Saturday, October 31, 2009

Eli Broad and EdVoice versus California Teachers Association

Dan Walters: School reform duel shifts to surrogates
By Dan Walters
Oct. 30, 2009

One of the more obscure – and probably more important – of California's many political conflicts pits an organization called EdVoice against the California Teachers Association and other school unions.

It centers on our ever-deepening education crisis, manifested in low test scores and high dropout rates, especially among black and Latino kids.

EdVoice, maintained by some wealthy Californians such as Southern California developer Eli Broad and Silicon Valley tycoon Reed Hastings, advocates charter schools, tougher teaching standards and other aggressive approaches.

The CTA and its allies, meanwhile, say California's chief education issue is money, specifically its below-average level of per-pupil spending.

It's not so much a partisan or even ideological conflict – Broad and many other EdVoice leaders are Democrats – as it is one of pedagogic philosophy, but that doesn't make it any less abrasive.

Last year, for instance, EdVoice backed its former president, Christopher Cabaldon, in his bid for a Yolo County state Assembly seat while unions poured money to his victorious rival for the Democratic nomination, Mariko Yamada, one of several clashes between the factions.

EdVoice and the unions will play for bigger stakes next year, facing off in the ostensibly non-partisan race to succeed Jack O'Connell, the outgoing state schools superintendent who has ties to both factions.

Almost certainly, O'Connell's successor will be either state Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, or Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, both former teachers. And EdVoice is throwing its weight behind Romero while Torlakson counts on the unions for his campaign.

Romero's crusade for prison reform pitted her against the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the other big union power player. And she aborted her bid for a congressional seat this year after the Los Angeles County Labor Federation endorsed rival Judy Chu.

Broad, Hastings, the family of the late Don Fisher (founder of the Gap), and other EdVoice principals have been Romero's chief contributors to date, clearly marking her as the organization's candidate. Commensurate financial backing from unions for Torlakson has yet to emerge, but clearly is in the works.

The two have already been dueling over legislation, with Romero carrying EdVoice-backed bills while Torlakson carried those sought by school unions, and he recently introduced a new bill imposing more regulation on charter schools. Romero won big when the Legislature (with Torlakson voting "no") extended a "school choice" law giving parents the right to shift their kids from one district to another.

It was not only a win for Romero and EdVoice but also reflected the Obama administration's direction on school reform. Inferentially, therefore, the Romero-Torlakson duel will be a referendum on how schools should be fixed not only in California but also across the nation.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Would you do what Josh Stepner did? Give an abandoned and abused girl a ride to a bus station to visit her grandmother?

See all posts on Helix High.
See all posts re Grossmont Union High School District.

Here is the declaration
of the girl in this case. All she wanted was to live with her grandmother, and that is what she is now doing. Her cousin, who instituted the complaints against former Helix High Charter School vice principal Josh Stepner, apparently has control issues. It's a disgrace that a good man is being run through Bonnie Dumanis' wringer after having been punished by his employer. Josh Stepner never would have had any problems at all if four teachers at Helix High hadn't behaved so badly. He is being punished for his own good deed and for the bad deeds of others.

I'm wondering if trustee Jim Kelly of Grossmont High School District asked Bonnie Dumanis to prosecute a good man at Helix High simply because Kelly wants to bring down the charter school.

Student's application & restraining order against her mother (2009)

See all Josh Stepner posts.

Helix asst. principal says he was only trying to help student
Oct 22, 2009

For the first time, we're hearing from a Helix High School assistant principal accused of helping a 16-year-old student run away. Through his attorney, the principal says he was only trying to help a child abandoned by her mother.

"This is really a classic example of no good deed goes unpunished," Josh Stepner's attorney Mark-Robert Bluemel said.

Bluemel is getting ready to go to court to defend Stepner against a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Stepner is accused of helping a 16-year-old student run away to Oregon.

"This man is innocent and he has the right to prove that. Unfortunately, what has happened prior - and that's why I'm talking to you - is he was painted out as being guilty," Bluemel said.

Stepner is not accused of having a sexual relationship with the student, as was initially reported by News 8 and other media outlets. Those reports were based on inaccurate information given to the media on October 5th, and were corrected by News 8 twelve hours later.

As it turns out, Stepner is accused of helping the girl purchase a bus ticket to Oregon and driving her to the bus station.

"My client brought her to safety, so to speak. She's now back in Oregon with a family and going to school," Bluemel said.

Court records show the girl had recently taken out a restraining order against her mother, and the judge revoked the mother's custodial rights. Bluemel says the girl in effect had no guardian and no home to run away from.

"He was assisting a student in need without a guardian and helping her get home, and I think he's been made a scapegoat," Bluemel said.

Since 2006, four teachers have been convicted of sex crimes involving Helix High students.

Bluemel says his client, a married father of three, simply got caught up in that firestorm.

"The evidence will show that there was no inappropriate conduct. He was acting in furtherance of the child's best interests in getting her to a safe harbor, back home to Oregon," Bluemel said.

The girl's father is dead and her grandmother lives in Oregon.

Stepner is facing one misdemeanor count. His attorney will enter a plea in El Cajon court by Nov. 5

See earlier post.

JC Pohl helps Escondido students turn against bullies

When they're ready to get really serious, schools will also do something about teachers who bully students and teachers who bully other teachers.

Turning against bullies
By Rose Marie Scott-Blair
San Diego Union Tribune
October 29, 2009

Have you ever been punched, tripped, kicked, shoved or had a rumor spread about you?” filmmaker JC Pohl asked students at Escondido's Bear Valley Middle School at a special assembly last week. About 350 seventh-graders in were the room, and they all stood up.

“Now, if you have ever done that to anyone else, sit down,” Pohl said.

Five students remained standing.

In three years of taking his Teen Truth Live assemblies on bullying to about 350 schools in 20 states, Pohl said that 99 percent of the 400,000 students his group has reached say they have been bullied or have bullied someone else.

Pohl, a San Diego native who lives in Los Angeles, and his partner, fellow filmmaker Erahm Christopher, were prompted by the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colo., to create a message for children.

“After Columbine we were frustrated because the media just talked to adults, and we felt that students were the ones who could explain why this happened,” Pohl said.

So they gave cameras to five California students to film their lives for a year.

Using 100 hours of raw video from students and security camera footage from Columbine, they produced the award-winning documentary, “Teen Truth,” the centerpiece of their assemblies.

Bullying can be anything from “a bad attempt at humor” to physical violence, and includes intimidation, teasing, labeling and put-downs, Pohl told the students Friday.

“The result is the same. It causes anger, and if kids hold a lot inside, they can explode and may even kill someone,” Pohl said.

In the past 13 years, 148 students and 27 teachers have been killed in school violence in 26 states and 14 countries, and 195 students have been wounded, according to figures compiled by Pohl. Twelve students and one teacher were slain at Columbine.

“Students are the eyes and ears of the school. If you see it or hear it, report it,” he said. “Start doing something today to make a difference. Be more understanding, show compassion, learn how to love each other.” ...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I'm a doctor. So sue me. No, really

The doctors' lobby says capping malpractice suits will make healthcare cheaper.
I'm an M.D. and I don't believe it
By Rahul K. Parikh, M.D.
Oct. 27, 2009

...Defensive medicine is just one of the supposed systemic ills...Proponents of reform say that defensive medicine, frivolous lawsuits and high premiums are behind the surge in healthcare shift the blame for America's healthcare crisis away from private insurers and onto a supposed scourge of ambulance chasers...

The only problem is that it's not true...Defensive medicine adds very little to healthcare's price tag, and rising malpractice premiums have had very little impact on access to care.

...First, based on the current rhetoric, it's easy to assume we have an epidemic of malpractice suits in America. We don't.... according to the Congressional Budget Office, nationally, between the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, the frequency of malpractice suits per capita remained stable at about 15 claims per 100 physicians per year. Another report, from the National Center for State Courts, actually shows that the number of cases between 1996 and 2006 dropped 8 percent...

Next is the question of frivolous lawsuits. Tort reformers push the notion that junk lawsuits dominate the legal system...

But the private studies cited often involve small numbers of claims, or focus on a single hospital, insurer, specialty or type of injury, or were commissioned by interested parties, aka the malpractice insurers themselves...In 2006, researchers from Harvard published a study in the New England Journal of Medicine... What they found kills the notion of frivolous lawsuits. It suggests that most people who sue are suing for good reason.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Three county officials volunteer on the board of Children's Initiative; charity gets contract

Charity gets contract for after-school services
Three county officials volunteer on the board of Children's Initiative
By Jeff McDonald
Union-Tribune Staff Writer
October 26, 2009

Background: To balance the county's budget this past spring, county supervisors trimmed the popular after-school program Critical Hours.

What's changing: Supervisor Ron Roberts last week sought and received board approval for a no-bid contract to restore some funds. The deal calls for up to $241,981 to go to a nonprofit that has three top county officials on its board of directors.

The future: The agreement runs through June 30, 2010, and may be extended six months if additional funding is found.

San Diego County has awarded a no-bid contract worth up to $241,981 for after-school services to a charity that has three top county officials on its board of directors...

The money will fund after-school services for low-income children in Supervisor Ron Roberts' district. The Board of Supervisors approved the award last week without debate.

The action will restore lost funding for Critical Hours, a program that was trimmed earlier this year when supervisors were scrambling to balance the county's annual budget.

The Children's Initiative board includes Walt Ekard, county chief administrative officer; Nick Macchione, Health and Human Services Agency director; and Mack Jenkins, chief probation officer.

Roberts, who recommended the agreement to his colleagues, said he did not know Ekard and two other administrators served on the charity board...

Waiving the competitive-bid rule will get funds quickly to the nonprofit, Roberts said, noting its history of working well with the county.

The Children's Initiative is run by Sandra McBrayer, a member of the county's First 5 Commission, which distributes about $40 million a year in tobacco tax money for early-childhood programs...

Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Dianne Jacob, who is also the First 5 Commission chair, said the Children's Initiative contract is a different situation.

“There, we needed to do away with the perception that First 5 board members and advisory board members could influence the allocation of grant funding for personal benefit,” Jacob said. “Here, a member of the Board of Supervisors made the recommendation, not other county officials.”...

The Critical Hours program was promoted by Roberts and Supervisor Greg Cox in the 1990s in response to research showing that most youth crime occurs between 2 and 6 p.m.

Since 1997, the county has invested more than $19 million in the program, according to the Children's Initiative, which coordinates the services across the region.

Anti-CIF meeting in Alpine reveals that Poway sports gets away with illegal players while Eastlake, San Diego High coaches lose their jobs

Accusations of bias at town hall meeting
By Brent Schrotenboer
Union-Tribune Staff Writer
October 23, 2009

Several parents, students and citizens last night denounced the local governing body of high school athletics, accusing it of discrimination in a town hall meeting that drew nearly 100 people.

The gathering at New Assurance Baptist Church in Rolando was organized to protest decisions made by the San Diego Section of the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF).

Pastor Rickey Laster said the meeting's purpose was to “speak truth to power.” It was conducted by a grass-roots group calling itself Citizens Against CIF, which has accused San Diego Section officials of bias against schools from disadvantaged areas.

“It's discrimination is what it is,” said Rudy Johnson, a Horizon High School senior.

The meeting lasted more than two hours with many emotional pleas to fight local CIF officials through various means, including picketing the San Diego Section's Board of Managers meeting Tuesday. Some elected officials sent representatives to monitor the meeting, including Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, and Rep. Bob Filner, D-Chula Vista.

Local CIF officials said they could not attend because of scheduling conflicts. But a private attorney who has worked for San Diego Section officials, Dino Buzunis, tried to give the CIF's side. His comments often were met with jeers from the crowd. Buzunis asked them to keep an open mind so they can “know the entire story.”

“You're only being told what certain people want you to hear because decisions have been made that they're unhappy with,” Buzunis said.

Buzunis said “the CIF is not a racist organization” and that its rules are designed to create a level playing field for all.

Several players from the Eastlake High girls basketball team didn't agree. The San Diego Section booted the Titans from the playoffs last year, accusing them of having an ineligible ninth-grader who used false addresses to gain enrollment at Eastlake middle and high schools. Eastlake team members denied it. Coach Janet Eleazar recently was fired amid such allegations of improper recruiting, which she denied.

Others at the meeting asked why the wrestling and baseball programs at Poway, where section Commissioner Dennis Ackerman lives, didn't face serious penalties after facing similar accusations. Eastlake and San Diego High, in a similar case, ended up with fired coaches and forfeited games...

Football Player's Dreams Shattered By CIF
CIF Abusing Its Powers?
ovember 4, 2005

Rocco Sanchez was one of the most sought-after high school football players in the country...

Sanchez's dream of playing in the NFL suffered a major setback when his parents split up. Sanchez and his mother moved, forcing him to leave Castle Park High School and attend Otay Ranch High School.

It was not a big deal, until Maria Castilleja, the principal at Castle Park High School, called the school district and said Sanchez did not really move.

Sanchez and his mom, Mika Molina, moved into a home near Otay Ranch High School. However, Molina's husband stayed in Castle Park's district...

In August, the CIF held two hearings and found that ... Sanchezes violated a CIF rule which "requires the entire Sanchez family move" to the new address.

According to 10News, the CIF and the school district said Sanchez's mother was lying. Therefore, Sanchez could not play football...

"There's certainly an appearance of a conflict of interest, and you should avoid those appearances," said Bob Ottilie, an attorney representing Sanchez...

CIF Abusing Its Power?

...Molina said the CIF unfairly used the CIF's rule book and ignored the fact that she had split up with her husband...

"I can give you horrible examples of people who have been deprived of their rights and haven't had a chance to prove they're right because of the way the CIF investigates these matters, hears these matters and delays these matters," said Ottilie.

Ottilie has taken on the CIF numerous times and has won every battle over student eligibility.

The former wrestling coach for Carlsbad High School said abuses by the federation turned physical at a wrestling tournament when a CIF official attacked him.

"I turned my back to him, and that's when I get assaulted by him basically," Pilot said.

Someone turned their video camera on just as CIF tournament director Richard Malliet choked Pilot.

Parent Rick Trevino wrote a letter to the CIF and said that Malliet had Pilot in a choke hold. Douglas Gadker, another parent who wrote the CIF, said Malliet had Pilot "in a headlock and was dragging him from behind."...

According to 10News, the tournament director, who witnesses say was the attacker, was not punished. Instead, the CIF has, at least temporarily, banned Pilot from coaching at CIF events...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fox News isn't even pretending anymore

Fox News isn't even pretending anymore
By Gene Lyons
Oct. 15, 2009

...The boldest innovator, however, has been Fox News. Since President Obama’s election, the cable news channel has dropped all but the barest pretense of objectivity. Billing itself as “fair and balanced,” Fox has turned itself into what White House communications director Anita Dunn recently called “the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party.”

Actually, that’s an extremely polite way of putting it. It’s closer to Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth.” Fox openly promotes “Tea Parties” and other political demonstrations; it portrays every perceived White House defeat, such as Chicago’s failure to secure the 2016 Olympic Games, as a victory for something called “Fox Nation.”...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

When Kentucky prosecutor charged Edwin Chandler, had no second thoughts. Now innocent man is exonerated after 9-year jail term

His conviction for manslaughter and robbery in Whitfield's death was vacated just hours after a Jefferson County grand jury indicted 45-year-old repeat offender Percy Phillips for her death. Phillips is already serving a 20-year sentence for assault.

October 13, 2009
Man's conviction set aside in 1993 shooting death
Courier-Journal Louisville, Kentucky
By Jessie Halladay
and Jason Riley

For 16 years, Edwin Chandler faithfully believed the day would come when everyone would know he wasn't the man who shot Brenda Whitfield in the head during a 1993 robbery at the Chevron station where she worked.

That day finally arrived Tuesday, when Jefferson Circuit Judge Fred Cowan vacated the manslaughter and robbery charges against Chandler after prosecutors and police announced they had convicted the wrong man...

When Steve Schroering prosecuted Chandler in 1995, he said he had no doubt that the right man went to prison.

[Maura Larkins comment: Prosecutors never have any second thoughts, do they?]

“It was never a case I had second thoughts about until this morning” when Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Stengel called to tell him the conviction was being set aside.

After all, a store video camera captured the crime and an eyewitness tentatively identified Chandler. Fingerprints, a knit cap and sunglasses were found at the scene. And Chandler made a taped confession to detectives, admitting to the robbery and saying the shooting was accidental.

But the fingerprints didn't match Chandler's, the owner of the cap and sunglasses was uncertain, and Chandler said he falsely confessed, coerced by police scare tactics and coaching.

Chandler said then-Detective Mark Handy told Chandler he believed he was lying and threatened to charge his sister and girlfriend with harboring a fugitive if he didn't tell the truth.

Chandler said he was a few blocks away, watching a movie with his girlfriend. He remembers seeing a swarm of police cars but didn't know what had happened.

Police focused on Chandler after a witness identified him near the scene, and he already was wanted on a jail-escape charge...

But Chandler's jurors never heard some of the information that could have helped acquit him.

They never heard from John Gray, who was pumping gasoline when the shooting occurred. Gray left his name with a county officer at the scene, but it was never passed on to the city officers investigating the case..

In 1996, Gray was serving time in prison with Chandler and told him he saw the shooter and his name was Percy...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

"Maintenance of standards" has caused problems but sometimes helps smooth changes

How a Controversial Rule Played Out in Other Schools
Voice of San Diego
Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2009

As bargaining grinds on between San Diego Unified and its teachers union over its expired contract, a public debate has erupted over a few paragraphs of legalese.

Teachers and their union say a new proposal will help kids by preventing teachers from being overloaded with new duties. Opponents say it will allow the union to veto any changes to what teachers do -- even small ones -- by enshrining all existing practices in the contract. It has pitted the principals union against the teachers union, divided and perplexed parents.

Yet both its backers and its critics point out that the proposal, known as "maintenance of standards," is nothing new...

...In New York State, a similar rule has sometimes been frustrating for Assistant Superintendent Cora Stempel at the Hyde Park Central School District. For instance, the union invoked it when counselors switched from paper forms to an electronic system to change students' classes, contending that it was new work, Stempel said. It hasn't halted change in the school district, but it has made it more difficult.

Hyde Park now gives the union two weeks' notice before making significant changes, which often allows them to work out any problems in advance and avoid grievances. Even if a grievance was filed, Stempel said that wouldn't necessarily stop schools from making changes, unless the union ultimately wins and forces them to reverse it. But it may slow down or alter its plans.

If the union balks completely, it can sway the school district to hold off on an idea to avoid grievances that the union might win. The threat of a grievance -- and the desire to avoid it -- can steer their decision.

"It's just good practice to work towards consensus anyway," she said. "But there are times that there are things I'd like to do, and I should be able to make that decision. It's sometimes a struggle."

One of the largest school districts with such a policy is Jefferson County Public Schools, a Colorado system with more than 80,000 students. Union leaders said they used it to push the school district to discuss -- not bargain -- changes to the date teachers were paid. Robert Archibold, Jefferson's executive director of employee relations, said it hadn't been a problem for them because few issues weren't covered by their contract, which is highly specific. No new programs had been blocked, he said.

Still, "it puts the brake on the district just going around changing things without having a conversation with us," said Lisa Elliott, the union's executive director. She might invoke it to challenge whether the district can immediately change how it handles pay errors. "But it's only related to working conditions and pay. It's not saying, 'You can't get a new set of textbooks.'"

Some of the worst clashes over the rule are documented in Wisconsin. The Salem Joint School District tried to remove a similar rule while bargaining with teachers in 1992, complaining that the union had objected to schools encouraging teachers to help at a lunchtime salad bar and requiring teachers to make their own photocopies. It stated that six grievances were filed based on the clause in a single year, compared to just one that had gone as far as a hearing in earlier years...

Louisiana JP won't marry interracial couple. Is judge afraid one of their kids will grow up to be a Democratic President?

Children of interracial marriages seem to do just fine: Halle Berry, Mariah Carey, Barack Obama, to name a few. What's the real reason for this judge's actions? Is he afraid, perhaps, that interracial children will be too successful, and threaten his power over African-Americans?

No Marriage License for Interracial Couple
October 15, 2009

HAMMOND, La. (Oct. 15) - A Louisiana justice of the peace said he refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple out of concern for any children the couple might have.

Keith Bardwell, justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish, says it is his experience that most interracial marriages do not last long.

[Maura Larkins comment: If avoiding divorce is his motive, he shouldn't perform any marriages. White couples frequently get divorced.]

Neither Bardwell nor the couple immediately returned phone calls from The Associated Press. But Bardwell told the Daily Star of Hammond that he was not a racist.

"I do ceremonies for black couples right here in my house," Bardwell said. "My main concern is for the children."

"I don't do interracial marriages because I don't want to put children in a situation they didn't bring on themselves," Bardwell said. "In my heart, I feel the children will later suffer."

If he does an interracial marriage for one couple, he must do the same for all, he said.

"I try to treat everyone equally," he said..

[Maura Larkins' comment: Can this man hear himself speak? Or is he deaf to his own voice?]

Thirty-year-old Beth Humphrey and 32-year-old Terence McKay, both of Hammond, say they will consult the U.S. Justice Department about filing a discrimination complaint.

Humphrey told the newspaper she called Bardwell on Oct. 6 to inquire about getting a marriage license signed. She says Bardwell's wife told her that Bardwell will not sign marriage licenses for interracial couples.

"It is really astonishing and disappointing to see this come up in 2009," said American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana attorney Katie Schwartzman. "The Supreme Court ruled as far back as 1963 that the government cannot tell people who they can and cannot marry."...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Abortion Down, Contraception Up: Recipe for Health Reform?

Abortion Down, Contraception Up: Recipe for Health Reform?
October 14, 2009
US News and World Report

Global abortion rates are down—from an estimated 45.5 million in 1995 to 41.6 million in 2003, according to a report issued Tuesday by the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit research center that supports abortion rights. A key reason for that drop, the report said, was that the proportion of married women using contraception worldwide increased from 54 percent in 1990 to 63 percent in 2003 as pregnancy prevention methods became more available and socially acceptable.

That's the good news.

The bad news is that unsafe abortions kill 70,000 women a year, mostly in poorer countries with strict antiabortion laws...

Arctic ice cap to disappear in 20-30 years: study

It's time to take a cruise to Alaska and get some photographs to show our grandchildren.

Arctic ice cap to disappear in 20-30 years: study
by Elodie Mazein Elodie Mazein
Oct 14,2009

LONDON (AFP) – The Arctic ice cap will disappear completely in summer months within 20 to 30 years, a polar research team said as they presented findings from an expedition led by adventurer Pen Hadow.

It is likely to be largely ice-free during the warmer months within a decade, the experts added.

Veteran polar explorer Hadow and two other Britons went out on the Arctic ice cap for 73 days during the northern spring, taking more than 6,000 measurements and observations of the sea ice...

"The summer ice cover will completely vanish in 20 to 30 years but in less than that it will have considerably retreated," said Professor Peter Wadhams, head of the polar ocean physics group at Britain's prestigious Cambridge University.

"In about 10 years, the Arctic ice will be considered as open sea."...

Madoff victims sue SEC for 'negligence'

See all Bernie Madoff posts.

Madoff victims sue SEC for 'negligence'
By Aaron Smith staff writer
October 14, 2009

Two victims of the convicted Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff filed suit Wednesday against the Securities and Exchange Commission, accusing the government regulator of negligence in failing to protect investors.

Molchatsky and Schneider accuse the SEC of failing to detect Madoff's long-running scam, which stole billions of dollars from thousands of investors.

"Through its negligent actions and inactions ... the SEC caused Madoff's scheme to continue, perpetuate and expand, eventually in billions in losses by investors...

The lawsuit said that SEC regulators had "countless opportunities" to stop Madoff's scheme "and botched all of them."

"Instead of watching the backs of Ms. Molchatsky and Dr. Schneider and the backs of all the other investors, the SEC -- through its negligence -- was effectively watching Bernie Madoff's back," said one of the plaintiffs' lawyers, former SEC attorney Howard Elisofon. "Now it is time for the SEC to be held accountable and for the federal government to do what the law says it must do: compensate the victims for its negligence."

The lawsuit noted that, between 1992 and 2008, the SEC received "at least eight complaints or submissions indicating that Madoff was operating a Ponzi scheme."

Schwarzenegger signs bill allowed use of student test scores to evaluate teachers

Democrats are starting to pry themselves loose from the controlling grip of the California Teachers Association (CTA).

Governor praised for signing education funding eligibility bill
Los Angeles Times
By Jason Song and Jason Felch
October 14, 2009

The nation's top education official praised Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday for signing a bill that will make California eligible for competitive federal education funding.

Schwarzenegger signed the bill, SB 19 by Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), on Sunday, striking a clause in a 2006 law Simitian wrote that bars state use of testing data to determine educator pay or promotion.

"This is a victory for children," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Do we need school boards?

Do we need school boards?
Lois Kazakoff
San Francisco Chronicle
October 12, 2009

...California public schools are not producing the workers our economy needs to compete.

The problem, suggested panelist Aart J. De Geus, CEO of Synopsys, "If I look at it as if I were the CEO of education of California, I would look at a company (in terms of), "What are the resources? What are the results? And what is the management system?" I'd say, "Well, let's look at the CEO of the educational system." There is no CEO of the educational system. I know there are commissioners, and whatever they're called, but, to be a CEO, you need to have both responsibility and power."

Another panelist, Ellen Moir, executive director of the UC Santa Cruz New Teacher Center, said, "They (school board members) don't have the impetus and the drive and the focus and the control and the power to transform what's going on in (school) districts."

School boards negotiate contracts with teachers and other school personnel and hire the district superintendent. There's ongoing concern that school board decisions are at the least, not effective, and at the worst, interfere with long-term educational goals and continuity of management.

Is a democratically elected school board in the best interests of educating our youth? What do you think?

Read more:

Monday, October 12, 2009

Michelle Fort-Merrill sends SDCOE work to her husband, while Bonnie Dumanis charges 5 county officials with conflict of interest

What's going on, Bonnie Dumanis? It sure seems that politics controls your decisions about charging people with crimes. You appear to be blind to conflicts of interest when your cronies are guilty.

And it seems that the California Supreme Court disagrees with your charges against 5 county officials.

It seems that BBK partner Woody Merrill is getting some advantages due to his wife's position at San Diego County Office of Education.

Related link: The Schoolhouse Lawyer Who Helped Hire His Overseer (March 2, 2009)

When Wife Advises, Husband’s Firm Almost Always Picked
Michele Fort-Merrill attends a meeting at the County Office of Education. Photo: Sam Hodgson
Monday, Oct. 12, 2009

When Michele Fort-Merrill advises her boss that the San Diego County Office of Education should look to outsiders for legal help, it is almost guaranteed that the work will go to her husband's firm, a analysis has found.

As executive director of human resources, Fort-Merrill advises the county superintendent whether to retain attorneys for personnel issues. She does not choose which firm to employ, but over the past four years, those cases have gone almost exclusively to Best, Best & Krieger, which employs her husband, William Merrill. Fort-Merrill has a financial interest in the firm of more than $100,000 annually through his income, according to her economic disclosure forms...

But a major question was left unanswered: How likely it is that legal business will go to BB&K and to William Merrill specifically if Fort-Merrill advises hiring an outside attorney for a personnel case. The new numbers, culled from public records by, help shed light on that key question about the relationship. They show it is almost inevitable that personnel cases will go to BB&K, which accounted for 99 percent of the hours attorneys billed for such work since 2005.

That deepens concerns among ethicists about Fort-Merrill giving advice on whether to get legal help...

Public officials are generally barred under California law from making or helping to make government decisions in which they or their spouse have a financial interest. Being involved in the decision can include advising the decision maker.

"The issue is quite simple -- as a public official you shouldn't make decisions based on your financial gain," said Jessica Levinson, director of political reform at the Center for Governmental Studies, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that helps people participate in their government. "Whether that's her motivation, I can't speak to. But she is financially gaining based on decisions she's making in her professional capacity."

BB&K began receiving almost all of the County Office legal work related to personnel cases four years ago. Its attorneys have billed $234,000 over that time for personnel cases, which averages to $58,500 annually, the analysis found. The previous firm had billed an average of $17,100 annually in the prior seven years. BB&K both logged more hours and charged slightly more.

BB&K began to be used almost exclusively for personnel cases in July 2005, the same time that Fort-Merrill became executive director of human resources...

Before 2005, the County Office usually turned to Parham & Rajcic, a Laguna Hills firm, to handle cases related to employees. The attorney it often used, Mark Bresee, left Parham in February 2005 for the Orange County Department of Education.

A few months later, the San Diego County Office of Education started sending its personnel cases to BB&K...

BB&K's share of the overall legal business at the County Office of Education has grown over time, from 35 percent in 2000 to 87 percent in 2008...Cases referred by Fort-Merrill's department made up at least 25 percent of its business from 2005 to 2008...

While personnel cases almost always go to BB&K, Merrill himself made up only 7 percent of the attorneys' billing, according to the analysis. But it is unclear whether Merrill and his wife benefit solely from business that goes directly to him as an individual attorney or from BB&K business in general.

Merrill is listed on the firm's website as a partner, a term historically meaning that an employee earns a share of the firm's profits. He filed an economic disclosure form two years ago that listed a partnership in the firm valued between $100,001 and $1 million...

Fort-Merrill's role has been questioned by a former County Office employee, Rodger Hartnett...

But ethicists and attorneys not associated with the case said it was problematic for Fort-Merrill to advise the superintendent on personnel cases that could end up going to her husband or his firm. Some said the new revelations that BB&K is almost always used for those matters only increased their concern.

"She's got a problem. It's an untenable position to be in, and a good law firm would tell her that," said Bob Fellmeth, a professor of public interest law at the University of San Diego.

Derek Cressman, western states regional director for the nonpartisan watchdog group California Common Cause, said he didn't know whether the connection was illegal, but said it raised the appearance that Fort-Merrill was "bettering herself." He said, "If I were a public official that wanted to give voters confidence that I was making decisions based on the public interest, I wouldn't be doing what she is doing."...

"The fact that there is someone in between saying 'yes' and 'no' doesn't mean that this is all fine and dandy," Levinson said. Using the firm on other cases before Fort-Merrill started working "decreases any appearance of impropriety to a certain extent," she said, but does not eliminate the problem...

Government employees and elected officials are generally supposed to recuse themselves from government decisions that could impact their finances, said Roman Porter, executive director of the state Fair Political Practices Commission...

Another code prohibits public officials from having a financial stake in the contracts they make, barring them from preliminary discussions, planning or other involvement...

"However devious and winding the chain may be which connects the officer with the forbidden contract, if it can be followed and the connection can be made, the contract is void," states a 1934 court ruling cited in the guidelines.

Would insurance companies including Aetna, Cigna, UnitedHealth Group, WellPoint Inc make blatantly false statements about cost of healthcare?

White House blasts insurance sector report
Oct 12, 2009
By Steve Holland and David Alexander

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Monday blasted a report from the health insurance industry that said Senate healthcare legislation would lead to increases in annual insurance premiums of as much as $4,000 by 2019...

A top goal of Obama in seeking to revamp healthcare is to rein in costs that have soared in recent decades. The report, prepared by consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers and posted on the industry group's website over the weekend, said costs would increase for Americans rather than decline...

The report's release comes as the Senate Finance Committee plans to vote on Tuesday on its healthcare bill after budget analysts gave it a rosy report card, saying it would meet Obama's goal of reducing the budget deficit over 10 years.

A Finance Committee aide called the report "blatantly false and misleading."

The finance panel bill calls for sweeping insurance market reforms, requires most individuals to obtain medical policies and provides tax subsidies to help people afford coverage. The bill also would tax high-cost insurance plans and would place a $500,000 limit on the amount of executive pay that health insurance companies could deduct from taxable income.

The insurance industry group, which represents Aetna Inc, Cigna Corp, UnitedHealth Group Inc, WellPoint Inc and others, defended the report, saying lawmakers have abandoned any effort to slow healthcare costs.

Instead, the bill looks to raise money from insurance companies and, ultimately consumers and employers, to help pay for healthcare costs that outpace wages each year, the group's president Karen Ignagni told reporters.

Fact Checker: Health Insurance Industry Reports

Washington Post

Health insurers released two reports this week warning that the reform legislation passed by the Senate Finance Committee would result in soaring premiums.

Both reports -- by PricewaterhouseCoopers for America's Health Insurance Plans and by Oliver Wyman for Blue Cross Blue Shield -- predict premium increases of $3,000 to $4,000 per year for the typical family without employer-based coverage. The finance panel's bill "would have the unintended consequence of increasing premiums and making coverage unaffordable for millions of people," the Blues' chief executive, Scott Serota, wrote in a letter to Congress attached to his group's report.

The White House and congressional Democrats have dismissed both reports as slanted, last-minute attempts to block the legislation. "How many fatally flawed insurance company 'reports' do insurance companies need before their credibility is entirely shot?" said Finance Committee spokesman Scott Mulhauser.

Here is a summary of the insurance industry claims, coupled with a vetting of them by Washington Post staff writer Alec MacGillis:

1. The Individual Mandate
Both reports argue that, because the bill weakened the annual penalty for people who do not obtain health insurance, many young, healthy people would opt to pay rather than get covered. This would result in a concentration of older and sicker people without employer-based coverage buying plans, thus driving up premiums for those people.

Analysis: There is a lively debate about whether the penalty would goad healthier people to get coverage. But the reports are probably too pessimistic. Massachusetts has gotten all but 3 percent of residents into coverage with a penalty of roughly the same size. The reports also do not take into account the draw of the low-cost "young invincibles" policy included in the bill. And the Congressional Budget Office estimates coverage levels would rise to 94 percent of Americans, from 83 percent.

2. New Regulations on Insurance Plans
Both reports argue that new insurance requirements would also push up premiums. Insurers would no longer be able to deny coverage based on preexisting conditions, would have to limit how much they charge based on age, and would have to meet minimum standards for the quality of the coverage offered.

Analysis: There is no question that consumers in loosely regulated states now buy bare-bones policies that would not meet the new standards. But the reports underestimate the pricing power that individuals without employer-based coverage and small businesses would enjoy as a result of being pooled together for coverage, instead of buying on their own in highly uncompetitive markets, as they do today. In addition, small businesses already enjoy protection against denial of coverage, so that rule would not represent a change for them.

3. Soaring Cost in Particular States
The Blues report argues that premiums for those without employer-based coverage would soar most in certain parts of the country, where states loosely regulate the kind of plans that insurers can offer different sorts of consumers. Premiums, it predicts, would increase the least in the Northeast and the most in the South, Mountain West and Southwest.

Analysis: The bill would affect some states more than others, but consumers in those states could find that, as premiums for some go up, many others' would decline. The reason: Lightly regulated states also tend to have higher rates of uninsured and underinsured people, which leads to more people going to the emergency room and higher premiums for those who are insured. Requiring insurance for all may reduce those costs, creating a downward pressure on premiums.

4. New Tax on Costly Employer-Based Plans
The AHIP report argues that a proposed tax on high-cost insurance plans -- the main new revenue source in the Finance Committee bill -- would eventually hit many more plans than expected, making more and more people subject to the tax. The report also argues that, while the tax is to be assessed on insurers and employers, it would be passed on to customers through higher premiums.

Analysis: The report overlooks the likelihood that insurers, employers and employees would shift to less costly plans to avoid the tax. This would happen to such an extent, congressional auditors predict, that much of the new tax revenue would actually come in the form of income taxes -- on the higher wages that employers would give in the place of top-shelf health benefits. The report's authors themselves note that a shift to less costly plans would likely occur, but say that they would nonetheless base their estimate on the tax being fully applied.

5. Medicare and Medicaid Cost Shift
The AHIP report predicts that premiums would rise further as a result of proposed cuts in Medicare and Medicaid spending, which the report says hospitals and doctors would make up by passing on all of the cuts in the form of higher rates for private insurers.

Analysis: The report probably overstates the cost shift. The commission that advised Congress on Medicare reported in March that hospitals that rely most on Medicare and Medicaid report costs closer in line with Medicare payments than do hospitals with a big private payer base. That suggests the former has found ways to make do with the public program's rates. Even the Lewin Group, a consulting firm owned by an insurance company, estimates that, at most, 40 percent of underpayment by public programs is passed on to private insurers.

6. Subsidies for Buying Insurance and Cost Controls
The AHIP report did not take into account the impact of government subsidies for buying coverage -- the heart of the legislation -- on insurance affordability, nor did it account for provisions in the bill that aim to slow the growth of health-care spending. PricewaterhouseCoopers has distanced itself from the report by saying that the AHIP had instructed the firm to focus on only some features of the bill. The Blues report also left aside the cost-control reforms, but it took the subsidies into account in cursory form, finding that they would mostly offset the predicted increase in premiums for about 15 million buying insurance but not for another 5 million.

Analysis: Even reform supporters concede that provisions in the bill to control the growth in health-care costs are limited and hard to assess. But it is dubious to predict the affordability of insurance under the bill without taking into full account the impact of subsidies, which would apply to families earning as much as $88,000. Jonathan Gruber, an MIT health-care economist who has advised the Finance Committee, has done his own estimates that take the subsidies into account. He predicts that savings would be biggest for older people and for those who qualify for subsidies -- as much as several thousands of dollars per year -- but even a young person who does not qualify for subsidies would save several hundred dollars a year.

John de Beck tells it like it is: SDUSD board screwed up by keeping surplus teachers and raising class size

The funding problem with schools

By John de Beck

...Last year the board decided not to lay off teachers, and about 185 remained on the payroll, despite the fact they did not have teaching stations or children. (I will use the term, “surplus teachers” to identify these people.)

In addition the district used savings that increasing class size would provide (reducing the number of teachers needed), to balance our “tentative” 2009-10 budget.

So we had two conflicting problems and solutions. One was (to realize any savings) that any remaining surplus teachers would have to be placed in already budgeted positions (some of which were cut to save money this year) and the board decided to offer these teachers jobs and training in special education so they could fit into jobs that were budgeted, needed, and unfilled. Others were going to be used for substitutes, and other unfilled jobs that would come from special funded projects. The second was that we would have other unassigned teachers caused by the class size increase.

The board seemed to forget (or was not told) that the problem was that increasing class sizes would add to the need to find places for people and that the class size savings we used to balance our budget were on paper, and not real unless all surplus teachers got assignments that were already in the budget.

Principals were told to implement class size increases for this year and when enrollments showed a decline (or were flat) in September at Ocean Beach, Normal Heights and other schools, they just followed directions and reduced staff according to contract and district rules. The result was that they have had to let teachers go into the pool of surplus teachers (increasing the total) and had to use the remaining staff according to the staffing formulas they were given. They had no choice but to reorganize their schools and that caused them to use techniques like combination classes, to meet their official staffing ratios....

Maura Larkins comment:

It’s a wonder the great Terry Grier didn’t point this out to the board. Or maybe he did, but either way, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this plan wouldn’t work. The board calculated that it had to keep the surplus teachers to please the teachers union (Democrats), and to raise class size so it would appear that it was dealing with the budget crisis (Republicans). The board seems to care only about pleasing the politically powerful, and is so lacking in courage that it wouldn’t fess up about what it had done before school started, when the current debacle could easily have been prevented. Why can’t we elect board members with the courage to put kids first?

Local accountant Graham McMillan helped publicize a Ponzi scheme

I can relate to Graham McMillan.

Burning with "moral outrage," McMillan spent years investigating the scheme, obsessively debunking it on the internet and pressuring authorities to do something. He suspected from the beginning that he'd stumbled upon a Ponzi scheme, a scam in which money from new investors is used to pay big returns to previous investors, sometimes for years, until everything collapses.

The Avenging Accountant

Local accountant Graham McMillan helped publicize a Ponzi scheme that snared his parents. Photo: Sam Hodgson
Oct. 11, 2009

As his brother helpfully pointed out a few years ago, San Diego accountant Graham McMillan could have just let it go.

After all, he'd helped his elderly Canadian father recover the $50,000 he socked away in a suspicious investment scheme that promised 40 percent returns. He'd harangued those he thought were swindlers and alerted authorities in the U.S. and Canada. What more was there to do?

Lots. Burning with "moral outrage," McMillan spent years investigating the scheme, obsessively debunking it on the internet and pressuring authorities to do something. He suspected from the beginning that he'd stumbled upon a Ponzi scheme, a scam in which money from new investors is used to pay big returns to previous investors, sometimes for years, until everything collapses.

Now, McMillan is being hailed as a hero for helping to uncover an alleged scam that snared thousands of American and Canadian investors and may have robbed them of $400 million. It's said to be the largest Ponzi scheme in Canadian history.

One Canadian newspaper called McMillan a "warrior accountant." Another dubbed him a "Ponzi scheme saboteur."

"If everybody did what Graham did, there would be a lot less fraud in this world," said San Diego swindler-turned-scam-hunter Barry Minkow, who investigated part of the alleged scam earlier this decade...

CIGNA employee flips off mother of girl who died when transplant denied

CIGNA Employee Flips Off Mother Of Dead Girl Denied Transplant
The Huffington Post
Rachel Weiner
10- 8-09

A CIGNA employee gave the finger -- literally -- to a woman whose daughter died after the insurance giant refused to cover her liver transplant.

Hilda and Krikor Sarkisyan went to CIGNA's Philadelphia headquarters, along with supporters from the California Nurses Association, to confront the CEO Edward Hanway over the death of her 17-year-old child.

In 2007, Nataline Sarkisyan was denied a liver transplant by the company, on the grounds that the operation was "too experimental" to be covered. Nine days later it changed its mind, in response to protests outside its office. It was too late: Nataline died hours later.

"CIGNA killed my daughter," Nataline's mother Hilda told security. "I want an apology." Sarkisyan was not able to speak to Hanway; a communications specialist talked to her instead. After their conversation, employees heckled the group from a balcony; one man gave them the finger. CIGNA called the police and had the family and their friends escorted from the building...

"What unbelievable nerve," said Americans United For Change spokesman Jeremy Funk in a statement. "A case that should have prompted CIGNA to seriously reevaluate its policies instead led its employees to taunt and insult a grieving mother who lost her daughter. Absolutely sick. Does Congress need any more reasons to pass meaningful health insurance reform now?"

The Sarkisyan family's wrongful-death suit was thrown out of court because of a 1987 Supreme Court ruling that shields employer-paid health care plans from damages over their coverage decisions.

The Sarkisyans say the law needs to be changed to allow people to sue health insurers for these kinds of decisions.

[Maura Larkins comment: Do CIGNA employees stand around in the halls frequently, or were they allowed to do so on this day in particular to intimidate a grieving mother?]

Read more at:

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Matt Osborne analyzes the San Diego ACORN videos

The following article includes videos of Juan Carlos Vera, Hannah Giles and James O'Keefe

ACORN San Diego: Mucha Dificultad Sobre Nada
by Matt Osborne
September 24, 2009

Today, I finally got around to watching the San Diego videos, and once again there's a Faux Edit™ going on. Apparently, that's a habit with filmmaker James O'Keefe, the "pimp" in these videos. The first minute is going to make you squirm, but then the video will start at the beginning and you'll get a completely different sense of context...

Terrific Article about Ayn Rand

Jonathan Chait
The New Republic

Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right
By Jennifer Burns
(Oxford University Press, 459 pp., $27.95)

Ayn Rand and the World She Made
By Anne C. Heller
(Doubleday, 559 pp., $35)

...There was more to Rand’s appeal. In the wake of a depression that undermined the prestige of business, and then a postwar economy that was characterized by the impersonal corporation, her revival of the capitalist as a romantic hero, even a superhuman figure, naturally flattered the business elite. Here was a woman saying what so many of them understood instinctively. "For twenty-five years," gushed a steel executive to Rand, "I have been yelling my head off about the little-realized fact that eggheads, socialists, communists, professors, and so-called liberals do not understand how goods are produced. Even the men who work at the machines do not understand it." Rand, finally, restored the boss to his rightful mythic place.

On top of all these philosophical compliments to success and business, Rand tapped into a latent elitism that had fallen into political disrepute but never disappeared from the economic right. Ludwig von Mises once enthused to Rand, "You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you are inferior and all the improvements in your condition which you simply take for granted you owe to the effort of men who are better than you."...

Michael Bishop: Many good teachers are uncertified, and bad teachers are certified

Emily Alpert at Voice of San Diego writes: Jay Mathews at the Washington Post says we need a way to fix the mess around teacher certification. But most importantly, he quotes my old roommate Michael Bishop, a Ph.D candidate at the University of Chicago who knows a heck of a lot about teacher training and also makes excellent pancakes.

Fixing the Teacher Certification Mess
Jay Matthews
Washington Post
Sept. 2009

I have no doubt our system for certifying teachers is broken. On Aug. 24, I wrote about a first-rate Prince George’s County teacher who was nearly fired because of official confusion over his certification credits. These are courses he must take to keep his job, but the people in charge had given him conflicting information about how many, and which, courses he needed. Since then, scores of educators have sent me their own horror stories---some of which I collected in another column on Sept. 7...

What do we do about this? Many readers have sent their ideas. But it’s not going to be easy. Injecting common sense into the process threatens the way our education schools teach and the way our school districts hire. Those powerful interest groups show little willingness to change. But the acidic frustrations expressed by people who contacted me are, thankfully, corroding the resistance to innovation.

What of broader systemic reform? Michael Bishop, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Chicago|, nicely summed up the research on this issue.

Studies “find that certified teachers do a little better, or at least no worse. Unfortunately this is very weak evidence that the certification process caused the teachers to become better, rather than merely identifying who is better. Furthermore, the typical study cannot make a fair comparison because uncertified teachers are more likely to be teaching disadvantaged students. What is clear is that there are many good teachers who are uncertified, and bad teachers who are certified.”...

FBI Investigated Coder for posting public documents

Aaron Swartz

FBI Investigated Coder for Liberating Paywalled Court Records
By Ryan Singel
October 5, 2009

When 22-year-old programmer Aaron Swartz decided last fall to help an open-government activist amass a public and free copy of millions of federal court records, he did not expect he’d end up with an FBI agent trying to stake out his house.

But that’s what happened, as Swartz found out this week when he got his FBI file through a Freedom of Information Act request. A partially-redacted FBI report shows the feds mounted a serious investigation of Swartz for helping put public documents onto the public web .

The FBI ran Swartz through a full range of government databases starting in February, and drove by his home, after the U.S. court system told the feds he’d pilfered approximately 18 million pages of documents worth $1.5 million dollars. That’s how much the public records would have cost through the federal judiciary’s pay-walled PACER record system, which charges eight cents a page for most legal filings.

“I think its pretty silly they go after people who use the library to try to get access to public court documents,” Swartz said. “It is pretty silly that instead of calling me up, they sent an FBI agent to my house.”...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Putting presidents in jail: Peru/Taiwan

Peruvian ex-President Fujimori sentenced for bribes, wiretaps to 6 years, fined $9 million
Andrew Whalen
September 30th, 2009

LIMA, Peru — A court imposed a six-year prison sentence Wednesday on disgraced ex-President Alberto Fujimori, who already faced the prospect of spending the rest of his life in a cell after three previous convictions. He also was fined $9 million for authorizing wiretaps and bribes.

The sentencing concluded two years of televised trials that forced a country still divided over its bloody past to relive the darkest days of Fujimori’s authoritarian, corruption-riddled administration.

Animated and unrepentant in early trials, the ailing 71-year-old former president appeared resigned in his later hearings. TV cameras often caught Fujimori sleeping at his table alone in the center of the courtroom.

Asked by the presiding judge Wednesday if he accepted his sentence in the corruption trial, Fujimori stood up and quietly told the court, “I move to nullify.”

On Monday, Fujimori pleaded guilty to the charges, a decision his lawyer says was based on the belief that he could not get a fair trial before the special Supreme Court panel.

Since his 2007 extradition to Peru from Chile, the three-judge panel has convicted Fujimori of crimes against humanity for authorizing military death squads, of abuse of power for an illegal search and of embezzlement for paying his spy chief $15 million in state funds.

Prison terms are served concurrently in Peru, so the 25-year sentence imposed in the murder and kidnapping trial is the maximum he could serve. Arrested in Chile in 2005, that would leave Fujimori in jail until 2030.

He could be freed far earlier, however, if his daughter Keiko is elected president in 2011. She has vowed to pardon her father and leads some recent campaign polls, largely because Fujimori remains popular for crushing the Maoist Shining Path rebels during his decade in power...

Former Taiwan president sentenced to life in prison in corruption case

National Post
September 12, 2009

Former Taiwan president Chen Shui-bian, known for fiery anti-China rhetoric while in office, was found guilty of corruption yesterday and sentenced to life in prison. Taipei District Court convicted the two-term president on six charges related to bribery and corruption, closing a fractious, high-profile case that opened nearly three years ago and involved Chen's wife and numerous family members and aides. He was also fined US$6-million. Prosecutors had charged Chen with embezzling US$3.2-million from a special presidential office fund, accepting bribes of about US$9-million related to a land procurement deal and taking another US$2.7-million in kickbacks. Chen has said the charges were political, denied wrongdoing and will appeal.

I Was a Teenage Death Panelist and The Case for Killing Granny

I Was a Teenage Death Panelist
Published Sep 12, 2009
From the Newsweek issue dated Sep 21, 2009

Though I did not realize it on either occasion, I have twice served on death panels. The first was more than two decades ago, when my grandmother was ill and there was little hope of recovery. My grandfather asked me (in passing, to be sure; I was 16) whether we ought to prolong her life by artificial means or let her die what I clearly remember his calling "a noble death." Then, last year at this time, my father was diagnosed with a fatal case of lung cancer (three packs of cigarettes a day for 40 years will do that to you) and quickly ended up on a respirator for several days, with, the doctors advised, no hope of ever waking up. His wife and I consulted over a painful weekend and made what was to us a clear decision. A priest was summoned, prayers said, and the machines turned off. He died within moments.

Such situations are not what the right-wing opponents of President Obama's health-care reform were thinking of when they coined the term "death panels," a lie crafted to foment opposition to the president's push for reform. In fact, the origins of what became the dreaded death panels show the idea to be sensible and humane: the proposal was to encourage families to consult with their doctors about end-of-life care. The phrase is at once politically brilliant and horribly misleading.

The original bill was heading in the right direction: Americans do spend an inordinate amount of money (30 percent of Medicare, for instance) on care in the last six months of life...

The Case for Killing Granny

Rethinking end-of-life care
By Evan Thomas
Published Sep 12, 2009
Newsweek issue dated Sep 21, 2009

My mother wanted to die, but the doctors wouldn't let her. At least that's the way it seemed to me as I stood by her bed in an intensive-care unit at a hospital in Hilton Head, S.C., five years ago. My mother was 79, a longtime smoker who was dying of emphysema. She knew that her quality of life was increasingly tethered to an oxygen tank, that she was losing her ability to get about, and that she was slowly drowning. The doctors at her bedside were recommending various tests and procedures to keep her alive, but my mother, with a certain firmness I recognized, said no. She seemed puzzled and a bit frustrated that she had to be so insistent on her own demise.

The hospital at my mother's assisted-living facility was sustained by Medicare, which pays by the procedure. I don't think the doctors were trying to be greedy by pushing more treatments on my mother. That's just the way the system works. The doctors were responding to the expectations of almost all patients. As a doctor friend of mine puts it, "Americans want the best, they want the latest, and they want it now." We expect doctors to make heroic efforts—especially to save our lives and the lives of our loved ones.

The idea that we might ration health care to seniors (or anyone else) is political anathema. Politicians do not dare breathe the R word, lest they be accused—however wrongly—of trying to pull the plug on Grandma. But the need to spend less money on the elderly at the end of life is the elephant in the room in the health-reform debate. Everyone sees it but no one wants to talk about it. At a more basic level, Americans are afraid not just of dying, but of talking and thinking about death. Until Americans learn to contemplate death as more than a scientific challenge to be overcome, our health-care system will remain unfixable.

Compared with other Western countries, the United States has more health care—but, generally speaking, not better health care. There is no way we can get control of costs, which have grown by nearly 50 percent in the past decade, without finding a way to stop overtreating patients...

Schools Should Stop Telling Kids to be "Nice"

Schools Should Stop Telling Kids to be "Nice"
The key but overlooked argument from Charles Murray’s Real Education.
September 28, 2009

..[I]t is Murray’s distinction between “nice” and “good” that deserves the most attention, since schools do in fact place too much emphasis on being “nice.”

The KIPP slogan “Work hard, be nice” comes to mind, as does “cooperative learning,” the stock phrase of many public school districts. Being “nice” comes from practiced, structured interaction with others: group activity, “Accountable Talk®” (a structured—and trademarked—form of class discussion), and pleasant, uncontroversial subject matter with familiar social messages. (“We should all go for our dreams.” “We should all treat one another with respect.” “All religions are equal.”)

Will Fitzhugh calls such niceness “critical likability.” Being good is more complex than being nice. It requires that we recognize our own faults and complexities; that we forgive each other; that we say what we think; that we make difficult decisions and face the consequences.

When we read literature and history, we begin to glean what it means to be good. We see how people with the best intentions can fail; how people struggle with conflicting desires and values and make the best choices they can; how people overcome their limitations when put to the test. From works like Antigone, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Chekhov’s short stories, we learn about selfishness, cruelty, cowardice, and confusion, as well as grace, generosity, and patience. We come to see elements of all these traits in ourselves. We learn, too, from reading the likes of The Canterbury Tales, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and the poetry of Edgar Allen Poe or Christina Rossetti, of the delight of language—the playfulness, the ambiguities, the rhythms, the sounds. But programs such as Balanced Literacy (mandated in New York City and other districts) place more emphasis on process than on works of literature, and much of the reading material lacks vitality. Tests, test preparation materials, leveled texts (books that match specific reading levels), and textbooks are filled with bland fiction and nonfiction. In The Language Police, Diane Ravitch shows, in relentless and astounding detail, how test-makers and textbook publishers have censored reading passages to appease various interest groups on the right and left. As a result of such censorship, children read strained, pleasant stories with predictable endings. How, under such circumstances, could students learn what it means to be good?

Insiders expand their control to school construction division in LAUSD, causing award-winning facilities department to lose its chief

L.A. schools construction chief resigns

Guy Mehula, 56, who had been with the program since 2002, quit after an apparent power struggle with district leadership. James Sohn is named interim facilities chief.
By Seema Mehta
September 29, 2009

Guy Mehula, the highly regarded head of the Los Angeles Unified School District's massive school construction program, has resigned after an apparent power struggle with district leadership.

In a brief letter to subordinates Monday, Mehula gave no hint of discord, painting his departure as an opportunity to search for new challenges. "The work that we have done together and the investments we have made in our schools, community, and economy are significant," he wrote.

But critics say Mehula's resignation is fallout from a growing rift between his facilities services division and district headquarters, prompted by policy changes made by Supt. Ramon C. Cortines that threaten to dismantle the award-winning division.

"There's an old saying: 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it,' " said Thomas A. Rubin, a consultant to the district's bond oversight committee, which is overseeing expenditure of more than $20 billion in voter-approved school construction and modernization funds. "This ain't broke. It's not perfect, but it is almost without any doubt whatsoever the best thing the district has done in decades."

For many years, the facilities division had been at the center of significant turmoil, cost overruns and other problems, most notably the construction of the Belmont Learning Complex atop an oil field. The project ended up taking 15 years and costing more than $400 million. About a decade ago, after the Belmont furor, there was a push to create a quasi-independent facilities division that was insulated from district politics and composed of professional construction managers instead of district insiders...

Voters want the impossible's Joan Walsh wrote yesterday about a "paradoxical Quinnipiac poll, showing only 29 percent of voters think the GOP is negotiating in good faith on healthcare, but 57 percent want the healthcare reform bill to be "bipartisan" nonetheless."

Teachers don't get observed much--so what are lay-offs based on? Washington DC dismisses 229 teachers

"The reasons for McCarey's dismissal from Anacostia High couldn't have been based on much observation, she said. The administration was new this school year. Her contact with her new supervisors was limited to an interview over the summer, after which she was rehired, and a five-minute classroom visit the week before the layoff..."

New and Veteran Teachers in D.C. Stunned By Their Dismissal, as Well as Handling

By Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 8, 2009

A neat row of X's stretches down Eve McCarey's performance evaluation, showing that in category after category, she is someone who "exceeds expectations." With three years of experience as a special education teacher at Anacostia High School, she is hardworking, well-spoken and now unemployed...

McCarey, 28, a graduate of D.C. public schools who once helped develop curricula in Sudan, shared Gill's bruised feelings about the decision to lay her off and the manner in which her dismissal was executed. Nearly 400 school employees, including 229 teachers, lost their jobs.

"It was just the most disrespectful thing," McCarey said. Teachers were interrupted in the middle of class, escorted to the principal's office and read a script by their soon-to-be-ex-boss. The office of Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee told principals not to give laid-off employees specific reasons for their dismissals.

The reasons for McCarey's dismissal from Anacostia High couldn't have been based on much observation, she said. The administration was new this school year. Her contact with her new supervisors was limited to an interview over the summer, after which she was rehired, and a five-minute classroom visit the week before the layoff, she said.

Her June 1 job evaluation, a copy of which she shared with The Washington Post, gave her 28 of 30 possible points...

Friday, October 09, 2009

Bloggers, journalists and freedom of speech

Minor Win for Bloggers in Fourth Circuit's GHF Ruling
September 28, 2009

En route to tossing out a $2.9 million jury verdict for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress against the author of a hateful screed at , the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit slipped in a goodie for bloggers at footnote 13:

[W]e believe that the First Amendment protects nonmedia speech on matters of public concern that does not contain provably false factual assertions. Any effort to justify a media/nonmedia distinction rests on unstable ground, given the difficulty of defining with precision who belongs to the "media."

Similar statements rejecting a distinction, for First Amendment purposes, between official "media" and non-media speakers were made in Flamm v. Am. Ass'n of Univ. Women, 201 F.3d 144, 149 (2d Cir. 2000), and In re IBP Confidential Bus. Documents Litig., 797 F.2d 632, 642 (8th Cir. 1986), both of which the Fourth Circuit cited.

The case is Snyder v. Phelps, No. 08-1026 (4th Cir., Sept.24, 2009).


Judge Says Blogs Not Legitimate News Source; No Shield Protections

from the seems-to-leave-a-lot-of-leeway dept
July 4, 2009

Back in May we wrote about a lawsuit questioning whether or not a blogger could use journalism shield laws to protect a source who sent her info she used for a blog post. The company the info was about is suing her for slander (which is odd, since slander is usually spoken, while libel is written). The woman, Shellee Hale tried to claim that she was protected under New Jersey's shield law, which allows a journalist to protect sources. In writing about this case originally, we pointed out that the judge in question clearly did not know much about the internet, and via his questions seemed positively perplexed that anyone would blog at all: "Why would a guy put all this stuff on a blog? Does he have nothing better to do?"

Thus, it should come as no surprise that the judge has now ruled that Hale is not protected by shield laws because she has "no connection to any legitimate news publication." This is troubling for a variety of reasons. First, it leaves open entirely to interpretation what exactly is a "legitimate news publication." The judge seems to think it only applies to old school media, saying: "Even though our courts have liberally construed the shield law, it clearly was not intended to apply to any person communicating to another person." Sure, but that doesn't mean that an individual who posts something in the pursuit of reporting isn't media as well. It looks like Hale will appeal this decision, and hopefully other courts will recognize that you don't have to work for a big media organization to be a reporter any more.


A Texas Case Asks Whether Bloggers Enjoy Journalists' Right to Early Appeals
Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Earlier this summer, a Texas Court of Appeals issued an opinion addressing a question that is likely to be of very significant importance in the coming years: Should the law treat bloggers the same way it treats traditional journalists?

In this column, I'll analyze the ruling. I'll also suggest that traditional journalists do not exclusively deserve special protections such as the right to interlocutory appeal. Rather, such protections should be available to all online and offline writers.

The Ruling on the Interlocutory Appeal, and the Ruling on the Merits

The Texas appeal, Kaufman v. Islamic Society, pitted writer Joe Kaufman against one subset of a larger set of Islamic groups that had co-sponsored a "Muslim Family Day" at an Arlington, Texas "Six Flags" amusement park. The suit alleged that Kaufman had defamed the plaintiffs in a highly critical piece he wrote about the event for the website of Front Page Magazine.

Kaufman sought summary judgment at the trial court level, and lost. He then tried to appeal. However, the plaintiffs argued both that Kaufman's appeal lacked merit, and that he was not entitled to file it yet.

In particular, the plaintiffs contended that Kaufman did not fall within a special statute allowing journalists to file interlocutory appeals – appeals that occur mid-case. Interlocutory appeals are generally rare and disfavored, because of the problems and delays that occur when cases ping-pong back and forth between trial and appellate courts. The statute carved out a special exception.

The appeals court ruled for Kaufman on both points, holding both that he was entitled to an interlocutory appeal, and that he was entitled to summary judgment on the merits of his defense. However, my focus here is on the Texas court's ruling allowing an interlocutory appeal on the ground that Kaufman counted as a journalist, even though his work appeared online.

The Reason Kaufman Was Granted An Interlocutory Appeal

Regarding the interlocutory appeal issue, the Texas appeals court cited a specific state statute that allowed such an appeal to be filed in this instance. The statute, by its terms, is triggered by the denial of a motion for summary judgment that is partially- or wholly-based upon a free-speech-based claim or defense...

President Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize

US reaction to Obama's win of Nobel Peace Prize

By The Associated Press (AP)
October 9, 2009

"Let me be clear: I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations. To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize." — Obama.

"The president has consistently shown that he is committed to reaching out to other nations and positioning America to once again be the global leader for peace and prosperity. This is a great honor for our country and reminds us all of the promise our nation holds." — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, R-Calif.

"...This was not an award for him. It was an award for America and its values, and it really is a tribute to our country and what we stand for." — Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

"The Nobel Committee's decision to award this year's Peace Prize to President Obama is an affirmation of the fact that the United States has returned to its long-standing role as a world leader." — Gov. Tim Kaine, D-Va., Democratic National Committee chairman."

"He has changed the tone of U.S. foreign policy by making it clear to the world that we are in a race between cooperation and catastrophe, and he has reshaped the global focus and debate." — Former Sen. Sam Nunn, co-chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative."

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Surgeon is a limited purpose public figure, so website was not defamation.

The website that couldn't be stopped by a defamation suit.
Gilbert v. Sykes

Ca. appeals court rules plastic surgeon can't sue over critical web postings
By USA, Lawyers
Publication: Lawyers USA
February 12 2007

A plastic surgeon could not bring a suit for defamation against a former patient who created a website critical of the cosmetic facial procedure he performed on her, the California Court of Appeal has ruled in reversing the denial of a motion to dismiss.
The patient filed a malpractice suit alleging that a brow lift performed by the surgeon left her unable to fully close her eyes, with one eyebrow higher than the other, and with a permanently "surprised" on look her face. In addition to suing the surgeon, the patient created a website showing her before and after photos. On the website, she recounted her experience with the surgeon, saying it had been a "nightmare" and the "biggest regret" of her life.

When surgeon filed a cross-complaint alleging defamation, the patient moved to dismiss under the state's Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation law.
In arguing that her website was protected by the First Amendment, the patient contended that the surgeon qualified as a limited purpose public figure because he had appeared on television and published numerous books and articles on plastic surgery. Accordingly, the patient asserted, the surgeon was required to show actual malice.

The court agreed, explaining the surgeon's "sought-after prominence as an expert in and advocate for plastic surgery as a means of personal enhancement transformed him into a limited purpose public figure. As such, statements alleging that his surgical procedures resulted in disfigurement or required expensive multiple corrective surgeries are entitled to constitutional protection."

The court concluded that the surgeon could not show actual malice here because the patient's before and after photographs were substantially accurate representations of what took place regarding her surgery and therefore "were not defamatory as a matter of law." It further concluded that the surgeon's allegations that the website misrepresented his communications with the patient both before and after surgery were "far too vague and amorphous to support a cause of action for defamation."

Gilbert v. Sykes (Lawyers USA No. 9935032) California Court of Appeal, 3rd District No. C050766. Jan. 26, 2007.

I do a Google search for Lora Duzyk

See all posts about Lora Duzyk.

I googled Lora Duzyk today. Obviously, she wouldn't be embarrassed about these results:


Association of California School Administrators
(This link is safe; it's an ACSA web page.)
Posted: October 26, 2006
Source: EdCal
Representatives of ACSA joined the delegates of the California Federal Education Advocacy Collaborative in Washington, D.C. from Sept. 27-29. The trip was sponsored by the California Association of School Business Officials. Frank Gomez, ACSA vice president...

Members of the advocacy delegation also included: Lora Duzyk, CASBO president, San Diego COE; Bill McGuire, CASBO president elect...

The group was in Washington to discuss a number of issues with political leaders...

Surely this article about SDCOE buying a Unisys system isn't an embarrassment for Duzyk. Why would it be?

Unisys News and Events

The San Diego County Office of Education, which provides a wide range of services for the county’s 42 public school districts, put in a first-day order for a ClearPath Libra 690, which takes advantage of the system’s support for both the Unisys MCP operating environment and Microsoft Windows, running on an integrated Intel processor module.

“The ClearPath 690 will enable the County Office of Education to provide teachers, administrators and parents with valuable student and school information,” said Lora Duzyk, assistant superintendent of Business Services for the County Office of Education. “We will be able to continue with our current applications, while also providing local school districts with new ones on the open Wintel module. And with ClearPath’s pay-for-use buying model, we expect to get the most value for our dollar, which is extremely important to the County Office of Education and our local school districts.”

So why do Internet Explorer and Firefox to warn searchers to stay away from ZoomInfo? When Internet Explorer warned me away from ZoomInfo, I went to Firefox and clicked on Lora Duzyk's Zoom Info profile

Page Load Error
Secure Connection Failed
* This could be a problem with the server's configuration, or it could be someone trying to impersonate the server.
Or you can add an exception…

I clicked on "Or you can add an exception."

Again I was warned away; I was given a choice between "Get me out of here!" or "Add exception."

So I clicked "Add exception."

Then I was given the opportunity to see the security certificate for the site, at which point I was shown a security certificate for Zoom.

So what's the problem?

I tried again to see Lora Duzyk's page on Zoom Info, and I succeeded. The first page of links about Duzyk consisted almost entirely of blurbs by organizations in which Duzyk herself has much power. She is a recent past president of CASBO.

Obviously, the articles cited above aren't a problem for Duzyk.

The problems for Duzyk start on the second page of links, with links to Voice of San Diego and my own websites.

I searched for news about Zoom Info, and discovered that there is no problem. In fact, Zoom has recently entered into collaboration with Microsoft:

ZoomInfo, Microsoft collaborate for integrating search into CRM
Submitted by Manjinder Singh
Top News

In collaboration with Microsoft, the business information search engine ZoomInfo will be amalgamating its wide-ranging search technology with Microsoft's Dynamic CRM platform...

ZoomInfo's technology is so effective in digging out business information, largely from sources like press releases and corporate bios on websites, that its intelligence algorithm can even set apart information about people with same names!...

My conclusion: I'm wondering if Microsoft/Zoom is trying to get rid of the more controversial information about individuals. Maybe the new entity is trying to abandon the old Zoom pages, and institute new web addresses for its pages, with more censorship. Obviously, the old pages have been safe for many years. They didn't get to the top of Google results by being disreputable.

Sandra Villegas Zuniga has replaced Tom Cruz as CVESD human resources director

Schools use stimulus funds as excuse for cutting their own funding

Voice of San Diego:

ProPublica writes about a government watchdog report that finds that many states are using school stimulus money to reduce what they chip in for education -- not to add to it as the feds had intended.

Ed. Dep’t Watchdog: Stimulus Dollars For Schools Miss The Mark
by Christopher Flavelle
ProPublica -
October 6, 2009

Some states are bending the rules that govern the use of the education stimulus dollars, according to a report [1] released last week by the Department of Education’s inspector general. The report, which carried the deceptively bland title “Potential Consequences of the Maintenance of Effort Requirements under the ARRA Fiscal Stabilization Fund,” found that some states are using the program to reduce their own funding for public education...