All posts by Benjamin Brody

L.A. City Council To Remove Marijuana “Hardship” Exemption

In what will be a disappointing move for medical marijuana providers and beneficiaries, the Los Angeles City Council is in preparation to close a legal exemption to the city’s marijuana law. Voters may remember when, in 1996, they approved Proposition 215 (the Compassionate Use Act), which made legal the production and consumption of marijuana for medically prescribed pain relief with a doctor’s approval. However, because “the spirit and intent of Proposition 215 has been exploited and abused for both profit and recreational drug abuse by many of the medical marijuana dispensaries in the City of Los Angeles” the city council voted in 2007 to adopt Interim Control Ordinance (ICO). The ICO effectively halted the creation of any new dispensaries but did allow an exemption for those dispensaries that could prove they faced “hardship” and could provide an adequate reason why they should be allowed to open. Councilman Greig Smith now recognizes the exemption as a “tragic mistake.” Continue reading

Obama’s Paradoxical Stance on Gay Marriage

All politicians make promises on which they cannot or will not deliver. That they do has to be one of the oldest truths in politics. You watch them at rallies and fundraisers, throwing promises out like confetti and know – with hardly a dash of cynicism – that political reality will swallow most of their campaign platform the moment they leave the dais and enter their office. How could it be otherwise? The political process (in Washington especially, but elsewhere as well) moves fantastically slow. There are always pressing issues that command a legislators undivided commitment; seniority (and lack off it) will usually block or ignore most items proposed; and a politician may find that they just do not have the necessary support to maintain a promise made to constituents. They might have tried very hard behind the scenes but failed. And invariably there will be politicians who will say whatever the crowd they are speaking before wants to hear. Speaking before Latinos, they are liberal on immigration; speaking before the Minutemen, not so much. You get the idea.

Gay voters across the United States are reading the news and wondering which strain of candidate is President Obama. Continue reading

So You Want To Be A Live Studio Audience?

When a friend invited me to attend the first CBS studio taping of So You Think You Can Dance (now in its 5th season), I did not think of it as a journalistic opportunity. However, on reflection, I was given no notice or instruction toward discretion, nor was I consigned to a grim and lengthy legal disclaimer, so, despite my lateness, a post seems the order of the day.  Some of what I will say will be on view from 8 – 10 o’clock Wednesday on the FOX network, but I will make it my aim to enclose details that television viewers may be ignorant of. Even for fellow Angelenos, details of the movements and events inside a television studio lot are varyingly mysterious. Many have had their separate adventure to a taping of this or that, but, as I quickly found, separate shows offer separate experiences. No two are alike – or even similar. Continue reading

The Best Pirates Are Swedish

Welcome, pirates, say I!

But wait – the word has had a somewhat ballooning course through Western culture – to what pirates do I refer? Certainly it is not to the ones lurking about and around the Somali high seas. Though they have the most ready claim to the title “pirate,” used with its original intent, their choice of outfit (namely, the machine gun and necklace of bullets) forces me to consider the likely possibility that these individuals may make unruly guests.

Then, do I refer to their distant relatives, perhaps; the brigands and blaggards of the seven seas? The fifthly yet loveable, villainous yet soft-hearted, scurrilous yet charming characters now popularized by Disney and Johnny Depp? No – I happen to belong to a very small group of stodgy and boorish critics that thought all Pirates of the Caribbean films (not just the sequels) were …well, stodgy and boorish. And I am afraid the reputation of the loveable pirate has so far been unable to recover.

In fact, I welcome to the table and political conversation a group of enterprising Swedes. Continue reading

It’s Draining Cats and Dogs: Senate Bill 250

The state of California is in for a very interesting succession of years. And that is putting it mildly! In the words of it’s governor: “California’s day of reckoning is here … Our wallet is empty. Our bank is closed. Our credit is dried up.” Next year, the state will have a 24 billion dollar budget hole and efforts to anticipate it so far have failed. Among programs that are now up for the chop are education, health care, and social welfare. Also, as was mentioned earlier, state politicians have indicated that they will not shy from taking more from resident “sinners,” and – an increased tax on cigarettes and alcohol being all but confirmed -  we may, if we maintain close attention, be able to catch the definition of “sin tax” expand as the state coffers empty. While this news may provoke smokers and drinkers to frantically reach for their respective product, there is one group of Californians that welcome the states expanding grab for cash. The marijuana lobby (which, unfortunately, is not yet a spot where we can go to chill out) is enjoying a burst of positive press, and support from state and federal politicians. But this is old news. The economic crunch becomes interesting when it manifest itself in unexpected areas. Here is one: the budget deficit has measurably changed the state’s attitude towards pets; and, as it turns out, Fido’s dollar value is not that high. Continue reading

Obama Must Either Try or Release Guantanamo Detainees

Foreword by Stan Lerner: Ben is a brilliant, rising star in the downtownster universe, whom in the case of Guantanamo detainees I disagree with vehemently—always the test of an editor. But it is the mission of downtownster to bring its’ readers the best of free speech—and as usual Ben makes a compelling case.

By his own admission, one of the toughest issues President Obama will decide as commander and chief will be how to handle the closing of Guantanamo Bay and what to do with the 245 detainees it contains. The facility, which is located on the 45 square-mile area of U.S. leased land in Cuba, was created by the Bush Administration in 2002 to imprison “enemy combatants” captured during the War on Terrorism. Beginning in 2004, the legal status and privileges of inmates housed in Guantanamo has been in flux, and it continues to be the subject of debate in U.S. courtrooms, legal journals, and cocktail parties to this day. Moreover, the practices of the interrogation officers have drawn not just legal challenge but also widespread condemnation from the media, politicians, scholars, and large swaths of the public. Even in closing, which Obama has ordered to happen on January 22, 2010, Guantanamo Bay is fraught with controversy.

Continue reading

Halting the Gay Marriage March: The California Supreme Court and Proposition 8

It has been a rough past few weeks for gays – especially those from California. First, their representative to the Miss USA Beauty Pageant, Miss California Carrie Prejean, disavowed her support of gay marriage on national television (introducing into the lexicon the weird term “opposite” marriage).  Immediately following her loss to Miss North Carolina, the media devoted days of coverage to a debate on gay marriage, which could have been advantageous for the gay community but for the contumelious politicking of Perez Hilton. And, more recently, the ostensibly gay Adam Lambert (from San Diego) was defeated in contest on American Idol. Mercifully, the agitation surrounding the singing competition’s denouement was more benign.

Of course, on the issue of gay marriage, the actions and statements of the world’s most glittery citizens are outshined by the decision released Tuesday, May 26, 2009, by the California State Supreme Court. In a 6-1 decision, the justices upheld Proposition 8, which made illegal homosexual marriage in the state of California. Gay activists sought to invalidate the new law by arguing it fundamentally altered “the governmental plan or framework of California.” It was agreed, even by some in favor of gay marriage, that the claim lacked merit. For this reason, it is likely the legal challenge to Proposition 8 is over (the only option left open to litigants is the U.S. Supreme Court). Still, the opportunity will be available for gay marriage advocates to reverse it through ballot initiative in a future election. And, if trends continue, they may only have to wait another couple of years.

The interim, meanwhile, provides a serviceable opportunity for both sides in the gay marriage dispute to consider their part in the broader context of history. Continue reading

Nancy Pelosi Might Have Lied About Torture – Get Over It!

A friend and I were having lunch the other day when the topic of our most recently discredited politician joined us in conversation. I suggested – and still believe – that President Obama will marginalize the issue of whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi knew the CIA was using techniques labeled “enhanced interrogation.” Digging through past events will benefit neither his administration nor the Democratic Congress, and he has controversy in the present that requires his attention. My friend took my point, but to it added his circumspect two-cents:

“It is a grave mischance for the individual that indentifies in his opponent 20 flaws, 19 of which are true, for though they will have shown their opponent to be deeply flawed; to an audience, accuser and accused will appear on equal terms.” (It is possible that given a period of interlude this quote waxed eloquent in my memory. Still, it must be noted that only one of us treated the issue of Nancy Pelosi and her dalliances with untruth with proper distance that afternoon. I shall have to invite my friend to lunch again and thank him.)

For those readers unclear on the details, the AP provides a useful timeline of events concerning Pelosi, the CIA, and the memos in between (it can be found here). The debate has centered on whether Pelosi, in her position on the House Intelligence Committee, was briefed on the CIA’s use of methods now considered to be torture. If she was, she lied this year in April when she stated “we were not — I repeat, were not — told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used.” The CIA, in what can only be interpreted as a half-hearted response to her statement, released documents that show they did brief Pelosi, or a member of her staff, on those methods – maybe. Continue reading

San Francisco “Clean-Up” Tax

It seems there is nary an issue Californians will not legislate. And, as it turns out, there are other problems to be faced apart from the abysmal state of the economy. Cigarette butts have been dirtying the streets of San Francisco for years and, smokers be warned, Mayor Gavin Newsom has finally decided to put his foot down. To combat the problem, he has proposed a tax that he believes will work to ameliorate two cigarette related issues. The first is the mess. The tax, which current estimates place at 33 cents per box, would fund the city’s effort to clean-up cigarette butts from streets and public places. San Francisco spends around $44 million to clean the city’s litter every year.  Newsom says that officials have found cigarette butts comprise roughly a fourth of that litter. The money raised from the tax, which will be about $11 million per year, would therefore be used exclusively for addressing the product from which it is derived. And, as San Francisco, like the rest of California, is running a deficit, money for city beautification is not likely to been seen from any other place in the budget (alright – so economics is a factor, as well).

The second issue is an old motif, recited at every stage of a cigarette tax’s journey. It is in the interest of maintaining the health of Americans (and, of course, the health of their health insurance) that cigarettes are made costly, and thereby limited in their appeal. The logic runs Continue reading

NO ON 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D and 1E!

Foreword by Stan Lerner: this is Ben’s second blog for downtownster and as you may have already guessed we are happy to have him on our team. With respect to the following blog it gives me great hope that Californians are ready to say NO TO PROP’S 1A and 1C.

May 19th, Special Election

Imagine you hire a contractor to work on your house. Both of you agree on the budget, you give them the money, and they dutifully get to work. Two weeks later they come back to you and announce that in order for them to be able to fully pay their construction team, fully purchase all the supplies, make sure the site is secure, and be finished on schedule; they are going to need some more money. 

“Wait a second,” you say, “we agreed on a price and I paid you the money. What happened to all of it? Why wasn’t it enough?”  

“Well,” they explain, “it’s like this. We underestimated how much money we would initially need, and the money you did give us we spent on other things. On top of that, we didn’t have much of plan with regard to how we wanted to spend the money and consequently bought a bunch of material we don’t actually need.”

“I see,” you respond. “And do you now have a plan as to how to spend my money?”

“Not really. But trust us.”

Actually, there is no need to use your imagination. For Californians (and also citizens across the U.S.) the scene comes naturally. Except in this scenario, the inept contractor is a hoard of politicians. And instead of inadequate supplies, citizens are asked if they could stomach underpaying teachers, firemen, and policemen, and overcrowding prisons – inevitably resulting in the early release of certain prisoners. If citizens are unready to deal with these problems, they had better prepare to open their wallets.

This decision will be brought to a head in California, May 19th, in a special election where voters will get to decide if they do trust the government and if they are prepared to give up more of their money. Continue reading