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The Supremes, Schools and Consequences

July 26th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

It still remains to be seen what the fallout will be from the twin Supreme Court decisions known collectively as Seattle & Louisville, which struck down the voluntary immigration plans put in place by those two cities.

But Reuters has a story that gives a peek into how one kid affected by the decision worries about his educational future. The story begins like this:

“Seventeen-year-old Quantae Williams doesn’t understand why the U.S. Supreme Court struck down his school district’s racial diversity program.

He now dreads the prospect of leaving his mixed-race high school in suburban Louisville and returning to the poor black downtown schools where he used to get in fights.

“I’m doing good in J’town.
They should just leave it the way it is,” said Williams, using a fond nickname for suburban Jeffersontown High School, where he’s bused every day from his downtown neighborhood.

Posted in Education, Supreme Court | 4 Comments »

Feds launch Dispensary Raids Just After LA City Council Passes Preliminary Med Pot Vote – UPDATED

July 25th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

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This morning, City Councilman and former cop, Dennis Zine
held a press conference prior to Wednesday’s Los Angeles City Council meeting calling for DEA Administrator Karen Tandy to stop her newest tactic of threatening property owners who rent to medical cannabis dispensaries, and to allow the City of LA to proceed with regulations of med weed distribution without federal interference.

SO WHAT DID THE DEA DO IN RESPONSE? It raided five six TEN clinics. The raids are going on as I type. The largest raid is taking place at the medical marijuana collective known as CPG—or the California Patient’s Group—located at 6208 Santa Monica Blvd. (Santa Monica and Vine). An estimated 200 people are protesting in front of the collective and the LAPD is on site, but the Hollywood Division officers have only been called out to handle “perimeter control.” They aren’t involved in the raid.

Coincidentally the raids also come on the day when Congress is expected to vote on the Hinchey-Rohrabacher Amendment, which would cut off funds for just this kind of out-of-proportion DEA action that, while legal under Federal law, thumbs its nose in the face of California state law.

Several staff and patients are reportedly being held inside the dispensary.


UPDATE: When I talked to Councilman Dennis Zine a few minutes ago
, he said the raids were anything but a coincidence. “They knew about our resolution and our plans for regulation, so now they’re flexing their muscles, trying to show us who’s boss. Frankly I’m outraged that the DEA would stoop to this.”

cpg-clinic.jpg
CPG collective hours after the raid; although the front door was unlocked, DEA agents broke it down.
closed-sign.jpg
Not closed for long.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Medical Marijuana, State government, War on Drugs | 44 Comments »

Will Judges Finally Put a Lid on California Prisons?

July 25th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

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Folsom Prison


Federal Judges Thelton E. Henderson and Lawrence K. Karlton have absolutely HAD IT
with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the California State Legislature. The judges feel they’ve given clear warnings. They’ve said what the consequences would be if Arnold and the Leg don’t get their collective act together in terms of relieving prison overcrowding that has metastasized to such an extreme, say the judges, that it has created inhumane conditions clearly in violation of the U. S. Constitution—particularly in areas pertaining to prisoner health and mental health.

(I can attest to this—at least second hand. Because of my work, I get weekly collect calls from various state correctional institutions, and the tales I hear on a regular basis are pretty horrifying. Of course, they are also tough to prove as, with extremely rare exceptions, reporters are prevented from visiting prisoners.)

In response to the judge’s previous warnings,
earlier this year lawmakers endlessly congratulated themselves for passing AB 900, a monster $7.4-billion prison-building bill. The judges, however, were not molified and all but visibly spat on the legislation, correctly pointing out that while it adds 54,000 additional beds, it does so without also adding extra staffing or any appreciable rehabilitation programs for prisoners. In other words, it would make things worse.

“From all that presently appears,” said Judge Karlton, who is overseeing a mental health care class-action lawsuit against the prison system, “new beds will not alleviate this problem but will aggravate it…..Given the almost twelve years that this case has been in its remedial phase,” he growled, “and given the constitutional considerations at stake, the direction in which the State has at present chosen to go by enacting AB 900 simply fails to address in any timely way relief from the overcrowding crisis and its attendant impact.”

This brings us to yesterday when the two judges announced that they were talking matters out of California lawmakers hands and into their own—then appointed a three person panel to come up with a way to alleviate the overcrowding. This is the last legal step before the judges actually “cap” the population—meaning that they could enforce dramatic remedies to keep the statewide prison population down to a fixed, manageable level. For instance, to do so they could require:

1. Certain low-level offenders to be released early. (This means that as many as 35,000 prisoners could get sprung.)

2. Thousands of offenders released to serve the rest of their sentences at home with an electronic anklet. (Since a significant portion of California’s prisoners are locked up for technical violations of their parole, not for new crimes, they would likely be first on the list along with non-violent, low-level drug offenders.)

3. Sentencing reform, sentencing reform, sentencing reform.

Arn
old and the state legislature swear they’ll be able to get this all in hand before the panel brings down the hammer.

The judges don’t seem one bit convinced.

The LA Times, and the NY Times among others have stories.

PS: Several of my felonious collect callers tell me
they’ve heard about the possible cap and are keeping their fingers crossed that it’ll happen and they’ll be on the Get-Out-Of-Jail Card list.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Courts, crime and punishment, health care, prison, prison policy | 6 Comments »

Green Dot – the East Coast Take

July 24th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

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Graduate and family from Green Dot’s Animo Inglewood High School, where 80 percent of the students actually got diplomas, as opposed to Locke High School’s approximately 44 percent graduation rate.
*****************************************************************************************

The New York Times, which has been doing more than the usual amount of LA coverage this month,
knows a good story when it sees one….thus has an article in this morning’s paper analyzing the Greater Meaning meaning of the proposed takeover of Locke High School by charter school powerhouse, Steve Barr of Green Dot.

Here are some of the highlights.

Steve Barr, a major organizer of charter schools, has been waging what often seems like a guerrilla war for control of this city’s chronically failing high schools.

[snip]

In the process, Mr. Barr has fomented a teachers revolt
against the Los Angeles Unified School District. He has driven a wedge through the city’s teachers union by welcoming organized labor — in contrast to other charter operators — and signing a contract with an upstart union. And he has mobilized thousands of black and Hispanic parents to demand better schools.

Educators and policy makers
from Sacramento to Washington are watching closely because many believe Green Dot’s audacious tactics have the potential to strengthen and expand the charter school movement nationwide.

[snip]

Andrew J. Rotherham, who worked in the Clinton White House and is co-director of Education Sector, a research group in Washington, said, “Green Dot is mobilizing parents in poor neighborhoods and offering an alternative for frustrated teachers, and that’s scrambling the cozy power arrangements between the school district and the union to a degree not seen anywhere else.”

[snip]

[Ted Mitchell, head of the NewSchools Venture Fund] said that only Green Dot was mounting such an aggressive challenge to the local school board. “Many charter organizations try to induce different behavior by providing examples of good new schools,” he said. “But only Green Dot is trying to provoke a school district to behave in radically different ways.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Education, Green Dot, LAUSD | 8 Comments »

Prison Town USA – UPDATED

July 24th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

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“In the 1990s, at the height of the prison-building boom,
a prison opened in rural America every 15 days.

Okay, now pause for just a second or two to take that in.


This rather alarming piece of information is posted
on the website that has been set up to promote a new PBS documentary that is showing tonight (July 24). It’s called Prison Town USA.

The film tells the story of Susanville, California,
“one small town that tries to resuscitate its economy by building a prison — with unanticipated consequences.”

I don’t usually push TV shows, but this one is an exception. It deals in an extremely engaging and deeply human fashion with an issue we ignore at our own peril—namely the fact that the United States now imprisons more people per capita than any other country in the world. This attempt to incarcerate our way out of a host of social problems on such a grand scale is an experiment like no other in world history. Yet the unprecedented “jailing of America” is barely noticed by most Americans because, as the movie points out, most of the prisons have opened in remote areas like Susanville.

Hence Prison Town. The film was shot over a four year period and follows the lives of four families that live in this town that now houses 11,000 inmates, more than the town’s population.

Across the country prisons are transforming our economy, psychology and culture,” says co-director Po Kutchins. “We hope our film promotes much-needed dialogue about the wisdom of America’s policies.”

So watch it, TiVo it, do what ever you have to do. I suspect you’ll find it’s worth your time.

NOTE: LIGHT BLOGGING THIS MORNING because I’m headed off to an all day meeting. Back with a vengeance early tomorrow a.m. (or perhaps before).

**********************
UPDATE: MY BAD. TURNS OUT THIS SHOW IS NOT SHOWING IN OR ANYWHERE NEAR THE LOS ANGELES PBS MARKET. If you live in say, Missoula, Montana, Spokane, Washington, Chicago, IL (those were just the areas I randomly checked)….or any number of other places, you can watch this show.

Not in LA.
But, hey, really why should Los Angeles audiences need to watch? California only has the largest prison system in the nation, and the third largest in the world. And most of those inmates who are eventually paroled from California prisons, are paroled to…..you guessed it….Los Angeles County.

In the time slots when Prison Town might have aired, our local station has instead chosen to offer programs on:
1. hurricanes….. and

2. the western bluebird. (No. I’m not kidding about this.)

I recommend you call KCET and shriek. Loudly. ( For handy dialing, here’s the viewer services number: (323) 953-5238)

Posted in crime and punishment, prison, prison policy, State government | 4 Comments »

The DEA versus Los Angeles: The Politics of Medical Marijuana

July 22nd, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

Medical Marijuana Collective
A medical marijuana collective on Ventura Blvd. still stays open

In 1996, Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act, otherwise known as the medical marijuana initiative,
passed in the state of California by a healthy 56 percent of the state’s voters. It was the first such law passed in the nation.

Since then, eleven more states have passed their own medical marijuana laws, New Mexico being the most recent. Although these state laws are in conflict with the federal Controlled Substances Act, in the years between 1996 and 2001, with a few exceptions, the feds pretty much stayed out of it.

In 2001, all that changed as, under George W. Bush, the DEA began raiding clinics in California and arresting both users and caregivers. Since that time, the feds have waged an ever more aggressive campaign in California to shut down the collectives that dispense bud, pot, ganja, reefer, grass, herb— or whatever you want to call it—to those holding prescriptions.

(With the exception of a few isolated instances, other med marijuana states such as Montana, Colorado, Alaska and Nevada have not been subject to the same federal pressure.)

This past year, the DEA has ramped up the campaign considerably—particularly in Los Angeles.
On January 17, SWAT-clad feds raided eleven L.A. collectives in one day—five in West Hollywood, the other six in Venice, Hollywood, Sherman Oaks and Woodland Hills. It was the largest such raid ever in the nation—and it was notably unsuccessful. No arrests were made and, although three of the collectives closed their doors for good, the other eight reopened in less than a week. And, within a month or so, several new collectives had sprung up, mushroom-like to take the place of the three that closed.

In response, early this month, the feds came up with a brand new strategy:

On July 6, the LA DEA sent letters to 100 plus landlords in Los Angeles County who rent sites to marijuana collectives, pleasantly reminding the property owners that selling cannabis is a federal crime punishable by up to 20 years in the federal pen, and that even peripheral involvement could trigger the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000—meaning that the property owners’ land could be snatched.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in crime and punishment, National politics, State government, War on Drugs | 18 Comments »

Theresa Duncan was 40….A Talent Removed

July 22nd, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

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Much is being written about the suicide of multi-talented Venice filmmaker, writer, and blogger, Theresa Duncan,
who killed herself in New York on July 10, followed by the probable suicide of her longtime boyfriend, rising-star artist Jeremy Blake, 35. The police mention pills and a long explanatory note in relation to Duncan’s death. As for Blake, it seems that a week after finding his lover’s body at the NY apartment they were renting while she worked on a promising-sounding new film, the artist simply took off his clothes, set down his wallet, and walked into the sea.

He too left a note—-saying
he couldn’t imagine living without her.

Kevin Roderick at LA Observed
has been particularly on top of the story.

I didn’t know Duncan; only knew of her. But it cannot be other than terribly confusing, disturbing and sorrow-producing when two people as gifted—and as physically beautiful, frankly— as Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake decide to precipitously and irrevocably remove themselves from this world.

You can find news stories here and here and here.

But, for me anyway, a better way to apprehend at least a sliver of the creative loss that has occurred is to take a look at these witty and wonderful videos produced by Duncan. I found them posted on YouTube.


They are from her “Closet Cases” series.

NOTE: FOR SOME REASON I’m having trouble with video embeds today, so I’ve taken them out. Instead here are the links to the two videos. The first is Closet Cases: Slice of Bread

The second is called Closet Cases: The Dred Case

(I particularly loved the first.)

Post Script:

The New York Post story quotes a friend of the couple, who explains how out-of-character the suicides seemed for both Duncan and Blake.

“Suicide would never be on their to-do list,” he said.

Posted in Life in general, literature, Los Angeles writers | 8 Comments »

Genarlow Wilson Update….and Other Social Justice News

July 22nd, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

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IN THE ONGOING GENARLOW WILSON CASE
, the Georgia Supremes heard argument for and against Wilson’s release in a packed-to-the-rafters courtroom on Friday (although ruling isn’t expected before September.). The Atlanta Journal Constitution has perhaps the best description of the proceedings for laypersons. And, for the law-junkie’s among us, a very, smart cookie young Atlanta lawyer named Sara, at Going Through the Motions, live blogged the hearing on her blackberry. (Sara also made very helpful note of the fact that Wilson’s attorney, B.J. Bernstein, wore a suit featuring a sequined faux leopard skin collar.) She also observed, although likely not with entirely flawless objectivity, that prosecutor McDade was..”…even sleazier in person, if that’s possible.”

AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF SEXUAL OFFENSES….. this Sunday’s NY Times Magazine has a fascinating cover story exploring facts, myths and misconceptions surrounding the issue of juvenile sex offenders. It’s titled, “How Can You Distinguish a Budding Pedophile From a Kid With Real Boundary Problems?” It’s very much worth the read. (She mentions Genarlow Wilson, but only in passing.)

ON BEING DIFFERENT….SPECIAL ED.
This weekend, Ira Glass and This American Life replay a wonderful past episode called “Special Ed…. “…Stories about people who were told that they’re different. Some of them were comfortable with it. Some didn’t understand it. And some understood, but didn’t like it.”

If you only listen to part of it
, listen to chapter one—about the group of developmentally disabled people who took a cross country journey during which they conducted a series of filmed man-on-the-street interviews. It’s great, great radio. (Ira Glass really is one of the most talented people working in any media.)

DEPORTED AND DISAPPEARED
All this brings us quite naturally to the excellent narrative piece written by LA Weekly’s Danial Hernandez on that that story we flagged here a few weeks ago about the developmentally disabled main who, despite the fact that he’s a U.S. citizen, was deported to Mexico after he served time in the LA County jail for a low-level vandalism charge. He is now missing.

“…..he made one distraught phone call to his family from the border at San Ysidro. His sister-in-law Vicky picked up.

‘He called and told her to ask us, ‘Who is going to come get me in Tijuana?”‘ Carbajal says. ‘And she asked, “Why?” “Because they deported me.” ‘But why?” He said, “I don’t know. I’m confused. I don’t know why I’m here.” ‘

Then the line went dead….”

Posted in Courts, immigration, juvenile justice, LASD | 1 Comment »

Border Justice? How ‘Bout Justice…Period???

July 19th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

Arizona Shadow Wolves
Shadow Wolf customs agents with drugs seized at another US border

In case you haven’t heard, for the past year, there’s been a rising hullabaloo
about two border agents, Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, who, in 2005, shot an unarmed drug dealer multiple times as he ran across the Texas-Mexico border southeast of El Paso, and then took pains to cover up the shooting, and lied about. (The Houston Chronicle has a good back-story article.)

The men got more than ten years in prison as a consequence—Compean got 12, Ramos, 11—while the drug dealer—whom prosecutors say they were unable to charge, in part because of the bad shooting—was a federal witness and has since recrossed the border several times, possibly bringing another load of marijuana. (Although no one’s been able to prove the latter.)

The case became an anti-immigration flash point,
causing enough powerful people to be upset by the sentencing that earlier this week there was a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the issue.

The truth is, it sounds like the ex-agents did what they were convicted of doing, and then tried to make it go away. And that’s kinda against the law. The reason for the lengthy sentences (which do seem quite excessive) was that the men (obviously) used a gun in the commission of the crime, which ads an automatic ten years. In other words, the judge and the prosecutor couldn’t have given the ex-agents lower sentences if they’d wanted to.

Such are the joys of the world of over-the-top determinate sentencing laws that paired with automatic sentencing “enhancements” that can produced hideously out-sized sentences with no room for mitigating individual circumstances.

By the way, as these were federal guidelines, they were all set by Congress.

California is loaded with such laws and enhancements
. Three Strikes….the STEP Act….10-20-Life. These laws have produced ou sentencing horror stories by the bushel full. And most of ‘em are waa-a-ay worse than the ex-agents’ 10 plus years.

So did any of the brave Senators present at the hearing do the courageous thing and call for an overhaul of such obviously problematic federal determinate sentencing laws?

Oh, heck no. First some Republican lawmakers tried to push through some nutso, likely-unconstitutional laws to try to get the agents out of the pinta. Then Wednesday, senate Republicans, joined by California’s own Diane Feinstein, wrote letters pressuring President Bush to commute the agents’ sentences. (Why? Because they’re political symbols in the immigration policy debate, that’s why.)

Of course, Bush is in a tricky bind because if he does yet another commutation it will make him look….how to put it?… a tad hypocritical in continuing to oppose sentencing reform. (Plus he knows and purportedly likes the beleaguered Texas prosecutor.) So far, Bush won’t say what he intends.

Stay tuned.

Posted in crime and punishment, Government, immigration, National politics | 2 Comments »

IX-NAY on the eckham-Bays – Plumbing the Depths of Shallowness

July 19th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

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Okay, this is obviously not a social issue,
per se, but when the LA Times does a brief 235-word story on a major gang study that relates directly to Los Angeles (a story that nearly every other major paper in the country—plus several of the Canadian papers— reports on in full [see below])…. then devotes three, count ‘em THREE stories to the &^%$#@#& Beckhams….AGAIN….it merits comment.

One of today’s three is titled, in all seriousness,Hollywood breathlessly awaits Beckhams.”

(NOTE TO TIMES EDITORS: No, actually it doesn’t.)

And the Times’ Thursday News briefs section earnestly calls our attention to…. “Beckham-mania.”

Hey, I like gossip as much as the next person. I read with enthusiastic abandon about the mayor’s love life. And I had more than one conversation with otherwise serious-minded friends about whether Paris Hilton ought to go to jail, (and whether or not Sheriff Lee Baca let her take her moisturizer in with her). But, when all was said and done, those were real stories. There was conflict. Drama. In each of the instances, something was at stake.

Look, I’m sure David Beckham is a swell guy and all, and it’s sort of interesting that the dude pulls down a salary equal to the gross national product of several developing countries—and certainly we in Los Angeles genuinely hope he’s not so much past his prime that he’s going to make us feel really SAD, from a….you know…. soccer perspective— but he’s a sports story. That’s it. And that over-thin blond woman who married him? She’s a pop singer with an extremely expensive publicist—AKA a non-story.

Even the National Enquirer knows the difference. (Yes, I admit I did do a web search, God help me, and the Enquirer has hardly touched this broad.)

So why is our home town newspaper behaving embarrassingly like Victoria Beckham’s PR flak?

Or as my friend John Leone put it, Waiter, may I please have some real news with my paper this morning?”

Posted in Los Angeles Times | 1 Comment »

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