Portantino bill aims for online anonymity

Assemblyman Portantino, D- La Canada, took some heat in recent weeks in some editorial pages, as we noted in this blog, for considering introducing amendments that would help hide salary information for police officers.  The California Newspaper Publisher’s Association, the closest thing we journalists have to a trade group, spoke out against Portantino.

Now Portantino is behind a bill the CNPA is a fan of: AB 2433, which protects the anonymity of web site publishers.  A technique used by some organizations to silence websites is to file lawsuits, or threaten lawsuits against online providers, demanding they reveal the name and/or personal information of the person running the lawsuit.  That threat can be enough to get a web site taken offline, or to silence a blogger….. for an example thumb through this story on the Falun Gong I wrote last December. 

Good to see a bill like this being voted on in the Senate. 

See the presidential candidates age before your eyes

Pop Photo has a cool feature up with digital projections of what Obama, Clinton, and McCain will look like in 4 years.  If you have children under the age of 12, please have them leave the room before you show them the cryptkeeper-like appearance of the site’s projection of John McCain.

Really, it isn’t actually that bad, but they sure won’t like that great in a few years if Pop Photo is right.  They do include a comparison of George Bush in 2000 and 2008, if you have doubts about how much the presidency can age a person. 

Music download tax stalls, could be rebooted

A wily bill from Assemblyman Charles Calderon, D-Whittier, failed in committee last week…. the bill would have authorized the taxation of music downloads.

It was wily for two reasons: first, though the bill was sold as a music download tax, it would have also opened the door for taxation on other downloads that have not yet quite become the revenue generator that music has: books, articles, movies, TV shows, etc.  It could even go beyond that in its reach…. with a new amendment the bill now reads that the tax “includes, but is not limited to, products like music, movies, and books.

Secondly, the bill aimed to tweak an existing tax code that allows tax only on “tangible property.”  Through some legal wrangling, that would allow a straight majority vote in the assembly, rather than the normal 2/3 required to pass a new tax.

The real kicker on the bill though, was that tax would only be allowed on in-state companies.  With web sales, of course, you can purchase downloads from anywhere in the world, allowing a huge disincentive for web companies to base themselves in California, and a huge disincentive for people to buy anything from a California-based company.

The bill stalled with a split 4-4 vote.  Four Democrats, including Calderon and Mike Eng, D-El Monte,  voted for the bill.  Three Republicans and one Democrat voted against it.  The committee voted unanimously to allow another hearing on the bill in the future

“A good day for dog fighters and the ACLU”

Rocky Rushing, the chief of staff for Sen. Ron Calderon, and a very even-keeled guy didn’t sound upset talking about the failure of his boss’s dog-fighting bill, but he had some tough words both the Public Safety committee and the ACLU.

Rushing called it a “good day for dog fighters and the ACLU,” and set the bill was about as dead as the thousands of dogs who die in the fights every year.  Ouch!

His frustration is understandable…. I think anyone’s first reaction to the bill would be to agree to any steps to stop the swine who force dogs to fight for entertainment.  The argument against the bill is equally strong though: any time the government wants the right to confiscate property, people have good reason to be wary.

When I spoke to ACLU, their representative brought up some of the horrors of California’s drug forfeiture laws where police were alleged to have targeted people for drug crimes based on the quality of their possessions.  In one such case, Donald Scott, of Malibu was shot and killed by police in his own home.  They were there to arrest him for drug crimes they did not find evidence of. 

So the issue doesn’t necessarily have an easy answer. 

Portantino: cop’s salary information should be private

The Contra Costa Times is reporting that  Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada, wants to put amendments in a bill that originally dealt with police interrogations.  An editorial in the Sacramento Bee describes the changes as “stealth amendments” and describes their inception:

Assembly Bill 1855 originally dealt with interrogation of police
officers under investigation. But, as reported in the Contra Costa
Times, a police lobbying group, the Peace Officers Research Association
of California, is hawking amendments that would reverse state Supreme
Court decisions affirming the public’s right to names, badge numbers,
salaries and dates of employment.

According to the Sac Bee, Portantino’s staff says the bill is about protecting undercover police officers, which the paper claims are already protected:

Since the effort to change the law has been exposed, Portantino’s staff
says that what the assemblyman really wants to do is “craft a set of
amendments to this bill to specifically protect the identities of
undercover officers.” But the law and court interpretation already does
that. This is an effort in search of a problem.

As a journalist, this issue is a no-brainer for me, but we are very oriented towards the importance of keeping records public.  I’m sure police groups would argue that any piece of information about an officer’s identity could lead to someone tracking that officer down… but officers are not really shy about giving out their names, which is the only info I think could really lead to that happening.  Salary info is not going to reveal anything about the officer, as long as his personal information is redacted when the records are handed over to the public.

Unsurprisingly, the California Newspaper Publishers Association had the strongest words on the issue in the Contra Costa Times article:

“Portantino’s bill would
stop the public from monitoring excessive pay, overtime abuse,
nepotism, gender and race discrimination, and the migration of
potentially abusive peace officers from one agency to the next,” Tom
Newton, the associations’ general counsel, said in a statement.

I notice that neither paper appeared to get a direct comment from the Assemblyman or his office, however, so I will email them and ask if they have a response to this blog post.

UPDATE: The bill amendments described by the Contra Costa Times were never introduced.  Assemblyman Portantino and his staff have told me in multiple conversations that Portantino never had any intention of supporting the amendments.  

Lingerie, gambling, Internet dating services, and a $13,000 steak-and-liquor dinner

What do all of the above items have in common?  If you are a taxpayer, your helped pay for them, says a Washington Post article.  The charges for those items all came from government employees using credit cards.

So it isn’t just Irwindale politicians and local water boards using taxpayer funds for questionable expenses… the federal government does it as well.

The lingerie is really the most bizarre expense on there…. I believe most Americans don’t realize that American State Department employees are in Ecuador running drug enforcement operations, but I am sure that until today nobody would have thought they were doing it wearing expensive women’s underwear:

In another case at the State Department, a cardholder spent $360 at the Seduccion Boutique in Ecuador
to buy “women’s underwear/lingerie for use during jungle training by
trainees of a drug enforcement program.” The report does not include
further details, but it says a State Department official “agreed that
the charge was questionable.”

The 300,000 employees with government credit cards remind me of something L.A. District Attorney Dave Demerjian told me for a story on former Baldwin Park  Councilman  William Van Cleave’s misuse of a city credit card

“When I speak to public officials, I always say that giving badges and credit cards to city councilmen is like giving
a cell phone to a teenage girl,” said Demerjian.”

So what is the solution… hmm, let me think about how we do it here on the newsroom.  We pay for expenses out of our own pockets, put it on an expense form, and then our supervisors look at it to see if it is an appropriate use of funds.  If it is, they pay for it.  I guess if the supervisor is the one buying the liquor and underwear the system doesn’t work quite as well though. 

In other national news, the Justice Department no longer takes corporate wrong-doers to court.

An overseas legislator trip that might have helped

A week or so ago we ran an article an legislator’s overseas travel (and their domestic travel).  A lot of us journalists, skeptical of government, tend to assume not much comes out of them.

So to be fair, Assemblyman Charles Calderon told me two weeks ago that on a trip to Spain last month a group of legislators studied an underground tunnel freeway system.

Now, a few weeks later, reporter Fred Ortega reports that pols are looking at applying that system to the 710 Freeway, and European companies want to bid on the job.

Could be coincidence…. or it could be argued that the idea of using that freeway system could have been generated without the trip.  But if not, the trip could pay off for the public.