Tag Archives: Austerity

LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: CaliCourts.com

CaliCourt.com

Equal justice under the law. That’s the promise American courts make to plaintiffs and defendants alike. But year after year of budget austerity has forced California’s court system to slash its services so deeply that it has made a mockery of that sacred pledge.

Maura Dolan reports that “recession-driven cutbacks in California’s huge court system have produced long lines and short tempers at courthouses throughout the state. Civil cases are facing growing delays in getting to trial, and court closures have forced residents in some counties to drive several hours for an appearance.”

Backups in the courts are affecting Californians’ love lives: “Clerks in Contra Costa County said they have received complaints from people who divorced and wanted to remarry but couldn’t because clerks had not yet processed the paperwork for judges’ signatures.”

Every cloud has a silver lining. Because so many courthouses have closed, some Californians are automatically getting exempted from jury duty: “In San Bernardino County, the Superior Court has stopped summoning jurors from Needles, making the guarantee of a jury of one’s peers elusive. Because of court closures in the High Desert, a trip to court from Needles can take some residents 3-1/2 hours.”

But it’s still a damned dark cloud.

“We are really on the borderline of a constitutional crisis,” Marsha Slough, San Bernardino County’s presiding judge says. “We have victims who want to give up because they don’t want to testify in criminal trials because of the driving distances and costs.”

Whether you’re fighting a traffic ticket, fending off a neighbor over a property dispute or waiting for a divorce, everyone winds up in court sooner rather than later. And contrary to what conservatives keep saying, starving government institutions of cash doesn’t make them leaner and meaner — it makes them broken and, well, mean, but not in a good way (viz, court employees report that fistfights among frustrated citizens waiting in long lines are a common occurrence…and the extra assaults just cause even more backups in the courts!).

We need a better way. Not a bigger budget — that would solve the problem and reduce unemployment.

No, what we need is to automate the court system! There are, after all, algorithm-based lie detectors that determine whether you’re telling the truth by analyzing a scan of your face. Since California’s courts handle millions of cases each year, a huge database of precedents can be uploaded and used as a basis to help determine the outcome of new and future matters. And we already know from last year’s trouble-free launch of Obamacare that the Internet is the perfect tool for replacing old-fashioned human-based bureaucracies.

What could go wrong?

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Guest Blogger Post: Gays Are Being Set Up As Scapegoats

Susan here. In the UK, gays are about to gain marriage rights. While I’m happy about this, I’m not so happy that the British people are having austerity forced upon them at the same time. Social justice has to be implemented across the board, not just to one identity group. Why? Because divide-and-conquer is the basic technique which the Elite uses to rule, and giving rights to one group while depriving other groups sets the former up to be scapegoated. I think it’s imperative that gays orgs express their full condemnation of the forced impoverishment of the British people as a whole.

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LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: Balancing the Budget on the Backs of the Homeless

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As a news junkie and student of the human condition, it takes a lot to make my blood come to a full boil. It takes even more to make me sympathize with wealthy corporations. Hand it to Gov. Jerry Brown — he managed to pull off both feats with the news that he diverted $350 million from California’s share of the 2012 national mortgage settlement in order to reduce the state’s 2013 budget deficit.

Now that California is enjoying a budget surplus, a coalition of homeowner advocates and religious organizations has filed suit against the state to force Brown to restore the money.

Back in 2008-09, the real estate bubble burst, taking the global economy with it. By many measures, especially real unemployment and median wages, we still haven’t recovered.

By 2010 a political consensus had formed. Though politicians were partly to blame, the worst offenders were the giant “too big to fail” banks that had knowingly approved loans to homebuyers who couldn’t afford to pay them back, sold bundles of junk mortgage derivatives to unsuspecting investors and secretly hedged their bets against their clients. After the house of cards came down, they played the other side. They cashed in their chips, refused to refinance mortgages even though interest rates had fallen and deployed “robo-signers” to illegally evict hundreds of thousands of homeowners — including people who had never missed a payment — to ding them with outrageous late fees on their way to profitable (for the banks) foreclosure.

On the Left, anger at the banks coalesced around the Occupy Wall Street movement. Though less widely reported, anti-bank sentiment also found a home in the Tea Party.

Politics ultimately play out in the courts. Lawsuits filed by state attorney generals forced the banks to the bargaining table. In 2012 they agreed to cough up $26 billion as penance.

The money was supposed to compensate people who had lost their homes and to help those who were hanging on by a thread avoid eviction, either by refinancing at lower rates or writing down principal to reflect lower real estate prices.

Enter the governors.

Jerry Brown wasn’t unique. Cash-hungry states siphoned off half of their share of the mortgage settlement to plug holes in their budgets.

We will never know how many families became homeless as a result.

The more you think about it, the more disgusting it is. Obviously it’s important for the state to get its fiscal house in order. But not at the expense of those least able to bear the burden. Desperate families lost — and are still losing — their homes so that holders of California’s state debt, much of it held by the same banks who caused the mortgage crisis, can be repaid.

This outrage is not without precedent.

Rather than the anti-smoking and health campaigns they were supposed to launch, the states siphoned off 47% of the $7.9 billion they received from the 1998 tobacco settlement for general budget purposes.

How many kids might have been reached by tobacco education programs that never got off the ground? How many will die of lung cancer? “Fifteen years after the tobacco settlement, our latest report finds that states are continuing to spend only a miniscule portion of their tobacco revenues to fight tobacco use,” the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said in 2014.  In Fiscal Year 2014, the states will collect $25 billion in revenue from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, but will spend only 1.9 percent of it – $481.2 million – on programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit. This means the states are spending less than two cents of every dollar in tobacco revenue to fight tobacco use.”

This is the kind of behavior that prompts conservatives to characterize these settlements as government shakedowns of big business. It’s hard to disagree. As slimy as the banksters were and are — they’re sabotaging political solutions to the foreclosure crisis — they’re just greedy bastards doing what greedy bastards do. Public officials, on the other hand, are supposed to be on our side.

What Brown and his fellow governors have done with the mortgage settlement money is even more nauseating.

 

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LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: Earthquake Maps

If God Existed

I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles).

This week: After the 1971 Sylmar earthquake, California began an ambitious effort to map faults across the state. Over the next two decades, officials published 534 maps of active earthquake faults. New construction was prohibited on top of these fissures because previous quakes showed that buildings could be torn apart during violent shaking. But the mapping campaign has slowed to a crawl — with many dangerous faults still undocumented. Since 1991, only 23 have been drawn. Because of budget cuts, none were completed between 2004 and 2011, according to records reviewed by The Times. State officials said there are still about 300 maps to draw and even more to revise — including some in heavily populated areas of Southern California. That represents about 2,000 miles of faults statewide.

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HARRISBURG PATRIOT-NEWS CARTOON: The Decline and Fall of Great Powers

This cartoon is for The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Experts say there’s absolutely no way anyone can scrape up the $1 billion it would cost to fix the endemic congestion of traffic on Interstate 83 outside Harrisburg. Yet there’s always money for wars.

The Decline and Fall of Great Empires

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LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: L.A. Block Party (And You’re Not Invited)

BlockParty

I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles).

This week: Before he leaves office, Villaraigosa will host ‘The Ultimate L.A. Block Party,’ where guests will join the mayor for food, fun and a ‘final farewell.’ The cost to taxpayers is criticized by a labor group whose members have been laid off.

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LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: What to Do About Delays at LAX

LAXATCCuts

I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles).

This week: Sequester-related budget cuts to air traffic control could cause big delays at Los Angeles International Airport.

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LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: Help Wanted – UC President

Help Wanted: UC President

I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles).

This week: The University of California is reaching outside of academia in its search for a new President for the nation’s largest state college system.

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7.9% Fewer Drone Strikes

Automatic budget cuts known as the Sequester mean that the government will no longer be able to afford, for example, as many killer drone attacks.

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