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Hillary and Second Chances

February 29th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


A couple of days ago, Vibe Magazine
released an interview with Hillary Clinton in which she talks about—among other topics— sentencing policy, prison, and rehabilitation.

She says some decent stuff
—all of which makes interesting reading, particularly in the light of what she said in January when she talked about the changes in those pesky federal sentencing rules that would bring a crack cocaine conviction more in line with the penalties for powder coke.

Clinton made a point of saying
that the change in sentencing should not be not be retroactive.

(I blogged about it here.)

Now, either she feels differently,
or she tailors her message for her audience. I’m betting the latter.

Here are the relevant clips:

VIBE: In your speech, you talked about having first, second, and third chances for children. In the last ten years the rate of incarceration of women has increased exponentially. I don’t think the average person realizes that it’s not 50% or 100%, it’s like 750% in the last thirty years. There are a disproportionate number of African-American men and women who are going to be released from prison with felony convictions. What do we do about that group of people who are effectively disenfranchised when they come out?

CLINTON: Number one, we need to divert more people from the prison system. We have too many people in prison for non-violent drug offenses, which disproportionately impacts on the African-American community. That’s why I’ve been a strong advocate of eliminating the disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine [sentencing].

There may have been a reason
for it 25 years ago but there isn’t any justification for it now. But it also means that in the prisons themselves, we’ve got to get back to the services that used to be there. They have mostly been eliminated — GED programs, college credit programs, drug and alcohol abuse programs — I mean, it is like a wasteland. We put too many people in there and then we basically forget about them. And then when people come out we need a system of second-chance programs. And we need to move to restore people’s rights. They need to feel like they’ve done whatever time they’re supposed to do and now they are back as a full participant. So we need a network of job-training programs, of housing programs, of civic engagement and education programs.

And there are some good examples around.
The Fortune Society in New York does a really good job. Other places like Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, NY that hires ex-offenders and trains them. We can do this on a larger scale than what we’re doing now. And a lot of the job training programs we used to have in this country, which has been decimated, need to be brought back so we can, as I have argued, put people to work in green collar jobs. We should be training people; we should be doing that in the prisons. We should be giving people skills that are going to be part of the economy of the future…

Chapeau tip to Howard Berman at Sentencing, Law and Policy

Posted in Elections '08, Presidential race | 20 Comments »

One in One Hundred Americans

February 28th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


This article in today’s New York Times speaks for itself.
If this doesn’t alarm you, check the batteries on your humanity-meter….or your pulse.

For the first time in the nation’s history, more than one in 100 American adults is behind bars, according to a new report.

Nationwide, the prison population grew by 25,000 last year
, bringing it to almost 1.6 million. Another 723,000 people are in local jails. The number of American adults is about 230 million, meaning that one in every 99.1 adults is behind bars.

Incarceration rates are even higher
for some groups. One in 36 Hispanic adults is behind bars, based on Justice Department figures for 2006. One in 15 black adults is, too, as is one in nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34.

The report, from the Pew Center on the States, also found that only one in 355 white women between the ages of 35 and 39 is behind bars, but that one in 100 black women is.

The report’s methodology differed
from that used by the Justice Department, which calculates the incarceration rate by using the total population rather than the adult population as the denominator. Using the department’s methodology, about one in 130 Americans is behind bars.

Either way, said Susan Urahn, the center’s managing director, “we aren’t really getting the return in public safety from this level of incarceration.”

“We tend to be a country in which incarceration is an easy response to crime,” Ms. Urahn continued. “Being tough on crime is an easy position to take, particularly if you have the money. And we did have the money in the ’80s and ’90s.”

Now, with fewer resources available to the states
, the report said, “prison costs are blowing a hole in state budgets.” On average, states spend almost 7 percent on their budgets on corrections, trailing only healthcare, education and transportation.

In 2007, according to the National Association
of State Budgeting Officers, states spent $44 billion in tax dollars on corrections. That is up from $10.6 billion in 1987, a 127 increase once adjusted for inflation. With money from bond issues and from the federal government included, total state spending on corrections last year was $49 billion. By 2011, the report said, states are on track to spend an additional $25 billion

Read the rest here.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, prison, prison policy | 5 Comments »

The Fight Over Delisting the Wolf

February 28th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


Last week the Federal Fish and Wildlife Service announced
that it was taking the gray wolf off the endangered species list. Under the delisting rule, states will assume legal management authority of wolves in the northern Rockies on March 28, 2008.

In more practical terms this means: let the killing begin. Montana, Idaho and Wyoming will begin hunting wolves in the fall—or, in some cases, perhaps earlier.

In response, eleven conservation groups announced yesterday, the Sierra Club and the Humane Society among them, that they are taking legal action to protect wolves in the northern Rockies. Within hours of the publication of the delisting rule, the groups notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that it violated the Endangered Species Act by removing the northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf population from the list. The groups intend to challenge the Service’s decision in federal court in the hope of overturning the Service’s delisting rule before the hunting ban is lifted and hundreds of wolves are killed.

“Wyoming’s plan classifies wolves as predators in most of the state, where they can be shot on sight without even a hunting license, ” says Derek Goldman, of the Endangered Species Coalition. “Idaho plans on eliminating 85 percent of the wolves in the state through hunting or state eradication programs.”

The approximately 1500 wolves that presently exist in the northern Rockies have had a long and difficult road back from eradication, one that many wolf watchers—myself included—feel that it’s premature and irresponsible to disrupt.

Although the gray wolf was placed
on the federal Endangered Species list in 1974, there had been no wolves to protect in the western US since 1925. It wasn’t until 1986 that a biologist named Diane Boyd was able to document the first den of gray wolves found in the western United States since they were systematically eliminated during the forty-year period stretching from the mid-1880′s until the mid-1920′s. Boyd found the mom and seven pups in the upper reaches of Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana. As she attempted to track the elusive group, they seemed to appear and disappear “as if by sorcery,” so Boyd named them the Magic Pack.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in bears and alligators, environment | 19 Comments »

Smart People are More Fun: RIP WFB Jr.

February 27th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

Buckley versus Vidal, circa 1968…and Best of Buckley with Charlie Rose

Posted in American voices, National politics, writers and writing | 7 Comments »

Gangs…..and Political Bickering

February 27th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


In this morning’s LA Times, Tim Rutten
has a worthwhile, if somewhat unorganized column in which he talks about the fact that law enforcement alone can’t solve the gang problem (which everyone with any sense, including our police chief and our sheriff, has been saying for years).

But Rutten has another point to make. He writes that, although two city-commissioned reports (each costing megabucks) have told us in detail what kinds of gang intervention and prevention strategies the city ought to be supporting for maximum effectiveness, due to political squabbling and turf battles among city officials, nobody’s very likely to convert the recommendations into action anytime in the near future.

(At least that’s generally what he said. Rutten’s column was littered with some strange analogies that, at moments, tended to muddy his thesis.)

Here are a few clips.

Gang violence is to Los Angeles politics as the weather is to conversation:
Everybody talks about it, and nobody ever does anything about it.

Policing occasionally provides a temporary surcease
, [surcease???] as it did last week when a drive-by murder next to a grammar school playground and a subsequent shootout between heavily armed gunmen and Los Angeles Police Department officers paralyzed parts of two neighborhoods northeast of downtown for hours. Early Wednesday morning, a police sweep apprehended 19 alleged gang members and seized guns and drugs.

But though the department is willing
to take on gang violence where it becomes particularly virulent, treating this solely as a policing issue is a bit like asking the overextended, understaffed LAPD to engage in an endless game of Whac-a-Mole.


Every few years, our political establishment runs out of ways to look away and begins demanding another study, a fresh approach, a new initiative. First came an assessment of Los Angeles’ anti-gang efforts commissioned by the City Council and written last year by civil rights attorney Connie Rice.

She’s one of those civic activists who is both principled and shrewd, but the report is a dead letter. It’s more than 100 pages long and demands new programs by the carload.


Meanwhile, City Controller Laura Chick
this month issued her own audit of ongoing anti-gang efforts. She doesn’t see a need for any new funds, but she wants to reallocate money from some programs and consolidate all of them under a single anti-gang czar, who would report directly to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. He likes the idea, as do Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Police Chief William J. Bratton.

Chick’s proposal, however, is unlikely to go any further than Rice’s because it’s opposed by Councilman Tony Cardenas, who chairs the Ad Hoc Committee on Gang Violence and Youth Development.

Ironic that good gang policies are falling victim to bickering about who controls what “territory” between the supposed adults.

Anyway, read the rest here.

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, Gangs, LAPD, law enforcement | 4 Comments »

CRACKED: Lobbying for Fairness

February 26th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


That new Federal rule that brings the sentencing
for crack cocaine closer in line to the sentencing for powder cocaine (instead of it’s present 100 to 1 disparity) is set to kick in next Monday, March 3. As I mentioned two weeks ago, Attorney General Michael Mukasy has tried to derail the sentencing revisions from being retroactive, contending at a Congressional hearing, that U.S. communities would be overrun by violent drug-dispensing felons should the changes, put in place by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, be enacted.

This morning, however, more than fifty community leaders from all over the nation are showing up for what is being called “Crack the Disparity” Lobby Day to try to persuade their various congress people to settle the issue by passing crack cocaine sentencing reform themselves. Several versions of such bills have been introduced in both the House and the Senate, most of them with bipartisan support.

(So buzz off Mukasy.)

In addition to press conferences
and meetings with individual lawmakers, the citizen lobbyists will attend today’s hearing titled “Cracked Justice – Addressing the Unfairness in Cocaine Sentencing” before the House Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security.

“My community has experienced the harm caused by drug abuse,” said Howard Saffold, a former Chicago police officer and participant in the “Crack the Disparity” Lobby Day cosponsored by The Sentencing Project. “We need services to treat people who are addicted to crack cocaine and employment opportunities for the young men who have, for various reasons, chosen to sell it. Excessive prison terms do not address the real problems.”

By the way, today’s Lobby Day is also being cosponsored by such notorious scofflaws and drug-huggers as the American Bar Association, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the United Methodist Church.


NOTE: I just watched Sunday night’s edition of 60 Minutes,
in particular the segment on former Alabama governor Don Siegelman. (Thank you, TiVo.) I strongly suggest you watch it. The segment, which CBS effectively buried by scheduling it to run opposite the Oscars, speaks for itself. (The other segments—on the murder of reporter, Chauncey Bailey, and a repeat of an earlier episode on the disappearance of bees—are also worth watching.)

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, War on Drugs | 17 Comments »

“Battle Company Is Out There”

February 25th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


Likely the strongest piece of journalism
in our nation’s papers this past weekend is a long, disturbing and beautifully written article in the New York Times Magazine called “Battle Company Is Out There.” by Elizabeth Rubin, who is embedded with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team in Afghanistan’s notorious Korengal valley.

Interestingly, while political bloggers were mostly busy linking to Frank Rich’s and Maureen Dowd’s columns yesterday, scores of military and veterans blogs (like these here and here and here) are linking favorably to Rubin’s story, although it assuredly does not tell an upbeat tale.

Rubin says she came to Afghanistan with a pressing question:

Why, with all our technology, were we killing so many civilians in air strikes?
As of September of last year, according to Human Rights Watch, NATO was causing alarmingly high numbers of civilian deaths — 350 by the coalition, compared with 438 by the insurgents. The sheer tonnage of metal raining down on Afghanistan was mind-boggling: a million pounds between January and September of 2007, compared with half a million in all of 2006.

After a few days,
the first question sparked more: Was there a deeper problem in the counterinsurgency campaign? More than 100 American soldiers were killed last year, the highest rate since the invasion. Why were so many more American troops being killed? To find out, I spent much of the fall in the Korengal Valley and elsewhere in Kunar province alongside soldiers who were making life-and-death decisions almost every day — decisions that led to the deaths of soldiers and of civilians.

The answers she found-
–such as they were—are what this article is about, and it makes very compelling and important reading.

NOTE: Among the military and vet bloggers I only saw one criticism,
but it was leveled at the Times’ editors, not at Rubin. A blogger for IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America) felt that the phrases the Times editors chose to put on the cover of the magazine, were overly sensational and likely to turn-off soldiers who might otherwise read what IAVA’s Ray Kimball calls “a fantastic piece.”

Photo: Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Posted in National politics, War | 10 Comments »

NY Times Public Editor Gets it Right

February 24th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


In today’s NY Times, Public Editor Clark Hoyt
has a lot to say about the McCain article kerfuffle, but this is the heart of it:

“….But in the absence of a smoking gun,
I asked Keller why he decided to run what he had.

“If the point of the story was to allege that McCain had an affair with a lobbyist, we’d have owed readers more compelling evidence than the conviction of senior staff members,” he replied. “But that was not the point of the story. The point of the story was that he behaved in such a way that his close aides felt the relationship constituted reckless behavior and feared it would ruin his career.”

I think that ignores the scarlet elephant in the room.
A newspaper cannot begin a story about the all-but-certain Republican presidential nominee with the suggestion of an extramarital affair with an attractive lobbyist 31 years his junior and expect readers to focus on anything other than what most of them did. And if a newspaper is going to suggest an improper sexual affair, whether editors think that is the central point or not, it owes readers more proof than The Times was able to provide.

The stakes are just too big.
As the flamboyant Edwin Edwards of Louisiana once said, “The only way I can lose this election is if I’m caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy.”

The pity of it is that, without the sex, The Times was on to a good story. McCain, who was reprimanded by the Senate Ethics Committee in 1991 for exercising “poor judgment” by intervening with federal regulators on behalf of a corrupt savings and loan executive, recast himself as a crusader against special interests and the corrupting influence of money in politics. Yet he has continued to maintain complex relationships with lobbyists like Iseman, at whose request he wrote to the Federal Communications Commission to urge a speed-up on a decision affecting one of her clients.

Yep. The Times blew it coming and going.
And, as I mentioned in an earlier post, there’s a new pattern of such behavior.

Posted in Elections '08, media, Presidential race | 2 Comments »

WLA’S Completely Unschooled & Unjustified Oscar Predictions -UPDATED

February 24th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


UPDATE: NOW THAT THE Oscars are over,
and in honor of the…um…spirited discussion that’s taken place on this thread, it seemed only right to make sure you all have had a chance to see the following post-Oscar video. (My favorite moment was at 4:45 minutes. J.G., all is forgiven.)

An extremely intellectual friend of mine who lives in DC and is not overly given to popular culture,
told me he might break down and watch the Academy awards this year. I was stunned that Academy viewing was a new thing for him and told him so. (I think I also might have mentioned that NOT watching the Oscars means that you hate America.)

I tried to explain that that one could skip the Super Bowl, and still be a good citizen. But not the Oscar broadcast. “And TiVo-ing doesn’t count,” I said. “You have to watch it in real time. And you have to comment on the dresses.”

The dress thing unnerved my friend and he attempted to change the subject
by mentioning the new article about China by James Fallows that’s in the most recent Atlantic Monthly. I sensed some dark implication about the Chinese pulling ahead of us economically because we watch stupid awards broadcasts instead of keeping our eyes on the economic ball.

“The Chinese watch the Oscars,” I said.
“Hell, they’ve probably found a way to trade Oscar film futures on the Shanghai stock market.” And speaking of futures, I mentioned that this years awards show featured the added frisson of wondering if Jon Stewart’s going to do or say anything unscripted and extremely political that will freak out the conservative members of the audience. “Oscar audiences like funny but they don’t like edgy funny,” I said. “Plus, because of the writer’s strike, Stewart’s had only three days (or may 10 days, but not long) to prepare for his host gig, whereas when Billy Crystal hosts, he prepares for nearly six months.” (No, I’m not kidding. Crystal once told me this in an interview.) “So anything could happen.”

“But I haven’t seen most of the movies,” my friend wailed. “Doesn’t matter,” I said. “Picking winners when you have no solid basis for your opinions is a time honored Hollywood tradition. It’s how studio heads decide which pictures to green light.”

Which brings us to…..


(I’ll show you mine, then you have to show me yours.)

Okay, here they are….

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in American artists, Life in general, media | 65 Comments »

Rainy Day Shootout

February 22nd, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


On Wednesday of this week
I had lunch with the head of the LAPD’s Central Bureau, Deputy Chief Sergio Diaz. He was unusually pressed for time, he said, because one of the divisions under his command, the usually-not-hideously-violence prone Northeast Division, was having an unusual spike in violence—eight homicides since the beginning of the year, the second highest rate in the city.

Diaz was unsure of the reason
. Several of the murders were flukes, he said. For instance, on New Year’s Day two separate guys went to visit two separate loved ones at two separate graves at Forest Lawn. For some reason, one approached the other. Words were exchanged, and one guy pulled a gun and calmly blew the other one’s head off.

Then there was another crazy situation
involving a robbery gone bad.

And, then, he said, the gang known as the Avenues was acting up.

When Chief Diaz left me, he went straight to a strategy meeting to talk about how to put a lid on the Avenues trouble and anything else that might be bubbling up, causing the spike. Better to move now, he said, before things got out of hand.

That was Wednesday.
On Thursday afternoon, I was at USC getting read to begin class when one of my journalism students got a cell phone call from his friend, another J-school kid, who said there’d just been a shootout involving SWAT. No cops were hurt, but there was an OIS—an officer involved shooting.

I had a bad feeling. The student and I turned to the bank of computers that ring the classroom, punched up the local wire service….and found the first bit of news on the story:

The lid Sergio Diaz had hoped to put in place
had not come fast enough. All hell had broken lose in Northeast division.

The LA Times has a full account in this morning’s paper
. Here’s how it begins:

A drive-by attack followed by a wild shootout
between gang members and police shut down dozens of blocks of Northeast Los Angeles for nearly six hours Thursday afternoon, stranding thousands of residents, keeping students locked in their classrooms and leaving two people dead.

Veteran L.A. Police Department officials described the bizarre midday shootings — and the widespread disruption they caused — as highly unusual even in an area known for gang activity. It left the neighborhood littered with shell casings and its residents fearful.

Police blamed the incident on the notorious Avenues gang….

You can find the rest here.

Posted in Gangs, LAPD | 25 Comments »

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