• A Preview of Long Beach Opera’s: The Central Park Five

    By Greggory Moore, Curtain Call Columnist

     In 1989, a white jogger in New York’s Central Park was raped and beaten so badly she was administered last rites. Within hours, police arrested a group of teenagers — four black and one Latinx— and after grilling for hours without an attorney present, obtained confessions from each.

    Despite conspicuous holes in the case — there were no witnesses, the victim had no memory of the attack, and DNA evidence from the rape kit did not match any of the alleged perpetrators  — all five were found guilty of the attack and sentenced to between five and 15 years in prison.

    Eleven years later, a convicted serial rapist and murderer claimed responsibility. Once his DNA proved to be a match, the convictions of the group that had come to be known as the Central Park Five were vacated, and in 2014 the State of New York reached a $41 million settlement of a civil lawsuit filed by the Five.

    Despite many unanswered questions about all that transpired 30 years ago, there is no disputing that the aftermath struck profound chords in the public consciousness of issues such as race relations and judicial inequity.

    For composer Anthony Davis, whose The Central Park Five has its world premiere this month at Long Beach Opera,  the resonance of such chords inspire his artistry. Having already composed operas based upon the life of Malcom X and the taking of the slave ship Amistad by its human cargo, Davis didn’t need a lot of convincing when  approached about creating an opera based on the Central Park Five. But despite the obvious fit of the subject within his canon, Davis admits the idea never occurred to him until he saw Richard Wesley’s libretto — even though he was living in New York when the attack and trials transpired. “Of course I was aware of it,” he recalls. “It was all over the news.”

    That news did not reach Andreas Mitisek, Long Beach Opera’s artistic director, who was still living in his native Austria at the time. He was largely oblivious to the racial issues plaguing the United States — a luxury no African-American can claim. “I had some incidents,” Davis says, despite coming from middle-class academic background. (His father was Princeton’s first African-American professor.) There was, for example, the time he drove from San Francisco to Los Angeles with his wife at the time, who was white, and a black friend. “We were at a stoplight in LA, and a cop pulled up to us and asked my wife, ‘Are you OK?’” He chuckles. “I mean, ‘Are you OK?’”

    By 2006, when Mitisek became a permanent U.S. resident, he was well aware of his adopted country’s racial inequity; and a decade later he was actively soliciting Davis for a project they might do together. Among those Davis proposed was an early version of The Central Park Five, which Mitisek found to be both dramatically compelling and as socially relevant today as it was at the time of the events it depicts.

    The Central Park Five is a work of art based on people that really experienced what we are portraying on stage,” he says. “[But] we are not creating a documentary of their lives; [rather,] we explore their story as one of many [such] cases that are still [taking place].”

    The subject matter presents several unique challenges. Mitisek felt the preliminary version did not focus enough on the five teenagers as people, while Davis was wrestling with similar issues both textually and musically. “How do you handle five different people — and also make them individuals,” he asks rhetorically. The answer came in the form of fleshing out their story while taking advantage of the large number of protagonists by extensively employing five-part harmony.

    One of those five individuals is Antron McCray, portrayed in The Central Park Five by Derrell Acon. Despite being only 31 years old, Acon, a Ph.D., has already lectured internationally on the black American experience and put together a solid body of scholarship on Blacktivism and the power of performative education. Not surprisingly, as soon as he became aware of The Central Park Five, he was angling for a role.

    “I have made a very intentional decision to have my activism be a part of every aspect of my artistry,” he says. “Thus, it is a natural fit to have my work as an opera singer intersect with my interest in further familiarizing audiences with the black experience. […] Sadly, the themes of inequity and prejudice prevalent in [The Central Park Five] are thoroughly woven through my experience as a scholar, artist, and countless times over as a young black man in America. [… As] is also the case for most black folks I know, I have developed a deep anxiety around the police in all contexts. They are not on my side. The history between law enforcement and human beings who look like me speaks volumes. We are generally not the beneficiaries of the same service and protection afforded to our White counterparts. The mutual mistrust is the primary cause, for example, of the rampant police brutality visited upon black bodies.”

    But Acon feels The Central Park Five is far more than a work of social relevance. “I see it as absolutely contributing positively and importantly to the operatic canon at large,” he says. “It very effectively employs standard operatic structures and idioms, while retaining an undeniably unique language in Davis’ use of styles from the world of black musical culture. It is a distinctly American opera.

    One compositional conceit Davis considered but ultimately rejected was employing hip-hop in the score. But despite the omission, Davis feels the artform casts a shadow on the milieu of the time. “Even though I don’t directly use hip-hop in the opera, [The Central Park Five] draws from looking at that emergence, […] the period when hip-hop was becoming mainstream and the threat that posed to the white establishment, [as epitomized in] Pat Buchanan’s or Donald Trump’s statements about it [at the time]. In a way, the reaction or rush to judgment on the Five was really linked to a judgment on hip-hop, a judgment on the change in African-American aesthetic and community. In a way it was a condemnation of a whole generation. That was very interesting to me: that it was not only a political moment, but a cultural moment.”

    A piece of American culture that has come into clearer view for Davis through working on The Central Park Five is how much the so-called criminal justice system has to do with profit. “[While working on the opera] I began to realize the role that prisons and policing play in terms of the American economy [and] how it sustains our capitalist system,” he says. “We still have slave labor in this country.”

    For all the unpleasant social realities raised by The Central Park Five, Davis is aiming not only to humanize the issues in play but also to foment the possibility of a better future.

    “My hope is that the audience identifies with the Five and [thinks about] what would happen if they or their children were in that situation,” he says. “[The Central Park Five] addresses how deeply embedded racism is and the need to confront and overcome it. At the same time, there’s kind of an uplifting element and a cathartic element in the opera, because you go through this trauma and, through these five people, overcome it. ”

    The Central Park Five makes its world premiere at the Warner Grand Theatre, 478 W. 6th St., San Pedro on June 15, with subsequent performances on June 22 and 23.

    Details: www.longbeachopera.org

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  • Federal Judge Dismisses Charges Against 3 White Supremacists

    • 06/06/2019
    • Reporters Desk
    • Feature
    • Comments are off

    By A.C. Thompsonoriginally published on ProPublica

    A federal judge on Monday dismissed charges against three members of a white supremacist gang indicted for their roles in violent rallies across California in 2017, saying the federal statute used to prosecute them was unconstitutional.

    The three men, members of the Rise Above Movement, a violent, racist organization based in Southern California, had been charged under a federal anti-riot statute with planning and then carrying out assaults at 2017 rallies in Huntington Beach, San Bernardino and Berkeley in the volatile months after President Donald Trump’s election.

    “The defendants used the Internet to coordinate combat training in preparation for the events,” federal prosecutors alleged in a criminal complaint filed late last year, “to arrange travel to the events, to coordinate attendance at the events, and to celebrate their acts of violence in order to recruit members for future events.”

    Unmasking California’s New White Supremacists

    ProPublica identified five members of the Rise Above Movement in this video in 2017, after analyzing footage from violent rallies in Berkeley and San Bernardino.

    In dismissing the charges, the judge, Cormac Carney, did not say that assaults didn’t happen or that the men could not be potentially charged with criminal acts. Instead, he ruled that the anti-riot statute of 1968 was overly broad and criminalized not only incitement of acts of violence, but also the planning and organization a person might do months in advance of a potential riot, even if the riot never happened. In that, Carney held, the statute could be seen to infringe on First Amendment rights governing free speech, since the calls to action did not constitute an imminent threat.

    “It is easy to champion free speech when it advocates a viewpoint with which we agree,” Carney wrote. “It is much harder when the speech promotes ideas that we find abhorrent. But an essential function of free speech is to invite dispute. Speech ‘may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger.’”

    The judge, near the end of his ruling, listed other charges a prosecutor could use to deal with violent public demonstrations.

    “Make no mistake that it is reprehensible to throw punches in the name of teaching Antifa some lesson,” Carney wrote, referring to the far-left counterprotesters who have fought with white supremacists at various rallies in the last several years. “Nor does the Court condone RAM’s hateful and toxic ideology. But the government has sufficient means at its disposal to prevent and punish such behavior without sacrificing the First Amendment.”

    Prosecutors said they were considering their next steps. “We are disappointed with the court’s ruling, and we are reviewing possible grounds for appeal,” said Ciaran McEvoy, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles.

    Carney ordered the release of two of the men, Robert Rundo and Robert Boman; the third, Aaron Eason, was already free on bond. A fourth RAM member, Tyler Laube, pleaded guilty earlier, but his case will now most likely be revisited.

    In a separate case brought in federal court in Virginia, three other RAM members and a RAM associate have pleaded guilty to similar riot charges for their actions during the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in the summer of 2017. The California judge’s ruling is unlikely to have an immediate effect on those cases.

    On its YouTube channel, RAM celebrated with a brief video featuring a photo of Rundo in a tank top and the words “all charges dropped.” In a post on Gab, a far-right social media platform, RAM added, “Just goes to show, never take a plea deal, always fight for the truth.”

    The group’s supporters reacted to the news with enthusiasm. “Thank God,” wrote one commenter in response to the Gab post. Other commenters chimed in with “Sieg Heil!” and its English translation, “Hail victory,” an infamous slogan used by the Nazis.

    RAM’s first public appearance was at a chaotic pro-Trump rally in Huntington Beach in March 2017. During the event, Laube assaulted a journalist with the OC Weekly, Frank Tristan, who was covering the scene for the newspaper. Two OC Weekly photojournalists were also roughed up during the melee.

    Former OC Weekly editor Nick Schou helped to oversee the publication at the time, as well as its subsequent reporting on RAM, whose members reside primarily in Orange County and to the north in Los Angeles County’s beach cities. “It’s extremely disappointing to me,” Schou said of the judge’s ruling.

    “What happened there with our employees was a warm-up for Charlottesville,” he said, adding that local and state police did little to investigate the violence at the rally, and noting that the federal charges came down more than 18 months after the Orange County event. “The lack of any official law enforcement response in the immediate aftermath of the Huntington Beach attack arguably enabled the much more extreme and fatal attack that happened in Charlottesville.”

    ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that produces nonpartisan, evidence-based journalism to expose injustice, corruption and wrongdoing.

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  • La Buvette Now Open — French Cuisine on Seventh Street

    • 06/05/2019
    • Reporters Desk
    • Dining News
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    By Gretchen Williams, Dining and Cuisine Writer

    In Aix-en-Provence, the spring is emerging slowly, trees blossoming in pink and white, tulips and crocus in all shades of yellow, purple, crimson and coral. The warm weather is encouraging the locals to venture out, filling the ancient church and leaving no empty seats in the cafés along the boulevard. An impromptu flea market of treasures forms, with family heirlooms and cheap imports mixing for added interest. Deep in the south of France, life is rooted in tradition, in the appreciation of simple things and the passing of the seasons. The promise of Easter and the welcomed sunshine bring out families, older folks, hipsters on Vespas and several local dogs.

    The same French ambiance and flavor abounds in LaBuvette, on lower 7th Street in San Pedro, which is among the delicious destinations gaining a reputation for hip as the town blossoms again on  the restaurant scene.The atmosphere is decidedly French, with lovely interiors, subtle lighting and signature French blue accents.  The wide bar is inviting and accommodates the casual diner as well as someone just stopping for a glass of wine or cup of excellent coffee.

    Cirque du Soleil at the Port of LA is providing a natural clientele for La Buvette, but the crowd is certain to linger even after the acrobats finish flinging themselves about. The wine list is superb, highlighting the French offerings, but the California wines are well chosen. The early summer in Provence calls for the light and dry rosés of the region, served chilled, a wonderful companion to the appetizer “Maman Compagnon.”  This savory tart is made with a family recipe, using locally grown tomatoes, Gruèyre cheese and Dijon mustard.

    Locally grown is not a joke — the splendid mesclun salad is produced from Green Girl Farms, the charming organic ranchito at 14th and Mesa.  Traditional charcuterie plate has cheeses comte, bleu d’Auvergne and brie with coppa, sopressata and  cevapcici from A-1 Deli for the local touch.  Old World favorite onion soup is made with Madeira and molten with Gruyere, a real taste of France.

    The halibut tartare is the most sophisticated dish on the menu at La Buvette, which is  probably the only place to eat this fish in the area. Local wild caught ikejime halibut is specially prepared from the instant it is caught.  As soon as the fish is landed, it is killed and bled to preserve it in its best possible form, then iced and delivered to the chef immediately. This results in a wonderful dish, served  crudo with avocado mousse, cucumber and microgreens and herbs. This dish alone is ample reason to become a regular at La Buvette.

    Of course, the pomme frites are another excuse to drop by.  The mussels and frites are a massive pile of mussels cooked with white wine, garlic and herbs. The pomme frites are the best real French French fries ever!

    The traditional technique fries the potatoes twice, to ensure a steamy inside and crispy outside. The steak frites, a classic executed perfectly. La Buvette is the place for the fantasy French bistro meal; steak frites, glass of red wine and the film star of your choice, perhaps Bardot or Depardieu?

    Gascony style duck with bleu cheese polenta and figs will fascinate even the jaded diner, full of flavor and interesting contrast, with greens from Green Girl Farms for crunch. Beef bourguignon is the time-honored French comfort food, deeply braised with red wine, tender beef in velvety sauce, just the thing for a cool evening. The fish of the day is always subject to the whims of the sea, using the freshest variety available that day.

    Desserts are interesting to contemplate. The classic crème brûleé is beautiful, not too sweet, crowned with amber burnt sugar, made by an angel.  Chocolate ganache tart is dark chocolate, smooth and sweet with nutty crust, perfect to share. The ‘lemon cloud’  is a mystery. Big chunks of roasted beet in a dish with lemon curd and some “crumble.”  Sorry, this was neither attractive nor tasty.

    La Buvette is a new jewel in the crown of lower 7th Street. It’s part of a lineup that features cherished local Whale & Ale Pub and new favorite Mediterranean restaurant Sebastian’s, and frankly deserves better than the view of the half-pint liquor store and the Shipscaler’s local. Perhaps some potted street trees or festive landscaping would be more inviting, as well as some true sidewalk dining during the day.

    Friendly security and designated parking might ease the pain of West Los Angeles prices in downtown Pedro. Dinner reservations are advised, especially for weekends.

    Editor’s note: Roasted half chicken with potato purée and demi and New York steak were just added to the menu.

    Details: 424-342-9840; www.labuvettebistro.com

    Location: 335 W. 7th St., San Pedro

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  • Pacifica On Air Townhall on Will Impeachment Re-Elect Trump?

    • 06/05/2019
    • Reporters Desk
    • Feature
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    The chance of Impeachment hearings of Trump are great. But will this help or hurt Trump? The divisions on this are great. Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable President and Hutchinson Report Host Earl Ofari Hutchinson will  conduct an on air town hall on the issue of: Will impeachment re-elect Trump. Listeners and voters will respond to this issue.

    Invited guests are Maxine Waters, John Dean and Lowell Weicker.

    The townhall will air Saturday June 8, 2019, on KPFK-Pacifica radio 90.7 FM, 9:00 AM PST Noon EST, streamed at kpfk.org. Facebook livestreamed at https://www.facebook.com/ hutchinsonreport

    “Impeachment could make or break either the Democrats or Trump,” says Hutchinson,” The nation is deeply divided on this issue. The on-air town hall will give listeners and voters their opportunity to publicly weigh in on the most compelling issue of the day.”

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  • Ginsburg’s Reasoning of Why Reproduction is a Woman’s Right

    Excerpted from My Own Words: Ruth Bader Ginsburg by contributors Mary Hartnett and Wendy Williams

    Note: Shortly before the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision made abortion legal in 1973, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, now a much-admired Supreme Court justice but then a crusading young lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, was involved in a different kind of abortion case. In Struck v. Secretary of Defense, the American military was attempting to force a female service member to have an abortion or leave the service. Ginsberg, representing the plaintiff, argued that violating a woman’s reproductive rights violated equal protection and due process and amounted to sex discrimination. She has discussed the case before the Senate Judiciary Committee, in a 2008 law lecture and a 2016 book.  — Lyn Jensen

    At her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1993, Ruth Bader Ginsburg testified that she “first thought long and hard” about abortion rights in the early 1970s, when she was a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union and took on Struck v. Secretary of Defense. That case was on the Supreme Court’s calendar during the same term Roe v. Wade was decided, although the court never actually heard it.

    Susan Struck, the plaintiff, was an Air Force captain who became pregnant while serving in Vietnam she sued the Air Force after it said she would have to either get an abortion or leave the Air Force. She told the Air Force that she didn’t want to get an abortion. She wanted to take some vacation days she had saved up and use them to  cover the time she needed to give birth, and then put the baby up for adoption because abortion violated her Roman Catholic faith.

    Here’s how Ginsburg explained her approach — that sex discrimination includes discrimination because of pregnancy — to the Senate Judiciary Committee:

    First, that the applicable Air Force regulations — if you are pregnant you are out unless you have an abortion — violated the equal protection principle, for no man was ordered out of service because he had been the partner in a conception, no man was ordered out of service because he was about to become a father.

    Next, then we said that the Government is impeding, without cause, a woman’s choice whether to bear or not to bear a child. Birth was Captain Struck’s personal choice, and the interference with it was a violation of her liberty, her freedom to choose, guaranteed by the due process clause.

    Finally, we said the Air Force was involved in an unnecessary interference with Captain Struck’s religious belief.

    So all three strands were involved in Captain Struck’s case. The main emphasis was on her equality as a woman vis-à-vis a man who was equally responsible for the conception, and on her personal choice, which the Government said she could not have unless she gave up her career in the service.

    In that case, all three strands were involved: her equality right, her right to decide for herself whether she was going to bear the child, and her religious belief. So it was never an either/or matter, one rather than the other. It was always recognition that one thing that conspicuously distinguishes women from men is that only women become pregnant; and if you subject a woman to disadvantageous treatment on the basis of her pregnant status, which was what was happening to Captain Struck, you would be denying her equal treatment under the law…

    The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity. It is a decision she must make for herself. When Government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices

    Struck lost in the lower courts but on Oct. 24, 1972, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. That never happened, however, because the Air Force waived Struck’s discharge and allowed her to remain in the service before that date rolled around. The Roe decision came out three months later.

    Ginsburg gave her account to law students in a summer program in July 2008, according to the 2016 edited collection of her remarks and writings My Own Words, in which she explained solicitor general Erwin Griswold had recommended that course of action for the Air Force because he thought the government could potentially lose the case.

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  • Newsom’s Budget Fine-Tunes a Balancing Act

    • 06/04/2019
    • Paul Rosenberg
    • News
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    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

    With his “May Revise,” Gov. Gavin Newsome doubled down on two contrasting features of his initial budget proposal unveiled in January: the fiscal caution he shares with his predecessor, Jerry Brown, on the one hand and his commitment to significant policy shifts—most notably on housing and homelessness, family policy, and healthcare—on the other.

    Newsom also devoted considerable attention to fine-tuning specifics—such as reallocating $500 million in local incentive funds for housing production to the Infill Infrastructure Grant Program administered by the Department of Housing and Community Development, supporting the development of higher-density and mixed-income housing in infill locations. The aim is to address multiple needs simultaneously in a synergistic manner—getting more bang for the buck as a result. An added $10 million to support college students who are homeless or housing insecure is another example of this approach.

    The revised budget has grown to $213.5 billion from $209 billion in January, but in the spirit of fiscal caution, Newsom said most of the increased revenues are already constitutionally obligated—either to reserves and debt repayment, or to schools.

    Newsom is devoting another $1.2 billion dollars to rainy day reserve funds, while also paying off the remainder of budgetary debts and deferrals left over from the Great Recession. This comes in the face of Newsom’s budget staff projections that a modest recession could cost the state $70 billion over three years.

    “We have a record amount of rainy day reserves and a record amount of resiliency. We have well over $30 billion-plus to weather a major storm and I would argue we have much more than that,” Newsom said.

    On the other hand,  Newsom has increased funding for a range of homeless initiatives—most notably, adding $150 million to the $500 million previously devoted to local governments for emergency aid — for a total that’s now $1 billion higher than Brown’s last budget. He’s accelerated his push to expand paid family leave toward an eventual target of six months, and he’s introduced a “Parents Agenda” family policy package — a sales tax and use exemption for diapers and menstrual products, increased child care and an increase in state Earned Income Tax Credit for children younger than the age of 6 — which he rolled out in advance of the budget.

    “The cost crisis is the foundational economic and quality of life challenge that California families face,” Newsom said at the time. “As anyone who takes care of kids can tell you — these costs add up. From diapers to child care, raising kids is expensive wherever you live. But when you factor in the cost of living here in California, it is close to impossible.”

    When he unveiled his budget, Newsom spelled out how he saw the connection between the two contrasting aspects of Brown-like caution and his policy initiatives — especially regarding families.

    “We’ve got dozens and dozens of [billions in] reserves, Newsom said. “We’ve got [rainy day reserve] accounts that have never been flush. We are in a very different place [than before the last recession], but it’s not good enough. I hope I’m back next year saying we’re going to get another 10-ish billion dollars into those reserves and then I feel like we can weather that $70 billion storm and be in a place where we’re not cutting programs that disproportionately impact women and children.”

    On healthcare and family policy, in particular, Newsom’s stated goals are transformational,  including the goal of universal healthcare, while his means are incrementalist.  California’s current state provision—six weeks—is something, but far below the international average. Newsom’s goal of six months, announced in his January budget message, would at least make us respectable. But it’s an incrementalist path forward all the way.

    Still, Newsom is making progress. The May Revise would extend paid leave to eight weeks, effective July 1, 2020, and it affirms a plan to convene a task force in the near future, to develop recommendations on how to expand the program. Those recommendations would be due in November, with an eye toward including them in the 2020-21 budget.

    There was also a $54.2 million investment in CalWORKs Stage 1 child care funding, to allow uninterrupted child care for eligible children, a new allocation of $80.5 million in Proposition 64 revenue to child care and a doubling of the proposed tax credit for families with children younger than the age of 6, from $500—when it was introduced in January—to $1,000 now.

    Both houses of the state legislature are working on their versions of the budget, with some pushing for more spending of the surplus that’s now on hand. The deadline for passing the budget is June 15. Whatever the final results may be, the overall tone set by Newsom seems almost certain to prevail.

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  • Bill Restricting Oil Drilling Makes Progress

    • 06/04/2019
    • RL Intern
    • News
    • Comments are off

    By Hunter Chase, Editorial Intern

    Permissible place to drill for oil and gas in California will face additional and severe restrictions if Gov. Gavin Newsom signs Assembly Bill 345 into law.

    The bill, introduced by Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, was recently postponed until next year by the Appropriations Committee so that legislators can improve the language of the bill, said Alvaro Casanova, the senior policy advocate for the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment. The bill passed 7 – 3 in the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources in April. If the bill becomes law, it would prohibit  future drilling projects in California within 2,500 feet of residences, schools, hospitals and playgrounds.

    Several weeks prior to the committee vote, Muratsuchi predicted the bill would receive stiff opposition, not just from oil companies, but from unions afraid of job losses.

    “I want to make sure that we are protecting children and families, while at the same time protecting good union jobs.” Muratsuchi said.

    He said large oil companies are the most well-funded special interest in Sacramento and spend the most money on lobbying.

    The California Chamber of Commerce called Muratsuchi’s bill a job killer on its CAJobKiller.com website.

    On AB 345, the chamber said it would eliminate thousands of high-paying California jobs and require California to import even more foreign oil by banning new oil and gas development, re-drilling operations and rework operations.

    Casanova said advocates for the bill, including himself, did not have as much money to advocate for the bill as the oil companies. Despite this, Casanova was optimistic the bill would reach the governor’s desk.

    Casanova said the bill will protect communities already overburdened by air pollution, specifically in Los Angeles County and Kern County.

    Casanova said the claim the bill would shut down oil production in the state of California is outlandish.

    “They can continue to access and drill for oil,” Casanova said.

    The only difference is they cannot create new drills close to communities. The bill focuses on new oil wells, not current ones.

    “There’s no existing jobs that are in danger,” said Sherry Lear, co-organizer of 350 South Bay Los Angeles, a climate action group fighting for swift transition to a 100 percent renewable energy future.

    She said that looking after a specific well is not a full-time job. They are simply monitored.

    The environmental improvement that the bill would bring outweigh any economic downside, Lear said.

    The bill also prevents abandoned or plugged oil wells from being reused if they are within 2,500 feet of a residence, school or hospital.

    “Two-thousand-five-hundred feet is the recommended minimum for health and safety,” Lear said.

    “It’s very important for the community,” said Sally Hayati, director of Ban Toxic MHF, and former director of Torrance Refinery Action Alliance. “It’s a very, very necessary bill.”

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  • Carson Moves to Avoid Voting Rights Lawsuit

    • 06/04/2019
    • Lyn Jensen
    • News
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    By Lyn Jensen, Carson Reporter

    Carson is considering a switch from citywide elections to selection by geographic districts, but the initial response from residents was not positive. No one spoke in favor of the change during a public hearing at the May 21 city council meeting, but several residents opined against a system of by-district elections.

    The loudest advocate for council districts was the year-old echo of attorney Kevin Shenkman, who threatened legal action for what he claims are violations of the California Voting Rights Act this past May. Shenkman has a history of suing cities and school boards on such grounds.

    Public hearings regarding a by-district system for council elections are also scheduled for June 13 and June 18. After draft maps are drawn, at least two more public hearings are required, probably in late summer or early fall. An ordinance could be introduced in September, which would have to be submitted to voters, perhaps in November.

    Since Carson is now a charter city, a move to council districts and by-district elections will require a charter amendment, which would also need to be submitted to voters, possibly in March 2020.

    At the May 21 meeting, several residents spoke against changing to districts. None spoke in favor.

    “We do have representation on the council,” said Faith Walton.

    Robert Lesley compared the city’s actions regarding districts to the rush to become a charter city this past year. He recalled how a charter committee was formed to have input on creating a charter but he alleged the committee did not have any input on the charter in its final form.

    Bill Koons said districts had pros and cons, and they would require council members to live in their district, and district elections could increase voter turnout at less cost. At the same time he warned districts could be gerrymandered to ensure certain persons got elected, and council members might consider “their own needs” over the needs of the city at large.

    Last May, Carson received a letter from Shenkman which read, “voting within Carson is racially polarized, resulting in minority-vote dilution” and claimed he was representing Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, a Latino voter participation organization.

    Shenkman’s letter concluded, “Given the historical lack of Latino representation on the Carson City Council” that the council “voluntarily” change its at-large elections system or “we will be forced to seek judicial relief.”

    Several cities have challenged Shenkman in court but none has been successful. Some have simply changed to districts rather than go to court after receiving one of his threatening letters.

    As an example of alleged infringement of Latino voting rights, Shenkman claimed in 2016 Raul Murga was the “only Latino candidate” for council, and he lost.

    In fact there was another candidate with a Spanish surname, Ramona Pimentel, a planning commissioner. She also lost.

    Another example Shenkman asserts is, that in June 2015, Jesus-Alex Cainglet lost for council “despite garnering significant support from the local Latino community.” It does not cite any evidence for this assertion. Cainglet is Filipino-American, so Shenkman appears to not distinguish between the Latino and Filipino-American communities.

    Neither does the letter mention Elito Santarina, who is Filipino-American with a Spanish surname and who served on the council, 2003-2018.

    In a third allegation, Shenkman claimed that in March 2015 council candidates Margaret Hernandez and Elisa Gonzalez did not win despite “significant support from the Latino community.” Actually the two women’s vote total combined amounted to barely more than five percent. At the same time Santarina won.

    One of Pimentel’s mailers during the 2016 election complained about lack of “geographic diversity” on the council.

    During the 2018 election season Pimentel ran again and lost again. One of her mailers in that campaign blared, “Should Carson Switch to District Elections Like Everybody Else?” It added: “Carson has been threatened with a lawsuit which would cost the city millions unless districts are created to allow fair representation of all residents” and “Nearly 40 different people have been elected in Carson, but only two have ever lived in the South of Carson.”

    The mailer didn’t define “South of Carson.” Former council members Santarina, Vera Robles DeWitt, John Calas and Kay Calas all lived or live south of the 405 freeway. So does current council member Jim Dear.

    As for the other current council members, Mayor Albert Robles claims he lives in his parents’ Carson home south of the 405 freeway, but a Los Angeles Times investigation uncovered evidence that he may live in Los Angeles.

    Lula Davis-Holmes, Cedric Hicks and Jawane Hilton — all African-American —live within a few miles of each other, north of the 405 freeway.

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  • Elyse Mirto and David Nevell. Photo by Tracey Roman

    “The Price” Is On-the-Nose Traditionalism (for Better or Worse)

    Has Arthur Miller’s time come and gone? Sometimes I think so. I couldn’t agree more with New Yorker reviewer Giles Harvey’s assessment of Death of a Salesman as “a heartbreaking work of staggering mediocrity” (and that was in response to a staging directed by Mike Nichols and starring Philip Seymour Hoffman). But a couple of years ago I saw A View from the Bridge and thought: Well, maybe he still has something for us.

    The Price, though, has my pendulum swinging back in the other direction, if for no other reason than for how dated the writing feels. It’s not simply that this story of estranged brothers finally confronting their collective history takes place in a bygone era, it’s that Miller himself seems straitened by the stiffest of dramatic conventions. Combined with International City Theatre’s traditionalist delivery, despite being written and set in 1968, The Price feels like a relic from the World War II era.

    Bo Foxworth, Elyse Mirto David Nevell and Tony Abatemarco Photo by Tracey Roman

    Bo Foxworth, Elyse Mirto
    David Nevell and Tony Abatemarco
    Photo by Tracey Roman

    Victor (David Nevell) and his wife Esther (Elyse) have come to his deceased father’s home finally to sell off the family estate. After 16 years estrangement, his older brother Walter (Bo Foxworth) shows up, and, in the process of bargaining with an old furniture dealer (Gregory Solomon), they review their mutually unsatisfying lives, wrestling with recriminations and resentments buried but unforgotten.

    If that sounds static and talky, well, it is. The entire play takes place in one room, with Miller slowly walking his characters from revelation to revelation, building toward a climax that isn’t a bit surprising and peppering us with heavy-handed metaphors. “When it comes to used furniture,” the dealer says multiple times, “you can’t be emotional.” See, he’s talking about more than just old furniture. And the price isn’t just about what money they’ll get for the estate, you know?

    That’s Miller all over. He never met a nail he didn’t keep hammering even after it was deeply embedded in the board. If he weren’t so sententious, if there were just a little subtlety, all this would go down a lot better, because it’s not like The Price is without substance. Far from it. But it’s so full of itself on that score that it’s difficult to see people onstage rather than merely Miller’s mouthpieces.

    This is where director John Henry Davis and his cast might have helped Miller along. Played with the roughness of real conversation, they might have diverted our attention from the artificiality of the dialog. Instead, they highlight it with canned New York accents (Foxworth is the exception) and never letting the feel of real conversation mix into their line readings.

    But you can’t fault the cast for their preparation. The Price is a long play, with each character responsible for a good bit of speechifying, and all of the actors know their stuff backwards and forwards. If you like this acting style, they’re rather good, but to me they seem too well rehearsed. I’d love to have a scene where something goes off the rails, because forcing them to react to the unexpected might have injected the show with a bit more life. Not that they lack energy. The play’s arc is premised on the smoldering resentment between the brothers being kindled into an inferno, and Nevell and Foxworth are equal to the task.

    There is no American playwright more celebrated than Arthur Miller. But our enjoyment of art has nothing to do with any supposedly objective measure of how good it is. One of the biggest laughs at the performance I saw (this isn’t a funny play, but there’s a bit of humor) was in response to Victor’s complaint about how expensive movie tickets have gotten. See, he paid $2.50, which is a lot less than we pay today, and this fact had a good part of the house howling. It was not a funny line, not intended to be funny, not acted as if it were funny, but a lot of people love what is familiar to them.

    This may be the appeal of The Price. It’s is a head-on take on a barrel of issues that will be familiar to mostfestering family wounds, coming to terms with the past, midlife discontent, wistfulness about the road not taken. It’s too on-the-nose for me, but no-one is in danger of missing the point. And with International City Theatre delivering Miller’s message with the most familiar of theatrical styles, you won’t be challenged by this show and maybe that’s the way you like it.

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  • Trump Companies Accused of Tax Evasion in Panama

    • 06/03/2019
    • Reporters Desk
    • Trump Watch
    • Comments are off

    By Heather Vogell

    The owners of a 70-story Panama City hotel tower formerly managed by President Donald Trump’s companies are accusing them of stiffing the Panamanian government.

    In a legal filing Monday in an ongoing lawsuit in Manhattan federal court, private equity manager Orestes Fintiklis and the company he leads, Ithaca Capital Partners, claimed that two Trump companies failed to pay Panamanian taxes equal to 12.5% of the management fees they drew from the hotel.

    The Trump entities were allegedly supposed to withhold those fees in advance and pay them to the government regardless of whether the property was profitable or not. Instead, the Trump companies simply kept the money, the suit claims, “thus intentionally evading taxes.” That and other financial irregularities exposed Fintiklis and the companies he represents “to millions of dollars in liability,” according to the suit, which also claims Trump companies sought to cover up their actions. The filing does not say whether a tax penalty has been levied by Panamanian authorities.

    Fintiklis declined to comment.

    The Trump Organization did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In prior legal pleadings, the Trump entities have denied wrongdoing. The Trump Organization also countersued last year, accusing Fintiklis and Ithaca of a “fraudulent scheme” that breached Trump’s 20-year management contract.

    The dust-up is the latest fallout from Trump’s foreign business entanglements. Trump projects in Canada, Mexico, India, Azerbaijan and elsewhere have also come under scrutiny. And he has spent nearly his entire presidential tenure seeking to dismiss or downplay his dealings with Russians related to a plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. His former lawyer Michael Cohen is serving a prison term in part for lying to investigators about that project.

    In recent years, Trump has typically licensed his name to other players — selling the right to put his name on the building but not investing his own money. He often also seeks to manage the building once it’s built. Like many other projects, the Panama development is a hotel-condo arrangement, where buyers purchase hotel rooms that are then rented out by the management company.

    Ithaca Capital’s suit, filed originally in January last year and amended Monday, is seeking at least $17 million in damages, alleging that Trump companies mismanaged the hotel and let it fall into disrepair. The suit claimed that the hotel sat “virtually empty,” with portions going uncleaned for years.

    Led by Cypriot businessman Fintiklis, Ithaca Capital bought 202 of the 369 hotel-condo units at what was then called the Trump Ocean Club in 2017. The next year, Ithaca evicted Trump Organization employees from the sail-shaped waterfront structure, which also houses a casino and shops. Trump employees and security personnel tried to block the effort, resulting in shoving matches that attracted international headlines.

    Trump’s company tried unsuccessfully to convince Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela to intervene on Trump’s behalf. When Fintiklis’ group eventually took control, it found walls had been hastily built to obstruct access to certain areas — one was in the middle of a hallway, another in front of an elevator bank — including inner offices. Trump employees also shredded hotel documents, Fintiklis’ group alleged.

    Trump’s name was scraped from a stone wall in front of the tower, which is now the JW Marriott Panama. It was one of several properties that have removed Trump’s name in recent years.

    In its complaint, Ithaca Capital also claims Trump’s son Eric and employees misled Ithaca when it was performing due diligence before buying into the hotel. The claims echo similar complaints made in other projects involving Trump businesses. ProPublica in October detailed how Trump and his children engaged in deceptive practices — including in Panama — while promoting at least a dozen development projects in the U.S. and abroad.

    At an August 2016 meeting, Eric Trump allegedly told Fintiklis and two other Ithaca board members that the hotel was outperforming the market in Panama, a claim the suit asserts was false. After the meeting, Trump companies sent Ithaca two brochures that reiterated his statements about the hotel “maintaining a leading market share” in Panama.

    Trump representatives repeated the statements to Ithaca in early 2017, the new legal filings say. At a February 2017 Trump Tower meeting that included Donald Trump Jr., Trump employees again said the hotel was outperforming the market. Ithaca Capital leaders relied on these statements when deciding to make the purchase, the suit said, adding that “these representations were false and designed to mislead Ithaca into believing that the Hotel was performing better than its peers.”

    The suit said the false representations were made to other owners, too. In a December 2017 letter to hotel owners other than Ithaca, it said, Eric Trump wrote, “Over the last three years, the hotel has outperformed the market by a wide margin — as much as 20 percent — by virtually every measure.”

    Trump companies also “artificially deflated” the hotel’s expenses and underreported Trump’s management fees in financial statements presented to Ithaca, the suit alleged, leading the hotel to appear to be in a better financial position than it was.

    The suit alleged other improper financial behavior, saying that instead of making the necessary distributions to hotel room owners, “Trump hoarded their cash.” It said Trump companies failed to make appropriate financial disclosures and drained reserve accounts to pay operational costs, “all the while Trump lined its pockets with ill-gotten management fees.”

    The suit said Ithaca wouldn’t have bought the hotel if it had known about the tax and social security problems and other financial irregularities.

    An earlier suit filed by Trump Ocean Club condo owners also objected to the Trumps’ management practices. The plaintiffs accused Trump employees of overspending and taking excessive bonuses, as well as mishandling the building’s finances. Owners said they saw a steep increase in fees. Trump responded by suing those owners, too, demanding $75 million for wrongful termination. That litigation was settled in 2016.

    Originally published propublica.org/article/trump-companies-accused-tax-evasion-panama

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