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Celebrate Ronald Reagan by looking at crime stats around the Ronald Reagan Community Center

February 1, 2011 - 6:57 pm

While folks like Vince Vasquez are putting a lot of effort into gathering signatures to rename the Coronado Bridge after President Ronald Reagan and the county board of supervisors are busy declaring Sunday to be “Ronald Reagan Day,” perhaps the rest of us could take a moment to look at the situation around a landmark already named after the conservative hero—the Ronald Reagan Community Center in El Cajon.

These ARJIS crime figures are from the last 90 days and the totals on the right are all within that 1,000-foot circle. Here are the crime stats for the last two years for Beat 8 and Beat 10—the Reagan center sits between the two.

According to the NY Times’ census explorer, that neighborhood is the poorest in El Cajon, with 42 to 57 percent of the households earning under $30,000 per year.  Only 68 percent are high school graduates.

Not making any particular point here other than, hey, instead of working real hard to name stuff after Reagan, why not honor him by making that neighborhood a better place to live?

Wikidemaio: City councilmember spins his Wikipedia page

January 31, 2011 - 4:02 pm

UPDATED 9:24 p.m. January 31: A local Wikipedia editor (and self-identified conservative) has marked Carl DeMaio’s Wikipedia page as having “multiple issues,” including disputed neutrality. The page now includes a section on this controversy.

***

You can’t believe everything you read on Wikipedia, the encyclopedia anyone can edit. That’s a given.

But you should give yourself an extra helping of salt when using Carl DeMaio’s Wikipedia page to research the District 5 San Diego city council member and mayoral candidate.

On Jan. 18, a user going by the handle “San Diego Watchdog” made significant edits to DeMaio’s page, including the insertion of uncited evaluations of the council member’s “government service.” CityBeat has learned that this user worked in DeMaio’s office, which is not a huge surprise since DeMaio openly describes himself as “San Diego’s Taxpayer Watchdog.”

What may be surprising to some is the way DeMaio exalts himself in the page with lines like this:

DeMaio has arguably been the leading voice for fiscal responsibility and reform on the City Council.

“At least he included ‘arguably,'”  Tony Manolatos, spokesperson for District 2 City Councilmember Kevin Faulconer, said after CityBeat directed him to the page.

And Manolatos does argue the point.

“My boss is the leading voice on fiscal reform—I would never give that ground,” Manolatos tells CityBeat.  “Carl’s got some good ideas, but we all have some good ideas.”

Faulconer does not have an entry on Wikipedia, nor do first-term councilmembers Lorie Zapf and David Alvarez. Councilmembers Todd Gloria, Tony Young, Marti Emerald and Sherri Lightner each have entries that are a bit tainted with editorial (Gloria’s is hardly sourced at all), but, unlike DeMaio’s, it’s difficult to tell whether the pages were created or edited by council staff.

DeMaio’s page declares that he “led the campaign against Prop D” sales tax—another point that Faulconer, as well as other local leaders like Richard Rider and T.J. Zane, might contend. In fact, the page promotes a variety of DeMaio’s positions, such as his “Roadmap to Recovery” and opposition to a new City Hall project, without citation or criticism. The entry also claims that the New York Times named DeMaio “San Diego’s Taxpayer Watchdog,” which is not backed up by the original source.

DeMaio’s spokesperson Jeff Powell confirmed that DeMaio’s office created and edited the page—a practice that is “strongly discouraged” by Wikipedia.  The open-source encyclopedia says that its neutral-point-of-view policy is “absolute and non-negotiable” and public figures who want to edit their page should post to the entry’s “talk page.” If they do choose to edit the page, it should be minor corrections and must not to be promotional. Wikipedia adds:

Even if you do manage to pull off a neutral, verifiable autobiography, the very fact that so many autobiographies have not been that way has trained Wikipedians to expect the opposite—and hence one may be wasting their time or effort if they become provoked by the fact it’s still an autobiography, regardless of policy compliance. Furthermore this may also result in a reputation hit not only because you violated the guideline but also because you may have wasted someone’s effort.

This isn’t the first time DeMaio’s page has been the source of controversy. A review of the page history indicates that over the last year and a half, several users have noted that the page had “severe” neutral-point-of-view problems and earlier edits included text copied verbatim from DeMaio’s website. MelanieN,  a regular Wikipedia user who has written pages for everything from Point Loma to Justin Halpern, overhauled DeMaio’s entry on Jan. 1 to make it comply with the site’s standards. The recent edit by DeMaio’s staff significantly altered her work.

“I apologize, I was not aware of Wikipedia’s policy,” Powell says in an emailed response to CityBeat‘s inquiry about the page. “Thank you for drawing its attention to me and I will work on making the proper changes.”

DeMaio might also consider making some amends with his fellow City Council members. Manolatos points out that both Gloria and Young have taken leadership roles on fiscal responsibility as chairmen of the city’s budget committee. But Faulconer really has been “the leader,” he says.

We gave him the opportunity to make his case:

“When Kevin first took office, the city had no audited reports, a suspended credit rate, was frozen out of capital markets and placed under a cease-and-desist order by the Securities and Exchange Committee,” he says. “Beyond that, we had an auditor that answered to the people that set his budget—in other words, no independent city auditor. So, Kevin took over as audit committee chair and he’s been chair of the committee ever since and they ushered in all these changes. The city is back in the bond market, an independent auditor, the credit rating is back. These are measured achievements. Now he’s working with Tony Young and the mayor on next year’s budget to protect core seo services. To me that’s leading on fiscal issues.”

DeMaio is merely vice chair of the audit committee.

And now that CityBeat has written about it, someone can cite that on Wikipedia. Just not Faulconer’s office.

Silliest thing a San Diego Congress member said this week

January 28, 2011 - 2:32 pm

According to the Congressional Record, Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Solana Beach, dropped this little nugget of nonsense on the House floor on Monday (emphasis added):

When we talk about budget reduction, rather than denying Americans the right to live in the United States unless they buy certain insurance, why aren’t we talking about doing cost reductions like California has done, not exactly a right-wing legislature?

No one is going to deport you if you don’t buy health insurance under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. “Obamacare”). This isn’t to argue for or against the mandate, but simply to point out that the penalty is a monetary one. The idea that you no longer have the right to live in the US if you don’t buy insurance is spurious and ridiculous. Yet, Bilbray repeated it three times in his floor speech.*

Some of you may also wonder what kind of Republican in his right (wing) mind would tell Congress to look to the California legislature for answers. To be fair, he’s not talking about the state budget, but California’s Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, or MICRA, which, passed under Gov. Jerry Brown’s reign in 1975, capped medical-malpractice pay-outs at $250,000.

According to Bilbray, the MICRA tort reform has resulted in Los Angeles  OB/GYN doctors paying up to 40 percent less for medical malpractice insurance than their counterparts in New York City. We do wonder where Bilbray got his numbers. According to MyMedicalMalpracticeInsurance.com‘s annual comparisons, medical malpractice insurance is as much as 72 percent cheaper in LA than NYC.

Whether the savings has to do with MICRA is, of course, a matter of debate, with MICRA critics citing statistics that showed malpractice-insurance rates climbed until Proposition 103 passed to further regulate the insurance industry. These critics, many of whom are trial lawyers, also point out that the cap has not been adjusted in 35 years for inflation, something they hope Brown will amend this time around.

* In fact, Bilbray is the one actually advocating for a new law that would allow the government to take away American citizenship.

UPDATE: Lucas O’Connor pointed out that Rep. Duncan D. Hunter recently made a remark in an interview that claimed that the federal mandate to build highways, as opposed to bike paths, is in the Constitution:

StreetsBlog: I was just in an EPW Committee hearing and there was some talk about the fact that some small amount of money in the reauthorization historically gets used for things like bike trails. Some people think that’s waste; some people think biking is a mode of transportation. What do you think?

DH: I don’t think biking should fall under the federal purview of what the Transportation Committee is there for. If a state wants to do it, or local municipality, they can do whatever they want to. But no, because then you have us mandating bike paths, which you don’t want either.

SB: But you’re OK with mandating highways?

DH: Absolutely, yeah. Because that’s in the Constitution. I don’t see riding a bike the same as driving a car or flying an airplane.

While that is a pretty silly claim—there is no mentions of highways, cars, airplanes, or bicycles in the Constitution—there is a Constitutional clause that gives Congress the power to establish roads specifically for delivering mail (though, we’re pretty sure that, theoretically, mail can be delivered by bicycle). Plus, Hunter did not say it on the House floor. So, I’m going to stick with the Bilbray determination, while awarding Hunter second place.

Wikileaks publishes cable on Rep. Darrell Issa’s meeting with Lebanese in Brazil

January 28, 2011 - 8:43 am

Rep. Darrell Issa has promised to hold hearings (or at least a hearing) on Wikileaks in his first year as chairman of the House Oversight Committee.

But here’s a twist: As Issa prepares to investigate Wikileaks, Wikileaks is in turn likely sitting on documents that reveal a few things about Issa.

Ever since the Cablegate dump began (Wikileaks’ slow release of internal State Department memos), we’ve been anxiously awaiting confidential narratives about Issa. The North County Republican and consumer-electronics tycoon spends plenty of time abroad, from Taiwan to Iraq. He is a director of the American Task force for Lebanon and sits on the US Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (a.k.a. the Helsinki Commission).  With more than a quarter-million documents set to be released, surely he’s in there somewhere. Of particular interest to the press will be anything related to the 2006 Lebanese-Israeli War and Issa’s 2007 meeting with President Bashar Assad of Syria, a country often deemed a state sponsor of terror.

Sure enough, today Wikileaks published a “sensitive but unclassified” cable titled, “REP. ISSA’S MEETING WITH LEADERS OF LEBANESE COMMUNITY IN SAO PAULO.”

In 2006, Issa  toured parts of Brazil with a Congressional delegation headed up by Sen .Chuck Grassley. That trip—a visit to a sugar mill, an ethanol plant and a General Motors Flex-fuel vehicle factory—was covered in another memo, but staff at Consulate Sao Paolo felt Issa’s meeting with  Brazilian-Lebanese representatives over drinks deserved its own report.

It’s only natural that Issa would meet with Brazilian-Lebanese community; he’s of Lebanese descent himself, and his grandfather lived in Rio de Janeiro before emigrating to the US. According to the World Lebanese Cultural Union, there are 7 million people of Lebanese descent in Brazil, including Brazil’s current Vice President Michel Temer.

According to the memo, the meeting included Issa and his staff, state department officials and “Joseph Sayah, Lebanese Consul General in Sao Paulo; Souheil Yamount, a long-time investment and government relations advisor to the Hariri Family Group; Alfredo Cotait Neto, President of the Brazil-Lebanon Chamber of Commerce; and Guilherme Mattar, a Director and Secretary-General of the Brazil-Lebanon Chamber of Commerce.”

The discussion focused most on the situation in Lebanon following the withdrawal of Syrian forces and the influence Iran may have on Lebanon through the militant organization Hezbollah. Here are some excerpts:

Rep. Issa and the group discussed a range of issues facing Lebanon today, the most pressing being Iran’s new influence in the country after the power vacuum left by Syria’s pullout. Sayah repeatedly linked Hezbollah to Iran, and warned that in upcoming presidential elections in Lebanon, any candidate who does not specifically denounce Hezbollah is implicitly supporting Iran as Hezbollah’s current benefactor and puppet-master. Closer to home, the group candidly acknowledged that Hezbollah supporters operate in Parana State and the tri-border region where Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina meet.

and

Issa wondered aloud if large Lebanese expatriate communities such as Sao Paulo’s might be tapped to support the democratic process in Lebanon.  Sayah pointed out that currently Lebanon does not have an absentee voter process, and the country’s parliamentary system would not provide the opportunity to affect presidential elections, which is critical to advancing Lebanon’s fragile democracy.

and

Rep. Issa said it will be important to garner international support for a new U.N. resolution following Resolution 1559, and for smart investments in Lebanon, avoiding the corruption that has been seen in past programs…Issa wrapped up the evening by declaring that if the Lebanese expatriate communities of Brazil and the Unites States can stand together to press their respective governments to cooperate on promoting democracy and strengthening institutions in Lebanon, the day may come soon when Lebanon will finally be free of all foreign influence.

There’s nothing particularly scandalous about the cable, though it does provide some insight into Issa’s interests and advocacy on behalf of Lebanon. But, the cable’s existence–and the likelihood of other cables emerging–means that things could get interesting if Issa proceeds with hearings on Wikileaks. Could it represent a conflict of interest for Issa? Maybe. Could the Issa cables become a leverage tool for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange? Maybe.

Will I be checking the Cablegate website every day? Definitely.

Full text of the cable below.

Read more…

Peter Holslin shows off his bike skillz

January 27, 2011 - 9:22 am

Just a little mid-week fun for you:

I told our music editor, Peter Holslin, that I’d buy him a Leninade, if he could complete a bike ride from his desk, through the office, looping the hallway to the other door and completing the circle to his desk, without putting a foot down.

Video by CityBeat intern Neil Baffert.

County to vote on children’s turkey massacre!

January 25, 2011 - 5:20 pm

Totally not an accident waiting to happen….

Here’s the bloodbath amendment set for approval next Tuesday, as documented in the San Diego County Board of Supervisor’s agenda.

The text :

AMEND COUNTY CODE TO ALLOW A MENTORED, YOUTH-ONLY WILD TURKEY HUNT AT WILLIAM HEISE REGIONAL PARK (DISTRICT: 2)

OVERVIEW:

Hunting was an integral part of the settlement and the expansion of the United States. Whether it is for recreation, to provide food or as part of a range/habitat management program, hunting continues to be practiced across the country. Currently, the Director of the Department of Parks and Recreation has the authority to allow hunting on County of San Diego owned park land. However, existing ordinance restrict the possession and use of weapons in a County park, making hunting illegal.

The San Diego Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation has approached the County with a proposal to sponsor and administer a mentored, juniors-only wild turkey hunt on County park land. This event would provide guidance to youth on safe hunting and expose them to the sport in a controlled and structured environment.

This Board letter proposes amendments to the County’s Code of Regulatory Ordinances. The amendment would allow the use of ifrearms or archery equipment at William Heise Regional Park for a mentored, juniors-only wild turkey hunt. As a result, the San Diego Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation could conduct a mentored, juniors-only turkey hunt at this park. Theis action will also authorize the Director of the Department of Parks and Recreation to enter into an agreement with the San Diego Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation regarding the hunt.

So, yes, after the board votes to make it even more next-to-impossible to access medical cannabis in the unincorporated county, they will vote on whether to let a bunch of kids chase down turkeys with bows and guns in a public park.

Huckster Propaganda: Voice of San Diego gets a taste of its own fact check

January 19, 2011 - 4:30 pm

Voiceofsandiego.org’s Fact Check Blog has become one of the non-profit news site’s signature features. Modeled after the St. Petersburg Times’ Pulitzer-winning PolitiFact.com, Fact Check evaluates claims, usually by politicians and policy makers, for accuracy and issues a determination of truth. At its strongest, the blog uncovers egregious misstatements. At its weakest, it nitpicks minor off-the-cuff factual errors and splits hairs of semantics.

This post mirrors the style of the Fact Check blog, minus the copyrighted Pinocchio image that goes with each determination.

Statement: “How about a public service news source that receives no government support? You found it.” —A solicitation on the homepage of voiceofsandiego.org, followed by a “Donate Now” button.

Determination: Huckster Propaganda

When we noticed this solicitation, we were confused. Was it a dig at PBS and NPR, which receive government subsidies through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting? Was it meant to appeal to conservatives who are crying out for the cessation of this kind of public endowment for media? What exactly was VoSD trying to achieve?

Whatever the case, after a few mouse clicks, it quickly became clear that the claim was false. Over the last five years, VoSD has received more than $28,000 from government agencies.

The first item that came to our attention was the Unified Port District of San Diego, which VoSD listed, quite openly, as a donor of between $500 and $999. Further surfing of VoSD‘s website turned up other government agencies listed as “community partners.” VoSD CEO Scott Lewis acknowledged that the site had received revenue from government agencies through advertising and sent us an itemized disclosure (detailed breakdown after the jump):

City of San Diego Independent Budget Analyst: $1,100

Centre City Development Corp.: $2600

SANDAG: $500

San Diego Community College District: $2,250

San Diego Housing Commission: $350

Unified Port of San Diego: $3,700

University of California, San Diego: $17,550

UCSD Extension: $150

GRAND TOTAL: $28,200

On Twitter and in emails with CityBeat, Lewis clarified that when VoSD said “government support,” it really meant direct subsidies, that is, grants to the organization specifically for the purpose of supporting journalism. He writes, via email:

There’s a conversation going on in journalism right now about whether the government should subsidize different types of new journalism ventures—or even existing newspapers—to pick up the slack left by the decline in the newspaper industry. Public TV and radio get some form of direct subsidy now, and that’s frequently talked about in journalism circles as well.

We interpreted government support in that form and perhaps wrongly assumed other people would, too. Our point was that we don’t get large sustaining support like that and we wanted to stress that meant we need the community’s support through donations.

We didn’t consider the small amount of advertising revenue we get from some government agencies because it’s not a subsidy. It’s a service for fee. I understand how you’re interpreting it but that was not what we had in mind when making the statement.

We’ve removed that particular appeal for donations.

It is admirable that Lewis acknowledged the error, but blaming it on “other people’s” interpretation of “government support” isn’t fair. Though it has since scrubbed this language from its site, VoSD repeatedly referred to these advertisers as sponsors. On one page, it listed several government agencies under this heading:

“Special thanks to our generous corporate sponsors and community partners, past and present”

On another page, it expressed gratitude to a list of supporters, including some in government:

“Thank you to the following members who financially support our mission to bring independent local news to the San Diego region.”

In addition, visitors to VoSD‘s website who click the tab for “Advertise” are brought to a page with this URL:

http://www.voiceofsandiego.org/support_us/site_sponsorship/

…which links to a media kit with this page, directly equating advertising to sponsorship and emphasizing that advertising spending can be  a “tax-deductible charitable contribution”:

VoSD can’t have it both ways. If in certain contexts it characterizes (and trumpets) advertising as a form of support, it should not turn around and deny that advertising is support. The claim is false.

The question, however, is whether there are aggravating factors. On its Fact Check blog, VoSD uses a limited number of possible determinations: True, Mostly True, Barely True, Misleading, False and Huckster Propaganda. The last in the list goes beyond simple establishment of fact versus fiction, and instead makes a value judgment based on the context of the situation and the responsibility they perceive the speaker has to the public.

The actual language VOSD uses to define Huckster Propaganda:

“The statement is not only inaccurate but it’s reasonable to expect the person or organization making it knew that and made the claim anyway to gain an advantage.”

When CityBeat began questioning Lewis on Twitter, others began to chime in. Mayor Jerry Sanders’ spokesperson, Rachel Laing, declared it Huckster Propaganda (though she later stated she was unsure and it was just fun to say). Paul Cooper, counsel for the San Diego Police Department, suggested a special category—”True if you let us explain what we mean”—since he feels that VoSD unfairly applied the “false” brand to a statement SDPD Chief Bill Lansdowne made in October. Ricky Young, an editor at the Union-Tribune, dug the hardest into Lewis, saying it was clearly huckster propaganda, no formal fact check necessary.

Nevertheless, we promised to issue a final determination and so we examined how VoSD applies the Huckster Propaganda label.

When former CCDC president Nancy Graham claimed she’d been cleared by ethics investigations, when she in fact had been substantially fined, VoSD elevated it to Huckster Propaganda with this explanation (emphasis added):

But in her explanation, she repeatedly misrepresented facts, casting herself in a better light. And these are facts that you could reasonably expect her to know. That makes the totality of her comments Huckster Propaganda.”

When Rep. Duncan Hunter falsely claimed that all of Arizona’s sheriffs and police chiefs supported the controversial anti-illegal-immigration law, SB 1070, VoSD declared it Huckster Propaganda with this rationale (again, emphasis added):

Based on the law’s high publicity in local and national media and Hunter’s own passion for immigration issues, it’s logical to expect that he would be knowledgeable enough to know whether his own statement was factual. For that reason, we’re elevating the statement to Huckster Propaganda.

If we apply VoSD‘s standards to its own statement, we find:

— VoSD repeatedly claimed advertising as a form of support, received advertising from several government agencies, then denied it in solicitations for donations likely seen by hundreds, if not thousands of readers.

— The language implies that readers are looking for an organization that does not receive government support, that Voice is somehow unique or elite in not receiving government support. It seems VoSD cast itself in a better light in order to attract donors.

— Since VoSD serves as its own fundraising agent, it is reasonable to expect it knows who its donors are.

VoSD is regularly cited in the national press and in media journals as a visionary new model for journalism because of its non-profit model and innovative funding scheme, based largely on philanthropic support.

— As a journalistic organization that is passionate about the truth—perhaps best evidenced by its Fact Check blog—it is logical to expect the organization would check its facts before posting them online.

For these reasons, we cannot declare the claim anything short of Huckster Propaganda.

I’ll also add that I wouldn’t survive a fact check myself if I denied that I relished writing this blog post. If you disagree with our determination or analysis, go ahead and post a comment.

UPDATE: I’ve added VoSD’s definition of Huckster Propaganda to the initial post. I’ve received some response—particularly from FishbowlLA—that since VoSD wasn’t flat-out lying, that it shouldn’t be Huckster Propaganda. Most said it was simply “False.” On my own, I’d agree. But that’s that’s not how VoSD applies the determination. In the case of Hunter, for example, his spokesman admitted the error and said that Hunter was only speaking about the sheriff’s he knew about. In other words, as far as Hunter knew, all the sheriff’s supported it. The claim, in my opinion, should’ve been determined “False,” nothing worse. However, VoSD believes that because the issue was so prominent and Hunter was so passionate that ignorance was not an excuse. Similarly, when VoSD called out climate-change denier John Coleman on his claim that the UN has spent billions on research, he admitted that he misspoke. VoSD still called it Huckster Propaganda, because of his prominence in the debate.  For those reasons, VoSD is still on the hook. They may not have thought the claim through thoroughly, they may not have researched there own record properly, and that was sloppy. As a news organization, they can’t afford to be sloppy, especially when they’re asking for people to give them  money and because they are so central to the debate about how journalism should be funded.  The Huckster Propaganda determination stands.

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