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Monday, December 26, 2011

2011-12-26 "Pot clubs turning to delivery; With feds threatening storefronts, couriers become alternatives" by David Downs from "San Francisco Chronicle"
Medithrive, a cannabis dispensary in San Francisco's Mission District that was forced to close last month, has re-emerged as a delivery-only service, part of a growing trend in California's billion-dollar medical marijuana industry that's recently come under attack by federal authorities.
Threats of property forfeiture, fines, lawsuits and raids this winter have made brick-and-mortar locations less enticing to pot entrepreneurs. Hundreds of storefronts have closed amid the new federal crackdown. Delivery services remain, offering a lower-profile, albeit more dangerous, alternative.
"It just makes sense. When you have a storefront, you're on the map. You don't have those issues with a delivery service. No one's going to know about it," said William Panzer, an Oakland defense attorney who represents Northstone Organics, a delivery service based in Ukiah (Mendocino County).
California has struggled with cannabis distribution since voters in 1996 gave qualified patients a medical defense for breaking state marijuana laws. Then in 2003, state Sen. Mark Leno's SB420 granted patients the right to collectively cultivate and distribute marijuana.
Under those laws, San Francisco created a dispensary licensing process in 2005 that led to an estimated 24 clubs and one delivery-only service. There are thought to be several hundred thousand Californians with a doctor's recommendation for marijuana.
Cities such as Los Angeles and San Diego chose the opposite path and tried to ban shops with limited success. But the storefront enforcement climate led to the proliferation of fly-by-night mobile services.
Indeed, the number of storefront dispensaries and mobile operators are inversely correlated, Los Angeles Assistant City Attorney Asha Greenberg said.

Federal action -
On Oct. 7, four U.S. attorneys declared a crackdown on the medical marijuana industry, alleging profiteering and exports to other states. Hundreds of warning letters went out to dispensary landlords across the state.
More than two-thirds of San Diego storefront dispensaries closed within weeks, watchers said. Dozens closed in Sacramento County. At least three San Francisco clubs have closed, and one in Oakland moved.
Jack Gillund, spokesman for the U.S. attorney for the Northern District, said his office would not comment on storefront pot clubs being replaced by delivery services.
Medithrive's return as a delivery service echoes the behavior of operators in Southern California. San Diego has about 100 delivery listings. Orange County has 50 and Los Angeles about 100, according to data from leading dispensary locator
"My sense is they're switching out of brick-and-mortars, or just going to the black market," said Justin Hartfield, WeedMaps founder.
"It's like water," Greenberg said. "You close off one pathway, and it morphs and goes in another direction."
Some patients prefer delivery. Medithrive declined to comment, but it is busy.
Calls to the service often go directly to voice mail because of high volume. The company also has an online menu as well as smart-phone apps that feature strains such as Dream Queen for $40 for an eighth of an ounce - about a week's supply for an average patient.

Warning of delivery dangers -
App photos also display Medithrive's shuttered Mission Street store - a high-end affair with flat-screen TV menus.
The Department of Justice's crackdown amounts to a dangerous form of theater, in that it does nothing to curtail supply or demand, said Lisa Gygax, a California dispensary attorney. People feel less safe buying cannabis from a random guy coming up to their house - but they will if options become limited, she said.
"Delivery is dangerous, it's extremely difficult to regulate, but they're extremely successful if there is no safe access," she said. "What else are patients going to do - go to the park?"
San Francisco has one delivery-only licensee, the Green Cross. It is delivery-only because it was pushed out of a storefront during the 2005 San Francisco licensing process, said General Manager Caren Woodson. The Green Cross is seeking a city permit for a storefront because it's the preferred business model, she said.

Risk of robbery -
Safety concerns for drivers are huge, Woodson said, and the service has been robbed once.
Unlicensed delivery services probably underreport robberies, Gygax said.
The conflict between California's medicinal marijuana supporters - including advocates and lawmakers - and federal authorities is expected to worsen. That is likely to bring an awkward social compromise: more delivered dope.
"We sort of predicted this," said Dale Gieringer, head of California's National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "I could see cars going around. I could see delivery trucks. It's sort of what one expected. ... I've seen a decline in delivery services in the last four or five years as dispensaries have proliferated. I suppose that will go in the other direction now."

Michael gathers receipts at the Green Cross, a licensed medical marijuana delivery company in San Francisco. Photo: Michael Macor / The Chronicle

Joe, Rigoberto and David package marijuana for delivery at the Green Cross offices, San Francisco's one delivery-only licensee. Several hundred thousand Californians are believed to have a doctor's recommendation to receive medical marijuana. Photo: Michael Macor / The Chronicle

Erick logs in orders coming in over the Internet at the Green Cross. Medical marijuana companies have online menus and smart-phone apps for deliveries. Photo: Michael Macor / The Chronicle

2011-12-26 "Business lobbyists succeed in Sacramento this year" by Laurel Rosenhall and Chase Davis from "San Francisco Chronicle"
Business interests were the top bill-killers inside California's Capitol during Gov. Jerry Brown's first year back in office, as concerns about the state's weak economy cut into labor's newfound clout.
Legislative data show that business interests wielded strong influence despite a Capitol dominated by Democrats in the Legislature and governor's office. Business lobbyists defeated bills that would have cut tax breaks, required employers to give workers unpaid bereavement leave and prolonged the foreclosure process.
In the current economy, "all legislators are more sensitive to the argument that something would be a job killer or harmful for investment or expansion," said Dorothy Rothrock, a lobbyist for the California Manufacturers and Technology Association, which represents major businesses around the state. "That's made it easier for us to stop or amend bills to make them less hostile or burdensome."
Brown's current term has been good for labor unions, too. They successfully pushed bills that limit the state's ability to use private contractors, allow local governments to require union construction crews on public works projects and reduce the use of self-checkout lanes in grocery stores.

Business influence -
But in the tug-of-war between the Capitol's two power players, industry more than held its own. Business-related groups dominated the list of organizations with the most influence, according to a review of hundreds of bills.
The Sacramento Bee and California Watch examined the final analyses written by legislative staff for all 906 bills introduced this year that listed supporters and opponents. For each group whose stand was registered on at least 10 bills, the news organizations tallied the number of cases in which supporters' bills were signed by the governor and opponents' bills stalled or were vetoed. Either scenario counted as a "win" for that group.
While such a tally is imperfect - it does not assess all influence exerted under the dome - it captures the outcome of the legislative year for many who carry clout at the Capitol.
Interviews with dozens of key people confirmed a trend suggested by the numbers: The weak economy was a major factor as groups decided which bills to push and lawmakers made up their minds.
Angie Wei, a lobbyist for the California Labor Federation, said 2011 was better for workers "than under any year under Arnold Schwarzenegger." Even so, Wei said, the state's financial reality made her union less aggressive.
The labor group sponsored AB400, which would have required employers to provide paid sick days for their workers. But Wei said the union asked lawmakers to hold the bill in committee because "we didn't think it was the right time to do it."
The business lobby wielded much of its influence through JobsPAC, a political action committee that collects millions from insurance, oil, tobacco, pharmaceutical and other companies to make independent expenditures in key races.
Last year, the committee spent $9.2 million statewide, a portion of it supporting candidates thought to be business-friendly in four key state Senate districts: Republicans Sam Blakeslee of San Luis Obispo and Anthony Cannella of Ceres (Stanislaus County) and Democrats Juan Vargas of San Diego and Lou Correa of Santa Ana (Orange County).
By session's end, Blakeslee and Cannella voted the California Chamber of Commerce's way on each of the 13 important business bills listed in the chamber's scorecard. Correa went the chamber's way 69 percent of the time, tops among Democrats.
Some groups that spend a lot on lobbying and political contributions show up on few bill analyses, making it hard to measure how much they win.

Private lobbying -
Interest groups typically are listed as supporters or opponents because they sent lawmakers letters stating their position. But nothing compels a group to write such letters. Some entities prefer to lobby by meeting privately with legislators, and legislative committees have different approaches to determine whom to list in their bill analyses.
But the findings broadly illustrate that business did better than might have been expected at the Capitol, where Democrats control both houses of the Legislature and, after several years under Schwarzenegger, now occupy the governor's office as well.
The political domination of Democrats means many Republican bills based on ideas generated by business interests did not proceed very far in the lawmaking process. Bills sponsored by labor groups were more likely to pass through the Democratic-controlled houses and make it to the governor's desk.
Yet even with a Democratic governor who received much of his campaign backing from labor unions, business interests still held sway - albeit mostly by playing defense. Labor lobbyists, meanwhile, said they were more selective than usual in advancing bills that would cost money and put lawmakers in an unpleasant political situation.
"The arguments business has made, that companies and job creators have made for years, are resonating more with Democratic legislators" given the state's financial situation, said Robert Callahan, a lobbyist for TechAmerica, a trade group that represents more than 1,000 technology companies.
TechAmerica succeeded on 11 of the 12 bills that it backed.
Two key victories, Callahan said, were defeating legislation that would have rolled back some tax credits. One, SB508, proposed including sunset dates in all new tax breaks so they would be phased out after a period of time. Another, SB364, sought to allow the state to charge a fine and take back the money from a tax incentive if a company laid off at least 10 percent of its employees in a year.
Labor unions supported both bills, arguing that the state should be more careful about handing out tax breaks, given its budget woes. TechAmerica and other business groups opposed them, saying the first bill painted all tax breaks with the same brush, and the second created too much uncertainty for employers. Brown vetoed both bills with short messages saying they were too broad.
The vetoes also stack up as wins for the California Taxpayers Association and California Chamber of Commerce, which joined TechAmerica in opposing both bills. The chamber had a good year, despite supporting Brown's Republican opponent, Meg Whitman, in last year's gubernatorial race. In the Legislature this year, chamber lobbyists fended off 25 of the 30 bills the group labeled "job killers." They persuaded Brown to veto four of the five that made it to his desk.
"From a political standpoint, when the economy goes down and business is what can bring you back, then people listen to business," said Marc Burgat, vice president of government relations for the California Chamber of Commerce.
One of the "job-killer" bills Brown vetoed was AB325, which would have required employers to offer up to three days of unpaid bereavement leave to workers who lose a loved one. The chamber made the case that California already requires several types of leave and that adding another would be a burden on employers who may be juggling requests from several workers. It also argued that the bill would have established broad rights for workers to sue, a view that was repeated in Brown's veto message.
After Brown finished considering the bills on his desk in mid-October, the chamber produced a 2 1/2-minute video praising the governor and touting the success of its lobbying campaign.
"As business grows, we employ more people, we pay more taxes and the general fund grows," Burgat said. "I think that message has resonated."
This story was produced as a collaboration between Laurel Rosenhall of the Sacramento Bee and Chase Davis of California Watch.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

2011-12-25 "Teachers union sues Sacramento City schools over seniority rights in layoffs"
The Sacramento City Unified School District is fighting a civil lawsuit filed by its teachers union over teacher seniority rights in rehiring after layoffs.
The Sacramento City Teachers Association's lawsuit comes months after the union fought the district's decision to utilize a seldom used provision in Education Code in order to not layoff teachers at six persistently low-performing schools.
The result of the civil lawsuit in Sacramento Superior Court could have implications on a growing movement by some of the largest California districts. More and more districts are deviating from purely seniority-based layoffs and in the ensuing rehiring process.
"We just want to see everyone treated equally instead of some getting special treatment," said SCTA President Scott Smith. "Basically, we are saying the way in which they skipped teachers was incorrect."
Lawyers for Sacramento City Unified School District say the case, which was filed in November, should be dismissed because it is "utterly lacking in key details such as naming any teacher or counselor who was laid off and refused reemployment in violation of the Education Code," according to court filings.
California law requires that, in a time of budget-based layoffs, teachers with the least experience in a school district are the first to go.
There are, however, two exceptions under the law: districts can skip teachers to maintain or achieve equal protection under the law or in hard-to-staff areas, like special education, science, math and bilingual education.
In March, Sacramento City Unified voted not to lay off teachers at six of the district's persistently failing schools, which Superintendent Jonathan Raymond labeled Priority Schools.
The district argued that priority school teachers received special training that, under the Education Code, allowed for skipping those instructors during the layoff process.
When SCTA fought the district on that decision, it was brought before the Office of Administrative Hearings and an administrative law judge, who ruled in Sacramento City Unified's favor at five of the six priority schools for this school year.
SCTA's most recent civil suit challenges how the district filled vacancies at the priority schools.
"The priority school thing has been a vague concept from the beginning," Smith said. "The amount of training they received was minimal at best. Other schools had received the exact same training."
Teachers unions have argued that seniority-based layoffs eliminate favoritism and keep expertise in the classroom. Unions also say seniority-based rules keep districts from laying off veteran instructors to keep cheaper, younger teachers.
Education Trust-West Executive Director Arun Ramanathan said the "last-in, first-out" method of teacher layoffs violates basic principals of fairness and equality for students.
Ramanathan said Education Trust-West has studied how seniority-based layoffs disproportionately affect low-performing schools in poor neighborhoods. Studies have shown those schools tend to have higher turnover because they are staffed with the least experienced teachers.
Ramanathan praised Sacramento City for its efforts to mitigate turnover at its priority schools.
In September, the district praised gains in test scores at the priority schools – Oak Ridge, Father Keith B. Kenny Elementary, Jedediah Smith Elementary, Fern Bacon Basic Middle, Will C. Wood Middle and Hiram W. Johnson High. A seventh school – Rosa Parks Middle School – was added earlier this year.
Oak Ridge in Oak Park saw an 82-point jump in its Academic Performance Index score.
2011-12-25 "CA State community colleges set to ration classes in drive to privatize system" by Nanette Asimov from "San Francisco Chronicle"
During World War II, there was food rationing. In 2012, California's community college leaders are poised to approve education rationing for thousands of students.
The proposal is controversial, with many students and educators critical of a shakeout that could end free courses offered for generations, including classes such as music appreciation and memoir writing. Also squeezed out would be students who linger at college for years, sampling one class after another.
The problem is as basic as a butter shortage. Essential classes are in critically short supply as the state's economic crisis lumbers on. Last year, 137,000 students couldn't get into at least one class they needed, including first-year English and math. And many who are entitled to financial aid never apply for it because there aren't enough counselors to help them navigate the complex process.
0% dropout rate
The result is a dropout rate of 60 percent among students who expect to transfer to a four-year university or earn a vocational certificate, according to a 2010 study by the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy in Sacramento.
Fixing the problem will require overhauling the vast community college system, according to a task force of 20 academics and college advocates who have wrestled with the issue for a year. Established by the Legislature in 2010, the Student Success Task Force wants campuses to do a better job of helping students reach academic goals, and it wants students to move more quickly and efficiently through school.
But it won't be done with more money. Lawmakers cut $502 million this year from the system's $5.9 billion budget, on top of hundreds of millions withheld since 2009.
Instead, the task force wants to change how colleges spend the money they already have. Or, as Chancellor Jack Scott plainly put it, "It's not joyful to have to ration."
The backbone of the panel's 22 recommendations is to focus community college resources on students seeking degrees or vocational certificates. All students should have an education plan and make steady progress on it. Those who don't would lose registration priority. Those who qualify for a tuition waiver - 47 percent of students - would lose it if they are unfocused and take too many random classes.
"The more directed a student is, the more likely they are to complete their goals," Scott said. "This is pretty common sense."
Many agree, including Steve Ngo, a City College of San Francisco trustee who calls it a civil rights issue.
"If students are not even getting basic English and math, they'll be stuck in poverty," Ngo said. "These recommendations focus course offerings on student needs."

Some may be shut out
Yet many others - including students, instructors, administrators and Ngo's colleagues on the City College board - fear the proposals would harm students who fall outside the new priorities.
"The door will shut for everyone else except for the two-year transfer students," said Joe Fitzgerald, a City College student and editor of the campus paper, the Guardsman.
Fitzgerald has been at the college seven years, many of them spent learning to be a successful student, he said. Like many others, he sees community college as an academic refuge for students who can't or prefer not to barrel through school.
Rather than ration education, he and other critics say college leaders should join efforts to raise more revenue for education.
"California needs to raise taxes on the wealthy and close tax loopholes," said John Rizzo, president of the City College Board of Trustees. "Oil (extraction) needs to be taxed like it is in every other state."
California's college system is the nation's largest, with 112 campuses and a mandate to admit "any student capable of benefiting from instruction," according to the state's Master Plan for Higher Education, established in 1960. Its main mission is to provide academic and vocational instruction "through the first two years of undergraduate education."
The plan also points to colleges' role in providing remedial classes, community service courses, workforce training and free, noncredit classes, including English as a Second Language.
Last spring, 203,500 students statewide took noncredit classes, and 1.5 million took classes for credit.

Fee waiver overhaul
Nearly half of students taking classes for credit are poor enough to qualify for a waiver of fees: $540 a semester for a full load of 15 credits, at $36 a credit. The price rises to $46 next summer.
The task force wants to rescind fee waivers after students accumulate 110 credits, well beyond the 60 required for transfer. At City College, for example, 12 percent of students with fee waivers had at least 110 credits last spring, or 1,917 students.
"You shouldn't be a professional student," said Scott, the state chancellor. "You're taking up space needed by first-time students."
But complaints that such a policy would unfairly punish low-income students led the panel to leave the ultimate decision on fee waivers up to individual campuses.

End free classes -
Task force members also want colleges to stop spending money on free enrichment classes. They don't mean those that teach job skills, English acquisition, or help students get a degree. Colleges spent $134 million on those last year, and they will continue.
They're talking about the kind of class that Norma Miller, 86, credits with saving her life.
"I was ready to just give up," said Miller, a retired teacher. She'd had a health scare. Three close friends died. She entered a period of decline in which she lost her sense of time and felt, as she put it, "a sense of desperation."
A doctor recommended that she get out in the world. The senior center offered bingo, but it wasn't her style. She tried concerts, lectures, even a therapy group. None seemed to help.
Then Miller found the Life Review class in the Older Adults Department at City College, taught by Shelley Glazer, an expert on aging. With a dozen others in her age group, Miller spent this fall reflecting on her life, learning to write about it and considering the future.
"I actually sat down and did some writing," Miller said. "I actually did it! It was shocking to me. I'm learning to get up and allow myself to think about something other than myself.
"If I lost this class, I don't know what I'd do."
Community colleges spent $102 million on such classes last year - the same amount the state cut from colleges' budget this month.
"I was a college president for 21 years," said Peter MacDougall, chairman of the task force. "I'd have older adults come in and say, 'This astronomy course is wonderful!' I never had the feeling we were denying access to other students. I'm sorry to say that that's not the place we're in today."

Centralize testing -
At first the task force recommended changing state law to prevent colleges from spending public funds on such classes. But a public outcry led the panel to soften that stance. Now it directs colleges to verify that funds are spent only on classes that "advance student education plans" and says the law should only change "if necessary."
The panel also recommends strengthening the power of the state chancellor and implementing centralized testing. The community college system's Board of Governors will vote on the ideas at its meeting Jan. 9 and 10.

Get involved -
Read the Student Success Task Force recommendations at
The Community College system's Board of Governors will vote on the recommendations at its meeting Jan. 9 and 10 in Room 4203 of the state Capitol, 10th Street and Capitol Mall, Sacramento.

Friday, December 23, 2011

2011-12-23 "Charter schools group urges closure of four Sacramento-area campuses" by Diana Lambertand Phillip Reese from "Sacramento Bee" newspaper
A list of 10 schools the California Charter Schools Association would like to see closed – including four in the Sacramento area – has caused an uproar within the charter school movement.
CCSA officials say closing low-performing schools demonstrates that charters are willing to be held accountable. The schools on the list do not meet the minimum criteria the organization has established for academic achievement, said Jed Wallace, president of CCSA.
"We thought it necessary for the well-being of the students attending the schools, as well as for the charter school movement," Wallace said of the recommendation.
 But other charter school proponents say the association's criteria are flawed and that it is overstepping its authority.
"We already have laws on how this is supposed to work in California," said Eric Premack, president of the Charter School Development Center. "For a third-party group like CCSA to try to rewrite the law and impose their own standards is illegal or extra legal."
The issue has caught the attention of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who applauded the list and the leadership of CCSA. "This is an important conversation for California to have, and one that we need to have across the country," he said in a prepared statement.
The association is asking the schools' authorizers – usually school districts or county offices of education – not to renew their charters.
The local schools on the list include the California Aerospace Academy in McClellan, Antelope View Charter in Antelope, West Sacramento Early College Prep Charter in West Sacramento and Yuba County Career Preparatory Charter in Marysville.
But do these schools deserve to be closed?
All four of the local schools rank near the bottom in performance on standardized tests compared to schools with similar demographics, according to a Bee review of state data.
At the California Aerospace Academy last year, fewer than 10 of the 137 students scored proficient or better on any STAR math test last year – from basic seventh-grade general math to 11th-grade geometry.
None of the 62 eighth- and ninth-graders who took algebra I at West Sacramento Early College Prep Charter scored at the proficient or advanced levels.
Only two of 31 10th-graders who took the STAR world history exam at Antelope View Charter scored at the proficient level. And no seventh-graders at Yuba County Career Prep passed any STAR test – English or math.
But there are some bright spots. Antelope View Charter's eighth graders posted respectable English and life science test scores, eclipsing or nearing the statewide average for proficiency. The 11th-graders at the California Aerospace school did well on their U.S. history test, also collectively beating the statewide average.
The West Sacramento Early College Prep Charter School's website boasts an 83-point API gain last year and says the school has met all the criteria in the California Education Code to be reauthorized.
"We can assure you that CCSA has no legal authority to close down a charter school, and their organization is overstepping its boundaries by showing non-support to its paying members who turn to them for support," said a letter to parents on the West Sacramento Early College Prep website.
Wallace said the CCSA is just doing its job. "We see ourselves as a professional members organization like the American Medical Association," he said. As such, the CCSA would set professional standards and sanction charters that don't meet them.
But the boards of the school districts and county offices of education that authorized the charters will make the final decision about whether to approve charters when they come up for renewal.
"Obviously, we are going to take a hard look at their application for renewal when it comes up in the early part of 2012," said Dave Westin, a school board member at Washington Unified – the authorizer for the West Sacramento charter.
The CCSA criteria say schools must have either an Academic Performance Index of at least 700 in the most recent year, have a three-year cumulative API growth of at least 50 points or have exceeded the performance expected of a California school with a similar student population. It looks at schools that have been in existence for four years or more.
"They want to get rid of charter schools that don't score well, so they look better compared to public schools," Premack said.
Wallace agrees that the CCSA wants to improve charter scores. "The central tenant of the charter school movement is that charters can generate higher levels of academic success," Wallace said. "In order to keep the momentum, we have to show that our schools are successful."

Thursday, December 22, 2011

2011-12-22 "California recognizes Americans Elect" by Lois Kazakoff
Californians will have another choice for president now that the state has recognized Americans Elect as a political party. While the organization will occupy a third-party slot on the 2012 ballots, it says it is not a party - it is a nonprofit online caucus that espouses no particular ideology and claims no particular mandate. Its organizers describe it as a process to elect a centrist leader to make government work for Americans again.
Maybe. It is certainly a symptom of our dysfunctional political system, but no solution.
Just like Occupy and the Tea Party, Americans Elect is trying to channel Americans' concerns about jobs into political action. But there the similarities end: Occupy is a credible, if not particularly effective, grassroots social movement. The Tea Party has rallied its followers around a clearly articulated list of demands, profoundly affecting local and national politics.
Americans Elect erects no tents. There are no tricornered hats. Americans Elect is trying to break the lock the Democratic and Republican parties have on the electoral system by focusing purely on voting. That's not a movement, but those trying to bring about change might say it is a good idea.
Darry Sragow, a longtime Democratic consultant who is serving as Americans Elect's political adviser, points out that Californians have made three attempts to break the lock - voting for term limits, redistricting and most recently, a top-two primary - yet are even more frustrated with Sacramento.
They are not alone. Fewer than half of Americans have favorable opinions of the major parties, according to a Washington Post-ABC poll released in November, and 61 percent favor the idea of an independent candidate. Among decline-to-state voters (who now make up 20 percent of California's electorate), 73 percent favor having a third-party choice.
Kellen Arno, Americans Elect's national field director, has won a spot on the ballot in 13 states and is confident he will have all 50 states by June. But he says the barriers to getting there are significant: 50 different sets of rules (California required gathering a million signatures, while Florida merely required paperwork). "Our process is a way to break down those barriers," he said.
Americans Elect is undeniably seductive: It responds to the status quo's failure to address Americans' fears about jobs, housing and a secure future. It offers a voice for Occupy and other movements on a website where candidates are ranked by "support clicks." Who could resist the egalitarian appeal of a political organization that invites any registered voter to be a delegate? For those reasons, I hope Americans Elect has influence.
But as long as Americans Elect declines to reveal its funders, (they fear retribution from the parties), it can't be a solution to our political woes.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

2011-12-15 "More student unrest likely, California college officials tell legislative panel" by Sam Stanton from "Sacramento Bee" newspaper
 One month after the pepper-spraying of student protesters at the University of California, Davis, officials are struggling with how to move forward, even as they prepare for the possibility of new protests and building takeovers when students return next month.
Anger over the rising cost of a college education in California is so great, university officials told a legislative panel Wednesday, that they are concerned about students building new encampments.
But so far the only consensus on how to deal with the protests going forward is to avoid using police force to quell the unrest.
 The use-of-force issue was the topic of a joint Assembly-Senate committee hearing Wednesday, called in the wake of the Nov. 18 pepper-spraying incident at UC Davis and an earlier confrontation at UC Berkeley during which students were jabbed with riot batons. For four hours, UC and California State University officials, as well as representatives from student groups and the ACLU, spoke before lawmakers about how campuses should respond to the ongoing protests.
UC President Mark Yudof has called video images of the UC Davis incident – showing campus officers pepper-spraying students seated on the ground – appalling. On Wednesday, he suggested that the 10 UC campuses may need a single policy on how officials respond to such disturbances.
"I, of course, don't ever want to see such pain inflicted upon our students," he told lawmakers.
The angry fallout from that incident continued Wednesday. As UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi left the hearing, she was confronted in a Capitol hallway by a 24-year-old student.
Jerika Heinze, a cultural anthropology senior who says she was among those who inhaled pepper spray at the protest, insisted Katehi had been ducking her requests for a meeting.
"I've been contacting you every single day, calling your office, sending you emails, and your assistants said they passed the messages along," Heinze told Katehi. "You've never responded to me."
"Well, I've asked them to set an appointment with you," Katehi said quietly as reporters pressed in to record the incident.
"No, you haven't," Heinze insisted. "You absolutely have not."
Moments later, Katehi's chief of staff pulled Heinze aside to promise her an appointment while another UC official accompanying the embattled chancellor extracted her from the awkward setting.
"It's so frustrating," Heinze said afterward. "I just feel that I'm owed for her to look me in the face, look me in the eye and explain that she understands the position of the students …
"I mean, we're not dangerous people, we're students. I'm not a terrorist, I'm not an anarchist. I'm not any of those things. I'm just a college student doing research at the university."
The confrontation followed weeks of effort by Katehi to repair relations with students, faculty and staff at UC Davis, including numerous meetings with students to hear their grievances.
During the hearing, Katehi reiterated her position that she had not authorized the use of force to remove two dozen tents that had been set up on the quad in protest of tuition hikes.
Saying that she realized it was a "very burning question" for many, Katehi told the panel: "Did I direct the police to use pepper spray? And the answer is no. Did I direct the police to use force? And the answer is no."
At least five investigations into the incident and overall campus policies toward protests are under way, and Yudof said he expected the most comprehensive answers from the probes to be available in March.
The Yolo County sheriff and district attorney had asked state Attorney General Kamala Harris to take over their probe, citing limited resources and the possibility of a conflict of interest. But Wednesday, Yolo County officials said they had been informed that Harris would not intervene.
"We appreciate the attorney general's vote of confidence in our ability to competently handle this job, but the fact remains that this issue has far-reaching ramifications and that there are limited resources in Yolo County," Chief Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Raven said in a prepared statement. "Despite this, the sheriff and district attorney will do our very best to conduct the investigation."
Katehi and others acknowledged that anger over tuition hikes may lead to more confrontations statewide when classes resume.
"They are frustrated and angry about repeated tuition increases … ," Katehi said. "They are justifiably frustrated, and so am I."
Under questioning from one lawmaker about what she would do differently from what she did on Nov. 18, she replied, "I have to tell you, if I knew that the police could not remove the tents peacefully, we would not remove them."

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

2011-12-13 "Nothing to be proud of..." by Daphne, Executive Director and Founder "Californians Against Slavery (CAS)"
A national study gives California an F on laws against child sex trafficking. This is nothing to be proud of.  The report (released on December 1st) confirms what CAS has been saying all along:  Trafficked victims have "little protection under the law as victims." (1)  We are failing our children, those who need the protection of our laws most.
The report highlights that California desperately needs the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation (CASE) Act [].
Human trafficking is a brutal human rights issue, and we need urgent and drastic measures for change.  The CASE Act is the vehicle for us to turn our activism into a movement. Some of you may recall this slide [].  Please block out time on your calendar the next few months for the CASE Act campaign. It is worthwhile.Justice starts with you.
The Attorney General's Office said they will return our initiative on December 21st.  They are using the maximum legally allowed time, even if it means holding onto things. This is disappointing as it will push our start date to December 23rd, the Christmas weekend. 
However, I know that our most dedicated volunteers will be out there regardless, which makes our effort even more powerful - the TENACITY of our volunteers.
"Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better." - Martin Luther King, Jr.   
(1) See the Report Card here. Based on the Protected Innocence Legislative Framework by Shared Hope International and American Center for Law and Justice. [

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Fascists are ready to privatize California

2011-12-10 "Billionaire 'playboy' has a $20 million vision to save California" by Josh Richman from "Oakland Tribune"
He's a little like Bruce Wayne without the cowl, Thomas Crown without the thievery, Howard Hughes without the planes (or the weirdness).
Now Nicolas Berggruen is trying to do what even a superhero governor couldn't: Save California.
At 50, never married, childless and bored with a billionaire's usual trappings, Berggruen owns no home, instead living in fine hotels as he roams the globe for business and pleasure, his extensive art collection ensconced in museums, his annual pre-Oscar party at the Chateau Marmont still a must for Hollywood's elite glitterati. He has been called a "playboy financier," living a life most Californians can't imagine.
But for the past year and a half he has been reimagining how to run the state, and he's promising to spend at least $20 million to make it so.
Berggruen is the brain and bankroll behind the Think Long Committee for California, a panel of political and business A-listers, which last month issued a report amid much buzz urging an overhaul of the state's tax structure and creation of a citizen "super committee" to shepherd future reforms. He said he'll spend millions of dollars to persuade Californians to vote for these changes in November.
"It may cost much more than $20 million, and if it does, then it does -- we'll just have to put in more money or raise more money," he said in a telephone interview. "I'm a facilitator. At the end of the day, this very much has been a group effort, very much a bipartisan effort. And if my name disappears from this, it's perfectly good. It's not about me at all."
Fat chance. Politics get personal, and Berggruen's biography is so intriguing that many are suspicious that his mission isn't what it seems.
The Paris-born son of a German actress and a prominent art dealer and collector -- his father was Pablo Picasso's friend and had a fling with Frida Kahlo -- Berggruen studied finance and international business at New York University before launching a company to make investments that multiplied the family fortune. Forbes says he "has holdings that range from a revitalization project in Newark, N.J., to Hydro Electric Power Plants in Turkey to a Spanish media conglomerate," and is worth about $2.3 billion.
Reforming California's political scene may seem like an odd sideline, but those who know Berggruen say it's in keeping with his newfound civic philanthropy.
San Francisco art dealer John Berggruen, 68, said the Think Long Committee's seeds might have been planted at his breakfast table a few years ago, when then-Attorney General Jerry Brown dropped by to meet his younger half-brother and talk "about California's electoral process and the referendum process, about whether this state was governable." By then, the elder Berggruen said, his brother had realized "there was more to his existence than creating wealth" and had begun studying political philosophy and practice with UCLA scholars.
"One thing led to another, by virtue of his innate curiosity and intelligence, and this is something that became intensely stimulating to him," John Berggruen said.
Nicolas Berggruen in 2010 founded a namesake Los Angeles-based think tank as a vehicle of that commitment, aimed at convening panels of experts to reach consensus ideas -- more appealing to the public than one billionaire's own musings -- to better the world. Among its projects is a "21st Century Council" of former heads of state, Nobel laureates and others pursuing global governance reform. It also has a "Future of Europe" project seeking a way toward integration and out of debt, and a "Vision for Africa" project aimed at enriching and democratizing that continent.
Fixing California might seem easy by comparison -- unless you know much about California.
Progressive Democratic activist Robert Cruickshank blogged that if Berggruen really wants to help California, "he would take the $20 million he is pledging to spend on this shockingly regressive proposal and instead invest it in an initiative to raise taxes on the rich, on corporations, and to fix the state's unfair property tax system. Instead he's using it to help himself and his friends get even richer."
California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro issued a statement saying he's "saddened to hear that some believe that a massive new category of taxation is the answer to California's economic or budget problems."
Berggruen hoped to overcome this schism by assembling a diverse panel of the state's top political and business minds, unburdened by concerns of re-election or even popularity.
Former Gov. Gray Davis said he had met Berggruen only once before, briefly, when the billionaire came to him in February 2010 seeking "a couple of ex-governors to lead this operation." That didn't work out, but a heavy-hitting bipartisan panel was convened nonetheless.
"It was spirited at times, but basically ... a relatively amicable and positive environment, because we all realized what we were there to do," Davis said -- to smooth California's boom-and-bust fiscal cycle, and reform its shortsighted, must-get-re-elected governance.
Of Berggruen, Davis said, "As far as I can tell, what you see is what you get -- he wants to do his part to leave this world better off and he's willing to devote a lot of his time and a good deal of his resources to make that happen, with no guarantee of success."
Berggruen said he knew the report would meet with push back.
"Entrenched interests will always defend the status quo," he said. "Californians know the system doesn't work. ... People have to be in a state of mind where they know change is needed."
There are some third rails even a billionaire won't touch. Altering Proposition 13's property-tax strictures -- perhaps a "split-roll" plan for commercial property reassessment, or modifying the two-thirds legislative majority requirement for tax votes -- "obviously was discussed" but "could've made the overall plan less feasible," Berggruen said.
Davis expects Berggruen will have final versions of the proposed ballot measures by Christmas and then get them cleared for petition circulation.
Berggruen believes in letting voters directly decide the state's fate.
"At the end of the day," he said, "that's the ultimate way of giving citizens the real power."

Think Long Committee for California -
Billionaire Nicolas Berggruen convened a group of political and economic powerhouses to discuss ways to reform the state's government. Other than Berggruen, the roster includes:
David Bonderman, billionaire investor
Eli Broad, billionaire homebuilder and philanthropist
Willie Brown, ex-Assembly speaker, ex-San Francisco mayor
Gray Davis, former governor
Maria Elena Durazo, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor executive secretary-treasurer*
Matt Fong, former state treasurer**
Ronald George, former California chief justice
Antonia Hernandez, California Community Foundation
Robert Hertzberg, former Assembly speaker
Gerald Parsky, appointee in five Republican presidential
Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. secretary of state (George W. Bush administration)
Eric Schmidt, Google chairman
Terry Semel, former Warner Bros. and Yahoo CEO
George Shultz, former U.S. secretary of state (Reagan
Laura Tyson, former Council of Economic Advisers
chairwoman (Clinton administration)
*abstained from vote on final recommendations
**died in June

Proposed measures -
Berggruen intends to fund measures in November to push two Think Long Committee ideas:
TAX REFORM: Broaden the state's tax base while raising $10 billion per year in new revenue by extending the state sales tax to services such as auto repair, dry cleaning, legal work and accounting (but not health care or education), while lowering the sales tax on goods, reducing personal income tax rates and reducing the corporate tax rate.
CITIZEN COUNCIL: The "independent, impartial and nonpartisan" Citizens Council for Government Accountability would have 13 members -- including nine named by the governor -- to oversee government functions and conduct long-term planning. It would have power to place measures directly on the ballot without collecting signatures, and to have the secretary of state publish its comments and positions on measures in the state voters' guide. It also would have the power to subpoena witnesses and documents.

Nicolas berggruen
Age: 50
Born: Paris
Residence: He has no permanent residence; he lives in hotels as he travels the globe.
Voter registration: Registered Democrat in Florida
Education: Bachelor's degree in finance and international business, New York University
Occupation: Investor, financier, with holdings in various industries around the world
Net worth: $2.3 billion (ranked No. 171 on Forbes' list of richest people in America)
Seen at his 2011 pre-Oscar party: Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons

Friday, December 2, 2011

2011-12-02 "Tax-the-rich measures may cancel each other out" by Joe Garofoli, Wyatt Buchanan, Marisa Lagos from "San Francisco Chronicle"
The tax-the-rich sentiment behind the Occupy Wall Street movement - and the cash-starved state budget - are reshaping California politics.
Several measures to raise taxes are aimed at the November ballot and most would hit the wallets of the wealthiest Californians.
At least five tax-raising ballot initiatives backed by people with deep pockets are gaining momentum, including one expected to be filed today by Gov. Jerry Brown. However, some supporters worry that the initiatives could be too much of the same thing.
 Some of the competing measures are being funded by labor unions and left-leaning groups that typically are political allies. While analysts expect the logjam to thin out, the ballot box cacophony could squander a rare political moment in which Californians are open to raising taxes.
Voters have rejected the last seven tax-raising measures put before them, and history shows that when Californians see similar-sounding measures on the ballot, they vote no on all of them.
 "Especially when they involve taxes," said A.G. Block, associate director of the nonpartisan University of California Center at UC Davis.
That makes conservative antitax advocates like Jon Coupal happy.
"It's much easier to hammer home a message to voters (that says): Look at how they all want to raise your taxes," said Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which has great influence among conservative Republicans.
Noting that labor organizations are divided, Coupal said, "They can make our life more difficult if they're all reading off the same page, but I don't believe they have the capacity to do that."

Culling the offerings -
Realizing this, earlier this week, Diana Dooley, secretary of the state Health and Human Services Agency, told a group gathered in San Francisco that the Brown administration is working "behind the scenes" to ensure that "we don't have competing proposals" on the ballot.
It's not clear if the governor can head off the litany of proposed measures or whether his proposal will have the most appeal to voters.
A recent USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll showed that Californians favor raising taxes on the wealthy, especially when the money goes to schools.
That's exactly what a group fronted by the liberal online Courage Campaign and the California Federation of Teachers wants to do. On Thursday, they proposed an initiative that would raise $6 billion for K-12 education solely by raising income taxes on Californians who earn more than $1 million a year.
Another proposal, backed by the state PTA, would raise $10 billion a year in new revenue by raising taxes on a sliding scale on nearly all wage earners, with the heaviest burden on the wealthiest.
The money would go directly to local K-12 schools and early childhood education. The measure forbids the governor and legislators from using the money or directing how it may be spent. The measure is sponsored by Los Angeles attorney Molly Munger, whose billionaire father, Charles Munger, is a longtime top associate to Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett.

Occupy's impact -
Munger, who described herself as a "decline-to-state voter who usually votes Democratic," said that while many of these ballot initiatives have been discussed in some form for months, the Occupy Wall Street movement "shined a light on what was going on. They were right to make a fuss about the inequalities in our system and ask what could be done about it."
Brown's initiative, which would raise income taxes on wealthy Californians and increase the sales tax by half a cent for four years, has a broader scope but also an expiration date.
Sources involved in the talks with the governor said the plan, if approved by voters, would raise roughly $7 billion. Still, that wouldn't be enough to fully cover the projected budget shortfall next year, which the Legislative Analyst's Office has estimated will be $13 billion.
Brown's plan would include stair-stepped tax increases, starting with individuals who make more than $250,000 per year. Their tax rate would increase by one percentage point. People making between $300,000 and $500,000 would see a 1.5 percentage point increase and those making more than $500,000 per year would face a 2 percentage point increase.
The current maximum income tax rate is 9.3 percent.
The half-cent increase in the sales tax would be less than what the governor had proposed earlier this year. Brown wanted to extend a 1-cent increase in the sales tax - along with other taxes increased as part of the 2009 budget deal - but he could not persuade Republican lawmakers to allow a special election on that plan.

Prison realignment -
Another key portion of the governor's proposed plan is language that would protect county funding for Brown's criminal justice realignment program, which seeks to curb overcrowding in state prisons by having more offenders serve their time in local jails and report to county probation departments instead of state parole.
Another revenue-raising ballot measure is expected to emerge from the recent report by billionaire investor Nicolas Berggruen's Think Long California committee of the state's leading business executives and politicians. It proposes lowering personal income rates across the board and phasing in a 5 percent sales tax on services over four years.

Tax proposals -
Backer's name / Who is behind plan? / Whose taxes go up? / Taxes on wealthy / How much is raised? / Where does money go? / Temporary or permanent?
* Gov. Jerry BrownDemocrats in Legislature; labor groups including SEIU, CTA, AFSCMEEverybody's, with most on the wealthy. State sales tax increases by a half cent Income tax rates increase 1 percent for individuals making more than $250,000 per year; 2 percent for individuals making over $500,000Roughly $7 billion per year. It's not yet clear if money would go into the general fund or be dedicated elsewhere in areas such as educationTax increases would expire in 2016
* Think Long CaliforniaBillionaire investor Nicolas Berggruen leads group including Google's Eric Schmidt; Condoleezza Rice, Eli Broad, Willie Brown 5 percent sales tax on certain services phased in over four years. Income tax code simplified to two rates: 2 percent for joint filers who make $45,000 to $95,000; 7.5 percent for those earning moreRetains 1 percent surcharge for those earning more than $1 million. Top 5 percent would pay 62 percent of all income taxes. Reduces corporate tax from 8.84 percent to 7 percent $10 billion earmarked largely for public education and to pay down the state's debtNo sunset
* Our Children, Our Future: Local Schools and Early Education Investment Act Los Angeles attorney Molly Munger; endorsed by state PTA Sliding scale affects all but very low-income. High earners pay more Couple earning $1.5 million would pay $27,266 more. Couple earning $75,000 would pay $428 more. $10 billion earmarked directly to local K-12 education. Neither Legislature nor governor can touch fundsExpires after 12 years
* The California Clean Energy Jobs ActBillionaire San Francisco hedge fund manager Tom Steyer leads this groupWould require that corporations determine the taxes they owe based on the portion of their national sales that take place in CaliforniaFocused on corporationsAbout $1 billion per year. Of that, $550 million would be dedicated to a Clean Energy Job Fund that would pay for projects involving energy efficiency and clean energy productionMoney would be placed in the fund through 2018
* California Funding Restoration ActCalifornia Federation of Teachers; Courage Campaign; a number of community groupsWould raise income taxes 3 percent on individuals and families earning more than $1 million a year. Would increase to 5 percent on those earning more than $2 million a yearOnly those earning more than $1 million $6 billion annually for K-12 and higher educationNo sunset

Thursday, December 1, 2011

2011-12-01 "Pulling the Trigger on Failing Schools; Parents aim for "revolution" — again" by Simone Wilson
This time last year, a storm was brewing in northwest Compton.
More than 60 percent of parents from McKinley Elementary, guided by a then-unknown nonprofit called Parent Revolution, had prepared a petition for the Compton Unified School District. They hoped to make history by using a controversial, untested California law — nicknamed the "parent trigger" — to wrangle their children's failing school from the district's clutches.
L.A. Weekly reporter Patrick Range McDonald observed as more than a dozen parent recruits went door to door, convincing low-income McKinley families of the superior education that charter operator Celerity Educational Group could offer their kids. All they had to do was sign the petition and Celerity could take over.
But as soon as those signatures hit the superintendent's desk Dec. 7 — effectively "pulling the trigger" — sparks flew. McKinley administrators, teachers and members of the Parent-Teacher Association fought back with a vengeance, alleging that Parent Revolution was handmaiden to the charter-school industry and had won over impressionable parents with sugar-coated lies. Forced to fend off the district in court, Parent Revolution urged Gov. Jerry Brown's State Board of Education to codify regulations for parent triggers, which would be critical to any implementation of the law.
By the time those rules were finally set in stone, however, it was too late for McKinley. Without regulations to guide the petitioning process, all district officials had to do was identify a missing date box and the historic effort turned to ash.
One year later, with that colossal bust under their belts, Parent Revolution organizers are taking a more careful approach.
Instead of pushing disenfranchised parents into battle under a shiny Parent Revolution flag, the organization has been fostering "parent unions" at schools across California. Of the 10 current chapters, most aren't interested in pulling the trigger. At those schools, Revolution is merely helping give parents bargaining power against the other unions on the block: the all-powerful California Teachers Association and, locally, United Teachers Los Angeles.
One of the parent-union chapters, however, has been itching for months to launch a full-scale "restart" of its struggling SoCal elementary school — one of the trigger's four options. Organizers asked the Weekly not to name the campus in question, as doing so could create extra obstacles for the fledgling effort. Members planned to begin a signature drive this week.
The second trigger test run comes just as the law's regulations go into effect. "We actually had to say, 'Slow down,' " says Linda Serrato, deputy communications director for Parent Revolution.
If they wish to turn their school around by the start of the 2012-13 academic year, this small group of petitioners has until February to get signatures from hundreds more parents. From there, the district has 45 days to find something legally unsound with the petition — or concede to the trigger.
Christina Sanchez, a Parent Revolution staffer, says the organization will be taking a back seat this time around.
"Our role has been fine-tuning their specific demands for change," Sanchez says.
Parent Revolution's roots in the charter-school industry — and its wealthy donors, such as Bill Gates, Eli Broad and the Walton family — have so far haunted every step of its education-reform crusade. Plus, by demanding teacher accountability, the organization has become a target of California teachers unions, which have been known to lobby and pay away any legislation that puts pressure on teachers.
The "charter school" bugaboo certainly played a role in Revolution's first failure. Fighting the trigger became a source of hometown pride. Overheard in the crowd at one particularly heated board meeting: "Charter schools are viruses!" "You will not replace us! You will not call us refugees!" "The 'Revolution' did not start in Compton, but it will stop in Compton!"
But the parents driving the new trigger have no intention of turning their kids' campus into a charter. Instead, once petitioners collect enough signatures, they're looking to form a non-charter education management organization, run by the district, to fit their children's needs.
These parents "don't have positive feelings about charter schools," Sanchez says. "They don't want people to label this an outside organization."
Since its failure in Compton, Parent Revolution has fought to win back public favor. Most recently, organizers took a bus full of journalists — including one from the Weekly and two from the Los Angeles Times, a big media adversary at the outset — on a tour to meet the new chapters. Backyard scenes of grassroots organizing were complete with laughing children, hand-drawn signs and chicken coops.
The most lively stop on the tour was majority-Latino Lynwood, which Revolution organizers introduced as "ground zero for parent empowerment throughout the entire state." Alma Alvarado, a parent at Washington Elementary, stepped bravely to the podium, announcing that her fourth-grader still couldn't read. In the crowd, another mom concurred by way of neon posterboard: "Mi hijo no sabe leer."
More than 100 passionate parents, who had been pressuring school officials long before the parent-union concept was born, now gladly aligned themselves with the brand. "Parent Revolution! Parent Revolution!" they chanted.
The nonprofit isn't always so warmly received. According to parent-union organizers at Muir High School in Pasadena, the PTA has resisted working with Parent Revolution associates. And one PTA mom who joined the parent union at Desert Trails Elementary in rural Adelanto was promptly asked to resign from the PTA, Sanchez says.
"There's definitely the idea that we might be up to something else," says Yuri Anaya, a Parent Revolution organizer of two chapters in Pasadena. She claims she's overheard fearful whispers that a trigger effort might be underfoot, even though Muir High and Jefferson Elementary aren't among the 1,300-plus California schools performing poorly enough to be eligible for trigger reform.
On the tour bus in September, Parent Revolution founders Ben Austin and Pat DeTemple brushed off the Weekly's attempts at a "charters versus unions" debate.
Both forces, if left unchecked, will grow too powerful, they explained. That's why a third pillar — formed by parents, who answer to nobody but their kids — is necessary to keep education reform on track.
The weight of Compton clearly has been lifted from their shoulders. Celerity, the charter school that had been ready to take over McKinley, ended up moving into an empty schoolhouse next door. One-third of McKinley students soon transferred over. And according to Jennifer Welsh, a documentary filmmaker who followed the first trigger attempt, Compton Unified officials have said in recent interviews that they learned a lot from the experience. Once the national spotlight flooded the district's dark conference room, elected officials realized their 50 percent graduation rate wouldn't cut it forever.
As for Parents Revolution, Austin says, "We've been kind of becoming a lot more wonky lately." This month, directors even filled a brand-new post: policy director.
Christina Vargas, the woman chosen for the job, says she's been poring through a "myriad of different sources" — think tank Mass Insight, for example, and Harvard research — and condensing them into digestible, three-hour info sessions.
"That's the part that's exciting," Vargas says. "How do we create an informed and empowered body of parents?"
By reviewing studies on what makes teachers and classrooms most effective, Vargas says, parents can use that information however they please: to lobby politicians in Sacramento, to barter with school officials or — when all else fails — to pull the trigger.

Alma Alvarado and her daughter, Jessica Alvarez, at Lynwood's Washington Elementary

Sunday, November 20, 2011

2011-11-17 "Calif.: Regulating marijuana like wine improves the status quo"Despite having the broadest medical marijuana law in the country, California still arrests and cites individuals at a staggering pace [] for marijuana offenses. Efforts are underway to try to change that.
The Regulate Marijuana Like Wine Act of 2012 [] is currently being circulated for signatures. If placed on the ballot,
the good people of California will be able to vote on whether adults should be able to possess, use, cultivate, and transport marijuana for non-medical use. In addition, the initiative would allow the legislature to devise a
system of retail marijuana cultivation and sale to adults. If passed, the Regulate Marijuana Like Wine Act will greatly improve California's marijuana laws and show the federal government (and the world) that
allowing adults to make a responsible decision to use marijuana does not lead to chaos and ruin.
If you would like to help with the effort to place this initiative on the ballot, please visit the *Regulate Marijuana Like Wine Act's website []
You can also forward this to your friends [] and associates across California to encourage them to be part of history.
[image: Robert Capecchi signature (master)]
Robert J. Capecchi
Legislative Analyst
Marijuana Policy Project

  *Help fund MPP's projects*
MPP hopes that each of the 100,000 subscribers on our national e-mail list will make at least one financial donation to MPP's work in 2011. Please click here [] to donate now.

MPP depends on the support of you and our other allies to fund our work [].
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Friday, November 11, 2011

2011-11-11 "Cities can prohibit pot dispensaries, court rules" by Bob Egelko from "San Francisco Chronicle"
(11-11) 13:03 PST SAN FRANCISCO --
Cities and counties in California can prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries within their borders, a state appeals court has ruled.
Other courts have upheld local government authority to restrict the location of pot suppliers or declare a temporary moratorium, but Wednesday's ruling, in a case from Riverside, was the first to address a citywide ban.
A lawyer for a marijuana patients' cooperative called the ruling a "radical departure" from past cases - and from California's medical marijuana law - and said he would appeal to the state Supreme Court.
A 2003 state law was intended to "enhance access to medical marijuana" by allowing patients to grow and supply the drug through nonprofit collectives, attorney J. David Nick said Thursday. "How can you say you are enhancing access ... when you're permitting counties and cities to erode that very distribution system and to destroy it completely?"
Nick said an increasing number of cities, mostly in Southern California but also in the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys, have outlawed marijuana dispensaries. A ban in all unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County is being challenged in court, Nick said.
Moves against industry
The ruling is another blow to medical marijuana suppliers in California, after last month's announcement by federal prosecutors throughout the state that they have threatened dozens of property owners with forfeiture and criminal charges for letting pot dispensaries rent office space.
Riverside banned medical marijuana outlets in 2009 and sought to shut down Nick's client, Inland Empire Patients' Health and Wellness Center, in May 2010. A Superior Court judge ruled in the city's favor six months later, but the center has stayed open during its appeal.
In Wednesday's ruling, the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Riverside said state law allows medical patients to use marijuana, and to form collectives to supply it, but does not exempt them from local government authority to regulate land use.
Means of regulation
California laws "do not provide individuals with inalienable rights to establish, operate or use" dispensaries, nor do the laws declare that dispensaries "shall be permitted within every city and county," Justice Carol Codrington said in the 3-0 ruling.
State law expressly allows cities to regulate marijuana outlets or restrict their location, Codrington said, and a total ban is "simply a type or means of restriction or regulation."
Riverside's lawyer, Jeffrey Dunn, said the local bans grew out of short-term moratoriums that many cities adopted in response to an "explosive growth" of medical marijuana shops in the past five years.
California law provides patients and their authorized suppliers with a "limited immunity from criminal prosecution" while leaving cities and counties free to regulate or prohibit dispensaries, Dunn said.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

2011-10-18 "Occupy L.A., teachers union march on LAUSD HQ" by Subha Ravindhran and Robert Holguin
DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Occupy L.A. demonstrators have been joined by teachers, students and parents for a march from City Hall to LAUSD headquarters to protest education cuts.
Occupy L.A. demonstrators have been living in tents outside of City Hall for about two weeks protesting against corporate greed.
On Tuesday, United Teachers Los Angeles joined Occupy L.A. in a march to Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters, where the school board was meeting. Demonstrators are looking to start a second occupation site to protest teacher layoffs.
The union wants the district to re-hire the 1,200 teachers and other school workers that were laid off earlier this year.
"One of the main points of Occupy L.A. is to protect the public's sphere, that we share a public arena and it should be protected from corporate influence," said teacher and activist Marcy Winograd.
Winograd says one major issue is corporate charters defunding public education in LAUSD.
"Let's fully fund public education, let's bring back the 1,200 teachers, open the school libraries," said Winograd. "We have foundations that are funded by large, corporate CEOs that are saying 'Look, we want to divide the district, we want it defunded, and we want to seize the schools.' This is wrong. We want teachers back in our classrooms."
The march began downtown at about 4 p.m. and marched toward the rally at LAUSD headquarters by 5 p.m.
"It's just the energy of all the groups coming together, and this is a chance for everybody to come together and realize we're all part of the same thing," said retired LAUSD teacher Tim Doherty. "The problems are all the same. It's just that each group's got to realize you're part of this too."
"This really is the core of the issue, is our future," said Lisa Clapier, a spokesperson for Occupy L.A. "And these teachers are the ones who steward our precious children, and without them, we wouldn't be able to provide our children with the foundation that they require. This is really an important day."
LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy released a statement Tuesday in response to the march:
"It is an insult for these protestors to equate a school district that during the past four years has experienced a $2 billion loss of dollars in state and federal funding, with policies and institutions that have systematically hurt the poor and middle class."
Protestors planned to camp at LAUSD HQ overnight, but acknowledged they had no permit to do so.
Immigrant-rights communities have also announced a plan to march this week.
"We are here because we understand very clearly that if we are going to have a movement in Los Angeles, it cannot be a movement without the immigrant community and the Latino community," said Angelica Salas from Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.
"We are here to express our deep solidarity with those that initiated this historic movement," said Juan Jose Gutierrez from Full Rights for Immigrants Coalition. "We want to add our strength and energy to it, to make it more viable, and in fact we are going to make it more viable."
An immigrants-rights march is planned for 5 p.m. Wednesday, starting at 4th Street and Grand Avenue and ending at California Plaza, the occupation site for Occupy L.A.

Monday, October 17, 2011

2011-10-17 "California doctors' group backs legalizing pot" from "Associated Press"
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — California's largest industry group for doctors is calling for the legalization of marijuana even as it maintains that the drug has few proven health benefits.
Trustees of the California Medical Association adopted the new stance at its annual meeting Friday in Anaheim, according to a Los Angeles Times report ( ).
Dr. Donald Lyman, the Sacramento physician who wrote the group's new policy, said doctors are increasingly frustrated by the state's medical marijuana law, which allows use with a doctor's recommendation. Physicians are put in the uncomfortable position of having to decide whether to recommend a drug that's illegal under federal law, Lyman said.
"It is an open question whether cannabis is useful or not," he told the newspaper. "That question can only be answered once it is legalized and more research is done. Then, and only then, can we know what it is useful for."
The CMA acknowledges health risks associated with marijuana use and proposes regulation similar to alcohol and tobacco, but the group says the consequences of criminalization outweigh the dangers.
The federal government considers cannabis a drug with no medical use. The CMA wants the White House to reclassify it to help promote further research on its medical potential. Earlier this year, the Obama administration turned down a request to reclassify marijuana. That decision is being appealed in federal court by legalization advocates.
Lyman called current laws a "failed public health policy."
But critics within the medical community said association leaders did not consider the broader implications of legalizing marijuana.
"I think it's going to lead to more use, and that, to me, is a public health concern," Dr. Robert DuPont, an M.D. and professor of psychiatry at Georgetown Medical School, told the Times.
Members of the CMA, which represents more than 35,000 California physicians, were informed of the trustees' vote Saturday. It is the first major medical association in the nation to urge legalization of cannabis, according to a group spokeswoman.
The group's decision provoked an angry response from some in law enforcement.
"Given everything that we know about the physiological impacts of marijuana — how it affects young brains, the number of accidents associated with driving under the influence — it's just an unbelievably irresponsible position," said John Lovell, spokesman for the California Police Chiefs Association.
The CMA's parent organization, the American Medical Association, has said the federal government should consider easing research restrictions, according to the Times.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Federal auhroties claim their descison to illegally begin their invasion of California was made by "a Californian" and not by anybody at Washington D.C.
Right. Except the Federal agent who is destroying California's heritage of freedom is operating under Federal guidelines about freedom of access to medicine set down by Federal agents in Washington D.C.

2011-10-16 "Decision To Crack Down On Medical Marijuana Made In California, Not Washington, U.S. Attorney Says" by Lucia Graves
WASHINGTON -- The decision to crack down on medical pot establishments in the Golden State was a collective decision by four U.S. attorneys in California and not the result of any directive from Washington, according to a spokesman for California-based U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr.
Federal prosecutors launched an attack on medical marijuana shop owners last week [], vowing to shutter state-licensed marijuana dispensaries regulated by local governments and threatening landlords with property seizures.
The announcement came in spite of the Obama administration's campaign promise to maintain a hands-off approach toward pot clinics adhering to state law, with Attorney General Eric Holder publicly asserting that federal prosecutors would not initiate enforcement actions against any patients or providers in compliance with state law [], deeming it an inefficient use of scarce government resources.
Now California-based U.S. attorneys are taking on the battle themselves.
"There was no particular incident that prompted our enforcement actions," Thom Mrozek, spokesman for Birotte, told HuffPost in an email on Friday. "Across the state, we have seen a fairly significant increase in the problem over the past couple of years. And, at least in our district, our actions were prompted in part by widespread concern among local officials – the City of Lake Forest is a particularly good example of this."
On Thursday the owners of eight Lake Forest medical marijuana shops were given three days to close operations []. Birotte said the shops were targeted because they violated a zoning ordinance and the city had already spent almost $600,000 in legal fees to have them removed.
Other dispensaries could simply be taxed out of existence.
Last month, Harborside Health Center lost a high-stakes battle with the Internal Revenue Service, in a ruling that could have dire consequences for the thriving California industry []. The IRS has ruled pot clinics cannot deduct operating expenses from their tax returns, recently informing Harborside, a dispensary where medical marijuana patients can buy legal cannabis in Oakland and San Jose, that it owed $2.5 million in taxes, a full $2 million more than the the 83,000-member dispensary actually paid.
"The areas in which the initial warnings have been sent are all areas where local officials have taken steps to eliminate marijuana stores and have asked the federal government for assistance," Mrozek told HuffPost, adding that the United States Attorney’s Office will continue to work with local municipalities and local law enforcement throughout California's central district to assist in ongoing efforts to combat commercial marijuana operations.
Last week three pot shops in San Francisco were targeted by California's U.S. attorneys, with dispensary landlords receiving threatening letters from Northern District U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, who cited increasing federal penalties for drug activity within 1,000 feet of school zones and other public spaces, even as some of the city's clubs were exempted under a grandfathering system [].
But there appears to be no evidence that the intervention was provoked at the behest of local officials. San Francisco city officials, when contacted by The Huffington Post, could not confirm they had put in any requests with Haag's office.
Federal prosecutors have also suggested the industry has been hijacked by pot profiteers.
"All the evidence indicates that the marijuana stores in California are for-profit enterprises, which is one reason why we’re using term 'stores' for these operations," Mrozek said. "I am not saying that there are no true non-profit collectives involving only patients and their primary caregivers that are operating stores – there may be, but we have not seen one yet. This statement is based on numerous federal investigations, as well as numerous investigations and prosecutions by local officials throughout the state."
While none of the dispensaries are IRS approved 501(c) nonprofits, many, like Harborside, a state registered not-for-profit corporation, say they go out of their way to give significant revenue back to the community by donating to local charities.
Earlier this week, U.S. Attorney Laura E. Duffy, whose district includes San Diego County, announced plans to target newspaper and radio outlets advertising medical marijuana. "I'm not just seeing print advertising, I'm actually hearing radio and seeing TV advertising," she said in an interview with California Watch and KQED []. "It's gone mainstream. Not only is it inappropriate – one has to wonder what kind of message we're sending to our children."
But the three other U.S. attorneys charged with enforcing state laws have not signaled support for Duffy's line of attack.
"Our office is not targeting newspapers or publications that accept advertising money from the medication marijuana industry," Lauren Horwood, spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District of California, told HuffPost on Friday.
Meanwhile, legalization advocates say they fear Obama administration officials will be too busy to intervene. Tom Angell, spokesman for legalization advocacy group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, explains:
"I think it's mostly a case of aloofness on the part of the president and his closest advisers. My hunch is that this is the doing of career drug war bureaucrats somewhere in the DoJ who are quite terrified of the increasing public acceptance of regulated marijuana distribution. They've made a calculation - sadly correct so far - that the president doesn't care enough about this issue to intervene. Unfortunately for the president, though, voters are going to blame him at the ballot box."
Others insist the directives did in fact come from Washington.
"I don't believe that for a second," said Steve De Angelo, executive director of Harborside, when told federal prosecutors said the decision for a crackdown was made in California. "The recent actions by the U.S. attorneys in California are part of what appears to be a coordinated multi-agency assault by the federal government on the entire medical cannabis community, and that assault seems to be directed at systems of regulated and licensed systems of cultivation and distribution."

Monday, October 10, 2011

2011-10-10 Brown Vetoes California Hemp Bill, Criticizes Federal Ban" by Phillip Smith from ""
Sacramento, CA, United States
California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has vetoed a bill that would have allowed farmers in select counties to grow hemp, saying it would subject them to federal prosecution, but in doing so, he lashed out at the federal ban on hemp farming in the US, calling it "absurd."
Sponsored by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), the bill, Senate Bill 676, would have allowed farmers in four Central California counties to grow industrial hemp for the legal sale of hemp seed, oil, and fiber to manufacturers. The bill specified that hemp must contain less than 0.3% THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, and farmers must submit their crops to testing before it goes to market.
The bill had mandated an eight-year pilot program that would end in 2020, but not before the California attorney general would issue a report on law enforcement impact and the Hemp Industries Association would issue a report on its economic impact.
But although, like three other hemp bills that have been vetoed in California in the past decade, the bill passed the legislature and had the broadest support of any hemp measure considered in the state, Gov. Brown killed it, citing the federal proscription on hemp farming.
"Federal law clearly establishes that all cannabis plants, including industrial hemp, are marijuana, which is a federally regulated controlled substance," Brown said in his veto message. "Failure to obtain a permit from the US Drug Enforcement Administration prior to growing such plants will subject a California farmer to prosecution," he noted.
"Although I am not signing this measure, I do support a change in federal law," Brown continued. "Products made from hemp -- clothes, food, and bath products -- are legally sold in California every day. It is absurd that hemp is being imported into the state, but our farmers cannot grow it."
Industry groups were not assuaged by Brown's language criticizing the federal hemp ban. In a press release Monday, Vote Hemp and the Hemp Industries Association blasted the veto.
"Vote Hemp and The Hemp Industries Association are extremely disappointed by Gov. Brown's veto. This is a big setback for not only the hemp industry -- but for farmers, businesses, consumers and the California economy as a whole. Hemp is a versatile cash and rotation crop with steadily rising sales as a natural, renewable food and body care ingredient. It's a shame that Gov. Brown agreed that the ban on hemp farming was absurd and yet chose to block a broadly supported effort to add California to the growing list of states that are demanding the return of US hemp farming. There truly was overwhelming bipartisan support for this bill," said Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp and executive director of the HIA.
"After four vetoes in ten years in California, it is clear we lack a governor willing to lead on this important ecological, agricultural and economic issue. We will regroup, strategize and use this veto to our advantage at the federal level," added Vote Hemp Director and co-counsel Patrick Goggin.
The US hemp market is now estimated to be about $420 million in annual retail sales, but manufacturers must turn to foreign suppliers because the DEA, which refuses to differentiate between industrial hemp and recreational and medical marijuana, bars its cultivation here.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Concentration Camps of KKKalifornia

2011-09-29 "Caged: From the grim, crowded cells of Pelican Bay, prisoners speak by refusing to eat" by Ryan Burns from "North Coast Journal" newsmagazine
A small group of reporters was shuffling through the concrete tunnels of Pelican Bay State Prison, following Public Information Officer Chris Acosta like curious goslings. Notebooks and cameras in hand, they peered this way and that, scribbling down little details — ooh, a gurney piled with riot gear! — and snapping photos wherever allowed.
Acosta, a trim Hispanic man whose sunglasses had left tan-lines along the sides of his bald head, led the group through a metal door out into a caged yard where reporters snapped photos of the razor wire spirals. Acosta corralled them through a giant steel gate operated by a corrections officer in a nearby turret. With a shouted command up to the tower the gate slid shut behind the group: a loud mechanical grinding noise followed by a booming clank. Delighted, a National Public Radio reporter asked if they could open and shut it again; she wanted a clean audio clip for her broadcast. She silenced her fellow reporters and held an enormous microphone to the gate.
These reporters had descended on Pelican Bay from Oregon, Sacramento, Los Angeles and elsewhere — TV, radio and newspaper correspondents eager for a rare look at the most restrictive and controversial prison conditions in the country. Some had flown into Del Norte County’s tiny airport. Others drove rental cars up from Sacramento or San Francisco. And on an overcast August morning they each drove through beleaguered Crescent City, escaped north up Lake Earl Drive and, six miles later, turned right at the lonely traffic signal, pulling into the parking lot of California’s first, largest and most infamous Supermax prison.
A hunger strike started here on July 1, reminding the public about the 3,240 caged men in the far northern corner of the state.
The prison, 34 miles north of the Humboldt County line, looks exactly as you’d expect of a facility built to hold the “worst of the worst” — bleak and industrial, a sprawling complex of squat gray buildings surrounded by gravel and asphalt. Google’s aerial view of the prison looks like a skull lying in the midst of miles of green forestland. Zoom out and you can see muddy Lake Earl and the brilliant blue Pacific.
Inside you see none of that — just walls, fences, cells. Confinement. Aside from the brown grass in the general population yards, the only signs of nature are the treetops peeking over the walls and, when the wind blows east, the briny smell of ocean. In the 22 years since Pelican Bay opened, not a single prisoner has escaped.
The reporters had gathered in a conference room for a presentation on prison gangs, one of the primary reasons for Pelican Bay’s notoriety. “We are a hub of prison gang influence for the state of California,” said Lt. Dave Barneberg, the prison’s institutional gang investigator. He ran through the major gangs — Nazi Low Riders, Black Guerrilla Family, Nuestra Familia, Mexican Mafia, Aryan Brotherhood — and explained that administrators have managed to curtail much of the criminal activity by placing gang leaders inside the prison’s Security Housing Unit. The SHU (pronounced as if it were footwear) is the “prison within a prison” at Pelican Bay, an isolation unit where inmates who present “serious management concerns” are locked inside windowless cells for 22 1/2 hours per day, leaving only to shower or to exercise alone in a high-walled concrete yard, roughly the size of a shipping container.
The hunger strike started in the SHU. Inmates complained about the methods used to determine who gets put in the SHU, and they said the sensory deprivation and deep isolation inside amounted to “sanctioned torture.” In a matter of days the strike spread to roughly 6,600 inmates in at least 13 California prisons. Then, three weeks after it began, the strike ended. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) agreed to a couple of very minor concessions (giving SHU inmates wall calendars and watch caps) and promised to consider their full list of demands. Unsatisfied with their response, inmates resumed their strike Monday.
A reporter started with a very simple question for Lt. Barneberg. “What is the purpose of Pelican Bay?”
“It’s the same as any other prison,” he responded, “to safely house offenders here and keep our community safe.”
That’s how most of us think of prison. Someone commits a serious crime and he gets “locked up.” “Put away.” “Thrown in the slammer.” The late criminologist John Irwin called this “warehousing,” a model of law enforcement that focuses not on rehabilitation but on retribution, not on corrections but on confinement. Warehousing, many analysts argue, has been California’s de facto system since well before Pelican Bay opened.
In many ways, the SHU represents the culmination of this trend toward human disposal. Inmates aren’t sentenced to the SHU; rather, they get placed there as a preventive measure against gang activity. Prison officials “validate” gang membership based on a number of factors, from attacking fellow inmates to more tenuous evidence like tattoos or even talking to a known gang member. In short, officials have a lot of discretion to decide who gets put in the SHU. And sometimes they’re wrong.
Ernesto Lira was doing time at a low-security prison on a drug charge when guards found a drawing in his locker that allegedly contained gang symbols, so Lira was shipped off to Pelican Bay’s SHU. How do you get out once you’re in? If you’ve been placed in the SHU for anything except brief discipline, there are just three ways out, which inmates describe succinctly: “Parole, snitch or die.” Snitching is the method administrators bank on. They call it “debriefing” but it means the same thing — renouncing gang membership and telling officials everything you know about your former gang. This policy was among the hunger strikers’ primary complaints; they argue that debriefing puts them and their families in danger.
But Lira had a different problem. He couldn’t debrief even if he’d wanted to because, as a judge later ruled, he wasn’t actually a gang member. So he remained in isolation — warehoused — until his parole eight years later. In 2009 Lira successfully sued the CDCR, in part for the psychological damage he’d suffered in the SHU.
Warehousing may be the reality in California prisons but it’s not the company line. In 2005 Gov. Schwarzenegger announced in his “State of the State” speech that the CDC (California Department of Corrections) would be adding an “R” to its name. The “R” for rehabilitation “always cracks me up,” Berkeley law professor Jonathan Simon said in a recent interview. “Corrections is supposed to mean rehabilitation.” But Schwarzenegger clearly needed to do something. The state’s prison system was a mess, plagued by prisoner abuse, overcrowding and the highest recidivism rate in the country.
Six years later it’s still a mess. Messier, actually. The Supreme Court recently upheld an order that will require California to reduce its prisoner population by at least 30,000 inmates. And the ones who remain probably won’t be corrected or rehabilitated. In 2006, fewer than half of all prisoners released from California prisons had had even one day of rehabilitation or job training, according to CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate.
So if they’re not being rehabilitated, what is happening to inmates at Pelican Bay? Seems like a question worth asking when you consider the cost of housing them there. Pelican Bay employs nearly 1,300 people and has an annual budget of roughly $180 million. That’s $70 million more than the annual budget of Humboldt State University. A general population prisoner costs taxpayers $58,324 per year. Each SHU prisoner costs $70,641 annually. That’s more than triple what it costs a student to attend a year HSU including tuition, books, food, housing, transportation and personal expenses.
And just like college students, many of the guys in the SHU will rejoin society sooner or later: On average, 75 inmates per month get released directly from the SHU onto parole.

What have they learned?
Today the United States imprisons a larger portion of its population than any other country in the world, by a wide margin: two and a half times the rate of Iran, six times the rate of Canada and nearly 13 times the rate of Japan according to data compiled by the International Centre for Prison Studies.
It hasn’t always been that way. In 1970 we had just over 100,000 inmates in state and federal prisons; by the end of 2009 there were nearly 2.3 million. California is now home to 33 prisons, which, coincidentally, is equal to the number of college campuses in the CSU and UC systems combined.

Why this lockup mania?
Simon, the Berkeley law professor, explained that the American public’s attitude toward criminals and prisoners changed during the 1970s thanks to incidents such as the Attica prison riot, activist George Jackson’s deadly escape attempt from San Quentin and a succession of high-profile serial killers. People began to view prisoners as “hardened and motivated killers who don’t change over time,” Simon said.
The logical solution? Lock ‘em up, throw away the key.

Josh Meisel, an assistant criminology professor at Humboldt State University, said other factors fueled this attitude, including deinstitutionalizing the mentally ill and cutting funds for social safety net programs. Americans grew wary and dismissive of lawbreakers. “We as a society became far more willing to write off larger and larger segments of the population as junk, social junk,” Meisel said.
If Pelican Bay was designed to hold the worst of that junk, then the SHU is reserved for the truly toxic waste — the human equivalent of uranium fuel rods and rusty heroin needles. The media tour offered a very selected sampling of who’s in there now.
Lt. Acosta stood outside a door to one of the SHU “pods” and shouted up to a corrections officer seated behind him in an enclosed, elevated control booth. The door to pod C12 slid open with that radio-friendly “Grrrrrrrr-clang!” and the reporters filed inside. All the pods in the SHU are identical — concrete boxes with two levels of 8-by-10 cells, illuminated with narrow skylights and fluorescent ballasts that remain on 24 hours a day, so that no cell ever gets dark. Inmates peered at the reporters through the mesh of dime-sized holes in their ocher-colored cell doors. The first cell on the right, number 105, contained two men, one seated on the upper cement slab, reclining against his rolled-up mattress pad reading a book, the other below, cross-legged and hunched, watching a small TV. Their baggy white smocks and shorts resembled hospital gowns, and the pod smelled of bathroom cleanser.
Up a flight of metal stairs, one of the cells had been cleared of its resident for media inspection. Books, office paper and manila envelopes were stacked on the cell’s cement slab next to a thin, lumpy mattress pad. Tucked under the slab were folded sheets and clothes. A squat shelf with a map of the Americas taped to it held a box of teabags, a few paper pint containers and three empty styrofoam packages of Nissin brand Cup Noodles. A small TV (with clear plastic casing to prevent contraband smuggling) was suspended in one corner, and in the opposite stood a metal sink and toilet.
Outside the cell, reporters were whispering excitedly. “Do you see what they’re doing down there?” one asked. “They’re playing chess!”
Down on the first floor, a young, tattooed Hispanic man stood alone in his cell, a cheap chessboard in front of him. His opponent was in the next cell over with his own chess set. They appeared to be playing a match by shouting out their moves. Inside the SHU pod, a facility that resembles nothing so much as a barren dog kennel, the sight of two men playing chess seemed like shocking evidence of human resiliency.
The men weren’t using any of the standard chess notations, though — not algebraic, not numeric, not correspondence. Maybe they had invented their own method of notation. Maybe they were communicating in code about something else entirely. Or maybe they were just pretending. After all, this was an organized media tour. With 1,111 men in the SHU that day, reporters had been led inside only this particular pod. And prison officials were in there, too — officials who control every minute of the inmates’ lives.
Later these officials trotted out two SHU inmates for 15-minute interviews. The first, 35-year-old convicted murderer Harold Rigsby, was thin and pale with a shaved head and black Buddy Holly glasses. With his cuffed hands shackled to a chain around his waist, Rigsby said he’d recently debriefed. He renounced his membership with the Mexican Mafia in hopes of earning his release from the SHU, where he’d spent the past 14 years.
Facing a roomful of reporters, with corrections officers and officials nearby — including Acting Warden Greg Lewis — Rigsby vouched for the system’s effectiveness. “It was the best decision I ever made to come and debrief and disassociate myself from the gang lifestyle.”
The second prisoner gave a similar endorsement. Round-bodied and wide-eyed, with tattoos on his forearms and a swastika inked on his right hand, Timothy Kelly, 40, will spend the rest of his life in prison. Convicted of double homicide in 1992, he joined the Aryan Brotherhood in prison and was transferred into the SHU 17 years ago. “I kinda liked it,” he said of his first reaction to the place. He enjoyed not worrying about getting stabbed by a fellow inmate or shot if a riot breaks out — “or whether or not I’m gonna kill someone today. You never know,” he said. “That could be any day on the mainline.”
Let’s go back a second. Kelly liked life in the SHU? Really? Prisoner rights organizations have compared the SHU’s conditions unfavorably to those at Guantanamo. Were these guys serious? Had they been put up to this performance? Or were they playing some form of chess?
Clearly a media tour couldn’t reveal the day-to-day life at Pelican Bay. Afterward, the reporters each hopped in their cars, drove back through Crescent City and then traveled home to their various newsrooms where they filed a story. Maybe two or three. Through it all, the inmates of Pelican Bay are in their cells with the lights on. They’re there right now. What’s that like?
The most detailed portraits of life inside Pelican Bay have come from court documents, particularly from the landmark 1995 case of Madrid v. Gomez, when Federal District Court Judge Thelton Henderson found that the prison provided substandard medical care and inflicted excessive force on inmates. In his decision, Judge Henderson wrote that the SHU “may press the outer bounds of what most humans can psychologically tolerate.”
Inmates with histories of psychiatric problems suffered profound and often rapid mental deterioration when placed in the SHU. One study cited in the case told of an inmate who when placed in the SHU developed paranoid hallucinatory psychosis. He recovered once removed, only to be transferred back inside, where he promptly descended back into a psychotic state. Other inmates followed similar trajectories. One was found inside his SHU cell in acute distress. He’d tried to kill himself by gouging his wrists with a broken plastic spoon and attempting to swallow a sprinkler head that he’d torn from the ceiling. After several more incidents of self-inflicted violence the inmate explained what he was experiencing: “My heart starts racing, I get dizzy spells, scared, nervous, shaking, crying. … Demons come out. … I never saw them before SHU.”
In a 2010 study on Supermax prisons called “Parole, Snitch or Die,” UC Berkeley grad student Keramet Reiter found that the SHU facilities at Pelican Bay and Corcoran prisons aren’t being used the way their designers intended. The designers had described three critical principles: limited use of the isolation cells, limited durations of confinement and step-down programs that would allow prisoners to earn their way back to a general population. None of these principles are being followed.
In a recent phone conversation, Reiter said that there are a inmates like Rigsby and Kelly who seem capable of remaining sane during long periods in the SHU. “That’s not to say [such inmates] don’t have pretty severe long-term impacts,” she said. Even the most well-adjusted of the former SHU inmates she has interviewed — the ones who have managed to find jobs and reintegrate into society — describe symptoms of suffering including post-traumatic stress disorder, unshakable compulsions and acute claustrophobia.
Often the effects are worse. As Judge Henderson notes in his Gomez decision, the combination of social isolation with severely limited environmental stimulation can cause all sorts of psychiatric disturbances — hallucinations, confusion, irrational anger, emotional flatness, violent fantasies, chronic depression and overt paranoia, to name a few.
The Gomez case also uncovered, in Judge Henderson’s words, a “pattern of needless and officially sanctioned brutality” at Pelican Bay. Plaintiffs told numerous stories of this brutality, and while corrections officers denied it, Henderson ruled they were “not credible.”
A few of the horror stories: An inmate named Castillo refused to return his food tray after being called derogatory names by corrections officers, so the guards shot him with a 38 millimeter gas gun and a Taser, hit him in the head with the butt of the gas gun, detaching his scalp, then stepped on his hands and beat his calves with a baton until he lost consciousness.
Inmate Richard was beaten after being falsely accused of assaulting an officer. “At one point,” Judge Henderson wrote, “blood started shooting out of Richard’s mouth, but the punches continued.” Richard spent two days in “intense pain” in his cell before being taken to the infirmary with a broken jaw.
Inmate Ward verbally abused a female guard, so a group of officers showed up and told him to slide his hands through the small food slot to be cuffed up. When he did, one of the officers twisted his wrist, then repeatedly threw his body weight into Ward’s left arm, snapping his humerus. Ward suffered nerve damage that caused numbness and spasms.
Then there was the case of Vaughn Dortch, a mentally ill inmate who, as punishment for smearing himself and his cell with fecal matter, was forcibly escorted to a scalding hot bath where he suffered second and third degree burns over a third of his body. A nurse later testified that she’d overheard an officer during the incident say of Dortch, who is black, “Looks like we’re going to have a white boy before this is through. … His skin is so dirty and so rotten, it’s all fallen off.”
Judge Henderson ruled that the prison’s medical care and use of force were unconstitutional — but the SHU only partially so. While acknowledging the harsh psychological impacts, Henderson decided that the conditions inside the SHU only violated the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment for the mentally ill and those deemed likely to become mentally ill while in the SHU.
At that point, Pelican Bay had been open for just six years, and most of the inmates studied in connection to the case had been confined in the SHU for three years or less. Judge Henderson ruminated on the future: “We cannot begin to speculate on the impact that Pelican Bay SHU conditions may have on inmates confined … for periods of 10 or 20 years or more.”
Mentally ill patients at the prison are now placed in the Psychiatric Housing Unit. Josh Meisel, the assistant criminology professor at HSU, said conditions there aren’t much different than the SHU. “You have thousands of inmates who are in need of psychiatric interventions and it’s not being provided,” he said. With more than half of the CDCR’s mental health care positions currently unfilled, inmates who suffer psychotic events are sometimes placed in cages. “I mean literally, cages,” Meisel said. “They look like phone booths but they’re fabricated with cyclone fencing.”
More lawsuits followed the Gomez decision, with plaintiffs alleging that medical care at Pelican Bay and throughout the state’s prison system was fraught with chronic under-staffing, untimely responses to emergencies and poor treatment of chronic illnesses. In 2005 a federal court placed CDCR’s health care system in receivership.
Yet there are signs that the psychiatric and medical care at Pelican Bay remains inadequate. In fact that’s one of the primary concerns of the hunger strike organizers. They’re particularly worried about Dr. Michael Sayre, the prison’s chief medical officer since 2006.
In 1992, a 31-year-old patient who was undergoing routine surgery at St. Mary Medical Center in Walla Walla, Wash., suffered a fatal brain injury caused by lack of oxygen while under anesthesia. The anesthesiologist was Dr. Sayre. The hospital performed an investigation and decided to limit Dr. Sayre’s privileges. He was not criminally charged.
Dr. Sayre has been sued by several inmates of Pelican Bay’s SHU, and in 2009 he was found liable for harming one of them by knowingly disregarding his serious medical needs. That inmate, Todd Ashker, was one of the primary organizers of the Pelican Bay hunger strike. Dr. Sayre was ordered to pay $6,500 in damages. He remains the prison’s chief medical officer.
Prison administrators say the SHU has been highly effective in suppressing gang activity that increases prison violence, but Reiter’s study found little evidence of that. She analyzed data on inmate violence throughout the CDCR between 1987 and 2007 and found that assault rates have steadily increased over the past 20 years. “At best, the evidence is inconclusive that the SHUs reduce violence levels,” Reiter says. “At worst, they might exacerbate violence.”
Inmate suicide counts, meanwhile, have been rising for 35 years, and the suicide rate inside California’s SHUs are far and away the highest of any prison housing units in the country, her study showed.
The SHU also fails to rehabilitate inmates, Reiter found. Of the 9,992 prisoners paroled directly from the Pelican Bay or Corcoran SHUs between 1997 and 2007, 62 percent were had landed back in prison by March of 2008. The average rate in California was 46 percent.
Last month, during a hearing on SHU conditions before the California Assembly Committee on Public Safety, UC Santa Cruz Professor Craig Haney argued that the lack of meaningful rehabilitation programs has created a void in the lives of inmates. “Gangs have stepped in to fill this void,” he said.
Timothy Kelly, the former skinhead interviewed during the media tour, said it’s virtually impossible to remain unaffiliated with a gang at Pelican Bay. “You may not want to [join a gang], but you have to,” he said. Corrections officers confirmed this: If someone comes in to Pelican Bay unaffiliated, he’ll be placed in a gang based on his race.
“There’s a lot of guys out here who just want to do their own time, guys from all different races,” Lt. Barneburg said. “But you can’t.” The tour had moved to the general population yard where inmates had arranged themselves in groups — on one patch, muscular Hispanic men did pullups and dips and tossed a football; on the far side, black prisoners lined up for canteen; on the basketball court, more Hispanics were playing a pickup game. “You can’t go solo here and make it on your own,” Barneburg continued. “There’s no way.… If you’re white you go with the white, black you go with the blacks, northern [Mexican] you go with the northerners.”
Professor Simon finds this system absurd. “How can we spend this kind of money to send people to, essentially, racist boot camp?” he asked. “It’s absolutely staggering.”
In his testimony before the state assembly committee, Haney echoed that point. “When Pelican Bay came online in the late 1980s California had a serious prison gang problem,” he said. “It now has the worst one in the entire nation.”
Earlier this month state prison officials announced that they will reconsider the criteria used to place prisoners in the SHU. This was one of the hunger strikers’ primary demands. But the strikers say that the CDCR hasn’t followed through with its promises, and so on Monday they again started refusing food. Their demands include better food, a step-down method to earn SHU release, compliance with a 2006 federal commission report that recommended the SHU be used only as a last resort, and more educational, self-help and religious programs.
“These demands look basically like demands for human rights,” Simon said earlier this month. “I think that’s something Californians can connect with in the post-Abu Ghraib moment.” Simon is optimistic that, for the first time in a long time, Americans might be ready to rethink their attitudes toward criminals and prisoners. Homicide rates have dropped. The “War on Terror” has raised concerns about torture. TV shows profile all kinds of prisoners, including guys who are old and sick. And that last part — the old and sick prisoners — feeds into another big motivator for change: the system’s unsustainable cost.
“It’s not just high costs, it’s high costs on steroids, and it keeps getting worse,” Simon said. “The worst possible situation is if you gather a large population that has significantly worse health than the general population, you put them in the one place in the state that actually has a constitutional right to health care — and is also the place that is the most expensive to deliver that health care to them. … We can’t actually pay for this.”
The recent Supreme Court ruling on the state’s prison overpopulation will reduce those costs somewhat, though it certainly won’t solve the problems of overcrowding and costs. Even after 30,000 prisoners are released, California’s prison system will be at 137.5 percent capacity.
Even so, the ruling was controversial. Many people, including the bellicose Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote a scathing dissenting opinion, are worried about unleashing so many criminals on society. “The [judicial] majority is gambling with the safety of the people of California,” Scalia wrote.
Of course, if the system actually focused on corrections and rehabilitation, maybe we wouldn’t be so scared. Hell, maybe even our figures of speech would change. If a cousin got arrested for grand theft auto, rather than saying he’s been “put in the slammer” we might say he’s being rehabilitated. That may sound silly, but is “racist boot camp” a better idea?
“The fact of the matter is 95 percent of the people that go to prison are going to be coming back to this community and communities across the United States,” Meisel said. “Do we want ‘em to come back pissed off, ill, needing health care that will be paid anyway on the public dime? Or do we want them to come back viable members of our community, ready to give back, contribute, build families? Granted, that may be an idealistic vision that won’t be achieved by everybody,” he said. “But we’ve written everybody off.”