Archive for the ‘California’ Category

Against the “Don’t Vote” Argument

November 8, 2014

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Over the past few days, I have read a number of articles that have posited various reasons for why the last election turned out the way it did: low turnout, Republican gerrymandering, the weak economy, the stupidity of the Democrats, etc. I think there is some truth to all of these arguments. What I would like to address here, though, is an argument that some of my leftist friends made, which is that we shouldn’t vote. I can understand why people would feel this way, since our political system is such a scam. Yet I think the argument is seriously lacking in some ways.

In the last election, Oregon, Alaska, and D.C. all voted to legalize marijuana. Massachusetts passed a paid sick days law. Denton, Texas, outlawed fracking. Here in California, voters passed Proposition 47, which reduces many non-violent crimes, including drug possession, from felonies to misdemeanors. This is a major blow against what the late Alexander Cockburn called “the prosecutorial state” – in other words the warehousing of human beings who committed petty crimes. This vote indicates there has been a huge shift in consciousness since the 1990’s, when Californians passed the god-awful “Three Strikes” law, which resulted in people being sentenced for life for such trivial offenses as stealing a slice of pizza. People are beginning to realize that mass incarceration is not only not the solution to our society’s problems, but it actually makes them worse.

Should you vote? I would argue it depends on the circumstances and what’s on the ballot. Yes, we have a terrible political system, but we should take advantage of what little room to maneuver that we have.

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Carving Up the Golden State

July 17, 2014

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Every few years, somebody comes up with a proposal to break up California into smaller states. (Usually, by some conservative who thinks the state government is “too liberal”). These proposals have always never gone anywhere, no doubt because most Californians are pretty much satisfied with the state the way it is. Now, however, a Silicon Valley billionaire named Tim Draper says he has collected more than enough signatures to put on the ballot a plan to divide up California into six states.

Draper has given these proposed states such imaginative names as “Central California”, “South California”, “West California”, and “North California”. Another state will be called “Silicon Valley”. (That’s right, it will be named after a branding gimmick.) And another state will be named “Jefferson” (after a slave owner who never set foot in California). According to SF Gate: “…Draper spent $1.3 million and hired the signature-gathering firm Arno Political Consultants, which paid collectors as much as $3 per signature.” Draper claims that California as currently exists is “ungovernable”. (If California were truly ungovernable, it would resemble Somalia.) In fact, if this plan were put into effect, it would be a bureaucratic nightmare. Among other things, responsibility for the state’s enormous water system would have to be divided up between six different governments. (Just think of the potential for lawsuits here.)

I once had a job verifying signatures for a company that did ballot petitions. I was struck by the huge number of redundant signatures I would find. Certain people would sign the same petitions over and over again. This suggested to me that these people weren’t really paying that close attention to what they were signing. This confirmed to me a suspicion I had always had: you can put almost anything on the ballot if you’re willing to spend enough money and hire enough collectors. “Direct democracy”, the rationale behind having ballot initiatives, is a highly problematic concept in a society in which there is an enormous disparity in wealth.

Even if this initiative passes, the plan would have to be approved by Congress, which is not likely to happen. However, this provides us with an illuminating example of how a billionaire can wast people’s time.

From El Paso to Auschwitz

July 6, 2014

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On July 1, protesters in Murrieta, California blocked buses carrying Central American immigrants, many of them children, from overcrowded Border Patrol facilities in Texas to a facility in that town. According to CNN, the protesters chanted “Go back home!” and “USA” at the buses.

On June 29, the “alternative medicine” website, Natural News, carried an article by Mike Adams (aka “The Health Ranger”) entitled Unloading disease-carrying immigrants in large U.S. cities a ‘perfect storm’ for pandemic disease outbreak. I will spare you any quotes; the title says it all.

Beginning in 1917, and extending through the 1920’s and 1930’s:

    Mexican visitors were forced to strip naked and subjected to ‘screening’ (for homosexuality, low IQ, physical deformities like ‘clubbed fingers’) and to ‘disinfection’ with various toxic fumigants, including gasoline, kerosene, sulfuric acid, DDT and, after 1929, Zyklon-B (hydrocyanic acid) – the same gas used in the Holocaust’s death camps.

    The ostensible reason for the US fumigation was the fear of a typhus epidemic. Yet in 1916, the year before such ‘baths’ were enforced, only two cases of typhus had occurred in the poorest El Paso slum.

In 1924, Hitler wrote:

    The American union itself… has established scientific criteria for immigration… making an immigrant’s ability to set foot on American soil dependent on specific racial requirements on the one hand as well as a certain level of physical health of the individual himself.

It never ceases to amaze me how the same old rubbish keeps getting recycled over and over again.

Annals of Unemployment, Part 5: Kafka’s Castle

June 6, 2014

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Last November I went to the Covered California website to look for health insurance on the exchange. I was told that I qualify for Medi-Cal, California’s version of Medicaid, under the new rules. I filled out the application on the website and submitted it. I was told that my application would be forwarded to the Department of Social Services. I waited a few weeks without hearing anything. I called my caseworker at DPSS and asked her about it. She said that the new rules didn’t go into effect until January 1, and I wouldn’t hear anything until then. So I waited. January 1 came and went. In the middle of January, I called my caseworker. She told me that they were still waiting for instructions from the federal government. Until then, they couldn’t do anything. I would just have to wait until I heard from them.

I waited a few weeks. I called my caseworker again, and she told me the same thing. In late February, I looked at the Covered California site again. It did not say that my application had been approved. I called my caseworker, but she was out of the office. So, I called the DPSS’s information line. I gave the operator my case number. He said that they had never received my Medi-Cal application. I told him that I had applied through the CC website. He told me I should try calling them. So I called Covered California. The person there told me that my application had been forwarded to the DPSS.

So I downloaded another application, printed it out, and filled it out by hand. I then put it in an envelope and wrote my case number and my caseworker’s name on the outside. I then went to my local DPSS office and put it in the mail slot. Several days later, I received a letter from my caseworker saying that she needed proof that I was receiving unemployment benefits, as well as a copy of my driver’s license. So I sent those to her. I waited a while, and then I called her. She said that my application was “pending” and that they would contact me when it was approved. I waited a couple of weeks and called her again. She said that my application was still pending. This went on through March, April, and most of May. A couple of weeks ago, I called my caseworker. A different woman answered the phone. She told me there was something in the computer system that was blocking my application from going through and that they were working on it. After I hung up, she called me back and said that she needed proof that I was receiving unemployment benefits. She gave me a fax number. I had already given this information, but I decided not to argue with her, so I faxed it to her. The next day she called and said that my application had been approved. She said that I would receive my Medi-Cal card within a week.

A week later I received a plastic card in the mail. On it was printed, “State of California Benefits Identification Card”. On the back, it said, “This card is for identification ONLY. It does not guarantee eligibility.” This didn’t sound encouraging to me. I called my caseworker. The woman I had talked to the week before answered the phone. When I asked her about the card I had received, she said that was my Medi-Cal card. When I asked her when would I receive instructions on how to use it, she said that I didn’t need instructions, I just had to show the card to my medical provider. When I asked her if I could get a list of physicians who accept Medi-Cal, she told me I would have to “research” that myself. She said they would eventually send me a list, but they couldn’t do it now.

Today, out of curiosity, I looked at my account on the DPSS website. It said that my Medi-Cal application had been DENIED. What the hell??? I immediately called my caseworker. This time, a third woman answered the phone. When I told her my case number, she said that my Medi-Cal application was still pending! When I asked why the website said that my application had been denied, she said she didn’t know. She said that my regular caseworker will be in tomorrow, and she will have her call me.

It is now June and I still don’t have the coverage that I was supposed to receive back in January. If I had become seriously ill during this time, I would have been screwed.

Yeah, Obamacare is a huge success, ain’t it?

Obamacare Walks Among Us

March 27, 2014

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Last November, I applied for Obamacare using the Covered California website. I was told that I qualified for Medicaid under the new rules of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Medicaid is a federal program. However, in keeping with our nation’s passion for inefficiency, it is administered through the states. In California, it’s called Medi-Cal. Every time I call the Los Angeles County Department of Social Services about my application, they tell me that my Medi-Cal is “pending”. They say this is because they are still waiting for instructions from the federal government. The new Medicaid rules became effective on January 1st of this year. It’s nearly the end of March, and the federal government still hasn’t told the states how to proceed with this.

Part of me is hoping that the federal government never does tell them what to do. What many people don’t know is that the state governments have the right to demand that people reimburse them for medical treatment that was paid for by Medicaid. The state can actually seize a person’s assets to do this. Cute, huh? And you thought that Medicaid was a social safety net.

I’ve been told that in California, where I currently live, the state waits until after somebody dies before seizing any of his assets. (Sort of like having your pockets picked by an undertaker.) Apparently, in some states they don’t necessarily wait until you’re dead before they seize your assets. The sign-up site for Medicaid in New York contains this clause:

    I understand that once I get Medicaid coverage, if I am over 55 or if I am in a medical institution and not expected to return home, the Medicaid program may do the following in order to pay for my medical care:
    Take money I already have or that is owned [sic] to me.
    Take money that was made from selling certain things I own
    Take money from people who were legally responsible for me when
    I got benefits.

Nice, huh? Things may be different here in the Golden State, but who knows, our notoriously cash-strapped state government may decide to change the rules at some point.

Because I qualify for Medicaid, I am automatically blocked from applying for subsidized insurance on the exchange. I have been told, however, that I can purchase private insurance at full price. (If I could afford to do that, I wouldn’t have qualified for Medicaid, would I?) Now, here’s a really fun fact for you. Almost half the states have refused to accept the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid. If you qualify for Medicaid and you happen to live in one of these states, you are doubly screwed: not only do you not get Medicaid, but you can’t purchase subsidized insurance precisely because you qualify for the Medicaid that you can’t get. What a brilliant piece of legislation the ACA is! At this point, one has to wonder whether the ACA will significantly reduce the number of uninsured people in this country.

Single Payer is the only rational and humane solution to our country’s health care problems. It is time for us all to admit this.

Hotel California

July 8, 2013

California Prisons

California’s prison system is a disgrace. Today, prisoners at the Pelican Bay prison are going on a hunger strike to protest the fact that they have been in solitary confinement for years, and in some cases, for decades. At almost the same time, there have been revelations that between 2006 and 2010, the prison system sterilized almost 150 women:

    Crystal Nguyen, a former Valley State Prison inmate who worked in the prison’s infirmary during 2007, said she often overheard medical staff asking inmates who had served multiple prison terms to agree to be sterilized.

    “I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s not right,’ ” Nguyen, 28, said. “Do they think they’re animals, and they don’t want them to breed anymore?”

Eugenics is alive and well in the Golden State. Ah, but that is not the only problem. Gov. Jerry Brown has indicated that he will not comply with a court order that he reduce overcrowding in the state’s prisons, which are currently at 200% of their capacity. The courts have ordered the governor to reduce the prison population so that the prisons are at 137.5% capacity. That is, they are merely asking the state to make the prisons a little less overcrowded. Yet even that is too much for Gov. Brown, who wants to appeal the case to the Supreme Court a second time, even though the high court has already ruled that the state must comply with the lower court’s ruling.

Oh, and California is considered a “liberal” state.

Crash

April 10, 2013

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I recently learned through the Internet that some people are still seething over the fact that the 2006 Best Picture Oscar went to Crash instead of Brokeback Mountain. (Crash also won for Best Original Screenplay that year.) I missed Crash when it came out, but since I wasn’t all that impressed by Brokeback Mountain, I was curious to know why people though it was better than Crash, so I recently watched the latter film.

Crash is set in current day Los Angeles, and it tells the intertwined stories of a group of characters. These include: a black police detective, a Latina police detective, a racist white cop and his partner, a white district attorney and his wife, a black TV director and his wife, a Mexican locksmith and his daughter, an Iranian shopkeeper and his daughther, an Asian man involved in human trafficking, a black health care worker, and two black carjackers, one of whom spouts black nationalist rhetoric. The racial or ethnic identities of these characters are important, because this film is about the problem of racism.

This film is essentially a series of improbable coincidences that take place over a period of forty-eight hours. To take the most egregious example, the racist white cop and his partner pull over the black TV director and his wife as the latter are driving home. During the stop, the white racist cop sexually molests the wife. The next day, the racist white cop arrives at the scene of an accident. A woman is trapped in an overturned car. The racist white cop goes to rescue her, and – you guessed it – the woman turns out to be the same woman he molested the night before. What makes this scene offensive is that it seems to imply that being a racist and sexist pig doesn’t necessarily make you a bed person.

Coincidences do happen, but when a film presents us with one coincidence after another, it strains credulity. Furthermore, it’s lazy writing. Writers usually only resort to coincidences when they need to find some way to move the story along.

Another problem with this film is ham-handedness. Almost every conversation in it involves race in some way. When, for example, the Latina detective and the black detective have an argument after having had sex, she accuses him of having stereotyped ideas about Hispanics. In the world of Crash, people can’t even have a lovers’ quarrel without prejudice becoming the issue. Yes, racism is a problem in our society, but that doesn’t mean that people talk about it twenty-four hours a day.

There is also a problem of basic honesty. The black detective and the Latina detective are assigned to investigate an incident in which a white cop shot a black cop. The white cop claims that he acted in self-defense. Although it is unclear as to what exactly happened, the white district attorney pressures the black detective into filing a charge of murder against the white cop, because there is an election coming up and the district attorney wants to secure the black vote. Does anyone actually believe that this would happen in real life? District attorneys tend to be protective of the police, and (at least in L.A.) they don’t give a damn about the black vote. This part of the film is clearly inspired by an actual incident in which a white LAPD officer shot and killed a black LAPD officer. The white officer was acquitted of all wrong-doing.

Crash has a 75% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, meaning that most critics liked it. It appears that people overpraised Crash because it deals with the issue of racism, just as people overpraised Brokeback Mountain because it deals with the issue of homophobia. There’s an old saying among artists that “good intentions are not enough”. Someone need to explain this to critics.

Chinatown

March 23, 2013

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Chinatown, the 1974 film directed by Roman Polanski, from a screenplay by Robert Towne, tells the story of Jake Gttes (Jack Nicholson), a private investigator who mostly handles marital infidelity cases. One day, Evelyn Mulwray (Diane Ladd) shows up in his office and hires Gittes to find out whether her husband, Hollis Mulwray (Darrell Zwerling), who happens to be one of the most powerful men in the city of Los Angeles, has been cheating on her. Jake follows Mulwray and finds that he has been having an affair with another woman. When he tells Mrs. Mulwray, she gives the photos to the newspapers, causing a scandal. Then another woman shows up in his office and identifies herself as Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway). Shortly after this, Hollis Mulwray is found dead in a reservoir. Gittes becomes obsessed with trying to find out who used him and why.

Polanski and Towne were influenced by Raymond Chandler in their making of this film, although Gittes is a more cynical and less polished character than Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. And the film is actually bleaker than any of Chandler’s works. (Although, come to think of it, The Lady in the Lake is an extremely bleak novel.) The film benefits from Polanski’s intimate style of direction. He often has the camera follow people from room to room and from place to place. This has the effect of making one feel almost as if one were being physically drawn into the action. This contributes to the emotionally devastating effect of final scene.

The story of Chinatown was inspired by an actual series of events known as the California Water Wars. In the early decades of the twentieth century, the city of Los Angeles fought with local farmers for control of water in the Owens Valley. Los Angeles eventually managed to acquire the rights to all of the water in the valley, and Owens Lake was turned into a dust bowl. The character of Hollis Mulwray is loosely based on William Mulholland, a key player in the Water Wars. Mulholland, an Irishman, was a self-taught engineer. He was the superintendent of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. He deliberately underestimated the amount of water available to the city in order to whip up public support for the idea of building an aqueduct from the Owens Valley. Mulholland also falsely told the residents of Owens Valley the city would only take water for domestic use and not for commercial use. Mulholland conspired with Mayor Frederick Eaton to enrich themselves and their friends at the expense of the public.

Like many other American cities, Los Angeles was built through greed and corruption. Maybe this is a universal phenomenon. In Capitalism and Slavery, Eric Williams points out that many cities in Britain were built from the wealth generated by the slave trade. Much of the modern world has unsavory origins.

Manhunt

February 8, 2013

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The fortress that is the Los Angeles Police Department.

Police all over Southern California have been carrying out a manhunt for a former LAPD officer, Christopher Dorner, who has gone on a killing spree. As the New York Times tells it:

    The police across Southern California were on high alert in a dragnet that appeared to stun even a part of the country familiar with dramatic police hunts. Teams of police officers were dispatched overnight to guard uniformed officers and their families, tactical officers set up lines of defense outside the fortress that is the Los Angeles Police Department, and motorcycle officers were ordered to retreat to the safety of patrol cars.

“The fortress that is the Los Angeles Police Department”. Sounds impressive, no? And what happens when the denizens of this fortress swing into action? The Times immediately tells us:

    In Torrance, two women delivering newspapers were shot and wounded by police officers who mistook the vehicle they were driving for the one identified as belonging to the gunman.

So police officers opened fire on a vehicle without knowing who was inside it. I suppose it’s easy to mistake two women for one man. The LAPD expressed regret for the incident:

    In a press conference Thursday morning, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck confirmed that police shot innocent bystanders during the hunt for Dorner. He detailed the two victims’ gunshot wounds:

    “One has a minor gunshot wound and is in the process of being released. The second person is in stable condition, with two gunshot wounds,” said Chief Beck. “Tragically, we believe this was a case of mistaken identity by the officers.”

You think so, huh? And is it a tragedy because it was a case of mistaken identity, or is it a tragedy that they only believe this was a case of mistaken identity?

I suppose we shouldn’t be too outraged by this. After all, we have a president who draws up a weekly kill list and orders drone attacks without much concern for the legal or moral consequences. The LAPD are clearly in step with the twenty-first century.

Griffith Park

December 8, 2012

I don’t have much to say right now, so I decided to post some pictures I took during a recent walk through L.A.’s Griffith Park, my favorite park.

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A stature of Griffith J. Griffith, who donated the land that became the park. Griffith was a Welsh immigrant. (Only a Welshman would have the same first and last name.) Griffith served as an officer in the Union Army during the Civil War. Although Griffith was a generous philanthropist, he was not a good person. He once shot his wife, severely injuring her.

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A miniature railway line. I remember riding on this when I was a kid.

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The engineer (standing to the right) was a very nice person. He waited for me while I went to get a ticket. (It was the last ride of the day.) I wonder how you get a job like this.

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Many old Westerns and science fiction B-movies were shot in Griffith Park, which perhaps explains why I always get a feeling of deja vu when I come here.

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The Verdugo Mountains

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Which way did they go?

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Downtown Los Angeles at sunset.

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From the top of Mount Hollywood looking towards the Sand Fernando Vally.

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Starting back down from the top.

On the way down, I saw a coyote. (Alas, it was too dark to photograph him.) He and I looked at each other for about thiry seconds, then he trotted away.

I came out of the park a few miles from where I entered. I had a long walk home, but it was worth it.