• Uproar Greets Pier 400 Automation Plans

    • 02/14/2019
    • Paul Rosenberg
    • News
    • Comments are off

    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

    Plans to move toward automation at APM’s Pier 400 terminal were pulled from the Harbor Commission’s Jan. 24 agenda at the last minute, but ILWU representatives showed up in force with dozens of members to speak out against the move, starting with Local 13 President Mark Mendoza.

    “Automation is not good,” Mendoza said. “It’s not good is for the community; it’s not good for labor, it’s not good for America.”

    Mendoza referred to Maersk, APM’s corporate parent, as “a foreign company coming in here to displace workers.” To place the blame on the California Air Resources Board and clean air goals was deceptive, he claimed, a theme echoed by others as well.

    “Echoing Mark, there’s other options out there,” said Joe Gasperov, president of Marine Clerks Local 63. “We understand the environmental concerns and the regulations that everybody has to meet in the coming years,” he said. “But there are other options that include keeping people employed to hit those same requirements.”

    “There’s plenty of equipment out there today they can utilize that can utilize a person to operate that equipment,” said Danny Miranda, president of Foreman’s Local 94.

    “For the terminal operators to use clean-air action plan that we worked so hard to develop here in both ports as an excuse to eliminate our jobs to me is very bad decision on their part,” he said. “It’s about our livelihood and our jobs.”

    This attempt to shift the costs of clean air onto labor is nothing new. Port truck drivers shouldered the vast majority of costs of the Clean Truck Program, due to misclassification as “independent owner-operators.” A 2014 report, “The Big Rig Overhaul” found that wage theft resulting from labor law violations amounts to $850 million in California annually, and that trucking companies forcing drivers “to pay for these trucks through leasing programs… underlie most of the liability.”

    Here, the mechanism would be different, but with the same result: labor would pay the cost of cleaning up the air—a mess it did not create or profit from. To make matters worse, it’s a betrayal of a decades-long partnership, as pointed out by John Fageaux, president of ILWU Local 63 Office Clerical Unit for almost 20 years.

    “Over those years, I’ve negotiated many contracts with these employers and one of the things that they always talk about in negotiations is this is a partnership, a partnership with labor,” Fageaux said.

    “I watched the longshoremen, and the clerks and my OCUs [Office Clerical Units] work day in and day out to help build these companies into what they are today,” he recalled. “So to have them now want to introduce this automation and basically throw out the window—this relationship that we built over the years—and have us replaced with the machine is wrong,” he said. “This is a partnership. It needs to be treated like that.”

    “This is not about productivity,” said Gary Herrera, Vice President of ILWU Local 13. “It was told to us about across the table. We don’t care if the production goes down.” Rather, “They care about getting rid of labor.”

    Ray Familathe, who served as International vice president of the ILWU International for nine years, questioned the move from several perspectives.

    “They’re going to purchase about 130 automated straddle carriers, they’re hybrids,” he said. “But that same Kalmar equipment… can be purchased with a cab on it, it can put longshore operators to work. This type of operation limits the height of the cargo will be stacked. In fact, I think will be stacked about three high, that’s why you need the big footprint of all the acreage.”

    “What about when cargo continues to increase?” he asked. “It’s a unique footprint. The only place it’s being used at this level now is Brisbane, Australia. If you look at the size and scope of that terminal, it’s very small. We’re concerned about the future growth of the port, and of course, employment opportunities.”

    “I represent the big bad company,” said John Ochs of APM in a rare moment of honesty, but things went rapidly downhill after that, as he tried to deny the international behemoth he is part of.

    “Although you may have a perception of AP Moeller as this foreign company, these people in Denmark you’ve never met, APM terminals Los Angeles is a U.S. company, we’re a standalone company,” Ochs said.

    But they’re still a subsidiary, once removed: APM Terminals is headquartered in the Hague, and is owned by Maersk, in Copenhagen. Things went from bad to worse after that, concluding with an attempt to throw a Harry Bridges quote back in the longshoreman’s faces, only to be cut off for running overtime.

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  • San Pedro Fish Market Grille X Three

    • 02/14/2019
    • Reporters Desk
    • Dining News
    • Comments are off

    By Gretchen Williams, Dining and Cuisine Writer

    Old Town San Pedro was often foggy and cold, vocal with the sounds of the foghorn and the ships. The fishing slip was full of boats and the coral pink municipal fish dock at the end of the pier was awash with activity. Containers boomed across the Main Channel, loading and discharging a massive verdant vessel. Tugs tooted and locomotives whistled their movements around the harbor.

    San Pedro Fish Market Grilles have captured that Old San Pedro feel in three new restaurants around the Harbor Area. The original San Pedro Fish Market has maintained the waterfront atmosphere and emphasis on fresh fish while updating both the menu and the moves. Each branch of the San Pedro Fish Market Grille has a dockside ambiance and a familiar Matson logo betrays the wall’s former life as a 40-foot standard dry.

    Choice is the hard part at a San Pedro Fish Market Grille. The World Famous Shrimp Tray is always an outdoor favorite on the Main Channel and is made to share at the Grille as well. Each variety of fish and seafood is available prepared as a grilled plate, with two side dishes — the best deal on the menu. Fish and chips celebrates the U.K. classic in fine style with excellent chips and crispy fish. Try red snapper for the fish or try shrimp as a tender substitute.

    Salad is a good choice, even as a side: lovely fresh greens, julienned carrots, red onion, tomato, colorful shreds of bell pepper with cotija cheese and cilantro. Just add any fish for a splendid dish.  The bowl is based on rice, black beans and roasted corn with bell peppers — grilled salmon would be wonderful.

    The Latin side of the menu is worth a look — calamari tacos are the next happening, serving crunchy cabbage, onion, tomato and cilantro with the squid and great salsa on fresh grilled corn tortillas.  Burritos for the big boys — get ready for a grilled flour tortilla wrapped lovingly around grilled swordfish, potato, chopped onion, cabbage, cilantro and a three cheese blend with salsa.

    Fabulous secrets of the San Pedro Fish Market Grille are being revealed daily. Servers are willing and helpful at figuring out the menu and how to order.  The lobster grilled cheese at $18.99 seems a bit dear, but delivers big time — luscious and over the top, served with a generous green salad.

    House-made ceviche is fresh, tart, hot and just the thing to wash down with a beer or michelada. Sides are an amazing and delicious deal, at $3.25 each, from fire-roasted corn, black beans, grilled fajita vegetables, zucchini, grilled potatoes or some of those french fries, and house-made coleslaw or green salad.  Garlic bread would be a nice thing to share over some steaming house-made clam chowder.

    Children are going to be delighted with a $4.99 menu including popcorn shrimp, salmon or tilapia, cheese quesadilla or grilled cheese sandwich.  Adults will be similarly thrilled with the market offerings of whole fried fish, shrimp, snow crab clusters, Alaskan king crabs, Maine lobsters and oysters.

    San Pedro Fish Market Grille
    3 Peninsula Center, Rolling Hills Estates
    310-265-2260

    San Pedro Fish Market Grille
    1313 W. Sepulveda Blvd., Harbor City
    424-263-5864

    San Pedro Fish Market Grille
    120 W. “G” St., Wilmington
    310-835-6671

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  • TRAA community council has been one of the most active in the fight to ban modified hydrofluoric acid or MHF. Photo courtesy of Torrance Refinery Action Alliance

    MHF Ban – AQMD Board Delays Vote

    By Mark L. Friedman, Contributor

    On Feb. 1, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) staff briefed its Governing Board on possible regulation of modified hydrofluoric acid (MHF) alkylation at the Torrance (ToRC) and Valero, Wilmington refineries.  AQMD staff presented an analysis of MHF hazards. Their presentation showed that a test release from a golf ball size hole in a pipe was still deadly 2 miles from the release point. Local refineries have had 10 small releases in a year and a half. 

    The claims of the refineries that they could handle large releases of HF/MHF were rejected as unfounded by current evidence.

    Dozens of South Bay and Harbor area community members made powerful pleas to protect the public.  Several groups voiced public support for a ban within 4 years, including Ban Toxic MHF, Torrance Refinery Action Alliance (TRAA), Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Sierra Club, and Del Amo Action Committee. Spokespeople for the corporations, the oil industry, the Chamber of Commerce spoke in favor of an MOU right away.

    Board members representing Orange and San Bernardino Counties, safely outside MHF hazard zones, told community members to look elsewhere for help, in effect saying: ‘HF-saturated air is no concern for an “air quality” regulator! That isn’t our job!’ This Board can’t eliminate every hazard in the world! Larry McCallon (San Bernardino) made a motion to forget rule making and cut the refineries a deal using an MOU. Shawn Nelson (Orange County), Janice Rutherford (San Bernardino), and Dwight Robinson (Orange County) supported McCallon’s motion.

    But the majority of the board could not ignore community demands to put safety first.  The community call for a ban is supported by Judith Mitchell, Janice Hahn, and Joe Lyou.

    Dr. William Burke, the Governing Board Chairman, and Dr. Clarke Parker, the Refinery Committee Chairman spoke strongly of the MHF hazard, the need for effective action, and against McCallon’s motion.

     A counter motion by Dr. Burke passed, giving AQMD staff 90 days to incorporate the testimony from the Governing Board and the public, then return to the Refinery Committee before going to the Governing Board for a decision.

    Michael A. Cacciotti (LA, eastern region) and Ben Benoit (Riverside County) also voted for the 90-day delay, although Benoit  voiced opposition to a MHF ban.  This vote does not win a ban of this toxic liquid. The vote did win a delay for the community, but an MHF ban is still far from certain. 

    Joe Buscaino (LA, Wilmington) voted for the 90-day extension. Buscaino and Mayor Garcetti have not supported community efforts to ban MHF despite their knowledge of hazardous MHF. During most of the meeting Buscaino was on his computer and “not present,” even during tearful testimony by one of his constituents.

    Sally Hyati, director of the environmental justice organization, Ban Toxic MHF, believes more of the public need to have their voice heard in the fight against MHF.

    “We need a significant public outcry for MHF’s removal. Most of the informed public supports this effort, Hyati said. “But many are either unaware or hope that the AQMD’s “expert” process will reach the right conclusion. This process is political. The public needs to counter industry fear tactics.”

    Oil refineries have long argued that any change to the refinery process would increase costs and result in job losses.

    Oil refineries have also argued that changes in the refining process could raise the price of gas– a fear tactic that led many to oppose a ban.

    Gas price claims rely on two false assumptions:

    • (1) both refineries will shut down and
    • (2) a planned orderly MHF replacement would have an equal or worse effect on gas prices than the unexpected shutdown of the entire Torrance refinery for eighteen months.

    LA residents have work to do to convince Garcetti and Buscaino to put public safety before the profit margins of two refineries.”  

    Steve Goldsmith from the Torrance Refinery Action Alliance and Sally Hyati, Scientist from “Ban Toxic MHF” contributed to this article.

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  • New Media Advance Indie Sounds

    Los Angeles Indie-Rock band New Media have been making a name for themselves playing gigs from the West side to Long Beach.

    By Melina Paris, Music Columnist; Photo by Simone Wicks

    Last week, I witnessed a band whose sole aim was to make me a fan the moment I heard them live. The band is called New Media and the band leader, Zach Noel is my cousin. Blame it on pride, but when Zach texted me about the gig, I was admittedly excited to hear them play.

    But, more importantly, my cousin is a conscientious examiner of art. So, it was an easy move toward reason that New Media’s music would be quite interesting.

    And it was. New Media describes its sound as melodic indie-rock with a nice helping of atmosphere and fuzz.

    The foursome played a striking set at Dipiazza’s in Long Beach, Feb. 6. They’ve been together since 2017. Noel and Tamara Simons are the band’s vocalists and lead guitarists with Jack Meighan on bass and Julien Nicolai on drums.

    The band has been real busy playing a slew of gigs from the westside to the Long Beach as of late. On this particular night, their show at Dipiazza’s came after playing the The Federal in North Hollywood for the second time in the venue’s Indie-Night series and before their weekend engagement at Harvelle’s in Santa Monica.

    New Media hasn’t even released an EP yet, but they have been generating a buzz with their live performances of their original music — music built on layered, energetic rhythms.

    They opened their set at Dipiazza’s with Slow Motion, a psychedelic expansive number with a robust, foot tapping bass. It brought an easy intro to the set and succeeded in piquing interest for more of these sounds.

    The arrangements, as on Thin Ice, are ripe with lush cords and distinctive melodies that call your attention. It’s especially so on guitar. Zach and Simons’ unpredictable expressions move the record needle forward with enduring, progressive sound.  

    Signals brought a pure indie sound. Its lyrics conjured the reasoning of a twenty somethings realization of life’s ironies. Zach’s extended bridge flowed into a dreamy guitar riff, expanding with improvisational roots, becoming an elevated version of itself.

    New Media assembles unexplored directions which, after hearing, bet, you will want to be where they play. That fuzz and atmosphere they boast is actually a nuanced grasp of musical arrangement, well beyond their evident youth.

    The driving, Monsters raised a haunting, kind of Southern rock groove, juxtaposing retro influences with an indie posture. Tunnel Vision cruised through powerful kaleidoscopic guitar loops while Lost in the Shuffle’s elegantly layered chords transposed from soft, dexterous fingering metamorphosing to a hard rocking finish.

    For the talent witnessed at the Dipiazzas show, New Media’s goal is inherently sensible: to give its fans and listeners the ability to access music more representative of its energy onstage. It’s without a doubt, in that live energy and in New Media’s sophistication where listeners become fans.

    Next up for the band is to record an EP in 2019. In the meantime, you will find New Media playing throughout LA.

    Details: www.soundcloud.com/newmediala

    Facebook: New Media LA

    Instagram: newmediaband

    Venue: www.dipiazzas.com

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  • Oliver Musical Theatre West

    Oliver! Not as Big and Energetic as He Should Be

    By Greggory Moore, Curtain Columnist

    Oliver! was a hit when it opened in 1960 and an even bigger hit when in 1968 it was adapted into a film ― winning the Oscar for Best Picture, no less! And if Wikipedia is to be believed, in the 1970s Oliver! was “by far the most popular school musical” in Britain.

    I don’t know from the tastes of West End theatre audiences in the ’60s, and Best Picture picks have often been bizarre (2001: A Space Odyssey was released the same year and it wasn’t even nominated). But the Wikipedia claim makes perfect sense to me, because it’s easy to imagine such a simplistic, sunshiny take on Charles Dickens going over well with teenage Baby Boomers.

    The questions before us today are:

    1. whether such a work is still worth staging; and
    2. whether Musical Theatre West does a good job of it.  

    By way of answering the first, the most I can say for Lionel Bart’s music is that the melodies are straightforward and easy to swallow; but the unvarying repetition triggers acid reflux, with several songs sporting enough verses to make Bob Dylan blush (and that’s before they are reprised).  As for the lyrics, well, how about, “He doesn’t act as though he cares / But deep inside I know he cares / That’s why I’m tied / Right by his side”? Oof. The dialog functions at about the same level, with humor that seems unsophisticated even by 1960 standards, never mind our own.

    But even if you’re a big fan of Mr. Bart’s work, you may still find this production of Oliver! lacking, and the main reason is the staging. One thing Oliver! has going for it as a piece of musical theatre is the possibility of spectacle. Opening with an ensemble number set in a children’s workhouse, Oliver! is meant to be big right out of the gate, and it should stay big as it winds through the streets of London, down into the city’s underbelly, up into an alehouse, and ultimately across London Bridge. Musical Theatre West, however, only hints at the intended scale.

    A bigger cast size and grander sets would help, but the choreography is the main culprit. We need dynamic movement to distract us from the redundancy of the music, yet number after number feels static, with clumps of actors doing relatively minimal moves at center stage, while little is happening elsewhere. (Act Two opener “Oom-Pah-Pah” is probably the only song where the entire stage is engaged.) And although it may be uncharitable to pick on the kids, during certain ensemble numbers (e.g., “Consider Yourself”) they are often noticeably out of sync. Kudos, though, to Musical Theatre West for not giving us a bunch of 15-year-olds and insisting we suspend our disbelief.

    Thankfully, the singing is more impressive. As Oliver, Travis Burnett is great. He nails “Where Is Love”  ― which he better, since this is the title character’s only solocapably stepping higher and higher until hitting the song’s sustained peak, which he holds beautifully. As Nancy, Cayman Ilika is the other standout, with enough power to make and range to make “As Long as He Needs Me” sound like a walk in the park. The ensemble is always good and occasionally great. “Who Will Buy” really gets going, with the four foundational voices soaring together like a celestial organ.

    The acting is more of a mixed bag. Burnett shines, but Jason Brewer’s Artful Dodger is a bit stiff, and Kenny Landmon’s Bill Sikes needs to be more intense and intimidating to make his completely one-dimensional role (not his faultthat’s how it’s written) work. As Fagin, Davis Gaines does solid work, relying on his acting chops to make his songs pay off. The supporting cast is generally solid.

    Admittedly, Oliver! is simply not for me, no matter how well staged. But there is no doubt that Musical Theatre West has left something on the table by not choreographing the show more dynamically. Therefore, while fans may be pleased with this chance to revisit an old friend, I fear they may come away feeling he has lost some of the vigor that made him so dear in the first place.

    Oliver! at Musical Theatre West
    Times:  Thurs thru Sat 8 p.m. + Sat. 2 p.m., Sun 1 p.m. + Feb. 17 at 6 p.m.
    The show runs through Feb. 24
    Cost: $20-$92
    Details: (562) 856-1999 ext. 4, musical.org
    Venue: Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts, 6200 E. Atherton St., Long Beach

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  • Cupid and the Brigantine Sunset Sail

    By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor

    Witnessing a sunset with your significant other before eating a gourmet meal aboard a tall ship is not an everyday experience. The Los Angeles Maritime Institute is offering that very opportunity aboard the twin brigantines, the Exy and Irving Johnson.

    It’s part of its efforts to raise funds for the TopSail Youth program. The goal is to help at-risk and educationally-disadvantaged youth develop the problem-solving skills and attitudes difficult to teach in a classroom, yet necessary to stay in school and become healthy, productive adults.

    The Exy and Irving Johnson were designed by renowned German yacht designer Henry Gruberin the 1930s, but were not built until long after his death. Passengers who manage to snag a reservation will get to experience the twin brigantines rare elegance, nostalgic of an earlier era.  Passengers will get to board the Exy Johnson on Feb. 10 and the Irving Johnson on Feb. 14 for two sails around the harbor.

    This year’s Sunday, on Feb. 10, excursion is Sweets for the Sweet Sail, which will feature sweet and savory desserts along with hot chocolate, coffee and tea. If you’re in the mood to inbib Valentine spirits with your significant other, the Sweets for the Sweet Sail excursion is bring your own. Tickets: $75 for adults, $25 for children under 12 (LAMI member discount applies).

    Feb. 14 is the Valentine’s Day Adventure Dining Sunset Sail, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., where you and yours can enjoy a magical early evening aboard a tall ship.  Price includes a delicious dinner, dessert, beverage and a commemorative gift. Wine is not included, but again, it’s BYO aboard.

    The tall ships are docked at Berth 84 at the foot of 6th Street near the LA Maritime Museum in San Pedro.

    It is recommended that you wear closed-toe, soft-soled shoes as well as layered clothing given that the wind tends to kick up on the water.

    Tickets are non-refundable and in the event you are unable to sail, your ticket will be considered a tax-deductible donation to the TopSail Youth Program.

    Details: www.lamitopsail.org

    Harbor Area Places to Celebrate Valentine’s Day:

    Blu Restaurant and Lounge

    Upscale, yet casual, Blu Restaurant and lounge at San Pedro’s Crowne Plaza Hotel is the spot for great food and live jazz.  Dress up, or not, a romantic moment is impossible to miss.

    Details: 310-521-8080

    Venue: Crowne Plaza Los Angeles Harbor Hotel, 601 S. Palos Verdes St., San Pedro

    The Whale & Ale

    The Whale & Ale offers a choice of special entrees from sauteed Alaskan sand dabs to Chilean sea bass. Live entertainment also is part the experience at this venerable pub.

    Details: 310-832-0363; www.whaleandale.com

    Venue: Whale and Ale, 327 W. 7th St., San Pedro

    Sebastian’s Mediterranean Cuisine

    Brand new on 7th St., Sebastian’s is offering a Valentine’s Day special three-course dinner for two with your choices of entrées.

    Details: 424-342-9062; www.sebastiansmc.com

    Venue: Sebastian’s Mediterranean Cuisine, 309 W. 7th St., San Pedro

    Baramee  Thai Restaurant

    This quiet romantic gem of a restaurant in downtown San Pedro is warm, cozy and intimate. It has great food at an affordable price. Make sure you RSVP early.

    Details: 310-521-9400

    Venue: Baramee Thai Restaurant, 354 W. 6th St., San Pedro

    Think Prime

    Think Prime is the last great steakhouse in San Pedro, offering every cut of beef you could want. Think Prime also has a piano bar.

    Details: 310-221-0415

    Venue: Think Prime Steakhouse, 29601 Western Ave., Rancho Palos Verdes

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  • Random Letters: 2-7-19

    Women Host Vigil to Expose the Real Legacy of Ronald Reagan

    Every year at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, there is a celebration of Ronald Reagan on or around his birthday. Reagan supporters and champions have long had an unfettered ability to celebrate his presidency and his ”legacy” — ignoring the countless lives lost to his violent legacy.  On Feb. 6  a vigil was held reminding America that American Imperialism is nothing to be celebrated!

    We say that the legacy of his presidency is chaos in Central America and the emergence of the great economic inequality between the 99 percent and the one percent in the United States.

    The current situation at the border, and the caravans of refugees coming up through Mexico are a result of the violence and chaos that the Reagan Wars against poor Central American farmers created.

    We will host a vigil outside of the ceremony with signs to Renounce Reagan, calling for reparations for U.S. war victims in Central America, and reminding all that the United State’s foreign policy agenda in Central America for the past fifty years has caused a mass exodus from the region.Re: Negotiating a funding resolution that does not endanger the lives of immigrant children

    Carley Towne, CODEPINK Los Angeles Coordinator

    Secure Border Act

    Excerpts from letter sent by the President of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, Peter Schey.

    Dueling bills to end the government shutdown failed in the Senate and on Jan. 25 Democrats and Republicans reached agreement on a temporary end of the shutdown until Feb. 15. Congress and the White House committed to negotiate over the next three weeks border security, relief for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status recipients, and the treatment of immigrant children from Central America. The issue of Central American minors was injected into the shutdown discussion by President Trump in a Jan. 4, 2019, letter to Congress, and again last week in the Senate’s End the Shutdown and Secure Border Act of 2019 (“2019 Secure Border Act”), that received fifty votes in the Senate.

    This memorandum briefly reviews key provisions in the 2019 Secure Border Act that dramatically impact the rights of migrant children and explains why these provisions should not be part of any budget resolution negotiated by Congress and the White House. Adopting the Secure Border Act’s provisions on immigrant children would lead to the persecution, torture, and possibly the death of Central American minors who seek asylum in the United States. It would also violate the law of the land.

    A long-term spending bill should prohibit funds being used to (1) forcibly separate children and their parents, (2) terminate the rights children now possess under the Flores settlement, and (3) deny asylum to children who possess valid claims under U.S. and binding international laws.

    Minors fleeing persecution usually flee their countries rapidly. They cannot safely wait for several months or years to process applications while their lives are at risk. Nor do most minors facing persecution have the funds that will be needed for fees the U.S. will impose to “deter frivolous applications.” Nor do most minors facing persecution have a “qualified parent or guardian [living] in the United States.” These draconian restrictions will encourage minors to attempt entry into the United States without inspection. If successful, these restrictions will result in the abuse, torture, and death of innocent children.

    We urge the House and Senate negotiators concerned with the humane treatment of children to insure that the spending bill negotiated in the coming weeks prohibits funds being used to (1) forcibly separate children from their parents, (2) terminate the Flores settlement, or (3) deny asylum to any child who possesses a valid claim under U.S. law and the United Nations Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.

    Peter Schey, President, Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law

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  • Classic Trump

    • 02/07/2019
    • James Preston Allen
    • At Length
    • Comments are off

    Half truths, obfuscations and lies, but this is not the end

    By James Preston Allen, Publisher

    It seems almost incomprehensible that after having shuttered the government for 35 days President Donald Trump could stand before Congress and ask for bipartisanship and compromise. Perhaps it’s just that America has grown accustomed to this particular occupant of the Oval Office lying so frequently that it no longer seems to matter.

    He says America is now a mass exporter of energy, which is only half true. We still import more oil than we produce. He stood there and spoke against anti-Semitism and yet, with his actions and words, has sparked more racism and hate than any president I can remember.

    He celebrates World War II veterans and the noble cause of fighting tyranny as they liberated Nazi death camps nearing the end of that war. Yet, this man never served a single day in the military and was exempted from the Vietnam War draft by a bogus doctor’s note.

    He pronounces he is going to “Make America “Great Again” by returning to the Ronald Reagan era fantasy of “Star Wars” by building ever more advanced armaments, including a laser satellite defense system. What one can only be certain of is that whatever Trump says can’t be trusted.

    If anyone took the time to deconstruct his one hour and 22-minute prelude to his 2020 campaign, they would find more half-truths, obfuscations and lies than anything but more patriotic bluster.  Did any Democrat or any of the women celebrating the women’s suffrage movement by wearing white expect anything different?

    A few of the only “truths” to emerge from this State of the Union speech is that the House of Representatives is clearly divided and the political scars of the past two years are ones the new majority are unlikely to ever forget.

    If there is anything that divides Republicans from Democrats more it is the almost religious belief in the fundamental creed that democracy and capitalism are the foundation of our republic. This all sounds good when you are fighting the Cold War, but America has moved on from this tired old dialectic of American exceptionalism versus the evil empires to something more informed about our own abuses of power, empire and corruption.

    Trump’s vague attacks on calls for socialism didn’t go unnoticed. Clearly, if he understood anything about economics or the briefing papers he never reads on the U.S. budget, he’d realize that somewhere north of 33 percent of our gross national product is tied to government spending (some years as much as 37 percent). And the Defense Department is by far the largest “socialized” spending item.

    According to Webster’s Dictionary, socialism is defined as, “any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.” This definition fits not only the U.S. military where housing, food, healthcare and food are delivered to service members and their families by Uncle Sam, but also to many other federal government departments. That includes the billions of dollars in defense contracts and covert programs administered by our government. I mean is there anyone who really wants to privatize the national parks, the work of Homeland Security and  Border Patrol? And then there is Social Security, the most popular socialized program of the past 70 years.

    Just by sheer numbers the government is the largest employer in the nation and has a huge impact. We recently witnessed a 35-day shutdown where just one third of the government workers were furloughed. The economic impact on our “capitalist system” was felt first by workers, then on Wall Street. The shutdown has delayed fourth quarter economic growth projections while the impact on the first quarter of 2019 is still being ascertained, even as Trump continues to insist on money for “the wall.”

    What is perhaps more important to those of us who live next to the largest port of entry into America is the president’s pronouncement about all the illegal drugs coming across the southern border, which again is untrue.  The vast majority of illegal drugs come via smuggling through our ports of entry, including right here at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach where less than 3 percent of the growing number of containers are actually inspected.

    On the threat of huge caravans of immigrants storming our southern border and sending more troops to defend us from the hoards coming north, the number of undocumented immigrants apprehended from Mexico is at an all-time low.

    Yet, the number of people flying into our country and overstaying their visas is huge, which is not to mention the Chinese birth-mother tourism group that recently got indicted by the Justice Department.  The birth tourism schemes as they were described in the indictments are ones in which foreign nationals, mostly from China, lie about the length of their trips and the purpose of their stay when they apply for visitor visas to the United States. They would come to the U.S. for three months to give birth so their children would receive U.S. birthright citizenship.

    This of course is never mentioned in Trump’s tirades over illegal immigrants and his false claims of the amount of violent crime perpetrated by “illegals.”

    If, however, you still believe that Donald J. Trump is going to be impeached, indicted and driven from office before the next election, this speech was just the opening salvo of what we’ve come to expect from our first reality TV president. Which I must add has nothing to with “reality” but everything to do with concocting a narrative that replaces facts and truth.  And yet, there’s still one major question that has gone unanswered these past two years: Where are Trump’s tax returns that he says are being audited? One look at those documents would probably do more to get him relieved of duty than anything else!

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  • UTLA Charter Teachers Strike Settled

    • 02/07/2019
    • Mark Friedman
    • News
    • Comments are off

    Board motions to limit non-union charter start-ups

    By Mark Friedman, Contributor

    UTLA’s charter school contingent ended its walkout at the three Accelerated Charter Schools in South Central Los Angeles Jan. 29. The job action had started a day after the general UTLA strike began on Jan. 15 and ended six days after the general strike concluded. More than 100 students and parents joined these teachers on the picket line.

    Accelerated Charter Schools serve 1,700 students from kindergarten to the 12th grade.

    Before this strike, UTLA representatives had been negotiating for 21 months on issues related to due process and wages with the Accelerated Schools founder and CEO Johnathan Williams.

    Among the issues was the teachers high turnover rate, which, according to the schools’ UTLA representatives was averaging 30 to 50 percent annually.

    “The teachers at The Accelerated Schools were paid on a rating-in schedule,” said Kari Rivera, The Accelerated School K-8 first grade teacher and UTLA bargaining committee member.  “It did not function like a salary table (often called a step and column table) that most districts use.

    “Once hired, a teacher would be placed on the rating-in schedule based on experience and education. Once placed, a teacher’s salary only changed when there was contract bargaining. Most recently, the raise was 5 percent a year. A committee was supposed to meet to determine how funds would be used to cover merit pay, but two problems emerged: The funds were never raised and the committee never met.

    Their collective bargaining agreement does not include binding arbitration. It only has advisory arbitration.

    Wallis Annenberg High School teacher and UTLA representative, Amber Blackwell, was particularly critical of the high teacher turnover at her school.

    “We signed on the mission to educate and give students an opportunity to learn,” Blackwell said while on the picket line on Jan. 25. “We are not able to fulfill this goal because of high teacher turnover and not getting quality teachers due to that lack of stability.”

    “In some classes students go an entire year with a substitute teacher who is not credentialed nor qualified to teach that subject, especially in our K-8 classes. Twenty-five percent of each grade level fails in the transition to high school … Many classes are in the high 30s. This administration does not understand the importance of retaining teachers to improve student learning. There is no nurse and we have one counselor for 1,800 students.”

    Annenberg High School students picketed alongside their teachers in support.

    “We are out here because my education is being robbed and I want to help the teachers,” said Marilyn Torres, an Annenberg High School sophomore. “My classes need to be meaningful.”

    One ACS parent who had been on the  picket line daily, Maria Sanchez,  had been organizing other parents to come and show support for the teachers.

    “This is our community school,” Sanchez said. “Teachers don’t have job security and they are intimidated by the principal.  So, we are here for better conditions for the teachers and students.”

    At the rally was Kistra Borden, who brought greetings from the San Diego Education Association. To a cheering crowd, she told participants: “You are making history with the first charter school strike in California history.”

    Also bringing solidarity was Keith Brown, president of the Oakland Education Association. “Your strike is the coming together of teachers, parents and the community; standing together is an act of true courage. It has sparked a fire to encourage other charter school teachers to organize a union and fight for students.  We are here to support you and to say that in LA and Oakland we are taking a stand that our schools are our priority.”

    Cecily Myart-Cruz, UTLA Bargaining Committee member and National Education Association vice president, pledged the continued support of the UTLA. She said she is “standing shoulder to shoulder with you … Don’t give up. We have the courage to do what is right.  Our soul is not for sale. Our students are not for sale.  We will make Accelerated Charter go to their knees and give you what you want. When we strike we win!”

    The new contract includes improvements aimed at reducing teacher turnover by providing increased job security and improvements to teachers’ healthcare benefits:

    • Three months severance package (salary and benefits) for teachers not offered a contract from one year to the next.
    • An improved arbitration process
    • Annual signing bonuses of $10,000 for teachers who return
    • Annual increases in the employer’s share of healthcare costs.

    In a related development — as a reaffirmation of the effectiveness of the UTLA  six-day strike and the overwhelming parent and public support for educators — in a 5 to 1 vote, the school board passed a resolution calling for a state study and an 8- to 10-month moratorium on new charter schools in the district until the study is complete. The NAACP also backed this proposal. The discussion now heads to Sacramento.

    Charters have grown exponentially at LAUSD, from 10 in the 2000-01 school year to 277 this year.

    UTLA stated that: “The California Charter Schools Association bused students to the meeting, leaving a day of instruction behind to attend. CCSA did so under the false pretense that the board was considering a ban of all charter schools. Teary-eyed students talked during public comment, thinking that their school would be closed if the resolution passed.”

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  • House Dems Put Democracy First

    • 02/07/2019
    • Paul Rosenberg
    • News
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    A sweeping reform bill is their lead legislative initiative

    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor
    With the Donald Trump shutdown finally over—at least for now—Democrats in the House of Representatives  moved quickly to start work on their top legislative priority, House Resolution-1, a sweeping package of democratic reforms with broad popular appeal: voting rights protection, campaign finance reform and government ethics, brought together by Rep. John Sarbanes from Maryland.

    “Our best friend in this debate is the public,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said when Democrats first unveiled the proposal on Nov. 30. The public got its first close-up look on Jan. 29, with the hearing before the House Judiciary Committee.

    “The broader issue is what kind of country America is, and should be,” Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler said in his opening remarks.  He called HR-1, “a notable attempt to renew our nation’s commitment to having a government ‘of the people, by the people, for the people.’

    The committee heard from a panel of experts, including Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and Vanita Gupta, president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Since their founding in 1940 and 1950 respectively, both organizations have played a leading role in expanding and securing voting rights. They also heard from two GOP-invited panelists who are prominent promoters of the widespread voter fraud myth that Republicans have used to justify rolling back voting rights, despite the embarrassing lack of evidence.

    “If we have a long history of voter fraud in this country, we have a longer history of racism and voter disenfranchisement,” Ifill said. “It’s time that we stopped dealing with fantasy and we deal with facts.”

    “Our democracy works best when everyone, no matter who they are or what their color, can fully participate,” Gupta said. “Right now, it is in crisis.”

    Both testified to a wide range of voter suppression problems which have proliferated since the Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. Meanwhile, on the Senate floor, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the bill a one-sided power grab [that] may pass the House, but not the Senate. But his baseless, bombastic response only underscored the fundamental problem: The Senate majority he leads is based on just 44.2 percent of the popular vote in the last three Senate elections, while the Democrats’ House majority represents 53.4 percent of the popular vote the past November. While HR-1 wouldn’t change the structure of the Senate to make it more representative, it would significantly reduce other restrictions hampering American democracy, making it easier for more people to vote, giving them more voice in the electoral process, and more confidence in the government they elect.

    Specifically, regarding voting rights, HR-1 would modernize America’s voter-registration system by bringing automatic voter registration, provide same-day voter registration and online voter registration to voters across the country. It enhances ballot access via 15 days of early voting and makes election day a national holiday. It ends gerrymandering by establishing state-level independent redistricting commissions, restores voting rights to criminals not imprisoned for a felony, and restores the Voting Rights Act. Many states have already implemented some or even most of these ideas, but the national picture is extremely uneven.

    As for campaign-finance reform, HR-1 provides a voluntary six to one match for federal candidates raising money from small donors. It also  requires Super PACs and “dark money” groups to make their donors public, and requires Facebook and Twitter to disclose the sources and amounts of money spent on political ads on their platforms.

    Regarding ethics, HR-1 would require presidents to disclose their tax returns, prevent congressional members from using taxpayer money to settle sexual harassment cases or buy first-class plane tickets and create a new ethical code for the U.S. Supreme Court.

    The day after the hearing, McConnell charged that HR-1 was “a package of urgent measures to rewrite the rules of American politics for the exclusive benefit of the Democratic Party.” But most of what’s in it is either commonplace in democracies around the world, popular with voters, or  matters of common sense. Election day is a weekend event in the vast majority of countries, and the U.S. is alone in letting politician’s choose their voters by drawing district lines.

    This past November, a number of states continued the process of popularly adopting parts of HR-1. Colorado, Michigan, Missouri  and Utah all voted to put redistricting in non-partisan hands, in different ways — by landslide majorities in all but Utah. Florida re-franchised convicted felons with 65 percent of the vote. Maryland established election-day voter registration with 67 percent. Nevada approved automatic voter registration with 60 percent. Michigan approved both as part of a package passed with 67 percent. In addition, the Voting Rights Act was overwhelmingly reauthorized in 2006: 98-0 in the Senate and 390-33 in the House. So the GOP’s recent stiffening of opposition seems largely driven by the sense that they’re losing their grip electorally: Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million votes, while McConnell’s Senate majority rests on a deficit of 25 million votes.

    McConnell launched a typically dishonest attack on HR-1 the next day, focused on federal workers. It seemed more than a bit tone-deaf on the heels of a month-long government shutdown, which left workers standing in foodlines and worrying about losing their homes. saying,  “This is the Democrat plan to restore democracy?” McConnell asked rhetorically. “A brand-new week of paid vacation for every federal employee who would like to hover around while you cast your ballot? Just what America needs, another paid holiday and a bunch of government workers being paid to go out and work for, I assume … our colleagues on the other side, on their campaigns.”

    The reality was quite different: a relatively minor provision, allowing for paid leave (not a vacation) to serve as poll workers and receive necessary training. Anyone who’s ever voted on election day knows that poll workers don’t work for either side on campaigns — indeed campaigning is legally forbidden in and around polling places. Poll workers are a mom-and-apple-pie part of American democracy. The fact that McConnell tried to paint them as sinister conspiracy speaks volumes about the dishonesty of the opposition to HR-1.

    Because HR-1 is so multifaceted, and the press is so willing to uncritically repeat McConnell’s lies, the Senate may well ignore it, as McConnell has promised. But Democrats have a potential response: passing individual parts as standalone bills, whose popular appeal is much more straightforward. Senate Republicans resisting them all could play an important role in getting rid of their majority in 2020.

    One key provision that could be singled out this way is Sarbanes’ signature proposal, a voluntary 6-1 match for candidates for federal office.  This could profoundly shift the balance of power between large and small donors, said Lee Drutman, author of The Business of America is Lobbying.

    “Anything that takes members of Congress away from the gamut of lobbyist-sponsored fundraisers and cold-calling wealthy people and puts them in the living rooms of more representative groups of constituents would be a major game changer for the kinds of concerns that filter up to lawmakers as top priorities,” Drutman wrote at Vox. “This could significantly alter the premium parties now put on big-donor fundraising prowess in their candidate recruitment strategies. It could also pave the way for a new winning politics of economic fairness.”

    Small donors fueled Bernie Sanders’  2016 campaign, which helped advance a whole set of related economic fairness issues — raising the minimum wage, Medicare for All, free public college, etc. This was done without a 6-1 matching fund. Imagine what would be possible with it.
    That’s what got McConnell really scared. And, he should be.

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