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A Close-Up Look at Slow-Motion Democracy at Occupy LA

October 31st, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

This past Saturday night I became—albeit briefly— a voting member of Occupy LA’s Finance Committee.

I’d been to OLA’s City Hall camp site for a minute or two a couple of times before on my way elsewhere. But on Saturday, I decided all other commitments could wait. My neighbor, the talented journalist, Sam Slovick was spending at least a week in a tent with the Occupiers, uploading regular dispatches for LA Weekly, Huffington Post and Slate.

Heck, even the LA Times’ Steve Lopez spent the night in a tent on the City Hall lawn.

I figured the least I could do was to hang out for a late afternoon and evening.

When I first arrived, my dog in tow, I did what most reporters seem to do at the Occupy sites. I snagged people, snapped their photos, asked them who they were, why they were there, what they did with their days they weren’t out here Occupying. Among those I met were a number of school teachers, a massage therapist, a Marine and his two kids, a retired newspaper reporter, a nurse, a guy who said he used to work for Wells Fargo, but was between jobs, and a venture capitalist. (No, really. I took his card and Googled him when I got home.)

I tried to avoid those who seemed discernibly crazy or extremely high (although my overwhelmed white wolf dog, Lily, seemed to magnetize the latter).

I did talk to the guy with the Boobies Not Bombs sign, but just to complement him on the bright pink bra he was wearing on his head.

After these mini interviews, I wandered over to the Welcome tent, where Occupy LA’s needs list and its itemized weekly budget were posted. This week’s budget amounted to $7509.90, with the $4669 for Porta Potty rentals the largest line item by far. At the welcome tent, I wound up chatting to a high school biology and physics teacher named Jeff who worked at the campsite daily. “Between this and teaching, I’m not getting much sleep,” he said.

Just as I was about to leave and go back to interviewing, Jeff announced that OLA’s Finance Committee was about to have a meeting. Would I like to attend?

I would, I said.

The Finance Committee, which it turned out had just changed its name to the Resource Committee (people are extremely word-sensitive around here), met on the lawn across Main Street from City Hall Park.

About a dozen people of various ages and ethnicities sat in a circle. Among those attending in addition to Jeff the teacher was a 50-ish retired school teacher who said he was still was very active in the union, UTLA, a man who’d founded some LA charter schools, a young woman wearing a pink tutu, whose name and profession I didn’t catch, and several other bright-seeming 20-somethings, who, along with an older, bearded guy named Deacon, looked to be the veterans of the committee.

I hung back a bit, intending only to observe, but I was told that my attendance qualified me as a voting participant. So I moved into the circle too.

It appeared that the mission of the Resource Committee wasn’t so much to decide how money was spent, as it was to determine how OLA’s funds were handled. Once of the first orders of business was to remind everyone that they were NOT, repeat, NOT to promise reimbursements to anyone, that there was an orderly process for reimbursements that had to be followed. In fact, no expenditure at all over $50 could be made without the approval of the General Assembly, or the “GA,” which meant “a minimum turnaround of 24-hours.”

The GA is Occupy LA’s theoretically leaderless and notoriously unruly governing body comprised of anybody and everybody who happens to show up for the nightly 7:30 General Assembly meeting. Each of the Occupy groups around the country, LA included, has roughly the same organizational structure as Occupy Wall Street. The structure includes the GA, plus such organizational tools as the cluster of hand signals used by all Occupiers when votes are taken, and for a variety of other forms of communication during meetings and assemblies.

(The whole hand signal thing was skillfully parodied by John Oliver on a recent segment of The Daily Show. Since I’d seen the parody, I was thankfully already familiar, for example, with the waggly fingered jazz hands gesture that meant I approved of a motion, or wanted to express enthusiasm at something a speaker said. The finger waggling sounds utterly silly when I write about it, but felt curiously unsilly and nearly natural when I actually did my own waggling. Ditto for another gesture I picked up after noticing others using it, which meant I was kinda meh on an idea.)

It seemed the main business that the Resource Committee had to address on this night was where to actually keep the organizations’ money, meaning the cash that OLA collected in donations each day for the running of the camp and any of OLA’s other expenses. As it stood, the funds were being held in the individual bank accounts of four different people—which didn’t strike anybody as the safest of set-ups. Thus the primary business at hand was to figure out what to do instead, and then recommend that course of action to the GA—and hope to heaven that the unruly group passed it.

However to persuade even this far smaller group to pass a resolution proved to be a distinctly labor-intensive endeavor.

In past days there had evidently been some discussion about becoming a 501(c)3 non-profit, which was a nit-picky process that could take more than a year, at best, often longer. So, it was recommended that they’d be best served to do what most beginning organizations do, which is to have some other like-minded 501(c)3 umbrella the designation down to them.

This umbrella suggestion, however, had been previously brought up to the GA and roundly voted down. A young woman on the committee named Claire explained that New York’s Occupy Wall Streeters had done the umbrella thing and there was something about them getting their bank account frozen. (I have no idea if any part of this story is true. In any case, it was enough to rattle the GA.)

Back at the Committee, the non-profit umbrella was brought up again, along with some other strategies, all of which were deemed to require further research.

Finally, it was proposed that while a more permanent solution was found, the money should be removed from the four personal bank accounts and put in a safe deposit box.

Haggling over the pros and cons of using a safe deposit box, and who should have keys to said box, took of most of the rest of the time. Matters were not helped by a late arrival to the group who opined at some length that maybe OLA shouldn’t be renting safe deposit boxes from banks at all, since banks were in fact the enemy. I was heartened when, after about 15-seconds of his harangue, other members of the committee began politely but firmly using the “wrap-it-up” hand gesture.

At several points, the charter school guy, whose name was Bob and who was clearly a man who had run a lot of his own meetings, attempted to convince those gathered that they should not waste time on the safe deposit thingy, but immediately resolve to find a non-profit that would act as an umbrella, and then pitch the whole thing to the GA and make sure the matter got passed. “You need your money to be secure and accessible,” he said. “You need a permanent solution. And you need a solution that is going to make bigger donors feel comfortable. A safe deposit box isn’t going to make large donors comfortable, trust me.”

Everyone listened, then returned to the safe deposit box question.

The meeting had begun just after 6 p.m. By 7:15, he resolution to get a safe deposit box, was getting mostly waggled fingers. (Bob had by this time progressed from Meh, to waggle fingers.) But it also got one “hard block,” from the tutu girl. The dreaded hard block is more than a NO vote, it’s a veto, which is physically demonstrated by crossing one’s forearms and fists over one’s chest.

What followed was another nearly 45 minutes of discussion and an evolving set of confusing and, to my mind, mostly meaningless amendments to the original motion. (The details of and reasons for the amendments are far too labyrinthine to detail here.) Finally—and thankfully—-the safe deposit box measure passed with a unanimous waggle of fingers at 7:58 p.m.

It was also determined that there would be one more committee meeting about the issue on Monday then, after a few more details had been researched, the whole thing would be presented to the GA on Monday night, and a box would hopefully be acquired on Tuesday.

“Democracy is messy,” Jeff whispered to me, after the motion passed.

“I think this might be why the framers of the U.S. Constitution decided on a republic,” I whispered back.

Then, sensing I probably sounded old and churlish, I added, “Hey, birth of any kind is messy.”

“Yeah,” said Jeff, “but if this movement is to stay true, this is how we need to do it.”

After the committee meeting broke up, I listened in on the GA for a while, then decided to wend my way home. Lily the wolf dog and I were tired out by all this Occupying and Democratizing.

Yet, before I Ieft, I spoke again to Charter School Bob (whose actual name is Bob Vanech, and it turns out he does a lot more than charter schools). He told me he’d been coming to the Occupy site almost daily and had spent a bunch of time with the Demands Committee.

“The Demands Committee?”

“It’s the committee that decides what demands Occupy LA is going to make of the mayor, the City Council, and others,” said Bob. “And we’ve got on some great ones! They’ll be rolling out soon.”

So, yeah, the Occupy movement is, in many ways, organizationally unwieldy. Yet certain things are getting done. Hundreds of people are fed at the campsite every day, their basic needs provided for. On Friday night at the GA, one of the collective decisions was to send $500 of OLA’s funds to Occupy Oakland, just to show “solidarity.”

One bearded and charismatic 26-year-old, former medical student, who was on the Resource Committee, and who seemed to be on several of the other significant committees in the camp, admitted the 99 percent movement was very much in its infancy, and its insistence on everyone having a say in everything could be maddening. “But this is the movement I’ve waited for all my life,” he said.

Fine. But will it really sustain itself and grow? And, if so, with its glacially democratic process that sucks up such great gobs of time, will it accomplish anything of consequence?

These are wide open questions.

But still….one can’t help but feel that, despite the messiness something is happening.….

And, call me crazy, but I don’t think it’s going away.

SAM SLOVICK’S wonderful Occupy LA photo, video, narrative series may be found here.

NOTE: THERE’S NEWS ON THE JAIL ABUSE ISSUE. We’ll discuss that all tomorrow.

Posted in Economy, Occupy | 4 Comments »

A Week’s Worth of Occupy Wall Street

October 28th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

I’ve not commented on Occupy Wall Street because there has been no shortage of coverage, and WitnessLA’s focus has been elsewhere.
However, after the events of this week—in particular Tuesday’ night’s Occupy Oakland situation—it seemed a bit nuts not to spend some time on the 99 percent movement.

On Thursday in California, the OWS news was moving quickly: Talk of a general strike was floated. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan apologized via video—albeit, awfully late, and not very eloquently. After, a scary 36 hours, word was released that Iraq war Marine Scott Olson—who was life-threateningly injured by some kind of allegedly police fired projectile Tuesday night in Oakland—would likely make a total recovery.

Then Friday morning, the LA Times editorial board advised Occupy LA that soon it should stop occupying LA—or LA’s City Hall, in any case:

....It would be best for everybody, including the demonstrators, if the impasse could be resolved without resorting to police in riot gear. Another location for the protest should be found, and if the participants are organized enough to put out a joint statement, they’re organized enough to negotiate a peaceful departure.

(Yeah. Good luck with that one.)

To catch you up on the rest of the week, I’ve gathered a shortlist of OWS news and commentary that you might have missed.


Slate’s whip smart legal writer, Dahlia Lathwick rants satisfyingly about the TV pundits increasingly weak attempts to dismiss Occupy Wall Street.

Here are some clips:

I confess to being driven insane this past month by the spectacle of television pundits professing to be baffled by the meaning of Occupy Wall Street. Good grief. Isn’t the ability to read still a job requirement for a career in journalism? And as last week’s inane “What Do They Want?” meme morphs into this week’s craven “They Want Your Stuff” meme, I feel it’s time to explain something: Occupy Wall Street may not have laid out all of its demands in a perfectly cogent one-sentence bumper sticker for you, Mr. Pundit, but it knows precisely what it doesn’t want. It doesn’t want you.

What the movement clearly doesn’t want is to have to explain itself through corporate television. To which I answer, Hallelujah. You can’t talk down to a movement that won’t talk back to you.


Think, for just a moment, about the irony. We are the most media-saturated 24-hour-cable-soaked culture in the world, and yet around the country, on Facebook and at protests, people are holding up cardboard signs, the way protesters in ancient Sumeria might have done when demonstrating against a rise in the price of figs. And why is that? Because they very wisely don’t trust television cameras and microphones to get it right anymore. Because a media constructed around the illusion of false equivalencies, screaming pundits, and manufactured crises fails to capture who we are and what we value.


It must be painful for the pundits at Fox News. The more they demand that OWS explain itself in simple, Fox-like terms, the more cheerfully they are ignored by the occupiers around the country. As efforts to ridicule the protesters fail, attempts to repurpose the good old days of enemies lists falter; and efforts to demonize the occupiers backfire, polls continue to show that Americans support the protesters and share their goals. The rest of us quickly cottoned on to the fact that the only people who are scared of the “violent mobs” at Occupy Wall Street are the people being paid to call them violent mobs.

Interestingly, Russia Today, which has been doing cogent reporting on the protests, has no trouble getting it.


For those of you who, like me, sadly missed this moment, Rolling Stone describes it. (Morello didn’t sing for the crowd, but did hand out 175 free tickets for his show at the Troubadour.)


Late Tuesday night, after a nearly six-hour marathon meeting, the normally hyper-controlling Irvine City Council voted unanimously to let the Occupy group camp in front of Irvine’s city hall for an extended period—and, by all accounts, seemed pleased about doing so. The mayor even rather solicitously offered to gather blankets for the Occupyers.

Here’s a clip from the report at Occupy OC.

The council members each spoke in turn to the civility, articulateness and peaceful process represented by the Irvine Occupation at contrast with the
several other Occupational Villages in California, which were, at that
very moment being tear-gassed. The general sentiment being: “This is quite
clearly the model. And the occupation most in tune with city needs.”

One councilman stated clearly, “I disagree with most of what you’re
But you’ve clearly shown that this is an issue of free speech. So
if you need to sleep on our lawn… by all means… sleep on our lawn.”

It’s not 100 percent clear how long the Council’s welcome mat will be out, but for the moment, the coming together of the two groups is weirdly heartening.


After Marine Scott Olson, who served two tours of duty in Iraq, was hit in the head and critically injured allegedly by a police-fired tear gas canister in Oakland Tuesday night, a fellow Marine who signed in as aburger, posted his commentary in photo form on Reddit, and Marines and others streamed in to respond.

When I last looked, the comments were at around 1800 and climbing.

Here are a couple of examples:

Semper Fi. This event, on top of the unprovoked attacks on non-violent protesters, is a game-changer. I look at my local news here in NC, and absolutely no mention of this. There should be outrage, and immediate reaction from civil authorities. While a civil suit is inadequate to address the situation in SF, I hope one is filed immediately in order to assign some accountability to those involved.

long time reddit lurker here…and 3x army veteran who was privileged to be attached to the 1st Marine Division during the invasion of Iraq. This incident really spooked me…gave me “that” feeling, you guys know what I’m talking about.

But this picture, aburger, it sent shivers down my spine. There is so much pain and betrayal in those eyes…and so much power. I have seen an angry Marine NCO before, I know those eyes. Thank you for sharing with us; you are not alone, he is not just a Marine brother- he is a brother of all of us veterans.


Tina Dupuy has an interesting commentary about how Americans see themselves. and why OWS is resonating.

Here’s the heart of it:

There’s a bastardized quote attributed to John Steinbeck that says socialism never took root in America because we all think we’re just temporarily embarrassed millionaires. The actual quote, which Steinbeck wrote in America and Americans, is more pointed, “I guess the trouble was that we didn’t have any self-admitted proletarians. Everyone was a temporarily embarrassed capitalist.”

We’re not really a culture of delusional dreamers who all believe someday we will be wealthy. There are some, sure. Their escapist fantasy involves a windfall and a secluded island. There are also those who (still) actually become rich. But for the vast majority of Americans — the myth is less we are going to be rich — the myth which led us to the extreme wealth distribution debacle we’re now in — is that we’re all homesteaders.

You don’t have to grow your own food, build your own house or “paint your own wagon” To believe you could if you really wanted to. And really, did in some indirect way.

We’re a society full of pioneers, pilgrims and immigrants.


So when things don’t go our way, we don’t blame outside factors. When we fail, we don’t see that the game is fixed. We tug at our bootstraps and feel anguish at our own deficiencies.

The reason why Occupy Wall Street is resonating still with Americans is because there are those who’ve been living with shame for what they see as not being self-sufficient…enough.


Occupy Wall Street is letting people who’ve been in the shadows know that they’re not alone and they didn’t cause this. It’s something Americans at their core don’t usually believe….

Posted in Occupy | 1 Comment »

Reporters and Secrets….Reporters Get Payback.

October 27th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


This NY Times Op Ed by Christopher Soghoian, writes that going to jail may not be enough to protect a journalist’s sources in this brave new digital world.

Here’s a clip:

BRAVE journalists have defied court orders and have even been jailed rather than compromise their ethical duty to protect sources. But as governments increasingly record their citizens’ every communication — even wiretapping journalists and searching their computers — the safety of anonymous sources will depend not only on journalists’ ethics, but on their computer skills.

Sadly, operational computer security is still not taught in most journalism schools, and poor data security practices remain widespread in news organizations. Confidential information is sent over regular phone lines and via text messages and e-mail, all of which are easy to intercept. Few journalists use secure-communication tools, even ones that are widely available and easy to use.


Couldn’t happen to a nicer duo. Dennis Romero of the LA Weekly has been following this story.


Posted in Must Reads | 1 Comment »

Police Trash Occupy Oakland’s Camp, Crowd Gets Tear Gassed, Iraq Vet Hurt

October 26th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

This rough video taken by a protester gives an alarmingly visceral feeling—minus the choking
—of the chaos of the second round of tear gassing plus use of flash bang grenades* by Oakland Police when Occupy Oakland protesters amassed after the OWL encampment located at Frank Ogawa Plaza was destroyed by police early Tuesday morning.

*NOTE: There is now a dispute about whether the Flash Bangs were used. Oakland police say they were not in use.


The Guardian reports on this upsetting story about Scott Olson, who did two tours in Iraq and was now working for a software company and part of the group Veterans for Peace. He now has a fractured skull and brain swelling after allegedly being hit by a police projectile in one of Tuesday night’s incidents.

ABC News also has a report on Olson.

This video from KTUV shows the wide variety of protesters….then the warning from police…..then the firing.

Kristin J. Bender, Scott Johnson, Sean Maher, and Cecily Burt and Angela Woodall writing for the Oakland Tribune are following the story. The San Jose Mercury News has a newsy, cut down version of their reporting. The full coverage complete with interviews with protesters about why they joined OWL in Oakland is here.

A good series of images by J.P Dobrin here.

The New York Times also has a bunch of videos up here.

Mother Jones has a roundup of the day’s and night’s moments at Occupy Oakland—told in Tweets, photos and video.

Posted in Economy, Occupy | 4 Comments »

Jerry Powers Officially Approved as Probation Chief. Now Who is He?

October 26th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

Jerry Powers was officially tapped on Tuesday as the new Chief of LA County’s troubled
Probation Department.

Powers, who is, at present, running the probation department for Stanislaus County was described to me by those who know him both in LA in in Stanislaus, as smart, down to earth, transparent, capable and a likeable straight shooter.

However, a source whom I talked to in Powers’ home county said most he knew were startled by the appointment and questioned why LA’s Board of Supervisors would pluck the head of an agency with a little over 200 employees supervising 7,000 adult probationers and 900 juveniles, and install him in the largest probation agency in the world—with 6,200 employees supervising 50,000 adult offenders and 20,000 kids.

“I mean he’s a good guy,” said the source, “He’s got good people skills. He returns phone calls. But, come on, we’re tiny. And frankly, we hardly pay attention to probation up here. It’s just not that big. So, yes, we were a little taken aback.”

Originally, it was rumored that the Board of Supervisors and CEO William Fujioka would engage in a national search to find someone to replace departing Probation head, Donald Blevins who assumed the post in April 2010.

Yet, a few have speculated that the Supes felt the need to move more quickly due to the looming October 31 federal deadline for reforms in LA’s juvenile probation camps. If the Department of Justice’s 41 requirements are not met, the Feds may take over the running of the camps and/or impose a federal consent decree. But the feds could extend the deadline if LA County makes a persuasive case that it should be given some leeway.

“And what better demonstration of good faith could there be than appointing a new probation chief?” commented one Probation watcher.

Others say that the Federal deadline is not at all the reason for the speed in choosing the new Chief. They point out that Powers was on the short list during the hiring process that produced Blevins and that some factions close to the selection process felt that Powers should have gotten the job back then, and is the ideal choice now.

Still, while Powers seems universally liked, there are those who worry whether or not he has the breadth of vision necessary to transform the kid-damaging catastrophe that LA County Probation’s juvenile system has become. “I look at his resume,” said one insider, “and I see a lot about grants acquired and buildings constructed. But I don’t see anything about outcomes for the kids. Nothing about education or innovative programs.”

[NOTE: Read Powers' Resume for yourself.]

Powers’ fans counter that he is the perfect nuts and bolts, Can Do guy to get the agency back on track. “Before we think about the vision thing,” a County source told me, “maybe we need somebody who can deal with the overtime and absenteeism, and stop kids from getting brutalized.”

Whether or not Powers is a great choice—or merely a good choice— to take over LA’s giant Probation Department is a question that will be answered more definitively by his actual doing of the job in the months and, we hope, years to come.

Yet one thing is certain: between the problem-haunted juvenile facilities and the influx of brand new adult parolees to the county system for oversight (under the new realignment process that shifts the monitoring of certain non-violent parolees to California’s counties and away from the state), Powers will face an impressive list of challenges.

Jerry Powers will take over as Chief on December 5. Cal Remington will be the acting chief in the interim.

Photo by Daily News

Posted in Probation | 1 Comment »

Looking at Our Broken System of Criminal Justice

October 26th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens reviews “The Collapse of American Criminal Justice
by William Stuntz in the November 10 issue of the New York Review of Books.

Stuntz, the highly respected Henry J. Friendly Professor of Law at Harvard University who died this year before the book’s publication, writes about, as his publisher Harvard University Press, puts it, how “the rule of law has vanished in America’s criminal justice system. Prosecutors now decide whom to punish and how severely. Almost no one accused of a crime will ever face a jury. Inconsistent policing, rampant plea bargaining, overcrowded courtrooms, and ever more draconian sentencing have produced a gigantic prison population, with black citizens the primary defendants and victims of crime.”

Yes, well, exactly.

Stuntz then goes on to examine how we got to this very sorry pass and what we might do to get ourselves out of the “Kafkaesque” situation.

It is fascinating to watch Stevens use his large and lovely legal mind to assess Stuntz’s thesis, even if he is, at times, a bit fussy in his deconstruction of this or that point, like a long-time copy editor pawing at a novel’s grammar before assessing its narrative.

In the end, Stevens concludes that anyone interested justice in would find the book “well worth reading” for the following three reasons:

It is full of interesting historical discussion. It accurately describes the magnitude of the twin injustices in the administration of our criminal law. It should motivate voters and legislators to take action to minimize those injustices.”

About the last point: Let us hope so.

I’ve already ordered my copy.

Posted in criminal justice, writers and writing | No Comments »

Working, Will Post Later Today

October 25th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

Posted in Life in general | No Comments »

Monday Must Reads

October 24th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


The biography of Steve Jobs comes out today, Monday (debuting at No. 1 on Amazon’s best seller list). CBS’s 60 Minutes has two segments that preview the book, and include a number of clips from author Walter Isaacson’s private interviews with jobs, all of which are weirdly fascinating. Reportedly, Jobs’ wife told Isaacson that he should pull no punches, that he should write an honest book, downsides, bad qualities, and all. Whether there were limits to that honesty will surely be examined minutely. In the meantime, watch the videos of the segments here. It’s not a social justice issue, but it’s good stuff.


It turns out that, absent an update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, law enforcement agencies will be able to search Americans’ e-mail or documents without having to acquire a judge’s permission, if those docs and emails are more than six months old and stored in those online clouds we like so much.

Wired Magazine has the story. Here’s a clip:

In the beginning, ECPA protected Americans’ e-mail from warrantless surveillance — despite ECPA allowing the government to access e-mail without a court warrant if it was six months or older and stored on a third-party’s server. The tech world now refers to these servers as “the cloud,” and others just think of Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, Facebook and Gmail.

ECPA was adopted at a time when e-mail, for example, wasn’t stored on servers for a long time. Instead, e-mail was held there briefly before recipients downloaded it to their inbox on software running on their own computer.

During the Reagan administration, e-mail more than six months old was assumed abandoned, and that’s why the law allowed the government to get it without a warrant. At the time, there wasn’t much of any e-mail for the authorities to acquire because a consumer’s hard drive — not the cloud — hosted their inbox.

But technology has evolved dramatically following EPCA’s passage. E-mail often remains stored on cloud servers indefinitely, in gigabytes upon gigabytes. That means the authorities may access gigs of e-mails, or other cloud-stored content, without warrants if it’s older than six months. The law, believe it or not, still considers as abandoned any e-mail or other files housed on servers for more than six months…..


Research suggests keeping older inmates locked up until they die might be an “expensive and unnecessary price for the public to pay,” the The AP reports.

Nationally, nearly 10 percent of more than 2.3 million inmates were serving life sentences in 2008, including 41,095 people doing life without parole, up 22 percent in five years, according to The Sentencing Project, which advocates alternatives to prison. The increase resulted from lawmakers “dramatically” expanding the types and repeat offenses that carry potential life terms, research analyst Ashley Nellis said.

“The theme is we’re protecting society, then the question is: From what?” said Soffiyah Elijah, executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, a watchdog group. She said with the cost of keeping a state inmate $55,000 a year — a cost that grows as they age and their medical needs increase — a financial analysis shows that parole and probation are far cheaper punishments that can also satisfy the public need for retribution….

Read on.


Over the weekend, the New York Times reported on a Silicon Valley Waldorf school that takes a contrarian view of the value of technology for school children. No computers are allowed in school at all, and they are “frowned on” at home, the Times’ Matt Richtell writes.

Here’s a clip:

The Waldorf method is nearly a century old, but its foothold here among the digerati puts into sharp relief an intensifying debate about the role of computers in education.

“I fundamentally reject the notion you need technology aids in grammar school,” said Alan Eagle, 50, whose daughter, Andie, is one of the 196 children at the Waldorf elementary school; his son William, 13, is at the nearby middle school. “The idea that an app on an iPad can better teach my kids to read or do arithmetic, that’s ridiculous.”

Mr. Eagle knows a bit about technology. He holds a computer science degree from Dartmouth and works in executive communications at Google, where he has written speeches for the chairman, Eric E. Schmidt. He uses an iPad and a smartphone. But he says his daughter, a fifth grader, “doesn’t know how to use Google,” and his son is just learning. (Starting in eighth grade, the school endorses the limited use of gadgets.)

Then on Sunday, smart education writer/wonk Dana Goldstein, took a contrarian view of the contrarian view. Here’s a clip from her commentary:

….We know from the work of sociologist Annette Lareau that college-educated parents are typically very good at introducing their children to the practices of asking questions, challenging authorities, and expressing doubt. Many working-class parents, on the other hand, emphasize deference to authority, and while that skill can be helpful in certain situations, it may not inculcate skepticism toward media sources–especially when you consider that working class and poor children are also less likely to be regularly exposed at home to newspapers, magazines, books, computers, high-speed Internet, and smartphones.

Media and information literacy are incredibly important, both for our civic health–we need informed voters–and for people’s day-to-day ability to use technology to find the info they want and need. That’s why I was impressed with a 10th grade social studies lesson I observed last spring in Providence, R.I. Jennifer Geller taught her students to fact-check their textbook using Google, but also explained to them how to sift the wheat from the chaff online, by understanding how Google and Wikipedia are programmed.

We also know that women and minorities are grossly underepresented in computing jobs, and that early exposure to computers and video games is correlated with developing a professional interest in high-tech fields….

I’d suggest avoiding either extreme, but that’s just me.

Posted in Must Reads | No Comments »

Student Privacy v. Press Freedom, LAUSD Cops Change Tactics….and More Friday Must Reads

October 21st, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


The Chicago Tribune and the University of Chicago disagree vehemently—and with potentially precedent setting consequences—about what information should be protected.

The New York Times’ Tamar Lewin has the story on this interesting case. Here’s how it opens:

It was bad enough for the University of Illinois when The Chicago Tribune’s 2009 series “Clout Goes to College” exposed the existence of a “clout list” that over five years gave hundreds of well-connected students an edge in admissions, and led to the resignations of the university president, the chancellor of the flagship Urbana-Champaign campus and most of the trustees.

But two years later, the university is still mired in litigation before the federal appeals court in Chicago, fighting the release of more documents the newspaper has asked for, including the names and addresses of the parents on the clout list. The university has turned over about 5,200 pages of documents to the newspaper. But in a separate state court proceeding, The Tribune is seeking the grade point averages and ACT scores of the students accepted from the clout list.

Those requests set off a shootout between the state’s freedom of information law and the federal privacy law for educational records.


Now that Get Tough student discipline policies are increasingly being shown to do more harm than good, The Los Angeles School Police have announced a change in tactics. Howard Blume reports for the LA Times.

Here’s a clip:

The Los Angeles School Police Department has issued new rules aimed at reducing the number of truancy tickets written to students and focusing efforts instead on helping these students get to and remain in school.

The new policy in the Los Angeles Unified School District, announced Thursday, is the latest change from a campaign to reform traditional school discipline that, advocates of the new policy say, results in ethnic and racial profiling and hardships for students and families. The old rules were part of a get-tough philosophy that included truancy sweeps, $250 tickets and mandatory court appearances that could result in jail time for parents. Such measures, advocates said, can diminish time in school and ultimately increase the dropout rate.

The new approach is an about-face.

And it’s a very, very welcome and important step.

“With this directive, school police officers will be a stronger partner with principals, students, parents and teachers to keep students on track within the educational environment by reducing court appearances,”[ LAUSD Chief of Police Steven] Zipperman said.

Data compiled by advocates indicates that Latino and black students receive a higher proportion of truancy tickets. Earlier, the Los Angeles Police Department modified its truancy policies. Activists also have pushed to reduce the number of student suspensions and expulsions — a goal school district officials have embraced.

Read the rest.


This Washington Post essay by Cal State LA student Valerie Strauss, originally ran in Education Week. Strauss writes about how trainee teachers—basically interns—are being jammed into LA’s failing schools and labeled “highly qualified And what the consequences are for LA’s students.

Here’s the opening.

I traveled from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., for the first time in my life last May. It was exciting to visit the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. But I wasn’t there to go sightseeing. I was there to ask my elected representatives why students at our country’s most challenged high schools are being taught by unqualified teachers, and why Congress is letting this happen.

They didn’t give me the answers I was hoping for. But I’m not about to let it go.

Read the rest.


The Sac Bee has the story. It speaks for itself.

Here’s a clip:

A federal judge this afternoon [Thursday] denied a challenge to California’s campaign disclosure law by proponents of Proposition 8, who sought to make donors’ identities secret, claiming they were harassed.

The preliminary ruling, by U.S. District Judge Morrison England Jr., comes almost three years after voters approved California’s same-sex marriage ban. In a case that is widely expected to be appealed, the state successfully argued that publicizing the identities of campaign donors is necessary to an informed electorate.

In January 2009, England denied an initial bid by to keep secret the identities of donors who made contributions in the final days of the campaign.

Joe La Rue, a lawyer for the group, said in oral arguments today that those donors would remain exposed to harassment “so long as these names are perpetually kept on the state’s website.”

Mollie Lee, a San Francisco deputy city attorney, said La Rue presented no evidence of death threats or physical violence. More minor incidents, she said, are “not out of the ordinary in California politics.”

California law requires the disclosure of the identity of anyone who contributes $100 or more to a campaign. said the $100 limit was too low, and it claimed it qualified for an exception to disclosure laws

Good try, people. But, no. You’re not that special.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Education, How Appealing | 1 Comment »

All Over But the Paperwork: Jerry Powers Will Be Chief Probation Officer for LA

October 20th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

It’s not officially official yet, but deals have been made
, hands have been shaken, last minute contractual stumbling blocks have been shoved off the road ahead. Barring any force majeure, Jerry Powers, the Probation Chief for Stanislaus County will take over LA County’s very troubled and very large Department of Probation.

The official approval by the Board of Supervisors of Powers’ appointment plus his salary and extras is slated to take place next Tuesday, Oct 25. But offers have been unofficially made and accepted.

County CEO William Fujioka has recommended that the board approve a salary for Powers of $255,000 per year, with $25 grand to help with the relocation of his family.

Powers is expected to start work on December 5.

The Board members seem pleased. Powers is thought of as a very solid guy.

The rest of us look forward to welcoming the nearly-appointed new Probation Chief, and wish him all possible luck. Given the challenges the beleaguered agency still faces, he will likely need it.

(Link to CEO’s memo here.)


Garett Therolf of the LA Times reports that the $255,000 per year salary for Jerry Powers that the board is expected to approve on Tuesday is $28,000 higher than what Donald Blevins was making.

Photo by BRIAN RAMSAY, Modesto Bee

Posted in Board of Supervisors, Probation | 1 Comment »

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