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8.8 in Chile and the Tsunami Threat: Where to Get Info

February 27th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Since CNN is—again—reduced for a good part of its coverage to basically putting up a huge computer screen and showing you—the viewer—what websites it likes best for online coverage of the earthquake off of Conception and the Tsunami it has generated, I recommend you skip CNN and the networks and go straight to the source.

Mashable is doing a particularly good job in aggregating all the social media coverage plus other good web-based sources and tools, such as Google’s newly-launched people finder function.

So check here to monitor the disaster that we hope is not about to get worse.

Sending prayers to Chile—-and still to Haiti. And we are glad that Hawaii appears to have dodged the bullet.

NOTE: I took out the Livestream from Chile as I found it plays all the time, whether you ask it to or not. Sorry about that.

Posted in media, Weather | 7 Comments »

The Writer, Chapter 2 – by Dennis Danziger

February 26th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


When we last left off, Venice High School teacher Dennis Danziger,
had just learned the reason his student–a kid named John who had a stupendous talent for writing—had been missing from school.

John had been arrested and charged with attempted murder.

Here’s Chapter Two.

(NOTE: Dennis Danziger’s very funny new novel, A Short History of a Tall Jew, has just been released. Check it out.)

“Attempted murder.”

Those were not the words I expected from Jorge. I had braced myself and imagined I would hear, “John got jumped.”

Or “John’s home got broken into.”

Or “John’s girlfriend broke up with him and he’s too depressed to crawl out of bed.”

I’ve taught for 17 years in the LAUSD system, and I’ve heard a wide variety of excuses, many of them shocked me:

“I was absent because My mom broke up with her boyfriend and he went crazy and broke everything in the house. I’ve been home for three days cleaning up.”

“Umm, I, uh, got picked up for carjacking over Christmas break
and it, uh, got a little rugged for me behind bars.”

“I’ve been diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome. That’s why I’m always twitching.”

(No, I am not making that last one up.)

Surprising excuses Upsetting excuses. But never attempted murder.

Jorge could provide no other details except that John and his brother were locked up in an LA County jail near Magic Mountain, not in a juvenile detention facility.

I knew John was six weeks shy of his eighteenth birthday at the time of his arrest. He must have been charged as an adult. I thought. Did they house underage boys with men if they had been charged as adults? I didn’t know.

Jorge said he hoped to visit John within the week.

After Jorge left, and I was again alone in my classroom, I thought about what I had learned and concluded that there must be a mistake. Attempted murder? No way.

I knew this kid. At least I thought I did. I’d certainly invested more time in him than any of the other 185 students on my roll sheet. Talent like this didn’t come around very often. Talent like this more than caught my attention, made me want to focus on it, nurture it, use the talent has a bridge to a better education and a better life.

Sure, there were other students whose talents were also off-the-charts. James, a self-described Rastafarian, who I taught at Crenshaw could turn anything into an instant rap.

Once, as an experiment, I asked James’ classmates to shout out words—any words appropriate for class—and I scribbled them quickly on the board. Then Kalfani, who sat next to James, put down the beat and in a flash, James created a rap interweaving every word on the board into an instant poem. It was stunning.

So was John’s writing. I could not bring myself to believe that John’s next piece of writing would be about life behind bars.

My next thought turned to his older brother, Damion. Recently John read a new essay to the class. In the essay he grows bored hanging out at home watching TV and so leaves the house and heads to the nearest Burger King for a cheeseburger. Along the way three African American teens drive by and one taunts him, “What you looking at?”

John senses trouble and ignores the other boy, but the car stops and the one guy jumps out. Fists fly.

“After a minute of this brawling we both jump back and take a breather,” he wrote. “I look towards the other two black teens heading towards me. Their faces say it all. They want to fight me.”

Before it can be three on one. John pulls out his cell phone, hits a number. The blows begin to reign down on him again. As he is being pummeled, he sees his brother “at the bottom of the hill, walking up.” Back up. The other teens glimpse the hard-eyed brother, stand up and sprint to their black Honda Civic and speed off.

As John’s essay ends, he is walking back into his house and feeling, for the first time, he writes, “I never thought I would sense brotherly love. Now I know what it means.”

After he read the essay in class, I asked if anyone cared to comment.

Karla raised her hand. “Johnny’s brother is my baby’s daddy.”


Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in criminal justice, juvenile justice, The Writer - Dennis Danziger, writers and writing | 12 Comments »

Fresno Deputy is Killed by Suspected Arsonist

February 26th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


The LA times has the very sad story.

A Fresno County sheriff’s deputy was fatally shot and two other officers were wounded Thursday in an all-day confrontation with a barricaded arson suspect in the tiny unincorporated community of Minkler, 20 miles east of Fresno.

“This morning, I had to deliver the message that no law enforcement leader wants to deliver, and that was to the wife of a deputy sheriff, that her husband had been killed in the line of duty,” Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims said at a news conference.

The names of the officers were not immediately released, nor was that of the alleged shooter. The Fresno Bee identified the suspect as Ricky Liles, 51, of Minkler. Reedley City Manager Rocky Rogers told the Associated Press that one of the wounded officers was Javier Bejar, of the Reedley Police Department. Rogers said that he was on life support and not expected to recover.

Here’s the rest.

Whenever a police officer or a firefighter is killed, it is a tragedy for his or her family of course. But it is also always blow to the greater community.

Posted in law enforcement | 4 Comments »

Finally—a Sensible Voice on Early Release

February 25th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


Like California, a number of budget-strapped states are crafting legislation
that allows certain inmates to use rehabilitative programs to earn time off their prison and jail sentences.

And as in California, in other states, the very same usual suspects are freaking out and predicting a crime wave in reaction to the various earned early release programs that are being instituted.

Refreshingly, however, at, the online publication affiliated with the Pew Center on the States, there is a wonderfully impartial rundown of what the states are doing in the way of incentivized early release—and the reactions against such policies.

Here’re a couple of clips:

As to whether accelerated-release programs lead to more crime by those who are released, research shows otherwise. A review by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency of at least 12 studies, for example, found unchanged or lower recidivism rates among prisoners who benefited from accelerated-release programs in states including Illinois, Wisconsin and Florida.


“Length of stay has nothing to do with the recidivism rate,” Todd Clear,
the incoming dean of the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University in New Jersey, says. “If I let someone out (early), I’m not increasing the chances of them committing a crime. I’m just changing the date.”

Despite the studies, politicians and corrections officials are keenly aware that a single, well-publicized crime by an inmate who has been granted accelerated release can call entire programs into question, virtually overnight. In California, for instance, outrage over the state’s good-time credits has been exacerbated by the early release of a Sacramento County inmate who was arrested in connection with an attempted rape less than 24 hours after walking free.

For that reason, Clear believes, early-release initiatives are a recipe for political disaster. “The minute you let a bunch of people out early, you own everything they do,” he says

Sadly, yes. You do.

Posted in California budget, CDCR, parole policy, prison, prison policy | 12 Comments »

Speaking Thursday Night at LMU

February 25th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


For any of you who are interested in coming out to see your faithful hostess
(that would be me) spin tales—wild and otherwise—about reporting on La street gangs for 20 years, and what it takes for a young man or women to extract themselves from gang life, plus various other related issues, I may be found tonight Thursday starting at 5:30 p.m. at Loyola Marymount University.

Come’on down.

(Here are the details.)

Posted in Gangs, writers and writing | 1 Comment »

ACLU Sues Over Teacher Layoffs

February 24th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


The ACLU of So Cal along with two other groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday
on behalf of students at three of the city’s worst-performing middle schools contending that students were denied an adequate education.

At first bounce the suit seems a bit squishy. I mean, every city and county agency has been hit with layoffs and dreadful cutbacks. But we’re out of money people!

AND THEN YOU READ THE FINE PRINT and you understand why this suit is important and why, despite his appalling personal failings, John Edwards had it right when he talked about Two Americas.

Jason Song, at the LA Times has the rest of the story.
Here are some clips:

The last round of L.A. Unified teacher firings led to chaotic conditions on some campuses that made learning nearly impossible, especially at Samuel Gompers, Edwin Markham and John H. Liechty middle schools, according to a complaint filed by the ACLU, Public Counsel and Morrison & Foerster. Between half and three-quarters [italics mine] of the teachers at those campuses were laid off last year, according to the class-action lawsuit filed in L.A. County Superior Court.

Because of a steep budget deficit, L.A. Unified officials issued thousands of layoff notices last year and are expected to order more this year. Citing state law, school districts typically dismiss teachers on the basis of seniority during budgetary shortfalls.

The cuts were especially devastating to Gompers, Markham and Liechty because administrators had recruited younger instructors who wanted to teach in the inner city. When those teachers were dismissed, they were often replaced by instructors who did not want to work in tough, urban schools, the suit alleges.

Many positions were also difficult to fill, so schools turned to substitutes, according to the lawsuit. Some of those teachers allowed the classes to turn chaotic or were unfamiliar with the subject matter. Several substitutes allegedly gave every student a “C” grade because they didn’t know the material well enough to grade students….

Read on.

Posted in ACLU, Education, law enforcement | 6 Comments »

LAUSD School Choice Chooses….Not So Much Change

February 24th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon



At LAUSD school board meeting Tuesday In a large win for UTLA, the teachers’ union, 22 schools were handed off to the districts’ teachers to reorganize. That was 22 out of the 30 that were that were up for grabs as part of the controversial school choice plan. Three of the 30 were given to the mayor’s group to reorganize and another three were given to charters, with one last school given to some kind of partnership between teachers and charters and—I don’t remember who else..

And a most perplexing decision, three charter school operators were yanked completely out of the mix: the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools and ICEF Public School—and Green Dot (which only bid for one school). In other words, the charter companies that are best known for their success in running schools in Los Angeles County.

“We missed an opportunity to make bold change today,” the Daily News reported that school board member Yolie Flores said grimly. Flores, who was the one who authored the district’s School Choice plan, was not a happy camper. “Clearly, there is a line of board members that are still beholden to unions. I am beholden to children.”

Howard Blume at the LA Times has the best account of what was evidently a very wild, very woolly day.

Hey, we all hope for the best.

Photo by Brian Vander Brug for the LA Times

Posted in Education, Green Dot, LAUSD, unions | 12 Comments »

Wednesday Short Takes

February 24th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon



In the wake of the LA Times report on staff abuse of young inmates within LA County’ juvenile probation facilities,
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas called for expansion of the Probation Department’s internal affairs staff.

Well that’s a start. Let’s hope there’s some follow-through.

And don’t forget, the LA Times report is the beginning, not the end of the problems.


The Sacramento Bee’s guest column by Orson Aguilar articulates why the state should reject its penny wise and pound foolish plans to slash its rehabilitative prison programs.

The $250 million that California is about to save by slashing vital rehabilitation programs for prisoners will cost us many times that much money.

The money we think we’re saving will cost us many times over in more crime, more drug abuse and ruined lives.

Rehabilitation and alternative programs can save lives. I know. One of them saved mine.

I grew up in Boyle Heights, a rough section of East Los Angeles, in the 1980s. Poverty, gangs, drugs and violence plagued our community. But I was lucky enough to stay out of most of it — until one night, at age 19, I did something stupid.

A friend and I were attacked by a group of teens. In the struggle, I fired a shot from a handgun, scattering the crowd but striking one of the assailants in the forearm. Luckily, he was not seriously hurt. My friend and I also escaped with only minor injuries.

But I was charged with a felony. My friends urged me to fight the charges on grounds of self-defense. Instead, I took responsibility for my action. I pleaded guilty to felony assault with a deadly weapon.

Read the rest here.


The ACLU’s longtime and extremely respected director, Ramona Ripston, has announced that she will retire a year from now. Ripston was the first woman to hold a leadership position in the organization. Some of her accomplishments include:

…Ending segregationist policies at the Los Angeles Unified School District, helping to spur meaningful reform in the, for years, notoriously hard-headed LAPD, fighting successfully for voting rights for Latinos, and providing leadership in battles for equal rights for the disabled, immigrants, gays and lesbians, and the homeless.

“Ramona Ripston has spent her entire career giving a voice to the voiceless,” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said. “With the ACLU of Southern California as her megaphone, she worked tirelessly to protect the constitutional rights of the poor, disabled, homeless, and gays and lesbians, among many others….”

Yep, that’s about right.

All of us who live in Southern California, owe her a huge debt of gratitude—even those who have opposed her. We have all of us benefited beyond calculation from her passion and her commitment to our collective humanness.


Anyone interested in justice issues likely knows the Sentencing Project.

They have just launched a new website that is replete with great new interactive features. Reporters and others with criminal justice-related research needs, take note.

Posted in ACLU, Fire, juvenile justice, prison, prison policy, Probation | 5 Comments »

Supremes & Free Speech: The Patriot Act v. the First Amendment

February 23rd, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


Can the Patriot Act make it a crime for an American to advise a group
that has been designated a terrorist organization—if that advice pertains only to human rights and ways to seek peace?

It is this question that was heard before the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The Americans challenging the restriction are the LA-based Humanitarian Law Project and its president, USC professor, Ralph Fertig, who has advised a Kurdish rebel group in Turkey.

This is from the AP:

The Supreme Court struggled Tuesday to balance the constitutional rights of humanitarian aid groups with the government’s efforts to combat terrorism.

The issue arose in a challenge by aid groups and individuals to parts of a key anti-terror law that bans “material support” to foreign terrorist organizations, even when that support consists of training and advice about entirely peaceful and legal activities.

The aid groups involved had trained a group in Turkey on how to bring human rights complaints to the United Nations and assisted them in peace negotiations, but suspended the activities when the U.S. designated the Turkish outfit a terrorist organization in 1997. They also wanted give similar help to a group in Sri Lanka, but it, too, was designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. in 1997.

Now keep in mind, we are not talking about groups like Al Quaeda that have been designated as our enemies, and thus are subject to a host of restrictions, Patriot Act or no Patriot Act.

The organization in question is a Kurdish rebel group called the PKK.

NPR’s Nina Totenberg does a good job of teasing out more of the issues.

And the LA Times David Savage has this post-hearing update.

A ruling is expected in June—with Kennedy again the swing vote. (Or maybe Roberts will also have a sensible moment. At least it is comforting to think so.)

PS: AND THE TWISTED LOGIC AWARD FOR TUESDAY’S HEARING GOES TO Antonin Scalia for this dandy quote: “It hasn’t criminalized speech. Most of that aid and assistance that is prohibited is not in the form of speech, but it happens to include speech as well.I think that is quite different from a law that is directed explicitly at speech.”

(Um, Antonin. Dude. That’s like saying if you advise the criminal to turn his or herself in, or if you similarly tell the criminal not to shoot the hostage, we can criminalize that speech as aiding and abetting, and such a statute in no way impinges on the First Amendment. That’s—-what’s the phrase I’m looking for?—oh, yeah: totally whacked.)

Posted in Civil Liberties, Free Speech, Freedom of Information, Supreme Court | 8 Comments »

Toyota, Criminal Probes….and My Own Recall Adventure

February 23rd, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


On Monday, a federal grand jury opened an investigation to look into
whether Toyota tried to cover up the acceleration problems that led to its massive vehicle recall. Even prior to the criminal probe, Toyota was already facing congressional hearings later this week.

All this recall business got me to thinking about another big, bad automobile recall-
one in which I had a personal stake.

It began in 2000 and continued into 2001. At the time, we had just elected a new president (or the Supreme Court had chosen the president, depending upon your outlook). No airplanes had yet crashed into the Twin Towers.

Back then, the multinational corporations being accused of cover-ups and worse were Firestone, the tire makers, and the Ford Motor Company.

It seemed that the Firestone Wilderness tires that were commonly put on certain Ford light trucks-–most often the Explorer—began coming apart at the treads. Basically, the tires exploded. When the tires blew apart they, in turn, caused the SUVs riding on them to swerve, leap and to rollover. In so doing, they frequently killed and/or maimed their occupants.

After an impressive string of rollover-related deaths triggered an even more impressive string of lawsuits, a massive recall was instituted.

Back then, I had an Explorer. And, I had Firestone Wilderness tires on my Explorer.

Yet, when I began the recall-related adventure you’ll find below, neither Firestone nor Ford thought it necessary to replace myFirestone Wilderness AT tires.

I wrote about what occurred next, first for MSNBC and then for the LA Weekly.

Here is the result:

As this Alice-in-Wonderland inauguration approaches,
during which a president who may or may not have actually been elected will be gloriously and officially sworn into office, it would be nice to be able to trust somebody — like maybe your tire company. For four months straight I tried my best to do just that, even though everywhere we went, people pointed at our tires. One of the last times it happened we were all loaded into my 1997 Ford Explorer, ready to head out for a Sunday excursion. We, in this case, meant me, my 14-year-old son, Will, two of his best friends, plus a tangle of skateboards, pads and helmets. Our destination was the boys‘ favorite indoor skate park, 45 miles north of our house. Just before getting on the 101 freeway, I pulled into a gas station for a quick fill-up, and two 19-year-olds in a Camry cruised by and glanced in our direction.

“Hey, look!” barked the Camry driver at a volume intended to be within our earshot, his left arm gesturing out the window toward our vehicle. “They’ve got those exploding tires!”

Yes, indeed, we surely did. We had Wilderness ATs, the tires recalled by Firestone last summer on account of their habit of parting from their treads at sudden and inopportune moments. It seems that when these ATs separate at freeway speed, they often cause the Explorer wearing them to roll. At present count, tire failures by ATs and two other Firestone tire models, the ATX and the ATX II, have led to 148 deaths and more than 681 injuries in the U.S. alone, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This tally of crashes ranks among the highest number of fatalities and injuries the agency has ever recorded in its 30-year history of defect investigations.

2000 was a record-smashing year for auto-related defects in general. In addition to last summer‘s BridgestoneFirestone recall of 6.5 million tires, the largest automotive recall in U.S. history, there have been an unprecedented number of recalls on everything from infant car seats to school buses. In early November, the Ford Motor Co. announced that it was recalling 430,000 Ford Mustangs because of a faulty parking brake. A few weeks later, Ford issued a recall of 846,000 Explorers. Last fall, Continental-General tires were linked to a string of fatal tread-separation accidents, and, on November 21, federal regulators announced they were looking into a possible Goodyear exploding-tire problem. Yet it’s the Wilderness AT tire that continues to cause an ongoing controversy. Eight weeks ago, Firestone announced it had exchanged 80 percent of its hazardous tires. Well, maybe yes, maybe no. As with the Florida election recounts, the truth is in the eye of each beholder, and the facts of the situation vary wildly depending upon whom you ask.

I bought my Wilderness ATs new from my local Ford dealership this past July 24, exactly 16 days before the recall was announced on August 9. When the news broke, I quickly called the dealer to ask how I might get my tires replaced. The service manager himself got on the phone with me, his tone concerned and accommodating. “Just bring your Explorer on in,” he said. “We‘ll get you fixed up as fast as we can.” When I arrived at the Ford lot, an earnest, 20-something mechanic, whom I’ll call Matt, told me that he would first have to check to make sure that my tires were part of the recall.

“What do you mean?” I wanted to know. “Of course they‘re part of the recall.”

Matt patiently explained that the only ATs eligible for replacement were those made at the Firestone plant in Decatur, Illinois. Those were the ones causing all the trouble, he said. With that, he rolled under my Explorer and began looking for what is known as the DOT code, a set of distinguishing letters and numbers printed on every tire’s inside wall indicating where it was manufactured. The Decatur tires have a DOT code beginning with the letters VD. After a minute or two of poking about, Matt rolled out once again. “Great news,” he announced. “Your tires are all 8Xs. Not a VD in the bunch. That means they‘re perfectly safe.”

I stared at the tires, then back at Matt. “Says who? Firestone?”

That would be the same Firestone who pronounced the Decatur ATs safe until the fatalities and the lawsuits started piling up. I said as much to Matt, who appeared to wish he were elsewhere. When I spoke to the service manager, he didn’t seem any happier. “All we know is what Ford and Firestone tell us,” he said. “I just hope they‘re correct and I’m not lying to my customers.”

At home, my son accosted me the minute I walked in the door. “Did you get new tires?”

“Um, no,” I told him. “See, we don‘t have the bad Wilderness ATs. We have the good Wilderness ATs that are not part of the recall because, um, they’re perfectly safe.”

“Yeah, right,” Will said. “Do you believe that?” I admitted I didn‘t know.

Read the rest. You’ll be glad you did, I promise. (And, yes, Virginia, the little guy—or in this case, the 5′ 4″ journalist/mom—can sometimes make a difference.)

Posted in consumer affairs, Life in general | 4 Comments »

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