Friday, February 27, 2015

Jury: Fallbrook Schools Must Pay Ex-Employee $1M for Retaliation

After more than a year of delays, I'm pleased that Elaine Allyn finally got her day in court--and prevailed in her claim of illegal retaliation by Fallbrook Union Elementary School District.  

I'm wondering if Allyn will appeal some or all of the 11 claims that Judge Stern decided in favor of the school district.  Judge Jacqueline Stern seemed to be a bit over-anxious to protect the schools district, as indicated by the fact that she declared a mistrial in this case in October 2013 rather than placing an alternate juror on the jury--and then delayed the new trial for more than a year.

See earlier post on this case HERE.
See the complaint filed by Plaintiff HERE.

Jury: Fallbrook Schools Must Pay Ex-Employee $1M for Retaliation
Ashly McGlone
Voice of San Diego
Feb. 26, 2015

A jury Thursday afternoon ordered the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District to pay its former IT director Elaine Allyn over $1 million for retaliating against her for objecting to the deletion of district emails.

The jury returned the unanimous verdict after deliberating for four hours following a 15-day trial, said Allyn’s attorney, Michael Curran.

It was the second jury to hear wrongful termination claims made by Allyn, who was fired in May 2012 after a dispute over the deletion of district emails.

“I can’t express the emotion I am feeling,” Allyn said of the verdict. “This is not only for me but, for all the people at the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District, former and present employees that are going through the awful treatment that this administration is giving them. I really hope that it opens the eyes of the School Board to re-evaluate the current administration and their management philosophy.”

The district claimed the 18-year employee was fired for snooping and hacking colleagues’ emails and reduced the amount of time district servers retain emails on her own “to conceal her wrongful and deceitful acts.”

Allyn said she had previously reported sexual harassment by a superior and that she was ordered to dismantle the district’s email archive system, permanently erasing all deleted emails and reducing email retention from three years to one week, despite voicing objections and legal concerns.

A first trial that began in October 2013 ended in a mistrial after the district asked to extend it beyond the 10 days scheduled.

This time, the jury found Fallbrook retaliated “against Ms. Allyn for raising objections to reducing the retention time of the District’s email system,” and awarded nearly $1.05 million for lost income and $148,000 in damages, more than the amounts sought, court records show.

Read the rest of the story HERE. 

VERDICT IS IN: Jury unanimously finds Fallbrook Union Elementary School District wrongfully terminated Elaine Allyn; district ordered to pay over $1.19 million

February 27, 2015 
by admin FALLBROOK – The following are two statements provided to the Village News on Thursday, Feb. 26,  following a unanimous verdict in favor of plaintiff Elaine Allyn in the Allyn vs. Fallbrook Union Elementary School District lawsuit claiming wrongful termination.

The first statement is from Allyn’s legal counsel, Curran & Curran Law.

The second statement is from Fallbrook Union Elementary School District legal counsel, Gil Abed of Stutz, Artiano, Shinoff & Holtz, APC, who defended the district.

“1.2 million verdict in employment retaliation case against Fallbrook Union Elementary School District”

“In a resounding victory against the alleged misconduct by her former bosses, FUESD superintendent Candace Singh, Ray Proctor and Dennis Bixler, Elaine Allyn, the former 18-year information technology director for the district, prevailed in her claims for retaliatory mistreatment and wrongful termination with a unanimous jury award of $1,194,000 for lost past, present and future income and emotional distress (general damages).

“Ms. Allyn originally alleged claims for wrongful termination in violation of public policy, retaliation under the Labor Code and for the failure to conduct a proper alleged discrimination investigation relating to Mr. Bixler investigating his own boss, Mr. Proctor. Her claims were refined by her counsel and, based upon technical legal/procedural grounds, a single claim went to the jury; whistle-blower retaliation in violation of Labor Code section 1102.5.

“Ms. Allyn testified she had questioned the spending of Ms. Singh, alleging she had spent in excess of $43,000 of public funds on a larger office and redecorating and over $14,000 in public funds on new tech items for herself, when she first became Superintendent in August 2011. She further alleged that Ms. Singh and Mr. Proctor had spread these expenditures around various district budgets to avoid the scrutiny of the board. Ms. Singh had asked Ms. Allyn to purchase a larger computer screen for her from the IT budget so as not to “flag the board.”

“Ms. Allyn had also testified in the early summer of 2011 that Mr. Proctor had warned his fellow administrators to “clean their houses” as he was aware of public investigations into misconduct in other districts concerning improper financial relationships with contractors and other financial misconduct and was concerned Fallbrook could be investigated and he could be embarrassed or disciplined for his own alleged financial misconduct.

“Mr. Proctor and Ms. Singh then directed Ms. Allyn to delete the district’s archive server which contained three years of district historical emails. When Ms. Allyn initially refused and asked her bosses to provide a legal opinion because she believed what they were asking violated law and district policy, they threatened her with insubordination charges and ordered her to delete the email archive sever telling her they would take care of the legal issue.

“Once that was done, in a further attempt to cover themselves and point the finger at Ms. Allyn in case of investigation of the District, they falsely and pretextually accused her of “hacking” and reading their emails and conducted a $43,000 pretextual investigation with the district lawyer Dan Shinoff’s trusted investigator, who found no computer or forensic evidence of misconduct by Ms. Allyn.

“Despite the findings of the investigator, Ms. Singh, Mr. Proctor and Mr. Bixler still falsely charged Ms. Allyn with reading emails, deleting emails, and failing to assist the district with the voluntary Erate funding program. In a formal Notice of Charges document, Mr. Bixler, who testified the documents was “wordsmithed” with Mr. Shinoff, presented these pretextual and false charges to the board, resulting in Ms. Allyn’s wrongful and retaliatory termination.

“Earlier in this litigation, district spokesperson, Dennis Bixler, had previously falsely indicated to the press Ms. Allyn had been terminated for dishonesty, fraud and violation of district policies. After an initial trial, which Ms. Allyn and her counsel believe the district intentionally caused to be mistried, the district board again falsely reported to the press Ms. Allyn was terminated for dishonesty, fraud and violation of district policy.

“The dedicated jury in this second trial listened attentively to all the evidence and believed Ms. Allyn and her former district employees, all of whom were absolutely honest and sincere and none of whom were impeached, not a single time in the trial. The district witnesses were impeached repeatedly with inconsistent deposition and former testimony from the first trial. The district witnesses were shown to be inconsistent with each other on key issues in the case with Mr. Bixler giving five different versions of Ms. Allyn reporting to him and Mr. Shinoff and his investigator that she had been directed by Ms. Singh and Mr. Proctor to delete the districts archive email server.

“The district witnesses even attempted to add new preposterous claims and allegations against Ms. Allyn raised for the first time in the litigation at this trial, like Ms. Allyn had years back sexually harassed her boss Mr. Proctor and Ms. Allyn violated procedures and had a bad reputation. The jurors properly disregarded these new claims as unsubstantiated mud-slinging.”

“At trial, Mr. Proctor also testified for the first time in the litigation that he did not need to delete email as he had printed everyone of his emails for the past 21 years which district counsel said were all “public record.” There was no evidence to support this new allegation and no other witness supported these claims and, in fact, the district charges against Ms. Allyn alleged the district administrator emails were highly confidential and related to confidential district business.
“The jury properly considered all the evidence and found Ms. Allyn had been retaliated against and wrongfully terminated.  Jurors indicated the district’s mistreatment angered and insulted their intelligence and awarded Ms. Allen the maximum damages they believed they could based on the evidence and jury instructions. They even awarded Ms. Allyn a greater sum of emotional distress damages that had been asked by her counsel in closing argument...

Below is the media statement provided by Gil Abed of Stutz, Artiano, Shinoff & Holtz, APC, who defended Fallbrook Union Elementary School District (FUESD). The statement is attributed to FUESD superintendent, Candace Singh.

” Re: Jury decision/Allyn v. FUESD”

“This lawsuit was filed with 12 claims against the district, 11 of which the district either prevailed or were dismissed. The district intends to seek all remedies available including costs and attorneys’ fees with respect to all of the 11 claims.

“The Fallbrook Union Elementary School District is disappointed with the outcome of the trial with respect to the one claim that the jury was asked to decide.

“While the jury’s decision is not the outcome expected, the district respects the jury’s time and commitment to the judicial process. At the same time, the district will continue to pursue the legal remedies that reach beyond today’s decision.”
The Village News will publish its customary news coverage of the jury decision in the March 5 issue.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

San Ysidro Board Moves Swiftly To Regain Public Trust

See more Lora Duzyk blog posts.
Ms. Duzyk's most controversial actions relate to the San Diego County Office of Education's Joint Powers Authority (SDCOE-JPA).

San Ysidro Board Moves Swiftly To Regain Public Trust
February 20, 2015
New San Ysidro Interim Sup Wants To Save Property Taxpayers $51-$71 Million
By Barbara Zaragoza
La Prensa

Ever since Edward Velasquez became the new interim superintendent of the San Ysidro School District on February 2nd, board members have moved swiftly to regain public trust after reeling from a pay-to-play scandal, a near takeover by the state due to negative certification and a teacher’s strike.

On February 3rd, the San Ysidro School District filed a lawsuit against former superintendent Manuel Paul, demanding that he return the approximately $210,000 he received after stepping down from the position. Paul faced misdemeanor charges for allegedly taking $2,500 in cash from a contractor who wanted to get work with the district. Last month, Paul was found guilty, fined $5,000 and sentenced to two months in jail. The lawsuit argues that because Paul was found guilty, he is obligated to pay the district back for the money he received from a retirement agreement.

At the February 12th board meeting, Velasquez then made a suggestion to trustees: refinance the district’s Proposition C bond.

Proposition C was passed in 1997 when, fed up with crumbling infrastructure, a grass roots campaign convinced voters to authorized $250 million for the district, the largest bond ever issued in California history. Velasquez explained that refinancing the Prop C bond from a 7.2% interest rate down to a 5.2% interest rate could be a first step in building back trust within the community. A retired educator of 35 years, he is credited with taking the Lynwood Unified School District out of near bankruptcy within three months.

Velasquez said, “If things go right, we’ll be able to do a great job in saving millions of dollars to the property taxpayers.”

He brought in a group of legal and financial advisors to explain the refinance. Frank Vega of RBC Capital Markets said that the maximum tax rate has been reached for property owners. “So because the way the ballot measure was written, the district cannot sell any bonds today. You’re over your maximum legal tax and there’s nothing the district can do about that… So one option is to stop building, stop construction. Other option, and many districts do this is, can we refinance our debt, can we lower our payments so that the tax rate goes down with it. And if you execute a bond refinancing, then the payments will go down, ideally the tax rate goes down with it, and then that might allow you to sell bonds at some point in the future.”

The rate reduction would save property taxpayers anywhere from $51 to $71 million over the next thirty-five years. Vega said, “Every dollar of savings goes to the community.”

Lora Duzyk, Assistant Superintendent of Business Services for the San Diego County Office of Education, sat in the audience and made it clear to board members that the county would have to review and approve the refinance...

Still pending is the $12 million owed to solar company EcoBusiness Alliance due to a breach-of-contract lawsuit. San Diego Superior Court records show that the district filed an appeal, which was certified on January 16, 2015.

On February 7th the board held a special meeting, where they entered into a legal service agreement with Long Beach lawfirm Leal & Trejo, PC. Velasquez said: “We brought in special council for two things. One is to deal with the EcoBusiness, and the other is to deal with the bond. General council didn’t want to handle the EcoBusiness lawsuit.”

He was referring to the law firm Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz that represented the district in the breach-of-contract lawsuit and lost. Now, trustees have agreed that attorney William Trejo will take over at a rate of $180 per hour. Community members are waiting to see if Trejo will go forward with the appeal, settle with EcoBusiness, or pay the $12 million in a district whose overall budget is about $33 million per year.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Why are study rooms sitting empty at the new Central Library in San Diego?

Room 853 on the eighth floor of the new Public Library in downtown San Diego sat empty today as clients were told that no study rooms were available.
Room 854 also sat empty.

Note the sign in room 853 saying, "Please do not open the windows." The windows open!? Is this the reason that I wasn't allowed to use the rooms? Is the library afraid someone will open the window and step out on the ledge? Or worse, step off the ledge?  Can't the library simply lock the windows if it's afraid someone will try to commit suicide here? 

Here's what the website for the library says:

Study Rooms -- 20+ rooms to choose from
Capacity* 2-6
Onsite booking for up to 2 hours, first come, first served basis at the 1st floor Computer Service Desk.

On Feb. 18, 2015 I went to the front desk and mentioned that study rooms were sitting empty while clients were being told that no rooms were available. I was told that only a group of six people could use the rooms pictured above.  (The library website contradicts this claim, clearly stating that 6 is the maximum, not the minimum, number of individuals allowed in these rooms.)

To emphasize her point, the clerk held the room 853 key card right in front of my face for over 30 seconds. Eventually her arm got tired (I was impressed with the stamina of her arm muscles; I think she works out) and she set the card down on the counter in front of me and indicated that I should keep reading it until I understood it. I took a picture of it.  I'm pretty sure I understand it.

 I mentioned that the taxpayers built the library and that the public was not served by having the rooms left empty.  A different employee retorted that the library had been built mostly with donations!

Of course, the taxpayers are paying the salary of this employee who apparently believes that the public should have no input into how the library is used.  Does this woman not know that once donations were accepted by the City of San Diego (and the donors had received their hefty tax deductions), the money belonged to the public?

I doubt that Robin and Gerald Parsky demanded that room 853 be reserved for them in case they might want to drop by with a group of friends and a burning desire to sit in a cold place.  (It turns out that a concrete room exposed to the elements on two sides doesn't get much benefit from the library's heating system.)  Rather, I think we have lazy library employees who use any excuse, no matter how false or ridiculous, to turn away questions about how the library is utilized.

I wrote to San Diego Public Library's Cynthia Shutler, Supervising Librarian, Central Library, 619-236-5880,  I'll report on her response.

by Maura Larkins

Patient safety and the medical device tax repeal: The good, the bad and the ugly

The medical device tax repeal: The good, the bad and the ugly
When $30 billion dollars are injected into the device industry, it will stimulate the good, the bad and the ugly all the same
Hooman Noorchashm MD, PhD and Amy J. Reed MD, PhD.
Philadelphia Enquirer
February 18, 2015

Recently we’ve been getting some feedback from medical device industry advocates.

Ironically, this feedback did not come when we started to raise an alarm about the severe patient safety hazard the device industry’s federal regulations have caused. Rather, it came when we raised a significant concern about providing this unsafe industry a tax advantage – the so-called “medical device tax repeal”.

You see, giving a financial boost to an industry whose products have virtually no standardized guarantee of safety, is wrong...

We do believe that a vast majority of medical devices in our country are designed to be ‘life saving’ – and to make a good profit for their manufacturers. We are not against industry or profits. But, a minority subset of these devices are faulty, in design or conception – as the power morcellator is. And no real federal safety checkpoints are in place to protect unsuspecting patients. Doctors and device reps are the only things that stand between the patient and this monster we call “harm” – and that’s just not acceptable.

When $30 billion dollars are injected into the device industry, it will stimulate the good, the bad and the ugly all the same. And when the bad and the ugly in the medical device realm have no real federal safety checkpoints and are stimulated to grow, they devastate unsuspecting patients’ lives in America.

The real problem in the medical device industry comes from the corrupted way in which the Food and Drug Administration is using the 510(k) law to clear the vast majority of medical devices in the United States. This legislation was never designed for this purpose and it was certainly not designed to ensure patient safety. But, with definitive certainty, the way to protect patients from an industry gone rogue due to defunct federal regulation, is not to boost it with a sizable tax advantage.

So, our response to our friends and colleagues in the medical device industry when they tell us to “keep ‘em separated” is: Help us drive a leadership overhaul of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health by congress. Help us make a “Medical Device Safety Reform Act” a reality and the law of this land. Only then can we help you achieve your tax repeal, stimulate your industry and create your jobs.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

As VOSD revisits 1992 tragedy, San Diego Unified won't tell how many football concussions occur

Coach at Center of Notorious ’90s Concussion Case Oversees Concussion Safety for SD Schools
Mario Koran
February 10, 2015

As Escondido High’s football coach, Bruce Ward played an already injured athlete who suffered a second, catastrophic injury. Now, he oversees San Diego Unified’s sports safety protocols, including those for concussions.

On Oct. 2, 1992, Escondido High was desperate for a win.

In three games the team hadn’t notched a victory. And in the week leading up to the game against San Marcos High, a group of players, frustrated with coaches, walked away from the team.

Vu Dang, then a 17-year-old, 160-pound Escondido senior, stepped up to fill the gaps. In addition to starting at wide receiver, his coach, Bruce Ward, made the decision to put him back to return punts and kickoffs. He wasn’t big or blazingly fast, but had a quick first-step.

Now 40, Dang remembers catching a punt and heading up field – and then, the impact. He was hit by a wall of defenders. That’s when the lights went out.

The rest he’s pieced together from what teammates later told him: He immediately tore off his helmet, his eyes rolled back in his head, he lost consciousness and stopped breathing. His mother rushed onto the field and collapsed when she saw her son.

“We lost Vu Dang twice on the field and once more in the ambulance. We performed CPR on the field and again in the ambulance. He was gone, and we were able to bring him back,” San Marcos’ athletic trainer later said.

Dang was taken by ambulance to Palomar Medical Center. There, doctors found bleeding on the right side of his brain. While treating Dang’s immediate trauma, they also discovered an older, subdural hematoma – a blood clot between the brain and skull – which they said could have been about a week old.

In fact, Dang had gotten a concussion in a game the week before. 

In that game against Temecula Valley, he caught a quick pass and a defender hit Dang underneath his facemask. The impact was so hard he was lifted off his feet.

“I knew I was rocked. When I got up off the ground my body was tingling,” Dang said about the first concussion.

Escondido’s athletic trainer knew about his first concussion. So did Ward, the team’s head coach. But his parents didn’t because nobody ever told them, legal documents allege.

Doctors called it a “second-impact syndrome” a second, catastrophic concussion that occurs before symptoms from the first have subsided.

Put simply, Dang should have never played against San Marcos. Why he did was set to be hashed out by legal teams, and is documented by court records. But before the case went to trial, the parties settled out of court.

Dang eventually recovered. He suffered long-term brain damage and struggled with memory loss after the injury. He struggled in areas where he’d once excelled, like high-level math. He left college after his grades fell too low to maintain an academic scholarship, and he drifted between low-paying jobs for several years. He now owns a yoga studio with his wife in Escondido.

As for the coach, Ward left Escondido and in 2000 was hired by San Diego Unified. Today, Ward is the district’s director of physical education, health and interscholastic athletics.

Ward is paid just under $128,000 a year to oversee the daily operations of the district’s athletic programs. He’s the point person for making sure all coaches in the district are properly trained and following safety protocols – including those for concussions.

The District’s Man on Concussions

Despite the increased awareness, many California school districts, including San Diego Unified, can’t say how many football-related concussions they’ve seen in recent years. District spokesperson Ursula Kroemer said the district has a system that allows its nursing team to record injuries, but that it doesn’t have a means to document the circumstances around an injury.

But Kroemer couldn’t even say how widely that system was used, or whether schools are required to report injuries through it. So while there have been 135 concussions since September 2013, the district can’t say how many of those were related to athletics.

Ward is the “overall-point person” for making sure coaches are certified and teams are following safety protocols, according to the district. Yet, 20 years ago, a lawsuit blamed his leadership for traumatic brain injuries suffered by one of his players...

But in 2007, he spoke to the Union-Tribune about Dang’s injury. In that story, Ward acknowledged that he had concerns about Dang’s first concussion when he decided to play him in the second game against San Marcos.

“We were playing San Marcos in a game we felt was going to be a battle of field position. Vu was a good receiver with good hands. But we took him off the offense and put him on the field to return punts. He was instructed to catch the ball. Fair catch everything to save the offense some yards. We didn’t want him to run. But he was young, caught the ball, decided to run, and he was injured,” he told the paper.

But Dang said that wasn’t true. In fact, because the team was unexpectedly short-handed, Ward had actually increased his workload for the San Marcos game.

Ward shifted blame onto Dang, saying he had ignored coaches’ instructions. The decision to play him, however, was a serious risk no matter what instructions Dang received.

The Trial That Never Happened

The Union Tribune reported that Dang had seen a doctor before the San Marcos game and had been cleared to play. But court records obtained by VOSD put that claim in serious dispute.

In fact, it was the basis of the lawsuit Dang’s family eventually filed against three defendants: Bruce Ward and the Escondido Union High School District, Riddell, a helmet manufacturer, and North County & Escondido Physical Therapy, Inc., the company contracted by the school to provide athletic trainer services.

The trial was sure to be an ugly, finger-pointing circle. The attorneys representing North County & Escondido Physical Therapy said the athletic trainer warned Ward that Dang was injured and recommended he not play. The school denied that conversation ever took place.

Court records show the arguments each side was prepared to make.

The athletic trainer blamed Ward for creating a “Texas football,” “win-at-all costs” culture. Journal entries the trainer’s attorneys submitted as evidence include descriptions of Ward calling kids “lazy” and yelling at them not to visit the athletic trainer if they wanted to make the team...

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Kids are forced by law to go to school, where they meet their bullies: Danielle Green petition regarding her bullied daughter's suicide

Kids are forced by law to go to school, where they meet their bullies. Schools should take responsibility for the harm that students endure as a result of going to school. 

Protect Our Children: Do Not Pass Senate Bill 500 
Danielle Green
West Lafayette, IN

 On March 5th, 2013, my beautiful daughter Angel took her own life after being repeatedly bullied by classmates both in person on school grounds and over the internet. The pain of losing a child is indescribable -- she was the light of my life and I still can’t comprehend life without her. The only way I can move forward now is to dedicate myself to making sure that this never happens to another family. I have worked diligently to get anti-bullying legislation passed in my home state of Indiana, and when House Bill 1423 (The Anti-Bullying Bill) was passed in 2013, I was hopeful that we had made a turn for the better.

The bill stated that disciplinary actions would be taken against bullies and that any and all bullying related incidences would be investigated and reported.

 But now a new bill could completely dismantle all of the progress made to stop bullying in Indiana. Senate Bill 500, which is currently in committee and set to be voted on in this legislative session, would remove the school’s ability to address bullying that takes place off school grounds that could impair the victims school environment. This means that cyberbullying, one of the most popular and insidious forms of bullying our kids deal with today -- the form of bullying my daughter Angel experienced -- would no longer be considered a form of bullying by schools.

The bill also eliminates all disciplinary actions toward bullies as well as programs for victim support, and would eliminate teacher training on suicide, bullying prevention, and mental health awareness. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people ages 15-34 in Indiana. According to the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, administered bi-annually by the Centers for Disease Control, Indiana ranks third worst in the nation in terms of incidences of bullying at school and cyberbullying.

The idea that a bill could remove what are obviously desperately needed programs to prevent bullying in our schools is incomprehensible. Schools should be safe places where our children learn and grow into the unique individuals they are meant to be, not the places that convince them their lives are not worth living. 4,400 teens nationwide take their lives every year due to the hateful words and cruel actions of others. Please sign our petition to keep the kids of Indiana safe in school and at home. In her suicide note, Angel asked for us to get her justice, and I will never stop trying to fulfill her final wish. Losing one Angel was too many lost. No child should ever feel victimized by another to a point of suicide. Lets give these kids hope for a future. Please sign today.
Thank you and God Bless.

Petitioning Indiana State Senate
This petition will be delivered to: Indiana State Senate
Danielle Green started this petition

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Sometimes David Loy gets it right: speech about crimes should not be criminalized

See all posts about San Diego ACLU chief counsel David Loy.

On the district attorney’s theory, it could prosecute a current or former gang member for writing a book, giving an interview to an author, or appearing in a documentary about gang life, as well as a substance abuse counselor who draws on his gang experiences, because they all “benefit” from knowledge of crimes committed by gang members.

San Diego Man Faces Life in Prison for … Rapping
by on February 4, 2015 
San Diego Free Press

San Diego prosecutors admit that Brandon Duncan was not at the scene of any one of several shootings in the city, and they have no evidence linking him to those shootings that occurred between May 2013 and February 2014. Still, the District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis charged him for those crimes because…he rapped about them.

...Only recently released on bail, Duncan, who performs under the name Tiny Doo, spent eight months in jail on so-called “gang conspiracy charges” arising from those shootings. The San Diego ACLU is filing an amicus brief in court asking the court to dismiss the charges immediately. In a blog post about the case, David Loy, legal director of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties said that the case was “not only absurd; it is a blatant violation of the First Amendment.”

The district attorney is testing a law in which an “active participant” in a “criminal street gang” who “willfully promotes, furthers, assists, or benefits from” any felony committed by fellow gang members can be charged with “conspiracy to commit that felony.” Unlike traditional conspiracy, the charge does not require any agreement to commit the crime. Instead, it requires either “promoting, furthering, or assisting” the crime, which means being a direct accomplice, or knowingly “benefiting” from the crime.

“Whether or not this law can be used to prosecute others, the prosecution is abusing it to charge Duncan,” Loy said. “To ‘promote, further, or assist’ means to aid and abet, and there is no evidence he did that.” Instead, the prosecution is unconstitutionally twisting the word “benefit” to charge Duncan. The district attorney alleges that he  “benefited” by making a CD called “No Safety,” on which he raps about shootings, and by receiving “praise” for his music. As the prosecutor admitted, he wouldn’t be charged if he sang “love songs.” That’s a classic First Amendment violation.

...“This is a textbook case of using a ‘gang’ dragnet to over-criminalize people of color,” Loy said. Beyond that, even if prosecutors could prove that Duncan is an “active participant” in the gang under California law, the prosecution’s theory violates the First Amendment by punishing him for the content of his speech. The government can punish crime, but it cannot punish speech about crime, even by proven criminals about their own crimes, much less an artist like Tiny Doo.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the government can’t confiscate income from speech based on its content, even speech about crime, because that would punish the speech itself. Under that principle, the government cannot prosecute Duncan for singing about crime or allegedly receiving “benefits” for doing so. Indeed, this case is even worse, because it involves criminal prosecution, not just loss of income...

The government cannot criminalize free speech, and it cannot criminalize Duncan’s music. Duncan is now free on bail, but he still faces “gang conspiracy” charges, which threaten a potential life sentence. The ACLU brief calls on the court to dismiss the charges immediately. “The court should stop this case in its tracks and send a clear message that prosecution for protected speech cannot be tolerated,” Loy wrote in his blog post.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Why keeping young offenders out of jail could reduce crime

Why keeping young offenders out of jail could reduce crime
January 29, 2015
PBS Newshour
JUDY WOODRUFF: A new report out today on the state of juvenile justice in the U.S. finds that outcomes are better for youth kept under supervision closer to home, rather than those in secure state-run facilities.
In fact, it shows that those arrested and then locked up in juvenile detention facilities are 21 percent more likely to be arrested again than those monitored closer to home. And those who commit a second offense after time in detention facilities are three times as likely to carry out more serious crimes later on.
With us to discuss the report are Xavier McElrath-Bey of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. And Michael Thompson, he’s director of the Council of State Governments Justice Center. His group conducted the study for the state of Texas.
And we welcome you both.
Michael Thompson, to you first.
I read that you said there has never been a study done like this one. What did you mean by that and what were the main findings?
MICHAEL THOMPSON, Director, Council of State Governments Justice Center: Yes, we have never seen any state conduct a study like this. I mean, every state is seeing — or nearly every state is seeing a dramatic decline in the number of kids that it has in state-secure facilities.
But this study that Texas undertook is unlike anything done anywhere. We saw 1.3 million records pulled together over an eight-year period, a real exhaustive analysis that was done, that proves that really kids do, do better closer to home, kids staying under community supervision, instead of being in an incarceration setting.
We found that they were saving the state a lot of money, hundreds of millions of dollars, by closing these facilities and really putting the emphasis on community supervision. Very few states could conduct an analysis like, this yet it’s the kind of analysis that states everywhere should be conducting.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And what was — what was so different about the community incarceration care for these young men and women that was from the state-run facilities?
I mean, when you hear it and you think about it, it really makes a lot of sense, right? I mean, what we have been doing is we have been pulling kids away from their community, sending them to a facility hundreds or thousands of miles away, interacting with staff who don’t look like them, don’t necessarily speak their language, uprooted from any kinds of ties they had in the community, further away from positive influences they had, like maybe family members or a pastor or a sibling.
And we expect there to be some tremendous corrective action when we’re putting them with a bunch of kids who maybe will have a negative influence on them because they’re a higher risk of reoffending. So, really, when we talk about it that way, we shouldn’t be surprised that those kids actually end up doing better when they’re closer to home.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Xavier McElrath-Bey, you were in a detention facility when you were 13 years old. What did you learn from that experience about this?
XAVIER MCELRATH-BEY, Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth: Well, at that age in particular, I was very much traumatized, to be quite honest with you.
I came from a household that contended with psychiatric disorders and substance abuse and a lot of very non-nurturing experiences I had as a child, and also faced with a lot of violence in my community.
So when you grow up in an environment like this and you are contending with such a sense of being unsafe and the feeling of being unnurtured, I feel like you naturally gravitate toward those things that give you the opposite impression. And for me in my life, that was the gang.
And the gang gave me a wealth of love and support. And, strangely enough, although it resulted in many poor decisions, it was what was, I would say, fundamentally needed for me in terms of my own development.
I would also say that recognizing these needs, you know, not only are we the only country in the world that overincarcerates kids, but we’re also the only country that’s known to sentence children to life without the possibility of parole.
I think this really flies in the face of what we know in terms of adolescent development. And it totally negates the reality that children have the capacity to change. And this is what we know, not just in terms of research, but also in terms of what we have seen with all the individuals that are coming out who have been able to have another chance at life.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Xavier McElrath-Bey, let me stay with you for just a minute.
What is — what do you believe is different and helpful about a facility, about a treatment program that is closer to home? Because, in many cases, it’s going to involve — they’re going to be isolated from other youth. What’s better about it?
XAVIER MCELRATH-BEY: I think we need to keep in mind that the majority of the kids that are coming into the system have experienced a lot of adverse experience.
They have been traumatized by violence, by abuse within their homes. We know this through research. And when we put a child in an environment that only reinforces that negativity in their life, we cannot expect a child to have a positive outcome. In fact, more often than not, that does more harm. It only retraumatizes the child. It only exposes them to further abuse and neglect.
And it’s almost as if we have picked up for other individuals and systems that failed them. But I think we could take on a better approach with our kids.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Michael Thompson, what does it look like then from the standpoint of a state or a community? What do the results look like when young people come through a program that’s run at the community level?
MICHAEL THOMPSON: Well, again, what we’re seeing is that the kids are doing better when they’re in this community-based program, instead of in a state correctional facility.
But we also know that just putting in a program doesn’t automatically ensure great results. We have seen here in Texas that they have plowed a lot of the money they have saved into community-based supervision and community-based services. But what we’re finding is that those programs are not always delivered in a way that’s consistent with what the research says works.
So, for example, we find different programs serving low-risk youth, and they’re connecting those low-risk youth to some medium- or higher-risk youth, and those kids in turn are having a bad influence on those lower-risk youth. And that’s simply pulling them further into the system.
So, we have to figure out a way to make sure that these programs are actually delivered in a way that’s consistent with what the research says works...

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Why is Darren Chaker stalking Maura Larkins--even though his conditions of release from federal prison forbid it?

Related story: Completely false allegations made in an effort to banish woman from California school (Article about a situation similar to the story below; the accusers were the ones who ended up in jail when two parents at an Irvine, California elementary school tried to destroy the reputation of a parent volunteer)  See also The Letter that got Maura Larkins fired regarding Castle Park Elementary School in Chula Vista.

Why is Darren Chaker so interested in Maura Larkins?

by Maura Larkins
Jan. 24, 2015

In San Diego, Darren Chaker, who is currently on supervised release from federal prison for bankruptcy fraud, is stalking me (teacher/blogger Maura Larkins).  As his rap sheet makes clear, Chaker doesn't let honesty interfere with his efforts to achieve his goals.

Why is this man so interested in me?

Darren Chaker has been sending letters about me to people on my street. Some of us are a little bit nervous, since Mr. Chaker has a troubling law enforcement record.

It seems clear that Darren Chaker got interested in me because I reminded him
of Wendy Mateo, the grandmother of his child.  A few years ago Chaker sued Mateo for calling
him a "deadbeat dad".   His suit was thrown out as a "SLAPP" by San Diego
Superior Court.

In July 2011, Chaker was appealing his loss to the Court of Appeal.

At the same time, I was appealing a ruling by Judge Judith Hayes, who ordered
me never to speak or write the names of Stutz, Artiano Shinoff & Holtz law firm or
any of its attorneys.

My case was clearly very similar to the Mateo case.

Mr. Cahker sat down next to me at the Court of Appeal in July 2011 on the day
that attorney Shaun Martin presented winning arguments in my case.

I spoke to Chaker for a while, then I moved to the front row of the gallery.

My friend remained seated near Chaker.  She reported to me that Mr. Chaker
became very disturbed as he listened to the oral arguments and the comments
of the judges.  I suspect that Mr. Chaker was upset because it seemed likely
that the judges were going to come down on the side of free speech.

If that is what he believed, he was right.

On August 5, 2011 the California Court of Appeal in San Diego ruled that Judge
Hayes' injunction permanently forbidding me from mentioning the name of Stutz
law firm, either orally or in writing, was "exceedingly unconstitutional."

As I walked out of the Court of Appeal after oral arguments, I was approached by
Darren Chaker.

From the FBI website:
Man Sentenced to Federal Prison for Bankruptcy Fraud
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Dec. 17, 2013
HOUSTON—Darren David Chaker, 41, of Beverly Hills, California, and Las Vegas, Nevada, has been ordered to federal prison following his conviction of bankruptcy fraud, announced United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson. Chaker was found guilty April 4, 2013, following a five-day bench trial before U.S. District Judge Nancy Atlas.

Today, Judge Atlas sentenced Chaker to a term of 15 months in prison, to be immediately followed by a three-year-term of supervised release. He was further ordered to pay a $2,000 fine. As part of the sentencing, Judge Atlas included special conditions that he not stalk or harass anyone and obtain mental health counseling and anger management...

A sampling of Darren Chaker cases: 
Wendy Mateo
Chaker v. Crogan
Zaya v. Chaker
Mr. Chaker advised me to take down my website in exchange for the law firm's
agreement to not to make me pay attorney's fees.

I told Mr. Chaker that I would rather go to jail. He said, "I'm just advising you to do
this because they are so nasty."

Then Mr. Chaker went over to two members of the Plaintiff's law firm, and walked
out of the courtroom chatting with them! I do not believe that they had asked him
to approach me.  I believe he hatched the plan all by himself.

I reported the Court of Appeal incident with Mr. Chaker on my blog, thus apparently earning the ire of a man who is widely known for dishonest, malicious and aggressive behavior.

Mr. Chaker seems to have became even more enraged when he lost the appeal in the Mateo case.

He makes bizarre accusations about all sorts of people.  He refuses to acknowledge that Chula Vista
Elementary School District desperately tried to get me to go back to work after I
had been viciously harassed by Robin Donlan and other teachers at Castle Park Elementary.

I refused to go back to work without an investigation into the harassment I
suffered.  The district refused to produce a report on the "investigation" it claimed
to have initiated.

I was fired for "insubordination" because I refused to go back to work.  Here are
the charges against me.

Darren Chaker fails to mention that Robin Donlan and other teachers who
harassed me were transferred out of Castle Park Elementary when the district
realized that it had made a mistake by paying huge amounts of taxpayer money to
defend teachers who had behaved unlawfully.

Castle Park Elementary was out of control, with a $20,000 PTA embezzlement by Kim Simmons,
a parent who was a close associate of Robin Donlan.  The school was almost ungovernable as 11 principals in 11 years struggled to create a professional working climate.

Complaint board on Darren Chaker

Friday, January 23, 2015

Is there a code of silence that protects bad teachers? Teacher Suspended After Defending Co-Workers Accused Of Sex With Students

Teacher Suspended After Defending Co-Workers Accused Of Sex With Students
An art teacher is in trouble after he reportedly published a Facebook status defending teachers accused of having sex with students, claiming that the victims should have kept their "mouths shut."

[Maura Larkins' comment: I was told to keep my mouth shut about harassment by teachers at Castle Park Elementary.  It was amazing to me that teachers who thought of themselves as honest and law-abiding wanted to cover-up bad behavior.]

Sean Patrick, who teaches at South Hills High School in West Covina, California, has been placed on paid leave following the incident, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Patrick's alleged comments came after two teachers at the school, Melody Lippert, 38, and Michelle Ghirelli, 30 were arrested Saturday and accused of having sex with students during a non-school-sanctioned beach party.

The ages of the victims were not reported.

The curse-laden Facebook post from Patrick's account captured by the New York Daily News said:
I just got one thing to say. As many of you know especially those of you whom were once former students and now adults and are my friends on facebook and posting about it two female teachers (colleagues of mine) got arrested for going on summer vacations with and sleeping with some of the male students... Hey... all I gotta say is EVERYONE KNEW MISS [redacted] who was the high school algebra teacher (who also flunked me twice for not "showing my work") w/as fucking the popular senior boys at my highschool when I was there. So what?!.. All I want to know is what the fuck is in the heads of the dudes who banged these ladies and then squealed? ... Shit man! You should have just kept your stupid mouths shut and enjoyed it. I have no idea what the fuck is going on anymore.
Everyone has lost their fucking minds.
Read more:

Thursday, January 22, 2015

San Diego ACLU's David Loy and Darren Chaker demanded that blogger silence herself, but Court of Appeal upheld First Amendment

[A story about husband and wife attorneys in Irvine who harassed a volunteer at their son's school (and ended up in jail) can be found here: Sound familiar? Completely false allegations made in an effort to banish woman from California school.]

Update Jan. 2015: 

Darren Chaker appointed himself in July 2011 to do negotiations for Stutz, Artiano Shinoff & Holtz law firm (see below).  More recently, Mr. Chaker started a public relations campaign on behalf of Stutz law firm.  I doubt that Stutz law firm ever wanted his help.

Darren Chaker pretends that there was a trial in which in this blogger was found to have defamed Stutz law firm.  This is false.

In fact, there was no finding of fact in Stutz v. Larkins.   

Instead, Judge Judith Hayes, who was found to have acted in an "exceedingly unconstitutional" manner in the case,  threw out my opposition to summary adjudication because of a small error in format.   She also threw out all my evidence.

Thus, her ruling of defamation did not claim to based on a weighing of the evidence.  It was a decision of "law", not of "fact."  Judge Hayes simply announced that there was "no opposition" to Stutz' motion for summary adjudication, and granted the motion.

This past week Darren Chaker has written to people on my street to report that I "was found to have made defamatory statements about an upstanding law firm who represents schools" and then he went on to name Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz.

I became acquainted with Stutz law firm several years ago after I was harassed at my workplace in Chula Vista Elementary School District.  I refused to go back to work until there was an investigation.  The district refused to investigate, and wrote me many letters demanding that I return to work.  The district has concealed the results of its "investigation" to this day.  The district fired me a year later, immediately after I filed suit against the district, claiming that I had been "insubordinate" by refusing to return to work.

Update 2013: David Loy's pal Darren Chaker Sentenced to Federal Prison for Bankruptcy Fraud

See new posts re David Loy and earlier posts under his former name of David Blair-Loy.


The following story was first posted Feb. 13, 2012 :

The ACLU claims that it does not give legal advice regarding cases it refuses, but it turns out that this is false. The ACLU refused my free speech case, but at the same time, I was given very specific legal advice by San Diego ACLU attorney David Loy (formerly Blair-Loy) regarding the defamation case against me by Stutz law firm.

In 2010 Mr. Loy wrote to me in an email that I must remove every mention of the names of a group of San Diego attorneys from my website; he has never modified his position, even when I won in the Court of Appeal on August 5, 2011.

Why was Mr. Loy so determined to make sure that I obeyed the obviously unconstitutional order of Judge Judith Hayes? I'm a third-grade teacher, and I knew the injunction was unconstitutional. Clearly, Mr. Loy knew perfectly well that he was insisting that I obey an unconstitutional order. I did not follow Mr. Loy's legal advice; I would rather go to jail than obey that order. (And, in fact, the law firm asked Judge Hayes to put me in jail, but she declined.)

 Instead, I appealed to the California Court of Appeal without the ACLU's help.

The law firm attorney argued before the Court of Appeal that my appeal should be dismissed because I disobeyed the trial court's order. Attorney Shawn Martin argued on my behalf that no Appeals Court had ever dismissed a case because an appellant disobeyed the very order that was being appealed.

The Court of Appeal asked the Plaintiff if he knew of any case law to back up his argument that since the injunction was a sanction, it therefore was not constrained by the Constitution. He said he had not been able to find any such case law, but he added, "I tried, believe me, I tried!"

On August 5, 2011 the California Court of Appeal in San Diego ruled that Judge Hayes' (and Mr. Loy's) demand was "exceedingly unconstitutional."

As I walked out of the Court of Appeal after oral arguments, I was approached by Darren Chaker, who has a website sporting a photo of himself posing with a smiling David Blair-Loy. Mr. Chaker advised me to take down my website in exchange for the law firm's agreement to not to make me pay attorney's fees. (Note to Mr. Chaker: the law does not allow attorney's fees in defamation cases.) I told Mr. Chaker that I would rather go to jail. He said, "I'm just advising you to do this because they are so nasty." Then Mr. Chaker went over to two members of the Plaintiff's law firm, and walked out of the courtroom chatting with them!

So the question remains, why on earth would David Blair-Loy try to silence someone who criticized public school attorneys? Was he serving his own agenda, or the agenda of the board of the San Diego ACLU? Perhaps both. Loy's goal seems to be to maintain a reputation as "highly civil" with his fellow attorneys in San Diego, particularly those who are tasked by local schools with the job of limiting free speech.

But the ACLU board supported Mr. Loy's actions.


Were they trying to please big donors?

I talked to board president David Higgins about this, but he claimed that he understood nothing about the law. I explained it to him carefully, but he continued to insist that he understood none of it. Why is such an individual in the position of board president of the San Diego ACLU? My guess is that he was chosen because he's willing to rubber-stamp every decision that David Loy makes, no matter how hostile it may be to civil rights. I conclude that Mr. Higgins does not really care about the constitution. I suspect he has a personal agenda that is limited to his own interests.

Here is the email sent to me by Mr. Loy:

to Maura Larkins
date Wed, Apr 28, 2010 at 9:18 PM
...However, the law does not allow anyone - a government official or a private person - to disobey a court order because they believe it is illegal. Under the law, the proper course is to seek appellate review of an order, and/or a stay of the order, rather than to disobey it. The rule of law in our system depends on compliance with court orders until or unless they are stayed or reversed...

In fact, Mr. Loy gave bad legal advice. 

The truth is that once I filed my appeal, the mandatory aspects of the injunction were automatically stayed, and I was not required to take down my web pages about Stutz. I think Mr. Loy knew this. What was your motive for giving me legal advice, Mr. Loy?

Following is the 2010-2011 ACLU board in San Diego, each member of which tacitly or actively supported Mr. Loy's actions:

William J. Aceves
Candace M. Carroll--Sullivan Hill Lewin Rez & Engel
Paula Doss, J.D.--Director of Human Resources for Equal Opportunity at UCSD
Ruben Garcia
David R. Higgins, Ph.D.
Gregory G. "Greg" Rose
Hon. James Stiven--California Western University
Stephen Whitburn
Mary Cruz
Mark Adams
Pat Boyce
Linda Cory Allen
Michele Fahley
Deborah Fritsch
Kevin "KJ" Greene
Dwight K. Lomayesva
Mark Niblack
Susan Pollock
Yvonne Sanchez

Here is the 2011-2012 ACLU board in San Diego, some of whom are new and were not involved in Mr. Loy's actions:

Mark Adams
Nasser Barghouti (NEW)
Elizabeth Camarena (new)
Candace Carroll
Jeff Chinn (new)
Paula Doss
Michele Fahley
Ruben Garcia
Kevin "KJ" Greene
David Higgins, Board President
Jonathan Lin (new)
Dwight Lomayesva
Jim McElroy (new)
Mark Niblack
Susan Pollock
Greg Rose
Hon. James Stiven
Joanna Tan (AIG!!!) (new)
Stephen Whitburn
Paul Wong SDSU(new)
Andy Zlotnik (new)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Sound familiar? Completely false allegations made in an effort to banish woman from California school

At an elementary school in Irvine, California, two attorneys (parents of a boy at the school) tried to put an innocent woman in jail, and ended up in jail themselves.  See first story below.

Sadly, not all false allegations are so clearly exposed.

School districts are hotbeds of abuse and hostility among adults.

Chula Vista Elementary School District wanted to get rid of me when I refused to be silent about rampant wrongdoing.  "You must forget the past," said Assistant Superintendent Rick Werlin.

Werlin demanded again and again that I return to work without any investigation having been done regarding my allegations.   He spoke on behalf of Superintendent Libia Gil and a school board that consisted of Cheryl Cox, Pam Smith, Bertha Lopez--yes, the Bertha Lopez who pled guilty to corruption charges, Patrick Judd--yes, the one found liable in court for shocking sexual harassment of an employee, and Larry Cunningham.  In a bid to protect abusive teachers, CTA leaders, including Jim Groth, refused to require that the district obey the law and the contract.  

Many school district employees function as "honor brigades" to silence discussion of problems.  See second story below.

How Two California Parents Ended Up in Jail Over After-School Spat
...A Mysterious Call to Police Over an ‘Erratic Driver’
A year went by as Peters and the Easters battled in court. Then, on Feb. 16, 2011, the Irvine Police Department received a call around 1:15 p.m. on a school day, reporting an erratic driver at the Plaza Vista School. The person on the phone said his name was “Vijay Chandrasekhar,” and he was concerned about the welfare of his child, who he said attended the school.
A man tells the dispatcher, “I’m concerned one of the parent volunteers there may be under the influence or using drugs... I just had to go over to the school and I saw a car driving very erratically.”
The caller gave a description of the car, a white PT Cruiser, and said the volunteer’s first name was “Kelli.” Officer Charles Shaver with the Irvine PD was dispatched to the school and found the car in the parking lot.
“The caller that indicated the erratic driving also said there was a potential that the driver put drugs or pills behind her seat,” Shaver said, “So, I went to the driver’s side and looked in the window... There was a large bag of marijuana that was protruding out of the seat pocket, behind the driver’s seat.”

‘Please Put the Drugs Away ... They’re Not Mine’
Officer Shaver went into the school to find the PT Cruiser’s owner, and discovered it belonged to Kelli Peters.
Peters said when the officer first came in, she panicked, thinking something had happened to her husband. But it then became clear the officer was inquiring about her.
“And he said, ‘Somebody said, after they saw you driving erratically, that you put drugs in the backseat of your car,’ and I was like, ‘there’s no way… they’re lying to you,'" Peters said.
Shaver said Peters began crying hysterically as the police searched her car and pulled out a large bag of marijuana, a bag of Percocet and a bag of Vicodin. She begged police to believe that the drugs didn’t belong to her.
"They put it up on top of the police car for everybody to see, which was really hard, because I kept thinking ‘my daughter’s getting out any minute.’ ... And I’m just thinking the whole world is looking at this right now … no one’s ever going to get this image out of their head,” Peters said. “I said, ‘Please put the drugs away. You’re going to find out they’re not mine and you’re going ruin my life anyway.’”
Peters was further questioned and given a sobriety test, which she passed. When Officer Shaver asked if there was anyone she knew who would go after her, Peters told him, “Jill Easter.”
Police searched Peters’ home and conducted DNA tests on her and her family. The results showed zero evidence of the Peters family’s DNA on the drugs found in Kelli Peters’ car.

She was not charged with drug possession and police opened an investigation into the drug planting. They traced the call made to the Irvine Police Department to a hotel business center in Newport Beach, California, about 11 miles from Irvine. They watched the hotel surveillance cameras from the date and time the call came in and saw Kent Easter walking into the hotel. Kent worked for a law firm located next door to the hotel where the call was placed. 

Police also discovered that drugs found in Peters’ car showed the Easters’ DNA on them. Cell phone records, prosecutors said, also showed that the Easters’ phones pinged a tower near Peters’ home the night before the drugs were planted...

Story #2:

Meet the honor brigade, an organized campaign to silence debate on Islam
Asra Q. Nomani
Washington Post
Jan. 16, 2015

“You have shamed the community,” a fellow Muslim in Morgantown, W.Va., said to me as we sat in a Panera Bread in 2004. “Stop writing.”
Then 38, I had just written an essay for The Washington Post’s Outlook section arguing that women should be allowed to pray in the main halls of mosques, rather than in segregated spaces, as most mosques in America are arranged. An American Muslim born in India, I grew up in a tolerant but conservative family. In my hometown mosque, I had disobeyed the rules and prayed in the men’s area, about 20 feet behind the men gathered for Ramadan prayers.
Later, an all-male tribunal tried to ban me. An elder suggested having men surround me at the mosque so that I would be “scared off.” Now the man across the table was telling me to shut up.
“I won’t stop writing,” I said. It was the first time a fellow Muslim had pressed me to refrain from criticizing the way our faith was practiced. But in the past decade, such attempts at censorship have become more common. This is largely because of the rising power and influence of the “ghairat brigade,” an honor corps that tries to silence debate on extremist ideology in order to protect the image of Islam. It meets even sound critiques with hideous, disproportionate responses.
The campaign began, at least in its modern form, 10 years ago in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, when the Organization of Islamic Cooperation — a mini-United Nations comprising the world’s 56 countries with large Muslim populations, plus the Palestinian Authority — tasked then-Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu with combating Islamophobia and projecting the “true values of Islam.” During the past decade, a loose honor brigade has sprung up, in part funded and supported by the OIC through annual conferences, reports and communiques. It’s made up of politicians, diplomats, writers, academics, bloggers and activists.
In 2007, as part of this playbook, the OIC launched the Islamophobia Observatory, a watchdog group based in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia...

Asra Q. Nomani, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, is the author of “Standing Alone: An American Woman’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam.”

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Danger The Planet Faces Because Human Instinct Overpowers Human Reason

The Danger The Planet Faces Because Human InstinctOverpowers Human Reason
David Ropeik
Jan. 16, 2015

...You woke up each day last year and went about your business as any human does, compelled by deep and ancient instincts to do the things necessary to get yourself safely to bed at night. You acquired the resources necessary or helpful for safety and survival - food, water, shelter, warmth/cooling, transportation, friendship and social/tribal cohesion - and on a good day maybe you also acquired some fun stuff or did some fun activity or filled in the upper levels of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

But chances are pretty good you cared more about fulfilling your needs than anybody else's. And you cared about now and today more than tomorrow. You didn't Think Globally. You thought, and acted, and lived your life and fulfilled your needs, locally. PERSONALLY. As did most of the seven BILLION human animals on the planet, taking from the system the resources necessary for safety and survival, and putting back into the system both their products and their wastes. Each us us satisfying our own needs but cumulatively taking from a system more resources than it has to offer (the once abundant New England cod fishery was finally closed by government fiat last year because of overfishing), and putting back more waste than it can handle (air pollution in Beijing recently got so bad it was "off the charts" rising beyond the highest and most dangerous levels on the health scale designed to measure such things.

Right now the global temperature records are making all the news. But climate change is just one symptom of the larger problem that makes very little news but which lies at the heart of why we, and all current Life on Earth, face an unavoidable crash. We are compelled from the deepest level of our genes and survival instincts to taking more from the system than it can provide and put back in more waste than it can handle, and no amount of human brain power outwit the natural instincts that are driving us 150 miles an hour toward a cliff.

We are not the only animal that does this. Many species live unsustainably in their finite ecosystems and when their demands on the system outpace supply, move on. We are, however, the only animal where the system limits are the entire biosphere itself. Silly visions of moving to other places in the universe notwithstanding, there is no place for humans to move to, and there surely won't be within the relatively short time frame - a couple hundred years - in which the natural system we depend on will become "much less hospitable".

Many people, myself included, see rays of hope in this dark sky; technological solutions to some of our challenges (cleaner power, advances in agriculture and food production, reduction in pollution and waste), less violence as more of us live closer together (see: The World is Not Falling Apart), and even the faith that human reason itself can, when the crises really start hitting the fan, figure out ways to stop doing the damage we're doing, undo the harm we've already done, or adapt to at least some of the harms we face.

But to live in the delusion that these solutions can entirely save the believe that they can do any more than head off the worst of what is to dangerous. Dangerous, because the belief that our intellect can provide the tools and enlightened leadership that will ride to the rescue, arrogantly denies the inescapable truth that we are still mostly instinctive animals, each of us compelled by deep subconscious urges to do what we can as individuals to survive today; and the day after that, and everybody else, are just not as much of a concern. And they never will be.

Can we do a lot to address these challenges? Yes, of course. And we should. Can we do enough to address them all and forestall the serious damage that lies ahead? Almost certainly not. But if we get a little more realistic about just how much/little human reason can help us conquer our deepest animal instincts, and a little less naïve that we can 'live with restraint' as Bill McKibben has put it, we might sooner get to the task of preparing for what's to come rather than pretending we can head it off.
It is probably in the best interest of Life on Earth As We Know It (LIFE long term is another matter entirely) if humans accepted that there will be a steep price to pay for our unsustainable ways, that given what we've already done this price is unavoidable, and that pretending we can head this off and preparing as soon as possible is urgently needed if we're going to at least keep that cost as low as possible...

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Research continues to support later start times for high school students: lack of sleep related to alcohol problems

Research has shown that changes in melatonin levels caused by puberty make it hard for teenagers to fall asleep at a normal time, and that a large percentage of high school students are sleep-deprived due to early start times for classes.

When will high schools take steps to protect the health of high school students--and, as a side benefit, raise their test scores?

Teens who skip sleep are more likely to have drinking problems later in life, researchers say


...Maria Wong, a psychologist at Idaho State University said, according to TIME magazine, that though sleep is not the only contributor to alcohol-related issues -- citing genetics and peer influence -- it is one of the contributors that can be controlled.

'This study shows that sleep issues can actually precede and even predict alcohol use later on,' Wong said. 'If we can make sure [teens] have enough sleep, we can help them make good choices.' 

Polls show that nearly 50 percent of adolescents don't get the recommended eight to 10 hours of sleep each night. 

Wong said that sleep deprivation could have dramatic affects on drinking behaviors. She said that each extra hour of sleep the teens in the study got, represented a 10 percent decrease in binge drinking. 

Meanwhile, the LA Times reports, evidence also shows a link between sleep deprivation and impaired cognitive functions.