Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Fabulous Matt Taibbi Explains to Jon Stewart Why No One Was Jailed For The Financial Crisis

Mark Taibbi talks to Jon Stewart

A 15-Year-Old Justice Department Memo Explains Why No One Was Jailed For The Financial Crisis
Rajiv Narayan

Wait until you get to that story where Matt Taibbi talks to a U.S. prosecutor over jailing folks responsible for stealing billions. My mouth is still agape.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Susan Luzzaro refuses to apologize for lapses in journalistic ethics; reveals that her daughter is on the CVE bargaining team

San Diego Reader reporter Susan Luzzaro seems to
have turned her back on journalistic ethics

See all posts re Common Core in SDER blog.

When I called out San Diego Reader reporter Susan Luzzaro on April 15, 2014 for her biased reporting about Common Core testing in Chula Vista Elementary School District, I thought that she had compromised her journalistic ethics. It turns out, I didn't know the half of it.

I was shocked to read the following in an April 19, 2014 article by Ms. Luzzaro:

"...Chula Vista Elementary’s public relations officer, Anthony Millican, followed up by intimating it was unethical for me, as an author, not to have disclosed in the April 10 testing article that my daughter is a member of the Chula Vista Educator’s bargaining team. Millican also stated in an April 18 email, “You should have got our side of the issue in the first place”...(emphasis added).

Say what??? Susan Luzzaro's daughter is a member of the CVE (Chula Vista Educators) bargaining team?!?

I had no idea! What is going on, Susan Luzzaro??? How could you have concealed that information from your readers when you were attacking CVESD?

(I checked the latest "bargaining update" on the CVESD website, and found that Vanessa Luzzaro-Braito, who seems to have suddenly changed her name to Vanessa Braito, is listed as a member of the CVE team. I'm going to make a wild guess that the reason for the name change is to conceal the fact that she is Susan Luzzaro's daughter. While I'm at it, I think I'll make another wild guess: I bet Vanessa Luzzaro-Braito does not like Common Core. Do I have any takers on that bet?)


I notice that Ms. Luzzaro expresses no remorse about her ethical lapse. Instead, she seems to be offended that Mr. Millican would "intimate" that her behavior was unethical. Ms. Luzzaro seems to believe that it's okay for her to behave as she does, but it's not okay for others to talk about it.

If she really believes that there's nothing wrong with her actions, then why is she upset that people are discussing them?

Ms. Luzzaro's attitude, and certainly the attitude of the San Diego Reader, seems to be expressed in the contemptuous headline of Susan's latest story: "Hey, Chula Vista Elementary School District, test this".


Ms. Luzzzaro has made no effort as of April 22, 2014 to balance the reporting in her April 10, 2014 story, "Standardized tests shunned by South Bay parents." After reading the story, one might be forgiven for believing that ALL parents at CVESD oppose the testing. Ms. Luzzaro does not appear to have made any effort to talk to parents who approve of Common Core and the associated testing.


Susan Luzzaro is clearly trying to shift responsibility away from teachers who are having problems teaching basic concepts as required by Common Core. These teachers want to go back to methods that rely largely on rote memorization. See "Teachers who don't know how to teach are complaining about Common Core in Chula Vista Elementary School District."

Photo published by Reader on April 19, 2014.

Instead of retracting the false implication in her April 10, 2014
story that kids may be held back if they do poorly on a standardized
test, Ms. Luzzaro and the Reader reinforce the false impression with
a photo of a child being hoisted up by her mother, holding a sign that
says, “I am not a test score.” The photo dishonestly implies that the
district will change its treatment of the child based on a test score.
Shame on Susan Luzzaro and the Reader—and the parent who created that sign!


All this is causing me to wonder if Dorian Hargrove's "mistake" in this story about Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz v. Larkins was really a mistake. In his story about me, Mr. Hargrove said that I had written a statement about Stutz law firm that was, in fact, written by an anonymous commenter on my blog. I let Mr. Hargrove know about the error right away. When I asked him to correct it, he refused to do so, saying, "It happens."

At the San Diego Reader, such happenings are apparently not considered grounds for an apology or retraction.

NOTE #1:

I will be presenting my oral arguments in Stutz v. Larkins in the Court of Appeal on May 16, 2014 at 9 a.m.. I won in August 2011 in this separate appeal in this same case. This bizarre free speech case has dragged on for over six years. Click HERE to see all posts regarding this lawsuit.

NOTE #2:

I have severely criticized CVESD on numerous occasions, but I support Core and the associated testing because it is in the best interest of students.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Hoax story claiming 'Marijuana overdoses kill 37 in Colorado' fools some -- not all; story spoofed 1st day of legal pot sales in Colo.

Hoax story claiming 'Marijuana overdoses kill 37 in Colorado' fools some -- not all
Story spoofed 1st day of legal pot sales in Colo.
Alan Gathright
Jan 3, 2014

DENVER - A satirical website fooled some people with its hoax story headlined: "Marijuana Overdoses Kill 37 in Colorado On First Day of Legalization January 2nd, 2014."

"Colorado is reconsidering its decision to legalize recreational pot following the deaths of dozens due to marijuana overdoses," read the spoof story by, which attributed the death toll to the Rocky Mountain News, the Denver daily newspaper that closed in 2009.

The Daily Current website's "About" section states: "Our stories are purely fictional. However they are meant to address real-world issues through satire and often refer and link to real events happening in the world."

The story quoted a fake "Dr. Jack Shepard," claiming he was "chief of surgery at St. Luke's Medical Center in Denver."

"It's complete chaos here," the fake doctor ranted. "I've put five college students in body bags since breakfast and more are arriving every minute."

"We are seeing cardiac arrests, hypospadias, acquired trimethylaminuria and multiple organ failures," the doctor raved. "By next week the death toll could go as high as 200, maybe 300. Someone needs to step in and stop this madness. My god, why did we legalize marijuana? What were we thinking?"

"Dr. Jack Shepard" was a character on the TV show "Lost." The spoof story forced the real Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center to issue a news release clarifying that "there is no such doctor as 'Jack Shepard' on our medical staff and that there have been no deaths due to marijuana at our hospital. The article is a completely fabricated work of fiction created by 'The Daily Currant.'"

In case you're curious about the medical conditions cited by the fictional doctor: "Hypospadias" is a birth defect affecting the penis; "Trimethylaminuria" is a genetic disease formerly known as "Fish Odor Syndrome," because it is causes an offensive body odor that some compare to the "smell of rotting fish," according to

The bogus story also tweaked the goal of Amendment 64, the ballot measure passed by Colorado voters in 2012, that recreational marijuana possession and sales should be legalized "regulated like alcohol and heavily taxed."

"One of the principal arguments of legalization advocates was that cannabis has long been considered safer than alcohol and tobacco and was not thought not to cause overdose. But a brave minority tried to warn Coloradans of the drug's dangers," the story said.

Another fake Daily Current quote: "We told everyone this would happen," says Peter Swindon, President and CEO of local brewer MolsonCoors, "Marijuana is a deadly hardcore drug that causes addiction and destroys lives."

"When was the last time you heard of someone overdosing on beer? All these pro-marijuana groups should be ashamed of themselves. The victims' blood is on their hands," the fictional beer company executive declared.

The real President and Chief Executive Officer of Molson Coors Brewing Company is Peter Swinburn.

Many people clearly got the joke, but some people on social media were fooled.

One stunned man said in a YouTube video commentary: "This story just blows me away. Thirty-seven people died in Colorado on New Year's Day when marijuana was legalized…Doctors say they expect hundreds more imminent deaths. This is more deaths than an average day in Iraq and the Afghanistan wars combined."

The man later posted on his YouTube account: "This story ended up being a hoax! I got sucked in by a 'news article' published in The Daily Currant, a satirical web site that falsely quoted The Rocky Mountain News as its reference source about the (fictitious) 37 deaths from marijuana drug overdoses."...

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The San Diego Reader's Jim Holman compares abortion to the Holocaust, pays big money to manipulate voters

See below for link to Jim Buchy video.

Jim Holman thinks that he and his fellow right-wingers have a right to control women's bodies--rather than allowing women to control their own bodies--because...the Holocaust. Does he seriously not understand the concept of keeping your hands off other people's bodies?

The Holocaust is indeed a case of people interfering with other people's bodies, but the analogy fits Mr. Holman's efforts better than it fits a woman making decisions about her own body. Why? Because it involves GOVERNMENT action against a massive number of individuals who belong to a specific group. Of course, Mr. Holman does not demand that women be placed in concentration camps. He just wants the them to be locked out of the doctor's office so he can make sure that they remain pregnant.

So should we have laws giving women control over men's bodies? We might have less crime. But our concept of the rights of human beings does not allow our government to control men's bodies--or women's.

Mr. Holman, why don't you let God interfere with women's bodies if he wishes to do so? Why don't you settle back and accept that God decided to give women, rather than you, control over fetuses? In fact, abortions have been decreasing dramatically in recent years. What exactly can you hope to accomplish? It seems that control over women, not preserving human life, is your real objective.

See all Jim Holman posts.

Nefarious claims
By Aaryn Belfer
City Beat
Feb 17, 2009

“At JP Catholic we have an event called On Mission. The night consists of a guest speaker speaking about living out your Catholic faith in business or media, and after that there is confession and Eucharistic Adoration.”

So begins a Feb. 9 student blog post on the website of the unaccredited John Paul the Great Catholic University located in Scripps Ranch. Now, maybe you’re snickering about the “speaker speaking.” Or perhaps the mention of “Eucharistic Adoration” gives you a mysterious hankering for a Carr’s Water Cracker followed by a session of heavy petting.

But what’s notable in the post is not the redundancy in an opening paragraph by a kid who needs the guidance of a publicly validated learning institution. Nor is it a sudden, overwhelming hunger for crudités and kink. Rather, it’s the who who spoke, and what he said.

“Recently at JP Catholic,” the blogger continues, “Jim Holman, founder and editor of The San Diego Reader and a pro-life supporter, recently spoke to the students about the recent election cycle and Proposition 4 in California.” I think it’s fair to say our author effectively established that the speaking happened recently.

“He made an interesting comparison that rocked my world,” the blogger wrote of Holman, whose speech centered on his beloved-yet-failed parental-notification initiative last November. The conspicuous overlord of the gay-loathing, right-leaning, dressed-up-in-alt-weekly-clothing publication best used as an Ambien substitute—since it’s both sleep-inducing and non-addictive—inspired this student to “stand up vocally” on behalf of the unborn, by comparing abortion with the Holocaust.

...Thanks to JP Catholic and its speaking speakers, we can be assured of a whole bunch of mini-Holmans flooding the business and media industries in the near future with their right-wing extremism, average writing skills and susceptibility to snow jobs.

Abortion notification backers not giving up
By Bill Ainsworth
April 14, 2008

SACRAMENTO – Jim Holman, owner of the San Diego Reader, has spent millions trying to persuade Californians to pass a law requiring parents to be notified before their underage daughter has an abortion.

After two failed ballot measure campaigns, Holman said last year that he didn't want to try again.

But when other anti-abortion advocates, including winemaker Don Sebastiani, launched a third campaign, Holman couldn't resist opening up his checkbook once again.

“Sebastiani was not deterred. He said, 'We have to go back again and again,' ” Holman said. “He led with big donations and I sort of followed.”

The result could make California political history.

The $1.8 million donated by Holman and Sebastiani so far is likely to put a parental-notification initiative before voters for the third time in four years. The measure would require a physician to notify a parent or guardian 48 hours before performing an abortion for a girl under the age of 18.

If the measure qualifies, it would be the first time since the California initiative process was established in 1914 that the state's voters will consider the same measure so many times in a four-year period.

Opponents predict another defeat for Holman, who has spent a considerable personal fortune on the three measures, about $4.6 million so far...

“Never in the history of California has one person manipulated 36 million people through his electoral hoops based solely on the extremism of his ideology and the balance of his checkbook,” said Vince Hall, spokesman for Planned Parenthood of San Diego and Riverside counties.

Holman has spent about twice as much as Sebastiani on the ballot measures, but both wrote big checks to qualify nearly identical measures rejected by voters in 2005 and 2006.

“They don't give up easily,” said Katie Short, a spokeswoman for the ballot measure...

“I'm a dad with daughters,” said Holman, 61. “But beyond my personal situation I see it as a great horror that young girls under 18 can be whisked away to hide an abortion.”

Holman, who is a devout Catholic with seven children, said he has stayed active because he believes he can fill a gap. He charged that others, including Catholic bishops, are too afraid.

“The bishops of California are cowards,” he said.

In the past, Holman hasn't talked about the issue publicly, instead preferring to remain behind the scenes. Last week, he agreed to a rare interview.

Holman compared his efforts to the persistence shown by civil rights advocates, who eventually succeeded in eliminating discriminatory laws.

The current campaign, which is based at the San Diego Reader offices on India Street in Little Italy, expects to turn in the 694,000 valid signatures needed to place it on the November ballot...

The new initiative also provides another option. Girls who say they are victims of parental abuse can tell a physician to notify another adult relative who is at least 21 years old, including a grandparent, aunt, uncle or sibling. Existing law requires health practitioners to report known or suspected child abuse to authorities.

To bypass a parent under the initiative, the girl has to accuse a parent of abusing her in the past and sign a written statement saying she fears physical, sexual or severe emotional abuse in the future. Her statement then would go to the adult relative who is being notified about the abortion.

“We're modifying the law to respond to Californians who were concerned about abusive parents,” Short said. “It's a progressive law for a progressive state.”

Planned Parenthood's Hall said the new provision changes nothing.

“It's a deceiving, phony solution,” he said.

Hall said the provision would require a girl to level an accusation against a parent under a penalty of perjury. Hall believes that this provision would intimidate the most vulnerable girls.

“Anything that puts a barrier between pregnant teenagers and health care is a dangerous public policy,” he said...

Campaign spokeswoman Short, who has nine children and is counsel to the Legal Life Defense Foundation, acknowledges that the measure is promoted by those who favor outlawing abortion...

Holman said that backers of the measure are motivated by their beliefs, while opponents are promoting their financial interests. He has been arrested demonstrating in front of San Diego's Planned Parenthood clinic and was honored for his anti-abortion activism by the San Francisco-based Ignatius Press.

“I don't have an economic interest in this and neither does Don Sebastiani,” Holman said. “Planned Parenthood does because they perform abortions and they make a lot of money.”

Hall disputed that, saying Planned Parenthood is a nonprofit organization that serves clients at low or no cost, depending on the woman's ability to pay...

Holman and others first backed this issue in the special election of 2005, but Proposition 73 was rejected, 53 percent to 47 percent.

In November 2006, the next parental-notification measure, Proposition 85, fared worse, with 54 percent against and 46 percent in favor.

Tony Quinn, co-editor of the California Target Book, which analyzes state politics, said the vote in favor of parental notification declined in 2006 because Republicans made up a lower percentage of the electorate...

Rep. Jim Buchy

(video) A Dude Trying To Ban Abortions Is Asked A Question He Never Considered. It's So Obvious It Hurts.
Rajiv Narayan

So, Rep. [Jim]]Buchy [R-OH], here's some realtalk: You don't need to be a woman to know why women seek abortions. And even if you did, maybe you shouldn't use the power of public office to legislate against things you admit you don't understand.

Rachel Maddow: Al Jazeera English just made a really good documentary in which they interviewed a state legislator from Ohio. This guy is a co-sponsor of a bill in Ohio to dramatically roll back the time in which a woman is allowed to have an abortion in that state. So he gets interviewed by Al Jazeera and he tells Al Jazeera in the interview that what he really wants is for there to be no legal abortion at all in Ohio except to save a woman's life. Then, this is the important part, watch what happens next. Watch what happens after he says that with the follow-up question here from the reporter. This is kind of amazing, watch:

Reporter: What do you think makes a woman want to have an abortion?

State Rep. Jim Buchy: Well, there's probably a lot of... I'm not a woman, so I... I'm thinking, if I'm a woman, why would I want to get a... Some of it has to do with economics. A lot of it has to do with economics. I don't know, it's a question I've never even thought about.

Rachel Maddow: Why would a woman want an abortion? "I've never thought about it" says the man who is doing his best to ban abortion in Ohio. Amazing moment from that new Al Jazeera documentary. It's called "The Abortion War", you can watch it on their website. We've posted a link to that at MaddowBlog if you want to see it. I highly recommend it.

Chelsea Clinton and her husband, Marc Mezvinsky, are expecting their first child
CREDIT: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

Why Chelsea Clinton’s Pregnancy Is So Baffling To Abortion Opponents
By Tara Culp-Ressler
Think Progress
April 21, 2014

Last week, the news that Chelsea Clinton is expecting her first child inspired its fair share of headlines — even fueling suggestions that it was somehow carefully timed to benefit her mother’s potential presidential run. The announcement also made the rounds in the right-wing blogosphere, inspiring several op-eds attempting to highlight the apparent contrast between the Clintons’ stance on reproductive rights and their daughter’s decision to have a child.

Abortion opponents expressed confusion that the Clintons would refer to Chelsea’s unborn child as a “baby” and not a “fetus,” suggesting that’s wholly incompatible with their support for legal abortion. “When it’s their own grandchild, it appears the Clintons see things differently, with their words most definitely betraying their true feelings on the matter. No talk of a non-person fetus, only of a child,” a Christian Post editorial noted, declaring that the Clintons must actually believe that life begins at conception.

The insinuation, of course, is that the people who support abortion rights must always opt for abortion over pregnancy. But that’s an incredibly black-and-white view of reproductive rights that doesn’t actually reflect the reality of Americans’ experiences — including the women who have chosen to end a pregnancy at some point in their lives.

Although the issue of reproductive rights typically separates people into two camps, either “pro-life” or “pro-choice,” there’s increasing evidence that those labels don’t accurately capture Americans’ complex relationships to abortion. Many people identify as both, and say their attitude about the procedure depends on the situation. Some people who tell pollsters they’re “pro-life” don’t actually support overturning Roe v. Wade. It’s possible to believe you are carrying a baby and choose to end the pregnancy anyway. Many times, personal experiences with abortion fall into what’s known as a “grey area” between the two political camps.

Furthermore, the idea that “pro-choice” women never want to give birth is demonstrably false. About 61 percent of women who choose to have an abortion have already given birth to at least one child. It doesn’t make sense to construe the women who support abortion rights as being anti-family or anti-pregnancy. But the fact that most women who have abortions are parents simply doesn’t fit into the anti-choice community’s narrative, which relies on the assumption that the women who seek out this procedure don’t value children.

In a society that understands women are capable of making complicated moral choices, there’s nothing unusual about Chelsea Clinton or any other “pro-choice” women who decides she wants to parent. Simultaneously, there’s nothing unusual about another woman who decides to end a pregnancy because she can’t currently financially support another child. But as demonstrated by the barrage of state-level restrictions attempting to legislate women’s bodies, not everyone lives in that world yet.

This isn’t news to reproductive rights supporters, who are well aware of the fact that Americans often have huge misconceptions about abortion and the women who choose it. That’s largely because of a persistent stigma surrounding the procedure that makes women feel like they’re not allowed to talk about it. In order to change the narrative — which could eventually help lead to a policy shift in this area — advocates are attempting to create more safe spaces for women to be “open” about their wide range of experiences.

Advocates are also challenging the fundamental misconception that reproductive rights begin and end at abortion. Lawmakers are increasingly calling for a range of pro-woman policies to support people at every stage in their lives, including when they may want to have a child — comprehensive packages that include maternity care, pay equity, and the preservation of abortion access. But the anti-choice community often doesn’t take such a holistic view.

Apparently, We Need To Remind People That Pro-Choice Women Are Allowed To Have Babies
The Huffington Post
by Samantha Lachman
v Chelsea Clinton is pregnant, and some anti-abortion activists responded to the news Thursday by showing they don't understand what being "pro-choice" means: being able to choose to have a baby, or not.

Clinton, the daughter of former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said she and her husband, Marc Mezvinsky, are expecting their first child "later this year." LifeNews didn't seem to understand Thursday how a woman who supports a person's decision to not have children could be excited about her pregnancy:

Abortion supporter Chelsea Clinton announced today that she’s pregnant — not with a fetus or clump of cells but with a “child.”

This is the same Chelsea Clinton who lamented last year that her grandmother didn’t have access to Planned Parenthood.

Jim Holman apparently settled lawsuit filed by three female sales reps alleging a 'boys club' at San Diego Reader

Jim Holman, publisher of SD Reader
See all Jim Holman posts.

San Diego Reader owner Jim Holman did not file any response to this lawsuit filed by three female employees. Since the plaintiffs asked the court to dismiss the suit, it would appear that Jim Holman reached a settlement with them. The employees were represented by Sean Simpson.

Former employees accuse San Diego Reader of gender discrimination
Lawsuit filed by three female sales reps alleges a 'boys club' at alt-weekly
By Dave Maass
City Beat
Nov 08, 2011

Three former sales representatives for the San Diego Reader filed a lawsuit against the alt-weekly in October, alleging gender discrimination, sexual harassment and wrongful termination.

The suit, filed by Kelly Bonelli, Amy McKibben and Beth Wexler (who have a combined 78-year work history with the Reader), alleges that publisher Jim Holman is responsible for allowing preferential treatment for men in the workplace, which intensified with the hiring of sales manager John-Paul Franklin in 2008.

"Plaintiffs' efforts to succeed within the company were frustrated by a 'boys club' that created a corporate culture in which the overriding environment was such that men were seen as superior and were given unfair advantages such as preferred leads and 'head starts' on new sales promotions," the suit claims.

Wexler, who worked for the Reader for more than 30 years, says she was "constructively terminated" (i.e. felt compelled to resign after conditions were made intolerable) in August 2009. McKibben, a 16-year employee, was fired in March 2011, as was Bonelli, a 26-year employee, who was terminated while on disability leave for "work-related stress."

The women obtained a right-to-sue letter from the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing on Oct. 4, 2011. They allege that the Reader did not have a Human Resources department capable of handling discrimination or harassment complaints.

"For many years, women seemed to be tolerated, but not equal to men," the lawsuit states. "The environment became noticeably worse in 2008 when JP Franklin became the manger [sic] of the sales department.... Franklin has and displayed a very 'bullying' style of management, and it is ostensibly directed more toward women than men."

As examples, the plaintiffs say that Franklin would regularly engage in casual conversations with male staff, but abruptly stopped whenever a woman tried to join in. He "frequently" went to lunch with male employees, but rarely included female workers. Franklin is currently listed on the Reader masthead as "general manager."

Franklin's alleged conduct included, "telling women sales is a 'man's world,' withholding new sales promotions from women until after a man or men had been able to sell the new offer to one of their clients, and displaying favoritism toward men when re-assigning accounts."

Inquiries were sent to the Reader and California Catholic Daily, another publication operated by Holman. This post will be updated when we receive a response.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Chula Vista Star-News does a much better job than the San Diego Reader at covering Common Core

I was intrigued by the difference between the San Diego Reader and the Chula Vista Star-News in reporting the implementation of Common Core standards in Chula Vista schools. Star-News Reporter Robert Moreno provided a much more balanced view of the issue than did the Reader's Susan Luzzaro.

Kristin Phatek
Has Ms. Phatek wondered whether there might be a better
solution to her children's problem than getting rid of Common Core?

See all posts re Common Core from CVESD Reporter blog.

UPDATE April 24, 2014:

Anthony Millican reports that 21 children out of 22,000 in grades 3-10 have opted out of field testing of the Smarter Balanced Assessment in Chula Vista Elementary School District. Surprised? Susan Luzzaro made it sound like there were droves of angry parents protesting the test, didn't she?

Mr. Millican provided the following information:

Can students opt out of the District’s Local Measure assessments?

Parents can request that a student opt out of state-mandated assessments, such as the STAR in the past and now CAASPP (which includes the Smarter Balanced Assessment). However, parents cannot opt out their child from school and District assessments. These assessments provide important information necessary to communicate to parents about student progress through report cards. Opting out of school and district assessments would be like refusing to take a spelling quiz or refusing to turn in homework. Evidence of student performance in these areas is necessary in any educational program.

The Chula Vista Elementary School District has administered Local Measure assessments since the year 2000. The Local Measure assessments differ from state assessments, but they are administered concurrently. Our teachers regularly assess for learning all the time through quizzes, benchmark assessments, and summative assessments to measure student progress. Parents expect that.

How many parents have opted out their student from the new online state tests?

Very few. Salt Creek Elementary has had the highest number of parent opt-out requests. There are 631 students in grades 3-6 at Salt Creek who are taking the Smarter Balanced Assessment and there have been 7 parent requests for opting out a total of 9 children from the field test of the Smarter Balanced assessment. This represents only .0014 percent of the student population. Furthermore, some of those parents have stated that their concern was only for the field test and that they were in support of the operational Smarter Balanced Assessment to begin next year. Districtwide, of 22,000 students in grades 3-10, parents of only 21 students have requested to opt out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment, or .00095 of the student population.

The reality is that the overwhelming majority of parents want to know how their students are doing academically. The transition of our Local Measure assessments from the 1997 California Content Standards to the new Common Core State Standards reflects our District's commitment to ensure every student meets or exceeds the goal of being college and career ready.

UPDATE April 15, 2014:

I just spoke to Anthony Millican at CVESD, and he tells me that it is not at all true that if a student "failed the test he wouldn’t get promoted to the next grade." I hope that Susan Luzzaro at the Reader will publish this fact, since her article offers no contradiction to this quote in its first paragraph.

Mr. Millican notes that many teachers are delighted with Common Core. I'll bet the students of those teachers are also delighted. Why didn't Ms. Luzzaro quote any of them?


I'm sure that there are many classrooms in Chula Vista Elementary School District where confident, competent teachers--and their students--are completely relaxed about upcoming standardized tests. In fact, those kids probably think that taking tests is fun.

But what about the teachers who simply don't know how to teach well? They are having hissy fits, and pointing the finger at Common Core Standards. There is nothing at all wrong with Common Core Standards. It's just that many teachers don't grasp the concept of a basic concept. That's what Common Core is all about: basic concepts.

Historically, a large percentage of teachers have taught mostly by rote, without teaching kids how to think. Also, there are some pretty good teachers who simply don't like to go into depth when teaching a subject. They like to teach a concept and then move on. This method is NOT used in countries with highly successful education systems.

These two types of teachers are intentionally upsetting children so that parents will come in and complain about Common Core instead of complaining about the teacher.

Why isn't this parent asking why 70% of kids don't understand basic facts? Has she not been paying attention for the past decades as student performance has gone down? Does she know during those decades fewer and fewer teachers have come from top colleges? The average teacher these days is simply not up to the job. As teachers have become weaker, the job itself has become harder.

So why doesn't the district simply teach the teachers how to teach? Perhaps you think that the district is run by brilliant minds? Administrators tend to be people who were very immersed in teacher culture and school politics when they were teachers. They played the game. They followed the right people. Don't expect them to have a particularly good understanding of the educational process, and don't expect them to know how to teach teachers.

Has Ms. Phatek wondered whether there might be a better solution to her children's problem than getting rid of Common Core?

Perhaps she might consider this solution to the problem: Here's how every child can have an excellent teacher--without firing or laying-off any teachers!

San Diego County parents should have access, as do parents in Los Angeles, to information showing how much the students in each classroom are learning each year, as measured by year-by-year changes on standardized test scores. The Los Angeles Times published these "value-added" scores for each teacher. Why doesn't any San Diego news source publish our information?

Amazingly, it was revealed that students of the most admired and highly-regarded teachers frequently showed remarkably little improvement. You can always find teachers and parents who think they know who the best teachers are, but it turns out they're often completely wrong.

Of course, test scores are only a clue, not a final determination, as to whether a teacher is doing a good job. Proper evaluation would consist of regular observations, interviews and test scores of both students and teachers. In the current system, most principals have very little knowledge about what most of their teachers are doing in the classroom. Often, years go by without a principal spending more than a few moments in a teacher's classroom. And in my 27 years teaching in CVESD, not once did any principal ever sit down and talk to me about my thinking about how to educate children.

If teacher performance were evaluated effectively, there would be an added bonus: administrators could be chosen from among the best teachers.

But the district administration isn't the only problem. There's also the teachers union. The one thing you can count on the California Teachers Association to do is to protect incompetent teachers. The parent in the article below who claims that Common Core is "advancing an agenda that I believe is geared toward privatizing all education" is doing what the teachers union calls "staying on message". She certainly sounds like she was coached.

The test isn't creating a problem, it's exposing a problem that has existed for years.

Standardized tests shunned by South Bay parents

“My son had been experiencing headaches”
By Susan Luzzaro
San Diego Reader
April 10, 2014

One night last year, Gretel Rodriguez was playing the word game Hangman with her son who attends HedenKamp Elementary in the Chula Vista Elementary School District. He chose an unusual word. When Rodriguez asked him why, her son said he was learning it for the California State Test. Then he said he was nervous — worried that if he failed the test he wouldn’t get promoted to the next grade.

Rodriguez said in an April 7 interview, “My son had been experiencing headaches, then when he told me his worries, I made up my mind to opt him out of any standardized exams.

[Maura Larkins' comment: Why didn't Rodriquez ask the school district if test results might be used to hold a child back? Did she ever consider helping her child to get the problem into perspective? Does she normally try to teach coping skills to her child? Does she teach her child to search out the facts before dissolving in fear? I suspect that the teacher might have been manipulating his or her students emotionally instead of dealing with his or her own fears about test results. Was the teacher really afraid of what might happen to himself (or herself)?

Also, I'm wondering why the reporter who wrote this piece, Susan Luzzaro, fails to tell us if this child's fear is based on reality. Why doesn't Ms. Luzzaro report on this important question? Luzzaro's entire article seems to be based on the belief that the district actually flunks kids who do poorly on the test.]

Rodriguez is one of many parents, locally and nationally, who are choosing to opt their children out of testing.

“By opting my son out of standardized tests I’ve also ensured he doesn’t have to take the SBAC [Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium] test this year as well,” Rodriguez continued.

In 2012, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium was one of two companies that split a $330 million Department of Education grant to develop a computer-based test aligned with Common Core Standards.

In 2014, students will be taking a Smarter Balanced field test, or a test to test the test — based on Common Core Standards. The test will be administered to California students between March and June.

Rodriguez has another son who is a special-education student in the Sweetwater Union High School District. At first he told his mother that he wanted to continue taking the standardized tests and Rodriguez agreed.

Recently he changed his mind and asked his mom to opt him out. Rodriguez said she was happy about his decision because the new Common Core test has no modifications for special-education students or English-language learners.

The Phataks have three children in public schools. Two of them go to Salt Creek Elementary in the Chula Vista Elementary School District; their older son attends Eastlake Middle School in the Sweetwater district.

When asked which tests she was going to opt her children out of, Kristin Phatak answered, “All of them.”

Phatak believes that “tests designed by publishing companies are not a good measure of my children’s progress. They also encourage teaching to the test.”

Regarding the Smarter Balance test aligned with Common Core, Phatak stated, “I firmly believe that test is being designed to fail the children, and in turn fail the teachers and the schools. It’s an attack on public education.”

When asked why she believes the test is designed to fail, Phatak resonded, “When you start looking at the money behind new Common Core Standards and the Smarter Balance testing, you begin to question both of them. Venture philanthropists, like the Gates Foundation, have poured millions into advancing an agenda that I believe is geared toward privatizing all education.

[Maura Larkins' comment: The Gates Foundation? Phatek sounds pretty paranoid to me. Why wouldn't Bill Gates simply be trying to do for education the same thing he does for health--giving away huge amounts of money in an effort to make life better for people around the globe? Or perhaps Phatek has simply been influenced by teachers who don't want to improve their performance.] "In states like Kentucky, where the Smarter Balanced Consortium test has already been used, the student failure rate was 70 percent. New York also had disastrous results with their Common Core exam. The push is to tie test scores to teacher evaluations. You can’t fail the teachers unless you fail the kids.”

Phatak encourages “parents who wish to be in tune with their childrens’ education to go to the Smarter Balance website and take the pilot test that corresponds to their child’s grade level.”

Phatak said she began talking to other moms about opting out last year. She is “shocked” because so many are coming up to her this year and telling her they are opting out.

Phatak is in contact with parents across the United States through her Facebook page, though she is not a member of a national opt-out organization.

“There are no consequences for refusing to take the tests,” Phatak said. “They [districts] cannot hold a child back.”

Opting out is not new to San Diego. In 2002, the Wall Street Journal carried a report on 212 Rancho Bernardo students who refused to take standardized tests. Rancho Bernardo parents expressed reasons similar to Chula Vista parents. They felt there was “no personal incentive for their children to labor over tests that aren’t included on school transcripts or are required for high school graduation.”

I was intrigued by the difference between the San Diego Reader (above story) and the Chula Vista Star-News (story below) in reporting this issue. Reporter Robert Moreno provided a much more balanced view of the issue than did Susan Luzzaro.

Common Core receives mixed reviews
Robert Moreno
Chula Vista Star-News
Sep 28 2013

California's newest testing method is getting high praise by education officials in the South Bay, but some parents in the area’s school districts are giving the new testing measure an F.

The Golden State signed on for the model on Aug. 2, 2010, with full implementation this school year. Forty-five states — including California — use the Common Core method of testing.

John Nelson III, E.d.D, assistant superintendent of the Chula Vista Elementary School District, said the new testing model places higher standards on students than the STAR testing did.

“We (the district) believe that these new Common Core standards reflect the academic need of all students to be successful,” he said. “We know that the old standards, we’ve learned a lot of good lessons from them; however, when it came to being college- and career-ready, the standards fell short.”

Nelson said under the STAR testing standards, students entering college were not prepared and as a result, dropout rates at the university continues to be high.

Common Core tests students from K-12 in math, English, science and social science. The tests and curriculum are based more on the use of critical thinking skills than memorization.

While the elementary school district approves the new testing measures, some parents are not getting with the Common Core program.

Kristin Phatak has a son in the Chula Vista Elementary School District and another in the Sweetwater Union High School District. She is opposed to the Common Core because she said it is “dumbing down” the education standards.

[Maura Larkins' comment: How does Kristin Phatek come up with this stuff? I'm guessing that she like the old rote-memory method of teaching that left students unprepared for college. Kids were left with very little understanding of basic concepts, and a whole lot of memorization that tended to be forgotten. I agree with John Nelson that the new concept-based instruction is better for kids.]

“California and Massachusetts were known in the nation as having some of the highest standards in the United States,” she said. “They did not use California or Massachusetts standards to rate these standards, they actually lowered the standards, and so by California signing on to these standards, we have in effect lowered our standards.”

Nelson said the Common Core is not dumbing down education standards, but rather deepening the understanding of learning. He said it is more critical thinking-based than the STAR testing.

Phatak claims that the Common Core puts local school districts in violation of the Williams Settlement Act.

The class action lawsuit was filed in 2000 and argued agencies failed to provide public school students with equal access to instructional materials, safe and decent school facilities and qualified teachers. As a result of this, for every student in a classroom, the school must make available one textbook for each student.

Phatak said because there are no textbooks available for the Common Core, teachers are struggling to come up with their own curriculum with Common Core methods.

[Maura Larkins' comment: What is this woman talking about? You can use ANY textbook to teach Common Core. But teachers who rely on textbooks to guide every step of instruction are simply failing to understand how to teach basic concepts. For one thing, the teacher should be guided by what her students know, and how well they are learning. The teacher's instruction should largely be coming from the teacher's brain rather than a textbook, and should be using his or her own words. The teacher should be making heavy use of the white board and a marker--and should be putting manipulatives in students' hands.

“What’s happening now is that the publishers have not come out with the textbooks for Common Core, yet the Chula Vista Elementary School District and the Sweetwater School District have decided to go ahead and implement it,” she said.

Nelson said the Common Core is not solely dependent on textbooks.

[Maura Larkins' comment: Hear, hear!]

“There’s been a lot of misunderstanding in the community, Common Core is not about the curriculum, it’s about how we teach,” he said. “Literature is literature. Now we did achieve use of more complex literature but Common Core is about changing the instructional practice of teachers.”

Monica Cervantes is another parent who is against the Common Core. She has a child attending Tiffany Elementary School in Chula Vista. She said the elementary school district adopted the model without conducting research to see if it will actually work.

“I think before you implement any type of curriculum, you have to make sure it works,” she said. “If you go back and look where it was implemented first there is a lot of downfall with this.”

California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson recently announced that the Sweetwater Union High School District is receiving more than $8 million in state funding with the transition to the new testing model.

Manny Rubio, director of grants and communications with the Sweetwater Union High School District, said a portion of that money could be spent on new textbooks used in preparation for the Common Core.

The Sweetwater District is adhering to the Common Core too, because Rubio said the testing is mandated by the state, and therefore they have no choice but to implement it.

“This is something that is coming from Sacramento. It’s our mandate as far as following the law that they’ve issued.

My understanding is that ... we do not have a choice (to not implement the Common Core),” Rubio said.

Rubio said the district is implementing a Common Core curriculum for teachers this year with pilot testing for students. He said come next school year, the district will have mandated testing.

Tina Jung, information officer for the California Department of Education, said the adoption of the Common Core is not mandatory. She said it is up to the local school districts, not the state, to decide if they want to implement the testing.

“It is completely voluntary on the states and schools,” she said. “We can’t tell districts what to do. California is a local control state, that means local districts have more control than the state.”

Jung also said if a district accepts money from the state for Common Core, then that money must be used for Common Core purposes.

Because she did not want her child to take the Common Core test, Phatak withdrew one of her children from Tiffany Elementary school. The child is now being home schooled.

[Maura Larkins' comment: Why didn't Phatek help her child cope with anxiety instead of taking such a drastic measure. I have a suspicion that there's a lot more going on in Phatek's family than is revealed here.]

Cervantes said she plans to opt her child out of Common Core testing.

“We (parents) can try to stop this because this was adopted and not mandated by the state,” she said. “We have a choice, it is not mandated. They chose to adopt this.”

According to the California Department of Education’s website, the Common Core describes what each student should know and be able to do in each subject in each grade.

The name Common Core derives from the testing method that uses a set of national standards that apply to every school, district and state that has adopted the Common Core model.

Rubio said parents “will not” have a choice of opting a child out of the testing.

But while Rubio mentions that students can’t opt out, California’s education code says differently.

According to Education Code 60615, a student can opt out of testing.

“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a parent’s or guardian’s written request to school officials to excuse his or her child from any or all parts of the assessments administered pursuant to this chapter shall be granted,” the code reads.

James Milgram, Stanford University mathematics professor

I just noticed that the San Diego Union-Tribune has published a hysterical commentary on this subject by Lance T. Izumi. Mr. Izumi's rant contained an interesting fact:

...Stanford University mathematics professor James Milgram, an architect of California’s previous top-ranked state math standards and a member of Common Core’s Validation Committee, harshly criticizes the rigor of Common Core’s math standards: “With the exception of a few standards in trigonometry, the [Common Core] math standards end after Algebra II. They include no pre-calculus or calculus.”...

Professor Milgram wants every kid in California to learn calculus!?!

That's ridiculous. I took calculus in high school, and it didn't do me one bit of good because I didn't understand the basic concepts well enough. I got an A in the class, not because I understood the material, but because I learned and applied formulas. I had to take calculus over again at UCLA. I also took vector calculus, and when I graduated I thought I knew math.

Even though I wasn't interested in going to graduate school at the time, I decided to take the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) at that time. I figured I'd never again do as well on the math section of the GRE than when I was fresh out of college math classes.

I was wrong.

I spent the next fifteen years teaching basic math concepts to fourth and fifth graders. I taught those basic concepts like they were going out of style. As a result, I myself came to understand those concepts really, really well.

Then I took the GRE again. My GRE math score went up 100 points, from 640 to 740.

My big improvement was due to focusing on elementary math concepts. I have had proof in my own life that if you want your kid to be really good in math, you must make your kid really learns basic concepts. And you shouldn't worry one bit whether your kid takes calculus in high school.

Will Susan Luzzaro continue to turn her back to
requests for more even-handed reporting?

I sent the following email to the Reader on April 17, 2014:

Regarding this story:
Standardized tests shunned by South Bay parents
By Susan Luzzaro
San Diego Reader
April 10, 2014

In the very first paragraph, Susan Luzzaro quotes a parent saying that her child was worried that "if he failed the test he wouldn’t get promoted to the next grade."

Ms. Luzzaro makes absolutely no effort in the article to assure Readers that the test is not actually used to flunk children. This is not good journalism.

I urge the Reader and Susan Luzzaro NOT to leave this false impression dangling in the minds of readers. Luzzaro should issue a clarification about the matter.


eastlaker April 10, 2014 @ 12:41 p.m.
If you want to teach to the test, you need to know the answers. But--these are new tests, and most of the time, teachers don't even have the materials to work from...

So, the testing is being done initially on materials the students have not been given. Gee, how fair is that?

Especially when not only the students will be evaluated, but the teachers will be evaluated.

Maura Larkins' response to eastlaker:
The test might be new, but basic concepts are NOT NEW.
Are you saying that teachers need sample questions in order to figure out how to respond to a test? Well, sadly, you might be right. During my years at CVESD, long before Common Core, I regularly heard teachers at CVESD complain that they couldn't do the math the students were expected to do. So they demanded that the tests be changed, rather than that they themselves should have to go home and study their students' textbooks. We are not dealing with a new problem here. It's just that the teachers are now getting support from far-right wing nuts regarding this particular test because the test is supported by the Obama administration.
I would think you would be happy that teachers can't "teach to the test" if you think teaching to the test is bad. It sounds like you're saying that Common Core is forcing teachers to actually teach concepts rather than memorizing a certain type of test question. And if all the students and teachers are in the same boat, then what's the problem? The test will measure everybody fairly.
A good test measures thinking ability. That's why teachers who can't teach reasoning and logic hate good tests so much. When kids are thought to respond to any question with logic, then they do great on standardized tests. In fact, tests are a terrific instructional tool. I used to do a quiz every morning about the previous days' lessons, with the wording of the questions constantly changing. The kids enjoyed it. I would give the answer to each question as soon as the kids had written down their answers. It was an ideally teachable moment. The kids were interested in the answers, and they weren't graded by me. They were just testing themselves. It's a great way to focus kids' attention. And it's also a way to produce spectacular results on standardized tests.

I notice that many of the commenters believe that "teaching to the test" is a bad thing, as can be seen in the following comments.

anniej April 10, 2014 @ 9:17 a.m.
Teaching to the test, that is what our students are learning. There is little creativity, little interest being taught because it has become all about learning 'data '. BORING Back in my day, long long ago we were not taught to the test. We were engaged, we were involved, there was discussion, interesting learning.

Maura Larkins to anniej
You are right that interest and creativity are essential to learning. This is exactly the problem that Common Core addresses. It's the OPPOSITE OF MEMORIZING "DATA".

shirleyberan April 10, 2014 @ 9:27 a.m.
They were teaching to testing years ago when mine was is elementary 15 whatever years ago. I think it was the new thing to do back then. No wonder our kids can't read and write or do simple math. I think it was eastlaker who mentioned a sorry lack of critical thinkers.

Maura Larkins: to shirleyberan
The lack of critical thinking is exactly the problem that Common Core addresses. Critical thinking is the OPPOSITE OF MEMORIZING "DATA".

oneoftheteachers April 10, 2014 @ 6:36 p.m.
First of all, let's dispel the myth that corporations fostered:our educational system was broken. The US has some of the best universities in the world attended by graduates of our American public schools.

Maura Larkins' response to oneoftheteachers
No one is saying that American universities are broken. They're so good that people from all over the world come to attend them. It's a disgrace that so many of our K-12 graduates are not prepared for our own universities.]
It's interesting that there is only ONE comment one this page (at 9:50 a.m. on April 17, 2014) that even suggests looking at this issue differently.
Bvavsvavev had the courage to say: "I am not an expert in education, so I don't know the answers. What I do know is that change is needed, money is needed, and testing is needed. The hows and whys can be left to experts to figure out."
Of course, he is immediately shot down by the regular commenters.
Interestingly, the Reader is the only news outlet in San Diego or elsewhere that prevents me from making comments. The reason was not that I made an improper comment, or even a comment that the Reader didn't like. In fact, the very first time I tried to sign up to make comments I was unable to do so. Who could have set this up? I suspect that Susan Luzzaro might have originated the idea. Susan Luzzaro's husband Frank, a former teacher and union official at Chula Vista Elementary School District, has made it clear to me that he doesn't want me revealing events at CVESD, at least not those that involve him. I once contacted the Reader to complain about not being able to make comments, and the result was that I was allowed to comment on this one story! Obviously, there is little effort at the Reader to provide a public forum. It's very much a controlled environment, run by political paymaster Jim Holman.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Does Frank Gormlie approve of our biased arbitration system? Or is he simply not paying attention?

Frank Gormlie

UPDATE APRIL 11, 2014:

Omar Passons seems to cultivate a lot of friends in the media in addition to Frank Gormlie. Mr. Passons has apparently charmed Scott Lewis, CEO of Voice of San Diego, whose office is just across the courtyard from Mr. Passons' office at Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz. Passon's handsome face is featured frequently in the rotation of photos at the top of VOSD's web pages.

Does this photo look familiar? It's Omar Passons' image from the header of a VOSD web page.

Stutz law firm must be delighted to have such loyal friends in the media. Dan Shinoff, one of the three major partners of Stutz law firm, must have been very grateful when Mr. Lewis not only stopped Emily Alpert's investigation of Mr. Shinoff and his benefactors at SDCOE, but fired her for good measure! But now that so many public officials who were (and still are) clients of Stutz law firm have been indicted, perhaps the media might want to rethink the amount of cheerleading it does for the firm. Why is Mr. Gormlie silent about this issue? Does he assume that no children are being harmed? If so, he's very wrong. But at least he's a good pal to his lawyer friends.


I was surprised to see that OB Rag's Frank Gormlie included attorney Omar Passons' blog in his list of "independent and progressive blogs" last August. Passons is certainly not progressive. Just because he's African-American doesn't mean he isn't working for the 1%. I imagine he's about as independent as is expedient for him as an employee of Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz law firm. Perhaps the marketing director at Stutz law firm urged the hiring of Mr. Passons to help with public relations.

Maybe Mr. Gormlie hasn't been paying attention. The following appeared in Voice of San Diego last May.

Justice for Sale, Part One: Arbitration Purgatory
By: Will Carless
Voice of San Diego
May 20, 2013
See Part 2 HERE.
See Part 3 HERE.

...Companies across the country insert wording into their small-print contracts that bars consumers from taking them to court...

The contracts require consumers to settle disputes in arbitration, a private form of conflict resolution. As mandatory arbitration clauses have become ubiquitous, companies have carved out a world of justice that some insiders and academics say is deeply flawed and biased against consumers...

Not only do corporations write arbitration into their contracts, they’re also increasingly stipulating the exact company or organization that will facilitate the arbitration. “It is almost impossible for us not to be self-serving,” says one arbitrator. Another disagrees...

Perz said an independent expert he hired concluded the car had probably been submerged in water, causing the electrics to fail and rotting the vehicle’s frame with rust. Perz decided he couldn’t in good faith sell it to recoup his money...

Arbitration is supposed to provide a cheaper and quicker way to settle legal disputes than the court system. But academics, attorneys, plaintiffs and even an independent arbitrator contacted for this story described arbitration as an uneven playing field, with consumers facing an uphill battle from the start...

In California, most arbitrators are affiliated with one of several large organizations. The largest is the American Arbitration Association (AAA); another big one is JAMS (formerly Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services). Both have offices in San Diego. Both companies declined to comment for this story...

“In no way in my wildest dreams did I realize an arbitration agreement would allow them to do this,” he said. “It’s so frustrating. It’s just heartbreaking.”


"Most people, particularly the people to whom the $30.22 is most critical, do not have the time and/or skill to pursue these issues."--Maura Larkins

Omar Passons May 28, 2013

I almost don't know where to begin. A 3-part series and you dedicate 3 sentences in the final part of the series to the opposing view? Wow. $30.22 is enough to buy food for almost a week, so it's nothing to shake a stick at.

But the ATT Mobility case is the paradigmatic example of why we need class action reform. You left out that the Concepcions only had to fill out a 1-page form to have their issues heard. And you left out that their MINIMUM recovery if they were right on their $30 claim as $7500. And you left out that they had the option to pursue their $30 claim in small claims court, where there are no lawyers and the judges are very relaxed with the rules, if they didn't want arbitration.

You also left out that class action cases can very easily cost more than $100,000 before you even address whether anyone did anything wrong. The "liability" portion of a class action doesn't even really get going until a judge certifies a class. I get it, your a journalist, not a lawyer, but as I mentioned previously there are plenty of lawyers around town who would give you a more fair picture. Or, for that matter, call any in-house lawyer for any large company. Or better, call the CFO. These cases are huge sources of awards for attorneys, not so much for the little guy or woman you claim is being so wronged by class waivers.

Your article also fails to acknowledge that there is no requirement that people actually have been wronged to bring a class action suit. They just need a few plaintiffs to be willing to stand in as the named plaintiffs and then a very expensive fishing expedition can begin to attempt to find people who are actually wronged. And put all this aside for a moment. The whole reason class actions exist is to create a way to make people whole when there is no incentive for them to bring the suit on their own. Here, where the barrier to getting your rights vindicated is a one-page form and a telephone call, there is almost no fear of it not being worth someone's time to file. In fact, with a recovery of more than 1000 times their actual harm I'm surprised everyone who bought an AT&T phone didn't try to use their more than generous dispute resolution procedure. I'm not even a particular supporter of the system of arbitration, it is frequently patently unfair. But this journalism isn't even an attempt to give people enough information to make an informed decision about the topic.


Omar, I found that I disagreed with a number of your statements. Here are those statements with my responses:

[Passons] "$30.22 is enough to buy food for almost a week, so it's nothing to shake a stick at."

[Maura Larkins' response] Most people, particularly the people to whom the $30.22 is most critical, do not have the time and/or skill to pursue these issues.

[Passons] But the ATT Mobility case is the paradigmatic example of why we need class action reform.

[Maura Larkins' response]"Paradigmatic"? Why didn't you just say it's a good example? And are you really sure that there is only one paradigmatic example? I doubt that very much. I'm sure many people consider other examples to be more significant in arbitration reform.

[Passons] You left out that the Concepcions only had to fill out a 1-page form to have their issues heard.

[Maura Larkins' response] That's just the start, Omar. Then they have to deal with the big corporation for heaven knows how long.

[Passons] And you left out that their MINIMUM recovery if they were right on their $30 claim as $7500.

[Maura Larkins' response] Since when did arbitration decisions depend on who was "right"? Did you look at the graphic in part 2 of this series? No matter how right the Concepcions might be, they are almost certainly going to lose.

[Passons] And you left out that they had the option to pursue their $30 claim in small claims court, where there are no lawyers and the judges are very relaxed with the rules, if they didn't want arbitration.

[Maura Larkins' response] That would require serving a subpoena on a huge corporation (AT&T) after they discover who it AT&T's agent for service. Then AT&T's lawyers would probably contest everything, including whether service was proper. Then the Concepcions would have to prepare documentation and arguments and go to court. And that still wouldn't guarantee that the judge would side with the little guys against a big corporation.

[Passons] You also left out that class action cases can very easily cost more than $100,000 before you even address whether anyone did anything wrong.

[Maura Larkins' response] That's why you need a big class of people, Omar. So that the payoff will be bigger than the cost.

[Passons] The "liability" portion of a class action doesn't even really get going until a judge certifies a class. I get it, your [sic] a journalist, not a lawyer, but as I mentioned previously there are plenty of lawyers around town who would give you a more fair picture.

[Maura Larkins' response] Don't be patronizing. I think Will got a very fair picture of the situation. And I think there are plenty of lawyers around town who would be happy to give Will an unfair picture.

[Passons] Or, for that matter, call any in-house lawyer for any large company. Or better, call the CFO.

[Maura Larkins' response] We already know AT&T's position. It's in the case pleadings, and in the Supreme Court decision. It's the OTHER side of the story that we need, and Will did a good job on that.

[Passons] These cases are huge sources of awards for attorneys, not so much for the little guy or woman you claim is being so wronged by class waivers.

[Maura Larkins' response] [But the little guy usually can't represent himself effectively. That's why we need lawyers who will represent consumers and make sure that the powerful respect the legal rights of the powerless. Plaintiff lawyers wouldn't have to work so many hours and collect so much pay if there weren't lawyers on the other side being paid big bucks to come up with one reason after another to slow down the case.]

[Passons] Your article also fails to acknowledge that there is no requirement that people actually have been wronged to bring a class action suit. They just need a few plaintiffs to be willing to stand in as the named plaintiffs and then a very expensive fishing expedition can begin to attempt to find people who are actually wronged.

[Maura Larkins' response] [We all know what planet we're on, Omar. Yes, people make false claims all the time. Big corporations are among the worst offenders, making claims that they are owed money when they are not owed anything at all.]

[Passons] Here, where the barrier to getting your rights vindicated is a one-page form and a telephone call, there is almost no fear of it not being worth someone's time to file.

[Maura Larkins' response] [You know very well that you have to do a lot more than fill out one page and make a phone call to get your rights vindicated. And you must have a lot of time on your hands, Omar. Most people go to bed every night wishing they had had time to do things plenty more important than trying to get $30.22 back from AT&T.]

[Passons] In fact, with a recovery of more than 1000 times their actual harm I'm surprised everyone who bought an AT&T phone didn't try to use their more than generous dispute resolution procedure.

[Maura Larkins' response] [If this surprises you, Omar, then you must walk around in a continual state of shock as you observe the incomprehensible behavior of the ordinary people you meet. But I get the feeling that you rarely find the actions of corporations to be anything other than completely reasonable.]

Maura Larkins May 28, 2013

The Concepcion suit never should have been filed in the first place. ATT didn't collect the sales tax, the state did. So to suggest that ATT scammed anybody out of their money is false. It's no wonder companies want to reduce the possibilities of lawsuits when lawyers can talk simple-minded people into filing class actions based on false premises. Carless wants to paint business as the bad guy because that's what he fundamentally believes: that business is bad. Power to the people and all that nonsense. But the sad fact is that if it wasn't for lawyers of questionable moral value hooking up with simpletons, the courts wouldn't be full of bogus lawsuits and our ladders wouldn't have a dozen stickers telling us not to do stupid things. If the lawyers were so worried about the Concepcion's thirty dollars, they should work to rewrite the state law that says the state can collect sales tax on something a company is willing to give away for free.

Voice of San Diego's Scott Lewis acknowledges that he's been playing it a little too safe; Matt Taibbi shows how it's done

Scott Lewis and Matt Taibbi
Matt Taibbi recently published DIVIDE, a book about our two-tiered justice system. He says, “Journalists should be dark, funny, mean people. It’s appropriate for their ­antag­onistic, adversarial role.”
See also Who is exposing the underbellies of school systems, U-T San Diego or Voice of San Diego?


Scott Lewis stops investigations. For example, he and Andrew Donohue stopped Emily Alpert's investigation into school attorney Dan Shinoff and Shinoff's pals at San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE). And then Lewis fired Emily Alpert. (I imagine she was happy to be fired because it wasn't much of a job after her freedom to investigate was curtailed.)

But now that so many of Mr. Shinoff's public school clients have been charged with corruption, maybe Scott will restart the investigation?

I wouldn't count on it. VOSD has to pay its bills. And given the fact that VOSD features one of the lawyers from Dan Shinoff's law firm (Omar Passons) among the alternating photos at the top of its web pages, I suspect that someone at Stutz law firm is making it financially worthwhile for VOSD to ignore the backroom shenanigans at SDCOE. Also, VOSD's major donors, Buzz Woolley and Irwin Jacobs, are closely connected the non-teacher-union players in the education establishment. They will probably get their wish that the public never even learn what's on the FBI tape of Dan Shinoff's meeting with a witness in a school case.

Does this photo look familiar? It's Omar Passons' image from the header of a VOSD web page. Mr. Passons is a lawyer at Stutz law firm.

Tending Bar on New Year’s Eve in 1997 Made Me Resolve to Risk More in 2014
By: Scott Lewis
Voice of San Diego
January 1, 2014

...I’ve always felt a drive, an angst and worry. It’s made me always change, always want to keep improving.

Recently, though, something else has been happening.

Perhaps it has come from having kids and a mortgage. Maybe I feel more vulnerable. But I feel it. Like small tremors. They are these urges to want to protect what I’ve gathered. They are flashes of desire to be (gasp!) conservative.

I can’t have that. It’s not me.

[Maura Larkins comment: I think it is you, Scott. And I think you've been playing it safe for a few years now. You've been paid to protect some people and expose others (such as when you stopped the investigation of SDCOE by Emily Alpert and then let her go, but at the same time did a proper investigation of SEDC).

So this year I’m resolving to take more risks. I resolve to resist the urge to let it all plateau – to cruise. I want to keep building, keep dreaming and keep dancing with failure...

[Maura Larkins comment: Sounds like a typical New Year's resolution. It's April now. You've forgotten about it, right?]

Raging Against Hacks With Muckraker Turned Magazine-Maker Matt Taibbi
By Matthew Shaer
New York Magazine

Matt Taibbi, the ­former enfant terrible of ­political journalism, limps into a cozy diner on ­Chambers Street, in Tribeca a ­Russian-style fur cap pulled over his ears, a half-formed apology for his lateness already on his lips. “I am—I must have—did I keep you waiting?”

Informed he is actually seven ­minutes early, his shoulders slump in relief. “Okay,” the lanky 44-year-old says, with a toothy grin. “Good. You’ll have to excuse me. It’s been a crazy time for me.”

This is Matt Taibbi, circa 2014: ­deferential, polite, very busy. In mid-­February, shortly after the birth of his first child, Taibbi announced he was leaving Rolling Stone, where he has worked for almost a decade, to start a digital magazine for First Look Media, the company owned by eBay billionaire Pierre Omidyar. The last few weeks have been consumed with business matters—hiring editorial staff, signing off on designs. Taibbi won’t discuss the exact format of the new venture, nor its name—that’s still being worked out, too—but he sees it focusing, in part, on the same matters of corporate malfeasance he’s been covering for years.

“What I’m hoping to capture is the simultaneously funny and satirical voice that you got with Spy magazine,” he says. “The whole thing will probably be a little different than what a lot of people expect.”

What people expect, of course, is the ­ribald, loudly antagonistic voice of a writer who is, in his own words, “full of outrage.” The guy who compared Goldman Sachs to a “vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” The reporter who dropped acid, donned a Viking hat and wraparound ­sunglasses, and had a nice casual chat with the former deputy head of the Office of National Drug Policy, the same policymaker responsible for the “This Is Your Brain on Drugs” advertising campaign. And the person who, as the editor of a Moscow paper, marched into the local offices of the Times and slammed a pie filled with horse semen into the face of a reporter he deemed a “hack.” The ­unfiltered, uncowed Matt Taibbi who once dumped coffee on an interviewer from Vanity Fair and then chased him down the street.

But despite his newfound personal courtesy, none of Taibbi’s anger at the “toothlessness” of the media has dissipated. “I think it’s a lost art in this country—developing that narrative voice where readers connect with you as a human being,” he says, harpooning a stray piece of scrambled egg. “They want to see how you react individually to things. And if you think something is outrageous, and you write about it in a tone without outrage, then that’s just deception, you know?”

Taibbi says his decision to leave Rolling Stone was predicated in part on the need to make a change and “keep from falling into a pattern,” and partly by his desire to “be on Glenn’s side.” Glenn being Glenn Greenwald, who, along with Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill, is currently editing another First Look property, the national-security-centric The Intercept, which has been live since February. “Glenn’s in this position of being a reporter trying to put out material that came from a whistle-blower, and now they’re both essentially in exile. It’s crazy. If the press corps that existed in the ’60s and ’70s had seen this situation, they’d be rising as one and denouncing the government for it,” Taibbi says.

Like former Washington Post scribe Ezra Klein, who recently moved to a new venture at Vox Media, Taibbi sees hope in the foundational, start-up mode of journalism. “You’ve got this widespread mistrust of media organizations,” he says, “and the feeling, from people on both sides, that the networks are in the tank for one political party or another. I think people are more willing to trust individuals than they are organizations.”

Taibbi grew up on the South Shore of Boston, where he was by his account a “depressive” kid, content to spend the day burrowing into old Russian novels. “I must have read Dead Souls a hundred times,” he says. “I had this fantasy that I was living in 19th-century Russia.” (It was his Russophilia that led him, in 1992, to move there, where he remained until 2002, working first at the Moscow Times, and then at the eXile, a news­paper he helped found with fellow expat Mark Ames.)

Taibbi’s father is the Emmy Award–­winning NBC reporter Mike Taibbi—and along with Gogol and Tolstoy, he also idolized the “middle-class, working-class people” who then populated newsrooms. “They relished their role as jerks who wouldn’t let anything slide. And I was attracted to that,” he says. “I mean, ­journalists should be dark, funny, mean people. It’s appropriate for their ­antag­onistic, adversarial role.”

Contrast that with today, he argues, when for a lot of reporters, “the appeal of the job has more to do with proximity to power. They want to say they had a beer with Hillary Clinton or whatever it is.” Espe­cially offensive to Taibbi: the ­ten­den­cy of his peers to go to great lengths to always give equal weight to opposing arguments. “If there’s one way of looking at things, and there’s another way of looking at things that’s totally ridiculous, you don’t have to give the latter point of view as much ­quarter as some contemporary journalism professors might tell you.”

He stands up. Time to leave—the day is full with appointments, and at home, in Jersey City, his wife, a family doctor, and his son are waiting. But first he wants to take a look at the waitress’s tattoo. She holds her hand ­forward: I FUCKING LOVE YOU, reads a line of blue cursive script. “Very nice,” Taibbi says appreciatively.

Outside, the temperature has dropped to 19 degrees. Taibbi, tucked into a boxy old coat, says it isn’t as cold as it was when he lived in Moscow, and it’s ­pos­itively balmy compared with the climes in ­Mongolia, where he, at age 25, had spent a season playing professional basketball. The team was the Mountain Eagles; Taibbi was a small forward. “I’d met this kid playing street ball in Moscow, and he told me about a pro league in Mongolia called the MBA. So I quit my job and took a train to Ulan Bator. They called me ‘the Mongolian Rodman,’ ” he says. “I would have stayed. I was having a blast. But I caught pneumonia and I had to go back to Moscow.”

Taibbi lopes southward, toward the cloistered streets of the Financial District. I wonder aloud if he feels that the work he did about Wall Street—on subprime mortgages, and the student-loan apparatus, and the “teeming rat’s nest of corruption” that led to the 2008 meltdown—had made a difference.

“I think the first clue I had was when Occupy happened,” he says. “And I could see that a lot of the stuff that I wrote about was in the background. People carrying papier-­mâché squids at some of the protests, which was cool. I think that’s part of what every journalist wants: to have an impact.” Still, that impact has only gone so far. None of the operators Taibbi regards as criminally liable for the crash has been punished; meanwhile, movies like The Wolf of Wall Street are, in his view, idolizing bankers in a way he finds unseemly. “It’s kind of the same way they glamorized the Mafia once upon a time,” he says. “But at least with the Mafia, there was always this lesson that you got at the end, that crime didn’t pay.”

Taibbi pauses at the top of the steps of the Fulton Street subway station. “Big companies like Goldman Sachs have billions to spend on their own publicity. They don’t need us to do that for them. And everyone else in this world does need us to do that for them,” he says, waving good-bye. “I think about that a lot.”

*This article appears in the March 10, 2014 issue of New York Magazine.

COMMENTS from Jan. 1, 2014 VOSD story above

... Scott Lewis administrator
Hi guys, I didn't mean politically conservative. I meant conservative in actions, ie, concerned with conserving what I have, not risking...Just want us to keep our edge, be willing to upset folks from time to time and make wise investments in broader coverage that we think can be sustained in future.

... Doug Porter subscriber
Excellent writing. Bravo to the story line, too! Happy New Year!

[Maura Larkins' comment:
I agree. Very good writing, Scott. As a journalist, I'm sure Mr. Porter genuinely empathizes with your story line. He, too, must feel the pressure to avoid controversy, to avoid truths that are unpleasant to him. But he's recovering from a bout of cancer. He has a lot better excuse than Mr. Lewis for "plateauing".]

Scott Lewis administrator
Happy New Year to you, too, Doug.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Alabama Journalist Tells Us What It Was Like To Spend Five Months In Jail For Reporting A Story

"[The] order included a vague mandate to take down all content related to the alleged affair, without ever deeming which content was actually defamatory."

Alabama Journalist Tells Us What It Was Like To Spend Five Months In Jail For Reporting A Story
By Nicole Flatow
Think Progress
April 7, 2014

“You get down to survival mode.” That was blogger Roger Shuler’s state of mind after being arrested and hauled off to jail for writing about a politically connected Alabama lawyer.

“Once you’re arrested I mean there’s not much you can do,” he told ThinkProgress in a conversation after his release, explaining that he felt powerless to handle the legal defense of his case. “Your hands are tied literally and figuratively and just to try to figure out how to get out was almost impossible … I really was afraid for my life at times.”

Until last week, Shuler was the only known journalist in the Western Hemisphere jailed for doing his job. Shuler, a former sports reporter and university editor who developed the political blog Legal Schnauzer, is known as a controversial figure in his community. He has fielded other allegations of falsehoods and has been embroiled in numerous lawsuits over his blogging. But even his critics conceded that a court order banning him from writing anything about the alleged extramarital affair of a man rumored to be running for Congress was likely unconstitutional, and a First Amendment outrage.

First, a Shelby County judge ruled that Shuler could not continue writing about the alleged affair of Robert Riley, Jr., the son of former Gov. Bob Riley rumored to be running for Congress. Then, when Shuler refused to comply with the order, police came to his home one evening and arrested him for contempt of court. Contempt of court is a punishment for failure to comply with a court order. In many instances such as this one, it is a “civil” offense, meaning it doesn’t carry long-term criminal penalties. But officials use jail as a means of forcing compliance with the order. So Shuler sat in jail until he complied.

Shuler was initially resistant to the order. But even when he wanted to comply, he didn’t know how.

“At my Nov. 14 hearing, the only hearing I had in the case, the court gave me no direction on how I could purge myself of contempt,” Shuler told the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “I noted that I had no computer or Web access to take down the posts, even though I knew it was unlawful to be forced into taking them down. The court’s response was more or less that I had to resolve that problem myself. With that kind of response from the court I felt caught between the proverbial ‘rock and a hard place.’”

Shuler said if he was lucky, he got to make a 15-minute call three or four times a week. “That’s the only communication I had with anybody,” said.

And getting a lawyer wasn’t easy. While defendants in criminal cases who cannot afford a lawyer have a right to court-appointed counsel, the same is not true in civil contempt cases. Shuler called himself middle class, and said he would “really need either pro bono or contingency type of legal representation and I think it’s a possibility but it’s very slow in trying to make it happen.”

Shuler was supported by legal briefs in his case from the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. But neither organization was representing him directly, and only he had the power to appeal his own case. Shuler didn’t appeal. He said he spent his time in jail fearing for his life, and figuring out how he could comply with a sweeping contempt order and get out of jail. As the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press explained in an October letter, the order included a vague mandate to take down all content related to the alleged affair, without ever deeming which content was actually defamatory.

What ultimately facilitated Shuler’s release was the intervention of his wife, Carol, who drafted an agreement to take down some material that allowed Shuler to be freed at least temporarily. “She was the one that really negotiated getting me out,” he said.

Shuler was perhaps the most prominent inmate in Shelby County jail these last few months, but he says he wasn’t the only one who shouldn’t have been there. Most of the people he met were there for drug and alcohol problems, he said, or for mental health issues the jail didn’t appear suited to handle.

“Jail is I guess by definition a holding facility for people a lot of whom have not yet been found guilty of anything,” he said. (Jails typically hold individuals who have been charged but not yet convicted, or those who receive short sentences, typically less than a year). “I go to bed at night and a lot of times I think there are guys still in there … I get the feeling we’re in a culture right now, it’s sort of like arrest first, and ask questions later.”