Vernon Must Tackle Housing & Finance Issues, Says Ethics Advisor

August 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

An independent ethics advisor hired by the city of Vernon to vet its governing practices released a summary of his findings and recommendations in a 52-page report this week.

Former state Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp and a team assembled to audit the city found “no significant fault” in Vernon’s compliance with the Political Reform Act, conflict of interest policies, the Brown Act, and the Public Records Act, according to the July 29 report.

Read this story IN SPANISH:  Vernon Debe Hacer Frente Los Problemas con Viviendas, Dice Asesor de Ética

In the past few years, three former top city officials were convicted of crimes that include voter fraud, misappropriation of money, and violation of conflict of interest laws. The salaries of top officials in the city have also been criticized for being excessively high.

Van de Kamp makes several recommendations in his report including improving its housing policies and controlling contracts with consultants and law firms, but said that his recommendations for the city “should not be considered damning,” because “many of them are minor and could apply to other cities as well.”

In his report, Van de Kamp noted the many “good government measures” the city put into place in the past year were “stimulated” by public attention, as well as State Assembly Speaker John Perez’s bill to disincorporate the city. While “under pressure,” the city seemed willing to “tackle” reform measures, he wrote.

He avoids making judgments on whether Vernon should be dissolved. “Rather, this report deals with what improvements and modifications should and can be made under existing law to bring Vernon’s governance in alignment with the best practices in other California cities.”

Van de Kamp says his role is to be an “independent outside observer not as a paid promoter for the city.” He was retained by the city in February and was charging the city $500 an hour.

In addition to recommending better training and education for city employees and officials, Van de Kamp recommended the city hire a sufficiently trained city clerk and an experienced city attorney as soon as it ends its hiring freeze. Both of these positions, as well as several others, are vacant or are being filled by temporary staff.

Since Van de Kamp began reviewing the city’s practices, the city has moved ahead with some changes including decreasing city council salaries, currently $68,052 a year, by 18 percent effective July 31. The city council voted to cap their compensation at $24,996 beginning with their next term.

In his report, Van de Kamp recommended the city go back to staggered city council terms, in which elections are held every two years, with two to three seats opening up at a time. Currently an election is set for once a year, with one city council seat opening up each time.

Van de Kamp also found problems in the cities’ handling of contracts and recommended Vernon officials negotiate for better fee rates, avoid “evergreen” contracts by including termination dates, and to not allow fees to go up during the term of a contract.

In particular, Van de Kamp’s report notes that the city’s legal fees have been high compared to those of other cities: “It does not appear from the review of the professional services contracts or conversations with City staff that the City is soliciting reduced rates that other cities are receiving. An example of a contract that appears to include rates normally charged to private clients is the contract with Latham & Watkins… Because of the uniqueness of the issues facing the City of Vernon and the necessity to make decisions quickly, these negotiations might not have been possible. But in the long term, City staff should be instructed to negotiate with firms, especially law firms, for lower compensation rates or fees whenever possible.”

The report also detailed the team’s findings regarding the city’s housing policies. The city owns almost all the homes in Vernon and has been accused of favoring friends and family when accepting residents.

Perez’s bill, which has already passed in the Assembly and is awaiting a floor vote in the Senate, as well as actions promoted by Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, target Vernon residents’ ability to vote independently, among the reasons why the city should be disbanded.

Officially the city council has final authority in choosing who can live in the homes, but Van de Kamp says he was unable to determine through interviews what policy and process the city used for approving new residents, and who actually made decisions to approve leases for new tenants.

According to Van de Kamp’s findings, the Vernon population consists of 112 residents living in 29 housing units. Four of those units are owner occupied; the rest are rentals.

Of the city’s 62 registered voters, 25 have “direct connections” to the city. In particular, five are city employees, six are relatives of city employees and one is related to a consultant.

He found that some of the Vernon residents include four relatives of Fire Chief and City Administrator Mark Whitworth, two of whom are registered to vote.

The city council moved ahead Tuesday on Van de Kamp recommendation to make appointments “as soon as possible” to a new seven-person housing commission so that it can “quickly formulate housing policies.” Their first meeting is next Thursday.

The commission will consist of two residents, one councilmember, three representatives of the business or property owners’ community, and one employee of a Vernon business appointed by the mayor and ratified by the city council.

Van de Kamp also recommended that rents be set on a market basis, and policies be set to avoid “favoritism to City personnel and their relatives and friends.” Rental rates for city-owned apartments are currently set at $120 a month for 1 bedroom, $240 a month for 2 bedrooms, and $360 a month for 3 bedrooms.

Van de Kamp said he was surprised to learn that while the business community enjoyed the general services provided by the city, they feel they have “little influence or relationship with its City Council.”

He recommended the city work more closely not only with its own business community, but also with other cities, including neighboring cities, in Southern California.

Van De Kamp writes that “more needs to be done” to improve the city’s governing practices, and that the implementation of reforms are still “works in progress.” In particular, “timely and effective action needs to be taken” on housing issues, he said.

Latest CA Redistricting Maps Satisfy Most Minorities—But Not Latinos

August 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Now that the California Citizens Redistricting Commission has approved new political boundaries for the state, civil rights groups are weighing what impact the maps will have on communities of color.

On Friday, the commission voted 13-1 to approve final maps for the state Assembly, Senate and Board of Equalization and 12-2 for the congressional maps. How well the redrawn electoral districts serve communities of color depends on the ethnic group in question.

While groups that represent Asian-Americans and blacks are mostly satisfied with the maps, representatives for Latino organizations are dismayed that the redrawn districts don’t give Hispanics more political power, considering the Latino population boom over the past decade.

Steven Ochoa, national redistricting coordinator for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, acknowledges that the new maps are “an improvement over the first-draft maps, which were drawn in complete absence of consideration of the federal Voting Rights Act.” But compared with MALDEF’s own proposed maps, he adds, the redistricting commission “missed many opportunities for Latinos.”

Ochoa is particularly concerned with how the commission drew Senate districts in the Central Valley, the Inland Empire and the San Fernando Valley. He argues that the commission weakened Latino voting power in these areas and removed a majority Latino district in Orange County.

The new Senate maps actually reduce the number of districts where Latinos can elect candidates of choice, argues the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), which is also upset that the commission only created one Latino-majority Assembly district and congressional district in the Central Valley.

“The Latino community contributed to 90 percent of California’s growth,” says Rosalind Gold, NALEO’s senior director of policy, research and advocacy. “That needs to be reflected in more places on the commission’s maps.”

At the same time, Latino groups praise the commission for adding Latino-majority congressional districts in the San Diego area and the San Fernando Valley and Assembly districts in Los Angeles, Imperial and San Diego counties.

A Brand-New Process

States are required to redraw their electoral districts every decade, using the latest Census data.

California’s redistricting process is brand-new this year, the result of voter-approved ballot measures in 2008 and 2010. Instead of allowing politicians and power brokers to draw their own political districts, the new process turns control over to 14 ordinary citizens.

The new commission has two weeks to make final changes to the maps, which must be approved on August 15.

Eugene Lee, voting rights project director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, says his group initially had misgivings about a citizens commission leading the redistricting process. Over the past several months, however, he’s been impressed by the panel’s efforts to be fair and balanced.

“This particular set of commissioners has shown a great commitment to the state of California,” he says. “They’ve shown a lot of aptitude in getting up to speed and learning about redistricting and the ability to consider testimony from all of California…coastal communities, farming communities, small business interests. There’s quite a diverse range, and they should be commended for the effort.”

At the same time, Lee says that the Asian-American community suffered some setbacks in the redistricting process. He is especially concerned about the decision to split Orange County’s Little Saigon community into two congressional districts—folding some Vietnamese-American residents into the same district as the affluent coastal communities of Newport Beach and Laguna Niguel.

“The residents of Little Saigon tend to have very different socioeconomic needs [than those parts of Orange County],” Lee says. “Residents have needs for language access. They’re mostly immigrants or refugees.”

In Northern California, concerns have been raised about the decision to split the largely South Asian community in Fremont between congressional districts. On the other hand, Asian Americans in Los Angeles won a major coup when the commission kept the communities of Little Tokyo, Koreatown, Chinatown, Thai Town and Historic Filipinotown in the same Senate district. This marks a departure from 2001, when L.A.’s Asian communities were carved up, diluting their voting clout.

Asian-Americans Should Be “Thrilled’?

“I think that the Asian-American community has got to be thrilled. They got lots of attention to their wishes throughout the process,” says Douglas Johnson, a redistricting expert and fellow at the Rose Institute of State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont.

The redistricting process turned out to be more of a roller-coaster ride for Latinos, he says, because the commissioners had a harder time figuring out how to take the U.S. Voting Rights Act into account. In the future, he says, the commission needs more guidance from lawyers and consultants who have a deep understanding of the act.

As it is, lawyers for MALDEF and NALEO are scrutinizing the maps to make sure they comply with the Voting Rights Act.

For all these shortcomings, Johnson still thinks the new redistricting process is a significant change for the better. With the commission in control, “Communities were the focus rather than incumbents. It wasn’t the incumbents drawing the lines and intentionally slicing up cities and communities [to their advantage].”

Erica Teasley Linnick, coordinator for the African-American Redistricting Collaborative (AARC), points to another a major improvement over the old system—transparency.

“We got to watch them move lines around,” she says. “We could watch on the computer and see how the process actually works.”

Still, Teasley Linnick has reservations about the panel’s process, which at times seemed to threaten the political power of L.A.’s black community, as well as the final results. Days before the maps were released, AARC discovered that the Vermont Knolls neighborhood in South Los Angeles was left out of the Inglewood district, which includes other communities near Los Angeles International Airport. “It was a very easy fix,” says Teasley Linnick, who had spent months stressing the importance of keeping LAX-affected communities together. But the commissioners wouldn’t budge.

Adding to her frustrations: Even though the public is supposed to have two weeks to comment before the maps are certified on August 15, the commission has said it will only make technical changes. As a result, there’s virtually no chance that it will remap the Vermont Knolls neighborhood, Teasley Linnick says.

“How meaningful is it to say, ‘We want to hear from you, but we can’t make any changes?’” she asks.
“Why even offer us the opportunity to comment?”

Former Monterey Park Official Pleads Guilty To Campaign Fraud

August 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Former Monterey Park Councilwoman Sharon Martinez and her co-defendant, campaign consultant Melrose Castillo, pleaded guilty to campaign fraud on Tuesday.

Appearing before Judge Craig Veals on Aug 2, the two pleaded to one felony count each of publishing a campaign advertisement with an unauthorized signature, according to District Attorney spokesperson Matt Krasnowski.

As part of her plea agreement, Martinez could be sentenced to three years probation, 300 hours of probation and a $1000 fine. The case was prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Sean Hassett.

Both defendants are scheduled to appear before a judge on Sept.13 for a sentencing hearing. Other counts could be dismissed at the sentencing hearing, according to Krasnowski.

Martinez and Castillo were facing counts that included forgery, counterfeiting a government seal and an official seal of an authorization, attempted forgery and attempting to dissuade a witness.

Under the original charges, the two were facing five years in prison. Most cases end in plea bargains, according to Krasnowski.

The case stems from a campaign flyer targeting fellow councilman Frank Venti during the 2007 election. The District Attorney alleged the two produced the campaign mailer “A Message From Councilman Frank Venti” in which Venti’s signature was forged on a false letter giving his support for County-run fire service.

The D.A. alleges that Martinez used an intermediary to pay a printer $5,000 to produce 4,000 mailers, while Castillo facilitated the production and distribution of the campaign mailer.

Republican Rank and File Has Lost Its Voice

August 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The U.S. House of Representatives and Senate have finally approved an agreement to taise the country’s debt limit. It is a deal they could have arrived at weeks ago.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Arizona) managed to make it to the floor to cast her vote which saved the house the embarrassment of applauding themselves for a job badly done, since it seems the thunderous applause was all for Giffords, who returned for the first time since being badly wounded during a shooting rampage in January.

The Democrats and their president finally confronted the reality that the Republican majority would rather stick to their “No New Taxes” mantra than keep the country from defaulting on its debts.

What we don’t understand are the Republican rank and file who didn’t so much as make a peep about the party’s extreme right’s determined stance to save the richest one percent of the largest corporations and individuals from paying even a small increase in taxes for the good of the nation.

It’s as if the party’s rank and file don’t realize that the inability to pay unemployment compensation, social security benefits and other payments to people who depend on government benefits would also impact some of their fellow Republicans.

Does the unemployment roll not include Republicans?

Are there no Republicans on Social Security, Medicaid or Medicare?

It’s very sad to see the party of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt high jacked by an extreme and uncompromising group of diehards.

They Are Not Nice People

August 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Watching the end of Round One of Barack Obama’s capitulation over the debt ceiling, I thought to myself “they are not nice people.” I was referring to the president and members of Congress who were falling all over themselves taking credit for preventing a financial disaster.

Aside from the hypocrisy and the obfuscation of the fact that it was all about protecting the richest 1 percent of Americans and not the poor, the vote also underscored Barack Obama’s unwillingness to fight for the other 99 percent.

It also put a nail in the coffin of Obama’s re-election campaign.

Almost everyone knew that George W. Bush was not the sharpest knife in the box, but they felt that he was strong. Michael Dukakis, much brighter than “W,” lost by a landslide to “W’s” father. The voters had perceived Dukakis as weak thus torpedoing his election in 1988.

Addressing the press on August 3, Obama resembled Bambi caught in the headlights of oncoming traffic. He vowed that he would continue to fight for the middle-class and create jobs.

The fact is that going on the third year of his presidency, he has done neither, resulting in the disaffection of labor and much of his core constituency.

For Latinos, the Obama presidency has been a disaster. He has done nothing about immigration reform; in fact, deportations have increased under his watch.

The debt ceiling capitulation seals his legacy. It insures the elimination of programs for the poor while at the same time putting Medicare at risk. The vaunted trigger will inevitably be pulled and Republicans will beat Obama.

How more blunt can Republicans get? Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said that working with Obama is like working with a bowl of Jell-O.

The deep cuts made on the budget without corresponding taxes on the rich insure that there won’t be funds to pay for job programs. Labor knows that Wall Street had Obama on the bailout, which resulted in more profits for Wall Street and few jobs. Labor is not stupid; it knows that the private sector will continue to sit on its money while giving its managers huge bonuses.

Labor knows that these are not nice people.

A day before the capitulation, Amanda M. Fairbanks published an article in the Huffington Post titled “Seeking Arrangement: College Students Using ‘Sugar Daddies’ To Pay Off Loan Debt.” .

The article interviews middle-class female students who resorted to websites such as in order to hook up with older men who will give them money for education costs and credit card debts in exchange for sex. Fairbanks says that about 800,000 female students are members of the sugar daddy sites.

Obama’s Jell-O approach has enabled this situation.

Most university professors and students are aware of the tremendous increase in tuition in the past decade. When I began my education at Los Angeles State College in 1955, the fees were under $10 a month. Education was affordable.

However, the commitment to higher education has waned as the baby boomers who were the recipients of low cost tuition shifted the tax burden to the middle class and the poor.

As late as 1998 the tuition at the California State University where I teach was under $2000 a year. It started to climb in 2003 and by 2005 it reached $3000. In 2009 it was just over $3000 rising to just under $5000 the next year.

In July 2011, the state budget “triggered” demands for further increases, which according to most, were inevitable.

Actually the situation is even worse at the University of California and at private universities where tuition reaches $50,000 a year. Those in search of a sugar daddy are caught in this quagmire. Like little girls were conditioned to believe that they had to have a Barbie to be happy, attending a tier one university is to some a necessity.

Students of all colors know that they will not become a Mark Elliot Zuckerberg, yet education is still essential for a better life. For minorities, there is no choice.

But even at the tier 4 colleges the ugly head of the corporate driven recession is having consequences. I have had students who work as strippers and they have told me stories of attempts to force them into escort service.

It’s one thing if a person chooses to go into this line of work, but it is different when a person does so because they are hungry or desperate. So with the rising costs of education expect the sugar daddy websites to grow.

I almost vomited when I heard a Democratic boast that the deal had saved Pell Grants. This is disingenuous. They have been cut severely under Obama and the rising tuition costs have diluted their remaining impact, helping only a small minority of students.

Comparing Obama to Dukakis probably does the former Massachusetts governor a disfavor. He served two terms as governor and was regarded as a person of principle. His principled stand against the death penalty cost him the election as Republicans distorted his record and ridiculed him for riding around in a tank.

You can bet that Republicans will pin the moniker of President Jell-O on Obama. Polls indicate that his popularity has plummeted as a result of the debt-ceiling struggle.

Obama may see himself as a Henry Clay or a Daniel Webster, but many of his former supporters look at him as an appeaser. It is one thing to capitalize on the assassination of Bin Laden, and then cringe at the antics of the keepers of the insane asylum. Conceding to bad people makes him complicit.

Dr. Rodolfo F. Acuña teaches at California State University, Northridge and the author of several books.

Breves de la Comunidad

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Boyle Heights

El 30 de julio, los policías de la Estación LAPD Hollenbeck fatalmente balacearon a un hombre quien atacó a los paramédicos quines lo transportaban en una ambulancia desde la cárcel Twin Towers a un hospital. Christopher Moreno, de 38 años y residente de Downey, ha sido identificado como el sospechoso muerto que tomó la ambulancia a la fuerza, chocó contra una iglesia y luego se atrincheró dentro de ella. Moreno es acusado de apuñalar a un oficial quien lo trataba de arrestar, esto causo que otro oficial le dispare, informaron las autoridades. El oficial herido fue hospitalizado y dado de alto el domingo. El incidente se llevo a cabo entre las 2:30pm y 5pm en la cuadra 1500 de Bridge Street, cerca de Echandia Street. El incidente esta bajo investigación.

Cypress Park

El 29 de julio, los bomberos descubrieron un cuerpo en fuego cuando extinguían un incendio en un callejón. El hallazgo se realizó cerca de la Avenida 28 y la calle Figueroa a aproximadamente las 2:15am. Detectives de LAPD y investigadores de incendios provocados están investigando para determinar que sucedió. El nombre del muerto no se hizo público, pero las autoridades si confirmaron que se trataba de un hombre.

Este de Los Ángeles

El 27 de julio, las autoridades alertaron al público acerca de un aumento de robos en las calles que se enfocaban en personas quienes traían puesto oro y joyas. La mayoría de las victimas eran personas de la tercera edad o niños, dijo el Sargento Miguel Mejía de la Estación del Alguacil del Este de Los Ángeles. Las autoridades sugieren mayor precaución y dicen que la mayoría de las victimas han reportado que fueron atacados por atrás, mientras que otros dicen haber sido confrontados cara-a-cara. Victimas o personas con información pueden llamar a los detectives al (323) 264-4151.

Condado de Los Ángeles

La Junta de Supervisores del Condado de Los Ángeles el 27 de julio decidió que el Departamento de Libertad Condicional—y no el Departamento del Alguacil—supervisará a los presos no-violentos que están bajo libertad condicional. La decisión es en preparación para el 1 de octubre cuando el estado obligará a los condados a tomar la responsabilidad de gestionar los servicios de libertad condicional en las jurisdicciones donde estas personas fueron procesadas. La transferencia de la obligación es un esfuerzo por gobernador Jerry Brown para ahorrarle dinero al estado.

Se Debaten los Nuevos Mapas de Distritos Electorales de California

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La Comisión Ciudadana para la Redistribución de Distritos Electorales de California dio a conocer las nuevas jurisdicciones en cuyo diseño influyó el aumento de la comunidad hispana a la que piden sus comentarios y sugerencias.

“El pasado 29 de julio presentamos el borrador final de los mapas electorales para hacer la votación final el 15 de agosto en el capitolio de Sacramento”, dijo Jeanne Raya, una de cuatro hispanas dentro de la comisión.

“Los nuevos mapas de los distritos ya están en la internet para que el público pueda verlos, hacernos sus comentarios, darnos sus opiniones para luego llevarlos al secretario del estado de California para certificarlos”, explicó Raya quien indicó que las nuevas delimitaciones se encuentran en

La Comisión Ciudadana para la Redistribución de Distritos Electorales de California fue creada por mandato de los votantes californianos quienes en noviembre de 2008 aprobaron que la Proposición 11, denominada “Ley de los Votantes Primero”.

Los comisionados hicieron la redistribución de 80 distritos para la Asamblea Estatal, 40 del Senado californiano, 53 del congreso federal y cuatro puestos para la Junta de Ecuanimidad con base a las cifras que recibieron el pasado abril como producto del censo nacional del 2010.

El grupo compuesto de 14 miembros está dividió en 5 demócratas, 5 republicanos y 4 independientes.

“Según el censo los latinos en California han aumentado un 40 por ciento en los pasados diez años y se han concentrado en algunos distritos que son los que han tenido cambios”, explicó Raya.

La población de California actualmente es de 37 millones de los cuales el 16 por ciento son hispanos.

“En los condados de Los Ángeles, Orange y San Bernardino hay cambios en la redistribución en los que minorías como los latinos para quienes hemos hecho lo mejor que hemos podido para que queden mejor representados”, agregó.

Raya reveló que la razón por la que fue creada la comisión fue porque anteriormente los distritos eran trazados en el mapa electoral por los representantes políticos, quienes dibujaban sus jurisdicciones con base a lo que les convenía más para su reelección.

Según los datos del censo, explicó Raya, los hispanos en California se están concentrando más al este debido a que en regiones como el condado Imperial, por ejemplo, los precios de las casas son más bajos.

Steven Ochoa, Coordinador Nacional para los nuevos Distritos Electorales de la Fundación Mexicoamericana para la Educación y la Defensa legal (MALDEF) dijo que después de revisar los mapas electorales no están satisfechos cómo quedan representados los hispanos.

“Ellos pudieron haber hecho un mejor trabajo, hubo bastantes oportunidades para dibujar distritos en que los latinos podrían haber elegido a su candidato de preferencia, ya sea un latino o no latino; pero que los represente”, dijo Ochoa.

“Nosotros vemos que no hay nada nuevo en el Valle Central ni en el Valle Imperial y en el condado de Orange el distrito 34 del senador Lou Correa lo partieron dos”, criticó.

Ochoa indicó que uno de los problemas de la comisión es que debido a que es primera vez que funciona no hay experiencia previa en rediseñar mapas electorales, con base a los intereses de la gente.

“La experiencia anterior es solamente el plan de protección partidaria de los intereses de los políticos”, dijo Ochoa.

“Entendemos que la comisión está aprendiendo; pero no vemos que los latinos van a quedar mejor representados, es decir se cambió un sistema por otro y no sabemos cuál es mejor”, finalizó.

Sublevación Musical: Festival con Fuertes Mensajes Sociales

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LOS ANGELES — No es novedad que una canción tenga un mensaje social, político. Tampoco es novedad que muchos artistas son activistas en favor de diferentes causas. Pero lo que sí es original es que exista un festival de música con bandas cuyos temas contienen un mensaje social definido y además que compartan el lugar con organizaciones que promueven un cambio social.

Esto es precisamente lo que ocurrió en el Festival “LA Rising” que tuvo lugar el sábado 30 de julio en el Coliseo de la ciudad de Los Ángeles.

No debe sorprender que el evento estuviera planeado por los integrantes de la famosa banda de rock Rage Against the Machine, cuyo líder, Zack de la Rocha, es un reconocido activista de los derechos de los inmigrantes y opositor a la guerra.

El plato fuerte del Festival “LA Rising” fue la presentación de la banda angelina Rage Against the Machine. En la imagen, el cantante Zack de la Rocha (izq.) y el guitarrista Tom Morello. Photo por Eduardo Stanley


Los artistas que se presentaron ante miles de espectadores que prácticamente colmaron las instalaciones del Coliseo fueron  El Gran Silencio, de Monterrey, México, con su música estilo “ska”; Immortal Technique, un “rapero” de Nueva York, aunque su verdadero nombre es Felipe Andres Coronel —de origen afro peruano; Lauryn Hill, quien trajo su música híbrida de “soul”, “raggae” y más; Rise Against, el punk agitado y radical; los ingleses de Muse presentaron un excelente show con sus temas más reconocidos y, finalmente, el plato fuerte: Rage Against the Machine, ante el delirio de miles de sus seguidores.

 Lea esta nota EN INGLÉS:  A Music Festival With Strong Social Messages

“Es bueno estar en un lugar y escuchar un mensaje de cambio”, dijo Axel Caballero, de la organización Cuéntame. Este grupo busca contribuir a la organización de los inmigrantes y otras personas interesadas en un cambio social más democrático. “El nombre viene de ‘cuéntame tu historia…’ y usamos las redes sociales para distribuir textos y documentales que producimos nosotros”. Los interesados pueden unirse a Cuéntame en Facebook:

Caballero mostró satisfacción por la cantidad de personas que visitaron el kiosko de su organización, ubicado en el “campo de re-educación” del festival. Otras organizaciones presentes eran Amnistía Internacional, Greenpeace, Food no Bombs, Youth Justice Coalition, Axis of Justice, sindicatos y más.

El festival duró un día y muchos esperan que se transforme en un evento anual.

Entre la presentación de cada banda, las pantallas gigantes a los lados del escenario ofrecían videos con impactantes imágenes y mensajes destinados a concientizar a la audiencia.

La música parecía más bien el elemento unificador y conductor entre mensajes, fueran estos directos —como los temas de Immortal Technique— o sutiles —tal es el caso de Muse—.

Rage Against the Machine es un caso especial de talento y activismo que la han convertido casi en un mito de la música en los últimos 20 años. Su estilo “punk” de rock, con influencias de hip hop la mantienen en la cima de las preferencias de la audiencia jóven.

Su presentación en el escenario es simple, con pocos efectos especiales. Pero su energía y ritmo sacude a la audiencia que no deja de cantar sus temas y estremecerse con los saltos de Zack de la Rocha o los solos de guitarra de Tom Morello.

Como para no perderse la próxima edición del festival.

Eduardo Stanley esta basado en Fresno, California y puede ser contactado en el siguiente correo electrónico:

Agent Orange and Vietnam: Ending A Fifty Year Legacy

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August marks the 50th anniversary of the first use of herbicides by United States military forces during the war in Vietnam. From 1961 until 1971, more than 20 million gallons of Agent Orange and other herbicides were stored, mixed, handled by U.S. troops and sprayed by U.S. airplanes over millions of acres of Vietnamese forest and farmland. The goal of this military operation was to deny cover to the enemy on the ground.

The U.S. government now compensates U.S. Vietnam-era vets for 15 serious health conditions and one birth defect related to exposure to the dioxin that was part of those herbicides.

But some 3 million Vietnamese also suffered health effects, including 150,000 of today’s children with birth defects. Their needs have long been neglected, caught in the geopolitical and scientific conflict that followed the war. The Vietnamese government, several U.S. foundations, and nongovernmental organizations have set up hospitals and small remediation programs, but so far these have redressed less than 10 percent of the need.

But the devastating legacy of Agent Orange, one remaining shadow of that war, is on the way to being resolved in Vietnam – if current trends continue. We may have disagreed on many things in the past, but on a recent trip to Vietnam we witnessed a new spirit of cooperation and partnership among former adversaries. All sides are now determined to alleviate the health and environmental damage from Agent Orange, damage that continues to this day.

At a church-run center near Ho Chi Minh City, we knelt on the floor to meet Nguyen Van Minh, 14, one of 60 severely disabled children receiving medical care and rehabilitation there. Like any child, he giggled and sang along with us to a silly song about “fishies,” as other children competed to hold our hands and give us hugs. Their simple joy in life transcends partisan differences, making it clear that the way to see the Agent Orange legacy now is as a humanitarian concern that we can do something about.

Our former colleagues in Congress agree, so $18.5 million for Agent Orange remediation in Vietnam survived the recent 2011 appropriations battle. At former U.S. military bases, starting with the Da Nang airport, the U.S. Agency for International Development is already at work cleaning up deadly “hot spots” of dioxin residues that are still making people sick where the herbicides spilled and soaked into the ground. The State Department is beginning a new $34 million cleanup project at Da Nang, and David Shear, awaiting Senate confirmation to serve as the new U.S. ambassador, pledged to continue assistance for Vietnam’s disabled citizens without regard to cause.

This is all very good news, reflecting the U.S. mission’s astute understanding that America’s commercial and security interests are well served by dealing with the Agent Orange issue. To follow through during this window of opportunity, the United States should adopt a long-term action plan like that drawn up by the U.S.-Vietnam Dialogue Group on Agent Orange/Dioxin, a nonpartisan group of prominent scientists, policymakers and citizens from both countries sponsored by the Aspen Institute.

For an investment of $30 million a year over 10 years, shared with Vietnam and other donors, the Dialogue Group plan would restore damaged ecosystems, clean up contaminated soils and expand humanitarian services to people with disabilities. Advances in technology and know-how have made this possible, and now is the time to do it.

America is at its best when it responds to humanitarian concerns, restores hope and dignity to a devastated people and closes wounds from the past. Helping innocent children like Minh, who are suffering from their parents’ exposure to Agent Orange/dioxin, is a treatment that can heal us all.

The authors are former U.S. Reps. Constance Morella (R-Md.) and Bob Edgar (D-Pa.) Copyright (C) 2011 by the American Forum. 7/11

Montebello-Commerce YMCA Looks To Next Hundred Years

August 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Josie Zamorano had her heart broken at the Montebello-Commerce YMCA.

The culprit was a good-looking aqua aerobics instructor. “When I came and started swimming, I had a crush on him,” she said.

Read this story IN SPANISH: YMCA de Montebello-Commerce Hace Planes para Los Próximos 100 Años

However it was not meant to be, said Zamora, recalling how one day the instructor picked up and left, apparently to teach in La Crescenta.

But her broken heart did not keep the 72-year old from returning to the YMCA for her daily swim – and now it seems the local branch of this iconic, cultural institution has found another way to her heart.

“Anytime they say, ‘come and eat,’ I’m here,” she says. And lately, there have been many events catering to members’ stomachs, not the least of which was the Montebello-Commerce YMCA’s 100th birthday celebration potluck held last week.

In this day and age of Internet interactions, the YMCA members, many of them long-time friends who first met at the “Y,” and others with their hair still slick from the pool, instead enjoyed each other’s company over fried chicken, Chinese food, homemade jello and brownies.

Well before it became associated with swimming and fitness, the YMCA was seen as a social gathering place that revolved around a kitchen and open space area, says Mike Newton, executive director of the Montebello-Commerce YMCA.

With this in mind, the YMCA’s board of directors has launched a Centennial Campaign to raise $475,000 to fund their vision for the “next hundred years,” which includes an 800 square foot cafe area as well as a 1,200 square foot cardiovascular conditioning center, Newton said.

The YMCA currently serves 7,000 people; the improvements will allow them to serve 1,100 more families from the surrounding community. So far they’ve raised $22,000 toward their goal.

Many of the people they surveyed in the surrounding area want a “third place” that is not their work or home, and a café could serve as that space where people gather to have a healthy bite to eat with their workout buddies, says Newton.

The survey also found that most people in the area were unaware of the facility, despite its long-time presence in Montebello. The facility is not especially visible from the street, so Newton says they plan on placing new cardiovascular exercise equipment along windows overlooking Beverly Boulevard to give the center more exposure.

Newton gave a historical overview to members at last Thursday’s potluck, flipping through a booklet of old photos and describing the many changes and upgrades this branch has gone through in the last century.

The Montebello-Commerce YMCA got its start in 1911 as the LA Athletic Field on Whittier Boulevard in Boyle Heights, six miles from its current location on Beverly Boulevard in Montebello, which opened in 1967, according to Newton.

The center which grew from just a field into a fitness center with a swimming pool, and even a garden, was called the Boyle Heights YMCA, the Hollenbeck YMCA, the Montebello East Los Angeles YMCA, and the Montebello Family YMCA before it was finally named the Montebello-Commerce YMCA in 2006. It was not long after they began working with the City of Commerce to set up a preschool on the Rosewood Park School campus.

Members like Zamorano are passionate about their community gathering place, where they come to sweat it out in line dancing and zumba classes, test their strength in the weightlifting gym, and tend to their fruit trees in the YMCA garden.

YMCA directors often like to tell the story of Warren Krunkle, who lost 160 pounds since joining and ran three marathons, one for each of his sons. He first came to the YMCA while looking for a swim class for his autistic son.

Members at the potluck talked about their own personal connection to the YMCA. Agnes Fukumoto, 67, stepped in to lead a line-dancing class when the last instructor told them, “This is our last day.”

She says she felt comfortable doing it because she is a teacher, but “it’s a little hard” at times to lead the class in the various Cha Cha, Merengue and waltz dance steps. “You have to be able to speak and walk at the same time. The sad part is we’re concentrating so hard we can’t even smile. We hardly ever talk because we’re thinking so hard,” Fukumoto says.

But as they struggle through the moves together, they start forming bonds with the person next to them. “I didn’t know any of these people before,” says Harriet Taguchi, 66, of the group of people around her.

For other members, the YMCA is a convenient part of their daily routine. They live nearby, the parking lot is easy to navigate, and it is an ideal place to bring their children.

Timothy Lemus, 34, has been bringing his children to the YMCA for youth baseball for the past seven years. “The staff is real hospitable and real welcoming. I didn’t feel out of place,” he says.

Compared to regular gyms, which he calls “meat markets,” the YMCA is good for “couples, husband and wife,” and families that want to bring their children. Even the music they play is more family friendly, he says, looking over at the sound system, which is blaring cheerful rock and surf tunes from the 1950s.

Zamorano says when she is no longer able to go to the YMCA “because of age,” she will think back on her “life experiences at the Y, and it’s going to put a big smile on my face.”

For more information about the Montebello-Commerce YMCA, call (323) 887-9622.

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