The SEC’s Revolving Door

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’re looking for evidence of the revolving door that spins between the federal government and Wall Street, look no further than Daniel Gallagher, President Barack Obama’s recently announced nominee for Securities and Exchange Commission commissioner.

Gallagher certainly appears qualified for the job. He previously worked at the SEC as a counsel to then-Chairman Christopher Cox, and later played a key role in organizing the SEC’s response to the financial crisis. Yet Obama’s nomination of Gallagher to help lead the agency during a critical time in its history is also the latest example of the agency’s coziness to the industry it oversees.

Gallagher is currently a partner at WilmerHale. The pricey law firm’s high-profile clients have included Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, and other Wall Street giants regulated by the SEC. If the Senate confirms him, this would be Gallagher’s second spin through the revolving door — he previously left WilmerHale to join the SEC in January 2006, only to return to the firm in 2010. And he would be the latest on an ever-expanding list of WilmerHale alumni at the SEC, including the current general counsel, deputy general counsel, associate general counsel, corporation finance division director, enforcement division chief counsel, and deputy secretary.

Of course, the revolving door spins in both directions. Many former SEC employees leave the agency to join WilmerHale and other legal, accounting, and consulting firms that represent clients in the securities industry. Several recent reports by the SEC Inspector General have raised troubling questions about whether the promise of future employment representing Wall Street causes some SEC officials to treat potential employers and their clients with a lighter touch.

The Project On Government Oversight (POGO), where I work as an investigator, just released a new report and database showing that hundreds of former SEC employees have recently taken jobs representing clients before the SEC.

All told, POGO’s database shows that 219 former SEC employees filed 789 statements between 2006 and 2010 announcing their intent to appear before the SEC or communicate with its staff on behalf of private clients. One former employee had to file 20 statements during this time period in order to disclose all his clients and the issues on which he expected to appear before the SEC. Another former employee filed his first statement just two days after leaving the agency.

Last year, the SEC Inspector General issued a report on the agency’s botched investigation of Allied Capital, which was represented by none other than WilmerHale. Two of the WilmerHale attorneys who represented Allied were former senior officials in the SEC’s enforcement division. The Inspector General found that a current associate director in the SEC’s compliance office who knew one of the WilmerHale attorneys said he declined to refer the Allied matter to the enforcement division because, “If you’ve known somebody or even if they didn’t really know them but you know they worked here… Well, they should hopefully be doing the right thing.”

A few months after the report was issued, the Inspector General told Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) that his office had opened another investigation into allegations that the SEC may have failed to take appropriate action in a matter involving a law firm that has recruited numerous former SEC employees.

Congress and the SEC must strengthen and simplify the ethics rules for the agency’s former employees, including making all post-employment statements publicly available online, and extend the same post-employment regulations to other financial watchdog agencies.

Now that the SEC has been given even greater authority to protect investors and markets from the next financial crisis, it’s more important than ever for the public to see whose interests the agency is truly representing.

Michael Smallberg is an investigator for the Project On Government Oversight. www.pogo.org

America’s Nuclear Spent-Fuel Time Bombs

June 9, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

Now that many Americans have stopped paying attention to Japan’s nuclear catastrophe, shocking new details about its severity are finally coming to light.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently revealed that the cores of three of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear station’s reactors started to melt within hours after the loss of offsite power, right after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Tokyo Electric Power, which owns the wrecked reactors, has announced that the accident probably released more radioactivity into the environment than the Chernobyl debacle.

That would make it the worst nuclear accident on record. Meanwhile, a nuclear waste advisor to the Japanese government reported that about 373 square miles near the power station — an area roughly 17 times the size of Manhattan — may now be uninhabitable.

The Fukushima accident should be a wakeup call for the United States to address the hazards posed by our own dangerous spent fuel pools at nuclear reactors. They are a time bomb. America’s reactors have generated about 65,000 metric tons of spent fuel, of which 75 percent is stored in pools, according to Nuclear Energy Institute data. No other nation has generated this much radioactivity from either nuclear power or nuclear weapons production.

Nearly 40 percent of the radioactivity in U.S. spent fuel is cesium-137. The 4.5 billion curies of radioactive cesium in U.S. spent reactor fuel is roughly 20 times more than what all worldwide atmospheric nuclear weapons tests released. The United States has 31 boiling water reactors (BWR) with pools elevated several stories above ground, similar to those at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi station. Consider this: the pool at the Vermont Yankee reactor, a BWR Mark I (the same design as the four crippled Fukushima nuclear reactors), currently holds nearly three times the amount of spent fuel stored at Dai-Ichi’s Unit 4 reactor.

As in Japan, spent fuel pools at U.S. nuclear power plants don’t have steel-lined, concrete barriers that cover reactor vessels to prevent the escape of radioactivity. They aren’t required to have back-up generators to keep used fuel rods cool if offsite power is lost.

For nearly 30 years, Nuclear Regulatory Commission waste-storage requirements have remained contingent on the opening of a permanent waste repository that has yet to materialize. Now that the Obama administration has cancelled plans to build a permanent, deep disposal site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, spent fuel at the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors will continue to accumulate and is likely remain onsite for decades to come.

The U.S. government should promptly take steps to reduce these risks by placing all spent nuclear fuel older than five years in dry, hardened storage casks like Germany did 25 years ago. It would take about 10 years at a cost between $3.5 and $7 billion. If the cost were transferred to energy consumers, the expenditure would result in a marginal increase of less than 0.4 cents per kilowatt hour for consumers of nuclear-generated electricity. Despite the destruction wreaked by the earthquake and tsunamis, the dry casks at the Fukushima site were unscathed.

Money could also be allocated from the $18.1 billion in unexpended funds already collected from consumers of nuclear-generated electricity under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to establish a disposal site for high-level radioactive wastes.

After more than 50 years, the quest for permanent nuclear waste disposal remains illusory. One thing, however, is clear, whether we like it or not: the largest concentrations of radioactivity on the planet will remain in storage at U.S. reactor sites for the indefinite future. In protecting America from nuclear catastrophe, safely securing the spent fuel should be a public safety priority of the highest degree.

Robert Alvarez, an Institute for Policy Studies senior scholar, served as a Senior Policy Advisor to the Secretary of Energy during the Clinton Administration and authored the recently-

Lincoln Park Ready for Summer Outdoor Fun Seekers

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Flanked by the Lincoln High School Marching Band, ROTC and Cheer Team, city officials gathered at Lincoln Park Recreation Center on Tuesday to mark the completion of improvements to the local park.

While park patrons can expect a break from construction at Lincoln Park, Jon Kirk Mukri, General Manager, Department of Recreation and Parks, confessed he’s anxious to take-on the park’s pool next.

Located in Lincoln Heights, the park now has state-of-the-art ‘Smart’ irrigation system; a new concrete walkway, embankment and lake edge treatment; a new asphalt basket ball court; new outdoor fitness equipment; a new Skate Plaza; a renovated Historic Gateway; and a volley ball court with water conserving turf.

City Councilmember Ed P. Reyes, who represents the area, said the improvements were a labor of love and contribute to community pride.

Lincoln Park seniors help Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Councilmember Ed Reyes (center front) cut the ribbon at the parks’ re-grand opening. (EGP Photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

“What’s important to me is that you, the community, see that there is a sense of priority and a sense of commitment to the Lincoln Heights area and the Northeast in general,” Reyes said.

Reyes noted the historic importance of the park, which housed the city’s first zoo and was once known as East Lake. While the population has ballooned since the parks’ founding, the park is a valuable asset that attracts thousands of people, he said.

“There was a time when folks were staying away because they thought it was dangerous. That there weren’t enough lights, that there were too many risks to this park; that is far from the truth today,” Reyes said noting the newfound sense of security is the result of the investment made in the park.

The total price tag for the improvements was $2.6 million, Reyes said.

Mayor Villaraigosa said he’s seen the park change over the years and the new improvements have made a big difference.

“These are the toughest times in our city since the 1930s. This is an investment in the park that means a lot to me because I used to come to the pool here when I was a kid,” he told EGP.

Villaraigosa said Lincoln Park is the heart of Lincoln Heights and has an important place in the heart of many Angelenos.

The improvements were funded through a variety of sources including: Department of Water and Power’s City Park Irrigation Infrastructure Retro-fit Program, funded through Prop K and the LA84 Foundation.

Youth trainees also played a role in the improvements. By installing the irrigation system, they also received job training, city officials said.

Cramped Day Center For Disabled Getting Long-Awaited Upgrade

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Marta Escañuelas swung the sledgehammer, letting it crash into the 92-year old building on Chandler Avenue in Monterey Park to make way for the construction work that she and others who use the building have envisioned for the past six years.

Escañuelas is the executive director of MERCI, a long-time Monterey Park resource that serves as a second home for over a hundred developmentally disabled residents from the surrounding East Los Angeles and San Gabriel Valley areas.

As she tore into the wall of the house at the June 2 groundbreaking, Escañuelas thought about all the stops and starts that had led to this moment, as well as the many years that the building has served a community that once had nowhere else to go.

MERCI was started over fifty years ago in 1955 by parents who believed that despite being excluded from public schools, their developmentally disabled children should be given the opportunity to contribute to society like anyone else.

For the first few years they operated classes in a donated space on Atlantic Boulevard where they taught their children to care for themselves and exposed them to the community beyond their homes. In 1962 MERCI bought their first permanent building on Chandler Avenue, followed by another right next door in 1979.

“MERCI was born and raised in Monterey Park, and this is our baby,” Monterey Park Mayor Betty Tom Chu said at the groundbreaking.

Tucked away on a residential street where they are nearly indistinguishable from nearby homes, the MERCI buildings are among the few places today, outside of institutional centers, that serve severely disabled teens and adults who require continuous attention or are medically fragile.

One parent at the groundbreaking said the service MERCI provides is “desperately needed,” adding she feels lucky that it is located in Monterey Park where she lives.

Her child has gone to MERCI for over twenty years she says, and knowing there is a place for him as she gets older gives her peace of mind.

Even though the MERCI buildings have been tagged for demolition, the land underneath measures over an acre, Escañuelas said.

When the parents bought the properties, there was potential for a bigger facility beyond the cramped and deteriorating quarters of the two buildings. “The founders had vision,” she said.

With that in mind, MERCI started submitting plans to the city in 2006 to build a new facility that could expand its capacity and its services.

Not only does MERCI have a waiting list, the impending closure of the Lanterman Developmental Center, a facility in Pomona that houses the developmentally disabled, means around 40 potential clients will return to the surrounding area, heightening the need for more space.

Aside from putting together the plans and getting permission to build the project, the biggest problem was funding.

They needed to cobble together $3.7 million in donations, which were difficult to come by in an area where there are fewer “monied” donors than in other places.

And when the economy crashed in 2008, donations completely dried up and work nearly stopped on the project. Meanwhile the organization was hit with budget cuts and lost much of its office staff.

In the end MERCI opted for a loan, instead of waiting for more donations to trickle in. They did not want to go into debt, but “we didn’t have a choice, these buildings are going to fall apart,” Escañuelas said.

A nearly $1 million affordable housing grant from the city was also in danger of running out if they failed to start the project by a set deadline. “We didn’t want to lose that, so we moved ahead,” she said.

Through the years MERCI has depended on the generosity of the community including the various service clubs, such as the Kiwanis, Rotary,and Lions clubs, as well as the fire department.

At the groundbreaking, Escañuelas thanked the donors that contributed to the project: “It’s taken a community, it’s taken families, it’s taken all kinds of people to help us get through and move forward.”

MERCI Executive Director Marta Escañuelas greets Mary Duce, who gave a donation to the project fund and for whom the new group home will be named. (EGP photo by Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou)

Private donors, like John and Mary Duce for whom the new center will be named, have also stepped up. Escanuela announced at the groundbreaking that the new buildings will be called “John and Mary’s Place.”

The new buildings will include a new group home for six residents on top of their current day programs. MERCI also runs a group home called “Ernie’s Place,” named after donor Ernie Giacoletto, at another location on Nicholson Avenue.

A new multi-purpose room will also increase capacity for the day programs and offer handicapped bathroom facilities, and a kitchen. There will also be a new administrative space with eight offices, a conference room, and a universal access kitchen to be used for instruction.

Reusable Bag Giveaway Comes to East LA

June 9, 2011 by · 2 Comments 

Through June 29, shoppers at selected supermarkets and drug stores in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County can pick up a free canvas shopping bag in preparation for the plastic bag ban that goes into effect next month.

“Starting July 1st, free carryout plastic bags will be history in all unincorporated area stores,” First District County Supervisor Gloria Molina said in a written statement.

“To help make the transition easier for consumers, we’re giving away hundreds of free canvas bags at participating supermarkets across Los Angeles County on a first-come, first-served basis. It’s our way of encouraging everyone to do what’s right for the environment.” Molina said.

LA County Department of Public Works employees were at the Top Value store in East Los Angeles on Monday as part of the bag giveaway. The next giveaway in the area is scheduled for June 15 at El Super in East Los Angeles (3405 César E. Chávez Ave.). All giveaways run from 10 a.m. to 3p.m. For a complete list of the locations visit EGPnews.com

The plastic bag ban in the County does not eliminate plastic bags altogether, instead, a 10-cent fee per bag will be charged to shoppers who do not provide their own reusable bags. The ban is part of an effort to reduce the number of plastic bags that end up in landfills and as litter.

For more information visit www.aboutthebag.com or call (888) CLEANLA.

Flowerpots Contained Murder Victim’s Body Parts

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Around Mother’s Day, Carmen Montenegro, 51, and her son delivered two flowerpots to a relative’s home in Bell Gardens. In one of the pots, covered in soil, was a human head; two arms were buried in the other pot, according to authorities.

Montenegro, whose legal name is Montelongo, is behind bars under suspicion of murdering and dismembering her boyfriend, 63-year-old Samuel Wiggins Jr., a Diamond Bar resident who was reported missing in May. Her bail has been set at $1 million.

Montenegro was arrested on May 29 after decomposing human remains were found in a trash container that witnesses saw her pushing around.

The murder suspect’s adult children, Daniel Ortiz, 25, and Chanel Alicia Ortiz, 26, both residents of Riverside County, were arrested under suspicion of being accessories in the murder. However, the siblings have been released and the San Bernardino’s District Attorney’s Office does not plan to file charges, Erica Gallegos, deputy district attorney, told EGP on June 3.

Montenegro’s relatives who live on the 6000 block of Foster Bridge Blvd, in Bell Gardens, are being considered potential witnesses, not suspects, Gallegos told EGP.

L.A. Supervisors Appoint New County School Superintendent

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously appointed Arturo Delgado as the County Superintendent of Schools; he is the current superintendent of San Bernardino City Unified School District.

Delgado will officially head the Los Angeles County Office of Education starting on July 1, the office serves as an intermediary between 80 local school districts with about 2 million pre-school and school-age children and the California Department of Education.

LACOE is also responsible for monitoring district budgets to insure solvency, inspecting schools and teacher certifications, funding special needs and occupational training programs, and educating juvenile offenders. It has an annual budget of $1 billion.

Armed Parolee Arrested in Boyle Heights After Crashing Car

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

An armed parolee who crashed a car and fled on foot was arrested at an abandoned Boyle Heights home yesterday morning, according to police.

The suspect, a man in his late 20s who is believed to be a gang member, crashed near 6th and Esperanza streets at about 2 a.m., said Los Angeles police Sgt. Titus Tyler of the Hollenbeck Station.

The armed suspect fled on foot, but an LAPD helicopter located him hiding in the bushes of an abandoned home on Esperanza Street. He tried to elude police by entering the home.

The suspect was tracked down with police dogs but it was unclear if a firearm was recovered. No shots were fired and no one was injured, Tyler said, however, the suspect complained of minor injuries from the car crash.

New Law Requires Carbon Monoxide Detectors in All California Homes

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Starting July 1, a law requiring homeowners to install carbon monoxide detectors takes effect in California.

CAL FIRE officials say the Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention Act (SB 183) will save lives because carbon monoxide is “a silent killer.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless and odorless gas that is produced from heaters, fireplaces, furnaces and many types of appliances and cooking devices. Carbon monoxide detectors are the best way for homeowners to stay protected, but a recent study found that nearly nine in 10 California households did not have a CO detector.

CAL FIRE / Office of the State Fire Marshal is teaming up with fire departments and companies across the state, to host “CO Saturday” on June 4.

For more information on “CO Saturday”, visit www.homesafetycouncil.org.

Bell Gardens High School Yearbook Staff Receives Top Honors

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The yearbook staff at Bell Gardens High School burst out laughing when asked if they consider themselves popular.

“We’re too busy working on the yearbook to have a social life,” one of them explained.

Instead, members of the yearbook staff spent much of their time behind the scenes, chronicling high school memories for their fellow classmates.

Award winning yearbook staff, from left to right: Victor Bojorquez, 17, Activities Editor; Tanya Ramos, 19, Copy Editor; Matha Hernandez, 19, Photos Editor; Ana Macias, 17, Clubs Editor; Stephanie Ramirez, 19, Manager and Senior Editor; Deira Sanchez, 19, Business Manager; Heidi Solorzano, 19, Project Manager; Katharine Grijalva, Assistant Activities Editor; Kenneth Preciado, 17, Advertisement Editor. (EGP photo by Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou)

They work late into the night, sometimes until 3 a.m., to ensure names are spelled correctly, the photos crisp, the design eye-catching, and the writing compelling. Others ensure they get enough advertising to allow the yearbook to be self-sustaining.

One of their most appreciated duties might be to making sure that each Bell Gardens High School student is mentioned at least three times throughout the yearbook.

All of that hard work pays off as each year, when their classmates receive their yearbook, called the “Charger,” filled with treasured memories. But this past year the yearbook staff got even more.

The American Scholastic Press Association awarded them the First Place With Special Merit prize, the highest honors they could possibly get for their work on their 2010 yearbook. This award places them among the top ten in the nation.

Charger Manager and Senior Editor Stephanie Ramirez said working on the yearbook taught her about “handling the pressure” of working on a demanding project.

Another Charger staff member remarked proudly that despite the amount of the work and the setbacks through the year, they were able to get the yearbook to the printing press on time.

On Monday, Montebello Unified School Board President Edwin Chau congratulated the staff on the quality of their work. “You made sure that the final product was the best that it could be. The award also exemplifies your individual talents, as well as your ability to function well as a team,” Chau said.

Advisor Patricia Vasquez said the yearbook is an opportunity for students with diverse skills to work together on a major project. “They get a glimpse into what a work atmosphere is like, on how to handle the pressure, think outside the box, manage projects, talk to school administrators… there’s something there for everyone,” she said.

Among the staff of the 2010 yearbook, which centered around the numerical theme “TEN,” are students who want to go onto careers in engineering, magazine publishing, the culinary arts, photography, and others who are still deciding.

Their biggest lessons were learned while working with other people. “My biggest struggle was communication,” said Business Manager Deira Sanchez. “Everyone has their own struggles.”
Members of the staff have come back to tell Vasquez that writing college term papers are “no sweat” compared to what they had to accomplish with the yearbook.

The 2010 Charger yearbook received a “special merit” designation, which is given to yearbook staffs thought to have set new trends. Vasquez said the staff had budget issues and might have lost some points for having mostly black and white pages, but that only pushed them to depend less on color, and more on layout to draw people’s attention.

She said they might have stood out because their design was unified, bringing together consistent elements from cover to cover.

Co-advisor Daniel Vasquez said the Charger yearbook staff has built itself up to be very competitive through the years. They also won first place in 1995, 1996, 1997, and 1998. Patricia Vasquez, who returned to takeover as yearbook advisor in 2006, was part of the staff in those years.

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