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Inventing the headline number

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 05/17/2013 @ 01:11 PM

The playbook is familiar now—gin up a study on public pensions and government debt to be released to media outlets with a headline-grabbing number shrieking doom for public finances. The latest exhibit is a propaganda piece tossed out to the media by the anti-public employees group California Public Policy Center (CPPC) purposely inflates pension debt.

An early entrant into the invention of “studies to grab headlines” was Joe Nation and a gaggle of graduate students at Stanford. They ginned up a “study” which purported to measure the unfunded liability of public pensions in California by lowering the assumed return rates of pension fund investments. Nation used this lower rate to recalculate current liabilities of pensions, which resulted in a wildly inflated number. As intended, he grabbed headlines in California and around the nation—with far less attention paid to the deliberate manipulation underlying the “study.”

The CPPC is a newer entrant to these propaganda efforts. Driven by hatred of public employees and public employee unions, and a belief that public employees and unions are the main cause of the “downfall” of California (and perhaps, the nation and mankind as we know it), this group endeavors to influence the media through “research” and “studies.”

These guys are not amateur propaganda peddlers. Although operating a website “UnionWatch,” whose self-described mission is to uncover the impact of public sector unions on government budgets and—yes—even the “democratic process”—they know friendly plants in the media won’t cite studies carrying the “UnionWatch” label. So, the more innocuous sounding CPPC is used as the label cover for their propaganda.

Their latest effort of April 26, 2013, claims the total of California public debt is over $1 trillion. It is a classic installment in the “make up the numbers until we get the headline number we want” game run by the anti-public employee folks. Why? Well, they acknowledge the official debt calculation is a far cry from their desired headline number of $1 trillion. So, they simply went ahead and invented numbers until they got the result they wanted. Lou Paulson, president of the California Professional Firefighters may have said it best in an editorial; math should trump politics in California pension debate.

What Paulson describes in his editorial is how they increased the fixed debt cost by including as “debt” estimates of unfunded pension costs. However, the reported debt of public pensions in California calculated with their official discount rates didn’t increase the total debt to CPPC’s desired trillion-dollar headline. So, to make the pension liability larger, CPPC simply decreased the fund’s discount rate by 40 percent to 5.5 percent. Their justification: a July 2012 Moody’s statement that considered using 5.5 percent to calculate pension debt. Of course, they simply ignored Moody’s statement of April 17, 2013, that they wouldn’t be using a fixed 5.5 percent rate.

While that 5.5 percent rate increased pension liabilities by $200 billion, it still fell short of CPPC’s desired headline of “a trillion dollars of debt.” So, more sleight of hand ensued. CPPC used Joe Nation’s fabricated discount rate of 4.5 percent to again increase pension liabilities by $1,110 billion. Having now increased pension liabilities from the official number of $138 billion to the invented number of $450 billion, the trillion dollar figure was within reach. Some made up recalculations of local debt was mixed in, retiree healthcare was added as debt—and at last the “trillion dollar” threshold was crossed! That headline number was dashed out to friendly media hacks, without a care that hundreds of billions of the “trillion dollar” debt figure was the product of outright fabrication and pure manipulation.

We invite you to share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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Three ballot measures, three reasons to vote NO

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 05/10/2013 @ 03:21 PM

Photo: City of West Hollywood/Filckr/Creative Commons License

In addition to electing their mayor, city controller and city attorney for the next four years, Los Angeles voters will have the opportunity on May 21 to vote on three confusing and overlapping ballot measures seeking to regulate medical marijuana pot shops operating within LA city limits.

Among other things, the measures include efforts to cap the number of dispensaries, increase taxes on earnings, and standardize operation hours and distances from schools, childcare center and other sensitive locations. For help understanding the proposals, we recommend KCET’s Ballot Brief where you can find these cheat sheets for voters: Proposition D, Ordinance E and Ordinance F.

The LAPPL is in opposition to all three ballot measures for these compelling reasons:

  • Each will increase the proliferation of illegal pot shops across Los Angeles, resulting in increased blight and crime including takeover robberies and homicides.
  • Each will do nothing to overturn federal law that prohibits marijuana production, distribution and possession.
  • Each will protect the untold millions of illegal cash profits made by illegal pot shop owners at the expense of our neighborhoods and city.

Please support the law enforcement community by voting NO on Proposition D, Ordinance E and Ordinance F. Thank you for helping to keep your streets and neighborhoods safe!

We invite you to share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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A dangerous public safety experiment

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 05/06/2013 @ 10:51 AM

Camarillo Springs fire

Camarillo Springs fire

In 2011, we said that when we preach public safety first, we mean just that. When someone dials 9-1-1, the caller is in urgent need of help from police, firefighters or paramedics, if not all three. The dispatcher who answers that call says something to the effect of “9-1-1, what’s your emergency?” Emergency is the key word here, and our city’s residents expect and deserve the fastest possible response of emergency personnel – especially when every minute counts.

We agree with the Los Angeles firefighters who have voiced huge concern over Fire Chief Brian Cummings’ experiment to prop up response time by adding 11 ambulances to the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) service by taking firefighters off of firetrucks. What the Chief is not telling the public is that with fire season just starting, as evident by the fire burning in Ventura County last week and wildfire in Glendale last Friday, his Band-Aid solution calls for taking 66 firefighters city wide off of fire trucks in an effort to add more ambulances. Moreover, this will negatively affect the fire department’s response with the appropriate personnel to the more common emergencies, like serious car accidents on our streets and freeways, many of which require LAFD to extract victims.

What the Chief is also not telling the public is that with this shuffle of fire personnel, he isn’t planning to add paramedic ambulances that provide advanced life support for the seriously injured, but only those with the ability to provide basic life support. Regardless, he’ll have more ambulances that will allow him to “stop the clock” and reduce response times. This is all just to counter to the media attention about this sensitive issue.

The transfer of firefighters is so dangerous that for the first time in the history the LAFD, the Chief Officers Association is joining United Firefighters of Los Angeles City (UFLAC), which represents the rank and file of the LAFD, in opposing this risky move. Chief Officers Association (COA) President Andy Fox called Cummings’ scheme “ill-conceived and unsafe.” During public testimony on the issue, Fox emphasized that firefighter professional standards say that light force companies need at least five people, with three of them being firefighters. Cummings is taking the number down to four, with two of them firefighters.

No one disagrees that the City needs more ambulances; however, as the COA/UFLAC Joint Position Paper on Removing Inside Firefighters makes clear, “public safety and firefighter safety in Los Angles has never been placed in a more compromising position than the one we find ourselves in now.”

City leaders need to speak up and stop this dangerous trial that puts the safety of the public and our firefighters in higher jeopardy, not to mention violates national standards for recommended staffing of fire companies in large metropolitan areas.

The men and women of LAPD and LAFD continue to pull together to protect our city despite continually diminishing resources, and we are watching to see how many of our elected leaders stand with us and put public safety first.

We invite you to share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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Federal judge’s ruling vindicates actions of LAPD in officer-involved shooting

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 05/03/2013 @ 10:01 AM

Abdul Arian, 19, appears to be pointing a gun at Los Angeles police officers before they shot him to death on the 101 Freeway in Woodland Hills on April 11, 2012. Image from KCBS/KCAL video.

Abdul Arian, 19, appears to be pointing a gun at Los Angeles police officers before they shot him to death on the 101 Freeway in Woodland Hills on April 11, 2012. (Image from KCBS/KCAL video)

A ruling by a federal judge this week reminds us again of the crucial role the City Attorney’s Office has in the criminal justice system.

The tragic shooting of a 19-year-old Winnetka man unfolded on live television in April 2012 after LAPD officers tried to stop him for erratic driving on the 101 Freeway. Although it turned out Abdul Arian was not armed and carrying only a cell phone, the video shot by news crews showed him getting out of his car at the end of the pursuit and taking a shooting-type stance toward pursuing officers just before they opened fire. Moreover, during the late-night pursuit, Arian called 911 and told a dispatcher he was armed and prepared to shoot officers.

Despite the circumstances, the victim’s family filed a $120 million wrongful death lawsuit against the LAPD. Thankfully, in response to a motion by the City Attorney, U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner dismissed the lawsuit on Monday, April 30, ruling that there was “no triable issue of material fact” as to plaintiffs’ claims of wrongful death, excessive force, civil rights claims, negligence and battery. It was a welcome decision and vindication that the officers’ actions were completely justified.

City Attorney Carmen Trutanich said the case was a “tragic episode” for the Arian family and the LAPD. “That being the case, the residents of the city of Los Angeles should not have to pay for something the police were totally justified in doing” Trutanich told City News Service. “There was a perception of grave threats to the officers at the time.”

We are once again grateful to the Police Litigation Unit, specifically Assistant City Attorney Denise Mills, for their diligent work and presentation of a compelling case in defense of the officers, and to Judge Klausner for a decisive ruling upholding the right of LAPD officers to act in defense of the public and themselves.

We invite you to share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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The failure of California’s prison realignment

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 04/16/2013 @ 03:22 PM

Another day, another prison realignment horror story.

Los Angeles Times' Paige St. John reported Thursday that the increase in fugitive sex offenders in California, since the state changed key prison policies, is more than double that was previously believed. Citing data released by corrections officials, St. John reported a 65 percent rise from October, 2011 to January 1, 2013 in warrants issued for paroled sex offenders who were tracked by GPS units and went missing.

As shocking as that statistic may be, no one should be surprised. As we have been lamenting for the past 1½ years, California’s controversial experiment in transferring supervision of prisoners from the state to local agencies is a clear and present danger to public safety.

Want more evidence? Ask Fontana Police Chief Rod Jones. He witnessed two cases in a one-week period of violent crimes committed in his community by hardened criminals who were transferred from state prison to county jail only to be set free because of insufficient bed space to house the inmates.

The Press-Enterprise reported Fontana police and a CHP officer responding to a report of a man beating a woman at a Fontana park-and-ride facility on April 7. The man, identified as David Mulder, was shot and later pronounced dead at a hospital, while the woman died of multiple stab wounds.

Mulder had recently been released from state prison as a Post Release Community Supervision offender, as a part of AB109, the Public Safety Realignment Act. He had prior convictions for narcotics-related charges and was released from prison in September, 2012. Mulder failed to comply with his PRCS terms and, on March 25, was sentenced to 30 days incarceration. He was released from jail eight days later on April 2 and placed on an electronic GPS monitoring system by the San Bernardino County Probation Department due to being homeless.

“This is yet another glowing example of the failure of California’s prison realignment,” Chief Jones said. “Dangerous prisoners that belong in state prison continue to be released early, time and time again, to return to our communities and endanger our families and friends. Had Mulder remained incarcerated, on either recent occasion, for his full sentence, this woman would still be alive and this entire incident would not have occurred.”

Just a week earlier, the Los Angeles Times reported that another felon released under the realignment program allegedly raped a woman in a Fontana motel room. Juan Francisco Aguilera had previous convictions for grand theft auto, drug possession, receiving stolen property and robbery.

You can learn more about realignment by visiting Keep California Safe, which provides factual information about the law and links to stories about failures of the law. This law was meant to ease overcrowding in California’s prisons, but is instead causing huge problems at jails on the local level.

Prison realignment was a deeply-flawed concept from the outset. It clearly isn’t working as intended and must be fixed. The only question is how many more citizens will be victims of violent crimes in the meantime.

We invite you to share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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Keeping Los Angeles safe

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 04/09/2013 @ 03:21 PM

“Safe neighborhoods are the foundation of a safe city.”

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke those words as he joined Chief Charlie Beck for the termed-out mayor’s last quarterly crime report before he leaves office June 30.

Chief Beck and Mayor Villaraigosa reported declines in every major category in each of the Department’s bureaus over the first three months of the year compared with the same period in 2012. Homicides dropped 12 percent, from 75 in 2012 to 66 this year. If that pace holds, the city would finish 2013 below last year’s historic low of 298 killings.

Rapes dropped 39.8 percent from 206 to 124; robberies decreased by 13.2 percent from 2,122 to 1,842 and aggravated assaults declined by 11.3 percent from 1,965 to 1,743.

In all, violent crimes were down by 13.6 percent from 4,368 to 3,775 and property crimes declined by 6.8 percent from 21,262 to 19,826. Total gang crimes were down by 20.5 percent from 986 to 784 and gang-related homicides dropped 29.3 percent from 41 to 29.

Of course, if you were a victim of a crime during the reporting period, the citywide statistics are no comfort. Nor should the statistics lead anyone to conclude that public safety need not be our City’s No. 1 priority going forward. To the contrary, the next L.A. mayor must make public safety the centerpiece of his or her policy and budget priorities if we are to continue the decade-long reduction in crime rates.

We were pleased to hear the mayor pledge that the city budget he will submit for the next fiscal year beginning July 1 will continue to reflect a commitment to a 10,000-member police force and continued anti-gang efforts.

As he looks back on eight years in office, the mayor can take pride in knowing he served the second largest city in America at a time when crime rates fell to levels not seen since the 1950s. For that, undoubted he would thank the dedicated men and women of the LAPD who police what remains – let no one forget – the most under-policed big city in the nation.

We invite you to share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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Anti-pension propaganda disguised by think tanks and ‘public policy’ websites

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 03/29/2013 @ 03:27 PM

Public employee critics, in their continuing attempt to place all blame for economic woes on public employees, have begun a new line of attack. This time they’re employing social media and shadowy websites to bolster their cause.

Here in California, they’ve have created a “think tank” to operate a series of websites that appear to be nominally independent. The group churns out “analysis” and opinion pieces to make it appear as if there is a groundswell of interest behind their unsubstantiated attacks.

The mother ship of this activity is the independent-sounding “California Public Policy Center” (CPPC). Among its active supporters are well-known pension opponents Jon Coupal, Jack Dean, and Steve Greenhut, the former Orange County Register columnist who also writes for the Pacific Research Institute.

Don’t be fooled by the slick websites and legitimate-sounding names. The CPPC has its own website called Pension Tsunami and supports an elaborate string of websites – labeled with fancy names to fool reporters and the public. The beauty of these websites is that they allow their operators to hide in the shadows, with no single individual responsible for the misinformation they disseminate.

Consider the author of many of these reports on public pensions, Ed Ring. He doesn’t outline his credentials anywhere. Try Googling the name Ed Ring – you will find his anti-pension pieces, but not his professional credentials. The most that can be determined is that he was once a “research fellow with the National Tax Limitation Foundation” and now he is the “research director” of the CPPC at the end of his rants against pensions. Nothing else.

Why reporters should be concerned
Here’s how the creative scheme works. Pension critics create some faux analysis of an issue, and then distribute it to a handful of columnists or reporters. They, in turn, regurgitate the talking points in several different publications. Then it moves up the ladder when some of their reliably anti-union editorial boards, such as the U-T San Diego or Orange County Register, cite the “Policy Center’s analysis.” If they’re lucky (and they sometimes are), more mainstream papers or editorial boards will swallow the bait and parrot some of the CPPC’s claims.

As a result of the misstatements in those editorials, people who know the facts write letters to the editor (that rarely get published) bemoaning the false reports. But in today’s age, letters to the editor are passé, usually replaced by mean-spirited invectives in the “comment” portion of news stories on a newspaper’s website.

These manufactured stories and editorials that sprout from these groups have legs, living on in internet searches. It’s a new playbook for propaganda distribution from the anti-public pension crowd – one that everyone needs to be aware of and actively question.

We invite you to share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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State high court decision a win for victims’ rights

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 03/07/2013 @ 12:47 PM

We are never shy about calling out the State Supreme Court when it hands down a ruling we think is detrimental to the rights of police officers or will threaten public safety. But when the justices show good judgment and common sense in an issue we care about deeply, we are delighted to give them a shout-out.

The latter has happened in the case of Michael Vicks, imprisoned since 1983 for a string of violent felonies. Vicks argued that since his crimes occurred before Marsy’s Law was enacted, he was entitled to a more advantageous schedule of parole hearings than the law now allows.

Voters enacted Marsy’s Law – known officially as the California Victims’ Bill of Rights Act of 2008 – as an amendment to the state’s Constitution and certain Penal Codes. A very fine piece of legislation, it protects and expands the legal rights of victims of crime and grants parole boards far greater powers to deny inmates parole.

Prior to the law’s passage, for example, an inmate serving an indeterminate sentence and found unsuitable for parole had the right to a new hearing within five years if convicted of murder, or within two years if convicted of lesser crimes. Under Marsy’s Law, the delay between hearings can be as long as 15 years.

Vicks was found unsuitable for release in 2009 based on the “horrific” nature of his crimes, the results of his psychological examinations and his lack of “insight” into his crimes. Citing Marsy’s Law, the parole board wisely voted to delay his next hearing for five years. Vicks argued that Marsy’s Law constituted an ex post facto law when applied to felons like himself whose crimes pre-dated the law.

According to Metropolitan News-Enterprise, in rejecting that argument on Monday (March 4), Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote for the Court that there was no ex post facto violation because the law does not increase the punishment for a crime. “In light of the circumstances of his kidnapping offenses, such as the movement of the victims, the sexual assaults, and the use of a firearm, it appears under the matrices governing the calculation of his base term that he would be required to remain incarcerated even if he were found suitable for parole at this time.”

In passing Marsy’s Law in 2008, the voters of California sent a clear message that has now resonated all the way to the State Supreme Court. We applaud the justices for an important ruling upholding the wishes of California voters. In so doing, they are protecting law-abiding citizens throughout our state by keeping inmates like Michael Vicks out of our society.

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