dropped by 11.5 percent (San Francisco Chronicle, April 1, 2011). A “balanced program” would have raised taxes on the wealthiest by 81 percent and lowered taxes on the bottom 20 percent by 11.5 percent. But Brown’s sentiments clearly lie with the top 1 percent, not the bottom 99 percent, let alone the bottom 20 percent.
These competing tax measures, in the most rudimentary respect, represent the emergence of class struggle politics, and the people of California will be forced to take sides. In fact, some have already taken a stand. Because of the unpopularity of the sales tax and the mild increase in taxes on the wealthy, Jerry Brown has hoped to draw in the support of working people by putting pressure on top state union officials to reject the CFT initiative and support Brown’s counter proposal. The statewide Service Employees International Union (SEIU) officials have bowed to the pressure. Whether some of the SEIU locals might rebel and refuse to follow has yet to be seen. After all, the rank and file are the ones who lose their jobs when there are budget deficits and cuts are made, and it is not clear that Brown’s proposal will protect any of them.
Meanwhile students and teachers in California are organizing massive actions in the spring to demand full funding for public education and social services by taxing the rich. On March 1 they are planning actions on campuses across the state, where each campus will define its own event. Then on March 5 all will converge on Sacramento to occupy the State Capitol. They are rejecting the long-discredited approach of hoping that politicians will throw them a few crumbs, since this policy has seemed to produce just the opposite of its intended effect: year after year public education and social service budgets have been slashed. Teachers have been laid off, class size has risen, university tuition has skyrocketed, state workers have been laid off and social services have been gutted. The San Francisco Labor Council and UPTE (University Professional and Technical Employees) have already endorsed these events with a strong resolution, and various union locals are in the process of doing the same. The San Francisco Labor Council and those organizing for March 1 and 5 have also endorsed CFT’s tax on millionaires.
The sides are being drawn: the 1 percent with its opulent reservoir of wealth is on one side, and the 99 percent — the vast majority of the population — is on the other. Whereas the 1 percent derives its power from money, the 99 percent will derive power from their overwhelming numbers. In organizing massive demonstrations to insist on the implementation of a different set of priorities, the 99 percent will be exercising independent political action, they will be relying on themselves and acting collectively, and they will be taking a first step in the direction of shifting the balance of power from the 1 percent to the 99 percent. And in the process they will be insisting that society function as a true democracy: in the interests of the majority.