Archives for category: California

US govt student loans

The Regents of the University of California have made a ruling to increase tuition  on their campuses another 5% per year over the next five years compounding to a total of 27%.  This passed in spite of protests by students and impassioned pleas against it, one most notably, from Governor Jerry Brown.

Governor Brown went so far as promising a 5% increase per year in funding if the current tuition freeze were to remain in effect. Apparently, this was not enough for Janet Napolitano, the UC President.

The controversies surrounding the rate hike are myriad.

“Two months ago, the UC regents gave pay hikes of up to 20% to the leaders of the Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Merced and Riverside campuses and awarded the new Irvine chancellor 24% more than his predecessor. We’re talking salaries ranging from $383,000 to $485,000, plus perks” LA Times

The article also explains:

“So UC undergraduate tuition today is more than eight times what it was 25 years ago, at $12,192. Tack on campus fees, books, room, board and other stuff and you’re up to $33,000 a year.”

California once had the best fees in the nation for State operated institutions.  According to the New York Times article, they are already above the National average.  The increase will put them even further afield from other States.

Napolitano’s promises for the money include additional courses, more financial aid and staff increases.  These may give way to another more urgent budgetary issue:

“.. UC officials say the system also needs the money to help rescue its pension fund – neglected for two decades and facing $7.2 billion in unfunded liabilities – and to cover the growing cost of retiree health benefits.” Sac Bee

A new wrinkle has also come forward, thanks to President Obama’s new Immigration Order. Napolitano has offered to fund expanded legal services  to its undocumented students. At the same time, legal citizens are being forced to up the ante for their education.

The most disconcerting fact surrounding the UC tuition rate hikes is the fact that the State of California   is predicting budget surpluses in the amount of $5.6 billion for the 2014-15 fiscal year with projections of annual increases to over $10billion by 2017-18.  It appears that a reevaluation of budget priorities are in order.

The outcome of this will be students graduating with an even greater debt than they already have .  Loans which the U.S. government   continues to make money on by the fistfuls.

If California ever expects to climb its way back up in the rankings of states, it needs to give its future a chance with a quality, affordable education for its citizens.

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88364182 justice

California voters have spoken. In passing Proposition 47 , they have made it clear that unfair laws were on the books and it is time to release some of the more than 117,000 inmates currently held in the California prison system , specifically, non-violent offenders. Estimates are that more than 10,000 inmates will be released as it is implemented.

Not everyone is celebrating. In a report by KCRA  Sacramento Channel 3, the group Crime Victims United is working to have the proposition appealed.  The founder of the organization, it should be noted, was not affected by a low level crime, but had a family member who was murdered. Sentences for murder convictions were not affected by proposition 47.

The KCRA report also highlights the fact that one of the provisions of Prop 47 is funding for rehabilitation and mental health programs, which will not go into effect for more than a year.  The current system may not be equipped to handle the influx of former prisoners in need of these services.

A media release on the Sacramento County Sherriff’s Department website  is circulating through the City of Elk Grove neighborhood watch groups.  The memo details how:

Effective immediately, the passage of Proposition 47 will have the following effects on the custody and policing practices of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department.

It explains that felons can have sentences reduced and certain civil rights reinstated and that certain crimes will no longer be cause for arrest, but these offenders will receive a citation with a promise to appear in court for sentencing.

The tenor of the memo is a warning to the community of fearful consequences.

It should be noted that although they will no longer be classified as a felony these offenses will still be punishable as misdemeanors .

According to the California Penal Code  :

Misdemeanors:

A misdemeanor is a crime punishable by imprisonment in a county or city jail or detention facility not to exceed one year.[7] Except where the law specifies a different punishment, a misdemeanor is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding six months and/or a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars.[8] However, many misdemeanor offenses specifically list a punishment that exceeds the punishment listed in Penal Code section 19. For example, a misdemeanor violation of Battery on a Peace Officer is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for up to one year and/or a two thousand dollar fine.[9]

Felonies:

A felony is a more serious crime that can be punished by death or imprisonment in a state prison.[10] A person convicted of a felony can also be granted probation instead of a prison sentence.[11] If a person is granted probation, the court can impose many conditions on a grant of probation, including up to one year in county jail, money fines up to the maximum allowed by state law, and restitution to the victim for actual losses.[12] In addition, the court may impose other conditions as long as the conditions are reasonably related to the defendant’s crime, or to future criminality.[13]

Reduction of sentencing is not elimination of sentencing, which is what the Sherriff’s memo implies.

The eventual increase in funding for rehabilitation and mental health service (which Prop 47 provides) give the added benefit of helping low level offenders to transition to productive members of  society, something that harsh prison sentences are not designed to do.

Could this be a sign of a return to a criminal justice system that is more focused on rehabilitation rather than punishment and restoration rather than retribution?

Maybe California has nothing to fear but fear itself.

election 2014

Political initiatives are often written in “legalese” that the average American has a hard time breaking down to understand. Even when it is clear what an initiative means, how the initiative is implemented is subject to interpretation, so it is really anyone’s guess as to how initiatives will impact the lives of the citizens.

This election year in California, there are very few initiatives on the ballot -6 to be exact.  This is in part because of the increasingly difficult requirements for filing. Nevertheless, despite the low number, the responsible voter must attempt to form an opinion and have his opinion heard at the polls.

Instead of voters allowing their opinions to be swayed by colorful advertising, there is another way to be educated on California initiatives. There is a document  available on the California Fair Political Practices Committee website that shows all the major contributors for the initiatives on the ballot.  Knowing who is behind the ballot can be very enlightening.

Initiative 1 authorizes the purchase of bonds to strengthen the California water system. It is not specified how exactly this will be implemented or whether indeed it will be implemented.  Previous such bond measures authorized the building of dams for reservoirs but were stymied from proceeding by legal action by Environmental groups.

Initiative 2 implements a rainy day fund for California emergencies with a view to a balanced California budget. Once again very little detail is given as to where money will be taken from to create this fund. What fund will be robbed and what essential California services will be hampered to build a “savings account’?

Initiatives 1 and 2 have one thing in common, they both have the highest contributor of all of the initiatives and it happens to be the same contributor-the Brown For Governor organization. Following a more than $5million contribution to each of these initiatives, television ads in favor of the initiatives were run featuring Governor Brown.  There have been no television ads for Governor Brown’s re-election.  There was speculation in the media, that by contributing to these initiatives The Brown For Governor campaign was able to circumvent campaign spending restraints while promoting Governor Brown in the ads. Once this speculation was voiced in the media, the ads seem to have all but disappeared.

It is interesting that health organizations Dignity Health and the California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems also support both of these initiatives. It is a little bit difficult to see what correlation there is between health care and these initiatives.

It is not hard to understand why California American Council of Engineering Companies Issues Fund* and Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters Issues Committee (including contributions from Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters Legislative Improvement Committee)* Aera Energy LLC* are major contributors of initiative 1 which could potentially create jobs for members of these organizations to build the infrastructure for the water system.  Potentially this water could be used to help farmers which would explain why California Farm Bureau Federation* is a major contributor.  However, once again the vagueness of the initiative does not specify who the water will supply.  It could very well be that, just like the California Aqueduct this water system could bypass farmers and be directed to households in Southern California.

Because of the fact that the same contributors that could benefit from Initiative 1 are supporting Initiative 2, it could be construed that the “rainy day” fund that is being established by the initiative will be used for a lack of “rainy days’ i.e. future droughts, and therefore that fund would be used for the water system as well.

There are no large contributors opposing initiatives 1 and 2.

Proposition 45 requires the California Insurance Commissioner to approve any rate increases by Health Insurance Companies. Watch dog groups are contributing heavily in its favor, as well as nurses associations.  The opposing camp is out-funding the proponents by over $50million, according to the CFPP document. There is no surprise that the opposing contributors are mainly large health care organizations and insurance companies.

Proposition 46 requires drug testing of doctors and raises the cap on medical negligence awards from the current $250,000. Like Proposition 45 the opposition has more than $50million in contributions according to the CFPP than those contributing in favor of the proposition.  And, like proposition 45 the opposition is Health Care Organizations and Insurance companies.  Contributors in favor of the proposition are consumer groups and law firms, not surprisingly.

Proposition 47 reduces certain drug and property felonies to misdemeanors this is heavily funded by the ACLU with no major funding for opposing. It would beg to question why no prison or law enforcement organization is opposing the proposition.

Proposition 48 is an agreement between the state of California and the Mono Indians and Wiyot Tribe to create a new casino. There are no major contributions to support the initiative and not surprisingly all major contributors opposed have connections with current Indian gaming casinos.

Whether or not this information helps the voter in their decision making process, it certainly gives some food for thought.

calpers

Judge Christopher Klein has approved the conditions proposed for the settlement  of Stockton, California’s bankruptcy. Once again, as in the case of bankruptcies in other California cities, CalPERS, the California Public Employees Retirement System is the big winner while all other debtors are the big losers. While there will be no reduction in payments to CalPERS, all other debtors will receive a fraction of what they are owed. Most notably is Franklin-Templeton, who will receive a $300,000 settlement on its more than $34million debt.

Judge Klein gave the green light to cut pensions in an earlier ruling. According to the SACBEE

“Klein compared the Stockton-CalPERS relationship to a retailer using bankruptcy to opt out of a bad shopping-mall lease. “The city’s contract with CalPERS could be rejected,” the judge said to a courtroom packed with lawyers, city officials and retirees.”

Stockton, however, doesn’t have the stomach (or other anatomical parts) required to stand up to the power of CalPERS, so the investment firm, and therefore, its investors will take the hit. This should serve as a warning to any financial institution who wants to do its civic duty, by offering assistance to a California municipality.  They, like Franklin-Templeton should expect to be sacrificed at the altar of the mighty CalPERS.

The problem of CalPERS, with its bloated pensions based on bloated salaries, throughout the state, is the albatross on the necks of municipalities who are drowning in debt. San Jose and San Diego have attempted to reduce pensions through voter approved initiatives meant to improve the financial health of these cities.

But as Steven Greenhut explains:

“The courts gutted the most significant part of the San Jose initiative. And while San Diego continues to implement its reform, Brown’s appointees to the union-controlled Public Employment Relations Board have been suing the city to stop the voter-approved measure. PERB claims the public vote was illegal because the city first had an obligation to negotiate with the unions representing the new workers who will face lower benefit levels. Union demands even trump the right to vote, in the administration’s view.”

Could the Stockton bankruptcy be the beginning of more to come in other California cities who must sacrifice city services and financial viability to support impossible agreements to a retirement system they cannot sustain? Can we learn from Detroit-whose pension system played heavily in its demise-before every city in California becomes a wasteland?

Stockton

The second city in California to file for Federal Bankruptcy is Stockton California. As of the first of the year, 13 municipalities  in the U.S. had filed for bankruptcy. Detroit was the most recent city in the U. S. to file.  The biggest issue these cities face is how to handle, what amounts to their largest financial obligation-retirement pensions for their employees.

Stockton’s Program is tied to CalPERS-The California State Employees Fund. The presiding judge made a ruling that could potentially be a game changer for the behemoth that is CalPERS.

All of these bankruptcies were the result of the bust in the housing market in 2008 which cost Americans their homes and jobs. While the government bailed out the banks that caused the bust, another casualty of the housing bust were the cities where these foreclosed homes were located. Each foreclosure robbed the cities of property taxes that supported city services. Where is the federal bailout for these cities?

Unable to pay for these services, the debts incurred became insurmountable, and with creditors pressuring for payment, the cities opted to file for bankruptcy.

As the proceedings slowly move forward, cutting pensions is a sticking point that none of them want to implement. Detroit  has agreed to cut pensions by 4.5 percent and is negotiating to give city property to the companies holding the loans for pension plans.

Although Vallejo, California was able to keep its pensions intact, the city remains insolvent and will likely have to refile for bankruptcy.

Fueling Stockton’s problem on this issue it the fact that one of its creditors-Franklin-Templeton, is unwilling to accept their offered settlement.

“Franklin Templeton wants Stockton to reduce its CalPERS payments to free up more cash to repay the loan. It said the proposed repayment amounts to just 12 cents on the dollar, while other creditors are due to receive 50 cents to 100 cents on the dollar.” SacBee

San Bernadino, who filed bankruptcy one month after Stockton, suspended payments to CalPERS during their proceedings and reportedly will make some concessions to reduce pensions.

Franklin will not admit to forcing Stockton’s hand in the matter. They want an agreement that includes a gradual increase in payments as the city’s resources are increased, foreseeably, by a recent tax increase.

Franklin’s objections have caused U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Klein to make a groundbreaking ruling, allowing Stockton to break agreements with the California sacred cow of CalPERS to reduce payments and free up money to other creditors. His ruling does not demand that Stockton take this action, but it does give them permission.

The final decision on the city of Stockton’s asset disbursement will be made later this month and could be used to define future similar  cases. This could be the beginning of a reduction in the power of CalPERS and possibly a redefinition of the State Employees retirement system.  Whether or not this case will be its undoing remains to be seen.

fairy jerry

Jerry Brown has always been a liberal. When he was governor of California in the 70s, being liberal meant smoking pot, anti- war, anti-fuzz (police), anti-government, and championing the cause of gay rights. Conservatives called him Fairy Jerry because he held these values and also went to a Buddhist Monastery in Japan.  In other words, yesterday’s democrat, would be a libertarian today. As governor he fought against the death penalty, government corruption, and fought for gay rights.

The Jerry Brown of today has just passed liberty killing laws and vetoed one liberty promoting bill.

He vetoed AB-1327 which overwhelmingly passed the House and the Senate- a law that would have prevented warrantless drone surveillance of citizens by police agencies. It would have offered some protection of personal privacy for the people of California.

He passed SB 270 a law that makes California the first state to outlaw plastic bags in grocery stores by adding a tax if you don’t bring your own bag.

He passed a three-bill package that took ground water rights away from property owners and gave the local water boards jurisdiction of water use.

He passed a law requiring verbal consent in sexual relationships on California State-funded college campuses, broadening the opportunity for prosecution of assault to an absurd degree.

As a ploy to avoid campaign contribution limitations-Brown launched his campaign ads this week with funds raised to promote California Measures 1 and 2-a water bond measure and a rainy day fund law.  Beat the system Jerry has learned to work the system.

The new liberal is really the new socialist- growing government while reducing personal freedoms. My, have times changed Jerry Brown.

drunk_woman

California has passed a new law meant to stem the rise in sexual assault on college campuses. I wrote about how I believe this rise is because of a hook up culture  that permeates college campuses in a sexual revolution gone awry.

As researched in my article, the behavior blurring the line of consent, is the fact that inebriation seems to be a requirement for the hook up sex. To counter this culture the California law specifies the prohibition of sex when “The complainant was incapacitated due to the influence of drugs, alcohol, or medication, so that the complainant could not understand the fact, nature, or extent of the sexual activity.”( https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201320140SB967)

And yet this definition of sexual assault is already in the California Penal Code which actually goes into more detail than this new law and actually explains quite succinctly what consent is.

Another aspect of the so called “Yes means Yes” law that is confusing is the reality that “hook up” sex is by definition void of real verbal communication. The adults engaged in it do not really have the trust and commitment required for said communication. Due to the awkwardness of sex outside of a committed relationship there is usually little to no verbal cues but a sort of hit and miss experimentation of sexual behavior.

It is, for the most part, only in the comfort of a committed relationship that there is real verbal communication during sex. Do this- don’t do that- can I do this? etc. There is this unwritten law about correcting a stranger and potentially ruining the spontaneity of the moment and possibly deflating your partner’s passion.

Does a law really have the power to change how humans communicate during sex? Will this be the new normal in sexuality?

To facilitate this new law and similar regulations being enacted around the country www.bluerepublican.org offers a consent form and there is also a new phone app.

Ohio State University   is implementing new policies that take “Yes” even further.  Not only must “Yes mean Yes” but the “why” of the interaction must be verbalized as well.

Even more bizarre are new definitions of Assault as described in regulations at the University of Michigan which include:

“ discounting the partner’s feelings regarding sex; criticizing the partner sexually; touching the partner sexually in inappropriate and uncomfortable ways; withholding sex and affection; always demanding sex; forcing partner to strip as a form of humiliation (maybe in front of children), to witness sexual acts, to participate in uncomfortable sex or sex after an episode of violence, to have sex with other people; and using objects and/or weapons to hurt during sex or threats to back up demands for sex.  “

With these broadened interpretations of assault and narrower definitions of consent, it would seem that no sexual encounter is void of some type of prosecution. It is apparent that the real purpose of these policies and laws is meant to shield the Universities from litigation, rather than to protect victims.

One possible good outcome of this may be that young adults will pause before engaging in risky sexual behavior. Perhaps, not only will the incidence of sexual assault reduce but the growing rate of  sexually transmitted diseases and the nearly 50% rate of unintended pregnancies in the US , in both of which California leads among all the other states.

Prohibition has never been an effective means of changing human behavior, so there is little hope that the complications imposed on sexual encounters on campus will make much of an impact. Ron Paul, a conservative Christian, has always stated that imposing laws is not an effective way to change morality.

Being alerted to the crisis, is probably the best we can hope for in this new law. Maybe being alerted will lead to some education and perhaps a change in the culture.

Water William Land Park

Three new Bills were signed today by Governor Brown that put California in line with the rest of the states in the West to confiscate water rights from property owners and give them to the State Resources Water Board.

Property rights are a relatively new phenomenon in the scope of human history having come to play during the Renaissance in the 16th Century as Medieval Feudal Systems were replaced by emerging capitalist economies.

Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) enshrines the right to property as follows:

“ “(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.

(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property”[5](Wikipedia)

But what does a property owner really own when government has the right to levy the property with taxes, in some states own mineral rights and now in all states in the West own the right to control the distribution of the ground water on that property? Oh and did I mention a little thing called Eminent Domain?

The loss of water rights will hit the Central Valley Farmers the most, who have depended on the California aquifers to keep them in business. They have already suffered the loss of ground water being diverted passed them to southern California via the California Aqueduct  and environmentalists protecting fish over farms by sending water out to sea.

Those same environmentalists see this legislation as a much needed salvation to the future of California’s aquifers. But even they agree that these benefits will not be seen for many years to come.

Authorities in the most over-pumped basins would have to submit sustainability plans to the state by January 2020. Other basins ranked as a priority would have another two years to adopt a plan. The agencies would then have an additional 20 years to stop serious overdraft, which means the full force of the measures wouldn’t be felt until at least 2040. http://www.latimes.com/science/la-me-groundwater-20140908-story.html

What is evident is the fact that the right of property ownership has been redefined once more by an overly intrusive government. The question becomes is the government turning back the clock and returning us to a Feudal System whereby our labors are no longer rewarded by true property ownership but property that is ours in name only while the true owner we labor for is the government?

John Locke argued that the safeguarding of natural rights, such as the right to property, along with the separation of powers and other check and balances, would help to curtail political abuses by the state.[20][26]Wikipedia

But government has once again positioned itself to usurp those rights.

                                    ocean-plastic

California is soon to be the first state to outlaw plastic bags from grocery stores.  Never mind that the production of paper bags is more detrimental to the environment.  Does anyone remember “Use a plastic bag save an owl”?  That is the irony of this issue.  Plastic bags were initially pushed to consumers for environmental reasons and now we have been mandated to use paper bags instead for the same reasons.

There are Ten myths about plastic bags and the environment at least.  The bottom line is- this law is not going to do much to impact our environment and it is another case of government invasion on our private lives and hindering free market competition.

From News 10:

“The bill would prohibit single-use plastic bags at grocery stores and large pharmacies in 2015 and at convenience stores in 2016.

It includes $2 million in loans to help manufacturers shift to producing reusable bags and lets grocers charge 10 cents each for paper and reusable bags.

A statewide ban had been a goal for lawmakers trying to reduce the buildup of plastic waste. About 100 local jurisdictions in California already have adopted similar bans.”

The law amounts to a tax because those consumers that don’t bring their own grocery bags to shop will be charged a minimum 10 cents per bag.  This could be as much as a 1% tax on a consumer’s shopping bill.

It’s a bit of the reverse on the old Robinhood adage-robbing the poor to pay the rich grocers and unions.

From U-T San Diego :

“San Diego Bishop George McKinney, of St. Stephen’s Cathedral Church Of God In Christ, called the ten cent fee a “massive redistribution of wealth” and a “heavenly deal for the big grocery chains,” arguing that it would generate hundreds of millions in profit at the expense of poor and working families.

To address that, the bills authors added a provision requiring that funds from paper bag sales be used only to buy the alterative bags, or to educate customers about the program.

Truitt, of Major Market, said that the elimination of plastic bags could generate savings for both grocers and shoppers.

Reusable mesh bags are available for purchase at Major Market in Escondido. A statewide ban will eliminate disposable plastic grocery bags next year.— Eduardo Contreras

“Bags cost us money,” he said. “They are an expense. If we don’t have to pay for bags, we will save money, and can hopefully pass that along to customers.”

The reality is that plastic bag use has been reduced by more than half in the state since 2006- voluntarily and without state coercion. Californians and local jurisdictions are choosing to be environmentally conscious by utilizing multiple use bags.

With a drought killing our farming industry and high taxes driving other industries out of California-plastic bags seem to be the least of our worries and certainly not worth the paper this bill is written on.

prisons

I took a road trip the other day from San Diego to Sacramento.  Normally, I take I-5 which is mile after mile of open space and farmland.  On this trip I decided to take the 99, because after an exhausting vacation, I needed a route with more diversity to keep me awake.

California’s history includes the tale of Father Junipero Serra who formed Catholic Missions one day’s walk from each other from San Diego to San Francisco.  These missions were the beginnings of some of the cities we have today.  It is called the mission trail and makes a beautiful sight-seeing trip for tourists.

I discovered yesterday, as I cruised my way north on 99 that it is the prison trail of California.  I passed towns with names like Avenal, and Atwater, and Corcoran and Chowchilla and wondered which came first the town or the prison.  It was a trail of towns where prisons were put in order to be away from the populated areas of California and towns grew around them.

I thought about the large prison population.  There are currently 117,000 prisoners in California which amounts to about .3% of the population.  These prisoners are jammed into prisons that are so overcrowded that the US Supreme Court is forcing California to reduce its prison population over the next two years.

In my book, Blessed-Are-They-That-Hunger , I have a chapter entitled “We Hunger For Justice”.  It talks about injustice in America and the racial bias of those incarcerated and on death row.  Thankfully, there are some of our leaders that are paying attention to this and fighting for change .

The reality of my previous blog on rehabilitation became real to me as I traveled those miles and passed those prisons.  I reflected about a state that incarcerates so many and wondered about our so called “free society”.  Freedom is not for all of our society and less so for those of a certain color or ethnic heritage. Maybe it is time for California to open up its prison gates and find a new way to reduce crime.