Sunday, January 31, 2010

Long Island Congressional Candidate Cited for Giving Up JPMorgan Whistleblower

George Demos (dark hair, third from right) made a lot of friends by tipping off JPMorgan about a whistle-blower who was talking to the SEC. It may safely be assumed that none of the folks in the photo above are very concerned about the integrity of investigations into bank fraud.

Long Island Congressional Candidate Cited for Giving Up JPMorgan Whistleblower
Politics Daily

George Demos is a Republican Congressional candidate from Eastern Long Island whose Web site bears the slogan "Fighting for Freedom," and touts his service as an enforcement lawyer in the New York office of the Securities and Exchange Commission. A bio says that he "handled some of the SEC's most significant investigations," including that of Ponzi scheme artist Bernard Madoff, and "worked tirelessly on the cases that never made the headlines."

But one case that never made headlines was his own: Demos' campaign Web site and public statements omit any reference to a report last March of the SEC's Inspector General (IG), which found he had improperly disclosed protected, nonpublic information about a whistleblower to the counsel for that whistleblower's employer, a major Wall Street bank, JPMorgan Chase. The IG's charges of misconduct grew out of an SEC probe that began in 2003 of JPMorgan and other big financial institutions suspected of illegal market practices.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

'A Great Recession in Public Education'

Scott Mullin was the 2007-08 teacher of the year at The Language Academy. He is a current member of the San Diego Education Association (SDEA) Representative Council.

Guest Blogger: 'A Great Recession in Public Education'
January 28, 2010
Voice of San Diego

Guest blogger Scott Mullin grew up and attended public schools in San Diego County. He has been teaching for 17 years -- including two in Costa Rica -- and is now working in San Diego Unified schools. He holds degrees in anthropology and Latin American studies from San Diego State University. Mullin has two children attending public schools. These are his reflections, not mine, so if you have burning questions or comments, please contact Scott via email at

There is a darkening image of teachers that many in our society work hard to mint as the prevailing picture of those who labor daily to educate the young. It stands out in stark contrast to the image of teachers that I grew up with.

Our leaders have -- I suspect with self-serving ideological and financial motives -- intentionally sought to damage the respectful image we had of teachers. The formation of this gray cloud over public education goes back to 1983, when President Reagan published "A Nation at Risk."

...Instead of paying teachers based on education and experience, the self-described innovators hold merit pay to be a key solution. By dangling dollars before the teacher, creativity would flourish. Test scores would soar and achievement gaps disappear...


Tests compare one crop of children to those that precede them instead of tracking each child's progress

Photo by Sam Hodgson: Birney Elementary School teacher Tom O'Malley leads a discussion with his class on Friday.

San Diego Schools' New Testing Idea: No Child Left Unmeasured

January 24, 2010
Voice of San Diego

Tom O'Malley knew that the fourth grade classes at Birney Elementary had been a success -- but the numbers said it had failed.

O'Malley said two years ago, he and a fellow teacher got a crop of children who were badly behind. They helped the students improve, making even bigger gains than the last classes they taught. But because the kids didn't do as well as the earlier class, who came in ahead and scored higher, test scores seemed to drop.

"I felt like a failure as a teacher," O'Malley said, shaking his head. "I'm not one of these teachers who are scared to be held accountable. I just want to be held accountable for what I actually do."

His story underscores a nagging problem with test scores, especially under No Child Left Behind: Schools are gauged by how well they do from year to year, but nobody is comparing the same children. When school officials say that fourth grade math scores sunk or soared, they really mean that one class of third graders -- the class from last year -- did well or poorly compared to the next class of third graders.

That might not be a big deal if all classes are alike. But as O'Malley knows, that just isn't the case. And because No Child Left Behind also pressures schools to push children over a set bar, it overlooks the gains of children who still fall below that bar or are already far above it.

Researchers have found that the tests perversely push schools to focus chiefly on the kids who are just shy of that mark and ignore others, such as gifted children. And it can reward schools simply for luring in children who are already successful...

See related story: Test Scores Fall Short of Federal Standard

Friday, January 29, 2010

Healthcare: Why do people often vote against their own interests?

Turkeys Voting for Thanksgiving

30 January 2010
Why do people often vote against their own interests?
BBC News

The Republicans' shock victory in the election for the US Senate seat in Massachusetts meant the Democrats lost their supermajority in the Senate. This makes it even harder for the Obama administration to get healthcare reform passed in the US.

Political scientist Dr David Runciman looks at why is there often such deep opposition to reforms that appear to be of obvious benefit to voters.

Last year, in a series of "town-hall meetings" across the country, Americans got the chance to debate President Obama's proposed healthcare reforms.

What happened was an explosion of rage and barely suppressed violence.

Polling evidence suggests that the numbers who think the reforms go too far are nearly matched by those who think they do not go far enough.

But it is striking that the people who most dislike the whole idea of healthcare reform - the ones who think it is socialist, godless, a step on the road to a police state - are often the ones it seems designed to help.

In Texas, where barely two-thirds of the population have full health insurance and over a fifth of all children have no cover at all, opposition to the legislation is currently running at 87%.

Instead, to many of those who lose out under the existing system, reform still seems like the ultimate betrayal.

Why are so many American voters enraged by attempts to change a horribly inefficient system that leaves them with premiums they often cannot afford?

Why are they manning the barricades to defend insurance companies that routinely deny claims and cancel policies?

It might be tempting to put the whole thing down to what the historian Richard Hofstadter back in the 1960s called "the paranoid style" of American politics, in which God, guns and race get mixed into a toxic stew of resentment at anything coming out of Washington...

There is nothing voters hate more than having things explained to them as though they were idiots.

As the saying goes, in politics, when you are explaining, you are losing. And that makes anything as complex or as messy as healthcare reform a very hard sell.

Stories not facts

In his book The Political Brain, psychologist Drew Westen, an exasperated Democrat, tried to show why the Right often wins the argument even when the Left is confident that it has the facts on its side.

He uses the following exchange from the first presidential debate between Al Gore and George Bush in 2000 to illustrate the perils of trying to explain to voters what will make them better off:

Gore: "Under the governor's plan, if you kept the same fee for service that you have now under Medicare, your premiums would go up by between 18% and 47%, and that is the study of the Congressional plan that he's modelled his proposal on by the Medicare actuaries."

Bush: "Look, this is a man who has great numbers. He talks about numbers. I'm beginning to think not only did he invent the internet, but he invented the calculator. It's fuzzy math. It's trying to scare people in the voting booth."

Mr Gore was talking sense and Mr Bush nonsense - but Mr Bush won the debate...

For Mr Westen, stories always trump statistics, which means the politician with the best stories is going to win: "One of the fallacies that politicians often have on the Left is that things are obvious, when they are not obvious...

Reverse revolution

Thomas Frank, the author of the best-selling book What's The Matter with Kansas, is an even more exasperated Democrat and he goes further than Mr Westen.

He believes that the voters' preference for emotional engagement over reasonable argument has allowed the Republican Party to blind them to their own real interests.

...The result is that many of America's poorest citizens have a deep emotional attachment to a party that serves the interests of its richest.

...authenticity has replaced economics as the driving force of modern politics. The authentic politicians are the ones who sound like they are speaking from the gut, not the cerebral cortex. Of course, they might be faking it, but it is no joke to say that in contemporary politics, if you can fake sincerity, you have got it made...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

No Automatic Endorsement for Two SDUSD board Democrats

SDUSD trustees Katherine Nakamura and John DeBeck

I don't want the Democratic Party to always dance to the tune of the California Teachers Association. Education is too important to allow any one part of the system to be in total control. It should be possible for an independent thinker to be a Democratic nominee as long as he or she is dedicated to making education better.

No Automatic Endorsement for Two School Dems
January 27, 2010
Voice of San Diego

Local Democrats held back on automatically endorsing two sitting Democrat school board members for reelection last night and will instead make John de Beck and Katherine Nakamura make their case for the party nod. Members called it rare: Incumbents are usually guaranteed their party endorsement.

The San Diego Democratic Party could still endorse de Beck and Nakamura for re-election this fall, but the two will have to persuade them to do it. Holding back is a sign that the Democrats aren't totally convinced that the two sitting members, who have split with rest of the San Diego Unified school board on touchy issues like a labor pact for school construction, are voting far enough to the left. The rest of the all-Democrat board was elected a year and a half ago and enjoyed strong support from the teachers union, something that de Beck and Nakamura haven't always had.

Both of the incumbents have possible Democratic challengers: Nakamura is facing off with Kevin Beiser, a Sweetwater middle school teacher, and business owner Stephen Rosen. De Beck is competing against Patrick McFarland, a San Diego State student interested in the seat.

The Democrats are expected to make their decision in April. These will be interesting races to watch. The school board may be a nonpartisan election, but that hardly means it isn't political.


Wasting precious education dollars on whiteboards, gimmicks and gizmos

January 27, 2010
Why I Hate Interactive Whiteboards
By Bill Ferriter

I’ll admit that there aren’t many topics I’m more passionate about than interactive whiteboards in the classroom.

Seen as the first step towards “21st century teaching and learning,” schools and districts run out and spend thousands of dollars on these gizmos, hanging them on walls and showing them off like proud hens that just laid the golden instructional egg.

I gave mine away last summer. After about a year’s worth of experimenting, I determined that it was basically useless.

Sure, my students thought it was nifty, but it didn’t make teaching my required curriculum any easier. I probably crafted two or three neat lessons with it, but there was nothing unique about those activities. I could have easily put together similar lessons using the computer stations I already have in my room and any number of free online tools...

Why are Serra High School teachers afraid of Sally Smith? Are they paranoid or could they actually lose their jobs?

Junipero Serra High School

See all posts on this issue.

I believe that administrators have failed the teachers of Serra High. (See my post on SDUSD general counsel Mark Bresee.) Teachers have a right to know exactly where they stand, and not live in fear that maybe their boss thinks they're not doing the right thing. One problem is that there is no real evaluation system for teachers. Evaluations are very subjective and based on minimal observations. Teachers should be observed by professionals from outside the school, and they should be given precise feedback about their performance.

Also, the district should provide teachers with specific rules about fees, and those rules should be district-wide, not just based on which school received a parent complaint.


Administrators and unions and teacher culture don't encourage teachers to engage in open, honest communication with anyone: not parents, not students and certainly not other teachers. They might say they do, but teachers and principals know that district superintendents and other officials, including the board, want them to keep a low profile. They know that the sound that officials love to hear is the sound of silence.

It is not surprising that the teachers at Serra High are clueless as to how to solve problems. They think if they band together they become untouchable; this is part of the delusion of mob psychology. But the board should hear their demands as a cry for help. The board should show some leadership at Serra High School. I feel sorry for the principal. He knows that if he doesn't support the teachers they will turn on him.

I agree with the eight speakers at SDUSD's recent board meeting that the board should do something about Sally Smith's complaints about Serra High School. But the board should not simply silence Smith as the speakers wish; it should discuss the complaints in a public forum.

One of the questions that should be asked is, "Why do these staff members claim to fear they might lose their jobs?" It could be paranoia, or it could be that they are really just angry and don't want to admit it. They want to appear as victims. That's what happened at Castle Park Elementary.

The teachers at Castle Park Elementary became so drunk with power, thanks to the legal tactics of the same attorney Mark Bresee who is giving advice at Serra High School, that they went out of control. Well, they'd been out of control even before Mark Bresee helped them cover up criminal activity.

Marsha Sutton

Teachable Moments: SD Unified considers ways to bring in money
By Marsha Sutton, SDNN
Wednesday, January 27, 2010

...Eight speakers - three staff members, three parents and two students - addressed the board during public comment to ask trustees for assistance in ending what they called the bullying by Serra High School parent Sally Smith of teachers and students.

Teacher Joe Schmidt said Smith has created an “atmosphere of fear” at Serra with “baseless” concerns and complaints. “It is time we take our school back,” he said.

Counselor Susan Skinner called Smith’s complaints frivolous, and physical education teacher Lorene Dabney, in tears, said Smith is “ruining the programs that support students.”

[Maura Larkins' note: Lorene Dabney is likely the Serra High staff person with initials "LD" who recently advised Sally Smith's daughter that it would be appropriate for her to look for another school to attend.]

Senior Lexie Ryan, a member of the School Site Council, said the school suffers from a “hostile environment that Ms. Smith has helped create.” To board members, she said, “You are elected to help the students.”

[Maura Larkins' note: The board is also elected to obey the law.]

Parents said the problems go beyond Smith’s zeal to eliminate illegal parent fees for programs that must be provided at no charge. They described “a culture of fear and intimidation” and said teachers “live in fear” as a result of Smith’s “harassing emails and threats.”

One parent told trustees, “It is your duty to protect us.”

Board members made no comment, although Nakamura thanked the Serra speakers for addressing the board. Serra High School is in Nakamura’s sub-district.


Parent Representatives
Ed Harris
Martha Morena

Mike Jimenez, Principal
Jann Allen- Counselor
Suzie Fore, Math
Mike Morales- Math
Matt Medina- Math
Keri Pisapia, Special Education (PHOTO BELOW)

[Wait a minute. Do we have a bit of nepotism going on here? Is Keri Pisapia related in any way to
John Pisapia, the Athletic Director, who has been very involved in getting rid of Sally Smith? Did Keri Pisapia recuse herself from the vote on Sally Smith?]

De Villepin was a victim, not an instigator, of smear campaign

Former French PM Acquitted of Slandering Sarkozy
Voice of America
January 28, 2010

Former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin has been acquitted on charges of orchestrating a smear campaign against President Nicolas Sarkozy. The verdict opens the path for Mr. de Villepin's political return.

In a statement following the verdict, Mr. de Villepin saluted the Paris court that delivered the judgment for its courage in allowing justice to prevail over politics.

...Several other defendants were convicted on a variety of charges and another was acquitted.

...Mr. de Villepin was accused of complicity in slander and forgery in a tangled case involving bogus kickback accounts. The fake accounts were part of a larger campaign to smear the image of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and other top political figures...

Acquitted teacher awaits word on reinstatement

Sometimes guilty people can be the most vehement in making accusations of innocent people to cover up their own wrongdoing. I saw the mother of the 16-year-old in the story below on TV. The woman seemed to be out-of-bounds in her anger. Some parents just won't believe their kids might be lying, but this jury unanimously agreed that the accuser was covering up his own guilt in this matter. The teacher only needed one juror on her side to avoid conviction; she had all twelve on her side.

It looks like Bonnie Dumanis screwed up again on this prosecution. Was she just doing what district lawyers wanted to gain political support?

Acquitted teacher awaits word on reinstatement
San Diego Union Tribune
January 28, 2010

IMPERIAL BEACH — The school district that placed a South County teacher on paid leave pending her trial on molestation charges said yesterday that it would know more next week on whether Carmina Erica Lopez, who was acquitted Monday, would get her job back.

Jurors on Monday found Lopez, 33, not guilty of all charges in the two-week molestation trial involving a former student, who also is her godson, after beginning deliberations late Friday in Chula Vista Superior Court.

South Bay Union School District Superintendent Carol Parish said the district was awaiting word from the state about whether Lopez’s credentials would be reinstated.

In a statement released yesterday, Parish said Lopez’s compulsory leave of absence would end no later than 10 days after Monday’s judgment. She said the district could make no decision until then.

Lopez denied molesting the boy, who is not being identified by The San Diego Union-Tribune because the newspaper does not name minors involved in sex-crime cases. She testified that she was repeatedly raped and threatened by the boy, now 16, to keep quiet.

Lopez most recently taught fifth grade at Sunnyslope Elementary School in Palm City. She began teaching at the district’s Oneonta Elementary School in Imperial Beach in 2004, and later that year transferred to Nestor Elementary. She moved to Sunnyslope in 2005.

Bob Boyce, Lopez’s attorney, said yesterday that his client was taking things “day by day.”


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Conservatives back away from James O'Keefe now that he's trying to do his illegal recording on federal property

Patrick Semansky/Associated Press. The New Orleans federal building where four were arrested in Senator Mary Landrieu's office.

See all all James O'Keefe/Hannah Giles and ACORN stories in CVESD Reporter blog.

ACORN foe tweeted about planned sting of Sen. Landrieu's office
By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 28, 2010

...Michelle Malkin, a conservative pundit and syndicated columnist, wrote late Tuesday that exposing wrongdoing is not an excuse to break the law and that O'Keefe's alleged actions should be taken seriously.

"Let it be a lesson to aspiring young conservatives interested in investigative journalism: Know your limits. Know the law," she wrote. "Don't get carried away. And don't become what you are targeting."

Rick Moran, a blog talk-radio host, called O'Keefe "a glory hound." ...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Female teachers may pass on math anxiety to girls, study finds

This story strikes me as true. As an elementary teacher I heard women teachers at several schools actually brag about how they couldn't do math. I didn't quite understand why this was a favorite bonding topic, and teachers who were good at math would hang their heads in shame. I remember one female teacher saying, "None of us teachers could do these (4th grade test) problems." This comment obviously included men. Being bad at math seems to be an membership requirement to be accepted into elementary teacher cliques.

Female teachers may pass on math anxiety to girls, study finds
By Karen Kaplan
LA Times
January 26, 2010

After a year in the classroom with female teachers who say they are anxious about math, girls are more likely to share that attitude -- and score lower on tests, researchers say.

Girls have long embraced the stereotype that they're not supposed to be good at math. It seems they may be getting the idea from a surprising source -- their female elementary school teachers.

First- and second-graders whose teachers were anxious about mathematics were more likely to believe that boys are hard-wired for math and that girls are better at reading, a new study has found. What's more, the girls who bought into that notion scored significantly lower on math tests than their peers who didn't.

The gap in test scores was not apparent in the fall when the kids were first tested, but emerged after spending a school year in the classrooms of teachers with math anxiety. That detail convinced researchers that the teachers -- all of them women -- were the culprits.

"Teachers who are anxious about their own math abilities are translating some of that to their kids," said University of Chicago psychologist Sian Beilock, who led the study published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences...

Anti-ACORN "pimp" James O'Keefe arrested in attempted bugging of senator's office

Hannah Giles' boyfriend/pretend pimp James O'Keefe has been arrested and charged with entering federal property under false pretenses with the intent of committing a felony.

See all all James O'Keefe/Hannah Giles and ACORN stories in CVESD Reporter blog.

Anti-ACORN "pimp" O'Keefe arrested in attempted bugging of senator's office
By Lindsay Beyerstein
James O'Keefe, the conservative filmmaker who dressed as a pimp to sting the activist group ACORN, has been arrested for allegedly assisting in the attempted wiretapping of the office of Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu:

The FBI, alleging a plot to wiretap Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu's office in downtown New Orleans, arrested four people Monday, including James O'Keefe, a conservative filmmaker whose undercover videos at ACORN field offices severely damaged the advocacy group's credibility.

FBI Special Agent Steven Rayes alleges that O'Keefe aided and abetted two others, Joseph Basel and Robert Flanagan, who dressed up as employees of a telephone company and attempted to interfere with the office's telephone system. [Times-Picayune]

ACORN gotcha man among four arrested for attempting to bug Mary Landrieu's office

By David Hammer, The Times-Picayune
January 26, 2010, 1:53PM

O'Keefe was arrested Monday after attempting to wiretap U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu's office phones in New Orleans.Alleging a plot to wiretap Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu's office in the Hale Boggs Federal Building in downtown New Orleans, the FBI arrested four people Monday, including James O'Keefe, a conservative filmmaker whose undercover videos at ACORN field offices severely damaged the advocacy group's credibility.

Also arrested were Joseph Basel, Stan Dai and Robert Flanagan, all 24. Flanagan is the son of William Flanagan, who is the acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, the office confirmed. All four were charged with entering federal property under false pretenses with the intent of committing a felony.

According to the FBI affidavit, Flanagan and Basel entered the federal building at 500 Poydras Street about 11 a.m. Monday, dressed as telephone company employees, wearing jeans, fluorescent green vests, tool belts, and hard hats. When they arrived at Landrieu's 10th floor office, O'Keefe was already in the office and had told a staffer he was waiting for someone to arrive.

When Flanagan and Basel entered the office, they told the staffer they were there to fix phone problems. At that time, the staffer, referred to only as Witness 1 in the affadavit, observed O'Keefe positioning his cell phone in his hand to videotape the operation. O'Keefe later admitted to agents that he recorded the event.

After being asked, the staffer gave Basel access to the main phone at the reception desk. The staffer told investigators that Basel manipulated the handset. He also tried to call the main office phone using his cell phone, and said the main line wasn't working. Flanagan did the same.

They then told the staffer they needed to perform repair work on the main phone system and asked where the telephone closet was located. The staffer showed the men to the main General Services Administration office on the 10th floor, and both went in. There, a GSA employee asked for the men's credentials, after which they stated they left them in their vehicle.

The U.S. Marshal's Service apprehended all four men shortly thereafter.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Five ex-San Diego pension board members cleared of felony charges

I was displeased with DA Bonnie Dumanis for indicting only employees, letting all officials off the hook. But I suppose that leaders couldn't do wrong if they didn't have obedient underlings to do their dirty work.

See all San Diego pension scam posts.

State Supreme Court Tosses Pension Charges

January 25, 2010
Voice of San Diego

The California Supreme Court today threw out four-and-a-half-year-old charges against five former members of the city of San Diego's retirement board and left open the case against former board member and firefighter union president Ron Saathoff.

The decision means the five retirement board officials did not violate state conflict-of-interest laws when they voted in 2002 to underfund the city's pension system while increasing future benefits. The court found that the five officials -- Cathy Lexin, Mary Vattimo, Teresa Webster, Sharon Wilkinson and John Torres -- received the same benefits as other city employees and therefore didn't receive a personalized financial gain from the decision. Saathoff, the court decided, received a different kind of benefit based on his position with the union and could be tried on conflict charges.

Today's news could signal movement in the other legal cases related to the pension underfunding scandal. The judge in a federal fraud case against Saathoff, Lexin, Webster and two others was waiting for a decision in this case before proceeding. A forthcoming decision in the U.S. Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the so-called "honest services" law under which the former city officials were charged could also play a role.

Additionally, the Union-Tribune reported last week that the Securities and Exchange Commission is considering settling its April 2008 complaint against Webster, Vattimo and three others implicated in the pension scandal.



Five ex-San Diego pension board members cleared of felony charges
By Staff, City News Service
January 25, 2010

The state Supreme Court Monday dismissed felony conflict-of-interest charges against five ex-San Diego pension board members, but ruled that the trial of former firefighters union president Ronald Saathoff should proceed.

Former San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System board members Cathy Lexin, Mary Vattimo, Teresa Webster, Sharon Wilkinson, John Torres and Saathoff were charged by the District Attorney’s Office in 2005 with violating government code 1090, the state’s conflict-of-interest law.

The law prohibits public officials from negotiating a contract in which they have a financial interest. “We respect today’s decision by the California Supreme Court,” said District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. “We will continue to aggressively pursue conflict-of-interest matters within our community, as honest and open government are essential qualities which must be vigilantly maintained.”

The District Attorney’s Office accused the six of authorizing a 2002 agreement that granted increased retirement benefits in exchange for decreased contributions by the city into the retirement system. Because they were city employees, the pension board members stood to gain from the improved retirement benefits, prosecutors alleged.

In its unanimous ruling, the state’s high court found that Lexin, Vattimo, Webster, Wilkinson and Torres were “not burdened by a conflict of the sort section 1090 prohibits.” “Rather, by intentional legislative design, many of the board’s trustees were members of the retirement system and thus had interests in common with the membership as a whole,” and the defendants’ financial interest in the agreement was a “consequence of this fact,” the ruling states.
Click here to find out more!

However, the justices found that Saathoff uniquely benefited from the deal because it allowed him to combine his salary as president of the firefighters union with his city pay for the purpose of calculating his retirement benefits. Saathoff “obtained a unique, personalized pension benefit as a result of voting to approve the retirement board’s contract with the city,” the ruling states...

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Firm brings more notoriety to itself by appealing suit

SLAPP case: Firm brings more notoriety to itself by appealing suit

August 25, 2009 by donal brown
First Amendment Coalition

A management firm who lost a case against a griper defending himself refuses to let the matter die, appealing the case to the Ninth Circuit. -DB

August 24, 2009
By Michael Masnick
from the bad-idea dept

Remember that discussion a few months ago about how most lawyers apparently understood the Streisand Effect, and knew better than to file bogus lawsuits against individuals putting up “gripes” sites about their business? We’ve already seen that’s not quite true, but it takes a special level of thoughtlessness to lose such a bogus lawsuit (badly) and then file an appeal. We recently wrote about lawsuit filed by Sedgwick Claims Management against a guy who was upset with the company. Part of his griping, involved taking photos of Sedgwick execs and putting them on a fake “WANTED” poster.

The judge, correctly, threw out most of the lawsuit as being a SLAPP and tossed out the ridiculous “copyright infringement” claim on the use of the photos, noting that it was certainly a case of fair use. Most impressive? The guy fighting Sedgwick and its big law firm won the case defending himself (pro se). 

Perhaps because of the pro se nature of defense, Sedgwick has decided to appeal, but Eric Goldman can’t figure out what they’re thinking as all it does is call more attention to the complaints against the company:
Put this one in the “Are you kidding me?” file. Last month I blogged about Sedgwick Claims Management v. Delsman involving a small-time griper who had the temerity to cut-and-paste some company executive headshots to create his griping material. Sedgwick went after Delsman in a big way, hiring a big national firm (Lord Locke) to take Delsman down, apparently unaware of or unconcerned about the Streisand effect.

Delsman defended pro se. Despite the long odds, Delsman nevertheless got a rousing dismissal of the claims. The court held the use of the headshots was a fair use (a clearly correct ruling, IMO), and the court casually tossed all of the other claims using California’s anti-SLAPP law.

That should have been the end of it. Instead, surprisingly, Sedgwick has decided to appeal the ruling to the Ninth Circuit. This sets up a potentially important Ninth Circuit showdown over how copyright fair use and anti-SLAPP doctrines apply to Internet gripers. It also gives Sedgwick extra time to bask in the glow of the Streisand effect.

Some people apparently never learn.

Editor’s note: The Streisand Effect surfaces when attempts to censor or remove information from public view
brings the information greater exposure.

Copyright 2009 Techdirt

Friday, January 22, 2010

The San Diego Fact Check Blog

My favorite story so far from the new San Diego Fact Check Blog is "The Hills Have No Eyes."

Photo by Sam Hodgson: The federal government says that there are plants here.

The Hills Have No Eyes.
January 20, 2010
by Rob Davis

Statement: The barren, vegetation-free hillsides in Border Field State Park created by construction of a new 3.5-mile section of the U.S.-Mexico border fence are neither barren nor vegetation-free, a top federal border security official said in November.

...Jayson Ahern, the acting chief of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, sent a letter to Congresswoman Susan Davis, who'd raised questions about the fence's environmental impact. Plants were growing, he told Davis. You just can't see them.

"[T]he existing re-vegetated areas are currently dormant and brown ... and, thus, difficult to see from afar," Ahern said.

Determination: Huckster propaganda

Analysis: I saw the hills before and after he made his claim. Both times: No plants. Since he made that false claim, his agency has said it will install a temporary irrigation system to make sure plants do grow.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


This case makes me think of the Sally Smith case. Taxpayers will foot the bill through a public insurer. When will officials learn that the Bill of Rights is still in effect in America?

MURRIETA: Sergeant, city settle lawsuit for $60,000

January 20, 2010

MURRIETA ---- A Murrieta police sergeant has settled a long-standing civil rights lawsuit he filed against the city.

Sgt. Robert Landwehr, a current member of the city's police force, will receive $60,000, which includes $40,000 for attorney fees, Murrieta City Attorney Leslie Devaney said Wednesday.

Devaney announced the settlement after the end of the City Council's closed meeting Tuesday.

She said the city will not pay the settlement, rather a public insurer will.

Landwehr also had been seeking a promotion to sergeant through the 2006 lawsuit, but Devaney said she did not know the outcome of that situation.

Michael McGill, Landwehr's attorney, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Landwehr claimed he was denied a promotion to lieutenant and overlooked for special task force assignments because he publicly voiced his opinion about staffing at the department. He wrote several letters that were published by various newspapers regarding the need for more officers to serve the city's growing population.

Overweight women get substandard care from doctors

The surprising reason why being overweight isn't healthy
By Ginny Graves,
January 21, 2010

It's shocking, but it's true: Being a woman who's more than 20 pounds overweight may actually hike your risk of getting poor medical treatment. In fact, weighing too much can have surprising -- and devastating -- health repercussions beyond the usual diabetes and heart-health concerns you've heard about for years.

Recent studies have found, if you are an overweight woman you:

• May have a harder time getting health insurance or have to pay higher premiums

• Are at higher risk of being misdiagnosed or receiving inaccurate dosages of drugs

• Are less likely to find a fertility doctor who will help you get pregnant

• Are less likely to have cancer detected early and get effective treatment for it

What's going on here? Fat discrimination is part of the problem. A recent Yale study suggested that weight bias can start when a woman is as little as 13 pounds over her highest healthy weight.

"Our culture has enormous negativity toward overweight people, and doctors aren't immune," says Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Jerome Groopman, M.D., author of "How Doctors Think." "If doctors have negative feelings toward patients, they're more dismissive, they're less patient, and it can cloud their judgment, making them prone to diagnostic errors."...

Supreme Court OKs unlimited corporate spending on elections

Supreme Court OKs unlimited corporate spending on elections
By David G. Savage
January 22, 2010
LA Times

Overturning a century-old restriction, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that corporations could spend as much as they wanted to sway voters in federal elections.

In a landmark 5-4 decision, the court's conservative bloc said that corporations had the same right to free speech as individuals, and for that reason the government could not stop corporations from spending to help their favored candidates.

The ruling, which will presumably apply as well to labor unions and other organizations, is likely to have an effect on this year's congressional elections. Many political analysts and election-law experts predict that millions of extra dollars will flood into this fall's contests, much of it benefiting Republican candidates.

Republicans praised the decision as a victory for wide-open political speech, but Democrats slammed it as a win for big money...

Obama calls Supreme Court decision a victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies, who can now spend all they want on TV ads

Biz, Unions Freed to Spend Big on Elections
January 21, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Coming soon to your TV, thanks to the Supreme Court -- an even bigger flood of political ads.

A bitterly divided court vastly increased the power of big business and unions to influence government decisions Thursday by freeing them to spend their millions directly to sway elections for president and Congress.

As a side consequence, the election-season blizzard of ads on Americans TV screens is bound to increase.

The ruling reversed a century-long trend to limit the political muscle of corporations, organized labor and their massive war chests. It also recast the political landscape just as crucial midterm election campaigns are getting under way.

In its sweeping 5-4 ruling, the court set the stage for a wave of likely repercussions -- from new pressures on lawmakers to heed special interest demands to increasingly boisterous campaigns featuring highly charged ads that drown out candidate voices.

While the full consequences of the decision were hard to measure, politicians made clear whom they believed benefited. Democrats, led by President Barack Obama, condemned the decision while Republicans cheered it.

Still, more labor and corporate money in the political system could dilute the role of both political parties.

And the decision seeded the ground for further challenges to an already weakened system of campaign finance regulations.

The justices weighed two fundamental political forces -- the power of the central government and the concentration of corporate wealth -- and tilted decidedly in favor of the latter. The opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy made a vigorous argument based on the Constitution for the right of the public to be exposed to a multitude of ideas and against the ability of government to limit political speech, even in the interest of fighting corruption.

''The censorship we now confront is vast in its reach,'' Kennedy wrote.

Strongly dissenting, Justice John Paul Stevens said, ''The court's ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions around the nation.''

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas joined Kennedy to form the majority in the main part of the case. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor joined Stevens' dissent, parts of which he read aloud in the courtroom.

The court overturned two earlier decisions and threw out parts of a 63-year-old law that said companies and unions can be prohibited from using money from their general treasuries to produce and run their own campaign ads urging the election or defeat of particular candidates by name. The decision, which applies to independent spending that is not coordinated with candidates, threatens similar limits imposed by 24 states.

The justices also struck down part of the landmark McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill that barred union- and corporate-paid issue ads in the closing days of election campaigns.

It leaves in place a prohibition on direct contributions to candidates from corporations and unions and didn't touch the McCain-Feingold ban on unlimited corporate and union donations to political parties. Nor did it disturb companies' right to solicit voluntary contributions to political action committees that can donate directly to candidates.

Corporations and unions would still have to identify the sources of money for their political activity -- a provision of current law that the court upheld in an 8-1 vote...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

MiraCosta trustees make bizarre decision to appeal to California Supreme Court to keep $1.6 million Victoria Richart settlement

Congratulations to the courageous board members George McNeil and Gloria Carranza for trying to protect both taxpayer dollars and the integrity of MiraCosta College in the wake of the
Victoria Richart scandal.

But what are the majority trustees thinking? Are they as anxious to keep tax money flowing to lawyers as they are to let Victoria Richart keep $1.6 million settlement that the Court of Appeal has ruled illegal? I'm particularly disappointed in Jacqueline Simon, who seemed for a while to care about the public good as opposed to the back room dealers. I can't help but wonder if someone intimidated her into submission.

The article below fails to tell us how much more the taxpayers will have to pay to San Diego County Office of Education--Joint Powers Authority in increased premiums due to all this. And of course, the SDCOE-JPA is funded with tax dollars, so the taxpayers pay the lawyers even when MiraCosta College doesn't.

OCEANSIDE: MiraCosta wants state's high court to review Richart decision

January 20, 2010

MiraCosta College trustees will ask the California Supreme Court to overturn a recent appellate court ruling that invalidates a roughly $1.6 million settlement between the board and its former superintendent and president.

Trustees voted 4-2 in a closed-session meeting Tuesday to appeal the ruling to the state's highest court, with board member William Fischer absent and trustees George McNeil and Gloria Carranza opposing the move.

The decision to appeal marks the latest chapter in a long-running legal battle over the payout that began in August 2007, when Carlsbad attorney Leon Page sued MiraCosta, alleging the settlement was an illegal gift of public funds.

A Superior Court judge initially ruled against Page, but the attorney had better success with the 4th District Court of Appeal. In a Nov. 23 ruling, that court found the settlement between the college and former president Victoria Munoz Richart was void because it exceeded the value of 18 months' salary and benefits ---- the maximum the state allows in contract buy-outs for executives of local agencies.

MiraCosta trustees and lawyers have said since then they fear Richart's legal claims against the college would be worth far more than $1.6 million if they were ever taken to civil court.

In a statement released Wednesday about the high-court appeal, board chairman Gregory Post said other local agencies are also concerned about the precedent the appellate court ruling would set, should it stand.

"The board's interest in protecting the district from further litigation and the additional expense that could result from the Appellate Court ruling continues to remain a top priority," Post's statement read.

The statement says an insurance policy with the San Diego Schools Joint Powers Authority will cover the cost of the appeal. MiraCosta officials said attorney Daniel Shinoff and his law firm, Stutz, Artiano, Shinoff and Holtz, will continue to handle the case.

The request for appeal is expected to be filed Jan. 27.

Reached Wednesday morning, Page said he was "offended" by the decision to fight the appellate decision and doesn't understand why the college would continue to fight the notion that it should regain the settlement cash.

"They could have just accepted the appellate court's decision and used it as an opportunity to negotiate a legally viable settlement agreement with Richart," Page said. "Instead, they're fighting for the right to give away the public's money, and they're using tax dollars to pay the lawyers to continue that fight."

McNeil, one of the MiraCosta trustees who opposed filing the appeal, said Wednesday that he "felt the appellate court decision was worth supporting," but understands the position of his colleagues...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Serra High School staff member tells Sally Smith's daughter she should leave the school

See all posts on this issue.

The Sally Smith case gets more interesting as participants in the drama tell more of the story in the comments section of SDNN.

It appears that the ouster of Smith from the Serra High School site council may have been retaliation for her having filed a lawsuit. Does this school staff know that the right to petition for redress of grievances is protected by the constitution? It would seem that they don't.

It seems that the school staff has gone off the deep end as far as anger goes. One of them seems to be threatening Sally Smith's daughter. (See the comments section below.) I have found that school staffs sometimes begin to think that they are immune to the law and that there is safety in numbers; that's when they begin to exhibit mob psychology.

Teachable Moments: Sally Smith off Serra site council at packed meeting
By Marsha Sutton, SDNN
Monday, January 11, 2010

Before a packed house, Sally Smith was ousted this afternoon from her elected seat on the School Site Council of Serra High School. She was blasted for humiliating a student at last month’s SSC meeting by laughing at her in public, but Smith claims the reason behind the movement to remove her centers around her efforts to eliminate parent fees for athletics and other extra-curricular activities....


[LD identifies herself as an educator for 25 years, and seems to be on the staff of Serra High School. She says of Sally Smith:]

"...she has filed at least 3 complaints against me and named me in at least 2 law suits with the school district. I have proven her wrong on every occassion (sic)."

[Maura Larkins response (updated): I searched court records and found that Sally Smith filed only one small lawsuit, and she won it easily. A parent shouldn't have to file a lawsuit just to get proper placement for her child at school.]


LD seems to have a double standard when it comes to how students should be treated. LD complains that Sally Smith made a girl cry by laughing at what the girl was saying, but then LD turns around and tells Sally Smith's daughter, who is also a student at the school, that she should LEAVE THE SCHOOL!

LD: "What about the student who was in tears when she was talking to your mom? Your mom walked out and to this day has not apologized??? What a hypocrite! Your mom needs to go home and be a mom. She needs to take her one and only child out of Serra and place her where she believes the school is following the law and teaching her daughter better values. School-of-choice is for people like your mom who are so unhappy with the school that it’s time to find a new place where she and her child are happy."

[Maura Larkins' response to LD: It's important that all students be taught to respect the law, including the students at Serra High School. This isn't such a big problem, LD. Just ask for donations to cover the cost of programs; I'm sure most families can give the donations, and those who can't are precisely the ones that the law is intended to protect.]

LD continues to harangue this child:

"Your mom has been mean, nasty, negative and isn’t trying to help students or trying to help us educators to follow the law..."

LD then seems to make a threat:

"The stuff has not all hit the fan yet, sister. But it’s coming. It’s coming big."

[Maura Larkins response: Good heavens, LD. It's not professional to intimidate a student at your school in this manner. You seem to be quite a bully; are you one of those coaches that thinks it's appropriate to abuse students to make them tough? I think you should say just what this "big" thing is that's about to hit the fan. I get the impression that it's going to hit Sally Smith and her daughter. Are you and some of the other staff members and students planning further revenge?]

No one has given me any information about any commenter, but I see that Lorene Dabney teaches PE at Serra High School. The students on the School Site Council are two field hockey/soccer players and a cheerleader. I can't help wondering if Dabney talked to them about this issue.]


The Serra High School situation reminds me of the Rachel Simmons book “The Curse of the Good Girl.” Simmons notes that girl culture requires females to be “nice,” and not confrontational. Sadly, the alternative to confrontation is whispering behind people’s backs and working to gather more members into the secretive circle of angry “good” girls. Sally Smith broke the good girl rule, so the “good girls” proceeded to ostracize her. (Yes, I know men are involved; it seems that teacher culture is eerily similar to girl culture.) Several commenters claim that Serra High School is “our” school. It’s a public entity; it doesn’t belong to any subgroup. A healthier alternative would be to discuss issues openly. I think that the school should hire a facilitator to conduct a public discussion of the issues Sally has brought up. The law that requires that education be free is a doozy, but the school should model the appropriate procedure for dealing with difficult challenges in a democracy.

Power never concedes anything without a demand

"Hope" Has Been a Bust, It's Time for Hope 2.0

Arianna Huffington
January 18, 2010

On the eve of the first anniversary of President Obama's inauguration, it's become painfully obvious that elected officials are not going to save us. The 2008 election was all about "Hope." But Hope is simply not cutting it.

What we need is Hope 2.0: the realization that our system is too broken to be fixed by politicians, however well intentioned -- that change is going to have to come from outside Washington.

This realization is especially resonant as we celebrate Dr. King, whose life and work demonstrate the vital importance of social movements in bringing about change. Indeed, King showed that no real change can be accomplished without a movement demanding it.

As Frederick Douglass put it: "Power never concedes anything without a demand; it never has and it never will."

The perfect example of this came in March 1965. In an effort to push for voting rights legislation, King met with President Lyndon Johnson. But LBJ was convinced that the votes needed for passage weren't there. King left the meeting certain that the votes would never be found in Washington until he turned up the heat in the rest of the country. And that's what he set out to do: produce the votes in Washington by getting the people to demand it. Two days later, the "Bloody Sunday" confrontation in Selma -- in which marchers were met with tear gas and truncheons -- captured the conscience of the nation. And five months later, on August 6th, LBJ signed the National Voting Rights Act into law, with King and Rosa Parks by his side...

Friday, January 15, 2010

Bankers Without a Clue

Paul Krugman

Bankers Without a Clue
New York Times
January 14, 2010

The official Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission — the group that aims to hold a modern version of the Pecora hearings of the 1930s, whose investigations set the stage for New Deal bank regulation — began taking testimony on Wednesday. In its first panel, the commission grilled four major financial-industry honchos. What did we learn?

Well, if you were hoping for a Perry Mason moment — a scene in which the witness blurts out: “Yes! I admit it! I did it! And I’m glad!” — the hearing was disappointing. What you got, instead, was witnesses blurting out: “Yes! I admit it! I’m clueless!”

O.K., not in so many words. But the bankers’ testimony showed a stunning failure, even now, to grasp the nature and extent of the current crisis. And that’s important: It tells us that as Congress and the administration try to reform the financial system, they should ignore advice coming from the supposed wise men of Wall Street, who have no wisdom to offer.

Consider what has happened so far: The U.S. economy is still grappling with the consequences of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression; trillions of dollars of potential income have been lost; the lives of millions have been damaged, in some cases irreparably, by mass unemployment; millions more have seen their savings wiped out; hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, will lose essential health care because of the combination of job losses and draconian cutbacks by cash-strapped state governments.

And this disaster was entirely self-inflicted. This isn’t like the stagflation of the 1970s, which had a lot to do with soaring oil prices, which were, in turn, the result of political instability in the Middle East. This time we’re in trouble entirely thanks to the dysfunctional nature of our own financial system. Everyone understands this — everyone, it seems, except the financiers themselves.

There were two moments in Wednesday’s hearing that stood out. One was when Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase declared that a financial crisis is something that “happens every five to seven years. We shouldn’t be surprised.” In short, stuff happens, and that’s just part of life.

But the truth is that the United States managed to avoid major financial crises for half a century after the Pecora hearings were held and Congress enacted major banking reforms. It was only after we forgot those lessons, and dismantled effective regulation, that our financial system went back to being dangerously unstable...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Judicial Misconduct: The Mice Guard The Cheese

December 31, 2009
Wall Street Journal
Judicial Misconduct: The Mice Guard The Cheese
By Nathan Koppel

Does the federal judiciary do a good enough job investigating misconduct complaints against its fellow judges?

It’s an oft debated topic that gets a particularly detailed airing today in this Houston Chronicle piece.

A spate of recent high-profile complaints against judges, including the sexual-abuse charges against former Texas federal judge Samuel Kent (pictured), has prompted experts and members of Congress alike to call for reforms and more disclosure of federal disciplinary decisions, the Chron reports. (Click here and here for LB coverage of the Kent case.)

The chief judges of the federal circuit courts oversee complaints against all the circuit, district, bankruptcy and magistrate judges in their regions.

But in seven circuits, according to the Chron, chief judges took no public disciplinary action at all in the last decade, “meaning not a single federal judge faced any sanctions in 29 states with more than 875 full-time federal judges, despite thousands of complaints.”

Citing one example, the Chron notes that James B. Loken, who oversees the 8th Circuit, has never formally investigated a complaint since becoming chief judge in 2003, according to Michael Gans, the 8th Circuit Clerk who works with Loken.

Early in his tenure, Loken dismissed misconduct complaints from an attorney as “signed by a person whose signature is illegible.” ...

In fairness, rogue federal judges are likely few and far between. And the current disciplinary apparatus helps preserve the independence of the federal bench. The federal justice system would break down if every complaint from disgruntled litigants got a full airing.

But it’s also true that the system leaves “the mice in charge of the cheese,” as attorney Lara Bazelon told the Chron. In a recent Kentucky Law Journal article, Bazelon wrote: “Judges are human beings just like the rest of us, and putting on a black robe should not immunize them from legitimate punishment.” ...


NFOJA wrote:

While our attention is currently focused on state judiciaries, Olsen’s article goes far to legitimize the NFOJA. NFOJA is the National Forum On Judicial Accountability. It promotes putting responsibility for discipline of state judges into the hands of a randomly selected, adequately trained, rotating group of private citizens...

San Diego County judge admonished for abuse of office

San Diego County judge admonished for abuse of office
Commission says Judge Robert C. Coates previously in trouble for same behavior
North County Times
December 2, 2009

The body that oversees the performance and behavior of judges announced Wednesday that it has publicly admonished San Diego Superior Court Judge Robert C. Coates for his "repeated refusal" to not use his office to advance the personal interests of himself and others.

"Judge Coates has persisted in a pattern of abuse of the prestige of his judicial office and misuse of court resources in connection with personal and non-court matters," the Commission for Judicial Performance said in a press release.

The commission said Coates previously has been disciplined by the commission for similar conduct, and that he had been ordered by his presiding judges to cease such conduct. He had also been warned by the California Judges Association Ethics Committee to avoid such conduct, the commission said.

"Judge Coates' recalcitrance manifests indifference toward the erosion of public confidence in the judiciary that results from irresponsible behavior by judges," the commission said.

The statewide commission is composed of three judges, two lawyers, and six public members. The chairperson is the Hon. Judith D. McConnell of 4th District Court of Appeal, based in San Diego.

Second-generation Latinos struggle for a higher foothold

Second-generation Latinos struggle for a higher foothold
By N.C. Aizenman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 7, 2009

Javier Saavedra slumped his burly frame into a worn, plaid couch in the cramped basement room he shares with his girlfriend and their 2-year-old daughter, his expression darkening as he ticked off all the wrong turns that had gotten them stuck below the economy's ground floor.

Raised by Mexican immigrant parents, Saavedra was a gang member by 13, a high school dropout by 16 and a father by 21. Now 23, he has been trying to turn his life around since his daughter, Julissa, was born.

But without a high school diploma, Saavedra was unable to find a job that paid enough for him and his girlfriend, Mayra Hererra, 20 and pregnant with their second child, to move out of her parents' brick home in Hyattsville.

Even the dim, wood-paneled room piled with baby toys and large plastic bags of clothing was costing them $350 a month.

"I get so upset with myself," Saavedra said. "I should have a better chance at a job [than our parents]. I want to be helping them with their bills, not them still helping me."

Millions of children of Latino immigrants are confronting the same challenge as they come of age in one of the most difficult economic climates in decades.

Whether they succeed will have consequences far beyond immigrant circles. As a result of the arrival of more than 20 million mostly Mexican and Central American newcomers in a wave that swelled in the 1970s and soared during the 1990s, the offspring of Hispanic immigrants now account for one of every 10 children, both in the United States and the Washington region.

Largely because of the growth of this second generation, Hispanic immigrants and their U.S.-born children and grandchildren will represent almost a third of the nation's working-age adults by mid-century...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Serra High School Site Council votes Sally Smith out--then it allows packed audience to comment

See other Sally Smith posts.

Teachable Moments: Sally Smith off Serra site council at packed meeting
By Marsha Sutton, SDNN
Monday, January 11, 2010

Before a packed house, Sally Smith was ousted this afternoon from her elected seat on the School Site Council of Serra High School. She was blasted for humiliating a student at last month’s SSC meeting by laughing at her in public, but Smith claims the reason behind the movement to remove her centers around her efforts to eliminate parent fees for athletics and other extra-curricular activities.

This just in from Smith a few minutes after the meeting:

“I am out. The three parents: me, Ed Harris and Martha Morena voted for me. Ed and Martha spoke in support of me. … The room was packed with parents that have never shown up ever. Most magnificent turnout in the history of SSC - must have been 80 parents, teachers and staff. … My supporters were African-American and Mexican-American parents. Most spoke in Spanish in support of me.”

The Serra site council consists of 12 members: three parents, three students, principal Michael Jimenez, counselor Jann Allen, and four teachers - the SSC chair Suzie Fore, Matt Medina, Mike Morales and Keri Pisapia.

Serra’s SSC bylaws state that a two-thirds vote is required to expel a member.

According to Smith, Fore told an audience member that Smith was being voted off because, at last month’s meeting, her behavior was inappropriate and she “chuckled” at a student who was upset about the likelihood that after-school programs might be eliminated if fees from parents could no longer be collected.

“I didn’t chuckle but I did sigh because I was so disappointed that a student would be complaining that she didn’t like the law,” Smith said.

Smith said this is not an issue that students should have to deal with. “This is an adult thing that we’re supposed to be doing for them - implementing it correctly, following the law,” she said. “It isn’t our job to get them all excited and stressed out about all this. It’s our job to get it right.”

After the vote, seven speakers addressed the site council in support of Smith and one opposed, she reported. But several audience members asked why they were not permitted to speak before the vote was taken...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

AFT teachers union is moving ahead of NEA in school reform

Union head to propose tying test scores, teacher evaluations
By Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The president of the nation's second-largest teachers union is proposing a new way to incorporate student test scores into teacher evaluations and has asked a well-known mediator to develop methods of expediting disciplinary cases against teachers, according to the text of a speech made public Monday night.

Randi Weingarten of the 1.4 million-member American Federation of Teachers plans to deliver the speech Tuesday. Union officials describe it as a major effort to address flash points in labor-management relations.

The AFT, Weingarten said, wants "a fair, transparent and expedient process to identify and deal with ineffective teachers. But [we] know we won't have that if we don't have an evaluation system that is comprehensive and robust and really tells us who is or is not an effective teacher." ...

Surprise: The American Federation of Teachers, the second largest teachers union in the country, is going to propose including students' test scores in teacher evaluations and finding ways to speed up disciplinary cases against teachers. The Washington Post and USA Today explain why this is such a big deal. Bob Herbert at The New York Times contends that the union had better follow through.

Cheerleaders at Serra High are unhappy about equal access law; parent Sally Smith thrown off Site Council

See other Sally Smith posts.

See Jim Groth posts.

Until teachers learn to discuss issues openly instead of shutting people up, schools will be run by cliques, not the public.

I know from experience that one can advocate very well from outside school committees, but the Serra High School situation has developed into something that I believe is a teachable moment for schools and the public.

We have a situation that typifies what schools teach students about democracy and the rule of law: if someone makes you uncomfortable, or demands that the law be obeyed, throw them off the committee.

Teachers need to develop a new bag of tricks.

Anger is mother's milk to teachers, and teachers lounges are breeding places for it. I've seen it firsthand at the four schools I taught at.

At one school I taught at years ago, staff meetings developed into two-hour long sessions of yelling at the principal, and if you had to go pick up your kid at daycare, the other teachers resented it deeply. They wanted everyone to partake fully in the anger fest.

At another school, current CTA bigshot Jim Groth got mad at me because I wouldn't sign a petition that said the principal was mentally ill. I was only willing to sign a petition that asked for an end to specific practices.

The mental illness charge is a favorite. It's frequently used against principals who commit the sin of criticizing popular teachers. Parents, teachers and kids who don't fall into lock step with the ruling clique also get the label. But I've seen teachers with such a deep sense of victimhood, anger and paranoia that I have come to the conclusion that schools need to offer more mental health support for teachers.

At issue at Serra High School is a law requiring schools to give equal access to all students regardless of income. It is an important law.

Instead of trying to silence a parent who asked that the law be obeyed, why didn't the athletic director of Serra High School tell cheerleaders that they needed to find a way to obey the law? Perhaps they could campaign for a special cheerleader tax, or for an end to Prop 13, or simply conduct a fundraiser for athletics.

Teachable Moments: Parent to be booted off Serra site council

By Marsha Sutton, SDNN
January 10, 2010

This afternoon it appears that San Diego Unified School District parent Sally Smith will be ousted from her seat on Serra High School’s School Site Council.

Smith, an activist in San Diego Unified, has made a name for herself with her relentless efforts to eliminate parent fees for curricular and extra-curricular activities, including sports and after-school programs. She said student representatives on the Serra site council “are angry with me about the fees issue and how it affects their athletic programs.”

A call for details made last Friday to the school’s principal, Michael Jimenez, was not returned. And the school’s site council Web page, which was active on Friday, was blank by Sunday night.

She said the school’s principal told her the site council students decided on their own to vote her off the site council. The three student representatives include two field hockey/soccer players and a cheerleader, she said.

[Maura Larkins comment: How would the principal know that? Was he listening to all conversations on the matter between the students and adults?]

Smith claims some of the school’s cheerleaders approached her daughter, a student at Serra, and asked her why her mother is “trying to get rid of cheerleading and sports.” Smith said the cheerleaders pay $1,000 each to be on the squad.

She said the students, parents and staff don’t understand the law that prohibits charging families for school activities, based on equity and fairness for low-income children, and that they are trying to “shoot the messenger” instead.

However, the school’s athletic director, Jonn Pisapia, and at least one parent, complained that the real issue is that Smith laughed at a student when the student struggled to express her view that it was unfair to impose fees that would eliminate popular programs.

In an email dated Dec. 7, after last month’s Serra SSC meeting, Pisapia wrote, “I am concerned with the conduct that I witnessed today at the SSC meeting that was held in the media center. Students brought to the table concerns that they had and while doing so one of the students was laughed and snickered at by Mrs. Smith. The student was speaking on something near and dear to her heart. These students are not only speaking for themselves but for many students and are trying to understand the process and the events that are taking place around them...

Serra parent Loraine Gutierrez de Hurtado wrote to SDUSD school board members on Jan. 8, and referred to the incident at the Dec. 7 school site council meeting when she said she “witnessed a student representative on the council, a child, reduced to tears while addressing Ms. Smith and Ms. Smith’s inappropriate response was one of laughter.”

She asked “that Sally Smith be removed from the SSC as a parent representative, that her physical presence be restricted from SHS grounds.”

After Smith notified Jimenez, Serra’s principal, that she wished to videotape the Jan. 11 school site council meeting, she received a note from SDUSD General Counsel Mark Bresee, who wrote, “Please be advised that, in my opinion, you have no right to video and/or audio tape the meeting without the consent of those who are recorded.”...

[Maura Larkins' comment: I feel like crying, not laughing, to know that students are being taught to manipulate the law in order to violate it. I can certainly see that someone might be startled into a laugh of disbelief when a student asks her, "Why are you bringing up this law now?" In my experience, attorney Mike Bresee has previously worked to damage people with subjective allegations while at the same time keeping solid evidence out of the record. He knows very well that you can't stop someone from recording an open meeting of decision-makers at a public entity.]

Monday, January 11, 2010

At last! Bill passes allowing California schools to join Race to the Top and use student test scores in teacher evauations

'A' for education effort
San Francisco Chronicle
Friday, January 8, 2010

As far as education reform is concerned, 2010 is off to a good start. The California Legislature approved important reforms for California's application for federal Race to the Top funds on Tuesday, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed them on Thursday.

It's amazing what Sacramento can do with the proper motivation (like up to $700 million in federal grant money).

The Legislature was always going to approve SBX5 1, the basic nuts-and-bolts reforms that were required for the state's application. The bill identifies schools that are performing weakly and requires them to pursue improvements, and allows schools to link student performance data with teacher evaluations. But the powerful California Teachers' Association hated SBX5 4, which empowered parents to bring reforms to troubled schools and allows students in the 1,000 worst-performing schools across the state to transfer out - even across district lines. It's a small, and welcome, miracle that SBX5 4 managed to squeak past.

Now comes the hard part.

California's educational system is still structurally dysfunctional, and neither these new laws nor all the federal money in the world will change that. (Though speaking of money, that's a problem too - education is likely to be back on the chopping block when budget battles commence in Sacramento.) As helpful as the federal money will be, that dysfunction can only be solved by state and local leaders, most of whom are hesitant. We've got a lot of work left to do.

Southwestern College Free Speech Zone is somewhat larger than a postage stamp

The ACLU's Best and Worst in San Diego, 2009
Voice of San Diego
January 7, 2010
Kevin Keenan

Southwestern College Free Speech Zone: ...Mario Savio... is no doubt rolling in his grave over the state of free speech on many college campuses -- including post-stamp-sized "free speech zones," like the one at Southwestern College in Chula Vista. Southwestern College's president, Dr. Raj Chopra, has designated a tiny patio area as "Free Speech Plaza," while declaring the rest of the 156-acre campus out of free speech bounds. The ACLU sent a demand letter, calling on the college to revise its policies to allow free speech and assembly throughout the campus. In 2010, we resolve to resolve this matter through negotiation or litigation.

Kevin Keenan is the executive director of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties.

Here is a link to David Blair-Loy's letter to Raj Chopra.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Why are more tax dollars given to Bonnie Dumanis to prosecute when crime rate has gone down and public defenders aren't getting equal increases?

Answer: It seems the new money is paying for a political machine.

See all Bonnie Dumanis posts.

DA's Budgets Go Up While Others Go Down

January 7, 2010
Voice of San Diego

While other public agencies scramble to cut services and jobs, the district attorney's budget is up 65 percent since Bonnie Dumanis took the helm in 2003, from $91 million to $150 million in the fiscal year that ended in June. The number of lawyers is up almost 10 percent during the same period, from 292 to 320.

Dumanis, with her vast political power, has managed to successfully steer the office through a difficult economy by winning federal grants and persuading county supervisors not to cut funding levels.

While there are more lawyers in the office, there appears to be less work to do. Dumanis goes to trial about half as often as her predecessor, according to at least one measure, and trials are what take manpower in a prosecutor's shop.

And, even though crime is at a 25-year low, Dumanis' office is still filing about the same amount of felony cases each year. She's settling at a higher rate than Pfingst, boosting conviction rates but lessening the need for a deluxe squad of prosecutors.

Dumanis lists her 70 percent case-settlement rate -- meaning deals instead of trials -- as one of her biggest accomplishments because it "keeps police officers on the street instead of testifying in court with great savings to the taxpayer and all agencies in the criminal justice system."

"This is not a contest," Dumanis said in an interview.

She and some of her employees have also been criticized privately by law enforcement officials, some current and former deputy district attorneys, plus some defense attorneys and public defenders, for raises -- including a $56,000 increase over three years for Dumanis -- and perks like take-home cars and a new $84,000 office gym.

"Everyone's in freeze mode, even though Bonnie has hired and promoted," said Deputy Public Defender Joe Kownacki, president of the county Public Defenders Association. Both agencies are funded by the county Board of Supervisors, but the District Attorney's Office has other funding sources also. "There's way too much money spent on that side. That place is way overfunded."

...Dumanis has considerably expanded her executive staff, putting together a public relations army that is the talk of the law enforcement and political worlds.

Dumanis' executive staff includes four chief deputies (Pfingst had one), five public affairs officials (Pfingst had two), and a lobbyist and an office historian (Pfingst had neither)...

With the latest raise, she will make $240,739 -- more than the governor of California and significantly higher than the $150,000 salary of predecessor Pfingst. Plus, she earns about $67,000 in benefits annually.

About 173 of Dumanis' employees... have take-home cars. That's about 50 more total cars than under Pfingst, and only two of his executives had cars. The county Public Defenders Office has 10 take-home cars, according to Kownacki, the union president...

Witness Mike Connell dies before testifying; Democrat Arnebeck had asked the government to protect Connell

'Karl Rove's IT guru' Mike Connell dies in plane crash
December 20, 2008

UPDATE AT THIS LINK: GOP consultant killed in plane crash was warned of sabotage

A top level Republican IT consultant who was set to testify in a case alleging GOP election tampering in Ohio died in a plane crash late Friday night.

Michael Connell -- founder of Ohio-based New Media Communications, which created campaign Web sites for George W. Bush and John McCain -- died instantly after his single-prop, private aircraft smashed into a vacant home in suburban Lake Township, Ohio.

"The plane was attempting to land around 6 p.m. Friday at Akron-Canton Airport when it crashed about three miles short of the runway," reports the Akron Beacon Journal.

Connell's exploits as a top GOP IT 'guru' have been well documented by RAW STORY's investigative team.

The interest in Mike Connell stems from his association with a firm called GovTech, which he had spun off from his own New Media Communications under his wife Heather Connell’s name. GovTech was hired by Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell to set up an official election website at to presented the 2004 presidential returns as they came in.

Connell is a long-time GOP operative, whose New Media Communications provided web services for the Bush-Cheney ’04 campaign, the US Chamber of Commerce, the Republican National Committee and many Republican candidates. This in itself might have raised questions about his involvement in creating Ohio’s official state election website.

However, the alternative media group ePlubibus Media further discovered in November 2006 that was hosted on the servers of a company in Chattanooga, TN called SmarTech, which also provided hosting for a long list of Republican Internet domains.

“Since early this decade, top Internet ‘gurus’ in Ohio have been coordinating web services with their GOP counterparts in Chattanooga, wiring up a major hub that in 2004, first served as a conduit for Ohio's live election night results,” researchers at ePluribus Media wrote.

A few months after this revelation, when a scandal erupted surrounding the firing of US Attorneys for reasons of White House policy, other researchers found that the gwb43 domain used by members of the White House staff to evade freedom of information laws by sending emails outside of official White House channels was hosted on those same SmarTech servers.

Given that the Bush White House used SmarTech servers to send and receive email, the use of one of those servers in tabulating Ohio’s election returns has raised eyebrows. Ohio gave Bush the decisive margin in the Electoral College to secure his reelection in 2004.

IT expert Stephen Spoonamore says the SmartTech server could have functioned as a routing point for malicious activity and remains a weakness in electronic voting tabulation.

"...I have reason to believe that the alternate accounts were used to communicate with US Attorneys involved in political prosecutions, like that of Don Siegelman," said RAW STORY's Investigative News Editor, Larisa Alexandrovna, on her personal blog Saturday morning. "This is what I have been working on to prove for over a year. In fact, it was through following the Siegelman-Rove trail that I found evidence leading to Connell. That is how I became aware of him. Mike was getting ready to talk. He was frightened...

GOP consultant killed in plane crash was warned of sabotage

John Byrne, David Edwards and Stephen Webster
December 22, 2008

The Republican consultant accused of involvement in alleged vote-rigging in Ohio in 2004 was warned that his plane might be sabotaged before his death in a crash Friday night, according to a Cleveland CBS affiliate.

45-year-old Republican operative Michael Connell was killed when his single-passenger plane crashed Friday into a home in a suburb of Akron, Ohio (PREVIOUS REPORT). The consultant was called to testify in federal court regarding a lawsuit alleging that he took part in tampering with Ohio's voting results in the 2004 election.

Without getting into specific details, 19 Action News reporter Blake Renault reported Sunday evening that 45-year-old Republican operative and experienced pilot had been warned not to fly his plane in the days before the crash.

"Connell...was apparently told by a close friend not to fly his plane because his plane might be sabotaged," Renault said. "And twice in the last two months Connell, who is an experienced pilot, cancelled two flights because of suspicious problems with his plane."

...The National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration are now investigating the crash. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, no new information has been made available since the incident occurred.

Connell was the subject of a lawsuit by liberal lawyer Clifford Arnebeck, perhaps most well known for suing on behalf of 37 Ohio residents to block Bush's electoral college victory in 2004. Arnebeck had alleged Connell's involvement in a ploy to "flip" votes from then Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry to then-President George W. Bush.

Connell was ordered to testify in the suit in October, and told a federal court that he had no involvement and knew of no plan to switch votes in Ohio in 2004.

The Plain Dealer made no mention at all of the suit in their article Monday...

Arnebeck warned the Justice Department that Connell's safety was in jeopardy earlier this year. In July, he wrote an email to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, requesting witness protection for the GOP operative, which was carbon copied to Democratic Congressmen John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), who were sympathetic to his 2004 lawsuit over Ohio's electoral votes.

"I have informed court chambers and am in the process of informing the Ohio Attorney General's and US Attorney's offices in Columbus for the purpose, among other things, of seeking protection for Mr. Connell and his family from this reported attempt to intimidate a witness," Arnebeck wrote...