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Dreams From the Monster Factory: Hope for America’s Prisons

May 29th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


The California budget cuts seem to get more draconian hourly.
(Do we really think it’s a good idea to slash nearly all of LAUSD’s summer school programs? Really? I mean, really???)

And on Wednesday, after spending the morning observing a case that was unfolding at Eastlake Juvenile Court, I began to wonder, not so briefly, if a good portion of those working in LA County’s juvenile justice system were actively psychotic. (It’s a story that will have to wait until later.)

But last night, all at once, a moment of blessed sanity
broke through the bad, sad, cloudy thinking that too often these days seem to dictate public policy. It came in the form of a review in the June 11 issue of the New York Review of Books.

The book in question is titled Dreams from the Monster Factory: A Tale of Prison, Redemption and One Woman’s Fight to Restore Justice to All. Its author is Sunny Schwartz. The reviewer’s name is Helen Epstein.

(Prior to reading the piece, I had never heard of either of these women
, but now I may have to find a way to be friends with both of them.)

The review opens as follows:

America’s prison system is in a dire state.
Some 2.3 million people in this country are now behind bars, five times more than in 1978. Our incarceration rate is now higher than that of any other country in the world. Many, if not most, inmates probably should not be there. Sixteen percent of the adult prison population suffers from mental illness and should be in treatment; a similar fraction is made up of children under eighteen. Although there is little evidence that blacks are more likely to use drugs than whites, they are six times more likely to be imprisoned on drug-related charges. Of those, most have no history of violence or drug dealing, and were arrested mainly for possession of drugs.

Sexual and other forms of abuse in prison are common, reported by some 20 percent of inmates. These “monster factories,” as the lawyer and author Sunny Schwartz calls them, do little to break the cycle of violence in society and may even accelerate it. Roughly two thirds of those released from US jails and prisons end up back inside within three years. Some studies suggest that the experience of imprisonment can be so brutal and humiliating that it actually makes men, in particular, harder and meaner, so that the crimes they commit the next time around are even worse than what got them incarcerated in the first place.

Senator Jim Webb of Virginia is currently sponsoring a bill that would create a commission to review America’s entire criminal justice system and make recommendations for reform. If the bill passes, its commissioners should bear in mind a small experiment that took place in the San Francisco County Jail in San Bruno, California, some years ago. This project, the subject of Sunny Schwartz’s brief, absorbing memoir Dreams from the Monster Factory, is important not just because it dramatically reduced recidivism, but also because it could help break the tired stalemate between liberals and conservatives over punishment versus rehabilitation.

Schwartz’s program at San Bruno came to be called the Resolve to Stop the Violence Project, or RSVP. In addition to providing eduction and other programs, the heart of RSVP was rooted in the the idea of “restorative justice.”

Contemporary justice in the United States is largely based on the idea of retribution, and relies primarily on punishment. Restorative justice, as Schwartz explains it, is based on the concept prevalent in more traditional societies that offenders must also try to repair, as far as possible, the harm they have caused others. In order to do this, offenders must first confront what they have done, and then make amends to their families, their communities, and, if possible, their victims as well. Schwartz writes that she very soon came to believe that restorative justice could be a means of transforming these men from chronic offenders into productive members of their communities.

The first step, persuading the San Bruno inmates to face up to their own violent behavior, would be the most difficult….

Epstein writes much, much more--both about Schwartz’s program and the issue in general, including things like the work of Harvard’s James Gilligan, who in the 1980′s was in charge of mental health services in the Massachusetts prisons, where he theorized (with remarkable results) that much of the violence perpetrated by the inmates he studied was “shame-based.”

Anyway, just read it.
It’s smart, wise, true. —and information that is in desperate need of being taken seriously, in California and nationwide—but particularly in our fair state as Arnold Schwarzenegger, in his haze of fury and frustration, pushes for all rehabilitative programs to be dropped from California prisons altogether—a move that, no matter how tight our purse strings must now be tied, is a short-sighted and reckless way to build a future.

Posted in California budget, juvenile justice, prison, prison policy | 9 Comments »

California on the Chopping Block: Is There A Way Out?

May 28th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


Is it me? Or does Arnold Schwarzenegger sound really vengeful?
I get the feeling that, after last week’s vote, if he had the necessary Old Testament power, he would smite us all.

The LA Times reported that just before the governor delivered his blood-drenched new budget proposal to California’s lawmakers, he said he will be giving voters what they want, having “heard the message of the people”

If cornered he would no doubt say otherwise, but I don’t think Arnold means that in a nice way.

Here’s how the San Jose Mercury News reported the slaughterhouse to come:

Faced with a ballooning deficit and a clear signal that voters won’t pay more to fix it,
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger released a budget plan Tuesday that would eliminate welfare, drop 1 million poor children from health insurance, cut off new grants for college students and shut down 80 percent of state parks.

In a state that long has prided itself on its social safety net, it could well go down in history as the most drastic reduction in social programs ever. And billions in further cuts will be unveiled later this week.

The governor’s proposal to whack an additional $5.5 billion
from state programs stunned even longtime Capitol-watchers with its blunt force. Ending cash assistance for 1.3 million impoverished state residents, for example, would make California the only state with no welfare program.

“Every single first-world nation has a safety net program for children,” said Will Lightbourne, Santa Clara County’s social services director. “This would return us to the era of Dickens — you’d have to go back to the 19th century to find a comparable proposal.”

All this, and Arnold also proposes cutting all rehabilitative programs within the state’s prisons. Drug treatment, educational classes, anything that might help an inmate once he or she is paroled. Gone. Chopped. Vanished. (This in a state with a 70 percent recidivism rate.)

What to do?


Posted in Economy, State government, State politics | 27 Comments »

Jesse James Hollywood

May 28th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

Nine years after the crime, on May 15, the trial finally commenced for SF valley boy and baby thug,
Jesse James Hollywood, a middle class-raised West Hills drug dealer who, in the summer of 2000, allegedly ordered the kidnapping and eventually the murder of 15-year-old Nick Markowitz, when Hollywood was in a feud with Markowitz’s older brother Ben. And then he went on the run. Hollywood was captured in Brazil in 2005

In past years, the story of the crime has been chronicled in a long narrative article by my pal Jesse Katz for Los Angeles Magazine, a novel by Michael Mehas called Stolen Boy, and a film by Nick Cassavetes called Alpha Dog.

Marc Cooper’s wonderfully smart daughter Natasha Vargas-Cooper
is covering the trial for The Awl and hers will assuredly be the account to read as this thing unfolds.

Hollywood is represented by LA super attorney James Blatt. I had occasion to speak to Blatt when I was researching a story, and poured over lengthy court transcripts on a case for which he was the defense attorney. The impression I came away with was that Blatt was exactly the attorney your or I would need and couldn’t afford if we ever found ourselves accused of a bigtime felony. He seemed able to convince judges and juries that black is white, up is down, no is yes, and guilt is really innocence.

Natasha herself has a special interest in the case. As it happens, she knew the victim, Nick Markowitz.

Here are some clips from her story:

I grew up with Nick Markowitz. We had a three-day hand-holding affair the summer of 7th grade. He was a part of my tight circle of goofy theater kid friends who were transformed into a traumatized fraternity after his murder.

In the summer of 2000, Nick’s older brother Ben owed a $1,200 drug debt to Hollywood. Ben and Jesse—who had played in Little League together—were now feuding.

In a haphazard plan to exact revenge and ransom, Hollywood and his friends kidnapped Nick, who was 15. The boys took Nick to Santa Barbara, where they partied, hung out with girls. Hollywood consulted a retired attorney about the circumstances. Instead of possibly facing a life-sentence for aggravated kidnapping, it was decided that they would kill Nick and make it look as though he disappeared. Ryan Hoyt, also in debt to Hollywood, and now on death row, volunteered to fire the gun.

The trial started on Monday, May 18, with the usual amount of civility. Throughout the week, that dissolved, due largely to the style of defense attorney James Blatt. In a silk suit, with cropped hair and an ostentatious pinky-ring, Blatt’s tactic is to accuse witnesses of lying, and regularly badgers them until Judge Brian E. Hill intervenes.


[Prosecution witness] Saulsbury said that his wife had received a phone call from Blatt’s private investigator, requesting his home address.

On Thursday—the day after that phone call—Saulsbury’s dog had ingested rat poison and was, he said, “bleeding out of his eyeballs.” He said that, after testifying, he would need to go immediately to the vet and have his dog euthanized.

Blatt began another round of questioning.

“Are you accusing me of poisoning your dog to threaten you?” asked Blatt.

“Yes, I am,” said Saulsbury.

Blatt threw his arms open. “How could you say that?” he asked

Read the rest.

Posted in crime and punishment, Gangs | 6 Comments »

The Iraq War Diaspora Struggles in So Cal

May 28th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


“About 4 million Iraqis, forced to flee their homes after death threats
and bombings, have been displaced by the ongoing violence….” writes Hanna Ingber Win for this week’s LA Weekly.

About half are displaced inside Iraq and often languish in camps without proper security or enough food and aid. The other half have fled to neighboring countries like Syria and Jordan, living in constant fear of deportation or imprisonment in places that do not recognize them as refugees and might at any moment kick them out. Taken as a whole, the current Iraqi diaspora is considered one of the greatest humanitarian crises of our times. Silewa is but one local face of a monumental and mostly ignored global crisis, which also embodies perilous national-security concerns.

Of the millions displaced, the United States will resettle about 17,000 new Iraqis this coming fiscal year…

About a third of these will end up in El Cajon
and Greater San Diego, where they will embark on an uncertain journey.

Approximately half of the newly arrived So Cal Iraqis will not be able to find jobs, and even those who do work are likely to edge into chronic poverty, a situation that grows worse as California hurtles toward its own fiscal abyss, Hanna reports. She has been researching the issue since last summer.

I read Hanna’s story in an earlier draft when she had just finished getting her master’s in journalism at USC (she is now the World Editor a The Huffington Post) and it has only gotten far stronger—and more alarming.

Here’s the link.

Photo by Hanna Ingber Win

Posted in immigration, War | 2 Comments »

Ted, David, Sheila…and Prop 8

May 27th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


The decision has been handed down,
the protests have begun, but one surprisingly cool thing has come out of the expected but wrong-headed and deeply saddening California Supreme Court decision on Prop 8.

The one-cool-thing is the news that—as the the LA Times reported yesterday late afternoon—stupendously bright, hot shot constitutional lawyer, David Boies—the guy who defended Al Gore in Bush v. Gore—has gotten together with another stupendously bright, hot shot constitutional lawyer pal and, together, these too super litigators will be representing two same sex couples to challenge Prop. 8, not in state court, but federal court.

And Boies’ hot shot pal is—-Ted Olson.
Yep. That Ted Olson. The guy who represented Bush in Bush v. Gore—and the very same guy who was George W. Bush’s Solicitor General.

Boies and Olson will hold a press conference in Los Angeles this morning to talk more about the case.

Basically, however, the suit asks the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to issue an injunction that would stop enforcement of Proposition 8 and allow same-sex couples to marry immediately, while the case is being decided.

As the LA Times notes, Prop 8 opponents have thus far been reluctant to challenge the initiative in federal court as the federal bench is considered now to be conservative-leaning due to eight years of Bush administration appointments. Even the traditionally liberal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is believed to have taken a conservative turn in past years.

Yet Olson and Boies sound undaunted—particularly Olson.

“I personally think it is time that we as a nation get past distinguishing people on the basis of sexual orientation, and that a grave injustice is being done to people by making these distinctions,” Olson told Bryon York of the Washington Examiner, Tuesday night. “I thought their cause was just.”

Here’s a bit more from the Examiner.

I asked Olson about the objections of conservatives who will argue that he is asking a court to overturn the legitimately-expressed will of the people of California. “It is our position in this case that Proposition 8, as upheld by the California Supreme Court, denies federal constitutional rights under the equal protection and due process clauses of the constitution,” Olson said. “The constitution protects individuals’ basic rights that cannot be taken away by a vote. If the people of California had voted to ban interracial marriage, it would have been the responsibility of the courts to say that they cannot do that under the constitution. We believe that denying individuals in this category the right to lasting, loving relationships through marriage is a denial to them, on an impermissible basis, of the rights that the rest of us enjoy…I also personally believe that it is wrong for us to continue to deny rights to individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation.”

Technically, the suit Olson has filed is against the governor, attorney general, and other officials of the state of California. Ultimately, Olson said, it’s a question that will be decided in Washington, by the Supreme Court. “This is an issue that will get to the Supreme Court, and I think it could well be this case,” he said.

And here’s a bit more from the S.F. Chron, which also had a conversation with Olson about the matter:

He said that he and Boies, who have become close friends in the years since Bush v. Gore, decided to collaborate on the issue.

“We wanted to be a symbol of the fact that this not a conservative or a liberal issue. We want to send a signal that this is an important constitutional issue involving equal rights for all Americans,” Olson said.


The lawyers said that by relegating same-sex unions to “the separate-but-unequal institution of domestic partnership,” California is violating the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees equal protection for all.

They cite numerous alleged violations of the federal amendment including singling out gays and lesbians for a disfavored legal status and discriminating on the basis of gender and sexual orientation.

“We believe this is the kind of matter where Americans must come together and recognize the rights of all citizens,” Olson said.

Amazing. In the best possible sense of the word.

PS: Sheila Keuhl has a very smart take on her blog about how and why the California Supremes got it wrong.

Read it. I think she’s got it exactly right—which, by the way, makes Boies and Olson’s endeavor seem that much more well chosen and important.

Posted in Civil Rights, Courts, LGBT, Supreme Court | 18 Comments »

Sonia Sotomayor!

May 26th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon



A rigorous intellect, a mastery of the law... a commitment to impartial justice….an inspiring woman whom I believe will make a great justice…”

“Walking in the door she would bring more experience on the bench and more varied experience on the bench” than anyone currently sitting on the court had when they walked in.

Originally nominated to the District Court for the Southern District of New York in 1992 by George H.W. Bush.

Wooo-hooo! Go Sonia!

(This column over at HuffPost has some great Sonia links, including the story of how Judge Sonia Sotomayor arguably “saved baseball.”)

I’m personally fond of the story about how—in addition to her single mom—one of Judge Sotomayor’s inspirations was….Nancy Drew. (Me too, girlfriend. Me too.)

(A reread of those 1930′s and 1940′s-written novels reveals some very creepy Jim Crow moments, but despite the downsides, for thinking girls of certain generations, they provided one of the few available models.)


The big buzz around the blogosphere right now has less to do with the choice of Sonia Sotomayor, and more to do with the very negative take on Sotomayor and her intellect by the New Republic’s Jeff Rosen, who used a string of anonymous sources to question Sotomayor’s braininess or lack thereof.

Here’s a bit of what Amy Davidson at the New Yorker said:

[Rosen's] was an ugly little piece—it suggested that she was shrill and not so smart, never mind the summa from Princeton and the editorship on the Yale Law Journal. Its flaws, tonal and reportorial, are obvious even to the lay person, just as its conclusions are attractive to a certain political set: “So she’s dumb and obnoxious. Got it,” a National Review blog said.

Over at the Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates had this to say:

“…I haven’t read enough of Sotomayor’s opinions to have a confident sense of them, nor have I talked to enough of Sotomayor’s detractors and supporters, to get a fully balanced picture of her strengths.”

I can’t get past that line–mostly because, as Greenwald said yesterday,
it drips with unintentional irony–Rosen is attacking Sotomayor’s ability to do the necessary intellectual heavy-lifting, while explicitly neglecting to do any of his own. In this instance, His piece reads like a burglar’s brief against rampant criminality. Authored mid-robbery, no less.

Here’s what Constitutional law professor Darren Hutchenson said in rebuttal, tearing Rosen’s points limb from limb.

Here is an essay from a former law clerk, Gerard Magliocca, who worked around her for thirteen years.

And here is what Professor Rob Kar, former clerk for Sotomayer said at length—on the record (as opposed to the off-the-record gossip and smearing that Rosen quoted)—about his former boss. Below is one tiny snip:

Judge Sotomayor is much smarter than most people in the legal academy, and much smarter than most judges who are granted almost universal deference in situations like this. And while I have worked with numerous people who are thought of as some of the best minds in the nation, and about whom the question of brilliance would never even arise, most of them are—quite frankly—pedantic in comparison.

UPDATE: GLENN GREENWALD at Salon has the most thorough critique of Rosen’s piece and Rosen’s subsequent defense of his story, which at this point is looking increasingly indefensible. Greenwald’s long rundown is worth reading because it points beyond the Rosen/Sotomayor issue to much of what is maddening about many mainstream media stories. (Greenwald is, by the way, a former constitutional law and civil rights litigator.)

Here’s the link.

Posted in Obama, Supreme Court | 33 Comments »

Prop 8: Waiting for the Supremes – THE DECISION’S IN

May 26th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon




Very, very sad. But very expected.

COUPLES EXISTING MARRIAGE UPHELD: 18,000 couples—36,000 people— who have gotten married, will remain married.

At least that is one small step for human beings.
Yet weirdly, 36,000 people will have a status that no one else in the state is allowed to have.

On the other hand, this means that 36,000 ambassadors will, by their day-to-day example, show how utterly wrong the Prop 8 proponents are with their contention that gay marriage does harm—as these 18,000 couples simply live out their lives and their marriages with no harm to freaking anyone.

It was a 6-1 ruling, Justice Moreno was the hold out.

Equality California is the group that will be getting a new initiative on the ballot in 2010 to overturn Prop 8.

Maura Dolan at the LAT’s LA Now has a good column already up, (it pays to plan in advance; good job, Maura).
Best one so far.

In a minute I’ll have a link to the actual ruling, but right now the Supreme’s website is so jammed it’s impossible to get in.

MEANWHILE: “All that all of us are asking for is to be the same as everyone else in the country,” says a lovely woman who is one of the 36,000.


If you can’t get in on that link, Howard Bashman of How Appealing,
has uploaded a back-up copy. (Kisses to Howard!)

Here is part of one of the opening paragraphs:

…our task in the present proceeding is not to determine whether the provision at issue is wise or sound as a matter of policy or whether we, as individuals, believe it should be a part of the California Constitution. Regardless of our views as individuals on this question of policy, we recognize as judges and as a court our responsibility to confine our consideration to a determination of the constitutional validity and legal effect of the measure in question….

The bottom line is, the court concluded that Prop 8 was indeed an amendment not a revision to the California Constitution.

MORENO disagrees. Here are a few clips from his dissent:

“.. I conclude that requiring discrimination against a minority group
on the basis of a suspect classification strikes at the core of the promise of equality that underlies our California Constitution and thus “represents such a drastic and far-reaching change in the nature and operation of our governmental structure that it must be considered a ‘revision’ of the state Constitution rather than a mere ‘amendment’ thereof……..”


The rule the majority crafts today not only allows same-sex couples to be stripped of the right to marry that this court recognized in the Marriage Cases, it places at risk the state constitutional rights of all disfavored minorities. It weakens the status of our state Constitution as a bulwark of fundamental rights for minorities protected from the will of the majority…..

…Equal protection principles lie at the core of the California Constitution and have been embodied in that document from its inception…..

…. Thus, it is not so much a discrete constitutional right as it is a basic constitutional principle that guides all legislation and compels the will of the majority to be tempered by justice. The Iowa Supreme Court, in affirming the constitutional right of gays and lesbians to marry, recently recognized the importance of this promise of equality, stating: “If gay and lesbian people must submit to different treatment without an exceedingly persuasive justification, they are deprived of the benefits of the principle of equal protection upon which the rule of law is founded.”


Proposition 8 represents an unprecedented instance of a majority of voters altering the meaning of the equal protection clause by modifying the California Constitution to require deprivation of a fundamental right on the basis of a suspect classification. The majority’s holding is not just a defeat for same-sex couples, but for any minority group that seeks the protection of the equal protection clause of the California Constitution.

This could not have been the intent of those who devised and enacted the initiative process. In my view, the aim of Proposition 8 and all similar initiative measures that seek to alter the California Constitution to deny a fundamental right to a group that has historically been subject to discrimination on the basis of a suspect classification, violates the essence of the equal protection clause of the California Constitution and fundamentally alters its scope and meaning. Such a change cannot be accomplished through the initiative process by a simple amendment to our Constitution enacted by a bare majority of the voters; it must be accomplished, if at all, by aconstitutional revision to modify the equal protection clause to protect some, rather than all, similarly situated persons. I would therefore hold that Proposition 8 is not a lawful amendment of the California Constitution.



Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Civil Rights, Courts, LGBT | 20 Comments »

Happy Memorial Day 2009

May 25th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


For our fallen sons and daughters—and for the mothers, fathers, wives, husbands and children who have grieved for their loss.

Johnny Cash wrote and recorded the song above, “The Big Battle,” in 1961
about the fact that courage doesn’t stop at the battlefield but carries on among those for whom the dead are beloved. It borrows its images from the Civil war yet it is a delicately powerful and universal antiwar song, particularly remarkable in that, although it written during the Vietnam era, Cash recorded in well before U.S. combat troops were deployed in 1965 and the Vietnam War became a part of American life.

Can you hear the deafening rumble, can you feel the trembling ground?
It’s not just the horses and wagons, that make such a deafening sound.
For every shot fired has an echo and every man killed wanted life.
There lies your friend Jim McKinney. Can you take the news to his wife?

R.I.P. Man in Black.

Posted in Life in general | 10 Comments »

Is American Idol Braver Than Barack Obama?

May 24th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

a2 fin @ Yahoo! Video

When American Idol creator, Simon Fuller, chose the song for finalist Adam Lambert
to sing on the show’s last night of competition, there was a moment of real trepidation after it was announced that Fuller had selected A Change Is Gonna Come, Sam Cooke’s heart-shattering ballad that, after Cooke’s death in 1964, came to so thoroughly embody the pain and the hope of the civil rights era that it has forever lodged itself in the realm of the sacred.

As a consequence of its historic status combined with Cooke’s devastating delivery on that original recording, there are precious few people who have the license to sing that song without making us cringe. Bettye LaVette had the license, when she sang at the Lincoln Memorial. Jon Bon Jovi, who sang with her, despite his solid performance, did not.

So what in the world were the American Idol people thinking by handing a Hollywood-styled white boy this of all songs?

As it turned out, Simon Fuller knew exactly what he was doing. On the resolutely middle-of-the-road mega-hit music show, the gay kid with the black fingernails, the guyliner and the killer voice remade Sam Cooke’s anthem into a reminder of the basic rights that we have yet to grant the segment of our citizenry of which Lambert is a member.

In Sunday’s New York Times, Frank Rich asks why—if even American Idol has tip-toed into the gay rights conversation—has Barack Obama failed to speak up on, for example, the issue that has resulted in 12,500 US service people being bounced out of our armed services for their sexual orientation?

Two-hundred and fifteen have been fired since Obama was sworn in alone, the most recent casualty of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell being experienced Arabic translator, Lt. Dan Choi.

Here are some relevant clips from Rich’s column:

Despite Barack Obama’s pledges as a candidate and president, there is no discernible movement on repealing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy or the Defense of Marriage Act. Both seem more cruelly discriminatory by the day.

When yet another Arabic translator was thrown out of the Army this month for being gay, Jon Stewart nailed the self-destructive Catch-22 of “don’t ask”: We allow interrogators to waterboard detainees and then banish a soldier who can tell us what that detainee is saying. The equally egregious Defense of Marriage Act, a k a DOMA, punishes same-sex spouses by voiding their federal marital rights even in states that have legalized gay marriage. As The Wall Street Journal reported, the widower of America’s first openly gay congressman, Gerry Studds of Massachusetts, must mount a long-shot court battle to try to collect the survivor benefits from his federal pension and health insurance plans. (Studds died in 2006.) Nothing short of Congressional repeal of DOMA is likely to rectify that injustice.


Most Congressional Republicans will still vote against gay civil rights. Some may take the politically risky path of demonizing same-sex marriage during the coming debate over the new Supreme Court nominee. Old prejudices and defense mechanisms die hard, after all: there are still many gay men in the party’s hierarchy hiding in fear from what remains of the old religious-right base. In “Outrage,” a new documentary addressing precisely this point, Kirk Fordham, who had been chief of staff to Mark Foley, the former Republican congressman, says, “If they tried to fire gay staff like they do booting people out of the military, the legislative process would screech to a halt.” A closet divided against itself cannot stand.


But when Congressional Republicans try to block gay civil rights — last week one cadre introduced a bill to void the recognition of same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia — they just don’t have the votes to get their way. The Democrats do have the votes to advance the gay civil rights legislation Obama has promised to sign. And they have a serious responsibility to do so. Let’s not forget that “don’t ask” and DOMA both happened on Bill Clinton’s watch and with his approval. Indeed, in the 2008 campaign, Obama’s promise to repeal DOMA outright was a position meant to outflank Hillary Clinton, who favored only a partial revision.

So what’s stopping the Democrats from rectifying that legacy now?


Dr. King addressed such dawdling in 1963.
“For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait,’ ” King wrote. “It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ ”

The gay civil rights movement has fewer obstacles in its path than did Dr. King’s Herculean mission to overthrow the singular legacy of slavery. That makes it all the more shameful that it has fewer courageous allies in Washington than King did. If “American Idol” can sing out for change on Fox in prime time, it ill becomes Obama, of all presidents, to remain mute in the White House.

When I was hiking in the hills with my best friend, Janet, yesterday,
we discussed the issue; she was bothered by all that the President had not said, while I took the position of defending Obama’s inaction. “You have to pick your battles. So much is at stake on every front right now,” I said. Blah-blah-blah.

Of course that’s true.
A leader facing the challenges of this young president cannot fight everywhere at once. Yet on the issue of gay rights, both Janet and Frank Rich called it correctly: The excuses are wearing thin. Yes, Mr. President. Pick your battles. But this needs to be one of the battles chosen—sooner rather than later.

Monday, as we honor the military’s men and women who have fallen in our name, and our brave sons and daughters who still serve, it is my hope that next year at this time, we can honestly and openly honor all of them.


Cartoon by Chan Lowe, of the Sun-Sentinel in Southern Florida

Posted in American artists, LGBT, Life in general, media, National politics, Obama | 8 Comments »


May 22nd, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

Posted in LAUSD | 1 Comment »

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