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In the summer of 1963 between high school and college I badly needed a job. A friend from my class at Hollywood High School, who thought of himself as a free thinker and was headed to Reed College, told me his dad had a position open for a secretary and, with his help, I could get hired.
Quality Collection Company was located in a grungy office building in downtown L.A. and was run by my friend’s father and uncle who pretended they were lawyers. The company purchased contracts for items sold door to door in mostly black and Latino neighborhoods in Los Angeles and attempted to collect what was owed on those contracts. Families may have signed up for a deep freezer, not realizing that expensive monthly purchases of meat were part of the deal; or found they had committed to purchasing aluminum siding they didn’t need and couldn’t afford.
My job was to send out the increasingly shrill collection notices on these contracts that included more and more bold black or red lettering and exclamation marks threatening to garnish their wages or repossess their belongings if they didn’t pay up.
About half of all U.S. container trade comes through West Coast ports. Our most important trade partners, by far, are the Asian nations. (China and Japan alone account for over half of all the stuff we import.) The West Coast ports handle the bulk of this trans-Pacific trade. And the neighboring Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach claim the lion’s share of all of this: About 40 percent of Asian imports come into the U.S. through the San Pedro Bay ports. In Southern California, we arguably sit at the single most important locus of global commerce.
And trade has largely done well for us. It is a major driver of our regional economy, swapping places every couple years with tourism as the biggest job creator. The ports generate tens of thousands of very good jobs, mainly for longshoremen. (The ports also generate many thousands of crappy jobs for truck drivers and warehouse workers,
Ed Padgett was driving in the rain to a union meeting when the L.A. Times called to tell him he was fired. The pressman, a third-generation Times employee, listened in shock last December to an HR woman’s voice explain he was being dismissed for “safety violations, dishonesty and suspicion of sabotage.”
That last charge had a bittersweet irony. Padgett had been at the paper for more than 39 years and had done everything he could to help it prosper – even as members of the corporate wrecking crew that drove the paper into bankruptcy were still counting their money.
“It was similar to jumping into an icy cold pool of water,” Padgett recalls. “I felt like crying because I’d been there so damn long, but I soon got over it.” He drove on to his meeting in La Mirada, but hasn’t been back to the Times printing plant on Olympic Boulevard to clean out his locker.
Sometimes a simple statement can provide a window onto a worldview; in this case, the arrogance of privilege.
The City of El Segundo, home to a huge Chevron refinery, is considering raising the oil giant’s taxes to help meet the demands of a growing town. Refineries around the state pay far higher taxes to their local governments than Chevron does. The proposal would bring Chevron in line with its competitors and in line with a common sense definition of fairness.
Chevron, of course, wants to hold on to its growing profits and is fighting hard against any tax increase. It is doing the same at its Richmond, California refinery. In 2011, the company asked Contra Costa County to lower its assessed property value from $1.8 billion in 2007 and $1.15 billion in 2008. Contra Costa assessed the property value at $3 billion. If an appeals board rules in Chevron’s favor,
It’s been a busy, contentious couple of weeks on the economic front. As part of an ongoing series of conversations about the economy, politics and the future of Los Angeles, Frying Pan News asked USC Professor and economist Manuel Pastor to separate the good, the bad and the ugly.
Frying Pan News: Did President Obama’s State of the Union speech reclaim his status as a progressive populist?
Manuel Pastor: It certainly seems that he has his mojo back. This speech was one of the first times he was able to frame what he is doing in a way that makes sense. One element of the speech that was important was the concept that success come from teamwork, wrapping the idea of interdependency into the national narrative. The second thing is he was very clear that concerns about inequality do not stem from people begrudging others’ economic success;