Sunday, August 28, 2016

Running for Life

I have not been blogging of late and there has been another medical crisis the Epipen price gouge, which is either redundant, ironic or an oxymoron.   I am not surprised nor again even willing to get into another way that big Pharma rips Americans off daily in the pursuit of profits over wellness.

Then we have here in Tennessee the Insurance Commissioner approving the Insurance Carriers Blue Shield, Humana price increases for premiums as they informed them that if not they would pull out of offering individual policies be it on the exchange or otherwise.   Buy the way (pun intended) I did not buy my current policy on the exchange, it is largely inadequate under the law but it serves me fine as it is a catastrophic policy only and that is the only time I ever want to use medical care. I can use urgent care/walk in clinics that are affordable over paying 300 month for a service I do not use.  If there is one thing that I loathe is the Affordable Care Act as it handed all the tickets to those who did need them.

As for other news, the reality is that I have no energy or interest in the slings and arrows that define politics.  It is now the last waning days of summer and as I started substitute teaching in Nashville I have been too angry, too busy and too tired dealing with a system that makes Seattle Public Schools seem highly functional; a transportation service that is adequate but frustrating and going through immense growing pains that you can only hope that it works out but I am not sure what to make of it at the present time as it is clear it too has a long road ahead of it.   The schools, however, I cannot say the same.  They are too embedded in a long standing history that combines racism and elitism. 

Which brings me to the article I read last night in The Atlantic about the books White Trash and Hillbilly Elegy.  They are both interesting reads in their own right, but the author felt they were lacking in what it means to be white and poor in America or as the article calls them The Underclass.

And living in Nashville I see it clearly and it is neither shocking nor surprising as the response I get when I ask about some of my observations is "that is the South."  That seems to be both a resignation and type of acceptance that both enables and allows this odd racist/classicist behavior and philosophy to continue.   But the one good thing is that is utterly open not as suppressed and passive aggressive as I saw in Seattle.  

So when I walk into a school that is almost entirely composed of black faces - both faculty and students, I am treated the same as I am in a school of white faculty with a more diverse but still largely faces of color.   And that is ignored.  That was the one consistent that defines the gig of "subbing"  The difference was in pay and grade.  In Seattle I was appropriately compensated, a part of SPS, down to having online access, a room key to secure my belongings when I go the toliet or to cover a "job" or escort students, I also had  a school district email and more importantly required to have a TEACHERS LICENSE.  So the sheer level of disrespect by Nashville towards me and my role in their schools speaks volumes about how they really view Education - DISMISSIVELY.

So of course that affects the classroom, the management and more importantly the curriculum.  I have spent this week administering coloring books, crossword puzzles and yes real math worksheets.  All of it was tragic, sad and utterly demoralizing.   I am not sure if anyone gives a shit in this district it seems so disjointed, so neglected and has been for decades that it is a waste of time trying to give a flying fuck.   The absurdity and passive aggressivity is however fascinating when it comes to the rule book of subs.  I read in one schools handbook an almost threatening letter from a Principal who I assume is no longer there.  My favorite note was "I will be stopping in to observe to make sure you are engaging with the students."  Of course I never saw anyone and in fact it was only when someone from the office called to inform me about a student, who of course was actually not in the class, when I asked for help as a 7th grader was announcing she was going to kill herself.  This was with less than 30 minutes to the day left and I thought, "kid you couldn't wait to do this after school?"  Well thankfully I was able to get someone ASAP, but I had no list of numbers or names or any source to contact.   At least in the larger middle school in the "black" hood the woman across the hall was quite willing to come over and yell at the kids when they were out of control.  I elected to not avail myself of that the following day. 

So what it means is that the standards and expectations for students in Nashville Public Schools is that they must be poor and come from families that have "issues" and those issues are called poverty.

The schools were fascinated that I had to call to let them know I was on my way but late due to poor bus connections, one school was amazed as none of them had ever ridden the bus.  One said he did 20 years ago in college.

The issues here are a combo of both racism and classicism.  I was driven downtown by the Teacher across the hall, who is black and had no problem calling the system racist.  Yet her entire school is administered and comprised of largely a black staff with largely all black students.  There was only two Latinos and no white children at all.   TSU is a block away and I was told by her to not walk around the neighborhood nor the park adjacent.  So what is the message there?   And while I did the next day waiting for a Lyft, not one but 4 buses passed.  Had I known where the stops were I would have grabbed one.   The dysfunction around transportation here is legendary and their amazing new Mayor Berry is determined to make this her legacy and cornerstone, and that is something I can stand behind. 

Racism is often the blanket that is thrown down when we look at our larger institutions and yes that is one variable in the equation but classicism and the roots in our country about that also play an essential role.  Read the book, The Black Silent Majority, to further understand the roots of how class plays into how minority communities view themselves in relation to each other in the same ways white do across class and then of course across color.    It is easy to demonize or legitimize those when the differences are easy to identify.  Skin color is number one, but look Islam.  The reality of the fight over Burkini's in France or the wearing of hijabs or other conservative wear in the Olympics.  Another easy visible means to discriminate, judge, identify, etc.  Then we have gender and we have assignments for that with regards to age and of course "value." 

In England the marker is an accent and in some respect that we do have stereotypes with regards to how people speak and their marker via an accent.  Here in Nashville it is impossible but recall the controversy back in the day in Oakland with regards to Ebonics.   I am not sure I could spend any energy debating the constraints and rules of grammar and composition as we know they were written by white men.  I am exhausted excusing, apologizing for what was the dominant culture and rule for centuries.  Here is the deal, learn to expect variances in what defines communication, both written and verbal and try to realize that and perhaps simply make accommodations without some subtle connotation that race is a factor in that when in reality is class.  Hear Obama speak and remember how that was a point of admiration and contention when Senator Harry Reid says "he speaks well."  Well he should he went to Harvard for god's sake as did Michelle, and where is their daughter going? Harvard. Nuff said. (whoops bad grammar!)

I am fascinated that in Seattle the marker was "where did you go to school" and I thought what the flying fuck, I'm 56 who the fuck cares?  It was then I realized that a value was assigned to me by that remark. It did not matter what my major was, my occupation or my history, interests, etc.. but where I went to school.  The absurdity that somehow means I am smarter, better, brighter is a part of our classicism.  This issue is well discussed in Thomas Frank's Listen Liberal and the focus on the Ivy League as the solution and in turn marker that you are somehow better, smarter and good enough.

The last articles I read, I think assess this inanity is about the role of funding and segregation and in turn assessing the values of schools by the performance of the students whose backgrounds are mired in conflict and poverty.  So the drill sergeant routines, the uniform dress codes, the excess of discipline are touted as keys to success and in turn the proliferation of charters and in turn the emulation of the same in public schools as a means to boost enrollment and in turn get funds to operate.  What I have witnessed the last two weeks perfectly illustrates how this system is utterly broken and cannot be fixed from the top down, this is grassroots ground up work.  And the reality is that these are the same people who don't have the resources of time or money in which to do so.  So in other words - we are fucked. 

I can't wait to never set foot in a public school again. 

 


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Black Board

This Sunday John Oliver did a blistering rant on Charter Schools and their utter lack of accountability, level of fraud and deception while also being touted by the Political mainstream as the solution to education.   The most egregious State of Dismay, Ohio.

I started substituting in Nashville Public Schools this week.  I doubt I will stay in the gig if I can actually find legitimate part time work elsewhere.  I am ashamed to be involved in what is perhaps the most disgraceful public education system I have seen.  And this is only after day one but one gets a sense that if this is how a professional Educator is treated and respected then it explains a lot.

Let us just say that to pay someone $13/hour with a Teaching License, which means appropriate education - BA, MA or above is STUPID and DEGRADING.  To be a regular substitute without a Teaching License just some college credits regardless of what they are in or a degree completed you are paid $11/hr.    Good to know that I am worth 2 bucks more an hour.   That is the same wages at Panera Bread, I checked and got an application.  Panera employees are provided benefits and a standard schedule. As a Substitute for Metro Public Schools you are at will, you work when jobs available, have no benefits, job security, professional growth or qualify for unemployment when schools are closed.  You can be banned from a building with no due process and by the way you  have no access to using the schools computers or equipment.  So no you cannot log on to the computer to look at your jobs, check mail or any communication with anyone even work related at at any time - including breaks.    When I asked why the Tech said "I don't know that is the Board decision and above my pay grade."  I see.

When I told this to two of the clerks who gave me coffee and a bagel after school,  the shame and embarrassment on their faces was something to see to believe.  I have been in Education for decades and when I sat through the orientation I knew this was just as it ever was.   And in the community I had not met one single person who had anything good to say about Nashville Public Schools, I finally had to accept that this is not how I want to be perceived - a person of pity or a part of a problem.   It is the same across the country when it comes to Education. The clerical and the support staff have it one step above anyone who is a vital role in children's classrooms, sorry I am neither a hero nor a villain and that is what I am, a Teacher who wants to but simply cannot teach.  

Kids need actual Teachers every day regardless of them being full time "regular" or subs as it truly helps in continuity.   My Lyft driver that very morning, her daughter is a Teacher in a Nashville Public School, this is her third year with as many Principals and she tried to get another job doing anything else she is that unhappy.  But as that fell through,  she is back in her classroom with her Mother "volunteering" one day a week to help her manage 18 kids.  Is this the young woman's fault or problem?  No, it takes 5 years to become a fully engaged and functioning Teacher.   You need support and mentoring and it is a learning curve that unfortunately pushes people out rather than keeping them in.  And we add the bullshit of terminations that are arbitrary that can destroy careers (education is the most vindictive and petty profession largely due to the low pay, the lack of respect etc) so instead of looking within and realizing that this is due to funding, poor pay, poor support it becomes the silly idea that tenure and unions are the problem  No they are part of the solution. But those too need to be reminded that what is going on the classroom is truly about money and that when you have poor students with poor families and poor Teachers and others educating them you have an equation that ends in a negative.

What I witnessed in one day was truly sad. Children using their fingers to simply add, unable to understand simple division or multiplication, behavior issues that ended in tears several times, a bathroom vandalized with soap, two black Teachers coming in and doing the standard yelling and I will call your mama stuff that if did would instantly label me a racist and banned from the building as someone who has no management.  I felt sick, ashamed and utterly out of my ability to even feel safe or secure with my own professional knowledge and skill.  It is that bad.   Even giving them a project to copy highlighted and bolded words in a text, copy the definitions and draw a picture resembling the word;  all of which is literally right there and is manually a version of cut and paste took immense effort, confusion and several directions with the kids copying my example on the board which was copied directly from the text.  As I could not use the overhead or any school equipment thanks to not having a password, I literally went old school and drew the example on the board and still they struggled with that.  I go back there in a few hours and I canceled the job for next week at that same school, I simply cannot deal with it.

A Teacher who offered me a ride home informed me it was no safe to walk through the parks adjacent to the school or walk up the road to even catch the bus says it all.  That implication is that this neighborhood in the daylight or afternoon is a dangerous place.  So what does that say about the children and families who live there?  I felt bad for everyone and thought I will pay the 10 bucks for a Lyft rather than sit in a car and feel trapped, as she informed me about the racism and good ole boys in Nashville.  And that now that they finally had a Black Superintendent it might change.  I have no idea on that if that is what the problem or solution is.  Frankly in Seattle we went through that in my professional career and we had a Black Superintendent a woman was fired due to theft issues, and a history of problems in the districts she had managed in the South no less prior to relocating to Seattle. The irony is was she moved to Detroit to be in charge of their schools but died before she could do more damage (which may be impossible given it is Detroit).  If there is one thing I have known that when it comes to Education there is no racisim or subjugation, that across the board it attracts and accepts incompetence and idiocy regardless of color or gender.

But to simply define it as a Nashville thing with racism shows that it becomes both the blanket in which to shroud and to suffocate.  It is not easy to mount change let alone accept it.  And while I am sure that is true but with all the new people moving here perhaps they can be the voice and the shoulder we need to vote out the bubbas.. such as Senator Corker (Trump Lover)  or the aging Lamar Alexander and the "Ed Governor" Haslam;  Sorry but to define this as  "this is the South" is demeaning to all of us that CHOOSE to live here.  Yes that is why I moved here to tote guns and be a racist. Well there are at least two perks other than relenting humidity.

Public Education is not un-salvageable but the idea that charters is the panacea is absurd.  Charters abound and Nashville has many.  I have zero to no interest in engaging in them as I cannot believe they are anything better.  The recent Board elections have shown that this is a contentious issue as the Board of Education here not only oversees the Nashville Public Schools, a district so spread out and utterly confusing as to where exactly these schools align geographically in relation to the City itself (in other words the MPS runs schools outside of Nashville in towns and areas that are not actually part of incorporated Nashville) and they are to oversee the Charter schools called the ASD.  The article below substantiates much what John Oliver shared on Sunday.  I think they are spread a little too thin perhaps?

On Sunday ironically before seeing John's show or ever setting foot in a pubic classroom, I tossed all the papers, books, lessons and remaining items that I had retained with the idea of returning to the classroom.  No I checked my last book out of the library and I am going to spend the next year writing about what it is like to be a Substitute in pubic schools.  It is sad. It is grim. It is pathetic. But it is consistently a problem be it from where I came from and where I moved to.  Perhaps that is comforting to know it is not just me.

But the reality is that we have massive problems that actually need to be resolved. But we have the same problems as many in many other states including the lovely clean Seattle, when it comes to funding Education and finding ways to make public education work.  Charters I am afraid are not the way.   But even I don't think this is a battle I am willing to take on it is too fucked up for any words that I have available in my extensive vocabulary.  So I will let John Oliver speak for me.


** I wrote this at 3 in the morning as I could not sleep.  It was anger, sadness and truth. I did not edit, revise or change any of this.. I just needed to vent. 

 

 State Audit Finds Issues In Achievement School District

Probe shows lack of adequate payroll processes, fiscal monitoring and unreasonable and excessive expenses 
Amanda Haggard
Nashville Scene 
Aug 17, 2016 12 PM

In a state comptroller audit of the Achievement School District released today, the entity charged with turning around the state's lowest-performing schools did not perform so well.

The audit, which reviewed the period from July 1, 2015, through June 30, 2016, found that:


 1. The Achievement School District’s management did not establish adequate controls over several key human resources and payroll processes.2. The Achievement School District’s management failed to implement adequate internal controls over its expenditures, travel claims, and purchasing card purchases.
3. The Achievement School District’s fiscal management did not perform sufficient fiscal monitoring of its direct-run schools and charter management organization.
4. The Achievement School District did not provide adequate internal controls in one specific area. (The report notes that this section of audit is confidential.)


For fiscal year 2015, the ASD received about $77 million in federal, state, and private funding. 

For fiscal year 2015, the ASD received about $77 million in federal, state, and private funding.
Some highlights from the audit:


— In one case, "management did not properly approve nine expenditure transactions totaling $83,363, and seven travel claims totaling $2,460. Two expenditure transactions and two travel claims did not have all required management approvals before the payment was processed. Four of the expenditure transactions represented reimbursements to charter management organizations. Three of the expenditure transactions and expenses on five travel claims were paid using a procurement card. For these items, the cardholder’s supervisor did not properly sign and date the transaction log."


— The audit also outlined several "unreasonable expenses," including a $1,631 alcohol purchase for ASD school leaders and support staff, which was charged to an expense account for Charter School Grant Funding, a grant that, according to the audit, is “restricted funding for operating expenses for school year 2015-16 Achievement Schools: Corning Achievement, Frayser Achievement, Georgian Hills Achievement, Westside Achievement, and Whitney Achievement."


— The ASD paid almost $700 for "all-day transportation services to drive the Deputy Superintendent to Memphis to attend a full day of meetings."


— For several expenditures, including "dental insurance premium, donation, coffee supplies, and accrual calculations, totaling $131,637, and for three travel claims for a flight and expenses involving CMOs, totaling $4,734, management could not provide supporting documentation." (CMOs are Charter Management Organizations, which are ASD schools run by charter school operators.)


— For eight purchases totaling almost $2,000 (spent at Amazon, BB King's Blues Club, and other retail stores) the ASD "management could not provide the transaction logs containing these purchases or the related receipts."

The Black Board

This Sunday John Oliver did a blistering rant on Charter Schools and their utter lack of accountability, level of fraud and deception while also being touted by the Political mainstream as the solution to education.   The most egregious State of Dismay, Ohio.

I started substituting in Nashville Public Schools this week.  I doubt I will stay in the gig if I can actually find legitimate part time work elsewhere.  I am ashamed to be involved in what is perhaps the most disgraceful public education system I have seen.  And this is only after day one but one gets a sense that if this is how a professional Educator is treated and respected then it explains a lot.

Let us just say that to pay someone $13/hour with a Teaching License, which means appropriate education - BA, MA or above is STUPID and DEGRADING.  To be a regular substitute without a Teaching License just some college credits regardless of what they are in or a degree completed you are paid $11/hr.    Good to know that I am worth 2 bucks more an hour.   That is the same wages at Panera Bread, I checked and got an application.  Panera employees are provided benefits and a standard schedule. As a Substitute for Metro Public Schools you are at will, you work when jobs available, have no benefits, job security, professional growth or qualify for unemployment when schools are closed.  You can be banned from a building with no due process and by the way you  have no access to using the schools computers or equipment.  So no you cannot log on to the computer to look at your jobs, check mail or any communication with anyone even work related at at any time - including breaks.    When I asked why the Tech said "I don't know that is the Board decision and above my pay grade."  I see.

When I told this to two of the clerks who gave me coffee and a bagel after school,  the shame and embarrassment on their faces was something to see to believe.  I have been in Education for decades and when I sat through the orientation I knew this was just as it ever was.   And in the community I had not met one single person who had anything good to say about Nashville Public Schools, I finally had to accept that this is not how I want to be perceived - a person of pity or a part of a problem.   It is the same across the country when it comes to Education. The clerical and the support staff have it one step above anyone who is a vital role in children's classrooms, sorry I am neither a hero nor a villain and that is what I am, a Teacher who wants to but simply cannot teach.  

Kids need actual Teachers every day regardless of them being full time "regular" or subs as it truly helps in continuity.   My Lyft driver that very morning, her daughter is a Teacher in a Nashville Public School, this is her third year with as many Principals and she tried to get another job doing anything else she is that unhappy.  But as that fell through,  she is back in her classroom with her Mother "volunteering" one day a week to help her manage 18 kids.  Is this the young woman's fault or problem?  No, it takes 5 years to become a fully engaged and functioning Teacher.   You need support and mentoring and it is a learning curve that unfortunately pushes people out rather than keeping them in.  And we add the bullshit of terminations that are arbitrary that can destroy careers (education is the most vindictive and petty profession largely due to the low pay, the lack of respect etc) so instead of looking within and realizing that this is due to funding, poor pay, poor support it becomes the silly idea that tenure and unions are the problem  No they are part of the solution. But those too need to be reminded that what is going on the classroom is truly about money and that when you have poor students with poor families and poor Teachers and others educating them you have an equation that ends in a negative.

What I witnessed in one day was truly sad. Children using their fingers to simply add, unable to understand simple division or multiplication, behavior issues that ended in tears several times, a bathroom vandalized with soap, two black Teachers coming in and doing the standard yelling and I will call your mama stuff that if did would instantly label me a racist and banned from the building as someone who has no management.  I felt sick, ashamed and utterly out of my ability to even feel safe or secure with my own professional knowledge and skill.  It is that bad.   Even giving them a project to copy highlighted and bolded words in a text, copy the definitions and draw a picture resembling the word;  all of which is literally right there and is manually a version of cut and paste took immense effort, confusion and several directions with the kids copying my example on the board which was copied directly from the text.  As I could not use the overhead or any school equipment thanks to not having a password, I literally went old school and drew the example on the board and still they struggled with that.  I go back there in a few hours and I canceled the job for next week at that same school, I simply cannot deal with it.

A Teacher who offered me a ride home informed me it was no safe to walk through the parks adjacent to the school or walk up the road to even catch the bus says it all.  That implication is that this neighborhood in the daylight or afternoon is a dangerous place.  So what does that say about the children and families who live there?  I felt bad for everyone and thought I will pay the 10 bucks for a Lyft rather than sit in a car and feel trapped, as she informed me about the racism and good ole boys in Nashville.  And that now that they finally had a Black Superintendent it might change.  I have no idea on that if that is what the problem or solution is.  Frankly in Seattle we went through that in my professional career and we had a Black Superintendent a woman was fired due to theft issues, and a history of problems in the districts she had managed in the South no less prior to relocating to Seattle. The irony is was she moved to Detroit to be in charge of their schools but died before she could do more damage (which may be impossible given it is Detroit).  If there is one thing I have known that when it comes to Education there is no racisim or subjugation, that across the board it attracts and accepts incompetence and idiocy regardless of color or gender.

But to simply define it as a Nashville thing with racism shows that it becomes both the blanket in which to shroud and to suffocate.  It is not easy to mount change let alone accept it.  And while I am sure that is true but with all the new people moving here perhaps they can be the voice and the shoulder we need to vote out the bubbas.. such as Senator Corker (Trump Lover)  or the aging Lamar Alexander and the "Ed Governor" Haslam;  Sorry but to define this as  "this is the South" is demeaning to all of us that CHOOSE to live here.  Yes that is why I moved here to tote guns and be a racist. Well there are at least two perks other than relenting humidity.

Public Education is not un-salvageable but the idea that charters is the panacea is absurd.  Charters abound and Nashville has many.  I have zero to no interest in engaging in them as I cannot believe they are anything better.  The recent Board elections have shown that this is a contentious issue as the Board of Education here not only oversees the Nashville Public Schools, a district so spread out and utterly confusing as to where exactly these schools align geographically in relation to the City itself (in other words the MPS runs schools outside of Nashville in towns and areas that are not actually part of incorporated Nashville) and they are to oversee the Charter schools called the ASD.  The article below substantiates much what John Oliver shared on Sunday.  I think they are spread a little too thin perhaps?

On Sunday ironically before seeing John's show or ever setting foot in a pubic classroom, I tossed all the papers, books, lessons and remaining items that I had retained with the idea of returning to the classroom.  No I checked my last book out of the library and I am going to spend the next year writing about what it is like to be a Substitute in pubic schools.  It is sad. It is grim. It is pathetic. But it is consistently a problem be it from where I came from and where I moved to.  Perhaps that is comforting to know it is not just me.

But the reality is that we have massive problems that actually need to be resolved. But we have the same problems as many in many other states including the lovely clean Seattle, when it comes to funding Education and finding ways to make public education work.  Charters I am afraid are not the way.   But even I don't think this is a battle I am willing to take on it is too fucked up for any words that I have available in my extensive vocabulary.  So I will let John Oliver speak for me.

 

 State Audit Finds Issues In Achievement School District

Probe shows lack of adequate payroll processes, fiscal monitoring and unreasonable and excessive expenses 
Amanda Haggard
Nashville Scene 
Aug 17, 2016 12 PM

In a state comptroller audit of the Achievement School District released today, the entity charged with turning around the state's lowest-performing schools did not perform so well.

The audit, which reviewed the period from July 1, 2015, through June 30, 2016, found that:


 1. The Achievement School District’s management did not establish adequate controls over several key human resources and payroll processes.2. The Achievement School District’s management failed to implement adequate internal controls over its expenditures, travel claims, and purchasing card purchases.
3. The Achievement School District’s fiscal management did not perform sufficient fiscal monitoring of its direct-run schools and charter management organization.
4. The Achievement School District did not provide adequate internal controls in one specific area. (The report notes that this section of audit is confidential.)


For fiscal year 2015, the ASD received about $77 million in federal, state, and private funding. 

For fiscal year 2015, the ASD received about $77 million in federal, state, and private funding.
Some highlights from the audit:


— In one case, "management did not properly approve nine expenditure transactions totaling $83,363, and seven travel claims totaling $2,460. Two expenditure transactions and two travel claims did not have all required management approvals before the payment was processed. Four of the expenditure transactions represented reimbursements to charter management organizations. Three of the expenditure transactions and expenses on five travel claims were paid using a procurement card. For these items, the cardholder’s supervisor did not properly sign and date the transaction log."


— The audit also outlined several "unreasonable expenses," including a $1,631 alcohol purchase for ASD school leaders and support staff, which was charged to an expense account for Charter School Grant Funding, a grant that, according to the audit, is “restricted funding for operating expenses for school year 2015-16 Achievement Schools: Corning Achievement, Frayser Achievement, Georgian Hills Achievement, Westside Achievement, and Whitney Achievement."


— The ASD paid almost $700 for "all-day transportation services to drive the Deputy Superintendent to Memphis to attend a full day of meetings."


— For several expenditures, including "dental insurance premium, donation, coffee supplies, and accrual calculations, totaling $131,637, and for three travel claims for a flight and expenses involving CMOs, totaling $4,734, management could not provide supporting documentation." (CMOs are Charter Management Organizations, which are ASD schools run by charter school operators.)


— For eight purchases totaling almost $2,000 (spent at Amazon, BB King's Blues Club, and other retail stores) the ASD "management could not provide the transaction logs containing these purchases or the related receipts."

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Can I take your order?

Well the narrative seems to focus on food, be it the raising wages of fast food workers, the farm to table movement, or the fact that it has now become an era of fast casual versus chic dining. I loathe them all.

The last time I went out was to the Ryman to see Bill Maher, I had a 8 dollar Turkey Sammie and a 12 dollar glass of wine. Neither were that great. Well the wine was fine the sammie just average. I go there everyday and have a $4.00 coffee, occasionally a bagel for a total of $10 bucks. Throw in a tip and that is my budget for going out to eat.

I went to a sit down restaurant and sat in the bar, it was over $40 dollars for a veal chop, 2 glasses of wine and a salad. It was just okay.

I don't have any reason to go out to dinner frankly as it is boring, expensive and not that good. I love ethnic food that while I can cook at home having it done by the people who for them is not ethnic makes the difference. I spent $40 on Indian takeout and for that I got 2 days worth of food. The same goes for any Asian cuisine. I am not a fan of Mexican food yet all the components I like so I do a variation at home. I do not eat fast "casual" and when I moved to Nashville I did some of the local places for a couple of days while I was Air BnBing up the road. It was cheaper and I could sit in my pj's and watch TV versus sit at a bar or at table, alone being bored spending money for food I could make at home.

I happen to love to cook. True not every day and I do enjoy having food made for me but I still prefer taking it home,putting it on my china, wearing pjs and watching a movie. I spend premimum on my home so I want to get the money's worth that it entails. If I lived in a 10 x 10 studio I see going out and would do so. But that adds up and eventually that money could be spent finding a place more suitable. But when you are young and the pods offer $500 rent you think "deal" and those costs are itemized and accountable but are your daily coffees, snacks, lunches, etc? I went through and itemized all my costs on my coffees and they were hitting over $50 bucks a week. And the coffees like the food were not all that great. I have been thinking that while I pay to get out of the house and that is really the prime motivator to get out for an hour, shoot the breeze with the staff or maybe someone sitting next to me at a table (which like the coffee has varying consistency of quality) is important for my mental health and need for socialization.

That is an entire whole other issue being a woman of a "certain age" who has no family, friends and ostensibly works in day labor (that is a substitutes teachers real gig) so meeting my peers is next to near impossible. The other option is joining a Church or a Meetup group. I am on the latter right now and that will do until I decide what and if actual organized religion will have to step up to fill the gap. I am a person of faith but there is something about confinement and the idea that I can't drop in and out to a church of the day to find my soul and appreciate that as sufficient. Again it shows I have massive commitment issues and in turn explains why I gravitate to "temp" gigs, do not network or even know how to make friends let alone long lasting relationships. But irony, pun intended, I am not alone in that.

And what is interesting is in my conversation with a Barber in East Nashville I commented on the massive gentrification that is happening all over Nashville. Some areas are more advanced, some are higher end but there is no shortage of housing developments and new building developments all over the city. But the odd thing is there is no infrastructure to support it and no services which to accompany it.

There are few walkable neighborhoods in Nashville and the one they seem most proud of since the growth of the city is The Gulch. They serve it via a free bus although a regular MTA goes through it and there is nothing there but restaurants and an odd outpost of a small natural bodega that has a much larger outpost in East Nashville - the Turnip Truck. Well if I lived in the million dollar apt/condos there and this was my only grocery store option I would live with it but then again the West End which hotel after hotel, new apartments and a busy corridor has an aged Piggly Wiggly, so it could be worse.

So I see that focus on restaurants are a key especially to a town that thrives on tourism and education as their prime destinations. But to thrive and grow the jobs that accompany them must be sufficient and pay living wages in order to be sustainable. That is not the case here. I see this as a long term problem with housing not commensurate with wages and that the car culture and costs that it entails another.

Nashville is a boom town with immense potential but the haphazard manner in which it is done is distressing. When the focus is on restaurants and fast food there is a transient factor, the idea that this is right to work state with little labor organization nor ability to do so it also affects that industry. So if anyone thinks it is the rising costs of labor that is causing food prices to rise may be somewhat right but this is an industry that has always paid people even below the minimum wage as allowed by law, forcing tipping for low level to inadequate service and add to that the handling of food that the supposed bastion of the industry Chipolte learned the hard way.

I believe that eating out is largely due to irregular schedules, endless hours commuting, families working two jobs and few to little opportunities to shop for affordable healthy food. I should know as here in Nashville the two walkable hoods one is not even in Nashville. I go by 30 minutes on a bus to Whole Foods in Green Hills or I rent a car on weekends (car sharing is not fully realized - yet) to shop for foods. Even the Kroger there is high end while those in Nashville seem to lack. Again that is due to the historical concept of Nashville being a low rent area, there are huge housing projects in almost all the hoods in the immediate areas other than Hillsboro and West End. Why? Vanderbilt.

There are many many plates juggling here in Nashville and I admire their ability to see the future and it is bright. I have such faith and hope but at times one feels very alone and yes lonely when you try to find your place in a new place. But maybe one day I will go out and eat a meal even alone and like it.

So when I read the below article my first thought was have you seen the empty storefronts and businesses with the idea that it could work as a restaurant? I see that everywhere here. They closed a Dollar General in downtown Nashville yet it has no Department Store, Specialty Stores, more than one drugstore, no dry cleaner, no movie house - NOTHING but bar after bar. Yikes. So if this is so then the entire food service industry relies on Tourists as any of the residents of the growing area are not going out every night, are they? And that economy does not sound sustainable for the all that are coming here. Not all of us want to be in hospitality. And the other economy - the sharing one - well that fuels Lyft, Uber, Postmates, Grub Hub and all of that is about what - getting somewhere as the bus doesn't serve us or bringing us what - food. Add to that the endless quasi food delivery/cooking school for the home, such as Blue Apron, that enables people to stay home for less. It is the circle of life and Nashville and that is not one I can see myself living in for the long haul if they elect to ignore a downtown core of services and infrastructure to sustain them. It will go back to be NashVegas and home to Colleges and Universities with an endless revolving door, and most restaurants do, it is often the employee entrance however.


A ‘restaurant recession’ sounds scary. Are we really on the brink of one?

By Sarah Halzack The Washington Post August 22 2106


In the past several weeks, the picture that we’ve gotten of the restaurant industry hasn’t exactly been a promising one. Dunkin’ Donuts saw traffic slip at its U.S. locations in the latest quarter. Potbelly Sandwich Works said it expects to be challenged by a “more cautious consumer” in the near future. And McDonald’s said its sales were hampered by a broad-based retreat from dining out.

Talk of a “restaurant recession” has been percolating on the Internet after an investment bank analyst used the provocative phrase in a research note to describe where the dining industry — and the overall economy — might be headed. So what’s going on here? Here, we break down a few popular theories.

Theory 1: This is an early, foreboding sign that consumers are starting pull back on their spending. This is the most frightening of the possibilities, because if it’s right, it suggests the broader economy could be poised for slowdown. But it’s also the explanation that seems toughest to prove.

Let’s start with the factors that are causing the hand wringing. For one, restaurants have been one of the bright spots of the broader retail industry for years now, but recent data suggests business is getting gloomier. NPD Group, a market research firm, found that visits to fast-casual eateries fell in the most recent quarter for the first time since it began tracking them in 2004. Trade publication Nation’s Restaurant News found that sales at publicly traded restaurants saw a median decline of 1.7 percent in the second quarter.

There’s some anecdotal evidence, too, that seems discouraging. Michael O’Donnell, the chief executive of the parent company of Ruth’s Chris Steak House, told investors in late July that its a la carte dining business is struggling. Unlike its happy hour or private events business, that area is usually fueled by what he called “aspirational” diners, the ones who might go to the steakhouse for a birthday or anniversary dinner.

Mark Kalinowski, a restaurant industry analyst for Nomura, said he believes restaurant sales can offer the earliest hints of an economic downshift.

“How you eat and what you’re spending money on to eat tends to be a very real-time decision by literally hundreds of millions of people,” Kalinowski said.

But before you start fretting that economic storm clouds are forming, consider that there are plenty of other indications these fears are overblown. Healthy consumer spending is what powered GDP growth in the second quarter. The National Retail Federation recently bumped up its forecast for industry-wide growth for the year, saying factors such as high consumer confidence drove the decision. And then there’s the fact that some retailers have seen shoppers coming out in full force. Home Depot recorded a 6 percent increase in revenue this quarter, and sales were up 8.1 percent of items that cost more than $900. TJX Cos., the parent of T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, saw total sales soar 7 percent. Within the restaurant industry, Domino’s Pizza and Papa John’s had a solid quarter.

Theory 2: Grocery shopping is looking like a good deal right now. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, prices for “food at home” — a proxy for grocery store prices — fell 0.2 percent in July and have declined 1.6 percent over the last 12 months. Meanwhile, the “food away from home” category has seen prices move in the opposite direction: They notched up 0.2 percent last month and 2.8 percent over the previous year.

Executives from McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Jack In the Box each mentioned this pattern on their most recent earnings calls because they believe the wide gap in prices was a challenge to their sales in the most recent quarter. And it indeed seems plausible that some shoppers saw such good comparative value at the grocery store, they might have backed off from eating out. Plus, big chains such as Whole Foods Market are making a push around prepared foods, which offer more direct competition to quick-service and fast-casual restaurant players.

Theory 3: These earnings reports aren’t capturing the full picture. Of the 25 largest restaurant brands in the United States this quarter, Kalinowski said only one likely posted an increase of 5 percent or better in sales at restaurants open more than a year. That would be lowest number of restaurants hitting that threshold in any quarter so far this decade, Kalinowski said.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean things are looking rough out there. It just means business is tough for those particular mega-brands. It doesn’t tell us much about how regional players or independent outposts are faring. Think about these dynamics in the D.C. area: Local favorites Sweetgreen and Cava Grill have been opening shops rapidly across the region. When you started adding one of those spots to your regular lunch or dinner rotation, it probably came at the expense of dollars you used to spend somewhere else — Chipotle, perhaps, or Panera Bread.

“Ultimately, consumers are spreading their purchasing across a broader range of brands,” said Darren Tristano, president of restaurant research firm Technomic.

And then there’s the customers who are lining up at Bad Saint or scrambling to get a reservation at Pineapple & Pearls. The earnings of the big restaurant companies do little to illuminate what is going on with these experience-oriented consumers, who are dining out almost as a hobby.










A ‘restaurant recession’ sounds scary. Are we really on the brink of one?
By Sarah Halzack August 22 at 7:00 AM

A Dunkin’ Donuts restaurant. (Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg)

In the past several weeks, the picture that we’ve gotten of the restaurant industry hasn’t exactly been a promising one. Dunkin’ Donuts saw traffic slip at its U.S. locations in the latest quarter. Potbelly Sandwich Works said it expects to be challenged by a “more cautious consumer” in the near future. And McDonald’s said its sales were hampered by a broad-based retreat from dining out.

Talk of a “restaurant recession” has been percolating on the Internet after an investment bank analyst used the provocative phrase in a research note to describe where the dining industry — and the overall economy — might be headed. So what’s going on here? Here, we break down a few popular theories.

Theory 1: This is an early, foreboding sign that consumers are starting pull back on their spending. This is the most frightening of the possibilities, because if it’s right, it suggests the broader economy could be poised for slowdown. But it’s also the explanation that seems toughest to prove.

Let’s start with the factors that are causing the hand wringing. For one, restaurants have been one of the bright spots of the broader retail industry for years now, but recent data suggests business is getting gloomier. NPD Group, a market research firm, found that visits to fast-casual eateries fell in the most recent quarter for the first time since it began tracking them in 2004. Trade publication Nation’s Restaurant News found that sales at publicly traded restaurants saw a median decline of 1.7 percent in the second quarter.

There’s some anecdotal evidence, too, that seems discouraging. Michael O’Donnell, the chief executive of the parent company of Ruth’s Chris Steak House, told investors in late July that its a la carte dining business is struggling. Unlike its happy hour or private events business, that area is usually fueled by what he called “aspirational” diners, the ones who might go to the steakhouse for a birthday or anniversary dinner.

Mark Kalinowski, a restaurant industry analyst for Nomura, said he believes restaurant sales can offer the earliest hints of an economic downshift.

“How you eat and what you’re spending money on to eat tends to be a very real-time decision by literally hundreds of millions of people,” Kalinowski said.

But before you start fretting that economic storm clouds are forming, consider that there are plenty of other indications these fears are overblown. Healthy consumer spending is what powered GDP growth in the second quarter. The National Retail Federation recently bumped up its forecast for industry-wide growth for the year, saying factors such as high consumer confidence drove the decision. And then there’s the fact that some retailers have seen shoppers coming out in full force. Home Depot recorded a 6 percent increase in revenue this quarter, and sales were up 8.1 percent of items that cost more than $900. TJX Cos., the parent of T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, saw total sales soar 7 percent. Within the restaurant industry, Domino’s Pizza and Papa John’s had a solid quarter.

Theory 2: Grocery shopping is looking like a good deal right now. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, prices for “food at home” — a proxy for grocery store prices — fell 0.2 percent in July and have declined 1.6 percent over the last 12 months. Meanwhile, the “food away from home” category has seen prices move in the opposite direction: They notched up 0.2 percent last month and 2.8 percent over the previous year.


Executives from McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Jack In the Box each mentioned this pattern on their most recent earnings calls because they believe the wide gap in prices was a challenge to their sales in the most recent quarter. And it indeed seems plausible that some shoppers saw such good comparative value at the grocery store, they might have backed off from eating out. Plus, big chains such as Whole Foods Market are making a push around prepared foods, which offer more direct competition to quick-service and fast-casual restaurant players.

Theory 3: These earnings reports aren’t capturing the full picture. Of the 25 largest restaurant brands in the United States this quarter, Kalinowski said only one likely posted an increase of 5 percent or better in sales at restaurants open more than a year. That would be lowest number of restaurants hitting that threshold in any quarter so far this decade, Kalinowski said.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean things are looking rough out there. It just means business is tough for those particular mega-brands. It doesn’t tell us much about how regional players or independent outposts are faring. Think about these dynamics in the D.C. area: Local favorites Sweetgreen and Cava Grill have been opening shops rapidly across the region. When you started adding one of those spots to your regular lunch or dinner rotation, it probably came at the expense of dollars you used to spend somewhere else — Chipotle, perhaps, or Panera Bread.

“Ultimately, consumers are spreading their purchasing across a broader range of brands,” said Darren Tristano, president of restaurant research firm Technomic.

And then there’s the customers who are lining up at Bad Saint or scrambling to get a reservation at Pineapple & Pearls. The earnings of the big restaurant companies do little to illuminate what is going on with these experience-oriented consumers, who are dining out almost as a hobby.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Choosing my religion

The reality is that despite all the best of intentions, the Obama Administration has restored the rights of local Police to obtain military grade equipment.  The killings by Police, abuse by Prosecutors goes unchallenged and the DOJ continues to investigate Police Organizations in cities across America and find repeated examples of abuse and exploitation that is defined by race, by gender and of course largely affecting the communities that are the poor.

When I read the below article I once again just shrugged.  To think we have all this rage when an individual is chased, hunted and killed by Cops but then when the same happens to them we go on nation of shared grief and tragedy. Demands for change, pledges of loyalty and more free meals thanks for your service dominate.

I agree with Bill Maher, Police CHOOSE that job. They go in willingly and knowingly that it is a job with risk, elements of danger and that individuals will hate them, hunt them and want to bring them harm.  Yet that seems to be the reverse when men and women of color encounter the Police.  I do think that is the response to the former so it becomes the latter as a coping strategy.

And the abuse is not ending.  It is seizing property, it is targeting individuals and using junk science, inadequate training and bullshit laws written by Legislators who have the collective brains of a squirrel.  And we put them there,  as frankly the American public are so poorly educated, misinformed or duly ignorant, often by choice, that it becomes akin to running an Olympic Hurdle race to feel that you have managed to accomplish anything of meaning.  

Last night I saw Bill Maher at the Ryman. The irony not lost that it was a former church and that we are sitting on pews as he commented on the current climate of America for close to 2 hours.  I laughed for a solid two hours and needed to remind myself that most of America is well - a joke.  The man next me said "this does not look like a Bill Maher crowd." And yes for the first time we had a security line checking for guns.. at the Ryman for a comedy show.  And while I thought odd, I laughed just like laughing at the idea of Maher in a church.  So I asked this man  what does a Maher fan look like, while gesturing to the two Lesbians sitting immediately in front of us.   He was not sure and realized that he had no idea as he had never seen Maher before, doesn't live in Nashville and why a bunch of Maher haters would spend 75 bucks to see him for what purpose and why did not seem to matter.  He was convinced that this show was full of Maher haters, not sold out and seemed disappointed that it was not something he imagined it would be.  His tragic demeanor sort of enables the loathing for Teachers and proving to me that I need to get out of Education.

(for the record he is a retired French Teacher from a private school where he worked for 20 years relocating from Indiana, I suspect Gay and from Chatanooga.    For one attending a comedy show he seemed truly unhappy and clearly looking for a community of liberals and people whom he could join.  All while complaining about the conservative culture he lives in which he could also CHOOSE to leave now or have left years ago and move to one less so - such as Nashville.   But then again he was a Teacher and I have met few that actually have intelligence and this man seemed to have little, I simply hope he speaks great French)

I am a cynic who on good days try my best to be an optimist. But the years have taken a toll.  I feel exhausted from frankly talking and dealing with the assholes that seem to permeate my life.  When you have no one with whom you trust and can respect you either become bitter and angry or you simply isolate yourself.  I think the latter has worked but there is always a current of the former that runs below.

I don't trust the Police, I don't respect them at all. I know that there are "good" cops and the blah blah blah.  But in the last 4 years I have not met one single Attorney (well even Harvard I have massive issues with) or Police, Judge or individual in any of the larger institutions be it the criminal, medical or educational ones that have comprised my life of the last 4 years.   I cannot wait to disengage from them completely unless by absolutely necessity and BY CHOICE.

When you make a choice you do so with numerous reasons and justifications that are often accompanied with research or recommendations that assist you in doing so.  I suspect that if you are in the criminal justice system we are all prey to them and that just by being there it is open season.

I moved to Nashville with a lot of cash in hand, I had a one way ticket and I flew alone in first class. And a week later I got the most amazing good wishes card from the Reservation Agent of Alaska hoping that I find happiness in my move.  So she heard me and cared.  For that I am grateful. But for many who travel that is not always the case.   When did just doing things normally and going about your business put you in a position of high alert? When did being afraid of those whom we assume are there to protect us and respect us and get bad guys when they think we are just bad guys too, only we are just waiting to happen.

The chaos in JFK last week over the belief that there was a shooting proves once again that all this security and law enforcement don't know their asses from a hole in the ground.  So you think you are safe and they have their shit together?  No they don't and yet we are just at risk from them as we are from the "bad guys."  And it appears we are all "bad guys."



Police Can Use a Legal Grey Area to Rob Anyone of Their Belongings

When officers categorize wallets or cellphones as evidence, getting them back can be nearly impossible—even if the owner isn’t charged with a crime.

Kaveh Waddell The Atlantic Aug 15, 2016

Last summer, Kenneth Clavasquin was arrested in front of the Bronx apartment he shared with his mother. While the 23-year-old was being processed, the New York Police Department took his possessions, including his iPhone, and gave him a receipt detailing the items in police custody. That receipt would be his ticket to getting back his stuff after his case ended.

But the recovery process would soon turn into a nightmare. Clavasquin’s case was dismissed on December 8, 2015, and one day later, he took a court document proving the dismissal to the NYPD property clerk’s office. He was told that the department had classified his possessions as arrest evidence, to give the district attorney the option of considering them in the case. But the district attorney didn’t, and now that the case was over, the classification meant Clavasquin was about to enter a bureaucratic obstacle course.

Clavasquin needed to get a release from the district attorney’s office stating that his property would no longer be needed for evidence. Over the following three months, he repeatedly called the assistant district attorney assigned to his case, but he neither got a release nor a written explanation of why he was being denied one.

Then, with the help of an attorney at the Bronx Defenders, a public-defender office that had been representing him since the day after his arrest, Clavasquin sent a formal written request for the district attorney’s release. He got no response.

Clavasquin still hasn’t gotten his phone back—but he had to continue paying for its service contract as it remained locked up in an NYPD facility.

His ordeal is a common one. Earlier this year, the Bronx Defenders filed a class-action lawsuit against New York City that named three plaintiffs: Clavasquin and two other men who were also given the runaround when they tried to pick up their property, including their cellphones, after an arrest. The lawsuit alleges that the city has shown a “policy, pattern, and practice” of unconstitutionally depriving people of their property after an arrest, without due process.

There are two avenues available to the government for seizing items that were used to commit a crime, or cash that was made unlawfully. If a person is convicted of a crime, the government can use a legal tool called criminal forfeiture that allows it to confiscate property that was involved. Civil forfeiture, on the other hand, does not require a criminal charge—only a suspicion that a piece of property was involved in a crime, or that it was obtained illegally.

But neither of those legal processes were used against Clavasquin, his coplaintiffs, and the estimated “hundreds if not thousands” of others just in New York City that they represent in the lawsuit. Instead, they got caught in legal limbo: When their property was classified as evidence after their arrest, slow-moving bureaucracy and red tape turned what should be a routine transaction—getting back personal property after the state no longer has any use for it—into a near-impossibility.
“If our clients were doing what the police are doing, it’d be called robbery.”

In New York, the multi-step process required to get the NYPD to release possessions can be opaque and circuitous. When the Bronx Defenders circulated a questionnaire in 2014 among its clients who had possessions taken from them at the time of arrest, nearly half said they were never even given the itemized voucher that Clavasquin received.

Even with that voucher in hand, petitioning the district attorney’s office for the necessary forms to release items categorized as evidence can be fruitless: More often than not, requests to the district attorney’s office—whether phoned in, written, or emailed—go unanswered, said Adam Shoop, a Bronx Defenders attorney who helped bring the class-action lawsuit against the city. The only reliable way to force a response is to file an administrative appeal, a legal tool that the average non-lawyer almost certainly wouldn’t be able to use on his or her own, Shoop said.

If someone is able to jump through all the hoops and obtain a district attorney’s release, there’s one final hurdle: The NYPD property clerk, which actually holds on to the items, requires two forms of ID before releasing any property. Drumming up two forms of ID can be difficult on its own, but it’s made harder still if the person’s wallet, which may contain a driver’s license, is in police custody. (The property clerk won’t count a seized license as a valid form of ID.) When that’s the case, the person has to notarize an authorization for someone else to pick up the items on their behalf.

Of the items that might be seized during an arrest, cars, cellphones, and wallets with cash are among the most valuable. Cellphones are especially likely to be categorized as arrest evidence, throwing up additional hurdles to recovery. (Shoop says that people arrested on drug-related charges are most likely to get their phones categorized as evidence.)

If a phone is taken and is hard to get back, not only does its owner have to keep paying for service—or pay an early termination fee, if it’s under contract—but he or she loses a basic tool of modern life. Younger, lower-income, non-white, and uneducated people are particularly likely to depend on their smartphones as their only way of accessing the internet, and some lower-income families may only have one smartphone.

All manner of other things get taken, too. James King, a staff attorney at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, says his clients often want to get their winter coats back after an arrest. “Since they’re hiring us, they can’t afford attorneys,” King said. “These are people who are poor.” But the hunt to get their coat back sometimes takes so long that, even if it’s ultimately successful, winter has ended by the time the coat is returned.

In New York, a clock starts ticking the moment a criminal case is over, whether or not it resulted in a prison sentence: A property owner has 120 days to demand the return of their things before the NYPD has the right to dispose of the property, which can mean auctioning off a vehicle or sending seized cash to the city’s general fund. If they can’t demand the property back in person—perhaps because they’re behind bars—they must formally authorize an attorney, friend, or family member to do so.

(If the items are categorized as evidence, the property owner has another 270 days after making the original demand to secure the elusive district attorney’s release. If the items are slated for forfeiture, the owner also needs an additional release from the NYPD civil legal bureau.)

In Washington, D.C., on the other hand, formal deadlines are hard to come by. I spoke to three criminal-defense attorneys who work in the district, and none knew of any official timeline for getting back seized items. They described a chaotic, “ridiculous” system where none of the separate parties involved in property seizures communicate effectively, leaving property owners without a way to recover their things even when prosecutors make it clear they no longer need the items.

“This is extraordinary,” said William Claiborne, an attorney in D.C. who has brought a class-action lawsuit against the District of Columbia government regarding civil forfeiture. “It’s based on the old days, when ships used to travel around and maybe the ship was carrying contraband—so you’d snatch the ship because you didn’t know where the owner was.”

Claiborne and Joseph Scrofano, who also practices criminal-defense law in the district, said phones are nearly always categorized as evidence in D.C. Scrofano said fewer than half of his clients are able to recover their property after the police seize it. Some give up before they get their things back, deciding it’s not worth the trouble.

“The fundamental principle here is that prisoners do retain rights in their property—even prisoners who have been convicted of a crime,” said David Fathi, director of the national prison program at the American Civil Liberties Union. “If a piece of property is legitimately evidence in a criminal proceeding—and certainly you can imagine a situation where a cellphone would be—it can be held for that purpose, but that should not be indefinite.”

In both Washington and New York, defense attorneys lamented a lack of coordination between police departments—which make the initial call of how to categorized seized items—and prosecutors. Unless prosecutors are bringing a major felony case, they almost never pursue a search warrant to gather evidence from a smartphone, the lawyers said, but police keep categorizing them as evidence, turning attempts at recovery into punishing experiences.

And forget getting back a phone marked as evidence while court proceedings are underway: Unless the court intervenes, which it does infrequently, there’s no way to even start the process of getting back possessions until the case is wrapped up.

“Civil forfeiture makes people prove their own innocence.”

Even if a person is arrested but isn’t charged with a crime, his or her possessions can be seized. (In certain cases, police can even seize property without arresting its owner.) But the lack of criminal charges don’t make recovery any easier. In fact, in Washington and New York, it lands individuals in another gray area that can be even more difficult to navigate than the maze of red tape that follows the end of criminal proceedings.

Shoop and Claiborne said they advise clients who haven’t been charged to go back to their arresting officer or call the officer’s station, to try and get the hold on the property lifted because of the lack of charges. “You can imagine it’s not a comfortable experience for our clients to have to go the precinct and speak to the person who arrested them to do them a favor,” wrote Shoop in an email.

In one case, Shoop said, a Bronx client who wasn’t charged with a crime asked his arresting officer for his property back—but instead of releasing it, the officer changed the property’s designation to “investigatory evidence,” a classification Shoop called “essentially the black hole of property confiscation.” It means that the district attorney wants to hold on to the property in case it chooses to go forward with a case in the future, even though it has no plans to bring a case now. An internal NYPD document shows that investigatory evidence can be held for a year, but that officers can ask for that timeframe to be extended.

According to Dick Carpenter, the director of research at the Institute for Justice, the difficulty of getting back seized assets in New York and D.C. is representative of similar problems nationwide. The prevalence of civil forfeiture and the bureaucracy that surrounds it are generally worse in large cities, he said, but state and federal laws remain unfriendly to property holders. He co-authored a report last year that graded every state on the fairness of their civil forfeiture laws. New York got a C, and the District of Columbia got a B+. By contrast, 24 states got a D- and two—Massachusetts and North Dakota—got an F.

“In this country you’re supposed to be innocent until you’re proven guilty,” said Robert Johnson, an attorney at the Institute of Justice. “Civil forfeiture takes that and turns it on its head. It makes people prove their own innocence before they get their property back.”

In the last year, both Washington and the Bronx have started to introduce reforms to their civil forfeiture processes. In response to the class-action lawsuit from the Bronx Defenders, the Bronx District Attorney’s office has proposed significant updates to the way the property release process works, introducing an electronic tracking system for property release requests for the first time. The system will notify assistant district attorneys about requests for releases, and allow them to accept or defer the request with one click. The office has also hired an assistant district attorney who will help people who are asking for their property back along their process, and provide responses if the claimants don’t initially get one within a reasonable amount of time.

Julian O’Connor, deputy counsel at the Bronx District Attorney’s office, says the electronic tracking system is “90 percent complete.” He and others from the office will soon meet with the Bronx Defenders and other public-defense organizations to introduce them to the system and ask for feedback, before starting to roll it out across the county for a three-month evaluation phase. (There are currently no plans to share the findings of the evaluation with New York’s other four boroughs, or to export the Bronx model elsewhere if it succeeds.)

In Washington, the city council passed a change last year that makes it harder for D.C. police to profit from assets and money seized in forfeiture cases, hoping to remove unsavory incentives to pursue forfeiture. The change also raises the bar of evidence that the government must meet in order to take possession of a vehicle involved in a crime. A spokesperson for the district’s Metropolitan Police Department was not immediately able to comment on the city’s forfeiture policies.

These changes—especially the ones underway in the Bronx—may help prevent people who haven’t even been convicted of a crime from being deprived of essential property. But in most of the country, the system still works against them.

Claiborne says he’s seen a significant bias in the way the system works in Washington. “These are just wealth-stripping devices, and they’re directed basically at black people,” he said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people whose cars were taken, but I’ve only talked to one white person whose car was taken, and they got it back. There may be more white people out there, but I haven’t found them. This preys on the most economically vulnerable people.”

King, who also works in the District of Columbia, was more blunt. “To me it feels like legal robbery, like a shake down,” he said. “If our clients were doing what the police are doing, it’d be called robbery, and they’d be charged or indicted within a day or two.”




Friday, August 19, 2016

Calling the Press

Back in the day, actually still today, some people used to say, "call the News."  The idea that if you could call your local newspaper or news station that they would determine if the story was a worthy one and in turn investigate the claims. From that exposure and in turn justice would be found.

Then Lawyers figured this out and they decided to innundate the airways with their infomercials.  My favorite here is from a "personal injury" lawyer "Justice Served, Get What You Deserve." In all my days I have never seen such a predatory occupation as here in Nashville, a city that is both the capital and the core of both the Federal and State Government, along with a large municipal core that includes both public and charter schools, the transit system and many of our local landmarks and businesses.   You can't throw a stone without hitting someone who works for the Government - directly or indirectly.  Go downtown at 4:30 and see the exodus from all the buildings, the transit center is the busiest I have ever seen and the most I ever see people in Downtown Nashville at any given time. It also explains the freeways/interstates/pikes as the most dangerous in the country, it is something to see to believe and in turn explains the industry of personal injury that exists here.

And while Attorney's are reaping the bucks from ripping both people and businesses off there was a time they too were thought of as Guardians of the Gate, the idea that they were exposing the truth behind lies and endorsing change.    Remember those days? I do.  Now one has a spouse on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and is being sued himself for defrauding a client.  How the worm turns or whatever that expression is.

Last week John Oliver did a great story about the decline of the press, the irony being that the Academy Award went to Spotlight a film about the Press and the Boston Globe's stories about the Catholic Church and their covering up sexual abuse by Priests. By the way the Journalists covered the story, wrote the stories and went on to the next.  None wrote a tell all or a non fiction book about their experience, it was screenwriters who decided to actually research the story behind the story and write about the Journalists, Editors and Publishers behind the Boston Globe and in turn write Spotlight.

We are at a serious crisis when it comes to Journalism and its independance and role in our socieity. And why Mr. Oliver did so in a way that of course was both funny and tragic I think it explains it all.


Blogging in not Journalism.  It is not even writing frankly.  I write this as a more stream of consciousness piece, with little to no editing, drafting or revision.  It is simply commentary. I have tried investigation on my own, with little training, assistance or credentials just for my own issues and it is time consuming, challenging and down right frustrating as hell.   As for writing frankly is a collaborative sport and sitting at home rambling on about your thoughts on things is a great outlet but it is just that - an outlet.  Think of it as therapy without a Therapist.

Immediately after John's show was an article in the New York Times about TRONC and the asshole who bought the Tribune that was mocked on the show.   He reminded me of the Facebook idiot, Chris Hughes and his purchase of The New Republic, and that worked out or not.   And this is not just an American problem.  The beloved Sydney Morning Herald that also publishes The Age (my first true foreign press addiction when I went to Australia and read that gem) is folding the newspaper into threes - as in three times a week.

This of course highlights that the press is exceedingly becoming the megaphone for the rich and their interests and that is no more exemplified by the Fox Publishing and News business.  Maybe Roger Ailes could do for a local paper  or news channel what he did for Fox.. sort of as a mea culpa.  Well maybe not.  Or perhaps Nick Denton of Gawker could revive the Herald or the Tribune?  I can see that going well or maybe not.  Isn't Arianna Huffington free too?

That was the great outlier the supposed online news that the new generation wanted.  They wanted to talk to their buds in the echo chamber, bully those who did not agree and mock those whom did not express themselves in the same manner/fashion/grammar or vernacular.  I read Gawker in the early days when the recapped the Real Housewives, Richard Larson was funny and engaging and the commentary lively.   I rarely if ever ventured into the cesspool that was Gawker as that was akin to entering a sucking black hole of assholishness that later migrated to Reddit as it was less monitored than Gawker, or was until they tried to stop that too. Gawker was a reflection of their publisher - Nick Denton - uber asshole and it was another uber asshole (tech puns intended) - Peter Thiel - who destroyed it.  My billions/dick is bigger than your dick/billions. 

And that is what online news is - comment and commentary.  That is what BuzzFeed is and so on.   It is why NPR shut comments down online and other legitimate press sites have strict monitoring.  I don't do comments here as frankly it is too much work and again this is a monologue which you can read or not, like or not and well that is your CHOICE.    I am not compensated and I have a donation button that has received not ONE donation in the sites existence.  I used to take paid ads and I no longer don't as I do not have the time to monitor and record readership.  Even Google supposedly has analytics you can use and of course pay for to determine worth and value - of a blog. Really?

That was what online news is about - commentary.  After a while do you really give a shit what some ghostnic thinks about your grandmother? 

But we need newspapers and we actually need real television news especially at the local level.  Without that coverage and dedicated staff who are willing and more importantly allowed to investigate and challenge those with whom others agree or more importantly disagree, we will have a a nation of morons who start every sentence with "I heard" "Someone told me" "I saw" "I read" and then follow it up with "well I didn't listen/read it I just saw it on Facebook, a blog site, read the headline or heard the promo on the news."  It is one step removed from those moronic Lawyer ads late at night "Get what you deserve" and clearly you deserve to be misinformed and uneducated. And those two realities explain the American climate right now. 

That should be the real campaign slogans "I'm Angry and/or Stupid."   Yes news and media can reflect bias but the reality is that we have enabled and allowed it by not demanding better and not engaging more. 

Buy as in BUY your local paper then BUY the New York Times or the Washington Post (even that douche has left it alone) and ask yourself are you getting the news you deserve.  Then watch your local news, the national news on all the stations, hit up a half an hour of all cable news (that is a wasteland and largely another reason why TV news sucks) and ask yourself - Did I learn something today?

News you deserve or news you need to know.  Is that what matters choosing between them?




Family Ties

When a family is broken up be it by a matter of choice or one imposed upon you the long range repercussions cannot be measured nor known often for years to come.

We love to punish and penalize, we are obsessed with some type of belief that from this will come redemption and in turn prevention.  What is that adage:  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  The idea that prevention is better than the cure.  The idea being (this from the Free Dictionary):

Prov. It is better to try to keep a bad thing from happening than it is to fix the bad thing once it has happened. (See also An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.) If we spend more money on education, so that children learn to be responsible citizens, we won't have to spend so much money on prisons. Prevention is better than cure.
So the idea is that if we demonstrate the potential realities on others they will not have any desire, inclination or motivation to do similar behaviors.  That has worked out well.  When 40% or more of our prisons are full of mentally ill, the numbers on addicted I do not have but that is another classification that cannot be ignored and the rest are largely minor often victimless crimes but are there due to mandatory minimums or the use of archaic stiff sentences to indeed browbeat those in communities that are the hardest hit with criminal activity that you will be punished and punished severely.
Eric Holder the former head of the Department of Justice wrote an editorial last week about reduction of sentences and the reality that it has little to no effect on crime stats.   What he fails to mention or explain is how and why they came into existence in the first place.  Those sentences have no valid science nor rationale behind them.  There is no correlation between years served and crime reduced and in turn likelihood of recidivism.   Pro Publica has been exposing that at present the states are using algorithms to determine this and they too are filled with error and bias that are in fact predominately racist and largely bullshit.  Shocking, I know!
The reality is that the data input is as only good as the one inputting the data.  Kind of like the Facebook news feeds or anyone with a personal agenda or belief that transmits that to influence their source.  And to think Millennials are sure that data is free of said truths.  They are morons.  I can't be in the company of millennials and not think you are the bookend to the 70 year old cranky pants.  Two groups both angry for different reasons but they have one thing in common - anger. That might explain both Trump and Sanders only that one anger from the same 70 year old had a more youthful quality and one I chose to relate to.  The operative word here - CHOSE. 
And last time I checked we have the right to choose what and whom to believe.  But we also can in turn accept that at times we are wrong, don't hear the whole story and in fact emotions cloud the decision making process and we can then in turn make bad choices.  So we should all go to prison right?  
Women are the largest growth in jails and once again for crimes that we could debate are victimless and in turn largely directed against the poor.  They are also rarely included in many of the exonerations that have taken place as they are not felonies or death penalty cases, the ones that make for a murderer, a serial or some other jinx.  They are not glamorous, interesting but they are none the less important as they expose the disgraceful state of our Criminal Justice System.  A system that is much like a dysfunctional family and could use a good Mother to clean house.  

Number of Women in Jail Has Grown Far Faster Than That of Men, Study Says

By TIMOTHY WILLIAMS
THE NEW YORK TIMES
AUG. 17, 2016

When Dolfinette Martin was convicted of shoplifting more than $700 worth of clothes in Louisiana in 2005, she had five children, no money and an addiction to cocaine.

Seven years later, in 2012, Ms. Martin became one of a growing number of impoverished women released from prisons and jails whose plight has been largely overlooked during continuing efforts to reverse mass incarceration, according to criminal justice experts.

“That cycle of poverty — not a lot of resources, not a lot of jobs, the lack of education, you kind of give up,” said Ms. Martin, 46, who now works as an administrative assistant.

On Wednesday, the Vera Institute of Justice and a program called the Safety and Justice Challenge released a report that found that the number of women in local jails in the United States was almost 14 times what it was in the 1970s, a far higher growth rate than for men, although there remain far fewer women than men in jails and prisons.

The study found that the number of women held in the nation’s 3,200 municipal and county jails for misdemeanor crimes or who are awaiting trial or sentencing had increased significantly — to about 110,000 in 2014 from fewer than 8,000 in 1970.

(Over all, the nation’s jail population increased to 745,000 in 2014 from 157,000 in 1970.)

Much of the increase in the number of jailed women occurred in counties with fewer than 250,000 people, according to the study, places where just 1,700 women had been incarcerated in 1970. By 2014, however, that number had surged to 51,600, the report said.

And even as crime rates declined nationally, the trend toward jailing women in rural counties continued: Incarceration rates for women in sparsely populated counties rose to 140 per 100,000 in 2014 from 79 per 100,000 in 2000, the study found. During the same period, incarceration rates for women in the nation’s largest counties decreased to 71 per 100,000 from 76 per 100,000.

“Once a rarity, women are now held in jails in nearly every county — a stark contrast to 1970, when almost three-quarters of counties held not a single woman in jail,” the report said.

The counties with the highest rates of jailed women are nearly all rural and include Nevada County, Calif.; Floyd County, Ga.; and St. Charles Parish, La. Each has a population of fewer than 100,000 people but a rate of incarceration for women of more than 280 per 100,000, according to the Vera Institute.

Like Ms. Martin, 46, who was arrested on shoplifting charges 10 times and was held in jails and prisons throughout Louisiana from 1994 to her final arrest in 2005, the study found that a vast majority of the women are poor, African-American or Latino, and have drug or alcohol problems. About 80 percent have children.

Most have been charged with low-level offenses, including drug or property crimes like shoplifting, but a growing number are in jail for violating parole or probation, for failed drug tests or for missing court-ordered appointments. Others are unable to make bail or pay court-mandated fees and fines, the report said.

The trend echoes what has occurred in policing over the past two decades, as the police and prosecutors have focused on offenses that might have once been overlooked, even as rates for more serious crimes have declined, according to the Justice Department. The result, critics say, are overcrowded prisons and jails, many of them filled with nonviolent offenders.

“As the focus on these smaller crimes has increased, women have been swept up into the system to an even greater extent than men,” said Elizabeth Swavola, one of the authors of the Vera report.

The study found that women accounted for 26 percent of total arrests in 2014, compared with 11 percent in 1960.

And the most common offenses that led to arrests involved drugs.

Between 1980 and 2009, the arrest rate for drug possession or use doubled for men but tripled for women, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The troubles caused by the arrest of a woman responsible for supporting a family can sometimes never be undone, said Laurie R. Garduque, the director of justice reform for the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which funds the Safety and Justice Challenge, whose mission is to create fairer, more effective local justice systems.

“It has a cascading effect,” she said.

During an interview, Ms. Martin said that her children — ages 10 to 16 when she was last arrested — had all once excelled in school, but that they had lost their ability to focus during her absences after the shoplifting arrests. None of her five children, who were taken care of by one of Ms. Martin’s nieces, graduated from high school, and her eldest two were incarcerated for various periods, she said.

“I missed a lot of time,” said Ms. Martin, who recently received her associate degree in business office technology. “You live with a lot of regret, a lot of guilt — tremendous guilt — when you have kids in the street trying to survive.”