When D.C. Doesn’t Work

October 17, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Republican right-wing congressional cabal has gut-punched the American small business community by causing the federal government to shut down and threatening default on the national debt. Because of their stubborn refusal to accept defeat on the Affordable Care Act, employers and workers from here to New York are wondering if Congress cares in the least about the consequences of its actions.

Ironically, you often hear many of these same politicians say government ought to be run like a business. That sounds great and fits nicely on a bumper sticker, but coming from this crowd it rings hollow and is grossly misapplied.

There are countless aspects of government that are inherently not like a business and the way the politicians themselves have been running it lately looks more like the food fight in “Animal House” than a well-run enterprise. Were it a business, stakeholders would be calling for the sacking of the executive suite and filing for bankruptcy.

As the founder of a Latino-owned small business that provides services to the federal government, and presently has projects stuck in the pipeline, my disappointment is directed at the body politic as a whole. But my frustration is focused on those who have abandoned any pretense of statesmanship. It’s particularly galling when you consider their actions violate every fundamental principle of business. They’ve disrupted operations, humiliated the workforce, brought disarray to vital strategic relationships and undermined confidence in the organization’s financial stability.

 

Arbitrary shutdown

The fallout from the shutdown is by no means limited to my sector. Consider the chaos caused by the closure of the nation’s E-Verify system that checks the immigration status of new hires, the use of which is mandated in many states. Or the devastation a delayed Small Business Administration loan can cause a cash-strapped business. Or a firm that can’t get an Environmental Protection Agency permit to proceed with a project. Or a family farm that needs help from a Department of Agriculture field office. Or a business that caters to tourists traveling to national parks. It’s a list without end.

But it’s not just business. An arbitrary government shutdown affects millions of people in need and it’s hitting the Latino community particularly hard. From the 4 million mothers and children who will be deprived of nutrition provided by the Women, Infants and Children Program, to thousands of immigration cases thrown into limbo, to first-time Latino home buyers in need of Federal Housing Administration approval. It hurts.

The right to protest is sacrosanct in this nation. The aggrieved routinely go on strike, boycott goods, sign petitions and commit acts of civil disobedience.

When all else fails, authority figures often resign in protest. While that would be my preferred mechanism of dissent for these guys, I seriously doubt they’ll summon the courage. Absent their letter of resignation, there must be preventative measures taken to stop this from happening again.

With respect to the broader issue of government shutdowns, a good deterrent would be for members of Congress to suspend their own pay along with everyone else during a shutdown. In addition, the president should be empowered to fund the government by executive order when Congress fails to pass a budget.

We the people must also stop electing and re-electing those who give us bromides instead of solutions. When they say “I’m going to shake up Washington,” demand to know “How?” When they say, “I will not compromise,” demand to know “At what cost?” And when they say “Government ought to run like a business,” vote them out when that business fails. Because if you own a business you know its people and operation come first over your desires. And not your own paycheck.

March with your votes!

 

Luis Vasquez-Ajmac is president of MAYA, a multicultural agency in Los Angeles and Washington. 

The Shutdown and the Refuge of School Food

October 17, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

For many kids, school food provides the main source of nutrition they receive on a daily basis.

During the government shutdown, this program is especially critical for our children due to cuts in the SNAP and other supplemental nutrition programs as well as the sudden disappearance of millions of paychecks.  But even our school lunch program is in jeopardy.  Some school districts are now reporting that if the shutdown is not resolved by November 1, their free and reduced-price lunch program will take a major hit.  Suddenly the fractures and nuttiness that pervades Washington may result in hundreds of thousands of hungry children.

Make no mistake: The school breakfast and lunch programs feed millions of children who really need it.  During the economic decline, the number of children registering for the National School Lunch Program has climbed – up 25 percent in some states.

And it’s not just the ability to provide food, but what kids actually get to eat at school, which fortunately has been improving.  Over the past year, 50 million school kids saw the promise of a healthier lunch menu thanks to the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.”  The program requires schools to serve more fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains as well as more sources of lean protein, and encourages school gardens and nutrition education programs.

New federal regulations for school lunches and vending machines start taking effect next year.

Under the new rules, vending machine food has to be healthier, and contain mostly fruits, vegetables, protein, or dairy or contain at least 50 percent whole grains. There is an outright ban on soda and caps on calories that come from sweetening additives, saturated fat, sodium, and sugar.

Thankfully obesity rates are starting to decline. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) studied the issue and found the obesity rate for poor children fell in 18 states and the Virgin Islands between 2008 and 2011.The CDC reports that new nutrition standards played a role in many states, including Mississippi which saw its childhood obesity rate drop by 13 percent in only five years.

We all know that fresh food, if prepared properly, delivers more nutrients, reduces carbon emissions, connects schools to their communities and benefits the local economy.  Studies have proven that what kids are eating impacts their test scores; their ability to concentrate; the levels of school violence; and students’ good feelings about themselves.

Given the impact that the shutdown is having on our country’s poor children and their ability to eat, it is somewhat ironic that this week begins National School Lunch Week, which runs from October 14th to October 18th this year. During this time of government shutdown, we are reminded what a vital program school lunch is and how it can be transformed to better meet nutritional needs. The week-long observance, which is a largely untapped opportunity to continue the badly needed conversation about our children’s health, creates a nationwide platform to continue the revolution that has been started.

 

Kathleen Rogers is president of Earth Day Network.

A Teacher’s Rant: Why Flipping Classrooms is ‘Flipping Ridiculous’

October 17, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

I took my 9th grade English class to the Tech Lab this week to type up Autobiographical Narratives. In today’s world of computers and smartphones, one would think this activity would be, for my students, like coming home. This is the generation of information and technology. Here in the Bay Area, these students should be the next coders for Google and Facebook. In fact, one would think that by now, I should hardly have to help them, as they probably know more about computers than a man in his thirties.

Anyone who thinks like that hasn’t visited a low-income public school recently. Here is a list of things my students don’t know how to do on a computer:

Open Microsoft Word (or applications in general)

Open a new document

Find the Toolbox

Change the font size

Change the font type

Indent (they like to hit the spacebar anywhere between 5 and 40 times)

Change margins

Center

Zoom in to see better (they put the font at 25 instead of zooming to 200%)

Save a file

Use a flash drive

Open up the Internet

Open their email

Compose an email

Add an attachment on an email

Send an email

Print something

Type

I didn’t have to help just a couple students with a couple of these issues. When I say I have students who don’t know how to do these things, I mean most of my students know how to do almost nothing on the list above. Keep in mind these are 14 and 15 year olds. For the hour I was at the tech lab I essentially never stopped walking around the room helping students with these 20 things. I even had my two senior assistants help me.

It may seem surprising in this age of the flipped classroom and everyone getting iPads. But the digital divide is not only still here, it is the biggest it’s ever been and getting bigger every day.

Think about it like this. If you didn’t have a computer at home 15 years ago, you weren’t that far behind the rest of the world. Sure, it sucked, and you were missing out on a lot of really funny cat videos, but it probably wasn’t keeping you from completing everyday tasks. You weren’t lost in the dark.

Now take today’s world. Can you imagine the life of anyone who doesn’t have a computer at home, let alone a computer with an Internet connection? What about someone who can’t PRINT? In 2013 that is like saying “I have never owned shoes.” If you don’t have a computer today, you are so far behind the rest of the world you might never catch up.

Unfortunately I just described a hell of a lot of my students.

Flipping classrooms sounds like it does some good things, although I still maintain it doesn’t do anything good teachers don’t already do. Good teachers are already up on their feet getting to every student every day. Good teachers don’t let the silent students fail because they are afraid to ask questions. Good teachers already use technology and creative lesson planning to reach all learning styles and abilities. In fact I will claim right here that grades are going up in flipped classrooms because it essentially eliminates homework. The gains in pass-rates are simple and something many of us have already done: Eliminate homework, and your rate of failing students goes from 50 percent to 10 percent. Students can’t do homework if they don’t have a home in which to do it—the playing field is so uneven it can be aptly described as mountainous.

So let’s slow down with the technological aspirations for a minute and get real. Flipped classrooms sound great for rich kids with Internet access at home. Poor kids aren’t going to be watching videos at home because they don’t have computers, printers, the Internet, or smartphones. Many don’t even have homes. The schools they go to don’t have computers either. Our actual public school students are already so far behind affluent districts it is scary, and the gulf is widening with every smartphone upgrade and each new app that comes out.

 

So what’s my answer?

We need to see where the money in education is going. We spend more per student than any other nation on earth, yet if you walk into a public school classroom you would think we spent the least. Our campuses look like jails. The water faucets don’t work. There’s no Tech. No computer labs. Many teachers at my school don’t have the ability to show the Internet on their screen at the front of the room. Some still use overhead projectors. Talking to public school teachers about all the money in education is like talking to an archaeologist about Bigfoot. From what we can see, THERE IS NO MONEY supporting real teachers in our toughest schools.

And you wanna talk about flipping classrooms? That’s flipping ridiculous.

Matt Amaral is a writer and high school English teacher from the San Francisco Bay Area. He is a featured blogger at EducationNews.org.

LAUSD and Union Bank to Bring Student-Run Branch to Lincoln HS

October 17, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Students at Lincoln High School interested in careers in banking received a jump start as the Los Angeles Unified School Board announced that Union Bank will open student-run branches on two Los Angeles high school campuses. The Lincoln High branch along with a second branch at Crenshaw High School, are modeled after the first student-run branch at McLane High School in Fresno that opened in 2011.

The two branches will offer all the same services as a traditional branch with selected high school students serving as tellers under bank employee supervision.  The bank plans to enroll 12 students in a specialized course designed by school faculty to teach real-world financial education. “Our intent is to directly touch the lives of students,” said Union Bank Vice President Jane Woolsey. “And through them provide financial education to their peers.”

The bank received the green light from the school board on August 1 and is now working with campus faculty to develop the curriculum and applications. Woolsey said ideally the branches will open for the spring 2014 semester but acknowledged that it is possible that the opening date could be in fall 2014. So far, Lincoln High School is slightly ahead of schedule as a physical location on campus has already been identified for the branch.

The bank will also establish a Parents Academy at each school to offer parents and guardians of students financial education in English and Spanish. The bank will offer traditional banking products and services to students, school staff and faculty. Woolsey said that no credit services will be marketed to students, though they will provide student checking and savings account that do require parent authorization to create.

Lincoln High School received the branch because Leticia Aguilar, Union Bank Executive Vice President and Regional Executive, is a Lincoln alumnus. Aguilar, who manages the bank’s branches in the Los Angeles and Central California divisions, said in a press release that it is vital to increase financial awareness in our youth to build and sustain communities for the future. “We’ve seen tremendous talent and success from the students in our student-run branch in Fresno and our goal is to replicate that in Los Angeles,” Aguilar said.

The National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan released a study in 2008 that showed low-income families would benefit most from banks that offered financial education on short-term income fluctuations. The study also showed that check cashing companies, pawn shops and payday lenders are able to charge high fees because they more convenient and accessible than traditional banks.

Woolsey said that Union Bank has made it their practice to think of the communities in which they operate. She said it is important for residents to view them as a responsible bank that is not involved in predatory lending and did not receive TARP funds during the bank bailouts in 2009.

For students at Lincoln, this partnership provides financial education and job training. The students will be fully trained to provide basic bank services and receive compensation as well. Upon graduation, the students will have priority for employment should they apply. Woolsey said the students will receive a financial stipend during the training and graduates will also receive a scholarship.

 

‘Planting Party’ at Boyle Heights’ Area Garden

October 17, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Courtesy of LA Community Garden Council

Courtesy of LA Community Garden Council

The LA Community Garden Council and the LA Conservation Corps on Oct. 13 held a “planting party” at the “East Los Angeles Learning Garden. The garden is located at Mott Street & 7th in Boyle Heights. Pictured: Children water a winter crop of organic fruits and vegetables at the site. For more information call (323) 942-WORM or email la.communitygardens@yahoo.com

Garcetti to Hosts Free DACA Workshop Saturday

October 17, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Mayor Eric Garcetti will host a free workshop at Los Angeles City Hall Saturday Oct. 19 to walk undocumented immigrants through a process that will enable people 15-32 years old to avoid deportation and get work permits.

Since President Barack Obama announced his Deferred Action Childhood Arrival policy more than a year ago, only half of the 310,000 Californians eligible for the benefits have applied, the mayor said.

“I want Angelenos to be on the forefront of this new path to citizenship that is good for families and our economy,” Garcetti said. “This workshop will help people avoid predatory notaries and self-proclaimed experts.”

Garcetti said some who are eligible face challenges including the $465 cost of applying and lack of access to legal help, while others are simply unaware of the opportunity.

Attendees of the downtown Los Angeles workshop will get advice from attorneys and step-by-step instruction on filling out the application forms.

Assistance will be available in Spanish and Korean, as well as in English.

The workshop will take place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the Spring Street steps of City Hall, 200 N. Spring St.

Those interested in attending should RSVP at http://www.daca100.org or by calling (855) DREAM-31.

Garcetti recently appointed former USC dean Linda Lopez to lead his Office of Immigrant Affairs, which coordinates city services to connect immigrants to available resources.

Murals Honored With Their Own Day in L.A.

October 17, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Following a recent vote to brush aside an 11-year ban on private property murals in the city, the Los Angeles City Council last Friday Oct. 11 paid homage to murals as an art form.

Council members unanimously approved a resolution from Councilman Jose Huizar declaring Saturday “Mural Day,” marking the day the ban officially ends.

Prominent LA muralist pose with Councilmember Jose Huizar to memorialize the resolution that was passed.  (Courtesy of Councilmember Jose Huizar’s Office)

Prominent LA muralist pose with Councilmember Jose Huizar to memorialize the resolution that was passed. (Courtesy of Councilmember Jose Huizar’s Office)

On Sept. 4, council approved a Huizar ordinance that halted the 2002 ban on murals painted on private property, due to litigation over commercial signs.

Huizar’s ordinance now defines murals as “original art,” separate from images meant to advertise goods and services.

“Today is a glorious day,” UCLA professor and longtime Los Angeles muralist Judy Baca said. “The lifting of this ban is a long, hard-fought battle.”

As an art teacher working at local parks in 1974, Baca founded a city- run mural program that gave stipends to young artists to paint 400 murals on a variety of surfaces, including school buildings around the city, garage doors in Venice and grocery market walls in Boyle Heights.

The activity drew youth from different neighborhoods and provided a “rallying point for communities to have a discussion about what they share in values and views,” often leading to calls to end violence or giving some their first education of their cultural and ethnic history.

The recent ban limited such mural activities to public walls, but “didn’t do much to stop advertising,” Baca said.

“Many beautiful works were destroyed” due to the ban, even on the walls of businesses that wanted those murals, Baca said.

Huizar was joined Friday by artists, historians and representatives from mural preservation groups for a presentation on the mural day resolution.

“As the city of Los Angeles moves from its reputation as a car culture to providing more safe streets and complete streets and more activity for our pedestrians to be able to walk down these streets, public art is a huge and very important component of that movement and transformation that the city of Los Angeles is doing,” he said.

Huizar – who led the effort to lift the ban – thanked city attorneys for finding a creative way to disentangle such art murals from litigation over commercial advertising.

The City Council lifted the ban last month with three council members dissenting, instituting a process for registering new murals while still restricting them on single-family residences.

The ordinance reflects a compromise between muralists who urged a universal lifting of the moratorium and others who were concerned that objectionable content would be displayed without their approval on a neighbor’s wall.

Registration fees start at $60 per mural. The ordinance imposes restrictions on the size and location of the artwork. It also restricts flashing or changing lights and other moving images on murals.

Council members will continue to meet to refine mural regulations in the city, including crafting a process for communities to “opt-in” to allow murals on single-family homes.

Huizar has authored a motion asking staff to look into a pilot program that would exempt his own 14th District and the First District, represented by Councilman Gil Cedillo, from the restriction on single-family home murals.

Hollywood-area Councilman Mitch O’Farrell introduced a motion that would require anti-graffiti coating on all murals to make it easier to wash away defacement or vandalism of artists’ works.

The mural issue made some headlines earlier this year, when singer Chris Brown was cited for having cartoonish fanged monsters painted on his Hollywood Hills home.

The 8-foot-tall mural, which prompted some complaints from neighbors, eventually was painted over.

Vernon Awarded $8 Million Housing Grant

October 17, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

An $8 million affordable housing grant to increase the housing stock in Vernon – a mostly industrial city of around 100 people – is an “important step toward reforming local corruption,” a state lawmaker said Tuesday.

State Sen. Kevin de Leon said the federal low-income housing tax credits, awarded to the city by Treasurer Bill Lockyer and the state Tax Credit Allocation Committee, would double the number of “independent voters” in Vernon.

The city is looking to build the Vernon Family Apartments, a 45-unit apartment at the 4600 block of East 52nd Drive, next to the city of Maywood.

Housing development which will expand the electorate is a key element in changing the former culture of corruption in Vernon,” De Leon said.

Vernon drew criticism in recent years when it was revealed top officials were paid upwards of $1 million in annual salaries, prompting local and state lawmakers to call for the city’s disincorporation. They said the paltry size of the city’s electorate – consisting of voters who are often also city employees – makes it difficult to hold elected officials accountable.

De Leon last year struck a deal with Assembly Speaker John Perez that helped defeat a bill that would have dissolved the City of Vernon. In return, the city took up a series of “good governance” reforms, one of which was to double its population.

East L.A. Residents Evacuated After Gas Leak

October 17, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Nearly 100 people were evacuated after a construction crew ruptured a gas line in East Los Angeles Monday.

The rupture in the 300 block of South Gerhart Avenue near Montebello was reported at 2:45 p.m., according to Los Angeles County sheriff’s Deputy Kim Manatt.

A third-party construction crew installing a water main ruptured a six-inch gas main while digging the area, according to Denise King of Southern California Gas Company.

Deputies evacuated residential areas on Gerhart Avenue between West Pomona and East Beverly boulevards, Manatt said.

The evacuees were taken to Garfield High School on Metro buses.

The gas was under control about 7 p.m., but repairs continued, Rochelle Silsbee of Southern California Gas Company told City News Service.

By 9 p.m., the sheriff’s department said all issues had been resolved and people could return to their homes.

Pedestrian Killed in Montebello

October 17, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

A pedestrian struck and killed by a vehicle in Montebello was identified Saturday by the coroner’s office.

Jose Sandoval, 63, was fatally injured about 6:15 a.m. on Friday Oct. 11 while crossing Whittier Boulevard near Concourse Avenue, Montebello police Lt. Mike Flores said.

The motorist stopped at the scene, and was interviewed by police, Flores said. The investigation was continuing, he said.

 

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