• The Advocates

    • 04/18/2019
    • James Preston Allen
    • At Length
    • Comments are off

    The heroes of the disenfranchised, the frustration of the crisis

    By James Preston Allen, Publisher

    The Advocates, a documentary film by Remi Kessler, is a sweeping look at the history and causes of Los Angeles’ homeless crisis through the eyes of tireless advocates working to improve the lives of their homeless clients. It is perhaps the most moving piece of reporting I have seen in recent years and it stands in stark contrast to the one-hour KOMO TV special aired on March 16, Seattle is Dying.

    The team who screened The Advocates at the San Pedro Grand Annex recently should be congratulated for bringing forth such an in-depth look into the challenges of actually getting people off the streets. As heroic as these advocates are in their efforts, I was left with just one very depressing afterthought: even if there were 5,000 of these case workers there still wouldn’t be enough housing to give all of our homeless residents shelter.

    Amber Sheikh Ginsberg, who helped get The Advocates screened at the Annex on April 11, was recently honored for her work in organizing the 15th Council District working group on homelessness at City Hall.

    “A movement or coalition is not made up of one person,” Ginsberg said. “Over the past year, dozens of local residents have truly led this charge and hundreds more have joined them in solidarity to support solutions to ending homelessness. I’m so proud of everyone who has stepped up to support solutions.”

    There are any number of people out there doing their best to help people get off the streets, yet clearly it would take an army of such people to do this work with no foreseeable end in sight, especially since nothing has been proposed yet that will stop the flow of people descending into it. We are dealing with a humanitarian crisis but without the seriousness of a crisis. The mayor postures, the people protest, and the city and county pass measures to fund housing. Yet very little is being done RIGHT NOW!

    Yes, there are plenty of people working on it. Lots more are talking about it. But the cure for homelessness, something that would require a huge economic-social shift, is not something anyone really wants to discuss.

    Even the wealthy developers of Los Angeles are beginning to see that their dreams of recreating a “new” LA hinge on how this city cures its homeless crisis. Mack Real Estate Development Chairman Paul Keller spoke at a Bisnow Future of Downtown Los Angeles event and said, “The only way we’re going to solve this… is that the vast majority of us — in some way or another — get involved.

    “It is time for all of us to step up,’’ Keller said. “I think for all of us who love the city, we really need to think long and hard about collaboratively working towards solutions or it’s going to be a very serious downside that’s going to hit all of us.”

    In contrast, the Seattle is Dying perspective seems to continue the narrative of blaming the homeless, even demonizing them for their plight.

    “The KOMO special, by reporter Eric Johnson, definitely appeals to the ‘I don’t want to have to look at homelessness’ viewer,” Catherine Hinrichsen wrote. “It’s a call to punish, rather than help people in need and it seeks to divide them into ‘the real homeless’ (or the deserving poor) and all the others.” Hinrichsen writes for Cross Cut in Seattle and she is project director of Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness.

    We clearly have these two perspectives on homelessness here in the San Pedro Bay area: those who call it a humanitarian crisis and the others who see it as a criminal issue.  Los Angeles has been juggling these two perspectives between 56.11 enforcement and losing court battles over civil rights for a decade. Councilman Joe Buscaino, representing the 15 City Council District, has only belatedly adopted the Bridge Home policy after Mayor Eric Garcetti changed course a year ago.

    This change has alienated many of Buscaino’s NIMBY constituents, as he was previously content on simply chasing the homeless from one encampment to another.  There is still no solution for the people living just one block from his San Pedro City Hall office. There is no immediacy to his taking any action whatsoever — even to give these people trash cans or temporary sanitation.  So, of course, everybody is concerned and upset about the mess.

    What needs to change is that the homeless issue needs to be addressed as a public health crisis on many levels and immediately. The county and cities jointly need to set up triage centers — safe places on public lands, off the sidewalks, where our unsheltered neighbors can camp temporarily in secure, sanitary conditions. Then sort out who needs what help by using an assortment of professional services from both the public and non-profit sectors.

    What we don’t have now is a coordinated effort utilizing all the resources that we have available to address this problem. Instead, we are just waiting for the developers to come in, using Prop. H bond money to build permanent housing at some future date. This is not a realistic solution.

    It’s shocking how the service providers featured in The Advocates work so hard to get so few people off the streets and how much time it actually takes to get even one person a Section 8 vouchered apartment. This is the frustration of solving this issue and everyone who has looked into this problem knows it. Service providers need to be demanding a shift in the groupthink at city hall to shelter now — triage centers with services and sanitation.

    Yes, it is time to bring our unsheltered residents off the streets and that is something everyone can agree on.

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  • Profit Drive Degrades Environment  

    • 04/18/2019
    • Mark Friedman
    • News
    • Comments are off

    By Mark Friedman,  RLN Environmental Reporter

    In 1970, millions of young people and others turned out for the first Earth Day, carried by the momentum of massive social movements for civil and women’s rights, and against the Vietnam War  into a fight against the poisoning and destruction of the world’s air, land and water.

    The protests have continued annually, but almost 50 years later, the problems remain —mountains of nuclear waste cannot be safely disposed of, toxic spills from factories and oil tankers seep into the water and soil, massive tracts of rainforests are chopped down, ocean plastic pollution contaminates virtually all marine organisms, ocean acidification, resulting from fossil fuels, just like global climate change, threatens the entire planet. There is no political will, nor mobilizations large enough to force existing solutions.

    The U.S. government, especially when Democrats are in power, tries to promote itself as the protector of the environment. But every modest gain in regulating pollution and environmental hazards has been won in struggle. For thousands who will turn out for this year’s Earth Day events, their participation should be linked to broader fights against attacks by the government and employers against immigrant workers, women’s rights, workers’ living standards, and the right to an education.

    The bosses and their politicians in the Democratic and Republican parties always try to counterpose jobs to the environment. Owners say that they cannot afford to run their factories cleanly. If they deem it necessary, they can move where there are less regulations. “We can’t afford to run this factory cleanly,” the owners complain. “If you insist, we’ll close up shop and move where there aren’t regulations.” The Torrance and Valero refineries refuse to eliminate the deadly modified hydrofluoric acid. In the port, the APM terminal, under the guise of “going green” seeks to eliminate hundreds of jobs. Here they need to fight for job retention and retraining, a shorter work week, with no cut in pay to spread around the available work, and not fight the inevitable automation.

    This comes from the same bosses driving hard to bring down workers’ wages and impose harsher working conditions. The cost is paid in workers’ lives, greater risks of hazardous spills, and thousands of unemployed. The banner of “protecting jobs” is hypocritically flown by those who are trying to gut the totally insufficient protections workers have won from OSHA or EPA.

    Washington also provides the military muscle to back up the banks demanding that governments in Africa, Asia, and Latin America sign over oil, virgin forest, minerals, land for toxic waste dumps and human labor to pay back loans whose purpose was always to transfer wealth from the semi-colonial world to the coffers of the billionaires, to attempt to overthrow the democratically elected Venezuelan government as a move against Cuba and to get its hands on their oil.

    Labor needs to wage a fight to halt the destruction of the environment internationally. We have the biggest stake in protecting the environment, as an integral part of defending our health, safety, and working and living conditions.

    Industry and technology in and of themselves don’t lead to environmental destruction nor of the factory workers. But as long as they are run for profits, the bosses will try to get away with as much as they can in their drive for a better bottom line.

    The working class can and must take the lead in fighting to end the destruction of the environment by putting forward such demands as:

    • Dismantlement of Washington’s nuclear weapons arsenal.
    • Making corporations pay for their pollution.
    • Giving unions control of health and safety; giving employers the bill.
    • Creating jobs for all by shortening the work week to 30 hours but keeping the same pay, thus hiring enough workers to do jobs safely and cleanly.
    • Canceling Third World debt to the banks.

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  • The Whales Return

    • 04/18/2019
    • Terelle Jerricks
    • News
    • Comments are off

    How a Migratory Pit Stop Became a Destination

    By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor

    A debt of gratitude is owed to the late director emeritus of the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, John Olguin and the late William “Bill” Samaras, a paleontologist and science teacher from San Pedro who helped launch the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium were leading proponents of saving the whales.

    In the 1970s, the pair would travel to dead stranded whales to strip them of skin, blubber and meat and transport their giant skeletons to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. They even excavated a California gray whale fossil discovered 150 feet above sea level near where the Harbor Freeway meets the port in 1971. This was long before the history of gray whales was well-documented, before it was known that San Pedro Bay was once, and still could be again, a spawning area for the giant leviathans.

    Today, the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium takes an annual boat trip to Scammons Lagoon in Baja California for whale enthusiasts and marine biologists to study the end of the 10,000- mile annual round trip migration.

    Gray whales travel each year between their winter calving lagoons in the warm waters of Mexico and their summer feeding grounds in the cold Arctic seas. Thanks to its nearshore migration route, sea-mammals can observe the gray whale along its journey at places like the Point Vicente Whale watch in Rancho Palos Verdes.

    For the past two years, American Cetacean Society whale-census takers have noted an above average number of migratory whales passing by the San Pedro Peninsula over the past two years.

    This past March and continuing into April up to six whales have been spotted swimming in the Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors, a spectacular sight in any year, but this year the whales stuck around the area for well over a month, actively feeding near the fishing pier near Cabrillo Beach in the Port of Los Angeles.

    The environmental specialist at the Port of Los Angeles, Kat Prickett, noted that the places whales have been observed are places that are part of the Port’s efforts to mitigate the negative impacts of the channel deepening and Pier 400 projects.

    Prickett pointed out that the port has worked with tenants to reduce water pollution and also enacted a speed reduction program, partly in hopes of decreasing collisions between cargo ships and migrating whales.

    The gray whale received its name from the gray patches and white mottling on its dark skin. On the skin are many scratches, scattered patches of white barnacles, and orange whale lice. Newborn calves are simply dark gray to black, although some may have distinctive white markings that biologists can use to identify individuals.

    Recently, however, a few of the whales have been showing up with mysterious white markings or tracks running in various directions across their backs — tracks that scientists so far have not been able to identify the source. The  small parallel tracks are easily differentiated from the normal crater-like barnacle scars and white blotches on the whale’s skin and are also easily differentiated from orca teeth rake marks on the dorsal hump, and more visible boat prop scars.

    Alisa Schulman-Janiger, a whale expert known for her work on Amazing Journeys (1999) and Planet Earth Live (2012) had this to say about the sightings:

    “In March 2015, I had encountered a gray whale mom that had exactly the same type of mysterious markings trailing all over her body (plus prop scars and killer whale tooth rakes) off Point Vicente (also seen in Ojo de Liebre in Jan 2015). We had a long discussion on possible scar origin at that time: squid experts ruled out squid tentacles as the scar’s origin; some thought mariculture equipment rollers; others suggested tiny unknown marine creatures.”

    Interestingly, in March 2015, similar double-track markings were discovered on another adult female gray whale as she migrated north past Los Angeles with her calf.

    The same whale had earlier been photographed in one of Baja California’s lagoons and the peculiar markings were not visible. So the tracks materialized at some point during the northbound migration.

    More importantly, the whales this season that have been spotted have been slimmer than usual.

    Gray whales feed on small crustaceans such as amphipods and tube worms found in bottom sediments. They feed primarily during the long daylight hours of the  summer months in the cold Arctic waters of the Bering and Chukchi seas.

    Even though the inner beach at Cabrillo rarely gets a passing grade from Heal The Bay’s annual shoreline water quality ratings, there’s been significant improvement in the shallow water habitat — especially when compared with the quality of 50-feet-deep waters  just to the north. Picket noted that with the man-made sediment deposits, the shallow water habitat has become home to more invertebrate species that whales like to feed on.

    Gray Whale Identification

    • Low V-shaped or heart shaped bushy blow
    • Mottled gray, state blue or gray-brown color
    • Narrow head encrusted with barnacles, whale lice
    • At surface head looks like top of shallow triangle
    • Low hum instead of dorsal fin
    • Knuckles between hump and tail
    • Usually raises flukes when diving

    At a Glance

    • Alternative names: California Pacific gray whale, rarely musseldigger, grayback, scrag

    whale, devilfish (by American whalers).

    • Scientific name: Eschrichtius robustus
    • Adult size: 36-49 ft; 18-40 tons; females larger than males.
    • Diet: mainly benthic amphipods, buts also mysids and polychaete tube worms;

    opportunistically takes small schooling fish, red crabs, crab larvae and other prey.

    • Behavior: lots of surface activity; often exhbiits “friendly” behavior toward small whale

    watching boats on the breeding grounds.

    • Breeding: single calf born late December to mid February, after a gestation period of

    12 to 13.5 months

    • Distribution: North Pacific and adjacent waters, in recent years at least one individual in the

    North Atlantic and another in the South Atlantic.

    • World population: about 18-21,000 in the eastern North Pacific ; probably fewer than 130

    in the western north Pacific.

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  • Students: The Key to Climate Action

    • 04/18/2019
    • Paul Rosenberg
    • News
    • Comments are off

    A Lesson for World Leaders

    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

    Last August, after an unprecedented 11 wildfires raged through Swedish forests inside the Arctic Circle, a Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg, skipped school for three weeks to distribute leaflets outside Parliament in advance of national elections in solitary protest of adults’ lack of concern for her future.

    Thunberg was inspired by the Parkland students, who turned the trauma of a mass shooting at into a movement for gun control.

    “Someone I knew said, ‘What if children did that for the climate?’” Thunberg told Democracy Now! in December. “I tried to bring people with me, but no one was really interested, so I had to do it alone.”

    But she isn’t alone, anymore.

    On March 15, Thunberg tweeted, “School strike week 30”—with hashtags #climatestrike, #fridaysforfuture, #schoolstrike4climate—and was joined by more than 1.5 million other students and supporters at more than 2,000 places, in 125 countries, on every continent — including Antarctica.

    At least one of them, JJ Doherty of Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim, Ireland, stood alone, just as Thunberg had done the first few weeks of her strike. “But he stood there in the knowledge that millions of kids all over the world are standing with him today,” his “Very proud Mum” tweeted.

    Doherty wasn’t wrong. There were 150,000 student strikers in Montreal, 100,000 in Milan, 20,000 in Sydney, and the list went on and on.

    “Indian students of all ages and backgrounds streamed out from schools across the country,” India’s News18.com reported. There, as here in Los Angeles, impacts of climate change and particulate pollution are inextricably intertwined.

    “My country lives with the shame of having 14 of the 15 most polluted cities in the world,” 13-year old Arya Dhar Gupta wrote in the Guardian. “How can I not host the strike in Gurugram, labelled the city with the worst air quality in the world in a recent report?”

    Regionally, there were events from Laguna Beach, Irvine and Orange to Long Beach, Manhattan Beach, Northridge, Pasadena, South Pasadena, Covina and Rancho Cucamonga. In downtown LA, marching strikers chanted, “What do we want? SCIENCE! When do we want it? AFTER PEER REVIEW!” They assembled for a program that began with a Native American ceremony honoring the directions, beginning with the East:

    “It is the land of the eagle, and it is the land of our youth and it is the land of opportunity, and a new day, ceremony leaders said. “It is the youth that will save our earth.”

    This past November, Thunberg addressed United Nations Secretary General António Guterres at the U.N. climate summit in Katowice, Poland.

    “Some people say that I should be in school instead; some people say that I should study to become a climate scientist so that I can ‘solve’ the climate crisis, but the climate crisis has already been solved,” Thunberg said. “We already have all the facts and solutions. And why should I be studying for a future that soon may be no more, when no one is doing anything to save that future?”

    But Thunberg hadn’t just come to complain.

    “We have not come here to beg the world leaders to care for our future,” she said. “They have ignored us in the past, and they will ignore us again. We have come here to let them know that change is coming, whether they like it or not. The people will rise to the challenge. And since our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago.”

    Others had already begun following Thunberg’s example, but this speech was a turning point, coming just a few weeks after a new UN report warned that there was only a 12-year window to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. A letter signed by more than 12,000 scientists supported the growing movement.

    “These concerns are justified and supported by the best available science,” they wrote. “The enormous mobilization of the Fridays for Future/Climate Strike movement shows that young people have understood the situation. As scientists and scholars, we emphatically approve their demand for rapid and forceful action.”

    The Guardian carried voices of students from around the world.

    “I started my activism quite young — at 11,” said Brianna Fruean, 20. “As a young girl in Samoa, a small island in the south Pacific, hearing the implications it had for my island scared me and jump-started my passion to do something about it. I feel like the young people of the Pacific are now experiencing what young people around the world will experience tomorrow. Right now, along with a lot of other vulnerable communities around the world, we’re having cyclones, floods and droughts. And it’s going to be that — and worse — for future generations.”

    “My friends and I heard for the first time about Greta Thunberg and her climate strike in the autumn of 2018,”said Anastasia Martynenko, 20. “Then we had the idea to hold a similar action in Ukraine. We invited other youth and students to join us in Kyiv (aka Kiev) and all together demand from our politicians a new future without climate change. We also got adult supporters. After two weeks, five other Ukrainian cities joined us in organizing actions and will also be coming out to protest today. I and like-minded people are happy to be the driving force of change among young people, because when our children ask us, ‘What have you done for our future?’ We will have an answer.”

    Vidit Bay, 17, of India recalled the winter of 2018. “I went to march on the streets of Melbourne with a group of amazing, diverse people of all ages to urge the Australian government to take action against climate change,” he wrote. “When I came back to India, I started an organization called No Borders and wrote an article regarding climate change here in India that was quite popular among my schoolmates and teachers. Then there was no stopping us. Today, young people from all over India will strike for a sustainable future.”

    Also featured, speaking in support, was Kumi Naidoo, the Secretary General of Amnesty International and former executive director of Greenpeace, whose activism began in apartheid South Africa.

    “In 1980, at the age of 15, I led a student protest that got me expelled,” Naidoo wrote. “Even though adults told us that we could not make a difference, once our eyes were opened to this injustice, there was no alternative….  Rather than give in to the fear that it was too big to take on, we had no choice but to trust in the power of our individual actions. There are many lessons here for the climate-change movement.”

    “Only if we act quickly and consistently can we limit global warming, halt the mass extinction of animal and plant species, preserve the natural basis for life and create a future worth living for present and future generations,” the report signed by 12,000 scientists stated. “This is exactly what the young people of Fridays for Future/Climate Strike want to achieve. They deserve our respect and full support.”

    “If our leaders and indeed other adults are still clueless as to what they can do,” Naidoo wrote. “My one piece of advice is: act like the kids.”

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  • Satalite photo of Earth over Africa, Europe and the Middle East at night. NASA Earth Observatory image

    Earth Night: Harnessing Uncertainty In A Dark Time

    It May Be Key To Looming Climate Crisis Survival

    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

    In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson was warned about the dangers of climate change as part of a report, “Restoring the Quality of Our Environment.” By 2000, it warned, there would be 25 percent more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. “This will modify the heat balance of the atmosphere to such an extent that marked changes in climate, not controllable through local or even national efforts, could occur.”

    Had we begun gradual but sustained action then, we could have largely avoided the climate change crisis we’re now in the midst of, which is only going to get dramatically worse, with sea-level rise of 45 feet or more, and destabilizing mass migrations across the globe. Even starting in 1988, when NASA scientist James Hansen warned Congress that climate change had arrived, we could have largely transitioned to renewable energy by now.

    That year, George H.W. Bush, running for President, responded by pledging to use the “White House effect” to battle the “greenhouse effect.”  But he ended up scuttling firm timetables for curbing carbon dioxide emissions as part of the international agreement which has framed global action ever since.

    It was hardly surprising, given his oilfield roots, and the key role the fossil fuel industry has played in preventing action. The main weapon the industry has deployed is the “uncertainty” narrative—the same narrative that used to promote excessive reactions in other contexts—the need for military spending or action, for example — as with Dick Cheney’s “One Percent Doctrine,” that “If there’s a 1 percent chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response.”

    But with climate change, the story was exactly the opposite: Uncertainty, we were told, meant we shouldn’t do anything at all.

    Uncertainty Means More Cause To Worry

    That’s 100 percent wrong, scientists now say. Uncertainty means risks are almost certainly even greater than we suppose. What’s more, understanding uncertainty can help guide sound action and help avoid worst-case scenarios. In addition potentially debilitating effects of uncertainty only increase the significance and importance of listening to and empowering the growing youth climate justice movement.  In many ways, harnessing uncertainty may be indispensable in facing a future that’s more uncertain than we can possibly imagine.

    Leading climate scientist Michael Mann, best known for his 1998 “Hockey Stick” paper, and the controversies that followed.

    No one knows the climate wars better than leading climate scientist Michael Mann, best known for his 1998 “Hockey Stick” paper, and the controversies that followed. That paper used multiple proxies to conclude that recent warming was unprecedented in at 600 years. “This year in @Nature, scientists concluded it’s unprecedented in at least eleven millennia,” he tweeted last December. “Guess we were wrong…”

    The critics like to say the climate models can’t be trusted; Their predictions are alarmist, they are an exaggeration,” Mann told Random Lengths. “If you actually look at what the models have predicted and what is actually happening, we are losing sea ice in the Arctic faster than what the climate models predicted.”

    In fact, the latest research shows the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the global average over a period of decades.

    “That means that the polar amplification is greater and happening more quickly than the models had predicted, and so the increase in extreme weather events tied into that are a nasty surprise,” Mann said. “It is something that we would not have predicted based on the models at the time, but we see it playing out. And retrospectively we can say, ‘Oh yes we now see how this is related to changes in the climate that are human caused,’ but we could not have predicted beforehand,” he said. “A cautionary tale.”

    What’s more, “There is this intrinsic conservativeness in the world of science,” Mann said. “Scientists don’t want to be alarmist, they don’t want to be coming out in the head of the pack, and they feel safe being in the middle, especially when there are bad actors looking to discredit us and malign us and to vilify us.” This can even influence assumptions in modeling “when it comes to uncertain aspects,” he said.

    Uncertainty Gets A Closer Look

    In 2014, Stephan Lewandowsky co-authored two important papers about climate uncertainty, which I covered for Salon, and re-contacted him to discuss.

    “Basically, we provided a quantitative analysis of the fairly obvious fact that uncertainty means things could be worse than anticipated,” Lewandowsky told Random Lengths. “Potential climate surprises are more likely to be calamitous than benign, because the probability of adverse climate events, such as flooding resulting from sea level rise, increases with increasing uncertainty, all other factors being equal. In consequence, adaptation costs go up if we want to keep risks constant.”

    For example, he said, “A sea wall that might cost $1,000,000 if we knew the extent of sea level rise by 2050 with great precision, may cost $2,000,000 if the same expected sea level rise is known with lesser precision.” Chalk it up to basic math. “This result follows from basic extreme-value statistics and is nearly inescapable,” he said. “So uncertainty is no one’s friend and it should provide an impetus for mitigation rather than a nudge towards inaction.”

    Those papers helped spark a wider interest and the next year he co-edited an issue of the journal Philosophical Transactions devoted to the relationship between scientific uncertainty about climate change and knowledge.

    Appeals to uncertainty are so pervasive in political and lobbying circles that they have attracted scholarly attention under the name ‘scientific certainty argumentation methods’, or ‘SCAMs’ for short,” Lewandowky and his co-editors wrote in their introduction. “SCAMs have been identified as contributing to the delay of regulatory action on many health and environmental problems, including climate change.”

    That same year, environmental data scientist Justin Farrell published the first of two studies of the network structure and influence of the climate change counter-movement, based on large-scale text-analysis. While climate denialists have frequently floated baseless, even illogical conspiracy theories about climate scientists deliberately faking results and misleading the public, Farrell’s work provided solid proof that denialist themselves operated that way. The network of contrarian institutions and individuals grew dramatically larger and more tightly organized from 1980 to 2013, even as evidence of global warming grew stronger and more dire.

    In his second paper, Farrell found that “organizations with corporate funding [either Exxon-Mobile or the Koch family foundation] were more likely to have written and disseminated texts meant to polarize the climate change issue.” In addition, “Corporate funding influences the actual thematic content of these polarization efforts, and the discursive prevalence of that thematic content over time.”

    Thus, just as uncertainty has the opposite significance of what’s attributed to it—making action more imperative, not less — so, too, those promoting the false message are the opposite of what they pretend to be: the conspirators pushing a special interest agenda, accusing those they attack of their very own misdeeds.


    Uncertainty As Source of Knowledge

    In contrast, Lewandowsky and his Philosophical Transactions co-editors went on to say that in light of his earlier work, “Uncertainty can therefore be a source of actionable knowledge rather than an indicator of ignorance.”

    For example, one paper examined state formation and decline in the Mexican and Andean highlands over two millennia, the co-editors explained:

    “They conclude that the formation and consolidation of states and empires are facilitated during stable climatic regimes and disrupted by highly volatile climatic conditions. As they note, ‘under conditions of extreme uncertainty it is impossible for people to evaluate the costs and benefits of one strategy or another’, thereby preventing adaptation to changing conditions and leading to ‘abrupt changes or tipping points in preindustrial states’. Climatic uncertainty, in other words, has demonstrably contributed to the collapse of past complex societies.”

    What’s more, it would be mistaken to think we’re much more sophisticated and therefore immune to the lessons of these historical examples, since general principles are involved:

    “Complex systems, such as the climate system or global civilization, are known to be prone to surprises, such as unexpectedly large effects of small changes to seemingly insignificant variables on system behaviour. The potential for future surprise is particularly large in systems in which surprises have arisen in the past.

    And they apply to us today:

    Both the climate system and civilizations are complex systems that are known for their history of surprises. Finally, the risk of surprises increases if complex systems are driven  outside the conditions in which they have been operating in the past. As Bentley & O’Brien showed, current civilizations are changing more rapidly than ever before. Current climate change is putting the Earth system outside the parameters of the last two millennia. Two mutually interacting complex systems are driven beyond their traditional operating parameters.

    All this means we can’t ignore the risk of “unknown unknowns,” a term Donald Rumsfeld used to scaremonger in the aftermath of 9/11, but which are far more likely to exist in the realm of climate change, as this analysis indicates.

    In February, the Nation published an article by historian Alfred McCoy, “The End of Our World Order Is Imminent,” in which he argued that climate change would not simply threaten to destabilize the American empire — one of more than 200 in world history — but also the “far more deeply rooted” world order around it, one of just three since the Bubonic Plague in the 1300s. “World orders are woven into the fabric of civilization itself,” McCoy wrote, making it almost impossible to conceive what its end might entail.

    Uncertain Judgement

    Another aspect of uncertainty is how it impacts us psychologically, thus affecting our cognitive capacity for problem-solving. One paper “showed that under conditions of uncertainty, people are biased against creativity and prefer mundane functionality instead… It follows that the uncertainty that inevitably arises in times of crises may therefore stimulate a bias against creativity that in turn may militate against finding a solution to the crisis. When creativity is most needed, it might be thwarted by people’s response to uncertainty.”

    Another paper concluded “that uncertainty tends to destabilize cooperation,” the co-editors wrote:

    “There is now a considerable body of evidence to suggest that uncertainty is the enemy of cooperation.

    “Finally, perhaps the gravest potential consequence of uncertainty relates to its potential to trigger, enable or prolong violent conflict.”

    It’s important to note that these last two uncertainty effects are in addition to the direct impacts of climate change on increasing violence, which have been noted episodically (as in contributing to the Syrian Civil War) and systemically. A 2013 study of the post-1950 era, “Quantifying the Influence of Climate on Human Conflict,” found “both substantial and highly statistically significant” increases in the frequency of interpersonal violence and intergroup conflict as a result of climate change “toward warmer temperatures or more extreme rainfall.”

    This trio of negative cognitive impacts—though distressing on its face—serve to underscore just how invaluable the rapidly-growing youth climate justice movement can be.

    Youth are inherently more experimental and creative as a whole at a biological level. Cooperation and resistance to violence may be biologically more ambivalent, but in the current moment the existing youth activist movement is far more cooperative and universalist in outlook than anything in the adult realm, except the climate science community itself, which has already expressed its support for them.

    There is little doubt that the rhetorically violent populism that Trump pursues will eventually lead to actual violence (arguably it already has),” Lewandosky said. “It follows that the universalist approach of the youth climate strike is a good antidote to that divisive rhetoric.”

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  • Daniel Ellsberg On Assange Arrest: The Beginning of the End For Press Freedom

    • 04/15/2019
    • Reporters Desk
    • Feature
    • Comments are off

    “This is the first indictment of a journalist and editor or publisher…And if it’s successful it will not be the last.”

    Originally published The Real News Network.

    SHARMINI PERIES It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

    Whistleblower associated with WikiLeaks Julian Assange appeared to be making a statement as he was shuffled out in handcuffs from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. He was carrying a book, a book published by The Real News Network with Gore Vidal on the history of the national security state. We gather Assange may have been trying to send the world a message, as did the Washington Post. And you can find an interview that Paul Jay, the senior editor here at The Real News Network, had done with The Washington Post in the link below.

    On to talk about Assange and the reasons for his arrest is a man that is, perhaps, the most famous whistleblower in history that has experienced this type of arrests and state threats, is Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the famous Pentagon Papers. Daniel’s new book, The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. You will find an interview series related to Daniel’s book here on The Real News Network, and we’ll put a link to that, as well. Daniel, good to have you here.

    DANIEL ELLSBERG Glad to be back with you. Thank you.

    SHARMINI PERIES Daniel, your reaction to what has just happened to Julian Assange in London?

    DANIEL ELLSBERG It’s a very serious assault on the First Amendment. A clear attempt to rescind the freedom of the press, essentially. Up till now we’ve had a dozen or so indictments of sources, of which my prosecution is the very first prosecution of an American for disclosing information to the American public. And that was ended a couple of years later by governmental misconduct. There were two others before President Obama, and nine or so under President Obama, of sources, none of these having been tested in the Supreme Court yet as to their relation to the First Amendment. Hasn’t gone to them.

    This is the first indictment of a journalist and editor or publisher, Julian Assange. And if it’s successful it will not be the last. This is clearly is a part of President Trump’s war on the press, what he calls the enemy of the state. And if he succeeds in putting Julian Assange in prison, where I think he’ll be for life, if he goes there at all, probably the first charge against him is only a few years. But that’s probably just the first of many.

    In my own case, my first indictment was for three counts, felony counts. That was later expanded to 12 felony counts by the end of the year, for a possible 115-year sentence. So I think this is a warning shot across the bow of every editor and publisher in the country.

    If they make the connection of the Real News Network book that he was carrying with him into prison, which I think Gore Vidal would be very pleased to see, him associated with this incident in terms of defending Julian Assange’s rights, but they may connect you. You may be in the next conspiracy trial with Julian Assange. It may not take much more than that. I see on the indictment, which I’ve just read, that one of the charges is that he encouraged Chelsea Manning and Bradley Manning to give him documents, more documents, after she had already given him hundreds of thousands of files. Well, if that’s a crime, then journalism is a crime, because just on countless occasions I have been harassed by journalists for documents, or for more documents than I had yet given them. So they–none of them have been put on trial up till now. But in this case, if that’s all it takes, then no journalist is safe. The freedom of the press is not safe. It’s over. And I think our republic is in its last days, because unauthorized disclosures of this kind are the lifeblood of a republic.

    SHARMINI PERIES Daniel, thank you for connecting that Chelsea Manning is currently sitting in prison, and after 28 days in solitary confinement for not cooperating and answering the questions related to the Julian Assange case, and the grand jury investigation that is underway. Now, it is very interesting that President Moreno of Ecuador withdrew the asylum that was protecting Julian Assange until today in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, which led to all of this. And Jen Robinson, who is Julian Assange’s–one of his lawyers, tweeted as he was being arrested that she wanted to confirm that Assange had been arrested not just for breach of bail conditions, but also in relation to the U.S. extradition request. Now, in your assessment of having undergone this kind of allegations and arrests, and being under this kind of scrutiny by the state, what do you think the real intentions here is of the United States in forcing this revocation of his asylum from the Ecuadorian Embassy, as well as this request for extradition?

    DANIEL ELLSBERG You know, I think the word ‘forcing’ may be misleading here, because it underrates the degree of choice here that Ecuador and the British had in both these cases. And for that matter, the Department of Justice. But they couldn’t really force Ecuador to break the norm of international asylum here by handing him over. They couldn’t force Britain. Obviously both of those were induced by various incentives. My guess would be in the case of Moreno that he’s involved in debt relief. And the U.S., the great creditor nation here–although it’s actually a debtor nation altogether. But they’re able to bring the kind of pressure on Ecuador that caused essentially a lawless action here which threatens everyone in asylum. Everyone in the world. The people in this country who have been granted political asylum, people in Britain, and certainly in Ecuador.

    So that’s–that’s very ominous. The British have had a long history here of servility, basically, with respect to their ally the United States, and again, are not too concerned, I think, about law. There was an earlier indication that Ecuador might find an assurance from Britain that Assange was not facing a death penalty as sufficient excuse for revoking his asylum on the grounds that they had really only given asylum because of fear of the death penalty. I think that’s absurd. I think there was no mention of that seven years ago when he got the asylum. And of course you don’t have to be facing a death penalty to be seeking and being granted political asylum. So why exactly this moment is chosen for Ecuador and Britain to truckle to the United States, I’m not sure I notice that the indictment was signed a year ago in March 2018. Maybe they’ve, the price has been haggling between Ecuador and Britain as to what the price would be for handing him over.

    As I say, though, it’s a threat not only to journalists, but to people in political status and political asylum everywhere. But the immediate threat, you say the significance of is for Trump, I have no doubt that he wants to define criminally in a courtroom the press as a an enemy of the people. When I say that Assange seeking documents–something that I’ve been asked countless times by a journalist to do, to give them documents–if that’s all it takes, then the First Amendment means very little. And without freedom of the press you have no–you have very little freedom in the country. I’m afraid that’s the direction we’re going.

    So journalists in general, I think, should rally around this case, whatever they think of Julian himself. There’s a lot of people who don’t like Julian personally. I am not one of those. I do like him. There’s a lot of people who are very critical of his actions in the election of 2016, on various grounds. I’m not happy with the result to the extent that it in any way aided President Trump to become president. And Trump did, of course, state his love for Julian at one point. He said “I love WikiLeaks” when it seemed to be helping him. But of course a promise of love from Donald Trump is not terribly reliable. We knew that already. So he’s willing to make him the sacrificial goat here, I think, for journalists in general.

    SHARMINI PERIES Now, Daniel, you said something very interesting, which is that all those who were interested in press freedom, and of course, defending our right to freedom of expression, and access to information, and knowledge that is critical for democracy, you in this situation was also assisted by various people on the outside. What are some of the pivotal things that happened in your case that might be a lesson for us today?

    DANIEL ELLSBERG Well, something that was striking to me was that a dozen or so people helped my wife and I, Patricia and I, who was my–Tricia’s my unindicted coconspirator here, now–and a number of people helped us find lodging while we were eluding the FBI, putting out 17 different parts of the Pentagon Papers to different newspapers to keep the story going after the Times and the Post had both been enjoined, for the first time in our history. And none of those people was ever questioned by the FBI, because we stayed off the phone, basically, which at that time kind of paralyzed them, in the days before computers. In those days payphones were relatively safe. I don’t think that’s true anymore, if there are still payphones, as a matter of fact.

    But what struck me was that when I finally wrote an account of that many years later, in the first–about 2002, 30 years later–I had hoped to tell the story of all these other people 30 years later as part of the story that had never gotten into the news. It would be interesting to people. How they had helped us; carrying the papers to different newspapers, and communicating with them, and finding us places to stay. In those days it was quite easy to find people. They just had to be young, basically, with long hair, men or women, and said there’s something you could do here that might help shorten this war. But it might have a lot of legal risk. No one refused. However, 30 years later, not one was willing to let their name be used, because that was a time when John Ashcroft, our previous Confederate Attorney General, before Sessions was the attorney general. And they were afraid, in one case, of deportation; in other cases of indictment, even as late as that.

    Now, just a couple of years ago one of–a key person in that process, Gar Alperovitz, did, after consulting his lawyers, decide to let me use his name. And that–there was a New Yorker story about that recently. But others, still cautious. And what it appears now is I think they were right to be cautious about that. I would have thought with all his time having elapsed that could be–and with it having been clear that the publication they’d aided in had served the American interest in helping end the Vietnam War and exposing a lot of lying, I would have thought that they would be not only proud of that, which I think they are, but are willing to take credit for that. Nope. That’s a credit they didn’t want, because it may come at the cost of an indictment. And I hope Gar is not caught up in that at this point.

    But the conspiracy charge, I don’t know if there’s a conspiracy charge in this case yet. It’s Chelsea Manning who gave Julian the material has served seven and a half years in prison, and is in prison again right now, apparently because they want her to go beyond what she said, either falsely, which they would be happy with, to incriminate Julian Assange. After all, torture is mainly used for false confessions, to get them. And it’s usually successful at that. But not successful with Chelsea Manning. She was in solitary confinement for ten and a half months, until public pressure got her released into the general prison population years ago. And clearly she’s not a person who can be tortured into a false confession. Or they would want her to give new details of her dealings with Assange that would help them in their prosecution of Assange. And she is not cooperating with the grand jury on that. She objects to the grand jury as an undemocratic–unconstitutional, really–but an undemocratic process and its secrecy, its lack of legal defense, legal support in that process. And many people over the years have resisted that.

    As a matter of fact, my codefendant, Tony Russo, refused to testify to the grand jury before–after I was indicted, but before the new indictment. And he spent about a month in jail before he himself was indicted and added to the indictment. So that’s the precedent for what Chelsea Manning is doing now. He didn’t want to be testifying against me in secret to a grand jury, no transcript of the proceedings, no publicity as to what he may have said. In fact, he offered to testify if he was given a transcript that he could publish of his testimony, and they refused to do that, and indicted him itself. I say again, that was Anthony Russo, who is no longer alive.

    But Chelsea is doing that right now. She’s acting very courageously–again, I would say, which is not something I would ever demand of anyone. But I’m not at all surprised that she is doing that.

    SHARMINI PERIES And Daniel, finally, while the U.S. has requested an extradition here, it is very possible that Julian Assange’s lawyers will resist this request. What are the chances of that succeeding? And if it doesn’t succeed, what awaits him at this end in the U.S. if he’s extradited?

    DANIEL ELLSBERG I am doubtful that–but what do I know? My judgment is not worth much here, and it’s a fairly unprecedented case; in fact, totally unprecedented when we’re talking about extraditing him for committing journalism. They do charge him with aiding, or trying to aid Chelsea to conceal her identity on the leaks here. That’s something that the Freedom of the Press Foundation in a different way–and I’m on the board of that, along with Ed Snowden and Laura Poitras, and others. We’ve given out software to many journalist associations to enable people to give them information secretly, and cipher, to encipher it. That’s a little different from what he’s charged with here, but to the same effect, of concealing the source.

    Incidentally, Chelsea told me that she intended to reveal herself eventually here to prevent other people from being wrongly accused. That was true of me, and true of Ed Snowden, as well, that we didn’t want other people to be accused of doing what we alone had done here.

    So I do think that having induced the British to arrest him forcibly, as just happened, indicates that they will go the extra mile in violating, as I say, international norms by violating his immunity, and his asylum, and then shipping off to the U.S. In my day, his case would have been almost sure to be upheld by this–that is, the case dismissed by the Supreme Court on grounds of violating the First Amendment. But that was a different Supreme Court, 40 years ago. And this court I don’t think at all he could count on to defend the Supreme Court, or much else, in the Bill of Rights. I think a great deal is at risk nowadays, especially with the last couple of appointments that Trump has made. But before that, as well.

    So it’s a very ominous situation, not only for Julian Assange, who’s been in one room for almost seven years now, something I suspect, by the way, has affected his judgment in some respects. I don’t endorse every choice he’s made in the last couple of years, in particular. I don’t know what kind of judgment I’d be showing after six years in one room. I think he has ahead of him, for having taken on the world’s mightiest empire and exposed its criminal secrets, in many cases, having to do with torture and assassination, he’s not going to get any breaks from them. I think he’ll be in one room, possibly in solitary confinement, on the excuse that he has further secrets that he might reveal; just as Ed Snowden would face that, I think, possibly for the rest of his life. And that will certainly be far, far more onerous than the room he’s had in the Ecuadorian Embassy, which already amounted to inhumane treatment and wrongful imprisonment. Well, the solitary he’s heading for now is much more serious.

    I did notice, by the way, that he was being dragged down the steps. I’ve been arrested many times, and I have a bad back myself. I always walk when I get arrested to spare the backs of the police arresting me. But I think if I were being arrested under these circumstances, with the Constitution at stake here, being absolutely wrongfully arrested, I wouldn’t worry about their backs. I would do what Julian was apparently doing. And that was you’re going to have to drag me into prison.

    SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Daniel. Any last thoughts you have on this case? And particularly, if Julian Assange gets charged with espionage on top of all of this?

    DANIEL ELLSBERG: It’s a day for journalists in general, especially, and everybody who values a free press, and not only in this country, to join ranks here now to expose and resist the wrongful–and in this country unconstitutional–abuse of our laws to silence journalists. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he is further indicted under the Espionage Act, as I was, the first person to do that. I suspect that will be added to his charges. And again, that’s a great danger to journalists in general. They have to inform themselves on it and begin to demand that the Espionage Act not be used against the free press as it has been under the last two presidents. Thank you.

    SHARMINI PERIES: Daniel Ellsberg, I thank you so much for joining us on this very significant day that exposes the hand of the state that threatens our freedom of expression. Thank you so much.

    DANIEL ELLSBERG: Thank you.

    SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.

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  • How the Navy’s Top Commander Botched the Highest-Profile Investigation in Years

    • 04/11/2019
    • Reporters Desk
    • News
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    On Wednesday, the Navy said it was abandoning all remaining criminal charges against sailors involved in fatal accidents in the Pacific. Here’s how the actions of the chief of naval operations helped doom the cases.

    by T. Christian Miller and Robert Faturechi, originally published on Propublica.

    WASHINGTON — Lt. Cmdr. Jennifer Pollio could not believe what she was hearing from the Navy’s top officer.

    It was Jan. 25, 2018, and Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations, was addressing an auditorium filled with Navy attorneys. One officer asked a question that touched on a sensitive topic: two collisions of warships in the Pacific in the summer of 2017 that left 17 sailors dead in the Navy’s worst maritime accidents in decades.

    The Navy had recently announced that it would criminally prosecute the captains of the vessels and several crew members for negligence leading to the fatal accidents. The questioner wanted to know whether officers now had to worry about being charged with a crime for making what could be regarded as a mistake.

    Richardson answered by saying that he could not discuss pending cases. As a bedrock principle of military law, commanders cannot signal a preferred outcome. But then, almost as an afterthought, he attempted to reassure the man that the collisions were no accidents.

    “I have seen the entire investigation. Trust me, if you had seen what I have seen, it was negligent,” Richardson told the audience, according to court records.

    Pollio, a Navy attorney, was alarmed. It appeared to her that Richardson had effectively pronounced guilt before trial. And he had done so in public, in front of an audience whose members could conceivably participate in the military’s judicial proceedings.

    “I was shocked that he would say that,” Pollio would later recall in court testimony.

    Commanders are central to military justice. In most cases, they select jurors, approve plea deals and have a say in the outcomes. The prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges are often all service members. They are charged with being independent, but some, inevitably, are conscious of their careers and the desires of higher-ups.

    It is a system rife with the potential for bias. That’s why commanders are forbidden from even giving the appearance of trying to sway results. Unlawful command influence has been called the “mortal enemy of military justice” because it undermines faith in the system’s fairness — not just among members of the military, but the general public, too.

    Yet the January meeting was neither the first time, nor the last, that Richardson would be accused of attempting to influence the results of the inquiry into the collisions of the USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain.

    That fall, Richardson had told reporters at a press conference that the ships’ officers were “at fault” because of their negligence. On another occasion, he told reporters that “there was nothing that was outside the commanding officer and the crews’ span of control” before the collisions. In testimony before Congress, he again held the captains of the ships culpable, saying they “had complete ownership” of the causes of the collisions.

    Richardson made investigating the accidents involving the Fitzgerald and the McCain a primary focus of his command of the Navy. He ordered multiple, in-depth examinations of the incidents. He promulgated reforms designed to put more sailors on ships based overseas and increase training in basic navigation skills.

    But his pursuit of accountability for individual sailors has been deeply troubled, and the prosecutions of the men and women on the two destroyers are today in shambles. Indeed, Richardson, who holds the most senior uniformed position in the Navy, was found by a judge to have violated the protections against undue command influence, a stunning result in one of the most high-profile cases of military justice in years.

    A ProPublica examination of the cases based on confidential Navy documents, emails among top officials, court records and interviews shows that the criminal prosecutions of the accidents involving the Fitzgerald and the McCain were marred by questionable decisions and egregious mistakes.

    Late Wednesday, after ProPublica informed the Navy of its findings, the Navy told families of the fallen sailors that Richardson will announce that he is dismissing the cases against the captain of the Fitzgerald and a junior officer. Instead, both will receive letters of censure from Richard Spencer, the secretary of the Navy, a public finding of wrongdoing.

    “The cases are being dismissed for legal reasons that impeded the continued prosecution of either officer,” read the message, which was obtained by ProPublica. “Your loved ones did not die in vain; their legacy lives in the form of a stronger and more capable Navy.”

    A Navy spokesman confirmed the planned actions late Wednesday.

    “This decision is in the best interest of the Navy, the families of the Fitzgerald sailors, and the procedural rights of the accused officers,” read a statement.

    The unraveling of the cases against the sailors began soon after the collisions. Richardson’s subordinates, two three-star admirals, handed out an initial round of punishments to sailors and officers on the two destroyers — but decided against pursuing criminal charges. They found the wrongdoing not serious enough to recommend a court-martial.

    Concerned about the outcomes, and under fire from Congress, Richardson ordered a second review of the evidence that resulted in criminal charges against six officers and enlisted crew members on the Fitzgerald and McCain. The array of charges included negligent homicide against the two captains and junior officers, accusations that could have led to three years in prison and dishonorable discharges.

    The review was overseen by a four-star admiral on Richardson’s staff with no known experience in conducting courts-martial, as military trials are known. In yet another surprising development, a judge eventually ruled that the admiral had worked with prosecutors to develop evidence against the captain of the Fitzgerald, instead of acting as a neutral arbiter. The judge ultimately disqualified the admiral, throwing the case into legal limbo.

    Richardson’s No. 2, Adm. Bill Moran, was also found to have engaged in “apparent” unlawful command influence. The judge said the public remarks on the case made by Richardson and Moran were no slips of the tongue but part of a “coordinated message” that risked tainting some of the criminal cases.

    Richardson and Moran “knew they should not discuss the specifics of this case, yet they repeatedly did,” the judge wrote.

    At every stage, Navy prosecutors failed to convince judges and jurors of the legitimacy of their allegations. The charges of negligent homicide were dropped. Criminal charges against another officer were dismissed. And at least four separate military panels have ruled in favor of sailors that the Navy sought to expel from the service.

    Richardson and Moran, who was nominated Wednesday as the next chief of naval operations, declined to comment, citing the pending cases. The Navy declined to make any official available for an on-the-record interview, but it provided a legal expert to provide comment anonymously.

    The legal expert, a senior officer in the Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps, defended the outcomes of the investigations — with some cases dismissed and others resulting in guilty pleas — arguing that they showed that the Navy was dedicated to fairness and due process.

    “Courts-martial in general are hard. They are hard and complicated,” the senior officer said. “Mistakes are made in every case.”

    To the lawyers defending the accused sailors, the botched prosecutions by the Navy amounted to a tragedy on top of a tragedy. People’s lives were upended, careers destroyed, families twice traumatized, they have argued, because Richardson decided to send a message rather than pursue an impartial and fair trial. Richardson, they have asserted, targeted these individuals to distract from larger, more systemic failings, failings that had plagued the Navy’s vaunted 7th Fleet for years, and that were exposed for the world to see in two of the deadliest Navy accidents in years.

    ProPublica has previously documented the Navy leaders’ disregard of years of warnings of impending disaster in the 7th Fleet.

    In a statement on Richardson’s decision to drop charges, the legal team defending the captain of the Fitzgerald, Bryce Benson, said he had been deprived the opportunity of a fair trial.

    “The announcement of this disposition completes a process that never included a trial of the facts,” said Cmdr. Justin Henderson, a Navy judge advocate on Benson’s team. “Despite a relentless messaging campaign insisting ships’ commanding officers are strictly liable for all operational risks, the Navy never tested that concept in court. For good reason: It’s untenable, legally and factually.”

    David Sheldon, a private defense attorney representing Lt. Natalie Combs, the junior officer whose charges were dropped, said the Navy needed to address its own shortfalls in sailors and training instead of targeting crew members.

    “The charges in this case should never have been brought,” Sheldon said. “It is an affront to justice to suggest otherwise.”

    In June 2017, the Fitzgerald was traveling at night 12 miles off the coast of Japan when it collided with the ACX Crystal, a 30,000-ton cargo ship. Two months later, disaster happened again. The McCain was hit by the Alnic MC, a 30,000-ton oil tanker, while traveling in the Singapore Strait. The 17 sailors who died on the destroyers drowned in their sleeping quarters.

    The two fatal accidents followed collisions earlier in the year involving two other warships in the 7th Fleet’s area of operations, covering hot spots in North Korea, China and other countries in the western Pacific region.

    The string of mishaps turned into a test of command for Richardson, who was appointed to lead the Navy in 2015 by President Barack Obama.

    Richardson had risen through the ranks as a member of the Navy’s elite submarine command. Submariners are known for a steadfast commitment to safety. There’s little room for mistakes while carrying nuclear weapons hundreds of feet below the ocean’s surface.

    Richardson fit the mold. He had a reputation for being a hard-charging, cerebral commander who focused on data and details. His accomplishments ranged from confronting newly aggressive naval forces in China and Russia to overseeing the integration of female sailors in the submarine fleet to implementing a new tattoo policy.

    The collisions in the summer of 2017 demanded his attention. Congress and the Navy wanted to know how such technologically advanced warships had struck two slow-moving cargo vessels.

    Richardson promised full and fair investigations.

    “I am accountable for the safe and effective operations of our Navy, and we will fix this,” Richardson told Congress in the days after the McCain collision. “I own this problem.”

    As the Navy’s top officer, Richardson was expected to closely monitor the investigations. But he had to be careful not to indicate his own belief in the guilt or innocence of the accused because his words might influence his subordinates and members of any jury for a court-martial.

    There’s a deep history of concern over command influence on the military justice system. After World War II, thousands of troops returned home with complaints about the arbitrary nature of discipline, which placed power in the hands of the accused’s commanding officer.

    Reforms were designed to balance civilian jurisprudence and military order. Sailors charged with serious offenses generally have the right to trial and the right to counsel, for instance.

    But commanders continue to play a central role. Every court-martial is initiated by a commander known as a convening authority. There’s no exact parallel in the civilian court system. Convening authorities are part traffic cop, part judge and part appellate court.

    The commander receives a report from an investigator and decides whether a case is serious enough to merit a court-martial. Alternatively, the commander can dismiss the charge or handle it internally, through what’s called nonjudicial punishment.

    In most cases, the commander retains power over the outcome, with the ability to reduce or suspend sentences. For the military, the logic is clear. Military justice exists to punish criminals but also to maintain order. Commanders are best situated to make the determination about a service member’s conduct.

    Gene Fidell, who teaches military law at Yale University, said questions about improper influence are a constant threat to a system in which commanders retain such control. Congress and the Pentagon have wrestled for years over the issue, with some arguing that commanders should be replaced by independent prosecutors.

    “It’s one of the prices that we pay, and an exorbitant one, for keeping military justice owned and operated by commanders,” Fidell said. “If you didn’t have commanders making these decisions, you wouldn’t have to worry.”

    The Navy’s investigations began when Rear Adm. Brian Fort flew to Japan just days after the collision of the Fitzgerald. He interviewed scores of sailors, reviewed ship’s logs and analyzed radar tracking.

    Fort sent drafts of his report to Navy attorneys working for Richardson and another superior, Adm. Scott Swift, the head of the Pacific Fleet.

    The practice disturbed Vice Adm. Joseph “Joey” Aucoin, the commander of the 7th Fleet. He was surprised his superiors were involved without his knowledge. And from prior experience, Aucoin knew he and his superiors were supposed to maintain their distance from investigators.

    “It’s forbidden for senior commanders to get involved, myself or anyone above me,” Aucoin said. “The investigative officer must investigate and report his findings without influence from above.”

    In a statement, Fort said he shared drafts of his report with Richardson’s office only for clarifying administrative details or, literally, swapping one adjective for another. He said he retained full control of the final report and its findings and recommendations.

    When Fort completed his report in late July, it was 13,000 pages long, including attachments. The inquiry determined that there was no excuse for the crew’s failure to notice the approaching vessel. The night was clear. Officers on watch should have seen the vessel from as far away as 12 miles. The ship’s navigation radars had problems, but the crew should have been able to fix them.

    On the basis of Fort’s findings, Aucoin decided that he would fire the Fitzgerald’s captain and its second in command. The rest of the sailors would have their pay docked or receive formal letters of admonishment.

    But Aucoin chose not to recommend court-martial for any sailor. In his mind, the sailors had made serious mistakes, but nothing that rose to the level of serious criminal conduct. He took into account that the crew had saved the Fitzgerald, and that it had been hampered by manpower and training shortfalls.

    Swift asked Aucoin to see his findings before he delivered them to the sailors. Swift passed the recommendations to Richardson and his senior advisers.

    Richardson is “ready to move forward with Joey’s intended accountability actions as laid out below, with the understanding that these actions are initial responses based on the investigation which is still underway,” wrote Moran, the vice chief of naval operations, in an Aug. 10, 2017, email.

    After Swift received the email, he wrote back to Aucoin. He congratulated him for making a “good call” in forgoing courts-martial. “Leadership would have disapproved it anyway,” Swift told Aucoin.

    On Aug. 17, Moran announced the findings at a press conference in Washington. The next morning in Japan, Aucoin conducted a set of hearings, known as admiral’s masts, with the sailors he was set to punish. He did so, he said, convinced that Richardson supported his determinations. Aucoin met with each sailor individually to break the news. Then he met with the Fitzgerald crew on the ship’s rear deck to explain his actions.

    “I was drained emotionally by what was one of the longest and most somber days of my career,” Aucoin said. “I’d held people accountable for their actions and justice had been served. I thought that would enable the next chapter in the recovery process for the crew, the ship and the fleet.”

    Three days later, the McCain collision happened.

    Vice Adm. Phillip Sawyer, a career submarine officer, conducted the inquiry into the accident. The outcomes were similar to the Fitzgerald’s. Nine of 16 sailors accused of misdeeds received some form of reprimand or dismissal. But, like Aucoin, Sawyer did not recommend court-martial for anyone.

    Sawyer did not return a request for comment. Swift declined to comment.

    The back-to-back collisions set off alarms in Washington, and Sen. John McCain led the charge for accountability.

    McCain, then chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was suffering from brain cancer that would eventually lead to his death. But he had a very personal stake in the matter. The John S. McCain had been named after his father and grandfather, both Navy admirals. McCain himself had been a Navy aviator.

    At a hearing in Washington in September 2017, McCain addressed Richardson directly, telling him he expected a full accounting of the accidents. With the families of many of the fallen sailors in the room, McCain’s anger and demands led to some instant speculation: Richardson’s job was on the line.

    “My commitment to all of you is that we will get to the bottom of these incidents,” McCain told the families. “We will identify shortcomings, fix them and hold people accountable.”

    Richardson had already begun his work. He had fired Aucoin just three days after the McCain collision. Two of Aucoin’s subordinates were later dismissed. Swift announced his retirement after Richardson called to tell him he would no longer be promoted. Another three-star admiral, Thomas Rowden, submitted his resignation. Collectively, it was the largest number of senior officers fired or dismissed for mishaps since World War II.

    Richardson also commissioned several reports to determine what had gone wrong. One focused on mistakes made by the captains and crew members of the Fitzgerald and McCain. It found they failed to prevent “avoidable” accidents.

    A second report examined systemic issues — blaming unrealistic demands by the top of America’s military establishment. The report concluded that the Department of Defense and Navy officials were constantly sending Japan-based destroyers on new missions. Local commanders, short on sailors, ships and training, had failed to push back against such orders. Sailors simply made do — with 100-hour workweeks, missions extended for months at a time and long days spent waiting for ship repairs.

    Richardson was not finished. He decided he needed to take a second look at the punishments that his subordinates had given to the sailors.

    Such a move was within his rights. In his letter approving Aucoin’s decisions, Moran had even noted that the punishments were “initial responses” subject to further inquiry.

    But Richardson’s decision raised inevitable questions: Was he trying to deflect attention from the systemic staffing and training problems — all of which had occurred on his watch — and thus trying to appease Congress and save his job?

    To reconsider the question of criminal charges, he selected Frank Caldwell, a four-star admiral in charge of the Navy’s nuclear operations and a member of Richardson’s senior staff. As a fifth-generation graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Caldwell was blue blood Navy — his great-great-grandfather had commanded a battleship in the Spanish-American War. Like Richardson, Caldwell rose through the Navy’s secretive nuclear submarine fleet.

    But the selection was puzzling. Caldwell had never handled a court-martial, according to two officials. Caldwell’s legal adviser, Capt. Mike Luken, told a conference last year that Caldwell’s lack of knowledge had required in-depth explanations of the legal process, the officials said.

    Caldwell and Luken declined to answer questions. A spokesman said the Navy could not determine Caldwell’s judicial experience. “The Navy does not track the number of cases convened by a particular individual,” Cmdr. Jereal Dorsey said.

    Richardson gave Caldwell the authority to reexamine every sailor’s case in a special kind of court-martial that consolidated the Fitzgerald and McCain investigations. Caldwell would review 22 sailors’ cases, thousands of pages of evidence, in hearings that spanned two continents.

    “The complexity, scope, and tragic consequences of these collisions require the Navy exercise due diligence in determining whether all appropriate accountability actions have been taken,” Moran wrote in an Oct. 30 letter to Caldwell. “You have the authority to review all relevant information, including accountability actions taken to date, and to take additional administrative or disciplinary actions as appropriate.”

    In the civilian legal system, suspects cannot be tried twice for the same crime after a conviction or an acquittal. But under military law, the nonjudicial punishments imposed by Aucoin and Sawyer were not considered trials. Caldwell was free to recommend criminal charges.

    “A nonjudicial punishment is punitive to your career,” said Zachary Spilman, a defense attorney who is a former Marine Corps judge advocate. “But it does not trigger protections against double jeopardy, and it is not a bar to trial by court-martial for a serious offense.”

    Lt. Cmdr. Jacqueline Pau, Richardson’s spokesperson, said Caldwell’s appointment “was not about dissatisfaction with the first round” of punishments.

    “It was about making sure that the discipline process for all cases was thorough, fair and impartial,” she said. “We wanted to make sure that the cases from both ships were handled with consistency.”

    At times, Caldwell’s unfamiliarity with the process became apparent.

    In early January, as he was wrapping up, Caldwell engaged in a flurry of conversations with Navy leaders to let them know about his intended punishments. On Jan. 11, he briefed Spencer, the secretary of the Navy, on his plans.

    At first, Caldwell told Spencer that none of the charges he intended to file were criminal under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, or UCMJ. Two days later, in a follow-up email, he corrected himself.

    He had apparently been confused about the punishments he planned to impose.

    “I gave you the wrong information,” Caldwell wrote on Jan. 13, 2018. “Technically all violations of the UCMJ are criminal versus an administrative or civil type standard.”

    When he had finished his review, Caldwell decided that five sailors would receive nonjudicial punishment. Four others would have their cases dismissed. Seven would receive letters counseling them on their actions.

    Five officers and an enlisted sailor would face courts-martial — a dramatic increase in the legal stakes confronting the men and women involved in the deadly accidents.

    The officers would be charged with negligent homicide. In legal terms, that meant they had not exercised the caution expected of a “reasonably careful person” in leading their warships. Equivalent to a felony, the charge carries a three-year sentence. The sailors also faced dishonorable discharge and the forfeiture of all pay.

    All the senior officials realized the gravity of the court-martial allegations. In 12 fatal maritime accidents since 1969, the Navy had only held a handful of courts-martial.Nobody had been charged with negligent homicide.

    The decision alarmed many officers and enlisted sailors. The Navy is accustomed to commanders losing their jobs after accidents; captains have “absolute responsibility” for everything that happens on their vessels.

    At issue was fundamental Navy practice. The Navy demanded that Benson and his fellow officers make tough judgment calls in training for combat, and the Navy understood that sometimes those calls would end badly.

    But the criminal charges implied that the collisions were not mere accidents — and that commanders and officers had been complicit in the deaths.

    Caldwell’s determinations opened new wounds.

    Sailors who had escaped punishment now found themselves with formal findings that wrecked their chance of career advancement. Officers who had accepted punishment based on the evidence now faced far more serious allegations based on the same set of facts.

    Two sailors from the McCain made deals with the prosecution. The McCain’s commander, Alfredo J. Sanchez, pled guilty to dereliction of duty. He had been on the bridge at the time of the collision but hesitated in taking control of the foundering vessel, according to a Navy report. As a result of his deal, Sanchez lost $6,000 in pay and received a disciplinary letter.

    Jeffery D. Butler, a chief petty officer, pleaded guilty to charges that he had failed to train his sailors on a newly installed steering system for the McCain. Confusion over its operation had contributed to the collision.

    Butler testified that he himself had only received 30 to 60 minutes of training on the new system. He had tried to train the sailors beneath him but had failed, he told the court. Butler was demoted a rank — costing him an estimated $200,000 in retirement pay that he planned to use to send his three kids to college.

    “What I should have done, I should have gotten knee-deep in the technology. I should have gone page by page” through the instruction manual, Butler said. “I could have told my junior sailors how to better operate their systems.”

    One of the Fitzgerald officers also negotiated a plea agreement. Sarah Coppock, lieutenant junior grade, had been navigating the ship on the night of the collision. She panicked as the cargo vessel approached and ordered the Fitzgerald to turn directly into its path, according to a Navy report. She received a letter of reprimand and a forfeiture of pay for a single count of dereliction of duty that resulted in death.

    She told the court that she would never forget her mistake. She had tattooed on her wrist seven shamrocks, one for each of the fallen sailors, and the coordinates of the Fitzgerald at the time of the collision.

    “My entire career, my guys have been my priority,” she said, weeping. “I made some tremendously bad decisions, and they were the ones that had to pay the price for them.”

    Several sailors won reprieves. Lt. Irian Woodley had been in charge of tracking incoming ships on radar and other sensors in the Fitzgerald’s windowless combat room. But after a hearing, the criminal charges against Woodley were dismissed.

    Instead, Navy officials sent him to a personnel board to determine whether he should be expelled from the service. The board, made up of three officers, decided in Woodley’s favor. At least three other sailors won similar decisions and were allowed to remain in the Navy.

    For sailors who found themselves hauled up twice on similar charges, the experience was discouraging and disappointing.

    Cmdr. Sean Babbitt had been one of the first sailors to learn his fate — or so he thought.

    Babbitt had been the second-in-command on the Fitzgerald at the time of the collision. As executive officer, he took control of the ship after Benson suffered a traumatic brain injury. He successfully guided the destroyer back to port during a harrowing 17-hour rescue effort.

    But at the disciplinary hearings in August 2017, Aucoin told Babbitt that he had lost confidence in his ability to lead. Aucoin felt the 40-year-old officer had failed to properly train the sailors who were standing watch on the night of the collision. Training was one of the main duties of a second-in-command.

    Aucoin told Babbitt that he was relieving him as executive officer of the Fitzgerald. But the 7th Fleet commander decided against criminal charges. He believed Babbitt had acquitted himself well in rescuing the ship. He told Babbitt he wanted to hire him.

    “I want to bring you on my staff,” Aucoin said.

    With 18 years of service, Babbitt had been on a path to captain his own warship. But Aucoin’s decision effectively ended that dream. The Navy was not going to award a command at sea to somebody who had been fired. His career was over.

    Aucoin was shuffling him off to the “land of broken toys,” as some referred to headquarters jobs filled by career-compromised officers. Babbitt at least knew the outcome.

    “Everybody understood that all the discipline had been completed,” Babbitt said.

    Five months later, on Jan. 15, 2018, Babbitt learned he was wrong. He received formal notice that Caldwell was punishing him for dereliction of duty. Even though firing was not technically considered punishment, Babbitt felt the Navy was coming after him a second time.

    Babbitt brought evidence to the hearing to fight back. During his short time on board the Fitzgerald — he had taken over as executive officer only three months before the accident — he had been working to improve communications among the crew. He also brought documentation showing that higher-ups had ordered the Fitzgerald on patrols, even though the ship was undermanned and undertrained.

    Caldwell had already informed Richardson and his superiors about his intended punishments. Babbitt’s testimony did not change his mind. He found Babbitt guilty and issued him a formal letter of reprimand.

    Babbitt was floored. In practical terms, the reprimand was the equivalent of a misdemeanor. He had not been sentenced to lose pay or rank. But it stung. The Navy had found him guilty of a crime. Babbitt felt like he was being scapegoated.

    “It didn’t make any sense to me,” Babbitt said. “My opinion is that somebody did not think that there was enough punishment given and that they needed to reopen the investigations to provide more punishment.”

    Court-martial hearings got underway last spring at the historic Washington Navy Yard, established in 1799 as a national shipbuilding facility. The campus overlooks the banks of a silted-in tributary of the Potomac River.

    Only two officers chose to face trial: Benson and Combs, who had been in charge of the Fitzgerald’s combat center. Both had been punished previously by Aucoin. Both denied that they had done anything criminal.

    In June, the Navy’s criminal case began its slow-motion collapse. Without explanation, Caldwell dropped the negligent homicide charges against Combs and Benson. Both continued to face accusations of dereliction of duty.

    A few months later, the defense teams cited Richardson’s string of comments regarding the guilt of the accused in an effort to have the charges dismissed. He had talked to the press. He had appeared before Congress. And, as Pollio had testified in court, he’d conveyed his views when presenting to an auditorium at the Pentagon in front of hundreds of sailors.

    Pollio’s recollection proved contentious. The prosecutors produced an affidavit from one of Richardson’s speechwriters: “To the best of my recollection, I am also confident that the CNO never used the word ‘negligent,’” Lt. Cmdr. John P. Kennedy wrote.

     

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  • “Silent Sky” Delivers More Laughs Than Inspiration

    By Greggory Moore, Curtain Call Columnist

    Unless you’re quite the astronomy nerd, you’ve never heard of Henrietta Leavitt, but it’s partly because of her that you know the universe is expanding. Edwin Hubble (yes, the Hubble Space Telescope is named for him) made this discovery using the fruits of her 20-year career as a “computer” at Harvard College Observatory.

    Although the real-life Leavitt didn’t live to know what a lasting contribution she made to humanity, with Silent Sky playwright Lauren Gunderson imagines a Henrietta who glimpsed the possibility of such permanent connections, and perhaps even her own place among them.

    Loren Bowen as HENRIETTA LEAVITT and Holland Renton as ANNIE CANNON in Silent Night at the Long Beach Playhouse

    We meet Henrietta (Loren Bowen) as a hearing-impaired, Radcliffe-educated thirtysomething simply dying to get out of rural Wisconsin. The world out there is simply too vast for such an intellectually curious person to spend her life in such an isolated place. So with the help of younger sister Margaret (Amber Hill), she is able to use her dowry money to finance her Massachusetts move so she can undertake her dream career: studying the heavens.

    Upon arrival, however, she is disappointed to find that, rather than manning the telescope, her gender relegates her to the woman’s work of computing, which in 1900 means manually processing data ― in this case, cataloging the celestial objects captured on photographic plates by the male astronomers who get to use Harvard’s big refracting telescope. With little choice, she pours her disappointed passion into this work, and before long she is turning heads with the quality of her findings. One of those heads belongs to her supervisor, Peter (Austin James), who comes to be even more impressed by her spirit.

    But neither science nor women’s rights is the focus of Silent Sky (although both get a bit of play). Gunderson’s target is human connection, how we find ourselves ― together and alone ― in the virtually endless expanse of space and time, how we find meaning, how we find something that lasts.

    Alas, Gunderson misses bull’s-eye. There’s simply too much speechifying and too little earned humanity in her text. This isn’t the fault of the actors, who more often than not make it feel as real as anybody could. For example, Bowen and Hill give us some palpable sisterly affection. But as Act One drags on three scenes too long and pulls us into unnecessary melodrama, there’s not much these two can do to retain that believability. The cast is also hurt by plot inconsistencies, such as when Margaret criticizes Henrietta for never writing from Harvard, even though earlier Gunderson’s employed a conceit specifically to dramatize an exchange of letters between them.

    Amber Hill as MARGARET LEAVITT and Loren Bowen as HENRIETTA LEAVITT in Silent Sky at Long Beach Playhouse.

    Amber Hill as MARGARET LEAVITT and
    Loren Bowen as HENRIETTA LEAVITT in Silent Sky at Long Beach Playhouse.

    The best aspect of Silent Sky is the humor, the bulk of which emanates from Annie (Holland Renton) and especially Williamina (Brenda Kenworthy), Henrietta’s fellow computers. Most of Gunderson’s jokes ― of which there are many for a play you pretty much have file under “drama” ― work, and director Phyllis B. Gitlin has the entire cast hitting the right beats. Williamina gets most of the big laughs (although everyone gets a turn), and Kenworthy absolutely slays.

    If you’re looking for great depth (and that’s certainly part of what Gunderson wants you to get), you may walk away from Silent Sky uninspired. But if you can be satisfied with a night of theater that’s a little food for thought and a lot of laughs, Silent Sky may be worth the price of admission. At the very least you’ll learn how one little, largely overlooked person permanently connected herself to us by helping us understand the universe in which we live.

    Silent Sky at Long Beach Playhouse
    Times: Fri–Sat 8:00 p.m., Sun 2:00 p.m. Sunday
    The show runs through May 4
    Cost: $14 to $24
    Details: (562) 494-1014; LBplayhouse.org
    Venue: Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach

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  • Long Beach Tenants Go on Rent Strike

    Maria Lopez and the tenants of 900 and 904 Alamitos protest the eviction of all tenants.

    Maria Lopez and the tenants of 900 and 904 Alamitos protest the eviction of all tenants.

    Photos and story by Hunter Chase, RLn Intern

    Not waiting for Long Beach to pass legislation to force property owners to pay relocation fees, one company decided to give its tenants a Faustian choice: Accept relocation money, or stay in their homes for 60 days, while paying rent.

    Turnstone Capital, the landlords of a two-building complex on Alamitos Avenue in Long Beach, sent eviction notices March 21, to each tenant. Housing advocates believe the landlords did this so they did not have to pay relocation fees.

    “Once the ordinance is signed, the landlord would have to tell these tenants why they’re being kicked out,” said Josh Butler, executive director of Housing Long Beach. “If there’s no valid reason, if they’re paying the rent and following the rules of the lease, [then] they would be entitled to relocation assistance. We see this as a way the landlord is trying to get out of having to pay these folks relocation assistance.”

    On April 2, the Long Beach City Council advanced a proposal to make landlords pay relocation fees to tenants who are squeezed out after rent increases of more than 10 percent in a year, or to tenants who are evicted without just cause. Since the proposal has not yet become law the landlords can evict the tenants without any penalties.

    Maria Lopez, director of community organizing for Housing Long Beach, said tenants were given a choice between two unsavory options. Either they could move out before April 19, less than a month after the notices were given and receive $1,000. Or, move out within 60 days and receive nothing. Lopez said the landlords expected the tenants to continue to pay rent with both options.

    “The sad part is that all of these are working families, with over 12 kids in the building,” Lopez said. “These families can’t ever, in Long Beach reality, move with a thousand dollars.”

    In response, the tenants went on a rent strike by withholding their rent, which was due on April 5. The tenants demanded 90 days to move and “realistic relocation assistance.” Less than a week later, the landlords sent 3-day notices to pay rent or leave.

    Brisslisset Hernandez, a tenant, did not have plans on where to go next.

    “We just think it’s impossible how we’re getting kicked out in 60 days and yet they want us to pay rent,” Hernandez said. “How are you going to pay two months of rent and still have money to make a deposit and pay another new apartment?”

    The eviction notice and 30-day notice came from Turnstone Capital, and included contact information for the manager of the property. However, the manager did not answer or return Hernandez’ phone calls, or respond to this paper’s inquiries.

    The tenants and Housing Long Beach sent letters to the property owners to negotiate, but they have not received a response yet, said Cynthia Macias, the president of the Board of Housing Long Beach.

    Protesters of the evictions of the residents of 900 and 904 Alamitos hang a sign.

    Protesters of the evictions of the residents of 900 and 904 Alamitos hang a sign.

    The apartment is a complex with two buildings, 10 units each. Phan Property Management listed for $4.2 million this past February, but the price was dropped to $4 million four days later. Phan sold the property to Turnstone in March.

    The buildings are in poor condition, they have mold, rats, cockroaches. The tenants have sent letters to management asking for repairs but management responds slowly, Hernandez said.

    “It’s okay, for the amount we pay, but they were kind of like slumlords,” said Vanessa Aguire, a tenant. “I mean look at the wall, like they’re nasty, they don’t really take care [of] what they’re supposed to. But it’s something I was able to afford.”

    Many tenants did not complain because they were afraid of being evicted.

    Despite the conditions, Phan spent an average of $252,000 in alterations every year for the past decade before selling the property, according to property tax records.

    “The old property [owners], they didn’t give us a heads up that they were selling the property so we could be already ready for it,” said Alexis Ramirez, a tenant and Aguire’s husband. “The new owners come and they gave us a sixty day notice out of nowhere to leave.”

    Hernandez expressed a similar sentiment, she would have saved money if she had known earlier.

    “The reality is yes, they will have to move because majority of the time, these companies don’t want to keep these tenants,” Lopez said. “They want to beautify the building, and then raise the rents and bring in a new class.”

    Macias said this practice is common in Long Beach. She has seen landlords evict tenants, paint the buildings and significantly increase the rent for the next group of tenants.

    Tenants will not have an easy job finding housing in Long Beach. Most of the tenants are families, and need two-bedroom apartments,

    “The rents are crazy anywhere, you’re going to need a minimum of five grand,” Macias said. “These people are already working two to three jobs, paying more than 60 percent of their income to rent.”

     

    The Long Beach Housing Board and tenants have not discussed the possibility of staying in the buildings, Lopez said.

    “The discussion is really one-sided,” Lopez said, “We’re usually forced to make decisions with the least amount of communication from landlords. That’s really the problem, that we want to promote healthy, transparent communication for what these families are living and need, and the landlords are just flipping buildings, and not really ever here.” The managers that she has spoken with are usually unable to answer her questions and tell her to speak to the landlord. “And where’s the landlord? We never find the landlord,” Lopez said.

    Lopez sent a letter to the agent that sent the eviction notices at the beginning of April. The letter was sent back to Lopez a week later, as no one was present to sign for it.

    or it.

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  • Random Letters 4-4-19 — Tourism & San Pedro; Empower Youth at Sea; Response: Not All Information is Equal; Mike Trout $430M Contract

    Tourism and  San Pedro

    The article in your issue of March 7-20, 2019, headlined, “PBID to Create Online Tourism Infrastructure” reports on welcome efforts for San Pedro to increase its ability to reach visitors.

    Unfortunately, it also inaccurately reports that San Pedro does not have a “tourism-facing website.” In fact, Visit San Pedro has been reaching out to visitors for 10 years. Our website, www.VisitSanPedro.org, is entirely focused on providing the information that visitors, including meeting and event planners and cruise passengers, need to plan their trips to the region.

    Also, SanPedro.com, which was literally San Pedro’s first website, does an outstanding job of attracting potential visitors and we have worked closely with Tom and Susan Dorsey, the site’s owners, since we were in the research and planning stages to establish our organization.

    Certainly, having more means for our community to reach out to potential visitors should be useful. But we are the only organization that is wholly dedicated to tourism and visitor services. And those who are looking at these enhanced avenues should also take into account the existing infrastructure. This includes the San Pedro Visitor Center we established six years ago at 225 W. 6th St., where we serve hundreds of visitors, and our monthly publication, San Pedro & Peninsula Visitor magazine, which reaches readers both in print and online.

    The wise approach is to take advantage of existing infrastructure and enhance our combined efforts. We do not need to reinvent the wheel.

    Scott Gray, President of Visit San Pedro, San Pedro

    Empower Youth at Sea

    When you board the gangway of a tall ship, you can set aside any differences you see between yourself and your peers, because in that moment every person onboard is an equal and vital member of the crew.

    The non-profit Los Angeles Maritime Institute (LAMI) provides this experience to thousands of LA, Orange and Riverside county youth annually. Utilizing the confines of a traditionally-rigged sailing vessel and its unbounded blue backyard, LAMI provides a platform for students to realize their own potential. Whether by getting their hands wet exploring marine biota samples or overcoming fears climbing aloft into the rigging, students are provided endless opportunities for exploration, cooperation, self-assurance, and personal development.

    There is no single track to ending up crewing on tall ships, and that is what makes the industry so robust. Some show up right out of high school while others have Master’s Degrees. Some geek out about teaching ocean acidification while others cannot wait to go hands on in the engine room. For some this is their first job while others have since retired and are choosing to live a second, awakened life. This diversity allows for specialization of passions such that every facet of sustaining a tall ship and running onboard programming is cared for. Despite this wide range of backgrounds, experiences, and walks of life, all possess unifying characteristics that make the environment livable and fulfilling. It takes a special type of human to choose to leave land, societal norms, and capitalist trends behind, and those commitments make for a very open-minded, caring, present-oriented community.

    The underlying reason why this industry and niche world exists is the ocean beneath our hull. The ocean is quite possibly the most challenging environment because so few have access to it nor are capable of observing its deleterious climate change effects. The ocean surely looks resilient when it throws up ferocious waves against our shorelines, but underneath that rough exterior lies vulnerable and collapsing ecosystems vital to the preservation of all of Earth’s life. LAMI provides an opportunity to invest in ocean conservation by way of investing in the development of our youth…and they’re making waves.

    Shelby Mauchline, LAMI Deckhand Educator aboard S/V Exy Johnson, San Pedro

    Editor’s note:

    The following correspondence relates to the At Length column which ran on 3/21/19 Not All Information is Equal.  The point that this reader brings up is about my opinion that “digital media corporations should be regulated to the same standards as any broadcast media using a public utility” and that they allow for content postings “without prior review” i.e. censorship which I didn’t explicitly suggest.

    So, if I properly understand your editorial, you advocate government press censorship!

    Censorship is a two-way street, my friend. Have you any idea how many elected government officials I’ve heard refer to your newspaper as “Pravda?”

    Ralph Ortolano, San Pedro

    Response to Pravada Comment

    And yet none of them who issue their own PR “news” think of what they are doing as “propaganda” but do think that an independent press like ours IS propaganda?  This is backward logic at best and deceptive  at worst. Propaganda commonly is defined as being generated by a government censored regime not an independent publisher.  And NO I’m not arguing for censorship but that all media have standards that we adhere to — even independent publishers and average citizens.  You don’t have the right to yell, “Fire” in a crowded theater.

    The question for broadcast media, which I clearly refer to in my column, states that digital media companies should be held to the same standards as traditional broadcast media because they use a common publicly owned medium or right of way- the internet. Because of their use of this to broadcast information they should adhere to certain levels of prior review of content, fair or balanced reporting and must admit that they are the publishers of the material not just platforms through which the information flows.

    James Preston Allen, Publisher

    Mike Trout $430M Contract with LA Angels

    Editor’s note: This letter is in response to the articles covering Mike Trout’s $430M contract with LA Angels.

    One of the most disturbing facts about our capitalist nation is the misappropriation of funds directed to the salaries of entertainers. Everyone should agree that the value an athlete, movie star, talk-show host, team-owner, etcetera brings to the average citizen is very small. Granted, they do offer a minuscule of diversion from our daily trials and tribulations as did the jesters in the king’s court during the middle ages. But to allow these entertainers to horde such great amounts of wealth at the expense of more benevolent societal programs is unacceptable. They do not provide a product or a service so why are they rewarded as such?

    Our society is also subjected to the “profound wisdom” of these people because it equates wealth with influence.   Perhaps a solution to this problem and an alternative to defeated school levies, crumbling infrastructures, as well as all the programs established to help feed, clothe and shelter those who cannot help themselves would be to tax this undeserved wealth. Entertainers could keep 1 percent of the gross earnings reaped from their endeavor and 99 percent could be deposited into the public coffers.

    The old ideas of the redistribution of wealth have failed, and it is time to adapt to modern-day preferences. People put their money into entertainment above everything else; isn’t it time to tap that wealth? Does anyone think this will reduce the quality of entertainment?   It seems to me that when entertainers received less income, the quality was much higher.

    Joe Bialek, Cleveland, OH

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