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Jaime Escalante: RIP – The Art of Imparting Ganas

March 31st, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


The best thing I can think to do to honor the remarkable Jaime Escalante
—and the other excellent teachers like him who give everything to the task of helping, cajoling, nagging, luring, wrestling, enchanting kids into the joy of learning—is to urge you to read Esmeralda Bermudez’ stellar article about Mr. Stand and Deliver in the last months and weeks of his life.

Here’s the opening:

There was a time in East Los Angeles when el maestro’s gruff voice bounced off his classroom walls. He roamed the aisles, he juggled oranges, he dressed in costumes, he punched the air; he called you names, he called your mom, he kicked you out, he lured you in; he danced, he boxed, he screamed, he whispered. He would do anything to get your attention.

“Ganas,” he would say. “That’s all you need. The desire to learn.”

Nearly three decades later, Jaime Escalante finds himself far from Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, the place that made him internationally famous for turning a generation of low-income students into calculus whizzes. Twenty-two years have passed since his classroom exploits were captured in the film “Stand and Deliver.

He is 79 and hunched in a wheelchair at a cancer treatment center in Reno. It is cold outside, and the snow-capped mountains that crown the city where his son brought him three weeks ago on a bed in the back of an old van remind him of his native Bolivia.

He can’t walk. He struggles to eat. Stomach acids have burned his vocal cords, reducing his voice to a whisper. The doctors who diagnosed his bladder cancer told him recently he has weeks — at best a few months — to live.

But don’t let the frail man fool you. The teacher is not done teaching. Behind his large square glasses, that intense, mischievous look that once persuaded students to believe in themselves still lives in his eyes. He smiles at nurses, flashes a thumbs up.

When asked about his former students – the engineers, lawyers, surgeons, administrators and teachers now spread across the country — he wastes no time. He steals a nearby pen and slowly, in capital letters that have now grown faint, begins to write in Spanish:


Here’s the rest.

And here is the LA Times obit.

Posted in Education, Obits | 40 Comments »

Death Penalty, Stupid RNC Tricks & Other Topics

March 31st, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

On the Filter we discussed:

1. The death penalty for serial killer Rodney Alcala.

He killed 4 women and a 12-year-old ballet student—that we know of. Rodney Alcala makes great case for capital punishment—if there was a great case to be made. But there isn’t. It is not a deterrent. (The states that have the death penalty have higher murder rates than those without it.) Death row is hideously expensive because of the appeals process. AND we need that appeals process or we risk executing the innocent. Since 1973, 133 people in 26 states have been released from death row with proof or their factual innocence. Only 17 of those were DNA cases.

2. The RNC racy nightclub charges and whether Michael Steel will lose his job. (Answer to that last: Unlikely, not before November, anyway.)

3. The silly accusation that former Daily News editor, Ron Kaye, made about all LA’s problems being due to Antonio Villaraigosa’s ego.

I like Ron a lot personally, but for those of us in the fact based universe, life’s a little more complicated.

4. A rundown on the most idiotic new initiative that has just qualified for the November Ballot.

Here’s part two of the segment.

4. The most irritating voter initiative to thus far qualify for the ballot.

Posted in The Filter | 43 Comments »

On KNBC’s The Filter Tonight – 7:30 p.m.

March 30th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

I’ll post the video later, but here’s the link to the online real time channel in case you want to watch it there. It’s on your TV at digital channel 4.2.

The topics are good ones.

Posted in The Filter | 4 Comments »

4:15 p.m. Tuesday: Working on WLA Site

March 30th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


There may be intermittent weirdness
on the site for the next couple of hours while maintenance and fixes are in progress.

So it isn’t you. It’s us.

I may or may not be able to post tonight or first thing tomorrow.

Posted in Life in general | 1 Comment »

Fresh Picks

March 30th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon



Two weeks ago I had lunch with a woman who is the Catholic pastor of a large California prison. I should mention that she is no neophyte in the corrections world. She’s worked at LA County’s jails, at an out-of-state prison, and at an in-state institution or two before she got to where she is now.

We were meeting about another matter entirely but, in the course of the conversation, talk turned to some of the guys she sees inside whom she really thinks ought to be let out—simply because they are so incapacitated, that keeping them locked up on our tab doesn’t, she said, make any sense.

The pastor wasn’t talking about any kind of compassionate parole. She was just talking cost/benefit.

This week in an excellent article in the Sacramento Bee, the federal monitor in charge of California’s prison health care system, J. Clark Kelso, has said much the same thing.

“I am keenly aware, as are the courts,” Kelso said, “that a dollar that we can save in the prison health care program is a dollar that can be spent on other important priorities for the state, such as education, money for children, the elderly, other health care programs.”

An aide in Kelso’s office said that, conservatively, the prison system could save $213 million over five years by paroling just 32 inmates identified as severely incapacitated.

Twenty-one of those 32 inmates are in nursing facilities or hospitals outside prisons, which requires spending for expensive guard time — including overtime — as well as huge health care costs.

These 21 inmates’ average annual health care and guard costs total more than $1.97 million apiece — a total of $41.4 million a year for 21 individuals, said Kelso aide Luis Patiño.

With all this and more in mind, on March 17, Sen. Mark Leno of San Francisco introduced a bill to create medical parole.

Leno said 1,300 inmates’ health care costs exceed $100,000 a year, and that up to 700 prisoners could qualify for a possible medical parole under his bill.

With full implementation of his bill, Leno said, the state could save at least a couple of hundred million dollars a year, more than the receiver’s initial $213 million estimate spread over five years.

There’s a lot more in the way of facts and figures on this issue, so read the rest.


Yeah, this is actually kind of usual, from a legal perspective, but given the situation, from a moral and emotional perspective it’s—what’re the words I’m looking for?—Oh, yeah. Intolerable and psychotic.

Here are the details from the Topeka Capital-Journal:

Only a few months before both sides square off in the U.S. Supreme Court, the father of a slain Marine has been ordered to pay legal costs for a Topeka-based church after the $5 million judgment he won from the congregation in 2007 was overturned on appeal.

Albert Snyder, the father of a Marine who was killed in March 2006 in Iraq, learned late last week that he had been ordered to pay legal costs for Westboro Baptist Church in connection with a lawsuit he brought against the congregation after some of its members picketed his son’s funeral in March 2006 in Westminster, Md.

Late Friday, Snyder learned he would be liable to pay the legal costs of the appeal by the Westboro church and the Phelpses in the amount of $16,500, said his attorney, Sean E. Summers, of York, Pa., in a phone interview late Monday night.

“We’ve been talking all day and all night,” Summers said of himself and Snyder. “He is disappointed. It’s kind of like rubbing his nose in it.”

I don’t know how this gets solved. As the C-J mentions, the case is on its way to the Surpremes—and the court is, I think, going to be reluctant to shut up the protesters, no matter how repellent they are. Sometimes freedom cuts against the righteous.

So what to do? I don’t know. But the idea of the family of the dead Marine having to pay up to these hate-filled Westboro people….it’s pretty hard to take.


Here’s a snippet of the Globe’s report. It explains itself.

It is where the government has hidden the most secret information: plans to relocate Congress if Washington were attacked, dossiers on double agents, case files about high-profile mob figures and their politician friends, and a disturbing number of reports about the possible smuggling of atomic bombs into the United States.

It is also where the bureau stowed documents considered more embarrassing than classified, including its history of illegal spying on domestic political organizations and surveillance of nascent gay rights groups.

It is the FBI’s “special file room,” where for decades sensitive material has been stored separately from the bureau’s central filing system to restrict access severely and, in more sinis ter instances, some experts assert, prevent the Congress and the public from getting their hands on it.

Established in 1948 under the reign of notoriously secretive FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, it remains in use today at FBI headquarters in Washington to safeguard what the bureau considers its most highly sensitive information.

Read the rest here.

Go Globe!



The LA Times & the Center for Investigative reporting have a disheartening tale by Andrew Becker about two mentally disabled men who had finished serving time on low level assault charges—but who were stayed in jails and prisons for years following the finish of their mandated sentences. One was kept for an extra four years, the other an extra five.

As for their crimes, one threw a rock during a gang fight, the other got in a scuffle over tomatoes picked without permission.

The problem is that both men were scheduled to be deported after their sentences were served-–but it was clear that neither could live on his own in Mexico.

Neither man was undocumented. Both had immigration papers. That wasn’t the issue. Yet, under current immigration law, their crimes mandated they be tossed back to their country of origin—which was Mexico.

So, unsure what else to do, the government merely held on to them—alleges a new lawsuit.

Here’s the story.

Posted in Free Speech, How Appealing, immigration, prison, prison policy, Social Justice Shorts, Supreme Court | 51 Comments »

Art Saves: Poetry & Opera at Juvie

March 29th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


Starting at 4 p.m. on Friday night one large room at Central Juvenile Hall
was crammed with around 100 teenagers, all dressed in baggy, LA County-issued pants and tops. The kids sat at long tables in groups of ten or twelve. Every group was overseen by a cluster of badge-wearing probation officers.

Each table also featured a writing instructor, sometimes two instructors, all of whom were part of the InsideOUT Writers program that is now a fixture of three LA County juvenile halls.

The kids clutched printouts of the poems that they had composed and revised during the twice weekly writing classes that InsideOUT has offered to young inmates at Central Juvie since 1996. Every adolescent in the room looked some brand of nervous, although many affected an elaborate casualness to cover their jitters.

The nerves had to do with the fact that this was the yearly event at which those who had participated in the InsideOUT program got to read their work aloud in front each other, plus a gaggle of invited guests and some scattered press.

But this particular InsideOUT performance night also had a special creative twist to it. Some of the student-inmates’ poems had been set to music and would be sung as opera.

Reporter Kim Nowacki from Annenberg’s Neon Tommy covered the event and you’ll find her informative story below. (Kim is another of my smart grad students.)

I was there too, and spent time with some of the young writers.

There was, for example, one table of girls with whom I chatted for quite some time. I learned later they were from the ESU module, Enhanced Supervision Unit. These were the girls who were cutters or who displayed suicidal ideation, or some other worrisome form of risky behavior.

Much of their poetry reflected the varieties of trauma of their respective childhoods-–abuse, neglect, the chronic witnessing of violence.

Still many of the poems suggested budding talent. The phrasing was sometimes startlingly graceful, the images strong and clear.

The same was true of the boys I sat with—who were, to a person, eager for me, the stranger, to read what they had written.

One tall, deer-eyed boy dipped his head shyly when I’d commented on a line of his poem that I’d particularly liked. “The nights after writing class,” he said, “they’re the only time I ever really can….you know… sleep.”

His writing teacher, Roberta Villa whispered to me that his admission was typical. She saw kids get their lives changed all the time when they discovered that they could get their feelings out on paper, she said.

Here’s the opening of Kim’s story:

In opera, a good story has plenty of tragedy. Or comedy. Or both. There’s typically a lot of wishing and hoping and longing. Many times the characters make foolish, rash mistakes. Often, someone dies.

Unfortunately, the same is very true of the stories and poems written over the past 12 years by the teenage boys and girls who participate in InsideOUT Writers (IOW), a creative writing program held at Los Angeles County’s three juvenile halls.

Each year, more than 300 incarcerated youths voluntarily take the classes where they write about drugs, rape, suicide, crime, violence, lost freedom, busted families and broken hearts. But they also write about lying in bed at night and dreaming about a better life and about a future free of trouble.

“I love to write, it’s my passion, I write everyday,” said Michelle, an 18-year-old girl with a million-watt smile but also a serious toughness about her.

There’s a similar sense of toughness mixed with vulnerability among the 100 or so other incarcerated youth that guards led Friday afternoon into the boys gymnasium at Central Juvenile Hall, a walled-up, khaki-colored facility off Eastlake Avenue.

But on this afternoon, the teens were here to relax as their IOW instructors served them burritos, soda and cupcakes before watching — in what’s a first for Central Juvenile Hall — a performance by three members of the LA Opera.

This special treat is part of the annual IOW Retreat, which honors the students’ writing. Attendees included IOW board members and L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky (who this past Tuesday participated in the L.A. County Board of Supervisors’ unanimous vote that ordered a thorough inspection of the Probation Department).

This year’s retreat also served as the surprise debut of four new LA Opera pieces that put to music four poems written in the IOW program.

One of them, called “Safe,” is Michelle’s….

Read the rest (and look at Kim’s slide show). It’s worth it. I promise.

Posted in juvenile justice, writers and writing | 53 Comments »

Social Justice Shorts

March 29th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon



No, I’m not kidding. The AP has the story.

The University of California will form a special committee to study whether it should take over inmate health care for the state’s troubled prison system, the chairman of the university system’s Board of Regents said this week.

Regents Chairman Russell Gould announced the committee, which university officials said will study issues including the cost, effect on labor relations, and the university’s liability in inmate lawsuits. Health care has been so bad in the state’s 33 adult prisons that a federal judge appointed a receiver in 2006 to make improvements.

A study by a company affiliated with the University of Texas has criticized the receiver for running up costs as part of the improvement effort. It projected California could save more than $4 billion over five years and $12 billion over 10 years by shifting control to the University of California…..

Scott Henson, of the always stellar Texas criminal justice blog, Grits for Breakfast, has some thoughts on the matter.


In the current New Yorker Magazine, Jane Mayer, author of the award-winning The Dark Side, reviews Courting Disaster: How the CIA Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama Is Inviting the Next Attack, by former Bush speechwriter Marc A. Thiessen—and yanks the wings and legs off Thiessen’s “facts” one by one. To do so, Mayer uses solid, verifiable, reality-based information that she has acquired the old fashioned way—through real reporting.

The last ‘graph of Mayer’s review is clearly what she means to be the takeaway:

Thiessen’s effort to rewrite the history of the C.I.A.’s interrogation program comes not long after a Presidential race in which both the Republican and the Democratic nominees agreed that state-sponsored cruelty had damaged and dishonored America. The publication of “Courting Disaster” suggests that Obama’s avowed determination “to look forward, not back” has laid the recent past open to partisan reinterpretation. By holding no one accountable for past abuse, and by convening no commission on what did and didn’t protect the country, President Obama has left the telling of this dark chapter in American history to those who most want to whitewash it.

Read the whole thing.


Charlie Savage reports in the NY Times on Monday about the dueling secret memos dealing with how the US is—and isn’t—legally empowered to handle detainees who are deemed to be terrorism-related.

Here are the relevant 2 ‘graphs:

….behind closed doors, the debate flared again that summer,
when the Obama administration confronted the case of Belkacem Bensayah, an Algerian man who had been arrested in Bosnia — far from the active combat zone — and was being held without trial by the United States at Guantánamo. Mr. Bensayah was accused of facilitating the travel of people who wanted to go to Afghanistan to join Al Qaeda. A judge found that such “direct support” was enough to hold him as a wartime prisoner, and the Justice Department asked an appeals court to uphold that ruling.

The arguments over the case forced onto the table discussion of lingering discontent at the State Department over one aspect of the Obama position on detention. There was broad agreement that the law of armed conflict allowed the United States to detain as wartime prisoners anyone who was actually a part of Al Qaeda, as well as nonmembers who took positions alongside the enemy force and helped it. But some criticized the notion that the United States could also consider mere supporters, arrested far away, to be just as detainable without trial as enemy fighters.


More than just a few Catholic church higher-ups have suggested in the last few days that the criticism leveled at the church and at Pope Benedict XVI for actions not taken to protect kids from pedophile priests—here and in Europe—amounts to Catholic bashing, or things even more conspiratorial

LA Times editorial board member Michael McGough blogs about the issue here.

He concludes (and I agree):

The pope may have plausible deniability in the cases reported by the New York Times. But the best defense for the Vatican and its supporters is to contest the accuracy of these and other reports, not to accuse journalists (or activists) of selective criticism, let alone an ignoble conspiracy. Playing the anti-Catholic card just won’t work. The sex-abuse scandal in the United States should have demonstrated that.

Posted in medical care, Obama, prison policy, Social Justice Shorts, torture | 5 Comments »

The Rape of American Prisoners

March 26th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


The New York Review of Books has a remarkable two part series
on rape in American correctional facilities. The stories appear in the March 11 issue and the March 25 issue, and are written by David Kaiser and Lovisa Stannow.

The first part concerns itself with the prevalence of rape in juvenile facilities, jails and prisons. It starts with harrowing accounts of the abuse scandal at the Texas Youth Commission:

Adults who want to have sex with children sometimes look for jobs that will make it easy. They want authority over kids, but no very onerous supervision; they also want positions that will make them seem more trustworthy than their potential accusers. Such considerations have infamously led quite a few pedophiles to sully the priesthood over the years, but the priesthood isn’t for everyone. For some people, moral authority comes less naturally than blunter, more violent kinds.

Ray Brookins worked for the Texas Youth Commission (TYC), the state’s juvenile detention agency. In October 2003, he was hired as head of security at the West Texas State School in Pyote. Like most TYC facilities, it’s a remote place. The land is flat to the horizon, scattered with slowly bobbing oil derricks, and always windy. It’s a long way from the families of most kids confined there, who tend to be urban and poor; a long way from any social services, or even the police. It must have seemed perfect to Brookins—and also to John Paul Hernandez, who was hired as the school’s principal around the same time. Almost immediately, Brookins started pulling students out of their dorms at night, long after curfew, and bringing them to the administration building. When asked why, he said it was for cleaning.[1]

In fact, according to official charges, for sixteen months Brookins and Hernandez molested the children in their care: in offices and conference rooms, in dorms and darkened broom closets and, at night, out in the desert. The boys tried to tell members of the staff they trusted; they also tried, both by letter and through the school’s grievance system, to tell TYC officials in Austin. They did so knowing that they might be retaliated against physically, and worse, knowing that if Brookins caught them complaining he could and would extend their confinement,[2] and keep on abusing them.[3] They did so because they were desperate. But they were ignored by the authorities who should have intervened: both those running the school and those running the Texas Youth Commission.[4] Nor did other officials of the TYC who were informed by school staff about molestation take action……

Part two talks about the solution to the problem that the authors call “one of this country’s most widespread human rights problems, and arguably its most neglected.”

They discuss the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission’s report, which “analyzes the dynamics and consequences of prisoner rape, shows how sexual abuse can be and in many cases already is being prevented in detention facilities across the country, and proposes standards for its prevention, detection, and response.”

In any case, read the stories here and here. This is important work.

PS: Why is it, by the way, that the New York Review of Books has written more thoughtfully and more frequently in the last year or two about the deeper issues surrounding prison reform, than, say, The Los Angeles Times has?

Posted in Human rights, prison, prison policy | 40 Comments »

The Evolution of LA’s Parent Revolution

March 26th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


Ben Austin is the executive director of an LA-based organization
known as the Parent Revolution, which has been extremely active in lobbying for various kinds of education reforms at an LA and a statewide level. In doing so, the group has often found itself on the opposite side of the influence-wielding push-pull from the various teachers’ unions—UTLA and CTA. As a consequence, Austin is either revered or despised, depending upon who’s doing the talking. Yet, whatever one thinks of Ben Austin and his organization, he has emerged as a recent big player in the world of school reform—both locally and nationally—alongside more recognizable stars in that firmament, like Green Dot’s founder Steve Barr .

Neon Tommy’s Jessica Flores (who also happens to be my smart student), took a look at how Austin’s Revolution is evolving with the passage of the so called Trigger Law.

(This week my USC class has been reporting on education, and they have found a number of LA ed stories that are under-reported, this among them.)

Here are some clips from Jessica’s story:

In a modest office with mostly bare walls and a few desks in downtown Los Angeles, Parent Union organizer Shirley Ford spends her time these days strategizing for, what she calls, a revolution.

“I’m making a list of people that I’m going to sit down with now that the Parent Trigger Law is passed, because that gives us leverage,” says Ford.

A new state law gives wings to a promise the Los Angeles Parents Union first made early last year, when it was headed by Green Dot, its mission to get parents to sign on to transform poorly performing Los Angeles schools to charters. They call the movement the Parent Revolution and promise parents to deliver new charter schools within three years if 51 percent of parents sign up for reforms. But no laws held-up their pledge, which was more hope than certainty.

“We were building the airplane while it was in the air. We didn’t exactly know how we were going to back it up,” said Ben Austin, the executive director of the L.A. Parent’s Union.

Now they do know. After the Parent Revolution aggressively campaigned for the trigger law, the state passed it earlier this year. For the first time, parents have the codified right to demand changes in failing schools. If a majority of parents organize to reform consistently failing schools, they can call on officials to take one of three steps: transform the school to a charter, fire the principal and half the staff or close the school altogether.

The law is changing how the Parent Revolution is positioning itself in the charter school movement. The Parent’s Union is saying they aren’t working for Green Dot or Green Dot’s agenda anymore. But the law is also fueling fire between the organization and other players in the education field who say the Parent Revolution simply pushes a charter school agenda, which is not necessarily better for students.

“The parent trigger assumes charters are the answers and they are not,” says UTLA Vice President Gregg Solkovits. He underscored studies that show charters have struggled to serve disabled and ESL students.

But Austin points to the new law as proof that other solutions are on the table and to show his organization will advocate for whatever parents deem necessary.

“The idea of the parent revolution is to say F-U, that every single thing about our school is going to be about kids. Otherwise, I’m sorry, we are going to take our kids and go elsewhere,” said Austin.

Read the rest here.


Also, on Neon Tommy, this story by LeTania Kirkland tells about community efforts to rescue the iconic Watts Tower arts center from budget-force privatization, and its recent—even if temporary—success.

Posted in Education, Green Dot, LAUSD | 13 Comments »

LAPD SWAT’s Robert Cottle Killed in Afghanistan

March 26th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


Sgt. Maj. Robert J. Cottle was a well-liked SWAT officer who was also a Marine.
This week he was killed while serving in Afghanistan. Officer Cottle is the first Los Angeles police officer to be killed in the Iraq or Afghanistan wars.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said he had known Cottle for 20 years. and was “deeply saddened” by his death. Beck also said he would talk to reporters about Cottle after Friday’s 9 a.m. recruit graduation ceremony,

LAPPL President Paul Weber was also particularly warm in his praise. “As a SWAT officer, R.J. was a tactical genius,” wrote Weber in the police union’s statement on Thursday late afternoon. “His military service gave him unique skills that he generously shared with fellow officers.”

Cottle leaves behind a wife and a young daughter.

The LA Times has more specific information on the circumstances of Cottle’s death:

[Cottle], 45, was traveling with three other Marines in the Marja region of the country, which has been the focus of an intense U.S.-led offensive against Taliban forces in recent weeks, said LAPD Capt. John Incontro, who oversees SWAT operations.

Their armored vehicle struck an improvised explosive device, killing Cottle and another Marine and seriously wounding the two others, Incontro said. No other details of the incident were available. Cottle, who joined the LAPD in 1990 and won one of the coveted SWAT positions six years later, is the first active LAPD officer to be killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, police officials said.

A veteran of two tours of duty in Iraq, Cottle had deployed to Afghanistan in August last year and was scheduled to return home this summer.

A somber mood fell over the department’s Elysian Park training academy Wednesday afternoon, as members of the tightly knit SWAT unit were summoned to receive news of Cottle’s death from command staff. Officers recalled a friend who stood out even in the rarefied air of SWAT for the intensity he brought to the LAPD’s most demanding assignment and the care he showed for other officers who had turned him into one of the unit’s leaders.

Incontro remembered the night in 2008 when another SWAT officer, Randall Simmons, was killed during a prolonged standoff with a man who had killed several people and then barricaded himself in a house. After Simmons was shot and rushed to a hospital, Cottle went from one SWAT officer to the next, helping to calm them and keep them focused on the still-unfolding situation.

Here’s a randomly chosen 2008 account of the type of thing that R.J. Cottle did as an LAPD SWAT officer.

Bottom line: It sounds as if an exceptionally good man has been lost.

Posted in LAPD, War | 10 Comments »

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