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DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY

November 20th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

street-shrine.jpg

It is beyond heartbreaking that the LA Times,
in its ever-diminishing wisdom, has decided to put the publication of the Homicide Report “on hiatus.” As most of you know, The Homicide report is the LA Times blog that was started by Jill Leovy nearly two years ago because she felt that someone needed to take note of every single homicide in Los Angeles. She nominated herself as that someone. Her editors, to their great credit, went along with Jill’s idea.

The Homicide Report quickly became one of the Times’ most read online features. More than any other continuing section in the paper it humanized the city through— of all things—the lens of its violent deaths. For families of those murdered, the Homicide Report was a validation, a guarantee that a loved one didn’t die unnoticed.

Almost from the beginning, comments began to appear under each one of her stories about the dead. The comments came from the victims’ family, from friends, from neighbors. Those commenting told stories, offered condolences, shared grief. Through Jill’s efforts, where there had been no public notice at all, suddenly there was community.

For these reasons, the report became of enormous value and comfort to many of the Los Angeles neighborhoods that are often, shall we say, less than well-served by Los Angeles media in general, and by the LA Times in particular.

The Times pulled Jill off the Homicide Report once the site’s first year was finished, but other good reporters, like Richard Winton, filled in.

Then with all the election fever, the Homicide Report fell to 17th among LA Times most read blogs. But rather than wait to see if its popularity came back up again after the election madness settled down, the Times unplugged it.

It was a sad and shameful decision.

But, hey, we get it. We really do. When the LA Times powers-that-be assessed the Homicide Report purely on a short-term cost/benefit basis—-they concluded that local death just wasn’t delivering the right bang for the buck.

Posted in journalism, Los Angeles Times, media | 6 Comments »

Murder, Poetry and the Life and Death of Abel Garcia

November 19th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

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Four days. Eleven homicides in LA County.
No one seems sure why the sudden spike in murders has occurred. Maybe it is simply that Joan Didion was right: the devil winds bring out deadly urges in Californians. Or maybe there is no reason at all.

As it happens, I know a little about one of the deaths. I know that on Saturday night, just before midnight, a tall, lanky, 19-year old by the name of Abel Garcia was standing outside his friend’s garage on St. Louis Street in Boyle Heights. The friend, George Ramirez, 20, was standing with him. One of the boys was about to open the garage door, evidently having arrived back from somewhere or other.

Perhaps Abel and his friend had just been to see Abel’s girlfriend, Janae. Or perhaps he and the George were out carousing. But before the two could pull the garage door open and disappear inside, a black car cruised down New Jersey. A gun barrel glinted dully in a car window. Shots were fired. Abel was hit in the chest.

Seconds later, according to an LAPD spokesperson, an officer named Karen Smith, there was another car, a white one, and another gun. More shots. The friend, a 19-year-old, was hit in the head. He died on the pavement. An ambulance took Abel to the hospital.

The police believe the shooting was gang-related. . Someone told me it was a case of mistaken identity. But then again, maybe not. Abel was not a gang member. But he was a tagger, or had been anyway. There were times he had written on walls for the thrill of it. I know that much. There is a lot I don’t know.

I mostly know that Abel died.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Gangs, writers and writing | 3 Comments »

Sick Day….Back Soon

November 17th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

Feeling very fluish and down for the count. Back with stories later Tuesday.

Posted in Life in general | 9 Comments »

SUNDAY/MONDAY MUST READS – UPDATED

November 17th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

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I’m holed up at an intriguing conference on health care reform….(more on that later), so I’ll make this fairly quick:

Here are THREE Must Reads and ONE Must Watch:

1. THAT SIXTY MINUTES INTERVIEW

Last night when I had dinner with a hoard of very smart health care reform policy wonksters, one of the first-broached topics of conversation around the various tables was the Obama 60 Minutes interview, the universal opinion being that it was an gargantuan relief to have someone elected to high office in the U.S. who displayed a strong preference for, as one person put it, “evidence-based” ideas.

Here’s a link (to the Swamp’s link) to the interview.

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2. PROP 8 & COLORADO’S EQUAL PROTECTION CHALLENGE

A lot of people believe that the key to the gay marriage issue is eventually going to be found in the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In this morning’s LA Times UC Hastings law professor Brian Gray explains that there is already a successful precedent for such a challenge when, twelve years ago, the US Supremes struck down a law in Colorado based on equal protection when the Colorado voters attempted to restrict gay rights.

In that decision (Romer v. Evans ) Justice Kennedy wrote: “If the constitutional conception of ‘equal protection of the laws’ means anything, it must at the very least mean that a bare … desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot constitute a legitimate governmental interest.”

Hastings makes sure to say that such a case would be no slam dunk as Prop. 8 is not the same as Colorado’s Prop 2. Yet, he says, there is an essential similarity….

Anyway, read it.

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3. MO DO ON THE HILLARY-FOR-STATE ISSUE

On Sunday, Maureen Dowd had a pretty savvy take on the question of whether asking Hillary Clinton to be Secretary of State is really good idea or a really bad idea.

Good or bad, the key in contemplating the Hillary question is to look past the immediate move and see the whole chess board. Dowd does just that.

Here’s a clip:

On the down side, Hillary would be taking over a big and demoralized government bureaucracy, after proving with her campaign that she does not know how to run a big and demoralized group of people.

On the up side, she would never have to exaggerate her foreign policy résumé again; this time, she really would be brokering peace and flying into places where they’d try to fire at her.

And if she worked hard enough — and she would — she could restore clarity to Foggy Bottom, the striped-pants center of diplomacy so maligned and misused by W. and Dick Cheney on their Sherman’s march to war in Iraq and in their overwrought bid to become the only hyperpower.

If Barry chooses Hillary as secretary of state, a woman who clearly intimidated him and taught him to be a better pol in the primaries, it doesn’t signal the return of the Clinton era. It says the opposite: If you have a president who’s willing to open up his universe to other smart, strong people, if you have a big dog who shares his food dish, the Bill Clinton era is truly over.

Appointing a Clinton in the cabinet would be so un-Clintonian.

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4. SAVE/DON’T SAVE: WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE $&%$#@*& AUTO INDUSTRY UPDATE BELOW

This morning’s NY Times has an interesting article speculating about how if GM and/or Ford and Chrysler are allowed to go belly-up, that while it will be “painful,” for a while, it won’t be the catastrophe that some predict because, in time, the foreign car makers will step in to fill the breach and a “new equilibrium” will eventually result, jobs will be rescued, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Okay, well, maybe. And then again maybe not.

So, before we encourage our elected representatives to go all Lehman Bros. on the American auto industry, I strongly recommend reading Friday’s article by The New Republic’s senior editor, Jonathan Cohn, about why we likely need to rescue the automakers (but with some new and strict rules imposed as part of the bailout).

Here’s the story’s opening:

General Motors has come to Washington, begging for a $25 billion bailout to keep it and its ailing Detroit counterparts going next year. But nobody seems too thrilled about the prospect. Liberals dwell on the companies’ gas-guzzling sport-utility vehicles. Conservatives obsess over all the well-paid union members with gold-plated benefits. And people of all ideological backgrounds remember how they used to buy domestic cars, years ago, but stopped because the cars were so damn lousy. “The downfall of the American auto industry is indeed a tragedy,” the Washington Post editorial board sermonized recently, “but the automakers and the United Auto Workers have only themselves to blame for much of it.” And, if they have only themselves to blame, the argument goes, why do they deserve taxpayer help? Let them fail and file for bankruptcy. In the long run, the economy will be stronger and the workers better off. It’d be worth?the short-term pain, which might not even be so severe.

In normal times, with another company, that might be correct. But these are not normal times….

No kidding. Read the rest.

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UPDATE: This morning’s WaPo has an OpEd by economist Jeffrey Sachs that complements what Jonathan Cohn says above. Read it! Here’s the opening:

A government-supported restructuring of the auto industry is urgently needed for our economic and energy security. If the Bush administration allows the auto industry to collapse, it will compound the panic that started with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers. Washington should seize the opportunity to begin a new era of U.S. technological leadership in the global auto industry, starting with an immediate loan.

Posted in health care, journalism, Obama | 57 Comments »

FIRE WEATHER: November 15

November 15th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

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9:30 a.m.

Here we go again.

In addition to Montecito, there’s now what is being called the Sayre Fire in Sylmar
that has forced 10,000 evacuations. (LAFD map here.)


LAFD’s Brian Humphries is Twittering about the Sayre fire as are many others, using the hashtag #LAFIRE
…. Go here to follow the realtime updates.

Spot fires throughout Granada Hills and Porter Ranch, one month after the same area was flame-threatened by the Sesnon Fire.

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The Olive View Medical Center evacuated some critical patients by flashlight, says the City News Service. Evidently backup power failed before the sun rose this morning. Two hundred patients stayed in the hospital, and hand-powered respirator units were used to keep some babies and sick people breathing.

The Golden State Freeway (5) is closed at the Newhall Pass , as is the 405 northbound at the 118.

9:36 a.m.: The shelter at Sylmar High School is FULL and cannot take any more evacuees

9:41 a.m: The tanker planes fighting the Sayre Fire have been grounded since 9 this morning, due to the 70 mph wind conditions. This is not good.

C-SUN has cancelled all Saturday class.

9:51: Approximately 600-800 mobile homes in Oakridge mobile home park, destroyed

10:02: Rolling blackouts reported in some areas of Sherman Oaks and Crenshaw.

10:40: LA DWP announces rolling blackouts 4 LACity effect now.

12:22: Rolling blackouts over.

12:23: Oakridge mobil home park declared a crime scene.

12:26: New fire in Corona, and also Rancho Palos Verdes, although the latter appears to be somewhat under control. Corona, however, now has the DC 10 dumping fire retardant.

No, as it turns out, make that seven tankers.

12:34: The Farmers Group has already parked a mobile claims center bus in front of Sylmar
High School, in on Borden Street in Sylmar,
to answer customers’ questions.

1:12: Mayor AV says the Sylmar fire is now 10 percent contained and has burned about 6,500 acres, 500 homes (including the trailor park) That’s very, very bad, but not as bad as the original numbers.

1:15: Arson suspect with Sylmar….and we’re shocked (NOT)

The reason we canyon people all become jumpy during these fires, is not necessarily because we are directly threatened, but because this wind it brings out the crazies, so where there is one fire, soon there are two, and then four, and then…..

(For us in Topanga, thankfully it ain’t anywhere close, just near enough to make the air smell like a campground on 4th of July, but without the toasted marshmallows),

1:21: Zev Yaroslavsky says the Sylmar fire is the worst since the 1961 Bel-Air brush fire.

1:24: All six lanes of traffic on the westbound Riverside (91) freeway have come to acomplete halt due to the Corona brush fire west of the 241 interchange.

2:17: 3100 Residents of Anaheim Hills Asked 2 Evacuate Immediately. Cascade apartments in anaheim hills, with as many as 250 units, engulfed in flames.

3:11 – off to a meeting. Excellent updates here and here.

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photo by J. Emilio Flores for The New York Times

Posted in Fire | 27 Comments »

Hillary for Sec. of State?

November 14th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

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Okay, looking at yesterday afternoon’s auguries,
the betting people among us are laying out bank that says Hill is going to be asked to be Secretary of State. (Why the hell else would she be flying to Chicago after all this mad leaking?)

Josh Marshall at TPM, doesn’t know why she’d want it since, at best, State tends to be a revolving door, and the Senate can be por vida, if you play it right, and Hil would play it just right.

And yet….and yet….

The truth is, Hillary is a better idea than most of the rest of he field. John Kerry, while he has the awesome capacity to bore people into submission, which could be handy, just doesn’t seem to be the right guy for State.

Bill Richardson? Nah. Chris Dodd* would be okay, I guess, but the chemistry seems wrong.

Republican Chuck Hagel? Not bad. Better than those above, actually.

Al Gore? Brilliant idea. An incandescent idea! Regrettably, he’s not on the list as far as anyone knows, although Richard Cohen over at the WaPo was saying that Al would be a totally swell State dude.

(On the other hand, Cohen also thinks that Larry Summers is just the guy for Treasury, so WTF does he know? )

Nope. The more one thinks about it, it’s got to be Hillary. Is she a bit hawkish? Uh…yeah. And that’s kind of a problem. (Okay, a big problem.) But, hey, we can deal with it.

Hil for Ms. Foggybottom.

It’s weirdly right.

* Late, late, late Thursday night when I wrote this post, I meant to type “Chris Dodd” but for reasons that I can best attribute to a chonic lack of sleep, I wrote “Sam Nunn.” (sigh.) Oh, well.

Posted in National politics, Obama | 19 Comments »

50 Newspaper Editors Screwing (in a Lightbulb)

November 14th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

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Yesterday, the American Press Institute hosted a “summit” at which 50 of the nation’s top newspaper executives
essentially locked themselves in a room for a day in order to hash out the future of newspapers.

Naturally, no reporters—or OMG!—bloggers, were allowed to be present at the event.

But, of course, a report detailing the fruits of all this summitting will be issued later, promised API. (Ah, yes, love those fabulously productive reports.)

So while we, the lowly unwashed, wait to get news from the metaphorical mountain top, Mark Potts at Recovering Journalist, asks the age old question:

“How many newspaper CEOs does it take to screw in a lightbulb….?

……or to change the business?

Some of his possible answers:

* 50–One to hold the lightbulb and the other 49 to turn the socket.

* 50–But not this 50.

* 50–One to hold the lightbulb and 49 to bitch that readers and advertisers just don’t understand why fire was a better source of light.

* 50–One to take notes (on paper, of course), and 49 to rearrange the deck chairs.

* 100–OK, who invited the circulation guy who inflates the numbers?

* 50–Five who might actually understand what’s going on and 45 to rush the bar the second the meeting is over.

* 44–The other six lost their jobs in the week before the meeting.

* 50–10 who are looking for jobs on craigslist and 40 who still aren’t sure what craigslist is.

*50–10 who think blogs are evil, 10 who haven’t figured out how to turn on their Blackberries, 10 who didn’t show up because their assistant forgot to print out the e-mail containing the invitation, 10 who still think the API is a relevant organization and 10 who think the Internets are a series of tubes.

* None–Why do we need change? Did you see how many copies of the Obama paper we sold?

PS: There is one brave live soul named Chuck Peters (the CEO of The Gazette Company in Cedar Rapids, Iowa) who is live blogging the event. It’s worth scrolling through to watch as he tries to get other participants to join the liveblog via Twitter. Most appear to be recoiling at the thought.

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(Pre-scribbling illustration above, by Farmtoons.)

Posted in media, writers and writing | 1 Comment »

MAD MAX….and the Big Sky Health Care Plan

November 13th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

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Yesterday a brave and no-doubt socialist radical
Democratic senator introduced an 87-page health care reform plan that borrows elements from both Hillary Clinton’s proposed plan and the the strategy contained in Barack Obama’s health care kit bag.

Many found it both startling and heartening that someone had either the guts or the foolishness to put forth such a plan even before Obama arrives in office—especially when conventional wisdom would suggest that we cannot afford to tear our eyes away for even a moment from the worsening economic crisis (a situation that, thus far, Hank Paulson seems to to approach solely by asking himself with near religous fervor: WWSD? What Would Santa Do?)

And who is this madcap, crazy radical who wants the entire U.S. citizenry to have health care? Montana’s senior senator Max Baucus.

Seriously…..MAX BAUCUS!

Now, remember, usually Baucus is a resolute centrist who, on certain issues could even lean slightly right of center. Baucus is also the chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee—i.e. precisely the committee that would need to play ball if health care reform of any kind were to make it out of, well, committee.

In fact Baucus is so crucial to health care reform that the CJR—Columbia Journalism Review—has taken to doing an occasional column they call “Baucus Watch,” that tracks any and all things that Mad Max (And I mean that in a really, really good way) has to say about health and health care.

(By the way, Ted Kennedy is said to be readying a health care plan too that will be introduced later this month.)

Here’s what Reuters had to say about Baucus and his plan:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in health care, Obama, Public Health | 5 Comments »

BAILOUT OVERSIGHT – The Marx (Brothers) Version

November 13th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


Oversight? We don’t need no stinking oversight!

Today’s Washington Post reports.

(Arrrrggggghhhhhhh. Just read it. )

(And then think of Henry Paulson throwing the moral equivalent of bales of money from a pick-up truck…. And then think about billions and billions of dollars worth of executive bonuses…..and then….Oh, never mind. You know what’s going on. We all know.)

By the way, if you haven’t yet read last month’s letter from United Steelworkers President, Leo Gerard, to Paulson, now would be a good time. (You might want to get yourself a stiff drink first.)

Posted in Bailout, Economy | 3 Comments »

THURSDAY MUST READS

November 13th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

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FOUR IMPORTANT READS from the LA Times:

1. FINALLY SOMEBODY HAD THE GUTS TO SAY IT: DAVID BREWER NEEDS TO GO

Everybody’s known this for what now seems like ever. But no one would say so publically: LAUSD Superintendant David Brewer is way, way over his head, and has been from the get-go. Now he needs to step down. Here’s the opening of LA Times editorial calling it for what it is.


The Los Angeles Unified School District is not without accomplishment.
It has recently seen student test scores improve, and it is on track with a vast, long-term effort to build enough schools for all of its students. But along with much of California, the district is heading into troubled times — largely financial — that threaten its classrooms and students, and that will test its management and educational skills. This is a treacherous moment for a school district that has long operated on the edge of failure, and it demands unimpeachable leadership. In such a moment, the district cannot afford a superintendent who holds the title but isn’t up to the job.

2. PROP 8 STRATEGIES—-BEFORE AND AFTER

The LA Times’ Jessica Garrison writes a smart, thoughtful news story about the evolving nature of the strategies used by the Prop. 8 opponents—then and now. Here’s how it starts:

Leaders of the campaign against Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California, raised nearly $40 million and ran a careful, disciplined campaign with messages tested by focus groups and with only a few people authorized to speak to the media.

They lost.

In the week since, California has seen an outpouring of demonstrations ranging from quiet vigils to noisy street protests against Proposition 8, including rallies outside churches and the Mormon temple in Westwood as well as boycotts of some businesses that contributed to the Yes on 8 campaign.

Many of those activities have been organized not by political professionals and established leaders in the gay community, but by young activists working independently on Facebook and MySpace.

The grass-roots activism is a tribute to political organizing in the digital age, in which it is possible to mobilize thousands of people with a few clicks of a mouse. It has generated national attention — and set up a series of Saturday demonstrations that organizers hope will attract tens of thousands of people to city halls throughout California.

But the demonstrations also have raised questions about whether the in-your-face approach will alienate voters
….

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Education, LAUSD, LGBT, Propositions, State government | 5 Comments »

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