Monday, December 5, 2016
street news, views and stories of justice and injustice
Follow me on Twitter

Search WitnessLA:

Recent Posts




Luis Diaz: A Death at Homeboy Industries

December 16th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

This week I have been working on Part 3 of the Follow the Gang Money series,
dealing with how the City of Los Angeles uses its gang prevention and intervention money. (Matt Fleischer, as you might remember, wrote Part 1 and Part 2.)

This last segment of the series is titled “Where Do We Go From Here? and it will be out on Monday morning, Dec. 20, and will contain a list of suggestions about how the city might strengthen, improve and expand its existing gang violence reduction programs—GRYD. All this will be largely based on the suggestions from community members, experts, academics, city officials, and others, as to what an ideal gang plan might look like..

Anyway, as I was gathering information on Wednesday, I was once again forcibly and tragically reminded why LA needs the most effective possible gang violence reduction program—and it needs it now.

I’d just finished a lunch meeting on the topic with Connie Rice, where we talked about, among other things, the Stanford study showing that nearly a third of LAUSD middle schoolers in high crime areas were suffering from PTSD. Now I was racing to my home office for a phone meeting with a northern California researcher.

Before I called the No Cal guy, I checked my email and noticed I had a bunch of messages that all had the same subject head: “Moreno.”

I also had more phone messages than is usual.

After I read the first of the emails, I no longer had the heart to check the blinking phone. I knew what the calls would be about.

There had been another death.

The victim was a 27-year-old man named Luis Diaz, nicknamed “Moreno.” He is…was….someone whom I have known for many years, a former gang member who had not been active in a very long time. He worked at Homeboy Industries and was enormously well liked. Right now his most urgent concern was figuring out how to be a good father for his two children.

On Wednesday, he was supposed to go on a group hike with another senior staff member, (another young man whom I’ve known for a thousand years), plus a bunch of youngsters, I think it was.

At the last minute, Moreno decided he’d better stay home instead of hiking. He was feeling sick, and thought the hike would be a mistake.

As it turned out, home was the mistake.

Sometime around 11:30 am, Moreno had presumably begun to feel better and ventured outside his house where he got lured into a game a street football on the 2600 block of 3rd Street in Boyle Heights, between Mott and Fickett. At approximately 12:13 a car rolled into view and someone inside the car “lit him up,” as his former homeboys would later put it.

According to Sergeant Haggerty of the Hollenbeck division of the LAPD, Moreno was transported to County USC Hospital where he died shortly after arriving. The LAPD is not yet certain whether or not Moreno was the intended victim.

The staff at the Homeboy office got the news around 12:30. At first the message contained bad news but still had room for frail optimism, “Moreno’s been shot.” But within minutes it changed. “He didn’t make it.” The staff gathered in the lobby for a meeting, a vigil of sorts. Somebody put a white feather in the center of the gathered group. Another somebody burned some sage. A staffer mentioned that Moreno had lost his only brother to gang violence several years ago. Mostly there was silence and sobbing.

Everyone in the room appeared to be dizzy with grief.

At 4 p.m. Father Greg Boyle was scheduled to be on CBS’s Dr. Phil show, which had been taped a few days before. The staff had planned to congregate and watch the show together. Everyone hoped it would produce donations. The joint viewing took place but there was no longer any joy in it. The talk about the “lethal absence of hope” that produced gang violence had once again been illustrated too painfully.

I was not at Homeboy at the time, I was at home where, as afternoon turned to evening, I got more calls. The first was from a community mother named Pamela McDuffie who told me how Moreno had often taken her own son under his wing, when the son was threatening to go off the rails. “We’ve buried so many of our boys,” she said, then she reeled off a list of dead young men whom we know in common. “And now Moreno,” she said, her voice gray with sorrow and fatigue,. “I just can’t stand it. I sometimes dream about them. Did I ever tell you that?”

A later call was from an edgy 21-year-old homeboy, who is still skating the edge of gang life. He too told me of the times when Moreno had provided a calming influence when he desperately needed calming.

Those much closer than I am to Moreno said that some of his own demons were not yet vanquished and, of late, he had been struggling painfully with old emotional wounds. But he had showed none of that to my homeboy caller.

“I can’t believe he’s the one who got killed,” said the homeboy. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

And not just killed, I thought. Shot to death while playing street football at noon, for god’s sake, in a residential neighborhood in Boyle Heights with a bunch of other people around.

“Nobody can believe it,” I said.

Yet there it was.

Father Greg was in Seattle on some book-related event or other when Moreno was shot. He cut his trip short and flew back to LA Thursday morning.

In between we exchanged texts and emails, as he did with others who felt the strong need to touch base with him.

I got Greg’s last email around 8:30 a.m., sent as he waited to board his flight.

“Crying as I write this…” it began.

Posted in Gangs | 10 Comments »

Airforce Blocks Access TO Press, Sheriff Blocks Access BY Press

December 15th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

In his column in Wednesday’s LA Times,
Steve Lopez reports that the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department—presumably with the okay of Sheriff Lee Baca—has instructed its deputies not to talk to reporters from LA County’s main news outlet, namely the Los Angeles Times.

Or something like that.

Here’s the relevant section on Lopez’s column:

The latest [LASD/Lee Baca] head-smacker involves an e-mail from one of Baca’s captains ordering deputies not to speak to the L.A. Times. As my colleague Robert Faturechi reported Tuesday, the captain’s directive came just a few days after the paper ran Faturechi’s story on the fact that Baca had launched a criminal investigation in Beverly Hills — which has its own presumably competent Police Department — on behalf of a political donor.

It was outrageous enough that Baca took the unusual step of sticking his nose into a case Beverly Hills police had already decided was a civil matter. But then his department puts out the word to punish The Times for doing its job?

Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore claimed the e-mail had nothing to do with The Times’ Beverly Hills story.

Yeah, OK.

Whitmore also claimed The Times wasn’t being singled out.

Hmmmm. Then why did the e-mail instruct deputies to forward media requests to headquarters, “Specifically any LA Times requests.”

“It’s vernacular,” Whitmore told me. “It’s shorthand.
I know it sounds silly.”

Um, yeah. Really, really silly. And really disingenuous.

But, hey, we’re living through a month in which the US Air Force just announced on Tuesday that it is barring its personnel from using work computers to view the Web sites of The New York Times and more than 25 other news organizations and blogs.

Why? Take a wild guess.

Yep. You got it. Wikileaks.

I’d say all this madness was due to some new contaminant in the water,
but the east coast/west coast nature of these dismayingly wrong-headed occurrences pretty much leaves that out.

Dunno. Bad moon rising.

Posted in Free Speech, Freedom of Information | 13 Comments »

Compton’s McKinley Elementary Becomes 1st “Parent Trigger” School….Maybe

December 15th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Patrick Range McDonald and Simone Wilson at the LA Weekly
are doing a great job of covering the precedent-setting fight that is going on at McKinley Elementary School in Compton where a group of activist parents, together with the activist school reform group, the Parent Revolution, are using a new and controversial law called The California Parent Trigger to transform their failing local school into a charter.

Now, however, reports the Weekly, some of McKinley’s teachers are fighting back and according to parent organizers—and a video—some of those teachers are fighting dirty—telling parents that if their kid is in special ed, he or she will no longer be able to attend school..

Similar tactics were used several years ago when Locke High School parents, together with the Green Dot charter schools, attempted to turn Locke into a charter, after which UTLA strafed the Locke parents with misinformation in an effort to block the charter conversion—which happened anyway, and academic life at Locke has been much the better for it, thank you very much.

To understand this story it is first important to understand how the Parent Trigger works. Here’s how the Weekly explains it:

The California Parent Trigger law was passed against huge odds by the Democratic-controlled, teacher union–friendly state Legislature, becoming law this year. The California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers lobbied hard for its demise, but they were beaten by what one Sacramento insider later described as a “ragtag” bunch of minority parents and fierce reformers, who seemed to materialize from thin air.

The trigger gives parents the power to decide the fate of 75 failing California schools by petitioning the school district. It’s up to California parents to choose which schools.

Mothers and fathers who pull the Parent Trigger can pick four options:

1. Establish a charter school in the school buildings;
2. Bring in a new staff and exert some control over staffing and budgeting;
3. Keep the school intact but fire the principal; or
4. Shutter the school entirely and send the students to better, nearby schools.

But first, these hyperlocal reformers must get at least 51 percent of all parents whose children attend that school to join them in signing off on the idea.

The LA Times’ Carla Rivera also reports that parents say they are being intimidated by certain McKinley teachers:

Marlene Romero said that her son’s third-grade teacher asked to speak to her about his education and then spent an hour telling her why she shouldn’t support the petition drive.

“I want the principal and all the teachers to stop intimidating parents and especially our kids,” Romero said. “It’s really sad. My son told me he hated me for what I’m doing. I told him that I’m doing this for his future.”

The parents were joined by Michelle Rhee, the former Washington, D.C., public schools chancellor who heads the recently-formed reform group Students First. She urged district administrators to create ground rules for acceptable and unacceptable behavior by employees.

“If [educators] are saying that parents need to get more involved … we cannot create a hostile environment” when parents speak up, Rhee said.

However, by 8:40 p.m. Tuesday night, the Weekly’s Simone Wilson, blogging from the Compton school board meeting, reports that it is the anti-charter people who have come out in force.

And at the Wave, <a href="”>Leiloni du Gruy reports on the Parent Trigger situation from the perspective of McKinley’s school principal.

Obviously there is much more to play out in the days to come, so stay tuned.


Westwood Patch has the story:

Brown told the roughly 200 people at the briefing that the state’s financial situation is worse than it was in the Great Depression.

”We’re at an unprecedented moment of reckoning,” Brown said. ”This perfect storm, I think, is the worst it’s ever been because we’re not quite in the same position in the Depression, where government played a small, much smaller role in the life of our communities as it does today.”

Photo by Leiloni De Gruy for The Wave

Posted in Charter Schools, Education | 1 Comment »

Wendy Greuel Audit Finds LA Housing *Forgot* to Collect Millions of $$

December 15th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

In a belt-tightening fiscal climate, where the City of LA has a $350 million short fall in its budget, it is a bit dismaying to learn that the Los Angeles Housing Department somehow failed to even try to collect $48 million in fees and rent owed to the LAHD, and thus to the city.

This is according to an audit of the LAHD released on Tuesday by City Controller Wendy Greuel.

We are thankful that the controller did the audit and uncovered yet one more hole in LA’s monetary pockets.

Just as weirdly, Greuel found that the LAHD has multi-millions it has collected that is sitting in a bank account, unused.

This is from the Controller’s statement:

“The Housing Department does a very good job helping to build housing, they’re not good at collecting money. Referring only 29% of fees for collection is simply unacceptable,” said City Controller Greuel. “I’ve talked about the need for improved collections many times, while the City will never achieve a 100% collection rate, City Departments must do a better job of sending these delinquent accounts to agencies more equipped to collect the outstanding funds.”

How in the world does this sort of thing happen?

Perhaps if those working at the LAHD were directly affect by the collection, or lack thereof, of millions of dollars in fees,—let’s say if the LAHD folks had their salaries dependent on some reasonable percentage of the money getting rounded up—maybe then the whole fee collection thingy would feel a bit more urgent.

I’m just saying.

Note: This past summer Greuel found that other city departments were failing to collect hundreds millions of dollars.


Posted in City Controller | 2 Comments »

Head of DCFS Trish Ploehn is Out: Did We Want Someone to Blame?

December 14th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

The announcement went out Monday morning that the head of the Department of Children and Family Services
, Trish Ploehn, has been removed as the head of DCFS.

The LA Times predicted her ouster over a month ago.

Axing Ploehn may or may not be the right thing to do. The opinions around town (and beyond) on the matter are all over the place.

Some feel she was simply not up to the job, and that a recent string of child deaths proved it. Others suggest that, in a long troubled and secretive department that has been chronically plagued by child deaths and other horrors, she was simply the nearest and most obvious person to blame.

(The LA Weekly reported in November that as early September, Ploehn’s attorney wrote the County CEO about a “smear campaign” against her allegedly coming from a couple of the supervisors.)

She will be replaced on a purely interim basis by Antonia Jimenez, a top aide to county Chief Executive William T Fujioka, while a nationwide search for a permanent director takes place.

In a story for the LA times, Garrett Therolf writes that it is hoped that Jimenez will begin whipping the department into shape even during her temporary tenure.

Jimenez will not have the benefit of significant child welfare experience. She came to Los Angeles County government only months ago after working as a senior manager at Deloitte, the management consulting firm, and in Massachusetts state government, including the governor’s office, focusing mostly on healthcare issues.

Since arriving in L.A., however, she has gained officials’ confidence for her management expertise and has been admired for her reputation as a turnaround expert. Behind the scenes, she has asked supervisors’ aides to pull back from their involvement in the department’s affairs to give her and the chief executive’s staff the opportunity to take nearly singular ownership of the day-to-day efforts to correct the agency.

Looking in from the outside, the disheartening part of this whole thing is that Ploehn is just the latest in a string of DCFS directors who have gone from being the the possible saviors of the LA County foster care system.

I don’t know Ploehn, but I did talk at length, on several occasions with her predecessor’s predecessor, Anita Bock.

Bock was a rising star in the foster care world, recruited in 1999 to come to Los Angeles after she had a dramatic success in overhauling Miami’s smaller but similarly ailing foster-care system.

When we talked a decade ago, in the spring of 2000, Bock was still viewed as the new DCFS savior, but I found her to be very down to earth and passionate about the work. This is a little of what she said about what needed fixing at DCFS:

“Most of our social workers have 50 or 60 cases, which is quadruple the nationally recommended number of 15. That’s clearly unworkable. We also have a bureaucracy that actively prevents people on the frontlines from making decisions that are in the best interests of the child, and tends to meet its own needs first.” She smiled wryly. “Which means it’s doing whatever it can to avoid liability. We can’t afford to operate like that anymore. We have to put the needs of the kids first, the needs of everybody else second.”

Bock also described the required training for foster parents as woefully inadequate. “And we should do a complex psychological and social evaluation before we place a child, in order to determine their specific needs and match them with an appropriate family,” she said. “Instead, we thrust children into care without any kind of effective assessment. That’s just a recipe for problems.”

So what to do?

Bock sighed. “We have to gently and humanely unravel the mess that is L.A. County foster care,” she said. “And the community needs to step up to the plate as well. There’s a good reason that all these kids are flooding into the system. American children are in deep trouble. That’s obvious everywhere you look.” Still she insisted that she is optimistic. “I think in six months or a year, this agency is going to really surprise everybody — not just the state but the whole country.”

As I said, that was ten years ago.

Unfortunately, instead of gobs of progress, there were some incremental moves forward. The bureaucracy and the resistance was formidable. Yet, while Bock made visible improvements. The troubled department didn’t move fast enough and, after three years, Bock’s contract wasn’t renewed.

Following Bock, there was David Sanders, another purported savior. Sanders wasn’t tossed out, but got so fed up that he quit DCFS to go work elsewhere.

Enter Trish Ploehn, the first director promoted from within the organization and someone on whom many hopes were pinned. And now exit Trish Ploehn.

That’s three directors in 10 years— soon to be four.

It makes one wonder if perhaps the problems are not just with the directors. Perhaps there is something deeper and more systemic that continues not to be addressed.

Still, as foster care activist/journalist Daniel Heimpel points out, under Ploehn there were some substantive changes.

He writes:

Not knowing the full circumstance of Ploehn’s removal, I can only offer what I do know. Under her watch the number of children in care was dramatically reduced, sparing thousands of children from the trauma of removal. She was the architect of a culture shift that compelled social workers to toe the scary line between the safety of foster care versus the value of leaving that child in a family home.

“This is not the easy route,” Ploehn wrote in a letter to her workers announcing the end of her tenure. “But it is what we know to be best for the children and families we serve. And this is the work that needs to be done moving forward – ensuring that each and every child in our County truly enjoys a sense of wholeness, of the security that comes with being a member of a safe, strong, loving family.”

From the outside things seem black and white. But we as a culture left those hard decisions to the workers under Ploehn’s watch. They were the ones who had to decide whether a child was safer in his or her family home or in a foster care system known to be imperfect. As one worker told me “the only way they [the children] would be safer is if we slept in the homes with them.”

But the workers don’t sleep in broken homes and humans have the capacity to act horribly. Whenever that happened, we looked for someone to blame. Too often that was the Department and its head. Now she is gone. Without someone to blame, maybe it is time we all ask what we can do to help our collective children.

Yes. What he said.

UPDATE: in January 2003, the wonderful writer Ed Hume wrote an article for LA Magazine called “The Unwanted. It was about DCFS in general, and the infamous and now-closed MacLaren Hall, in particular. I was rereading the story this morning and was struck by this paragraph:

Bold pronouncements from county officials that a solution is at hand have become an annual ritual, followed by another ritual: rounds of finger-pointing and firings when little is solved. (Anita Bock, ousted last July as director of the Department of Children and Family Services is only the latest casualty….)

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

Photo by Anne Cusack, Los Angeles Times


It’s good. Read it.

Here’s how it opens:

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s inauguration, on a sunny Los Angeles morning 5 1/2 years ago, was a moment of celebration and promise. Villaraigosa’s personal future appeared limitless; the city seemed poised to reap great things. “We need,” he said that day to 3,000 adoring supporters, “to start thinking big again.”

That feels like a long time ago.


The NY Times’ Sheryl Gay Stolberg analyzes what Monday’s ruling on the health care bill really means in a practical sense. (Hint. It’s not good.)

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, Foster Care | 5 Comments »

Mass Incarceration…Prison Strike in Georgia…LA’s Homeless

December 12th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

The January/February issue of American Prospect magazine
contains a special report on what has become a system of mass incarceration in the US.

The report points out that, right now, nearly 1 percent of the American adult population is imprisoned—a rate unprecedented in American history. Between 1980 and 2008, the US population grew 34 percent, while the prison population grew 375 percent.

Most of those locked up will be released. And a high percentage of those reentering our communities will offend again because the rehabilitation and re-entry policies we’re using are inadequate, nonexistent or, in many cases, aggressively counterproductive.

For most of you reading WitnessLA, this is not exactly new news. But what is interesting about this report is that it focuses on a series of strategies that could help the US might reduce its prison and parole population while still keeping a strong focus on public safety.

Take a look for yourself.


Prisoners at up to seven Georgia prisons have organized a nonviolent demonstration to protest living conditions et al in the state’s correctional institutions.

The strike, which was into its third day on Sunday, is expected to continue into Monday. (It is being billed as the largest prison strike in American history although I’ve not been able to independently verify that claim.)

Curiously, there is almost zip media coverage of the strike inside Georgia, save some by alternative media.

Monday, however, the New York times is running an article about how the strike was coordinated though the use of contraband cell phones.


Monday’s NY Times also has an article on LA’s plan to end homelessness within 5-years. (Or at least that’s what the planners hope).

Here’s how the story opens:

At a time when cities across the country have made significant progress over the past decade in reducing the number of homeless, in no small part by building permanent housing, the problem seems intractable in the County of Los Angeles.

It has become a subject of acute embarrassment to some civic leaders, upset over the county’s faltering efforts, the glaring contrast of street poverty and mansion wealth, and any perception of a hardhearted Los Angeles unmoved by a problem that has motivated action in so many other cities.

For national organizations trying to eradicate homelessness, Los Angeles — with its 48,000 people living on the streets, including 6,000 veterans, according to one count — stands as a stubborn anomaly, an outlier at a time when there has been progress, albeit modest and at times fitful, in so many cities…


Posted in parole policy, prison, prison policy, Probation | 4 Comments »

WikiLeaks, Assange, Public Bloodlust & a Few Sane Voices

December 10th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

The hysterical reactions by seemingly sane people on the topic of WikiLeaks
and Julian Assange grow ever more deeply disheartening.

But there are, fortunately, a few people talking sense
, among them Ron Paul and Tom Hayden, two men who would find themselves at opposite ends of many questions. But on this crucial issue they agree. Similarly, Salon’s lawyer/columnist Glenn Greenwald finds a kindred spirit on the matter on former Bush administration lawyer, Jack Goldsmith:


Texas Congressman Ron Paul spoke on the floor of the House of Representatives on Friday
where he passionately defended Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

Here’s a clip from reporting by the Atlantic Wire:

“Why is the hostility directed at Assange, the publisher, and not at our governments failure to protect classified information?” asked Paul. He went on to compare WikiLeaks to the Pentagon Papers, explaining how both exposed American wars that were based on “lies.” He also asked his colleagues which events caused more deaths, “Lying us into war, or the release of the WikiLeaks papers?”

At the end of his speech, Paul asked his listeners 9 questions, which are as follows:

Number 1: Do the America People deserve know the truth regarding the ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen?

Number 2: Could a larger question be how can an army private access so much secret information?

Number 3: Why is the hostility directed at Assange, the publisher, and not at our governments failure to protect classified information?

Number 4: Are we getting our moneys worth of the 80 Billion dollars per year spent on intelligence gathering?

Number 5: Which has resulted in the greatest number of deaths: lying us into war or Wikileaks revelations or the release of the Pentagon Papers?

Number 6: If Assange can be convicted of a crime for publishing information that he did not steal, what does this say about the future of the first amendment and the independence of the internet?

Number 7: Could it be that the real reason for the near universal attacks on Wikileaks is more about secretly maintaining a seriously flawed foreign policy of empire than it is about national security?

Number 8: Is there not a huge difference between releasing secret information to help the enemy in a time of declared war, which is treason, and the releasing of information to expose our government lies that promote secret wars, death and corruption?

Number 9: Was it not once considered patriotic to stand up to our government when it is wrong?

Thomas Jefferson had it right when he advised ‘Let the eyes of vigilance never be closed’


Tom Hayden is just as impassioned as Paul, although his approach is calmer. Here is a clip from the analytical essay that he sent out to friends on Wednesday about what he calls The Lynch Mob Moment.

We know that conservatives are extremists for order, but why have so many liberals lost their minds and joined the frenzy over Julian Assange and WikiLeaks? As the secrets of power are unmasked, there is a growing bipartisan demand that Julian Assange must die.

Once-liberal Democrat Bob Beckel said on FOX, “there’s only one way to do it: illegally shoot the son-of-a-bitch.” Center-liberal legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said on CNN that Assange is “absurd”, “ridiculous”, “delusional”, and “well beyond sympathy of anyone”. The Washington Times called for treating him as an “enemy combatant”; Rep. Peter King of the Homeland Security Committee who wants him prosecuted as a terrorist; and of course, Sarah Palin wants Assange “pursued with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders”, or a wolf in Alaska.

This is a lynch-mob moment, when the bloodlust runs over. We have this mad overreaction many times since the witch-burnings and Jim Crow, including the Palmer Raids of the 1920s, the McCarthy purges of the 1950s, the Nixon-era conspiracy trials, the Watergate break-ins, and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11.

Most Americans now know that those frenzied periods of scapegoating did nothing for our security, which instead damaged our democracy and left in their wake a secretive National Security State.

There is wisdom in expecting calmer heads to prevail in the WikiLeaks matter, but what can be done when the calmer heads are going nuts or hiding in silence?

Do the frothing pundits remember that we have a legal system in which the accused is entitled to due process, legal representation and the right to a defense? The first obligation of our threatened elected officials, bureaucrats and pundits is to calm down.

Hayden acknowledges that wholesale release of the WikiLeaks documents could do damage:

I can understand the reasonable questions that reasonable people have about this case. It is clearly illegal to release and distribute the 15,652 documents stamped as “secret.” Why should underground whistleblowers have the unlimited right to release those documents? There is a risk that some individuals might be harmed by the release. There is a concern that ordinary diplomatic business might be interrupted.

But he also reminds us what we have thus far gotten from Julian Assange and WikiLeaks:

1. WikiLeaks disclosed 390,136 classified documents about the Iraq War and 76,607 about Afghanistan so far. No one died as a result of these disclosures, one of which revealed another 15,000 civilian casualties in Iraq which had not been acknowledged or reported before;

2. Fragmentary orders [FRAGO] 242 and 039 instructed American troops not to investigate torture in Iraq conducted by America’s allies;

3. The CIA operates a secret army of 3,000 in Afghanistan;

4. A secret US Task Force 373 is assigned to nighttime hunter-killer raids in Afghanistan;

5. The US ambassador in Kabul says it is impossible to fix corruption when our ally is the corrupt entity;

6. One Afghan minister alone carried $52 million out of the country;

7. US Special Forces operate in Pakistan without public acknowledgment, apparently in violation of that country’s sovereignty;

8. America’s ally, Pakistan, is the chief protector of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

9. Following secret U.S air strikes against suspected al-Qaeda militants, Yeme’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh told General David Petraeus, “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours.”

10. U.S. government contractor DynCorp threw a party for Afghan security recruits featuring trafficked boys as the entertainment. Bacha bazi is the Afghan tradition of “boy play” where young boys are dressed up in women’s clothing, forced to dance for leering men, and then sold for sex to the highest bidder. DynCorp has been previously linked to child sex trafficking charges.


Salon’s Glenn Greenwald (who also happens to be an attorney trained in Constitutional law) has been stalking the absurd inaccuracies put out by major media outlets—like, for example, Time magazine— when they report on the ongoing WikiLeaks story.

Read and grow angry.


On Friday, former Bush administration lawyer, Jack Goldsmith, posted 7 “thoughts” on the matter of WikiLeaks. They are all worth reading, but here are the first three:

* I find myself agreeing with those who think Assange is being unduly vilified. I certainly do not support or like his disclosure of secrets that harm U.S. national security or foreign policy interests. But as all the hand-wringing over the 1917 Espionage Act shows, it is not obvious what law he has violated. It is also important to remember, to paraphrase Justice Stewart in the Pentagon Papers, that the responsibility for these disclosures lies firmly with the institution empowered to keep them secret: the Executive branch. The Executive was unconscionably lax in allowing Bradley Manning to have access to all these secrets and to exfiltrate them so easily.

* I do not understand why so much ire is directed at Assange and so little at the New York Times. What if there were no wikileaks and Manning had simply given the Lady Gaga CD to the Times? Presumably the Times would eventually have published most of the same information, with a few redactions, for all the world to see. Would our reaction to that have been more subdued than our reaction now to Assange? If so, why? If not, why is our reaction so subdued when the Times receives and publishes the information from Bradley through Assange the intermediary? Finally, in 2005-2006, the Times disclosed information about important but fragile government surveillance programs. There is no way to know, but I would bet that these disclosures were more harmful to national security than the wikileaks disclosures. There was outcry over the Times’ surveillance disclosures, but nothing compared to the outcry over wikileaks. Why the difference? Because of quantity? Because Assange is not a U.S. citizen? Because he has a philosophy more menacing than “freedom of the press”? Because he is not a journalist? Because he has a bad motive?

* In Obama’s Wars, Bob Woodward, with the obvious assistance of many top Obama administration officials, disclosed many details about top secret programs, code names, documents, meetings, and the like. I have a hard time squaring the anger the government is directing toward wikileaks with its top officials openly violating classification rules and opportunistically revealing without authorization top secret information….

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Free Speech, Freedom of Information, Future of Journalism | 6 Comments »

ACLU Settles Historic Lawsuit: CA Schools Don’t Get to Charge for Education

December 10th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Earlier this year the ACLU
filed what has come to be known as the PAY TO LEARN class action suit that challenged the widespread and entirely illegal practice of charging students fees for all manner of educational participation—lab fees for science classes, extra fees to enroll in AP classes, the requirement to buy expensive textbooks in order to take a course, ditto workbooks and other equipment that, by state law, is supposed to be available without charge to every student, if such items are required.

On Thursday the statewide affiliates of the ACLU announced the settlement of the suit filed in September.

In brief, the settlement makes it easy for parents and students to lodge a complaint in order to identify, and receive reimbursement for, illegal school fees.

It also puts in place an auditing system, complete with unpleasant penalties for schools and districts that continue to be scofflaws on the fee business.

Plus, it required a letter to go out from the governor to all school districts explaining that such fees are not only in violation of California’s education code but they also run afoul of the state’s constitution, as established by a 1984 CA Supreme Court ruling.

“I’m glad that now students can read books rather than purchase them,” said an exuberant Mark Rosenbaum, chief counsel of the ACLU/SC.

Although state officials had, for years, looked the other way when it came to these illegal fees, they seemed relieved when the lawsuit put push to shove, said ACLU attorney David Sapp.

“Almost as soon as we filed, the Secretary of Education, Bonnie Reiss, was very responsive.”

Sapp also said that when the ACLU filed the suit, although they had found many instances of these onerous feels in districts all over the state, it wasn’t until after news of the lawsuit hit the newspapers that Sapp and the other lawyers began to have a real idea of the magnitude of the problem. “I’ve now spoken with scores of parents and students, each with a new story,” he said. “It’s unbelievable.”

I had my own experience when I included a question about the lawsuit on the weekly news quiz I give to my USC journalism students at the beginning of class. After we corrected the quizzes, students brought up the lawsuit and expressed astonishment that such fees were forbidden. In fact, nearly kid in the class who went to high school in California seemed to have his or her own academic fee story. Usually several of them.

I suddenly thought of the time that my now-25-year old son was required to purchase a fancy $70 or $80 calculator in order to take his advanced math classes when he was a 9th grader at Pacific Palisades High School.

“It’s gone on for years,” said Sapp. “Years.”

Rosenbaum agreed. “Here’s the thing,” he said. “They all knew that they were breaking the law. They just didn’t do anything about it.”

Now, thankfully, state officials have no choice but to do something about it.


The LA Times’ Patrick McDonnell and David Zahniser report on Antonio unloading on UTLA (which, quite frankly deserves it):

Here’s a clip:

With a hard-hitting speech that branded the city’s teachers union as an unyielding obstruction to education reforms, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa set the stage this week for a new battle over control of the troubled Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second-largest.

In a Sacramento address to state leaders, Villaraigosa — himself a longtime teachers union employee before launching a career in public office — declared that education in Los Angeles stands at “a critical crossroads,” and he assailed United Teachers Los Angeles for resisting change.

During the last five years, the mayor said, union leaders have stood as “one unwavering roadblock to reform.” He called for change in contentious areas such as tenure, teacher evaluations and seniority — all volatile arenas in which teachers unions have balked at proposals for reform as eroding their rights.

“At every step of the way, when Los Angeles was coming together to effect real change in our public schools, UTLA was there to fight against the change and slow the pace of reform,” Villaraigosa declared at a forum of the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonpartisan think tank.

There’s a lot more. Evidently AV was just warming up with what I’ve reproduced above.

So read on.

Posted in ACLU, Education | No Comments »

California Appeals Court Tells State’s Schools to Shape Up….& More

December 9th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

On Tuesday, in a ruling that has gotten little attention
but that could have lasting impact, the California Court of Appeal ruled that California public schools have to provide enough physical education to comply with state law.

This means, for elementary school, students must have at least 200 minutes of PE every ten days, or an average of 20 minutes per day (not including lunch or recess) at least 40 minutes on average per day in middle and high school.

The ruling opens the way for either a lot of lawsuits if schools fail to comply.

According to public records obtained from the Department of Education by The City Project, a non-profit legal and policy advocacy organization working to enforce physical education laws throughout the state, a sample audit of schools from 2004-2009 showed that, of the nearly 1,000 school districts in California, half were not enforcing physical education minutes requirements.

“Thankfully, the California Court of Appeal recognizes that law means law and that public schools must provide adequate physical education, ” Robert García, Executive Director and Counsel of The City Project. “The ruling will help students move more, stay healthy, and do their best in school and life as part of a quality education. The health of California’s next generation is at stake here. What could be more important?”


On Thursday’s Fresh Air, David Sanger, the chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times, responds to the idiotic remarks by critics like Joe Lieberman (who said the US Justice Department should consider a criminal investigation into the Times regarding WikiLeaks) and explains why the newspaper decided to publish the cables.


For the first time since it was first introduced ten years ago, The Dream Act has passed through the US house of Representatives. The vote was 216 to 198.

But Republicans have said they will stop it in the Senate with a filibuster.

The AP has the details.


The LA Times has an editorial about why juveniles explaining why should not be given life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Here’s how it opens:

Sara Kruzan was 16 when she lured her former pimp into a motel room, shot and killed him and took his money. The terrible crime was committed in Riverside County by a girl who had been sexually molested and physically abused since her earliest days, raised by an addicted mother, gang-raped at 13 and at the same age sent into the streets to make a living as a prostitute by the man she would eventually kill.

But teenagers change. Today, at 32, Kruzan is a model prisoner in the honor dorm at Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla. In January, she will receive her associate’s degree from the nearby community college. She has volunteered for dozens of rehabilitation programs and won awards for her participation and attitude.

Not all juvenile criminals should receive parole, the Times writes.

but if they turn themselves around as Kruzan did, they should be given the opportunity to put their cases before a court or parole board. That’s why the Legislature should pass a bill that was reintroduced this week by state Sen. Leland Yee (D- San Francisco) after being rejected in August. The modest legislation would allow courts to review the cases of juveniles who were sentenced to life without parole after 10 years, possibly reducing their sentences to 25 years to life.

Meanwhile, the governor has an opportunity to leave office next month with a message of hope for California. Kruzan can become a contributing member of society — and a prime example of the value of rehabilitative programs in prison — or she can be a lifelong liability to taxpayers. People, especially teenagers, have the power to change. They can become better people. And sometimes, they do.

Let’s hope the state legislature has the good sense to take the example of Kruzen to heart.

Posted in Education, LAUSD | 1 Comment »

WikiLeaks: Why It’s Now About Free Speech & Taking A Stand

December 8th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Forget what you think about Julian Assange. It doesn’t matter whether you like him or loath him.
Nor does it matter if you think Assange and company were wrong to have distributed the leaks, or alternately if you think he’s the champion of transparency and democracy…..

None of this is the point. Not anymore.

The issue now is the dangerous nature of the campaign launched against Assange and WikiLeaks and what it points beyond itself to portend. This is about freedom of speech and freedom of the press. And it is a scary business.

My friend Marc Cooper has it right when he points to the column by Dan Gilmore at Salon as mandatory reading on the matter. Here’s the opening:

Journalists cover wars by not taking sides. But when the war is on free speech itself, neutrality is no longer an option.

The WikiLeaks releases are a pivotal moment in the future of journalism. They raise any number of ethical and legal issues for journalists, but one is becoming paramount.

As I said last week, and feel obliged to say again today, our government – and its allies, willing or coerced, in foreign governments and corporations — are waging a powerful war against freedom of speech.

WikiLeaks may well make us uncomfortable in some of what it does, though in general I believe it’s done far more good than harm so far. We need to recognize, however, as Mathew Ingram wrote over the weekend, that “Like It or Not, WikiLeaks is a Media Entity.” What our government is trying to do to WikiLeaks now is lawless in stunning ways, as Salon’s Glenn Greenwald forcefully argued today.

These are also acts of outright censorship. No, Amazon is not bound by the First Amendment. But if it’s bowing to government pressure, it’s helping a panicked government tear up one of our most basic freedoms.

consitutional lawyer/columnist Glenn Greenwald, who has taken the lead on a lot of this, also has a column on how so much of the mainstream media has been recklessly repeating falsehoods and misinformation about the leaks and their affect.

Yet, at the same time, a small but growing number of journalists and editors are speaking out with a rising sense of unease.

For instance here’s what senior editor Amy Davidson said at the New Yorker:

…Beyond Assange and his own legal situation, there is something disturbing going on: Joe Lieberman hounding private companies (before any legal actions has been taken); the way the site was repeatedly taken down; calls by politicians and journalists to kill the leakers or have them treated as enemy combatants (what does that mean? Guantánamo?); the Swiss bank account frozen (the Swiss say Assange had a false address on his form; but our ambassador there has also said some heavy-handed things to them); Visa and MasterCard stopping all transactions related to WikiLeaks. One could say that this is part of the bargain WikiLeaks signed up for—what did they think would happen? But, if it is permissible to use these measures against the site, why couldn’t they be used against any media organization that published classified information? Why WikiLeaks and not the Times, Guardian, or Der Spiegel (or The New Yorker)? If it’s because they and we are more respectable—what does that even mean? Any talk of creative uses of the 1917 Espionage Act, as by Senator Dianne Feinstein, should make one wary. (Glenn Greenwald has been following the legal side of the story.) Not that that much due process seems to have been involved in efforts to shut the site down. Does it just take the Administration saying something is illegal for it to be illegal?

Good question.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Free Speech, Future of Journalism | 15 Comments »

« Previous Entries Next Entries »