Thursday, January 29, 2009

Aaron: Troubling numbers on juvenile detention in NJ

THE schoolhouse-to-jailhouse pipeline is clogged with African-American and Hispanic youth. The problem is spoken of often by black advocacy groups. This is not just Jesse Jackson rhyming. It's real.

The irrefutable phenomenon raised its ugly head again last week in the Kids Count report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a non-profit philanthropic group focusing on children's welfare.

The number of minority kids in the juvenile detention system is way out of proportion to their numbers in the general population. That disproportionality is a nationwide pattern. New Jersey is the worst.

The 8-to-1 ratio of minority kids to white kids in the juvenile system here is nearly three times the national average of 3-to-1.

This is horrible. Unfortunately, the foundation had no explanation for the disparity.

This lopsided ratio was one of several findings in Kids Count. Also alarming is the fact that the huge disparities have been acknowledged many times by various studies without much change in procedure to address them.

At several critical points along the many stages of a juvenile's case, decisions are left to the discretion of the judge, police officer, prosecutor, probation officer or other criminal justice system official. For example, prosecutors have the opportunity to downgrade charges and offer plea deals, or judges may have the option to send a kid home or jail him until trial.

Three and a half years ago, New Jersey's attorney general asked all 21 counties to review how they handle juveniles in trouble. The purpose was to find out if minority youths were being treated unfairly in the criminal justice system.

The Juvenile Justice Commission is working with a new policy analyst, the W. Haywood Burns Institute, to find explanations for the disparities.

"What we're about to do through the Burns Institute is to look at that data through the lens of race, looking at each and every decision-making point on the continuum of decisions that are made about any given kid in the juvenile justice system," said Lisa Macaluso, the commission's director of local programs and services. Statewide, in 2002, minority youths were 3.59 times more likely than white teens to be committed to juvenile detention. In 2006, they were 5.68 times more likely.

One of the positive findings in Kids Count's look at juvenile justice was a drop in the number of youths in pretrial detention and those committed to facilities for punishment.

Overall, the number of kids committed to juvenile facilities dropped 33 percent. That's significant. Bravo, New Jersey, for using alternatives such as ankle bracelets that monitoring a detainee but allow him to remain at home.

Detention alternatives

The study credited the decline to Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, which is run by the Casey Foundation in 10 New Jersey counties. While the juvenile violent offenders and chronic repeaters still need to be detained in secure facilities, in recent months juveniles being moved through the system in Bergen County have been able to take advantage of the alternatives such as electronic monitors, counseling and therapy.

State Attorney General Anne Milgram's statement in response to the Casey findings notes that since 2003, detention numbers for minority youths have been cut in half. Prison figures show no corresponding rise in the number of juveniles being convicted and imprisoned with adults.

"In January 1998, the New Jersey Department of Corrections housed 72 offenders who were under 18 years of age. As of today, the number is 19," said Corrections spokesman Matt Schuman.

The Kids Count acknowledgement of a significant racial component confirms the findings of several earlier studies dissecting the juvenile justice system. Released in 2000, one of those studies, called "And Justice for Some," was supported by the Justice Department and funded by several grants from the Ford, Rockefeller and MacArthur foundations.

It's not enough to simply make the observation year after year that enormous racial disparities exist and then do nothing about it. The consequence is that a disproportionate number of minority youths may be unfairly saddled with juvenile records that affect their transition to adulthood and their employability.

Illegal immigrants' role in drug trade shouldn't be ignored

Here's something the so-called "immigration advocates" don't want you to know: Illegal immigrants are deeply involved in the drug trade in Northern Nevada, and elsewhere on the West Coast and around the country.

The latest example of the dangerous and troubling connection between illegal immigration and drug trafficking occurred in Reno last month when federal, state and local anti-drug agents teamed-up to arrest 10 Mexican nationals - most of them illegal immigrants - on charges of possessing large quantities of illicit narcotics with the intention of selling them to our children and grandchildren. Members of the Northern Nevada High Intensity Drug Trafficking Task Force seized 100 grams of heroin, 500 grams of cocaine, more than five grams of meth and $100,000 in cash in a series of raids in Reno.

"It's hard to say what sort of impact this will have on drug trafficking in Northern Nevada, but every little bit helps," said Nevada's U.S. Attorney, Greg Brower. "This was much more than just a little bit (of drugs)," he added. Federal drug trafficking charges carry prison sentences ranging from five to 40 years and fines ranging up to $4 million.

Although illegal immigration advocates argue that most "undocumented workers" are honest, law-abiding people who want to work in the U.S. in order to provide for their destitute families in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America, the truth is that far too many illegals are involved with violent Latino gangs and Mexican drug cartels. How violent are they? Well, according to Time magazine, at least 3,000 people (including women and children) have died in drug-related crimes since Mexican President Felipe Calderon, a law-and-order conservative, took office in December, 2006.

So far this year, victims of deadly drug violence have included two of Mexico's highest-ranking anti-narcotics officials, who were assassinated in Mexico City last month, along with local policemen, judges and a U.S. Border Patrol agent who was killed as he pursued drug traffickers fleeing from Arizona back into Mexico. In April, 15 drug cartel members were murdered in Tijuana, just across the border from San Diego. And we know that Latino gangs are major contributors to an increase in drug-related violence in Carson City. Recent evidence includes several drive-by shootings, an incident in which shots were fired at a deputy sheriff and a major drug trafficking case against four illegals, one of whom had violated federal deportation orders four times.

I trust that Sheriff Ken Furlong and District Attorney Neil Rombardo will continue to keep the heat on local gangs and that volunteer anti-gang coalitions will do everything possible to involve Hispanic and Latino leaders and families in their admirable efforts. Simply put, I want to see their actions match their encouraging words.


In March, the Washington Post published an investigative report on border drug violence headlined "Tyranny on the Border." "More than 20,000 Mexican troops and federal police are engaged in a multi-front war with the private armies of rival drug lords," the Post reported. "Law enforcement officials and journalists, politicians and peasants have been gunned down in the wave of violence, which includes mass executions ...." And worse yet, "the violence is spilling over into the U.S."

According to the Post, more than 4,800 Mexicans were slain in the last two years, doubling the 2005 murder rate. "Drawing on firepower, savage intimidation and cash, (drug) cartels ... control key parts of the border," the article continued, "securing smuggling routes for 90 percent of the cocaine flowing into the United States." The result is that a river of cocaine and other lethal drugs carried by illegal immigrant "mules" is flowing up from Mexico through Southern California and on into Northern Nevada and the Pacific Northwest. That's why I'm pleased to note that federal, state and local law enforcement agencies have joined forces to combat large scale drug trafficking in our area.

As some popular Mexican cowboy bands sing the praises of drug lords, the death toll continues to rise in a once-peaceful nation. Sad to say, you can hear some of that pro-drug culture "golpe" music around here, but I don't hear any protests from alleged Hispanic "leaders." Meanwhile, just south of the California border, three Rosarito Beach (a popular tourist destination) police officers were beheaded not long ago for investigating the powerful Arellano Felix Drug Cartel. But, the Post noted, "to the children of Rosarito Beach, narco-gunmen had become local heroes because they drove fancy cars, wore the latest styles and acted like they owned the town ... (by) openly flashing their weapons (and) snorting cocaine in public ..." Now that's a nice role model for Mexican kids.

That's how bad it is just across our southern border and our federal government should pay at least as much attention to drug traffickers as it does to other international terrorists by giving President Calderon the help he needs to combat the drug cartels. Although the Bush administration has proposed a $500 million annual anti-drug package for Mexico, Congress has so far managed to ignore the proposal in this divisive election year.

My plea is for the Feds and state and local police to get serious about border control and drug trafficking and violence along the U.S. - Mexico border. And let's stop romanticizing the criminal illegal immigrants who make the drug problem much worse.

• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, worked on several major anti-drug projects during his 28-year career in the U.S. Foreign Service.

Charlie Rose Show: A conversation with John Grisham

World Economic Forum Tests Facebook’s New Polling Engagement Ads in Real-Time

Today Facebook announced that the World Economic Forum currently being hosted in Davos, Switzerland, will be running a serious of “real-time ‘pools’ during a select group of panels at the World Economic Forum”. There will be questions such as “Which renewable energy source is most promising?” and “If you lost Internet connectivity for an extended period, would there be vitally important data you’d leave behind in the cloud?”

This is the first example of Facebook’s polling engagement ads that we’re aware of. Best of all it’s in real-time, which is a feature not previously highlighted by Facebook when they launched this service a couple of days ago. Facebook will be integrating the real-time results of the polls into each panel, yet again mimicking some of the functionality previously provided by Twitter at numerous conferences.

The last example we saw of a real-time poll on Facebook was on voting day, when millions of users were asked if they voted, and a running tally was kept atop the news feed. One question was already launched this morning which was, “Will Pakistan and its neighbors experience greater instability in 2009?” In three minutes, 56 percent responded “Yes,” 19 percent responded “No,” and 25 percent responded “Not Sure.”

One thing that wasn’t mentioned was the total number of individual responding to the polls. This is clearly a value-added service for any conference that chooses to implement such types of services. It will be interesting to see if there are many other examples of this in the near future.

Teen Service Announcement (TSA) provides testimonials in support of new teen-led social change platform

MINNEAPOLIS, January 28, 2008 – Best Buy Co., Inc. (NYSE:BBY) today unveiled a new TSA (“Teen Service Announcement”) featuring Grammy Award-winning hip-hop artist Ludacris at Ludacris participated in the TSA as an early supporter of @15, a new teen-led social change platform underwritten by Best Buy to give teens a voice and give them opportunities to direct the company’s philanthropy through the newly-created @15 Fund.

Christopher Bridges, better known by his stage name Ludacris, is a three-time Grammy Award-winning American hip-hop artist and actor. He is the co-founder of Disturbing tha Peace, an imprint distributed by Def Jam Recordings. Ludacris is the highest-selling Southern hip-hop solo artist of all time with over 15 million units sold in the United States.

“We all make mistakes, but you have to learn from your mistakes. Try not to make the same mistakes twice in life. We all have teenage years where we kind of were rebellious and just doing things that we’re finding out about life,” said Ludacris in his online TSA. “We’ve all been through some bad situations and you learn from them and you become a better person because of it. Adversity can make you a stronger person.”

Like a traditional PSA, the @15 TSAs are short, unscripted videos that share the collective thoughts and experiences of teens – and former teens – with messages of hope and inspiration for America’s youth. Over the next several months, the @15 Web site, along with its social networking pages and YouTube channel, will feature messages from teens engaged in Best Buy programs, celebrities and musicians, and Members of Congress.

About @15
Best Buy believes in the power of teens, and @15 is a new platform to connect with them, give voice to their perspectives, and invest our resources – including the energy and talents of our employees – to turn their ideas into action and support their efforts to lead social change. Teens bring passion and enthusiasm to tackling tough issues. They’re also important to our business – they shop in our stores, and they’re our future employees. There’s a real opportunity to listen to – and learn from – what teens have to say. And through the @15 Fund, we’ll put the philanthropic power of @15 directly into their hands. To learn more, visit

Peanut Plant Problem Forces Wider Recall

The list of recalled peanut products linked to a national salmonella outbreak just keeps growing. Already more than 400 kinds of cakes, cookies and other goods have been pulled off the shelves in one of the largest product recalls. (Jan. 29)

Blagojevich says he has done nothing wrong

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Gov. Rod Blagojevich has told the Illinois Senate impeachment trial that he has "done nothing wrong." He asked how the Senate can oust him based on a criminal complaint that hasn't been proven.

Blagojevich's own words prove "a pattern of abuse of power," the prosecutor at his impeachment trial insisted Thursday, as the embattled Democrat arrived at the state Capitol insisting he hasn't given up hope.

Blagojevich arrived hours before a possible vote to remove him from office, planning a "passionate" speech in what could be a last-ditch attempt to keep his job.

"I'm not giving up hope here. I'm going to keep fighting for the people of Illinois," Blagojevich said as his security detail dropped him off near a side door to the Capitol.

Inside, impeachment prosecutor David Ellis delivered a 40-minute closing argument, playing secretly recorded conversations in which Blagojevich appears to discuss using legislation to pressure someone into making a campaign donation.

He also quoted snippets of other conversations federal prosecutors released when they arrested Blagojevich last month.

"Every decision this governor made was based on one of three criteria: his legal situation, his personal situation and his political situation," Ellis told the state senators who will vote later Thursday on whether to remove Blagojevich from office.

Blagojevich's statement was to follow Ellis.

The two-term governor, who told reporters as he left his Chicago home that he looked forward to the proceedings, made a public showing of his arrival, saying he wasn't nervous about delivering the statement that could help decide whether he keeps his job.

Previously, he has said his removal is a foregone conclusion.

Blagojevich had avoided the trial all week — calling it biased and unconstitutional — but reversed course Wednesday and asked to make a closing argument.

His request shocked the Senate and lawmakers didn't know what to expect.

"Like so many others, I'm going to be on pins and needles just waiting to see what he's going to be delivering us. It could be anything," said Sen. Susan Garrett, D-Lake Forest.

Blagojevich was working past midnight Wednesday on his "passionate" speech that will explain why he decided to appear at the trial, his public relations firm Thursday. The two-term governor, a Democrat, has denied wrongdoing.

"He at least wants to have his final say," spokesman Lucio Guerrero said Thursday morning.

The governor will not testify, which involves taking an oath and answering questions from the prosecutor and senators. Instead, he has 90 minutes to deliver a closing statement.

Afterward, the House prosecutor has 30 minutes for a rebuttal. Then, senators then hold public deliberations, with each getting five minutes to speak. A vote on whether to convict, censure or acquit the governor could come later Thursday.

If Blagojevich is convicted, he will immediately be removed from office and replaced by Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn, a fellow Democrat. No other Illinois governor has been impeached, let alone convicted in a Senate trial.

Sen. Dan Cronin, R-Elmhurst, called Blagojevich's decision to only make a statement "cowardly, but consistent with the way he has governed."

Blagojevich, 52, was arrested last month on a variety of federal corruption charges, including scheming to benefit from appointing President Barack Obama's Senate replacement and demanding campaign contributions in exchange for state services.

He was impeached in the House on Jan. 9 for abuse of power. The 13 accusations included plotting to give financial assistance to the Tribune Co. only if members of the Chicago Tribune editorial board were fired, awarding state contracts or permits in exchange for campaign contributions and violating hiring and firing laws.

Thursday's closing arguments came after the prosecution rested its case Wednesday, the third day of the unprecedented trial to decide whether Blagojevich should be punished for abuse of power.

A conviction is all but certain. Blagojevich presented no defense, and virtually the entire Illinois political establishment has turned against him. The House voted 117-1 to impeach him, and the lone "no" vote came from his sister-in-law.

Despite the long odds, one of Blagojevich's few friends in the Senate scoffed at the idea of a resignation. It's just as likely senators will see the Easter Bunny hopping through the Capitol, said Sen. James DeLeo, D-Chicago.

"I think he wants to be heard," DeLeo said.

Blagojevich repeatedly has said he won't resign. But he also said he wouldn't take part in the trial.

While the Senate has considered accusations Blagojevich is corrupt, the governor appeared on one New York news show after another earlier this week to proclaim his innocence and declare the trial rigged against him.

"It's a kangaroo court," Blagojevich said Tuesday on Fox News Channel. "My lawyers and I believe that to be part of a process like that is to dignify a fraudulent impeachment process that sets a dangerous precedent for governors in Illinois and governors across America."

But Wednesday afternoon, Blagojevich's acting chief of staff contacted Senate President John Cullerton's chief of staff to ask that the governor be allowed to make a statement before the trial concludes.

The case against Blagojevich, presented by Ellis, included audio of secretly recorded conversations in which the governor appears to discuss demanding a campaign contribution in exchange for signing legislation. Senators also heard from an FBI agent who vouched for the accuracy of eye-popping Blagojevich quotes that were included in the criminal complaint against him.

George Mitchell calls for Hamas border police to be replaced

President Barack Obama's new Middle East envoy George Mitchell has demanded Palestinian officials replace Hamas loyalists policing Gaza's after meeting President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.

By Damien McElroy in Jerusalem
Last Updated: 5:53PM GMT 29 Jan 2009

President Abbas is a bitter opponent of Hamas rule in Gaza but Mr Mitchell said it was essential that the Palestinian Authority was re-established in the strip as part of any long-term truce.

He said: "To be successful in preventing the illicit traffic of arms into Gaza there must be a mechanism to allow the flow of legal goods, and that should be with the participation of the Palestinian Authority."

His trip to the Palestinian headquarters in Ramallah on the West Bank followed meetings in Jerusalem with senior Israeli leaders, including a briefing with Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi, the chief of the general staff.

The return of Palestinian officials for the first time since Hamas prevailed in a 2007 power struggle is a key Israeli demand. Israel also wants foreign monitors, probably led by Egypt, to patrol the crossings as well.

Hamas has said it will not stand in the way of an agreement that allows the rebuilding of Gaza but the return of its Western-backed rivals remains a humiliating step for the Islamic group.

In his first television appearance since the offensive was launched, Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader in Gaza, said a ceasefire deal must guarantee the lifting of Israel's siege.

Meanwhile Israel attempted a targeted assassination of a Gaza terrorist it blamed for roadside bomb attack that killed a soldier earlier in the week. Machmad Uda Chamdan Samiri, a member of the Tawhid e Jihad group that is loyal to al-Qaeda, was critically injured along with another man as his motorbike was hit from the air. Six bystanders were also injured.

The strike took place just outside of Khan Younis, the refugee town near the border with Kissufim where an Israel patrol was blown up. Despite acknowledging his al-Qaeda affiliation, Israel blamed Hamas for an attack that endangered the parallel ceasefire. "As the sole authority in the Gaza Strip, Hamas bears full responsibility for all terrorist activity originating from Gaza," a statement said.

The Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot reported yesterday that Ehud Olmert, the prime minister, conceded that Israel would evacuate up to 60,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank and hand over much of east Jerusalem as part of as part of any permanent peace deal.

The United Nations yesterday launched a £428 million appeal to help Palestinian civilians recover from Israel's attack on Gaza.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, said that $613 million (£428 million) was needed urgently. He said that he was deeply moved by his visit to Gaza last week and had given his word that the UN would help.

Mr Ban said that the appeal covers the requirements of the UN and other aid organisations for the next six to nine months. It will help provide everything from medical care to clean water.

The Israeli offensive against Gaza's Hamas rulers and their fighters who had been launching missile attacks on Israel killed an estimated 1,300 Palestinians, many of them civilians. The UN estimates at least 5,300 people were wounded and 21,000 homes were destroyed or badly damaged.