Back in August ABC reported on Darren Wilson's 'serious facial injury.' What will they say now?
The 'Last Week Tonight' host calls the presidential turkey pardon a strange tradition.
Saying he is like a “psychotic ex, sending you videos all of the time,” John Oliver — whose Last Week Tonight is on hiatus — posted a video to YouTube to discuss America’s “strangest Thanksgiving tradition”: the Presidential pardoning of a turkey.
Oliver notes that only one turkey receives a pardon while America consumes an estimated 46 million of the bird’s peers.
The HBO host calls for all turkeys to be eaten, saying they are delicious before proclaiming, “death to turkeys!”
Watch the video below, uploaded to YouTube:Related Stories
Sensationalized stories feed the perception that protesters are prone to use violence, and that harsh crackdowns are necessary in order to keep the peace. This is true even when, as is the case in Ferguson, protests are overwhelmingly nonviolent.
Meet the Press host Chuck Todd dismisses Keystone pipeline as a symbol, then presents an energy 'debate' between two industry insiders.
We continue our interview about Albert Woodfox, a former Black Panther who a federal court has ordered to be freed after he spent more than 40 years in solitary confinement, longer than any prisoner in the United States. Woodfox and the late Herman Wallace, another prisoner of the "Angola 3," were convicted of murdering a guard at Angola Prison. The Angola 3 and their supporters say they were framed for their political activism. A federal judge ruled last year that Woodfox should be set free on the basis of racial discrimination in his retrial. It was the third time Woodfox’s conviction has been overturned, but prosecutors have negated the victories with a series of appeals. Thursday’s ruling by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the order for Woodfox’s release in a unanimous decision. But prosecutors could still delay its enforcement with more appeals to keep Woodfox behind bars. "There is no legitimate explanation for this," says Carine Williams, a lawyer for Albert Woodfox with the firm Squire Patton Boggs. We are also joined by Robert King, a member of the Angola 3 who spent 29 years in solitary confinement for a murder he did not commit.
AMY GOODMAN: As we bring you part two of our coverage today of Albert Woodfox. A federal appeals court, on Thursday, upheld a lower court ruling ordering Louisiana to release the former Black Panther. Who has spent more than 40 years in solitary confinement. Woodfox and the late Herman Wallace, another prisoner of the so-called Angola 3, were convicted of murdering a guard at Angola Prison. The Angola 3 and their supporters say they were framed for their political activism.
Well we're joined right now by two guests, Robert King, the third member of the Angola 3. He was freed after serving 29 years in solitary confinement for a murder he did not commit, released in 2001 after his conviction was overturned. He's joining us from Austin, Texas. And here in New York, Corine Williams is with us, a lawyer for Albert Woodfox, an attorney witht he New York firm Squire Patton Boggs. She was with Albert Woodfox on Thursday, was able to deliver the news of this unanimous decision of the court.
Corine, how unusual — how many times has his conviction been overturned and the court's ruling that he should be released?
CORINE WILLIAMS: It's happened at least three times.
AMY GOODMAN: And this time was unanimous?
CORINE WILLIAMS: That's right.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to read from the New York Times editorial that came out on Saturday. They said, "Richard Nixon was president when Albert Woodfox landed in solitary confinement, along with another inmate, both convicted of the 1972 murder of a Louisiana prison guard named Brent Miller. Mr. Woodfox is still there. Now 67 years old, he has maintained his innocence from the start. He has been held in isolation longer than any prisoner in the United States, and perhaps in the nation's history. For 23 hours a day — 23 hours and 45 minutes on weekends he sits by himself in a closet-size windowless cell. He eats all his meals alone. He has no access to the prison's educational or religious activities. His contact with visitors is extremely limited."
Now, if court after court rules he should be freed, even as the state challenges this, how can it be that he remains in solitary confinement?
CORINE WILLIAMS: That's an excellent question that we've already been asking the courts to answer. So parallel to these cases which have challenged the convictions of the Angola 3, we've also been litigating a civil rights case arguing that it is cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the due process clause, Mr. Woodfox's First Amendment rights, and the Equal Protection Clause. So there is no legitimate explanation for this. Mr. Woodfox hasn't had a disciplinary in prison at all in the prison that he's at now, ever. The last disciplinary he had was in 2008 for three way phone call violations, which presents no security threat.
AMY GOODMAN: You mean when they call someone and they link up to someone else.
CORINE WILLIAMS: In fact, the majority of the calls that the state found — and we've argued in court that this was a protectual disciplinary just to take Mr. Woodfox from a dorm where he had been for eight months and put him back into solitary. But, most of the phone calls were to attorneys. So, it was a matter of me conferencing in, for example, my colleague so that we could have an attorney-client call with out client.
AMY GOODMAN: Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell issued a statement following the ruling. He wrote, "The appeals court decision focused on a technicality with the grand jury selection process from as far back as 30 years ago. No court decision, including this one, has ever made a finding which disputes the fact that Albert Woodfox murdered Brent Miller at Angola in 1972. Those facts will always remain true. We respectfully disagree with the Court's ruling, and remain committed to seeing that the trial jury's judgment finding Albert Woodfox guilty of murdering Officer Brent Miller is upheld."
CORINE WILLIAMS: I have two responses to it. At the top, you know, it always— my jaw drops every time I hear the attorney general of Louisiana as a mere technicality. This is a right that every citizen of the United States has, which is to a grand jury that is not tainted by racial discrimination. So, I would say that first. This is no mere technicality. This is our constitution. Second, I think, you know, this has gone on now, it's important to remember, for 42 years. There is no — I mean, it just begs the question to say that the facts are true, that Mr. Woodfox is guilty of killing this officer when there's been no fact finding by a jury which has been allowed to fairly hear all the evidence, and which hasn't been tainted by racial discrimination.
AMY GOODMAN: And again, Teenie Verret, the widow of the prison guard says she does not believe that these men are guilty of murdering her husband. A key witness in the case against Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox was a man named Hezakiah Brown who said he witnessed the murder. But his credibility was subsequently called into question, I want to play a clip from the documentary "In the Land of the Free." This is Nick Trentacosta, a lawyer who represented Herman and Albert describing Hezakiah Brown.
NICK TRENTACOSTA: After that you hear the voice of the film's narrator, the actor Samuel L. Jackson. Hezakiah first told the investigators at the prison that he was no where around, he didn't know anything about the murder. A few days later he's dragged from his bed at midnight, put under the bright lights of interrogation and told if you help us crack the case we will get you your freedom. At that point he said it was Wallace and Woodfox.
SAMUEL L. JACKSON: And local author Anne Butler's research recordings provided evidence of just how pliable Hezakiah Brown could be.
ANNE BUTLER: Well, at the trial they called Hezakiah Brown, and he said that he saw Woodfox and three other black men .
WARDEN BUTLER: Hezakiah was one you could put words in his mouth.
AMY GOODMAN: Was Hezakiah Brown freed, Corine?
CORINE WILLIAMS: He was. Ultimately the evidence came out— was finally disclosed that he had been promised a pardon and eventually was pardoned and although he had been a convicted serial rapist who at one point was on death row, he was able to live in freedom.
AMY GOODMAN: Robert King, I wanted to bring you back into this discussion. Again a member of the Angola three, along with Herman Wallace, now deceased, though he died a free man, ordered by a judge to be freed days before he was exonerated. The warden did not want to free Herman Wallace and the judge threatened the warden with prison if he didn't release Herman Wallace. Robert King spent 29 years in solitary confinement for a murder he did not commit, released in 2001 after his conviction was overturned. To this day, Albert Woodfox has endured visual body cavity searches. Explain what that is. Sometimes up to six times a day. What does that mean Robert? You were in solitary as well.
ROBERT KING: Yes, visual casual body search would be the routine that they apply to inmates who are prison in solitary such as where we were— where I lived in CCR, which means closed cell restriction. It was routinely done where if you left your cell— you did not leave your cell unless you were shackled or handcuffed. You was in a cell by yourself all day long. But it was only routinely that whenever you were placed on a call out and you had to leave your cell for what ever reason, they would come to your cell and they would ask you to get a— strip out of your clothes and they would bring you to a visual search, anal search, rectal search, as it was called. And that was routine, and this can happen up to six, seven, eight times a day depending on how many times are you taken from your cell. And lots of times in certain cases, a person that is taken from their cell for a lot of frivolous reasons just so some guards can have the joy of doing things to an inmate that is visual because this is something that we all frown at.
AMY GOODMAN: You endured this as well, Robert?
ROBERT KING: Of course, this was endured for sometime up until sometime in '79 or '80, Woodfox then— it was then that NOLAC filed a civil lawsuit against the routine. It was in the state courts, and Woodfox et al, I think it was Phelps et al, and the state court ruled that a routine body searches would not be tolerated and there was a negotiated settlement that prevented that for a while. But, I'm told that the state would disnegotiate the settlement, which was not binding. They went back to routinely searching inmates and the visual search continues.
The British singer has endured ugly bullying on social media from those upset by her relationship with the Twilight heartthrob.
Musician FKA Twigs spoke to Rolling Stone recently about the hateful, racist comments she received on Twitter, mostly from ignorant Twihards upset about her relationship with boyfriend Robert Pattinson. The 26-year-old singer and performer responded to the obscene messages with her own anti-racist statement: "I am genuinely shocked and disgusted at the amount of racism that has been infecting my account the past week. Racism is unacceptable in the real world and it's unacceptable online."
Although that didn’t stem the tide of disgusting and offensive messages, the singer took a more effective step recently, by deleting both Instagram and Twitter from her phone. She suggested others follow suit, saying that removing yourself from social media has several upsides. “[Y]ou start reading books more and you start texting your mom more and your life goes back to normal."
The British singer’s most recent album, LP1, was released in August of this year.Related Stories
The Ferguson police officer has been talking to press to decide who'll land his first interview since the shooting.
Although he vanished from the public eye after fatally shooting unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown in August, Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson is apparently planning his reemergence, and has been meeting with well-known TV anchors to decide who’ll get his first interview. CNN reports that Wilson spoke with the reporters last week in “secret locations,” and that the conversations were “entirely off the record.” According to the report, anchors who met with Wilson include “Matt Lauer of NBC, George Stephanopoulos of ABC, Scott Pelley of CBS, and Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon of CNN.”
Wilson is a highly coveted interview subject, particularly since he has never spoken publicly about killing Brown, or the national controversy that followed. He has refused to appear in court to testify in cases involving his arrests, opting instead to remain in hiding. Reports suggest that he did appear to testify before the grand jury that is now considering whether or not to indict him in Brown’s killing.
Cooper and Lemon both took to Twitter to confirm that they had met with Wilson, calling the meeting “standard procedure” and “not out of the ordinary.” Cooper also tweeted that Wilson had chosen not to do an interview with him. No word yet on who Wilson selected for his first sit-down.
A grand jury in Ferguson is expected to announce its decision on Wilson’s indictment in the coming days.Related Stories
The lamestream media messes up big time once again.
This week on FAIR TV: The media misframe the Keystone XL debate, TV journalists have some odd ideas about war and what NPR actually asked Bill Cosby.
Watch the new episode below:
Intersex people are fighting for their basic human rights.
Being intersex isn’t itself headline-worthy, and more importantly, our lives aren’t headlines. We’re just people who happen to be intersex.
But this week, Taylor Lianne Chandler’s claim that she has been dating Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps made headlines everywhere – and not because of his celebrity status or their age difference. This story has been wildly popular because Chandler identified as intersex.
I woke up to a flurry of activity on Facebook this week from friends who were upset about the newest set of articles “revealing” that someone in the media spotlight is intersex. My chest felt heavy, and I hoped this wouldn’t be what it always is.
I scanned the headlines already half wincing, knowing I’d be disappointed: reporters both write that she was “born a man” and refer to her as intersex, as though those are the same thing. The word “scandalous” was used, though it’s hardly a surprise that Phelps has a girlfriend. In one headline, Chandler “admits”that she’s intersex, as if she’s confessing to a crime. Much of the coverageinaccurately refers to intersex to as a gender identity, using it as synonymous with transgender. Some press accounts detail what Chandler’s genitals looked like at birth or look like now. Readers are invited to wonder whether Phelps will continue the alleged relationship with Chandler knowing that she’s intersex – to ponder, in effect, whether anyone accepts intersex people enough to date them at all.
I turned away from my laptop, disgusted.
My life is busy but mundane – and it has a normalcy that’s not reflected in the sensationalized framing of Chandler’s life’s. I can’t relate to the media’s stereotypes of intersex people: they just aren’t about me – and others like me – at all.
Being born with atypical sex traits isn’t something I’m conscious of most of the time – I’m too busy going to work, making plans to meet up with friends, buying groceries, you know, standard life stuff. I have a life, and being intersex is part of that life, but it’s not the only part or even the dominant part. But the part of my consciousness that being intersex takes up is a pretty great one: I love who I am, and I love my body, my identity, my intersex friends. I’m out to many people in my life, and no one treats me weirdly, considers it “scandalous” that I dare to leave the house or wonders how on Earth my girlfriend can “accept” me and find me desirable.I’m a person just like anyone else, who happens to be intersex. So why do our lives and our bodies and our identities continue to be written about as though we’re so different over and over again?
Intersex people in popular culture are still too often portrayed as shocking, used as a plot twist in the medical drama right before the cut to commercial, played for laughs as a cheap punchline about “hermaphrodites” that seems to come out of nowhere. Whenever it happens, it instantly ruins my mood because it feels like, when we’re thought of at all, we’re conceptualized as biologically impossible half-men, half-women. We’re seen as objects of curiosity, or of fetishization; or perceived as medical anomalies and something to be “fixed.” The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of intersex actually uses the word “abnormal.”
None of that is accurate.
To the media outlets interested in writing truthfully about intersex people: focus on who we are as human beings. Raise awareness that we exist, and that we’re fighting for our basic human rights: it’s been routine since the 50s to medically – often surgically – alter intersex kids’ bodies without their consent, so that we can live as “normal” girls and boys. Intersex activists like myself have been working to stop these violations since the early 90s in the UK and the US – and now globally.
There are some opportunities for journalists to shine an important light on the issues that intersex people face in a responsible way – for instance, but coveringIndian runner Dutee Chand’s ban from competing in the Commonwealth Games and, maybe, the Olympics for having naturally high testosterone levels. (Though,coverage of South African runner Caster Semaya hardly gives me hope for that.) There are articles that I want read, to see exist in the world and in which I could see myself reflected – but we can’t be written about as a props or oddities. Reporters need to write about us as the complex people we are, and about us as more than our identities as intersex people.
The number of articles published about Chandler is probably increasing every minute. I’m not going to read them. Stories that reduce her humanity to her being intersex aren’t worth my time, or anybody else’s.Related Stories
Stewart shows his vulnerability in a fascinating and revealing interview with Howard Stern.
Jon Stewart was on the Howard Stern show earlier this week, and of the appearances Stewart’s done to promote his film “Rosewater,” this was one of the most interesting, organic conversations from the media tour.
In the conversation, he discusses everything from interviewing politicians, “Rosewater,” not displaying his Emmys, fatherhood, interviewing Donald Rumsfeld, finding talent — Colbert, Carell, Helms, Oliver — and whether or not he’s burnt out from “The Daily Show.”
At times Stewart even asks for advice, or reverse interviews Stern. The interview is an hour long, extremely revealing and worth a listen:
What a bunch of jokers.
Stephen Colbert counted down the three things he’s most afraid of in last night’s “Threat Down.” In descending order they are America’s standards of sexiness, the possibility we’ll run out of chocolate, and that Christopher Columbus may not have been the first person to sail to the Americas. (I have a bone to pick with Colbert, because of course his blowhard character neglected to mention the role of climate change in the declining production of chocolate.)
Given that Colbert only has 12 episodes left, this might be the last time we see a “Threat Down” segment, so enjoy and watch below:
The Keystone XL pipeline is back in the news--and so is a lot of the same old misinformation. Plus we'll look at how some TV journalists think about how war "works," and at what exactly NPR's Scott Simon asked comedian Bill Cosby.
As part of our “Stop the Comcast Mega-Merger” campaign, we invited our most active online advocates to put their organizing skills to the test.
The challenge: Five weeks to collect as many written comments as possible opposing the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger. Contestants were placed into one of three categories depending on how many comment cards they submitted, and winners were selected by a drawing from the pool of eligible contestants.
Thanks in part to this effort, CU collected over 50,000 comments that will go to straight to the FCC and send a message that this merger is bad for consumers.
Congratulations to our winners, and thanks to all who participated!
If you would like to collect comments against this merger in your community it’s not too late! Contact Christopher at email@example.com.
Meet the winners:
Ciara Preston, Redwood City, Ca
“Boy was I thrilled when I learned I won the grand prize, although I didn’t do it for a prize. I’m convinced the Comcast Time Warner merger is not beneficial to all of us Internet users.
“I signed up for 100 comment cards. When they arrived, I looked at all of them in the packet & felt overwhelmed. I asked myself, ‘What were you thinking? How can I possibly do this? (I’m almost 70 years old).
“I’d go down to my local Safeway each night to ask strangers to sign. I’d ask for a moment of their time and assure them I wasn’t selling anything, so they listened.
“Mission Accomplished!”* * *
Victoria Lepore, Yonkers, NY
“I am currently a senior at Sarah Lawrence College in NY where I collected the majority of the comments for this contest. I strongly believe we have to stop this merger in its tracks. And the key word there is ‘we’ — you and I.
“In spite of my cynicism about our politics, our activism sends a message to big companies that we are paying attention. Consumers Union is our vehicle but it’s up to us to have hope, get in the driver’s seat, and get on the road.
“If you haven’t already, I urge everyone reading this to go out to your community and collect public comments opposing the merger so we can deliver them to the FCC. The more people who know about this merger, the more who will rise up to stop it and the more likely we will win. If you want to collect comments, contact Christopher at nomerger at consumersunion.org”* * *
Kerry Lohr, Seattle, WA
“I teach Tai Chi and tutor students in math and science, and I am the public policy chair for my local branch of the American Association of University Women.
“One day an email came from Consumers Union and it intrigued me. Why? Because it was encouraging me to get others involved in the fight against the proposed Comcast/Time-Warner Cable merger.
“Power to the People! If we all take a bit of time to get involved, to take action, to sign petitions, it can make a difference. I believe that.”
In 2004, this sad thread started. It's still going even as the Internet has totally changed.
This October, a guest user logged onto moviecodec.com — a technical Q&A forum for media file playback and conversion — to post a cry for help on one of the site’s off-topic forums. “[I']m so lonely,” wrote the user, “feeling sad please anyone talk to me.” It was an almost word-for-word replica of the thread’s title, written 10 years and thousands of posts earlier: “i am lonely will anyone speak to me.” The thread’s creator was also a guest, who logged in as “lonely” in 2004. A decade ago, due to the freakishly searchable title and the fact that the site was already optimized for maximum Google search exposure, the thread went viral. Within days, it was the No. 1 result for “I am lonely” on Google, and hundreds of anonymous lonely hearts were flocking to the forum to commiserate, console and weep.Today, the “i am lonely” thread is a decade-long anthem to the phenomenon of loneliness in the Internet age. It has its own Wikipedia page. It was written up in the New Yorker and the Guardian. It’s no longer the first result for “I am lonely” on Google, but its longevity makes it a poignant record of a certain type of Catch-22 loneliness: the isolation of people who turn to the Internet to make them feel less alone.
Nine days after “lonely” posted, other anonymous users joined in, saying that Google had sent them. Toward the end of 2004, the site’s webmaster, Bjarne Lundgren, wrote that he was lonely, too. In 2005, the lonely hearts began to talk about forming a club, throwing a New Year’s party, or moving to an island together to drink champagne from coconut shells. In 2006, Lundgren started a separate forum for loneliness called alonelylife.com, because the thread’s popularity made him realize that “apparently there weren’t that many places on the Internet for lonely people.”
Google continued to send the lonely to the thread, and the lonely continued to cry out (“i must be the loneliest girl in the whole wide world”) and offer empathy (“I’m glad I found you guys. Hang in there. We won’t feel lonely forever”). Sometimes they even recognized each other. In 2008, the thread took an odd leap toward real life when “DepressedChaosGirl” and “Rick James” realized they had a friend in common — the boy that DepressedChaosGirl was so desperately crushing on.By now, the thread was full-on famous, and the original poster, “lonely,” was something of an inter-thread legend. People would reply to lonely’s first post, asking him or her what they wanted to talk about, or else they’d wonder aloud where “lonely” had gone. Sometimes a guest user would post under the name “lonely” — maybe the original, but probably an interloper — saying things like, “i am still lonely, 9 years later.”
Trolls and spammers did pop by from time to time — a rash of manic posts promising that “spellcasters” would cure everyone’s loneliness flared up in 2013 — but in general, the thread has stayed overwhelmingly calm, kind and respectful, thanks in part to moderators who’ve watched over it as though it were something sacred. “I’ve been taking care of this thread since 2009,” wrote Culpa the White Mage in June. “This thread still serves a good purpose to lonely people. If people want to post here, let them. But follow the rules, because if I see any flaming or trolling in here, it’s a ban.”
But as time passed, something of the thread’s therapy-like quality was lost, and people posted less and less. The thread was officially a meme, but a decade is a long time in Internet years. When “lonely” started the thread in 2004, the Internet was a different place. Social media was just starting to become a thing; only 12 percent of the world’s population went online as opposed to today’s 40 percent. It wasn’t the dark ages of technology by a long shot, but the online world was slower and smaller.
Today’s bigger, flashier Internet means lonely people don’t have to turn to a random off-topic thread on a tech site to assuage their feelings of isolation. “[The thread] no longer receives as much traffic as it used to receive, and I believe that is mostly due to there now being many more sites and sources on the Internet dealing with loneliness,” says Lundgren. The lonely can take a Loneliness Quiz from Psych Central or join the Campaign to End Loneliness. They can listen to sad arias on Spotify while ordering near-limitless amounts of comfort food from GrubHub. If loneliness is cured by distraction and a sense of interconnectivity, the Internet is a much better place for the lonely today.
But has the Internet also turned crueler? More isolating? Lundgren seems to think so, calling Internet forums “generally more harsh and less helpful than 10 years ago.” (And it’s not just forums. “The distribution system for our beastliness has gotten so much better because we have the Internet now,” said satirist Andy Borowitz on NPR in 2010.) Why the bad turn? “Because as a whole people have become more hurried, more goal-oriented, and less helpful on the Internet,” says Lundgren. “People don’t ‘hang out’ and help each other the same way as before.” If this is true, the “i am lonely” thread reflects this shift. Though the overall tone remains empathetic and helpful, a sense of solidarity, of us-vs.-them, has been lost. As one guest user wrote in August, “This thread signifies the very volatile nature of society. Look at the replies people were getting a decade ago after they confided to a forum that they were lonely and look at the replies people get now … SADDENING.”
Whether or not the Internet is the dark source of all our loneliness is a fiercely debated topic. It’s like the chicken-or-egg conundrum, or the tree-falling-in-the-forest question. Does the Internet cause loneliness, or do lonely people choose the Internet? If one solitary nerd has a thousand online friends, is he still alone in real life?
No one has been able to answer the question conclusively. A 1998 study called the “Internet Paradox” is still an apropos descriptor of the whole mess. We use the Internet to communicate, but is it killing “real” communication? We chat with old crushes on Facebook, but should we really be taking out our headphones and talking to the cute guy in the checkout line? Terrifying think pieces about the links between technology and dying alone are, ironically, all over the Internet; in Public Culture, Zeynep Tufekci points out that this is mostly an “appeal to moral panic,” as there’s not a lot of empirical research to support these hypotheses. But there’s a reason we see a headline about Facebook causing loneliness and think, yes, that makes sense. It’s not empirical, but it’s intuitive. Everybody knows the sort of gnawing ache that hits when you find yourself online late at night. You feel … like a loser. And you want to see if anyone else is out there.
The “i am lonely” thread provides affecting — if inconclusive — contributions to the Internet loneliness debate. On the one hand, without the Internet, where would the lonely Vegas housewife “alone in [her] room and longing for company” go to vent? On the other hand, would user “depresico” have a better life if the Internet didn’t exist? “Another thing for my loneliness is those freaking computers,” depresico writes. “[I] just happend to have my computer as my best friend since i wasnt that socially related to the outer world but now i realized how much i had missed” [all sic]. Another user mourns the sadness of using technology to connect to people “who may not even exist.”
The crux of the Internet loneliness debate isn’t actually the Internet; it’s the tension between Internet reality and real world reality. There’s a sense in which the Internet is somehow fake, and that the real world is better, but we go online to talk about it anyway, hovering in that space between technological connection and physical connection. It’s illogical to think of the Internet as separate from the real world — we’re still regular people communicating regular things on it — and yet we constantly differentiate between the two. Lundgren, for instance, believes that loneliness can only be solved in the latter. “The Internet will never suffice,” he says. “You need to actually talk to and see people in real life to feel like a real person.” In other words, there’s a fear that a person on the Internet is somehow less real than an unplugged one. And the fear of talking to people “who may not even exist” on the Internet is a relevant, though surreal, worry. If the original poster, “lonely,” logged off forever and never came back to the thread, how much value do we get from thinking of them as a real person with a real life and real loneliness? For all intents and purposes, hasn’t “lonely” become just another search term, another bit of code?
The German psychiatrist Frieda Fromm-Reichmann believed that people would do anything to avoid the lonely, or even the memory of having been lonely themselves, because loneliness is a contaminant. “It is so frightening and uncanny in character that [those who have been lonely] try to dissociate the memory of what it was like and even the fear of it,” she wrote in 1959. Webmaster Lundgren says that he hasn’t posted on “i am so lonely” for years. “Personally I have changed quite a lot since 2004 … my self esteem has hugely improved,” he says. The person who posted in 2004? That’s not who he is anymore. The “i am lonely” thread is an archive of many things — empathy and sadness and the magic of a really good SEO term — but it’s also a public record of something we don’t want to admit about ourselves: that we went online late one night, anonymous, and named ourselves “lonely.”
At a time when celebrities are trying to break the Internet with their latest publicity stunts, there’s a much more serious threat to life as we know it online.
Our ability to access the web sites and online content we choose at an affordable price without interference by Internet service providers is under attack. That’s because the principle of net neutrality could be weakened depending on how the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) acts in the coming weeks.
Net neutrality is a wonky term used to describe a free and open Internet where all content on the web must be treated equally. In other words, Internet service providers like Comcast can’t block our access to websites and other content on the web. And they can’t discriminate against content providers by charging more for quicker Internet access to you or slowing down connections for those who can’t pay extra for preferential treatment.
That’s how the Internet has operated since its inception and it’s the reason why it has flourished and been the force for so much innovation. But last January, a federal court overturned the FCC’s net neutrality rules. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler responded by proposing a new set of rules in May that purported to protect an open Internet, but that proposal effectively would create a two-tiered Internet with fast lanes and slow lanes for online traffic.
Earlier this year, Consumers Union urged the FCC to abandon that approach along with countless other groups and nearly four million Americans across the country. Instead, we’ve called on the FCC to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service using its authority under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. Doing so would enable the agency to ban preferential deals and ensure that the Internet is available to everyone on equal, nondiscriminatory terms.
The push for enacting strong open Internet rules got a big boost earlier this month when President Obama offered his support for the Title II solution. He noted, “I’m urging the Federal Communications Commission to do everything they can to protect net neutrality for everyone. They should make it clear that whether you use a computer, phone, or tablet, Internet providers have a legal obligation not to block or limit your access to a website; cable providers can’t decide which online stores you can shop at or which streaming services you can use and they can’t let any company pay for priority over its competitors.”
Opponents of net neutrality, including the National Cable Television Association and the major Internet service providers have launched a well-financed attack on net neutrality. One exception has been Comcast, the nation’s largest broadband provider. It claims to support net neutrality, which it is legally obligated to follow until 2018 under the terms of its previous merger with NBC Universal.
Right after President Obama made his announcement, a Comcast executive claimed that the company agreed with everything he said. But let’s be real, it doesn’t. Comcast certainly doesn’t support the Title II solution the President and groups like ours have been calling for. Instead, its version of net neutrality would allow it to give big companies priority access to its customers if they paid for it. And you know who would ultimately end up paying for that — me and you. Comcast’s recent deal to charge Netflix a fee for smoother access to its customers comes to mind. Smaller start-ups who refused to pay extra or couldn’t afford it would be relegated to the slow lane.
Before Comcast’s merger with NBC Universal required it to abide by net neutrality, the FCC determined that it had been interfering with its customers’ ability to access popular file sharing services that distributed licensed Hollywood content. Comcast denied it, but the FCC concluded that the company had “unduly interfered with Internet users’ right to access the lawful Internet content and to use the applications of their choice.” Comcast even went to court to try to block net neutrality.
A free and open Internet is especially critical at a time when companies like Comcast are seeking mergers to increase their market power. If Comcast is allowed to merge with Time Warner Cable, it will control almost half of the truly high speed broadband in homes across the country, giving it unprecedented marketplace power. Comcast would have even more leverage to engage in harmful discriminatory practices that could raise prices and stifle our access to more competitive options.
The Internet must remain open, affordable, and available to everyone. That’s why it’s so critical to prevent Comcast from breaking the Internet by stopping its mega merger and making sure the FCC adopts strong net neutrality rules. Call FCC Chairman Wheeler today at 1-202-418-1000 and urge him to reject Comcast’s merger with Time Warner Cable and support the Title II net neutrality solution.
Watch our extended interview with Bryan Stevenson, founder and director of the Equal Justice Initiative. He discusses pending executions, the history of lynching, and how Rosa Parks and others inspired him to "stand with the condemned and incarcerated." His new book is Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman. We continue with our guest, Bryan Stevenson, founder and director of the Equal Justice initiative. His new book is Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.
I want to turn to a case right now. A Texas judge on Wednesday refused to postpone the scheduled execution of a convicted killer who suffers from mental illness and is set to face lethal injection December 3rd. Scott Panetti has had schizophrenia for decades. He won support for his case from groups like Mental Health America, psychiatrists, former judges, prosecutors and evangelical Christians. At the trial, Panetti acted as his own attorney. He wore a cowboy outfit and tried to call his witnesses, the pope, John F. Kennedy and Jesus.
Well, you write about many cases. Talk about what this case represents.
BRYAN STEVENSON: We have in our prisons about 2.3 million people, half of whom are believed to have mental illness. About 20 percent have severe mental illness. The criminal justice system, the prisons have become the repository for people with disability that have no place else to go. And that is part of the story behind this case.
The other part of the story is that we've created a system that is much more concerned about finality than fairness. The reason why no one's prepared to look carefully at the clear evidence of mental illness that should block the state from carrying out this execution is that we seem like we're in this rush, that if we don't execute people fast, it's almost as if it loses its potency, its value, its virtue. But my view is that if we execute people unfairly or wrongly, then we do a great deal of injustice to our whole system. And so, I think it's tragic that we get caught up in this finality kind of focus. And you see that playing out in this case.
The Supreme Court has banned the execution of people with intellectual disability, people with mental retardation. And obviously, if you recognize that there are disabilities that can make you someone who should not be executed, you have to look more carefully at a case like this. And I think there are actually hundreds of people who have been sentenced to death when they are clearly very severely mentally ill. And a just society wouldn't want to execute people for their disability, because that's cruel. That's not a decent thing to do. It's not what a just community should do. But we're going to do that in Texas, if we don't take the time to think more carefully about what that case represents.
And too often, unfortunately, we don't learn the details of these tragedies until very close to the execution time, because it's very hard to get anyone's attention in the death penalty space until there's a crisis, until there's an execution date. And that undermines the fair consideration that we often need in these cases. And sadly, it doesn't happen at trial, because we have a criminal justice system that treats you better if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor and innocent. Wealth prevents many poor people and disabled people from getting their story presented in a way that might allow us to get to a just outcome. And so then we have years of appeals and litigation where maybe that story might unfold, and that's what you're seeing in Texas today.
AMY GOODMAN: Bryan Stevenson, have you ever tried a case in Missouri?
BRYAN STEVENSON: Yes, I represent people there, several young clients. We did a case, actually, in St. Louis of a 14-year-old kid who was accused of a murder that he didn't commit, was sentenced to life without parole. He was tried by an all-white jury after the prosecutor excluded African Americans from serving on the jury. And we ultimately got him released after proving illegal racial discrimination in jury service.
And that's the other backdrop. If there is no indictment in the Ferguson case, if there is no conviction, it will reveal and reflect on the way in which we select juries in this case—in this country, including in Missouri, where there's often a great deal of exclusion of people of color, which feeds that distrust of the system. But I've seen that up close and personal in cases that I've worked on in Missouri.
AMY GOODMAN: In part one, we talked about where you grew up, but just if you could tell us again your own personal life story?
BRYAN STEVENSON: Sure, sure. Yeah, so, I grew up in a poor, rural community on the Eastern Shore in southern Delaware, that's not unlike most Southern communities, where there was segregation. I started my education in the colored school. Black kids couldn't go to the public schools, even though this was 10 years after Brown. And I saw my parents humiliated on a regular basis by the racial order. And one of the things—
AMY GOODMAN: What did your parents do?
BRYAN STEVENSON: My mother—my dad worked at a food factory, and my mother worked at the Air Force base up in Dover. And—
AMY GOODMAN: Where the bodies come home from war.
BRYAN STEVENSON: Where the bodies come home, yeah. And my dad did domestic work, cleaning houses down at the beach. But, you know, one of the things that bothers me the way we talk about this history is that we actually celebrate civil rights in this country with great enthusiasm, and everybody gets to celebrate—you don't have to do anything to kind of establish some qualification to celebrate—and it's almost as if we are kind of ignoring what's behind the civil rights movement. We talk about the civil rights experience like it was this three-day moment, where Rosa Parks didn't give up her seat on day one, and Dr. King led a March on Washington on day two, and then we passed all these laws. And now we celebrate—the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. And what we don't do is talk about all the damage we did by humiliating people of color on a daily basis by subjecting people to this racial subordination, this racial hierarchy, to the distrust we created, to the injuries we imposed on people. And what I see are those injuries expressing themselves. What I see is that burden created. And because of that, I think we're actually contributing to the legacy of racial inequality, when we just celebrate and don't tell the truth of all of the damage that was done. I think we need truth and reconciliation in this country. In South Africa, they didn't get past apartheid without truth and reconciliation.
AMY GOODMAN: So, I want to go to Rosa Parks.
BRYAN STEVENSON: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: And then you tell us more about what was happening then, and also what this meant to you in your own formation.
BRYAN STEVENSON: Sure.
AMY GOODMAN: Rosa Parks, December 1st, 1955, one of those few moments you talk about—
BRYAN STEVENSON: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —that the whole country knows about and celebrates, is arrested when she refuses to give up her seat to a white man on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama, the act of resistance leading to a 13-month boycott of the Montgomery bus system that would spark the civil rights movement. This is Rosa Parks in April of 1956. It's in the midst of the bus boycott, and she was speaking on a young Pacifica Radio.
ROSA PARKS: The driver said that if I refuse to leave the seat, he would have to call the police. And I told him, "Just call the police." He then called the officers of the law. They came and placed me under arrest, violation of the segregation law of the city and state of Alabama in transportation. I didn't think I was violating any. I felt that I was not being treated right, and that I had a right to retain the seat that I had taken as a passenger on the bus. The time had just come when I had been pushed as far as I could stand to be pushed, I suppose. They placed me under arrest.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Rosa Parks in April of 1956. I remember, when she died and we were going down to Washington, CNN said Rosa Parks was a tired seamstress, she was no troublemaker. You were a personal friend of Rosa Parks. Was she a troublemaker?
BRYAN STEVENSON: Oh, she absolutely was. She was a proud troublemaker, because there needed to be trouble when people of color were being treated the way people of color were being treated. I mean, what people don't know is that before that moment, she was organizing protests. There was a young African-American man who was executed for a crime that people in Montgomery absolutely insisted that he did not commit. And she was deeply affected by that wrongful execution. It was a young black man who was in a band, who was accused of an assault. They actually arrested him, took him to death row, put him in the electric chair and kept him there until he confessed to the crime.
AMY GOODMAN: In the electric chair.
BRYAN STEVENSON: In the electric chair, in the—
AMY GOODMAN: What was his name?
BRYAN STEVENSON: His name was—I'm going to forget it—[Jeremiah Reeves]. He stayed in that chair until they got that confession. And people in the black community, including Dr. King, were very concerned about organizing about his mistreatment. They could not get the relief, and he was ultimately executed for real. And it was deeply distressing to her.
And she was deeply committed to challenging the status quo. And I got to spend time with her, and she was an amazing person. She was the kind of person who would inspire people. I remember we went down to Tallahassee, Florida, where they were giving her an honorary degree, and they started playing "We Shall Overcome" at the beginning of the ceremony, and people just sat there. And she looked around at everybody, and she said, "Well, I'm used to standing when we sing this song." She stood up, and for a moment she stood by herself, and then everybody else stood back up. And that was Ms. Parks. She was courageous. She was determined. She was very influential.
You know, I met her for the first time when she came back to be with two of her friends, Johnnie Carr, who was the architect of the Montgomery bus boycott, and a white woman named Virginia Durr, whose husband Clifford Durr represented Dr. King. And I remember being there, and I had been told, "Just sit and listen, Bryan. Don't say a word." And I was sitting there listening to her for two hours, and she was so encouraging. At one point she said to me, she said, "Bryan, tell me what the Equal Justice Initiative is. Tell me what you're trying to do." And I looked at Ms. Carr to to see if I had permission to speak, and she nodded, so I gave her my rap. I said, "We're trying to do something about the death penalty. We're trying to do something about mass incarceration and the treatment of the poor and people of color in jails and prisons, and children in poverty." And I gave her my whole rap, and when I finished, she said, "Mm-mm-mm, that's going to make you tired, tired, tired." And Ms. Carr leaned forward, and she put her finger up, and she said, "That's why you've got to be brave, brave, brave."
Ms. Parks was a courageous woman. What defined her was her bravery, her willingness to take personal challenges, personal risks, to advance the cause of justice. And she's really, in many ways, not fully credited for being that courageous, tenacious fighter, which I think more accurately characterized her life.
AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about how you went from Delaware to becoming this leading civil rights, human rights attorney, argued a number of times before the Supreme Court.
BRYAN STEVENSON: Well, you know, I got to go to high school as a result of lawyers coming into our community and opening up the public schools for me. But for their intervention, I wouldn't be here today. And when I was in college, I was studying philosophy. I didn't really know what to do after college and ended up going to law school by default, and was actually quite frustrated because they weren't talking about poverty and race and justice in my first year of law school.
But then I had an opportunity to work with a human rights group that provided legal services to people on death row, and that, for me, is what changed everything. I met people literally dying for legal assistance on death row in Georgia. And I saw in them humanity and possibility and people struggling for redemption, struggling for recovery. And it was just so impactful that I knew that that's what I wanted to do, and I went back, and I've been standing with the incarcerated and the condemned ever since.
And, you know, for me, it's been a privilege, because I get to see extraordinary things. We've been successful in getting lots of people released, which is wonderful. We haven't always been successful. I've stood next to people before they were executed, and that's been heartbreaking and devastating. But I've never doubted that standing for condemned people, pushing and advocating for people who had been discarded and rejected, makes me feel more human.
AMY GOODMAN: What was it like to go into the Supreme Court for the first time?
BRYAN STEVENSON: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Not to watch it—
BRYAN STEVENSON: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —but to argue a case. And what was that case?
BRYAN STEVENSON: Yeah, well, the first case was actually the McMillian case. After we got Mr. McMillian released from death row, after he had been wrongly convicted and sentenced to death, we wanted the state to own up to it. And they weren't. There were no—there were no statutes providing money for him. They weren't going to pay him anything. They weren't going to do anything. And because they had put him on death row for 15 months before the trial, because they actually hid the evidence that would have proved his innocence, we sued them. And there was a question about whether the sheriff, who had done all kinds of horrible things, including threaten him with lynching and violence, could be held accountable. And the case went to the Supreme Court on whether the county was liable for the conduct of this sheriff.
AMY GOODMAN: And this was in Monroeville, Alabama.
BRYAN STEVENSON: This was in Monroeville, yeah, out of Monroe County, whether that county had some responsibility for what it did to Mr. McMillian. And the first time I went to the Supreme Court is when I started this ritual that I've followed every time I stood in front of the court, and I just read where it says on the building, "Equal Justice Under Law." And I have to believe that in order to make sense of what I do. And we went in there—I went in there and argued that case, and I've been back several times since. I sometimes worry that the court doesn't fulfill that commitment. You know, we've done cases where the court has basically accepted evidence of racial bias and said that racial bias is inevitable in the administration of the death penalty. That's McCleskey, a case that was decided in 1987. And so, we—
AMY GOODMAN: McCleskey, explain.
BRYAN STEVENSON: Yeah, McCleskey was a case where there was evidence presented that the death penalty in Georgia is racially biased. The researchers proved that you're 11 times more likely to get the death penalty in the state of Georgia if the victim is white than if the victim is black, 22 times more likely to get the death penalty if the defendant is black and the victim is white. That was presented to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court accepted that evidence, but nonetheless upheld the death penalty by saying, one, if we deal with racial bias in the death penalty, it's going to be just a matter of time before lawyers start complaining about racial bias in other parts of the criminal justice system. Justice Brennan criticized the court for its, quote, "fear of too much justice," because in some ways the court was saying, "This problem is too big for us."
The second thing they said was racial bias in the administration of the death penalty is inevitable. And they use that word, and it's the reason why I think of that case as our Dred Scott of this generation, our Plessy v. Ferguson. And when I look at "Equal Justice Under the Law" and I read that decision, I realize there's a disconnect, because you can't have equal justice under the law while you're pronouncing that racial bias is inevitable in something like the death penalty. And so, even though I've gone to the court, I still expect more from the court on these issues.
AMY GOODMAN: Dred Scott is buried just four miles down the road, on West Florissant—
BRYAN STEVENSON: Yes, yes, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —at Calvary Cemetery.
BRYAN STEVENSON: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: He went to the St. Louis court—
BRYAN STEVENSON: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —to appeal for his freedom.
BRYAN STEVENSON: Yeah, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the significance of Dred Scott and bring it to modern-day Ferguson.
BRYAN STEVENSON: Sure. Well, that's why I think, you know, we can run from this history of racial inequality, but we cannot hide. It's ironic that here we are sitting here in 2014 where all of this attention is focused on Missouri—not a Deep South state, but a state where the history of racial inequality played out in very dramatic terms. Missouri—
AMY GOODMAN: People might even be surprised to know Missouri was a slave state.
BRYAN STEVENSON: Absolutely. And that's why the story of Dred Scott, their unwillingness to give up slavery when they wanted it for economic gain, to give up this mythology of demonizing and criminalizing and abusing people of color when it created some gain for them, becomes so important, because that story in Missouri has never really been told the way it needs to be told. Missouri has the same history of racial segregation and slavery and abuse that you find in Alabama and Mississippi. We just don't talk about it as much. Because we haven't talked about it, we now have these presumptions of guilt following young men of color in that state, in Ferguson. And so, people in Ferguson aren't protesting because of one thing that happened to one person. They're protesting because all their lives they've been menaced and traumatized and followed and presumed guilty and dangerous. And that history has never been confronted, because we've never held anybody accountable for that history.
And when the Supreme Court in 1987, in a death penalty case, the case where the court says, "This is the system at its best, because we're imposing these perfect punishments. If we don't do it right in the death penalty context, we just can't do it right"—and so they're presented with this evidence of racial bias, and they're asked to commit to eliminating racial bias, and they say, "No, racial bias is too pervasive, it's too insidious, it's too ever-present for us to take on. We just have to make peace with it." And the court upholds the death penalty. And now we've had all of these executions in a system that is admittedly undermined by racial bias and racial injustice. And so, today, we are talking about racially biased imposition of the death penalty. We're talking about unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. We're talking about our failure to confront this history of racial inequality. And until we confront it and deal with it more honestly, we're going to be having this conversation for another 50 years.
AMY GOODMAN: You're a lawyer who argues in the Supreme Court of the United States, the highest court of the land. When Trayvon Martin was killed, the massive protests that took place on the street, right through to Ferguson, when Mike Brown is killed, what is the role of protest? What do you see it as, as a lawyer?
BRYAN STEVENSON: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: You are going into court to seek justice.
BRYAN STEVENSON: Yeah, yeah. Well, I don't think there's any question that without people in the street—I mean, look at the civil rights movement. We're celebrating, you know, these legal decisions—the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act—but those acts were a response to people protesting. It was when people came back to Selma after the Bloody Sunday, after the first Selma-to-Montgomery March, which led up to the Voting Rights Act, was met with violent resistance, brutal resistance, but thousands of people came back to Selma to say, "No, we have got to do better in this country." And it was that protest that created the political environment that made the Voting Rights Act possible. But for people out in the streets, you would not have seen the Supreme Court strike down miscegenation laws, which made it illegal in some states for black people and white people to get married, for people of different races to get married. The protests were necessary for that. And we're going to need communities, people, ordinary people, speaking up and saying things about what is unacceptable about what's happening in Ferguson, what's unacceptable about what's happening in our jails and prisons, to create the right kind of legal environment for the court to do what it must do to protect the rights of disfavored people.
AMY GOODMAN: Your group, Equal Justice Initiative, is putting out a report on lynchings.
BRYAN STEVENSON: Yeah, yeah. We are very determined to change the narrative in this country about racial history. We put out a report last year about slavery. And we actually put up slave markers and monuments in downtown Montgomery, because if you came there a year ago, you'd find 59 markers and monuments relating to the 19th century, markers and monuments to the Confederacy. We celebrate—Jefferson Davis's birthday is a state holiday. Confederate Memorial Day is a state holiday. We name our schools after Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. All of this stuff about the Confederacy, not a word about slavery. And so we put out a report about slavery, and we put up these monuments and markers to mark the spots where the slave trade oppressed and enslaved thousands of African Americans. And we want to keep doing that in communities across this country.
Our next report is about lynching, because we have in this country states where African Americans were terrorized. People of color in America dealt with terrorism for a generation, between Reconstruction and World War II. And they, some of them, get angry when they hear people on TV say we're dealing with domestic terrorism for the first time after 9/11, because they grew up with terror. Lynching was horrific and terrifying. And we don't talk about it. We put markers about the Confederacy in front of these courthouses, but we don't say a word about the thousands of people that were lynched, hundreds of whom were lynched on courthouse lawns.
And so, we want to put out a report, and we want to actually confront communities to start dealing with that legacy, dealing with that history. It's only when we express some shame about our racial violence, our use of violence to intimidate and menace people of color, that we commit ourselves to policing strategies, to contemporary criminal justice strategies, that make the incident in Ferguson less likely to happen. And we won't get there until we actually create some consciousness about why it's so important.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the role of a woman who was born a slave, a crusading journalist, Ida B. Wells?
BRYAN STEVENSON: Ah, yes. Ida B. Wells is, again, someone—you know, if there is someone who should have a national holiday, my recommendation would be Ida Wells, because she forced this country to pay attention to lawlessness. You know, I say this often. You can't judge America by how wealthy we are, by how successful we are, by our technology. You judge a country, you judge a community, not by how you treat the rich and the powerful and the privileged, you judge a community by how you treat the poor, the incarcerated, the condemned and disfavored. And Ida B. Wells was insisting that America recognize that it is this country that is lynching people based on suspicion.
These lynchings were taking place not even because people were necessarily accused of crimes. We lynched people in America because—African Americans, because they went to the front door rather than the back door, because they laughed at the joke at the wrong time. And that racial oppression, that subordination, was something that she believed had to be exposed, if we were going to really see what kind of country we are.
And she was tormented and traumatized and terrorized herself by talking constantly about what lynching represents in American life. And eventually lynching stopped, but the mindset didn't. And that's why we think talking about lynching today is such a critically important issue for Americans and for this country, when it comes to racial justice.
AMY GOODMAN: What were you most surprised by as you were researching Just Mercy?
BRYAN STEVENSON: You know, I think the thing that surprised me the most is how much of what's happened has gone unexamined. You know, most people don't know that we have a million people in jails and prisons for drug dependency—not because they've committed a crime, not because they've hurt somebody. I think what's really troubling to me is that we know so little. Even though we talk so much, we know so little about how we got here. You know, other countries dealt with drug dependency as a health issue. We dealt with it as a crime issue. And we've ruined lots of families. I don't think most people know there are six million people on probation and parole in this country. I don't think most people know there are—
AMY GOODMAN: And what does that mean?
BRYAN STEVENSON: It means that their lives are being controlled by the criminal justice system. It means that if they fail to make a monthly payment to the system, which they have to do, to pay their probation fee or their parole fee, they get put back in prison, sometimes for decades. It means that we are keeping them from re-engaging. They can't get jobs oftentimes. They can't vote. They can't do a lot of the things that make it possible for people to have successful lives. We have 60 million people in America with criminal arrests, which means that when they apply for a job, they have to reveal that, and their chance of being hired is dramatically reduced—60 million people.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think it should be illegal to ask that question?
BRYAN STEVENSON: I think we should ban the box. I think we should do the interview, make an assessment about the person. I think there are some jobs where you can ask whether the person has been formerly incarcerated, but if you do it at the end of the interview, the chance of hiring that person is dramatically higher, because if I talk to you and I think you're a great TV commentator and host, and I see all the skills that I want to see, and then you tell me at the end of it, "You know, by the way, when I was 20, I did something and went to jail for a short period of time," I'm not going to let that dissuade me from hiring you, because I know you're great. If you ask that question first, and I don't get to see how great you are, how skilled you are, how committed you are, you're not going to get the job. And so, that's what we're asking employers to do and asking companies to commit to, because what we find is that the rates of hiring for formerly incarcerated people go way up when you just do it at the end, if you do it at all.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, can you talk, Bryan, about the case you're proudest of and tell us about that case?
BRYAN STEVENSON: You know, it's a hard question for me. You know, Thurgood Marshall used to say—"What case are you most proud of?" He said, "The next case." And I think it's that way for me. I think—I take great pride in helping anybody that we've been able to help. But I think, for me, what I'm most proud of is that we're still trying. I don't think we've done our best cases yet. I want to believe that we've got important work still to do. And what energizes me is knowing that we can keep fighting, that there are challenges that haven't been fully addressed.
You know, I'll tell you this story. I was working on a case not too long ago, actually in the Midwest, where I was sitting in the courtroom waiting for the court to start, the hearing to start. I was sitting at defense table.
AMY GOODMAN: Where? What state?
BRYAN STEVENSON: It was actually in Iowa. And I was sitting there waiting for the hearing to begin, and I was sitting at defense table, and the judge walked in, followed by the prosecutor. And when the judge saw me sitting there, he said, "Hey, hey, hey! You get out of the courtroom. I don't want any defendants sitting in the courtroom without their lawyers. You go back out there in the hallway and wait until your lawyer gets here." And I stood up, and I said, "I'm sorry, Your Honor, I didn't introduce myself. My name is Bryan Stevenson. I am the lawyer." And the judge looked at me, and the judge started laughing. And the prosecutor started laughing. And I made myself laugh, too, because I didn't want to disadvantage my client. And then the client came in. It was a young white kid. And we did this hearing. And afterward, I was so exhausted and frustrated.
You know, what makes me proud right now is that we're doing this race and poverty project, because I don't think we're going to confront those kinds of problems. We're going to have judges exercising judgment and discretion in this way that is so corrupted by bias and bigotry. And we're not going to do anything about that until we start talking more broadly about this history of racial bias. And so, I'm really excited about that work.
AMY GOODMAN: Did the judge apologize?
BRYAN STEVENSON: No, no, no. He laughed. We just laughed it off, and we went through the hearing. We did well for that client, I think, because I didn't turn that into an ugly confrontation. But no, no apologies—much like what we've done in this country. We don't really—we think apologizing disempowers us. I actually think apologizing makes you more human, makes you ultimately healthier, makes you stronger. You know, I go to Germany, and I see what's going on in that country, and you can't go many places without confronting the legacy of the Holocaust. It makes me hopeful about the future Germany in ways that I wouldn't be if I went there and you couldn't see any evidence that people were talking and thinking about that history. And here we do the opposite. And I think we won't be strong and healthy until we actually begin to reflect more soberly about what we've done to one another in so many of the spaces where we have racial conflict and racial inequality.
AMY GOODMAN: Bryan Stevenson, thank you so much for joining us. Bryan Stevenson is founder and director of the Equal Justice Initiative. His new book must be read. It's called Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman.
What's behind this bizarre decision about an issue that affects millions and is said to be so controversial?
Early in his first term, President George W. Bush addressed the nation in primetime about allowing for limited stem cell research in America and his approval for limited medical research. During the weeks leading up to the announcement, there had a been regular news coverage of the topic, as the White House let reporters know the president was deeply engaged on the issue and was meeting with an array of experts to guide him.
As Bush appeared from his ranch in Texas to make the announcement, all of the major broadcast networks joined the cable news channels in carrying his message live.
The stem cell speech didn't address breaking news and it wasn't about an imminent threat facing the nation. But at the time, network executives said they were happy to air the address. "I don't think it was a tough call because it's an issue that's received so much attention," CBS News spokeswoman Sandy Genelius told the Boston Globe. ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider agreed: "It's an important issue and one that the country is following closely." He added that Bush was "going to make news" with the speech.
A decade later the rules seem to have shifted. All four networks have announced they won't carry President Obama's address to the nation tonight about his long awaited plan to take executive action to deal with the pressing issue of immigration reform. (Two Spanish language networks, Univision and Telemundo, will carry the address live in primetime.)
Keep in mind, the issue is so paramount, and Obama's strategy supposedly so controversial, that a Republican senator yesterday warned there might be violence in the streets in response to Obama's actions. Some GOP lawmakers insisted Obama could face a flurry of legal action including impeachment proceedings, while others have urged the entire federal government be shut down if Obama goes through with his plan. Yet according to executives at ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, Obama's address isn't worth covering.
This follows up the networks' decision last year to deny the request to carry a primetime address from the White House regarding the seven million people who had signed up for healthcare under the Affordable Care Act.
Not all of Bush's primetime speeches were covered by the networks. But in addition to the 2001 stem cell address to the nation, Bush also gave an issue-based primetime speech in 2006 about immigration. All the networks complied with the White House's request for airtime and carried the address.
That speech occurred in May, during the television networks' all-important ratings "sweeps" month. Initially, the networks reportedly balked at the White House's request for TV time:
When President Bush decided to give a national address on his plans for immigration Monday, the Big Four networks were not interested in disrupting their May sweeps programming to show it. But they relented, and it seems viewers were very interested in seeing it.
As for the decision to snub Obama on immigration, according to CNN's Brian Stelter, "Some television executives said privately on Wednesday that they perceived Obama's planned address to be more overtly political than Bush's address on immigration in 2006." [Emphasis added]
Networks are denying the President of the United States access to the public airwaves based on a hunch about the content of the speech? Based on their perception of what will be said? That seems odd.
Additionally, Politico's Mike Allen reported the spin from a "network insider":
"There was agreement among the broadcast networks that this was overtly political. The White House has tried to make a comparison to a time that all the networks carried President Bush in prime time, also related to immigration . But that was a bipartisan announcement, and this is an overtly political move by the White House."
First of all, that's false. While Bush did use the address to reiterate his support for bipartisan immigration reform legislation, the news he broke during the speech was that he was sending National Guard troops to protect the U.S./Mexico border. That wasn't "bipartisan" -- after the speech, Democratic governors from New Mexico and Oregon denounced Bush's plan.
Second of all, is the new network standard that if a president announces a primetime address but the opposing party doesn't agree with the contents of the speech, networks won't air the event because it's too "political"? That's absurd and reeks of a cop-out.
In exchange for using the public airwaves for free, and generating enormous profits off them, television broadcast networks in America agree to set aside time to fulfill their public interest obligation. Tonight's brief, 10 to 15 minute address about immigration reform ought to be one of those times.
Don't miss Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman on "Melissa Harris-Perry," this Saturday, November 22nd. The show airs live from 10 a.m. to Noon ET on MSNBC.
By Amy Goodman with Denis Moynihan
It was a dramatic scene in the Senate this week. As Sen. Elizabeth Warren, presiding, announced the defeat of the Keystone XL pipeline, a Crow Creek Sioux man from South Dakota sang out in the Senate gallery. A massive people’s climate movement against extracting some of the dirtiest oil on the planet had prevailed ... at least for now.
It was a Democrat, Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, representing oil interests, who tried to push the pipeline through. She hoped its passage would help her in the Dec. 6 runoff election against her challenger, Congressman Bill Cassidy, who sponsored a similar bill in the House. The Republicans have promised to reintroduce the bill when they take control of the Senate in January.
The coalition against the Keystone XL is broad-based. It includes environmentalists, indigenous activists, farmers and ranchers, concerned about both climate change and protecting their land. They are worried about an oil spill into the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest aquifers in the world, which extends from South Dakota to Texas and provides water for millions of people. The name of one partner organization signals how unique this coalition is: the Cowboy and Indian Alliance. Out in the sandhills and great plains of the West, residents who in the 19th century were more likely than not to be adversaries have joined together to confront TransCanada Corp.‘s aggressive plan to force its pipeline through their land.
“The fight has just started,” Cyril Scott told me. He is the president of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. “We have to gear up and be ready and start our own campaign to make sure we secure enough support to stop this black snake that’s going to harm not only Indian country, but the United States of America.”
The Keystone XL pipeline’s primary function will be to move oil from the tar sands region of Alberta to port facilities on the South Texas coast, for shipping to overseas customers. It will enable expanded extraction of the tar sands, a form of oil that is much more environmentally destructive than other types. Climate scientist James Hansen, former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, wrote in The New York Times, “If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate.” Hansen is one of more than 1,200 people who were arrested in front of the White House, protesting Keystone XL.
In years past, President Barack Obama claimed that if the Keystone XL pipeline were not approved, then TransCanada would build a pipeline that avoids the U.S. entirely, sending the oil through Canada, to either its east or west coast.
TransCanada is clearly worried about the movement. Leaked documents obtained by Greenpeace reveal that TransCanada has hired Edelman, the world’s largest public-relations firm, to wage a campaign against groups that are trying to block their pipeline projects.
Click here to read the full column posted at Truthdig.
It seems it's hard to talk to an elite media host for very long before they start fantasizing about blowing things up.