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Hello from the DMV! I’ve been here for a little under two months now. I’m covering federal workforce policy for FCW, which means I talk to a lot of cybersecurity and workforce experts from the Offices of Management & Budget, Personnel Management, and Congressional sub/committees like Oversight and Reform (RIP Chairman Cummings), Government Operations, and Natural Resources. Some stories I’ve written recently:

AI faces growing pains in the workplace (Sept. 18)

Weichert: Federal HR designed for stability not agility (Oct. 9)

AI disruption and STEM jobs (Oct. 17)

Last night, I also learned from the International Labor Communications Association that I won second place in “Best National Feature Story” for my story from April on the Sacramento teachers’ strike for The Baffler!

Image result for sacramento teachers strike

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moving, etc.

Hello! As of September 3, I will be a staff writer and associate editor at FCW.com, covering the federal workforce and technology, which means I will be moving to the Washington, D.C. area sometime at the end of August. (Hopefully) I will continue to freelance, and share my work occasionally but with much less frequency.

I’m very proud of all the work I’ve done in San Francisco since moving back in 2017.

  • I covered the Anchor Brewing Company when they became the first craft brewery to unionize, here, and here. (SF Weekly)

  • I covered Lyft and Uber drivers’ efforts to unionize, which quickly became a worldwide movement, for Talk Poverty and SF Weekly.

  • I wrote about the Camp Fire and how it quickly became the largest wildfire in California, largely due to unchecked suburban development and sprawl. (The Baffler)

  • I wrote about the Sacramento teachers’ strike and how Proposition 13 was and continues t be a disaster for public school funding statewide. (The Baffler) — Recognized as a “New Classic in Labor Writing”!!!

Elsewhere, my friend and fellow freelancer Michael Toren (@michael_toren) is doing fantastic work at 48 Hills, covering the ongoing Bryan Carmody story, in which SFPD knowingly arrested a freelance broadcast journalist for allegedly leaking a report with details of recently deceased Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s death.

As usual, I can be reached at liaruss@gmail.com, or on Twitter @LiaOffLeash.

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Fighting For Immunity

Today, a piece I’ve been working for months came out in The Baffler! On July 10, both the California Senate and Assembly voted to approve and send to the governor’s desk a bill that would effectively bar police departments statewide from being able to arrest sex workers who come forward during the course of an investigation to report being the victim of or witness to a crime. It also bars condom possession from being considered as evidence or probable cause to arrest someone on suspicion of being a sex worker.

Most of the people I talked to were excited about it but all thought it didn’t go far enough. As Rachel West, the spokesperson for U.S. Prostitutes Collective put it, “Most sex workers are also mothers. Poverty pushes people into sex work, because it’s survival work.” To me, this is essentially about ‘allowing’ people to engage in whatever work guarantees their survival, even if it’s technically illegal, at a time when the cost of living across the state is pushing millions to the brink of debt, poverty, starvation and homelessness.

Another story came out from a Bay Area journalist I really admire, Darwin BondGraham, about how more people are dying on highways.

In the early 2000s, developers built thousands of new homes in east Contra Costa county cities, selling them at prices far below similar homes in San Francisco and Oakland. Many of these homes were sold to low-income buyers who borrowed from banks through subprime mortgages. When the economic crash hit in 2008, tens of thousands of people lost their homes to foreclosure and investors bought and transformed them into rental properties. Since then, many low-income people displaced from gentrifying cities like Oakland and Richmond have moved out to east Contra Costa county because of the surplus of cheaper rental homes.

“With the displacement and gentrification of a lot of East Bay cities, and cities like San Francisco, Oakland and Richmond, it’s creating this diaspora that’s being spread to the valleys up [Interstate] 80 and Highway 4,” said the Richmond city councilmember Demnlus Johnson.

Violent social networks that were previously rooted in small, geographically bound places have spread across multiple East Bay cities. “You’ve got people from North Richmond and Central Richmond both living in the El Pueblo projects in Pittsburg, and then you’ve got people in Richmond living in the vistas in Vallejo,” Johnson said. “When all of those people get on the freeway to come back to Richmond they’re gonna see each other.”

…Vaughn agrees that gentrification and displacement have created new patterns of violence by pushing people into distant suburbs and breaking up social networks that were previously located within one city or neighborhood. But he said it’s just one piece of a complicated problem that involves new and generational conflicts, and living in under-resourced communities.

“For the most part these young people aren’t being paid any attention until they do something, like a freeway shooting,” Vaughn said.

That’s in The Guardian today: “Why are so many people getting shot on California highways?”

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International Sex Workers' Day and journalism roundup

Yesterday, June 2, was International Sex Workers Day, a celebration of the gains that the sex workers’ rights movement have made in the past year, in spite of SESTA/FOSTA’s implementation and the havoc it’s wreaked on people’s lives. Oakland had a huge Bay Area celebration, complete with poledancers and booths. Here is a great overview by Molly Crabapple on the history of the holiday and the current bill in the New York Senate to decriminalize it. Elsewhere, Mexico City’s council effectively decriminalized sex work in order to better tackle sex trafficking.


Elsewhere, here are my favorite articles from the past week:

Outlaw Country, Atavist Magazine

Klamath Country, Oregon, is the perfect place to disappear–and also a very dangerous place when someone is threatening your life.” —Emma Marris

The Billboard, California Sunday Magazine

After Stephanie Montgomery says she was raped at the strip club where she worked, she went to the manager and the police. Nothing happened. That’s when she decided to tell her story as big as she could.” —Kathy Dobie

All-American Despair, Rolling Stone

For the past two decades, a suicide epidemic fueled by guns, poverty and isolation has swept across the West, with middle-aged men dying in record numbers. —Stephen Rodrick

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Gory, gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die!

Happy post-Memorial Day — I spent the entire day at an Oakland Athletics game and thinking about my namesake uncle Leland, who fought in Korea and retired to Tennessee to work at Dollywood and care for his beloved pet poodle, Tootsie.

Elsewhere, the Navy is having a time of it — after two airmen drew a “sky penis” in June 2017, they were disciplined but the Navy Times only recently got their hands on the transcript and documents detailing the exchange and how the two people involved planned and executed their aerial artwork. Solidarity with dick n’ ball pilots.

Illustration for article titled Navy Recordings of Viral Sky Penis Incident Show Pilot Worried 'Balls Are Going to Be a Little Lopsided'

Our POTUS pardoned one war criminal, Army Lt. Mike Behenna, who was convicted for murdering an Iraqi civilian as revenge for two of his men dying and served five years out of a 25-year sentence. Trump also plans to pardon SEAL Commander Eddie Gallagher, who is accused of murdering a teenager who was allegedly a member of ISIS.

In positive news: the California Assembly approved and passed on a bill that would make it easier to enforce labor protections for gig economy workers after the state courts ruled in Dynamex that the burden of proof would be on employers who claim that employees are independent contractors and thus not entitled to things like benefits, paid time off, sick leave, etc.

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