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.
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.
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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 obtained exclusively by The All Aspect Report 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, records show that 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.”
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 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.”
Unfortunately, Mr. Melugin and Fox did not get the entire story, but nevertheless his tweet went viral and sparked a local firestorm. Within hours it had more than 3,000 likes and 2,000 retweets – no mean feat on a Friday evening 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).
[UPDATE August 9: The story appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight (Mr. Carlson also did not get the story correct) and even prompted a story in the UK Daily Mail]
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.
- L.A. Meltdown: Councilman Mike Bonin turns his back on a mentally disturbed homeless man playing with fire (All Aspect Report, October 16, 2019)
- Flailing to do damage control after a damning video, Mike Bonin lashes out at his own constituents (All Aspect Report, October 18, 2019)
- LAPD Investigating Pipe Bombs Left at Future Site of Venice Bridge Home (NBC L.A., January 4, 2020) (Mr. Bonin said, “This is an appalling incident perpetrated by a disturbed and cowardly person or persons. If it was meant to slow or halt progress on providing bridge housing, it failed. It is unacceptable and inhumane for people to be living and dying in sidewalk encampments in our neighborhoods. It is imperative that we get people off the streets. We will not be intimated, and we will not back down from providing solutions to our homelessness crisis.”
- Mike Bonin’s campaign to commandeer West L.A. media (All Aspect Report, August 6, 2020)
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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).
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?
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.
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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.
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
Inconsistent, contradictory orders and actions reveal a deeper and more troubling agenda, particularly in big cities
In the game of poker, it’s called a tell. In the heat of the moment, when they’re all in and holding a weak hand even the best players often reveal their bluff. A tell can be a quick sideways glance, an almost imperceptible change in their breathing, a change in the cadence of their speech. There are tells in business negotiations and legal proceedings as well: In a turn of phrase or an unconscious gesture even the most seasoned, Sphinx-like professionals can betray a crucial weakness or strength.
The coronavirus crisis is proving that much of America’s political class, particularly the progressives who occupy elected office in our larger metro ares, wouldn’t last very long in a game of Texas Hold ‘Em. Their tells reveal their that their orders and policies are about politics, not public health. That truth becomes more evident with each passing day, each irrational order, each insufferable press conference.
In California the political class’s tells have been obvious from the earliest days of the pandemic. As officials like Governor Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti effectively locked 40 million law-abiding citizens in their homes they allowed the state’s homeless population – officially 130,000 but in reality many times that – to continue their lives unaffected and unmolested. The same public places closed to everyone else remain gathering places for the unhoused, who continue to congregate in large and small groups in close quarters, sharing meals and bottles, pipes and needles, tents and sleeping bags.
In the scientific parlance Mr. Newsom is fond of invoking, albeit often wrongly, they have become the control group in the largest experiment on humanity in history (as such it’s worth noting that aside from a few isolated outbreaks the cohort exempted from draconian restrictions hasn’t experienced a spike in infections, much less deaths).
While California’s political class claim to be acting in the interest of public health they allow the homeless to continue their most dangerous behaviors. The homeless endanger themselves most of all, but also the communities in which they establish illegal encampments. They are exceptional potential vectors for the virus, roaming the streets at all hours, trespassing on private property, even breaking into houses and apartments. These behaviors are not exceptional, they are commonplace. If the political class truly was concerned about public health the homeless population would have been the first people they addressed. The same patterns are playing out in dozens of cities from Seattle to New York.
The political class’s treatment (or, more accurately, neglect) of the homeless is their biggest tell, but far from the only one. Four days before Easter Sunday Mr. Garcetti issued an order closing all public parks. His justification was that people gather in parks to celebrate and socialize the holiest day of the Christian calendar, and that in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic such gatherings could be, in his words, deadly. “We just can’t take any chances,” he intoned. The mayor’s order didn’t just target a specific religious group, there also was a strong whiff of racism to it: The tradition of gathering in parks to eat, drink, and celebrate on Easter Sunday is largely a Latino one. Suffice it to say, rich white people from Bel Air do not descend on Holmby Park to break cascarónes on the holy day. The order was a breathtaking violation of the constitutional protections of people’s freedom of religion, assembly, and speech as well as due process and equal protection. The mayor’s timing – he announced the closures less than 72 hours before Easter weekend – seemed specifically intended to avoid legal challenges. Otherwise why not announce it a week or a month ahead of time to give families time to organize alternatives?
Even as the mayor deprived millions of Angelenos of the opportunity to observe their religion in their chosen manner, he allowed liquor stores and pot shops to remain open all day for business. Apparently Mr. Garcetti believes that liquor store managers and pot shop owners are better qualified to look after their customers’ well-being than priests are to care for their parishioners. And of course homeless people continued to gather in the very parks forbidden to everyone else.
That’s not a policy, it’s a tell.
The most recent tell is a proposal from L.A. city councilman Mike Bonin, who wants the city to use federal coronavirus relief and other funds to purchase homes and businesses that will face foreclosure as a result of the economic shutdown. As first reported here, Mr. Bonin intends to use the crisis to evict untold numbers of people from their homes in order to, perversely, create new homeless and low income housing. Again, swapping one cohort of homeless people for another isn’t a policy, it’s a tell.
There are many other examples. According to attorney Mark Geragos Mayor Garcetti has declared liquor stores to be “essential businesses” while forbidding Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Last week a mentally disturbed homeless woman who had tested positive for covid-19 was allowed to leave a homeless shelter and return to the streets. An LAPD spokesman said that the city cannot “force” homeless people to remain in shelters, even those who are known to have the virus. This is the same police force that has arrested healthy people for paddle boarding, protesting, and even walking in the wrong place.
Not policies, tells.
What, then, are these policies and orders intended to accomplish, if not the protection of public health? All signs point to a power grab by the political class that is unprecedented outside of wartime. Moreover, unlike emergency war powers this move will be permanent unless Americans start fighting back. And make no mistake: The window is closing. Every day people remain in lockdown is another step toward normalizing the extraordinary. Every time a constitutional violation goes unchallenged, another nail is driven into the coffin of Americans’ freedoms.
The political class’s agenda is increasingly clear everyday. What remains to be seen is how much more the people are willing to accept. A moment of reckoning is fast approaching.
In a world of scarce resources they’re turning a short-term public health crisis into a long-term national catastrophe
As the United States enters the second month of a historic government-ordered lockdown a few realities are emerging into relief. The first and most inexorable is the fact that the nation’s political class were utterly unprepared for this – “this” being an entirely foreseeable, indeed inevitable public health crisis. In an era of mass travel and global commerce it is inexcusable for officials and bureaucrats in urban centers like New York City and Los Angeles to have been caught so flat-footed. The consequence is the grim spectacle of politicians making it up as they go along. Americans in every demographic are suffering the consequences of the political class’s maladministration.
Ignore the glowing headlines about what a great job we’re doing here in California. Everyone should be watching the official response the Golden State with a combination of disgust and horror. As reported earlier this month in The All Aspect Report parts of L.A. are verging on anarchy as officials have effectively shut down civil society while simultaneously hamstringing law enforcement (the reality on the streets makes laughable the official claims by LAPD Chief Michael Moore and others that crime is “plummeting” as a result of stay at home orders).
This is a state that closes churches, synagogues, and other places of worship while allowing marijuana shops and liquor stores to remain open for business. A state that closes parks and beaches to families while allowing vagrants and drunks to occupy those very places by the thousand. These are warped priorities.
California, a place where the next major natural disaster is not a question of if but when, doesn’t have sufficient hospital capacity to handle a moderate pandemic. Officials at the state and local level failed to establish substantive plans in place to surge emergency services in a crisis. For example, the official San Francisco earthquake response plan from the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services contains a single sentence about fire response and overall is impossibly vague. Likewise, the City and County of San Francisco’s official Emergency Response Plan is not a plan but an 89-page compendium of org charts and bureaucrat speak that would be useless in an actual emergency.
The results are obvious in the misallocation of scarce resources and manpower. Two weeks ago a dozen law enforcement officers from three different agencies arrested a man for paddle boarding in Malibu, even as city officials ignore countless crimes committed daily by the city’s homeless population. A man boasted to The All Aspect Report that he’d been pulled over by LAPD last week with an open beer in his cup holder, and was let go without so much as a warning. Meanwhile, Mayor Garcetti urges Angelenos to snitch on each other for violating city orders (he actually said, “snitches get rewards”) while vagrants congregate in close quarters on the steps of City Hall a few feet away from his press conference. So much for California’s “leadership.”
The only place where the official response has been worse is New York City. Like their suntanned counterparts on the Left Coast everyone in the Big Apple ought to be appalled. The leadership of a city that experienced 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy failed to plan for this kind of emergency. Maybe they were too busy building bike lanes. The city so far has the highest number of coronavirus deaths in the country, with more than 11,000 to date. With less than six percent of the nation’s population the state of New York accounts for a third of all coronavirus deaths. It’s gotten so bad that the media and pundit class are rewarding Governor Andrew Cuomo for giving entertaining press conferences with his brother (who staged his own coronavirus quarantine). Not for handling the crisis, but for looking good on TV. Let that sink in.
The official response doesn’t just amount to political malpractice, it’s an existential failure that calls into question fundamental assumptions about the modern neo-liberal state. The relentless expansion of public bureaucracies since the Great Depression was based on a contract between the people and their governments (plural, because the contract is in effect at the local, county, state, and national levels). The people accept the proposition that the complexities of modern political, economic, and social systems demand the commitment of full-time subject matter experts (technocrats) who receive salaries from the taxpayers. In return the people/taxpayers expect those employees to dedicate their careers to sustaining, protecting, and improving those systems. That contract was fraying long before coronavirus as government at every level failed on issues including education, housing, health care, homelessness, infrastructure, and mobility.
Now, as official responses to the pandemic prove more chaotic and perhaps more destructive than the disease, Americans’ remaining faith in the political class is being shaken to its core. Tens of millions have lost work and income, their futures cast into doubt. All because of bungled responses to a public health crisis that every mayor, governor, legislator, and bureaucrat should have seen coming. In an era when the next terror attack, natural disaster, or public health crisis was a matter of time the political class was bickering about pronouns.
If government were like any other industry it would already be in receivership, its executives terminated, its rank and file radically reshuffled, its budgets slashed. Yet in the perverse logic of the public sector many officials see their coronavirus failures as opportunity. As Mr. Newsom said two weeks ago, it’s a chance for “re-imagining a more progressive future.”
Only in the realm of public policy does failure respawn stronger. Only in politics does one fail upward so spectacularly.
A second realization is emerging in the form of a question, albeit a clichéd one: When does the official cure become worse than the disease? The same political class who bungled the nation’s response to a crisis they should have seen coming is in the process of cratering the U.S. and global economies. As a direct result of their actions millions of Americans have lost their jobs in a matter of days while millions more have seen their incomes plummet or disappear. The stock market has erased more than $5 trillion in gains from the last four years. The unemployment rate is making the Great Depression look like the Roaring 80s, and it’s just getting started. Former Fed Chair Janet Yellen has estimated that unemployment rate reached 13% by early April, and some observers suggest that it could exceed 30% before the crisis is over. Countless thousands of small businesses have been shuttered, many never to reopen. Lives are being shattered, livelihoods destroyed, college and retirement savings gutted.
As they continue to collect their own six figure, taxpayer funded salaries the political class that failed so thoroughly is warning everyone else that the worst is yet to come.
In a sense we are in another “9/11 moment” in which reality is obscured by the fog of the crisis (of course, many people have argued that the political class should have seen 9/11 coming as well). In response to the attacks the political class hurled the country into the catastrophic Iraq War. An attack that cost 2,996 lives triggered a response that killed as many as 600,000. In economic terms the hijackers spent roughly $500,000 to carry out their acts of cowardice. The total U.S. military response cost some $6 trillion.
In the fog the political class also convinced Americans that national security necessitated unprecedented governmental invasions of privacy – an “emergency measure,” of course. Nearly two decades later every email Americans send remains subject to scrutiny, every credit card transaction, stock purchase, telephone call, and doctor visit. County and local governments introduced mass surveillance of their populations in the form of cameras and drones, while even suburban police departments obtained military-grade equipment. All of this, said the political class, was necessary to protect us, just like the current national shutdown. The political class was profoundly, dangerously, fatally wrong then. Why should Americans trust them now?
A pandemic by its nature arrives, spreads, peaks, and declines. In contrast, the effects of mass unemployment grind on a populace for years or decades. Make no mistake: Unemployment and poverty are deadly. How many Americans already are sinking into depression, substance abuse, and lethargy because of lost hours, social distancing, and lockdown orders? New York governor Andrew Cuomo was dismissive this week of domestic violence, but how many are being victimized? How many addicts, no longer able to attend in-person meetings, are relapsing? How many people will resort to alcohol or drugs for the first time? How many will contemplate suicide? These are not rhetorical questions: Calls to suicide hotlines around the country are up substantially. A line covering North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota has seen calls spike by 300%.
Suffice it to say, if the political class’s panicked responses to the coronavirus pandemic triggers a long-term recession or even a depression, it will kill many more people than the disease itself. It will invariably result in higher crime rates, more domestic violence, more suicides.
In a world of uncertain choices and imperfect information, America’s political class so far has taken the most imperfect route imaginable.
*Yes, that sentence is an example of the old adage that there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. Comparing a viral pandemic to chronic conditions linked to genetics and behavior is apples and oranges. However, the metric officials are using to justify the massive response is the number of deaths. The current worst case scenario for coronavirus is around 200,000 deaths. Annually, nearly 700,000 Americans die of heart disease.
Councilman Mike Bonin’s idea would swap one homeless population for another while doing nothing to address the underlying crisis
Los Angeles city councilman Mike Bonin stunned constituents on Saturday when he announced that he intends to introduce legislation ordering the city to explore using federal coronavirus relief funds to purchase distressed properties and give them to homeless people. While he was silent on details – such as which city agency would be responsible for what would amount to the largest exercise of eminent domain in history or the legal basis for redirecting desperately needed federal dollars – his announcement sent chills through his west Los Angeles district.
According to the councilman, who along with his husband owns two houses, targeted properties would include homes as well as hotels (the All Aspect Report has the exclusive audio of Mr. Bonin’s announcement):
I intend on putting in another proposal in the next week or two that asks the city to look at the federal bailout or stimulus funds we’ll be getting as a result of this crisis…and using some of that to either buy hotels that go belly up or to buy the distressed properties that are absolutely going to be on the market at cheaper prices after this crisis is over. And use that as homeless and affordable housing. It’s going to be a hell of a lot cheaper to purchase stuff that is already there and move people in there than if we start from scratch. A lot of good stuff is being done.Los Angeles city councilman Mike Bonin
The cynicism of Mr. Bonin’s proposal is exceeded only by its hypocrisy: Along with most of California’s political class he has claimed for years that the only solution to L.A.’s homeless crisis is, to coin a phrase, “build, baby, build.” Saturday’s proposal effectively admits that approach has failed, as anyone paying the slightest attention has long recognized. The problem is that he wants to replace a failed policy with a catastrophically destructive one.
Mr. Bonin’s constituents by now are well aware of the damage he can cause when he sets his mind to it. From business-killing “road diets” to neighborhood-destroying homeless shelters he long ago lost the confidence of many, if not most of the people in his district. Even his firewall of wealthy benefactors in places like Brentwood are questioning his motives and competence. He is as responsible as anyone for the homeless crisis ravaging the westside and has turned a blind eye to the rampant criminality consuming neighborhoods including Venice, Mar Vista, Brentwood, Marina del Rey, Del Rey, Westchester, and elsewhere. His office has all but stopped responding to constituents’ concerns and these days he only appears publicly in carefully stage-managed events flanked by reliable city bureaucrats and his own lackeys.
Having failed his constituents and communities for the better part of a decade he now wants to exploit Angelenos being devastated by the coronavirus shut down. He would give homes for which they worked and saved for years or decades over to the homeless, the majority of whom are unstable, often violent addicts who come to Los Angeles because it’s the best place in the country to live the lifestyle they’ve chosen (the protestations of Mr. Bonin and his fellow travelers aside, the majority of hardcore homeless are not struggling families or blameless working class people evicted from their homes – people who want shelter and services in Los Angeles find them).
It is unprecedented for a public servant to propose using the people’s own money to buy their homes at a discount in the midst of a crisis. Moreover, the fact that people who lose their homes to foreclosure would by definition become homeless themselves seems lost on Mr. Bonin. His idea amounts to poverty musical chairs. It would do nothing to solve the city’s homeless crisis, and almost certainly would make it worse. It would also be another huge step in the hollowing out of the California middle class.
Mr. Bonin and other self-proclaimed progressives on city council claim to care about the poor. Yet the first people to be evicted will be those who are barely hanging on as it is. Those foreclosed properties he wants to buy for a song would be the homes of hardworking Angelenos, many of them people of color. Meanwhile, Mr. Bonin himself continues collecting his $285,000 a year taxpayer funded paycheck. He doesn’t have to worry about losing his home(s).
Mr. Bonin could have proposed a mortgage assistance plan that actually would help struggling Angelenos stay in their homes (and which would be considerably cheaper than purchasing properties, even at foreclosure discounts). He finally could have proposed using the federal funds to establish rapid deployment emergency shelters, as many have been urging for years.
Instead, while millions of tax paying, law abiding Angelenos face financial ruin as a result of the now two month long government shutdown, Mr. Bonin – a man who has never run a business or been responsible for a payroll – casually refers to hotels going “belly up.” He sounded positively giddy at the possibility of the city using taxpayer money to snap up people’s homes, which he says will be available on the cheap.
Never let a crisis go to waste, indeed.
The failure of L.A.’s elected officials to solve the homeless crisis is well-documented, and some of the largest encampments in the city are in Mr. Bonin’s district. Despite years of pleas from his constituents the councilman has done virtually nothing to tackle the crisis. Indeed, even some of the homeless themselves have castigated Mr. Bonin for his incompetence. A man living in a small homeless camp near the Mar Vista post office who identified himself as “Hippie” told The All Aspect report late last year that, “I’ve heard him talk, but I never see anything happen.”
Mike Bonin long ago proved he is not worthy of the office he holds. He is a pawn of big developers and a tool of the homeless industrial complex. This latest proposal proves once and for all that he could care less about the hardworking Angelenos he is supposed to represent.
It’s a shameful moment for the city of Los Angeles.
A government that prioritizes prosecuting surfers and beer drinkers over pimps and drug dealers is a government adrift
Since the first states issued self-isolation orders in early March Americans have surrendered a shocking portion of their rights to the political class. In a matter of weeks 250 years of constitutional law has collapsed upon itself like a spectacular legalistic quasar. Like an imploding star the collapse has generated a massive release of energy, only instead of electromagnetic radiation the energy here is frenzied governmental activity.
To be sure, a pandemic like coronavirus requires robust public sector action. But the brute force of the official response is deeply disconcerting, more so in light of history: Governments that seize control rarely relinquish it.
At the same time, two months into the emergency people are discovering that every level of their government was utterly unprepared for a 21st century public health crisis that wasn’t just foreseeable but inevitable. The precursors were SARS, H1N1, and avian flu. To not have seen something like coronavirus coming amounts to willful ignorance bordering on criminal negligence.
Of course the very officials and bureaucrats whittling away at civil liberties (while continuing to collect their taxpayer funded paychecks) are the ones who failed to prepare in the first place. In late January the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – an agency whose $5 billion annual existence is predicated on preparing for and responding to public health issues – was still reassuring Americans that coronavirus was not transmittable between people. In March, with the crisis in full bloom, the agency still was fumbling its response. So much for disease control and prevention.
The political class is proving that while they can’t contain a virus they can extinguish constitutional rights. Much easier for a governor or mayor to sign a one-page order written by staffers than to spend the months and years necessary to actually prepare for something like this in the first place. Much easier to bloviate at daily pressers than to devise a strategic response.
The price of their incompetence has been lost lives, lost jobs, lost wages, and lost futures. These countless individual tragedies have been compounded by a sudden, massive deprivation of civil liberties. In places like New York and California the deprivation has become virtually absolute.
With few exceptions people have accepted the diminution of cherished rights willingly, voluntarily, even enthusiastically. They’ve surrendered rights for which millions sacrificed, fought, and died over the course of two and a half centuries at the behest of a political class that in the best of times can’t keep the streets paved.
Virtually no one blinked last Thursday when Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the city was closing all public parks for 36 hours, from Saturday afternoon to Monday morning, specifically to prevent people from gathering to celebrate Easter mass. The order effectively suspended two of the Constitution’s most precious protections, freedom of religion and assembly. Churches, of course, have been closed for weeks already.
People convening for a few hours to observe the holiest day of the Christian calendar warranted draconian measures and the full force of the state’s police powers to suspend core constitutional rights. Mr. Garcetti said, “I know this is a time of the year when many of our families and friends celebrate Easter by getting together outdoors –– and we just can’t take any chances right now.”
Yet he’s been taking chances with tens of thousands of homeless people since the crisis started, which in turn threatens the well-being of every single Angeleno. Make no mistake: Mr. Garcetti, like California’s entire political class, has concluded that homelessness, prostitution, drug dealing, addiction, crime, and public disturbances are acceptable exceptions to self isolation orders.
As millions of Angelenos shelter in place public parks have remained havens for homeless, vagrants, and criminals. Dealers openly sell meth, opiods, fentanyl, even home-brewed liquor without the slightest fear of consequence. Open-air drug deals go down in plain view of law enforcement. The All Aspect Report observed a resident of L.A.’s “A Bridge Home” shelter in Venice yesterday dancing on a sidewalk screaming, “It’s corona time, baby!” A few minutes later shelter staff allowed him back inside, no questions asked.
Homeless people gather in close quarters and in small and large groups without any law enforcement response. Quite the opposite, in fact: The Los Angeles City Council ordered that illegal encampments and entire tent cities will remain in place 24 hours a day, indefinitely. Council’s tortured logic is that homeless people are safer in filthy, vermin infested, crime ridden camps. In reality they’ve simply given up. San Francisco quickly followed suit. Meanwhile, across California politicians’ bold plans to house tens of thousands of homeless in hotels, motels, and recreation centers has quietly fallen apart. And just today the Los Angeles Times reported that the LAPD has all but ceased enforcement of sex trafficking laws, exposing the most vulnerable girls and women to new levels of danger and exploitation.
In one of the more infamous examples a man paddle boarding near the Malibu Pier was arrested two weeks ago for refusing to comply with orders that he leave the water. While the man behaved foolishly in defying law enforcement’s orders, it beggars belief that a single individual in the middle of the breakers required two lifeguard boats, a half dozen Sheriff’s cruisers, and two dozen personnel. He was literally the only person for hundreds of yards in any direction.
When people (again, foolishly) crowded L.A. County hiking trails last month the official response was to close all trails completely. Instead of such drastic measures perhaps some of those Sheriff’s deputies who spent time arresting an errant wave enthusiast could instead have been dispatched to enforce social distancing on trails. Then again that would require planning, strategy, and creative thinking, all of which are in dangerously short supply among our city’s and state’s electeds. Last weekend the Santa Cruz sheriff’s department handed out $7,000 worth of fines to a group of young people whose offense against the state consisted of purchasing beer.
Meanwhile, the county is dispatching enforcers to small businesses perceived as violating shut-down orders. Most of these visits are unannounced. The owners of a small print shop in north L.A. report that they have received visits on consecutive days, first by the Sheriff’s department and then by an city official who refused to identify himself (he also claimed to be “out of business cards”) but who left orders from the county health department related to the shop’s operations. The owners, who asked not to be identified for fear official retaliation (let that sink in, by the way), have been keeping the shop open to serve residents seeking, among other things, to apply for relief or small business loans under the CARE Act. If that isn’t an essential service it’s hard to imagine one, but it remains to be seen whether they will be allowed to continue.
People need to be demanding answers from the political class. Why are hundreds of thousands of vagrants and criminals allowed to roam free, their lives virtually unchanged, while everyone else is subject to virtually unlimited control? Why are some kids buying beer considered a greater threat than vagrants assaulting women and dealing drugs?
Stripped to the essentials government’s purpose is protect the populace. At every level, government has failed. Instead of protecting the people the political class is stripping them of basic civil liberties. A government that prioritizes prosecuting surfers and beer drinkers over pimps and drug dealers is a government adrift.
The most egregious of the violations is the virtual suspension of due process. Stay at home orders, orders banning business from operating, and orders forbidding people from assembling amount to an unprecedented intrusion by government into every single American’s life and an unprecedented use of the state’s powers – and it’s happened with zero due process. The many constitutional infringements include:
- First Amendment. Stay-at-home orders by definition violate the First Amendment’s protection of peaceable assembly. In a very real way that right has all but ceased to exist. Meanwhile, city and state governments nationwide banned religious gatherings over Easter weekend. Some places like Los Angeles banned all gatherings, while states like Kansas banned more than 10 people. Regardless these orders are fundamental violations of the constitutional protections of religious freedom.
- Fourth Amendment. State and local officials across the country are urging people to report violations of stay at home orders to law enforcement. Last Tuesday Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti openly encouraged Angelenos to “snitch” on each other, and this week Riverside County released and promoted a mobile app that allows neighbors to anonymously report one another. As the print shop case proves in stark relief officials have abandoned standards of probable cause or even reasonable suspicion, in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures.
- Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Due process has virtually ceased to exist. Extraordinary government orders have deprived tens of millions of their civil liberties, not to mention their livelihoods, without notice, an opportunity to be heard, nor a chance to rebut the justifications behind the orders. Procedural due process is the guarantee of a fair legal process when the government tries to interfere with a citizen’s protected interests in life, liberty, or property. Substantive due process is the guarantee that the government will not encroach on fundamental rights of citizens. Government at all levels has abandoned these precious guarantees.
- Fifth Amendment, part 2. Official orders also are depriving millions of Americans of business income without any compensation. The shuttering of millions of businesses amounts to the biggest de facto public taking in American history, which under the Fifth Amendment requires due process and just compensation. A twelve hundred dollar check doesn’t count.
- Sixth Amendment. Many official orders arguably are tantamount to criminal prosecutions. Shuttering a business, putting dozens or hundreds of people out of work, and destroying people’s life’s savings is a profound exercise of governmental police power. Every affected business owner is effectively presumed guilty. They have been given no opportunity to be heard, no trial by jury, no opportunity to present contrary evidence or witnesses, and no legal representation.
- Eighth Amendment. The Excessive Fines Clause prohibits fines that are “so grossly excessive as to amount to a deprivation of property without due process of law.” While stay at home and other orders aren’t strictly “fines,” they have the same cumulative effect: Forcing businesses to close amounts to a fine, because the order deprives them of normal income. Moreover, to the extent the orders are enforced by government’s police power they may violate the amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.
- Fourteenth Amendment. Again, many of the orders issued at the federal, state, county, municipal, and local levels have deprived Americans of fundamental rights. No one has been given notice or an opportunity to be heard.
It remains to be seen how many of these new restrictions will become permanent or semi-permanent. Yesterday Governor Gavin Newsom justified more stay-at-home orders by remarking, “Not only is the past not equal to the future, but we also have to recognize that we are not just along for the ride as it relates to experiencing the future. The future happens inside of us.”
Because, you see, we have always been at war with coronavirus.