Tag Archives: California

Monday’s Mtg: Who Runs San Diego?

John M. will be our lodestar this week. I am out-of-town and John, a long-time San Diego-based journalist and activist, is much more qualified than me to guide CivCon through a discussion of who runs this town.

Here are some readings on San Diego’s power structure and some of its biggest policy issues that John and I culled from local media, such as Voice of San Diego and The City Beat and Reader.

I will see you on May 29, after your meetings on San Diego and slavery reparations. Our topic will be the government’s proper role in encouraging healthy lifestyles. I will still post the regular “Monday’s meeting” posts.

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –

Power Centers –

Issues and evolution –

NEXT WEEK: Reparations for African-Americans?

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Monday’s Mtg: The Elderly Prisoner Problem

Linda, who’s a criminal defense attorney in private practice, suggested this topic. Since 1995, the number of U.S. prison inmates over age 55 has roughly quadrupled. They now comprise one-sixth of the entire U.S. prison population.

Why so many aging prisoners?  One cause is the sheer size of violent crime wave that roiled the United States from the late 1960s to the early 1990s. Another is that the country is aging in general, including those that commit serious crimes. But most notoriously to blame are all of those harsh sentencing laws passed by state legislatures and Congress in response to the crime wave and the War on Some People That Use Certain Drugs. Civilized Conversation has discussed both mandatory minimum sentences and racism in sentencing on separate occasions.

Having so many aging prisoners is a problem for a lot of reasons. As one of the links below says, older prisoners “require special attention in prison, as they often suffer from chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart failure, cognitive impairment, and liver disease, as well as age related disabilities. They are also more vulnerable to victimization in prison.” Just providing their health care costs a fortune.  Many prisons have expensive geriatric wards. Nearly 80% of all deaths in prison are older (55+) prisoners.

Recently, the Obama Administration and some state governments – including California’s – have tried to devise programs to speed compassionate release for the least dangerous elderly prisoners whose further imprisonment makes little sense. This has proven harder than you might think, both administratively and politically. I imagine that the Trump Administration will end all federal efforts and that bipartisan criminal justice reform of any kind is dead. But, who knows?

Below are some rather duh-level discussion questions and a few straightforward readings on the elderly prisoner problem and on mass incarceration. On Monday I will skip my usual opening presentation, except to briefly summarize the issue for any new members that might not have read the background materials.

Linda, with her many years of experience as a defense attorney, will then have the floor.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –

  1. How big is this problem and what makes it a problem?
  2. What caused it? Whose “fault” is it? Was anybody thinking of this eventuality 30 or 20 or 10 years ago?
  3. Solutions:  What’s being tried, including by the USG and in California?
    How are those going? If not well, why, and what else should be done?
  4. Mass incarceration: Is the elderly prisoner problem another one of the consequences of America’s disastrous mass incarceration experiment? Or, is it a sad but inevitable consequence of our vast but in-the-past crime wave?
  5. CJ reform: Is there any hope for federal criminal justice reform now that Trump is president and the GOP controls USG?

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –  

NEXT WEEK:  White male privilege – How real? How important?

Good article opposing Prop. 53.

Prop. 53 is like so many California propositions.  A pet project of a single wealthy person. It would require statewide voter approval of all bond issuances over $2 billion.  What’s not to like about more voter control over govt spending and borrowing?

Read this to find out.

Prop. 64: Some arguments opposing it – Two good articles.

I don’t have time this week to do separate posts on any of this year’s gazillion ballot propositions.  So, I’ll just link to a few good articles I come across that give info/perspectives you might not get otherwise.

First up, two that oppose Proposition 64, the legalize marijuana initiative.  I strongly urge you to read the first one if you are considering voting for 64.

  1. One of the country’s foremost experts on marijuana policy decries 64 as “promoting cannabis use disorder in CA.”
  2. A group makes what it says are “14 progressive arguments against 64”  It’s long and a few of the arguments seem weak.  But note arguments 3, 4, 6, and 13.

Monday’s Mtg: Understanding All Those Nov. 2016 CA Ballot Propositions

This election’s 17 (pause for laughter) state propositions cover a huge range of issues. We did the 2 death penalty ones (62, 66) last week, leaving 15. I grouped them into four subject areas. I propose we cover them in the following order, aided by Linda, Carl, and John M., who are researching and will present on some of them. If I have any time over the weekend I may do separate posts on some of the prominent props.

A.   Criminal Justice:

  • 57: Criminal sentencing. (Linda)
  • 64: Marijuana legalization. (David)
  • 63: Gun (actually ammunition) control.
  • [Skip 62 + 66 death penalty we did last week.]

B.   Health Care and Environment:

  • 52: Medi-Cal hospital fee. (Carl)
  • 61: State prescription drug purchase costs. (Carl)
  • 65: + 67: Plastic grocery bag ban. (David)
  • 60: Condom use in porn. (David)
  • 56: Cigarette tax hike. (Linda)

C.    Taxes, borrowing, good government.

  • 55: Extends a previous high-income tax increase. (John M.)
  • 53: Requires voter approval for big state revenue bonds. (David)
  • 54: Publishing of CA legislature’s draft bills and proceedings.
  • 59: Citizens United – Non-binding declaration to reverse it.

D.   Education:

  • 58: English language proficiency, local control of it.
  • 51: School bonds ($9b) for K-12 and JC’s.

The ones with names assigned I think are the more important ones. The others we can cover briefly.  I’ll just quickly describe them and the issue they address, unless people want otherwise. But, remember: 15 props in 2 hours = 8 minutes each unless we keep some really short.

QUESTIONS FOR EACH PROPOSITION:

  1. Who is behind it and its opposition?
  2. Why did they put it on the ballot? Did they try and fail previously, or fail in the legislature? Who/what big powers are they trying to bypass?
  3. What would the proposition do? Is that in dispute? How is it intended to fix/repeal/change current law/policy?
  4. Major substantive pros and cons.
  5. Major stupid/deceptive pros and cons being used to sell/defeat it.

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –  

Next Week (Oct 24):  Fox News, age 20: Impact and Future.

Mtg on Propositions on Monday

I propose we discuss the 15 propositions (17 minus the 2 death penalty ones we did last week) by subject areas.  Here’s the order I think might work, starting each area with the most important/controversial ones.  (Red) shows people that have volunteered to research and present specific props.  If you want to do one, just let me know.   I’ll do the usual linkfest post in a few days.

A.   Criminal Justice:

  • 57: Criminal sentencing. (Linda)
  • 64: Marijuana legalization. (David)
  • 63: Gun (actually ammo) control. (David)

B.    Health Care and Environment:

  • 52: Medi-Cal hospital fee. (Carl)
  • 61: State prescription drug purchase costs. (Carl)
  • 65: + 67: Plastic grocery bag ban. (David)
  • 60: Condom use in porn. (David)
  • 56: Cigarette tax hike. (Linda)

C.   Taxes, borrowing, good government.

  • 55: Extends a previous high-income tax increase. (John M.)
  • 53: Requires voter approval for big state revenue bonds.
  • 54: Publishing of CA legislature’s draft bills and proceedings.
  • 59: Citizens United – Non-binding declaration to reverse it.

D.    Education:

  • 58: English language proficiency.
  • 51: School bonds ($9b) for K-12 and JC’s.

 

Monday’s Mtg: What should U.S. school children be taught about history?

I think you will all be amazed at what a fascinating – and controversial – topic the teaching of history in American schools has become.

History curricula have changed a lot since most of us were in school. First, as I will explain in my opening remarks Monday, just based on California’s (900-page!) teaching guidelines, history requirements are more demanding and thorough than what I was taught. I’m not sure kids learn a greater quantity of facts. But, in parallel with other efforts to teach young people critical thinking skills, history and social science these days have a heavy focus on analytical concepts, comparative analysis, and independent thinking.

Second and of much noisier political concern is the assault on, or perhaps the long overdue replacement of, the standard narrative of U.S. history we absorbed. The one that saw U.S. history as a slow but steady triumphant march of democracy and progress that emphasized the actions and POV of the dominant White majority. Over the last 10-20 years, academic historians, political and social activists, school boards, and state legislatures have rewritten large parts of our kids’ history textbooks/instruction to be more inclusive, less triumphant, and more critical (honest?) about our past.

Now, the United States famously has no national educational standards, not even for math and reading much less the more politically-sensitive social sciences. Most states don’t even have state-wide educational standards for history, leaving it all up to individual school districts. There are no Common Core history standards.

But, there are some forces converging us towards common history instruction nationwide. All U.S. students must take an identical standardized history test in grades (I think) 5, 8 and 11, thanks to No Child Left Behind. But, the brand new Every Student Succeeds Act has made how states use those tests voluntary, reversing the intent of NCLB. The College Board, the giant non-profit testing organization, has its own recommended Advanced Placement history standards which many (some?) states/districts use. California is one of 17 states with statewide history requirements and it just did a huge revision of them.  Confused on who requires what? Me, too. I’ll sort it out better by Monday, but my point is there is some consensus on what American kids should be taught about history and very specific requirements in our state.

Also, everybody’s a critic of what standards do exist. Conservatives hate CA’s newly-revised, “leftist” history curriculum. Progressives hate the ways the College Board revised AP history in response to conservative complaints. There are Right versus Left textbook wars in many states, especially since 2010 when Texas introduced some um, bold changes to how textbooks cover the Civil War and Segregation.

So, I thought this would be a great topic for us, though I don’t think our entire discussion should be reduced to politics or squeezed into right-versus-left framing. There are a lot of thought-provoking but less partisan social, cultural, and even pedagogical issues we can get into. And there’s world history and the historical part of civics education, too.

I’m especially excited to do this topic now because in September I got the chance to lecture several local (Helix, Mount Carmel) high school social studies and speech classes on various topics. These modern high school students were an impressive lot. A great deal is expected of them academically and they work very hard. Let’s honor them by having a great discussion of this – I told you so – really interesting topic.

Below are some optional readings on what current history educational standards are and why they are controversial. My opening remarks will be limited to trying to summarize what kids are supposed to be taught about U.S. history in California under the just-revised curriculum. Also, we have a new topic list to be handed out, thanks to Linda and Aaron.

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –  

Next Week (Oct 10): Will America’s death penalty fade away?

Monday’s Mtg: Are Californians Environmentally Over-Regulated?

This topic is one that political conservatives worry about a lot. Every time California experiences a recession or the mildest growth hiccup, and every time a high-profile business leaves California for another state conservatives say it’s all because of over-regulation. To me at least, their rhetoric often sounds ideological and a cynical cover for corporate self-interest.

But, not so fast. I think there’s something to this topic, even after discounting for rhetorical excess and partisanship. California has a very dense web of environmental regulations. They affect every aspect of living and doing business in our state. No one serious is saying we should not have clean air and water, safe consumer products, and wetlands. But, perhaps Californians can be said to be over-regulated, especially if “over-regulated” is carefully and specifically defined.

One definition of excessive govt regulation involves marginal costs exceeding marginal benefits. I will explain this basic concept briefly in my opening framing remarks on Monday night. But, basically, the more stringent an environmental regulation is, the higher the costs of implementing it and (probably) the smaller the additional increment of benefits it provides. You can think of the marginal costs and benefit curves as being non-linear to reflect this. At some point the lines cross, and the reg does more harm than good.

This sounds simple, but it’s very hard to compare costs to benefits in a way that gives us confidence we have assessed them right. C/B analysis is not my field, nor is environmental policy. But I’ll explain this basic idea within the level of my competency.

A second type f over-regulation involves the bureaucratic process. The enviro law permitting process in California can be very time consuming and expensive, especially for big projects that require the full Monty environmental impact studies. There is a lot of talk right now in Sacramento about streamlining the processes. Process is one of those boring-but-really-important aspects of government that separates good government from bad, even if it’s hard for non-experts to discuss and gets very little media attention.

A third type is more like mis-regulation. Like the rest of government, enviro laws/regs can and do get manipulated by private interests for their own benefit, usually at the expense of their public good. As the links explain, below, the third party litigation allowed under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is vulnerable to this. (As is our initiative process, that big biz uses to bypass enviro laws they don’t like.)

Huge battles are brewing all over the country over the future of our environment and climate.  As always, Californians will be manning the front lines. At present, the Republican Party has virtually abandoned the environmentalism it used to embrace. That can’t last forever, though. Even if it does, it puts the Democrats in danger. Progressives risk getting too smug about their environmentalism and ceasing to listen to skeptics, businesses, and other good people who bear the brunt of good (and sometimes bad) policy.

I think an honest discussion of the limits of CA’s environmental regulation is very much needed now.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –

  1. What are CA’s main environmental laws? How do they get enforced?
  2. What is “over-regulation?” Can it have more than one meaning? How can we measure its extent and distinguish valid complaints from false/cynical ones?
  3. If we’re over-regulated environmentally, how did we get that way? How can we safely reverse any over-regulation?
  4. New areas: What do we think of the latest CA enviro laws addressing climate change, energy use, toxins, and groundwater?
  5. Is “technology forcing” regulation a good idea? How do we know if we’re overdoing it?

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –  

[Update – Climate Policy – CA is moving very aggressively to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Here is a (very supportive) description of what’s bee done, and here is what to expect in the near future.]

Are we environmentally over-regulated?

Next Week July 18: Are native-American interests being neglected?

Monday’s Mtg: Does Our Juvenile Criminal Justice System Work?

Two of our next three topics relate to the American criminal justice system, and both are Linda’s ideas. On June 6, we’ll do policing reform. Monday we will cover a very, very important topic that gets much less attention: Our juvenile justice system.

We jail/detain a lot of juveniles in this country. On any given day in America, there are more than 80,000 youths in detention and correctional facilities, including 20,000 in juvenile detention centers, 54,000 in youth prisons, and almost 6,000 in adult prisons and jails.   These system’s problems are legion and discussions of them rife with sad phrases like “juvenile solitary confinement” which 24 states permit, and “school-to-prison pipelines.” Individual outcomes can be heart-breaking, including here in Southern California. You also could throw in other systems that treat children and their problems, like foster care and the mental health system, if you want to look at the problem in all its facets.

Yet, quietly over the last 15 years, reformers all over the country have recognized the gross inadequacies of juvenile criminal justice systems and have worked hard to improve them. I know very little about this, but the articles below will give you a sense of what has been accomplished and how much farther we have to go to make youthful offences an embarrassing adult memory rather than the first step towards a ruined life that ruins others’ lives, too.

I will red these articles and a few more and on Monday I will start us off by describing some of the juvenile system’s worst problems and biggest obstacles to reform. Then we can talk about solutions, etc. I will highlight developments in California.

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –

Next Week:  What is a “just war?”

Monday’s Mtg: Does California’s Ballot Initiative Process Need Fixing?

Did you know some changes have been made recently to our state’s ballot initiative process? Neither did I, so it’s a good thing Filip suggested we discuss our legendarily-disastrous initiative process on Monday.

How legendarily-bad? In the words of one journalist (link) “:

…past ballots have been riddled with arcane, single-interest skirmishes supported by expensive professional signature-gathering efforts and misleading advertising campaigns and mailers. Measures have been specifically designed to contradict competing initiatives – or to mask the purposes and consequences to confuse and mislead voters. Even well-intentioned efforts have been marred by drafting errors, poor legal reasoning and unintended policy outcomes from proposals not vetted or analyzed by experts.

I would add an even worse problem: The legislature is forbidden to modify the wording of a proposition before it is placed on the ballot or after it’s passed if it amended the state constitution. So, we end up with law that Fil hates, like Proposition 65, that requires those annoying signs in restaurants that warn people they are about to be served carcinogens; and ones I hate, like Prop. 98, that forces 40% of the state budget to be spent on K-12 education, no matter other needs.

The modest changes to the process made recently probably will not eliminate these gigantic problems or make the public better at self-legislating. But, as I’ll explain, they might help a little. Moreover, together with other government reforms passed recently (like having an independent citizens’ commission draw legislative districts and a “top two” primary system) they might just change California’s dysfunctional political system into something better. Maybe into something less unwieldy and better able to solve problems.

I’ll open our Labor Day meeting with a brief review of the ABCs of California’s direct democracy processes (initiative, referendum, and recall election), highlighting recent changes to the processes. Then, I will ask Fil for his thoughts and we can discuss the issues generally.

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –

Next Week: Which Natural or Human-Made Catastrophes Should Most Worry Us?