Perhaps no year in living memory presented greater challenges and opportunities to the press than 2017, and Capital & Main was no exception. In response to the Trump presidency, we expanded our coverage well beyond California, while continuing to investigate the fault lines that undergird the nation’s most populous state. We also deepened our reporting on immigration, hate and white nationalism and climate change – issues that will define the Trump era. And we began a long-term commitment to examining business and social responsibility.
Here are 10 series and stories from 2017 that offer a window into how Capital & Main made sense of an extraordinary year in the history of our nation and state.
- Investigating Labor Secretary Nominee Andrew Puzder’s Fast Food Empire
- The Golden State of Hate: California and White Nationalism in the Age of Trump
- Charge Time: Electric Car Workers Accuse Tesla of Low Pay and Intimidation
- Fire and ICE: Inside California’s Fight Against the Trump Immigration Crackdown
- The Bottom Line, a podcast on business and society.
- Promise Breakers: How Regulators Failed to Stop a Sacramento Lead Hazard
- Can Unions — and the American Middle Class — Survive the Supreme Court’s Janus Decision?
- Can California Ban Fracking?
- Trouble in Eden: A Divided Marin County Community Gets a New Charter School
- Deadly Detention: Why Are Immigrants Dying in ICE Custody?
7 Takeaways from California’s Elections
Two of the biggest shockers happened in Los Angeles and Orange counties, in races that have historically drawn the most conservative voters: sheriff and district attorney.
Official voting results are weeks away from getting verified for the 2018 general election, but big, historic trends are already emerging: some old, some new, some bad — and a lot of Blue.
1. Real estate interests prove again that they’re some of the evilest people in California history
The people who helped to bring to the Golden State housing covenants, redlining, Proposition 13, the overturning of the Rumford Fair Housing Act, McMansions in canyons that always burn and so much more housing nastiness were on the wrong side of history again this election cycle. They spent at least $74 million to demonize Proposition 10—which would only allow municipalities the right to consider rent control—to the point where even renters felt it was a nefarious plot to destroy property values and bankrupt elderly landlords. Unsurprisingly, Prop. 10 lost by a nearly two-thirds majority, and real estate special-interests groups will spend even more if another such measure ever goes statewide again.
2. The Democrats’ next big battleground will be the Central Valley
Most of the Dems’ millions were spent on flipping Orange County blue, but as I wrote for the Los Angeles Times recently, the Democrats can learn a lot for 2020 by what’s happening in the Central Valley. There, Latino candidates have climbed the political ladder from school board seats to a majority of the Valley’s state Assembly and state Senate seats, flipping two of the latter with Latinas (Anna Caballero in the 12th, Melissa Hurtado in the 14th) on Tuesday. What they yet don’t have is one of the congressional seats held by the region’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: David Valadao, Jeff Denham, Kevin McCarthy and Devin Nunes, all whom won their races this time around (although Denham is still sweating his out). Expect the Dems to groom some rising stars for 2020—and expect them to mine data from the Valley about how to attract rural voters.
3. People in Southern California mistrust law enforcement more than ever before
Two of the biggest shockers happened around elected positions that have historically drawn the most conservative voters: sheriff and district attorney. In Orange County, Supervisor Todd Spitzer handily beat 20-year incumbent DA Tony Rackauckas, who has been dogged by a jailhouse snitch scandal for years. But even more surprising was the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s race, where Jim McConnell—supported by virtually the entire L.A. political class—lost to former deputy Alex Villanueva. Villanueva will be the first Democratic sheriff in more than 100 years.
4. Los Alamitos is now unofficially Southern California’s City of Hate
The tiny northwest Orange County town made news earlier this year when the city council decided to pass an ordinance protesting California’s sanctuary state law. The councilman who pushed that resolution, Warren Kusumoto, was reelected this week. But also winning a seat was former councilmember Dean Grose, who made national headlines in 2009 when he emailed a racist cartoon of a watermelon patch growing outside the Obama White House.
5. AIDS Healthcare Foundation needs to stop wasting money on propositions
The nonprofit giant spent over $23 million on the Yes on 10 battle, two years after spending $4.5 million on Proposition 60 to mandate condoms on adult films sets in California and more than $14 million on Proposition 61 to regulate prescription drugs bought by the state. Last year, it spent $5.5 million on Measure S, an anti-development ordinance in Los Angeles. All that money went to nothing, as each measure lost handily. Maybe AIDS Healthcare Foundation head Michael Weinstein should’ve spent that $47 million on services?
6. The California GOP’s last, best hope are Asians
The party has long been dead in the state, but a glimmer of hope has emerged for it in Orange County. Asian-American Republicans there now hold one congressional and state Senate seat, two state Assembly spots, three of the five chairs on the Board of Supervisors, and multiple school board and city council positions. And the new mayor of Anaheim, Orange County’s largest city, is Indian-American Harry Sidhu. Leave it to Orange County to get minorities to side with the Party of Trump!
7. With five of seven congressional seats now Democrat, this ain’t your dad’s Orange County anymore
It’s not even your Orange County. A brave new OC awaits all of us, indeed….
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Are Picket-Crossing Dodgers Cursed?
Marvin Miller, who freed Major League Baseball players from virtual serfdom, would be angry as hell at the team’s behavior in Boston.
This week the Los Angeles Dodgers forgot Labor Rule #1 in Boston: Never cross a union picket line.
The last time the Dodgers played the Red Sox in the World Series was in 1916, when Boston won.
Now, after 102 years, the two teams are meeting in the World Series again. So far, things don’t look good for the Dodgers, who dropped the first two games, played in Boston’s Fenway Park. Blame it on disappointing pitching, hitting and fielding. But there’s another element that you won’t see in the box scores: The curse of Marvin Miller.
As the first executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) from 1966-83, Miller made the MLBPA the most successful union in the country. Before Miller, players were tethered to their teams through the reserve clause in every player’s contract. Players had no insurance, no real pensions and awful medical treatment.
“People today don’t understand how beaten down the players were back then,” Miller told us in 2008, four years before he died. “The players had low self-esteem, as any people in their position would have—like baggage owned by the clubs.”
With Miller’s guidance, the players union negotiated the first collective bargaining agreement in 1968. In 1976, they gained the right to become free agents, allowing players to decide for themselves which employer they wanted to work for. In 1967, the year after Miller took the helm, the minimum salary was $6,000 ($45,984 in today’s dollars) and the average salary was $19,000 ($145,616). This year the minimum salary is $545,000 and the average salary is $4.5 million.
Miller came to the MLBPA after a long career with the United Steelworkers of America, and brought baseball players respect and money through his tough negotiations with team owners and emphasis on player solidarity. He educated the players that they were part of the broader labor movement and to respect the struggles of other union members and people who weren’t as fortunate as themselves. That included Rule #1 – Never cross a union picket line.
This week, the Dodgers forgot that lesson in Boston, when they crossed the picket line at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, where housekeepers, cooks, doormen and other hotel workers are on strike. UNITE HERE’s 1,500 members walked out October 3 at seven Boston Marriott-owned hotels, including the Ritz-Carlton. The union is calling on Marriott to provide steadier hours so that workers will have health insurance, higher pay, more job security — and pension protections for employees approaching retirement. (Over 8,000 workers at Marriott-run hotels in eight cities are currently on strike).
Dodgers executives had plenty of advanced warning. Two weeks ago the New York Yankees, whom the Red Sox bested in the American League Division Series, also crossed the Ritz-Carlton picket line, generating lots of media attention and angry condemnations from union leaders.
UNITE HERE Local 26 in Boston had tried to steer the Dodgers toward another union hotel, but the team’s executives ignored them.
The Dodgers should not have put their players in the uncomfortable position of crossing another union’s picket line. This should be particularly embarrassing to Magic Johnson and Billie Jean King, part-owners of the Dodgers who, in their own lives, have been activists for social justice.
They and the other Dodgers owners and executives knew that having their players cross the workers’ picket line would cause controversy. That’s why the team’s brass instructed the players to enter the Ritz-Carlton through the back door to avoid publicity.
But the ploy didn’t work. The Boston papers, radio talk shows, TV news and blogs were filled with nasty comments that went far beyond the rivalry on the baseball diamond. They called the Dodgers “scabs” and “strikebreakers.”
Ironically, the strike’s slogan, “One Job Should Be Enough,” could have been used by professional baseball players before Marvin Miller arrived to run the MLBPA. Most had to work second jobs in the off-season to make ends meet. The hotel workers are fighting for what the baseball players once fought for.
“Jackie Robinson is rolling over in his grave, now that members of his team are crossing the picket line,” said Brian Lang, president of UNITE HERE Local 26. “The Dodgers ought to take his number down. He stood up for justice.”
The players should be sympathetic to the hotel workers’ plight. If they knew their baseball labor history, they’d know that the battles to win better salaries and working conditions were contentious. Five times – in 1972, 1980, 1981, 1985 and 1994 — the MLBPA resorted to going on strike. During the 232-day 1994 strike, the Teamsters union refused to deliver food and other supplies to major league stadiums.
Baseball has enjoyed labor peace since then and today’s players are the beneficiaries of those actions. But last January, Dodger pitcher Kenley Jansen – concerned that team owners were colluding to keep free agents unsigned in order to reduce their bargaining power and give players a declining share of team revenues — suggested that the players might have to consider another work stoppage.
“Maybe we have to go on strike, to be honest with you,” Jansen said.
Despite those sentiments, Jansen, like his teammates, crossed UNITE HERE’s picket line in Boston.
But the Dodgers still have a chance to redeem themselves – and extract themselves from the curse of Marvin Miller.
If the best-of-seven series hasn’t been decided after three games in Dodger Stadium, the teams will return to Boston next Tuesday and Wednesday to play potential Games 6 and 7.
Before then, the Dodgers’ management should make arrangements for the team to stay in one of Boston’s many union hotels where the workers are not on strike. The players – and their union – shouldn’t complain if they have to divide the team between two or three different hotels. That’s hardly a big inconvenience for millionaire athletes –- many from working-class backgrounds -– to show their support for housekeepers, waitresses and cooks who struggle from paycheck to paycheck to make ends meet.
It would also be a nice gesture if a few Dodger players expressed their solidarity by joining the hotel workers’ picket line, even if only for a few minutes. That photo op would go a long way to putting the Dodgers back in the good graces of their 800,000 fellow union members in Los Angeles County who, thanks to the labor movement, can afford to go to games at Dodger Stadium.
Only three of the 26 cities with major league teams—Cincinnati, Tampa and Arlington, Texas—don’t have union hotels. To avoid putting major league players in this situation again, the MLBPA should fight to insert language in their union contract that requires teams to stay in union hotels and to prohibit teams from staying in hotels where workers are in the middle of labor disputes, so players don’t have to cross picket lines.
Marvin Miller would be proud.
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Still Learning From Martin Luther King Jr.
50 years after his death, Martin Luther King Jr.’s teaching on nonviolent direct action are as relevant as ever.
About a year ago, sometime between the feelings of depression that followed Trump’s election and his inauguration, an old activist friend – and occasional Capital & Main contributor – contacted me. Vivian Rothstein had traveled to the South to register voters during the civil rights movement, and she thought it was time again to focus on non-violence as a way of resisting what was floating to the surface in America. She meant not only white supremacy, but what many activists recognize in Trump’s authoritarian tendencies: a threat to democracy itself. Would I join a small group of people to offer trainings in nonviolent resistance, including civil disobedience?
I agreed, and teamed up with a few others who have spent most of their lives practicing some form of nonviolence. We shared Rothstein’s belief that training people from faith communities in the protest tradition was timely and could be effective political work. In the time since, we have developed a course and taught it in a handful of congregations – even to a couple of activist groups beyond the religious community.
What I did not expect from this experience was a re-immersion in the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr. It turns out that preparing for and leading these trainings has become an on-going learning opportunity. We have re-read parts of King’s writing, like the “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence” chapter from his first book, Stride Toward Freedom. We’ve watched documentaries about his life, as well as a great segment on the Nashville sit-ins from the PBS documentary series A Force More Powerful. We have dug into serious questions from participants in the trainings, like what about nonviolence and the Holocaust?
We’ve been guided to much of this material by Andy Moss, a retired professor who taught peace studies for many years, and we each bring our own life pathway to nonviolence and civil disobedience. When we read King’s “Pilgrimage” chapter, I recognized my own intellectual journey. He and I had read the same theologians and philosophers, gone through similar questions, rejected the same dead ends – but he was a decade ahead of me in this academic workout.
It also took me a few more years beyond his life before I was fully committed to a nonviolent way of working. Caught up in the fervor of the late 1960s, I could not grasp the totality of life that nonviolence meant. As one of our team members, Abby Arnold, puts it, nonviolence is “three-fold: a philosophy, a spiritual practice, and a strategy.” I got the thinking part. I understood the strategies too. It took longer to get the inside-out part.
A life committed to nonviolence goes deeper than political activism or social change. It requires an interior life seeking a well-spring of motivation beyond anger, rage, or raw power. It requires a consistency between the inside and personal and the outside and public parts of our lives. I’ve known activists who will walk a picket line for all manner of peace and justice issues, but whose own personal relationships are bitter crucibles of conflict, hostility, even violence.
Studying King emphasized another issue for Elissa Barrett, also part of the teaching team: reconciliation. When the Montgomery bus boycott ended in victory over segregation, King preached that blacks should not flaunt their success at white people. Boycott leaders even printed and distributed leaflets to blacks using the buses again to curtail their glee. This resolve came from a belief that it’s not people who are evil, but a system that maintains injustice and in which white people participated. It was justice the boycott won, not a defeat of people.
In stressing this point, the team shares stories of polarization bridged through gestures of reconciliation that follows conflicts. When the first car wash in America agreed to a union contract for its workers, community advocates took the management a potted plant as an affirmation that a new relationship between workers and owners could grow in that place. We also leafleted local congregations to let people know there was now a place to clean their cars that treated workers fairly.
Of course many Americans did not think of King’s voice as reconciling. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination, a reminder that his teachings on nonviolence were so powerful that some people thought he had to be killed. His murder took place in Memphis, where King had joined a campaign for the rights of sanitation workers to form a union and receive fair wages.
Now this administration threatens the very existence of unions. Low-wage workers feel the sting of flat or stolen wages, even as deportation hangs over many of their heads. Democracy itself may hang in the balance. In such times as these, we know of no more effective way to meet injustice than re-immersing ourselves in King’s life and teaching people resistance through nonviolence.
2017’s Greatest Hits (and Misses)
The political journey between good intentions and the statute book was twisted even by Sacramento standards in 2017. But there was more — much more.
Working Californians’ biggest hope during Trump Year One: Sacramento’s Democratic supermajorities:
With a Democrat as governor and a legislature controlled by true-blue supermajorities, it seemed only logical for Sacramento to spearhead the Trump resistance. State Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) said as much the day after Donald Trump’s 2016 election, vowing to “set an example for other states to follow.” Twelve months later, a modest raft of new laws aimed at blunting the brazen bigotry of Trump immigration policies — including Senate Bill 54, de León’s hard-won sanctuary state bill — and checking the administration’s planet-killing orgy of climate deregulation.
Working Californians’ biggest disillusionment during Trump year one: Sacramento’s Democratic supermajorities:
The political journey between good intentions and the statute book was twisted even by Sacramento standards in 2017. Of the 2,980 bills introduced by state lawmakers, roughly 35 were drafted as “Trump resistance” measures. But by the time the dozen-plus resistance bills made it to the governor’s desk, they tended to be anodyne wisps of their original forms. Senate Bill 6, San Diego Democrat Ben Hueso’s effort to create a legal defense fund for undocumented workers scooped up in ICE raids, became so toothless that Hueso retitled his “Due Process for All Act” as the “Expanding Due Process Act.” A no-brainer by state senators Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) and Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) designed to force Trump to release his tax returns before getting on the state’s 2020 ballot earned a Brown veto. Most controversially, perhaps, Rendon tabled SB 520, a sweeping Medicare for All-styled measure by state senators Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), before it even received a hearing.
2017’s wannest excuse for a sanctuary state act:
It once virtually banned all state and local law enforcement cooperation with ICE agents. But the bill signed into law by Jerry Brown, which had promised to be the sharpest state rebuke yet to Trump’s mass deportations, now looked strangely familiar. That’s because to get the governor’s signature, the California Values Act had to first pass muster with the powerful California Sheriffs’ Association. The compromise gives ICE full access to prisons and jails, allows police and sheriffs to share databases and to detain and transfer people to ICE if they have been convicted of any crime from a risibly broad list of 800 “hold offenses” recycled from 2014’s California Trust Act. Those include the very serious offenses of “intentionally processing a milk product that is required to be pasteurized without pasteurization, manufacturing a milk product in an unlicensed plant, providing milk product for manufacture or resale to an unlicensed person, or falsifying records required.”
2017’s most unsurprising (if most ignored) Rx for national and California Dems:
Just over 46 percent of California’s registered Democrats turned out for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential primary. That’s nearly the same percentage that pre-election polling for the November vote indicated was motivated by anti-Hillary feelings — presumably disgust over four more years of the romance between Clinton-Obama “New Democrats” and Wall Street — rather than anything remotely pro-Trump. Unfortunately, that lesson was lost on state Democrats when they gathered in May and selected Los Angeles County Democratic chair Eric Bauman as state party leader — in spite of Bauman’s financial ties to Big Pharma. Progressive challenger Kimberly Ellis, who narrowly lost a vote plagued by irregularities, charged that a “clear conflict“ had developed among “those nestled in power.” That diagnosis was echoed in postmortems that urged the disentangling of Democrats — “ideologically and financially — from Wall Street, the military-industrial complex and other corporate interests that put profits ahead of public needs.”
California’s most badly bungled headline of 2017:
The news in November was all about the great Silicon Valley sigh of relief that blew down from Palo Alto like a laissez faire Santa Ana wind: California’s Department of Motor Vehicles had issued its long-delayed driverless vehicle testing regulations that would allow autonomous vehicles on California highways. A potential global market of at least $42 billion by 2025, panted the L.A. Times business pages. But for 3.1 million U.S. truckers (who represent represent two percent of total employment), there was little to cheer. In May, Goldman Sachs became the latest to predict that autonomous vehicle technology will disrupt trucking jobs — one of the last middle-class occupations that doesn’t require a high school diploma — into obsolescence at a rate of 25,000 a month, or 300,000 a year. A far more apropos headline would have been, “Just Say No.”
2017’s poster child for neoliberalism: Elon Musk. Again.
Everything that’s wrong with Silicon Valley’s virulently anti-communitarian, anti-regulatory ethos seems to eventually get uttered by California’s favorite South African-born billionaire bad boy, Elon Musk. And in 2017, Musk did not disappoint. In February, the entrepreneur announced the creation of a new tunnel boring company and its first for-profit venture — digging an express tunnel that will bypass L.A.’s legendarily impenetrable rush hour traffic by connecting Musk’s Bel-Air home with his Space X headquarters in Hawthorne. Those lucky enough to be Elon Musk could see their morning hour commute cut to six minutes. Lest there be any confusion about who the free market best serves, this month Musk tweeted his Marie Antoinette-esque distaste for public transit and its twin aims of affordability and accessibility.
How Trump’s ‘Invisible Wall’ Frightens Legal Immigrants Out of Medical Care
Is Environmental Law to Blame for California’s Housing Crisis?
There Will Be Blood: The Rise and Fall of Theranos’ Elizabeth Holmes
Who Pays When Polluting Companies Shut Down?
Beyond Feinstein: A Twelve-Year-Old Climate Activist Finds Her Voice
Is the American Dream Drying Up in California’s Central Valley?
Buyer’s Remorse: Why Did McFarland End Its ICE Contract?
Would Oregon’s Anti-Price Gouging Rental Law Work in California?
Beyond Feinstein: A Twelve-Year-Old Climate Activist Finds Her Voice
Andrew McCabe’s Book Ignores FBI Abuses
Is Trump’s Immigration Crackdown Killing the California Dream?
Central Valley Drains Away
L.A. Teachers Strike Diary: Day Five
L.A. Teachers Strike Diary: Day Four
L.A. Teachers Strike Diary: Day Three
Politics & GovernmentDecember 20, 2018
Beto vs. Democrats: Texas Lawmaker Frequently Voted to Help Trump and GOP
Labor & EconomyAugust 29, 2018
Ohio, NJ and California Pension Funds Invested $885 Million in Hedge Fund That Controls National Enquirer Parent
Charter School DonorsNovember 1, 2018
Reed Hastings: Netflix CEO Goes Nuclear on Public Schools
Labor & EconomyJuly 10, 2018
The ‘Amazon Tax’ Ruling: Disrupting the Disruptors?
L.A. Teachers StrikeJanuary 10, 2019
L.A. Teachers’ Potential ‘Meta-Strike’ Reveals Battle Lines in U.S. Public Education War
Politics & GovernmentApril 19, 2018
Rick Scott Super PAC Donations Challenge Federal Anti-Corruption Rule
EducationMay 29, 2018
Living Homeless in California: For Many Kids, Home Is Where the School Is
ImmigrationApril 10, 2018
Trump’s No Immigrant Left Behind Policy Targets Vietnamese Refugees