Outgoing University of California President Janet Napolitano Was More Politician than Educator

University of California President Janet Napolitano is stepping down from the post she has held since 2013. Californians, particularly students, have cause to wonder why she was given the job in the first place. Never known as an educator, Napolitano ruled the university like a typical politician.

As the Sacramento Bee noted, “in 2017, a state audit alleged Napolitano’s office hid $175 million from the public while tuition increased,” and it was just a bit more than an allegation. Napolitano used the money to shower perks on staff and renovate the houses of UC chancellors. State Auditor Elaine Howle reported that Napolitano’s office “intentionally interfered” with their investigators. Despite the corruption and obstructionism, Napolitano faced no criminal charges.

Hustlers Explores Seedy Side of Strip-Club Economics

Pop icon Jennifer Lopez is getting Oscar buzz for her lead-actor performance in Hustlers, a drama focused on the relationships and business surrounding the strip club scene before and after the financial crisis and collapse of Wall Street in 2008. The buzz is well-earned. Lopez turns in a top-flight performance in this well-scripted and complicated story of economic survival, grey ethical lines, loyalty, and betrayal.

The movie stays well within its R rating, and screenwriter and director Lorene Scafaria keeps the story focused on the women at its center. Ramona (Lopez) is a veteran stripper who has figured out how to turn her pole-dancing performances into cash. The story, however, is told from the point of view of Dorothy, aka Destiny (Constance Wu, Crazy Rich Asians), a struggling single mother who is desperate to pay her bills and support her elderly grandmother.

Attack on Saudi Oil Facilities: This Isn’t Our Fight

There is growing evidence that Iran was behind the recent attack on the Saudi oil facilities that destroyed a significant portion of their oil production capacity. Taking the evidence at face value, how should the United States respond to this act of Iranian aggression? This is an issue between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and the U.S. government should stay out of it. This is not our fight.

The answer might be different if Saudi Arabia was a helpless victim, but even if Saudi Arabia is a victim, it is not helpless. The U.S. government has already done its part by heavily arming the Saudis, and they are capable of retaliating themselves, thanks to their purchases of U.S. arms. Why should the United States fight Saudi Arabia’s battles for them, when we have already heavily armed them so that they can fight for themselves?

Thoughts on Housing Affordability and Homelessness in California

I am honored to have been invited to join a group of policy experts in the SoCal Policy Forum, a project of the Southern California News Group—which consists of 11 Southern California newspapers, including the Orange County Register, (Riverside) Press-Enterprise, Los Angeles Daily News, (Torrance) Daily Breeze, and Long Beach Press-Telegram—and the University of California, Riverside. The experts, who have a diverse set of viewpoints and backgrounds, are asked on a quarterly basis to briefly weigh in on issues of the day, and their responses are published on the project’s website. Other project contributions include full-length columns in the newspapers and community forums with the experts and state and local stakeholders.

The SoCal Policy Forum recently kicked off with its first set of issues, tackling housing affordability and homelessness. My responses are available at the project’s site, but I am copying them below since it is easier to see them all in one place, since the site organizes the experts’ responses randomly for each question, rather than by author.

Our Constitutional Republic

September 17 is Constitution Day, which celebrates the document that the American Founders designed to create a government with limited and enumerated powers. They did not design a democratic government, if democratic government is viewed as a government that carries out the will of its citizens.

In the twenty-first century, it is far too common a view that the government should carry out the will of its citizens, as determined through democratic political institutions. Elected officials make similar claims themselves, justifying policies they favor by saying they have a mandate from the voters.

Federal Emergency Bureaucracy Displays More Corruption Inherent in the System

“Puerto Rico is one of the most corrupt places on earth,” President Trump tweeted last month. “Their political system is broken and their politicians are either incompetent or corrupt.” There may be some basis for that overstatement, but when the FBI got down to busting corrupt officials for misconduct on the island, they turned out to be bosses of a federal government agency.

As NBC News reports, FEMA officials Ahsha Tribble, Jovanda Patterson and Donald Keith Ellison of energy company Cobra Acquisition came to Puerto Rico in 2017 as part of hurricane relief efforts. The three now face 15 counts including wire and disaster fraud as well as conspiracy to commit fraud.

Africans on the Move: Impressions versus Facts

A recent piece on African migration by Tanguy Berthemet in Le Figaro, a leading French daily newspaper, confirms that perceptions on the movement of people across borders bear little resemblance to reality. Using data and studies by various organizations (among them the International Migration Institute, the World Economic Forum, and the Sahel Research Group at the University of Florida), Berthemet came to several interesting conclusions.

In the eyes of the outside world, African migration is dominated by thousands of people risking their lives, and often perishing, trying to cross over to Europe in extremely precarious vessels. This issue has been front-page news in Europe for a while, is the matter of bitter political debates, and has fueled the growth of xenophobic movements. And yet migrants moving from one African country to another significantly outnumber those wanting to leave the continent. In 2017, some 19 million Africans left their country for another African country, while 17 million went elsewhere but did so legally. Only a small, undocumented minority tried to migrate to Europe or other parts of the world. Some sources, such as the African Union, go as far as to say that only one in five migrants abandons the African continent.

U.S. National Debt Hits Crisis Levels

The U.S. government’s total public debt outstanding has nearly reached $22.6 trillion with two weeks left to go in the government’s 2019 fiscal year.

That’s a very big number. Usually whenever anyone talks about the national debt, its size is compared with that of the U.S. economy, the largest in the world, which was estimated to be $21.3 trillion through the second quarter of 2019. Against that benchmark, the U.S. national debt is between 105 and 106 percent of the nation’s GDP.

Football Follies and Economic Realities

The antics of Antonio Brown prompted the Oakland Raiders to release the wide receiver, by some accounts the best in the NFL. As NBC announcer Al Michaels noted, Brown’s disruptive pre-season performance turned out to be a “connecting flight” to the New England Patriots, with whom Brown promptly signed. 

Going into Monday night’s game, the season opener, Oakland fans wondered how the team would fare without Brown, but as an ESPN announcer said, it was “No AB, no problem.” The Raiders thumped the Denver Broncos 24-16, but the triumphant team has no case against players leaving for greener pastures. Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper recently departed Oakland for the Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys, respectively. And as it happens, the Oakland Raiders are gearing up for a move to Las Vegas, Nevada, in 2020. 

The Fonda Freedom Manifesto

When Peter Fonda passed away last month at 79, critic Peter Tonguette lamented that the actor never became the big-screen equal of his father. Son Peter “was known for boyish flamboyance” in films such as The Trip (1967), Easy Rider (1969), and The Hired Hand (1971). Tonguette’s list passed over The Wild Angels (1966) in which Peter Fonda, playing the biker Heavenly Blues, delivered a speech of great significance. 

We don’t want nobody telling us what to do,” proclaims Heavenly Blues. “We don’t want nobody pushing us around. We want to be free to do what we want to do. We want to be free to ride our machines without being hassled by the man.” Fonda’s dialogue evoked his father in a way that has escaped notice. 

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