Remake of Classic ‘Your Brain on Drugs’ Ad Slams Disastrous Drug War

Remake of "This is your Brain" ad

Remake of “This is your Brain” ad

AlterNet

Twenty years ago today, one of the most memorable ads of all time was launched, when Rachael Leigh Cook and her frying pan starting smashing up eggs in her infamous, “This is Your Brain on Drugs” ad.

Today, Rachael Leigh Cook, her frying pan and eggs are back but this time in a new ad that slams the drug war and its racist enforcement.

The new video, made by Green Point Creative, opens with Cook and her frying pan. She holds up a white egg and explains that it represents one of the millions of Americans who uses drugs but never gets arrested. She then picks up a brown egg and says, “This American is several times more likely to be charged with a drug crime.”

The animated ad, narrated by Cook, then shows what happens to the brown egg that is arrested and funneled through the criminal justice system. The ad highlights a range of harmful collateral consequences that result from drug arrest, including the loss of student financial aid, hindered job prospects and broken up families. The add contrasts the white egg’s family that was never arrested, despite also using drugs.

The ad ends with Cook looking into the camera, holding her pan and with a smashed egg and saying, “The war on drugs is ruining peoples’ lives. It fuels mass incarceration, it targets people of color in greater numbers than their white counter parts. It cripples communities, it costs billions and it doesn’t work. Any questions?”

It is gratifying and promising to see the evolution in Rachael Leigh Cook and in the American public over these last 20 years. The war on drugs is a disastrous failure that has ruined millions of peoples’ lives, especially people of color. Let’s hope this ad is seen by as many people as the original and inspires folks to end this unwinnable war.

Enjoy:

This piece first appeared on the Drug Policy Alliance Blog

Tony Newman is communications director for the Drug Policy Alliance.

Source: New feed

Drugmakers dramatically boosted lobbying spending in trump’s first quarter

The drug lobby is stepping up efforts to out-play Trump

The drug lobby is stepping up efforts to out-play Trump (Credit: AP)

Eight pharmaceutical companies more than doubled their lobbying spending in the first three months of 2017, when the Affordable Care Act was on the chopping block and high drug prices were clearly in the crosshairs of Congress and President Donald Trump.

Congressional records show those eight, including Celgene and Mylan, kicked in an extra $4.42 million versus that quarter last year. Industry giant Teva Pharmaceutical Industries spent $2.67 million, up 115 percent from a year ago as several companies embroiled in controversies raised their outlays significantly.

“It’s certainly a rare event” when lobbying dollars double, noted Timothy LaPira, an associate professor of political science at James Madison University. “These spikes are usually timed when Congress in particular is going to be really hammering home on a particular issue. Right now, that’s health care and taxes.”

Trump has come down hard on drugmakers, stating in a press conference before his inauguration that the industry is “getting away with murder.” He has promised to lower drug prices and increase competition with faster approvals and fewer regulations. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) have introduced bills to allow lower-cost drug imports from Canada or other countries.

Lobbyists weren’t expecting much by way of big policy changes during the comparatively sleepy end of the Obama administration this time last year, but with a surprise Trump administration and a Republican-controlled House and Senate, trade groups and companies are probably “going all in,” LaPira said.

Thirty-eight major drugmakers and trade groups spent a total of $50.9 million, up $10.1 million from the first quarter of last year, according to a Kaiser Health News analysis. They deployed 600 lobbyists in all.

PhRMA, the drug industry’s largest trade group, spent $7.98 million during the quarter —more than in any single quarter in almost a decade, congressional records show, topping even its quarterly lobbying ahead of the Affordable Care Act’s passage in 2010.

In their congressional disclosures, companies listed Medicare price negotiation, the American Health Care Act, drug importation and the orphan drug program as issues they were lobbying for or against. They do not have to disclose on which side of an issue they lobbied.

When Medicare prices are on the table, it should come as no surprise that pharmaceutical companies are interested in influencing congress.

“It’s quite literally hitting their bottom line,” LaPira said.

Drugmakers under fire more than doubled their lobbying dollars. Mylan spent $1.45 million during the quarter, up from $610,000 last year. The company’s CEO faced a congressional hearing in the fall when it raised the price of EpiPen to over $600.

Marathon Pharmaceuticals spent $230,000, which was $120,000 more than last year. Marathon was criticized in February after setting the price of Emflaza, a steroid to treat Duchenne muscular dystrophy, at $89,000 a year. That angered advocates, Congress and patients who had been importing the same drug for as little as $1,000 a year. Marathon has since sold the drug to another company, and the price may come down.

Teva and Shire also more than doubled their spending. Teva was accused as part of an alleged generic price-fixing scheme in December, and the Federal Trade Commission sued Shire because one of its recently acquired companies allegedly filed “sham” petitions with the Food and Drug Administration to stave off generics.

Companies that make drugs for rare diseases also more than doubled lobbying dollars as congressional leaders and the Government Accountability Office work to determine whether the Orphan Drug Act is being abused. Those firms include BioMarin, Celgene and Vertex Pharmaceuticals. Celgene, which makes a rare cancer drug, more than tripled its first quarter lobbying to more than $1 million.

Despite efforts to make good on campaign promises to repeal the Affordable Care Act, House Republicans canceled a floor vote on the American Health Care Act in March after multiple studies estimated that millions of people would lose coverage if it passed, and neither Democrats nor ultra-conservatives lined up in opposition to the bill’s provisions. Drug prices weren’t a key part of the package.

KHN’s coverage of prescription drug development, costs and pricing is supported in part by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

 

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On the Trump train to Siberia: Even on the Trans-Siberian Railway, I couldn’t get away from our new American reality

Trump Train

(Credit: Getty/Salon)

I did not expect to be in Siberia for Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Which is to say, I’d known for a few months that I’d be in Siberia on Jan. 20, 2017. I just thought I’d be missing Hillary Clinton’s inauguration instead. That thought had made me a little sad. Seeing the first woman president of the United States sworn in, it was a moment in history I hadn’t wanted to miss. But there was always YouTube, I told myself, and when opportunities come up to go someplace like Siberia and take the Trans-Siberian Railway, the world’s longest railway route, all the way from Vladivostok to Moscow, I take them.

I’m not going to pretend to be neutral here: On Nov. 8, when it became clear Trump would be president, I raged. I cried. I felt numb. I did not want to accept that an extremely accomplished, strong, smart woman had lost to a sexist, racist reality TV star. It was really too on the nose.

I sure didn’t want to see Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Spending Inauguration Day in Siberia seemed like a great idea. It was far away, a place associated with cold, exile and gulags, with a potential for isolation — could we even get the internet on the Trans-Siberian Railway? I liked the idea that we were going at the coldest time of the year. Dealing with the cold would give me something to focus on other than the reality of a President Trump.

Also, there was the whole Trump/Putin bromance, Russia hacked our election deal, and I’m a sucker for cheap irony.

I traveled with a good friend and her mom, whose parents were both born in Russia. The idea of this trip, besides taking the Trans-Siberian Railway all the way from beginning to end (or maybe it was the other way around, given we started in Vladivostok), was visiting some of the places Olga’s family had lived and worked in. Ulan Ude and Irkutsk were two of those places, on opposite ends of Lake Baikal, so those would be our stops between Vladivostok and Moscow.

Siberia, you should know, is beautiful, at times breathtakingly gorgeous, from our train a succession of little towns with brightly painted, steep-roofed wooden houses, onion-domed churches, frozen rivers, endless birch and pine forests frosted with snow, vistas of ice, all under a bluebird sky.

I slept through Trump’s inauguration, as our train rumbled through snow-covered villages, a modest city or two. When I woke up, there were notifications on my phone (it turns out you can get internet over data along most of the Trans-Siberian Railway route), informing me that “Donald Trump Has Been Inaugurated 45th President of the United States.” I didn’t want to use the data to click on the articles.

Shortly after that, we arrived in Ulan-Ude, capital of the Buryatia Republic. Buryats, a Mongolian people, make up close to a third of the population of Buryatia, and Ulan-Ude is an interesting-looking city, with its mix of Mongolian, old Russian and Soviet architecture. Ulan-Ude also has the world’s largest Lenin head, something to put on your list.

First post-inauguration Donald Trump sighting: On a TV in the lobby of the Hotel Geser in downtown Ulan-Ude. I made a face, shook my head. The Buryat desk clerk grinned, not meeting my eyes. I like to think she agreed with me.

“Congratulations on your new president,” said our guide for the day. She was an elegant Buryat, middle-aged, with impossibly round, prominent cheekbones, like half-plums.

“Oh no,” my friend Christy and I chorused. “We don’t like him. He is very bad for our country.” We went on. Our guide seemed shocked for a moment. “Well, it is worth celebrating a peaceful transition,” she said, smiling.

We managed to have a Trump-free trip until we left Irkutsk and boarded the train for Moscow. This would be our longest stretch on the train — four nights and four days. It turned out to be the oldest of the trains we traveled on, with suspension that approximated a bouncy castle. On the plus side, at least for the first few days it wasn’t as stiflingly hot as these trains can get —while you are trundling through Siberia and it’s -30F outside, it’s often semi-tropical inside the train’s compartments, with some women wearing butt-hugging short shorts and a few men going topless.

We were the only Americans we saw on this entire trip and just about the only tourists. Of course on a long trip without a lot of better things to do, we attracted some attention. I shared cat photos with a sweet carriage attendant while waiting for the bathroom at 4:30 a.m. (she worked the night shift). But it was a trio of Russian guys who were most interested in talking to us.

And they wanted to talk about Trump.

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It started with Inna, the sweet carriage attendant. Who did I like better, Trump or Obama? A tall Uzbek kid recently graduated from high school helped translate — he had a good Russian/English dictionary app on his smartphone. Obama, I replied.

A Russian guy popped his head out from his compartment. “Trump!” he said, making a thumbs-up gesture. He was in his thirties, a sleek and wiry man with dark, slightly feral good looks. He seemed to know this by the way he would pose, a study in taut relaxation.

“Trump . . . he has become crazy,” I said. Well, more accurately, the Russian phrasebook on my phone said. It was the best I could come up with.

“He’s rich!” the man said, translated by my Uzbek friend.

“His father’s money,” I replied.

“Why did you Americans vote for him?” the Uzbek wanted to know.

“Most of us did not,” I said.

He seemed sympathetic.

Later, the Russian guy, Nicolai, and two of his friends, Alexander and Igor, also in their thirties, came into our compartment. Alexander and Nicolai were truck drivers for Gazprom (Russia’s huge and partially government-owned natural gas company). Alexander, tall and pale, wore his blond hair in a sort of bowl cut, his eyes dark-circled, maybe from the cigarettes he constantly smoked. Igor was short, the shape of a small barrel, with a tanned face, shaved head and brown eyes that seemed warm. He was in the military. I’m not sure which branch.

It started off like this: I made the mistake of demonstrating my one solid Russian sentence: “I like Russian beer.” Friends, do not do this. Because what will happen is, a Russian guy will go down to the dining car and return with three cans of Baltika 7s for the American ladies in the compartment, along with cheaper Polish beers for themselves and a plastic water bottle full of vodka for everyone to share.

The reason for the plastic water bottle turned out to be that it is not exactly legal to drink alcohol in your train compartment, or at least that it was problematic for reasons we couldn’t determine. One of the carriage attendants — a stern-faced older woman with a poof blonde hairdo — came in at one point and scolded us: “The police are here!”

We all hid our beer cans like guilty teenagers.

We tried to offer the Russians beer in return, an imperial stout we’d bought at a craft beer bar in Irkutsk that came from a microbrewery in Krasnoyarsk, which is the third-largest city in Siberia. They refused the beer, but Igor in particular was quite interested in the label, a moody black-and-white image that turned out to be a missile launcher in a grove of birch trees.

Alexander showed us pictures of his two kids, a 10-year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl. He took particular pride in sharing photos of his son in a martial arts uniform, practicing kicks and punches. Igor had pictures of his niece. Also many shots of jet planes and missiles.

It was at times a confusing couple of hours. They didn’t speak English, and of the three of us, only Olga spoke Russian, and not all that much. So the conversation proceeded with Olga translating what she could, the use of various dictionary apps and a lot of miming.

Igor was fascinated by my hair. He kept saying my hair “was like an Indian,” meaning a Native American, which he confirmed by doing a stereotypical war whoop, several times. He’d reach over and touch my hair to emphasize his fascination. For the record, my hair is longish, a mix of brown, blonde and silver, which I don’t color, and it’s parted on the side. I have no explanation for how this made me have “hair like an Indian,” particularly when Christy has long black hair that’s parted down the middle. You’d think she would be the one who had “Native American hair.” Instead, Igor kept saying he wanted Christy to stay so he could marry her, at times putting his arm around her. It’s possible he was a little drunk, but I’m pretty sure they all were.

And they all liked Trump. Nicolai liked that Trump was rich. Igor liked that Trump was strong — unlike Obama, whom he characterized as “Mickey Mouse.” Christy and I said we did not like Trump, that he was bad for America and for the world, that he’s crazy, that he got his money from his father — none of that mattered to these men. Trump likes Russia, and that was enough.

Why does CNN show such anti-Russian propaganda?, Alexander wanted to know. “Libya, Iraq, Syria — why do Americans think Russia is always the aggressor?” he asked mournfully. Why does “the black” Obama (that was Olga’s translation) blame them for everything?

Russia is a good country, Russians are good people, Putin has made things better, they said. It was hard for me to know how to reply, but then, I couldn’t speak their language.

I tried. I said, “You are Russian. You like Putin. That is up to you.” I gave them a thumbs up. “I am American. I don’t like Trump.” But they were not interested in hearing what I thought about my own president.

It didn’t matter that we said repeatedly how much we loved Russia, how beautiful we thought it was, how much we were enjoying our travels. Why did Americans have such negative opinions of Russia, they wanted to know? Why did they have so little understanding of what Russia is like? “We have no bears on the streets,” Alexander said, several times.

Why do Americans think Russia is bad?

Why don’t we love them?

Igor showed us more photos of planes and missiles. Russia would never use them, he insisted. We shouldn’t worry. “We’re not going to start Big Fire” — meaning a nuclear war.

“You are a very interesting person,” Alexander said to me. “You should study Russian. It is a very interesting language.”

“I want to,” I told him. “For my next trip.”

We had to toast to the veterans of wars at one point. You have to stand up to do this, and you do not clink your glasses. It is too solemn for that. Igor mentioned Stalingrad. “Only 1 percent survived,” he said.

Eventually, the three men drifted out. But Igor returned later with some tea that he wanted us to have. The tea helps you sleep and makes you strong, Igor told us.

The strict blonde train attendant passed by, looked in the compartment and saw that we were drinking tea. She smiled approvingly.

We spent at least 20 minutes trying to determine what a series of American movies Igor wanted to discuss were. He had the DVDs at home. The films might have featured Jon Bon Jovi. And a missing hand. And creatures with teeth. And possibly shooting.

We never did figure it out.

* * *

We finished up our travels in Saint Petersburg, a lovely city with so much art and history that a few days can’t possibly do it justice. On our last night, we visited the taproom of one of Russia’s better-known craft breweries. Chatting with one of the beer-tenders, who spoke excellent English, I mentioned the imperial stout we’d had on the train. I showed him a photo I’d taken of the label, the one with the missile launcher in a grove of birch trees.

He studied the photo and shook his head. “We avoid these kind of subjects for our labels, anything political. We get enough politics outside, we can’t get away from politics, with Putin.”

I lifted my glass in a toast. I sympathized. Unlike Russians, I don’t have to worry too much about my political opinions getting me arrested, or worse. But I can’t get away from politics either, not even in Siberia.

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Facial recognition is increasingly common, but how does it work?

Facial recognition surveillance system

(Credit: Getty/Maxiphoto/Salon)

The Trump administration’s efforts to impose new immigration rules drew attention — and legal fire — for its restrictions on the ability of people born in certain majority Muslim countries to enter the U.S. In the frenzy of concern, an obscure piece of the executive orders did not get scrutinized, or even noticed, very much: its expansion of facial recognition systems in major U.S. airports to monitor people leaving the U.S., in hopes of catching people who have overstayed their visas or are wanted in criminal investigations. The Conversation

It’s a much more powerful version of the method your phone or computer might use to identify friends in your photos. Using computers to recognize people’s faces and validate their identities can streamline access control for secure corporate and government buildings or devices. Some systems can identify known or suspected criminals. Businesses can analyze their customers’ faces to help tailor marketing strategies to people of different genders, ages and ethnic backgrounds. There are even consumer services that take advantage of facial recognition, like virtual eyeglass fitting and virtual makeovers.

There are also serious privacy concerns as government agencies and companies are more able to track individuals through their communities, and even around the world. The facial recognition market is worth approximately US$3 billion and is expected to grow to $6 billion by 2021. Surveillance is a large reason for growth; government entities are the primary consumers.
The FBI has a database with images of approximately half the U.S. population. There are also fears of people using facial recognition to engage in online harassment or even real-world stalking.

As facial recognition becomes more common, we must know how it works. As someone who studies and researches the legal implications of new technology in criminal investigations, I believe it’s important to understand what it can and can’t do, and how the technology is progressing. Only then can we have informed discussions about when and how to use computers to recognize that most human of features — our faces.

How it works

As one of several methods of what are called “biometric” identification systems, facial recognition examines physical features of a person’s body in an attempt to uniquely distinguish one person from all the others. Other forms of this type of work include the very common fingerprint matching, retina scanning, iris scanning (using a more readily observable part of the eye) and even voice recognition.

All of these systems take in data — often an image — from an unknown person, analyze the data in that input, and attempt to match them to existing entries in an database of known people’s faces or voices. Facial recognition does this in three steps: detection, faceprint creation, and verification or identification.

When an image is captured, computer software analyzes it to identify where the faces are in, say, a crowd of people. In a mall, for example, security cameras will feed into a computer with facial recognition software to identify faces in the video feed.

Once the system has identified any potential faces in an image, it looks more closely at each one. Sometimes the image needs to be reoriented or resized. A face very close to the camera may seem tilted or stretched slightly; someone farther back from the camera may appear smaller or even partially hidden from view.

When the software has arrived at a proper size and orientation for the face, it looks even more closely, seeking to create what is called a “faceprint.” Much like a fingerprint record, a faceprint is a set of characteristics that, taken together, uniquely identify one person’s particular face. Elements of a faceprint include the relative locations of facial features, like eyes, eyebrows and nose shape. A person who has small eyes, thick eyebrows and a long narrow nose will have a very different faceprint from someone with large eyes, thin eyebrows and a wide nose. Eyes are a key factor in accuracy. Large dark sunglasses are more likely to reduce the accuracy of the software than facial hair or regular prescription glasses.

A faceprint can be compared with a single photo to verify the identity of a known person, say an employee seeking to enter a secure area. Faceprints can also be compared to databases of many images in hopes of identifying an unknown person.

It’s not always easy

A key factor affecting how well facial recognition works is lighting. An evenly lit face seen directly from the front, with no shadows and nothing blocking the camera’s view, is the best. In addition, whether an image of a face contrasts well with its background, and how far away it is from the camera, can help or hurt the facial recognition process.

Another very important challenge to successful facial recognition is the degree to which the person being identified cooperates with — or is even aware of — the process. People who know they are using facial recognition, such as that employee trying to get into a restricted room, are relatively easy to work with. They are able to look directly at the camera in proper lighting, to make things optimal for the software analysis.

Other people don’t know their faces are being analyzed — and may not even know they’re being surveilled by these systems at all. Images of their faces are trickier to analyze; a face picked out of a crowd shot may have to be digitally transformed and zoomed in before it can generate a faceprint. That leaves more room for the system to misidentify the person.

Potential problems

When a facial recognition system incorrectly identifies a person, that can cause a number of potential problems, depending on what kind of error it is. A system restricting access to a specific location could wrongly admit an unauthorized person — if, say, she was wearing a disguise or even just looked similar enough to someone who should be allowed in. Or it could block the entry of an authorized person by failing to correctly identify her.

In law enforcement, surveillance cameras aren’t always able to get very good images of a suspect’s face. That could mean identifying an innocent person as a suspect – or even failing to recognize that a known criminal just ran afoul of the law again.

Regardless of how accurate it appears to be on TV crime dramas, there is room for error, though the technology is improving. The National Institute of Standards and Technology has estimated that stated error rates are declining 50 percent every two years, and are currently around 0.8 percent. That’s better than voice recognition, which has error rates above 6 percent. But facial recognition may still be more error-prone than iris scanning and fingerprint scanning.

Privacy concerns

Even if it’s accurate, though — and perhaps even more so as accuracy improves – facial recognition raises privacy concerns. One of the chief worries is that, much like the rise of DNA databases, facial features and photos are being warehoused by government agencies, which will become able to track people and erase any notion of privacy or anonymity.

New privacy problems are cropping up all the time, too. A new smartphone app, FindFace, allows people to take a person’s photo and use facial recognition to find their social media accounts. Ostensibly a convenient way to connect with friends and co-workers, the app invites misuse. People can use it to expose identities and harass others.

These new capabilities are also raising concern about other malicious uses of publicly available images. For example, when police issue alerts about missing children, they often include a photograph of the child’s face. There is little regulation or oversight, so nobody knows whether those images are also being entered into facial recognition systems.

This, of course, doesn’t even touch on using facial recognition tools along with other technologies like police body cameras, geolocation software and machine learning to assist in real-time tracking. That goes beyond simple identification and into the realm of where someone has been, and where the software predicts they will go. Combining technologies offers attractive options for crime fighting, and deepens the fissures in our privacy.

Technology provides powerful tools, and the law is often ill-equipped to keep pace with new developments. But if we’re going to be using facial recognition in immigration and law enforcement decisions, we must engage with its possibilities and its detriments, and understand the issues of accuracy, privacy and ethics this new capability raises.

Jessica Gabel Cino is associate dean for Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of Law at Georgia State University.

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Meet Power Plant Gym: The first to mix fitness and marijuana

Bong hit workouts are the new cool

Bong hit workouts are the new cool (Credit: AP)

Fresh ToastCannabis and athletics are a pairing that produce love and confusion in equal parts for a lot of people. Marijuana is a plant with many capabilities, able to invigorate and energize you while also letting you disconnect and relax at the end of your day, all depending on your mood and mindset. Power Plant Fitness in San Francisco plans to use the properties of cannabis as a way of enhancing the performance of their members and helping them focus on their workout.

Related Link: 7 Smoking Hot Marijuana Gift Ideas For 4/20 and Beyond

Even though Power Plant plans on giving cannabis to their members before or after their workout, as either an enhancement or a recovery tool, the gym doesn’t want their business to be exclusively about marijuana. The founders want to develop an environment of wellness where marijuana will play an important role and where people will feel like they belong, while also being something more than your average gym. Power Plant’s instructors are equipped with the necessary knowledge on training and physiology with the purpose of giving people the greatest results available while also debunking the myth of the lazy stoner and highlighting the positive power that marijuana can produce.

Related Link: Colorado Agency Teams Up With Lyft To Promote Driving Safety on 4/20

You can check out the video below which sheds a light on some of the reasons why this gym was developed and discusses some of the perks that marijuana offers to athletes.

 

 

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Science saved my life: Saturday’s march for science is personal, too

DNA

(Credit: Erin Williams)

When proteins fold, they have protector proteins called “chaperonins,” which form a matryoshka around them, a little doll husk. Chaperonins guide proteins to fold the right way; a wrong turn here or there could mean mad cow disease, amyloidosis, cataracts, all afflictions of misfolding. Encapsulated in these guardian pods, they are safe to become themselves.

Science, the classification of knowledge into verifiable hypotheses, is not political. It’s not impiousness either or blasphemy. It doesn’t take the Lord’s name in vain or transmogrify into a demoralizing pink slip. Science is knowing how to investigate where that smell is coming from, how Leonard Cohen’s crumbly modulation could possibly sound so clear on a cassette tape, or what stars are.

Science is under attack, and with it our right to understand why the world is the way it is. Educational budget cuts, the gouging of scientific agencies that rely on government funding, the bowdlerization of researchers — this is what self-destruction looks like, $900 million from the Department of Energy’s Office of Science here, $6 billion from the National Institutes of Health there.

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The March for Science this Saturday is our rallying cry — our best, latest effort to protect ourselves, our planet and our kids from assured destruction. For me, it’s also personal.

Science saved my life. Biology, specifically, and a professor named Ms. McEntee who terrified the exhausted, pockmarked teenagers I sat through lectures with. I got to class early, made index cards and elaborate hand-drawn charts to study from: This is what the inside of a eukaryotic cell looks like! I was surprised to find myself so transfixed by the elaborate knots and gaffes of evolution.

I hadn’t taken a science class since high school, 12 years before. In the intervening years, I got my bachelor’s degree (barely) and settled into what one might generously call a career. Mostly, I drank. Now I was 30 years old, disintegrating, back in school as an attempt to salvage the wreckage of the past decade.

I grew up feeling so much smaller than my own skin, like I was coated in a dense bark of attitude and personhood and emotion that was too big for me. I was bullied, assaulted, minimized. All the little pinprick injustices of middle school felt like drippy, cavernous, world war wounds. “Sensitive” is one way to put it.

Booze was the salve. It taught me how to be a person, how to have guts. I drank at the movies, in the mornings. I stole tips off bars and used them to buy more drinks. I told my Mom I needed money for books, school, bills, and if she gave it to me, I drank it down.

It worked for a while. At the end, there was a hazy, unfathomable summer in Brooklyn. My grandmother died who I loved ferociously. A man pointed his gun at me and demanded everything I had of value. He made me turn around and walk away with his gun pointed at my back. From then on, even booze couldn’t camouflage my unmitigated vulnerability.

I stopped leaving the house. Leaving meant pain, violence. So did staying. I drank so I could feel less alive.

Something had to change, but I couldn’t abandon alcohol. Drinking was too deeply held — the creator and the destroyer, the only holy thing capable of numbing every nucleus. It was how I celebrated the good and survived the awful. It was the antidote to boredom, a comprehensive plan. The daily twist of a bottle’s cold cap, the glug of sour spirit into whatever glass was clean enough; this was the rhythm of my life. Empty can be beautiful, so long as it’s not a bottle.

This was all I could manage: I quit my job and went back to school to become a registered dietitian. Never mind my one-pack two-bottle a day habit, probably just a phase. Anyway, science agreed: The 3,5,4′-trihydroxy-trans-stilbene in red wine is almost as good as Lexapro.

I went into my first lecture with high hopes and a pounding hangover. McEntee was brutal. She’d beaten cancer and had no patience for bullshit. She squashed my expectations of cruising through Bio like an arthropod.

McEntee was a survivor, part archaea. She didn’t care about your story, your hangover; she just wanted you to stop wasting her time and learn the damn material. Her approach felt fresh to me, appealing. I was tired of feeling simultaneously empty and full of tenderness. Here was someone with a simple ask: Memorize these facts, and you’ll learn something about how the world works.

Biology was bewitching. A prokaryote could survive the harshest environments. Douse it liberally with antibiotics and it would learn to grow despite human industry. Each element of the architecture of a cell was the stunning consummation of millennia of data. Don’t even get me started on RNA.

One month in, I braved my first day without alcohol. On a morning like so many others (pounding headache, wide open front door, black haze where last night’s memories should have been), I woke up and knew I needed to stop. Life or not life. I went to those meetings people go to. Like the nano organisms that saturated my days, I would survive this extreme heat, the volcanic eruption of shame that filled me to the brim.

As I wrung myself out, poured whatever was left in the bottles down the generic, apartment-grade toilet, I filled back up with science. When you stop drinking the way I drank, you become acutely aware of the preposterous number of hours in a day. What did people do with all that time?

I studied. School was my lighthouse, the beam that guided me safely into my new life. I had to learn how to talk to people again, how to tell the difference between romance and exploit, what safety felt like. I also learned how DNA is cut and why Darwin changed the world.

It took a while. I ended with a 4.0 GPA and two years of sobriety. Instead of becoming a dietitian, I got a job in oncology research. I get to wake up every morning now with this distinct privilege: making something better for someone else. That’s grace. It’s not a liquid.

Science is not a dirty word, though it’s being scraped from government websites like a malignant lesion. It’s a practice of empowerment, a method for understanding why life is the way it is: tedious, bitter, brief, dazzling. People need to be taught that they are already smart enough to understand (though it tingles as the Novocain wears off).

These were the gifts I received: curiosity, wonder, passion, distraction, protection. Before science, I was tangled, misfolded, a mad cow. As I learned to become whole, no longer chemically dependent, biology showed me how to laugh at nature’s cruelty, revel in its beauty, bask in its complexity. That’s what you do with all those hours: You learn.

This administration is quickly slashing science from the national vocabulary. I cringe thinking of all those kids like me, with buckteeth and wonky eyes, too tall or short or strange. You can’t argue with genetics. But learning (anything) can teach you your own value. All this grace is still up for grabs. Don’t take it away.

Source: New feed

Kendrick Lamar has all the answers

2017 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival - Weekend 1 - Day 3

(Credit: Getty/Christopher Polk)

Kendrick Lamar doesn’t just make fans out of his listeners; he makes gospel-hungry believers. When he released his fourth studio album, “DAMN.,” on Good Friday, excited rumors permeated the internet that another album could be coming on Easter. The second album was a myth. But the rumors were indicative of two things: first, the very real way Lamar litters his music with Easter eggs (not literally in this case) and layers of meaning; second, that we are a culture of gluttons who can’t enjoy the feast before us without thinking about dessert.

Though Lamar is opposed to excess in verse (the first single from “DAMN.” was called “HUMBLE.”), his is a temple at which it is hard to pray modestly. Simply, it’s the best sermon in town. Allow me to shift the metaphor back to food: Lamar’s scraps are tastier than most artists’ entrées; “Untitled Unmastered,” a collection of unreleased “To Pimp a Butterfly” demos, was one of the best rap albums of 2016.

On Thursday, Lamar gave fans more substantive reason to assume that additional music is yet to come. “I got some more music,” he said in an Instagram video. He didn’t elaborate about whether he would release more music. But to tease more music and then not release it would be cruel. The following day (today), Lamar was set to appear on Zane Lowe’s Beats 1 radio show, a venue other artists have used to release new music into the world. So would he announce a new project?  

If you haven’t heard, the answer is no. The interview that aired took place last weekend, at Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, and in it Lamar said the same thing (that he has more music, including six cuts of the song “XXX”), but did not elaborate on whether he would release another album of demos in the style of “Untitled Unmastered.”

What the interview did provide, though, was context for “DAMN.” and evidence of why so many people look to Lamar for answers. Lamar, who has a historically quick tongue on the mic, speaks slowly, in careful, assured sentences off of it; he often concludes a thought with the word “period,” an affect that might sound condescending coming from another mouth. Instead, he sounds monastic. He explained that the album took him a year to make, and that much of that time was spent thinking.

But where the events of the past year have led most minds to contemplate the world around them, Lamar looked within. “It’s an album about my own self-discipline,” he said. “That’s my favorite word this past year. Discipline and obedience. And how to control your own emotions.”

As for the difference between “TPAB” and “DAMN.,” he said: “’To Pimp a Butterfly’ would be the idea of the thought of changing the world, and how we work and how we approach things. ‘DAMN.’ would be the idea that I can’t change the world until I change myself.” He connected this focus on self-questioning and self-betterment to disadvantaged groups’ power. “Different nationalities and cultures are coming together, man, and actually standing up for themselves. And I think that’s a pure reflection of this record. Prior to its even happening, prior to it even coming out.”

It would appear that the humbleness and self-examination Lamar advocates for on the album would be in tension with the most classic pursuit in rap — being the best — but Lamar was even able to frame his own superiority in modest terms.  “I love [hip-hop] to a point where I can’t even describe it. And when I heard these artists coming up saying they’re the best, I said, ‘I’m not doing it to have a good song or one good rap or a good hook or a good bridge.’ I want to keep doing it every time. Period. And to do it every time you have to challenge yourself and you have to confirm to yourself, not to anybody else, confirm to yourself that you’re the best. Period.”

There are a lot of reasons why Kendrick Lamar is the best rapper alive, but this seamless duality is one of them. He’s able to represent the street and the church, be conscious without being didactic, ascetic without being puritanical, searching and knowing. Whether or not he gives fans more, he’ll have given them more. Period.   

Source: New feed

“When this concert happened where we had concrete threats, I faced the same dilemma as his musicians”: Till Schauder, director of “When God Sleeps,” talks about Iranian rapper Shahin Najafi

when-god-sleeps

(Credit: Amin Khelghat)

Till Schauder’s absorbing documentary “When God Sleeps” profiles Shahin Najafi, an Iranian rap musician and singer who lives in exile in Germany. One of his songs, “Naghi,” upset the government so much, it issued a fatwa against him. If he returns to Iran, he would receive 100 lashes, a 1 million tomans fine and spend three years in prison.

Najafi’s music is provocative. His catchy song “Mammad Nobari” features plaster of Paris penises. Schauder’s film shows the performer does not back away from controversy. He does not let the security threats he faces get in the way of touring — even though his longtime bandmate, Majid Kazemi, decides the pressure may be too much.

“When God Sleeps” introduces viewers to Najafi, his music, his girlfriend Leili, as well as his band and manager, Shaharyar Ahadi. What comes across is the performer’s resilience and strength. His music, he explains, is a reaction to an aggressive military service, which caused him to lose his faith. Now he speaks out against repression and hopes to raise awareness of refugees.

Schauder artfully chronicles Najafi’s life and work. The filmmaker spoke via Skype with Salon on the eve of his film’s world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.

How did you come to learn about Shahin’s music?

I did a film called “The Iran Job” and that film had a lot of Iranian rap and hip-hop music and some was by Shahin. Other musicians said if you put his name on the credits, please don’t put my name. He was toxic. That struck me as odd and interesting. I didn’t know Shahin, we just licensed two of his songs.

We wanted to invite Shahin to the premiere of “The Iran Job,” but we couldn’t reach him. And finally Sara, my wife and the producer of both of these films, told me, “Dude, look at the news!” I looked online and saw he had just received this fatwa and consequentially [went into] hiding, so no one could reach him. That was an interesting story.

I heard from others he’s not easy to deal with, so I didn’t want to send him an email and say, “I wanted to make a film,” but I had a chance to meet him organically when “The Iran Job” was at the Berlinale, and he came to that screening and liked that film. We started a courtship that lasted about six months until he finally said, “Let’s do this!” He had requests from other filmmakers — including Iranian filmmakers — so it was important that he was in agreement.

What is it about his music that you responded to? How did you identify with it?

That was a totally instinctual thing. When I tried out music for “The Iran Job,” I didn’t understand any of the lyrics from Shahin’s songs or any of the other artists’ songs. I went with feeling: Does that song work with that scene? On Shahin’s tracks, the feeling was authentic and I responded to them without knowing what he was saying. My father-in-law, who is Iranian, asked how I picked the tracks without knowing the words.

When I worked on “When God Sleeps,” I realized he was not just a rap musician. The label is an easy way for people to sum him up but he’s so much more. He knows classical, traditional Iranian music, Koran reciting, folk songs and modern stuff. He’s an amazing artist and that was why this film was fun to do. There are only three rap songs in “When God Sleeps.” The rest is heartfelt music that hits you between the eyes.

What was it about seeing him perform that excited you and [made you] decide you needed to make a doc about him?

The energy. I talked to his fans and bandmates and asked how they decided to perform with him. They said his presence is just like you want your frontman to be. He can get a crowd going. He’s a professional. If he’s not soaking wet after a rock concert, he did something wrong. In a solo concert, he doesn’t get so worked up physically, but he’s all there. The bandmates and audience appreciated that. As a filmmaker, obviously, I responded to that.

It’s fun to see someone giving so much energy. I wasn’t aware of how much you have to constantly expose yourself as a singer, versus a musician. You are communicating with everything you’ve got. He can’t help but do that always — often to his own detriment.

How did you get him to trust you to tell his story?

“The Iran Job.” I felt right away that he enjoyed that film and came to me after and he gave compliments. I had a sense that was important to him. He told me he didn’t want to work with an Iranian director because he didn’t trust them no matter how reputable they were. My wife is Iranian so I wasn’t a complete novice.

There were times over the multiyear project, he thought, “What the hell are you doing here?” He wasn’t aware of how much time and how much persistence I had, so there were some interesting butting-head moments.

With Najafi in hiding, there must have been some challenges in making “When God Sleeps.” Can you talk about the difficulties of the project? Did you face any threats?

It was like with his bandmates. When this one concert happened where we had concrete online threats, I faced the same dilemma as his musicians. It wasn’t fun to go to the concert that day. I had crew members drop out so there was a parallel to his band members [who didn’t perform].

I think that day the filmmaker part of me got the better of me [and I put myself at risk] but I didn’t feel good about it because I have a family. I bet I could have gotten the footage a different way.

Sometimes I knew more than his bandmates, but it was always a judgment call. There were times when I didn’t take [threats] so seriously, but you never quite know.

I did have to hire security people after the targeted concert. It was strange but I’m kind of happy that it’s over.

The film is very evenhanded, presenting Najafi as he is. What can you say about your approach to telling his story?

The never-judging-him part is important. He is being judged constantly. He has a huge following online. If you talk to any Iranian who is following politics, they know him and have some sort of opinion about him. He divides people. I could have easily judged him. You are not the only one who has questions about him because of how he treats his friends. I understood how [his bandmate] Majid and [his manager] Shaharyar acted and how Shahin responded to it. It’s about loyalty.

I remember when they were dropping out before the [risky] concert; part of the reason I didn’t leave was because I can’t be with him for two years and then leave when the going gets tough. Part of that is a crazy filmmaker thing, but part of it is team spirit. I have full respect for Majid and Shaharyar, but I also understand Shahin. I wouldn’t have dealt with it the way Shahin did, but to his credit he does soften up.

He goes to the extremes. When he has to choose between best friends and the desire to perform, he goes all the way.

There is a nice mix of concert footage, interviews and observational moments. What can you say about how you assembled the film?

It took a long time. We had a lot of footage. We didn’t edit the concerts until late in the process. We were focused more on the story. We treated the concerts as the basketball games in “The Iran Job.” You start assembling scenes and you have to have it make sense. I didn’t want to make a classic music documentary where the music takes over as a cheap layer. I wanted the music to be a character. Where we placed the concerts and what kinds of concerts they were were important for establishing his character and the arc of the story.

Was there a “get,” an unexpected moment you were grateful to capture on film?

Of course. That scene where he breaks down at the window — I’ll never forget it. He has a really difficult moment, walks into the other room, and the lighting was different. Normally, I would have changed the f-stop on my camera, but something told me don’t change anything. Keep the camera still, and he had that moment.

That’s when I knew I had the film in the can. Everything else was just piecing it around that one moment, which says so much about him and his situation. We had concerns from people that he’s too rough around the edges, that he never exposes his true feelings, and here I was capturing a moment where he just crumbles.

What observations do you have about Leili and her relationship with Shahin?

She is the voice of reason and what humanizes him. She’s young, present and outspoken. She’s very interesting and that she’s with him is almost a political act in itself. People are fascinated by the fact that she’s with him. Certainly it’s not an easy relationship. She’s very brave. You see what she goes through, and you get a sense of things.

What do you think the film can do to help or hurt Shanin’s exposure to a larger audience? Can “When God Sleeps” change minds?

I have had reactions from Iranians who disliked him and saw the film and were pleasantly surprised that they can relate to him. I hope that becomes a trend.

In terms of his reach, I hope the film will get a bigger audience especially in the Western world. He’s exposed in the Iranian diaspora. He could fill 100,000 seats in Tehran. In terms of the film endangering his activism, I don’t think so. Because the people that want to harm him already know about him; he’s being spied on. I hope perhaps the film gives him a level of protection, but you never know how things go.

Source: New feed

Watching the planet breathe: Studying Earth’s carbon cycle from space

Trapping Carbon Dioxide

(Credit: AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)

Carbon is a building block of life on our planet. It is stored in reservoirs on Earth — in rocks, plants and soil — in the oceans, and in the atmosphere. And it cycles constantly between these reservoirs. The Conversation

Understanding the carbon cycle is crucially important for many reasons. It provides us with energy, stored as fossil fuel. Carbon gases in the atmosphere help regulate Earth’s temperature and are essential to the growth of plants. Carbon passing from the atmosphere to the ocean supports photosynthesis of marine phytoplankton and the development of reefs. These processes and myriad others are all interwoven with Earth’s climate, but the manner in which the processes respond to variability and change in climate is not well-quantified.

Our research group at the University of Oklahoma is leading NASA’s latest Earth Venture Mission, the Geostationary Carbon Observatory, or GeoCarb. This mission will place an advanced payload on a satellite to study the Earth from more than 22,000 miles above the Earth’s equator. Observing changes in concentrations of three key carbon gases – carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and carbon monoxide (CO) — from day to day and year to year will help us to make a major leap forward in understanding natural and human changes in the carbon cycle.

GeoCarb is also an innovative collaboration between NASA, a public university, a commercial technology development firm (Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center) and a commercial communications launch and hosting firm (SES). Our “hosted payload” approach will place a scientific observatory on a commercial communications satellite, paving the way for future low-cost, commercially enabled Earth observations.

Observing the carbon cycle

The famous “Keeling curve,” which tracks CO2 concentrations in Earth’s atmosphere, is based on daily measurements at Mauna Loa Observatory on Hawaii. It shows that global CO2 levels are rising over time, but also change seasonally due to biological processes. CO2 decreases during the Northern Hemisphere’s spring and summer months, as plants grow and take CO2 out of the air. It rises again in fall and winter when plants go relatively dormant and ecosystems “exhale” CO2.

A closer look shows that every year’s cycle is slightly different. In some years the biosphere takes more CO2 out of the atmosphere; in others it releases more to the atmosphere. We want to know more about what causes the year-to-year differences because that contains clues on how the carbon cycle works.

For example, during the El Niño of 1997-1998, a sharp rise in CO2 was largely driven by fires in Indonesia. The most recent El Niño in 2015-2016 also led to a rise in CO2, but the cause was probably a complex mixture of effects across the tropics — including reduced photosynthesis in Amazonia, temperature-driven soil release of CO2 in Africa and fires in tropical Asia.

These two examples of year-to-year variability in the carbon cycle, both globally and regionally, reflect what we now believe — namely, that variability is largely driven by terrestrial ecosystems. The ability to probe the climate-carbon interaction will require a much more quantitative understanding of the causes of this variability at the process level of various ecosystems.

Why study terrestrial emissions from space?

GeoCarb will be launched into geostationary orbit at roughly 85 degrees west longitude, where it will rotate in tandem with the Earth. From this vantage point, the major urban and industrial regions in the Americas from Saskatoon to Punta Arenas will be in view, as will the large agricultural areas and the expansive South American tropical forests and wetlands. Measurements of carbon dioxide, methane and carbon monoxide once or twice daily over much of the terrestrial Americas will help resolve flux variability for CO2 and CH4.

GeoCarb also will measure solar induced fluorescence (SIF) — plants emitting light that they cannot use back out into space. This “flashing” by the biosphere is strongly tied to the rate of photosynthesis, and so provides a measure of how much CO2 plants take in.

NASA pioneered the technology that GeoCarb will carry on an earlier mission, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 (OCO-2). OCO-2 launched into a low Earth orbit in 2014 and has been measuring CO2 from space ever since, passing from pole to pole several times per day as the Earth turns beneath it.

Though the instruments are similar, the difference in orbit is crucial. OCO-2 samples a narrow 10-km track over much of the globe on a 16-day repeat cycle, while GeoCarb will look at the terrestrial Western Hemisphere continuously from a fixed position, scanning most of this land mass at least once per day.

Where OCO-2 may miss observing the Amazon for a season due to regular cloud cover, GeoCarb will target the cloud-free regions every day with flexible scanning patterns. Daily revisits will show the biosphere changing in near-real time alongside weather satellites such as GOES 16, which is located at 105 degrees west, helping to connect the dots between the components of Earth’s system.

Nuances of the carbon cycle

Many processes affect levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, including plant growth and decay, fossil fuel combustion and land use changes, such as clearing forests for farming or development. Attributing atmospheric CO2 changes to different processes is difficult using CO2 measurements alone, because the atmosphere mixes CO2 from all of the different sources together.

As mentioned earlier, in addition to CO2 and CH4, GeoCarb will measure CO. Burning fossil fuel releases both CO and CO2. This means that when we see high concentrations of both gases together, we have evidence that they are being released by human activities.

Making this distinction is key so we do not assume that human-induced CO2 emissions come from a decrease in plant activity or a natural release of CO2 from soil. If we can distinguish between man-made and natural emissions, we can draw more robust conclusions about the carbon cycle. Knowing what fraction of these changes is caused by human activities is important for understanding our impact on the planet, and observing and measuring it is essential to any conversation about strategies for reducing CO2 emissions.

GeoCarb’s measurement of methane will be a crucial element in understanding the global carbon-climate system. Methane is produced by natural systems, such as wetlands, and by human activities such as natural gas production. We do not understand the methane portion of the carbon cycle as well as CO2. But just as with CO2, methane observations tell us a lot about the functioning of natural systems. Marshes release methane as part of the natural decay in the system. The rate of release is tied to how wet/dry and warm/cool the system is.

It is uncertain how much natural gas production contributes to methane emissions. One reason to quantify these emissions more accurately is that they represent lost revenue for energy producers. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates a U.S. leakage rate of around 2 percent, which could add up to billions of dollars annually.

We expect based on simulations that GeoCarb will produce maps that highlight the largest leaks with only a few days of observations. Finding leaks will reduce costs for energy producers and reduce the carbon footprint of natural gas. Currently, energy companies find leaks by sending personnel with detection equipment to suspected leak sites. Newer airborne sensors could make the process cheaper, but they are still deployed on a limited basis and in an ad hoc manner. GeoCarb’s regular observations will provide leakage information to producers in a timely manner to help them limit their losses.

Watching the planet breathe

With daily scans of landmasses in the Western Hemisphere, GeoCarb will provide an unprecedented number of high-quality measurements of CO2, CH4 and CO in the atmosphere. These observations, along with direct measurements of photosynthetic activity from SIF observations, will raise our understanding of the carbon cycle to a new level.

For the first time we will be able to watch as the Western Hemisphere breathes in and out every day, and to see the seasons change through the eyes of the biosphere. Equipped with these observations, we will begin to disentangle natural and human contributions to the carbon balance. These insights will help scientists make robust predictions about Earth’s future.

Berrien Moore III is vice president for Weather & Climate Programs; dean of the College of Atmospheric & Geographic Sciences; director of the National Weather Center at University of OklahomaSean Crowell is a research scientist at University of Oklahoma.

Source: New feed

Defining moment: Will California end its money bail system?

Prison Inmate

(Credit: Reuters/Joshua Lott)

A nationwide movement that began 53 years ago to reform the pretrial incarceration and money bail process has finally reached the legislative committees and political bargaining tables in Washington and Sacramento. Reform advocates – including legislators, prosecutors, attorneys, judges and grassroots organizations – contend that the use of a money bail system for pretrial release is unfair to the poor and unsafe for the public.

In 1964, then-U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy told the Senate: “Every year in this country, thousands of persons are kept in jail for weeks and even months following arrest. They are not yet proven guilty. They may be no more likely to flee than you or I. But nonetheless, most of them must stay in jail because to be blunt, they cannot afford to pay for their freedom.”

Kennedy’s efforts helped pass the Criminal Justice Act of 1964 and the Bail Reform Act of 1966, which created a presumption of release before trial for most federal defendants, and mostly did away with the money bail system in federal proceedings. But not for local and state jurisdictions, which account for most of the country’s jail population and in which the money-bail system still controls the release of defendants, dangerous or not. Only two countries, the U.S. and the Philippines, currently use the money bail system, according to California legislators.

Four months ago California State Senator Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) and Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) introduced the California Money Bail Reform Act of 2017 — identical pieces of legislation (Senate Bill 10 and Assembly Bill 42) that would phase out excessive money bail systems statewide for most misdemeanors and some nonviolent felonies. And this past March, Los Angeles-area Congressman Ted Lieu introduced the No Money Bail Act of 2017 in Washington.

Median bail in California is $50,000. If an arrestee uses a bail bond agent, he or she has to pay the agent a nonrefundable 10 percent for release – in the case of the median bond, that’s $5,000. Even bail for many misdemeanors can run over $1,000 – still beyond the reach of many indigent defendants. This results in poor defendants spending weeks or months in jail awaiting trial, causing the loss of jobs, homes, cars and in many cases, the family’s primary breadwinner.

According to a report issued by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), more than 62 percent of county jail inmates are awaiting trials or sentencing, translating into about 46,000 Californians on a daily basis, say Hertzberg and Bonta. Most remain in jail because they can’t afford bail.

“The current cash bail system is the modern equivalent of a debtor’s prison — it criminalizes poverty, pure and simple,” Hertzberg told a December news conference when he and Bonta introduced their legislation.

“In many cases,” added Bonta, “if you have enough money to pay your bail, you can get out of jail regardless of whether you are a danger to the public or a flight risk. But if you’re poor and not a flight risk or a danger to the public, you are forced to stay in jail, even when the charge is a misdemeanor. That’s not justice.”

Ato Walker of San Jose shared his own story at that same press conference.

“I was falsely accused of something and went to jail for five days,” Walker told reporters.

“My bail was $165,000 initially and through the arraignment my bail got to be down to $85,000,” he said. “And that’s after I had hundreds of letters of support from people in my community saying I was a decent human being…but still inside the courtroom the district attorney said it seems like he’s a threat to society and the judge went with that.”

Walker was released, he said, when his mother, a retired U.S. Postal Service worker, came up with the 10 percent he needed to pay a bail agent.

A choked-up Walker, who was there with his young son, said he recognized he would have had to stay in jail. “If my mother had not stepped up and taken money out of her retirement account … [she did] that so I could be there to support my family.”

When Walker eventually went to his pretrial proceeding, he said, the charges against him were dropped. But his mother lost the money she had to give a bail agent to get him out of lockup.

Walker said he appreciated the support that he got from his family and the community, but that he knew that many poor detainees don’t have that support and he wanted to publicly thank the politicians who are trying to change the current bail system.

Bonta and Hertzberg are heading a coalition of support that includes Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, the American Civil Liberties Union, Californians for Safety and Justice, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, the Essie Justice Group, Western Center on Law and Poverty, Service Employees Union International, California, and others.

Instead of relying exclusively on a money bail system that forces people to pay nonrefundable deposits to private companies, Bonta and Hertzberg are seeking a system that follows the lead of the federal government, the District of Columbia’s local courts and a number of other states that have already reformed their systems.

Those systems rely mainly on pretrial services and assessment examinations to cut down on the pretrial jail population, thereby saving tax money, increasing rates of court appearances by detainees who have been bailed out and protecting the public by refusing bail to inmates deemed a danger to society or a flight risk, no matter how much money they have.

Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) a coauthor of AB 42, said at the December news conference that research has shown that “prisoners held two or three days are 22 percent more likely to fail to come to court.”

The proposed legislation, as currently written, will require counties to set up a “pretrial services agency that would be responsible for gathering information about newly arrested persons, conducting pretrial risk assessments, preparing individually tailored recommendations to the court and providing pretrial services and supervision to persons on pretrial release.” It also:

  • Provides for the use of “unsecured appearance bonds,” by which defendants agree to pay a specific amount if he or she fails to appear in court.
  • Gives reminders to defendants about upcoming court dates, and helps with transportation, if needed. Money bail options are included in these bills, provided the bail is the “least restrictive necessary to assure the appearance” in court, and the court must conduct an inquiry to determine the defendant’s ability to pay the bail.
  • Enables prosecutors to file a motion for pretrial detention and precludes people from being eligible for pretrial release if they are charged with a capital crime, a felony involving violence or sexual assault, or if the person’s release would likely result in harm to others, or if the person had threatened harm to others.

Hertzberg’s bill passed through the Senate Public Safety Committee by a 5 to 1 vote in early April and is headed to the Senate Appropriations Committee. Bonta’s version of the bill receives a hearing Tuesday in the State Assembly’s Committee on Public Safety.

The cost to house California inmates averages about $114 per day, according to the PPIC. In Los Angeles the average cost for Fiscal Year 2015-2016 was slightly more than $178 per day, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which reports that about $797 million – or 24 percent of the department’s total budget – goes to operate the county’s jail system.

There’s been no study done in L.A. County regarding how many inmates remain in its jail system because they are too poor to post a money bail, said sheriff’s spokeswoman Nicole Nishida.

Based on the experience of other locales, Bonta said, he’s learned that most nonviolent offenders will show up for their court appearances and not commit additional crimes after they’ve been released from jail without posting a money bond. “I also learned that over 50 percent of the jail cells were being taken up by people who couldn’t pay bail,” Bonta said, noting that the current money bail system is “clearly discriminatory against the poor and people of color.”

In addition to a mandatory pretrial risk assessment examination, Bonta told Capital & Main, he’s also open to using ankle monitoring systems and even small bail amounts — for example, $100 — as a very last resort.

Beth Chapman, the wife and business partner of the reality TV bounty hunter, Duane “Dog’ Chapman, has testified before a federal Court of Appeals panel that “People are not in jail because they’re poor. They are trying to paint a picture that all poor people are languishing in jail, and it just isn’t true.” She has also appeared in Breitbart News interviews on the subject of bail reform, which the right-wing site has connected to plots allegedly hatched by billionaire George Soros and others.

Capital & Main’s repeated phone calls for comment to the Professional Bail Agents of the United States, a trade group Beth Chapman heads, were not returned. The organization’s website, though, warns in red letters that “The bail industry is under attack!” Capital & Main’s calls to another bail-bonds trade organization, the California Bail Agents Association, were also not returned.

Jeff Clayton is the executive director of the Lakewood, Colorado-based American Bail Coalition, a 10-year-old trade association representing insurance underwriters of bail bonds across the country. In California, he said, all bail bonds must be underwritten by an insurance company.

Clayton told Capital & Main that nationwide, the bail bond industry is a multibillion dollar business and that lobbying efforts against the California and House versions of bail reform are in full swing. He insisted the vast majority of bonds issued help guarantee that defendants would show up for court.

Clayton acknowledged that there were problems related to the top 10 percent of bonds issued to defendants who could be dangerous or flight risks, and to the bottom 10 percent of indigent defendants.

He said that the industry would be open to working with legislatures to fix those problems, especially regarding misdemeanor defendants.

Clayton also said there were discussions underway with Hertzberg and Bonta’s offices on their proposed bills and that he felt confident that a “viable compromise,” which would maintain the money bail process in California, could be worked out.

Ted Lieu’s previous No Money Bail Act died in the House last year. His 2017 version is short and straightforward. It would prohibit the payment of money as a condition of pretrial release in any federal case. (Federal judges can still order property bonds as a condition of release.) It would also amend the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 to make any state that did not reform its bail system within three years of passage and signing of this law, ineligible for funding under the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program.

In Fiscal Year 2016 California received more than $28.9 million in JAG awards, with more than $10.7 million going to counties and cities, and more than $18.2 million going to the California Board of State and Community Corrections, according to Lieu’s office.

“Some conservatives and libertarians have shown interest because reform will save tax money and the bill is flexible on how states can handle the reform process,” Lieu said. “Kentucky is a very red state and yet they have instituted reform measures in their bail system.”

The U.S. Justice Department, under former President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, also weighed into the debate over bail reform, filing friend-of-the-court briefs in several cases in Georgia and Alabama in 2015 and 2016 — calling money bail systems that continue to jail defendants because they are poor unconstitutional. Civil rights division attorneys filed court papers stating categorically that “bail practices that incarcerate indigent individuals before trial solely because of their inability to pay for their release violate the Fourteenth Amendment.” Justice Department attorneys also stated, “Fixed bail schedules that allow for the pretrial release of only those who can pay, without accounting for the ability to pay unlawfully discriminate based on indigence.”

Washington, DC’s local courts have the most experience using a pretrial release system that is based on inmate assessments rather than money bail. Cliff Keenan is the director of DC’s Pretrial Services Agency, a federally funded, independent entity within the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency charged with formulating release recommendations and providing supervision and services to defendants awaiting trial. His office handles some 22,000 cases a year, including 4,000 felonies and 17,000 misdemeanors.

Keenan told Capital & Main that the District stopped using any money as a condition of pretrial release in 1992, when a new Bail Reform Act mandated that defendants would receive a hearing with 24 hours of their detention to determine their release status. The act’s reforms have also enabled judges to hold defendants without bail, Keenan said, “if they were determined to be a flight risk or a danger to the community or to witnesses in their case.”

While there have been failures, Keenan pointed to his office’s latest published figures showing that “91 percent of released defendants remained arrest-free while their cases were adjudicated; 98 percent of released defendants were not rearrested for a crime of violence while in the community pending trial; 90 percent of released defendants made all scheduled court appearances and 88 percent of released defendants remained on release at the conclusion of their pretrial status.”

New Jersey, the most recent state to reform its former money bail release system, began its new system in January. Elie Honig, New Jersey’s Director of the Division of Criminal Justice, told Capital & Main the bail reform process began in 2014 and first required a vote to change the state’s constitution so that dangerous criminals charged with non-capital crimes could be held without bail after their arrest.

“The reforms have focused more of our attention on dangerous cases – and in those cases prosecutors are fighting hard for detention without bail,” Honig said. The first report on the impact of the state’s reforms is due by the end of June.

New Jersey’s new system uses a computerized Public Safety Assessment (PSA), six-point tool to quickly issue a score for each defendant based on various risk factors, including the seriousness of the alleged crime, and the defendant’s criminal and court history. The PSA tool, Honig said, was not the endpoint but a starting line for determining whether a defendant could be safely released. The state’s pretrial services agency is then charged with providing a full assessment of a defendant’s risk for release before a judge determines the final outcome.

The new law also mandates a speedy trial system for defendants, Honig continued, requiring that a detained defendant must be arraigned within 90 days of his or her arrest and the case brought to trial within 180 days.

Neither L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey nor the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles would comment on any of the pending bail reform legislation offered by Lieu, Hertzberg or Bonta. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Nicole Nishida told Capital & Main it was “too early [for the sheriff] to comment on this [California legislation] since the language is still being finalized by Senator Hertzberg and Assemblyman Bonta.”

So far, law enforcement opposition includes the Association for Deputy District Attorneys, the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association several uniformed-officer unions.

“I don’t expect Lieu’s legislation to go anywhere,” said the American Bail Coalition’s Jeff Clayton. “States make more money off [taxing] the bail bond industry than they would lose in JAG grants, so I don’t think you can coerce them into making reforms.” Besides, he said, “Cash bonds are tools that judges can use to insure that justice is done. You want to give judges more tools, not take them away.”

Despite a Republican-controlled House and Senate, and the election of Donald Trump as president and a Justice Department now overseen by a hardline conservative, former Alabama U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions, Congressman Lieu remains optimistic about his bill’s prospects.

Echoing Bonta and Hertzberg’s assertions that a money bail system was patently discriminatory against the poor and people of color, Lieu noted that there are more than 450,000 people nationwide now sitting in jail — many if not most of whom are there just because they can’t afford to post bail. “America’s criminal justice system isn’t just broken,” Lieu said, “it violates our nation’s core values.”

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