LAPD: Death by the Thousands Cut?

Last month, UCLA Magazine published a solid article on alumni who had shunned the typical career paths open to them to join the LAPD. They were portrayed as intelligent, articulate and disciplined. I felt safer knowing that these fellow Bruins were in local law enforcement. I was also impressed they had the open minds to undertake careers in what has typically been a blue-collar profession.

What I have not seen in print is the LAPD’s recent deep cut in starting pay, particularly for four-year college graduates.

As of January 2010, a raw recruit without a four-year degree earns $45,226 a year when they sign on with the LAPD. If they had signed on in 2009, they would have earned $56,522. That’s a cut of $11,296 a year, or 20%.

Recruits with a college degree received the same 20% pay cut, and now earn starting pay of $48,880. They previously earned $61,095. That’s a cut of $12,225, well over $1,000 a month.

To earn their old starting pay, new cops without a college degree will have to advance to step five of the seven-step pay structure for the basic patrol rank, while those with a degree have to advance to step seven. That takes about 18 months (a one-step advance comes after graduation from the academy, and usually every six months thereafter. College graduates enter the academy at step three).

Until the LAPD union contract is renegotiated in the middle of next year, that means these new cops will continue to be paid about 20% to 25% less than their colleagues with similar experience – not exactly the best way to boost morale and retain staff.

These steep cuts were made to prevent rank-and-file patrolmen from being furloughed or even laid off. From the perspective of the LAPD’s union, the Police Protective League, it makes perfect sense. Unions usually strive to protect the most senior employees. And given a rookie L.A. cop can be fired for any offense before their 18-month probationary period is up (six months in the academy and their first year as a sworn officer) they comprise the constituency least likely to raise hackles over having their pay slashed.

However, it raises some troubling questions about the direction the LAPD will take as it tries to keep its ranks above 10,000 sworn officers. And it raises even more troubling questions as to why I am writing this post, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

The LAPD pays a 7.5% differential to recruits with four-year degrees. Many police departments do so: studies have shown that college-educated cops receive fewer complaints from the community about their conduct, are involved in fewer use-of-force incidents, and make good supervisors. New LAPD chief Charlie Beck only recently earned his bachelors degree from Cal State Long Beach – no doubt because his lack of a degree was going to hamper his further rise in the department.

But the LAPD’s recently instituted pay cut is going to make it tougher for college-educated recruits to join the department. The starting pay was once generous for someone just out of school. Now it barely tops what a brand-new teacher at a local charter school earns.

It may work as a short-term fix to the city’s budget woes, but the department should not be surprised if its ever-present drain of officers to other departments begins heating up should an economic recovery take hold soon.

Which brings me to the next troubling issue: Why am I the first journalist in L.A. to write about this? I’m a healthcare writer by training and inclination, and I haven’t covered law enforcement in any form for nearly 20 years. Most of the space in this blog is devoted to slamming my colleagues for what I perceive to be their missteps or grumbling about politics. I shouldn’t be a resource of reporting on the LAPD.

Yet neither the L.A. Times or Daily News have covered this story. The Times’ David Zahniser made the briefest of mention of cuts in starting pay when the Police Protective League approved the changes in late 2009. But it appeared in his blog, and not in the newspaper. Not a single mention of this has been made in any media outlet since. Most of the coverage has been in the reduction of overtime for officers, and the elimination of some specialized units, thereby putting more police on the streets.

There may be some editors at the Times who would argue that cutting the starting salaries of police officers isn’t news. I’ll point to what happened when the New York Police Department cut its pay to raw rookies to just $25,100 a year back in 2005. The New York Times and other media outlets chimed in with extensive coverage – including interviews with new cops having trouble paying their bills – and op-eds.

Eventually, the NYPD found it couldn’t attract quality recruits, so about 18 months ago it raised the starting salary back over $41,000. It also raised the base pay after five and a half years from under $60,000 to over $76,000. It now approaches $91,000 with incentives and allowances added in. That appears to be far above what the LAPD now offers to officers with similar experience. That gap hasn’t been reported on either.

I know all about this because the New York Times has covered this issue extensively.

It wasn’t that long ago the L.A. Times and Daily News covered the LAPD with the same relentlessness. Not a day went by when there wasn’t some coverage of the department, either good or bad.

Now, its editorial staffs brutalized by deep personnel cuts – both papers have about half the editorial staffs they did a decade ago – and they let a story slip by that should not have.

I’m not bragging about covering it here. I’m embarrassed. But the Times and Daily News still have about 700 more editorial staffers than this blog. I want to read about how this may affect the LAPD’s recruitment efforts and morale in some actual depth. Pardon the pun, but not seeing it at all, in any form, will amount to a cop-out.

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A Business Yarn

A department store credit card on which I’ve kept a zero balance for years recently jacked up the annual interest to 57%. The store also made a dunning call for a bill of less than $40 – on the same day payment had been received.

At a well-known local deli, I saw the owner – who inherited the business from his father – stand in a corner while his staff worked maniacally. When a customer had some grievance, he told him he didn’t like his attitude.

Yesterday, an executive who is paid seven figures to run a not-for-profit organization called me personally to tell me a report I had spent weeks writing was “baloney” and wanted his money back.

These events happened at around the same time the titans of finance testified that they had no idea their actions had created the financial crisis. They also insisted they weren’t “fiduciaries” – they have absolutely no duty to protect their customers. I disagree; they do the best job on the planet representing the second syllable of that word.

I often think about the retribution that may be visited on such sultans of smugness. I’ve decided that the best punishment is to hand them a ball of yarn and make them sell it.

I have spent the last six years in the yarn business, co-owning Unwind with my wife. Stephanie runs the front end, day-to-day operations. Since I can’t knit and couldn’t sell missiles to Hamas, I stick to the glamour tasks of filing the sales tax returns and chasing after the woman who wrote $1,500 worth of rubber checks when we happened to be out of town.

I know a little bit of why all those people mentioned above are so nasty; running a business is a humbling experience. Enjoying some success – even if it’s not all yours – is exhilarating.

Well, sometimes. Four years ago, Stephanie called me in tears during the annual Super Bowl Sunday sale, certain that the line of people snaking around her store to buy merchandise would deplete her inventory and put her out of business. I reassured her that as long as she didn’t accept lead ingots for payment, that was unlikely to happen. (By the way, this year’s sale begins on Sunday morning).

Our business logo

But that pleasant, competent, ready-to-help and slightly self-effacing tone has created something remarkable – a cadre of customers willing to help. They fill in for Stephanie on a regular basis. They help out for special events. More than a dozen showed up on a recent Sunday morning to help take inventory. They get some yarn in return, but that’s it. If one of the volunteers complains about something, another usually puts them in their place.

I have written about business for nearly 20 years, and have not witnessed anything quite like this. True, the yarn business is focused on women, who tend to be more giving than men. It also promotes the collegiality of a group activity. But usually “friends” of a business owner find a way to sponge off of them. These friends freed up enough time so Stephanie could focus on the most difficult part of a retail enterprise in an economic downturn: recalibrating inventory and managing cash flow.

Meanwhile, the Great Recession picked off local yarn stores at an alarming rate – at least a dozen I am aware of. They’ve closed in Eagle Rock, Valley Village, Santa Clarita and the San Gabriel Valley.

Our store’s 2009 sales were flat compared to 2008. If two big-spending customers hadn’t left the area, last year’s sales would have been a little bit ahead. At any rate, 2009 and 2008 kept pace with 2007, which had been a growth year. This achievement will likely be one of the signal events of our marriage, comparable to my keeping my portion of the bathroom counter clean.

Despite the fact that our little business is poised for a recovery, there are still a million things to do. The sign outside needs to be spruced up. Some of slipcovers on the furniture are threadbare. The website and webstore need a redesign. Slowly and methodically, they will get done. They always do.

In the meantime, if Forbes or Fortune decides to write another article on the most-widely admired CEOs – why not pass over another sleazy investment banker and put Stephanie on the cover instead? Or, if not her, all the small business owners who toil away in obscurity, don’t bully their customers, and show up on their own every morning to unlock the front doors.

By the way, I run my own businesses as well. Here are links to my sites:

Payers & Providers (a healthcare publication)

RFS Consulting (a healthcare communications firm)

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Deportation, American-Style

Congress will take on immigration reform soon. If the Democrats can’t pass any sort of respectable healthcare bill, they will have to tack right if they wish to save their asses in the midterm elections. It could get very ugly very quickly, and no doubt the birthers and others of their ilk will get a new lease on life.

I will always be the first to come to the defense of immigrants. Most work far harder than the smartphone and screenplay-obsessed buffoons who make up a preponderance of the populace of my hometown Los Angeles. Immigrants are also far more likely to embrace God and family values than those native to the Red States, whose rates of adultery and divorce are so high it’s like watching a Noel Coward play – minus the tuxes and teeth.

Which brings me to a modest proposal: to kick off reform, why not deport some actual American citizens? After all, the notion behind immigration “reform” is to make the country a more livable place, where the people suspected of abusing our notions of fair play are sent back to where they came from – or at least someplace far away from the rest of “us.”

Therefore, I’ve come up with list of the top 10 Americans who should be deported:

1. Joe Lieberman. Lieberman’s alter-ego, Droopy the dog, is adored in France, where it was recently placed on a postage stamp.  Lieberman is widely detested here, mostly for single-handedly killing the public option and his indirect help in getting George W. Bush named president in 2000. He should be placed on a packet steamer.

FINAL DESTINATION: Lieberman considers himself a religious man, even though he treats corporate interests with far more reverence than his constituents. Therefore he should be deported to Yemen, where the locals have demonstrated enormous tolerance for other religions.

2. Alberto Gonzales. Fortunately, neither Gonzales’ grandparents (who migrated here illegally) or his mother and father lived to see him use the office of Attorney General to rationalize torturing other human beings. Or when called to the carpet by Congress, pretending he had the intellectual capacity of the serape-sporting, monosyllabic Mexican Mel Blanc played on “The Jack Benny Program.” The only thing conspicuous by its absence from Gonzales’ resume is prison time. followed by deportation.

FINAL DESTINATION: Back to old Mexico. Gonzales’ fondness for law flouting and waterboarding would make him a fine regional police chief. And the moral indignation he regularly displayed as AG would make it only a matter of time before he crossed the wrong drug kingpin, resulting in the inevitable happy ending.

3. Larry Craig. The former U.S. Senator from Idaho was a notorious gay-basher in public. In private he had a predilection for a wide stance, no doubt the better to take it in the…well, you know. The collision of his private desires with a public restroom brought him down, but still didn’t cause the Republican Party to confront the fact that way too many of its most prominent members have jammed themselves rather uncomfortably in the closet.

FINAL DESTINATION: Canada is too close for comfort. So it’s either Spain or the Netherlands, where same-sex marriage is legal. Perhaps he and fellow closeted former member of Congress Mark Foley can start new lives together. Mark can keep Larry out of public bathrooms, and Larry can keep Mark from little boys. Successful marriages have been built on less.

4. Orly Taitz. Twenty years ago, a dentist turned correspondence-school-educated lawyer who questions the President’s citizenship would have been roundly ignored. In today’s 24-hour news cycle, Taitz has become the Anne Coulter of the birther movement.

Taitz’ legal arguments as to why Obama should be kicked out of office are more horribly twisted than a train wreck. They have been thrown out of virtually very legal venue in the country, and one court – in Georgia of all places – even fined her $20,000 for misconduct. Yet, astonishingly, the California Bar has taken no actions to revoke her law license. But there is some hope: Taitz, unlike Obama, was actually born outside of this country. That makes her a ripe candidate for deportation. Since the U.S. Justice Department did an exquisite job stripping Emma Goldman of her naturalization and shipping her back to Russia 90 years ago, doing the same number on a moron like Taitz should be easy.

FINAL DESTINATION: Taitz’s birthplace of Moldova (she immigrated to Israel as a child) seems too easy. Perhaps being returned to one of Isarel’s neighbors, such as the Gaza Strip, would do the trick. I’m certain Hamas would welcome with open arms a bleached blonde Israeli loudmouth.

5. Michele Bachmann. I’m always stunned that this reactionary harridan actually has two law degrees. Every time she opens her mouth I feel the country’s collective I.Q. drop by at least several points – not exactly a phenomenon it needs at the moment. My favorite Bachmann crusade: her call to investigate Congress to see which of its members are “anti-American.” My favorite Bachmann bill: legislation to bar replacing the American dollar with foreign currency. For this groundbreaking work she draws a $160,000-a-year salary. I would gladly be that dumb for just half her pay.

FINAL DESTINATION: Iran. They treat women very well there. They also have no problem investigating their citizens’ patriotism. Enjoy!

6. Rupert Murdoch. Easily the worse Aussie import since “Men at Work.” He initially appeared harmless, only wishing to replicate his network of crude tabloid newspapers. Instead, the father of “Fox News” has done more to coarsen the debate than any native-born American. He also recently sunk his hooks into the Wall Street Journal, where its wacko opinion page is beginning to seep into its news coverage, slowly sinking another great newspaper.

FINAL DESTINATION: Back to Australia. Not the present day nation, but the one of the late 18th century, when the Brits turned it into a penal colony. Minus his wealth and his media empire, he can look at it as a fresh start. Murdoch would no doubt prosper in virgin territory, and pushing the age of 80, I’m certain he would not waste what time was left.

7. Keith Olbermann. He’s witty, but uses his intelligence to be so overbearingly sanctimonious that he makes progressives look almost as bad as the right wingers. Listening to one of his 20-minute editorials is like the Bataan Death March, but without the enjoyment of the outdoors.

FINAL DESTINATION: He can actually stay, just not on MSNBC.

8. Sarah Palin. The New Yorker magazine noted in a recent article that no politician so convincingly erases the line between the governing and the governed. Which is a polite way of saying she’s even dumber than Michele Bachmann, but with an outside shot of actually becoming president one day. That the nation will be paying for the sins of the last decade for the next few decades means this simply cannot come to pass.

FINAL DESTINATION: Roosha. As  I noted in a previous entry, no place treats its citizens with more narrow-minded indifference. She would fit in there – like an iron glove.

9. Dick Cheney. One of the funniest and saddest lines in movie history is from “Dog Day Afternoon,” when Sonny (Al Pacino) asks his dimwitted bank-robbing partner Sal (the late, great John Cazale) which country he wanted to escape to. The answer: Wyoming. “Sal, Wyoming’s not a country,” Sonny replied. That may have been the case in 1975, when the movie was produced, but the state’s most famous son and history’s scariest vice president has proved otherwise. A hard-headed bastard like Alberto Gonzales, but a hundred times smarter and meaner, Cheney lived to undermine the Constitution and torture anyone who might have even looked at pictures of terrorists. Read the amazing tragicomic Wyoming stories of Annie Proulx, and it becomes clear the place is a factory for misfits and psychotics, its motto “The Equality State” the biggest fraud since the Teapot Dome – yet another fine Wyoming product.

FINAL DESTINATION: Cheney is about the only member of the Bush Administration who stuck around in Washington after he left office. Obviously, going home is very painful, so the hardscrabble nation of Wyoming is where he should go. With any luck, Cheney will be misidentified as a charging moose and be shot in the face by a hunter. As Cheney himself might say, do it to him before he does it to us – again.

10. George W. Bush. Jeez, what can I say? The most uninformed, incurious and cold-hearted leader this country ever had made Nixon look like Lincoln. He was just a couple of massive bailouts away from plunging the nation into total ruin. Even so, it will take God knows how long to recover from the frat party trashing left by Dubya and his minions. Fortunately, his thoroughly disgraceful tenure has been followed up by relative obscurity, and I picture him spending his days toiling to color in the books for his presidential library. Nevertheless, if he isn’t kicked out of the U.S. of A, , who should?

FINAL DESTINATION: In 2004, Bush requested funding for a mission to Mars. “We choose to explore space because doing so improves our lives and lifts our national spirit,” he said at the time. In his case, I couldn’t agree more. We can put him in one of the shuttles that’s being retired next year, and just hit the “Ignition” button. Don’t let the Earth’s atmosphere kick you in the ass on the way out.

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Taking Pot Shots

An acquaintance of mine disclosed a rich history of LSD usage over a recent lunch.

“You can take drugs and not have them ruin your life,” he declared.

I could dismiss him as a deluded liberal hippie goofball, but he’s run a couple of large public bureaucracies in his career – including one in Los Angeles County. And since he likely has more than a nodding relationship with District Attorney Steve Cooley, I wonder if they’ve chatted about his recent vow to crack down on the marijuana dispensaries that have sprouted up throughout Los Angeles.

Cooley and his partner in crime busting, L.A. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, have vowed to prosecute pot dispensary operators, particularly those who accept any money. Cooley says he will ignore any dispensary regulations promulgated by the L.A. City Council. When Cooley was recently on a local public affairs radio show – where he conveniently ducked taking callers’ questions – he claimed ignorance about SB 420, the seven-year-old state law that gives municipalities the right to regulate dispensaries.

Politically, I can understand Cooley and Trutanich’s position. The City Council has put the “it” in dithering when it’s come to drafting regulations – opening up loopholes that have permitted hundreds of dispensaries to appear over the past couple of years. And while both men are law enforcement figures, they’re also elected officials. Putting some deluded liberal hippie goofball pot peddlers in prison could position them for a run at higher offices.

L.A. County District Attorney Steve Cooley, left and L.A. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich have vowed to crack down on marijuana dispensaries. They appear wiling to trample on the state law governing their operation to score political points.

But as attorneys, they should know better. The way SB 420 was written, dispensary operators could have hundreds, if not thousands, of marijuana plants in their inventory. As non-profit cooperatives, the operators may be reimbursed for “reasonable” expenses to cultivate and/or procure marijuana for their customers. Given that the executive staffs of many local non-profits earn six-figure and sometimes seven-figure salaries, this will be a non-starter. I sense millions of dollars will soon go down the drain to prosecute cases that will result in few, if any, convictions.

Meanwhile, it is difficult to drive through the recessionary streets of L.A. and fail to notice the commercial “for rent” signs have grown thicker than a Humboldt County bumper crop. Many of the new businesses I do spot are marijuana dispensaries. Every one I’ve seen has been decidedly low-key, with subdued, almost chaste paintjobs and signage. One within walking distance of my house is so anonymous it’s drowned out by the neon lights from the corner dry cleaner. I risk sounding like a deluded pro-business conservative goofball, but those dispensaries are providing sorely needed jobs and cash flow to landlords. Given L.A.’s draconian gross receipts levy, they could probably provide some sorely needed local tax revenue as well.

But that’s not the story being told by Cooley and Trutanich. They regularly link the dispensaries to armed robberies and other violent crimes, although neither has provided specific crime-related data. Trutanich also claims the marijuana being sold contained dangerous pesticides, although he tends to lapse into a stoner-like haze when pressed about the specifics of the lab testing that’s been performed.

Meanwhile, the local media report allegations that pot dispensary patrons disturb the neighbors or sell to teens. According to a recent piece in the L.A. Weekly, which has relentlessly covered the pot dispensary issue, “teenagers can be seen heading into them after school lets out in Hollywood, Fairfax, Northridge, the San Fernando Valley, Wilshire District and other areas.” The author of the article did not interview a single teenaged patron.

If true, these issues are the same quality-of-life woes that bedevil the neighbors of successful strip clubs, liquor stores and yogurt shops. They can be tackled with well-written regulations and rigid enforcement. At the height of the 1980s crime wave, liquor store owners were successfully pressured to shoo away loiterers and clean up graffiti. Zoning regulations quarantine most strip clubs to industrial areas. And heaven help any restaurant owner who expands without adding parking spaces — they die a death of a thousand citations. Yet the dispensaries are portrayed as occupying some more sinister portion of the business spectrum where owners and patrons deserve a bitter end.

Political capital might be earned by doing so, but the public has forgotten that the author of one of the bestselling memoirs of the past 20 years admitted that “pot had helped” get him through high school and college, as well as  “booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it.” He was so off-handed in his disclosure that Barack Obama probably ingested drugs in quantities far larger than one might assume.

Our current President and my recent lunchtime companion fall into a large swath of highly successful Americans who have used drugs without any apparent harm. A college friend shook me up when I discovered her predilection for smoking cocaine and heroin. She’s a high-profile gang prosecutor these days; Cooley’s her boss. I have had other drug-using friends and acquaintances who have written books, taught and performed other productive activities.

Certainly, some people cannot control their drug usage. But that occurs whether laws exist to bar their consumption or not. And even the most tripped out citizen on the planet can tell you that spending $40,000 to $50,000 a year to incarcerate a dispensary operator versus raking in more than double that in tax revenues to allow them to stay in business is a no-brainer.

There is a move to place a proposition on the November 2010 ballot to legalize marijuana use straightaway and make it subject to taxation. Given the current environment, it will likely never be approved, let alone make it to the ballot. Which means more than a decade after California’s voters approved the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, the political firefights over how it should be dispensed rage on. And lord knows how many of our taxpayer dollars will continue to go up in smoke as a resultTaking

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Y’all Wanna Move to Roosha?

“Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid.
As a nation we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’
When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except Negroes and foreigners and Catholics.’ When it comes to this, I shall prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.” – Abraham Lincoln

How can I resist this quote when the burghers of the backwaters lined up this week to yet again worship at the moth-eaten, mad cow-diseased altar of Sarah Palin? According to the sly reporting of the New York Times, these people swore they would “take back their country” by doing everything in their power to get her into the White House. That they hadn’t read her new book or had any ideas what she would do if actually elected was beside the point.

Of course, if you purchase the secret redneck decoder ring (available at your local Wal-Mart), it all translates to: “Goddamn, what is this uppity Mooslim, Commie Socialist Nigra doing runnin’ MY country??? Lock away all the white wummin and get me my scopin’ rifle!”

Not unlike Barack Obama, Lincoln put up with this crap every single day of his political career until the nut cases indeed finally did him in. That quote – one of the few attributed to him that is dead on yet doesn’t soar – crystallizes the black exasperation he often felt. He represented a new paradigm: a bootstrapping backwoodsman with an intellectual’s temperament few people “got” until it was too late. The only previous President he had resembled to any degree was Andrew Jackson, like him a rural striver, but one fortunate enough to enjoy huge success as a commander during the War of 1812, and shrewd enough to exploit it for political gains. Otherwise, Jackson was just as hot-headed, paranoid and trigger-happy as his fellow Tennesseeans.

Indeed, Lincoln so alienated the Southern states that according to the eminent Civil War historian Shelby Foote, not even a “crank” redneck cast a vote for him in 1860. It’s fascinating that as recently as 50 years ago – when Foote used that term – that someone who thought Lincoln was fit for the presidency would be considered a crank.

Why am I bringing this up? Well, being one of the few mouth-smashing liberals in America, I believe it is time for the Sarah Palin rooters to leave the building. There is simply no rational explanation for their desire to elevate such a bumptious half-wit to such a powerful office. It only demonstrates this nation has too large an ignorant and prejudiced populace, one that refuses to be educated for its own good. Moreover, it will gladly use that ignorance to serve a malignant desire to imperil us all. At a time when there are simply too many short and long-term crises to solve, it would best serve the country to do what Lincoln did when he suspended habeus corpus during the Civil War – going beyond the Constitution in the short-term to preserve in the long-term.

Which is why I remembered the Great Emancipator’s quote, and why Russia would be the perfect destination for them. Here’s why:

1. Putin & Medvedev = Bush & Cheney…But Forever!

When George W. Bush said he looked Vladimir Putin in the eye in 2001 and was “able to get a sense of his soul,” it may have been the only intuitive observation of his entire presidency. Both men are glaringly alike: incurious, autocratic megalomaniacs who not only disdain the opposition, but believe it shouldn’t exist at all. Putin, as a matter fact, could be a template for the “unitary presidency,” that technocratic little term the neo-con fascists cobbled together during Bush’s first term as an excuse for marginalizing Congress and smashing the Constitution into rubble.

Vladmir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev's political relationship should calm all those recent Rooshan immigrants longing for the halcyon days of Bush and Cheney.

Putin was forced out of the presidency by term limits last year, but he assumed the presumably lesser prime minister’s role, with his dimwitted puppet Dmitry Medvedev assuming his old job. But really, everyone knows who’s calling the shots. Sound like a familiar relationship? Yet unlike the Bush/Cheney duet, these guys will have held power at least 16 years, and likely beyond that. This should be a very reassuring arrangement for the new arrivals.

2. The rich, and only the rich, are in charge

No bigger oligopoly exists on Earth than Roosha, where the only people who have the ears of politicians are the obscenely rich, and everyone else might as well live on Neptune – or else. Stepping out of line can still land you in one of those gulags Uncle Joe Stalin was so fond of. Indeed, only $150 annually is spent on healthcare per capita! Thousands of doctors have been laid off and hundreds of hospitals have been closed in recent years. It’s a right-winger’s dreamland: if you can get rich, God bless you. Otherwise, shut the fock up!!

3. They shoot journalists, don’t they?

The Committee to Protect Journalists announced in September that Russia was not only one of the most dangerous places on earth to ply the trade, but one of the worst at solving their murders. Witness Anna Politkoskayva, Russia’s equivalent of Dana Priest, the Washington Post reporter who broke the stories on the CIA’s secret “black sites.” After being unsuccessfully poisoned at least once, she was gunned down in the elevator of her apartment building in 2006. The killers have never been found; some low-level thugs were tried earlier this year, but acquitted. All those code words about the “mainstream media,” “media elite,” “liberal bias” and Fox News’ “Fair and Balanced” slogan boil down to a desire to slaughter anybody who tries to unearth the truth. You couldn’t find a better place to nurture such kindred spirits.

4. Nyet, we have no environment

Russia is in some parallel universe regarding environmental protections. Its factories belch unfiltered smoke, even the most rural portions of Siberia are covered with garbage, and everyone smokes. Oh, and no one – NO ONE – wears seatbelts, an amusing prospect where most of the roads are rutted mudtracks and little is spent to improve or even maintain them. A perfect home for all the naysayers who insist that global warming is a myth and that the government intrudes too much in their lives. And since the average life expectancy of a Russian is about 15 years less than it is for Americans, I will have to listen to them grumble about wanting to live free for significantly less time.

5. But Sarah May Still Visit!

Those departed compatriots of mine may still cast a wistful eye toward the Motherland as they adjust to their new life in Roosha, but have no fears. Sarah Palin always insisted she could see Roosha from her backyard. Assuming that is correct, you’ll have no problems stealing admiring glimpses of her. Of course, she won’t be able to hear you, but take comfort in the fact she never listened to you anyway. And since you’re doing this to make your country a better place to live, Honest Abe would no doubt be proud. If you ask me if it’s the right thing to do, I only have two words: You Betcha!

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We Should All Be So Dov-ish

I’ve visited many company headquarters in my years as a journalist. Only one has been more memorable than a pallet of two-by-fours.

Indeed, American Apparel’s offices and plant just east of downtown Los Angeles is by far the most dynamic place of business in town. Visitors begin their odyssey in gloomy freight elevators out of some Prohibition-era caper. They’re let out onto corridors teeming with models, suits and seamstresses, all moving at a mile-a-minute. There are garment workers everywhere: if they’re not hunched over their sewing machines, they’re eating meals of colorful ethnic cuisine, obtaining exams at the on-site medical clinic or a shoulder-rub from a workplace masseuse. If you think Diego Rivera by way of “Project Runway,” you get a pretty clear picture. Each visit has left me mildly surprised I wasn’t charged admission.

Sadly, this workplace vibrancy was diminished by an order from the Immigrant and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) last September to fire 1,800 American Apparel employees – about a quarter of the company’s workforce – because they are undocumented immigrants. The employees had 60 days to prove they belong in the U.S., but that window closes this month. Few, if any, of the fired workers returned to their jobs.

The firings are considered a departure from ICE policy during the Bush Administration, when such undocumented workers would be detained and deported.  This is the same federal government that e-mailed me a nine-digit Employer Identification Number in seconds when I started a new publishing venture earlier this year. Those fired American Apparel employees had considered their obtaining nine-digit Social Security numbers an impossible dream.

American Apparel presents a tempting target for the feds: Dov Charney, its chairman and CEO, is the most outré leader of any publicly-traded company in the nation. Charney has photographed hundreds of American Apparel’s notorious print ads featuring skimpily clad models, presumably far closer to the master bedroom of his Silver Lake home than his company’s bustling headquarters. His sybaritic shenanigans inside American Apparel have become the cornerstone of many an attorney’s workplace litigation practice.

Dov Charney is easily the most outre leader of a publicly-traded company in the country. But the Canadian emigre has got some balls when it comes to the rights of undocumented workers.

But Charney has also demanded legal status for all of his employees, and pays them an average wage of $18 an hour, plus benefits. He has a point: if you work hard and abide by the law, your host country should try and make an accommodation. His efforts have been denounced by self-proclaimed pro-business politician Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-San Diego, as an addiction to foreign workers. But Bilbray isn’t much of a fan of the domestic worker, either: he voted against increasing the federal minimum wage two years ago to $7.25 an hour.

I want employers like American Apparel to abide by the law, but I feel that this mass firing has in some way trampled on our past compacts. Less than a century ago, as many as 3 million Europeans immigrated here each year as a cheap source of labor. Most encountered brutal prejudices, but the deal was clear: work hard and you can stay, which is something Charney would like to see repeated in the 21st century. Virtually all of those European immigrants entered the country legally, but my guess is if Italy, Russia, Ireland and Germany had borders with the U.S., many of those people would have snuck across them rather than stop at Ellis Island.

Charney himself immigrated from Montreal, and his peccadilloes aside, he’s worked harder than virtually all of us. Yet if he had not created a business that employs 7,000 Southern Californians and the power and influence that accrues with such an accomplishment, he might have been escorted back to the Great White North years ago. Given his success, one would assume all of Charney’s employees work very hard as well, and therefore should be allowed to remain at work.

Which brings be back to Rep. Bilbray. Like many neo-conservatives, he worships at the altar of Ronald Reagan. But he will never acknowledge perhaps the most generous and historic act of Reagan’s presidency: the 1986 amnesty granted to millions of illegal immigrants. I’m thankful for it on many mornings and evenings, because the coffee shop closest to my house is owned by an amnesty recipient. He had been working as a busboy at the restaurant in the mid-1980s when the owner decided to retire and sell out to him, the deal hinging on his becoming legal and a citizen. He’s since opened a second restaurant that’s enlivened a dilapidated West Hills strip mall. He pays all his employees well above minimum wage; his cook clears $1,000 a week. They do indeed charge admission here, but my bill is rarely more than $25, even when I’m with my family.

Of course, I may be confusing the issue when I wax about immigrants who offer fair wages and wane about natives who consider it more practical to put 1,800 working stiffs on the streets in a steep recession who would likely be law-abiding individuals but for the lack of a nine-digit number. But we live in a world that every day is fueled more by political expediency and less by common sense.

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Rainey’s Precipitation Redux

I confess to erring when I wrote a couple of months ago that the L.A. Times editors should consider running white space in lieu of James Rainey’s media column. Instead, he’s become the gift that keeps on – well, you can guess the rest.

In yet another of his “You readers are all stupid, now read to what I have to say” masterpieces, he rips what he acknowledges are a minority of fruitcakes who criticized writer Amy Wallace’s article in Wired magazine that rebuts the alleged links between rising cases of autism and childhood vaccines.  This is in spite of the fact that Wallace, when interviewed on NPR, openly welcomed the responses she’s received, even though a few have been misguided and even profane.

Rainey doesn’t bother to disclose that. Instead, he laments that the world is brimming with idiots, ever emboldened by their Internet connections. “We see a wave of amateurs convinced they can write a pithier movie review, arrange a catchier song, even assess our planet’s shifting weather conditions, better than the professionals trained to do the job,” he writes.

I’ll concede on global warming, but songwriting and movie reviews?  I must have missed the Beatles’ and Elvis’ formative years at Juilliard. I’m unaware of Pauline Kael and Roger Ebert graduating from the Bosley Crowther School of Celluloid Critique at Columbia University, but I don’t always keep track of such esoterica. However, I’m pretty certain Rainey attended for his doctoral studies.

As an amusing aside, the online version of Rainey’s article is bracketed by Google ads hawking the same disinformation he is trying to debunk. But I digress.

Rainey makes it sound as if sanctimonious, know-it-all blowhards suddenly began appearing with the advent of the Internet. They’ve always been out there. But 50 years ago, they needed to type a letter, correct the mistakes, address, stamp and mail it. Nine times out of 10, the target threw it in the garbage without so much as an acknowledgement of receipt. Now, people can slam their targets without leaving their chairs. So, why not?

I will agree with Rainey there is a surfeit of nutwings out there, and their unfounded prejudices are fueled by ill-informed and undereducated celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy. But that is not the entire story.

The fear of vaccines stem not only from ignorance but ever-present suspicions about the drug industry. These are the same people who ply doctors with free lunches, speaking gigs and other honorariums to get them to recommend their products, which are then sold to patients at grossly inflated prices. Wallace does admit that the physician she focuses on in the article, pediatrician Paul Offit, made at least several million dollars from sales of a vaccine he invented that is sold at a 17-fold markup. Offit says it was an unforeseen consequence of his research, but he didn’t exactly turn it down.

And while Wallace’s article is a fine piece of journalism and Offit may be passionate about defending the scientific method, most people never receive such passion for their well-being from doctors. They get cursory visits and a hastily scribbled prescription – and often sticker shock at filling it.

Wallace also failed to mention that the debate on autism occurs in a push-me-pull-you flurry of scientific data. One study is published claiming a link to cancer, and another is published the following year rebuts it. Half a century ago, the common treatment for heart attack victims was bed rest – something the medical community now concludes puts patients at risk for developing fatal blood clots. There may indeed be a dozen current studies debunking a link between vaccines and autism. They may hold up over time. Or they may not.

Lump all that in with the extraordinary difficulty of caring for an autistic child – another burden often met by the medical profession with indifference – and that is among the reasons there is so much anger out there.

Wallace is onto something when she notes that pseudo-science offers comfort, which is why it has attractions. Being told you’re wrong only geometrically amplifies the anger.

Of course, you can leave that part to Rainey. He quotes Andrew Keen, an author who has claimed the Internet has left us culturally bereft, even as he helped propagate it by being a part of various Web startups.

“Keen makes abundant sense when he argues that people who have worked hard to gain expertise can’t so easily, and passively, cave in to ‘the wisdom of the crowd,’” Rainey writes. “He believes experts — in the media, science, law – need to drop their ‘false, almost suicidal, humility.’”

Right. Because a bunch of elite members of society arrogantly getting into the faces of people who are already uneasy or suspicious of them will persuade them to change their minds.

I can only predict one thing with certitude: fewer people will be reading the L.A. Times a year from now than they are today. Perhaps Rainey can discuss that cause-and-effect  in a future column.

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