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Another Hockey Mom Sings…uh…Speaks Out

October 31st, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


Hey, it’s a stressful week
with more jitters still to come (speaking personally, I’m on the verge of a noticeable twitch) so we all need a little levity.

Posted in Elections '08, Presidential race | 21 Comments »

THE PROPOSITIONS: Measure A

October 31st, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

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From now through Monday, I’ll be running informational posts
—written by me and others—on most of the various propositions.

(For instance, some of my very smart USC students have written some nice and pithy analyses, which I’ll be putting online, and there will be more voices)

Then on Monday, I’ll post a list of endorsements.

(Since the LA Weekly has stopped doing endorsements, some readers have suggested that another voice or three would be helpful. And I agreed.)

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FIRST…..PROPOSITION A:

KPPC’s Frank Stolz did an excellent short and informative, rundown on Prop. A.

In case you don’t remember, Proposition A is the City of LA parcel tax to fund gang-prevention programs. It will raise $30 million every year through a $3 per month parcel tax dedicated solely to gang prevention, intervention and after-school programs, plus vocational, job training and apprenticeship programs. Supporting it are LAPD Chief Bill Bratton, Sheriff Lee Baca, the police union, Steve Cooley, Connie Rice, Antonio Villaraigosa, former mayor, Dick Riordan, the teachers’ union, the LA firefighters….and on and on.

HERE’S what Frank Stolze says:

Southern California remains the gang capital of the world. Law enforcement officials estimate more than 100,000 mostly young adults claim membership in hundreds of gangs. Police have had some success in reducing gang violence. But they say they can’t keep up with the constant flow of kids joining gangs. In the city of Los Angeles next week, voters will consider a new tax to pay for more gang prevention and intervention programs. KPCC’s Frank Stoltze reports.

Frank Stoltze: Being asked to join a gang is almost a rite of passage in many Southern California neighborhoods. James Vasquez recalls hanging out with friends after school one day when he was 12.

James Vasquez: A big group of guys just came out of nowhere and said, “where are you from?” And we said, “we’re not from anywhere.” And they’re like, “you want to join our gang,” and I said “no thank you.” My other friend said “sure, why not.” I know, it’s weird how one friend said yeah, and I said no.

Stoltze: Not long after that, Vasquez’ teachers helped enroll him in a gang prevention program called “Bridges.” Outside a Tommy’s Burger in his Hollywood neighborhood, Vasquez says his parents weren’t really around at the time.

Vasquez: If I wasn’t in this program, I would have been doing drugs. I would have been gang banging with my friends, you know.

Stoltze: Why do you say that? Why do you think you would have ended up there?

Vasquez: ‘Cause I wouldn’t have anywhere to go.

There’s much more after the jump (and there’s an audio version if you’d prefer):

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Elections '08, Gangs, law enforcement, Los Angeles County, Propositions | 3 Comments »

THE PROPOSITIONS: PROP. 11 – Redistricting

October 31st, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

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I asked the members of my USC Newswriting class
to each write about one of the propositions. And, as I mentioned above, I’ll be posting many of them in the next few days.

This report, by smart USC Student Holly Villamagna, will give you the rundown on Prop. 11.

(By the way, after researching the matter, Holly recommends a NO vote.)

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Prop 11 highlights partisan bickering

Proponents of Proposition 11 say it would give the people of California more control over their government, but many are wondering if it’s just another political power play.

The proposition would strip the state legislature of its power to draw legislative districts and give the job to a panel of 14 citizens instead. But the California Democratic Party says Republicans are using the bill to gain more seats in the legislature.

Redistricting is known for creating conflicts of interest. Politicians try to draw district lines so an area is overwhelmingly in favor of one political party. As a result, the candidates elected in primaries tend to follow the party line and centrist politicians are rarely able to break through.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has emerged as one of Proposition 11’s strongest supporters. In September, Schwarzenegger signed the state budget a record-breaking 85 days late. Soon after, he said Proposition 11 could prevent the type of partisan gridlock that made budget negotiations so difficult.

“This is a fixed system,” Schwarzenegger said, “a system that rewards legislators for rigid partisanship, and a system that punishes legislators for wanting to come in the middle and to go for compromise.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Elections '08, Propositions | 3 Comments »

Dear Mexico: A Hammer Alone Won’t Cure Gang Violence

October 30th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

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Bruce Riordan is the director of anti-gang operations for City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo’s office,
and a former federal prosecutor. In other words, the guy is not anybody’s bleeding heart when it comes to gangs.

Yet, he is a nuanced thinker on the subject, and together with Delgadillo, Riordan has written a thoughtful article for Wednesday’s Daily Journal, the publication that LA’s lawyers, judges and other legal types all read religiously.

Riordan sent the article over to me figuring, quite rightly, I might find it interesting. I did, indeed, and thought you’d be interested as well.

(NOTE: The Daily Journal may be accessed by (really expensive) subscription only, so I have posted slightly longer excerpts than I usually do.)

In the article, the men talk about the fact that Mexico is experiencing a huge and very violent rise in gang activity. As a consequence, they write, the Mexican government is being sorely tempted to react to their new gang crisis with methods that are heavy-handed in the extreme. They point out that the purely hard-core/shock-and-awe approach to gangs is precisely the strategy that has repeatedly been shown not to work.

(Think Daryl Gates’ Big Blue Hammer.)

When it comes to gangs , the use of a bludgeon alone—i.e. enforcement without prevention and intervention—inevitably produces of host of unintended consequences—many of which could easily blow back toward us, and not in a good way, say Riordan and Delgadillo.

Now here are those excerpts:

The images are all too familiar: random kidnappings, police officers assassinated by criminal gangs, journalists killed in cold blood as retribution for their latest investigations, and, even judicial officers murdered for their roles in the criminal justice system. All this amid cries of foul play from victims alleging both criminal and official misconduct.

These are not scenes from the Iraq War or from Colombia’s showdown with the Pablo Escobar syndicate in the late 1980s. They are drawn directly from today’s headlines in Mexico, and from the border cities of Juarez, Nogales and Tijuana, the latter a mere three-hour drive from downtown Los Angeles. Indeed, this past weekend, the Los Angeles Times reported that children in Tijuana are suffering from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder due to the alarming levels of violence there.

While the U.S. media has covered the violence, the Mexican government’s response, both legal and extralegal, has largely been overlooked. But Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon has openly declared “war” on drug gangs, and the mayor of Nogales, in Sonora, has called for the use of “heavy-handed” tactics akin to the surge in Iraq.

Make no mistake: Mexico is now undergoing a fundamental legal, as well as political, crisis; and the fabric of its legal system is being tested. As a result, current events in Mexico should be cause for close attention in our local legal community and perhaps even closer scrutiny.

[SNIP]

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Gangs, law enforcement, War on Drugs | 9 Comments »

The LA Times, Press Ethics, and the Desperation of John McCain

October 29th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

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Okay, now McCain supporters have taken to threatening the LA Times.

Yeah, yeah. It’s a pretty mild threat: RELEASE THE RASHID KHALIDI VIDEO OR ELSE. (Or words to that effect.)

In this case, the or else just means a Thursday 10 AM picketing of the LA Times building at 1st and Spring Streets.

“Nothing less than our national security and that of Israel is potentially at stake,” reads the online flyer for the demonstration.

“Bring video cams. National media will want video.”

Indeed.

If you have somehow missed this democracy-threatening instance of information suppression on the part of the dastardly Los Angeles Times, here’s a quick summary from the Washington Post’s “The Trail”:

Sen. John McCain today compared the director of Columbia University’s Middle East Institute to a “neo-Nazi” and called on the Los Angeles Times to release a video of a 2003 banquet at which Sen. Barack Obama talked about the professor, Rashid Khalidi, a leading Palestinian American scholar and friend of Obama’s from Chicago.

“What if there was a tape with John McCain with a neo-Nazi outfit being held by some media outlet?” McCain asked in an interview with a Cuban radio station Wednesday morning. “I think the treatment of the issue would be slightly different.”

It probably should be mentioned here that McCain has his own connection with Khalidi, according to ABC News’ Jake Tapper. It seems that McCain has chaired the International Republican Institute since 1993, which in 1998 and 1999 funded the Center for Palestine Research and Studies—an organization founded by the self-same Rashid Khalidi.

(According to tax documents for the 1998/99 fiscal year, the grant from the IRI to Khalidi’s org. totaled just under $448,873.)

Ooops.

But, hey, (cue Tina Turner) what’ve facts got to do with it.

The irony of the whole thing is that there was no media notice of the Khalid banquet that the video depicts, until the Times drew attention to the event in a story that ran in April.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Elections '08, Los Angeles Times, media, Presidential race | 3 Comments »

Yes, It’s Protected Speech….AND…It Should Come Down – UPDATED

October 29th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

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UPDATE: After a long chat with WeHo Mayor Jeffrey Prang, late today Morrisette took the effigy down. Finally.

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The fact that you can say or do something, doesn’t mean you should.

The Sarah Palin effigy that ChadMichael Morrisette put up in front of his West Hollywood home as a so-called Halloween display is deeply offensive.

Morrisette’s attitude of “Oh, it’s all just Halloween fun”—or whatever it is he’s been chattering to the press—does not wash.

Keith Olbermann had it right on Monday night when he chose Morrisette as his Worst Person In the World. “This is not the spirit of Halloween, sir,” Olbermann said. “It is the spirit of violence.”

Morrisette has assured media types who questioned him that he wouldn’t have done the same thing with an image of Obama because he knew that hanging a black man was a cultural no-no.

So-o-oooooo, let me get this straight. The image of a black man being lynched is bad. But the image of a white woman being lynched is….Halloween art?

We can’t force Mr. Morrisette (and his partner in poor judgment, housemate, Mito Aviles) to take the Palin effigy down. But it would be nice if the men had the good sense to do it themselves.

Instead, it seems that idiocy in this matter is being piled on top of idiocy: Yesterday, LA County Sup Mike Antonovich jumped feet first into the mix by calling for an investigation as to whether the bad taste Halloween decoration constitutes—yep, you guessed it—a hate crime.

(sigh.)

OKAY MIKE, LISTEN UP:
We can save your county counsel guys the trouble, and I can give you the answer to your question right now:

NO. It’s not a hate crime.

“Had this stupid act been done to Senator Obama,” prattled Antonovitch officiously, “there would appropriately have been a national outcry.”

Well, actually, Mike…. an Ohio man named Mike Lunsford did just that. And we were really, really creeped out by his display too.

But we didn’t try to get it charged as a hate crime.

(And while we’re on the subject of creepy….)

Get a grip, people.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Elections '08, Free Speech, Presidential race | 22 Comments »

Mario’s Story: Freedom Long-Delayed Finally Arrives – UPDATED

October 28th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

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Today the murder case against 29-year-old Mario Rocha
will finally be dismissed. For the first time in twelve and a half years, Mario will be really and truly, no kidding —- free.

The story that ends today began on the night of February 16, 1996, when Mario Rocha was sixteen-years-old and attended a keg party in Highland Park where a bunch of high school kids were celebrating a win for Cathedral High School’s basketball team.

There was drinking at the party, and eventually a fist fight broke out. An extremely well-liked 17-year-old honors student named Martin Aceves, tried to break up the fight, but matters escalated fast. Two kids had guns. Aceves was shot and killed. Another kid was shot in the hand.

A week later, police burst into Mario’s bedroom, guns drawn, yelling: “Don’t move! Hands up! Get down!”

Mario Rocha was tried as an adult and, although the case against him rested on the word of one eyewitness, he was defended by an attorney who spent little time on his case, and failed to call other witnesses who had exculpatory evidence. By the trial’s end, although Mario had no previous record or gang affiliation, he was convicted of murder and attempted murder, together with two other party goers—gang members who had been seen to flash weapons in the crowd.

Unlike most young men in such a position, Mario turned out to be lucky. When he was in Eastlake Juvenile Hall awaiting trial, he participated in a new writing program called “Inside Out,” that had been set up by juvenal hall chaplain, Sister Janet Harris. Although Mario had not been an underachiever during his time in high school, he was clearly very bright, with an intellectual bent and a real talent for writing—all of which the writing class at juvie seemed to bring out in him.

After reading some of his writing, Sister Janet became interested in Mario’s personal story. Although she meets kids on a regular basis who swear they are innocent, the more she looked into Mario’s case, the more convinced she became that Mario was the real deal. She couldn’t imagine he would be convicted. When he was, she said she was too stunned to cry.

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(Read the rest after the jump)

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, Gangs, writers and writing | 22 Comments »

LAPD Tries to Talk Sense To City Council (With Little Luck)

October 28th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

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The City Council’s Public Safety Committee,
which can be head-bangingly irritating even on a good day—did not have a good day yesterday when it, once-again, discussed the wearying issue of Jamiel’s Law and Special Order 40.

A string of LAPD types—including former LAPD Chief Daryl F. Gates—-showed up at City Hall to try to explain to the Council that, when it came to catching criminals—undocumented and otherwise—the city was much better off keeping Special Order 40 in place, rather than passing some damn fool statute like Jamiel’s Law. (Except that, to my knowledge, they didn’t say “damn fool.” But that’s clearly what they meant.)

(It should be remembered that Gates, generally considered to the be the most rank-and-file beloved of all the former chiefs, helped craft the 30-year-old order.)

Here’s some of what various cops said as reported by the LA Times:

Built into [the] special order is a part that, if somebody violates the law and the officer brings them in, the first thing they’re supposed to do is notify immigration if they believe they’re undocumented,” Gates said. “That’s in Special Order 40. But somewhere it was lost. Never, ever, ever was Special Order 40 designed, written to keep law enforcement from enforcing the law against a criminal.”

[SNIP]

Police Commissioner Andrea Ordin was the first of several LAPD officials to address the council’s Public Safety Committee, all of whom tried to persuade its members not to amend Special Order 40.

“We urge this board to again recognize that the current policy of the Los Angeles Police Department is the right one,” she said.

Deputy Chief Sergio Diaz concurred with Ordin, saying the current rules give residents in immigrant communities confidence that they can cooperate with police on cases without fear of being asked about their immigration status. A change to the policy would in effect “be empowering criminals . . . essentially putting criminals out of our reach.”

Diaz emphasized that contrary to claims made by opponents, LAPD officers do cooperate with federal immigration agents. “There is nothing in the current order that should be seen as limiting” the department.

LAPD Deputy Chief Sandy Jo MacArthur told the committee that the LAPD had already embarked on a department-wide training program to clear up misconceptions about Special Order 40. The training, she said, would be conducted every 12 to 18 months.

So did the good Council members listen to the actual law enforcement professionals who have to deal daily with the various orders and laws—proposed or already in place?

Judging by the reports, the Council chambers remained a logic-free zone—at least on the subject of Special Order 40.

By the way, both the LA Times and the Daily News reported on yesterday’s Council melee—which evidently featured lots of shouting demonstrators and advocates for both sides (including the family members of murdered high school football star Jamiel Shaw who, in their bereavement, seemed to have abandoned any pretext of common sense in this matter).

In the reporting sweepstakes, while the Times’ Andrew Blankstein and David Zahniser wrote an informative and readable piece on the meeting, Brandon Lowrey of the Daily News made no discernable effort to sort anything out, but merely tossed observations and quotes at the unsuspecting reader in a most unhelpful fashion. (If he was in my reporting class, I’d give him a C for crummy organization.)

FYI: There is to be at least one more meeting before the Council votes on the issue.

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PS: A belated Chapeau Tip to commenter WBC who alerted me to the meeting and made some some smart comments on all of the above in an earlier thread.

Posted in City Government, immigration, LAPD, law enforcement | 1 Comment »

My Name is Richard. And I’m Homeless. Part X: LOS ANGELES

October 27th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

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I have more news about Richard LoCicero specifically—-
and about the state of homelessness in Los Angeles County in general.

Both reports are unsettling.

First let’s talk about Richard.

If you’ll remember when we checked in with him last week, Richard was back in the hospital for congestive heart failure, a condition that is much of the reason this well-educated, former-college teacher has been homeless for the past year or so.

A summary of the events that got him there is as follows: At age 61, Richard needs an ongoing oxygen supply to control his worsening CHF.

But, although getting a tank courtesy of SSI is not a problem, finding a safe place where he and the tank could live, was not an easy matter. Except for the time every month when he would use part of his SSI check to spend a few days in a Motel 6, Richard was on the street. Since a tank was way too heavy to lug around, he tried to make do without it. Thus his blood became less and less oxygenated, which in turn exacerbated his condition.

Then two Fridays ago, on October 17, something happened to push his health over the edge: Richard got robbed after he had fallen asleep on a bus bench in Anaheim. A guy came up and grabbed his backpack containing his money and more importantly, his medications—and just ran off. The combination of his already low oxygen levels and his now absent medication caused Richard to land in the hospital by the weekend. There he was immediately put on back on oxygen and treated for a multiplicity of other ailments.

(For those of you new to this story, the background on our homeless friend, Richard, may be found here.)

Richard remains in Coastal Community Hospital in Santa Ana, but his condition has worsened. For the past few days he has been in ICU, but as of last night at about 6 p.m., he was transferred to a unit that provides more care than a regular room, but not as intensive as ICU.

I spoke to his nurse last night, a very nice woman from Yorkshire, England, named Deborah (or is it Debra?). She was worried about his prognosis, she said.

As it stands now, the strain on his heart has been considerable due to the congestive heart failure, which is the worst of his underlying conditions. He still has the cellulites on the back of both of his ankles, which is causing him considerable discomfort. And he is diabetic, which does not help.

“And when he was living out of the street, he went without oxygen so often, for so long,” Deborah said. “It’s difficult to know what got damaged.

On the upside—if there is an upside—Nurse Deborah said she found Richard fascinating to talk with, and assured me that his intellect is still up and running. (I’ve talked to Richard several times, but holding the phone is hard for him, so the conversations have been brief.)

Last week, when Richard sounded better, I spoke at length with Anat Rubin, the former hot shot reporter for the Daily News, who got so fed up with the collapsing news business, that she went to work for L.A.M.P Community, as their director of public policy. (LAMP is well known Skid Row provider for the homeless)

Anat said that LAMP was going to try to send someone to see Richard on Friday or today. The idea was to bring him up to Los Angeles, and get him into one of L.A.M.P’s Skid Row facilities, in particular one that had some degree of onsite medical services.

Nurse Deborah said that she was not altogether sure if Richard could recover to the degree that he could be in a shelter. “But maybe. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

In the meantime, according to Sunday’s Daily News, a version of Richard’s situation (albeit without his plummeting physical problems) is being duplicated all over Los Angeles County as the economic meltdown combined with the mortgage crisis has produced a new stream of homeless who are highly educated and formerly middle-class.

Here are some clips from the Daily News report:

In Los Angeles County – the nation’s homeless capital - advocates say they are seeing real-estate agents, lawyers, business owners, pre-med students and other highly educated people losing their jobs and becoming homeless.

The Burbank Temporary Aid Center has experienced a 66 percent increase in requests for assistance in the last 18months, Executive Director Barbara Howell said. About half of those seeking help are middle-class people experiencing homelessness for the first time.

[SNIP]

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Homelessness, Street Stories | 8 Comments »

Esha Momeni, CSUN Graduate Student Held in Iranian Prison

October 24th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

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On Wednesday, October 15—just over a week ago—Esha Momeni
was driving along the Moddaress highway in Teheran when she was pulled over by men who said they were undercover traffic police. The officers told her she had overtaken and passed another car, which was illegal, they said.

Esha is a 28-year-old graduate student at CSUN. She and her parents are Iranian Americans living in California, but Esha holds dual citizenship. Esha is getting her master’s degree in communication and had been in Iran for two months to finish her thesis on the Iranian women’s movement. She had been spending the day interviewing a group called the One Million Signatures Campaign, when the so-called traffic stop occurred.

The “officers” took her to her family’s home where they seized her laptop and the videos of interviews she’d conducted with women activists. Ominously, they already had a search warrant with them. In other words, the stop was anything but the spontaneous occurrence it had first appeared to be.

Then Esha was taken to Iran’s notorious Section 209 of Evin Prison where she has been held since, without being allowed access to friends or family.

This area of the Iranian prison system has an unusually menacing reputation. For instance, it is here where supposedly seditious writers and dissidents are usually taken. Some come out. Some do not. It was in Section 209 that Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi died in Iranian custody on July 11, 2003, after showing signs of being brutally raped and tortured.

Esha’s friends and schoolmates wanted to spread the word of her imprisonment right away. But Iranian authorities told her family that, as long as they didn’t go to the press, Esha would be released in a few days. Now a week as come and gone without her parents being allowed to see her, said Anayansi Prado, a filmmaker and friend told CSUN’s school newspaper, The Daily Sundial

So friends and such organizations as Amnesty International have begun speaking out.

Esha’s boyfriend, Hassan Hussein, has put up a website about Esha and her situation that he updates with any news plus statements from friends and professors.

The LA Times has a story in today’s paper, which tells a little about Esha’s background.

Here are some clips:

Momeni was born in California while her father was a civil engineering student at Cal State Los Angeles. Her family moved back to Iran when she was a child, Northridge officials said. A painter and musician, she earned an undergraduate degree in graphic design at Azad University of Tehran in 2002 and came to the Northridge campus two years ago.

Dave Blumenkrantz, a Northridge journalism professor who also serves on Momeni’s thesis committee, recalled that he and other faculty members had asked her to consider dropping her trip to Iran in light of possible dangers even though her project is more related to art and photography involving women than to anything overtly political.

“Concerns were raised,” Blumenkrantz said. “She said, ‘Thanks for the advice, but this is something I really want to do.’ She was not talking about it in a militant way, but her mind was made up.

“She’s just brilliant and very talented,” he said. “She is an original thinker.”

Esha’s friend and mentor, filmmaker, Anayansi Prado, said that the last time she talked to Esha, she believed her phone was being tapped.

According to Prado, Esha has not been charged with anything, but friends and family are extremely worried.

“I am very surprised by her arrest,” said her professor, David Blumenkratz. “I am certain she was doing nothing wrong. I’m sure all my colleagues in the world would be surprised to hear that a young communication and Art student has been arrested for no apparent reason.

CSUN Campus President Jolene Koester said that the university is contacting U.S. officials for help in Esha’s case.

Posted in international issues, women's issues | 21 Comments »

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