Two Oregon counties have reportedly rejected property tax increases that would have funded law enforcement and public safety services. The counties once received federal timber subsidies, but those days are over — and now they're scrambling to pay for essential services.
In Josephine County, where nearly 70 percent of the land belongs to the U.S. government, Tuesday's vote that was too close to call last night. But The Daily Courier in Grants Pass, Ore., reported Wednesday that voters rejected the new levy.
The impact of the loss of federal funds in the county — and the reported 80 percent layoffs in the local police force that it forced — was illustrated in harrowing fashion by Amelia Templeton's report for All Things Considered Tuesday, as she played a recording of a woman's desperate 911 call from August 2012, when the caller was told that there were no officers who could help.
The problem was that the county's police were only on duty during daytime hours, from Monday to Friday.
"My ex-boyfriend is trying to break into my house. I'm not letting him in, but he's, like, tried to break down the door, and he's trying to break into one of the windows," the unidentified woman told the 911 dispatcher. She added that the man had injured her before, putting her in the hospital.
"The call came in on a Saturday at 4:58 in the morning. None of the sheriff's deputies in Josephine County were on duty," Templeton reports. "So dispatch transferred the call to the Oregon State Police, but they also didn't have anyone available."
The call lasts more than 10 minutes; in it, the woman repeatedly asks for help. At one point, the dispatcher suggests she find somewhere to hide.
"Once again, it's unfortunate you guys don't have any law enforcement up there," the dispatcher says.
On Tuesday's ballot, the county's residents were asked to decide, "Shall Josephine County impose $1.48 per $1,000 assessed value for criminal justice and public safety for three years beginning 2013?"
The measure listed several potential uses, such as adding capacity to the county's jail, providing a school security program, and increasing "Sheriff's deputies' response and patrol."
"The approximate tax increase for a home with an assessed value of $150,000 would be $222.00 per year, or approximately $18.50 per month," according to the ballot document.
In two other counties in similar situations — Lane and Curry Counties — voters took up their own public safety levies Tuesday. Curry County voters rejected their measure, according to The Curry Coastal Pilot, while voters in Lane County were projected to approve their levy.
"Keep in mind, it's been almost a quarter of a century since Lane County passed a public safety levy," April Baer of Oregon Public Broadcasting said this morning.
Baer was then asked what might happen next in places like Josephine County.
"The Oregon Senate Rules Committee has been considering a bill that would give the state certain powers," she says. "The governor was involved drafting it. Under its terms, the state could declare a public safety emergency, and impose a temporary tax to shore up the jail and other safety services for up to 18 months."
This week, the Oregon District Attorneys Association called for the state to lower penalties and allow discretionary sentencing for crimes involving drugs and driving offenses, saying the money required to jail people for such crimes cuts into what can be spent to keep violent offenders in custody.
The prosecutors' suggestions come after Oregon's public safety commission suggested removing mandatory sentences, "for such crimes as first-degree sex abuse, second-degree assault and second-degree robbery," The Oregonian reports.
In Amelia Templeton's report yesterday, she noted that Josephine County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson issued a press release after the budget cuts first took effect.
"In it, he warned victims of domestic violence to 'consider relocating to an area with adequate law enforcement services,'" Templeton reported.
Chuck used to sell marijuana in California. But the legalization of medical marijuana in the state meant he was suddenly competing against hundreds of marijuana dispensaries. So he moved to New York, where marijuana is still 100 percent illegal. Since making the move, he says, he's quadrupled his income. (For the record: His name isn't really Chuck.)
He spends pretty much every day dealing what he calls "farm-to-table" marijuana. On a recent afternoon in his dimly lit New York apartment, he was just about to complete a daily ritual: loading about 50 baggies of marijuana, worth a total of about $3,000 into his backpack, before heading out to make deliveries. "We're helping keep people stoned on a Friday night in New York City," he said.
Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have now legalized marijuana, either for medical use or for fun. And, it turns out, when one state brings an underground market into the mainstream and another doesn't, there are economic consequences in both places.
Dealers aren't the only ones with an incentive to move marijuana out of California. The legalization of medical marijuana led to a rush of pot farmers with permits to grow marijuana legally. That in turn led to a supply glut — and plummeting wholesale prices. Some growers haven't been able to unload all their crops at the price they want on the local, legal market. So they break the law and send it out of state.
Special Agent Roy Giorgi, with the California Department of Justice, is supposed to stop the illegal flow of marijuana in California. That can mean crouching in the brush in some remote part of the mountains — or it can mean heading to a FedEx or UPS in California's pot country to take a look at all the outgoing parcels and try to detect marijuana inside.
He estimates that one in 15 packages he examines has marijuana in it. "Right now, Northern California bud, that trademark, that stamp, is really some of the best in the world," he says.
Of course, all of Giorgi's efforts to catch marijuana growers and dealers tends to drive people out of the illegal marijuana business. That, in turn, means Chuck has less competition — and can charge higher prices.
Chuck sells marijuana for about $60 for an eighth of an ounce; in California, it would be anywhere from $30 to $45. With his New York customers, Chuck talks about marijuana like it's a rare California wine. When he pours out the contents of his backpack to reveal strains with names like Girl Scout Cookies and AK47 his clients are wowed.
Because Chuck is working in an illegal market, his customers have a hard time finding other marijuana retailers. "There's plenty of weed in New York, there's just an illusion of scarcity, which is part of what I'm capitalizing on," he says. "This is a black market business. There's insufficient information for customers."
This is what economists call information asymmetry — Chuck knows more about the market than his customers do. If weed were legal, his customers could comparison shop — they could look at menus and price lists and choose their dealer. As it is, once they find Chuck, they're likely to stick with him.
Note: A version of this story originally aired as part of the WNYC series The Weed Next Door. The headline on this post was inspired by @MichaelMontCW
Sweden is one of the wealthiest, most stable and smooth-running countries in the world.
Which would explain why the country's 9.5 million residents may be shocked by the events of the last few days.
For the last three nights, hundreds of youths have been rampaging through parts of the capital, Stockholm, torching cars, setting fires, and throwing rocks at police and fire trucks.
The trouble began over the weekend, after the police shot dead a 69-year-old man in the city's Husby neighborhood, where many residents originate from the Middle East and Africa. The exact circumstances are a bit cloudy: the man allegedly threatened officers with a machete.
Sweden's Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, appealed for calm on Tuesday, condemning the riots as hooliganism. His words failed to prevent another night of violence, in which two schools, a police station and an arts and crafts center were attacked, and 30 cars were burnt.
Soul-searching is underway in Sweden - for years admired by the world as a champion of tolerance - over the possible causes of the unrest.
The police blame "youth gangs and criminals." Others cite a range of factors, particularly high youth unemployment levels among people of immigrant origin, a problem that blights large parts of Europe.
"There's an underlying problem of a lack of jobs, and a perceived lack of opportunity among people living in these areas, " said David Landes, editor of The Local newspaper in Sweden.
In the troubled neighborhoods, allegations are said to be flying around about police brutality, racism and harassment. Sweden is once again facing a debate over whether immigrants and their families - once welcomed with open arms - are being marginalized, and whether multi-culturalism is working.
Immigration is a controversial issue in Scandanavia these days: resentment over asylum seekers, competition for jobs, and Islamist militancy have helped fuel a surge in support for anti-immigration parties in the region. These include the far-right Sweden Democrats - now running third in opinion polls.
Asked about Stockholm's unrest, Rami Al-khamisi, a co-founder of Megafonen, a group that works for social change, described Sweden as an "increasingly divided" society. He told Reuters that these "gaps, both socially and economically, are becoming larger."
Justice Minister Beatrice Ask has reportedly acknowledged "social exclusion" as "a very serious cause of many problems." She's promising Stockholm's police will forge closer ties to troubled local communities.
The kerfuffle Tuesday and today on Twitter about the "news" that the creator of the GIF gets annoyed if he hears someone use a hard "G" when pronouncing the name of his file format triggered our aging memory banks.
Hadn't we heard a while back that GIF creator Steve Wilhite and many other tech types insist it's supposed to be pronounced with a soft "J," like Jif peanut butter?
Yes we had. Check Eyder's post from last November, when he noted that GIF was the Oxford Dictionary's American word of the year for 2012. He wrote that:
"Technology enthusiasts insist on pronouncing it like the peanut butter brand Jif."
Still, as Eyder was careful to add, "Oxford points out that the 'the pronunciation with a hard g is now very widespread and readily understood.' "
Side note: Eyder, who isn't here today, knows about mispronunciations. He's too polite to correct the many folks, even at NPR, who call him A-der rather than I-der. But if this blogger is called ma-MOTT, rather than MEH-mitt, he will point that out.
Back to GIFs. We did an informal survey of some tech-savvy types in the NPR newsroom and they insisted they won't be intimidated into saying it the way Wilhite and others want. To them, it's GIF with a hard "G."
We wonder if Two-Way readers are so hard-headed. So, the question is:
It's true enough that there's plenty wrong with Gatsby Le Magnifique, as the French are calling the latest from director Baz Luhrmann. But what better film could there have been to open the sensory onslaught that is the Cannes Film Festival than one orchestrated by that patron saint of overstimulation?
It's not just that you might see four films a day at Cannes, from directors as different as plainspoken American satirist Alexander Payne (here with heartland father-son drama Nebraska) and hyperliterate French maximalist Arnaud Desplechin (who has enlisted Benicio Del Toro for the wonderfully titled Jimmy P. — Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian).
It's the chaos outside the theater on the French Riviera, with women on roller skates swooping at you to hawk trade magazines, and red-carpet photo calls set to Daft Punk. Crowds scrambling for a glimpse of stars, even if it's only through the smartphone camera screens held up by everyone up front.
With the right party invitations, Cannes is not unlike Gatsby's unhinged introduction scene for Leo DiCaprio, where the star smiles wide as the Gershwin swells behind booming fireworks: Even if it's all a little tacky, you're still stunned by the ridiculous grandeur and glamour of it all.
Without the right invitations (read: if you're me), on the other hand, the Gatsby resonance comes from the time spent staring at lights on distant piers, scenes of parties much classier than whatever you've hustled your way into — though you'll find enough cheap booze for a bootlegger either way.
The overheated atmosphere has a way of inducing delusions of grandeur in everyone here, including film critics. Indeed, the history of media coverage at Cannes is full of examples of exaggerated, oversimplified pans and ill-considered snap judgments — especially post-Twitter. (My favorite historical example, just to prove that antisocial media were hardly paragons, might be the now-shuttered British Daily Herald, reporting on the prize awarded to Federico Fellini's classic La Dolce Vita: "ORGY FILM WINS TOP AWARD."*)
It's enough to make it clear why Ingmar Bergman, upon learning that The Virgin Spring was playing at Cannes, wrote that he "hate[s] that place of meat market[s] and mental humiliation. At a festival you can really despair of the motion picture as an art." (That he ended up winning a prize that year did not change his view.)
In any case, a good critic does what she can to keep an even keel. But it's hard for a certain kind of film fan to not get giddy when the lineup features new work from the Coen brothers, Steven Soderbergh, Jim Jarmusch, Roman Polanski, Nicolas Winding Refn (director of Drive) and Asghar Farhadi (director of the phenomenal Oscar-winner A Separation).
Festival head Thierry Fremaux has also taken steps this year to address one common complaint that has dogged the festival — the underrepresentation of female directors, though he's done it in a way that raises issues of its own. There are eight female directors in the official competition categories (compared with three last year), but seven of them, including art-cinema heavyweights like Sofia Coppola and Claire Denis, have been relegated to the secondary Un Certain Regard category.
Fremaux has shrugged off criticism about this strange disparity by saying that Un Certain Regard is just as important as the flagship competition, but few people here really believe that. (Just look at the name! It's like a half-step above the "I Guess It's OK" awards.)
And for anyone who'd suggest that it's a matter of those films being less accomplished, Coppola's The Bling Ring is at least one terrific counterexample, having already outclassed some of the competition films in the first two days here. The film is based on the titular gang of real-life teens who used gossip rags and Twitter feeds to find out when celebrities like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan would be out of town, then ransacked their homes. It helped that those gleaming glass edifices on L.A. mountainsides were usually unlocked — when celebrity culture has made the rest of these lives transparent, is it a big surprise that their homes weren't any different?
Barriers of any kind are a foreign concept for gang ringleaders Nicki, Rebecca, and Marc (Emma Watson, Katie Chang and Israel Broussard), whom Coppola portrays here in an ultra-specific satirical snapshot. Designer brand names and Kanye West lyrics are their native tongue, and "The Secret" — that method of attaining all your desires through the power of positive thinking — is the equivalent of their morning prayers; they prefer entitlement to enlightenment. (Watson in particular has a blast putting on a Valley-girl accent and yammering about "expanding as a spiritual human being," though Coppola has actually toned down the ridiculousness of her real-life inspiration).
Bored with even the excess of nightclub visits and house parties, these kids decide to try on the lifestyles of their heroes as if they were so many Prada heels. At first, it's by taking their things and partying in their homes, but soon they follow the imitation to its logical conclusion — carefully chosen court-date outfits and lawyer-scripted apologies in the manner of their DUI-charged idols.
And why wouldn't they, when the consequences of their actions seem to be nonexistent? Or they are for the kids with the right lawyers, at least. Like the similarly themed Spring Breakers, this is partially a story about class and social-climbing, in which the inevitable hammer comes down hardest on the least fortunate. For the others, life is but a shopping spree.