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“Walstock” Protest Saturday, Gov. Brown Signs CDCR Blueprint Plan…and More

June 29th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


Saturday’s protest against Chinatown’s new planned Walmart, expected to draw 20,000, has some surprising musical advocates. Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine) and Ben Harper are said to perform at what LA Weekly is now referring to as “Walstock.”

LA Weekly’s Dennis Romero has the story. Here’s how it opens:

Walmart has been bracing itself for what union organizers are calling the largest ever protest against the big-box chain, scheduled this weekend. The store even hosted a traditional Chinese lion dance to ward off bad luck (really). But can Walmart really prepare for the rage against its non-union machine that is … Tom Morello?

As part of Saturday’s massive protest against the Chinatown Walmart (it’s actually planned as a little baby Walmart and not a fullsized, fill-your-SUV-with-crap-you-don’t-need Walmart)…

…labor leaders say Morello is going to perform. Ben Harper will be there with his blend of mellow anti-capitalism as well. And heck, Steve Earle says he’d be there if he wasn’t working in the studio in Nashville.


Gov. Jerry Brown signed a huge corrections reform plan, called Blueprint, into the California budget Thursday. CDCR Press Secretery Jeffrey Callison told WitnessLA that the drop in prison overcrowding has made room in the budget to increase rehabilitation programs. (We’ll be tracking this to make sure it happens.) Blueprint also calls for the closure of the California Rehabilitation Center–an old, cost-ineffective facility that was once a resort for 1920′s-30′s biggest Hollywood names. Callison said that the CDCR will move those beds at the CRC into “more modern cost-effective facilities.”

You can read the press release on the CDCR’s blog. Here’s how it opens:

Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. on Wednesday signed into law an historic reform of California’s penal system. Known as the blueprint, the plan will cut billions in spending, comply with multiple federal court orders for inmate medical, mental health and dental care, and significantly improve the operation of California’s prison system. The Governor’s approval of the blueprint follows its release by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) in April and its approval by the State Legislature yesterday.

The multi-year plan for CDCR will cut billions in spending, enable the State to comply with multiple federal court orders concerning inmate health care, and significantly improve the operation of California’s prison system.

“We appreciate the confidence of the Legislature in our plan for a safer and more efficient correctional system,” said CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate. “The passage of our blueprint will show the federal courts that California is serious about ending the long-standing lawsuits overseeing much of our operations.”


Social justice photographer Pete Brook’s “Cruel and Unusual” exhibit–displayed in shipping containers in Brooklyn–has brought together photos depicting juvenile and adult incarceration across the nation.

Juvenile Justice Information Exchange’s Daryl Kahn has the story. Here’s a clip:

The geo-physicist turned documentary photographer had never been behind the walls of the juvenile detention facilities that dot the outskirts of Los Angeles along the spine of Interstate 5 in the Central Valley, but the following morning he was going to take his camera, walk in, and take pictures of killers and gangsters.

“I expected the worst,” he said. “The worst of the worst; The ones glaring at you in those orange jumpsuits. You see how they’re portrayed. I expected them to be standoffish, imminently violent, unstable. Ready to do anything.”

What he encountered subverted his anxious expectations. He found a teenager, a piano prodigy before he was tried as an adult and put behind bars. The young inmate was tinkering with an electric piano, and in the grey gloom of the facility echoed the same funereal, haunting sonata he heard in the comfort of his son’s nursery the evening before. The inmate played Beethoven with precision and feeling.

“What I met weren’t monsters,” Oshagan, now 47, said. “They were normal kids. I knew the system wasn’t working — I didn’t know exactly how bad it was until I started talking to these kids and seeing what happens to them.”

The pictures Oshagan took that day and for years after from 2001 to 2005, are part of a exhibition called “Cruel and Unusual” on display inside a massive 40-foot long shipping container stacked on the uplands of Pier 3 along the Waterfront in Brooklyn. The show features a collection of pictures by photographers from across the country chronicling life behind bars, some of which were gathered by co-curator Pete Brook during what he calls the Prison Photography on the Road.

You can take a look at Brook’s fascinating work here.

Photo taken from Tom Morello’s Nightwatchmen site.

Posted in art and culture, California budget, CDCR, criminal justice, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), prison policy | No Comments »


June 28th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court has upheld the entire Affordable Health Care Act, with Chief Justice Roberts, not Kennedy, voting to save the AHCA.

SCOTUSBLOG is live blogging a deconstruction of the ruling. I’ve excerpted the best of it below.

SCOTUSBLOG: “The bottom line: the entire ACA is upheld, with the exception that the federal government’s power to terminate states’ Medicaid funds is narrowly read.”

Lyle Denniston: The key comment on salvaging the Medicaid expansion is this (from Roberts): “Nothing in our opinion precludes Congress from offering funds under the ACA to expand the availability of health care, and requiring that states accepting such funds comply with the conditions on their use. What Congress is not free to do is to penalize States that choose not to participate in that new program by taking away their existing Medicaid funding.” (p. 55)

Lyle: In opening his statement in dissent, Justice Kennedy says: “In our view, the entire Act before us is invalid in its entirety.”

Amy Howe: In Plain English: The Affordable Care Act, including its individual mandate that virtually all Americans buy health insurance, is constitutional. There were not five votes to uphold it on the ground that Congress could use its power to regulate commerce between the states to require everyone to buy health insurance. However, five Justices agreed that the penalty that someone must pay if he refuses to buy insurance is a kind of tax that Congress can impose using its taxing power. That is all that matters. Because the mandate survives, the Court did not need to decide what other parts of the statute were constitutional, except for a provision that required states to comply with new eligibility requirements for Medicaid or risk losing their funding. On that question, the Court held that the provision is constitutional as long as states would only lose new funds if they didn’t comply with the new requirements, rather than all of their funding.

EDITOR’S NOTE: From here on out for purposes of discussion, the ACA is the acronym for Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — the health care bill, also known as Obamacare.



10:50 a.m. – Lyle: Essentially, a majority of the Court has accepted the Administration’s backup argument that, as Roberts put it, “the mandate can be regarded as establishing a condition — not owning health insurance — that triggers a tax — the required payment to IRS.” Actually, this was the Administration’s second backup argument: first argument was Commerce Clause, second was Necessary and Proper Clause, and third was as a tax. The third argument won.

10:52: Lyle: The rejection of the Commerce Clause and Nec. and Proper Clause should be understood as a major blow to Congress’s authority to pass social welfare laws. Using the tax code — especially in the current political environment — to promote social welfare is going to be a very chancy proposition.

10:59: Amy Howe: By the way, the opinions collectively are a monster. The Chief’s opinion is 59 pages, Justice Ginsburg’s opinion is 61 pages, the four dissenters are 65 pages, followed by a short two-pager from Justice Thomas. You do the math.

11:00 – Amy Howe: Yes, a commenter notes that the Chief Justice’s opinion starts with a mini-civics lesson — definitely an awareness that this is one for the ages. Reminded me of his opinion in Snyder v. Phelps, the funeral protesters’ case last Term.

11:01 – Amy Howe: From the beginning of the Chief’s opinion: “We do not consider whether the Act embodies sound policies. That judgment is entrusted to the Nation’s elected leaders. We ask only whether Congress has the power under the Constitution to enact the challenged provisions.”

11:04 – Tom Goldstein: Here is the money quote on the fifth vote to hold that the mandate is not justified under the Commerce Clause (recognizing that doesn’t matter because there were five votes under the Tax Power): “The power to regulate commerce presupposes the existence of commercial activity to be regulated.” That will not affect a lot of statutes going forward.

11:12 Tom: Lyle is working on his initial post now. He will be adding to it but here’s the first paragraph: Salvaging the idea that Congress did have the power to try to expand health care to virtually all Americans, the Supreme Court on Monday upheld the constitutionality of the crucial – and most controversial — feature of the Affordable Care Act. By a vote of 5-4, however, the Court did not sustain it as a command for Americans to buy insurance, but as a tax if they don’t. That is the way Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., was willing to vote for it, and his view prevailed. The other Justices split 4-4, with four wanting to uphold it as a mandate, and four opposed to it in any form.


Don’t call it a mandate — it’s a tax

Salvaging the idea that Congress did have the power to try to expand health care to virtually all Americans, the Supreme Court on Monday upheld the constitutionality of the crucial – and most controversial — feature of the Affordable Care Act. By a vote of 5-4, however, the Court did not sustain it as a command for Americans to buy insurance, but as a tax if they don’t. That is the way Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., was willing to vote for it, and his view prevailed. The other Justices split 4-4, with four wanting to uphold it as a mandate, and four opposed to it in any form.

Since President Obama signed the new law, it has been understood by almost everyone that the expansion of health care coverage to tens of millions of Americans without it could work — economically — only if the health insurance companies were guaranteed a large pool of customers. The mandate to buy health insurance by 2014 was the method Congress chose to supply that pool. It is not immediately clear whether the Court’s approach will produce as large a pool of new customers. The ACA’s key provision now amounts to an invitation to buy insurance, rather than an order to do so, with a not-very-big tax penalty for going without.

The decision to keep at least some foundation under the expanded coverage will lead almost certainly to renewed efforts by Republicans in Congress to repeal all or most of the new law. And, of course, the Court’s decision is guaranteed to become a very prominent fixture of debate in this year’s continuing presidential and congressional elections.


John Cushman at the New York Times writes, “The decision was a striking victory for the president and Congressional Democrats…”

Josh Levs at CNN has an article entitled “What the health care ruling means to you”

Amy Davison at the New Yorker.

Matthew Yglesias at Slate discusses the Court’s Medicaid decision.

AS ADAM LIPTAK of the NY Times wrote back in March:

“Chief Justice Roberts is just 57, and he will probably lead the Supreme Court for an additional two decades or more. But clashes like the one over the health care law come around only a few times in a century, and he may well complete his service without encountering another case posing such fundamental questions about the structure of American government.”

NOTE: I wasn’t watching TV, but evidently both CNN and Fox got the news wrong and initially reported that the Supreme Court had “gutted” the president’s main provision. (It terms of the state of American mass media reporting, this incident comments on itself. No need for anything extra.)

Adam Winkler from UCLA has just posted this on SCOTUSblog.

“With this deft ruling, Roberts avoided what was certain to be a cascade of criticism of the high court. No Supreme Court has struck down a president’s signature piece of legislation in over 75 years. Had Obamacare been voided, it would have inevitably led to charges of aggressive judicial activism. Roberts peered over the abyss and decided he didn’t want to go there.”

MORE LATER (Back to non-Supreme Court related life, for a while.)

Pre-scribbled photo is Justice Robert’s official photograph.

Posted in health care, How Appealing, Supreme Court | 62 Comments »

It’s all about the Supremes….and Healthcare

June 28th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


On Thursday at 10 a.m. eastern time, the Supreme Court will announce its ruling on the Obama Administration’s Health Care Initiative, known for better or for worse as Obamacare.

For those of you who don’t want to wait for the news on this ginormously important decision to be masticated and pre-digested by news persons who may or may not be informed enough to do so meaningfully, how can you find out on your own?

Easy. This man will tell you.

This is Lyle Denniston, the lead reporter at the utterly wonderful ScotusBlog. Denniston is 81 years old, and has been covering the Supreme Court for fifty-four years, and he really knows his sh… er…stuff. In those 44 years, Denniston has reported on one-quarter of all of the Justices ever to sit on the court. And, no, he’s not an attorney. But he does understand the law very, very well.

He’ll be inside the court and will get the decision when it comes down, then bounce it via SKYPE out to his colleagues at SCOTUSBLOG who will then LIVE BLOG their minute by minute deconstruction.

It will be tough for anyone else to beat Denniston and SCOTUSBLOG with the news.

SCOTUSBLOG has been live-blogging Supreme Court decision for the past few years, and they’ve got this routine down. However, under normal circumstances, they are just read by lawyers and few other crazy people like me. (I use them as a source all the time, and I see that Taylor has newly and happily discovered them.)

But this time, the mainstream media has discovered and will be watching them. In fact Ezra Klein at the Washington Post even did a little profile on Denniston, which you can find here..

THURSDAY 10 AM UPDATE: The SCOTUSBLOG people’s liveblogging is, I understand, getting 1000 comments per second, as of right now, and has more than a half million readers, as I type. It is also being carried by C-SPAN

Immediately pundits everywhere will be opining about what the decision means.

Naturally, there is a lot of handicapping going on already.

Josh Gerstein at Politico has a handy list of win/lose scenarios for various players. Gerstein’s analysis is snappy enough for quick reading, but canny enough to be worth your time. Plus he goes beyond the obvious players to include which media types the various possible outcomes could affect.

Here’s a sample:

The insurance industry

Best case: The mandate is struck along with new requirements for insurers. Insurance companies could end up getting the best of both worlds — at least for a short time. Consumers will still get subsidies to help them buy insurance, which benefits the industry, and the insurers won’t have to live under the new rule that they accept all applicants, even the expensive ones.

Worst case: The mandate is struck by itself. The insurers would be in a tough spot if the mandate — which brings insurance companies loads of new customers — is rejected, but the costly requirement to insure everyone remains. Insurers and policymakers from both parties warn this scenario would create a “death spiral” in which premiums would spike as customers buy insurance only when they really need it.

Justice Antonin Scalia

Best case: The individual mandate falls.

Going into oral arguments, some liberals and administration officials thought they might be able to win Scalia’s vote to uphold the law. After all, in 2005, the justice regarded as the intellectual leader of the court’s conservative wing sided with the federal government and the court’s liberal justices in a dispute over the feds’ authority to ban at-home cultivation of marijuana — even in states that have sought to legalize medicinal use of pot.

But it didn’t take long for Scalia to dash liberals’ hopes. He mounted a withering attack on the health care law, questioning whether the feds could mandate purchase of broccoli and lamenting the length of the 2,700-page bill.

A decision to strike the mandate, even one written by Chief Justice John Roberts, would cement Scalia’s position as the star of the conservative legal firmament.

Worst case: The mandate is upheld.

No doubt Scalia will have a colorful and impassioned dissenting opinion, but on the losing side he’s far easier to dismiss as a crank.

He’s already been on a tear this week, delivering an angry dissent in the Arizona immigration case that led one commentator to say he sounded like “a right-wing talk radio host rather than a justice of the Supreme Court.”


Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick’s Wednesday column mostly has to do with the fact that she’s reached her wits end and wants everyone to stop pretending that they know what will happen, when, in fact, they don’t.

Here’s a clip:

.…Finally, if I get one more email from someone predicting the outcome of tomorrow’s health care cases based on a judicial speech, the timing of a dissent, or the telling flare of a judicial eyebrow, I am going to set my Out of Office response to the “fleeting expletives” setting. Truly, nobody knows what’s going to happen, and the group hypnosis that convinced everyone that the mandate would be struck down on Monday—and is equally adamant that it will be upheld tomorrow—is starting to make me feel like a member of a very troubled cult. My friend Professor Barry Friedman at NYU* described it to me this way today: “Everyone keeps saying, ‘The longer this goes on, the more I’m thinking X will happen.’ But that’s nuts; the decision was always going to come down on the last day of the term. What we’re really seeing is our own anxiety about the case circling around in our heads.” I agree. The only thing that has changed since March is the calendar. Walter, have you any thoughts or predictions to offer? Tea leaves to read? My Out of Office response is standing by.



Last week Bloomberg surveyed 21 Constitutional scholars about the Individual Mandate section of the Affordable Health Care Act. (Well, actually, it seems that Bloomberg tried to survey more, but 21 answered their questions.)

Anyway, out of 21, 19 said that the public option-–the part of the law that would force people to buy health care if they were uninsured—was constitutional. However only 8 of those 19 expected that clause to be upheld by the majority of the Supreme Court Justices.

Here’s a clip of the Bloomberg story by Bob Drummand.

When you take the fact of a high-profile, enormously controversial and politically salient case — to have it decided by the narrowest majority with a party-line split looks very bad, it looks like the court is simply an arm of one political party,” University of Chicago Law Professor Dennis Hutchinson said in an interview.

Nine of the law professors said if the coverage mandate is invalidated the justices are likely or very likely to throw out several related provisions, such as requiring insurance companies to offer policies without regard to pre-existing medical conditions. Five respondents said the justices will leave those provisions in place; seven called it a toss-up.

By a large margin, 15 of the 21 professors predicted the Supreme Court won’t kill the entire law even if justices throw out the insurance mandate and related provisions. Only three said the rest of the statute is likely to be voided and three called it a toss-up.

Although several of the law professors thought it was a toss up whether the court would accept or reject the Individual mandate, only one thought it genuinely likely that the Supremes would uphold the whole thing.

Here is his reasoning:

“I continue to find it extremely unlikely that Justices Roberts and Kennedy will support a 5-4 decision that has such an insubstantial basis in 75 years of Supreme Court case law,” said Yale University Professor Bruce Ackerman, the only respondent who said the court is very likely to uphold the insurance-coverage requireme


Last week I happened to go to an event that California Attorney General Kamala Harris also attended. I caught Harris as she was leaving the party, and I asked her how she thought the Supremes would rule on the Affordable Health Care Act. Harris surprised me and those listening by saying she had a feeling they would uphold it. After Bush v. Gore and Citizens United, the justices “know that people are losing faith in the court.”

And Roberts doesn’t want that as his legacy? I asked.

, “I don’t believe that he does,” she said.

Harris admitted that, like everyone else, she was reading tea leaves—although she didn’t use those words. “But I’ve got a good feeling,” Harris repeated.

Very shortly we’ll find out whose tea leaf reading was the right one.

Posted in health care, How Appealing, Obama, Supreme Court | No Comments »

Mosley Comes Back to LA, WA State’s Public Defender Crisis & George Will on Juvie LWOP

June 27th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


Walter Mosley’s best novels have always woven strong threads of social justice commentary into the fabric of the pure literary entertainment. This has been especially true of Mosley’s books featuring the character of Easy Rawlins, a couple of which were set during and just after the Watt’s riots. Taken as a whole, the Easy Rawlins series explores race relations in Los Angeles from the 1940s to the end of the 1960′s, but does so through consummate storytelling.

It appeared that Mosley had left Rawlins behind when the author moved to New York and launched a whole new series set on the east coast.

But in this LA Times interview with Mosley, Patt Morrison suggests that we’re going to see more of Easy Rawlins, and more of Mosley’s social justice communiques embedded in his deliciously distinctive prose.

Here’s how the interview opens:

You can take Walter Mosley out of Los Angeles — in fact, Mosley did so himself, moving to New York decades ago — but you can’t take L.A. out of Walter Mosley. The master of several genres keeps the city present, from his Easy Rawlins detective novels set in black postwar Los Angeles to the Greek-myths-in-South-Central elements in one of the two novellas in his latest volume. Mosley appeared to wrap it up with Rawlins in “Blonde Faith” in 2007, but five years later, he’s found more for his most famous detective to do, just as Mosley has for himself. He has a fledgling production company, B.O.B. (for “Best of Brooklyn”) Filmhouse, and still writes with one foot in 212 and another here in 213.

Read on.


In ruling handed down earlier this month, the Washington State Supreme Court took a look at the absurdly large caseloads
that many criminal public defenders were carrying, and quite logically concluded that the PD’s couldn’t possibly give their clients anything resembling an adequate defense.

Thus the WA Court set down strict limits on the public defenders’ caseloads.

Now Gene Johnson of the AP has a story about how the the counties simply don’t have the money to pay for extra PDs to lower those caseload numbers.

Here are some clips from the AP story:

By a 7-2 vote this month, the justices adopted new case limits for public defenders — lawyers appointed to represent poor defendants. The standards say that beginning in September 2013, public defenders should not handle more than 300 to 400 misdemeanor cases or 150 felony cases a year, limits designed to make sure the lawyers have enough time to devote to their clients and ensure those defendants are getting their constitutional right to an attorney.

The caseloads have been especially high in city courts that handle misdemeanors, with public defenders sometimes taking on 1,000 or more cases annually. Now, city officials busy preparing next year’s budgets basically have two options: Provide more money to law firms that represent poor defendants or charge fewer people with crimes.


The high court acknowledged the financial burden the ruling would place on cities and counties but said the move is essential in guaranteeing that everyone has adequate legal representation.

The workloads of public defenders have long been an issue. The cities of Burlington and Mount Vernon are being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, which says the two lawyers hired to handle misdemeanor cases took on more than 2,100 cases in 2010 alone, and rarely if ever met with their clients or investigated cases.

U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik said evidence suggests that the appointment of public defenders in those cities is “little more than a sham.”

The cities deny that the plaintiffs’ rights were violated and said that even if the public defenders were incompetent or overworked, the cities aren’t liable.

Wow. (And not in a good way.)


Conservative columnist George Will had a very thoughtful column in the Wa PO about this week’s juvenile LWOP ruling. Here’s how it opens:

In the 1790s, a Tennessee man convicted of horse theft got off easy. Instead of being hanged, as horse thieves often were, he was sentenced to “stand in the pillory one hour, receive thirty-nine lashes upon his bareback well laid on, have his ears nailed to the pillory and cut off, and that he should be branded upon one cheek with the letter H and on the other with the letter T, in a plain and visible manner.” Tennessee could not do that today because of what the Supreme Court has called “the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”

The Eighth Amendment, ratified in 1791, forbids “cruel and unusual punishments.” Originalism holds that the Constitution’s language should be construed to mean what the words meant at the time to those who wrote and ratified the Constitution. On Monday, a Supreme Court ruling about punishment vexed the four justices (John G. Roberts Jr., Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.) most sympathetic to originalism, who dissented. The majority held that sentencing laws that mandate life imprisonment without possibility of parole for juvenile homicide offenders violate the Eighth Amendment.

In 1999, Kuntrell Jackson, 14, and two others, 14 and 15, robbed a video store in Blytheville, Ark. The 15-year-old fatally shot the store clerk. Jackson, who had a juvenile arrest record, was tried as an adult for aggravated robbery and felony capital murder. He was sentenced to life without a possibility of parole.

By 2002, Evan Miller, 14, a victim of serious domestic abuse, had tried to kill himself five times. He and another youth, after drinking and smoking marijuana with a 52-year-old man whose trailer was next door to the Millers’ in Lawrence County, Ala., tried to rob him while he slept. He awoke, they beat him with a baseball bat, set fire to his trailer and he burned to death. Miller was sentenced to life without a possibility of parole.

Because of their offenses, both Jackson and Miller were automatically tried as adults. Both were sentenced under mandatory sentencing laws.

On Monday, Justice Elena Kagan, joined by Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, held that the Eighth Amendment prohibits such sentences when they are mandatory. Previously, the court had held that, regarding children, such sentences are akin to the death penalty, which the court said requires individuation — consideration by sentencing authorities of each defendant’s characteristics and crime.

This ruling extends two others, one holding that the Eighth Amendment bars capital punishment for children under 18, the other that it bars life without parole for a juvenile convicted of a non-homicide offense…

Photo of Walter Mosley in 2007 at the Brooklyn Book Festival by David Shankbone, Wikimedia Commons

Posted in criminal justice, literature, LWOP Kids, Public Defender, writers and writing | No Comments »

RIP Nora Ephron….and A Few Words About Breasts

June 26th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


Nora Ephron was a gifted essayist, novelist, and humorist, a wildly talented screenwriter and film director. And she was a brilliant avocational chef, a devoted mother and wife, who also happened once to be famously married to Carl Bernstein and even more famously divorced from him, and she was a glorious wit—among other worthy occupations.

Ephron died Tuesday of pneumonia brought on by acute myeloid leukemia, according to the New York Times.

She was 71.

It is preposterously and painfully soon to lose her talent.

I met Nora Ephron once, only briefly, but I liked her right away. Despite her double, triple, quadruple threat talent (writer, screenwriter, director, etc.), she seem grounded and present. Somebody you’d want as a neighbor. Mostly, of course, like the majority grieving her today, I knew her through her work—her movies, naturally, and her books.

Her books more than anything.

Like many American women who happened to pick up Ephron’s writing at a formative age, I was fascinated and inspired by her gutsy girl voice. Most particularly I loved her early essays—written when she was young, vulnerable, sassy, and impressively fearless. Since I first read them when I was also young and vulnerable without the sass, and wishing very much to be far more fearless—they were fantasically permission-giving.

For those of you who only know Nora Ephron from her screenplays (like Silkwood and When Harry Met Sally) and the films she wrote and directed (like You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, and Julie and Julia) please allow me to introduce you to at least one piece of her prose writing.

And if you’re going to read only one, it should really probably be the 1972 essay Ephron wrote for Esquire Magazine (for which she then penned a regular column).

The essay, which was later reprinted in her 1975 collection, Crazy Salad, is titled: A FEW WORDS ABOUT BREASTS

(I’ve just excerpted the opening, but there are links to the full piece and, trust me, you’d be foolish  to start and not read to her final line, which is:  ”I think they’re full of shit.”  Happy reading.)


by Nora Ephron

I have to begin with a few words about androgyny. In grammar school, in the fifth and sixth grades, we were all tyrannized by a rigid set of rules that supposedly determined whether we were boys or girls. The episode in Huckleberry Finn where Huck is disguised as a girl and gives himself away by the way he threads a needle and catches a ball — that kind of thing. We learned that the way you sit, crossed your legs, held a cigarette and looked at your nails, your wristwatch, the way you did these things instinctively was absolute proof of your sex.. Now obviously most children did not take this literally, but I did. I thought that just one slip, just one incorrect cross of my legs or flick of an imaginary, cigarette ash would turn me from whatever I was into the other thing; that would be all it took, really. Even though I was outwardly a girl and had many of the trappings generally associated with the field of girldom — a girl’s name, for example, and dresses, my own telephone, an autograph book — I spent the years of my adolescence absolutely certain that I might at any point gum it up. I did not feel at all like a girl. I was boyish. I was athletic, ambitious, outspoken, competitive, noisy, rambunctious. I had scabs on my knees and my socks slid into my loafers and I could throw a football. I wanted desperately not to be that way, not to be a mixture of both things but instead just one, a girl, a definite indisputable girl. As soft and as pink as a nursery. And nothing would do that for me, I felt, but breasts.

I was about six months younger than everyone in my class, and so for about six months after it began, for six months after my friends had begun to develop — that was the word we used, develop — I was not particularly worried. I would sit in the bathtub and look down at breasts and know that any day now, in second now, they would start growing like everyone else’s. They didn’t. “I want to buy a bra,” I said to my mother one night. “What for?” she said……

You can find the rest here…..or here.

Or better yet, buy the book. It has aged well. (As did she.)

Photo of Ephron with her husband, writer Nicholas Pileggi, by David Shankbone, Wikimedia Commons

Posted in American artists, American voices, Life in general, women's issues, writers and writing | No Comments »

Monday’s Supreme Court Decision on Juvenile LWOP: What Does It Mean?

June 26th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

In addition to the Supreme Court’s decision
on the various provisions of Arizona’s odious immigration law, and the courts predictable rejection of the State of Montana’s challenge to Citizen’s United, there was a third dramatic ruling on Monday: SCOTUS’s much-awaited decision about whether or not it is Constitutional to sentence kids under the age of 18 to life in prison without (the possibility of) parole—LWOP.

In a 5-4 decision (Thank you, Anthony Kennedy), the justices did not toss out juvenile LWOP sentences altogether—as many of us hoped that they they would. But they took a very significant step in that direction. In the ruling written by Justice Elena Kagen, the majority said that a mandatory sentence of life without parole for murder, which is the law in 29 states, violates the 8th Amendment; it is cruel and unusual.

The operative word here, however, is “mandatory.” Judges can still sentence a kid for life. But the law can’t force it. After having reviewed all the mitigating circumstances, a judge may impose LWOP on a kid who has committed a murder, but only after considering the young person’s individual life, background, mental and emotional condition, and possibility for change.

Most importantly, this decision was built on the same reasoning used in an earlier Supreme Court ruling ( Graham v. Florida), which held that: Kids are different than adults. They are more malleable. Their brains are still developing.

There is the hope, of course, that eventually the court will extend its understanding of difference to one day strike down all of Juvie LWOP.

But for now, the New Yorker’s Rachel Aviv explains the matter this way;

Writing for the majority, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that judges and juries must be able to consider the “mitigating qualities of youth,” such as “immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks,” as well as the “home environment that surrounds [the juvenile offender]—and from which he cannot usually extricate himself—no matter how brutal or dysfunctional.”

In one of the cases considered by the Court, the defendant had been physically abused by his alcoholic parents, had attempted suicide four times, and was drunk and high the night of the murder. In the other, the defendant, Kuntrell Jackson, was given the mandatory sentence under the felony-murder doctrine for participating in a video-store robbery. His older friend shot the video clerk in the face while Jackson watched. At his trial, it was never clear whether Jackson had shouted, shortly before the murder, “We ain’t playin’” or “I thought you all was playin.’”

The Court extended the logic underlying two earlier cases, Roper v. Simmons, which abolished the death penalty for juveniles, and Graham v. Florida, which outlawed life-without-parole sentences for juveniles who have committed any crime except murder. In this case, unlike the other two, the use of the punishment, while cruel, may not be unusual—roughly two thousand five hundred inmates were sentenced to life-without-parole for crimes they committed before their eighteenth birthday—an issue that Chief Justice Roberts emphasized in his dissent. He argued that the majority opinion suggested that legislatures were “ignorant of its own laws.”

But the combination of laws that allow juveniles to be transferred into adult court—in many states, prosecutors have the sole authority to decide when to bypass the juvenile justice system—and mandatory-sentencing schemes often result in “mismatches,” as Kagan put it, between the severity of the penalty and the offender’s culpability. “Under these schemes, every juvenile will receive the same sentence as every other—the 17-year-old and the 14-year-old, the shooter and the accomplice, the child from a stable household and the child from a chaotic and abusive one.”

Emily Bazelon, writing for Slate, has some good thoughts and insights as well:

..I see this as a fairly small but still significant step in expanding the definition of cruel and unusual punishment—the Eighth Amendment standard for declaring a sentence off limits. It’s incremental because two years ago, the court ruled unconstitutional mandatory LWOP for teenagers who commit crimes other than murder. Today, the court simply extended the reasoning of that ruling, Graham v. Florida, to teenage killers. Not surprising, right? Especially since the whole idea behind Graham was that minors are less culpable than adults in part because their brains aren’t fully developed. Once again today, the court relied on the research of Laurence Steinberg at Temple University, whose studies of the adolescent brain have been crucial to this line of cases. Steinberg has found that teenagers tend to have less impulse control and more proclivity for risk, and as Kagan says, these findings mean the court’s decisions rest “not only on common sense—on ‘what any parent knows’—but on science and social science as well.”

Posted in juvenile justice, LWOP Kids, Supreme Court | No Comments »

SCOTUS Rules on AZ Immigration and Citizens United…and More

June 26th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


The Supreme Court decided Monday in a 5-3 decision that Arizona immigration law does not supersede federal immigration law.

SF Gate’s Greg Stohr has the story. Here’s how it opens:

The U.S. Supreme Court scaled back Arizona’s first-of-its-kind crackdown on illegal immigrants, striking down three provisions in a decision that asserts the federal government’s exclusive role to set immigration policy.

The ruling leaves intact, for now, the law’s centerpiece requirement that Arizona police check the immigration status of people they suspect are in the country illegally. Even so, the 5-3 decision took some of the force from that provision by invalidating parts of the law that would have given the state’s police more power to arrest people for immigration violations.

The ruling gives President Barack Obama’s administration most of what it sought when it sued to block the Arizona law. Supporters of the law said the federal government isn’t doing enough to crack down on an estimated 11.5 million people in the country illegally.

“Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration while that process continues, but the state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority.

It should be noted, however, that the reason that the “show me your papers” part of the bill was left alone was because it has not yet been implemented.

The New Yorker Blog’s Alex Koppelman explains in more detail. Here’s a clip:

You can, if you like, interpret that as a defeat for President Obama and for liberal immigration activists. Certainly that’s what Fox News did, and it’s what Arizona Governor Jan Brewer did, when she called the decision “a victory for the rule of law” and “a victory for the 10th Amendment and all Americans who believe in the inherent right and responsibility of states to defend their citizens.” Or you can read the parts of the opinion in which Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote it, makes clear that the part of the law he let stand remains because the state hasn’t yet implemented it, or shown how it will implement it, and that it could very well fall later. (And you could take a look around Arizona and see that people like Sheriff Joe Arpaio may very well, in the way they enforce the bit that remains, make it easy for the Court to strike the whole thing down at some point soon.)


Another important SCOTUS decision made Monday upheld the previous Citizen’s United ruling that allows corporate entities to donate unlimited funds to campaigns.

The Atlantic’s Alex Roarty has the story. Here’s a clip:

The Supreme Court’s rejection of a long-shot legal challenge to let states bar corporate and union political contributions in their own elections underscores the legal quandary in which many left-of-center campaign finance reformers find themselves.

The court, in a 5-to-4 vote split along ideological lines, refused on Monday to strike down a Montana ban on corporate political spending. The decision effectively upholds its landmark 2010 decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which held that corporations and unions were entitled to the same free speech protections as citizens, or at least allow state law to supersede it.

Because the Supreme Court decided Citizens United only two years ago and its conservative majority remains intact, few legal experts expected it to rule in favor of the challenge.

The current case, American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock, stemmed from a century-old Montana law that prohibits corporations from spending money on political campaigns. The effort, joined by more than 20 states, stipulated states should be allowed to carve out their own rules to regulate political fundraising and spending, an argument backed by the Montana Supreme Court when it ruled in favor of the state law last year.


The Department of Justice announced the awarding of grants to fund approximately 800 law enforcement positions to be filled by military veterans.

You can read the press release on the DOJ website. Here are some clips:

The U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) today announced funding awards to over 220 cities and counties, aimed at creating or saving approximately 800 law enforcement positions. The grants will fund over 600 new law enforcement positions and save an additional 200 positions recently lost or in jeopardy of being cut due to local budget cuts. All new law enforcement positions funded in the COPS 2012 Hiring Program must be filled by recent military veterans who have served at least 180 days since Sept. 11, 2001.


“Today, we step up our support for recent veterans by offering them the chance to pursue meaningful careers in law enforcement,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “At a time of budget shortfalls, these grants will provide opportunities for much-needed, highly-trained professionals – with a proven commitment to service – to continue their careers in communities all across the country.”

By the way, Our Weekly reports that LA received the largest amount of grant money from the DOJ program.

Photo courtesy RI4A via Flickr under Creative Commons license.

Posted in Free Speech, immigration, law enforcement, National issues, Supreme Court | No Comments »

WitnessLA Walks Away With One of Top Prizes at LA Press Club Awards

June 25th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

Witness LA took home a top prize in one category, a second place in another, and was a finalist in a third on Sunday night at the 54th annual Los Angeles Press Club Awards,
where hundreds of reporters, editors, columnists, producers, news anchors and other miscellaneous members-of-the-press gathered in the Crystal Ballroom of the Millennium Biltmore Hotel to find out who had won what in the world Southern California Journalism.

Among its highlights, the evening featured a duet of speeches by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. (The twosome got the evening’s President’s Award). Woodward gave his remarks looking Big Brother-ish via SKYPE on a screen behind where Bernstein stood at the ballroom’s podium. (Woodward apologized for his looming electronic non-in-person presence, pleading that the manuscript for his latest book was due to the publisher on Monday.)

For some reason, the glitzy night also featured more than the usual number of gawp-worthy shoes including these startling items, whose owner admitted she had lacerated her ankles more than once with the things.

(click to enlarge)

Witness LA—namely Matt Fleischer and I— walked away with a 1st Place for Advocacy Journalism for our work reporting and investigating the problems in the LA County Jails and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. (Matt didn’t do any literal walking Sunday night as he was up in the Bay Area all weekend, so learned of the award via his editor’s enthusiastic texts.) We competed in a terrific field that included entries from Reason Magazine and Reason TV, the Huffington Post, KCET’s online division and more.

In their comments on WLA’s work the judges wrote:

Many thought it just sarcasm when some inner-city residents referred to law enforcement as “just another armed gang” during the riots some years back. These reporters uncovered the chilling truth in what is perhaps America’s most troubled jail in this startling series of articles, making the judges relieved that they lived to tell the tale. While some observers prefer the term “cliques,” groups of deputies employ many of the trappings of street gangs to protect some prisoners (and each other) while savagely assaulting the person of prisoners and the careers of deputies who don’t join up. Outstanding research and excellent writing.

WLA also won second place in the Group Weblog category. (The staff of Reason Magazine was the winner in this field, but we were happy to be the runner up on a list that also included entries from Truthdig and LA Weekly’s Squid Ink.)

AND WitnessLA’s Matt Fleischer was a finalist for the Online Investigative Journalism award for Part 3 THE PRINCE of our Dangerous Jails series, a category won by Bloomberg reporters Christopher Palmeri, Rodney Yap and Michael Morris.

(A pretty good haul, we thought, for our hardworking little shoe-string operation.)

There were many, many worthy winners, lots of our good pals among them.

(click to en-biggen)

KCET’s So Cal Connected left with a bunch awards, as did KPCC, Neon Tommy,
LA Weekly, OC Weekly, the LA Times and The Atlantic Magazine….and more.

(You can find the full list here.)

Congratulations to everyone for their fine work.

Posted in media, writers and writing | 23 Comments »

Federal Prison Guards to be Armed with Pepper Spray, SCOTUS to Rule on Illegal Immigration…and More

June 25th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


The Federal Bureau of Prisons has made the controversial decision to arm guards at the Atwater Penitentiary in CA and six other turbulent federal prisons with pepper spray. The decision was due, in part, to the 2008 murder of an unarmed Atwater guard by inmates and other instances of serious assaults on prison guards.

McClatchy Newspapers’ Michael Doyle has the story. Here are some clips:

Urged on by lawmakers, U.S. Bureau of Prisons officials are currently training selected officers to use the spray canisters that can drop a violent inmate from up to 12 feet away. Although described as a “pilot program” that will formally start in several weeks, the decision marks a policy shift for officials who until now have warned against the dangers of arming prison guards.

Under the prior no-weapons policy, Atwater guard Jose Rivera carried only a radio and body alarm when two inmates turned on him June 20, 2008. They ran Rivera down, tackled the 22-year-old Navy veteran and stabbed him repeatedly, a prison videotape shows. The two accused inmates are awaiting trial.


While state prison guards in California and a number of other states are armed with pepper spray, federal authorities until now have reasoned that the potential disadvantages outweigh the benefits.

Arming guards, even with a non-lethal weapon like pepper spray, would impede communication with inmates, officials have stated. Officials also have warned that unruly inmates could seize the three- to four-ounce pepper spray canisters and turn them against the guards.

“Management at one (federal) institution explained that, regardless of the amount of equipment officers carry, inmates will always outnumber officers. Therefore, the officers’ ability to manage the inmates through effective communication, rather than the use of equipment, is essential to ensuring federal safety,” the Government Accountability Office noted in a 2011 study.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Both the officers at LA County’s juvenile probation camps and the deputies in the LA County Jail system use pepper spray or, more precisely, OC (Oleoresin Capsicum) spray.


Next week, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on Arizona’s immigration law–the second most prohibitive in the US (after Alabama).

Washington Post’s Pamela Constable has the story. Here’s a clip:

Hispanic and pro-immigrant groups say they are preparing for a major disappointment from the high court, which they believe is likely to uphold the right of state and local police to question and detain suspected illegal immigrants. But they also plan to use the expected blow to rally immigrant communities to defend their rights, seek legal assistance and sign up to vote.

“Arizona will become hotter now, and this will give permission to other states to pursue their own laws, but we are already working to ensure it makes the Latino community stronger and more engaged,” said Ben Monterrosa, executive director of Mi Familia Vota, a civic-action group based in Phoenix that is co-organizing public forums and media messages across the state in anticipation of the ruling.

“We have only just begun to fight,” said Justin Cox, a lawyer in Atlanta with the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a lawsuit last year against laws in Arizona and five other states that allow police to check the status of suspected illegal immigrants and mandate other sanctions that may conflict with federal law. Cox said legal opponents will now challenge the laws on other grounds, including due process and civil rights.

On the other side of the divide, sponsors and supporters of get-tough laws against illegal immigrants say that if the high court upholds Arizona’s statute — which makes it a crime to be in the United States illegally and allows the state to use police as immigration-law enforcers — lawmakers who have been rebuffed in more cautious states will leap into the fray and push for similar crackdowns.


A once major advocate of Prop. 8, David Blankenhorn, recanted his opposition to gay marriage via the NY Times. Blankenhorn said the debate has become less about marriage and parenthood than about equal rights for gays.

The Chicago Tribune’s (Reuters, C) Alex Dobuzinskis has the story. Here’s a clip:

In 2010, Blankenhorn was the final witness called to defend California’s ban on gay marriage, which was passed by voters in the state in 2008 in a ballot measure called Proposition 8. Six states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex marriage. Blankenhorn began his testimony by asserting that the best environment for children is to live in a house led by a man and a woman.

But in a surprise to observers of the trial, Blankenhorn seemed to concede certain points to gay marriage advocates under persistent cross-examination from veteran litigator David Boies, who helped launch the legal challenge to Proposition 8.

Blankenhorn said on the witness stand he believed “adopting same-sex marriage would be likely to improve the well-being of gay and lesbian households and their children.”

In his New York Times opinion piece, Blankenhorn maintained gay marriage “has become a significant contributor to marriage’s continuing deinstitutionalization.”

“I have written these things in my book and said them in my testimony, and I believe them today,” he wrote in the piece. “I am not recanting any of it.”

But Blankenhorn went on to argue that he has changed his view due in part to the public’s coming to believe gay marriage is about accepting gays and lesbians “as equal citizens.”

You can read David Blankenhorn’s op-ed for the NY Times here. Here’s a clip:

I had hoped that the gay marriage debate would be mostly about marriage’s relationship to parenthood. But it hasn’t been. Or perhaps it’s fairer to say that I and others have made that argument, and that we have largely failed to persuade. In the mind of today’s public, gay marriage is almost entirely about accepting lesbians and gay men as equal citizens. And to my deep regret, much of the opposition to gay marriage seems to stem, at least in part, from an underlying anti-gay animus. To me, a Southerner by birth whose formative moral experience was the civil rights movement, this fact is profoundly disturbing.

I had also hoped that debating gay marriage might help to lead heterosexual America to a broader and more positive recommitment to marriage as an institution. But it hasn’t happened. With each passing year, we see higher and higher levels of unwed childbearing, nonmarital cohabitation and family fragmentation among heterosexuals. Perhaps some of this can be attributed to the reconceptualization of marriage as a private ordering that is so central to the idea of gay marriage. But either way, if fighting gay marriage was going to help marriage over all, I think we’d have seen some signs of it by now.

So my intention is to try something new. Instead of fighting gay marriage, I’d like to help build new coalitions bringing together gays who want to strengthen marriage with straight people who want to do the same.

Posted in ACLU, Human rights, immigration, LGBT, prison policy, Supreme Court | 2 Comments »

The Invisible War: Rape in the Military – by Matthew Fleischer

June 22nd, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


A San Diego Navy vet speaks out in a deeply important and shattering new film

by Matthew Fleischer

“When you get raped in civilian life, you go to a court that’s independent and unbiased to seek justice and recourse. When you get raped in the military, your only recourse is to go to your commander, who knows you and likely knows your rapist.”
–Amy Ziering, producer, “The Invisible War”

Navy veteran Allison Gill says she was violated three times during her military service in the early aughts: once when she was raped by a fellow service member, once when she tried to report the crime and was told to go away, and a third time when she tried to get the Veterans Benefits Administration to acknowledge her sexual assault-based PTSD and authorize treatment—only to denied and stonewalled for three years and counting.

“To go to countless therapy sessions and truly get to the place where you believe that this is not your fault, and then to be denied and denied and denied,” she tells WitnessLA, “it sets you back in your therapy. That’s a devastating thing for a survivor, to tell them ‘we don’t believe you.’”

Gill is one of the dozens of military victims of sexual assault featured in the new documentary The Invisible War, which opens nationwide Friday. The film offers an astounding portrait of military veterans living with the trauma of sexual assault—perpetrated by their brothers in arms. This epidemic of rape in the military is seemingly impossibly widespread. Since World War 2, nearly 500,000 military men and women have reported being raped during their service. 3,000 military on military rapes were reported in 2011 alone—and authorities think the actual number could be six times higher.

Almost worse than the act itself is the treatment these victims receive from military authorities when they attempt to report these crimes. I ran into Gill at a recent screening of The Invisible War at the Los Angeles Film Festival, and we spoke about the film and about her ordeal. “When I went to report my sexual assault to military police, I was told I was silly,” Gill remembers. “They said I’d been drinking, I’d put myself in a bad situation and I should ‘suck it up.’ They threatened that if I filed a report and it was found to be false, I could be dishonorably discharged. They talked me out of it.”

According to the film, 80 percent of military rape victims do the exact same thing—stay quiet.

“The thing that hits me like a ton of bricks was the barrage of women in the film who said the exact same thing as I did,” says Gill. “I’ve never met anyone that went through what I went through. It blew me away that everyone’s story is the same.”

That story too often includes Gill’s problem of getting the Veterans Benefits Administration to acknowledge she suffers from sexual assault-induced PTSD from her attack. She first filed her claim 2009, was denied, she appealed, was denied again, and is still waiting for the results of her second appeal three years later.

Gill happens to be graded 30 percent disabled by the VBA, based on other injuries she suffered during her service, which entitles her to free medical care at the VA. But because the VBA refuses to acknowledge that sexual assault is the cause of her PTSD, she has to pay for any meds her therapist prescribes for treatment out of pocket.

It could be much worse. Military sexual assault survivors who have their claims denied, are not graded 30 percent disabled or more, or do not meet the minimum service threshholds, do not receive free care from the VA at all. They are subject to co-pays and other fees for PTSD treatment and other basic medical care.

Gill is very clear in distinguishing between the difficulties she’s had with the Veterans Benefits Association and the actual VA hospital system. Despite her ordeal, after getting out of the Navy, she wound up working for the VA in San Diego, a job that she loves.

“I’m a pretty patriotic person,” she says. “I wanted to serve my government in some capacity. I wanted to give back something. It made sense to me to give back to my country and serve veterans at the same time.”

Gill has found one unusual form of therapy to heal the mental wounds the VBA declines to acknowledge: standup comedy. The local press in her adopted hometown of San Diego has dubbed Gill the city’s “funniest woman.” (Incidentally, if you’re too busy to drive south to check out her act, she’s going to be at the Hollywood Improv on Friday August 10th.)

“The way I cope is I fill my life up with stuff to do, so I don’t have time to sit and think,” she says. “After my service I went back to school to get my master’s degree. I go to yoga 6 times a week. I’m always doing something, or on my way back from doing something. Some people medicate with drugs or alcohol. I medicate with having shit to do.”

Posted in Veterans, War, women's issues | 17 Comments »

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