On high

Nov 29, 2010

After 15 years, interminable legal battles, a federal court order and a suicide rate twice the national average, the plight of California's overcrowded prison system is headed to the United States Supreme Court. The L.A. Times' David G. Savage and Carole J. Williams have the story.


"On Tuesday, the problems of California's prisons will move to a national stage when the Supreme Court hears the state's challenge to an extraordinary court order that would require the prison population to be reduced by about 25% in two years. That could mean releasing or transferring more than 40,000 inmates, state lawyers say. The case is not just of interest to California."

"Lawyers for 18 other states, including Illinois, Pennsylvania and Virginia, joined in support of California's appeal, saying they feared a ruling upholding the prison release order could trigger similar moves across the nation. "Real world experience" suggests that releasing a large number of inmates would "inevitably place innocent citizens at much greater risk," they said."


Proposition 13, the sacred cow of California politics, may get a second look from Gov.-elect Jerry Brown, who wound up backing the tax-cutting initiative when he was governor in the 1970s. 


From Times' columnist George Skelton: "Then-Gov. Jerry Brown messed up 32 years ago in implementing Proposition 13, the insurgent property-tax slasher. Now he'll have a second chance to get it right."


"The Legislature screwed up too. In fact, it led the way. Those lawmakers are long gone from the Capitol. But Brown is back, trying to piece together a new administration and craft a state budget to address a seemingly bottomless deficit pit."

Speaking of money, the pork barrel aspects of California's bullet train project get a critical look from the Bee's Dan Walters, who wonders about a train to nowhere.

"There are huge unresolved route issues, including implacable opposition on the San Francisco Peninsula to running bullet trains through their bucolic communities and environmental group criticism of the route over Pacheco Pass."

"Despite this jumble of political and financial uncertainty, the HSRA plans to spend billions of dollars on a section of track out in the fields of the San Joaquin Valley.

Is that crazy or what?"


San Diego legislators are doing a lot of traveling on the public dime, but finding out exactly who is spending what isn't as easy as it sounds, reports the U-T's Michael Gardner.


" Lawmakers from San Diego County spent $188,000 flying on more than 520 round-trips in the 15 months ending in September, but most details of the travel are secret. The Legislature has declined to release the majority of the data on the grounds that it might compromise security to divulge travel routines between Sacramento and San Diego."


"Times, dates and destinations were provided for only about three dozen of the trips, mostly one-time flights that would not show a travel pattern."


Marvin Levin, the guy who started it all when his tale to the FBI about legislative corruption triggered a nighttime raid on the Capitol, died at his home in Florida. The Bee's Loretta Kalb has the story.


"He approached the FBI about Capitol corruption in 1984. And in 1986, the law enforcement campaign known as "Brispec" – Bribery Special Interest – was approved by the U.S. Justice Department. Ultimately, the FBI would set up sham firms to lure legislators into asking for bribes..."


"The cowboy boots that the FBI purchased for Levin so he could hide his recording equipment for his undercover work ended up in the custody of a longtime friend, Uwe Quandt, of Reno."


Finally, from our "Good Earth" file, we find the tale of Macau gambling baron Stanley Ho who paid $330,000 for two truffles -- mushrooms -- at a charitable auction. Clearly, the Great Recession hasn't affected this guy.


"The pair included a huge truffle dug up in the central Tuscany region weighing about two pounds (900 grams) as well as one found in Molise weighing about 14 ounces (400 grams). The auction was staged at Ho's Grand Lisboa hotel in the former Portuguese colony of Macau, with bidders participating simultaneously in Rome and London through a satellite link."


In 2007, Ho paid $330,000 for a white truffle unearthed in Tuscany weighing about 3.3 pounds (1.497 kilograms). Slivers of the delicacy, with its strong aroma, are prized for flavoring pasta sauces and rice dishes."


Why not mushroom soup?


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