Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Phony Budget

If it’s January it must be budget time in California, or so it would seem. Gov. Gavin Newsom held a press briefing to unveil his proposed budget, and it certainly looked official.

Mainstream media have variously reported that the governor’s budget proposal is “austere,” “fiscally responsible,” and even “conservative” as the state tries to close a projected $22.5 billion deficit. But there are things taxpayers should know before breaking out the champagne to celebrate the governor’s handling of what he has called a “modest shortfall.”

A spending problem, not a revenue problem.

The governor’s proposed $297 billion budget is only about 3.6% smaller than last year’s record-setting budget of $308 billion. The state has long spent beyond its means, but it has kicked it into overdrive in recent years. In just the last three years alone, spending has increased by almost $100 billion dollars despite warnings from economists, the Legislative Analyst’s Office, HJTA and many others that the state was spending beyond sustainable revenue levels.

This is not the real budget.

They may call this a budget, but it is just a wish list. It is a way for the governor to signal his priorities to the Legislature as budget negotiations begin, and legislators from the governor’s own party have already been critical of the cuts he is proposing.

We also do not know what the actual dollar amount will be yet. In November, the budget shortfall was estimated to be around $24 billion. The governor now says it is $22.5 billion. We will have a better idea of where the state stands financially when the governor does his “May Revise” of the budget.

That is not the real budget either.

The May Revise is also not the budget, it is just another step in the negotiation process. It gives us a better idea of what the actual numbers are, and the governor will adjust his wish list accordingly, but it is the Legislature that passes the budget, and they have until June 15th to do it.

That is not really the budget either.

While the Legislature will pass a “budget” by June 15th, it also is not really the budget. That is because Proposition 25, entitled the “On-Time Budget Act of 2010,” says legislators forfeit their pay if they do not pass the budget “on time.” The problem with that is, the courts have ruled that it is the Legislature itself that defines what is and is not the budget.

What we will get then is not a true annual spending plan for the state but a 1,000-page sham, drafted largely in secret and full of blanks to be filled in later through hundreds of “budget trailer bills” after substantial provisions of the budget are negotiated behind closed doors among just three people: The two Democratic legislative leaders and Gov. Newsom.

On Wednesday, 121 of these budget-related bills were introduced in the state Legislature, completely blank except for a line of placeholder text expressing the “intent” to fill them in later. They are numbered SB 100 through SB 220. You can “read” them for yourself at leginfo.legislature.ca.gov.

Eventually, those budget-related bills will spring to life with new language replacing the placeholder text. Then they sail through the process without hearings, or amendments or debate.

A balanced budget in name only.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

The School Choice Battles Ahead

As we transition into 2023, we can see that the field of education will once again be a contentious one, as too many government-run schools are failing, and parents are not happy. In Chicago, for example, great numbers of students are avoiding their local schools. In fact, more than one-third of the city’s public schools are at least half empty, with high schools the most vacant. Douglas High School has a capacity of 888 students, but only 34 students are enrolled. Manley High School can seat 1,296 students, but just 70 attend. On the k-8 level, the Mason School can accommodate 1,710 kids, but has only 187 enrollees.

With 11% of black and 17% of Hispanic students reading at grade level in Chicago, the above numbers should not come as a surprise. And the funding hawks can’t whine about money as the district has now increased its spending to over $29,000 per student – a 40% jump since 2019.

California isn’t much better than Chicago, where just 34 percent of the state’s 4th graders scored proficient in math on the pre-pandemic 2019 NAEP, placing the state 44th nationwide. The formerly Golden State also has the lowest literacy rate in the country. While that may be due in part to a large immigrant population, other similar states like Texas, Arizona, and Florida have fewer illiterates.

And like Chicago, California can’t use a lack of money as an excuse. Even before the latest barrage of post-pandemic money, California was in the middle of the spending pack nationally, yet way below average in student proficiency. And families are noticing. Between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, public school enrollment in California dropped by more than 175,000 students.

As always, the progressive teachers unions, channeling George Wallace, are standing in the school house door doing their best to stifle educational freedom.

In Chicago, the union is doing what it can to kill the popular Invest in Kids Act, which provides a private school choice for families who are trying to escape their local public school. The Chicago Teachers Union asserts that public funds should be used for public education.

The union is wrong, of course. The Invest in Kids Act is a tax credit scholarship program, which means that it is funded with private pretax dollars.

Unlike Chicago, California has no private option, and the mighty California Teachers Association will do everything in its power to keep the status quo intact.

The CTA website purports to give us “facts, based on research.” But, in reality, their “facts” are cherrypicked. For instance, CTA claims that “Voucher programs are associated with reduced educational outcomes.” The union goes on to site a few outlier studies which support their case, but overall, privatization works. Ty Cobb struck out on occasion also, but looking at the whole, Ty Cobb and school choice have been raving successes. As researcher Greg Forster reports, the latest empirical school choice research finds that of 19 studies, 14 showed positive results and 2 found no difference. (Due to design flaws in the D.C. and Louisiana programs, 3 studies showed negative effects.)

Also, at a speech to the union’s State Council in October, 2021, CTA President E. Toby Boyd proclaimed, “Vouchers Rear Their Ugly Heads: Two school voucher initiatives have been submitted in hopes of qualifying for the November 2022 ballot. Both would use public funds to send students to private and religious schools, taking money and vital resources away from public schools.”

Voters in California had rejected school vouchers twice before, but there was hope of passage this time. Sadly however, neither initiative made it to the ballot.

One of the unions’ most specious arguments is that choice hurts public schools. But as Greg Forster points out, a large body of empirical research finds that “school choice programs improve educational outcomes both for students who use them and students who remain in public schools

Also, a recent study found that in Florida, students attending public schools have higher standardized test scores and lower absenteeism and suspension rates when there is a private option available. The effects are “particularly pronounced for lower-income students, but results are positive for more affluent students as well.”

Union pushback aside, the new year looks promising for school choice. As Corey DeAngelis, senior fellow at the American Federation for Children, explains, “All eyes will be on states with GOP trifectas in 2023, including Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah. Arizona was able to go all-in with one-seat GOP majorities in each chamber. If Arizona could do it with the slimmest of GOP majorities, all other red states should be able to empower families with universal school choice, too.”

Education freedom was a significant issue in many state legislative races in the recent election, notably Iowa and Texas, where incumbents lost primary elections against candidates who favored expanding school choice programs.

DeAngelis notes that in 2021, “18 states expanded or enacted programs to fund students instead of systems. 2023 is shaping up to be another banner year, especially after the school choice wave in the midterms.” DeAngelis adds that “76% of candidates supported by my organization, the American Federation for Children and its affiliates, won their races in 2022. We also targeted 69 incumbents and took out 40 of them. But don’t just take my word for it. Take a look at the liberal tears in The New Yorker magazine when they lamented that ‘education freedom’ candidates ‘fared depressingly well’ in the midterms. Perhaps we will call 2023 the year of education freedom.”

Worth noting is that in Pennsylvania, new Democratic governor Josh Shapiro has supported the concept of choice, and it is believed that he will get behind Lifeline Scholarships. This program would grant about $7,000 from already-existing education funds to students in low-performing schools to transfer to another school. The money could be used to pay for tuition, tutoring, textbooks, and other education expenses, and students could enroll in a public or private school.

While school board races were a mixed bag in 2022, parents did in fact make great strides in that area. But as important as these races are, what do traditional parents do if they live in a city or town that has a gender-obsessed and/or a CRT-riddled school board? Moving, of course, is an option, but a system of universal choice is clearly preferable.

Click here to read the full article at the California Policy Center

DOJ Searches Biden’s Home, Finds More Documents with Classified Markings 

The Justice Department conducted a search of President Joe Biden’s Wilmington home Friday and found even more documents with classified markings, according to Biden’s personal attorney on Saturday.

The latest trove includes six documents. The content of the classified materials is unknown.

The White House had previously claimed on January 14 the search for all classified documents was completed.

The trove is in addition to the about 25 classified documents unearthed by Biden’s personal attorneys in past weeks between the Penn Biden Center and Biden’s residence.

Critics have questioned why Biden’s personal attorneys were initially searching for Biden’s illegally stashed documents. The White House has failed to provide the initial reason or cause for the search.

Biden’s personal attorney, Bob Bauer, claimed Saturday that Biden offered to allow the Justice Department to conduct the search. 

The search began “at approximately 9:45 AM and concluded at around 10:30 PM and covered all working, living and storage spaces in the home,” Bauer said in a statement, noting “representatives of both the personal legal team and the White House Counsel’s Office were present” for the search.

The White House Counsel’s Office, which is a distinction from Biden’s personal attorneys, issued a statement that “[n]either the President nor the First Lady were present during the search. The President’s lawyers and White House Counsel’s Office will continue to cooperate with DOJ and the Special Counsel.”

The investigation of wrongdoing was reportedly widened after the DOJ and Biden’s personal attorneys agreed to hide the scandal from the American people.

According to the Washington Post, not only did the White House and DOJ try to obscure the scandal from public view, but they also refused to divulge that the second trove of classified documents were already unearthed at Biden’s home in Wilmington when CBS News first contacted the White House about the initial leak of classified documents apparently illegally stored at the Biden Penn Center.

Click here to to read the full article at BreitbartCA

LA County homeless count to begin with huge expectations, political tailwinds

The 2023 count in Los Angeles County runs from Tuesday, Jan. 24 through Thursday, Jan. 26

On the surface, the 2023 homeless count rolling out across Los Angeles County Tuesday through Thursday is an attempt to quantify the number of unhoused people and learn their locations, needs and status so that services — including temporary and permanent housing — can be provided.

But like rising tension in a Hollywood movie, this year’s count conducted by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority comes with tense foreshadowing. Factors include the governor’s move to connect the homeless with mental health services in “CARE Courts”; two emergency declarations made for the first time, one by the city of Los Angeles, and the other by L.A. County; and a Los Angeles mayor who is not waiting for a honeymoon period to tackle the problem on streets in the City of Angels.

Some say that, since the first count in 2005 which found 88,345 homeless people countywide including Glendale, Long Beach and Pasadena, this year’s homeless count carries more weight. It comes after large disease spikes from COVID-19 have passed, though some cautions are still in place.

This time the count, again conducted by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), unfolds amidst fevered anticipation from folks demanding action — in essence, wanting to know how this movie ends.

With more eyes watching, it packs a bigger political punch than any previous homeless count.

“Oh yeah,” said Jack Pitney, professor of American politics at Claremont McKenna College. “They are raising the prominence of this issue and the political stakes will probably increase,” he said on Jan. 17.

Politics: Who will pay the price?

During the Los Angeles mayoral campaign, unsuccessful candidate Rick Caruso ran TV ads showing rows of homeless encampments, and he promised to add 30,000 interim housing units in the first 300 days if elected. Mayor Karen Bass, who edged out Caruso for the job, has launched her “Inside Safe” initiative that aims to clear encampments by moving the homeless safely indoors at motels and hotels.

She agrees with President Joe Biden’s goal of reducing homelessness in the U.S. by 25% in two years. She has begun moving homeless people off the streets, starting with Venice and Hollywood.

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors declared a state of emergency on homelessness and vowed to work hand-in-hand with the city of L.A. All of these efforts, from the White House to Sacramento to L.A. County and L.A. city underscore the importance of this year’s count like never before, Pitney says.

If Bass fails, she could face a Democrat in a mayoral primary in 2026, he said. This holds true for the county supervisors and any other politician who may not move the needle on homelessness after making promises. “When they seek reelection their opponents will use their current statements as a baseline and say: ‘This officeholder talked about fighting homelessness in 2023,’” Pitney said. “It has the potential to raise a political problem.”

The Count: Pressure to improve

Volunteers will begin counting on Tuesday, Jan. 24 in the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys, while east and west Los Angeles will be counted on Wednesday, Jan. 25, followed by South L.A., central L.A. and the Antelope Valley which will be counted on Thursday, Jan. 26.

The count is run by LAHSA and is done at night. The timing and the dates are set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said Emily Vaughn Henry, deputy chief information officer for LAHSA.

HUD stipulates the count should be conducted in the last days of January each year. And HUD says counting at night is best because that’s when more homeless are on the streets looking for shelter. “That’s when you will likely find more people unhoused,” said Henry on Wednesday, Jan. 18

The purpose of a count is to get federal, state and local dollars to build shelters and housing, and to provide substance abuse prevention and mental health services to more of the unhoused population. It also helps government adjust resources to address the needs.

“It helps substantiate the number of people who are in need of substance abuse treatment and mental health services and interim, as well as permanent, housing,” said County Supervisor Hilda Solis, whose First District includes Skid Row, the site of the region’s highest concentration of homeless adults.

Last year’s count also helps the county identify demographics. For example, the number of homeless who are Latino has been increasing, Solis said.

Yet things did not always go as planned and statistics lag. The 2021 count was canceled due to rising COVID-19 cases. And last year’s count was postponed until February. Results were released late — in September, which found that 69,144 people were homeless in L.A. County, a 4.1% rise from 2020, and 41,980 people were homeless in the city of L.A., up 1.7% from 2020.

Some interpreted the latest numbers as a flattening of the curve due to LAHSA and its partners who placed  84,000 people into permanent housing between 2017 and 2022. But others said the restrictions on volunteers who could not approach the unhoused during the count, coupled with problems from an app used to record data, caused an undercount.

This year, LAHSA is using a new app, and will provide pen-and-paper backup in case there are snafus, and is working with new demographers to improve results.

“Last year, a lot of people had questions if the numbers were reliable,” said recently elected Third District L.A. County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath on Wednesday. “This year, LAHSA has taken that to heart. Everyone involved will see an improved system to make sure our count has a regional aspect.”

However, the lack of volunteers is a looming problem. LAHSA in late fall last year set a goal of using 8,000 volunteers to perform the count. But one week out from the count, they had signed up just 3,307 volunteers and had lowered their goal to 5,000 volunteers.

“That would be enough, if we get to 5,000 I will be happy. If we get to 6,000 I’ll be happier,” said LAHSA’s Henry.

Undercounting is a concern

Jason, one of four adult men living in an encampment near the 210 Freeway in the San Gabriel Valley, said he’s never been approached by a counting team and doesn’t think he was counted in past years. But he praised LAHSA for helping him find a shelter in Bell last year.

“They helped me out because they got me in a shelter, they gave me food. But I haven’t seen them in a couple months,” said Jason, 41, who declined to give his last name.

Homeless people such as Jason who are contacted during or after a count, and even given a voucher for a hotel or a shelter bed, can end up back on the streets for various reasons.

A study by the RAND Corporation, produced by its team from the RAND Center on Housing and Homelessness in Los Angeles, found that 41% of the homeless contacted in its study had been previously contacted by LAHSA — but were not recontacted to complete the intake process to get permanent housing.

“There’s a lot of engagement but not a lot of followup,” said Jason Ward, associate director of the RAND Center on Wednesday. “A high proportion said they were never contacted to move into permanent housing. Either people never came back, or people did and couldn’t find the individual.”

Solis characterized LAHSA as “bogged down with a lot of red tape.” She’s heard complaints from housing providers and those who provide other services that they face delayed compensation from LAHSA, which can turn away private businesses that want to help.

“We have to follow up,” she said, pointing the finger at LAHSA. “It is not just a one-off. There’s got to be more monitoring and tracking.”

The fast-approaching LAHSA point-in-time count is flawed in many ways, said Ward at RAND. First, it is only conducted one day each year, compared to RAND’s Los Angeles Longitudinal Enumeration and Demographic Survey (LA LEADS) project, which for a year sent highly trained professionals into Skid Row every two weeks, and into Hollywood and Venice every month.

Such intense and repetitive counting discovered 20% more homeless in those three areas — Skid Row, Hollywood and Venice — than the 2022 LAHSA count showed, Ward said. The RAND project took place from late fall 2021 through late fall 2022.

Weather, law enforcement sweeps and time of year affected the counts, he said. He said counting in January, when it is colder, may reduce the recorded number of unsheltered individuals because more stay in shelters than on the street.

While Ward said “both approaches have value,” his team will be releasing its updated count for those three areas within a week or two. “We see evidence of rapid changes, namely overwhelming growth (of homelessness),” he said.

Andy Bales, president and CEO of Union Rescue Mission in Skid Row, says he never calls it a count. “This is only an estimate. A one-time, best estimate, not a thorough count,” he said on Tuesday. “If everybody understands that going in, there will be much less disappointment.”

Solis said colder weather and recent rains may have pushed the homeless indoors, moving them toward couch-surfing, into shelters or tiny homes, or sleeping in cars or RVs — which makes them harder to count. She said the Board of Supervisors welcomes all data sources, not just the LAHSA count.

“We do have to consolidate and put data and coordination at the center of our efforts,” Solis said.

Click here to read the full article in the Los Angeles Daily News

Wealth Tax Push Faces Uphill Fight

Sacramento lawmaker joins other blue states in new effort to get rich to pay fair share.

SACRAMENTO — Even in progressive California, passing a new tax on ultra-rich residents is a long shot. But a Democratic lawmaker is trying again, this time flanked by similar efforts in other blue states.

San Jose Assemblymember Alex Lee plans to introduce a bill that would impose new taxes on California’s “extremely wealthy,” at a rate of 1.5% on those worth more than $1 billion starting next year, and at 1% for those worth more than $50 million starting in 2026.

If passed, the tax would affect 0.1% of California households and would generate an additional $21.6 billion in state revenue, according to Lee.

“This is all in the spirit of making those who are not paying their fair share pay what they owe,” Lee said, pointing to a ProPublica report that exposed how the world’s richest people use legal loopholes to avoid paying income taxes, instead amassing wealth through assets like stocks that are not taxed unless sold.

Lee’s proposed tax focuses on a person’s “worldwide wealth” — not just their annual income — including such diverse holdings as stocks and hedge fund interests, farm assets and art and collectibles. It’s similar to proposals progressive Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) championed during the 2020 presidential campaign, and to a plan President Biden floated last year that never passed Congress.

In the absence of a federal wealth tax, the State Innovation Exchange, a progressive nonprofit, and the State Revenue Alliance, which works with labor groups to call for taxing rich people, gathered a handful of states to create policy as part of the “Fund Our Future” campaign. The California bill was announced as a joint effort on Thursday alongside officials promoting similar wealth taxes targeting capital gains and “unrealized gains” in Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New York and Washington.

“States are leaning into their power. They’re reminding us that states are the laboratories of democracy,” said Charles Khan, who serves on the advisory committee for the State Revenue Alliance.

But the initiative faces an uphill battle in California despite the Democratic stronghold in the state Legislature. Similar attempts by Lee have failed before, and Gov. Gavin Newsom has shown no signs of supporting such a measure.

Newsom parted with his own party last year when he came out against Proposition 30 on the November ballot, which would have raised income taxes on the richest Californians and used the money to subsidize electric vehicles and suppress wildfires. The governor said that plan was “fiscally irresponsible” and criticized Lyft for bankrolling it, calling it a “cynical scheme to grab a huge taxpayer-funded subsidy” because ride-hailing companies must add more electric vehicles to their fleets.

Another measure that would have raised taxes on California’s richest to fund pandemic public health programs also lacked Newsom’s support, prompting organizers to keep it off the 2022 ballot.

In the Legislature, past attempts at a wealth tax have not made it far. Last year’s version was basically dead on arrival and did not get taken up for a vote in a single committee.

But Lee believes the legislation is more likely to succeed this time, in part because of California’s projected $22.5-billion budget shortfall. Revenue from the proposed tax would go to the state general fund.

“This is how we can keep addressing our budgetary issues,” he said. “Basically, we could plug the entire hole.”

Lee said the national push also helps thwart concerns that California’s richest will leave to avoid new taxes, as more states could do the same. “It’s a ‘they can run but they can’t hide’ situation,” he said.

A report by the nonpartisan California Policy Lab found that there’s “little evidence that wealthy Californians are leaving en masse,” but the threat of such a loss remains.

That’s because California’s progressive tax structure makes the state budget disproportionately dependent on the wealthiest residents, who are largely to thank for the state’s flush years even during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill is supported by the California Federation of Teachers and opposed by the California Taxpayers Assn.

California Taxpayers Assn. President Robert Gutierrez said the state should not jeopardize losing its top earners at a time of economic uncertainty. He also questioned the fairness and practicality of a first-of-its-kind tax on assets and total wealth.

“When would the state determine the tax on stocks, whose value can change dramatically from minute to minute? Would California’s tax auditors travel around the globe every year to attempt to locate and verify the value of one-of-a-kind artwork, vehicles, iconic Hollywood props and other items whose market value can’t be known with any degree of certainty?” he said. “Would wealthy individuals stay in California and wait for these questions to be answered?”

But Emmanuel Saez, an economics professor at UC Berkeley, said the initiatives can work successfully and make a significant difference in “restoring tax justice.”

“Our current tax system, both at the federal and state levels, fail to tax the enormous wealth amassed by billionaires. Billionaires can keep profits inside their businesses, and if they don’t sell their stock, they can avoid the individual income tax. If they retire in Florida and sell their businesses then, they will never pay income taxes in the state where they built their fortune,” he said. “Relative to their true economic income, billionaires end up paying a lower tax rate than the rest of us.”

Click here to read the full article here in the LA Times

O.C. Consultant Admits to Fraud

After her arrest, Democratic operative aided FBI in Anaheim corruption case.

A California Democratic Party leader who was central to a wide-reaching corruption investigation in Anaheim involving the proposed sale of Angel Stadium has agreed to plead guilty to attempted wire fraud, the U.S. Department of Justice said Thursday.

Melahat Rafiei, 45, previously secretary for the California Democratic Party and a member of the Democratic National Committee, was a well-known political consultant in Orange County.

In late 2019, according to a plea agreement filed in federal court Thursday, Rafiei told a commercial cannabis company owner that she would work to pass a marijuana-related ordinance in Anaheim that would benefit the business, in exchange for a payment of at least $300,000.

What she didn’t tell the client was that she was already working on an ordinance on behalf of other people.

Rafiei also told the client that she would give $200,000 of the payment to the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce and keep only $10,000 for her work. Instead, she intended to keep $100,000, the agreement said.

According to the agreement, Rafiei instructed her client to pay the $300,000 through checks made out to various entities. She planned to deposit the money in accounts she controlled and “transmit a portion of the funds to others.”

Rafiei has agreed to plead guilty to a single count of attempted wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. She is scheduled to appear in federal court in Santa Ana early next month.

In a statement provided to The Times by her attorney, Rafiei declined to discuss the specifics of the plea agreement.

“I will share my story, in due time,” she said in the statement.

“For now, I will proceed with dignity and humility towards finding peace and clarity in my life.”

The plea deal, she said, will “bring certainty, closure and a path forward.”

After Rafiei was arrested in 2019, she began assisting federal investigators. With her help, the FBI learned that Anaheim was controlled by a “small cadre of individuals,” including former Mayor Harry Sidhu and Todd Ament, the former president and chief executive of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce.

The mayor was accused in a federal search warrant affidavit in May of divulging confidential information to the Angels during the team’s negotiations with the city over the $320-million sale of Angel Stadium in hopes of receiving a million-dollar campaign donation.

The affidavit also alleged that Sidhu obstructed an Orange County Grand Jury investigation into the deal. Sidhu has not been charged and has denied wrongdoing.

The discovery shook Anaheim’s political establishment, prompting Sidhu’s resignation and leading to criminal charges against Ament.

The FBI accused Ament of plotting with an unnamed political consultant to funnel Chamber of Commerce money into Ament’s personal bank accounts by laundering it through the consultant’s public relations firm.

Ament agreed to plead guilty in June to submitting a false tax return, lying to a mortgage lender and two counts of wire fraud.

The scandal prompted the Anaheim City Council to void the stadium sale.

Rafiei did not plead to any bribery charges, but her agreement with prosecutors also outlines a bribery scheme.

Prosecutors said in the agreement that Rafiei admitted to bribing two Irvine council members in 2018 in exchange for their agreement to introduce and pass an ordinance allowing her clients to open a retail cannabis store in the city.

It is not clear whether the bribes were ultimately accepted by the council members, who are not named in court documents.

In May 2018, Rafiei met with a medical cannabis professional, the person’s business partner and an Irvine council member.

They discussed introducing an ordinance that would legalize retail medical cannabis in the city, according to the plea agreement.

The council member told them they planned to use a separate member of the City Council to introduce the proposed law, the agreement said.

Unbeknownst to Rafiei, the business owner and partner were acting as informants for the FBI.

After the meeting, Rafiei asked the cannabis business owner to pay her between $350,000 and $400,000 for brokering the ordinance.

She told them that the first council member they met with had asked for $200,000 and the second one, who was allegedly going to introduce the ordinance, was seeking about $25,000, according to the plea agreement.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

D.C. Journalist Proves Biden Did Absolutely Nothing Wrong By Assuming He Did Absolutely Nothing Wrong

Missing classified documents are only a problem when a president that the bureaucracy doesn’t like has them.

If the entire news media, plus Biden’s vindictive Justice Department, hadn’t put the country through months of insanity over the petty “confidential documents” drama at Mar-a-Lago, Biden’s own scandal of having illegally retained government material when he was a private citizen would be a pretty boring affair.

But they didn’t. They decided to get cute and make this a criminal matter. Now they get the same treatment.

Wait! they claim in unison. This is different! Biden did the right thing and Trump did the wrong thing!

Admittedly, that’s a totally fair and obvious point when you start with the assumption that over the six years Biden was in wrongful possession of government secrets, the material just sat there, untouched and unread (and make the concurrent assumption that the same wasn’t true of the Trump documents). They simply gathered dust, month by month, sound asleep in office drawers and garage boxes, forgotten by Biden, time, and the federal bureaucracy. Then, when one fateful day Biden’s lawyers happened upon the documents, they immediately dialed the National Archives for a swift transfer to the proper authorities.

That’s the entire premise of longtime Washington, D.C., journalist Garrett Graff’s essay this week in The New York Times: Biden says he did nothing wrong, and anyway, he immediately handed over all the materials that he possessed (but definitely never looked at) for six years!

“Mr. Biden’s scandal so far feels more like an administrative error; there’s no evidence he even knew the documents were misplaced or in his possession, and when discovered they were promptly and properly returned to authorities,” wrote Graff. “The government didn’t know they were missing (which itself is a bit of a mystery, since classified documents are usually tightly controlled, which is how the National Archives knew Mr. Trump had missing documents in the first place), and Mr. Biden didn’t try to hold onto them in the face of a legal process ordering otherwise.”

See?! Biden had no problems turning over the documents he’d been sitting on, doing absolutely nothing with, for six years! Besides, the government didn’t even know they were missing! No harm, no foul!

That version of events doesn’t do what Graff, Washington’s least interesting writer, thinks it does. He thinks it portrays Biden as an innocent hoarder who didn’t realize the things in his possession were not his to have. What it does is prove what right-wingers have been saying all along: that Donald Trump (along with what he represents) is the subject of a political persecution, that the rules don’t apply to everyone, and that the media are every bit a part of the corruption.

Missing classified documents are only a problem when a president that the bureaucracy doesn’t like has them. If they like you, hold onto them — for six years, even! Meanwhile, Trump was in possession of what he purportedly believes is his property and it took far less time for the FBI to decide to raid his private residence to get it back.

As for the presumption of innocence — that’s reserved for people whom Graff and Washington like. Biden says he never used the government secrets while he was a private citizen. He didn’t even know he had them.

What’s that you say? Biden’s son Hunter regularly rakes in hundreds of thousands of dollars doing business with foreign governments? Totally unrelated! Besides, like Biden said, he didn’t know he had the classified documents!

Click here to read the full article in the Federalist.om

Ex-LA councilmember Jose Huizar will take plea bargain in corruption case

Central figure in alleged system of dirty deals at City Hall will admit to racketeering, conspiracy, tax evasion

In a stunning turn in the high-profile corruption saga that has gripped the City of Angels for many months, former Los Angeles City Councilman José Huizar has agreed to plead guilty to racketeering, conspiracy and tax evasion, according to court documents filed Thursday, Jan. 19.

Update: Jose Huizar pleads guilty to racketeering and tax evasion, faces nine years

Huizar’s plea agreement — which maps out his links to a bribery and money-laundering scheme in which he was accused of taking more than $1.5 million in cash, gambling trips and escorts in exchange for supporting a planned downtown hotel project — was signed Wednesday and filed in Los Angeles federal court Thursday afternoon.

The document states that Huizar faces a sentence of up to 26 years behind bars once he pleads guilty, but he has agreed to a prison sentence of no less than nine years. A motions hearing in the case is on calendar for Friday morning, but that could be updated to allow for Huizar to enter his plea.

At his sentencing, Huizar will be ordered to pay restitution of about $1.85 million, the documents state.

Huizar early this month lost his bid for a severance from his co-defendant in their forthcoming trial on federal public corruption charges.

In that ruling, U.S. District Judge John Walter denied the motion for Huizar to be tried separately from former Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan.

There was no word Thursday on whether Chan would also plead guilty.

Huizar faced a courtroom drama on Feb. 21, facing trial for federal bribery and fraud charges. His actions were allegedly intertwined with those of City Hall insider Chan, whose high-profile attorney Harland Braun announced that he would tell the jury Huizar was guilty and Chan was not guilty “by comparing and contrasting their conduct as criminal and noncriminal, respectively.”

Prosecutors said billionaire developer Wei Huang, who fled to China, was accused of giving Huizar $1.5 million, including $250,000 in casino chips and a loan Huizar never paid back.

Huizar was heading for a difficult day in court after Huang’s Chinese real estate company was convicted on Thursday, Nov. 10, of federal charges for bribing Huizar with vast amounts of cash and numerous gambling trips in exchange for his support to get approval for a towering downtown L.A. skyscraper that was never built.

Shen Zhen New World I, the company owned by fugitive developer Huang, faces millions of dollars in fines in its sentencing, which is expected in a Los Angeles federal court on Jan. 23.

A Los Angeles federal jury found Shen Zhen New World I guilty of eight counts including honest services wire fraud, interstate and foreign travel in aid of bribery, and bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds.

Federal prosecutors have convicted nine defendants as a result of “Operation Casino Loyale,” a broad corruption investigation into Los Angeles City Hall by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

A thick trial memo written by federal prosecutors recently unveiled dramatic new fireworks, alleging that Huizar was so entangled with Huang that he traveled with the billionaire Huang to Las Vegas 19 times.

Billionaire Huang planned to build a 77-story tower, the tallest building on the West Coast, on the site of the L.A. Grand Hotel downtown. Federal prosecutors said the company bribed Huizar to smooth the way.

Devastating testimony last fall by Huizar’s estranged wife, Richelle Rios, detailed her suspicion that her husband was involved in an extra-marital affair, and in August 2013 she had learned that Huizar was being sued by a former aide alleging sexual harassment. The woman sought between $600,000 and $1 million to settle with her ex-boss, Rios said.

Richelle Rios testified that because Huizar was about to run for his third and final four-year term on the Los Angeles City Council — and news of the harassment lawsuit could potentially torpedo his campaign — Huizar and his associates were worried.

Rios, who did not face charges, said she was called to a meeting with her husband, and then-Deputy Mayor Chan and billionaire Huang — known in Huizar’s circle as “Chairman Huang.”

The topic of the meeting: How Huang could “help in resolving the lawsuit,” Rios testified.

“They wanted to know if I was going to stay in the marriage and would I stand with (Huizar),” Rios, 53, told the jury.

Click here to read the full article in LA Daily News

Melahat Rafiei, Who was Central to the FBI’s Anaheim Investigation, Takes Plea Deal

The former Democratic party leader could face prison time. She hopes her record and FBI cooperation will help.

Melahat Rafiei, who was a cooperating witness for an FBI probe into a massive corruption scandal involving Anaheim and Irvine, said Wednesday evening that she’s agreed to accept a plea deal with the U.S. Attorney’s office on charges of attempted wire fraud.

She could face time in prison, though she said she’s hoping the judge will take into consideration the role she played in uncovering those broader scandals.

“I have made this painful choice by weighing my options, the most important of which was the care and custody of my son… ” Rafiei said in a statement provided to the Register. “I know this option will bring certainty, closure and a path forward.”

Rafiei was secretary for the California Democratic Party, was helping run campaigns for a number of elected officials and was a prominent consultant for the local cannabis industry until May of last year. That’s when news broke that she’d been arrested in 2019 on charges of “theft or bribery” involving federal funds related to a cannabis scheme, and that she later had been assisting the FBI with a related investigation.

That probe led to federal charges against former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Ament,and the resignation of then Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu. At that time, the Anaheim City Council voided a $320 million deal to sell Angel Stadium to a business partnership created by the team’s owner Arte Moreno, as the release of wiretap transcripts appeared to support allegations of a self-described “cabal” of business and political leaders that had been exerting “significant influence” over how the city was run.

As for Rafiei, the FBI states that she had promised two executives at a local cannabis company that she could help get a favorable cannabis ordinance passed in Irvine if they gave her money to bribe two council members. She later denied those allegations, saying in a statement that she “never attempted to improperly influence any elected official.” Those charges were dismissed without prejudice, which meant they could always be filed again later.

After that arrest, Rafiei began cooperating with the FBI to bring them information about possible corruption in Anaheim. She says she accepted a request to cooperate, wearing a wire and delivering evidence that the FBI used to charge Ament and to raise concerns about Sidhu’s actions.

The FBI previously said that they did not believe Rafiei was being fully honest with them, even while she was acting as a witness.

Federal authorities couldn’t immediately be reached Wednesday evening for comment on Rafiei’s plea deal.

But her attorney, Alaleh Kamran, said via email that Rafiei’s plea is not contingent on any conditions and that the government “has made no assurances other than what is included in the plea agreement, which will not be filed under seal.”

Wire fraud can carry a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison, or 30 if the victim is a federally insured bank or other financial institution.

“The hope is that the court will take her distinguished career and lack of criminal history into consideration when sentencing her,” Kamran said.

On advice of her attorney, Rafiei said she can’t discuss facts of the case more until it’s fully resolved.

“I will share my story in due time,” she said. “For now, I will proceed with dignity, humility towards finding peace and clarity in my life.”

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

LA city council approves $50M emergency fund for Bass to use at her discretion

Show of support for Mayor Karen Bass goes to her visible push to get encampments off streets

In a show of support for Mayor Karen Bass’ efforts to address Los Angeles’ homelessness crisis, the City Council voted on Wednesday, Jan. 18 to create and transfer $50 million into an emergency fund for the mayor to use at her discretion.

The funding, which passed by a 13-0 vote, would go toward Bass’ Inside Safe Initiative, which aims to bring residents of encampments indoors.

“We are in this crisis right now and we want the mayor to succeed,” Councilman Bob Blumenfield said. “We want to do everything we can. Even though it’s a lot of money, it’s actually a drop in the bucket of what is needed and what will be needed for the emergency efforts.”

The money will help immediately pay for hotels, increase in staffing and providers who are conducting outreach, according to Matt Szabo, the city administrative officer. Szabo said that without access to the immediate funding, the city lacks the capacity to pay providers in a timely manner.

“The program has brought to our attention the need to have an account of flexible dollars that can be spent quickly without going through the standard process of appropriation from this body,” Szabo said.

The council last month approved Bass’ emergency declaration over homelessness, which will be evaluated monthly by several indicators of progress, including the number of encampments and housing placements, and how much more flexibility city departments are allowed through the declaration.

The declaration is scheduled to last six months.

Of the $50 million, $26.5 million would come from a general fund account for homelessness services and the remaining $23.5 million from funding previously set aside for COVID-19 response.

The council voted last month to end the city’s state of local emergency due to COVID-19 at the end of the month, with a motion by Council President Paul Krekorian noting that it “is appropriate to close this account and appropriate the funds for other emergency purposes.”

Mercedes Marquez, the mayor’s chief of housing and homelessness solutions, said the dedicated funding will help the city bring in more service providers and ramp up its outreach to residents of encampments. The goal of issuing the emergency declaration is to take steps toward institutionalizing a solution rather than launching pilot programs.

“We’re not going to get to something that has more permanent value and outcomes if we continue to do pilots,” Marquez said.

The city officials said the funding will also help Los Angeles fulfill its requirements under an expected settlement with the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights, which sued the city and county in 2020, accusing them of failing to do enough to address the homelessness crisis.

The council on Wednesday also called for weekly updates from various city departments on outreach and other metrics related to homelessness. The council will also receive reports every two weeks on transactions and outcomes of the funding provided by the emergency account, and it will be briefed every 45 days on the progress of the Inside Safe Initiative.

“The state of emergency is not going to be a permanent state of emergency,” Krekorian said. “We’re going to use this emergency period in order to create solutions that will become permanent solutions.”

Councilwoman Nithya Raman, who chairs the council’s Housing and Homelessness Committee, said that any programs developed during the state of emergency must be “enshrined in city policy going forward.” She hoped for solutions that enable city departments to address homelessness under non-emergency circumstances, without the “subversion of traditional oversight.”

The last time a mayor declared a local emergency related to homelessness was in 1987, when Mayor Tom Bradley cited the effect of winter weather on people experiencing homelessness, according to the declaration. The conditions now, the declaration claimed, are “even more dire.”

There are an estimated 41,980 unhoused people in the city of Los Angeles, up 1.7% from 2020, according to the latest point-in-time count.

According to Bass’ office, the Inside Safe Initiative will work to identify the “highest need encampments” that have a chronic and high demand for services, according to the directive. Using citywide coordination between various departments and agencies, the action plan calls for identifying interim housing and eventually permanent housing resources for each person living in the encampments.

Under Bass’ first directive on streamlining project approval, city departments must conduct all reviews and issue approvals for 100% affordable housing projects within 60 days. Once construction starts, the utility permitting and certificate of occupancy process must be completed within five days for affordable housing units and two days for temporary housing.

City Controller Kenneth Mejia supported the council’s decision and plans to build a dashboard to track the progress of the Inside Safe Initiative. Mejia told the council that it would highlight available resources and include “monitoring the trajectory of unhoused community members from interim to permanent housing.”

Click here to read the full article at the Los Angeles Daily News