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Jerry Brown Sues Badly Behaving Banks for $1.5

April 23rd, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


Okay here’s the full story I mentioned earlier in brief.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown announced this morning that he had filed suit against three Wells Fargo affiliates to recover $1.5 billion for California investors who purchased auction-rate securities based on “false and deceptive” advice that these financial instruments were “as safe and liquid as cash.”

Here’s the deal according to Jerry’s press release:

“Wells Fargo’s affiliates promised investors auction-rate securities were as safe and liquid as cash, when in fact they were not, and now investors are unable to get their money when they need it,” Attorney General Brown said. “This lawsuit seeks to recover $1.5 billion for Californians and holds these companies accountable for giving investors false and deceptive advice.”

Auction-rate securities are investments with long-term maturity dates (e.g., bonds) that Wells Fargo and other banks marketed as short-term investments equivalent to cash. These investments paid a slightly better rate of return than a bank account. And, investors could sell the securities at regular weekly or monthly auctions which provided the promise of liquidity.

In February 2008, these auctions froze up nationwide, and investors were no longer able to redeem their securities for cash, as promised. This left approximately 2,400 Californians who had invested with Wells Fargo without access to more than $1.5 billion. Almost 40% of Wells Fargo’s auction-rate securities were held by Californians, far more than any other state nationwide.
In total, 5,687 investors purchased $2.9 billion worth of auction-rate securities from these companies nationwide.

By August 2008, major financial institutions including UBS, Citigroup, Wachovia, and Merrill Lynch met their obligations to investors and restored the cash value of these securities. The three Wells Fargo affiliates, however, have refused to do so.

Posted in Economy, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry) | 4 Comments »

Maybe “National Crack the Crack Day” Instead?

April 23rd, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


Okay, yes, yesterday was Earth Day.

But I’m sure you’ll be happy to know, that today is a National Call-In Day that is a big part of Crack the Disparity National Month of Advocacy—- a month-long coordinated push to eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.

Unfortunately for the organizers
—and those of us who believe this to be an important issue—”Crack the Disparity National Month of Advocacy” (CTDNMA???), just does not have the snappy ring of say….. well…Earth Day.


Take Our Sons and Daughters to Work Day,
which also occurs today.


International Talk Like a Pirate Day (Okay, that has its own problems this year, I grant you—and it’s not until September anyway).

In any case, here are the instructions should you want to participate:

To participate call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard right now at 202.224.3121, and ask to speak to your representatives in the Senate and House. Urge them to support and co-sponsor H.R. 265, the Drug Sentencing Reform and Cocaine Kingpin Trafficking Act in the House and legislation in the Senate that eliminates the 100 to 1 disparity between crack and powder cocaine.

(I’m guessing that, if you call, given recent events, it’s probably best not to talk like a pirate…but if you call today, in addition to the above-mentioned days, it is National Talk Like Shakespeare Day, which opens a host of possibilities.

And then Friday, it turns out, is National Hairball Day so if you call tomorrow you could…..

….oh, never mind. Just call.)

Posted in War on Drugs | 3 Comments »

Lies About Torture: Abu Zubaydah’s Interrogator Breaks Silence

April 23rd, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


Ali Soufan was an FBI supervisory special agent from 1997 to 2005
and, together with another FBI agent, the primary interrogator of high ranking Al Quaeda terrorist, Abu Zubaydah, from March to June 2002—before the so-called enhanced techniques were used on Abu Zubaydah in August of that same year.

For seven years, he says, he has been silent about what he knows about the Bush Administration’s torture policies, except in closed Congressional hearings. But with the release of the torture memos Soufan is speaking out.

His Op Ed about “the false claims magnifying the effectiveness of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques..” is in morning’s New York Times. Reading it is a necessity.

Here are some clips:

One of the most striking parts of the memos is the false premises on which they are based. The first, dated August 2002, grants authorization to use harsh interrogation techniques on a high-ranking terrorist, Abu Zubaydah, on the grounds that previous methods hadn’t been working. The next three memos cite the successes of those methods as a justification for their continued use.

It is inaccurate, however, to say that Abu Zubaydah had been uncooperative. Along with another F.B.I. agent, and with several C.I.A. officers present, I questioned him from March to June 2002, before the harsh techniques were introduced later in August. Under traditional interrogation methods, he provided us with important actionable intelligence.

We discovered, for example, that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Abu Zubaydah also told us about Jose Padilla, the so-called dirty bomber. This experience fit what I had found throughout my counterterrorism career: traditional interrogation techniques are successful in identifying operatives, uncovering plots and saving lives.

There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics…

Interestingly, Soufan says that his CIA colleagues
who actually did the torturing, were not in favor of it:

Almost all the agency officials I worked with on these issues were good people who felt as I did about the use of enhanced techniques: it is un-American, ineffective and harmful to our national security.

By the way, Soufin is uniquely equipped to know the importance of interrogation:
He was the Arab-speaking FBI agent who journalist Lawrence Wright feels might have stopped the 9/11 plot from occurring if turf wars with the CIA had not gotten in the way.

Also, be sure to read the column in Foreign Policy by Philip Zelikow, the executive director for the 9/11 Commission and a former aide to Condoleezza Rice.

Posted in Civil Liberties | 1 Comment »

Social Justice Shorts

April 23rd, 2009 by Celeste Fremon



Attorney General Edmund G. Brown, Jr. will hold a news conference Thursday morning to announce that he is suing one of the nation’s largest banks for defrauding thousands of California investors out of more than $1 billion.

“Investors put large sums of money into risky financial instruments, depending upon false and deceptive advice that these investments were as safe and liquid as cash.”

(Go Jerry!)

More on this shortly.



At Wednesday’s meeting, the LA City Council screeched to a halt when asked to vote to name the new LAPD building after Bill Parker writes the LA Times’ Joel Rubin.

Yeah. I bet.

Even Bernie Parks, who has been pushing the issue, is back pedaling.

The Police Commission assuredly isn’t into it, Rubin reported yesterday.

Jasmyne Cannick has been all over the controversy for days…here and here and here and here.

(Caution: Cannick’s site plays music, whether you want it to or not. So mute your sound if you don’t want music to give away the fact that you’re blog surfing, rather than….whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing instead.)


Like most sane people, the LA Times editorial board thinks that strip-searching a 13-year-old in order to possibly find some hidden pain medication is ill advised and whacked, and hopes that the Supremes won’t succumb to anti-drug hysteria and thus be deflected from fashioning a sensible ruling and legally sound ruling.



The finalists for the third annual Mirror Awards competition was just announced, and the short lists are fun to check out. The Mirror awards sponsored by Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, “honors the reporters, editors and teams of writers who hold a mirror to their own industry for the public’s benefit.”

There are some terrific selections here—things like Eric Alterman writing in the New Yorker about the life and death of the American newspaper, and Rachel Sklar writing for the Huffington Post about the problems with the important but significantly flawed New York Times article exposing the Pentagon’s secret campaign to influence TV “analysts, (which just won the investigative Pulitzer, by the way).

For sheer delight of prose I prefer the not one but two Mark Bowden article’s nominated, both written for the Atlantic, one a profile of the very obsessed Rupert Murdoch, the other a wonderful profile of the Wire’s David Simon’s titled “The Angriest Man in Television.

Here’s how it opens:

Behold the Hack, the veteran newsman, wise beyond his years, a man who’s seen it all, twice. He’s honest, knowing, cynical, his occasional bitterness leavened with humor. He’s a friend to the little scam, and a scourge of the big one. Experience has acquainted him with suffering and stupidity, venality and vice. His anger is softened by the sure knowledge of his own futility…..

Photo by Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

Posted in Social Justice Shorts | No Comments »

DANGEROUS JAILS – PART 3: Common Sense Wanted

April 22nd, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


Last week I got a call from an inmate
who is presently incarcerated at Men’s Central Jail—the facility that the ACLU, and actually Sheriff Baca, thinks should be closed for good.

(FYI to those of you new to WLA: as part of my odd-ish professional life, I get regular collect calls from people in various California correctional institutions.)

He’s not in for anything big, a parole violation. He will be out in November, and then I think off parole, hopefully for good.

For his protection, I won’t use his real name. Let’s call him Alfonso Trujillo—Al for short.

Two weeks ago, Al called to say he was in the medical section of the jail. I’ve known Al and his younger brother since both were teenagers. Now he is in his early 30′s. He’s a former gang member turned tattoo artist. But he drinks too much and has awful taste in girlfriends. The combination has occasionally gotten him into trouble. It is low-level trouble, but if you’re on parole, that is all the trouble you need to become a guest of the County.

“Why are you in medical?” I asked, only half listening. I had picked up the phone when I was cooking dinner.

“I jammed up my knee,” he said. “They took me to the General”—-meaning Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, also known as “County General.” “The doctors there took X-rays. They said if it doesn’t get better I might need surgery. They don’t know yet. But it doesn’t seem like it’s getting better,” he said. “It seems like it’s getting worse.”

I began to pay more attention. Al is not generally a complainer.

“How did it happen?” I asked

“I jumped off the top bunk and landed wrong.”

Jumped off the bunk? It sounded like some kind of stupid kid trick. I asked Al to explain.

“Well, because of the overcrowding and stuff, in a lot of the cells they’ve got us in triple bunks. I was in the top bunk. I guess I was half asleep when I was getting down, so I kinda slipped.”

How does one normally get down from a the top bunk of a triple bunk bed?
I asked him.

“They’re supposed to have like, little ladders or a step or something, but they don’t,” he said. “So you either have to jump down or you step on the bunks below you. Every time I get out of bed, I go the excuse me route. In other words, I say, excuse me, excuse me, with every step on the way down.”

He paused to make sure I had noticed his witticism.

“But this time, when I stepped on the guy’s bunk below me, his sheet was loose, so when my foot hit it, I slipped, and jammed up my knee.”

At that point the phone line turned static-ridden and then went dead.

(Global Tel Link has the contract with the LA County to provide the jail’s phones. And although the business is astoundingly lucrative, because GTL charges such a premium for the collect calls coming out of the various jail facilities, they seem to have put very little of that money into actually making those phones work—so one is repeatedly cut off.)

Al managed to get through to me a week later,
the day after the ACLU held their press conference demanding that Men’s Central be shuttered. “Hey, CJ is all over the news. We saw it here!” Al said. (CJ the inmates’ nickname for the jail)

“How’s your knee,” I asked.

I keep trying to sit in some way that it won’t hurt, he said. “But at least they took me off of the top bunk,
and gave me a bottom bunk.”

“Wait a minute. You’ve got an injured knee and they put you in a top bunk?”

Does no one at that place
have any freaking sense at all? (I think this last part but do not say it.)

“Yeah, well, I’ve been asking ‘em for a week to get me off the top,
because there’s no real way for me to get down, you know, without putting pressure on my knee. I guess because of all the stuff on the news, they finally did it. Now I just have to wait to go back to the General Hospital to see if I’m going to have to have surgery.”

Al had always been a lithe, athletic guy and the idea of any kind of physical impairment was worry-producing.

“I think it’d help if they’d just give me a leg brace. The doctor at the General gave me a brace and told me I should wear it. But they took it away from me here because they said it had metal in it. (The jail staff is quite rightly suspicious of anything with metal as it is all too easily turned into a shank.) “I understand that, but they said they’d give me another one right away….and that was a week ago.”

I spoke about Al’s situation with Mary Tiedeman, jail monitor for the ACLU of Southern California.

She sighed when she heard the story.

“There’s not a lot of communication between the medical staff and the custody staff,” she said. “They speak but they don’t hear. Medical staff doesn’t assign the beds, the custody staff does.” And often the custody staff simply isn’t paying attention.

But how hard can it be to give the bottom bunk to the guy with the bum knee and pronounced limp?

The ACLU has a lawsuit filed about that very issue, Mary Tiedeman told me, referring to Johnson v. the LA County Sheriff’s Department, which charges that LA’s jails engage in “pervasive and systemic discrimination” against those with disabilities.

In Al’s case, of course, the disability is temporary.
The injury is not a serious one.

The danger is that lack of appropriate care and treatment could turn a minor injury into a chronic and painful problem.


PS: I just heard that an attorney from the Disability Rights Legal Center went to see “Al” a few hours after Mary Tiedeman and I talked. I’ll let you know when I find out what comes of it.

More jail and a prison story next week after I double check a few more of the facts.



Adam Liptak has a column describing what SCOTUS asked about the issue of school kids and strip searching.

And the Christian Science Monitor has the rundown on the Court’s decision to nix
(in most instances) warrantless searches of motorist’s cars.

(Photo by J. Emilio Flores for the New York Times)

Posted in American voices, jail, LASD | 3 Comments »

DCFS….Dangerous 2 Kids?

April 21st, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


The LA Times reports today that
records acquired by reporters Garrett Therolf and Kim Christensen, through a California Public Records Act request, showed that fourteen children died of abuse and neglect in Los Angeles County last year despite the fact that each of those kids came from that had supposedly “been under the scrutiny of child welfare officials”

The family of a boy who died of multiple skull fractures had been reported 25 times to the Department of Children and Family Services and the mother had a known history of methamphetamine use. In other families, children died within months or even one day after a social worker’s last visit.


All told, the records show, 32 children in the county died in 2008
from abuse and neglect, including physical assault, drowning and malnourishment. Eighteen of the children were in families that had never been in contact with the family services agency.

But the other 14 families should have been well-known to child welfare officials, based on previous referrals and investigations. For whatever reasons, many of the earlier allegations were not substantiated

In case after case the reports acquired by the Times details horrific suffering
on the part of children who should have been protected.

Agency officials told the reporters that they
“lack adequate resources to handle daunting caseloads.”

(By the way, this is an excuse I’d buy that a little more if I hadn’t spent the last two weeks in a state of fury while I reviewed documents and notes from a 2004 case where DCFS took the time to snatch six kids from decent parents who happened to be former gang members whom the local cops disliked.)

Good for the LA Times for bringing these cases to light.

Now it remains to be seen what the County of Los Angeles going to do with the horrific findings.


PS: AND SPEAKING OF DANGEROUS….More on the dangers of Men’s Central Jail either later today or first thing tomorrow.

Posted in Foster Care | 12 Comments »

Federal Judge Tells FBI to Fork Over Files on Local Muslim Groups

April 21st, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


Monday afternoon, federal judge Cormac J. Carney decided he had completely had enough
with the FBI’s repeated refusal to fork over the details of the surveillance of Muslim leaders and organizations that the Feds have been conducting since shortly after September 11.

The ACLU has been trying to get the files for the past three years
, but they have been stonewalled. So U.S. District Judge Carney stepped in yesterday and ordered the FBI to turn over to him about 100 documents that detail the bureau’s surveillance of So Cal Muslims.

(One million Muslims live in California.)

Judge Carney further told the bureau to conduct an immediate search of all its offices nationwide for documents relating to the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Greater Los Angeles (CAIR) and its executive director.

Instead, the agency has provided redacted versions of reports that have heightened suspicions among the Muslim communities in LA and in Orange County that even the most apparently innocuous events are being monitored.

One would have hoped we were beyond all this J. Edgard Hoover crap. But one would be wrong.

Posted in ACLU, Civil Liberties | 8 Comments »

LA Times 2008 Pulitzer Picks and Other Worthy Winners

April 21st, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


LA Times reporters Bettina Boxall and Julie Cart won a well-deserved Pulitzer
for their excellent series The Big Burn about the cost and growth of California wildfires.

Also nominated as finalist in this category was Adam Liptak of The New York Times for his “lucid exposition of how the cornerstones of the American judicial system differ from those in other democratic nations, awakening readers to the benefits and drawbacks of those differences.”

Boxall and Cart were the right choice for the prize for taking an important
and inside-baseball-ish subject and making it readily understandable to the rest of us.

Yet I’m glad Liptak’s work was also recognized. I link to him often, including for this Pulitzer-nominated series.

Another interesting win was the St. Petersburg Times staff
in the national reporting category. The St. Pete folks won for “PolitiFact,” its don’t-lie-to-us fact-checking initiative during the 2008 presidential campaign that “used probing reporters and the power of the World Wide Web to examine more than 750 political claims, separating rhetoric from truth to enlighten voter.” Great stuff, that they are continuing now.

Here’s the link to the rest of the winners—where you’ll find lots of worthy work to peruse and appreciate—like the divine W. S. Merwin for poetry, and for drama “Ruined,” by Lynn Nottage—for a simply amazing and surprisingly redemptive play about wartime rape and brutality, set in the Congo.

(The photo above is from the Pulitzer-winning collection by the New York Times’ Damon Winter.)

Posted in Los Angeles Times, media, writers and writing | 2 Comments »

Social Justice Shorts

April 20th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon



On Tuesday the US Supreme Court will hear a case of a then Arizona 13-year-old, Savana Redding (she is now 19) who was accused by another middle-schooler of hiding some prescription strength ibuprofen. School officials searched Savana’s backpack and found nothing, so they ordered her into the nurses office and told her to take off her clothes. (They never did find any pills.)

The Supremes will decide if the search violated Savana’s Constitutional rights. Sunday’s LA Times has this. And today’s NY Times editorial has this to say.

In California and six other states, strip-searches of students are not permitted.


We know that Americans’ 401(k)s have gone way down.
Tens of millions have lost 30 to 50 percent of their retirement funds. We assume that the 401(k) drops have simply been a product of the drops in the stock market.

But Sunday’s 60 Minutes suggests that the reality is worse than we knew. According to 60 Minutes, “…rhere has been a raid on the 401Ks by the people of Wall Street.” For one thing, there have been huge fees snatched from the funds that can eat up a full half of the profits.

And there’s more.

Check here for the details.


Word is that Sheriff Baca is about to go ahead
with his plan to forbid off duty sheriff’s from carrying guns if they go out drinking and their blood alcohol level is at .08 or above.

Well, duh.

The deputies union has been fighting this from the get go. But the Sheriff points out that .08 is the state legal limit for driving a car. I’d been hearing about this for quite some time. I’m glad it’s finally coming to a head.

The LA Times has a sensible editorial on the subject. And here’s Richard Winton’s article on the restriction, written when the idea was first floated.


Monday is the 10th anniversary of the Columbine school shootings in which 12 kids and a teacher were killed.

I’m reading Dave Cullen’s Columbine, the just-released harrowing and brilliantly researched book on the subject that suggests that much of what we believed about the Columbine massacre is wrong. Here’s the NPR story on the book and the tragedy.

Posted in Economy, Social Justice Shorts | 5 Comments »

Gay Marriage as a Wedge Issue: Bigotry Hits a Tipping Point

April 19th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Colbert Coalition’s Anti-Gay Marriage Ad
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor NASA Name Contest

“When the gay community is granted personal freedoms, ours get taken away. How? Shhhhh. Did you see all that lightening?”

- Stephen Colbert, April 16, 2009

Frank Rich’s Sunday column, The Bigots’ Last Hurrah, is dead on. The gay marriage haters—while still noisy and able to wield some power here and there (as we saw with Prop 8)—are a waning force. The tipping point has arrived. It may take another decade or more for the laws to catch up with the change in the cultural/historical weather. But the sea change is occurring right now.

Rich opens his column with a description of the preposterous ad
(embedded above), which is the anti-gay marriage fanatics’ unintentionally hilarious response to the legalization of gay marriage in Kansas and Vermont. (The wickedly terrific Stephen Colbert parody is embedded just under the original.)

I’ll let Frank Rich say the rest. Here are some clips.

Yet easy to mock as “Gathering Storm” may be, it nonetheless bookmarks a historic turning point in the demise of America’s anti-gay movement.

What gives the ad its symbolic significance is not just that it’s idiotic but that its release was the only loud protest anywhere in America to the news that same-sex marriage had been legalized in Iowa and Vermont. If it advances any message, it’s mainly that homophobic activism is ever more depopulated and isolated as well as brain-dead.

“Gathering Storm” was produced and broadcast
— for a claimed $1.5 million — by an outfit called the National Organization for Marriage. This “national organization,” formed in 2007, is a fund-raising and propaganda-spewing Web site fronted by the right-wing Princeton University professor Robert George and the columnist Maggie Gallagher, who was famously caught receiving taxpayers’ money to promote Bush administration “marriage initiatives.” Until last month, half of the six board members (including George) had some past or present affiliation with Princeton’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. (One of them, the son of one of the 12 apostles in the Mormon church hierarchy, recently stepped down.)

Even the anti-Obama “tea parties” flogged by Fox News
last week had wider genuine grass-roots support than this so-called national organization. Beyond Princeton, most straight citizens merely shrugged as gay families celebrated in Iowa and Vermont. There was no mass backlash. At ABC and CBS, the Vermont headlines didn’t even make the evening news.

Read the rest, but Rich’s last ‘graph is the important one:

As marital equality haltingly but inexorably spreads state by state for gay Americans in the years to come, Utah will hardly be in the lead to follow Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa and Vermont. But the fact that it too is taking its first steps down that road is extraordinary. It is justice, not a storm, that is gathering. Only those who have spread the poisons of bigotry and fear have any reason to be afraid

And that’s the simple truth.

By the way, I notice that, at posting time, the Gathering Storm has under 500 thousand viewers on YouTube.
The Tea Parties, while certainly gathering some kind of minor populist momentum, still had approximately one third the number of attendees nationwide as those who showed up at a single location (downtown Los Angeles) for the Gran Marcha of March of 2006.

However, there was one truly stupendous populist wave
that broke worldwide last week.

And that is the response to this right here.

PS: I NEVER get tired of watching it.

Posted in Civil Liberties, LGBT, Life in general | 80 Comments »

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