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No More New Death Row, a Teacher Gets a Genius Grant, and More

April 29th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

ROBOTICS AND AMIR ABO-SHAEER, THE “GENIUS” TEACHER

The LA Times Steve Chawkins writes about a gifted and innovative high school teacher who last year got a MacArthur Genius Grant, and is leading his school’s robotics team into the finals of the national competition—among other accomplishments.

Here’s a representative clip. But read the rest:

At a time when the profession is under attack, Abo-Shaeer has emerged as a national example of great teaching.

Last year, he was awarded a MacArthur Foundation $500,000 “genius” grant,
the first high school teacher to win one. He and his robotics team — known as Team 1717 and the D’Penguineers — are the subjects of a recently released book, “The New Cool.” A film is in the works.

And while Abo-Shaeer likens navigating the educational system to wading through peanut butter, he has managed to launch an in-school engineering academy and to raise $6 million for it.

Not bad for a hometown guy who could have made a lot more and worked a lot less if he hadn’t decided to become a teacher at his old public high school.

Abo-Shaeer grew up in Goleta, the son of an Iraqi theoretical physicist who had worked and studied on four continents.

As a young man, Muhsin Abo-Shaeer had so excelled at math and science that the Iraqi government prepared him for a science career the way Russia grooms gymnasts for the Olympics. But when he settled in Santa Barbara, where he’d earned his doctorate, and couldn’t find a physics job, he started mowing lawns for a living….


GAYS TRANSFORMING THE LAW

When the bigtime law firm of King & Spalding said this week it would no longer represent Congress in trying to prop up the Defense of Marriage Act, the suggestion was that the firm had been bullied into their withdrawal by political correctness and gay lobbyists.

But, as law professor Dayle Carpenter suggests in an op ed for Friday’s New York Times, the full picture is more complicated and more interesting.

Here’s how Carpenter’s essay opens:

THE prestigious law firm King & Spalding has not fully explained its decision this week to stop assisting Congress in defending the law that forbids federal recognition of same-sex marriage. But its reversal suggests the extent to which gay men and lesbians have persuaded much of the legal profession to accept the basic proposition that sexual orientation is irrelevant to a person’s worth and that the law should reflect this judgment. The decision cannot be dismissed simply as a matter of political correctness or bullying by gays.

Gay-rights supporters have transformed the law and the legal profession, opening the doors of law firms, law schools and courts to people who were once casually and cruelly shut out because of their sexual orientation.

But it was a process that took a half-century to unfold. In 1961, a Harvard-trained astronomer, Frank Kameny, stood alone against the federal government. Fired from his federal job simply for being gay, he wanted to petition the Supreme Court. But at a time when all 50 states still criminalized sodomy, even the American Civil Liberties Union declared it had no interest in challenging laws “aimed at the suppression or elimination of homosexuals.” Mr. Kameny wrote his own appellate brief; without comment, the court turned him away.

Over the next quarter-century, lifted by gales of change in sexual morality and in the status of women, gay-rights advocates mobilized at every level of the legal profession.

Read the rest.


“DOG WARS” DOG FIGHTING VIDEO IS NOT GONE FOR GOOD, BUT THE DAMAGE CONTROL AND SPINNING HAS BEGUN

The extremely creepy sounding “Dog Wars” video game that allows you to train canines for the kind of dog fighting that got Michael Vick some prison time (it’s a felony offense in all 50 states), has not been pulled from the market, but just withdrawn briefly for some changes. News of its return runs contrary to the hopes, and urging of animal rights groups plus an unlikely coalition of opposition including the LAPD union, the Police Protective League, whose board called the game “sickening and irresponsible.

Additional details at Yahoo News. Here’s a clip:

In an email to The LA Times, signed by pitboss@kagegames.com, an official for Kage Games said proceeds from the game would benefit animal rescue organizations and the Japanese tsunami relief effort.

Pitboss did not give his real name, citing threats of violence by animal rights activists.

“We are in fact animal lovers ourselves,” the email reads. “This is our groundbreaking way to raise money/awareness to aid REAL dogs in need, execute freedom of expression, and serve as a demonstration to the competing platform that will not allow us as developers to release software without prejudgment.”


IN A WILDLY SENSIBLE MOVE, JERRY BROWN CANCELS PLANS TO BUILD A NEW $356 MILLION DEATH ROW HOUSING IN SAN QUENTIN

Good grief! Finally, someone has come to their senses on this matter! Thank you, Jerry.

This is from the governor’s official statement:

“At a time when children, the disabled and seniors face painful cuts to essential programs, the State of California cannot justify a massive expenditure of public dollars for the worst criminals in our state,” said Brown. “California will have to find another way to address the housing needs of condemned inmates. It would be unconscionable to earmark $356 million for a new and improved death row while making severe cuts to education and programs that serve the most vulnerable among us.”

Ya think?

The SF Chron has more details:

The new, bigger Death Row had a projected construction cost of $356 million, an amount that had grown from an original estimate of $220 million in 2003. The costs were criticized in several reports by state officials, and the state auditor estimated the state would spend $1.2 billion on additional staffing to operate the new Death Row over the next 20 years.

[SNIP]

The new Death Row would have been able to house up to 1,152 condemned inmates. There are less than 700 people in state prison who have been sentenced to death. The current Death Row is made up of three different buildings at San Quentin, the oldest of which was built in 1927.

Paul Verke, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said prison officials wanted a new Death Row because of the state of the aging buildings, but he said the department supports the governor’s decision, even though it is not clear what the new plan is for housing condemned inmates.


AND NOW OVER TO THAT WEDDING, I GUESS… (YAWN)

(Okay, I do kinda like the hats.)

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Education, LGBT | No Comments »

Thursday’s Must Reads

April 28th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



THE REAL COST OF CALIFORNIA’S BUDGET CUTS: WHO IS HARDEST HIT?

Annenberg’s Neon Tommy has begun a series on the specific effects of some of the California state budget It offers precisely the kind of reporting we need in order to assess what the state’s proposed budget cuts specifically in human terms.

For instance, if we hear that Governor Jerry Brown has as so far taken $861 million out of the Mental Health Services Act, what does that mean? Whom will that affect. And what do those cuts mean to the rest of us?

And what about the cuts to subsidized child care? If those subsidies are yanked, will people just make do? Or will some parents be unable to work without those subsidies?

These are precisely the kinds of questions that the Neon Tommy reporters and editors have attempted to answer in their series California in Crisis: How the Budget Debacle Screws Social Services.

For instance, there is a story by Ryan Faughnder about the effects of the cut on a Culver City mental health clinic.

And there is another story by Jennifer Whalen
that shows how the cuts affect working poor parents in need of subsidized child care.

Good stories, all.

Let’s hope that Neon Tommy reporters continue to explore these crucial budgetary topics.


THE PROBLEM OF SCOTUS AND PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT
UCI Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky writes about the recent Supreme Court case that has declined to allow prisoners to recover damages when prosecutors withheld evidence that likely resulted in their conviction.


FINALLY, A CLASS ACTION SUIT ABOUT EXCESSIVE, RACE-BASED PRISON LOCKDOWNS

Mass, extended lockdowns in California prisons have been getting more and more frequent. And yet there was no reporting on the matter and, it seems, no legal action.

Until now. On Wednesday a class action lawsuit was filed. KPCC’s Julie Small reports:

Here’s how it opens:

Attorneys for prison inmates sued California Wednesday in federal court to end race-based lockdowns in state penitentiaries. Prisons lock down inmates after riots to quell the violence, investigate the cause – and isolate the inmates involved. The law gives prison officials a lot of discretion to use lockdowns – but there are limits. KPCC’s Julie Small reports the class action lawsuit alleges that race-based lockdowns violate inmate rights.

California’s High Desert State Prison in north eastern Lassen County, is a maximum security facility. Following a violent incident there in the warden locked down a group of African-American inmates for 18 months. One of them, Robert Mitchell, stayed in the double-bunked cell he shared with another inmate–24 hours a day – seven days a week. Prison Law Office attorney Rebekah Evenson who is representing Mitchell says the type of discriminatory deprivation the inmate suffered is common in California prisons—and illegal.

Posted in California budget | No Comments »

Iraq and Afghanistan Vets of America to Honor Tim Hetherington at Heroes Gala

April 27th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America were already planning to honor photojournalist Tim Hetherington and author Sebastian Junger
at the IAVA’s yearly gala dinner—their Heroes Dinner—that will take place tonight at 7 pm at on the Twentieth Century Fox studio lot. The two are being honored for their work in general, but specifically for their film, Restrepo, which follows one platoon of soldiers stationed in the Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan, a location generally considered to the the most dangerous of the Afghan war.

Both veterans and those in active military service embraced Restrepo with an unusual amount of affection. It was a film that really got it, they said, that really showed with no b.s. what it was like to be in combat in the 21st century. The official Twitter feed of the U.S. Army Reserve tweeted in support of Restrepo after it was nominated for an Oscar, as did IAVA’s founder and executive director, Paul Rieckhoff, who had come to regard Hetherington as a personal friend.

Then, on April 20—just a week ago—Rieckhoff got the call that Tim Hetherington had been killed in the Libyan town of Misrata.

Although most veterans have known more than their share of death, still the news about Hetherington was a blow.

Reickhoff posted the following statement online late that same day:

The IAVA family is deeply saddened by the loss today of our dear friend Tim Hetherington. Tim was not only a renowned filmmaker and photojournalist, but also a tremendous leader, advocate and partner to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans everywhere. He was one of the few journalists willing to risk his own life to tell our toughest stories. Tim understood the harshest realities facing troops on the front lines because he stood there right alongside us in the fight. Our community has lost a brilliant journalist and a true brother. From his Oscar-nominated film Restrepo to his involvement with military and veterans charities, Tim lived his life with unparalleled passion, energy and commitment. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Tim’s family and friends. His legacy will live on through his historic contributions to our community and to the world at large. He never forgot us. And we’ll never forget him.

Now, in addition to the recognition of the two filmmakers, the glittery gala will will include a memorial retrospective of Hetherington’s work and life.

It should be a good night, but a bittersweet one.

Posted in American artists, media, Middle East, War | No Comments »

A Story Behind the Story: Paul Romero – Doing (Almost) Everything Right

April 27th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



A week before Easter there was a horrific car crash on a residential street in La Habra, California
. The wreck was bad enough that it was in the news in Orange and LA Counties for a couple of days running.

Stories such as this one are the staples of local news coverage, and often lead the nightly broadcast. Yet, in most cases, they are mentioned in broad strokes by somber-faced TV reporters, then they pretty much vanish.

As it happens though, my brother Phil and his wife, who live in Orange County, were quite close to several of the people involved in the La Habra crash, and so felt impelled to write a humanizing story-behind-the story for some of the OC news outlets.

When the news is personal to you, you want to slow the vanishing.

You’ll find the story below.

PAUL ROMERO: DOING (ALMOST) EVERYTHING RIGHT

by Phil Fremon

“Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant,” wrote Joan Didion in dealing with the loss of her husband.

When Paul Romero and his longtime girlfriend, Destiny Mendoza, plus Paul’s sister, Rochelle Romero, and Rochelle’s boyfriend, Jimmy Gonzales, left home Saturday night, April 16th, to celebrate Jimmy’s 21st birthday, they had no inkling that a catastrophic change was a few hours ahead of them. The foursome tried to do everything right. They agreed to make sure they had a safe ride home from Duffy’s, a local pub located on Imperial Highway, where they would be celebrating. Duffy’s is only 1.3 miles away from the La Habra apartment building where both couples lived. The plan was to text Paul and Rochelle’s younger sister Rosalyn for a ride home when everybody was ready to call it a night.

However, just before the foursome was about to send a text message for a ride home, David Huizar, Jr., and his wife, Delora Bravo, neighbors from their same apartment complex, arrived at Duffy’s on the way home from a party that they had attended elsewhere. Wishing to save their sister the trouble of leaving home to pick them up, the group caught a ride with David and Delora instead.


I met Paul Romero eighteen years ago when I came home from work one evening to find a seven-year-old Paul on the doorstep of my Fullerton home. His family had moved next door a few days earlier. With no preamble, the boy asked in a clear voice, wearing the enormous smile that I would come to know was nearly always on his face, “Do you have any jobs for me to do so that I can earn some money?” I dutifully found a large planter in the backyard that needed tending. The “tending” went on for several days until I came home to find my young peach tree chopped down to a stump, a victim of Paul’s enthusiasm to really clean the planter. I did not have the heart to tell the proud boy of my horror at finding my peach tree gone. I wish I could laugh with him now about that long ago day, but I will never get the chance.

Despite the loss of the fruit tree, the relationship continued. Paul was ten when, in January 1996, he and his six-year-old sister, Rochelle, and nine-year-old sister, Roxanne, as close to her brother as a twin, witnessed with fascination as I carried my new bride in full wedding regalia across the threshold of my 1950’s three-bedroom L-shaped house that faced theirs. As the years passed, one or more of the three Romeros would burst in our front door nearly every day to show us something they had made in school, request help with some homework assignment, make crafts or just come over to visit. My wife quickly became as attached to the kids as I was and often tutored Paul in whatever school subject was giving him trouble.


The six young men and women walked out of Duffy’s about half past midnight and piled into the late-model black double-cab Chevy Colorado pickup truck. Sixty-seconds later, everything changed.

For reasons that may never be known, David began driving so fast that it terrified the others. Rochelle and Destiny remember screaming at David, “Slow down! We have Children!” David lost control of the truck just a half mile up Walnut. Upon hearing the screech of tires and a loud boom, startled residents rushed from their houses to help. When paramedics arrived a few minutes later, they found the truck’s cab wrapped around a roadside tree.


In the summer of 2001 we took Paul, then 15, and Roxanne, 14, to our family cabin in Glacier Park, Montana, where they had a string of brand-new experiences: they rode horses, white-water rafted, canoed down a river, chased mountain goats and hung out with my 80-year-old mother, Liz, who happily fussed over them as if they were her own grandchildren. In 2006 we shared his joy when Paul and Destiny brought a beautiful baby girl into the world, whom they named Emery. Similarly, we were excited for him when he found a job as a salesman with Mullahey Chevrolet in Fullerton in February of 2008. The young man with the enormous smile and the willing attitude quickly endeared himself to both staff and customers. Just four months ago Paul was promoted to sales manager.


We got the call from Roxanne on Sunday afternoon. She was only able to say my name several times, sobbing, until her grandma took the phone from her to tell us Paul had died. At first we were simply in shock. Later, as we thought more clearly, we searched for news of the crash on the Internet and discovered that Rochelle was in critical condition, as was Destiny. It was not certain that they would survive. Jimmy, the birthday boy and father of Rochelle’s child-to-be, was dead too, as was David and his wife, leaving behind their two children. We drove to UCI Medical Center where our own pain and loss was dwarfed by the soul-wrenching agony we saw in the eyes of Roxanne and the rest of the Romero family, whose lives were irrevocably shattered.

Now that more than a week has passed, Rochelle is off the critical list, as is her unborn baby. She has a badly injured spine, various broken bones, and must now piece together a life that includes the loss of her boyfriend and her brother.

Thursday afternoon, Destiny Mendoza, who has undergone multiple risky spinal surgeries, was finally told, along with five-year-old Emery, that Paul is gone. Destiny, still frighteningly weak, replied to her distraught family. “Yes, I know. Paul told me in a dream everything that happened.”

Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.


POST SCRIPT: Rose Hills Mortuary has opened a fund to help Paul’s family with the burial costs, and can accept credit card payments. Phone: (562) 692-1212, ext. 5207, Funeral #212813, Paul Romero, Jr. Rose Hills will stop accepting donations when Paul’s burial costs are covered. Mullahey Chevrolet and staff have donated a sizable amount to help Paul’s family and are collecting donations for Paul Romero’s family at 600 West Commonwealth Ave. Fullerton, CA 92832.

EDITOR’S POST SCRIPT: Tuesday night Phil received word that, despite earlier optimistic prognostications, Paul’s younger sister Rochelle has lost her baby after all.


NOTE: Paul is at the center of the Romero family photo above, Destiny is just to his right. Emery, their daughter is being held by her aunt Raelyn.

The photo was taken in 2010 at Roxanne’s graduation from Coast Community College. She has just been accepted as a transfer student to Cal State Fullerton, the first of her family to go to college.

Posted in Life in general | 9 Comments »

7 Tips 4 Getting the Most Out of the LA Times Festival of Books

April 26th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


This weekend the glorious LA Times Festival of Books will be held at its new location on the USC campus,
after 15 years at UCLA.

The line up of authors and other intriguing panelists is, as usual, excellent. (You can find the Saturday and Sunday schedules here.)

Both days are filled with more great events than you can possibly fit in.

So to help you with this pesky dilemma, I’ve devised 7 TIPS FOR GETTING THE MOST OUT OF THE LATFOB

In no particular order they are:


TIP #1: GO TO SEE MY PANEL (Yes, this is a self-serving pitch, but it’s also a really good panel). Specifically, I am moderating a panel on Sunday, at 2 pm at Taper Hall 101. It’s called History: Democracy and Its Discontents, and the LATFOB folks gave me a GREAT threesome to interview: Barry Siegel, Scott Martelle, and Thaddeus Russell—all of whom have written books that tell of crucial yet unreported times in American history that have deep resonances for the health of our democracy now.

For instance, I’ll be asking my brilliant pal Barry (Siegel) about his book, Claim of Privilege: A Mysterious Plane Crash, a Landmark Supreme Court Case, and the Rise of State Secrets, which reads with the depth and pacing of a novel as it relates how the American government began its obsession with state secrets—starting with the Supreme Court case that jump started the now, it seems, ever-expanding habit of hiding away any paperwork that might prove inconvenient to those in power.

And then there is Scott Martelle and his book, The Fear Within: Spies, Commies, and American Democracy on Trial, which just came out this month and tells the story of the 1949 trial of 11 of the mouthpieces of the then minuscule American Communist Party.

The third panel member is Thaddeus Russell, who I’ll ask about his outrageously original A Renegade History of the United States, a book that tells of many of the unlikely people who affected the course of American cultural and political development, but whose tales of influence rarely seem to turn up in most history books.

It’ll be a dynamic exchange, I promise. So y’all come on down.

Okay, now that the personal pitch is out of the way, here are the other six tips:


TIP # 2: GO TO SEE ANY AND ALL PANELS THAT INVOLVE TOD GOLDBERG. Tod is moderating two on Sunday, and he’s on a third one on Saturday. I don’t think anybody except for LAT book reviewer David Ulin is on that many panels. There’s a reason for this. Tod is fantastically entertaining. By “entertaining” I mean, eye-leakingly funny. Plus he’s really, really smart and…really, really….you know…. literary.


TIP #3: GO TO SEE FATHER GREG BOYLE on Sunday at 11 am at Bovard Auditorium being interviewed by LA Times columnist Steve Lopez. Father Greg is really as good as it gets as speaker. Last year at the FOB, Warren Olney interviewed him and, during one of Greg’s stories, Warren started to tear up, with a quiver in the voice, and all. Most of those in the audience were teary too. But Warren Olney’s a pro’s pro, so you’ve got to really have something unusually moving to say to get Warren to cry.


TIP# 4: GO TO SEE EGGARS AND SMITH—TOGETHER AT LAST. On Saturday, David Ulin will interview musician Patti Smith and writer/novelist/publisher Dave Eggars. at 12:30 at Bovard. No, I have no idea why in the world those two are being interviewed together, but it’s a weirdly inspired idea. I’m betting the combo will alchemize something that you will miss at your own peril. (Yes, I know alchemize isn’t a verb.)


TIP #5: IF YOU’RE A DAVID FOSTER WALLACE FAN (or even if you’re not), GO TO SEE Ulin again at 4 pm on Saturday, this time moderating a panel on DFW and The Pale King with Bonnie Nadell, Wallace’s longtime agent, DT Max, the guy who is writing a book about Wallace (and who wrote that heartbreaking New Yorker piece), and Michael Pietsch, DFW’s editor and the guy who had to knit together the piles of incomplete and fragmented manuscript pages that Wallace left after his suicide, into a….book. (This will be sold out, so get a ticket now, or show up on Wednesday and just camp out for three days. I really don’t think this is too extreme a plan.)


TIP #6: GO TO ANY PANEL FEATURING SOMEONE NAMED AMY. It’s a good basic rule. The Amy strategy will, for example, get you to a couple of panels with the fabulous Advice Goddess and author, Amy Alkon, or with witty Texas grrrll novelist, Amy Wallen, or with the soulful and gifted nonfiction writer, Amy Wilentz, or with the incandescently talented poet, Amy Gerstler.

Alternately, I recommend going to any panel with the word MYSTERY in its title. So Cal has produced some fine mystery writers from Raymond Chandler forward, a vein of literary genre gold that continues to get richer, and the array at this year’s LATFOB is a satisfyingly bright and shiny one—Don Winslow, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, T. Jefferson Parker, and more.


TIP # 7. WALK INTO ANY PANEL RANDOMLY. Seriously. I’ve done this many times over the years and never been disappointed. There are so many wonderful conversations that will take place in front of microphones over that two day period, it’s hard to go wrong.

On Saturday Janet Fitch talks to T.C. Boyle; Robin Abcarian interviews Andrew Breitbart; Garrett Graff of the Washingtonian, Eric Alterman of the Daily Beast and the Nation, and Katrina vanden Heuvel, the Nation’s editor/publisher all talk about Obama; Jennifer Egan and other fictionistas talk about breaking boundaries in fiction—and I have only slightly dented the surface,

On Sunday, the LA Times’ Carolyn Kellogg moderates
Publishing: the New Shape of the Book. featuring Tom Lutz, the editor/publisher of the about-to-launch Los Angeles Review of Books, along with Ethan Nosowsky, editor-at-large, Graywolf Press, …..and…. Oh, you get the picture.


Just plan to go, whatever you do.

We can talk about non-literary news tomorrow.

Posted in American artists, art and culture, arts, literature, Los Angeles Times, writers and writing | 3 Comments »

5 Monday Must Reads

April 25th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


POLITICS TRUMPS SCIENCE: MT & IDAHO WOLVES REMOVED FROM THE ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT

In a completely incredible move that flew beneath the radar of many, and completely bypassed the interest threshold of others, Senator Jon Testor and Rep. Mike Simpson from Montana and Arizona respectively, managed to get an inconspicuous, 11 line rider on this month’s must pass budget bill, that removed the Rocky Mountain Gray Wolf from the endangered species list in Montana and Idaho. What is more, the rider forbids judicial review.

In other words, screw the science or the legality of the wolves survival, politics and special interest groups won out.

The LA Times’ Kim Murphy has a good factual story on the matter here.

But it is Friday’s NY Times editorial that best gets to the heart of the matter. Here is a clip:

As part of its budget bill, Congress approved a brief rider, 11 lines long, that removes gray wolves in Idaho and Montana from the protections of the Endangered Species Act. The rider overturns a recent court ruling, prohibits further judicial review and cannot be good for the wolf. But the worst part is that it sets a terrible precedent — allowing Congress to decide the fate of animals on the list.

The law’s purpose is to base protections on science. Now that politics has been allowed to trump science when it comes to the gray wolf, which species will be next?

The rider’s sponsors, Senator Jon Tester of Montana and Representative Mike Simpson of Idaho, were responding to the demands of ranchers, who sometimes lose livestock to wolves, and hunters, who complain that wolves reduce deer and elk populations.

Sadly and surprisingly, they were abetted by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who declared last month that he would accept what he called a “legislative solution” to the status of the wolf in the Rocky Mountains. One Interior Department official has argued that without this concession, the rider might well have been far more radical — possibly removing wolves everywhere from protection.


There is so much emotion and disinformation on the issue of wolves in the Rockies.

It is very disappointing that Jon Testor, whom I usually like, was one of this wrong-head bill’s sponsors.


A BROTHER (AND BROTHER-IN-LAW) OF TWO MURDER VICTIMS CONTEMPLATES THE DEATH PENALTY AND THE MEANING OF MERCY

Read this painful NY Times Op Ed. It has no easy answers but contains much sorrow, anger, confusion and humanness.


CASE OF NEW JERSEY MAN AND MANDATORY STRIP SEARCHES

It looks like the case of Albert Florence is headed to the Supreme Court this fall. The question is whether it is a violation of the 4th Amendment to automatically strip search everyone who passes into a jail cell. It’s an interesting case, and one that bears watching.

Read more at the NJ Star Ledger.


THE GUANTANAMO FILES

Monday the New York times begins its series called The Guantanamo files, based on the latest pile of Wikileaks—all a definite Must Read.


CDCR SAYS SAC BEE EDITORIAL ABOUT BROWN/PRISON GUARD CONTRACT IS FULL OF FACTUAL ERRORS

The California Department of Corrections took strong issue with the Sac Bee’s editorial criticizing Jerry Brown’s recently negotiated contract with the CCPOA—the prison guards union—and they make a good case.

Posted in bears and alligators, environment | 2 Comments »

SCOTUS, Prison and Religious Freedom

April 25th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



This is a case from last week that I didn’t want to overlook.


Civil rights advocates are concerned that prison inmates
may have lost their one effective remedy when confronted with violations of their religious freedom with Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling.

The First Amendment Center explains:

The Court ruled in Sossamon v. Texas that states may not be sued for money damages under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a 2000 federal law aimed in part at protecting the First Amendment right of prisoners to practice their religion.

The ruling still allows inmates to win injunctions that would stop or change policies that impinge on religious freedom. But critics say that without the possibility of monetary damages, states will have little incentive to change their ways or punish officials for their actions. Critics argue that without damages it will be easy for states to avoid the scrutiny of courts by transferring or releasing prisoners or by slightly modifying policies to make cases moot.

“The ability to freely practice the religion of one’s choice is a fundamental constitutional right and not one that is taken away just because you are incarcerated,” said Steve Shapiro, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “Today’s decision will too often leave state prisoners without any remedy for serious violations of their religious rights. And prison policies that violate religious rights will in many cases escape judicial review entirely.”

J. Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, also criticized the decisions. “We are disappointed in the majority’s pinched view of what was a clear congressional intent to provide prisoners broad protection for religious liberty and a robust remedy for its violation, including monetary damages.”

Read the rest for the details of this interesting case, and for the court’s reasoning, both that of the majority and of those who dissented. (It was a 6-2 ruling with Kagan reccusing herself since she’d had some involvement when she was Solicitor General.)

Posted in Supreme Court | No Comments »

Posting Later Today. Check back.

April 22nd, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

Back soon!


WEEKEND UPDATE:

Many apologies. Friday’s obligations took far longer than I thought.

This week will be back to normal.

Posted in Life in general | No Comments »

Supremes Will Again Consider the Constitutionality of LWOP Kids

April 21st, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



The NY Times’ Adam Liptak and Lisa Faye Petak outline the issue as it presently stands
and examine how the court might view it. Here’s a representative clip:

Almost a year ago, the Supreme Court ruled that sentencing juvenile offenders to life without the possibility of parole violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment — but only for crimes that did not involve killings. The decision affected around 130 prisoners convicted of crimes like rape, armed robbery and kidnapping.

Now the inevitable follow-up cases have started to arrive at the Supreme Court. Last month, lawyers for two other prisoners who were 14 when they were involved in murders filed the first petitions urging the justices to extend last’s year’s decision, Graham v. Florida, to all 13- and 14-year-old offenders.

The Supreme Court has been methodically whittling away at severe sentences. It has banned the death penalty for juvenile offenders, the mentally disabled and those convicted of crimes other than murder. The Graham decision for the first time excluded a class of offenders from a punishment other than death.

Read the rest.


Photo by Dilip Vishwanat for the NY Times

Posted in juvenile justice, LWOP Kids, Supreme Court | 1 Comment »

A Once Illegal Pulitizer Winner—& the Many Like Him Still in the Shadows

April 21st, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


First there was Shawn Hubler’s terrific essay that outed the co-leader of the Bell investigation Pulitzer team, Ruben Vives
, as a once undocumented kid who, without a very large chunk of good luck, and some very skillful help, despite his intelligence and talent, would not now be legal, reporting for the LA Times, and being lauded nationwide for his city-altering work.

The OC Weekly’s Gustavo Arellano looks again at Ruben Vives’ backstory— then directs our gaze to the many bright and talented young people who, like Vives, came to the US as children, but who, without a helpful patron, are still shut out.

Here’re the important clips—but read it all.

Let’s be clear: Vives is a reporter, first and foremost. Not a Latino reporter, not a former illegal immigrant reporter, but a reporter. He helped achieved what investigative reporters dream about: boot out bastards, help the downtrodden, and win the nation’s premier journalism at a young age. But I, along with the millions of Latinos who come from an undocumented pedigree, whether it be our parents (me), our cousins, uncles, friends, or ourselves (like all the Dreamers out there), can’t help but gloat about Vives’ background. What a wonderful chinga tu madre at the Know Nothings of the world who insist illegals can’t make anything of themselves in this country! What a glorious toma, güey to those who say Latinos bring the corruption of their homelands to the United States and endorse it! What a beautiful arriba to those of us who know undocumented youngsters can and do make something of themselves in this country–if only they have a chance!

Imagine if Vives didn’t have wealthy people to help him become legal? He’d be a DREAM Act student spinning his wheels, waiting vainly for politicians to give him and others who only know this country the opportunity they earned long ago. Vives came here from Guatemala as a seven-year-old, the exact age a dear friend of mine who graduated with a degree from Long Beach State in journalism, a friend who can’t even get a damn internship from a paper because of his undocumented status, was when he came to this country illegally. What separates Vives and him (and so many others) in terms of assimilation? NOTHING, a point Vives hopefully will make as the rest of the national media catches on to this remarkable-for-them tale.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT – A NEW STUDY ESTIMATES THAT ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS PAID $11.2 BILLION IN TAXES LAST YEAR

That’s what the nonpartisan Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy found. And as the NY Post points out, that’s more than General Electric paid. GE, which earned $14 billion last year, paid exactly zero.


Photo by Katie Falkenberg for the LA Times

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