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The WitnessLA November 2012 Elections Endorsements

November 2nd, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

With voting day looming on Tuesday,
a quickie rundown of our thoughts and recommendations.


30 – YES! Jerry Brown’s must-pass initiative is a desperately needed budget patch providing funds for California’s educational system—both K-12 and higher education—while also funneling fiscal aid to other crucial state programs.

Prop 30 looked like it would pass easily, mainly because most Californian’s understand that our schools and other essential programs are in need of $$$, and the governor has devised the least painful way to raise the necessary bucks.

Unfortunately, wealthy Californian Molly Munger muddied the water by floating a competative ballot proposition (Prop. 38) then, along with her brother, using tens of millions of her own money to blast voters with TV ads designed to shake confidence in 30, in the hope of getting voters to embrace 38. Now, while 38 looks unlikely to pass, it has managed to erode just enough of Prop. 30′s support to put it in serious jeopardy.

So here’s the deal: Not only should you vote for Prop 30, but you should threaten, cajole, emotionally blackmail everyone you know, are related to, or pass randomly on the street into voting for it. Otherwise, we’re in for some dark days in terms of public education. (Not to put too fine a point on the matter.)

31 – NO. A messy and badly conceived attempt to reform the way the state legislature behaves. Heaven knows some serious reform is needed, but this ain’t it. Prop 31 will cut money from schools and other vital programs and create a pile of bureaucracy. Read what the Courage Campaign has to say here.

Even CA’s conservative newspapers are fleeing from this badly written item.

32: NO WITH EXTREME PREJUDICE – If you loved Citizen’s United then you’re going to adore Prop 32. Listen, many of us are furious when certain unions (cough) CCPOA, prison guards (cough, cough) swing their weight around to ill effect. But this proposed law is a union-hating, Koch Brother’s special that pretends to rein in corporate campaign spending and special interests. Instead, it favors big corporate interests and hobbles everybody else.

For a humorous (and kinda scary) look at Prop 32 supporters read our own Matt Fleischer’s account of what he heard when he parachuted in behind the lines of Prop. 32 central—namely the Lincoln Club.

33: NO! – This creepy little piece of work is auto insurance bait and switch that is the baby of Mercury Insurance founder George Joseph, and does not have your and my best interests at heart. Run!

34: YES – Replaces the death penalty in California with life without the possibility of parole.

I’ll let Jeanne Woodford (the former head of the CDCR and former Warden of San Quentin who oversaw four executions), plus my friend Frankie Carrillo speak on the topic, as they each are uniquely qualified to do so.

35: NO – The sex trafficking and slavery initiative is extremely well meant but is a morass of unintended consequences. Yes, of course, we must do everything possible to take the predators it targets off the streets and put them behind bars. But this problematically-structured law, the project of former Facebook privacy officer, Chris Kelly (who would like to ride this law into the office of CA Attorney General), causes more problems than it solves—sadly.

The good news is that it opens the dialogue on this pressing issue, where victims remain tragically unprotected.

36: YES – Reforms 3-Strikes so that bad guys get put away, and the people who don’t need to be the guests of the state for the rest of their lives (on our tab) don’t. Even LA DA Steve Cooley & SF DA George Gascon like this prop that fixes the flaws in a well-intentioned but overbroad law.

37: YES– Requires that genetically engineered foods (GMOs) be labeled before being sold in California.. The LA Times is against it. We disagree.

The issue is not whether GMOs are good or harmful. Many likely are not, and may have great benefit. The point is that, as a consumer, I’d like the right to know what’s in my food and whether or not the items I buy contain GMOs. Wouldn’t you?

Alice Waters of Chez Panisse and some of the most famous chefs in America are in favor of GMO labeling.

So is the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.

Monsanto, Dupont, Pepsico and Dow are not and have thrown upwards of 40 million to try to persuade you that their opinion is the righteous one.

For a lengthier and highly informed counter-opinion to that expressed by the LAT and some of the other CA papers that are urging a NO vote, read what NY Times food writer Mark Bittman has to say about Prop. 37—and the missinformation put out by its mega-buck-funded opposition.

You also might want to read this also from the NY Times, by Michael Pollan (one of the gurus of the food movement, and author of the Omnivore’s Dilemma, among other food-related books)

Oh, yeah, and if you don’t believe those guys, you might want to see what Bill Moyers has to say on the topic.

38: NO/YES.or WHATEVER. This prop, which has set itself up as the alternative to Jerry Brown’s Prop 30, is a scheme to raise some taxes in order to fund the state’s ailing public school system. The prop, as mentioned above, has been almost exclusively funded by wealthy civil rights attorney Molly Munger. Munger is the co-head of the Advancement Project, along with the excellent Connie Rice, and we really, really like Munger for that, and for her many other accomplishments as a lawyer and an advocate. However, we are extremely vexed at her I-know-better-than-all-of-them-Sac’to-fools-do attitude in this instance, which could mean that neither prop passes, and that California schools suffer terribly as a result.

Karin Klien, the editorial board writer for education lays the matter out perfectly:

Proposition 30 is a superior measure on several fronts. It would avoid trigger cuts that would cause immediate and drastic harm to schools, which would probably be forced to cut the school year by up to three weeks, as well as $250 million in cuts to the University of California and an equal amount to the California State University system.

Beyond that, one aspect of Proposition 30 that has been little noticed is that it also provides money for community colleges; right now, more than 200,000 students at those colleges cannot find a seat in a single class, let alone enough courses or the courses they need to graduate. There’s little point to rescuing only K-12 schools when the graduates would have nowhere to go.

Polls suggest that Prop 38 doesn’t have a chance. And, yet, Munger’s ads and those of her conservative brother, wrongly claiming, as Klien writes, “…’politicians’ would get their hands on money intended for schools..” are still running. The non-passage of 30, once a sure thing until the Mungers threw tens of millions at the issue, is now hanging by a thread.

So vote for 38, don’t vote for it. Just make sure you vote for Prop. 30.

39: YES – Would remove a tax break that mainly benefits multistate companies based outside of California, a tax loophole that has actually encouraged these companies to take their jobs out of state. As KCET points out, Prop 39 would level the playing field by making multistate companies play by the same rules as companies that employ Californians, and would produce an extra $1 billion for the state coffers.

That’s the short version. If you want more, KCET has the details.

40: YES - Basically re-approves California’s newly redrawn state Senate districts. Every major newspaper in the state, whether conservative leaning or liberal leaning, urges a YES vote. A few disgruntled politicians urge otherwise, but most of them have quietly gone away.


In terms of candidates, we favor Janice Hahn, Howard Berman, Julie Brownley, Henry Waxman, if you’re in an area where they are on the ballot.


We firmly recommend Jackie Lacey.

Look: Alan Jackson is a skilled prosecutor, but he does not appear to have the temperament or the experience to manage the District Attorney’s office effectively. During the campaign, he has consistently tailored his message to the crowd, rather than giving us a clear idea of what his policies would be, if elected.

Lacey is more conservative than we would like, but she’s a listener, and has already appeared to grow in the course of the campaign. In short, she’s up to the job now and we believe would become stronger and better, while in office.

For more, read the very smart LA Times endorsement that I’m guessing was written by our pal Rob Greene.


(But you probably knew that.)

In any case, whatever and whomever you vote for: PLEASE VOTE

Posted in CCPOA, Civil Liberties, crime and punishment, CTA, District Attorney, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), elections, Innocence, Presidential race, Propositions, Springsteen, unions | 8 Comments »

LA Times Questions Baca’s Immigrant Jailing Policy….The Un-Tapped 10 Percent of Voters (Felons)…& When Bad Science Produces Bad Evidence

October 26th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


Thursday’s LA Times has an unsigned editorial (likely written by the very smart Sandra Hernandez) that holds Sheriff Lee Baca’s feet to the metaphorical fire on the issue of jailing immigrants with ICE holds reportedly longer than the law—or the feds—require.

Here’s a clip (but you really need to read the whole thing):

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca is once again confronting questions about problems in the nation’s largest jail system. The latest allegations center on whether deputies in his department routinely denied bail to people arrested for minor offenses — even after they were ordered released by a judge — solely because of pending immigration investigations.

The sheriff’s office denies that such a policy exists, although it acknowledges that the department holds immigrants under a federal immigration enforcement program known as Secure Communities. Baca says that program requires him to hold someone suspected of being in the country illegally, if called upon to do so by federal immigration officials, while the arrestee’s immigration status is confirmed.

But Secure Communities only allows the sheriff to hold people for up to 48 hours; it does not provide him with a free pass to ignore individuals’ constitutional right to due process or grant him the authority to deny immigrants bail after the 48-hour clock has run out….

Read on, because there’s lots more—including the $26 mil per anum to do this excessive jailing in our already overcrowded system.


Obama and Romney are reaching out to the many specialized constituencies some of which could, under the right circumstances, push things one way or the other, especially in battle ground states. But, in this close race, there is one constituency that, according to Reuters, may amount to as much as 10 percent of likely voters. And yet its a demographic that both parties have kinda….well…avoided.

Of course, men and women with felony records are defined by many other aspects of their lives and selves than the simple fact of a felony conviction.

Still Thomas Ferraro writing for Reuters has a bunch of interesting points.

Here’s a big clip from the story:

Felons could account for up to 10 percent of the roughly 130 million Americans expected to vote in the November 6 election, more than enough to affect the razor-thin margins that could determine the outcome.

But as in years past, neither Democrats nor Republicans are doing much to reach out to them.

“Criminals are not a popular constituency,” says James Hamm, 64, who spent 17 years in prison in Arizona for a drug-related homicide and now heads an inmate advocacy group with his wife, a retired judge. “Politicians don’t want to say, ‘Hey, I have the backing of people who committed crimes.’”

Still, both presidential campaigns have reason to be attentive to the estimated 13.4 million felons who are eligible to vote.

Felons traditionally vote Democratic, says Christopher Uggen, a University of Minnesota sociologist, who co-authored a 2006 book, “Locked Out: Felony Disenfranchisement and American Democracy.”

Ferraro says that the Obama camp has quietly reached out to felons in that swing state of all swing states, Ohio, where there are an estimated 784,0000 felons, only around 52,000 of them in prison thus prohibited from voting. However, he offers no additional details about this reported outreach so it’s difficult to know what exactly we’re talking about here.

And yet, it bears noting that in 1976, Jimmy Carter took Ohio from Gerald Ford by just 11,116 votes….so….


The Crime Report’s Graham Cates interviews David Harris, author of “Failed Evidence: Why Law Enforcement Resists Science

Both book and interview are worth our attention. Here’s a clip:

strong>On March 11, 2004, powerful bombs set by terrorists on four Madrid commuter trains killed 191 people and wounded 1,800. Two months later, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested Brandon Mayfield, an Oregon lawyer, after fingerprints found on a bag near the explosion site allegedly matched his.

Mayfield had not been to Spain. Nor had he been outside the U.S. for over a decade. But the FBI kept insisting the fingerprints were a “100 percent match”—until Spanish police tied another suspect to the fingerprints. And even after Mayfield was released two weeks later, the FBI continued to insist that their fingerprint-matching process was infallible.

It was a costly mistake. Mayfield eventually received a $2 million settlement from the U.S. government. But to David A. Harris, it also was—or should have been—a teachable moment. Harris, a professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh, believes the FBI’s insistence on the accuracy of their analysis, even when the evidence failed to bear it out, reflects a law enforcement culture that relies too much on quasi-scientific forensic evidence—even while it resists the application of genuine advances in science-based investigative techniques…

Read on.

Posted in 2012 Election, Civil Rights, criminal justice, Innocence, Obama, Presidential race | No Comments »

The Accuracy of Drug-Sniffing Dogs and the Issue of Probable Cause, Why Criminal Justice is Missing from the Presidential Campaigns, and LA City Council Says “Yes” to Immigrant I.D.s

October 18th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


The US Supreme Court will hear two new cases on Oct. 31st to determine whether the use of drug-sniffing dogs is a violation of the Fourth Amendment as “unreasonable search and seizure”—as in, how accurate does a dog’s sniffer have to be for their “alert” to constitute probable cause, and can officers have dogs sniff around the outside of residences in the hopes of being tipped off to drugs inside?

Law Professor Jeffrey Meyer breaks it down in an op-ed for the NY Times. Here’s a clip:

One of the new cases asks the court to clarify how accurate a dog must be in terms of its past identification of contraband — for, as Justice David H. Souter once warned in dissent, “The infallible dog, however, is a creature of legal fiction.”

My wife and I learned this firsthand at the Supreme Court itself several years ago. We were visiting the court for a reunion dinner of former law clerks of Justice Harry A. Blackmun. My mistake was to drive a car in which our dog — a tennis-ball-loving Australian shepherd — often rode. As we drove up to the back gate of the court to enter its highly secure underground parking garage, an officer emerged from a guard shack with a fearsome bomb-sniffing German shepherd and circled our car. The bomb dog suddenly perked up, and the officer coldly instructed me to open the trunk of my car. I watched as the court’s canine rose up on its haunches — tail wagging — and snagged from inside one of my dog’s prized tennis balls. No bombs or contraband were found.

The second of the court’s new dog cases asks if the police may take a drug-sniffing dog to the front porch of a home to sniff for evidence of marijuana inside. The court has always accorded special privacy protection for people’s homes. In 2001, the court ruled, in an opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia, that police officers violated a homeowner’s privacy when they parked across the street from a home and, without a warrant, used a thermal imaging device to scan the outside of the house for signs of unusual heat inside that might be caused by high-intensity lighting, which is often used to grow marijuana.

If the police can’t thermal-scan your home from the street, why let them dog-scan it from your front porch? The government argues that a dog is alerted only by illegal contraband, while a thermal imager is set off more generally by “innocent” and “guilty” heat of all kinds coming from a home — whether from grow lights or from, as Justice Scalia noted in the thermal imager case, “the lady of the house” as she “takes her daily sauna and bath.”


In September we saw that both the Dem. and GOP platforms addressed serious criminal justice issues. It was promising. Now, however, in the throes of the presidential campaigns, there is an annoying avoidance of the topic.

Article 3′s Richard Trinick explains in great detail why criminal justice is such a critical issue, and why all parties involved are purposefully avoiding the subject. Here’s a clip:

Many people have written about why the USA’s criminal justice policy is a travesty, focusing on the human cost and the appalling conditions in which so many prisoners are kept, not to mention the problems with capital punishment. This is a hugely significant argument, and one that the candidates should be forced to address, but I am not going to dwell on it here, as other people have already written excellently about it (see related articles). It is probably the most important reason why criminal justice policy should be addressed by the candidates, but given the existing coverage, I want to focus on the other reasons why criminal justice policy is such an important part of domestic policy; and why politicians from both sides of the aisle, and much of the ‘mainstream media’, are so intent on ignoring it.

Reasons why criminal justice policy is so important

1)The biggest issue in this election is the economy and, on a related note, the deficit and the tax more/cut spending debate. For the 2010 fiscal year, prisons cost taxpayers about $63.4 billion, at an average of between $30-50,000 per prisoner (depending upon the state). The numbers vary, but in most states spending on “corrections” costs more than anything except Medicaid and takes 1 in every 14 dollars spent by the states. This is a colossal amount of money that neither candidate appears even to have contemplated reducing.

2)It is an area of policy that disproportionately affects people from ethnic minorities. As just one sobering example, consider the fact that more black men are in prison today than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War. In many respects, the current criminal justice policy of the USA is a more effective method of segregation than the Jim Crow laws were. Inequality of all kinds is one of the biggest problems facing the future of the US, and this is the worst example of it.


Reasons why criminal justice policy is ignored

1) It’s politically toxic. Any move to alter the current tough stance on criminal justice is inevitably viewed as being ‘soft on crime’, regardless of how much sense a new policy might make or how much it might reduce crime in the long-run. No politician, especially one running in a race as close as the current match-up, wants to be seen as ‘soft on crime’. For Republicans, “the party of law and order”, it would be sacrilege to even suggest a change in policy. For Democrats, especially Obama, the aim appears to be to avoid looking “weak and liberal” and avoid alienating middle-class white voters. In addition, it lacks appeal — few voters (read ‘people likely to vote in swing states’) care about the issue as they perceive that it does not affect them and it requires hard choices to be made.

2) People don’t like to have to think about it. This relates to the point above about having to make hard choices, but there is more to it. By its very nature, criminal justice is difficult and unpleasant to think about and so most people shy away from it — who wants to think about prison and criminals when there’s the new series of Homeland? The majority of people will have no interaction with the criminal justice system, especially not on the ‘wrong’ side of it, and so they shut their eyes, pretend they cannot see the problem and hope it will go away. The politicians and media know this and cater to the demands of their audiences.

Be sure to read on, it’s a very well-thought-out assessment of the issue.


Mayor Villaraigosa’s immigrant I.D. proposal made it through the City Council meeting Wednesday without any opposition. The council voted unanimously, and will start soliciting pitches from vendors who want to take on implementation of the I.D. card project. (For a bit of back-story on the program, check out WitnessLA’s Tuesday post.)

LA Times’ Catherine Saillant has the story. Here’s a clip:

Opposition to the so-called City Services Card is inevitable because it touches on the hot-button issue of illegal immigration, Councilman Ed Reyes said. But in the end “cooler heads will prevail and understand the humanity of the suggestion,” he said.

The committee voted unanimously to begin soliciting proposals from potential vendors who would implement the program, backed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Councilman Richard Alarcon. That won’t happen, however, until a draft proposal is brought before the full council in about three weeks, officials said.

Although no one opposed to the ID cards spoke at Tuesday’s committee hearing, the Granada Hills North Neighborhood Council sent a letter stating that it had voted against the proposal.

Reyes, a member of the Arts, Parks, Health and Aging Committee, said it’s “about time” that Los Angeles residents, regardless of immigration status, have the ability to easily open bank accounts and access city services.

“Los Angeles is a cosmopolitan city with an international economy, Reyes said, and “this card allows people who have been living in the shadows to be out in the light of day.”

The photo ID would include the user’s name, address, date of birth and possibly other identifying information.
It could be used by any resident who lacks acceptable documentation to open a bank account or access city services, such as libraries or work-training programs, officials said.

Besides undocumented immigrants, seniors who no longer drive, the homeless and transgender people would also benefit, officials said, because they often lack official ID as well. City staff said the program won’t cost taxpayers anything because the third-party vendor would charge from $10 to $20 per card, and would also charge a few dollars a month if an applicant chooses to activate a debit card feature.

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, criminal justice, immigration, Presidential race, Supreme Court | 2 Comments »

Bruce Lisker Will Not Be Retried: DA Drops Charges

September 21st, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


In a fascinating and welcome turnaround,
the LA District Attorney’s office has dropped charges against Bruce Lisker, the man who was recently released from prison after spending 24 years in prison due to what many believe was a wrongful conviction. Lisker is 44-years old.

When he was 17, Lisker was convicted of the beating and stabbing death of his mother, Dorka Lisker, whose body was discovered in a bloody scene at the Lisker’s Sherman Oaks home. Bruce Lisker was tried and convicted as an adult, and sentenced to life in prison in 1985.

Early last month, U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips overturned Lisker’s conviction stating that Lisker was convicted on “false evidence” and that his attorney (who is now a court commissioner) did not adequately represent him.

But although Lisker was released, the DA’s office strongly hinted they would go ahead with a new trial.

Initial doubts about the case had come to light when an LAPD Internal Affairs sergeant named Jim Gavin responded to an ethics complaint about the main officer on the Lisker case, Det. Andrew Monsue. The more Gavin looked into things, the more he began to believe that what he was looking at was no simple misstatement by an officer, but a rush to judgment in a murder investigation that might have the wrong person in prison.

However, his bosses at IA, then headed by Michael Berkow, thought Gavin was overstepping his bounds and told him to cease and desist.

He mostly did so—but handed over some of what he’d found to Lisker’s lawyer.

Gavin also began talking to LA Times reporters Matt Lait and Scott Glover who wrote an excellent 2005 account of the murder investigation and subsequent conviction that raised a great many troubling questions about Lisker’s guilt.

Since that time, Jim Gavin, who essentially acted as a whistleblower, calling attention to what he believed might be a grave miscarriage of justice, appears to have been marginalized by some sectors of the LAPD, a department where he still serves.

As to why the DA decided not to proceed, DA spokesperson Sandi Gibbons, stated that, while “…we remain confident in Mr. Lisker’s original conviction of the second-degree murder of his mother, Dorka…” the prosecution was unable to go to trial due to the fact that much of the original physical evidence had been “destroyed” (not comforting to know, whatever one believes about the Lisker case) and some of the witnesses had died.

“Given these factors and policy considerations, we cannot proceed to trial. ”

In other words, Gibbons said when we talked, although the prosecutors’ view of the case has not changed, the state of the available admissible evidence assuredly has.

This is obviously great news for Bruce Lisker, and in the view of many, very good news for justice in general.

After his release, amid TV cameras Bruce Lisker thanks private investigator Paul Ingles, one of those who worked on his case: the above photo and other photos from that day by Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, District Attorney, Presidential race, psychology | 12 Comments »

Inauguration ’09 – THE DAY IT HAPPENED

January 20th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


Two million people–actually more, I’m sure of it—
were in it together.

On Tuesday morning, my friend and I took the Metro part way to the National Mall but, by Dupont Circle, we decided it was best to get out and walk.

The walk had its own extraordinary nature. For block after block on each of the streets that radiate out from the mall, hundreds of thousands of people strode together with steady optimism. This went on for hours, I’ve never seen anything like it. Ever. Not even close.

There was also the New Best Friend factor. It seemed that everyone one met Tuesday morning—on the metro ride, on the long walk to the mall, on the mall itself—was automatically a friend, a temporary family member, a companero.


The crowd’s delirious cheer was also part gasp when the new President-to-be finally became visible on the JumboTrons and began his walk into history, his expression at once dignified, emotional, fully-conscious of the moment.

As for Barack’s inaugural speech, some thoughts:

More than any other president within memory, Barack Obama has a deep understanding of the power of words to inspire, motivate and heal. As I’ve mentioned here with boring frequency, prior to being in DC, I spent the last ten days in the company of two hundred writers at Bennington College. And, among writers, there is the strong feeling that, “Hey, this guy’s one of us.” In other words, Barack is not just an exceptionally smart man and an avid reader, he is a writer.

So as I listened to the sobering and moving content of Obama’s speech from my cold windy perch near the Washington monument, amid a sea of expectant humanity, I found myself noting things like his word choices.

I noticed, for example, how often the man used nice, strong, active verbs, just the way we hector our writing students to do.

He told troublesome world leaders that America will “extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” And “…know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.”


He talked about a “firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke.”

I also noted the symphonic structure of Obama’s speech, with repeating refrains and well-orchestrated rises and falls in emphasis and intensity. To pick one example:

“Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends – hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism – these things are old. These things are true.”

The word patterns are poetic….new…new…old …true. As the speech moves along, the ideas build on one another until they acquire the rhythmic heft of a church hymn, full of major chords.

Although Obama’s speeches tend toward the elegiac, he’s also terrifically skillful at finding phrases that will draw people in and make us, as listeners, feel that we are all a part of something.


It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

This is the kind of rhetoric he will need if he is to get us working together to make the changes this country needs so badly.

(Here are some other writers’ takes on the speech via Susan Salter Reynolds.)


By the way, all the poets with whom I spoke were thrilled by Obama’s choice of Elizabeth Alexander to write a poem for the inauguration. Sadly, however—but perhaps understandibly, given the windchill—on the national mall, the crowd began dispersing the minute Obama’s speech was over. They failed to wait for Ms. Alexander’s lovely poem. I could only assume that nobody standing near to me was a writer. Writers would never have left before the poet, windchill be damned.

This morning, Wednesday, the real work begins—and the challenges, as we all know, are well beyond daunting. But for one very cold Tuesday in January, it was pretty much all joy.


Posted in Elections '08, Inauguration '09, Obama, Presidential race | 43 Comments »

Inauguration ’09 – Monday

January 19th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


It is Monday in Washington, DC, and I have coat envy.

I flew in last night after ten intense days in my literary bubble at Bennington College in Vermont, and thought I’d have trouble shifting gears. But as I waited at the Baltimore airport for the Big Blue Van to take me to where I will be staying at my friend’s apartment in the new embassy district, I fell into the crowd that was flowing in for the inauguration and my internal landscape changed in an instant. It was impossible not to be swept all at once into the sensation of being part of history.

Plus there were the coats. I was wearing (and still am) a slightly dirty, very un-chic black down jacket, but the women arriving from all over the country came with the most amazing array of coats. Floor-length minks, and the most glamorous faux furr-ish numbers for the non-pelt-wearing among us. You name it, women at the Baltimore airport were sporting it proudly and elegantly.

Nearby to all the fabulous coat-wearing women, there was a guy named Shawn from some local NPC affiliate who was doing video interviews with some of those, like me, who were queing up for a van. He first asked if they were there for the inauguration, (which everyone within earshot seemed to be), then he asked all the expected questions: “What does this mean to you? Why was it important for you to come?”


When I asked for his card, he interviewed me too.

In response to the boilerplate queries, I gave embarrassingly boilerplate answers. I wanted to be able to tell my grandchildren that I was here, I said. (Great, I thought as I heard myself. I’ve just come from ten days with writers and this is all I can manage?)

Then maybe because I was running on days of little sleep, or maybe because I was already caught up in the fever of the moment, but I muttered something rather soapy and inarticulate. “I want to be here the day the world changes,” I said.

And I began to cry, which seemed embarrassingly silly. I fanned my eyes. “Sorry,” I said to Shawn as his video rolled. “Sorry, sorry! I don’t know why I’m getting so emotional….!”

Then I looked up and I saw he was crying too.

After we finished talking and crying, I did my own interviews. I talked to Samantha, a Goth-made-up student at San Francisco State who took a semester off to volunteer for Obama.


And Eleanor who runs a day care center in San Antonio and was there with three of her friends. “This is the most exciting thing I’ll ever do in my life,” she said, and recited an expanded version of what got me to get weepy.


“This is going to change the whole world.” Eleanor said. “Not just the United States. The world.”
Are the expectations ridiculously and unrealistically high? Oh, sure. Hell, yeah. Of course.
But as I talked to more and more people, in the airport and in the van— the attractive and very blond family from Nashville, Kim Nickerson, the teacher and sometimes actress from LA, and so on and so on—it seemed that, despite the over-the-top phrasing that we all seemed to grasp for in scrambling to explain our respective states of mind and the feelings that were at once personal and communal, that it wasn’t about any kind of deification of this one very human guy being sworn into office, or even crazy expectations. It really is about hope.

There’s no better word. Hope. Despite all the cynicism, despite the impossibilities that await our new president, despite our knowledge of the things that can (and probably will) go wrong. Hope. That’s all.

And it’s been a long time in coming.


More blogging from my iPhone later today…

Posted in American voices, Elections '08, Inauguration '09, Obama, Presidential race | 10 Comments »

Dear Barack: Welcome to the Collective Presidency

November 10th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


After the networks called the presidential election at 8:01 PST on Tuesday night, before Barack Obama hit the stage at Grant Park in Chicago, the campaign sent out an email note to all supporters, ostensibly from Obama. It began:

“I’m about to head to Grant Park to talk to everyone gathered there, but I wanted to write to you first…..”

The note included the usual campaign thank yous. I couldn’t have done it without you, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Then it said:

“We have a lot of work to do to get our country back on track, and I’ll be in touch soon about what comes next.”

It is signed” “Barack.”

That “being in touch” part of the note had just the right we’re-all-in-this-together tone. Obama would be a fool to drop the metaphorical threads that have connected him and his campaign to the hundreds of thousands of volunteers and doners who made his run for the presidency a success. Clearly he means to mobilize those legions in some manner or other at some point in the future.

But, like it or not, relationships are a two-way street. More than nearly any other presidential campaign within living memory, Obama both engendered and courted a sense of personal involvement with him and his message.

So now as he forms his cabinet and sets his agenda,
attention to his choices are unusually obsessive and—rightly or wrongly—people from all quarters feel like they ought to have a say.

As a consequence, lists of issues Obama ought to addess, are surfacing from a great many sources.

Today, for example, Nation edtior Katrina vanden Heuvel, has a good list of priorities for Obama’s first 100 days.

And on Sunday NPR began a series they call MEMO TO THE PRESIDENT, which lists the challenges that the NPR editors and reporters most think the new president elect ought to address.

Theirs is a pretty good beginning list. I have a few things that I think they missed, which I’ll be posting about in the next few days. And you likely have some of your own.

Here’s the NPR list to get you thinking:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Elections '08, Obama, Presidential race | 4 Comments »

DAY THREE: Still Happy (And Not Crying Anywhere Near As Much)

November 7th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


But tired, very, very tired.
(Who knew that joy and relief could be this exhausting?)



1. When Nancy Pelosi (and also Barbara Boxer at the Obama election night party in Century City) said what a great night Tuesday was for the Democrats……it was extremely grating. It was fingernails on a blackboard in the midst of music.

This isn’t just about Democrats, girlfriends. If that’s your first thought, you’ve completely missed the point.

Patt Morrison explained it perfectly in her Thursday LA Times column. In fact Patt wouldn’t mind being beyond political parties altogether. Neither would I. (But sadly we’re a little bit of a distance from that kind of blow-it-up-and-start over moment, just yet.)


2. Note to some of my liberal friends (and a whole host of conservative bloggers): Stop freaking out about Rahm Emanuel. Yes, he’s a very partisan-ish party oriented guy, and a bit creepily hawky on foreign policy. But Obama needs a bad cop, an enforcer, a sword arm. A guardian at the gate. In this way Rahm is perfect. That and he’s OCD-level organized.

One of the worst mistakes Carter ever made was in thinking he needed no Washington insiders when he swept into town. His presidency never quite recovered from that misjudgment.

It will all just come down to who is running whom. After watching this presidential campaign, do you honestly have any doubt who will call the shots in that pairing?


3. Note to the Bush Aministration: Please reread the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Now.

This is from this morning’s New York Times editorial. It speaks for itself:

In a stroke of self-satire, Pentagon officials tried to block Stars and Stripes — the military’s respected independent newspaper — from covering the troops’ plain and honest reactions to the election night news about their new commander in chief. The Department of Defense once again made news by smothering news.

The boneheaded muzzling of the newspaper, which is protected by First Amendment guarantees against editorial interference, barred reporters assigned to do simple color stories from the public areas of military bases in order to “avoid engaging in activities that could associate the Department with any partisan election.”

Partisan? By that rationale, the civilian news media’s coverage of the spontaneous celebrations across the land on Tuesday night was an act of journalistic bias. It’s ludicrous that Pentagon brass feared men and women in uniform might be caught smiling, frowning or variously exclaiming “Whoopee!” or “Rats!” at voting results from the democracy they defend with their lives

Paging Bob Gates. Oh, hi, Bob. Hey, look, aren’t you the guy whom President-elect Obama may keep onboard for a while? I thought so. Okay, Bob, listen: you are embarrassed about this little free speech thingy that your people bobbled so badly, right? It would be helpful to know.

4. It’s kinda cool that Mayor Antonio V. will be in Chicago today in some semi-advisory transition-ish group talking to Obama about how to move forward on the economy. AV’s in good company and his presence means that LA’s interests are represented, which is a very good thing.


5. Maureen Dowd gets it too. MoDo can be relentlessly trivial at times, but Wednesday’s column (which I somehow didn’t manage to read until now), again echos the incredible and very deep desire to move beyond the red/blue divisions that I believe is the sentiment in the country that needs to be heeded. Here are the last few paragraphs:

….In the midst of such a phenomenal, fizzy victory overcoming so many doubts and crazy attacks and even his own middle name, Obama stood alone.

He rejected the Democratic kumbaya moment of having your broad coalition on stage with you, as he talked about how everyone would have to pull together and “resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.”

He professed “humility,” but we’d heard that before from W., and look what happened there.

Promising to also be president for those who opposed him, Obama quoted Lincoln, his political idol and the man who ended slavery: “We are not enemies, but friends — though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.”

There have been many awful mistakes made in this country. But now we have another chance.

As we start fresh with a constitutional law professor and senator from the Land of Lincoln, the Lincoln Memorial might be getting its gleam back.

I may have to celebrate by going over there and climbing up into Abe’s lap.

It’s a $50 fine. But it’d be worth it.

Hey, Maureen, I’ll meet you there in January, say around the 20th. We can do it together. Fifty-buck fine and all.

Posted in Elections '08, Obama, Presidential race | 21 Comments »

The Suddenly Empty Lives of Obama Supporters

November 6th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

Obama Win Causes Obsessive Supporters To Realize How Empty Their Lives Are

As the transition teams get up and running,
and the speculative cabinet member lists fly round the web, a humor break (in case you haven’t seen it) courtesy of The Onion.

Posted in Elections '08, Presidential race | 5 Comments »


November 6th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


There will be much to discuss about this election, both on the national and the local level, in the coming days. But for today, I’ll keep it short, and give you this off-kilter but interesting story that ran in Higher Ed Weekly on Wednesday.

Writer Scott Mclemee asked various “academics, editors, and public intellectuals” to choose one book each that they thought that our new president should take to the White House.

Here’s a few of the books they chose:

James Marcus, the book-review editor for The Columbia Journalism Review, said that at first he wanted to recommend, Democracy in America, The Federalist Papers. But then he got a grip on himself and decided on Tobias Wolff’s In Pharaoh’s Army: Memories of the Lost War “As the next president ponders the best way to extract the United States from its Iraqi quagmire, a memoir of Vietnam seems like a useful reality check.”

(Okay, that works.)

Then Elvin Lim assistant professor of government at Wesleyan University and author of The Anti-Intellectual President, said that the president-elect should read Preparing to be President: The Memos of Richard E. Neustadt (AEI Press, 2000), edited by Charles O. Jones. “Richard Neustadt was a scholar-practitioner who advised Presidents Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, and Clinton, and, until his passing in 2003, also the dean of presidential studies. Most of the memos in this volume were written for president-elect John Kennedy, when the country was, as it is now, ready for change.”

(Another undoubtedly handy thing to have.)

The rest of the entries may be found here. They’re a bit on the heady side, but fun to glance through as we wait for our breathing become normal.

Back with more serious elections stuff tomorrow.

Last night I did a book reading/talk-ish thing at Occidental College
, together with Father Greg Boyle. The place was filled with Obama-giddy students who were still reeling happily from the election. They talked a lot about how important Obama’s win was for their generation, and how they and their friends intended to be involved in any way they could in changing the country for the better. It was actually pretty great. (Kids are a good thing.)

Posted in Obama, Presidential race | 8 Comments »

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