Sunday, November 27, 2005

Common Sense on Immigration

Officials in both major parties continue to be paralyzed by political
correctness and bureaucratic sclerosis. They have yet to come to grips with the reality of homicidal America-haters lurking at our doorstep--evildoers whose modus operandi is to infiltrate our country, then kill us.—Gilchrist for Congress

...most economists concur that immigration has reduced the wages of
native workers with relatively little education and few skills. But for the remainder of the U.S. workforce, the impact has not been significant…

From an economic standpoint, the evidence seems clear that draconian measures such as massive deportations or major reductions in legal immigration levels would be counterproductive to the United States and its citizens.—Immigration, Jobs, and the American Economy Greg Anrig, Jr., Tova Andrea Wang, The Century Foundation, 9/29/2004

Immigrants pay on average $3000 each to smugglers. Why not have the immigrants pay America the $3000 and create a system under which we can monitor who is coming into the country and what they are doing? I propose that the government establish ICE centers at the borders. Those wishing to enter the country will pay the $3000 to ICE (US Immigration, Customs and Enforcement Agency). ICE will take the immigrant's photograph, fingerprints, and administer tuberculosis and other health tests. The immigrants must tell us where they are going to live and where they plan on working. With that information, and the payment, the immigrant can enter the country.—Steve Young for Congress

President George W. Bush appointed Christopher Cox, now former Republican congressman from the 48th district in Orange County, California, to head the Securities and Exchange Commission. The congressional vacancy Cox left required a special congressional election, which was held November 8, and the top-voted candidates now are up for the grand finale election on December 6, 2005.

The 48th district is well known throughout the country as a notoriously “red” hold out in an otherwise predominantly “blue” state. The sparse liberals in the district are surrounded by the decidedly conservative and even reactionary crowd, who love George W. no matter what he does or says, and fear Latino immigrants even while employing them by the hoards.

Fear will getcha. It is the emblem of demagogues. It was Hitler’s rocket fuel. Stupidity is forgivable. Ignorance is correctable. Willful ignorance is the downfall of us all.

Gilchrist and his flock sitting on the border with their binocs, vigilantes accomplishing nothing but gaining press coverage—do they think these people, these human beings coming in droves from south of the US/Mexican border, are a big, unified, criminal-terrorist mob? Do they think they are less worthy of the rights of man guaranteed by the US Constitution than native-born citizens by virtue of a border line drawn on a map? Do they think these people who were not born in the United States of America, and are not citizens of this great nation, are not capable of living up to the standards of US citizenship? Do Gilchrist and his followers think about anything but hatred, and vengeance, and fear?

And what’s with Steve Young? He knows he can’t win in the 48th district, with its mindset on Republican red, and Bush, and protection from evil, and NIMBY? What’s his effort worth? I think I know. I remember when Joe Duffy ran as the anti-Vietnam War candidate from Connecticut for US Senate in 1970. Tom Dodd, a friend of my family’s, was the incumbent Democrat and he was pro-war, behind Nixon. This was anomalous to anyone with a conscience at that time, similar to what is starting to happen now with the anti-Iraq War tide.

They still told us (“they” were the establishment, and “us” were the haphazard liberal anti-War crowd) we were pushing against a stone wall. Duffy ran on the motto that one man can make a difference. He miraculously defeated Dodd in the Democratic senatorial primary. The anti-war movement indeed was viable and alive.

Then Duffy ran against Republican Lowell Weicker, and Dodd as the Independent candidate—Weicker won when Dodd split the Democratic vote. This worked out well, it turns out, because the moderate and strong voice of Weicker on the House Judiciary Committee was instrumental in bringing down Nixon and his corrupt paranoid presidency.

So Steve Young’s intelligent voice, in the midst of the din of fear and ignorance, can make a difference. The solution he has outlined is a giant leap ahead of the indifference and confusion present in federal guidelines for immigration.

Immigration policies in the United States are contradictory and often confusing, alternately welcoming illegal immigrants to the country and telling them to go away…

"What we have now is a dishonest immigration policy," said Mark Krikorian, who runs the conservative Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C. "We make it tough to get across the border but easy to get a job. This is really the central conflict. Everything stems from that."

…Much of the nation's wavering on illegal immigration stems from a lack of national direction, say academics and other experts.— Policies on Illegal Immigrants at Odds,By Anna Gorman and Jennifer Delson,Los Angeles Times, 11/27/05

8 to 10 million undocumented immigrants live in the United States, and they are not going back home. This issue has solutions which Steve Young and others can imagine and articulate. They need the help of caring, compassionate, tolerant fellow citizens, not gun-toting Texas Ranger wannabes stalking the border in the name of justice and freedom—they only represent tyranny and endless struggle.

Steve Young may not be the next congressman from the 48th district, but his voice of reason just won’t go away.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Looking back 3 Times When Kennedy Died

42 Years ago I was in the school gym locker room ready to go out for junior high school soccer practice. In the musty confines of the staid old country prep school, it seemed like all the rooms echoed with bad acoustics and ghosts of students from passed eras—pre World War II with the same traditions, good and not so good.

I was rushing to my locker when an upper-class friend ran by me and shouted “The president’s been shot.” I asked him what he meant by shot, and he said the news was that Kennedy was shot in Dallas. I didn’t even know he was going to Dallas, as if the itinerary of the President of the United States on any given day was of note to me.

Out on the soccer field, one of the teachers had placed a radio on the sidelines, so we could hear the latest news about a president being shot. It was a brisk fall afternoon and we were kicking the ball around not thinking about current events. Suddenly one of the kids yelled, “The president is dead.”

I remember where I was, and what I was doing, just like everyone remembers where they were when they heard about Pearl Harbor, or 9/11, or November 22. But I don’t remember anything of that day after that announcement.

As an undergraduate student in the late 1960’s at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, I was in a political science class taught by Dr. Peabody. Robert Peabody had published a scholarly tract on the campaign and election of Congressman Gerald Ford of Michigan, for minority leadership of the House of Representatives. Ford’s dream goal was to be Speaker of the House of Representatives, but the democrats were the majority party so Ford could only be minority leader.

Members of the US Congress actually have to run elections within their peer group in order to be the head of their party in the House and Senate, after they just ran to be elected from their district. Seems like there’s little time left to accomplish anything in the job they for which they were elected.

Dr. Peabody had befriended Mr. Ford when he wrote about him, so as a special part of our course, we students were taken on a field trip 45 miles down I-95 to Washington, D.C. to the office of the minority leader of the House of Representatives of the United States, in order to meet the Honorable Gerald Ford, Republican from Michigan. In our intimate gathering in Mr. Ford’s sumptuous office, we asked several questions, germane and otherwise, to the course we were taking. I was mostly interested in the huge set of volumes on the overly-impressive bookshelf, titled “Warren Commission.” This was the group set up by President Johnson, under the direction of former Chief Justice Earl Warren, to accumulate evidence and come to a conclusion regarding the facts surrounding the murder of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. Mr. Ford was a member of that commission.

I had read several accounts of the probability of a conspiracy of various elements to kill JFK, and that Lee Harvey Oswald was just a patsy and may not even have shot at Kennedy. These were the 1960’s, and not a timid time for students to hold back on questioning authority. So I asked Mr. Ford, point blank, what he thought of the Warren Commission, of which he was a part, and of its finding that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing Kennedy, despite so much evidence of a conspiracy.

Mr. Ford’s simple and direct answer was that he was extremely proud of the work he and his partners did on the commission, and absolutely he stood by its conclusion. I really got nothing out of that, except how cool guys like Ford could be about answering any question, especially from a pinhead college kid.

Couple of years went by, and I was working on putting together some sort of documentary film project for my post graduate thesis at Boston University, tying in Watergate and Nixon’s shenanigans going back to the 1940’s, and up to the present in 1973. One friend who knew I was working on this attended a lecture given by the author Mark Lane, who had written Rush to Judgment in the 1960’s about the JFK murder conspiracy. My friend called my on a pay phone and said there were some things about Lane’s lecture that might be able to be used in the treatment about Nixon and Watergate. I no sooner said, “like what?” and Lane was on the phone spouting facts and issues to me in a studied and enthusiastic voice. I was thrilled—Mark Lane wanted to talk to me.

So much for my JFK remembrance stories. I wrote the thesis about Alger Hiss and how the use of bugging and other government improprieties helped corner him, just as covering up for these tricks helped Nixon get pushed out of the presidency.

What does this mean today, 42 years after the last assassination of a US president? What do we know now that we didn’t know then? Certainly the conspiracy theories are still in the forefront of the American imagination, while in that hunt for justice, nothing has gone further than Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone killer.

When Nixon appointed Ford Vice president, after Agnew resigned because he was indicted on kickback schemes while Governor of Maryland, was there a quid pro quo that Ford would pardon Nixon if Nixon was convicted of crimes related to Watergate? Ford pardoned Nixon the minute Nixon resigned, saying he wanted to spare the country of a lengthy trials etc. I didn’t believe that it wasn’t a cooked up deal and wrote my first telegram to a US president saying simply “I condemn your decision to pardon Nixon.” It was my firm belief that a trial would have brought forth the truth of the web and interweaving of who was involved in the money gathering and laundering, lest it continue without punishment.

Does any of this relate to our times, of post 9/11, Iraq involvement, international terrorism, misdirected priorities?

The current Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, was first sworn in to that job on November 20, 1975, under President Ford, and was in that post for 14 months. Until President George W. Bush put him in there again, where he still is.

Vice President Dick Cheney was appointed Chief of Staff for President Ford in 1975. Then George H. W. Bush made Cheney his Secretary of Defense.

Talk about bad acoustics and old echoes!

ps: Did you know Nixon was in Dallas on November 22, 1963? I’ve never known if that was important or just a coincidence.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

No Liability Bird-Flu Shot. Want One?

You can make the case that a pandemic vaccine will be virtually an experimental drug—

Kim Elliott, deputy director of the Trust for America's Health, a nonprofit advocacy group urging action on any pandemic threat.--Los Angeles Times, 11/17/05

The fear of a bird-flu pandemic is causing panic among lawmakers to promote a life-saving vaccine. In order to increase the incentives for vaccine development, republican legislators are trying to limit, if not eliminate, any liability on the part of the drug manufacturers for any adverse harm the vaccine may cause.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) wants to attach liability
protections to a must-pass spending bill slated for quick action, spokeswoman Amy Call said Wednesday. That would bypass the cumbersome process of committee hearings and floor deliberations in each chamber.--Los Angeles Times, 11/17/05

My wife just spoke with our friend, Barbara Loe Fisher, co-founder of the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) which is a watchdog agency for safety regarding vaccines. Barbara was scheduled for one of her customary consulting appearances at a hearing on the bird-flu vaccine issue, but the hearing was cancelled. Just as with the scenario for pushing through the notoriously anti-civil rights Patriot Act, this add-on measure to protect big pharma is being ramrodded by Frist the same way.

I'm alarmed that something of critical importance is being discussed and handled in a back-room deal," said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), a senior member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee."It makes no sense to try to rush this thing through in the darkness of night," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).--Los Angeles Times, 11/17/05

When the huge lobbyists—and the drug companies are up there with big oil--in Washington put their minds to getting a program passed, nothing will stand in their way—certainly not the petty needs of public health and safety, vs. campaign contributions to happy-to-oblige politicians.

A knowledgeable immunologist, not yet brain-washed, or money-laundered, by the vaccine manufacturers’ assurances of the effectiveness and safety of their products, will tell point blank of the problems the flu vaccine can cause to the immune system, and the probability that it won’t help as much as make the system vulnerable to other viral problems.

The influenza vaccine that many Americans clamored for this year [2003-2004] was not very good at protecting people against influenza, colds and similar viruses… the study shows that people who were vaccinated against influenza came down with colds, flu and similar viruses at the same rate as people who were not vaccinated. This would presumably include true influenza.-- Study: Vaccine didn't protect against flu, Reuters, 1/16/04

The discussion of whether or not the “impending” bird-flu scare is justified already took place on this blog with this summation:

...right now, there is no value in scaring the public with Hitchcockian
bird flu scenarios. The public must be kept in the loop, but potential threats should be put into context. The worst case is not the only case.—Los Angeles Times, Siegel, 10/11/05

As for Frist and his devious efforts—you can’t keep a well-compensated shill for big pharma down. Just to be fair, there are informed members of congress who take a different stance:

"In today's political climate, almost every threat is exaggerated, and
legislators have to try to do everything possible to prove that they're doing more than anyone else in case something does happen," …Rep. John Duncan [R-Tenn] said Friday at a congressional hearing, the third of the week on bird flu.--KEVIN FREKING ,The Associated Press 11/6/05

That is, of course, when they were holding hearings about the bird flu—not the Frist add-on legislation which is shielded from that kind of scrutiny.

Ever since Bush pledged $7 billion for bird flu vaccine the rush to line up for the payout has developed into a stampede. In this case, the public’s best course of treatment is to run for cover, eat nutritiously, get enough sleep, wash hands often, and not press the panic button.

UPDATE -- 11/18

Barbara Loe Fisher email:

Drug companies making vaccines have used blackmail tactics before to try to bully Congress into letting them off the hook for vaccine injuries and deaths. They did it in the 1970's with the bogus swine flu scare that convinced Congress to immunize companies from all liability for the hastily prepared swine flu vaccine that ended up brain damaging many Americans, few of whom ever got the promised "government compensation" they were supposed to get.

Vaccine makers blackmailed Congress in the 1980's, threatning to leave the nation without any childhood vaccines if they were not given protection from lawsuits on behalf of children brain damaged from the highly reactive whole cell DPT vaccine. Congress passed the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 that eliiminated almost all liability for doctors and vaccine manufacturers. It worked: there were four drug companies marketing vaccines in the U.S. in 1982 (Wyeth, Lederle, Merck, Connaught) and today that number has doubled to eight (Wyeth, Merck, Sanofi Pasteur, GlaxoSmithKline, Medimmune, Chiron, Bioport, Vaxgen).

Now big Pharma wants to cut off citizen access to the judicial system if they are harmed by experimental or licensed vaccines potentially mandated to be used whenever the Secretary of Health and Human Services declares a public health emergency and Governors follow suit (see NVIC letter to Senate staffer Kadlec at The Pharma bail-out by Congress will result in vaccine casualties who will be left to fend for themselves for the rest of their lives long after the "emergency" is over.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Guilty til Proven Innocent and Other Prejudices

My latest letter to the editor of the notoriously small-town right-wing rag, the Orange County Register, which has actually done admirable reporting on the local story of the Tesoro High School students:

Dear Editor:

As usual, the ignorance and illiteracy of readers of the Orange County Register speak for themselves. The most troubling aspect of the publicity of the story of the two Tesoro High School boys who are suspended for writing journals is the lack of understanding of the facts. Three letters from November 14 illustrate that rumors and gossip will always trump reality:

Dianne Weie, Ladera Ranch, writes, “My understanding is that these boys wrote journal entries for a class assignment that were so blatantly violent and obscene that their teacher now fears for her own safety.”

No one knows what was written other than the teacher and several administrators, as the contents have been sealed by the school district. If anything should be taught, it is that in these United States a suspect is innocent until proven guilty, not tried in the press.

Weie also writes, “…their teacher now fears for her own safety.”

Weie, and anyone else, doesn’t know that. All that has been reported is that the teacher is too upset to attend school or hearings regarding the students. This could be because she is embarrassed by her abrupt actions in turning in the journals to the principal, especially after she may have told the class they were to be kept private and she or anyone else would never read them.

Julie Grable, Lake Forest, writes “Shame on them [the boys' parents] for not supporting the school and not taking this time to teach the boys about the consequences of their actions.”

How are children supposed to learn from their mistakes with zero tolerance and expulsion immediately upon suspicion?

Gail Hetland, Rancho Santa Margarita writes, “What place does writing a personal journal have in the school curriculum, anyway?”

Any writing on a regular basis makes the writer improve, but hey, I’m no expert on this—is Gail?

The competent reporting on this case by the Orange County Register is not done justice by reading between the lines and making stuff up. But I forgot that in CAPOUSD [Capistrano Unified School District] the overwhelming constituency still believes Bush and company didn’t lie to get us into the Iraq War—people here make up stuff all the time to suit their pre-conceived notions.

David Goldenberg

I'll let you know if it's published...

Update 11/21/05:

The above letter didn't get published in the Orange County Register. Surprise!!

However, The following one did on 11/19:

While I wholeheartedly agree with David M. Agrela's overall opinion in "Private writings, public punishment" [Orange Grove, Nov. 10]about the sad case of the two Tesoro High School football players, Scott McKnight and Sam Smith, I must point out the glaring omission in the discussion: The journal writings of the two boys that got them in trouble have not been released to the public. In fact, outside of some school administrators, no one but the students, their teacher and the principal has seen the actual wording of the journals

Without first-hand knowledge of what was written, discussion of this case has to be based on hearsay and innuendo, which further exemplifies the "insanity" of overreaction by the school district and the teachers' union.

The methodology of the school board and the continued ruination of these two boys' high school careers are no doubt a sign of the times and the so-called policy of zero tolerance toward perceived life threats. I have zero tolerance for trumped-up judgment based on rumor-mongering and hysterical fear, which in the absence of the actual verbiage of the journals, remains just that - rumors.--Orange County Register Letters, 11/19/05

Friday, November 11, 2005

Missing Robert Scheer: Newspapers Turn to Mush

Journalist Robert Scheer has over thirty years of experience. Every Tuesday morning for breakfast I consumed his weekly op-ed column in the Los Angeles Times, which, along with Frank Rich’s clear explanation of the meaning of current events, in the New York Times every Sunday, allowed me the feeling that I had obtained a richer understanding of politics, reality, and our times.

Here's a portion of Scheer's biography:

From 1976 to 1993, he served as a national correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, where he wrote articles on such diverse topics as the Soviet Union, arms control, national politics and the military. He is currently a contributing editor at The Times, as well as a contributing editor for The Nation magazine. Scheer has interviewed every president from Richard Nixon on through Bill Clinton. He conducted the famous 1976 Playboy interview with Jimmy Carter, in which the then-presidential candidate admitted to have lusted in his heart.—

As of today, Scheer is no longer ‘a contributing editor at The Times,”

On Friday I was fired as a columnist by the publisher of the Los Angeles Times… The publisher, Jeff Johnson, who has offered not a word of explanation to me, has privately told people that he hated every word that I wrote. I assume that mostly refers to my exposing the lies used by President Bush to justify the invasion of Iraq…

Starting Wednesday morning, my column will be appearing here
on the Huffington Post. --Huffington Post, 1/11/05

That means good news and bad news. For me, it’s 90% good news in that I can get Scheer’s take every week as usual. The 10% bad news, is the state of printed news in our time. The proliferation of cable news channels, the internet, and now of course, blogs, have reduced readership, circulation, and therefore advertising revenue to all time lows. Across the country big and small publications are in real financial jeopardy. This may be just the way business is trending.

In an effort to maintain business as usual, some publishers are acting as if retaining subscriptions and achieving a positive bottom line, are the most important elements of success—not promoting writing that inflames, antagonizes, or turns off readership—in other words, controversial.

That the antagonistic, controversial, or inflaming point of view is just that—a point of view—and not necessarily a turn-off to readership but actually an attraction, is all in the perception of the publisher and his needs and wants. In the case of Fox News, the agency simply caved to the commands of owner Rupert Murdoch and hinted right-wing conservative slants to everything from politics to economics to human interest stories, and then called it “fair and balanced.” That’s an extreme example where a dictator runs the show.

What is scary lately is the alteration of the bastions of great tried-and-true journalism—the newspapers that people read to get the more profound truth behind a story—to pander to the perceived demands of what readers are left. In the case of the New York Times, a publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, stands behind his reporter, Judith Miller, regardless of her lack of ethics and standards, or her ties to the Bush White House, and stains the reputation of a great institution from now on.

The Los Angeles Times may remain a world-class newspaper with its in-depth reporting and talent that only money can buy. But as an arbiter of opinion, what’s it going to do if it hatchets out the contributors, like Robert Scheer and others, who have a viewpoint worth reading?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Tooth Fairy and the Drugs

Big Pharma paid a fortune to support Prop 78 in last Tuesday’s California special election. That was the proposal that offered voluntary discounts for low-income people based on the pharmaceutical company’s guidelines. Senator Boxer opposed this measure, along with most thinking people in the state and elsewhere—they supported an alternative Proposition 79, that would have forced the drug companies to lower their prices.

Both measures were voted down, mostly due to the confusion of the ads and a lack of understanding of which proposition meant what. People who have a life don’t follow this stuff that closely. They don't care or understand how the cost of their prescriptions may be affected by this vote in this election, on which California taxpayers paid $400 million because the governor, Arnold Schwartzenneger, wouldn't take "no" for an answer on several issues which he then submitted for referendum by the electorate. It was his choice and prerogative alone.

Just imagine what $400 million could have done for the people of California besides fund a special election: teacher salaries, homeless people's supplies, scholarships for deserving students--the list is endless.

Back to the expensive medicine and the greedy pharmaceutical firms:

After tens of millions of dollars spent by the big drug manufacturers on Proposition 78, which was voted DOWN, how do you think these drug company execs felt? Shitty?--no! Ecstatic?--Beyond description!

...drug executives are "dancing in the boardrooms" despite the defeat of their own measure, said Bob Stern, executive director of the Santa Monica-based Center for Governmental Studies. "They don't care that 78 went down…. They really wanted 79 to lose."--Drug Industry Wins Despite Defeat, Some Say, By Lisa Girion, Los Angeles Times, 11/10/05

Why were they happy their $80 million plus campaign failed?

With most states eyeing measures to make drugs more affordable, political and financial analysts viewed the election as a key test of the industry's ability to fend off mandatory discounts.-- Drug Industry Wins Despite Defeat, Some Say, By Lisa Girion, Los Angeles Times, 11/10/05

You still think the drug companies are more interested in your longer lifespan than they are in their shareholders’ profits? You must think there’s a real tooth fairy. Well, just ask your kids—there ain’t and they aren’t!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Zero Tolerance is a Substitute for Brains

Rachel KCAL Ch 9 11-5-05

Rachel's Car Supporting Football Players

…we are obliged to make choices without being able to foresee all their consequences, which we then must live with. Movie Critic Richard Schickel quoting Director Elia Kazan, Los Angeles Times, 11/5/05

Spurious statements to the press, exaggeration by the media, rumor mongering, clandestine death threats, petty issues blown out of proportion, hearsay stories of vindictive recrimination, forays into sordid romantic liaisons, invasion of privacy, authority with no direction, courts meddling in legislation, --

This is

A) Bush White House and the scandal-ridden republican regime?

B) Two star players on Orange County, California’s Tesoro High School football team and the Capistrano Unified School District?

Answer: B

My wife’s cousin, Rachel, is married to Reed, who coaches the Tesoro High School football team. Reed is a remarkable young man whose natural talent to inspire the students he coaches has led them to consistent victories. The kids are also an admirable group of above-average students and as a unit—coach and players—could act as a role model for sportsmanship on and off the field.

Reed, a former NFL player himself, and a figure of substantial physical proportion to match his spirit, recently was accosted verbally by the misguided parent of one of his players during a weekend football game. The threatening abuse, regarding when and whether the boy should be put in the game, got so out of hand that Reed asked the school principal for a meeting with the parent to put an end to the issue.

At the meeting, Principal Dan Burch suggested to Reed that such verbiage and threats “go with the territory” of coaching high school football. The parent was suspended for one game and his $1200 contribution to the football fund was returned to him.

Punishment indeed.

That Tesoro High School football story did not get press coverage. The next one did.

Fast forward several weeks, to a couple of weeks ago:

Two south Orange County students could face expulsion from Tesoro High School after journal entries they had written were reported by a teacher to contain violent and obscene content.

The students, both seniors on the school's football team, wrote assignments for an English class in which they fantasized about the death of their teacher, said Mike Feyk, a teacher’s union representative at the school.

"They were basically plotting her murder in graphic fashion. One(entry) said he'd like to see everyone in the classroom dead; another had graphic sexual references to other girls in the class," he said.--SAM MILLER, Orange County Register 11/2/05

The press report is one point of view. Another angle has the virtue of having Cousin Rachel’s insider perception to help:

1. The “two students” facing expulsion maintain top grade-point averages, are the leaders of the fore-mentioned Tesoro High football team, and are considered throughout the school as being of the highest character.

"They realize they used bad judgment," said Matt Sciacqua, a close family friend of one of the boys and the father of a Tesoro student. "We don't feel it was anything worth being expelled for; the sheriff's department didn't feel it was dangerous to the teacher."--SAM MILLER, Orange County Register 11/2/05

Jim Amormino, spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff’s department, has said on TV interviews that the boys, and what they wrote, pose no problem for anyone.

2. The press reports have not stated whether Mike Feyk has actually seen the journals, or whether he is repeating what he was told by the school administration. No one outside the school administration has been given access to the actual written journals.

3. The students in the class claim the teacher told them the journals were to be written as an exercise, and would never be collected or read by anyone.

Petra Law, a family friend of one of the boys, said the students were only joking around and did not believe the journal entries would be read.

"I think it was a total joke, like them reading each other's (journals)and laughing," said Law, whose daughter was in Di Somma's class last year. "They were told the journals were personal and private and she would not read them. They were given freedom of expression. ... It's unfortunate, it's unfair."--SAM MILLER, Orange County Register 11/3/05

About two weeks ago, teacher Alyssa Di Somma collected journals from her fourth-period English class. Feyk said journal entries written by the two boys frightened her with what she perceived as threats. Feyk said Di Somma gave him permission to talk to reporters, but declined to comment herself.--SAM MILLER, Orange County Register 11/2/05

The speculation in the media this week about the content of the journals was reported on several TV news outlets: KABC Channel 7, KCBS channel 2, and KCAL Channel 9. Last Saturday night, at the latest Tesoro High football game, Channel 9 interviewed a mother of a member of the opposing team at the football game, who said it was better to discipline the youths since you never know if they’re kidding or not—"Columbine" type of thing, you know.

Then the camera turned on Cousin Rachel, who said journals were supposed to be private so this was a matter of invasion of privacy.

In the report on Channel 9, neither of these interviewees was identified—they might as well have been talking heads in a crowd. Rachel’s name was listed while she spoke, but it was misspelled, and she was not identified as Coach Reed’s wife anyway.

Here is what one former Tesoro High student wrote as part of an on line chat-room give-and-take:

“the real story about this whole mess also involves sam smith. apparantley, in their english class the teacher has them keep personal journals that are for them and are never going to be read by anybody. every so often they have to turn them in to the teacher so she can verify that they are doing what they're supposed to be doing. the two of them wrote a rap song between themselves about killing the teacher. she got wind of this and they are both expelled. it was originally going to be a 5 day deal, but now the principal is going for a full expulsion. regardless of what happens, they will most likely not be able to go back to football. it's really hard to think that they both did this with what the futures they could have, especially scott. i played with both of these guys in high school and they are great athletes. it's just a shame how the decisions they made ulitmately effected them forever. being an alumni and former player for tesoro, i still talk to the team and this is what i've heard so far.”

That doesn’t clarify everything for ya?

In case you’re wondering how much the media reports helped to fan the flame of rumors, Rachel’s cousin works in a pizza parlor and several of his friend came in earlier this week to tell him the buzz they heard—that the students who wrote the journals were threatening to bomb the school, and that there had been helicopters over Tesoro HS.

There were no helicopters and no threats. Police were called to the school the day the teacher turned the journals over to the principal.

The two students were suspended pending a school district hearing on their expulsion. Zero tolerance policy subsequent to 9/11 dictates that school districts take threats very seriously. The expulsion hearings take place on the last Monday of every month, which in this case was October 31. Halloween is a school holiday—in California the school districts would rather ignore the Halloween tradition of dressing up in costumes, which is now also a no-no in our post 9/11-Columbine fear-of-terrorism society.

So the two students will have to stay out of school an additional month to wait for their next hearing date hearing. They are missing so much school that graduating this year is in jeopardy, as well as are scholarships that both students were awarded for college.

Think this kind of threat-perception case is rare and isolated? Here’s what the police say:

Sgt. Brad Virgoe heads the School Mobile Assessment Resource Team, a unit in the Orange County Sheriff's Department that investigates threats of school violence. The team was formed in 2001 and was planned in the wake of the Columbine High shootings in 1999.

"This is our fourth school year, and we've responded to 200 or 300 threat assessments in a year. Typically, three to eight per day. You can have everything from a fifth-grade student who says he's going to get daddy's gun and bring it to school; kids who threaten other kids on the Internet; kids who threaten teachers. You name it, if they threatened to kill somebody or if it's school-related."

"It's very clear-cut: We look at every situation, whether or not a crime did occur. Every threat has to be considered credible until it can be assessed. That's the viewpoint we take. If a school district reports it, we'll go out and investigate it."

"We typically deal with kids, juveniles, and we're always trying to take the lowest level of (intervention). Try to work with the families, and avoid booking somebody in Juvenile Hall. If the person would benefit from just attending a diversion class where they receive counseling or anger management, we'll go that route. Try to work with the kid, with the family, and coming to the most appropriate level of intervention. It's extreme when somebody is booked."--Police Perspective, Orange County Register, 11/6/05

Now the two accused Tesoro High students have enlisted legal aid in order to protect their rights and because of the tremendous hoopla surrounding their plight.

Sam Smith’s family is said to be well-connected politically and socially in Orange County and Scott McKnight’s father is a Newport Beach Police detective. The two families hired Jeoffrey Robinson to help get their boys back on the field.

Robinson argued in court Friday that preventing the two boys from playing football would severely damage their future educational opportunities, especially for Scott McKnight, who is an all-county football player with several scholarship offers. Robinson argued that if Scott is not allowed to play football, he will lose those scholarship offers.—KCAL Ch 9 11/5/05

Even though a judge issued a temporary restraining order against the suspension, so the two could play in Saturday night’s game, the students chose not to play anyway:

Seniors Scott McKnight and Sam Smith have chosen not to play this week - California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section rules might have forced the Rancho Santa Margarita-area school to forfeit tonight's game if they had - but will begin practicing with the team to prepare for next week's game.

Capistrano Unified officials and the teachers union decried the ruling.

McKnight and Smith may rejoin the team with restrictions:

They are not allowed within 300 feet of school property and may not contact school staff other than coaches;

They are allowed to practice on school property but only if escorted through a supervised gate near the field;

They must leave playing and practice fields immediately after play concludes;

They are allowed in locker rooms only under personal supervision of a coach.--Sam Miller, Orange County Register, 11/5/05

From the teacher, to the principal, to the school administration and the school district leadership—all these people have made daily news for the media and a major local story out of what should have been a run of the mill disciplinary problem. Two boys used bad judgment and made a mistake, and now there is all hell to pay.

Some questions:

Coach Reed was threatened by a parent in front of witnesses, and the principal told him “it goes with the territory.”

Vicki Soderberg of the teacher’s union wrote to the district superintendent: …that she was concerned the students would be allowed to return to campus or rejoin the football team.

"If this occurs, CUEA would consider the safety and well-being of the teacher who was the recipient of the death threats to be in jeopardy. ... It would send a message to all students that there are no serious consequences to death threats," she wrote.--SAM MILLER, Orange County Register 11/3/05

Why isn’t coach Reed’s security and well-being as important as teacher Di Somma’s?

Why didn’t media explain more clearly that what the journals contained was never told to anyone outside the school administration, and that all the speculation about what they contained was hypothetical?

Why weren’t the students’ characters better emphasized by the press—they are “A” students with impeccable reputations?

Seems like a rush to judgment. And we haven’t touched on what prompted the teacher to call in the journals in the first place, or who might have let the teacher know there was reason to go back on her reported promise of confidentiality and ask to read them.

Post 9/11 America is full of paranoia. Your neighbors are afraid of you. Authorities from top to bottom, from the US Department of Homeland Security, to your local sheriff, have let you know that a terrorist attack is imminent, that the killer bird flu pandemic is on our doorstep, and that any immigrant to our shores could be at worst our sworn enemy, and at best a carrier of some exotic germ menace.

“Zero Tolerance” is the watchword-phrase. Never mind the glaring stupidity of announcing the “b” word in an airport—children are not allowed the “luxury” of making mistakes to learn from anymore without the possibility of removal from society: expulsion from school, time in juvenile detention facilities, or jail if they’re old enough. No more reprimands from the school administration and some sort of probation—you blow it and you’re out, regardless of your shining, blemish-free past history.

On the other hand, if you’re the school district, or for that matter, the President of the United States, you can make all the mistakes you want with impunity.

The horrendous international policy, or lack thereof, and continued bungling US military presence in Iraq, are obvious examples of unbridled, major errors.

The Capistrano Unified School District opts to build a $250 million administration building with a view, while students attend blue-ribbon schools in portable units due to lack of funds.

What New York Times reporter Judith Miller knew, and who she told, and Libby’s stonewalling resulting in obstruction-of-justice indictments, and how Bush and Cheney play into the whole scheme—all are starting to look a lot more clear-cut than the Tesoro High School Football debacle.

Meanwhile boys will be boys, and teachers will be…or as I told my teenage tall handsome son, even if your cute-if-slightly-overweight high school English teacher takes a liking to you, ignore her. Don’t fall for the flattery. Zero tolerance, you know.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Not in My Champs D'Elysee

Disconnected from their past in the Muslim world and a future in Europe, they've come to see themselves as citizens of nothing but "Neuf-Trois," 9-3, the postal code for the outer edges of Paris.—Dickey, Newsweek International, 11/06/05
What are the arson fires in France, especially in the Parisian suburbs, about? My good friend Christopher Dickey, Newsweek Bureau Chief in Paris and expert on terrorism and the Middle East, wrote two weeks ago about the immigration problems arising in Europe with the huge influx of African Muslims moving north to look for a better life:

Most experts agree that over the long term better development programs are needed in North Africa and among the sub-Saharan countries where these new immigrants originate. "We know exactly what it takes" says Steffen Angenendt of the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. But that would require opening up more EU markets to such countries, especially for agricultural products, and there's no strong support for such a move in Europe.-- Dickey, Newsweek International, 10/24/05

The fires are just the beginning. And this could be a portent of the future of the immigration conundrum in the US. The difference is that Latinos make up a major plurality of voters in the US, and without oversimplifying, this may offer an easier method of change than outright revolution.

In both cases of immigration issues—American and European—the solutions seem to be held up by the same reasons: fear and bigotry. Until those populations trying to maintain fences are willing to see humanity as one, and its members as brothers and sisters, the conflagration will continue to grow.

The American poet Robert Frost once wrote, famously, that good fences make good neighbors. But when the neighbors are as desperate as the Africans storming the concertina wire at Ceuta and Melilla, no fence is good enough.--Dickey, Newsweek International, 10/24/05

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

I Got Your Bird Flu Plan Right Here!

"There is no pandemic flu in our country, or in the world, at this time,"George W. Bush

The bird flu, though a potential large-scale danger, is not impending. An epidemic of overreaction by Marc Siegel, L.A. Times 10/11/05

President Bush outlined a $7.1 billion strategy Tuesday to prepare for the danger of a pandemic influenza outbreak, saying he wanted to stockpile enough vaccine to protect 20 million Americans against the current strain of bird flu as a first wave of protection.

The president also said the United States must approve liability
protection for the makers of lifesaving vaccines.--MSNBC 11/1/05

Some elements of Bush's plan, which would not begin until 2010, are
expected to be controversial.For example, it would protect vaccine manufacturers from liability lawsuits but offer no compensation for individuals who suffered serious reactions to a vaccine.--L.A. Times 11/2/05

$7.1 Billion with no product liability—special interest political contributions, and in this case, the ultra-powerful pharmaceutical lobby in Wasington, pays off big time. Imagine G.M. making a car with no manufacturer liability? You’d have the entire top floor of headquarters in Detroit drenched in pants-pee. Yet that’s just what government, in this case the Bush tyranny, always proposes for the poor downtrodden drug-makers (I jest), in order to give them incentive to produce these ineffective and possibly harmful products for a fear-mongered public. In fact, this is nothing but a cash cow bought and paid for by that very taxpaying public, for those very profit-rich, and getting richer, drug companies.

"It's like predicting the Big One in California," said Dr. Arnold S. Monto, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan and a former president of the American Epidemiological Society. "We are overdue for another pandemic. But we don't know when it will hit."…

…Monto said genetic changes that made the virus easily transmissible could just as easily decrease its virulence."If it was easy for this to happen, it would have happened already," Monto said.He estimated the chances of an H5N1 pandemic at no more than 5%.—A Flu Pandemic is Expected to Happen Sooner or Later by Charles Pillar, L.A. Times 11/2/05

Speaking for the American Constitution Society on Sunday, November 9, 2003, Former Vice President Al Gore charged President George W. Bush's administration with a determination to "use fear as a political tool to consolidate its power and to escape any accountability for its use." [emphasis added]—