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Sunday, Monday Hits, Picks & Must Reads

November 23rd, 2009 by Celeste Fremon



I’m bored out of my mind with the New Conventional Wisdom that persists in opining that the Internets have killed storytelling…..narrative writing….long form journalism…. or what have you, when research and practical observation repeatedly tells us otherwise.

We are a storytelling species.

I bring this up because of a the wonderful tale in the December issue of Wired Magazine that is justifiably getting lots of attention this past weekend. It is a terrific example of immersion journalism that is web-centric, interactive—plus it is engaging storytelling with a well constructed narrative.

It’s called VANISH: Finding Evan Ratliff.
It is about what happened when Wired writer Evan Ratliff tried to disappear without a trace in this brave, new non-private world.

Do read it.

Photo by Joe Pugliese for Wired


The LA Times’ Maura Dolan tells a heart-piercing first person tale
of her teenage son’s two friends, one of whom died at a Memorial day weekend party featuring too much alcohol. The other friend was the one who gave the booze party while his parents were out of town.


As the LA City Council heads toward an actual, no-kidding vote on the issue of regulating marijuana dispensaries, the LA Times’ John Hoeffel asks how many retail pot outlets is too many.


Two things worth reading during the media’s recent sheep-like Sarah Palin news storm.

1. Matt Tabbai’s take on Palin as a WWE Star

Rolling Stone’s Matt Tabbai has become one of the most consistently interesting journalists in America right now. Is he the nicest? Probably not. He seems to have an ego approaching the size of that new floating city thingy, the Oasis of the Seas. And he swears a lot. But he’s also dogged and extremely insightful at noting and characterizing patterns.

Warning to those conservatives who are Palin fans. If you read this, be forewarned that Tabbai obviously doesn’t like Palin. But read it anyway. It’s the analysis that matters, not Tabbai’s personal feelings about Sarah.

2. Carl Hiaasen’s faux fact check of Palin’s book.

It’s old, but it’s still really, really funny.


I am not in the least expert on China but the Atlantic’s Jim Fallows is. And he (and some others whom he quotes) explains the media’s latest vexing example of pack journalism—or horse race journalism as NYU’s Jay Rosen began describing it nearly two years ago in the midst of the presidential primary. This particular instance has to do with Obama’s trip to Asia, and Fallows explains that much of the American reporting on the trip is…well… incorrect. Unfortunately, wrong or not, by next week, the POV Fallow’s describes will likely become the accepted reality of the situation.

Here are a couple of clips from Fallows’ essay:

[Here Fallows quotes Howard French:]

Howard French goes on to say that these assumptions were flat wrong. He offers many explanations, including this: “I find that the Washington reporters tend to be typically the most subject to this instant scorekeeping. This is part of the game of Washington reporting. They’re at the bleeding edge of this phenomenon that I think is distressing in terms of the approach of the press to serious questions. Everything is shot through this prism of short-term political calculation as opposed to thinking seriously about stuff. You can’t be an expert on every question, and so you’re part of the Washington press corps and if you’re really good and really diligent, you’re going to be expert maybe in a few things and one of those things might not be China.”

[Finally, he concludes with this.]

We’re all familiar with one “crisis of the press,” the business collapse. This is a different kind of crisis, though it makes the business crisis worse: the distortion of reality by compressing every complex issue into the narrative of the DC-based “horse race.” As you can tell, this really bothers me.

I traveled with the presidential press corps briefly once during the Carter administration, when I was young and wildly inexperienced. Yet because I was an outsider, I could see what the others seemed not to see: And that was the fact that the reporters who were daily defining the national dialogue talked to no one but themselves and a small cadre of government insiders from both parties. I also noted that they rarely, if ever, questioned an insidious kind of group think that made their reporting fact laden, and seemingly informed and connected, but often weirdly wrong. At the time, I found this vision frightening.

I still do.


Steve Lopez’s Sunday column was about a Santa Monica doctor who got his head slightly banged up playing some weekend soccer in the park, needed a few stitches, went to a local emergency room—-and came away with a bill that flabbergasted him (and remember, the guy himself is a doctor). There was, for example, the $350 tetnus shot that the doc knew for a fact cost $27. It got way worse from there. Read it.

Posted in media, Must Reads, National politics, Social Justice Shorts | 17 Comments »

Shooting Holes in the Journalists’ Shield Law

October 5th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


On Sunday, both the Washington Post and the New York Times
rightly took the Obama administration to task for its recent discouraging move to weaken the federal shield law that is making its way through the Senate.

But both papers were interestingly silent on the gigantic hole that was earlier blasted in the fabric of the proposed law by Senate Judicial committee chair, Chuck Schumer.

We’ll get to the Schumer part of the issue in a minute, but first a look at the administration’s steps in the wrong direction.

In March the House passed a strong version of the shield law with bipartisan support.

As the Post reports:

In that measure, a journalist would be compelled to reveal a confidential source only under specified conditions, such as if disclosure is needed to prevent death, bodily harm or a terrorist act. Disclosure would also be required when investigators sought to identify a person who leaked properly classified information in a manner that caused “significant and articulable” harm to national security. But in all cases, those seeking to compel disclosure would have to exhaust all reasonable alternative sources of information and demonstrate that the public interest in disclosing the source outweighed the public interest in thorough news coverage.

But now the White House is floating a version that substantially weakens the protections against making reporters reveal their sources. Here’s how the NY Times explains it.

At the heart of the disagreement is the balance between national security and the public’s right to know. The best approach is to protect legitimate security claims while rejecting those that are made in the name of national security but are really aimed at avoiding embarrassment. That was the constant cry from the Bush administration as the public learned — through the unauthorized disclosure of confidential information — of prisoner abuse, secret C.I.A. prisons for terrorist suspects and warrantless wiretapping.

All of the above is quite depressing. The White House says it is still tinkering, meaning we can hold out hope that they will snap awake from their reactionary moment and decided to back a more transparency-friendly version of the bill. (After all, 30 states have fairly good shield laws and the republic has not fallen.)

But even if the White House does come around, we still have the issue of the Schumer amendment. Here’s the deal: In its earlier version, the Senate shield bill was written to define “journalist” as “a person who is engaged in journalism”—a description that was broad enough that to take into consideration the fast-evolving state of the news gathering business.

Then Chuck Schumer began listening to critics and jammed through an amendment that features the following brand new definition of who ought to be protected by the shield law (should the damn thing ever manage to pass with any of its teeth left in its head):

(iii) obtains the information sought while working as a salaried employee of, or independent contractor for, an entity—
(I) that disseminates information by print, broadcast, cable, satellite, mechanical, photographic, electronic, or other means; and
(II) that—
(aa) publishes a newspaper, book, magazine, or other periodical;
(bb) operates a radio or television broadcast station, network, cable system, or satellite carrier, or a channel or programming service for any such station, network, system, or carrier;
(cc) operates a programming service; or
(dd) operates a news agency or wire service;

The first paragraph of this definition quickly eliminates journalism students who might report something of significance.

But the most crucial word in this new way of delineating who deserves protection and who does not is the word “and” that sits between section I and section II.

The whole thing will need a more precise legal interpretation but most are reading it to mean that it excludes bloggers and/or web journalists whose work is not attached to a newspaper, magazine, book publisher, wire service, TV or radio broadcaster.

Interesting that neither the NYT or the WaPo saw fit to do an editorial on that little change.

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

Le Lion est Mort

August 26th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

Like many, I have very mixed feelings about Ted Kennedy—strongly pro and con.
But we can all rest assured that there will be many flowery and impassioned speeches made about the liberal lion of the U.S. Senate in the next few days.

And to those who will inevitably be making them, I would like to suggest that there is one tribute, and one tribute only that would really matter to the man: Pass a decent damned health reform bill.

Posted in Life in general, National politics | 2 Comments »

Is American Idol Braver Than Barack Obama?

May 24th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

a2 fin @ Yahoo! Video

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some relevant clips from Rich’s column:

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Why “Let’s Just Move On” Won’t Work

May 17th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

One of the things I’ve learned in nearly 20 years of writing about street gangs,
is that for a man or woman who has been involved in gangs to truly rescue his or her life—and to heal from the scarring that deep involvement in gang life produces—one has to face the bad stuff, the damage that has been done—both by and to oneself. There are no short cuts. A reckoning is needed, a facing of the hard truths, a dark night of the soul, a clear-eyed assessment of whatever wreckage has occurred.

Anybody who’s been through therapy or some 12-step program or other knows that same rule: healing and health require that you take a good look at the wounds—both those caused, and those received.

The same is true for a nation. One cannot just sweep harmful acts under the rug and hope that they will all vanish. They won’t. The poison comes out one way or the other. Sunlight cleanses. A lack of open air merely causes festering.

That’s also what Frank Rich says-–only using other words— in his Sunday NY Times column.

Here’s how it opens:

To paraphrase Al Pacino in “Godfather III,” just when we thought we were out, the Bush mob keeps pulling us back in. And will keep doing so. No matter how hard President Obama tries to turn the page on the previous administration, he can’t. Until there is true transparency and true accountability, revelations of that unresolved eight-year nightmare will keep raining down drip by drip, disrupting the new administration’s high ambitions.

That’s why the president’s flip-flop on the release of detainee abuse photos — whatever his motivation — is a fool’s errand. The pictures will eventually emerge anyway, either because of leaks (if they haven’t started already) or because the federal appeals court decision upholding their release remains in force. And here’s a bet: These images will not prove the most shocking evidence of Bush administration sins still to come.

There are many dots yet to be connected, and not just on torture. This Sunday, GQ magazine is posting on its Web site an article adding new details to the ample dossier on how Donald Rumsfeld’s corrupt and incompetent Defense Department cost American lives and compromised national security. The piece is not the work of a partisan but the Texan journalist Robert Draper, author of “Dead Certain,” the 2007 Bush biography that had the blessing (and cooperation) of the former president and his top brass. It draws on interviews with more than a dozen high-level Bush loyalists….

Read on.

(PS: Last night’s opening skit from SNL—embedded above— was pretty funny,
and, in it’s own tangential way, relates.)

Posted in National issues, National politics, Obama, torture | 30 Comments »

The Breathtaking Courage of Senator Jim Webb

March 30th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


Over the weekend, I finally read the stunning speech—remarkably for its political bravery—-
that Jim Webb made to the Senate this past Thursday, when he introduced his bill calling for a blue ribbon commission to reform the nation’s criminal justice system, which he calls “a national disgrace.” The bill, titled the National Criminal Justice Act of 2009, is what many of us with an eye on criminal justice issues have been eagerly awaiting since late last year.

I knew that criminal justice advocates like Marc Mauer of the Sentencing Project
had been working with Webb and his staff. But even so, his presentation was more intelligent more articulate, more informed—and more courageous—than most had dared to hope for. Here are some clips:

Let’s start with a premise that I don’t think a lot of Americans are aware of.
We have 5% of the world’s population; we have 25% of the world’s known prison population. We have an incarceration rate in the United States, the world’s greatest democracy, that is five times as high as the average incarceration rate of the rest of the world. There are only two possibilities here: either we have the most evil people on earth living in the United States; or we are doing something dramatically wrong in terms of how we approach the issue of criminal justice. I would ask my fellow senators and my fellow citizens to think about the challenges that attend these kinds of numbers when we are looking at people who have been released from prison and are reentering American society. We have hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people who are reentering American society without the transition necessary
to allow them to again become productive citizens.


The elephant in the bedroom in many discussions on the criminal justice system is the sharp increase in drug incarceration over the past three decades. In 1980, we had 41,000 drug offenders in prison; today we have more than 500,000, an increase of 1,200%. The blue disks represent the numbers in 1980; the red disks represent the numbers in 2007 and a significant percentage of those incarcerated are for possession or nonviolent offenses stemming from drug addiction and those sorts of related behavioral issues.

Salon’s Glenn Greenwald has written about Webb’s bill in a manner that illuminates both the man and the issue.

Here’s how Glenn’s article opens:

There are few things rarer than a major politician doing something that is genuinely courageous and principled, but Jim Webb’s impassioned commitment to fundamental prison reform is exactly that. Webb’s interest in the issue was prompted by his work as a journalist in 1984, when he wrote about an American citizen who was locked away in a Japanese prison for two years under extremely harsh conditions for nothing more than marijuana possession. After decades of mindless “tough-on-crime” hysteria, an increasingly irrational “drug war,” and a sprawling, privatized prison state as brutal as it is counter-productive, America has easily surpassed Japan — and virtually every other country in the world — to become what Brown University Professor Glenn Loury recently described as a “a nation of jailers” whose “prison system has grown into a leviathan unmatched in human history.”

What’s most notable about Webb’s decision to champion this cause is how honest his advocacy is. He isn’t just attempting to chip away at the safe edges of America’s oppressive prison state. His critique of what we’re doing is fundamental, not incremental.


Webb himself had an article in Parade Magazine on Sunday in which he explains and campaigns for his bill.

On Sunday, he was also interviewed for NPR


Posted in National politics, parole policy, prison policy, race and class, racial justice | 15 Comments »

Social Justice Shorts

March 18th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon



In 2008, the U.S. became the sole country
in the world that still sentenced youth under age 18 to life without parole. A bill recently introduced into the California state legislature, SB 399, would take a step toward ending that practice, at least in California. (In 2007, I covered some of the issues surrounding kids doing life. And last year Human Rights Watch released an excellent report on the kids in California serving Life Without.)

Certainly kids are capable of committing terrible crimes.
And under State Senator Leeland Yee’s bill, juveniles can still be given Life Without. But is allows for the sentence to be reviewed after 10 years with the idea that certain kids might have earned the possibility of a resentencing hearing.

Juveniles are not adults.
Everything we have learned in the last two decades about brain development has made that clear. Various groups in the juvenile justice world are gearing up to support this bill. I hope the California state legislature is intelligent enough to pass it. Perhaps one day we can join the rest of the world and do away with Life Without for kids altogether. SB 399 will not accomplish that goal. But a step in the right direction is better than none.



Journalist/Author Mark Danner got his hands on unreleased report by the International Committee of the Red Cross that detailed the torture of prisoners in the CIA’s so-called black sites and published what he learned in the New York Review of Books.

The accounts and the analysis are extremely credible
, and the writing is excellent. Here’s how it opens:

We think time and elections will cleanse
our fallen world but they will not. Since November, George W. Bush and his administration have seemed to be rushing away from us at accelerating speed, a dark comet hurtling toward the ends of the universe. The phrase “War on Terror”—the signal slogan of that administration, so cherished by the man who took pride in proclaiming that he was “a wartime president”—has acquired in its pronouncement a permanent pair of quotation marks, suggesting something questionable, something mildly embarrassing: something past. And yet the decisions that that president made, especially the monumental decisions taken after the attacks of September 11, 2001—decisions about rendition, surveillance, interrogation—lie strewn about us still, unclaimed and unburied, like corpses freshly dead….


I hate to belabor the issue, but MoDo makes some sharp points and draws blood:

…As Andrew Cuomo pointed out on Tuesday, 11 of the A.I.G. executives who received retention bonuses of $1 million or more — including one who received $4.6 million — were not even retained. They’re no longer working at A.I.G. Bonuses were paid to 52 people who have left the company. [Aaarrrgggg!]


What President Obama should have said to the blood-sucking bums at A.I.G., many of them foreigners who were working at the louche London unit, was quite simple: “We stopped the checks. They’re immoral. If you want Americans’ hard-earned cash as a reward for burning up their jobs, homes and savings, sue me.”


Geithner, who comes from the cozy Wall Street club, and Liddy believe it’s best to stabilize the company and keep on board the same people who invented the risky financial tactics so they can unwind their own rotten spool.

Isn’t that like giving bonuses to the arsonists who started a fire because they alone know what kind of accelerants they used to start it?


This isn’t a social justice story per se, but it’s quite intriguing,
and it is making a stir. I’d heard that best-selling author and journalist Joe McGinnis had been spending a lot of time in Alaska working on a hot Sara Palin-related business story.

The resulting piece came out yesterday in the April issue of Portfolio magazine
and it has already pushed Palin to schedule a press conference for this morning.

McGinniss has written about Sara Palin’s
relationship to state’s proposed $40 million natural gas pipeline that she has bragged that she fought to bring about. The heart of the matter may be found in this ‘graph:

Barack Obama wants the pipeline. It says so right on the White House website, in the section about energy and the environment: prioritize the construction of the alaska natural gas pipeline. But Obama might not realize that one of the biggest obstacles in its path—all Palin’s rhetoric notwithstanding—is the woman who wants to take the presidency from him in 2012, Governor Sarah “Drill, Baby, Drill” Palin.

it’s intriguing, controversial… and definitely worth reading.


Posted in juvenile justice, National issues, National politics, Social Justice Shorts | 39 Comments »

Obama’s NSOTU: Not the State of the Union

February 24th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


At least that was the title of the main twitter thread during Barack Obama’s speech tonight: #NSOTU

Here are are a few of my moment to moment thoughts—or demi-thoughts:

Among my favorite lines:

“…..dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country – and this country needs and values the talents of every American.”

(What’re yours?)

PS: At the LA Times, Doyle McManus has a nice piece on Obama’s oratory.


Forget the pre-speech nattering. Important issue? Michelle’s GREAT navy blue sleeveless, above the knee dress. (Priorities, people!)

Repubs are twittering about Capt. Sully being there. Okay. Reasonable. For me it’s the dress, for them it’s the hero. We can cheer both.

Not to be mean, but it’s a relief not to see Cheney behind the president with his snarl/grimace/smile.

“We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before. ….The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation. The answers to our problems don’t lie beyond our reach.”

Okay Obama’s listened. He has to be positive so we don’t all shoot ourselves. Or stay in bed. Sad, but psychologically true.

In other words, we have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election.”

TRANSLATION: Dear America: Read Emotional Intelligence, damnit.

Now is the time to act boldly and wisely – to not only revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity.”

TRANSLATION: We aren’t going to die, as long as you get with the program, people. (Whew!)

“Nobody messes with Joe. “ Good reframing of Biden’s personality. If you can’t fix it, feature it. Okay, that works.

John Boehner looks like he’s reading a novel while Obama’s talking. Ayn Rand? No, maybe it’s that program that was handed out. I hope it’s the program.

Note to Joe Lieberman. Spit out the gum BEFORE the speech next time.

“This is not about helping banks, it’s about helping people.” (Line of the night, thus far.)

Energy….Health care…Education. E! H! E! Hey! E! H! E! Hey! Go Barack

I can actually see people twittering. More Repubs than Dems. Then the tweets turn up on my Twitter feed. Weird. The U.S. Congress has just turned at 13.

Okay, everyone stood up and applauded for education—as freaking well they should with a freaking 50 percent dropout rate.

They’re actually cheering about not passing along the debts. But they don’t cheer bringing the def. down? Fascinating.

Do you think this is like the party where everyone’s noisier when they’ve had a couple of drinks? (And what drinks are they serving?)

Somebody on Twitter said that Pelosi was dressed in Soylent Green. That’s harsh.

We love the bank president giving away the bonus. And we love the girl who wrote Obama. “We are not quitters.” Brilliant.

If Obama speaks to the better angels of all in the congress, will you answer from your better angels, dearest Republicans? We need to know.

After I wrote that, @Johnculberson…twittered back: “We all need to do our best to work together wherever we can for the good of the nation.” Okay, Culberson, I’m holding you to it, “whenever we can” notwithstanding.

Jindal’s on: Dear Bobby, during Katrina the gov’t was run by greedy, mendacious weasels. There’s a difference.

Props to NOLA for their charter schools. No argument there. Credit where credit is due.

Yeah, yeah, Bobby Jindal is a winning enough guy. And this was a thankless job. But he had nothing to say. Nothing. Zero. Except to say, NO, to Obama. And simply being a contra isn’t good enough in this desperate fiscal/political climate.

David Gergen reminded the viewers that that nasty ol’ unneeded Fed Gov’t gave $175 billion for Katrina recovery (and counting). Reality check, Bob, hon.

The line that still rings is this one: “It’s time for America to lead again.” Is that exceptionalist in some deep, dark way? No. Leading is a good thing…. if one moves toward the light. Hell, somebody’s got to.

Over all, a stunning, strong-minded, inspiring speech. Thank you, Barack.


PS: It is important to note that as we cheered Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, we also just learned that his salary has been cut 40 percent, and that his pension has been terminated. Meanwhile, in 2005 when US Airways filed for bankruptcy, the company wanted to keep its exec bonuses. Fortunately the judge said NO. Heck of a job, private enterprise.

(Photo by Evan Vucci / AP)

Posted in Economy, National issues, National politics, Obama | 10 Comments »

Absolutely NO Stimulus $$$ for Parks! Says the Senate

February 11th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


As the House and Senate begin their reconciliation battle
over their respective stimulus packages, it’s important to look again at some important elements that have been cut from each package in the recent haggling.

It has been well reported that, incredibly, Republicans of both houses demanded that none of the stimulus money be used to build or repair schools. The Senate package cut all school construction money, whereas the House managed to hold in $20 billion, although it is difficult to say if, even this pared down amount, will make the final cut.

But that’s not all. The Senate’s version prohibits any money from going toward building or improving….. are you ready?….community parks.

Parks for God’s sake! Jungle gyms. Baseball diamonds. Swing sets. Green spaces.

Here’s the relevant clip that has the exact language of the anti-park amendment: The Coburn amendment would prohibit funding in the bill from going to gambling establishments, aquariums, swimming pools, zoos, golf courses, stadiums, community parks, museums, theaters, art centers, and highway beautification projects.

Oh, yeah, that works. No gambling casinos or parks. Right. I’d group those two together. No black jack or…..trees.

By the way, after Coburn insisted upon his amendment, he voted against the package anyway.

I was alerted to the Senate’s NO PARKS prohibition by Robert Garcia—the head of the LA-based City Project. A former civil rights lawyer, Garcia is one of the state’s tops expert on the importance of green space to the health of a city and its inhabitants—and why the absence of urban parks is an important social justice issue..

Since the anti-parks thing seemed crazily mean-spirited even by Congressional standards, I asked Garcia what he thought.

“I suspect its because Republicans have plenty of parks in their neighborhoods,” he said grumpily. “Here’s the thing, it’s easy for the Congressional leadership to cut parks, because the popular conception is that parks are a luxury.”

To the contrary, Garcia said. “Parks can provide physical activity to reduce obesity, provide positive alternatives to gangs, crime, and violence. And parks bring people together. Parks are essential to quality of life.”

Most important for the stimulus plan, park construction will produce lots of jobs, said Garcia. Since most of America’s urban areas have far fewer parks and green spaces than affluent communities, park building should be a priority.

Hey, FDR was entirely clear on the importance of park-building as a jobs creating strategy, Garcia pointed out. “The New Deal included the construction of 8,000 parks and 40,000 schools and the Civilian Conservation Corps expanded open space all over the nation and, in so doing, put unemployed young men to work across the United States.”

Garcia told me that there are loads of existing park projects all over the U.S. that are “shovel ready” as the stimulus planners like to say.

“For instance in Los Angeles, there is already an LA River master plan in place. This is one of those “shovel ready” projects that would open up parkland along the 52 miles of the LA River. In doing so, it would create jobs for youth and adults.”

“The LA River is just one example,” he added. According to Garcia, there are like projects from coast to coast that could supply much-needed jobs the minute there is a go-ahead.

Garcia said the House version of the stimulus doesn’t forbid money for parks. So he hopes that the Congress will wake up to the fact that, along with infrastructure and renovations for energy efficiency, parks and schools are exactly what this stimulus bill should be funding.

It’s not too late.

Posted in Economy, environment, National politics | 30 Comments »

Ted Stevens Prosecution Team and the Bad Judgment Olympics

December 23rd, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


This morning’s Washington Post (among many news outlets) has the story
about all the ways that investigators and prosecutors working on the bribery and hideously bad judgment case against Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, may have used hideously bad judgment and received goods and favors that look sort of….well……bribe-ish.

The allegations come from a whistleblower complaint that was made public yesterday. The whistleblower is an FBI agent who worked on the case against Stevens, and who appears to have had it with the idiotic—and in some cases, possibly criminal—- behavior of those working on the case with him.

[The complaint] alleges that FBI agents met with witnesses in their homes and hotel rooms and even provided one source with a bureau-issued cellphone. An FBI agent apparently became so friendly with a key witness that the investigator wore a special outfit when the man testified. “It was a surprise/present for Allen,” the complaint alleged, in a reference to former oil executive Bill Allen.

The whistleblowing agent, who joined the bureau in 2003, also wrote that members of the prosecution team “created a scheme” to send a witness home before trial and that they inappropriately altered a document later turned over to Stevens’s attorneys.

And there is this from the Washington Times:

The most recent accusations, described by prosecutors as a “self-styled whistleblower complaint,” contains allegations already made during the trial, according to Judge Sullivan’s ruling. Those included accusations that prosecutors purposely withheld evidence from the defense — which the judge agreed was true but wasn’t serious enough to warrant dismissing the case.

In at least one new allegation, an investigator ” ‘accepted multiple things of value’ from sources cooperating with the investigation, including artwork and employment for a relative.”

Judge Sullivan noted the irony of that accusation, pointing out in his ruling “that the defendant in this case was convicted for failing to disclose that he had accepted multiple things of value and, in fact, the trial included testimony about his receipt of artwork and employment for a relative.”

But he went on to write, “whether the allegation in the complaint is true and, if true, whether it bears on the outcome of the trial remains to be seen.”

The complaint was made Dec. 2 to the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility. The name of the person who made the complaint has been redacted from court documents, but is described as “a federal employee with extensive knowledge of the investigation and trial in this case.”

Prosecutors argued against revealing the complaint for several reasons, including that the individuals named in the complaint did not testify at trial, and the issues involving disclosing evidence to the defense had already been handled at the trial.

The judge, who has frequently been critical of prosecutors, said their argument “misses the mark.”

“It seems abundantly clear that providing public access to this complaint, which raises issues that question both the integrity of the proceedings and the law enforcement process in this case, is appropriate and, indeed, required,” he wrote.

Obviously, this is not the sort of thing that gives the general public confidence in our criminal justice system.

On the other hand, with California going broke in two months, according to state Controller John Chiang, and the stock market tanking again yesterday, maybe the Alaska bad judgment follies are a welcome distraction.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, law enforcement, National politics | No Comments »

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