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Wright and the Responsibility of the Media

April 30th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

Often Jon Stewart gets it right.

Last night he got it very right.
Unlike every other news outlet in the country, he declined to mention Jeremiah Wright on his show—at all. But when the subject was brought up (not broached by Stewart) in his interview with Newt Gingrich, he politely pointed out the utter hypocrisy of the media’s fixation with Barack Obama’s former paster.

“I’m really stunned that his pastor has become a focal point of the campaign.”

If Barack Obama loses this nomination fair and square, fine.
But if he loses it because of the Jeremiah Wright issue, the American media is entirely complicit.

As I posted yesterday, I’m aghast at the Shakespearean nature of what Wright did at the National Press Club because of what it says about his own narcissism and his disregard for Obama’s campaign for the presidency.

But the destructive nature of what is going on in the American news media with the obsessive pawing over the Wright matter to the exclusion of EVERY OTHER ISSUE is nothing short of tragic.

No matter whom you favor for President,
every one of us loses when serious dialogue goes out the window, as it has in this campaign.

PS: BTW, what Stewart did report on (hilariously)
is the vexing and counter-factual committee hearings that took place in Congress yesterday regarding sex education.

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

Killing Wolves

April 30th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


I’ve been monitoring this issue with a sinking heart.
And now it appears that worst fears are well on their way to coming true.

The gray wolves of the Northern Rocky Mountains were taken off the Endangered Species list on March 28, because their numbers across Idaho, Wyoming and Montana had reached around 1500. In the month since the ban on shooting wolves was lifted, 35 wolves have been shot. (And we’re not talking about ranchers protecting livestock here. Nearly all of the wolf deaths were caused by plain old hunting.)

Take for example the three-legged male
Yellowstone wolf known as 253M and nicknamed “Liimpy”, a creature with a dark black coat and an off-kilter gait who used to delight tourists and locals with frequent glimpses. He was arguably the best known wild wolf in north America (Tales of his meanderings often turned up on local papers.)…and he was killed the first day the ban was lifted.

In response to the rush to shoot wolves, a consortium of 12 environmental groups filed a lawsuit on Monday in the hope of halting the killing.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Missoula, Montana,
asks for reinstated protection for gray wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

As regular readers know, I have personal emotions tied up in the issue. I’ve tracked wolves in the wild with biologists, have a beautiful wolf hybrid dog named Loup-Loup, and give dog cookies to the neighbors’ two gorgeous nearly full blooded wolves when they come to my back door on mornings when I’m at home working. Yet, the fact that I like wolves doesn’t impair reason.

I’ve outlined the issue in more detail here
. But this morning’s LA Times has a good editorial on how the wolf policy is going off the rails and what ought to be done to fix it. Here’s an excerpt.

The gray wolf of the northern Rockies was ready for delisting.
[NOTE: I don't think so but honorable people could honorably disagree on this issue.] The population exceeded all goals for the program, and species should not be kept on a lifeline forever, if at all possible. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was remiss in this case, primarily because it failed to ensure that state regulations for the wolves would protect them. Obviously, with more than 2% of the population killed within a month, existing state management plans are inadequate.

Some residents of the three states
— ranchers, hunters and people who just don’t like wolves — have been waiting for this chance. Protecting livestock is one thing, but hunters have been complaining that the wolves keep down the population of elk, which they would like to hunt themselves. Yet part of the reasoning for reintroducing the wolf was to restore the natural balance in which animal predators kept the populations of elk and deer in check.

The federal government will not intervene again
on the wolves’ behalf until their numbers fall as low as 300. Taxpayers will then bear the burden of re-listing the wolves. That’s partly why environmentalists have gone to court over the delisting.

The Fish and Wildlife Service should re-list the wolves
until it receives more reasonable management plans from the states involved, and should demand that the population fall no lower than 1,000. The wolves weren’t reintroduced to provide target practice for hunters.

Posted in bears and alligators, environment, wolves | 8 Comments »

The Drug War’s War on Students

April 29th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


In 2001 Education Week told this story about the Bush Administration’s decision
to be hard core in its enforcement of one part of the Higher Education Act.

When police found a small amount of marijuana residue
in her car the day before her 19th birthday, Marisa Garcia was handed a ticket and sent on her way. After she was convicted of drug possession and paid a $415 fine, Ms. Garcia thought the incident could be put behind her.

But the California State University-Fullerton
student later discovered that her minor scrape with the law had cost her much more: Ms. Garcia ended up losing her eligibility for federal student financial aid because of a change three years ago in the Higher Education Act.

“It was the first time I had ever been in trouble with the law,”
said Ms. Garcia, who worked extra hours in a flower shop and turned to her family to help pay her tuition and expenses. “When I found out that if I was a murderer or child molester I would still be eligible, I really got mad.”

Hard to blame her. With cases like Garcia’s in mind, college students,
financial-aid associations, and civil rights groups have been working since then to challenge or overturn the provision—with no luck. (335 organizations from American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers to the United Church of Christ favor overturning it.)

According to Ed Week, even Republican Congressman Mark Souder,
the guy who introduced the 1998 legislation, has indicated that the law was never intended to “reach back” and affect students with past drug convictions. It was meant, said Souder’s office, to derail applications if kids were convicted of drug crimes while they were applying for aid. (An explanation that has its own illogic, but whatever.)

Yesterday one of the constitutional challenges to the law finally had its day in court
, but the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected it. A new Ed Week blog post has the details (and here’s the ruling itself).

Constitutionality aside, why in the world would we want to punish a kid
for some past transgression—particularly a kid who is trying to go to college?

Remember that the average high school graduation rate in America’s largest cities is at 50 percent
, with cities like Baltimore, Cleveland and Detroit graduating even fewer. It would seem that if a kid does graduate and wants to go to college, we should be moving heaven and earth to help.

But instead we’ve got this idiotic provision that since 2001 has reportedly denied aid to approximately 200,000 students.

These are the days when I start to think some of our lawmakers
really don’t like our nation’s children very well.

PS: And how has the media covered the story?
Other than Ed Week and the wonkiest law blogs—I’ve found nothing. (Obviously, there are more important topics to explore.)

Posted in Courts, Education, War on Drugs | 8 Comments »

Sigmund Freud….. Meet Jeremiah Wright – UPDATED X 2

April 29th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


UPDATE 2: Barack Obama held a press conference this morning and came out forcefully and appropriately on the Wright issue. Link to coverage and video is here and NPR has the entire press conference here. It’s long and it’s very, very interesting.

This is such a strange and sad drama
that it almost defies political analysis and frankly begs for a literary interpretation.


Unlike others, I haven’t been all that bothered
by Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s more inflammatory remarks that have been played repeatedly on YouTube.

And then came the 48-hour Jeremiah Wright-a-thon

His Moyers appearance and his NAACP speech were fine.

But in some kind of horrifyingly cringe-making reverse Oedipal thing,
Wright was so entirely full of himself and so creepily competitive with Obama yesterday when he spoke to the National Press Club, it was hard to understand what he was thinking.

Yes, of course he has the right to defend himself against out-of-context clips and scurrilous attacks, but timing is everything, buddy. If Barack’s the guy Wright wants in the White House, this was the moment to shut up and take one for the team.

But he didn’t. Instead we got the smirky narcissism-on-parade he displayed at the press club.

On the other hand, why the press had to do All Wright
All the Time last night—complete with the worst kind of talking-head screamers—is another issue altogether. (See yesterday’s post.)

All this and the Supremes decide that voter ID
requirements are just fine and dandy.


UPDATED: Commenter Woody provided this link to an interesting story by New York Daily News columnist Errol Louis who suggests that maybe there was more to Reverend Wright’s sad and destructive appearance at the National Press Club than meets the eye.

also has a good post on the subject.

Posted in Elections '08, Presidential race, Religion | 15 Comments »

Calvin Trillin, The Wire & the AFL-CIO

April 29th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

Two Southern California events and one national contest that you might want to know about..


For those of you who are hard core fans of The Wire, the Liberty Hill Foundation is honoring David Simon and Ed Burns at their annual Upton Sinclair dinner this Thursday. The YouTube trailer for the dinner is above. The yearly Sinclair dinner is always a cool and worthy event. (I’m teaching that night or I’d be there.) FYI: The Liberty Hill Foundation is a wonderful organization that helps to fund social justice projects all over Los Angeles.


I will, however, be going to this evening with the fabulous Calvin Trillin at UC Irvine’s annual Pereira Distinguished Lecture. It’s a talk, plus a reception that’s open to the public….and it’s FREE.

I notice that WLA commenter Rebel Girl has posted news of the event on her blog. “Pay attention, please,” she says, Trillin is the funniest, smartest, most honest chronicler of our brave, nutty republic you can sit and listen to on a Wednesday night in America.”

My thoughts exactly.


The AFL-CIO is sponsoring a contest with the goal of starting “a new kind national conversation”
through video. Here are the details:

America isn’t working the way it should.
Homes are being foreclosed on at alarming rates…families are surviving without health care…people are being forced to decide between gasoline and groceries…men and women are working harder for lower wages…we are on the brink of economic peril.

Start by thinking about how this impacts you
— tell us your personal story. What are you experiencing? What about your family? Your friends? Your neighbors? What is impacting your community? Your school? What’s your vision of America? And, as important, how would you turn things around?

National conversation is good (As long as it doesn’t involve Reverend Wright.)

Click here to enter (or to watch some of the videos already in).

Posted in American artists, media, social justice, unions, writers and writing | 5 Comments »

Real World Questions, Please

April 28th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


In yesterday’s New York Times Elizabeth Edwards
slapped the media upside the head for its repeated dwelling on trivia, both now and last year when the Democrats were still in the midst of a multi-candidate race.

This morning’s LA Times wants SOMEONE…ANYONE in the media
to ask the candidates less about flag pins,” bitterness,” and “geriatric radicals,” and more about actual….you know…. issues. Helpfully, the Times lists some sample questions, among them the following:

You have criticized President Bush’s expansion of executive power.
Detail for us how you intend to legally forbid yourself — and your successors — from using signing statements to alter legislation. Don’t tell us that your judgment will be better than Bush’s, so not to worry. Give us specifics.

How exactly would you ensure that no American citizen can be declared an “enemy combatant”? Explain what you believe a president ought and ought not to be able to do with a foreigner captured abroad and suspected of having plans to kill Americans.

Describe a situation in which you would defend the president’s asserted power to monitor telephone conversations and e-mails of U.S. citizens without a warrant

I’d also like to hear what suggestions all three candidates have for curing
the nation’s hideous urban school drop out rates.

In addition, it might be nice to hear if they have any constructive thoughts on the spreading world food crisis that is now called the worst in a generation.

And what about the fact that one in every nine
African American men between 20 and 34 is behinds bars? I’d prefer to hear those who might be president give a few words over to that troubling issue rather than hearing one more thing about somebody’s pastor (or sniper fire, or possibly purloined favorite recipes, for that matter.)

And now that we’re on the subject, when a bunch of editors and writers were sitting around
at the LA Times book fair, talking about life, books, and the NEA (among other things) it was mentioned that we we wouldn’t mind knowing who each of the candidates would be likely to appoint as their arts advisers. (No. Issue-wise this is not exactly as pressing as the Iraq War, the nose-diving economy, global warming, or health care, but the answer would be, in its own way, telling nonetheless. And it has a hell of a lot more to do with the emotional/moral/spiritual health of the nation than freaking flag pins.)

What would you like to ask?

Posted in Elections '08, media, Presidential race | 33 Comments »

High on Books – UPDATED

April 27th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


UPDATE: For those of you who didn’t get to go to the Festival, reading my pal Tod Goldberg’s Festival of Books Primer is almost as good, wa-a-a-ay funnier, and doesn’t require either driving time or sunscreen.

Yesterday was glorious.
Today is likely to be more glorious still. (If you live in LA, you still have time to get over there. Or tune in right this minute to hear good stuff like blogfather Marc Cooper moderating a panel on C-SPAN Books)


My panel, moderated by Jill Leovy (The Homocide Report),
with Miles Corwin and brand new author Dashaun Morris, in which we talked about literature based on stories from the streets, could have easily gone twice its length judging by the enthusiasm of the questioners from the audience. (The photo above of me is with Dashaun and his brother, and clearly I look very cheered up by being flanked by two handsome, smart guys.) Dashaun is a former gang member who, after prison, transformed himself into a man with a great deal of worth to say to those trying to understand the problem of gang violence and how to solve it.

But the day was filled with a plethora of terrific panels and author talks, and thousands and thousands of men, women and children who come together at this event—all for the love of books.

Some of the panel and talks I most enjoyed were:

1. Dialogue-wizard Richard Price talking about his new novel Lush Life, a beautifully constructed and fabulously entertaining book that I’m betting will be up for multiple book awards this time next year.

2. The amazing Maxine Hong Kingston in conversation
with my good pal LA Times Book Editor David Ulin, a wonderfully inspiring hour of talk about writing as a form of activism and how to convey the complexity of human experience through the interweave of truth and myth.

3. Mega-popular mystery writer Michael Connelly (LAPD Chief Bill Bratton’s favorite crime novelist) interviewing police procedural master Joe Wambaugh
about his new novel, Hollywood Crows. Wambaugh entertained the adoring, packed-to-the-rafters crowd with his wild and woolly tales of the art of getting great stories out of cops, and the perils of getting Hollywood actors to do nude scenes. (Wambaugh himself in part produced the movie of his classic true crime bookThe Onion Field.)

So rush over now…..or watch it on C-Span Books, ….or buy the recordings of the panels and talks you wish you could have seen…..or just go out and have fun reading.

Books make the world a better place to be.

Posted in American artists, Los Angeles Times, writers and writing | 18 Comments »

End Game

April 25th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

So who’s right? And what does it mean?

Maureen Dowd says this:

.She’s been running ads about it, suggesting he doesn’t have “what it takes” to run the country. Her message is unapologetically emasculating: If he does not have the gumption to put me in my place, when superdelegates are deserting me, money is drying up, he’s outspending me 2-to-1 on TV ads, my husband’s going crackers and party leaders are sick of me, how can he be trusted to totally obliterate Iran and stop Osama?


The Democrats are growing ever more desperate about the Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.
With gas prices out of control, with the comically oblivious President Bush shimmying around New Orleans — the city he let drown — and Condi sneaking into Baghdad as rockets and mortars hail down on the Green Zone, beating the Republicans should be a cinch.

But the Democrats watch in horror as Hillary
continues to scratch up the once silvery sheen on Obama, and as John McCain not only consolidates his own party but encroaches on theirs by boldly venturing into Selma, Ala., on Monday to woo black voters.


The Democrats are eager to move on to an Obama-McCain race. But they can’t because no one seems to be able to show Hillary the door. Despite all his incandescent gifts, Obama has missed several opportunities to smash the ball over the net and end the game. Again and again, he has seemed stuck at deuce. He complains about the politics of scoring points, but to win, you’ve got to score points.

And here’s what Joe Klein says at Time Magazine:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Elections '08, media, Presidential race | 26 Comments »

El Lay Celebrates Books – And LA Writers Do Radio

April 25th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon



The LA Times Festival of Books takes over the UCLA campus this weekend. All day Saturday and Sunday seventy or eighty thousand people will show up at UCLA to attend author panels and readings scheduled every hour from 10 am until 4 pm on eighteen different stage and lecture halls.

It’s all free. And it’s exceptionally cool,
I promise you.

I’m on a Saturday panel at 10 am called “Nonfiction from the Streets
” moderated by Jill Leovy (the Homicide Blog) with Miles Corwin (The Killing Season and And Still We Rise) and a new author named DaShaun Morris who has written a memoir about his time as a Blood gangster.

But ours is only one of many panels that are worth checking out.

At noon you can see famous LA mystery novelist,
Michael Connelly, interview legendary LA police procedural novelist, Joe Wambaugh. (Damn. I’m going to that!)

At 3 PM LA Observed’s Kevin Roderick
moderates an intriguing line up of writers for a panel called, “California, the Great Experiment.”

Come on down and see us on Saturday. Or failing that, just come on down. Whatever else the LA Times does or does not do right, it gives the residents of LA this fabulous gift once a year when the book fair rolls around.


Saturday at noon, Miles and I will be on KPFK’s Deadline LA (90.7 FM)—talking about the panel and the book fair.

Posted in literature, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles writers | 2 Comments »

The *Real* Wire: Life Imitates Art in Baltimore’s Shadow World

April 24th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


Another of the talented LA Weekly writers
who’ve migrated elsewhere in the past year is Jeffrey Anderson. Jeff is an emblematic example of that much too rare breed, the crusading reporter. He has great street instincts, lives to afflict the comfortable, comfort the afflicted and rarely meets a wrong he doesn’t long to right. (While at the Weekly, he wrote about, among other topics, political corruption in Bell Gardens and Cudahy.)

Now Jeff lives in Baltimore and works for the town’s LA Weekly equivalent, the City Paper.

Earlier this year, I posted links to Jeff’s three-part series that connected dots in the LA-Baltimore drug connection,

Now, Jeff and his colleagues have been working on an investigative series that feels like it’s pulled straight from The Wire. This look at Baltimore’s shadow world involves the nexus of drug trafficking, respectable business and local politics.

Jeff sent me a link to the latest in the series yesterday. It’s an intriguing tale that makes for great reading and likely has many more chapters yet to come. But it’s scary stuff for any reporter to dig into, especially when one is working for the alternative weekly, not the town’s Tribune-owned, lawyer-heavy paper of record.

Here are the links to the pieces of the story thus far
so you can follow along, and cheer Jeff on as he continues to dig.

1. Flight Connections

2. One Angry Man

And from yesterday...

3. Grave Accusations.…. in which a now dead prosecutor calls a local business man a “violent drug dealer.” (This last one’s by Jeff’s colleague, Van Smith.)

Photo above of murdered Baltimore-based Federal Prosecutor Jonathan Luna

Posted in crime and punishment, journalism, media, War on Drugs | 2 Comments »

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