Exclusive: Did a Los Angeles nonprofit try to leave a disabled homeless woman in a parking lot?

Property owner captured video of St. Joseph Center staff dropping the woman and her belongings

On Monday afternoon the owner of The Wood Restaurant in Culver City filmed two staffers from the nonprofit St. Joseph Center appearing to drop off a wheelchair bound homeless woman and her belongings in his parking lot.

The lot is big enough for about 20 cars. It’s private property and the restaurant is closed temporarily due to the coronavirus economic shutdown, so no one else was around when owner Demetrios Mavromichalis happened to stop by (disclosure: Mr. Mavromichalis is a personal friend). As he started filming, one of the staffers called their manager, who offered to speak with him. He refused, not wanting to share a phone with a stranger in the coronavirus pandemic. He said that they remained in the parking lot for about an hour, mostly on their phones, then loaded the woman and her possessions back into the van and left.

Ironically, the parking lot is where Mr. Mavromichalis hosts food giveaways by Nourish L.A., a youth-driven grassroots organization that provides families in need with healthy, restaurant quality food. Every Sunday lines of cars stretch many blocks down Washington Boulevard. According to the program’s director they feed more than 1,000 people every week. The organization’s efforts recently were the subject of a New York Times feature.

On the video, when Mr. Mavromichalis asked the St. Joseph Center staffers why they were leaving the woman on his property, the female staffer can be heard saying, “We have offered shelter and everything to her but she declined it at the last minute. We tried to take her somewhere else and she’s just like ‘leave me here.’ She had a shelter to go to and she turned that all down. She literally declined it. Everything was set up [for her].”

The telephone number for the manager to whom the employees referred Mr. Mavromichalis has gone straight to voicemail for the last 48 hours, and she has not returned messages. However, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit provided the following statement:

[A]t no time was this client going to be left or just dropped off. I spoke to our outreach team Director, and the situation was that the client had been in a motel for over two months, and we needed to move her, but she refused to go to the new location at the last minute. It was communicated to her that we couldn’t continue to pay for that motel, but we could take her to a shelter. The woman became irate and asked to get out of the car. To deescalate the situation, our outreach team stopped the car and let her out as she requested. Since she was in a wheelchair, it was better to let her out somewhere safer than along the street or curb until she calmed down. When she refused to go along with the team, they called their manager to ask what they should do. They were told to bring her back to the motel, and the manager would try to work something out for her to stay longer. Our staff was able to secure another motel, and that is where she is now. We are continuing to work with her and hope to find her permanent housing with her voucher.

Dierdre Robinson, VP of Marketing & Communications, St. Joseph Center

On the video the woman did appear to be in emotional distress, though she claimed she didn’t turn down shelter. She said a motel voucher was available and the room was “wide open.” When Mr. Mavromichalis told her the staffer said she had turned down shelter she said “bulls**t.” Eventually she said she wanted to “get away from” them because they “weren’t doing the right thing.”

The situation, and the competing stories, raise more questions than they answer. Most obviously, if the St. Joseph’s staff were trying to deescalate things why did they also unload the woman’s belongings, including two bags they placed next to a dumpster? Why did they park the van – which did not have St. Joseph logos or other identifying markings – at the back of the large parking lot, and in the position they did?

In a subsequent email Ms. Robinson explained that St. Joseph Center has “limited funding for motels due to the cost so clients are only able to stay in motels a relatively short period of time.”

The nonprofit is funded by tens of millions from city and county sources, as well as foundations and high net worth individuals. Are they still stretched thin? How often are St. Joseph’s clients downgraded from motels to homeless shelters or the streets? And if staff were able to secure another motel on such short notice that same afternoon, why didn’t that happen in the first place?

A St. Joseph Center staffer consults her phone in the parking lot. From a video by Demetrios Mavromichalis

The situation raises another issue: Starting about five years ago videos of ambulances dropping homeless patients on sidewalks and in camps prompted outrage throughout L.A. In 2018 Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation prohibiting hospitals from releasing homeless patients onto the streets. No such law applies to nonprofits.

To be sure, one of the central challenges of L.A.’s and California’s homeless crisis is that in all too many cases individuals are unwilling (or unable) to accept shelter. That’s a big part of the reason so many shelter beds go unused every night. A significant portion of the homeless population suffer from mental illness that makes it all but impossible for them to exercise sound judgment, or even free will. Many more are addicted to drugs or alcohol and are unable or unwilling to abide by rules inside. And some simply prefer life outside and have no interest in shelter or services.

A May 2018 investigation by KPCC radio determined, “Reviews conducted at 60 shelters funded by [Los Angeles County] last year found more than half — 33 — were not filling all of their beds. Overall, LAHSA-funded shelters had a 78 percent utilization rate, well below the 90 percent required in their contracts. Monitors also found that 25 of those facilities were failing to meet the minimum standards required by their contracts to get people off the streets for good.” The report added that in many cases the conditions of the shelters themselves are deterrents, citing “Rats, roaches, bedbugs, and mold.”

Still, it has long been clear that the city’s network of nonprofits is falling short despite generous funding from public entities, private foundations, and high net worth individuals. Their budgets balloon while the crisis gets ever worse.

Indeed, public records reveal that St. Joseph Center is swimming in cash. According to IRS Form 990 filings the organization received more than $130,000,000 in funding between 2010 and 2018. In that span its annual receipts increased from $7 million in 2010 to more than $25 million and the CEO’s salary almost doubled, from $126,250 to $240,570. In comparison middle and lower class Americans saw their salaries increase by barely 13%, representing a net decrease when factored for inflation.

Its funding sources are diverse. In 2017 St. Joseph Center received more than $11.3 million in public funds from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) through Measure H. In 2018 it received nearly $10 million. Since 2005 St. Joseph Center also has received millions in funding from Culver City, many in the form of no-bid contracts. Last year the nonprofit received a $5 million grant from Jeff Bezos’s Day One Fund for its eleemosynary work.

These numbers are difficult to square with the spokeswoman’s statement that St. Joseph Center could no longer pay for the homeless woman’s motel room.

The nonprofit seems less generous with its rank and file: According to Glassdoor, case managers and regional coordinators make just $39,000 a year. About half the employee reviews are negative, referring to mismanagement, lack of transparency, and misappropriation of funds. An anonymous current employee wrote, “Employees are taken advantage of for their good nature and asked to work in unacceptable working conditions at offsite locations with no air conditioning, no break space, 1 toilet for all staff, and no parking.” Even many of the positive reviews complain of low pay, high case loads, and lack of support from management.

According to public records the public funds St. Joseph Center has received were for programs including “Homeless Prevention for Single Adults” and “Partnering with Cities to Expand Rapid Re-Housing.” The nonprofit has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the City of Los Angeles for efforts including “efforts to find permanent housing for homeless city residents.”

Yesterday, at least, it appeared St. Joseph Center did not meet those obligations.

This story is developing. Check back for updates. If you have information related to the homeless woman and/or St. Joseph Center, please contact allaspectreport@gmail.com

It’s time for a billionaire COVID tax

There’s capitalism, crony capitalism, and as of 2020, COVID capitalism. Since the coronavirus crisis shut down the U.S. and global economies the world’s billionaires have seen their net worth increase by an incomprehensible (to mere mortals) $637 billion. That’s in barely six months. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos leads the pack with an estimated increase of nearly $50 billion. It would take the average American employee – who according to the Census Bureau makes $48,672 a year – more than 986,000 years to earn that kind of money (sliced another way, over the past six months Mr. Bezos has made $182,149 per minute). And there’s no letup in sight. According to many estimates he will become history’s first trillionaire well before 2030.

Jeff Bezos deserves to be a billionaire, a few times over. In Amazon he’s built one of the half dozen most successful and transformational companies in a generation. Millions of Americans of all stripes benefit from not just the company’s online retail platform but offerings like Amazon Prime, Amazon Home Video, Whole Foods, and the Washington Post. Much of the Internet itself depends on Amazon Web Services, used by other tech companies like Netflix, Adobe, Airbnb, and Lyft. Even rivals like Facebook and Apple are dependent on Amazon’s cloud computing services for some of their core retail offerings.

But in the COVID era Mr. Bezos is playing a rigged game. With the closure of large and small traditional retailers Americans, not to mention the rest of the world, have little choice but to purchase many necessities online. Unknowable thousands of those businesses won’t ever come back, making much of the shift effectively permanent. Arguably it amounts to the greatest transfer of wealth in human history, and it’s happening at a head spinning pace. Moreover, since Amazon had a two decade head start as the go-to online retailer it’s all but impossible for new online competitors to catch up, much less challenge the company’s dominance.

Mr. Bezos isn’t just playing on an uneven field: His competition have been forced to cede the contest entirely. He’s just running up the score.

Putting it bluntly, Jeff Bezos doesn’t deserve his COVID windfall. While some 50 million Americans have filed for unemployment he personally has benefited from what contract lawyers call an act of God. That $50 billion is not the result of competition and superior products and services. Amazon hasn’t come up with new ideas or innovations, it’s just kept on keeping on. Yet the company’s second quarter profits were double last year’s. That’s not supply and demand. That’s not even a free market anymore. It’s COVID capitalism. It doesn’t seem like much of a coincidence that Mr. Bezos has gained roughly $1,000 per unemployed American.

To be sure, captains of industry have long benefited, often handsomely, from historical moments that inflicted suffering on the masses. In World War II aerospace executives got rich in part making bombers and fighters that played a part in the deaths of millions. But at least no one ever doubted whose side they were on: The young men flying B-17s into Hell knew that Bill Boeing’s name on their yokes meant they had the best fighting chance American industry could produce. When those four thunderous Pratt & Whitney Hornet engines spooled up they knew every ounce of domestic ingenuity literally was at their fingertips.

In contrast Mr. Bezos is watching the zeros spool up in his bank account. He’s not at the forefront of public health efforts like the Gateses, nor establishing nonprofits and charities to help those most devastated by the pandemic and economic shutdown – the working poor, struggling middle class families, the small business owners who’ve been forced to shut down as he cleans up.

Jeff Bezos is the most conspicuous but not the only example of COVID capitalism. Mark Zuckerberg’s accumulation ($28.7 billion and counting) is in its own way more unseemly: He’s benefiting from countless millions of families who’ve been unable to celebrate birthdays, weddings, graduations, funerals, religious services, and other life events. People are spending hours more time on Facebook each day not because the platform has adapted and changed and offered something better, but because they have no choice. There’s an emotional component to Facebook that doesn’t exist with Amazon, yet as with online retail people don’t have alternatives right now. The same can be said of Eric Huang of Zoom (enjoying a relatively modest $7 billion so far), perhaps the luckiest billionaire of all in terms of timing. Meanwhile Elon Musk ($13.6 billion) is the most inexplicable: Even as the domestic auto industry craters into a historic slump from which it will take years to recover Tesla’s stock continues to reach new record highs.

Nor is it a matter of these companies being in the right place at the right time. In a very real sense circumstances (with a solid assist from governments) have made Amazon, Facebook, Zoom, and other tech giants the only places to be during these times.

The new billionaire class aren’t just watching their net worth increase like the odometer on the Ferrari in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: There’s an increasing recognition that they’re shoving it in people’s faces. As documented in a Vanity Fair article last week, they’re throwing lavish parties, snapping up real estate at historic rates, and even jetting from place to place to stay in areas where coronavirus numbers are lowest. Meanwhile, Joe and Jane America worry whether they can keep a roof over their families’ heads and prevent their children from falling behind educationally. It makes the Gilded Age look like the 1950s.

It is worth noting that there is another category of billionaires that soon will benefit from the pandemic: Institutional real estate investors who are eyeing the coming wave of foreclosures. The likes of Blackstone are positively salivating at the prospect of millions of homes going to auction in the coming months and years as individuals and families fall irrecoverably behind on their mortgages. They’ve already formed hydra headed LLCs to obscure their activities.

Today’s tech titans are household names because they built companies and in some cases created new technologies that benefit the masses. Of course, they didn’t do it out of the goodness of their hearts: As Adam Smith famously observed, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg are in their own way every bit as ruthless today as J.P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie were in their day.

As President Teddy Roosevelt demonstrated sometimes it is necessary for the greater good that the government, and the people, prove equally ruthless. It’s time for a billionaire COVID tax. To paraphrase former President Barack Obama, “They didn’t earn that.”

“Cuties” is the most important movie of the decade

Cuties.

As anyone not living under a rock knows by now, Cuties is a French movie that purports to explore society’s sexualization of teen and preteen girls and the alienation modern social media and smart phone driven culture imposes on them. In the process the Netflix movie subjects five young actresses, including the extraordinary star Fathia Youssouf Abdillahi, to the very indignities the makers claim they condemn. Cuties has once and for all obliterated the lines between art, commerce, and exploitation. Those involved in making it are either the least self-aware people on the face of the Earth or the most guileful.

The movie is indefensible, period, as was Netflix’s marketing campaign. The original ad for Cuties featured four barely clothed preteen girls in sexually provocative positions. Netflix apologized for the ad but is defending the movie itself. That alone is pretty much all you need to know. And no, you do not need to watch the movie to condemn it, just like you don’t need to watch a woman being sexually assaulted to condemn sexual assault.

Cuties is as inevitable as it is repugnant. We’ve been headed in this direction for at least 50 years. The casting couch at last has come for the children. The only possible response to Cuties by normal human beings is, “I need a shower.”

Actually, I feel the need to douse myself in rubbing alcohol, pour acid into my eyes, and leap off my balcony. For I have watched Cuties. Or rather, I watched as much of it as I could stomach, which amounted to about fifteen minutes. With lots of fast forwarding.

In that span I saw 12 year old girls do the following: Twerk (of course), simulate sexual intercourse, simulate masturbation, simulate fellatio, simulate cunnilingus, simulate orgasms, suck on various objects, spank themselves, spank each other, grab their crotches (so much crotch grabbing), spread their legs, grab their chests, grab their backsides, grab each other, grind on each other, and…you get the idea. In one scene, where four barely-clothed girls dry hump a stage while simulating hand jobs, I’m fairly certain I had a minor stroke.

Fifteen. Freaking. Minutes.

In real life, preteen and “tween” girls take nude photos of themselves and engage in sexualized behavior because that’s what society tells them to do to be accepted. That’s bad enough, to be sure. The difference between girls’ sexual behavior in real life and in the make-believe of Cuties is essential: The former is largely confined to children’s own social circles (albeit in many cases vast online social circles they comprehend dimly if at all). In contrast, Cuties is made expressly for an adult audience. Consider: Netflix gave the movie a TV-MA rating. The same adults who made a movie in which preteen girls star openly acknowledge that movie is inappropriate for preteen and even teen girls to watch. Let that sink in a moment.

Of course Hollywood, with strong pop culture assists from the music and fashion industries and the intellectual cover of academia, has sexualized women and girls from its very inception. As Michael S. Rosenwald wrote in the Washington Post in 2017, “it is worth remembering that this intolerable behavior has been tolerated in showbiz as long as there have been bright lights.”

It has not just been tolerated, it’s been rationalized and normalized. To many in Hollywood pedophilia is just another sexual orientation. Several years ago I was at a Passover Seder at the home of a powerful Hollywood agent. At one point in the evening the subject of Roman Polanski came up. I made what I thought was the obvious-as-water-is-wet observation that he got away with drugging and raping a 13 year old, and that he should be forced to return to the U.S. and serve his time. From the reaction around the table you’d have thought I’d just defended Adolph Hitler. In Hollywood Polanski is the victim, you see.

To many in Hollywood a 40 year old man forcing vaginal, oral, and anal sex on a drugged, barely conscious 13 year old girl is merely expressing his version of normal, and who are the rest of us to judge? Never mind that no child that age can possibly consent to sexual activities in any meaningful way even if they aren’t drugged.

Which raises another deeply troubling question about Cuties: Did these girls have any clue what they were actually doing? Or were they, like generations of young actresses before them, simply trying their best to make the adults in the room happy by doing what they were told to do?

It’s not idle speculation. Hollywood history is rife with stories of adults essentially tricking kids into participating in scenes that, had the kids known what was really going on, would emotionally or psychologically devastate them. A famous example is Stanley Kubrik’s interpretation of The Shining. Not wanting to terrify the 5 year old actor, Danny Lloyd, who played Jack Nicholson’s and Shelley Duval’s son, Kubrick and everyone involved in the movie told him it was just a story about a family living in a hotel. Of course, in that case the director was shielding the child. Nevertheless it’s a good example of how adults in Hollywood can manipulate not just the reality on screen but in the real lives of actors. With children it’s particularly easy.

He didn’t know he was in a horror movie

It isn’t the subject matter – the sexualization of women and especially young girls is a crucial topic that deserves all the attention society can muster. It isn’t even the story. Children doing inappropriate things while trying to act like adults is one of the oldest stories in time.

It’s how the movie makers decided to frame and shoot the scenes. Every dance scene devolves into close-ups of scantily clad, twerking and humping 12 and 13 year old crotches, backsides, and midriffs. In countless shots the girls’ heads and faces aren’t visible, a technique most would associate with pornography. Scene after scene, shot after shot reduces the girls to their bodies. The movie literally demands that you spend long moments staring at sexually provocative prepubescent bodies (unless you fast forward the bejeezus out of the thing like I did). Worse still is the rhythm: Every time you start to feel a connection with the characters, much less engagement with the plot, the movie unloads with more twerking, more humping, more simulated sex, more half-naked kids.

Imagine the scene directions the children were given. Great take, kids! Let’s do it once more, only this time I want you to really spread those legs for me. That the director is a woman somehow makes it worse.

Cuties has something resembling a plot, much of which I gleaned from other sources. It focuses on a young Senegalese immigrant in Paris named Amy, played by the extraordinary Abdillahi. When the movie opens she has recently moved with her mother into a housing project in a Parisian slum, where they live in a conservative Muslim household. Her father has returned to Senegal, and we soon learn he has gone to take a second wife. Early in the movie Amy attends a sort of conventicle in which the women in her community make clear that men are dominant and women’s role is to serve them. Amy looks bored and out of place, her face alternatively expressing annoyance, boredom, and amusement at the adults. It’s one of the greatest failings of Cuties that the movie makers utterly failed to develop Amy or any of the other girls as characters their own right.

Not long after moving in Amy sees a neighbor and classmate named Angelica (Médina El Aidi-Azouni) twerking while doing laundry in the building’s basement. In what becomes a recurring trope in the movie our first glimpse of Angelica is her backside and midriff. It’s a solid thirty seconds of sexualized dancing before her face is revealed. Amy is shocked, and slowly backs away from the door when Angelica spots her.

It cannot be repeated enough: When she’s not twerking Abdillahi is positively mesmerizing. When she walks down the hall and stairs from the conventicle to the laundry room she is a wonder of expression. She has the actor’s gift for conveying an entire universe of emotion with a sideways glance.

Later, Amy sees Angelica dancing with three other girls near an abandoned train yard. She resolves to join them, although it’s never made particularly clear why. At first, of course, they fight. The three girls reject the shy, reticent Amy and even chuck rocks at her. But then Amy goes through a sort of hazing, including a scene in which the Cuties shove her into a boys’ bathroom and make her take pictures of a boys’ penis. Because, patriarchy? In order to be accepted she engages in other petty transgressions, such as stealing a cell phone and stealing money from her mother.

Cuties starts to go off the rails when Amy takes a selfie of her privates and posts it to social media, sparking a minor firestorm.

Take a look at the screenshots below, bearing in mind these are 12 and 13 year old children. I averted my eyes as best I could while taking them and I feel disgusting just posting them. It’s a small sampling of what the movie offers. If you think a single one is even marginally acceptable go ahead and register as a sex offender right now, because it’s only a matter of time.

It would have been entirely possible to make this movie without those close-ups, yet there they are, by the score. In fact, it would have been entirely possible to make this movie with legal age actresses. Ally Sheedy was 24 when she played a 16 year old high school student in The Breakfast Club and no one had a problem believing it. Adults have been playing children since time immemorial (here’s a story from last year in the Los Angeles Times about Broadway actors in their 20s and even 30s playing teenagers and preteens). Could the movie makers not at least have found some 18 or 20 year old body doubles?

No, they needed real preteen girls to really simulate sex acts. Because social commentary. The exploitation detracts from the movie itself, not to mention the young actresses, who are astonishing when they aren’t auditioning for the 11pm Saturday shift at the Spearmint Rhino.

The booty and crotch shots dehumanize Abdillahi along with all of them, plain and simple. There’s also a creepy fourth wall break throughout the movie, with the director apparently constantly reminding the girls to look into the camera as sexually as possible. That is, when she bothers to film their faces.

This isn’t a movie about girls in a conservative Muslim community finding a path to, say, college. There is nary a positive adult female role model in the entire exercise, just a progression of stereotypes, which is perhaps the movie’s most misogynistic aspect. In a very real way the movie presents the inverse correlative of the barefoot and pregnant trope, because it pins girls’ fates to their reproductive organs. Protestations aside Cuties’ central message is that a girl’s crotch is her ticket to liberation.

The movie’s other great sin – besides the pedophilia – is that it’s boring. It’s very French in that there are the standard-issue slo-mo scenes overlayed with classical or world music, disconcerting smash cuts, people gazing for long moments into nothing, inexplicable vous nous, and heavy-handed symbolism. Oh, the symbolism. At one point Abdillahi is forced by her mother to cut onions, because, you know, tears. None of it amounts to pathos. The lack of drama isn’t helped by the atrocious English dubbing.

Netflix, which started out as an exciting, innovative alternative to the local video store, has become the McDonald’s of the entertainment industry. Actually, that’s an insult to the Golden Arches. Netflix has become…well, the Netflix of the entertainment industry. They operate on sheer volume, greenlighting hundreds of films, shows, documentaries, specials, events, and other programming every year. There simply isn’t enough top-drawer or even servicable talent on the face of the Earth to sustain that kind of momentum.

In the mad race for eyeballs and dollars in the streaming era it was inevitable Netflix would start scraping the bottom of the barrel. So a-scraping Reed Hastings and his team went, and boy howdy did they find themselves some world-class dreck.

Erm, excuse me: Some world class “art.”

Cuties is the most important movie of the decade – indeed, one of the most important ever – because it finally, permanently, and indisputably reveals Hollywood’s perverse value system (I use the term loosely). A century of sexual exploitation, abuse, and violence against girls and women is now beyond doubt. The only question is why so many people outside tinsel town are defending it.

But that’s a whole other rabbit hole that I don’t have time to explore, because I need another shower.

UPDATED: Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin lashes out at his constituents – again

Friday evening tweet storm also disparages rank and file L.A. police union that spent more than $45,000 supporting his campaigns

It started in June, when Los Angeles Councilman Mike Bonin, long an advocate for increased policing in his district, jumped on the defund the police bandwagon. He staked a position far beyond most of his colleagues on council (except Council President Nury Martinez, who has had her own problems on the subject) and Mayor Eric Garcetti. He introduced legislation to cut LAPD funding, spoke out against the police, and posted pictures of defund protests, including a flier with the caption “F*** the federal police!” to his personal social media pages. His endgame, a declaration of war on the Police Protective League, the Los Angeles police union, came in the form of the plaintive Friday afternoon tweet pictured above. More on that virtual utterance in a moment.

Politics aside, Mr. Bonin’s constituents found his newfound evangelism on the subject of reduced law enforcement puzzling. He made increasing police resources in his district central to both of his campaigns for city council. As recently as January 2019 he boasted of putting more than 600 new patrol officers on the streets, having pushed to take them off desk duties. Even now his official council website features pictures of him with cops and promises to bring more officers to the Westside. [UPDATE: Mr. Bonin has removed the pro-police pages from his official council website.]

He’s also accepted thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the PPL itself. According to a June 2020 Los Angeles Times story the PPL spent more than $45,000 backing his two runs for council (Mr. Bonin has said he won’t accept any more PPL money or support).

Mr. Bonin was for the police – and their money – before he was against them. A partial list of the PPL’s contributions to his campaigns over the years. https://ethics.lacity.org/data/campaigns/contributions#dt

Then there is the inconvenient – for Mr. Bonin – fact of his own experiences with LAPD. According to public records there were 29 police calls for service to his home between January 2015 and June 2020. According to a department analyst many of the calls – logged in the reports as Code 6 – were made either at the department’s or councilman’s initiative. Additionally, neighbors and constituents have documented at least six instances of police responses to Mr. Bonin’s residence not included in the logs, bringing the total to 35.

For now the records raise more questions than they answer. The biggest questions surround the sheer volume of police activity at Mr. Bonin’s residence. The vast majority of people in upper middle class neighborhoods like his go years or decades without calling the police once. Thirty-five service calls over five years, regardless who initiated them or the circumstances surrounding them, is all but unheard of.

For example, between April 2015 and August 2018 there were 15 “false alarm” calls to Mr. Bonin’s residence. The department analyst didn’t have additional details but suffice it to say either Mr. Bonin has the world’s worst home security system or there is more to those calls. Either way those 15 false alarms must have cost the councilman and his husband a pretty penny: According to the LAPD’s website, the penalty for a first false alarm is $216, assuming the system is permitted. By the fourth offense the penalty rises to $366, meaning all those calls cost more than $5,200. The All Aspect Report has submitted public records requests related to the fines.

There are other oddities in the records. One of the false alarm calls at his house – at 12:53am on June 25, 2015 – is listed as responding to a “government building,” as is a valid alarm call on the morning of June 8, 2017. Two other false alarms, on January 8 and May 24 of 2017, are listed as “acts of nature.” 2019 was a quiet year, with a 16th false alarm call in August 2019 (bringing the total to $5,566 and counting) and a call in October logged as “other.”

By “the Westside,” he meant “my house.” He has since deleted this page from his official council website.

There was a spate of calls for service to Mr. Bonin’s home in April of this year. On the night of April 4-5 there were three calls between 11:19pm and 12:39am [UPDATE: Additional information provided by LAPD on August 12, 2020 indicates that there was only one call for service to Mr. Bonin’s house that night, at 11:19pm. The others are “administrative actions. We continue to investigate] There were two more calls on April 7 and April 9, which a LAPD source told The All Aspect Report were “additional patrols.” The most recent calls were May 21 and May 24.

This information came out in response to California Public Records Act requests the All Aspect Report submitted to the LAPD earlier this summer, and to which the department responded last week. On Friday evening FoxLA reporter Bill Melugin discovered the responses and tweeted about them. He wrote, “A public records request reveals that LA city councilman Mike Bonin, who voted to defund LAPD by $150 million, has called LAPD to his home 8 times since 4/4/20, including to provide extra patrols and protection from peaceful protesters at his house.”

Mr. Melugin’s tweet trended and sparked a local firestorm. Within hours it had more than 3,000 likes and 2,000 retweets – no mean feat on a Friday afternoon in the middle of COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement. Mr. Bonin himself responded about a half hour later. He asserted that of the eight calls since April he only made one: A personal request to the captain of Pacific Division to remove hypodermic needles he alleged were left on his porch (suffice it to say discarded needles are commonplace in his district, but only Mr. Bonin himself can call the captain personally to deal with them).

Mr. Bonin said that the seven other calls were initiated by LAPD themselves “sending patrols without my request and often without my knowledge.” It’s an odd turn of phrase from a man who used to work as a newspaper reporter: “often without my knowledge.” Meaning, of course, that at least some of those eight calls so far this year, as well as some of the other 35 total calls, were at his request or with his knowledge. It also raises the question why he didn’t turn down the LAPD initiated patrols he did know about. Most importantly, why did LAPD feel the need to patrol his house so often in the first place?

Mr. Bonin’s tweetstorm continued:

Which leads us full circle to the spectacle of a public servant who aspires to the mayorship and beyond, turning a legitimate question of public interest into a full frontal attack on his constituents, along with peaceful protestors, the rank and file of the Los Angeles Police Department, and anyone else with the temerity to disagree with or challenge him. It was an astonishing act of political self-immolation, made even more inexplicable by its gratuitousness.

To be clear: Mr. Bonin himself made his relationship with law enforcement an issue, both because of the number of times LAPD have served him personally and his newly discovered anti-police fundamentalism. Whether or not he called the police or the police provided patrols and checks at their own discretion on those 35 (at least) occasions, is irrelevant. At any point in the last five years he could have called up Pacific Division and asked the Captain for a stand down order. Would have taken five minutes.

Indeed, until seven or eight weeks ago Mike Bonin had that kind of relationship with the LAPD. He was one of the their biggest supporters both in his district and in City Council, as numerous news accounts and even entries on his CD11 web page attest. He could have used that goodwill – or leverage, for that matter – and played a central role in police reform efforts in Los Angeles. He could have been the guy who told hard truths and demanded accountability from LAPD while still showing support for police who despite months of attacks retain the respect of three quarters of the population, including the 81% of Blacks who don’t want police defunded. He could have shown national leadership on the issue and struck a brave, independent course that recognized the urgent necessities of the moment without discarding the men and women who risk their lives every day to keep the rest of us safe.

In response to Mr. Melugin’s tweet Mr. Bonin could have said something like, “Yup, I admit it, LAPD has come to my house a lot. Like most people calling the police has been my default, and as a public official with a young son I’m especially sensitive. That said, the last few months have caused me to reflect, and like many Americans I embrace the urgent need for change. We will have difficult discussions in the months and years ahead, and we won’t always agree. But I’m committed to working with my constituents and the incredible people of L.A., including our brave men and women in blue, to make this the best city for all of us.”

Thirty seconds, firestorm avoided, leadership established. Heck, that’s the kind of guy people start thinking of as mayor material.

Instead, Mike Bonin has declared war. On virtually everyone. He had a once-in-a-career opportunity not just to score political points with an increasingly hostile electorate but to show real leadership by doing right by the people of this city. He stepped on that opportunity and – well, complete your own metaphor. This isn’t the first time he’s turned on his own voters. See below for examples from The All Aspect Report and elsewhere. Most despicably, in January of this year he attempted to blame a bomb scare at the then under construction Bridge Home shelter in Venice Beach on his political opponents.

It’s enough to make you wonder how he made it this far. It’s also enough to make you wonder if this guy should have this job anymore.

A final note: The current political moment demands clarity on one issue. Mr. Bonin has not aligned himself with the overwhelming majority of passionate, determined, sometimes enraged protestors demanding real change and forcing long overdue conversations about race in America. By showing support for the likes of street rioters and defund the police – a project of the self-declared radical Marxist group Black Lives Matter, not the movement from which they appropriated the name – he has aligned himself with the likes of the (overwhelmingly white) bomb throwers who spent two months attempting to destroy the Portland federal courthouse. He has aligned himself with the likes of ANTIFA and those who practice violence for the sake of violence. Friday evening’s tweet, his declaration that he is “standing up to the police union,” after 25 years of using law enforcement both personally and politically, settles any doubt as to where his allegiances lie.


For previous examples of Mr. Bonin turning on his own voters, see some of these stories from The All Aspect Report and elsewhere:

Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin’s campaign to commandeer West Los Angeles media

Developing: At the councilman’s behest a local publication committed a massive ethical breach this week by unpublishing a constituent’s op-ed

Confident people don’t fear criticism. True leaders, in fact, seek it out, welcome it, and learn from it.

Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin is no leader. His constituents long have known that he’s a machine politician, the kind of person for whom facts and experience, much less criticism, are kryptonite. He lives in the increasingly alternate universe occupied by most of California’s political class, a place in which virtue signaling and political correctness are more real than reality.

As people’s quality of life plummets around his district, as homelessness, vagrancy, and crime spiral out of control, as entire neighborhoods descend into Third World chaos, Mr. Bonin’s track record amounts to a succession of well-documented lies. It’s no exaggeration to say that he has done more harm in a shorter amount of time than anyone ever to have represented Council District 11. Neighborhoods including Venice, Mar Vista, Del Rey, and even Brentwood are unrecognizable from just a few years ago. People die on the streets of CD11 every week, yet Mr. Bonin soldiers on.

It’s getting so bad that telling lies through the media is no longer enough for Mr. Bonin. Now he seems intent on controlling the media itself, or at least the small network of publications that passes for local media these days.

It all started with a flip-flop

During his last election campaign Mr. Bonin made increased policing a central plank, unveiling a “10-point plan” to “get more cops in neighborhoods.” In a January 2017 press conference he said, “Not a day goes by when I don’t hear from a constituent that it has been weeks since they’ve seen a black-and-white unit driving through their neighborhood. Not a week goes by when I don’t hear a complaint from someone that they called LAPD, and it took forever for a unit to come, and in some cases, a unit never came.” He campaigned on the issue through the November 2017 general election (when a paltry 13% of CD11 residents voted for him, but that’s another story).

Increased policing continued to be central to his public messaging through the beginning of 2020. Last summer he boasted on his official city council website that his policies had moved “more than 600 officers” from desk assignments to patrol duty.

What a difference a shift in the political winds makes. In the wake of George Floyd’s death and the resultant upheaval of anti-police sentiment by some members of the public, it’s become fashionable among so-called progressives like Mr. Bonin to call for reductions to law enforcement budgets. Some even call for the elimination of police departments altogether. Mr. Bonin has heaved himself onto the bandwagon. He also is calling for restrictions (“reforms”) on police conduct, especially when it comes to use of force.

Last week he created a minor firestorm in his district when he posted what appeared to be an ANTIFA flier to his personal Instagram and Facebook pages that included the caption, “F*** the federal police.” He posted the image along with several pictures of protesters holding “defund the police” signs (the pictures were notable for their complete lack of diversity, seas of white fists on a sunny west side street, but again that’s another matter).

A since-deleted image from Mike Bonin’s personal Facebook page, July 2020.

Of course, as both an elected official and a private citizen Mr. Bonin is free to contradict himself all he wants. It doesn’t make for good politics much less policy on the ground, but this is America and he can do as he pleases. Mike Bonin’s flip-flopping, however, increasingly crosses ethical lines and calls into question his character and fitness for the office he holds.

On Monday of this week, West L.A. resident and Bonin constituent Allan Parsons decided to call him out on a recent public survey the councilman’s office conducted related to police reform, as well as a June 2020 op-ed Mr. Bonin published with a local West L.A. weekly called The Argonaut. Mr. Parsons wrote an op-ed of his own pointing out methodological flaws and other issues with the survey* and Mr. Bonin’s misleading description of the results in The Argonaut. Called “The Real Results of Mike Bonin’s ‘Reimagining Public Safety’ Survey,” his piece was accepted and published by a local online publication called Yo! Venice.

This apparently got under Mr. Bonin’s skin, and he decided to do something about it. Something egregiously unethical: He (or a staffer) contacted Yo! Venice, an independent media outlet, and demanded they unpublish the story.

Pause to consider the totality of Mr. Bonin’s conduct. First, he concocted a thoroughly unreliable, unverifiable survey on an issue of crucial public importance. This part of his playbook at least is familiar: When he was forcing the hugely unpopular and destructive Venice Boulevard road diet he routinely trotted out fake statistics and surveys. They are designed not to elucidate truth but to validate Mr. Bonin’s position and give it the appearance of public support.

Next, he wrote a highly misleading op-ed based on the survey’s results in a local paper in which he previously has purchased paid campaign advertising totaling more than $3,000. Finally, when a constituent called him out, he used his official position as an elected official to get the story depublished.

That’s representative democracy, Mike Bonin style. This is a person who earlier this year slanderously blamed a bomb scare at the Venice Beach homeless shelter on some of his own constituents and failed to recant and apologize when the facts came out. A person who was caught on video callously walking away from a distressed homeless man – one of the individuals for whom he claims to care so deeply – who was lighting a fire in a street median and putting his hands in it.

It’s no wonder Mr. Bonin doesn’t show his face in his district much these days, at least not outside kaffeeklatsches with wealthy Palisades denizens or stage-managed appearances where he’s flanked by a dozen city officials, his perpetual human shields.

Yo! Venice must account for its decisions

There are a few inviolable rules in journalism. The first is that a publication never unpublishes a story without explanation, and a compelling one at that. As no less an authority on the subject than the Executive Editor of The Atlantic Adrienne LaFrance wrote in 2015, “removing an article from the web is still arguably the most dramatic choice a news organization can make.”

Unfortunately, that’s just what Yo! Venice did. That’s bad enough. Worse is the fact that they did it without independently checking the facts. Worst of all is that they did it s at the behest of an elected official who otherwise would be (potentially) damaged or embarrassed by the article in question. Yo! Venice’s staff apparently got a phone call and did as Mr. Bonin pleaded. That is about as big a breach of journalistic ethics as you can commit (the site did eventually republish the op-ed, but not before the story went viral).

Yo! Venice isn’t just some local rag. It is owned by Mirror Media Group, which describes itself as “a collection of hyper-local media brands.” Its holdings include the Santa Monica Mirror, Brentwood News, Palisades News, Century City News, and one of the city’s most prominent LGBTQ publications, The Pride. In other words, the company dominates local news consumed by more than a million people. MMG typically runs the same stories across multiple platforms, amplifying its editorial dominance. A single Executive Editor, Sam Cantanzaro, oversees all of the companies’ sites and publications.

Ironically, Yo! Venice appears to have repeated its sin, only this time they pulled something of Mr. Bonin’s. On July 30 the site posted an interview with the Councilman in which he discussed topics including police funding. As of this writing the video is not available, though the page and headline remain live.

Along with The Argonaut, which serves a broader community, Yo! Venice is the closest thing Venice and Mar Vista have to a local paper of record. The publication’s website boasts that it is the “#1 Local News, Forum, Information and Event Source for Venice Beach, California.” For better or worse, what they publish (and depublish) matters. That is why the editor and publisher owe the community they serve an explanation. They must answer questions like: Why did they pull a story based – apparently – solely on a politician’s demand? Who made the decision, and who was consulted in the process?

When political figures think they can manipulate reality, the people should be very worried.

If Mr. Bonin had a scintilla of common decency he would resign and allow his constituents to choose a competent successor. Then again, the end of his political career may be a foregone conclusion: He’s up for reelection in 2022. He will have to stand and defend a track record that by any reasonable judgment is indefensible. In the meantime he can try to airbrush reality all he wants. Truth finds a way.

In the meantime, Mirror Media Group would do well to decide whether it wants to be in the news business or the propaganda business.

*The crux of Mr. Parsons’s op-ed was that it is impossible to verify who took the survey or whether they live in CD11. Based on our experience, we agree. We took Mr. Bonin’s survey on August 6 and found it to be unreliable to the point of absurdity: We completed it using an assumed name, email, and zip code. Indeed, after completing the survey once we refreshed it and tried again with a different assumed identity. It worked again. The survey essentially is useless, yet Mr. Bonin is touting it as proof that his recently discovered anti-police policies are popular. That is called state propaganda.

Homeless stabbing in Santa Monica park offers preview of police-free world

Three days earlier, private city “ambassadors” attempted to break up a violent altercation

UPDATE (8/7/2020): The Santa Monica Daily Press reported this morning that Santa Monica police arrested an individual in connection with the stabbing. John James allegedly stabbed an individual who was lying on the ground and then fled. A Santa Monica “ambassador” called SMPD, who subdued Mr. James with a taser after a short chase. He has been charged with attempted murder. The victim was transported to a local hospital for surgery and is expected to survive.

Some Santa Monicans awoke this morning to the now-familiar sound of police cars speeding Code 3 through the city. Their destination was also familiar: Christine Emerson Reed Park, which has been transformed from a place of family gatherings and recreation to the city’s foremost vagrant hangout.

Even as city officials have literally physically disabled the park’s playground and basketball courts – because covid – scores of homeless, addicts, and criminals continue to make the park home, gathering in large groups in close quarters all day, every day. They shout, carouse, fight, and blast music at all hours. A continuous progression of people in busted up cars and motorcycles deliver food, alcohol, and drugs. Yesterday morning at around 9am a man was observed climbing out of a car with a bottle of bargain vodka. He took a long swig, walked over to the grass, and promptly passed out. Fights are near daily occurrences. Needless to say, none of them wear masks or practice social distancing.

In other words, Santa Monica’s Reed Park is a petri dish for what’s going to happen across Los Angeles and indeed the country if depolicing becomes accepted policy. Early results are frightening, indeed.

Untrained, unarmed “ambassadors” being asked to break up fights among mentally ill and intoxicated vagrants

A fight among homeless people broke out Monday afternoon. A woman who is a known aggressor among the park’s regulars started screaming at and hitting two men at a picnic table, one of whom already was bleeding. Two other homeless men several times her size tried to calm her down. She struck one of them and he restrained her, at which point two turquoise-shirted ambassadors attempted to intervene, resulting in a screaming argument between one of the ambassadors and the woman. The two other homeless men broke up the fight, one of them standing between the ambassadors and the woman to prevent escalation. This is how things work in Santa Monica these days. Fortunately, no one was hurt worse than the bleeding man.

This was no mere coincidence: Ambassadors are the city’s alternative to a full-time police presence at the park, which residents have requested for years. Moreover, ambassadors are not city employees: They work for a private company misleadingly called Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. The company deploys them in pairs during daylight hours. Inexplicably the contract costs Santa Monica more than $500,000 a year, meaning either they’re the best-paid park ambassadors in the world or someone’s running a scam.

The point is, the lack of a meaningful police presence at a known hive of criminal activity and violence puts everyone at risk, not least of all the homeless themselves. That risk unfortunately became reality less than three days after the fight: The police this morning were responding to a double stabbing in the park. Two homeless people got into a fight, and according to sources one was stabbed in the face and the other in the stomach. While early reports indicated both are expected to survive, homicide detectives arrived on the scene.

To be sure, police are not the ideal response to fights among intoxicated and insane vagrants. The problem is, right now they’re the only solution that even remotely works. As this week’s events prove, unarmed and untrained civilian workers simply are not effective, and often only make situations more dangerous. Unless and until the political classes in Santa Monica, Los Angeles, and California craft policies that get the homeless the help they need and in many cases deserve, our streets will continue to devolve into mere anarchy.

This is what happens when a city telegraphs a message of tolerance, even indulgence, to violent lawbreakers. As usual, the people who suffer the most under those allegedly “progressive” policies are the homeless and the lawbreakers themselves. Of course the park’s inhabitants and regulars are a threat to the whole neighborhood, but unlike them other people at least can avoid Emerson Park and minimize the immediate danger.

For the homeless themselves, depolicing is just another fire in the Hell into which people like Gavin Newsom and Kevin McKeown have condemned them.

It’s official: California has lost its mind (part one)

Author’s note: This column has been entered in the David Foster Wallace “Most Synonyms for the Word ‘Insanity’ Used in a Single Column” Award. Results will be announced August 7, Year of Sally the Salad-Making Robot

It was a long time coming, but it’s finally happened: The State of California has lost its collective mind. Forget covid-19, a plague of lunacy is rampaging through Golden State like a Santa Ana wildfire, only instead of stirling embers it’s dispersing germs of madness. And unlike the virus there’s no vaccine for insanity on the horizon.

Where to begin? Governor Gavin Newsom’s $1 billion deal with a Chinese manufacturer for N95 facemasks is as good a place as any. Domestic companies like 3M and Honeywell make the masks, but the leader of the world’s fifth largest economy contracted with an adversarial foreign power (remember, there are no truly private companies in China – when you deal with a Chinese manufacturer you’re dealing with the Chinese Communist Party). Which, as it turns out, is only the start of the crazy.

The company, called Build Your Dreams, never made facemasks prior to the coronavirus crisis. It actually makes industrial scale batteries as well as electric buses, trucks, forklifts, and other vehicles. At the start of the pandemic its leaders jumped into the suddenly profitable mask-making game. Profit comes easy when you’re dealing with Gavin Newsom: The deal he cut worked out to $3.30 per mask, more than four times the going rate for domestically-made versions. BYD ended up missing two deadlines for federal certification of its masks. Yet rather than kill the deal Newsom granted BYD two extensions, delaying by months the delivery of masks he claims are critical to public health. He tried to hide the details of his bonkers billion dollar blunder from prying eyes, until a public records request by the L.A. Times forced him to release them.

The loco doesn’t even end there. On March 26 Newsom signed a different deal for masks worth half a billion dollars with a company called Blue Flame, and wired the money the same day. The deal felt apart in a matter of hours when it was discovered Blue Flame had been in existence for a grand total of three days. The punchline? Blue Flame’s founders were two Republican political operatives with zero healthcare experience. They now face a federal criminal investigation (at least the state got its money back from that deal).

Meanwhile, as the City of Los Angeles staggers to recover from a devastating month in which peaceful protests for justice metastasized into riots, looting, and violence the City Council announced plans to cut to the police budget. L.A.’s police force is far from perfect but after tens of thousands of lawbreakers overwhelmed the Los Angeles Police Department and reduced large swaths of the city to mere anarchy, it is positively demented to degrade the department’s capacity.

Never mind that Angelenos of all colors and backgrounds were forced to barricade their neighborhoods and take the law into their own hands, nor that minority-owned businesses were hard hit. Never mind that looters and rioters – whom we used to call criminals – attacked innocent bystanders including an elderly man in Santa Monica and a wheelchair-bound homeless man in downtown L.A. None of that matters in this new Cultural Revolution: It’s hey, hey, ho, ho, LAPD’s got to go.

May 30, 2020 – LAPD officers disperse a crowd downtown as they move to aid a disabled man who’d been hit in the head with a bottle by a rioter. (Photo courtesy of Rusty Redican, LAPD)

It’s sheer derangement on full display, politicians who’ve never had real jobs in their lives deciding that the way to make the police more just and effective is to reduce their capacity. In the process they’ve reached rarefied heights of hypocrisy: Earlier this month L.A. City Council President Nury Martinez announced plans to cut $150 million from the LAPD budget. A few days later Spectrum News 1 Los Angeles revealed that Martinez enjoyed a 24-hour LAPD security detail outside her home. A spokesman defended the detail, which Martinez cancelled out of embarrassment when it became public, claiming the councilor and her daughter had received death threats. LAPD Detective Jamie McBride, director of the Police Protective League, told Spectrum, “If she was really feeling threatened, then that security detail should [still] be in place.”

In other words, Nury Martinez is full of excrement.

Another L.A. city councilor, Mike Bonin, also supports the defund movement and has called for alternatives to police response for “non-violent” incidents (good luck defining that term with any legal certainty). Ironic, then, that Mr. Bonin has called LAPD officers to his home on numerous occasions. The most recent imminent threat to his safety that he felt necessitated an armed police response? A dozen-odd neighbors peacefully protesting his homeless policy in front of his house. No fewer than twenty officers and a dozen squad cars responded, setting up a perimeter on both ends of the councilman’s block while Mr. Bonin cowered behind his curtains inside.

Never one to walk the walk, on his official city Facebook page he later declared, “We need to stop using armed police officers as a response to every problem….neighborhood disputes, and other non-violent issues all demand a different response.” Just not disputes in his neighborhood.

Then again at least Ms. Martinez and Mr. Bonin aren’t headed to prison, which is more than can be said for their former colleague Mitch Englander. Mr. Englander served on the powerful Planning and Land Use Committee, which evaluates proposed developments in the city. His tale of corruption reads like a bad detective novel, including the envelopes of cash he accepted from developers in Vegas casino bathrooms. Of course there were the hookers, the top shelf booze, the steak dinners, and the casino chips provided gratis by intermediaries for builders with business before his committee.

It being Los Angeles, land of the truly batty, all the deals his committee approved while he was under FBI surveillance continue to roar ahead, further warping the already psychotic southland housing market. Were sweet sanity to prevail those deals would be halted, reexamined, combed over by independent auditors or, better yet, the FBI. But here in Oz there’s no time for such niceties.

Of course, the frenzy is raging unchecked in the Bay Area, too. With the approval of city officials nonprofits in San Francisco have been delivering free alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana and other drugs to homeless people living in free hotel rooms under the statewide taxpayer funded “Project Roomkey” initiative. City officials are enabling addicts to continue destroying themselves, with a bay view, delivering booze and drugs to people who are in their situation precisely because they abuse booze and drugs. Officials in Baghdad by the Bay were quick to point out that the deliveries are funded not by taxpayers but individual and group donations, meaning that citizens have gone as nutty as officials.

Meanwhile, the District Attorney in the city that leads the nation in property theft has all but stopped prosecuting property crimes. Because social justice.

Speaking of the D.A., his name is Chesea Boudin and he was raised by terrorists. You can’t make this stuff up: His parents are convicted murderers who were part of a 60s-era radical political group called the “Weather Underground.” Mama and Papa Boudin never left the 60s, as they were convicted for their role in a botched 1981 armored car robbery that left two police officers and a Brinks guard dead (because nothing says political revolution like robbing a bank for cash and murdering innocent Americans). After they went to prison Mr. Boudin was adopted by the organization’s founder Bill Ayers, who’s best known for trying to bomb government buildings. Ayers himself avoided prosecution and boasts about his criminality to this day, declaring “Guilty as hell, free as a bird—America is a great country”. Mr. Boudin not only has never repudiated his parents’ and mentors’ atrocities, he learned from them: His first job out of college was as a translator for the Venezuelan socialist dictator and criminal Hugo Chavez. Good luck, Frisco!

This is no longer a crime in San Francisco. The city experiences more than 30,000 smash and grab break-ins annually. (Gabriele Barni/Flickr)

Of course the plague of madness is particularly insidious in Sacramento. As millions of Californians cling to their homes as the last firewall between themselves and financial oblivion our legislators are about to declare war on homeownership. Barring a miracle last stand in the Assembly they will pass a package of laws bills, which you can read about on the website of an essential nonprofit called Livable California, that will reshape housing in California and devastate thousands of middle and lower income communities (full disclosure: I do legislative analysis for Livable California). The near term result will be a massive destabilization and disruption of what used to be one of the safest investments in the world: California real estate. Over time the laws will unleash gentrification and displacement on a catastrophic scale in communities and neighborhoods.

Like zombies our lawmakers exist in a perpetual state of what Baudelaire called sed non statia, unslakable lust. They lust for control, for it nourishes them, it is all they know. Like religious zealots speaking in tongues they dictate a bizarre gobbledygook of impenetrable parliamentary double, triple, and quadruple speak. And like high schoolers playing model UN they hold 10-hour meetings in which nothing of consequence is accomplished by people who feel themselves Extremely Important. They bend their knees to protestors so clueless in their rage that they destroyed a statute of Ulysses S. Grant in Golden Gate Park in the name of Black Lives Matter. That’s right: In the name of racial justice they destroyed a statute of the guy who defeated the Confederacy.

Rioters also took down a statue of the fictional character Don Quixote, from Miguel Cervantes’ Don Quixote de La Mancha, the most famous novel from the golden age of Spanish literature. The story centers on an insane aristocrat who believes the stories he reads about medieval knights are actual history. He dresses up like a knight and goes on the road engaging in adventures only he believes are real. Which is the perfect encapsulation of the lunacy rampaging through the Left Coast.

Maybe that’s why the rioters destroyed his statue: The story of a delusional and privileged individual living out his ridiculous fantasies hits a little too close to home.

Time for America’s political class to take a pay cut with the rest of the country

Talk of “shared sacrifice” rings increasingly hollow as the political class enjoys protections the rest of the country does not

Gavin Newsom doesn’t need his taxpayer funded salary during the best of times, yet he continues to collect paychecks as millions of Californians suffer

About the only people whose jobs are truly secure during the coronavirus pandemic are politicians, government bureaucrats, and public employees. While the national unemployment rate increases even faster than the spread of the virus itself the political class remain comfortably ensconced in their taxpayer supported offices, riding in vehicles purchased by the people, and of course collecting their twice monthly treasury funded paychecks. The electeds issuing increasingly draconian, economy-destroying orders are untouched by the consequences. That’s bad for both the country and the politicians themselves: If they aren’t feeling some of the sting of their actions they can’t truly understand how everyone else is affected and craft appropriate policies.

It’s time for America’s political class to take a haircut.

Elected officials should forgo their salaries and donate them to small business support funds, at least until the immediate crisis is over. Gavin Newsom, whose life and political career have been funded by the Gettys, Pritzkers, Fishers, and a handful of other California aristocrats, doesn’t need his salary in the best of times. He makes more than a million dollars annually from various investments his benefactors provided him over the years. As a consequence a man who has spent the majority of his career in public service has amassed an estimated net worth of more than $20 million. He’s also married to Jennifer Siebel, daughter of billionaire tech executive Thomas Siebel. Considering his privilege it is grotesque for him collect his $300,000 taxpayer funded salary and benefits (he’s the highest paid governor in the country) at a time when millions of Californians are facing financial ruin.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is not personally as wealthy as Newsom but he comes from the same sort of rarefied and privileged background and has an estimated net worth of around $6 million. He doesn’t need his salary, either, yet there’s no indication he intends to forgo his $200,000 salary. Quite the contrary, in fact: Less than a week after the state lawmakers voted to give him a $50,000 raise he announced that he is freezing pay raises for all other government employees, including low salary front line workers, as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

Keep it classy, Andrew.

Of course not all elected are millionaires, and demanding that someone like Maine governor Janet Mills forgo her $70,000 salary is a different ask. But every politician is taking every opportunity to lecture the country about sacrifice. It’s time for them to share in it. All 50 state governors should announce they are forgoing their salaries entirely, effective immediately.

Likewise, state legislators, mayors, and local legislators should voluntarily forgo some or all of their salaries. Los Angeles city councilman Mike Bonin, along with his husband Sean Arian, has a net worth of at least one million dollars and owns two homes. Certainly a politician like Mr. Bonin, a member of the highest paid city council in the country, can return some of his money to the people in the midst of a historic crisis. He recently posted on his official councilmember Facebook page that, “In the face of the COVID-19 crisis, low wage workers are either losing their jobs, or being left on the frontlines, underpaid and under-protected.” He could set a positive example by walking the walk and donating his salary to a fund supporting those workers. The entire Los Angeles City Council should follow suit. To not do so is, at this point, the epitome of hypocrisy.

Again, there are certainly politicians of modest means, but in a crisis like this it simply does not matter. There should be no distinction between the private and public sectors. If we truly are all in this together – as pretty much every politician tells us – their sacrifice should be no different. Low-income workers in the private sector are figuring out how to survive, it should be no different for the public sector.

In fact, lower income elected could prove to be decisive: A city councilmember or county supervisor living paycheck to paycheck would feel exactly what so many her constituents are feeling, which would lead to better decisions.

In forgoing their salaries to support their constituents the political class could take cues from the private sector. Dozens of CEOs, including Disney’s Bob Iger, Delta Airlines’s Ed Bastian, and GE’s Bob Culp, are taking zero salary for the rest of the year. More still have set up funds to support employees.

At least one elected is doing the right thing: Ohio Senator Rob Portman (R) has announced he is donating his salary to coronavirus relief. It’s high time for the rest of America’s political class to follow the examples of Sen. Portman and the CEOs.

It isn’t just the right thing to do: It’s smart politics. In the next election cycle constituents will ask what they did during the coronavirus crisis. “Sat at home collecting my paycheck while remotely voting for measures that destroyed thousands of livelihoods” isn’t a good answer. Yet that’s just what the political class is doing right now.

It’s time they stepped up. Press conferences are all well and good, but it’s time the people demand that the political class put some skin in the game.

California’s homeless are fodder for an insatiable bureaucracy

The state’s political class will never solve the homeless crisis. In fact, they depend on it.

History is replete with tragic examples of powerful rulers sending citizens to die in futile wars, often with little more at stake than the rulers’ own egos. The term “cannon fodder” was coined by François-René de Chateaubriand during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1814, as Napoleon Bonaparte grew ever more desperate to preserve his collapsing empire Chateaubriand wrote a pamphlet called “Bonaparte and The Bourbons” in which he excoriated the French dictator: “The contempt for the lives of men and for France herself has come to the point of calling conscripts ‘raw material’ and ‘cannon fodder.'” Thousands of young men were killed or wounded on the battlefields of Nivelle, Bayonne, and Toulouse in a vain effort to sustain a dying imperium. The most visceral example of cannon fodder is the World War II Battle of Stalingrad, in which the combined megalomania of Josef Stalin and Adolph Hitler led to the deaths of some two million combatants and tens of thousands of Soviet citizens in the bloodiest military confrontation in history. Two million deaths in the name of two men’s imperial ambitions.

In the twenty-first century California’s political class has created a new kind of human silage: Bureaucracy fodder. The state’s homeless population supports a head-spinning array of well-funded government agencies, nonprofits, charities, foundations, think tanks, law firms, consultants, and developers, all funded and enabled by the state’s (allegedly progressive) political class. As people suffer and die on the streets by the thousands these Brahmins rake in the paychecks, plan scores of multimillion dollar “affordable” and “low income” development projects, hold extravagant galas, and attend posh retreats and “team building” events while clothing themselves in the guise of altruism and community.

While developers vie for literally billions in project funds, many executives on both the public and private side of this archipelago make handsome six-figure salaries, such as disgraced former Congresswoman Katie Hill. Before leaving to run for office she was making nearly $200,000 a year as deputy CEO of a nonprofit called People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) – at the age of 27. That organization itself has grown its revenue from $8.3 million in fiscal year 2012 to $45.8 million last year. The organization’s CEO, Joel Roberts, made $241,370.

In Los Angeles County, homeless services are coordinated by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA). According to Transparent California, in 2014 LAHSA had 118 employees, nine of whom made over $100,000 a year. As the homeless population grew so did LAHSA’s staff: By 2018, the agency had grown to 424 employees, with 31 earning six figures and another 16 earning more than $90,000. The Director pulled down $242,242 (coincidentally nearly identical to Mr. Roberts’s salary at PATH). Assuming an average salary of $50,000 LAHSA spends $21.5 million annually on salaries alone. As LAHSA has grown so has the county’s homeless crisis. Coincidence?

At the state level, the Department of Social Services employs more than 4,200 people whose jobs – theoretically – are to help California’s poorest residents get back on their feet. Nearly 100 employees make more than $200,000 a year, with the Director, William Lightbourne, receiving $313,760. And the state’s homeless crisis grows. Coincidence?

These numbers, which are just a few of myriad examples, raise obvious questions: What would those 424 LAHSA employees do for a living if they were to actually end homelessness in Los Angeles? The answer is equally obvious: If they were to eliminate homelessness and poverty, they’d have to find new jobs. And no one in their right mind intentionally puts themselves out of work.

It’s important to understand that these people are not contractors, nor consultants hired to solve a problem and then move on to the next one. They are full-time, salaried employees. Public employees also receive generous benefits packages and as many as 45 days of paid vacation annually (many take even more time off). Presumably most of them expect to have their jobs for years and decades, and many will retire with their nonprofit or government agency. For that to happen the homeless crisis must continue in perpetuity.

Equally important is the fact that the public employees are dues paying union members. LAHSA’s employees are part of the Service Employees International Union, one of the most powerful in the country (their most recent collective bargaining agreement is quite the read). Those unions are among the most important sources of campaign contributions for California’s Democrat majority, adding yet another layer of self-interest.

The famed economist William Niskanen developed the budget maximizing theory of bureaucracies. He showed how bureaucrats acting in their own rational self-interest seek to increase their budgets in order to increase their power. It’s axiomatic that success in government is a matter of raising your department’s budget and headcount. In the context of homeless services this phenomenon creates the ultimate paradox: The only way for an agency whose mission is to end homelessness can justify increasing its staff and budget is if there are ever increasing numbers of homeless people in the state. Perhaps that’s why Governor Newsom said during a recent tour of a homeless shelter in L.A. that, “Many [homeless people] see California as a place of compassion. If that’s the case, we match our values with action, and as people of faith, we have a responsibility to all of them, regardless of whether they got here last week, last month, or were born here 30 years ago.” That statement amounts to a blank check thrown at the feet of bureaucrats and nonprofit executives.

As barbaric as tyrants’ use of human beings as cannon fodder was, it arguably was more humane than California’s bureaucratic fodder. Soldiers died relatively quickly from combat wounds or – more frequently – illness and exposure. In contrast, California’s bureaucratic fodder suffer excruciating circumstances for months, years, even decades. So long as the solutions are in the hands of self-interested bureaucrats, nothing will change.

UPDATED: I’m willing to risk my life if it means reopening America

With at least 30 million out of work in this country and half a billion facing poverty or starvation worldwide, indefinite lockdowns are no longer an option

Because it’s there. Photo courtesy Mt. Rainier National Park

I’ve refrained from personal essays on the all aspect report in favor of researched opinion pieces. Writing in the first person breaks a sort of journalistic fourth wall and can detract from the story and analysis. Personal opinions evoke more emotional responses than dispassionate analysis and can strain the trust between journalist and reader.

I’m making an exception today because this piece addresses an issue about which none of us truly can be impartial. I’ve bolstered it with as much factual support as could be mustered but it still relies on personal experience, reasonable deductions, and, frankly, instinct. So first person it is.

I believe it is time to reopen the U.S. economy. Not one state a time, not in the herky-jerky, make-it-up-as-we-go-along manner we’ve responded to the virus so far. We need a rational, reasonable, and efficient way to get as many institutions and businesses reopened, and as many people back to work, as quickly and safely as possible. In doing so we must balance the urgent, immediate threat of the novel coronavirus against the grinding, long-term dangers of continued economic contraction and social isolation.

I make this argument well aware of the dangers: I myself am in a somewhat higher risk group for coronavirus. I have an irregular heart beat and have had a minor stroke. These things seem to run in my family – both my mother and my maternal grandfather had several strokes over the course of their lives and my paternal grandfather died of heart disease in his early 40s. I also live in an apartment building in a dense area, Santa Monica, and my job requires me to interact with people regularly, often in less than ideal conditions in terms of personal safety and contact.

I would be well-advised to stay home as long as possible. Yet as we enter the third month of official lockdown/shelter-in-place/quarantine/self-isolation (it says something that the folks in charge can’t agree on what to call it) I’m willing to risk my health and my life if it means reopening California and United States and getting millions of people back to work. I believe that the well-being, prosperity, and long-term happiness of my fellow citizens obligate me to take the (still relatively small) risk.

All who are reasonably able to do so must consider taking that same risk, because we’ve reached a turning point in the battle against the virus: There have been casualties and there will be more. But we cannot lock ourselves away from danger forever, especially when the costs grow more unbearable by the day. The U.S. food supply is showing signs of stress, with the federal government assisting the slaughter of millions of cattle, pigs, and chickens while tons of produce rot in California fields. None of that plenty will make it to Americans’ tables, much less into the global food supply. Worldwide as many as half a billion people are at risk of slipping back into poverty as a result of the economic shutdown. That means millions more premature deaths, countless millions of destroyed lives. The most vulnerable will suffer the worst. No single life is worth that kind of collective harm.

Obviously I don’t want to get sick and I’d certainly rather not kick the bucket at age 44. But one Christopher LeGras is not worth millions of broke and bankrupt families, countless millions of broken futures and shattered dreams, nor the early deaths and suicides that are their inevitable fellow travelers. I can be selfish but I’m not a lunatic.

At the same time I’m going to keep living my life and doing my job, and I hope all who are capable do the same. I’m going to keep investigating, writing about, and exposing the historic corruption and fraud that threaten the futures of my beloved Los Angeles and California. Investigative journalism has a particular and essential role in times like this, when it’s easy for bad people to do bad things under cover of emergency and the fog of conflict. Doing that job requires going out and interacting with the world because that’s where the information lives.

I’m not looking backward: Whether or not the extended lockdown was necessary will be a matter of debate for decades to come. Many a Ph.D. dissertation will be written and many an academic career made over that question. I believe that even if it was overbroad it initially was effective. The predicted mass casualties and deaths of the more, shall we say, impassioned prognosticators didn’t come to pass, and thank God for that.

The problem is that the lockdown treatment for coronavirus is not unlike treating aggressive cancer with chemotherapy: You can’t keep the patient on it forever. It’s cliché but the cure eventually becomes worse than the disease. We’ve reached that point.

Now is the time for the willing to return to their lives. There’s no logic in keeping the Home Depot open while sending the Sheriff to shut down the local hardware store. It makes no sense to shut down the churches and synagogues while leaving open the liquor stores and pot shops. To close parks to the public while allowing vagrants to gather.

Also, lifting restrictions will allow authorities to focus the efforts more efficiently on known hot zones like retirement communities, areas of particularly high density, and of course homeless populations. Getting Americans back to work also will free up financial resources to support those cohorts. Rather than sending 80 million stimulus checks government could provide long-term support for those most vulnerable to the virus.

An anonymous source has told me that the Army is shutting down the emergency field hospital it set up in the Los Angeles Convention Center last month. If true this is more good news – it means L.A. has reached a point where existing capacity can handle further expected cases. The USNS Mercy remains docked in Long Beach to handle any unexpected surge (UPDATE: The Mercy departed on May 15, having treated a mere 77 patients).

Likewise, according to military.com field hospitals worldwide are either empty, emptying, or well below expected capacity and likewise are starting to shut down while retaining contingency capabilities. This is more good news.

In contrast, with each passing day the harm of the economic shutdown increases. Calls to suicide and other mental health hotlines have spiked nationwide; a source in Wisconsin told me that calls to a hotline in her area are up more than 300% over this time last year. Reports of domestic violence are up, likely a small percentage of the true increase. Millions of students, in particular those with special needs, risk slipping behind academically, some of them permanently. And the overall mental health impacts of long term sheltering in place aren’t yet even dimly understood. The United Nations has warned, “This is a universal crisis and, for some children, the impact will be lifelong.”

Like the virus itself the economic damage risks expanding exponentially. Supply chains cannot be rebuilt as quickly as they can be shut down. Farmers are slaughtering stock in increasing numbers, increasing the time it will take to recover. You can’t grow a sow overnight. With each passing day more small businesses pass the point of no return; the restaurant industry may well never recover.

These catastrophic realities, the devastating impacts on countless millions, simply render any single life insignificant.

In addition to that stroke a the age of 42 I nearly bought it when I was 19. I was at Mt. Everest base camp and came down with severe altitude sickness and pulmonary edema. I’m here today because of dumb luck: A team of doctors from UC San Francisco happened to be on the mountain at the same time testing out two still somewhat novel cures. The one they tried on me, a portable hyperbaric chamber called a Gamow bag, worked. And here I be. Despite that scare, in the years since I’ve attempted and summited dozens of peaks, including solo efforts on Mt. Rainier, Mt. Shasta, Mt. Baker, and others. Why? Because it’s worth the risk.

Of 10,000 climbers who attempt Mt. Rainier annually about 5,000 achieve the summit, and an average of five are killed. That works out to a death rate of 50 per 100,000, higher than the coronavirus death rate in than all but four states (three of which are the tri-state area that has been disproportionately hard-hit). In the mountain’s deadliest year, 1981, 11 perished, for a death rate of 110 per 100,000, higher than the coronavirus rate for all but New York state.

In other words, 10,000 people are willing to risk worse odds – potentially far worse –  than those of dying from coronavirus for a 50-50 chance to experience the thrill of summiting one of the country’s great mountains. I’d wager those kinds of folks are champing at the bit to get back to work, school, and their lives. It is time we let them.

Each and every one of us has to decide for themselves the level of risk we’re willing to take. If you want to stay inside, stay inside. For now. But it’s no longer acceptable for our elected officials – who work for us, by the way, and not the other way around, never forget that – to continue to lockdown our economy and increasingly, troublingly, infringe on our most fundamental freedoms.

It’s time for us to decide our own level of risk. Reopen California. Reopen America.